Author Archives: Hognose

About Hognose

Former Special Forces 11B2S, later 18B, weapons man. (Also served in intelligence and operations jobs in SF).

How Spies are Made

This excellent true story from the FBI recounts the careful start and ugly end of an attempted foreign penetration of a US intelligence agency. It is well-produced and well-acted (somewhat unusual for government message films).

Glenn Shriver is a young man without much of a moral center. This leaves him easily manipulated by friendship and praise. The story is told in voice-over by the young actor playing him, until the credits roll at the end: then you see the actual Shriver, sitting handcuffed in a chair, explaining the consequences for him.

At the end, he doesn’t think he could have followed through and betrayed his country, but he acknowledged that he doesn’t know what he’d have done if (more realistically, when) they blackmailed him. The movie’s very well done, and you’ll see both how the pros grease the skids for someone’s descent into betrayal, and the exact point where the agent crosses over (it’s about 13 and a half minutes in). The movie does not compromise the sources and methods used to catch Shriver.

In the bad old KGB days (which, anybody working CI will tell you never really let up when it became the FSB), the case officer would set the hook by offering the would-be agent money to reimburse some expense or other, then having him sign. Cha-chinggg! Blackmail material, stored in his permanent file. They usually never had to take it out again, although some reluctant agents needed to be reminded it was there.

Nations will spy. As the Chinese spymasters note, the USA and China have many areas of cooperation and interrelations, and maintain generally friendly relations, despite occasionally divergent national interests. The same is true of the USA and Russia, Russia and China, and even nominal allies like the USA and Israel — sometimes our national interests are not congruent, and so every nation’s intelligence organs spy on every other to one extent or another. For the average person, it is usually a calamity to get caught up in this game.

It goes without saying that the same techniques are used by agent handlers of all nations and all causes. And in the end, part of being a case officer or agent handler is understanding that your agent is a pawn, however much you may like him, and in the end, he’s expendable. And how much can you really like a traitor?

The real-world Shriver was very, very lucky. The cooperation he provided landed him a very gentle plea-bargain with only four years imprisonment in lower-security Federal prisons. With good behavior, Inmate Number 44634-039 was released just before Christmas last year. But as he notes at the end of the film, he’s basically ruined for life by his own bad decisions. He’ll never hold a government job or a position of trust. He has a college degree, a knack for languages, and a command of Mandarin, so he’s one up on many ex-cons, but he’s still an ex-con, and it’s doubtful that the Chinese will give him a visa ever again, after the loss of face his case represents. (And if they do, what will they want from him?)

A Mess of Accidents, Police Edition

ND-shot-in-footWe haven’t done one of these in a while, and here’s one that’s a little more targeted than most: cops shooting people they didn’t intend to shoot, which is a bit of an epidemic right now. Police Mag has a category of negligent discharges (which they call “accidental,” because Thin Blue Line)  but hasn’t updated it since last year.

But, unfortunately, the police of America are updating the ND count this year at a breakneck rate. And while there may be some training lessons to be learned, the principal lesson seems to be “training is a good thing, and these guys ought to get some.”

Item: Detroit, 4 December 2013.

The date for the retrial of Detroit publicity-hound cop Joe Weekley came and went without comment in the local media. It may be the 2010 incident, in which Weekley shot 7-year-old Aiyana Jones in the head at point-blank range with a H&K MP5, is being swept under the rug. Jones’s family has been involved in crime, but since testifying against Weekley, who used to be featured on the A&E network, the family claims to have been subject to continued harassment. (Note: in a story on Aiyana’s father’s sentencing 18 April 14 for providing a murder weapon to another criminal, we see that Weekley’s retrial has been pushed all the way back to September). Jones’s mother, Mertilla Jones, was initially blamed by Weekley and other police and prosecutors for his ND, and arrested, but ultimately released. At Charles Jones’s sentencing, she bitterly complained that prosecutor Robert Moran didn’t “fight… hard for Aiyana.” Of course not. Even though he’s nominally the prosecutor, he’s on Weekley’s side.

Item: Bridgeport, CT, 11 Feb 2014.

This isn’t exactly news, but we’ve previously covered the case of Juan Santiago, a Bridgeport cop who broke a round in a donut shop while playing with his pistol December 17th. Correction, bagel shop. We regret the error. We have an update in this case thanks to the Connecticut News.

Bridgeport and Connecticut pro-gunners were outraged that Santiago who recklessly launched a bullet into a crowd (hitting no one but Santiago himself, proving that if you’re stupid, it’s better to be lucky than to be good), was not charged or punished while the Bridgeport PD landed with both feet on a mere citizen, Ken Sullivan, who committed an ND in the privacy of his home. Sullivan was charged with a string of felonies and misdemeanors, and the PD and prosecutor originally intended to let Santiago entirely off.

After two protest rallies at the Bridgeport PD HQ and a lot of negative media coverage, Santiago was charged with a single count of “unlawful discharge of a firearm,” a small subset of the charges facing Sullivan.

But hey, he’s back on the mean streets of Bridgeport. We bet the citizens feel more protected already.

(Update: thanks to GBS in the comments, a video of crack, trained police firearms usage).

Item: Denver, 30 March 2014.

Can't have half-trained cops mistaking light switch for bang switch. Denver PD.

Can’t have half-trained cops mistaking light switch for bang switch. Denver PD.

Two Denver cops in a week broke rounds negligently, one of them wounding an innocent citizen, but Police Chief Robert White (a political appointee, naturally, and fiercely anti-gun for you) has an explanation: it’s the flashlight that made him do it. A Denver Post story explains the latest:

The latest incident happened Sunday night near the intersection of South Federal Boulevard and West Alameda Avenue. An officer chasing several car-theft suspects unintentionally fired his gun before taking one adult and three juveniles into custody. No one was hit.

And the even worse preceding incident:

That incident came less than a week after another in which an officer’s gun accidentally went off while he was chasing a man suspected of a probation violation. A bystander was wounded in that incident, though it remains unclear whether she was grazed by the bullet or debris from its impact.

