I ran across a report today that really troubled me. There is something about this story that brings up those little hairs on the back of my neck.

A dive shop in Florida reports that five, Middle-Eastern-looking men purchased some sophisticated diving gear from a local shop. Details are scant, but this was some form of rebreather gear, the kind that does not leave a trail of bubbles as you swim. This sort of equipment is very specialized, and quite dangerous to use without significant training. It is typically sold to photographers (bubbles scare the fish) and to commercial divers who work in enclosed spaces. The shop owner became suspicious when the men turned down his offer for instruction in how to use the equipment, which is unusual.

One method of destroying a large vessel is to magnetically attach a small packet of explosives to the hull, under the water. The water pressure acts as a tamp, holding the pressure of the explosion against the target and increasing its effectiveness. Terrorists have already used this technique to destroy naval ships with considerable success elsewhere in the world.

This story becomes even more interesting in the context of this report, which describes how the Coast Guard is now enforcing a permanent ban on allowing any private vessel to come within 100 yards of a Navy ship. This was how the USS Cole was attacked; Al Queda suicide bombers came alongside her in a small boat packed with explosives.

My bet is that Navy ships already have pretty good defenses against divers carrying explosives. I'd also expect that cruse ships and natural gas tankers do not. This is scary stuff, especially when you consider that if these men really are a threat, they already have the gear and they are ready to go, right now.

You heard it here first.

Update: It occurs to me that I owe an apology to the people who have been putting out those vague, annoying, and allegedly self-serving terrorist alerts that I have been so quick to criticize. Their recent warning - be on the lookout of terrorist frogmen - was custom-made for ridicule.

Well, maybe it was pretty damn good idea, after all. Some guy somewhere sold some gear, thought about the warning, and made a call. Little things like that can mean the difference between a good catch and a disaster.

We live in a different world now. It's going to take a while before we learn how to adapt to it, to learn what's going to work and what's not. I'm more than happy to learn, too, and that means changing my mind sometimes.

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Good News Or Bad?
Thursday, May 16, 2002

As you've probably heard, AP is reporting that President Bush was warned in August of last year of a possible Bin Laden plot to hijack American aircraft.

Some people will see this as terrible news. They will say that it is, at best, a sign of Bush's personal incompetence, or at least the incompetence of his staff, and at worse it may provide fuel to the idiotic conspiracy theories that grow like mold in the shadowed minds of the insecure.

Personally, I see it as good news. Things like this indicate that your government was actually doing what it is supposed to do.

Think about it. We have a gigantic intelligence capability at our disposal, which is tasked with identifying emerging risks, filtering the crap from the good stuff, and seeing that the right people see the result. These folks are not perfect, but they probably do a pretty good job (I say "probably" because we hardly ever learn of their successes. They can use top-secret methods to stop ten attacks in a row and we'll never know it, but if the eleventh attack succeeds, they are expected to take the resulting criticism and say nothing).

They process a gigantic amount of stuff, most of which is non-specific, unconfirmed, and which pretty much leaves you with very few concrete options in response. If you read the AP's version of events, the hijack warning was detected, correctly processed, and dropped, in a timely manner, on the President's desk, where handled exactly as it should be, which means that the appropriate agencies were notified of yet another non-specific threat, and they were asked to pay attention and to take care.

This is what it looks like when everybody has done a good job. If we hadn't detected any threat from Bin Laden, or if these threats hadn't made it to the President's desk, or if he hadn't shared this information with other agencies, I'd feel a lot worse.

I'm sure the President gets to hear about a lot more than I'll ever hear about when it comes to national security. In the last week, I've personally received the following "warnings" from my own intelligence sources on the internet:

1) Three gunmen stole a truck carrying hundreds of pounds of cyanide in Mexico, near the Texas border. They are still unaccounted for.

2) Thieves have stolen "a large quantity" of fertilizer from a three-state area of the last few months. Still unaccounted for.

3) Overseas sources have provided repeated warning of Palestinian-style suicide bombings in the US.

