Saturday, January 30, 2010

SLUDGE IN THE 70'S

That was the name of my Saturday radio show at Lehigh University. This is what it often sounded like, minus the vids.



The best videotape of Foghat on the Web. Period. It captures precisely what Foghat was in 1973 -- flattening. Listen to the vulgar display of storming brute power. No one dared follow Foghat onstage. Absolutely no one, I tell ya! Would you?

And they don't even look bad. This looks to date from the tour in support of Rock 'n' Roll Outlaws. I saw 'em a lot. It's what they wore. I swear. Foghat left a smokey burnout on my head.



One in the style of home-made video bootlegs common on YouTube. The nicest kind of fan work.



J. Geils Band in 1979 on/at Rockpalast in Germany. Like Ten Years Later earlier today, you can't fault the Germans on their ear and eye for hard rock quality.



Steve Marriot owned a number of the patents to cock rock. This is a great performance of a good tune, the best tune actually, from Thunderbox in '74.

The rest of the album wasn't nearly as swaggering.



Contrary to popular belief, Peter Frampton could do cock rock. He didn't always look or sound like a little delicate fellow every girl could love. He once performed frightening-to-girls heavy music. This is one of those songs, "4 Day Creep," originally performed when he was in Humble Pie.
BAD RIFF-RAFF & PARANOIDS

The United States has a large privileged class of professional cullions, the purpose of which is to spout off and babble on multifarious global menaces always said to be threatening the country's existence. These menaces need only have the most tenuous existence in reality or not have any connection to reality at all. Most important, said menaces are never considered with any sense of proportion.

Consider these people the worst kind of pseudo-educated riff-raff and paranoids, useless in reality, a class with no idea about what's actually going on in their country, but flunkymen for always increasing military and national security contracting.

The next news piece is cherry-picked for its perfect stenography of their ludicrous posturings, on display at the Conference on National Security Strategy and Policy held by the "Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy."

Burma and Venezuela to become threatening nuclear nation-states

"The global security landscape in the 21st century is also likely to be marked by the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by both nation states and non-nation states," said someone named Robert G. Joseph, senior scholar at the National Institute for Public Policy. "It’s fair to say that the trend is not positive ... In addition, there are other states hostile to the United States that may seek to acquire nuclear weapons: Syria, Burma and Venezuela."

The dirty tricky yellow Chinese meme

Told with a straight face while we're selling six and a half billion dollars in weapons to Taiwan. This takes some gall even for a country as wracked by hypocrisy and dysfunction as the US.

"By 2015, China is projected to have in excess of 100 nuclear-armed missiles."

"[The Federation of American Scientists] estimates that the [US nuclear] stockpile will decline from approximately 9,938 warheads today to approximately 5,047 warheads by the end of 2012," it says here.

"Approximately half of the warheads in the 2012 stockpile will be active and ready to launch on relatively short notice," continues FAS. "This indicates that US nuclear posture planning 17 years after the end of the Cold War is still dominated by a nuclear warfighting mentality."

Wow, one hundred Chinese nuclear-armed missiles! How dare they!?

"China’s search for asymmetrical advantages also places great emphasis on perceived U.S. vulnerabilities in space and cyberspace," said USAF General Robert Kehler, head of Air Force Space Command.

It is looking like they are developing "the capability for electromagnetic pulse warfare."

But this is all, perhaps, a trick by the cagey Chinaman.

"Kehler noted that while much attention has been paid to China’s 2007 test of a kinetic anti-satellite weapon, it may have been an attempt to distract the United States from more pressing Chinese threats in the cyber domain ... 'For those of us who have children, remember when you would take the kids to the doctor for shots when they were little? The doctor would always have a blue bear that they would hold up, and the kid would look up and then they’d give the shot. I’m not so sure the direct ascent [antisatellite weapon] isn’t the blue bear."

Failed state

New definition: One of the symptoms of a failed state is when the people of the failed state can't tell when they're responsible for some other nation's problem with erupting violence.

"Richard Shultz, director of the Fletcher School’s international security studies program ... cited Iraq in 2003 as an example of a weak state. With the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the United States was not prepared to deal with the sectarian violence that emerged ..."

Only a career ticket-puncher in the national security infrastructure would purposely forget to add the part about the US launching an unjust war under fraudulent circumstances, smashing the government and infrastructure of Iraq, transforming it into a 'weak state' in which "sectarian violence emerged ..."

The original is here. Crikey, it must be depressing to have to regularly attend these things if you're not in on the take.
GONE HOME



Ten Years Later -- really, no one said he never had a sense of humor -- and Alvin Lee's still wearing hippie denim bellbottoms.

Best example one can find of every Elvis imitation and rock 'n' roll guitar lick worth playing in ten minutes backed by a relentless thumping beat.

This won't work for ya if you don't play it loud in the cans. Dig that microphone solo! Look at that cool cat go!

Friday, January 29, 2010

FAILED STATE


For a mere couple dollars more one can have Smirnoff Ice or Mojitos. Taste's better, still sedating!

"Blame our political culture instead, a culture that rewards hypocrisy and irresponsibility rather than serious efforts to solve America’s problems. And blame the filibuster, under which 41 senators can make the country ungovernable, if they choose — and they have so chosen.

"I’m sorry to say this, but the state of the union — not the speech, but the thing itself — isn’t looking very good."

Here.

In other words, it's exactly like Sacramento, California.

One exception. California isn't the biggest banana republic with the world's most gynormous military.

Back to our scheduled programming later: Bioterror Fear, Better Off Ted, Manchurian Threat and Menace, who knows what else is in store ...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

ELECTRONIC PEARL HARBOR GAMES UNTIL NAUSEA

Call reporters at really important newspapers for the dosage:

Monday morning earlier this month, top Pentagon leaders gathered to simulate how they would respond to a sophisticated cyberattack aimed at paralyzing the nation’s power grids, its communications systems or its financial networks.

The results were dispiriting. The enemy had all the advantages: stealth, anonymity and unpredictability. No one could pinpoint the country from which the attack came, so there was no effective way to deter further damage by threatening retaliation. What’s more, the military commanders noted that they even lacked the legal authority to respond — especially because it was never clear if the attack was an act of vandalism, an attempt at commercial theft or a state-sponsored effort to cripple the United States, perhaps as a prelude to a conventional war.

What some participants in the simulation knew — and others did not — was that a version of their nightmare had just played out in real life, not at the Pentagon where they were meeting, but in the far less formal war rooms at Google Inc. Computers at Google and more than 30 other companies had been penetrated, and Google’s software engineers quickly tracked the source of the attack to seven servers in Taiwan, with footprints back to the Chinese mainland.


Wow, who wrote that?

John Markoff et al at the New York Times this week here.

In round one, the cyberterrorists took the 911 server down, and Harbortownians got busy signals and hang-ups instead of emergency operators. Obvious virus emails with the subject line "Download this file" arrived in my inbox. Electronic highway signs suddenly read BIOTERROR EVACUATION WARNING. A posting appeared on the city's Web site warning of a bioterror incident at the local mall. We eventually realized it was a hoax – but not before evacuating the mall. Annoying, but not worth creating a new military-industrial complex over.

Then the terrorists took the conversation offline. In round two, a couple of trucks exploded near a basketball arena. The blasts killed 100 people, injured several hundred, and destroyed the police command post, taking radio communications with it. Traffic, snarled after the mall bioterror scare, got even worse.

In round three, the hospital lost power, with only enough fuel to run backup generators for 48 hours. The police chief and the mayor started bickering over whether to implement a curfew and travel restrictions, and the city's Web site unaccountably declared a mass evacuation. Two nursing homes lost power, and patients at the hospital started dying mysteriously.

The game couldn't end soon enough. I don't think we won.


Wow, who wrote that? Some lower upper-tier journalist, Chris Suellentrop, for Wired way back in 2006.

It merited a takedown at el Reg:

In any case, what [the participant in the exercise] doesn't seem to realize, at least he gives no inkling in his writing, is that all such simulations, when run for journalists or officials, are rigged so the participants can't win.

Such things are role-playing games, and if you take part in one, your role is to be the patsy, one of the designated players allowed to go "Oh my!" as the simulation's world comes crashing down around you.

Dick Destiny won't go into it, but it hasn't seen one yet where the object wasn't to simply create an escalating disaster that flummoxed players, no matter what they did. They never take into account the natural resilience and expertise which may exist within the citizenry.


That was here in "Cyberterror sim scares pants off of Wired smarty."

I always liked that title.

That's been two hours you've been unable to get on-line now. So much for always-on, you think, as you go to fill the kettle. You turn the tap and - nothing, there's no water. And that's when the lights go out. Now the phone line is down, too. There's always the mobile - but why is it dialling 999 all by itself?

From the Guardian in 2003 here.

How exciting! How daring it is to write about the possibility of the end of everything from digital attack! It just sings its way off the page.

Code-named 'Cyber Storm II,' this is the largest-ever exercise designed to evaluate the mettle of information technology experts and incident response teams from 18 federal agencies, including the CIA, Department of Defense, FBI, and NSA, as well as officials from nine states, including Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In addition, more than 40 companies will be playing, including Cisco Systems, Dow Chemical, McAfee, and Microsoft.

In the inaugural Cyber Storm two years ago, planners simulated attacks against the communications and information technology sector, as well as the energy and airline industries. This year's exercise will feature mock attacks by nation states, terrorists and saboteurs against the IT and communications sector and the chemical, pipeline and rail transportation industries.

"The exercises really are designed to push the envelope and take your failover and backup plans and shred them to pieces," said Carl Banzhof, chief technology evangelist at McAfee and a cyber warrior in the 2006 exercise.

Cyber Storm planners say they intend to throw a simulated Internet outage into this year's exercise, but beyond that they are holding their war game playbooks close to the vest.

Individuals who helped plan the scenarios all have signed non-disclosure agreements about the details of the planned attacks. They will act as puppeteers apart from the participants ...


That was here.

In 2002, there was this by one of the coiners of devastating cyberwar scenarios, Richard Clarke:

A mock cyberwar enacted by faculty of the US Naval War College and analysts from Gartner does not appear to have fulfilled the Clancyesque predictions of mass devastation envisioned by the leading security paranoiacs of the Clinton and Bush Administrations.

The exercise, named "Digital Pearl Harbor," apparently in tribute to US CyberSecurity Czar and Chief Alarmist Richard Clarke, brought together a team of experts in several areas related to critical infrastructure for a three-day hackfest.

The red teams were divided into telecomms, Internet, electric power and finance sub-groups. To make the exercise as realistic as possible, the popular Hollywood and National Security Council cliches of brilliant geek-misfits wreaking mass mayhem from some deluxe hobbyist dungeon was abandoned. Instead, the attackers came from the upper levels of the tech world: engineers, programmers, mathematicians, many with PhD degrees and decades of practical experience to their credit.


It concluded:

To sum up, the Naval War College's Craig Koerner pointed to the need for "synergies" in making the attacks interoperable, hence feasible. For example, the group would likely attack the Internet last to preserve it for other, continuing attacks. He pointed out that while local attacks are possible, it's virtually impossible to bring off any lasting, nationwide horror. The stereotypical scenario of a crew of hackers bringing down the national infrastructure is quite ludicrous, despite the apparently perjured testimony before numerous Congressional Committees ...

Ah, say readers, I smell a whiff of DD's meddling in that. Yes, I'd been sending articles on the subject to the author -- at el Reg -- as far back as 2002.

And the entire piece is here.

As for Richard Clarke, he became even more famous, did not win an election for John Kerry by appearing on 60 Minutes to embarrass the Bush administration, and in 2007 recycled his cyberwargames into a novel, Breakpoint.

It's called synergizing.

For Breakpoint, Clarke returns to his cyberczar roots. But in this story, someone gets to do something about the digital mayhem, not just scream "electronic Pearl Harbor," make policy recommendations no one listens to and be keynote speaker at security conventions.

Clarke supplies a team of outside-the-bureaucracy do-gooders: a dauntless central heroine, one NYPD cop for muscle and one hacker, a nebbish named Soxster. Soxter's purpose is to be the magic wand, no more and no less. Whenever there are villains to be traced, or information needed when the group is against the wall in the race against the terror clock, Soxter furnishes both so the story may proceed.

Naturally, the US government is delinquent and ineffective. Clarke refers to the FBI as either feebs or fibbies.

[Finally], the power is cut off to half the nation.


A review of the book containing these passages is here. At el Reg.

Eligible Receiver is the code name of a 1997 internal exercise initiated by the Department of Defense. A "red team" of hackers from the National Security Agency (NSA) was organized to infiltrate the Pentagon systems. The red team was only allowed to use publicly available computer equipment and hacking software. Although many details about Eligible Receiver are still classified, it is known that the red team was able to infiltrate and take control of the Pacific command center computers, as well as power grids and 911 systems in nine major U.S. cities.

Here.

On the same page, an old assistant secretary of defense for the Clinton administration, John Hamre, who had been one of the early big bell-ringers for cyberwar, expresses doubts about ... well, Eligible Receiver-like stuff.

Terrorists are after the shock effect of their actions, and it's very hard to see the shock effect when you can't get your ATM machine to give you $20. When we had this last worm or whatever it was, I went down to the bank, tried to get money out of the ATM machine, and I couldn't get any money out. Well, it was frustrating to me personally, but it doesn't translate in the same way that flying an airplane into a building does ...

This was in 2003 for PBS Frontline, years after a career in the Pentagon where he'd done just the opposite -- been a fugleman for predictions of nation-busting cyberwar.

For the PBS interview, it was a bit like seeing the town whore suddenly signing up for seminars delivered by the Church Universal and Triumphant. One couldn't help but be impressed by the change while at the same time wondering how long it would actually last.

Now if it's possible, for example, to have rolling blackouts in entire cities, that, of course, does have more potential implications. That was much more likely four and five years ago. But in all honesty, I think we've done a lot to warn ourselves about this. In almost every one of these people that run big utilities, there's always some guy in the back that knows how to turn off the computer and turn on the electricity again.

Said Hamre in 2002 here.

"John J. Hamre (born July 3, 1950 in Watertown, South Dakota) is a specialist in international studies, a former Washington bureaucrat and the current president and CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a position he has held with that think tank since April 2000," says his Wiki bio here.

Remember my metaphor concerning the town whore signing up for the Church Universal and Triumphant.

How long would it last?

Oh, only a few years. Now the Center for Strategic and International Studies is one of the head floggers inside the cult of cyberwar.





Not much on the Paller-Scope today.

Alan Paller, director of research at the Sans Institute, has warned most commercial security tools are ineffective against these attacks and businesses need ... -- Computerweekly

The attacks on Google confirm the threat of pervasive and sophisticated espionage attacks on all organisations, said Alan Paller, director of research at Sans ... -- Ibid.




Cult of Cyberwar -- from the archives.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

THE BUSTED WATCH OF US WMD THREAT ASSESSMENT: More evidence

Readers of this blog and my various articles on bioterrorism, chemical terrorism and the London ricin trial over the last few years know the strong scent of intellectual bankruptcy which accompanies statements on the same from the US government.

