Archive for the ‘command’ Category

Well, here’s a contribution to the debate over the riots. The Thin Blue Trots’…sorry…Police Federation report has been leaked.

Among the failings highlighted by the federation, which represents 136,000 officers, were chronic problems, particularly in London with the hi-tech digital Airwave radio network. Its failings were one reason why officers were “always approximately half an hour behind the rioters”. This partly explained, it said, why officers kept arriving at areas from where the disorder had moved on.

The Airwave network was supposed to improve the way emergency services in London responded to a crisis after damning criticism for communication failures following the 7 July bombings in 2005.

It is being relied upon to ensure that police officers will be able to communicate with each other from anywhere in Britain when the Olympics come to London next summer. The federation wants a review into why the multibillion-pound system collapsed, leaving officers to rely on their own phones.

“Officers on the ground and in command resorted, in the majority, to the use of personal mobile phones to co-ordinate a response,” says the report.

It sounds like BB Messenger over UMTS beats shouting into a TETRA voice radio, as it should being about 10 years more recent. Not *this* crap again!

There’s surely an interesting story about how the UK managed to fail to procure a decent tactical radio for either its army or its civilian emergency services in the 1990s and 2000s. Both the big projects – the civilian (mostly) one that ended up as Airwave and the military one that became BOWMAN – were hideously troubled, enormously overbudget, and very, very late. Neither product has been a great success in service. And it was a bad time for slow procurement as the rapid technological progress (from 9.6Kbps circuit-switched data on GSM in 1998 to 7.2Mbps HSPA in 2008, from Ericsson T61s in 2000 to iPhones in 2008) meant that a few years would leave you far behind the curve.

And it’s the UK, for fuck’s sake. We do radio. At the same time, Vodafone and a host of M4-corridor spin-offs were radio-planning the world. Logica’s telecoms division, now Acision, did its messaging centres. ARM and CSR and Cambridge Wireless were designing the chips. Vodafone itself, of course, was a spinoff from Racal, the company that sold army radios for export because the official ones were ones nobody would import in a fit. BBC Research’s experience in making sure odd places in Yorkshire got Match of the Day all right went into it more than you might think.

Presumably that says something about our social priorities in the Major/Blair era? That at least industrially, for once we were concentrating on peaceful purposes (but also having wars all over the place)? Or that we weren’t concentrating on anything much industrially, and instead exporting services and software? Or that something went catastrophically wrong with the civil service’s procurement capability in the 1990s?

It’s the kind of story Erik Lund would spin into something convincing.


Bruce Schneier and Jason Sigger, usually sensible sources, both mock a study by some thinktank or other which raises the supposed possibility of hackers “using the Internet to start a nuclear war”.

As they both point out, the possibility of anyone getting access to the actual command and control firing chain with metasploit is so remote as to be ridiculous, and we’d do much better to worry about tidying up old radioisotopes in Russia, and perhaps not having quite so many nuclear bombs.

My only objection is that we have, in fact, lived through a serious attempt to do just that, immediately after Lashkar e-Toiba terrorists attacked the centre of Bombay in December, 2008. As you might expect, they didn’t try to get control of nuclear weapons from the command line.

Instead, they attempted to use the Internet to influence the political leadership – they placed a call to the Pakistani president’s office, spoofing the calling line identification message in order to give credibility to their effort to pose as the Indian foreign minister. My technical analysis is here; the Indian government’s investigation later showed that the attackers set up a VoIP network with nodes in the US and Austria for their own use.

Presumably the idea was to provoke the Pakistanis into doing something that would destabilise the situation, causing the Indians to respond and thus triggering Pakistani mobilisation for real. The Guns of August, 2.0, with Princip using a Linksys SIP handset.

Clearly, there is still a need for the existing nuclear states to help the new ones establishing solid command and control procedures, including the communications elements that make them work; one of the problems of international crises is that the system to be secured suddenly gets a whole lot bigger, as other systems – in this case the diplomatic/protocol bureaucracy – become closely connected to it.

It’s not the early 80s hackers of War Games we need to worry about – instead it’s essentially trolls, provocateurs, empowered by the technology available to today’s spammer.

