Archive for November, 2005

Black Site: Update 2

Many other bloggers have descended on the CIA secret jail story and are probably doing it better than I am. If you want a round-up I endorse and recommend Soj. But there are some things I feel ought to be flagged. As anyone who reads this regularly ought to know, I suspect that Taszar airbase in Hungary, the location of “Camp Freedom”, where Ahmed Chalabi’s followers were trained for the invasion of Iraq is one of the sites. Last week, I revealed that an aircraft formerly used by the Bush-Cheney campaign had visited Taszar in April, 2003. I’m trying to find out who was using Boeing 727, N804MA at the time. Mr Hackert, director of sales for its owners Miami Air International, declined to answer an inquiry by email. Readers?

One may remember that an Iraqi general was about to be tried in Denmark on war crimes charges shortly before the war. He vanished, an event that attracted some attention at the time. This site, whose credibility I rather doubt, claims that General Nizar al-Khazraji was taken to Taszar on board a Gulfstream aircraft operated by the CIA. (Two Gulfstreams have been identified as taking part in prisoner transfers.) They also, fascinatingly, claim that the operation at Taszar was run by none other than disgraced New York cop Bernard Kerik!

German weekly Die Zeit described the scene around the base in January 2003: massive security, with an outer ring of Hungarian troops but an inner sanctum guarded by Americans. Apparently the Hungarians were informed of all the people who passed through for border control purposes, but I don’t know if any physical control was carried out – in any case no-one was permitted to leave the perimeter.

It was rumoured yesterday that Le Monde was going to run a headline regarding a “little Guantanamo” at Camp Bondsteel, the US Army headquarters in Kosovo, however they didn’t (or at least their website didn’t). It’s here. I suspect I know why: about a year ago, I was told by a former Naval staff officer and specialist in international law who had visited the place that the infamous Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo looked very similar to the POW cage in Bondsteel, which he had visited in connection with war-crimes suspects from the Balkan war who were held there before transfer to the Hague Tribunal. He held that X-Ray looked like it did because the Americans military engineers built the same kind of structure anywhere if they were told to erect a camp for prisoners, whether POWs or Rumsfeld’s “illegal combatants”.

What differed, presumably, was the treatment they received once they were there..

Edit: this is essentially the Le Monde story, just the person who saw the prison’s likeness was Alvardo Gil Robles of the Council of Europe. He was apparently “shocked” by the resemblance but makes no mention of torture or maltreatment.



Three terrorist cells exposed in Baghdad. Two were led by the same renegade Interior Ministry official and the other by the director of a private investment company. Does anyone else wonder if he was playing the markets (petrol? cement? security/protection racket?) in relation to his spare-time activities? This really is getting like Vietnam with worse music.

Cole quotes Arabic press reports that representatives of the “guerrilla movement” in Iraq met with the Iraqi political parties, other Arab states, and US intelligence at a conference in Cairo, where they stated their terms. The terms are as follows:

1) working to end the foreign occupation;
2) compensation to the Iraqis for the damages arising from the American invasion;
3) the release of prisoners;
4) building political and military institutions that are not subservient to American and regional influence.

Or to put it another way, this is the beginning of the end. It’s nowhere near the beginning of the end of the war, but it is the beginning of the end of our war in Iraq. 1) is clear – get out. 3) is obvious (but not trivial). 2) can be read as blackmail: pay up and we might – might – grant you a relatively orderly departure, rather than insisting on live-broadcast humiliation, burning Chinooks and screaming mobs. 4) is interesting. “Political and military institutions that are not subservient to American influence”, I think, means the re-establishment of the old Iraqi army and the order of the boot for Jaafari’s government. “Regional influence”, I suppose, means essentially the two I’s, Israel and Iran – these particular guerrillas are part of what I call NOIA, the New Old Iraqi Army, and they are not keen on Iran at all. And you can forget diplomatic relations with Israel any time before the crack of doom.

