TIME Foreign Policy

Russian Television Under Spotlight After Malaysia Airlines Crash in Ukraine

Russia Putin
Employees of RT prepare for a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on June 11, 2013. Yuri Kochetkov—AP

The crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 exposes the truth about RT, the Russian English-language propaganda outlet

In late 2009, the British journalist Sara Firth became a Russian propaganda mouthpiece.

The decision seemed to make sense at the time. Firth had just earned a postgraduate diploma in investigative journalism when she was offered a role as on-air-correspondent for RT, a Russian television network that is broadcast for foreign audiences in English, Spanish and Arabic. The gig came with an attractive salary, vibrant colleagues and the chance to report big stories in global hotspots. Firth had ambition, a sense of adventure, and a fascination with Russia. She took the job.

Founded in 2005, RT is billed as a counterweight to the bias of Western media outlets. In reality, the broadcast outlet is an unofficial house organ for President Vladimir Putin’s government. Under the guise of journalistic inquiry, it produces agitprop funded by the Russian state, and beams it around the world to nearly 650 million people in more than 100 countries. RT is Russia’s “propaganda bullhorn,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said recently, “deployed to promote President Putin’s fantasy about what is playing out on the ground.”

Firth was no dupe. She knew the politics of her paymasters. “We are lying every single day at RT,” she explained Monday afternoon in a phone interview from England. “There are a million different ways to lie, and I really learned that at RT.”

Since a Malaysian jetliner crashed in a wheat field in eastern Ukraine last week, RT’s pro-Putin packaging has been exposed in grim detail. In the aftermath of the tragedy, which killed all 298 souls on board, the outlet—like the rest of Russian state media—has seemed as if it were reporting on an entirely different crime. As the international media published reports indicating the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists, RT has suggested Ukraine was responsible, cast Moscow as a scapegoat and bemoaned the insensitivity of outlets focusing on the geopolitical consequences of the crime.

For Firth, the coverage was the last straw. She announced her resignation on July 18, as her employer broadcast a flurry of reports that read more like Kremlin press releases. She described a five-year fight to uphold the principles of journalistic integrity in a place where every reporting assignment comes with a “brief” outlining the story’s conclusion. “It’s mass information manipulation,” she says. “They have a very clear idea in their mind of what they’re trying to prove.”

RT is neither the first nor the only outlet that exists to serve the state rather than its citizens. Nearly every major country has a thriving state-sponsored media. (The U.S. funds media organizations like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia that target foreign populations through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.) In Russia, the domestic media have long been lapdogs, and reporters who bite their masters sometimes turn up dead. “The media in Russia are expected to be mouthpieces for power,” says Sarah Oates, a professor of journalism at the University of Maryland who studies the Russian media. “RT follows this model. They’ll mix a little bit of reality with a little bit of smearing, and they’ll steer the viewer into questioning things.”

RT’s motto is “Question More,” which sounds like a worthy credo. In practice, it arranges those questions to light the way to specific answers. The formula is well-honed. RT hires young, telegenic correspondents who speak fluent English and believe, as Firth does, that a flawed media ecosystem benefits when broadcasters challenge the dominant narrative. And it pays them lavishly to report from far-flung battlefields or its gleaming studios. “They want you to be on air looking young, looking sexy, looking fresh. Being a bit quirky,” says Firth. “They’re after impact. They don’t mind too much about the fact checking.”

In the aftermath of the crash last week, the RT machine kicked into overdrive, churning out a steady stream of strange reports. In an effort to implicitly assign blame on the Ukrainians, it noted the proximity of Putin’s own plane. It quoted a Russian defense ministry source asking why a Ukrainian air force jet was detected nearby. And it quoted another anonymous Russian official, who volunteered the juicy claim that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile was operational in the vicinity at the time of the incident. This is how RT works, explains Firth: by arranging facts to fit a fantasy.

“What they do is a very smart, slick way of manipulating reality,” she says. “In Ukraine, you’re taking a very small part of a much wider story, totally omitted the context of the story, and so what you wind up with on air is outright misinformation.”

