The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'terrorism'
A massive rally in the defence of free speech and in solidarity against Islamist terrorism has taken place in Paris, with the crowds estimated between 1.5 and 2 million in number, more than turned out when Paris was liberated from the Nazis. The rally has also attracted leaders from around the world, including various dictators, autocrats and authoritarians, uniting in Paris to say Je Suis Charlie, before going back to supervise their torturers giving some recalcitrant journalists a going over, or just to rush in sweeping mass-surveillance powers (which are unlikely to have helped catch terrorists the intelligence services already had on their watch lists).
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world:
- In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram (whose name, meaning something like “non-Islamic education is forbidden”, says it all) have reportedly massacred some 2,000 people, all in the name of an all-merciful God, after seizing a town. (That's about 200 times the Charlie Hebdo massacre, or 2/3 of 9/11.)
- Saudi Arabia, that most honorary of members in our world-spanning alliance of freedom-loving democracies, has flogged a man 50 times for running a liberal blog and criticising the country's religious establishment (“insulting Islam”). Raif Badawi was hunted down by Saudi Arabia's morality police, undoubtedly using surveillance technologies sold by our governments to aid in the hunting down of terrorists; incidentally, Saudi law regards atheism and apostasy as forms of terrorism. Badawi is to be flogged 950 more times over the next 20 weeks, after which he will continue his 10-year prison sentence.
Raif Badawi is probably Charlie, but Saudi Arabia's ambassador to France, who was at the Je Suis Charlie rally, not so much.
Finally, it appears that the noble French tradition of freedom of offensive speech only applies to offensive speech punching outwards.
The jihadist terrorist raid on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the murder of ten of its staff (including the editor and several renowned cartoonists and columnists), and the subsequent manhunt and police raids have been all over the news for the past few days; the horror that this could happen in the middle of Paris, in a satirical magazine already under police protection, was palpable. I'm not going to recap the details of the events; one can find comprehensive accounts in the press. This post is more about the reaction. (On the events of the day, suffice it to say that my condolences are with the families and loved ones of those who were murdered, and I condemn the criminals who perpetrated these acts; also, the best way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorised.)
The aftermath of the attacks drew a unified display of solidarity; all over the world—at Paris's Place de la République, at Trafalgar Square, in Martin Place in Sydney (the site of a recent siege by a clown with pretensions of being a jihadist terrorist), and elsewhere, people gathered with candles and signs. (There were some notable exceptions; the authorities in Tehran—totalitarian Islamists, albeit of a form deeply hostile to the Sunni jihadists involved in the attacks—clamped down on protests, presumably afraid that they might turn into an Iranian Spring.) One sign which soon emerged read Je Suis Charlie, a statement of solidarity with the victims. Soon, this sign had spread around the world; banners with it, in Charlie Hebdo's distinct headline typeface, in white on black, made it to T-shirts, banners on official buildings, the pages of newspapers of all stripes, and even Apple's French homepage.
One can understand the sentiment—you have attacked all of us, it says, but we will prevail, and you will not win—though those expressing it might not want to see it tested to its logical conclusion. Charlie Hebdo was not a cuddly, friendly or broadly loved publication; it was satire at its most scabrous, a tourettic court jester speaking truth to power and then dropping his pants and farting in its general direction. Its cartoonists and writers lampooned all targets without fear or favour, often calibrating their attacks to be deliberately, bluntly offensive; the offence, in their case, was part of the message, namely an assertion of the freedom of the secular, democratic Republic. The upshot of this is that a lot of the institutions now claiming to be Charlie look somewhat absurd; newspapers publishing Je Suis Charlie signs but carefully avoiding reprinting the offending cartoons, for example, are not particularly Charlie. Government buildings bearing banners identifying them with a viciously irreverent satirical publication look somewhat ridiculous. As for Apple's claim, one only has to look at its Disneyesque curation of the App Store to answer that question. Had Charlie Hebdo submitted an app containing the sorts of content that is their stock in trade, would Apple have ever approved it? Apple is not Charlie.
But death ennobles; tragic, spectacular death, even more so. In 1997, another death in Paris transformed a ditzy socialite into a saintly, virtuous figure, forever beyond mortal reproach; and now, the same phenomenon threatens to ossify Charlie Hebdo in a similar pristine marble. Though while its editor and cartoonists may be dead, Charlie Hebdo is not dead; the surviving staff have committed to producing an edition next week; money from a variety of sources (among them, Google and the Guardian) will help push the print run, normally around 60,000, to a million. The problem is, what comes after that: neither having been ennobled nor being universally loved is particularly healthy for a satirical publication (readers of a certain age might recall the genteel dotage of the English satirical magazine Punch as an example of this).
I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so. #JesuisAhmedAhmed is Ahmed Merabet, the French police officer who was murdered by the jihadists.
While the mass murder of teenage Labour Party supporters in Norway has horrified the world, the killer has not been entirely without supporters. In Italy, one of Silvio Berlusconi's former ministers has defended his ideas as being "in the defence of western civilisation". Meanwhile in the US, obnoxious cretin Glenn Beck has kept true to form, comparing the Labour Party youth camp to the Hitler Youth.
Recently, a right-wing extremist massacred close to 100 people in Norway, first setting a remotely detonated car bomb near government offices in Oslo. Then, as police combed through the wreckage, he made his way to the nearby island of Utøya, where the Labour Party's youth wing were having a camp, attired in a police uniform. For an hour or two, he roamed the island, gunning down teenagers as if in a video game, only surrendering when the police arrived.
This post is not so much about the events as they happened (there is no point in picking over the gruesome details of an atrocity), nor about the murderer's political beliefs and agenda (which should be regarded with the contempt they deserve, and not dignified with a place in the arena of debate), but rather about the media response; in particular, the immediate assumption, and wild speculation, that the massacre was the work of Islamic terrorist groups. From the first reports of the explosion, there was an immediate flurry of speculation: why are the Muslims attacking Norway (is it support for an Israeli-Palestinian peace process? reprinting of Danish newspaper cartoons? Or just because nobody expects an attack on Norway?) Even when reports came in of a gunman attacking a Labour Party camp, the media didn't twig to the fact that, from the point of view of al-Qaeda-style jihadists, restricting one's attacks to one political faction of infidels rather than going for maximum carnage made little sense, and that it looked more like the motive of some kind of neo-Nazi or far-right group.
The Murdoch empire, bloodied but unbowed by its recent lapse of control over Britain's (and possibly America's) political establishment, led the charge, not unlike the corpse of El Cid lashed to his horse. The Sun quickly rushed out a front page blaming al-Qaeda, though then hurriedly pulped it when the facts came in. Not to be outdone, on the other side of the Atlantic where they do things differently, Fox News played true to character, announcing that the massacre was the first incident of non-Islamic terrorism since 1995. Terrorism, you see, is a pathology peculiar to the foul Mohammedans, or at least to threatening-looking brown-skinned people who eat funny-smelling food.
Meanwhile, as the details of the murderer's beliefs emerged, so did an entirely different picture. Rather than the work of the Islamic other, the atrocity was the result of a pathological reaction against the fear of the other. The murderer turned out to be a right-wing psychopath, who set out to strike at the "cultural Marxists" (a term used by the far right to apply to anything they find disagreeable, from feminism to bad posture). He styled himself, presumably for purposes of expediency, as a Christian Fundamentalist (though claimed in his manifesto the particularly Randian view that religion is a crutch for the weak) and cultivated ties with contemporary far-right groups such as the English Defence League and the US Tea Party, as well as other anti-Muslim hate groups. (Ironically enough, he also expressed staunchly pro-Israeli opinions; I say ironically, because chances are, had he been born ten years earlier, he'd probably have been more likely to have been fire-bombing synagogues than supporting a Jewish anything. After all, the position occupied by the Muslim in the demonology of the European/American far right was, well within living memory, occupied by the Jew. In reality, of course, the Other is a McGuffin; it doesn't matter what name they go by or whether anyone has met one, as long as there is something sufficiently different to hate and fear.) Incidentally, his manifesto approvingly quoted Tory bully-boy humorist Jeremy Clarkson; make of that what you will.
Meanwhile, here is Glenn Greenwald's examination of the "terrorists-are-Muslims" subtext in news reports:
That Terrorism means nothing more than violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes has been proven repeatedly. When an airplane was flown into an IRS building in Austin, Texas, it was immediately proclaimed to be Terrorism, until it was revealed that the attacker was a white, non-Muslim, American anti-tax advocate with a series of domestic political grievances. The U.S. and its allies can, by definition, never commit Terrorism even when it is beyond question that the purpose of their violence is to terrorize civilian populations into submission. Conversely, Muslims who attack purely military targets -- even if the target is an invading army in their own countries -- are, by definition, Terrorists. That is why, as NYU's Remi Brulin has extensively documented, Terrorism is the most meaningless, and therefore the most manipulated, word in the English language. Yesterday provided yet another sterling example.And here is Charlie Brooker's take; somewhat more solemn than his usual column, though no less incisive.
The latest front in the War on Terror has opened up, and once again it is in Iceland. Only this time, Iceland isn't the terrorist bogeyman (as it was when Gordon Brown's poll figures started to slide), but is waging war against terrorists; more specifically, an Icelandic government official has designated the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd as a terrorist organisation, largely due to it having sunk two whaling vessels in Reykjavík harbour in 1986.
It is not clear whether this officially makes supporting Sea Shepherd a crime under Icelandic law, or whether Sea Shepherd supporters who travel to Iceland could find themselves detained and deported, in the way that pro-Palestinian activists travelling to Israel are. (Whether Facebook would give the Icelandic intelligence agency, assuming that one exists, a list of people who 'Like'd Sea Shepherd is another question altogether.) Icelanders donating to the anti-whaling groups could be committing a terrorist act, though, with Iceland's austerity-driven restrictions on foreign currency exchange, this may be a moot point.
The new face of terrorism in the UK? A 12-year-old schoolboy in Eynsham, Oxfordshire was taken out of his class by anti-terrorism police, and threatened with arrest after starting a Facebook group to protest to the Prime Minister against the closure of a youth club:
Speaking to the Guardian, Nicky Wishart said: "In my lesson, [a school secretary] came and said my head of year wanted to talk to me. She was in her office with a police officer who wanted to talk to me about the protest. He said, 'if a riot breaks out we will arrest people and if anything happens you will get arrested because you are the organiser'.Via MetaFilter, whose discussion thread includes this particularly insightful comment, by one "SysRq":
More and more, I get the feeling that the anti- in "anti-terror" doesn't refer to ideological opposition so much as directional opposition, as in anti-clockwise; whereas "terror" is the psychological warfare of The Enemy upon The State, "anti-terror" is the psychological warfare of The State upon itself — a sort of national autoimmune disorder.
New Age terrorists develop homeopathic bomb; terror alert level raised from "lilac" to "purple":
Homeopathic bombs are comprised of 99.9% water but contain the merest trace element of explosive. The solution is then repeatedly diluted so as to leave only the memory of the explosive in the water molecules. According to the laws of homeopathy, the more that the water is diluted, the more powerful the bomb becomes.
‘A homeopathic attack could bring entire cities to a standstill,’ said BBC Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner, ‘Large numbers of people could easily become convinced that they have been killed and hospitals would be unable to cope with the massive influx of the ‘walking suggestible’.’
As of now, South Carolina legally requires "subversives" to register with the government ($5 filing fee applicable), or face stiff fines and the possibility of prison time:
By "subversive organization," the law means "every corporation, society, association, camp, group, bund, political party, assembly, body or organization, composed of two or more persons, which directly or indirectly advocates, advises, teaches or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States [or] of this State."
While the intention of the law is apparently aimed at Islamic terrorists, it's unclear in the law's wording whether it can be applied to right-wing militias, some of whom have reputedly called for the overthrow of the US government. The law states that "fraternal" and "patriotic" groups are exempt from the law, but only if they don't "contemplate the overthrow of the government."
(via Boing Boing)
Slate has a series of articles examining various theories on why there hasn't (yet) been another 9/11-style attack on the US. The theories are:
- The terrorists-are-dumb theory (i.e., they just got lucky)
- The Near-Enemy Theory (i.e., they're too busy in Pakistan/Afghanistan)
- The Melting-Pot Theory (i.e., American Muslims are too well integrated to sympathise with al-Qaeda)
- the Burden-Of-Success Theory (i.e., 9/11 has set expectations that are hard to meet)
- The Flypaper Theory (i.e., why kill Americans in the US when you can kill them in Iraq?)
- The Bush-Kept-Us-Safe Theory (i.e., invading Iraq and abducting and torturing random Muslims actually worked)
- The Electoral-Cycles Theory (i.e., they're timing their attacks to influence elections)
- The Time-Space Theory (i.e., al-Qaeda is just biding its time, just you wait...)
In his WIRED column, Bruce Schneier puts forward a new model for understanding why people become terrorists. The conventional model, that they do it to achieve political aims or address grievances, doesn't adequately describe the real world, in which terrorist groups have vague or changing goals and eschew actions more likely to actually achieve those goals, and the actual terrorists often adopt and change ideologies and targets at the drop of a hat. Instead, being a terrorist is not about changing the world, but rather about being part of a community:
The evidence supports this. Individual terrorists often have no prior involvement with a group's political agenda, and often join multiple terrorist groups with incompatible platforms. Individuals who join terrorist groups are frequently not oppressed in any way, and often can't describe the political goals of their organizations. People who join terrorist groups most often have friends or relatives who are members of the group, and the great majority of terrorist are socially isolated: unmarried young men or widowed women who weren't working prior to joining. These things are true for members of terrorist groups as diverse as the IRA and al-Qaida.
