UK developing ‘killer robot’ drones though it says it isn’t – study

By ethan / November 14, 2018

The British government has been secretly funding research with a view to developing autonomous ‘killer robot’ drones, despite making public statements to the contrary, an anti-drone campaign group has claimed.

Drone Wars UK claims that the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) is funding research for the weapons systems which could make life-or-death decisions without any human input.

In an unsettling new report, the group highlighted the Taranis drone, developed over a decade by BAE Systems and the UK Ministry of Defence. The Taranis can fly, plot its own routes and locate targets autonomously – and has cost a cool £200 million so far.

The year-long study by Drone Wars UK also uncovered multiple similar research and development programs that they say are being funded by the British MoD, despite public denials of any plans to develop the deadly machines.

Official MoD policy states that the UK is opposed to the development of autonomous weapons systems and that the government has “no intention of developing them.”

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US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone © Josh Smith

That claim doesn’t, however, appear to stand up to scrutiny.

Peter Burt, who authored the new report, said there is now “tangible evidence” that the MoD, along with military contractors and universities in the UK, is “actively engaged in research and development of the underpinning technology with the aim of using it in military applications.”

Burt cited the Taranis drone as an example of a drone with “advanced autonomous capabilities” and said that the development of a “truly autonomous” lethal drone in “the foreseeable future” was now a “real possibility.”

Instead of funding killer robots, the British government should be supporting international initiatives to prevent the development and use of autonomous weapons and should be “investigating the enormous potential of artificial intelligence to identify potential conflict areas and prevent wars before they start,” Burt argued.

An MoD spokesperson denied that there are plans to develop any weapons systems which would operate without input from humans, saying its weapons will “always be under human control as an absolute guarantee of oversight, authority and accountability.”

Actions speak louder than words, however, and the UK has declined to support proposals brought forward at the United Nations which would ban the use of fully autonomous drones.

The report also claims that a “predictive cognitive control system” is undergoing trials at the Joint Forces Intelligence Centre at RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire. Using massive amounts of data, the system makes predictions that would be of “direct operational relevance” to the British armed forces.

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Physicist Stephen Hawking. © Lucas Jacksonn

What happens if such a machine is given incorrect data, either by mistake or design? Experts have repeatedly warned that putting life-or-death decisions in the hands of autonomous machines could have disastrous outcomes for humanity.

Speaking at the Web Summit in Lisbon last year, physicist Stephen Hawking warned that if it is not used properly, artificial intelligence “could be the worst event in the history of our civilization.” Hawking specifically cited the advent of powerful autonomous weapons in his speech.

“AI could develop a will of its own – a will that is in conflict with our own – and which could destroy us.”

In 2015, hundreds of academics in Canada and Australia signed open letters to their respective governments calling for a preemptive ban on the development and use of the deadly machines.

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California wildfire rips through nuclear waste site, fueling airborne toxin risk concerns

By ethan / November 14, 2018

The Woolsey fire that engulfed over 90,000 acres in California last weekend may have spread toxic and radioactive substances from a Superfund site, according to activists who believe authorities might be downplaying the risks.

The fire passed through the Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL), a federal Superfund site in the Simi Hills that was the site of the worst nuclear meltdown in US history in 1959. While the California Department of Toxic Substances Control said there was no reason to be concerned of “any risks other than those normally present in a wildfire situation,” locals aren’t so sure, pointing out that the agency has dragged its feet in cleaning up toxic sites and accusing it of a possible cover-up. 

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© Reuters / Stephen Lam

Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles president Robert Dodge castigated the DTSC, pointing out that the site – now owned by Boeing – remains radioactive and polluted despite the agency’s promise to clean it up eight years ago. “These toxic materials are in SSFL’s soil and vegetation, and when it burns and becomes airborne in smoke and ash, there is real possibility of heightened exposure for area residents.” 

The DTSC reassured residents that the SSFL facilities were not affected by the fire and claimed measurements of radiation and hazardous compounds from both the site and the surrounding communities were within normal levels, posing no danger other than that normally present in the aftermath of a wildfire. Thousands of people live within two miles of the site, which was originally developed to test rocket engines and conduct nuclear research in the 1940s.

