Friday, August 24, 2007

Review: "AK47: The Story of the People's Gun"

Michael Hodges's new book on the history of the Kalashnikov assault rifle is clearly a work that fits in with this blog. And we can say that it's also well worth reading; not just for the knockabout, although there are some good stories (the brothel in the Izhevsk arsenal; Mikhail Kalashnikov's special elk soup).

As history, it covers the development of the weapon, and neatly debunks the notion that Kalashnikov merely copied the German Stg44. Hodges does well to point up Mikhail Kalashnikov's background as the son of kulaks exiled to Siberia, and his running away to join the engineers - he fled the penal colony and jumped a train, eventually landing an apprenticeship in the Turk-Sib railway yards. This is something a lot of people fail to realise about the Soviet Union; as well as a bureaucratic tyranny, it was (especially up to the 1940s) a continent on the move, full of transients and orphans and bastards and geniuses. Rather than merely being ideologically blind to the tyranny, western visitors failed to realise that both co-existed.

Rather like the generation of twisted-but-brilliant people who emerged from deep-south rural poverty in the United States of the 40s, these men went on to make the Soviet state's technological achievements. Alexei Leonov was the son of an exile; Sergei Korolev did time in the gulag. The railways were a good place to disappear, and that's precisely what young Kalashnikov did; by the time he was invited to join the Communist Party, his background was long forgotten. By the time he was commanding a T-34 tank, everyone was (at least for the duration) past caring.

But the weapon Kalashnikov designed to fill the firepower gap between German and Soviet infantry wasn't ready in time to be used on fascists. This is the central irony of the book; though the Red Army loved it, and vast quantities were soon ordered, they weren't going to be used to defend the Motherland, or for that matter the revolution. Although propaganda lionised the ex-kulak Kalashnikov as the maker of an anti-fascist weapon, the Soviet Union had soon begun using them as an instrument of realpolitik.

Hodges overstates, I think, the importance of the weapon as a weapon; I'm not sure it's possible to characterise any such thing as a "Kalashnikov insurgency", and the defining weapons of Iraq have been RPGs and bombs of various kinds. I suspect he also overstates the Vietnam-era stories about throwing away M16s.

But where the book scores is on the weapon's role as a symbol; as he makes clear, in many places it's far more important as such than for any actual military effect. He is especially good on its role in recruiting jihadis - for the lads he interviews, just handling one was enough to partake of the movement. (Update: See also here.) Far more important than its image as the weapon of revolution, it appears, is its role as an icon of machismo.

And its sheer quantity; where everyone has one, everyone needs one. This is another paradox; despite all the ideological overlays (the revolution, the jihad) and association with personal security or dignity, one thing is clear. The more Kalashnikovs somewhere has, the worse life is likely to be. Which makes it a pity, then, that in his chapter on the rifle's role in US gang culture, he didn't quote Ice Cube: I didn't even have to use my AK/I can't believe it. Today *was* a good day.

At least, as good a day as you can expect when everyone has automatic weapons. Believers in the idea that an armed society is a polite society are strongly advised to read this book.

Taking over the system

This is interesting; apparently one of the problems with Iraq's electricity supply is that the original control centre was looted back in 2003, with the result that local switching stations were instead given instructions on the phone. Over time, however, these sites have come under the control of whoever has the most guns; and they don't want power to leave their manor.

But this is interesting:
The precision with which militias control electricity in the provinces became apparent in Basra on May 25 when Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army carried out a sustained attack against a small British-Iraqi base in the city center [i.e. Basra Palace PJCC], and turned that control to tactical military advantage.

“The lights in the city were going on and off all over,” said Cpl. Daniel Jennings, 26, one of the British defenders who fought off the attack.

“They were really controlling the whole area, turning the lights on and off at will. They would shut down one area of the city, turn it dark, attack us from there, and then switch off another one and come at us from that direction.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ticking of the clock

The clock is ticking ever faster on British withdrawal from Iraq. This is of course nothing but a good thing. However, as I've said before, this is also a reason to hold the Government's feet to the fire; the more time passes, the harder it is going to be to get people out. Nobody wants to cling to Basra Palace, which is just another reason why we can't turn them away.

Making electricity to make snow and not make more CO2

There's something about this, that I'm not sure if I find intensely cool or deeply disturbing; that is, of course, a neat definition of anything worth writing about. (It's certainly the sci-fi project; thrilling wonder and uncanny menace.) So, a ski resort is short of snow due to the gradually warming winters; they make snow, but this uses lots of electricity, which costs money...and is actually making the problem worse.

