Category Archives: Unconventional Weapons

Burn, Baby, Burn, With Your Own Flamethrower

We keep seeing vintage flamethrowers come up at auction — they’re interesting weapons, and not being firearms they’re completely unconstrained by Federal or State law, except for two non-fun-loving jurisdictions that ban them, California and Maryland. (How could the legislators of MA, NJ and NY have missed this? Well, they’re totalitarians, but nobody ever said they were competent totalitarians. They tend to be the dissipated nephews of competent totalitarians past, these days). But anyway, these vintage flamethrowers always get bid up to nosebleed territory.

So it was only a matter of time before someone created a modern civilian flamethrower, for the sheer joy of burning stuff. Somebody now has. The question is, would it come in cheaper than the vintage scourge of Iwo Jima?

Naaah… We’ll get to that later.The first question is… does it burn?

It burns.

We’re betting this shows up in an action movie next summer. Because they’ve already demonstrated the most necessary of all Hollywood weapons skills, the dual wield:

This might be just the ticket for those annoying chipmunks or ground squirrels burrowing into your lawn.

Or those damn kids who won’t get off it.

And now for the money.

The X-15 flamethrower is available at a discounted price of $1,600 (from $1750 list). It runs on gasoline, runs better on diesel, and runs best of all with a napalm-like thickening agent that they’ll gladly sell you on their very website, cleverly called throwflame.com.

Here, somewhat tongue in cheek, Jerry Miculek examines its concealed carry potential, complete with “real firearm” and “fire ant” puns.

You know, if people started using these for home defense, criminals would be showing up with some interesting mugshots.

Anybody else have, uh, a burning desire for one of these gadgets?

Five Depressing Developments on the OPM Data Compromise

1: How Did It Happen? Well, Why Did Your Car With The Top Down, Keys In, Parked in Da Hood Get Stolen?

The OPM Logo: an eagle being stretched on a rack, or maybe drawn and quartered.

The OPM Logo: an eagle being stretched on a rack, or maybe drawn and quartered.

First, here’s Charlie Martin on why it happened:

Someone, somewhere, decided that they didn’t want to spend the money: undoubtedly they had budget constraints.

So the sensitivity of the data wasn’t properly identified, passwords were used instead of a stronger scheme, the systems involved had “superuser” or “root” accounts that by definition have access to everything, and the users who had access to those root accounts were Chinese nationals in China, who — I think we can fairly say — didn’t meet the U.S. government’s standards for computer security.

Perhaps the biggest issue of all is that the government had centralized the collection of that data into a single web-based system, e-QIP, which means that all this data was collected in one place.

I would bet money that each of these decisions came down to someone saying: “Oh, that’s too hard,” “Hiring offshore workers is cheaper,” “That’s too inconvenient.”

At each of those steps, some security was lost because someone decided it was easier to relax the requirements than to get the more expensive and annoying solution. And while the inspector general was calling out the hazards, no one was willing to rock the boat.

It’s worth it to Read The Whole Thing™ — Charlie’s been around long enough to see a Death March software project or two — but the bottom line seems to be, because OPM secured it like the Last Guy Still Using AOL® secured his cute-kitten .jpg files.

2: Nobody Knows How Big The Numbers Are — Because Execs Are Lying

Second, there are some new numbers, and we’re expecting the release of even larger numbers Friday (too late for the evening news). We’ve seen the numbers build from 2.9 to 4 to 14 to 18 to 29 to 32 Million. It gets hazy fast. For instance:

  • OPM Director Katharine (“Fat, Incompetent and Stupid is so a way to go through life”) Archuleta, selected for that job by the usual process of Washington racial/ethnic/sex beancounting, insisted that the agency’s final number was 4.2 million. At the same hearing, an FBI officer, Acting Assistant Director for Cyber James Trainor, stood by the Bureau’s 18 million estimate, briefed earlier to Senators by FBI Director James Comey. Trainor, unlike Archuleta, showed his work: an OPM memo, exposing Archuleta as either an incomptent, a liar, or (the smart money says) an incompetent liar.
  • House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, brought up the 32 million number. However, that’s just the cleared personnel and applicants that OPM has mishandled data for; each person’s 150-page questionnaire or electronic equivalent also exposes the data of numerous other persons (references, employers and supervisors, family members, foreign friends) and, more alarmingly yet, the threads that form the skein of relationships of all those people have also been exposed to a hostile intelligence service.

Of course, their defense is, they’re not lying, they’re just so wrapped up in their own red tape they can’t generate diddly.

what OPM usually does

But the bottom line is this: if you have completed an SF 86 paper security questionnaire or the replacement Electronic Personnel Security Questionnaire (EPSQ) on e-QIP at any time since the early or mid-1980s, you had best assume your secrets are secrets no more.

OPM did not investigate all DOE clearances, so if you had a nuclear clearance but not a DOD one,  your information may be safe.

3: They Say They’re Not Lying Now; Forget Lie They Got Caught In Already

Third, the data was exposed as early as 2013 and the OPM senior executives cooperated, de facto, with the hostile intelligence service by minimizing and concealing the extent and seriousness of the breach then. CNN again (emphasis ours):

The roots of the recent OPM breach could be traced to an earlier 2013 OPM breach, investigators now believe. At the time, OPM officials minimized what was taken by hackers, who are believed to be the same responsible for the latest breach. But it turned out what was taken provided blueprints to the OPM network, valuable information for future intruders.

