Belmont Club

Belmont Club

Who’s In Charge of the Oncoming Train

June 30th, 2015 - 1:22 am

A sense of palpable depression came over conservative America after the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare subsidies and decided that gay marriage was a constitutional right.  Many felt as if the America they knew and loved had been abducted by space aliens and replaced with something new and hostile.  In contrast to this emotional devastation the left seemed buoyed by euphoria.

“Look ma, I’m on top of the world!” Yet over the same period the liberal landscape fell apart even faster.The last decade has witnessed a vertiginous decline in Washington’s economic, political and military power.  The economic engine of liberalism was dying under them, sustained only by the vapors of deficit spending and illusionism.

Its political dominance was being challenged by totalitarian regimes in China and Russia.   Even the triumphant tide of liberal values was being offset by the rise of neo-Nazi parties in Europe and the spread of Islamic ideas throughout the world. Justice Kennedy’s decision was answered in the real world by the Turkish police breaking up the Gay Pride parade in Istanbul.  Elsewhere its adherents were experiencing rapid descents from multistory buildings in without the benefit of an elevator at the hands of ISIS executioners.

If the world that conservative Americans once cherished has diminished; it has not been as rapid as the shrinkage of the liberal universe.  Both aspects of old world are dying  never to come back.  The post World War 2 era of Franklin Roosevelt has nearly run its course.  The difference is that the conservatives are more aware of its passing and may become more active in building what replaces it.

A miniature representation of the crisis is being acted out in Greece where the left is embarked on a Battle Royale against reality. With reference to reality ‘we refuse to accept it,’ says the Greek government, vowing to block expulsion from the Euro. There are no reasons, no math, no proofs that 1+1 <> 2. Just refusals. Insistence has taken the place of facts, and is uttered in the confidence that Someone will provide it.  Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister said:

“We are taking advice and will certainly consider an injunction at the European Court of Justice,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“The EU treaties make no provision for euro exit and we refuse to accept it. Our membership is not negotiable.”

The defiant stand came as Europe’s major powers warned in the bluntest terms that Greece will be forced out of monetary union if voters reject austerity and reform demands in a shock referendum on Sunday.

Not that lawyers can restock the ATMs, the supermarkets or the gas stations. All they can produce is paper, of the kind the Supreme Court decisions are written on. But paper has its limitations — once past the world of paper  Greece is being ripped apart as a sacrifice to the European fantasy. It seems like Greece must die so the narrative may continue live as explained by Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, in an NPR interview. Obama was working to keep Greece in the EU because it is part of the Plan.

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Greece is the Word

June 28th, 2015 - 9:05 pm

News that Greece has closed its banks for an indefinite period has fueled anxiety among pundits that things are not going as well as expected.  Mohamed El-Erian, chairman of Barack Obama’s global development council, writes in the Guardian that “from the Greek crisis to Russia’s incursion in Ukraine, leaders must act fast to ensure that they can dissipate each crisis before it merges with the others.”  There’s a storm coming, he says, and Someone’s got to stop it.

Dark clouds are lowering over Europe’s economic future, as three distinct tempests gather: the Greek crisis, Russia’s incursion in Ukraine, and the rise of populist political parties. Though each poses a considerable threat, Europe, aided by the recent cyclical pickup, is in a position to address them individually, without risking more than a temporary set of disruptions. Should they converge into a kind of “perfect storm”, however, a return to sunny days will become extremely difficult to foresee any time soon. …

Already, Greek voters handed the far-left anti-austerity Syriza party a sweeping victory in January. France’s far-right National Front is currently second in opinions polls. The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party finished second in the country’s just-concluded general election, with 22% of the vote. And, in Spain, the leftist anti-austerity Podemos commands double-digit support.

There is an ironic sense of foreboding at the end of what Politico called a  “momentous week” when Obama’s presidency was reborn.  Bari Weiss was a witness to history.

On Friday my phone was blowing up with messages, asking if I’d seen the news. Some expressed disbelief at the headlines. Many said they were crying.

None of them were talking about the dozens of people gunned down in Sousse, Tunisia, by a man who, dressed as a tourist, had hidden his Kalashnikov inside a beach umbrella. Not one was crying over the beheading in a terrorist attack at a chemical factory near Lyon, France. The victim’s head was found on a pike near the factory, his body covered with Arabic inscriptions. And no Facebook friends mentioned the first suicide bombing in Kuwait in more than two decades, in which 27 people were murdered in one of the oldest Shiite mosques in the country.

