Sunday, October 28, 2007

Pathetic Python Blogging: SQL Bug?

I have a curious problem with Python 2.5's SQL support. OK, so we import sqlite3 and create a connection object to an existing sql file. It happens. Then we call the connection's cursor method. OK.

Now, if you look up the sqlite documentation, the most important command is cursor.execute(), where your SQL command goes in the brackets as a triple-quoted multiline statement. Having done your SELECT FROM or whatever, you get back a result set object which you can either fetch bits from with the cursor's fetch() method or iterate through in a loop of some kind.

But I can't find any documentation for the case when you get back an AttributeError saying that the method cursor doesn't have an attribute called 'execute'. WTF? Can anyone explain this?

Bonus Pathetic: Offtopic, I was recently looking something up on the mod_python documentation site when I noticed a GoogleAd eyeing me - "Hacking All Day Won't Get You A Girlfriend! Don't Let Time Pass -" and then the URL of a dating agency. Made me laugh, at least.

Update: Woo. Incredibly pathetic error...

Now for some real rugby

Great Britain 20 New Zealand 14!

Well, at least they didn't schedule it to clash with whatever it was the union people were doing. What a match, though - like inhaling espresso compared to the 'tothersiders. It had it all - tension! speed! spectacle! Sam Burgess, the 18-year old bolter, had a damn good game and eventually scored a crash-over try charging onto a pop up from Leon Pryce....but also very nearly did an Adrian Morley, being put on report for a sickening neck tackle immediately before scoring.

Speaking of Adrian Morley, he had a storming game. As did Sean O'Loughlin, standing in for Kevin Sinfield. And Gareth Raynor, who scored a positively illegal try, racing 50 yards to touch down a kick from Rob Burrow under the Kiwi fullback's fingers. In fact, GB rather reminded me of the sort of New Zealand team I remember; bloody good, if in a sort of chaotic way.

58,000 AKs in a Nottingham basement?

What was a small British company doing importing vast quantities of arms from Bosnia? More importantly, what was it doing telling lies about their destination in order to clear Bosnian customs? What was it doing contracting with Tomislav Damjanovic, possibly Viktor Bout, and disgraced Iraqi minister Ziad Cattan to ship them to Iraq when the Bosnian government export licence stated specifically that they would be shipped to the UK?

TYR has obtained some interesting documents through a NATO source that shed light on these fascinating questions. Everyone's now heard of the famous 99 tonnes of AKs that were exported from Bosnia aboard Aerocom and Jet Line International Ilyushin 76 aircraft towards Iraq, but which apparently never arrived in the Iraqi army's arsenal. But there was much more activity in the arms export business from the former Yugoslavia back then; for instance, Damjanovic was also in on a KBR-managed contract to ship weapons from Bosnia to the US Army training team in Georgia, and so was Viktor Bout, as the weapons travelled in GST Aero's Il-76 UN-76009.

Here's the first document; a company based in Nottingham, Procurement Management Services Ltd, whose registration at Companies House describes it as offering business consultancy and warehousing (note that point), is the consignee, and the consignor is a local company called Unis Promex. Note that the licence is issued specifically for export to the UK. Despite the consultancy, the same address is also home to a registered gun dealer, and next door is a company dealing in "militaria".

Here's the end-user certificate; it specifically states that the weapons - 300 SGM-84 machine guns - are for sale to dealers in the UK and will not be re-exported in defiance of international sanctions or without the UK government's express permission. But what dealers? Selling any such weapon in Britain would be highly illegal, to say the least. Realistically, the only reason to import Bosnian machine guns to the UK would be to re-export them.

But why, pray, does the document issued by PMS come from the fax number of York Guns Ltd? And why does this very respectable company also show up importing no less than 22,500 rifles on this further end-user cert? Between PMS and York Guns, no less than 58,000 rifles and several thousand heavier weapons were shipped out of Bosnia with an ostensible destination in the East Midlands.

Meanwhile, what happened to that shipment? Well, they never went anywhere near Nottinghamshire. Here is the air waybill, issued by Vega Aviation of Bulgaria - it clearly states that the aircraft carrying the shipment is to route direct from Tuzla to Baghdad, and the goods are for the account of Dr Ziad Cattan, Ministry of Defence, Republic of Iraq. He is the former pizzeria owner who spent a year acting as the professional head of the Ministry and then went back into exile, having been accused of embezzling the entire defence budget by his successor Ali Allawi.

TYR can reveal that some of the guns did indeed make it to Britain; perhaps a large percentage of the total. The 300 M84 machine guns detailed in the PMS documents were shipped, as detailed on the waybill, direct from Bosnia to Iraq in defiance of the end-user certificate; but much more may have passed through British hands. After all, some 7,639 pallets of "surplus weapons" also left Bosnia for PMS, travelling via the port of Ploce and the ship Sloman Traveller to Immingham docks in Lincolnshire.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fascinating Report out on Viktor Bout & Co

The International Herald-Tribune has an interesting article about a Serbian gun-runner and colleague of Viktor Bout's, one Tomislav Damjanovic. For some reason it's in the Style section; most photos of Viktor would seem to rule that out, but the one of Damjanovic they supply does have a certain Balkan sharpness.

Anyway, the report is based on one prepared by the Belgrade-based South-Eastern European Small Arms Centre, which according to the IHT has been distributed among customs, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies. You'll be pleased to know someone left a link to it in the comments; you can read it here (pdf).

Between them, they fill in a lot of gaps.

Fascinatingly, the SEESAC report tells us something about the development of the UAE's arms-aviation black market; Damjanovic was present at the creation, so to speak, having been based there working for JAT when the Balkan wars broke out and then falling in with a group of Russian ex-spooks around one Igor Avdeev. This lot, it turns out, were the creators of Jet Line International; and haven't we heard so much about them?

