Friday, March 31, 2006

Aerospace Consortium FZE

Remember this post and a firm calling itself Aerospace Consortium FZE, of Fujairah, that was mysteriously settling bills relating to entirely different firms in Kenya using Phoenix Aviation, Johnsons Air, GST Aero and Asterias Commercial planes to send mortar bombs to Liberia?

Take a look at this: not sure about sourcing, but a company of the same name involved in a fraud in Iraq.
Federal investigators in Texas were informed by a whistleblower that the extra 50 cents per kilogram of cargo that was supposedly imposed by Aerospace Consortium (which supplied aircraft to EGL) were in fact, phony. The charges were added to 379 air cargo shipments costing a total of $13.2 million over several months

Mike Lockhart, an assistant U.S. attorney in Beaumont, Texas, told CorpWatch that the investigators subpoenaed EGL, seeking information about the surcharges, and were given a letter from Aerospace Consortium explaining the reason for the charges. The documents “looked very suspicious, not what you would expect to see at all,” he said. The charter company was also unable to provide any evidence of the insurance increase.

A Slight Return to XV-179

You may remember the shooting down of the RAF Hercules aircraft XV179 on election day, 2005, in Iraq. This blog ran quite a lot of stuff about it - some reasonable, some utterly ludicrous speculation. In the event, it turned out that the plane really was involved in special forces support (contrary to my scepticism of the time), but the cause of the crash has been left open. John Reid has used the words "lucky shot", but whatever it was, it caused a large explosion in a fuel tank.

What is new, though, is that a year before that, RAF Hercules aircraft without the complete defensive-aids suite, and without cockpit armour or foam in the fuel tanks, were flying into airfields in Afghanistan where other coalition members went only with the full monty of multiple countermeasure jammers, fire suppression, armour (not to mention only flying by night). And, wonderfully, because all the aircraft taking part in Operation Enduring Freedom were subject to a common command with a common "threat matrix", these movements were carried out using the ISAF callsign, thus being a purely RAF responsibility.

And, fascinatingly, out of the countries taking part in the Airbus A400M project, only the UK didn't specify the fuel-tank inerting system, which in the event of a hit squirts nitrogen into the tanks to exclude the mixture of fuel and air. Why on earth would that be?

5A-DKR Destroyed

One of the Jetline International-run Ilyushin 62 jets, 5A-DKR ex. RA-86554, has been destroyed in an accident at Moscow (Domodedovo). Apparently the aircraft, which came in from Tripoli for overhaul, overran the runway and came to rest 500 metres off-airport, breaking into three parts. Crew are safe. Interestingly, the Il-62s and other large aircraft at Jetline haven't been transferred to the new JetEx Flight Support/MIA Airlines flag - and JACDEC still has it with the Community of Sahel States (Cen Sad).

How odd. In other news, I'm sure a lot of people would like to know just how Silverback Cargo Airways got a special permit to fly from the Belgian CAA, despite the Swedish maintenance engineers refusing to sign off, so their DC-8 9XR-SC (sn 46068) could skip town on the 25th just ahead of the EU black list. It wasn't about the maintenance regulations really, was it?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Optical intercourse has rapidly become one of the best things on the Web, and today I saw this post of Pharyngula's regarding a crazed god-nut college in the US where you can be disciplined for "making eye babies", touching a person of the opposite sex (your own is fine, though homosexuality is a big no-no), or not giving an accurate account of your movements off the campus. What you can't be is qualified to do anything, really, as the place isn't accredited and hence its degrees are worth slightly less than the paper they are printed on - probably a good thing as the library is censored.

What I thought was especially creepy, though, was that there are students who happily rat on their colleagues:
Lisa Morris was walking to class with her boyfriend last October when something happened. At first Ms. Morris, a sophomore music major, is reluctant to divulge the details. Eventually, however, the truth comes out: He patted her behind.

Someone who witnessed the incident reported Ms. Morris and her boyfriend. At Pensacola any physical contact between members of the opposite sex is forbidden. (Members of the same sex may touch, although the college condemns homosexuality.) The forbidden contact includes shaking hands and definitely includes patting behinds. Both students were expelled.
Of course there would be. There always are. A surveillance culture breeds finks like a gold mine (according to Hunter S. Thompson) breeds its own army. From outside, of course, or afterwards, the psychology is incredibly difficult to penetrate; what did that person actually think when they ratted Morris out? That they were doing God's work? That if they didn't do it first, someone would do it to them? Or did they just feel warm and fuzzy with contentment at conforming so well?

But they always do it. Which is a long way of getting around to the point that the Tories in the Lords just did, and caved on the ID Cards Bill. That's going to be a goldmine for the buggers, no? Not only that, but 250 MPs didn't bother to vote in the Commons. That almost made me feel for Labour MP David Taylor, who voted in both lobbies to show that he really, really didn't care. He was so keen on floppy indecision, he voted twice in order to cancel himself out!

And I should really mention these three, none of whom could be bothered to show up:Keetch, Paul
Oaten, Mark
Taylor, Matthew

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Who Are You Going to Massacre Next?

Charles Taylor has been re-nailed, after a day or so of freedom on the lam from the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. I was amused by this description of his arrest on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border:
The former Liberian leader had arrived at the frontier in a Range Rover jeep with diplomatic corps number plates, a trader working at the Gamboru-Ngala border post told AFP news agency.

"He was wearing a white flowing robe," said Babagana Alhaji Kata.

"He passed through immigration but when he reached customs they were suspicious and they insisted on searching the jeep, where they found a large amount of US dollars.

"After a further search they discovered he was Charles Taylor."
Flowing white robes, a Range Rover and a pile of cash, eh? His innate style didn't desert him. Like 50 Cent, but with more violence. Wasn't his last album called The Massacre, too?

Taylor's "spiritual adviser" - now there's a busy man - had been saying that he was seeking political asylum in Syria, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Equatorial Guinea or Gabon. These states will now be spared the embarrassment of having to answer. The spiritual adviser, by the way, is an American evangelical Protestant of Indian extraction, one Dr. Kilari Anand Paul - the very notion of caring for Charles Taylor's immortal soul, though, reminds me of the John Donne poem about "who shall give me grace to begin" seeking God's grace.

"Dr" Paul (the doctorate isn't real), it seems, specialises in bizarre, rocambolesque interventions in war zones and offering the consolations of religion to murderous bastards. There is an interesting article here including the skinny on his "Dr", and he has a website here. He also has a Boeing 747, which could have come in handy, and a bad reference from the Southern Baptist Missions Board, who doubt his financial probity..

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ALERT! Charles Taylor is on the run

Liberian ex-dictator, war criminal and utter bastard Charles Taylor has done a runner from his Nigerian exile to avoid extradition to the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone, says the Nigerian government. Taylor has been living in comfortable exile in Calabar, Nigeria since an unairworthy Boeing 727 belonging to Ali Kleilat rescued him from his overthrow in 2004. Last week, Liberia's new president Ellen Johnston-Sirleaf issued a request for his extradition.

According to the Nigerian government, he's levanted. 5 security officers have been arrested as a pathetic sop to world opinion. This is bad news. Taylor was responsible for destabilising the whole of West Africa, reintroducing slavery to work his diamond mines, recruiting 10 year old kids into his army, hacking people's limbs off as a form of revolutionary terror, and more.

I am insanely disappointed by this news and the obvious Nigerian army partisanship (they are widely thought to have been complicit in his rise to power) that let the bugger get away.

Press reports last week said that Taylor had been summoned to the Nigerian capital Abuja on board an aircraft registered 5N-FGO. This plane is a Dassault Falcon 900 business jet belonging to the Nigerian Government, with "Federal Republic of Nigeria" titles on the fuselage.
Excerpt from report by Anietie Akpan and Francis Obinor entitled "Taylor's relations, aides leave Calabar" published in Nigerian newspaper The Guardian web site on 24 March

Former Liberian President Mr Charles Taylor may have begun preparations for his proposed extradition home as about 20 of his relations and aides have left Calabar. Already, the federal government is putting finishing touches to the extradition, which may take place any moment from now. Also, high level consultations are currently on with Taylor, the Cross River State Governor Donald Duke, President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Liberian government and the international community.

As part of the preparations, some members of his family and associates on Tuesday [22 March] boarded an ADC airline with heavy luggage to an unknown destination en-route Lagos. One of Taylor's close aides, popularly known as Banana, was seen at the airport on Tuesday with his wife and some luggage checking out of Calabar. Same day, a presidential aircraft marked 5NFGO brought Taylor back from Abuja in the evening. He was accompanied by security men and was immediately driven off the airport to his Solomon Umohs Asylum residence at Diamond Hill.

The presidential aircraft did not leave the Margaret Ekpo International Airport until Wednesday evening with just two passengers suspected to be top government officials. The same Wednesday, the former ruler's Jaguar saloon car marked 81-CD-85 picked one unknown passenger at the airport and drove straight to his residence. The presence of the presidential aircraft at the Calabar airport for more than 24 hours without the president's or top federal government presence was unusual.

