Saturday, May 27, 2006


Remember how Viktor Yanukovich and his party were standing up to Teh Neoliberal US Imperialist NATO Consensus? Them, decadent rock music and their US publicists, apparently.

Timing is everything

Remember all the waffle about Iran supposedly arming the Sunni insurgents (despite it being wildly contrary to Iranian interests)? Well, I think it may be gradually turning into a case of being right too early. Not that the New-Old Iraqi Army is getting arms from Iran, but that somebody may be trying to build up a countervailing power to the hitherto Iranian-supported SCIRI.

Take a look at this report about how Basra, once an even break between SCIRI and the Sadr movement, is now under the control of a third, heterodox Shia party (Fadhila), who are applying the oil weapon to the SCIRI/Dawa-majority central government.

Now consider a stub in Private Eye this week regarding the latest IED innovation in the south. Supposedly "somebody" there has got the knowledge of how to make passive infrared-triggered, compressed gas bombs "from Iran". Guerrilla fuel-air explosive! Scarequotes because (I think I've said before) that getting the information on how to make them is no longer a serious problem. They use the Internet after all, and they have access to smart people (Iraq had a space programme up to 1991).

But I think there is a possibility that Iran is concerned that SCIRI is not enough, that it is getting too close to the Sunnis and also the Sadrists, and that therefore they need counter-leverage. After all, why would the Badr Corps attack British troops in the deep south? They're the government! Why would Sadr do so now? And anyway, he and his loathe Iran. I wonder if the Fadhila is being built up as "the real resistance" to undermine Sadr, or else whether support to the pro-Iran side is leaking to Sadr?


Does Operation HERRICK, the British-led expansion of ISAF to southwestern Afghanistan stand a chance of success? What is "success" anyway? Just as importantly, does it stand a chance of disaster?

Well, the deployment is now well under way, as the 16AAB less two infantry battalions and plus assorted DFID and NGO civilian personnel establishes itself from Lashkar Ghar to Kandahar. And, as is being reported with slightly greater attention than during the last four years, the general enemy is responding with an intensified campaign of guerrilla activity against NATO forces and intimidation against government supporters. Fortunately, the Government has resisted the temptation to water down the force structure, but the aim remains unclear, although some things seem to be settled.

As discussed in the post I just linked to, there is a degree of ambiguity as to whether they are going there to "fight" or "peacekeep", although (as I pointed out) there should be no distinction in the Afghan context, and a large part of the supposed difference is explained by the portrayal required to satisfy various countries' internal politics. The notion that the mission is "counterterrorism" or "combat" is necessary to please the Americans, and the notion that it is somehow on a different planet to the PRTs up north or the rest of ISAF in Kabul is necessary to please certain continental European coalition partners, and John Reid apparently believed that claiming that it was nothing to do with "combat" would please the British media-political complex, but also occasionally boasted of sending (inevitably but accurately) Paras to destroy heroin supplies. This is all rubbish. Any successful peacekeeping/stabilisation policy in Afghanistan must involve at least the potential of fighting, and any successful attempt to "catch terrorists" there is dependent on peacekeeping, reconstruction and political stabilisation.

In one sense, ambiguity of aims is bad news. Clausewitz defined the identification and maintenance of the aim as the first principle of strategy, and the period 2001-2006 offers plenty of confirmation that getting involved in a war without intellectually robust aims is foolish. In another sense, though, there is such a thing as creative ambiguity. And we've got plenty of that. The man who will have to judge between using the latitude (as they say) of discretion and wandering in the swamp of ambiguity is General Sir David Richards, the commander of the NATO Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.

Richards' reputation is based on the intervention in Sierra Leone in 2000, where he was in command of a mission that went from reconnaissance to the evacuation of foreign nationals, to security for such an evacuation, to acting as an advance guard to cover the arrival of more UN forces, to organising and supporting a localised counter-attack, then a broader counter-offensive, and eventually an enduring training and aid mission, in the space of a fortnight. That operation was eventually a success, despite very complicated political ramifications, largely because of a commitment to the minimal and highly political use of force.

It bears some important similarities to Afghanistan. There, as in Afghanistan, aims were fluid and were essentially to create or maintain a condition rather than to defeat an enemy (although that was at least part of the way there). Political/diplomatic action was as important as military action, and the impression of force was as valuable or even more than its reality. There were a variety of non-state and pseudo-state military actors, rooted in the worldwide black economy, and a weakly established government with very limited practical control. A large part of success would be to increase the government's share of the market for violence, as Jamie Kenny would put it, or to reduce the amount of ungoverned space, as Thomas P.M. Barnett would put it.

Another burning issue was control over a strategic resource and the tax revenues from it - in SL it was diamonds, and Richards and his staff advised the Sierra Leonean government to reassert control over the diamond fields first rather than pushing the rebels further away from the so-called "ring road" 30 or so miles out of Freetown, on the principle that this would deny the enemy arms, money and (especially) patronage. Other events - like the Wassenaar agreement and the Kimberley scheme - helped in the longer term. It is now thought that UNAMSIL may be able to leave next year, so these campaigns can work.

Unfortunately, of course, such a strategy will be hard to pursue in Afghanistan because the strategic resource involved is opium and its refinement into heroin. Richards' commission supposedly includes the elimination of opium-growing and refining, which is like ordering the British army in Basra to eliminate oil production. Apparently the perimeter of Lashkar Ghar camp is surrounded by poppy fields, which should concentrate the mind wonderfully on the stupidity of such a policy. It should be no wonder that the General seems to have ruled out - I can't remember where - providing troops for their destruction. One-nil to the creative ambiguity.

