Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Simon Jenkins: Double Standards

Here's Simon Jenkins' latest piece of work.
For the Tories it is sex, for Labour it is money. Financial scandal sticks to the latter like political napalm. From formula one to ministerial mortgages, privatisation contracts and cash-for-honours, the sign of a £50 note waving in the wind sends Labour politicians weak at the knees. Their only moral is don't get caught, yet they get caught all the time.
Subtext: Tories are honest, really; all that stuff in the 90s was made up. No-one really cares how many women Alan Clark had, now, do they? Let me tell you how the world works, son..

Unfortunately, there's a two billion quid a year probby in there; and for some strange reason, Simon Jenkins has forgotten all about it.

Labour's third biggest donor of the year has turned out to be a David Abrahams, known to Durham planning officers as David Martin. He was selected to fight William Hague in the Yorkshire seat of Richmond but was deselected when his curriculum vitae, including a reference to a non-existent wife and son, proved less than authentic. Yet he was close enough to Blair to attend his farewell in Sedgefield earlier this year....

Guy Hands, late-90s head of Nomura Securities' principal finance unit and the man who brought today's fancydan finance (securitisation? CDOs? nifty mezzanine subprime strangelet entities? Yes.) to London, was close enough to none other than William Hague - having been a friend at Oxford and a colleague at McKinsey - to advise him to "forget about the leadership and spend the next five years fucking your brains out with Ffyon".

...In Brown's Britain there is no longer a public service ethos, only a business ethos applied to public services. No longer do Presbyterians render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Everything goes to Caesar under a private finance initiative.

Them, eh? Let's see a take.
"Forty per cent of the £5bn set aside to improve military housing will be spent on renting the buildings from a private landlord, the BBC has learned. The Ministry of Defence has said the money would be spent on upgrading accommodation over the next 10 years.

But figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show £2bn will be spent renting back premises sold off by the state in 1996....In July, Defence Secretary Des Browne said the MoD planned to spend the £5bn on "upgrading and maintaining" accommodation. But the BBC freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that property developer Annington Homes will receive almost £2bn of that sum.

The Conservative government sold most of the defence housing stock to Annington in 1996 for £1.6bn...In January, BBC News published photographs sent in by soldiers of their accommodation, depicting blocked urinals, uncollected rubbish and peeling floors. Recently a committee of MPs reported that although there had been some improvements, much accommodation was still unacceptable and this was having an effect on morale.

In April 2006, the MoD also signed an £8bn Private Finance Initiative deal to upgrade accommodation for single soldiers.
Annington Homes, eh? Back in '96 - those strange days when the Labour Party was an alternative and William Hague was actually in charge of something - that was, well, another word for Nomura Principal Finance. Let's join the dots, shall we? Treasury (Kenneth "Cancer Stick" Clarke) went to MOD looking for a tax cut for the election giveaway. MOD - Michael "Magic Lips" Portillo - somehow came up with the idea of flogging the MOD housing and renting it back. MOD went to Cabinet, a Cabinet including William "Save the Pound" Hague, and got approval to flog it to William Hague's best friend.

William saved so many pounds through this deal that the Government received no less than £1.6 billion of them for an estate that they have been renting for £2 billion this year, and very probably more in all the 10 intervening years. Why so probably? Well, the original contract specified a number of things. First, the MOD Defence Housing Executive would pay rent for all the buildings in use. Second, DHE would pay for their upkeep - something of a departure from the normal law of landlord and tenant. Third, Annington - William Hague's best mate - would have the right to sell a chunk of the property every year. Fourth, DHE would pay for improvements to them before sale.

You read all right - the total supply is guaranteed to always go down, Annington's costs are guaranteed to be zero, the spectacular capital gain in property was reserved to William Hague's best mate alone, and the Government subsidises the sale process while still having an obligation to house soldiers on the open market. Soldiers have returned from Iraq to queue for their own homes. One might think such a PFI would be somewhat noticeable; but it's radio silence from the Conservatives, and from the hairy truthscreamer Jenkins. You'll just have to read blogs.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What might explain this astonishing result?

I can't begin to imagine why LibDem polls are up; especially as at the same time more of the population now oppose than support ID cards.

Pair of Pakistan Politics Posts!

Whilst we're on the Pakistan blogging, immense respect is due to the Pakistan Policy Blog. It looks like Nawaz Sharif is coming home - like football, remember that? - apparently because the Saudis insisted that he be released from exile in Jeddah. The PPB makes the very good point that Musharraf has been gradually mutating into Nawaz over the last few years; now, one of the reasons why the general doesn't want him back is that there is a niche for him, or the general, but not both.

To govern in Pakistan he needs the unqualified backing of one of the two big power blocs, Sindh or the Punjab, and the acceptance of the army, which is mainly Punjabi. This was the plan, after all; Benazir would return and give the government some actual popular support and her powerbase in Sindh, and Musharraf would stay on in a suit to reassure the Punjabis and the army. Now it looks like she's coming, like it or not, and so is Nawaz Sharif; in which case, if she can bring herself to treat with him, nobody needs Musharraf any more.

As far as I can make out, he's got himself into this position entirely of his own making; calling a state of emergency has just pissed off everyone, including his only non-military support, the Punjabi bourgeoisie - who of course have a ready-made replacement limbering up in Saudi. And there is nothing Pakistan needs less than either a) a US-armed tribal ex-Taliban movement or b) a powerful Saudi influence. But the defining factor of Musharraf's career is his Napoleon complex.

Pakistan, NOIA, and a rebel data centre

This NYT story is an example, I think, of the way one's mental models control one's perception. The report deals with a proposed U.S. policy of providing the Frontier Corps, the paramilitary police of the North-West Frontier Province, with aid directly rather than via the Pakistani military. This is one thing. It is not an obviously stupid policy, nor is it unproblematic; but this isn't the point.

I come away from the article unsure whether the constant references to "tribes" and activities in Iraq mean that the writer is analogising the Corps to the tribal militias the US Army has been recruiting in Iraq, or whether there is a further policy of recruiting such forces in Pakistan. If the first, it's a silly analogy - the Frontier Corps is a part of the Pakistani federal government, not a group of ex-insurgents in a tactical alliance with an occupying army. And he's clearly bought into the superduper surge narrative. If the second, it's extremely worrying.

Trying to create local countergangs in Pakistan would have a serious downside; what or who would they be fighting for? Better be clear it's Pakistan, and a version of it that is tolerable both to the wider world and (more importantly) to the majority of Pakistanis outside the NWFP. And who can say, at the moment, what Pakistan is? At least the Corps will fight for whoever runs the Pakistani government, but who knows what US-empowered ex-Taliban (the closest analogy to the various ex-insurgent groups in Iraq) would do with their new weapons?

Similarly, the tactical peace with the NOIA (New-Old Iraqi Army) has been one way to reduce violence in Iraq, at the price of creating new forces that don't answer to the Iraqi government or for that matter anyone else. And the NOIA are precisely who these "Concerned Citizens" are; all accounts of 'em seem to mention the Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigade, always my favourite NOIA outfit. My own analysis, by the way, is that having stepped their operational tempo right up in the spring in response to the abandonment of the Baker-Hamilton commission's proposals (which they were probably consulted on via Tariq al-Hashemi), they've now made an operational choice to crank it down and cooperate in order to buy US concessions - specifically acceptance of their control on the ground and arms, in return for dead Saudi jihadis.

(Anyone else notice that the insurgency has better data management than HMRC? Five terabytes - or should that be TERRORBYTES? - of detailed records on all their foreign recruits. That must surely be a unit error, but 0.5GB would still be plenty. However, it does look like their encryption wasn't strong enough - but then nothing ever is if the enemy has physical access and infinite leisure.)

