by Patrick Cockburn
‘[...] Allegations about the use of poison gas in Syria are made under the shadow of the notoriously false claims about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction made to justify the Iraq war. Not surprisingly, this has made the public everywhere in the world dubious about stories about the possession or use of WMD being used to hoodwink them into supporting another war.
Of course, it is much against the interests of the Syrian government to use chemical weapons because this might provoke foreign military intervention. The Syrian army has no need to use it as a terror weapon because artillery, aerial bombardment and death squads are quite enough to frighten people into taking flight. There are already 1.5 million refugees outside the country.’
‘If North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Un ever orders troops into the demilitarized zone, an army of South Korean robots could be waiting.
A Samsung subsidiary plans to deploy sentry robots to the tense South Korean border. The machines will be equipped with machine guns and cameras, thermal imaging and laser range finders capable of detecting intruders up to 2 1/2 miles away.
Samsung Techwin says the decision to fire must be made by a human in a remote bunker. Experts have suggested, however, that an operator could hack into the robot to enable it to make its own lethal decisions.
“If there has to be a decision, somebody has to turn on a trigger or put a key in for the lethal part,” said Alex Pazos, Samsung Techwin’s director of application engineering in Latin America, where it uses unarmed versions of the surveillance robots.
The robots represent the cutting edge of cyber technologies that increasingly give machines control over life-or-death decisions. For now, the robots are adept at making stark choices in places such as the Korean demilitarized zone, where no people are allowed.
Though unmanned drones in the sky have drawn a lot of attention, a Tribune-Review investigation finds that ground-based droids — the real-world descendants of Hollywood sci-fi movies — are becoming smarter and deadlier, pushing the line at which ethical questions must be resolved. The Army has more than 7,000 less-sophisticated ground robotics systems for missions such as reconnaissance and bomb detection and removal.’
by Elior Levy
According to the report, dozens of people suffered respiration problems after the Syrian army bombarded the Al Asali district in Damascus with chemically laced mortars. There were no further reports regarding the condition of the wounded.
In another, second attack, rebels reported being hit by phosphorous laced mortars in residential areas in which fighting is currently being conducted.’
KBR Tells U.S. Army it will Cost $500 Million and Take 13 Years to Close out Its Iraq Contract ~ All Gov
‘The recipient of the largest government services contract in U.S. history has told military officials it will take another 13 years and half a billion dollars to finish off its work stemming from the Iraq war.
With the conflict over and the pullout of combat units, the Pentagon sought to alter the terms of payment for the remainder of the contract. U.S. Defense Department officials want to pay KBR a fixed amount for what’s left to do (which could save it hundreds of millions of dollars), while the company wants to be reimbursed for its efforts, which has been the case since the deal was arranged last decade.
The Army’s move to implement the change prompted KBR to sue in court, where its lawyers argued that the remaining duties will cost $500 million and take 13 years to complete.’
Editors Note: The US was dismissive of any evidence until late April when Israel made the official announcement that it believed the Syrian government had used chemical weapons. Israel claimed that the Syrian had used them five times, whereas the US claimed two uses. Last week Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan claimed ‘at least 200′ uses stating that he had absolute proof. Obama has also stated that he had already seen the proof, but reiterated that ‘more specific information’ is needed. The UN however have said that only one incident of their use has taken place and that it was the rebels, not the Syrian government, who used them. This claim was dismissed out of hand by the US, with them stating that it was probably carried out by the Syrian military even though Syrian soldiers died as a result.
‘President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria.
However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks.
Earlier, residents of a north Syrian town told a BBC reporter how government forces had dropped poisonous gas canisters on them from helicopters.’
‘High levels of military spending played a key role in the unfolding European sovereign debt crisis — and continue to undermine efforts to resolve it.
A new report by the Transnational Institute — ‘Guns, Debt and Corruption: Military Spending and the EU Crisis’ — looks at the ways in which excessive militarization directly fed into the unfolding European debt crisis, and continues to undermine efforts to resolve it. Below the downlink links and infographic you can find the executive summary of the report.‘
The British ambassador in Buenos Aires sent a telegram to the Ministry of Defence in London on 29 March 1982 saying that the Argentine air force had an “interest in acquiring extra squadron bombers”. Ambassador Anthony Williams planned to meet the head of the Argentine air force the “next week” to discuss the sale.
The subject of that meeting – obviously cancelled when Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April – was the sale of Canberra jet bombers and the refurbishment of other bombers that Britain had previously sold to the regime. “BAe [British Aerospace] is committed to making a proposal [to refurbish the planes] … if all goes well here BAe could move further up the class in time,” Ambassador Williams wrote.
The documents show that British arms sales to Argentina’s junta, notorious for its abuses of human rights, jumped after Margaret Thatcher came to power. Arms sales rose from £4.9m in 1978 to £62.6m in 1979; £46.7m in 1980 and £12.5m in 1981.’