(Is it just us, or does everybody, reading the Post’s shallow reportage, miss the Rocky Mountain News?)

Last year, Denver cops broke at least three negligent discharges that produced negligible discipline (written reprimands and one four-day suspension). And the banning of SureFire weapon lights, and any lights with a pressure switch on the pistol’s front strap.

Item: Riverside, CA, 16 April 2014.

A Riverside County deputy, terrified by a barking pit bull named “Precious,” that was actually on the other side of a chain-link fencem pulled his firearm — and shot himself in the right knee (warning, autoplay video).

Some assclown from the Sheriff’s Department says he fired in self defense. “Large pit bull breed dog attacked the deputy. In defense of himself, he shot, he fired one round at the dog, and inadvertently struck himself in the leg.” This was the result of the usual momentary investigation of a police negligent discharge.

The video at the link does show them loading Officer Tough Guy, complete with scowl and Oakleys, into an ambulance. Animal Control declined to seize the dog, which is seen in a video (at the link) playing with little kids.

Item: Farmington, UT, 17 April 2014.

The mystery of the missing M-16, that shut down DOD resource-sharing with Utah police for a month, has been solved. The stray assault rifle turned up in a policeman’s personal gun safe, where he’d placed the department-owned weapon in 2006, and promptly forgot about it. (In his defense, he’s a reserve soldier who then deployed overseas). But hey, at least this guy didn’t shoot anybody, which puts him miles ahead of some of his brother officers here. Despite that good news, his superiors seemed to be taking a dim view of his firearms inventory practices.

Item: Raritan Township, NJ, 17 April 2014.

A police officer from Flemington Borough, a city at the center of, and contained entirely within the borders of, Raritan, shot himself while parked at a take-out foot joint. Police and EMS swarmed the area, and removed him to the hospital with non-life-threatening wounds. They close the strip mall for hours “investigating”. (Really, what’s to investigate? Dude shot himself. Fire him. Case closed).

A Flemington police officer was wounded this afternoon when his service weapon accidentally discharged inside a parked police vehicle, authorities said.

The officer, whose name is being withheld, suffered a non-life-threatening injury and was taken to the hospital in stable condition, the Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office and borough police said in a statement.

Police and emergency personnel responded about 2:45 p.m. to a parking lot on South Main Street in Raritan Township, authorities said. It was in the area of Cook to Order, a restaurant at 299 S. Main St.

It appears the officer, who was on duty at the time, was inside a parked police vehicle when his service weapon went off, authorities said.

via Flemington police officer wounded when gun accidentally discharges in vehicle, authorities say | lehighvalleylive.com. Second news story: http://www.nj.com/hunterdon-county-democrat/index.ssf/2014/04/flemington_policeman_accidenta.html

It’s interesting to see how, when it’s cop ineptitude that leads to a negligent discharge, the PD bends over backwards not to criticize Officer Butterfingers, and the press just picks that up, using the passive voice. He didn’t “shoot himself,” at least as far as this news story goes; he only did that in the real world. Instead, “his service weapon accidentally discharged inside a parked police vehicle” and he “was inside a parked police vehicle when his service weapon went off.”

You’d think they do that all the time. You ever have one “just go off?” Us neither. While we didn’t find Flemington PD’s website in a cursory search, a page on Raritan’s reminds us what hoops a New Jersey subject has to jump through to purchase a handgun, which he then can’t carry under just about any circumstances, because he hasn’t got the eee-leet skills of Butterfingers here.

UPDATE: Flemington’s page (home page) has an even more threatening and draconian anti-gun web page. So it’s a case of a guy from an anti-gun extremist department wounding himself in a negligent discharge. Righteous, that.

In a follow-up the next day, the local prosecutor, who still hadn’t talked to Butterfingers, gave him a good wrapping of Thin Blue Line. He refused to name him, noted he was with a second officer (who also is a member of the Secret Police, going unnamed) and wouldn’t characterize the shooting as accidentally self-inflicted, but did say, “It all involved the officer (who was shot), no one else. It is limited to this officer.”

Ah, if it only were.

Update 24 April 2014

(2 days after this was published). This hits keep on coming. In bucolic Hampton, Iowa:

A northern Iowa police officer is recovering from hand surgery following an accidental shooting at a gun range.

The Hampton Police Department says the accident occurred last week during night handgun qualification. The department says one of the officers had a weapon malfunction. Firearms instructor Al Brandt, a Hampton officer, tried to clear the malfunction but the gun fired, and one of his hands was struck.

We wish Officer Brandt and all the other wounded cops (and bystanders) speedy recovery. And… we bet they never make that mistake again.

Who Peed in their Post Toasties?

What’s the right reaction to some punk piddling in a reservoir? Here’s the evidence of the evil deed:

reservoir-security-tape

Take a moment to consider your answer, and write it down to keep yourself honest. It should have two parts: what to do about the kid, and what to do about the reservoir. When you’ve considered your answer, have a look at how the granola-propelled Poindexters of Portland answered this question IRL (that’s “in real life,” for those of you who have a real life and have thereby fallen behind on internacronyms).

The city of Portland, OR will empty a 38-million gallon reservoir after a teenager allegedly urinated in it,according to the Associated Press. It’s the second time in three years that Portland is flushing its Mount Tabor reservoir after a urine-related incident.

The reservoir is open-air and sits exposed to all of nature, leading many parties to question how necessary a draining would be, or how polluted 38 million gallons of water can really be by a single man’s urine.

David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator, reserves a special disgust specifically for human urine. In 2011, when Shaff drained the reservoir following a urination, he reasoned to the Portland Mercury, “Do you want to be drinking someone’s pee?… There’s probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee?” This time around, Shaff wrote in a statement, “Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated.”

