Friday, January 30, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Ideas for writers of murder mysteries

Today DD received a query from a writer of mystery novels. The question, which occasionally comes up from others as well, is how to do better than the Roger Bergendorff's of the world.

Courtesy of predator state security and some literary license, murder mystery authors can do a lot better.

In recipes for home purification, everyone is looking at the wrong end of things.

First, think internal threat.

Let's continue by thinking our professional maniac is someone who want a finished product off the shelf, work done by vetted scientists.

And to that let's add con man, or a sociopath capable of convincing not particularly attentive scientists and businessmen to sell them anything as long as the voice, credentials, purchase order number and official letterhead seem convincing.

Since ricin is purified and sold for research purposes, there is a readymade product for the maniac poisoner.

In the US, the government has a program which is supposed to monitor ricin. That is, no one but scientists are supposed to be able to get hold of small amounts of purified material. And when they have it, they are subject to securing it and subsequent audits of their inventory.

However, botox -- which is much more poisonous than ricin -- is subjected to even greater attention and control.

But it is also clear that charlatans bypassed the government system directly through the inside while posing as a research firm, ordering purified botulinum toxin directly from a company which furnishes it to the biodefense research industry. From there, it was diverted for a business scheme.

With the proliferation of laboratories involved in chemical and bioweapons research in the US, the chance of dangerous lab-grade pure materials being diverted for nefarious use has increased in the past ten years, not decreased. This is now fairly well accepted as a potential hazard.

There is nothing stopping any author in positing some story device in which purified ricin is diverted into the hands of your murderer. And then the murderer finds himself in the position of the commie state security group implicated in the killing of Georgi Markov.

It is much better to have pure ricin furnished by experts than lame castor powder ground from a bag of seeds in your garage. In fact, it's far more likely to be of practical use if obtained in this manner.

The only tricky part is delivery and covering tracks. Do you want your villain to use the deadly bumbershoot approach? Or do you put it in a salad bar's shredded cheese container? And with pure material -- while you would not have a lot of it, it would come with some assayed measure of toxic activity which would help toward establishing the delivery of a minimum lethal dose.

The other catch is in its diversion. If a front company, it needs to be an empty shell when the authorities come looking. If it's diversion from a research lab, someone else has to be there to take the blame. Or it could be a lab or agency in which everyone is a potential suspect, like Ft. Detrick.

And even if the diversion can be traced, it can be years before the criminals are brought to book.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: The case of William Lynn

"A day after President Obama issued tough new ethics rules for administration employees, a key lawmaker raised questions about his nomination of a lobbyist to the No. 2 position at the Pentagon," reported the Los Angeles Times last week.

"William Lynn III, the top lobbyist for Raytheon Co., was chosen by Obama and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for the position of deputy secretary of Defense ... The new ethics rules banned lobbyists from serving in the administration. But the executive order allowed waivers to let some former lobbyists take government jobs if doing so was in the public interest."

Last week, DD immediately thought of this as a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too rule. And I don't think I've ever read a major newspaper story in which a lobbyist's appointment to a government position overseeing the military or the national security industry was described as not being in the public interest.

(Except in minimized comments -- usually at the end of a story -- furnished by pesky watchdog groups. That it has been broached at the beginning of the Obama administration seems as much a function of it's curiosity as a rule for avoiding glaring conflicts-of-interest except whenever the president doesn't want to avoid glaring conflicts-of-interest as being something which draws attention to the new boss being sadly somewhat like the old boss.)

Lobbyists from weapons manufacturers -- in this specific case, it's spectacularly about missile production and missile defense initiatives -- are always doing what's in the public interest. Who else could be experts in the defense of the nation? It's common knowledge that this is so.

However, here on the left coast, DD recalls that about half of James K. Galbraith's "The Predator State" being devoted to describing identical practices across all areas of the federal government. And this constitutes a system, one which ensures the expedited transfer of funding from public coffers to the corporate sector, regardless of whether or not it's for something good. Some even see this as putting the fox in the hen house.

Galbraith's book is cut and dried in these matters. He describes this way of conducting affairs as a disaster for the country. But to take these descriptions too seriously is to invite suspicion that one is being overly critical and supercilious, or that one is blinded by dislike of lobbyists and toadies from the corporate sector to what is really good for our country.

Like strategic missile defense, a project which we know so benefits average Americans.

Think, one moment. How many people are really qualified to be civilian leaders at the Pentagon? Not too damn many, buddy. Intellectual power like that just isn't found anywhere else but in the private sector or weapons manufacturing.

"Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement, reported by the LAT. "Our waiver provisions are designed to allow uniquely qualified individuals like ... Bill Lynn to serve the public interest in these critical times."

For the other side of the coin, a reasonable one, see here.




The original at the LA Times.

Predator state security -- from the archives.
PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: These terrorists This guy threatens the existence of the United States of America

Hurry up! Read it before Fox beats everyone over the head with the matter during primetime!

"Before he was released from Guantanamo, a Saudi detainee insisted he had only wanted to help refugees and was not a fighter," reported AP a few minutes ago.

"Now, as an al-Qaida field commander sporting a bandolier of bullets, he is threatening the United States and has been hailed by a militant Web site as a veteran guerrilla and 'a fomenter of war.'"

Fomenter of war -- now there's a big sin you'd never see any American official or pundit committing.

The news story asks you to entertain the belief that absolutely anyone harboring ill will against the US can never be let out of prison because they might go back to the battlefield and try for some payback. It further asks one to swallow the fool's idea that one person, or even a handful of people kept away in stir for years, can overturn our way of life.

It's a way of maintaining that the US can't afford to expose itself to even the slightest danger for the sake of its reputation and principles. It poses, as reasonable, the thought that even the littlest assholes, shaking their fingers and shouting into the Internet camera, pose such a grave menace they require us to forsake fairness and justice.

It is unsurprising that some, maybe a lot, of prisoners held at Guantanamo think bad things of the US. Or that they always have. And that an indeterminate number might drift back to the battlefield if released. That's not a reason to derail plans to close Guantanamo and keep them all locked up forever. A few years ago, one American general commented it would be better for the country's image to let the detainees go and kill them on the battlefield in due course, if that's what circumstances led to. (My memory is imprecise. This was in SA's Secrecy Bulletin, perhaps he can clue me in on the old citation.)

"The story of Abu al-Hareth Muhammad al-Oufi underscores the dilemma Barack Obama's administration finds itself in: Keeping men locked up without trials invites global criticism but releasing them without a fair and diligent process to distinguish enemies from noncombatants exposes the U.S. and its allies to danger," continued the Associated Press. "It also shows how hard it is to separate truth from lies."

The news apparently stems from information issued by the SITE Institute.

SITE Institute is a small agency in DC and it's sole purpose is to rummage through Islamic terrorist websites, translating downloads, which it then sells to subscribers in the US government, law enforcement or the intelligence contracting industry. Infrequently, its director has shown up as a professional witness for the US government, one whose function is to inform juries that accused people are indeed terrorists who are very dangerous to us all because they have read, or have shown up on or been mentioned by said Islamic terror websites. QED.

Of course, since one terrorist poses an incalculable threat to the US of A and every single life is sacred here, it would obviously be foolish in the extreme to close Guantanamo and try to dust off the country's reputation. Why, more of the detainees might be lying!

"In the video, al-Oufi wore a dark cap and camouflage shirt with a leather bandolier of bullets draped over a shoulder," reported AP. "He had a thick black beard and jabbed a finger into the air as he spoke."




The original from AP.
DETENTION, SEIZURE & HANDCUFF USA: ABC show still not canceled

DD remains astonished Homeland Security USA hasn't been marked for cancellation.

And he wonders what kind of polling or analysis went into its development, research which returned results indicating there was an appetite in primetime to see a weekly platoon of very poor brown-skinned people who can't speak English put into cells and holding vans or handcuffed to various pieces of office furniture.

Last night there was the drug mule (more on this later) handcuffed to a hospital gurney. And a crying young woman with a puffy face handcuffed to a wooden chair. Then there were the guys with their faces obscured by either a hood or camera blurring put into holding cells. One can always count on these things.

As for the drug mule, he was put in a special cell, one with a toilet and purifier especially made for homeland security purpose. If you have swallowed plastic-tape wrapped pellets of heroin in an effort to conceal them, the cell-jobjonny-machine combination is something made specifically for you. The mule is placed inside, handcuffing to the toilet optional, and excrement is collected over a few hours, with the machine removing the feces from the pellets so that the plastic-wrapped contraband can be analyzed.

