Archive for the ‘pirates’ Category

Pirate Links

A couple of piracy links. Thomas Wiegold (German link) reports that India is very angry indeed about a group of Italian security men protecting a ship who fired on a fishing boat, thinking she was a pirate skiff, killing several people. Of course, the Indian Navy has form here, having destroyed a Thai trawler in error with the loss of dozens of lives not so long ago.

Wiegold’s blog is usually worth watching (for example, this story), and I’d also recommend this piece, especially as a conference on piracy is coming up in London. It’s been suggested that the EU naval force off Somalia would be allowed to carry out raids against pirates on shore, probably with ship’s light helicopters – here Wiegold quizzes the German foreign ministry spokesman and discovers that the wording in question means “between the high and low water mark”, which is suspiciously specific.


Progress update on fixing the Vfeed.

Dubai Airport has done something awful to their Web site; where once flights were organised in table rows with class names like “data-row2”, now, exactly half the flights are like that, they’ve been split between separate arrival, departure, and cargo-only pages, they only show the latest dozen or so movements each, and the rows that aren’t “data-row2” don’t have any class attributes but random HTML colours.

And the airline names have disappeared, replaced by their logos as GIFs. Unhelpful, but then, why should they want to help me?

Anyway, I’ve solved the parsing issue with following horrible hack.
output = [[td.string or td.img["src"] for td in tr.findAll(True) if td.string or td.img] for tr in soup.findAll('tr', bgcolor=lambda(value): value == 'White' or value == '#F7F7DE')]

As it happened, I later realised I didn’t need to bother grabbing the logo filenames in order to extract airline identifiers from them, so the td.img[“src”] bit can be dropped.

But it looks like I’m going to need to do the lookup from ICAO or IATA identifiers to airline names, which is necessary to avoid having to remake the whitelist and the database and the stats script, myself. Fortunately, there’s a list on wikipedia. The good news is that I’ve come up with a way of differentiating the ICAO and the IATA names in the flight numbers. ICAOs are always three alphabetical characters; IATAs are two alphanumeric characters, which aren’t necessarily globally unique. In a flight number, they can be followed by a number of variable length.

But if the third character in the flight number is a digit, the first two must be an IATA identifier; if a string, it must be an ICAO identifier.


Stupidity about pirates. (Yes, this again. When will it end?) No doubt the usual suspects will already be drivelling about this story.

Frankly, if you think the best opportunity to rescue the hostages was when they were between a tossing, fibreglass 40-odd foot boat and a 25,000 ton hijacked containership, using as your main equipment a 32,000 ton oil tanker (Wave Knight is a fleet tanker, not a warship), I suspect you may not have done enough research.

Meanwhile, this is good news. As more and more ships from various parts of the world – like China and Iran – arrive in pirate country, somebody’s made vaguely sensible arrangements to put them on trial in Kenya, which is what has been done with the ones captured by Northumberland. This is a much better idea than returning them to the tender mercies of Somali rivals, or alternatively to their home base, or any evil nonsense promoted by tiresome Internet hard men. (You know who you are.)

I’m not sure whether to be pleased, or worried that China and Iran are apparently cooperating in an exercise designed to be more law-abiding than some British courts, and far more so than whole swaths of the US defence establishment. This is incredibly important; I keep saying that a primary reason for the success of some Islamist movements is that they offer some form of legal order, rather than Franz Neumann’s Behemoth.

After all, dogs have an innate appreciation of justice, so we should surely accept that it matters for human beings too. As a modest proposal, now the EU has taken over the lead in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden, could we perhaps give the naval task force a further mission – to compel EU-flag fishing vessels to respect the Somali EEZ? (We wouldn’t have legal authority to stop anyone else without a UN resolution, but it’s a start.) I agree they have plenty on their plate, which is why I’m going to make a second modest proposal.