At Wednesday’s House Oversight hearing, Donna Seymour, the agency’s chief information officer, said that in the 2013 breach, hackers took “some manuals about our systems.”

Asked if those manuals were akin to blueprints of OPM’s computer systems, Seymour answered, “It would be fair to say that would give you enough information that you could learn about the platform, the infrastructure of our system, yes.”

Seymour called it a breach of security.

But that contrasts with earlier statements by OPM officials.

What do you think… are they lying now, or were they lying then? Does what we should do with them change based on the answer to this question? (What should we do with them? And should it involve tar, feathers, fire, a trebuchet, and easy assembly instructions?)

In a 2014 interview with WJLA-TV in Washington about the 2013 breach, Archuleta minimized the damage.

“I can tell you the most important piece: No personal identification information was compromised,” she said. “That’s the most important thing. That happened because of the good work and dedication of our employees.”

About the 2013 breach, Archuleta added: “Again, we did not have a breach in security. There was no information that was lost. We were confident as we worked through this that we would be able to protect the data.”

She’s right about one thing: this has happened because of the good work and dedication of her and her employees. Although we’re not sure what the adjective “good” is doing in there.

But it now looks like they didn’t just minimize the response. They deliberately misrepresented the scope and scale of the compromise, according to the Wall Street Journal (requisite Google Search if you’re paywalled out).

The Obama administration for more than a week avoided disclosing the severity of an intrusion into federal computers by defining it as two breaches but divulging just one, said people familiar with the matter.

But:

An OPM spokeswoman said the agency had been “completely consistent’’ in its accounting of the data breach.

Well, yeah, she and her agency have been completely consistent. They’ve consistently lied. Example? Here’s one from that same article:

A day after the public announcement, an OPM spokesman said there was “no evidence to suggest that information other than what is normally found in a personnel file has been exposed.’’ By that time, the FBI already knew—and told OPM—that security-clearance forms had been tapped, officials said.

You can tell when Archuleta and Co. lie. Their lips move.

4: Did You Hear The One About The Screwed-Up Response?

Fourth, when the OPM went to notify even the initial 4.2 million victims they admit having, they botched it all over again, using a wildly insecure and unverified email system. (Hardly a surprise. Most key OPM systems were and are running with no or self-generated encryption and signing certificates). According to Navy Live (an official DOD site):

OPM began conducting notifications to affected individuals using email and/or USPS First Class mail on June 8, 2015. Recognizing the inherent security concerns in this methodology, with OPM and CSID support, DoD suspended notifications to employees on June 11, 2015, until an improved, more secure notification and response process is in place. Late June 15, 2015, OPM advised that email notification resumed. Email notifications should be complete by June 22, 2015. U.S. Postal mail notifications will take longer.

By the way, here’s what an email fraud alert for the crapola lowest-bidder “credit monitoring” service OPM bought no-bid from some crony and is force-feeding to victims looks like:

hacker_insurance_alert

Yeah, just like a Nigerian scam!

Are that company’s servers as secure as OPM’s (which is to say, not terribly?) Or do you just get hacked yourself if you’re dumb enough to click the Log In Now button in a shady-smelling email like this? Click that red button and you may just find out. (Not here of course. Here it is just a harmless picture. We think).

5: FLEOA’s Recommendation Doesn’t Work

Fifth, here is what is happening when federal Special Agents, intelligence agency staff and contractors, and other cleared personnel call up the credit bureaux about their records, they’re getting blown off. As one disillusioned Fed put it to us:

The credit companies have so many calls from government employees for fraud alerts that they want you to go online and do it. They do not want your call.

At first, the staff at Experian, TransUnion, etc., may have fielded the calls personally, but soon the party line was “Don’t waste time on Federal employees and contractors.” Those unfortunates should not expect personal service; after all, the credit resellers aren’t getting paid for helping victims of enemies foreign (hackers) and domestic (OPM brass). Instead, some outfit you never heard of got a huge no-bid contract to further surveil you. (Wonder if there’s a kickback to the OPM panjandrums).

“Hang up and order a credit report online.” Click.

Soon, the firms’ initial voicemail menus were changed to cut hack victims off before even getting to that point. When you dial in, before you get the voice menu, you’re told not to bother calling the telephone line, if you’re an OPM victim. They can’t stop you from getting your one statutory credit report per year, but they can make it as difficult as they like — and they do.

The Bottom Line

OPM, after doing just about everything they could do to give away the security data, now is finger-pointing, to the extent it’s doing anything. (Hey, you can’t interfere with the 10 AM-3 PM Federal workday with a two-hour lunch. That’s an entitlement for these drones). They haven’t even updated their own data breach information page since the 23rd — two full days ago.

Director Archuleta seems to think that these so-called “workers” are more useful to the taxpayers than the same number of empty chairs. Where’s the evidence for that proposition?

She also thinks that OPM has been a good steward of secret and sensitive information. On which planet, in which galaxy, does this remarkable condition obtain? Not, we submit, on ours.

She has decided, to the extent this idle bag of suet decides anything, that what the OPM really needs to recover from this Grand Slam of Beltway hackery is to hire another Beltway tusker, to be called a “Cybersecurity Advisor.”

