Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

Again, another I am viewing for the first time. It came out in 1990 and is based on Tom Clancy‘s first published novel of the same name. It’s The Hunt for Red October, and it stars  Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan in the character’s premier appearance. This was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening scenes, as the titles roll, show a massive Soviet nuclear submarine, Red October, leaving the port of Murmansk and heading out on its maiden voyage. The captain is Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius (Sean Connery). The air is ominous.

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Meanwhile, Jack Ryan is in London, and he is poring over some drawings he has been given to analyze. He shortly says goodbye to his lovely wife and his daughter. He boards a plane for Washington, D.C., ignoring the stewardess’s advice to sleep on the flight. He is met at the airport and driven immediately to CIA headquarters. At the Patuxent River Naval Base he receives evidence that the new Soviet sub is powered by a magneto hydrodynamic propulsion “caterpillar” drive. Such a drive has no moving parts, allowing the submarine to move under water almost silently. It’s a major breakthrough.

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The Soviet plan is a surprise attack on the American East Coast, and Captain  Ramius’ plan is to circumvent this plan and defect, along with the sub and officers aboard. He starts by murdering the boat’s political officer, Ivan Putin (Peter Firth) after the two of them open the mission’s sealed orders.

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The captain  has previously left behind a note to his superior telling of his plan. When the note is delivered the Soviets immediately put into operation a mission to find and destroy Red October.

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Word comes through intelligence channels of the unfolding events, and Jack Ryan deduces the captain’s scheme. He has a Navy helicopter deliver him to the American SSN Dallas, which has been tracking the Red October. A crafty sonar operator aboard the Dallas has devised a means for tracking the silent Red October.

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Ramius’ scheme involves getting the enlisted crew off the boat without their knowing of the subterfuge. This he accomplishes through the ruse of a phony radiation leak. An American ship rescues the sailors while the officers remain aboard Red October to complete the defection. Jack and an American Navy captain board the Red October by means of a submersible rescue vehicle and negotiate the surrender. The plan is almost undone by a saboteur, who stays behind after the remainder of the sailors leave. A gunfight settles the matter, and the Soviet sub that is sent to destroy Red October, is destroyed by its own torpedo. The subterfuge is complete. Red October is apparently down in deep water with all its officers aboard. The disappearance of the soviet attack sub remains a mystery only to the Soviets.

Ryan and Ramius talk as Red October sails into hiding up the Penobscot River in Maine.

My own experience with anti-submarine warfare and sonar systems leaves me unable to make a critical assessment of the tactics involved in the plot. My first assignment as a software developer involved a system to automate (computers) the tracking of submarines with existing sonar gear (sonobuoys). That was in 1982, two years before Clancy’s book came out. Aboard the Dallas there is a master operator, Sonar Technician Second Class Ronald Jones (Courtney B. Vance), who has ears of gold. No computers are used to automate the tracking.

Red October defeats an attacking torpedo by heading directly down its path. This works because the torpedo strikes the nose of Red October before it reaches its arming distance. Clay Blair’s book Combat Patrol recounts tragic incidents from World War Two when American torpedoes ran wild and circled back toward the sub that fired them. An earnest assessment is that the Soviet torpedo should have armed long before striking Red October. It makes for good drama, however.

The destruction of the Soviet attack sub is unrealistic. The sub is hit by a lone torpedo and goes up in a cataclysmic explosion under water. No. That’s not what happens when a torpedo hits an underwater target. What should have happened was a significant underwater explosion from the torpedo warhead, followed by flooding of critical compartments aboard the sub, followed by rapid sinking and likely breakup of the boat on its way to the bottom. Not what viewers of the movie paid to see.

Alec Baldwin has since moved from impersonating CIA operative Jack Ryan to Saturday Night Live, where he is enjoying commercial success scewering President-elect Donald Trump.

American Thriller

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I chuckled at the naiveté of Edward Snowden. It was while I was watching a documentary on Amazon Prime Video titled Breaking The Codes, I came across this title. It’s The American Black Chamber, and it’s by Herbert O. Yardley, widely considered the father of modern American cryptology. I have the Kindle edition.

Yardley’s history is startling, if not unique. He began work as telegraph operator at the Department of State at the age of 24 in 1913, and three years later he submitted a proposal that would shake world affairs and set him on an amazing career that was to last only 13 more years. It came about this way.

His job involved processing highly sensitive messages between the United States government and its agents abroad. It was a new era. Radio telegraphy had come into universal use, and sensitive material was being thrown into the atmosphere for everybody to read. Codes and ciphers were a must to maintain security. The casual atmosphere of the Department code room alarmed Yardley, and he formulated a plan for a special office that would bring the best of intellect and technology to bear. His proposal, which was accepted, was a department that deciphered military and diplomatic transmissions from foreign countries. Thus was formed the American Black Chamber, named after a comparable British institution. Yardley was inducted into the Army as an officer and was put in charge. Funding was mostly from the Department of State, but there was also Justice Department and War Department funding, a factor that was subsequently to prove problematic. For reasons of discretion, the facility was moved to New York City, completely severed from public association with the United States government. Plausible deniability was the aim.

It was not just radio transmissions that were handled by the Black Chamber. The government had no compunction regarding pilfering cable correspondence from foreign sources. The Black Chamber also acquired outstanding capability in the processing of secret writing, including techniques for opening sealed dispatches that had been pilfered secretly. They developed the fine art of forging post marks and diplomatic seals. Spies were also employed:

“I’ve got a job for you, Captain. I____”

“What for?”