Damjanovic, having lost his job with JAT after the outbreak of war, specialised in running Jet Line's Ilyushin 76 flights into ex-Yugoslavia, and soon drew the attention of the Milosevic government, for whom he smuggled cigarettes to Italy in order to pay for the arms he was importing, and then smuggled surplus arms out of Yugoslavia to pay for almost anything else. His partner was killed in a plane crash with a load of jet fighter parts for Libya after offering the crew a cash bonus to fly despite electrical problems on the plane.

Since 2003, however, he became something like the missing link in the Bout-in-Iraq story; it was Damjanovic who took on US military contracts to acquire arms in the Balkans and send them to Iraq, and some other places too. The now-infamous 99 tonnes of weapons that went missing between Tuzla and Baghdad? One of his jobs. Using various companies, including JLI, Aerocom, and Kosmas Air, he became a big player in War on Terror freight, including a contract to deliver cash (!) around Iraq. Kosmas Air, a Russian operator, was essentially taken over; he and his moved into the offices and muscled in, rather as the Viktor Bout team did with Deirdre Ward's Norse Air in South Africa back in 1998.

Interestingly, the opportunities went beyond Iraq; an aircraft he chartered from GST Aero (them!) travelled from Baghdad via Sharjah to Oman, where it ostensibly "refuelled", and then proceeded to be the famous first plane into Mogadishu. There was more, though; he was also flying guns from Bulgaria to Georgia under a US Army/KBR contract, using GST Aero's UN-76009.

He is apparently now under pressure from the Serbian government to stop, and claims he's going legit; we shall see.

The report also offers some interesting incidental data; a photo of an illegal arms delivery in progress in the Sudan in 2006, clearly showing Goliaf Air of Sao Tome's Antonov 32 registered S9-PSV. Goliaf Air, you may recall, owned an Ilyushin 76, S9-DAE that was used in Iraq.

This Should Not Happen

So what's in the server log? Shall we look? [entrypoint #437] 2007/10/october-08-and-out.html Oct 22, 12:07:51 [0:00:00] views: 1
Yahoo ! (where to apply for the assistance to iraqi locally engaged staff)

Yes; you read it all right. That's someone searching Yahoo! for instructions on what to do if you worked for the British Army in Iraq.

Hopefully it's a blogger researching a post, right? Or an MP preparing to speak on our Early Day Motion? Surely?

No. Here's the WHOIS output.

inetnum: -
netname: SA-HSS-20031117
descr: Horizon Satellite Services FZ LLC
descr: PROVIDER Local Registry
country: AE
admin-c: MS3339-RIPE
tech-c: MA2056-RIPE
mnt-lower: HSS-MNT
mnt-routes: HSS-MNT
source: RIPE # Filtered

organisation: ORG-HSSF1-RIPE
org-name: Horizon Satellite Services FZ LLC
org-type: LIR
address: P.O.Box 502343,Building No.14
address: n.a.
address: Dubai Internet City
address: United Arab Emirates
phone: +971 4 391 5122
fax-no: +971 4 391 2906
admin-c: NOC23-RIPE
admin-c: MA2056-RIPE
admin-c: MS3339-RIPE
mnt-ref: HSS-MNT
mnt-ref: RIPE-NCC-HM-MNT
source: RIPE # Filtered

So, whoever searched for that string was on a satellite link into a Dubai-based satellite operator. A traceroute confirms it; the tell-tale is the very high latency on the last hop via the distant satellite. Horizon's business is centred in the Middle East and Africa.

And what did Yahoo! - it seems rather inappropriate - find? I'm the top result; there is absolutely nothing of any use. There are some delightful press releases from the White House about how well things are going in Iraq, though.

It would be nice if the government showed any sense of urgency about the whole affair, would it not?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Let's lay this one to rest

Says Iranian foreign minister Manoucher Mottaki:
"America, today, in the international system is facing a serious challenge ... Americans are in a very, very difficult situation.

"The people of Afghanistan would not allow America to use Afghanistan against any country. This is our ... belief," he said.

Mottaki said Tehran's findings from three rounds of talks with U.S. officials on the situation in Iraq was that Washington was facing "very serious" difficulties there.

Washington has no exit strategy from Iraq and is bogged down in the conflict there. He said the U.S. had not managed to deliver on its promises to the Afghan people either.

"Therefore, we do not see such a probability that the Americans would want to attack ... another country in the region. They are not in such a position."

You can't fault the guy for clarity. Or realism. Let's cut to the carrierwatch, shall we? Here we are; Enterprise is on station, the only US carrier currently deployed. Hardly the Guns of August. The others? Kitty Hawk is back in Yokosuka; Ronald Reagan in San Diego catching up on her interrupted maintenance schedule. Washington is gradually working-up, having done her sea trials at the end of August. Lincoln's most recent task was Fleet Week in San Diego. Washington is doing a similarly steady return from dockyard hands. Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt are in deep refit. John C. Stennis has joined them, having returned from her short-notice deployment and gone straight into drydock. Nimitz is in Pearl Harbour after a long and slow return trip.

Harry Truman is probably the highest-readiness ship, having already done a COMPTUEX and a JTFEX over the summer; however, she's currently employed doing carrier qualifications off the mid-Atlantic coast. Washington returned as late as the end of May.

So, yes - Mottaki is quite right. Enough for the description of things as they are, though; what about things as they should be? Daniel Levy, writing in Ha'aretz, is sensible. He points out that the US and Israeli strategy towards Iran is hopelessly confused; the aim is left open between regime change and nonproliferation. The chief motivation for investing in nuclear technology is to prevent regime change, but no-one is willing to offer the regime security in return for nonproliferation; so why would they stop proliferatin'? And if they don't stop, where is your regime change then?

This is pretty basic international relations theory; it's all about people, states, and fear. States invest in fearsome weapons because they believe that the fear of them increases their security (i.e. reduces their own fear); if you want them to abstain from these weapons, you need to offer a substitute form of insurance. In the Cold War this was thought of in terms of a combination of deterrence and reassurance; one version of reassurance being "self-deterrence", making it clear that you yourself recognised the principle of non-provocation that you expected the other side to observe.