So, how is it going in fabulous Helmand? It doesn't sound too good, and I suspect that in essence this is because (as I think I said before) the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM big war raids down there have been completely irrelevant. Southern Afghanistan has been allowed to remain an ungoverned space after 2001, and now we are peeking under the lid... Operation HERRICK is essentially what the "coalition" ought to have done in 2002, but then, when your "aim" is an abstract noun these things happen.

Returning to the original question, the chances of success or disaster. If ARRC can do about three things, I think a degree of success is possible. Those are to a) avoid doing anything stupid - we are not "at our best when we are at our boldest" in this situation, b) discredit the Taliban pseudostate's sovereignty by providing security, and c) deliver a material improvement in life, quickly. The third is hard, hard to quantify, and deeply dependent on the other two. As this bloke put it, "security is either 10% of the problem or 90% of the problem, but either way it's the first 10% of the problem, and without security nothing we do will last". B) is difficult, but easier to define. A), though, is incredibly difficult, as it incorporates much of the unknown.

The main chance of disaster, though, comes in Pakistan - if you read the Guardian article above, you'll see that things are slipping. Slipping, to the point that a nuclear research centre was mortared last week. And the logistical road route for 16AAB is directly through Quetta down to Karachi. Now that could go wrong.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Reid: Home Office is broken

John Reid thinks the Home Office may have to be abolished. Just like me. See, Justin? He does actually acknowledge the existence of reality, unlike other potential Home Secretaries such as Hazel Blears.

Racial Profiling

Racial profiling will save us from terrorism. Look at this post from Chirol. All we have to do is lock up everyone who looks like an engineer from Intel, and we're done.

Source: here. Go read, as they say. Interestingly, he was actually an engineer before taking up terrorism. And it's amusing that the leaderless resistance, backlash strategy of deranged US gun nuts is the driving force of global jihad.

If it's Greek-Turkish dogfight you're after

You can find my comment here.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

So how much more reliable is nuclear electricity?

Nuclear power fans' favourite argument these days is that "the wind doesn't blow all the time" and that therefore you need nukes for baseload capacity. It has a degree of truth, although the usual bollocks level has to be taken into account. But just how big is the difference?

According to the manager of Hinckley Point A, his station is offline for 140 days a year. (140/365)x100=38.3 per cent of the time, in other words. Now, the rule-of-thumb capacity factor for wind generators is 30 per cent - i.e. that they run at full power 30 per cent of the time. The UK average was 27 per cent in 2004, but it improves as you go out to sea. Looking at the nuclear station that way around, you get a figure of 61.7 per cent of maximum annual production delivered. It's more, but it's not as much as you might think, especially when you remember that overproduction is as bad as underproduction. Nuclear stations run at full pelt all the time they are working, so just as you have to find something to do with wind power on a windy night, you have to do something with the spare electricity when demand is insufficient to soak up all the nuclear.

The question is matching supply and demand.

For extra value, note the amusing planning objection to a nearby wind farm - apparently it's too risky that a 7-tonne turbine blade might be blown 900 metres into the side of the reactor hall...which supposedly will withstand a 747 crashing into it, right? There are some industries who the Prime Minister ought to mark up on the wall like the character in Memento did, next to the legend DON'T BELIEVE THEIR LIES! BAE is one. BNFL is another. EDS, Siemens Business Systems, Capita and CapGemini all ought to be up there.

Air Van and "Sargysan"

Remember the Kenyan mystery-man and press censorship crisis back in April? (See here, and here.) You may recall that the mysterious Armenians who threatened to set crocodiles on the cops were "Artur Margaryan" and "Artur Sargysan," probably DRC/Dubai minerals scamsters, who were somehow associated with a giant seizure of cocaine.

Well, we now have some interesting new information. Consider closely this list of airline contacts from a Russian commercial database, trapped in the Google cache by chance. Note that the General Director (no less) of Air Van is listed as...Sargysan. Now, this may not be the same man. But there are reasons beyond the simple scumminess of the whole affair to think there are connections.

What is Air Van? It's a dubious airline, based inevitably in Dubai, with an Armenian registration - well, until the Armenian authorities killed its AOC in November, 2005. Being based in the UAE, of course, this doesn't seem to have stopped them. However, they have found it expedient to move assets out of the entity "Air Van" - transferring their brace of Boeing 747 classics, EK-74701/serial 21352 and EK-74702/serial 21054, to Buraq Air Transport of Tripoli, where they join no less than four Ilyushin 76 aircraft on lease from Viktor Bout's GST Aero. Air Van has also been known to turn up in Iraq during 2004, and leases aircraft regularly to IRS Airlines in Nigeria - an airline foul enough to offend Nigerian authority to the point where its AOC was revoked, although it somehow got it back.

We may as well link to this thread on PPRuNE, regarding who's behind IRS and Air Van, not to mention our old pals Financial Advisory Group. It's Imad Saba again, it seems. But there is more. In February last year, we had a report on the UNSCR report on arms to Liberia. In there was lots of good stuff, like words, and 707s laden with mortar bombs scraping their engine cowls down the Robertsfield runway as UN peacekeepers blazed away at them and terrified airporthands lunged for cover, what cover there might be on an airfield. In there was also much detail on a particular arms shipment - including something called "Gatewick Aviation Services" of Dubai, who chartered a Johnsons Air plane to move the guns from Iran to Liberia.