Residents’ concerns about authorities possibly downplaying the risks are fueled by the DTSC’s track record of broken promises, combined with the very real history of nuclear meltdown onsite. The California state legislature commissioned an Independent Review Panel to investigate the DTSC and found in 2016 that the agency had placed communities “at risk” by “failing to perform its basic function of protecting the public and environment from industrial hazardous waste and contamination.” The DTSC was held responsible for the Exide scandal in Vernon, in which a battery recycling plant leaked toxins into surrounding communities for decades, and was criticized for its backlog of hazardous waste permits. 

Local parents have blamed contamination at the SSFL site for their children’s cancers, and the Centers for Disease Control designated lab workers from the 1950s who developed cancer as part of a “special exposure cohort” eligible for compensation for their years of laboring in a radioactive environment. While the SSFL was the site of multiple nuclear accidents, the worst took place in 1959 when a reactor vented nuclear material to avoid an explosion, ultimately releasing 459 times more radiation than the infamous Three Mile Island meltdown 20 years later.

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Truth serum? New CIA 'torture program' docs shed light on post-9/11 'Project Medication'

By ethan / November 14, 2018

A CIA report obtained by the ACLU lays bare the details of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation” program, including tactics so disturbing even CIA agents were reluctant to implement them.

The ACLU fought in court for two years to obtain the report, which constitutes a history of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” detention program from 2002 to 2007. It was drawn up in response to the Abu Ghraib scandal to counteract the “distorted picture” taking shape in the media and, according to the agency’s lawyers, does not represent a “final official history, or assessment, of the program.”

Beginning with a description of US intelligence services post-9/11 – chaos, panic, disorder, the willingness to do anything to prevent another terrorist attack – the report quickly moves from the seemingly rational goal of “rounding up al-Qaeda operatives worldwide” into surreal excuse-making (“no one ever was medicated rectally” despite “an occasional charge” that this was common practice during the rendition process) – within a single page.

While the report attempts to downplay the torture of detainees – “water-board applications generally are limited to 20 seconds, and no more than 40 seconds” – it notes that agents watching the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner to undergo their “enhanced interrogation,” were made “visually and psychologically very uncomfortable” and left “profoundly affected” by one “particularly aggressive session” to the extent they needed “staff counseling.”

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A hooded and bound prisoner being attacked by a dog in Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib jail supposedly during interrogation by US soldiers in Baghdad in 2004.

Apparently repulsed by the violence of Zubaydah’s interrogation, CIA psychologists brainstormed alternatives and opted to go with that old spy movie standby, “truth serum.” After poring over old Soviet drug experiments and the archives of the CIA’s own MK-ULTRA program, in which LSD was administered to unwitting test subjects, they settled on Versed, a mild sedative whose memory-fogging side effects would seem to disqualify it for use as a truth serum (it’s no use getting the spy to the point where he’s ready to spill his secrets only to find he can’t remember them).

The CIA allegedly chose not to go the truth serum route, as it would have required permission from the Justice Department. Medical experimentation on prisoners was expressly prohibited, as was the use of “mind-altering drugs” for interrogation. The agency’s legal team had already convinced the Justice Department to OK waterboarding (arguing that “although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death,” it “did not cause the requisite prolonged mental harm” and therefore did not amount to torture under the Geneva convention) and they were hesitant to push their luck. ‘Project Medication,’ as it had come to be called, was shelved.

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© Reuters / Kevin Lamarque

The report explicitly mentions agency doctors’ “significant ethical concerns” as a stumbling block to the use of the truth serum, insisting that detainees were never medicated against their will – except twice, when they were sedated “to avoid self-harm or endangerment to others,” and in the case of hunger-strikers, who were involuntarily tube-fed (“but always with their assistance,” the report maintains!).

Doctors who have treated the victims of CIA “interrogation” took issue with some of the report’s descriptions. Contrary to the agency’s assertions that the program was “reassuringly free of enduring physical or psychological effects,” Dr. Sondra Crosby states that survivors experience “severe, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, physical ailments, and psychosocial dysfunction” and points out that at least one detainee was tortured to death under the program.

While the ACLU won the release of the report last September, the CIA’s lawyers were able to block its release for over a year and continue to fight in court for further redactions, and it’s easy to see why they don’t want the document widely read. While the “enhanced interrogation” program was shuttered in 2007, the Trump administration has discussed bringing back waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse,” and CIA Director ‘Bloody Gina‘ Haspel earned her nickname presiding over the torture of detainees at the same Thailand black site where Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.