Sounds like a job for Jamie Gorelick.

The Magic Rucksack

In Special Forces from 1960 to the mid-1980s, there was a capability called, among other things, “the Magic Rucksack.” (This weapon, and its mission, were prolific producers of slang and nicknames, most of which were as compartmented as the mission itself; it’s unlikely anyone knows them all). It was the Special Atomic Demolition Munition, SADM, a small nuclear fission weapon with a W54 selectable-yield warhead, detonated by timers. It was the smallest of a series of ADMs that specialist Army engineer units trained with.

This is the Medium ADM, "field-stripped." Components of the SADM were similar, but smaller.

This is the Medium ADM, “field-stripped.” Components of the SADM were similar, but smaller.

It fit a very, very narrow target niche. While the engineers’ wartime mission was to use their ADMs to channelize advancing forces into artillery and air “kill boxes” (any Ivans they actually nuked were not the main objective, but what a fisherman might call “bycatch”), to justify an SF SADM emplacement the target had to meet certain criteria. If you think about it, you can probably come close to what they actually were.

  1. Payoff. It had to justify being targeted with a <1-1kt nuke;
  2. Deep. Deeper behind enemy lines than artillery could reach; and,
  3. Not a good target for an air raid.
  4. Target placement achievable by SF ODA.

There were two ways to carry it, in its own container, which felt like it was designed by some pointy-headed nuclear physicist who’d never carried anything on his back in his life, or wrapped in a sleeping bag or poncho liner inside an ALICE or mountain rucksack (depending on period).  There was also a transit case for administrative transit; there’s no scale in this picture, but it was too bulky for field use by far.

Transit Case.

Transit Case.

This video is sometimes presented as SEALs or Marines, but it was a joint Army/Navy exercise. The men preparing the SADM for aerial delivery are wearing 1950s-60s Army uniforms and were probably engineer officers and NCOs from Sandia Labs.

SADMAs you might imagine, security around the weapon was heavy with even its existence being classified. Teams selected for SADM duty were given additional security clearances and briefings, and underwent considerable classroom training, including usage and employment information as well as hands on assembly/disassembly of mock-ups and simulators. There was never a full-mission-profile test with an actual warhead. Indeed, most SADM team members never saw an actual SADM, only simulators.

The M46 simulator matched the weight, bulk, awkwardness and shape of the actual weapon, and contained timers that worked about like the ones in the real weapon, except for the world-shattering Kaboom! at the end.

kaboomEven the simulator was a classified device. A classified manual described the usage, effects, tactical employment, and technical features of the weapon, and provided real timer drills; a companion, unclassified manual provided practice with the math and timers of a slightly different, notional ADM.

The security was breached by CBS News in the 1980s, and they aired a short film clip of a 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group SADM team in training in 1986. By that time, though, the writing was on the wall for the Magic Rucksack.

The SADM was probably a more fitting component of the battlefield mix in 1960 than it was by 1985. Precision-guided munitions such as cruise missiles were capable of hitting a lot of targets more exactly, and with less risk of interception, than a team of men crunching through the woods.

Moreover, by the mid-1980s, environmental problems had forced the shutdown of several  US nuclear-weapons facilities, some temporarily, some permanently. With scarcity arriving the same time that tactical and strategic nuclear modernization called for new warheads, the recycling of the fissionable material from the SADM’s W54 warheads was inevitable.

There are constant rumors that the SADMs were stored. That might actually be the case with some components of them, but it’s more likely the components were destroyed. (The same fate befell the engineers’ three sizes of ADMs). The fissionable material, the heart of any nuclear weapon, was needed elsewhere, and that more than anything wrote finis to the 25-plus-year saga of the Special Atomic Demolition Munition.

VPO-208: Russian Gunsmiths Respond to Russian Law

We’re familiar, here in the USA, with weapons that are shaped by US gun laws. We have a variety of weird and wonderful arms that exist only because of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the National Firearms Act of 1934, and the patchwork of implementing regulations and executive orders that have shaped the US market. In addition, state assault-weapon band have resulted in oddities like California’s “Bullet Buttons.” A wide range of legislatively-midwifed Frankenguns, from the Walther PPK/S, to short barreled rifles, to pistols with SIG braces, reflect the degree to which designers are constrained by the gun-designing impulses of American politicians and bureaucrats.

It should come as no surprise that the same thing happens in other countries with large gun markets. This case in point comes to us from Russia, where gun laws are generally stricter than in the United States. There, no one can own a pistol. Most citizens can own a shotgun; but to own a rifle you have to have owned the shotgun without incident for five years.

So here comes the VPO-208: an SKS shotgun.

SKS in .366Produced by Techcrim, an Izhevsk manufacturer, the .366 by Russian measure, across the lands (.375 by ours, across the grooves), is a smoothbore or near-smoothbore gun that gets the would-be gun owner into a semi-automatic, service rifle platform, while staying within the letters of Russian law.

The ammunition appears to be made from fireformed 7.62 x 39mm casings, and is available in a range of sporting projectiles, plus a shotshell variant.

It is reminiscent of such American wildcats (some of them since turned production) as the small-head .300 Whisper, .300 AAC Blackout, .338 Spectre, and the Mauser-head-sized .375 Reaper, all of which run in the AR-15 platform. It just goes to show that this kind of innovation is hardly an American monopoly.

