Monday, April 27, 2009

SYNDICATION NEWS

Over the weekend GlobalSecurity.Org was able to syndicate DD's blog at SITREP -- the Alexandria, VA-based national security information unit's daily blog.

A collection of recent columns, which you've already seen, are accumulated here.

For those with an interest in the mundane technical aspect, SITREP is capturing the feed produced by DD's Wordpress mirror here -- wheeled into action because of limitations and idiosyncrasies associated with Google's Blogger.

Thanks to GlobalSecurity's Francois Boo for putting all the pieces together.

Onward and forward into the glorious future.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

HAVING YOUR EYES OPENED

The daily news on methods of US torture and the Bush administration's legal justifications for its routine use as an instrument of national power can, at times, make it seem that our watchdogs were always on the ball.

Then reality snaps back in place.

So today DD will take readers back to when his eyes were opened to the bad faith and deceptions being thrown our way because it was convenient to the Bush administration's prosecution of the war on terror.

It was some time around mid-2004 when British researcher Duncan Campbell came to me for some advice with regards to what would become known as the London ricin trial.

In early January of 2003, British anti-terror forces had arrested seven men and allegedly "equipment needed to produce ricin and recipes for ricin, cyanide and several other poisons" at a Wood Green flat in the north of London, according to the BBC.

The British authorities called this Operation Springbourne and it continued to sweep up people said to be connected to a plot aimed at spreading poisons in London. One of the men grabbed in the raids is named Kamel Bourgass. During his arrest he stabs to death a British constable, a crime on which he will be convicted two years later and sent away for life.

Bourgass and four of these men are set in the dock for the London ricin case which was to be followed with another trial dealing with the rest of the alleged conspirators.

Campbell, who was working for the defense, had a stack of poison recipes, gathered from police raids and various other al Qaeda hideouts in Kabul and Kandahar which were part of the evidence to be used in the ricin trial. He sent electronic copies of them to me in Pasadena and we chatted back and forth over their impact and origins. In return, I sent back original materials of US nature from which these poison recipes were drawn.

I had been writing up analyses of ricin recipes found on the web and publishing them through GlobalSecurity.Org. Campbell had read them. And the ricin and other poison recipes were central to the UK government's case.

The prosecution wished to prove they were exclusive to al Qaeda, thereby establishing a link between the accused and the terrorist organization. But the recipes weren't exclusive. They originated in the US far right in the late Eighties and had been copied around the world, then translated to Arabic. Along the way they picked up minor differences in transcription and things added by individuals translating them. So the recipes seized in the UK ricin ring raids, all Kamel Bourgass's did not originate in al Qaeda hideouts. They were transcribed from Yahoo servers in Palo Alto.

However, before all this had been figured out, I was of the mind that the men in the dock, Algerians, were all going to be sent over. There was still a belief that the charges were probably based on reasonable assumptions. If Colin Powell, for example, had identified the London ricin ring, which he had called the UK poison cell, in his speech before the UN Security Council in September of 2003, there had to be something to it, right?

This was, Powell's presentation inferred, part of a web of terrorist intrigue stretching from Iraq and al Qaeda into Europe.

Well, a few months went by before the start of the trial and, gradually, things changed.

The evidence I was given was ridiculously trivial: Stupid Internet-cadged recipes for poisons, a puny amount of castor seeds -- 22, along with absurd ideas that one could make a cyanide weapon from a couple handfuls of cherry pits.

And I asked Campbell, in essence, what the heck was going on? This couldn't be serious. It was pathetic and lame. No one with half a mind could consider anything like this as part of a terrorist chain, connected with Iraq, which threatened the UK and United States.

I asked Campbell where the information came from on this poison team and the alleged Wood Green poison lab.

And then he told me about the UK government informant, Mohamed Meguerba, who'd been the source of it on the basis of a confession made while being held in a prison in Algeria. I was eventually told that Meguerba had been tortured into the confession and later recanted it and, so, the UK government was not going to be able to bring him to court to testify.

At that point the prosecution's case was badly hindered. A lot of the accusations rested upon getting a jury to believe statements of the informant. And then it was necessary to completely switch strategies.

It was at that point I became disillusioned. It had been shown that you couldn't believe anything the US government said. That Kamel Bourgass and his recipes for making poison from rotten meat or a handful of castor seeds to have taken the stage as a shadowy player in the hard sell the Bush administration used to drum up enthusiasm for war in Iraq was intellectually bankrupt.

Yesterday, Paul Krugman's blog at the New York Times republished quote from Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy News service.

"The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist," it read.

"Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

"The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them."

With regards to the London ricin case, Meguerba's recanted confession about a ricin plot was apparently not part of a US operation. It was, however, still conveniently used by the Bush administration.

And there was a second man who'd been pressured into a handy confession, one which also connected with the alleged ricin poison ring.

In Colin Powell's slide purporting to show terror networks connected to al Qaeda in Iraq, a central spot is reserved for a man called Detained Al-Qaida Operative.

This was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

The US Senate's Select Report on Intelligence in Iraq revealed in 2006 that the CIA informed al-Libi that he would be handed over to a foreign government if he didn't talk. "[Al-Libi] decided he would fabricate any information the interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government.]"

Nevertheless, according to the Senate report al-Libi was also put in the hands of the foreign government. He was threatened with torture and then beaten up for fifteen minutes, after which he made up stories about al Qaida connections with Iraq, and nuclear and biological weapons programs.

Nevertheless, in January and February of 2003, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz cited it as one of a number of reasons for escalation to war in Iraq.

"The gravity of the threat we face was underscored in recent days when British police arrested seven suspected terrorists in London and discovered a small quantity of ricin, one of the world's deadliest poisons, for which no cure exists," Cheney told the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC. (In reality, no ricin had been discovered, just castor seeds. This information would be suppressed for another three years.)

"Make no mistake, America is at war," Cheney continued. "And the front lines are our centers of work, of transportation, of commerce, and entertainment ... We will also continue our efforts to stop the grave danger presented by Al Qaeda or other terrorists joining with outlaw regimes that have developed weapons of mass destruction to attack their common enemies — the United States and our allies. That is why confronting the threat posed by Iraq is not a distraction from the war on terror. It is absolutely crucial to winning the war on terror."

And on February 6, Paul Wolfowitz added: "[We] see, for example, close connections between Iraqi intelligence, and even the Iraqi leadership, and this network that is actively working to do attacks with ricin and other deadly toxins. Some of them have been arrested in London. Some have been arrested in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. We're working on finding as many of them as we can. The problem is, some of them are hiding, probably effectively."

With regards to the London ricin case as I knew it, these statements were misinformation and fraud.

In September of 2004, the London ricin trial went forward. A gag order was imposed on the English press, one that lasted until the end of the trial in April of 2005.

The UK government's case had been irrevocably damaged. A jury eventually acquitted everyone but maniacal loner Kamel Bourgass.

Bourgass was locked up for life, also convicted on a charge of conspiring to cause a public nuisance with poisons.

"Does torture work?" is the question one now sees almost everyday. Yes, yes it does, reply various officials and Bush administration main men. It has kept us safe.

My take is that, yes, torture did work. It worked to provided convenient fictions which were in turn used to justify war with Iraq.

The result of the ricin trial -- acquittals and the realization among large portions of the English public that the original story had been all wrong, that there was not an extensive terror network of poisoners who had been trained by al Qaeda and were connected to Iraq -- was the start of the British public becoming disillusioned with George W. Bush's war. It led to an assumption that the fix was in.

In April of 2005, the American press more or less declined to cover the story. I had offered it to the New York Times. No one was interested.

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus covered part of it badly. In the process, he had to interview me and growled that I had put the newspaper in a difficult situation. Oh, DD had put the mighty WaPo in a difficult situation because I had found out the London ricin ring was bogus.

"Discovery that the initial ricin finding was a 'false positive' was made 'well before the outbreak of the war in Iraq,' on March 19, 2003, [George Smith] said," wrote Pincus.

Great job, that.

"A much-touted ricin-plot terrorism case in the United Kingdom ended in a muddled verdict today, raising new questions among U.S. officials about the ability of British authorities to secure convictions against major terrorist suspects," reported famous Newsweek investigative journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball on April 15, 2005.

However, was this news that the Bush administration had been twisting information for its own aims?

No.

