Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black Site: Update 2

Many other bloggers have descended on the CIA secret jail story and are probably doing it better than I am. If you want a round-up I endorse and recommend Soj. But there are some things I feel ought to be flagged. As anyone who reads this regularly ought to know, I suspect that Taszar airbase in Hungary, the location of "Camp Freedom", where Ahmed Chalabi's followers were trained for the invasion of Iraq is one of the sites. Last week, I revealed that an aircraft formerly used by the Bush-Cheney campaign had visited Taszar in April, 2003. I'm trying to find out who was using Boeing 727, N804MA at the time. Mr Hackert, director of sales for its owners Miami Air International, declined to answer an inquiry by email. Readers?

One may remember that an Iraqi general was about to be tried in Denmark on war crimes charges shortly before the war. He vanished, an event that attracted some attention at the time. This site, whose credibility I rather doubt, claims that General Nizar al-Khazraji was taken to Taszar on board a Gulfstream aircraft operated by the CIA. (Two Gulfstreams have been identified as taking part in prisoner transfers.) They also, fascinatingly, claim that the operation at Taszar was run by none other than disgraced New York cop Bernard Kerik!

German weekly Die Zeit described the scene around the base in January 2003: massive security, with an outer ring of Hungarian troops but an inner sanctum guarded by Americans. Apparently the Hungarians were informed of all the people who passed through for border control purposes, but I don't know if any physical control was carried out - in any case no-one was permitted to leave the perimeter.

It was rumoured yesterday that Le Monde was going to run a headline regarding a "little Guantanamo" at Camp Bondsteel, the US Army headquarters in Kosovo, however they didn't (or at least their website didn't). It's here. I suspect I know why: about a year ago, I was told by a former Naval staff officer and specialist in international law who had visited the place that the infamous Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo looked very similar to the POW cage in Bondsteel, which he had visited in connection with war-crimes suspects from the Balkan war who were held there before transfer to the Hague Tribunal. He held that X-Ray looked like it did because the Americans military engineers built the same kind of structure anywhere if they were told to erect a camp for prisoners, whether POWs or Rumsfeld's "illegal combatants".

What differed, presumably, was the treatment they received once they were there..

Edit: this is essentially the Le Monde story, just the person who saw the prison's likeness was Alvardo Gil Robles of the Council of Europe. He was apparently "shocked" by the resemblance but makes no mention of torture or maltreatment.

Robbtastic!

Three terrorist cells exposed in Baghdad. Two were led by the same renegade Interior Ministry official and the other by the director of a private investment company. Does anyone else wonder if he was playing the markets (petrol? cement? security/protection racket?) in relation to his spare-time activities? This really is getting like Vietnam with worse music.

Iraq: it's nearly over but not quite yet

Cole quotes Arabic press reports that representatives of the "guerrilla movement" in Iraq met with the Iraqi political parties, other Arab states, and US intelligence at a conference in Cairo, where they stated their terms. The terms are as follows:
1) working to end the foreign occupation;
2) compensation to the Iraqis for the damages arising from the American invasion;
3) the release of prisoners;
4) building political and military institutions that are not subservient to American and regional influence.
Or to put it another way, this is the beginning of the end. It's nowhere near the beginning of the end of the war, but it is the beginning of the end of our war in Iraq. 1) is clear - get out. 3) is obvious (but not trivial). 2) can be read as blackmail: pay up and we might - might - grant you a relatively orderly departure, rather than insisting on live-broadcast humiliation, burning Chinooks and screaming mobs. 4) is interesting. "Political and military institutions that are not subservient to American influence", I think, means the re-establishment of the old Iraqi army and the order of the boot for Jaafari's government. "Regional influence", I suppose, means essentially the two I's, Israel and Iran - these particular guerrillas are part of what I call NOIA, the New Old Iraqi Army, and they are not keen on Iran at all. And you can forget diplomatic relations with Israel any time before the crack of doom.

This is why I'm anti-timetables. If we say that come what may, in six months' time the last coalition soldier will step over the Kuwaiti border, we have to accept all of these. For example, the terms suggest that we have to depose the SCIRI-UIA from government as they are arguably subservient to both American and "regional" influence. That brings problems - not only were they sort-of elected, they have their own armies and allies, and they are in the majority. Sacking Jalal Talabani from the presidency would also presumably trigger Kurdish secession and all that would follow from it. From a selfish point of view, it would also be militarily foolish.

When we leave Iraq we will go the same way we came, along the motorway (State Highway 8) south from Baghdad past the Shia towns, over the Euphrates, south-west of Basra and eventually to the docks in Kuwait City. This road (it leads on past Baghdad and eventually takes you to Mosul) is the main supply route for the whole coalition force, with a subsidiary air route to Baghdad Airport and the Corps Support Command logistics base at Balad South East airfield northeast of Baghdad. Appeasing the Sunni insurgents would be penny wise, pound foolish if it incenses the Shia, because our line of retreat is through their territory. The 2004 Shia rising effectively bollocksed up the logistics system to the point where the Green Zone was on half rations precisely because that road is where it is.

