News Highlights – 8 Mar 11

  • A quick Afghan media snippet on the Canadian reportedly held by the Taliban in Afghanistan. “Taliban militants on Monday said they had offered to free a Canadian citizen held hostage for two months in return for the release of several of their captured comrades…”
  • Canada says it would consider direct diplomatic contact with anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya, but unlike its ally Britain, it hasn’t moved in that direction yet. “This is a continuous moving target so, this is the first I hear of this,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Monday. “There’s always a great deal of validity in being able to speak to these people.” Opposition MPs urged the Harper government to talk directly to Libyan rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi. Liberal MP Bob Rae presented the option as one of the more “active and inventive” ways Canada could help speed Gadhafi’s overthrow. The National Libyan Council has now positioned itself as the political branch of the anti-Gadhafi forces ….” Let’s see if any OTHER “councils” or “committees” pop out of the woodwork before deciding who to talk to, shall we?  More from here and QMI/Sun Media here.
  • Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae says Canada (and others) have to do more about Libya. “There are many other plans of action the government should be taking against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi right now according to Liberal critic Bob Rae. Rae said he would like to see Canada prepare itself to take part in a no fly zone and place further sanctions on individuals and countries that help the regime by doing things such as buying Libyan oil. “It is no longer a matter of it’s important to try to do this. I think it’s absolutely necessary for Canada to do this. We simply have to engage on the governance issues. We have to engage on the human rights issues and we have to engage successfully in making sure Colonel Gaddafi is history,” said Rae.  ….”
  • Meanwhile, what’s NATO considering? “NATO has decided to boost surveillance flights over Libya as the alliance debates the utility of imposing a “no-fly zone” over the country. U.S. ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, said allies agreed on Monday to increase AWACS flights from 10 to 24 hours a day, an expansion that is part of contingency planning for possible military intervention in Libya beyond humanitarian efforts. The decision came as the alliance’s governing board met to discuss what unique capabilities NATO could bring to Libya. Daalder said other ideas being considered are redeploying NATO vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, along with nearby air assets, to deal with humanitarian aid as well as establishing a command and control structure to co-ordinate relief efforts ….”
  • More news on the latest in Libya here (Google News), here (EMM News Brief:  Libya),  here (NewsNow), here (BBC) and here (Al Jazeera English).
  • Canada’s Defence Minister, answering questions in the House of Commons, says “Kabul-centric” means “in/around Kabul” when it comes to Canada’s future training mission in Afghanistan. “What we have said is that the combat mission will come to an end this year, that we will transition into a training mission, which will be Kabul-centric, meaning in the Kabul region; and that there will be work done to continue the important efforts by the Canadian Forces to impart the skill set needed by the Afghan security forces to do what we do.” A bit more detail from another question: “The combat mission will come to an end. The Canadian Forces will then transition into a training mission in a Kabul-centric, behind the wire configuration. That is the position of the Government of Canada. “
  • A major Canadian road project in southern Afghanistan has been hampered by an element the military has no control over, one rarely associated with the arid region of Kandahar: rain. Heavy downpours over the past couple of weeks have slowed construction of a 22-kilometre road in the Panjwaii district, a volatile area where the Canadian battle group is conducting one last push to win over locals before combat operations end in July. “I would say that up until the last few weeks, it was going pretty well,” said Capt. Jean-Francois Huot of the 5 Combat Engineer Regiment. “The first rain didn’t affect much, but then with the accumulation and the speed at which it evaporates we’ve seen, well, look how slow it is.” The deluge has clogged irrigation canals and left sandy plains a muddy mess. Last week, a crew from the Kandahar Air Wing had to be dispatched to rescue two Afghan men whose truck became stranded because of flash flooding. The Royal 22e Regiment had hoped to have the road finished by mid-April. Military officials say once completed, the road will link rural villages together, boost commerce and trade and improve the freedom of movement for Afghans ….”
  • Remember this paper on using biometrics to measure bad guy intent? The DRDC publications page is working much better today, so here’s a link to the report, “Biometrics of Intent:  From Psychophysiology to Behaviour.” (405 KB, 27 page PDF).
  • What’s Canada Buying? “The Department of National Defence Canada has a requirement for the provision of Large Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device Disrupter Systems for Canadian Forces’ training and operations ….” (via
  • F-35 Tug o’ War “As part of the Harper government’s efforts to promote the F-35 stealth fighter, a top Conservative MP is criticizing a respected retired public servant who has advised government on defence purchases. Edmonton MP Laurie Hawn, who’s the parliamentary secretary to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, has been sending out e-mails promoting the F-35 purchase and attacking critics of the deal, including former Defence Department assistant deputy minister Alan Williams. The e-mail, which has circulated among retired and serving Canadian Forces members as well as journalists, also attacks a retired Australian air force officer who has raised questions about the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) and an Australian aviation analyst who has done the same ….” Here’s some of what Williams had to say about the deal he signed in February 2002 (more in a recent letter to the editor here).
  • Sikorsky on the CH-148 Cyclone choppers: They’re coming, honest, really soon! “Sikorsky is ‘weeks rather than months’ away from finally delivering the first interim aircraft for the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter programme for the Canadian Forces (CF), according to CEO Jeff Pino. A long-running dispute regarding the purchase of the maritime helicopters was seemingly settled when 28 Cyclones were ordered under a $1.8 billion contract to replace the primary Canadian shipboard helicopter, the CH-124 Sea King. Following delays due to issues surrounding the mission system integration aboard the aircraft, in June 2010 Sikorsky announced that as a provisional measure the CF would receive six interim CH-148 Cyclones in November. However, delivery of these aircraft was also delayed due to undisclosed issues Sikorsky claimed was beyond its control. Speaking to reporters at a ‘state of Sikorsky’ presentation at Heli-Expo in Orlando, Pino said delivery of interim aircraft was now ‘imminent’ and highlighted progress on the programme that included 750 flight hours completed, ongoing sea trials in Canada and the finalising of the aircraft’s certification ….”
  • The rehab of Omar Khadr continues apace in Guantanamo. “Providing Omar Khadr with a formal education should help allay fears expressed by many Canadians that he will return to Canada an angry and perhaps dangerous young man with a grudge against society, says his Canadian lawyer. To prepare the 24-year-old for his return to Canada, Khadr’s defence team enlisted a Canadian university professor to design a home schooling program, says lawyer Dennis Edney. Pentagon lawyers travel to the U.S. naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, every other week to do the teaching. “We provide them with the material and then they go to Guantanamo and sit with Omar and they take him through the subject matter,” Edney explains. The curriculum includes math, history, astronomy and is heavy on English grammar. If Khadr passes a high school equivalency exam, he intends to apply for admission to a college or university as a mature student …..”
  • It was a thundering display of Canada’s Northern resolve with jet fighters, a frigate and even a submarine, but a recently released poll suggests such exercises in military prowess play to the public’s mistaken belief the Arctic is under threat. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Peter MacKay posed for a photo-op on the deck of HMCS Toronto 18 months ago in Frobisher Bay, internal polling told them a majority of Canadians believed the North was in peril — a view not shared by defence officials. “Three in five Canadians (60 per cent) living north of 60 degrees, and one-half of Canadians (52 per cent) in the south, believe there is a threat to Canada’s Arctic sovereignty or to the security of its northern border,” says a 2009 Environics survey. The poll was commissioned by the Defence Department and released under the Access to Information Act after long delays. But a Defence Department briefing note that same year assured the minister there was no real threat. “There is no longer a conventional military threat in the Arctic,” says the Aug. 11, 2009, briefing note, also obtained by The Canadian Press under the access law. “The resumption of Russian military exercises in the region is more symbolic of Moscow wanting to be taken seriously as a world power than a return to the armed standoff of the Cold War.” ….”
  • A Utah artist who paints oil portraits of fallen soldiers to pay respect to their lives and sacrifice says her gift is open to families from Victoria, B.C. to Jamestown, New York. “Their lives (Canadians) and their willingness is every bit as precious as an American soldier as they are fighting for the same thing — trying to suppress tyranny and oppression,” said Kaziah Hancock, 62, in a phone interview from, Manti Utah ….” More on the painting program here.
  • G20 protest participant admits to throwing a burning paper into a police car, then says he’s a scapegoat when he pleads guilty to destroying the car?  Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight….
Advertisement News Highlights – 7 Mar 11