"The mixed outcome dismayed U.S. counterterror specialists who were convinced that [Kamel Bourgass] and his four codefendants were in fact acting as part of a broader international terror plot," continued Isikoff and Hosenball. "It also gives new urgency to the U.S. terror indictment brought against three other British suspects this week on charges relating to their surveillance of financial buildings in New York, Washington and Newark."

And then Isikoff and Hosenball quoted the war on terror's well-known professional witness, Even Kohlmann, to cast the impression that a Brit jury had gone rogue and the justice system had failed.

From the Newsweek piece: " 'This is very disturbing,' says Evan Kohlmann, a U.S. government consultant on international terror cases, about the acquittals in the ricin-plot case. 'These are dangerous people who are followers of Abu Hamza,' the radical imam of London's notorious Finsbury Mosque, which was a favored gathering place for Al Qaeda-linked extremists.' "

The US press couldn't bring itself to report all the nasty fine details. Instead, in 2005 it was still time to run with the rubbish story about a fantasy plot from the war on terror, one which turned out to have been the product of a healthy dose of maltreatment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A NEW LOOK

Today's first entry points you to DD's new WordPress blog here.

Why the mirror?

Blogger and Google.

For over a year Blogger has had instability issues with FTP publishing to servers outside of Google's domain. Whenever one least expects it, Blogger will throw a wobbly and report virtually meaningless error messages -- either your blog is taking longer than usual to publish, or a variety of error codes which, in my case, never reflect what's going on with FTP access to DickDestiny dot com. These are bugs and problems as any study of the Google Help forums devoted to Blogger quickly shows. However, Blogger -- while it sometimes seems to try and fix the faults -- never completely acknowledges that it has any.

But the straw which broke the camel's back was having this blog labelled as a spam blog by a Google Blogger anti-spam robot a week or so ago. When this happens, you receive an automated message in your e-mail informing that your blog will be deleted in twenty days. Unless you can convince Blogger its anti-spam robots, or whatever, have returned a false positive. In this e-mail, one is supposed to receive a link to appeal the process so that a human being will look at the blog and determine that it is not, in fact, the work of a dirty spammer.

This appeal link did not work.

My problem was not isolated. Through May, many other legitimate blogs were labelled as spam and threatened with deletion. Some fuse within Google Blogger had blown. And, so far, it has been chalked up as collateral damage in Google's valiant war against nefarious spammers.

The only recourse in this debacle was to publish the letters from Blogger in the Blogger Help forum, hope a human being higher up would read them, and dispense unstrained mercy. This may have worked for some. But with Blogger, it is always hard to know.

In any case, it's really not reasonable or acceptable that a Google property would be able to peremptorily delete two years of posts on this blog. (Theoretically possible, depending on the mechanism Blogger uses.) While the system is backed up, it doesn't change the fact that one has to consider the possibility that one's work will whimsically be destroyed by software automation one morning.

Ergo the need to start a mirror with the aim of eventually migrating the entire pattern of usage at this blog to WordPress. For the time being, this blog will still be the first to update, followed shortly by an identical post at the mirror.

This post, for obvious reasons, isn't going to be mirrored today.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

US MILITARY EMP FANATICS

Dreams die hard and a recent article from the journal IEEE Spectrum is a showcase for scientists trying to keep their electromagnetic pulse bomb projects alive for the Dept. of Defense.

A week or two ago DD revisited the phenomenon of US electromagnetic pulse crazies in two posts. The second of the two -- here -- dealt with the social crowd plagued with an Ahab-like obsession for deployable electromagnetic pulse bombs (not dependent on a multi-megaton fusion blast) and hand-held rayguns.

They regularly pop up in the news announcing fantastic weapons are about to arrive, or have arrived and been secretly used, or about to be tested. This has been a regular occurrence in the news, if not obvious to everyone, since around 1994 when the EMP lobby boffins began giving it the hard sell.

Readers will note the top listing from the Google link is a reprint of a cover story published in Popular Mechanics in 2001, an article predicting electromagnetic pulse bombs were about to show, possibly capable of throwing civilization back hundreds of years. If they found their way into terrorist hands. One also notes the piece is accompanied with a harsh critique from various punters.

"Electromagnetic pulse weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts," read a very recent piece of EMP crazy emission at the New Scientist a couple weeks ago.

"Kabammy! A huge electronic wave comes along and sends out a few thousand volts! [Like] like man-made lightning bolts!" read a couple newspaper articles just before the second war with Iraq.

In every such article, a blizzard of jargon and promises.

For example, from Popular Mechanics: "An FCG is an astoundingly simple weapon. It consists of an explosives-packed tube placed inside a slightly larger copper coil, as shown below. The instant before the chemical explosive is detonated, the coil is energized by a bank of capacitors, creating a magnetic field. The explosive charge detonates from the rear forward. As the tube flares outward it touches the edge of the coil, thereby creating a moving short circuit."

And the article from IEEE Spectrum is not much different. While e-bomb capabilities have been radically scaled back -- there is no mention of American civilization being returned to the time of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance or rayguns cobbled together by terrorists for the shooting down of airplanes -- they are still alleged to be relatively cheap and simple.

"This week at an arsenal in Huntsville, Ala., defense researchers are testing a new high-power microwave (HPM) bomb—one that creates an electromagnetic pulse capable of disabling electronics, vehicles, guided missiles, and communications while leaving people and structures unharmed," reads the website of the IEEE, dated April 15. "The tests mark the first time such a device has been shrunk to dimensions that could make it portable enough to fit in a missile or carried in a Humvee or unmanned aerial vehicle."

DD is going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if the weapon was tested last week, it was less than overwhelming, as usual. It has not been immediately obvious that the world was changed by an American revolution in weapons design.

The fundamental problem associated with non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons is simple to describe.

And it's never addressed, except through elliptical statements about limits of their "portability" and the ability to predictably "couple" the weapon's electromagnetic effect to a target. The problem is this: dispersion cripples such notional weapons, or as a scientist might say, any effect is constrained by the law of inverse squares. Nature's laws, fortunately for us, aren't subject to whimsical change.

"The intensity of the influence at any given radius r is the source strength divided by the area of the sphere," explains a page at a university physics department. "Being strictly geometric in its origin, the inverse square law applies to diverse phenomena. Point sources of gravitational force, electric field, light, sound or radiation obey the inverse square law. It is a subject of continuing debate with a source such as a skunk on top of a flag pole; will it's smell drop off according to the inverse square law?"

A bit of scientific humor, the latter bit about the skunk.

But there is never any humor associated with stories of electromagnetic pulse bombs. It is always deadly serious stuff.

"It’s a big deal!" said a scientist on the teat of Departmant of Defense electromagnetic pulse spending to IEEE. The EMP bomb is said to have been finally (maybe) shrunk to a size the military might be able to use. "The military would be able to actually use these."

And then there is the jargon-laden discussion about FCG's and vircators, and later, Marx generators.

"The 1.5-meter Texas Tech [EMP bomb] contains three main components: a power generator in the form of a flux compression generator (FCG), a microwave source called a vircator (for virtual cathode oscillator), and an antenna that radiates the resultant high-power microwave radiation," reads the piece.

"The FCG is like a battery that runs on a stick of dynamite," Michael Giesselmann, the weapon's developer at Texas Tech tells the reporter.

And the weapon, they can't resist, is simple and cheap, even though it's still not actually taking part in a real world test.

"The major advantage of an FCG is that it can be relatively cheap," says one expert from England, Bucur Novac, to the publication. "Depending on how big it is, from about US $100 for the 20-centimeter size to a few thousand dollars for the 1-meter size."

"It’s actually one of the simplest [EMP weapons] you can make," adds the bomb's developer.

Another problem associated with electromagnetic pulse bomb production is also easy to relate in common language. And this is why most electromagnetic pulse bomb scientists try to avoid it.

Since the bomb uses an explosive to generate an electromagnetic effect, if the explosive is too large, on the order of a conventional weapons, and the EM effect is trivial, the bomb is not non-lethal. It's just another high explosive bomb with fancy parts. If the explosive component is too small, the notional generation of its electromagnetic effect becomes weaker, requiring the weapon be much closer to its target upon detonation. If, theoretically, a weapon with the explosive power of, say, a stick of dynamite or two or three could generate an electromagnetic effect capable of frying the processor of a computer at ten or twenty feet, would you stand with the computer? Would you even care that such a thing could be demonstrated on a testing range at a US military installation?

