Category Archives: Uncategorized

A massacre survivor tells his tale

Reporters from the New York Times interview a massacre survivor. To us, the most moving part was Ali watching his own attempted execution on a reporter’s MacBook, and his wordless reaction. But he also tells a tale of survival that has components of dumb luck, and good-samaritan action by Sunnis who might easily have turned him in.

Ali was one of 660 or so Shia recruits to the Iraqi military, who were massacred before even beginning training. The remainder of them are almost certainly in the mass graves carefully plotted by Human Rights Watch, which has taken a break from its usual bashing of the US and the West to take an uncharacteristic look at the human rights record of a radical Mohammedan group.

Ali’s story was so chilling that it seems to have shaken even the Times reporters’ reflexive support for whoever’s most anti-American in international relations.

As far as Ali goes, relying on luck is never a good idea. It worked for him, but it didn’t work for any of the 659 others in his cohort.

Some other mistakes the recruits made were:

  1. Placing their fates in the hands of their enemies. There has been absolutely nothing to indicate that ISIL has any quality of mercy, so this was simple wishful thinking on their part. Wishful thinking never works.
  2. Staying together in large groups. While this is a natural human tendency — we naturally feel more secure among the herd — it just guaranteed their capture.
  3. Attempting to flee along high-speed avenues of approach. These are naturally the first to be secured by advancing enemies.
  4. Attempting to flee in daylight. Everything we have seen about ISIL indicates that it’s a day, fair-weather operation. Traveling by day also exposes one to the brutal conditions of the Iraqi desert. Travel by night, get small during the day. Be the nothing good that happens at 0300 — to your enemies, that is.

Had the doomed recruits instead chosen to bombshell, and flee in 660 different directions as individuals, the outcome would have been different. Scores, perhaps hundreds of them would have survived. And they would have put a considerable burden on ISIL to pursue them, as opposed to tying up a few guys with small arms and a couple of dozer operators for the day.

Had they fought, even with their bare hands, instead of submitting meekly to death, they also would’ve had a better outcome. A factor in this may have been the insha’allah fatalism shared by Mohammedans of the Sunni and Shia stripes.

Had they run, that might have worked too. Another survivor, a runner, addressed the Iraqi parliament, describing his capture and escape:

Abdul-Karim said the commander told the troops that there were military trucks waiting for them at a nearby highway to take them to a base near Baghdad. Instead, the soldiers, in civilian clothes, were taken by gunmen who were waiting for them on the highway.

The gunmen later ordered batches of prisoners to go out and started to shoot them.

“We panicked after seeing our colleagues being shot dead,” Abdul-Karim said. “There was a state of chaos and some started to run away and I managed to escape from the place.”

Like Ali, Abdul-Karim survived mostly by blind luck, while many others were not so lucky.

But we must recognize that Ali did some things right, too:

  1. He played dead. This doesn’t usually work for most people who try it, because the murderers come back for a second shot, whether it’s the NKVD at Katyn, Einsatzgruppe 11 in Poland, the Cheka in Yekaterinburg, Kampfgruppe Peiper at Malmédy or these nameless savages on the south bank of the Tigris. But it does work for some people, and once you’ve let them tie you up and frog-march you to the mass grave, you’re out of all other options.
  2. He waited a very long time and escaped under the cover of darkness. He took a risk here (there may well have been other massacre survivors who perished when buried, as there were at Katyn; the Malmédy victims were abandoned to the crows, so it’s a crapshoot). But it paid off for him.
  3. He traveled alone and by night. The “alone” was a necessity in his case, but even a single companion greatly increases an evader’s signature, slows his decisions, and increases his probability of capture. He travels fastest (and safest) who travels alone, at least in the enemy rear area. The advantage of the night bit is obvious.
  4. He exercised great care in making contact with civilians. He knew he was in a Sunni, and therefore hostile, area (Ali is Shia). He was at very great risk from Tikritis who may support ISIL (a non-zero group as the Islamists have made overtures to Sunni sheikhs and to former Ba’athist elements and their families, still strong in the area). But an even greater risk is that someone might turn him in out of fear. (Or, for that matter, opportunism: what better way to ingratiate yourself with the nouvelle régime than giving them one of their enemies’ heads on a platter?)