Solution; they invest in a honkin' great wind turbine, to make their own electricity. And snow; their electricity demand profile peaks in the winter, which also happens to be the windiest period of the year. The wind blows; the blades spin; the snow cannons plaster the slopes. The parallel with da Vinci's fantasy that his helicopter would bring snowflakes down from the Dolomites to scatter in the stinking hot piazzas of August is clear.

But there's something horribly...baroque about it.

War Profiteers Read My Weblog

Disturbing Search Request of the decade:, searching Google for "who would handle a commercial shipment of arms and ammunitions from Sharjah to Baghdad". That'll be someone downstream of AS5384, or Etisalat (Emirates Telecom), the UAE's fun-loving national telco monopoly, best known for blocking more websites than China.

Ha. But there is some actual substance in this post; ever wondered what Tony Buckingham and Tim Spicer's Heritage Oil & Gas was up to these days, now that their separate oil deal in Iraq's looking like the subprimest mortgage of the century? Instigating a frontier incident between Uganda and the DRC, it seems, thanks to the Uganda Sunday Vision. Heritage is drilling for oil around Lake Albert; the Congolese seem to have taken exception to their straying across the (undemarcated) frontier, and the issue was dealt with at the Kalashnikov's point, with the result that a security guard for Heritage was killed, (Update: No he wasn't; at least, he wasn't a "security guard" but a geophysicist and ex-lifeboatsman from Whitby) as was at least one Congolese soldier.

Fortunately, at least if the statements in this Reuters DeathWatch story are true, the matter is being referred to a four-power conference in Kampala next month for (one hopes..) settlement. The Great Lakes region as a flight to quality? Well, well, oil well.

It sounds more likely that the region might be a good place for flight; if there's anywhere you're less likely to get caught, I've not heard of it. Which is why this came as no surprise; Italian police have exposed a huge sale of arms by various Italians to Iraq, specifically to the Iraqi Interior Ministry without reference to the US Multi-National Security Transition Command. Very suspiciously indeed, the 105,000 weapons (AKMs both standard and folding stock, and some machine guns) were ostensibly ordered for the Iraqi police in Anbar, although the number is not much lower than the total number of policemen in Iraq.

The deal was discovered by chance, during an investigation into Mafia drug-smuggling; one of the suspects' luggage was searched en route to Libya, but rather than drugs the police found various nonlethal military gear, and incriminating documents. Further inquiries showed he was conspiring to sell weapons to Libya, and also Iraq. Four men are in custody, but a fifth is on the run and is believed to be in the DRC; where, surprise surprise, he's in the diamond business. The prosecution is seeking information from the Congo on him; good luck with that.

By December last year, the deal had reached the stage where the Italians were looking into how to fly 105,000 guns from Bulgaria to Iraq; although their counterparty was apparently suggesting that the guns could be delivered to some other location and forwarded. Can anyone guess what (or more precisely who) a DRC diamond smuggler might have to offer a bunch of mafiosi who need to move a dubious air cargo?

This is a case of something I've been concerned about since at least 2004, and especially since the missing 99 tonnes of guns affair; we know that Iraq is full of a) guns and b) money, but who needs all these imported firearms in a country bursting at the seams with uncontrolled armaments? Where are they going?

One answer is "the insurgency"; if it is recruiting rapidly, or stockpiling, defections, captures, and corruption could mean that the coalition train-and-equip effort is arming the enemy. This is the Harkins option; in the early days in Vietnam, General Harkins' mismanaged distribution of weapons lost so many that the Vietcong for a while relied entirely on US equipment, forming infantry battalions with a bigger allocation of Browning machine guns than a typical ARVN unit had. It's also possible that security is so dire, and administration so hopeless, that entire shipments are being diverted. (Still haven't read A Bright Shining Lie, despite everything I tell you? You may be running out of time to astonish your friends with your apparent prescience.)

But the combination of Iraq's initial wealth of arms, and the sheer scale of spending, seems to surpass any possible rate at which anyone in Iraq could consume guns; and that would suggest they are being exported.

