Sunday, January 29, 2006

Sources

Sources are great, aren't they? Especially when they're "police sources". Police sources said Jean-Charles de Menezes may have been found with cocaine. Well, I may have been found with cocaine, but not by a policeman, and not by anyone else - indeed, I may not have been found with it all. Enough semantics. Police sources said Colin Stagg was really guilty after all. Police sources said they knew of a plot to kidnap Leo Blair, but the official police spokesman said there had been no arrests, there would be no further action, and he couldn't comment on it, quite unlike those police sources who had done in extensive and well-timed detail.

Sources are to be protected. One does not disclose one's sources. Even if they are busy propagating insulting nonsense about a man the force shot for no reason anyone can think of, or disposing of an annoying pressure group..you don't name your sources. Fair enough. This traditional journalistic doctrine is based on the idea that if someone - a source - wants to get information in the public domain that would otherwise be concealed, they may want to remain anonymous. This implies that they would face punishment or revenge otherwise.

Nobody can really disagree with this except on purely self-serving grounds. But one feature of modern journalism (played out in the Judith Miller affair) is the prevalence of the non-source, if you will, a person who speaks to the press in confidence in order to diminish the total amount of information in the world, and who usually seeks anonymity in order to avoid responsibility. It's a fair assumption that the copper behind the Menezes/coke smear wasn't at risk of demotion from Sir Ian Blair for doing so, although I suppose you could argue that had their name been published, the ensuing scandal would have ruined their career..which isn't quite the same thing as fearing assassination by the mafia for publishing information they would rather keep secret. Miller, far from conspiring to sneak out secret and accurate information that government would rather have suppressed, snuck out secret and accurate information the government would much rather have published, but could not do so without breaking the law, in order to reduce the effective information available to the public (as well as a ton of semi-secret but inaccurate information the government wanted publishing, but then, every bugger in town did that). How Lewis Libby and that "other," still unidentified official earned absolute confidentiality is hard to explain.

So - should we look at source protection differently? It seems clear, logically and ethically, that the right of a confidential source to confidentiality is based on their motive in leaking the information. It's intolerable that a government PR man can say absolutely any nonsense that comes into their head, so long as it serves their interest and is sufficiently sensational to activate the Reynolds defence of public interest, and then vanish behind a cloud of stink like a skunk.

However, before leaping, it's a good idea to know what your alternative policy is. If you hop to a policy of conditional source protection, it puts you under a very heavy responsibility in making judgements. Certainly, there is a ton of anonymous briefing under source protection that comes from the powers-that-be and is entirely self-interested. Ideally, it should either be ignored or attributed to the speaker. If Civil Servant X, Executive Y or Chief Inspector Z is always popping up with this stuff, you can draw your own conclusions as to its reality content. More likely, were they responsible for their remarks, they would keep their traps shut. Which would at least improve the signal-to-noise ratio.

But what if, on this occasion, Inspector Z really does have a genuine story? Either he will keep his trap shut, in which case we are all the poorer, or he will publish and be damned, which is terrible and will probably succeed in silencing others. One of those times where following a specific principle, whichever it is, will lead to a bad outcome.

On TYR, I occasionally refer to "sources," usually people who get in touch. Whether I use whatever they say is entirely decided on its usefulness. But it is by definition unlinkable, so the key form of corroboration in the blogosphere is useless.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Moo!

Hear that weird whistling and crackling radio noise? That's the technicians trying to get Simon Heffer's Gaydar lined up.
What does it tell you about the Lib Dems that the only one of the potential leadership candidates who had anything like interesting and attractive policies has had to drop out because his colleagues refused to support him? Quite. Since Mark Oaten is some way to the Right of David Cameron, he might consider joining the Tory party, where he could join the queue to take over from Dave when the party becomes conservative again. Meanwhile, Lib Dem members face a choice between a 93-year-old retired sprinter, a sandal-wearing Leftist whose main public pronouncement so far is that he is not homosexual but is still awaiting the arrival of Miss Right, and a man of whom few in his own party have even heard. Nominations don't close until Wednesday, so all might not be lost. In the interests of sanity, won't somebody who might appeal to sensible voters come forward? David Laws, for example? Nick Clegg? If not, we'll soon be looking back wistfully to the golden age of cheerful Charlie.
Right, so we should vote for Mark "Rent Boy" Oaten because Simon Hughes is an agent of the Gay in our midst? After all, Hep (Replacement) Hef reckons dressing up in women's clothes ought to be illegal..
Oh, how we long for the time when the police would have arrested Mr Burns not for cruelty to gorillas, but just because he was a transvestite...
Was it ever actually illegal, or is he just advocating extrajudicial police harassment of people who he doesn't like? You wait, though, until he suggests something really weird and forgets how to speak English..
They now realise that it has effectively split up the United Kingdom, and called into question the legitimacy of the participation of Scottish MPs in the government of Britain. Mr Brown is terrified that if he becomes Prime Minister the English will resent him, coming as he does from this minority, separatist culture. I have news for him: they resent him already, and not particularly because of his intensely foreign Scottishness - picking their pockets for nine years to fund his welfarist, client state has much more to do with it. I do, however, agree with one thing he said. Everyone in England should buy a flagpole and put it up in their garden. And then they should buy a flag of St George to fly proudly from it.
A welfarist client state? A client state of where? He can't surely mean the United States, so I am going to guess he meant "clientelist". Which is a useful word, after all, but it doesn't mean "client state", which is a useful notion in its own right and ought to be defended. Tim Worstall would probably ask "Don't these people have editors?" at this moment, but Simon Heffer actually is an editor of the Torygraph, so..

And did we just hear Simon Heffer arguing that we should reject the Union Flag?

Further point. You can be arrested for telling a policeman his horse "is gay". Will the Bill bother Hef over his call for the extrajudicial punishment of transsexuals? Will he bollocks. Heffer omitted to be cheeky to a copper..

Just incredibly fucking stupid..

Robert "Paradise and Power" Kagan, the global expert hyperpundit famous for determining that someone like Jacques Chirac is unwilling to take action to defend his interests, being more interested in maintaining an illusory island of Kantian peace in his backyard, thinks the capital of Australia is Sydney.

Apparently, according to leading US scholars, the essential difference between Arab men and the rest of humanity is that they associate women with erotic pleasure. (Except the gay ones, presumably.) Think of that. Women! When normal people like you, I, or Dick Cheney prefer otters, HSDPA-enabled, standards-based radio network controllers, or AGM-109A missiles - no wonder we can't just get along. Snark aside, go read. Bernard Lewis believes this stuff and he has the ear of the President. If I may breach Godwin's Law, people will study The Arab Mind in future years in the same way as I studied the writings of people like Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck and Co.

More seriously, this cheers me. We will be able to say, when it's all over, that for several years the mad people were in charge, and that was the problem. Now, the mad people have been got rid of and sanity is back. That is of course a myth. Mad people don't get to be in charge unless some of the sane people go along. A Hitler needs a Speer and a von Manstein. But it's observable that some nations, whom we won't name, have done rather well in recovering from being ruled by mad people by espousing exactly that myth.

Hmm, more evidence for the stupidity thesis.
Training for war, I spent an afternoon in an army classroom listening to presentations on improvised explosive devices and the insurgents who plant them. Droning through one of the inevitable PowerPoint presentations, a sergeant first class read directly from the slide in front of us: The insurgency, he read, will probably die down after we capture Saddam Hussein. Except that the class was taught this October, a couple of years after that former dictator had been dragged out of his spider hole. The sergeant stopped for the briefest moment, mumbled that the slides were a little out of date, and went right on reading.

Iran. And Israel. Oh God.

Shaul Mofaz has been at it again, threatening that Iran's president, novelty fascist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would spread misfortune and suffering over the Iranian people if he attempted to build nuclear weapons. Well, he would say that, wouldn't he. Even though Iran wouldn't have a bomb for at least three years from now, long before which it would be beyond doubt they were trying, the war drums are a-beating, useful idiots like Simon Heffer are being completely fucking stupid on a daily basis, and Denis MacShane isn't the only one, it seems, to feel a sort of Guns of August 1914 "I hear the train a-coming, it's rolling down the track" doom in the air. Can we at least have the exciting fin -de-siécle creative decadence first, please?

So, will it happen? And will the Israelis really bomb Iran? This question is in the end one about deterrent credibility. I personally suspect the Israelis have it, what the 200 nukes, full delivery triad, UAV and satellite recce capability. It's a superpower in a box - all the trappings of high Cold War nuclearity. One argument against this, though, is that Iran is undermining this by improving its air defences, specifically by acquiring SA-10 (Tor) surface-to-air missiles from Russia.

Now, my first instinct is to say - meh. The Americans spent hyperzillions trying to undermine Soviet nuclear capability by building air defences and did it work? Bollocks did it. The Russians, for their part, worked away like hell doing the same thing. And we didn't think our missiles wouldn't get through, nor yet our aircraft. Iran is meant to have an ABM defence system? Bwaahaahaahhaaha. Yes, SA-10 is a pretty impressive capability, but I'd be astonished if it shot down more than a couple of Israeli IRBMs - Patriot, after all, never actually hit any Scuds the only times it was destroyed. In fact, wasn't that RAF Tornado the only real live target it's ever hit?