Another way of looking at it is in the effect of a lightning bolt, another form of suddenly generated electromagnetic flux. If a lightning bolt hits your computer while you're sitting at it, it's a goner. And perhaps you are, too. But lightning bolts are not particularly cost effective weapons.

Readers see where DD is going. A megaton nuclear explosion creates a significant electromagnetic pulse. But it's rather secondary to the ... well, heh-heh, you know.

Near the end of the electromagnetic pulse bomb story, the EMP raygun system is also mentioned as a possibility. It could be used to stop cars, for instance.

"It requires a big truck to even bring the unassembled parts to the test army," says an Army overseer, a man with an unusually pragmatic air. This particular device "is not a consideration" for anything, ever.

Why the print space, then?

Well, consider that any theoretical electromagnetic pulse bombs are weapons which no longer have much use. Who would the US military sic them on? Somali pirates? The Taliban in Afghanistan? People living in buildings in Swat, Pakistan? Insurgents or rabble and crowds around the globe? Invading Martians?

In fact, the electromagnetic pulse bomb is not congruent with new defense priorities as recently discussed by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

And here one can speculate that this is exactly why an article about a test has been published in IEEE Spectrum. It is -- perhaps -- needed to show progress, to signal the existence of something in a program which has been funded for a very long time, one which has produced little but which might be coming to the end of its natural life. In another way of speaking, a press release by weapons developers afraid they may run short of DoD welfare.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TORTURING EXCUSED, THE SEQUEL

Today's Los Angeles Times frontpage story on the Bush administration's torture documents was curious for one thing. It didn't use the word torture until almost the very end of the story (and not on the front page). Near the end, it reads: "The memo outlined an escalating series of interrogation methods sometimes used in concert, and was written months after the Justice Department had issued a December 2006 document that declared "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."

Of course, this fine statement is accompanied by a sidebar containing descriptions of American-approved waterboarding, stress positions, cramped confinement, walling (throwing against a wall), and face slapping, among other things.

The Times goes onto describe torture under supervision of physicians: "[The document] also required that a physician be on duty in case a prisoner didn't recover after being returned to an upright position ... 'the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy ..."

The decision, the Times reported, "was met with criticism among conservatives and CIA veterans, who warned that the highly detailed documents would serve as a counter-interrogation training manual for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."

This claim takes readers, and the American people, for fools. As has been repeatedly shown on this blog -- and in other places -- al Qaeda has long had materials in their manuals on what kinds of torture to expect. (See yesterday.)

In any case, human history has shown us there's very little one can do in the way of training to make one invulnerable to torture.

More succinctly, the complaints against revealing torture methods because it aids the enemy are an IQ test. If you accept them, you flunk. Here's why: If the United States really isn't in the business of torturing its prisoners anymore, as Barack Obama says, then putting the methods of torture in the sunlight aids the enemy not at all.



Link to story here. Not pointed at the LA Times because while the hardcopy of the newspaper is a delight, the online edition's load times are atrocious. In Tribune company's grasping for every last penny on the Internet, it has made the Times website one of the most unbearable, as a total bandwidth hog, on the Internet. By comparison, the New York Times seems almost as simple and clean as this blog.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TORTURING EXCUSED

"The methods [in the torture memos included] keeping detainees naked for long periods, keeping them in a painful standing position for long periods, and depriving them of solid food," reported AP today.

"Other tactics included using a plastic neck collar to slam detainees into walls, keeping the detainee's cell cold for long periods, and beating and kicking the detainee. Sleep-deprivation, prolonged shackling, and threats to a detainee's family were also used."

None of this was unexpected. What was a bit startling was a potentially blanket get-out-of-jail free card for those involved in implementing it.

Over the past years, articles on torture and the ramifications of it have been singularly unpopular on DD's blog. There are only a few in the pundit class and a handful of national newspapers or publications which are approved for the subject. Everywhere else, it's a recipe for losing eyeballs. Covering war-on-terror trials at The Register, for instance, was unpopular. Relatively speaking, few cared to see unpleasant stories, stuff with no moral or happy ending, about people being sent over on flimsy or virtually non-existent charges.

And so it will be this story again. Compared to a review of the Boxmasters or something about how awful Saturday night movies on the Sci-Fi channel are, it's a cooked snail. DD invites you to spread the URL. (That's already failed.) He dares you to brook annoying pals with another post on the boiled lead of torture and its consequences.

But now to the meat of the action.

DD republishes screen shots from the original manual of jihad in Afghanistan, presented to me as part of the parcel of evidence to be considered while doing research as a consultant to the trial of the alleged London ricin ring.

The manual, put together in the late Eighties, included sections on what jihadis could expect if they were taken prisoner by Middle Eastern governments. The United States, as I shall show, was excluded from this 'assessment.'

A sample:



Other methods included:



And:



It's not necessary to put a red check mark next to those which now align with methods used by the American government in the last few years. And it's equally stupid to grant any semblance of logic to semantic arguments about which methods are torture and which aren't. Those who wrote the manual of Afghan jihad considered them torture. They would, of course, consider American methods cited at the top of the post as torture. And sane people the world over would consider all of them torture, whether applied singly, in combination, or under a doctor's supervision.

The original jihad manual also included the following bit of information:



All of them -- Middle Eastern nations known as human-rights abusers. To which, on the say so of of panicked and fearful American leaders and the tacit acquiescence of a supine press and populace, we added ourselves. And thus forfeited our souls and the worldwide belief that our country was the side of unassailable right.

The original manual of jihad for you to see is here at Cryptome.

"The United States [was not mentioned in the manual's torture section]," wrote this blog two years ago. "One might reasonably think this was because it was a long way off from being regularly thought of as in the business of torturing captives."

At that time, the Bush administration was quoting from the manual of Afghan jihad for political purposes, speaking of a section in which al Qaeda discussed the legitimacy of beating and killing prisoners during interrogation. (See here and here.)

This was, George W. Bush said, proof of the evil of the adversary. What this was, more precisely and put in context, was part of a chain of events which defined the very essence of American national hypocrisy and shame.



More recently:

Tortured by ours or yours?

Which part of torture don't they understand?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

INTERNAL REVENUE BOOGIE

I got a letter from my Tax Man
To avoid big fines and a nasty jam
I had to work out a convenient payment plan

I saw the letter from my Tax Man
He had me banged up, I was body-slammed
I was fiscally blue


For your diversion, a rueful song of IRS trouble for tax day, the Internal Revenue Boogie.

Drawling shouted white boy blues rock, recorded two years ago by DD, right on time. C'mon now, you know that's a really slinky riff.




Misappropriated on the Net. Figures.
CASUALLY MALICIOUS

"The current United States can be defined as an immense accumulation of not terribly acute or attentive people obliged to operate a uniquely complex technology, which all other things being equal, always wins," wrote author Paul Fussell in 1991 for his book, Bad. "No wonder error and embarrassment lurk everywhere, and no wonder cover-up and bragging have become the favored national style."

DD used the paragraph to introduce his non-fiction tale on the computer virus underground in cyberspace, The Virus Creation Labs, three years later.

Virus Creation Labs was filled with characters like Michael Mooney of Winnfield, LA, identified as the creator of the StalkDaily computer worm and its variants used to plague Twitter and its users.

Bereft of any noticeable personality traits except a facility for casual malice and an air that he was the essence of cool, Mooney still fits the ISOO standard of many teenage virus-writers before him.

"When do you plan to deactivate the worm," a teenage editor asked Mr. StalkDaily.

"As soon as they [meaning Twitter] are able to sanitize their fields correctly, or promptly address me to remove it," he replied.

In the early days of virus-writing, many of their authors had the same mentality. They felt the targets of their viruses ought to address them personally, perhaps thanking them for illustrating how stupid they, as the victims, had been. "Would you, please, help me to remove it, oh great one?" they should ask, properly deferential.

From the Virus Creation Labs in 1994: "[Virus-writer] Screaming Radish bent my ear for three hours talking and talking and talking about ... how virus-writers should receive a share of anti-virus software company profits because it was by their actions that consumer products were improved."

Yesterday, StalkDaily Mikey claimed he felt really bad about angering people, contradicting himself in the next emission: "I feel pretty bad about it, but it’s not me that left the vulnerability out in the open."

It's the merciless logic of someone who, if he saw a pile of dry leaves and tinder in your yard would set it ablaze and watch your house catch fire, sadly and with tears in his eyes, because he was bored and you had not properly neutralized all fire hazards. (Need a less severe bit of symbolism? Think someone who exploits anything in the real world with feeble or non-existent security measures, like letting the air out of your tires, then keeps coming back until you lock your car in the garage every night and have a motion detecting spotlight installed in the driveway. Because your tires had a vulnerability that needed to be 'sanitized.')