Friday, August 17, 2007

We Still Can't Turn Them Away

The Government is trying to define down the Iraqi employees it is under pressure to accept as refugees after the forthcoming UK withdrawal from Basra. With the Murdoch press, it is signalling that some 91 interpreters might be accepted, but at the same time that there are as many as 20,000 people involved. That figure of 91 remains remarkably constant, although it's never been explained who exactly is covered by it and who is not; for example, are the interpreters' dependents included?

On the other hand, the figure of 20,000 looks suspiciously round; and anyway, if we had had 20,000 informers in southern Iraq, we might not be in this mess. I have good reason to suspect that this figure is deliberately exaggerated, in order to either a) scare the public with visions of hordes of refugees, or b) to make the real figure look smaller. Obviously (b) is preferable, if you believe the government might do it. Interestingly, this upper bound estimate is now coming down; I saw 15,000 quoted today.

But the entire shadow play is ridiculous; it is not a question of numbers, but of principles. This does not make it an impractical question, either. The principle is simple; that the people most at risk should go first. The solution is simple; the Government should accept all those whose service endangers their life, and make arrangements for their evacuation.

What is required is not immensely complicated. Everyone on the list should be considered, and for that matter anyone else they think of. Members of the MND(SE) Interpreters cell, the Army organisation that recruited them, know the people better than anyone else. The UK Visas organisation in the Foreign Office and the Borders and Immigration Agency are in the business of interviewing refugees and issuing travel documents; MI5 or the Defence Vetting Agency that of security vetting. An ad-hoc processing group from these organisations could be put together reasonably quickly and deployed to Iraq. Its task would be to interview everyone who thinks they are in danger as current or former employees, and issue the papers.

Simultaneously, it should consult with the Army in preparing a plan for evacuation. This would involve moving the families into the Basra Air Station for the time being, a better idea than trying to collect them all on evacuation day, and then sending them to the UK in small groups on the regular airbridge, so as not to present a target. This would be fairly similar to one of the various evacuations of foreign nationals from war zones that the military has occasionally conducted, although there is a time factor - it would be far easier to conduct it whilst there are still troops in the city itself, rather than having to re-enter.

But crucially, there must be no arbitrary decision to take some number and no more. It is time to stick to principle, and that's why the campaign goes on.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bad British History, Again

A prerequisite for good alternate-history is good history; as Ken MacLeod says, the trade secret of sci-fi is history. So I wasn't too impressed by this, of James Nicoll's, who really ought to know better.
Would it be funny to do an AH where WWI never happened and the old order never fell, one in which it took decades for the British Space Explorers to grudgingly admit that one does need a vacuum suit on the Moon?
Well, perhaps in a snarky blog comment. It wouldn't hack it as literature, though. Consider the timelines; by the time the British Space Explorers set out, who would be the scientific-technical intelligentsia who ran the project?

Clearly, the same people whose minds the aviation and electronics industries in the original timeline relied on; Sydney Camm, Alan Turing, Frederick Handley-Page, Roland Beamont, Maurice Wilkes, Frank Whittle, Robert Watson Watt, R.V. Jones, among others. Suddenly it don't look so quaint, nicht wahr? Of course, you can handwave frantically that none of it ever happened without the first world war, but it wasn't as if technological and scientific progress wasn't quick before WW1. Further, it's been done: by Stephen Baxter.

Of course, it's based on a fundamentally crappy folk-history view of the Scott expedition; no, they didn't think "using dogs was cheating", and they didn't load them on the sledges (Scott didn't want to use them at all, no?). In fact, one of the critical flaws in the plan was that the high-tech element, the motor sledges, broke down. They had been the long pole in the tent, the critical path; so long as they worked, they could get lots of stuff south quickly. An overreliance on unproven hot-ship gadgetry doesn't fit with the folk history, hence forgotten.

Another issue was that the Royal Geographical Society's plan for the expedition was dominated by the real scientists, who took up a large chunk of the cargo with their research station. In fact, they didn't want Scott's romantic mission to the pole to come at all - they had science to do. The crazy romantics were actually Amundsen's party, who had nothing on their agenda and loading scale except the dash south.

It was only the profoundly weird character of Clements Markham as chairman of the Society who insisted on the polar mission being included, and on many of its odd features. We are short of a good biography of this man, who personified the kind of pompous imperial incompetence long baked into the stereotype James was looking for. A curious romantic-rightwing exploration fanboy, who surrounded himself with polar curios, he maintained a sort of anti-rational, Straussian devotion to heroic myth and believed himself to be deceiving the scientists into supporting his higher mission. The scientists, one presumes, had the opposite feeling that his nonsense was only supportable insofar as it provided them with transport.