They were talking about the only news that mattered: gay marriage.

By some cruel coincidence, while everyone was celebrating victories on really important issues like transfats, transgender and alternative marriage the world has suddenly had a conniption.  Aside from the perils the Guardian cited, there is ISIS, China’s economic troubles and the growing tension in the South China Sea. While awaiting Someone to fix things or bail them out, the Greeks are reduced to wondering what comes next. The BBC has a one-word German term for the Greek financial system. Kaput.

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You are the Someone

June 27th, 2015 - 4:37 pm

Two news stories, each from a different side of the Atlantic, talk about the same thing but in different ways. The British Daily Mail has an article headed by a picture showing ISIS gunman Seifeddine Rezgui “with his AK47 – casually passing abandoned inflatables as a group of men keep their distance behind him”. Rezgui isn’t even holding his weapon at the ready.  He knew the men only 10 yards behind him wouldn’t sprint the distance to tackle him.

He is walking with the confidence of a wolf among sheep.

One commenter wondered what Someone was doing while this ‘tragedy’ occurred. “How come there was an alarm raised, carrying that machine gun, it was obvious to the onlookers in the picture. Somebody could have prevented another tragedy in the name of this perverse and ancient religion.”

On the American side of the Atlantic, Rukmini Callimachi has a long piece in the New York Times describing how a “lonely” American girl was gradually converted to Islam by an ISIS interlocutor on the Internet. “Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.”

The only Muslims she knew were those she had met online, and he encouraged her to keep it that way, arguing that Muslims are persecuted in the United States. She could be labeled a terrorist, he warned, and for now it was best for her to keep her conversion secret, even from her family.

So on his guidance, Alex began leading a double life. She kept teaching at her church, but her truck’s radio was no longer tuned to the Christian hits on K-LOVE. Instead, she hummed along with the ISIS anthems blasting out of her turquoise iPhone, and began daydreaming about what life with the militants might be like.

“I felt like I was betraying God and Christianity,” said Alex, who spoke on the condition that she be identified only by a pseudonym she uses online. “But I also felt excited because I had made a lot of new friends.”

The NYT article calls the process enticing the lonely. The other phrase for it is filling the emptied. ”She felt as if she finally had something to do,” Callimachi wrote.

The West is filled with millions of people like Alex, all of them waiting for Someone. They are the product of a multi-decade campaign to deliberately empty people of their culture; to actually make them ashamed of it. They were purposely drained of God, country, family like chickens so they could be stuffed with the latest narrative of the progressive meme machine. The Gramscian idea was to produce a blank slate upon which the Marxist narrative could be written.

Too bad for the Gramscians that the Islamists are beating them to the empty sheets of paper.  And they are better at it too.  Maybe the old Bolsheviks could have given ISIS a run for its money, but today’s liberals have declined from their sires.  George Orwell observed the takeover of hardcore Bolshevism by the periphery in the 1930s.

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The Fourth Continent

June 26th, 2015 - 6:43 pm

The New York Times calls the closely-spaced attacks on tourist beach resorts in Tunisia, a mosque in Kuwait and a gas plant in France an attack by ISIS on “three continents”.  The writers suggest the attacks reveal an ISIS “global strategy”  which is known to consist of three pillars.

  • inciting regional conflict with attacks in Iraq and Syria;
  • building relationships with jihadist groups that can carry out military operations across the Middle East and North Africa;
  • and inspiring, and sometimes helping, ISIS sympathizers to conduct attacks in the West.

The media has forgotten to mention the Islamic state’s attack on Kurdish Kobane “five months after the extremists were driven from the area with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes,” Liz Sly of the Washington Post reports.  ”By nightfall, most of the militants had been captured, killed or surrounded, and Kurdish forces were reported to be restoring order. But the attack was a reminder of the Islamic State’s continued ability to upset the battlefield even when it appears to be on the defensive.”  It is also a reminder of how bogus the president’s supposed victories are.

Responding to allegations that Ankara passed the ISIS strike force through its line “Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denied allegations that authorities in Turkey facilitated an Islamic State (IS) attack on the Syrian border town of Kobane, which has resulted in what a monitoring group has described as a major civilian massacre.”  Regional politcs has been screwy for a while.  The borders which the 4ID was forbidden to cross are not so off-limits to passage by Islamists.

