Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 28, 2008

We’re all Chabadniks now

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:53 pm

Ron Coleman: “We’re all Chabadniks now.”

Even in India, which has had small Jewish communities for centuries and little history of antisemitism, it is possible to be killed for no other “crime” than being Jewish.

Not by Hindus of course — by Muslims.

August 12, 2008

Police to track every car in New York City?

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:24 pm

CBS is reporting that they New York Police Department is planning to use “Radiation Sensors, Surveillance Cameras Used To Screen & Follow Every Vehicle Entering Lower Manhattan.”

They quote a supposedly representative “NYC resident Sam Mauer” as saying, “Good idea I think. Anything that makes the city safer is a very good idea.”

Well, yes.

But would someone please explain to me exactly how this is going to make the city safer?

If they don’t have a list of terrorists’ cars, how are they going to use this system to stop anything? And if they do have a list of terrorists’ cars, why waste the time and resources to track all the other cars?

And in any case, how is simply “tracking” cars going to stop any terrorist attacks? If they actually have a list of terrorists’ cars, why not stop them at the entry points, instead of tracking them all over the place — perhaps watching as they do their vile deeds, without bothering to stop them?

It seems to me that there is not only a massive invasion of privacy, but no corresponding benefit in terms of safety or security.

Big Sibling is Watching You.

October 16, 2006

Bombing — For Free Tuition

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:22 pm

I few days ago, I posted the story of an unemployed fellow who robbed a bank to get arrested, so he could live rent-free in jail until he was old enough for social security benefits.

Now, we hear from that young Palestinians are carrying small bombs through Israeli checkpoints to get arrested — so they can get an Israeli high school diploma while in prison! The Israeli radio broadcaster Arutz Sheva reports:

Faking Attacks in Order to Graduate: Correspondent Haggai Huberman reports on a new phenomenon among the Arabs of Judea and Samaria: Youths carry knives or small bombs across checkpoints in order to get themselves arrested so that they can study for high school matriculation exams at the State of Israel’s expense.

Sitting in jail for a number of weeks or months is a small price to pay, and the returns are significant: A high school diploma, and a high social standing as a “freed terrorist.”

Huberman notes that earlier this week, IDF soldiers reported that they had thwarted an attack in the northern Shomron when they arrested two 19-year-old boys carrying two pipebombs of one kilogram (2.2 lbs.) each. However, the IDF later concluded that the boys were merely trying to get arrested for the purpose of matriculation exams, and that the pipebombs were not designed to cause significant damage.

Hat tip: James Taranto, who adds: “Or maybe they wanted 72 dates to the prom.”

September 11, 2006

This is BIG News

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:00 pm

One of the original — and I mean original — al-Qaeda-style Islamofascists was captured today in eastern Afghanistan. This is none other than the unlamentable (and unpronounceable) terrorist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. I remember Hekmatyar from the 1980s when the U.S. was aiding anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan, and Hekmatyar was sort-of on our side in the sense that he was against the Soviets, but was deemed insufficiently trustworthy to receive U.S. support, since he seemed to spend as much time fighting other anti-Soviet allies as fighting the Soviets. When the (Islamic) mujahideen finally drove the Soviets out, Hekmatyar refused a place in the coalition government, claiming it was “un-Islamic” — and continued the war, shifting effortlessly from shooting rockets into Kabul to fight the Soviets, to shooting rockets into Kabul to fight the “un-Islamic” Islamic government. His nemesis was Ahmad Shah Masoud, “The Lion of Panjshir,” the very Islamic, and very pro-Western leader of the anti-Soviet resistance and then the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan, better known as the Northern Alliance. Masoud was assassinated on September 9, 2001 — which, as you can see by subtraction, was two days before September 11, 2001. It’s never been entirely clear whether Masoud’s assassination was ordered by Osama bin Laden or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar — it’s believable either way.

As for Hekmatyar, he is the sort of guy who thought the Taliban were not “Islamic” enough — meaning, not violent enough against non-Muslims and not-his-type-of-Muslim. The funny part — if you can call it that — is that according to this biography written in 1997, Hekmatyar was originally a Communist. When he became disillusioned with Communism and fell under the influence of the writings of Sayd Qutb, he traded one form of absolute evil in for another.

And, today — five years to the day after the attack on the United States — this advocate of “martyrdom” to the cause of Islam, surrendered without a fight. Glenn Reynolds quotes Bill Roggio:

On the day of the fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attack, Coalition forces score a high value target in Afghanistan. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the commander of Hezb-i-Islami and ally of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, has been captured during a joint U.S. and Afghan Army raid in “eastern Afghanistan.” Hekmatyar, contrary to his rhetoric gave up to the Coalition forces without a fight. Hekmatyar’s arrest is said to be part of an ‘ongoing operation.’

Hekmatyar has been designated by the U.S. Department of State as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist“ and “has participated in and supported terrorist acts committed by al-Qa’ida and the Taliban.”

I’ve been waiting for 20 years for Hekmatyar to be taken out of action The first 15 of which were spent waiting for the West to decide he ought to be taken out of action.

As an aside, here’s my media prediction: This will get practically no play in the mainstream media. My subsidiary prediction is that if If I’m wrong about that and it does get significant play, half that play will consist of Democrat politicians and strategists and commentators explaining how unimportant it is.

It’s about as unimportant as capturing bin Laden.

