Archive for September, 2007

I don’t think this means what Thomas Barnett thinks it does. He argues that the demand for armoured patrol vehicles in Iraq is an example of conflict between the objectives of his “SysAdmin” force, and the Washington-cented, tech-heavy “Leviathan”. Of course, it’s an example of conflict between the centre and the front line, but that’s not enough.

What if those increasingly baroque MRAPs were themselves a symptom of dysfunctional strategy? Essentially, they are six-wheeled buses surrounded by huge amounts of armour protection of various kinds, intended to be safer for the occupants than the Humvees and trucks they have so far been using. But the enemy is already countering them, by the simple and cheap means of building bigger bombs, or organising attacks with multiple bombs. Given the insane quantities of money it has cost to field what are basically armoured buses, this is not the road to success.

Of course, if you’re a tom in Iraq, you’d rather travel in one of these than in a Humvee. But what mission are they meant to conduct? Building really heavily armoured patrol vehicles implies that you’re going to be driving around in small groups of vehicles full of soldiers a lot, in an environment where you’re under constant IED threat. They’re not suited to use on an active battlefield, and they’re so big they aren’t very airportable. Every artefact is an ideology made manifest; this one manifests the idea that it’s possible to fight this kind of war without contact with your environment. What are the soldiers in the back doing? They can’t see much out of the vehicle; they can’t hear what goes on outside for engine noise; probably no-one in the vehicle would understand what the people are saying anyway.

And we’ve decided to accept this state of affairs, and build a mobile wall to keep it out.

In short, these vehicles are the exact opposite of Barnett’s SysAdmin. What could be more like Leviathan than a column of buttoned-up steel monsters driving 40mph down a crowded street, bashing into parked vehicles, menacing anyone who gets too close with a 25mm chain gun and loudspeaker yelling? In fact, it sounds more like Franz Neumann’s Behemoth than Leviathan; an authoritarian creator of chaos, not order.

Or are they? Think of a bad system administrator; a smelly fat guy who locks himself in the data centre and spends his time being unpleasant to the lusers who ring up and distract him from playing CounterStrike, watching internet porn, and posting one-upmanship troll comments on Windows/Mac flamewar threads. If you’re feeling charitable, maybe he’s borderline autistic. If not, perhaps he’s just an anti-social prick who thinks everyone else is inferior because he knows unix command line arguments and this makes him some sort of Heinleinian/Ayn Rand libertarian hero. Remind you of any geopolitical project you’ve heard of?

If any of this is to have any useful meaning, we need to invest in the human capital; retention bonuses for Intelligence Corps linguists would be a great start. But more importantly, it’s time we got another sysadmin.

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Gratuitous Dogfight Blogging

I don’t know why Danger Room is so surprised about this; apparently one of the Hungarian Air Force’s new Saab Gripens managed to claim a shootdown of a Eurofighter Typhoon during an exercise (is that the first encounter between 4th generation fighters?).

The first point is that the Gripen isn’t second-rate at all, as DR implies; it’s a genuine fourth-generation fighter. The manufacturers (Saab and BAE) respectively built the Saab Viggen, an F15E/Tornado GR1A/Sukhoi 24-class strike aircraft in the 80s, and the Tornado itself; BAE, of course, is also a major workshare partner in the Eurofighter.

The second point is that there is a history of lightweight fighters doing better than expected; back in the 60s, the Singaporean air force’s BAC Strikemasters – Jet Provost initial trainers with guns – occasionally shocked the RAF Lightnings and RAAF Mirages. At the same time, the North Vietnamese MiG-17s and -19s did very well against US F-4s. More recently, the Sea Harrier FA2 had a similar reputation. This is actually why the Americans decided to develop the F-16.

It all goes back to John Boyd, and his ideas of the OODA loop and the importance of shifting energy states; if you’re small, you’ll be seen later, and you can turn tighter without losing as much energy. Of course, smallness has costs; the Gripen is comparable to the Typhoon in many ways, except range.

I don’t think this means what Thomas Barnett thinks it does. He argues that the demand for armoured patrol vehicles in Iraq is an example of conflict between the objectives of his “SysAdmin” force, and the Washington-cented, tech-heavy “Leviathan”. Of course, it’s an example of conflict between the centre and the front line, but that’s not enough.

What if those increasingly baroque MRAPs were themselves a symptom of dysfunctional strategy? Essentially, they are six-wheeled buses surrounded by huge amounts of armour protection of various kinds, intended to be safer for the occupants than the Humvees and trucks they have so far been using. But the enemy is already countering them, by the simple and cheap means of building bigger bombs, or organising attacks with multiple bombs. Given the insane quantities of money it has cost to field what are basically armoured buses, this is not the road to success.

