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On the Inability of USA to Stop North Korean Nuclear Weapon Program

September 9, 2016 3 comments

As many of you might have heard by now, North Korea conducted another nuclear test explosion yesterday. Some of you might ask yourself- How can a country like N. Korea, which is supposed to be poor and largely isolated from the rest of the world, keep on developing nuclear weapons. Perhaps more importantly- Why is the USA, and the supposedly all-powerful west, unable to stop them?

Well.. here are the reasons.

1] The technology to develop nuclear weapons is not particularly complicated, especially if you are a sovereign nation with more resources and manpower than those available on a small island or archipelago. Regardless of what some pretentious white guys spouting technical jargon might make you believe, the technology and tools necessary to design and make a few viable nuclear weapons have been fairly commonplace since the late 1970s. Obtaining enough fissile material that is either enriched beyond a certain percentage (for U-235)or with impurities below certain levels (for Pu-239) is the single largest technical constraint.

Any nation-state with a decent level of industrial capacity and access to uranium ore can either enrich U-235 or build nuclear reactors to create Pu-239. It is therefore really about the willingness to do so..

2] Some politicians in the USA suggest that it is possible to exert pressure on North Korea through China. I however see this belief as an example of wishful american thinking. Think about it- Why would China care about what USA wants in this particular situation? What do they have to gain by playing along with such an american request? The reality is that China is too large and powerful a country to be bullied by the USA. Furthermore, there is an interesting precedent for their unwillingness to stop supporting the North Korean nuclear program. China, you see, is the single biggest reason for the success of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon program. It also goes without saying that a nuclear capable North Korea is no real threat to China.

In other words, ensuring that North Korea has a modest nuclear weapon capacity is far more strategically useful to China than towing the american line and pressuring them to stop developing nuclear weapons.

3] Most people in USA believe that North Korea is very isolated from the rest of the world, except for maybe China. While that is true- as far as most of its citizens/ subjects are concerned, the government itself is pretty pragmatic about having restricted mutually beneficial ties with certain countries. It is therefore not surprising that the North Korean nuclear and missile program have ties with equivalent programs in other countries such as Pakistan and Iran. Some of you might be aware that the missile program of Pakistan received considerable help and support from its equivalent in North Korea. It is hard to believe that such an exchange was one-sided, if you know what I mean. Similarly there is some evidence that the Iranian nuclear program did benefit from the assistance of North Korea and once again, it is unlikely that there was no quid-pro-quo.

To put it another way, the government of North Korea is not made up of ideologically driven nutjobs who lack any significant contact with reality. They may be evil, but they are not stupid.

4] There are many advantages for sovereign states possessing nuclear weapons. For one, it makes you immune from any serious military attack from other sovereign states, such as the USA. It is no secret that possessing nuclear weapon capacity is the best way to protect your country and the elite system within it. The elites in North Korea know that they have no future if they allow the USA to pressure them into capitulating before their populace. They know what happened to Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. They know that the USA would not have to be cause the current situation in Syria if that country possessed nuclear weapons. They know that Pakistan can get away with what they do largely because they have nuclear weapons. They know that USA would never be able to pressure Iran like it did, if it already had nuclear weapons.

Simply put, the benefits of having nukes far outweigh the problems associated with developing and having them- especially for the North Korean elites.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Sep 1, 2016

September 1, 2016 1 comment

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how the “security” or “law and order” agencies in the USA (and other western countries) have become addicted to uncontrollable growth- with openly voracious and cannibalistic behavior. One of the linked pieces also makes the point that such growth creates new vulnerabilities for the host society which are far worse than the problem this growth was supposed to solve.

Link 1: Former Anti-Terror FBI Employee now finds Himself a Target

As a FBI surveillance employee, Ray Tahir spent the last decade tailing Muslims in counterterrorism cases. Among the investigations whose surveillance Tahir led were those of the charity Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Texas and North Carolina’s Daniel Patrick Boyd, who with others was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists and conspiracy to commit murder, maiming, and kidnapping overseas. Both FBI cases had their critics. The American Civil Liberties Union described the prosecution of Holy Land Foundation as “discriminatory enforcement of counterterrorism laws.” In the Boyd case, as in other informant-led FBI stings, there are questions about whether the men convicted would have done anything at all were it not for the FBI’s involvement. As the FBI targeted Muslims in the United States following the 9/11 attacks, Tahir was among the front-line employees who made some of these cases possible. Now, he alleges, he has become a target himself.