“I’m not going to tell you what for. I want a Washington society girl who—”

“I don’t deal in society girls.”

“You ought to. This girl must speak Spanish like a native. She must have not only culture and charm, but also brains. She must be a conversationalist. She must have as her background the nationalistic traditions of the Navy, or the Army, or the diplomatic corps. Her age must be close to thirty. All these requirements she absolutely must have. As for beauty— I’ll let you be the judge. But I want to see her here to-morrow afternoon.”

He hesitated a moment before replying. Then, “If you would tell me what it is all about it would help.”

“I can’t tell you.”

“All right. I’ll go see Mrs. Blakeslee.* She rules the society roster in Washington. I’ll give you a buzz when your lady friend shows up.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 2181-2191). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The lady was, indeed, striking, and she cozied up to the right people and the following day delivered the name of the Spanish diplomatic secretary in charge of their code books. That is all that was required. No hanky-panky. She got friendly with one of the staff at the Spanish embassy, and eventually the name dropped out. It was Gomez.

1916 was a touchy year in American politics. Europeans had been killing each other in a World War for two years, and the United States was finding it difficult to stay out. Telegraphy between the American and European continents had been first established in 1866, and 50 years later communication was routine and reliable. The problem was that cable traffic between the United States and England was not secure. A German submarine could lay out a length of cable adjacent to the telegraph cable and pick up the dots and dashes. Conversely, one of the first things England did at the start of the war was to sever all German trans-Atlantic links, which of necessity passed through the British Isles. The Brits were not then, and perhaps not now, so keen on the 4th Amendment. In fact, they possibly never had one. Cable companies were required to copy the government on all pertinent communications.

A distressing observation of Yardley’s was that none of the Allies, neither the British nor the French were willing to give an inch in sharing their methods. He traveled to England and France during the War and received the cold shoulder from intelligence agencies in both countries. In France he did hook up with Captain Georges Painvin and immediately recognized him as the foremost cryptanalyst of the day.

Tragically, Yardley observed that, while the Black Chamber was demonstrating its ability to crack every code and cipher that came its way from foreign sources, American cryptologists made no use of the obvious. Yardley’s team was able to crack all the American codes without benefit of inside knowledge. That meant the Germans, no slouch in the field, were reading all American battle plans sent over the air. For the duration of the Black Chamber, American codes and ciphers never approached any measure of security.

A famous code breaking case of the time, and one that had historical implications, was one that never came the way of the Black Chamber. This was the famous Zimmerman cable message. At the time, Mexico was still smarting from General Pershing’s punitive raid into Mexican territory, and General Carranza, the President of Mexico decided to throw in his lot with the Germans:

The reader will recall the sensational Zimmermann-Carranza note which the President read before Congress just before we entered the war, the note in which Zimmermann, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, promised Mexico financial aid and the states of New Mexico, Texas and Arizona if she declared war against the United States. This telegram was deciphered by the British Cryptographic Bureau early in 1917, just before we entered the war.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 1606-1609). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Throughout the War the Black Chamber was heavily invested in deciphering German-Mexican communications.

Yardley employed 165 people in the Black Chamber at the height of its existence, all funded, salaries, rents, equipment, expenses, in secret. It paid for itself in one magnificent effort up to and during the First Armament Conference of 1921 – 1922. The United States was determined to challenge Japanese naval strength in the Pacific, holding Japan to six tons of warship to every American ten. The Americans needed to crack the Japanese codes to gain what bargaining advantage was possible. To this end Yardley had to obtain a loyal American, fluent in both verbal and written Japanese, the two being widely divergent. American missionaries were reluctant, because they rightly figured the first missionary cooperating with the American government would be the last to be allowed into the country. A retired fellow, very agreeable and a pleasure to work with, volunteered. He was assigned the job of teaching the Japanese language to one Charles Mundy in two years. After six months, the elderly missionary chanced to translate a message implying grave consequences, and his conscience would not allow him to continue in the spy business. Fortunately, Yardley had chosen well in Mundy, for that chap had mastered Japanese in those six months and subsequently proved to be a linguistic magician. The cracking of the Japanese codes proceeded:

I shall not of course attempt to give all the details of the decipherment of the Japanese codes, for these would be of interest only to the cryptographer, but when I tell the reader that the Black Chamber sent to Washington, during the Washington Armament Conference held two years later, some five thousand deciphered Japanese messages which contained the secret instructions of the Japanese Delegates, I am sure he will wish to know how it was possible for the Black Chamber to take such an important part in the making of history. Let the reader therefore, for the moment at least, put aside his natural desire to listen to the whisperings of foreign diplomats as they lean closer together to reveal their secrets, and I shall try to tell a few of the tremendous discouragements that I had to overcome in the decipherment of this code, written in the most difficult of all languages, Japanese.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3103-3109). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

The consequence of this success was the Americans learned the Japanese were in collusion with America’s allies, France and England, who were willing to be soft on Japanese naval parity. The Americans also learned the Japanese negotiator in Washington was told to give in to the 6:10 parity if bluffing failed against the Americans. America prevailed in this first armament conference, and the Japanese felt stymied. Later, when the cracking of their codes became public, Japanese pride was challenged, and the Empire redoubled its aggressive stance. This latter occurred after the closure of the Black Chamber in 1939 and is not included in the book.

Not all intrigues were completely foreign:

“Now, Yardley, I have a most unusual story to tell you. Yesterday morning, a few moments after this message arrived, the Secretary took it over to show it to the President. The President glanced at your decipherment, then, handing it back to the Secretary, said, ‘Yes, the Attorney-General showed that to me a few moments ago. He just left.’”

