Category Archives: History

Do Walls Work?

Strangely enough I’ve been getting this question lately from people who believe I might have an answer. Little do they realize how complicated the answer really is.

The short answer is (from a political economy view) that walls will be said to work when someone is trying to get them funded, and will be said to not work when the same people (or those who follow their folly) try to get all the other things funded (because walls easily fail, as everyone familiar with security can predict).

Before I go much further, let me briefly turn to the philosophical question of walls. One of the most famous Muslim scholars in the world, Muhammad Ali, probably best exemplified the answer to any questions about walls “working”. Here’s a eulogy to his wisdom, worth a watch in its entirety. For purposes here I’ve started towards the end at the relevant quote:

…life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls.

So if the celebrated genius of a fighter Ali tells us life is best with bridges, why build walls at all? And if security experts (defenders and attackers) so easily predict failures, why spend money on them? These are the kinds of questions every CSO should be well-prepared to answer. It’s basically the “why should I fund your project to disable connections, when the point of business is to enable them” meeting.

This goes to the heart of the Anti-Virus (AV) industry, and the current derivatives (Clownstrike, Cylance…you know who I’m talking about).

In the beginning days of viruses (early 1980s) there were theories about positive security models, which measured system integrity in a way today we talk about “whitelists”. If you want to run something on a computer you boil it down to the essence, the most efficient model and description, such that anything out of that ordinary baseline could be flagged as unusual or even adversarial.

Such a model of safety isn’t revolutionary by any stretch of the imagination. It was a simple case of people with some knowledge of the healthcare industry saying computer viruses could be detected by looking for what is abnormal, and emphasizing a thorough scientific understanding of what is normal.

Well, in healthcare there is motivation to spend on establishing such knowledge because “healthy” is valuable state of being. In computers, however, there was a giant loophole preventing this kind of science being developed. Companies like McAfee realized right away that if you just scare people with fear, uncertainty and doubt about imminent invasion by caravans of viruses you can get them to throw money into a wall (even though it doesn’t work).

I would make the usual snake-oil reference here, except I have to first point out that snake-oil has real health benefits.

…snake oil in its original form really was effective, especially when used to treat arthritis and bursitis.

The concept of a snake-oil salesman refers to some shady American guy stealing Chinese ideas and using cheap counterfeits to profit on harm to customers. Thus the McAfee model of building walls (today we talk about “blacklists” being ineffective, when really we could say fake snake-oil) for huge amounts of money started around 1987. At that time McAfee the man himself created a company to collect money for delivering little more than a sense of safety, while attackers easily bypassed it.

Unfortunately consumers bought into this novelty wall sold by McAfee, despite being mostly nonsense. The oportunity cost was massive and the security industry has taken decades to recover. Innovators trying to compete by achieving any kind of security “science” in operations were obviously far less profitable compared to the raft of snake-oil McAfee marketing executives.

Consider for example in 1992 McAfee told the world an invasion was coming and they needed him to build some more walls.

McAfee was blamed for creating a false threat to sell more of his anti-virus elixir – which he did. McAfee’s anti-virus software sales reportedly “skyrocketed” that year, with more than half of the companies in the Fortune 100 having purchased McAfee software. Of course, this only furthered the theory that McAfee had just made up the whole damn thing.

He retired after this, scooping up millions in profit by building walls that didn’t work for a threat that didn’t exist.

To be fair, threats do exist, and walls do have a role to play. Hey, after all we do use firewalls too right? And firewalls have proven themselves useful in a most basic way too, by having attackers shift to an application layer when all the other service ports are down.

In other words firewalls work in the way that building a wall could end up dramatically increasing threats coming through airports, seaports and even underground. Basically air, sea and land threats could increase and be detected less easily by building a wall. When I used to pentest utilities for example, we rated walls as significantly less effective at stopping us versus six-sided boxes (buildings, if you will).

True story: on a datacenter pentest I approached two layers of walls. The first was easily bypassed and then I used some engineering to get through the second one. It was only at that point I realized I was in the wrong location. Datacenters used to be careful to avoid having any outward logos or markings, even obfuscating their address. In this case it worked! After getting myself through two walls without much thought, I was looking right at an ICE logo and a bunch of guns.

Yes, I accidentally had tested the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility…and immediately began egress. Getting out quickly took some creativity, unlike getting in, and ended up being a better skills test. In the end it was fine, a laugh for everyone, including the datacenter (which I did test immediately after).

So in the strictest sense, walls have some work to do, and they may be capable of delivering. This is very different from saying walls work, however, when people are thinking in the broader sense of being safe from harm. A con-man like McAfee can vacuum up money to get rich while delivering almost no value, because “walls work” is a tiny grain of truth in his giant cake factory shipping nutrition-less lies about health (risk and safety).

1600s: Que ne mangent-ils de la croûte de pâté? (let them eat forcemeat crust!)

1700s: Qu’ils mangent de la brioche! (let them eat cake!)

1990s: Let me install AV!

2019: Let me build a wall!

Almost a decade ago I did a small speaking tour about cloud security on this topic, although I used the Maginot line as an example. This massive defensive wall was named after 1930s French Minister of War André Maginot, and constructed along the country’s border with Germany.