Markham had been responsible for a rocambolesque fiasco in South America, when he was in charge of an expedition intended to collect quinine-producing trees for cultivation in India; unfortunately he disagreed with the botanists and went into a sulk (he would today have been described as a professional drama queen), refusing to listen to them, and also managed to offend the only two Spanish-speakers he thought to bring. The upshot was that he transplanted several thousands of the wrong trees. Preparing the Scott expedition, he paid around 1 per cent of the whole budget to his handsome secretary for nine months' work.

He died in his bed in 1916, having set fire to the bedclothes with the candle he was using to read; the killer detail, literally, being that the bedroom had electric light. That might seem to bear out James Nicoll's point, but the significance of Markham is that he was a man out of time, constantly trying to live in the 1850s of his youth although he had spent the 1850s studiously trying to be an Elizabethan. (If you wish to know more about him, you're strongly advised to read "I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination" by Francis "Backroom Boys" Spufford.)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The jamming signal increases its hum

We don't just moan about today's government surveillance projects and fiddle with other people's webcams here. No. Sometimes we can offer you better things; like the solution to a huge mass-surveillance IT disaster that hasn't even happened yet.

Spyblog reports that even before Alastair Darling's deranged scheme to monitor all motor vehicles by GPS has made it off the green paper, it's already been hacked. How did they manage that? Well, a GPS is essentially a radio receiver that picks up time signals from multiple satellites and compares the time from each one with its local time, thus plotting its distance from each. Providing you're within geostationary orbit (damn, I love that subclause!), this can give you your position in three dimensions.

Obviously, as the signal is not encrypted, the way to spoof a unwanted GPS is to replace the real signal with one more to your liking. As your jammer is a few metres away, and the satellite many thousands of kilometres away, this is trivial. Because of this, the amount of transmitter power required is tiny, and therefore damned hard to direction-find on. Detailed instructions are available here. Those, however, only go so far as to jam the device with noise and stop it working. (For that, an afternoon with a GPS receiver and a range of commercially available TV antenna boosters might suffice.)

But there are smarter things you could do - like feed it with fake data. During the Second World War, the RAF's electronic warfare "Y" Service did this to German aircraft using nondirectional radio beacons to navigate over the UK. NDBs are simple; they broadcast a carrier wave with occasional morse idents in all directions, and you direction-find on them to either home in, or else plot a fix with two or three of them on your chart. The hack was elegant; the beacon signal was received at a station on the coast, and relayed by landline to a distant transmitter (often a borrowed BBC station), where it was rebroadcast with the tx power turned up to 11. Evidently, the result was that the direction finder would point the wrong way. The process was known as Meaconing. In a refined version, because once the German aircrew were thoroughly haxx0red they would transmit on their radios and ask their controller to take a bearing on their own transmission, the Y Service would Meacon the transmission from the plane.

Similarly, you could produce a GPS signal set that would correspond to the centre of your driveway, or No.10 Downing Street. I'm indebted for this suggestion to none other than Charlie Stross, in a sadly-lost comment to this post. Specifications are here (pdf); the most complicated element of such a scheme would appear to be keeping the spoof consistent in an environment of changing numbers of satellites. Very interestingly (insert evil laughter here), there is a section in the signal that gives details of the various satellites' health - unhealthy ones are ignored by the receiver.

Paranoid Critique

Salvador Dali described his work as making use of a paranoid-critical method. Like a paranoiac, he attempted to find meaning in the associations of entirely unrelated images, an analogue to Freudian free association. Tate Modern currently has an exhibition on Dali's influence from and work for the cinema; perhaps as well as the Looney Tunes and Chaplin movies he indulged in, he also picked up the American taste for conspiracy theories.

I didn't know, however, that one of his earliest Surrealist works was entitled Departure: Homage to Fox News.

What could have more contemporary meaning? There's always something weird about rolling news, a form of television that's positively designed to be viewed with the sound off. Sound has a special role in film and television; it's the bridge between the world of images and the world of text. Almost all film post-sound relies on words for plot unity, to avoid becoming a surrealist collection of imagery. Rolling news feels like news, although no doubt there's a reason why Sky News insists on flashing huge red BREAKING NEWS graphics every time they update the latest missing white girl story.