It strikes me that the possibility of ambiguous identity is a hard one to grasp; for a very long time, it was safe to say that such a message was unlikely to be a fake, and if it was, it was probably faked by a proxy for the real enemy. Consider the case of 4chan vs. AT&T.

AT&T null-routed the server which carries the bulk of 4chan’s content; everyone freaked; AT&T claimed that a denial of service attack was coming from that IP range. But it was hardly likely that the 4chan crowd, of all people on the Internet, would have been daft enough to launch a denial of service attack from their own machine – DOSs have essentially always been distributed over many, many hacked computers (DDOS, for Distributed Denial of Service) since the first botnets emerged in the early 00s, this being harder to counter, offering much more stolen computing power, and being much more difficult to trace to its source.

A detail in the Ars Technica story explains it all. One of the sources cited mentions “persistent ACK scans” – when a computer wants to start a TCP connection, as used for the Web, to another, it sends a message called a SYN to the receiving party, which if it gets the message and wants to reply, sends a message called an ACK to the address provided in the SYN. If received, the sender replies with a SYN-ACK and then starts transferring data.

4chan was experiencing a DDOS attack itself at the time. Putting these bits together, it’s clear that the attackers were altering the source header in the packets they threw at 4chan to point to a machine somewhere in AT&T’s network, so that every one received generated a further packet thrown at the AT&T machine. This is a classic; it gets you two attacks for the price of one, it conceals your own position, and it brings the possibility that AT&T might go ape and do the job for you. If the first target is especially big, you could also use it to magnify the volume of traffic, in a so-called reflector attack.

It’s surprising and depressing that they weren’t aware of that; no more surprising and depressing, however, than the way so many people have been willing to believe patently false information just because it’s “secret”.

Resistance – The Essence of the Islamist Revolution is Alistair Crooke’s survey of modern Islamist thought. It would be clearer to say it is a couple of books occupying the same space; one would be a history of Islamist thought since the origins of the Iranian Revolution, with a polemic for greater understanding of such thought, and another would be a slightly eccentric, neo-Platonist rant with overtones of Ian Buruma’s notion of Occidentalism.

Well, that sounds fun, doesn’t it? Then you have to add in Crooke’s career; the book glosses him as an advisor to the European Commission on the Middle East, but makes absolutely no mention of his term as SIS station chief in Tel Aviv, in which role he negotiated a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which lasted until an unfortunate air raid resulted in the deaths of a round dozen civilians and not the Hamas man the Israelis were after. (The story is here.)

The war resumed, and Crooke was recalled; officially this was for “security reasons”, but if anything imperilled his security it was probably that after the event, the Israeli tabloids discovered his job title, identity, and photograph with un-mysterious suddenness. He eventually fetched up in Beirut, running a thinktank called the Conflicts Forum, devoted to contact between Western powers and Islamists. (Time was, it would have been a nightclub, but we live in fallen times.)

So, what upshot? Crooke makes a strong case for modern Islamism as a classical reaction to colonialism and modernisation, or rather an interwar vision of modernity. He relies on an impressive battery of reading ranging into cultural Marxism at one end and into hardcore conservatism at the other. More controversially, he tries to place Islamism since the 1950s in a context of rebellion against free-market economics drawn from Naomi Klein; but the Ba’athist and similar regimes hardly qualify as Friedmanites, with their nationalised oil companies, state military industries, and extensive Soviet influence in administration, secret policing, and military doctrine and structure.

He draws on a battery of confidential interviews, which are some of the most interesting things in the book, to illuminate current ideas and practice, specifically among Hezbollah thinkers. Notably, they argue, the Caliphate should now be seen as a world-wide network of loosely interconnected “communities of resistance”, rather than a state or any other kind of hierarchical organisation. The aim of these is to uphold the practice of an ideal, self-organising community of believers against a total onslaught by the forces of liberalism, which wishes us all to be atomised individuals.

In practice, this demands a sort of liberation theology/community-organising/vaguely anarchist drive to create base groups everywhere, drawn together by the practice of mutual aid and the study of critical texts, and if necessary to form the underground shadow-administration common to all good guerrilla armies.

