Category Archives: Sailing

Who Was The Pirate? Curious Case of Blackbeard’s Murder

A site called Coastal Review has a fascinating take on the events that led to Blackbeard’s untimely violent death.

Blackbeard did not prey on a single ship in the waters off the Outer Banks during his surprisingly brief 23-month career as a pirate. And, as previously stated, his pitiful camp at Ocracoke and pirate company of 15 men were hardly a threat to anyone.

[…]

Blackbeard and his friends from Bath, many of whom were killed, were unwitting pawns caught in the middle of what turned out to be a failed political coup.

Furthermore, Lt. Maynard’s 60 Royal Navy sailors acted as little more than pirates themselves.

Hao Projection: Chinese-Drawn World Map

Maps are political by nature of defining boundaries. Whoever has that authority to classify territory, gains a lot of power.

More interesting than just drawing the lines, however, is the graphical representation of 3D spaces in 2D. Many probably are familiar with the impact of the Gall-Peters map (by Arno Peters based on a 1885 James Gall paper) since the 1980s.

UNESCO promotes the use of the Gall-Peters projection, and this option is widely used in British schools. Boston became the first public school district in the United States to adopt this map as its standard in 2017.

(click to enlarge)

Lately it seems like the Gall-Peters projection opened the door to dynamic maps that try re-frame our understanding of reality in terms of coastline length.

Sailchecker, a charter company, offers us this warped view…

Speaking of coastlines, a report in 2010 by Linda Jakobson at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic” shows China’s perspective on sailing through the Arctic.

(click to enlarge)

The captions label Shanghai, Rotterdam, New York, the ‘North East Sea Route’ (red) and the ‘North West Sea Route’ (blue).Source: Chinese Arctic and Antarctic Administration, ; map drawn by Hao Xiaoguang,

Then on 11 December 2013 the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the researcher (geophysicist) Hao Xiaoguang had drawn another new map of the world.

…with the authorization of National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. Traditional word map is suitable for expressing the relationship of east and west hemisphere, it uses meridian to cut the global and should be called as merdian-wise world map. As contrary, the new version of world map uses prime vertical to cut the global and should be called as prime vertical-wise world map, consequently, it is suitable for expressing the relationship of north and south hemisphere. In order to express the geography relationship properly, the workshop had proposed the design scheme of series of word map since 2000 to 2002. In recent years, the new version of world map had been applied by many agencies for different scientific purpose, and the draft has been collected by State Museum, From now on, the new word map will be available in our daily life and will give us brand new geography idea.

Saying prime vertical-wise world map is a mouthful (maybe sounds better in Chinese?) and so the Hao Projection might be easier and make more sense.

(click to enlarge)

You can buy your own 1.1 meter sized relief version (3D凹凸地图 美观大方) of the Hao projection (ironically, shipping options are geographically limited) at the TMALL:

Who Caused 2018 Power Outages in Russia?

In 2018 a very important and very large dry dock facility in Roslyakovo was in the news for a horrible tragedy.

There were about 60 people on the dock when it started to sink. Five of them did not manage to get in safety. One is reported dead and four injured, one with a serious condition.

This gave me a flash back to 1984 when Severomorsk, Russia hit the news for a horrible tragedy. A navy weapons depot caught fire and exploded, killing hundreds.

…the Central Intelligence Agency learned of the accident from travelers, then positioned satellites and electronic devices to assess the damage. Those sources said the death toll was estimated at between 200 and 300 people, many of them ordnance technicians sent into the fire caused by the explosion in a desperate by unsuccessful effort to defuse or disassemble the munitions before the exploded in a chain reaction over several hours. Officials at the State and Defense Departments, as well as diplomats and congressional officials all blamed the accident on Soviet “carelessness.”

There’s even a CIA file (with a copy of Jane’s Defense Weekly and details of a criminal trial for the Navy analyst who leaked the photos) for perspective:

…U.S. District Court Judge Josepth H. Young has already ruled that Morison’s motives were irrelevant, [Assistant U.S. Attorney] Schatzow voiced skepticism about the defense claims that Morison wanted to alert the American public through the medium of a British magazine where he was seeking a full-time job. “He didn’t send it to CBS,” Schatzow declared. “He didn’t send it to The Washington Post. He sent it to Jane’s.”

