September 1, 2004
SANITIZING WAR: Clean-up of dead guy art
INFORMATION SHARING: 9/11 Commission remedy or same old song and dance?
ASSORTED FIENDS, CRIMINALS & KOOKS
MICE SAVED FROM RICIN
THE DAILY SCAREMONGER
SANITIZING WAR: Central Command cleans record of dead guy art
Before and during the prosecution of Iraqi Freedom, Central Command carried out an extensive psychological operations campaign against the regime of Saddam Hussein. Part of this operation included the air dropping of tons of leaflets on that country.
Originally, Uncle Sam was proud of this leafleting campaign. The news media spoke of how America's air-delivered postcard art would convince Iraqis that our forces meant them no harm. The general message of many of the leaflets was that Iraqis would surely be safe if they just got out of the way and let the air force finish with Saddam and his minions.
These leaflets were freely displayed by Central Command at one time. However, as the fortunes of war have turned sour, the display was redacted at some point. Troubling artwork was removed from the military's public record and replaced with dummy "Image Not Available" files. A couple of the removals may be attempts at sanitization of the campaign. Other redactions are simply mystifying.
A natural for military censorship appears to have been one leaflet showing an Iraqi soldier's head superimposed on a fireball, followed by an image of mourners. It's message was blunt: Don't shoot at American warplanes or they'll blow your head off.
In similar manner, another leaflet, showing a dead soldier who did not heed such words of warning, has been erased.
Since millions of the leaflets were dropped on Iraq they are common as munitions in that country. A veteran of the war informs National Security Notes that enterprising vendors and beggars scavenge them up for resale as very cheap souvenirs of war.
A serial display of the redacted leaflets along with comment, can be found here:
Central Command's "Image Not Available" Iraqi Freedom leaflet gallery is here:
An older mirror of the entire uncensored collection is here:
And T-shirts showing Iraqi Freedom leaflet art are here:
Do Not Use Weapons of Mass Destruction T-shirt http://www.cafepress.com/cp/prod.aspx?p=samandjdams.13241461
Do What You Must to Survive WMDs T-shirt http://www.cafepress.com/cp/prod.aspx?p=samandjdams.13242180
INFORMATION SHARING: Righteous recommendation of the 9/11 Commission report or just the same old song and dance?
One of recommendations delivered by the 9/11 Commission as a nostrum to protect against future terrorist attacks was the buzz term "information sharing." "Information sharing" as a national antibiotic against terrorism asks one to embrace the idea that there is always a miraculous piece of news or data, buried somewhere in the collection process of intelligence agencies, that would make things all better and foil attacks, if only it where put into the right hands in the nick of time.
It's a regular fancy, one that has been around since well before 9/11, and an idea that appeals to the American belief that there is always at least one piece of pure silver, possibly more, hidden in any mountainous pile of crap. And sustaining the belief in it gives a reason for hope that something useful can eventually be made of the maze of a dozen secretive national intelligence agencies, all of which are going in the opposite direction, that is, making secret, classified and irretrievable more information than ever.
Recommending "information sharing" is also an evergreen for making people look good. It's something anyone can think of, an appealing characteristic when officials are scrambling to come up with suggestions to fix things that appear broken beyond repair.
The 9/11 Commission demurs to another entity in the cause of information sharing, the Markle Foundation, which recommends improving "technology."
The "information sharing" cure is explained this way by the president of the Markle Foundation in a recent report from the BBC:
[The President of the Markle Foundation, Zoe Baird] assembled a task force two years ago to tackle [the problem of information sharing].
"[Baird] brought together computer engineers, ex-intelligence officials, and privacy experts in a quest to figure out how to make government data sharing smarter.
"Their answer was to link all of the existing intelligence databases into a network."
Ah, a mega-mega computer network of information for sharing. Why didn't we think of it sooner?
For the BBC, Baird explained:
"Say there was a field agent in the Chicago FBI office, and a CIA operative in Kabul," she said.
"Each got different bits of information that if put together might point to a biowarfare attack in Chicago. Under the current system, the reports from these two agents are unlikely to ever find each other," she continued.
But under the new, improved Markle Foundation-recommended information sharing mega-networked database, "These reports would be linked by technology because they would contain similar words like virus or Chicago."
And Chicago would be saved.
