Category Archives: Consumer Alert!

This Was Not the Everyday CMP M1 Garand

In the late 1950s, the Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice — the former Army agency that was spun off in the anti-gun Clinton years as a non-profit, and is now the Civilian Marksmanship Program, or CMP — sold a trickle of M1 rifles to lottery winners — or, since it was a government agency, to politically connected men who were able to jump the line.

Kennedy Garand 02

Here’s a couple of pictures and the story of one of those rifles.

Kennedy Garand 04

This M1 started from one of those depots, the Erie Ordnance Depot in Port Clinton, OH to be precise, but was far from a random selection.  The rifle picked for [the VIP] bears a late production 6+ million serial number and is a Type 1 National Match M1 Garand, that has been rebuilt to a Type 2.  After the NM rifle “happened” to be selected for [the VIP], it also “happened” to make its way to Master Sergeant Raymond E Parkinson, a gunsmith assigned to the Second U.S. Army Advanced Marksmanship Unit at Ft. George C. Meade in Maryland.  Once there, much of the work took place that can be seen on the rifle to this day.  In fact, COL Lee was kind enough to detail such changes in a letter he sent to [the VIP] after the rifle was received.  The modifications, as listed in the communication, are:

  1. Adjusted the trigger in order to provide an exacting trigger pull for each shot fired.
  2. Blued all metal parts to prevent rust and enhance the beauty of the weapon.Kennedy Garand 03
  3. Applied a moisture-proof silicon finish to the stock.
  4. Applied a glass-bedding compound to the recoil shoulders of the stock in order to enable the rifle to maintain its accuracy.
  5. Air-tested the bore for correct calibration and flaws.
  6. Test-fired the rifle in a sitting position at 200 yards.

“For your information, Mast Sergeant Parkinson did the test firing and the target is enclosed.  The rifle was not test-fired from a cradle because the gun smiths did not want to scar the stock, however, the test proved conclusively that the rifle is very accurate and as good as any rifle used at the National Matches.”

The VIP was the then-Junior Senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. While the Kennedy family has made the most extreme gun control central to their political identity since his death, JFK was a proud veteran, gun owner, and shooter. The carefully polished rifle does not seem to have been fired much; soon, Kennedy was embroiled in the Presidential campaign, which he would win in late 1960. It’s unknown if he took the rifle along to the White House, but it’s now at Rock Island Auctions and is going on the block next weekend, complete with a thorough and impressive provenance.

Kennedy Garand 01

Even the effort to not mar the stock by firing it from a cradle clearly shows the utmost care taken in creating this gun for Kennedy.  Thankfully, the documentation of the rifle’s journey has also been preserved.  Accompanying this rifle are a copy of the original DD1348 form noting that it was shipped to Senator Kennedy in October of 1959, the copy of the aforementioned memorandum from COL Lee to Kennedy, the actual 200 yard test target shot by MSG Parkinson, and a copy of the letter of appreciation that Kennedy wrote to MSG Parkinson thanking him for his work and attention to the rifle.

via The Rock Island Auction Blog: John F. Kennedy’s M1 Garand.

A peculiar set of conditions attached to making a custom rifle for a VIP. Sure, he could jump to the head of the lotto line, but he couldn’t get a specially selected rifle. And top US Army Marksmanship Unit gunsmith Parkinson couldn’t work to upgrade it during duty hours. But the Army does tend to find a way around itself, when its bureaucracy interferes with the mission.

This rifle has attracted its fair share of attention over the years. The May 1967 issue of “The American Rifleman” featured an article on the rifle written by MSG Parkinson himself called, “A Letter Of Appreciation For A Rifle.” In it, he states that he had no idea who the rifle was for and that, just like anyone else, a random rifle was chosen for the task. He writes, “As no substitution could be made even for someone in Congress, the Colonel [Carpenter] indicated that if I could fix up the piece in my off-duty time, it would reflect a helpful attitude and would be appreciated by the gentleman for whom the M1 was destined.” Also mentioned by Parkinson is the custom made shipping and storage crate he created for this special request rifle, which still accompanies it to this day.

What we’re not clear on is how the rifle got from JFK to the Rock Island Auction this coming weekend.

One wonders if some of the people in the leper colonies of the Internet, the ones who are quick to suggest that someone who enjoys guns or shooting sports ought to be shot dead (like, say, certain VA pshrinks), realize that poor Kennedy got what they apparently wanted for him.

For that matter, one wonders if today’s Eloi Kennedys have any idea where their patriarch (well, the real patriarch was Hitler-heiling old Joe, but you know what we mean) stood on the issue of guns and the NRA.

Lost PLA Based 10/22 – From Data to Print to Cast Aluminum

We have mentioned before that the great benefits of 3-D printing include not only the direct printing of parts, but the printing of tooling, models, and patterns. It was inevitable that sooner or later someone was going to 3D print a PLA (polylactic acid, the easiest and most common plastic for 3-D printing) pattern for a firearm receiver, and then make an aluminum alloy casting using the Lost PLA process, essentially identical to the lost wax process used by jewelers and dentists for millennia. And now someone has done it, yielding this receiver, which builds up into a clone of the popular Ruger 10/22.

lost_pla_10-22_complete

The 10/22 is a good choice, as a vast quantity of aftermarket parts are available for this rifle, and the original receiver was designed to be produced by investment casting in the first place.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

Here is the lower receiver as a 3D .stl model, set up for slicing and printing.

