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The 16 Members of the U.S. Intelligence Community

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With 16 agencies and organizations working both independently and together to collect, analyze, and disseminate information in the interest of protecting U.S. national security, it's difficult to keep track of who exactly does what among the 16 members of the Intelligence Community. Just ask President Barack Obama. During his recent trip to the burger joint Five Guys, C-SPAN cameras caught Obama asking a man who works at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to explain what the NGA does. Here's the answer to that question and a rundown of the 15 other members' main responsibilities.

1. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Formerly known as the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is one of the four major intelligence agencies that is part of the Department of Defense. (The other three are the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.) The NGA's stated mission is to "provide timely, relevant and accurate geospatial intelligence in support of national security objectives." In short, the NGA's employees collect and disseminate maps and charts that support the national security efforts of the Intelligence Community. While much of its work is defense-related, the NGA also fulfills a humanitarian role by producing maps that help to track floods and other natural disasters.

2. National Security Agency

NSAThe National Security Agency (NSA) was established on November 4, 1952, by order of President Harry Truman and was inspired by the United States' success in cracking German and Japanese codes during WWII. Since its founding, NSA has been one of the leaders in cryptanalysis and is home to the National Cryptologic Museum. NSA is the nation's leading producer of signals intelligence, or intelligence collected from communications and information systems, and is dedicated to protecting U.S. national security systems. The executive order delineating the NSA's roles was amended in 2008 in order to, among other goals, "maintain and strengthen privacy and civil liberties protections." NSA is headquartered in Ft. Meade, Md.

3. National Reconnaissance Office

NROThe National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) was established in 1961 as a classified agency within the Department of Defense. NRO's main responsibility is to build and operate U.S. reconnaissance satellites, which produce intelligence that is used by other members of the Intelligence Community. NRO imagery may also be used to enforce environmental treaties and to assess the effects of natural and manmade disasters. The NRO once had the reputation as the nation's most secretive intelligence agency, as its existence was a state secret until 1992. Two years later, after he learned that the secret development of NRO's spy satellite headquarters outside of Washington, DC, would cost $350 million, Senator John Warner of Virginia asked rhetorically, "Has this process created a Taj Mahal? We don't know." In 1995, CORONA, a 12-year reconnaissance program operated by the NRO, was declassified and 800,000 images obtained as part of the project were transferred to the National Archives.

4. Defense Intelligence Agency

DIAHeadquartered at the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was established in 1961 to improve military intelligence by lightening the foreign military intelligence responsibilities of the Army, Air Force and Navy. DIA, which has always been headed by a military officer of at least three-star rank, was designated a combat support agency of the Department of Defense in 1986. DIA's roughly 15,000 civilian and military personnel throughout the world are tasked with providing all-source military intelligence to policymakers, U.S. armed forces, and members of the operations and weapon systems acquisition community. In addition to chairing the Military Intelligence Board, the Director of DIA is a principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

5. Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency

AFA
The Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency (AF ISR) was opened in June 2007 at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. AF ISR's mission is to "organize, train, equip and present assigned forces and capabilities to conduct ISR for Combatant Commanders and the Nation." Air Force ISR personnel serve at 70 locations worldwide, including the National Security Agency and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

6. Army Intelligence

armyThe Army's Intelligence and Security Branch was established in 1962 and redesignated as Army Military Intelligence in 1967. Working under the Deputy Chief of Staff, Army Military Intelligence personnel contribute intelligence information to Army and Joint Commanders to enable them to make informed decisions. Included among MI's six initiatives are growing army human intelligence capabilities and increasing capacity of army cyberspace operations.

7. Marine Corps Intelligence

navy
The Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA) is the intelligence arm of the U.S. Marine Corps. While they provide tailored intelligence and services to the Marine Corps, the MCIA's 295 employees "“ 147 military personnel, 148 civilian marines "“ also share vital information with other members of the Intelligence Community.