National Security Notes performed a brief exercise with another massively distributed mega-network of information, the Internet, using an often said to be modern, state-of-the-art searching and parsing software engine, Google.
Results: 717,000 hits for "Chicago" and "virus." That's the ticket.
In testimony before the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations from the House Committee on Government Reform, Bill Crowell, another Markle expert explained the networked information sharing remedy this way:
"The SHARE Network is a decentralized, loosely coupled, secure and trusted network that sends information to and pulls information from all participants in the system," insisted Crowell. "Such an approach empowers all participants, from local law enforcement officers to senior policy makers. Our approach combines policy and technical solutions to create a network that would substantially improve our ability to predict and prevent terrorist attacks."
"The SHARE Network is based on the 'write to share' concept and moves us from a system based on classification to one based on authorization. By taking steps like creating 'tear line' reports, in which an agency produces a less classified, or unclassified version, along with the classified version, SHARE encourages reports that contain the maximum possible amount of sharable information...
"In addition, SHARE would use existing technologies that can facilitate the sharing of sensitive information. For example, screening tools could be used to assist in the redaction process when moving information across security levels. Screening tools can automatically alert disseminators when potentially sensitive information is about to be transmitted, or when information may be about to be sent to parties that lack the requisite permission to receive it. Semi-automated systems could also suggest special-handling guidelines as well as who should be included on dissemination lists."
The astute reader will have just noticed that the preceding paragraph actually indicates how the allegedly information sharing SHARE network is designed to make information more difficult to "share," that is to automatically "redact" and protect it from improper dissemination.
Now, if you think that most of this sounds like the rote gibberish of someone who believes that by repeating the word "share" enough and in capital letters as the name of yet another technology, people will be convinced of fabulousness, you are not alone. Reading it emanating from a supposedly august body does not inspire good feelings, like confidence that common sense is being used. Yes, one can be sure intelligence agencies will henceforth "write to share" because their system of systems is called SHARE.
Such beliefs also ignore the obvious. One cannot eliminate surprise, ambushes and bloody reverses from the processes of war and manmade disaster by shouting "share information" and buying more hardware, software and consulting services from the private sector, which is where this excrement says the widgets of salvation are to be found. Prominent members of the Markle board that have come up with this include Microsoft's "top technology official," Craig Mundie, James Barksdale, formerly of Netscape, a chief researcher at Sun Microsystems and Gilman Louie, the CIA's "venture capital chief," whose job it is to find companies in the tech industry to reward/award with the treasure of taxpayers.
==== The entirety of the Crowell SHARE statement archived at the FAS is here:
The full text of the story with quote by Zoe Baird for the BBC is here:
ASSORTED FIENDS, CRIMINALS & KOOKS
Download non-working Internet recipe for ricin to make unwanted friends and influence people! A collection of recent news items.
"Two lesbian lovers who authorities said confessed to several failed murder plots after they were arrested in Imperial County with the poison ricin in their car pleaded guilty to attempted murder [on August 9] reported the San Diego Union Tribune.
Astrid Tepatti and Ebony Woods were criminals fit for a comedy-drama made in Hollywood, one in which two boobs hatch ridiculous plots to kill a husband and through ineptitude, happily fail.
In one plot Tepatti tried to shoot her sleeping spouse with a revolver, using a potato given to her by Woods for a silencer. The shot missed and the bullet was recovered from a sofa for the criminal case.
In another attempt, the women hired a hitman to stab the husband for $10,000. The attack was made on the beach at Oceanside, California, and was a near miss. The attacker ran off and a hospital visit was required to remove part of the knife from the victim's neck.
In yet another attempt, the women tried to drug the man, a Marine, with Valium and tranquilizers. He was made sleepy.
When finally arrested as a result of the failed potato-silenced gun shooting, the women were also found in possession of a "recipe for ricin" downloaded from a white supremacist site on the Internet and bags of powder, allegedly ground castor beans.
Astrid Tepatti "faces six years in prison," reported the San Diego newspaper. Ebony Woods faces six to nine, the extra time for planning to collect on a life insurance policy owned by the husband.
The news was originally sent nationwide with the hook that the women were planning to use ricin to poison the husband. But no mention of ricin made it to the conclusion. Someone familiar with the case firsthand communicated to National Security Notes that based "on their incompetence at other criminal endeavors and the fact [the women] were never charged with ricin possession," whatever was in the baggies was of little account.