This is why I’m anti-timetables. If we say that come what may, in six months’ time the last coalition soldier will step over the Kuwaiti border, we have to accept all of these. For example, the terms suggest that we have to depose the SCIRI-UIA from government as they are arguably subservient to both American and “regional” influence. That brings problems – not only were they sort-of elected, they have their own armies and allies, and they are in the majority. Sacking Jalal Talabani from the presidency would also presumably trigger Kurdish secession and all that would follow from it. From a selfish point of view, it would also be militarily foolish.

When we leave Iraq we will go the same way we came, along the motorway (State Highway 8) south from Baghdad past the Shia towns, over the Euphrates, south-west of Basra and eventually to the docks in Kuwait City. This road (it leads on past Baghdad and eventually takes you to Mosul) is the main supply route for the whole coalition force, with a subsidiary air route to Baghdad Airport and the Corps Support Command logistics base at Balad South East airfield northeast of Baghdad. Appeasing the Sunni insurgents would be penny wise, pound foolish if it incenses the Shia, because our line of retreat is through their territory. The 2004 Shia rising effectively bollocksed up the logistics system to the point where the Green Zone was on half rations precisely because that road is where it is.

So that’s a term we can’t agree to. If we are tied to a specific date, though, we have no choice in the matter. That is the danger of a timetable. If we don’t accept, then we still go in six months but we have to retreat under constant attack. And they will get what they want anyway.

Another point on this: as Comments Dan pointed out, British forces are currently covering the southern end of that route and the border with Kuwait. We can’t leave until everyone else has, short of leaving the US to negotiate a deal with Iran to get out and accept that the NOIA will do exactly as it pleases, which would be a military disaster, lead to the immediate elimination of the Iraqi government and probable further intervention by the neighbours, and also be equivalent to terminating the Atlantic alliance.

You may be interested to know, according to the Washington Post, that the security situation is now so bad that you cannot move around the Green Zone freely. Perhaps the fear that one day the Zone will fall in some sort of bloody, epic crisis is illusory, an example of how you expect big and dramatic things to be big and dramatic. Maybe it’s just going to shrink – presumably we leave when the security perimeter equals the size of John Negroponte’s office? More drawdown talk here, although I class this with most of the “withdrawals in six months” stuff. We won’t get out until we go, so to speak.

Boris Johnson


So there’s this comment that appears in one of my old threads and it says “Nick Griffin is a paedophile”, giving what is clearly a string of random letters as a name. Then it appears again. Identical. So I goes and I asks da comment, whatta you know about Nick? Comment doesn’t answer, stares in his beer.

Obviously I go do a WHOIS. You got weird comments and you know the IP address, you do a WHOIS. Meh, it goes through to an ISP in Sheffield called, to a customer netblock. So off I goes and I does a reverse DNS lookup on And, what? I find it calls itself Not that you’ll find no website with that name. Naturally, the name belongs the hostmaster.

So I google. And what do I find? A world of websites where some clown has been posting identical troll posts all pointing links right at, a domain that don’t no more exist than she was a rabbit. But there’s some site left in the Google cache, not much of a one though.

So – some knobber’s been trying to fill the Internet with links to their crappy little site by having a script copy nonsense into blog comments threads and can’t be bothered to maintain it. Netwebresearch, kindly piss off.

At the World Summit on the Information Society in fun-loving Tunisia, it seems the goons tried to make Richard Stallman wear an RFID tag. Yes, that Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and hammer of digital injustices of every kind. Apparently he wrapped it in tinfoil (see! it works! the MIT study is a stinking lie!) to stop it working…

..which clearly worked, seeing as the Tunisian security knobbers proceeded to give him a hard time. It’s a pity I didn’t think of resorting to this simple procedure at the time of my own RFID madness experience. By the way, do any of you have a reader for the things or know where I could obtain one? I’ve still got the thing and I’d like to know what it says about me..

I, I, THOMAS NISBET AITCHISON, Returning Officer at the election of a Councillor for the No. 15 Murrayfield Ward of the City of Edinburgh local government area on Thursday, 10 November 2005, do hereby, in accordance with Rule 43(1)(c) of the local elections rules set out in Schedule 2 to the Scottish Local Government Elections Rules 2002, declare that the result of the election was as follows:-

BALFOUR, Jeremy R.
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party Candidate: 1327

Scottish Green Party: 58

BROWN, Melville
UKIP Scotland: 4

As I think is customary on these occasions: BWHAAAHAAHAAHAAAHAAA! Remember this post from January? “It is just possible that he and UKIP will transform the politics of Britain and Europe”.