Because viruses and worms can't be precisely controlled once they're put into the world, the StalkDaily Kid will continue to cause trouble, if even indirectly, for some time. Virus-writers are copyists at heart and they simply take code which has already been successful at creating some level of trouble and use it to create their own minor variations, for the purpose of starting the entire process again and having their bit of the action.

Perhaps the only good news that one can take away from people like Michael Mooney is that there is no shortage of them. Far from being unique or demonstrably superior intellectually, he's just another small sweaty dude in a hoodie who's not inclined to spend time dwelling on the consequences of whatever he has chosen to screw with. There is a silver lining here, of sorts, and it's this: If it were actually possible to sicken, injure or kill via malicious attacks launched through computers and the Internet, instead of merely creating cascading error, embarrassment and loss of time and money, tens of thousands of people would have been in the ground since 1994. And there might not even be an Internet or personal computer as you know it.



DD knows the StalkDaily Kids because, for a time, he fraternized with them. (See here for a bit of a backgrounder published in the Village Voice a few years ago.)

One germane part reads: "For a few years in the early '90s, the Crypt Newsletter published a stream of frequently brutish and malicious programs. Anyone could reconstitute them, easy as powdered milk. Through Crypt, I gathered experience in the applications of digitized badness and gained an ability to see it in the work of others, whether that of teenagers out for kicks or businessmen grasping at ways to retaliate against kids thought to be [pirating music on-line]. Crypt knew the textures and flavors of rotten in the machine world. It published a virtual landmine based on a useful program, only overturned and corrupted to harshly prune the directory tree of a disk. Booby traps were written to show filth to moochers of porn while, in the background, the machine was being fouled. Viruses multiplied slowly and, when finished, either displayed vulgar quotes, logged keystrokes, or played idiotic music."

One of DD's program, the Heevahava virus was simple, taking a half hour to come up with, at best. "[It] mocked the infected by associating them with its name [which meant 'dolt']."

"In one version, it obstructed efforts to unravel its instructions ... Face-to-face, an anti-virus software programmer threatened to punch me in the mouth at a security convention because the code protection had taken him hours to dissect, time he wished to spend with his family."

One can find much more of the same here.



Another chapter on old-timey virus writers.


Coincidentally, DD's Twitter feed

Sunday, April 12, 2009

SUNDAY AFTERNOON JUKEBOX

Cue list: The Boxmasters, The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation


Boxmasters girl: Dancing quim is here again.

"The Boxmasters are really a combination of the Beatles, the Monkees and the Turtles with Del Reeves and Buck Owens and Merle Haggard -- all put together."

That's quite a bundle of hooey from Billy Bob Thornton, delivered with the press from last year's Boxmasters double CD on Vanguard.

However, as something that was Bonzo Dog Band-esque -- a humorous, sardonic and loving take on music Thornton actually wished to play for people to hear, it was easy to get behind. Thornton said he was into Frank Zappa & the Mothers, too, which one also 'gets' if you knew and liked Cruising With Ruben & The Jets and FZ's talent for R&B.

With regards to the Bonzo Dog Band -- The Boxmasters didn't do -the English humour- at all. But the acknowledgement that one has to write catchy songs, good enough to maybe make Paul McCartney show up to play or produce under an alias, all the more to make the jokey stories stick, is. In place of English scouser, Thornton is a southern lower middle class/lower class heel, a character he was born to show us.

"The Poor House" -- the Boxmasters debut song, played infrequently in its video version on county music cable networks, was the debut's best. Its hook was undeniable and one could hear (as well as see if viewing the sent-to-Country Music Television version) Thornton mugging his way through the lyrics. "Shit List" and "I'm Watchin' The Game" were also sticky. The only quibble, and a small one, was often Billy Bob sounded as if reading lyrics from a teleprompter, a band with overplaying pedal steel player providing the backing. Part of this may have been intentional.

As for getting a sound like the Beatles vintage records, it's not precisely so. The spirit was right but the actual tone, while carefully vintage, didn't sound like a George Martin production. Boxmasters production was darker and buried in tape slap and reverberation that's truly Sixties, but much more USA than UK.

Thornton covered Mott the Hoople's "Original Mixed-Up Kid" in terrific manner but a version of "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," meant to be equally reverential, was ... well, it was what you'd expect from a band of hillbilly rednecks. One expected a cover of the Who's "The Kids are All Right" to blow, on paper seemingly a perfect recipe for crap. Astoundingly, it worked.

Billy Bob's voice was old time hardware store manager by day, pool hall and barroom singer by night. Segues plugged up the spaces between the tracks. It sounded like funeral parlor music, some old church organ, the tinny music of a roller rink, drums galloping off on a tangent, vocal muttering, snips of dialogue from a movie which Thornton was in, or maybe not. If Billy Bob, "Bud" for the Boxmasters, wanted you to laugh and tap your feet to his record, he succeeded.

For Modbilly, the Boxmasters' second double-CD effort (there was a Xmas special, too), Thornton gets to the Turtles, via a cover of "Elenore" and Del Reeves. Better is a ringing and wistful take on the Stones' "As Tears Go By."

For this one, much more chime and Merseybeat is furnished with somewhat less lap and pedal steel, making Modbilly less cornpone by a few degrees. And half the originals are about life loss and heartbreak, sincerely delivered.

"Heartbreakin' Wreck" and "That's Why Tammy Has My Car" now remind DD of Hee-haw and Roy Clark although TV would've never allowed for the profanity: "I'm a moron/I'm a dumbass" in the chorus of the latter, with the band gleefully seconding, "He's a dumbass!" Listen close on "Reasons for Livin'" and hear Billy Bob sing about liver disease and the venereal sore on his lip.

Once past the nods to the British Invasion, much of Modbilly sounds like The Outlaws' first record, less the two Les Pauls and one Strat going full throat which, tonally, changes things quite a bit. However, the delivery and taste in American roots music and Brit pop groups are similar. Songs in question: "New Mexico," "You Crossed the Line," "Santa Rosa" -- all could have been done by the Outlaws, which is to say some of Modbilly also sounds like New Riders of the Purple Sage -- only better.

Thornton's vintage rock and pop tones are all carved and in place. In promo pics everyone poses with their old Ampeg amps, including the unique flip-top one for bass. (Cuban boots are required.) There's a rack of Fender Telecasters, fitting the record's Duane Eddy twangy guitar tone. The box set comes with drink coasters printed with Tiger Beat-like profiles on their backs and a poster with the dancing girls.

"Fav Chicks:" Ann Margaret, Suzanne Pleshette, etc, they read, among other timely things. I did have such a crush on Suzanne. Is this not the very essence of fun?

On paper, the Boxmasters express great loyalty to the Monkees. Someone insists their favorite movie is 'Head,' stretching credulity (have you ever watched 'Head' at length without squirming or drinking too much? DD has -- more than twice) but is nonetheless entertaining to read. This is somewhat backed up by furnishing the complete with finger-snaps "Boxmasters Theme" at the end, meant to accompany a notional TV show.

Thornton must be single-handedly adding asterisks and change to Mike Nesmith's royalty statements from his singer/songwriter work apart from the Monkees. If there is a Mike Nesmith folk rock tribute band, Boxmasters is it.

In any case, half of the appeal of Boxmasters records is Billy Bob Thornton's knack for wry avuncularity. If you've half a brain, the stuff is genuinely funny, not only for the stories told but also for the image of the dapper and suited-up Sixties combo act (these boys look very clean), a group hopeful perhaps of getting on the Opry stage, with good songs about trying to get out of debt to the mob and being kicked out of the house for being a moron. Modbilly delivers much more sincerity than the debut. The Boxmasters have switched from being a US country rock version of the Rutles or the Stones or Herman's Hermits to a real band which color codes its guitars -- turquoise on the debut, pastel green on Modbilly, sunburst for the back cover art.

Choruses are delivered, half the time characteristically droll and chuckling, followed by sly Telecaster and drum fills in the turnarounds. There are no other records yet this year aimed so fanatically at thrilling the hard-to-reach 'over thirty' fans of the sound. Brad Paisley, who like Thornton is a conversational story-teller, needs to either hear the Boxmasters or take them on tour. But he may not want to. Modbilly is a better thing than Paisley's latest.