OK, nobody wants to know there’s any amount of piss in his tap water, but (1) urine is a solution of salts and chemicals, and is generally sterile; and (2) the amount in question is about 3 parts per billion, less than a third of the level that rises to concern EPA.

Oh, wait, that’s less than a third of the level of arsenic that would get EPA’s attention. They don’t have a threshold for micturate.

As wise men have noted, “the solution to pollution is dilution.” To be concerned about this amount, you’d have to be one of the nut jobs who believes fervently in homeopathy.

And who — oh, wait. Portland. Disregard.

So, they are certainly within their rights to be concerned about urine in the reservoir. We mean, apart from the pee from the fish, who can’t exactly evolve legs and use the porta-potty. So the fish pee in the water. The birds, bears, and Bigfoot all have been known to take “the pause that refreshes” alongside the sparkling reservoir.

Well, maybe not Bigfoot. Although it is Portland, so maybe. But that’s OK, it’s “all natural.”

Isn’t arsenic all natural?

Shut up, Portland explains. And what about the various things that, as we have all seen on the Discovery channel, crawl towards the water hole with their dying breath, only to be recommitted to the food chain at a lower level?

By now you should be able to predict the answer. Those are “all natural” too! Perfectly OK, unlike a quart of human whiz.

[T]he teenager in question, Dallas Swonger… also contested the cleanliness of the reservoir prior to his actions: “I’ve seen dead birds in there. During the summer time I’ve see hella dead animals in there,” Swonger told Vocativ. In 2011, Shaff told the Mercury that the reservoir is not shut down for nature’s transgressions. “If we did that, we’d be shutting it off all the time. We fish out animals or things that have blown in all the time,” Shaff said.

Got that? In Portland, they’ll make sure you never drink a homeopathic solution of human urine. But a homeopathic solution of diseased, deceased, decomposed seagull? That’s A-OK.

Going through life whining to be protected doesn’t work, even on things that really ought to frighten you. Lord love a duck. Which is probably pissing in the Mount Tabor reservoir even as you read this.

There’s Safety, and then there’s “Safety”

This bit of bozosity emanated from the subgeniuses at Bloomberg's latest coin-op astroturf gang. He pays these minions who do this stuff.

This bit of bozosity emanated from the ids of the subgeniuses at Bloomberg’s latest coin-op astroturf gang. He pays these minions who do this stuff. Hat tip Miguel.

Everybody’s talking about John Richardson’s post listing some of the homes of anti-gun extremists Mike Bloomberg (who became a billionaire as some kind of Wall Street speculator or peculator) and seasoned Democratic Party PR dolly Shannon Watts (who became a many-times-millionaire by marrying some kind of speculator or peculator, and sells herself as “just a mom” while her kids are raised by nannies). It’s hardly a new development that crushing the autonomic aspirations of the plebes is an amusement for the .01%, but John writes about it well, including his conflicted feelings about bashing them for their success:

When you live in a million dollar plus home in a plush neighborhood, your view of the world is just different. You don’t have crime at your doorstep and you really don’t have to worry about home invasions. And if you are Mr. Bloomberg, you have your own private armed security detail made up of ex-NYPD cops. I don’t know if Mr. Bloomberg provides armed security personnel to Mrs. Watts when she travels around the US on behalf of the Demanding Mommies but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

However, the populist streak in me is offended about being told that I should support gun control for my own good by people who live in a well-protected environment. Moreover, my liberal arts education makes me cringe at the perversion of the word “safety” by those who really mean prohibition and control by it. If you are going to be for gun control, at least be honest about it, like it was when the Brady Campaign was called Handgun Control, Inc.

And that’s what people have fixed on, from John’s post. Well, that, and the picture of the mostly tastless McMansions of Bloomberg, and John’s amusing coda about Shannon’s and her meal ticket’s futile attempt to bring are the modern-art light of Manhattan to the benighted rubes of Indiana. But we thought the most worthwhile part of his post was this (our emphasis): 

When it comes to real gun safety, it is the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and other gun rights organizations AND their members who do the grunt work of promoting gun safety. We are the ones running the Eddie Eagle classes, we are the ones teaching kids how to handle a firearm safely at home and at camp, we are the ones who invest our hard-earned money into safes, locks, and other security devices, and we are the ones providing classes to abused spouses so that they can learn how to protect themselves. And we are doing it every day in everytown at the grassroots level.

via No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money: The Houses Of “Everytown”.

Bingo. The media, ever anxious to lap up any Bloomberg spillings, has billed his latest money dump as a “grassroots effort,” which shows that you can get a degree in English or Journalism and lack a ninth-grade grasp of connotation and denotation. Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be journos.

The real grassroots are people you’ll never see in the press, like our friend Steve, who has taught many thousands how to defend themselves safely and legally since his Army retirement; our go-to FFL Mark, who does the same, and partners with a lady instructor to bring self-defense how-to to women in a comfortable environment; all the dads and uncles we know that take kids to the range; and the range masters that accommodate youth shooting to the extent that their insurers let them.

We originally wrote that, “the real grassroots are people you’ve never heard of,” but unlike journalists, we’re concerned about the meanings of words; you may live in California or Arizona or Europe and will never meet Steve, or Mark, or our local rangemasters, but you can put names to other people who toil away in this sort of anyonymous service in your town. This is what “grassroots” means if you are not a journalist.

The real grassroots are people that journalists never get to know, let alone write about. It seems that the prime take-away from j-school is an in-group morality that demands that they tread upon the afflicted and fellate the comfortable,  And, after all, safety is never a news story, unless some zillionaire is using the mere word as a fig leaf for giving his inner Nazi what it wants.

Syria, TOWs and Tomorrow

The Wall Street Journal had on Saturday a thoroughly reported story on US and allied efforts to arm the Syrian rebels.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia have supplied Syrian rebel groups with a small number of advanced American antitank missiles for the first time in a pilot program that could lead to larger flows of sophisticated weaponry, people briefed on the effort said.