The Atlantic calls it the recent attacks a triumph of the “leaderless Jihad”. “The Times and others have pointed out that the attacks came three days after an ISIS spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, appeared to call for heightened violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in an audio message. Charlie Winter, a researcher at the London-based Quilliam Foundation, posted excerpts on Twitter.” The Atlantic believes, that to paraphrase Marx,  ”a spectre is haunting the West — the spectre of islamism.”

But the Atlantic puts the case too high. As Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan show in their book, The Rise of ISIS, as an historical force it is both an idea and a political movement. ISIS is the joint expression of Islamic sectarian conflict, despair at the failed politics of dictatorship in Africa and the Middle East, the Frankenstein monster of the intelligence services of Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf states and the ineptitude of the West. Besides that, it is also an apocalyptic idea which attracts Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Persians and rootless Westerners. A recruit told Weiss and Hassan why he had joined.

A great number of ISIS members who were interviewed for this book echoed similar sentiments — and hyperbolic appraisals — of the terror army, which has mastered how to break down the psyches of those who it wishes to recruit, and then build them back up again in its own image. Abdulsattar’s reference to “intellectualism” may seem bizarre or even grotesque to a Western observer, but it refers to ISIS’s carefully elaborated ideological narrative, a potent blend of Islamic hermeneutics, history and politics.

What he described was no different from the total moral and intellectual immersion explained by Communists who later abandoned their faith in Marxism-Leninism. “We have thrown overboard all conventions, our sole guiding principle is that of consequent logic; we are sailing without ethical ballast,” Arthur Koestler’s Rubashov remembers in Darkness at Noon after facing his own interrogation by Party commissars. Minutes later, Rubashov is shot by the very dictatorship to which he had given his life for forty years.”

These two powerful paragraphs fail only in omitting the revivalist sense of the Jihad. ISIS represents not only what its followers see as new, but also promises to give back to them a lost heritage; a identity submerged by a Westernism they have to reject and despise.  It is a rebellion against not everything that modern political correctness holds profane — and therefore sacred; a hatred exceeded only by their contempt.

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Kidnapped

June 25th, 2015 - 4:25 am

News that president Obama will no longer threaten families that pay ransom with prosecution has pleased some, but worried others. USA Today reports, “President Obama unveiled new rules Wednesday that would basically allow families to offer private ransom payments for relatives kidnapped overseas.”

While the federal government will continue to refuse to make ransom payments, Obama and other officials said families will no longer be threatened with prosecution if they seek to do so privately.

“I’m making it clear that these families are to be treated like what they are — our trusted partners and active partners in the recovery of their loved ones,” Obama said in announcing the changes from the White House.

Before examining the pros and cons of this new policy it may be helpful to review the economics of ransom. Megan McArdle describes the problem succinctly in the Atlantic.

Economists would describe hostage negotiation as a bilateral monopoly price negotiation that is structurally just a special case of chicken. That is, unlike a barrel of oil or a freight car full of soybeans which can trade on an extremely liquid market with innumerable buyers and sellers, a hostage has exactly one seller (the kidnappers) and exactly one buyer (the employer and/or family of the hostage). When there is only one buyer, the opportunity cost for ransoming the hostage is zero. Likewise, the employer and/or family has no realistic alternative means to recover the hostage. In order for everybody to walk away happy, we need a cooperate-cooperate outcome: the kidnapper has to give up the hostage and the employer/family has to give up a ransom. This structure also characterizes art theft, which in practice is not a matter of fencing art on the black market but ransoming art to a museum’s insurance company.

The problem the hostage taker must solve is what can he charge? Only as much as the victim’s family and friends can pay.  If the kidnapper is unwilling to accept more than can be afforded and kills the hostage, he essentially gets zero from the transacation. The perp’s best bet is to hold out only for as much as he can realistically expect to be paid.

Back in the days when I worked staff support in negotiations with Muslim rebels in Mindanao the wives of kidnapped roadmenders used to rattle begging tin cans along the road trying to raise money to ransom their husbands or sons from the rebels. About $50 American would do it since rebels knew that was about as much as a destitute woman in Basilan could raise.  However, if the rebels believe they had a more valuable captive such as a public works supervisor, then they might ask for more.

If bandidos board a provincial bus they will most likely rob the passengers. As long as most of them are peons, none of them are worth the trouble kidnapping. Not at fifty bucks a head. But if they run into someone with blond hair and blue eyes the cry will go up, “a Gringo!!” and the game changes for that man because suddenly they have come upon a person worth kidnapping.  Being kidnapped is not always the worst outcome. If the bandidos had originally intended to kill everyone on the bus being the gringo might make the difference between living or dying.