September 5, 2006

Google Is Listening To You

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:17 am

I remember the first time I saw a computer with a microphone attached to the monitor — it was 1991 or 1992, and it was a brand-new Mac on the department secretary’s desk at a major university. I asked her what she used it for, and she said, “I don’t know how to use it yet — it came with the new computer.” I was immediately intrigued and a bit alarmed — this was in the days when the internet was ubiquitous on university campuses, but virtually unheard-of by the general public. And computer security was very rudimentary. My first thought — literally, my first thought — was that somebody, somehow, could probably use that microphone to eavesdrop on conversations in the office.

And now, 15 years later, Google has plans to do just that.

The Register is reporting that Google is going to deploy software — “sooner rather than later” — to listen in on users, analyze the sounds in their environment, and serve up appropriate advertisements:

The idea is to use the existing PC microphone to listen to whatever is heard in the background, be it music, your phone going off or the TV turned down. The PC then identifies it, using fingerprinting, and then shows you relevant content, whether that’s adverts or search results, or a chat room on the subject.

And, of course, we wouldn’t put it past Google to store that information away, along with the search terms it keeps that you’ve used, and the web pages you have visited, to help it create a personalised profile that feeds you just the right kind of adverts/content. And given that it is trying to develop alternative approaches to TV advertising, it could go the extra step and help send “content relevant” advertising to your TV as well.

Now a lot of people find using personal information to deliver ads offensive to their privacy. I am not really scared of ads, but I’m scared of other uses the same technology could be applied to. As The Register points out:

Pretty soon the security industry is going to find a way to hijack the Google feed and use it for full on espionage.

And:

Google says that its fingerprinting technology makes it impossible for the company (or anyone else) to eavesdrop on other sounds in the room [besides TV], such as personal conversations, because the conversion to a fingerprint is made on the PC, and a fingerprint can’t be reversed, as it’s only an identity.

This is complete baloney. Sure, maybe the currently-proposed version just listens for TV and just sends information about what show is on, but that doesn’t mean someone else — at Google or otherwise — couldn’t use the technique to capture the actual audio content, or even an automated transcript of personal conversations. With sufficient data, they could even use audio “fingerprinting” to determine who’s talking — even if they aren’t using the computer.

Moral of the story: Unplug your computer’s microphone.

Plug it in only when you need it.

That may be never. Personally, I’ve been waiting 15 years for an actually useful purpose for the PC microphone. The potential seems endless — Internet telephony, voice chat — even encrypted voice chat, voice recognition instead of typing, voice annotations on documents, etc. But it never seems to pan out. In all that time, I’ve known only one person who ever had a use for that, and it was voice recognition instead of typing — because she had a wrist-pain problem. The system was OK, but it wasn’t good enough for her to abandon typing when her wrist pain wasn’t flaring up, and it wasn’t good enough to capture significant market share among people without severe wrist pain.

I don’t know, maybe the rest of you all use voice IM, and I’m just behind the times — but if you do that, unplug your microphone when you’re not using it.

And be careful.

Big Sibling is listening to you.

August 18, 2006

Train Bombing Attempted in Germany

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:22 pm

Ray D. reports:

According to reports circulating throughout the German media today, two suitcase bombs placed by two unidentified men very nearly went off on regional trains in Dortmund and Koblenz at the end of July. A deadly simultaneous bombing was only averted because the bombs were technically defective. Had they fully detonated, German authorities believe that a mass casualty event similar to the recent attacks in London could have been the result.

Police believe that a terrorist motive is probable, particularly because the suitcases contained Arabic writing and telephone numbers from Lebanon. The men who placed the bombs also strongly appear to be of Middle Eastern origin. …

Our take: This is yet another wake up call for all Germans who believe that terrorism at home can be averted through a policy of appeasement and pacifism at all costs. One has to wonder how the far left can continue to collaborate with Islamic extremists in their quest of anti-American, anti-Israeli hatred. Hopefully it doesn’t have to come to a horrific attack before the German media and politicians get realistic about the threat Islamic extremism poses to the modern world.

Cue Bob Dylan:


How many bombs must the terrorists place
Before they are called to account?

How many innocent people be killed
Before Europe stops appeasement?

When will they ever learn?
When will they e–ver learn?

August 17, 2006

Airport Security Theater

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:02 pm

Security expert Bruce Schneier points out this very salient fact about airport security — both the “since 9/11″ restrictions and the “since last week” restrictions — and the recent arrests in London: (Boldface emphasis mine.)

Hours-long waits in the security line. Ridiculous prohibitions on what you can carry on board. Last week’s foiling of a major terrorist plot and the subsequent airport security changes graphically illustrates the difference between effective security and security theater.

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.

Instead, the arrests are a victory for old-fashioned intelligence and investigation. Details are still secret, but police in at least two countries were watching the terrorists for a long time. They followed leads, figured out who was talking to whom, and slowly pieced together both the network and the plot.

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-on items 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.

It’s easy to defend against what terrorists planned last time, but it’s shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we’ve wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we’ve wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets — stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people in front of airport security — and too many ways to kill people.

Security measures that attempt to guess correctly don’t work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It’s not security, it’s security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer.

Airport security is the last line of defense, and not a very good one at that. Sure, it’ll catch the sloppy and the stupid — and that’s a good enough reason not to do away with it entirely — but it won’t catch a well-planned plot. We can’t keep weapons out of prisons; we can’t possibly keep them off airplanes.

