Tuesday, July 08, 2003

US remaking look, locations of bases abroad

For 21st century life abroad, the US military is going back to basics. Gone will be what one commander called ''small-town USA'' bases in Europe, with every modern convenience from fast-food restaurants and full hospitals to pharmacies, schools, and playgrounds.

Instead, the emerging future of the US military overseas looks more like Camp Lemonier, a collection of tan and white cinder block buildings sitting at one dirty end of Ambouli Airport outside the capital of Djibouti. The medical facility, capable of handling only minor injuries, is a tent. Plumbing is sparse. Recreation comes in the form of a couple of pool tables, video games, and a big-screen television for movies. Troops are limited to three cold beers at the canteen. Family is on another continent.

Pentagon planners have begun to move troops off traditional bases, relying instead on small, stripped-down facilities based near what officials call the ''arc of instability,'' which stretches from North Africa into Southeast Asia, or the ''nonintegrating gap,'' which refers to a swath of countries shut out of global economic prosperity.

The Pentagon is engaged in the most fundamental shift of US armed forces around the globe since America's post-World War II rise to superpower status, according to defense officials and military specialists familiar with the still unfolding plans. The result will be more bases like Camp Lemonier, as planners move US forces away from a Cold War posture of containing a defined threat and toward a focus on speed and overwhelming muscle against emerging crises -- a posture that fits President Bush's policy of preventive war.

''It's the outward and visible, concrete . . . manifestation of the Bush doctrine,'' said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based defense think tank.

For military families, the shifts will have a profound impact, with troops leaving the United States for deployments of several months rather than being stationed overseas. ''The thought is to make a smaller footprint, put a set of equipment there, have more austere conditions, and then rotate units from the continental United States for six months,'' a Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity.

The Bush strategy also means a ''radical shift'' in the operational purpose of bases, said Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who teaches international relations at Boston University. The purpose of these bases is not to defend ''but to intervene,'' he added. ''The political purpose is not so much to enhance stability, but to use US forces as an instrument of political change.''

Instead of Cold War-era deployments designed to defend Western Europe from a Soviet threat, US troops are pushing east into the former Soviet republics, central and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific rim -- patchworking a global defense against more-dispersed enemies, particularly terrorists and the states that host them.

Djibouti, home to Camp Lemonier, is in the Horn of Africa and an hour's boat ride from Yemen. That area is the hunting grounds for special forces and Marines operating from the 1,800-person base targeting Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Similar US postings were created through basing agreements with Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan during the Afghan war, and Bulgaria and Romania during the Iraq war. Other places likely to figure into future US basing plans include Poland, Australia, and Qatar.

While US engagement in Africa traditionally has been limited and reactive, Pentagon strategists are increasingly focused on the continent as a new area of operations.

General James L. Jones, head of US European Command, which oversees operations in much of Africa, told the Senate appropriations subcommittee on military construction in late April: ''I am concerned about the large ungoverned areas of Africa that are possible melting pots for the disenfranchised of the world, so to speak, the terrorist breeding grounds, criminality, people who are being recruited as we speak to rise up against the developed world and the democracies that enjoy a peaceful and prosperous way of life. We're going to have to engage more in that theater and part of the basing realignment and proposals that we are coming up with will establish some footprints at a very low cost . . . to begin to stem the tide of what is going to be, I think, an extremely difficult story.''

On the other side, the United States announced in late April that virtually all of the 10,000 uniformed and civilian military personnel in Saudi Arabia will be pulled. That was followed by a June order that 14,000 US troops would redeploy away from the South Korean Demilitarized Zone.

''The 20th century paradigm . . . was that you have everybody here all the time and all the equipment you needed because it was, after all, going to be a major war,'' Jones said in March. ''That threat has now receded a little bit . . . We have to change that force to make sure that it can be more agile, so that it can be in more places simultaneously.''

But the Bush administration will face the possibility that troop withdrawals will upset allies such as Germany. ''It becomes a very sensitive issue,'' the Pentagon official said.

