* No de-Light at NSA. My Fort Meade antenna site has picked up strong signals that the Hill has taken an interest in the follow-on to the National Security Agency's Light Core contract that was awarded last year to Cisco Systems at a blue-light-special price of $34 million and then shelved following protests. NSA planned to award the new contract for thousands of ATM gizmos, code-named "Painterly" early this month, but I now hear the agency has delayed award until it finishes answering questions from the Hill about both procurements.

I also hear the Defense Department inspector general is looking into this.

* Big switch bucks. I've heard that the Air Force has pegged the total cost to make its Nortel switches Year 2000-compliant at anywhere from $50 million to $100 million, which could end up gutting the 1998-99 budget for the service's Combat Information Transfer System. No one at the Air Force seems ready to address this problem for the record, with a spokesman for Lt. Col. Dave Genovese, CITS program manager at the Electronics System Center, passing questions off to Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon, which had not responded to calls on the subject at press time.

* Tight in Tuzla. IT funds are tight everywhere in the Air Force— even in Tuzla, Bosnia, where the operations squadron on the 401st Expeditionary Air Base Group has taken to rebuilding computers to stretch a dollar, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Cantrell said.

"We've rebuilt about a dozen PCs from the ground up,'' said Cantrell, who supervises the 401st's local-area network and PC shop and finds the dust and "dirty power'' of Tuzla tough on such items as CPU fans, power supplies and floppy drives.

* PowerPlugged? That's how Maj. Dan Fancher, S-3 of the Army's 141st Signal Batalion in Tuzla, feels toward the increasing reliance of all levels of Army commands on humongous PowerPoint slides and other large e-mail attachments.

Trying to transmit these multiple-megabyte files over thin, tactical circuits, in Fancher's view, is "like trying to suck a golf ball through a soda straw."

* Real spooked. Driving back from what shall remain an unidentified hill in Bosnia, the Interceptor had a chance to get up close and personal with an automatic grenade launcher when his rented, armored Land Rover was stopped by the 2nd Armored Cav Quick Reaction Force.

After an innocent trip to the hill for a telemedicine story and a few pictures, some folks from one of those three-letter agencies called out the cavalry on the Interceptor. Four heavily armed Humvees and about 20 infantryman kindly invited me to accompany them to their base camp.

Turns out that garbled message traffic had turned the Interceptor, his driver and a DOD telemed specialist into three Bosnians who had made two trips up a twisting, snow-packed dirt road in one day. Cooler heads prevailed and released me from my POW status. It must have been a very slow peace-keeping day.


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