I pointed out that one could argue the Maginot line forced attackers to shift tactics and use other entry methods. In that sense those walls did some actual work, like a firewall or AV will do for you today.

However, expectations of the French were for the wall to prevent the very thing that happened (rapid invasion past their borders). In fact, the forces at the wall became so irrelevant, they still stood ready and willing to fight even after the French government capitulated to the Nazis. Let’s face it, had the French military leadership simply listened to all the active warnings about Nazis going around the line, France likely would have ended up saying the wall did a job to help focus their active response (they could have directed defenses to neutral country borders that had no walls).

The French leadership failed to notice something was not normal (enemy troops moving through the Ardennes Forest and violating neutral countries). And that is why their expensive wall continues to be almost universally remembered as a huge failure. (Some do still argue, as I did too, that Maginot’s plans worked within an extremely narrow assessment).

I don’t think any French to this day would say their wall worked however, given how it was billed to them at the time of funding (for an extremely high cost, which weakened more modern/important security needs like detection and radio/aero/rapid response).

For the French, the greatest failing of the Maginot Line arguably lay not in its conception, but in the opportunity costs that its construction imposed. The 87 miles of fortifications that were completed by 1935 cost some 7 billion francs ($8 billion in 2015 terms), over twice the initial estimate when the effort began in 1930. Depending on the source, the entire French defense budget in 1935 was between 7.5 (John Mearsheimer) and 12.8 billion (Williamson Murray) francs. As a result of this stupendous outlay, French military development in all other areas, from tanks to aircraft, suffered.

In other words, the current US regime is looking at data suggesting airports are the vulnerable path for entry and yet is proposing money be spent on something completely unrelated to airports. France in this scenario would be looking at data suggesting forests and neutral countries are the vulnerable paths for entry and blowing its budget on a wall elsewhere.

Terrorists trying to infiltrate the U.S. across our southern border was more of a theoretical vulnerability than an actual one…the figure she seems to be citing is based on 2017 data, not 2018, and refers to stops made by Department of Homeland Security across the globe, mainly at airports.

Does a wall on the border help with the real vulnerability in airports? No. The wall expense actually hurts, making the US materially less safe. One might conclude that shutting the government down, reducing active defenses at airports, to force a redirection of security funds to a useless wall is a very cynical plot that any hostile adversary would dream about.

To put a finer point on it, the expensive shutdown and the demand for an expensive wall both reflect the self-harming anti-American mindset of the current regime, and present grave dangers to US national security.

The long answer is thus that walls work at a very primitive level, which tends not to be worth the cost except in very particular cases where the predicted results are known and wanted. In the present context of the US border, there is no imminent threat and there is little to no chance of success without massive investment in detecting other methods of entry predicted (again, for a non-imminent threat).

There’s a reason AV is mostly free today. And it’s the same reason building a wall on the US border has been pitched as extremely expensive response to a fantasy threat, meaning it has little to no real value. Someone is trying to redistribute wealth and quit before people realize the walls are a distraction, where wasting time and money turns out to have been the objective (to hurt America).

History is pretty useful here, as we can easily prove things like walls have for thousands of years failed to prevent people climbing up (and down) them.

It is believed that the idea of a ladder was used over 10,000 years ago. We know this because pictures of them were discovered in a cave in Spain.

The ladder is also mentioned in the Bible. Jacob had a dream and in the dream he saw a ladder reaching from Heaven to earth.

Fun fact, ladders are much older than wheels. That’s right, ladders are more than twice as old as the wheel! And we obviously can say walls came before ladders. Thus always remember, when someone asks you which is older the wheel or the wall, go with the ladder (pun intended).

It remains to be seen, however, whether this sort of wall debate and debacle making the US less safe is going to force the US regime leader to step-down.

Incidentally, the Maginot example was not my only one on that speaking tour. Since I was invited to speak in England as well as the US, I thought it only fitting in 2010 that I use castle walls as an example of technology shifts, like a cannon, sawzall or a hypervisor escape vulnerability…the kind of inexpensive and fast-moving thing that makes wall builders shudder:

IBM Watson Sued by LA County for Secretly Tracking Users

Let’s get one thing out of the way. IBM’s Watson was instrumental to the Nazi Holocaust as he and his direct assistants worked with Adolf Hitler to help ensure genocide ran on IBM equipment.

When IBM’s director of worldwide media relations, John Bukovinsky, was asked about the disclosures in 2001 and 2002 of the company’s involvement in facilitating the extermination of millions of Jews, Gypsies and others, he replied, “That was six years ago [sic].” When a reporter pointed out that the Holocaust itself was some 60 years ago, Bukovinsky quipped, “So what. What is the point?”

The idea that IBM would want to market their big data system after the man notorious for meeting with Nazi leaders to deliver counting machines for genocide…it’s a pretty big sign that the evils of Watson are something to keep an eye out for even in the present day.

As Edwin Black wrote in “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation“:

Thomas Watson was more than just a businessman selling boxes to the Third Reich. For his Promethean gift of punch card technology that enabled the Reich to achieve undreamed of efficiencies both in its rearmament program and its war against the Jews, for his refusal to join the chorus of strident anti-Nazi boycotters and isolators and instead open a commercial corridor the Reich could still navigate, for his willingness to bring the world’s commercial summit to Berlin, for his value as a Roosevelt crony, for his glitter and legend, Hitler would bestow upon Thomas Watson a medal — the highest it could confer on any non-German.