You know that's just the greatest invention, perhaps equal to the cotton gin, something only can-do US ingenuity could come up with. People probably had to do this by hand for a long time! I bet the company that makes it was given a secret award by the Dept. of Homeland Security.

And did I mention that people try to smuggle drugs and money into the US and that our guardians dig the stuff out of hidden compartments in SUVs and cars? And that there will always be a clip of someone detained for no reason and that this will be explained as being a service for the detainee, so he doesn't get lost or something?

Did you know that no video on homeland security is complete without the showing of a Predator drone following a column of destitute Mexican men, women and children as they trudge across the Sonoran desert? Or that we have night vision equipment and they don't so we can sneak up on them, the easier to round 'em up and put 'em in vans?

Did you know that an array of little plastic chemical testing bags exists so that even those among us with only a high school education can do spot colorimetric testing for narcotics, sort of like assaying your backyard swimming pool for chlorine and pH? Hey, it's cocaine!

If you ask DD what work you should go into now that you've been fired and the economy is dead, it's the stuff which will get you on Homeland Security USA. Working the chemical test bags, tearing apart drug-smuggling vehicles at the border, and putting people in holding cells is depression proof, much like the business of staffing prisons. It needs manpower and it's a solid growth market.

Naturally, no terrorists are going to show up for Homeland Security USA unless the show's producers make them up. Last night, the most dangerous thing on Detention USA was the capture of a feral cat that had become trapped in a metal desk on an airport concourse. It could be dangerous to people during rush time, said someone. But cats that don't wish to be grabbed can put the average person in the emergency room and no amount of telling them to be quiet, to get down on the floor and submit works under these circumstances. The cat on Handcuff USA scratched and bit the living hell out of the fellow whose job it was to seize it. Yay, cat! Go down fighting!



Two weeks ago on Homeland Security USA.

The producer of Handcuff USA, Arnold Shapiro, still needs a stay in the Homeland Security-approved drug-separating and sanitizing toilet holding cell.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Literally

The now very stale US military strategy in which Predator drones are used to incinerate handfuls of civilians and alleged terrorists in the badlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan is not viewed well by this writer.

Fairly obvious to anyone with a shred of common sense, it's a strategy of pinprick raids as likely to kill innocent people as not, random assassinations by use of a very long distance radio-controlled flying gun. It's a strategy that appear to serve one primary purpose: To provide a good market and demand for the maker of Predators and Reapers.

To turn its asinine logic around, imagine if the LAPD had a hit squad (it actually used to) which randomly offed alleged gang members and ordinary people in the wrong place at the wrong time in Los Angeles. Aside from the civilian outcry, which can occasionally be ignored by the ruling class, it wouldn't fix the problem of murderous gang violence in the city.

Why is it thought then that plinking the occasional alleged terrorist in Pakistan is a proper or effective strategy?

Actually, one shouldn't even be asking these types of questions, because it shoves potential disrespect and superciliousness at the glorious future and the wonderful technology of US remote-control war.

Instead, at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, a place which sees itself as "Promoting the Ethical Use of Technology to Enhance Human Capabilities" you get something as equally asinine as Predator strikes as a strategy, like this:

"A fundamental problem as [expert Pete Singer] sees it is the ease with which killing can now take place," states the article.

Profound. But wait, it gets much better.

"[Singer] cites the example of the Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs). This propeller-powered drone is 27 feet in length, can spend up to 24 hours in the air and flies at a height of 26,000 feet. Predators are flown by 'reach-back' or 'remote-split' operators—military personnel who are 7,500 miles away and who fly the planes via satellite from a set of converted single- wide trailers located mostly at Nellis and Creech Air Force bases in Nevada.

"This type of operation has created a rather novel situation where 'pilots' experience the psychological disconnect of being 'at war' while dealing with their daily domestic routines. Singer notes the words of one Predator pilot, 'You see Americans killed in front of your eyes and then have to go to a PTA meeting.' Says another, 'You are going to war for 12 hours, shooting weapons at targets, directing kills on enemy combatants, and then you get in the car, drive home, and within 20 minutes you are sitting at the dinner table talking to your kids about their homework.'”

"Remote-split." "Reach-back." The Predator drone is 27 feet, count 'em, in length.

You'll know the knaves by their enthusiasm for descriptions of hardware and citation of jargon. Or the implication that Predator drivers are in a inimitable spot because it's odd to be killing complete strangers from the refuge of exurban Nevada. It's causing friction at the dinner table and remote pilot fatigue.

You see Americans killed in front of your eyes and have to go to PTA but the psychological pressure's a lot less draining if it was just a handful of people -- usually much less well-armed and poorer -- in a hut that day.

"With no draft, no need for congressional approval (the last formal declaration of war was in 1941), no tax or war bonds, and now the knowledge that the Americans at risk are mainly just American machines, the already falling bars to war may well hit the ground," Pete Singer is said to have written. "A leader won’t need to do the kind of consensus building that is normally required before a war, and won’t even need to unite the country behind the effort. In turn, the public truly will become the equivalent of sports fans watching war, rather than citizens sharing in its importance."

Let's repeat, for style points: "A leader won't need to do the kind of consensus building that is normally required before a war, and won't even need to unite the country behind the effort."

Jeezus, that's really sharp. One expects nothing less from someone who might just be the smartest guy in the whole damn country. "He has been quoted in every major U.S. newspaper and news magazine and delivered talks at venues ranging from the U.S. Congress and Pentagon to more than 40 universities around the world," it is said. Every major newspaper and news magazine!
PC ADMIRAL: How badly could you mess up the Royal Navy?

Today, two screenshots from Jutland, a PC game on the battle of the same name, published by Storm Eagle Studios. Available only on-line, it's a 609 Megabyte download which works as a crippled trial demo until you pony up the cash for one of two unlocked versions.

Surprisingly, the game has been bug free.

As a monster wargame, that's in stark contrast with Lock On: Modern Air Combat, the game under scrutiny the last time I touched this subject. Out of the box, Lock On was a nightmare, a game with a steep learning curve, requiring multiple downloaded patches to make stable.

Jutland is at the opposite end of the spectrum. While it is complex and sprawling, it is not daunting or difficult to jump right in to game play.

DD has little idea how big the market in the US is for Jutland. Relatively speaking, virtually no one in this country is familiar with the biggest battleship naval engagement in history -- the Grand Fleet vs. the German High Seas Fleet in the North Sea in 1916.

Because no one would want to play Jutland for long if it were JUST THAT MONSTER BATTLE, it is wisely furnished with an editor enabling you to enact much smaller engagements.


From the Beef Trip, a convoy escort engagement at night off the hook of Holland. A German destroyer unsuccessfully attempting to ram the Harwich Force's Laverock.


From the Swiss Cheese Defense, a homemade pre-dawn small forces battle in the English Channel. A battered German destroyer limps away from the action.

Monday, January 26, 2009

RESISTING THE GLORIOUS FUTURE: Include me in


Choose only one: Broadband internet or a carbuncle on your neck.

"While the US government is considering spending $6bn to expand broadband access to under-served areas as part of a wider economic stimulus package, a new survey suggests most American high-speed internet holdouts simply aren't interested in broadband," reported el Reg on Friday.

"The study released yesterday by the research firm Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that the barriers to greater broadband adoption in the US run much deeper than a lack of availability ... For dial-up users, 35 per cent said the price of broadband needs to drop before they'd make the switch," it continued.

"A surprising 19 per cent responded that nothing would make them upgrade to broadband."

It may come as a surprise to readers that DD has never had broadband access. This from someone who ran a virus exchange bulletin board system in the early Nineties.

While broadband access is generally good in my Pasadena locale, it is not the be and end of all things. Naturally, it may seem so if you are a student with laptop sitting at a table eating a cheese steak at Luigi Ortega's on Colorado and the world still seems fresh and inviting.

Having recently helped a computer illiterate friend set up his first PC, here broadband is overpriced a typical American ripoff for what is delivered. I might think differently, though, if my life were lent greater meaning by the daily uploading of music and video to the web. And it must surely be great if you just can't wait to see what hot new YouTube videos have been embedded in every website you'll ever wish to visit (or every piece of e-mail from the Democratic National Committee).

"The largest barrier — and probably the hardest to combat with a government program — is good ol' fashion American apathy and indignation," concluded the Reg piece. "More than half (51 per cent) of respondents just aren't interested in broadband."

Not having broadband is the new cool. Well, probably not, but it was worth running up the flagpole.


