Head of Boeing’s 737 MAX Program Leaves After Midair Incident

WASHINGTON — Boeing said on Wednesday it was replacing the head of its troubled 737 MAX program effective immediately, the first major executive departure since the January 5 midair panel blowout of a new Alaska Airlines MAX 9.  Ed Clark, who had been with the plane-maker for nearly 18 years, departed as Boeing has been dealing with its latest crisis and has vowed to ramp up quality efforts.  Regulators have curbed the plane-maker’s production, and lawmakers and customers have been scrutinizing production and safety measures.   Boeing has scrambled to explain and strengthen safety procedures after a door panel detached during flight on a new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9, forcing pilots to make an emergency landing while passengers were exposed to a gaping hole 16,000 feet above the ground.   Clark’s departure came after Boeing’s board met this week and approved the changes, according to sources familiar with the matter. He oversaw the company’s production facility in Renton, Washington, where the plane involved in the accident was completed.  Clark was previously chief mechanic and engineer for the 737 before being named head of the program in 2021. He was the fifth person in four years to run the 737 program.  Katie Ringgold is replacing him as vice president and general manager of the 737 program, according to a memo seen by Reuters sent to staff by Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, who said the plane-maker was working to ensure “that every airplane we deliver meets or exceeds all quality …

Commercial Spaceship Set for Lunar Touchdown, in Test for US Industry

WASHINGTON — A company from Texas is poised to attempt a feat that until now has only been accomplished by a handful of national space agencies but could soon become commonplace for the private sector: landing on the moon. If all goes to plan, Houston-based Intuitive Machines will guide its spaceship named Odysseus to a gentle touchdown near the lunar south pole on Thursday at 2249 GMT, then run experiments for NASA that will help pave the way for the return of astronauts later this decade. A previous effort by another U.S. company last month ended in failure, raising the stakes to demonstrate private industry has what it takes to put an American lander on Earth’s cosmic companion for the first time since the Apollo era. “Accepting risk was a challenge posed by the United States to the commercial business sector,” Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus said ahead of launch. “Our collective aim is to return to the moon for the first time in 52 years.” The company plans to run a live stream on its website, with flight controllers expected to confirm landing around 15 seconds after the milestone is achieved, because of the time it takes for radio signals to return. As it approaches the surface, Odysseus will shoot out an external “EagleCam” that captures images of the lander in the final seconds of its descent. About the size of a big golf cart, Odysseus is hexagon-shaped and stands on six legs. It launched on Feb. 15 atop a …

Britain, US, EU, Allies Take Down Lockbit Cybercrime Gang

LONDON — Lockbit, a notorious cybercrime gang that holds its victims’ data for ransom, has been disrupted in a rare international law enforcement operation by Britain’s National Crime Agency, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Europol and a coalition of international police agencies, according to a post on the gang’s extortion website on Monday. “This site is now under the control of the National Crime Agency of the UK, working in close cooperation with the FBI and the international law enforcement task force, ‘Operation Cronos,’” the post said. An NCA spokesperson confirmed that the agency had disrupted the gang and said the operation was “ongoing and developing.” A representative for Lockbit did not respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment but did post messages on an encrypted messaging app saying it had backup servers not affected by the law enforcement action. The U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The post named other international police organizations from France, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and Germany. Lockbit and its affiliates have hacked some of the world’s largest organizations in recent months. The gang makes money by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it if victims fail to pay an extortionate ransom. Its affiliates are like-minded criminal groups that are recruited by the group to wage attacks using Lockbit’s digital extortion tools. Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data. Lockbit makes money by coercing its targets into paying ransom to decrypt …