He paused and eyed me furtively. He waited for some comment. I made none, for I knew now what was coming.

At last he said very slowly and deliberately: “Now, tell me if you can, how did the Attorney-General get a copy of this message?” He said this as if he were exploding a bomb.

Some one, perhaps the Secretary, had tramped on his toes, for he was very angry by now.

“That’s easily explained,” I answered, “though you may not yourself appreciate the explanation. You see, during the war the department that I organized was the central Code and Cipher and Secret-Ink Bureau for the War, Navy, State and Justice Departments. At that time the Department of Justice had on their pay-roll an agent who had dabbled in ciphers. The Department of Justice contributed his services when we asked for him. He became expert. So after the war, when we moved to New York and organized as a civilian bureau on secret pay-roll, though we severed relations with the Navy Department, we took him with us. But he remained on the Justice Department pay-roll. Your predecessor knew of this and concurred. Am I clear?”

“Yes. Go on.”

“Now, he must have an excuse for being on their pay-roll. So now and then I permit him to send to the Attorney-General a message that____”

“But of all messages, why this one?” he demanded.

“Well,” I said, “in the first place I happened to turn this particular message over to him for decipherment. In the second place this looked to me like a Justice Department case.”

“A Justice Department case!” he exclaimed. “The activity of an Ambassador is never a Department of Justice case.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 4371-4390). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

What went on in Washington 90 years ago is pretty much what goes on in Washington today.

Toward the end of the Black Chamber, Yardley was called down to Washington and allowed to give a frank appraisal of American codes and ciphers. The news was grim. When presented with evidence of a weakness, the cryptologists’ response was simply to fix the weakness and not scratch around for additional weaknesses, of which there always were many. We can only assume the Nazis and the Japanese read American transmissions well into the commencement of hostilities.

The Black Chamber came to an abrupt end with a change in administration:

In 1929, the State Department withdrew its share of the funding, the Army declined to bear the entire load, and the Black Chamber closed down. New Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson made this decision, and years later in his memoirs made the oft-quoted comment: “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” Stimson’s ethical reservations about cryptanalysis focused on the targeting of diplomats from America’s close allies, not on spying in general. Once he became Secretary of War during World War II, he and the entire US command structure relied heavily on decrypted enemy communications.

Cracking secret messages was grueling, and it took its toll on Yardley and others. Yardley describes the agony of pulling the innards out of the Japanese code:

The reader must not get the impression that I had given up all hope of deciphering the Japanese codes without aid. I had not. Nor were any of my plans fulfilled, for as we shall soon see I had no need of them. But I was preparing myself for failure. I might need assistance.

By now I had worked so long with these code telegrams that every telegram, every line, even every code word was indelibly printed in my brain. I could lie awake in bed and in the darkness make my investigations— trial and error, trial and error, over and over again.

Finally one night I wakened at midnight, for I had retired early, and out of the darkness came the conviction that a certain series of two-letter code words absolutely must equal Airurando (Ireland). Then other words danced before me in rapid succession: dokuritsu (independence), Doitsu (Germany), owari (stop). At last the great discovery! My heart stood still, and I dared not move. Was I dreaming? Was I awake? Was I losing my mind? A solution? At last— and after all these months!

I slipped out of bed and in my eagerness, for I knew I was awake now, I almost fell down the stairs. With trembling fingers I spun the dial and opened the safe. I grabbed my file of papers and rapidly began to make notes.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3287-3297). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

After weeks of intense effort Yardley had unfolded the origami:

 

The impossible had been accomplished! I felt a terrible mental let-down. I was very tired.

I finally placed my papers in the safe, locked it and leaned back in my chair, checking up my blunders, and at the same time wondering what this would mean to the United States Government. What secrets did these messages hold? Churchill would want to know of my accomplishment. Should I telephone him at this hour? No, I would wait and dictate a letter.

I was unbelievably tired, and wearily climbed the stairs. My wife was awake.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“I’ve done it,” I replied.

“I knew you would.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“You look dead.”

“I am. Get on your rags. Let’s go get drunk. We haven’t been out of this prison in months.”

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 3316-3325). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Yardley was nearly broken by the effort. He had to take a month off in Arizona for his health. Others were equally spent or more so. Some never recovered. Many put survival at a premium and quit the service.

The Black Chamber was dismantled almost overnight. Two years later Yardley wrote this book, a periscope into some of the darkest workings of the United States government. Snowden would have been distressed. Howls of protest rattled the Internet three years ago when it was revealed, after nearly 100 years, that our government read other countries’ mail. As mentioned, I was but amused. I wondered in what world these people had grown up. That tale is told elsewhere.

A game I play when reviewing Kindle books is picking out transcription errors. Obviously this book came out 40 years before the advent of computerized word processing. Missteps between hard and soft copy typically come from OCR failures. Here are some odd constructions I picked out:

but he was visibly anxious arid asked me repeatedly when I was leaving Paris.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Location 2825). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

after my cable, thif new code was in my hands.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Location 2887). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

This edition, as with many Kindle editions, lacks page numbers. This is particularly troubling when the text references a page number, such as here:

The illustration facing page 313 also shows a thoroughly mixed code in use by the British Foreign Office during the Washington Armament Conference.