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Real Madrid appoint Santiago Solari as permanent manager

By ethan / November 13, 2018

Argentinian coach Santiago Solari has been appointed Real Madrid manager on a permanent basis until June 30, 2021.

Solari took over on an interim arrangement on October 29 following the sacking of former boss Julen Lopetegui, and promptly transformed the club’s form, winning four games in a row to register the best start for a manager in the club’s history.

READ MORE: Solari’s record-breaking start gives Madrid giants cause for optimism

Real’s decision to appoint Solari was due in part to the interim boss’s superb form in charge, but also as a result of Spanish football rules that state that no club can hold an interim boss for longer than two weeks.

Solari led Real to wins over Melilla in the Copa del Rey and Viktoria Plzen in the UEFA Champions League, plus a pair of La Liga wins against Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo.

That four-game run saw Real score 15 goals and concede just twice as Solari enjoyed the most successful start for a manager at the Bernabeu.

Now the former boss of Real’s B-team Real Madrid Castilla has been given the reins of the main side on a permanent basis with the side sitting in sixth place in La Liga, four points behind rivals Barcelona at the top of the table.

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US records 17% spike in hate crimes, African-Americans & Jews most targeted

By ethan / November 13, 2018

The US has seen a 17 percent spike in hate crimes in 2017, with the majority of reported incidents targeting African-Americans and Jews, according to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics report.

The report, released on Tuesday by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, breaks down hate crime information from last year, broken down by location, offenders, bias types, and victims. 

A total of 7,175 hate crimes were reported to UCR last year, up from 6,121 in 2016. Of those, the vast majority were “single-bias incidents,” meaning the perpetrators were motivated by only one factor. Sixty-nine of the cases involved multiple biases.

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© Global Look Press

The majority (59.6 percent) of crimes in the “single-bias incident” category were motivated by a person’s race, ethnicity, or ancestry. African-Americans were by far the most targeted, with a reported 2,013 attacks against them, compared to 741 “anti-white” attacks.

Religion took second place as a motivating factor, accounting for 20.6 percent of single-bias hate crimes. Of those, the Jewish population was the most targeted, with 1,017 people falling victim in 938 incidents.

While most of the crimes reported were against people and involved cases of intimidation or assault, around 3,000 were crimes against property. Such crimes include vandalism, robbery, or burglary. In some cases, the crimes were classified as being against both people and property.

The report’s release comes less than three weeks after a gunman killed 11 worshippers and injured seven others at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The attack renewed calls for Washington to classify violence targeting minorities and religious groups in the same category as terrorists trained overseas to commit attacks inside the US.

Those who support that call point to a Government Accountability Office report from 2017, which found that since the 9/11 attacks, far-right extremists had committed almost three times as many attacks in the US than Islamist extremists.

Critics of President Donald Trump have directly blamed him for a rise in hate crimes in the US, with the NAACP pointing to his “xenophobic rhetoric and racist policies.” 

“From campaign to election, this president has spewed the language of division and hate and it has manifested in not only racist policies but in racists acts against people of color and other groups,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in June.

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Kadyrov says 5yo Chechen can repeat 4,100 push-ups after ‘world record not recognized’ (VIDEO)

By ethan / November 13, 2018

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says five-year-old Rahim Kurayev – dubbed the “Chechen Schwarzenegger” – can repeat his “world record” of 4,105 push-ups without stopping after the feat was reportedly not officially recognized.

Kurayev is said to have achieved the impressive push-up tally in 2 hours and 25 minutes, according to local sports minister Musa Khanarikov.

“Rahim Kurayev actively does sport, which allowed him to do 4,105 push-ups in 2 hours 25 minutes without stopping, it’s a world record,” Khanarikov said, TASS reported on Monday.

“Our Chechen Schwarzenegger, as they call him, dedicated his record to the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov,” the official added.

Footage has also appeared online reportedly showing the youngster pulling off the remarkable test of strength and endurance while casually watching TV shows on his phone. 

However, there was an apparent hick-up in recording the feat as representatives from the Russian Book of Records had “minor questions” – prompting Khanarikov to state that the youngster would do it all again in a week’s time.