I pointed out that the cover-story used by one of the participants was crap, and that "Astral Aviation" of Kenya was just another front company, its aircraft coming from Phoenixavia, Air Bas, and Asterias Commercial, and one of them then being transferred to GST Aero.

Now, Air Van has a website at It is incomplete and content-free, but look what happens when you do a WHOIS lookup.
Domain Name:

Created on..............: 01 Aug 2002 13:07:31
Expires on..............: 01 Aug 2006 13:07:31

Registrant Info:
DUBAI, -- 52404
Phone: 97142271525
Fax..: 97142288951

Well, who'dathoughtit? Gatewick is Astral is Air-Van and all of them are not a million miles from GST, Air Bas, Imad Saba, or FAG. And Gatewick, that supposedly stole Astral's callsign, is actually Air Van. And Air Van's boss is supposedly one Sargsyan. Who causes trouble in Kenya with bling, crocodiles and allegedly, tonnes of cocaine. And Air Van's 747s were exported from the US to Swaziland, supposedly for Ariana Afghan Airlines, back in 2002...but ended up with IRS, still in their United Airlines colours and even using the UAL callsign, before coming to Air Van. Rather like the missing 727..

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Links Now, Content Later

Tapped has a useful suggestion: why not export Tony Blair to a Democratic Leadership Council thinktank? He'll be happier there, and will do less damage. They suggest we might want Joe Lieberman in exchange. Not so sure about that.

Apparently, Subhas Chandra Bose is not buried on Taiwan as previously thought, and the grave that supposedly contains his remains actually belongs to a Japanese army officer. In this case, it seems, the conspiracy theory really might be true and he might actually have faked his death in order to escape British retribution after the war.

You wait, he'll turn up in Wolverhampton.

And why more people aren't terrified by this news foxes me. Guerrillas mortaring a Pakistani nuclear research centre? That's not good.

(Hat tip)

Secret Plane Network

Laura Rozen reports that Archer Logistics, corruption monkey/hookergate boss Brent Wilkes' company, as well as being offered a contract to run a "secret plane network" for the CIA was given the opportunity to ship "anything" to or from Iraq, piggybacking on their shipments of bottled water and other stores.

As one of Doug Farah's sources put it, "it seems like someone high up in the contracting world wants to use Bout companies".

Just to buttress this post's wild speculation with at least one fact, Archer received $75,000 in loans from the Small Business Administration in May, 2005.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


All right then, can anyone tell me why we are suddenly in a crisis regarding illegal immigration? We weren't, as far as I can tell, yesterday. Now we are, and the BBC is running BNP-it's-OK-to-like deep stater Andrew Green's pet thinktank and a special feature from resigned-on-principle-five-minutes-before-his-line-manager-got-there IO Steve Moxon, intercut with fuzzy video of folk scrambling the fences at the Coquelles railyard. That's right, film from..was it 2002 or 2003?

Apparently Dave from PR announced the crisis at prime minister's questions this lunchtime. So that's it. Like the bleedin' dreidel song, crisis, crisis, crisis. The meat of the story, such as it is, is that the government doesn't know how many illegal immigrants there are.

Well, obviously. If the government had seen their papers, they wouldn't be "illegal" immigrants, would they? No government in the world knows how many illegal immigrants, or emigrants for that matter, it has. Because they're illegal, see? The stupidity level here is so high, by the way, that anyone who reads this post will rapidly approach their maximum weekly dose of stupidity and have to recuperate in a clue-chamber for months if they are to have any chance of regaining their former IQ.

More importantly, there is a real non-wanker story waiting for a good reporter to dig in. That is how a succession of four utterly unscrupulous Home Secretaries mismanaged the IND in order to please the prime minister and the Murdoch'n'Associated press, through a cocktail of absurd numerical targets applied to people in quasi-judicial positions, exterminationist rhetoric, management by fear, and destabilisation of the chain of command.

But unfortunately, the people who suffered most were scared brown people, and also civil servants, a lot of whom were also brown people and not really first-division our kinda people, being in delivery, not policy, old chap. So that's that. Nobody really does close reporting of Whitehall anyway, especially not after it zapped Gilligan.

I'll just say - was it really impossible to imagine that the end of the Cold War and the outbreak of a major war in Europe might mean more refugees? Michael Howard didn't do anything until they were here and the system couldn't decide claims within three years. I think it was quite deliberate, or wilful neglect at least, as he hoped his first attempt to starve them out might save the 1997 elections.

Whoops, Eric!

MSNBC/Newsweek's blogger, Eric Alterman, links a story claiming former KGB boss and Russian PM Yevgeny Primakov is a consultant to the Department of Homeland Security, as are ex-HVA chief Markus Wolf and KGB General Oleg Kalugin, saying that "someone ought to look into this". Well, somebody did, and that somebody is me. Alterman seems to think the story ran on Al-Jazeera...well, it did, but not the Al-Jazeera everyone else knows.

If you go to the MSNBC story, you'll find this link, which doesn't go to the Arab satellite TV network's website ( but to instead. Now, when Al-Jaz set up their website they omitted to register the domain name in all TLDs, so there's also an floating about that publishes news stories with a distinctly Israeli slant, and God knows what else. In this case, it's not even spelt right.

