Cyberattacks, N. Korea, jihadist groups top U.S. threats

Cyberattacks

By Chelsea J. Carter, Pam Benson and Mariano Castillo, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Cyberattacks pose more of a threat to the United States than a land-based attack by a terrorist group, while North Korea’s development of a nuclear weapons program poses a “serious threat,” the director of national intelligence told Congress on Tuesday.

The warning by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper came in his annual report to Congress on the threats facing the United States.

“Attacks, which might involve cyber and financial weapons, can be deniable and unattributable,” Clapper said in prepared remarks before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Destruction can be invisible, latent and progressive.”

The Internet is increasingly being used as a tool both by nations and terror groups to achieve their objectives, according to Clapper’s report.

However, there is only a “remote chance” of a major cyberattack on the United States that would cause widespread disruptions, such as regional power outages, the report says. Most countries or groups don’t have the capacity to pull it off.

While Clapper emphasized possible cyberthreats, committee members raised questions about the potential nuclear dangers posed by North Korea and Iran, the increasing prevalence of al Qaeda in Syria and the effect of cuts to the U.S. budget on intelligence activities.

President Obama cracks whip on cybercrime

‘Belligerent rhetoric’

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China’s space activities raising U.S. satellite security concerns

Reuters/Reuters - Soldiers stand in front of the Long March II-F rocket loaded with China's unmanned space module Tiangong-1 before its planned launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province in this September 29, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/Files

Reuters/Reuters – Soldiers stand in front of the Long March II-F rocket loaded with China’s unmanned space module Tiangong-1 before its planned launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province in this September 29, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is concerned about China’s expanding ability to disrupt the most sensitive U.S. military and intelligence satellites, as Beijing pursues its expanded ambitions in space, according to multiple sources in the U.S. government and outside space experts.

A classified U.S. intelligence assessment completed late last year analyzed China’s increasing activities in space and mapped out the growing vulnerability of U.S. satellites that provide secure military communications, warn about enemy missile launches and provide precise targeting coordinates, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

“It was a very credible and sobering assessment that is now provoking a lot of activities in different quarters,” said one former government official who is familiar with U.S. national security satellite programs.

The intelligence report raised red flags about Beijing’s ability to disrupt satellites in higher orbits, which could put the most sensitive U.S. spacecraft at risk, according to the sources. China has already conducted several anti-satellite tests at lower orbital levels in recent years.

Given the heightened concerns, Washington is keeping a watchful eye on Chinese activities that could be used to disrupt U.S. satellites. It is also urging Beijing to avoid a repeat of its January 2007 test that created an enormous amount of “space junk,” said one senior defense official.

Details of the latest Chinese moves that have raised U.S. concerns remain classified.

U.S. officials charge that China’s anti-satellite activities are part of a major military modernization that has seen Beijing test two new stealth fighters; step up cyber attacks on foreign computer networks; and launch more commercial and military satellites in 2012 than the United States.

China still lags behind the United States in most military fields.

“What we’re seeing is a heightened sense in the United States that China is a potential threat and that it has the technology to be a threat if it wishes to,” said Jonathan McDowell, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

“As China becomes a space superpower, and given that it does have a significant military component to its space program, it is inevitable that the U.S. will be concerned about threats to its most valued satellite systems, whether or not China actually intends to deploy such aggressive systems,” he said.

CREATING SPACE DEBRIS

Six years ago, on January 11, 2007, China destroyed one of its own defunct weather satellites in low-earth orbit, which created over 10,000 pieces of debris that pose a threat to other spacecraft. A less-destructive test followed on January 11, 2010.

Space experts and U.S. officials say they expect China to continue testing anti-satellite technologies, although they doubt it would repeat the 2007 test, given the massive international outcry it triggered.

Gregory Kulacki, a respected researcher with the Union of Concerned Scientists, reported earlier this month on the group’s website that there was “a strong possibility” of a new anti-satellite test by China within the next few weeks.

He said Chinese sources had told him in November that an announcement about an upcoming anti-satellite test had been circulated within the Chinese government, and a high-ranking U.S. defense official confirmed in December that Washington was “very concerned” about an imminent Chinese anti-satellite test.

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In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad

An explosion last May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, killed four people and injured 18. It built iPads.