US-China Rivalry Expands to Biotech; Lawmakers Raise Alarm

WASHINGTON — U.S. lawmakers are raising alarms about what they see as America’s failure to compete with China in biotechnology, warning of the risks to U.S. national security and commercial interests. But as the two countries’ rivalry expands into the biotech industry, some say that shutting out Chinese companies would only hurt the U.S. Biotechnology promises to revolutionize everyday life, with scientists and researchers using it to make rapid advances in medical treatment, genetic engineering in agriculture and novel biomaterials. Because of its potential, it has caught the attention of both the Chinese and U.S. governments. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to bar “foreign adversary biotech companies of concern” from doing business with federally funded medical providers. The bills name four Chinese-owned companies. The Chinese Embassy said those behind the bills have an “ideological bias” and seek to suppress Chinese companies “under false pretexts.” It demanded that Chinese companies be given “open, just, and non-discriminatory treatment.” The debate over biotechnology is taking place as the Biden administration tries to stabilize the volatile U.S.-China relationship, which has been battered by a range of issues, including a trade war, the COVID-19 pandemic, cybersecurity and militarization in the South China Sea. Critics of the legislation warn that restrictions on Chinese companies would impede advances that could bring a greater good. “In biotech, one cannot maintain competitiveness by walling off others,” said Abigail Coplin, an assistant professor at Vassar College who specializes in China’s biotech industry. She said she was worried …

Media Creators Worry About New AI-Video Tool by Maker of ChatGPT

paris — A new artificial intelligence tool that promises to create short videos from simple text commands has raised concerns along with questions from artists and media professionals.  OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT and image generator DALL-E, said Thursday it was testing a text-to-video model called “Sora” that can allow users to create realistic videos with simple prompts.  The San Francisco-based startup says Sora can “generate complex scenes with multiple characters, specific types of motion, and accurate details of the subject and background,” but admits it still has limitations, such as possibly “mixing up left and right.”  Here are early reactions from industries that could be affected by the new generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool:    Examples of Sora-created clips on OpenAI’s website range widely in style and subject, from seemingly real drone footage above a crowded market to an animated bunny-like creature bouncing through a forest.  Thomas Bellenger, founder and art director of Cutback Productions, has been carefully watching the evolution of generative AI image generation.    “There were those who felt that it was an unstoppable groundswell that was progressing at an astonishing rate, and those who just didn’t want to see it,” said Bellenger, whose France-based company has created large scale visual effects for such touring musicians as Stromae and Justice.  He said the development of generative AI has “created a lot of debate internally” at the company and “a lot of sometimes visceral reactions.”  Bellenger noted that Sora has yet to be released, so its capabilities have yet to …

Japan’s New Flagship H3 Rocket Reaches Orbit in Key Test

TOKYO — Japan’s flagship H3 rocket reached orbit and released two small observation satellites in a key second test following a failed debut launch last year, buoying hope for the country in the global space race. The H3 rocket blasted off from the Tanegashima Space Center on time Saturday morning, two days after its originally scheduled liftoff was delayed by bad weather. The rocket successfully reached orbit at an altitude of about 670 kilometers (about 420 miles) and released two satellites, said the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. “We feel so relieved to be able to announce the good results,” JAXA President Hiroshi Yamakawa told a news conference. The H3’s main missions are to secure independent access to space and be competitive as international demand for satellite launches grows. “We made a big first step today toward achieving that goal,” Yamakawa said. The launch is a boost for Japan’s space program following a recent streak of successes, including a historic precision touchdown on the moon of an unmanned spacecraft last month. The liftoff was closely watched as a test for Japan’s space development after H3, in its debut flight last March, failed to ignite the second-stage engine. JAXA and its main contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, have been developing H3 as a successor to its current mainstay, H-2A, which is set to retire after two more flights. JAXA H3 project manager Masashi Okada called the result “perfect,” saying H3 cleared all missions set for Saturday’s flight. “After a long wait, the …

China to Show Off Airliner at Singapore Show Amid Supply Crunch

SINGAPORE — Singapore will play host to Asia’s biggest air show next week for the first time since the end of COVID border restrictions, with regional travel rebounding and the military side of the show bristling with defensive systems and nervous arms buyers. An expected full return of civil demand in Asia is being tested by an industry-wide supply crunch and macroeconomic headwinds, however — especially in the world’s second-largest aviation market, China — while geopolitical tensions have put weapons in the spotlight. “Supply chain issues are limiting the ability of many airlines to upgrade their fleets and service their aircraft,” said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines head Subhas Menon. The biennial show will feature the first trip outside Chinese territory for China’s first homegrown passenger jet, COMAC’s narrow-body C919. With the dominant two plane manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, struggling to ramp up production and meet demand for new planes, and Boeing struggling with a string of crises, air show attendees will be watching how the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or COMAC, positions itself as a viable alternative. Many inside the industry caution that only four C919s are in service in China; the plane is only certified by Chinese regulators; and the C919 relies on international supply chains. Nevertheless, China’s aviation authority has said it would promote the plane internationally this year and pursue European Union Aviation Safety Agency certification. “We have also seen a growing trend where clients are including the C919 option in their fleet evaluation,” said Adam …