Today we have a slim report by retired CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, now a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government.

"[Mowatt-Larssen] provides a detailed chronology of relentless efforts by Al Qaeda from 1988 to 2003 to get and use chemical and biological weapons including ricin and anthrax, and, most worrying, nuclear weapons," reports a Boston Globe piece on the thing. "Most of the details he cites have been reported before, but Mowatt-Larssen assembles the evidence in a fashion that leaves little doubt that Al Qaeda operatives would not hesitate to launch attacks that could kill tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans if they could pull off such an attack."

Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist immediately issues this takedown:

Actually, there's a lot of doubt that al Qaeda would have the talent, opportunity, and skills to develop NBC weapons into a capability that would cause any level of mass casualties, and again, I'd say read the report - it pretty much explains itself. First of all, the foreword was written by Graham Allison, and if there's ever been someone who exaggerated the potential for nuclear terrorism, he's the one I would pick. The report covers 1988-2003, a broad spectrum of time, but certainly not reflective of what al Qaeda could do today. Still, it's illustrative by its examples.

You find the famous bin Laden 1998 quote about WMDs, references from George "slam dunk" Tenet's book on al Qaeda intentions and actions in the desert, meetings between Muslim scientists and suppliers, statements by terrorists that were obtained under "interrogations," and yes, even Jose Padilla's "dirty bomb" - a charge which people may remember the US government dropped because it had no evidence on this point. And no discussion about AQ would be complete without the "mobtaker" device that never really emerged in any plot against the West. That is to say, we have a collection of weak evidence of intent without any feasible capability and zero WMD incidents - over a period of fifteen years ...


Paradoxically, Mowatt-Larssen writes this at the beginning of his report:

Yet WMD-skeptics abound, and for understandable reasons. There is widespread suspicion in America and abroad that WMD terrorism is another phony threat being hyped for political purposes, and to stoke fears among the public. It is difficult to debunk this allegation, given the US's lack of credibility in the case of Iraqi WMD.

On page 4 of 32, before Mowatt-Larssen 'fesses up on the issue, Graham Allison, the author of the report's introduction writes:

"Skeptics, however, abound."

He adds, somewhat defensively: "The individual in the intelligence community who is widely recognized as the leading analyst of WMD-terrorism is Rolf Mowatt-Larssen."

At this juncture and depending on one's point-of-view, this can be interpreted as a Freudian slur or a recommendation. In any case, half a decade ago to see two such identical concessions on the reality of the WMD argument would have been highly unlikely.

It is a sign of progress and a thing which cannot be credited to the US government or its intel and threat assessment functions.

But now down to brass tacks.

Mowatt-Larssen covers the famous "London ricin cell" and gets everything about it wrong.

Perhaps this is not so surprising.

After all, the US government had it all wrong in 2003 as did Colin Powell in his infamous presentation to the UN Security Council. And the truth was not made known in Britain until the trial of Kamel Bourgass in 2004-2005. This was not astutely covered in the mainstream US press, partly because the news was unwelcome -- that there was no London ricin ring, among other things -- at a time when it was still considered really bad form to doubt US claims having to do with al Qaeda's links to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"This highly publicized reporting, including the shooting death of a London policeman in a raid on a terrorist safehouse, represented the front edge of a wave of arrests in the United Kingdom ... The arrests confirm the reliability of intelligence reporting and produce forensic evidence of crude poisons and toxin-related attack planning," Mowatt-Larssen says.

"Seven extremists are arrested in the 'UK ricin plot,' the Zarqawi network's effort to use ricin poison on the London underground."

On the reliability of intelligence reporting, let's take a look back at the news reporting on the murder of the policeman, Stephen Oake, by Kamel Bourgass, who was eventually convicted of the crime.

"The murdered officer, who was stabbed in the chest, was named early today as 40-year-old Special Branch detective constable Stephen Oake, a married father of three," reported the Times of London.

"He died at North Manchester General Hospital after receiving emergency treatment at the scene of the raid. His father is Robin Oake, the former Chief Constable of the Isle of Man.

"The murdered officer and his colleagues were members of Greater Manchester Police.

The news appeared in virtually every newspaper in the United Kingdom. But perhaps the CIA does not read or doublecheck stories in English newspapers. Mowatt-Larssen's report footnotes the item as being from George 'slam dunk' Tenet's book. As far as effort goes, this is a pretty slack error.

Continuing right along, the arrests Mowatt-Larssen says, "produce forensic evidence of crude poisons ..."

To inform on this, it's necessary to quote extensively from material published at GlobalSecurity.Org in 2005, information gained because I was consulted by a representative for the defense during the course of the alleged ricin ring's trial.

The trial of the infamous "UK poison cell," a group portrayed by Secretary of State Powell as al Qaida-associated operatives plotting to launch ricin attacks in the United Kingdom and in league with Muhamad al Zarqawi in Iraq, found nothing of the sort. The jury did find "the UK poison cell," known as Kamel Bourgass and others ... [specifically the others] not guilty of conspiracy to murder by plotting ricin attacks and, generally speaking, not guilty of conspiracy to do anything. Kamel Bourgass had been previously convicted of murder of a British policeman in an unpublicized trial.

Months earlier and behind the scenes, the British government had seen its claims, that the group had the capability to produce ricin and that materials on a ricin recipe found in their belongings could be linked to al Qaida, rupture. And equally startling, it was confirmed that a preliminary positive finding of the poison in a residue tested in a raid on their apartment in Wood Green in January of 2003 was false but that through bureaucratic bungling, just the opposite news was presented to British authorities.

Two days after the January 5th 2003 search of the Wood Green "poison cell" flat, and well before the outbreak of war with Iraq, the chief scientist advising British anti-terrorism authorities, Martin Pearce -- leader of the Biological Weapon Identification Group at Porton Down, had finished lab tests which indicated the ricin finding was a false positive. "Subsequent confirmatory tests on the material from the pestle and mortar did not detect the presence of ricin. It is my opinion therefore that toxins are not detectable in the pestle and mortar," wrote Pearce in one document.

But in an astonishing example of sheer incompetence, another employee at Porton Down charged with passing on to British authorities the information that the preliminary finding of ricin was in error, turned around and did the opposite, informing that ricin had indeed been detected.


The original, at GlobalSecurity.Org, is here.

Through bureaucratic bumbling, something Mr. Justice Penry-Davey made quite clear to the jury during the original trial in the Old Bailey, Andrew Gould, an emissary from Porton Down charged with delivering the results, reported just the opposite. The official result was that the public was misled. For practical purposes, the error was not corrected until the end of trial, two years after the original arrests of the alleged Wood Green ricin ring.

The ricin trial resulted in the jury exoneration of everyone but Kamel Bourgass. And a subsequent trial, which was to be held dependent on the results and evidence produced in the first, was cancelled.

Continuing:

GlobalSecurity.Org was appraised of the findings and materials secured at the Wood Green apartment.

These included:

A coffee grinder which was assayed for biological poisons. None were found. It did contain a bit of brown powder. The defendants apparently drank coffee.

In fact, no traces of biological or chemical weapons were detected in the apartment.

Martin Pearce, the Porton Down scientist who accompanied the anti-terrorism team on the Wood Green raid noted items of potential interest to include, toiletries, a common funnel, two scales, bottles of acetone and some rubber gloves.

Twenty-two intact castor seeds were recovered. Twenty-one were found in a jewelry case along with one other in an unspecified location within the Wood Green apartment. Castor seeds, as has been written many times, contain ricin and are easy to secure. A large number of "pips," apple seeds, were found in cups and a weighing pan. Spice was also seized, a jar of kalonji black onion seed.

However, widespread declarations in January of 2003 and continuing to the present -- official as well as unofficial -- that the Wood Green apartment was a working ricin laboratory were hasty and poorly informed.

The "UK poison cell" defendants were on trial for six months. In the British anti-terror sweep that netted them there were 90 arrests.


Outside of Kamel Bourgass, there were no convictions. And it subsequently came out that a confession, later recanted, had informed the UK government's intelligence and that the defendants in the ricin trial had been picked up for being the wrong religion and in the wrong place at the wrong time -- associated with the UK government informant -- Mohammed Meguerba.

The defense acted from the standpoint that Meguerba had been tortured during the delivery of the confession from a jail in Algeria. And my understanding was that after an extended wrangle, it was determined that the UK government would not be able to bring him as a source of evidence for the trial. At that point, the prosecution was irrevocably damaged.

Mowatt-Larssen writes there was a plot "to use ricin poison on the London underground."

The plan was actually to smear poisonous stuff on door handles in the Holloway Road.

This, too, was published in many UK newspapers, items someone would appear to have paid no mind to. Even though it was true.

Ricin is not a contact poison and expert testimony said this was so during the trial, another piece of evidence building the case that the plans of Kamel Bourgass were all wet.


Castor seeds in the jewelry tin. WMD?

It is worth returning to Mowatt-Larssen's comment on skeptics with regards to al Qaeda's alleged capability, or lack of it, with WMDs.

The disaster that was the London ricin trial, and the truths which emerged from it, soured a great many in the United Kingdom on the statements of its ally, the United States. The US government had pressed hard with talk about the ricin ring and al Qaeda, as it had about many things subsequently proven to be wrong with regards to terrorism and the war in Iraq. It is safe to say that it contributed to the belief among many there that the US government was full of it, something not altogether true, but now seen as a reasonable opinion.

It's certainly a shame to read in 2010 the same really old shabby cant about something one knows well, delivered by someone formerly with the CIA, given print space because of reasons having to do with bowing to arguments from authority.

"Prior to his appointment as a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, Mr. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen served for three years as the Director of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence at the US Dept. of Energy," reads the man's biography at the end of the report. "Prior to this, he served for 23 years as a CIA intelligence officer in various domestic and international posts, to include Chief of the Europe Division in the Directorate of Operations, Chief of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Department ..."




On the London ricin trial, at GlobalSecurity:

UK Terror Trial Finds No Terror here.

More UK Terror Trial here.

Poison recipe evidence from the UK ricin trial here.




Keywords: Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?

Monday, January 25, 2010

NFL


Good news, lads! Good news! I just heard the President's State of the Union address is going to be as convincingly populist and lunch pail middle class as this photo of him drinking beer in Bethlehem ... with a bunch of women. He's right on track to eclipse the accomplishment of Herbert Hoover.

From the Dept. of Things Now Fuxored Up Beyond Unfuxoring.

Didn't get the title? Just click here!
AL QAEDA WANTS THE BOTOX -- Another WaPo bioterror scare story

Today reporter Joby Warrick and the Washington Post place the whoopie cushion on the chair for another story about how easy it is to make the most poisonous thing in the world -- botulinum toxin -- and how al Qaeda wants it and might be able to buy it from counterfeiters. In places like ... China!

"The Washington Post recently sought to locate three Chinese firms that offered cut-rate Botox over the Web, only to find empty lots and dead ends," the newspaper reported glumly here.

Oh, rats! The Chinese did not make teh botox that could be bought by al Qaeda!

"We know al-Qaeda has talked about going after food supplies in the United States," [an anonymous official source] told the Post. "There are new reasons to be concerned about what they're going to target next."

Periodically during the war on terror, various people have placed stories in the mainstream newsmedia on the ease of making botulinum toxin and what al Qaeda would do with it.

There are two notorious examples, one which comes -- unsurprisingly -- from the Washington Post.


Image reproduction of al Qaeda 'easy to make' botulinum toxin from a Sunday edition of the Washington Post a few years ago.

The above snapshot comes from a Washington Post story in 2005 entitled "Terrorists Turn to the Web as Base of Operations."

As part of the story, Post reporters tried to pass off the idea that terrorists could make dangerous agents like plague from documents cadged off websites run by jihadis. The above snapshot, which purports to show how to easily make botox was one of the newspaper's illustrative examples. It was rubbish and it was debunked -- by DD -- in the Federation of Scientist's Secrecy Bulletin here.

"Unfortunately, the Post did not critically examine the materials that it presented," it reads.

Also in 2005, the New York Times opinion page attempted to present the idea, flogged by a scientist who was publishing a paper on the subject in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, that terrorists could contaminate almost the entire US milk supply with easily made botulinum toxin.

"On May 30, the New York Times published a guest editorial that described a potential attack on the nation's milk supply by a terrorist armed with a gallon jug containing a few grams of botulinum toxin," I wrote with colleague Milton Leitenberg on the Federation of American Scientists website.

"For it to be plausible, one has to accept several assumptions. The first of these is that terrorists can easily brew the amount of toxin cited. But can they?

"[The scientist's] initial claim concerning terrorist knowledge on production of botulinum toxin was an alarming one. He wrote that all that was necessary would be for a single terrorist to have the jihadi manual called 'Preparation of Botulism Toxin,' secured from the Internet.

"We have a copy of the 28-page jihadi manual. It is an oft-stated canard that terrorists, or a single one, can simply download their capabilities for mass death from the world wide web. The assistance that the manual is alleged to confer is greatly exaggerated. While its text certainly appears technical to laymen, its compiler does not explain, except in the most general terms, how to obtain a toxic strain of Clostridium botulinum in the first place. Any strain of the bacterium which produces botulinum toxin won't do, an aspect even noted in the manual. Many strains of Clostridium botulinum in nature produce very little or no toxin. Finding the right one in nature out of literally 600 or 700 strains can take a long time. For example, the task took the pre-1969 US offensive BW program many man-years of work by highly trained and competent professionals.

"[The scientist] also posited that botulinum toxin could be bought from an overseas black-market lab. In the real world no 'black market' botulinum toxin producer is known to exist." (The rest of the piece is here.)

That was in 2005, when no examples of production of botulinum toxin and misuse by criminals had yet made news. This was changing, though, due to the actions of an American business. Which brings us to Warrick's article for the Washington Post.

Now, two scientists have tried to reproduce the 'black market lab' idea and have done so successfully, so it is said. It is part of the threat assessment industry's (and DD makes no distinction between contractors commissioned by the government to do threat assessment, the academy, and indigenous US government operations) process of regularly upping-the-ante on various menaces always said to be coming or doable. If, for example, intelligence from al Qaeda is insufficient to paint such a picture then we must paint it for them.

And it illustrates one of the ongoing problems associated with US-generated threat assessment in the war on terror: No real attention paid to what has been taken off terrorists and what their capabilities actually are from careful intelligence. Instead, expansion of what is said they can do because we say we can do it for cheap through some exercise.

"Last year, [Kenneth Coleman] and fellow researcher Raymond Zilinskas set out to test whether militant groups could easily exploit the counterfeit Botox network to obtain materials for a bioterrorism attack," reported Warrick. "In a project sponsored by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, two scientists found that a biologist with a master's degree and $2,000 worth of equipment could easily make a gram of pure toxin, an amount equal to the weight of a small paper clip but enough, in theory, to kill thousands of people."