Crooke is interesting on the military implications of this, but I think what he describes is less original than he suggests. Flat, highly networked command structures, with a high degree of autonomy down to the squad and the individual, are not characteristic of Islamic or Islamist warfare; what he is describing here sounds a lot like Auftragstaktik. Also, he describes the requirements of a Hezbollah leader as integrity, authenticity, reliability, personal charisma, and ability to mobilise others; would anyone at all disagree?

There is an interesting side-trip into Islamist economic ideas. He criticises Westeners who assume that the main aim of these is to find technical workarounds to make the normal course of business sharia-compliant; apparently the real thing is considerably better. However, a lot of it (as described here) consists of accepting a market economy but not letting money be the be-all and end-all of everything, etc, etc; in practice, this seems to mean a welfare state. No surprise, then, that one of the thinkers he quotes had to write an entire book to rebut the charge that his ideas were indistinguishable from European social democracy.

According to Crooke, the main distinction is in the field of monetary economics; but, in so far as his writing is a true misrepresentation of it, it seems to be distinct in a way which isn’t particularly original. Apparently, Islamist economists are very exercised about M3 broad money growth, on the grounds that this represents the growth of credit in a fractional-reserve banking system and that this is the root of the evils of capitalism. Instead, they are keen on…the gold standard, that most free-trade imperialist of economic institutions!

At this point you might want to halt briefly; Islamist Auftragstaktik applied to community organising? The Caliphate in terms suited to Clay Shirky? Dear God, Islamist monetarist gold bugs? Phew! And you could, perhaps, take comfort from the thought that however strange Iranian political thought may be, their economic thought is no stranger than Fraser Nelson’s or Jude Wanniski’s. Placing an upper bound on the strangeness, after all, is probably an important step towards international understanding.

Then we get into the second book. Crooke is always quoting Plato, specifically the apposition between the port and the city; he attacks Karl Popper, and uses a great deal of Horkheimer and John Gray. It is fair to say he accepts entirely the complex of critiques that argue that life is meaningless without a higher purpose usually decided by higher people, that the freedom offered by liberalism is no such thing, that trade (or commerce, or industry) is “mere”; it is harder to say whether he accepts this for the sake of argument, as much of the Islamist thinking he is discussing bases itself on these ideas.

And there is a valid argument that a lot of it claims to represent the up-side of such critiques – the need for a self-empowered, cohesive community, the problems of the free market – but might just as well be the downside. The economy should be directed, at a national level, towards certain “great concepts”; this could be post-war French indicative planning, and might well be, having been written in the 1950s – or it could be a Straussian exercise in National Greatness Conservatism. We should work and care for society; or is it, as one of Crooke’s interviewees says, that “life is not worth living without something worth dying for”?

None of this stuff about “false reconciliation” and “self-pacifying”, materialism, etc, etc, answers E. P. Thompson’s classic attack on “theories that assume that ordinary people are bloody silly“, either. Strangely enough, towards the end of the book, we have a sudden swerve back towards liberalism; freedom is not so bad after all, it turns out, compared with a neoconservatism informed by Leo Strauss.

Curiously, I left the book with a feeling that it had set out to make right-wing Americans feel closer to political Shi’ism.

This BBC Radio 4 documentary about the British nuclear deterrent and the people who operate it is absolutely cracking. Not surprisingly, the man behind it is none other than Professor Peter Hennessy (can we call him Henn-dawg yet?).

One of the things that stands out is the amount of desperate psychological coping going on. The forms vary; the RAF V-Force crews of the 1960s, who were not only expected to carry in the warheads themselves but also very likely to ditch the aircraft somewhere beyond, also had to taxy the Vulcans out for every mission past the school playground. Their wives were more than familiar with the desperate QRA launch scenarios; it seems remarkable that anyone could put up with that.

One day at RAF Cottesmore, the public-address speakers, which were wired directly to the Bomber Controller telebrief feed from High Wycombe, went click just as a group of families visited, and everyone ran like hell to the flight line without even waiting for the voice from headquarters, still less saying a word. We’re talking about 1950s telecoms and electronics here – it must have gone click ten times a day.