Rather than frigates, EU states participating in this could instead deploy some of their sizeable fleet of amphibious assault ships, with a deckload of helicopters, a dock of small craft, and a tankdeck containing a mix of marines for boarding parties, and medics, engineers etc to support the UN’s aid activities.

Packer vs. Kilcullen in the New Yorker. Here’s the key paragraph:

Police are another main issue. We have built the Afghan police into a less well-armed, less well-trained version of the Army and launched them into operations against the insurgents. Meanwhile, nobody is doing the job of actual policing—rule of law, keeping the population safe from all comers (including friendly fire and coalition operations), providing justice and dispute resolution, and civil and criminal law enforcement. As a consequence, the Taliban have stepped into this gap; they currently run thirteen law courts across the south, and ninety-five per cent of the work of these courts is civil law, property disputes, criminal matters, water and grazing disuptes, inheritances etc.—basic governance things that the police and judiciary ought to be doing, but instead they’re out in the countryside chasing bad guys. Where governance does exist, it is seen as corrupt or exploitative, in many cases, whereas the people remember the Taliban as cruel but not as corrupt.

Beyond that, I was struck by how much the Gesamteindruck of the whole thing reminded me of the sort of thing John Vann was saying in 1969 or thereabouts – it’s still possible, really it is, and we can probably find a reduction in the number of troops at the same time by realigning completely around a classical counterinsurgency strategy. Kilcullen is hardly optimistic, but he’s still desperately committed. (I think I’ve mentioned before that A Bright Shining Lie was this blog’s secret sauce right back to 2003, when Donald Rumsfeld was still denying there were insurgents in Iraq.)

Now, consider this story; first of all, the Indian navy was being lionised for giving a pirate vessel the good old sturm und drang off Somalia and chastening the eurosexual NATO-weenies. It was like 2006 and the Ethiopian army all over again. However, it was only a few hours before it turned out that the Indians had sunk a Thai trawler which they apparently mistook for a pirate mothership – effectively, they saw a funny looking fisherman and just executed 14 people. Now, it’s very true that foreign trawlers are a big part of the problem. Perhaps the international naval patrol could do something about it, if it can find the ships whilst also dealing with pirates.

But this is no way to do anything; I’ve pointed out before that the recent history of Islamist movements shows that given the choice, people will choose law in general over lawlessness.

Given the choice of what is marketed as order without law, but which as always turns out to be chaos, and some sort of legal order, the people pick the latter.

We’re still offering them the Behemoth; we’re on the wrong side of history, supporting the pirates, Viktor Bout, and a world of bent coppers. The upshot, as Arif Rafiq observes in an instant classic post, is that Pakistan is being turned into Iraq.

An interesting document was turned up in the course of the row about John Brennan, the CIA officer who was the Obama team’s original choice as intelligence chief before he was dropped as being insufficiently opposed to torture, under a volley of criticism from the blogosphere. (“Opposition was mostly confined to liberal blogs,” said the NYT.) Here’s an interview he did with PBS television.

[INTERVIEWER]:Just before 9/11, in that summer and the spring, how hard was Tenet pushing on the terrorism threat?

[BRENNAN]:I think he was pushing at every opportunity he had. … George and [former CTC Director] Cofer [Black] were very much of a mind-set that we can’t sit back and wait; we need to do things. We need to do things in Afghanistan. We need to go after Al Qaeda. We need to ratchet up the pressure on the Taliban.

George took several trips out to Saudi Arabia and other places to try to gain support from the Arab states to try to put pressure on the Taliban to give up bin Laden and others. George would knock on any door. He would pursue any course. I think what he was trying to do, prior to 9/11, was to make sure the administration was focused on that.

[INTERVIEWER]: And were they?

I think they were aware of the issue. I don’t think they, in fact, appreciated the seriousness of it, because I think they were trying to get their ducks in a line on a number of fronts to include Iraq prior to 9/11.

You heard the guy – they didn’t appreciate the threat from Al-Qa’ida because they were busy ginning-up a war with Iraq. And who was responsible for this?