Link 2: Leaked Catalogue reveals a Vast Array of Military Spy Gear offered to U.S. Police

A Confidential, 120-page catalogue of spy equipment, originating from British defense firm Cobham and circulated to U.S. law enforcement, touts gear that can intercept wireless calls and text messages, locate people via their mobile phones, and jam cellular communications in a particular area. The catalogue was obtained by The Intercept as part of a large trove of documents originating within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where spokesperson Molly Best confirmed Cobham wares have been purchased but did not provide further information. The document provides a rare look at the wide range of electronic surveillance tactics used by police and militaries in the U.S. and abroad, offering equipment ranging from black boxes that can monitor an entire town’s cellular signals to microphones hidden in lighters and cameras hidden in trashcans. Markings date it to 2014. Cobham, recently cited among several major British firms exporting surveillance technology to oppressive regimes, has counted police in the United States among its clients, Cobham spokesperson Greg Caires confirmed.

Link 3: Hacking the US with only a Sound

Unlike the classic example of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater, this panic can be induced by anything that sounds/looks/feels like a threat rather than the claim of a specific threat (like “fire”). Nearly anything can set them off. Here’s three examples of that over the last two weeks (there have been many more): JFK Airport- Unfounded reports of gunfire led to an evacuation of terminals. Police march passengers out of the terminal with their hands up. Police speculate that it was started by load fans of the Rio Olympics. CrabTree Valley Mall (NC)- Unfounded reports of an active shooter leads to a panicked evacuation of the mall. LAX Airport- Unfounded reports of a shooter led to people storming the jetway doors and spilling out onto the tarmac, people barricading themselves into bathrooms in multiple terminals, and more.

This public reactiveness may become the new normal both here and in Europe. If so, we can expect people take advantage of it. Here’s how. All it takes is a single audio clip. Like this or this either near a public space or done remotely on a timed playback device is all it would take to ignite the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that leads to a large-scale evacuation. In fact, people are so reactive now, I suspect it wouldn’t even take a sound that is explicit, only something that sounds similar. Think about this for a moment. The ability to shut down a public space for hours: anytime (just walk in and play the sounds); remotely (low-cost playback device on timer/remote activation); or on a large-scale (thousands of people playing the sounds on their smart phones in public spaces simultaneously)

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting YouTube Channel: Forgotten Weapons

August 15, 2016 Leave a comment

It is no secret that the quality of content made by amateurs and semi-professionals on YouTube now routinely exceeds the crap produced by the “professionals” on network TV and even many cable channels. As many of you know, I am interested in technology of all sorts- especially the history of innovation in those areas (both successful and failed ideas) that led to where we are now.

I first came across a YouTube channel on rare firearms, especially prototypes, 2-3 years ago. At that time it was were mostly 10-15 minute clips about the history and mechanisms of somewhat uncommon guns. It has become even better since them and a lot of content on that channel, uploaded over previous year, is very good.

YouTube Channel Link – Forgotten Weapons

Example 1:

Example 2:

Enjoy! Comments?

Categories: Technology, YouTube

Some Thoughts about the Recent Shooting of Cops in Dallas: 2

July 10, 2016 11 comments

In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that Micah Xavier Johnson’s (MXJ) profile was remarkable for being unremarkable. In other words, there is nothing about him which would predict that he was going to shoot up a dozen cops on July 7. In my opinion, the plainness of his profile is by far the most problematic part of that shooting since it raises the possibility that many (potentially millions of) other people in USA are capable of doing similar things.