Defense specialists estimated that at least half of the 68,000 US troops based in Germany will move. More broadly in Europe, Jones has said that at a bare minimum, 20 percent of 499 US installations -- anything from a tiny outpost to a full base -- should be shut down. The South Korean figure is not expected to fall, but those forces will be more deployable to other parts of the region -- a necessity given a finite number of US troops already stressed by increased operations.

Investing in a large number of smaller bases and pre-positioning equipment also leaves US operations planners less constrained by individual foreign countries. During the Iraq war the inability to come to agreement with Turkey on using its territory precluded opening a northern front with heavy armored divisions.

Such potential problems spurred planners ''to want to proliferate the number of bases so you are not heavily reliant on one in particular,'' said Andrew Krepinevich with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. ''It drives you away from well-developed bases because if you spend a lot of money developing a base, you'd like to have some guarantee that you'll be able to use it.''

As a result, the huge foreign bases where troops' families also live will mostly be things of the past. While a few, like Ramstein Air Base in Germany, will continue, the wave of the future will be smaller facilities known as ''forward operating bases'' and ''forward operating locations.''

Hunt for banned weapons goes ballistic

Forget Hans Blix, the UN and inspectors schooled in the art of uncovering biological, chemical and nuclear agents. There is a quicker way to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

Gather the latest intelligence, decide where the weapons are stashed, and fire a high-velocity projectile at the target. High-tech sensors packed into the projectile will then instantly beam back confirmation that the weapons are there.

It is a high-risk concept that raises many questions, not least its technological feasibility and the political ructions that would follow if such a device were ever built or used. But the US military is taking the idea seriously, New Scientist has learned.

In 2002, in a two-page research paper commissioned by the army, experts from the Institute for Advanced Technology at the University of Texas, Austin, detailed real test results of a prototype projectile designed to verify the existence of WMDs. They say such a device offers a way to inspect for weapons without permission or cooperation.

Hardened concrete
To inspect reinforced concrete bunkers or factory buildings suspected of housing WMDs, the researchers designed a projectile that can penetrate several metres of hardened concrete without damaging its load of sensors.

Its casing is built from AerMet 100, a nickel-cobalt steel with traces of molybdenum and chromium. Heat-treating the casing after it is made gives it an extremely hard surface. The tapering projectile is 230 millimetres long, with a maximum calibre of 45 millimetres, making it wide enough to carry a useful payload.

Five test firings have shown that when the projectile is fired at a velocity of 1200 to 1400 metres per second, it can penetrate more than 1 metre of concrete and emerge relatively intact at around 1000 metres per second. The shell maintains its streamlined shape, losing only 12 per cent of its mass as it passes through the concrete.

Penetrating projectiles can often be sent off course by the shock of impact, and the uneven erosion of the casing as it passes through hard material such as a thick wall. To overcome this, the new projectile has a series of deep groves cut into its casing which act as fins, helping the shell to maintain a straight trajectory as it passes through the concrete.

G forces
The projectile's designers, ballistic expert Mehmet Erengil and director of biological defence Steve Kornguth, both of the Institute for Advanced Technology, and James Valdes of the army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, do not address what sensors would be on board, how robust they would be, or whether they could survive impact forces that would be in the region of 100,000g. They were not able to respond to questions put to them by New Scientist.

One solution could be to encapsulate the non-sensing part of any hardware in plastic. Integrated circuits encapsulated in this way have no internal voids or moving parts. Such circuits have already been designed to measure the g forces experienced by high-impact projectiles.

But it is unclear whether chemical, biological and nuclear sensors could be designed this way, and also be capable of sending back their results by telemetry.

Michael Levi of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC points out that such "non-permissive" testing may not have any advantages over existing inspection methods. Anyone hiding weapons could simply dig deeper bunkers to defeat any possible penetrating shell, he says.

Act of war
Others point out that firing such a weapon could itself be interpreted as an act of war. The high-energy projectiles could kill any occupants of a site being tested, and to sense biological or chemical agents the projectile may have to puncture the agent's containment vessels, releasing them into the atmosphere.

Also, critics could still question the authenticity and relevance of intelligence provided by the shell and released by the government.