So that's a term we can't agree to. If we are tied to a specific date, though, we have no choice in the matter. That is the danger of a timetable. If we don't accept, then we still go in six months but we have to retreat under constant attack. And they will get what they want anyway.

Another point on this: as Comments Dan pointed out, British forces are currently covering the southern end of that route and the border with Kuwait. We can't leave until everyone else has, short of leaving the US to negotiate a deal with Iran to get out and accept that the NOIA will do exactly as it pleases, which would be a military disaster, lead to the immediate elimination of the Iraqi government and probable further intervention by the neighbours, and also be equivalent to terminating the Atlantic alliance.

You may be interested to know, according to the Washington Post, that the security situation is now so bad that you cannot move around the Green Zone freely. Perhaps the fear that one day the Zone will fall in some sort of bloody, epic crisis is illusory, an example of how you expect big and dramatic things to be big and dramatic. Maybe it's just going to shrink - presumably we leave when the security perimeter equals the size of John Negroponte's office? More drawdown talk here, although I class this with most of the "withdrawals in six months" stuff. We won't get out until we go, so to speak.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Boris Johnson

..has a use. Who knew?

"The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act ... we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence".


This calls for Operation Mirrorball. Last time, it turned out the Standard just couldn't get their website organised. This time it may be for real.

Netwebresearch

So there's this comment that appears in one of my old threads and it says "Nick Griffin is a paedophile", giving what is clearly a string of random letters as a name. Then it appears again. Identical. So I goes and I asks da comment, whatta you know about Nick? Comment doesn't answer, stares in his beer.

Obviously I go do a WHOIS. You got weird comments and you know the IP address, you do a WHOIS. Meh, it goes through to an ISP in Sheffield called plus.net, to a customer netblock. So off I goes and I does a reverse DNS lookup on 212.159.34.6. And, what? I find it calls itself netwebresearch.plus.com. Not that you'll find no website with that name. Naturally, the name belongs the plus.com hostmaster.

So I google. And what do I find? A world of websites where some clown has been posting identical troll posts all pointing links right at www.netwebresearch.com, a domain that don't no more exist than she was a rabbit. But there's some site left in the Google cache, not much of a one though.

So - some knobber's been trying to fill the Internet with links to their crappy little site by having a script copy nonsense into blog comments threads and can't be bothered to maintain it. Netwebresearch, kindly piss off.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can someone give these people a clue?

At the World Summit on the Information Society in fun-loving Tunisia, it seems the goons tried to make Richard Stallman wear an RFID tag. Yes, that Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and hammer of digital injustices of every kind. Apparently he wrapped it in tinfoil (see! it works! the MIT study is a stinking lie!) to stop it working...

..which clearly worked, seeing as the Tunisian security knobbers proceeded to give him a hard time. It's a pity I didn't think of resorting to this simple procedure at the time of my own RFID madness experience. By the way, do any of you have a reader for the things or know where I could obtain one? I've still got the thing and I'd like to know what it says about me..

Sunday, November 20, 2005

UKIP: Wave of the Future

I, I, THOMAS NISBET AITCHISON, Returning Officer at the election of a Councillor for the No. 15 Murrayfield Ward of the City of Edinburgh local government area on Thursday, 10 November 2005, do hereby, in accordance with Rule 43(1)(c) of the local elections rules set out in Schedule 2 to the Scottish Local Government Elections Rules 2002, declare that the result of the election was as follows:-

VOTES
BALFOUR, Jeremy R.
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Candidate: 1327

BOULTON, Jill M.
Scottish Green Party: 58

BROWN, Melville
UKIP Scotland: 4
As I think is customary on these occasions: BWHAAAHAAHAAHAAAHAAA! Remember this post from January? "It is just possible that he and UKIP will transform the politics of Britain and Europe".

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Things I've allowed to slide

The Orwells, specifically. I'd like to resume Orwelling, and in a big way, by citing an organisation rather than an individual. This week's Orwell nomination goes to the Association of Chief Police Officers, or ACPO for short. The reason? Not just for Brazilian-blasting or acting as uniformed whips for the Labour Party, nor for suggesting that an ANPR number plate recognition camera could be placed every 400 yards on the motorway network, but for something more intangible that touches on all of these.

It's for getting involved not just in politics (no-one is ever really uninvolved in politics), but in legislation. ACPO kicked off by pushing the government's policy to MPs, officially entirely off its own bat. In fact, the Home Office's spokesman later said that Charles Clarke had spoken to the ACPO chairman but that this was "proper". Curiously, though, it doesn't worry me as much that the cops might be used by the government for party purposes than it does that ACPO is quite capable of doing so off its own bat.