An explosion last May at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu, China, killed four people and injured 18. It built iPads. (Color China Photo, via Associated Press)

By NYT   and   Published: January 25, 2012

The explosion ripped through Building A5 on a Friday evening last May, an eruption of fire and noise that twisted metal pipes as if they were discarded straws.

When workers in the cafeteria ran outside, they saw black smoke pouring from shattered windows. It came from the area where employees polished thousands of iPad cases a day.

Two people were killed immediately, and over a dozen others hurt. As the injured were rushed into ambulances, one in particular stood out. His features had been smeared by the blast, scrubbed by heat and violence until a mat of red and black had replaced his mouth and nose.

“Are you Lai Xiaodong’s father?” a caller asked when the phone rang at Mr. Lai’s childhood home. Six months earlier, the 22-year-old had moved to Chengdu, in southwest China, to become one of the millions of human cogs powering the largest, fastest and most sophisticated manufacturing system on earth. That system has made it possible for Apple and hundreds of other companies to build devices almost as quickly as they can be dreamed up.

“He’s in trouble,” the caller told Mr. Lai’s father. “Get to the hospital as soon as possible.” Read more of this post

Come On, China, Buy Our Stuff!

A Gap Inc. store in Shanghai, China.

A Gap Inc. store in Shanghai, China.

By NYT ADAM DAVIDSON    Published: January 25, 2012

The first time I visited China, in 2005, an American businessman living there told me that the country was so huge and was changing so fast that everything you heard about it was true, and so was the opposite. That still seems to be the case. China is the fastest-growing consumer market in the world, and American companies have made billions there. At the same time, Chinese consumers aren’t spending nearly as much as American companies had hoped. China has simultaneously become the greatest boon and the biggest disappointment.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2000, the United States forged its current economic relationship with China by permanently granting it most-favored-nation trade status and, eventually, helping the country enter the World Trade Organization. The unspoken deal, though, went something like this: China could make a lot of cheap goods, which would benefit U.S. consumers, even if it cost the country countless low-end manufacturing jobs. And rather than, say, fight for an extra bit of market share in Chicago, American multinationals could offset any losses because of competition by entering a country with more than a billion people — including the fastest-growing middle class in history — just about to buy their first refrigerators, TVs and cars. It was as if the United States added a magical 51st state, one that was bigger and grew faster than all the others. We would all be better off.

More than a decade later, many are waiting for the payoff. Certainly, lots of American companies have made money, but many actual workers have paid a real price. What went wrong? In part, American businesses assumed that a wealthier China would look like, well, America, says Paul French, a longtime Shanghai-based analyst with Access Asia-Mintel. He notes that Chinese consumers have spent far less than expected, and the money they do spend is less likely to be spent on American goods. Read more of this post

State Of The Union Speech Text 2012

Below, Obama’s prepared remarks as released by the White House.

As Prepared for Delivery –Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq. Together, we offered a final, proud salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought — and several thousand gave their lives.

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home. Read more of this post

The State of the Union 2012

Watch it here tonight at 9PM ET.  State of The Union Address

“On Tuesday night, I’m going to talk about how we’ll get there. American Manufacturing – with more good jobs and more products stamped with Made in America. American Energy – fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources. Skills for American Workers – getting people the education and training they need so they’re ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow. And most importantly, a Return to American Values – of fairness for all, and responsibility from all.” – POTUS

Kudos to President Obama for promoting manufacturing.  As Scott Paul said in a recent Huffington Post op-ed “now is the ideal time for the president to promote manufacturing: “If the president really wants to see “Made in America” stamped on products shipped all over the world, he needs to be bold. We’ll be watching. And so will voters.”

Will you be watching?

John Glenn: Keep space shuttles flying Good U.S. Jobs

MARCIA DUNN, AP Aerospace Writer

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Mercury astronaut John Glenn wants NASA’s space shuttles to keep flying until a reliable replacement is ready, no matter how long it takes.

Glenn joined the national debate Monday over America’s future in space and became the latest ex-astronaut to speak out on the matter. He issued a nine-page statement in which he questioned the decision to retire the shuttle fleet and rely on Russia to take astronauts to the International Space Station.