For example, several of the 9/11 hijackers planned to fight in Chechnya, but they didn't have the right paperwork so they attacked America instead. The mujahedeen had no idea whom they would attack after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, so they sat around until they came up with a new enemy: America. Pakistani terrorists regularly defect to another terrorist group with a totally different political platform. Many new al-Qaida members say, unconvincingly, that they decided to become a jihadist after reading an extreme, anti-American blog, or after converting to Islam, sometimes just a few weeks before. These people know little about politics or Islam, and they frankly don't even seem to care much about learning more. The blogs they turn to don't have a lot of substance in these areas, even though more informative blogs do exist.
All of this explains the seven habits. It's not that they're ineffective; it's that they have a different goal. They might not be effective politically, but they are effective socially: They all help preserve the group's existence and cohesion.The implications of this theory are that terrorist groups are the emergent product of mass social alienation; which suggests a solution to terrorism: give everyone internet access and multiplayer online games. Which would mean that those drawn to malignant, tightly-knit social groups would merely become trolls and griefers rather than actual real-world terrorists.
According to a recent mailout from Chris Morris fan list Cook'd And Bomb'd, Morris' latest project, a comedy about Islamist jihadists in Britain, has been cancelled by Channel Four. The good news is that Warp Films, the independent arthouse film branch of the IDM/electronica label Warp, has picked it up, provided it attracts independent funding. To wit, Morris is asking people to pledge to donate £25, which might give them a chance to be an extra in the film:
Following rumours in the press and online Warp Films can confirm that Chris Morris' comedy about british jihadis is being made by Warp Films as an independently funded cinema feature. The script has been written by Chris in collaboration with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain and is now ready to shoot. Production will begin as soon as we are fully funded. To that end we are running a number of investment schemes including donations which give you the chance to be in the film.
mail enquiries to: email@example.com
Please pass this on to ten people"
A Pentagon researcher has laid out a chilling possibilities: that terrorists could be using online role-playing games to plan attacks, disguised as raids in the virtual world:
In it, two World of Warcraft players discuss a raid on the "White Keep" inside the "Stonetalon Mountains." The major objective is to set off a "Dragon Fire spell" inside, and make off with "110 Gold and 234 Silver" in treasure. "No one will dance there for a hundred years after this spell is cast," one player, "war_monger," crows.
Except, in this case, the White Keep is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. "Dragon Fire" is an unconventional weapon. And "110 Gold and 234 Silver" tells the plotters how to align the game's map with one of Washington, D.C.Of course, the same argument could apply to any form of discussion. Terrorists could just as easily use last.fm playlists or online mixtapes to hatch their plans. (The above plan could be encoded as a copy of OMD's Enola Gay and a song by industrial noise band Whitehouse, followed by a song exactly 11 minutes long, which would give the time of the attack. For chemical or biological weapons, replace Enola Gay with Britney Spears' Toxic. You get the idea.) Or they could use internet memes; who's to say that the particular spelling/grammatical anomalies on the caption of the latest set of cat photos don't encode the details of a planned terrorist attack?
Of course, the terrorists could even eschew the internet altogether, using other means of communicating their plans, such as, say, public art. Who's to say that a terrorist sleeper agent hasn't been quietly making a name for himself as an artist, getting lucrative commissions, and waiting for the order to encode doomsday plans in a public sculpture (plenty of opportunity there) or a semi-abstract mural. (Avant-garde art itself is too easy.) Or architecture, or urban planning (if there are Masonic symbols in the layout of Washington DC's streets, there could be other things elsewhere.) The possibilities are infinite.
Perhaps Bruce Schneier could make his next Movie Plot Threat Contest hinge on coming up with creative ways in which evildoers could go to elaborate lengths to encode the message "nuke the Whitehouse at 11:00" in innocuous-looking environments. Because, as we all know, supervillains love complexity in and of itself, and the ideal terrorist plan would look more baroque than a steampunk laptop on Boing Boing.
You know those cocaine-smuggling submarines operating out of South America? Well, apparently, they're run by Hezbollah. Yes, the Lebanon-based Shi'ite Islamist militant group have submarine capability, and it's all in Latin America, earning good money. For the jihad, of course.
So what's the Hezbollah connection? "I continue to be concerned about the tri-border area [between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay]," Stavridis said. "It is, in my view, principally Hezbollah activity. There is clearly fund-raising, money laundering, drug trafficking. And, certainly a portion of the funds that are raised in that are making their way back to the Middle East."
Nelson Mandela is no longer considered a terrorist in the US. Up until now, the South African former political prisoner and first post-Apartheid president had to obtain a waiver each time he wished to travel to the United States, because the ANC was designated as a "terrorist organisation", meaning that he couldn't just tick the "no" box on the immigration card:
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had called the restrictions a "rather embarrassing matter that I still have to waive in my own counterpart, the foreign minister of South Africa, not to mention the great leader Nelson Mandela."
A list of 10 bizarre inventions patented in the name of fighting terrorism, from nondescript trucks with machine guns to bomb-proof anti-suicide-bomber nets (which looked like repurposed Nixon-era hippie-containment apparatus) to trap doors on airliners and remotely triggerable tranquilliser syringes in airline seats for incapacitating suspicious individuals:
Make all passengers wear armbands that monitors their body for signs of falsehood and evil (ooh, say heart pulsation and blood pressure - hey, it's in the patent application, mmkay?). And did I mention there's a syringe filled with a strong tranquilizer connected to the thing? One "anomalous emotional condition," then off to dreamland they go!And, if all else fails, there's even a patent for mobile crematoria for disposing of all the bodies.
A piece on counter-surveillance tactics used by terrorist suspects. In summary, they go out of their way to appear assimilated and un-religious, discuss plans in remote wilderness locations or online pornography sites (what, no Second Life/World of Warcraft?), use Skype (which is difficult to tap) and speak in code:
Wiretap transcripts and other court records show that the cell of North African immigrants tried hard to blend into Italian society, working regular jobs, sending their children to public schools and taking pains not to appear unusually religious. When they did talk on the phone, they often adopted a roundabout or obtuse manner that masked their real meaning.
"Taxi drivers," Redouane el Habab said, referred to suicide bombers; explosives were "dough." Anybody who had to go to "the hospital," he added, had been taken to jail, while those visiting "China" were really attending training camps in Sudan.
Two Oxford University sociologists look at the question of why graduates in science, engineering and medicine are overrepresented in terrorist and extremist groups:
However, contrary to popular speculation, it's not technical skills that make engineers attractive recruits to radical groups. Rather, the authors pose the hypothesis that "engineers have a 'mindset' that makes them a particularly good match for Islamism," which becomes explosive when fused by the repression and vigorous radicalization triggered by the social conditions they endured in Islamic countries.
Whether American, Canadian or Islamic, they pointed out that a disproportionate share of engineers seem to have a mindset that makes them open to the quintessential right-wing features of "monism" (why argue where there is one best solution) and by "simplism" (if only people were rational, remedies would be simple).
Such as the following: 1) simulate how a crowd flees from a burning car toward a single evacuation point; 2) test out how a pathogen might be transmitted through a mobile pedestrian over a short period of time; 3) see how the existing urban grid facilitate or does not facilitate mass evacuation prior to a hurricane landfall or in the event of dirty bomb detonation; 4) design a mall which can compel customers to shop to the point of bankruptcy, to walk obliviously for miles and miles and miles, endlessly to the point of physical exhaustion and even death; 5) identify, if possible, the tell-tale signs of a peaceful crowd about to metamorphosize into a hellish mob; 6) determine how various urban typologies, such as plazas, parks, major arterial streets and banlieues, can be reconfigured in situ into a neutralizing force when crowds do become riotous; and 7) conversely, figure out how one could, through spatial manipulation, inflame a crowd, even a very small one, to set in motion a series of events that culminates into a full scale Revolution or just your average everyday Southeast Asian coup d'état -- regime change through landscape architecture.
Or you quadruple the population of Chicago. How about 200 million? And into its historic Emerald Necklace system of parks, you drop an al-Qaeda sleeper cell, a pedophile, an Ebola patient, an illegal migrant worker, a swarm of zombies, and Paris Hilton. Then grab a cold one, sit back and watch the landscape descend into chaos. It'll be better than any megablockbuster movie you'll see this summer.And here are emotional maps of various urban areas, including parts of London and San Francisco, created by having volunteers walk around them with GPS units and galvanic skin response meters.
(via schneier, mind hacks)
Details of how the NSA hacked cryptography machines from Swiss company Crypto AG, inserting an undetectable security hole which allowed them to read the traffic of users (including Iranian government orders to assassins and terrorists including the Lockerbie bombers):
On the day of his assassination and one day before his body was found with his throat slit, the Teheran headquarters of the Iranian Intelligence Service, the VEVAK, transmitted a coded message to Iranian diplomatic missions in London, Paris, Bonn and Geneva. "Is Bakhtiar dead?" the message asked.
"Different countries need different levels of security. The United States and other leading Western countries required completely secure communications. Such security would not be appropriate for the Third World countries that were Crypto's customers," Boris Hagelin explained to the baffled engineer. "We have to do it."
Juerg Spoerndli left Crypto AG in 1994. He helped design the machines in the late '70s. "I was ordered to change algorithms under mysterious circumstances" to weaker machines," says Spoerndli who concluded that NSA was ordering the design change through German intermediaries.
The ownership of Crypto AG has been to a company in Liechtenstein, and from there back to a trust company in Munich. Crypto AG has been described as the secret daughter of Siemens but many believe that the real owner is the German government.
Charlie Stross visits London and devises a foolproof means of preventing terrorist suicide bombings in the capital:
The solution to protecting the London Underground from terrorist suicide bombers can be summed up in one word: Daleks. One Dalek per tube platform, behind a door at the end. Fit them with cameras and remote controls and run them from Ken Livingstone's office. Any sign of terrorism on the platform? Whoosh! The doors open and the Dalek comes out, shrieking "exterminate!" in a demented rasp reminiscent of Michael Howard during his tenure as Home Secretary, only less merciful.
The British are trained from birth to know the two tactics for surviving a Dalek attack; run up the stairs (or escalator), or hide behind the sofa. There are no sofas in the underground, but there are plenty of escalators. Switch them to run upwards when the Dalek is out, and you can clear a platform in seconds.
Suicide bombers are by definition Un-British, and will therefore be unable to pass a citizenship test, much less deal with the Menace from Skaro. And as for motivating the Daleks, one need only mention that the current crop of would-be British suicide bombers are doctors ...
The FBI has a new technique for sniffing out potential terrorist cells: scanning grocery store records for telltale spikes in felafel sales. Really.
Other than anything else, the fact that they were using felafel sales to find Iranian sleeper cells suggests that whoever came up with this idea didn't do their homework.
As we dig in for the long siege and see potential terrorists in every shadow, the war on terror is, according to Bruce Schneier, turning into a war on the unexpected, with untrained civilians encouraged to report anything out of the ordinary, and the authorities escalating such reports to full-blown incidents:
We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.
This story has been repeated endlessly, both in the U.S. and in other countries. Someone -- these are all real -- notices a funny smell, or some white powder, or two people passing an envelope, or a dark-skinned man leaving boxes at the curb, or a cell phone in an airplane seat; the police cordon off the area, make arrests, and/or evacuate airplanes; and in the end the cause of the alarm is revealed as a pot of Thai chili sauce, or flour, or a utility bill, or an English professor recycling, or a cell phone in an airplane seat.Schneier also links to this blog item, which shows that this principle is being extended towards the padeophile end of the paedoterrorist axis; apparently, in Virginia, a father holding his young daughter's hand is a sign of probable sexual abuse.
"Your outdated ideas of what terrorism is have been challenged," an unidentified, disembodied voice announces following the video's first 45 minutes of random imagery set to minimalist techno music. "It is not your simple bourgeois notion of destructive explosions and weaponized biochemical agents. True terror lies in the futility of human existence."
According to a 2007 CIA executive summary, the terrorists responsible for masterminding the attack are likely hiding somewhere in Berlin's vast labyrinth of cafés. Though officials said they didn't know if any of those involved in carrying out the plot were still in Chicago, several dozen local performance artists and interpretive dancers have been brought in for questioning.
Hayden said the CIA is working closely with the National Endowment for the Arts to cut off all grants that may serve as funding for the group. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has begun monitoring any large purchases of gravy, tinfoil, pig's blood, and barbed wire in hopes of preventing another aesthetic tragedy.
Among recent proposals for keeping one step ahead of the terrorists is the use of formerly secret Russian mind-control and mind-reading technology, such as testing airline passengers' subconscious responses to scrambled images with terrorist-related themes:
SSRM Tek is presented to a subject as an innocent computer game that flashes subliminal images across the screen -- like pictures of Osama bin Laden or the World Trade Center. The "player" -- a traveler at an airport screening line, for example -- presses a button in response to the images, without consciously registering what he or she is looking at. The terrorist's response to the scrambled image involuntarily differs from the innocent person's, according to the theory.
Despite Smirnov's death, Rusalkina predicts an "arms race" in psychotronic weapons. Such weapons, she asserts, are far more dangerous than nuclear weapons. She pointed, for example, to a spate of Russian news reports about "zombies" -- innocent people whose memories had been allegedly wiped out by mind control weapons.Meanwhile, some are sceptical about whether or not one can actually deduce terrorist intent from such cues.
The problem, he said, is that there is no science he is aware of that can produce the specificity or sensitivity to pick out a terrorist, let alone influence behavior. "We're still working at the level of how rats learn that light predicts food," he explained. "That's the level of modern neuroscience."