Fast-forward to today and IBM’s Watson has been charged with user location tracking using an innocent-sounding weather app.

In a complaint filed Thursday in California state court, the city alleges IBM used detailed location data from users for targeted advertising and to identify consumer trends that might be useful to hedge funds, while at the same time telling consumers their location would only be used to localize weather forecasts. The suit doesn’t allege personally identifiable information was sold.

“Unbeknownst to many users, the Weather Channel App has tracked users’ detailed geolocation data for years,” the complaint alleges, calling the Weather Channel’s actions “unfair and fraudulent.” The complaint also says the Weather Channel profited from the data, “using it and monetizing it for purposes entirely unrelated to weather or the Weather Channel App.”

Again, it’s hard to fathom that IBM would want to name a big data machine Watson. It’s even harder to fathom that someone in IBM thought lying about user location tracking to monetize ill-gotten data was a good move…but then I just go back to them naming their machine Watson.

Arizona Rush to Adopt Driverless Cars Devolves Into Pedestrian War

Look, I’m not saying I have predicted this exact combat scenario for several years as described in my presentations (and sadly it also was my Kiwicon talk proposal for this year), I’m just openly wondering at this point why Arizona’s rabidly pro-gun legislators didn’t argue driverless cars are protected by Waymo’s 2nd Amendment right to bear arms, like consumer-grade armored tanks that also carry people or goods inside. AZ Central reports:

People have thrown rocks at Waymos. The tire on one was slashed while it was stopped in traffic. The vehicles have been yelled at, chased and one Jeep was responsible for forcing the vans off roads six times.

Many of the people harassing the van drivers appear to hold a grudge against the company, a division of Mountain View, California-based Alphabet Inc., which has tested self-driving technology in the Chandler area since 2016.

The one or two people operating the tens of thousands of weapons (driverless cars) on public roads are counting on their surveillance capabilities as much as their armored weapons to keep the upper hand in this fight. AZ Central continues:

The self-driving vans use radar, lidar and cameras to navigate, so they capture footage of all interactions that usually is clear enough to identify people and read license plates.

According to police reports, Waymo test drivers rarely pursue charges and arrests are rare. Haselton was charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct, and police confiscated his .22-caliber Harrington and Richardson Sportsman revolver.

“Haselton said that his wife usually keeps the gun locked up in fear that he might shoot somebody,” Jacobs wrote in the report. “Haselton stated that he despises and hates those cars (Waymo) and said how Uber had killed someone.”

Let’s be clear here. The grudge being referenced is related to people in a neighborhood being upset about the rollout of armored weaponry.

Tense scene unfolds in Arizona 2018 as locals resist the Waymo rolling displays of unregulated power

Think of the irony that Arizona residents have a grudge against driverless cars because they are in effect weapons being wielded unsafely in a public space, killing people (this is the infamous state that won’t even hear an argument about regulating guns).

Waymo is like someone taking their gun off the gun range and not being able to keep their pistol holstered, let alone rounds unchambered, wandering around waving it in everyone’s face. You think the neighborhood is just going to look the other way while that barrel points at their family and friends?

Compare that grudge with some poignant analysis just a year ago that was titled “Arizona is a heaven for test new cars – USA TODAY” (which at some point changed its title to “Why automakers flock to Arizona to test driverless cars”. TL;DR:

  • relatively light regulatory environment of the past two and a half years
  • weather allows for year-round testing of vehicles, and low rainfall means minimal disruptions…low winds and a temperature range that is conducive to completing regulatory tests almost every day of the year
  • desert offers car manufacturers a remote and private testing location that’s away from the prying eyes

Allow me to translate this analysis into technology ethics: lawless and opaque makes for easy hurdles, and low standards means quick money for investors. The desert has no actual environmental risk. Testing in a vacuum chamber means your product is ready for use in a vacuum, not public streets. And testing with zero outside observability/validation of claims means you aren’t anywhere close to ready for deployment.

Desert vehicle development is about as sane as developing moon vehicles and saying it’s the wrong type of planet when they can’t move with earth’s gravity.

To put it another way, the Governor of Arizona scoffed at other states where leaders held human life up as a value worth protecting and preserving. The money hungry Arizona official literally said he is happy to promote profit over safety.

In August 2015, Ducey signed an executive order allowing the testing of autonomous cars on public roads, hoping the cars will fuel “economic growth, bring new jobs, provide research opportunities for the state’s academic institutions and their students and faculty, and allow the state to host the emergence of new technologies.”

It looks like Ducey didn’t think very hard about how selling out human life for a boom in weapons sales might backfire. Nothing in that list of benefits says there is an ounce of care for public safety or health, amiright?

Mo’ money, mo’ problems.

