Oh, Bloody Hell
Not precisely the Queen's English.
Is the Chinese government hacking the U.S. government's most critical network infrastructure? If so, is the U.S. government misprizing one of its best defenses?
So it would appear, considering the reported tribulations of former Sandia National Labs analyst Shawn Carpenter. Dubbed "Spiderman" by the U.S. Army, which - according to Carpenter - winkingly recruited him to help counterhack a mysterious group of cyberspies beginning in 2004, Carpenter soon uncovered a coordinated, ongoing, surgical assault on some of our most guarded electronic assets.
After first stumbling across the attackers in the course of his job at Sandia, Carpenter began pursuing them through cyberspace in his free time, making incredible headway at crawling undetected through their tangled global network, eventually tracing the activity back to servers in China.
From Time (emphasis and excerpting mine):
The hackers [Carpenter] was stalking, part of a cyberespionage ring that federal investigators code-named Titan Rain ... wanted all the files they could find, and they were getting them by penetrating secure computer networks at the country's most sensitive military bases, defense contractors and aerospace companies.
They would commandeer a hidden section of a hard drive, zip up as many files as possible and immediately transmit the data to way stations in South Korea, Hong Kong or Taiwan before sending them to mainland China. They always made a silent escape, wiping their electronic fingerprints clean and leaving behind an almost undetectable beacon allowing them to re-enter the machine at will. An entire attack took 10 to 30 minutes.
In Washington, officials are tight-lipped about Titan Rain, insisting all details of the case are classified. But high-level officials at three agencies told TIME the penetration is considered serious. A federal law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation says the FBI is "aggressively" pursuing the possibility that the Chinese government is behind the attacks.
Beyond worries about the sheer quantity of stolen data, a Department of Defense (DOD) alert obtained by TIME raises the concern that Titan Rain could be a point patrol for more serious assaults that could shut down or even take over a number of U.S. military networks.
Due to regulations against civilians working with military intelligence, Carpenter was shuffled from his capacity of unofficial assistance the Army to one of unofficial assistance to the FBI. Despite the FBI having acknowledged Carpenter's involvement, he has since been fired from his job at Sandia, stripped of his security clearance, cast off by the federal agencies he once volunteered to serve, and investigated for possible criminal prosecution.
The FBI would not tell TIME exactly what, if anything, it thought Carpenter had done wrong. Federal cyberintelligence agents use information from freelance sources like Carpenter at times but are also extremely leery about doing so, afraid that the independent trackers may jeopardize investigations by trailing foes too noisily or, even worse, may be bad guys themselves.
This is, needless to say, a curious development, given the potential seriousness of the threat:
...Carpenter found a stockpile of aerospace documents with hundreds of detailed schematics about propulsion systems, solar paneling and fuel tanks for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the NASA probe launched in August [and] a huge collection of files that had been stolen from Redstone Arsenal, home to the Army Aviation and Missile Command. The attackers had grabbed specs for the aviation-mission-planning system for Army helicopters, as well as Falconview 3.2, the flight-planning software used by the Army and Air Force.
Even if official Washington is not certain, Carpenter and other network-security analysts believe that the attacks are Chinese government spying. "It's a hard thing to prove," says a network-intrusion-detection analyst at a major U.S. defense contractor who has been studying Titan Rain since 2003, "but this has been going on so long and it's so well organized that the whole thing is state sponsored, I think."
The attacks were also stinging allies, including Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand...
...and given Carpenter's unique ability to provide meaningful assistance, given his unaffiliated status and his unparalleled familiarity with and success in breaching the Titan Rain regime:
[I]f any U.S. agency got caught [cyberspying], it could spark an international incident.
That's why Carpenter felt he could be useful to the FBI. Frustrated in gathering cyberinfo, some agencies have in the past turned a blind eye to free-lancers--or even encouraged them--to do the job. After he hooked up with the FBI, Carpenter was assured by the agents assigned to him that he had done important and justified work in tracking Titan Rain attackers.
"This could very well impact national security at the highest levels," Albuquerque field agent Christine Paz told him during one of their many information-gathering sessions in Carpenter's home.
Carpenter is now discharging the duties of another private sector analyst position, ousted from Sandia, prohibited from tracking Titan Rain, and forbidden from disclosing any of his prior findings to anyone.
Taking Carpenter's account at face value, let's review:
- America's military networks may be susceptible to shut down or even takeover by a mysterious group of talented and relentless cyberspies, suspected to be affiliated with the Chinese government, which is being uncooperative in the investigation.
- One man took it upon himself to hunt them down, achieving remarkable and unprecedented success in so doing, attracting the eager recruitment of the military and federal law enforcement.