If you're wondering about the group name, DD once had a teenage close confidant in Pine Grove, Pennsyltucky. He went by the name of 'Box.' Even though he had rotten teeth, 'Box' was so entitled for synonymity with quim, as in getting in it. OK? He was a flawed lady's man at eighteen, an object of awe at Pine Grove Area High School. Even when slippery or repugnant, some guys just have it.


Special message to Billy Bob: No one who knows anything's gonna believe Boxmasters are like Mott the Hoople until we get a few guitar lines ala Mick Ralphs, Luther or Mick Ronson. That said, Bud -- you oughta tell the publicists: "Guy Stevens produced Mott, sort of." Really Bud, you haven't yet delivered anything like 'Rock 'n' Roll Queen' or 'Death May Be Your Santa Claus' or the Ian Hunter as Bob Dylan shtick.


Also for your consideration, SPV's reissues of the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation, one of the combos from the British blues boom that didn't make it. Cover art all by Hipgnosis well before it was hip. The Retaliation imitated all the people that did better, often so good you can't tell it's not the originals. For a couple songs you swear it's Savoy Brown, for another Ten Years After, the production made to sound like Mike Vernon was providing perfection at the desk.

The first album (simply called The Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation) has "Chevrolet" retitled as "Watch and Chain." Foghat, or rather the guys who were then the core of Savoy Brown, would get much more mileage out of it years later in American stadiums.

Dr. Dunbar's Prescription was their second and most successful. It looks like a psychedelic acid trip LP -- which probably sold most of the copies -- but it's still mid-tempo white boy blooz with a heavy dose of Lee Michaels-like Hammond organ. If you're a fanatic for this type of undercard small venue Brit stuff -- thumping lugubrious but also very hard man delivered blues rock with commanding singer, these reissues fill the bill. Competition was fierce and the success of Cream and Led Zeppelin in '69 guaranteed everyone wanted their piece of the action.

Liner notes are complete with standard assertions that the Retaliation was going down gangbusters at the Fillmores in 'Merica when the record company pulled the plug. Assuredly, that must have been so.

Friday, April 10, 2009

DOOM CRAZIES & SUNNY OPTIMISTS EQUALLY BAD

Today DD points you directly at an essay in the Ottawa Citizen here.

In "Pessimists don't get a free pass" it touches upon themes which have been common to this blog since its inception in 2006. The reader will observe its critique of an 'expert' who believes the pessimists in society haven't been listened to enough.

Choke back the laughter.

"Over the last several decades ... developed nations have evolved into what [are called] 'risk societies,'" writes the Citizen's columnist.

"We worry. We worry about the future. We worry about threats to health and safety. We worry about science and technology. Wall Street and neo-con economists certainly embraced gung-ho optimism -- until recently -- but in society at large, that attitude seems much more a relic of the 1950s than anything contemporary.

"Undue pessimism ... can also produce over-reactions of the sort we became all too familiar with after the 9/11 terrorist attacks," it continues. "If even a fraction of the vast sums poured into counter-terrorism had gone to other priorities -- the fight against child malnutrition, for example -- far more would have been done for human welfare. Opportunity costs of this sort are routinely inflicted by undue pessimism ... Irrational fear can also produce dangerous responses.

"Following the 9/11 and anthrax attacks of 2001, perceptions of the threat of bioterrorism were so inflated that more than half of Americans worried that the next attack would involve smallpox -- even though the virus existed nowhere on the planet aside from two secure laboratories. The Bush administration responded with a plan for voluntary smallpox inoculations of some 10 million health care workers. There were was even talk of vaccinating the whole country.

"But few health care workers volunteered and the plan came to nothing -- which is fortunate because the vaccine's rare side-effects include encephalitis and death. Very simply, undue pessimism nearly took the health and lives of many people."

It produces a sophisticated argument -- one well worth your time.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

CHOOSE ONE: TORTURED BY OURS OR BY YOURS

"[Leon Panetta] says the CIA has terminated contracts with private companies that provided security at secret overseas CIA prisons," reported Associated Press minutes ago. "That will save up to $4million," adds the news agency.

That's certainly good to know. When taxpayers have spent billions to enrich the failed directors of Wall Street institutions, it's a sure sign that responsible management has taken over when $4 million which would have gone to privatized CIA imprisonment and torturing is clawed back.

Readers are informed: "Panetta [said] if more prisoners are taken, they will be interrogated by agency employees and handed over quickly to their home country or a country with a legal claim."

It needs to be noted that releasing those scooped up in US anti-terror sweeps to the countries of origin by no means guarantees those detained won't be jailed and tortured by their own governments. In fact, it's a substantial risk. Even if a person is innocent, just by being grabbed by American forces almost guarantees they will generally be assumed to be guilty of something when released to the standard array of human rights-abusing Middle Eastern governments.

This is just a fact and it is something well known in Britain. After the outcome of the ricin trial in 2006 in which an English jury aquitted everyone but one maniacal loner, Kamel Bourgass, the UK government attempted to reverse the verdicts through a series of unusual detentions and control orders.

The aim of these measures was continued detention of those deemed not guilty until they could be deported to their countries of origin, which in the case of the ricin case, was Algeria, where the government is know to torture its prisoners.

BY example, one defendant -- Moloud Sihali -- had been cleared by the jury verdict.

Although acquitted, Sihali was still a target of the British government. It eventually rearrested him with the intent of deporting him. During the time he was kept under onerous house arrest conditions. Subsequently, Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission considered his case and a judge ruled there was no reason to send him to Algeria because there was no evidence that he had been an Islamic extremist.

During this period, Sihali was jailed for an additional fifteen months on immigration violations.

Paradoxically, Sihali had been fingered in the ricin case by UK government informant Mohammed Meguerba. Meguerba was the subject of an extensive legal wrangle in the case wherein it was decided his confession could not be used in court because it had been obtained through torture while being held in an Algerian prison and later recanted. Therefore, British defendants in the ricin case, even though cleared by a jury, had very good reason to fear re-imprisonment and harsh treatment should they be deported to their home country.

Nevertheless, after being subject to years of control orders in Britain or continued detentions, some did lose their appeals to stay in Britain.

"An Algerian who was cleared of any involvement in the supposed 'Ricin plot' today lost his appeal against Home Office moves to deport him," reported the Guardian in 2006.

"The man, who can be identified only by the initial 'Y', was ruled to be a danger to national security by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) ... The crucial ruling - which will affect the government's ability to deport 15 other Algerian terror suspects - also indicated that the panel believed there had been improvements in the stability of the Algerian regime and a reduction in the number of allegations of torture .... The government [had] been seeking diplomatic assurances from the Algerian government that anyone returned to the north African country will not be harmed."

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

IRRESPONSIBLE REPORTING & VOODOO ON ATTACKS FROM CYBERSPACE

On Monday DD regaled readers with a two-part series on American electromagnetic pulse crazies -- those who feel certain the country's electronic and computing infrastructure will be destroyed in a future terror attack.

Today the frontpage of the Wall Street Journal delivered another flavor of Fortress America under siege voodoo, this time on spies from Russia and China who had allegedly infiltrated the power grid and installed malicious software. Everything was put at risk, from power to water and sewage. The United States, it was implied, could be turned off like a light switch.

This type of news story, like those on EMP crazies, also enjoys a rich history. It plays to the theme of paranoid survivalism, one which imagines enemies everywhere with the resources to do anything, their power virtually limitless. It relies upon the vague idea that if spyware can be installed on your computer, more or less at will depending on your diligence, you'll accept that even more malicious software will have penetrated into everything and that, not only can we not stop it, we can only await its inevitable terrible awakening.

Like the pieces on EMP crazies, it insults the intelligence of the reader by asking one to imagine a country in which everyone is struck by the lightning of unseen disaster at once. It embellishes this fancy by utterly ignoring reality, employing 'experts' to describe what modern America would be like without electricity, suddenly thrust back in time to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

In fact, in response to the Wall Street Journal piece, this is exactly what ABC News did a couple hours ago.

Imagine what your day would be like if Russia or China turned off all our power, mused reporters Ned Porter and Jonann Brady: "You turn on your lights in the morning to find that they, and virtually everything else, have been shut down by cyberspies."

And such a story is incomplete without an 'expert' to say it's all possible.

Enter Richard A. Clarke, a famous man -- a political celebrity, really -- with a long history of foretelling that when the lights go out from cyberattack, terrible things will happen.