That Jane’s disclosure story from 1984 points out an ammunition dump also exploded in the Bobruysk airfield (Belarus), and at the end of the prior year ammunition exploded in the Dolon (Kazakhstan) airfield and two more ammunition depots exploded after that… by June there was a huge explosion in Schwerin. So the CIA file in fact shows Murmansk was the fifth or sixth Soviet safety disaster a row.

And that’s not to mention, or who can forget, the April 26, 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant?

Way back in 1984 there would have been “travelers” to inform intelligence agents about a disaster. In 2018 terms there instead is monitoring of social media accounts to start the discussion about the tragic sinking of a massive dock.

And from that angle the 2018 news of disaster reads at first like it should get a footnote similar to the 1984 official commentary: Russia continues to be known for operations fraud, “carelessness” and decay.

Maybe there’s nothing more to this story than just people discussing a tragedy resulting from bad safety practices:

…the dry dock has itself had repeated problems with its aging technical equipment, including the electricity system…

Reports mentioned sub-par maintenance of a huge floating platform built by Sweden in 1980, neglected since, with possible criminal charges for the private owners of the dock. Rosneft bought 2015 for its “oil operations”, which in terms of Russian oligarchical corruption means transfer of government funds to someone’s pockets by forcing major Navy repairs into private hands.

That makes the most simple explanation of disaster very believable: when a power outage hit the dock’s huge ballast tanks they failed-unsafe because of careless management. When a power outage hit that floating dock it predictably filled up with water and sank.

The subsequent lawsuits probably say something like Rosneft cut safety corners to increase profits, as one expects from an unregulated/monopolized market — the only dock big enough for the Russian navy to do repairs on its fleet.

It’s an unbelievably unfortunate operations situation coupled with a design flaw someone must have known about for a long time, especially given a history of having unstable power sources in that region.

A very predictable disaster.

Yet such a vulnerability makes it too tempting to not float the idea that this is also was fertile ground for someone hunting for easy cyber attack targets.

Again, the basic narrative since 1984 of Russian carelessness still makes sense. Yet early 2018 also saw a series of electricity “hacks” on America purported to originate from Russia.

For a little context from 2018, two years earlier the U.S. loudly warned that its “military hackers have penetrated Russia’s electric grid…for cyber attacks that could turn out the lights…”.

A month after these 2016 U.S. statements, the Russian city of Murmansk experienced a massive energy blackout. It was blamed on an intentional short circuit at the Kolenergo substation.

The acts were done near a city block in the street of Knipovich, Nikora said in an extraordinary meeting in the regional Staff of power security. It is not clear who was behind the acts, nor whether it is consider as deliberate sabotage or result of an accident.

That’s kind of important context, given how two years later rolling power outages hit the same region, sinking the largest dock in Russia and crippling their global navy operations. Even if not a cyber attack, you can’t say a fail-unsafe design makes any sense for the dock.

The most interesting run-up to the power outages in 2018 perhaps starts months earlier when the Wall Street Journal reported that Russia was trying to boast they had breached America’s power grid:

Hackers working for Russia claimed “hundreds of victims” last year in a giant and long-running campaign that put them inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities…

It was thus after aggressive hacking claims by Russia that it faced:

…several cases of power outage all over the [northwest] region, including in the cities of Severomorsk and Murmansk…

These power outage cases not only crippled Russia’s ability to manage its fleets by sinking their largest Naval dock, they also damaged Russia’s only aircraft carrier in the dock failure (Admiral Kuznetsov, which had been serving in Syria to infamously carry out air strikes yet losing two aircraft during routine landings).

Again, it has to be emphasized Russia earned itself a reputation for carelessness and predictable self-inflicted disasters. There may have been no cyber attacks at all and disasters still could have happened from decay or “incredibly easy” physical attacks.

Just a year after the dock sank, that same one and only aircraft carrier caught fire during repairs, blamed on a short circuit.

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia’s TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship’s repairs, are unaccounted for.

The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents…

It’s hard to prove a cyber attack hit a country causing a power outage when that country is so bad at operations, but that’s exactly the point. The Stuxnet attack targeted a facility that already was suffering under something like a 30% failure from rust and basic operations failures.

This is why timing of the 2018 power outages in Russia shortly after its boasts about hacking can make for interesting reading. Despite the lack of any real details or news from the cities in Russia affected, I’ll be surprised if historians don’t find out more here by poking around.

Perhaps US Admiral Stavridis put it best in October 2016 when he quoted a Russian proverb: “Probe with bayonets. When you hit mush, proceed.”