- Upon further deliberation, The Powers That Be, rather than finding a sustainable way to leverage this man's vital knowledge and skills, have instead chosen to disavow him, to contemplate prosecuting him, and to allow the critical advantage his work might represent to wither on the vine.
Am I missing something?
Extra, Extra: Some Criminals Rational!
The London Metropolitan Police have noticed an interesting phenomenon since the 7/7 and 7/21 terrorist bombings. Criminal activity has fallen significantly.
Crime rates in London were lower in July than they were in either of the two preceding months, bucking the typical trend of crime increasing during the warm weather months. Year-over-year, July's overall crime rate dropped 6%. And rates have stayed down throughout August. Far more notable, however, were the borough-specific data.
In the 6 boroughs hardest hit by the terrorist bombings, crime was down an average of 12% (and more than 16% in Hammersmith & Fulham and Tower Hamlets). The trends from borough to borough correlate strongly with the increased visible presence of police officers on each district's streets. The boroughs of outer London, not directly hit by the attacks, and not allocated additional law enforcement personnel, saw a small concurrent rise in crime rates.
An unexpected, positive effect of the attacks seems to be a compelling refutation of the conventional wisdom that increasing public police presence is an ineffective way to reduce crime rates.
This week's Economist reports (subscription required):
"The received wisdom among criminologists is that marginal changes in visible patrolling have little or no effect on crime," says Mike Hough, a criminologist at King's College London. July's experiment should put that argument to rest. Even if offenders do not make rational calculations about the odds of being caught - which was low both before and after the bombings - they will be moved by a display of overwhelming force.
This brings up an interesting (if grisly) point, related to another purported truism of criminology (and the potential for terrorism's after effects to shed empirical light):
If enough bona fide, murderous terrorists (say, a big slug of the worst of the worst we currently have on hand) are eventually convicted and sentenced to death, might we have a similar opportunity to empirically test whether an increased credibility lent to the threat of capital punishment does, despite the oft-cited wisdom, have an incremental effect on overall capital crime rates?
Check out the Metropolitan Police website for an interactive guide to up-to-date London crime figures.
Which of the following best describes this statement?
Chinese and European officials today held a second round of talks to change a textiles agreement that has led to millions of trousers and bras barred from entering the EU.
Spate of the Union
Chris Strom at GovExec.com writes about a brouhaha brewing over the idea of bringing the splendor of organized labor to the otherwise well-oiled world of airport security screening:
A legal battle is being waged over whether privately employed airport screeners should have collective bargaining rights.
Should they? No.
But some say the case has much broader implications because its outcome could affect anyone working in the area of homeland security.
Ah, good point. In that light, allow me to refine my stance: hell no.
Northwest Airlines ticket holders may have been treated to some of the well-worn effects of typical collective bargaining this week, but in an amicus brief filed in this case, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation notes some of the truly daunting potential consequences of allowing this proposed unionization to move forward (emphasis and excerpting mine):
2. Public-sector strikes endanger vital public services.
Police union militants ... have in recent years threatened or carried out so-called "blue flu" job actions, potentially endangering public safety, as a collective-bargaining tool.
Then-San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto's home was pipe-bombed hours after he warned on television that striking police officers would be fired if they did not return to work.
Striking fire fighters in Dayton, Ohio, sat idly by while fires destroyed up to twenty-nine buildings throughout the city. Thirty families were left homeless.
During a 23-day strike by Chicago fire fighters and paramedics, more than 20 people died in fires - an extraordinary number for a relatively short period. In one fire alone, three children and two adults died as a fire station near their home remained unmanned.
3. A strike by a private-screeners union would be especially harmful.
A strike by a private-screeners union would, at a minimum, cause a major disruption airlines and travelers. At worst, a strike by a private-screeners union could threaten national security. The government would be faced with a terrible choice: (1) reduce air travel, and therefore economic activity, until new screeners could be trained and placed; or, (2) reduce efficacy of screening procedures and thereby increase the chance of terrorism.
D. The risk of a terrorist-controlled union
In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, many unions in the United States were infiltrated, controlled, or even headed by members of the Communist Party. ... A congressional subcommittee that included then-Congressman John F. Kennedy received testimony that "'Communists had infiltrated into the ranks of labor unions and that their activities constitute a grave menace to the industrial peace of the United States. . . . [They ultimately seek to destroy our capitalistic system and to overthrow our form of government by force and violence. To this end they encourage sitdown and slow-down strikes, mass picketing, goon squads, and violence.'"
If a union is granted exclusive representation of private-airport screeners, there is a risk that the union hierarchy will be infiltrated by a terrorist agent or that the union will be controlled by someone working with terrorists. The terrorist could then use his influence with the union to make it easier for a terrorist colleague to board a plane or to get a bomb through baggage screening. Or the terrorist could more indirectly weaken national security, by organizing a strike or work slow-down.