But John Pike, director of Washington DC think tank GlobalSecurity.org, and a former technology chief at the Federation of American Scientists, says the design of the shell could work.

"It's enormously elegant," he says. "I would almost say it's surprising no one ever thought of it before. I don't know in the real world whether they'll do that. But it would not be the most wasteful expenditure ever."

Further Changes Foreseen At NASA

The Accident Report Will Trigger More Moves, Shuttle Chief William Parsons Said

Space-shuttle program manager William Parsons' sweeping reorganization of his staff is the most significant move made inside NASA in the aftermath of the Feb. 1 Columbia accident and the most extensive transformation since the aftermath of the Challenger disaster more than 17 years ago.

But in shifting three middle managers away from the day-to-day operations, Parsons has raised many more questions than he answered. The biggest: Are the moves announced Wednesday the beginning of a fundamental change in the management structure at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? And, if so, will they go far enough to satisfy Congress?

"Those are key positions. Those are major changes," said Jud Lovingood, deputy manager of the Marshall Space Flight Center shuttle office when the Challenger exploded in 1986. "You don't do that unless you think there is a real need. That's a cleansing."

Lovingood, who still lives near the Marshall center in Huntsville, Ala., said there also was a shake-up after the Challenger accident. The changes Parsons has made are unmistakably related to the fallout from the Columbia disaster, Lovingood said.

Ralph Roe, the shuttle program's chief engineer, is moving to Langley Research Center in Virginia to head a new safety and engineering office that will be independent from the program but expected to provide an additional level of oversight.

Linda Ham, the program-integration manager and head of the Mission Management Team that oversaw Columbia's flight, will move out of that chair and into another position, NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said Thursday, although it's still unclear what her new role will be.

Austin Lambert, manager of the systems integration office, is moving into a technical adviser's role.

Wayne Hale, who had just moved into the job overseeing shuttle launches at Kennedy Space Center in February, is returning to Houston to become Parsons' deputy, essentially a combination of positions. Hale, a longtime flight director at the Johnson Space Center, was one of the people inside the shuttle program who pushed for military satellites to take pictures of Columbia to check for damage.

Ham killed the request Jan. 22 for reasons that remain unclear. In the aftermath of the disaster, that decision has been hotly debated, and the independent board investigating the accident and NASA agree that the agency needs to obtain such photos on all future flights.

Roe, Ham and Lambert also were involved in the discussion about whether a chunk of foam that flew off Columbia's massive external tank and hit its left wing nearly 82 seconds after launch could be a danger to the orbiter and the crew. Ultimately, shuttle managers accepted an analysis that said the foam strike was not a "safety of flight" issue -- a decision that investigators now think was horribly wrong.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report, expected within the next month or so, will not single out anyone for blame, a source close to the board said. But it will lay out the facts of what happened during the mission, and "it's not necessarily a pretty story," the source said.

John Pike, a space policy expert and head of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virginia-based think tank, said he wasn't surprised at the initial round of changes. But the members of the program -- from former manager Ron Dittemore on down -- were essentially doing what they were supposed to under the existing setup, he said.

"Anytime a ship in the Navy runs aground, the captain is relieved of command. And I think that basically you would simply expect that after an accident like this you would want the program to be under new management," Pike said. "But you know, the problem with the shuttle is not a few bad managers, it's a bad program structure. I think that if they don't reorganize the program and reevaluate funding and priorities and direction, that within a few years, they will be right back to where they were in January of this year."

The reorganization is not finished, NASA spokesman Hartsfield said Thursday, and Parsons himself noted that even more changes will be set in motion by the board's recommendations. Retired Adm. Harold Gehman, the board's chairman, has said that a large portion of the report will deal with NASA's management deficiencies.

Wednesday's announcement, which came out of Houston, can also be seen as muscle-flexing by Parsons in his new role. NASA chief Sean O'Keefe has staunchly defended agency employees, including Ham, saying their decisions were "judgment calls" and it's up to the board to determine whether they were right.

While he has been generally reluctant to discuss the long-term fallout, at a May 14 Senate hearing O'Keefe sharply challenged the assertion of several senators that there will be no accountability for the decisions made during Columbia's 16-day mission.