The dynamics of perceived value was illustrated by a kidnapping that happened about 3 years back to someone I knew who stopped by some rebels. They took his cell phone and money and would have let it go at that before noticing some recognizable names when scrolling through the phone’s telephone directory. That changed his value.  He spent 2 years a prisoner until the negotiators could raise the demanded price.

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Armies of the Dead

June 23rd, 2015 - 12:34 am

It’s a controversial symbol of racial supremacy, widely believed to have caused the death of millions.  Yet its standards still fly proudly in the center of a great capital city, arousing outrage in those who suffered at its hands. Despite its record of shame, people still flock to its memorials while high officials, including national leaders, regularly pay lip service to it. No we are not talking about the Confederate Battle Flag but the Yasukuni Shrine in Japan.

In Yasakuni’s hallowed precincts are venerated the memory of “1,068 war criminals; 14 of whom are considered A-Class”.  This has not stopped Japanese prime ministers from putting aside postwar reticence and paying symbolic tribute to the warrior gods of the shrine, much to the chagrin of 1.3 billion Chinese, whose symbol is the Five Star Red Flag. which itself fluttered over many a massacre.

The symbols of the past die hard.  But some are more potent than others. While it is doubtful whether the Confederate Battle Flag will every fly over anything but re-enactors again,  the Naval Ensign of the Imperial Japanese Navy has fluttered over what is now the 5th most powerful fleet in the world since 1954.  Wikipedia notes that “today’s JMSDF continues to use the same martial songs, naval flags, signs and technical terms as the IJN. For example, the official flag of the JMSDF is the same as that used by the IJN.”

Also, the JMSDF tradition of eating Japanese curry every Friday lunch originated with the IJN. The JMSDF still uses the Warship March, the old service march of the IJN, as its official service march. It also maintains the IJN bugle calls tradition, as every ship and shore establishment command maintain a platoon or squad of bugle players.”

Not to be outdone,  symbols of the Soviet Union are rising from the grave. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 many Eastern European countries initially demolished Soviet military memorials, which they regarded as hated symbols of oppression.  But there was one they failed to topple before it fell under the protection of a resurgent Kremlin.

One relic of the Soviet era was the so-called bronze statue – a monument more than two meters tall depicting a Soviet soldier bowing his head in mourning for those killed in the war. It was erected in a rather inconspicuous place in the centre of Tallinn in 1947 and for a long time received little attention. That only changed after Estonia became independent, when an increasing number of the Russian minority in Estonia began laying flowers at the statue every year on 9 May, Soviet Victory Day. For a long time this did not particularly bother anyone. …

But in May 2006 Estonia’s prime minister, Andrus Ansip, declared that the monument symbolised the occupation of the country and should therefore be removed. A few months later a law to this effect was passed, even though there had been repeated warnings that Russia would regard this as a provocation. …

When the decision went into effect on 27 April 2007 and the bronze statue was removed from the city and taken to a cemetery on the edge of town, riots that went on for several days broke out in Tallinn. Thereafter the Estonian embassy in Moscow was besieged by youth groups loyal to the Kremlin, relations between Estonia and Russia deteriorated dramatically.

Now Soviets symbols are potent again. To paraphrase HP Lovecraft, the past is like Cthulhu: ”dead but dreaming”. And occasionally it wakes up and walks around. For a few days each year Volgograd is restored to its former name. Stalingrad.

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Leap of Faith

June 22nd, 2015 - 2:33 am

More details have emerged about the  theft by Chinese hackers of millions of records from the Office of Personnel Management. A team from the New York Times says that “undetected for nearly a year, the Chinese intruders executed a sophisticated attack that gave them ‘administrator privileges’ into the computer networks at the Office of Personnel Management, mimicking the credentials of people who run the agency’s systems.”

The administration is still trying to determine how many of the SF-86 national security forms — which include information that could be useful for anyone seeking to identify or recruit an American intelligence agent, nuclear weapons engineer or vulnerable diplomat — had been stolen.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, the administration says it isn’t quite sure how it happened.

In congressional testimony and in interviews, officials investigating the breach at the personnel office have struggled to explain why the defenses were so poor for so long. Last week, the office’s director, Katherine Archuleta, stumbled through a two-hour congressional hearing. She was unable to say why the agency did not follow through on inspector general reports, dating back to 2010, that found severe security lapses and recommended shutting down systems with security clearance data.