Slower and slower

Dan Hardie keeps getting desperate e-mail from stranded Iraqi employees of the British Army. I haven't yet, but I do regularly get people on NewSkies satellite-Internet links searching for information on how to apply for asylum.

Expect dramatic news from him tomorrow; you'll need to write to them. Apparently David Miliband doesn't think the matter is urgent.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Python and CSV; know your limits

Right, I've got this honking great MySQL dump file, and I'd like to use the data in it without needing a MySQL db server; so I thought I'd turn it into a SQLite db, as python has native sqlite3 support. Various suggestions are on offer around the web; SQLiteBrowser, for example, claims to import and export from various SQL flavours and CSV files. Nice; but it chokes on the file.

So I saved a copy of the thing as a plain text file with the mysql tags trimmed off and tried a few options; a posting on the UK Python list reminded me that the csv module in Python can take arbitrary characters as delimiters, not just commas, which sounded useful. After all, I couldn't just split it at the commas because the contents are basically a lot of tuples, like this: (data, data, data),(data, data, data) And I need them in groups.

I thought I was being clever when I did a global find/replace, taking out the ),( because the csv module doesn't support multiple characters as delimiters, and replacing it with \t; then I wrote this script:
#! usr/bin/env python

import sqlite3
import csv

f = open('/home/yorksranter/Documents/Geekery/airports.txt')
csv.field_size_limit(100000) #see below!
input = csv.reader(f, delimiter='\t')
conn = sqlite3.connect('/home/yorksranter/Desktop/airport.sql')
curse = conn.cursor()

curse.execute('''CREATE TABLE airports ('id', 'country', 'latitude', 'longitude', 'name', 'timezone', 'shortname')''')

for item in input:
........curse.execute('INSERT INTO airports VALUES (%s)' % item)
Each item should be a tuple of seven values, and they should be in the same order they were in the original db, so this ought to recreate the data in an SQLite 3 file.

Then my problems began; I got the following error message:
_csv.error field larger than field limit
. Google found me this and this; it seems as far as I understand that the DB is too big for the csv module; there does seem to be a way of altering the limit, going by the module source code.

Thoughts? Update: There is; csv.field_size_limit(), and I altered it until the thing ran properly; but there's still no data in the db!

That's not what software-as-a-service is meant to mean!

The Biggest Data Fart In The World Ever (BDFITWE) just keeps on getting better/worse. Check this out:
Sir John Bourn, the outgoing comptroller and auditor general, told a secret session of the public accounts committee that a senior business manager at Revenue & Customs had authorised the information to be released in its full form. His email approving the sharing of the data was copied to an assistant director....It asked for all child benefit numbers, national insurance numbers and names but did not want bank accounts and addresses and dates of birth. According to Bourn, Revenue & Customs told the NAO that removing the extra information would be too costly.

You what? Too costly? How? Oh, right, it's the old standby - "there's a contract". We can't find you the plates for your flak jacket/diagnose your cancer within less than three months/type SELECT (names, addresses) FROM families WHERE child=Yes rather than SELECT * FROM families because there's a contract.

So how does it work? Do they have a little taxi meter on their desks that increments every time they issue a database query? How much is Crapita or Siemens or whoever charging them per SQL statement? But yes:
The e-mail states that the data would not be "desensitised" in the way that had been requested as it would require an extra payment to data services provider.
I think I just ate my hat. Mmm, felt.
Shawn Williams, a partner in a law firm specialising in fraud cases, said he regularly received confidential data from Revenue & Customs in CDs with either no password or the password written on the disc itself.

Realistically it's only going to be "password", isn't it? Or maybe something more secure like "passw0rd". Of course it's meaningless, because a CD can't actually check passwords; if you were to access it with a program that didn't perform the password check (like, say, a slightly altered...) this would not help in the slightest.

Further, on a general point, can anyone point to any evidence that The New Public Management - contracting out, next steps agencies, numerical targets and all that jazz - has ever achieved anything useful anywhere?


So now we know; looks like the Glock 17 caucus got a clean sweep of the "independent" MPA members.

The MPA chairman, Len Duvall, said the watchdog body risked bringing itself into disrepute by the public and vitriolic attacks on Sir Ian.

I think I'm going to vomit. Excuse me, will you?

Anyway, the result was 15 votes against, 7 for, one abstention; I think the abstention was probably Whittaker, as her e-mail account autoreplies that she is away until tomorrow. Does anyone have a rollcall?

Here are some of the replies I received from members of the MPA:
Am sorry alexander. I do not know who you are and contray to your message I have received many messages of support for ian. Perhaps you could give me examples of what performance issues of concern you have of the Metropolitan Police's command and control systems.

With crime at its lowest level in 5 years in london and reassurance levels up I would be interested to read your views

Thanks you for taking the time to e mail me.

John Roberts
I replied in-line:
On Nov 20, 2007 3:01 PM, John Roberts wrote:
> Am sorry alexander. I do not know who you are

Merely a citizen, a Tube user, a target.

> and contray to your message I have received many messages of support for ian.

Well, this is not one.

>Perhaps >you could give me examples of what performance issues of
concern you have of the >Metropolitan Police's command and control

According to the IPCC Report, no-one ever positively identified de
Menezes as a suspect, but after this had filtered through the system,
the senior commanders were given the impression he *had* been
identified as such. Further, the CO19 group were receiving filtered
information from headquarters after these errors had got into it, but
not direct information from the surveillance team; the commander on
the scene didn't control all the units involved and wasn't deployed
forward with the surveillance team, so didn't actually know what was

Have you read the IPCC Report?
And he replied:
Thank you for a quick reply your comments have been noted.

Take care

John roberts

Here is a reply from Green MLA Jenny Jones:
Alexander Harrowell wrote:
>This is an edited version of the response I prepared to the IPCC Report:

....(ed: snip a version of this post without the swearing)...

>Who are you?

>Cllr Jenny Jones AM
>Green Member of the London Assembly
>City Hall
>The Queen's Walk
>London SE1 2AA
>Tel: 0207 983 4391
>Fax: 0207 983 4398
And this is an oversight body. I could laugh; I suppose I'd better. A colleague remarked that the whole thing had been an example of "democracy theatre" by analogy to "security theatre".

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ID Cards will make us safe from identity theft

It's usually the Home Office that leads the way in the British government's eternal Olympics of stupidity; but now and again, someone is inspired to go that bit further, to be a tiger, to raise the bar.

Having built a monster centralised database of every last child in the UK, the Revenue burned it to a pair of disks and sent them off with a courier...and never saw 'em again. With no less than 25 million records compromised including names, addresses, National Insurance numbers, and bank accounts, this must be the world champion securifart.

"Dear Sir, The Department for Work and Pensions requires you to update your bank details now or face losing out on child benefit for your" (son/daughter) ($name)...

We told them it would happen, and they went ahead and did it.



Monday, November 19, 2007


The Register has been having fun with a script that removes all mention of the word "iPhone" from webpages; a necessary function these days. Better, they developed it to work on an iPhone; but just check out the code.