4) Audits have revealed that tons of nuclear waste is missing for various storage facilities in the US, many of which are lightly guarded.

5) Two suspicious men with Israeli passports were stopped within empty truck containing traces of explosives (this later proved to be a false alarm).

I haven't even bothered to mention most of these reports on my web site, because they are vague, unspecific, and just a small, unremarkable part of a flood of similar information I encounter each week. If, a month from now, a fertilizer-cyanide bomb were to take out a major city, should I be called out for my negligence in not shouting this information from the rooftops?

The press loves stories that generate controversy and discussion, and they can be counted on to spin them in the most dramatic and damning way they can. Just the hint of an implication that "Bush knew it was coming" is earthshaking.

Strangely, though, any suggestion that "Clinton knew it was coming" fails to arouse anybody. Here's proof: The FBI was warned six years ago of a terrorist plot to hijack commercial planes and slam them into the Pentagon, the CIA headquarters and other buildings [...].

Anybody feel excited by this one? Me neither.

Update: FOX News is now reporting that the Whitehouse shared their terror warnings with Democrats in the Senate before 9/11. Oops. Guess this story will go the way of Enron before the week is out.

Update: CNN News is now reporting that the hijacked cyanide truck has been found, with cargo intact.

Update: AP now reports that most of the cyanide is still missing.

Suicide Bombers In The US
Monday, May 13, 2002

The Washington Post is running an article today which you'll probably be hearing more about: U.S. Eyes Belt-Bomb Threat. The warning is a good one and there is certainly cause for concern here, but frankly, I see a more subtle danger that concerns me more.

I think it's a pretty big deal that a story like this seems to be news to so many people. We've gone several months now with nobody getting killed, and many of us, I'm afraid, are beginning to think we are in the clear now. There are probably some good reasons why people are beginning to feel this way, too.

The several vague and non-specific homeland security warnings that put us all on edge at first have proven, time and again, to be empty. The great national push for the "new normal" after 9/11, to shop and travel and invest and to live our lives without crouching under the covers has succeeded, perhaps too well, at restoring our private worlds to something very close to their pre-September states. This pre-September viewpoint does not include paying too much attention to guys like me, ranting and raving about how we are all going to get blown up soon in some giant bomb plot. Who wants to live their life worrying about that stuff all the time?

For reasons I will explain shortly, this sort of complacency may be significantly more dangerous than it appears. For reasons that I will explain right now, this sort of complacency is also dead wrong.

If you are one of those people who think that nobody has tried to kill us here in America since 9/11, go sit in the corner until you are excused. Anybody remember the shoe bomber? This guy came within seconds of dropping an airliner into the Atlantic; he used a weapon which we still cannot detect at our airports, and which will probably remain undetectable for years.

Anybody remember that big mess of people we picked up after 9/11? The guys with the haz-mat licenses, the ones who could just drive a tractor-trailer load of hazardous materials right up the center of town whenever they liked? Here's a hint, folks: these guys were not getting these licenses so they could find a nice steady job. They were not working alone. And I can promise you, we have not captured them all.

We are in danger, right now. We absolutely will be hit again, and there are likely to be thousands dead as a result. This is not paranoia, or an excess of caution, or just The Monkey going off again. It's uncomfortable and easy to dismiss, but it's just the plain truth.

And truth, unfortunately has a disturbing tendency to matter; we must not forget our situation. The belt bombers offer an instructive reminder.

Consider carefully the Post's assessment of this latest threat: impossible to defend against, impossible to tolerate, fed by a seemingly inexhaustible fund of willing murderers; hideous, tragic, probably inevitable. How do you fight such a thing?

We know how to fight it - you take the fight to the enemy. You use defensive measures to buy the precious time you need to prepare a decisive offensive action. We are in a race, right now, to break the bad guys up before they start piling American bodies in the streets. I wish that this was some sort of an exaggeration, but it isn't. Waiting passively for them to hit us again is worse then negligent, it's murderous.

If we all understood this, we would be prepared as a nation to do what was necessary, now.