In this case, it's a poorly designed site full of quite deranged ravings and that never-failing marker of internet bollocks, a link to's vast holdings of tinfoil-hatted nonsense. There is no sign of the story on, and a WHOIS lookup on shows it as registered to "Al-Jazeerah Information Center" of Dalton, Georgia.

Amusingly, despite this it's actually not impossible that Kalugin is working for the CIA. He became a US citizen in 2003, which saved him from extradition to Russia on charges of espionage. Primakov, though, certainly isn't. His last interventions in world politics were to oppose NATO expansion vigorously, visit Saddam Hussein in Baghdad exactly when he was meant to be joining DHS, and testify in Slobodan Milosevic's defence.

(Amusing amendment - I had to look up Markus Wolf to find out if he was actually alive. He is.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Compulsory Voting

John Reid and Geoff Hoon, apparently, believe that voting should be a civic duty. What? It already is. No. They believe it should be compulsory, and that nonvoters should be subject to fines to make the buggers rattle their dags and get down to the polling booth. It reminds me, a little, of the Ewan McColl song..."Make sure you come from Oxford/With a good degree/And then you may, with yer accent smooth/Persuade the shiftless workers to the polling booth". No more persuasion, these days. Get in there or else!

But this is missing the point. In my experience the biggest group of declared nonvoters are those who claim it's pointless, or that no-one represents them. And perhaps even more importantly, there is a far bigger group of..what? How do we characterise those who vote for a party simply because the others are marginally more emetic? Malvoters, perhaps. Their choice is clearly not directed at the best option, but merely at any option that is not intolerably appalling.

The problem, then, is one of supply, not demand. The same PR liars, fingerwaggers, superlawyers, and professional extremists make up the intake to politics. The old associational, trade union and industrialist routes are long gone. No wonder that politics looks like a row between several corporate lawyers and their wives/husbands about who can better express their loathing of poor people without saying anything obviously fascist, and policy (which involves facts) is marginalised.

My answer? I can't think of anything worse (in this connection) than compulsory voting. I would rather pay the fine, or better, defend my nonvoting in the courts. Just look at the fuckers.

I suggest, instead, that it must become the duty of every citizen to stand for election at least once. I can recommend it as a real reconnection with society. There! It's good for you! It can even be fun. And, most crucially, the flood of women and men doing their public duty will dilute the poison of a sick party structure down to a tolerable level. Now, if there was also electoral reform...who knows what might happen?

Surprise, Feith, and the levels of analysis

Apparently, Douglas Feith wanted to bomb targets in South America, or perhaps South-East Asia immediately after the 11th September 2001 raids "because it would surprise the terrorists". Following the link you can find much snark as to alternative options that would achieve the aim of surprising the terrorists. It seems intuitively bizarre that anyone would think of such a thing, although there could perhaps have been basis to it.

Why? Well, taking an enemy by surprise always seems like a good thing. The problem is, though, that it's not always that useful. Surely, bombing northern Argentina would have astonished Osama bin Laden. Would it have helped nail him? No. The answer lies in what are called the levels of analysis. To understand wars, four of these are used. The tactical level deals with the direct, immediate confrontation of small units of soldiers, and scales up to formations of them - these days, up to brigade strength. At the tactical level, we are talking about fighting. In the second world war, from a British perspective, this covers everything from Private Snodgrass advancing straight to his front, in Wavell's words, and also in Wavell's words, that he should move like a mixture of a gangster, a catburglar and a poacher, up to the 7th Armoured Brigade commander in his tank turret.

Next is the operational level. This covers the manoeuvres of bigger forces over bigger areas, but it's still about trying to beat the other bastards in a direct struggle. At this level, we are talking about battles. It's sometimes called grand tactics, but mostly the same terms are used that the Germans of von Moltke's staff introduces - because they conceptualised the thing. Using the same Brit-o-scope, the 8th Army HQ handles it, or Slim's command at Imphal.

Higher is the strategic level. This is about trying to win in whole theatres of war, with consequences of national scale. We are talking campaigns of many battles here. Montgomery and Admiral Ramsay putting together the Normandy invasion. And above this is the fourth, the grand strategic level. This is where the political leadership, with the top general staff, decide whether there should be a war at all and who with. Churchill and Alanbrooke negotiating with the Yanks and Stalin.

Now, how much does surprise matter? Well, at the tactical level it is decisive. The reason being that the effect on individuals matters most there. If only a few people, or a few dozen people, are scared, confused and disorientated enough at the right moment, that might be enough. At the operational level, surprise counts for a lot still, but the people who need surprising are the opposing generals. It's not enough to get over the front line - the deep battle will count. At the strategic level, it matters for something (because if the tactics really go wrong, the strategy is irrelevant), but not that much - there is a lot more fighting after the surprise.

And at the grand-strategic level, it's barely meaningful. You ask Hitler, or Hirohito. Surprising the Soviet Union - which the Germans should never have been able to do given the clues the KGB had - was hugely useful tactically and operationally, and at Kiev strategically. But it couldn't finish the job.