// JavaScript here

//This one thinks it's an object
var myRequest = new XMLHttpRequest();

//This is the text we're going to change the word "iPhone" to
var changeTo = "";

//This is our home page, and the site that leaving will unload the app
var home = '';

function startUp() {
changeTo = readCookie("newName")
if (changeTo == null) {
changeTo = window.prompt("So what would better suit the iPhone?");
createCookie("newName", changeTo, 1);

function loadRegister(targetURL) {

//targetDomain is set to a string containing the site (but not directories or file) that the user clicked on
var targetDomain = targetURL.substring(targetURL.indexOf(".", 8)+1, targetURL.indexOf("/", 8));

//We compare that to our home page
if (home.indexOf(targetDomain) == -1) {
alert("Moving Off Site: " + targetDomain);
//This line unloads this application, as the targetURL replaces this document

//Then we load the page"GET", targetURL);
myRequest.onload = targetLoaded;

function targetLoaded() {
var loadedSite = myRequest.responseText;

loadedSite = loadedSite.replace(/iPhone /g, changeTo + " ");
loadedSite = loadedSite.replace(/ iPhone/g, " " + changeTo);

var counter;

var loadedDocument = parent.frames[0].document;;
//This is our horrible bodge which waits 10 seconds for the page to load
setTimeout('pageLoaded()', 10000);

function pageLoaded() {
//This loops through every link on the page (241 on the El Reg home page when we were testing this) and adds an "onclick" even listener
for (i=0; i < parent.frames[0].document.links.length; i++) {
parent.frames[0].document.links[i].onclick = linkClicked;

function linkClicked() {
//We return "false" so the browser dosen't attempt to load the link clicked on.
return false;

function returnHome() {

function changeName() {
changeTo = window.prompt("So what would better suit the iPhone?");
createCookie("newName", changeTo, 1);

function createCookie(name,value,days) {
if (days) {
var date = new Date();
var expires = "; expires="+date.toGMTString();
else var expires = "";
document.cookie = name+"="+value+expires+"; path=/";
function readCookie(name) {
var nameEQ = name + "=";
var ca = document.cookie.split(';');
for(var i=0;i < ca.length;i++) {
var c = ca[i];
while (c.charAt(0)==' ') c = c.substring(1,c.length);
if (c.indexOf(nameEQ) == 0) return c.substring(nameEQ.length,c.length);
return null;
function eraseCookie(name) {
Nurgs! My brane! Now this is why I like Python...
#! usr/bin/env/ python

import string
import urllib
import webbrowser

print ('Enter a URL for de-iPhoning')

input = raw_input()
url = urllib.urlopen(input)
data =
snip = input.replace('http://www.', '')
fname =('/home/yorksranter/.mozilla/firefox/ydirmggn.default/Cache/'+snip)
f = open(fname, 'w')
d = data.replace('iPhone', '')

Obviously you'll want to replace the file path with your own browser cache, unless you like this blog so much you named your user account after it. Windows users should do the same and remove the first line.

No wonder the Reg guy ended up saying this:
We also decided that we're not going to develop anything else for the iPhone until there's a proper development kit, allowing the use of a proper programming language, and some decent documentation too.

All TYR Labs code in this post has passed the rigorous Atwood Certification Test.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Sun Microsystems is building a data centre in an abandoned Japanese coal mine using 30 of their data-centre-in-a-shipping-container boxes. Of course, the ostensible reason is that it's always 15 degrees down there, so they expect to save 50 per cent of the electricity requirement, and further it's as secure as you like.

But seriously, this has to be the secret base for a sci-fi villain, no? No mention of a white cat, but you bet there's one in there.

Belated Bad Logistics Blogging

Everyone was all over this NYT story about those vanishing cargoes of guns in Iraq. It's nothing new if you've been reading this blog; we've been concerned about this ever since 2005. And, unlike Spencer Ackerman, we've got the whole supply chain; those guns didn't come on no C-17, Spence, but on JLI and Aerocom Il-76s ex-Tuzla, some of which may not even have gone to Baghdad at all but instead filed new flight plans enroute and continued to Dubai, Djibouti, the Yemen, and many other locations.

However, the report does sharpen up our knowledge of what happened when guns did arrive in Iraq; I suspected that any vaguely official looking party might have been able to make off with them, especially the fake policemen so common in Iraq, and it looks like that's precisely what happened. Apparently, US and Iraqi officers would rush to the airport when they heard a shipment had arrived in order to grab it before anyone else did, and no documentation was checked or indeed presented.

Further, weapons were being misappropriated and sold both by Iraqi contractors and US officers; it's also certain that the insurgents were acquiring arms from the shipments, as the guns kept turning up in captured caches and stocks turned in under a buy-back program. However, much of the materiel was impossible to trace as the shippers didn't have to provide lists of serial numbers; it seems the US recipients didn't bother to catalogue them either.

We also know that the Bosnian authorities were systematically deceived about the contents of shipments leaving Tuzla; as were the British authorities in the Sloman Traveller case. It is literally impossible to say how many weapons were loaded in the Balkans, how many were unloaded in Baghdad, or what happened to any balance. (Although we do have a reasonable idea where to start looking for some of them at least.)

It may also be significant that the corruption the NYT describes began just as the involvement with Viktor Bout did.

'Ello, Ello, Let's Be Having You!

Right: it's time for a final desperate push before the MPA meets on Thursday.

So far, we can update our lists as follows:
5 declared Labour members.
1 Green, Jenny Jones, still hanging on for the decentralised, human-scale virtues of ecologically plugging random electricians on the tube. But we're getting in touch...
7 Tories and Liberals.
Cindy Butts, Faith Boardman, and Richard Sumray, who are all for various reasons parti pris for the Government.
Damien Hockney is voting no confidence in Sir Ian Blair.
Karim Murji, I'm informed, is voting the Government ticket.

That's 10 members of the Glock 17 caucus to 8 in the Axis of Reason. Who's left?

Now see this: looks like MPA e-mail addresses are

Aneeta Prem,, webform; "has the top electrical consultants to build your home's intelligent lighting system," apparently.
Reshard Auladin: Has "a keen interest in British Muslim affairs" according to the MPA.
Rachel Whittaker;, 020 7202 0223. Not this one.
Kirsten Hearn "Wishes to describe herself as a stroppy, blind dyke, and proud of it", apparently, not to mention a professional troublemaker. Surely, surely, surely this woman cannot be planning to vote in favour of the cops randomly shooting people?
John Roberts. Has "14 years of experience of working with London's hard to reach communities", apparently.

And Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers, we think, is sound.

If you have any spare time this week at all, and especially if you live in London; can you please take the time to contact one of these people? And if you've got a blog, can you please reproduce this? Remember that in a two-horse race like this, every swinger counts double; not just a vote for our side, but one less for them. We're now 10-9, with 5 votes in play; play up, play up, and play the game.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Target for Tonight

The Metropolitan Police Authority meets on the 22nd November to discuss Sir Ian Blair's case; they cannot be left uninformed.

This body consists of members from the London Assembly, magistrates, and "independent members". Their details are here. The balance is as follows - 7 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who can be expected to vote no confidence in Blair out of partisanship. There are 5 Labour members, including Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron and MPA Chair Len Duvall, all of whom can be expected to back him. There is Green Jenny Jones, who has gone public supporting Blair. Anti-hierarchical ecofeminism, right?

Then there are 9 independent and magistrates; out of these, Cindy Butts is an ex-researcher to the Economic Sec of the Treasury and therefore must be considered a Government vote, and Richard Sumray is an Olympic bid official and therefore is also captured. Considering the certainties, the vote breaks 50-50.

Then there is Faith Boardman, who is an independent member, ex-Lambeth Council CEO; i.e. probably Labour, and anyway as the former head of the CSA she cannot be expected to oppose public incompetence. 9-7 to Killer of the Yard.

Now we have Aneeta Prem (media AT, Rachel Whittaker, Peter Herbert, Karim Murji (k.murji AT, John Roberts, Kirsten Hearn, Reshard Auladi, and that titan of statesmanship Damian Hockney(Damian.Hockney AT, 020 7983 4919) the "One London" man and ex-UKIPper. (Update: See comments, he may yet be saved!)

We need to get 2 more votes than t'othersiders out of this group. Hockney opposed the HSE prosecution, but is apparently against Blair staying in office. Assuming he votes with the Government, they have a 3 vote lead; we need to get 6 of the remaining indies on board to fire the fucker. I want a full-dress blogswarm on this; think of the Iraqi employees' campaign and square it. In fact, think of Josh Marshall's US social security drive.