Sources disclosed that the former president has put in order all his cars in preparation for his departure. But it is still uncertain whether he will dispose of some of the cars. Security at his residence has, however, continued to be normal except for the addition of some personnel and the usual restriction of movements.

As usual, top government officials including Governor Donald Duke have remained mum over the Taylor issue directing all inquiries to Abuja. The Liberian president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, had last week requested for his return and the federal government disclosed that it was consulting with African leaders on the matter. Taylor has been in Calabar on asylum since 2002.

Meanwhile, a group, the Campaign Against Impunity, yesterday in Lagos urged President Obasanjo to promptly comply with Johnson-Sirleaf's request for Taylor to face trial at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The group also hailed President Johnson-Sirleaf's move on Taylor.

Its members gathered to mark the 15th year of the devastating armed conflict in Sierra Leone, which began on March 23, 1991, when rebel groups launched a cross-border attack from Liberia on a small village in the Kailahun district. The director of the Centre for Democratic Empowerment in Liberia, Ezekiel Pajibo, said it was expedient for Nigeria to hand over Taylor for trial. "President Johnson-Sirleaf has taken a crucial stand against impunity in Africa by requesting Taylor's surrender," Pajibo said. Members of the group yesterday also met in Monrovia, Liberia, and Freetown, Sierra Leone, to press for Taylor's surrender to the special court. [Passage omitted].

Source: The Guardian web site, Lagos, in English 24 Mar 06

BBC Monitoring

The BBC report of his disappearance is here.

Monday, March 27, 2006

NOIA is Back

Among the bad news from Iraq, I seem to have forgotten that our old friends the New-Old Iraqi Army are back. In early 2005, this blog covered a succession of big, sophisticated, company-sized or more assaults launched by Iraqi insurgents on a number of targets - notably Abu Ghraibh prison and the Palestine Hotel. Worrying features included evidence of advanced command and control, and cooperation between the NOIA - insurgents rooted in the old army - and the jihadi suicide bombers. Now, despite a string of spectacular incidents, they didn't manage to pull off the big one of overrunning a fortified coalition site. The Abu Ghraibh and Palestine Hotel assaults both narrowly failed - in the first case, because a suicide car bomber exploded early rather than breaching the prison wall as intended, in the second case, because the second carbomb blocked the breach in the wall. They then went quiet for some months.

Last week, though, they were back. Two company-sized assaults occurred, and both were successful. The first saw a jail stormed, with roadside IEDs placed to stop reinforcements intervening, a mortar bombardment, RPGs, and then the charge. 20 policemen and 10 insurgents were reported dead - and 33 insurgents were sprung. The next day, a police station went the same way, this time with the twist that two US helicopters summoned to help were shot up and a crewman killed. Again, a considerable number of prisoners were released.

Meanwhile, the US Army and the Iraqi Special Forces (aka the MOI Commandos, aka the 36th ING Battalion, aka the Badr Corps) raided a mosque in northern Baghdad and seem to have killed quite a few people. Juan Cole seems to think they got the wrong place. I'm not so sure - the ISF is after all a SCIRI-aligned unit, so it's quite possible they'd go after the Sadrists. The same night, the US Army raided a secret prison run by the SCIRI, and found 17 people who they later gave back to the SCIRI..sorry..Ministry of the Interior because they really turned out to be rebels after all.

So, on the same night they managed to intervene against 1) the SCIRI, 2) the Da'wa Party (one of whose militia was killed in the first raid), and either 3) the Sadr movement or 4) the Sunnis. Perhaps they really are using John Robb's controlled chaos theory after all. Sorry. Snark off. Robbo now thinks the window of opportunity for that one has passed. I never thought the chaos could be controlled.

Future Reminiscences of a Real Estate Operator

So the Tories are going to sell Smith Square in order to pay off their chunk of those dodgy loans. That's funny - didn't they sell it before? Back in 2004, after Michael Howard won an election of one to become Tory leader, one of the first things he announced was that the Tories would move out of the building to get rid of the "culture of betrayal" supposed to haunt the genius loci.

Now, they certainly did sell the place, because before they can sell it now, they've had to buy it back. For no less than £15 million, which is no surprise for a stonking great Victorian office block a stone's throw from the House. Apparently, they hope to raise some £30 million from the eventual sale. Now, that's funny - a 100% overnight return on investment. Damn, looks like they really are the natural party of business.

To put it another way, whoever it is they bought it back from could presumably have made £30 million by selling it on the open market. If something's worth £30 million when the Tories' estate agent places it, it's worth £30 million when Mr. X's agent does it. But they chose to take half as much money. Either they have considerably less confidence in the property market than the Conservative Party's treasurer, Jonathan Marsland, or they aren't terribly clever.

Alternatively, they support the Conservative Party so much they want to literally give them fifteen million quid - but not, of course, just give them the cash. That would, I think, be illegal unless the sum was broken up among multiple donors. And the Tories would have to say who gave them all that money.

Another point. Back when the Tories sold the place in the first place, they were running a risk - what if the counterparty to the deal decided to flog it openly instead? So this character who is happily eating a £15 million loss for the cause must also be very trustworthy indeed. Although - I wonder what they could do with a £15 million loss for tax purposes.

Update, 29/03/2006, 1330BST: Thanks to commenters. Apparently the Tories only sold the freehold and hung on to the lease. Why anyone would want to buy the freehold of a building with sitting tenants may be explained by the fact they were offered a return of 6.42%. This gets weirder - so the Tories have booked a £2.2 million loss on the deal? They must have been desperate for cash. And who is the "private overseas buyer"?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

More on alternate geek history

Not so long ago I posted regarding the LEO computer and the question of what a British-dominated geek culture would look like. This post was picked up by a certain high-traffic blog, with the result that it saw shack rocking levels of page requests all week.

Some answers from readers included a recommendation of Francis Spufford's book Backroom Boys, which by chance I'd already read - and which I recommend unhesitatingly - a reference to the film The Dish, and the useful point that in the alternate future Java would be called Tetley.

Oddly enough I had an opportunity to make some observations of a similar culture on Thursday, when I was at the BT Martlesham Heath Research Centre. This organisation (think Bell Labs without money) is, I think, as close to a real-life test as you're likely to get; it is located in the deep English countryside, in fact the area described in the book Akenfield, out of which the huge brutalist structure looms in a gratifyingly sci-fi fashion.

That satisfies a key feature of boffin-ness - there has to be a suitably medieval pub nearby to discuss time travel, nuclear weapons or whatever over a pint of cloudy. The site is an interwar RAF station, of which the road plan and a few distinctive psuedo-Lutyens Ministry of Works barracks survive - just down the road is a Second World War Chain Home radar site, itself a defining boffin achievement. Martlesham Heath was also the organisation that forgot it invented the hyperlink, before rather cluelessly trying to patent them in about 1998. Which is both geeky and horribly British.

The site is also a big operational facility - BT's satellite teleport is there, as is their Internet NOC and a 650 terabyte database. According to local information, the aircraft warning lights atop the microwave tower were put out at the beginning of the first Gulf War under some sort of risible mobilisation warbook security measure.

Finally, the people. I had already had the pleasure of meeting BT's futurologist, Professor Graham Whitehead, so I was ready for the performance he unleashes on audiences, but the rest of the party were less hardened. Whitehead is a huge, bearded chap with a Lancashire accent who talks as if he was carrying out an experiment to increase the bit-rate of speech, gesturing frantically as he expounded on "the internet of things", BT's 21st Century Network plans, wave power, and robotics. "Robots are COMING!" he yelled memorably at one point, in tones that suggested they were about to leap through the windows and gather around him like dogs.

By weird synchronicity, on the train back to London I read an obituary of a BT (indeed GPO) type who kept dowsing rods in his office and professed to use them to diagnose faults on the first pulse code modulation exchanges. My conclusions? A British geekworld would have been both more science-oriented, and more eccentric, although perhaps rather older and more hierarchical.

Quotes without comment

TYR, 15th of May 2005:
South of Baghdad, they will find it harder to make progress, as they will be running up the demographic hillside and into both the Badr Corps and Sadrist heartlands. The Sunni insurgents are probably more militarily capable, but don't have the numbers. Somewhere along the demographic transition line, the front will halt.

And then, I fear, comes the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad...

AP, 26th March 2006:
Meanwhile in Iraq, gunbattles raged south of Baghdad on Saturday, and two key U.S. Senators said they had told Iraqi leaders that American patience was growing thin and it was urgent that they overcome their stalemate and quickly form a national unity government.

Some 40 persons reportedly were killed or injured — no breakdown was immediately available — in the clash between forces of the Shia Mehdi Army militia and Sunni militants near Mahmoudiya, 30 km south of the capital, police reported.

Hospital officials said two civilians were killed when a mortar shell slammed into their house near the fighting.

Patrick Cockburn for the Indy, 25th March 2006:
"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed. "The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control," said one senior official who did not want his name published. "The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government." He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines.