So what does this all mean? In so far as the idea of bombing the tri-border area between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meant anything, it was to deal with dodgy businesses in this debatable land. But the point of these zones, much loved by terrorists and criminals as they are, is not to locate anything physical there - it's to evade clear jurisdiction. It's not camps, it's addresses on pieces of paper and in WHOIS databases. It would have been a strategic surprise to al-Qa'ida, in so far as they had money or interests there - but it would also have been disconnected from any other activity of theirs. And strategic surprise is of little value - they would have run away, as they did from the botched intervention in Afghanistan. That the enemy came for them there would be uninteresting. The enemy is coming anyway, speaking grand-strategically, and to a lesser degree, the more the enemy goes there the less they go elsewhere. Strategically, other fronts will benefit, and on the operational and tactical levels, well, terrorists and revolutionaries' profession is readiness to flee.

(In a sidelight, the Pentagon seems to have a weird mixture of clue and utter stupidity on terrorism. At once, they realise the reality of open-source warfare, the exchange of ideas and symbiosis between rebels and the illicit economy, but are also convinced that all nonstate actors are really the tools of some demon-state and that there is little difference between groups.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Obligatory Total Surveillance Links

Qwest wouldn't give the NSA all their call data records, and neither would T-Mobile USA. The why, from ThinkProgress: the fine in the event of successful legal action would be $1000 per violation, and with a multi-terabyte database of records, each one a few bytes, that's a lot of money even to a monster telco. Qwest has 14 million subscribers or thereabouts - even if they just made one call each, that would be a downside risk of $14 billion, or twice that if they called fellow-subscribers.

Assuming realistic usage figures, it's not so much "a billion here and a billion there and soon you're talking real money" as "a hundred billion here and there and soon you're talking all the money in the world." That doesn't explain the others' decision to cave, though.

Defense Tech has two interesting social-network diagrams, one from a large company, one from Al-Qaida. Can you tell which one is which? Key implication: putting more data into a stupid analysis process probably has negative returns.

Nick Cohen

I don't usually engage with the "decent left"/"pro-war left"/whatever gabble, but this is ridiculous. Sadly, the Evening Standard's web presence is still too impossibly dire to link to, so this has had to wait.

Kelly said she wouldn't change the way social housing was allocated in response to the success of the BNP in using anger about immigrants jumping the queue. It's not a great idea to surrender ground to neo-Nazis, but she is going to come under pressure to change her mind from good people on the Left who have realised that giving priority to immigrants fosters racism, while giving priority to single mothers provides a perverse incentive to single motherhood and the poverty it brings.

Nick Cohen, 10/05/06.

I've got a little list, of single mothers who get pregnant just to jump the housing list..

Peter Lilley, Conservative Party conference, 1995 (I think).

Can you spot the difference? Whatever becomes of you, it's your fault. Poverty is a question of morals. The mob must be punished to make them better people. It's all the fault of the women. You'll thank me.

What I would love to know is why thinking that it was right to invade Iraq requires becoming a rather unusually stupid junior minister from the Thatcher government in about 1985 on all other issues, at the same time as arguing that you really, really are the deep heart of the revolution.

Friday, May 12, 2006

99 Tonnes of Guns

Were purchased from leftover Bosnian war stocks for the Iraqi security forces by U.S. agents in BiH, and flown out of the country by Aerocom in four runs with the Ilyushin 76 ER-IBV, serial no. 3423699. But where they were delivered remains a mystery, and it is feared that the weapons actually went to the insurgents.

This all took place in August, 2004, immediately after Aerocom's Moldovan AOC was revoked and the Antonov-26 ER-AFH was seized in Belize for cocaine smuggling. Now, several people have suggested to me that weapons might be reaching Iraqi insurgents directly through Baghdad Airport. Carlos for one, and "Minnesota" in the comments. I was sceptical of this - surely not?

Yet the foundation of the story seems solid.
Although the altered MoFTER documentation cites "Coalition forces in Iraq" as the official end-users in five shipments of arms to Iraq, the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq, MNSTC-I, the coalition force responsible for training the new Iraqi security forces, and their commanding US General have claimed "not to have …received any weapons from Bosnia" and say they are "not aware of any [arms] purchases for Iraq from Bosnia"
Now, you might wonder how such a thing could have happened. But what with the security at Baghdad Airport being the work of the now-notoriously corrupt and hopeless CusterBattles, and Iraq running alive with fake's not impossible that someone just turned up with lorries, men in uniforms and vaguely official documents and drove off with a load of guns.

The MCC- (=Aerocom) flight numbers apparently never appeared in the requests for landing slots sent to the CENTCOM Air Component's Regional Air Movements Control Centre, but it's worth remembering that ER-IBV was technically under a lease from Jet Line International to Aerocom, so it quite possibly switched numbers en route - I certainly remember Jet Line International flight numbers on the Sharjah-Baghdad route at the time. According to the report, quoting the RAMCC manager, the only Aerocom callsign was an Antonov 12 based in Kuwait (probably working for KBR - note that the job was transferred from Aerocom to JLI in November, 2004).

Well, if you don't count this Antonov 24 in Baghdad, that was true. The whole deal was set up through a bizarre menagerie of hustlers, dealers, brokers, middlemen and general parasites including Kurdish militiamen, Israeli arms dealers, Swiss arms dealers and a British company of almost certain bogusness, and the possibility that one party to the deal got a better offer and double-crossed the coalition cannot be ruled out.