Who can find our four missing MMPAs?

Update: NO MORE EMAIL TO KARIM MURJI PLEASE! We don't want to alienate them with spam; and we have contacted him by other means. You might prefer to call Peter Herbert's chambers on 0207 841 6100 or e-mail clerks AT giving his name.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stockwell Report: A Response

The IPCC report is, first of all, a cracking job of work, despite that the Met did its level best to dodge the investigators. They have established a lot of facts, and carried out a mass of interviews, and come up with sensible conclusions; I'd like to recommend again that you read it, as it is likely to be the Rosetta stone of the anti-terrorism state in the late Blair period.

For example, we learn the details of Operation KRATOS and its twin, Operation C. KRATOS and C were plans drawn up to deal with the possibility of a suicide bomber being spotted in London, and that it might be necessary to shoot them. C, hitherto unknown to the public at large, was intended to deal with a bomber spotted at a major public event, when the police response would be largely pre-planned and under central command and control. C foresaw that if some conditions were fulfilled, a designated senior officer (DSO) at Scotland Yard would be able to order a sniper to shoot them.

KRATOS, meanwhile, was intended to deal with the (much more likely) situation in which the suspect was at large in the streets, and therefore that no prior planning would be possible. Quite wisely, the KRATOS procedures put a much greater emphasis on local control. The role of the DSO still existed, as did a set of rules demanding that all intelligence sources must be reviewed, that the police should try to confront the suspect in the open, or at a moment that would keep them away from the public, so that negotiation or a nonlethal weapon could be tried. But the silver commander, the field commander, rather than Scotland Yard was in charge.

Operation THESEUS 2, the operation launched after the discovery of Hussain Osman's gym card, didn't fit either of these very well. The plan Thomas MacDowell prepared fit them even less - it foresaw that the occupants of the flats would be allowed to leave, watched, and approached by police out of sight from the building, which meant it was neither a set piece nor a mobile operation. It was also half a surveillance operation and half an arrest. Cressida Dick, who was bugled out of bed to run a possible KRATOS operation at 0100 that morning, designed a command structure that was half KRATOS, half C.

Had it been a KRATOS, there would have been an operations room at Scotland Yard monitoring the whole operation, with a gold commander in overall charge and a DSO who would be responsible for the decision to authorise lethal force or not, and a firearms specialist as tactical adviser to these. There would have been a silver commander in command on the scene, with his or her own tactical adviser, with direct communications to all the teams involved in the operation and to Scotland Yard, which would also be receiving information from the surveillance team and the arrest team. The silver commander would have been in full charge, with the exception that the DSO only could authorise the use of a gun outside direct self defence.

Had it been a C, the key command would have been at Scotland Yard or perhaps at a forward command post, and the DSO would have been in direct control of the possible shooter. One roughly matches the army's idea of Mission Command - Auftragstaktik for Germans, who invented it - and the other Befehlstaktik, "orders tactics". Mission command implies that orders to subordinate units specify objectives, and that their commanders are given total discretion to achieve them, excepting only any restrictions specified with their objectives. The German army traditionally thought it was appropriate for offensive operations or other manoeuvres when it would be important to be able to respond to opportunities quickly. Befehlstaktik was the opposite - everyone does precisely what they are told and nothing else. This was traditionally thought appropriate for defence up to the moment when a counterattack was launched.

So what did Dick and MacDowell come up with? A weird hybrid of the two. Dick took over as gold commander, but McDowell remained so in form throughout; why? Similarly, the silver commander, DCI "C" and his tactical adviser, TROJAN 80, were co-located with the firearms squad and were in command on the scene; that's what a silver commander means. But the surveillance squad were under the direct control of Scotland Yard, and "C" was never with them. The practical implementation of this was no better - there was direct radio communication from Dick to "C" and from TROJAN 84 in Scotland Yard to TROJAN 80 in "C"'s car, and from "C" to the CO19 men. There was direct radio communication from the surveillance group to Scotland Yard, but not to Cressida Dick, who was meant to be in direct command of them; she got reports from DCI Jon Boutcher, monitoring the radios. "C" was sometimes able to hear the crosstalk on the surveillance group's radio network, but not always, and he had no command authority over them. The Met's planning meant that neither the commander at headquarters, nor the commander in the field, would have full information. Nobody would.

Neither was the commander on the scene ever on the scene; his command element was with the famously late firearms squad, and then behind them. He was reliant on what was heard over the surveillance net, and what came down from headquarters, much of which was information from the surveillance team that had come via the surveillance team leader, Boucher, and Dick. And he had been told to "trust the intelligence"; which he also told the CO19 men. One of the reasons for the choice of the operations room at Scotland Yard was the presence of "other agencies" - that is, the secret services.

Here we hit the damning detail; nobody ever identified Jean Charles de Menezes as the bomber, but this information never reached anyone in a position to act on it. Yes, several of the surveillance officers were at different times of the opinion that he might perhaps be; but no-one who thought so had seen his face. The only member of the surveillance team who did thought he wasn't.

But as the information went up the creaky structure, uncertainty mutated into certainty. Boucher never seems to have told Dick that nobody had identified de Menezes; Dick asked for a judgment in terms of a percentage from the surveillance team, but they thought such a judgment would be meaningless. Even that appears to have been taken as evidence that he might be the man. Let us remember that the surveillance team was meant to watch everyone leaving the block so further cops could stop them all and ask questions; it was because he left the building and the surveillance team didn't identify him as a suspect that he was shot.

The command structure appears to have become a machine generating confirmation bias. Imagine the position in the police car barging towards Stockwell that morning with "C", the CO19 leader and TROJAN 80; as the car lunges over the traffic islands, occasional voices on the surveillance radio are saying "No; I didn't see him..yes, he looks quite like him", and a clear strong voice on the main set is saying "Suspect is getting off a bus; he must not get on the tube". The second voice is the chief commander, and is a sight more certain (she isn't fully informed) and clearer (she has the better bandwidth), and anyway she isn't driving over dogs in south London and therefore sounds a sight calmer and hence more authoritative. TROJAN 80 is talking to TROJAN 84 on his mobile phone and is probably getting the paranoia in the rest of the ops room direct. The Commander is not only senior-ranking, but is also meant to be clued in on all kinds of other secret spook stuff. And you can't ask the surveillance group yourself, or actually see what is going on.

This is what is known as the cross-cockpit gradient; it's not healthy to depend on information that comes from someone who is too authoritative to question, and the same thing applies to information that comes from sources too secret to question. In the end, several of the CO19 men seem to have believed that the KRATOS codeword had been given; they differed on whether it came from "C" or from the DSO and relayed by "C". "C", it turns out, was the mystery "senior colleague", which is interesting because he was a junior colleague.

Sir Ian Blair must go.

Update: Interesting read here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The IPCC Report

The IPCC seems to be clueless about running a website, so here's a direct link to the Stockwell I report (PDF, 1.35MB): link.

Much more later.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Public Service Announcement (Without Guitars)

Readers are strongly requested to read this, as well as explanations here, and then vote for Sadly No here.

That is all.

Some data points

OK, so by chance we have some real data to put into the sums in this post. The head of MI5 has just announced that we should all be very scared, because he reckons there may be 2,000 people in Britain who pose a threat to national security because of their support for terrorism.

So let's run the Terroriser. 59 million people; 2,000 terrorists. So there's a 0.0034% chance of any given citizen being a terrorist. Remember that the Terroriser will catch 99 per cent of the real terrorists - so that's all but 20 terrorists. Now, the Terrorist will also miss 98 per cent of the non-terrorists - but that means we'll get some 1,180,000 false positives. 1,980 terrorists plus 1,180,000 false positives = 1,181,980 suspects. (1,980/1,181,980)x100=0.1675155. There is a 0.167 per cent chance that any one of the suspects is a terrorist.