After all, one of its members, Sir Ian "Killer of the Yard" Blair announced in what amounted to an address to the nation that he wanted a debate with us on what kind of policing we needed. Now, I always thought that this was a matter to be settled through parliament and the central government in one direction, and through local government and the elected police authorities in the other. But let that pass. I'd be delighted to debate policing with Killer, but Silvermans haven't delivered my bulletproof vest yet, and anyway, the first item in the kind of police force I want is "one that doesn't contain Sir Ian Blair".

In the same week, his ACPO chums came out with their demarche to the Sunday Times in which they threatened not just to put recognition cameras every 400 yards on motorways, but to store all the recognition data in a (guess what?) monster national database for two years, whether or not anyone in the photos had done anything wrong. This would be a pharaonic project in itself, and a radical change in society, but apparently ACPO - which is a private association of coppers, not a statutory body - feels it can take it on all on its own. Parliament? Debate? Vote? We don't need no stinkin' vote!

So. An Orwell nomination to ACPO. Christmas is coming, and we shall soon be voting on the inaugural TYR Orwell Award for Authoritarianism. Can we have some recommendations for next week, please?

Super-Cheap Computing - Coordination Needed

Everyone has been fascinated by the MIT $100 laptop project, what with the radical prospect of disseminating computers throughout the developing world's classrooms (sweet version), small businesses (brutally pragmatic version), or terrorist cells (brutally cynical version). Some thought it was genius, others a distraction...and some of us realised with a degree of depression that its specifications were rather more impressive than those of our office computers. There is one problem, though, I don't think anyone's really dealt with.

That is to say, a cut-down PC is of very limited use in the role that is suggested. Apart from offering an introduction to programming and maths (the biggest application its designers were thinking of), most other really interesting uses for it depend on Internet access. Otherwise, whatever content that isn't user-generated (the Wikipedia Foundation's free curriculum project springs to mind, as do dictionaries, maps, and such) and all software will have to be distributed on physical storage media to all those computers...and as the whole point is to effectively set them free to swim through society, it's doubtful whether they will have a supply link to whoever will provide this stuff for long.

The lapster does include a Wi-Fi (IEEE802.11b/g) radio, but this is not really a solution. Wi-Fi is a nice technology for places where there is a good fixed-line or microwave infrastructure. It is not a telecommunications replacement. Essentially, Internet access via Wi-Fi is always restricted to a radius corresponding to the access point's range around its location at the end of a fibre or DSL line. This is as good as useless in this context.

MIT hopes Wi-Fi's other mode, peer-to-peer rather than access point networking, will provide the answer. This is OK as far as linking the computers in a class together goes, but no farther. Using it for wide-area networking relies on what is known as mesh networking, in which one user passes on traffic from another to the next user until either the destination or the backbone network is reached. Essentially, the users act both as end-points and as routers. This is nice, and geeks (especially academic and lefty geeks) love it because they see it as a way of escape from the grip of big telcos and even ISPs into the pure, fresh skies of free connectivity.

The trouble arrives, though, if everyone, absolutely everyone, isn't meshed in. Theoretically, if all the users are part of the meshnet, any user is routable from any other without leaving it. But, of course, everybody isn't. For a mesh network to work, there must be a line of users, all online and within range of each other, from you to every other user. If there's a gap, the users on the other side of the gap are their own private internetwork and you can't reach them.

That would be no trouble if people were evenly distributed across the Earth's surface, but we aren't. There are deserts, oceans, and mountain ranges around, most of which are considerably larger than the theoretical maximum range of a Wi-Fi connection. Not just that, there are large areas of the world where the density of population is sufficiently low to put our laptops out of touch with each other and the wider world. The other problem with mesh networking is the so-called n+1 problem, which arises when we pragmatically accept the last problem and hook our mesh network up to the Internet. The computer nearest the backbone, the first (or last, depending on how you look at it) hop, must carry the total bandwidth required by all the others, all the time. The closer you get to that point, the heavier the load, and the more critical the link's reliability. If that one fails, you have no Internet access. You may talk, however, among yourselves.

If the mesh is of any size, that last link must be at the very least a T-1/E-1, too. Try obtaining one of them in, say, the provincial Ivory Coast...at best it will be seriously expensive, and at worst impossible. Mesh networking is a cool idea if you're on the MIT campus with plenty of other users and bandwidth to burn. It's also not such a bad idea if you have a longer-range radio link (we'll come back to this).

My point, then. Whilst all this was going on, the GSM Association, the mobile network operators' club, announced that Motorola had got its latest Emerging Market Handset Initiative contract, this time for a mobile phone at a price below $30. Now, mobile telephone networks have been spreading in Africa and Asia with a speed that regularly surprises the people who build them. It's one of the industry's conscience salves of choice. While European and North American operators have struggled to come up with a working mobile payments system, African ones invented a function to transfer airtime credit by SMS, which meant that a new and highly accessible, secure, and instant payments system suddenly appeared (and, arguably, a new currency).