"There will be accountability here," he said. "There is no question about it. This will not be ambiguous about who is responsible at the end of the day."

Yet there is still no indication when -- or if -- that promise of accountability will translate into major personnel changes.

A Republican congressional aide, who asked not to be identified, said the changes seem to be more evidence of NASA's accelerated pace for returning the three remaining shuttles to flight. The moves appear to be a pre-emptive strike against the investigative board's criticism of shuttle managers -- and a step toward the wholesale management changes the board is expected to suggest.

It's impossible to tell whether the changes will make a significant difference, or whether they will placate members of Congress who may be looking for a more pointed punishment, the aide said.

"The point from NASA's perspective, I think, is to inoculate themselves so that months from now when you actually start seriously talking about return to flight, they're going to say 'Look, we've done this, we've done that, we've set up this organization,' " the aide said.

That may not be enough for lawmakers. It may not be enough to satisfy the board's recommendations. Gehman has said repeatedly that it's the management structure that's at fault, and that changing the chairs in which people are sitting won't change the outcome of their decisions.

Pike, of GlobalSecurity.org, said the trail of responsibility goes all the way up the chain, reaching even to the White House, which controls the agency's budget and ultimate fortunes.

"There's more than enough blame to go around -- and I don't want to fix blame, but I do want to fix the problem," Pike said. "And if you think this is just a NASA middle-manager problem, then you've not fixed it."

Alberta Premier Gets Cream Pie in Face

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein planned to have pancakes for breakfast at the annual Calgary Stampede and Rodeo Monday.

He got banana cream pie, instead.

At his annual pancake breakfast, Klein was praising Alberta Agriculture Minister Shirley McClellan for her handling of the province's mad cow situation when a man threw a pie in his face.

Security officers tackled the unidentified man, who appeared to be in his 20s, and handed him over to police. It was unclear why the man threw the pie.

Klein initially appeared irritated, then smiled.

"It tastes not bad," he said.

Klein said he would press criminal charges.

"A pie today, it could be something else tomorrow," Klein said. "That's why I'm not going to let this go without a prosecution."

Alberta's beef industry is reeling from a lone case of mad cow disease detected May 20. The United States and other countries have halted imports of Canadian cattle and beef products, costing the industry millions of dollars a day.

Motor Vehicle Workers in Civility Classes

The people who work at the motor vehicle department have some complaints about you, too.

While every driver in New Jersey, it seems, has a horror story about a service-with-a-snarl visit to the motor vehicle department, the employees have their own tales of dealing with rude and hostile people.

"I had a woman say, `You're ugly,'" said Jodi Deery, an 18-year employee. "She just started with the f-word flying around."

To try to bring civility to the process of obtaining or renewing a driver's license, every department employee in New Jersey is being given customer service training. It is part of an effort to get drivers to stop thinking a visit to the department is something akin to a root canal.

Workers have been attending sessions with a professional development trainer. They have been able to complain about customers, pass along questions and concerns to state officials, and learn how to stay calm when the person on the other side of the counter starts screaming.

The booklet handed out for the workshops begins with a "Renewal" statement that sounds like something from a New Age manual.

It notes how cells live and die in the human body and tells the employees they need a similar renewal process for their attitudes. The employees are also told about "10 basic human needs," such as the need to be understood and the need to feel important.

Workers are also encouraged to exercise and get in better shape to help them deal with stress.

"We have to learn to smile and have a friendly face," motor vehicles Commissioner Diane Legreide said.

The agency makeover has included a name change: The reviled Division of Motor Vehicles is now the Motor Vehicle Commission.

The agency has also conducted its first survey of customers since 1981, but has not released the results.

Pam Maiolo, manager of public affairs of AAA's Mid-Atlantic region, said she has not heard of any other states' motor vehicle agencies needing an overhaul of customer service techniques.

Maiolo said she attends national meetings of AAA representatives and it is common knowledge at those gatherings that New Jersey's motor vehicle agency is the only one with such major problems.

