U.S. Cyber Command Attacks ISIS. Slow Progress. Few Results.

Summary: Our war with ISIS is almost invisible to Americans. Only lightly reported by the press, visible mostly in the domestic terrorism it inspires. Even less visible is our cyberwar with ISIS. One of the most active fronts of the war, it is a harbinger of future conflicts. Here Emilio Iasiello briefs us on the US attacks by the lavishly-funded US Cyber Command. What are they doing? What successes?  Second of two posts today.

Screenshot: you have been hacked by ISIS.

Screenshot of an ISIS cyberattack

ISIS hacked the Argonne National Laboratory in July 2015. Details here. Click to enlarge.

U.S. Cyber Command’s ISIS Efforts. Slow Progress. Few Results.

By Emilio Iasiello from CyberDB.
Reposted with his generous permission.

Mid-July 2016 reporting reveals that U.S. cyber offensives against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) online recruiting and propaganda activities has not yielded the types of results that were initially anticipated. According to the news article, the debut effort of the U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) has not been effective, despite officials declining to provide any specifics as to the types of operations being conducted.  What was revealed was that CYBERCOM’s commander Admiral Michael Rogers had created a unit charged with the mission of developing digital weapons to support this effort.  Joint Task Force Ares, a 100-person strong unit, will not only build tools, but may engaged in other possible missions such as disrupting the terrorist group’s payment system and denying access to their current chat application of choice.

Nevertheless, despite aspirations and being the first publicly declared online military operation by any nation state, success has been fleeting. This is certainly a disappointing turn of events for a country largely believed to be the most cyber capable in the world.  The recent slow progress is impeding the normalization of how cyber attacks can be used as a potential military tool.  Officials hoped that the ISIS campaign would help normalize how cyber attacks can be leveraged similarly as airstrikes to support military objectives, to take cyber out of the shadows and provide a bit more transparency, according to a senior Pentagon official.  As of now, there has been little anecdotal evidence showing this type of success.

Part of the problem may be that CYBERCOM, despite being an official sub-unified command for approximately seven years, is simply not ready.  Admiral Rogers conceded that the first dedicated cyber troops will be operational by early fall, and expected the command to be fully operational by September 30, 2018, calling into question the capability and talent of the current staffing levels.  Such speculation has been raised in a June 2016 article that highlighted CYBERCOM’s struggles with identifying, recruiting, and retaining top talent. The Command’s Cyber Mission Force will eventually have 6,200 people split into 133 teams, half of which will be assigned to protecting networks, 20 percent dedicated to combat missions, 10 percent assigned to national mission teams to protect critical infrastructure, and the remaining fifth assigned unspecified “support” functions.

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Why New Home Construction Is Slow, And Will Remain So For A Long Time

Summary: September housing starts were weak, as they have been since the crash. Their failure to recover has been a surprising and large drag on this economic cycle. Demographic change and slow GDP prevent a housing recovery. On the other hand, housing busts create recessions; this slow expansion (without a boom) is more sustainable — and might run unusually long.

Slow growth of housing

September housing starts were weak, -15% YoY NSA (year-over-year, not seasonally adjusted) and -9.0% MoM SA. The weakness in this key industry is one facet of secular stagnation. How weak is it, compared to past expansions? See this graph of annual housing starts per 1000 people. After 7 years of economic expansion, starts run at less than half of the previous peak (Jan 2006), and two-thirds of the average during the previous two expansions. They rose to the 1963-2007 lows – and stalled.

Annual housing starts per 1000 people

See the rest of the article at Seeking Alpha!

Turning points in history – are we at another?

Summary: What do turning points of history look like? To see those in the future, let’s look at those in the past. Here’s a quick look at big events of history that were not, and some that were.

Turning Points of History

The Atlantic asks “What was the worst year in history?” It’s a powerful question, offering a deeper understanding of history. Most of the answers fell into three categories.

  • Inevitable events: the Chicxulub asteroid impact 65 million years ago (disastrous, but cleared the planet for the rise of mammals), the invention of firearms.
  • Lots of people dying early: pandemics (e.g., smallpox in 1918, plague in 1347. These people were all going to die eventually.
  • One of humanity’s countless wars: Sack of Antwerp in 1576, King Philip’s War in 1675, US Civil War, WWI, WWII.

These are the normal events of history. The occurrence of these individual events was chance, but as a group they are the rhythms of life. Shifting the dates and details of these events might change history, but probably not significantly alter the course of humanity’s evolution. Consider a different and more useful perspective on this question.