8. Office of Naval Intelligence

navy2The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which was established in 1882, is the oldest continuously operating intelligence service in the United States. Earlier this year, ONI announced a restructuring that will "strengthen the Navy's conventional and irregular war fighting capacities, and expand foresight into new technologies." The transformation of ONI coincides with the physical expansion of the National Maritime Intelligence Center in Suitland, Md., which will be completed in 2010.

9. Central Intelligence Agency

CIACreated in 1947 with the signing of the National Security Act by President Harry Truman, the CIA is the largest producer of intelligence to U.S. policymakers. It is also the only independent agency in the Intelligence Community. The CIA develops technology that enables it to collect foreign intelligence using clandestine operations. The CIA then analyzes that intelligence to preempt threats to the nation's national security interests. One of the most infamous CIA employees was counter-intelligence officer Aldrich Ames, who was convicted in 1994 of selling secrets to the Soviet Union.

10. Department of Energy

energyThe Department of Energy's role within the Intelligence Community relates primarily to nuclear weapons, as evidenced by its four national security priorities: "insuring the integrity and safety of the country's nuclear weapons; promoting international nuclear safety; advancing nuclear non-proliferation; and continuing to provide safe, efficient, and effective nuclear power plants for the United States Navy." In addition to protecting the country's nuclear weapons and nuclear secrets, the Department of Energy works to protect other sensitive scientific information on matters related to energy. While the Department of Energy does not perform its own intelligence surveillance, it is often charged with analyzing energy-related intelligence provided by other agencies, such as the FBI.

11. Department of Homeland Security

homelandEleven days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush announced that he would create an Office of Homeland Security to oversee and coordinate a national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism. DHS became operational on January 24, 2003, after the passing of the Homeland Security Act. Within DHS, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis uses information from other members of the Intelligence Community to identify and assess threats to U.S. security. Of particular interest to OIA related to border security, as well as chemical, biological, and nuclear issues, and infrastructure.

12. Coast Guard Intelligence

coastCoast Guard Intelligence (CGI) played an important role during prohibition, as expert cryptanalyst Elizabeth Friedman helped the Coast Guard break the codes of the "rum runners." Today, CGI specialists collect, analyze, process, and disseminate intelligence that supports Coast Guard and joint military missions, as well as policymakers. The Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, has five fundamental roles: maritime security, maritime safety, protection of natural resources, maritime mobility, and national defense.

13. Department of State

stateThe Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) provides intelligence analysis to policymakers and ensures that the intelligence activities of all members of the Intelligence Community support foreign policy and national security purposes. The INR Assistant Secretary reports directly to the Secretary of State, while INR analysts located throughout the world provide daily briefings to State Department officials. In 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stripped the INR of its role in safeguarding highly classified documents after a laptop containing information about weapons proliferation went missing. Albright assigned the role to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, the security and law enforcement arm of the Department of State.

14. Department of the Treasury

treasury
The Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA) was established in 2004 within the Department of Treasury to focus primarily on analyzing intelligence related to terrorist financing. The OIA identifies part of its mission as providing "expert analysis and intelligence production on financial and other support networks for terrorist groups, proliferators, and other key national security threats."

15. Drug Enforcement Administration

15The DEA, a component of the Department of Justice, was established by President Richard Nixon in 1973. The DEA's primary responsibilities are to enforce U.S. drug laws and regulations and to curtail the spread of illicit drugs. DEA's Office of National Security Intelligence (ONSI) joined the Intelligence Community in 2006. ONSI relays intelligence that may be important for national security to the other members of the Intelligence Community in exchange for intelligence that facilitates DEA's law enforcement role in the war on drugs.

16. Federal Bureau of Investigation

FBIThe FBI, which originated from a group of Special Agents who worked for Attorney General Charles Bonaparte in 1908, has a long tradition of using intelligence to protect the nation's interests. Like the DEA, the FBI is a component of the Department of Justice, and its 31,000 employees help to provide a link between the intelligence-gathering and law enforcement communities. The FBI's top three priorities are to protect the U.S. from a terrorist attack, protect against foreign intelligence operations and espionage, and protect against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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