In Lost PLA, the pattern begins as a 3D dimensional file.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

Receiver as printed. Note that all pictures in this post can be clicked to embiggen.

The receiver is printed (allowing for a shrinkage percentage), then rods of PLA or wax are attached to form sprues, runners, fillers, and risers (sprues attach multiple parts; runners direct molten metal to parts or to areas of parts; fillers are used to pour the metal in, in most cases there should be only one per sprue; and risers allow air to escape, and signal the completion of the pour).

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Investment packed into a flask. one of the tubes leads to a filler and one a riser.

Then the assembly is invested with high-temperature plaster or plaster and sand mixture. The wax / plastic pattern is then burned out of the mold, and the metal is heated and poured in to the investment.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

The casting with filler and riser still attached.

After the pour has had time to solidify, the casting is removed and any risers and screws are cut off.

Another thermoplastic like ABS can be substituted for PLA, but not a thermosetting (for obvious reasons). We expect PLA to be superior on castability.

In this case, the casting looks like it needed some cleanup (here’s a close-up) before it was built into an actual firearm. That’s not uncommon for investment castings, although industrial investment castings get nearer and nearer to net shape all the time.

lost_pla_10-22_closeup

 

You want tutorials? We got tutorials.

Here’s an Instructable in which a series of lost-ABS Yoda heads (people want Yoda heads? Takes all kinds to make a world…) are attached to a wax sprue, invested and cast. You could easily see this done with small parts and some other metal (although most home and small foundries aren’t going to be casting iron or steel due to the temps required). There are many practical tips for insuring casting success in this one, and an 11-minute at the end that ties it together (mute the sound). Read the comments too; the guy has decided PLA is better than ABS for this purpose.

Here’s a walk-through of another lost-PLA art project. Note that burnout temperatures are specific to materials and, especially, investments. Follow the instructions of the investment maker.

Here’s the original lost-PLA project we first cited some years ago, but it’s still valid.

And a Hackaday they’re hacking lost-PLA in a pair of Microwave Ovens. Here’s a quick overview with many links, and here’s the actual project. One Microwave is a standard one, and uses a susceptor (think metal, focusing the energy) for burning out the PLA. The other is converted, removing the rotisserie and using a top emitter to melt aluminum. Of course, this is limited in size/volume/weight of part it can do.

We would give them a safety thumbs down on their cardboard-box flask. Cheap, yes, but… and they don’t disclose much about their aluminum melting mod to the microwave.

And finally, in Make’s Ultimate Guide to 3D Printing in 2014, they showed a couple of other ways to make metal parts, some decorative (like low-temp bismuth alloy).

 

 

Brrrrrt! Legal Full-Auto-Like Firepower

Karl and Ian from Full30.com and Forgotten Weapons.com are not strangers to this site. They have something cool and new: a customized slide-fire rifle designed to make slide-firing easy as falling off a log.

(Note: link removed while we fix embed code. Bear with us!) Should be fixed now, apologies.

The company that makes their trigger, KE Arms, has since introduced its own line of complete slide-fire rifles they call the Poor Man’s SAW (minus the bipod, the importance and details of which Karl explains in the video) and several variations of parts and components. Listen carefully to Karl; he tells you what features are important, and what has and hasn’t worked, in the video. Then go forth and build your own.

Brrrrrrrrt.

A Sad Gunsmith Story — And How to Avoid One

A guy on Reddit has a pretty sad gunsmith story. In Reddit tradition, in memory of the martyred Chairman Pao, we’ll give you the tl;dr version first:

tl;dr: guy brings three gun parts to shop for smith work. Never meets with or talks to smith. Parts are on budget but are late and low quality. 

OK, here’s the way he put it:

I was referred to Williams Gun Works by a local Wichitan. I wanted to have a factory 10/22 barrel threaded and a Beretta Neos 6″ barrel threaded. I also wanted my Glock 17 slide milled for an RMR and cerakoted to match.
I contacted them and they told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR. I dropped everything off on June 4th and noted one scratch on the 10/22 barrel so we were on the same page as far as cosmetic defects. They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know. They told me it should be done in about 2 weeks give or take.
6 weeks later (7/15) I get the call to pick up my barrels. The slide still wasn’t done though. Still waiting on Cerakote. They told me to bring my can to make sure the threads were good. I decided it would be best to check the threads with a nut first, just in case they were fucked up. I specified the exact length/type of threads I needed for that can, though.
I take off work to go pick up the barrels and I immediately notice a good amount of surface rust on the 10/22 barrel. They rubbed it with an oily cloth and called it good. Threads were ok though.
The Neos barrel had some surface rust that was new as well, but also had really fucked up starting threads and wouldn’t catch a thread at all. This was a surprise to them (implying they had even looked at it before calling me).
They ran a die over the threads and I was able to thread the nut. I took both home and cleaned up the threads further with my own die, and removed all the surface rust.
Today (7/20) I get the call to pick up my slide. I take off work again. They had already mounted the RMR. Cerakote looked good. The extractor plunger wouldn’t go in its hole.