The new willingness to arm these rebels comes after the failure of U.S.-backed peace talks in January and recent regime gains on the battlefield. It also follows a reorganization of Western-backed fighters aimed at creating a more effective military force and increasing protection for Christian and other religious minorities—something of particular importance to Washington.

This shift is seen as a test of whether the U.S. can find a trustworthy rebel partner able to keep sophisticated weapons out of the hands of extremists, Saudi and Syrian opposition figures said. The U.S. has long feared that if it does supply advanced arms, the weapons will wind up with radical groups—some tied to al Qaeda—which have set up bases in opposition-held territory.

The principal thing that’s been revealed recently is a supply of BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically tracked, Wire guided) anti-tank missiles. The TOW was the United States military’s third antitank missile (the first two were the MGM-21, an Americanized French SS-10, and the MGM-32, an Americanized French ENTAC), and it was the first effective ground and air-launched weapon with SACLOS (Semi-Automatic Command to Line Of Sight) guidance. What that means is that the gunner keeps the sight on target, and the missile computers fly the projectile to the aimpoint, correcting as necessary, or tracking and translating if the gunner moves the sight to follow a moving target. The previous generation, like the French missiles and the Soviet 9K11 Malyutka (NATO Reporting Name AT-3 Sagger), used Manual Command to Line Of Sight (MCLOS), meaning the gunner had to visually track both target and missile (using a bright flare on the missile) to the moment and point of impact. This required a lot of training, in the days before computerized simulators; the Egyptian success with Saggers in 1973 should stand as a correction to any of those imbeciles that say Arabs cannot be trained to be effective soldiers with high-tech weapons.

SACLOS was the high-tech of the day, but its day was 1966 or so; newer missiles are even more user-friendly and tactically deployable than the TOW, and the Syrian rebels have had some of those weapons — Russian ones captured from Syrian Arab Army (the Assad guys) and Hezbollah stocks. But they never had many of them. As we will see, the way the rebels are using the TOWs hints that they have quite a few of them.

The White House would neither confirm nor deny it had provided the TOW armor-piercing antitank systems, the first significant supply of sophisticated U.S. weapons systems to rebels. But U.S. officials did say they are working to bolster the rebels’ ability to fight the regime.

Rebels and their Saudi backers hope the Obama administration will be persuaded to ease its long-standing resistance to supplying advanced weaponry that could tip the balance in the grinding civil war—especially shoulder-fired missiles capable of bringing down planes.

Some of the TOWs provided to rebels since March are equipped with a complex, fingerprint-keyed security device that controls who can fire it, said Mustafa Alani, a senior security analyst at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center who is regularly briefed by Saudi officials on security matters.

via Advanced U.S. Weapons Flow to Syrian Rebels – WSJ.com.

The entire story is good; read the whole thing. If you’re paywalled out, try this link via Google and let us know if you got in, or this one as a second resort (if you take the second, search link, the story you’re looking for is titled “Advanced US Weapons Flow to Syrian Rebels).

U.S. refusal to better arm the rebels has created strains with Saudi allies that President Barack Obama tried to mend on his recent visit to the kingdom. After the visit, senior administration officials said the two countries were collaborating more closely on material support for the rebels and the Central Intelligence Agency was looking at ways to expand its limited arming and training program based in Jordan.

A newly created moderate rebel group called Harakat Hazm said it had received about a dozen BGM-71 TOWs and was being trained on them by an unspecified allied country. It is the only group known to have received the weapons so far, though there may be others.

“To make it clear, our allies are only delivering these missiles to trusted groups that are moderate,” said one senior leader of Harakat Hazm. “The first step is showing that we can effectively use the TOWs, and hopefully the second one will be using antiaircraft missiles.”

Despite what the Journal and Harakat Hazzm (which is how they spell it) are saying, the BGM-71 is not necessarily the latest and greatest. It has been in production for fifty years in a multiplicity of versions, and was first used in combat in Vietnam in 1972, forty-two years ago.

And they’re certainly not using them efficiently or effectively. Here are two Harakat Hazzm videos which appear to show TOWs being wasted on buildings. We haven’t hit the books to see what generation of TOW these are.

And here’s another in a similar setting with a similar target:

Another Syrian opposition figure in the region confirmed the U.S., with Saudi assistance, supplied the TOW missiles.

Mr. Alani said the two countries oversaw the delivery through neighboring Jordan and Turkey to vetted rebels inside Syria. Rebels already had some types of recoilless rifles in their stocks, which can also be used against tanks and other targets. But U.S.-made TOWs are more reliable and accurate, opposition officials and experts say.

A senior Syrian opposition official in Washington who works closely with the Americans said the TOWs were part of a small, tailored program coordinated by U.S. and Saudi intelligence services to “test the waters” for a potentially larger arming effort down the road.

The official said the introduction of a small number of TOWs will have limited impact on the battlefield.

The main objective is to develop a relationship between vetted fighters and U.S. trainers that will give the Obama administration the confidence to increase supplies of sophisticated weaponry.

Harakat Hazzm (The word “harakat” in this context means “movement,” and “hazzm” is a word we do not know) has been around for only a few months. It was founded by Free Syrian Army General Selim Idriss on 26 January 2014, and appears to coordinate with the FSA’s Syrian Military Council. The FSA and SMC seem to bind together factions that are nationalist in political orientation and that range from the sort of salafists who can subordinate their religion to their nationalism, to secular nationalists.  These factions fight the Assad loyalists and his Hezbollah reinforcements, but they also fight the two main (and a million fragmented) islamist/salafist factions.

(That said, there are people whose full-time job it is to track the fifty-something groups and factions in the Syrian rebellion. We’re glad we’re not that guy).

The U.S. has blocked Saudi Arabia from giving rebels Chinese-made man-portable air defense systems, known as Manpads.

Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia offered to give the opposition Manpads for the first time. But the weapons are still stored in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey because of U.S. opposition, according to Saudis and Syrian opposition figures.