So there are negative and positive lessons to take away from the survivors of night’s fall, and satan’s rise, over western Iraq.

In Which We Pronounce PEO Soldier Brain-Dead

Clearly the mass sacking of Captains and Majors (and the rush of officers and NCOs with options for the exits) has produced a brain drain. This left the DA Civilians in Program Executive Office Soldier, the massive bureaucracy that manages to bungle most small arms developments that don’t originate as COTS developments or SOF initiatives at NAVSEA Crane, without adult leadership.

Their EEG flatlined today with this tweet:


They went Full Retard. Never go Full Retard. The Academy doesn’t like it.

Don’t sweat it, guys. Joint SOF working through Crane will develop the next generation of weapons while you continue to monkey around with science-fiction monstrosities like SPIW and OICW.

The last small arm successfully developed by the Army’s own labs was the M14, three small modifications to the M1 (the cartridge, although not the caliber, was changed; the en-bloc clip was replaced by a box mag; and the gas system was improved) that took 12 years.

“Ah seldom miss at this range” – Deputy Dawg

"Ah seldom miss at this range."

“Ah seldom miss at this range.”

Some of you may remember Deputy Dawg, the lugubrious cartoon character, one of whose signature stunts was to put his revolver in the belly of a cartoon bad guy, announcing, “Ah seldom miss it this range.” And then firing thirty-seven-eleventy rounds. And when the smoke clears, his counterparty is standing unhurt, and Dawg announces: “Dang. Ah missed.”

Turns out there are some real Deputy Dawgs out there. And they’re all running departments.

ITEM: Jim “Missed It by That Much” Manfre

Lee Williams has the story of a gun-shy sheriff in Florida’s Flagler County, who not only can’t hit the broad side of the barn from inside the barn, but also is alleged to have sacked a firearms instructor for refusing to pencil-whip qualification records.

Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre has not qualified for his law enforcement firearms certification, even though he attended an in-service training class two weeks ago.

Manfre’s spokesman said this week the sheriff didn’t seek his certification Sheriff-Jim-Manfreduring the weeklong training session, but one of his former lieutenants — a one-time firearms instructor the sheriff laid off in 2013 — said Manfre has a history of poor performance firing his agency-issued Glock model 17, a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol.

Cmdr. Bob Weber said Manfre, who did qualify for certification at least twice during his first term as sheriff more than a decade ago, according to News-Journal archives, is permitted by law to bypass the state-imposed firearm certification for law enforcement officers because he is an elected civilian with legally granted “police powers.”

Shooting to cop qual levels is not hard. Except for some special snowflakes. Asked about it by the press, the Sheriff displayed remarkable courage:

Contacted by phone earlier this week, Manfre declined to answer questions about the issue because he was attending an event organized by the sheriffs association, which was Monday and Tuesday in Jacksonville. He referred all inquiries to [his flack].

OK, so maybe it wasn’t that remarkable, or terribly courageous. But he displayed something. But really, how bad is Manfre? This bad, says his former instructor:

When Manfre earned his firearm certification in 2001 and 2002, the range master was Gregory Weston. A former Marine and certified weapons instructor, Weston said he signed off on Manfre’s certification both times “under a level of duress.”

He said Manfre has “no business” carrying a gun and described him as uncoordinated and careless with the weapon.

“He’s running around with a gun he is not capable of using,” Weston claimed.

There’s a confidence builder for ya.

Turns out, he’s not the only one.