The Orwells, specifically. I’d like to resume Orwelling, and in a big way, by citing an organisation rather than an individual. This week’s Orwell nomination goes to the Association of Chief Police Officers, or ACPO for short. The reason? Not just for Brazilian-blasting or acting as uniformed whips for the Labour Party, nor for suggesting that an ANPR number plate recognition camera could be placed every 400 yards on the motorway network, but for something more intangible that touches on all of these.

It’s for getting involved not just in politics (no-one is ever really uninvolved in politics), but in legislation. ACPO kicked off by pushing the government’s policy to MPs, officially entirely off its own bat. In fact, the Home Office’s spokesman later said that Charles Clarke had spoken to the ACPO chairman but that this was “proper”. Curiously, though, it doesn’t worry me as much that the cops might be used by the government for party purposes than it does that ACPO is quite capable of doing so off its own bat.

After all, one of its members, Sir Ian “Killer of the Yard” Blair announced in what amounted to an address to the nation that he wanted a debate with us on what kind of policing we needed. Now, I always thought that this was a matter to be settled through parliament and the central government in one direction, and through local government and the elected police authorities in the other. But let that pass. I’d be delighted to debate policing with Killer, but Silvermans haven’t delivered my bulletproof vest yet, and anyway, the first item in the kind of police force I want is “one that doesn’t contain Sir Ian Blair”.

In the same week, his ACPO chums came out with their demarche to the Sunday Times in which they threatened not just to put recognition cameras every 400 yards on motorways, but to store all the recognition data in a (guess what?) monster national database for two years, whether or not anyone in the photos had done anything wrong. This would be a pharaonic project in itself, and a radical change in society, but apparently ACPO – which is a private association of coppers, not a statutory body – feels it can take it on all on its own. Parliament? Debate? Vote? We don’t need no stinkin’ vote!

So. An Orwell nomination to ACPO. Christmas is coming, and we shall soon be voting on the inaugural TYR Orwell Award for Authoritarianism. Can we have some recommendations for next week, please?

Everyone has been fascinated by the MIT $100 laptop project, what with the radical prospect of disseminating computers throughout the developing world’s classrooms (sweet version), small businesses (brutally pragmatic version), or terrorist cells (brutally cynical version). Some thought it was genius, others a distraction…and some of us realised with a degree of depression that its specifications were rather more impressive than those of our office computers. There is one problem, though, I don’t think anyone’s really dealt with.

That is to say, a cut-down PC is of very limited use in the role that is suggested. Apart from offering an introduction to programming and maths (the biggest application its designers were thinking of), most other really interesting uses for it depend on Internet access. Otherwise, whatever content that isn’t user-generated (the Wikipedia Foundation’s free curriculum project springs to mind, as do dictionaries, maps, and such) and all software will have to be distributed on physical storage media to all those computers…and as the whole point is to effectively set them free to swim through society, it’s doubtful whether they will have a supply link to whoever will provide this stuff for long.

The lapster does include a Wi-Fi (IEEE802.11b/g) radio, but this is not really a solution. Wi-Fi is a nice technology for places where there is a good fixed-line or microwave infrastructure. It is not a telecommunications replacement. Essentially, Internet access via Wi-Fi is always restricted to a radius corresponding to the access point’s range around its location at the end of a fibre or DSL line. This is as good as useless in this context.

MIT hopes Wi-Fi’s other mode, peer-to-peer rather than access point networking, will provide the answer. This is OK as far as linking the computers in a class together goes, but no farther. Using it for wide-area networking relies on what is known as mesh networking, in which one user passes on traffic from another to the next user until either the destination or the backbone network is reached. Essentially, the users act both as end-points and as routers. This is nice, and geeks (especially academic and lefty geeks) love it because they see it as a way of escape from the grip of big telcos and even ISPs into the pure, fresh skies of free connectivity.