  • So now, some media are reading “Kabul-centric” when it comes to talking about Canada’s upcoming training mission in Afghanistan to mean “base in Kabul, but not necessarily ALL in Kabul.” “The federal cabinet is being asked to decide quickly on the specifics of the Canadian military training mission in Afghanistan as other countries jockey for prime classroom instruction posts, say NATO and Canadian defence sources.  National Defence will present its recommendations to the Conservative government in the very near future and will ask to deploy “a small number” of troops at regional training centres in addition to stationing soldiers at classrooms in the Afghan capital.  “We’ll need to start laying down our markers by April in order to get the slots we want,” said one defence source.  The locations under consideration include the western city of Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif in the north and Jalalabad, near the border with Pakistan …. a certain obfuscation crept into the message in January. Officials and ministers started telegraphing that deployment would be “Kabul-centric” — meaning it’ll be based in the capital but not exclusively in Kabul.  In fact, each of the regional training centres under consideration is ranked safer than Kabul, according to the military’s threat assessment. The Afghan capital has been rocked by a string of attacks this winter, including a suicide bombing last month that killed two people at the entrance to a hotel ….”
  • Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were hospitalized for traumatic brain injury between 2006 and 2009 at almost three times the rate of Americans fighting there in earlier years before the war escalated, according to a National Defence study obtained by The Globe and Mail. The military attributed the “significantly higher” hospitalization rate to “the risky nature of our Kandahar operation” in a report acquired under Access to Information …. The total number of Canadian soldiers diagnosed with TBI was only 83; seventeen of those were classified with a “more serious forms of brain injury.” Still, the study found the hospitalization numbers taken from the trauma registry database at Kandahar were “significantly higher than the expected rate,” amounting to a hospitalization rate of 71 per 10,000 deployed person-years of all Canadians serving in Afghanistan for the three years ending in 2009. That compares with a rate of only 25 per 10,000 for U.S. troops in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2007 – before the increased fighting in recent years and last year’s surge of American troops in heavy combat regions ….” Again, MSM writes a story on a report, without sharing the report.
  • Some of the latest (a few weeks after the fact) from the CF’s media machine on what’s up in Afghanistan: “Operation HAMAGHE SHAY (“Same Team”) took place in Panjwa’i District from 16 February to 18 February 2011. Led and largely planned by the officers of Kandak 6, 1st Brigade 205 (Hero) Corps Afghan National Army (Kandak 6/1/205 ANA), its primary objective was to clear the village of Nakhonay and the surrounding countryside of insurgents and their stockpiles of weapons, bomb-making materials and illegal drugs ….”
  • Nearly 100 Canadians are still trapped in strife-torn Libya as fighting intensifies and rebel forces battle their way towards the capital city of Tripoli. Foreign Affairs confirmed Sunday they were in contact with about 90 Canadians and looking for ways to get them home safely. On Saturday, Canada managed to pluck nine Canadians, along with U.S., U.K. And Ukrainian citizens, from Libya using a C130 Hercules military aircraft to take them to nearby Malta. Some 330 Canadians have been evacuated from the North African nation so far ….”
  • Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff:  Setting up a no-fly zone over Libya = “major military offensive” “….”I don’t think you can understate the severity of a no fly zone scenario,” (Gen. Walter) Natynczyk told CTV’s Question Period on Sunday, describing the process involved as a major military operation.  “Before you can fly and ensure the security of a region you have to dismantle the air defences on the ground. That includes the runways and the aircraft on the ground, and the command and control facilities on the ground. That is a major military operation; it is an offensive operation.” ….”
  • Academic:  Setting up a no-fly zone over Libya = “a significant escalation in the West’s involvement in a conflict” “Canada and its allies have an obligation to step in and take military action in conflict-stricken Libya, including the enforcement of a no-fly zone, if rumours of mass killings of civilians prove to be true, a Canadian international affairs expert says.  Roland Paris, an expert in international security at the University of Ottawa, acknowledged that establishing a no-fly zone in Libya — a hot-button issue on political talk shows both in the U.S. and Canada on Sunday — would be a tricky sell in the Arab world, but adds that information trickling out might make a significant military intervention necessary …. Paris said a no fly-zone, which would include disabling runways and destroying Libyan anti-aircraft installations, would be a significant escalation in the West’s involvement …. But if reports of human rights abuses and fighter jets being used to quell the rebellion — all currently being investigated by the International Criminal Court — prove to be true, intervention needs to be strongly considered, Paris said ….”