The original at el Reg.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Bioterror fear card on al Qaeda and plague, anonymously dealt

Another symptom of the regular function of predator state security is the dealing of rumours by anonymous sources from within the US government. These rumours are subsequently amplified by portions of the press and punditry. It then falls to others not so lacking in common sense to sort out the truth.

Today's example stems from a couple of brief stories on plague claiming the lives of al Qaeda men in Algeria. Arising in the right-wing tabloid press in the UK, the story was recently carried over in the US via UPI and the Washington Times.

"Anti-terrorism leaders say a number of al-Qaida militants in training have been killed by the 'black death,' a plague that ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages," reported UPI.

"At least 40 al-Qaida followers have died since the disease swept through a training camp in Algeria, The Sun reported Monday. The deaths became known when security forces found a body beside a road ... 'This is the deadliest weapon yet in the war against terror. Most of the terrorists do not have the basic medical supplies needed to treat the disease,' one security source told the British publication, although it wasn't reported how the deadly outbreak started. 'It spreads quickly and kills within hours. This will be really worrying al-Qaida.'"

No named sources here. None from the World Health Organization, either, the latter which generally gets around to investigating fatal cases of plague in undeveloped regions.

Now, the first place one can go to check on the outbreak of serious diseases is the Promed mailing list. None of the newspapers involved in this story did this.

Indeed, the Promed list reported plague in Algeria on January 19th as a matter of interest. But the source was UPI's story and the notice was commented as unconfirmed pneumonic plague, which is what the disease would likely have had to have been for it to have been transmitted between so many alleged al Qaeda men.

The same mailing list notice compiled actual WHO and Algeria Ministry of Health-confirmed cases of plague in remote areas of Algeria over the past few years. The occasional small outbreak has transpired, usually confined to bubonic plague and the less common septicemic form of the infection. Deaths were rare.

In the coming days, an Algerian doctor mailed the list that the story was rumor, not to be taken seriously.

"The information (rumor) about the outbreak occurred in mountainous borders between Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia was given by the daily paper in Arabic language 'Echorouk' in its on-line edition of 6 Jan 2009 ," reported the doctor. "No serious source, health professionals, even more the reference laboratory for plague in Oran (Laboratory for the Plague of the Institute Pasteur of
Algeria in Oran) or that of in Algiers (medical bacteriology) had to take seriously these rumors."

Nevertheless, a reporter from the Times and this fool, at Human Events, an organ of the far right, began spinning extravagant tales.

"An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday," wrote Eli Lake at the Washington Times.

"The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

"British authorities in January 2003 arrested seven men they accused of producing a poison from castor beans known as ricin," continued the story. "British officials said one of the suspects had visited an al Qaeda training camp. In the investigation into the case, British authorities found an undated al Qaeda manual on assassinations with a recipe for making the poison."

The old bit on ricin in London, of course, is all wrong. But that has never stopped it from being roped into numerous stories on what al Qaeda can do or will do with biological or chemical weapons.

Your host was a consultant to the original London ricin trial and reported on it extensively for GlobalSecurity.Org.

In brief, there was no ricin gang, just one sociopathic loner. A jury convicted him and acquitted everyone else. And there was no undated al Qaeda manual on assassinations. What there was were a handful of brief recipes, written on paper after look up on Internet servers belonging to Yahoo in Palo Alto, California.

Your host had access to them as well as UK government translations and put them on the web right after the trial here. Simply click on the thumbnail images to see them.

(The rest of the coverage of the case is here. DD was the only first-hand source publishing in the US. While the American media did give the trial some notice, the real news of it wasn't welcome. It reversed the received wisdom that al Qaeda had been making chemical weapons in London at a time when many in the media were still afraid to question claims from the Bush administration pertaining to the war on terror. Colin Powell had used the phony London poison cell as part of his presentation to the UN Security Council.)

"This [plague] incident provides the Obama administration the impetus to assess whether our nation is prepared for a bioterrorist attack," insisted retired Army colonel Robert Maginnis at
Human Events
.

Then the story was spun out.

"[Al Qaeda's] biological weapons expert, Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, who was reportedly killed by a US missile in 2008, published a 5,000-page encyclopedia of jihad devoted to chemical biological warfare (CBW). Al-Sayid’s manual, which is available in print and on the Internet, provides instructions on how to manufacture rudimentary biological weapons ... The availability of al-Sayid’s CBW cookbook makes it possible for independent jihadist cells ... to manufacture rudimentary biological weapons. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise when there are attempts to manufacture agents by franchise groups such as the 2003 incident in London where six Algerians were charged with plotting to produce the poison ricin ...

This statement is quite probably also not very reliable. DD has worked extensively with terrorist documents said to confer some cookbook capability in CBW. None which I have seen, and I've seen many, confer any ability to make bioweapons. (See here and here for just a couple examples.)

"The Algerian bubonic plague incident should be a wake-up for the Obama administration to reassess its bioterrorism preparedness," continues Maginnis. "Enemies such as al Qaeda and its franchises are almost certainly producing deadly biological weapons and will use them for mass murder. America must be aggressive in defeating the bioterrorist before he attacks and should that fail our network of first responders must be prepared for a potentially catastrophic attack."

Predator state security news very often comes by way of a cracking good story, delivered with absence of rigor, healthy skepticism and critical thinking. It can be packaged with a political message, as with the Human Events piece: "Barack Obama better promptly investigate this danger and slay all the terrorists with special forces and bombs before they kill us with diseases and poisons!"



Another good summary is here at Armchair Generalist.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MEANINGLESS BIOSECURITY WORKING GROUP FORMED: Too late now

From the Jan. 9 Federal Register:


By the authority vested in me as President by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States of
America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United
States that facilities that possess biological select
agents and toxins have appropriate security and
personnel assurance practices to protect against theft,
misuse, or diversion to unlawful activity of such
agents and toxins.

Sec. 2. Establishment and Operation of the Working
Group. (a) There is hereby established, within the
Department of Defense for administrative purposes only,
the Working Group on Strengthening the Biosecurity of
the United States (Working Group)...


The working group is made up of all the cabinet level secretaries. The group is to present a report on the state of biosecurity in the US not more than 180 days after its assembly. After the submission of this report it is to disband.

The two most interesting cases of misuse of microbes and toxins in the last ten years came from within the US system designed to oversee biological defense and control the dissemination of dangerous agents.

The most famous example is the case of Bruce Ivins. (See here and here.)

The second example was the production, purification of botulinum toxin -- a material covered by the US government's select agent program, for diversion into the cosmetic surgery industry.

The toxin was produced by a research lab in California, one which relies upon the biodefense industry for much of its business. Botox production was ordered from it by a shell firm posing as a legitimate research operation named Toxins Research International (or TRI in the criminal indictments). The material produced in this run was subsequently redistributed to cosmetic surgeons in a business scam which peddled it as a less expensive version of treatments using Allergan's botox. The business came apart when patients were administered the agent and came down with near fatal cases of botulism, conditions which necessitated they be put on life support.

If an opinion is to be ventured, your host believes most of the cabinet secretaries in the former administration (as well as the incoming one) didn't and don't even know about the second example and subsequent criminal prosecutions simply because they were so low profile. (See here and here.)

Do you think the staffers of cabinet members will read any of this? If so, what will they take away from it? More of the same old, same old, probably. We need more biodefense. Because oversight has worked out so well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

PREDATOR STATE 'SECURITY': In action

In addition to the regular flogging of the meme that it's easy for terrorists to [fill in the blank], another aspect of predator state 'security' practice is the dissemination of jumped-up apocalyptic threats -- practically speaking, a relentless bullshitting of the populace over matters of national security. Regularly done to massage requests for funding, it also serves political purposes.

On Sunday, the outgoing Bush administration delivered a well-publicized salvo on theoretical attacks the nation might face during the Obama administration. This was to create the impression that the administration was on the ball.

One favorite tactic in this game is to say something to the effect of: "Just imagine how bad things would be if al Qaeda [fill in the blank with some action that is both fantastic and terrible]." And now we're warning you about it ahead of time!

"National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe [said] the Bush White House has laid out another key scenario, too, one that many intelligence experts believe needs immediate attention from the new president's team: A cyber attack launched from overseas to disrupt critical computer systems," reported CBS News.

Joel Brenner, the "government's top cyber security official," "believes that water and sewer systems, electricity grids, air and ground traffic control, and financial markets are all possible targets."