The first table in the advert below has three columns: “Type of projectile”; “Speed, meters per second;” and “Energy, Joules”. Here’s our conversion of this table.

Projectile Type Velocity, m/s Energy, J Velocity, fps Energy, ft-lb
LSWC poly coat 13.5 grams 640 2765 2099 2039
FMJ 11 grams 700 2618 2296 1931
FMJ 15 grams 620 2883 2034 2126
JSP 15 grams 620 2883 2034 2126

Techkrim

 

As the shot of the fired JSP shows, and these velocity and energy tables suggest, it would actually be a good short-range hunting round.

The second table, with the bullet-drop diagram, is, “Velocity and Energy of Projectile, .366 TKM with 15-gram FMJ bullet”. Here’s our translation and unit conversion.

Metric (SI) Values Muzzle 50 meters 100 meters
Bullet Drop mm 0 35 125
Velocity m/s 625 570 520
Energy J 2837 2437 2028
English Values Muzzle 50m 100m
Bullet Drop in. 0 1.38 4.92
Velocity f/s 2050 1870 1706
Energy ft/lb. 2092 1797 1495

The problem with the gun is its accuracy, as it’s basically a smoothbore. Hyperprapor suggests that it might be minute-of-E-silhouette at 100m.

But hey, it will let some Russian guys own the rifle their nation’s color guards parade with, and even let them shoot it, all with the reduced paperwork and hassle of a shotgun; perhaps a big win for them.

There are no ballistics for the shotshell, which exists, we suspect, primarily to navigate the channels of Russian weapons law. (This law does seem somewhat liberalized since Soviet days). Techcrim’s website shows that they are very active in small-caliber (.410) shotguns and shells, which seem to have more of a following in Russia than they do here. We wonder if that’s an artifact of Russian law, too.

We saw this on r/guns, posted by our old friend hyperprapor, who notes that under Russian law “paradox rifling”  is legal if it’s under 150mm long (About 5.9″).  Paradox rifling is rifling that was just engraved in the last few inches of the bore of what was otherwise a shotgun, to give it some capability with a single ball or bullet. It was named by English bespoke gunmaker Holland and Holland, who adopted the patent from GV Fosbery of Webley-Fosbery fame. Westley Richards called it “Explora” but other makers seem to have stuck with the paradox name.

And this is definitely one for the “how weird does it get” file — a smoothbore SKS that is one short hop removed from the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver!

How to Launch a Lethal Projectile?

FOOM!Western Civilization’s best answer to the question in the title has been, since approximately the return of Marco Polo to Europe with this stuff, gunpowder: that is, a chemical reaction inside a confined space with a single outlet for the projectile, and the pressure. But that’s not the only answer. And there are reasons you might not wish to use gunpowder. Chemical propellants take some engineering to be safe, reliable, and capable of being stored (the fixed round of ammunition, holding and protecting the propellant in a sealed container capable of being weatherproofed, was a great leap forward in all these areas). Chemical propellants also have thermal, visual, and audible signatures that might be undesirable in some weapons applications.

Of course, before Polo, there were already several answers to the problem, but they basically came down to muscle power, the original projectile launch method that goes back to Cain and Abel, or stored energy (which itself takes many forms: springs, elastic bands, the bent arms of a bow, or the counterweight of a trebuchet. In ancient times, man or animal muscle had to provide the energy to be stored, by stretching the band, bending the bow, or lifting the counterweight). In more recent years, other ways of “sending a message” have become possible, if not yet entirely practical: electromagnetic rail guns, or even the lensed nuclear weapons envisioned in the 1980s for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In World War II, the OSS wanted the National Defense Research Committee (NRDC), a gathering of eggheads led by Harvard’s former head James Conant, to address the question of projectile launching, starting at first principles, with the objective of producing silent weapons. Stanley P. Lovell, a former NRDC guy who’d been transferred to OSS to help the nascent spy and sabotage agency develop the specialty equipment such missions required, drafted the initial requirement, complete with an innocuous cover name:

No. 1 – Impact Testing Machine

You are directed to study, and if possible produce, a gun having the approximate following military characteristics:

  1. Silent
  2. Flashless
  3. Muzzle velocity of 1000 ft./s.
  4. Maximum calibre bullet compatible with a, B, and C, preferably 50-calibre.
  5. Minimum reloading time, preferably under 30 seconds.

The project may conceivably eventuate as two weapons, one for relatively long-range sentry assault, the other as a personal short-range weapon. The US Armed Forces prefer the former and there are indications that our Allies wish both types of arms.

A projectile launched with those ballistic figures would have competed well with the handguns of the day. As it happened, the NRDC did a great deal of research, beginning from first principles and concluding that crossbows using energy storage in then-modern elastics might be the best answer to Requirement No. 1 and subsequent requirements. Research done, the OSS and its academic tinkerers went on to develop crossbows and other projectile throwers ranging in size from a small pistol to a mortar equivalent.

OSS William Tell

OSS William Tell “crossbow” that used many small elastics. This approach turned out to be better than one large one, or bent wood or metal.