As many of you know, the difference between fringe rebellions and full-blown insurrections is that those who do the former are far more ideologically driven than the later- which is a fancy way of saying that insurrections are usually done by people who are average in every sense of that word. The profile of MXJ strongly suggests that what he did is better categorized as part of a wider decentralized insurrection than due to membership of fringe group or belief in a fringe ideology.

And this brings me to the use of a bomb disposal robot by the police to kill MXJ. In my opinion, it was a terribly stupid idea to kill him with an explosive carrying robot. My objections to that action by the police are based in long-term consequences of such an action- both intended and unintended.

It does not take a genius to figure out that use of such technology, primitive as it is, in the USA opens the door to its use in far more routine circumstances. What is going to stop local police departments, filled as they are with “people” who feel they are above the law, to start bombing people in far more mundane situations? What about bombing innocent people living in some house that was incorrectly identified as the hiding place of some “suspect”? What about due legal process? Well.. you get the picture. However, cops killing people in USA is by the far the least problematic aspect of using bomb carrying robots.

The far more problematic aspect of legitimizing and normalizing such behavior by cops is the potential for serious and unending blowback. Do you think that people who are being killed by bomb carrying robots will not use similar devices and methods against cops? I mean.. what is now going to stop some black or brown guy from using an improvised robot bomb, remote-controlled device or even the suicide vests you see in the middle-east against them or their families? Think that is too far-fetched? Look what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan after the USA unsuccessfully tried and failed to occupy them. Do you really think it cannot happen here? How much money would bet on there not being a similar blowback in the USA?

It is well-known that people in Iraq and Afghanistan had no worthwhile history of using IEDs and suicide bombs against “soft” targets (non-active combatants and supporting civilians) prior to the invasion and failed occupation of their countries by the USA. As many of you might also remember, all that changed very quickly after the invasions and explosive devices (IEDS and suicide bombs) eventually caused more casualties among american soldiers and their civilian supporters/ helpers than pretty much any other weapon system. Then, as now, the american response was to increase harassment and murder of potential terrorist sympathizers and try to find technological fixes. We all know how that worked out or not. In any case, both occupations ended in american defeat- despite massive technological and material superiority.

Will write about some other aspects of this incident (especially the tone-deaf response of politicians and cops) in future posts on this topic.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts about the Recent Shooting of Cops in Dallas: 1

July 9, 2016 11 comments

I am sure that all of you have seen, heard and read a lot about the July 7 shootings that killed a few cops in Dallas. It is also not exactly a secret that this shooting has a peculiar linkage to a couple of extensively documented extrajucidial killings of two black men (Alton Sterling, Philando Castile) in the previous two days. As some of you know, more than a few of my previous posts have been about how the hubris associated with unaccountable power (or perception thereof) ultimately creates the conditions for the rise of its nemesis.

It does not take a genius to see that, throughout human history, institutions and systems that seem invulnerable at their peak inevitably implode under the strain of their hubris- which principally manifests itself through unaccountability, overreach and inability to adjust to the changing reality. Even systems capable of incredible levels of repression and surveillance over decades fail- frequently because of doing exactly that. It is also no secret that the status quo in the USA (especially since 2008) has more in common with a slowly imploding system than one with any chance of a better future.

Having said that, I will now make some brief observations about the July 7 incident.

1] The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was a black veteran. It is noteworthy that he had no worthwhile criminal record and grew up in a middle-class family. There is also no evidence to suggest that he was particularly shy, angry or had an otherwise unusual personality. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that he was destined to do what he did on July 7.

2] Ideologically, he did not seem to be especially partisan or religious. He certainly had an interest in black nationalist groups and was not exactly enamored by the behavior of white people (especially cops) towards blacks. Then again.. it is hard to blame him for having a fairly negative view of white cops in USA. However none of this rises to a level which would foreshadow what he did on July 7.

3] It is now obvious (based on his journal entries) that he was planning to go on a shooting spree for some time. However, it is not clear why he chose to do it on July 7. While he was fairly systematic in planning the shooing, the motive is unclear. I mean, we know he hated white cops.. but why now? What was the final event which pushed him into action?