“We have a vehicle here, why throw it away? It’s working well,” the first American to orbit Earth said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Glenn said he’s against paying the Russians $55.8 million per person to fly U.S. astronauts to the space station and back. That’s the price for a single ticket starting in 2013; right now, it’s costing NASA $26.3 million and will jump to $51 million next year.

Glenn doesn’t believe the general public realizes what’s happening on the space front.

“Going to Russia and being, in effect, under control of Russia for our space program just doesn’t sit right with me and I don’t think it sits well with the American people, or won’t, either,” said Glenn, a former U.S. senator who rode the shuttle into orbit in 1998 at age 77. He turns 89 next month.

Glenn said little if any money will be saved by canceling the shuttle program, considering all the millions of dollars going to Russia for rocket rides. At least two shuttle flights a year could keep the station going and the work force employed, until something new comes along, he said.

The former astronaut wonders what will happen if there’s an accident and Soyuz rockets are grounded. He supposes the space station — a $100 billion investment — would have to be abandoned. He also worries scientific research at the station will take a hit if experiments have to be launched from Russia and have no way of getting back to Earth in bulk.

President George W. Bush made the decision to retire the shuttles and retarget the moon, six years ago in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. President Barack Obama is holding on to the shuttle shutdown, while killing the moon effort.

Only two shuttle missions remain on the official lineup; the second almost certainly will be delayed into early next year. NASA is hoping the White House will add an extra flight next summer before ending the 30-year shuttle program.

Democratic Glenn supports Obama’s plan, announced earlier this year, to keep the space station going until 2020 and to give up on a moon base for now. But the original Mercury 7 astronaut said the nation needs a rocketship capable of lifting heavy payloads — whether it’s part of NASA’s Constellation program or something else — if astronauts are ever to reach asteroids and Mars.

Private companies, meanwhile, interested in carrying astronauts back and forth to the space station need to first prove their capability and reliability, Glenn noted. “I’m very leery of this rush to commercialization,” he said.

Glenn said he waited to go public because he thought “people would see the wisdom” of keeping the shuttle going.

“If we’re going to do anything, if has to be done pretty quick,” he said.

John Glenn School of Public Affairs: http://glennschool.osu.edu/news/space.html

Russian Firm to Bid on Air Force Tanker Program

By PETER SANDERS

In another twist to the ongoing saga to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of aerial refueling tankers, United Aircraft Corp. of Russia is planning to bid on the $40 billion contract, according to a person familiar with its plans.

United Aircraft, an aerospace consortium owned by the Russian government, will seek to offer a tanker version of its Ilyushin Il-96 wide-body jetliner, dubbed the Il-98, this person said. The planes would be largely built in Russia, and assembled in the U.S., this person says. United Aircraft will partner with a “small U.S. defense contractor,” which will be renamed United Aircraft Corp. America Inc., this person said, declining to name that contractor.

“UAC will publicly announce by Monday morning the signing of the joint venture agreement for the first of what is hoped to be many opportunities in the U.S.,” says John Kirkland, a Los Angeles-based attorney representing UAC.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said, “the Department of Defense remains committed to a fair and open competition and welcomes proposals from all qualified offerors.”

The Air Force’s aerial tanker replacement program has been tangled in controversy since 2002, when the Pentagon planned to lease a fleet of new tankers from Boeing Co. That plan was revoked and in 2008, Northrop Grumman Corp. and its European partner, the European Aerospace Defence & Space Co., were awarded a contract to build the fleet using the Airbus A330 jetliner. Boeing successfully protested that award and the Pentagon restarted the process yet again last year.

On March 8, Northrop Grumman Corp. dropped out of the contest to bid for the contract, saying the latest requirements favored Boeing’s smaller 767 entrant.

On Friday, EADS said it was seeking a three-month extension of the May 10 bidding deadline as it considered submitting a bid on its own. However, EADS has always faced pressure because it is a European firm bidding for one of the most costly U.S. defense contracts.

A bid from a Russian firm would likely face even harsher scrutiny and criticism from lawmakers. In addition, the Russian plane has never been considered a commercial success.

Only 17 Il-96 are currently in passenger service, and the plane has largely failed to find traction outside of Russia and its major trading partners as a long-range wide-body jet since it was introduced in 1993. Last August, citing lack of orders Russia canceled production of the passenger version of the Il-96.

Write to Peter Sanders at peter.sanders@wsj.com

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