A couple of months ago, GrameenPhone, an arm of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh (you know, the darling of the World Bank) switched on the EDGE (EGPRS) upgrade to its network, pushing up data transfer to a peak rate of 200Kb/s. Within a week, 100,000 subscribers had upgraded to the new system. It's not 3G (although it's not far off the speeds achieved by the first 3G networks in practice), and certainly not post-3G speed, but it is Internet access at a speed comparable to most US fixed Internet connections, in the jungles of Bangladesh. This is a well tried, carrier-grade, mass production technology that is already there, or on its way, in many of the places these lapsters are going.

So where is the $10 datacard for the $100 laptop? Why doesn't the thing already have an embedded GPRS radio? Dah. Less optimistically, though, one thing neither the GSMA, CDMA Development Group, nor MIT have tackled is the other end of the link, the $1000 base station and the $3000 switch. There is no Emerging Market Base Station Initiative - yet. What might perhaps do that would be success with the mobile version of WiMax, which will at some future date be IEEE 802.16e when the WiMax Forum decides how it works. Motorola's "pre-standard" (read: non-standard) WiMax base station drinks only 10 watts of electricity and is about the width of The Guardian long and my notebook wide. Samsung (who invented most of it as a proprietary tech called WiBro) claim to have tested theirs at speeds of 1-3Mbps from moving vehicles.

Most of the claims (70Mbps over 30 miles!) you may have heard for WiMax are crap, except perhaps for highly managed point-to-point links, but if it can do that on 10w, we can easily drive the base station with a Rutland 913 wind turbine and some batteries, which means no fixed infrastructure at all. One of its first applications in the "fixed wireless", 802.16d, version (which is already standardised) may be to provide backhaul for the cellular systems.

But, before WiMax gets its act together, the cellular systems are already unwiring the places the $100 laptop was intended for, and there's no suitable radio on the thing. Or is the plan to encourage them to hack a mobile phone together with the computer?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Traitors

7th July victim Rachel from North London is getting some stick.

Just to remind you...a traitor is in our midst.

Is David Davies a dangerous man?

I don't mean in a cheesewire-wielding SAS fashion. It's time to talk about the consti-bloody-tution. DD has recently done some very odd things con-wise, and they worry me. Apparently, he wants to have two (count'em!) referendums as a matter of policy. This is a little strange to begin with - after all, isn't a referendum a means of deciding policy, not the policy itself? - but it gets weirder when you hear what he wants to referend about.

Davies wants to hold a national referendum on "whether or not to reclaim powers from Brussels". This is odd: a referendum to determine the government's foreign policy? Referendums are normally held to ratify a change in the constitution ex post facto, as with the devolution polls of 1979 and 1998 and the Eureferendum of 1975. But this would be one on an executive action (diplomacy) in the future. Strange. Odder yet, it's superfluous. There already is a means of getting unimpeachable legitimacy for a future course of action: it's called a general election. Presumably he thinks we should reclaim powers from Brussels, so why not stick it in his hypothetical manifesto? He would be no more irrevocably committed to it, in fact less, than if he held a referendum and won.

Now, taking the hypothetical a few steps further - imagine DD wins an election, stages the referendum, wins that, goes to Brussels and unaccountably succeeds in getting one or more policy areas converted from qualified-majority voting to unanimous approval.

I agree this is a fairly wild scenario, but bear with me.

DD now wants to hold a further referendum, but not (as you'd think) in order to confirm the alteration of the treaties after, I suppose, he gets the amendments ratified in Parliament. No, he says he wants a further referendum on whether or not he has been successful. This is frankly bizarre. I mean, why not just commission an opinion poll if he wants to measure public opinion? No doubt Anthony Wells would be delighted to do it for a consideration.

Certainly it would be fascinating to see the results, as they would throw light on exactly how much the public understands about any of this stuff. Would the Europhobes be capable of voting "yes", as presumably they ought to...or would some unconscious force drive their dear little fingers to the NO box? If DD wants further legitimation, of course, he could just call an election. But what need? The changes to the treaty would be ratified by a parliament elected on a manifesto promising them - what more do you need?

I can see perhaps two explanations. One is that DD is simply indulging in blatant self-interest, promising to gratify the hard Right by staging a Europhobic jingofest - no, two! - at the public charge and by using the words "Europe" and "referendum" in close connection a lot. This is pathetic, and reeks of desperation. The other is that, in fact, he doesn't care for elections or parliament or the constitution and would rather have a system of executive decisions ratified by plebiscite...or something similar to Mussolini's view of the state, in other words.

He's going to lose, so it's only of theoretical value, but the possibility exists that the winner might offer him a Shadow Cabinet slot.