But especially if you can't hear the narration, it's merely an associative volley of random visuals with text labels that may, or may not, be accurate. Now consider this LGM post about CNN's Glenn Beck and his "method"..
Remember that scene [in A Beautiful Mind] where Russell Crowe has pasted up a number of newspaper stories and is making associations and drawing connections between them by running strings from one story to the next, and then that story to another, and so on? You could easily do the same with the stories here. It’s not a great leap to see a certain synchronicity between them..
It's a radical revision to the Foreign Intelligence Supervision Act! It's a flock of hairy telephones! It's...a naked Condoleeza Rice circus-riding two fiery giraffes through the gates of the Natanz enrichment plant!

It is, of course, also true that running strings from one story in the newspaper to the next in the hope of discovering esoteric truths is a pretty good description of blogging. As always, it's a question of filtration; stare at your navel closely enough and eventually it stares back into you.

Which brings me to some substance. Looks like the British government IT monster escaped, heading west to eat some more creamy brain tissue. Like the infovore in Charlie Stross's Atrocity Archive. The NSA apparently wants to do something so astonishingly stupid that its stupidity almost goes around the bend and looks like it might be intelligence. Details; Bruce Schneier points us to this essay by Sun Microsystems security diva Susan Landau on the infrastructure requirements of what the NSA apparently wants. To be quite clear, they want to build in an interception backdoor to every backbone router in the US.

And this after the Great Greek Green Greasy GSM Grokker Gremlin Gripe. Wait; I think I see the pattern. Yes! The hairy telephones...slash open the eye. Their engineers are secretly trying to capsize the whole project of telecoms surveillance...right?

Iranian Money: Rebuilding Afghanistan

Recall this post from December, 2006? It was about how the Iranian government was actually rebuilding things in Afghanistan; things like electricity supply, fibre-optic interconnection, roads, and maybe even a railway. Not just that, but they were supplying today's version of Marlboros and jeans; the best Internet connection in town.

The Christian Science Monitor goes to Herat, (hat tip) where the other end of this activity is visible; a thriving private sector. Build the infrastructure and they will come. I'd love to see, by the way, any current figures for how much money, between DFID and the Army, has been a) committed to Afghan aid and b) spent. The figures in December were far from encouraging.

Still crazy after all these years

John Redwood has a secret plan to solve the pensions crisis and boost the economy; change the fire regulations so you can cram more codgers per square foot into your "care home" (Orwellian of the decade; they don't and it's not).

Given a brief to banish Teh Curse of Regulation, this is what he comes up with - even less in the way of hire'n'fire restrictions (are there actually any to get rid of?), abolition of the European Working Time Directive (John either doesn't know or doesn't care that for most jobs where this is an issue, you get told to sign the waiver or leave), and the notion of "loosening health and safety regulations on care homes to free more places for elderly people". Oh yes, and none of those home information packs.

To put it another way, the essential liberties the Tories have picked as a top priority to defend are those to lie about the condition of your house in order to sell it at a higher price, and to keep old people in rather worse conditions. ID cards? Road pricing surveillance? Truly, I can't begin to guess how anyone would think of them as the Nasty Party.

99 Tonnes of Guns, Redux

It's quite surprising literally no-one during the recent reopening of the missing Iraqi guns story has thought fit to mention the delicious kicker that the shipment travelled in an aircraft chartered by a company that had just been shut down for cocaine-smuggling. Except for various random forum users. Jet Line International, for it was they who supplied Aerocom with the aeroplane ER-IBV, have of course been shut down. So I'm happy, although I'd be happier if anyone knew what became of the weapons.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Roll Bandwagons, Roll!

Iraqi employees: suddenly they're everywhere. On the front of the Times. In its leader. On the main news. On BBC Radio 5 Live. In Ming Campbell's talking points. In Gordon Brown's inbox. Even here. You might almost think there was some sort of campaign going on.

Now, there's more; video.

There's also a useful sidebar button, the whole courtesy of Tim Notworstall.

Update: What fuckery is this? A truly epic mindfart from none other than than the Oxfordshire Ordzhonikidze himself, saloon-bar Stalinist Neil Clark.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reading the Documents: XV206

The Board of Inquiry into the loss of the Hercules C-130K XV206 on landing at Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan on the 24th of May last year (see here) has reported (pdf link). More documents are here.

