Monday, July 31, 2017

Exporting War

An analysis by Catherine Theohary for the Congressional Research Service looks at official and unclassified data on conventional arms transfers to developing nations around the world by the United States over the years between 2008 and 2015.   As well, it compares the value of the American arms transfers to those made by other nations and provides us with a ranking of which nations were the greatest beneficiaries of this "generosity".

The total value of all conventional arms transfer agreements (representing orders for future delivery) to both developed and developing nations in 2015 was $79.9 billion, down from $89 billion in 2014.  Here is a graphic showing the value of arms transfer agreements going back to 2008, showing the split between developed and developing nations:

As you can see on the graphic, arms sales to developing nations are very important to the arms industry.  Over the years between 2008 and 2015, conventional arms transfer agreements (which represent orders for future delivery) to developing nations comprised 80.24 percent of all international arms transfer agreements with the level hitting 81.7 percent in 2015.  Actual arms deliveries to developing nations comprised 72.69 percent of the total value of all such arms deliveries in 2015.

Let's look at the volume of arms that are being sold to developing nations.  In 2015, the total value of arms transfer agreements to developing nations was $65.2 billion, down from $79.3 billion in 2014.  In total during 2015, $33.6 billion of conventional arms were actually delivered to developing nations.  Here is a table showing the total value of worldwide arms transfer agreements to developing nations by supplying nation for the periods between 2008 to 2011, 2012 to 2015 and for 2015 alone:

Over the period between 2008 and 2015, arms sales to developing nations comprised most of the total transfer value for all supplying nations.  As well, in constant 2015 dollars, the United States is, by a wide margin, the largest seller of conventional arms to developing nations over the study period with total sales (arms transfer agreements) of $208.47 billion compared to $86.12 billion for second place Russia and $51.83 billion for France as shown on this table:

Here is a table showing the number of each type of weapons that have been supplied to developing nations over the periods between 2008 to 2011 and 2012 to 2015:

Now, let's look at the value of United States conventional arms transfers to developing nations.  This is particularly pertinent given that Saudi Arabia appears to be using weapons, including U.S.-made cluster bombs, against the Houthis in Yemen.   The total value of U.S. arms transfer agreements with developing nations decreased to $26.7 billion in 2015 from $29.7 billion in 2014.(page 7)  Despite that, the United States market share value of all such agreements with developing nations rose to 40.99 percent in 2014 from 37.48% in 2014.  In 2015, key agreements were reached with Saudi Arabia, Iraq and South Korea.  These sales included very expensive major weapons systems as well as upgrades and support of systems that had previously been sold.  

Fortunately, thanks to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website, we are able to clearly ascertain what equipment was sold to each nation by the U.S. defense industry.  Since the study covers only the period to the end of 2015, let's look at what was sold to Middle East nations in 2016 by nation with the value of the agreements in U.S. dollars:

1.) Iraq:

- F-16 weapons, munitions, equipment and logistics - $1.95 billion

- Hellfire missiles - $800 million

- KA-350 aircraft - sustainment - $350 million

- AC-208 aircraft sustainment, logistics and spares support - $181 million

- AC-208 aircraft, training and support - $65.3 million  

2.) Oman:

- TOW 2B missiles - $51 million

- continuation of logistics support and equipment - $260 million

3.) Jordan:

- repair and return of F-16 engines, sustainment and support - $115.1 million

4.) United Arab Emirates:

- AN/AAQ-24(V)N Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures - $225 million

- Hellfire Category III missiles - $476 million

- munitions sustainment and support - $785 million

- exercise participation support - $70 million

- Apache AH-64E helicopters - $3.5 billion

5.) Saudi Arabia:

- support services - $200 million

- MK15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons Systems - $154.9 million

- Saudi Abrams Battle Tanks and Hercules Armed Recovery Vehicles - $1.15 billion

- CH-47 F Chinook cargo helicopters - $3.51 billion

6.) Qatar:

- RIM-116C Rolling Airframe Missiles - $260 million

- Javelin Guided Missiles - $20 million

- Mk-V Fast Patrol boat - $124.02 million

- F-15QA aircraft - $21.1 billion

- spare C-17 engines and equipment - $81 million

- continuation of logistics support services and equipment - $700 million

7.) Kuwait:

- F/A-18 services and support - $420 million

- field radar system - $194 million

- F/A-18 Super Hornet Aircraft - $10.1 billion

- Joint Direct Attack Munition Tail Kits - $37 million

- recapitalization of M1A2 tanks - $1.7 billion 

8.) Egypt:

- Harpoon Block II Encapsulated Missiles - $143 million

- Sentinel Radars and related equipment and support - $70 million

- Common Missile Warning System for Apache, Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters - $81.4 million