Did you guys see the red flag we did? Let’s rewind:

They didn’t have the first clue about milling a slide for an RMR or the barrel threading but assured me their machine shop guy would know.

So, despite the fact that someone recommended this gun shop, they send their machine work out. (Not unusual). And they don’t even know enough to talk about something that is, frankly, a pretty common request. (That is unusual). How common? Well, Glock made flat, optic slides a factory option because enough people were doing it that it began to make sense in mass production. A slide already set up like that is a phone call away. And the explosive growth in NFA registrations in recent years is predominantly in suppressors, which need threaded hosts — again, something so common that vendors are series- if not mass-producing the barrels and selling them on GunBroker. It should have been a red flag that the shop’s guys couldn’t talk intelligently about these two simple procedures, and didn’t pass him off to someone who could. (Sure, a simple sales clerk might not know, but can’t he say, “Willie’s in Tuesday, and he understands all this stuff. Can you come in to see him?”)

There was another clue that they sent this work out, also:

[T]hey told me to bring the stripped barrels and slide as well as the RMR

Now, having the barrels stripped does make threading easier, but disassembly is a pretty trivial thing on these two firearms. They’re both designed with assembly and maintenance in mind. But the shop’s insistence on stripping suggests it’s going to a shop that doesn’t have an FFL and probably doesn’t do much gun work.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gun work was at the cutting edge of machine shop practice 150 years ago, but today a lot of shops routinely work on ultra-high-precision tools and dies and aerospace parts. They should be able to set up and thread a gun barrel sleepwalking.

But working through a shop that sends their stuff out means you’re trying to communicate what you want done through intermediaries. And in this case, the intermediaries sound unprepared for and unfamiliar with the work in question, even if the shop (from whose knowledge the second-hand nature of this job insulates the customer) isn’t.

In our limited experience gunshop clerks run the gamut from real experts to complete bozos. The best of them know their products and the market, and know everything they’re likely to see as a trade-in, too. They can talk gun history and manufacturing processes with the best of us. The worst of them? Should probably wear a hockey helmet while out in public. But they all think they’re experts, except for the real experts, who are paradoxically more humble than their station should demand. But the particular experts at this store never told the machinist about the importance of corrosion control and deburring (and then, there’s a little voice that tells me if you don’t understand corrosion control or deburring, you’re probably not a real machinist, either).

It sounds like nobody took ownership of the rust on barrels. That’s a double red flag, first that the barrels were allowed to get that way, and secondly that it was received with blasé indifference. It’s like going to a plastic surgeon for a nose job and getting that, and a bonus Teutonic saber-dueling scar.

This guy wound up spending $500 for work that was never QCd adequately by anybody and having three guns down for a month and a half. Work that he needed, in some cases, to do over. The shop did offer to blast and restore the Cerakote on the Glock slide, as removing enough of the burrs to assemble the pistol left bald spots on the slide. The seller chose not to give them a second at-bat with his pistol; he’s still so POd that he’s talking about a credit card chargeback (something merchants really abhor).

Even without having seen their side of the story, it’s a dead certainty that the shop, too, is unhappy with this transaction all around.

The guy could have bought a Glock slide cut for RMR and a threaded 10/22 barrel from almost anywhere, like Brownells, One Source Tactical or Lone Wolf (at least for the Glock part), and had overnight delivery. He’d have spent a little more money; the slide goes for $250-300 finished while the milling job is done by many production smiths for $120-160 plus shipping. We’re not sure about the Neos barrel, that’s a bit of a rara avis at this time, at least compared to Glocks and 10/22s which have an ultra-robust aftermarket.

How do you avoid this predicament?

There are several things  we recommend.

  1. You may not want to use a local shop. There are shops that solicit your business and that do business nationwide.
  2. If you can’t talk to the guy who’s going to cut your metal in a local shop, they send it out to some generic job shop where it gets treated like generic machined tractor parts or whatever.
  3. If the guy says they don’t know how to do something, don’t browbeat him into trying it and then regret it when he fails. Instead, take his word for it. This is not the smith you are looking for.
  4. Don’t pay 100% in advance. In fact, withhold something until the job proves out. Think of those dollars as your hostages to a successful transaction.
  5. What’s the point in dealing locally if you don’t deal face to face with the actual smith? A lot of people today seem terrified of communication by phone or face-to-face with actual humans, but this guy didn’t have that problem, he just communicated with the wrong guys.