And there are still 20 terrorists out there; easily enough for a major terrorist attack. Now consider this hilarious report; apparently the FBI mined supermarket sales figures in the hope that sales of falafels would indicate the presence of Iranian terrorists! As well as, ah, Israelis, presumably. Note the involvement of half-arsed fearmonger Steven Emerson, and also old TYR butt Yossef Bodansky.

Well, it went through!

In Texas, a man suspected of homicide has escaped from prison. How he did it tells us something about the inevitable failure of ID cards, and the importance of false positives. Via Bruce Schneier.

What happened? Well, the suspected killer was in a cell with another remand prisoner, a car thief named Garcia. He memorised Garcia's prison number and other details, and when someone stood bail for Garcia, he answered the jailers with Garcia's name and number. They took him instead of Garcia. When they took his fingerprints, they were smudged and judged useless (one wonders if this was deliberate), so they decided to check him against their spanking new biometric database.

When his fingers were scanned, the DB actually worked perfectly, which was precisely the worst thing that could have happened; up came the file, with a large photograph of the man who was standing before them, so they released him. The problem here is that the system had taught its users that if nothing weird happened, they were right. This is a common problem in user interface design; if you depend on throwing an alert box to stop something weird from happening, you better not throw too many others, or your users will be conditioned to hit Ctrl+W or Alt+F4 as a reflex.

Of course, the notion that if "it goes through", everything is OK is deeply embedded in the computer experience. As a rule, if there is a problem you experience it as the computer throwing an error message or crashing; programming, you hack away, compile, and it either compiles, in which case you run the thing, or there is a compiler error, in which case you go back to the drawing board. And if it doesn't run or does something weird or throws an error message, you go back to the drawing board. Silence is consent in computing.

What the Texan warders were really checking was the absence of an error message, not the fingerprint; further, the system design contained a major flaw in that the error condition looked OK. You check the fingerprint, and up comes a photo of the guy who's standing in front of you, which is what you would expect; the alternative condition would be very unlikely. What the system should have done was to ask for the prisoner's name and number, then check the fingerprint file, and throw a great big red-flashing alarm if the names didn't match. Its function here was authentication; is this man the same man who's been bailed? But it was designed for identification; which database record matches this chap?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Blogging Rugby League; GB 44 NZ 0

Kiri Te Kanawa, Alan Deere, Keith Park, Gary Freeman, Kurt Sorensen, Bernard Freyberg, Vik Olliver, Kotare, Phil Blake, Graham Lowe, your boys took a hell of a beating!

Since when did Leon Pryce become a world-class stand-off? What happened to Gareth Raynor? I remember when he was intensely average; suddenly he's become a cracker.

And I'm really impressed by Tony Smith, especially dropping Terry Newton after the first test. I wouldn't have changed anything from the first game, but clearly, the benchmark of expectation has been set higher.

And Scotland are into the World Cup.

Mind my fortified data centre pod!

I haz been in yr thread, commenting on yr arcologies. I am fascinated to see that in a sense, one is under construction right now, in the fine city of Baghdad.

William Langewiesche reports; read the whole damn thing, as it's one of the best things about architecture, politics, diplomacy, and Iraq you'll ever see.
Whatever the specific allegations, which First Kuwaiti denies, in the larger context of Iraq the accusation is absurd. It is Iraq that holds people captive. Indeed, the U.S government itself is a prisoner, and all the more tightly held because it engineered the prison where it resides. The Green Zone was built by the inmates themselves. The new embassy results from their desire to get their confinement just right.
Indeed; and the detail of the structure makes it clear that it's as close to an arcology as you're likely to get.
For the most part, however, the new embassy is not about leaving Iraq, but about staying on—for whatever reason, under whatever circumstances, at whatever cost. As a result the compound is largely self-sustaining, and contains its own power generators, water wells, drinking-water treatment plant, sewage plant, fire station, irrigation system, Internet uplink, secure intranet, telephone center (Virginia area code), cell-phone network (New York area code), mail service, fuel depot, food and supply warehouses, vehicle-repair garage, and workshops. At the core stands the embassy itself, a massive exercise in the New American Bunker style, with recessed slits for windows, a filtered and pressurized air-conditioning system against chemical or biological attack, and sufficient office space for hundreds of staff. Both the ambassador and deputy ambassador have been awarded fortified residences grand enough to allow for elegant diplomatic receptions even with the possibility of mortar rounds dropping in from above.

As for the rest of the embassy staff, most of the government employees are moving into 619 blast-resistant apartments, where they will enjoy a new level of privacy that, among its greatest effects, may ease some of the sexual tension that has afflicted Green Zone life. Fine—as a general rule the world would be a better place if American officials concentrated more of their energies on making love. But unfortunately even within the Baghdad embassy, with its romance-inducing isolation, a sexual solution is too much to expect. Instead, the residents fight their frustrations with simulations of home—elements of America in the heart of Baghdad that seem to have been imported from Orange County or the Virginia suburbs. The new embassy has tennis courts, a landscaped swimming pool, a pool house, and a bomb-resistant recreation center with a well-equipped gym. It has a department store with bargain prices, where residents (with appropriate credentials) can spend some of their supplemental hazardous-duty and hardship pay. It has a community center, a beauty salon, a movie theater, and an American Club, where alcohol is served. And it has a food court where third-country workers (themselves ultra-thin) dish up a wealth of choices to please every palate. The food is free. Take-out snacks, fresh fruit and vegetables, sushi rolls, and low-calorie specials. Sandwiches, salads, and hamburgers. American comfort food, and theme cuisines from around the world, though rarely if ever from the Middle East. Ice cream and apple pie. All of it is delivered by armed convoys up the deadly roads from Kuwait. Dread ripples through the embassy's population when, for instance, the yogurt supply runs low.
Such a structure turning into a dystopia is a pretty standard sci-fi trope, but it's usual for the poison to come from within, rather than screaming over the walls in the form of 122mm rockets. The Baghdad arcology does, however, have an additional feature I don't think either daydreaming architects or sci-fi writers have suggested; its citizens are very unlikely to be there by choice.

Still, perhaps the sysadmin there gets to play with one of those Sun Microsystems data centres in a shipping container?

Martin Kettle Is a Worthless Old Hack

It used to be reasonably commonplace that bloggers, especially American ones, would say that at least in Britain there was enough diversity in the press that no equivalent to the classic US pundit wanker existed - no-one like David Brooks or David Broder, essentially content-free and heavily invested in the self-regard of the political class. Rather, you had a choice between, say, Alan Watkins, Polly Toynbee, Richard Littlejohn, Tariq Ali, and David Aaronovitch; hardly an enviable choice, but at least a choice.

But there is a version of the kind of thing the US blogosphere has raged against for years; and Martin Kettle of the Guardian is it. I think it was Daniel Davies who said about him that some people are useful idiots, but he is a useless one. I disagree; he certainly has his uses, just not to me, you, or Daniel Davies. Let's see a take.

Here's his response to the conviction of the Metropolitan Police.
There is no easy answer to the question of whether Sir Ian Blair should resign as London's police chief. Anyone who pretends otherwise is kidding. There are serious arguments for him to fall on his sword. But there are also serious arguments for him to stay where he is. On balance the case for him remaining commissioner is much stronger. Yet it would be idle to say this without reservations.

We'll stop here to mark a couple of tropes; first of all, there's what Roland Barthes called Neither-Nor Criticism. All Kettle's published work is riddled with it. On the one hand there's this, on the other hand there's that, and therefore the answer is to be neither of them, and say nothing of any interest. This wouldn't be so bad if we were in an ideal society, or else in the original position, when nothing was settled; but we're not, and therefore the impact of this sort of speech is to reinforce things as they are now, with God in his heaven, the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, Sir Ian Blair in Scotland Yard, and Jean Charles de Menezes in his grave.