Throughout the capital, communities, both Sunni and Shia, are on the move, fleeing districts where they are in a minority and feel under threat. Sometimes they fight back. In the mixed but majority Shia al-Amel district, Sunni householders recently received envelopes containing a Kalashnikov bullet and a letter telling them to get out at once. In this case they contacted the insurgents who killed several Shia neighbours suspected of sending the letters.

"The Sunni will fight for Baghdad," said Mr Hussein. "The Baath party already controls al-Dohra and other Sunni groups dominate Ghazaliyah and Abu Ghraib [districts in south and west Baghdad]."

Glaciology and Whisky

This is cool: blogger observes the cyclical growth and collapse of an Argentine glacier. Apparently ice cubes hacked from it have the property of making Argentine-produced whisky drinkable. I liked this bit:
Someone has inevitably hung up a "LAS MALVINAS SON ARGENTINAS" banner on the side of the hill, but this just seems to provoke the glacier further.

Nothing to fear..but fear itself

And, it would seem, phone tappers..After the Vodafone Greece hack of their Ericsson AXE switches led to the Greek elite's phones being monitored by persons unknown, a new phobia has spread through the Greek meme-pool: surveillance phobia.
The afflicted show all the signs of a classic phobia,' said Dr Dimitris Souras, an Athenian psychotherapist. 'I have had at least 25 people, of all ages, displaying what I can only call a "fear of fear", that is fear of their own fear that their private conversations may have been monitored.'

All had complained of anxiety, sleep disorders, irritability and an inability to function properly.
Total surveillance: it's not good for you.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Who's Bad?

Does anyone else feel that General Jackson really shouldn't be sending out press releases to demand more fawning from a hostage his soldiers have rescued? Isn't it part of the tradition that you do your duty not because you expect adulation but because it's your duty?

I remember Jacko being interviewed by the BBC just after Kosovo, when he spoke more sense about the place in 10 minutes than the entire political class had up to that point. That was, although it wasn't widely known, of course only a few days after the incident when he told Wesley Clark that he wasn't going to fucking start World War Three for you, sir.

Somewhere in the meantime he's gone Tony. Perhaps it was the plastic surgery.

Another Killer Boss Sent Down

I'm absolutely delighted to see that, after the chap responsible for the Tebay rail accident that killed four workers got nine years, the employers of the 21 Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay have been convicted. Now come on...let's see a proper sentence.

Friday, March 24, 2006

How Not to Write About the UK Nuclear Deterrent

For some reason, otherwise sensible people go flappy around the edges about the UK nuclear deterrent.

Critics of the force often like to talk about how independent, or otherwise it is. This is a good point: after all, the rockets are leased from the US. But for some reason, from this starting point they rapidly descend into handwaving territory. Viz, this handwavetastic piece in the New Statesman by Dan Plesch.

He starts off well enough. Well, no, in fact. He actually starts off pretty badly. "Fresh evidence" apparently shows that "government's suggestion that it is time to renew "our" nuclear arsenal" is "meaningless". The fresh evidence, by the way, are some declassified US documents confirming (as everyone who knows anything about this knows) that the US and UK have exchanged information on weapons design and also traded various bits of equipment and supplies (notably tritium). This is neither fresh nor new, and doesn't render the government's suggestion meaningless. In what way is it meaningless? Does he really mean that because of this, we will still have nuclear weapons if we decide not to take up the suggestion? Or that we won't if we do? Eh?

This isn't much good, either:
Our present Trident submarine-launched nuclear missile system reaches the end of its shelf-life in the 2020s and we are told that, if it is to be replaced, work has to start soon. As the debate begins, supporters of a new generation of British weapons of mass destruction say we must have a bomb of our own so that we will always be equipped to face a crisis such as that of 1940. "Something nasty may turn up," is their bottom line.

We now know, however, that British weapons are so dependent on the US that this 1940 argument is a nonsense. In that year, we stood alone and the United States remained neutral. We would not have had a bomb in our arsenal because the Americans would have refused to help us make it, and would certainly not have given us one there and then.
No, and the nuclear bomb didn't exist anyway. The US was actually selling us a ton of stuff at the time, including the high octane aviation fuel that radically improved the performance of Hurricane fighters between the French campaign and the Battle of Britain (the Germans thought a new engine had been introduced) - no refinery in Britain could make it, and Shell's Baton Rouge plant shipped over masses of the stuff. Anyway, it's a strawman - the argument is surely that we need an ultimate deterrent in case we find ourselves faced by an existential threat like that of 1940, not that we need it in case the exact circumstances repeat themselves.

He goes on to mention that the Trident rockets under the warheads are leased, which is not news, and that they come out of the same stockpile as the US ones. Apparently the government had ROYAL NAVY painted on the ones testfired for publicity purposes, which is funny but hardly relevant. It's not as if the putative target would care. There's a recap of the Kennedy/MacMillan debates, and then this...
Let us say that Britain wanted to fire Trident and the United States opposed this. What would happen? For one, the entire US navy would be deployed to hunt down Red-White-and-Blue October; it would know roughly where to look, starting from the last position notified to the US and Nato while on normal patrol.
Well, the point of an SSBN is to avoid detection. No navy has ever been confident of finding them - we certainly weren't at all confident of ever catching the Soviet ones (noisier and more conspicuous than ours) before they fired.
Meanwhile, the prime minister would be trying to find a radio that was not jammed, hoping that none of the software had a worm and that the US navy wouldn't shoot the missiles down with either its Aegis anti-missile system or the self-destruct radio signal that is used when missiles are test-fired.
Communications with a submerged Trident sub are via the Navy's extremely low frequency transmitter in Scotland - I'm not sure it's possible to jam ELF, and doing so would also jam the US Navy's submarine communications. I reckon there's probably at least one landline between CINCFLT and Flag Officer Submarines in Northwood and Scotland. What sort of worm would this software have? I think he means a virus, or in fact a backdoor. It's also news, I think, to the US Navy that they have a leakproof antiballistic missile system. Perhaps Dan ought to write to Norfolk, Virginia and tell them? Yes, it's easier to shoot missiles down in the boost phase, but even if Aegis could do that they'd have to get several Aegis cruisers in range before launch - not necessarily easy as ships move slower than radio waves. The self-destruct signal? Better hope the receiver can't be switched off - after all, presumably the Russians would have telemetered the trials, and if they could make incoming SLBMs self-destruct? It's just not very good.

From the moment of a breach with Washington, moreover, every Trident submarine sailing down the Clyde would find a waiting US escort. In months the software would be out of date, Lockheed Martin and Halliburton would fly home, taking much equipment with them, and no spare parts would be available. As Quinlan put it: "We would be in shtook."
Crivens cazart! We're meant to be in extremis in this scenario - I don't think I'd be terribly relieved to be nuked with Trident 1.0 rather than 1.1, and seeing as we don't maintain the things ourselves I can't see the worry regarding spares. He later makes the point that renewal of one of the treaties involved could have played a part in the decision for war with Iraq, but doesn't dig into it. It's typical of a lot of writing about this: a near-frantic desire, fuelled with handwaving with little connection to realism, to convince that it doesn't really exist.

Yes, the deterrent is dependent on the US for rockets, and the nukes use some parts from the US. Not, though, that they have to come from there. It is a valid question whether or not the deterrent has increased US leverage since 1962. But can we please have a more reality-based opposition?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

VAACing hell!

If this post worried or angered you, fear not. Our best man is on the case. Defence Procurement Minister Lord Drayson, no less, is heading the negotiations on F-35 technology transfer and RR workshare.

That's the Lord Drayson who gave Labour £100,000 and got a huge government contract, then a peerage, and then gave Labour another £500,000. As the Wu-Tang Clan would put, cash rules everything around me. Right. Well, it could be a good thing, I suppose - ruthless, amoral, hardnosed, speaks the language of power. Imagine the scene: Drayson, Karl Rove, Lockheed aerospace bureaucrat.

"We have to reiterate our concsugggh.." Drayson grips the Bureaucrat by the tie. "Right. It's the codes, or we drop the order, kill the lift fan contract, pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and sell the VAAC software to France, Iran and North Korea. That means no JSFs for the Marines - you know you've never been able to engineer anything VTOL. Do we have a deal? Well? Well? Where's my money, pigfucker?"

Blood drips onto the Axminster. Rove's little eyes roll up in his head. He's never been able to stand the sight of violence..

Nah. More likely Drayson's just another incompetent placeman who bought a peerage.


A Saab Viggen-shaped dinosaur.

Moniker Privacy Online Services

The comments spammers are backarooni! After the last time I did this they disappeared for several weeks, so maybe time for another dose. The links point to, so let's play WHOIS whack-a-mole!
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Domain Registration Date: Mon Dec 26 13:56:12 GMT 2005
Domain Expiration Date: Mon Dec 25 23:59:59 GMT 2006
Domain Last Updated Date: Fri Jan 13 07:39:38 GMT 2006

Now, I'm pretty sure that billing address is a fake. Wasn't it Beverly Hills 90210? It wasn't New York, at any rate.