From the Dealer’s Point of View

  1. If you send work out, be up front about it. (“Hey, that’s a milling job, we don’t have the machine tools for that, but we do have a good shop that does work for us.”) Nobody will hold it against you, you’re a small business that needs to interface with other small businesses to please your customers.
  2. Don’t let a customer talk you into work that you’re not sure you or your guy can do.
  3. Never, ever, take a job you don’t understand completely.
  4. Never, ever, release a job without inspecting it to ensure it met what you quoted. (What, no quote? See next item).
  5. Quote in writing and in detail. This protects everybody, yeah, even the merchant.
  6. Consider hiring (or teaming with) a real smith if your market will support it. If you’re really small, see if you can get a guy to come in one evening a week (most of your customers work day jobs) or make a weekend presentation on what he can do. It is not the walk-in repair and modification business that will pay for the smith, but the impulse purchases of the guys who come to see him. You can also use him to raise the profile of some of your plain-jane used guns.
  7. Don’t oversell your smith. We watched an alleged smith fail miserably at reassembling a customer’s common-as-dirt Winchester .22. He didn’t have the humility to go to YouTube for an answer, and the old standby of using two screwdrivers to compress a long spring into a short hole didn’t occur to him, probably because he got rattled by several failures. If a guy isn’t a real gunsmith, don’t call him that, call him a technician, armorer or repairman.
  8. If you’re the smith, be humble. There’s no harm in asking if you can look at something, check some references, and then quote.

For everybody, meet the other party half way, and try to be sensitive to their expectations. We actually think the shop in this case did that with their offer to re-coat the slide; we think the customer’s being unreasonable if he wants a full refund. But the shop really blew it by returning uninspected work to a customer. Now the guy has lost faith in you, and, he’s dropped the Reddit bomb on you, which is on the net forever, or until Reddit management finally kills the site, whichever comes first.

“Branded — Marked with the No-Go Brand.”

What do you do when you’re branded?1 Well, when you’re a 7 1/2″ Colt 1873 Single-Action Army Revolver and Army inspectors reject you, the word is not “branded,” technically, but “condemned.” And you get pulled from the ranks of all your brothers going to Artillery troopers, and sent back to Colt. And 139 years later, you’re a puzzle and a delight to collectors — a mass-produced firearm with a one-off story to tell.

condemned SAA

No word on whether there is a ceremony with ominous drum rolls2. As a pistol you are fortunate in not having buttons, stripes, badges or accouterments to be lopped off at sword’s point.

Colt’s records show that this pistol wasn’t returned to the Army after rework (it’s possible that to the War Department, this serial number really was “branded”) but instead shipped out in a batch of 50 commercial guns to a New York dealer.

One unique feature of this weathered old draft dodger:condemned SAA notches

It also has an interesting 5 notches cut on the left side of the barrel, and also on the butt of the right grip.

 

Make of that what you will.

condemned SAA with letterA Colt letter documents the gun’s history, and Jackson Armory, a perennial source of wicked interesting firearms, has it on offer to the “very advanced collector” on GunBroker. With a starting bid of $7,000, it’s a bit (okay, thousands) too advanced for our tastes. But you have to love the way GunBroker makes it possible to click your way to an education on firearms.

Hat tip, a LEO buddy who is a prolific source of really good blogging ideas.

Notes

  1. If you’re an American of a certain age, you’ll get the TV show reference.
  2. This drumming-out ceremony from the opening credits of the TV show Branded with Chuck Connors was a real thing, and was still done as late as the late 50s or early 60s, when guys we know saw it done to a miscreant at 10th Special Forces Group at Bad Tölz.

You Know You Want One. Which One?

One of the coolest guns ever let loose on an unsuspecting world was the “Schmeisser” (as the Allies called it, although Hugo Schmeisser had nothing to do with it; it did use his magazine patent) MP.38 and MP.40 submachine guns.

MP40 goepfert

Arguably the first of the second-generation submachine guns, the MPs incorporated all of the canonical 2G traits: notably folding stocks and industrial pressing and screw-machine parts for rapid manufacture. (The canonical 2G is probably the Sten, whose stock was removable, not folding, but which set records still unbeaten for economy and crudity of manufacture for a major power’s service weapon. The US 2G SMG, the M3 “Grease Gun,” was a model of fit and finish, at least as far as mass-produced pistol-caliber bullet hoses went).

The MP has a number of reasons it’s technically interesting, but its lasting appeal these days stems from three things:

  1. Someone collects anything having to do with the Third Reich, and this was a signature personal weapon of that grim regime; there is no weapon more commonly associated with the Blitzkrieg that you can hang on your wall. (Maybe a Stuka or Panzer III, if you had a really big wall?)
  2. After the war, it was (and to some extent still is) Hollywood’s go-to Bad Guy Gun. Everyone from Smersh, to KAOS, to Blofeld’s Nehru-jacketed (or were they jump-suited?) minions seems to have an MP40. They even show up in space operas and 1930s gangster films — almost always in the hands of the bad guys.

    MP40 with movie villains and Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

    MP40 with movie villains who were also Nazis (Raiders of the Lost Ark)

  3. It looks cool in that certain way of many German weapons. It has a certain Bauhaus-meets-Bridgeport, Industrial Age look to it. It is one of the most identifiable silhouettes in the firearms world, even now.

MP40 drawing

As a bonus, they fire common, readily available ammunition.

At the time, the MP. 38 was a revelation, if not a revolution. It was a stamped weapon (the receiver appears to have been pressed on a mandrel) that didn’t feel flimsy or cheesy.