(via Boing Boing)
Some miscellaneous web links from today:
- Scientists in Britain have developed a robot for teaching social skills to autistic children. The robot, named KASPAR (presumably a reference to Kaspar Hauser) can smile, gesticulate and simulate emotions such as surprise and sadness and acts as a "social mediator".
- A taxonomy of terrorist group logos, taken from Wikipedia. There are a lot of swords and AK-47s there, along with a few stars (mostly from the Marxist-influenced, rather than nationalist or Islamist, groups).
- In a year's time, Israel will have a national internet censorship firewall, blocking all adult content, with those wishing to access it being able to do so by signing a "perverts' register". If the Israelis make this work, there'll probably be pressure in Australia to implement something like this (after all, there is theoretical bipartisan support for a national firewall).
- A WIRED article looking at the subculture of people who deliberately try to fly as many miles as possible for the lowest price, and the strategies they employ.
Apparently, one of the suspects in the recent UK terrorist attacks was a neurosurgeon. I guess this shows that suicidce bombing isn't brain surgery.
Meanwhile, Bruce Schneier's theory is that there's a Special Olympics for terrorists currently going on in the UK.
Car bomb found and disarmed near Piccadilly Circus. Could this be the "Hiroshima and Nagasaki-scale" al-Qaeda atrocity meant to "shake the Roman throne"?
The latest project for Chris Morris, the satirist who brought us Brass Eye and Nathan Barley, looks set to be a fictionalised TV special about Islamist suicide bombers in Britain:
A casting sheet describes seven characters aged from 17 to 38, with one billed as "the sort of guy who'd protest against cartoons in a bomb belt" while another is "insanely intense, bright, very focused, blind to anything he's not focused on, small seething boffin".
Morris has taken a keen interest in Islamic terrorism and was recently spotted at a terror trial taking copious notes. He was also seen at a seminar on al-Qaida.Morris also mentioned a while ago that he is working on a second series of Nathan Barley. (Which, IMHO, should be more interesting than The I.T. Crowd, a rather dull and obvious American-style sitcom dressed up in computer-geek garb, and with all the bite of Hey Dad!).
According to the US government, al-Qaeda are planning to attack online stock market and banking sites. The fiends; is there anything they won't stoop to?
While the spooks have their hands full keeping tabs on a terrifying proliferation of terrorists and extremists, they apparently have some help from a shadowy unofficial organisation named Vigil, comprised of retired intelligence personnel, amateur sleuths and other interested parties:
The group's director Dominic Whiteman said he set up Vigil with two other businessmen last year to act as an interface between retired spies who were still party to good, raw intelligence, and the police and security services. "This evidence was just getting lost in the system," Whiteman said in a telephone interview.
Sixty per cent of Vigil's work involves gaining information via the internet, by infiltrating online chatrooms, while the remainder is face-to-face or telephone work. The information gleaned is passed on to authorities like the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York Intelligence Unit and British police's Counter Terrorism Command (CTC).
A CTC spokeswoman said the group was treated seriously.
One member of Vigil is credited with helping bring about the conviction of cleric Hamza, jailed in London in February for inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder, and wanted in the United States on terrorism charges.The same article contains this factoid:
Whiteman said a very trusted contact who had a "key security role in the UK" had revealed that 70 per cent of information given in a daily briefing to President Bush by US intelligence chief John Negroponte centred on the British capital.Which is sobering, assuming that you take the article's claims at face value. It could be true, or it could be fantasy. Neither would surprise me.
Charlie Stross has a characteristically sobering assessment of the Litvinenko assassination:
Anyway, to the point: this wasn't simply an assassination. There are any number of poisons out there that would do the job painfully well but much more rapidly, and without the same scope for a diplomatic incident. Likewise, a bullet to the back of the head would have worked just as well (as witness the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya).
What this is, is a warning: "we have the capability to detonate a dirty bomb in central London any time we feel like it, so don't fuck with us". (Just take Polonium and add a little TNT.)
Given that Litvinenko was promoting a book that asserted FSB agents blew up two apartment buildings in Moscow and pointed the finger at Chechen rebels in order to justify Putin's subsequent war on Chechnya, one possibility that must be considered is that elements of the FSB may be responsible — and willing to use radiological terrorism as a tool of foreign affairs. It may well not have been ordered by the Kremlin: all it takes is for Vladimir Putin to mutter "will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?" over his breakfast one morning, and Shit Happens in a foreign capital thousands of kilometres away. (Or it may be entirely deliberate, merely "plausibly deniable", to use the charming CIA-surplus weasel words for "we did it but you can't prove it".)
And what disturbs me most is that all the other possibilities I've been able to think of are worse ...And as a bonus, here is Charlie's analysis of the Iraq débâcle
Despite all that, despite the Abu Ghraib photographs and the evidence of mass murder of civilians by soldiers, and a thousand daily petty atrocities, it's not immediately obvious that bringing the troops home won't make everything a whole lot worse in the long run, up to a worst-case scenario in which the "failed state" of Iraq turns out to be not so much a "failed state" as a voracious cancer of social breakdown that spreads inexorably to its neighbours, until the entire region is effectively government-free. "Government-free" does not mean some libertarian pipe-dream of a night watchman state and respect for individual liberty: it means that eventually the whole region will come to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban, with authority — any authority — welcomed as an antidote to blood feud and starvation.
Earlier this week, a nutter obsessed with the Columbine massacre gunned down a bunch of people in Montreal, killing one, before being shot dead by police. Afterwards, his online journal came to light, being hosted on a site named Vampire Freaks, which seems to be something like DeadJournal crossed with MySpace, with extra Goth. In other words, unlike the Columbine killers (who were erroneously associated with the Goth subculture despite not being part of it), Kimveer Gill vociferously identified himself as a Goth.
Before this leads to reprisal attacks (the torching of industrial clubs, assaults on Goths, punks, hessians, Hassidim, ninjas, or random chromatically-challenged individuals by clueless rednecks), an important distinction must be made. The enemy are not Goths but Gothists. Goth is a subculture of peace, and explicitly prohibits violence against the innocent. Gothism, however, is a militant, intolerant ideology committed to the annihilation or subjugation of all jocks, preppies, "normals" and "mundanes" across the world, and the ushering in of a global reign of darkness. The vast majority of Goths do not subscribe to the extremist beliefs of Gothism, and indeed consider it to be a false ideology, a sick perversion of the tenets of their subculture. It is clear that peaceful coexistence with Gothism is impossible, and this ideology must be uprooted and neutralised before it causes any more damage; this is something which we will need the cooperation of moderate/liberal Goth leaders in achieving.
Having said that, Goth community leaders should be more outspoken in condemning atrocities carried out in the name of their culture, and the Goth community needs to take action to prevent its marginalised youth from being radicalised by the agents of Gothism.
The UK's terror threat level has been downgraded from "critical" to "severe". It is not clear whether this is a result of confidence that the worst threat is over, or because airports have been unable to cope with the new security measures.
And it now emerges that the attack may not have been imminent (the suspects had not purchased tickets and some didn't even have passports), but the timing of the arrests was forced by US officials. And this (somewhat more sensationalistic) article (via jwz) claims that the timing was "nothing more than political fabrication". And here is the Independent's roundup of what we know and don't know.
And Bruce Schneier has weighed in, on the subject of effective security and "security theatre":
None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 -- no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews -- had anything to do with last week's arrests. And they wouldn't have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn't have made a difference, either.
The new airplane security measures focus on that plot, because authorities believe they have not captured everyone involved. It's reasonable to assume that a few lone plotters, knowing their compatriots are in jail and fearing their own arrest, would try to finish the job on their own. The authorities are not being public with the details -- much of the "explosive liquid" story doesn't hang together -- but the excessive security measures seem prudent.
But only temporarily. Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.
The goal of a terrorist is to cause terror. Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.
Air transport authorities are warning that increased security measures, including cabin baggage restrictions and extra screening, will be permanent, with restrictions on liquids and bans on certain types of cabin luggage remaining in force. Passengers may next have to surrender belts and trousers (or wear special pocketless flight suits, yet to be introduced) as such could be used by terrorists to smuggle explosives undetectably. Though even that won't stop terror mules with bombs inside their bodies:
"Quite frankly, that kind of experimentation has been taking place. We know that they have been testing strapped-on explosives on animals in the Middle East for years and it's not a magical leap to try inserting it into the rectum," he said.
Terrorists have already used mocked pregnancy prosthetics to slip bombs aboard planes, but no one has tried the mule approach yet, according to Harvey "Jack" McGeorge, a former Marine Corps bomb disposal specialist and a former Secret Service security specialist.
By smuggling explosives inside one's body, a suicide bomber would likely foil all of the current airport scanning technologies, as well as many future ones.Perhaps the solution for air travel in the age of perpetual terror will be to anaesthetise all airline passengers, place them in coffin-like life-support pods for the duration of their journey and reawaken them at the other end? That would also allow more passengers to be carried on a plane and eliminate the costs of food, drinks and in-flight entertainment, further cutting costs. Either that or resign ourselves to a certain proportion of flights being downed by terrorists (much in the way that people accept that a certain (much greater) proportion of road journeys end in fatal car accidents) and just regard it as the luck of the draw.
It looks like those bans on carry-on luggage on airliners could be here to stay, or at least until they find a way of detecting undetectable liquid explosives:
"A lot of these components are clear and have no smell and you could mix them on board. You do not need much explosive to bring down an aircraft," he said.
"The trouble with airport security measures is that a lot of machines do not spot a lot of explosives. It is still a case of dogs and people taking their clothes off."And further down:
Airports and aeroplanes have been a key target for terrorists for decades. British-born Richard Reid tried to detonate a shoebomb on a transatlantic flight from Paris to Miami in late 2001. He was overpowered by passengers as he tried to ignite the explosives and was later jailed for life by a US court.It looks like "shoebomb" is now a word.
More details are emerging on the terrorist attacks allegedly thwarted: they involved liquid explosives, carried by British-born terrorists (some with Pakistani connections), who allegedly planned to blow up airliners in waves of three at a time, for the glory of God the All-Merciful. The authorities claim the attack would have caused loss of life on an "unprecedented scale", which (after 9/11) makes one wonder how many aircraft they planned to blow up.
Anyway, until further notice, passengers on flights leaving the UK are prohibited from taking carry-on luggage or liquids into the cabin, except for a few small things (passport, sanitary items, and baby milk, which must be tasted by the passenger in question on check-in). Certainly no books, MP3 players, games, laptops or PDAs. Which makes me glad I'm not flying to Australia (about 21 hours each way) any time soon.
Of course, medicines with prescriptions are exempted from the rules. I hope no terrorist manages to forge a prescription and bring along some liquid explosive in a medicine bottle.
Until 2001, far fewer Americans were killed in any grouping of years by all forms of international terrorism than were killed by lightning, and almost none of those terrorist deaths occurred within the United States itself. Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (which is when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number ofAmericans killed over the same period by lightning, accident-causing deer, or severe allergic reaction to peanuts.
it would seem to be reasonable for those in charge of our safety to inform the public about how many airliners would have to crash before flying becomes as dangerous asdriving the same distance in an automobile. It turns out that someone has made that calculation: there would have to be one set of September 11 crashes a month for the risks to balance out. More generally, they calculate thatan American's chance of being killed in one nonstop airline flight is about one in 13 million (even taking the September 11 crashes into account). To reach that same level of risk when driving on America's safest roads -- rural interstate highways -- one would have to travel a mere 11.2 miles.
Accordingly, three key issues, set out by risk analyst Howard Kunreuther, require careful discussion but do not seem ever to get it:
- How much should we be willing to pay for a small reduction in probabilities that are already extremely low?
- How much should we be willing to pay for actions that are primarily reassuring but do little to change the actual risk?
- How can measures such as strengthening the public health system, which provide much broader benefits than those against terrorism, get the attention they deserve?
Police and MI5 claim to have foiled a terrorist plot to blow up airliners, arresting 18 people. The principal plotters are said to be all British-born. The UK is at its highest terrorist alert state, "critical" (meaning "This is it we're all going to die! I'm a teapot, I'm a teapot!"), incoming flights have been suspended, as have some outgoing flights, and for the foreseeable future, passengers flying out of the UK will not be able to take luggage into the cabin.
The latest peril in Australia: Aboriginal prisoners converting to militant Islam, and becoming potential terrorists; or so the federal government says, and would they lie about such important issues?
"We're worried (when) certain prisoners that are doing very long sentences, as an example, denounce their Aboriginality for Islam," he said. "We monitor them very closely ... To us they're not terrorists in the real sense but they talk the talk. So, if we had somebody who was recruiting in a prison ... we keep them away from people that might be susceptible to the conversion."Meanwhile, US air marshals, faced with insufficient likely terrorists to meet their quotas, have reportedly taken to adding innocent people to their watch lists to make up numbers:
The air marshals, whose identities are being concealed, told 7NEWS that they're required to submit at least one report a month. If they don't, there's no raise, no bonus, no awards and no special assignments.
"That could have serious impact ... They could be placed on a watch list. They could wind up on databases that identify them as potential terrorists or a threat to an aircraft. It could be very serious," said Don Strange, a former agent in charge of air marshals in Atlanta. He lost his job attempting to change policies inside the agency.
One example, according to air marshals, occurred on one flight leaving Las Vegas, when an unknowing passenger, most likely a tourist, was identified in an SDR for doing nothing more than taking a photo of the Las Vegas skyline as his plane rolled down the runway.