Tracert to takes us to the IP address on AS27595 INTERCAGE. Who they?
OrgName: InterCage, Inc.
OrgID: INTER-359
Address: 1955 Monument Blvd.
Address: #236
City: Concord
StateProv: CA
PostalCode: 94520
Country: US

ReferralServer: rwhois://

NetRange: -
NetHandle: NET-69-50-160-0-1
Parent: NET-69-0-0-0-0
NetType: Direct Allocation
RegDate: 2003-06-04
Updated: 2005-09-01

OrgAbuseHandle: ABUSE735-ARIN
OrgAbuseName: Abuse Department
OrgAbusePhone: +1-925-550-3947

OrgNOCName: Network Operations
OrgNOCPhone: +1-925-550-3947

OrgTechHandle: INE4-ARIN
OrgTechName: IP Network Engineering
OrgTechPhone: +1-925-550-3947
Ah, a hosting company. But whaat's this? Try browsing to It's not there, although the domain name is registered by dire spam enabler The details are..
InterCage, Inc.

1955 Monument Blvd.
Concord, California 94520
United States

Registered through: (
Created on: 29-Aug-04
Expires on: 29-Aug-06
Last Updated on: 29-Aug-05

Administrative Contact:
Kacperski, Emil
InterCage, Inc.
1955 Monument Blvd.
Concord, California 94520
United States

Technical Contact:
Kacperski, Emil
InterCage, Inc.
1955 Monument Blvd.
Concord, California 94520
United States

Domain servers in listed order:
Meanwhile, the hotel spam is back, too, and it's still coming from sites around, which of course means this sorry lot:
Moniker Privacy Services
Moniker Privacy Services
20 SW 27th Ave.
Suite 201
Pompano Beach
Phone: +1.9549848445
Fax: +1.9549699155
That email address gives yet another address in the same place, and another domain name ( which lives at the first address and gives as a contact. They seem to be hosted on, who are usually reasonable...


The European Commission has issued a new blacklist of dubious airlines. You can get the document here (pdf). Notable on it is that a number of frequently-mentioned Viktor Bout-related operators are now on the list. Specifically, Phoenix Aviation, GST Aero, Reem Air and Jetline are all there, as are Butembo and Great Lakes Business Co.

The Commission also took the sweeping step of barring all Liberian, DR Congo, Swazi, Sierra Leonian and Equatorial Guinean call signs. This is the second attempt to clear up the Liberian registry (a couple of years ago all the EL- registrations were revoked), but it may be more successful this time as the new president has just requested Charles Taylor's extradition. The Equatorial Guinea 3C- register is or was actually operated by someone (British citizen Michael Harradine) who has in the past been accused of colluding with Viktor Bout and Chris Barrett-Jolley, and the DR Congo one (9Q-) is, well, DR Congolese. The Swazi registry is dire too and was notably involved in the 3X-GDM/GOM missing 727 affair. Sierra Leone's 9L- was recently accused by the Jamestown Terrorism Monitor of Hezbollah and al-Qa'ida involvement.

In the blanket ban, Co-Za Airways (said to be the property of Ali Kleilat) goes, as do all the Paddy McKay/Iraq related names including old friends Teebah Airlines, Air Leone, Star Air, Destiny Air of "sex change jet" fame, and African International Airways, a dodgy DC8 operator accused of gun-running by Amnesty.

A good job, M. Barrot.

Update: McKay speaks. Claims the allegations against him were corruptly motivated.

Italians - in Space

Whilst checking in on latest Kenyan Armenian Czech Indian mercenary news, I stumbled on this. Italy has a space research and rocket launch site in Kenya. Who knew?

Crown jewels, family silver etc

It's been reasonably widely reported that the British and US governments have fallen out about the terms of British participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35 or JSF) project. The RAF and Royal Navy are planning to buy a considerable number of the aircraft's STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) variant as the eventual replacement for the Harrier family, and British companies - specifically BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and various others – have significant workshare in the project.

Recently, this has been complicated by the US government's reversal of an earlier decision to develop two competing engines for the aircraft, one at Pratt & Whitney and one at Rolls, in a fairly risible effort at saving money. Two new jet engines may sound like a waste of money, but in the context of current Pentagon spending it's a drop in the bucket - but crucially, a drop that's mostly made in the UK and hence doesn't have a noisy fat-arse Congressman From Rolls to lobby for it.

That's bad news, especially for Rolls Royce workers. It's also galling because Rolls has a significant part of the project anyway - they are doing the separate lift-fan that powers the forward pair of nozzles on the STOVL version, whatever the engine behind it is. What's worse is that the Americans are cutting up rough about that modern burning issue, intellectual property rights.

If they don't permit the RAF and Navy full access to the source code of the computers, we can't service, modify or upgrade the planes ourselves, nor develop anything that needs to work with them. This would be an especially nasty version of the restrictive contracts that apply to the UK stockpile of Tomahawk cruise missiles - they can only be serviced by the manufacturer, Raytheon, and the contract is invalidated if we fiddle with them - and could have far-reaching consequences for British and European defence. Their argument is that if we have the source code, we might use it in a joint Anglo-French project, and then the French might...

The French, eh. What is this bizarre US obsession? It's as if they've forgotten the last time one of their allies let a hostile power have a peek at their kit. It wasn't us, and it wasn't the French...I'll give you a clue. Starts with "I". No, it's not India.

It's also slightly ridiculous to think that these restrictions are enforceable. After all, they are selling us the complete aeroplanes, and they include quite a lot of stuff made here in Britain. It wouldn't be impossible to reverse-engineer the fucker. I'm sure the "I"s waited, what, 15 minutes after the handover ceremony before they got started doing that with their F-16s...although, being the country we still just are, probably would respect the EULA form. You know, like the one you have to accept to run Windows - the bit that says you musn't decompile or reverse engineer anything on this CD-ROM or they'll sue.

What no-one has mentioned yet is that much of the STOVL variant's flight control system was developed in the UK at the taxpayer's expense, by organisations that were part of the UK public sector at the time, with the skills of British scientists, engineers and test pilots. Starting back in the 90s, the old Aircraft & Armaments Experimental Establishment at RAF Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, along with DERA (now QinetiQ and privatised) at RAE Farnborough, began a project to develop a radically new method to control a VTOL/STOVL aircraft in flight and in the hover on the same flight control system. What became of this was something called VAACS.

VAACS was a Harrier testbed equipped with the new electronics and software, tested at Boscombe by (among others) the lead Harrier test pilot John Farley. It permitted a highly intuitive form of flight control in the hover - you essentially push the stick in the direction you want to go and the necessary thrust and nozzle deflections are calculated for you - and a seamless transition from aerodynamic to jetborne flight.

The VAACS system is the basis for the Unified Flight Control system in the STOVL F-35s on order for the RAF, RN and US Marine Corps. It's our software. But, if the Americans get their way, we won't be able to do anything with it. And Lockheed-Martin, the F-35 prime contractor, can use it for - well - anything they like, even if it's directly contrary to British interests. They're not even paying us a penny, as far as I know.

Remember, we can always trust the Americans. Keep saying it and it might be true.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

LEO: alternative future history

Just been given a copy of Georgina Ferry's book on LEO, the pioneering family of business computers developed by Lyons in the late 1940s. I was broadly aware that they had been a long way ahead of everyone else, having been the first company to use a computer to do anything useful and also having based their design directly on Maurice Wilkes' Cambridge EDSAC. (They have a website, here.)

What I didn't know, but didn't surprise me, was the speed with which a recognisable geek culture evolved as soon as the pooter was installed. The Lyons and Cambridge Maths Lab developer teams were exactly the sort of people, with exactly the sort of working methods and (non-)hierarchy, who develop good software and engineering now. Not necessarily engineers or mathematicians, but driven by enthusiasm and committed to open exchange of ideas, practical experiment, and meritocracy. The bad sides were just the same, too - tightly-wound geek freakouts and personality clashes, absurd workloads, maddening eccentricities and poor social skills.

What did surprise me was how many of the current tech issues they faced and sometimes prefigured. Service-oriented architecture (although it wasn't called that then) was in place from day one. Software-as-a-service and the integration of business process analysis and software design, too, were strengths. Indeed, the LEO team survivors now claim that Where It All Went Wrong was that after the English Electric takeover, they stopped selling computers as part of a whole-system engineering/consulting service and just began trying to sell boxes.

Even more surprising was the unfamiliar programming culture that the LEO team created - very unfamiliar, that is, to the IT world. Some other industries, however, would have instantly recognised it. And if they were Japanese car makers, they would have wondered who was stealing their ideas. Whenever a program was tested on the computer (which had to be minimised because of the machines' packed schedule), if a fault occurred the test was instantly stopped and not resumed until it had been fully documented, analysed and fixed. However senior the author, no line of code could be tested until another programmer had peer-reviewed it. It was a software version of Toyota's now famous decision (around the same time - 1958) to allow any worker to stop the line if they discovered a faulty part, and keep it stopped until the fault was traced. Quality through lean production, for code.

Which begs the question - if Leo Computers, not IBM, had cracked the market, and if Lord Weinstock had decided to keep Marconi's Rochester microchip plant (the biggest in Europe, shut down and sold for a supermarket site), what would a British-dominated geek culture have looked like?