What brought this to our attention is the sheer number of MPs are available on GunBroker right now. There’s usually one or two, but this week there are seven of them, most of them original, transferable, C&R guns. (Two are tube guns offered at what we think is too high of a reserve). Almost all of them are offered by Frank Goepfert (you may remember the “Colt 601″ receiver that was a mixmaster that we commented on a couple of months back. The high bidder had thought it was an authentic and complete 601, and Frank allowed him to roll the auction back — correct move in our opinion.

MP40 on Gunbroker

If we were bidding today — and we’re not — it would be this one, rather than one of Frank’s, we’d bid on. Some of his are in much nicer finish condition, but this one just seems like the best match of authenticity, vibe, accessories, and, potentially, deal. Look for it to sell in the mid teens.

Maybe 1911s Are Coming to CMP

M1911A1The Civilian Marksmanship Program is the neither-fish-nor-fowl hybrid that emerged from a 1990s attempt by anti-gunners in Congress to destroy the Army’s Director of Civilian Marksmanship. Billed as a way to provide trained riflemen in the event of wartime expansion, DCM was always a little more about providing guns and ammo to target shooters from vast World War I and later World War II stocks. CMP continues that tradition today, selling a dwindling stock of surplus and returned military-aid M1 Garand rifles from their website, and  occasional M1 carbines and other rarities at their auction site.

The Proposal

CMP and its forerunner DCM have not sold any handguns in ages (well, literally, in decades), but that will change if Congressman Mike Rogers, R-AL, gets his way. Rogers (one of two Republicans named Mike Rogers in the current House) is a solid pro-gun guy, and his northeastern Alabama district includes such fine locations as Anniston Army Depot and the ancestral trailer of Plaintiff I (which detail it would be unsportsmanlike to hold against Mr Rogers). Rogers proposed a pretty straightforward change to the law: where CMP is now authorized to transfer “rifles” and “caliber .30 and .22 rifles” from surplus stocks, his new language (.pdf) would amend that to say “surplus firearms.”

The Opposition

Rogers’s proposal has drawn predictable backlash from the predictable points of the compass. Writing in the leftish Huffington Post, antigun perennial Mike Weisser, the prototype of all phony-pro-gun anti-gunners (now employed by the Bloomberg-related false flag anti-gun extremist group “Evolve,” which fact the HuffPo and Weisser do not disclose to their readers) calls it “the blind leading the dumb.” He also mistakenly writes that the .45 pistol “has never been available on the civilian market,” which is not true, as even the DOD/DOJ memo Weisser cites (of which, more below) notes the presence of “surplus US military” 1911s on the market.

Obama Administration political appointees in the Department of the Army and Department of Justice coordinated to produce an attack on the Rogers Amendment. Here is a copy of it:

CMPInfoPaper11May(.pdf)

The key paragraph in the unsigned and unattributed memo is this:

There is a significant risk of approximately 100K semi-automatic handguns that are virtually untraceable, being released into commerce. Per DOJ, M1911 pistols are popular crime guns. Over the last 10 years, they traced an average of 1,768 M1911 pistols with a significant percentage (percentage not provided) ultimately identified as surplus U.S. military firearms. DOJ believes it would be a challenge to trace these firearms if used in a crime because there will likely be no record of origin and the seller (CMP) is not a licensee and accordingly is not bound to keep records memorializing the transaction (both of which are factors they also believe contribute to diminished public safety)

There are several fallacies in this paragraph. The first is that a trace equals a crime gun. Traces also include surrendered guns and recovered thefts. A significant percentage of the crime guns, also, trace only to legitimate owners prior to a theft. An average of 177 annual traces of a firearm that has been produced in thousands of variations by hundreds of makers for over 100 years continuously without pause, in quantities of many millions (over two million were produced during WWII alone).

The statement that the guns sold by CMP would likely be used in crime is in line with previous Obama Administration pronouncements. For example, they banned surplus dealers and the CMP from obtaining ex-Korean M1 Garand and M1 Carbine rifles, even calling the carbines “assault rifles.” In a nation that consumes a new production of two to three million AR-15s a year (plus additional AKs, Tavors, FALs, etc., etc.), and yet has a couple of hundred rifle homicides, total, per annum, to suggest that this obsolete septuagenarian Personal Defense Weapon has a future in crime is a howler that only someone thoroughly insulated from the gun culture — like Bloomberg, or his hireling Weisser, or Eric Holder — could come up with.

 

Where Things Stand

The amendment passed the House of Representatives easily (by voice vote), and the National Defense Authorization Act passed the House with the amendment included. Sounds good, right? But now we get to where the sausage really is made. The Senate version, which passed the upper house on 18 June, does not include this language (and has many other differences from the House bill). Therefore, the bill heads to a Conference Committee where a few designated troubleshooters from each house will work to create a single compromise bill. The Conference may take place as soon as this month and constituent input at this point is unlikely to alter anything — it’s in a place where only insiders and lobbyists count, unfortunately.