Here's another instructive excerpt from the Post:

"In reality, the problem has already arrived here," he said. "We are just waking up to it." In 1997, Hoffman recalled, two men in Brooklyn -- one Palestinian and one Lebanese -- were arrested as they finalized a belt-bomb plot against the New York City subway system. In other words, "if" may be a less important question now than "when" and "where."

Think about that for a minute. Remember when Al Queda bombed the World Trade Center the first time, back in '93? Remember that they had plans to blow up the Lincoln tunnel, too, drowning thousands during rush hour? Remember we treated this like a criminal incident rather than an act of war, putting the people we happened to catch behind bars and sitting back to wait for their next move?

July 4th is coming soon, and September 11th is coming again after that. Imagine what you would demand of your government if something really terrible were to happen then, something even worse than 9/11. What would you demand then? Demand it now.

July 4th is coming soon, and September 11th is coming again after that. If we are not tearing the enemy apart before then we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

In last night's Breaking News Email, I described Sharon's speech as "very aggressive". I wasn't kidding:

[...] I came here, to the United States, to discuss the prospects of peace and stability in the region. I came to the United States to discuss the possibility of reforms in the Palestinian Authority, which are a necessary precondition to the advancement of the political process. There is no way to move forward on a political process with a terrorist, corrupt and centralist entity. I came to the United States to discuss the chances of convening a regional conference to advance stability in the region. Today, in the face of all our sincere efforts to move forward on the political path, we received another proof of the true intentions of the person leading the Palestinian Authority.

Those who call for millions of "martyrs" are guilty. Those who constantly incite are guilty. Those who fund terrorism are guilty. Those who launch terrorism are guilty. Guilty.

To anyone who tries to blackmail Israel into making concessions either big or small through the weapon of terror and intimidation, or tries to blackmail the state of Israel through sowing fear, I say today: Israel will not surrender to blackmail. He who rises up to kill us, we will pre-empt it and kill him first.

As we have proven, there is no and there will never be any shelter for terrorists, their abettors or dispatchers, and all those who are engaged in terrorism. There is no and there never will be any shelter for evil. Israel will act the same as any democracy that protects itself. Israel will act like any other democracy which fights the forces of darkness. Israel will continue to uproot the terror infrastructure.

Operation Defensive Shield was a vital and important stage in the dismantling of the terror infrastructure. The operation has yielded tremendous achievements. But our work is not done. The battle continues and will continue, until all those who believe that they can make gains through the use of terror-will cease to exist. Israel will act strongly.

I depart now to Israel with a heavy heart, heavy with grief and heavy with rage. The rage of every man and woman in Israel. The rage of each and every Jew in the world. The rage of all those who share our values: freedom, liberty and democracy Israel will fight for these values. Israel will fight anyone who tries to threaten these values. Israel will fight anyone who tries, through suicide terrorism, to sow fear. Israel will fight, Israel will triumph and when victory prevails, Israel will make peace.

Here is an excellent article (Via Rain) about the widespread misuse of social security numbers, and about a bill which proposes to fix the resulting mess. Wonderful stuff. I've been bitching about this same problem for years.

Consider the following:

When the Social Security program began in the 1930s, many Americans were uneasy with the thought of being assigned a number by the government. This is precisely why President Franklin Roosevelt felt it necessary to assure an anxious nation that "Only you and the Social Security administration will ever know your private Social Security number" [...]

This abuse of private Social Security numbers has led to a terrible loss of privacy and a troubling rise in identity theft. Since one centralized government number identifies virtually every American citizen, the private sector - including banks, insurance companies, credit reporting agencies and other businesses - predictably adopted the numbers to identify their customers. In fact, federal law requires financial institutions to obtain Social Security numbers from account holders.

The widespread dissemination of private numbers makes it possible for unscrupulous persons to easily obtain a victim's Social Security number and access bank accounts, obtain credit cards, and assume a false identity [...] This legislation will forbid the use of Social Security numbers by any federal agency other than the Social Security Administration [and] also places the same prohibition on state and local governments, which have no business using federal Social Security numbers in the first place [...] The premise is quite simple: Social Security numbers should be used only for the administration of Social Security benefits.