Sometimes the end result is anything but slick. In March, a group of alumni and students from the Mohyla School of Journalism in Kiev, along with associated journalists, launched a fact-checking site to chronicle false reporting about the Ukrainian crisis. The site, Stopfake.org, features a long menu of whoppers from Russian media. Among the most egregious, the group’s founder told TIME, is the case of a blond actress who has cropped up in different roles over the course of conflict. The actress, Maria Tsypko, has been interviewed on state TV and identified as separatist camp organizer in Odessa, a political refugee in Sevastopol and an election monitor in Crimea, according to the site. The only thing that never changes is her affection for Mother Russia.

These outlandish flubs are a problem for the Russian propaganda effort, which forks out millions to cloak spin as truth-telling. It’s hard to maintain the illusion when the audience can see the strings and wires behind the scenes. “It’s been a particularly effective means of propaganda, and a very effective voice for the Russian state,” says Oates. “But if you’re going to engage in propaganda, you have to do it well. They have completely embarrassed themselves.”

RT did not respond to an interview request from TIME. According to Firth, you can reliably glean management’s perspective from the opinions they allow their employees to parrot. Many, Firth says, are like herself: committed journalists who thought they could persevere and take advantage of the opportunity to report important stories, the goals of their bosses notwithstanding.

“For five years, you’re kind of fighting against this—and with your colleagues you’re rolling your eyes and making jokes,” she says. “The worst-kept secret is that RT is blatant propaganda. I’m one in a very long line of people who have left for the same reason. Everyone has their breaking point. I wish I had done it sooner. But I didn’t.”

TIME animals

Ohio Man’s Therapy Ducks Fall Foul of Local Ordinances

Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014.
Iraq war veteran Darin Welker holds one of his ducks at his home in West Lafayette, Ohio on July 10, 2014. Trevor Jones—AP

Veteran Darin Welker says raising the birds helps him overcome PTSD from the Iraq War

Darin Welker loves his ducks. He feeds them, looks after them, and sometimes the Iraq War veteran from West Lafayette, Ohio just watches them interact. But Welker’s community doesn’t share the same affection for his feathered friends.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press reports, Welker will appear in a local municipal court facing a minor misdemeanor charge for raising 14 ducks in violation of local village rules. He could face a fine of up to $150.

Welker, an Iraq War veteran, says he’s been raising the ducks as a form of therapy for a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Welker told the AP that although the Department of Veterans Affairs paid for his back surgery in 2012, they did not provide mental or physical therapy.

In March, he got the ducks to help fill that void, after hearing raising them could be therapeutic.

“Taking care of them is both mental and physical therapy,” Welker told the AP. “[Watching them] keeps you entertained for hours at a time.”

In West Lafayette, however, raising ducks or any farm animal violates a 2010 ban on housing “chickens, turkeys, ducks, live poultry or fowl of any kind, horses, ponies, cows, calves, goats, sheep, or live animals of any kind except dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, birds or mice.”

But there is hope for Welker and his ducks. A local woman fought to keep the pot-bellied pig she and her daughter use for therapy in 2013. Mary Smith, the pig’s owner, told the Coshocton Tribune at the time that she would rather move than give up her pig. “He’s part of our family,” Smith said.

Smith obtained a letter from her doctor confirming her pig was for therapy. According to the AP, Welker has already gotten a letter from the mental health department of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs recommending he keep the ducks.

[AP]

TIME Military

Lawyer: Bergdahl ‘Deeply Grateful’ to Obama

Bergdahl Being Treated At U.S. Military Hospital In Germany
Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for nearly five years before being released in May. U.S. Army / Getty Images

Army sergeant held by Taliban believes President’s decision “saved his life,” his attorney Eugene Fidell tells TIME

No one’s heard anything yet from Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the former prisoner-of-war freed in a May 31 swap for five Taliban leaders after nearly five years as a Taliban prisoner. He hasn’t spoken to the press—by all accounts, he hasn’t even spoken to his parents. But, in typical American fashion, he has retained—and spoken to—an attorney.