Of course, if you’re a tom in Iraq, you’d rather travel in one of these than in a Humvee. But what mission are they meant to conduct? Building really heavily armoured patrol vehicles implies that you’re going to be driving around in small groups of vehicles full of soldiers a lot, in an environment where you’re under constant IED threat. They’re not suited to use on an active battlefield, and they’re so big they aren’t very airportable. Every artefact is an ideology made manifest; this one manifests the idea that it’s possible to fight this kind of war without contact with your environment. What are the soldiers in the back doing? They can’t see much out of the vehicle; they can’t hear what goes on outside for engine noise; probably no-one in the vehicle would understand what the people are saying anyway.

And we’ve decided to accept this state of affairs, and build a mobile wall to keep it out.

In short, these vehicles are the exact opposite of Barnett’s SysAdmin. What could be more like Leviathan than a column of buttoned-up steel monsters driving 40mph down a crowded street, bashing into parked vehicles, menacing anyone who gets too close with a 25mm chain gun and loudspeaker yelling? In fact, it sounds more like Franz Neumann’s Behemoth than Leviathan; an authoritarian creator of chaos, not order.

Or are they? Think of a bad system administrator; a smelly fat guy who locks himself in the data centre and spends his time being unpleasant to the lusers who ring up and distract him from playing CounterStrike, watching internet porn, and posting one-upmanship troll comments on Windows/Mac flamewar threads. If you’re feeling charitable, maybe he’s borderline autistic. If not, perhaps he’s just an anti-social prick who thinks everyone else is inferior because he knows unix command line arguments and this makes him some sort of Heinleinian/Ayn Rand libertarian hero. Remind you of any geopolitical project you’ve heard of?

If any of this is to have any useful meaning, we need to invest in the human capital; retention bonuses for Intelligence Corps linguists would be a great start. But more importantly, it’s time we got another sysadmin.

So dodgy Russians have bullied Fasthosts into darking Craig Murray’s blog, as well as a gaggle of others on the same virtual machine. (Iron-clad integrity *and* technical chops; what more do you want?) Naturally, this has only spread the poison; so here’s the complete text. Kindly post it on your own blog.

In a creative note, I’ve long had the intention of moving this blog into independent hosting, but there are advantages to living at blogspot.com; especially that the whois record is “Google, Inc, 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View, California.” It shouldn’t be this way; I suspect it’s rather anti-Internet, but we must needs when the devil drives. If you doubt the point of this, read this.

Update: According to Murray’s webmaster, Fasthosts supplied him with “dedicated servers”. So how did they manage to dark a half-a-dozen other websites trying to kill craigmurray.co.uk if it’s a “dedicated” server? Trades Descriptions Act anyone? Updated Update: OK, so the server was dedicated to Murray’s webmaster.

Alisher Usmanov, potential Arsenal chairman, is a Vicious Thug, Criminal, Racketeer, Heroin Trafficker and Accused Rapist

I thought I should make my views on Alisher Usmanov quite plain to you. You are unlikely to see much plain talking on Usmanov elsewhere in the media becuase he has already used his billions and his lawyers in a pre-emptive strike. They have written to all major UK newspapers, including the latter:

“Mr Usmanov was imprisoned for various offences under the old Soviet regime. We wish to make it clear our client did not commit any of the offences with which he was charged. He was fully pardoned after President Mikhail Gorbachev took office. All references to these matters have now been expunged from police records . . . Mr Usmanov does not have any criminal record.”

Let me make it quite clear that Alisher Usmanov is a criminal. He was in no sense a political prisoner, but a gangster and racketeer who rightly did six years in jail. The lawyers cunningly evoke “Gorbachev”, a name respected in the West, to make us think that justice prevailed. That is completely untrue.

Usmanov’s pardon was nothing to do with Gorbachev. It was achieved through the growing autonomy of another thug, President Karimov, at first President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1991 President of Uzbekistan. Karimov ordered the “Pardon” because of his alliance with Usmanov’s mentor, Uzbek mafia boss and major international heroin overlord Gafur Rakimov. Far from being on Gorbachev’s side, Karimov was one of the Politburo hardliners who had Gorbachev arrested in the attempted coup that was thwarted by Yeltsin standing on the tanks outside the White House.

Usmanov is just a criminal whose gangster connections with one of the World’s most corrupt regimes got him out of jail. He then plunged into the “privatisation” process at a time when gangster muscle was used to secure physical control of assets, and the alliance between the Russian Mafia and Russian security services was being formed.