‘India and China will order 100 new naval ships and submarines each by 2032 due to changing global security environment and increasing reliance on the sea for trade in the strategic region, according to a US-based naval consultancy. The new orders would include nuclear and conventional submarines and new aircraft carriers, a balanced mix of destroyers, frigates, smaller units, amphibious and logistics vessels, Coast Guard and maritime patrol forces, said Bob Nugent, the vice-president of AMI International.
The two countries combined would account for 30 by volume and 45 per cent by value of the 1048 naval vessels, worth about $200 billion, to be ordered by the Asia Pacific countries in next 20 years, he said. “We see the Asia Pacific market as about $200 billion worth of new ships and submarines,” he said. The region has become second to the US.’
by Phillip Swarts
The Washington Guardian
‘The U.S. spends more money on defense than any other nation in the world. So in an era of fiscal challenge, the Pentagon looked for ways to reduce costs.
Too bad Congress wasn’t listening.
Lawmakers have nixed several of the money-saving ideas, instead forcing the Defense Department to purchase or maintain equipment it says it doesn’t need.’
by Jason Ditz
‘Addressing the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP, a pro-Israel group closely allied with AIPAC) today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel sought to stake out a pro-diplomacy position while giving the usual levels of lip-service to military support for Israel.
The result was a somewhat confusing split in reports of his speech, in which he simultaneously called for a “more delicate approach” to the Middle East that required the US to “recognize its limitations,” while emphasizing policies that suggest nothing has really changed.
To that end, Hagel touted “reinforcing” Israel’s military advantage across the region, as well as backing Egypt and selling high end weaponry to the Persian Gulf states, while vowing to keep a “robust military presence” there as well.’
‘Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told US media he has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons against opposition forces.
He said that missile remains were discovered and Syrian patients showed signs of wounds from chemical weapons.’
‘Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to tamper his views on the likelihood of Syria’s use of chemical weapons with his belief that a peaceful resolution is possible in the Syria crisis, during a Google+ Hangout on Friday afternoon.
“We owe it to the world to try and get there and to explore in good faith whether or not we can avoid the bloodshed, avoid the violence,” Kerry said.
While confessing his belief that there is “strong evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons, Kerry pressed the importance for talks, as difficult as they may seem at the current moment.
“It’s not an easy path, but it is a path I think we, as a matter of conscience, are obligated to go down,” Kerry said.’
by Valerie Brown
‘The most toxic and voluminous nuclear waste in the U.S.—208 million liters —sits in decaying underground tanks at the Hanford Site (a nuclear reservation) in southeastern Washington State. It accumulated there from the middle of World War II, when the Manhattan Project invented the first nuclear weapon, to 1987, when the last reactor shut down. The federal government’s current attempt at a permanent solution for safely storing that waste for centuries—the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant here—has hit a major snag in the form of potential chain reactions, hydrogen explosions and leaks from metal corrosion. And the revelation last February that six more of the storage tanks are currently leaking has further ramped up the pressure for resolution.’
‘One of the US’s critical military and espionage contractors QinetiQ North America (QNA) was successfully pillaged for huge amounts of top-secret know-how by the infamous Chinese ‘Comment Crew’ or PLA 61398 hacking group in a campaign stretching over years, Bloomberg has reported.
Reports and accusations of Chinese hacking are now ten-a-penny but what has been reconstructed by Bloomberg’s journalists after talking to investigators tells a story that will be as embarrassing as it is depressing for both QNA and the US defence establishment.
The hacking was so extensive that external consultants ended up more or less working permanently inside the firm to root out malicious software and compromises on an ongoing basis.’
‘British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that evidence was accumulating of the Syrian government’s past and continued use of chemical weapons such as sarin gas.
“There is a growing body of limited but persuasive information showing that the regime has used and continues to use chemical weapons including sarin and the room for doubt about this continues to diminish,” Cameron told parliament.
Cameron said he had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday morning about Syria, saying he had welcomed a joint Russian-U.S. push for new peace talks.
“There’s an urgent need to start a proper negotiation to force a political transition and to bring this conflict to an end,” Cameron said.’
by Tony Capaccio
‘U.S. Navy leaders were warned last year that a $37 billion program to build Littoral Combat Ships can’t meet its promised mission because the vessels are too lightly manned and armed, according to a confidential report.
“This review highlights the gap between ship capabilities and the missions the Navy will need LCS to execute,” said the report prepared last year for the Navy by Rear Admiral Samuel Perez. “Failure to adequately address LCS requirements and capabilities will result in a large number of ships that are ill-suited to execute” regional commanders’ warfighting needs.
The 36-page report obtained by Bloomberg News is at odds with assurances from Navy leaders that their project is on course to deliver a small, speedy and adaptable ship intended to patrol waters close to shore.’