9.) Tunisia:

- Kiowa Warrior Aircraft equipment - $100.8 million

10.) Israel:

- excess Sea-Hawk Helicopter equipment and support - $300 million

11.) Morocco:

- TOW 2A Radio Frequency Missiles - $108 million

As you can see, exporting their products to the developing nations of the world, particularly the Middle East, brings in significant revenue to America's military-industrial complex not to mention corporate tax dollars to Washington.  While these sales definitely lead to military instability in the region, they do keep thousands of Americans in jobs!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Russia's Response to America's Sanctions

While the United States Congress continues to pile on the anti-Russia sanctions, we rarely hear (in any detail) the diplomatic response from the Russian Foreign Ministry.  Here is their response in its entirety from the Russian Foreign Ministry website:

"On July 27, the US Congress passed a new bill on tougher anti-Russia sanctions. This measure is further proof of the Unites States’ extremely hostile foreign policy. Hiding behind its own "exclusiveness", the United States arrogantly ignores the stances and interests of other countries.

It is common knowledge that the Russian Federation has been doing everything in its power to improve bilateral relations, to encourage ties and cooperation with the US on the most pressing issues on the international agenda including fighting terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, illegal drug trafficking, illegal migration, cybercrime, etc. Our understanding has been that we can only solve these global problems if we work together. We believe the majority of people in the world share this approach.

Meanwhile, the United States is using Russia’s alleged interference in its domestic affairs as an absolutely contrived excuse for its persevering and crude campaigns against Russia. This activity contradicts the principles of international law, the UN Charter, WTO regulations and, simply, the common standards of civilised international communication.

The United States continues to pass more unlawful sanctions against Russia, to seize Russia’s diplomatic property, which is formalised in binding bilateral documents, and to deport Russian diplomats. This is clearly a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and generally recognised diplomatic practices.

The adoption of the new sanctions bill is an obvious indication that relations with Russia are in thrall to the political infighting in the United States. Moreover, the new bill sets to a goal to create a dishonest competitive advantage for the US in the global economy through the use of political means. This blackmail aimed at restricting Russia’s cooperation with its foreign partners threatens many countries and international businesses.

Despite Washington’s constant outbursts, we have adhered to responsible and reserved behaviour and have not responded to express provocations until now. However, the latest events confirm that certain circles in the US are fixated on Russophobia and open confrontation with our country.

- Therefore, we suggest our American counterparts bringing the number of diplomatic and technical staff at the US Embassy in Moscow, the consulates general in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok, into strict correspondence with the number of Russian diplomats and technical staff currently working in the United States, until September 1, 2017. This means that the total number of American diplomatic and consular office employees in the Russian Federation must be reduced to 455 people. In the event of further unilateral action on behalf of US officials to reduce the Russian diplomatic staff in the US, we will respond accordingly.

- Starting August 1, the use of all the storage facilities on Dorozhnaya Street in Moscow and the country house in Serebryany Bor will be suspended from use by the US Embassy.

Russia reserves the right to resort to other measures affecting US’ interests on a basis of reciprocity." (my bold)

So far, the anti-Russia sanctions have accomplished one thing; they have tied Donald Trump's hands when it comes to dealing with Vladimir Putin.  Other than that, since the first round of sanctions were imposed on the 6th of March 2014 invoking both the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act in response to Russia's alleged interference in Ukraine have created only short-term economic damage to Russia and look to create further economic problems for Europe.  In fact, up to 2016, a study by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research showed that the potential trade losses to Europe totalled €34 billion in the short-term and €92 billion in the long-term.

Now you know exactly what the Russians think of the recent Congressional moves.  So much for punishing Russia and Mr. Putin; the unintended consequences have been rather stunning, haven't they?

WiFi and Keystroke Recognition

Updated July 2018

With the 2017 WikiLeaks revelations about the CIA and its involvement in our computers and online activities, research by Kamran Ali, Alex Liu, Wei Wang and Muhammad Shahzad from Michigan State University in the United States and Nanjing University in China gives us cause to question what little remains of our privacy even further.  

As we are all aware, there is one factor in our lives that has become pervasive, the presence of WiFi signals.  These signals are present in our homes, our workplaces and in many public areas, offering us unprecedented and often "free" access to the internet.  Many of us who access WiFi, particularly in public areas, are at least somewhat concerned about the privacy of our communications, however, we rarely give thought to the idea that someone could actually be detecting every keystroke that we make.  The research by the aforementioned authors of the paper entitled "Keystroke Recognition Using WiFi Signals" have shown that this very issue should be of concern to all of us.