ITEM: “Pistol Pock Patrick” Berarducci

Consider Medina, OH’s police chief, Patrick Berarducci. In at least 2009 and 2011 the chief failed his sidearm qualification. But it’s not like he’s been a cop for a long time — he used to be an ATF executive. It gets better: he was an instructor in “criticial incident management,” and “media relations,” two areas in which ATF serves mostly as a bad example for public agencies. (In case you’re wondering what happened to Deputy Dawg, he’s probably undercover in the Hell’s Kennels with the ATF). But that 2012 story about Berarducci’s inability to hit anything isn’t the end of the story, because in April, 2013 he spectacularly demonstrated his ability to hit something.

"Hey, at least I didn't shoot my thumb off. There is that."

“Hey, at least I didn’t shoot my thumb off. There is that.”

Unfortunately, this is what he hit:

Chief Berarducci was holstering his Smith & Wesson .40 caliber Shield handgun when the trigger guard got caught and discharged a round into his upper thigh.

The bullet then exited his upper thigh, resulting in non-life threatening wounds.

Despite that, one of his media pals at the anti-gun Cleveland Plain Dealer describes Berarducci as, we are not making this up, “an expert in handling guns.” We don’t think the word means what the Plain Dealer knob-polisher thinks it means (isn’t he supposed to be an expert in handling words? No wonder he misunderstands “expert”).

Apart from marksmanship fit only for contact range (on his own thigh, no less) Berarducci has also had non-gun problems, like a 2012 suspension for a sexual come-on (what can you expect from a guy who came out of the “Good Ol’ Boys Roundup” era at ATF?).

You’d think the former ATF G-man (and G is not for Genius) would have decided it was time to hang it up, but a recovered Berarducci (who at least had a sense of humor about his predicament, something — besides targets — that the testy Manfre is “missing”) is still on the job in Medina. And is the city’s highest-paid public servant.

But he’s the end of it, right? Er, wrong.

ITEM: Heather “Doin’ it Wrong” Fong

Heather_FongFong is the former police chief of San Francisco. We saw a story recently at Guns Save Lives about her having gone at least five years without qualification (that’s 10 quals she didn’t even attend) when blowing a few of the semiannual quals is enough to suspend the rank-and-file cops she lords it over. Fong secured a qualification, which may have been pencil-whipped, after the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate website broke the story, but she resigned shortly afterwards. These events happened in 2008 (her non-qual years were at least 2002-2008), and since her April, 2009 retirement she has drawn a roughly $300,000 a year pension.  Fong was the first “out” lesbian Chief of the SFPD (NTTAWWT) and her main focus during her years as chief was “opportunity” for transgender cops. Because nothing says, “This person should be a police officer” like a major break with lucidity, sanity and reality.

Now us, we think more of us Napoleons should be cops. N’est-ce pas, Josephine?  Same thing, innit?

But wait, that’s just the chiefs who can’t shoot…

And these are a separate problem from the cops who pop one off negligently, the ones who shoot themselves in a botched puppycide, the ones who lose their $#!+ in a road rage incident and pull out their hogleg, the other ones who lose their $#!+ in a road rage, etc., the ones who run over a cyclist in the bike lane while texting (and lie about it) and are “cleared” in a minutes-long “investigation,” the ones who lose their self-control and launch over 10 rounds each at a single suspect from Polish ambush position, a spasm of unthinking, unaimed, contagious fire that hit the suspect several times but sent 20-plus “to whom it may concern” unaimed shots flying in a crowded Wendy’s, also killing a “COPS” TV Show soundman that the trigger-happy cops considered a friend, right up to the moment when they gunned him down. (That’s OK though. Those responsible have been placed on extra vacation, and won’t have to make a statement until they and their lawyers can work up a good story together).

To the extent that they’re not a dead letter, “rights” are for the little people. What cops have are Patents of Nobility.

So what can a cop do to get in trouble? Try shooting a tame elk out of season.