The main argument for Blair to go is simple. He is the head of a police force that killed an innocent man under a firearms policy he authorised and controlled. To me, the circumstances in which Jean Charles de Menezes was gunned down by Blair's officers are less important than the fact that it happened at all. Police forces should not kill innocent people, period.

Yet when they do, justice demands that those who did the killing must be held to account. Most of all, this applies to those who pulled the trigger. But police chiefs must accept their share of responsibility too. As the man in charge, the buck stops with Blair. Of course he should consider his position. I would be utterly amazed if he has not done so.

He's a nice guy really; he's one of us. Has Kettle considered that he simply likes power too much to give it up, or has political ambitions? Or that he might simply refuse to believe he could be wrong?

This responsibility applies with special force over police shootings. Yes, some police shootings are not merely justified by their circumstances but are also acts of high courage. Far too many, however, are neither of these things. Though rare, the death of De Menezes was not a one-off. Fifteen people have been killed by British police shooters since 2002. Nor was this the most egregious case in recent memory. Remember the indefensible fate of Steven Waldorf (who survived) or John Shorthouse a generation ago.

There are established patterns in all police forces of reckless shooting, excessive firing, insufficient training, poor supervision and inadequate accountability. We have to enforce a higher standard than in the past, and the most important police officer in the land must observe it.

Kettle has just claimed that the situation is far worse than David Davis, Mr. Justice Henriques, or the IPCC suggest; the police force is a menace, has been a menace for years, and the menace extends to the provincial forces as well as the Met. Surely we ought to do something about it? Now, this would have been a reasonable contribution to the debate had it stopped here. But, of course, although in a sense the Met's failings are accepted as true, they are also inadmissible, as Orwell put it. Therefore, something must be found to cancel out the information in the first part of the article.

So why then say he should not resign? Surely because, more than anything else, this was such an extreme emergency. The police genuinely thought De Menezes was a suicide bomber. They were wrong. Yet, on the day of his death, every one of the officers in the capital was hunting for four bombers who had failed to blow themselves up on the underground the previous day.

Yes, in a manner so catastrophically hopeless they were lucky they didn't kill more people. They were also looking in the wrong places entirely; the bombers were in Birmingham, and in Italy having successfully got past Special Branch's spotter at Waterloo.

The police were at full stretch, in real danger, and bore a massive responsibility to the public. It ended horribly wrongly for De Menezes. Yet those who reserve the entirety of their indignation for the tragic Brazilian are not looking at this situation objectively.

Objectively, huh? Translation: I was a commie at university until I saw which way house prices were going. That is cheap snark, but it's a classic mark of the breed that anyone who disagrees with them isn't "serious", isn't "objective", isn't quite sane. If he wants to talk objectivity, by the way, perhaps he should consider even mentioning the facts of the case; we haven't seen a single fact about it so far.

What about this week's finding of guilt against the Metropolitan Police under the health and safety laws? Surely Blair should accept responsibility for that? It would be dishonest not to admit this is a serious question. I admit to feeling, even when the law is a complete ass, that bosses ought to step up to the plate if their organisations are found guilty. But I accept it with the utmost reluctance in this case - and I passionately hope the Met appeals and wins.

You can argue that it wasn't Blair's fault; but can you honestly argue that the courts should strike out the 19 failings, the firearms team who took five hours to rock up, the mystery senior colleague, the arse-awful command and control? But he's going to; not because he disagrees with any of the facts of the case, but because he thinks the court should rule on the basis of what would be a nice verdict, not on the evidence. But first, this...

You see, I want to be protected from the suicide bombers. I'm a hundred per cent in favour of peaceful prevention if humanly possible. But I don't care how indignant the bomber feels. If it comes down to the bomber's life or mine, I want the bomber to be stopped every time, and by force if necessary. Ken Livingstone is wholly correct to say that health and safety legislation was never drawn up for such extreme situations as this. And the law is not just an ass but an outright threat to liberty if this week's judgment means a future armed officer is afraid to fire at a real suicide bomber in similar circumstances.

Oh, right, it's because you're scared. When I read this I had the feeling of having seen something shameful, someone behaving in a pathetic and embarrassing and humiliating fashion. Who the fuck said anything about how "indignant the bomber feels"? What fucking bomber, for fuck's sake? There wasn't any bomber; you can come out now. I want Sir Ian Blair sacked because I've considered the evidence, and I conclude that I've met all kinds of people - warehouse workers, Australian stockmen, Viennese anarcho-feminists, telco executives, random bloggers - who I'd sooner trust to protect London from terrorists.

And no, it's not a "threat to liberty"; it's a possible threat to security. Liberty is just fine with the idea that the police should be less keen to shoot.

More seriously, where do these people get the idea that organisations with safety critical functions work better in the absence of criticism or responsibility? It can't be from experience; Kettle is a career pundit, having started out as a leader writer. The whole history of safety engineering is the exact opposite; if you're playing with the big boys' toys, you cannot afford to skim over your mistakes, ever. There are very good reasons why airlines have senior training captains and CHIRP confidential-reporting forms, companies have external auditors, and newspapers have editors.

Come to think of it, the whole history of Western political thought is about this exact point; the limitation of power. It's a timeless, placeless truth - anyone who tells you they need absolute irresponsibility to work better is wrong.

Be clear that this is now a real possibility. That is why the conviction of the Met this week was bad news not good news. The tyranny of the insurance-driven risk assessment culture - which ironically the commissioner would now be negligent to ignore - means you and I will be less well-protected in future by the police than we were in July 2005. This week's judgment tells those who try to save us to hold back. It leaves us collectively in the same position as the boy who was allowed to drown the other day because a police community support officer judged himself unqualified to plunge in to rescue him. This law is monstrously inappropriate to all the emergency services. Londoners are at much greater risk after this ruling.

Right, Martin; the first damn thing you learn on a first-aid course about drowning is DON'T JUMP IN THE WATER. There is a reason for this; if someone's drowning in the water there is quite probably a reason why they are drowning, and drowning yourself will not help them one bit. Your analogy is stupid.

Anyway, I refer your point to the reply I gave some moments ago.

In my view the good policing of London is ultimately more important to British justice than the De Menezes case. Blair can sometimes be a bit foolish. But he is answerable and accountable to the public in ways that few of his predecessors ever were.

He is so accountable, clearly, that he doesn't need to be accountable!

He is also, overall, the most important commissioner London has had since Robert Mark in the 1970s. Blair's neighbourhood policing strategy is the best thing that has happened to policing in modern times - and it is producing results for communities. Those who are trying to push Blair out are doing no favours to anyone except his enemies in the police and the press, who want to turn back the clock.

He's not seriously proposing that bobbies-on-the-beat-bollocks and ASBOs are so fantastic they outweigh coming to arrest one suicide bomber, killing an innocent man, and sticking up two more people with guns despite only having one suspect? Anyway, note an important point; what matters is not the dead guy, or even really the policing of London, but whether "his enemies in the police and the press" or Sir Ian come out on top. This is a classic piece of pundit wankerism; to be a good pundit, you have to believe at once that Westminster politics is absolutely crushingly, dominatingly important and also that it is irrelevant. The eyes of the world are on this restaurant, but the actual policy content of what is discussed there is of surpassing irrelevance.

What happened to De Menezes was awful. Yet, awful as it was, it was not as big an outrage as the bombers had in mind. Even the judge this week said it was an isolated breach in extraordinary circumstances. Yes, the police have occasionally got it wrong again in the aftermath - not least in the adversarial forum of the court. Maybe Blair should have gone to Stockwell soon after the killing and knelt in contrition, Willy Brandt-style, at the makeshift shrine that grew up outside the tube station. Maybe he still should.
Willy Brandt was a Social Democrat underground activist in Nazi Germany before he had to go into exile; he had a million times more courage, dignity, and spirit of public service than anyone in Britain today. This bit makes me want to vomit, but I'd love to know what such a repellent exercise in the pornography of grief would do for the Met's command and control system. If there is something to grieve for here, it's the great tradition of Robert Peel, the ideal of an unarmed, civilian, locally accountable investigative police force drawn from the people it polices.