"If instead of attacking the Twin Towers, al Qaeda had taken down a major bank, the economic consequences would have been an order of magnitude ten times greater than the economic consequences of 9/11," Brenner told Rita Braver of CBS News. "I don't say the personal physical damage but the economic damage of taking down a system would be enormous and would reverberate through the world financial system." (See footnote [1] below.)

In a publicity stunt, the interview was snatched and put on the website of the Director of National Intelligence as a .pdf. This was notable for the inclusion of comments from an actor on a recent episode of "24," noted by Cryptome here. (See the very top of the page.)

It's unclear who added the bits from "24" and why they're missing from the text version at CBS.

Your host is no longer sure what constitutes good journalism at major news networks. However, conflating acting from "24" and comments, however annoying, from a real high-ranking policy maker in national security definitely falls within the realm of predatory behavior.

But back to Brenner's claim.

It fulfills the requirement that the gullible be asked to believe the idea that al Qaeda could launch a cyber-attack on the United States, one with even more appalling consequences than 9/11. This is not only common-sense defying, but also intelligence-insulting, considering that by far the worst threats to the security and well-being of everyday Americans in the last two years have come from within Wall Street's financial products industry.

"All this comes after many in the Bush administration came to believe that the Clinton team didn't wave enough red flags about potential threats," reported CBS News. "But current White House Officials say they are not just trying to be sure no one points a finger at them."

In reality, predator state 'security' is a fairly bi-partisan affair. During the tenure of the Clinton administration, there was certainly no lack of government security men warning about potential future threats to the United States.

Paradoxically, one of the most massaged threats during this period was that of cyber-attack.

From Signal magazine in August of '99, here's the Clinton administration's Richard A. Clarke, prior to his role as bete noir of the Bush administration:
"Without computer-controlled networks, there is no water coming out of your tap; there is no electricity lighting your room; there is no food being transported to your grocery store; there is no money coming out of your bank; there is no 911 system responding to emergencies; and there is no Army, Navy and Air Force defending the country . . . All of these functions, and many more, now can only happen if networks are secure and functional.

"A systematic [attack] could come from a terrorist group, a criminal cartel or a foreign nation . . . and we do know of foreign nations that are interested in our information infrastructure and are developing offensive capabilities that would allow them to take down sectors of our information infrastructure ... Envision all of these things happening simultaneously -electricity going out in several major cities; telephones failing in some regions; 911 service being down in several metropolitan areas. If all of that were to happen simultaneously, it could create a great deal of disruption, hurt the economy . . .
"


Keep in mind, this was well prior to 9/11. And these were not isolated predictions and exaggerations.

See here for much more. It was a systemic and regular practice then, just as it is today.



[1]. Meritless statements about potential threats dealing with how terrorists might kill Americans are often packaged with unexamined claims in which it is maintained they will be even worse than 9/11.

Just from yesterday's post, on terrorists who might use mosquitoes:

"Lockwood reflects on what would happen if a dedicated suicide-terrorist suffering from yellow fever offered his body to be feasted upon by mosquitoes, thousands of which could then be released in a large city. More people might die as a result than were killed in the twin towers."

Such things appear particularly churlish and self-serving only a day before the inauguration of Barack Obama.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

IT WOULD BE EASY FOR TERRORISTS TO ... Ah, just shaddup already

For most of the duration of the Bush administration, there's been a cottage industry in the peddling of fear. One of the most popular lead-ins to it was and is the proclamation that "It's easy for terrorists to [fill in the blank]."

Experts, security seminars, newspaper articles, Powerpoint slide presentations, books and pieces in glossy magazines serviced the meme relentlessly, despite a complete absence of proof that terrorists might find exotic methods of inflicting death to be easy.

It was easy to be a chemical terrorist. It was easy for terrorists to get their hands on anthrax or smallpox. It was easy for terrorists to cause mass death through botulism.

Then it turned out it was easy for Ft. Detrick to harbor the most infamous bioterrorist in the world, a perfect place from which to impede the FBI's investigation of the anthrax mailings. And that the only botulism cases caused by the administration of botox were brought about by a defrocked cosmetic surgeon and toxin bought from a California-based research lab meant to serve the US biodefense industry.

"It's a good game," I wrote once. "It needs to take no account of what terrorists are actually doing, no knowledge of what tough to get human intelligence sources and materials may show, or historically -- what preferences, capabilities, experiences and limitations terrorists carry with them. It can assume that there are more terrorists expertly trained in many degrees and methods of mayhem and working themselves into place than there are actual terrorists. For the anti-terrorism effort, it is only necessary to assign a simple universality to fragility and vulnerability and degrees of omniscience and unlimited resources to the adversary. It is easy, so to speak, to think of things that are easy for terrorists to do."

Often the news of what terrorists were alleged to be capable of was simply stupefying.

Case in point, randomly selected from a digital pile of news clippings, from USA Today in July of 2005: "School lunches a terrorist target? USDA calls meals 'particularly vulnerable'... Currently, authorities are looking at how a popular lunchroom staple, chicken nuggets, may be susceptible to tampering."

It was also allegedly easy for terrorists to contaminate rice or the spaghetti-o lunches of school children with anthrax and poison.

None of it has been prescient.

However, almost all of it has been attached to careerism and rationalizations for the doling out of great parcels of federal funding. In this function, it has been very successful. Sixty billion alone has been spent on facilities to study and find answers for bioterrorism. As a consequence, the biodefense industry has slipped from the leash of effective oversight and fiscal control in the US.

"Mistaken threat assessments make mistaken policy and make mistaken allocation of financial resources," maintained one expert with which your host has collaborated, at a recent debate in Washington, DC.

Which brings us to the latest expert with a book and a story to sell, now a bit late to the party.

The fear angle is no longer as popular as it once was. For instance, when another blue-ribbon panel of experts warned of a future of bioterrorism in a recent report, World at Risk, a member of Congress -- once always eager to hear of the latest potential menace -- abruptly brushed them off.

Nevertheless, the need to tell us what we need to be afraid of will always be urging some on.

"Terrorists would find it 'relatively easy' to launch a devastating attack using swarms of insects to spread a deadly disease, an academic has warned," read the Daily Telegraph, a UK right-wing newspaper, a couple of weeks ago.

"I think a small terrorist cell could very easily develop an insect-based weapon," Jeffrey Lockwood, an entomologist from Wyoming on a UK book tour, told the BBC.

"He said it would 'probably be much easier' than developing a nuclear or chemical weapon, arguing: 'The raw material is in the back yard.'"

Terrorists ... could ... very ... easily as part of an assessment is no longer unique. It is aggravatingly tiresome.

Lockwood is the author of Six-legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War -- a book what has generated some press attention in England by dint of its publisher, Oxford.

"Terrorists would not have much difficulty in introducing insects that could threaten agricultural production," reads one mind-numbing review of the book.

"Lockwood reflects on what would happen if a dedicated suicide-terrorist suffering from yellow fever offered his body to be feasted upon by mosquitoes, thousands of which could then be released in a large city. More people might die as a result than were killed in the twin towers."

"How much of this is scaremongering or apocalyptic?" wonders the reviewer.

Max Hastings, the famous war historian and author, was less impressed.

"There is a confusion in Lockwood's narrative between acts of God and man-made contrivances," writes Hastings.

"It is true that two-thirds of the conflict's 488,000 deaths were the result of disease rather than gunshot. But this was because the rival combatants did not know any better, rather than because generals Grant and Lee were clever or fiendish enough to make it so."

"I am amazed by the willingness of Oxford, a university publisher, to lend its imprimatur to a book devoid of rigour, and notably carelessly written," Hastings concludes. "A chapter heading such as All's Lousy on the Eastern Front is scarcely an incentive to take its content seriously."

"Biodefence is the hottest ticket in federal funding," is one quote from Lockwood, published in Hastings' review.

Friday, January 16, 2009

THE PLIGHT OF THE DAILY NEWSPAPER

Updated

Earlier in the week, a LA Times journalist did what media columnists have been doing during the past couple years: Take space wondering how the newspaper is to survive.

It's a vexing issue, one usually poorly received in interviewing the demographic least likely to value a daily newspaper, the on-line freetard. Sometimes high school students are asked for their opinion, sometimes it's a new media consultant. The results are always the same: Lord of the Flies social Darwinism in which the daily newspaper is Piggy. First, it's ridiculed for the amusement of all in the freetard tribe. And then death by tossing off a cliff is anticipated.

"Everyone knows reading news online is free," writes David Sarno at the newspaper here.

Well, we all know it's not.