(via Boing Boing)
Five Americans who were injured in a Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem are suing to seize ancient Persian clay tablets, on loan from Iran to Chicago University since 1939, to be sold for compensation for Iran's role:
The tablets were found in southern Iran in the 1930s by archaeologists from Chicago University. Many fear that the action will deter future loans of art to the United States, but David Strachman, the victims' lawyer, insists he is just collecting damages from Iran. He admitted he had "no idea" how much the tablets were worth.
The battle stems from an attack by three suicide bombers in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997. The Iranian-backed Palestinian group Hamas claimed responsibility. Several Americans who were wounded in the bombing filed a suit against Iran and in 2003 a US judge awarded them $423.5 million (£246 million). Unable to make Iran pay up, five of the survivors went after Iranian art works and artefacts in the US.
Gil Stein, the director of Chicago University's Oriental Institute, said that the tablets were irreplaceable.Words fail me.
Apparently Hamas, the hardline Islamist group forming the Palestinian government, is on the verge of recognising Israel's right to exist, a huge concession coming from a group vowed to annihilate the Jewish state and replace it with an Islamic theocracy. While this won't immediately bring peace to the Middle East, it could be the latest in a long line of initially promising first steps.
US forces and Iraqi authorities have announced that bloodthirsty hostage-beheading/civilian-massacring "holy man" Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead, having been killed in an air strike yesterday:
The head of US-led forces in Iraq, General George Casey, said Zarqawi was killed at 1815 on Wednesday, in an air strike against an "isolated safe house... approximately 8km (five miles) north of Baquba".Apparently the US$25m reward for information leading to his whereabouts bore fruit, leading the US Air Force to his location; his remains were subsequently identified by fingerprint and facial recognition, so presumably he won't reappear in a video taunting the Zionist-Crusader-Infidels and promising new waves of blood-curdling atrocities for the glory of God. Of course, that's not saying that others won't now start jockeying to take his place.
I wonder what will happen to his persona after death; will he become iconified into a sort of Middle Eastern Che Guevara (his brutal reputation may not be an obstacle, now that he's safely dead; after all, Che himself was a murderous totalitarian thug in life, and not the mellow hippie rock-star sex-god most people might imagine, and even Stalin has his fans now), reviled, or forgotten. On the BBC News forum, there is a lot of rejoicing, most particularly from self-identified Iraqis.
And oil prices have fallen on the news, as markets anticipate the possibility of less violence in the region.
The family of the French-born al-Qaeda terrorist and/or raving lunatic Zacarias Moussaoui, who recently failed to escape solitary confinement for life, are claiming that living in London turned him from a nice young man into a murderous zealot.
A Palestinian man blew himself up in self-defence in a restaurant in Tel Aviv, according to a spokesman of the Palestinian Hamas government. The bombing was not organised by Hamas, though defended by them as "self-defence", to near-universal condemnation. Which suggests that they've given up on trying to convince the West that they're reasonable people.
It has emerged that the 7/7 suicide bombers acted alone, working from plans from the internet and financing their attacks themselves. There was no "fifth bomber", and as for the al-Qaeda fixer who indoctrinated them, instructed them in the finer points of bomb-making and flew out a few hours before the bombs went off, well, he didn't exist either.
The upshot of this, of course, is that it is possible for a small group of individuals with a few hundred pounds to make bombs and kill more than 50 people without any help whatsoever. And as long as there are pissed-off people with militant views and beliefs in a glorious afterlife, such things could happen again. As, indeed, could suicide-bomb-based high-school massacres and the like.
A handy FAQ on the US president's powers to override the law in the event of terrorist peril:
Q. Things sure have changed since the innocent days of mutually assured destruction! But is it legal for the president to ignore the law?
A. Maybe not according to plain ol stupid ol regular law, but we're at war! You don't go to war with regular laws, which are made outta red tape and bureaucracy and Neville Chamberlain. You go to war with great big strapping War Laws made outta tanks and cold hard steel and the American Fightin Man and WAR, KABOOOOOOM!
Q. Is the president above the law?
A. Nobody's above the law! As commander-in-chief the president just outranks the law.
(via bOING bOING)
The trial has begun at the Old Bailey of hardline Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al Masri, accused of inciting hatred and terrorism. The court heard that Masri preached, among other things, that Muslims have an obligation to kill infidels and apostates and overthrow non-Islamist governments, that Hitler was sent by Allah to "torture and humiliate" Jews, and that the ultimate aim was a global Islamist caliphate, ruled by a caliph in the White House in Washington DC.
The surprising thing is the last point. If one was to think of a location for the capital of a global Islamist state, surely Washington DC, a city with relatively little in the way of Islamic history, would come fairly low on the list, well after places with historical resonance like Baghdad, Mecca and Jerusalem, or even cities like Paris and London.
A day after several animal-rights militants were arrested for stealing the corpse of the grandmother of a guinea-pig farmer, others have firebombed an Oxford University sports centre and attempted to assault a GlaxoSmithKline employee, and then issued a chilling communique:
It said: "We are stronger than you, we have more resolve than you and we never give up.
"If we have to destroy every bit of property you own we will, in order to stop you inflicting your profit-driven cruelties on defenceless creatures.
"You cannot stop us, we are free to attack you at will, whenever and wherever we choose."Looks like, in addition to Al-Qaeda, we now have Animal-Qaeda to worry about.
Australia passes new terror laws, which will give the government the power to hold "terror suspects" without charge for 14 days and track them for up to a year. Given the Australian government's record, "terror suspects" presumably include Greenpeace banner-raisers, refugee advocates and anybody who has ever attended a demonstration or voiced an opinion critical of US foreign policy, at the government's discretion.
An interesting article on the psychology of suicide bombers:
The kind of would-be suicide bomber I have known thinks to himself:
They have accused me of what I have done.
What I have done is no crime.
Therefore those who accuse me are the corrupt of the earth.
Those who accuse me are truly representative of the society from which they come.
The destruction of the corrupt of the earth will be rewarded appropriately. Therefore it matters not which individuals I destroy.
The belief is therefore not in representative government, but in representative guilt.
Reports from the UN Summit. It looks like Make Poverty History is history, with plans for poverty reduction having been blocked. Meanwhile, the UN passed a resolution calling on member states to outlaw incitement to terrorism. The exact definitions of "incitement", and indeed, "terrorism", are left for individual states to interpret, which makes it somewhat less than the sweeping victory it was painted at. Nations would be free to exempt pet groups of ideologically-allied "freedom fighters" from being classified as terrorists, whilst using the laws to crack down on all sorts of dissent; for example, it is conceivable that China would declare Falun Gong and Tibetan independence movements "terrorist" under these laws, or that Australia would classify, say, anti-war, anti-logging and refugee-rights movements as terrorist and reserve the ability to bring the full brunt of anti-terrorist laws against anyone with a copy of No Logo (incitement to protest, which in John
Bjelke-Howard's Australia is seen as a national security issue), should they sufficiently annoy the right interests.
A videotape believed to be from a known American al-Qaeda operative singles out Melbourne and Los Angeles for the next wave of mass-casualty attacks.
In 2003, the CIA found what it thought were al-Qaeda terrorist instructions encoded in the al-Jazeera news ticker. The "instructions" detected by the CIA's steganalysis software included dates, flight numbers and the coordinates of targets including the White House and the small town of Tappahannock, Virginia, and resulted in the national terror alert level being raised from "extra-severe" to "brown trouser time" and almost 30 flights being cancelled. That is, until it emerged that the "hidden messages" were just the result of random noise, coincidence and the human pattern-finding instinct:
The problem with hunting messages hidden by steganography is that there are so few of them, any computer program will come up with false positives - messages that aren't really there. "The false positive rate, even if it's vanishingly small, starts to throw signals at you that makes you want to believe you're seeing messages. And somebody could be fooled by that if they didn't understand the nature of steganography," says Honeyman.This happened some time after it was discovered that al-Qaeda weren't hiding terrorist instructions in images on internet porn sites.
There is now debate in Australia about banning militant jihadist literature. Am I the only person who finds it odd that a country which bans computer games unsuitable for children, "immoral" literature (such as 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill) and controversial art-house films such as Baise-Moi is agonising so much over whether banning incendiary literature calling for holy war would be too illiberal?
And the Drama Queen Of The Day award goes to: Omar Bakri Mohammed, the militant Jihadist cleric who has been outspokenly advocating terrorism and playing chicken with incitement laws for a decade or so (see also Jon Ronson's Them). Ever the centre of attention, Bakri publicly announced, some time after the recent spate of suicide bombings in London, that he would not tell the police if he knew of terrorist attacks being planned. When the government announced it was looking at deporting hardliners or charging them with treason, Bakri stormed off in a huff to the Middle East, muttering darkly that the British people would hear from him. Now he says that he just left for a holiday and would be back... unless the government didn't want him.
Stalinist MP George Galloway has caused another stir after praising Iraqi insurgents as "martyrs"; which is rather odd language for a good dialectic-materialist Marxist to be using, wouldn't you say?
He told Syrian Television: "Two of your beautiful daughters are in the hands of foreigners - Jerusalem and Baghdad. "The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. "The daughters are crying for help and the Arab world is silent. And some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two beautiful Arab daughters."
"It can be said, truly said, that the Iraqi resistance is not just defending Iraq. They are defending all the Arabs and they are defending all the people of the world against American hegemony."It makes one wonder: do the martyrs and heroes include those who beheaded Ken Bigley and brutally murdered Margaret Hassan? Are al-Qaeda now in George Galloway's list of global freedom fighters?
Hanif Kureishi, author of The Black Album (a book touching on Muslim radicalism in Britain at the time of the Satanic Verses fatwa), on the growth of radicalism among British Muslims:
The mosques I visited, in Whitechapel and Shepherd's Bush, were nothing like any church I'd attended. The scenes, to me, were extraordinary, and I was eager to capture them in my novel. There would be passionate orators haranguing a group of people sitting on the floor. One demagogue would replace another, of course, but the "preaching" went on continuously, as listeners of all races came and went. I doubt whether you'd see anything like this now, but there would be diatribes against the west, Jews and - their favourite subject - homosexuals.
Sometimes I would be invited to the homes of these young "fundamentalists". One of them had a similar background to my own: his mother was English, his father a Muslim, and he'd been brought up in a quiet suburb. Now he was married to a woman from Yemen who spoke no English. Bringing us tea, she came into the room backwards, and bent over too, out of respect for the men. The men would talk to me of "going to train" in various places, but they seemed so weedy and polite, I couldn't believe they'd want to kill anyone.
I found these sessions so intellectually stultifying and claustrophobic that at the end I'd rush into the nearest pub and drink rapidly, wanting to reassure myself I was still in England. It is not only in the mosques but also in so-called "faith" schools that such ideas are propagated. The Blair government, while attempting to rid us of radical clerics, has pledged to set up more of these schools, as though a "moderate" closed system is completely different to an "extreme" one. This might suit Blair and Bush. A benighted, ignorant enemy, incapable of independent thought, and terrified of criticism, is easily patronised.Meanwhile, the Graun's Jonathan Freedland suggests that the reason that second-generation British Muslims are embracing radicalism in large numbers has to do with the lack of a US-style sense of national identity; apparently, British culture is too self-deprecating and embarrassed of itself to hold much appeal or command much loyalty, and the vacuum is filled with radical Islamism and such; consequently, if Britain is to assimilate people from different cultures peacefully and cohesively, it needs a new sense of national pride.
Though wouldn't anything even remotely redolent of earnest national pride, let alone the sort of chest-beating God-Bless-America-Fuck-Yeah-We're-Number-One Stars-and-Stripes-on-your-Hummer triumphalism that exists in the US, be fundamentally un-British? I can't imagine the Britons of today festooning their Vauxhall Corsas and row houses with enormous Union Jacks and declaiming, in all earnestness, that their national destiny is ordained by God. This may have been otherwise at the height of the British Empire; after all, it was the British who coined the word "jingoism"; and as for God-given manifest destiny, Britain came up with Anglo-Israelitism, the ideology that the English are God's true chosen people. These days, however, that sort of thing comes across as a bit naff.
The biggest threat to troops in Iraq is, apparently, dog bombs, which imitate the numerous stray dogs roaming the country:
The terrorists have apparently used florescent tape to create eyes in their canine cut-outs to make them look more realistic in a vehicle's headlights.(Hang on, aren't attacks on soldiers by definition not terrorist acts? Unless, of course, we define "terrorist" to mean "anyone fighting against us".)
The device includes two metal plates that, when hit by a bullet or the wheel of a truck, are jammed together, closing an electric circuit and setting off the bomb. Coalition soldiers say the dog bombs are the biggest threat they face in Iraq.
Londoners probably shouldn't relax too soon, if The Times' claim that a third terror cell is poised to strike are correct. The claims apparently come from a Special Branch conference at Scotland Yard, though elsewhere, the authorities have been downplaying them. In any case, this matter is far from over, and it may take months to find those behind the bombings. The fact that one of them managed to slip through the net and leave the country a few days after the alarm was raised doesn't raise one's confidence.
In other news: it emerges that the Oval bomber tried to have an imam sacked for being too moderate, and the bomber held in Rome tells all to an Italian newspaper, claiming that they only planned a "demonstration attack" and didn't intend to kill anyone; perhaps his handlers told him that the backpack he was carrying contained a large red flag with "BANG!" printed on it or something? Meanwhile, the youth wing of a mainstream UK Muslim group is calling for jihad against the infidels (i.e., us), and details are emerging about the psychology of the failed suicide bombers. And if there's one phrase that says "loser in the game of life", it would be "failed suicide bomber":
Elie Godsi, a consultant clinical psychologist, says that there is a huge stigma attached to terrorists who fail which means they are unable to return to their communities.