Five NEVERs of Self-Defense

There are some things you must never do when confronted with an armed assailant. We mean never, ever, not because these events never end well, but because they usually don’t, and because violating these hard and fast rules takes the agency of your survival out of your own hands. You owe it to Adam and Eve and all the rest of your bloodline to preserve your life.

  • #1: NEVER go with the assailant to a second location. Why do you think he wants you to go there?  (There are actually several possibilities, but they’re all bad).
  • #2: NEVER give up your gun. This standard Hollywood trope, where the hero gives up his gun because the villain is threatening Sweet Polly Purebred or whomever, and then manages to free them both through some brilliant stratagem, only works in the hands of a trained and certified member of the Writers’ Guild. Don’t let him have your gun: just “Let him have it.”
  • #3: NEVER get in a car with someone threatening you with a gun, or even with someone who might threaten or harm you or who has an incentive to harm you.

Here’s what happens to real people who violate Nevers #1, #2 and #3, from the non-fiction movie The Onion Field (1979).

The victims were LAPD officers. The dead guy’s partner lived, but he was finished as a cop and had problems all his life. He died young. The assailants died in prison. They were wrong about the Little Lindbergh Law (a California law, back during a brief moment of judicial lucidity in the Golden State, that made injuring or killing a kidnap victim a capital crime). It did not apply if the kidnap victim was released unharmed, and so was a positive incentive, if only the criminals had understood it. Instead, they misunderstood it as making murder no less capital than the kidnap they’d already done. (Write this down: as a class, criminals are not very bright, and violent criminals are usually the dullest of a dim bunch). The two murderers died in prison, despite the 1960s and 70s California courts’ many attempts to set them free.

The Onion Field killings not only led to a great book and good movie (of which the above is a chilling excerpt), but they changed police training forever. Now cops are told these Nevers. It shouldn’t just be cops who follow these rules: you should, too.

  • #4: NEVER let someone tie you up. He doesn’t mean you well to begin with, and you have just made the decision to outsource your survival to him. Being bound is an intermediate station of the cross on the way to dusty death for many homicide victims.

Here’s what happens to real people who violated Never #4, a non-fiction scene (with dialogue perhaps fictionalized, although the male victim survived) from the fact-based movie Zodiac (2007). We start 2:18 in to focus on the tying-up business — and where it leads. You can slider back to the start of the four-plus minute clip if you want to see where it leads.

Always, fight or run. The cop who ran in the onion field survived, by finally doing something right after doing so many things wrong. Run away from the assailant. If you think he can run faster than you, jink and dodge, and use terrain, obstacles, and darkness. IF you think you’re faster, run straight away on the most level, smoothest ground you’ve got.

What if he shoots at you? Consider this:

  1. He probably won’t shoot. Shooting complicates his life, while yours is pretty simple at this point (Run, Forrest, run!).
  2. If he does shoot, he probably won’t hit. Most criminals can’t hit the broad side of a barn, from inside the barn. Contrary to their portrayal on TV, they’re not IDPA competitors who spend their spare time doing ball and dummy drills.
  3. If he does hit you, it probably won’t kill you. You are not out of the fight (or flight) until you give up. Which brings us to the encapsulation of all rules, the one rule to rule them all:
  • #5: NEVER give up. Never give in. Never surrender. Run, fight, attack. In the aftermath of the Onion Field, LAPD Commissioner “Two-gun” Powers told his men to use any weapon they could, and pointed out that a #2 pencil can kill. (Exercise for the reader: how many ways can you kill someone with a sharp pencil? For extra credit: which way disables him fastest?).

Europe is the Sick Man of Europe

Artist's impression of the lost satellites. Image: ESA.

Artist’s impression of the lost satellites. Image: ESA.