Admin: Tiny Text

The problem that caused some 2005 archives to render in tiny text should now be solved.

Strange Parallel in Kenya

Does anyone else remember the rigged treason trial of Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai? The state's case turned on tapes prepared by a so-called "political consultant" named Ari Ben-Menashe, who had filmed himself talking about a coup near Tsvangirai and then provided the tapes to the prosecution. It turned out that Ben-Menashe was an egregious fraud who was almost certainly in cahoots with the secret police from the word go, and was anyway a pathological liar who had doctored the video.

There's certainly quite a similarity in the counter-accusation launched by the mysterious Margaryan brothers of Kenya (that their main critic borrowed large sums of money from them "to finance the government's overthrow") - there's even a set of mystery tapes.

In current weirdness, the government car involved turns out to be a fake, whilst the, the government...yes, the government tactically leaked the information that the opposition were accusing them of terrorism in order to bash them for playing the terrorism card...or something.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Is what the court found this bloke to be. Mark Connolly, 49, of Anglesey, was convicted of four counts of manslaughter over the accident on the West Coast Main Line in February 2004 in which four men were killed by a runaway wagon that had been held in place with bits of wood.

Send the bastard down.

Update: He got nine years! And well deserved, too.
Prosecutor Robert Smith QC said Connolly, the boss of MAC Machinery Services, had deliberately disconnected the hydraulic brakes on two wagons because it was cheaper than repairing the wagons properly....

Connolly had deliberately disconnected the brakes on the two wagons because the hydraulic systems were in such a bad way they would not work properly in conjunction with the crane.

He then filled cables connecting the crane - usually filled with hydraulic brake fluid - with ball bearings, giving the impression everything was above board.

HOWTO Establish a Fake Police Force

The LA Times has the details on that story with the bloke from Tiger Telematics, the Ferrari of which there are only 399 in the world, the high-speed crash and the mysterious pseudo-police who arrived at the crash site. (Google "Stefan Eriksson" to catch up.)
Eriksson, 44, is a former executive with the video game machine company Gizmondo who left the firm shortly before a Swedish newspaper ran allegations that he had been convicted of counterfeiting a decade before in Sweden. Officials at the Swedish National Police confirmed Tuesday that he has a criminal record.

No one was injured when the rare Ferrari Enzo smashed into a power pole on Pacific Coast Highway at 162 mph. But the case continues to generate interest because the Ferrari is one of only 400 built, and detectives have struggled to understand what happened.

Eriksson told investigators he was a passenger in the Ferrari and that the driver was a man named Dietrich, who fled. But officials have been skeptical, noting that Eriksson had a bloody lip and the only blood found was on the driver's side air bag...
More interesting for our purposes is that the article gives step-by-step instructions on how to create your very own police gang, so long as you live in the United States. Fake policemen are becoming something of a TYR trope, so here goes.

First, obtain a bus. You can do this at any good vehicle dealership, or alternatively swap several motorcycles for it as the people in this case did.

Second, register yourself as a transit authority. You may need to provide a public transport service of some sort in order to fill out the forms, but this may not be necessary..
Deal said that his agency has discovered that several railroad agencies around California have created police departments — even though the companies have no rail lines in California to patrol. The police certification agency is seeking to decertify those agencies because it sees no reason for them to exist in California.

The issue of private transit firms creating police agencies has in recent years been a concern in Illinois, where several individuals with criminal histories created railroads as a means of forming a police agency.
Hell, why not set up a railway? It's like a big train set, with fake police!

That's it. As would put it...start a transit authority, and you're done. You can then issue police badges, uniforms, firearms, handcuffs, and such. Without more complexity, you won't be able to do more than make a citizen's arrest, but you can pack pistols and announce yourself as the police. As Mr. Eriksson's friends did, you can also create an undercover division–in this case, an Anti-Terrorist branch.

It really is that simple. On another point, does anyone else notice a distinct sense of Hunter S. Thompson about the whole story? Ferrari Enzo..blood-red...162 mph on the public highway..torn in half by lamp post...fugitive Swedish millionaire..mystery German..produced police badges at the scene of the crash. I feel his shade walks among us. Wasn't it a Policeman's Benevolent Association card he used to carry because it looked like a cop's badge?

Darwin's Nightmare in the Suburbs

Kieran "Crooked Timber" Healy batters a prediction that U.S. religious conservatives are fated to outbreed the effete eurodhimmisexofascist coastals into the middle of next week. Well. It's an interesting thought, as many point out in the comments, that (even hypothetically) the funders of creationist themeparks might succeed through Darwinism.

It's also the basis, I think, for a good science-fiction story; the science-dodgers triumph by outreproducing their foes (enter Handmaid's Tale-esque dystopia here), but then, fatally compromised by their own rejection of rationality, are themselves outcompeted economically by the Chinese/Brazilians/Indians/whoever gets to be Top Nation in our particular scenario exercise, thus providing the essential tragic emotion. Exactly the feature that permitted their initial evolutionary success dooms them in the longer term (hence the title..I still haven't seem the film, by the way)

Kim Howells: The Edge of Reason

Via Blairwatch, a thrilling oration from minister of state Kim Howells.
"People describe Iraq as a mess, but it is a mess that can't launch an attack now on Iran; a mess that won't be able to march into Kuwait; it's a mess that can't develop nuclear weapons. So yes it's a mess but it's starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in."
I thought we were meant to be bashing the drum for war with Iran?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

More Kenyan Mercenary Freakishness

After yesterday's revelations, more news from Kenya about those Armenian Russians from Dubai.

The East African Standard, having survived the government's censorblitz, reports that, indeed, the two men of mystery didn't arrive by air as they said, but drove to their press conference at Jomo Kenyatta airport in a government car..
The Standard learnt from a KAA employee that the Armenians - Mr Artur Sargysyan and Mr Artur Margaryan -were driven to the airport, whisked through an electronically -operated secret door into a transit restaurant where they waited for a Kenya Airways plane to land from Dubai. This was to make it appear like one of them had just stepped off the plane.

The operation almost backfired because the plane, which was supposed to land at 6:30am, delayed for 40 minutes.

When it finally landed, the men were moved towards the plane through an emergency and little-used door on the air bridge, 20 minutes after other passengers had disembarked.

A KAA employee shepherded them to the air bridge, the mechanically extendable access to the doors of the plane.

We have also learned that the two men were accompanied by a State House employee, a personal assistant of a National Rainbow Coalition activist and a middle-level protocol officer, who took them to the VIP lounge that is the preserve of ministers, top civil servants, the top cream of the diplomatic and international guests.

Or perhaps they were really Czechs?

The plot thickened when Immigration minister Gideon Konchellah said the men were citizens of the Czech Republic, who had arrived on a private jet. He later issued a statement clarifying that they were Armenian businessmen with permits to be in Kenya.
Time to czech your facts, I think. The company name they gave ("Brotherlinks International") is a blank on all known search engines, strange to tell. There is an Artur Sargysan at the Armenian ministry of social security, and another who buys things on EBay and doesn't pay. There's one who's been declared bankrupt, here. What about his mate? Well, he's either a law professor who runs a legal aid clinic for the poor, somehow unlikely, a singer-songwriter, or perhaps even a TV executive. I don't think they are telling the truth about their identities - do you?

Especially not in the light of this Update!..

Cops come to their place, but guess what? A big boy done it and run away.
Asked who allowed him and his brother to hold a Press conference at the VIP lounge at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Mr Margaryan claimed it was the journalists themselves who had diverted them to the lounge as they were walking to the first class lounge.

But when journalists, some of whom were at the Press conference protested they did not have such powers, he contradicted himself, saying it was his lawyers Mr Antony Macharia and Mr Fred Ngatia who had arranged the Press conference.....Asked to explain why his brother's particulars were missing from the passenger manifest on the flight he claimed he had taken from Dubai to Kenya, he said all passengers from Arab countries used their mothers' names and not their own or their fathers'....After his brief chat with the journalists, Mr Margaryan returned to his compound and later drove off in a dark blue Subaru whose number plates were hidden behind strips of cardboard. He was accompanied by a woman who on Monday he claimed was his bodyguard.
He muttered, caughtly.

Watch and blog..

Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr announced that a plot had been foiled to place hundreds of Sunni Arab troops actually loyal to the insurgency in position at the Green Zone and then to have them rush embassy offices and take diplomatic hostages.