It's not just the IRBMs, either. There are the Tomahawks to consider. A degree of debate is currently going on as to whether the SA10 gives Iran a credible ability to shoot them down, too. Well, no doubt they have more of a capability than Iraq in 1991 or (certainly) 2003, or Afghanistan in 2001. Essentially all countries ever targeted with Tomahawk in real life had as good as no air defences - the exception, of which more later, was Yugoslavia in 1999, which did indeed shoot down a few. But a capability that would let them blink at the prospect of nuclear attack? Neither Russia, China nor the US have that. TLAMs could be launched from Israel, but also from any of the seas involved, from submarines. GlobalSecurity.org reckons the missiles are deployed in a point defence mode, i.e. around targets.

Some people, usually the ones who are arguing for attack, think they are concentrated on the western border in a sort of neo-Kammhuber Line. "Concentrated on the western border," by the way, is a very unclear term in this case - it's a long old border, and if they are there, then it can't be a very dense defence. And if they are concentrated on the front nearest to Israel, there must be a lot of border without serious air defence. Read Arms and Influence's post on the risks of forward defence and the Maginot Line. Tomahawk would be capable of being launched from submarines, perhaps in the Persian Gulf or even the Black Sea, or routed south over Iraq and in through the back door. So could aircraft, which brings us to our next point.

The third leg of the triad is of course good old-fashioned bombers. F-15s and F-16s. The Israeli air force is superior to the Iranian as...well...hounds to foxes? They would probably be the most concerned by greater SAM capability, but also have the greatest ability to do anything about it. Since the 1982 war, when the Israeli air force used extensive electronic warfare, airborne command and control, UAVs and anti-radar missiles to wreck the Syrian air defences with ease, they have been pretty good at the so-called "first night of the war". And if they were to go nuclear - they would, of course, be free to go tactical nuclear for suppression of enemy air defences

Now, did anyone spot the logical flaw in the argument? That's right. Those SA10s are meant to kill ballistic missiles - arriving on a ballistic trajectory from space - and extreme low level cruise missiles and aircraft? The technical requirements for the two roles are completely different. This can't possibly be right. And another thing - the Israeli air defences. What of them? How is this Iranian bomb to be delivered? By cruise missile? Whoops. By aircraft? The Kurds would be finding bits down rabbit holes and up trees for months. By ballistic missile? Now you're talking. But surely, if the Iranian SAMs are a credible ABM capability, wouldn't the Israeli Arrow system be as good? And the Iranians are only likely to have a couple of warhead s to begin with in the bolt-from-the-blue scenario this is all based on.

There is nothing, then, to make a deterrent balance impossible.

Another question. Everyone seems to think that there are an awful lot of targets in Iran for a conventional strike. So folk like John Robb have been talking about attacking the electricity grid. A "de-modernisation EBO" he calls it. Whoopee doo. In reality this is nothing but a warmed-over version of the same old airpower school bollocks. "De-house" enough people in the Ruhr and the German working class will lynch Hitler. Turn off the Iranian street's electricity and they will rebel. It doesn't work. It never has done.

One of the reasons for the failure of the Suez operation was that a chunk of the timetable was taken up with the "aero-psychological phase" the Air Staff insisted on writing into the plan. The Navy, Marine and Para types wanted an attack on air defences, then intensive tactical air cover to deal with tanks moving up through the desert. The Air Staff demanded their chance to prove that this time it was going to be different, that the bombing of Cairo and Alexandria would cause the mob to rise up and destroy their rulers. Robb gives Kosovo as an example of such an operation as a success (so do all latterday Trenchards) - but as far as I know, they never actually did shut down the power for any length of time. Anyway, it was a very different air threat that induced Milosevic to give up: although the JNA's heavy kit could be concealed from NATO tactical airpower in Kosovo effectively, it could only be concealed as long as it wasn't needed.

The arrival of 60,000 mostly British and German troops next door changed this: if Option B-Plus had been put into effect, the choice would have been to abandon the strategic goal, or fight. And, once the T72s were rolled out to face the invasion, the USAF's tank-killing capability would have come into play. Add to that the battering of a full army battalion in Kosovo, a couple of days before the end, by B52s called in by "someone" on the ground, and you have your finish.

Even if we were to bomb the electricity grid, presumably we would have to keep bombing in order to keep it shut down (remembering that presumably, continuing nuclear activity would be an overriding national priority). And, with God knows what happening to the army in Iraq and the world economy - would we? could we? If not, then presumably enrichment would start up again as soon as the power was on. Bombs again, broke again, stop again, restart again, bombs again, rinse and repeat...until, presumably, the thing's finished. Recrimination all round. Defeat.

In related news, this is interesting if true.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Craven Heffer

I don't, as a rule, indulge in fisking - I think it's a slightly dubious piece of blogospheric tradition, perhaps the online equivalent of fox-hunting - but this Simon Heffer screed in the Telegraph is hard to miss. The appliance, Nurse, and 50 ccs of snark!


Doing nothing in Iran is not an option
By Simon Heffer
(Filed: 18/01/2006)

As we survey, with appropriate unease and foreboding, the events now unfolding in Iran, we might like to reflect on one of Enoch Powell's less well-known, but most universal, obiter dicta. "The supreme function of statesmanship," he once wrote, "is to provide against preventable evils."

We seem to have fallen somewhat short of this ideal both for ourselves and in terms of something called "the international community". True, we could hardly have prevented the Iranians electing what, by most objective standards, is a raving madman to run their country.
Well, shall we take a moment to enjoy the pomposity? "As we survey, with appropriate unease and foreboding.." Christ. Rather than being published online with minor inconvenience to several zillion electrons, this ought to be carved in stone or engraved on an elegant pendant with a light gold chain, like Valery Giscard d'Estaing had for the French Air Force's nuclear release codes. More seriously, the Enoch Powell quote is of course both obvious and trivial. After all, whatever your view of "statemanship", it's fairly certain that its function isn't not to provide against evils, and nobody provides against goods, and you can't provide against unpreventable evils by definition. The real function of this quote is to say - Look at me! I quote Enoch Powell! I'm absurdly rightwing and proud of it! It contains no lexical meaning whatsoever.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes in the coming of the Mahdi and something approximating to what Christians term the apocalypse. He also sincerely believes that Israel should be wiped off the map and that the Nazis did not murder six million Jews. I think we can agree that such a man ought not to have a nuclear weapon and, if we can't, then those who dissent should urgently seek psychiatric help.
Well, he's clearly barking mad. How sincerely he believes these things is a matter for serious debate, though, and I would query whether the hammer of communism, Heffer, should really advocate political psychiatry if he wants to be either humane or consistent. In fact, there are perfectly sensible arguments for letting Iran have The Bomb. I don't agree with them, but they exist. Ironically, they are the same arguments Mr. Heffer would likely deploy to defend British nuclear weapons - it's a dangerous world, many other powers, some of them not terribly stable, have them too, and we need a credible deterrent capability. Iran has nuclear Pakistan to its east, nuclear Russia to its north, nuclear Israel to its south-west, nuclear NATO to its north-west, and even Saudi Arabia has been talking about nukes.
The awesome stature of this problem can be gauged from the fact that the United Nations Security Council's major powers and Germany all agreed on Monday that Iran should suspend any nuclear development activities that could result in it making a bomb. Two significant difficulties remain, however.

The first is that these great nations cannot now agree on the tactics by which Iran should be brought to heel. The second is that Mr Ahmadinejad holds the considerable trump card of having a psychology completely immune to temporal pressure and, what is more, knows continuing events in Iraq do not allow America the luxury of moving in on Iran - not that that necessarily would have been a good idea even had Iraq never, as it were, happened.

The European powers - Britain, France and Germany - are calling for an emergency session of the International Atomic Energy Agency on February 2 and 3, with the aim of its reporting Iran to the Security Council. This could lead to sanctions on Iran. However, China, which has just done a multi-billion-dollar trade deal with Teheran, is unwilling to do this.
So. "Continuing events" do not allow America to attack Iran - not that that (ouch! bad style!) would have been a good idea even had Iraq never happened. To disentangle his tortured syntax, he seems to say that attacking Iran would not necessarily be a good idea, even if it wasn't for the Iraq fiasco. But, you will remember, anyone who doesn't agree that something should be done should seek psychiatric treatment. A cry for help, perhaps?
Even among the Western powers, there is a fear that sanctions could push up the price of oil, with the usual malign effects on economic growth, pressure on the money supplies of the nations affected, and public and political unrest. Russia, another with strong trading links to Iran, had initially signified that it was prepared to make sacrifices in the interests of preventing the manufacture of the "Islamic bomb"; now, though, it is in retreat on that idea. As was seen during the crisis leading up to the second Gulf war in 2003, getting the eventual agreement of the Security Council to take firm action against transgressors, or indeed implementing any resolutions that might be passed, is a wild and wacky process.
Indeed. Do I detect a degree of weakening on the Heffer part? I'm not at all sure what he means by Russia making "sacrifices". The Russians have offered to do the uranium enrichment themselves; a profitable undertaking and one that would further their political power. Sacrifice? And in what way is getting UNSC action a "wild and wacky process"? Conservatives, such as Heffer, believe that national states should pursue their exclusive interests. So, if France or China don't want to get involved in some bizarre adventure in the Middle East, they are quite right to veto it. And I thought we had established, earlier in the piece, that Iraq was a mistake and best avoided with hindsight?
This brings us back to statesmanship. Following Iraq, America's international credit on questions such as these is not especially high, which is a problem when one recalls that the US remains, even after overstretch and near-humiliation, the world's only superpower. The three European powers have read Iran wrongly for years. Their policy of diplomatic negotiation has achieved precisely nothing.