“Sergeant Bergdahl is deeply grateful to President Obama for having saved his life,” Eugene Fidell, retained a week ago by the soldier, told TIME on Wednesday.

Fidell has traveled to Texas—where Bergdahl has returned to active duty at a desk job in San Antonio following his “re-integration” back into the service—to discuss with his client the investigation into the circumstances leading up to Bergdahl’s abduction in 2009. The attorney declined to offer any insights into Bergdahl’s mood, legal defense, or relationship with his family. Bergdahl also has an Army lawyer.

Eugene Fidell Yale

But Fidell did suggest the case—now being investigated by a two-star Army major general—is more complicated than he originally thought. That’s saying something: Fidell is a prominent military-law expert who lectures at Yale Law School on the topic, and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice.

“Before I was in the case, I was skeptical that the investigation called for a major general,” Fidell says. “I thought that a talented lieutenant colonel would be more than enough horsepower—I thought it was overkill.” Army officials say Major General Kenneth Dahl has yet to interview Bergdahl.

Fidell said he has changed his mind as he has dived into the case. “Based on what I now know about the complexity of the issues, which are in a number of spheres that I’m not going to get into, I understand why the Army thought that a general officer should be involved,” Fidell adds. “I now understand why management thought that it was a good idea to have a two-star officer doing this investigation.”

The lawyer, who has taken the case pro bono—without pay—declined to discuss the specifics that led him to change his mind. But Bergdahl’s case is complex: according to the soldiers with whom he served, Bergdahl simply walked away from his combat outpost in June 2009 before being captured by the Taliban along the Afghan-Pakistan border. Some of those troops have called Bergdahl a deserter, and alleged that fellow soldiers died hunting for him.

Questions also surround the Army’s decision to allow Bergdahl to enlist, two years after he washed out of Coast Guard boot camp after only 26 days. And lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized Obama for giving up five senior Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, now 28.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., told TIME on Tuesday that he doesn’t believe the swap was in the nation’s interest. “We were duty bound to bring him back, but I think we’re duty bound to bring him back in the right way,” said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness subcommittee. “What other opportunities were there for us to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s release besides releasing these five high-ranking Taliban officials?…we did increase the risk to Americans and American interests by releasing these five.”

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that Bergdahl is now free to come and go like any other soldier. “He’s free to leave base…he’s not under any particular restrictions,” Kirby said. “And I would remind you, he’s not been charged with anything.”

TIME Military

Navy Nurse Refuses Gitmo Force Feed Order

Guantanamo Hunger Strike
In this photo Nov. 20, 2013 file photo reviewed by the U.S. military, a U.S. Navy nurse stands next to a chair with restraints, used for force-feeding, and a tray displaying nutritional shakes, a tube for feeding through the nose, and lubricants, including a jar of olive oil, during a tour of the detainee hospital at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Charles Dharapak—AP

A detainee described the act as a conscientious objection

A Navy medical officer at the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba has refused an order to continue force-feeding hunger-striking prisoners in what one detainee lawyer described as an act of conscientious objection.

“There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry-out the enteral feeding of a detainee. The matter is in the hands of the individual’s leadership,” a Pentagon spokesperson said in an email. “The service member has been temporarily assigned to alternate duties with no impact to medical support operations.”

It is the first known instance of a U.S. service member rebelling against the Pentagon’s force-feeding policy. An unknown number of the 149 detainees at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta have been on hunger strike for the past year and a half to protest their indefinite detention.

News of the refusal comes to the public by way of an attorney for one of the detainees, who, according to The Miami Herald, says his client described how some time before the Fourth of July a Navy medical nurse suddenly shifted course and refused to continue force-feeding prisoners. The nurse, he said, was abruptly removed from duty at the detention center. The attorney said his client described the nurse’s action as a conscientious objection.

The Herald reports that the prisoner who provided news of the incident described the nurse as a roughly 40-year-old Latino man most likely with the rank of lieutenant in the Navy.

Last year, civilian doctors writing for the New England Journal of Medicine declared that medical professionals taking part in force-feeding was unethical and called the Guantánamo medical staff to refuse to participate.