“Basically, this is supposed to be the next step” in the eyes of rebels and their Saudi backers, Mr. Alani said of the hoped-for antiaircraft artillery.

The Chinese weapon in question is probably the HN-5, a copy of the original Strela (“Arrow”) missile, NATO reporting name SA-7 Grail. It also is a 1960s technology weapon, and unlike the TOW is unlikely to be very effective.

Senior administration officials said the White House remains opposed to providing rebels with Manpads. Antiaircraft and antitank weapons could help the rebels chip away at the regime’s two big advantages on the battlefield—air power and heavy armor. The regime has used its air force to devastating effect in the civil war—frequently dropping crude barrel-bombs packed with explosives on opposition neighborhoods and cities.

In hopes of reinvigorating Western support, more moderate rebels began this year openly battling increasingly powerful extremist groups in their midst and reorganized their ranks in hopes of forming more effective fighting forces.

Harakat Hazm was created in January out of the merger of smaller secular-leaning rebel groups in the north, the main opposition stronghold. It was set up to assuage U.S. concerns that the Western-backed and secular-leaning Free Syrian Army was too fractured to be effective and that rebels weren’t doing enough to protect religious minorities.

Did you get that? The Free Syrian Army was made up of too many factions, so the answer was to refractionate and produce a new faction. That’ll help! But it does seem to have kicked loose some supplies from Uncle Sam. Maybe because that’s the same way the USA reacted to discovering that 9/11 was largely the product of too many intelligence agencies not cooperating by creating several new ones to provide new layers of noncooperation.

The group is working closely with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, another large formation of several rebel brigades that turned their guns on the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in January. The Front was created in January to address U.S. criticism that rebels were too fragmented and that they were turning a blind eye to extremist groups. “The agreement is that the Syrian Revolutionaries and Hazm work together to get support from the international community but not step on each other,” said a member of the political opposition based in Turkey.

The official added that Hazm started to receive lethal and nonlethal aid from Saudi and the U.S. in March “because [rebels] are organizing like a proper army.”

The Western- and Gulf-backed Free Syrian Army has shaken up its ranks and strategy to try to reverse the regime’s consistent battlefield gains since last year.

“The U.S. wants pragmatic groups within the Free Syrian Army that can deal with a post-Assad Syria and secure Alawites and Christians,” said a member of the political opposition with ties to Harakat Hazm.

Syria’s conflict has strong sectarian undertones. President Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, and his regime is dominated by the minority group while the opposition is made up largely of Syria’s Sunni majority. Many Christians have remained loyal to the regime, hoping it will protect them.

The fate of religious minorities has been a major concern of the U.S. Several extremist rebel groups were involved in massacres of Alawite villagers last year, and desecration of Christian and Alawite religious sites, according to human rights groups.

The opposition made a point of trying to secure the Christian village of Kassab in northern Syria this month after it was overrun by extremist groups, prompting a mass exodus of its population.

Opposition leader Ahmad Jarba visited the village earlier this month and vowed that the FSA wasn’t fighting a sectarian war.

The essential problem with the Syrian rebels remains that there are thousands of rebels organized (or disorganized, perhaps), into tens of thousands of groups. And some of the largest and most effective groups are arguably worse than “bad guy” Boy Assad. The US (and some foreign) MANPADS provided to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s were bought by the US and the UK in the 2000s for dollars on the penny, a stinging expenditure since USG and HMG provided the infernal things in the first place.

To see why we may be backing the wrong horse, consider the actions of religious minorities in Arab countries — who have been put to flight (or worse) everywhere democracy empowers the mob and overturns ruling strongmen. Syria’s Christians and middle-class Syrians — many of whom have had close ties to the US, generally through emigrant relatives living in New York and other large cities — have sided with the Assad regime, which, despite all the problems the US has with it politically and on CT policy, has been a bulwark against the sort of ethnic and sectarian cleansing that had broken out in Iraq and in every Arab Spring nation.

Profound ignorance of these nations at the top levels of the State Department, where political appointees have all been named with a view to domestic politics rather than international relations,  is also a factor.

For example, as Syria has slid out of control and Ukraine has collapsed, the focus of US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has been on trying to get the UN to compel its members to adopt no-texting-while-driving laws.

One Way to Make an AR go Kaboom

One really good way is to fire a .300 BLK in a 5.56mm rifle. Here’s a story of such an event, from a bystander who talked to the lucky (to escape serious injury) shooter, who was transformed in milliseconds from an AR owner to a former AR owner in possession of some scrap metal.

Once we determined the shooter was physically OK, I wanted to get out of their business, so I didn’t get any photos of the rifle, but I can describe the damage. In short, it was pretty much totaled. Perhaps the Magpul front hand guard, rear stock and trigger group can be salvaged. That’s about it.

The magazine blew up, along with spring and follower. And you can see what happened to the other rounds in the picture here. I *believe* the fact that he was using a polymer magazine may have saved the shooter from additional injury. The explosion clearly took the path of least resistance. Perhaps a metal magazine would have allowed more pressure to go in other directions in addition to out the magazine well.

The magazine well on the lower was bulged out. Kind of like an Elmer Fudd cartoon shotgun. The upper receiver was also bulged out from the explosion.

The bolt and carrier were both trashed – bent all to hell and completely stuck in the upper and barrel extension.

I assume the barrel extension and barrel were trashed, but as everything was fused together, there was no way to tell for sure until they rip things apart. Shoving a .308 inch diameter bullet into a .223 inch hole is asking for damage I would think.

While I was not shocked at the damage to the aluminum upper and lower, I was surprised at how much the bolt carrier and bolt were trashed. That’s hard stuff there.

Yeah, it’s hard stuff, but a 5.56 NATO load is already creeping close to the limit load of the system, with respect to chamber pressures. Eliminate the possibility for that load to be tapped off by a gas route out of the chamber and down the barrel, and bad things happened.