When she failed to explain why much of the information in the system was not encrypted — something that is standard today on iPhones, for example — Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat who usually supports Mr. Obama’s initiatives, snapped at her. “I wish that you were as strenuous and hardworking at keeping information out of the hands of hackers,” he said, “as you are keeping information out of the hands of Congress and federal employees.”

Her performance in classified briefings also frustrated several lawmakers. “I don’t get the sense at all they understand the problem,” said Representative Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat, who called for Ms. Archuleta’s resignation. “They seem like deer in the headlights.”

Something walked through their defenses.  The NYT noted that “the government has spent ‘at least $65 billion’ since 2006 on protective measures”. But though the shields should have been up, nobody actually turned them on even when multiple warnings were sounded. The Washington Post reports that a whiff of negligence is in the air and lawyers are encouraging federal employees to sue the US government for allowing the exposure of their personal details, which might allow, among other things, Chinese spies to buy things on their credit cards or impersonate them online.

As current and former federal workers try to figure out if their personal information was exposed in a recently disclosed breach at the Office of Personnel Management, experts say that there are protections built into the law that could enable the employees to take the government to court.

The agency is currently notifying those affected by the breach, which may have exposed the Social Security numbers, dates of birth and addresses of workers along with information about their careers in public service. The government is offering those caught up in the incident 18 months of credit monitoring and identity theft protections, but experts have warned that victims of data breaches may face an increased risk of fraud due to compromised information that persists after those services expire. And they may have other legal options. …

Rotenberg said consumers could argue that OPM was so negligent in protecting workers’ data that its actions amounted to willful disclosure of that information. “The agency was on notice that it had a security problem and failed to rectify it,” he said, referencing years of OPM Inspector General reports that highlighted problems with the agency’s digital defenses.

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Losing the Merge

June 21st, 2015 - 3:30 am

In Frederick Forsyth’s Day of the Jackal, the failed assassin of Charles de Gaulle, Lt Colonel Jean Bastien-Thiry, is told by his lawyer that he would be executed at dawn following the rejection of his appeal. Bastien however, remained unconcerned. “You don’t understand,” he tells his lawyer, “no French soldier will raise his rifle against me”. The next scene shows Bastien being executed by a firing squad without the slightest hesitation.  So much for the French soldier.

Every propagandist of the deed acts in the expectation of providing a spark, in case Bastien-Thiry to ignite the French recovery of Algeria; in the case of Dylan Roof to rekindle among Caucasians a “racial awareness”.   Roof’s manifesto, reproduced in Talking Points Memo is less about racism than race war.  It is an argument meant to justify not an attack upon individuals,  but like war on anyone at all, provided he wore a different color of uniform.

Roof’s manifesto consists of the same elements, except in its details, as that of any other aggrieved identity group —  Hamas, the Abu Sayyaf, the Tamil Tigers, Black Panthers or the Nazi Party.  Every element of an identity manifesto is there: a paradise lost, an ongoing betrayal (in this case by the Jews) of the People to an enemy, the specter of identity extinction and the critical need for action.  As with every propagandist of the deed before him, Roof is determined he must show the way because words are not enough.

I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.

And the only way to show seriousness is to go kill someone innocent, precisely because they are innocent; to convey the fact that it’s not about them, but about THEM. That’s pretty much the line that Tareq Kamleh, a “blue-eyed”, “clean cut”, hard drinking womanizing young Australian pediatrician who left to join ISIS took. The doctor’s narrative arc is nearly identical to Roof’s:  how he was once a young apolitical doctor till the day he had an epiphany and  reborn under a new name.  Then the words of the changed man: Kamleh’s parting words were reminiscent of Roof’s burning of the American flag, renouncing his medical license and his citizenship in a goodbye to all that:

1. I have no concern if you cancel my registration
2. I have no concern if you cancel my passport
3. I knew where I was coming
4. I intend to stay here
5. I anticipated an arrest warrant, hence why I left in secret
6. None of the case you put forward has indicated to me a malicious character on my behalf and it is this injustice within the Australian judicial system that was a catalyst for me to leave.

Do as you please, I no longer consider myself an Australian. The continuous bombing of civillian targets here by the coalition has done nothing but disappoint me of the country I once loved so much

While many pundits would bridle at depicting Roof a kind young man,  no one had any reservations about describing Yorkshire’s Talha Asmal, at 17 “Britain’s youngest suicide bomber” as a “loving, kind, caring and affable teenager … [who] … never harbored any ill-will against anybody nor did he ever exhibit any violent, extreme or radical views of any kind” — that is until he drove a car packed with explosive into a town in Iraq, killing 11 people he had never met before in his life.

