IT consultant Sohaib Athar was just “taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops” in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad when he described, in 140 characters or less, a helicopter hovering overhead and a “huge window shaking bang”—accidentally live-tweeting the U.S. raid that ended a decade-long manhunt and killed Osama bin Laden.
It’s clear from Athar’s tweets (@ReallyVirtual) that he had no idea what was going down—as evidenced by his reference to the “abbottabad helicopter/UFO“—but the unusual presence of helicopters and Taliban disclaimer suggested to him that whatever was happening, it “must be a complicated situation.” UFO, not so much; situation, definitely.
It sounds like the deranged words of a conspiracy theorist: The U.S. military is (not so) secretly creating software that’ll generate phony online personae in order to subtly influence social media conversations and spread propaganda. But what may sound like wacky theory is actually wacky reality, or at least will soon be, depending on whether it’s already in the works.
Dubbed the “online persona management service,” this technology would enable a single soldier to assume upwards of 10 different identities. As United States Central Command Commander Bill Speaks told The Guardian, “The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the US.”
Once developed, the software could allow US service personnel, working around the clock in one location, to respond to emerging online conversations with any number of co-ordinated messages, blogposts, chatroom posts and other interventions. Details of the contract suggest this location would be MacDill air force base near Tampa, Florida, home of US Special Operations Command. [The Guardian]
Said to be part of the Operation Earnest Voice (OEV) program, a psychological warfare weapon first used in Iraq to counter al-Qaida’s online followers, the goal of this latest project is twofold: To argue against extremist propaganda and to make sure “the world according to the U.S.” is heard. As General James Mattis told a Senate committee: “OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda.” He added that Centcom was working with “our coalition partners” to develop new techniques and tactics the US could use “to counter the adversary in the cyber domain”. Read More
But the problem is, to detect an abnormal stench, the government first needs to know the city’s normal aroma, to have an idea of its “chemical profile.” To that effect, DARPA just released a solicitation looking for suggestions on how to best build chemical composition maps of major United States cities. Spencer Ackerman over at Wired’s Danger Room t0ok a look at the solicitation and explained what DARPA is looking for:
The data Darpa wants collected will include “chemical, meteorological and topographical data” from at least 10 “local urban sources,” including “residences, gasoline stations, restaurants and dry cleaning stores that have particular patterns of emissions throughout the day.”
Then, subsequent chemical readings from the area could be compared to the “map” to check for abnormal chemicals in the air. Since many chemicals that can be used in a terrorist attacks are normally found around our cities, it’s difficult to just screen for them without having an idea of their baseline levels, explains Wired:
By Rose Eveleth
Bomb squads have long used metal detectors, x-ray machines, and dogs to uncover threats. Without these tools, authorities may not have intercepted some of the thirteen homemade explosives that froze Greece’s outgoing mail earlier this week. But soon they may have a new tool to help find the bad guys and their bombs: microscopic worms.
In a paper published last month, researchers at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization described the effectiveness of Caenorhabditis elegans–a millimeter-long, mud-loving nematode–in detecting chemicals associated with explosives. If they’re right, bomb detection could get cheaper and easier. But not everyone is convinced.
This nematodes isn’t the first organism investigated for its keen sense of smell. Dogs, rats, pigs, cows, insects, bacteria, and even plants have been used to find explosives. So far, nothing has worked as well as the trusty canine snout.
But according to lead researcher Stephen Trowell, a machine that uses his worms could surpass all these in sensitivity. “All signs are that it’s as good as it gets,” he said.
The nematodes smell chemicals like nitroglyceride and cyclohexanone—both found in the air around homemade C4 explosives—through tiny scent organs on the sides of their mouths called amphids. Each amphid has twelve different kinds of receptors that relay signals to the brain.
It may smooth thousands of pretty brows across the world, but the news that botox could potentially be used as a bio-terror weapon is furrowing plenty of foreheads.
The beauty drug contains botulinum–a naturally occurring nerve agent secreted by a kind of bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. A speck of this toxin smaller than a grain of sand can kill a 150-pound person–making some security experts worry that a determined terrorist could get his hands on the substance and wreak havoc.
The Washington Post reports:
The walls are alive… with sophisticated sensors that can sniff out potential terrorists, according to Popular Science:
Researchers at brain trust Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing andErgonomics (FKIE) in Wachtberg, Germany have developed a network of “chemical noses” that can not only smell chemicals hidden on a person, but also identify the carrier as he or she moves through a crowded space.
This means that someone entering an airport with individual chemical components, that can be used to make an explosive later, can be tracked right from the door itself.
Sensitive sensors located in walls would “sniff” out the chemicals, triggering a discreet security alarm. The sequence of triggered alarms would allow security personnel to determine which direction the chemical-carrying person was moving, and a software program would zoom in on one individual in the crowd. Cameras all over the airport would track the suspect as he moves and security could then apprehend the person well before he/she reaches the crowded security checkpoints.
The dramatic thriller involving our drug-contaminated drinking water, starring a 2,500-word article by the Associated Press, has been taking over the headlines today (that is, at least, until the Feds found out how much Spitzer paid for hookers) . During the AP’s investigation, they reviewed published scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants, and interviewed hundreds of officials, academics, and scientists. The results: trace amounts of pharmaceuticals, including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones contaminate the drinking water of 41 million Americans, including the watersheds of 28 metropolitan areas.