Yet how many apologies will be enough? There must be a point when repeatedly going over a relatively isolated disaster like the Stockwell shooting must stop. Maybe that point has not quite arrived.

I remember this argument being made over every appalling act of state, going back to the Guildford Four, including all the great miscarriages of justice of the 1970s, BSE, arms to Iraq, Bloody Sunday...and quite often Martin Kettle writing leaders in the Guardian saying that they must be fought out to a finish. Note that even here, he's still unwilling to make a definite statement; maybe that point has not quite arrived.

But it is increasingly unclear whose interest beyond those of the conspiracy theorists and the victimologists is served by the process, especially when the costs may be underwritten by a Brazilian government that should put its own house in order - police in Rio state have killed 961 Brazilians in 2007 alone - before ours. Maybe it is tactless to remind readers that public opinion supports the shoot-to-kill-to-protect policy. But it is true. And it is another reason why it is in the interests of the public as well as the state for this debate, not Blair, to move on.
And this par is simply beneath contempt; which "conspiracy theorists", pray? The IPCC? Precisely how do the failings of the Rio police bear on this? Imagine if the firearms squad had got a different passenger, or perhaps the train driver they very nearly did kill; would Kettle argue it was quite all right because the Rio police are awful? This argument is merely code for "it doesn't matter; he was sort of black."

It's also worth pointing out that it has only ever been invoked by the Met's tireless anonymous briefers, just as "shoot-to-kill-to-protect" is a phrase that has only ever been used by Sir Ian Blair.

Update: I've just noticed that this is the sixth full-dress fisking I've directed at Martin Kettle in less than a year. Therefore, I've created a new blog category so as to keep all my Kettle content in an easily addressable form. Just click on the Kettle tag to view all of them in one crack-like hit.

Google: the world's favourite command line

Google is, essentially, a honking great unix system whose command line interface is addressed through URLs. This came to mind preparing the embedded map for the G3 Systems post; Google Maps autogenned a slightly different location than the view I wanted every time, although I could link directly to the right view.

So, of course, I started fiddling with it; the embedded map function seems to work as follows. Here's some code:
iframe width="425" height="350" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" src=",+Brookfield+Rd,+Arnold,+Nottingham,+NG5+7ER&
small>ah ref=",
z=17&iwloc=addr&source=embed" style="color:#0000FF;text-align:left">View Larger Map/a>/small>
Some tags have been disabled. OK, so we kick off by declaring an iFRAME whose dimensions match what appears to be an emerging standard; anything you embed in a website is usually 425 by 350 pixels for some reason. Its content is to be drawn from the URL that follows, and a link to a near-identical page is provided beneath.

To kick off, after the ? sign that signals the end of the real URL and the beginning of the command-line argument, we've got the command q, which permits you to pass search terms, each string separated by commas and multi-word strings concatenated with + signs (just like in Python). In this case the search is an address. An & marks the end of the statement. Then there's ie which specifies encoding for the target page, in this case UTF8. Again, the statement is ended with the delimiter &, and the next one begins with a semicolon.

Next we have t, which I reckon specifies the type of map to display as its value here is k, as in KeyHole. Then there's om, set to 1; I don't know what it does. ll is crucial, as it passes the latitude and longitude of the map centre, separated by a comma, like this: 53.001614,-1.119962. spn appears to contain geographic data as well, but I'm not sure what. z controls the zoom level, a number with a maximum of 30. iwloc is one I don't know; output tells the machine to treat this one as an embed, and finally comes s, which looks to be a hashed unique identifier, and causes the whole thing to stop working if you omit or change it.

So, I increased z from 14 to 17, read off the lat, long and spn values from the view I wanted, and altered the code accordingly. And now it works.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Failings of Social Network Analysis

If you watched Britz this week you'll have seen the MI5 chaps and chappesses poring over really complicated social-network diagrams of the jihadi menace. And this has indeed been a boom academic industry since 2001; after Valdis Krebs's seminal paper in which he mapped the relationships of the September 11 plotters, there were all kinds of people hoping to win the war with an interesting powerpoint presentation. Anyone remember Steven Emerson's Investigative Project?

In fact, a lot of this wasn't particularly new; the "new software" usually turned out to be Analyst's Notebook, which I recall seeing in 1996 or thereabouts, and most of the folk involved outside academia eventually merged into the general wingnutosphere. Anyway, let's cut to the data.

This diagram is from the Namebase research project, and can be seen in its natural habitat with much more functionality here. It's a diagram of Viktor Bout's social network, or at least as much of it as could be deduced from their pile of newspaper articles. And frankly, it's useless. If you zoom in on it, you'll notice that Sergei Bout, his brother and the founder of the biggest of his holding companies, CET Aviation of Malabo, is far more distant from Viktor than either Alex Vines, a Global Witness staffer, or Paul Vixie.

Who is this man? Is he a terrorist? If you're reading this on a Linux, Unix or MacOS machine, he wrote great chunks of the operating system; as well as this, his accomplishments include a huge range of things in the field of Internet engineering and operations, networking theory, and the like. It's just good news that the Namebase doesn't scrape blogs, or I'd be right in the fucking middle!

So when we look at the NSA wiretapping project - rather, I should say, its data-mining project, as it involved the statistical analysis of CDRs rather than the interception of calls - we need to ask ourselves how it could ever possibly work. The plan appears to have been to pull all the CDRs for a list of suspects, then pull all the CDRs for the phone numbers that appeared in them, and then for the numbers in them, then plot the whole huge pile o'files on a network diagram. It sounds convincing until you think of the sheer number of phone calls involved, and the rate at which the noise factor grows.

This is a key cognitive bias in anti-terrorism; it feels logical to assume that it doesn't matter very much if your search results in false positives. It's worth it to make sure we get as much of a chance as possible of sweeping up the bad guys...right? But consider this example; imagine there are a thousand people, and there is a 1 per cent chance (Dick Cheney's standard) of any one person being a terrorist. We have a big technical breakthrough, the Terroriser, an algorithm that searches all available databases to look for terrorists and has only a 1 per cent chance of misidentifying a terrorist as a law-abiding citizen. On the downside, it has a 2 per cent false positive rate; or as Capita RAS pitched it to the Home Office, accuracy of 98 per cent.

So if we run everyone through the Terroriser, what are the chances that anyone who is flagged is a terrorist?

Well, there are by definition 10 terrorists, and the Terroriser performs as expected; 9 of them are flagged. But so are 20 law-abiding citizens; we now have 29 people in the cells, and the chance of any given suspect being a terrorist is less than one in three. Oh, and there's still a terrorist out there. Now, that's a reasonably good result; a false positive rate of 2 per cent is probably unrealistically low. I count 8 false positives out of 52 names on that diagram for a false positive rate of 15 per cent; it's worth remembering that there is probably a good reason why the Government's pathetically inadequate biometrics trial never reported accuracy rates with false positives and negatives broken out.

G3 Systems and Fraser-Brook

G3 Systems Ltd must have been very proud when Tony Blair visited the logistics base it built in Afghanistan for the British Army a few months ago, and again when Defence Secretary Des Browne came calling. Their website boasts of offering a wide range of services to the armed forces, especially the supply of various vehicles, the construction of field hospitals, and various logistics services. They've been working in Afghanistan since 2002; back then their business was to set up the first British field hospital there.