With the brief opportunity I had to look, that’s about all I could tell. But now I was curious. Would similar rounds allow the .223 rifle to go into battery? I decided to try under much safer conditions.

via R.I.P. One AR-15 Rifle – Another 300 Blackout / .223 Kaboom.

And what he did was remove the BCG from a 5.56 rifle and see if a .300 BLK would drop into the chamber. The answer was what we think of as The Universal Answer to Everything™: “It depends.” In this case, it depends on the bullet; any .308 bullet can be loaded in the Blackout, with the lighter projectiles for maximizing velocity and heavier projectiles for subsonic use with a suppressor. Result of his experiment: A small, high-velocity bullet in the .300 would chamber, at least, most of the way; a large, subsonic bullet (200+ grain) wouldn’t.

In case you’re wondering why the US .mil doesn’t use the .300 BLK, this is one answer. Captain Murphy’s law always was, “if anything can go wrong, it will,” and while the original Murphy was a flight-test engineer, he sure as dammit could have been a weapons man with an insight like that. If it is physically possible for Private Joe Snuffy (or his Marine opposite number, Lance Corporal Schmuckatelli) to assemble a firearm improperly, or load it improperly, he is absolutely going to do it. Like the poor bastard in the example above, who was fortunately not seriously injured.

People I know who do use ARs in many calibers don’t take advantage of the capability to reuse the mags with multiple calibers. It’s just asking for trouble — better to dedicate mags to special-purposes like .300 or, say, blanks. (It is very embarrassing to fire a live round with a blank-firing adapter on the rifle, and it usually totals the rifle).

blue-ar15-mag

Blue=Inert, standard NATO/US code color. You can get anodized mags in several different colors. As long as you pick a system and stick to it, you won’t fire the wrong thing in the wrong place.

Go ahead, whine about magazine prices. What about replacing a whole AR like the fellow whose misplaced .300 round trashed his rifle?

One last thought. We are not fond of the Forward Assist, a gadget that was added to the M16A1 very late in the adoption game, at the insistence of armchair ordnancemen who had actually used the same reason (“lack of positive bolt closure”) to reject the T48 (FN FAL) in favor of the T44 (developed Garand that became the M14). And here is one reason not to be fond of the FA.IF you are forcing the bolt carrier into battery, why are you doing that? It just might be that you have the wrong round chambered.

Easter Sunday

Once, a powerful nation raised this date — not this day – to a national holiday, celebrating the birth of its cruel dictator, and vowing millennial endurance. That nation is long gone; its treasured symbols have transited through a period in which they were objects of hate, deodands of a sort, to a new day in which they are the bloodless curiosities of collectors.

That nation expected to replace the worship of Jesus Christ, the nominal religion of most of its people, with the worship of a man. Today Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Christ, and the enduring value of his message.

In the Sunday Telegraph, Daniel Hannan, the most gifted politician in the narrow field of oratory since the man who stood against the above-mentioned dictator, has an Easter message for all who would hear it:

A century on, we have inherited Kipling’s vocabulary, but not the world-view that sustained it. We still speak of the “sacrifice” of the fallen, but we use the word perfunctorily, doubting whether anything could have merited such slaughter. We find disquieting – even today, of all days – the explicitly Paschal terms in which the poet described the loss of a generation of sons:

“They bought us anew with their blood, forbearing to blame us.”

Well, perhaps it was because of Easter, or perhaps because of the centenary year but, coming back from Strasbourg last week after the final session of the current European Parliament, I decided finally to visit Thiepval, where my great-uncle, William James Hannan, is commemorated along with 73,000 other British and South African soldiers.

“It takes an effort,” Hannan says, “to recall that the patriotism of Kipling used to be much more common than Wilfrid Owen’s cynicism.” Hannan’s launch point for his Kipling reflections is the story The Gardenerwhich Kipling wrote after visiting Rouen Cemetery’s 11,000 Commonwealth dead, and being struck by “the shock of this Dead Sea of arrested lives.” The Gardener contains, bringing us full circle, a subtle and elegiac Christian message.

We are, here, imperfect exponents of our own religion, and have no wish to force ours upon you, whether yours is similar, different, or none whatsoever. That’s between you and, etc. May this day that means peace and renewal to us Christians bring that to all of you.

That Was The Week That Was: 2014 Week 16

That was the week that was TW3A day late, a dollar short, this is the Week 16 TW3, backdated.

It has been a slow blogging week, but while we’re a few posts down from our peaks, we think we held the line on quality pretty well and kept the focus on weapons and their culture.

This is likely to be a shorter than usual TW3.

The links to this week’s will all be live when the post goes live, or soon thereafter. Enjoy!

The Boring Statistics

Our article count was a low 23, barely up from last week’s lowest-to-date 22. At least we did exceed our minimum desired post count of 19. Despite publishing fewer articles, word count was almost 20,000, up from 16,000 or so. We had seven posts that broke the long-post threshold of 1,000 words, but none of them were over 2,000 (although we did have one of the seven that was exactly 2,000 words, and an eighth that was exactly 1,000. Weird). We had seven posts under 500, but none of them was under 100.

The mean and median post sizes were 882 and 804 respectively, suggesting that there were most posts were close to average.

We broke 400 blog posts for the year this week.  

Comments are a robust 144 at our 24-hour-delayed press time, up from last week’s 101; if there is a system to the points that get comments, we have not deduced what it is.

As ever, thanks for commenting!

Most Commented Post of the Week

Our most commented post was a jumble of miscellany: OT: Tax Day Junk, with 20 comments and the close runner-up was Hey, how come no one comments on the ATF threads?,  which brought out some amusing comments indeed, with 19. These two posts represent about 30% of the week’s comments, and several more posts got over 10 comments. These comment counts include our replies.

The Week in Posts

Here’s the recap of our posts for this week:

We hope you enjoyed this week’s content. We enjoyed bringing it to you!

Here’s how we did on last week’s promises:

We had the same promises as usual, the same ones we make for next week.