It looked pretty hopeless in the era before Mr Ahmadinejad, when our Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, went to ingratiate himself with people who were merely extremists rather than psychotics. Now there can be no meeting of minds; there is considerably more chance of the Rev Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams each conceding that the other has a point.

An attempt by European foreign ministers to persuade Iran to forego its "right" to make a nuclear weapon is, in the present circumstances, likely to become 21st-century diplomacy's equivalent of the Bodyline series: there might be two sides out there, but only one will be playing cricket.
So then Iraq was a mistake, but saying so at the time is a wild and wacky process? Whatever may be said about the Europeans' "policy of diplomatic negotiation", it may have delayed the process of nuclear proliferation, and at worst it has at least done no harm, unlike - say - invading Iraq. It is quite antic to describe Mohammed Khatami of glorious memory as an extremist, and has Heffer missed the fact Paisley and Adams have agreed in principle to serve in government together?
Perhaps the Security Council can be made to agree to speak sternly to Iran. China could, perhaps, be propitiated by being persuaded to join the G8 (after all, it is far more qualified to be in that grouping than Russia). If Russia won't play, then a reminder to the capricious President Vladimir Putin about a nuclear-armed Iran's potential to ally itself with the Islamic states of the former Soviet Union that are strung along his country's southern border might be used to stiffen his resolve. But what is Iran's response to a Security Council warning likely to be? "Get lost." And so what do we do then?

There have been various mock-terrifying suggestions about forcing Iran to withdraw from soccer's World Cup (for which it has qualified for the first time), or of preventing high Iranian potentates from going abroad on jollies. That this grave matter can be treated in such a fashion suggests that its gravity continues to escape some of the world's senior politicians and their officials. Of course, it is painful for the diplomatic community to have to admit that sanctions will not work, any more than they did in Iraq. But some other, tougher means will now have to be considered.
Other, tougher means than sanctions? More serious action than the abject pipsqueak Ancram's football diplomacy? What might that be? Oh, the Security Council might agree to speak sternly to Iran. Now, now, that won't do at all! Wag goes the Hefferite finger.But what is Iran's response to a Security Council warning likely to be? "Get lost." You're damn tootin'! What does he think Vladimir Putin's answer to such an absurd scare story will be - after all, he is busy flogging Iran SA10 missiles?
The Americans talk of trying to encourage revolution in Iran. Sadly, the only revolution likely to succeed there is one that ushers in someone who makes Mr Ahmadinejad look reasonable. In a police state as oppressive as Iran, the scope for the people to rise up and remove the tyrants who lead them is, to say the least, limited. To rely on such a method to remove the threat is, like sanctions of all descriptions, the equivalent of doing nothing.

Doing nothing, however, is not an option. Aside from the obvious outcome of allowing Iran under Mr Ahmadinejad to have a nuclear weapon, it would also have a demoralising and highly dangerous effect on the whole world order. It would provide the final proof that the United Nations is largely pointless (interim proof came in the run-up to the 2003 Gulf war, when it resolutely refused to enforce its many resolutions against Iraq). It would also put the ball into Israel's court. Before his coma, Ariel Sharon said Israel simply would not allow a nuclear Iran. Given Mr Ahmadinejad's foreign policy aim of obliterating Israel, it is far from likely that whoever succeeds Mr Sharon after the March elections will feel it is politically wise to take a different view.

One can foresee all too easily a situation in which the rest of the world, unable to agree how to proceed against this menace, leaves Israel, as the stated target, feeling vulnerable. And anyone who thinks that Israel is going to allow another avowedly hostile state to build a nuclear arsenal to use against it has not been paying attention these past few decades.
So sanctions and diplomacy are useless, political warfare worse than useless...and doing nothing is not an option. But (as discussed above) war is also inadvisable. I think yer man is torn between the will to wound and the fear to strike. I think, to borrow a Tory worship-phrase, he is "frit". And in what way did the UN "resolutely refuse to enforce its many resolutions"? When the UNMOVIC inspectors were withdrawn, they had to break off from crushing Al-Samoud II rockets under a bulldozer!

So, war is foolish and everything else useless. But doing nothing is not an option. Why? Ah, Israel, of course. We ought to bomb the Iranians because otherwise the Israelis will do! Well, I'm glad that's been cleared up. There is of course no mention of the fact that the Israelis possess some 200 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them by air, cruise missile, artillery, and ballistic missiles, from both land and submarine bases. Even if Mr. Ahmadinejad really is entirely happy to be vapourised several times over, does that apply to the powerbrokers behind him? Rafsanjani? The politicians who forced him to ditch his candidates for the Ministry of Oil because they were ignorant religious nuts? Perhaps he isn't immune to temporal pressure after all?
Any military action against Iran, whatever it is and whoever takes it, is likely to be provocative to the wider Islamic community - but none is likely to be quite so internationally combustible as a unilateral decision by Israel to bomb - by conventional or possibly other means - Iran. This seems to leave only one feasible option, which is for a United Nations-endorsed series of air strikes on suspected nuclear installations in Iran, made after due and reasonable warning and only as a last resort. All that must be made clear - but it must also be made clear, by the united powers of the United Nations, that any insistence by Mr Ahmadinejad on pursuing his present policy will be met with such a response.
You betcha, Sime. Provocative? You know, and I know, that in the event of military action against Iran by anyone, the logistical tail of the US Army in Iraq will vanish. The British Army will have to fight like hell to get anything up the road and will suffer major casualties. The oil price will go over $100, and perhaps worse if the Straits are mined or Ras Tanura hit. So, Heff ups the ante. We've got to attack Iran to save the Iranians from "other means", which I take to mean those 200 Israeli nukes. And we'll need UN authorisation , despite the UN being pointless, wild, and wacky.
Whether this happy diplomatic state can be achieved looks, for the moment, unlikely. Our own Foreign Secretary has a distinct record of failure in this specific matter. With Tony Blair imminently preparing a reshuffle, he should ask whether Mr Straw is up to the intensely difficult job that now awaits him. The scope for British leadership on this question, given America's perceived problems in the Middle East, ought to be considerable. However, for the moment we are punching below our weight.

Indeed, the present impasse with Iran is in no small part the consequence of misguided policy by the Foreign Office, in concert with other European powers, over the past four or five years. Britain is, to all intents and purposes, at the mercy of world events, but it can still choose whether to be a spectator, or a player.
And who is to mount this laudable humanitarian campaign? Why, Britain, of course. It's our fault we didn't bomb Iran four years ago, in order to save them from the Israelis, so we'd better get bombing now! Load up the GR4s and let's roll! Gentlemen, your target for tonight is...Suez!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Not-Leo Not-Kidnap Not-Plot

So..the day after the Lords rained on Tony's ID parade, the Sun gets an exclusive superspook leako that the Metroplod is investigating a plot to kidnap Leo Blair. Naturally, there is no danger. Nuh. No arrests, and the lad was never apparently at risk. Anyone else spot a connection between these two facts?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's The Left One! It's the Right One! I KNOW it's the right one!

The Sunday Times this weekend carried a really frightening story regarding the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell tube station. Now, we know that the Met has a procedure of some kind for the case of finding a suicide-bomber roaming the streets under which they intend to shoot them dead on the spot. None of its detail is in the public domain, but we know it's called Operation KRATOS.

Now, let us consider what KRATOS is meant to change. In the past, the cops were permitted to shoot first in the case of an immediate threat to the lives of members of the public or police officers, having issued a warning. This is essentially a fail-safe control system, at least as far as such a thing is possible in the conditions. Authorisation to use firearms must be sought, but even then, without specific dangerous conditions being satisfied they will not be use. (This, of course, doesn't always work - see Harry Stanley)

With KRATOS, which from all available evidence seems to mean that when a suspected suicide bomber is identified, the firearms squad can be authorised by a tactical commander to shoot them, the guns are more likely to be used than not once that authorisation is given. This is a fail-deadly system, rather like some used for nuclear deterrence during the cold war. Back then, command-and-control systems had two functions - to assure deterrent credibility by making it impossible for an enemy to be confident that a pre-emptive strike at command centres would prevent the weapons being launched, and to reserve the ability to launch the weapons to designated authorities so as to prevent accidental or malicious use. These are obviously two halves of a trade-off!

Clearly, fail-deadly is completely fucking psychotically inappropriate for police purposes. It ought to be obvious that suicide bombers will not be deterred by greater certainty that the cops will shoot them if detected - the clue is in the name, no? But anyway. Once the activation order for Operation KRATOS is given, the firearms team who receive it may be considered to be armed like a grenade with the pin out. They have been ordered to shoot somebody at their own discretion. In nuclear terms, the weapon has been released to local control. When the UK's deterrent was carried on RAF bombers, this stage was actually left until after the aircraft took off, when it reached its startline over the Baltic. Under what was known as Positive Control, the V-Force would scramble and proceed to the start line, where they would contact various commands in the UK by radio for the final authorisation code which permitted them to arm the bomb, dive to low level, and head for their targets.