4] Unlike most spree shooters who prefer venues where people are unarmed, he chose to shoot up an area with hundreds of cops. Also he was pretty accurate for a spree shooter as only two protesters were hit by stray bullets and neither died. In contrast, he was able to shoot 12 cops killing 5 of them. Perhaps most interestingly, all 5 dead cops were white men- which is pretty impressive when you consider that particular police department has many non-white cops.

5] One of peculiarities of the July 7 shooting was his choice of weapons. Why would he use a SKS carbine as his main weapon? As some of you know, the SKS is an older, but rugged, semi-auto carbine chambered for the same cartridge (7.62×39mm) as the AK-47. This is especially odd since a person who was in the US army would be more familiar with using an AR-15 derived semi-auto carbine.

6] He knew how to milk the fear of potential IEDs to cause maximal disruption and fear among his opponents. I mean.. think about it- one determined guy with a SKS, handgun and basic bullet-proof jacket was able to make hundreds of armed cops take shelter behind cars, garbage cans and pretty much anything they could find. Even if you do not agree with his actions- that is a pretty impressive result.

I will write about other aspects of this incident in future posts on this topic.

What do you think? comments?

How the Internet Killed the Efficacy and Careers of Political Strategists

April 21, 2016 3 comments

One of the more significant, but largely overlooked, change in the american political arena within the last decade concerns the obvious impotency and rapidly declining role of political strategists in wining party nominations and elections. It was not that long ago when names like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes evoked feared in those who ran against the politicians who employed them.

While a significant part of their fearsome reputations was based on myth and hearsay, it is also clear that their “dirty tricks” were somewhat effective in winning close elections. We all remember how George W Bush “won” the 2000 presidential election. But that was over a decade ago and the presidential elections of 2004 were the last major elections in USA where such political consultants were able to influence the final electoral results to any measurable degree.

Since then political consultants have been, by and large, unable to influence major elections at the national and increasingly the state and local level. Some of you might remember the very public humiliations and irrelevancy suffered by once feared political operatives like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. You might also be aware of how Donald Trump destroyed the presidential aspirations of his far better funded and establishment rivals in the still ongoing race for the republican nomination.

So what is going on? Why are all the old and new “machiavellian geniuses” unable to influence american elections like their predecessors? Why do they seem to spend more time as TV pundits, Authors and make most of their income from job descriptions that fit the definition of a Sinecure? Why is somebody like Donald Trump winning the republican primary? Why is Bernie Sanders still competitive in the democratic primary?

Well.. there are many reasons for this change ranging from the still ongoing impoverishment of the average american to the (also still ongoing) post-2008 loss of public trust in all credentialed professionals and institutions. However the most important, and central, reason for the terminal impotency of political strategists is linked to the rise of decentralized, fast and structurally uncontrollable spread of information over the internet. And it does not work the way most of you think…

The conventional narrative about the effects of information spreading over the internet is based on a pleasant-sounding fallacy. Most people believe political change over the internet is almost exclusively due to people using it the educate themselves about the “facts”. While that is sorta true for objective “facts” like the stuff found in textbooks on physics and chemistry- it is not the case for information about subjective issues such as politics.

The biggest, and most important, effect of the internet on politics is that it makes pretty much everyone extremely cynical of the whole political process. The sheer amount of opinions supporting or denouncing any given position on any issue almost guarantees that most people will stick to what they believed in the first place. It is this widespread cynicism which more than anything defeats attempts to sway opinions through sophistic rhetoric, “dirty tricks”, advertisements and appeals to morality.

This is why all attempts by MSM to attack Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump have had virtually no negative effects on those who support their campaigns. Indeed, the scorn of the MSM and its paid pundits has increased, rather than decreased, public support for both outsider candidates. This is why Bernie and Trump rallies can easily get tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters while mainstream politicians like Hillary or Cruz struggle to get a tenth or twentieth of that number.