President Obama has threatened to veto the bill (over other issues, although he’s certainly not a fan of the CMP). However, the vote counts in the individual houses to date suggest that a veto could be overridden, making the veto less likely. The veto-bait issue is this: the majority Republicans increased defense spending with a budgetary gimmick, stuffing routine defense spending into an account intended for the support of deployed troops, dodging the “sequester” spending cap. The Democrats who are likely to lead or at least select their party’s delegation to the conference committee are their defense committee charimen: Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), once a peacetime Army junior officer, and Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), a lawyer without military experience. They oppose both increasing defense spending and supporting deployed troops, and envision the money going for domestic programs. Their Republican counterparts who produced the budgetary sleight-of-hand are Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a retired Naval aviator and Vietnam POW, and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), like Smith a lawyer without military experience. Of the four, only Thornberry is a solid gun rights supporter, boding ill for the survival of Mike Rogers’s (AL) amendment in the final NDAA.

The Congressmen have been tabbed for the Conference Committee already, but the Senators have not. Fortunately for the future of the Rogers Amendment, one of the named Congressmen is Mike Rogers. The Committee itself is held up in procedural red tape, due to the different ways the House and Senate bills cut military retirements.

Hat tip, Miles Vining at TFB whose recent May post (oops) reminded us to write about this.

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.

Advice for OPM Breach Victims

The following post has been transmitted by the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (think, the “special agents’ union” and you’re pretty close) to their members. It gives advice that is useful to anyone who’s been victimized by the allegedly-Chinese hack of the all-but-unsecured  computer networks of the Office of Personnel Mismanagement (OPM).

Their advice about (1) not relying on the lowest-bidder “credit monitoring” OPM contracted as damage control, and (2) taking measures on your own, is excellent across the board. If you are (or were) a government worker or cleared contractor, or even simply applied for a clearance, since approximately 1990, you may rest assured that the payroll patriots of OPM have distributed your name, date of birth, social security account number, and many other personal details (depending on level of clearance and depth of investigation) far and wide.

In response to OPM’s breach of our member’s Personal Identifying Information (PII) and release of other sensitive data, FLEOA prepared an informative bulletin to assist you and your family with taking proactive steps to prevent further abuse of your PII.
By now you should have received an email from OPM notifying you that your personal information may have been compromised. The email will come from opmcio@csid.com and it will contain information regarding credit monitoring and identity theft protection services. Ensure that the email you received from OPM is from CSID and not a phishing attempt. To do this, check the address on your email header and ensure it reads opmcio@csid.com. To be safe, launch a new window and then cut and paste opmcio@csid.com into your new web browser and follow the instructions. Don’t fall into the false sense of security that that credit monitoring will protect you. It’s a good service and certainly one you should take advantage of, but there are additional services and resources you should also consider deploying. So what else can you do to protect your identity?
First, contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus Transunion (www.transunion.com), Experian (www.experian.com) and Equifax (www.equifax.com) and report you are a victim of identity theft and request a FRAUD ALERT be placed on your record. Note: by law, you only need to contact one of the three. As soon as you place the fraud alert with one credit bureau, they have to notify the other two. Please keep in mind that a fraud alert is only valid for three (3) months and then you have to call them again and renew. A fraud alert works much the same way as credit monitoring – anytime someone queries your credit, either through a loan application or even checks your credit you are notified. There is no charge for this service.
Additionally, by law, you are entitled to receive one free credit report per year, per credit bureau. In effect, you can request 3 credit reports per year at no charge from each of the credit bureaus. FLEOA recommends that you request a new credit report every four (4) months for the next three to five years and then at least every six months for every year thereafter. If you notice an account that you or your spouse do not recognize, immediately notify the company that you are a victim of identity theft and you did not authorize the questionable account.
Another important step to consider is freezing your credit account. Unlike credit monitoring where you are simply notified of a credit query, a credit freeze will prevent anyone from using your SSN to obtain credit in your name. It also prevents anyone from reviewing your credit worthiness. The cost is $10 to freeze and another $10 to unfreeze. As with placing a fraud alert on your account, you only need to notify one of the three credit reporting bureaus. FLEOA recommends you to freeze your credit if you are not planning to purchase a car, a house or obtain credit cards in the next year or so. If you are planning on purchasing a car or house this year, you may want to consider waiting to freeze your credit until after you have completed your purchase.
Another option to consider is paying a fee for the credit bureaus to contact you via, text, email or phone anytime someone queries or uses your SSN to obtain credit. This provides instant real time feed back and allows you to respond immediately to any threat to your credit. Note: there is a fee for this service.
FLEOA also recommends you to set up a My SSA account through the Social Security Administration (http://www.ssa.gov/my account). By setting up a My SSA account, you can access your work history and yearly earnings and ensure that only the wages you earned are showing up under your SSN. This helps prevent anyone from filing SSA claims in your name and working under your SSN without you knowing about it.
For additional information on how to protect yourself and your family from identity theft, visit the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
FLEOA | | fleoa@fleoa.org | www.fleoa.org
7945 MacArthur Blvd
Ste 201
Cabin John, MD 20818

This is a personal calamity for those involved and a national security and counterintelligence disaster, but you’ll be relieved to know that institutional Washington’s highest priorities are safe: that would be the 7% annual performance bonuses for the OPM Senior Executive Service members and other senior managers who presided over this cluster$&@%.