A different style from this barely contained hysteria was reserved, indeed still is, for the top civil service and since 1969, the Royal Navy submariners; here, they deal with a much slower and more considered form of killing and dying. It’s a neurotic rather than a hysterical scenario: what can I tell them? what will they think? am I doing the right thing?

Was, for example, Denis Healey doing the right thing, in the High Wycombe bunker during 1960s transition to war exercises as one of the Prime Minister’s deputies for retaliation, when he repeatedly pretended to give the authorisation to scramble the V-force – although in fact, he had decided that should it come to that he wasn’t going to launch? (Keighley Man Saves The World.)

Interestingly, James Callaghan, despite the conventional wisdom, was very clear that he would certainly have pressed the button – or rather, his half of the button. One thing that seems to be clearer in the memory of the top officers Hennessy interviews than has been in the past is the duality of civilian and military control – as no civilian can give a military order, the PM or the deputy can only authorise, not order, the launch. (You thought our constitution was weird? Wait ’til you see our nuclear command authority.)

There is a logical AND gate – rather as NATO shared weapons are subject to the dual-key arrangement between NATO and the host-nation, and Soviet ones were to split control between the military (for the aircraft or missile) and the Communist Party/secret police (for the warhead fusing), UK nukes are subject to a dual-key arrangement between the civilian and military authorities. Another of Hennessy’s interviewees, Lord Guthrie, the Chief of Defence Staff who read Tony Blair in on the nuclear files, made clear that he thought this was very much a real constraint on both parties.

An odd feature of the whole thing was the repeated suggestion that, had the UK been devastated by Soviet missiles and the deterrent not been used, the remaining subs or aircraft might have been turned over to Australia. This would have been a challenging redeployment for the V-Force, to say the least, although they did exercise Far Eastern deployments. Of course, the submarines would have had no such difficulty. In this weird way, the last remnants of imperial feeling were to be saved from the ashes, and the deterrent’s true role – to maintain credible independence from the United States – would be maintained under a slightly different flag.

Ah, the Americans. They have a sort of shadow presence in the whole thing. One thing that the broadcast makes clear is that yes, there is a UK national firing chain as well as the NATO SACLANT one. They visit the cell in the Navy’s bunker at Northwood which handles the link between the Government and the extremely-low frequency transmitters – two crypto officers independently authenticate the message from the Cabinet Office and retransmit it via multiple redundant routes. They each need codebooks from two safes, neither of which can be opened at once, and which are permanently monitored by armed Marine Commandos. We hear a simulated authentication; interestingly, the crosstalk suggests that there is a specific distinction between a NATO and a UK national signal.

But each submarine, as she collects her load-out of rockets from King’s Bay, Georgia, also picks up an American shakedown crew for the test launch down the Eastern rocket range from a spot off Cape Canaveral, and the actual handle the submarine Weapons Engineering Officer pulls is the butt end of a Colt .45.

In all, however, it was a story of people in an insane situation working hard at staying sane.

After the show, I looked up some news and saw this. Jamie Kenny deals with it here, but the facts are worth repeating. Some random just rang up Mr 10% and claimed to be the Indian foreign ministry, and threatened war. Pakistan responded by increasing air force readiness; fighters were placed on combat air patrols. We don’t know what happened with the Pakistani nuclear weapons, which are delivered by aircraft; did the F-16s load up and move to the runway’s end?

Pakistan apparently believes it really was the Indians; the Indians claim it was some maniac with a telephone. The Pakistanis also say it came from a phone number at the Indian foreign ministry. This is fairly meaningless – not many bulk SIP carriers, and not that many old fashioned telcos, check or filter the Caller Line Identification strings, and software like the Asterisk free IP-PBX will let you send whatever CLI you like. After all, the head of the Islamic Students’ Movement of India is supposedly a geek.

The answer to this is of course the one the MI6 station chief in Moscow in 1962 used when the secret signal he gave Oleg Penkovsky for use in the event he learned of a nuclear attack came down the phone: do nothing. The crisis was on its way down; Penkovsky had been missing for days, and was presumably in the hands of the MVD. Therefore Frank Roberts decided to ignore the signal. Few feedback loops of such criticality can’t do with some more damping.