Yardley, Herbert O.. The American Black Chamber (Bluejacket Books) (Kindle Locations 4309-4310). Naval Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

A casual reader will detect Yardley wrote this from a lingering fit of pique. Although he identifies co-workers and superiors of admirable character and capability, many references are to individuals and methods beyond redemption. In any event, he had the last word. He lived until 1980, about which time the Data Encryption Standard was well established, the Diffie-Hellman paper had been published four years previous, and Pretty Good Privacy was eleven years in the future. These days we conduct video conferences incorporating both video and audio being transmitted live with “secure” encryption. America’s entry began with a telegraph operator working in Washington, D.C. 100 years ago.

Don’t Bump The Trump

One of a series

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A warning for those who chance to meet a wild Trump coming home late at night, past a graveyard, all alone in a storm: Don’t bump the Trump. [With apologies to Shel Silverstein.]

I started this thing for presidential candidate Donald Trump over three weeks ago with no idea where it was heading. Now I find I will be able to post a new item every day from now until November without repeating myself. Thank you, Mr. Trump. It’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever done for me. Thank you very very very much!

Self-obsessed billionaire Donald Trump earlier snatched the campaign torch from the Republican Party by scooping up conservative America’s low-hanging fruit. Full disclosure: it’s something I proclaimed over a year ago could not be done. I was wrong! How wrong? Very wrong. I completely failed to take into account Donald Trump’s tremendous support from Americans in uniform:

While Donald Trump sends millions of Americans fleeing the GOP, Hillary Clinton scoops up more endorsements of the type Republican nominees usually enjoy. The Clinton camp announced endorsements from two retired four-star generals, Bob Sennewald (former commanding general, U.S. Army Forces Command) and David Maddox (former commander in chief of the U.S. Army in Europe). In a joint statement they said, “Having each served over 34 years and retired as an Army 4-star general, we each have worked closely with America’s strongest allies, both in NATO and throughout Asia.” They explained, “Our votes have always been private, and neither of us has ever previously lent his name or voice to a presidential candidate.” They nevertheless announced, “Having studied what is at stake for this country and the alternatives we have now, we see only one viable leader, and will be voting this November for Secretary Hillary Clinton.”

Of course, the above doesn’t take into account Donald Trumps service to his country as a cadet in a private military academy:

In Trump’s telling, he was elevated as a reward for stellar performance. “I had total control over the cadets,” he said in a recent interview. “That’s why I got a promotion — because I did so good.”

Former cadets recall the change differently. They say school administrators transferred Trump after a freshman named Lee Ains complained of being hazed by a sergeant under Trump’s command. School officials, those cadets say, were concerned that Trump’s style of delegating leadership responsibilities while spending a lot of time in his room, away from his team, allowed problems to fester.

“They felt he wasn’t paying attention to his other officers as closely as he should have,” said Ains, who lives in Connecticut and works in the aerospace industry.

Readers, you have to admire Donald Trump for the sacrifices he has made for this country’s security.

Yeah, it’s game on. We are going to have more fun between now and November. We can be assured Donald Trump will never fail to entertain us.

Continue reading. And may Jesus have mercy on your soul.

The Dirt On Drones

Drone Strike

Drone Strike

It’s so odd how all of this got started. The naming, that is. A drone is a male bee, and with bees the drones don’t seem to do much except to carry bee sperm to assist in the making of new bees. They don’t work, and, except early in their lives, they don’t fly. They mate with a queen bee in flight, and shortly after, they die. It would seem a drone is a useful, expendable, piece of hardware. But what likely got unpiloted aircraft to be called drones was the semblance of early such aircraft to the noisy, chunky drone bee.

Unpiloted aircraft have been in use since about 1849, when Austria used free-drifting balloons to attack Venice with bombs. We have gotten much better in the years since.

An early use of drone aircraft was target practice. Gunners needed something to shoot at, and towed targets did not always fill the bill. Some early drones were simply combat aircraft that had outlived their usefulness. They were fitted with remote control, and sent aloft to finish their lives testing guidance systems for missiles. In the past 35 years military drones have graduated to more sophisticated roles.

Backtracking a little, the first highly-successful drone combat vehicle was the German V-1, used in World War Two. It was a jet-powered aircraft with stubby wings and fitted with an 1870-pound warhead. In sophistication the V-1 was the aerial equivalent to the underwater torpedo. You launched it, it flew a prescribed course, it (sometimes) hit the target.

Following the war the United States and other countries completed the development of the concept, and a recent result was the Tomahawk. This is still in use, and has demonstrated remarkable utility. Launched from a submersible or from a surface ship, it can fly itself hundreds of miles, following a prescribed course to avoid terrain or hostile situations and can strike with pinpoint accuracy, thanks to the addition of GPS navigation. None of the Tomahawks now carry nuclear warheads, but they do offer a conventional warhead of 1000 pounds or a variety of submunitions.

I worked on two Tomahawk programs, neither of which went anywhere. Both made use of this drone’s ability to manage its own flight path, compliments of a load of sophisticated software.

One of these programs was called simply “Smart Weapons,” and for many months it paid the bills around our house. The idea was to equip the Tomahawk with a variety of imaging systems and send it off to locate and attack, on its own, enemy targets. These might be mobile missile launchers, armored vehicles, whatever was easily recognized as a military target. At the time I recognized that a mistake in the computer code could get a school bus recognized as a Scud launcher. And therein lies some concern regarding pilotless warcraft.

The notion that the Obama Administration has carried out drone strikes only when there is “near-certainty of no collateral damage” is easily disproved propaganda. America hasn’t killed a handful of innocents or a few dozen in the last 8 years. Credible, independent attempts to determine how many civilians the Obama administration has killed arrived at numbers in the hundreds or low thousands.  And there is good reason to believe that they undercount the civilians killed.