August 2015: regulations are dropped, standards are non-existent. Anyone wanting to develop weapons for public roads is invited to Arizona

December 2017: newspapers describe Arizona as “Heaven” for developing weapons to wave around in public without need of any safety training or controls

Wait for it…

March 2018: “The governor of Arizona has suspended Uber’s ability to test self-driving cars on public roads in the state following a fatal crash last week that killed a 49-year-old pedestrian”

Uber using an automatic weapon to kill one person and getting regulated in Arizona compares oddly to the 68% of all homicides in the state committed with a gun and the nearly 1,000 people killed a year in Arizona by guns that get zero regulation discussion (see above).

Oh, but who could have predicted that removing regulations and allowing weapon development to launch straight to the streets would invite bad corporate behavior? Not only me, giving public presentations about this problem, also internal engineers who documented how “there were a lot of warning signs” yet Arizona’s “Heaven” meant they were neither attended to internally to pass regulations nor exposed to regulators:

“A car was damaged nearly every other day in February,” Miller said. “We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles.”

Miller pointed to an incident in November 2017, when an Uber car had a “dangerous behavior” that nearly caused a crash. The driver notified his superiors about the problem, Miller wrote, but the report was ignored. A few days later Miller noticed the report and urged the team to investigate it.

But Miller says his request was ignored—and when he pressed the issue with “several people” responsible for overseeing the program, they “told me incidents like that happen all of the time.” Ultimately, Miller said it was two weeks before “anyone qualified to analyze the logs reviewed them.”

So there you have it. 2015 effort to reduce safety control levels so weapons can flood the market. 2017 weapons entering market are causing harm and at frequent intervals, indicating escalation to wider and more severe conflict.

Doesn’t it seem obvious that this ended with a meek 2018 effort to put the weapon genie back in the bottle…yet any historian can tell you once battle lines have been drawn and people are angry about their clan being attacked, they are going to harbor some hostility.

So with all that in mind the big question now becomes as the weapons manufacturers switch to their all-encompassing surveillance systems to undermine the nascent groups of resistance, whether they also will claim their manufacture and sale of automatic high-power weapons is protected behavior anyway under the 2nd Amendment.

We have seen some of that messaging already, as Uber and Tesla used to be fond of saying their particular brand of automatic weapons will reduce deaths on the streets, much in the same way that totalitarian governments would argue how top-down centrally controlled armored divisions are the way to keep the public safe from itself.

And in that sense, are Arizonan’s really crazy if they read the Uber story of deaths for profit and then think of themselves as preventing harm to their fellow citizens by stepping out into the street early to disable the Waymo weapon systems rolling into and over neighborhoods?

RIP Simcha Rotem

Simcha Rotem has passed at 94. He was only 15 when Germany invaded Poland. He and his mother were wounded by German bombing raids that killed his brothers and grandparents. By the time he was 19, he served under Marek Edelman to resist Nazi incursions, leading to the outbreak of combat.

The insurgents preferred to die fighting instead of in a gas chamber at the Treblinka death camp where the Nazis had already sent more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews.

Speaking at a 2013 ceremony in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the uprising, Rotem recalled that by April 1943 most of the ghetto’s Jews had died and the 50,000 who remained expected the same fate.

Rotem said he and his comrades launched the uprising to “choose the kind of death” they wanted.

[…]

As the Germans pounded the Ghetto and the uprising faltered, Rotem was instrumental in helping fighters flee to safety through the Warsaw’s sewer system to forests outside the city.

He continued to fight alongside Polish partisans and in 1944 participated in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war he joined avengers group Nakam, which was dedicated to exacting vengeance on Nazi war criminals.

RIP

Why the US South Needs You to Send More $50 Grant Bills

The Washington Post has a well researched and written story about why the US Republican party is defined by their racism. Oh, maybe I should say spoiler alert:

…slavery’s enduring legacy is evident not only in statistics on black poverty and education. The institution continues to influence how white Southerners think and feel about race — and how they vote. Slavery still divides the American people

That’s right, the GOP uses racism to win, according to scientists who look at the data and patterns of voting. What they key in on is evidence that white children in racist families of the US south aren’t being educated away from their racism, and cling instead, which means racist sentiment will last many generations.

It is no coincidence that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, with his ties to the Klan in Georgia, was named Attorney General of the US in 2016 by the son of a Klansman.

In case it isn’t clear what that name represents…three generations of traitor-ship founded on racism:

The question is who today would vote white supremacists into office to represent all people, given hateful statements and overt support from Klansmen. And the answer is clearly Republicans, using a signaling method called “personal responsibility” that denies slavery was a hardship, let alone requires restoration.

GOP doctrine on the importance of personal responsibility, together with elevated rates of black poverty and unemployment, help some Republicans rationalize their belief that people of color are inferior — beliefs they probably developed in childhood.

Today this is much easier to discuss than just eight years ago. Back then people were still trying to say Republicans had things to say that weren’t necessarily racist in foundation. Take for example this story from 2010:

Shame on the 14 Republican congressmen who last week proposed substituting Ronald Reagan for Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 bill. Their action suggests they need a history lesson about the Northern general who won the Civil War and went on to lead the country.

That’s a great piece by a historian that doesn’t mention Republicans being racist.

