Monthly Archives: April 2016

Radioactive Boars and Malware, Nuclear Power Plants Germany

Wild Boar, image from wikipedia

A computer virus has been found in a nuclear power plant in Bavaria…The virus was found in Block B of the nuclear reactor at Gundremmingen in western Bavaria, a statement released by the power plant said.  The malware is well known to IT specialists and it attempts to create a connection to the internet without the user of the computer choosing to do so, the statement added…[T]he virus posed no danger to the public as all the computers which are responsible for controlling the plant are disconnected from one another and not connected to the internet. The virus is also not capable of manipulating the functions of the power plant, the statement claims. State authorities have been informed about the issues and specialists from the energy firm RWE are examining the computer system to asses how it became infected with the virus..

Germans are very sensitive to the dangers of nuclear technology,.. As recent as 2010, officials found traces of radioactivity connected to the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in German wildlife, like wild boar.,,,Shortly after the Fukushima meltdown in 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country would phase out nuclear power by 2021….

Several newspapers reported that the terrorists behind the Paris attacks had the plans for a German nuclear facility, a claim later denied by German intelligence. Then, days later, it was found that inspectors responsible for carrying out safety checks at two nuclear plants had submitted fake reports.

Excerpts from Computer Virus in Bavarian Nuclear Plant, http://www.thelocal.de/, Apr. 26, 2016

Needles and Haystack and Beyond: DARPA

Using fine powder and a brush to reveal and copy fingerprints. image from wikipedia

From DARPA pdf document available at  FedBizOpps. Gov Enhanced Attribution
Solicitation Number: DARPA-BAA-16-34

Malicious actors in cyberspace currently operate with little fear of being caught due to the fact that it is extremely difficult, in some cases perhaps even impossible, to reliably and confidently attribute actions in cyberspace to individuals. The reason cyber attribution is difficult stems at least in part from a lack of end-to-end accountability in the current Internet infrastructure…..The identities of malicious cyber operators are largely obstructed by the use of multiple layers of indirection… The lack of detailed information about the actions and identities of the adversary cyber operators inhibits policymaker considerations and decisions for both cyber and non-cyber response options (e.g., economic sanctions under EO-13694).

The DARPA’s Enhanced Attribution program aims to make currently opaque malicious cyber adversary actions and individual cyber operator attribution transparent by providing high-fidelity visibility into all aspects of malicious cyber operator actions and to increase the Government’s ability to publicly reveal the actions of individual malicious cyber operators without damaging sources and methods….

The program seeks to develop:

–technologies to extract behavioral and physical biometrics from a range of devices and
vantage points to consistently identify virtual personas and individual malicious cyber
operators over time and across different endpoint devices and C2 infrastructures;
–techniques to decompose the software tools and actions of malicious cyber operators into
semantically rich and compressed knowledge representations;
–scalable techniques to fuse, manage, and project such ground-truth information over time,
toward developing a full historical and current picture of malicious activity;–algorithms for developing predictive behavioral profiles within the context of cyber campaigns; and
–technologies for validating and perhaps enriching this knowledge base with other sources
of data, including public and commercial sources of information.

Excerpts from Enhanced Attribution, Solicitation Number: DARPA-BAA-16-34, April 22, 2016

Chernobyl Nuclear Accident from 1986 to 2016

Chernobyl containment. . image from EBRD

A workforce of around 2,500 people is finishing a massive steel enclosure that will cover Chernobyl’s reactor 4, where the radioactive innards of the nuclear plant are encased in a concrete sarcophagus hastily built after the disaster.  If all goes to plan, the new structure—an arch more than 350 feet high and 500 feet long—will be slid into place late next year over the damaged reactor and its nuclear fuel, creating a leak-tight barrier designed to contain radioactive substances for at least the next 100 years.

The project, known as the New Safe Confinement,  is a feat of engineering.  [see also the Chernobyl Gallery] It will take two or three days to slide the 36,000-ton structure into place. The arch, which looks something like a dirigible hangar, is large enough to cover a dozen football fields. “You could put Wembley Stadium underneath here, with all the car parks,” said David Driscoll, the chief safety officer for the French consortium running the construction site.

Three decades ago, an army of workers scrambled to build a concrete sarcophagus around Chernobyl Reactor 4, which released a radioactive plume after a reactor fire and explosion on April 26, 1986.  At least 30 people died as an immediate result of the accident, which contaminated parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and sent radioactive dust and debris over Europe. Pripyat, the company town of 50,000, was completely evacuated.

Emergency workers and evacuees received doses of radiation significantly above natural background levels, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers acknowledge high levels of thyroid cancer among people who were children at the time of the accident, from exposure to radioactive iodine…

Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka, the consortium of Vinci SA and Bouygues SA, the French contractors running the project, said about 1,000 people work on a typical shift at the construction site, keeping to a schedule of 15 days in and 15 out….