Good News Is No News
Watched, read, or heard any news lately? Any political news? Any war-related news?
If so, odds are it included something about clashing anti-war and anti-anti-war protesters or vigil-holders in Texas, California, Idaho, or elsewhere. If you kept watching, reading, or listening, doubtless such stories were followed up by the compunctious rationale that, well, it's August, and there's no other news worth reporting.
Every one of the Army's 10 divisions — its key combat organizations — has exceeded its re-enlistment goal for the year to date. Those with the most intense experience in Iraq have the best rates. The 1st Cavalry Division is at 136 percent of its target, the 3rd Infantry Division at 117 percent.
What about first-time enlistment rates, since that was the issue last spring? The Army is running at 108 percent of its needs. Guess not every young American despises his or her country and our president.
The Army Reserve is a tougher sell, given that it takes men and women away from their families and careers on short notice. Well, Reserve recruitment stands at 102 percent of requirements.
And then there's the Army National Guard. We've been told for two years that the Guard was in free-fall. Really? Guard recruitment and retention comes out to 106 percent of its requirements as of June 30.
See recruiting and retention data for all military branches, for July and year-to-date, courtesy of the Department of Defense.
Courtesy of Patrick Ruffini, it's straw poll time! Join the thousands who have already cast their votes for favorite GOP candidate (legit or fantasy) for the '08 Presidency.
Or, if you prefer, you can make like a 3rd party registrant and squander your vote, and instead head straight to the results page, where you'll see Rudy leading the pack with a 10 point lead over the alphabetically fortuitous George Allen.
The top 5, as of August 23:
Shaking off the Blues
The 2006 Almanac of American Politics has hit the shelves, and with with it, a fresh slug of insightful commentary and analysis by editor Michael Barone. Today's Washington Times is good enough to publish some of the particularly piquing highlights (excerpting and emphasis mine):
- While both the Bush and Kerry campaigns concentrated on turning out the maximum number of the party faithful, the Bush campaign "created an organization unlike any seen before, a networking organization that far surpassed what the Democrats were doing." During the fall of 2003, for example, the news media marveled at Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's list of 600,000 e-mail addresses. Virtually unreported, however, was the fact that the Bush campaign had collected six million e-mail addresses.
- Contrary to conventional wisdom, which held that Democrats would benefit from a very high turnout in 2004, President Bush won an election that included a historic increase in turnout. Not only did total turnout increase by 16 percent in 2004, but turnout as a percentage of eligible voters soared from 51 percent to 61 percent.
- Prior to the Republican successes in 2002, Mr. Barone reports, "[n]o incumbent president's party had increased its number of seats in both houses [of Congress] in an off-year election since Roosevelt's Democratic Party in 1934."
- Recalling that his post-2000 commentary described America as "the 49-percent nation," evenly split between the two parties, Mr. Barone today concludes that "America is now, perhaps momentarily, or perhaps at the beginning of a long period, a 51-percent nation, a majority -- a narrow majority -- Republican nation."
- "The 2004 results showed the red states getting redder and the blue states getting less blue."
- Mr. Bush won majorities in 97 of the nation's 100 fastest-growing counties, where he achieved a popular-vote margin of 1.8 million, which was more than half of his national vote margin. This 1.8-million margin, while not as large as the one Mr. Kerry achieved in the 100 largest counties, is nonetheless "likely to increase over time, and can easily be increased even more by the kind of organizational effort mounted by the Bush campaign in 2004," Mr. Barone argues.
Shallow Interest in Deep Throat
It looks like maybe Felt and Woodstein let the mystery of The Secret Man marinade just a couple decades past its peak of intrigue.
At Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City, "the book didn't sell at all," said Jim Harris, the store's owner. Of the 50 copies he ordered, Mr. Harris said, only 4 have sold, and he has sent 40 back to the distributor.
"I was flabbergasted," he said.
The Diapered Menace
Across the country, seemingly innocuous little babies are being prevented from boarding planes because their names (or close equivalents) appear on the TSA no-fly list. Some parents are not surprisingly a hair perplexed.
"I completely understand the war on terrorism, and I completely understand people wanting to be safe when they fly," [Ingrid] Sanden said. "But focusing the target a little bit is probably a better use of resources."
For Ingrid's 1 year old daughter to restore her good name, the TSA does offer a clearance procedure. So far, 14 children under the age of 2 (young enough even to fly without tickets) have petitioned for removal from the list.
Wouldn't it be easy and sensible for the TSA simply to have a suitably low age threshold, under which passengers aren't subject to watch list restrictions?