To put this into context, a black president is elected in 2008. White Republicans then set about trying to remove President Grant from the $50 (despite being famous for being the greatest General in American history, one of the top three presidents in American history, and globally respected as a champion for human rights) and replace him with President Reagan, a man notorious for ties to white supremacists, campaigning on white supremacy, denigrating civil rights leaders like MLK (until he was forced to concede), and that’s not to mention supporting genocidal dictators. Here’s your Republican icon history right here:

Reagan chose [theme of violent white resistance to integration] to kick off his Deep South presidential campaign in 1980

Let’s look a little closer at the people trying to push Grant off the $50.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C…introduced the legislation last month. He says it’s not about Grant but about honoring Reagan in the same fashion as Democratic presidents…

You have to marvel at the fact that McHenry doesn’t know that Grant was a Republican. Then you have to marvel at the fact McHenry is saying that pushing Grant off the bill isn’t about Grant. Do you think he meant that? Check out his own words, when he tried to explain:

…it has very little to do with Grant and so my response is very simple. I believe that Ronald Reagan, as most historians do, was the better president…

That means it absolutely is about Grant. McHenry is touting a white-supremacist line that Grant wasn’t a better president than Reagan. Grant won the civil war, introduced civil rights, created the DoJ, created the national parks, wrote an amazing autobiography in a race to finish before death from cancer…I mean his long list of accomplishments and massive popularity at his death should speak for themselves.

Reagan (perhaps most infamous for being absent minded, a figure-head and aloof while in office) has nothing on Grant, which we’re only talking about here because McHenry tried to argue Grant wasn’t better than Reagan, while saying it’s not about Grant. Reagan literally was almost removed by his own aides for being inept at his job, as they had to give him competency tests:

Most high-level White House aides believed that President Reagan was so depressed, inept and inattentive early last year in the wake of disclosures in November 1986 about the Iran-contra scandal that the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office was raised in a memo to Howard H. Baker Jr., who was just taking office as Reagan’s chief of staff.

Former Baker aide James Cannon, confirming facts reported in a newly published book, said in an interview yesterday that he wrote a March 1, 1987, memorandum based on the aides’ concern and raising the possibility of applying the amendment.

Baker took the recommendation seriously and, with Cannon and two of his own aides, spent part of a day observing Reagan’s behavior before concluding that the president was sufficiently competent to perform his duties, according to the book.

Reagan is not a man who has any business threatening the amazing legacy of Grant, the warrior and patriot who reluctantly became president to continue to help save the nation and fight for freedom for all by destroying the KKK.

I combine the Washington Post story above with this one about their attempts to erase Grant from their own party to replace him with a barely competent Reagan who feted dictators and funded genocides… and it seems what the maps of the poor south really need is an infusion of Grant bills.

Send Grant back into the areas that are to this day being oppressed by the present-day Republicans who are perpetuating America’s racist legacy among their children and who refuse to end their family battle against civil rights.

Also let’s get Jackson off the $20 already…sheesh, talk about an awful legacy that should be deprecated ASAP.

“United States history is not Andrew Jackson vs. Harriet Tubman,” the Tennessee Republican said.

This week’s announcement that Jackson, a white slave owner from Tennessee, will be booted to the back of the $20 bill to make room for Tubman, a black anti-slavery activist, has left many in Jackson’s home state feeling that the change [will] diminish Jackson’s legacy [and] celebrate Tubman’s accomplishments.

That’s right. A Republican actually said US history is not about a white supremacist president who actively perpetuated slavery to expressly deny rights to black Americans, versus a black American who wanted rights.

That is so patently wrong. US history literally is about Jackson perpetuating slavery 30 years longer than the rest of the world. It is about all the moves he made from a white supremacist power position to block Tubman, and anyone else like her in the underdog reformer and freedom advocate seat, from being successful.

Time to send some Grant, send some Tubman, and tell the children in the US south all the real history of America that will help people be realists about how and why the Republican party is so racist.

Question: “Why is Russia so good at getting women into technology?” Answer: Communist Propaganda

It is great to see someone is trying to drill into Russia’s technical hiring practices as some sort of example for study or exception, rather than the other way around (why does America suck at allowing women equal treatment).

She believes there are several reasons for that: girls are expected to take up computer science from an early age and perform well, and there’s no stigma associated with studying technology.

But there’s something more: “Culturally, women in Eastern Europe are characterized as having a forthright nature and this means they’re more inclined to speak up for themselves, and be hardy to rejection, which is typically needed in a male-dominated environment,” Frankland says.

“Characterized” is the operative word here. Let’s take a step back into the history of the region and from where the caricatures emanate.

Many hoped the Bolshevik Revolution one hundred years ago would usher in a new era of gender and class equality. Following the revolution, Soviet Russia declared “International Women’s Day” an official holiday, and “Marxist feminists” romanticize communism to this day. Women of the Gulag, both a remarkable book and a documentary film, highlights the disparity between the Soviet Union’s alleged gender equality and the reality of life for women under communism.

It is now popular to claim — in the New York Times no less — that Soviet women “enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time,” so it is worth noting some of the ways that communism tyrannized women in particular. Those who claim the Soviet Union liberated women would do well to learn the stories of the women of the Gulag.