[INTERVIEWER]: When did you get the first hints … that there was this movement in the direction of Iraq …?

[BRENNAN]: The train started to leave the station before the election of 2000, with the neocons putting things out. There was a real focus that we needed to do something about Iraq. It was gaining momentum and strength. And with [Iraqi National Congress founder Ahmad] Chalabi and [former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard] Perle and others feeding those fires, I do think they just had a complete lack of understanding of the complexity of doing something like that.

They’re very outspoken and vocal about the need to take action. It’s easy to execute; if there is criticism that is being made of this administration, [it] is that the decision to take action is only part of the challenge. It’s the follow-through; it’s the strategic planning afterward. Those areas really need to be paid attention to, because the U.S. military [has] no problem as far as just decimating the Iraqi army, but the people like Chalabi and the other neocons, and people like [then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy] Doug Feith, who I think has a very superficial understanding of some of these issues — I don’t know how much time Doug Feith has spent in the Middle East or in Iraq, but it’s a very, very complex society.

Miaow. So catty you could throw him a ball of wool!

[INTERVIEWER, talking about Paul Pilar and the Iraq NIE]: He told us that … even at the time, he wasn’t aware about how politicized it was, but he was — especially as he looks back on it, especially around the “white paper” — really embarrassed, I think is the word he used at how faulty it was. Did it feel that way at the time, or does it just look that way in hindsight?

[BRENNAN]: At the time there were a lot of concerns that it was being politicized by certain individuals within the administration that wanted to get that intelligence base that would justify going forward with the war.

[INTERVIEWER]: Could I ask you who?

Some of the neocons that you refer to were determined to make sure that the intelligence was going to support the ultimate decision.

Ah, I see. The facts were being fixed around the policy. The intelligence was being, ah, sexed up. Recognising this ought to be the criterion of seriousness for anyone seeking a post in the intelligence/foreign policy complex, or indeed anything else. That Brennan does so and says so openly is a very strong mark in his favour, as is this:

That’s where the issue of maintaining an independent intelligence organization is so critically important, because departments have certain policy objectives and goals. If you have a department such as the Department of Defense that controls the intelligence function as well, there is a great potential for that intelligence to be skewed, either wittingly or unwittingly, in support of policy objectives.

Yes. Yes. Which is also why it’s important to maintain a independent career-path there, like it is in the civil service. I was very surprised to learn that had Brennan been appointed, he would have been a rare bird as a career spook in charge of The Community. Mind you, the three best MI5 chiefs – Guy Liddell, David Petrie, and Martin Furnival-Jones, in my opinion – were respectively an army officer, a cop, and a professional spook, so British experience doesn’t necessarily corroborate this.

Clearly it was right to drop him; but it worries me that getting rid of the neocons and torture fans will require people who are a) clued-in about the intelligence service, b) committed to cleaning up, c) ruthless bureaucratic thugs, and if possible d) personally untainted.

Regarding intelligence and independence, meanwhile, this blog has often said that one of the main reasons why the UK got involved in all this is that we don’t have an independent reconnaissance satellite capability. Out of the major powers in Europe, the UK, Spain and Italy went to the war; neither the UK nor Spain has an imagery satellite, and Italy launched one jointly with France a few months after Iraq. France and Germany both have their own synthetic-aperture radar sats, and didn’t go to the war. Poland, Romania, et al have large armies but no recce capability and they went.

But perhaps this isn’t as significant as it used to be. It appears that The Guardian is the first newspaper to become an independent space-faring power. Seriously.

From a vantage point 423 miles above the Earth, the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden appear tranquil and the 330-metre-long ship sitting low under a £68m cargo looks like a tiny green cigar floating on an inky ocean.

These pictures, taken by a satellite commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second, show the Sirius Star, the Saudi supertanker which 12 days ago became the biggest prize ever seized by the Somali pirates who have claimed the Gulf of Aden as their hunting ground.