That’s it. Modern warfare has turned to extensive use of drone warcraft, and civilians are getting killed. Call me a bleeding-heart liberal if you want, but I have to wonder at this concern. In the interest of Skeptical Analysis, here is a reality check.

From the moment warriors started using missiles in combat, they started killing people they did not intend to kill. Pass over for a moment that through history non-combatants have been the target of war fighters. Sometimes the objective of a military mission was to wipe out an entire village, town, nation of people. As the use of missiles escalated, unintended consequences tracked upward.

Arrows (they are missiles) were not much of a problem, since you generally have a target in view before you let fly with an arrow. Then came long-range artillery, and gunners started firing over the hill, even over the horizon. Spotters were needed, but the gunner could never know for sure who was on the receiving end of the shell. In World War One the Germans shelled Paris from a distance of about 100 miles. To be sure, civilians were the target.

Came World War Two, and civilians were promoted to military targets. Generally, the pilots of these warplanes saw what they were aiming at and knew about the presence of civilians in the target zone. Sometimes mistakes were made, at least once with some irony. The United States Army Air Force was on a mission to bomb a Ford Motor Company plant in Belgium. Yes, an American company commandeered for Nazi war work. The bombardier made a mistake. He lined up on a park for his initial point and set his bomb sight to track it. He forgot to disengage the auto release, and the bombs released on the park, taking out a row of buildings adjacent to the park. It turned out this particular row of buildings was a major German Wehrmacht command center, only slightly reducing the embarrassment.

And my point is, seventy years have gone by, and we are suddenly concerned with civilian casualties. The difference being? The difference being that now there is no pilot risking his life to make these kinds of mistakes. And I think I know what the problem is.

Somewhere along the line somebody has decided that warfare is a sort of sport, and rules of fairness need to apply. When I read critiques of this country’s drone combat I’m unable to get past the implication that lack of chivalry lies at the base. Detractors hint at the anonymity involved in these transactions—as though warfare needs to be up close and personal. Critics may want us to ignore that lack of personal involvement has been a growing element in warfare for hundreds of years. Some examples.

The romantic image of fighter pilots going one-on-one contributes to their (deserved) heroic image. Two warriors face off in a boundless sky and do battle until one of them is dead. Truth is, it seldom happens that way. Most fighter-on-fighter kills are by ambush. Catch the enemy unaware, charge out of nowhere, guns and missiles blazing, then make a quick escape.

Navy sniper Chris Kyle has been maligned by detractors for killing people from ambush. I am guessing these critics have 1) never been in combat, 2) never talked to somebody who has been in combat, 3) never made a serious study of the history of combat. No soldier in his right mind wants a fair fight. What a soldier wants, what a soldier should want, is to win the fight.

And that’s where drones come in. Drones have been recognized for decades as an answer to pilot attrition, the scourge of air warfare. Not only does pilot attrition drain the priceless resource of trained and experienced warriors, its effect on the morale of combatants cuts into mission effectiveness. In the European air war of World War Two, missions into the German capitol of Berlin were euphemistically called “going downtown.” For many it was a one-way trip. Decades later, when I worked on software for the Joint Stand Off Weapon (JSOW), they had a big poster boosting its potential. The poster headlined “No more going downtown.”

After all this, the implication—the claim—that drone strikes are inherently more deadly to non-combatants than piloted strikes doesn’t bear reason:

  • Both drone strikes and piloted strikes require prior and extensive surveillance to ensure the worth of the target. And also to minimize civilian casualties.
  • In the case of a drone strike, the operator can study the target at greater leisure before dispensing munitions. This is because the drone is often less obvious to defenders and is also more oblivious to counter fire.
  • A pilot, taking with him on his mission the 100% requirement to return to base, is eager to get in and out more quickly.

There are issues that skew the statistics differentiating drone strikes. A drone strike is more likely to be undertaken. Drones go places where pilots will not be sent. Drones get the dirty jobs. Drones strike deep into enemy territory, even into sovereign airspace. Miles from ground combat is where civilians reside, and these missions are more likely to be assigned to drones. Conceding a point: some missions would not be carried out without the benefit of drones. With drones removed from the equation, there would be fewer missions. There would be fewer enemy casualties. There would be fewer civilian casualties.

Finally, what inspired this dive into the morality of warfare:

Use of police robot to kill Dallas shooting suspect believed to be first in US history

Police’s lethal use of bomb-disposal robot in Thursday’s ambush worries legal experts who say it creates gray area in use of deadly force by law enforcement

[University of California at Davis law professor Elizabeth] Joh said she was worried that the decision by police to use robots to end lives had been arrived at far too casually. “Lethally armed police robots raise all sorts of new legal, ethical, and technical questions we haven’t decided upon in any systematic way,” she said. “Under federal constitutional law, excessive-force claims against the police are governed by the fourth amendment. But we typically examine deadly force by the police in terms of an immediate threat to the officer or others. It’s not clear how we should apply that if the threat is to a robot – and the police may be far away.” That, Joh added, is only one condition for the use of lethal force. “In other words, I don’t think we have a framework for deciding objectively reasonable robotic force. And we need to develop regulations and policies now, because this surely won’t be the last instance we see police robots.”