"There is a great deal of stigma in having not succeeded," said the forensic psychologist from the University of Nottingham and author of Making Sense of Madness and Badness. "They will regroup and try again or try to take their own lives."
All four July 21 bombing suspects have been captured; two were taken down, using SAS tactics, in Notting Hill (just off Portobello Road) and Kensington, and a third was nabbed by Italian anti-terrorism units in Rome (perhaps he was going to hook up with the Grey Wolves, who apparently maintain a presence in the Eternal City and have connections to Islamist radical groups?). And then there's the alleged mastermind, who has been picked up in Zambia; the US also want him, so he may well end up in Gitmo or farmed out to the Syrians or someone for "extraordinary rendition"; couldn't happen to a nicer guy...
The police have announced that the investigation and the threat are far from over, and that the assumption is that there may be other suicide teams and/or cells at large. Quite a few other people have been arrested, and the authorities are still appealing for information.
Times columnist Amir Taheri claims that much of contemporary "Islamic" attire is a symbol of militant extremism, or "adverts for al-Qaeda" as he puts it:
Muslim women should cast aside the so-called hijab, which has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with tribal wear on the Arabian peninsula. The hijab was reinvented in the 1970s as a symbol of militancy, and is now a visual prop of terrorism. If some women have been hoodwinked into believing that they cannot be Muslims without covering their hair, they could at least use headgears other than black (the colour of al-Qaeda) or white (the colour of the Taleban). Green headgear would be less offensive, if only because green is the colour of the House of Hashem, the family of the Prophet.
Muslim men should consider doing away with Taleban and al-Qaeda-style beards. Growing a beard has nothing to do with Islam; the Prophet himself never sported anything more than a vandyke. The bushy beards you see on Oxford Street are symbols of the Salafi ideology that has produced al-Qaeda and the Taleban.
Some Muslims also use al-Qaeda and Taleban-style clothing to advertise their Salafi sentiments. For men this consists of a long shirt and baggy trousers, known as the khaksari (down-to-earth) style and first popularised by Abu Ala al-Maudoodi, the ideological godfather of Islamist terrorism. Muslims who wear such clothes in the belief that it shows their piety, in most cases, are unwittingly giving succour to a brand of Islamist extremism.
It's a mind-game being played out all over the Tube network, and indeed on many trains and buses throughout the country. It's performed in silence, with people unsure of their neighbours' motives and guilty about their own feelings of suspicion.
Even though people say little when they're travelling, there's plenty going on inside - fears of danger, changed routes, calculations to avoid risks, guilt at making stereotypical assumptions, anger at being unfairly distrusted.
"I do not take my rucksack to work anymore, which had my lunch and work shirt. I would rather wear a dirty shirt left at work than be looked at suspiciously. I also wear a T-shirt to work now, as I am afraid to wear too much, after the shooting," he writes.
"As I got on the tube with my rucksack, a fellow passenger saw me, waited a second then got up, to wait on the platform for the next train," writes Dev.South Asian and Middle Eastern-looking commuters with large bags, as one might imagine, are feeling the brunt of the distrust:
Marcus, who says his family are Greek-Cypriot, has devised a strategy to avoid "odd looks" on the Tube (which he attributes to his Mediterranean appearance). To make himself seem non-threatening, he now wears a Make Poverty History wristband and makes a point of reading the Economist.
I can't avoid carrying a big rucksack with my mobile office in when I travel. As I'm an Asian male that's been getting suspicious looks, I've taken to carrying a bottle of wine as if I'm taking it home for dinner. It's ironic, I don't even like wine, but it's a clear visual symbol that says I'm not a fanatic Islamic bomber.
Of course, now that the secret's out, the next crop of suicide bombers could well be queueing up for Make Poverty History armbands, wine bottles and other non-threatening-looking props.
There are also people who have stopped wearing their MP3 players or iPods because of worries about trailing wires or not hearing orders from the police.
Though, OTOH, one of the original bombing victims reportedly retained her hearing because of the iPod earphones she was wearing shielding her ears (and her life because the laptop on her back took the brunt of the blast). Perhaps Apple should use her in an ad campaign?
More explosions on the Tube, this time using only detonators. Which is either the terrorists showing that they can strike again, the terrorists showing that they can't strike again because they don't have explosives, or bored teenagers thinking it'd be a fun prank. No casualties are reported.
(Apparently the devices exploded at Warren Street, Shepherd's Bush, Oval and on a bus in Bethnal Green. Shepherd's Bush and Bethnal Green are both areas with many South Asian immigrants living in them. Could it be neo-Nazi skinheads or football hooligan types deciding to "avenge" the 7/7 bombings, in typically moronic fashion?)
From a BBC article, asking what could motivate normal young men from Leeds to become suicide bombers:
"Then the government aren't helping that either because they approach people by putting labels on them.
"These kids, whoever they are, want to create their own identities but are being told they are Muslim, white, black or whatever.
"The majority of the lads just want to be British but ever since 9/11 they've been pushed back time and again onto a Muslim identity.And elsewhere, questions are being asked about multiculturalism and its present implementation.
Could it be that multiculturalism, as practiced in Britain, overemphasises the rights of cultures over the rights of individuals to choose their own identities, discouraging them from joining the mainstream of British culture in the interest of diversity? In the multicultural age, the concept of assimilation is considered unfashionable, bordering on racism; the alternative, however, seems to encourage the formation of enclaves and ghettos, and the sorting of individuals into those by their ancestry or background. Could it be time to reassess this balance?
If someone is, say, Catholic or Jewish, that is treated as incidental to everything else they are, rather than as a primary and core part of who/what they are. (Well, except possibly by various Ulster unionists and BNP neo-Nazis). If someone is Muslim, however, that seems to be regarded as a fundamental part of their identity, an indicator of difference. The subtext seems to be "they're not like us": they pray differently, eat differently, drink differently, dress differently, and even if they don't, they have different values. Over time, this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, an internalised mechanism of segregation.
Part of this is due to the legacy of 1960s New Left identity politics, with its emphasis of empowerment through collective identity and condemnation of any privileging of a mainstream culture over subcultures as "hegemonic". Taken to its extreme, this would end up with disjoint, ghettoised communities, each with their own cultures and values. And when there is little meaningful interaction between communities (and impersonal transactions in kebab shops and minicab offices don't count as meaningful), it is easy for radical elements within either community (be they Islamist militants or the BNP) to dehumanise the other community as a faceless collective enemy, rather than a large number of different individuals, some of whom one could probably get on with rather well.
It has been confirmed that the tube bombings were carried out by British-born suicide bombers. This is something pretty much everyone was hoping not to hear: for one, it is next to impossible to defend against suicide bombers (the admonitions to look out for unaccompanied bags are, of course, useless; meanwhile, some claim that the body-scanning machines to be installed on the Tube at massive expense will only provide suicide bombers with long queues to blow themselves up near). In Israel, they have metal detectors and explosive detectors everywhere (you can't enter a reasonable-sized public space without being scanned), and that doesn't seem to have stemmed the tide of carnage. And guess what: we're all Israelis now.
The fact that the bombers were British-born, showed no sign of association with Islamist extremists, and were known, among other things, to good-naturedly play cricket at a local club in Leeds is even more chilling. It can't be good for relations between Britain's Islamic communities and the rest of the country; already, those neo-Nazi hatemongers, the British National Party, have been making hay from the tragedy.
A comparison of US and British media's responses to domestic terrorist acts:
Right this minute, on the BBC World service: a lengthy report on humanitarian efforts in Africa. No news crawl. If you didn't know the London bombings had happened already, you wouldn't even know.
Right this minute, on CNN International: a lengthy report on anti-terrorism efforts in other countries, so far specifically framed as a series of successful trades: decreasing freedom for increasing surveillance, with greater security supposedly as the net result. Along the bottom, a news crawl repeats bombing-related headlines constantly.
One of these things is not like the other. One is constant, constant fear-pandering. The other -- from the country that actually suffered the bombings, no less -- is still reporting something resembling actual news, with something resembling a dose of actual perspective.Then again, don't Britain's commercial news providers (Murdoch's Sky News) push the fear angle hard as well, mostly because that's what gets the eyeballs? Or is it a matter of (a) the American public being fear junkies, or (b) the US media being in the service of neocons (and/or reptilian aliens that psychically feed off fear), in whose interests it is that the population is kept terrified?
A related thought: if Britain was like America, we'd probably have Dannii Minogue singing Rule Britannia (and/or God Save The Queen, complete with the jingoistic third verse -- "confound their politics, frustrate their knavish tricks, on Thee our hopes we fix") at a star-studded gala right now.
Word of the day: Londonistan, or the US press's term for London-as-the-Jihadist-hub-of-Europe:
In articles with headlines such as "For decades London thrived as a busy crossroads for terror" (New York Times) and "Continent's Issues include Geography and Open borders: Bombers travel freely, police cannot" (Wall Street Journal), the American press argue that London is a global hub for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist cells.
"If London became a magnet for fiery preachers, it also became a destination for men willing to carry out their threats," said a front page report in the Times on Sunday. "For a decade, the city has been a crossroads for would-be terrorists who used it as a home base, where they could raise money, recruit members and draw inspiration from the militant messages."There is now debate in the US about whether Britons should be able to enter the US without a visa.
Link via hairyears, who points out that, more than that, London is a hub of open debate of the sort suppressed in the Middle East, and the liberals and reformists greatly outnumber the Wahhabi exterminationists:
This is the world's largest population of educated middle-class Arabs in an open society. As a consequence of our tolerance, all shades of opinion are expressed here, from Hamza and the exterminationists to governments-in-waiting, to exiled monarchs and all manner of opposition newspapers that are banned and smuggled into the 'home' country by travellers and relatives. Small cabals of nutcases in bedsits with bombing videos and extremist tracts, attending Arabic-speaking private mosques? Yes, we've got them, too. What's Arabic for Unabomber? Madmen have existed here since the Anarchists came to London a century ago, with their futile factional extremism and their bombs, but it never amounted to anything much. London's politically lively - raw and strident, if you know where to look - but it's no hotbed of violence: politics, not warfare.
It is also well worth pointing out that the suppression of moderate Arabic opinion has been condoned by successive Washington administrations, who do not grant political asylum to embarrassing critics of strategically-useful despots. That's why the moderates are here, not in New York's great melting-pot.
Police evacuate the centre of Birmingham, following a security alert. Perhaps this means that it's not Islamists but Smiths fans behind the attacks.
According to the Wikipedia entry on the terrorist attacks, there was also a bombing in South Kensington, and a suicide bomber was shot dead in Canary Wharf.
Some group claiming to be al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Which could well be true; initially it didn't look quite spectacular enough to be them, though it could well be a group of radical Islamist copycats; a franchise operation, as it were. Or a feint to draw out the emergency response services and analyse their plans in preparation for a later, more devastating, attack. It's probably not the IRA, anti-globalisation groups, animal-rights militants or anyone else.
Then again, after such an attack, nutters usually come out of the woodwork to claim responsibility and get some free publicity. The militant Islamist group who claimed responsibility may or may not be connected to whoever actually carried out the attacks.
One thing that seems striking about the incidents is the apparent lack of panic. Commentators are talking about the people's stoical resolve, hardened by IRA bobings past, and the spirit of the Blitz. As such, if the aim was to terrorise the public, it doesn't seem to have worked.
It's official: it's a terrorist attack, or so Blair has said anyway.
Bombs go off all over London, at Tube stations and on a bus, at 8:50am. The Tube and bus services have been suspended. Details are still vague, though there are reportedly many seriously injured people. Initial reports said that it was a
very severe signal failure power surge, though now it's looking like a terrorist attack.
Update: there are rumours that 20 people are dead and >90 injured, though the BBC hasn't confirmed them.
The next advance in Total Information Awareness (or whatever it's called) may be a technique, currently being developed in Canada, to detect suspicious activity by the absence of keywords in email; this is more sophisticated than looking for keywords in emails (as the NSA was believed to have been doing since the days of UUCP):
One difference might be the complete absence of words someone might possibly think would draw a law enforcement agencys attention to their e-mails, but that most people would occasionally use innocently (as in "my presentation yesterday really bombed".) Another, Skillicorn says, is that research shows people speak and write differently when they feel guilt about a subject, for instance using fewer first-person pronouns, like I and we. "If you're up to no good", he says, "it's very hard for you to write something that looks ordinary."
Skillicorn doesn't know all the ways suspicious e-mails might read differently from innocent ones. The beauty of his approach is that he doesn't need to know. His software is designed simply to look for messages that are different, based on word frequencies, from the mass of e-mails. It neednt understand the reasons for the differences.So, when this technology matures (assuming that the will is there, which if it isn't now, it will probably be in a few terrorist outrages' time), we can expect, at the heart of ECHELON or similar, supercomputers tracking the email traffic of individuals (by email address, IP number or possibly a cluster of identifiers) and monitoring them for variations; as soon as an individual's behaviour changes microscopically (regardless of what it changed from and to; this works much in the way that highly-skilled readers of body language such as TV mentalist Derren Brown can detect truthfulness or lies by familiarising themselves with natural patterns and watching for deviations), they can be flagged for review. This could detect conspirators, criminals or other deceivers (right down to people planning surprise parties for loved ones, or trying to conceal embarrassing secrets), or possibly other shifts in mental state (depression, anxiety and such). The possibilities of such a technology extend beyond merely catching potential terrorists (or paedophiles, or MP3 pirates, or tax avoiders, or pro-democracy activists, depending on jurisdiction); I imagine that, for one, intelligence agencies with access to it could use it for pinpointing the weakest links in organisations they are targetting for infiltration, or otherwise use it to flesh out psychological profiles.