Alternatively, they got an offer they couldn't refuse, in the classic phrase. Which is what happened to Dale Stoeffel, who bizarrely had a contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence to export surplus Iraqi arms until he was assassinated near Taji north of Baghdad after inquiring into the diversion of funds to a Lebanese middleman. His own gig had been signed off three days before the Aerocom flights began
On December 8, 2005, Stoeffel went to Taji military base outside Baghdad to examine stockpiled Iraqi weaponry and equipment. Taji is believed to have been one of the sites where newly-arrived equipment supplied by US contractors was also stored. On his return trip from the base to Baghdad Stoeffel was ambushed by a previously unheard of group describing themselves as the "Brigades of Islamic Jihad". Following his murder, Wye Oak Technologies lost their contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and with it the right to sell Iraqi military surpluses.

What happened to Iraq’s surplus, and whether any of it was diverted, or sold abroad, is unknown. United Nations customs data indicates that a quantity of armoured vehicles valued at US$752,854 was exported from Iraq to Uganda in 2004 at a time when the United Nations reports criticised Ugandan political and military authorities of assisting armed groups in the Ituri district of the DRC.
You may recall that, back in January, 2005, I reported this:
And, further afield, it is reported that mysterious Antonov-12s are visiting Old Entebbe airfield in Uganda enroute from the eastern Congo to Dubai. This airfield is currently used by the Ugandan armed forces and the UN. Apparently, the flights were not authorised, but the army liaison officer (Captain Kazungu) at the airport got $300 for each movement not reported to the Ugandan CAA. The Ugandan military denies everything. The goings-on came to light after an An12 crashed, killing six Russian flyers. The list of names makes interesting reading - Air Service and Service Air are there, as are Volga-Atlantic and Showa. In the past, such flights to or from the Ugandan army in the Congo were routed via Kigali to provide plausible deniability..
There's something incredible about a war zone that actually exports guns. And interestingly, there were also flights, operated by Aerocom/JLI with Ilyushin-76 aircraft, that left Tuzla heading for Rwanda later that year with suspicious cargo.

Update: Regarding Stoeffel, I suppose it could just about have been justified that Iraq was disposing of equipment, if the train-and-equip programme had been set up to replace all their stuff - and it's not as if extravagance was unusual at the time. But I wonder if he discovered that the weapons he was exporting for the Iraqi government's account were the same ones imported from Bosnia with coalition funds?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

ID Cards Will Make Us Safer

Of course they will!

Major Chip'n'Pin securifart. It's essentially the exploit described by Prof. Ross Anderson of the Cambridge Computer Lab, as described on his cracking blog (in both senses of cracking) - thieves have converted some point-of-sale terminals to collect the data from the cards' magnetic strips, then made new cards. They can only be used if the chip is not checked, as there is no chip, but this does not appear to have been a problem.

Interesting sidelight: British cards, unlike (I think) the original'n'best French system, do online authorisation but local authentication. That is, the PIN is recorded on the card, just like your bank tells you not to, but the payment authorisation is done by the bank's server over the wires. This obviously means that it's not true two-factor verification as the PIN is actually on the card.

Why is this? Well, let us summon the shade of Galbraith. Are you in there, John?


Bastards, I've just got here and you're wanting my advice. Go away!

There's a dry martini in it for you, Professor.

All right then. If the authorisation was local, the bank would risk someone buying thousands of dollars' worth of gold and welshing. So it has to be immediate. I remember, when the first credit cards appeared, Diners Club struggled for years with it - once at the Hanover Inn, I was having the first of the day with Pierre Salinger and they..

Get to the point, can't you? Damn, I see how you wrote so many books now..

But if the authentication fails, it's the customer whose money is gone. And the bank wants the transactions to keep going, even if the authorisation is down. You see

Thanks, ghostly economist!

Where's my martini? Ungrateful swine. Why, it's enough to make one wish for death..

Right, enough with the seance. If the authorisation buggers up in such a way as to authorise stuff that shouldn't be, it's the bank's responsibility - if the PIN is lost, it's the customer's, and indeed the banks tried for years to deny it could be stolen.

Galbraith and the Core/Gap

One of the many events I should have blogged but didn't over the last week or so, due to a combination of elections and unusually short deadlines, was the death of John Kenneth Galbraith. In memoriam, I'm rereading his book on the 1929 Wall Street crash, The Great Crash. It will probably surprise no-one that I come down on the "god-like genius" side of what seems a Manichean division of opinion about him.

Some thoughts.. First of all, one of the routine critiques of JKG is that he lacked "rigour", which in economics is identified not so much with quantitative methods as specifically with intermediate analysis or "microfoundations". For non-economists, also known as normal people, these are the juicy bits that explain each step in the process that makes your theory work and are usually left out of explanations intended for non-economists. Although important (after all, the jump from correlation to causation depends on an intermediate mechanism), they often demonstrate diminishing informational returns from quite early in the day. Not coincidentally, as well as being the marker of academic respectability, they also tend to be the least simple to understand.

I don't think JKG was especially interested, having attained the land of tenure, in the admiration of the profession. The reason why his books are worth reading is that they weren't written for professional economists. What he was more interested in was what might be termed a critical theory of capitalism, a way of seeing the economy that gave more place to how the people in it behaved. His distinctive contribution will probably be in the economics of bureaucracy, public and private. Time is said not to have been kind to his`work on alternative models of the firm and The New Industrial State, but I have my doubts.