Freetard mommies and daddies pay the Internet wireless bill! Your company or university picks up the broadband connection. But this is realized to be another matter entirely, one in which it only just that the owners of the water pipe get paid, not the people who furnish the actual water. (While the comparison is inexact, think of it this way: Under a freetard business model, the people who work at Pasadena Water & Power, sanitizing the drinking water and ensuring the devices are maintained and smoothly running, aren't worth shit. They should be robbed of the livelihood. But the two or three at the top of the chain, those who "own" the utility pipes, then mommy and daddy or the company or the school, or sometimes even your bank card, pays for that and only that.)

"It’s so rigidly free, in fact, that most newspapers (including this one) that have tried to charge for their content have found such efforts to be a bit like pulling the sword from the stone," continues Sarno. "One pretender after another has slunk away, amid derisive shouts from the crowd."

Sarno ventures a micro-payment scheme for on-line news, an old idea which no one has ever attempted to seriously implement.

The freetard is inevitably consulted, someone named Clay Shirky who is alleged to be an important person.

"But even though [Shirky's] anti-micropayment manifestos have been online for years ... last week he received an unusual number of calls from reporters asking him about the theory, suggesting ... that desperate newspaper types are 'rummaging around' for revenue ideas," wrote Sarno. 'I haven’t talked to anybody about this stuff since the last recession,' he said. 'I don’t get any interest except when it’s a Hail Mary play.'”

And this gives the column it's title, it's newspaper Hail Mary time.

"[Among] people under 30, the Internet is now tied with TV as the leading source for national and international news," it is said for about the ten millionth time in recent memory. "Printed newspapers ran a distant third, even though they produce a substantial amount of the Web’s news content."

It is useless to pursue an audience composed only of freetards.

However, I'm convinced the daily newspaper is only done when it begins to think its physical copy is basically the same asset as its on-line presence. And having come to that idea, decides to abandon the former. That's suicide, as the Christian Science Monitor, the Detroit Free Press, and perhaps the Seattle Post-Intelligencer will show us.

The LA Times reporter asked for thoughts, so DD sent some -- via e-mail. I purposely didn't want to go the way of on-line edition and post for the comments section. This is because (1) -- my opinion that the paper edition is magnitudes superior than the on-line edition, and (2) -- the thought that "comments" sections act as devices in which the people hosting them aren't really interested in what you think, just that they bring in more page hits.

However, Sarno replied to my letter and asked that I repost it there, anyway.

"I was on-line in 1989," it says near the beginning. "And I've read more and more news on-line over the past fifteen years, sometimes too much. Most people just don't need fresh news every micro-second to be effective in their lives. It's an illusion Internet news seems determined to cater to ... In any case, nothing has ever replaced the daily LA Times."

Your host has no solution for how to squeeze survival money from the Internet. This is because there is none to be had. If there was a global Wal-Mart for newspapers, I would suggest making a distro deal with it. Only Wal-Mart has demonstrated that it can be a venue for defying well-off lifestyle thieves and moochers. Its customers still buy stuff on spec. And some of the best-selling CDs were sold through Wal-Mart in 2008, by artists who realized selling it anywhere else would simply be killing themselves. AC/DC's CD, "Black Ice," released in autumn, became one of the biggest selling units of the year -- at $48 million -- in part, because the band stubbornly refused to cater to the Internet's freetard audiences. In this way, AC/DC preserved its art, profits and fans. AC/DC stiff-armed the on-line young adult market and prospered.

However, there's no such mechanism or conduit for newspapers.

In any case, the rest of my defense of the LA Times paper edition is here.

Many of the comments were thoughtful. And, as usual, many weren't.

"Why would I pay for something when I can get the news for free through a million different resources online," opines a freetard, anonymously. "I am 28 years old, and [sic] avid news junkie."



"Information wants to be free!" was an old hacker slogan, too, said to be first uttered by Stewart Brand in the Eighties. It was often repeated as a battle-cry in cyberspace. Generally, it was employed to rhetorically club to death those who wished to attach value to something they naively put into the digital world. Just like "Why should I pay for my news and information?" is today.

But by 1994, the bromide was zinc-plated and corroded. In the book Virus Creation Labs, I paraphrased what someone really meant when they tossed it in your face, usually in reference to something they had stashed away on a bulletin board or website made for an exclusive young audience of insiders:

"Your information is mine for free. But everything I can grab is secret unless you have something I want which can't be free-loaded, stolen or found somewhere else."

(I used to employ it here.)

"Our generation doesn't pay for things on the Internet," said a fifteen-year-old girl to the LA Times newspaper a bit over a year ago. It's an age thing, you see, she explained.

I covered this before. And no one cared then, either.

Friday, January 09, 2009

SOME GOONS DRIVE INTO YOUR LIVING ROOM IN A TRUCK: And convince that CEO's at Dodge need to be hung from the nearest poles

Touching on yesterday's post on predator state 'security,' readers who saw any games in the BCS bowl series couldn't have missed the endless commercials for the hemi-loaded Dodge Ram truck.

The loudest and most frequent was one in which a number of stupidly boisterous creeps in T-shirts yelled about stomping on the gas and hearing the engine roar.

"Boom!" exults one of these fatheads. "Broom! Broom! BROOM!" went the speakers on the TV as the engine of the truck was amplified. The head throbbed with it.

During one game, the commercial came at you almost every five minutes, whenever there was a timeout, injury or official review giving Fox an opportunity to go to breaks.

If there is any proof more antagonizingly in-your-face and indicative of denial and bankruptcy of leadership in Detroit, DD can't think of it.

Chrysler's sales are down 30 percent. And the economy is tanked.

So when a tremendous number of people are watching bowl games, what does the auto company do?

Pay for nausea-provoking ads for a supersized pickup truck, driven by a bunch of mealy-mouthed steroidal fools (where did they find these people, Goon & Douchebag Central Casting, Inc?) overjoyed that when one floors the gas pedal, the vehicle goes BROOM!

Buy something big and really loud that costs more than you'll earn this year and sucks the money right out of your plastic fuel card when you floor it! You'll see the gas gauge move on this baby, lemme tell ya! Twenty MPG is real fuel efficiency! And it has a toolbox compartment big enough to stow two dead bodies or three illegal immigrants!

These are the sales messages of imbeciles.

"Boom!" rejoices an asshat as Detroit struggles for its life.



Goon & Douchebag Central Casting

Even an auto columnist finds these commercials make him queasy.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

PREDATOR STATE 'SECURITY'

The immense scale of the financial catastrophe in the United States has provided a window of opportunity, one in which citizens are so frightened they may insist that what economist James K. Galbraith calls the predator state be beaten back. The predator state, defined, means government as taken over by interests which have no goal other than the accumulation of profit for themselves. Although there's plenty of blame to spread around, Galbraith chiefly attributes it to the professionalization of looting backed by the power of government as a way of business in corporate America, common sense defying deregulation and eight years of the Bush administration.

Two basic examples predator state action stick out, but Galbraith writes in his book of the same title that one can't turn around without noticing the plundering of markets, natural resources, or arms of the government originally created to help people.

One very obvious one has been the Bush adminstration's collaboration with the US auto industry on fuel efficiency standards, revised downward to protect Detroit auto-makers from superior competition from Japan. When the state of California attempted to mandate its own tailpipe emission standards in 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency was ordered by the White House to block the state rebellion which, because California is such a huge market, would have compelled Detroit to improve its fleet nationwide. This seemed like a good protectionist rigging until early summer when soaring gas prices soured the American consumer on new pickup trucks and SUVs made to predator state standards. Although gas prices are now way down, another blow arrived when the financial crisis, itself a product of a series of predator state actions, destroyed consumer lending. With car buyers unable to get loans, Detroit has been delivered to the door of colossal failure.

However, the only discernible move to dismantle this framework came recently when California congressman Henry Waxman replaced Michigan Democrat John Dingell as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Dingell was effectively a fixer for Detroit, viewing efforts to mitigate global warming as a threat to American business. Indeed, in today's Los Angeles Times business section one reads an article on fuel efficiency standards, even the meager ones imposed during the Bush administration, being touted as a substantial and unreasonable hardship on the US auto industry. "[It] would cost the industry an estimated $47 billion to comply with standards," reads the Times. "There's no question that the rule will come with a significant cost to manufacturers," a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers told the newspaper.

[For the millions of Americans who watched the BCS bowl games, another good illustration of what predator state policy buys you came in a flood of manly commercials for V8-equipped pickup trucks, asininely advertised as fuel efficient because they get a paltry 20 MPG.]