Leaving, and not-leaving

The Government has recently been saying that British troops might leave Iraq some time next year. As previously blogged, they have been saying this since the British troops entered Iraq, there or thereabouts, with the only difference that the number of troops has climbed steadily, from a low of one brigade group and 1 Division HQ immediately post-invasion to the current position, with 7 Armoured Brigade, an adhoc Div HQ, various support elements, and three (I think) battalions-equivalent as reinforcements to 7 - in other words, almost another brigade. (Details.) And, as previously blogged, there were rumours that General Dutton had wanted even more troops at the last rotation but didn't get them.

This time, one might have thought that there was more point to the story. After all, Prez Jalal Talabani was in town, and he says so. And the Guardian ran a large story on how "the emphasis was shifting" towards withdrawal that was heavily larded with markers of government briefing - "sources", "officials", "so-and-so will say..", all that stuff.

Only one question. This week, the first Army units were officially warned-off for Operation TELIC 9, the next tour of Iraq after the 7th's, with mobilisations planned for the late summer of 2006 and a planned return home in May, 2007. Ten years to the day after Tony Blair's election. Now, warning-off isn't a binding process, it simply announces that unit X is likely to mobilise in the future and ought to prepare. But it certainly sheds light on the confident commentary given by, among others, Sir Michael Jackson this week.

A possible explanation was that one of the official sources who will brief that.. said that 3,000 troops might be withdrawn "without affecting operational capability". Well, I doubt that very much, as operational capability is exactly why the generals asked for them. I suspect they meant without affecting the operational situation. To put it another way, they are hoping to get back to the original number of troops before the before, and then hope one day to get out of Iraq.

By the way, can the Ones Who Will Brief kindly stop it with re-announcing next spring's deployment to Afghanistan, Op. HERRICK? The press react, infantile, every time it is spun as if it was all brand new although it was first announced two years ago. Re-announcing five-a-day programmes for sink estates is one thing, re-announcing military operations is too much, surely?

Jesus, this is the end. I've started whingeing about "spin". Old age must be near.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

RSS on Mobile Gadgets

Does anyone know if freeware RSS reader works with Windows Mobile 5.0?

Webday

As well as Remembrance Sunday (what a day to write about torture), today is Webday...because 15 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee put the first web page on line.

And immediately got comments from four people demanding to know why he hated freedom, three wanting to know why he'd failed to put scarequotes around President Bush (do you mean he was legitimately elected? Well, I thnik your a FASHCIST!), someone offering to elnarge his pen1s, and another from his mum saying how proud she was.

Black Site: Brief Update

According to news reports in Vienna's Der Standard and the Italian paper Il Manifesto, a UN investigator in Afghanistan, Cheriff Bassiouni (who is an academic from Egypt) has stated that a secret CIA prison existed in Hungary. It's not clear what information his statement is based on, but it certainly fits with my suspicions. (So that's obviously ground to speculate, no? God, the quality on this blogging lark..)

I hadn't heard of Bassiouni, but it seems he's a professor of international law who chaired the drafting committee for the statute of the International Criminal Court. His current job is as the UN's Independent Expert on Human Rights in Afghanistan, a thankless task if ever there was one. A copy of the Italian article appears to be here. Although I don't read Italian to any extent, he seems to say that Poland, Romania and Hungary have breached the European Convention on Human Rights, and to have prepared a report on secret CIA detentions. I have the impression that he thinks his appointment will not be renewed because of this report.

He also has this to say:
In Afghanistan, nella base aerea di Bagram e a Kandahar, arrivavano i detenuti prelevati con aerei Cia da ogni parte del mondo e da lì gli afghani venivano smistati verso gli altri 14 centri militari segreti americani per essere torturati. Gli altri, dall'Afghanistan venivano spediti nelle carceri segrete sotto controllo americano: in paesi dell'est europeo come Polonia, Romania, Ungheria oppure, gli asiatici, nella base militare di Diego Garcia.
Well, I don't read Italian but I think that's sufficiently fucking clear. What I would very much like to see would be a copy of this report, and before that to have someone who reads better Italian take a peek at the text.

I strongly suspect the Hungarian site is Taszar (as previously blogged), the air base where Ahmed Chalabi's followers were meant to be trained for the invasion of Iraq as "Free Iraqi Forces". The training programme was widely reported to have been a failure (you get the feeling the Chalabi Boys weren't keen on route marches across the Puszta with heavy packs and muddy boots compared to hobnobbing with the mighty..and Christopher Hitchens), but what else might have happened there? And what was a Boeing 727 belonging to Miami Air International, Inc, doing going there on the 9th April, 2003...an aircraft that was also used by the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign? (Link may not work - site is subscription with limited visitor access) That last may be coincidential, of course.

Mind you, if you're Romania's intelligence chief, there's an easy way to deal with this stuff: blame George Soros for spreading the story in order to divert terrorists' attention away from the US and UK - after all he is "close to the US Democrats". Mmm, crack...nice.