Usmanov has two key alliances. He is very close indeed to President Karimov, and especially to his daughter Gulnara. It was Usmanov who engineered the 2005 diplomatic reversal in which the United States was kicked out of its airbase in Uzbekistan and Gazprom took over the country’s natural gas assets. Usmanov, as chairman of Gazprom Investholdings paid a bribe of $88 million to Gulnara Karimova to secure this. This is set out on page 366 of Murder in Samarkand.

Alisher Usmanov had risen to chair of Gazprom Investholdings because of his close personal friendship with Putin, He had accessed Putin through Putin’s long time secretary and now chef de cabinet, Piotr Jastrzebski. Usmanov and Jastrzebski were roommates at college. Gazprominvestholdings is the group that handles Gazproms interests outside Russia, Usmanov’s role is, in effect, to handle Gazprom’s bribery and sleaze on the international arena, and the use of gas supply cuts as a threat to uncooperative satellite states.

Gazprom has also been the tool which Putin has used to attack internal democracy and close down the independent media in Russia. Gazprom has bought out – with the owners having no choice – the only independent national TV station and numerous rgional TV stations, several radio stations and two formerly independent national newspapers. These have been changed into slavish adulation of Putin. Usmanov helped accomplish this through Gazprom. The major financial newspaper, Kommersant, he bought personally. He immediately replaced the editor-in-chief with a pro-Putin hack, and three months later the long-serving campaigning defence correspondent, Ivan Safronov, mysteriously fell to his death from a window.

All this, both on Gazprom and the journalist’s death, is set out in great detail here.

Usmanov is also dogged by the widespread belief in Uzbekistan that he was guilty of a particularly atrocious rape, which was covered up and the victim and others in the know disappeared. The sad thing is that this is not particularly remarkable. Rape by the powerful is an everyday hazard in Uzbekistan, again as outlined in Murder in Samarkand page 120. If anyone has more detail on the specific case involving Usmanov please add a comment.

I reported back in 2002 or 2003 in an Ambassadorial top secret telegram to the Foreign Office that Usmanov was the most likely favoured successor of President Karimov as totalitarian leader of Uzbekistan. I also outlined the Gazprom deal (before it happened) and the present by Usmanov to Putin (though in Jastrzebski’s name) of half of Mapobank, a Russian commercial bank owned by Usmanov. I will never forget the priceless reply from our Embassy in Moscow. They said that they had never even heard of Alisher Usmanov, and that Jastrzebski was a jolly nice friend of the Ambassador who would never do anything crooked.

Sadly, I expect the football authorities will be as purblind. Football now is about nothing but money, and even Arsenal supporters – as tight-knit and homespun a football community as any – can be heard saying they don’t care where the money comes from as long as they can compete with Chelsea.

I fear that is very wrong. Letting as diseased a figure as Alisher Usmanov into your club can only do harm in the long term.

Principles!

This list of Blackwater boss Erik Prince‘s campaign contributions has been getting heavy-traffic blogger attention due to his donation to a fake Green Party candidate.

There’s better, though: consider these two line items in relation to one another.

Prince, Erik
McLean, VA 22102
Prince Group/Chairman
PRINCIPLES EXALT A NATION POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE $1,000
primary 01/04/06


Principles, eh? And what do they do? Exalt a nation, apparently.

Prince, Erik
Mc Lean, VA 22102
Prince Household LLC/Partner DELAY, THOMAS DALE (R)
House (TX 22)
TOM DELAY CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE $2,100
primary 09/26/05

That donation was literally the day before DeLay’s indictment on corruption charges, and came 18 days after DeLay’s political action committee had itself been indicted, 13 days after its managers were indicted, 4 months after a judge ruled it had broken the law, and 17 days after he asked a group of refugees if they were “having fun”. Both exalted and principled, I think.

Cunning trickster

OK, so professional War On Terror bullshitter Alexis Debat worked for super-War On Terror bullshitter Amir Taheri. Those of you who use this blog’s Updated category to check corrections will have noticed that I have corrected some posts about Pakistan that used material from his writings. But I’m struggling to make out the pattern; Debat’s nonsense appears to have been self-consistent in repeatedly suggesting war with Iran was not imminent, but already underway.

This chimes with some super-rightwing publicists, notably Michael Ledeen, but the curious thing is that Debat doesn’t seem to have hyped the notion of Iranian attacks on US or allied forces or interests; more the other way round. Long-time TYR collaborator Laura Rozen has obtained his CV, with critical comments from the French Embassy (pdf), as part of this article.