Bruce has a summary of the new UK and US security rules here. He points out that this is reasonable in the short run. We’ll see how long these rules stay in effect. The post-9/11 US rules have lasted a lot longer than I initially expected — no doubt, in part, because they involved creating a new federal government agency.

And Sean at Cosmic Variance has this clever take on the whole thing:

[F]or the first time, the Department of Homeland Security has deemed an entire state of matter to be a national security risk.

If you remember from chemistry or physics what a phase diagram here, this will put things in perspective.

This is even worse!

July 30, 2006

Muslim Attacks Jews in Seattle; 1 Killed, 5 Wounded

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:54 am

I don’t know why this isn’t getting more attention. A Muslim attacked a Jewsh Federation building in Seattle, killing a one women and wounding five others. The Seattle Times is reporting it, but for them it’s a local story.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

“Once inside he immediately started firing”

The gunman who forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle on Friday afternoon put a gun at the back of a 13-year-old girl to gain entry to the building, police said this afternoon.

The man who described himself as a Muslim American angry with Israel then opened fire with two handguns, killing one woman and wounding five others before surrendering to police.

The dead woman was identified this morning as Pamela Waechter, 58.

“Once inside he immediately started firing at people.”

He rattled off anti-Israel slurs and commanded people not to dial 911. But shooting victim Dayna Klein, who is 17 weeks pregnant, ignored him. Her actions convinced Seattle police chief Gil Kerlikowske to call her a hero.

Seconds after being shot in the arm, she crawled across the floor toward a phone and called for help.

Within minutes police were at the building and the Everett man put down his two semi-automatic handguns and surrendered.

In a bail hearing this afternoon, King County District Court Judge Barbara Linde set bail at $50 million and found probable cause that Haq could face one charge of first-degree murder and five charges of attempted-murder.

Prosecutors will meet next week to decide whether they’ll pursue the death penalty, said spokesman Dan Donohoe. [Will they have candlelight vigils if he's executed? --DR]

Three of the victims underwent surgery Friday night. They are Layla Bush, 23, of Seattle; Christina Rexroad, 29, of Everett; and Cheryl Stumbo, 43, of Seattle. They are in the Intensive Care Unit, said Pamela Steele, hospital spokeswoman.

The two other victims, Dayna Klein, 37, of Seattle, and Carol Goldman, 35, of Seattle, remain in satisfactory condition.

Waechter grew up in Minneapolis, Minn., as a Lutheran, the daughter of a businessman. She converted to Judaism after marrying Bill Waechter, an airline pilot, and the couple moved to Seattle in 1979. After raising their two children, Waechter became a student at the University of Washington, graduating with a degree in nutrition.

She became much more active in the Jewish community than her husband, Bill Waechter, from whom she is now divorced. She worked at Jewish Family Service and later at the Jewish Federation, where she did outreach and fundraising. She rose from secretary to two-term president at Temple B’nai Torah.

The shooting came a day after the FBI had warned Jewish organizations nationwide to be on alert after Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon and al-Qaida’s second in command urged that the war raging in the Middle East be carried to the U.S. However, the law-enforcement source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there is no evidence that Haq was involved with any group. [Yet. --DR]

“He said he hates Israel,” said the source, who is part of the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force, which was called in to help investigate the shootings.

David Gomez, the assistant special agent-in-charge of the Seattle FBI office, said there is “nothing to indicate he is part of a larger organization.” [Yet. --DR]

“We believe he is a lone individual with antagonism toward this organization,” said Gomez.

Amy Wasser-Simpson, the vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation, said the man announced “I’m a Muslim American; I’m angry at Israel,” then began shooting. Wasser-Simpson said she heard the account from staff members who witnessed the shootings.

His 1994 yearbook photograph from Richland High School showed a smiling Haq with the words “Peace Be Unto You.”

An obituary of Pamela Waechter is here.

Dave at American Thinker has some snarky thoughts about the role of the Seattle Times.

January 20, 2006

Different Responses to Crime

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:59 am

A couple of weeks ago, someone was beaten to death in an apparent robbery on the streets of Washington, DC.

Of course, this happens all the time — there are almost 200 murders a year in Washington, DC. But most of those murders are of poor people, tourists, or Metro commuters, so the cognoscenti rarely take notice. What makes this murder different is that the victim was a longtime New York Times reporter and editor, David E. Rosenbaum. Now that is an outrage! New York Times reporters are supposed to b exempt from these things!

More interesting, however, is the reaction of the local media. They have focused on the notion that “mistakes were made” in the investigation, the ambulance response, and that sort of thing. They seem to take as given that crimes are to be expected, and society’s job is merely to respond — to send an ambulance to pick up the victim, and, if possible, put the murderer away (say, for a “maximum sentence” of five years).

One blogger, “The Conservative UAW Guy,” has a more strident view, which challenges this whole world view, and refuses to take victimhood as a given. He expresses it rather sardonically, but I think he gets his point across:

I wonder if New York Times editor and reporter David E. Rosenbaum was saying
“Thank God I don’t have an evil, redneck, knuckle-dragger firearm.”, as he was beaten to death by his (at large) attackers. He was anti-gun; but all the way to the very end? I wonder.

How many deaths are attributable to liberals disarming law-abiding citizens.