I love the “commissioned by the Guardian and hurtling over Africa at four miles a second” bit. That’s incredibly science-fiction, and in a good way – Arthur C. Clarke would be delighted. This has been possible for some time; who else remembers poring over’s IKONOS or DigitalGlobe shot of the day in the bullshit-rockin’ autumn of 2001? But as far as I know, this is the first attempt by a media organisation to acquire overhead imagery on an operational timescale. Hey, it’s Tim Worstall’s worst nightmare – Polly Toynbee in spaaace!

What might have happened or not happened had somebody tried this earlier is a very interesting question. Of course, finding the Sirius Star is a fairly easy challenge – we know where to look, she is a huge and unambiguous target, and she is nicely contrasting with the sea in a part of the world where the skies are usually clear. We still need SAR capability of our own, quite possibly more than we need Trident, and IKONOS won’t sell you that.

Quite a score for our reader “Ajay”, who I think is the first to spot that the Mumbai terrorist attack bears a very close resemblance to the coup plot in Frederick Forsyth’s The Dogs of War, which makes it the third and possibly fourth case of someone actually using Forsyth’s book as a practical handbook. The exact number depends on whether you believe the story that Forsyth actually took part in planning a coup in Equatorial Guinea in 1977 which didn’t go ahead, and recycled the work he did on it as a novel. Forsyth now semi-confesses to this, but this may be self-publicity from a man who was, after all, sacked from the BBC for making up the news.

Certainly, however, the so-called “Wonga Coup” team in Equatorial Guinea read the book, Mike Hoare’s “Froth Blowers’ Society” attack on the Seychelles apparently issued a copy to every participant, and now this. How does, say, Curzio Malaparte’s Theory of the Coup d’Etat compare to that? Forsyth can probably claim that more people have died as a direct result of his book than any other book not written by an economist.

In fact it’s closer than you might think; the Grauniad, whose coverage of the whole incident was excellent, has a neat map you might want to consult. Apparently, two of the Zodiacs used were found at the north end of Back Bay, on the west/left hand side of the map; this suggests the attack plan was very close indeed to Forsyth’s. There are two groups of targets, and each group is fairly close to a beach on that side of the peninsula, even though some of them are closer to the east (harbour) side. But doing it this way saves navigating around the headland and keeps away from the main port, where you could expect a police presence.

Very roughly, it’s about 2,050 feet from each of two landing spots near the targets to a point exactly half-way across the entrance of the bay, so you’d know when to set course – this is exactly how the mercenaries in TDOW set up their attack, launching further out to sea in a big group and using the ship as a mark to lay their course to the jumping-off point, which they identify by a transit between two landmarks. Of course, there are plenty of buildings they could line up to identify this waypoint laterally (the Wankhede Stadium looks like a candidate).

Politically, this implies that the “Deccan Mujahideen” weren’t from Deccan at all – otherwise, as someone pointed out, they’d just have taken the train in. Clearly they needed to cross a border, or else the ship and the Zodiacs would have been just more moving parts. This also suggests that they couldn’t rely on getting arms in India. I wonder what they did with the ship? One option would be to have her sink; another for her to sail quietly on, although the chances of getting away wouldn’t be great.

There was worrying reporting that a Pakistani merchant ship had been stopped by the Indian navy but fortunately, if you like your Ganges without plutonium, a search of the ship revealed nothing suspicious.

There’s another question – this wasn’t designed as a suicide attack. Suicide attackers have no need of false papers, cash, and certainly not credit cards:

A bag found in the Taj Mahal hotel contained 400 rounds of ammunition, grenades, identity cards, rations, $1,000 (£650) in cash and international credit cards, indicating a meticulously planned operation.

That certainly sounds like the equipment of someone who at least wanted to keep the option of escape open, and of course we have little idea how many people landed. It was quite possibly a suicidal mission, but that’s not the same thing. The special horror here was that the violence was dispersed and prolonged; it happened all over the place, and it kept happening.