The Americans have frequently tried versions of this with Israel; trying to buy territorial concessions with substitute deliveries of weapons. So far as it goes, there is quite a lot to be said for this; it's better that Israel should look to its wooden walls, or rather its aluminium walls, for security than that it should try to grab more and more territory as a static defence, which increases the chance it will need all those jets. The problem is that they never get to the flipside of this, which is that US military aid should come with conditions. The result is an unhealthy dependence of the Israelis on the Americans, and an American inability to insist on Israeli moderation for fear of weakening them. It's a ratchet; the more people the Israelis alienate, the more arms they need to deal with the worst case scenario consequences. And the more arms they get, the more able the forward school in Israeli politics is to alienate more people.

Anyway, Levy proposes a twin-track diplomacy based precisely on these principles; one track would concern non-proliferation, the other a broad security agreement dealing with the entire perimeter around Iran. Essentially, each track addresses one party's fears. This is roughly what the Baker -Hamilton commission recommended. Levy's original contribution, however, is that the Israelis should press the Americans to open such talks. I think it's an excellent idea, and Olmert is probably scared enough about his political future to be receptive.

The moment is also good; the British army's move back in southern Iraq, as well as the relaxation in US naval operations, are all helpful in reducing the degree of fear.

Meanwhile, we have an amusing study in outdated thinking. Via Yglesias, a thinktank suggestion that "an Islamic Republic accountable to its citizens would not divert billions into uranium enrichment and ballistic missiles"; so, of course, we've got to fight them because of the corruption/malinvestment/whatever. This is silly, but it was very common in 2003-2005; such and such a country's government was corrupt, and the oil (or whatever) money was being wasted, so call forward the Marines! It goes without saying that this sort of thing is fear-generating, in so far as anyone takes it at all seriously.

It's especially stupid, because we know what Iranians do when they believe their government to be corrupt; they change it. That was how Khatami got elected; it was also how Ahmadinejad got elected. And that was also how the revolution got started.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Posting to say I'm posting under Linux

I is a linux least for the time being!

Am running Mandriva Linux on the Q45; off the live cd at the moment.

I can report that the boot is reasonably painless, although I had to put it in acpi=off mode. It detected the Intel wireless LAN card without difficulty and played nicely with my Linksys box. And, fuck me, this is QUICK! I chose the KDE version and the Metisse 3D desktop, which is pretty graphics intensive...but it's still rapid.

And I could get used to working in three windows at once...perhaps.

Update: Installed, and it works! Not only that, but I can see my Windows drive from in here and get stuff out of it. Have already installed the NTFS plugin. The install went OK, too; reasonably quick and unsporky. Better yet, I've added the shebang lines to various python thingies and they all run blisteringly fast.

Here's the proof, running in the fortified TYR data centre: i is a linux wheres my squid?

Trimming to the Taliban

What to blog about? In the face of work like this or this?

Why not Pakistan? The fix is in, as they say - Musharraf safely re-elected by crook more than by hook, pesky corruption charges disposed of, Nawaz Sharif shouldered out of the way, time for the great heroine's return. The enemy, of course, always has a vote; not only did they threaten to send suicide bombers to kill Benazir Bhutto, but they did. ("The thing about al-Qa'ida is that they tell you what they're going to do...and then they do it.")

In a gruesome way, I reckon they - whoever "they" are - have suffered a major defeat. Blowing her to pieces along with divers citizens wouldn't have been subtle, but it would have kiboshed Musharraf's exit strategy, and it would make sense in a kind of Iraqi, revolutionary terror way. Blowing up 126 random civilians and not getting her puts the perpetrators out there as both brutal and bungling, to say nothing of the martyr image propaganda she'll doubtless make out of it.

The blame game is in full swing; she claims "followers of General Zia" dunnit, which is smart because it doesn't blame any current faction in Pakistan and incorporates it in her own family myth, and is also partly true - whether it was the jihadis or the ISI, they're in a sense followers of Zia. He was responsible for encouraging them and letting the ISI do what it liked.

Meanwhile, her husband, Asif "Mr 10%" Zardari is pouring petrol on any fires he can find; in his view it's the fault of the ISI. Again, it's possible; but you don't say things like that, and I suspect that had they wanted rid of her they'd have arranged something less dramatic and more certain. However, a team of unwitting jihadi fall-guys sounds plausible. Not clear what his game is; although the whole point of Bhutto's return is to replace the military government with a military-approved anti-military government.

Political Pathetic Python; and some mystery jets

I've recently been experimenting with various ways of automatically gathering information about Viktor Bout's airlines; you've probably noticed the resumption of Pathetic Python Blogging. Anyway, though the project is far from ready, enough of it
now works to produce some useful results. For example, who the hell are "Asia Airways", who regularly fly between Sharjah and destinations in Iraq and Afghanistan - using the ICAO code ASW, which is actually the well-known US lowcost carrier Southwest Airlines? (Southwest might want to know, as if someone else is using their call sign they could find themselves paying the air traffic control charges.)

Another is the surprisingly large number of aircraft that frequent SHJ without stating where they come from or where they are going; filtering this morning's output for "route=='Unknown'" gives you a list of some 10 arrivals. Some five of which
were due to malformed data messing with my script, but the rest are correct. And the rest includes companies like Flying Dolphin (ICAO: FDN), a very longstanding Viktor Bout operation indeed and one that ought not to exist, South Airlines of the Ukraine,
a regular on the Baghdad run, and something called "Maximus Air Cargo", apparently a division of the UAE Ministry of Defence.

There's also a lot of fairly foul operators like Avient, Click (both versions), and our old friends British Gulf International. You may recall that this company had supposedly been set up in Sao Tome, before transferring to the Kyrgyz registry; a new firm was formed with the old facilities, staff and aircraft. But, we learned from a contact there, the Sao Tome firm had never existed as a company. Fascinatingly, despite this, it's back; the old BGK code has vanished and been replaced by the new one, BGI, for "British Gulf International Company" rather than "British Gulf International Airlines"

And the EX-registered Antonov 12s have all followed it back into the Sao Tome registry. Curious.