What events changed the course of history for the worse?

(1) The lost computer revolution of the 19th century

My favorite candidate is 1832 — when Charles Babbage halted construction of his difference engine (a mechanical calculator) due to a dispute with his engineer, Joseph Clement. This resulted from Babbage’s great creativity and lack of focus. In 1842 the British government ended support for the project. Swedish academic and inventor Martin Wiberg build a working version in 1875, but lacked government sponsorship and was unable to sell it. Mechanical calculators became commercially available only after 1900.

Imagine a contrafactual, an alternative world in which Babbage finished his calculator and printer by 1840. His design was sound; both were built from his plans and successfully run in 2000 using tools and materials available to Babbage.

That’s the small news. With that success Babbage might have built his analytical engine — a programmable analog computer and its software (several assembly languages). He had designed most of it by his death in 1871. Better funding and more encouragement — powered by a 1842 success of his difference engine — might have produced a working model by 1871. If not, his son, Henry Prevost Babbage, might have done so (he did continue his father’s work, and produced a working component). IBM built the first modern version in 1944.

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A new survey reveals American’s top fears, showing our true selves

Summary: The Chapman University Survey reveals American’s top fears. Many of them are exaggerated; some are delusional, most are influenced by the sea of propaganda that blankets America. Here we see one reason why the reform of America is so difficult.

Fearful faces in the dark

For the third year, the Chapman University Survey of American Fears asked 1,500+ adult Americans about their fears (details here). The slide show presentation of their results appears below, with a video at the end of the post. The top 10 things we fear the most are…fearful woman

  1. Corruption of government officials (also #1 in 2015).
  2. Terrorist attacks.
  3. Not having enough money for the future.
  4. Being a victim of terror. {Twice on the list!}
  5. Government restrictions on firearms and ammunition.
  6. People I love dying.
  7. Economic or financial collapse.
  8. Identity theft.
  9. People I love becoming seriously ill.
  10. The Affordable Health Care Act/”Obamacare”.


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A leaked memo about climate change explains why we’re unprepared

Summary: A leaked memo from the highest levels of the Democratic Party leadership discuss how to build public support for large-scale climate policy initiatives. It shows why their efforts failed, and raises questions about the coming Hillary Clinton administration.

“We don’t even plan for the past.”
— Steven Mosher (member of Berkeley Earth; bio here), a comment posted at Climate Etc.

Climate Change Drama

Memorandum: “Climate: A unifying theory to the case“,
Emailed from John Podesta to Chris Lehane, 28 January 2014.

This memo was emailed to Podesta (a senior White House official) from Lehane (partner in the strategic communications firm Fabiani & Lehane, dissolved in Nov 2015). We have it courtesy of Wikileaks — and whoever leaked it to them.

John Podesta was Chief of staff to Bill Clinton and Counselor to the President for Obama. He is Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Chris Lehane – When an attorney in the White House Counsel’s office, he and his current business partner Mark Fabiani called themselves the “Masters of Disaster” for their work as a “rapid-response” team responding to the many scandals of the Clinton Administration. Lehane co-authored a book on damage control titled Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control. Jim Jordan, Kerry’s former campaign manager, called him ”a master of the political hand-to-hand” for his work as a political strategist.


“Thank you for asking us to share some ideas for a holistic approach to climate. Per your direction, the goal is to unify policy, politics, and communications to help the Administration best execute an informed plan over a multi-year time period. …this document is intended to provide some food for thought as the Administration refines its thinking on climate. …{it} addresses the four components that the Administration may want to consider as it seeks to lead on this issue.

  1. Three-Year Framework. …
  2. Right v. Wrong. Make the case that climate must be approached as a challenge of historical social change where progress will depend in part on successfully casting the issue in moral terms of who is right and who is wrong …
  3. The Big Idea. …{It} could drive an Administration-wide approach to climate for the next three years. …
  4. 2014 Action Plan. …

“To achieve victory, we must treat climate change as an issue of historic importance that is worthy of a true political social movement to create change. This political social movement must be founded on moral principles with stark definitions of who is right and who is wrong, and it is important to outline the historically negative, irreversible implications if we were to not succeed.

“By pursuing this as a political social movement, President Obama and his Administration will best be able to assure that his legacy includes his unprecedented leadership on climate that initiated the shifting of the country’s political tectonic plates to enable transformative climate change policy, before it was too late.

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