Special Forces are orienting around the amazing performance characteristics of light bicycles with electric motors — motorcycles.
One of the curious problems with gasoline motorcycles is they grew too big and unwieldy at several hundred pounds, not to mention they ran on gasoline (not ideal for a military running on diesel). And since light-weight diesel motorcycles never really seemed to take off, electric makes perfect sense.
A new story in iNews claims an exclusive in reporting that Colorado is supplying the new commercial-sector mountain bicycles with electric motors to the military for testing.
In a reverse of the convention of defence technology finding its way to the civilian market, the vogue for military bicycles follows the global boom in e-bikes used by commuters and leisure cyclists. The value of the this market is predicted to reach £34bn by 2026.
But the new breed of special forces bike is a different beast.
With five-inch-wide tyres more likely to be found on a motorbike, a range of nearly 60 miles and silent 1,000w motors, the Jeep/QuietKat bike, made in Colorado, has been tailored for the needs of cycling special forces.
There are multiple problems with this story, although I have to commend it for making history front and center to the narrative.
First, it’s not a one-way convention. The civilian market also has a convention of making its way into defense technology. Special Forces often pull civilian companies like Patagonia, North Face, and Arcteryx into their equipment kits (as I’ve written about here before).
Second, the boom in e-bikes has been very pronounced in mountain bike racing, where training now is pedal-assist power to improve range in order to improve handling. In other words if you ride a technical pump track 50 times on an electric motor for training, then you likely get 40 times more experience in a session to prepare for non-electric racing than if you didn’t have the motor.
In other words, the “new breed of special forces bike” is NOT different from civilian bikes. A range of 60 miles on silent 1,000w motors is par for course, as well as extra fat tires commonly used for snow and sand trails.
Third, the history in this story has a GIANT gaping omission. This is not fair retelling.
Ever since the advent of the mass-produced bicycle in the late 1800s, armies have looked to harness the potential of soldiers on two wheels.
By the end of the 19th century most European militaries had formed bicycle units to replace horses for the delivery of messages and scouting and surveillance missions.
During the First World War, the British Army had two Cyclist Divisions, largely devoted to home guard duties. Prior to the war becoming bogged down in trenches, all sides sought to use fast-moving cyclist units, with the Belgian military using early folding bikes.
However, it was the Japanese who became most closely identified with the mass deployment of cycling soldiers. When Tokyo invaded China in 1937, it did so with a 50,000-strong “bicycle infantry”.
The ability to rapidly move large numbers of troops through jungle terrain without motorised transport proved vital to Japan’s early victories in the Second World War. During the invasion of Malaya in 1941, Japan was able to repeatedly outflank and overrun a retreating British Army by using bicycles along minor routes, ultimately resulting in the humiliating loss of Singapore.
During the Vietnam War the Viet Cong used bicycles to ferry supplies along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The Swiss Army maintained its Bicycle Regiment until 2001.
That covers a few bases, obviously (no pun intended).
What is missing? It was Black Americans who invented mountain biking in 1896. The Buffalo Soldiers deserve credit, as I’ve written about here before, for riding bikes from the Rocky Mountains all the way to Missouri.
A story about mountain bikes being developed in the Rocky Mountains for military use, which makes no mention of 1896 bikes in the Rocky Mountains for military use… begs the question why leave out the most obvious comparison of all.
Also, as I suggested at the start, a bicycle with a motor is in fact a motorcycle so this history really should include motorcycles when considering usage and modifications to carry heavy loads.
An oft-cited reason to stop riding horses in cities was their prodigious output of excrement as a by-product, not to mention disposal of dead and rotting horse carcasses.
Both of these could have been easily solved problems (Golden Gate Park owes its lush environment to train carloads of manure being dumped on sandy dunes — fertilizer being in high demand for urban better quality of life).
Though no reliable estimate of the amount of horse-excrement collected for park fertilizer exists, the total undoubtedly ran into tens, even hundreds of thousands of tons.
Instead the legged mobility of horses was scrapped in favor of augmentation (legs pushing wheels) with bicycles. A cost model being so much better meant it was more equitable transit, and this opened up markets to more people working in more places… bicycles were en route to a greater future.
Then the “wheelmen” got a bright idea of putting paved roads everywhere to ease legwork (again a problem to be better solved, probably by improving bicycle technology instead) and suddenly giant automated carriages (cars) started taking over and demanding both legged and augmented legs get off the roads.
But instead of composting natural manure and carcasses, automobiles spread toxic disease-inducing chemicals and piles of dangerous waste.
Today we’re back to asking if legs can perform long distance travel, perhaps making the obvious point that cars were a bad idea from the start.
Instead of dumping manure after eating loads of grass, however, these legs drain an unbelievable amount of robotic electricity (which could end up as emissions if we’re not careful).
As energy cost comes down through engineering (like how manure could have been engineered into fertilizer, from a cost to a profit) legs may return as the obvious better way of transit by removing any requirements for nasty roads.
Running 60 miles to work on beaches, through a forest and over mountains sounds a LOT better than sitting in a boring stuffed cage on a boring flat road full of other boring boxes. Here’s a video showing some progress towards that augmented future.