This case contrasts with the ricin case of Ken Olsen of Spokane, Washington. Although Olsen was not convicted on attempted murder and did not have a history of evil as exhibited by the San Diego women, he received fourteen years -- a significantly more severe sentence -- for essentially having "purified ricin" from the same Internet recipe that National Security Notes has examined in past issues.
The troubled autistic man =========================
Robert Alberg, a Kirkland, Washington, man with Asperger's Disorder, recently admitted that he "cooked up" a batch of ricin in his apartment, by way of an article from the Seattle Post. The plea was part of an agreement that gave him five years probation, mental health treatment and placement in a group home for the impaired.
Alberg was arrested earlier in the year by the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force acting on a tip from Gurney's Seed & Nursery, which sold Alberg five pounds of castor seeds. The FBI found castor seed mash at Alberg's residence and jars labeled "caution ricin poison."
The gun nut ===========
At the end of June, Michael Crooker, a New England man with a felony conviction for fraud and admitting to illegally owning a machine gun, was arrested by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officers for forbidden interstate transport of a firearm. "[A] cache of biological agents and bomb-making materials" was also discovered in his apartment, according to lurid newspaper reports.
In late August, Crooker was denied the option of house arrest while awaiting trial on a weapons charge because he posed a danger to the community. The judgment was arrived at because Crooker was said to have "components to make explosives and potentially lethal biological agents" in his apartment, according to federal prosecutors. The biological agents were castor seeds, lye and rosary peas.
Crooker is apparently the author of a pamphlet entitled "A Felon's Guide To Legal Firearms Ownership," which retails for $4.95 on the website of Firing Pin Enterprizes, a Phoenix, AZ, company. Firing Pin Enterprizes explains: "The writer of this piece is a convicted felon who wanted to learn how he might, even in a limited way, continue to own weapons for recreational shooting, collecting and self-protection. After some research he found there are actually many weapons even a felon might possess without fear of prosecution."
Firing Pin Enterprizes is an example of the standard website selling literature purported to educate and entertain people, including the Michael Crookers of the USA, on the finer details of turning the living room into a machine gun post for those times in life when the government becomes tyrannical. Of course, such a website would not be complete without various editions of "The Poor Man's James Bond" and Firing Pin advertises them. Readers of National Security Notes already know editions of these pamphlets were one of the sources for the "Internet recipe for ricin."
The berserker =============
"Weapons, ammunition and suspicious chemicals -- including the precursor to the toxic agent ricin -- were found Sunday in the home of [one] Steven Aubrey, [an Aurora man] who is suspected of killing his wife last week before killing himself," reported the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago on August 31.
Aubrey had gone on a berserk rampage involving a carjacking, a gunfight with police and his subsequent suicide. Aubrey is also suspected of having strangled his wife to death.
Castor seeds were found in Aubrey's home and "[the] FBI's hazardous materials and weapons of mass destruction teams are investigating..." reported the Herald. Although no ricin was purified, a significant gun collection was attributed to Aubrey, including an "AR-15, AK-47, 9mm handgun, shotgun and a 'sniper rifle.'"
The anonymous fiend ===================
On July 29 it was discovered that an anonymous fiend in Orange County, California, had contaminated jars of Gerber's baby food with crushed castor seed. Notes in the contaminated jars warning of the plot were not discovered until after consumption of some of the food which, happily, did no harm to a 9-month old girl and a 1-year old boy.
Original news reports were faced with the tough gymnastic of having to explain why consuming fragments of castor seeds, long written of as containing ricin -- an easy source for a weapon of mass destruction and terror, did not result in poisoning. So they didn't.
The Food and Drug Association found ricin -- which is the case for all government assays which examine the mash of castor seeds. These assays detect vanishingly small amounts.
Finally, it is worth emphasizing that lately the cases of ricin in the news during the war on terror implicate Americans far more often than they mention Islamic terrorists. And these Americans are invariably stupid criminals or the mentally ill, people who have been utterly convinced that one can "make ricin" from something as simple-minded as an Internet recipe or a pamphlet with a title like "The Poor Man's James Bond." They believe this because they have been told of the rightness of it mercilessly by their acquaintances, the newsmedia, politicians and terror experts.
It is also a fact that the FBI treats people caught in possession of castor seeds, ground castor seeds, lye and an Internet recipe for ricin as intended agents of bioterrorism.