S9-SAJ An-12TB 401901 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-160 @ British Gulf Int'l AL
S9-SAM An-12BP 3341408 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-162 @ British Gulf Int'l AL
S9-SAO An-12BP 346908 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-165 @ British Gulf Int'l
S9-SAP An-12BP 5343305 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-161 @ British Gulf Int'l AL
S9-SAV An-12BP 2340602 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-045 @ British Gulf Int'l AL
S9- An-12V 1347704 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-163 @ British Gulf S9-SAH ?
S9- An-12V 5343703 British Gulf Int'l AL ex EX-164 @ British Gulf Int'l AL

Monday, October 15, 2007

The jamming signal increases its hum

The story that Israeli satellite TV viewers have been experiencing constant interference for several weeks is an interesting one. As has been pointed out, it can't be the jamming presumably employed during the Deir ez-Zor raid, which would have been over weeks ago. According to the Israeli government it's all the fault of the Germans! More specifically they claim it's the air warning radar on one of the German (or perhaps Dutch) ships in the UN task force off Lebanon. Well, perhaps. Warships have been known to do weird things with radio in the past; but it's not as if they never exercise the radars in the North Sea.

There's more detail at Flight International; specifically, it's the Amos 1 and 2 birds, located at 4 degrees West.

I wonder if it had anything to do with this story from April this year? (I'd link to my own report on it for MCI, but their website is still very ungooglable.) The summary is that the pan-Arab satellite operator Thuraya, whose satellite mobile telephony and data service is found across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa, had been experiencing serious radio interference for most of 2006.

Intensive efforts to explain it failed; management blamed Israel, but eventually, the engineers decided to have the satellite revolve slowly around its axes in orbit while they logged the strength of the interfering signal. Essentially, it was the same way they used to do radio direction-finding by hand back in the day; that is to say, the second world war. Knowing its azimuth and elevation relative to the satellite, and that it would be coming from a point on the side of the earth facing it (and thank God it wasn't coming from the reciprocal..), they were therefore able to plot the source of the signal on a globe. It was somewhere in the Libyan desert.

Two engineers flew to Libya at once and headed for the lat and long position; not very surprisingly, they were arrested by machine gun totin' secret police agents before reaching their goal. Which seemed to lurk somewhere in an antenna farm surrounded by wire and goons and cameras and the like. Case closed. Eventually, the UAE ambassador to Libya secured their release.

It turned out the Libyans were having trouble with Touareg rebels and smugglers and bandits way down south, who tend to pack a Thuraya unit next to their Kalashnikovs; after all, at least one of the groups has got a blog to look after. But this is where it gets, well, Libyan; Libya is one of the countries that jointly own the Thuraya system. They are a shareholder. But for some reason they decided just to point a big dish antenna at the satellite and start frying pigeons.

There have been reports over the summer of disruption to Thuraya and also INMARSAT BGAN satellite-IP service in the Middle East, which could well explain it. Thuraya's satellite is stationed at 44 degrees East.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Target for Tonight

Your instructions, gentlemen, based on the conclusions in this post.

* David Miliband’s Statement on ‘Iraq: Locally Recruited Civilians’ of 9th October stated that Britain will help to resettle- in the wider Middle East, or in the United Kingdom- Iraqis who can prove that they have worked for this country’s soldiers or diplomats for a continuous period of twelve months.
* Hundreds of Iraqis have been targeted for assassination for having worked for this country. Some have worked for a period of twelve months exclusively for the British and can prove this. Some have not but have been pinpointed for murder anyway. We have a responsibility to save these people from being murdered for the ‘crime’ of working for the British.
* There are a lot of local employees who fled their jobs before 12 months precisely because they had been targeted, or who did a 6-month tour for one British battalion and were then told to go and work for the Americans, or who did 12 months or more with interruptions, or who the Army didn’t give proper documentation too.
* Iraqi staff members must be given shelter not because of their provable length of service but according to whether they have been identified for murder by local death squads. This can be investigated on the spot by Army officers and referred rapidly to London: the process needs to start now.
* Mr Miliband’s statement did not mention the families of Iraqi employees. As Iraqi militias also murder the families of their ‘enemies’, we must resettle our employees’ families as well. Mark Brockway, an ex-soldier who hired many Iraqis, estimates that we are talking about a maximum of 700 Iraqis to resettle: this country admits 190,000 immigrants net every year.
* Iraqis have already been targeted for murder for having worked for this country. We will be shamed if we allow more to be killed for the same reason. Our soldiers, who are angry at this betrayal, and our diplomats, will be placed at risk if they gain a reputation for abandoning their local helpers.
One of the upshots of the Parliamentary lobby was at least a vague idea of the numbers. Mark Brockway's figure is around 700 Iraqis, and a further 1,000 or so third-country nationals who work on the Basra Air Station. The big difference is that the Government apparently has a database of this latter group, and by definition they come onto the airbase to work, so they could be ghosted fairly easily in 4 or so large aircraft movements.

Oh well, write to them, or call 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP. You can also help freep the MiliBlog, but please behave with dignity consonant with the traditions of the service.

Update: The director of Basra International Airport has been kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.

Intellectual Rigour

Says Royal Holloway prof, and I suppose colleague, David Cesarani in a wankerish letter to the Guardian:
Would Mearsheimer and Walt care to explain the power of the Armenian lobby?
Apart from "why not ask them?", I can offer a more useful answer.

The bill, pushed by Armenian-Americans, who crucially are an important constituency for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was more-or-less identical to a bill which has been put before the committee every year for decades, and which has been killed by the committee every year when the State Department urges congress not to upset relations with Turkey.

But this year, thanks to a combination of factors including (1) rampant hostility between the US executive and the legislative majority, (2) the blatant hypocrisy of this particular administration urging congress to keep quiet lest it upset foreigners, and (3) the convenient fact that this particular atrocity was committed by Muslims against Christians, the bill actually went through.
Job's a good 'un, then. What the hell a historian is doing pretending to be ignorant of the existence of Armenian emigration beats me.