The trouble arrives, though, if everyone, absolutely everyone, isn’t meshed in. Theoretically, if all the users are part of the meshnet, any user is routable from any other without leaving it. But, of course, everybody isn’t. For a mesh network to work, there must be a line of users, all online and within range of each other, from you to every other user. If there’s a gap, the users on the other side of the gap are their own private internetwork and you can’t reach them.

That would be no trouble if people were evenly distributed across the Earth’s surface, but we aren’t. There are deserts, oceans, and mountain ranges around, most of which are considerably larger than the theoretical maximum range of a Wi-Fi connection. Not just that, there are large areas of the world where the density of population is sufficiently low to put our laptops out of touch with each other and the wider world. The other problem with mesh networking is the so-called n+1 problem, which arises when we pragmatically accept the last problem and hook our mesh network up to the Internet. The computer nearest the backbone, the first (or last, depending on how you look at it) hop, must carry the total bandwidth required by all the others, all the time. The closer you get to that point, the heavier the load, and the more critical the link’s reliability. If that one fails, you have no Internet access. You may talk, however, among yourselves.

If the mesh is of any size, that last link must be at the very least a T-1/E-1, too. Try obtaining one of them in, say, the provincial Ivory Coast…at best it will be seriously expensive, and at worst impossible. Mesh networking is a cool idea if you’re on the MIT campus with plenty of other users and bandwidth to burn. It’s also not such a bad idea if you have a longer-range radio link (we’ll come back to this).

My point, then. Whilst all this was going on, the GSM Association, the mobile network operators’ club, announced that Motorola had got its latest Emerging Market Handset Initiative contract, this time for a mobile phone at a price below $30. Now, mobile telephone networks have been spreading in Africa and Asia with a speed that regularly surprises the people who build them. It’s one of the industry’s conscience salves of choice. While European and North American operators have struggled to come up with a working mobile payments system, African ones invented a function to transfer airtime credit by SMS, which meant that a new and highly accessible, secure, and instant payments system suddenly appeared (and, arguably, a new currency).

A couple of months ago, GrameenPhone, an arm of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh (you know, the darling of the World Bank) switched on the EDGE (EGPRS) upgrade to its network, pushing up data transfer to a peak rate of 200Kb/s. Within a week, 100,000 subscribers had upgraded to the new system. It’s not 3G (although it’s not far off the speeds achieved by the first 3G networks in practice), and certainly not post-3G speed, but it is Internet access at a speed comparable to most US fixed Internet connections, in the jungles of Bangladesh. This is a well tried, carrier-grade, mass production technology that is already there, or on its way, in many of the places these lapsters are going.

So where is the $10 datacard for the $100 laptop? Why doesn’t the thing already have an embedded GPRS radio? Dah. Less optimistically, though, one thing neither the GSMA, CDMA Development Group, nor MIT have tackled is the other end of the link, the $1000 base station and the $3000 switch. There is no Emerging Market Base Station Initiative – yet. What might perhaps do that would be success with the mobile version of WiMax, which will at some future date be IEEE 802.16e when the WiMax Forum decides how it works. Motorola’s “pre-standard” (read: non-standard) WiMax base station drinks only 10 watts of electricity and is about the width of The Guardian long and my notebook wide. Samsung (who invented most of it as a proprietary tech called WiBro) claim to have tested theirs at speeds of 1-3Mbps from moving vehicles.

Most of the claims (70Mbps over 30 miles!) you may have heard for WiMax are crap, except perhaps for highly managed point-to-point links, but if it can do that on 10w, we can easily drive the base station with a Rutland 913 wind turbine and some batteries, which means no fixed infrastructure at all. One of its first applications in the “fixed wireless”, 802.16d, version (which is already standardised) may be to provide backhaul for the cellular systems.

But, before WiMax gets its act together, the cellular systems are already unwiring the places the $100 laptop was intended for, and there’s no suitable radio on the thing. Or is the plan to encourage them to hack a mobile phone together with the computer?


7th July victim Rachel from North London is getting some stick.

Just to remind you…a traitor is in our midst.