"I think the government has known for several years that China and Russia and other countries have created offensive cyberwar units and have penetrated American networks, including the electric power grid, which is pretty easy to penetrate," Clarke was said to have said today.

If this sounds numbingly repetitive, yes, it is. DD wrote about it just in January here.

"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," reads that post's lede.

"Regularly done to massage requests for funding, it also serves political purposes."

"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.'"

And if take the WayBack Machine on a journey to 1999, there's Richard A. Clarke at the helm, again warning about America being turned off by a magic switch.

From an interview conducted by Signal magazine:

"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 . . . "

This was non-fiction. Clarke also delivers similar material in techno-thriller novels. His first, The Scorpion's Gate, was delivered hot on the heels of his appearance on 60 Minutes to tell the country that George W. Bush had ignored his warnings about al Qaeda. That novel was a best-seller. The second, delivered after the klieg lights had moved on, was called Breakpoint and was not nearly as successful.

Returning to the Wall Street Journal article, one observes it fails to deliver even one named source.

"Cyberspies have penetrated the U.S. electrical grid and left behind software programs that could be used to disrupt the system, according to current and former national-security officials," reads its opening sentence.

"Authorities investigating the intrusions have found software tools left behind that could be used to destroy infrastructure components, the senior intelligence official said ... Officials said water, sewage and other infrastructure systems also were at risk ... Officials cautioned that the motivation of the cyberspies wasn't well understood, and they don't see an immediate danger."

'Officials said' said the Wall Street Journal, repeatedly. With so many 'officials saying' one is often reminded of other instances in which news describing great menace have been planted on the frontpage of receptive organs for the purpose of frightening Congressmen, the President's advisers, or industry -- to soften them up for the more strict implementation of new security measures. Or simply for the sake of creating the impression that the current administration is not doing enough to protect Americans from catastrophe.

The reader is left with a few handy rules of thumb. Is it all true? Is only some of it true? Or is it all exaggeration? One again employs the yardstick of describing it as a collection of things both interesting and true, except that the interesting parts are most certainly not true and the true parts are, in all probability, not interesting. And it's pointless, even impossible, to sort it all out because such stories are precisely engineered to resist validation.

However, a central thesis that agents from Russia and China are on the prowl within our networks is a common one. And they are always involved in something particularly menacing. The Department of Defense often names these chimerical happenings, and one of the more famous ones was dubbed Moonlight Maze.

Again, using the Wayback Machine, one quotes from
an essay
on the infowar and virus hysteria debunking website VMYTHS:

"Since 1999, all -- and Vmyths.com does mean all stories about Moonlight Maze have been characterized by their reliance upon gossip and speculation; their complete lack of precise definition in the who, what and where categories (often rationalized by their existence as classified matters for discussion only behind closed doors); repetition, a preponderance of anonymous sources speculating or expostulating for journalists and screechy, florid claims about the dire consequences for national security."

(You can even download an old humorous MP3 DD made to accompany the essay!)

A larger issue -- much larger than any theoretical threat posed by notional Chinese and Russian cyberspies -- is the one in which we have a press that continually flogs such stories into the mainstream. That is, in a country beset with countless tangible problems, it chooses to continue to allow itself, even enjoys, being a conduit for 'news' which suspiciously appears to be engineered by only a few sources. And these sources are allowed, even encouraged, to go about planting things because they know they will never be called to book for it and because the stories, outrageous as they are, guarantee eyeballs.
TEXAS DOMESTIC SPYING OPERATION RELIANT ON FOX NEWS & NET GOSSIP

"Who were these Osama bin Lobbyists who had convinced Americans to support terrorism?" reads a recent investigative piece at the Texas Observer.

"Citing a grab bag of right-wing blogs and news sources, [a] memo lists the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the International Action Center, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism —ANSWER — and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. It also suggests that a class on Islamic finance taught at the Treasury Department 'indicates the possibility that the government hopes to secure recycled petrodollars in exchange for conforming to Shariah economic doctrine.' The memo ends by calling on law enforcement to 'report' the activities of the organizations."

The missive reads like a rant by a paranoid conspiracy nut. In fact, the so-called 'Prevention Awareness Bulletin' is a weekly product of the North Central Texas Fusion System ..."

Unsurprisingly, the Dept. of Homeland Security funds this 'fusion system' -- designed to protect North Texas from terrorism. Fusion system, in this case, means watching Fox News on multiple screens and monitoring right-wing crank blogs, the better to divine who needs to be watched in 2009 America.

"Fusion centers arose amid post-9/11 efforts to get local and state law enforcement involved in anti-terrorism," the article responds.

Los Angeles County has one called the Terrorism Early Warning Center. Like its North Texan relative, its investigators who do many things (presumably some of them useful) and are tied to local police forces, apparently drag the Internet for subversive elements, too. In news reports members of it, peculiarly ex-military men with special forces training, have been implicated in shady dealings. (Sample stand-out mail from anonymous vanity-crawling member: "I find your blog a waste even in the infinite space of the world wide web. I hope that some radical muslim finds you and slices your throat. Then you may actually believe the threat exists in your very backyard ... ")

Terror analysis fusion centers operate outside oversight and transparency. No real regulations exist to deal with the proliferation of them, explains the Observer article.

"Two highly placed sources in the Texas criminal intelligence and fusion communities say the North Texas center is less a cutting-edge than a butt of jokes," the article concludes at one point.

"Dr. Bob's Terror Shop" is recommended. See it here.

Monday, April 06, 2009

PART TWO: AN ENDLESS BOUNTY OF EMP CRAZIES

The second category of crazy associated with electromagnetic pulse doom lobby is filled with 'experts' who believe electromagnetic pulse weapons can be easily made from stuff cadged at Radio Shack. (Well, not quite, but for the sake of this post, the demographic extends into this domain of consumer electronic store junk.)

"Electromagnetic pulse weapons capable of frying the electronics in civil airliners can be built using information and components available on the net, warn counterterrorism analysts," reads a very recent piece of EMP crazy emission at the New Scientist. (If you saw it originally, readers will note the other 'most read' story on the site -- how masturbation might protect one from hay fever, certainly puts the entire matter in proper perspective.)

Written for decades -- the original electromagnetic pulse gun stories date from at least as early as 1994 -- this flavor always has one thing of note: EMP rayguns are easy to make from plans found on the web and materials available in every town.

The New Scientist story obfuscates this cliche only slightly. Instead of using the word 'easy,' practical synonyms are employed.

"[An 'expert'] told delegates at the annual Directed Energy Weapons conference in London last month that ... basic EMP generators can be built from descriptions available online, using components found in devices such as digital cameras," reads New Scientist. "These are technologically unchallenging to build and most of the information necessary is available," she said.

The article's conclusion: "All it would take to bring a plane down would be a single but highly energetic microwave radio pulse blasted from a device inside a plane, or on the ground and trained at an aircraft coming in to land."

Forget peroxide bombs, shoe bombs, and off-the-shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles: EMP rayguns near LAX or SEATAC are the new threat.

To get a handle on the numbing character, as well as the fiction-fueled mania, surrounding non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapons, it's again necessary to visit the WayBack Machine and the archives of DD's old Crypt Newsletter.

"Talk of the secret electromagnetic pulse bomb was mythology as news, taking on a uniquely American demented quality," wrote Crypt News in a syndicated feature published around the beginning of the second war in Iraq, the one we're still in.

"No other single weapon -- real or imagined -- rivaled its power for sensation. In fact, in a nation where photographs of all weapons, no matter how trivial, are either officially distributed by the Department of Defense or leaked to the public, it was simply astonishing that absolutely none existed of the e-bomb.

"Bubbling over with excitement at something they'd never seen, the media mused openly on a wondrous capacity to destroy the Iraqi military without harming people. How the bomb would stop soldiers with old-fashioned artillery, automatic weapons, or tanks was nowhere to be seen. And guerrilla warfare was completely off the radar.

"Instead, the U.S. media furnished hyperventilated comment on the wonder bomb, exclamations suitable for Hollywood script.

"' Kabammy! A huge electronic wave comes along and sends out a few thousand volts," blared one newspaper. '. . . like man-made lightning bolts!' crowed another. Weeeee! Watch out Iraq, said the American buffoon corps, it's the e-bomb.

"Reporters certainly believed this copy. As non-embedded journalists moved into Baghdad in the days prior to hostilities, editors contacted military analysts asking for advice on how to e-bomb-proof the electronic tools of the profession. Would cell phones survive? Could a microwave oven be used as an improvised microwave-proof carrier?"