Obviously, Galbraith's book was written before any of this happened. But he notes repeatedly that predator state action makes markets inherently unstable. Eventually, their bubbles burst and many are maimed. If, for instance, the US auto industry goes under, a great many people who had nothing to do with its bad faith actions in the domestic market are going to be pulled down with it.

The other keystone example was the US government's handling of New Orleans after Katrina in 2005.

"In the corporate republic that resides over the predator state, nothing is done for the common good," Galbraith writes in "The Predator State." "Hurricane Katrina illustrates this perfectly, as Bush gave contracts to Halliburton and at the same time tied up efforts to restore the city," he continues. The poor "were dispersed," the population "an afterthought. "Several hundred thousand Democratic voters were scattered to the hinterlands of Texas and Georgia, where they would no longer hold
swing votes."

In the recent election, Louisiana, a state which logically had every reason to punish the GOP and veer blue actually went the other way and became more red because those most affected by the disaster had been expelled.

These two acts, as well as others which many can now discern, are not accidents, Galbraith insists. They constitute a system, one in which opponents of regulation take control of government institutions and employ them to fatten bank accounts. The US as a high-rent kleptocracy is a concept which occasionally comes to mind while reading this. As for Galbraith, at one point he briefly mentions, in comparison, Chile under the dictator, Pinochet. One had the freedom to shop in Chile, it is dryly noted, while business interests enriched themselves through the government.

Naturally, the predator state -- if not reversed -- has serious implications with regards to national security. Specifically, one can look at the war on terror.

Galbraith writes that there is a strong worldwide perception that the war is a fraud. The perception, caused by US actions, has been extremely damaging to the country's reputation and interest. If you've read this blog and my writings in other places on the subject over the last decade, it's an impression that's been difficult to avoid, one regularly fostered by evidence that the US private sector and academia largely view and act like the war against radical Islam is simply a marvelous business opportunity.

However, in the United States this has mostly been kept off the frontpages by showing only the tails-you-lose side of the coin, a kind of magic trick in which fear and the perception that the country faces a constant implacable enemy capable of utterly destroying us all are constants. This has been for the advantage of what Galbraith calls the Bush Beltway Bubble, those industries and operations -- the energy sector, businesses involved with national security and the military -- which thrived after 9/11.

Predator state policies, for example, seem to drive action in Pakistan. The average person can make little of a strategy in which small numbers of terrorists (or whoever is unlucky enough to be made a target by bad intelligence) are randomly incinerated other than that it's one which assures the corporate makers and maintainers of unmanned aerial vehicles and missiles a solid growth market. No one can seriously believe that pinprick Predator strikes make Pakistan more stable or less of a breeding and staging ground for terrorism and rabid anti-Americanism.

But with the election of Barack Obama, one can make the fair assumption that worldwide and domestic realities have eroded much of the stock wisdoms about this fight. For instance, a think-tank "expert" writing that an electromagnetic pulse attack launched from a missile offshore "might mean the end of the United States and most likely the Free World" may have sounded almost sane a year or two after 9/11. However, in light of daily front page fiscal woes, it looks like only one thing: an opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal, authored by someone on the missile defense gravy train, perhaps perceived as a defense milk cow threatened by a new administration.

An even better explication of how the predator state works in the war on terror comes by way of Judith Miller, now herself perceived as an infamous fraud stemming from her front page stories on WMD's in Iraq.

Driven from the New York Times, Miller continues to write, generally for right wing agencies. A recent piece from the City Journal, the organ of the Manhattan Institute, discusses national biodefense, unintentionally limning the outlines of predator state action: experts, pretending to offer sage advice, chosen from the ranks of those who have been most vigorously involved in expediting the transfer of funds from public coffers to private sector clients, making sure that the biodefense industry has escaped from oversight and fiscal control.

In this case, one reads the recommendations of Tara O'Toole, an expert of some note from the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who has regularly appeared before Congress and the media to promise the most dire outcomes, lobbied for money, and run staged bioterror exercises tilted toward the absolute worst cases in order to overawe policy makers, transformed into an independent panelist appointed to review the action of the super-biodefense lab called the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center when it opens in 2009.

Another terror industry lobbyist, Parney Albright, is asked for his opinion on whether or not "the billions allocated to biodefense are being spent wisely." This is a rich one, for reasons which will be explained.

Albright, identified as a national security consultant by Miller, is most recently listed as managing director of the Civitas Group, which advertises as a DC consulting firm. In newspapers, however, it's been shown as business for the moving of public funds to the private sector by way of homeland security contracts, enabled through its practice of recruiting administrators from the Dept. of Homeland Security.

Albright started as an influential Assistant Secretary at Homeland Security. During this period, some noted that there was a remarkable exodus from the agency as officers moved directly to good jobs as directors of security companies in the private sector. At the same time, government conflict-of-interest rules were altered so officials who left the department for the anti-terror industry could get around law which prevented them from lobbying former colleagues and subordinates for at least a year after their departure.

Miller's article, with the inclusion of Albright, illustrates a classic synergy of predator state activity: The advisor on how money is to be doled out wisely is from a corporate entity not concerned with whether the doling out is wise or not, just that it is doled out.

Most telling, though, is a statement from an official given anonymity by Miller.

"We now know, as Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, that the federal government would have to take the lead in a true bioterror emergency," the unknown person says.

Since, yes, we do know how the federal response to Katrina turned out -- hundreds of thousands of people displaced, contracts given to the usual well-positioned cronies, habitation destroyed and not rebuilt -- it's either a Freudian slip of the tongue or an indication that the person uttering it is out of their mind. If the reaction to Hurricane Katrina is to be taken as an example of federal response to a crisis, the common sense interpretation is that if it's extrapolated to a bioterror emergency or some interesting disaster caused by the proliferation of people given access to exotic diseases, the only thing to be guaranteed will be that the body bags will be priced way beyond fair market value and there will be oceans of tears.

While the results of deregulation and predation are abundantly obvious to Americans now experiencing the economic crisis, the same things are not so clear in the business of counter-terrorism and national security. While it may be safe to now conclude that the predator state urge to turn Social Security over to private investment would be met with brickbats and lynch mobs, one can't draw the same conclusion when it comes to areas which are further away from the front page. It will be a challenge to the Obama administration to reverse even parts of it.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

HOMELAND SECURITY USA: Antagonizing ABC reality show aimed at discouraging tourism

Homeland Security USA, a reality show which debuted on ABC last night, must cost almost nothing. Why else would anyone put a show in primetime based on the queuing and inspection that everyone has to endure while slogging through, let's say, Los Angeles International airport?

LAX, which was one of the regular sets in last night's segment, is unpleasant, a place to be assiduously avoided, if at all possible. It's about crowds, traffic jams, taking off your belt and shoes as you pass through security for an unpleasant trip shoehorned into a cramped compartment and all the processing these things entail. It would have a place in a short story by Franz Kafka if the man were still alive.

LAX is one of the reasons DD turned down an opportunity to speak at a security conference in Singapore this year. Two hours must be devoted to the airport, each leg, combined with fifteen hours in the air over the Pacific. Can you say blood clot, cramps and head cold?

A British woman, here on some business she probably would sooner have skipped, loudly maintained that compared to Heathrow -- which is a bigger and busier airport -- LAX was lame. Stay away, foreigners, stay away! We don't want you here in America anymore, the show screamed. You could endanger our citizens and break laws -- even little ones!

Unfortunately, no one told this to the poor stupid young girl from Switzerland gripped in the tentacles of Homeland Security for the show. She had foolishly flown to the United States on a visa waiver and then dumbly babbled to our border and customs guardians (as they rifled her bags) that she was a belly dancer looking for work. Away she was whisked for a day of questioning. For want of the savvy to keep quiet, she was denied entry on not having proper work papers for belly-dancing. She would be kept in a holding area overnight, then returned to LAX so that she could be put on the next plane back to Switzerland. And she was out her fare, too.

LAX was a horrible place, the poor girl said. Yes, and it seemed cruel she had to travel all the way from Switzerland and be put on a dreadful TV show to find out.

The rest of the show was devoted to San Ysidro on the Mexican border and a Canadian crossing point. People smuggle drugs and illegal aliens over the southern border! They put bales of marijuana in spare tires, cocaine in gas tanks, and people under car seats?! One twentysomething guy was relieved of some bongs made in Mexico -- that's smuggling! Remarkable!

On the northern border, a man and his girlfriend were sent back into Canada for having a fake San Diego State college ID. A quick check of his name against some giant database implied he might be a peddler of Ecstasy.