The crucial point, though, was what happened if the code did not arrive. If the final order was not received, the bomber crews' orders were to circle and get in touch with a succession of other authorities for instructions. If the word had still not arrived when the fuel state passed the minimum to complete the mission, they were simply to return to base in Lincolnshire (if it was still there..). The system would fail-safe, sacrificing a degree of deterrent certainty for greater safety. Consider KRATOS. Once they get the word, and lose communications by running into a tube station, they go ahead and shoot someone. The system fails-deadly, sacrificing a considerable degree of safety for greater certainty. In fact, it's far more suited to assuring nuclear deterrence than dealing with a suspected suicide bomber.

You would think, then, that releasing the KRATOS team to fire at will would be difficult, that there would be a very specific procedure to ensure there could be no possible confusion. A codeword, perhaps. The Times:
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has also discovered that the surveillance team that followed de Menezes from his flat had sent a misleading message to the armed officers waiting at Stockwell.

When the firearms officers were told “this is the man”, sources say they took it to mean “this is the suicide bomber” rather than “this is the man we have been following”.
Well, someone was hanged for saying "Let him have it!", but he wasn't a copper. Sir Ian Blair is incompetent and must go.

Note: The title of this post is rumoured to be what passed between the pilots of the British Midland plane that crashed onto the M1 at Kegworth. After an engine fire, they miscommunicated and shut down the wrong engine. A fault in the instrumentation didn't help, but still. Words matter..

Yes, We Are Going To Win

It's good to see that something good can still come from the clarted-up pipes of what passes for the constitution. Tony Blair may get a whole edition of Newsnight to blabber about how the scale and organisation of 21st-century crimes make things like due process, evidence, separate executive and judiciary powers obsolete in the War Against Celebrity Neighbours from Hell, the citizens of Shoreditch are invited to monitor each other on CCTV cameras while, no doubt, the police monitor which cameras which house is looking at, but occasionally..

..the Lords give him a genuine pub carpark shoeing. They voted to put in an amendment to the ID Cards Bill that blocks its further progress until the Government coughs up its estimates of the Giant Scheme to Monitor Absolutely Everybody Whatever The Hell They Do's final cost. Once provided, the Bill has to go back to the Commons. And who knows what might happen there? We are, by the way, going to win.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

PRTs: Performing (Really) Teams?

One development that has been held out as good news in Iraq is the transfer of the Provincial Reconstruction Team concept from Afghanistan, associated with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. David Barno, not to mention Bob Bran of Blogistan. PRTs were essentially invented as a response to the obvious need to expand security out of Kabul, though the US Army in southern Afghanistan was uninterested in anything that might tie its hands in rearranging the ridgelines in pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the NATO member states unkeen on contributing further troops. The idea was, essentially, to set up mixed civil-military groups to run reconstruction and administrative/military reform projects in centres of population, that would also act as a deterrent to further warlord fighting and expand the authority of the Kabul government, without establishing a massive military presence.

So far, so sensible. Initial results were shaky, and suffered from problems including many NGOs not liking the idea of cooperating with the military (although one suspects the proposition that this was a far better idea than AC-130 strikes on wedding parties had considerable persuasive force. Manipulation is a two-way process..). But with time and commitment, they seem to have achieved something - or at least, more than the neo-Air Cav chopper blitzkrieg advocates can claim either in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The US Army War College's journal Parameters has a fascinating report on the project, well worth reading in conjunction with Brigadier Aylwin-Foster's now heavily blogged critique of the main force US Army in Iraq. As is often the case, although the PRT remit began very fluid, this seems to have been a long-term advantage, as the aim was clearer (compare Iraq, where the Coalition armies' remit is as clear as day, their strategic aim barely defined). From a British point of view, there's room for some gloating, too - it seems to be a great pity that now the US military establishment, having banged its head raw on the Iraqi wall, is more receptive to the famous "influence" that the special relationship is meant to offer, we are also suffering from the collision with the brickwork.
The civilian and military members of the UK-led PRT in Mazar-e Sharif, by comparison, trained and deployed together and understood that their mission was to support both military and civilian objectives. One example of the results of these different approaches was that while the Mazar PRT made it a priority to support civilian-led missions like police training, disarmament, and judicial reform efforts, the PRT [US-run] in Gardez initially resisted State Department requests for police training assistance. Civil-military coordination on the US-led PRTs has certainly improved over time, but limited pre-deployment preparation, strained resources, and confusion over priorities continue.

Despite these challenges, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams have been one of the few efforts in Afghanistan to approach civil and military S&R tasks in a coordinated fashion at the tactical level. Military patrols, demining, school repairs (with either military or civilian oversight), UN assessments, police training, and other tasks all take place within a single province. The diversity of nations, organizations, and personalities struggling to implement their particular programs impedes even the most concerted efforts to pull things together. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan uses regional offices to share information, but real coordination is more than information sharing, it is integrated action. Integration among national, functional, and civil-military stovepipes generally occurs only in the host-nation’s capital, at best. PRTs, however, have achieved at least some unity of effort in the field by serving as a hub for both military and civilian activities and by closely aligning their efforts with the Afghan central government.

As with coordination, the UK-led PRT in Mazar-e Sharif was particularly effective in building relationships. The PRT commander in September 2003 had extensive diagrams detailing frequently-changing factional loyalties and interactions. PRT members traveled extensively through their area of operations. When tensions rose, PRT members stepped into the middle of the action, sometimes physically placing themselves between armed groups. Their efforts prevented factional fighting from breaking out or escalating on a number of occasions. In contrast, the German-led PRT in Konduz could travel only within a 30-kilometer radius and was accused by UN and NGO staff of avoiding areas where factional tensions were high. PRT members took a delegation (including the author) to visit the Konduz governor in February 2004, and described their close relationship with him. They did not seem aware, however, that the governor would be replaced the next day by the central government..
Well, someone ought to be in line for a medal if that is at all representative of the UKPRT's performance. This is interesting, too:
The UK military relied on its government’s Department for International Development for funding assistance projects. While this limited the military’s freedom of action, it may well have been a blessing in disguise. UK military personnel coordinated closely with their civilian agency counterparts in order to access their funding. They also tended to focus more on building relationships based on security-related cooperation with local authorities.

PRTs could, in extremis, call on the ultimate stick—bombs from above—but military airstrikes lack subtlety, and even the threat of them was generally not helpful for day-to-day interactions. PRT members relied primarily on trying to reward good behavior, but there was one stick President Karzai used that the PRTs could reinforce, as appropriate, in the murky world of provincial diplomacy: job insecurity. Karzai was not shy about firing ineffective or corrupt governors and police chiefs. PRTs were in some cases instrumental in supporting leadership changes, and in other cases their interactions with local officials seemed only remotely tied to the central government.

For example, the PRT in Gardez helped the governor, a trusted appointee of President Karzai, to transfer the corrupt provincial police chief to Kabul. When the new police chief arrived with a well-trained police unit to assist in the transfer process, the presence of PRT soldiers demonstrated US support for the central government and helped prevent a firefight between the newcomers and the departing police chief’s private militia.13 PRTs were most effective in relationship-building when they could both reward cooperative local partners and hold uncooperative partners accountable. The appointment of an Afghan Ministry of Interior official to each PRT in 2004 was particularly helpful in improving the ability of the PRTs to build relationships and strengthen the reach of the central government.
Now, this is all very fantastic, but can it last? Answering a question of mine, Bob Bran, who served on a PRT and General Barno's staff, remarked that the State Department and the Army considered them "nondoctrinal", or to put it in English, bureaucratically wrong. And the transfer to Iraq doesn't seem to be working out for reasons that the battling Brigadier has covered in some detail: Washington Post link.
But with the Pentagon eager to draw down forces in Iraq, defense officials are reluctant to take on new or expanded assignments, particularly those seen by some as having more to do with reconstruction than combating terrorism.

"We're very much in the watch-and-wait mode right now," said a senior military officer at the Pentagon. "Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld has spoken of the importance of not stepping too far forward in the area of reconstruction just yet."
Well, that's the sound of a point being missed by a mile. Before the recent financial cutoff, even the White House seemed to have (temporarily and for PR purposes) got a grip on the idea that you cannot win this kind of war just by killing all the bad guys. Remember that National Strategy for Victory in Iraq? Clear, Hold, and Build? Bah. Brig Aylwin-Foster:
The most striking feature of the US Army's approach during this period of OIF Phase 4 is that universally those consulted for this paper who were not from the US considered that the Army was too "kinetic". This is shorthand for saying US Army personnel were too inclined to consider offensive operations and destruction of the insurgent as the key to a given situation, and conversely failed to understand its downside.
A good question regarding the roll-out of the PRTs to Iraq, which hasn't really been answered, is whether sufficient tactical-level consent exists for them to operate - after all, a low-profile strategy might have worked in the spring of 2003, but the degree of insurgent dominance of roads and urban centres is now a very difficult problem for a type of unit that is specifically meant to make contact with the people. Certainly some parts of Iraq might well be possible, but then, those are the bits (Kurdistan) where there is really no problem.