And the European Space Agency is one of the pathogens. Every space program lays a few eggs, after all, and space launches are very difficult things, even 90-120 years after orbital satellites were originally conceived by Tsiolkovskiy, Goddard, and Oberth (in roughly that order, but more or less independently). But this is just embarrassing:

Everything started out looking great. At 9:27 am on Friday, August 22, a Soyuz rocket operated by Arianespace lifted off beautifully from French Guiana, making the ninth successful launch for the company using their Soyuz rockets. On board were two ESA Galileo satellites, the 5th and 6th of a planned 30-satellite constellation. …

Shortly after the two new satellites were placed in orbit, however, it became clear that something had gone wrong. Observations of the two satellites seemed to show that they were not in their targeted orbit.

“The targeted orbit was circular, inclined at 55 degrees with a semi major axis of 29,900 kilometers,” the company said in a statement. “The satellites are now in an elliptical orbit, with excentricity of 0.23, a semi major axis of 26,200 km and inclined at 49.8 degrees.”

The Galileo program is a European vanity program duplicating the capabilities of the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian Globalnaya Navigatsionaya Sputnikova Systema (GLONASS).

Yes, the satellites they put in the wrong place are navigation satellites. There’s something meta in that, eh? They were the first two Full Operational Capability Galileo sats, and the ESA is trying to figure out whether anything can be saved from their launch.

Stylized view of the conceptualized Galileo constellation. Image: ESA.

Stylized view of the planned Galileo constellation. Image: ESA.

Now, there are benefits to another sat constellation, of course: a system which could use all the available sats from all three operators (the Chinese also have their own system, Beizhou/COMPASS, so there are potentially four satellite constellations) would have many more above-horizon sats to work with, maybe a dozen. That means higher accuracy than a single-constellation nav receiver can manage, and it means fewer coverage gaps and terrain / structure shadows. And the orbits of the Galileo satellites are, on average, more highly inclined than their competitors, suggesting that Galileo might have better coverage in the Arctic than GPS or (surprisingly) GLONASS.


Ceremonial Guards are Elite Troops

For some values of the word, “elite.” It’s true that they’re carefully selected and drilled hard. Not just in the industrial West; for many nations, having a drill team that can stomp and strut with the best of ‘em is a vital part of the country’s patrimony. So watch this video and grit your teeth as the soldiers of many nationalities slip and fall, a Briton can’t resist a $#!-eating grin, a US Marine drill team member launches his rifle in an unexpected direction, a gang of Afghan pallbearers make the rookie facing-movement mistake that has caused many a private to spend a day or two of basic training with a rock in his left pocket, and that’s just the dismounted guards. Put them on a horse, with polished helms and gorgets or cuirasses, and further hilarity ensues.

While we’re marveling at ceremonies gone bad, the ultimate display of formal ceremony has to be the Wagah border crossing opening and closing ceremonies. Here a comedian of Indian extraction reviews it for the Beeb.  And yes, the imposing soldiers on both sides are selected, in part, for their luxuriant, 19th-Century facial hair.

Jean Lartéguy, call your office….

Bleg: OCR for German Fraktur script

Our favorite OCR programs, Adobe’s Acrobat and Nuance’s PDF Converter for Mac, choke on the “Fraktur” or Old German type script that was widely used pre-1945. (Indeed, even though early-20th-Century German typographers were among the pioneers of clean, highly readable sans serif Roman fonts, the Third Reich’s national nostalgia jag seemed to spawn a resurgence of this medieval-looking stuff).


If you don’t know what we’re talking about, we want a program that will convert documents written in Old German lettering into editable text. The kind of lettering we mean is the Germanic script used in newspaper mastheads, or on the signs at your local German restaurant, if you’re lucky enough to have one. We want to OCR that stuff, but, “Wait!” as Ron Popeil would say, that’s not all. We want to do it on a Mac. (We only use a PC when absolutely necessary, or when the application program is so cool that it makes the platform irrelevant: check out SpaceClaim).

You might wonder who was ever sadistic enough to typeset tons of documents in this stuff (documents meant for instruction of average-IQ people, no less). We are looking at a 1940-vintage document now, so that probably answers the question. (There are times when you can go there, Mike Godwin be damned).