Captain Morgan Hated Being Called a Pirate Because He Hated Democracy

Someone just suggested to me that the Spanish loved pirates while the British hated them.

This isn’t even remotely true and it reminded me how a Spanish city official (Don Juan Pérez de Guzmán, a decorated veteran of wars in Flanders) once called Britain’s Captain Morgan a pirate, using that term to insult him as those aspiring to monarchy hated pirates.

The story then goes Morgan indeed hated the exchange and was so enraged that he planned a devastatingly brutal siege of the Spanish city Guzmán defended, torturing residents and pillaging the area for weeks just to prove he was no pirate.

Here’s how one historian has referred to Morgan’s style of leadership:

Behind him were smoldering ruins, pestilence, poverty, misery and death.

A first-person’s account of Morgan’s battles was written by Alexandre Exquemelin, a doctor serving him, in a book called Buccaneers of America. Exqumelin wrote that Morgan lashed together Spanish nuns and priests to use as human shields while he attacked the Spanish military, and that he regularly imprisoned and raped women.

Painting that Morgan commissioned of himself, documenting his boyish and elitist clean-shaven look, while “under arrest” in London after 1672. Source: National Trust of the United Kingdom
Captain Morgan’s vicious retort to his critics — as in the violent argument he waged upon the Spanish, burning their cities to the ground — was that he was a proud privateer in service of the British monarchy during a war (Governor of Jamaica in 1667 gave Morgan a letter of marque to attack Spanish ships).

Morgan thus ran an autocratic and ruthless mercenary operation on behalf of a Crown authority. He was accused by his own men of “cheating” them of promised wages and benefits as he pillaged cities, a military campaign he wasn’t even authorized to do (again, just to be overly pedantic, his letter of marque was to attack ships only, nothing on land).

The privateer life meant public forms of immoral service to a monarchy of questionable values (ultimately atrocity crime charges against him were dismissed and instead he received a plush reward by appointment to government, which also is where Morgan proudly owned hundreds of slaves that operated Jamaican sugar plantations).

Thus, how dare anyone accuse him of being a liberal pirate or try to imply he was fair to his followers or a representative/elected leader?

He would surely have tortured and killed someone if they did accuse him of being so democratic.

In that sense, pirates seem to have been operating somewhat as entrepreneurs challenging the brutality of unjust political systems of monarchy.

Pirates fought against those who had expressly denied human rights and trafficked in human exploitation. They weren’t going to fight in wars that benefited only a few elites, because Pirates also were known to use a democratic system of leadership based on votes and qualifications (given nobody was born into office or summarily appointed by royalty).

Privateers functioned almost in the exact opposite way to pirates while appearing similar; business operators appointed by authority who served awful political systems to exploit high-risk and unregulated markets. Privateers like Morgan operated as ruthless mercenaries in privileged positions of milking their own corrupt system for large personal gain.

It’s a significant difference between an owner-operator business in highly distributed undefined territory (pirate) versus exploitative vigilantism (privateer).

Confusing? Somehow pirates have become associated with the latter when historically they have operated far more as the former.

The important difference perhaps is best explained in Chapter 8 of “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates” by Peter T. Leeson

The Captain Morgan brand of liquor thus has popularized a man who promulgated human trafficking, rape, theft, murder and authoritarianism. Don’t call him a pirate.

It reminds me of Hitler wine.

Permanent Improvisation: Nazi Dictatorship Was Opposite to Law and Order

Important insights come from reading “The German Dictatorship” by Karl Dietrich Bracher, who was a professor of politics and history at the University of Bonn

The German dictatorship did not mean ‘law and order.’ The Third Reich lived in a state of permanent improvisation: the ‘movement’ once in power was robbed of its targets and instead extended its dynamic into the chaos of rival governmental authorities.

Nazi Germany was a state of permanent improvisation.

Today this method of unaccountable governance is seen in headlines such as “[White House occupant] and Woody Johnson act as if the rules don’t apply to them”

Bracher goes on to say it was democracy, through regulation and governance, where the foundations of prosperity could be found because it offered a meaningful level of stability (true order based on justice).

Perhaps the next time someone says they love the “fail faster” culture of Facebook, ask them if they also see it as a modern take on the state of permanent improvisation favored by Hitler.

Facebook’s staff now claim to be in opposition to their own failure culture “Hurting People at Scale“:

“We are failing,” [a seven-year Facebook engineer] said, criticizing Facebook’s leaders for catering to political concerns at the expense of real-world harm. “And what’s worse, we have enshrined that failure in our policies.”