The board of directors is an impressive catalogue of military-industrial bigwigs from companies such as Thales and BAE, and from the Army; it includes a brigadier and a major-general. It also still includes Roy Ashurst and Mike Ford, founders of the company back in 2001.

You don't need to be an expert to remember the case of Lincoln Fraser and Julian Brook's spectacular Imperial Consolidated Group, a financial company that went bust in 2002 with the loss of an estimated £200 million in its customers' savings. Fraser and Brook were already facing disqualification as company directors before that over their disastrous purchase of the Midland Grand Hotel in Blackpool, which ended with guests being turned out in the street as bailiffs seized the linen.

During the administrators' efforts to recover the cash, they discovered an incredibly complicated network of companies engaged in doing much the same thing in the UK, various Caribbean tax havens, Hong Kong, Canada, and South Africa. Imperial indeed. Some of the victims of the original fraud were bilked twice over, as Fraser and Brook reappeared with something called "Matrix Investigations" based on the same property as several other businesses of theirs, which promised to make inquiries in return for a fee. Specifically, it targeted Imperial's original client list, which Fraser and Brook had taken with them. It also conducted an Internet propaganda campaign against the administrators, the Financial Services Authority, and various other parties.

You might be a little surprised, then, to discover that while Imperial Consolidated was collapsing, the same people were in charge of G3 Systems. In the administrators' report to creditors, G3 Systems and a second firm, G3 Strategic, are described as part of the Fraser-Brook Partnership. As well as Ashurst, Fraser and Brook were directors, as was Hugh Allen, who claims to be an SAS officer and was also part of another Fraser-Brook venture, Alpha Toronto Series Inc, which itself was ordered to stop advertising investments by the Canadian government. You don't need to take my word for it; you can read all this in the liquidators' report to creditors (pdf). Much more documentation is available from the liquidators here. Fraser and Brook left the board in February, 2002, but the company was still owned by them in May when Ashurst and Pond appear as directors. The relevant facts are on pages 58-62 of the report.

Fraser and Brook's financial activities were based on the old RAF fighter base at Binbrook in Lincolnshire, but they also owned the nearby Faldingworth facility, originally built as a high-security nuclear bomb store for the RAF but used since 1972 for a variety of semimilitary functions, for example explosive and weapons tests for HM Forces. More dubiously, it appears in the Scott Report as the site where Jonathan Aitken's company, Alpha Defence Systems, was based. Inside the site, there is a complex of bunkers and a weapons testing range, surrounded by the owners' security precautions. You can see the place, thanks to the guys from Subterranea Britannica; loads of photos are here.

Matrix Investigations and G3 Strategic both had their registered addresses at Faldingworth. G3 Systems is based elsewhere, in a business park in Royston and on the old Portland naval base, and is now under new management, being part of a US company. But its website's "facilities" page still shows a photograph of what is clearly the entrance to Faldingworth. (Compare the left-hand photo with this SubBrit photo.)

When the Sloman Traveller arrived in Immingham with its 7,639 pallets of arms - pallets whose contents were not specified to either the Croatian or British authorities, and which were neither sealed before shipment nor opened on arrival - it was only a few miles from the Faldingworth site. Now, if you look up the ostensible recipients' address, you'll notice that it's a basement unit in a shared building in the middle of a housing estate. Seven thousand pallets?

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What they wanted with the arms is an interesting question. The arms that went to Iraq were flown direct from Tuzla to Baghdad, or as Shazia Mirza might have said, at least that's what it said on the flight plan. So why bring them to Lincolnshire? Perhaps the fact that a director of Matrix Investigations, was seen in Liberia about this time could explain it.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Official Instructions for Iraqi Locally-Engaged Staff

The Foreign Office has finally published some actual instructions about what to do if you are an Iraqi employee of the British Government and you wish to flee. You can read them on the FCO website here; one could have wished for a more memorable URL, perhaps, rather than whatever the JSP servlet randomly generated.

The page includes copies of the latest ministerial statement in British (rather than English) and Arabic(thank God somebody thought of that), as well as an application form. The rules are in the statement, which is here in British and HTML and here as an Arabic PDF. Complete the form and return to IraqLEStaffScheme AT, or call one of these telephone numbers:
Official Line: Basra 822 199
Mobiles:+964 (0) 7801 096 865
+964 (0) 7801 096 993
+964 (0) 7801 095 769
+964 (0) 7801 096 687

What all this bollocksing around is when they could just put the text on the sodding website is beyond me, but hell, it's government IT.

The good news, looking at the statement, is that the 12-month limit is now being applied as 12 months of service, continuous or not. Obviously the limit is itself absurd, and everything is being done to get it lifted, but this is an improvement as it addresses the fact that many (possibly a majority) of the people concerned worked for multiple Coalition organisations.

Further good news is that the scheme appears to be getting a little more generous. Meanwhile, I am told by an expert that there is no chance of a former employee who claims asylum in the UK being returned to Iraq.

It Is the Deliberate Policy of the Metropolitan Police to Shoot People and Lie About It

Update: Right, I am somewhat calmer.

The first thing that strikes me about this is that we still don't know quite a few interesting things about the decisions that led up to the shooting; for example, why the firearms squad took so long to rock up, who was responsible for the briefing they received, which appears to have been little else than an aggression-building pep talk, or who actually decided to call off the stop outside the tube station.

Let's roll the tape; Cressida Dick told the court that she ordered the surveillance team to "stop" de Menezes outside the tube station, as the firearms squad had still not turned up, but that then "a senior colleague" informed her that they had, with the result that the order to stop him was countermanded and the firearms team sent in.

OK, so who's the senior colleague? Anyone?

And however senior he or she was, what did they think they were doing second-guessing the Gold Commander? Who was, in fact, in command - Dick, McDowell, or Mystery Cop? Further, Dick denied that an order to shoot was ever given; and it is far from clear whether she countermanded her own order on the information given by Mystery Cop, or whether Mystery Cop overruled her.

Moving swiftly on, the firearms squad ran into the tube train and shot the guy, and then one of their number stuck his carbine in the face of another cop, one of the detectives who had been following de Menezes. Yet a third man chased the train driver into the tunnel with a gun; running about in the dark on an active, unsecured railway line with the traction current switched on, with a loaded automatic weapon. It's a bloody miracle they didn't manage to kill anyone else, or for that matter each other. ("Shit! Gunmen! Gunmen dressed as fake policemen!")

But they had been tipped off by the detective who was later himself menaced; why did they think there were more suspects? Wouldn't the fact there was one suspect only have been quite important information? The limited and partial account of the briefing, given in court by McDowell, mentions that they were told that there was a suspect "who was up for it"; suspect, singular. And what information was this statement based on?

The Met doesn't seem to be at all interested in any of these questions; their legal defence strategy should be enough to make that clear. Ronald Thwaites QC was apparently instructed to contest absolutely everything, every damn one of the 19 failings the prosecution identified, and at the end even the impartiality of the judge. (Can we really have seen the spectacle of a lawyer for the police accusing a judge of being biased to the prosecution?) It's hard to understand the logic of this strategy; it seems to be pure bloodymindedness, given what was already known about the incident before the trial. And having failed to dispose of even one failing or the judge, Thwaites then resorted to a frankly repellent attempt to smear the dead.

Yes, it's the coke again; the coke that wasn't actually on him at all, but this didn't stop Thwaites from repeating the allegation. Is that legal? I suppose we should be thankful he didn't accuse him of being a paedophile. One thing that we have learned from this is that the leak campaign against de Menezes, and presumably the Forest Gate victims too, was a deliberate policy; otherwise why would exactly the same smears reappear in the mouth of the Met's lawyer?

The only reason I can see for this legal balls-to-the-wall strategy is that it would tend to detract from any examination of questions like, well, who the senior colleague is.

They've all got to go.

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