“The representatives of the Russian Book of Records had some minor questions, and we intend to repeat the performance a week later in the presence of representatives of the organization,” Khanarikov said. 

READ MORE: Ramzan Kadyrov vows to organize fight between Lobov and Tukhugov ‘on any terms’

The news reached Chechen Republic head Kadyrov, who expressed confidence that the young local would have no trouble matching his accomplishment for a second time.  

“He did 4,105 press-ups, taking 2 hours 25 minutes. Someone writes and says that it wasn’t counted as a world record, apparently he needs to do it again,” Kadyrov wrote on Russian social media service VKontakte.

“Rahim still has enough energy and can again do 4,000 push-ups, provided the members of the commission have enough patience to count,” added the local leader.

He said that the boy’s feats would inspire millions of other youngsters around the world to start training.   

However, the story took a further twist when an official from the Russian Book of Records told the ‘Govorit Moskva’ radio station that they had not received any requests to confirm the potential record, somewhat casting doubt on how the situation would develop.   

The official Guinness World Record for the most push-ups in one hour belongs to Australia’s Jarrad Young, who completed 2,806 in August of this year. The Book does not refer to records for Rahim’s age group. 

READ MORE: ‘I saw you slap Conor. That’s not our custom’: Chechen leader Kadyrov to Tukhugov after UFC229 brawl

Regardless of his record attempt, youngster Rahim is already something of a local celebrity. He has his own Instagram account which is packed full of the musclebound five-year-old’s sporting prowess, including weight-training, walking on his hands and boxing.    

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You forgot Hindus: Trump roasted over Diwali tweet

By ethan / November 13, 2018

US president Donald Trump lit the traditional Diwali lamp at the White House and tweeted a greeting to the celebrants, only to have Twitter light into him instead over forgetting Hindus, the biggest group celebrating the festival!

Diwali is observed by “Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States & around the world,” Trump tweeted, along with photos of him lighting the Diya surrounded by aides of Indian origin and flanked by India’s ambassador to Washington. There was just one tiny problem: he left out the Hindus.

The president’s critics in the online #Resistance were quick to pounce on the omission:

Others pointed out that Trump’s ceremony was almost a week off, since actual Diwali was on November 7. The US president had gone to Paris for Armistice Day commemorations, though.

Though the tweet went out from Trump’s personal account, rather than the official @POTUS one, many speculated it was written by one of his staffers instead of the president himself.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Trump did clearly identify Diwali as the “Hindu Festival of Lights,” so leaving Hindus out of the tweet was puzzling at best. It took a little while for the tweet including that mention to be posted as a correction in all but name.

At the ceremony, Trump announced he would nominate Neomi Rao to the appeals court seat previously held by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Rao currently heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).

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Police put Ohio hospital on lockdown after reports of 'potential active shooter'

By ethan / November 13, 2018

An Ohio hospital has been put on lockdown following a report of an active shooter. Police are searching each floor of the building for the potential suspect.

Authorities were deployed to The Cleveland Clinic – Medina Hospital in Medina, Ohio, after receiving reports that a woman was in possession of a firearm and threatening people.

Despite some reports which said there was an active shooter situation underway, police told locals news outlet ABC 5 that no shots have been fired. 

The Cleveland Clinic tweeted that people are advised against traveling to the Medina campus, adding that both the hospital and the nearby office building are on lockdown. 

News 5 reported that several of its viewers shared “Code Silver” alerts received by hospital staff. “Take immediate action to protect yourself and others,” it states.

DETAILS TO FOLLOW

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Empire of elegance: The rhythmic gymnasts out to extend Russia’s Olympic dominance

By ethan / November 13, 2018

Russian rhythmic gymnasts are considered the pride of the nation for their uncontested dominance on the world stage spanning over two decades.

Starting with the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, Russian gymnasts have never failed to clinch Olympic gold, making their irreplaceable coach Irina Viner-Usmanova the most successful gymnastics specialist of the modern era.

READ MORE: 5 Russian rhythmic gymnasts whose mesmerizing moves cast a spell on men (PHOTOS)

Viner-Usmanova apparently found her the secret to raising champions by creating her own empire of talent, where gold medalists constantly rotate at the top of the podium.