Jason Sigger of Armchair Generalist had this to say about it this morning:

"Now here's the first indication that this is a bogus article - a physician who claims to have insight on terrorist capabilities and intent. Both Coleman and Zilinskas come from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, though, and they ought to know better than to float this idiotic idea. Botox for cosmetics has been around for, what, five years now? And we've never seen a terrorist bot tox hit yet. These guys are used to talking about nation-state WMD programs, not WMD terrorism - but hey, it's all the same when you talk about WMD, right?"

The rest of the article goes into Muslim terrorists' alleged motivations and desire to get botulinum toxin and the newspaper's fruitless search in China and other regions for black-market-made poison.

In this, it executes a rather large error of omission -- one which would be utterly missed by most of the newspaper's daily readers.

It glosses over and peddles only a brief bit of information on how botulinum toxin was actually diverted from a US commercial research enterprise in the last few years -- the ONLY solidly documented example of purified botulinum toxin being given over to people who would subsequently criminally misuse it.

Readers know botox is hot property in cosmetic surgery. What they don't know is that there isn't quite enough of it in a treatment vial to kill someone, for obvious reasons. It's literally distributed in vanishingly small amounts.

Now, if you're going to go after botox made on the black-market for profit for use in cosmetic surgery, to replace the product marketed exclusively by Allergan in the US, you need to buy hundreds of bottles. And they're not cheap. But if you can get them made more cheaply than what Allergan will require you to pay, you can make a substantial profit on the business. And that is what was done in the United States. It's not theoretical and the botox was not made by a black market or a counterfeit drug manufacturer.

However, if one is going to use the botox for terrorism, one needs a lot more of it. And it will still most likely come in vials which contain way too small amounts for this purpose, mandating that they be pooled and concentrated in some manner. With no losses. (This is a bit of tricky business and the trickiness will be discussed momentarily.)

Essentially, all this was done -- on US soil. By and for Americans, made in an accredited American laboratory, not a Chinese black-market operation.

And in one instance, a larger research amount was sold, presumably to be subdivided and stepped on. And it is because of this, when a defrocked doctor made a mistake and used far too much of the poison on cosmetic patients, that the work was uncovered.

The Post tells readers none of this. It deletes by inaction all the interesting details. Instead, it writes:

"No laboratories for fake Botox have turned up in the United States, but there have been prominent examples of doctors and vendors who obtained cheap, unlicensed botulinum toxin to sell to unsuspecting patients and customers, sometimes with lethal results.

"In 2004, U.S. Justice Department officials raided a string of clinics in five states after uncovering a supply network that substituted industrial-grade botulinum toxin for commercial Botox. The inferior toxin, which was made legally for laboratory research and not licensed for human use, paralyzed four patients."

The newspaper omits the name of the single-source, the firm that made the botox.

It's called List Laboratories and it's in Campbell, California. And it was raided by the FBI as part of an investigation which transpired only after a number of people landed in ventilators as a result of botulism, botulism which would have been fatal had they not been kept on supportive maintenace for quite some time.

Those medical cases were covered in a peer-reviewed medical journal. DD will get to this in moment.

And the laboratory which purified the botulinum toxin which was later misused was well-known for manufacturing fine biochemicals and toxins, primarily for use in the US biodefense research industry. As such it had to be within the US government's control regime for select agents, the latter term which is used to describe materials and organisms thought to be of use in terrorism. (The US government does not divulge the list of companies involved in the monitoring regime but this lab was certainly one of them.)

In 2006, I wrote about the affair for The Register. And for the sake of informative discussion, I'll simply reprint wholesale from it (for the links, you will need to go to the original):

How easy was it to buy an eye-popping 3,081 vials of research botulinum toxin, the deadly neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, always found on jihadist terror wish lists? Very easy in 2003 - unlike so many other things alleged to be simple to do by designated evil-doers in the war on terror. Two Arizona scammers in pursuit of profit in the anti-aging industry found it elementary to order the most poisonous substance known fresh from List Labs in Campbell, CA, a purifier of biochemicals and toxins used in counter-terror research.

Chad Livdahl and Zahra Karim had set up a series of shell companies in Tucson with the aim of acquiring botulinum toxin cheaply and repackaging it as "Mimic Botox." The "Mimic Botox" would be shilled to cosmetic surgeons, fraudulently misrepresented as Botox, undercutting Allergan's product, the only company that can sell it as a trademarked and licensed drug.

The scam worked. Using the front company Toxins Research International, Livdahl and Karim ordered thousands of 5 nanogram vials of botulinum toxin ( order form, and intro page) from List Labs sight unseen and promptly diverted it for resale on a collection of websites, as well as through anti-aging seminars.

According to the US government's indictment, Livdahl and Karim paid List Labs about $30,000 for the botulinum toxin shipment, subsequently making about one and a half million dollars in profit through the operation. It unraveled when one of their primary customers, Bach McComb, a doctor in Florida whose license to practice medicine was suspended for overprescription of painkillers, accidentally mistreated - or overprescribed, if you will, himself and three others with purified toxin.

Which brings us to a 2006 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association's November 22 edition entitled, "Botulism in 4 Adults Following Cosmetic Injections With an Unlicensed, Highly Concentrated Botulinum Preparation." (Subscription only.) Although the paper does not name them, it describes the poisoning of McComb and three patients, one of whom was his girlfriend. The onset of paralysis required hospitalization for all which, in turn, led to investigation and jail terms on intent to defraud for him (three years) - as well as Livdahl (nine years) and Karim (six years).

In late November of 2004, McComb received a 100 microgram vial of highly purified botulinum toxin from List Labs. He injected himself and three others with aliquots taken from it in treatment for wrinkles. Three to four days later McComb and his patients were on hospital ventilators to keep them alive. McComb's girlfriend took the worst of it, requiring about six months on a machine, saying in a videotaped statement for the criminal trial that her body wasted away until it was unrecognizable.

The JAMA paper describes the poisonings as equivalent to "21 to 43 times the estimated human lethal dose by injection." The vial from which McComb took his injections was thought to contain enough material for 14,286 fatal doses.

At first look this seems to make the 100 micrograms of botulinum toxin as sold by List Labs a potential weapon of mass destruction. The JAMA paper informs that federal regulations allow for transfer, possession and use of up to 500 micrograms, or half a milligram, of the poison "without registration or notification of the Select Agent Program," a US operation administered by the Centers for Disease Control to control and monitor the use of toxins and microorganisms with potential applications in biochemical terrorism.

As a consequence, the authors of the paper recommend that the current weight limit for botulinum toxin be revised downward for individual shipments, a task that's performed by a national interagency working group of researchers and medical doctors, which includes the authors of the paper, all plugged into the science of botox. More stringent examination of credentials is also called for, they say.

For additional perspective the CDC was contacted. 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 over fourteen thousand lethal doses 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. One hundred micrograms of the toxin is a vanishingly small amount, the high number of lethal doses being a theoretical number. (The method of reconstitution and toxicity of the toxin sold to McComb and Livdahl is described here and here.)

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. 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 terms of oral toxicity, botulinum A toxicity depends upon its protein complex, with some components necessay to prevent gastric degradation and subsequent absorption. Depending on what one has, or what is purified, there are signficant differences.)

Millard suggested this uncertainty was perhaps seen in the variance of the severity of the disease suffered by McComb and his girlfriend. The levels of botulism toxin seen in blood samples from McComb's girlfriend and another patient appeared identical, yet the former was gripped by a deadly paralysis much greater than the others. The reasons for it remain unclear.

What is clear from a reading of the court files and the JAMA paper is that diligence was absent everywhere in the case. No eyebrows were raised when over three thousand vials of botulinum toxin - about 0.7 of a theoretical lethal dose/vial - were ordered by people with no legitimate research connections, persons the Department of Justice described as wishing to "enrich themselves unjustly" by selling the material.

Nary a peep was heard when List Labs sold the 100 microgram vial of purified toxin to a physician who'd had his license suspended, described in court by one of the case-patients tracked by JAMA as one "who practiced medicine like Dr. Frankenstein would have practiced medicine," according to The Palm Beach Post. In the hospital the man laid, his body wooden, saying at McComb's sentencing last January, "At first I thought I was at my own funeral... I thought I was dead."

The same newspaper reported that a federal investigator in the McComb/Livdahl case, "[posed] as an employee of a company that sells the toxin to researchers" and was offered a few vials of it by List Labs. "He was asked only for his name, address and credit card number," added the newspaper.

It is certain that more scrutiny is now being directed at those who purify and sell botulinum toxin in the US. The CDC, however, does not release the names of companies and researchers being regulated through its select agent program out of security concerns, paradoxically, over revealing information on where potential terrorists could get dangerous biochemicals and microorganisms.

Thus the dilemmas posed by the McComb case become fairly obvious.

One, this misuse of man-prepared botulinum toxin came not from al Qaeda terrorists, said repeatedly by terrorism experts and the mainstream media to be wishing for it, but fresh from a California lab which delivered it into the hands of people motivated by the pursuit of illegal profits. It underscores the dichotomy that while Islamists have shown no scientific know-how in the manufacture of ... botulinum toxin, an American purifier and three bad people unexpectedly collided in the delivery and employment of it through no more effort than a few telephone calls.

The original piece and court documents, from 2006 are here.




Related note:

"In early 2006, a mysterious cosmetics trader named Rakhman began showing up at salons in St. Petersburg, Russia, hawking a popular anti-aging drug at suspiciously low prices. He flashed a briefcase filled with vials and promised he could deliver more -- 'as many as you want,' he told buyers -- from a supplier somewhere in Chechnya," reported the Post.

"Rakhman's 'Botox was found to be a potent clone of the real thing, but investigators soon turned to a far bigger worry: the prospect of an illegal factory in Chechnya churning out raw botulinum toxin, the key ingredient in the beauty drug and one of world's deadliest poisons."

Coincidentally, 2006 is still in the time frame for circulation of Toxins Research International's rebranded botulinum toxin, made by List in the US.

"3,081 vials of research botulinum toxin" goes a long way. TRI advertised their rebranded botox on the web, actively marketing it worldwide.

While one may have been persuaded that some lab in Chechnya was pumping it out, it's hardly out of the question to reason, since it does not appear to have recurred, that it was possibly related to the US operation, the economics of which would allow resellers to still make a profit. TRI was apparently interested in resellers, if memory serves, anything to grow the business. On an initial investment of $30,000, TRI made a profit of one and a half million dollars possibly indicating they resold quite of lot of the stash to various parties. Years later the FBI was still trying to run it all down domestically.

Another view, by way of reading AG.

This story has been updated.
THE ALL-SEEING US EYE CASTS ITS ELECTRONIC GAZE ON CHINA



"Beware! We know what you're doing," it seems to say.

Another look through the Paller-Scope, developed in Annex C of the All-Seeing Eye Lab.

To top security officers inside big companies, “the story wasn’t about Google and China”, said Alan Paller, director of research at the nonprofit Sans institute for training in cyber security. “The story is about: ‘Oh shoot, they are already inside’. The attacks are one level too sophisticated for the current tools.

Mr. Paller said the Chinese government backs commercial spy operations because it gives the country an advantage in negotiating with western companies.
-- The Financial Times

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, says the [Google/China] attacks confirm the threat of pervasive and sophisticated espionage attacks on all organisations. -- Computer Weekly

[Alan Paller] said his research supports the conclusion that every foreign firm operating in China has likely been penetrated and has software on it that enables outsiders to access it at will. And while attribution of attacks is difficult to prove outright, the string of similar attacks on U.S. government and military installations dating back years shows a pattern of behavior that points directly back to Beijing. -- The Cable, Foreign Policy blog



Some sense of humor required. Here.

Air Force Compromised

"The problem with [Security Theatre Expert's] is, everybody wants to be heard and everyone wants to make a name." Here.




The Paller-Scope -- previously.

Friday, January 22, 2010

GOTHIC FRIDAY SCI-FI THEATRE



The southern California deluge could't furnish a better backdrop and miasm for a most Gothic science-fiction story made for TV, 1963's It Crawled Out of the Woodwork.

Part of the Outer Limits' first season, the episode made its San Fernando Valley setting look threatening, deadly, and always, even during the day, menacingly dark. A considerable trick.

The Outer Limits Official Companion (is DD a fan or what?) says of Woodwork:

Unconventionally structured and staffed with abstruse characters ... [it] nearly demands to be interpreted as allegory, since as linear dramatic narrative is does very little. [It is] a bastille of scientific research presented in old Dark House terms, and characters that illuminate their oddball backgrounds largely in terms of talkative asides not directly connected to the plot ... 'Woodwork's' problematic characters are complex enough to seem real, but are trapped in a dramatic chaos only slightly less controlled than the madly strobing energy cloud [monster] that dispatches many of them by the final curtain.

So what's the allegory? Well-meaning atomic physicists, looking earnestly for more sources of energy, made into the pawns of evil by an all-powerful indestructible monster lurking in a "ball of dust in a dustless corner near the baseboard," brought to life by one of the janitorial staff's vacuum cleaners.

Dr. Block, the sinister head of the Norco energy research complex, has hit upon a method for ensuring worker loyalty. After discovery of Woodwork's almost uncontrollable monster, he uses it to frighten his scientists to death, then brings them back to life with pacemakers, made slaves to his bidding by control of their energy source.

The only problem: It seemingly destroys the soul and desire to do any further research. Block's trapped NORCO employees shamble through the episode, pleading for mercy or cowering in the lab as others are put to death by the thing, which is kept down a long dark corridor in a cul-de-sac called 'the pit.'

One over the top sequence has Block lecturing his last senior scientist, Stephani, on the gratitude she should be feeling:

"You must get over this repugnance for death, Stephani. For you to hate death is as foolish as for a live person to hate life. Because of me you have faced the most terrifying experience of all and gotten it over with ... With the help of science, of course."

Ed Asner stars as his usual gruff self, frightened out of his mind and slick with sweat by the end.

"I think something malevolent is going on here," says one of the characters.

Watch it on Hulu here.
TROUBLE ... TROUBLE, TROUBLE, HE'S TROUBLED


One prescription for trouble on your mind.

It's Freaky Friday

"President Barack Obama continues to be troubled by a cyber security breach at Google in China that has the company threatening to pull its operations out of China, the White House said on Friday," reported Reuters.

"White House spokesman Bill Burton made clear that Obama agreed with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said on Thursday that 'countries or individuals that engage in cyber attacks should face consequences and international condemnation.'

" 'All we're looking for from China are some answers,' Burton told reporters traveling with Obama on a trip to Ohio.

"He said Obama 'continues to be troubled by the cyber security breach' that Google Inc. blamed on China."