The move in New Jersey comes as the agency prepares for a flood of drivers coming in for the state's new digital licenses. As part of stricter, post-Sept. 11 security measures, drivers will be required to provide multiple forms of identification when applying for the new licenses, which will be issued starting this month.

"We are trying a fresh, new approach," said Gary Hasenbalg, an assistant to Legreide. "We are trying to teach people how to walk the fine line between customer service and enforcement."

The new licenses will contain a bar code, a hologram to prevent forgery, and a photo - something that was not required before Sept. 11.

The employees from the agency's Williamstown office ran through role-playing exercises during a training session last month, with an emphasis on defusing situations with difficult customers.

The agency has a seven-step model for what to do when someone at the counter gets difficult. Clerks should remain calm and acknowledge the problem. They should also apologize for any inconvenience, listen closely, give detailed explanations and always thank the customer.

As part of the training session, the clerks talked about times when police had to be called to deal with unruly people. They also said many of those who want changes in licenses or vehicle registrations get upset simply because they fail to understand such basic requirements as ID.

"I repeat myself over and over and people still get it wrong," said Linda Tran.

The workers agreed that changes are needed in everything from the condition of offices where the public stands in line to the agency's outdated computer system.

They were not so sure about the recent requirement that all employees wear name tags for the benefit of the customers.

"Now when they are yelling at us, they yell our name," Deery said.

Glowing Green Fish Sold at Taiwan Market

Their weird glowing green color makes them look like they've been swimming in a nuclear plant's spent fuel pond.

But the zebra fish on sale in Taipei shops have an even stranger background: They're the latest in genetically modified fish, and their bodies contain DNA from jellyfish, which makes them shimmer in the dark.

Shopkeepers call them "Night Pearls." Some have nicknamed them "Frankenfish." Their makers at the Taipei-based Taikong Corp. use the less catchy name of "TK-1" and say they are the world's first genetically engineered fluorescent fish.

They've been on the market in Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia for about three months, said Bill Kuo, a spokesman for Taikong, which owns a chain of pet stores.

Now the fish are getting ready to cross the Pacific and swim into the U.S. market this month.

Kuo says the company anticipated fears that the genetically modified animals might spread uncontrollably and harm the environment, so it made sure that they were unable to produce offspring.

In April, the company turned out 10,000 fluorescent fish, and that figure has been doubling every month since, Kuo said. Beginning in August, monthly production should stabilize at more than 100,000, Kuo said.

So far, only the greenish TK-1 has been on sale. But next year, they should get the company of a red mate, the TK-2. Later, the two colors will be combined in the TK-3, Kuo said.

"The original zebra fish are all colorless," he said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the genetic engineering.

"It must be really dark to see it," said Maria Hung, who sells the glowing fish at her Goldfish Family store in Taipei.

At 600 New Taiwan dollars (US$17.40) each, the fish don't come cheap. The goldfish in the next bowl cost only NT$10 (US$0.29) a piece, Hung said.

"Since I started selling the fluorescent fish last month, I haven't found a single buyer," Hung said.

Taikong says its project is still in its infancy.

"We spent NT$100 million (US$2.9 million) developing this fish," Kuo said, defending the relatively high cost for consumers.

He also said admiring fluorescent fish in the dark is an acquired taste.

"It's still a curiosity. We're covering new territory here," he said.

The same type of fish were also on sale at an Azoo store at the Asiaworld Plaza, one of Taipei's upscale shopping malls. The Azoo chain is part of Taikong Corp.

The store attendant pulled a curtain to turn a corner of the shop dark. Then she switched on a blue light above the tank and the fish became visible, silvery bodies crowned by a greenish glow.

Shortsighted Thieves Bungle 3 Break-Ins

In the future, these Swedish burglars may want to have their glasses checked.

Police said three men tried to break into an electronics store selling TVs and stereos Tuesday by drilling a hole through the wall from a neighboring suite of offices.

The would-be burglars broke into a local newspaper's office housed in the same building early Tuesday morning in Vara, 325 kilometers (200 miles) southwest of the capital, Stockholm.