Those Who Forget the Past, AR-15 Edition

A couple of days ago we followed a link from The Gun Feed to the Michigan-based gun blog 248 Shooters.com. (We’re guessing 248 is an MI area code? The way the Workshop Eating Plane® will have “603” in its N Number?). Anyway, the article was a short and to the point gear review of an extended or enhanced mag release that is made by a company called ArmaSpec.

ArmaSpec mag release

Armaspec calls it the “Tactical Combat Button,” and says (right there on the package!) that it gives you “faster magazine changes.” It’s reminiscent of popular extended or enhanced mag catches that have become common on sidearms, like the Vickers Tactical catch we have in our Glock 17. (We’ve got the slide release, too. Larry is a hero to those of us with small hands).

Apart from the name, which gnaws at us in its jejune buzzwordiness (not “tactical” again! And “combat?” Whose?), it illustrates the problem of living in Baby Duck World, where All Things Are Ever New™. This button may be useful for someone running very stylized match stages, but it probably isn’t.

Here are our problems with the TCB, conceptually:

  1. First, there’s nothing wrong with the standard mag catch;
  2. Unlike the standard mag catch, this is very prone to unintended mag release;
  3. Unlike the standard mag catch, this cannot be installed, removed or adjusted without tools;
  4. In fact, it needs a peculiar tool which the rubber-meets-the-road system operator may not have on his person;
  5. It gives up most if not all the adjustability of the standard catch;
  6. It introduces additional points of failure into a proven subsystem;
  7. It is vulnerable to the screws backing out and requires Loctite to work at all.

Note that we haven’t tried this part ourselves, we’re just cueing off 248Shooters’ review.

The History of the AR-15 / M16 Mag Catch

The M16 magazine catch started as the AR-15 one, which, of course, began as the AR-10 magazine catch, as shown here. (The first shot is Serial #38, auctioned by James D. Julia some time past; the others are from an Portuguese AR-10 on an H&H Semi receiver). We have not tested the interchangeability of these catches, but we suspect that the AR-10 and -15 catches are the same length on the X Axis (front to rear) but the AR-10 catch is longer on the Y Axis (left to right).

Julia AR-10 #38 serial ar-10_porto_right_side_receiver_rotated H&H AR-10 02

The AR-10 magazine catch was not created in a vacuum. It itself was an improvement of the catch used in the seminal German MP44 assault rifle (We use “MP44″ somewhat expansively here; the magazine catch appears to us to be the same in all related versions of the German assault rifle, back to the MKb 42 (H)). The direction of the release changed, and it was moved closer to the pistol grip, so that it could be released with the index finger of the right hand, instead of using the left hand as was done with the MP44. The next photos are of a Japanese non-firing replica of the MP44 (they were the clearest photos handy on the net). The mag release is the conical, ribbed button at the rear of the mgazine well.

MP44-trigger

This next picture shows a weakness of the MP44 system, which the AR system improved materially. As you can see, the catch, button and shaft are joined semipermanently by staking or riveting. That means it’s not field-repairable, let alone, -adjustable, at the -10 or -20 (operator or organizational repair, i.e. unit armorer) echelons. Again, this is a replica, but a very nice one.

MP44-trigger2

By making the AR-10 design a one-piece shaft and catch, where the shaft threaded into a tapped blind hole in the mag-release button, Stoner made it possible for the magazine catch to be disassembled for repair, replacement or adjustment without tools. All you need is a cartridge to overextend the mag release so that the catch clears the magwell, and then it can be screwed in or out. On any AR, a mag catch that’s too “grippy” can be fixed by backing off a couple half turns, and one that’s kind of loose can be tightened up the same way. This adjustment can clear up a lot of “mystery” failures to feed in AR systems.

The magazine catch can’t unscrew itself without being overextended until it’s clear of the magwell, because the magwell holds the catch in place and prevents it from rotating. But as ingenious as the AR-10 magazine catch was, there were still two improvements to come.

The first was to exchange the blind hole of the AR-10 magazine release for a through hole. This made the magazine catch button much easier to manufacture and increased the usable range of adjustment for the magazine catch, with no downsides at all. From this alteration somewhere around 1960, the parts of the standard AR magazine catch are fundamentally unaltered until today. (One change is that the ribbing on the catch is circular, whilst in the early sixties it was straight and horizontal, but this is a cosmetic change driven by production convenience and not material to the function of the catch.

The 17 prototypes made all had a magazine catch that worked much like it has on all the milios of aRs since then. Here is Prototype 004, from the Reed Knight collection:

AR-15 Proto000004

The initial catch was not guarded at all.

Here it is on the Colt Model 601, the first production AR-15 model, of which approximately 14,500 were manufactured, mostly for military testing (project AGILE, SF/SEAL evaluation in Vietnam, etc.). This catch is identical to those seen on surviving prototypes.

601-Right-601x438

One of the complaints from these early tests was that the exposed magazine release would occasionally lead to an uncommanded ejection of the mag while moving in thick brush.