That document sample looks like it was copied by hand by a gang of medieval monks, but it’s actually from a privately printed manual for German submachine guns.

Slow Start Sunday

Safely in Indiana farm country with three friends, three of their kids, one elderly Jack Russell (whose old age has tuned him down to a delightfully serene level — for a Jack), and, at last count, eight cats, of which several used me for a warm bed last night.

One of the cats has no tail, courtesy, the vet thinks, of a cat-hating neighbor who used it as an Official Throwing-Kitty Cat Handle. The suspect has a sign on his lawn, celebrating a certain famous trade union: he might have made Right to Work Republicans of the cat’s family.

We are enjoying the company of the critters, because the other humans sleep. We regret not filling Saturday’s dance card here, but 14 hours in a car will do that to you. We suspect blogging will remain light until Tuesday (and Tuesday we have a real-world work problem that may tie us up all day).

Our Host here flies the line for an airline you would know. He’s a veteran of the Army and the Air Force, and is one of the few people who have Black Hawk, Boeing, F-16, and Fokker in his logbook. We defer to him on all matters of piloting, that’s for sure. He’s also, like many pilots, a gun guy. Last night we played with a FLIR thermal, watching the critters gambol in the dark. We had forgotten one of the key limitations of thermals: they can’t see through insulated glass. One of many reasons the dream night-sight is one that combines image intensification with thermal imaging, something that’s issue now but very expensive.

In order to get the FLIR unit, as with all night vision, our friend had to certify that he would not export the unit. He makes sure it is not in his bag before he takes an overseas flight, just so he’s never accused of an inadvertent ITAR violation.


Circumstances prevented this post from going up until Sunday was nearly over. The Road Trip continues.

UW: When it’s Gotta Go: Destroying Documents

FOOM!In the process of setting up a few safes (separate ones for guns and documents, thank you very much), we ran across some old Destruction Priority tags and stickers from some old community work. Checking the regs in hopes of finding out which was which taught us that, as something standardized, they are apparently now long since deprecated, especially with the English labels these had, like “Destruction Priority: Charlie” and so forth. Apparently, if you don’t work through your destruction priorities, you have just handed the Adverse Party his exploitation priorities. D’oh.

It did get us thinking about destruction plans, because even the most security-conscious operation can’t help generate paper, and paper (and nowadays, e-files, which are several orders of magnitude worse from a data-destruction standpoint) will not only hang you in the Unconventional Warfare environment, it will also roll up your cells, réseaux, networks, call them what you will. And hang all of them. Which would be on your conscience, if you hadn’t hung first.

We’ve seen good destruction plans that would have left the enemy with the bitter taste of ashes. We’ve also seen finger-drill destruction plans that merely checked a box, while guaranteeing that the enemy would have many hours of productive reading if he rolled the site up. In the bad old days, the Warsaw Pact actually had special operations forces targeted on certain repositories of Allied information, and at D minus a certain value the race would already have been “on” at these sites. The WarPac operators would have won some of those races, and lost others.

You can do a number of things to limit your exposure, including never writing down what you can memorize (exercising the mind and mnemonics help here); using a good code or cipher (but you would be astonished how readily amateur codes are broken, and how hard professional codes are to use); and relentlessly purging working papers and minimizing archival material and working aids.

But there’s always something. You can’t collect signals intelligence without working aids containing frequencies and call signs. You can’t conduct and communicate target reconnaissance without producing a target folder. You can’t exploit enemy personnel vulnerabilities without personality files, link lists, etc. Even running human sources from a position itself embedded in the enemy’s population, which is about as exposed as one is likely to get, you need some paper to operate with efficiency. And the capture of that paper is life or death for the sources and for the operation. (Not for you. Capture is pretty much death for you, so you take great pains not to get captured).

And the way the USG teaches source management or agent handling these days, it produces reams of paper. Much of which is, frankly, more use to an enemy than to us. But so far, we’ve only covered the collection phase of the intelligence cycle. Even more paper gets generated in the analysis phase.