Furthermore, the act requires the Social Security Administration to offer every American a new Social Security number within five years. The confidentiality of existing numbers has been destroyed; they are available in far too many government and private databases. A clean slate is required to provide Americans real personal and financial privacy. [...]

Pretty cool, right?

OK, now here's where the lesson begins... ponder this one for a while, consider the causes and the implications, and you'll have covered pretty much everything that a citizen needs to know about government. Ready? The very next line says:

The new numbers issued by the Social Security Administration will be strictly confidential...


Update: One of Rain's readers offers this interesting history of the SSN's evolution from "Employee Account Number" to "National ID" - written by the Social Security folks themselves.

From today's local paper:

Cornell professor batters intruder with fireplace poker

[...] The Tompkins County Sheriff's Department is investigating the incident at [71-year-old Cornell University professor of Applied & Engineering Physics] Batterman's residence, reported at 6:20 a.m. Sunday.

Batterman said Monday he was confronted that morning by a tall, ominous-looking figure shrouded in darkness standing on the other side of the doors. The stranger had apparently thrown a 30-pound urn from the deck into the double-glass doors, shattering one of them.

The professor opened the remaining door to confront the man who then reached for the metal poker. After a brief struggle, Batterman recovered the poker and struck the man several times on his upper body, Batterman said.

Sheriff's deputies reported finding the man encountered by Batterman on Cayuga Heights Road. Bangs Ambulance transported the injured man to Cayuga Medical Center for treatment of several bruises and lacerations received from Batterman, deputies said. He was treated and released.

Charges are pending a decision from the Tompkins County District Attorney's Office.

There are a few things I just have to add to this story...

First of all, this Mr. Batterman is clearly one hell of a brave man. I'd like to have half the courage he showed last night.

Second, there's an important distinction to be made here. When somebody breaks open your door and enters your home in the daytime, when nobody is around, that's a burglary. When they break open your door at 6am, when they expect you to be there, that's a home invasion robbery. Home invasion robberies are incredibly dangerous to the intended victims, and Mr. Batterman almost certainly saved himself from death or serious injury. A person committing a home invasion robbery is not only expecting a fight, he desires it. This is an ugly, violent crime, deserving the most serious punishment.

TREATED AND RELEASED? Who's bright fucking idea was that?!

Fourth, Mr. Batterman offered a thoughtful comment:

"The whole thing was that there was no thinking," he said. "If I had thought properly I would have stayed in the house and dialed 911. That would have been the smart thing to do."

It IS the smart thing to do, provided that you have a solid, lockable door to get behind, and provided that you can get every member of your family behind it, and provided you have a cell phone. In a disturbing number of these cases, the bad guys will cut the phone lines first. Remember, they are expecting a fight...

Fifth, have I mentioned that a Mossberg 590 is a thoughtful gift for the homeowner? They are an excellent value and I can't recommend the brand highly enough.


And Mr. Batterman, if you'd like one, I'd be proud to give you mine. My name is Mike and I can be reached at critters@lightlink.com


The Most Amazing Thing Ever

If this doesn't become the breakthrough amazing story of the early twenty-first century, I'll eat my hat:

Boston-area researchers created miniature cow kidneys and heart tissue from cloned cow embryos, then implanted them in the original animals without complication, according to a new study that scientists said demonstrates the enormous medical potential of cloning.

"The study is proof of principle that therapeutic cloning can be used to create tissues without any threat of rejection," [...] They created a clone, harvested the versatile stem cells while the clone was still an embryo, grew the cells into tissue, and implanted the tissue into the patient.

So what's the really amazing part? Some chowderheads are against it.

Still, the science involved remains mired in controversy. The US Senate plans to vote this month on a bill that would criminalize all human cloning, including therapeutic cloning where the cloned embryo only grows for days before its destruction.