The failures and real-world harm are intentional and orchestrated by Facebook officers who somehow manage to escape responsibility:

…growing sense among some Facebook employees that a small inner circle of senior executives — including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications, and Joel Kaplan, vice president of global public policy — are making decisions that run counter to the recommendations of subject matter experts and researchers below them, particularly around hate speech, violence and racial bias…

It begs the question again, can the Security Officer of Facebook be held liable for atrocity crimes and human rights failures he facilitated?

After reading Bracher’s wisdom on Nazi platform design, and seeing how it relates to the state of Facebook, now consider General Grant’s insights of 1865 at the end of the Civil War when Lee’s treasonous Army of Northern Virginia surrendered:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.

It should be no surprise then that it was Grant who created the Department of Justice.

We won’t rejoice at the downfall of Facebook, despite them being one of the worst companies for which a people ever worked, and for which there was the least excuse. Their unregulated state of permanent improvisation — a fast-fail culture used to avoid accountability for real-world harms for profit at scale — needs to end.

Facebook is a digital slavery plantation. “fail faster” turns out to be just “fail” without accountability, which turns out to just be privilege to do known wrongs to people and get rich.

Grant wasn’t opposed to change or failure, of course, he just put it all in terms of being on the right side of history, which he forever will be (PDF, UCL PhD Thesis) and unlike the Facebook executives who should be sent to jail:

My failures have been errors in judgment, not of intent.

The 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, frames Grant’s memoirs for us like this:

Our intentions matter. They reflect our motivations, our beliefs, our character. If we start with good intentions, and hold ourselves accountable to them, we start in the right place.

Facebook management continuously had bad intentions since it was first conceived as a platform for men to amass power and do wrongs (a failed attempt to invite crowds into physically shaming women who refused to go on a date with the founder).

…opened on October 28, 2003—and closed a few days later, after it was shut down by Harvard execs. In the aftermath, Zuckerberg faced serious charges of breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. Though he faced expulsion from Harvard for his actions, all charges against him were eventually dropped.

Bad intentions. No justice.

Fast forward to today, and officers of the company haven’t truly been held accountable. They definitely did not start in the right place and they continue to wrong people around the world. Their state of immoral and permanent improvisation has been a human rights disaster and needs to be stopped.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

Photo of me applying smooth and fast theory to the 2007 North American Championships of the A-Class Catamaran

This Day in History: 1812 Luddites Attack a Zoom Mill

“Luddites confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called ‘a fraudulent and deceitful manner’ to get around standard labor practices. ‘They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.’ The British authorities responded by deploying armed soldiers to crush the protests.
On this day in 1812 a group of a hundred or more (some say thousands) Luddites near Manchester attempted to enter Burton’s Mill in protest. Armed guards of the mill as well as British soldiers fired live rounds into the crowd, killing up to a dozen people.

So why were these Luddites protesting and why were they murdered for it?

Sadly people incorrectly brand Luddites as anti-technology, when in fact they very much were in favor of proper and skilled use of technology. Hopefully someday soon this chapter in history will stand corrected.

It’s a common misnomer to say Luddites were an anti-technology group, which sites like the Smithsonian fortunately have tried to dispel.

The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy.

Technology wasn’t the enemy of Luddites! Let me put it like this. To say Luddites were anti-technology is like saying Robin Hood was anti-technology.

Could anyone say “Robin Hood really hated the bow and arrow”? No. It makes no sense. His story was about a moralist’s use of bow and arrow (use of disruptive technology in his day towards victory, as proven in the 1415 Battle of Agincourt).

Robin Hood was a folk hero who popularly protested elites misusing technology to exploit the larger population.

Similarly, given the legend of Robin Hood, a powerful Ludd character rose out of the same Sherwood forest area of Nottingham and also to fight for morality in the use of technology; Luddites demanded quality and expertise to be valued in technology above exploitation.

The Luddites therefore were experts at technology who disliked machinery owners doing things known to increase death and suffering.

Think of the heavily armed mill owners in 1800s, targeted by Luddites, as versions of the Sheriff of Sherwood Forrest just 400 years later.

Now ask who really wanted to be on the side of the Sheriff in Robin Hood’s time let alone four centuries afterward?