So how do you manage the destruction of that information, should bug-out time come? (No doubt, US activities across the Mideast have been thinking about this since Benghazi signaled just how Washington has their collective back). Let’s begin from some first principles:

  1. Your objective is to buy your network 24-48 hours to go underground or escape. More than that is not realistic.
  2. Keep the barest minimum of paper. Shred, mulch or burn as you go.
  3. Periodically review your “barest minimum” — and pare it down every time.
  4. Paper is better than computer files. If you put it on a computer, you have lost control of it.
  5. Encryption can buy time. Low quality encryption cannot buy enough to justify the effort.
  6. Dividing the who from the what can help. Cover names can be helpful. (Perhaps we’ll elaborate this one in the future).
  7. Chemical destruction <- chemically assisted burning <- burning <- shredding.

Chemical destruction is not practical for most nongovernmental, non-industrial-scale installations, so we have to rule it out.

Shredders are problematical. Unless you are a huge activity, your shredder handles only a few sheets of paper at a time. The shredders that can take whole burn bags need power, and take time to render the paper within unreadable. Shredded material can be reconstituted, although to do it from a Level 6 shredder takes time and specialized software. (Iranian revolutionaries recovered the material the CIA shredded in what they thought was a state-of-the-art shredder in 1979, simply by deploying an army of students to work on lining up the shreds. Newer shredders crosscut to counter that approach, and naturally, there is a counter to the counter). Burning shredded matter adds another step, but shredded paper (unlike paper in books, binders or folders) burns rapidly. Post-burning, the ashes must be stirred to eliminate ghost material.

Burning is much faster, but has its limitations, assuming you’re talking about burning the whole thing, not the shredder product.

A once-classified NSA report explains one of these limitations:

The conventional procedure on land has always been destruction by fire. There is no doubt but that this can be highly effective. As anyone who has attempted it knows, however, paper burns slowly when in quantity and particularly when in the form of books and pamphlets. Even a modest-sized book can be thrown in the middle of a fire and yet, after an hour, remain more than half readable. The problem is largely one of adequate oxygen.

You should Read The Whole Thing™, because it’s informative and, like many IC internal documents, entertainingly written. They suggest either “agitating the material” (recommending “an enlisted man with a poker” for that purpose) or adding “a high concentration of oxygen,” which has the advantage, in combat conditions, of not being susceptible to enemy countermeasures, such as shooting PFC Burn Stick, which rings down the curtain on his agitation of the burning material.

Chemically-assisted burning is simply what rockets do: boost the fire by providing our own oxidant, and that’s where NSA is going in the above document. Despite having that much in common with a Saturn V, using chemical oxidant to destroy documents isn’t rocket science — it’s not much higher-tech, really, than PFC Burn Stick’s death-defying efforts in the preceding paragraph.

Now, you do need a chemical oxidant. If you’re experimenting with liquid-fueled rockets you might have some high-test peroxide around the lab, and some other nitrates will also do what we’re about to walk through, but for most people the answer is Sodium Nitrate. And you do need a container: a steel drum will do.

Mixtures of paper and sodium nitrate, which is a substance resembling ordinary salt, should burn rapidly and fiercely and, if the proportions are right, undergo complete destruction in a very few minutes. An added benefit is apparent even before experimental tests. The end product of the burning will consist largely of sodium carbonate. At the temperatures encountered this will be a liquid and should actually dissolve the ash. In this way the danger of text being recovered as ghosts on the white flaky ash is eliminated.