Others are not so gracious. Much that has been said cites “lack of due process” and more:

Many noted the connection between potentially the first use of an armed robot in domestic policing and the deployment of such tools in active war zones. Defense technology expert Peter W. Singer wrote on Twitter, “this is 1st use of robot in this way in policing. Marcbot has been ad hoc used this way by troops in Iraq.”

[Marjorie Cohn, Professor Emerita at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law and editor and contributor to Drones and Targeted Killings: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues] said, “The same way that the Obama administration uses unmanned drones in other countries to kill people instead of arresting them and bringing them to trial, we see a similar situation here….As the technology develops, we’re going to see the increasing use of military weapons in the hands of the police, which is going to inflame and exacerbate a very volatile situation.”

“We can see that many of the weapons that are being used by the military are in the hands of the police,” she added. “This is a very volatile situation, very dangerous situation, and is only going to make the tensions worse and kill people and violate constitutional rights.”

Left-wing liberal that I am, I see little distinction between using a robot to blow up an individual posing a threat and rolling an M67 fragmentation grenade his way. Or bringing in a sniper. To be sure, Micah Xavier Johnson had not been arrested. He had not been charged with a crime. He did not receive his day in court, and no judge or jury passed sentence and handed down a death sentence. Whether this was the day or whether this was the instance for executive action, neither have bearing on the use of a robot to do the deed.

Once you have decided to take a human life, you have passed by all matters regarding the process.

Don’t drop the soap.

I thought we had seen the last of this.

Hard Time

Hard Time

Roll it up Governor. Your course has run, your time has gone, your soup is supped, your ride is done, your wad is shot. It’s over. It’s time for you to waddle off into the sunset.

Was I ever wrong:

“Perhaps it’s a byproduct of nearly eight years of an arch-liberal in the Oval Office combined with an American population increasingly disconnected from the men and women who serve in the military,” Perry said.

Wow! What was that all about? What it was all about was the matter of some people setting straight the narrative of Chris Kyle’s book American Sniper. I previously reviewed the book and the movie. Here is an excerpt:

Chris had a life-long passion for firearms, and sniper training put him on the track of becoming the most lethal killer in American sniper history. In four deployments to Iraq he is confirmed to have killed 160 enemy combatants. His actual lethal shot count is likely much higher—as high as 255. If this is the case, then he surpassed Zaitzev’s claimed 225. As remarkable as this count is, Kyle’s longevity is even more so. Historically in modern warfare an sniper’s life expectancy is a few weeks. In combat involving modern forces, a sniper gets a lot of attention and becomes the focus of an intense eradication effort.

Kyle relates that his first shot was the one and only woman he killed, and this was with great reluctance.

The book relates the decorations he earned for his combat accomplishments:

All told, I would end my career as a SEAL with two Silver Stars and five Bronze Medals, all for valor. I’m proud of my service, but I sure as hell didn’t do it for any medal. They don’t make me any better or less than any other guy who served. Medals never tell the whole story. And like I said, in the end they’ve become more political than accurate. I’ve seen men who deserved a lot more and men who deserved a lot less rewarded by higher-ups negotiating for whatever public cause they were working on at the time. For all these reasons, they are not on display at my house or in my office.

Kyle, Chris; McEwen, Scott; DeFelice, Jim. American Sniper: Memorial Edition (p. 155). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The book also relates an incident that, according to court findings, did not occur:

“We’re all here in mourning,” I told him. “Can you just cool it? Keep it down.”

“You deserve to lose a few,” he told me.

Then he bowed up as if to belt me one.

I was uncharacteristically level-headed at that moment.

“Look,” I told him, “why don’t we just step away from each other and go on our way?”

Scruff bowed up again. This time he swung.

Being level-headed and calm can last only so long. I laid him out.

Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.

I left.

Quickly.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but rumor has it he showed up at the BUD/ S graduation with a black eye.

Kyle, Chris; McEwen, Scott; DeFelice, Jim. American Sniper: Memorial Edition (pp. 311-312). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

In subsequent public statements Kyle identified “Scruff” as former Navy SEAL, former actor, former governor of Minnesota, current media personality Jesse Ventura. The problem is Ventura claims the incident never happened, or, if it did, he is not “Scruff.” He alleged he was defamed by Kyle’s false statements. Ventura sued and was awarded $1.8 million, this after others present at the supposed incident refused to back up Kyle’s version.

Prior to the court decision, Kyle, along with a friend, Chad Littlefield, were murdered by a mentally disturbed Marine they were attempting to help. The case is now against the Kyle estate, and the award is being appealed.

Some other matters are not being appealed. Official Navy records show that the “two Silver Stars and five Bronze Medals” is a slight exaggeration. The awards are listed on Kyle’s DD-214 form, but the form is incorrect in this matter. In fact, Kyle was awarded one Silver Star and three Bronze Medals.

The inclusion of the false information in the book can properly be laid at the feet of the book’s co-authors, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. Kyle was no writer, but McEwen and DeFelice are, and this is the kind of stuff professional writers are supposed to take care of.

As we see, now a former governor of Texas is laying this big blowup to eight years (almost) of a liberal president. And that is what is most strange. What the governor seems to be saying is that absolute truth is a liberal thing. How amazing! May we all be so blessed.

The Ever-Diminishing List of Those Who Cannot Obtain Life Insurance at any Price

One of a continuing series

www.cbsnews.com ISIS leaders (left to right): Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili and Tariq Bin-al-Tahar Bin al-Falih al-Awni al-Harziv

http://www.cbsnews.com
ISIS leaders (left to right): Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, Tarkhan Tayumurazovich Batirashvili and Tariq Bin-al-Tahar Bin al-Falih al-Awni al-Harziv

Let me check. I may be running out of space for these. No. That’s good. There’s enough for plenty more. Keep reading.