TYR, 25/02/06:

Those tanks the Iraqi minister of defence is threatening to bring onto the streets. The only armour he has is the brigade's worth of T-72s provided by Hungary, which we've mentioned before as a very serious factor in a coup scenario. (There are also, I think, a few reconditioned T-54/55s.) Where these tanks are, and who controls them, is about to become a burning issue, because they will be in a position to force everyone else's hand. It's also especially interesting that the biggest owner of tanks in Iraq, the US Army, doesn't seem to be interested.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the assassination of the Iraqi Army 6th Division GOC last week? Remember, the Defence Ministry is run by the (Sunni) Dulaimis, unlike the police and the paramilitaries in the SCIRI-run Interior Ministry.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Staid and Ossified Elite

It's that blog awards time again. The Bloggies are up, and does anyone else feel they are just a bit dull? The winners are:
Best Blog Application: Blogger.
Best Asian Blog: Tokyo Girl
Best ANZAC Blog: Loobylu
Best Middle Eastern Blog: Baghdad Burning
Best European Blog: My Boyfriend is a Twat
Best UK/Irish Blog: Girl with a One-Track Mind
Best Latin American Blog: Cooking Diva
Best Canadian Blog: Photojunkie
Best American Blog: PostSecret
Best Tagline:
Best Podcast: The Movie Blog
Best Photos: Flickr
Best Craft Blog: Makeblog
Best Food Blog: Vegan Lunchbox
Best Entertainment Blog: Go Fug Yourself
Best Political Blog: Wonkette
Best Webdev Blog: Problogger
Best Tech Blog: Slashdot
Best Topical Blog: PostSecret
Best Gay Blog: Queerty
Best Teenage Blog: It's Raining Noodles
Most Humorous: Overheard in New York
Best Writing: Go Fug Yourself (the title is a disqualifier in my book, but..)
Best Group Blog: BoingBoing
Best Community Blog: PostSecret
Best Design:
Best Kept Secret:
Best New Blog: PostSecret
Lifetime Achievement: BoingBoing
Best Blog: PostSecret

Well, what a lot of conservative cop-out bollocks. It's like blog awards for people who don't read blogs. Isn't giving an award a bit obvious? Is Wonkette really, hand on heart, the best political blog around? Or just the most profitable? When was there last any news there?

And since when has Slashdot been a blog anyway? Equally, My Boyfriend is a Twat has had as many awards as I've had hot dinners (and doesn't really do anything non-UK, so shouldn't be in the European category). PostSecret is fun, but not that new, and surely not the best blog in the world.

The recipe for a Bloggie is clear: be commercial, be anglophone, be anodyne. Pats on the back will be exchanged.

And does anyone else think the $200 worth of graphic design for Riverbend is, well, insulting while the mortar bombs come howling in and the fake policemen roam through the streets? Graphic design. I ask you.

Custer's Last Stand

Ultra-dodgy securico CusterBattles's rampant Iraq corruption seems finally to have caught up with them to the tune of $10 million.

HOWTO Build a Nigerian Node-B

NMS Communications chap Brough Turner has an interesting set of photos up on installing a base station in Nigeria. With a VSAT satellite terminal for the backhaul and solar panels, it's a complete drop-in infrastructure...

Kenyan Weirdness: Plot Thickens

After the Kenyan censorblitz crisis, a curious story from the Nairobi Nation via Apparently some poor chap turned up, bleeding, near a house occupied by mysterious white foreigners regularly visited by vehicles with GK- plates (i.e. Government of Kenya). Sez he's been bitten by a dog. Locals say he's dusting crops where there ain't no least they haven't heard any barking, but they did hear screams. It seems he scrabbled over the wall, identified himself as a policeman, and got a lift to the next police station. There, however, he made no mention of his status. Meanwhile, men in a white car claiming to be detectives drove out of the place and searched for him.

Later that night a large truck was observed leaving the building, apparently containing all the household goods.

Govt. of course denies knowledge of everything. As Joseph Kamau of CID put it, Kenyans must not take this seriously. So who are these men? Well, everyone thinks they are Russians, but as usual in Africa that's a general designation for anyone from the former Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. They may actually be Armenians, and they came from Dubai. (Does this remind anyone else of the old Tricky track with the line German Jamaicans/With twisted faces!/Same as it ever was..? Suitably paranoid.)

The Standard reports claims by an MP that the "mercenaries" were ordered to target members of the opposition. But then, what's this?

Two men involved out themselves as "Artur Sargysyan and Artur Margaryan", Armenian brothers with the ear of the president, who claim to have lent the MP in question a large sum of money to launch a vote of no confidence in the government. They've even got CCTV footage...they say. What business are these two in? Well, one of them claims to be "the next President of Armenia" because their uncle, the incumbent, can't stand again due to a term limit.

I think they must be the guys who keep sending me those emails.

More seriously, they claim to be in the diamond trade in the Congo. So clearly their version of events is to be believed without question. Especially as, in another report, they claimed to be importing electronic equipment and investing in property. More fascinating yet, one of them claimed to arrive on Kenya Airways flight KQ311 from Dubai...but his name ain't on the passenger manifest.

They had this to say to the press:
"Do not allow provocation from political leaders. We have seen provocation like the attack on the Standard or whatever. Your people have to differentiate between democracy and anarchy. I want to say something to the Press, if I say something about Raila you will not put in the newspapers. Journalists are getting money from political leaders to put their articles. Let Raila come to court. He will suffer with his girlfriend.

We gave him money believing he was a gentleman. We did it on humanitarian grounds, but he going against us so that he does not return it. I am not afraid of him."
Well, it's not quite as elegant as the Minister of State Security's crack about twisting the lion's tail, but much the same content.

GSM Warlord?

A long, grim report from the New York Times on Iraq - tortured corpses littering the streets, ethnic cleansing, 11-year-old gunboys building roadblocks, teenage checkpoints, lynchings, the full Lebanese monty. But this is really bizarre:
Across town in a busy shopping area in western Baghdad, a 15-minute gun battle broke out between security guards, more evidence of the authority vacuum.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly, said armed guards for a cellphone company had killed two guards working for Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi politician, after a roadside "misunderstanding."
Eh? Iraqna (Orascom Telecom) security goons shooting it out with the Chalabi Boys? What the fuck is that all about? Even if the phones are 2.5G at best, the warfare is fourth-generation with a vengeance.

It could be more significant than you think. Last week, people who appear to have been not fake policemen, but fake fake policemen, abducted 50 or so employees of a Baghdad security firm whose biggest customer is Iraq's biggest mobile network operator. The security firm, perhaps significantly, was owned by Vice-Prez Ghazi al-Yawer's tribe (who are Sunnis). The raiders were originally thought to be unidentified gunmen wearing police uniform, but were later...what's the opposite of "disavowed"? the Ministry of the Interior as Police Commandos (read SCIRI torture boys).

Now, we know Chalabi has been ingratiating himself with the Sadrists and anyone else Shia who'll give him houseroom (has anyone else noticed that after his rousting from the government back in November, and his re-self-appointment for "one month", he's *still* minister of oil and chairman of the banking committee?). I'm not saying, I'm just saying...

I think if I started this blog today I'd probably call it the title of this post.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

More Stranded Giant Container Ship Blogging!

I've decided to bring forward the next Monday Stranded Giant Container Ship post because there has been an unforeseen development - M/V APL Panama is afloat! Cargolaw:
March 10 2006 -- SHE FLOATS !!!!!
M/V APL Panama -- beached since Christmas Day 2005 -- floated away from the Mexican beach at 4:41 a.m. March 10!!!

M/V APL Panama is now 2 miles offshore in rough seas, held in place by Crowley tugs at her bow & stern. Mexican Navy vessels & helicopters remain nearby, as does a containment vessel to pick up any possible oil spills. Dredger Francesco di Giorgio, up from Nicaragua to dig a channel near M/V APL Panama after repeated attempts to pull her free with tugboats and other equipment failed. Now divers representing such diverse groups as the vessel owners, the insurance companies and the Mexican government are carefully checking the hull for damage. With most all the cargo having been air-lifted or craned off -- the question now is what toll may have been taken, if any, by this massive tonnage sitting on hard ground. Either way -- now the lawsuits will begin.
They surely will. Apparently the Mexican government won't let the ship leave until all bills have been settled, including those for restoring the beach to its prior condition. So now the dredger Francesco di Giorgio has dug a channel deep enough to get the ship out, they will have to put all the sand back where they got it from. Before it goes anywhere, the ship will certainly be going into dry dock anyway - and, according to local press reports, there is no dry dock in Mexico big enough.

And what becomes of the freight offloaded onto the beach or discharged (presumably) whereever she goes for repairs will probably make the Cargolaw guys even richer than they already are.

The ship, today

Friday, March 10, 2006

Firedump: A Kill? (Updated)

Doug Farah is reporting that UAE authorities have grounded Irbis Air Company's planes. No details as yet, but this could be big news. Stay tuned...

Well, if you did stay tuned, as well as reports from the UAE that Irbis aircraft have been seized, you will be pleased to know that the 3C-QRF file has been reopened! Soj has the details via a Romanian TV report. The Romanian foreign ministry is apparently asking the Ministry of Transport for details.

Appparently, Jetline International told the Romanians that (as Carlos thinks) the plane was intended for spare parts, but it was maintained by Romavia (although the report is ambiguous). Interestingly, Jetline seems to have claimed to have bought the aircraft from "an African country" two years ago. Certainly it's spent time in Africa, but someone is fibbing as its last registration before the Equatorial Guinea 3C- one was P4-CBH, also for Jetline, in Aruba. Before that it was N128CF, with the Detroit Red Wings. (Some sort of rounders team, I'm told.)