None of these devices seems to have been used in action, and very few if any got to the field. The handful produced seemed to succumb to OSS’s celebrity culture, being demonstrated to everybody and his brother (including, one legend goes, to FDR in the Oval Office by Donovan Himself), and piled up in every intermediate headquarters of the organization to the extent that what the field got, as far as “silent” weapons are concerned, were relatively conventional pistol suppressors (2,500 fielded) and suppressed barrel units for the M3 submachine gun (5,000).

Requirement No. 1 would be coded SAC-1 for the first requirement issued by the “SAndeman Club,” a requirments committee whose full name was the “Directors’ Committee for Cooperation with Special Government Agencies.” SAC-1 would indeed produce a working, if not fielded, silent weapon, the Impact Testing Machine, Spring Type aka The Dart Thrower. SAC-14 would produce the better-known OSS firearms silencers. Other “silent, flashless weapons” included:

  • SAC-13, “Penetrometer,” a long-range crossbow.
  • SAC-36, “Tree Gun”, a silent mortar-equivalent with a planned 250-yard range;
  • SAC-46, “Flying Dragon,” which produced a CO2 pistol procured in limited numbers (it turned out to be louder than the suppressed Hi-Standard .22).

An offshoot of this research produced the Bigot dart system and actually procured 25 guns and 300 darts, almost all of which had been lost, strayed or written off by V-J Day.

The bows and projectors had fanciful names: Joe Louis, Little Joe, Big Joe, William Tell. They weren’t entirely silent, generating about 80 dB (although the protocol for measurement is unknown).

The story of the OSS Crossbows is told in The OSS Crossbows by  John W. Brunner, PhD, with copious use of original documents from the National Archives and a decent quantity and quality of illustrations (especially when considering that the archival material has partly been reduced to microfiche, which is terribly destructive of photographs). That book is the principal source of this post. The publisher, Phillips Publications of Williamstown, NJ doesn’t have a website but may answer 609-567-0695; they have published numerous high-quality histories of spy weapons and technology. The author has his own website and has a few copies of the paperback to offer; ours came from the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC.

A French enthusiast of crossbows built a copy of one of the larger handheld projectors, the Big Joe 5.

arba_bigjoe_big

One wonders what could be done today, with such a general tasking as SAC-1. Certainly we have materials that were unavailable in 1942, from composites with controlled layout of reinforcements to enormously improved synthetic elastomers. The most widely issued silent weapons today are Russian and Chinese devices based on a US system designed as a Tunnel Rat weapon for the Vietnam War but then abandoned at war’s end. These weapons used chemical energy, but contain the chemical inside the cartridge or at least the weapon, with nothing being vented to the atmosphere.

Cyber Strategy, Two Takes

Fun fact: more work seems to have gone into this cover image than the document inside.

Fun fact: more work seems to have gone into this cover image than the document inside.

First, here’s the unclassified Official Cyber Strategy of the USA, signed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Initial take: the guy really is an empty suit, stuffed with Beltway entitlement, and serving various constituencies, with the national defense of the USA not as prime as it probably ought to be here.

(U) DoD Cyber Strategy 2015, 17Apr15.pdf

Here’s how Carter (and his underlings, more Beltway homesteaders without a real-world accomplishment to their names) define the cyber threat on p. 9 of the document:

From 2013-2015, the Director of National Intelligence named the cyber threat as the number one strategic threat to the United States, placing it ahead of terrorism for the first time since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Potential state and non-state adversaries conduct malicious cyber activities against U.S. interests globally and in a manner intended to test the limits of what the United States and the international community will tolerate. Actors may penetrate U.S. networks and systems for a variety of reasons, such as to steal intellectual property, disrupt an organization’s operations for activist purposes, or to conduct disruptive and destructive attacks to achieve military objectives.

So what’s wrong with this? Here’s one: defining the military cyber threat to include commercial hackers and disruption of non-government “organizations.” No one who’s au courant with the cyber threat thinks that DOD has its own networks under control, so this attempt to subordinate DOD’s cyber defense activities to big and inept corporations like Sony, not incidentally among the owners ofthe donors to Carter’s political sovereigns, turns defense resources to private profit and distracts them from national defense. No, defending Sony is not an American defense interest. Hell, it’s not even a US corporation; why should we give

Oh, we forgot. Sony bought and paid formade substantial donations to the President and the other officeholders to whom Carter really holds his fealty, rather than to the quaint old Constitution to which he swore an insincere oath.

Let’s continue with Carter, and see if he gets any better:

Potential adversaries have invested significantly in cyber as it provides them with a viable, plausibly deniable capability to target the U.S. homeland and damage U.S. interests. Russia and China have developed advanced cyber capabilities and strategies. Russian actors are stealthy in their cyber tradecraft and their intentions are sometimes difficult to discern. China steals intellectual property (IP) from global businesses to benefit Chinese companies and undercut U.S. competitiveness. While Iran and North Korea have less developed cyber capabilities, they have displayed an overt level of hostile intent towards the United States and U.S. interests in cyberspace.

The first sentence is one key to cyber: it’s a plausibly-deniable act of war,  which is why all major powers (Russia, China, and not incidentally the USA) maintain an advanced persistent threat capability. This administration in particular is in love with the concepts of deniable, technical, literally “dehumanized” as in humans-out-of-the-loop and not at risk, technical war. It’s reminiscent of the disastrous Stansfield Turner days at CIA, when Turner played to the agency’s Polyphemos. “Noman has blinded me!” cries the agency at the inevitable “intelligence failure” result, in Turner’s case including the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian revolution. Although he seems intent on recreating the bleak Cy Vance/Stan Turner days of his namesake President, this Secretary of Defense is unrelated to Jimmy Carter in anything.

