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    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Reuters - Spies penetrate electrical grid: report

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    Spies penetrate electrical grid: report

    Wednesday, Apr 08, 2009 6:24PM UTC

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

    The spies came from China, Russia and other countries, and were believed to be on a mission to navigate the U.S. electrical system and its controls, the newspaper said, citing current and former U.S. national security officials.

    The intruders have not sought to damage the power grid or other key infrastructure but officials said they could try during a crisis or war, the paper said in a report on its website.

    "The Chinese have attempted to map our infrastructure, such as the electrical grid," a senior intelligence official told the Journal. "So have the Russians."

    The espionage appeared pervasive across the United States and does not target a particular company or region, said a former Department of Homeland Security official.

    "There are intrusions, and they are growing," the former official told the paper, referring to electrical systems. "There were a lot last year."

    The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama was not immediately available for comment on the newspaper report.

    Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said. He added, "If we go to war with them, they will try to turn them on."

    Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk.

    Protecting the electrical grid and other infrastructure is a key part of the Obama administration's cybersecurity review, which is to be completed next week.

    The sophistication of the U.S. intrusions, which extend beyond electric to other key infrastructure systems, suggests that China and Russia are mainly responsible, according to intelligence officials and cybersecurity specialists.

    While terrorist groups could develop the ability to penetrate U.S. infrastructure, they do not appear to have yet mounted attacks, these officials say.

    (Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Jon Boyle)

    CNN - U.S. crew retakes hijacked ship, Pentagon says

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    U.S. crew retakes hijacked ship, Pentagon says


    American crew members have regained control of their U.S.-flagged ship from pirates who seized it off the coast of Somalia, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.

    Four hijackers boarded the Maersk Alabama earlier in the day and one is in custody, according to Pentagon officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The three others tried to escape, and their status is unknown, they said.

    But the chief executive officer of the company that owns the Maersk Alabama played down the report that the vessel has been retaken by U.S. crew members, who are unarmed.

    "We have no facts that confirm the ship has been retaken," John Reinhart, CEO and president of Norfolk, Virginia-based Maersk Line Ltd., said at a news conference 12 hours after the hijacking.

    He warned against speculation.

    "I believe it's premature to comment on that, and I don't think it's in the best interest of the safety of the crew to comment on that at this time," Reinhart said.

    Pirates boarded the container vessel at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, about 350 miles off Somalia's coast, Reinhart said. Twenty American crew members were on board, a Maersk spokesman said.

    Reinhart said the crew is believed to be safe.

    "We had one communications earlier today from the crew; we were told the crew was safe," he said.

    A source told CNN's Barbara Starr that pirates took control of the vessel about 17 minutes after the ship made a distress call.

    Reinhart said the company has had no direct contact with the hijackers. The crew has secure rooms aboard the vessel and are urged to avoid "active engagements" with hijackers, he said.

    "They'd be outgunned," Reinhart said. "They don't have any weapons. It would be inappropriate for them to decide to become heroes. We'd like them to come home safely."

    He said crews can try to outrun pirate boats or turn their hoses on anyone trying to board the ship.

    "We have ways to push back but we do not carry arms," Reinhart said.

    The Maersk Alabama is still about 350 miles off the African coast, drifting at about one knot. The company has been in touch with "every government agency there is" since the incident was first reported, he said.

    The vessel was carrying relief supplies for USAID, WorldVision and the United Nations' World Food Program, as well as various Christian charities, including Catholic Relief.

    "There are starving people in Africa who need this food," Reinhart said.

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    'Six Days in Fallujah' aims for a realistic game experience

    If one new combat video game seems particularly realistic, there's a reason.

    Six Days in Fallujah, scheduled for release next year for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, was designed in cooperation with the Marines and with input from those Marines who fought in the November 2004 Iraqi battle, which involved some of the most intense urban combat ever.

    GAME HUNTERS: Follow all things game-related in our blog

    "This is the first opportunity anybody has had to get this level of insight into an actual battle," says Peter Tamte of Atomic Games. "The missions are re-creations of real firefights, mapped out by the Marines in the actual firefight."

    Dane Thompson, a corporal during the battle who ended his service as a sergeant in June 2005, says the game is "a way to get a small taste (of battle) without any of the danger or potential life-changing events. (The battle's) first week was hell on Earth."