After you climb down from the podium you should forget about your medals,” Viner-Usmanova tells her girls, motivating them to retain their winning tradition at major starts.

Always compared with ballet dancers for their elegant and charming routines, Russian gymnasts create true masterpieces on the carpet which help them to consistently post the highest scores at the world championships and Olympic Games.

With two years remaining before the 2020 Tokyo Games, it remains unknown who will take the two coveted spots on the Olympic team, with more than five gymnasts pinning their hopes on representing Russia at the tournament.

THE AVERINA TWINS

Twenty-year-old twins, Dina and Arina Averina have been the team leaders since 2017, when they made their senior debut sweeping all the gold medals at the world championship in Italy.

The sisters cemented their leading positions in 2018, with Arina claiming all-around gold at the European championships and Dina defending her all-around crown at the world tournament.

Despite dominating the world scene for two years, neither of the twins has guaranteed participation in the 2020 Games in Japan.

ALEXANDRA SOLDATOVA

Soldatova was a reserved gymnast for the Rio Olympics where Russians Rita Mamun and Yana Kudryavtseva made an impression, taking gold and silver respectively.

Soldatova could have become the number one gymnast in the Russian team following their retirement had it not been for injuries which made her miss months of training.

At the 2018 world championship in Bulgaria, Soldatova finished third in the all-around event and added gold to her name winning the ribbon final.

EKATERINA SELEZNEVA

Russian Olympic hopeful Ekaterina Selezneva is knocking on the door of the national team after delivering strong performances at the World Cup stages.

The 23-year-old didn’t leave a competition this season without winning medals in individual and all-around events.

Despite never being included in the national team for the world championships, Selezneva is one of the candidates to make it onto the Olympic squad.

In Tokyo, Russian gymnasts will be tipped to extend the country’s impressive winning streak, which has been unbroken for five Summer Olympic cycles following Yulia Barsukova’s fantastic victory in Sydney.

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Tommy Robinson refused entry into US to attend Republicans’ event on Islam – reports

By ethan / November 13, 2018

Far-right activist Tommy Robinson has been refused a US visa, denying him entry into the country to attend an event on Islam, arranged by several Republican politicians, according to a financial backer of the controversial figure.

Robinson, founder of the English Defence League (EDL), who is currently on bail after being charged with contempt of court, will have to wait “a while” for a US visa to be granted, according to neoconservative Daniel Pipes – the president of Middle East Forum (MEF), a conservative think-tank.

According to the Press Association, Robinson has labelled reports he has been denied a visa as “fake news.”

In 2013 Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – was jailed for 10 months for entering the US using someone else’s passport. The far-right activist turned self-styled journalist, has a myriad of other convictions to his name, including drug offenses, a number of assaults, leading a football riot and mortgage fraud.

READ MORE: Tommy Robinson: Case referred to Attorney General because it’s ‘too complex’

Robinson, who has staged a number of protests against Islam, had planned to attend an event on the religion he has said “promotes killing people” – a remark he claims got him banned from Twitter. He was invited to the event, scheduled for Wednesday, by Republican, Paul Gosar and six other congresspeople from the Conservative Opportunity Society.

Gosar is an ardent backer of Robinson, having spoke at a London rally in July in support of the then-imprisoned activist.

The Guardian report that if Robinson were successful in gaining entry into the US, he could make a whopping £1 million – making him one of the highest paid far-right figures since World War II, according to an analysis by anti-fascist campaigners.

The MEF has been funding Robinson’s legal battle against the contempt of court charge, and were singled out for praise by Robinson following his latest court appearance. The think-tank also funded the legal defense of Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders.

Pipes said his group was still optimistic that Robinson, could be granted a US visa at a later date.

A US state department spokesperson told the Guardian: “Applications are refused if an applicant is found ineligible under the Immigration and Nationality Act or other provisions of US law.”

The news comes as PayPal became the latest company to ban Robinson from using its service. Robinson said the company told him he did not adhere to their guidelines. The company told the Guardian they do not comment on individual cases but insisted: “We do not allow PayPal services to be used to promote hate, violence, or other forms of intolerance that is discriminatory.”

Robinson has scheduled a five-city speaking tour of Australia in December with Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of Vice. The pair refer to themselves as ‘The Deplorables’, a reference to former US presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton’s name for a section of Donald Trump’s supporters.

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