US Justice Department Says It Disrupted Russian Intelligence Hacking Network

Washington — The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it disrupted a Russian intelligence hacking network. “For the second time in two months, we’ve disrupted state-sponsored hackers from launching cyber-attacks behind the cover of compromised U.S. routers,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. The Justice Department said that a January 2024 court-authorized operation neutralized the network of hundreds of small office/home office (SOHO) routers controlled by Russian intelligence and used “to conceal and otherwise enable a variety of crimes.”   “In this case, Russian intelligence services turned to criminal groups to help them target home and office routers, but the Justice Department disabled their scheme,” Attorney General Merrick Garland added. Garland said the Justice Department was accelerating efforts to disrupt the Russian government’s cyber campaigns against the United States and its partners, including Ukraine. …

China’s VPN Usage Nearly Doubles Amid Internet Censorship

WASHINGTON — Last year, VPN usage in China nearly doubled, according to data from IT education news outlet Techopedia, this despite the country’s strict regime of internet controls of everything from overseas websites to online games. China’s “Great Firewall” is one of the world’s most comprehensive internet censorship regimes, preventing citizens from accessing websites like Instagram, Wikipedia and YouTube, as well most major news organizations including VOA. VPNs are outlawed in China because they allow users to jump the “Great Firewall” and securely connect to the internet outside the country while blocking their IP address. Rob Binns, a journalist with Techopedia, said China’s increasingly strict censorship policies may explain the rise in VPN usage there. “Looking at VPN usage versus what it’s combating, which is online censorship, we are seeing online censorship in a range of countries, particularly China, becoming more strategic and more surgical,” Binns told VOA in an interview.  In 2021, Chinese regulators limited teenagers’ access to video games to three hours per week — from 8 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays — before unveiling more severe restrictions last December which set spending limits on video game platforms and banned incentives for daily logins. Binns said these regulations on minors may particularly motivate Chinese usage of VPNs. “With that younger demographic, which is traditionally, extremely, highly tech-literate demographic, they’re always going to be looking for ways to kind of circumvent that top-down pressure from governments and find ways to get around that,” Binns said. “And if …

Biden is on TikTok Despite Security Concerns

In an effort to connect to younger voters, the Biden campaign has joined TikTok. But while many users have welcomed the move, security experts and even legislators have expressed disapproval amid long-standing privacy concerns surrounding the use of the Chinese-owned app. VOA’s Veronica Balderas Iglesias has details from Washington. (Produced by: Veronica Balderas Iglesias) …

Biden Campaign Joins TikTok, Despite Security Concerns 

washington — President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign Monday defended its new TikTok account as a vital way to boost its appeal with young voters, even as his administration continued to raise security concerns about whether the popular social media app might be sharing user data with China’s communist government. The campaign’s inaugural post featured the president being quizzed on Sunday’s Super Bowl — and included a reference to the latest political conspiracy theory centering on pop superstar Taylor Swift. “The president’s TikTok debut last night — with more than 5 million views and counting — is proof positive of both our commitment and success in finding new, innovative ways to reach voters in an evolving, fragmented and increasingly personalized media environment,” Biden reelection deputy campaign manager Rob Flaherty said in a statement. At the White House, though, national security communications adviser John Kirby said that “there are still national security concerns about the use of TikTok on government devices, and there’s been no change to our policy not to allow that.” Kirby referred most questions about TikTok to the Biden campaign and ducked a more general query about whether it was wise to use the app at all. He said the potential security issues “have to do with concerns about the preservation of data and potential misuse of that data and privacy information by foreign actors.” Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, could share user data — such as browsing history, location …