Nottingham Forrest Sheriff, known for being “completely unsympathetic to the poverty of the town’s people, using immoral ways to collect taxes”

Or in today’s terms, think of this like people in technology roles protesting Zoom’s immoral practices. Those (including myself) who have been calling for Zoom usage to be ended immediately are not rejecting technology — we’re holding it to a higher bar!

Luddites thus today would be the technical champions calling for and end to Zoom’s obviously deceitful and harmful business practices, and calling for technology made safer for everyone.

Those who have been taught that Luddites didn’t like technology thus have been misled; the entire point of the group was to righteously protest against immoral use of technology (wielded selfishly by owners towards obvious harms).

Even more tragically, people often leave out the fact that Luddites were ruthlessly murdered by factory gunmen and hanged for daring to defend society under a concept of greater good.

In truth, they inflicted less violence than they encountered. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day.

Earlier that month, a crowd of about 150 protesters had exchanged gunfire with the defenders of a mill in Yorkshire, and two Luddites died. Soon, Luddites there retaliated by killing a mill owner, who in the thick of the protests had supposedly boasted that he would ride up to his britches in Luddite blood. Three Luddites were hanged for the murder; other courts, often under political pressure, sent many more to the gallows or to exile in Australia before the last such disturbance, in 1816.

At least 8 killed in just one protest. Some estimates are double. But in all cases the government was using overwhelming force.

To be fair, Luddites reportedly also did commit violent acts against people, even though it ran counter their overall goals of social good.

Some claims were made that Luddites intimidated local populations into sheltering and feeding them, similar to charges against Robin Hood. That seems like dubious government propaganda, however, as Luddites were a populist movement and “melting away” was again a sign of popular support rather than violent intimidation tactics.

Indeed, more often there were accounts of Luddites sneaking into factories at night and cleverly taking soldiers’ guns away to destroy only the machines as a form of protest. People were set free and unharmed.

An exception was in the case above where a mill owner “boasted” of murdering Luddites and was arming guards and calling in the military… escalation unfortunately was set on a path where Luddites stepped up their defense/retaliation.

Don’t forget 1812 was a very violent time overall for the British, with tensions rising around inequality (food shortages) and protracted European war (1803–1815), including rising tangles with America over its relations with France.

Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, who extremely opposed the Luddites, was assassinated May 11, 1812 by a merchant named John Bellingham.

Bellingham walked up and shot Perceval point-blank, then calmly sat down on a bench nearby to wait his arrest. Conspiracy theories soon circled, suggesting American merchants and British banks were conspiring to end trade blockades with France.

A month after the May assassination was when the War of 1812 began with America.

All that being said, if you want to ensure technology improves, and doesn’t just exploit unsuspecting consumers to benefit a privileged few, read more about the populist Luddite as well as Robin Hood stories from Nottingham.

These legends represent disadvantaged groups appealing for justice against a tyranny of elites.

Also, consider how “General Ludd” was another fictional character of the Sherwood Forest by design. Here’s a quick Ludd rhyme that was turned into a ticket to entry for meetings.

“This simple stamped ticket with its message showing support for General Ludd would have allowed entrance to one of the local meetings.”

It was his (and Robin Hood’s) inauthenticity, as a face of the very real populist cause that made them impossible to kill.

The legend of Ludd kept “his” cause of justice alive despite overwhelming oppositional military forces. Allegedly British authorities invoked “posse comitatus” (it’s a thing Sheriffs are known to do) and deployed more military soldiers domestically to stop Luddites than during war with Napoleon.

Nottingham took on the appearance of a wartime garrison… authorities estimated the number of rioters at 3,000, but at any one time, no more than 30 would gather…

In American history we have similar heroes, such as the inauthentic yet also real General Tubman. She fought plantation owners in the same sense that Ludd fought mill owners; targeting the immoral use of machinery.

Surely slave owners would have called Tubman an anti-technology radical at war with their manufacturing if they could have made such absurd accusations stick (instead of her being remembered rightly as an American patriot, veteran, abolitionist and human rights champion).

Inarticulate Grief

Spoiler alert. Inarticulate Grief is a poem by Richard Aldington about WWI that is still relevant today.

Let the sea beat its thin torn hands
In anguish against the shore,
Let it moan
Between headland and cliff;
Let the sea shriek out its agony
Across waste sands and marshes,
And clutch great ships,
Tearing them plate from steel plate
In reckless anger;
Let it break the white bulwarks
Of harbour and city;
Let it sob and scream and laugh
In a sharp fury,
With white salt tears
Wet on its writhen face;
Ah! let the sea still be mad
And crash in madness among the shaking rocks —
For the sea is the cry of our sorrow

Now read Inarticulate Grief, by Sean Patrick Hughes, a beautiful prose about America’s endless Bush-Cheney Wars.