Readers may have already noted that electromagnetic pulse weapon stories also have another salient feature: The bombs and rayguns are always coming but never quite arriving.

A collection of comment and blurt from various EMP weapon kooks was originally published here in "Calling Victor von Doom."

That piece, from the Crypt Newsletter, cites an original electromagnetic pulse gun story from 1994 in Forbes magazine, one in which hackers are interviewed for their expertise in such things.

The EMP-weapon-used-against-Iraq (this time in the first war) myth was deployed:

"Forbes writer: Have you ever heard of a device that directs magnetic signals at hard disks and can scramble the data?

"Dangerous ex-hackers, in unison: Yes! A HERF [high energy radio frequency] gun.

"Dangerous ex-hacker A: This is my nightmare. $300: a rucksack full of car batteries, a microcapacitor and a directional antenna and I could point it at Oracle . . .

"Dangerous ex-hacker B: We could cook the fourth floor.

"Dangerous ex-hacker A: . . . You could park it in a car and walk away. It's a $300 poor man's nuke . . .

"Dangerous ex-hacker A, on a roll: They were talking about giving these guns to border patrol guards so they can zap Mexican cars as they drive across the border and fry their fuel injection . . .

"Dangerous ex-hacker A, really piling it on: There are only three or four people who know how to build them, and they're really tight lipped . . . We used these in the Persian Gulf. We cooked the radar installation.

"In other parts of the article the "dangerous ex-hackers" discuss the ease of building what purports to be a $300 death ray out of Radio Shack parts and car batteries. In a rare moment of intellectual honesty and self-scrutiny the 'dangerous ex-hackers' admit there are a lot of 'snake oil salesmen' in the computer security business."

A few years later, electromagnetic pulse weapons were the subject of a hearing before the House Joint Economic Committee. A handful of the regular crazies from the EMP lobby were convened to inform congressmen of the grave threat. Perhaps the best testimony was given by Robert Schweitzer, a retired military man with a whopping six Purple Hearts. Schweitzer had also served on Ronald Reagan's National Security Council in 1981.

During the hearing, Schweitzer made contradictory statements during the course of his presentation. At different times he claimed that electromagnetic pulse guns could be made for $800, that they could be made for $35, that they had been used against London banks although he was informed this was a hoax, and such weapons were now capable of disrupting Wall Street.

Schweitzer asked listeners to imagine the danger posed by a truck-mounted electromagnetic pulse gun driving around on Wall Street, catastrophically messing up all the banks and investment firms. (DD thinks this is very finely amusing in 2009, almost fifteen years later.)

" . . . the cost is about $800 to do this," Schweitzer said at one point.

As for knocking out Wall Street, Schweitzer later commented to Congressman Saxton, "[It] can be done with going to RadioShack and buying the components . . . And the prices are from $35 to $200 to buy components and do a number on Wall Street." Schweitzer also alluded to, but did not mention by name, a generic hacker tech catalog that claimed to sell parts and schematics for such a weapon.

Schweitzer added later: "I validated [this]. It isn't just taking rumors or drivel off of the tabloids. These are solid facts that I'm giving you."

Well, whatever. Schweitzer died a few years later, gone to the grave without ever witnessing the advent of the phantom electromagnetic pulse weapon.

The characteristics of notional or reported but not seen electromagnetic pulse guns have always adhered to the tenets described by Irving Langmuir's observations on pathological science -- another way of describing rubbish.

"The maximum effect that is observed is produced by a causative agent of barely detectable intensity, and the magnitude of the effect is substantially independent of the intensity of the cause," observed Langmuir. In a manner of speaking, check.

"The effect is of a magnitude that remains close to the limit of detectability; or, many measurements are necessary because of the very low statistical significance of the results."

Check.

"Claims of great accuracy." See New Scientist, the testimony of Robert Schweitzer, and many others.

"Fantastic theories contrary to experience."

To these can be added: "Proof" defined as regular appearances in newspapers and on the covers of popular magazines but not, somehow, in the real world; plus a handful of 'experts' always claiming that the technology is easy, readily available -- "technologically unchallenging" and generally available on the Internet.

Indeed, for even daring to rehash this DD will receive mail and comment from the EMP crazy lobby.

"I have made an electromagnetic pulse raygun!" someone will write. Why, of course you have, dear sir.

Link to original.
AN ENDLESS BOUNTY OF EMP CRAZIES

New America paranoids have a very special flavor of craziness. It's the belief that the country will be devastated by an electromagnetic pulse attack and that not enough is being done to combat the grave threat.

For over a decade, the paranoia has regularly trickled into movies and television, a plot prop in which the country is tossed back to the time of "The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance" -- its technology destroyed by electromagnetic pulse, and everyone forced to live by their guns and the twin facilities for making the homestead into a bunker and dealing with interlopers and badmen through brute force. (Example of EMP in culture: The most recent big movie featuring electromagnetic pulse doom was the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.)

Electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) attack crazies fall into two main categories. DD will deal with the first -- those who believe enemies are plotting to launch a nuclear bomb actuated EMP attack on the US (think the opening salvo in the WW III movie, The Day After), in this post. The second variety -- those who believe terrorists are about to field electromagnetic pulse rayguns and hand grenades -- will be addressed this afternoon.

Currently, the first contingent is now led by Newt Gingrich, as noted by Jason at Armchair Generalist last week here.

Since at least 2006, Gingrich has flogged the danger of electromagnetic pulse attack in speeches and editorials no one not paid to do so would voluntarily read.

The latest emission from Gingrich (posted at dodgy Newsmax) is part of a hard sell for two things -- a fiction book on electromagnetic pulse attach for which the celebrity pol wrote the introduction, and a push for continued expansion of ballistic missile programs.

"One to three missiles tipped with nuclear weapons and armed to detonate at a high altitude — to achieve the strongest EMP over the greatest area of the United States — would create an EMP 'overlay' that triggers a continent-wide collapse of our entire electrical, transportation, and communications infrastructure ... Within weeks after such an attack, tens of millions of Americans would perish ... We most likely would never recover from the blow," encapsulates it.

Build more ballistic missile defense now! Or buy a copy of the book for which Gingrich wrote the introduction. Called "One Second After," it's a techno-thriller survivalist tale penned by fellow Gingrich EMP crazy, William Forstchen.

"In a Norman Rockwell town in North Carolina, where residents rarely lock homes, retired army colonel John Matherson teaches college, raises two daughters, and grieves the loss of his wife to cancer," reads its Booklist blurb on on Amazon.

"When phones die and cars inexplicably stall, Grandma’s pre-computerized Edsel takes readers to a stunning scene on the car-littered interstate, on which 500 stranded strangers, some with guns, awaken John’s New Jersey street-smart instincts to get the family home and load the shotgun."

It's the result of an electromagnetic pulse attack, throwing the country back to the themes of Liberty Vallance (the Edsel, presumably, is an update of the horsedrawn buggy) with Matherson as strong Tom Doniphon, only he already has the girl locked up and won't be superseded by lawyers and statehood.

"Food becomes scarce, and societal breakdown proceeds with inevitable violence; towns burn, and ex-servicemen recall 'Korea in ’51' as military action by unlikely people becomes the norm in Forstchen’s sad, riveting cautionary tale, the premise of which Newt Gingrich’s foreword says is completely possible," reads the opinion, furnished for about a nickel a word.

"As severe as the global financial crisis now is, it does not pose an existential threat to the U.S," reads another opinion piece from an EMP crazy, published by the Wall Street Journal about five months ago.

"The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have proven how vulnerable we are," it thunders, in case you have been remiss and forgotten to be very afraid.

A freighter from Iran pulls up to the US coast and launches a nuclear-tipped missile over the United States. Electromagnetic pulse attack!

"An EMP attack is not one from which America could recover as we did after Pearl Harbor," it continues. "Such an attack might mean the end of the United States and most likely the Free World."

So build more ballistic missile defense, an industry for which I am a lobbyist, writes the author. Well, no, he didn't write all of that. But the editors should have made him.

Editorials on ballistic missile attack from EMP Crazyville occur regularly, one or two every four to six months.

For another generic example (only the names delivering the script change), DD cites an old piece from the Reg, postdated two year ago:

"No one has done more than Curt Weldon to warn the nation against the potentially 'catastrophic' threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack . . " wrote right-wing arms-trade/national defense pundit Frank Gaffney for the Washington Times.