Police believed they bored a hole into the wall using a power drill, but ended up breaking through into an optician's office, police spokesman Johan Svensson told The Associated Press.

"They tried again on another wall, with the same result. And a third time," he said.

When they punched through a fourth wall, they finally broke through to the store, but alarms went off and they fled without grabbing anything, Svensson said.

Police are still searching for the men and no arrests have been made.

14-Foot-Long Python on Loose in R.I. Town

The police are looking for him, the town has been put on alert, but Slick remains on the lam. The 14-foot-long yellow and orange Burmese python slithered from his 300-gallon tank on July 4.

Snake owner Jeffrey Fine called the police Friday morning to report that Slick had slinked off sometime after 11 the night before, when Fine checked the tank before going to bed.

Fine said it was his fault that Slick got out. He hadn't tightened the clip on the right end of the 6-foot-long tank as much as he should have.

"I feel terrible that he's gone, and I want him back," Fine told The Providence Journal.

The snake worked his way out of the tank, onto the floor and up onto the computer table. Slick slid past the computer, knocked a picture frame down, nudged a clock out of the way and pushed up against the screen in the window that looks out on the lake.

The window is about 10 feet from the water. Slick moves very slowly on land, but if he has gone into the lake, he could move quickly there and there's no telling where he'd come out.

Slick is not venomous and doesn't have fangs, Fine said. The snake eats rats and rodents.

"He does not eat small children," Fine said. "He couldn't even eat a cat. He could eat a kitten, but not a cat."

Calif. Woman Rescues Bedraggled Iraq Pups

Four skinny puppies and their sad-eyed mother were delivered from Iraq to a woman who said she felt compelled to push for a rescue after spotting the dogs sitting forlornly in the desert behind a TV news reporter.

Marcy Christmas beamed as the 4-month-old puppies tumbled out of Air France cargo carriers into a warehouse hangar. They wrestled with one another and showed no signs of fatigue after surviving war, hunger and a 9,300-mile journey from the Jordan-Iraq border.

"I'm as amazed as you are that this happened," said Christmas, who spotted the dogs April 10 on a television news report. The Camarillo woman, who lives with five adopted Chihuahuas, has been rescuing dogs for decades and does volunteer work for the Doris Day Animal League.

Christmas, 51, moved by the puppies' plight, first tried to reach the TV news reporter in the area, then discovered an Amman, Jordan-based group called the Humane Center for Animal Welfare. She called the founders and asked if they could rescue the puppies.

"Actually, we were going to Iraq to save gazelles," said Margaret Ledger, director of the center. But Ledger pledged to keep an eye out for the dogs along the way.

In the Iraq village of Al Amanieh, the small convoy including a veterinarian and two U.S. military escorts spotted six puppies and the mother was so weak she could barely stand. One puppy was adopted by an Iraqi family and another by military personnel. Christmas agreed to pay the $1,000 cost of transporting the others to Southern California.

The dogs' odyssey took them on Sunday morning from Amman to Paris, where they were walked, watered and checked by a veterinarian. They were flown from there to Los Angeles International Airport.

Authorities checked their health certificates and they cleared customs Monday.

At 113 Years Old, Cubs Fan Holds Out Hope

Mary Crombie marked her 113th birthday with familiar optimism about her beloved Chicago Cubs, notwithstanding their 94-year unlucky streak.

Following baseball's lovable losers for so long, though, has taught her not to predict a World Series victory. That hasn't happened since 1908, the year she turned 18 and Chicago beat Detroit in the fall classic.

"I hope they do well," Crombie said Monday of this year's team.

The Cubs organization had even offered her a seat at a game for her birthday , but she couldn't go.

Last week, Dixon Mayor Jim Burke gave her about a dozen white roses and proclaimed Monday as Mary Crombie Day in Dixon.

One of the visitors during Crombie's birthday celebration was 13-year-old Stephanie Rustad.

"Mary held Stephanie when she was a baby," said Mary Ann Knoll, Rustad's grandmother and social director at Heritage Square, a retirement home where Crombie lives. "Mary used to tell her that she was 100 years older than she was."

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