No deployment I had was hard enough to make me deal with the pain it caused. Someone always had it harder. No loss suffered; no trauma absorbed was bad enough to acknowledge. Someone always had it tougher. Acknowledging it, in some way, dishonored them.

Facebook Failed to Encrypt Data, Failed to Notice Breach, Didn’t Notify Victims for a Month

Facebook management has recklessly steered into obvious privacy icebergs causing hundreds of millions of users to suffer during its brief history, and yet the company never seems to hit bottom
A series of timeline delays in another Facebook breach story seem rather strange for 2019.

This breach started with a physical break-in November 17th and those affected didn’t hear about it for nearly a month, until December 13th.

The break-in happened on Nov. 17, and Facebook realized the hard drives were missing on Nov. 20, according to the internal email. On Nov. 29, a “forensic investigation” confirmed that those hard drives included employee payroll information. Facebook started alerting affected employees on Friday Dec. 13.

The company didn’t notice hard drives with unencrypted data missing for half a week, which itself is unusual. The robbery was on a Sunday, and they reported it only three days later on a Wednesday.

Then it was another long two weeks after the breach, on a Friday, when someone finally came forward to say that these missing drives stored unencrypted sensitive personal identity information.

This is like reading news from ten years ago, when large organizations still didn’t quite understand or practice the importance of encryption, removable media safety and quick response. Did it really happen in 2019?

It sounds like someone working at Facebook either had no idea unencrypted data on portable hard drives is a terrible idea, or they were selling the data.

The employee who was robbed is a member of Facebook’s payroll department, and wasn’t supposed to have taken the hard drives outside the office.

“Wasn’t supposed to have taken…” is some of the weakest security language I’ve heard from a breached company in a long time. What protection and detection controls were in place? None?

Years ago there was a story about a quiet investigation at Facebook that allegedly discovered staff were pulling hard-drives out of datacenters, flying them to far away airports and exchanging them for bags of money.

It was similar to the very recent story of journalists uncovering that Facebook staff were taking $3K/month in bribes to help external attackers bypass internal security.

Of course many other breaches have proven how internal staff who observe weak security leadership may attempt to monetize data they can access, whether users or staff.

The man accused of stealing customer data from home mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. was probably able to download and save the data to an external drive because of an oversight by the company’s IT department.

The insider threat is real and happens far too often.

I also think we shouldn’t wave this Facebook story off as just involving 30,000 staff data instead of the more usual customer data.

First, staff often are customers too. Second, when you’re talking tens of thousands of people impacted, that’s a significant breach and designating them as staff versus user is shady. Breach of personal data is a breach.

And there’s plenty of evidence that stolen data when found on unencrypted drives, regardless of whose data it is, can be sold on an illegal market.

This new incident however reads less like that kind of sophisticated insider threat and more like the generic sloppy security that used to be in the news ten years ago.

Kaiser Permanente officials said the theft occurred in early December after an employee left the drive inside the car at her home in Sacramento. A week after the break-in, the unidentified employee notified hospital officials of the potential data breach.

Regardless of whether a insider threat, a targeted physical attack, or just disappointing sloppy management practices and thoughtless staff…Facebook’s December 13 notice of a November 17 breach seems incredibly slow for 2019 given GDPR, and the simple fact everyone should know that notifications are meant to be within three days.

I’m reminded of the Titanic reacting slowly and mostly ignoring four days of ice notifications.

1:45 P.M. “Amerika” passed two large icebergs in 41.27 N., 50.8 W.

9:40 P.M. From “Mesaba” to “Titanic” and all east-bound ships: Ice report in latitude 42º N. to 41º 25’ N., longitude 49º W to longitude 50º 30’ W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.

11:00 P.M. Titanic begins to receive a sixth message about ice in the area, and radio operator Jack Phillips cuts it off, telling the operator from the other ship to “shut up.”

US Army Considers Grey Hats for PSYOP Warriors

Leaflets have been so basic, so very black beret and prone to failures, that something higher up on the hat color chart seems to be in store for the military:

How better to attract talent into a modernizing Psychological Operations (PSYOP) group than a grey hat?

