USIP's Science, Technology & Peacebuilding Roundup

United States Institute of Peace


Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding

Weekly News Roundup, January 26 - February 1, 2012

Table of Contents

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which includes a special section on Internet and social media.**

Killer App
Have a bunch of Silicon Valley geeks at Palantir Technologies figured out how to stop terrorists? [The company's] expertise is in finding connections among people, places, and events in large repositories of electronic data. Palantir has sold its software to the CIA, the military's Special Command, and the Marine Corps, which use it to help track down terrorists. The director of the National Security Agency has said Palantir's software could help the agency "see" into cyberspace to defend against hackers and spies attempting to breachgovernment computer networks.
See the full article (Washingtonian, Shane Harris, 1/31/12)
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Who Was That Masked Man?
For a group that sprang organically from an Internet forum normally devoted to anime cartoons and cat videos, the amorphous hacker/prankster collective known as "Anonymous" has become a surprisingly potent actor in global politics. But to understand the forces that make the group tick, let's look back to a time before SOPA and the Arab Spring and consider the strange story of one "Agent Pubeit."
See the full article (Foreign Policy, 1/31/12)
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With Its Deadly Drones, the US is Fighting a Coward's War
It may be true, as the US Air Force says, that because a drone can circle and study a target for hours before it strikes, its missiles are less likely to kill civilians than those launched from a piloted plane. But it must also be true that the easier and less risky a deployment is, the more likely it is to happen.
See the full article (Guardian, George Monbiot, 1/30/12)
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US Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provoke Outrage in Iraq
A month after the last American troops left Iraq, the State Department is operating a small fleet of surveillance drones here to help protect the United States Embassy and consulates, as well as American personnel. [Unlike Pentagon and CIA craft], the State Department drones carry no weapons and are meant to provide data and images of possible hazards, like public protests or roadblocks, to security personnel on the ground. [But] some senior Iraqi officials expressed outrage at the program, saying the unarmed aircraft are an affront to Iraqi sovereignty.
See the full article (New York Times, Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt, 1/29/12) *NYT sign-up may be required to view the full article
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Cyber and Unmanned War Systems Spared Axe
Budget cuts proposed by the Pentagon will hit nearly every part of the US defence industry, from makers of fighter jets and warships to providers of services such as information technology support. However, there were notable exceptions to the austerity. The Pentagon is hoping to protect spending for building unmanned systems and developing new ones. Funding for an unmanned army system would be spared, and the Pentagon vowed to invest in sea-based intelligence systems and in space systems.
See the full article (Sydney Morning Herald, Marjorie Censer, 1/28/12)
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Q&A: How Global Conflict Shows Up in Computer Games
Earlier this month, an Iranian court handed a death sentence to a former US Marine of Iranian descent who was convicted of spying for the CIA. One strange twist in the case was that the defendant allegedly confessed to using video games to manipulate public opinion. Strange as it may seem, this isn't the first time that video games have played a part in foreign disputes. Rex Brynen, a political science professor at McGill University who co-edits a blog on conflict simulation, answered our questions about how computer games reflect global tensions.
See the full article (Los Angeles Times, Emily Alpert, 1/27/12)
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New Apps Help Activists Sharing Video to Remain Anonymous
A pair of new apps, launched via a collaboration between WITNESS, The Guardian Project, and the International Bar Association, are attempting to ensure better "visual anonymity" and "visual privacy" for activists -- but also to preserve that video for posterity. ObscuraCam, which is currently only built for Android, allows users to post videos online with pixilated faces to protect their identities. It can also delete potentially incriminating metadata attached to the video.
See the full article (RFE/RL, Luke Allnutt, 1/27/12)
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Iranian Scientist Arrested in Los Angeles Has Court Hearing
The United States has arrested and charged an Iranian semiconductor scientist with violating US export laws by buying high-tech US lab equipment. Prison records show the US has been holding Seyed Mojtaba Atarodi, 54, a microchip expert and assistant professor at Tehran's prestigious Sharif University of Technology, in a federal facility outside San Francisco. The arrest comes as the US, Israel and their allies are using diplomacy, sanctions and intelligence efforts to try to cripple what they suspect is Iran's drive to lay the foundations of a nuclear weapons program.
See the full article (AP, 1/26/12)
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Call for Cyberwar 'Peacekeepers' Force
The US Army's Cyber Command is recruiting. Its mission? To create "a world class cyberwarrior force." Recruits will be trained using cyber challenge scenarios, for what is widely acknowledged as setting the cyber threat apart is not just its scale but its unpredictable and all-pervasive nature, posing a risk to critical national infrastructure such as power grids and water supplies, as well as the financial sector, individual companies and citizens.
See the full article (BBC, Susan Watts, 1/26/12)
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How Africa Tweets
In an analysis of more than 11.5 million geolocated tweets posted during the last three months of 2011, Portland Communications and the platform Tweetminster gathered data about the continent's use of the social network. Just over half -- 57 percent -- of tweets, the analysis found, are sent from mobile devices. Which is actually a surprisingly low number, considering that 53 percent of the overall population currently have a mobile cellular subscription.
See the full article (Atlantic, Megan Garber, 1/26/12)
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