  • Hello, hello, hello, what’s this about Russian news agency Pravda spotting a Canadian accent being spoken by Libyan anti-government forces as proof that NATO’s goin’ in with imperialist guns blazing? “After NATO’s acts of terrorism in recent years, after the blatant disregard for human rights and human life when depleted uranium rendered swathes of Yugoslavia uninhabitable and destroyed the futures of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, would it surprise anyone to learn that Libya is a NATO campaign?  What NATO is capable of, we have already seen in Yugoslavia, what the West is capable of, we saw in Georgia. We have seen the blatant barefaced lies, we have seen indiscriminate acts of murder, war crimes and crimes against humanity, all glossed over by the controlled media. So would it surprise anyone that NATO is indeed operating in Libya? ….  Interesting it was that the eastern and western borders were secured (Tunisia and Egypt) over which equipment and men poured, interesting it is that already two teams of NATO special forces have been captured inside Libya (Dutch Navy Force and British SAS), interesting was SKY News’ interview with a “front-line rebel” speaking in a broad Canadian accent ….”
  • About those NATO special forces captured inside Libya…. A British diplomatic team, including six soldiers believed to be SAS, have been freed two days after being detained in eastern Libya. The men are understood to have left Benghazi bound for Malta on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland. It is thought the special forces soldiers were with a diplomat who was making contact with opposition leaders ….”
  • More news on the latest in Libya here (Google News), here (EMM News Brief:  Libya),  here (NewsNow), here (BBC) and here (Al Jazeera English).
  • The next “You Should Be Outta There” hot spot, according to Canada’s Foreign Affairs Ministry:  Yemen. “Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel to Yemen. The level of risk to foreigners is very high. Canadians in Yemen should review their circumstances to determine if their continued presence is warranted and seriously consider departing Yemen by commercial means while these are still available ….” More from MSM on the advisory here and here, and the latest news from Yemen here (Google News), here (EMM News Explorer) and here (NewsNow).
  • The Conservative government is slamming the door shut on a British proposal that the two countries work together in building new warships.  “Canada will not be pursuing collaboration with the United Kingdom on our new surface combatant fleet,” Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said Sunday.  Paxton was reacting to comments made by London’s top diplomat in Ottawa, who told The Canadian Press that Canada and Britain could make better use of scarce public dollars by collaborating on new warships.  British High Commissioner Andrew Pocock said that with the economic crisis exerting pressure on defence spending everywhere, it makes sense for Ottawa and London to be discussing ways to co-operate on replacing aging frigates in their respective navies.  “We live in a much more financially constrained world. Every government faces a challenge in making its defence and other spending go as far as possible,” Pocock said in an interview ….”
  • Who’s allowed to bid on the Standard Military Pattern (SMP) Vehicle part of the CF’s Medium Support Vehicle System Project (MSVS)?  Check here.
  • Canadian defence researchers are investigating how brain signals might distinguish hostile intent from everyday emotions such as anger and fear. Though there is still much to learn, the goal is to push biometric science beyond identification techniques to a new frontier where covert security technology would secretly scan peoples’ minds to determine whether they harbour malicious intent. “This ability can be used by members of the military and the security forces to isolate adversaries prior to commission of actions,” according to a research paper posted on the federal government’s Defence Research and Development Canada website ….” Since I can’t find a link through which Postmedia News is sharing the paper, you can Google the title of the paper, “Biometrics of Intent: From Psychophysiology to Behaviour”.  As of this posting, though, the Defence Research and Development Canada publications page doesn’t seem to be working.  Until it gets working, here’s a summary of the paper:  “In the current defence and security environment, covert detection of adversarial intent is becoming increasingly important. However, valid and reliable detection of adversarial intent is contingent on the ability to discriminate this intentional mental state from related stress-induced negative emotional states. A preliminary theoretical framework is proposed that extends current knowledge about the psychophysiology of emotion toward achieving this aim. This framework takes as its starting point two assumptions: First, biomarkers in the autonomic and central nervous systems can be combined to predict specific emotional states. Second, the establishment of a normative psychophysiological and behavioural databank for specific emotional states can be used to measure the extent to which individuals deviate from established norms. Building on our understanding of the psychophysiological underpinnings of emotional states, this framework can be applied to isolate the physiology of intentional states.”
  • On a related note, the CF’s also done research on reading hostile intent by reading faces.