Although I am ferociously pro-choice, I do understand and even sympathize with the pro-life folks; if I considered a fetus to be a child, I'd oppose killing it, too. But something like this - such a sweeping and obviously humane breakthrough for those who would ease suffering, and bring health and vibrancy to the ill - to oppose this on the grounds of protecting the sanctity of human life is madness. It is what happens when the consistency of your argument overrides the good sense of your heart.

Fortunately, the governments of the world do not have a stranglehold on science. We will live to see this technology mature no matter what the Democratic Senate, or the Republican President, has to say about it.

(Via IP)

Killer Point Award: The FBI Memo

If you think you know the story about the famous FBI memo, read this - and tell me if it didn't change your mind.

I Love Stuff Like This

The Pitch Drop Experiment

Patience, Lads...


Seventy-two years. Eight drops.

(Via IM)

Good Morning, Mike

I awoke this morning to the sound of a bee in my bedroom, an exceedingly loud bee that seemed to be everywhere. Within seconds, the little fuckwit stabbed me in the chest and flew away.

I caught him by the window and smashed him into little bee-bits with a water bottle. Case closed. No cycle of violence here.


That Whole Pakistan/India Thing Is Getting Interesting

...but I don't think that a nuclear war is really likely. What is interesting is that the current rise in tensions is probably being orchestrated by Al-Queda, and they seem to be getting exactly what they want.

After being driven from Afghanistan, they regrouped in the mountains of Pakistan and faced increasing pressure from both Allied and Pakistani troops. I believe they responded by committing provocative terrorist acts against India with the hope of drawing away the Pakistani troops, complicating American diplomatic efforts, and making it harder and more dangerous for our troops to operate in the region. They probably did this with the help of Pakistan's intelligence service, which originally created the Taliban to begin with.

So far as I can tell, it worked out pretty good for them.

If you think about it, the situation there is incredibly complex. The Afghanistan phase of the war is not over, it is really just beginning.

More Proof That I'm Easily Amused

Did you know that you can order M&Ms in any of 21 custom colors, online?

All the same flavor, though

You can also order bags of Red, While and Blue ones - and all the money goes to the Red Cross.

(Via DPM)

This is Just Way Too Cool

Movies from NASA showing what happens when you pop a water ballon in zero gravity.

(Via DP)

I'm Not Really Sure What To Say About This One

I guess you'll just have to follow the instructions and fold your own $20 bill.

Berkeley, California

This charming poster was "was generated on the campus of a public university by students, using public money."

more dipshits

What's next, maybe an old Klan poster showing a negro raping a white woman?

(Via IP)

Are You A Good Shot?

When do you have enough skill with a rifle that you can call yourself a "good shot"? How good is good? Col. Cooper - the man who once suggested that "every well-appointed home should have at least one 30 caliber rifle" - offers his measure:

What then is a good field marksman? In my opinion, a man who can hit a tea cup at 100 meters with his first shot, from a field position, in a 5 second interval is a good shot.

Um, I need just a little more practice, personally...

You've Heard This One Before

I think every American has heard it.

"The news you people watch is horrible - it's so biased and shallow. Have you ever seen the BBC, or any of the overseas news programs? They are so much better... they go into lots of depth and show both sides of the story."

Well, I have one thing to say about that:


(Via LGF)

Quote Of The Day

I've declined to comment about the idiocy of the International Criminal Court because I'd pretty much beat that horse to death several months ago. We fought a revolution so that our people would be tried under our rules, remember?

As usual, Glenn Reynolds manages to say it better in two sentances that I can in eight paragraphs...

PERHAPS the American press will be less supportive of the International Criminal Court now that a Washington Post reporter is being subpoenaed. The Post says that's a violation of the First Amendm... oops!

Now, This Is How It's Done

A while back, I described Dave Kopel as "The last guy on earth I'd want to get into a public argument with". His style is direct, precise, and correct. He can tear a hole though bullshit faster than any man alive.