This Air Force pro is a commo guy, not a cyber guy, but they needed him to meet some quota in the document.

This Air Force guy, A1C Nate Hammond, is a commo guy, not a cyber guy, but they needed him to meet some quota in the document.

Well, except in ineptitude. If there is a brotherhood of bozos, maybe with a secret handshake or password/countersign (“Are you a turdle?”), these guys are both life members.

Again, that the Chinese state steals IP is not exactly novel, and the Chinese are not alone; some of our allies do the exact same thing (cough, France, Israel, cough). The US, for that matter, does steal foreign technical data, the difference is, we don’t steal for order for private industry.

It is a defense matter when foreign nations steal defense material from the military or defense contractors. We’re not big on defining things as crimes rather than acts of war or terrorism, but stealing from Sony, for example, or General Electric, is not an act of war, no matter how much money those corporations sluice to Carter’s owners and overseerssuperiors.

In addition to state-based threats, non-state actors like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) use cyberspace to recruit fighters and disseminate propaganda and have declared their intent to acquire disruptive and destructive cyber capabilities. Criminal actors pose a considerable threat in cyberspace, particularly to financial institutions, and ideological groups often use hackers to further their political objectives. State and non-state threats often also blend together; patriotic entities often act as cyber surrogates for states, and non-state entities can provide cover for state-based operators. This behavior can make attribution more difficult and increases the chance of miscalculation

Well, it’s nice to see some awareness of ISIL penetrating the thick skulls of the E-Ring, but what they’re calling a cyber threat is simply an information operations (IO) effort that is superior to that of the United States. And as long as we have IO run by giggling PR dollies, and counter ISIL guns and swords with feeble hashtags, we’re #screwed.

Diverse services -- check. Diverse sexes -- check. Diverse races and ethnicities -- check.  Can they fight? Who cares!

Diverse services — check. Diverse sexes — check. Diverse races and ethnicities — check.
Can they fight? Who cares!

You could fisk the whole thing like this. Its full of yes-hope-is-a-method naïveté, like considering the Chinese threat badly punished because we indicted five PLA members for stealing IP. (We’re sure they’re shaking in their shoes. Either that or the new guys have redoubled their efforts because an indictment is the new most-coveted achievement in Chinese cyber — more likely). It’s also full of carefully-staged “college pamphlet” or “annual report” photos of perfectly-diverse cybernauts — selected for just the “right” mix of joint-service uniforms, DOD civilians, and skin-tone diversity. In other words, it’s all full of that which proceeds from the north end of a south-facing male bovine.

Naturally, there’s a new bureaucracy to be built, under a towering buzzword, the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, and more SES and political appointee jobs, like the Office of the Principle Cyber Advisor to the SecDef, which will oversee the Cyber Investment and Management Board, which will operate a senior executive forum and coordinate for something called the Deputy’s Management Action Group. It’s all process, with all these Beltway drones memo-ing one another.

Wait. We said, “Two takes”, in the title. What’s the other take on cybersecurity?

Well, here’s the NATO cyber team.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The whole team.  (Well, actually there are six men, so they can field two of these three-man teams. Feel better?).

That sound you hear is chortling in Chinese.

Ambush is Murder: A Painful Lesson, 17 Oct 67

The Battalion Commander led two companies of the 2/28 Infantry “Black Lions,” 1st Infantry Division, on a combat patrol into area where the battalion had been making contact since three of its companies choppered into the area about a week prior. They were part of Shenendoah II, an operation to investigate reports of Viet Cong presence near Lai Khe northwest of Saigon. But what was there was not a straggling guerrilla band: it was the 271st Regiment of the 9th Division, still bearing the “VC” honorific but a full-time professional People’s Army of Viet Nam unit. In the battle, the two American companies would be ambushed by two battalions of the 271st and thoroughly defeated.

By the battle’s end, the commander, Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., son of a World War II general, had failed to lead and was in a practical fugue state when an NVA bullet blew the top of his head off. (Despite his failure and inactivity on the battlefield, he would be posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross on the strength of an entirely fictional citation. The rot in the officer corps was profound in Vietnam). His sergeant major, Francis Dowling, and operations officer Don Holleder, a former football star, their RTOs, and the attached forward observer, 2LT Harold B. Durham, Jr. (who would receive the Medal of Honor posthumously) and his RTO — in short, the entire battalion command element —  were among the 64 killed. The remaining survivors were mostly wounded. The few survivors of A Company were led by a wounded first sergeant, José Valdez; by the start of the ill-fated patrol, D Company’s command had already fallen to 2LT George Welch, who survived.

The film gives a sense of just how an ambush feels from the receiving end, if it’s a well-done ambush. By 1967 the 271st Regiment had been at war for about nine years and was the repository of a great deal of institutional knowledge about fighting. The 2/28 was manned by draftees and led by careerists.

Can Your Suppressed Pistol Beat This? 78 dB.

That’s the measured performance of this little beauty:

Welrod

.32 ACP Welrod, from the collection of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.