Sitting duck

"Cyber attacks can potentially dive into our defense systems, interrupt air traffic and damage many areas of our infrastructure

"It's time we recognize the cyber world has changed. It's getting more sophisticated and the United States is a sitting duck. We must fight back, our national security depends on it." -- un-bylined opinion, Tri-Valley Herald

Give US More King of Quote -- Updated hourly

"There are least 100 countries with cyber espionage capabilities," warns Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute ..." -- Fox

"According to SANS Institute research director Alan Paller, 'The problem is 1000 times worse than what we see.' But the tip of the iceberg is still large ..."
--Foreign Policy

"Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a security education organization, said American technology companies had gotten better about [etc]... -- The New York Times, Jan 19, Fearing Hackers Who Leave No Trace

" 'Whining about this won't stop it,' said Alan Paller director of research for the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Md.-based security institute. -- PC World

"Alan Paller, managing director of The SANS Institute and a leading expert on Chinese-sponsored cyberintrusions ... " -- USA Today

"The latest attacks are just the latest in a series of attacks from China on nonmilitary Web sites, according to Alan Paller ... " -- CNET

"Google is the first to publicly protest censorship or openly complain about cyberattacks, which are part of doing business in China, says Alan Paller." -- USA Today

" 'This is highly likely to be much wider than even Google knows,' said Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute ..." -- The Register

Rolodex journalism

"There is a standard 'rolodex' for many different subjects, in which the same people get called over and over to talk about the same topic ... It's not exactly clear how one gets on or off these lists, which are self-perpetuating. Certainly there is some laziness and tunnel vision involved on the part of the reporters/editors." -- a colleague of DD's

Rants

"Marc Faber, the Swiss fund manager and Gloom Boom & Doom editor, said the US administration's interventions in the market will not solve problems and will bring about unintended consequences," it was said here.

"I don't have a very high opinion of Mr. Obama ... I was negative of Mr. Bush but I think Mr. Obama makes him look like a genius."

"The legendary investor reiterared [sic] his belief that eventually there will be a big bust and then the whole credit expansion will come to an end. But before that happens, governments will continue printing money which in time will lead to a very high inflation rate, and the economy will stop responding to stimulus.

"The average family will be hurt by that, and then in order to distract the attention of the people, the US governments will go to war."

"In one of his most memorable rants, Faber then explained what kind of war he sees in the future.

"This war will be different from World War I where troops faced each other in trenches or World War II where tank divisions faced each other, he said. This will be Cyber War, Faber said. A war where you can turn a switch and turn the London electricity supply off. This will be a war where you can stop airplanes from flying and bring the whole financial system of a country to a halt."

Hipsters, pony tails, Mountain Dew

"At a Raytheon facility here south of the Kennedy Space Center, a hub of innovation in an earlier era, rock music blares and empty cans of Mountain Dew pile up as engineers create tools to protect the Pentagon’s computers and crack into the networks of countries that could become adversaries. Prizes like cappuccino machines and stacks of cash spur them on, and a gong heralds each major breakthrough.

" 'Everybody’s attacking everybody,' said Scott Chase, a 30-year-old computer engineer who helps run the Raytheon unit here. Mr. Chase, who wears his hair in a ponytail ... "

" 'It takes a nonconformist to excel at what we do,' said [one cool cat], a tanned surfing aficionado who looks like a 1950s hipster in his T-shirts with rolled-up sleeves." -- press release for military contractor hires, published in the New York Times, sometime around the middle of last year.




Cult of Cybersecurity -- always popular.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

EVIL SCIENTISTS AND TED



Quite naturally, the program DD likes best on network TV looks headed for cancellation.

ABC is running through episodes of Better Off Ted at the rate of two a week on Tuesdays.

Ted Crisp, played by Jay Harrington, is the head of R&D at Veridian Dynamics. This means part of every episode is devoted to Ted checking on whatever Drs. Phil and Lem are working on, always some cracked but evil thing to be sold to the US military as a weapon.

The second episode on Tuesday had the doctors -- who are always fumbling and upset --worrying about their reputation as makers of evil.

Ted recommends they clear the lab of their evil inventions to make a better impression.

"Get rid of everything except the ficus," he says. "You mean the man-eating ficus?" asks Lem.

They run through indeterminate things on the shelves: "kills ... slowly kills ... quickly kills ... helps shed unwanted pounds ... but then kills ..."

They endeavor to make something which they will not allow to be used for evil, better than their laser fruit-juicer which is used to peel people by the US military.

And that would be the perfect bagel, which subsequently is found to taste horrible although it's lighter than air and floats across the room at the end of the episode like one of the pie plate flying saucers in Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The other comedy riff revolves around Dr. Phil's language translator which is being pitched to a German company. The Germans are subsequently frightened by its giant robot voice.

"We believe the translator will create a furor in Germany, a furor that will sweep across Europe crushing ..." says one of the characters.

"Oh God, we have unhappy Germans ... nothing good has ever come from that," says Ted's boss, Veronica.

After modification, the translator is then retested by Ted and Greta, the CEO of the German company, in the bedroom -- with eminently watchable results.

"Dammit, I told him not to put Klingon on this thing," Ted says later. Well, it was either that or the Nixon tapes.

Watch "Lust in Translation" from Better Off Ted here. Only 21 minutes!
THE NEXT BIG PAIL OF FAIL


Good news, lads! Good news! I've just learnt all the banksters who took down the world economy and incinerated your jobs get to keep on as usual despite the new slightly perturbed noise from the White House.

Related: He Wasn't the One We've Been Waiting For -- at Krugman.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

BAD PUBLICITY CAUSES SPLIT IN BIOTERROR DEFENSE LOBBY

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Center for Biosecurity, formerly headed by Dept. of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Science & Technology Tara O'Toole, has split itself off from a special interest lobby/industry group to which it had been joined at the hip for most of the war on terror -- the Alliance for Biosecurity.

"I am writing to let you know that the Center for Biosecurity at UPMC has resigned its membership in the Alliance for Biosecurity," wrote Thomas Inglesby, its director here.

The announcement, dated November 20 of last year, came sixteen days after O'Toole was confirmed for her position at DHS.

"O'Toole has also been under fire for not reporting that she was an adviser for the Alliance for Biosecurity, a group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that conducts lobbying efforts on drug development and research. The Homeland Security Department said no disclosure was necessary because the alliance is not an incorporated group," noted Congressional Quarterly that month.

The split had been kept unusually quiet -- there is no notice of it in Lexis, the last mention of it being the CQ article on O'Toole's confirmation -- until today when a link pointing to it was mailed to Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist by a member of the Center for Biosecurity/Graham-Talent agency biodefense lobby/special interest group.

And the full text of the letter was only posted to the UPMC website on January 14.

Upon reading it becomes clear why the divorce happened. Bad publicity and the impression of cozy dealing in the small part of the biodefense industry represented by the Center for Biosecurity and the Alliance for Biosecurity was taking a toll.

This remarkably took place in the context of O'Toole's sailing through a Congressional hearing/confirmation process which chose to ignore all information presented to it on the matter.

"Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Wednesday evening applauded the confirmation of Tara O'Toole to be Undersecretary of the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)," reads a Lieberman press release from some months ago.

"Dr. O'Toole is assuming her role at a critical time, as the H1N1 flu pandemic is spreading across the nation at an alarming rate," Lieberman said. "She has impressive educational and professional credentials and has earned bipartisan respect across the government and scientific communities. Dr. O'Toole brings a remarkable breadth of experience to this job that is so crucial to our nation's security. She is an inspired choice and I congratulate her on her confirmation."

Although most of the mainstream press had and has expressed no real interest in the linkage between the Alliance for Biosecurity and the Center for Biosecurity and its lobbying on the need for always increasing bioterror defense spending before Congress and in the news, a couple did, as well as blogs like Armchair Generalist and this one.

"The Alliance has established itself as a substantive credible stakeholder working in the nation's best interests on complex and challenging biosecurity policy and technical issues," continued Inglesby.

"Unfortunately, there was an effort to undermine these contributions in the last few months."

Undermining, in this case, meaning shedding light on the business of the UPMC Center for Biosecurity/Alliance for Biosecurity.


Screen snapshot of the Center for Biosecurity's homepage was taken from a cached page on December 11, at a time when the organization's divorce from the Alliance was still undercover.

For example, just earlier this month, Michael Goldfarb, in a short article for the Weekly Standard on Alliance for Biosecurity firm PharmAthene, wrote this:

"Several months ago we warned that Tara O'Toole who recently became Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security would reward her friends resulting in millions of dollars in gifts to John Murtha cronies who supported her nomination.

"And it now appears the Murtha/O'Toole favor factory has begun production. In February 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a second-generation Anthrax vaccine. This RFP was issued to be a re-procurement for a contract that had been canceled in 2006 for the same vaccine. And on December 7, HHS canceled the RFP.

"After further review, it is becoming all too clear why this happened. Just as the year was closing and no one was paying attention, O'Toole's friends at PharmAthene were awarded a sole-source contract, which has resulted in their stock nearly doubling. In the very same week America faced al Qaeda's latest terrorist attack, it seems that the O'Toole-led homeland security "system worked" for PharmAthene -- assuming the system is one of cronyism, political paybacks, and sole-source contracts.

"This leads one to ask, who is PharmAthene, what are O'Toole's ties, and why would the government single them out for a sole source giveaway at taxpayer expense?"


The rest of that article is here.

And in September of last year, the Washington Times published what was probably the most damaging article on Tara O'Toole and the Alliance for Biosecurity.

"President Obama's nominee at the Department of Homeland Security overseeing bioterrorism defense [Tara O'Toole] has served as a key adviser for a lobbying group funded by the pharmaceutical industry that has asked the government to spend more money for anthrax vaccines and biodefense research," wrote the newspaper.

"But Dr. Tara O'Toole, whose confirmation as undersecretary of science and technology is pending, never reported her involvement with the lobbying group called the Alliance for Biosecurity in a recent government ethics filing.

"The alliance has spent more than $500,000 lobbying Congress and federal agencies -- including Homeland Security -- since 2005, congressional records show."

That article is here.

"During the course of Tara O'Toole's nomination process, a number of false statements were made about Tara, the Alliance for Biosecurity and the Center for Biosecurity," wrote Inglesby in the UPMC paper of divorce. "As you all know, the Center for Biosecurity has never received any funding from any Alliance Company, from the Alliance for Biosecurity itself or from the [lawyer house] of the Alliance, Drinker, Biddle and Reath."

However, the Weekly Standard post -- for example, is not about the Center for Biosecurity receiving funding from the Alliance. It is entitled, instead, "Murtha-tied Company Wins Sole-Source Vaccine Contract" and it is, ostensibly, a piece on influence-peddling.

"Given the Alliance's many significant contributions to US biosecurity and the important work that remains, I would hope that the Center for Biosecurity might in the future be invited to collaborate with the Alliance on specific technical projects ..." Inglesby writes.

Significant contributions overstates matters by a large bit.

In December, DD blog posted this on the blog:

The Alliance is the UPMC Center for Biosecurity and a collection of companies which, for the most part, have been remarkably unsuccessful at bringing anything to market, although they are touted as using all the newest molecular genetic and biochemical technologies for vaccine and drug manufacturing.

One member -- DOR Biopharma -- has been laboring on a ricin vaccine since around the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. It recently changed its name to Soligenix, perhaps to make it easier to attract potential investors.

Siga Technologies, Inc., another Alliance for Biosecurity firm, recently announced it had received a rather small amount of money -- $1.6 million from the National Institutes of Health -- to look into something it calls Human Bioarmor, a kind of silver bullet for bioterror agents. These funds were announced as having been part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Another firm, Nanoviricides, Inc., has nothing in the market but three nanomolecular 'Cides -- FluCide, HIVCide and RabiCide -- in development, with none beyond animal safety testing.

And the Alliance's intriguing named Unither Virology, is said by business publications on the web to have an annual operating budget of $100,000 and a staff of one.


Additionally, two Alliance companies -- PharmAthene and Siga -- are locked in a legal battle which certainly must constitute a significant contribution to the nation's biosecurity. Notice of it is here.

Still another Alliance company, Emergent, has been trying to raid another business for its anthrax development operation and government contracts.

Emergent is the maker of BioThrax, the anthrax vaccine worked on by Bruce Ivins. The vaccine's troubled history and slow embrace by the US government prior to 9/11 was theorized by the FBI to perhaps have been one of Ivins' reasons for spreading anthrax in the mail in an incident which terrorized the nation and galvanized quick approval of the formulation.

"In an order signed on Sept. 18, in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington, Judge Brendan Linehan Shannon granted the request of the Meriden, Conn.-based biopharmaceutical company [Protein Sciences} to dismiss the involuntary bankruptcy case that was filed against it by three of its creditors," reported The Daily Deal on September 21.

"The bankruptcy took us away from our mission, which is to save lives," said Dan Adams, CEO of Protein Sciences, to the Deal. "Adams has expressed confidence that the case would be dismissed since the creditor group filed the involuntary Chapter 7 petition on June 22."

"Protein Sciences on July 13 filed a response with the Delaware court, asserting that the bankruptcy filing was done in bad faith, and solely as a tool for Emergent Manufacturing to acquire its assets ... On May 27, 2008, Emergent's parent, Emergent BioSolutions Inc., announced that it had agreed to acquire Protein Sciences in a deal worth $78 million. However, according to Adams, the deal was halted because of shareholder opposition. 'Instead of making another offer, [Emergent] came back and shot us,' Adams said."

Of one regularly looks close, the Alliance's real contributions to the nation's biosecurity can often be difficult to make out.




Armchair Generalist was sent the formal notice of divorce between the Center for Biosecurity and Alliance for the same yesterday. And he was kind enough to share it with DD blog, a very courteous and informative thing to do.

Today, Jason Sigger writes of the affair:

"I believe that this is a good thing for the Center. If it wants to be viewed as a non-partisan and unbiased research center, then it needs to stay independent of industry concerns. It may be, as the Center's letter claims, that the Alliance has made 'strong analytical argument[s]' for the purpose of improving US biodefense initiatives, but let's not kid ourselves. At the end of the day, it benefited them as well as the overall biodefense readiness. And that's okay - lobbyists are supposed to provide analytical arguments on complex policy issues with the understanding that positive legislative action could benefit their clients. Lobbyists don't just show up with a bag of money and a big smile and say, 'hey Congressman, how about some love?' (okay, maybe some of them do...)"

The rest of that post is here. Along with a subtle video about lobbying.




On the Alliance for Biosecurity, Tara O'Toole, the Graham-Talent commission and the biodefense special interest lobby -- from the archives.

This post has been updated.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

BIOTERROR PORK GOOD BUSINESS

Twenty miles from DD's ol' home in the piney woods of Pennsyltucky.




From a local newspaper:

Editor:

The threat of bioterrorism is real. To provide a solution to rapidly defend the country against bioterror events and pandemics, the Department of Defense is actively seeking modern ideas that will dramatically increase the shelf life and stability of ready-to-administer medicines.

Thanks to the leadership, legislative efforts and foresight of Congressman Tim Holden, this critical advanced research has received additional funding and support during the past three years. The pharmaceutical-packaging division of SCHOTT North America in Lebanon, assisted by the company's Pennsylvania-based regional research and development group, has been competitively awarded U.S. Army funding. This funding was specifically sponsored by Holden to advance the state of the art in pharmaceutical packaging.

