Archive for August, 2007

Salvador Dali described his work as making use of a paranoid-critical method. Like a paranoiac, he attempted to find meaning in the associations of entirely unrelated images, an analogue to Freudian free association. Tate Modern currently has an exhibition on Dali’s influence from and work for the cinema; perhaps as well as the Looney Tunes and Chaplin movies he indulged in, he also picked up the American taste for conspiracy theories.

I didn’t know, however, that one of his earliest Surrealist works was entitled Departure: Homage to Fox News.

What could have more contemporary meaning? There’s always something weird about rolling news, a form of television that’s positively designed to be viewed with the sound off. Sound has a special role in film and television; it’s the bridge between the world of images and the world of text. Almost all film post-sound relies on words for plot unity, to avoid becoming a surrealist collection of imagery. Rolling news feels like news, although no doubt there’s a reason why Sky News insists on flashing huge red BREAKING NEWS graphics every time they update the latest missing white girl story.

But especially if you can’t hear the narration, it’s merely an associative volley of random visuals with text labels that may, or may not, be accurate. Now consider this LGM post about CNN’s Glenn Beck and his “method”..

Remember that scene [in A Beautiful Mind] where Russell Crowe has pasted up a number of newspaper stories and is making associations and drawing connections between them by running strings from one story to the next, and then that story to another, and so on? You could easily do the same with the stories here. It’s not a great leap to see a certain synchronicity between them..

It’s a radical revision to the Foreign Intelligence Supervision Act! It’s a flock of hairy telephones! It’s…a naked Condoleeza Rice circus-riding two fiery giraffes through the gates of the Natanz enrichment plant!

It is, of course, also true that running strings from one story in the newspaper to the next in the hope of discovering esoteric truths is a pretty good description of blogging. As always, it’s a question of filtration; stare at your navel closely enough and eventually it stares back into you.

Which brings me to some substance. Looks like the British government IT monster escaped, heading west to eat some more creamy brain tissue. Like the infovore in Charlie Stross’s Atrocity Archive. The NSA apparently wants to do something so astonishingly stupid that its stupidity almost goes around the bend and looks like it might be intelligence. Details; Bruce Schneier points us to this essay by Sun Microsystems security diva Susan Landau on the infrastructure requirements of what the NSA apparently wants. To be quite clear, they want to build in an interception backdoor to every backbone router in the US.

And this after the Great Greek Green Greasy GSM Grokker Gremlin Gripe. Wait; I think I see the pattern. Yes! The hairy telephones…slash open the eye. Their engineers are secretly trying to capsize the whole project of telecoms surveillance…right?

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Recall this post from December, 2006? It was about how the Iranian government was actually rebuilding things in Afghanistan; things like electricity supply, fibre-optic interconnection, roads, and maybe even a railway. Not just that, but they were supplying today’s version of Marlboros and jeans; the best Internet connection in town.

The Christian Science Monitor goes to Herat, (hat tip) where the other end of this activity is visible; a thriving private sector. Build the infrastructure and they will come. I’d love to see, by the way, any current figures for how much money, between DFID and the Army, has been a) committed to Afghan aid and b) spent. The figures in December were far from encouraging.

John Redwood has a secret plan to solve the pensions crisis and boost the economy; change the fire regulations so you can cram more codgers per square foot into your “care home” (Orwellian of the decade; they don’t and it’s not).

Given a brief to banish Teh Curse of Regulation, this is what he comes up with – even less in the way of hire’n’fire restrictions (are there actually any to get rid of?), abolition of the European Working Time Directive (John either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that for most jobs where this is an issue, you get told to sign the waiver or leave), and the notion of “loosening health and safety regulations on care homes to free more places for elderly people”. Oh yes, and none of those home information packs.

To put it another way, the essential liberties the Tories have picked as a top priority to defend are those to lie about the condition of your house in order to sell it at a higher price, and to keep old people in rather worse conditions. ID cards? Road pricing surveillance? Truly, I can’t begin to guess how anyone would think of them as the Nasty Party.

It’s quite surprising literally no-one during the recent reopening of the missing Iraqi guns story has thought fit to mention the delicious kicker that the shipment travelled in an aircraft chartered by a company that had just been shut down for cocaine-smuggling. Except for various random forum users. Jet Line International, for it was they who supplied Aerocom with the aeroplane ER-IBV, have of course been shut down. So I’m happy, although I’d be happier if anyone knew what became of the weapons.

Iraqi employees: suddenly they’re everywhere. On the front of the Times. In its leader. On the main news. On BBC Radio 5 Live. In Ming Campbell’s talking points. In Gordon Brown’s inbox. Even here. You might almost think there was some sort of campaign going on.

Now, there’s more; video.