Uninspired surveillance post

A short compendium of US illegal surveillance links: Qwest "threatened with loss of contracts" after pre-11/9 surveillance request, says exec on insider trading rap. Greenwald blasts immunity proposal. David Isenberg. Much detail. Laura Rozen.

I have nothing very original to say, except to point out that there seems to be quite a big iceberg here. There is a big difference between the idea of sticking a fibre splitter in an AT&T Internet exchange point and glurking up the physical layer traffic, and demanding piles of CDRs. Them, eh? Call Detail Records - the database row generated by each phone call that specifies the parties to the call, the time started and ended, and details of routing and charging.

It's the heart of what it means to be a telco, really; without them you'd be like (shiver) an ISP. They permit you to bill for everything, and they were almost certainly the "metadata" referred to. Quite simply, you'd never be able to process the total take pulled off the IX, even if enough of it was unencrypted; hence the CDRs.

There is a lot of technological difference between the two activities; one is real-time and the analysis is cryptographic, another is batch-processed and statistical. But what does seem clear is that there was an extensive new effort at surveillance of the US telecoms infrastructure.


What do the two halves of the Control Party - its Scottish and Northern wing, and its Southern and Posh wing, both - think should have no price in our society? Recap: a price is a measure of something's value in terms of the alternatives you forgo by choosing it. Prices are a constraint; they force us to allocate resources between competing priorities. Straightforward enough, so far.

In public policy, if you wish to constrain the growth of something or the use of a resource, there are essentially two ways to do it - you can ration it, or you can tax it. The first corresponds to an artificial restriction of supply; the second to an artificial constraint on demand. Either way, what is being achieved is either equivalent to raising the price, or analogous to raising the price.

Successive governments have been quite keen on creating quasi-markets or budgeting systems for various things; GPs are meant to "buy in services" from NHS trusts, the government departments are meant to pay a capital levy to the Treasury to force them to economise capital. But what is interesting are the limits of this principle.

It seems that it is acceptable for some things to be treated as if they were cost-free; specifically incarceration, roads, and unearned income. The government frequently tries to influence the judiciary to send more people to jail, and has changed the law to make it harder to leave jail. Therefore the jails are so full it is actually impossible for some people to be released. Perhaps the Home Office should be forced to buy the extra prison places it wants from the Ministry of Justice every time it wishes to rattle the keys? Or alternatively, perhaps each court should have an annual budget for punishment, thus being forced to prioritise its use of scarce cells?

Similarly, it seems the idea of building more roads is being floated again. Simultaneously, we are told that traffic on the railways is to be demand-managed; that is to say its price is to rise in order to keep the demand from exceeding supply. But roads are treated as if they were more like air.

And finally, both clunking fist and Dave from PR are in agreement that gains captured from the housing bubble or inherited are to be taxed at a substantially lower rate than income from either wages or even company profits. It is now the policy of both wings of the Control Party that both labour and capital should subsidise the land bubble, inherited wealth, and dubious hedge-fund manoeuvrings.

Priceless indeed. You thought the elimination of the 10% lower rate of income tax was bad enough; hell, it was even framed as an encouragement to the poor to work harder. It's not just a policy skewed to the rich, though; it's a policy skewed to the idle rich.

As a brief example of one of the many reasons this is awful, consider the Vertu range of mobile phones; beware the Flash-ridden website. These are heavily designed, or rather designered; their design is in fact far from beautiful or functional, but is intended to convey the impression of good or at least expensive design. And they are tricked out in various inappropriately posh materials (diamonds, for example).

However, the actual electronics within the case are unimpressive. The company is a Nokia division, but very little of their engineering effort has gone into them. For example, only two of them have an e-mail client, only one has a UMTS radio, and none have WLAN support, GPS, a serious programming environment, or any of the other features Nokia packs into its most advanced devices. Nokia's N-series devices are marketed at those whose taste in displays of wealth lies towards the Modernist end of the spectrum, and delight in technology for its own sake. Its E-series devices are marketed at people, and more importantly organisations, who actually find mobile e-mail, GPS, integration with enterprise telephone systems, VPN service, and the like useful.

Vertu's role is to get rid of old models for silly prices to people who are impressed by ornamentation, and who are unlikely to require IPSec; rich people who don't work and have no taste, in other words. Can you see what I'm driving at?

Oh, and I agree with every damn word of this and this.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

0x05B7Y: Out of Bolts Error

Remember when the Airbus A380 was delayed and it was an example of the total bankruptcy of socialist Europe's way of life? Look what's happening with Boeing's 787 Dreamliner (and BA's fleet)...
Boeing blamed the delivery delay on continuing problems with flight control software, being produced by Honeywell International, and integrating other systems on the plane, which it did not detail.

It said it now expects the first test flight of the 787 to take place "around the end of the first quarter" next year, suggesting it could be as late as March or even April 2008.

That is a drastic extension to its original plan to start airborne tests in August 2007. In early September, Boeing scheduled the first test flight for mid-November to mid-December as it wrestled with software problems and a shortage of bolts.
Bolts? Boeing has run out of bolts? That's positively Soviet. Call GOSPLAN and get a brigade of shock workers on the bolts right now! There's probably one huge bolt on a low loader in the yard at Boeing Field... Snark aside...actually, fuck putting the snark aside. Let's get the snark out of the shed and give it a damn good snarking. There's something about the Reuters report that makes me think the software actually uses bolts; it's made in Seattle, after all.

I suppose they called it the Dreamliner because unlike the A380 it's, well, still a dream.

Chris Bryant is a Credit to Parliament

So last night we all (well, for small values of "all" - you know who you are) got ourselves dressed up smart and went to bang on the doors of Parliament. And yes, as Dan Hardie claimed, the cops outside it are indeed polite - you're not going to get much praise for the Met here, so you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.

We were pleasantly surprised to be joined by none other than Chris Bryant MP; he's a parliamentary private secretary, i.e. nearly a junior minister, so this was an impressive act. Hitherto he's been best known for being conspicuously Blairite and being a user of; not any longer if I have anything to do with it.