More broadly, is it time to put a permanent PRT or three on the Army's order of battle? It would seem to be an excellent use of the Territorial Army - many of the TA infantry have been used as individual reinforcements and gate guards, whilst a lot of their officers have been knocked back from going to Iraq completely, and a few specialist trades run into the ground.

Jocks to Baghdad

1st Royal Scots deployed to Iraq this week, in a movement that I don't think was part of the routine brigade roulement. Underneath the racket about paedo shitbags and surveillance dolphins parenting binge estates, it rather vanished into the background noise, but there is an interesting point here.

Out of the battalion from the British Army's senior regiment - formed 1633 as a mercenary outfit in Swedish service, then at various times nationalised and lent out to the French (for some reason they don't make much of that bit of their history), and eventually regularised as a line infantry regiment - one rifle company is going to the Baghdad protection force. What is this? Well, although Baghdad is under a US Army division, there is a British embassy and a miscellany of organisations and British advisers, staff officers, contractors and such there. For their additional security, they have a considerable detail of Military Police. But this is the first I've heard of a rifle company (120 men) with all the usual infantry weapons (7.62mm GPMG machine guns, antitank rockets, snipers' rifles, 51mm mortars) being sent there, which on the face of it would suggest that the threat level has gone up considerably.

Now, why not take a look at the MOD's current ORBAT in Iraq? There is no mention of the Royal Jocks, which may reflect either that these are reinforcements (as usual, as they are "temporary" they are not officially an increase in force levels), or that the MOD doesn't bother to update its website although the table is given as current on the 10th January.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Op Firedump: Surveillance

Just who was it who chartered Irbis's Ilyushin-18D UN-75005, serial number 187010204 as a "private" flight from Kabul to Sharjah on Tuesday at 1235 local time? They weren't using a BIS- flight number, but the aircraft registration as a general aviation movement. And - why haven't we heard of the old crate (well, it's not actually a Crate, only in a figurative sense) being condemned on arrival (at either end) under UNSCR1532?

Answers on a bloodstained $100 bill to the usual address.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Churchill and Alcohol

Interesting analysis on WSC's drinking habits.
Professor Warren Kimball of Rutgers, editor of the WSC-FDR correspondence and several erudite books on the two leaders, maintains that Churchill was not an alcoholic -"no alcoholic could drink that much!"

Alexandre Gaidamak and Pompey

As I first heard from the statistics log, the wanted arms dealer Arkadi Gaidamak's son Alexandre is trying to buy Portsmouth FC. Gaidamak was one of the people at the heart of the Angolan wing of the Elf scandal, next to Pierre Falcone, and is wanted by the French police and Interpol. This hasn't stopped him living quite openly in Israel, where he bought a football club, Beitar Jerusalem, and cultivated political connections. Now, it would appear, his son (who I think is a French citizen) wants a south-coast, not terribly good football team.

The Portsmouth fans seem to have been afflicted by conflicting emotions - since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea, you can't mention anything remotely Russian near a football club without being overcome by people expecting multi-zillion investment. Gaidamak is nowhere near as rich as Abramovich, though, and the sources of his wealth are dramatically more dubious.

Personally, I wouldn't believe a fucking word. Gaidamak péré is quoted as saying that "this isn't a football deal, it's a real estate deal". Caveat vendor.

Keighley Cougars RLFC had a similar experience when local "colourful businessman" Carl Metcalfe owned the club for a mercifully brief period, having promised the existing board the moon on a stick - he claimed to be on the point of building a new stadium and a variety of new businesses to support the team and said he would put in millions of pounds. However, it was an open secret in Keighley that he was quite a serious drug dealer, using his tyre-importing business as cover.

Things went bad early on, when Phil Larder (yes, Rah-Rahs, that Phil Larder), who was (astonishingly) national coach as well as running the Cougars was fired. Well, Metcalfe told the Keighley News he'd been fired because of poor results, but Larder was of a mind that his pay cheque had bounced. Not long after that, two of the club's best players were sold for a song to Sheffield, run at the time by formidable RL politico Gary Hetherington. Later, Sheffield would astonish everyone by beating Wigan to win the Challenge Cup, with the ex-Cougars in the forefront. They paid up some £80,000 for the holder of our try-scoring record and the man who would get the Lance Todd Trophy.

It all went horribly wrong after that, what with financial disarray (a normal condition at Keighley), accusations of rape against the chairman, which led him to threaten various people through the medium of the match programme but eventually turned out to be true, and a catastrophic deal with Leeds which neatly removed most of our squad for a cash contribution of about £10,000. The club ended up bankrupt again, and Metcalfe was eventually convicted of importing huge quantities of ecstasy tabs. His defence was that a lot of the tablets on sale actually contained no drug, which set a kind of crazy record for twistedness, but didn't help. In jail, he was fished out to face the rape rap, and collected another stretch.

The moral? First, don't deal with Gary Hetherington, who was Leeds's business manager by the time of the final fire-sale of the squad. More seriously, caveat vendor!

Yet more reasons..

...to say NO to Identity Cards.

Spaniards go barking mad

This is rather worrying, no? Spanish general and CINC Land Forces says the army has an obligation to intervene if the Catalans get more autonomy. Chief of General Staff asks Defence Minister for authority to sack him. Defence Minister goes one better, puts him under house arrest!

Is it me - or is everyone else going mad?

Working together

I saw three jets come sailing in, on Christmas Day in the morning. Jet Line International-owned Ilyushin-76T ER-IBV, serial 3243699, at Santa Maria on the Azores (presumably refuelling on a trans-Atlantic trip), but apparently going under the banner of Aerocom, the firm rousted from Moldova for being too corrupt and whose planes are known to get grabbed for cocaine smuggling. Repeat after me: Jet Line and Aerocom are not the same company! Say it often enough and it might be true!

Perhaps enough mystery jet content for today...

Time to liven up the Firedump

Firedump has gone a little cold over Christmas, so it's clearly time to bump it. Just before Christmas, I invited the public to get in touch with the Romanian government regarding the BAC-111 said to be used by San Air General Trading, 3C-QRF, serial no. 61, which is currently in storage at Bucharest-Baneasa airfield.

I've yet to see a response, although my server log shows a burst of googling from the Romanian CAA and a few other IPs there. Might it be the right moment to revisit the job? (Contacts here.)

In other related news, the boss of the UAE, horseflesh-loving dictator Sheikh Maktoum, has died. Unfortunately, the Crown Prince who will now step into his shoes after the statutory forty days' mourning is the man behind the whole project of making Dubai into the sort of world financial and trading centre where you can get away with murder in the most profitable fashion, so I'm not holding my breath for any effort to implement UN Resolution 1532 there.

But it's worth pointing out that, according to the latest UN Expert Panel report, assets can indeed be seized. The following countries were contacted by the Experts to find out what they had done about the asset seizure: Burkina Faso, France, the Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, the US, and Britain. Out of those, France, Germany, Ghana, the Lebanon, the UK and the US reported that assets had indeed been confiscated. Viktor Bout himself has apparently had to part with $2 million in US investments. (Congratulations, OFAC.)

The informed reader will notice, of course, the deafening silence on Russia's part and the fact that no-one seems even to have asked the UAE. There are several valuable assets flying from Dubai to Baghdad every day. At least two flights in each direction are still operated daily by Irbis Air Co under its own ICAO code BIS - flight numbers BIS6371 and BIS6375 inwards, and BIS6372 and 6376 outwards. Elsewhere in his realm, flight BIS6380 from Kabul to Sharjah is currently expected at 1235 local time, not to mention a ton of other dodgy operators.

In other news, I learn with distaste but little surprise that Pierre and Sonia Falcone shared a PR man with none other than George W. Bush! Or more specifically, Republicans for Clean Air, the front group set up to bash John McCain's campaign for the Republican nomination by Alleyn & Company, a well-connected rightwing PR outfit. One of the men who built RCA is one Jason Rose, who also acted for the Falcones at the same time. Small world, no?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Printing Batteries...and more stuff

Via the good people at RepRap, this paper from Cornell University on how to print out zinc-air batteries. Amusingly, despite the more polished presentation, the Cornell team's gizmo shares the pleasantly homemade look of the RepRap down at Bath University...and there was I thinking it was British eccentricity.

What is AOL up to?

David Neal of IT Week is concerned by those huge AOL adverts about all the terrible things that are out there On The Internet. So am I. Is this the beat-up for some sort of return to a walled-garden canned-web product? AOL, famously, sucked when they ran something like that.

Iraq: Shia-Kurdish alliance under strain

One of the main factors delaying defeat in Iraq is the support of SCIRI and its alliance with the Kurds. It seems the SCIRI is now under pressure to come out against the US and its allies.

This story is interesting, but mostly on a point buried right at the end of the article: dissension between US generals on a point I've been going on about for years, namely why the US Army and Marines have so many men in the wilds of western Iraq when the action is in urban Iraq, where the people are.
In the past several months, General Vines said that the flow of foreign fighters infiltrating Iraq had diminished in part because of nearly 20,000 Iraqi forces now stationed in restive Anbar Province, a series of American military operation in the Euphrates River Valley and increased cooperation from Syria and Saudi Arabia in tightening border controls.

In the weeks leading up to the December election, however, General Vines differed with his boss, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the overall American commander in Iraq, over how and where to assign troops to ensure a peaceful and successful balloting.