A new facility to safely and securely store spent nuclear rods is being built at the nuclear power complex. The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility, or ISF2, is intended to store spent fuel rods for a minium of 100 years…..The Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant in Chernobyl…retrieves highly active liquids from their current tanks, processes them into a solid state and moves them to containers for long-term storage. …

Wildlife has flourished in the forest [surrounding Chernobyl], which is largely off limits to humans. Officials say species such as lynx, wild boar, wolves, elk, bear and European bison have rebounded.

Excerpts from Nathan Hodge, 30 Years After Chernobyl Disaster, an Arch Rises to Seal Melted Reactor, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25, 2016

Burning Up

bottled water. image from wikipedia

Considered as the “white gold” –as opposed to the “black gold”—oil, water scarcity has become one of the major concerns of Bahrain in spite of the fact that it has a high Human Development Index and was recognized by the World Bank as a high-income economy.  It’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita amounts to 29,140 US Dollars. And it is home to the headquarters for the United States Naval Forces Central Command/United States Fifth Fleet.

All the above does not suffice to make Bahrainis happy. In fact, their country leads the list of 14 out of the 33 countries most likely to be water-stressed in 2040 –all of them situated in the Middle East– including nine considered extremely highly stressed according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).  After Bahrain comes Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.  Other Middle East Arab countries more or less share with Bahrain this front line position of water-stressed states. These are Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. All of them hold a very close second position in the region’ s water-stress ranking. The total represents two thirds of the 22 Arab countries. Not that the remaining Arab states are water-safe. Not at all: Mauritania, in the far Maghreb West, and Egypt, at the opposite end, are already under heavy threat as well.

The whole region, already arguably the least water-secure in the world, draws heavily on groundwater and desalinated sea water, and faces exceptional water-related challenges for the foreseeable future, says the WRI’s report: Ranking the World’s Most Water-Stressed Countries in 2040. The report’s authors Andrew Maddocks, Robert Samuel Young and Paul Reig foresee that world’s demand for water, including of course the Middle East, is likely to surge in the next few decades…This comes at a time when the Arab region has not taken advantage of its water resources of about 340 billion cubic meters, using only 50 per cent. The rest is lost and wasted.

Regarding the North of Africa, the Egyptian Ministry for Environment has recently admitted that large extensions of the country’s Northern area of the Nile Delta, which represents the most important and extensive agricultural region in Egypt, is already heavily exposed to two dangerous effects: salinasation and flooding. This is due to the rise of the Mediterranean Sea water levels and the land depression.

The impact of global warming and growing heat waves is particularly worrying the Egyptian authorities as it might reduce the flow of the Nile water in up to 80 per cent according to latest estimates

Excerpts from Baher Kamal, Climate Change and the Middle East (II), No Water in the Kingdom of the Two Seas—Nor Elsewhere, IPS, Apr. 18, 2016

Germany is Nervous-Belgium Nuclear Plants

Doel nuclear power station

Germany asked Belgium to take Engie SA’s Tihange-2 and Doel-3 atomic plants offline until the safety concerns can be addressed, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said on April 20, 2016 in an emailed statement. The two facilities, which were shut for investigations for 20 months, are safe to operate, Belgium’s nuclear regulator AFCN said in response to the request…

Engie’s Belgian unit Electrabel operates the two reactors. AFCN decided Nov. 17, 2015 that the reactors were safe to restart after investigations of the steel walls of the reactor vessels. With the approval, AFCN concluded the defects don’t affect safety. The two units account for about 14 percent of the nation’s installed power capacity…

Germany is phasing out nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima meltdowns in Japan in 2011, instead developing an energy market built on wind and solar power. The nation is set to close down its remaining eight reactors by 2022.

The plants resumed output by the end of last year. Germany wasn’t satisfied with AFCN’s assessment and called for a Belgium-German working group and for the national independent reactor safety commission, known as RSK, to examine the security issue. The commission concluded that in case of an incident it is unclear that safety provisions are adequate….Doel-3 has a capacity of 1,006 megawatts, while Tihange-2 has a capacity of 1,008 megawatts. The units have permission to operate until their retirement on Oct. 1, 2022, and Feb. 1, 2023, respectively, according to AFCN’s website

Excerpts In unprecedented move, Germany asks Belgium to halt two reactors over safety concerns, Bloomberg, Apr. 20, 2016

The Land of Promised Dough: Monsanto in India

money growing

Monsanto Co, the world’s biggest seed company, threatened to pull out of India on March 2016 if the government imposed a big cut in royalties that local firms pay for its genetically modified cotton seeds.

Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India)(MMB), a joint venture with India’s Mahyco, licenses a gene that produces its own pesticide to a number of local seed companies in lieu of royalties and an upfront payment. MMB also markets the seeds directly, though the local licensees together command 90 percent of the market.  Acting on complaints of local seeds companies that MMB was charging high fees, the farm ministry last year formed a committee to look into the matter.

The committee has now recommended about a 70 percent cut in royalty, or trait fee, that the seed companies pay to MMB, government sources said. The farm ministry is yet to take a decision on the committee’s recommendation.  “If the committee recommends imposing a sharp, mandatory cut in the trait fees paid on Bt-cotton seeds, MMB will have no choice but to re-evaluate every aspect of our position in India,” Shilpa Divekar Nirula, Monsanto’s chief executive for the India region, said in a statement…

Separately, MMB has filed a case in a Delhi court, challenging the authority of the committee to determine the trade fee agreed upon by MMB and a number of Indian seed companiesIn a partnership with Mahyco, U.S.-based Monsanto launched a GM cotton variety in India in 2002 despite opposition from critics who questioned its safety, helping transform the country into the world’s top producer and second-largest exporter of the fiber.

In a ruling on Feburary 2016, the Competition Commission of India, the antitrust regulator, said there were indications that MMB had abused its dominant position in the country and asked its director general to complete an investigation within two months.  The government-appointed committee has also recommended cutting Bt cotton seed prices to about 800 rupees for a packet of 400 grams. Currently Bt cotton seeds are being sold between 830 and 1100 rupees in different parts of the country.

Excerpts from MAYANK BHARDWAJ, Monsanto threatens to exit India over GM royalty row, Reuters, Mar. 4, 2016

See also India v. Monsanto: the Eggplant

Who is Watching North Korea

plumes of smoke

The 38 North, a US institute monitoring North Korea said that the country appears to be beginning or planning to extract plutonium, the core material of a nuclear bomb, at a nuclear plant in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang.  Satellite imagery dated April 11,  2016 shows a vehicle loaded with tanks or casks in the premises of a nuclear reprocessing facility, according to the 38 North website operated by Johns Hopkins University’s US-Korea Institute in Washington.  “Such tanks or casks could be used to supply chemicals used in a reprocessing campaign intended to produce additional plutonium, haul out waste products or a number of other related activities,” the institute said.  Similar vehicles were observed in the early 2000s, it said, when North Korea extracted plutonium apparently as part of its nuclear programmes.

On April 4, 2016 the institute said plumes were detected from the reprocessing facility fueling the speculation that Pyongyang has engaged in additional production of plutonium.

Excerpts from Satellite images show North Korea may have begun extracting plutonium at nuclear facility, says US institute, Associated Press, Apr. 16, 2016

What’s Your Threat Score?

instagram

Among the 38 previously undisclosed companies receiving In-Q-Tel funding, the research focus that stands out is social media mining and surveillance; the portfolio document lists several tech companies pursuing work in this area, including Dataminr, Geofeedia, PATHAR, and TransVoyant….The investments appear to reflect the CIA’s increasing focus on monitoring social media. In September 2015, David Cohen, the CIA’s second-highest ranking official, spoke at length at Cornell University about a litany of challenges stemming from the new media landscape. The Islamic State’s “sophisticated use of Twitter and other social media platforms is a perfect example of the malign use of these technologies,” he said…

The latest round of In-Q-Tel investments comes as the CIA has revamped its outreach to Silicon Valley, establishing a new wing, the Directorate of Digital Innovation…

Dataminr directly licenses a stream of data from Twitter to visualize and quickly spot trends on behalf of law enforcement agencies and hedge funds, among other clients.  Geofeedia collects geotagged social media messages to monitor breaking news events in real time.Geofeedia specializes in collecting geotagged social media messages, from platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, to monitor breaking news events in real time. The company, which counts dozens of local law enforcement agencies as clients, markets its ability to track activist protests on behalf of both corporate interests and police departments.PATHAR mines social media to determine networks of association…

PATHAR’s product, Dunami, is used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to “mine Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media to determine networks of association, centers of influence and potential signs of radicalization,” according to an investigation by Reveal.

TransVoyant analyzes data points to deliver insights and predictions about global events.  TransVoyant, founded by former Lockheed Martin Vice President Dennis Groseclose, provides a similar service by analyzing multiple data points for so-called decision-makers. The firm touts its ability to monitor Twitter to spot “gang incidents” and threats to journalists. A team from TransVoyant has worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan to integrate data from satellites, radar, reconnaissance aircraft, and drones….