Elsewhere in the article, it mentions the possibility of detecting telltale patterns of activity by traffic analysis alone, and mentions that the infamous Enron email collection is not particularly useful for such research because those sending the emails didn't actually try to pretend that they were doing anything other than screwing people over.
Indonesian embassy in Canberra evacuated after biological weapon scare, when white powder in an envelope sent to the embassy tested positive for a bacillus related to anthrax. It is believed extremely unlikely that the incident is unconnected to the recent conviction of Australian Schapelle Corby (who, incidentally, is said to have become the newest client of celebrity agent Harry M. Miller) for drug trafficking in Bali.
It was sickening enough to hear of Australians calling tsunami relief charities and demanding their donations back over this incident; this takes it to a whole new level. If nothing else, the possibility that people who form their beliefs from tabloids and reality-TV shows have access to biological weapons is truly alarming. The human race is doomed.
Two academics from Victoria's Deakin University have published a paper calling for torture to be legalised to help fight terrorism. Not that there's much new in this (celebrated US lawyer Alan Dershowitz argued a similar point in his call for "torture warrants" some years ago), except perhaps for the extreme utilitarian stance they take, advocating even the torturing to death of innocents if the ends justify it:
Asked if he believed interrogators should be able to legally torture an innocent person to death if they had evidence the person knew about a major public threat, such as the September 11 attacks, Professor Bagaric replied: "Yes, you could."
Applying utilitarian cost-benefit calculations to matters of human lives is tricky; taking the strict numerical approach, it should be OK to kill an innocent person to harvest their kidneys if it would save the lives of two terminally ill patients; after all, the net gain is one life. Of course, Bagaric and Clarke are not asserting such an absolute a-life-for-a-life arithmetic, though by allowing the killing of the innocent to save others, they are crossing a line towards it. And that is not even looking at the question of whether torture works (the value of testimony obtained under torture has been somewhat dubious).
Anyway, I suspect that Bagaric and Clarke's law lectures are probably going to become a lot less quiet.
In the U.S., abortion-clinic and gay-bar bomber Eric Rudolph, who hid from police in the North Carolina mountains for five years using survivalist techniques, has confessed to the Atlanta olympics bombing.
So far, he appears to have declined to give a theological argument against sporting events. His explanation for bombing the Olympics is here; apparently it has to do with the Olympics' "despicable" Lennonist-socialist ideals; that and abortion.
Meanwhile, in Britain, another one of God's soldiers has been convicted for planning ricin attacks on the public. Kamel Bourgass, linked to al-Qaeda and a militant Islamist group centred at the Finsbury Park mosque, was found to have plans and raw materials for making the deadly poison; it is believed his plans for it included spraying it on car door handles around that hotbed of Zionist-Crusader Infidelism, Holloway Road. Bourgass, also known as Nadir, is already serving a life sentence after stabbing a police officer to death when facing arrest.
Armed police officers have prevented a motorised Dalek from entering the Houses of Parliament. The remote-controlled replica robot, with a top speed of 5mph (8km/h) was built by a Scottish Doctor Who enthusiast, who took it to London to film a promotional video for a stage version of the TV show: (via Gizmodo)
'Cars were grinding to a halt in disbelief when they saw a Dalek trundling over Tower Bridge. And we were mobbed by Japanese tourists desperate for photos.'
'They are quite difficult to operate, and the huge dents in our living room wall are proof you should never get behind the controls of a Dalek with a drink in you.'
A survey has revealed that, while Australians overwhelmingly support globalisation, they see US foreign policy as a potentian external threat on a par with Islamic fundamentalism. 58% of Australians have positive feelings towards the U.S., though only one in five would support Australia going to war with China to defend Taiwan if the U.S. did so.
As far as the Americanisation of Australia goes, when do we get nifty things like a bill of rights? We can quite happily leave behind the oversized Hummer SUVs, conservative Christian political powerbase (even though Howard would really like one of those), culture of flag-waving triumphalism (and the boxing-kangaroo flag at cricket matches doesn't really count) and Clear Channel-style homogeneisation of mass culture (though, it could be argued, that Australia has its local version of the last). For that matter, a legal notion of Fair Use to go with the draconian copyright laws we just got from the U.S. would be good, though, of course, there's no multinational profit in harmonising that particular part of intellectual-property law. Still, at least Australians still get 20 days of paid leave a year (as opposed to the 5-10 the average American working stiff gets), and aren't exposed to as many environmental toxins (for which America can probably thank Reagan's pro-corporate rolling back of pollution regulations), so there are a few small mercies to be thankful for. I wonder how long they'll last.
IRA members stab a bloke to death in Belfast, intimidate witnesses and institute a cover-up. Mass public outcry ensues, with calls for the killers to be brought to justice. The IRA issues an announcement offering to have them shot. Looks like someone's missing the point here.
Popular Science looks at how hard it would be for terrorists to build a nuclear bomb. The answer: not too hard, if they could obtain some uranium, settled for a simple, Hiroshima-type device, and could find a way of getting such a device weighing several tonnes into position without it tripping radiation detectors. As far as radioactive mayhem goes, a dirty bomb would be considerably easier, and capable of turning Manhattan into Pripyat.
On a tangent: the UK Atomic Energy Authority says that 30kg of plutonium that went missing from Sellafield (i.e., 7 nuclear bombs' worth) is just a "paper loss", and nothing to be worried about.
A BNG spokesman said: "There is no evidence to suggest that any of the apparent losses reported were real losses of nuclear material.
That's good to know; all of us here in London are very relieved to hear that.
Former White House anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke presents a frighteningly plausible scenario of the war on terrorism in 2001:
The US Government had predicted that future attacks, if they came, would likely be on financial institutions, noting that Osama bin Laden had issued instructions to destroy the US economy. Thus when the casinos were attacked, it was a surprise. It shouldn't have been; we knew that Las Vegas had been under surveillance by al-Qaeda since at least 2001. Despite that knowledge, casino owners had done little to increase security, not wanting to slow people down on their way into the city's pleasure palaces. Theme park owners were also locked into a pre-9/11, "it can't happen here" mindset, and consequently were caught off guard, as New Yorkers and Washingtonians had been in 2001. The first post-9/11 attacks on US soil came not from airplanes but from backpacks and Winnebagos. They were aimed at places where we used to have fun, what we then called "vacation destinations". These places were particularly hard to defend.
On this day neither the 160 security cameras surveying the mall nor the 150 safety officers guarding it were able to detect, deter or defend against the terrorists. Four men, disguised as private mall security officers and armed with TEC-9 submachine guns, street-sweeper 12-gauge shotguns and dynamite, entered the mall at two points and began executing shoppers at will. It had not been hard for the terrorists to buy all their guns legally, in six different states across the Midwest.
Most analysts now agree that Subway Day and Railroad Day not only caused the Senate filibuster to end, permitting the passage of Patriot Act III, but also finally triggered the withdrawal of some 40,000 troops from Iraq. The army was needed in the subways.
When Canada refused to allow US nuke squads to conduct warrantless searches at customs stations on the Canadian side of the border, we built the Northern Wall, which channelled trucks and freight trains to a limited number of monitored border crossings. Barbed wire, radar installations, and thousands of security workers made our border with Canada resemble our border with Mexico.
By the end of the story, terrorism abates (as the jihadis are too busy running what used to be Iraq and Saudi Arabia), though the US is an impoverished police state. Clarke paints this grim future as the result of several errors of judgment: invading Iraq (which simultaneously wasted resources and helped recruit many towards the anti-US jihad), failure to engage the Islamic world with ideas and not investing enough in becoming independent of Middle Eastern oil.
Why hasn't Osama bin Laden attempted any terrorist attacks on US soil since 2001? Some say that it's because the US has threatened to nuke Mecca, the Islamic holy city, if such an attack ever happens again; this, in theory, makes an attack against the US unthinkable:
"Israel recognizes that the Aswan Dam is Egypt's Damoclean Sword," writes Wheeler. "There is no possibility whatever of Egypt's winning a war with Israel, for if Aswan is blown, all of inhabited Egypt is under 20 feet of water. Once the Israelis made this clear to the Egyptians, the possibility of any future Egyptian attack on Israel like that of 1948, 1967, and 1972 is gone."
The argument for this proposition includes the reasoning that the true reason for invading Afghanistan and Iraq was to demonstrate that the US is not afraid to use force, even, perhaps, when the reasoning behind doing so is dubious; which appears to be an echo of Richard Nixon's madman theory of geopolitics; that if you act like you're dangerously insane, others will fear and respect you and give you wide berth; assuming that they're not even more irrational, that is.
Wheeler says bin Laden is "playing poker with a Texas cowboy holding the nuclear aces," so there's nothing al-Qaida could do that could come remotely close to risking obliterating Mecca.
There are a few problems with this reasoning: on the other hand, if the US was to nuke Mecca, all hell would break loose; there is no way that such an attack would not start a catastrophic war between the West and the Islamic world. There'd be suicide bombers martyring themselves in every Western city, not to mention the militaries of every country from Indonesia to Algeria uniting against the Great Satan and its minions. This would be the apocalyptic World War 3 that didn't happen against the USSR. As such, whether the Whitehouse and Pentagon would be willing to bring on the apocalypse if a few hundred of its citizens were killed with bombs is somewhat more dubious a proposition. Secondly, the strategy of making such a threat presupposes that al-Qaeda are rational agents and not, say, religious nutters spoiling for an apocalyptic global war or something. It could well be that bin Laden would see such a claim not as a threat but as a promise of greater glory than he could otherwise attain.
While one member of the KLF, Jimmy Cauty, is now busying himself with selling terrorism-inspired art to Londoners (sort of like a more literal-minded SCHWA), the other chap, Bill Drummond, is now involved with a project called Penkiln Burn. This is a catalogue of conceptual art-related jobs proposed and/or undertaken. The jobs in question include returning a work of art to its origins, selling sledgehammers to explore their destructive potential, throwing provocative propositions into the ideosphere, protest through silence or withdrawal of art, an outsider band and a meditation on the finite number of haircuts left in your life. Oh, and if you live on a line between Belfast and Nottingham, Bill Drummond will make soup for you.
Britain's Home Office, still reeling from the Blunkett scandal, has been dealt a fresh blow when the Law Lords ruled that indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects is unlawful, by an 8-to-1 majority. The government is to review its options.
I wonder whether they thought of taking a leaf out of the US's book and moving the detainees outside of Britain proper. The few remaining fragments of the British Empire could lend themselves to small-scale, high-security penal colonies, sufficiently inaccessible to add to their security. Possible locations for a British Guantanamo could include:
- Diego Garcia; an island in the Indian Ocean, forcibly depopulated in the 1960s and now leased to the US as a military base. An agreement could possibly be reached with the US to establish a high-security prison facility there. In fact, the US is rumoured to already have such facilities there.
- Saint Helena, for the historical resonance.
- Pitcairn Island; it could do with publicity for something other than sexual abuse.
Of course, Britain doesn't have as free a hand with extraterritorial penal facilities as the US does, because of that meddlesome European Convention on Human Rights (which, a court has found, even applies to British troops in Iraq), which could complicate these options. Though if, as claimed, the detainees are foreign nationals with no right to residency in Britain, they could possibly be handed off to a compliant foreign government to look after. The US would be a good choice (they have the facilities, after all), though other members of the Coalition of Willing could be looked at. Australia, for example, could repurpose some of its extraterritorial refugee holding centres.
A recent study at the John F. Kennedy School of Government claims to disprove the often cited anecdotal connection between poverty and terrorism. According to the report, a nation's poverty has little effect on the occurrence of terrorism in that nation; however, levels of political freedom strongly influence terrorism. Countries with high levels of freedom and strictly controlled autocracies are both less susceptible to terrorism than countries with intermediate levels of freedom (this can be seen in Iraq and Russia). Perhaps it has to do with the intermediate countries not having cultural institutions which evolved with their recently gained freedom, or having insufficient freedom to provide peaceful outlets for grievances whilst insufficient control to effectively clamp down on violent ones.
Another factor which increases a country's frequency of terrorism is apparently geography, with mountainous terrain, jungle and similar features offering safe havens to rogue groups, as well as sources of narcotics-related income. (via bOING bOING)
A Dutch filmmaker who made a controversial film about violence against women in Islamic societies has been murdered in Amsterdam. Theo van Gogh (a relative of the painter) was shot and stabbed to death whilst cycling in a park. A collaborator of his (liberal Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who fled an arranged marriage and is an outspoken critic of human-rights abuses in the name of Islam) also received death threats, and is under police protection.
An airliner headed from London to Washington was recently diverted to Bangor, Maine, so that former folk singer Yusuf Islam could be removed and deported. Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens and currently an outspoken moderate Muslim, is apparently on the US Department of Homeland Security's blacklist of potential terrorists. Laziness and bigotry, or do the DHS know something we don't about Yusuf Islam?
While on the subject of blacklists, millions of Americans (predominantly blacks and those from lower socioeconomic strata) are still being barred or discouraged from voting. This ranges from laws in ex-Confederate states preventing those with criminal convictions from ever voting to official letters intimidating those likely to have outstanding bills with the threat of arrest.
So what does the Russian svengali who came up with lesbian schoolgirl pop do next? Suicide-bomber pop, of course. Ivan Shapovalov, who gave the world t.A.t.U., is now planning a "terror concert", in the wake of the Beslan siege; tickets will look like airline tickets, and the concert will feature a group named n.A.t.O., with a female vocalist attired as a "black widow" suicide bomber singing in Arabic, and references to al-Qaeda and Iraq. The Russian Ministry of Culture has expressed regret that they have no legal means of cancelling the concert.