After much effort, and extensive exploration of all sorts of other options, the Board concluded that (as was blindingly obvious from the beginning) the aircraft was destroyed by enemy action, specifically that it ran over a Soviet-type anti-tank mine on landing. Among other things, the investigators carried out an experiment involving such a weapon and an old C-130 to falsify their hypothesis. This explanation accorded entirely with the Provincial Reconstruction Team's initial report from the crash site, which was originally discarded for reasons that are not made very clear.

For that matter, two men aboard XV206 who had survived IED explosions in Iraq thought the experience was identical; the Special Investigations Branch lost no time in telling them they were wrong. (para 44, page 3 of the first doc above.) This may be accounted for by various experts' advice. Or perhaps that it was politically difficult to admit that Lashkar Gah was dangerous.

The conditions prevailing there in May, 2006 were clearly very dangerous indeed. Everyone appears to have been dubious about force protection, and especially about the Afghan police stationed in the area. An OLRT (Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team) from Permanent Joint HQ, which reconnoitred the place in February 2006, concluded that security on the landing zone was "insufficient to meet UK requirements". The details have been censored. However, the next sentence refers to "clearance" of the zone, which implies that mines or IEDs were the concern.

Anyway, the security force for Lashkar Gah airfield only arrived after the crash, but not before the Afghan police had had unfettered access to the crash site; no wonder they didn't find any pieces of the mine. "The Board considered that the disparity between the recommendations in the PJHQ recce and the procedures carried out on the day of the incident was a significant factor"; I bet they did. They further concluded that ground security there was inadequate and that there was no plan to search for mines, that the lack of security meant anyone could have interfered with evidence, and that the investigation was mismanaged.

Further (page 27), the situation was thought so dangerous that the crew were carrying small arms and were meant to be wearing armour, types censored. However, it seems they weren't wearing it and left their weapons behind in the plane; they didn't have anywhere to put the gear on their persons, and hadn't been issued with the fire-retardant version of CS95 uniform.

There is, it turns out, no single centre of expertise on aircraft survivability and vulnerability in the UK; although the Board of Inquiry on XV179 asked for one to be created, and in the meantime for an arrangement with the US to use their SURVIAC centre at Wright-Patterson Air Base, nothing has been done.

The upshot is that no amount of explosive-suppressant foam would have saved XV206; if you have enough wallop to carve holes in a tank, you've got more than enough to destroy an aircraft. The fuel tank punctures were of some 4 square metres; nothing is going to self-seal that. I was wrong to put so much emphasis on it at the time, although it is still a good thing to have.

Reading the Documents: Obama vs Pakistan

So, Barack Obama is now an evil warmongering bastard like all the others who wants to invade Pakistan or a girly man who doesn't want to nuke Pakistan, depending on ideological preference. The reason was a speech on foreign policy he recently gave, and subsequent reporting.

You can see how it happened. It spooked me; was he really suggesting something that deranged while also accusing Hillary Clinton of being "Bush-Cheney lite"? But then, I took a radical step. I actually read the text of the speech; yuh, it might shock some.

Here she goes. Here's the relevant section:
As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won't act, we will.

And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America's commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists' program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair -- our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.
Compared with the reporting of this, I'm underwhelmed, especially as it comes after a good dozen pars on the necessity to get out of Iraq, repudiate torture, and crank up peaceful responses to terrorism. I'm very dubious about the whole story of the 2005 meeting, but I would point out that of course there are circumstances when it would be the right decision; Osama in person, making tracks for the UAE with a Ghaznavi-2 nuclear missile on its TEL vehicle, say.

It's just very, very unlikely that a raid in Pakistan would ever be wise, and therefore we should set our cognitive filters accordingly. In fact, the rest of the speech is far more important; Pakistan certainly needs more than F-16s to combat extremism, and it's high time to think about how to end the current situation where the secular and semi-secular forces are divided between the Musharraf King's party and everyone else, being opposed by some combination of jihadis, the ISI, and various regional insurgents.

And I especially like his suggestion of a major commitment of aid in education and the creation of real judiciaries and police forces. This ispretty good, too, even if Yglesias don't like it.

But it does go to show that you've got to read the documents. For everything else, I'm of the opinion that anyone who even imagines dropping a nuclear bomb on three terrorists and a goat is insane.