The funding award has helped SCHOTT to confidently invest in a new syringe line that will add 40 new jobs this year and is expected to ultimately lead to an additional 80Lebanon manufacturing jobs as the market develops.

Holden has been extremely effective in seeking solutions for the safety and security of every American while at the same time providing his constituent in dustries the opportunity to expand and competitively grow in this difficult economic environment.

Every Pennsylvania resident should take pride that the important work of defending against a biological Pearl Harbor is being supported by the efforts of Congressman Holden.

RENARD JACKSON
VICE PRESIDENT/GENERAL MANAGER
PHARMACEUTICAL SYSTEMS
SCHOTT NORTH AMERICA INC.
LEBANON

The original.

Boldface mine.
CULT OF CYBERWAR -- NARROW SOURCING AND THE KING OF QUOTE

When looking over the last twelve months of news on cybersecurity and cyberwar, one always reliable feature stands out: Its narrow selection of sources and the supply of quote by a small number of 'names' and business interests.

In a nation as large and complicated as the United States, where there are literally hundreds of computer security businesses and operations and even more colleges and universities, many of which have eminently qualified scholars on the subject of the networked world, the mainstream media consistantly relies on only about a half dozen real people -- or business interests -- to tell the story.

If China is attacking in cyberspace, a subject covered in print many times a week, only a few regularly appear to explain what's going on. If cyberwar is about to break out, the same small number can be counted on to see through the fog which blinds everyone else.

And if your primary defense-related business model is counting on furnishing cybersecurity contractors to all branches of the US government, one fans stories that electronic Pearl Harbor is stalking the nation and makes up a non-profit group to hide behind while distributing a report that says there is a dire shortage of computer security geeks.

Looking into daily newspaper databases over the last twelve months, DD blog has compiled the short list of statistics on the matter.

The King of Cyberattack Quote

The undisputed ruler, the head passer-on of all wisdoms, is Alan Paller of the Sans Institute, a business that sells training and seminars on computer security.

In the last six months, Paller returns 34 in major news stories on the subject. The number jumps to 84 when extended through the last twelve months.

Paller is the go-to purveyor of quote on Chinese cyberattacks, of hackers compromising everything, of cyber-looting everywhere, of the electrical grid going down, on the need for more computer security training courses and of getting a press release in as a footnote in the Obama administration's Cyberspace Policy Review.

Here is the unscientific master list, with Paller at the top:

1. Alan Paller, SANS -- 84
2. McAfee -- 80
3. James Lewis, CSIS -- 47
4. Booz Allen Hamilton -- 38
5. Symantec -- 31
6. Mike McConnell, BA -- 25
7. Paul Kurtz, Good Harbor -- 11
8. Richard Clarke, Good Harbor 4

'Control values':

1. Gene Spafford, Purdue 25
2. Marcus Ranum 0

In terms of security vendor businesses, the list condenses to a small number of players moving the cyberwar/cybersecurity debate in 2009: SANS, McAfee, and Booz Allen Hamilton, the latter which jumps to number three on the list with 63 hits in major stories if you add McConnell's total.

In the case of Mike McConnell's list of citations, one remarkable feature is that not a single reporter writing these things identified him as the chief salesman of Booz Allen's cybersecurity business operation. It's a computer security business which rides on stories about looming cyberwar and the national shortage of computer security workers, to be trained on the taxpayer dime and then poached so that they can be leased to the government by Booz Allen and its competitors.

All this, even though the big aimed-at-the-US-government consulting and contracting business gleefully flogs McConnell and whatever he's saying or doing on its homepage daily.

The list narrows further when one notices that Good Harbor, Richard Clarke's cyberattack consulting business, furnished a report on cyberwar for McAfee, one which generated a number of press hits for the latter.


You'd never know Booz Allen's head cybersecurity salesman is Mike McConnell if you read US news on cyberattacks and the threat to the national infrastructure, only that he is a very wise person who was director of national intelligence for two years during the GWB administration.

Two reasons for citation cluster and narrow sourcing are procedure and sloth.

In the fast-moving news cycle, it is the standard way of most US news organizations to read whatever their competition has published and blindly duplicate it. It is the method of journalism on the subject and it is also very lazy. There can be no argument on this state of affairs. Any simple review of newspaper stories shows it to be true. The mind-numbing repetition and use of only a few sources in a country of over 300 million, one which purports to be the repository of all know-how in the world, is stunning.

And it has had a detrimental effect on the formation of policy in this country during the last decade.

Over at least the last ten years, perhaps as far back as fifteen -- or whenever DD first started seriously reading US government-generated analyses and papers on the subject -- they have been peppered with citations either taken directly from the US newsmedia or press releases from corporate security vendors.

For an example of this at the highest level, one needs merely consult the Obama adminstration's Cyberspace Policy Review final here.

In it a person reads of how cyberwar has caused blackouts in an undisclosed country.

Its attribution? A press release/newsletter from SANS, the business for which Alan Paller, the cybersecurity king of quote, speaks.

"Delegates at [a vendor conference] shared information on how attackers are eluding current defenses and on promising practices for mitigating the most critical vulnerabilities," reads the SANS press release linked to from the Whitehouse policy document. "They also shared a jointly developed 'SCADA and Control Systems Survival Kit.' Next week an electronic version of the Survival Kit will be available (free) to all SANS alumni."

The damage done by having a press, or way of doing business, which only relies upon a small number of sources, usually those served by the story being told, is now obvious to most people.

Even if there is a glaring truth to the narrative being peddled, that computer security is in a very fragile state and it deserves national attention, it is distorted and made self-serving by the specific business interests and vision of those writing the press releases. It is flabbergasting and more than a bit annoying when one finds some rationalization for doing things in a policy document from the White House pointing to the thin tissue of a computer security vendor press release/sales sheet.

Is there really one person who knows exactly what the Chinese are doing to attack America in cyberspace all the time? If you read the US newsmedia and take it very seriously, you'd think so.

If you read the US newsmedia, China spying on every bit of American cyberspace is a terrible thing. It is reported from a distinctly odd framework in which the US government's spying on the rest of the world and its own people is ignored.

Do Chinese computers and networks ever get attacked?

Does the US government or American computer security businesses ever hire hackers to be part of growing cyberwar/cyberdefense operations?

If you read US news, you know nothing of the former and only some about the latter.

When we hire hackers, it's OK, good for business and the security of the country. When they do the same, it's a reason to yell: "The Chinese are attacking!" (Then lobby for more good business.)

A note about 'control values:' DD blog chose one very noted computer security expert from the academy -- you could choose another -- not seen attached to corporate national computer security business incubation.

However, in the interest of full enlightenment this bit comes from the Journal and Courier of Lafayette, Indiana, on December 9 of last:

The Northrop Grumman Cybersecurity Research Consortium will involve Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security and two other universities.

The announcement was made Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

"We've been resource constrained. We have tremendous students. We have wonderful ideas, but there is not much funding in the area," said Gene Spafford, the Purdue center's executive director. "What funding has been available for the past few years has been to respond to immediate problems that have occurred."

A motivating factor in starting the consortium was to address some of the issues in President Barack Obama's report last May on cybersecurity threats and the need to be in front of issues before they become emergencies.





Appendix

A selection of citation from the king of cybersecurity quote:

Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a Bethesda, Md., security firm, said Chinese hackers target Western companies with an approach dubbed "1,000 grains of sand," meaning they go after every piece of information in search of competitive intelligence. Most companies keep silent about the attacks, but they draw heavy scrutiny from law enforcement officials.

"The odds of the 25 biggest companies in California not being fully compromised by the Chinese is near zero," Paller said. "That is true of companies across the country."
-- Los Angeles Times, Jessica Guynn, January 15 in a story entitled: Chinese hacking risk seen as dire




Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute, a computer-security organization, said Monday that a major law firm in New York was hacked into in early 2008 in an attack that originated in China.

FBI officials did not immediately return messages for comment on the China connection.

The hackers going after law firms, said Paller, often target companies that are negotiating a major international deal anything from seeking a patent on a sensitive new technology to opening a plant in another country.
-- Associated Press, November 17 in: FBI says hackers targeting law firms, PR companies




Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute, a computer security training company, said a massive talent search is needed to develop a cadre of 20,000 to 30,000 cybersecurity experts. He advocates organizing "cybercamps" at prestigious universities such as New York University's Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn, expanding national competitions, offering scholarships for service or college courses on advanced information security, and marketing attractive internships and job offers. -- October 2, State Department Documents and Publications in a story entitled Seeking a New Generation of Cyberdefenders




Press release title: SANS Institute to Host Official (ISC)2® CSSLPCM CBK® Education Seminars at Upcoming Conferences;
Courses at SANS' London and Washington, D.C. Events to Address Building in Security Throughout Software Lifecycle
, September 24




The [vendor-generated] study found that organizations are patching client-side vulnerabilities three to five times slower than operating-system vulnerabilities, said Alan Paller, research director at SANS Institute, a security research and education organization that collaborated on the report with others.

For the first time, we know where the bad guys are attacking and, oh darn, those are not the areas we're protecting," Paller said.
-- San Francisco Chronicle, September 16, in Cybersecurity - or lack thereof - alarms experts




JEANNE MESERVE: Chinese cyber capabilities are sophisticated and though difficult to prove the government and its surrogates are believed to have infiltrated computers at most U.S. government agencies.

ALAN PALLER, SANS INSTITUTE: The sad joke in the Pentagon is if somebody can't find a document somebody else says, well, call the Chinese.

MESERVE: Computer experts say hackers may have left behind code that could be triggered to shut down or destroy critical infrastructure, even weapons systems. The Pentagon recently told Congress, "Of all the foreign intelligence organizations attempting to penetrate U.S. agencies Chinese are the most aggressive.
-- CNN, September 9, 2009




Alan Paller, director of research at SANS Institute, a computer-security training group, said that health data are a new target of organized-crime groups. Experts say a copy of a medical record can fetch money on the Internet black market. -- The Washington Post, July 30 in File Sharing Leaks Sensitive Federal Data, Lawmakers Are Told




On March 12, 2007, the CEO of one of the nation's largest defense contractors learned of a call from the Office of the Secretary of Defense informing his firm that the FBI had evidence that his company had allowed another nation to steal details of some sensitive technology that DOD had contracted to develop. There was no getting the data back. In a meeting at the Pentagon the next week, the executive learned he was not alone. Around the table were other defense contractor executives who had suffered similar breaches. -- June 22, Alan Paller penned op-ed in Dr. Dobb's Report entitled How The U.S. Changed Its Security Game




A third computer specialist, Alan Paller, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on April 29 that China's military in 2005 recruited Tan Dailin, a graduate student at Sichuan University, after he showed off his hacker skills at an annual contest.

Mr. Paller, a computer security specialist with the SANS Institute, said the Chinese military put the hacker through a 30-day, 16-hour-a-day workshop "where he learned to develop really high-end attacks and honed his skills."

A hacker team headed by Mr. Tan then won other computer warfare contests against Chinese military units in Chengdu, in Sichuan province.

Mr. Paller said that a short time later, Mr. Tan "set up a little company. No one's exactly sure where all the money came from, but it was in September 2005 when he won it. By December, he was found inside [Defense Department] computers, well inside DoD computers," Mr. Paller said.
-- The Washington Times, May 12 in China bolsters for 'cyber arms race' with U.S




Alan Paller, director of SANS Institute, a security training and information center that has worked closely with utilities operating Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems as well as government agencies, says the potential for a massive cyber-attack on the power grid is real.

Paller says some in the industry may be in denial about it, but "the Wall Street Journal article may be the first step in a 12-step program for utility executives."
-- April 9, Network World in How serious is threat to power grid? Depends who you ask.




The Booz Allen Hamilton model of cybersecurity business promotion

Selected quotes:

The Internet is the nation's "soft underbelly," says former national intelligence director Michael McConnell. The Greenville native and Furman graduate further warns that the Net has "introduced a level of vulnerability that is unprecedented." -- The Charleston Post and Courier, Nov. 2, in an opinion piece entitled Think before you click




TechAmerica holds a 2009 Vision Conference to "provide a ten-year outlook for U.S. defense spending, and forecast the next five years of federal civilian information technology spending," October 21-22.

AGENDA: Highlights :
-- 7:45 a.m.: Ann Gladys of CSC; and Phil Bond, president of TechAmerica, delivers welcome remarks
-- 8 a.m.: Vivek Kundra, federal chief information officer in the Office of Management and Budget, delivers keynote address
-- 9:30 a.m.: Madeleine Andre of IBM; and Steven Kramer of Booz Allen Hamilton, discuss the "IT Budget Forecast"
-- 10:15 a.m.: Joe Guirreri of KGS; Larry Reagan of Qbase; and Charmaine Edwards of Lockheed Martin, discuss "DHS (Homeland Security Department)"
-- 12:45 p.m.: Art Oberhofer of Verizon Business, participates in a track discussion on "Government Agencies: Transportation Department"
-- 2:30 p.m.: Mary Swann of Northrop Grumman, participates in a track discussion on "Federal Health: State Department"
-- Federal Information and News Dispatch, October 22




The internet, said former national intelligence director Michael McConnell, "is the soft underbelly" of the United States.

Speaking at a cybersecurity exhibit at the International Spy Museum in Washington, McConnell said the internet has "introduced a level of vulnerability that is unprecedented."

The Pentagon's computer systems are probed 360 million times a day, and one prominent power company has acknowledged that its networks see up to 70,000 scans a day, according to cybersecurity expert James Lewis.

For the most part, those probes of government and critical infrastructure networks are benign.

Many, said McConnell, are a nuisance and some are crimes. But the most dangerous are probes aimed at espionage or tampering with or destroying data.

The attackers could be terrorists aiming at the U.S. culture and economy, or nation-states looking to insert malicious computer codes into the electrical grid that could be activated weeks or years later.

"We are the fat kid in the race," said Lewis. "We are the biggest target, we have the most to steal, and everybody wants to get us."

And if, for example, the United States gets into a conflict with China over Taiwan, "expect the lights to go out," he said.
-- Associated Press, October 5, in a story entitled Computer experts agree: Cybersecurity begins at home




In the United States, the Washington-based, nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and private contractor Booz Allen Hamilton published a 2008 report called Cyber In-Security, which suggests that government and private-sector computer networks will be unable to fend off expected attacks by criminal groups, foreign nations, terrorists and individual hackers unless there is a huge increase in the number of federal cybersecurity experts. -- October 2, State Department Documents and Publications in a story entitled Seeking a New Generation of Cyberdefenders




So a recent report by the Partnership for Public Service, a group that promotes government service, and consultant Booz Allen Hamilton that the federal government is having trouble finding and attracting a talented cyber-security workforce is worrisome. Among other findings, the survey noted that only 40 percent of hiring managers were satisfied or very satisfied with the number of qualified applicants for information security positions and that 77 percent were dissatisfied with the time it took to hire someone. -- The Washington Post, August 2, in a story entitled Cyberhelp Wanted: The federal government lacks a sensible hiring process -- and enough good candidates -- to guard computer networks.