This is a peculiar achievement but not something of which to be proud: an ugly gift to the world via the Internet, courtesy of the mean-spirited Yankee idiot. Ricin recipes, ones that don't accomplish anything notable but a trip to jail and a reputation as a very bad person for their users/owners, written originally by Americans for Americans and distributed by Americans.
A quick summary of "ricin recipes" from the Internet:
A discussion of the recipe implicated in the cases cited in this article:
MICE SAVED FROM RICIN
This summer, the scientific journal Protein Engineering, Design and Selection published a scholarly paper on work on a ricin vaccine by scientists from the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick. Entitled "Finding a new vaccine in the ricin protein fold," the paper described the development and successful testing of a ricin vaccine which protects mice.
By any scientific standard it is intriguing work involving the molecular point manipulation of a subunit of the ricin protein in search of a vaccinating material that immunizes mammals and is safe. The ricin protein consists of two long strings of amino-acids, the building blocks of proteins, assembled into an A-chain and a B-chain. The B-chain in wild ricin is responsible for transporting the A-chain across the cell wall where the latter poisons protein synthesis.
By using only the A-chain of ricin in an artificially-made new form, the scientists hoped to produce a vaccine without residual toxic effect on mice -- which are exquisitely sensitive to ricin. The changing of the A-chain was also done to make the vaccine ricin component more stable to heat, a problem with native ricin which is not heat stable, and less likely to clump with itself.
The paper, as published, indicates that they were successful and that mice, immunized with the formulation, survived being "gassed" with pure ricin in concentrations between five and ten times what would be required to kill them in aerosol form. Those not immunized ... Scientists buy their purified ricin -- and it does not come from Internet recipes, but from Vector, a company in Burlingame, California.
United States Patent Application 20030181665, which also appears to address the recent Ft. Detrick work, was filed on September 25, 2003 and is entitled "Ricin vaccine and methods of making and using thereof."
Although very interesting, it should be noted the military has been immunizing rodents to ricin for some time. Different teams at Ft. Detrick have published on it and even Porton Down, Britain's old chemical and biowarfare center, has announced scientific papers proclaiming the immunization of rats. And two years ago University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center published success in immunizing mice against injected ricin with another A-chain vaccine, although one -different- than USAMRIID's.
Such vaccine efforts are driven by statements like "[large] stockpiles of ricin, a protein produced by castor beans, have been found in several Middle Eastern countries," which accompanied UTSW press releases.
And under BioShield legislation, there is money for the pursuit of ricin nostrums. University of Texas Southwestern Med Center has licensed its mouse vaccine to DOR Biopharma, Inc., for further development. Retired General Al Haig is the chairman of the board of the company.
Who would benefit from a possible ricin vaccine, besides holders of patents on it and sellers underwritten by BioShield? If it can be developed, people who work with ricin in biodefense might be candidates. But no one else really fits the bill. A ricin vaccine would not be helpful to babies that have already eaten fragments of castor beans and it would not save any future Georgi Markovs. And it is highly unlikely that the public could be persuaded to take it anymore than it could be persuaded to take a new smallpox vaccine, -unless- fear of ricin attack were ginned up to hysterical proportion. On the other hand, government could mandate that fighting men take a ricin vaccine, as it has done with an anthrax vaccine.
"Finding a new vaccine in the protein fold" can be found here:
Readers may have to pay for access to it.
THE DAILY SCAREMONGER
If you have been going to the movies lately you may have noticed that documentaries like "Fahrenheit 9/11" and "Outfoxed" make points about the right using fear to hector and goad the polity into supporting rash adventures. However, the phenomenon of the daily scaremonger is a truly bipartisan thing. That is, both left and right from the media to the national security complex embrace the spreading of fear of attack from every side.
The Daily Scaremonger is usually delivered as a report from a committee, or a news story, or a piece of intelligence too pressing in importance to keep from the people. Last month, National Security Notes focused on a report that the nation was faced with apocalypse from electromagnetic attack.
However, almost every day brings a helping of the Daily Scaremonger. For instance, on August 23, the Los Angeles Times reported "Farmlands Seen as Fertile for Terrorism." From Greeley, Colorado, a reporter wrote "[the] slaughterhouse on the edge of town has the feel of a military base lately."