Far from being “lone wolves” of media depiction, the new identity soldiers are a drug on the market.  ”ISIS statements on Saturday named Britani as one of four suicide bombers. The others were said to be a German, a Kuwaiti and a Palestinian. All four were photographed by ISIS standing beside SUVs.”  The West wanted multiculturalism and got it, though perhaps not in the way they expected.

Affinity has become primary.  It’s not the people who murder in the name of their identity that feel they must explain themselves any more.  It is those who for some quaint reason are stubbornly patriotic to that most lost of causes, the nation of memory or the brotherhood of man, that are called upon to justify themselves. When people are willing to renounce an American, Australian, British or German passport for the privilege of killing strangers in the name of their hyphenated prefix it clearly raises the question of whether the glue that Western society is counting on to hold things together has any more adhesive power.

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Undersea Kingdoms

June 18th, 2015 - 4:25 am

This presentation by Bryan Clark of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments provides a stimulating look into the past and future of undersea warfare.  The thrust of the argument is that naval warfare has become a battle for infrastructure — for the “network” if you will — in a fundamental way.

You can think of the surface of the sea as dividing the horizon into high and low bandwidth regions. The undersea is a low bandwidth environment, a fact which gives the submarine stealth, but also makes it blind.  On the surface you can see and be seen. New developments now make it possible to selectively combine aspects of both; and free one’s forces from bandwidth constraints such that underwater assets can become both sighted and visible, the trick being to ensure you remain the former without being the latter.

But neither comes from some magic hull mounted device.  Rather information dominance comes from an infrastructure that navies can construct.

Modern technology can overcome the latencies of the undersea world by using a combination of robotics and both mobile and fixed arrays of sensors, weapons and logistical and communications points. This infrastructure can either be tethered to the bottom or be conceived as moving underwater cloud of devices that can drift into a country’s near seas.  Who dominates the infrastructure, wins.

The dual nature of these developments impel both China and the US to master the Asian waters for completely different purposes.  Currently Chinese anti-access capabilities are limited to surface and air targets.  From the point of view of Beijing, they must to wire up their coastal seas if they are to have any hope of closing off the subsurface to the USN.  From the point of view of Washington, continued access to the Chinese coast requires the development of a combat infrastructure to neutralize one that Beijing will almost certainly build.  At least this is what Clark appears to argue.
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Social Engineering

June 17th, 2015 - 4:25 pm

Ars Technica, describing how China “hacked” the OPM database, obtaining the records of millions of Federal Employees, notes that we should we should use the word “hack” advisedly.  The attackers “had valid user credentials and run of network” which they obtained through “social engineering”.

Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Dr. Andy Ozment testified that encryption would “not have helped in this case” because the attackers had gained valid user credentials to the systems that they attacked—likely through social engineering. And because of the lack of multifactor authentication on these systems, the attackers would have been able to use those credentials at will to access systems from within and potentially even from outside the network.

“Social engineering” for those that don’t know, is an IT security term for “someone gave them the password”. It’s not hard to see how the Chinese might have wheedled out a credential.

Some of the contractors that have helped OPM with managing internal data have had security issues of their own—including potentially giving foreign governments direct access to data long before the recent reported breaches. A consultant who did some work with a company contracted by OPM to manage personnel records for a number of agencies told Ars that he found the Unix systems administrator for the project “was in Argentina and his co-worker was physically located in the [People's Republic of China]. Both had direct access to every row of data in every database: they were root. Another team that worked with these databases had at its head two team members with PRC passports. I know that because I challenged them personally and revoked their privileges. From my perspective, OPM compromised this information more than three years ago and my take on the current breach is ‘so what’s new?’”

Katherine Achuleta, the director of OPM claims that at least she found the “hack” — note the use of scare quotes used to preserve the reputation of real, honest hacking.  ”Archuleta told the committee that the breach was found only because she had been pushing forward with an aggressive plan to update OPM’s security, centralizing the oversight of IT security under the chief information officer and implementing ‘numerous tools and capabilities.’ She claimed that it was during the process of updating tools that the breach was discovered.”

Admiral Kimmel should have used that line at Pearl Harbor. “I noticed the base was bombed and informed Washington immediately.”

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