September 23, 2020
by Joseph Fitsanakis
The United States Central Intelligence Agency has announced the creation of a new advanced research laboratory system that it hopes will allow it to compete with Silicon Valley for attracting top technical talent. The initiative, announced on Monday, is called CIA Labs, and it aims to attract scientists and engineers with an interest in advanced research projects that have applied potential in the area of national security.
According to Dawn Meyerriecks (pictured), who heads the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, the purpose behind this new initiative is to allow the agency to attract and retain scientists and engineers, who are highly sought after by some of America’s top technology firms, like Google and Oracle. MIT’s Technology Review, which wrote about this initiative, referred to it as a “skunkworks”. The term refers to a select team of experts within an organization, who are given the flexibility to operate with independence and without restrictions by bureaucratic red tape, in order to produce something new and innovative.
According to Meyerriecks, CIA Labs will give the agency’s top technical talent the ability to file patents in the public domain. That was impossible in the past, given that virtually all of the research that takes place in the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology is classified. However, there may be civilian applications of some of these inventions that do not impinge on classified research. In such cases, CIA scientists who file patents will be able to profit from them, by making up to 15 percent of the income of a patent, while the Agency will keep the remaining 85 percent. The additional salary cap that an inventor is limited to is $150,000, which would more than double the yearly income of most CIA scientists.
Meyerriecks said on Monday that, ideally, CIA Labs will end up generating more funds for the agency than it costs to set up. She added that some of the areas of research that the new CIA venture is interested in include biotechnology, advanced materials science, as well as artificial intelligence, data analytics and high-performance quantum computing. The latter three are needed to help the CIA manage the immense volume of data it gathers on a daily basis, said Meyerriecks.
► Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 September 2020 | Permalink
Space Force gets its first recruits
The Space Force on Tuesday inducted the first seven recruits to the fledgling service. In a ceremony at Military Entrance Processing Station-Baltimore in Maryland, which was broadcast online, Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson swore in the first four enlisted recruits. Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, the service’s top enlisted adviser, also attended…
The Space Force on Tuesday inducted the first seven recruits to the fledgling service. In a ceremony at Military Entrance Processing Station-Baltimore in Maryland, which was broadcast online, Vice Chief of Space Operations Gen. David Thompson swore in the first four enlisted recruits. Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman, the service’s top enlisted adviser, also attended the Baltimore ceremony. And if you’re wondering, all on camera wore masks. A second ceremony, for another three recruits, was scheduled to be held later Tuesday at MEPS-Denver in Colorado. “Recruits, first of all thanks for volunteering to defend our nation, and congratulations on being the first Americans to enlist directly into the United States Space Force,” Thompson said. He then administered their oath of enlistment and congratulated them with elbow bumps instead of the traditional handshake. The recruits will now head to the Air Force’s seven-and-a-half-week basic military training at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas. In a Monday release previewing the ceremony, Thompson said it marked “an important milestone” in the process of standing up the Space Force. 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The recruits are from Colorado, Maryland and Virginia, and their ages range from 18 to 31. The Space Force said it wants diversity to be one of its top priorities. Of the seven recruits, there are two women, and two Black recruits, including one Black woman. The Space Force hopes to have 2,500 members by the end of December, and grow steadily until it reaches 6,500 active-duty members by the end of fiscal 2021. Active-duty senior enlisted airmen in cyber, intelligence, acquisitions and engineering career fields will start transferring to the Space Force Dec. 1. Officer and other enlisted service members in those career fields will then begin transferring themselves on Feb. 1. When a recruit asked Thompson how things have differed from the Air Force so far, he said the Space Force is trying to establish its own, unique culture. But he noted that many of the missions the Space Force now does had been going on in the Air Force for decades. “The things that we’re doing every day, so far, we’ve been doing for a long time,” Thompson told the recruits. “So, we know how to do this. It’s establishing that vision for the future and pursuing that, that we’re working on. And that’s where you all are going to help us.” “Pretty much the same, but cooler,” Towberman added to laughter.