Now, to be fair, the above opinion piece is from the Cato institute, an unabashedly extreme right-wing propaganda outlet. Cato is hoping to bash Communism for attempting gender equality and failing miserably. So let’s take a moment to acknowledge that under Communism women were characterized as equals, alleged to be equal.

That’s notable because under the Cato manifesto women aren’t even alleged to be equals and aren’t allowed to try, which objectively seems worse than trying and failing. Exceptions are made for women who use “masculinity” (I believe that’s how Marx referred to it) to adapt themselves to the capitalist machines.

After the fall of Communism we actually have seen a reversion of women’s rights and abject oppression. While we see characterization of women as equally skilled for technical roles has lasted, keep in mind Russia has been busy decriminalizing physical abuse of women.

Why Russia is about to decriminalise wife-beating. It fits with traditional values, lawmakers say

Communism had a method of setting a characterization apart from these nonsensical “traditional values”, if you will. There was a time of messaging women as equals. Propaganda or not, such messaging under Communism had a lasting impact.

Anyway, without reading two much into either the Communist or the Libertarian messaging about the role of women in society, I always try to remind people that 60% of code-breakers in Bletchley Park during WWII were women, and we see a similar percentage today in countries like Israel where merit is measured instead of masculinity for technology jobs.

Improved Ghillie Suits (IGS)

Personally I wish someone had pushed for the phrase “future update ghillie suits” (FUGS) when they were thinking about “future warfare”. Instead the US Army is talking about Improved Ghillie Suits (IGS) to address the shortcomings of past designs.

Notable issues:

  • If you dress like a tree, you may be as flammable as one (several snipers have burned to death)
  • If you dress like a woolly mammoth, you may be as heavy and hot as one (ok, that’s really two issues)
  • If your suit is singular instead of modular, the above two properties are greater

Innovation is happening in the field, by snipers working to stay alive, blend better and also function more efficiently/safely, so the textile department of the Army decided to incorporate some of these ideas.

Maj. WaiWah Ellison, assistant product manager, Durable Goods, Soldier Clothing and Individual Equipment with Program Executive Office Soldier, explained the need for the update: “The current kit is thick and heavy and comes with a lot of pieces that aren’t used.

“Soldiers are creating ghillie suits with their own materials to match their personal preference. We want to make the IGS simpler and modular so the snipers will use what is issued to them instead of relying on outside resources,” Ellison said.

While this all makes sense from a product manager view in terms of updating the suits, relying on outside resources does kinda sound more like what camouflage is all about. And you have to marvel at the fact that nobody thought forward enough to realize that a Scottish concept of a heavy and fluffy suit originating in a rainy cold climate would be hot and flammable elsewhere.

Yes, I said Scottish. Just in case you’re wondering what a Ghillie is…Scotland Magazine breaks the meaning down over the centuries:

Since the Victorians discovered their passion for stalking, the life of the ghillie has had less to do with carrying Highland chiefs across raging torrents and more to do with the management of the landscape and looking after stalkers on the hill.

Fast forward to today:

“Do I look flammable to you?” Urban warfare researchers find the Ghillie suit heavy, hot, prone to combustion and….hard to blend in

It’s nice if you don’t have to take time to gather local capabilities to blend in, but that does presume accurate and fast feedback loops reaching the top of a very large organization.

A recent IDF investigation into a failed operation gives insight into how local knowledge — required for blending into the most dangerous environments — can be very dangerous to underestimate or get wrong.

…based on interviews with Hamas officials, a picture is emerging of a carefully planned Israeli intelligence operation in which agents posing as Palestinian aid workers may have gone undetected for up to two weeks before it went awry.

Nterini – Fatoumata Diawara

In a story that I’m almost certain nobody has read (based on everyone I have asked about it)…hundreds of thousands of letters that were seized by British warships centuries ago, now are getting digitized for analysis by the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities.

Somewhere in the U.K. National Archives in London, there are 4,000 boxes containing more than 160,000 undelivered letters from ships captured by the British during the naval wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

Now those letters — some of which are bundled in old mail bags and affixed with wax seals that have never been broken — are about to go online.

[…]

The mail, sent mostly between 1652 and 1815, is written in 19 different languages and contains songs, notebooks, packages and personal correspondence.

[…]

Many of the letters are made inherently tragic by having never reached their destination.

A series of four letters from a Madam Dupont in Quebec between 1702 and 1703 show a woman frantically trying to reach her husband, who is away on business in France, and growing increasingly despondent by his lack of response.

“These letters are full of the hazards of the flu epidemic and chicken pox in Quebec and her tone gets more and more desperate, because she doesn’t get any sign of life from her husband,” Freist said.

“She feels utterly neglected and resented and finally decides not to write anymore. In the letter she says: ‘You can’t love me anymore if you don’t answer. I will now stop writing. I give up.’ But then she writes again and she implores her husband once again to come back.”

No word yet on why the German Prize Papers Project is leading the effort for a British archive.

I almost feel like this is the German way of trying to prove again how terrible the British Empire was for global humanity.

Speaking of letters of humanity, and of messages sent but never received…the Fatoumata Diawara video Interini about migration is a must watch/listen:

Lyrics:

Cette chanson parle de la souffrance que la distance inflige aux amoureux. Mon amour et mon confident est parti loin et ne me donne pas signe de vie. Je l’aime malgré tout et il me manque nuit et jour. J’aimerai avoir des nouvelles de mon chéri, sinon je n’arrive pas à dormir.

