The Smoke Eater For Feb. 11, 2020

In the Navy, the infinite frontier, and the Equifax hack.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater for Tuesday, February 11, 2020, and once upon a time there was a place where you could find pleasure, treasure, and science and technology...


Quick Hit

* Sailing into stupidity * Show me your (computer generated) war face * Screaming in space * Bill Barr forgets a couple of indictments in the Equifax hack * Punching Nazis * The CIA probably read your old email *

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You Can Put Your Mind At Ease

One of the most confusing aspects of the Trump administration's defense budget is a cut in funding to the Navy while calling grow the fleet size to 355 ships. The Navy currently has 294 ships, with 92 currently at sea; experts are skeptical the Navy will be able to meet the 355 ship mandate by 2034 as the Navy is kind of broke right now, and Congress tends to torpedo downsizing proposals.

Both of these facts are evident in the the scrapping of the Navy's barely used Littoral Combat Ships. For about a decade the LCS has been hailed as cool new way to sail the seven seas. The last Republican Congress even tried to float more of the disaster-prone ships up the Navy's port hole in 2018 despite recommendations from the Navy, and protests from the White House's hack-and-slash bean counter, Mick Mulvaney.

Rather than throw more money into the ocean, the administration wants to dump almost a billion into AI research, according to Fed Scoop. The Fifth Domain notes that the budget for cyber security remains steady at $9.8 billion even as cyber attacks on small businesses and governments increase. In a related story, Amazon wants to depose Trump and Defense Secretary Mark Esper for reneging on a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the military called JEDI that ultimately went to Microsoft.

More Fun With Numbers

NASA is getting $35 billion to fulfill Trump's promise to put boots on the moon by 2024 -- one of the biggest increases in space funding since the Apollo program in the 1960s. The proposal calls for the establishment of the Lunar Gateway, a controversial space station that would orbit the moon (potentially with help from other nations). It's unclear if any of this will fly as late last month the House introduced a NASA authorization bill that called Mars a bigger priority than the Moon.

The military will see cuts to troop numbers across almost all branches, with the Air Force carving out a pound of flesh to stand up the Space Force with $15.4 billion and, according to brass, "morale." Military families can look forward to a massive shift towards privatized medical care, and (only) $55 million in new on-base housing to address high-profile issues in existing on-base housing, like toxic mold. In exchange cutting jobs, guaranteed social services, and forcing families to live in unsafe houses, the administration wants to raise troop pay by three percent.

The White House believes stalled peace talks with the Taliban will allow them to save money in Afghanistan. The proposed budget assumes the negotiations will ultimately succeed, and that they'll be able to bring the majority of troops stationed in Afghanistan home even as incidents of violence soar across the Middle East.

In an unrelated story, 109 US service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries following an Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi base housing US and coalition forces last month. Injuries resulting from the strike, which Iran launched in retaliation for the US assassination of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, have been brushed off by the administration as "headaches" and "outpatient stuff."

We Call Them A "Data Broker"

The Justice Department has charged four members of China's People's Liberation Army in the 2017 Equifax breach that compromised the personal information of 145 million Americans. Charlie Warzel notes that it was Equifax's own negligence that led to the hack, citing a 2019 class action lawsuit that, among other horrifically stupid practices, alleged, "Equifax employed the username ‘admin’ and the password ‘admin’ to protect a portal used to manage credit disputes."

The stolen data, according to Attorney General Bill Barr, left as many as half of all Americans vulnerable to potential bribery or blackmail schemes. Barr adds that the Equifax breach was perpetrated by the same group responsible for high-profile breaches of Marriott International, the Anthem insurance company, and the federal government's Office of Personnel Management.

The breach caused a fury of lawsuits, including a suit from 50 attorneys general in 48 states, including DC and Puerto Rico, and a $300 million agreement with federal regulators. The historic breach affect so many people that victims claiming a $125 settlement payout may never get their cash.

In a related story, the William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, released a new counterintelligence strategy that calls for a "whole-of-society response involving the private sector, an informed American public, as well as our allies," to protect ourselves from malicious assholes on the internet. Evanina says it's up to the industry to "self-police," admitting that the intelligence community has no way to call out propaganda in the digital age; adding, "the Internet, social media and trolls are now the old leaflets.”

North Korea and neo-Nazis

North Korea's internet usage has soared higher than its ICBMs, according to a new report by Recorded Future. With new internet connections being established and routed through Russia, the North has started circumventing the US's "maximum pressure" sanctions by mining cryptocurrency and digital heists; it then reinvests into nuclear and cyber programs. This model is now starting to be copied by other rogue regimes facing pressure from the international community.

ICYMI: 600 neo-Nazis met in Budapest, Hungary to commemorate a huge, embarrassing failure from World War II. Al-Jazeera quotes some sad, crying babies bemoaning the rest of the world trying to ignore them. On the bright side, at least Amazon is banning Nazi literature from its platform.

One More Thing...

This morning The Washington Post published a fascinating story on the CIA's history running one of the most prolific cryptology companies. The scheme goes back to the 1970s and involves the Swiss and former West German governments.

OK, now here's a warm and fuzzy critter video! A CHILEAN FLAMINGO!

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