The NIR Can and Will be Compromised

There is no reason for anyone to think that the National Identity Register will not be compromised. Nobody serious in IT thinks that any networked computer system is immune to hackers, and that's before you consider extrusion rather than intrusion; it's a horrible misuse of English, but it's the term used for attackers who come from within. The best way to get access to any computer is to subvert the user, short of literally running off with the machine to experiment on it in private.

This is perhaps the most important lesson from the conviction of Nottingham speed-dealer and all-round bastard Colin Gunn. Gunn was a very modern crook; his graduation from cheque kiting to protection rackets and eventually major drug importing, his powerbase on a post-industrial bombed-out estate, his part-useful and part-suicidal persona fuelled by a paranoid gaggle of cocaine and steroids. (The Garda Siochana describe similar folk as "cocaine androids".) But what marks him out is the special attention he gave to subverting people with access to Big Databases.

To start with, he induced two cops to get him information from the HOLMES2 intelligence database about the police investigation into the murder of the parents of another crook who attempted to kill his son. This helped him to keep ahead of the Bill, and also to terrorise witnesses and detectives on the case. Astonishingly, a paper copy of his police file went missing and turned up in his possession.

But it wasn't just police leaks. John and Joan Stirland were located using information the Gunns obtained from another asset of theirs; this time, someone at BT with access to the billing records. One wonders what other sources he had, and for that matter, how many other 'roid-ridden scumbags have this kind of access. It is suggested that one of the bent coppers, Charles Fletcher, was deliberately planted in the police force. More politically, the animal-rights nuts are known to have had a source in the DVLA, and the West London jihadi cell that was caught with a ton of ammonium nitrate had been trying to recruit employees of National Grid-Transco and BT. (Update: In comments, Chris Williams reminds me that the PNC's non-traditional users include the Saudi Embassy. He also claims that having met me, he can confirm I'm not actually a sinister committee. The poor fool; how does he know he met all of them?)

I refer to my remarks back in October, 2004:
Better yet, the possibilities for an infiltrator in the development team who build the system would be literally without limit. They could set up back-door access to the database or even add extra fields of information hidden to other users. The biggest security system we build must, by definition, be the biggest security risk.

One of the many criticisms of the NIR and the ID card is quite simply that it's the biggest honeypot for information thieves on earth.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

On the road again

Antonov An-12BK serial 9346904, now with something called "Meridian" in the Ukraine as UR-CAG...formerly ER-AXY with the following roll-call of Viktor Bout operations.

Aerocom, Asterias Commercial, Astral Aviation, ATI, ACS, Jet Line International...

Blogging Rugby League: Wigan-Catalans

Did I say it would be difficult? Damn right it was. Did I mention gnarly old schemers like Stacey Jones and Jason Croker? Damn right I did, and they certainly schemed gnarly. But nobody expected the Catalans' tactics; not many teams set out to whack Wigan in the chops early doors and get away with it. I remember Leeds in the '96 Premiership final; they went 12-0 up in 10 minutes, amid chants of "Yorkshire! Yorkshire!", and then crashed comprehensively.

This time, no. Catalans put on 22 unanswered points in the first half, and although the predictable counterblitz was suitably ferocious, there was simply too much water coming in. Wigan got back to within seven points whilst Jones was off the park, sinbinned for an unprofessional professional foul, but as soon as he got back on, he trimmed a neat grubber kick among the posts for Croker to score the game-breaker. But it would be easy and obvious to give the various Aussies and New Zealanders the credit. After all, most journos don't know any of the other players..

In the second-half crisis, it looked like Wigan would just rip away, cracking the line too often and running the Catalans into the ground. It has happened so often. But the crack never came. The credit, as for the whole performance, goes to the Catalan forwards. Mostly a gaggle of French no-names (although real trainspotters would of course remember Jerome Guisset, ex-Warrington, and Sebastian Raguin, once described as a "mountain on wheels" by the BBC at Toulouse), they just beat Wigan into the ground. Guisset and his fellow prop, Alex Chan, did the full 80 minutes, which don't happen often today.

The tactics were brilliantly dull; savage up-and-in defence, denying Wigan time and walloping their organisers as often as possible, a massive forward effort, and good tactical kicking. Wigan couldn't get out, and were pressed back on their own lines; Jones and Croker could always pick out the opportunities that resulted. It has come to something when Wigan are the flaky, stylish losers who get muscled out of the game by a French side.

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