    Thompson, who helped capture a train station to use as a headquarters during the battle, says he and other Marines discussed tactics and even sketched out homes they had secured. Some of the Marines also had their likenesses digitized to appear in the game.

    "Something that most people don't realize, there is this huge battle going on and we are getting shot at, there's buildings blowing up next to us, and we're still making jokes," he says. "That's how Marines are. I think they are going to try to bring that to the game, too."

    Atomic Games, which had designed simulations for combat and intelligence personnel, had collaborated before with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Division of the Marine Corps, who fought in Fallujah. "They said, 'This was a historical battle,' " Tamte says. "They wanted their story told."

    Atomic's developers pored over maps and plans, after-action reports, thousands of photos including satellite imagery, and hundreds of hours of video.

    The Marines noted a shortcoming of many military games to the developers: destruction of the environment. "Marines try not to enter through the front door because the enemy typically aligns its fire on the front door," Tamte says. "Marines will typically make their own entrance. They'll blow a hole in the wall. Sometimes you have to take down an entire building. You cannot do that in any military shooter so far. So we built our own game engine from scratch to enable this destructive capability."

    Some may wonder if a game about an ongoing conflict is appropriate. "Is it exploitive or gratuitous? I don't think so," Thompson says. "I'm all for it."

    Konami marketing executive Anthony Crouts says: "We want to be crystal-clear. We're not into making social commentaries. We're not saying the war is good (or) bad. We're looking at making a game experience based on historical events, tying into the actual Marines who were on the ground, telling their story."

    Reuters - Pirates hijack ship with 20 Americans onboard

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    Pirates hijack ship with 20 Americans onboard

    Wednesday, Apr 08, 2009 1:21PM UTC

    By Daniel Wallis

    NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali pirates hijacked a U.S.-flagged, Danish-owned container ship on Wednesday with 20 American crew on board in a major escalation in attacks at sea off the Horn of Africa nation, officials said.

    Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, told Reuters the 17,000 ton Maersk Alabama had been seized off Mogadishu far out in the Indian Ocean, but all its crew were believed to be unharmed.

    Denmark's A.P. Moller-Maersk confirmed that the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama had been attacked by pirates about 500 km (300 miles) off Somalia and had probably been hijacked. The company said it had 20 American crew on board.

    A spokesman for the U.N.'s World Food Program (WFP) in Nairobi told Reuters that among the vessel's cargo were 232 containers of WFP relief food destined for Somalia and Uganda.

    In the latest wave of pirate attacks, gunmen from Somalia seized a British-owned ship on Monday after hijacking another three vessels over the weekend.

    In the first three months of 2009 just eight ships were hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, which links the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and is used by ships traveling between Europe and Asia.

    Last year, heavily armed Somali pirates hijacked dozens of vessels, took hundreds of sailors hostage -- often for weeks -- and extracted millions of dollars in ransoms.

    MORE ATTACKS

    Foreign navies rushed warships to the area in response and reduced the number of successful attacks. But there are still near-daily attempts and the pirates have also started hunting further afield near the Seychelles.

    On Monday, they hijacked a British-owned, Italian-operated ship with 16 Bulgarian crew on board.

    Over the weekend, they also seized a French yacht, a Yemeni tug and a 20,000-tonne German container vessel. Interfax news agency said the Hansa Stavanger had a German captain, three Russians, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos on board.

    The Maersk Alabama is owned and operated by Maersk Line Ltd, a Norfolk, Virginia-based subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk and the world's biggest container shipper.

    A Moller-Maersk spokesman said it had been transporting general goods to Mombasa from Djibouti when it was attacked.

    The pirates typically launch speed boats from "mother ships," meaning they can sometimes evade warships patrolling the strategic shipping lanes and strike far out to sea.

    They then take captured vessels to remote coastal village bases in Somalia, where they have usually treated their hostages well in anticipation of a sizeable ransom payment.

    Pirates stunned the shipping industry last year when they seized a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of crude oil. The Sirius Star and its 25 crew members were freed in January after $3 million was parachuted onto its deck.

    Last September, they seized a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and other heavy weapons. It was released in February, reportedly for a $3.2 million ransom.

    Many of the pirates are based in northern Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, where the authorities called on Wednesday for more funds to tackle the gangs onshore.

    "It's better for the international community to give us $1 million to clear out the pirates on the ground, instead of paying millions of dollars to keep the warships at sea," Puntland's security minister, Abdullahi Said Samatar, told Reuters.

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