"You can't win the cyber war if you don't win the war for talent," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based advocacy group that works to improve government service. "If we don't have a federal work force capable of meeting the cyber challenge, all of the cyber czars and organizational efforts will be for naught."

The study was drafted by the partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton as the Obama administration struggles to put together a more cohesive strategy to protect U.S. government and civilian computer networks.
-- Associated Press, July 22, in a story entitled Report: Shortage of cyber experts may hinder govt




Cyberwar would not be as lethal as atomic war, of course, nor as visibly dramatic. But when Mike McConnell, the former director of national intelligence, briefed Mr. Bush on the threat in May 2007, he argued that if a single large American bank were successfully attacked ''it would have an order-of-magnitude greater impact on the global economy'' than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Mr. McConnell, who left office three months ago, warned last year that ''the ability to threaten the U.S. money supply is the equivalent of today's nuclear weapon.''

The scenarios developed last year for the incoming president by Mr. McConnell and his coordinator for cybersecurity, Melissa Hathaway, went further. They described vulnerabilities including an attack on Wall Street and one intended to bring down the nation's electric power grid.
-- The New York Times, April 28, in a story entitled U.S. Plans Attack and Defense in Web Warfare




Northrop Grumman's teammates include JB Management, Alexandria, Va.; Quantum Research International Inc., Huntsville, Ala.; Lockheed Martin, Bethesda, Md.; SAIC, San Diego; and Booz Allen Hamilton and QinetiQ North America, both of McLean, Va.

Northrop Grumman is an industry leader in all aspects of computer network operations and cyber security. Northrop Grumman is offering customers innovative solutions to help secure the nation's cyber future.
-- Global Newswire press release, April 24, in a slug entitled Northrop Grumman's Cybersecurity Team Receives Army Information Operations Award Potentially Worth $430 Million




"In today's current state, there's a good chance that you've already been compromised," Timothy McKnight, vice president of a Northrop Grumman cybersecurity division, told the Los Angeles Times today.

"To bolster their staffs, military firms have been hiring former top government officials ... "

"The military industry, having already done extensive work protecting federal government computers, may be in a good position in the emerging market that could exceed $100 billion in revenue within the next decade ..."




The Cult of Cyberattack -- from the archives.

Electronic Pearl Harbor Games Until Nausea -- here.

The King of Quote, the alpha and omega, the yin and the yang -- even more.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

BIG DUMB US SECURITY MODEL


Those who walk through the wrong door at airports should go to jail, no exceptions!

The big dumb model of US security upsets the applecart regularly for the crime of being human. Of making mistakes everyone makes, of simply being empty-headed.

It is a terrible way to run a country, a rotten way to run anything.

"Police have arrested the man they say was behind a security breach Saturday at JFK Airport that forced the evacuation of a busy terminal," reported AP here.

"The Associated Press cites a Port Authority spokesman, identifying the man as Jules Paul Bouloute of Brooklyn. They say the Haitian man was returning to the city from Haiti.

"Officials say Bouloute was getting off a flight when he walked through a restricted door, which is only supposed to be used by airport workers."

One might think to cut the man some slack for walking through the wrong door, even if he was being rude. Rudeness being part of the human condition, too.

Two-minutes of finger-wagging and stern talk might be appropriate.

But no.

"He's charged with criminal trespass and is expected to be arraigned today," the story informs.

Then there's the standard outpour of the pure milk of human kindness, little or no tolerance for inconvenience and disturbance, mainly caused by the US model of security, not a man who walked through a wrong door. He was only the trigger..

Recall the fellow is from Haiti. Might he have been distracted by the week's affairs?

"Well it happens. I just hope that somebody gets caught. Put them in prison for doing this kind of stuff," one airline passenger is quoted as saying.

Friday, January 15, 2010

SOB STORY OF THE DAY

Pity the poor harried American businessman, hurrying through the Chinese marketplace. It's not his fault he's sacrificed quality control and knowing what goes into the bad goods he sells in the US. He's just trying to make a living and those darn Chinese, they just won't cut him a break.

"David Smith pushed a cart piled high with boxes of beads and other jewelry through a maze of shops at a wholesale market in southern China ... The American shop owner said he would screen the trinkets for lead before they hit the shelves of his Arizona stores [but] he was unaware of the recent discovery of hazardous levels of cadmium in Chinese-made children's jewelry," reports AP here.

"It's small U.S. buyers like Smith who are playing a key role in importing untested products from Chinese factories that ignore safety standards and cut corners to earn a bit more profit ... They often fly into China for a whirlwind buying trip and don't have the time or resources to properly assess their suppliers. Many don't bother to perform quality checks as the goods are being made. Blind faith is a key element in the business deal."

They forgot greed. And sloth and 'just don't care until caught' and a host of other weak rationalizations and excuses.

There's been no shortage of news on how American companies have given up their supply chains to China.

And DD maintains one can blame that country for the crappy goods it makes all you want but that's only half the story. The other half is the western businesses -- big and small -- who gladly signed up for it. And one can't overlook the US government, which relies on a professional career apple-polisher to note on a regulatory agency blog post that parents should throw out cadmium-tainted children's jewelry -- after reading about it in a newspaper.

They rid themselves of their monitored supply chains, their quality control, their American workers, their manufacturing plants and processes, all so they could ship everything overseas and give up paying and worrying for all the stuff manufacturing in the US made them responsible for.

Pretending ignorance is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. In a country where everyone pretends to pride themselves on a staunch sense of personal responsibility, there is none to be found on the ground.

"Dressed in jeans, a brown plaid shirt and running shoes, Smith looked like he was ready to go hiking Friday as he maneuvered his cart full of boxes with 'Tucson' written on them in black marker," continued the AP. "He has been coming to China for 15 years, he said, and was confident he has developed a good eye for jewelry that might contain lead."

Until the next book of something gets buy him with an adulterant or poisonous metal in it.

Gold-plated classic excuse-making

"Paul Midler, author of the new book 'Poorly Made in China,' agreed that buyers have to be diligent," continued the news agency.

"But he didn't blame them for the cadmium controversy ... It's too difficult for buyers to stay on top of all the possible contaminants that might be going into products, he said. Jewelry dealers might have asked to have lead-free products, but might have not thought to ban cadmium too.

" 'You cannot blame the buyers, who are in no position to guess what new trick has been introduced in their supply chain,' " said Midler, whose book is based on his experiences working as a sourcing agent helping Western importers find Chinese factories to make their goods in southern China."

The man who's income depends on Americans coming to him for leads in China cannot be relied upon to tell the hard truth about the matter when it will endanger his livelihood.

So the man must come up with a fob. No one can keep up with all those Chinese tricks.

One can choose not to do business in China. One can put together rigorous quality control instead of having none. One can demand better government regulation and severe death-penalty-like punishments for companies importing bad things and prohibitions against entire categories of Chinese goods.

Unpalatable suggestions because when the US -- everyone -- has ceded manufacturing to China, the person who tries to do things differently stands to lose his shirt as everyone else continues on with bad and predatory business as usual. And this state of affairs, because it is seemingly unchangeable -- now inextricably woven into the fabric of the United States way -- becomes exsculpatory for every subsequent bit of news on poisoned or shoddy products.

We'll go broke if we can't do it! It costs too much money to hire third-party lab testers!

Boo-hoo-hoo!




Still more boo-hoo-hoo-its-China from earlier in the week.

Worthless stub wrenches

Toilet seats that blister when urinated upon.

Poisoned pet food

Lethal counterfeit drugs

Cadmium in jewelry

Covers just about every manner of good, right?
WHAT IS IT WITH SCOTT RITTER?

News fresh in from Pennsyltucky, the sleepy vacation area known as the Poconos.

Now the place of an on-line sex sting dragnet, one which has implicated the now -- whether convicted or not -- disgraced former weapons inspector and famous person, Scott Ritter.

This is just bad.

"Prosecutors and police said on Wednesday that Scott Ritter, a former chief United Nations weapons inspector, will face trial in Monroe County Court in March after police accused him of innapropriate contact over the Internet with what he thought was a 15-year-old girl," reports the Pocono Record.

"Ritter, 48, turned himself in to Barrett Township Police in November after he was charged with having a sexual conversation with a police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl and masturbating on a Web camera on Feb. 7, 2009.

"Ritter was not charged until November after police went through the time-consuming process of obtaining court orders for computer and cell phone records."

On-line, the criminal affidavit writes Ritter was "delmarm4fun," responding to a police officer posing as a 15-year-old girl.

"[Delmarm4fun] adjusted the camera and focused on his penis area, where he began to masturbate ... He then continued to masturbate on webcam ..." it reads.

Then he shot his wad, it informs. In clinical courtroom-ready language, though.

If convicted, Ritter could get up to seven years.

"Ritter faced similar online sexual charges in 2001 in New York, but he said in 2003 that those charges were made public to silence his Iraq war criticism," continued the Pocono newspaper. "The charges were dismissed."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

BOO-HOO-HOO CHINESE HACKERS & PANDERING

This next quote deserves special bold print because it's so pandering.

Local state pol, whose job it is to attract even more federal funding, a facility and jobs to his little state, says what he thinks Americans need to hear about the bright and glorious future.

Think of it as trying to land the Ft. Detrick of Cybersecurity. Which already exists at the NSA and a bunch of other places but ... hey, you can never have too much duplication, triplication and cubing of effort and overspending on defense contractors.

"The Maryland report recommends aligning the state's cyber-security initiatives with those of the Obama administration, and also proposes a National Center of Excellence for Cybersecurity," reports something called , a publication on everything you need to know about sclerotic fleecings contractings in technology.

"This [national] center, Maryland officials say, would include an incubator, labs to test hardware and software, facilities for education and training, a clearinghouse to share information and a team with cyber-security auditing capabilities. These critical components, officials say, will give the U.S. leverage in a worldwide Web war.

"If you look at how modern warfare is going to be fought, it isn't so much about having the best tanks and planes anymore but having the best computers that protect the tanks and planes," Christian S. Johansson, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development, told the publication.

"This is a great business opportunity, but also a patriotic duty."

Yep, it's a patriotic duty to send even more money to the Northrop Grummans, Lockheeds, SAICs, Booz Allens and the rest of the cult of cyberwar. So they use computers to protect the tanks and planes from IEDs and underpants bombers and the locals in impoverished Muslim countries, however that might be accomplished.

Forgot the protect-the-financial-sector script this time, the hackers will bring down Wall Street thing because everyone knows tragedy would ensue if the banks and their financial instruments are mishandled. One wonders why that fine chestnut of wisdom was left out.

"But they hacked gmail!" I hear you say. I know. It's a shameful thing, a harbinger of the end of American supremacy.




The Cult of Cyberwar -- from the archives.
RICH CELEBRITY EXPERTISE


Often on TV famous local used-car salesman.

"My friend Arianna Huffington has started a campaign designed to convince people to move their money out of these big banks and put them into smaller, local, community banks and credit unions that are more likely to see you as a person, not as an account number ... and also to reinvest in the community where they are," blabs Bill Maher in the above video, and in a stenographic post at Huffington here.

You'd trust Bill in an infomercial, right? The token celebrity sneering man on HBO, given weekly dispensations to defecate on obvious targets.

Almost as good as Glenn Beck gold.

DD went out to moveyourmoney.info, pumped in Pasadena and got this in about a second:


Oh no! Satan's Bank in Pasadena wormed its way into the list!

OneWest, which DD passes everyday on his way to pick up lunch, is not small or local or community-minded. It's IndyMac rebranded, its collapse and toxic assets taken on by the taxpayer, its name undergoing an attempted-but-failing laundering through new super-rich owners who continue on with the same.

Why, it was only a couple weeks ago DD wrote about Satan's Bank in Pasadena here.

"On November 25, 2009 a judge in Long Island, New York penalized OneWest for their 'harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive' actions in trying to work out a distressed mortgage by cancelling the debt in favor of the borrower,'" reads one news quote from it. Long Island is sure local to Pasadena. And part of our soCal community. Surely there can be no doubt.

As surely as there can be no doubt Huffington and Maher put all the effort into this it takes to quickly link a database of banks to a rating source at something called "FDIC Branch Data/IRA Bank Monitor".

Wow.

IRA Bank Monitor is a website/consulting operation whose principals probably write their own Wiki descriptions.

"As IRA’s public face, Christopher Whalen’s views are widely quoted, including in publications such as the New York Times and International Herald Tribune, Money.CNN, and on CNBC," it reads.

"The dream, the mirage has always been the global supermarket, but the reality is that it was a shopping mall," said Whalen gnomically to the New York Times, on some much detested bit of business, after the fact, on the fall of Citi.

See here.

"In response to the Financial Time's decision to honor [Lloyd Blankfein], noted bank analyst Christopher Whalen has canceled his subscription to the paper," reads an un-bylined blurb at Huffington Post here.

"Mr. Blankfein and his colleagues at Goldman Sachs, in my view, have done more to damage the reputations of global financial professionals than any other organization in 2009, yet you applaud them," it says Whalen wrote.

Around Xmas, well after the fact.

"Available credit for the US is receding and that's the economy's real lifeblood," Christopher Whalen, "of research firm Institutional Risk Analytics," brilliantly told TIME on January 8.

"The most important thing in the world right now," reads Gawker.

"Arianna Huffington and her buddy Rob Johnson [and now Bill Maher] have penned a lengthy explanation of why Americans should MOVE THEIR MONEY from large corporate banks to local banks because corporate banks caused the recession and are evil," Gawker writes.

"This is an admirable goal. Except it seems the real goal of the campaign is to drive readers to this lame website:

"Visit www.moveyourmoney.info to learn more about how easy it is to move your money. And pass the idea on to your friends (help make this video—and this idea—go viral!).

"The much-vaunted website looks like 'My First Wordpress Blog.'"


Ouch.

"It's been a year since a group of investors including billionaire George Soros and computer company founder Michael Dell agreed to buy IndyMac for what would be nearly $14 billion," reported the Pasadena Star-News in mid-December.

"Its press-shy executives have recently been meeting for lunch with local officials, getting the word out about their plans, re-writing mortgages and taking heavy flack from IndyMac borrowers whose loans they are refusing to change."

Sounds so friendly, community-minded and local, no?

"[Satan's Bank in Pasadena has] also been busy buying banks.

"On Friday, OneWest announced that it bought First Federal Bank of California and its $6.1 billion in assets in a deal brokered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

"Sound familiar?" continued the Star-News.

"OneWest makes no bones about it. Its investors are buying up troubled banks to "expand the OneWest footprint," in Southern California, according to a press release on the acquisition ... With one fell-swoop, OneWest grew last week from the 33 branches (IndyMac) to a combined 72, from the 80-year-old, troubled First Federal ... At the same time, the spectre of one of the largest bank debacles in U.S. history still looms, as OneWest emerges in the very spot IndyMac fell apart - an office building at Lake Avenue and Walnut Street in Pasadena."

