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Top Weekend Reads

With the weekend ahead, Topic A: Defense offers Top Reads, interesting pieces that deserve more time than busy readers have on a week day:

1) In The Atlantic, security expert and author Bruce Schneier considers the dangers of extending the meaning of terms like “terrorism” and “weapons of mass destruction.” He writes: “One of the assurances I keep hearing about the U.S. government’s spying on American citizens is that it’s only used in cases of terrorism. Terrorism is, of course, an extraordinary crime, and its horrific nature is supposed to justify permitting all sorts of excesses to prevent it. But there’s a problem with this line of reasoning: mission creep. The definitions of ‘terrorism’ and ‘weapon of mass destruction’ are broadening, and these extraordinary powers are being used, and will continue to be used, for crimes other than terrorism.”

2) Stars and Stripes tells the tale of a “Vietnam war veteran’s lost helmet [that] spans globe, decades.” Veteran Gary “Paco” Gregg had came across a lost helmet and “had been searching for the helmet’s rightful owner for 22 years.” This is the story of how he found its rightful owner.

3) Foreign Policy’s “Cyber-Sabotage Is Easy: So why aren’t hackers crashing the grid?” Thomas Rid writes: “Hacking power plants and chemical factories is easy. I learned just how easy during a 5-day workshop at Idaho National Labs last month. Every month the Department of Homeland Security is training the nation’s asset owners — the people who run so-called Industrial Control Systems at your local wastewater plant, at the electrical power station down the road, or at the refinery in the state next door — to hack and attack their own systems. The systems, called ICS in the trade, control stuff that moves around, from sewage to trains to oil. They’re also alarmingly simply to break into. Now the Department of Homeland Security reportedly wants to cut funding for ICS-CERT, the Cyber Emergency Response Team for the nation’s most critical systems.” (free registration required)

4) And to end on a more ethereal note, Nautilus writes about — and provides beautiful photos of — the phenomenon of halos that are created around military helicopters: “One of the most beautiful things you’ll ever see in a war zone had no name, until it was given one in honor of two soldiers who gave their lives… Benjamin Kopp, a US Army Ranger, and Joseph Etchells, a British soldier, were killed in combat in Sangin, Afghanistan, before they were old enough to easily rent a car. Each of them had probably seen what happens when a helicopter descends into a sandy haze before; they had most likely ridden in one that was producing the show of curious physics. Thanks to one photographer, their names now adorn the dazzling effect produced by helicopter blades hitting sand and dust. If the conditions are just right, you’ll see three halos on a military helicopter—the Kopp-Etchells Effect.”