(CNN)The Pentagon said Friday that it had killed ISIS’ finance minister, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa al-Qaduli, whom many analysts consider the group’s No. 2 leader.

Those analysts believe al-Qaduli would have been expected to take control of the day-to-day running of ISIS, also called ISIL, if its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed or incapacitated.

The U.S. operation was intended to capture him alive, a U.S. official told CNN. Helicopters loaded with special operations forces swooped in on a vehicle carrying al-Qaduli, but at the last moment something happened that caused them to decide to fire on the vehicle instead. The official would not say what it was that caused them to modify the plan.

The official (not named) would not say what caused the change in plans. I am guessing the team was contemplating having to listen to Mr. al_Qaduli complain all the way back to the base. These special operations guys can be awfully irritable at times.

Not mentioned is whether Mr. al-Qaduli’s life insurance policy was paid up. I’m guessing not. Word on the street is these guys have been unable to obtain whole-life for some time now, at any price.

With the exit (72 virgins) of Daesh (ISIS) number two man, there will naturally be a scramble for the coveted spot.  Perquisites are legendary.

  • Did I mention the virgins?
  • Jehovah’s Witnesses will definitely not be knocking on your door.
  • On the freeway other vehicles give you at least 100 meters space in all directions.
  • Visiting relatives don’t hang around for dinner.
  • No problem finding a parking space at the bazaar.
  • Business meetings are always short.
  • Business meetings are sometimes canceled.
  • Business meetings are very often canceled.
  • You don’t need to set aside funds for retirement.

So, we need to start a pool on who’s going to be the next Daesh number two. Get your submissions in early. Choices will be few. My pick? You want to know my pick? Here’s my pick: Maqduq al-Fuzzi. He hasn’t had any luck since his suicide van was stolen last week.

There will be more. Keep reading.

Quiz Question

One of a continuing series

One of the last useful things I did during my Navy Reserve tour was work in the Sidewinder shop at NAS Dallas. My first encounter with a Sidewinder was educational. There was one on a work stand, and I looked it over. One thing I noticed was that each of the rear stabilizing fins featured a curious mechanism. See the photos. I have scrounged up three so make sure people can get a good view of what I’m talking about.

On the trailing edge of each rear fin, at the outer corner, is a hinged fixture. The fixture is a flat plate with a solid brass disk enclosed in the plate so that the outer edge of the disk is exposed to the wind stream. The edge of the disk is serrated, and the disk is mounted so it can spin freely on its axis. The air stream spins the brass disk at high speeds. The flat plate is attached to the fin along its leading edge by a hinge so it can freely swing to either side.

Sidewinder-01

An AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile installed on an F-14 Tomcat. The AIM-9 is a short range, heat seeking air-to-air missile.

An AIM-9 Sidewinder Missile installed on an F-14 Tomcat. The AIM-9 is a short range, heat seeking air-to-air missile.

Sidewinder-03

So, when the missile is fired, the brass disk is spinning very rapidly, and it’s mounted in the flat plate, which can swing from side to side. And here is the Quiz Question.

What does this arrangement do? If you are an engineer or a physicist looking at this you will figure it out immediately. Engineers and physicists are invited to have a go at this immediately. Post your answers in the comments section below.

UPDATE AND ANSWER

Jim Medding has provided the correct answer that these tabs are used for roll stabilization. He left it for me to provide the mechanism.

This was over 50 years ago, but at the time I first examined this mechanism I was a full time engineering student and a part time Aviation Ordnanceman in the Navy Reserve. About five seconds, and it dawned on me. The tabs work this way:

The outer edge of each brass disk sticks out into the wind, causing the disk to rotate. Applying some basic principles of physics, If the missile rolls (to the right for example), then each disk will be rotated to the right. Because of the direction it’s spinning, the disk will apply torque on the hinged tab and force it to swing to the right, into the air stream on the right side of the fin it’s mounted on. That will produce an aerodynamic force to resist the roll in that direction. Similarly if the missile rolls to the left. These tabs with their rotting disks are an automatic roll stabilization mechanism with a built in control mechanism and requiring no power from the missile control system, which is located way forward on the missile body, anyhow.

It was so slick, I never forgot about it in all this time, and I tip my hat to the engineer who came up with the concept.

Terminal Velocity

Forty years ago I worked for a company that made document processing systems, and we hired a new guy from Texas Instruments. His name was Clyde, and he was going to be my new boss. He had been working on the project at Texas Instruments called Paveway. He showed us this remarkable picture.

Yes, that’s a 2000-pound low-drag bomb making a direct hit on the driver’s side window of a 2-1/4-ton truck. How would you like to be the driver of that truck? In this case the bomb is a dud, but for the driver it would not matter.

Later I went to work for Texas Instruments, and I got to meet a number of the remarkable people who developed this weapon system. One was a guy named Art. Then ten years ago I was working on a contract job at Raytheon Corporation in Tucson, and there were some of these same people. Raytheon had purchased the Texas Instruments military component and moved it out west.

One of the people who moved to Tucson was Art. I don’t have to describe him. You have already seen the cartoon. Art would be a good stand in for Dilbert.

dilbert

Right down to the pocket protector.