The Model 602 (which is labeled “Model 02″ on the left magwell) was purchased in about 19,000 units, primarily for Air Force base defense and plane/weapons guard purposes. It has the same arrangement of slabside receiver and mag release button. It was with full rate production of the M16 (USAF rifle,  Colt model 604) and XM16E1 (US Army rifle, Colt model 603) that another change to the receiver made it possible to guard or “fence” the magazine release.

The change was the substitution of a captive pivot pin, retained in the lower receiver by a spring-loaded detent running in a groove, much like the rear pin, called the “takedown pin,” had always been. A boss needed to be added to the lower receiver, to provide a race for this pin’s detent and spring to run in. Since the forging dies needed to be modified anyway, it was relatively trivial to extend the boss and make it a “fence” riding above the magazine release.  (This is the center receiver in the three-image picture below). Now, bumping into a stand of bamboo didn’t mean a lost mag any more.

Except, reports from the field indicated that it still did. As a result, the users — mostly the Army, based on Vietnam experience — asked that the rifle be modified, again. The request was brought to the Rifle Technical Committee on 13 Jan 66. It was feasible to change Drawing No. 62300 for the M16 and XM16E1 common lower receiver forging, as the running change log of Product Improvement Modifications records, “To respond to Army request to provide protective boss around the area of the magazine.” The Army contracting office approved the change on 16 May 66, and sometime relatively soon after that date the forging dies were modified to incorporate the “protective boss” which has since come to be known in the collector community as the “full fence.” A comparison of the three different receivers, showing the different forged outer right magwell side, is below, based on thumbnails at the Retro Black Rifle site (which also provided some of the other photos, although the AR-10 photos are from Julia Auctions and from the WeaponsMan.com collection).

Left: prototype through Model 602. Center: Pre-March-66 603/604 (XM16E1/M16). Right: post-3/66 603/604 (XM16E1, from 68 M16A1/M16)

Left: prototype through Model 602. Center: Pre-March-66 603/604 (XM16E1/M16). Right: post-3/66 603/604 (XM16E1, from 68 M16A1/M16)

All the earlier forgings were used by Colt; those that were machined already seem to have been used until they ran out on military 603/604s, some were retained for toolroom prototypes and other factory uses, and slabsided, early model forgings with different machining (for a pivot screw instead of a pin) continued to be used on civilian-market semi-auto SP1 rifles for over 20 years.

The fenced mag release solved the problem. It is very rare (a freak occurrence, in fact) to have some stick or branch (or interaction with other gear or aircraft structure, etc.), drop your mag. And yet, there’s no difficulty reaching the mag release with your right index finger and dropping the mag free for a rapid reload. (At least, if you’re right-handed. Yeah, the ergonomics are significantly worse for a southpaw).

Why All this Ancient History Matters w/r/t this Rifle Accessory

The saga of the growing “fence” or boss on the receiver’s magazine well is the story of successive responses to a real problem, inadvertent and uncommanded actuation of the magazine release. You might say the military found that a protected switch was a “tactical” and “combat” necessary, and their users were actually, not Walter Mitty, tactical, and really, not in a practical-shooting-competition stage sense, in actual combat. And they decided a protruding magazine release was a A Bad Thing®. Enough, indeed, of A Bad Thing® that they spent the money not once, but twice, to redo the lower receiving forging to insulate the user against the consequences of a protruding button.

And here’s what the Tactical Combat (gag me!) Button looks like, installed, close-up (this nicely-done image is from 248Shooters’ review, we don’t know if they took it or it’s a factory shot):

ArmaSpec MR close-up

As they do note, it’s a well-made small unit, but by installing it, we not only have resurrected the inadvertent mag-drop failure mode, the one that was supposed to be laid to rest in March of ’66, but we’ve also introduced a new failure mode, in that foreign matter can potentially get stuck between the large pad of the TCB and the side of the receiver. In fact, the receiver boss/fence could actually help entrap a vine, stick or other junk right where it keeps you from pressing the mag release down.

This is apart from two of the cons noted by the 248Shooters reviewer, that the screws need to be Loctited, and that, “Like most extended mag releases it does fall pray [sic] to having a bit of wobble.” Against that, we dragged M16 series rifles through Arctic and Alpine conditions in places like Canada, Norway, all over northern New England, and some of the 20k peaks of the Andes, and the factory release is readily manipulated with gloves and even with mittens.

One reason we harp on this design history is that you have to know why the designers designed features into the platform before you go redesigning them, lest you bring back failure modes that engineers thought they banished fifty years ago.

Just like when you hot-rod a car, you may change characteristics that were designed into it for a reason, you need to think before you hot-rod a rifle. If you’ve ever had to drive an undercooled, over-cammed, 12:1 compression race car in traffic, with a did-you-do-your-squats-today clutch and square-cut gears, you know what we’re talking about.

Note

This sort of post is the kind of technical information we most like providing. But the US Department of State has moved to require prior restraint — Censorship, with extremely expensive licensing subject to arbitrary terms — on firearms technical information, in a wild grab to stretch the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations far enough to snuff out freedom of speech. (We’ll have more to say about that soon, including suggestions for how you can help, but from now on until this monstrous and deviant interpretation of the law is put down like a rabid coyote, every technical post will incorporate a note on this subject).