Certainly, the idea that the decision-making processes of big organisations (in Galbraith's shorthand, the technostructure) were not dissimilar whether those organisations were publicly or privately owned and would have an influence on the economy that grew compared to that of capital might seem to have suffered since the 1960s. That was, at least as a stylised fact, an era of big government, big firms, and big plans. Conventionally, it is assumed that the instability of the 1970s and the conservative turn of the 1980s reversed this trend in a blast of classical competition, as financial deregulation reasserted the power of shareholders.

Well, perhaps. It's hard, though, to see that Microsoft shareholders are exerting much commercial control over the decisions made in Redmond, or that an average Vodafone shareholder is even aware of the terms of roaming agreements, the ETSI standards committees, or the ITSUG patent pool. In a sense, a new wave of firms appeared, grew, and as they grew they took on the Galbraithian characteristics of technocracy. Another post-New Industrial State trend that was justified on anti-Galbraithian grounds was skyrocketing remuneration of top management, notably through the use of share options. This was meant to reconnect ownership and control, but it can just as well be read as the techno-bureaucratic elite managing things for their own benefit.

Another counter-trend has been the effort to make the State's bureaucracies more like private-sector bureaucracies through quasi-marketisation, PFI/PPP, management by targets, and the use of consultants. (There is a small classic to be written about the consultant phenomenon. The divorce of ownership and control has been well-understood almost since Marx, but the recent explosion of consultants represents a further subdelegation of control by the controllers themselves.) At the same time, some types of private organisation have been encouraged to take on state functions, and will no doubt become more statelike as a result.

Interestingly, as they were whipped out of economics like redheaded stepchildren, much of Galbraith's legacy has been welcomed into the security/strategic studies/"defence intellectual" sphere, travelling on a false passport. One of the implications of the technostructure was that it likes a stable environment in order to pursue its goals of institutional growth and technical virtuosity. Hence such phenomena as oligopolistic price stability. Another implication of a multinational technostructure - and the technostructure is nothing if not multinational - is that external political stability is as important as internal economic stability. Galbraith, famously, pointed out that this could be a means of redirecting US/Soviet competition into peaceful activity, and he advised President Kennedy that the space race offered such an opportunity.

Looking at current ideas such as Thomas P.M. Barnett's Core and Gap, John Robb's systems-of-systems, Geir Lundestad's description of the EU and NATO as an empire by invitation, and the "democratic peace", there's quite a strong analogy with the NIS. An integrated, transnational technostructure would not tolerate war or serious political trouble within itself, and would have a common interest in mutual protection. It might even take a benevolent view of those outside it. It would likely be rather dull within, but then, that's what big technical bureaucracies are like.

(Note: My own business, telecommunications, displays the Galbraithian tendencies to excess, which probably influences me. It's not really capitalism, more a planned economy run by an engineer-bureaucratic complex with some competitive areas.)

Update, 08/05/06 1800BST: Our Word is Our Weapon says it better than I can:
Sometimes John Kenneth Galbraith’s writing reminds me more of Joseph Heller than anyone else. He was the closest thing to a satirist economics had (something it badly needed, and still does). I like to think one of his main legacies, like Jane Jacobs who went the same way only a few days ago, will be to have demonstrated the importance of mischief in any form of social science.

King of Referrers

At 2022 CET, 5th May, was in the house, googling for "east-west cargo sharjah". They read this post. One of the best ones here, I think.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Chainsaw Reshuffle

What a reshuffle it was, too. Despite all the pre-election expectations management (it'll only be serious if it's a loss of 400), it looks like the local elections really perturbed Blair's systems. Take a look. So, after all the stand-by-your-man stuff, it's the Angolan option after all, as Alan Clark would have put it.

The safety elephant is meat for the poor, at last. Although I'd quite like some of the ivory. Despite my own Home Office elimination plan seeming to get quite a bit of traction lately - I've seen several national newspaper leaders, plus Ming Campbell and even "sources close to" New Labour suggesting it wants breaking up - the institution survives, for now. DefSec John Reid moves over, continuing a career marked by incredibly short tenures.

Justin of Chicken Yoghurt fame thinks this is the end of the world, but I'm actually rather encouraged. At the MOD, Reid actually changed his policy in response to criticism more than once. I doubt it's possible at the Home Office, but it's worth a try. More cynically, I wonder whether he'll stay more than six months? From here, he can realistically go either to No.11, No.10, or obscurity. We shall see.

It's the rest that are weird. Margaret Beckett to be Foreign Secretary? One of the very few of them I have any residual respect for, but this is weird. Jack Straw as leader of the House? Geoff Hoon as minister for Europe? That's simply sick. (Has anyone else noticed his ever-sinking status? That's not even a real cabinet post.) What's very marked is that Gordon Brown's men are showing up everywhere. Douglas Alexander into the cabinet, Des Browne to Defence, Darling to DTI, Alan Johnson to Education. With the exception of the Balkanised ODPM, now chopped into bite-size chunks, there aren't really any Blairites left.

And John Prescott's political castration is painfully symbolic. He stays as DPM but has his department lopped off.

Runnymede Report Back

Well, after almost a full fortnight of semi-frantic canvassing and leaflet dropping around the streets of Englefield Green East, that's it. I was not elected to the council. No surprises there. I polled some 282 votes, compared to 165 for the Lib Dems last time out. The two Tory candidates got in with 591 and 471 respectively, so I might have gained 100 out of the 300 I needed to flip. Despite a rocky moment watching the tally sheets, when one of them seemed to show the Monster Raving Loony candidate doing well, I suppose it was respectable.