"[Weldon] has sought another closed-session of the House to apprise his colleagues, who remain largely uninformed of this megathreat, and to rouse them to the sort of decisive action they previously took on missile defense."

A few weeks later, Curt Weldon -- a Congressman from Pennsylvania -- had his political career ended by popular vote.

"The nightmare scenario is this: A rogue nation like North Korea or a stateless terrorist like Bin Laden gets hold of a nuclear weapon and decides not to drive it into a large city but rather to launch it on a Scud-type missile straight into the atmosphere from a barge off the East Coast," read the editorial.

Keep in mind that when talking about electromagnetic attack, anything goes. It's old but immortal Fortress American voodoo, crap - in other words, a threat which can be glued on anyone: teen hackers, Russia, Cuba, China, North Korea, Iran, al Qaeda, even Saddam Hussein and a half dozen enemies we haven't found, like maybe you.

And if someone doesn't have the bomb quite yet, such as Iran, let alone the multi-megaton one to be notionally used to induce a national computer-scorching atmospheric electromagnetic wave, it's no obstacle. Suspend disbelief. Common sense, after all, is a handicap to outside-the-box thinking.



Part Two of An Endless Bounty of EMP Crazies.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

BREAK CONFICKER JOURNALIST ARM


Don't exaggerate. Not joking. Made huge deal of Conficker,
very bad. Step away from the NY Times, face music.


If only Rorschach could have broken John Markoff's arm. Then the Judith Miller of national computer security stories might be made uncomfortable the next time he cranked up for a story of world-spanning disaster and conspiracy. Like Judith Miller had, Markoff has a special knack for turning a collection of lukewarm facts and energizing rumors from a handful of self-serving sources into a story line of potentially world-shaking catastrophe.

(See here and here for all the standard cliches.)

"Will [Conficker] prove to be the world’s biggest April Fool’s joke or is it the information age equivalent of Herman Kahn’s legendary 1962 treatise about nuclear war, Thinking About the Unthinkable?" wondered Markoff, having cake and eating it, too, on March 19th.

However, unlike Judith Miller, Markoff will never be run off the Times reservation. Computer security disasters-in-waiting don't get the same juice as stories about alleged WMD menaces. They're not hot enough to aid in getting the country into a good war lather, even when they make Sunday editions or the front page. That's a good thing, right?

And such stories have features too nebulous -- but also too technical -- for newspaper public editors to unravel. Stories like Conficker (or the world-spanning Ghostnet with its dressed-in-black ready-for-their-agents-to-call sources) can always be described as both interesting and true. Except those parts which are true are not interesting. While those which are interesting are not true. And ninety percent of readers can't tell which is which and couldn't care less.

DD mostly retired from the computer security beat years ago. Over ten years of examination it had boiled down to a great mean of threadbare whoopie cushion news pieces. At least half the rationale for them was titillation and bringing in eyeballs among the tech-savvy crowd.

"[We've] become aware of dramatic new evidence that reporting on [the Conficker] doomsday worm is good for page views," writes Kevin Poulsen at Wired here. Kevin would know. He fired me for writing a column on computer viruses, guilty of the sin of not getting enough hits back when he was editor of SecurityFocus, a website run by the Symantec computer security firm.

So keep this in mind when you're reading the 'Ha-ha' ain't-it-funny after-action stories: They're fundamentally designed to have their cake and eat it, too. Just in case. Gotta keep those eyeballs glued, hits and 'most e-mailed' tickers up.

This is just the American way. More fool you if you can't abide it. If you can't get on the wagon, suffer.

On a bit of a different tack, what's history for if you can't mine it for the nose gold of repetition?

To that end, DD departs from Conficker today for some yesterdays, when the declarations and sentiments were similar, if not the scale of media penetration.

And it was captured on the old homepage of my Crypt Newsletter, now preserved in the Wayback machine here.

What follows is a collection of famous obscure quotes, all generated when I edited the Crypt Newsletter, undimmed by the passage of time. Many of them appeared in newspapers, often in foreign lands or buried in sections no one read on the great march to the glorious future.



"Imagine a world in which everything is done with the diligence exhibited by those who are developing network architectures and software ... It would be a world where teenage boys seated at computers can contaminate everything simply by bringing to bear the intellectual power necessary to read a comic book.

"You'd have to grow your own food. Going outside the house would be impossible because you'd be continuously hit by paintballs and rolls of sodden toilet paper. Your car would have its wiring disappear, eaten by cybernetic rats. Your grass would die because someone would constantly be spraying dog piss on it and the police would decline to intervene. You wouldn't be able to hold a phone conversation because strangers would always be shouting 'undeliverable mail,' 'hi,' 'your bill,' 'your account,' 'see attached document,' 'thanks,' 'look at this,' 'here is the information you requested,' 'you have sent a virus,' and so on."




"We are stuck with the regime that we have in which software has to be serially patched. We can't go back now and fix it."

From the Guardian in 2003 --here.



John Markoff disaster robot working as tech journalist explained

Big Gov Network Pretty OK! Modest admin shuns limelight -- [that] isn't a story an editor can dig. However, anyone even slightly capable of self-examination will admit to feeling a pleasant surge of anticipation at merely the possibility of: "Net Destroyed by Worm! Nation paralyzed, communications down to runners."

The galvanizing aspect of pleasure should not be minimized.

It's fun to get caught up in the chase of disaster. Passing on official fictions seasoned with anecdotal accounts of pandemic human screw-up salted with the infrequent loquacious virus-writer or hacker eager to play the part of pitiful but sinister freak (the porn-obsessed virus-writer, hackers thought to have Asperger's Syndrome) always lands above the fold, is guaranteed high transfer in mailing lists, and spawns same-day copycat journalism. Tales which lack these ingredients don't.

From el Reg, in 2002 -- here.



A very special rib-tickler, in light of current events

"We know with specificity of several nations that are working on developing an information warfare capability," said [CIA director George Tenet], declining to specify them.

"It is clear that nations . . . developing these programs recognize the value of attacking a country's computer systems both on the battlefield and in the civilian arena," said the CIA leader.

Quoting from a newspaper article in China's People's Liberation Daily, Tenet said: "An adversary wishing to destroy the United States only has to mess up the computer systems of its banks by high-tech means ... "If we overlook [information warfare] and simply rely on the building of a costly army ... it is just as good [or not so good] as building a contemporary Maginot Line . . . "

From sometime in 2000 -- here.
THREE MILE ISLAND VINYL NOSTALGIA



Potter County Was Made by the Hand of God But the Devil Made Three Mile Island is a mouthful of a title. The song, recorded by Pennsy Dutch hillbilly musician and radio personality Al Shade in 1979, is the feature piece in an entertaining posting a couple days ago on the Bona Fide Records blog out of Red Lion, PA.

For the 30th anniversary (or thereabouts) of the TMI incident, Bona Fide CEO Rick Noll runs through the novelty vinyl records published locally in the wake of it.

"Well, just in case you weren't around back then, here in Central PA we were terrified that we'd be swallowed by a huge cloud of radioactive gas as soon as the reactor blew," writes Rick. "Well, that never happened, but a huge cloud of gas did erupt from the populace by way of several ambitious attempts to tell the story in a musical format."

Chief among these was Al Shade's single, the best part of which was the sleeve art showing a tractor with a robot arm, presumably driven by a Mexican or 'Rican with his head poking out the smokestack, pouring a bottle of irradiated milk into the Susquehanna River, also off limits.

"Using all the tricks in his book (except for yodeling and the Pennsylvania Dutch ABC's) Al crowbars his two favorite topics, Jesus and Potter County, into a tuneless ditty," writes Noll, who then goes into its lyrical content, or lack of it, here.

"[Al Shade] wrote and recorded a song called 'Three Mile Island' that was aired on the network newscast hosted by David Brinkley in 1979," claims one Internet biography listing his most popular songs. These included Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Jesus Cares, and My Potter County Mountain Home -- delivering the subjects Shade sang of so frequently: Potter County, places he loved, the Lord and himself. Hey, write what you know, it's said.

However, apparently it's Gary Punch & the Outriders who deliver the best tune, Goodbye TMI, apparently "[delivering] a knockout blow in the tradition of topical songs like Blowin' In the Wind and Eve Of Destruction."

The article even makes spirited use of baseball-capped Pennsyltucky heevahava man!