As well as the member for the Rhondda, diehard Tory paratrooper Julian Brazer dropped in, as did his more Cameronian party colleague Ed Vaizey. And, crucially, Lynne Featherstone, Liberal MP for Hornsey, was the anchor of the whole thing. They came to hear Mark Brockway, a TA Royal Engineer who hired many of the first Iraqi employees in 2003 and who has since become the only point of contact for dozens of people trying to flee Iraq. They came to hear Andrew Alderson, a TA civil affairs officer and Lloyds banker who ran the South-East zone's economic affairs from 2003-2004, who spoke of how British officials told him nothing was happening in Basra as the family of one of his former staff, people who had been trusted with hundreds of millions of dollars, had to smuggle one of their relatives out of the hospital for fear of reprisals.

They came to hear that the Government, after a 10-week "review", still hasn't got a list of the people concerned and can't say who is responsible for the issue. They heard how staff at the British Embassy in Amman turned away former employees on the grounds that Jordan was by definition safe, while another ex-employee was abducted in broad daylight from the queue outside the UNHCR offices in the same city. They heard that despite spending 10 weeks writing an incalculably illegible statement, the Government has yet to offer any instructions on how to apply or what to do if you feel yourself to be in danger.

Better yet, they heard how civil servants informed one ex-employee that should his application for asylum be rejected, he would never be able to travel to the UK under any circumstances. This is either deeply incompetent, or a lie; they seem to have confused refusal of an application for entry with deportation, which suggests that if this was not deliberate, the people (and who are they?) dealing with the issue know nothing about immigration law.

That, indeed; time and again, it came up that the post-Michael Howard system of deterrence aimed at asylum seekers is the problem. You can't apply if you have reached the UK; you can't apply in a third country if this is deemed safe. And obviously, you can't apply in Iraq, because so doing requires a perilous journey to Baghdad and entry into the Green Zone. Of course, it's been trouble enough to stop the Government sending people back to Iraq, on the pretext that Kurdistan is safe; it's a pity, then, that the Kurds are now imposing a requirement of sponsorship on immigrants from elsewhere in Iraq. (They're not the only ones, either.)

Last night's key message is this: whatever the detail of the policy, what matters is the tactics. The Government statement actually leaves quite a lot of leeway; the reference to meeting the UNHCR criteria looks rather different given that the UNHCR considers that all Iraqi displaced persons meet them, and the possibility of a grant of exceptional leave to remain (which could include anyone) has been invoked.

But the vital issue, in the real meaning of "vital", is the practical logistics. We have to send out to Iraq a small group of officials, taken from the Army interpreters cell, the Immigration Service, and presumably MI5, to take names and addresses and assess cases. We have to provide a means of registering, at Basra Air Station, in the UK diplomatic missions, and on the Web (this was a surprisingly frequent request). And we have to draw up a schedule for people to leave on the regular airbridge flights.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

October '08 and Out?

Here is the text of the government's written statement on the Iraqi employees:
On 8 August the Prime Minister announced a review of the Government’s assistance to our Locally Engaged staff in Iraq. The Defence Secretary, Home Secretary, Secretary of State for International Development, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I have now agreed on the elements of a scheme.

Locally engaged Iraqi staff working for our armed forces and civilian missions in Iraq have made an invaluable contribution, in uniquely difficult circumstances, to the UK’s efforts to support security, stability and development in the new Iraq. We are hugely grateful to them for their contribution, which continues to be essential to the delivery of our mission in Iraq.

In recognition of that, we have decided to offer those staff, on an ex gratia basis, assistance which goes above and beyond the confines of what is lawfully or contractually required. Assistance will be based on objective criteria, taking into account determinable and relevant factors. It is offered in recognition of the service by these courageous Iraqis in direct support of HMG’s efforts to help the Iraqi Government and people build a peaceful, stable and prosperous Iraq.

The assistance announced by the Prime Minister yesterday will allow Iraqi staff, including but not limited to interpreters, currently working* for HMG in Iraq, who have attained 12 months’ or more continuous service, to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance of between 6 and 12 months’ salary, depending on length of service, to meet the costs of relocation for themselves and their dependants in Iraq or the region, if they are made redundant or have to resign from their job because of what we judge to be exceptional circumstances. Alternatively, these staff will be able to apply for exceptional leave to enter the UK, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the UK’s Gateway refugee resettlement programme, provided that they meet the criteria for the programme, including that they satisfy UNHCR that they meet the criteria of the 1951 Convention and need resettlement.

In addition, interpreters/translators and other Iraqi staff serving in similarly skilled or professional roles necessitating the regular use of written or spoken English, who formerly worked for HMG in Iraq, will be able to apply for assistance for themselves and their dependants provided that they satisfactorily completed a minimum of 12 months’ service, and they were in our employ on or after 1 January 2005. Former staff meeting those criteria will be able to apply for a one-off package of financial assistance similar to that available for serving staff, or to avail themselves of the opportunity for resettlement in the UK through the Gateway programme as set out above.

This assistance will principally apply to Iraqi nationals who meet the eligibility criteria set out above, and who work, or have worked, in Iraq in the following capacities:

as direct employees of the UK Armed Forces or the Ministry of Defence;
on Letters of Appointment from the British Embassy in Baghdad or the British Embassy Offices in Basra and the Kurdistan Region;
as direct employees of DFID and the British Council.
In addition, we are considering what assistance may be provided to a limited number of contracted staff meeting the eligibility criteria who have worked in particularly close association with us as an integral part of HMG programmes, projects and operations in Iraq.

We will announce further details, including on how eligible staff may apply, before the end of the month.

*defined as those working for our civilian missions or armed forces on or after 8 August 2007, the date on which the review of policy was announced.

Right; the good news is that the issue has been recognised, that exceptional leave to remain (ELR) has been mentioned, and that there will also be money for those who choose to go elsewhere in the Middle East. For the uninitiated, ELR provides for the grant of residence in the UK by executive discretion, whether or not a claim to refugee status can be substantiated.