Mr. Kopel comments today on the recently assassinated Dutch political leader Pim Fortuyn, who is invariably described in the media as an "ultra-right" candidate, sort of the Dutch version of Le Pen. I'd never heard of Fortuyn until yesterday, but I can tell you that every major news outlet described him in these sorts of terms.

Well, guess what? They were worse than wrong; it was a "repulsive example of character assassination", and Dave's got 'em dead to rights.

(Via VB)

Be On The Lookout...

The FBI has issued an all-points bulletin for their pipe-bombing suspect - Luke John Helder, 22, possibly driving a gray, 1992, four-door Honda Accord, Minnesota plate EZL 783. He is white, 5'9, 150 lbs, brown hair and green eyes, considered armed and dangerous.

Like This

(Via FR)

Update: This might actually be the guy.

Update: They caught him.

Merry Ol' England (and Canada, and Australia...)

How do you define crime? Does a tiny likelihood of being murdered necessarily outweigh a greater likelihood of being mugged or raped?

Certainly, being murdered is something that's pretty hard to bounce back from, but murder is nonetheless a reasonably rare event (about 1:18,000 in the US). Lesser crimes of violence, like robbery, rape, and assault, may have a more direct impact on your life, especially if they are common enough to personally affect you.

With this in mind, the following chart gets pretty interesting.


The International Crime Victims Survey, based on 34,000 telephone interviews across 17 countries, found that 26 per cent of people - more than one in four - in England and Wales had been victims of crime in 1999. The figure for Scotland was 23 per cent and in Northern Ireland 15 per cent.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said the research confirmed previous evidence "that levels of victimization are higher than in most comparable countries for most categories of crime". Mr Straw said that although the police and other agencies were working hard to reduce crime, "no one should be under any illusions about the challenges ahead".

Crime rates have plummeted in the US over the last decade, and have risen considerably across Europe. Furthermore, those countries which have recently enacted stringent gun control (England, Canada, Australia) have seen the sharpest rise. Gun laws, in general, have become less strict in the US over this same period, as more states have allowed more citizens to legally carry concealed weapons.

And don't hold your breath, waiting to see this chart in the American media...

(Via IP)

Sometimes, Great Writing Is Easy

People write for a lot of reasons. I write because I get a big kick out of seeing something that I believe - something that I want to share - being expressed clearly, and perfectly. When the truth of it rings like a bell, you just know it's right.

Sometimes you have a really good day and you can almost sort of do it by yourself.

Sometimes, the best way to present the world with what you want them to read, is to find The Guy Who Writes 10,000 Times Better Than You Ever Will and say

"Hey! Everybody! Go Read This!"

This Is Too Cool

LGF asks:

If you've got 17 bucks to spare, why not send a pizza to an IDF patrol?

Two months ago I might not have linked to this; I've never been a big fan of Israel.

Now it's different. I know which side I want to win, and I know those IDF guys are almost invariably decent people, just like me, doing a dangerous and ugly job because they have to. I don't have to always agree with them to support them.

I'm With The People Who Vote. And I'm sending them some pizza.

Canada Deserves Our Thanks


It's always easy to make fun of Canada, and lord knows I've gone out of my way to smack them around whenever I've had the opportunity. They often deserve it, of course - hell, even this flag image I borrowed comes with a warning that I might be violating Canadian Copyright Law by displaying it on my web page - but I think it would be a shame to overlook the fact that our odd and amusing Northern friends have really been damn good friends lately, and they have paid a heavy price to do it.

The Canadian military has been backing us up in Afghanistan since the beginning, and they've been doing a hell of a good job of it, too. Their snipers have distinguished themselves with both their bravery and effectiveness, their special forces are, believe it or not, actually among the best in the world.

These guys are all right. You learn who your real friends are when the shit hits the fan, and the sort of sacrifice they have made for us is deserving of our thanks. Think about it. They didn't have to put their people on the front lines. I don't think a single American would have thought twice about it if they had offered something less than front-line military support, as so many other "friendly" countries have. Take a few moments to give them their due; read this salute to a brave and modest nation.

(Via HFP)