  1. We still owe the Bull and Greek posts. We did work on the Greek posts this week, and concluded, “they’re a mess. Call rewrite!”
  2. We promised, midweek we think, a post on the Sokolovsky Automaster. We’re still puzzling out the operating system. It’s pretty weird.
  3. We did make our minimum posting rules.
  4. We did well on tech posts. We need to link a couple of them on the Best Of page.
  5. We published a really interesting (we think) WWWW, and we did get the Matinee up on time. The TW3, a day late. Meh.

For Next Week

Our goals are unchanged:

  1. to catch up the long-festering back posts mentioned above, now back up to just two features (Gerald Bull, and the Greek Insurgencies). We wrote before that “We’re really serious about the two posts that finish the Greek series, but they’ve been harder than we expected.” Boy, that’s a fact.
  2. to post three times a day, six days a week, of which:
  3. one gun-tech or -industry post and one SOF, UW, or war-related post up daily. The other post and any extras are “free fire.”
  4. a WWWW, on Wednesday.
  5. a Saturday Matinee, and a TW3 before the week ends at midnight Saturday.

The draft queue is now right at 250…

See you with a TW3 on Saturday! And before then, several posts a day. Hope you enjoy them.

Saturday Matinee 2014 16: Escape from Afghanistan (1994)

Escape from AfghanistanFilm critics loved this movie, both in this 2002 English-dubbed “exploitation” reissue with US-looking forces on the cover, and in its original Russian iteration Peshawar Waltz in 1994. We didn’t.

Why the divergent views? It may be that the film was made to please critics, not audiences. It did win a number of awards at film festivals that we nobodies have never heard of. And the cinematography looks as if they were trying to deliberately quote a lot of ancient Soviet black-and-white masterpieces.

Well, you don’t have to be an Einstein to figure out that this director is no Eisenstein.

The story is based on real events doing the Russian war in Afghanistan. On 26 April 1985, a number of Russian and Afghan POWs who miraculously survived being taken prisoner by the Afghan mujahideen managed to initiate a prison revolt, arm themselves, and made a bid for freedom. The camp, a Pakistan Armed Forces garrison that dates to colonial days, was under control of the Pakistani external intelligence agency, the ISI, who handled interrogations, logistics, and external security; the prisoners saw only mujahideen during their quotidian lives. US intelligence officers were occasional visitors to the camp, and participants in interrogations. Officially, of course, Pakistan was not a party to the Soviet war, which has made credible information about the revolt hard to find in open source.

The real-world revolt was unsuccessful. While a myth exists in Russian circles that the prisoners killed vast numbers of Pakistanis, all or almost all the killings seem to have taken place in the original rising. All the prisoners at the camp, a couple dozen Soviets and fewer than 100 of their Afghan allies, were reportedly killed, ostensibly in the mutiny and the fighting to retake the buildings the prisoners held. With no prisoner surviving and the ISI understandably reticent, no one knows exactly what happened.

Prison revolts are not as rare as you might think. Many remember the Taliban and Al-Qaeda revolt against their American and Afghan captors in Qala-i Jangi prison in Afghanistan on 25 November 2001. There was even a concentration camp revolt at the notorious Sobibor camp, that was made into a movie with Rutger Hauer, a man whose appearance suggests he was born to be typecast as a Nazi camp guard, playing the head Jew.

Acting and Production

Barry Kushner in Escape from Afghanistan.

Barry Kushner in Escape from Afghanistan.

The acting is stiff, although some of that is probably the stilted language and inexplicable behavior of all that’s written into the script. No single actor stands out as particularly good or believable. If B players hire C players, these are the guys C players hire. The lead, Barry Kushner, has no other listing, literally, on IMDB.

It seems to have been shot on indoor sets replicating the caves of the Himalayan foothills — or, really, what some urbanite who’s never been close to this arid high-altitude area thinks the caves of the Himalayan foothills might look like — if he thinks they might look like Roman catacombs or the sewers of Warsaw as depicted in Andrzej Wajda’s Kanal. 

This is where we would write that the brilliant direction saved the day when the acting and sets were deficient — if it had done. It did not. In defense of director Timur Bekmambetov, he’s since made much more engaging and tightly-wrapped films, and seems to have cured himself of any art-house aspirations he might have had 20 years go. Consider the fact that he did make Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, evidence for that proposition. It might not have been any good, but it at least wasn’t arty.

Accuracy and Weapons

Wait, who armed these guys?

Wait, who armed these guys?

Guns are central to the story in many ways, but relatively few of them are appropriate for the place and period the film represents. There are a few Enfields (which were on the way out as Mujahideen weapons at the time), and a number of AKs (which were ascendant). A lot of the weapons are G3s, and one could argue that, as this was the Pakistani Army issue rifle at the time, it does belong here. But there are also a lot of M16s, a weapon that would only make it to Southwest Asia after 9/11. There’s even a brief image of M60 and M16, but it may have been intended as a Vietnam flashback — the movie’s so incoherently cut you can’t be sure.

Ah, an AK. That's more like it.

Ah, an AK. That’s more like it.

The production uses, inexplicably, a vintage American jeep, probably because they had one lying around. The story is narrated, loosely, through the conceit of an “observer” character, a reporter (he and his doctor sidekick are different nationalities in the Russian-language and English-language versions, but it doesn’t seem to matter).

There’s little or no CGI and so at least we’re spared dreadful CGI. But there are plenty of gigantic fireballs. Fireballs blow up things that might reasonably burn, but don’t fit the scene (a Saab Viggen?) and things that seem unlikely to blow up in a great gout of petroleum fire (an airport control tower).

The bottom line

Even Russian pyrotechnicians can't help but bring the FOOM. This is just what people expect explosions to look like any more.

Even Russian pyrotechnicians can’t help but bring the FOOM. This is just what people expect explosions to look like any more.