According to interviews with several senior Army officers, who were granted anonymity because their bosses' discussions were confidential, General Casey wanted to build up operations along the border between Iraq and Syria, as well as the Euphrates River Valley, to make it harder for suicide bombers to infiltrate and explode themselves in Baghdad during the elections.

But General Vines and his field commanders said the center of gravity was Baghdad and its predominantly Sunni suburbs like Falluja, the officers said. General Vines wanted to position more forces there to increase the Sunni turnout, a major political goal of the Bush administration but also a means to help reduce the insurgency.

The two commanders eventually worked out a compromise to put troops in both places, the senior officers said.

The Last Push

The moment of decision in the Government's atrocious ID cards scheme is fast approaching. On the 16th and 23rd of January, the Bill goes into its report stage in the Lords (where the House of Lords will debate and vote on the outcome of the committee hearings on it). Every amendment that passes here will be voted on in the Commons, before the final, winner-takes-all votes come up.

I'm going to keep this short, so just remember: this scheme is certain to be obscenely expensive, the technology cannot possibly work statistically speaking (the government's own trials showed an error rate of 4% - but the number of cards is going to be 44 million, which means a lot of false arrests), it will be a gigantic security risk, and the government will be able to add your ID number to any database it likes. Despite repeated psuedo-concessions about what data will be in the National Identity Register or "on the card", the government has never made any commitment whatsoever regarding the use of this unique identifier - which has the capability to effectively make all the government's databases part of the system.

The only terrorists it could possibly stop would be ones who we already know are terrorists, but who choose for reasons of their own to use their real names and carry ID cards - who don't sound like much of a problem. Big government IT systems have been penetrated repeatedly - animal-rights terrorists got access to the DVLA's database of driving licences so as to get the names of workers at a medical research centre, and more recently a gigantic tax fraud was perpetrated using the payroll details of staff at the Department of Work and Pensions to claim family tax credits in their names.

So: let's write to them and make sure they know just how awful this project is. You can find Lords' email addresses here.

Google Maps on a blog

Der Schockwellenreiter can tell you how to integrate GMaps into other web applications using the Google API. (If you speak German, that is.)

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Enough news already!

Christ. So Ariel Sharon just had a stroke through eating the world's supply of falafels and Jack Straw says "it's showtime for Syria"? Please. Can I go to bed?

Global Rudyard!

Over at Airminded, Brett Holman's PhD blog, we were discussing Rudyard Kipling's rare excursions into science fiction, With the Night Mail and As Easy as ABC. Both of them deal with a future dated to round about now, aviation, and the integration of the world's political economies into one seamless technocratic whole. They are cracking.

No, seriously. Please.

Probably the most serious of the two is As Easy as ABC, which postulates a future where the world has replaced the dangerous and unpredictable system of democracy for the technocratic administration of the Aerial Board of Control. The ABC's motto is Transportation is Civilisation and its chief care the maintenance of the world's federated trading and communications networks. The seamless flow of wealth and ideas around the world mean there is no rational reason to go to war; the replacement of "a system based on Crowds" with a small elite of cosmopolitan civil servants means that no irrational wars are to be expected. Of course, the stinking mob is always dangerous, but waiting in the wings, flying untiring holding patterns over the Arctic, is the ultimate deterrent - the ABC Fleet, whose very existence is kept menacingly vague except when it is called in to reduce dangerously irrational cities to - melted glass. It's probably a good moment to mention here that Night Mail makes it quite clear that the huge, high speed airships are powered by nuclear reactors quite like those aboard contemporary ballistic missile submarines.

There are two obvious analogues to Kipling's ABC. One is the British Empire with its shipping, railway and telecoms network, its supremely haute bourgeoise assumption of capitalist and technocratic perfection, its mighty, rarely summoned navy, and its tiny, super-elite civil service. Kipling actually wrote a poem about submarine telegraph cables, so he probably counts as the Neal Stephenson or Bruce Sterling of his day. In fact, I suppose you could make a case for him as a sci-fi pioneer, following the leading edge of the technological future into the distance. For example: From the spindle-guide to the piston crank/I see Thy Hand, my God/Predestination in yon connecting rod/John Calvin might have wrought the same/Enormous, certain, slow/Aye, wrought it in the furnace flame, my Institutio, about a Scottish ship's engineer (now where have we heard of one of those before?). In ABC, aircraft approach London via one of several navigational beacons placed around the perimeter of the city..not far from the real locations of the VOR-DMEs that mark the Heathrow approach patterns, and the Night Mail's crew enjoy sarcastic deadheading banter over the radio with other ships on the long transatlantic night sector. (In International, mind.)

Another is the European Union. Functional, technocratic integration of national economies, with a very distinct distancing of messy popular sentiment, as a vaccination against war (and revolution), with a multinational administrative cadre, and a vague and terrible deterrent from the sky as an ultimate guarantee? It makes sense, I suppose - in 1999, at Royal Holloway College, I attended a lecture by Sir Anthony Meyer, the Tory who acted as stalking horse against Maggie Thatcher over Europe. Meyer, asked how he became convinced of the necessity of European integration, told how he had been influenced at Cambridge by Lionel Curtis, an alumnus of Lord Milner's staff in South Africa. Curtis, for his part, was a campaigner for federation between the British Empire, the USA and perhaps also Germany, and eventually the world at the same time Kipling was working on ABC.

Perhaps the closest comparison, though, is the sort of thing Thomas "Pentagon's New Map" Barnett and John "Global Guerrillas" Robb talk about. Rebels against the established order, before Victor Pirolo's QRA flight delivers them a bucket of instant sunshine, make it their first task to riotously cut themselves out of all systems. Disrupting the network permits them to establish a temporary autonomous zone. They don't, however, get as far as spreading the outage down the long lines far enough to avoid having the shit nuked out of them until the terrorised survivors beg to be wired back into the system. Which is surprising.

After all, the difference between Kipling's future utopia/dystopia and, say, that of Orwell is the ABC's other big preoccupation after preventing excessive packet loss - privacy, which makes them sound more like ICANN - in fact very much so:
'Now, where is this Illinois District of yours?' said Dragomiroff. 'One travels so much, one sees so little. Oh, I remember! It is in North America.'
- or Cory Doctorow with nukes than Big Brother. Interestingly, Kipling implies that protecting privacy is likely to turn the public in favour of the powerful against any possible rebels.

But the finish delivers the menacing punch of any good sci-fi, ending up with the surviving democrats being extraordinarily rendered into the service of a circus in London.

At Last, Live Coverage of the Piss-Ridden Realities of London!

Today, my railway season ticket went up by 7.5%. And, as if to thank me, tonight I returned home in a seat next to this charming pool of unidentified dark liquid!

Unidentified dark liquid on train seat. Look, it's realistically got to be piss.

Mind you, at least I'm not yet as stupid as Conservative transport spokesman Chris Grayling, who found his plaice in history yesterday by announcing that "They're using the fares to manage demand. British Rail used to do this - whenever the trains got full, they hiked the fares. Now, since the government took over the railways again, they're at it again."

So - he thinks the railways should be run by private enterprise. Presumably he thinks this because private firms will react more speedily and accurately to the signals of the price mechanism. But he wants to impose price controls at the same time and force them to keep their fares down if demand goes up! So they will not have an incentive to increase capacity! Now, there are plenty of other reasons to bash anyone who still moans over Railtrack's lead-lined sarcophagus (sunk in the Marianas Trench, I would hope) - for one thing, I'm pretty keen on not being mashed like a rat in a blender on the way to work, and a fix-on-fail maintenance policy is not well suited to anything safety critical.

But I never thought anyone would seriously suggest that having privately-run railways with state-set pricing was a good idea. Come on Tories, you can do better.

Do I Smell...Gas?

Well, the Great Gas War of 2006 seems to be over before it started. The Russians and Ukrainians composed their differences and now, it's back to sleep at the back. What on earth was up?

The first thing to remember was that, whatever the Russians said after they announced the crisis, almost all the gas the Ukraine gets from Russia is free. Rather, it's a payment in kind for Gazprom's use of the pipeline from Russia to the Hungarian border. So, whatever the "market price" was, the delivery of gas from Russia to the Ukraine is chiefly set by the terms under which Russian gas transits the Ukraine en route to Germany. The first blogger to mention this - in fact, the first media source of any kind, I think - was Jérome of European Tribune fame. He was also the first to predict that settlement would be swift and not necessarily in Russian interests. Why was this important?

Well, Russia is a near-monopoly supplier of natural gas to much of Europe. They have no choice but to buy gas from Russia. This would seem to mean that the Russians have a very strong position. However, Russia has very little choice but to sell gas to much of Europe. The infrastructure constrains who they sell it too, and the economy constrains them to sell it. Rather than the relation of a monopolist to many customers, then, we have the relationship of a monopolist to a monopsonist, or sole buyer. This is exactly like the position between a dominant employer and a single trade union that represents the whole workforce. Historically, such relations tend towards stability - an extreme case of the well-known phenomenon of price stability among oligopolists.