Update: N804MA was, I now know, used by the 2000 Bush campaign. Who took it to Taszar, then?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Best DSR Ever

I am the 10th result on search.com for "chubby men porn bear". It's the pride, dammit.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Hitchens: drunk or on crack too?

A blogger was present when Ahmed "The Greatest" Chalabi addressed frothing neo-con groupthink-tank the American Enterprise Institute this week, despite being under FBI investigation and accused of leaking US cryptographic data to Iran. (Note: Chalabi recently paid a call on the Iranian President. What's going on there?)

You can read full details of the visit here. Another guest was the drink-soaked former Trotskyite popinjay himself. Christopher Hitchens said some astonishingly weird things, it seems. Apparently, he thinks Chalabi cracked the US ciphers himself, all on his ownio, being a "mathematical genius" (actually, although he is a mathematician he's not a cryptographer, and his studies were years ago before pretty much any of the key techniques of modern crypto were invented, before public key encryption, PGP, SHA1.).

Would simple alcohol make you say these things, or would you need some more exotic drug? Is he insane?

Incoherent

Apparently the American bomb disposal men in Baghdad sometimes can't go out because their comrades in the Air Force are jamming the GSM phone network and therefore, there's a risk that any command detonated IEDs might go off unintentionally, and also their radio detectors won't work.

Is it me, or is this just incredibly, amazingly stupid?

Recap: very soon after the occupation of Baghdad, we issued three regional licences for mobile phone service in Iraq, both for our own convenience and also as a contribution to restoring the Iraqi economy. After all, economic recovery means less unemployment, which means fewer army-trained young men with no money and plenty of time on their hands, which means less violence..no? Unfortunately, it turned out that the insurgents, being tech-aware Robbites, loved mobile phones. They use them for all kinds of things, including command-detonating IEDs and tactical communications with a modicum of security. So, we are flying a Compass Call electronic warfare C-130 around over Baghdad jamming the 900MHz band.

Now, that stops the phones working. Which, presumably, means any business dependent on phone service stops working. Can you see where we're going with this? Worse still, being an aircraft, it can't stay up there all the time, so the jamming is only ever temporary. Which is probably worse than permanent because the enemy can still use the phones as long as they look up in the sky first, but no-one can rely on the service. And if the phones don't work...we can't listen in on them either.

It's also stupid to listen into GSM calls from a multizillion dollar EW aircraft that can only be overhead some of the time when we control the SS7 switch (or at least I fucking hope we do...). There's actually a chapter in the GSM standard that deals with "Lawful Interception" - all we need do is drive down to Orascom's switch and ask them nicely if we can use it. Or, failing that, kick down the doors, scream "Gettthefuckinghellyourhandzondawallshajimotherfuckers!" and put a gun to their heads. But I'm trying to be sensible.

That way, we could listen to them all the time without letting them know we're doing it. And we could get the location data from the HLR, too. We could even put in an E-1 line straight into intelligence HQ and spy on them from the comfort of our desks. Diddlididididi("nokia tune") Hey Ahmed, it's Fahd here...the fuel convoy just went past on Highway 8..should be at your location in 5 minutes. Allahu akbar, out. Let's see...that's coordinates X,y..tap'em into the Predator drone..look, there he is with the phone glued to his ear.

This ought to be obvious. What renders it especially stupid is that it's a case where the two halves of Thomas Barnett's military - the Leviathan and the Sysadmin - are both in the field, but they're at each other's throats like two Hull fans in a phonebox with knives.

The Post-Blair Era

That's it, then. Blair is officially dead as a political force. All the whipping, all the attempts to get support from the far right of the Tories, even trying to draw the Paisleyites (the last reserve of the desperate in British politics) didn't work. The 90-day detention provisions are dead by 31 votes, and who can say what will happen to the rest of the bill?

More importantly, who would now put money on ID cards passing the Lords? The Tories, I see, are now worried that Rupert Murdoch will be angry with them. I'm sceptical - even though Rebekah "Drunken Antisocial Thug" Wade saw fit to describe the noes as "traitors" in today's Scum, if there's one constant in Murdochism it's power-worship. Once they start winning, he'll come around. In Hunter S. Thompson's words, "the shark ethic prevails - eat the wounded". He was talking about Las Vegas, but it explains Murdoch just as well.

See those fins circling, Tony? See them?

By the way, am I the only one tempted to ring up major London hotels and ask if there is a guest by the name of Ross Kemp, by any chance? And did I mention, incidentally, that Rebekah Wade is a drunken antisocial thug? EDIT:Return to base immediately. There is a traitor in our midst. This traitor is your new target. More information is available from headquarters here and here.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Pirates! Break out the...

...cutlasses sonic blasters and prepare to repel boarders! Cruise ship attacked by RPG-wielding Somali pirates, fights back with a device that blasts the buggers with noise. More traditionally, the captain attempted to run down the pirates' boat, too. Dunno what to make of this, though:
One of the rockets certainly hit the ship — it went through the side of the liner into a passenger’s suite. The couple were in there at the time so it was a bit of an unpleasant experience
I would have thought they would have been spread thinly over the bulkhead, but perhaps it didn't go off.