This of course carries some information as to what kind of group carried it out. Clearly, they weren’t the sort of people who you recruit because all you need is someone to carry the bomb. They had to take independent action, and they had to sustain their will over an extended period of time. Good relations between India and Pakistan don’t really provide much net information; when things are bad, you’d expect terrorism, and when things are good there are people who want them to be bad again.

Meanwhile, the Dogs of War parallel holds in another way – the mercenaries’ exit strategy is the weakest bit of the plot, and had it been put into action the endgame would probably have been a lot like the last day or so in Mumbai, with the coupsters being gradually picked off around the presidential palace as they ran out of time, ammunition and ideas.

Piracy Drivel Watch

Just to note that one issue of the Sun this week managed to rehash the much debunked pirates will knifecrime our asylums!!! story, yet again. It’s still drivel, of course; after all, here are those excitingly amoral Frenchmen, about to wire their pirates up to the ship’s power bus….or not. The latest lot are heading for France and their trial, like the others.

In other news, this is only going to end in tears.

So, what if there was an airline that uses the Zimbabwean registry in order to get around most people’s idea of aviation safety, is almost certainly in cahoots with the Zimbabwean government, and was involved not just with running guns into the DRC in the late 90s but also with actual combat air missions, dropping napalm out of the back of Antonovs and operating Mi-24 gunships in support of the Zimbabwean army there?

You’d think it would be numero uno on the EU blacklist. But, incredibly, Avient Aviation (ICAO code SMJ) isn’t; even though it is widely suspected that some of the Chinese weapons shipment blacked by South African dockers was flown to Zimbabwe in their Il-76, Z-WTV, from a port in Angola. (The Il-76 is the last surviving T-model, and is therefore on its last legs; it came from a firm based in Sao Tome, using the 3C- Equatorial Guinea registry at the same time as Viktor Bout’s CET Aviation was.) You might be even more surprised to learn that Avient is actually allowed to base aircraft in the European Union – its pair of ancient DC-10s are regularly seen at Chalons-Vatry airfield in France.

What’s going on? Well, part of the answer may be the Gabonese angle to the whole thing. Avient had, for some time, a contract to handle cargo on behalf of Gabon Airlines. They took over, with the contract, an aged DC-8 imported from the Sudanese firm United Arabian Airlines, which is now registered Z-ALB with Avient. Now, it seems that Gabon doesn’t want Zimbabwe-registry aircraft, and neither does it want Avient bossAndrew Smith (“one of the most thoroughly despicable & unlikeable characters it’s ever been my displeasure to meet”). Fair enough, but you have to say that it probably had something to do with the French government threatening to put Gabon Airlines on a blacklist (President Bongo threatened to ban Air France from Libreville, but he was never likely to go through with it).

I can see the point in the French action, but what I don’t understand is why Avient are tolerated in their back yard, when they are apparently enough to warrant a diplomatic row with the darling of French African policy for the last forty years. And wipe that smirk off; Avient have done the Baghdad trail quite frequently, too.

I don’t know about you, but it strikes me that if you were looking for an economic sanction against Zimbabwe that was only likely to affect the elite, seizing the Avient DC10s on the ground at Vatry would be a cracker. Given their age and suspected condition, it could probably be put in effect just by having them ramp-checked by the safety inspectors.

Der Spiegel has an interesting story regarding the Colombian drug smugglers’ homemade submarines. These have so far been considered a curiosity, but apparently they are becoming more and more common, and the technology is developing fast. The biggest vessel captured so far displaced 46 tonnes, presumably surfaced, with a payload of 10 tonnes. Apparently the current ones, described as the third generation, have a radius of action of 2,500 kilometres; an American admiral is quoted as expecting them to eventually start crossing the Atlantic from northeastern Brazil to West Africa, linking up with the emerging drugs route from there to Europe.