Court battles over counting ballots shape presidential election
With both sides in the US presidential election duelling in court over rules and procedures ahead of the November 3 vote, Democrats scored a victory on Monday when the Supreme Court left in place a ruling that extended a deadline for counting mail-in ballots in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. But Trump’s re-election campaign and…
With both sides in the US presidential election duelling in court over rules and procedures ahead of the November 3 vote, Democrats scored a victory on Monday when the Supreme Court left in place a ruling that extended a deadline for counting mail-in ballots in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.
But Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee have also notched up important wins, including a recent ruling in Texas limiting voters’ ability to correct rejectedmail-in ballots.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted hundreds of lawsuits in the US over how people can cast their ballots. Americans, fearing the novel coronavirus, are expected to vote by mail in record numbers.
Trump’s Republican allies who control the US Senate are rushing to confirm conservative jurist Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court before the election. Seating Barrett on the court would create a conservative majority that is likely to rule against Democrats in voting cases.
Below are some of the biggest victories so far for Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
BIDEN LEGAL WINS
Pennsylvania lawsuit over mail-in deadlines
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on September 17 that officials in the closely contested state can accept mail-in ballots three days after the November 3 election so long as they were postmarked by 8pm ET on Election Day.
The Supreme Court, in a 4-4 decision, said it would leave that decision in place, turning away an appeal by the state Republican Party and Republican officials.
Republicans did prevail on one key issue at Pennsylvania’s highest court. Interpreting a state law, the court said officials must throw out so-called “naked ballots” – ballots that arrive withoutinner “secrecy envelopes”.
Republicans argued the secrecy sleeves help deter fraud. Democrats have warned the ruling could lead to an estimated 100,000 votes being thrown out.
Pennsylvania judge rejects voter fraud claims
Drop boxes have become a partisan flashpoint, with Democrats promoting them as a safe option for voters unnerved by the COVID-19 pandemic and US Postal Service delivery problems.
Republican officials and Trump’s campaign have argued without evidence that the boxes could enable voting fraud. On October 10, US District Judge Nicholas Ranjan inPittsburgh, a Trump appointee, rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and Republican Party to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
Ranjan wrote that the plaintiffs failed to prove a risk of voter fraud. “At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”
An election worker collects mail-in ballots and guides voters at the entrance to the Registrar of Voters building in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2020 [Mike Blake/Reuters]Texas ballot drop-off sites
Democrats scored a win in Texas on October 15 when a judge lifted an order by Republican Governor Greg Abbott limiting counties to a single location for mail ballot drop-off sites.That order is on hold while it is being appealed.
State court judge Tim Sulak, who sits in Austin, said Abbott’s order would “increase risks of exposure to COVID-19 infections” and “substantially burden voters’ constitutionallyprotected rights to vote”. Sulak’s ruling is being reviewed by an appeals court.
TRUMP LEGAL WINS
Texas signature requirement
A federal appeals court on Monday said Texas does not have to give voters a chance to correct mail-in ballots that are rejected because the signature does not match the one on filewith the state.
The Fifth US Circuit Court of Appeals halted a lower court order that gave voters an opportunity to correct, or “cure,” the defect.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group against Republican Party officials in Texas, a longtime Republican stronghold that may be up for grabs this year.
Texas mail-in ballot battle
On October 8 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that officials in the state’s most populous county, a Democratic stronghold that includes Houston, cannot send out unsolicited applications for mail-in ballots to its 2.4 million registered voters.
Unlike other states, Texas limits mail-in voting to those who are 65 and older, cite a disability or illness, are in jail but otherwise eligible or are outside the county where they areregistered.
The decision was a win for Republican party officials, who said sending mail-in ballot applications to everyone in Harris County, the third most populous county in the United States, would cause confusion and lead to voter fraud.
An election worker looks over some of the hundreds of thousands of early mail-in ballots as they are processed at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in California on October 16, 2020 [Mike Blake/Reuters]Florida restricts ex-felon’s right to vote
A federal appeals court ruled in September that Florida can require felons to pay fines, restitution and legal fees they owe before they regain their right to vote.
By a 6-4 vote, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court ruling that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Five of the six judges in the majority were appointed by Trump.
Ex-felons in Florida are more likely to register as Democrats, according to an analysis published this month by the Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald and ProPublica.