25 years ago today I was a three year old boy, living in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, from where you could see the golfball aerials at the NSA’s Menwith Hill base. Later, people I knew well would protest it for ages, and a man who was supposedly an engineer for LockMart there lived next door.

Via Charlie Stross, today is Stanislas Petrov day. As a Soviet air defence forces colonel, he was in charge of monitoring their satellite early warning system when it indicated five incoming missiles. But he was well aware of the system’s possible failings, and the strategy the US was expected to pursue – after all, what on earth would be the point of firing only five missiles, on a polar trajectory that the Molniya satellites would detect?

And so he declined to give the warning, knowing that if he was wrong, the radar line would light up with panic soon enough. The phones certainly did; they complained he hadn’t filled in the station log right, to which he said that he couldn’t because he’d had a phone in each hand all night. Of course, the radars didn’t go off because there were no missiles – when the ideologues and bureaucrats handed the issue to serious scientists, they worked out that it was an inherent flaw in the system’s design, connected with the unusual orbit of the satellites and rare conditions in the upper atmosphere. A false positive could have happened at any time.

That didn’t wash with the Karlo Rovskis; they sacked Petrov, who had anyway had a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?) not long afterwards.

Petrov’s heroic success was based on a few things; the first was his sound understanding of the machines. He didn’t need to ask the experts or believe the big computer. The second was that he understood the political and grand strategic situation. It made no sense to send five rockets. The third was that he feared what the buggers might do anyway; yes, it might be clear that nobody would send five rockets, and anyway the radars would give enough time to press the button, but who knew what the politicians (of every kind) would do under the effect of fear?

The fourth was that he acted, not letting the fools take the wheel. The Soviet Union was in the hands of a middle-ranking air force colonel, as in so many science-fiction horrorshows; but no-one could have been better. I can’t help but think of the lowborn Model Army men of the civil war; Colonel Hewson and Cornet Smith against the Duke of Godknows.

“Sir” Ian Blair addresses the troops:

“Our approach will be one of humility. On 22nd July 2005, we confidently believed that our systems of command, of surveillance and of firearms intervention were among the best in the world. However, they failed in response to a previously unforeseen circumstance, suicide bombers on the run.”

Well, it’s an admission of sorts. But it wasn’t all that unforeseen, was it? The Met had two plans in place, a static one (Operation C) to deal with an attacker at a major event and a mobile one (Operation KRATOS) to deal with…a suicide bomber on the loose in public.

They just didn’t decide which one fit the circumstances, came up with a dog’s breakfast of a hybrid instead, and then carried it out so poorly it would have been a disaster whatever the plan.

We haven’t had any Metropolitan Police blogging for a while, which is a pity given that “Sir” Ian seems to be bent on making enemies of literally everyone on the force. I can’t help thinking that Tarique Ghaffur and Ali Dizaei are making this into a personal vendetta, but then, who the hell wouldn’t?

OK, so I was wanting to know about that Hezbollah WiMAX net. The original source of the story appears to be this Time report:

Although Hizballah is known for its massive Iran-funded social welfare system that provides everything from soup to education, construction materials and matchmaking services for Lebanon’s Shi’ite underclass, cell-phone service is not part of the package — except for those who join its guerrilla army.

Hell, there’s a cracking affinity-marketed MVNO opportunity in there.

One of the world’s most technically advanced and resourceful guerrilla organizations, Hizballah had some time ago installed its own, in-house dedicated fiber-optic telephone network, connecting its headquarters in the southern suburbs of Beirut to its offices, military posts and cadres as far south as the Israeli border. During the summer 2006 war, Israel had jammed cellphone signals throughout south Lebanon and monitored the Lebanese telephone system, but Hizballah’s internal communications channels had survived thanks to its private fiber-optic system. Since the war, however, Hizballah has expanded the network to cover its new military frontline north of the United Nations–patrolled southern border district, and into the Bekaa Valley to the east. Part of the system incorporates a WiMAX network allowing long-distance wireless access for the Internet and cell phones.