Interestingly, Debat claimed to have been part of the French terrorist-financing research group that later starred in the Clearstream scandal, if I’m not very much mistaken; but that too was bullshit. Here’s the Debatology ur-text; he was bullshitting about the Christmas 2005 riots, too, and claimed to work for the Institut Montaigne as well as having a doctorate from the Sorbonne. Neither claim was true. He also claimed to work for Claude Bebear at AXA, after Bebear retired.

However, this interview from 2005 surprisingly doesn’t show him pushing the neocon France-is-on-the-brink line, nor does this, even in the Moonie Times. Instead he sounds a lot like the policy Claude Bebear’s commission came up with..

Here he is, on the subject of the liquid bomb plot in 2006; he fingers one Matiur Rehman as the “interface between the brain and muscles of Al-Qa’ida”, on the basis of presumably invented Pakistani sources. However, someone of that name was indeed arrested in Pakistan; one hopes he knew of this, rather than being the source himself.

So far, I conclude that rather than being a cunning plan, he’s actually what he seems to be; a chancer who rose by agreeing with anyone else in the studio.

What a weekend, eh? That’s the first run on the bank I’ve ever seen, so in the future I’ll be able to say “Well, I remember back in the Panic of ’07…what, you don’t remember the Northern Rock? What do they teach these people today? Yes, they had branches then; and cash!”

You’re not my father!!

But snark aside, this is astonishing and worrying. Paul Krugman was in the habit of saying that the most successful government program ever was the Federal Deposit Guarantee Corporation, on the grounds that since the introduction of depositor protection there had never been a run on the bank. A run on the bank is driven by the same logic as the tragedy of the commons; what is rational for the individual is irrational for the community. If you have a guarantee that your money is safe, you have no incentive to help sink the bank, and therefore the self-amplifying process should be unable to get started. And I was in the habit of quoting him.

This is now in question; although the Rock’s depositors are explicitly guaranteed by the Treasury up to £37,000 in each account, and more importantly the Bank of England is willing to rediscount everything up to the entire £113bn of assets on the Rock’s books for cash, so the £24bn in deposits is covered more than four times over, it still happened. And I’m at a loss to understand why, but I suspect that trust in institutions is now very wide and very shallow. There are, as Ali C so accurately said, huge issues around trust.

So I have no sympathy with the complaints from Willem Buiter, the ex-ECB chief economist, who apparently thinks the Bank of England has gone soft. Buiter’s term at the European Central Bank was characterised by the institution being seen as a gaggle of dry, distant, academic inflation hawks too scared to get their foot off the brake. He is not doing anything to change this; even though the depositors would eventually have got their money, whether through deposit protection or through the sale of the bank’s assets, can you imagine the crisis fever? Dead ATMs? Crowds trying to break into locked branches?

Perhaps more importantly, the failed business model of Northern Rock gives us a clue as to the Bank’s priorities. It has, or rather had, a loan-to-deposit ratio of 314 per cent; to put it another way, its huge surge of lending was carried out by borrowing in the money market and relending to customers. Very crudely, if there are (were!) £24bn of deposits (i.e. liabilities) in the Rock and £113bn of assets, there must be something not far off the difference, less the bank’s enterprise value, of liabilities outstanding. If they lent £89bn more than they took in as deposits, they must have raised it from somewhere. Of course, some of this is accounted for by the bank multiplier, but a lot of it must have been the famous mortgage-backed securities; securitisation bonds, asset-backed commercial paper, and such. The Obscurer‘s business section reckons 75 per cent of the funds came in that way; so we’re looking at £60-odd billion.

What do we know about this stuff? We know that once issued, it’s hard to know where it ends up; and we also know that issuing commercial paper to speculate in mortgage-backed securities has polluted the whole market, because no-one knows where the shite has ended up. The whole point of these securities is to dilute it; but there is no guarantee that it’s evenly distributed. Now, we can see clearly why the Bank didn’t want another ton of commercial paper going bad; no-one can say if there isn’t another bank with a big chunk of theirs on an already-dodgy balance sheet.

Meanwhile, Jean Quatremer points out that nothing like this has happened in the Eurozone…well, if you leave out the two banks that already did go bust, IKB and SachsenLB.

OK, so they invited some “milbloggers” to see the commander guy, and what did Defensetech find to ask him? Sweet fuck all of any consequence.

Too busy gawping at teh White House crockery. Hell, I suppose I should have expected this; the creation of Wired‘s Danger Room essentially stripped it of talent, with David Axe, Noah Schachtman, and Sharon Weinberger moving over. But this is desperate.