Anyhow, it was Saturday, and I went in to work to get caught up. The work area was a large room about the size of a basketball court, and there weren’t many there that Saturday. But Art was there, working away on guidance and control software for Paveway. And that was so ironic. The news had just announced the untimely demise of al-Qaeda in Iraq mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He had been attending a meeting at a house north of Baqubah when an F-16 fighter dropped two guided bombs on the house. One of the bombs was a Paveway. The thought immediately, struck me: “Dilbert killed al-Zarquawi.” The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the pocket protector is mightier than the Kalashnikov.

Interestingly, al-Zarqawi was not killed immediately. Troops on the ground were ready to go in and pick up the pieces when al-Zarqawi emerged, dazed and moribund. But I began to wonder would it must have been like to be the target of a 500 to 2000-pound bomb that comes right at you barely over the speed of sound. Many have found out, and the answer is nothing. Those so targeted likely have no idea they are acting out the last seconds of their lives.

And that’s kind of too bad. In the recent case of Jihadi John here was a person who took obvious pleasure in working agony on people before ultimately killing them, not always in the most pleasant way. Yet, for him last week, the end came unbidden and unseen. He never got to know he was going to die. There is some injustice here. It is, however, an injustice I am willing to accept.

Keep reading, jihadists. And keep an eye on the sky. Dilbert is out there waiting for you.

Lock and Load

I get introduced to a variety of people on Facebook. I would not trade these experiences for anything. A few days ago a conservative Facebook friend linked to a post by Steve Reichart. Steve is a United States Marine, currently not on active duty. He’s a Marine with an attitude. That’s what I expect of a Marine. I’ve known a few, and every one had an attitude.

Steve’s attitude is decidedly anti-liberal. He’s not slow to let us know:

If you could list three attributes common amongst liberals what would they be?

I know my 1st one would be “Unarmed”

No doubt his Facebook followers share his views on liberals. Of course, they could be wrong on a few points. For example, “Unarmed?” Pardon me while I chuckle. I’m counting five ultra-liberal souls in my immediate acquaintance, some related to me, and they are all heavily armed. And they know how to use their weapons. Another, a former boss of mine, ex-Navy officer, Ph.D. in mathematics, is an absolute gun fanatic. It’s likely this kind of information would take some of the shine off Steve Reichart’s rhetoric, but I resist pursuing that quest.

Besides being down on liberals, Steve has a thing with guns, ammo, and other symbols of firepower. He posts a bunch of appropriate images on Facebook. Here are some of them:

ReichartPistol

ReichartAPICartridges

ReichartMoreAPICartridges

Pictures of weapons and ammo show you are the type of man who is familiar with this kind of stuff. While some may say this is a bit of pointless bravado, I beg to disagree. I think it’s kind of cute.

img352loadingammunition-01

JSS-512

The Junior Varsity Team

From Wikipedia: ISIS territory as of 24 August 2014

From Wikipedia: ISIS territory as of 24 August 2014

Here’s what the President had to say about ISIS:

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a jayvee team puts on Lakers uniforms that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Obama said, resorting to an uncharacteristically flip analogy. “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

That looked like a sizable opening for some:

Christians are being “butchered” in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State and we knew this was coming starting last year, but President Barack Obama called ISIS “junior league or something JV,” said Rev. Franklin Graham, adding that the president “absolutely” must be more vocal and speak out in defense of Christians being persecuted in the Middle East.

That was from the notable expert on international military balance of power the Reverend Franklin Graham. There have been others:

Yes, truth is the first casualty of war and the Obama administration certainly wouldn’t be the first to fudge the numbers. But there is a line between propaganda to confuse the enemy and lies to confuse the American people. And this administration is guilty of some real whoppers.

That post did not directly address the President’s assertion that ISIS is junior varsity. The fact remains that he has gotten a lot of heat over this assertion, so it may be worth an assessment. Is ISIS (ISIL, Daesh) big league or not.

I did that already months ago:

All right then. We have all seen the videos. We have all studied the news reports of atrocious behavior.The threat “We will raise the flag of Allah in the White House,” has caught our attention. What then to make of this new face of religious fundamentalism?

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel lightly put it “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. So we must prepare for everything.” He is speaking of ISIS, Islamic State in Syria, which can most generously described as a bunch of frat boys with Kalashnikov rifles.

And that should have just about taken care of that. Not only does the President of the United States consider ISIS to be junior league, I do, as well. And I have the last word here. Here’s a little skeptical analysis:

If ISIS is not JV, then who is? Here are the facts about ISIS:

  • No firm control over defined geography
  • No significant industrial base
  • Dependent on external clients for financial support
  • Fluid or weak bureaucracy
  • Ill-defined legal structure
  • Weak technological and intellectual resources

Besides all that, they are starting at the bottom rungs of military ratings. What they have going for them is an energetic, dedicated fighting force. What they do not have is a lot of depth in their military organization. They have some top generals and a bunch of committed fighters. They do not have the seasoned command structure required of a modern fighting force.

They lack the weaponry of a modern fighting force:

  • Limited or no air defense radar
  • No high performance aircraft
  • No military air transport
  • No navy
  • No long range missiles
  • No way to deliver heavy military ordnance
  • Primitive intelligence gathering capabilities.

Let’s compare ISIS to a modern, but not first tier military, Egypt:

  • F-16 fighter jets
  • One of the most powerful air defenses in the world
  • National military academy
  • M1 Abrams tanks
  • Electronic counter measures aircraft
  • Modern naval fleet, including submarines

And much more. In all of this there is not much left for ISIS/ISIL/Daesh but junior varsity. I really hate it when the President and I are on the same page with something.

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Posted on Facebook

Keep reading.