Well, yes. And that's why they do:
The Transportation Security Administration, which administers the lists, instructs airlines not to deny boarding to children under 12 - or select them for extra security checks - even if their names match those on a list.
...it happens anyway. Debby McElroy, president of the Regional Airline Association, said: "Our information indicates it happens at every major airport."
So it seems this bizarre phenomenon isn't an unintended consequence of an imperfectly conceived set of policies, but rather the result of TSA personnel either making liberal use of their own [in this case highly faulty] discretion or failing to be aware of the particulars of the policy. Either way, it suggests a more systemic problem related to communication or training within the agency.
Ironically, it could well be a blind, willful over-reliance on non-discretionary implementation that has led to the ubiquity of the proscribed boarding denials. After all, if a TSA employee is unbending in his application of the no-fly list, be the subject black or white, 80 or 1, no one can accuse him of the dreaded "P" word.
Don't get me wrong - that isn't to say that we ought to adopt a policy whereby infants are never subject to scrutiny. Murderous terrorists would likely have little compunction about scaring up an infant on which to conceal dangerous items, if they knew doing so offered a free pass. But to the extent that suspicion is aroused because of a baby's name being on the no-fly list, then surely implementing the policy as written, treating the match as a false positive and not allocating supplemental resources to it, is only sensible.
A True Renaissance Sham
Lest you think his foibles have been exhaustively cataloged, Ward Churchill proves he's more than just a phony Native American and an apparent plagiarist. According to UC Boulder students, he's also a pretty cruddy teacher.
Responding to a request for comment on his poor student reviews made by Human Events Online, Churchill also showcased his ineloquently dismissive approach to correspondence.
Even if Human Events were in some way genuinely conservative, which it isn't, I'd not be interested in wasting time on an interview on your proposed topic (is basically a yawn).
Short and sweet, per newly declared New York Senatorial challenger Jeanine Pirro:
"New York deserves a senator who has New York's interests at heart — not the divided loyalties of one seeking to satisfy the needs of people in Iowa, New Hampshire or Florida," Pirro said in a speech at The Waldorf-Astoria hotel in Manhattan. " Hillary Clinton has shortchanged New York; she hasn't delivered and she will find out that that the people of New York have not forgotten her empty promises."
I'm sure Pirro's in this fight to win, but regardless of the outcome, her spirited candidacy ought to at least force the incumbent Mrs. Clinton to make good on spending that "Senate re-election" war chest she's scraped up in all kinds of non-New York states.
Not Quite Satisfactual
"What the propagandists on the right have done is make people afraid to say they are Democrats," Dean told a gathering of Vermont Democrats. "We have to be out there. We have to be vocal. We have to be pushing our version of the facts because their version of the facts is very unfactual."
Unfactual, eh? Too bad that word is unactual.
Gosh, Life's Hard
And yet it continues.
Such consolation is of course insufficient to quiet the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is suing the City of New York for being so overbearing in their attempts to keep us from blowing up.
The NYCLU finds the random police searches of subway passengers' bags (instituted by Mayor Bloomberg after the recent London bombings) to be not only an undue affront to our civil liberties but also an ineffectual "publicity stunt", since would-be terrorists can simply use entrances without police screeners.
So... if it's so easy to skirt the cops - and the woeful burden apparently associated with opening one's bag - why don't NYCLU members simply use those unmanned entrances?
Fad Turns Out to Be Just a Fad
Carb-makers rejoice at demise of Atkins empire
Bankruptcy shows diet is 'too extreme' for U.S., baker says
In Boise, staff members of the Idaho Potato Commission gave each other gleeful high-fives when they heard the news. In Houston, the folks at the U.S. Rice Producers' Association declared "good riddance." And fruit farmers in the Central Valley said they were "happy to see them go."
Oh, fruits, rice, bread, Olive Garden... we've been so blind. Won't you take us back?
We'd Like To Pay In Looneys, Eh?
It's once again time to pay the vascularly enduring Enron piper.
Today's bill came to $2.4 billion, payable this time by our northern neighbors. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce has settled up with Enron investors, joining Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase in the 2 billion and up crowd. For comparison, CIBC's net income for fiscal 2004 was only $1.8 billion and its reserves for Enron contingencies were just a tenth of the settlement amount.
The sum was the largest Enron settlement to date and brought cumulative Enron class-action settlements to $7.1 billion, eclipsing WorldCom's record of $6.8 billion.
With Enron mega-settlements steadily growing, and with Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, and CS First Boston still on the hook, Enron class members and their lawyers may soon be enjoying similar windfalls of dollars, marks, pounds, and Swiss francs.