TIME Military

U.S. Military Takes Robotic Mule Out for a Stroll

The world's most frightening pet showed off its tricks at a military event for 22 nations and roughly 25,000 people

+ READ ARTICLE

Meet Legged Squat Support System (LS3), a robotic mule capable of carrying up to 400 pounds of cargo for 20 miles without refueling.

The U.S. Marine Corps showed off LS3—nicknamed Cujo—on Saturday at Hawaii’s Kahuku Training Area during the Advanced Warfighting Experiment portion of RIMPAC 2014, a biennial multinational maritime exercise, according to a statement. Cujo can traverse rocky terrain with its lifelike gallop, and is programmed to follow an operator and detect surrounding objects with its swiveling head of sensors. Marines demonstrated Cujo’s tricks by using it to conduct resupply missions across terrain difficult to traverse by normal vehicles.

The RIMPAC demonstration is the latest effort in LS3′s platform-refinement testing, which began in July 2012, after 5 years of LS3′s concept development by Boston Dynamics under DARPA. Recent tests have afforded the $2 million robotic mule a tour of military bases in California and Massachusetts, and of course, much pampering and TLC after intense combat simulations on difficult terrain wore it down.

“I was surprised how well it works,” said Lance Cpl. Brandon Dieckmann, who watched YouTube clips of LS3 before joining the infantry and being randomly selected to operate the robot during RIMPAC. “I thought it was going to be stumbling around and lose its footing, but it’s actually proven to be pretty reliable and pretty rugged. It has a bit of a problem negotiating obliques and contours of hills.”

Indeed, like all pets, Cujo has a few issues. It makes loud noises while moving, currently limiting the robot to logistical uses like resupply missions and cargo carrying, instead of tactical maneuvers. Cujo also can successfully cross only 70-80% of all terrain traversable by Marines. It has no set date for deployment, as engineers continue to improve the robot.

But the lack of an official timeline isn’t something the Marines are too worried about, as commanding LS3 “feels like playing Call of Duty.” Even better, to them, Cujo has become “like a dog.”

MONEY Related Stories

22 Colleges Where You Can Earn a Degree for Free. Seriously.

Deep Springs College, California
At Deep Springs College in California, students pay their way by working on the ranch. Brian L. Frank—Redux

You'll never have to take on a student loan at these schools.

A few new proposals are calling for making college free nationally—either for two years or all four. But experts say it could be some time before we can entirely say goodbye to tuition bills on all schools across the nation.

In the meantime, there are some places where college is already free, either for all students or those who fit certain criteria. So if you want to avoid ever signing your name to a student loan, you might add these schools to your list.

Programs that make students earn their keep: Those enrolled at Alice Lloyd, Berea, and Deep Springs colleges work to pay their full tuition—at Deep Springs, on the school ranch and farm.

Programs that reward locals. A program called Tulsa Achieves offers every high school graduate from Tulsa County, OK with at least a “C” average a full ride on tuition and fees at a local community college, local tax revenue. A local oil company pays all tuition and fees at any college or university for graduates of El Dorado High School in Arkansas. And anonymous donors do the same thing for students who attend public kindergarten through high school in Kalamazoo, Mich., and go on to a Michigan public college or university.

Programs that reward service: The U.S. military, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and merchant marine academies charge no tuition for students who are accepted and serve a military term or time at sea. CUNY’s Teacher Academy gives a gratis education for education students who graduate and teach at least two years in the New York City public schools.

Programs that seek talent: The Curtis Institute of Music is free for students who pass a demanding audition, and Webb Institute for a handful of the most promising engineering students. The Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York waives tuition for applicants who can meet the tough admissions requirements—including an “A” average in high school.

Programs with a religious bent: Barclay College, a bible college, is an example of a religious school that is free.

Programs that recognize need: Very highly selective universities with big endowments have also acted in the last several years to make tuition free for students from families with certain incomes—MIT for families that earn $75,000 or less, Harvard and Yale $65,000 or less, and Columbia, Cornell, Stanford, Duke, Brown, and Texas A&M $60,000 or less.