Mon amour est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir
Mon chéri est parti loin de la famille
Et ne reviendra peut-être plus
Il était mon ami, mon confident, comment va t-il?
Je veux juste savoir si tu vas bien?
Il est parti dans une contrée lointaine
Il me manque beaucoup
Toi qui as toujours été mon guide
Je t’aime de tout mon cœur

Mon amour a pris son envol
Qui sait quand est-ce qu’il va revenir?
Dites-moi, mon chéri est parti loin
Et ne va peut-être plus revenir

Il est parti s’installer dans un pays lointain
Et ne m’a rien dit
Ce n’était pas le temps du matin qui m’empêchait de le voir
Ni la chaleur de la journée

This song speaks of the suffering that distance inflicts on lovers. My love and my confidant have gone away and do not give me any sign of life. I love him despite everything and he misses me night and day. I would like to hear from my darling, otherwise I can not sleep.

My love is gone away
And maybe not coming back
My darling left the family
And may not come back again
He was my friend, my confidant, how is he?
I just want to know if you’re fine?
He left for a distant country
I miss him a lot
You who have always been my guide
I love you with all my heart

My love took flight
Who knows when will he come back?
Tell me, my darling is gone away
And maybe not going back

He moved to a distant country
And did not tell me
It was not the morning time that prevented me from seeing him
Neither the heat of the day

2018 Ebola Crisis Worsens as US Regime Denies Aid

Here’s a pithy comment by Peter Salama, head of the new Health Emergencies Program at the World Health Organization, about factors leading to Ebola crisis unfolding this year in DRC:

These viruses manage to exploit social vulnerabilities and fault lines. That’s what we’re seeing in this Ebola outbreak starkly.

And even more to the point:

In the last two years since I have been here, 80 percent of our major outbreaks have been in conflict-affected areas. This is the issue of the future.

The issue of urban outbreaks of high-threat pathogens is really an issue of our generation. I don’t think we’ve fully grappled with that. Now with yellow fever, plague, with Ebola, we are starting to see these patterns. All bets are off [in terms of] thinking we know about the transmission of diseases because of what happened in rural outbreaks in the past. It’s completely different now.

Ok, so you have this data showing conflict-affected areas are where the major outbreaks occur, and that is “the issue of the future”. Consider this in terms of infected drones easily deployed over/under/around barriers into urban areas, and then rapid lateral transmission.

I’m not trying to think out of the box here. This is an ancient security worry, for those familiar with the history of siege weaponry.

Who (pun not intended) can guess the current US regime’s response to the outbreak of a high-threat pathogen in the place most expected? Perhaps the title of this post gave away the answer.

Vox reporter Julia Belluz asks Salama the following:

The US pulled its Centers of Disease Control and Prevention workers out of Beni, the outbreak epicenter. They decided it was too dangerous for America’s best Ebola experts to be there — and it sounds like they are not coming back anytime soon. […] But I understand Canada, the UK, even nonprofits with US personnel, are sending people, and you have hundreds of WHO officials deployed. Is the US government an outlier?

This makes the American leadership appear weak and feckless; and Salama replies very diplomatically:

The US government is the main country that has had constraints.

Ronald Reagan’s “Special Unit” Soldier Sentenced to 5,160 Years in Jail for Mass Murder

Ronald Reagan’s arrival to office in 1981 was accompanied by a sentiment that the prior U.S. President’s policies should be rolled back, regardless of what they were.

One of the policies ended was the arms embargo on Guatemala, put in place by Jimmy Carter due to human rights abuses by that regime.

We know today that the CIA in late April 1981 was sending memos that rolled up to the White House describing the massacre of civilians within Mayan Indian territory. CIA memos documented how social support for guerrillas was high enough that soldiers said they were “forced” to fire indiscriminately into non-combatants.

Two months after news of the massacre Reagan un-blocked $3.2 million in military support to Guatemala’s army. The unblocking method used was crafty, as Reagan reclassified trucks and jeeps to transport Guatemalan soldiers to commit massacres. Military vehicles known to be used in the massacres no longer were under the human rights embargo.

One might be tempted here to ask “ok, but they’re just trucks and jeeps, so general use, right?” History helps a little, as it reminds us America has made this mistake before, facilitating genocide for profits:

GM’s president, Alfred P. Sloan, knew what was happening in Germany. Sloan and GM officials knew also that Hitler’s regime was expected to wage war from the outset. Headlines, radio broadcasts and newsreels made that fact apparent. America, it was feared, would once again be pulled in.

Nonetheless, GM and Germany began a strategic business relationship. Opel became an essential element of the German rearmament and modernization Hitler required to subjugate Europe. To accomplish that, Germany needed to rise above the horse-drawn divisions it deployed in World War I. It needed to motorize, to blitz — that is, to attack with lightning speed. Germany would later unleash a blitzkrieg, a lightning war. Opel built the 3-ton truck named Blitz to support the German military. The Blitz truck and its numerous specialized models became the mainstay of the Blitzkrieg.