More recently, Hizballah has dug trenches for fiber-optic cables in the mainly Christian and Druze Mount Lebanon district and in north Lebanon, according to Marwan Hamade, the Lebanese minister of telecommunications. “It was confined to one or two small areas before and we overlooked it as part of their internal communications. But now it’s spread all over Lebanon,” Hamade told TIME.

We’ll have to get used to this stuff; with the falling price of fancy technology, the days when sophisticated networking was confined to the rich are gone. After all, Hezbollah isn’t the only army that’s deploying WiMAX. South Korea maintains formidable armed forces for reasons that should be obvious, and they are planning to build their entire command-and-control structure on the technology – which has plenty to do with the fact that Samsung developed most of what the world knows as IEEE802.16e Mobile WiMAX, before it was called that. The US Army bought a large quantity of WiMAX gear for evaluation. I have in the past suggested that the British Army check it out as well; we’d be fools not to, as Airspan‘s test deployment is in Stratford.

And so did Israel. If encrypting your data before hurling it over the air is good enough for them, surely it’s good enough for Hezbollah; and WiMAX is suited to a mesh network topology, where each participating node is a router, therefore simplifying the problem of deployment and increasing the system’s resilience. The basic nodes are cheap, too, considerably more so than full size GSM or UMTS base stations.

The Complex Terrain Lab reminds us that the Hezbollah TV station stayed on the air in 2006, despite the Israelis bombing it; a broadcast TV station is in radio terms the biggest target there is. It just sits there, yelling with multiple kilowatts of power in all directions, and by definition it has to be obvious to work; but they couldn’t catch it. I always wondered about that. Their satellite transponder would surely be part of the answer, but uplinking is also a noisy radio activity; one use for a secure, redundant, and private fibre loop or four would be to support a gaggle of mobile satellite TV uplinks.

So we had the world’s first military coup motivated by a 3G network licence, in Thailand; we had the shootout between the Chalabi Boys and Orascom security men in Baghdad. Now, there’s the Hezbollah/Amal coup de force (or de folie as Robert Fisk preferred), motivated in part by the Lebanese government’s desire to control their secret telecoms network, including a CCTV system they installed at the airport to monitor the comings and goings.

Curiously, I’ve yet to hear any actual details of the system, except that it provides 99,000 “lines” (an increasingly meaningless metric, but one that implies it has a softswitch architecture rather than straight IP) and uses buried fibre. But there are also tales of WiMAX and other things radio. Apparently, the leader of Hezbollah has claimed that their signals were their most important weapon back in 2006. Perhaps – you’ve got to know when to move your ATGW team back over the reverse slope, I suppose. Some doubt this on the grounds that a fixed net doesn’t seem that useful, but then, all mobile networks are fixed at some point, and if the fibre is dual SONET it needs a minimum of four independent cuts to partition the system. The Lebanese Army has now said that

it would handle the issue of the communications network in a way “that would not harm public interest and the security of the resistance”. It also said it was reinstating the head of airport security [CCTV Guy].

Which, I think, means they’re going to let it slide, if they don’t actually hook it up to their own signals network. This is of course one of the least obvious features of the whole crisis; all the territory Hezbollah and Amal took was immediately handed over to the official Lebanese military, an increasingly powerful force in politics.

Arguably, this suggests that some of the ideas floated in 2006 about incorporating Hezbollah in the Lebanese military as some sort of reserve/militia/national guard/territorial army/jagers/greenjackets/cossacks/whatever else you call those crazy bastards on the border, as long as they don’t bother you and keep the roads open, are being put in effect de facto. Perhaps the military have a deal, under which the Shia will support their commander in chief for president (and they do), and in return they will have a free hand to create their not-state in the south? It’s a solution to the problem of a bunch of dangerous and independent-minded borderers that has a long pedigree indeed.

You could call it the Haganah-isation of Hezbollah; it’s changing not just from a guerrilla force to an army, but also from a political party to an unstate with a shadow administration, an economy, and its own infrastructure, just as the Israeli founding generation built a mixed economy, a trade union movement, a shadow civil service, and a highly capable semiguerrilla army/intelligence service long before the state became a formal reality. I’m only surprised they didn’t start a commercial GSM network as cover for their own command-and-control system; perhaps they will.