Nothing is decided yet, I mean there’s still a chance someone could influence the decisions, but rumors have it that the next generation of psychological warfare troops could expect to be represented in a beret the color of white noise:

The idea is essentially still being floated at this point, but it could be a recruiting boon for the PSYOP career field, which is tasked with influencing the emotions and behaviors of people through products like leaflets, loudspeakers and, increasingly, social media.

“In a move to more closely link Army Special Operations Forces, the PSYOP Proponent at the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School is exploring the idea of a distinctive uniform item, like a grey beret, to those Soldiers who graduate the Psychological Operations Qualification Course,” Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, a USASOC spokesman, said in an emailed statement to Army Times.

While still being a little fuzzy on the details, reporters also dropped some useful knowledge bombs in their story:

1) The new Army Special Operations Command strategy released just a month ago states everyone always will be trained in cyber warfare and weaponizing information

LOE 2 Readiness, OBJ 2.2 Preparation: Reality in readiness will be achieved using cyber and information warfare in all aspects of training.

2) Weaponizing information means returning to principles of influence operations in World War II (e.g. Mission 101, and Operation Torch), let alone World War I (e.g. Battle of Beersheba)… I mean adapting to the modern cloud platform (Cambridge Analytica) war. The Army Times article also states:

“We need to move beyond our 20th century approach to messaging and start looking at influence as an integral aspect of modern irregular warfare,” Andrew Knaggs, the Pentagon’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, said at a defense industry symposium in February. Army Special Operations Command appears to take seriously the role that influencing plays in great power competition.

Speaking of cloudy information and influence, an Army site describes how the Air Force in 2008 setup a data analysis function and referred to them as Grey Berets, or Special Operations Weather Team (SOWT):

As some of the most highly trained military personnel, the “grey beret” are a force to be reckoned with. Until SOWT gives the “all-clear” the mission doesn’t move forward.

The Air Force even offers hi-res photos of a grey beret as proof they are real.

Kessler AFB: “Team members collect atmospheric data, assist mission planning, generate accurate and mission-tailored target and route forecasts in support of global special operations, conduct special weather reconnaissance and train foreign national forces.” Click for original.

Meanwhile over at the Navy and Marines there’s much discussion about vulnerability to broad-based information attacks across their entire supply chain.

This might be a good time to remember the day of October 12, 1961 (only nine months after taking office as the President), when JFK visited Fort Bragg’s Special Warfare Center.

While Brigadier General (BG) William P. Yarborough, commander of the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center, waited at the pond, the presidential caravan drove down roads flanked on both sides by saluting SF soldiers, standing proudly in fatigues and wearing green berets.

“Late Thursday morning, 12 October 1961, BG Yarborough welcomed the 35th President, Secretary McNamara, GEN Decker, and the distinguished guests at the reviewing stand.”

General Yarborough very strategically wore the green beret as he greeted JFK and they spoke of Special Forces wanting them a long time (arguably since 1953 when ex-OSS Major Brucker started the idea).

A few days after the visit in October 1961 JFK famously wrote poetically to the General:

The challenge of this old but new form of operations is a real one…I am sure the Green Beret will be a mark of distinction in the trying times ahead.

Just one month later, 58 years ago (November 1961) the green beret became official headgear of the Special Forces, which earlier that year started being deployed into Vietnam. Finally on April 11, 1962 JFK issued a White House Memorandum to the US Army:

The Green Beret is again becoming a symbol of excellence, a badge of courage, a mark of distinction in the fight for freedom.

What will the grey hat symbolize and what will become its history?


Update May 2020: Perspective from USSOCOM on SOF and US Strategy.

“During his most recent trip to Afghanistan, Clarke said, he found that commanders now spend 60 percent of their time working in the information space. Commanders think about how to use the information space to influence the Taliban’s thought processes and how to influence the Afghan.”

Update July 2020: ArmyTimes wrote up “How the Green Berets got their name

Founded in 1952 as part of the U.S. Army Psychological Warfare Division, the 10th Special Forces Group was the first of its kind, according to Army archives. It was named the tenth group to make the Soviets think there were at least nine others just like it, Anne Jacobsen wrote in her book “Surprise, Kill, Vanish.” […] Wanting to distinguish themselves from conventional Army forces, Special Forces soldiers selected the wear of the beret because of OSS influence, since a number of its teams adopted headgear worn by soldiers in France. And the color green came from the influence of British Commandos during World War II.