The world may never know…

I’m quite certain the Times is glad he wasn’t armed.
“Think of the children, David.”

I guess the main thing is no one got shot. Don’t you feel safer?

Yay! Gun control works!!

My prayers are with him and his family. I hope his killers get shot.

David E. Rosenbaum wasn’t killed with a gun, but that is little comfort. He was probably attacked by people physically much stronger than he was, perhaps with a baseball bad or some similar innocuous object that could be used as a weapon. I don’t know the state of his health, but at age 63 he was probably not much match for (possibly) younger criminals. Had he been armed with a gun, he could have had a chance at defending himself — a gun can make a less physically strong person more than a match for a stronger person with only fists, a baseball bat, or even a knife — and an even match or better for an attacker with a gun.

The primary effect of gun control is to disarm people who are less able to resist attackers. Actually, in many cases it’s even worse than that, because those who are willing to disobey laws against robbery, assault, rape, and murder are more than likely willing to disobey laws against carrying guns as well. Thus, those willing to obey the law are disarmed and those willing to commit crimes are emboldened.

One of the underlying assumptions of gun control — and this doesn’t apply exactly to the Rosenbaum event, but the principle is the same — can be summed up like this:

A woman raped and strangled is morally superior to a woman with a smoking gun and a dead rapist at her feet.

And that is about as pro-crime a sentiment as I can imagine.

(See also: 40 Reasons For Gun Control.)

January 6, 2006

Your Phone Records Are For Sale

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:21 pm

And it has nothing to do with the PATRIOT Act, the NSA, or the Bush Administration. According to this article in the Chicago Sun-Times:

The Chicago Police Department is warning officers their cell phone records are available to anyone — for a price. Dozens of online services are selling lists of cell phone calls, raising security concerns among law enforcement and privacy experts.

Criminals can use such records to expose a government informant who regularly calls a law enforcement official.

Suspicious spouses can see if their husband or wife is calling a certain someone a bit too often.

And employers can check whether a worker is regularly calling a psychologist — or a competing company.

“Officers should be aware of this information when giving out their personal cell phone numbers to the general public,” the bulletin said. “Undercover officers should also be aware of this information if they occasionally call personal numbers such as home or the office, from their [undercover] ones.”

I want to know why any undercover officer ever thought doing that was safe. But now, getting the call records is not only possible, but easy — and while too expensive for most people to do it for mere curiousity, it’s cheap enough that most people could afford it if they had a serious reason to want to know:

To test the service, the FBI paid Locatecell.com $160 to buy the records for an agent’s cell phone and received the list within three hours, the police bulletin said.

How well do the services work? The Chicago Sun-Times paid $110 to Locatecell.com to purchase a one-month record of calls for this reporter’s company cell phone. It was as simple as e-mailing the telephone number to the service along with a credit card number. The request was made Friday after the service was closed for the New Year’s holiday.

On Tuesday, when it reopened, Locatecell.com e-mailed a list of 78 telephone numbers this reporter called on his cell phone between Nov. 19 and Dec. 17. The list included calls to law enforcement sources, story subjects and other Sun-Times reporters and editors.

Ernie Rizzo, a Chicago private investigator, said he uses a similar cell phone record service to conduct research for his clients. On Friday, for instance, Rizzo said he ordered the cell phone records of a suburban police chief whose wife suspects he is cheating on her.

“I would say the most powerful investigative tool right now is cell records,” Rizzo said. “I use it a couple times a week. A few hundred bucks a week is well worth the money.”

A glance at their web site shows a list of prices, and guaranteed service in 1-4 business hours for cell phone information (calls, name lookup by number, etc.). They also offer landline information, but they don’t list prices and have a “no information, no charge” guarantee, which implies they can’t always get that information.

I wonder if they have a discount plan for heavy users. Do they call it the “frequent spier” program? :-)

Seriously, though: Would it violate the Fourth Amendment if the government used this service to monitor people’s phone calls? What if the NSA used it to scan the call records for people calling terrorists?

January 3, 2006

Serious Windows Security Vulnerability

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:00 am

Matt Drudge is red-lining an article in the Financial Times reporting:

Computer security experts were grappling with the threat of a newweakness in Microsoft’s Windows operating system that could put hundreds of millions of PCs at risk of infection by spyware or viruses.

The news marks the latest security setback for Microsoft, the world’s biggest software company, whose Windows operating system is a favourite target for hackers.

“The potential [security threat] is huge,” said Mikko Hyppönen, chief research officer at F-Secure, an antivirus company. “It’s probably bigger than for any other vulnerability we’ve seen. Any version of Windows is vulnerable right now.”

“We haven’t seen anything that bad yet, but multiple individuals and groups are exploiting this vulnerability,” Mr Hyppönen said. He said that every Windows system shipped since 1990 contained the flaw.

As you might imagine, the FT article is short on technical details. You can find those details at the Internet Storm Center.

Microsoft does not have a patch available. But, Ilfak Guilfanov, a Russian programmer in Belgium, wrote a patch himself. Download it, and get instructions, here.

I think it really is telling that one guy in Belgium was able to get a patch out faster than the huge, powerful company that wrote the program and has access to the source code. Hmm.

The patch is for Windows 2000, Windows XP, (SP1 and SP2), Windows 2003.

ISC says:

Note: If you’re still running on Win98/ME, this is a watershed moment: we believe (untested) that your system is vulnerable and there will be no patch from MS. Your mitigation options are very limited. You really need to upgrade.