Too close to the text

One thing about the Internet is that it's very easy to overfocus on points of language that would rarely disturb you otherwise. Take the French police trade union chap who used the word "guerrilla" with regard to rioting recently. Everyone you'd expect to latched onto this as proof, proof! that the decadent Yurpeans were doomed to collapse into a Taliban society (you can probably fill the rest in by now), and John Robb's comment threads immediately lit up with earnest discussion of how the Global Guerrillas model might apply to the evident decline of the French state.

Nobody seems to have questioned what, concretely, "guerrilla" meant in this connection. After all, throwing rocks at policemen and running away is always closer to guerrilla activity tactically than industrial warfare. This is, I think, both obvious and trivial. In fact, "guerrilla" here was a message from a very right-wing interest group to a supposed patron, Sarkozy, and could have been better read as "scary brown people, send money and more police powers". Equally, very right-wing French politicians like to talk about "intifadas" as a way of provoking themselves and (they hope) aligning with George Bush.

Rioting is at least as much a French tradition as croissants, in fact more so, as jacqueries occurred long before the pastry was introduced from Austria in the 1700s. My point? All this is serving certain people's purposes. M. Sarkozy made his pitch for the racist vote and more budget, the police trade unionist made profile with his members in the provinces and at Sarko's office, the rioters are venting, and the "Eurabia" types are convincing themselves further. But, this requires more context than you get with one word, usually quoted at third hand. Pah.

Bang!

Inconsequential: last night, Guy Fawkes' Night, the Railway Hotel not far from my flat burned off four hundred quid in fireworks, the good stuff..green flashes, golden and purple rain, and explosions. Yes. Bangs so good they hurt, and triggered the burglar alarms on all the blank-windowed Thatcherite Heathrow-corridor office blocks, setting the RIM building squealing at Axon Software and them bleeping at some other shuttered geekfarm like sheepdogs in the winter night. Standing behind the boozer, a lad breathed in "Ohh...that don't look safe!" with a sort of glee as a rocket as fat as the handle on a tennis racket hurtled by.

A fine way to celebrate the demise of a frenzied religious terrorist and the beginning of 400 years of Protestant hegemony, no? I especially liked the way this insane tribal fire binge annoyed the security systems on those buildings.

Confusing the disease and the cure

Stand well back, please, because I'm about to bloviate a tad. In the last few days I've been participating in a couple of fascinating comments threads, over at Phil Carter's Intel Dump, where they've been having an open Iraq thread, and also on John Robb's Global Guerrillas with regard to the Palestine Hotel attack and such. Now, the upshot, I think, is that it's a good moment to review some of the ideas we're getting perhaps too used to.

John Robb's ideas on "4th Generation Warfare", distributed development as applied to war, systems disruption and such are now well enough spread around the Internet that I don't think I need to go into great detail, and anyway, those of you who are unfamiliar with them can get them from the horse's mouth here. Equally, Thomas Barnett's so-called "Pentagon's New Map" has already nearly reached the status of conventional blogosphere wisdom (he has a blog here). Barnett and Robb essentially agree on the importance of functional networks rather than territorial views of strategy, but essentially differ on the role of the state and the dynamics involved. Robb believes that the national state is doooomed, Barnett divides the world into the highly connected, economically integrated "core" and the dirt-poor, chaotic zone without the walls - think Raymond Aron's world of order/world of chaos dichotomy, with the Internet.

My point is that I think Robb is right on most things, especially the role of open development models, networks and such, and the growing capability of non-state forces to do things that in the past only states (and powerful ones at that) could do. But, I suspect he is confusing the disease with the cure when, for example, Robbo advocates "outsourcing counter-insurgency to Shia and Kurdish loyalist paramilitaries". Imitating the enemy seems like a good idea when they are winning, but it can also be a dangerous source of strategic delusion. After all, the mix of largely independent small groups, open communications, low-cost technology and the ability to create an unofficial war economy (think VB) that we are all going on about and that has proven so deadly is, if anything, specialised on manufacturing the chaos in which it can survive. Robb speaks of "controlled chaos" as an exit strategy from Iraq, but a continuing semi-failed state in Iraq will be poison to everyone involved, and anyway I doubt whether the chaos can be controlled. We've already seen (see Ranter passim) that a variety of highly profitable mercenary and criminal networks have moved into Iraq, as well as the jihadis. What happens when the class of people created by the war start exporting their revolution from the economic base Iraq gives them?

Throw in the problem that neither the Shia nor the Kurds really have an incentive to destroy the insurgents (after all, the insurgency is creating the conditions under which they can pursue their own political aims and seems well on the way to getting the Americans off their backs - the controlled chaos strategy works both ways), and this sounds like the second engine on the plane whose role is to get you to the crash -site.