There’s also a useful sidebar button, the whole courtesy of Tim Notworstall.

Update: What fuckery is this? A truly epic mindfart from none other than than the Oxfordshire Ordzhonikidze himself, saloon-bar Stalinist Neil Clark.

The Board of Inquiry into the loss of the Hercules C-130K XV206 on landing at Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan on the 24th of May last year (see here) has reported (pdf link). More documents are here.

After much effort, and extensive exploration of all sorts of other options, the Board concluded that (as was blindingly obvious from the beginning) the aircraft was destroyed by enemy action, specifically that it ran over a Soviet-type anti-tank mine on landing. Among other things, the investigators carried out an experiment involving such a weapon and an old C-130 to falsify their hypothesis. This explanation accorded entirely with the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s initial report from the crash site, which was originally discarded for reasons that are not made very clear.

For that matter, two men aboard XV206 who had survived IED explosions in Iraq thought the experience was identical; the Special Investigations Branch lost no time in telling them they were wrong. (para 44, page 3 of the first doc above.) This may be accounted for by various experts’ advice. Or perhaps that it was politically difficult to admit that Lashkar Gah was dangerous.

The conditions prevailing there in May, 2006 were clearly very dangerous indeed. Everyone appears to have been dubious about force protection, and especially about the Afghan police stationed in the area. An OLRT (Operational Liaison and Reconnaissance Team) from Permanent Joint HQ, which reconnoitred the place in February 2006, concluded that security on the landing zone was “insufficient to meet UK requirements”. The details have been censored. However, the next sentence refers to “clearance” of the zone, which implies that mines or IEDs were the concern.

Anyway, the security force for Lashkar Gah airfield only arrived after the crash, but not before the Afghan police had had unfettered access to the crash site; no wonder they didn’t find any pieces of the mine. “The Board considered that the disparity between the recommendations in the PJHQ recce and the procedures carried out on the day of the incident was a significant factor”; I bet they did. They further concluded that ground security there was inadequate and that there was no plan to search for mines, that the lack of security meant anyone could have interfered with evidence, and that the investigation was mismanaged.

Further (page 27), the situation was thought so dangerous that the crew were carrying small arms and were meant to be wearing armour, types censored. However, it seems they weren’t wearing it and left their weapons behind in the plane; they didn’t have anywhere to put the gear on their persons, and hadn’t been issued with the fire-retardant version of CS95 uniform.

There is, it turns out, no single centre of expertise on aircraft survivability and vulnerability in the UK; although the Board of Inquiry on XV179 asked for one to be created, and in the meantime for an arrangement with the US to use their SURVIAC centre at Wright-Patterson Air Base, nothing has been done.

The upshot is that no amount of explosive-suppressant foam would have saved XV206; if you have enough wallop to carve holes in a tank, you’ve got more than enough to destroy an aircraft. The fuel tank punctures were of some 4 square metres; nothing is going to self-seal that. I was wrong to put so much emphasis on it at the time, although it is still a good thing to have.

So, Barack Obama is now an evil warmongering bastard like all the others who wants to invade Pakistan or a girly man who doesn’t want to nuke Pakistan, depending on ideological preference. The reason was a speech on foreign policy he recently gave, and subsequent reporting.

You can see how it happened. It spooked me; was he really suggesting something that deranged while also accusing Hillary Clinton of being “Bush-Cheney lite”? But then, I took a radical step. I actually read the text of the speech; yuh, it might shock some.

Here she goes. Here’s the relevant section:

As President, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters, and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan.

I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear. There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again. It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005. If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will.

And Pakistan needs more than F-16s to combat extremism. As the Pakistani government increases investment in secular education to counter radical madrasas, my Administration will increase America’s commitment. We must help Pakistan invest in the provinces along the Afghan border, so that the extremists’ program of hate is met with one of hope. And we must not turn a blind eye to elections that are neither free nor fair — our goal is not simply an ally in Pakistan, it is a democratic ally.

Compared with the reporting of this, I’m underwhelmed, especially as it comes after a good dozen pars on the necessity to get out of Iraq, repudiate torture, and crank up peaceful responses to terrorism. I’m very dubious about the whole story of the 2005 meeting, but I would point out that of course there are circumstances when it would be the right decision; Osama in person, making tracks for the UAE with a Ghaznavi-2 nuclear missile on its TEL vehicle, say.

It’s just very, very unlikely that a raid in Pakistan would ever be wise, and therefore we should set our cognitive filters accordingly. In fact, the rest of the speech is far more important; Pakistan certainly needs more than F-16s to combat extremism, and it’s high time to think about how to end the current situation where the secular and semi-secular forces are divided between the Musharraf King’s party and everyone else, being opposed by some combination of jihadis, the ISI, and various regional insurgents.