Well, I still have an old laptop runing Windows 98. Maybe I’ll switch it over to Windows 3.1. ;-)

My main computer runs Linux. If you don’t want to worry about this sort of thing, use Linux. (Or Mac, or BSD, or …)

October 30, 2005

Peace and Opportunities

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:51 pm

A reader writes:

Somehow, I think the headline to this article is over-hopeful:

“Israelis, Palestinians to Cease Fighting”

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer

Not only is it over-hopeful, but it underscores the futility of Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza:

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to halt nearly a week of fighting after militant groups pledged to halt rocket fire on southern Israeli towns, Palestinian officials said Sunday.

The deal, which Israeli officials refused to confirm, would bring an end to the second serious round of violence since Israel completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip last month.

Remember the whole point of the withdrawal from Gaza was that it was supposed to reduce violence. Palestinians in Gaza were attacking and killing Jews with rockets, suicide bombers, and sniper attacks, and the “solution” was clear — get the Jews out, and the Palestinians will stop fighting, because they are jusdt upset that Jews live among them.

Turns out, of course, that they are upset Jews live anywhere, and they’ll attack Jews anytime they can get within rocket range of them. And it’s a lot easier for them to obtain, set up, and use the rockets, now that they have Gaza all to themselves.

Of course, the article has yet another example of how the media can use the pretense of objectivity to mislead people as to what’s going on:

While many had expected the withdrawal to restart peace efforts, the two sides have so far failed to capitalize on the opportunity.

The “two sides”? Read that carefully: one side withdraws from an area and expels their own citizens for the sake of peace, and the other side responds by shooting rockets into the other side’s residential neighborhoods. But “the two sides” have “failed to capitalize on the opportunity”? One of them created the opportunity! It was the other side that failed to capitalize on the opportunity — or more precisely, they capitalized an the opportunity: the opportunity to shoot more rockets and kill more Jews, not the opportunity for peace.

Peace which, apparently, is not their objective. Any policy predicated on the assumption — contrary to all evidence — that peace is their objective is doomed to failure.

August 1, 2005

British Police, Treatment of Suspects, and Double Standards (2)

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:26 pm

When the British police held a suspected terrorist to the floor and shot him dead, I speculated that perhaps this Middle-Eastern-looking suspected terrrorist who had in effect been summarily executed might not in fact have been an actual terrorist.

By now we all know that in fact he was not a terrorist, the “wires trailing from his jacket” were probably related to his job as an electrician, and that he was not an Arab or a Pakistani Muslim but in fact a Brazilian (presumably Christian).

Which is precisely why there are supposed to be investigations and trials before criminals are executed — you are supposed to make sure, at a minimum, that the person you are executing is actually a criminal!

I am utterly horrified by this. And, one of the things that makes me proud to be an American is that American police did not react this way after 9/11/01. A lot of “suspected terrorists” were arrested, some were tried and convicted, most were released, and none were summarily executed. (In fact, none were executed at all.) Even many of those captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq — captured in the act of armed attacks in defense of terrorist camps — were sent to Guantánamo rather than killed on sight — or beheaded on videotape like they would have done to our people.

I’m sure the terrorists view the fact that we imprison and feed them rather than behead them as a sign of our weakness, but it is really a sign of our (moral) strength.

July 22, 2005

British Police, Treatment of Suspects, and Double Standards

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:37 pm

When I was growing up, I was frequently exposed to the idealistic story that Britain was so peaceful that even British police did not carry guns. I don’t know if it was true at the time, but it is surely not true now — neither the part of about Britain being nearly crime-free, nor of the British police being unarmed. Violent crime in Britain has skyrocketed since 1997, the year that Britain banned private ownership of handguns. (Not surprisingly, opponents of gun control see a cause-and-effect relationship here.)

And, British police now carry guns. And they use them like this:

Eyewitnesses described mayhem at Stockwell Tube station today after a suspected suicide bomber was shot dead fleeing from armed police.

One said the man was shot five times as he ran on to a Northern line train soon after 10am.

Scotland Yard have confirmed they shot a man and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Witness Mark Whitby … “An Asian [meaning South Asian, which in London usually measns Pakistani Muslim -- DR] guy ran on to the train. As he ran, he was hotly pursued by what I knew to be three plain-clothes police officers.”

He tripped and was also pushed to the floor and one of the officers shot him five times.

“One of the police officers was holding a black automatic pistol in his left hand. They held it down to him and unloaded five shots into him. I saw it.

He’s dead, five shots, he’s dead.”

He continued: “As the man got on the train I looked at his face. He looked from left to right, but he basically looked like a cornered rabbit, like a cornered fox.

“He looked absolutely petrified.

“He sort of tripped but they were hotly pursuing him and couldn’t have been more than two or three feet behind him at this time.

“He half-tripped, was half-pushed to the floor.

“The policeman nearest to me had the black automatic pistol in his left hand, he held it down to the guy and unloaded five shots into him.

“He looked like a Pakistani but he had a baseball cap on, and quite a thickish coat.["]

Now think about this for a moment — the police are holding an ethnic-minority guy down on the floor, and a police officer holds a gun right up to him and pumps five shots into him at point blank range as other officers hold him down.

Can you imagine the outcry if police in the United States were to do something like this? If they were already holding and physically controlling a suspect, and they shot him anyway? If several police officers calmly held a suspect to the floor for another officer to shoot him without even having to aim?