The latest novelty: make your own Iraqi decapitation video. Bonus points if you can get al-Jazeera and/or Associated Press run it as genuine:
Mr Vanderford told the BBC World Service he did not send the video to anyone, but made it available on internet share networks. The "people of the world" did the rest, he said, and the video found its way to Arab television stations on Saturday and then a US news agency.
I suppose it beats those cheesy "Wanted: Dead or Alive" posters people bring back from Wild West theme parks.
Someone has plotted a chart of terror alerts against Bush's approval rating. The conclusions are, to the cynically-inclined, completely unsurprising: (via bOING bOING)
There are few things that are quite evident from the chart:
- Whenever his ratings dip, there's a new terror alert.
- Every terror alert is followed by a slight uptick of Bush approval ratings.
- As we approach the 2004 elections, the number and frequency of terror alerts keeps growing, to the point that they collapse in the graphic. At the same time, Bush ratings are lower than ever.
Meanwhile, it appears that some mysterious conspirators are removing Americans from the electoral rolls by sending false change-of-address cards in their names. The local electoral commission, apparently, doesn't do anything to authenticate these. (via Charlie's Diary)
The Guardian debunks the movie industry's claims that DVD counterfeiting funds al-Qaeda and other terrorists groups:
A couple of years ago, the Bush administration launched a major anti-drugs television campaign. It showed teenagers "confessing" to having killed a judge or a police officer because they had used drugs, and it said that drugs funded terrorism. Even if you were just having a joint in your back yard, the ad said, you could be helping terrorists. This was nonsense. The main profiteers from drugs in the US are American citizens who, if they are smart, vote Republican to ensure that the value of their product remains artificially high.
The chief backer of the September 11 attacks made his millions from his family's construction business. So should we stop all house-building now? By telling us that we are fighting terrorism by boycotting pirated DVDs, the industry is patronising us and misleading us. Our message should be: don't buy counterfeit and alarmist propaganda from these people.
Remember kids: every time you play an MP3, Osama bin Laden gets 50c to kill Americans with. Just say no.
(More indirectly, though, one could possibly make a terrorism case against those who provide copyright-enforcement-circumvention tools and file-sharing software, on the grounds that they are attacking the infrastructure of the US economy on which millions of lives ultimately depend. It's like that Bruce Sterling story in which a belligerent China bankrupts the US by setting up big fileservers hosting copies of Microsoft Office and the latest Hollywood blockbusters, free for the downloading.)
Radioactive materials stolen from university in suburban Melbourne. Is there any reason someone would want to steal radioactive materials other than to make a dirty bomb (or sell to someone who does)?
Among recent news stories: intelligence "chatter" suggests impending al-Qaeda terrorist attack, possibly timed to coincide with the US elections (could this be the much-speculated-about October Surprise?). Meanwhile, in Israel, a group of soldiers are being investigated over an art exhibition detailing the brutalisation of Palestinians; it seems (from the report) to be more a case of them acting as whistle-blowers than Lynndie England Mk. 2. In the United Nations, the US has given up on renewing its immunity from war crimes prosecution, after realising that they weren't going to get it; however, in Iraq, they are pushing for immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law, with, of course, the full agreement of the Iraqi people. And in England and Wales, authorities are re-examining more than 100 murders which they suspect of being "honour killings"; there appears to be a sophisticated infrastructure for such killings, with "bounty hunters" making a business out of tracking down victims.
The latest troublemaker of the London art world is some calling himself AK47, who claims to be an international "arto-political movement" named "Art Kaida".
He also claimed that AK47 was a rapidly growing international "arto-political movement", but was vague about the membership, saying only that it had "a lot", and adding: "It's not about members, it's about believing. Believe, and you're in.
(Which, to me, translates as either "it's just one bloke", or "it's just one bloke and a bunch of variously deranged hangers-on".)
Anyway, AK47 recently took responsibility for stealing a pink neon sign called Just Love Me, by celebrated angstmonger Tracey Emin, from outside the Hackney Empire theatre, sometime after filching a sculpture by yesterday's aesthetic terrorist bad-boy Banksy. (Does this mean that Banksy is now safe and accepted and conventional?)
Asked to explain his motives further, he said it was "an act of terrorism" and he was posing the question, "What is terrorism?"
("Ooo! Look at me, I'm a *TERRORIST*!" Wanker, more like it. For one, that sort of posturing, stealing a Tracey Emin neon sign and calling it terrorism, cheapens the whole idea of terrorism as art. What would Andre Breton, who said that the archetypal Surrealist act would consist of "going into the street, revolver in hand, and shooting at random into the crowd", say about Mr. AK47's oh-so-scary "terrorist" outrages?)
Now if Mr. AK47 wants to be really hardcore, he should come to Melbourne and steal one of Chopper Read's paintings.
Someone calling themself octobersurprise.net is running this poll:
Currently "Osama bin Laden captured" is the clear leader, with more than twice the votes of the second-most-popular option, "spectacular terrorist attack on US soil". (via jwz)
Rock musician questioned for possible terrorist involvement after texting a Clash lyric to the wrong person. Mike Devine, from the Clash cover band London Calling, intended to send lyrics from Tommy Gun to the singer, though sent them to a wrong number, and someone uninitiated with the punk rock band's canon found on their phone a message reading "How about this for Tommy Gun? OK - so let's agree about the price and make it one jet airliner for 10 prisoners.", became alarmed and called the police.
Remember those reports, just after the conquest of Afghanistan and before the Iraqi débâcle, which said that al-Qaeda was a spent force, its support structures smashed and its key operatives dead or captured? Well, a new report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies says that now, thanks to the spectacular own-goal that was the invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda is back with a vengeance, its ranks swollen with willing martyrs, and its sites set on high-profile US and Western targets for high-profile attacks, ideally with weapons of mass destruction.
The Onion is eerily plausible when it reports Donald Rumsfeld announcing the US Government's new strategy of fighting terror with terror:
"It's vital to remember that these terrorists hate freedom," Rumsfeld said. "Well, guess what? From now on, we're going to hate it even more. Do you think terrorists care about due process and fair treatment of prisoners? Of course not. Why should we give them the upper hand? You fight fire with fire."
"Just wait and you'll see," Abrams said. "Martin Luther King said, 'Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.' Well, enemies of democracy and freedom around the world are going to find out just how right he was. They'll see just how dark it can get."
How much is your life worth? Well, if you're American or British (what, no Australians?), Al-Qaeda have allegedly offered to pay 1kg of gold to whoever kills you. I wonder what restrictions there are on claiming this; i.e., if you're suicidally despondent over your family's financial problems, could you off yourself and claim the gold for your next of kin? (Be sure to thank your political leaders in your suicide note for making it possible.)
British authorities are recruiting aviation buffs to look out for terrorists and other suspicious activities. Under the scheme, "plane spotters", one of Britain's indigenous eccentric subcultures, will be issued with identity cards and a code of conduct. Plans to use Britain's vast armies of trainspotters to guard against terrorism on the railways and station platforms have not yet been announced.
Kidnappers threaten to kill Italian hostages unless Italians protest against their government. I wonder what effect this will have on May Day anti-war rallies in Italy; when a rally becomes, literally, a pro-terrorist demonstration, I imagine it would lose a lot of its moral clout, and a lot of people would keep away or get behind their government.
(Which leads to a somewhat far-out, and paranoid, theory about Bush's possible October Surprise: what if, say, a Republican/PNAC dirty-tricks unit had some "terrorist" stooges kidnap some Americans and send a videotape to al-Jazeera threatening to kill them unless Americans rally against Bush. I imagine such a scenario would take the wind out of the Democrats' sails and get Bush reelected with a sweeping landslide without even needing to use trick voting machines. Of course, the Republicans respect democracy and wouldn't do anything like that any more than allowing 9/11 to take place.)
Various leftist troublemakers are claiming that the invasion of Iraq has accelerated the spread of Osama bin Laden's anti-US ideology among once-local Islamic movements, increasing the danger to the US and its allies. Um, hang on, it's not leftists making the claim, it's the CIA and the U.S. State Department.
Islamic militant organisations in places such as North Africa and South-East Asia, previously focused on changing their local country leadership, "have been caught by bin Laden's vision, and poisoned by it... they will now look at the US, Israel and the Saudis as targets", a senior intelligence official said last week. "That is one manifestation of how bin Laden's views are expanding well beyond Iraq," he said.
Since attacks in East Africa, on the USS Cole, and on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, al-Qaeda has lost its sanctuary in Afghanistan. Its once top-down control of terrorist operations now is in the hands of less-experienced people.
A picture is emerging of the Madrid bombers (most of whom are believed to have killed themselves with a bomb when besieged); and it appears that they gave no clue to being Islamic fundamentalists:
Neighbours who lived near Fakhet, and many of the other suspects, had little reason to think that they were militants with a fundamentalist agenda. Many of them appeared westernised and integrated into the Spanish community, with a liking for football, fashion, drinking and Spanish girlfriends, say Spanish press reports.
Ahmidan is also said to have seemed happily integrated in Spanish society, whose Spanish friends are said to have included women who sported crop tops, tattoos and piercings.
Which is a sobering thought; the "brigades of death" could be among us, not merely keeping quietly to themselves whilst catching your bus or working in your office, but popping Es at your favourite nightclub, barracking for your footy team, and discussing the finer points of your favourite reality-TV show with you over a beer; right up until the end when they cast off the façade of their normal life and kill you and your loved ones.
Either that or the right-wing talk radio jocks are right and people with tattoos, piercings and countercultural leanings are in league with the terrorists.
Massive bomb plot foiled in London; the suspects are believed to be young British-born radical Muslim militants with no direct links to al-Qaida (which suggests that, everywhere, local bampots are spontaneously planning their own atrocities without outside support).
If you're wondering why I haven't posted anything about the Madrid terrorist atrocity here, it's because everyone else has already written about it, and I had nothing to say that would have been any more profound than "that's awful", or "those scoundrels".
Things are geting interesting now, though; the right-wing Spanish government (a key member of the neoconservative Coalition of Willing) had tried to pin the blame on ETA, the Basque separatist terrorist group (previously known only for small-scale car bombings), going as far as to instruct embassy staff to blame it on the Basques. Taking a hard line against the ETA and supporting the US-led invasion of Iraq were two policies of the rightists; so, when it emerged that it was an al-Qaeda operation, the electorate swept them out of office. Presumably they didn't have Berlusconi/Murdoch-style media control on their side; it must be really frustrating to think that, had they kept the al-Qaeda link under wraps (or obscured it with spin and disinformation) for 48 or so hours longer, they would have probably won by a landslide. Children overboard, anyone?
Meanwhile, the new brooms about to form government are the Socialist Workers' Party (who sound like a bolshy lot). Whether or not they're going to abolish private property and herd everybody into collective farms to work according to their ability for the common good, they certainly have been outspoken opponents of the invasion of Iraq, and are likely to join the Axis of Weasels alongside France, Belgium and Germany. (Aside: have any right-wing pundits asserted that the Belgian paedophile scandal and the country's lack of support for War Against Evil are part of the same moral decadence and lack of values?) The Blair administration are putting on a brave face, but the neoconservative coalition in Europe appears to be down to what: Britain, Poland and Berlusconi's Italy?
Also, terrorism experts are predicting that bombs on freight ships are likely to be the next trend in terrorism. Doesn't al-Qaeda have something like 15 freight ships, most of them at unknown locations? (Load one of those up with radioactive waste and Semtex and detonate it in a harbour, and the surrounding city becomes the new Pripyat; in 14 years' time, some chick with a motorbike and digital camera will come along and post photos of the evacuees' abandoned, radioactive iPods and Razor scooters to her website.)
An interesting account of how investigators tracked al-Qaeda operatives via their Swiss mobile SIM cards. The terrorists were apparently sufficiently naïve to assume that the SIM cards (which could be purchased anonymously in Switzerland and used worldwide) guaranteed anonymity, and, whilst changing phones frequently for security reasons, to keep the same SIM card.
From the most recent Onion: If Al-Qaeda Had A Hockey Team, We'd Kick Its Ass:
Can you imagine? It'd be so sweet. We'd have the advantage before the puck even dropped. First of all, they'd be from the Middle East, which is no hockey powerhouse. I'll bet their ice always melts down before the game's even over. Plus, their rink would probably be all bombed out. Or it'd be in a tent or something. And you know al-Qaeda's hockey uniforms would be totally ugly, with stupid colors and all kinds of Allah shit all over them. The jerseys would have those big long Ramalama bin Dingdong names on the back, and those Arabic numbers they use over there.
So, of course, then we'd get the power play. And face it, at that point, the game's pretty much over for them. They have to ask the crowd to stop chanting "USA! USA! USA!" But guess what, man? We ain't gonna stop! So al-Qaeda pulls their goalie, and while they're trying for the extra-man goal in garbage time to save face, they fail to notice one important detail: the Navy SEALs coming down from the ceilings and walls to capture everyone on the al-Qaeda bench. 'Cause there's no way we're letting those half-assed-hockey-playing terrorist bastards just waltz out the door. And that's how the greatest hockey game in history would end.
Al-Qaeda (whatever that really is) now has a new weapon in its jihad against America: rap music; more precisely, a militant Islamic rap group from Britain calling themselves the Soul Salah Crew, and whose song "Dirty Kuffar", is a hit throughout the Islamosphere:
The song starts with images of US marines in Iraq cheering as one of them shoots a wounded Iraqi lying on the floor. At the end of the video, it features shots of the hijacked planes flying into the Twin Towers with sounds of the rappers laughing. There is then a list of 56 countries they claim have been the 'victims of American aggression' since 1945.