Nearly 900,000 Floridians with felony convictions will be unable to vote in the election because of the decision, according to an October 14 study by the Sentencing Project, acriminal justice reform group.
Fight over absentee ballots in Wisconsin
Wisconsin election officials cannot count absentee ballots that arrive after the November 3 election, a federal appeals court ruled on October 8.
Democrats had argued that ballots postmarked by election day that arrive up to six days later should be tallied, saying such a policy would protect the right to vote amid a surge in mail-inballots because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was too close to election day to make significant modifications to the voting process.
In a scathing dissent, one judge denounced the decision as a “travesty” and said thousands of people would lose their right to vote.
An appeal to the Supreme Court is pending.
A young voter fills out a ballot with assistance from a poll worker at a polling station in Milwaukee on the first day of in-person voting in Wisconsin on October 20, 2020 [Bing Guan/Reuters]Michigan counting deadline
A Michigan appeals court ruled on October 16 that ballots received after 8pm ET on November 3 cannot be counted, reversing a ruling by a state court judge in Detroit and changing the battleground state’s voting rules just two weeks before the election.
The judge in Detroit had said Michigan voters should have their ballots counted for up to 14 days following November 3 so long as they were postmarked by November 2.
More than 100 dead as Vietnam reels from ‘worst floods in decades’
The death toll from weeks of flooding and landslides in central Vietnam has risen to 111, with 22 people still missing, Reuters reported Wednesday. “These devastating floods are some of the worst we have seen in decades,” Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, the president of Vietnam’s Red Cross Society, said in a statement Tuesday.More than 7,200…
The death toll from weeks of flooding and landslides in central Vietnam has risen to 111, with 22 people still missing, Reuters reported Wednesday. “These devastating floods are some of the worst we have seen in decades,” Nguyen Thi Xuan Thu, the president of Vietnam’s Red Cross Society, said in a statement Tuesday.More than 7,200 hectares of food crops have been submerged and damaged, and more than 691,000 cattle and poultry have been killed or swept away in flood water, according to the state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA). Sixteen national highways and 161,880 meters of local roads in four provinces have also been damaged.The country is now bracing for another onslaught from tropical storm Saudel which is heading toward Vietnam after lashing the Philippines, where it caused flooding and forced thousands of residents to evacuate.October is rainy season in Vietnam, but for weeks the country has been hit by particularly poor weather which has impacted agriculture, irrigation, and transport. At the start of the month, storms and a cold snap prompted rain and floods in central cities and provinces in Vietnam, according to VNA. More than 250,000 households in six provinces have been “inundated,” since mid-October, and many areas are 2 or 3 meters underwater, VNA reported. Earlier in the week, rescuers found 14 bodies of 22 soldiers that were missing after a landslide engulfed a military camp, according to VNA.The region as a whole has suffered particularly heavy rainfall amid the onset of a La Nina weather system, which is characterized by unusually cold temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.Larger humanitarian crisisVietnam’s flooding has left hundreds of thousands in urgent need of emergency shelter, safe drinking water, food, and income support, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).Red Cross disaster teams are working alongside local authorities to provide relief assistance. “Everywhere we look, homes, roads and infrastructure have been submerged,” Thu said. “We’re doing our best to get immediate relief to people by boat, by air and on land, including food, safe water, tarpaulins and other essentials.”The Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee is giving 20 billion Vietnamese dong ($860,000) to support flood-hit families in five central provinces, VNA reported. The IFRC has released around $325,000 to support the Vietnam Red Cross relief activities.According to Thu, the flooding is dealing a “staggering blow to the livelihoods of millions of people already reeling from hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”Vietnam largely escaped the kind of onslaught seen in other countries, with authorities reporting 1,141 coronavirus cases and 35 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. However, the tourism-dependent economy has taken a hit — the country, which sealed its borders in March due to the pandemic, is normally visited by millions of international tourists a year. A double disaster was unfolding as the floods “compound the difficulties caused by Covid-19,” Christopher Rassi, IRFC’s Director of the Office of the Secretary General, said in a statement Tuesday.”These floods are the last straw and will push millions of people further towards the brink of poverty,” he said.CNN’s Isaac Yee and Sandi Sidhu contributed reporting in Hong Kong. Reuters also contributed reporting.