Vintage 1941 or so, developed by the SOE. The ASOM notes another detail, which explains the strange magazine-is-the-grip design of the Welrod (bold is ours):

A limited range, close-qurters head shot weapon, the Welrod’s main value was its level of discreetness when used. This weapon could be fired with the magazine/grip removed, in which case it did not look like a weapon at all. Using the weapon in this manner allowed operators a level of stealth necessary for operations behind enemy lines.

Internally, Welrod’s suppressor design features are typical of silencers of the time. It has a ported barrel which vents into an expansion chamber partly restricted by screen discs. Modern suppressor designers abjure these design features as archaic and backward: the ported barrel saps velocity, and the screen discs are thought to be much less effective than shaped K-baffles or other baffles.

Really? Show us the quiet, guys. Show us a centerfire single-shot suppressed pistol that can beat 78 dB. We’re not asking much in the way of accuracy — the original Welrod was intended for contact ranges, but was good for minute-of-Nazi-skull out to 20 yards or so — but let’s see more muzzle energy for less noise than the Welrod.

We’re guessing that, without going to a captive cartridge like the Tunnel Rat experimental revolver or certain Russian silent-pistol designs, you can’t get materially better than those 20th Century Britons did with the Welrod. (For all their efforts, we’ve had a hard time confirming behind-the-lines use of this system, even with so many formerly secret archives opening up lately. Anybody know different?).

True, Jesse James the motorcycle loudmouth is claiming something similar for his rifle suppressor, but when he delivers that you’ll be able to hang it up next to your jet pack in the garage where you park your flying car. He’s the Baghdad Bob of gun credibility with that one.

But you would think we would be able to excel something made before computers, finite element analysis, and 70 years of progress in understanding sound theory and in production and metallurgical technology. That we are not, generally, far beyond the status quo of 1941 speaks volumes for the ingenuity and application of those wartime engineers.

Land Mines vs. Booby Traps vs. IEDs.

Those three are the most hated, if not always the most feared, enemy weapons. Much as WWII bomber crews loathed flak more than fighters (their gunners could shoot back at fighters!) the unattended (or command-detonated) explosive device is more loathed than direct fire. Tom Kratman nailed this in his military science-fiction novel, A Desert Called Peace, which we’re still reading.

“I don’t even like the idea of land mines,” Parilla muttered.

“No one does,” Carrera agreed. “Not until you have a horde of screaming motherfuckers coming to kill you and all that stands between their bayonets and you is a belt of land mines.”

How Armies Use Mines

In military usage, mines, which may be emplaced by combat troops or by specialist engineers, are used as artificial obstacles to hinder or channelize enemy forces, or as ambush initiators. It is good practice to initiate an ambush with the greatest casualty-producing weapon, or greatest shock-producing weapon, available to you, and the authoritative WHAM! of a Claymore is an excellent way to send a message to the enemy, when that message is: “Die, die, die!”

Note to national policymakers: If that’s not the message you’re trying to send as a matter of national policy, you may have selected the wrong tool when you chose the military as messenger.

In a well-executed ambush, the Claymore blast is followed by overwhelming firepower and then, very rapidly, by a lift and shift of fires from the objective to the enemy’s potential escape routes, while troops assault across the objective to ensure the total destruction of the target element, and to gather any intelligence that can readily be gained from their still-warm bodies and shattered equipment.

Just because enemy units are armored, there’s no reason not to initiate your ambush with a command-detonated mine. The Claymore has long had anti-tank equivalents in off-route AT mines, essentially a remote-command-launched rocket that you aim in advance where you expect the enemy armor to be. We don’t know how far these go back, but the first one we used to use was based on the old 3.5″ rocket launcher (the Super Bazooka invented in WWII and used in Korea after the 2.36″ one proved useless on T-34s). The US also has a set of shaped charges and platter mines that have a limited standoff capability. Most American troops never see or train with these devices; for whatever reason, they’re not a training priority, but they’re in the inventory.

The main use of mines, despite that long digression about ambushes, is to fortify positions. A minefield of this type has very limited utility if not covered by friendly observation and fire at all times; otherwise, the enemy can simply blow or lift the mines, something that, like mine emplacement, can be done “retail” by combat troops or “wholesale” by engineers. For this reason, the Hollywood trope of the patrol caught in the minefield is actually a very rare occurrence off-screen. You do not actually find your patrol in a minefield on a nice sunny day with the leisure to probe for mines with a stick (and please, not a bayonet). You find your patrol in the middle of the mines, usually a night in the foulest weather imaginable, and under accurate enemy direct or indirect fire.

In addition to mines that can be placed by troops, minefields can be emplaced hastily by engineer equipment, including sophisticated mechanical minelayers that lay mines in a ditch or holes the machines themselves dig, and pods that can scatter mines from aircraft, usually helicopters or (these days) UAVs.

Minefields emplaced by civilized troops for defensive purposes are, by international convention, marked with recognized international symbols. This is part of why mine, booby-trap, and IED warfare by irregular forces is often hated by regulars; the irregulars do not comply with these rules and norms, and so are thought to be fighting underhandedly. (The guerrillas, for their part, see it as merely doing what they can in an asymmetric fight).