Excerpt from 'Dirty Kuffar':
Peace to Hamas and the Hizbollah
OBL [bin-Laden] pulled me like a shiny star
Like the way we destroyed them two towers ha-ha
The minister Tony Blair, there my dirty Kuffar
The one Mr Bush, there my dirty Kuffar...
Throw them on the fire
Mohammed al-Massari, the Islamic extremist leader and former Saudi dissident whose website is promoting the song, denies that it is an encitement to terrorist attacks against the West, claiming that the lyrics are only metaphorical. Meanwhile, the authorities are investigating the video.
Not all terrorists carry almanacs; some prefer copies of Microsoft Flight Simulator.
FBI urges police to look out for people carrying almanacs, as they may be terrorists looking for targets to attack. There appear to be no plans for a national registry of almanac owners, or embedded RFID chips in all almanacs, though borrowing one from your local library could result in your name being secretly reported to the authorities. (via kmusser)
Meanwhile, an Israeli firm that is importing Chinese workers (presumably to replace those troublesome Palestinians) is requiring them to sign contracts prohibiting them from having sex with Israelis or trying to convert them; those violating the contracts, which also ban any religious or political activity, will be sent back to China at their own expense. (via jwz)
A trade union representing retail employees in Austria has claimed that excessive playing of Christmas carols in shops is "psycho-terrorism":
From morning to night, for weeks before Christmas, there was the same Christmas music in department stores over and over again, said Gottfried Rieser of the Union of Private Employees.
"Many staff in the retail sector suffer psychologically from it," Mr Rieser said. "They get aggressive. On Christmas Eve with their families, they can't stand Silent Night or Jingle Bells any more."
Some believe that al-Qaeda doesn't exist, and that the highly organised global terror network is a myth made up by Western officials:
'Bin Laden never used the term al-Qaeda prior to 9/11', Dolnik tells me. 'Nor am I aware of the name being used by operatives on trial. The closest they came were in statements such as, "Yes, I am a member of what you call al-Qaeda". The only name used by al-Qaeda themselves was the World Islamic Front for the Struggle Against Jews and Crusaders - but I guess that's too long to really stick.'
Having given bin Laden and his henchmen a name, Western officials then proceeded to exaggerate their threat. 'In the quest to define the enemy, the US and its allies have helped to blow it out of proportion', wrote Dolnik and Kimberly McCloud of the Monterey Institute in 2002. They pointed out that after 1998, US officials began distributing posters and matchboxes featuring bin Laden's face and a reward for his capture around the Middle East and Central Asia - a process that 'transformed this little-known jihadist into a household name and, in some places, a symbol of heroic defiance'
See also: locally-printed "Osama Bin Laden World Hero" T-shirts selling like hotcakes in markets all over the Islamosphere.
In fact, I have been wondering whether or not, within a decade, "al-Qaeda" will morph into an umbrella term for any resistance to neo-liberalism/globalisation/capitalism/The Man, with Latin American (non-Islamic) qaedistas waging guerilla war against US-installed authoritarian governments and right-wing death squads, whilst their French comrades torch McDonalds restaurants, and dreadlocked Nu Marxists all over McWorld replace their Che T-shirts with Osama ones.
According to Dolnik: 'In a world where one email sent to a news agency translates into a headline stating that al-Qaeda was behind even the blackouts in Italy and the USA, anyone can claim to be al-Qaeda - not only groups but also individuals'.
Sajid Badat, the 24-year-old student arrested by British police in Gloucester yesterday, on suspicion of planning to carry out a terrorist attack, was immediately referred to in media reports as a 'suicide bomber' and 'al-Qaeda terrorist' - after it was revealed that he had boasted to college mates and neighbours: 'I'm in al-Qaeda.' Whatever the truth of the allegations against him, however, it is clear that anybody can make an impact today by claiming a link to the largely mythical al-Qaeda.
Charlie Stross has a characteristically right-on piece about the war on terrorism:
However, there are some issues I agree with him about. Item number one on the list is that Al Qaida blowing people up is Wrong, and should be stopped. Item number two on the list is that it is not acceptable to stop Al Qaida blowing things up by giving in to all their demands, which in maximalist form would amount to surrendering the whole of western civilization to a barbarous mediaevalist fundamentalism. And third on the list is that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party was a vile and repugnant dictatorship (and North Korea doesn't look too good, either). So why did I go on an anti-George W. Bush march on Tuesday, and why do I want to put a foot through the TV screen whenever I see his face?
Declaring a war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11 was good politics for George W. Bush. But it's a misleading metaphor; because war is terrorism by other means, just as terrorism has become an extension of diplomacy by the weak against the strong, to fold, spindle and mutilate Von Clauswitz's famous dictum. If a war against terrorism is to be successful it must be fought in peoples' hearts and minds, with unusual weapons like trust and respect, and a willingness to negotiate with the moderates before our intransigence turns them into desperate extremists.
Insisting that a war on terrorism is a literal war, involving bombers and tanks, is foolish in the extreme. Handing them a victory on a plate -- by surrendering our civil liberties on the altar of security -- is insane. Killing terrorists generates more anger among the communities the terrorists are drawn from, and anger breeds more violence. But negotiation works. It worked in Northern Ireland, where the depths of religious bigotry rival anything to be found in the Middle East. And it can work in the Israel/Palestine mess, if negotiations can be arranged and both sides are willing to back down from their maximalist positions. I doubt negotiation has any chance of working with Osama bin Laden or his closest followers, but as the Ha'aretz interview above suggests, even suicide bombers aren't completely beyond hope.
Jimmy Cauty's follow-up to his Queen-in-a-gas-mask postage stamp: images of Big Ben exploding like the World Trade Center, labelled "5-11" after the date of Guy Fawkes' Day. The images have triggered widespread public outrage on behalf of 9/11 victims:
Gareth Glover, who helped set up the Robert Eaton Memorial Fund, told the Brighton Argus newspaper: "The images are very cheap and highly insensitive. In my opinion they should be treated with the contempt they deserve."
Cauty's defense is that the images are Tackling Uncomfortable Issues.
Mr Cauty said: "Any uncomfortable reaction to this new artwork may reflect the proximity of the subject. If Blacksmoke 5-11 depicted the government buildings in Baghdad or Kabul, would we pay attention? The war on terrorism starts here."
I wonder what the outraged citizens make of all those computer-generated animations of Big Ben blowing up that were all the rage in action films some years earlier.
(A word of advice to Mr. Cauty: if you wish to avoid public outrage, spraypaint your art pseudonymously on a wall. Nobody expects Banksy to steer away from subject matter verging on the obnoxious (i.e., his stencil of Auschwitz victims wearing lipstick). Come to think of it, could Banksy and Jimmy Cauty be one and the same? The Queen-in-a-gas-mask piece did look somewhat Banksyesque.)
Israeli settlers are planning to use guard pigs to defend settlements from attackers. Pigs are believed to have a better sense of smell than dogs; also, contact of any sort with a pig renders Islamic militants ineligible for martyrdom and the statutory 70 virgins (or was it raisins?). The one catch is that the raising of pigs is forbidden in orthodox Judaism, though settlers are requesting a special exemption for this scheme from their rabbis. (Though couldn't the bombers get a special exemption for fighting off Israeli guard pigs from their imams?)
And while we're on the topic of martyrdom, suicide bombers in Iraq are apparently kidnapping babies, wrapping them in explosives and leaving them in public places as bombs. I suppose if you believe in martyrdom and the absolute rightness of your cause, any act of depravity that helps The Cause can be justified; those innocent bystanders you slaughtered in the course of Getting Your Message Across will get their recompense in the afterlife. (via mitch)
If you can read this, then we're back. A routine machine relocation didn't go quite to plan, but it's all fixed now (hopefully).
And below is the backlog of blog items that didn't get posted to The Null Device over the past few days:
- Your tax dollars at work: A US spy agency as been monitoring webcams at an Islay distillery, just in case they were making chemical weapons instead of whisky. Defense Threat Reduction Agency officials stressed that monitoring Scottish distilleries was not a high priority, but stated that it would take just a "tweak" to modify the whisky-making process to produce chemical weapons. (Hmmm; that suggests some interesting near-future scenarios for potential flashpoints between the United States of America and Britain and a rogue People's Republic of Scotland.)
- An interesting paper on the design of the Google File System, a custom file system optimised for storing huge (multi-gigabyte) files on large farms of fault-prone hardware. (via bOING bOING)
- The latest fad in baby naming in the U.S. involved naming your children after your favourite brands of consumer goods. Looks like Max Barry wasn't all that far off: (via Techdirt)
"His daddy insisted on it because Timberlands were the pride of his wardrobe. The alternative was Reebok," said the 32-year-old nurse, who is now divorced. "I wanted Kevin."
This is only the latest chapter in the boom of giving children unique names.
According to the most recent census, at least 10,000 different names are now in use, two-thirds of which were largely unknown before World War II.
- "We're Gonna Get You After School!" Gibson's Law applies to playground mob psychology, with kids setting up websites and blogs to call their classmates names. This way, technology may be said to have democratised bullying, as it's no longer the musclebound alpha-jocks and the popular rich girls who have a monopoly on making others' lives miserable. (via TechDirt)
One 12-year-old blogger, writing on the popular Angelfire Web site, recently announced she would devote her page to "anyone and everyone i hate and why." She minced no words. "erin used to be aka miss perfect. too bad now u r a train face. hahaha. god did that to u since u r such a b -- . ashley stop acting like a slut wannabe. lauren u fat b -- can't even go out at night w/ ur friends. . . . and laurinda u suck u god damn flat, weird voice, skinny as a stick b -- ."
The author of the article calls for the use of "parental control devices" to stamp out "social cruelty", much in the way that filters have been used to stop pornography. Which sounds more like it would strip those kids put upon by the alpha-jocks/princesses of their online support networks of fellow outsiders.
- More on the internet's impact on human interaction: Internet chat addiction can stunt social skills in introverted adolescents, says a researcher in "social administration". Dr. Mubarak Rahamathulla says that research suggests that chat rooms have contributed to some teenagers fearing conventional social interaction, and becoming more dependent on anonymity or pseudonymity. However, he says, webcams may be a safe, healthy way for to explore their sexuality. Perhaps the future belongs to asocial chatroom onanists, who are into anything as long as it doesn't involve actual human contact?
- The AT&T text-to-speech demo site now has two British voices; the male one sounds somewhat deranged, as if having at some time in the past eaten some BSE-contaminated beef. (via kineticfactory)
- A company is now selling licensed arcade ROMs for MAME. StarROMs currently have a few dozen titles, all from Atari, but plan to have more; games cost between US$2 and US$6 per title, and all are unencrypted ROM images suitable for MAME, with no DRM chicanery to be seen. Let's hope this idea catches on.
- Transcosmopolitan, or Spider Jerusalem's stint as features writer for a women's lifestyle magazine. (via Warren Ellis' LiveJournal comments)
TV chef Jamie Oliver has apologised after wearing a T-shirt supporting Sri Lankan guerilla group the Tamil Tigers on one of his TV shows. All I can say is they should be glad they don't have Cameron Potts as an anchor.
Thieves steal computers from Sydney Airport intelligence centre. The men, who were described as being "of Middle Eastern appearance", masqueraded as technicians before wheeling servers holding "thousands of sensitive files" out of the top-security machine room, in what appears to have been a carefully planned operation. Terrorists, or just ordinary crims?
Naomi Klein on how the War on Terror has become a universal tool for smashing dissent, with everyone from unassimilated ethnic minorities to trade unionists becoming terrorists-by-association, and thus exempt from pesky human-rights considerations:
[Spanish PM] Aznar has resisted calls to negotiate with the Basque autonomous government and banned the political party Batasuna (even though, as the New York Times noted in June, "no direct link has been established between Batasuna and terrorist acts"). He has also shut down Basque human rights groups, magazines and the only entirely Basque-language newspaper. Last February, the Spanish police raided the Association of Basque Middle Schools, accusing it of having terrorist ties.
So Basque separatists are all tarred with the brush of terrorism now? I wonder whether we'll see Tony Blair or one of his successors cracking down on Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party in this fashion. Those pesky Welsh-speakers are probably all up to something...
Post-September 11, the [Indonesian] government cast Aceh's movement for national liberation as "terrorist" - which means human rights concerns no longer apply. Rizal Mallarangeng, a senior adviser to Megawati, called it the "blessing of September 11".
And then those who practice that most heinous form of economic terrorism, trying to sabotage the efficiency of export processing zones by agitating for workers' rights:
Last August, speaking to soldiers at a military academy, [Philippine president] Arroyo extended the war beyond terrorists and armed separatists to include "those who terrorise factories that provide jobs" - clear code for trade unions. Labour groups in Philippine free trade zones report that union organisers are facing increased threats, and strikes are being broken up with extreme police violence.
Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for US blackout. A spoof? An attempt to get cheap publicity? Or perhaps al-Qaeda really did do it, with the official version about technical problems (and the official alternative explanation about deregulation and corporate cronyism) being disinformation to keep the public from panicking? (via NWD)
Recently aircraft were banned from the skies above Disneyland, to prevent terrorists from striking America in its heart (and to prevent competitors from advertising to its customers; one of the profitable side-effects of the War On Terror). Now Christian Fundamentalist groups are suing to have the ban lifted on Gay Days, allowing them to overfly the park with giant banners condemning homosexuality. Words fail me. (via MeFi)