The bad news is the weasel clauses, of course, which set an arbitrary limit of 12 months' continuous service and a cut-off of 2005; God knows why. This is essentially to say that an Iraqi employee must do a tour of duty twice as long as a British soldier. This is unacceptable.

The indeterminate news is that there is no mention of the practicalities; it is one thing to have the right to refugee status or a promise of ELR, it is quite another to be able to exercise it. It is necessary that their applications be processed in advance, statements taken on the spot, and assistance be provided to physically leave Iraq.

Why 12 months? I have a little theory. The reduction of British troops coming up is taking place at the twice-annual rotation of forces; the brigades serve 6-month tours. Gordon Brown's statement on Iraq mentions that there will be a further, 50% cut in troops in April, 2008 - that is, at the next rotation only half the troops going home will be replaced. And the next rotation would be...October, 2008. What price zero?

And why would they want to keep the employees on for another 12 months, in that case?

Monday, October 08, 2007



The Iraqi Employees campaign lobby of Parliament has been double-booked by Hazel Blears; we are therefore moving it from Committee Room 14 to the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, in order to avoid the risk of contamination. The times are the same and are 1900-2100, Tuesday, 9th October 2007.

Got that? It will not happen in Committee Room 14; it will happen in the Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

(PS: Gordon Brown speaking in the Commons, appears to have drunk the surge koolaid, but seems to be giving in. Written statement to follow.)

Update: Text here. Here's the key par:
Existing staff who have been employed by us for more than twelve months and have completed their work will be able to apply for a package of financial payments to aid resettlement in Iraq or elsewhere in the region, or - in agreed circumstances - for admission to the UK. And professional staff --- including interpreters and translators --- with a similar length of service who have left our employ since the beginning of 2005 will also be able to apply for assistance.

We will make a further written statement on the detail of this scheme this week.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Mission Maintenu...

Special campaign update: Whatever the Govt is leaking to the Times, we're still going to leap into their back garden on Tuesday night. This campaign is not over until the people concerned are filing down the airstair at Brize Norton.

You can still turn up, and you can still call your MP tomorrow. Even if it turns into an emetic victory bash lovefest, with Dan Hardie and Dsquared publicly smooching and all kinds of boozy verbr├╝derung, it'll still be worth it just to demonstrate that some sort of invisible mob on the interwebnets could pitch up in the Commons at any moment.

In Local News

Who is this neighbouring Liberal who just knocked 12 per cent off the Tories in Datchet?

The Dynamic of Extreme Conservative Rhetoric

This New York Observer interview with Ann Coulter is being heavily blogged (sample), but I think there is an important point that's being missed here.

If you follow the link, you'll see that the reporter adopts the old trick of shutting up and letting the subject natter; this is a classic of journalistic craft, as most people (and especially most people in public life) like talking about themselves. Not just that, the main reason why people of power or influence consent to speak to you is because you'll print what they say. So saying nothing is often effective.

It's also a tactic that appeals to essentially moderate reporters faced with radical (in any direction) interviewees; rather than engaging with their beliefs, let them gabble into your notebook. With any luck they will say something newsworthy, or better yet, embarrassing. But I wonder whether it is appropriate to the times?

The downside of it, of course, is that whatever they say gets rebroadcast; for example, look at this:
Jimmy Carter got the whole thing started, Bill Clinton let it build, build, build, build, build. He wouldn't deal with it, because he had no credibility on deploying the military. He was a pot smoking draft dodger, and so when he was presented with credible evidence that this or that country was behind a terrorist attack, he’d just have to look the other way: “No, don't let me hear that. Call in Monica!”
The expected reaction on the part of the reporter is "God almighty - they believe this stuff?" or perhaps "The poor woman - is she all right?" All of which assume there is a sufficient infrastructure of public reason to let this stuff go through to the wicketkeeper; it's essentially a sort of condescending assumption that The Crazies are safely marginalised.

Surely everyone knows that Jimmy Carter "got the whole thing started" in that he sent arms to Afghanistan in order to defeat the Soviet Union, and that Bill Clinton deployed the US military to Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo? Or that his response to the al-Qa'ida mid-90s campaign was to bombard targets in Sudan and Afghanistan? That it's still the case that no-one has come as close to killing Osama bin Laden than when the cruise missiles of Operation INFINITE REACH landed on his camp, half an hour after he left it?

But here's the rub; if you don't rebut, or better refute, this kind of crap, it just floats through into the public water supply. And once there's enough crap out there, everyone gets a bit. I really wonder to what extent US hard-right ranting is intended to elicit this response.

Death By Bias

I've gradually become addicted to Overcoming Bias, and specifically Eliezer Yudkowsky's contributions to it. And it struck me, reading the reports on the de Menezes trial, that a good dose of this blog could have done the Metropolitan Police a power of good.

Specifically, members of the police command staff recalled hearing a radio message first that de Menezes was definitely not the suspect, and then that he definitely was the suspect. Now, it's very unlikely indeed that someone who was behaving rationally would go from certainty of X to certainty of Y without passing through stages of progressively greater doubt about X. It's possible that you might encounter a situation when you had strong enough evidence to do the whole leap; it's just very, very unlikely, and therefore you should be suspicious of any such suggestion. There's a good reason for the cultural norm that you should be suspicious of sudden converts' motives.

Similarly, it's very hard to imagine a scenario where the police could have gone from being certain that he definitely wasn't a suicide bomber - a prior of zero - to certain that he definitely was. Either they weren't certain to begin with, in which case the officer in question shouldn't have said so, or they weren't certain when they changed their mind, in which case they doubly shouldn't have said so.

In fact, the account of the police command-and-control of the operation that emerges is an appalling hellbroth of cognitive bias. The specialist firearms team was briefed in terms described as "inflammatory" about "firing a bullet into the brain of a suicide bomber", immediately after having been issued with special 124 grain ammunition - had it been calculated to embed a perceptual fix that whoever they ended up chasing was indeed a suicide bomber, it couldn't have done so better. Under stress, people tend to exhibit perceptual rigidity, blocking out information, and target fixation.