So the solution is this: prepare 100 pounds of nitrate for every 65 pounds of paper. In an open 55-gallon drum, (or a proportionate but smaller charge in steel bucket). Do not ventilate the drum or bucket: remember, the nitrate is providing the oxygen for combustion. Begin with a thin layer of sodium nitrate, then alternate: divide your volume of paper into quarters, your nitrate into fifths, and load nitrate-paper-nitrate-paper until you get to the last layer, nitrate. In this case, the reaction goes better if the paper is together in stacks or in books. Put a steel wire screen over the top (this holds down any papers that might otherwise rise on the column of flame. Apply a match. Woosh! It actually starts off slowly, and then gets going at a frightening rate — until it’s out of paper, then it stops abruptly, leaving liquid slag solidifying in the bottom of the barrel.

Not much is critical, except the initial layer of nitrate at the bottom, and the screen at the top (don’t use aluminum or plastic screen. It will melt).

Sodium nitrate is not as cheap as it was when NSA drafted that guidance 50-plus years ago, but it won’t break the bank; you can get it from bulk suppliers like this on eBay (expect to pay about $200/100lb, delivered; the same vendor can ship smaller lots), from Grainger in small quantities (but you’re paying a premium for highly refined nitrate, which you don’t need), or simply as “Chilean Nitrate” 16-0-0 fertilizer, used by organic farmers for nitration, which is less pure than chemical nitrate but plenty good enough to burn your secrets. If you have a lot of secrets, you can go on Alibaba and buy it by the containerload, FOB China.

Sodium nitrate is not as closely watched as ammonium nitrate, because it’s not as readily repurposed to explosives. It’s widely used in chemical manufacturing and in extractive industries.

NSA’s experiments with destruction resulted in the Army developing a document destruction kit, which it labeled E-12 (this is according to the article; we’ve never seen one, and suspect it’s long obsolete). The one thing it added was an igniter mixture of nitrate and wood flour as an aid to rapid starting. You can make that yourself if you like (you can also use 50% nitrate and 50% table sugar). The Army found that a crew of two could pack and ignite a barrel in 3 minutes. Ten to twenty minutes later, the barrel is empty but for “greenish liquid slag.”

Bonus: this’ll do your hard drives, too. Just throw them in with the paper as you load the drum. Nothing should be left but blackened steel screws and other steel parts: the aluminum cases, the disks and the cache chips will leave no trace but salts in the slag.

Recover that, hostile intelligence service.

Here’s the file at NSA:

If you’re diffident about going to NSA, and would rather they intercepted you reading this file here, here it is: emergency_destruction.pdf


Road Trip!

road-trip-signThe font of weapons expertise and otherwise inexpert opinion is enroute West at oh-dark-thirty to help a friend pick up a car in Indiana. (Hey, free car from his brother). This is the kind of friend who bails a guy out of jail and even though that one’s been repaid in kind, a wise man hangs on to friends like that.

The need for departure means the office reorg (which freed up the old desk for, we hope, moar gunzmithing!) didn’t quite get done. The professional movers who moved the desk in the first place lost half the cam screws needed to put it together. Even 10 years ago, that would have been curtains for the desk. Today? Go to Amazon and search for “cam nuts and cam screws.” Yowza.

All we needed to do was measure the one cam screw the Unibrow Brothers Moving & Storage Co. didn’t lose, and then order the matching one, and they’d be waiting for us on the return home. Of course, with the office in mid-reorg, where’s all the rulers?

Well, Putin’s in the Kremlin, President Obama is on the links, and the ISIL guy is hanging upside down in a tower somewhere, waiting for night to fall so he can feed…. Oh, wait, the measuring rulers? Beats us with a yardstick. Down to the shop, measure it with a micrometer. So the Win goes half to Amazon and half to Mitutoyo, although using a micrometer to measure a cam screw is kind of like calculating your weight to four significant places.

Somewhere, a wise old grandfather who always urged, “the right tool for the right job,” is faceplanting in his coffin. He’d really have liked Mitutoyo metrology gear, though. Good thing he doesn’t know that Plan B was to use a DRO to measure the thing.

Of course, we had to order $136 worth of books to get the $5 worth of cam screws, because of some new Prime shipping restriction. Well, and we wanted the books. There was that.