Barnett's response, of course, is to argue that the answer is to expand the "core" of highly integrated states - which, in a mad way, might have been what some people hoped for from the invasion itself. I personally think that the best we can hope for is to prevent too much damage to the core from this ill-advised intervention outside it. In a sense, what the Barnett partisans really want is an economically and technocratically integrated world of interlocking alliances...or, to put it another way, enlargement of the European Union to include Japan and South Africa. Seriously, I don't know if Barnett had this in mind when he coined his "new map", but his arguments are uncannily like those of Jean Monnet. (TYR to Rumsfeld: your new favourite intellectual is a Eurosexual! Ka koi cauchemar!)

I don't necessarily think there's a basic contradiction between the guerrilla networkers and the new mappers, though. Even Robb agrees that anyone who isn't smoking crack would choose the expanding core over the weakening state. If the national state is losing importance after its unnerving post-1989 revival, that importance doesn't have to transfer to al-Qa'ida or some shadowy western terrorist structure, a sort of White International redux. International integration and cross-border democracy has something to say in this debate. The question: how to use the tools of the Robbites to extend and maintain the world of order?

Although you can get together over the Internet to swap more effective IED designs, you can also prepare satellite maps with disaster relief data or trace arms dealers' aircraft through open development. The most promising areas for change, I think, are exactly the ones that are most dangerous right now - because it's exactly where the nig networked systems that make up the "core" lap over the edges of the political environment, the society of states, that makes them possible that the problems emerge. It's at this frontier, the interface of the two, that a maximum of creativity is possible, whether for good or bad - organising terrorist attacks or collaborating on alternative energy devices, trading in weapons or in help.

The last thing we should be doing, though, is anything that promotes the development of the dark networks, which is why "controlled chaos" is a bad, bad idea.

Right, I think that's enough bloviation..

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Black Site Flights

After yesterday's revelations in the Washington Post that the CIA was keeping detainees in "several Eastern European democracies", today has seen an unseemly scramble of mutual accusation. Anyone familiar with recent politics could have prepared a shortlist of ex-communist states closely allied with the US that might have been candidates, but the exact degree of complicity is surprising. First up, Human Rights Watch accused Poland and Romania of being the culprits. They based the accusation on details they apparently have of a flight by the notorious 737 bizjet, N313P, to Szymany airfield in the Masurian Lakes. I'm not clear what the basis of the Romanian allegation is.

However, as both countries have troops in Iraq and the USDOD has talked a lot about basing in either Romania or Bulgaria, it would make a degree of sense. The Poles kicked off a denial storm when the presidential spokesman stated that no al-Qa'ida detainees had been held in Polish military bases (note that he didn't issue a total denial). This was followed up by the specifics from HRW, and a denial of any knowledge of such activities from Romania.

Next to deny were Hungary and most other countries, with Estonia saying they were "fairly certain" there were no detainees on their territory. Then it got gnarly. Denmark said an aircraft with prisoners on board had passed through its airspace en route to Hungary. The Hungarians denied even harder. And the Czechs, meanwhile, said they had been asked to hold prisoners but had refused. However, the dread N313P (now N4476S) has been photographed in Prague. It may be worth remembering that the Chalabi Boys trained at Taszar airbase in Hungary before the invasion of Iraq, or it may not.

The EU has said it wants to investigate, but seeing as the Justice commissioner is Franco Frattini, a close collaborator of Silvio "What intelligence? Iraq? Where's that?" Berlusconi, I'm not confident.

Although googlers for various aircraft regs have driven traffic through the roof, I currently have no information on any VB aircraft in the places concerned, although anyone who can shed light on Boeing 727 P4-MMG, s/n 18368, now with "Larvelon International" of Aruba and formerly of "International Development Group" and the "Mohamed al-Mojil Establishment" is welcome to do so. The German who googled for "women fart fas fetisch" and arrived is less welcome. Getting back on-topic, according to the original report there have been secret prisons in 8 countries. Afghanistan, Thailand and Cuba we know about. Poland, Romania, and who?

German Mess Update

Quick update on the German political mess. First, Franz M√ľntefering has confirmed he's still going to take up his seat as Minister for No. Second, the SPD has picked Matthias Platzeck, the minister-president of Brandenburg, as its leader. Third, the CSU has apparently fallen out with Edmund Stoiber after his decision to not join the government. Andrea Nahles has said she won't be general secretary, so Hubertus Heil, an MP from Niedersachsen, will take the job whose loss to Nahles precipitated the crisis.

What it all means is unclear (although one of the FDP folk has been talking about resurrecting the so-called Jamaican option, which will not happen). But if they can't elect a government by November the 22nd, there will almost certainly be more elections.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

1003 Posts

This post is the 1003rd item on TYR, in 856 days since the 10th of June, 2003. That makes 1.17 posts per day on average.

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