"On Tuesday night, Dec. 8, in a freezing blizzard, Leslie Parks returned from her job to find that IndyMac/One West had changed the locks to her home (3749 Park Ave. in Minneapolis)," reads this post at IndyMedia on Satan's Bank of Pasadena.

Strike a blow against evil banking. Ignore Bill Maher and the Huffington Post, it's just more of the same schwick but in different suits and from the west coast.

It's an abusive relationship, ya see.
GRAIN AND THE COLLEGE EXPERIENCE

One random screw-up always goes and ruins it for everyone.

"What started as a typical Saturday night for a Drake University student turned into a life-threatening nightmare when he drank so much of a potent liquor called Everclear that his blood-alcohol content hit .50, six times the legal limit of .08," reports somebody here.

"Nathan Erickson, a freshman pledge of Drake University's Phi Delta Theta fraternity, spent the evening of Nov. 7, 2009, drinking 151-proof Everclear at an unofficial frat house referred to as 'The Carter.' Early Sunday he was found passed out on the couch by Alexander Timm, a Phi Delta Theta resident, who was returning home from a night of bartending."

Committed to the hospital via the emergency room, in a week he was back in class.

This has led to the usual cries for banning. In Scotland, it's always Buckfast Tonic Wine -- nowhere near the strength of 75 percent grain alcohol (Everclear), but aggravating to teetotals for its chemical springboard to obnoxious behavior in young people and bums.

When DD was earning degrees at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, pure grain alcohol and Everclear were weapons of choice in the frat houses.

Commonly grain was mixed into fruit punch -- or anything that tasted like Kool-Aid -- and made available to young women. Because ethanol has almost no taste, there is no warning for the inexperienced drinker of what concentration is in with the sweet-tasting stuff.

In other words, it was something of a date rape lubricant. DD often saw young women being held up by walls, passed out on floors, or various equivalents of lampshades over their heads at Lehigh as a result.

Grain alcohol and beer frenzy even resulted in the overturning of a Pinkerton security force car one famous party weekend. That made some news.

Often belligerent overconsumption was part of the Lehigh way and most bona fide alumni wouldn't have it otherwise. And all the students trucked in on the weekend from drier neighboring colleges loved the velocity and weight of imbibement, too.

At the chemistry department, ethanol straight from the reagent canister was freely available for pilferage as long as one didn't ... overdo it.

But the Drake Everclear incident indicates another side to this universal solvent:

"One unidentified person commented to the Iowa ABD that being able to buy undenatured alcohol from local liquor stores is more convenient and cheaper than going to scientific supply houses, where the cost can be three to 10 times higher. Still others think it should not be banned because when mixed with other non-alcoholic beverages, it can provide for a one-of-a-kind taste."

The latter's not really true unless one considers one-of-a-kind-taste to be in congruent with easy overconsumption.

"Everclear was made illegal in Iowa in its 190-proof form a few months ago, but is still readily available in its 151-proof form," explains the article. "The state is considering taking it off the shelf in all forms because so many young Iowans have had close calls with it. Iowa's Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator ... [said]that many have been voicing opinions that there is no legitimate purpose for the beverage and that it is too difficult to consume responsibly. One unit of Everclear is comparable to drinking 14 beers."

Define legitimate purpose. At university, getting really bombed fast on the weekend is the very definition of legitimate purpose. That's just a fact of life.

However, think of the fine story Nathan Erickson will have to tell when he's fifty.

Children will be confused: "Daddy, was that you?" Peers will purse their lips but inwardly remember their younger days with a smile when they boldly tickled the dragon's tail. And teenagers and college students will have their opinions rearranged: "Mebbe the old fart isn't such an annoying coot all the time, after all."

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

BOO-HOO-HOO! CHINESE HACKERS!

Front page story in today's LA Times, common news everywhere: "Google may leave China in wake of hacker attacks."

With only slightly bolder headline to the right: "Haiti in chaos after 7.0 quake."

And the Los Angeles Times is going to save itself by moving as much of their operation as they can to the web. Where it can run more entertainment stories as ledes.

But DD digresses.

Over the past two years, DD blog has posted a great number of comments on China and its many shoddy goods.

From worthless stub wrenches to worm-eaten toilet seats and trinket blues harmonicas to melamine-poisoned pet food and milk to lethal counterfeit drugs to cadmium-containing jewelry fit for the landfill, China has the market cornered when it comes to manufactured crap.

Still, when you go into any store in Pasadena everything that's not nailed down is made in China.

So bagging on China isn't fair.

Because also at the root of this problem are the American businessmen who dismantled their manufacturing and production, discarded their quality control, let go of their supply chains and fired their American workers and steadily squeezed the wages of everyone left over -- all so they could have their consumables, drugs, toys, dry goods, tools -- you name it, made in China.

And every damn one of them, and everyone in regulatory affairs in the US government, knew going in they were going to have a big problem in this area. And they all made conscious decisions to abandon their scruples, decency and moral high ground to the pure pursuit of profit at the expense of everything else.

Years later, in the US -- for example -- you'd still be hard-pressed to glimpse any punishment for Baxter, the company that distributed lethal made-in-China counterfeit heparin.

Rely on the US government for regulation during the last decade? Haw.

Now you can rely on civil class action suits only.

"Baxter International, Inc., which recalled its blood thinner heparin amid reports of allergic reactions and deaths in 2008, faces at least 30 lawsuits in Chicago by injured people or their estates," reported Bloomberg recently.

"As many as 300 product-liability complaints may be filed in the Illinois state court, plaintiffs’ attorney Allen Schwartz of Kralovec, Jambois & Schwartz said today in a phone interview. His law firm and two others are working to comply with a judge’s order last year to convert an aggregate lawsuit to individual claims against the Deerfield, Illinois-based company.

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested new manufacturing standards for the blood thinner in 2008 after the problems were linked to tainted ingredients from China ... Baxter, which at the time supplied about 50 percent of the blood thinner and anticoagulant used in the U.S., began a voluntary recall after its monitors noticed an increase in reports of allergic reactions to injections of the drug, said Erin Gardiner, a company spokeswoman, in a phone interview today.

"We deeply regret any impact the 2008 heparin contamination situation may have had on patients and family members," a Baxter p.r. person informed Bloomberg in an e-mail.

The company deeply regrets the 2008 heparin contamination situation. How could anyone doubt such sincere sentiment? Why, that and 75 cents will get you a copy of the Los Angeles Times at the newspaper kiosk up the street.

So when one reads about Google telling China its hack attacks are the last affront, one eyes quickly glaze over until they hit the stories about contaminated Chinese drywall, installed in thousands and thousand of US homes in the southeast during the housing bubble. And how the American home-owners are deeply upset because the American companies that built their houses, or the importers of drywall, can't be turned to and now their investments are deteriorated and/or unlivable.

"Chinese drywall has been implicated in widespread problems for thousands of homeowners in Florida and other southeastern states, where the wallboard was used when domestic supplies were short during the construction boom from 2004 to 2007," reads one news story. "Complaints about Chinese drywall include metal corrosion of air conditioners and other household items, and complaints about medical problems like headaches and nosebleeds."

"Bill Morgan bought what he thought would be his dream home in James City in 2006," reports a newspaper in Newport News, Virginia. "But this summer he had to move out, afraid of the fire and health risks since he discovered it was made with fume-emitting drywall imported from China."

"On Tuesday, he was part of a crowd of nearly 150 people who attended a town hall meeting in James City put on by Richard J. Serpe, an attorney representing about 70 families whose homes contain Chinese drywall ... They're among about 2,775 reports of the defective building material that have surfaced in 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Most of the homes were built in 2006 and 2007. More than 90 percent of the reports are from Florida, Louisiana and Virginia."

So don't blame China for [fill in the blank]. It's our country that's busted, run aground on stupidity and avarice.

Of course, we still make land mines and the the most advanced cluster bomb in the world, the great sensor-fuzed weapon.

Which would be just the thing in case China attacks Taiwan, as envisioned in this news story:

"US military officials said today they would provide Taiwan with weapons to protect itself from a possible Chinese attack, despite Beijing's warning that such sales could lead to conflict.

"The officials told a congressional hearing that China was preparing for a fight against the island."


Don't believe me? See here.

"I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee," wrote Kurt Vonnegut once.

What did he know about the US of A in 2010?




Country's top product safety regulator (which is like saying the country's top scarecrow) says to take that cancer-causing cadmium cheap-ass jewelry from China off your kids.

Here.

Because it took Associated Press to hire a real scientist to do the work, not a US-government consumer protection agency.

"Writing in a blog posted Wednesday evening, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission noted that children who chew, suck on or swallow a bracelet charm or necklace may be endangering their health," reported AP.

" 'I have a message for parents, grandparents and caregivers: Do not allow young children to be given or to play with cheap metal jewelry, especially when they are unsupervised,' wrote Inez Tenenbaum, the chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission."

Rather, some staffer posted it. No one rational would believe a government official 'posted to a blog' any more than they'd believe a claim that human beings can jump to the moon.

Tenenbaum's 'biographical' page at the McNair law firm, where she worked prior to being tapped by the Obama administration reveals she has no experience in consumer protection.

In fact, Tenenbaum has little notable experience in anything unless one considers the vain hoovering up of a stack of honorary degrees from really small, undistinguished and loser-ish colleges hot stuff rather than charity-case apple-polishing.

"2003 Distinguished Service Award, Greater Columbia Community Relations Council; Distinguished Alumni Award, Center for Creative Leadership, 2001; Compleat Lawyer Award, University of South Carolina School of Law, 2000," are some of Tenenbaum's many things. Awesome. Consumers would feel so much safer if they knew of this stuff.

But we can also add a new accomplishment: Officially Read The Associated Press On Cadmium Junk Jewelry and Instructed Staffer to Post to Blog Award, 2010.

Monday, January 11, 2010

THE CREEPING UNKNOWN

Continuing in the classic sci-fiction vein, over the weekend your host stumbled upon a 2005 BBC staging of The Quatermass Experiment. DD first knew it in Pennsyltucky, from Saturday B-movie fare, as The Creeping Unknown. The Unknown title, reinforced on viewing the trailer, seems glued on for the US audience -- kids like me.

The trailer for the old black and white movie is here.

"There's no room for personal feelings in science, Judith!" -- Quatermass

Quatermass is part of the Brit psyche. In the US, its bleak Gothic mix of sci-fi and horror seems to have noticeably influenced only The Outer Limits.

Leslie Stevens' "The Production and Decay of Strange Particles," for example, features the same escalating tension and air of inexorable disaster as Quatermass, only about a decade later. (It's also on YouTube. Look for a very young Leonard Nimoy in the role of a nuclear lab technician.)



The Beeb production The Quatermass Experiment ran live and it stages as taut science-fiction theatre of the best kind. Children, or those with the attention spans of children, may be dismayed by its lack of effects. But the brooding menace and outline of doom in a science project gone too far is inescapable.

The story-line never ages: Three astronauts encounter something in a mission gone bad. Only one comes back -- with something extra.

Biographical notes indicate it helped clinch David Tennant's role as the tenth Dr. Who.

The Quatermass Experiment -- from 2005, more thumping classic sci-fi, is here.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

END OF CIVILIZATION MOVIE THEATRE



John Wyndham's end-of-the-world sci-fi novel, The Day of the Triffids, was one of my favorite reads as a teenager.

Set in Britain, it was the story of how civilization came crashing down under a confluence of events triggered by human ignorance.

The triffids were giant walking plants, armed with a venomous whip, leaked out of the Soviet Union under much secrecy. Their oil extended pretroleum resources, making them a commecial hot biofuel property as long as civilization existed -- power, fences and and the pruning tools of modern society.

A spectacular global atmospheric display of flashing light -- by a comet or meteor shower, much later theorized in the book as morely likely man-made, secret orbiting satellite weapons gone awry -- blinds most of humanity. All except those blacked-out the same night from serious hangover, sickness, random circumstance or injury.

As civilization collapses, the triffids break loose. Carnivorous plants, they head for the best food sources -- people in cities. The blind have no defense.

Wyndham's novel -- and its new BBC remake -- has as central character triffid scientist Bill Masen. Masen is sighted, paradoxically from being hospitalized with bandages covering his eyes from a triffid sting that was not quite fatal but just in time to save him from the blinding.

The book and the BBC adaptation revolve around Masen's struggle to survive in London, besieged by triffid swarms and predatory groups of the still sighted, looting what's left in a struggle to carve out territories ruled by a warlord.

The BBC remake, very computer-graphic rich and resource heavy, follows a much older BBC serialization from the early Eighties. Where the first Beeb crack at "Triffids" was homespun and old videotape warm, much like Tom Baker-era Dr. Who, the recently shown version has a significant injection of jet fuel and nitro. Think Torchwood and Tennant-era Who on BBC America.

However, unlike Torchwood and Who, Triffids remains very Gothic and bleak, true to Wyndham's novel on total collapse. The sky over dead London is smokey, the countryside cold and dark, rendered menacing as characters -- even the sighted -- stumble through woods and underbrush, or careen down roads in cars and trucks, trying to find refuge from attack by the triffids which now hold all the cards.

Dougray Scott, who plays Masen, always looks gripped by resignation and despair -- or wracked with pain. It's a fairly one-note performance but in the context of the movie, entirely substantial. Warmth would be hard to come by in any TV adaptation of Triffids although the Eighties serial, now available on YouTube, fares much better in this regard. The latter's only failing is in its effects and small soundstage feel.



However, in comparison to both, the 'Hollywood' version of the movie -- from 1962 -- is utter crap.


Stick around for the party scene.

Updated for 2009-2010 concerns, 'triffid oil' has fancifully solved the problem of global warming, harvested from vast farms of genetically modified triffids. It is a quaint fantasy.

Naturally, the public is largely in the dark about how dangerous triffids are and big business has no intention of messing with success.

Then everyone is blinded by a solar flare display and an environmental protester/saboteur turns off the power at London's nearest triffid farm. Male triffids, kept separate from the electrically neutralized females, storm to freedom. If the two breed, there will be so many triffids mankind will be rendered extinct. The clock is ticking.

Scientist Masen tries to warn the few sighted left. But they have other things on their minds, not something they can't yet see coming down the motorways into the city.

Tantalizingly, Masen -- and his scientist parents who were the first to work on triffids -- realize the rumbling, trilling and tick-tocking noises made by the plants constitute some type of speech. But they can never decipher it and only at the end can the man formulate one desperate application of his knowledge.

Other characters include Eddie Izzard as designated villain and Jason Priestley as the single American -- an oafish bleeding heart who later becomes Masen/Scott's ally.

Vanessa Redgrave has a short bit as a Mother Superior nun in a convent refuge, a fanatic with a special plan for dealing with triffids. It's not hard to guess what it is.