A van triggered a dirty bomb detector! No -- it was just a man who'd recently had a barium enema and radiotherapy or something like that.

Viewers were told that a little radiation is easy to carry across our borders and that it could cause a lot of terror. Unbelievably, it was added that terrorists might try to smuggle radioactive compounds inside their bodies. Drugs also pay for terrorism, it was said -- numbingly.

Future episodes promised more seizures of drugs, opening of parcels, the detaining of people who may or may not be guilty of anything (mistaken identity is a part of this show), the chasing of illegals plus the enforced might of immigration law, shipping regulations and rules for inspections. By the end of each episode, you will know the color in the chemi-testbag for a positive on marijuana -- it's purple. You'll see America puts its best face forward, the one snarling: "Shaddup, get down on the ground and put your hands behind you!"

Whoever greenlighted Homeland Security USA should be tied to a post and whipped. As a public service, the value of the show is zero. And one has to question the sanity of anyone who would would tune in for subsequent weeks of inspections, detentions and continuous demonstrations of how unpleasant it can be to try and get into the United States in 2009. Homeland Security USA is a show one could even use as part of the toolbox of enhanced techniques of interrogation for the war on terror. After a couple of hours of it, DD reckons most would say anything just to get it to stop.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

MOBY DICK SAMBA: More from Pandora's box



Shared today is "Moby Dick Samba" -- a quick instrumental put together using the Korg Pandora PX5 and its distributed control software. The screen is a snap of the editor's interface which controls the Pandora through a USB connection. It's a feature that sets the PX5D apart from previous Pandora's, only programmable from the buttons on their cases.

The same editing software allows one to program the Pandora's drum loops.

For this number, your host picked a few Latin beats sequences, accented by a few power rock drum and guitar stabs for the tune's bridge.

The piece is done on four tracks inside Ableton Live 6 -- Korg Edition, a crippled version of the sequencing and recording software provided with the Pandora. It's sufficient for composing but mildly annoying in that it's primary purpose is as a sales tool aimed at getting the user to part with a few hundred dollars more for the uncrippled version.

The PX5D is a remarkable piece of kit. The only flaw over the past few weeks came in the installation which cocked up the mounting of the software drivers used to control the Pandora -- which acts as an external soundcard -- when connected to a USB port. Manually installing the drivers worked much better and instructions for doing so were included with the device.

Guitars were a Gretsch Electromatic bass and Epiphone Les Paul Ultra II. The Ultra II has an added pick-up in its fingerboard meant to equip the instrument with an acoustical quality. And it works rather well, furnishing a glistening sound alongside the guitar's traditional Les Paul meat 'n' potatoes rock tone. DD used it to double the guitar line. At the end of the tune, there's a segue from the Les Paul's saturated arena tone to an acoustically strummed final chord, done by merely twisting one of the instrument's volume knobs. What a nice guitar!

Moby Dick Samba Note: Approximately 5 Mb. hosted offsite because the usual no-frills corporate server was inexplicably munching MP3's today

More tunes and Korg Pandora-isms -- previously.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

BIOTERROR FIZZIES: Old US patent envisions bombing lakes with poisons and carbon dioxide pellets

"It is an object of this invention to provide an improvement in the art of toxic warfare ... wherein bodies of water are the targets and wherein it is desired to effectively contaminate same," states a patent from 1953 authored by Jack De Ment, acting for the old US Atomic Energy Commission. (See here at Cryptome.Org.)

Now, in case you're wondering why the US Patent Office is distributing how-to's to potential terrorists, your host implores: "Rein it in."

Some patents are great. Many are ridiculous. The one under discussion falls much closer to the latter than the former in a straight line between the two.

In 1953, the US was worried about all out war with the Soviet Union. Anything which could be made into a weapon, no matter how cracked the idea, probably was considered.

"Methods of Dispersing Materials in Water" was a patent which broadly suggests some people considered bombing lakes and reservoirs with toxic materials embedded in carbon dioxide pellets a potentially practical idea.

More succinctly, think of this as a patent for something your host will call the "Alka-Seltzer attack."

The author of the patent reasons that a primary obstacle to dispersion of poisons in water is the efficiency and quickness of such dispersion. This is, however, only one of the problems facing someone who might want to contaminate a water supply. (We'll get to the other big obstacle in a minute.)

The author reasons, possibly with the aid of some empirical data from simple experiments done for the AEC, that gasogenic substances -- stuff which will bubble underwater -- distribute compounds faster than just dropping the compounds into water.

De Ment is particularly interested in carbon dioxide -- dry ice -- and other simple substances which will generate CO2 in water.

Our boffin envisioned embedding poisons (he specifically mentions botox -- the most poisonous protein complex known to man) in pellets or bricks of dry ice. The botox-tainted dry ice bricks were to be dropped out of an airplane, scattered over a lake, where they would sink to the bottom and begin bubbling. Think of all those corny science-fiction scenes in movies you've seen where the lab is filled with beakers and flasks of bubbling liquids. (That's Hollywood's dry ice, dye and water jockeys hard at work.)

The vigorous bubbling quickly distributes the poison through the water, tainting the Commie lake.

Well, not so fast. The Alka-Selter botox bomb probably never made it into production.

As far as it goes, bubbling is one way to boost efficiency's in chemical dispersion in water.

As manager of the Pine Grove Community Swimming Pool in the Seventies, your host worked with a variety of ways in which chlorine was used to sanitize a half a million gallon swimming pool.

The best way of doing it was through the pool's built in pumping infrastructure, which included a two-story pump house, underground pipes, a high velocity spillway and a chlorine bubbler. Water was pumped to the top of the pumphouse and dropped through a coal filter on its way to the basement of the structure. In the basement of the structure, which was -above- the level of the swimming pool, gravity continued to pull it downward over a spillway and into a 16-inch pipe which contained the chlorine bubbler, regulated from a mechanism to which chlorine cylinders were attached.

The chlorine was injected under pressure and reasonable velocity into the water stream, which was then distributed around the perimeter of the swimming pool where the sanitized water entered the concrete cavity. Generally, if the pool had below optimal levels of chlorine in the morning, addition of more through the bubbler brought concentrations up to optimal levels only after anywhere from 2-4 hours, depending on how warm it was. (The sun and heat worked against the process, causing a faster neutralization and loss of the gas once it was dissolved in the pool.)

Other methods of chlorine dissemination involved dumping bleaching powder into the spillway. In this way, one could give the gas injection a bit of a boost.

Chlorine, of course, is not disturbed by vigorous bubbling and mixing. But it is not a protein complex, like botox.

Botox, a complex protein produced by Clostridium botulinum, is far from simple, like chlorine. And while carbon dioxide bricks can be had in bulk, production of quantities of botox beyond what would find in naturally occurring cases of botulism is a bit different than just going to Air Products and purchasing cylinders of chlorine.

Now, DD will rely on a previous discussion about the handling of botox and lethality, conducted for el Reg two years ago.

"For additional perspective the Centers for Disease Control was contacted," it reads.

"This resulted in being put in touch with with Charles Millard at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which supports the CDC in this matter. Millard is a botulinum toxin expert and also part of the interagency working group on the poison.

"While fourteen thousand lethal doses [of botox] sounds like an awful number, and one imagines the toxin reconstituted from the delivery vial and deposited with great malice into a vat of dressing at a serve-yourself bar, the feat is perhaps not that cut and dried or obviously practical. [Physically], it is a vanishingly small amount, the high number of lethal doses being a theoretical number."

[Why 14,000 doses? Because it's a big number, a militarily interesting one. And it also happens to be the theoretical amount in one research vial of botox which misuse of resulted in a number of near fatal botulism cases discussed in the Reg article.]

"However, as Millard explained, the actual amount for lethality in humans is not an exact science and extremely small amounts of highly purified protein complexes, which is what botulinum toxin is, tend to be unstable when put into much larger volumes [of water]. In other words, they denature, degrade and disappear. Millard indicated the vial contained much less practical material than the stated number of theoretical lethal doses."

In 1953, the author of the patent had no inkling of this. What it boils -- heh-heh -- down to, is this: Bombing a lake with protein toxins in dry ice bricks was almost probably never a good way to do anything except make a spectacle.

Finally, the biggest obstacle to contaminating water supplies is volume. Anything that isn't magically superpoisonous and instantly distributed must be used in large and very noticeable quantities.