Thanks to everyone who's helped so far..

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Secure Computing: "Pampered" Censors

Who decides what our honest and trustworthy friends at Secure Computing will allow their clients (or rather, their clients' subjects and employees) to read? Turns it's a bloke called Tomo Foote-Lennox. No, that is not a typo.

Mr. Foote-Lennox, it seems, is the one who ruled that BoingBoing was "porn" on the basis of that cat breastfeeding picture from Japanese TV. Now, that's certainly weird, and probably unwise (sharp cat teeth?), but is it any more weird, disturbing or unpleasant than dressing up as a giant baby in order to get your rocks off? Note - the first, second and fourth links may be considered objectionable by corporate censorware. In fact, even Secure Computing's own SmartFilter product will block them and presumably mark your file accordingly - I checked. You can check a URL here. To my disappointment, this blog is considered kosher.

No giggling at the back. Yet. Yes, he is entirely within his rights to do this with consenting adults, in the privacy of his own home etc. But it's the hypocrisy, stupid. Frankly, I can't care less about his Pampers problem-whoops-alternative lifestyle. The alternative lifestyle that he espouses that I'm pissed off about is the other one: censorship.

Another point about censorship, which this perhaps illustrates, is that it does the censor no good. Maybe it was reviewing all those 307,000 pages of porn in the .st domain that dunnit? Because of course they really, really did!

Right, with the serious point out of the way, let's start with the belly laughs. This is so much an Internet culture archetype it's absurd. How many jokes have you heard about On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog? In Douglas Copeland's Microserfs, there's a character (Michael, the master programmer and near-autistic mega-nerd) who falls in love with another participant in an online roleplaying game. Another character warns him that "she might be a 58 year old fat man in spaghetti straps and a diaper" (I may be misquoting).

And Finally, Some TYR Catblogging

It's almost three years since this blog began, and at last, a cat.

Fefe the cat

Fefe says - hello world.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Secure Computing: Trustworthy and Honest

So there's this American software firm called Secure Computing, that sells filter proxy software to fun-loving tyrannettes like the rulers of Saudi Arabia so they can keep their citizens from reading any of that awful, awful stuff on the Internet. (At least, those citizens who can't afford an Inmarsat BGAN terminal.) Turns out their stuff's also being used to keep US servicemen and women in the Middle East from reading BoingBoing, Wonkette and quite a few other fact, here's a list that you won't be able to read behind an SC proxy.

Secure Computing are very keen on pushing their product, even if some might consider it unethical. Take this report they put out back in 2004. Apparently there were 307,000 pages of feeelthy pictures in the .st domain, Sao Tome's TLD. Which would have been mildly interesting, if it had been the truth.

.st was managed at the time by a major Swedish ISP, According to their vice president and General Manager, Jon Karlung, the claim was absolute nonsense. "We had at the time only 6,000 .st domains, of which 1-2 per cent contained any porn. A simple search on Google could have confirmed this. I wrote two letters to them but they never removed this info," he says. If those figures are accurate, each host would have needed to hold 5,116 pages of smut for SC's numbers to add up.

Clearly, these are honest and trustworthy people. Kathryn Cramer has details on how and where you can offer them praise for their honesty at the first link in this post.

Update>: Seems Sao Tome wasn't the only small island they were fibbing about.


No.3 official at the CIA under investigation over ties with Brent Wilkes and the Randall Cunningham corruption scandal. Laura Rozen hears from a "source":
And what were the forthcoming contracts for? According to a source, they were to create and run a secret plane network, for whatever needs the CIA has for secret fleets of planes. Presumably, that might include "extraordinary renditions," e.g. to fly terror suspects off the radar to locations for interrogation. "I Imagine that since their whole flying operation has been outed, it makes it tough to operate clandestine flights," the source explained. "I bet it would cost a bundle to set up a whole new operation that no one knew about ... How do they operate a secret fleet of aircraft now that everyone knows about the planes we have? If I were high up in the CIA, this would be a big priority for me, and I would need a solution outside the normal range of solutions." Enter trusted contractor Brent Wilkes and Archer Logistics, and perhaps a whole new front company to be invented for the purpose.
Fascinating. Now read this from NBC: link
As logistics chief at the CIA's main base near Frankfurt, Germany, Kyle (Dusty) Foggo sat at the crossroads of agency operations. Operatives and VIPs passed through, and former top spies say Foggo was customarily on hand to greet them. After Porter Goss took over as CIA director, many agency veterans were astonished when the former House intel chair chose Foggo, a midranking bureaucrat, to become CIA executive director, the agency's third-ranking official, responsible for day-to-day operations. Insiders attributed his rise to his mastery of office politics. But Foggo's glad-handing has raised awkward questions. Federal prosecutors have accused (as an unindicted co-conspirator) one of Foggo's closest friends, San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes, of participating in a scheme to bribe Randall (Duke) Cunningham, the GOP congressman from San Diego who resigned his seat after pleading guilty to federal corruption and tax charges.
Logistics chief "near Frankfurt", eh? Rhein-Main Airport near, you mean...

I wonder if this might have something to do with Sky Traffic Facilitators, the recipient of the one TBTC- series DESC fuel contract we never tied to an aircraft? Keen observers will note that they still have their DESC fuel card, although they don't own any aircraft. STF is a charter broker whose only named representative is a Russian film star. The other names in the series TBTC- (Air Bas, Irbis, Falcon Express, and Jetline) we all traced to VB-associated airlines. Only Sky Traffic remained opaque. And Irbis Air Company, despite being on both the US Department of the Treasury's "Viktor Bout Business Empire" org chart and the UNSCR1532 blacklist, is still getting its taxpayer-funded kerosene!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Firedump: 3C-QRF the Second

Right, another go to get 3C-QRF seized...

Soj is going for the Romanian Ministry of Transport. Post mirrored..
This is the text in Romanian language. If you want to participate, copy this:

Domnul Ministru Gheorghe Dobru,

Va scriem pentru a va informa cu respect despre existenta aeronavei model BAC-111, cu numarul de inregistrare 3C-QRF, cu numarul de fabricatie 61, care in prezent este localizata pe aeroportul Baneasa in Bucuresti, Romania.

Aceasta aeronava este utilizata de compania "Jetex Flight Support", care este inregistrata in Guineea Ecuatoriala, dar in principal isi realizeaza afacerile in Sharjah in Emiratele Arabe Unite.

Aceasta aeronava cu numarul de inregistrare 3C-QRF apartine companiei "San Air General Trading". In data de 16 martie 2004, Comitetul Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite a pus in discutie o lista care contine nume a indivizilor si companiilor carora le este interzisa calatoria si desfasurarea afacerilor datorita implicarii lor in razboiul civil din Liberia.

Compania "San Air General Trading" se afla pe aceasta lista. Aeronava QC-3RF a fost de asemenea utilizata pentru a transporta arme catre Republica Democrata Congo in 2004, ceea ce reprezinta o violare a Hotararii Comitetului Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite.

Desfasurand afaceri cu aceasta companie si aproband planurile sale privind operarea in Romania reprezinta o violare a Rezolutiei 1521 a Comitetului Consiliului Securitatii Natiunilor Unite.

Cu respect va cerem luarea masurilor, de urgenta, necesare pentru interzicerea derularii afacerilor sau uzului personal pe aceasta aeronava. Aven informatii privind montarea unui alt motor pe aeronava, de asemenea, am dori confiscarea acestei aeronave de catre autoritati.

Va multumim pentru timpul acordat si pentru luarea in considerare a cererii noastre.

(your name and contact info)

It should be sent to this email: (Romanian Ministry of Transportation)
CC emails to Romanian press:,,,,,,

This is the English translation of the above letter. This is simply for non-Romanian speakers.

Dear [Transportation] Minister Gheorghe Dobru,

We write to respectfully inform you that there is a model BAC-111 aircraft, registration number 3C-QRF, serial number 61, which is currently located at the Baneasa Airport in Bucuresti, Romania.

This airplane is being leased by the company "Jetex Flight Support", which is registered in Equatorial Guinea, but does business primarily in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.

This airplane with registration number 3C-QRF belongs to San Air General Trading, Inc. On March 16, 2004, the United Nations Security Council Committee issued a list of individuals and companies prohibited from traveling and doing business because of their involvement in the civil war in Liberia.

The company San Air Trading, Inc. is on this list. This airplane QC-3RF was also used to fly in weapons to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004, also in violation of a United Nations Security Council Resolution.

Doing business with this company and allowing their planes to operate in Romania is violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1521.

We ask that you immediately issue a prohibition for any business or individual to use this airplane. We have information that a replacement motor is soon to be installed on this plane, therefore we ask that this airplane be immediately confiscated by the authorities.

We thank you for your consideration in this matter,

(your name, contact info)
Time to move, lads. We may not have much.

Test post

This is a test.

Note - this post was because Blogger/Blogspot had a serious serverfart all afternoon.