The recent wave of investments in social media-related companies suggests the CIA has accelerated the drive to make collection of user-generated online data a priority. Alongside its investments in start-ups, In-Q-Tel has also developed a special technology laboratory in Silicon Valley, called Lab41, to provide tools for the intelligence community to connect the dots in large sets of data.  In February, Lab41 published an article exploring the ways in which a Twitter user’s location could be predicted with a degree of certainty through the location of the user’s friends. On Github, an open source website for developers, Lab41 currently has a project to ascertain the “feasibility of using architectures such as Convolutional and Recurrent Neural Networks to classify the positive, negative, or neutral sentiment of Twitter messages towards a specific topic.”

Collecting intelligence on foreign adversaries has potential benefits for counterterrorism, but such CIA-supported surveillance technology is also used for domestic law enforcement and by the private sector to spy on activist groups.

Palantir, one of In-Q-Tel’s earliest investments in the social media analytics realm, was exposed in 2011 by the hacker group LulzSec to be innegotiation for a proposal to track labor union activists and other critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying group in Washington. The company, now celebrated as a “tech unicorn” …

Geofeedia, for instance, promotes its research into Greenpeace activists, student demonstrations, minimum wage advocates, and other political movements. Police departments in Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, and other major municipalities havecontracted with Geofeedia, as well as private firms such as the Mall of America and McDonald’s.

Lee Guthman, an executive at Geofeedia, told reporter John Knefel that his company could predict the potential for violence at Black Lives Matter protests just by using the location and sentiment of tweets. Guthman said the technology could gauge sentiment by attaching “positive and negative points” to certain phrases, while measuring “proximity of words to certain words.”

Privacy advocates, however, have expressed concern about these sorts of automated judgments.“When you have private companies deciding which algorithms get you a so-called threat score, or make you a person of interest, there’s obviously room for targeting people based on viewpoints or even unlawfully targeting people based on race or religion,” said Lee Rowland, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.”

Excerpt from Lee Fang, THE CIA IS INVESTING IN FIRMS THAT MINE YOUR TWEETS AND INSTAGRAM PHOTOS, Intercept, Apr. 14, 2016

Final Settlement: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

BP-logo-web

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans gave his final approval April 4, 2016 to an estimated $20 billion settlement over BP’s massive 2010 oil spill. On July 2015, BP reached the $20 billion settlement with the federal government and five gulf states. The Justice Department has called it the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history as well as the largest-ever civil settlement with a single entity.  Barbier presided over a multiphase trial for the spill litigation before last summer’s settlement agreement resolved the bulk of the remaining civil claims against BP. The judge heard testimony from rig workers who survived the blast and from company executives who worked on the ill-fated drilling project off Louisiana’s coast. Barbier set the stage for the settlement when he ruled BP acted with “gross negligence” in the disaster….

In addition BP pleaded guilty in 2013 to manslaughter for the rig workers’ deaths and agreed to pay a record $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties.

In BP reached a multibillion-dollar settlement agreement with businesses and residents who claim the spill cost them money. That deal didn’t have a cap***, and a court-supervised claims administrator is still processing many of the claims.

***There is no limit on the total dollar amount of the Settlement, but BP will pay no more than $2.3 billion to compensate qualified claimants who are in the Seafood Compensation Program.

While BP has estimated that the total costs of the Settlement will be approximately $7.8 billion, there is no limit on the total amount of the Settlement (with the exception of the Seafood Compensation Program). The actual total amount paid out will depend on the number of qualified claims made, and could be higher or lower than BP’s estimate.***

Excerpts from Judge approves $20 billion settlement in gulf oil spill, Associated Press, April 4, 2016

Out and About, European Nuclear Weapons

Belgian Air Force , Kleine Brogel Air Base image from wikipedia

The US has approximately 180 B61 bombs – more than 10 times as powerful as those dropped on Hiroshima – at six locations in five countries across Europe.  An unknown number of these weapons are stored at the Kleine Brogel airbase in Belgium.  And Belgium has been the focus of European security services due to its reputation as a hotbed of radicalisation. During the first breach in 2010, anti-nuclear campaigners spent up to an hour wandering around the air base before security personnel moved in.A few months later activists again managed to sneak onto the site, this time reportedly gaining access to one of the hardened shelters used to house F-16 fighter jets as well as atomic weapons….

The US has stored non-strategic or tactical forward-deployed weapons at European facilities since the Cold War.The US Defence Department maintains about 4,760 nuclear warheads; an estimated 2,080 warheads are deployed while 2,680 warheads are held in storage….US bases have also been hit by worrying security breaches, including the break-in at the Y-12 site in Tennessee in 2012, one of the United States’ most sensitive sites. …….

Belgian authorities evacuated nuclear power plants at Doel, which houses four reactors, and Tihange, which houses three, in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks of March 2016…

Excerpts from TOM BATCHELOR, Security breaches uncovered at EUROPEAN bases storing US nuclear warheads, Express UK, Apr. 4, 2016