Meanwhile, again, this is an example of the democratisation of technology. You don’t have to invoke a secret Dr Evil to explain how they built this; annoyingly, I see some people are yelling about Huawei and how it’s all teh secret Chinese-Iranian plot. Perhaps. But they’ll sell to anyone. And if there is WiMAX gear in there, it’s cheap; the base stations are already under $10,000, and the biggest expense in a fibre build is always at Layer Zero, that is to say the business of going and digging the holes and renting the transmitter sites. I suspect right-of-way is less expensive in southern Lebanon than it is in Surrey, armies are rarely short of people if they need to dig a hole, and Hezbollah presumably doesn’t have much trouble with NIMBYs. (See also.)

Was this a civil war? Perhaps the idea is wrong; it seems to me more like one of Gwyn Prins’ “diplomatic-military operations” in one country, perhaps something an unstate like Hezbollah – or the Sadr movement – is uniquely suited to, as this superb article of Spencer Ackerman’s argues.

Martin Kettle can fuck off with this:

The bright Tory shadow Cabinet Office minister Greg Clark asked recently why politicians are so ready to discuss antisocial behaviour but so poor at discussing its pro-social equivalent.

Bright? Christ, we’re in a bad way. The first thing that needs discussing here is that “pro-social behaviour” is a term doing a hell of a lot of work; as with anything that could be de-syllabicised as “good stuff”, it’s profoundly meaningless.

But it’s worse; who decides what is “pro-social”? What limits would be set on this power? “Pro-social behaviour” according to the State could be anything from insulation to denouncing your neighbours to the NKVD, and has been both these things and everything in between. Those states who have the institution of a Ministry for Promoting Virtue and Punishing Vice, like Saudi Arabia and the former Afghan government, presumably believe themselves to be promoting “pro-social behaviour”.

And why does Kettle pass by this without offering any explanation of why politicians apparently find it difficult to discuss “pro-social behaviour” as opposed to “anti-social behaviour”? My guess is blatant partisanship. Politicians like “anti-social behaviour” for a number of reasons; the first and probably least repellent is that like “pro-social behaviour”, it’s a concept with no meaning at all. It’s the modern version of Orwell’s crack about “fascism” now meaning “something not desirable”. Nobody is in favour of anti-social behaviour, by definition.

But then, nobody considers their own behaviour anti-social; this is my second and rather uglier reason. Anti-social behaviour is what THOSE PEOPLE do; youths! the white working class! braying posh kids in Cornwall! black people! asylum seekers! It’s a cheap way of being indifferently hostile to all possible target-groups and therefore pandering to every prejudice available in the population, a rhetorical multiple independent re-entry vehicle.

And finally, politicians love anti-social behaviour because its solution is negative; you punish and coerce people you expect to commit it. I, the Man in Whitehall, can order the powers of the state to go and harass the potentially anti-social; I can be reasonably certain that the police will manage to be unpleasant to sufficient numbers of people who at least some groups of voters will consider to be anti-social. This is at least one managerialist control that will indeed produce results.

Further, anyone who can use the phrase “the bag menace” without apparent irony wants…severely criticising.

In comments, Teresa argues that Rumsfeld’s incompetence can be traced to his time as a fighter pilot. Over at Yglesias’s, “Ajay” makes the same point with regard to John McCain, with impressive brevity:

Good grief. Aviators. I admit the cocky buggers are handy to have around if you want a plane flown somewhere, but they should seriously be barred from public office. Bush I, Bush II, Rumsfeld, Cunningham, McCain…

Well, sort of. Certainly, assuming that someone like any of the people on this list has strategic insight because they were a short-service aviator is unwise, chiefly because with the possible exception of McCain none of them were in it for the long haul, so weren’t required to specialise. Instead, they could rely on the classic assets: two good eyes, a bad case of Short Man Syndrome, and one asshole.

But I think this is trivial. Stupidity in power has many sources, and from tomorrow on this blog will explore it with a new feature: Sunday General Blogging, by analogy to Rob Farley’s Sunday Battleship Blogging.

BTW, “Ajay”, who appears to be either a current or past holder of the Queen’s commission and sound on most issues, is one of those people who badly needs a blog.