Another interesting effect of internet driven cynicism is that the physical appearance of politicians is far less important than it was even ten years ago. People have now come to associate a “professional” look and grooming with dishonesty. In other words, people are now far more likely to trust (or not distrust) somebody who looks like Bernie or Trump than somebody who looks like Hillary, Rubio, Cruz or Mitt Romney. I had predicted something along these lines in one of my older posts- How ‘Anodyne’ Communication Destroys Societal Trust.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 8, 2016

April 8, 2016 4 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how “law enforcement” agencies left to their own devices will always screw over their host societies.

Link 1: CIA’s Venture Capital Arm Is Funding Skin Care Products That Collect DNA

Skincential Sciences, a company with an innovative line of cosmetic products marketed as a way to erase blemishes and soften skin, has caught the attention of beauty bloggers on YouTube, Oprah’s lifestyle magazine, and celebrity skin care professionals. Documents obtained by The Intercept reveal that the firm has also attracted interest and funding from In-Q-Tel, the venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. The previously undisclosed relationship with the CIA might come as some surprise to a visitor to the website of Clearista, the main product line of Skincential Sciences, which boasts of a “formula so you can feel confident and beautiful in your skin’s most natural state.”

The article, which is no longer available on the fund’s website but is preserved by a cache hosted by the Internet Archive, argues that advances in medical research into biomarkers can be leveraged by intelligence agencies for a variety of uses, from airport security to next-generation identification tools. A diagram in the article calls human skin the body’s largest organ and a “unique, underutilized source for sample collection.” The author, Dr. Kevin O’Connell, then a “senior solutions architect” with In-Q-Tel, notes, “The DNA contained in microorganisms in a person’s gut or on a person’s skin may contain sequences that indicate a particular geographical origin.”

Link 2: L.A. Activists Want to Bring Surveillance Conversation Down to Earth

Khan’s coalition works to track, publicize, and ultimately dismantle the highly intrusive ways the Los Angeles Police Department surveils the area’s citizens, using an infrastructure of advanced intelligence gathering linked to federal government counterterrorism initiatives. The LAPD uses big data for “predictive policing,” street cameras with highly accurate facial recognition capabilities, Stingrays, and DRT boxes — which imitate cellphone towers to track nearby phones or jam signals — automatic license plate readers, body cameras, and drones. “How many different ways are our bodies being constantly tracked, traced, and monitored, not just online?” Khan asked in a phone interview.

Many of the policies adopted in L.A., he says, were originally developed to fight terrorism overseas — including predictive policing methods first funded by the U.S. military to track insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they’re “becoming a part of local policing,” Khan said. The coalition discovered that the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, launched in 2008, gives LAPD license to “write up secret files on individuals based on speculation and hunches.” The group learned from an LAPD inspector general report in 2014 that over 30 percent of these reports are written about black people in L.A. — where less than 10 percent of the entire population is black.

Link 3: Spies in the Skies

Each weekday, dozens of U.S. government aircraft take to the skies and slowly circle over American cities. Piloted by agents of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the planes are fitted with high-resolution video cameras, often working with “augmented reality” software that can superimpose onto the video images everything from street and business names to the owners of individual homes. At least a few planes have carried devices that can track the cell phones of people below. Most of the aircraft are small, flying a mile or so above ground, and many use exhaust mufflers to mute their engines — making them hard to detect by the people they’re spying on. The government’s airborne surveillance has received little public scrutiny — until now. BuzzFeed News has assembled an unprecedented picture of the operation’s scale and sweep by analyzing aircraft location data collected by the flight-tracking website Flightradar24 from mid-August to the end of December last year, identifying about 200 federal aircraft. Day after day, dozens of these planes circled above cities across the nation.

But most of these government planes took the weekends off. The BuzzFeed News analysis found that surveillance flight time dropped more than 70% on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays. “The fact that they are mostly not flying on weekends suggests these are relatively run-of-the-mill investigations,” Nathan Freed Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told BuzzFeed News. The government’s aerial surveillance programs deserve scrutiny by the Supreme Court, said Adam Bates, a policy analyst with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. “It’s very difficult to know, because these are very secretive programs, exactly what information they’re collecting and what they’re doing with it,” Bates told BuzzFeed News.

What do you think? Comments?