Abby Martin takes with a look at the conflicting reports about chemical weapons being used in Syria, news of Israeli airstrikes in Damascus, and the importance of taking information from the corporate media on this issue with a grain of salt.
by Terry Macalister and Richard Halpin
‘Radioactive materials have gone missing from businesses, hospitals and even schools more than 30 times over the last decade, a freedom of information request to the UK’s health and safety authorities has revealed.
Nuclear experts have warned that some of the lost material could be used by terrorists and said there should be a crackdown by the regulators to ensure such “carelessness” is brought to a speedy halt.
Among the big names that have lost potentially dangerous materials are Rolls-Royce at a site in Derby, the Sellafield nuclear plant in Cumbria and the Royal Free hospital in London. Some organisations have been prosecuted but others have got away with little more than a warning notice, papers released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal.’
by Luke Harding
‘The US and United Nations have cast doubt on claims by Carla del Ponte that Syrian rebel forces might have used the nerve agent sarin.
“We are highly sceptical of any suggestions that the opposition used chemical weapons,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney. “We think it highly likely that Assad regime was responsible but we have to be sure about the facts before we make any decisions about a response.”
Speaking on Sunday del Ponte, a member of a UN panel investigating in Syria, said there were “strong, concrete suspicions” the Syrian rebels had used poison gas. She cited testimony from survivors in hospitals outside Syria, but gave no details. “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she told Swiss-Italian TV.
But the UN’s Syria investigators appeared to row back on del Ponte’s remarks on Monday, saying there was thus far “no conclusive proof” that either side in the Syria conflict had used chemical weapons.’
‘Appalling irresponsibility’: Senior scientists attack Chinese researchers for creating new strains of influenza virus in veterinary laboratory ~ Independent
by STEVE CONNOR
‘Senior scientists have criticised the “appalling irresponsibility” of researchers in China who have deliberately created new strains of influenza virus in a veterinary laboratory.
They warned there is a danger that the new viral strains created by mixing bird-flu virus with human influenza could escape from the laboratory to cause a global pandemic killing millions of people.
Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientist and past president of the Royal Society, denounced the study published today in the journal Science as doing nothing to further the understanding and prevention of flu pandemics.’
Bush Official: Syria Chemical Weapons Attack Could Be “Israeli False Flag Operation” ~ Washington’s Blog
‘It is likely that Al Qaeda rebels – and not the Syrian government – carried out the chemical weapons attack which the hawks in Washington are trying to use as a reason to invade.
Haaretz reported on March 24th, “Jihadists, not Assad, apparently behind reported chemical attack in Syria“.
The Syria Tribune released a video in December allegedly showing Syrian rebels killing rabbits with chemical weapons, and threatening to use them against supporters of the Syrian government. (It is impossible at this point to say whether this is genuine or propaganda).
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson – the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under President George W. Bush – said yesterday that the Syrian chemical weapons could be a “Israeli false flag operation”.’
‘Israel, which has the most advanced defense industry in the Middle East, is in the forefront of the rapidly expanding drone business that’s changing the way wars will be fought for decades to come.
With state-owned Israel Aircraft Industries, Elbit Systems and Aeronautics Defense Systems developing new and more agile unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as ground and seaborne drones, the Jewish state seems well-placed to corner a big slice of a market valued at around $50 billion a year.
Indeed, Israel’s widely considered to be the leading UAV exporter in the world, selling units and associated technology as far afield as India, Russia, Nigeria and Mexico.’
by Kevin Baron
‘British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said that Britain backs President Barack Obama’s insistence on “conclusive” evidence that Syria used chemical weapons before moving forward with any military intervention.
The defense leader said on Thursday that Britain’s physiological samples, which led them to declare that they believed sarin gas had been used in Syria, was “compelling but not conclusive” and did not meet courtroom-worthy standards required to muster international support for a military response.’
by David Alexander
‘North Korea’s continuing development of nuclear technology and long-range ballistic missiles will move it closer to its stated goal of being able to hit the United States with an atomic weapon, a new Pentagon report to Congress said on Thursday.
The report, the first version of an annual Pentagon assessment required by law, said Pyongyang’s Taepodong-2 missile, with continued development, might ultimately be able to reach parts of theUnited States carrying a nuclear payload if configured as an intercontinental ballistic missile.’
by John Glaser
‘When the news about chemical weapons use in Syria hit the headlines again last week, I wrote that the whole debate on the issue was bogus. I argued that the alleged use of chemical weapons didn’t change the fact that the administration sees war in Syria as too costly and that, in any case, chemical weapons aren’t any different from the conventional military means that have already killed tens of thousands.
Over at Foreign Affairs, John Mueller argues Obama should “erase the red line.” He explains that not only is the chemical weapons “red line” bogus in the way I argued last week, but that the history of how chemical weapons occupied a special place in the international psyche is filled with as much war propaganda as Obama’s red line position.’