To improve its bargaining position, Russia needs to prevent the customer states acting as a monopsony - to put it another way, to divide them. Now, remember those transit fees. Obviously, it is in Gazprom's (and Russia's) interest to ship gas as cheaply as possible. But there is a problem with simply demanding this - there are no good substitutes for the Ukrainian pipeline, so there is little leverage. If the gas is cut off entirely, there will be political crisis of the first water, and an immediate end to payments into Russia. The monopolist and the monopsonist are stalemated.

What if we could cut off just the Ukrainians? They would be forced to negotiate from weakness, and our notion of using gas as a deterrent would be demonstrated as credible. Further, there would be a division between those who wanted to tough it out and those who wanted to keep quiet so long as the gas kept coming. Great! There was only one problem; cutting off the Ukrainian take and still pumping the rest would be just as much a theft (of services) as them still keeping their gas would be a theft (of gas), and nothing could stop them from doing so. Turning down the taps even more would have meant not exporting the European gas...and that would have been the failure of the strategy.

In essence, it was a little like the peering dispute between ISPs Cogent and Level 3 last year. Under peering, also known as settlement-free interconnection, two ISPs agree to carry each other's traffic on a basis of reciprocity, without billing each other. Cogent's policy is to sell cheap bandwidth to webhosting businesses that send a lot of traffic - porn sites, essentially. Under the standard Internet procedure of hot-potato routing, traffic to another network is handed over at the earliest point of interconnection, so traffic from a Cogent user in Los Angeles might be routed onto Level 3's wires on the edge of town, taken to New England by L3, then delivered over Cogent's local wires. L3 thought Cogent were exploiting the arrangement. Hence the dispute.

Two things come to mind; for a start, the underlying dynamic was for settlement. Neither firm could long offer its customers a service that went to the Internet but not some of it, and in fact it was customer outrage that pressed them to compromise. Similarly, over time no party in the gas row could afford not to settle. Another is that the escalation strategy for Russia was deeply unfavourable (just an extension of the first one, really).

The Russians could have turned off the tap completely, triggering all hell breaking loose. As detailed above this was not in their interest. The Europeans, though, could have made a countermove that would have been very unfavourable for Russia. Gas exported to central Europe is paid for when it passes the old western border of the Soviet Union. Therefore, it's Russia's gas until that point. Therefore, Gazprom is responsible for it that far. One counteroffer could be to suggest that the gas be charged for at the Russian-Ukrainian frontier. That would mean that the transit charges through the Ukraine would be the problem of the customer, and that the responsibility would lie with them too. Now, the Ukrainians would now be a customer state like the Germans, Hungarians, Austrians etc...which doesn't sound good until you realise that the lost transit charge would be reflected in the price chargeable by Gazprom to the Europeans, and then by the payment for use of the pipeline by the Europeans to the Ukrainians. Essentially, the gas would be cold-potato routed after Russia, the Europeans taking over the cost, but also the control.

The result would be that it would no longer be possible to switch-off one state on the pipe: only the lot. Ukraine would be part of the EU for gas purposes, and the policy of offering cheap gas (rather like the old colonial one of handing out rations to keep the natives dependent) as a form of political control, bankrupt (as least as far as the central and eastern Europeans go).

Regarding the Turkmen gas and the mystery Austrian firm...well, you'd better read the link above, because that out-weirds even me.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

To Be Filed for Reference

The Grauniad interviews the new political editor of the Sun, George Pascoe-Watson. (Note - unlike everything else on the Guardian's website, this article is trapped in a futile registration ghetto. Use Bugmenot). Murdoch press people are usually at pains to point out that the big boss, the Dirty Digger, call him whatever you like hardly interferes at all with the running of the paper.

So it's worth remembering this:
Following in the footsteps of the Sun's smooth-talking and sagacious political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, is not perhaps the most enviable of prospects. In football terms it is a bit like succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Kavanagh has prowled the corridors of Westminster for more than two decades, representing Britain's best-selling red-top daily with gravitas and the sure diplomatic touch of a whiskered elder statesman. This week, his deputy, George Pascoe-Watson, 39, settles into the hot seat, acutely aware that he has one of the toughest acts on Fleet Street to emulate. Yet he shows little sign of being daunted by the task ahead of him.

When MediaGuardian confirmed nine months ago that Kavanagh would relinquish his post, it led to speculation about who would succeed him. But it now appears that Pascoe-Watson had been assured several years earlier that he would inherit the position. Indeed, in the eerily quiet late-morning surroundings of the bar at the Cinnamon Club, a favourite restaurant of the Westminster set, Pascoe-Watson has no hesitation in admitting that he had been painstakingly "groomed" for the job by Kavanagh himself. It appears a plan has long been in place for a seamless transition of power - perhaps in marked contrast to the story both men have so frequently written about, namely the fractious and protracted jostling between 10 and 11 Downing Street.

"For some years now getting the job was on the cards," he says, "and we've been talking about the future. But of course you never really know until it happens. Obviously it was always down to [the Sun's editor] Rebekah Wade who to choose in the end, but it was certainly Trevor who groomed me and put me up for the job." How involved was the Sun's proprietor Rupert Murdoch? Pascoe-Watson replies carefully: "It is a position that Mr Murdoch was advised about and discussed with [Kavanagh]. And he had to grant his permission. So this was very much an issue which went right to the top of the company."

Pascoe-Watson describes Kavanagh, who will stay in the lobby as the paper's associate editor writing commentary and columns, as his "mentor". In fact, so unflinchingly loyal is he, you get the feeling that, if it ever came down to it, he would take a bullet for the man he succeeds. "Trevor is unique," he says. "I have worked with him for 11 years, 10 as his deputy, and he has taught me the tricks of the trade. He taught me how to get information and how to treat information. He also taught me how to write. Not every journalist on newspapers can write and Trevor has a fantastic way of writing in language that is universally understandable. His copy is flawless and goes in untouched."

Like Murdoch, Kavanagh believes in "small government, low tax and strong defence". It comes as no surprise that Pascoe-Watson's own convictions mimic those of his mentor. "I have always had that approach to the world. It was drummed into me, I suppose, by my father. I don't care which colour wraps around the politics. What I care about is what is the right thing for the country and Sun readers. And it's always small state, strong defence, strong law and order, the freedom of the individual not to be nannied, the general view that human beings are best left to their own devices as far as possible and to give people the incentive to have a better life."

Which sounds like Thatcherism in all but name. Measured in manner and tone, with a clipped, posh Edinburgh voice, Pascoe-Watson, like Kavanagh, represents the acceptable, corporate face of the Sun. Less the foot-in-the-door hack wheedling for stories (though he is no doubt capable of that too), more the immaculately-turned-out operator, equally at home on Radio 4 and at Chequers, as on one of the paper's annual meet-the-readers jaunts to caravan parks and holiday camps.

Another thing he has picked up from Kavanagh is how to cope with "the responsibility that comes with the power of the paper" and its 10 million readers. He is, he says, all too aware of the clout he will wield as the paper's political editor and will try to use it "sparingly". Furthermore, he acknowledges that a battering by the Sun can snuff out political careers. "I am not the kind of person to go around saying I can finish off a cabinet minister because that's not in my nature. But it is certainly true that we can make life very difficult for politicians if in fact they have erred and they deserve to be removed from office in our view."

The post brings access too. He is discreet enough to deny that the big beasts of British politics have rung him in person to congratulate him, but he says "people around" Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have. Over the years, he has been a regular visitor to Downing Street for face-time with the PM as part of a contingent of Sun executives. Now he can expect a flood of invitations. He will also see more of Murdoch too.

But whether he will be seeing rather too much of Kavanagh, who will still be sitting just "two feet away" from him in the lobby, is a moot point. Is there a danger that his mentor's continuing presence will gradually evolve from a comfort blanket to a curse? "I have thought about that a lot," says Pascoe-Watson. "But I would never say it is a curse. Some people I dare say will be asking 'how can you be the new Trevor Kavanagh?' You can't. And once you accept that, you have to do the job as you see fit. I will do it in the way I have been taught to do it, but not with any sense of how can I get out of his shadow. Over time that will happen."

There was a moment when it seemed the Kavanagh succession plan might be disrupted. In the summer of 2004 the BBC attempted to entice Pascoe-Watson, an accomplished broadcaster, away from the Sun to join News 24 as political editor. "They were talking about trying to get me to take on Sky News. They said they'd build the channel around me. There were many sticking points, the most important of which was that I didn't particularly want to do it because I already by that stage had been told that I was going to get Trevor's job." In the end, the job went in-house, to James Landale.

Given that it might also have made for uncomfortable and possibly compromising pillow-talk with his partner, the Sky News anchor Kay Burley, Pascoe-Watson has no doubt that he made the right call. "Being in print in politics is 10,000 times better in every respect than being in broadcasting," he says. "Even for someone of [BBC political editor] Nick Robinson or [ITN political editor] Tom Bradby's level. They always have to be in places to do interviews and standups, they have to bother with packages and all the rest of it. Our job at the end of the day is to fish for information and the more time I can spend doing that the better."

Pascoe-Watson has plenty of experience at the journalistic coalface. Born in Edinburgh in 1966, the son of an RAF pilot and a nursing sister, he eschewed a university education and instead completed a two-year journalism diploma at Napier College in Edinburgh. (Napier only became a university later, in 1992.) Reporting jobs in the West Country followed, but when the news agency he worked for went bust, he packed all his belongings into his Ford Cortina and holed up in a cousin's squat in Tooting, south London. Having rung every newsdesk in the capital, he started shifting on the Sun the night of his arrival. He was 21, and has been there ever since.