You don’t have to if you rememer the massive outcry that nearly brought down the Giuliani administration in New York City when Amadou Diallo was shot by police — and Diallo was not restrained; police though he was reaching for a weapon (it turned out to be his wallet).

You don’t have to if you rememer the Rodney King case — Rodney King was not only not controlled, he was actively fighting the officers, having already been shocked with a Taser to no apparent effect. And he was not even shot, but (merely) beaten; he survived with no permanent injuries. Yet two of the police officers went to jail for that. (Rodney King himself went free.)

Some will say that this case is different — that the Pakistani was a terrorism suspect who had been fleeing police. But how do you think Americans, including the American press (and even me!), would have reacted if two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, New York police had chased down a Muslim, held him to the floor of a subway, and summarily killed him? Even if this is a war more than a crime, you just don’t do things like that.

In fact, even our soldiers and marines don’t shoot people they know are terrorists, once they have physical control over them. That’s why we have all those prisoners at Guantánamo — those are all people who could have been held down and shot rather than held down and captured.

But Americans don’t kill their enemies in a fit of passion after capturing — they give them first aid, sometimes even if the medic giving the first aid was just shot by the terrorists. I think it’s time to review this story from earlier this week.

July 15, 2005

Security Stupidity

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:13 pm

I know just a few people in the security industry, but they all seem to agree that the post-9/11/01 airplane rules — e.g., no nail clippers on planes — are more for show than for security. If you think this is altogether too cynical, consider this account of a charted flight bringing Georgia Army National Guard troops to Kuwait (on their way to Iraq):

Speaking to 280 fellow soldiers before they boarded a chartered DC-10 at the start of their marathon flight from Savannah to Kuwait City earlier this week, King was thunderous, blunt and well armed with an M-16 rifle slung over his shoulder.

King, who in civilian life is the Doraville police chief, rolled his eyes at the FAA regulation that requires soldiers — all of whom were armed with an arsenal of assault rifles, shotguns and pistols — to surrender pocket knives, nose hair scissors and cigarette lighters.

“If you have any of those things,” he said, almost apologetically, “put them in this box now.”

It’s amazing — for some reason the rules about guns didn’t apply to them, but the rules against nail clippers did.

In what world does this make sense?

(Hat tip: Bruce Schneier.)

June 7, 2005

Physical Information Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:28 am

Information security professionals put a lot of effort into securing electronic access to, and transmissions of, sensitive data. They require passwords and other forms of authentication to determine whether access is permitted, and encryption when data is transmitted, to prevent it from being read by the wrong people.

But all the “information security” in the world is worthless if you can’t guarantee the physical security of the device(s) that store (or use) the data in its unencrypted form.

This point has been brought home today by the revelation that a box of data tapes containing information on 3.9 million CitiGroup customers was lost by United Parcel Service. Basically, the UPS guy picked up a shipment of several boxes of data tapes being sent from CitiGroup to te credit reporting agency Experian, and one of the tapes never made it. UPS has no idea where it is. It’s completely lost. (UPS has taken responsibility for the loss.)

Or is it? My guess is that while UPS ships millions, maybe billions of packages and no doubt loses lots of them, that the percentage of packages lost is miniscule. The percentage of packages containing sensitive consumer financial data is even more miniscule. If these guesses are both true, then the probability that a box containing sensitive consumer financial data is lost is vanishingly small — suggesting that, perhaps, it was stolen rather than lost.

However, this commenter on the Slashdot posting on this story suggest that perhaps my guess is wrong. He claims that “at least” 0.1% (that is, 1 in 1,000) of all packages are lost or damaged by UPS. If that’s true, it’s really a huge number of losses if you think about it. And it suggests that CitiGroup and Experian should not have been communicating using unencrypted data tapes sent through UPS — no matter how willing UPS is to “take responsibility.”

April 28, 2005

LAX Security

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:08 pm

This past weekend, I went to Southern California, and for the first time in several years I used Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) instead of Long Beach or Orange County. Soon after landing, I started seeing signs everywhere saying “LAX this” and “LAX that,” and I immediately thought it would be great if the security staff had a logo on their shirts or jackets that said “LAX SECURITY.” In fact, those windbreakers police and FBI agents sometimes where, with only the word “POLICE” or “FBI” in block letters on the back would be a great model for a novelty item — jackets that say “LAX SECURITY,” which could then be used to test how “lax” the security at LAX really is — put on a jacket, grab a walkie-talkie, and see where they let you in without asking questions….

Trouble is, security at LAX might be plently lax anyway — or at least, severely misguided, as shown by an event that occurred when I came back to the airport for my return flight. In line to go through the metal detector, I had just reached the front when a uniformed TSA security screener broke into the line, said (politely) something to the effect of “hold on, let these people through” and allowed a large group (half-dozen?) of other uniformed TSA security screeners into the line in front of me. It was a new batch of screeners, arriving to begin their shift. Some of them put some things on the x-ray conveyor belt, and they all walked through the metal detector. “What, you have to be screened?” I asked one of them. “Yes, everybody has to be screened — and if it beeps I have to be wanded just like you,” he answered.