__________

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Related stories:

Colleges try to speed up pace at which students earn degrees

Testing your way to a degree

Residents are crowded out of college by out-of-state and foreign students

Just as it wants students to speed up, government won’t pay for summer courses

TIME Aviation

F-35 a No-Show (So Far) at Big Air Show

An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in 2012.
An F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in 2012. Randy Gon—U.S. Air Force/Reuters

The star attraction at Farnborough International Air Show failed to appear on opening day

Lightning did not strike at the Farnborough International Air Show on Monday.

Farnborough’s star attraction—the F-35 Lightning II, a fifth-generation fighter jet also known as the Joint Strike Fighter—was due to make its international air show debut this month. Unfortunately for both the air show organizers and F-35 developers, the fighter jet failed to make its scheduled appearance at Farnborough, in Hampshire, England, after the entire F-35 fleet was grounded in the U.S. last month after the engine on one of the jet’s caught fire.

Yet Farnborough organizers, Lockheed Martin (which manufactures the jet), and the U.S. military are all hopeful the F-35 will still be able to make an appearance. Farnborough announced the fighter jet would be missing the show’s opening on July 13 in a statement, saying, “The aircraft is still awaiting US [Department of Defense] clearance but we are hopeful that it will fly at the air show by the end of the week.”

“Everyone involved in the project is working towards a positive result for attendance at the air show [later] this week,” the statement added.

The fire took place on June 23, in a single jet’s Pratt & Whitney engine at the Eglin Air Force base in Florida. No one was harmed, but the fire prompted the Pentagon to ground the entire fleet of jets until the matter had been investigated. The fire was caused by excessive rubbing of fan blades in the engine, according to F-35 developers and Lockheed executives, who held a news conference at Farnborough on Monday. The fire is also believed to be an isolated incident.

“There’s a growing body of evidence that this is not a systemic problem,” said the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Frank Kendall, while also emphasizing the need to conduct a thorough investigation and put “safety first.”

Yet the failure to make the much-hyped appearance at the opening of the air show—while also missing appearances earlier this month at the naming ceremony of HMS Queen Elizabeth, in Scotland, and the Royal International Air Tattoo show in Fairford, England—is another blow to the F-35 program, which has come under fire for being both overdue and over-budget. The F-35 is a major project for the American military, with three variants of the jet being developed for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And with estimated development costs of almost $400 billion, the F-35 is also the most expensive weapon ever built.

As the Farnborough International Air Show marks one of the world’s biggest aviation events of the year—where industry experts, buyers and aviation fans all gather—the F-35′s absence is bound to be noted by potential customers. (Foreign buyers of the aircraft already include Italy, Canada, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Norway, Japan, and the Netherlands.) In particular, the U.K. is a major customer for the fighter jet, but the New York Times reports that the country, which originally said it would buy 138 jets, has only committed to purchasing 48 so far.

And if the F-35 fails to appear at all before the Farnborough Air Show draws to an end on Sunday? “It’s not ideal,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst who works for the Teal Group. “This could delay efforts to ramp up production.”

But Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the Program Executive Officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, insisted Monday that a cancellation wouldn’t be “a setback to the program.”

“It would have been wonderful for the rest of the world to see it’s not just a paper airplane. It’s a technological marvel,” he said, before adding that the jets were ready to fly across the Atlantic to Farnborough as soon as they were given clearance. “We’re not giving up yet.”

TIME Military

Bowe Bergdahl Returns to Active Duty

U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
U.S. Army, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. U.S. Army/Getty Images

Following weeks of recovery abroad and in a Texas outpatient facility

Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is returning to active duty, the Army said Monday, after the soldier freed in a swap for Taliban leaders spent three weeks in an outpatient facility.

“Sgt. Bergdahl has completed the final phase of the reintegration process under the control of U.S. Army South and is currently being assigned to U.S. Army North, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston (JBSA),” the Army said. “He will now return to regular duty within the command where he can contribute to the mission.”