If you're a stickler for science in your science fiction, you'll be troubled by the great size of the triffids, their energy and sheer numbers. Even in a crowded western country, as carnivores there simply isn't enough meat -- blind or sighted -- to sustain them or the level of activity they bring to the movie special.

Perhaps because of budget limitations, there were very many less of them making the story more solid in the Eighties production.

Nevertheless, it is always a thrill to hear the triffids approaching from the dark. The tension mounts repeatedly and then the triffid lash, always the end for someone and in the worst possible way -- right in the eyes.

The finale of Triffids is faithful to Wyndham. It is not happy but neither is it unremittingly bleak. Melancholy over a new life would probably be the best way to describe it.

If you liked thumping classic Fifties/Sixties science-fiction you will enjoy the Beeb's remake.

Note: DD was able to watch Triffids on-line, even though the Beeb had set up barriers to on-line streaming to the States.

Be advised, however, that Google searches do return poisoned results first and that these come from 'free on-line' watching places which are not free, but a variety of frauds run off video-streaming sites.

Typically, these sites will ask you to take a 'free survey' to unlock the 'free content.' What they aim to get is your cellular phone number to which they then attach a renewing monthly charge. Under no circumstances should you give them any such information.

Friday, January 08, 2010

U-PANTS BOMBER: ALPHA TO OMEGA

For all Washington's efforts to wall off the US, it is still unable to prevent the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs from walking in off the street, volunteering for service at the local al-Qaeda affiliate in the impoverished Muslim nation of the moment, Yemen, and throwing themselves at airplane security.

The only upside is that such volunteers are generally of low quality, perhaps guaranteeing that their jerry-built experiments in explosive chemistry will fail.

While there's been no definitive explanation of the mechanics of the underwear bomb -media confusion, the usual American authority desire to suppress information, and the nature of the thing itself - the pictures that have been released indicate Abdulmutallab succeeded only in charring his device and parts of himself.

What may have been thought to be workable in a vacant lot somewhere in Yemen was hardly a plan that was sophisticated or foolproof in the hands of a 'warrior' like Abdulmutallab. He had to get the device onto an aeroplane where it had to be yanked out of the trousers in the bathroom after being sat and sweat and farted upon for hours, then squirted with a syringe of acid, the syringe partly destroyed by the corrosive effect.

More of the overview by DD here at El Reg.

Equally worth your eyeballs, a companion piece by Reg digital ink-stained wretch Lewis Page.

"In the end, the correct response to efforts like those of Mr Mutallab and his incendiary undergarments is not panic and more security, but laughter - much as one might also laugh at the idiotic bum-kamikaze whose efforts, erm, backfired so messily in Saudi Arabia last summer," writes Mr. Page, in an excellent piece summarizing what's doable, what's not, and why airplanes, trains and cities aren't blowing up everywhere.

And won't be.

It is here.

Keywords: PETN, incendiary, Sheetex, colostomy bomb, urostomy bomb, cavity bomb, terrorism

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

BIG UNREASONING SECURITY: THE US MODEL

The poorly trained or people who can't think on their feet frequently unravel when confronted with the unusual or simple variations in human behavior. They fold right up like playing cards in a cheaply made deck.

Take this just breaking story from the Associated Press.

"The suspicious material found inside luggage that prompted the shutdown of a California airport Tuesday morning turned out to be five soft drink bottles filled with honey, authorities said," reported the agency.

"A passenger's suitcase tested positive for TNT at Bakersfield's Meadows Field during a routine swabbing of the bag's exterior, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said. When TSA officials opened the bag, they found bottles filled with an amber liquid, he said.

" 'Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles?" Youngblood asked. "That itself is an alarm. It's hard to understand.' "

No, not really. If one is getting honey straight from a hive and combs, or a larger container, or from a basement where it was stored years ago -- perhaps before the advent of liquid bombers, it can make sense.

There are also many other reasons -- including human ignorance -- to be considered. However, all too often the people in charge or allegedly in charge of protecting against 'terrorism,' simply can't get their heads around such things.

Gatorade bottles are only for liquid bombers, particularly in airports. That's the law.

"When TSA agents opened one of the bottles and tested the contents, the resulting fumes nauseated them, Youngblood said," continued the AP. "Both were treated and released at a local hospital."

Perhaps because the honey was spoiled. Or perhaps because the inspectors were so rattled a strong oder hysterically sickened them. Both are well within the borders of the possible.

And now for more refreshing bad thinking:

"It's encouraging that the system did work, because something is not right there ... The system worked the way it was supposed to, but it just takes time when you close an airport — and it costs a lot of money."

"All flights into and out of Meadows Field were canceled for much of Tuesday as authorities searched the terminal for other potential explosives.

"The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office bomb squad was expected to perform further tests on the honey to determine why at least two false positives were recorded for both TNT and the organic explosive acetone peroxide, or TATP. Bakersfield is about 110 miles north of Los Angeles."

One can think of many things here. That a system 'worked' by furnishing ludicrous false positives on bottles of honey is not an indication that it is actually working where we live -- in a world constrained by reality. It is, however, some evidence of the 'working' of failure, whether it be in the people performing the tests, in expired reagents in the tests, in bad tests that have never been properly validated, or some combination of all of these.

"Investigators said the bag's owner, Francisco Ramirez, 31, is a gardener from Milwaukee who has been cooperating with authorities," added the AP. "He flew to Bakersfield Dec. 23 to spend Christmas with his sister and was returning Tuesday when the alarm sounded."

How very unusual! Nope, people don't bring things in jars back from Xmas holiday. When we see Gatorade bottles, we always think bombs!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

DOCUMENTS ART SHOWN HERE CAN GET YOU JAILED


Repro of Washington Post illustration from a few years back.

"[Xenofon Kavvadias,] a graduate of Central St Martins School of Art and Design who has lived in the UK for six years, sought Lord Carlile's advice when he staged his MA degree show, featuring the covers of three extremist texts secured in centimetre-thick clear plastic cases in an attempt to explore the legal boundaries of freedom of expression," reported the Guardian today.

"He now wants to install a bookshelf in an art gallery stocked with texts presented in court to secure terrorism convictions. They include Defence of Muslim Lands by Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, a jihadist who influenced Osama bin Laden, The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, which details how to kill using homemade ricin and how to make poisons from tobacco and potatoes, and the Manual of Afghan Jihad (also known as the al-Qaida Manual), which explains how to plan, finance and execute terror attacks."

The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, much of it largely derived from Maxwell Hutchkinson's The Poisoner's Handbook, published in the US in the Eighties, has been a common feature on DD blog ever since I started.

During the war on terror, it has consistantly cropped up in terror trials and newspaper articles on alleged murderous capabilities. It has, practically speaking, been deemed material likely to be used in support of terrorism in the UK.

"A large number of jihadi documents have been distributed widely on the world wide web – not only by terror groups, but by academics, journalists, and others," DD wrote for el Reg a couple years ago.

"As such, they are not just of interest to terrorists. They also, rather obviously, arouse intense curiosity in a broader populace.

"DD blog has put a number online, including one with an identifier in signifying its previous owner as the Los Angeles Times newspaper. It's a portion of the Manchester manual and it was sent in 2005 by a Times reporter who wanted an explanation of its nature and an evaluation of the capability it did or did not confer. He was told it was part of the Manchester manual, originally recovered in England, now commonly called the al Qaeda manual (or the manual of Afghan Jihad) by the US Department of Justice, and that the Times's portion of it granted little or no capability. Why someone from the newspaper had taken the original and neatly retyped it into Word format was a mystery."

"Since being put online along with other similar documents, it has been downloaded many, many times, now existing on hard disks around the world."

In England, if your skin color and religion are wrong, being found in possession of these things can get you sent over permanently.

"Defendant after defendant has discovered that a long-forgotten internet search has left an indelible record sufficient for a conviction under the profoundly disturbing section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows prosecution for simple possession of an item likely to be useful to terrorists, and carries a sentence of up to 10 years' imprisonment," wrote famous lawyer Gareth Piece for the Guardian at the end of 2007.

"While the record of use remains permanently, no equivalent reconstruction is available or even required of the mindset of the user at the time," she continued. "The common elements in each conviction have now become familiar: the defendant had not the slightest idea that such possession was inconsistent with the right to freedom of thought; was not remotely involved in any terrorist activity; and was Muslim."

For the trial of Samina Malik, who was known as The Lyrical Terrorist in the British press that year, DD was asked by the defense to contribute a short analysis concerning the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.

It was found in Malik's possession and [was] considered, wrongly, to be a document of potential use to terrorists. It contains many errors and some rather large fabrications which, while not obvious to laymen, are glaringly apparent to professionals trained in chemistry and biology.

For the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy Bulletin in 2005, it was reported:

"The first time I saw [the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook]," said chemist George Smith of GlobalSecurity.org, "I thought it must be a hoax."

"Careful examination of the document shows that it is crammed with errors, seemingly the work of someone with little discernible sense, profoundly ignorant of the nature of simple compounds and incompetent in even minor [laboratory] procedures," Dr. Smith wrote in National Security Notes in March 2004."


This is as true now as it was then.

For example, the statement in the Guardian about how the manual instructs how to make poison from potatoes is merely stupid. And wrong.

In the Poisons Handbook, it simply consists of a brief entry -- originally lifted from Hutchkinson's old US-published book -- on the green spots you occasionally see on potato chips, solanine, as an allegedly workable poison.

While solanine is toxic, there is no practical way to make use of what exists in tiny amounts of it from spoiled potatoes. And the manual, indeed, does not magically make one able to do it.

However, for Samina Malik the document was very poisonous.

She "was found guilty at the Old Bailey of owning terrorist manuals," reported the BBC simply in November of 2007.

Malik was convicted for possessing records deemed to be of potential use to terrorists, including the document pictured above. It had been published many places on the web and the above snapshot was published in a Sunday edition of the Washington Post newspaper in 2005.

"[She] was acquitted on a more serious charge of possessing articles for terrorist purposes, a fact that the judge said he took into account when deciding on a suspended sentence," reported the Los Angeles Times in early December of that year.

But back to the present.

"The government's anti-terror law watchdog has become involved in an artist's attempt to use jihadist handbooks and extremist tracts in his work," reported the Guardian.

"Lord Carlile of Berriew has advised Xenofon Kavvadias after the Metropolitan police warned the Greek artist he could be arrested and prosecuted under the Terrorism Act if he mounts an exhibition featuring texts such as The Islamic Ruling on the Permissibility of Martyrdom Operations, a justification for suicide bombings used by Chechen extremists."

"Kavvadias says he is a pacifist and has no sympathy with Islamist extremism, but wants 'to use art to reclaim something that is lost right now: freedom of publishing and freedom of expression," continued the newspaper.

"He argues that most of the texts he proposes to feature are accessible on the internet and is keen to point out that the broad wording of anti-terrorism legislation criminalises thousands of people who have no criminal intent."

In this, Kavvadias is certainly correct.

Thousands of people have downloaded such documents and fragments of them from a variety of places on the web, including servers runs by the academy and the US government -- often out of sheer curiosity. And the British anti-terror legislation did, in fact, criminalize such action, especially so if you were Muslim.

This is just a fact.

Suprisingly, "Carlile, the government's independent reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation since 2005, has offered cautious encouragement to the project," added the Guardian.

"I am sure there is a visual arts context into which counter-terrorism legislation can be put ... The best and shortest answer to your question is that you are unlikely to be prosecuted, and if prosecuted not convicted, if you do not break sections 57 and 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 ... I am sorry that I cannot answer your question more directly than that, but I am afraid that the law is no less conceptual than fine art."

"Nobody is going to give him a yes or a no on any particular item," Carlile told the newspaper. "If he shows anything that shows somebody who does not know how to make a bomb, then that would be a bad decision."

One of the problems here is the interpretation on what constitutes showing someone who does not know how to make a bomb or poison how to make a bomb or poison. Or whether or not something digital in your possession does or does not show how to make a bomb or poison.

Those interpretations can be almost whatever one wants them to be, practically speaking.

"My grand project is to design a library [of banned books] for each country to create a portrait of a country's demons and fears," Kavvadias told the Guardian.

"He said the law as it stands means thousands of people who have downloaded copies of terrorist-related tracts and handbooks, are inadvertently putting themselves at risk of prosecution, even when they don't have any criminal purpose.

"Unless he can secure assurances that he will not be prosecuted under laws that proscribe recklessly inciting others to commit terrorist acts, with a maximum jail term of seven years, he will try to stage the show in the Netherlands."

"Dowload al Qaeda manuals, go to prison?" I asked at el Reg in May of last year.

At that time, yes was frequently the answer.

"Especially if you [or] the recipient go by the wrong kind of names," I added.

"In mid-May, University of Nottingham master's student Rizwaan Sabir apparently sent the electronic manual to a school clerk, Hicham Yezza, for printing. This triggered an investigation in which counter-terror police arrested the two and held them for six days, after which Sabir was released without charge. However, Yezza was held on an immigration violation and is in custody, threatened with deportation to Algeria.

"Reg readers know now that reading the wrong stuff in the UK gets you on the fast track to prison for being in possession of something [thought] likely to be of use to potential terrorists. Technically, get-out-of-jail-free cards have been issued for journalists and academics, both of which have a well-defined public interest in writing about and analyzing such documents. However, under the current climate it's inevitable that those with good reasons for possessing jihadi electronic documents will find themselves in anti-terror cross-hairs."

The paradox in the Yezza case was that the Afghan of Manual Jihad had been downloaded from a US Department of Justice server. Practically speaking, at the time it was actually being distributed to the web from the United States in at least two places administered by the government -- from Dept. of Justice property and a mirror at the US Air University. The latter was directly pointed to by the Bush White House's webpage in 2005 when the president wanted to make a point about al Qaeda in a political speech.

"At Nottingham University, the document [went] almost full circle - from Manchester -- where it had been originally given to US authorities], to Washington, around the US and back to England," I wrote for el Reg in May of last year.

"The Times Higher Education Supplement reported on May 22 that Sabir was using the manual 'as preparation for a PhD on radical Islamic groups [and] had downloaded an edited version of the al-Qaeda handbook from a US government website... It is understood that [he] sent the 1,500-page document to the staff member... because he had access to a printer.' The clerk was also arrested.

"Sabir's lawyer told the publication 'The two members of the university were treated as though they were part of an al-Qaeda cell.' "

Xenofon Kavvadias is right when he cites such materials as part of a growing catalog of each country's "demons and fears." As such, and having worked their way into western popular consciousness, they must certainly now be legitimate subjects for art. And who would be better to judge than an artist?

Unfortunately, times being what they are, no bullet-proof assurances can be made that others won't see it differently.

The pusillanimous among us too often win out.




Related:

"From the Poisoner's Handbook to the Botox Shoe of Death" -- here.

"Maxwell Hutchkinson's Poisoner's Handbook" -- here.

"Ultimate Jihadist's Poisons Handbook" -- here