In 1935, GM agreed to locate a new factory at Brandenburg, where it would be geographically less vulnerable to feared aerial bombardment by allied forces. In 1937, almost 17 percent of Opel’s Blitz trucks were sold directly to the Nazi military.

The Guatemalan government was emboldened by the new U.S. President’s support of their killing plans. Thus by early October 1981 the U.S. State Department was talking about Reagan’s ambassador General Vernon Walters meeting with Guatemalan leaders to discuss repression measures. Guatemalan General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia “made clear that his government will continue as before that the repression will continue.”

This wasn’t really any kind of secret. Word of violations were published by groups like the Inter-American Human Rights Commission who in October 1981 openly called out the Guatemalan government for “thousands of illegal executions.” The Reagan Administration engaged in whataboutism and deception to avoid addressing why they would sell military aid linked to mass human rights violations; falsely claiming Guatemalan human rights violations were a guerrilla strategy (as I’ve explained elsewhere).

Things escalated quickly after the U.S. government support shifted from embargo to support. The Guatemalan army issued instructions in 1982 that any resistance or incoming fire from a town or village meant everyone in the town is hostile and would be destroyed.

This might sound similar if you heard recently the current U.S. regime call to troops that they treat rocks and bottles as rifles.

In fact, Reagan’s support led to a fundamentalist Christian taking control of Guatemala in a March 1982 coup d’etat. General Efrain Ríos Montt seized power and announced a policy of “rifles and beans” — either eat beans quietly in obedience to dictatorship or be killed by rifles. In response Reagan described him as “a man of great personal integrity”.

…more than 600 Indian villages in the Guatemalan highlands were eradicated or occupied by the military. The slogan “rifles and beans” meant that pacified communities would get “beans,” while all others would be the target of army “rifles.”

In March 1983, Americas Watch condemned the Guatemalan army for human rights atrocities against the Indian population.

New York attorney Stephen L. Kass said there was proof that the Guatemalan government carried out “virtually indiscriminate murder of men, women and children of any farm regarded by the army as possibly supportive of guerrilla insurgents.”

Three months after the coup was applauded by Reagan, government death squads were unleashed on civilians. And Reagan then increased military aid in 1983 to $6 million despite evidence of civilian massacres increasing at the hands of American-trained soldiers riding in American vehicles, again reported in memos to the White House.

Such memos might sound strange to fans of Reagan, so consider the kind of writing found in his official documents

During the height of Montt’s genocidal counterinsurgency campaign, a CONFIDENTIAL cable from Secretary of State George Shultz praised his “impressive progress in human rights”.

(click that document link if you want to help disclose more strange truths from primary source materials)

In effect, the Reagan administration worked to reverse Carter’s human rights policy, centralizing power in U.S. presidency through deception and tricks in order to expedite military support to violent dictators killing democracy.

Within the U.S. government, there was no apparent struggle to reconcile the notion that the Guatemalan government “badly needed” arms with its horrific crimes. There was only a struggle to determine preconditions (which were never met) in order to gain minimal support from Congress so as to circumvent protections against abetting war criminals, which were put into place by the Carter administration.

Ríos Montt wasn’t an isolated case, either. Look into Regan’s support for genocide by Indonesian dictator Suharto, or why Chadian dictator Habre (another recipient of President Reagan’s “product shipments”) was sentenced to life for war crimes.

So there is our backdrop to news today from Guatemala, about prosecution of Reagan’s “special unit” for their attrocities:

A Guatemalan former soldier has been sentenced to more than 5,000 years in prison for his role in a massacre during the country’s civil war.

More than 200 people were killed in the village of Dos Erres in 1982, one of the most violent episodes in Guatemala’s brutal 36-year conflict.

Santos López was found responsible for 171 of the deaths.

He was a member of the Kaibiles, a US-trained counter-insurgency force fighting left-wing guerrillas.

López was sentenced to 30 years for each of the 171 killings committed in the village and to an additional 30 years for his role in the murder of a girl who had originally survived.

[…]

The massacre happened during the brief rule of military strongman Efraín Ríos Montt, who was accused of ordering the killing of more than 1,700 ethnic Mayans during a civil war.

He died in April aged 91 while on trial on charges of genocide.

Montt was the first military dictator in Latin America to be charged with genocide in his own country. Ronald Reagan was never charged for his role.

Some may be tempted to believe propaganda of the Reagan administration that fueling the mass murder of civilians somehow was meant to be about the U.S. fighting Communism. However, recent genocide trials have uncovered facts of Reagan’s “special units” that prove they engaged in genocidal practices, brutally murdering children by hand and terrorizing anyone within earshot of someone speaking about democracy.

The soldiers shot, strangled and bludgeoned the villagers to death with sledgehammers, and one admitted to throwing a baby into the village well.

In 1994, forensic anthropologists found the remains of 162 bodies in the well, including 67 children less than 12 years old.

The above should be serious food for thought when people now talk about news of migrants walking all the way from Guatemala to the U.S seeking aylum from violence. Imagine what they think when finding out they will be greeted with rifles instead.

It appears to this historian that the current U.S. regime has replaced the “beans and rifle” decision tree of Reagan’s Guatemalan death squads with…just rifles.