Monday Stranded Giant Container Ship Blogging

Since the night before Christmas, a huge container ship has been hard aground outside the Mexican port of Ensenada. The MV APL Panama, 52,000 tonnes plus an estimated 30,000 tonnes of cargo, drove at speed into a beach after the captain unwisely dispensed with the services of a harbour pilot. She is estimated to be so far aground that the keel is in 1.5 metres of water, 8.5 metres of sand. The fantastic Cargolaw has total information, spread over three large pages.

The ship, on the beach.

So far, as many as seven 5,000 horsepower tugs have attempted to drag the ship off and back into deep water. A specially-equipped barge with massive hydraulic rams has also tried. Now, a dredger has been called on in an effort to dig a channel from the sea to the ship. In the meantime, the cargo is being unloaded piece by piece using first a Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, then a Russian Mi-26 HALO heli - the world's most powerful helicopter - and now a big mobile crane. A road has been improvised up to the ship.

The Skycrane in action.

CargoLaw is doing a fine job of open-source reporting on the continuing fiasco - see this list of sources...
Anonymous contributors* (Lots of them)

SGT Kenton Allen, Transportation Corps. U.S. Army

Robert Bents

George J. Brown

M. Bruenger

Kenneth Cotton

Jesse L. Dean

Don Fagan - Our Correspondent in Ensenada.

Dan Fix - Great Lakes

Pete Gomes

Captain Russ Hoburg -- recently retired from Blue & Gold Fleet, San Francisco - long time Crowley employee -- Palm Springs.

"Took the drive down to Ensenada to see the APL Panama. It is a sight to behold!"

Leslie Marchetti, Marchetti Fine Arts at San Diego.

Greg Mitre - Ports of Los Angeles- Long Beach Longshoreman

Jerome A. Morris

Tim Schwabedissen -- The Cargo Letter, Senior Correspondent

Cecilia Stevens - Galatea Insurance, UK

Papabaja - Our Correspondent in Punta Banda.

Tassie Tiger

Richard Ward - Operations Manager, NYK Line, Brisbane, Australia

Phil Walcher, Engineer on Crowley tug M/V Saturn at San Diego.

Jack Wall - Los Angeles

Meanwhile, a small town has grown up around the cock-up, what with the salvage crew, the helicopter pad, a road being built down to the ship, the deployment of the crane, and crowds of rubberneckers. And, of course, the businesses that serve them...

Ice cream. Yum

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Invisible Hand

Reuters DeathNet reports on the surging price of guns in Iraq. Apparently a Tariq (a locally made automatic pistol) used to go for $150 in 2003, now selling for $600. An AK-47, meanwhile, was yours for $50 in the good old days. Now you could shell out up to $350 for a Russian-made one (the Chinese ones are apparently cheaper).

"People want guns and bullets," said Fares Abid, a 38-year black market dealer of athletic build, wearing a grimy T-shirt. "If somebody wants a gun, I'll deliver it within the hour."

Lutyens vs. Packet Switching

Martin Geddes has a picture of a BT local telephone exchange (central office for yanks) in Cherry Hinton near Cambridge. His point is that all the kit that once went in the building is now in a small green metal box just outside it. My point is that the building is a fine example of good mundane architecture, like the 1920s tube stations-although rather than art deco, this one has a definite Edwin Lutyens touch.

Pity nobody builds anything like that any more. Further example - not far from my home is an old school in cracking scaled-down neo-Gothic, with several different shades of brick. It has of course been converted into flats. Across the road is a newer school which is absurdly ugly and, it's safe to say, will never meet the same fate.

Firedump: A6-ZYD

From the Sharjah Airport online arrivals boards:

05-Mar 10:24 Kabul Flying Dolphin Airlines FDN 612 Estimated : 10:24

Flying Dolphin Airlines is an original-gangster Viktor Bout operation that officially doesn't exist any more, having been reorganised into the supposedly legit "Dolphin Air". FDN is on the UNSCR 1532 blacklist, unlike Dolphin Air, and here it is operating openly.

One aircraft only is known to be active with FDN, as well as several on lease to Iraqi Airways, Phoenix Aviation/AVE and Ishtar. That is the Boeing 707-3J6C, serial number 20718/872, registered in the UAE A6-ZYD, so presumably that was the one that did the Kabul run this morning. If it's FDN, it's gotta go.

DSR: Best Ever!

TYR is the top result on MSNSearch for "leone the penis sucker".

Search request received at 0644Z, 05/03/06, from someone in Aussie ISP BigPond's Victoria state ADSL pool.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Though you may wish it were otherwise..

..all events reported on this blog actually happened in reality. Not so on, which bears the enigmatic warning:
This website is part of a foreign policy simulation. The events depicted are not actually taking place.
It's all the work of some bunch of political science wonks doing a scenario planning exercise. Apparently they wanted a random "Salam Pax-meets-Neeka-meets-that bloke in his NOC in New Orleans during the hurricane" figure to give it bloggy goodness. I think one could have given the thing more colour, but it's a nice idea.

The scenario exercise seems to have gone off with a hypothetical bang. At endex, the US and Italian (eh?) air forces were in the process of intervening after one lot of Belarussian soldiers bombarded Minsk to get at the others, the NATO Secretary General (a thinly disguised version of Lord Robertson of Port Ellen) had suffered a heart attack, and Gerhard Schröder had made himself extremely unpopular, whilst Russian forces crossed the eastern border.

AC-130s Off to Iraq

Enter the backup. The USAF is quietly deploying AC-130U gunships to Al-Udeid AFB in Iraq. Apparently it was a secret until an AP reporter spotted one of them on the ground and noticed it was no ordinary C130.

This is a clear sign that someone's expecting big trouble.

Edit: Looking at the story again, I notice it doesn't say where they are being stationed - in fact AP mentions that they were threatened into keeping that quiet. Where did I get Al-Udeid from?

700 Km on a Tank of Diesel

This is a motorbike a long way from home. It's built by Royal Enfield in India and is based on a British design from the 1930s. Here's the interesting bit - back in the 1950s, farmers who bought them began to do interesting things with the bikes. For example, they removed the original petrol engine and replaced it with one of the little stationary diesels used to drive water pumps, for a huge saving of fuel.

Eventually, Royal Enfield picked up on this and did their own version. That's the bike. The Enfield Taurus uses a 1-litre 450cc diesel engine from the German firm Hatz, which gives it up to 11 horsepower. Not great, but here's the rub - it does 350 kilometres on a litre of diesel. The tank holds two litres. Top speed 115km/h.

Full details are here (in German). One for the folk at Worldchanging, I reckon.

(Hat tip to Jörg Kantel.)

Unaccountable error of fact corrected.

Pirates of the Day

This looks interesting.


Across the Spectrum: GSM in Iraq

Not just GSM, but perhaps even fixed-mode WiMAX (802.16-2004) too. IEEE Spectrum has a fantastic feature on the success of mobile telecoms in Iraq, contrasting with the far worse progress of the copperwire system and (as reported in last month's issue) the disastrous failure of electricity restoration. Before going on further, can I just point out that IEEE Spectrum is one of the things on the Internet that are most worth reading right now? It may be the work of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers, but the geek-level is low enough for that not to hurt. The breadth of subject is impressive (from interviewing Lawrence "Creative Commons" Lessing to testing robot spaceprobes in the Chilean desert), and the journalistic depth isn't bad either.

And the online edition is free.

Spectrum's Glenn Zorpette reports that Iraq now has four official mobile network operators (which I knew) and (which I didn't) another six pirates. Oddly enough, an unauthorised GSM net was shut down last week in Kabul after WACC complained of interference. Secret mobile networks - a contradiction in terms when you think it involves radio transmitters - seem to be an odd phenomenon of the War On Terror. The decision was taken early on to permit essentially open slather and concentrate US and Iraqi government efforts on restoring the long lines, fibre and VSAT infrastructure. The contractor, Bechtel, employed Iraqi engineers as far as possible (a major difference from the situation with the electricity projects, which were beset by ignorant US carpetbaggers) and (it sez here) "overcame tremendous setbacks" like the insurgents blowing up and shooting coworkers, digging up the cables, etc.

One thing that isn't mentioned, but was of considerable importance, is that the Congressman From Qualcomm, Rep. Darrell Issa, was nixed in his effort to get a clause into a defence appropriations bill that would have obliged the Iraqis to use the (Qualcomm-built) CDMA2000 standard on the grounds that GSM was "a French technology" (Tell that to Siemens, Ericsson, Bell Labs, Motorola, Nokia, Marconi as was...) That would also have barred them from using mobile phones in any of the countries around Iraq.

Now, apparently, some Iraqi officials are being sufficiently grandiose to envision a widespread deployment of WiMAX IEEE802.16d data service. Iraq may become a country with a wire-free telecoms infrastructure, even as the war rages.

The lessons seem clear: standards, not standardisation, the low-cost equipment this enables, a minimal infrastructure footprint, competition, and concentration on getting an immediate benefit to the end user. Compare the bureaucracy, US arrogance, inflexibility and obsession with bespoke projects that doomed the electricity rebuilding..

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