At least I beat UKIP soundly. Worryingly, a lot of people split the ticket: some people even managed to vote for me and the UKIP candidate, which is...odd. One person took the time to write in block caps WHO ARE YOU ALL? in the boxes on their ballot paper. I asked the presiding officer if I could frame that one, but apparently it's against the law.

What have I learned, if anything? (Apart from not volunteering, something I've been taught again and again. Well...signs of large-scale DIY are correlated with Liberal voting. Dogs are nonpartisan. Nasty plastic ornamentation is Tory, as are Arts & Crafts Movement haciendas, although that's hardly news. And old-fashioned, filthy dirty doorstep politics works.

I've also gained a knowledge of the place's urban space I haven't in six years, not to mention knowing where Britain's rudest man lives.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Climax of Stupidity

That's it. It's done. The most stupid remark possible. The Sistine Chapel of stupidity.
Of course, if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet, dictators would be broke, and poor nations would benefit from cheap energy. But we'd be called imperialist oppressors, then.

From here on we can only get cleverer.

Update: Whoops, I called top too soon. Consider Dr. Henry Jordan, candidate for the Lieutenant-Governorship of South Carolina.
"I think everything ought to be taught ... and let people decide for themselves. There is no science to support trans-species changes, in other words, a monkey becoming a man," the Republican said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press.

"A bunch of amoebas didn't get together and design all this," Jordan said, referring to the human body. "We'd be operating on people ... looking at their hearts, their liver and their lungs, I'd tell the techs, 'Can you believe those little amoebas figured all this out?'

"I mean you've got to be stupid to believe in evolution, I mean really," he said.
My mind burns! The defensive rationalisations do nothing, nothing I tell you! What is most worrying is that, in between bouts of deranged demagoguery, he practices general surgery.

If I am ever taken ill in South Carolina, please do not call an ambulance. Instead, conceal whatever horror has befallen my carcass by whatever means you find necessary to keep the BA check-in staff from freaking out too badly and ship me back to the UK. I'll take the risk of expiring before flopping into the Heathrow port health authorities' arms over treatment by amoeba boy. Failing that, make it quick.

Some Typo

"My family was advised that his deportation to Jamaica could be a typo which is indicative of the mistakes made on my brother's case."

So where would he have been deported to but for the typo? Jamaida? Bamaica?

Chile, naturally. The Home Office, a credit to the British government for sheer efficiency.

Killed By Death

I was amused to see in this weekend's Indy that a British financial advisor has got himself into trouble by selling his clients securities issued by a US firm specialising in death futures, properly called viatical investments. His situation doesn't look good, as he seems to have told his clients that 20 per cent of their cash was going in that firm when in reality he'd bet the farm, 100 per cent, on it. Now it's gone bust, his clients have lost thousands, and he's being sued.

The problem was both superficial, and fundamental. Superficially, the firm he invested in should have been treated with extreme caution, as it was involved in a variety of regulatory investigations and its founder and CEO was a convicted fraudster. Whether his motives were entirely honest must be questioned. Fundamentally, though, the underlying investments have a serious problem.

In the late 80s/early 90s, the wave of Americans being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS led to a new phenomenon in finance. This was a sizable group of people, often with considerable assets, who knew with as good as total certainty that they would die before being able to realise on life insurance. The viatical market emerged as a result. Essentially, the AIDS patient would sell their life insurance in exchange for an annuity. On their death, the buyer would collect the payout. Both sides should have been, if probably not happy, then at least satisfied with their financial arrangements.

This may seem ghoulish, but (as I seem to recall someone saying in a discussion at Crooked Timber) it did prevent a large number of AIDS sufferers ending up on the streets.

The next trick was to securitise the expected stream of policy payouts. As in any other securitisation, tradable contracts giving the bearer the right to some fraction of the money were sold to private investors. These are the famous death futures. The issuing party would then be able to invest the proceeds in something that would generate an income to pay the annuities. Clever, huh? Only one thing could go wrong...what would happen if the people unaccountably failed to die? The investors essentially hold a short position in their survival, an unhedged one to boot.

In 1996, the protease inhibitor drugs were discovered, and quite suddenly (oddly enough, the same year death futures became tax-deductible) the people stopped dying. With the antiretrovirals keeping the virus in check, their life-expectancy went up, their health improved, and quite a lot of them went back to work. But the viaticals business is committed to pay an annuity for life. Oh dear!

That's interesting enough. What struck me about the story was that there's a cracking movie in this, and the locale only makes it more so. The British angle played out, you see, among rich British expatriates around Marbella, which is practically a codeword for "gangster". We have the patsy, the nerdish IFA who put Vicious Vince's ill-gotten gains in death futures. Now, he's facing a pair of concrete boots. The obvious answer is to make good and sure those investments get on with it and kick the bucket.

Of course, the authorities (perhaps represented by a comically thick British plod sent to seek Vince's extradition) get it wrong and suspect Vince. Only the Spanish female detective sees through it, but her involvement with the killer, liberated from nerd-dom by transgression, gets in the way.

I've already got a working title...

Wired Magazine

For a magazine that prides itself on being at The Cutting Edge
, that even named itself after the Internet before 90% of the population knew there was an internet, Wired seems to break its HTML a lot.

(Note - something like normal TYR and AFOE service should be restored after the election.)

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