Hostile Intent Detector (by Reading Facial Expressions)

Behind all this scientific bureaucratese (via MERX):

“The objective is the design and development of a decision support system through the fusion of biometrics signals for behavioural diagnostic applications. The design and development of the system will be completed over 3 phases. The system will be based on the automatic processing and the classification of data stemming mainly from Electroencephalogram (EEG), Electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings and tracking of 3D stereoscopic facial characteristics. This processing should provide the integrated system capability, including vital signs, stereoscopic cameras and EEG, to quantify and provide automated diagnosis of the stressors that may affect the operational readiness of Canadian Forces (CF) operators and identify behavioural patterns with the aim of detecting hostile intend.” (I’m guessing they mean “intent” here)

and this tidbit from the Statement of Work (downloadable here):

“Over the past 10 years, (Defence Research and Development Canada) Toronto has developed a number of proprietary medical diagnostic technologies that include both 3D volumetric imaging and vital signs monitoring capabilities. Most recently, however, it has been identified that the above technologies have the potential to address:
• medical diagnostic applications,
• assessment of the type of stressors that may influence the operational readiness of CF operators, and
• identification of behavioural patterns with the aim of detecting hostile intend.”

is an interestimg research question:

How can we “read” faces (electronically), co-relate facial expressions with different states of mind, and figure out how to “read” either hostile intent or how a C.F. member is doing (fatigue, anxiety, etc.)?

I look forward to interesting things coming from this – not to mention discussion of the ethics of, say, a machine saying Cpl. Bloggins or Capt. Smith is too tired/anxious/whatever to work.

Update (1): Who won the contract, and for how much? (PDF)

Update (2): An American variation on the research theme.