Pascoe-Watson has reported on three administrations, two Tory and one Labour, and the big question is whether the Sun's always qualified but now fast-evaporating support for Tony Blair will vanish entirely as the prime minister prepares to leave Downing Street. The paper's backing for New Labour always centred on Blair, himself, rather than the party and there are certainly signs that the Sun is warming to David Cameron. Pascoe-Watson reveals that Murdoch, whose policy is to back winners, has held a meeting with Cameron in the past couple of months. In words that might chill the blood of Gordon Brown, he says: "We are very impressed by Cameron. I would say that at this time, there has never been a better time for the Sun to look more favourably at the Conservatives. We like what we see of him so far. The next four years give Cameron - and Brown - the opportunity to impress or let down the Sun."

Cameron's appeal, it turns out, is that he is, like Blair, a pretty straight sort of guy. Despite the upper crust trappings, Citizen Dave appears to be, according to the Sun, "in tune with lots of working men and women in Britain. We on the Sun think that Cameron is showing a sense that he understands what people want in this country."

But Pascoe-Watson - who will lead a revamped Sun politics team that includes a new signing from the Sunday Times, Andrew Porter, as his deputy - has some encouraging words for Brown too. "Although [Brown] has a past, my reading of him is that he has been very strong on the economy, a very strong defender of the pound, he is Eurosceptic which is what we want him to be and seems to be perfectly in tune with us on the work ethic."

In the end, the final decision about which party to back at the next election will be taken "late in the day" by "Rupert Murdoch in discussion with the editor, with input from Trevor and I hope, next time round, from me too".


Get that? It will be taken by Rupert Murdoch himself with "input" from traitor Becky Asbo. I've republished the whole text, although it's not strictly necessary, purely in order to extract it from the reg ghetto. This is a good moment to bloviate about something I recently noticed - the new editors of the Telegraph have decided to tear down their own registration walls, which have been standing since 1996. This was criticised by some fool or other as "going for search-driven once-off hits" at the expense of "value".

Let's go round this again, shall we? Registration kills links. Links mean traffic. They also mean high-value traffic, because links let people discuss things, which means that they will come back. They also mean that people keep coming to all your old stuff. All you need to understand the Internet as a commercial proposition is to remember that it's links that matter - not hits. For Christ's sake, Grauniad, you boast tirelessly about your online readership, which you have because all your stuff is linkable, searchable, and stable (although the on-site search engine is a dog). Don't blow it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

CCTV Wants To Be Free! (Apparently)

We had something of a hit last autumn with our detailed guide on how to control other people's CCTV cameras online (not, of course, that I'm suggesting you actually do that. Nuh.), here, and here. Recently, there has been a wave of people searching Google for the axis/cgi string that signals the presence of one of the most common brands of networked cam. Now, none of these people came by following links, so I was slightly foxed as to what had got so many people interested in peering into university libraries in Nebraska.

Now I know. Since a bunch of Austrian hackers worked out how to monitor the Austrian police's shiny new wireless CCTV feeds and told the German hackercon, the Chaos Communications Congress, all about it, there's been a significant traffic boost, apparently because they went into detail about some other systems including Axis too. They are apparently using altered satellite TV kit to pick up the signal around 2.3GHz and video editing gear to transfer it into a usable form, but sadly RF analogue-to-digital conversion of video streams rather passes the limits of my own geekness.

Moving on, they have now started a rather nice little website cataloguing cameras available on-line, here.

Edit: Muppet error removed. Quintessenz.at link inserted.

So what was all the propaganda for?

All the US reconstruction funding for Iraq, all $18 billion, has now been spent or committed and there will be no more. What sticks out, though, in the light of the great pay-for-play journalism affair, is this:
"It is easy for the Americans to say, 'We are doing reconstruction in Iraq,' and we hear that. But to make us believe it, they should show us where this reconstruction is," said Mustafa Sidqi Murthada, owner of a men's clothing store in Baghdad. "Maybe they are doing this reconstruction for them in the Green Zone. But this is not for the Iraqis."
So what was all that superspook propaganda for, then?

Edit: More importantly, I suppose this means that the "build" bit of all that "clear, hold and build" stuff is now an inoperative portion of that statement.

BGIA: Off to Bagram

The ever-helpful Sharjah Airport website reports that old friends British Gulf International's flight BGK1222 from Bagram AFB is delayed, expected in at 1630. The Irbis flight from Riyan is also running late, but the corresponding BGK1221 to Bagram got off all right, as did another to a destination given as "unknown".

Would passengers for the 1422 British Gulf International Airlines flight to Unknown please go to gate 0? Passengers are reminded that all Kalashnikovs must be placed in your checked baggage..

The usual BGIA, Irbis and Phoenix flights to Iraq from Dubai are also on time.

More on DeLay/Abramoff and the Russians

Some months ago, we took note of a curious twist in the scandals surrounding Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Texan politico Tom DeLay. You may recall that they were revealed to have been involved in exporting Russian night-sights to a group of West Bank settlers, and to have received cash and hospitality from a mysterious Russian company whose only asset was the right to sell fuel from Gazprom to the Ministries of Emergency Situations, Defence, and the Interior, and whose only named representatives seem to include an instructor for Russian military intelligence. Kommersant gave more details here with regard to its involvement in the take-over of Yukos. Tim Worstall and I had considerable differences on the degree of dodginess that should be attributed to these carryings-on.

The Washington Post has much more detail on the whole thing, including a British law firm that has since ceased to be. Interestingly, the same Russians, and Mr. Abramoff, were involved much later in lobbying for a Liberian oil concession as our esteemed colleague Marshall of TPM reports. A bit of googling firms-up the connection with the security services: Kommersant mentioned later in 2004 that la Nevskaya apparently deals with the press through the security services, which is interesting to say the least. The original reference to the DeLay trip to Moscow, and Naftasib's connections, is here.

Now, this post is looking a bit of an ill-coordinated linkfart at the moment. To tie the ends up a bit, it would seem that Naftasib (which, you will no doubt remember, is Sibneft reversed - Oil of Siberia rather than Siberian Oil) is basically a no-business. It exists, it makes a profit, but it doesn't really do anything except perhaps for allowing some Russian officials to speculate in oil on the side. It's also very close to the state. Another organisation set up by the same people in the States and with their money, the National Security Caucus Foundation, seems to have gone on a trip to Montenegro in late 1996 to observe an election.

You can find their report here. Essentially it says that the elections were essentially perfect. The November 1996 elections held in rump Yugoslavia were won by the opposition and then reversed by the regime, which resulted in a major protest movement called Zajedno (Together) which eventually fizzled out. Apparently,
1. the election laws and procedures provide for orderly elections and the process is not readily prone to corruption;

2. the procedures and rights, which are provided by law, were maintained — access to the polls was provided to eligible voters, the elections were carried out in an orderly fashion, voting took place in private, and there was no intimidation or disruption;

3. political parties reported that they were not hindered in their campaign activities, and although there were some complaints that the time slots and format of the coverage was not conducive to attracting viewer attention, the state-funded media provided equitable coverage for all parties;

4. political parties that nominated candidates (33 in total) were able to participate officially in the conduct of elections, including observation of the polling places and counting of ballots;

5. there were some difficulties due to voter registration lists that were incomplete or out-of-date, but eligible voters were given an opportunity prior to election day to review these registration lists and to seek to add their names, as appropriate; and

6. there was no evidence of an attempt to alter the outcome of the election through the manipulation or corruption of registration lists or election procedures or by intimidation or pressure.
I'm sure Milosevic's state TV really gave the opposition equal coverage and a fair hearing. Sure, dammit! Why the international observer team who were being funded by a Russian oil company headed by a GRU employee were the only ones to conclude that the election wasn't crooked is a mystery I doubt anyone could ever resolve.

According to SourceWatch.org, this organisation brought Congolese (Brazzaville) ministers Rodolphe Adada and Mathias Dzon to Washington in June, 1999 to chat with, among others, the recently disgraced Randy Cunningham (not to mention top Democrat Dick Gephardt). Cunningham also got a trip to Bangladesh out of them, apparently to look into child labour and drug trafficking (eh?). It also wrote to Madeleine Albright to challenge an arbitration decision about the town of Brcko in Bosnia, taking the Serbian side (text here), and published a paper by Yossef Bodansky on terrorism.

Bodansky is a fairly well-known academic writer on terrorism, but it's not hard to work out why the NSCF's backers liked him...here, for example, we have him explaining to the US Congress that the Serbian bombardment of Sarajevo was staged by the Muslims to support Iran's secret plan to take over Europe via Bosnia (I jest not), and here he says the same thing but for Kosovo, with the added goodies of a secret conspiracy between Iran and Washington and a plot to kill the Pope. Here, we get a propagandist and positively gleeful blow-by-blow on the fall of Gorazde including a denial that the Bosnian Serbs shot down a Royal Navy Sea Harrier, which most of my favourite apologists actively boast about.

So, at the time Naftasib was funding a black propaganda effort on behalf of the Milosevic government. Nice. I wonder what else it might have been up to?

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