Bergdahl was released after five years in Taliban captivity in May. Many ill and wounded troops are sent back to active duty during recovery, and Army officials are still continuing their probe into the circumstances of Bergdahl’s 2009 disappearance from his base in Afghanistan. Some soldiers have labeled him a deserter for that.

“The Army investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the disappearance and capture of Bergdahl is still ongoing,” the Army said.

Bergdahl was returned to U.S. custody in exchange for the release of five Taliban leaders detained in Guantánamo Bay, provoking protests from Republicans and other critics of the deal. An Army investigation found he had deliberately left his post in Afghanistan in June 2009.

TIME Military

Building a Better Bullet

DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) bullet may be precise, but its artist's rendering of the round is pretty vague.
DARPA's Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) bullet may be precise, but its artist's rendering of the round is pretty vague. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

The Pentagon wants the capability for its snipers, making their goal of "one shot, one kill" even more likely

Accuracy trumps terror every time. For good or for ill, that is why Israeli missiles have killed at least 160 Palestinians, while Palestinian rockets have killed zero Israelis. While killing innocents as well as terrorists, the Israeli strikes are precise. So is its Iron Dome anti-missile system, which appears to be doing a pretty good job destroying Palestinian rockets headed for Israeli population centers. Meanwhile, the Palestinians are left to launch unguided rockets, hoping to get lucky and kill Israelis.

Along the same lines, imagine if you could transform a dumb bullet into a guided missile?

That’s what the Pentagon did earlier this year, successfully firing .50-caliber bullets that steered themselves in mid-flight. It has just released a video trumpeting the tip-top targeting of its Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program.

“This video shows EXACTO rounds maneuvering in flight to hit targets that are offset from where the sniper rifle is aimed,” the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency says. “EXACTO’s specially designed ammunition and real-time optical guidance system help track and direct projectiles to their targets by compensating for weather, wind, target movement and other factors that could impede successful hits.”

The Pentagon wants the capability for its snipers, making their goal of “one shot, one kill” even more likely. The April 21 test by DARPA contractor Teledyne Scientific & Imaging shows the new bullet homing in on its target by riding a laser beam aimed by the sniper team at the desired target. Vanes on its body—and an onboard optical receiver—allow it to maneuver in mid-flight.

The highly-classified EXACTO program began six years ago. “The ability to more accurately prosecute targets at significantly longer range would provide a dramatic new capability to the U.S. military,” DARPA’S original program description said. “The use of an actively controlled bullet will make it possible to counter environmental effects such as crosswinds and air density, and prosecute both stationary and moving targets while enhancing shooter covertness.”

Such a weapon, DARPA said when it launched the program, could employ “fire and forget” technologies including “fin-stabilized projectiles, spin-stabilized projectiles, internal and/or external aero-actuation control methods, projectile guidance technologies, tamper proofing, small stable power supplies, and advanced sighting, optical resolution and clarity technologies.”

The Pentagon wants the new gun to be no heavier than the combined 46-lb. weight of the current $11,500 M107 sniper rifle and all its associated gear (including ammo, tripod, scope and slide rules for target calculations).

Military sharpshooters require extensive and expensive training—all of which could be reduced with a better gun. Snipers “are unable to take a shot the vast majority of the time” because of wind or other weather factors, and a lack of confidence in their ability to hit the target or flee if detected, DARPA has said.

Then-Army Captain Keith Bell, former commander of the Army sniper school at Fort Benning, Ga., told TIME five years ago that he couldn’t wait to get his hands on the new bullet. “The EXACTO would be revolutionary,” he said from Mosul, Iraq. “It will more than double our range and probably more than double our accuracy.”

Current sniper rifles can regularly hit trucks at 2,000 meters, but not bad guys. (The record kill is 2,430 meters, just over 1.5 miles. It was charted by Canadian army corporal Rob Furlong against a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan’s Shah-i-kot valley during Operation Anaconda in March 2002—but his first two shots missed.) “There’s no limit as far as I can see so long as the bullet’s stable—I think 2,000 or 2,500 meters is very attainable,” Bell said. “Right now, anything past around 800 meters is an extremely tough shot.”

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