Further, for reasons that still haven't been made clear, this outfit didn't reach the scence until 5 hours after the original call for them; so there was no time for them to be cross-briefed by the surveillance team. So lacking in orientation, and cranked up with aggression and tension, were they that one of them chased the train driver into a tunnel waving a gun under the impression he was another member of "the cell". But the surveillance squad had followed only one man into the station. Where did this cell come from, other than crisis fever and ignorance?

This general farrago of stupidity was matched at headquarters, where the command centre was besieged by every other staff officer who could squeeze in to watch the fun; the hubbub was such it was difficult to hear the radio traffic, and tempers can only have been wearing out - another risk factor, as was the fact everyone had been up all night. Worse, it seems there may have been two commanders - everyone remembers Cressida Dick, who was given out until recently as having been the Gold Commander, but it appears that this title was also held for much of the operation by John McDowell. It is not clear whether they were co-equal (pretty bad) or whether there was a change of command in the middle of the crisis (even worse).

The overwhelming impression is that the Met is not serious about the super-duper war-on-terrorism role various chiefs, especially Sir Ian Blair, have been so keen to take on and expand. Its command arrangements here were desperately bad, to say nothing of Blair's statements in the aftermath or the leak campaign against the victim. Then, there is the Forest Gate incident when a man was shot "by accident"; the military call this a "negligent discharge" and treat it very seriously indeed even if no-one is hurt or anything damaged, but the Met essentially shrugged it off and contented itself by leaking to the NOTW that the victim was a paedophile.

It is not enough to blame the pilot; it is not enough to say it was an accident. The only conceivable answer to this would be along the lines of "If that's your best...I don't want to see your worst." Accidents happen for reasons; reasons that are found in institutions. This is a sick institution.

Need a hand with that?

David Phinney notepads something interesting about the scandal-lapped Kuwaiti contractor on the US Embassy in Baghdad:
From spring 2006: The general manager for the US Embassy contractor, First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting has two airplanes the company can't register and is piloted by a German pilot named Wolfgang .... The general manager also has another plane piloted by Brits flying in and out of Kuwait and a fourth that may be registered.

Another source related around the same time: "Some people have rumoured that First Kuwait use Chapman Freeborn flights every Thursday on their 737 and also Phoenix on their 737 with other people carried by Air Cargo Integrators ACI out of Kuwait. We, of course, could not possibly comment on how accurate these rumours are. I am sure you can get to the bottom of things. Hope this helps."
Aircraft the company can't register? Sounds unlikely, given all we know about how easy it is to launder planes. Aircraft brokerage Chapman Freeborn will be remembered from back in 2005, chartering planes for KBR including ones from Aerocom and Jet Line International; ACI's operations are described on their website,, which boasts of regular flights leaving Dubai at 0200Z for destinations in Iraq and also of "air drops in war zones". Interestingly, an Ilyushin 76 registered in Kyrgyzstan to "ACI Airlines" (EX-093, serial no. 1013407212) caught fire in dear old Pointe-Noire, Congo, on the 10th of July this year and became a total loss - whether they are connected isn't clear.

Phoenix must be Phoenix Aviation, now; the alternative PhoenixAvia doesn't operate 737s. This Kyrgyz-registry (EX-) company took over the assets of Viktor Bout's old Santa Cruz Imperial and Flying Dolphin Air operations in the UAE, and was blacklisted by the EU in March, 2006. It more recently developed its"MaxAvia" division at least in part as an effort to go legit, or at least to disassociate itself from its reputation. Its fleet has mostly been disposed of, although one Yak-40 is in storage at Moscow-Ostafyevo and a 737 is stored in Khartoum. The aircraft in question is probably EX-079, serial no. 21275. MaxAvia, meanwhile, has three further 737s, all ex-Phoenix, all EX-registry, and all officially based in Baghdad; I doubt they overnight there very often, though.

So, those Dubai-Baghdad flights. Here's the schedule in detail:
IRAQ: Baghdad - Erbil - Mosul - Basrah

Sector Day of Operation ETD-Dubai
Dubai - Baghdad - Basra* Monday 02:00 UTC
Dubai-Kuwait* - Baghdad Wednesday 02:00 UTC
Dubai-Baghdad* Saturday 02:00 UTC

* Subject to availability
** Flights to Erbil; Kirkuk and Mosul will be subject to minimum load requirements

AFGHANISTAN: Kabul - Kandahar - Bagram

Sector Day of Operation ETD-Dubai
Dubai - Kabul* Sunday 02:00 UTC
Wednesday 02:00 UTC

* Flights to Kandahar and Bagram will be operated upon request
I used a little python script to dig through the Dubai Airport website for flights leaving to any of the destinations they cover today; but apparently ACI isn't particularly punctual, because the Kabul flight didn't get off until 0830Z. It was operated, if that was the one, by Pamir Air as flight number NR202. Which is interesting; Pamir Air was the one run by Abdul Rashid Dostum as warlord of Mazar i-Sharif in 1994-1996, when the convicted cocaine smuggler Chris Barrett-Jolley (and in all probability Viktor Bout) were involved. It made a brief reappearance in 2004-05, but Dostum has concentrated on another aviation enterprise, Kam Air. And officially, it doesn't exist at the moment. Despite that, my script tells me that the opposite flight, NR201, came into Dubai last night at 1900Z.

Historically, flights have usually left Dubai and Sharjah for Baghdad at 0200; I recall this pattern back in 2004.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

D-6: Call Your MP Now

OK, there are six days to go to the bloggers' lobby of Parliament, which is being held to demand asylum for the British Army's Iraqi employees. And guess what? There's still time to get involved. Call your MP today (the Parliamentary switchboard is 0207 219 3000) and ask them what their position is, remind them that people are being killed, and demand they come along. And don't forget to blog whatever happens.

It's 9th October, 1900-2100, Committee Room 14. There are more useful suggestions here.

And I've got news for you: Philip Hammond's staff finally returned a call, asking for the date!

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