The other part of forces’ loathing for enemies’ mine warfare is, as Tom’s character Duce Parilla seems to have internalized, you can’t fight back against a mine. The guy who killed or maimed your men is long gone. (Of course, you can fight back against minelayers, but the fight is indirect and requires you, too, to play to your asymmetric strengths). This feeling of frustration by mine-warfare attack (in this case, by booby traps that produced casualties) was a key ingredient, along with inadequate officer selection & training and bad leadership at all levels from corporal to Corps, in the misconduct of Americal Division troops that became known as the My Lai Massacre.  They were so tired of taking casualties by booby trap, and so badly led, that they took out their fear and frustration on enemy noncombatants instead.

As tragic as the outcome was for the simple peasant families of My Lai 4, the murders were a great victory for the Communists in the key center of gravity of the war — the minds of the American public and their elected leaders. It was part of an array of events that drove a schism between the military and the media that endures almost 40 years later.

So What’s the Difference?

Mines, Booby Traps, and Improvised Explosive Devices are three somewhat overlapping categories of (usually but not always) explosive weapons.

landmines_1

Mike Croll defines landmines as:

mass-produced, victim-operated, explosive traps.1

In American usage (Croll was a British soldier and, subsequently, NGO counter-mining expert), “landmines” also includes command-detonated weapons like the Claymore. It was once customary for patrols to use a Claymore wired with a tripwire and a pull or pull-release firing device to delay pursuit; this usage has been banned by American military lawyers who were, we are not making this up, inspired by Princess Diana.

Booby-traps are distinguished from mines by dint of not being made en masse in factories, but as Croll points out, “the difference can be academic,” and it’s certainly not significant to the victim. While no non-explosive victim-operated weapons are currently in production worldwide, non-explosive traps have been used since prehistoric times (Croll also traces the archaeology of caltrops and Roman obstacle fields in his book). In the early years of the Vietnam War, US forces did encounter Malayan Gates, punji pits, and other non-explosive mantraps; as the war ground on, the enemy improved his logistics and regularized his forces, and such bulky, hard to make, and easily detected traps gave way to explosive weapons.

landmines_2

Improvised Explosive Devices encompass everything that blows a fellow up, and that didn’t come out of the factory in the form in which it ultimately is used. The ED is often I from factory weapons that were not envisioned by their inventors as traps, command-detonated, or suicide mines. This definition of IED includes explosive booby traps, of course, as a subset. The many forms of suicide IED are also a subset; suicide weapons have approached mass-production status in Iraq and Iran, with such markers of production status as dedicated circuit boards.

We’ve provided a couple of Venn diagrams to help you sort ’em out, but as Croll himself notes, there’s a considerable gray area. An AT mine can be fitted with a pull-release device or pressure plate and deployed as a massive overkill anti-personnel booby trap, for example. So perhaps instead of having solid borders, the circles should shade into one another.

But we’re with Parilla and Carrera. We hate ’em, unless we’re behind ’em and anticipating the banzai charge of the Third Shock Mongolian Horde.

Notes

1. Croll, p.ix.

Sources

Croll, Mike. The History of Landmines. Bromley, England: Leo Cooper, 1998.

So how bad is the Iran “Deal”?

BLOWING UP PARADISEAnybody who’s been working in the Middle East for the last 30-plus years knows what the valence of the Islamic Republic of Iran has been: strongly negative from its birth in violent revolution to its genocidal ambitions today. No nation has done more to incite, finance, equip and direct terrorism as a matter of national policy. No nation, in a world and a region where individual liberty is a hunted, endangered sprite, has done more to subjugate and enslave its own people. (If you must have this lesson with Hollywood production values, we recommend The Stoning of Soraya M. as an accurate and unflinching look at life in the Islamic Republic, and those areas that have fallen under its malign sway). And no nation is less fit to responsibly safeguard and employ nuclear technology for military purposes.

Across the table from the minions of the terror state sit the lackeys of an American president whose hunger for a deal, any deal, has given the whole enterprise the Vichy flavor of an enervated pedophile  seeking the least-worst plea bargain. The conventional wisdom, apart from a few shrinking circles in which all wisdom radiates with the sun with the openings and closings of The One’s fundamental orifice, is that it’s going to be a bad deal. That is, if you’re not a mullah.

So it’s a bad deal. And the question everybody’s asking is: how bad?

Now we have an answer: this bad. The Vichy Maison Blanc is already celebrating the Iranian holiday, Nowruz (the Shia New Year).  From The Hill: 

First Lady Michelle Obama praised the holiday in remarks at the executive mansion Wednesday. The event featured a Persian dinner and a dance troop’s performance.

“I think it’s so fitting we’re holding this celebration here today,” Michelle Obama said. “One of the things I love about the White House is how it truly is the people’s house. It is a house that reflects the diversity of culture and traditions that make us who we are as a country. Nowruz is one of those traditions.”

We don’t think we can take more of this appeasement. But tell us more, anyway:

A central facet of Nowruz celebrations are “Haft Sin,” or “the seven S’s” in Persian. Participants display seven items (all beginning with “S” in Persian) as symbols of new hopes for the next year.

The first lady said Wednesday the White House has its own Haft Sin display this Nowruz. Example she cited included an apple for beauty, grass for rejuvenation and crushed berry spices for “the spice of life.”

Say what you will about Neville Chamberlain, he never dressed his wife in trendy swastikas.