This is because "the threat is agroterrorism -- the use of microbes ... to shake confidence in the US food supply..."
The story, like most serving of Daily Scaremonger, pretended to be balanced. But what it was was a gathering up of a handful of experts and apocrypha from the extremities of the story, presented as a consensus of clear and present danger. The Daily Scaremonger can be recognized by the highlighted quote, always simple but menacing, used to suggest attacks are easy, imminent, or both. For the Los Angeles Times, it appeared in bold italics: "The expertise needed to mount a serious attack is quite small. The amount of material needed -- you could hold it in a ballpoint pen," said Mark Wheelis, a UC Davis microbiologist.
For The Daily Scaremonger, inevitably, a Pentagon war game or simulation is trotted out. These exercises are common tools of our architects of fear and come with almost every book and long article on biological warfare, sort of like the plastic toy in a box of Cracker Jack. And they're always worst-case scenarios or constructed to show the alacrity with which doom arrives and the nation overturned. In this case, the Los Angeles Times reported on the Department of Defense's agroterrorism wargames called "Silent Prairie" and "Crimson Sky."
Of course, the country was torched by hoof and mouth disease. "Participants looked on with alarm as the simulated virus raced across America." There was "public panic leading to calls for martial law" and "billions" of dollars lost. The military was rendered powerless because all its bases were in hoof and mouth quarantined areas and it could not sally forth, said the newspaper.
"People in different towns were shooting each other" and starvation began to walk the land. Last issue's readers may recall that electromagnetic attack also caused starvation to walk the land.
By the time the end credits of the Daily Scaremonger roll, the smell of defeat always hangs heavy in the air and the grand, ridiculous or impossible are recommended. For electromagnetic attack it was national training regimens and replacement of every traffic light and switching box in the country. For the Los Angeles Times' agroterrorism article, it was digital tagging and biometrics for all cattle in the country, so that all could be tracked by Global Positioning System. And do not forget the nationwide installation of agroterrorism sniffing-machines which no one can afford.
Over sixty stories on "agroterrorism" were published by the news media over the end of the summer.
"'Cues from chatter' gathered around the world are raising concerns that terrorists might try to attack the domestic food and drug supply, particularly illegally imported prescription drugs, acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Lester M. Crawford [said], according to AP on August 13.
And on August 31, from the American Forces Press Services on defenselink.mil, soldiers and citizens are told: "Last fall, the FBI said terrorist manuals and documents recovered in Afghanistan specifically referred to two naturally occurring toxins -- nicotine, a substance found in [cigarettes] that is toxic when ingested, and solanine ... " Solanine is the material that causes green spots on potato chips (and those were the potato chips the neighbor and me liked to eat the most as kids).
Specifically, this is a distortion. The passage referred to here in the al Qaeda terrorism manual was dealt with in the March 3 issue of National Security Notes. "[This portion of the manual] also contains a passage which suggests that the consumption of three cigarettes could be used in assassinations," NSN wrote at the time. The sections on nicotine and solanine poisoning in the al Qaeda manual are brief and nonsensical. And Islamic holy warriors, again, did not create them. They were found in American pamphlets from the fringe and on electronic bulletin boards many years prior to 9/11. -----------
I wanted to respond to "The Bad Guy Foreign Legion" piece in the July 23 National Security Notes. I agree that the reference to bad guys is simplistic at best and generally damaging to the national discussion about the global war on terror (another misnomer). I think I can say where this terminology comes from. It is common "service-speak" to refer to the enemy combatant -- whether German or Vietnamese or Taliban -- as a bad guy as a form of shorthand that other service members could quickly understand, especially under the stress of combat operations.
However I think this shorthand became commonly used in the press as reporters began to speak to active combat units and interact with them more closely. Senior military commanders also began to use this term during briefs, especially after Gulf I, and it caught on from there. I think it's sloppy on the part of the commanders, but mores on the part of the press. It is pure laziness to refer to an enemy who requires greater explanation in comic book terms. I guess it's part of that xenophobia -- Irish, Bolsheviks, Reds, Krauts/Nips, Commies, Gooks, Japs again, Skinnies, Indian outsourcing -- that sweeps over us every couple of years or so.
-- An interested former serviceman
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National Security Notes is edited in Pasadena, California, by George Smith, Ph.D. who is many things, including a protein chemist and a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.Org.
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