Now if we think about this for even a moment, we should see that this is really strange, and really disturbing. The obvious implication is that from the standpoint of security, the screeners themselves are not considered “trusted” — that is, they might not only possess some hidden weapon, but would be considered a threat to security if they did. Now, this may or may not be a valid assumption, depending on how well they screen the screeners during the employment process. But either way, the implications are not good:

  • Suppose the screeners can, in fact, be trusted — but they have to go through the metal detectors to satisfy some bizarre notion of fairness to social equality. This is harmless in itself (the line was only delayed by a minute or less), but it guarantees that (a) the screeners will all be unarmed, and (b) the public — which has to see them go through otherwise they would not know how “fair” everything is — will know they are unarmed. This means that terrorists will also know the screeners are unarmed. This is fine if they are just trying to stop a retired general from traveling with his Congressional Medal of Honor. But for terrorists, it basically means that they can get through with weapons even if they are detected — what’s the screener going to do to stop them? (Call someone else to shut down the terminal? They seem to do a lot of that — but a clever terrorist could point the gun or knife at the screener who’d just detected it and say something like, “my buddy’s in line behind me with a gun watching us, and if you say a word, he’ll shoot you and run.”)
  • On the other hand, suppose the screeners cannot be trusted. In this case, screening the screeners doesn’t help.
    • First, they are trusting the screeners to screen each other, perhaps under the assumption that even if one screener is not trustworthy, the likelihood that screener being screened by another untrustworthy screener is small. This assumes, probably incorrectly, that two terrorism-inclined screeners could not arrange for one to screen the other.
    • But even if you assume that they couldn’t — or that terrorism-inclined screeners are rare enough that they chances of one being screened by a trustworthy screener are high — it doesn’t matter. Because if a screener cannot be trusted with a weapon, he can’t be trusted to keep other people with weapons out, either. In other words, if you are a terrorist “organization” with at least two members, one of you can get a job as a screener, show up to work without any suspcious items, and then let the other through the screening checkpoint with a gun in every pocket.

In other words, the mere fact that they find it necessary, or even desirable, to make the screeners walk through the metal detectors shows that the security at LAX is just lax security — if even that.


Clarification: They don’t actually have jackets that say “LAX Security.” I just thought it would be really funny if they did.

April 18, 2005

Secret Service protecting expectant duck

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:33 pm

From here.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Security is tight in front of the White House for a new resident — a Mallard hen sitting on nine eggs she laid at the foot of a sapling over the weekend.

The mother duck chose for her nest a fresh heap of mulch on the sidewalk outside the heavily guarded entrance of the Treasury Department, next door to the presidential residence.

Secret Service officers have erected metal stanchions around the tree to shield the incubating bird from passersby on the crowded pedestrian plaza in the heart of the U.S. capital.

The Pennsylvania Avenue fowl’s reputation has grown, and it was featured on a national morning television show on Friday.

“I’m getting more calls on this than on the Chinese currency,” Treasury spokesman Rob Nichols said.

Treasury staff have dubbed the bird “T-bill”, “Duck Cheney”, and “Quacks Reform”, Nichols said.

Treasury Secretary John Snow, who “had been briefed on the duck”, paused to pay it a visit after testifying before Congress on Thursday, the spokesman added.

The mallard chicks are expected to hatch at the end of the month.

UPDATE: The ducks hatched on April 30. On May 1, government biologists captured them, and the Secret Service took them to Rock Creek Park, where we hope they will be very happy. It is not known whether the stay at the Treasury Department gave Mrs. Duck the idea to invest in T-Bills….

Gun Safety in the Schools

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:32 am

My one-time (college freshman year) roommate is one of the smartest, most out-of-the-box thinkers I know. We used to (and sometimes still) talk about all sorts of things, and one of the things we talked about 17 years ago (egads!) was anything and everything about airlines and politics. He once called up SaudiArabian Airlines and asked for a flight to Israel, just for kicks. When told they don’t have flights to Israel (of course), he said, “But it is there, right?” The guy on the other end of the phone said “Yes,” and my friend then told him that since the airline was owned by the Saudi government, and he was therefore an employee of the Saudi government that he — and therefore the Saudi government — had just rec0gnized the existience of the State of Israel. It was one of those moments when you wished you had a videophone to see the look on the guy’s face.

He also had another brilliant idea: we could end all airline hijackings, if we would hand every passenger a gun as he or she got on the plane. “But,” I said, “most people don’t know how to use guns these days.” Even if only a few people need to be able to shoot straight to deter terrorists, people are so ignorant about guns these days that they’ll shoot them by mistake even when there are no hijackers.

“Well, people would have to learn, then,” he said.

“But it would have to be everybody! You’d have to totally re-organize society.” I said.

“Yes, everybody would have to learn,” he said.

“You mean like, have a course for everybody in high school, like driver’s ed?”

“Yes, like that!” he beamed. I’d solved his problem.

Lots of things have changed since 1988. For one things, 35 of the 50 states have passed laws that allow essentially any non-felon to carry a concealed handgun. And, like so many things I thought in 1988 that would never happen in my lifetime — from the fall of the Berlin Wall on down — we might someday see this, too.

Marksmanship for High School Diploma Enacted

[Arizona] Governor Signs Bill, Teaches Actual Gun Safety

A gun-safety bill for children breaks new ground. Worth one credit toward a high school diploma, the course requires Arizona students to safely discharge a firearm at a target to pass. American high schools used to have firing ranges in the basement, but the tradition began fading in the late 1960s. Gun-rights proponents believe that training and education leads to increased safety and responsible behavior.