Examples: Exxon Valdez, the contamination of rivers with barrels and barrels of cyanide downstream from incompetent and dangerous mass gold mining operations, the man-made addition of rotenone, an insecticide, to Lake Davis in California a number of years ago. (Two formulations of rotenone were used by the US government: 64,000 pounds of a powder and about 16,000 gallons of a liquid, for the poisoning of the lake and killing off of northern pike, considered -- perhaps stupidly -- to be an invasive pest fish. See here. With such volumes, you're throwing stealth,
speed of delivery and efficiency totally out the window.)

De Ment also entertained the possibility of using sodium metal to disperse poisons in lakes. Suitably large-sized chunks of sodium explode when plunged into water.

Radioactive waste was also considered for use. As for that, one doesn't even need to go to the trouble of using fizzy stuff, just the production of a gigantic amount of it ala Chernobyl or Hanford.

Friday, January 02, 2009

SHAMED BY YOUR ENGLISH? 40 Years of X-Men will fix that; thigh-rubbing optional


Cyclops is in no position to give an opinion.The
Locust, one in a very long list of silly X-Men villains,
backhands him.


DD received "40 Years of X-Men" -- the DVD collector's edition for Christmas. It's quite a bargain -- over 400 issues in .pdf format. And although reading comic books on the computer isn't convenient, having them on one disc is a better proposition than downloading them from the web piecemeal.

For a couple decades DD was an avid reader of Marvel Comics. Then grad school and the Eighties ended.

In the mid-Sixties, I thought the X-Men were thrilling. In retrospect, I was a pretty gullible kid. Although the X-Men movies have made the group seem hip to a mass audience, truth be told, much of the comic book run is dominated by long stretches of patience-exhausting and/or intelligence-insulting trash. (How 'bout the seemingly endless war against the Brood, interstellar aliens ... copied almost directly from the "Alien" movies, right down to poor man's H. R. Giger conceptions and eggs put in the bodies of characters? Or, Lockheed, Kitty Pryde's pet fire-breathing dragon from the same stretch?)

If your impression of Marvel is dictated by what's been recently made in Hollywood, the occasional glimpse of Stan Lee on the SciFi channel ("Who Wants to Be a Superhero," more accurately entitled "Look At The Neurotic Egomaniacs!") or articles in entertainment sections about the marvelous goings-on at comic book conventions, you've had no glimpse of this sad history.

Your host will dive into the barrel of X-Men fail for the best apples bobbing around in the bunch.

1. Pathetic and silly villains. See The Locust above, anile human! The Locust was one of many in the rotten swarm. (My opinion is that he was a feeble attempt by Marvel to duplicate the Beetle, an early arch-enemy of Spider-Man. The Beetle, however, was only barely worth more than the paper he was printed on, falling somewhere in weakness between the Vulture and Mysterio. In truth, one can really get going and rip a new hole in Marvel for use of excessively shabby villains in any decade. Do you remember Stilt Man from Daredevil, the Man Without Fear?)

Showing up in Uncanny X-Man #24 in 1966, the dialog in this issue is often WORSE than "Away clod! You shall be the first to feel the bite of the Locust!"

On page 4, the Locust is introduced, overseeing his pet giant grasshoppers eating through a corn field. Spell-binding!

"Eat heartily my six-legged subjects!" exclaims the villain. "Too long have lesser mortals lorded it over the abundant planet! It is not the weak who must inherit the earth ... but the strong! And we are the strong!"

Stan Lee, in a separate explanatory box, adds: "If, as you read on, it seems to you that our orthopterous antagonist has a distinct fascist fixation, please forward all analyses to mighty Marvel..."

Uh, no, I won't do it.

Second place for wretched villain from the Sixties mag was Count Nefaria. The Count was a prop across a number of Marvel publications. With no obvious powers -- a good beating by any strong man could have taken him out -- for X-Men 22, the Count assembles a team of even more unmenacing villains than himself: the Unicorn (a refugee from Iron Man), the Scarecrow (another Iron Man castoff), Plantman, the Eel and the Porcupine.

Nefaria would show up again in 1975 with a crew of flunkies called the Ani-men. One of these was a man-frog, reinforcing Marvel's early yen for pulling villains from the ranks of the most unthreatening specimens of the animal world.

The bronze medal for worst villains goes to ... Frankenstein. Marvel editors were apparently desparate for filler in 1968. It's a mistake they wouldn't repeat for more than a decade. Until pulling Dracula from the mothballs for one issue in 1982.

2. Dialog. Closely related to silly villains, it's consistantly dreadful, even by the hokey corn pone standards of comic books.

"If only I could tell [Jean Grey] the words I really want to say," thinks the teenage Scott Summers in 1964's issue 8. "How gorgeous her lips are ... how silken her hair is ... how I love her! But I dare not!"

Equally horrible was everything that came out of the word balloons written for Hank McCoy, the Beast. The Beast had a double handicap: He not only talked too much, he also looked bad -- a man with the physique of a disproportionately tubby gorilla thrust into an ill-fitting uniform. Had they never seen Mighty Joe Young!? Marvel saddled the Beast with the affected vocabulary of a supernerd, one who would never use one word where two with a total of six syllables would do. The only thing Marvel editors couldn't deliver for him was head-turning bad breath.

"It's a pleasure to be divested of the encumbrance of our X-Men uniforms," McCoy says in issue #7. "I wish you would learn to speak English, Hank," says Ice Man.

By this time, even the most devoted readers were thinking: "I wish Magneto would kill you in this ish, Hank!"

3. Dealing with female characters.

By the Eighties, X-Men was dressing most of its superheroines in variations of dominatrix gear. Marvel Girl had started the original Marvel tradition of women with pathetic powers. Making too much use of her telekinetic abilities often made her weak in the knees during a fight, just like the Fantastic Four's Invisible Girl.

By the late Seventies, however, Marvel overreacted, turning her into the Dark Phoenix, a woman creature with the power to destroy worlds. But just before that (and killing her off as a menace to the galaxy), they put her into a black corset, G-string and spike-heeled boots. (Think of it as Marvel jerking Jean Grey between the two poles of stupid-looking nerdy girl and menacing sexual predator.)

The way DD figures it, this was catering to the growing X-Men fanbase of young white men, guys who secretly harbored desires their girlfriends -- if they had them -- would never consent to: The trampling of their johnsons under thigh-highs, smothering, face-sitting, things of this nature.

(See also "Two Girls Out to Have Fun" -- issue 189 in 1985. Corsets, bondage collars, maid uniforms, fuck-me spike-heels and fishnets -- it's a thigh-rubbing fest of superhoines in soft pornographic jeopardy. The only thing missing is a frank girl-on-girl sado-masochistic erotic play scene, presumably ruled out by the comics code.)

Cat-fights were also big. Callisto, the leader of the Morlocks, who lived in the sewers under New York City, dressed in tight leather pants and boots. With eye-patch and a got-it-at-Heidelberg-style dueling scar on her face, she was always ready for a close-in knife-fight with Storm, who'd be wearing almost nothing.

Even characters not originally cast in their underwear were dragged into things. The handling of Kitty Pryde surprisingly encompassed both the icky and the prurient. For one adventure, she was left behind as a hostage in an alien spaceship -- in her bikini swim suit. What, no other clothes or bedsheets on the Shi'ar spaceship?

In "What Happened to Kitty?" (Uncanny X-Men #179), the answer is given in the first full-page panel. Well, Kitty Pryde was knocked woozy in the previous issue, dragged into the sewers by Callisto's crew, stripped and dressed in a torn wedding gown slit to show a garter belt and stockings. Two punkettes in similar wear restrain her, presumably to keep the girl from running to the sex crimes division.

Why is Kitty dressed like this? To marry some weird living-in-the-sewer asexual ogre (pulling back on the thigh-rub at the last minute) named Caliban -- another famously pathetic X-Men character. Caliban has mercy at the last minute and says he still wants to be her friend. Kitty says OK, because putting her in a Hustler mag bridal gown while she was unconscious was just so much water ... through the sewer.

Now all of this has probably given you the impression I don't like X-Men.

Far from it! Electronically paging through the collection furnishes a touchstone to many things forgotten. If you collected these issues before a parent threw them out in a fit of pique, you'll have a similar experience. Things long buried in the mind jump up in their musty old sockets as one revisits comics long vanished themselves from near memory. At the very least, it furnishes proof the brain is not yet crippled by dementia.

Indeed, there's much to like about "40 Years of X-Men." And, for the purposes of this post, I haven't covered any of it.


Advertisement from your Marvel mags, ca. early Seventies.