And I especially like his suggestion of a major commitment of aid in education and the creation of real judiciaries and police forces. This ispretty good, too, even if Yglesias don’t like it.

But it does go to show that you’ve got to read the documents. For everything else, I’m of the opinion that anyone who even imagines dropping a nuclear bomb on three terrorists and a goat is insane.

There is no reason for anyone to think that the National Identity Register will not be compromised. Nobody serious in IT thinks that any networked computer system is immune to hackers, and that’s before you consider extrusion rather than intrusion; it’s a horrible misuse of English, but it’s the term used for attackers who come from within. The best way to get access to any computer is to subvert the user, short of literally running off with the machine to experiment on it in private.

This is perhaps the most important lesson from the conviction of Nottingham speed-dealer and all-round bastard Colin Gunn. Gunn was a very modern crook; his graduation from cheque kiting to protection rackets and eventually major drug importing, his powerbase on a post-industrial bombed-out estate, his part-useful and part-suicidal persona fuelled by a paranoid gaggle of cocaine and steroids. (The Garda Siochana describe similar folk as “cocaine androids”.) But what marks him out is the special attention he gave to subverting people with access to Big Databases.

To start with, he induced two cops to get him information from the HOLMES2 intelligence database about the police investigation into the murder of the parents of another crook who attempted to kill his son. This helped him to keep ahead of the Bill, and also to terrorise witnesses and detectives on the case. Astonishingly, a paper copy of his police file went missing and turned up in his possession.

But it wasn’t just police leaks. John and Joan Stirland were located using information the Gunns obtained from another asset of theirs; this time, someone at BT with access to the billing records. One wonders what other sources he had, and for that matter, how many other ‘roid-ridden scumbags have this kind of access. It is suggested that one of the bent coppers, Charles Fletcher, was deliberately planted in the police force. More politically, the animal-rights nuts are known to have had a source in the DVLA, and the West London jihadi cell that was caught with a ton of ammonium nitrate had been trying to recruit employees of National Grid-Transco and BT. (Update: In comments, Chris Williams reminds me that the PNC’s non-traditional users include the Saudi Embassy. He also claims that having met me, he can confirm I’m not actually a sinister committee. The poor fool; how does he know he met all of them?)

I refer to my remarks back in October, 2004:

Better yet, the possibilities for an infiltrator in the development team who build the system would be literally without limit. They could set up back-door access to the database or even add extra fields of information hidden to other users. The biggest security system we build must, by definition, be the biggest security risk.

One of the many criticisms of the NIR and the ID card is quite simply that it’s the biggest honeypot for information thieves on earth.

Antonov An-12BK serial 9346904, now with something called “Meridian” in the Ukraine as UR-CAG…formerly ER-AXY with the following roll-call of Viktor Bout operations.

Aerocom, Asterias Commercial, Astral Aviation, ATI, ACS, Jet Line International…

Did I say it would be difficult? Damn right it was. Did I mention gnarly old schemers like Stacey Jones and Jason Croker? Damn right I did, and they certainly schemed gnarly. But nobody expected the Catalans’ tactics; not many teams set out to whack Wigan in the chops early doors and get away with it. I remember Leeds in the ’96 Premiership final; they went 12-0 up in 10 minutes, amid chants of “Yorkshire! Yorkshire!”, and then crashed comprehensively.

This time, no. Catalans put on 22 unanswered points in the first half, and although the predictable counterblitz was suitably ferocious, there was simply too much water coming in. Wigan got back to within seven points whilst Jones was off the park, sinbinned for an unprofessional professional foul, but as soon as he got back on, he trimmed a neat grubber kick among the posts for Croker to score the game-breaker. But it would be easy and obvious to give the various Aussies and New Zealanders the credit. After all, most journos don’t know any of the other players..

In the second-half crisis, it looked like Wigan would just rip away, cracking the line too often and running the Catalans into the ground. It has happened so often. But the crack never came. The credit, as for the whole performance, goes to the Catalan forwards. Mostly a gaggle of French no-names (although real trainspotters would of course remember Jerome Guisset, ex-Warrington, and Sebastian Raguin, once described as a “mountain on wheels” by the BBC at Toulouse), they just beat Wigan into the ground. Guisset and his fellow prop, Alex Chan, did the full 80 minutes, which don’t happen often today.

The tactics were brilliantly dull; savage up-and-in defence, denying Wigan time and walloping their organisers as often as possible, a massive forward effort, and good tactical kicking. Wigan couldn’t get out, and were pressed back on their own lines; Jones and Croker could always pick out the opportunities that resulted. It has come to something when Wigan are the flaky, stylish losers who get muscled out of the game by a French side.