The bill’s designers, concerned that “gun safety” could be turned into “gun avoidance” by gun-control politics, included statutory rules like the “shoot safely” requirement, to prevent unintended change. Other requirements include: Instruction on the role of firearms in preserving peace and freedom; the constitutional roots of the right to keep and bear arms; the history of firearms and marksmanship; the basic operation of firearms; practice time at a shooting range, and more.

The Arizona Game and Fish Dept. (AGFD), specified by law as the course instructors, are discussing the specifics of the curriculum. AGFD has currently trained more than 18,000 school students in archery, a shooting sport, and are pleased with the final version of the bill, which they supported.

The law began as an idea and rough draft from Bloomfield Press publisher Alan Korwin, who asked, “Why don’t we make marksmanship a requirement for a high school diploma? We know many kids get no gun-safety training, and marksmanship teaches responsibility, improves concentration, and affects national preparedness.” Because a required course would have budget implications and likely sink the bill, State Senator Karen Johnson introduced the class as an elective. It sailed through the Senate unanimously, and through the House by a veto-proof nearly three-to-one margin. Governor Janet Napolitano signed it into law on April 11 (the text follows [See here]).

One television reporter, obviously nervous about providing such education, asked, “Don’t you think kids will rush to line up just so they can get a chance to go shooting?” Without hesitating Korwin replied, “If it’s that popular, and kids get all that safety training and experience, that would be a good thing.”

April 13, 2005

Vatican Security Challenges

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:30 pm

Natasha Bita of The Australian reports on the security arangements for the conclave to determine the next Pope:

Security specialists are sweeping the Vatican for bugs and installing jamming devices to stop any errant cardinals using their mobile phones in the lead-up to next week’s secret papal vote.

Wary of secret service agents, nosey journalists and even greedy gamblers spying on the conclave’s deliberations, the Vatican has hired espionage experts to inspect the Sistine Chapel for hidden microphones and spy cameras.

The security squad will rip open cushions, scrutinise carpets, inspect ventilation shafts and check that pipes, electrical wiring and lights are where they are supposed to be, La Repubblica newspaper reported yesterday.

It said the security experts were worried about laser microphones that can eavesdrop on conversations 400m away by recording vibrations on the windows of the Sistine Chapel.

The 115 cardinals who gather in the chapel on Monday to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.1billion Catholics will be asked to surrender their mobile phones, tape recorders and electronic organisers at the door.

All of this makes sense, in a sense, if they really want to keep the meeting secret, which they obviously do. Of course, there is one really odd contradiction, leading to one (possible) vulnerability, of which there seems to be at least one in every security arrangement these days:

The cardinals will be frisked by guards supervised by the papal chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo of Spain.

La Stampa newspaper reported that the Vatican would use US technology to jam GSM, dual and tri-band mobile phones with an electromagnetic “wall” covering the cardinals’ hotel-style residence of St Martha’s — built between 1992 and 1996 with the succession process in mind — the Sistine Chapel and the 1km road linking them.

And as a cone of silence drops over the Vatican, voting cardinals will be denied access to newspapers, radio and television, while steps will be taken to stop them having chance encounters with cleaning staff.

So, it seems that somebody does not entirely trust the Cardinals not to hide a mobile phone from the guards and then use it anyway. Putting aside any theological issues, keep this in mind for the next point:

The late Pope John Paul II, worried that media analysis of papal candidates would threaten cardinals’ “independent judgment” in the lead-up to their vote, imposed the ban by changing the church constitution in 1996. It bars the use of any technology that can be used to record or transmit voices, images or writin

Apart from the cardinals, the constitution permits within the conclave precinct only enough priests to take confession in any language, two doctors, cleaners and catering staff, and two trusted technicians to sweep for electronic bugs.

Now, I’m not a Catholic, so forgive me if any of this is based on some misunderstanding about Catholic rules, but I see a glaring contradiction here. Suppose we assume that confessions are supposed to be confidential (that’s one of the rules, right?) and that conclave deliberations are supposed to be confidential (that’s clear from the article). In order for this to work, the priests who take confession from the Cardinals have to be completely trusted not to reveal what they say, right? They also have to be trusted not to use the confession as an opportunity to influence the Cardinal who’s confessing, nor to use the confession as an opportunity to pass information between the outside world and the conclave. However, for some reason the Cardinals are obviously not completely trusted not to bring a cell phone into the conclave grounds — and use it — in violation of the rules.

Hence, the contradiction: Why is it that the priests are trusted, but the Cardinals are not trusted?

Are the priests going to be sequestered also? Even if they are, they might still be able to use their position to influence the Cardinals, and if I understand things correctly, no one is supposed to influence them during the conclave. (Catholics, help me out here: is there a reason why the Cardinals can’t just confess before and after the conclave?)

(By the way, it’s probably a good idea to ban cell phones from the premises, even if they trust the Cardinals not to use them. Why? It’s possible that some nefarious person could hide a bug in some Cardinal’s cell phone and eavesdrop on the proceedings. However, this would not require frisking and all that.)

There may also be the problem of making sure no one manages to kidnap a Cardinal and replace him with an imposter who’s not a Cardinal. These guys are from all over the world, and don’t meet together all that often. I wonder how they verify that the person who was recently appointed (and less personally-known to the others) is who he says he is.

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