Remember this post regarding the trainwreck that is the NHS National Programme for IT? In it, we discussed the institutional factors that made it a trainwreck, and specifically the way demands for commercial secrecy made it impossible to involve the users in designing the system.

Well, now there’s a discussion at Kevin Drum’s about how the US Veterans’ Administration got a really good patient information system. It turns out they asked the users, then rolled their own. Not just that, but they kept asking the users.

There’s loads of information here; so if you’re a techie you can add DHCP to your mental list of confusable multiletter acronyms. As well as the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, it’s also the Decentralised Hospital Computer Program. More importantly, you may recall I queried the need for the NPfIT’s structure of local, regional and national systems on the basis that, as it also required common standards for information exchange, that meant the local systems should be able to intercommunicate without needing the extra layers. Here is a whole working example of such standards.

Further, there’s a standard RPC interface to lash your applications to the database, with details of the SDK here, and guess what? It’s all open source and completely free. And guess what? A bunch of Finnish hospital sysadmins built a graphical frontend for it, which is soon to be ported to Java. Or you can use Visual Basic and SQL. Python is surely not far off:-)

Seriously, I’ve just read through this stuff and it’s just desperately cool; and nobody, literally nobody, in the UK has even mentioned it with regard to the NHS Monster Database. Despite successive Health Secretaries’ much-hyped efforts to find out “what the Americans are doing”, which has involved various more or less horrible forms of backdoor privatisation, they don’t seem to be aware that a bunch of civil servants built a cracking healthcare data system – and it’s FREE.

What a weekend, eh? That’s the first run on the bank I’ve ever seen, so in the future I’ll be able to say “Well, I remember back in the Panic of ’07…what, you don’t remember the Northern Rock? What do they teach these people today? Yes, they had branches then; and cash!”

You’re not my father!!

But snark aside, this is astonishing and worrying. Paul Krugman was in the habit of saying that the most successful government program ever was the Federal Deposit Guarantee Corporation, on the grounds that since the introduction of depositor protection there had never been a run on the bank. A run on the bank is driven by the same logic as the tragedy of the commons; what is rational for the individual is irrational for the community. If you have a guarantee that your money is safe, you have no incentive to help sink the bank, and therefore the self-amplifying process should be unable to get started. And I was in the habit of quoting him.

This is now in question; although the Rock’s depositors are explicitly guaranteed by the Treasury up to £37,000 in each account, and more importantly the Bank of England is willing to rediscount everything up to the entire £113bn of assets on the Rock’s books for cash, so the £24bn in deposits is covered more than four times over, it still happened. And I’m at a loss to understand why, but I suspect that trust in institutions is now very wide and very shallow. There are, as Ali C so accurately said, huge issues around trust.

So I have no sympathy with the complaints from Willem Buiter, the ex-ECB chief economist, who apparently thinks the Bank of England has gone soft. Buiter’s term at the European Central Bank was characterised by the institution being seen as a gaggle of dry, distant, academic inflation hawks too scared to get their foot off the brake. He is not doing anything to change this; even though the depositors would eventually have got their money, whether through deposit protection or through the sale of the bank’s assets, can you imagine the crisis fever? Dead ATMs? Crowds trying to break into locked branches?

Perhaps more importantly, the failed business model of Northern Rock gives us a clue as to the Bank’s priorities. It has, or rather had, a loan-to-deposit ratio of 314 per cent; to put it another way, its huge surge of lending was carried out by borrowing in the money market and relending to customers. Very crudely, if there are (were!) £24bn of deposits (i.e. liabilities) in the Rock and £113bn of assets, there must be something not far off the difference, less the bank’s enterprise value, of liabilities outstanding. If they lent £89bn more than they took in as deposits, they must have raised it from somewhere. Of course, some of this is accounted for by the bank multiplier, but a lot of it must have been the famous mortgage-backed securities; securitisation bonds, asset-backed commercial paper, and such. The Obscurer‘s business section reckons 75 per cent of the funds came in that way; so we’re looking at £60-odd billion.

What do we know about this stuff? We know that once issued, it’s hard to know where it ends up; and we also know that issuing commercial paper to speculate in mortgage-backed securities has polluted the whole market, because no-one knows where the shite has ended up. The whole point of these securities is to dilute it; but there is no guarantee that it’s evenly distributed. Now, we can see clearly why the Bank didn’t want another ton of commercial paper going bad; no-one can say if there isn’t another bank with a big chunk of theirs on an already-dodgy balance sheet.

Meanwhile, Jean Quatremer points out that nothing like this has happened in the Eurozone…well, if you leave out the two banks that already did go bust, IKB and SachsenLB.