Escape from Afghanistan is unfortunately a shallow and confused re-imagination of what could have been a compelling story, a little-known but real Soviet Alamo. All the ingredients of a great story were present in the original Badaber revolt: high stakes, real drama. But on its way to the screen the greatness and the story were bleached out of this, and it comes across like Golan and Globus producing-while-drunk.

It is called Escape from Afghanistan but you need to have SF- or SEAL-level persistence not to be thinking about Escape from This Movie well before the halfway point.

We’re not giving up on Russian films yet, because we’ve seen quite a few good ones. An Afghan friend tells us a 2010 flick called Kandahar, about the hostage ordeal of a Russian airline crew, is worth watching, even though it makes his countrymen look pretty dreadful.

For more information

These sites relate to this particular film (many sites have two pages, one for the Russian and one for the 2002 dub job. Where there are two, the 2002 reissue is first and the 1994 original second).

  • Amazon.com DVD page:

http://www.amazon.com/Escape-Afghanistan-Barry-Kushner/dp/B0000648YS/

  • IMDB page:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0319375/

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110817/

  • IMFDB page (none):
  • Rotten Tomatoes review page (there are no official reviews, but it has a rare 0% audience rating):

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/escape_from_afghanistan/

  • Wikipedia  page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_from_Afghanistan

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peshavar_Waltz

 

Further 3D Update: Stratasys buys 3D Concepts, Harvest Tech

This morning we posted a Reason Magazine video that includes an interview with a representative of Solid Concepts, whose DMLS printed 1911A1 proof of concept had gone, as of the, 4,000 rounds of .45 in its printed barrel. (All parts but the springs in the technology-demonstrator pistol were printed at Solid Concepts).

We had missed an announcement at the time of the show that SC has been acquired by Stratasys Ltd, a publicly held company trading on NASDAQ as SSYS, along with another 3D service bureau, Harvest Technologies.

Stratasys’s press release, excerpted:

Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS), a leading global provider of 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions, today announced that it has entered into definitive agreements to acquire two privately-held companies, Solid Concepts Inc. and Harvest Technologies. Solid Concepts is the largest independent additive manufacturing service bureau in North America and a fast-growing partner to RedEye, Stratasys’ existing digital manufacturing service business. The transactions are expected to be completed early in the upcoming third quarter, subject to customary closing conditions, and are expected to be accretive to Stratasys’ Non-GAAP earnings per share within the first 12 months after closing. Upon completion of the transactions, Stratasys will combine Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies with RedEye to establish one additive manufacturing services business unit. Joe Allison, President of Solid Concepts, will join the Stratasys management team and lead the combined parts business, supported by the strong management teams of Solid Concepts, Harvest Technologies, and RedEye.

Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies are leading providers of additive manufacturing services. With the addition of Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies, Stratasys is creating a leading strategic platform focused on meeting customers’ additive manufacturing needs through an expanded technology and business offering. Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies provide Stratasys with significant manufacturing and end-use parts production capabilities, infrastructure, capacity and process knowhow, which are expected to accelerate and enable further adoption of additive manufacturing. The combination of Solid Concepts’ deep knowledge of manufacturing and vertical focus, such as medical and aerospace, and Harvest Technologies’ experience in parts production, as well as materials and systems knowhow, together with RedEye, strengthens Stratasys’ direct digital manufacturing and parts production expertise.

Solid Concepts, based in Valencia, California, is an industry pioneer, having provided additive manufacturing solutions to customers since its founding in 1991. Solid Concepts has developed extensive U.S.-based capacity and infrastructure with six U.S. facilities staffed by approximately 450 employees. Solid Concepts maintains a broad variety of technology platforms and processes for additive manufacturing and serves a diverse customer base across a wide range of verticals, including medical, aerospace, and industrial, among others. Solid Concepts provides an overarching platform that, with the integration of Harvest Technologies and RedEye, is expected to create a comprehensive additive manufacturing solution provider. Solid Concepts generated revenues of approximately $65 million in 2013.

Harvest Technologies, based in Belton, Texas, is a specialty additive manufacturing service bureau established in 1995, with approximately 80 employees. Harvest Technologies has deep manufacturing process knowhow and focuses on advanced end use parts applications. Harvest Technologies was the first additive manufacturing company in North America to become AS9100/ISO 9001 certified, and continues to produce end-use parts for multiple industries.

Under the terms of the definitive agreement with Solid Concepts, Stratasys will acquire Solid Concepts for total consideration of up to $295 million, including a payment on closing of $172 million (or, if settled in cash, part on closing and part six months after closing), deferred payments of $60 million and up to $63 million in retention-related payments. Subject to certain requirements for cash payments, Stratasys retains discretion to settle any of the amounts payable under both the definitive agreement and the retention plan in either Stratasys shares, cash or any combination of the two. The value of a portion of the purchase price as well as the deferred and retention-related payments may increase or decrease in line with the market price of Stratasys shares.

via Stratasys to Acquire Solid Concepts and Harvest Technologies (NASDAQ:SSYS).

3D printed 1911A1 (Job 2) on the printer platen.

3D printed 1911A1 (Job 2) on the printer platen.

This may explain, at least in part, Solid Concepts’ backing away from the publicity-rich gun demo during their Reason interview: Stratasys executives have been strongly anti-gun and anti-2nd-Amendment in the past, and probably find Solid Concepts’ publicity stunt — for which the company was fully licensed as an 07 Manufacturer — somewhat less than congenial.

You may recall Stratasys’s attempts to shut down Defense Distributed, and to ban firearms parts and accessories from their online repository, Thingiverse. These positions were rooted in the political views of Stratasys executives, views which presumably haven’t changed just because they bought a key additive manufacturing services provider that was happy to use its ability to “print” guns as a publicity generator.

UPDATE

30 minutes after publishing this, found a perfectly-timed column by Glenn Reynolds at PopMech, Should we be afraid of the 3D Printed Gun? Linking unread, because we have a pretty good idea what his answer will be (“Hell, no”).