It's obvious that keystroke privacy is important.  Without keystroke privacy, outsiders will be able to access our most private information including passwords and other sensitive data.  In the past, research has studied the effectiveness of keystroke recognition using three main methods:

1.) acoustic-based emission approaches where each key on a keyboard produces a different sound. or the fact that acoustic emanations from different keys arrive at different surrounding smartphones at different times.

2.) electromagnetic emission-based approaches where the electromagnetic emanations from the electrical circuit underneath different keys in a keyboard are different.

3.) vision-based approaches where keystrokes are recognized using video technologies. 

For the first time, the authors of the study noted that WiFi signals can be used to recognize keystrokes, a single -based keystroke recognition system that they call "WiKey".

WiKey consists of two commercial, off-the-shelf WIFi devices, a sender (router) and a receiver (laptop).  The sender continuously emits signals and the receive continuously receives signals.  When a user types on the keyboard on the WiFi signal receiver end, his or her hands and fingers move in a unique formation and direction, generating a unique pattern in the time-series of Channel State Information (CSI) values for each key.  The keystrokes of each keyboard key introduce unique and subtle distortions in the WiFi signals which can be used to recognize exactly which key was pressed.  The authors developed a keystroke extraction algorithm that utilized CSI streams to identify which key was depressed by the user.  As background information, CSI values are already being used to detect larger scale human movements including falling, general household activities, the presence or absence of humans and estimating the number of people in a crowd.   In this research, the authors are looking at the micro-movements of human hands and fingers when they type on a keyboard, taking CSI research to a whole new level.   
Here is a quote from the paper showing how data was collected:

To evaluate the accuracy of WiKey, we collected training and testing dataset from 10 users. These 10 users were general university students who volunteered for the experiments and only 2 out of them had some know how of wire- less communication. Users 1–9 first provided 30 samples for each of the 37 keys (26 alphabets, 10 digits and 1 space and 1 space bar) by pressing that key multiple times. After this, these users typed the sentence; the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog two times, without spaces.

To evaluate how the number of training samples impact the accuracy, we collected 80 samples for each of the 37 keys from User 10. Afterwards, this user typed each of the following sentences 5 times, without spaces; the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, nobody knew why the candles blew out, the autumn leaves look like golden snow, nothing is as profound as the imagination, my small pet mouse escaped from his cage.   We asked users to type naturally with multiple fingers but only press one key at a time while keeping the average keystroke inter-arrival time at 1 second. After recording the CSI time series for each of the above experiments, we first applied our keystroke extraction algorithm on those recorded CSI time series to extract the CSI waveforms for individual keys and then extracted the DWT based shape features from each of the extracted keystroke waveforms.

The authors evaluated the accuracy of their keystroke extraction algorithm in terms of the detection ratio, the ratio of the total number of correctly detected keystrokes in a CSI time series divided by the total number of actually keystrokes.  The authors discovered that WiKey was able to detect that a keystroke had taken place 97.5 percentile of the time with at range of between 91.8 percent and 100 percent for the ten users and that there was a 96.4 percent accuracy rate in classifying single keystrokes.  The keystrokes that were most often missed were those where there is little movement of the user's fingers, for example, when typing the keys "a", "d", "f", "i", "j" and "x", the user's hands and fingers move very little, resulting in undetected variations in CSI values.

Here are two graphs showing the accuracy of WiKey for the 26 alphabetical keys and for 37 keys (26 alphabetical, one space bar and 10 digits) on a standard keyboard:

WiKey is capable of recognizing an overall keystroke accuracy of 83.46 percent in the case of 26 alphabetical keys and 82.87 percent in the case of 37 keys including numerical keys and the space bar.  In real-world experiments, WiKey can recognize keystrokes in a continuously typed sentence with an accuracy of 93.5 percent.  

There are some limitations to WiKey.  It is currently designed for and tested with only two persons in a room (the tester and the user) and would have to be altered (trained) to deal with addition motion (i.e. having multiple people walking around in a library setting).  The authors believe that WIKey can be developed to subtract the waveforms of non-keyboard related motion.   As well, the authors tested WiKey using the same keyboard for all users with transceivers being located at the same distance and in the same direction with respect to the keyboard.  The authors also instructed the users not to move their heads or other body parts significantly when typing, however, they were allowed to make small neutral motions including arm and shoulder movements.

While there are obviously limits to the ability to detect keystrokes using WiFi at this point in time because the technology is still in its infancy, the technique developed by the authors of this paper shows that micro-gestures can be used to detect a user's keystrokes using commercially available equipment and WiKey.  In the future, the authors plan to adapt their system to deal with the real world environment where users' behaviours are less predictable and there is more background "noise".  From what these four gentlemen have proven thus far and with the ubiquitous nature of WiFi in today's world, it is only a matter of time before this technology is widely used by the world's intelligence networks, prying even further into what little remains of our privacy.