The easy answer is really a semantic one: nothing that can be done in cyber (information technology) is directly comparable to widespread kinetic destruction of military forces.
Once something approaches that level of destructive force, it’s no longer really the domain of cyber. In other words we don’t really call it a voice attack if someone speaks into a microphone instead of turning keys to launch nuclear weapons. As the 1941 book “War on the Short Wave” put it on page 69:
Gunpowder it it is said, was first used as a holiday crackers. Radio in the early days operated to give men pleasure. Both have been turned to use in wars and nations have used broadcasting as an ally of the bomb.
More seriously, the problem lies in the psychological power of the narrative. Despite basic early indicators, the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a “bolt out of the blue” on a major military target.
Their duty done, George, who was new to the unit, took over the oscilloscope for a few minutes of time-killing practice. […] Their device could not tell its operators precisely how many planes the antenna was sensing, or if they were American or military or civilian. But the height of a spike gave a rough indication of the number of aircraft. And this spike did not suggest two or three, but an astonishing number—50 maybe, or even more. “It was the largest group I had ever seen on the oscilloscope,” said Joe.
It was just past 7 in the morning on December 7, 1941 when the US failed to recognize over 300 Japanese planes about to unleash massive devastation on the Navy.
Take now for example a modern nuclear weapon that delivers in less than half an hour a surprise attack using an intercontinental missile.
Such a surprise on the right targets might prevent any kind of counter-strike. That is an apt framing for lightning dropping out of a clear blue sky and zapping capabilities.
As I’ve documented here before, however, it’s been a VERY long road since at least the 1970s telling us that a normative situation of information technology is more like continuous grinding attacks everywhere all the time.
Andrew Freedman writes about this phenomenon as “more like a hill we’re sliding down at ever-increasing speed”.
We can choose to alter course at any time by hitting the brakes…. But the longer we wait, the faster we’ll be traveling, and the more effort it will take to slow down and achieve the cuts that are needed. And we’ve already waited a long time to start pumping the brakes.
Please note, this is NOT to be confused with a slippery slope, which implies there are no brakes and thus is a fallacy.
It’s pretty much the opposite of Pearl Harbor as a narrative — a never-ending thunderous grey downpour leading to increasing rate and scope of failures. There is no bolt from blue, no sudden wake-up event without warning.
Otherwise wouldn’t any event such as this one rise to became a Pearl Harbor?
Eighty percent of email accounts used in the four New York-based US Attorney offices were compromised [by Russian military intelligence].
We’d be talking about tens of thousands of Pearl Harbor events each year (when in reality who even remembers the Code Spaces cloud breach of 2014 instantly putting them out of business). Or let me put it this way: for nearly half the years since Pearl Harbor the US has talked about a Cyber Pearl Harbor.
If anything, 2016 was it and even that was more like a poorly done coup than a destructive bombing preventing counterattack.
My main quibble with my own argument here is the poor quality practices of companies like Uber and Tesla. Nobody needs to be sending intercontinental missiles to America when they can remotely automate widespread carjacking instead.
Take that kind of bad engineering and maliciously route 40,000 cars in an urban center and you’ve got a surprise mass casualty event via information technology vulnerabilities… which sounds an AWFUL lot like a bolt out of the blue when you look at tens of thousands of highly-explosive Teslas being adversarial dive-bombers loitering about stealthily just waiting to happen.
The counterargument to my counterargument is that Tesla has been killing a LOT of people, being less safe after installing fraudulent “autopilot”, and at least 3X more likely than comparable cars to kill its driver. We won’t see a Pearl Harbor even in driverless when Tesla is allowed to continue normalizing devastating crashes and ignore its mounting death tolls.
Anyway, all this debate about the relevance of Pearl Harbor has come up again in another article, which bizarrely claims a negative: that we didn’t see the lack of a cyber Pearl Harbor coming.
Over the past decade, cyber warfare has changed in ways the experts didn’t see coming.
Let me say that again. They’re suggesting we didn’t see a lack of Pearl Harbor attack, when that is exactly what we saw (those predicting a bolt of blue always faced opposition).
I mean their point is just flatly false.
As an expert (at least to some, hi mom!) in both cyber and military history I absolutely saw today’s situation coming and gave numerous very public talks and comments about it.
Hell, (to paraphrase military icons in movies) I even gave a presentation in 2012 dedicated to cyber warfare that predicted a lot of what mass media just started talking about now.
The article goes on to say experts didn’t predict that laying networks into repressive regimes would increase repression, yet again that is false. Early reports said exactly that. It wasn’t rocket science.
You deliver into a power vacuum shiny new tools (let’s say a pitchfork, for example) and want to believe optimists that it won’t be used as a weapon or lead to oppression. Because why?
History and political science as a guide told us the opposite would come and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
The Air Force is having a moment regarding a decision to abort an exercise due to sleep loss.
“If it was a real world sortie, I can guarantee that those crews would get their energy drinks of choice, roll out to the plane, and fly to defend our nation,” he said. “I don’t know of any E3 member that would deny a flight if the Russians were coming no matter their state of rest. So in wartime, our asses would be flying and we would gladly do it. But this wasn’t real world. It was an exercise. You can’t replace the lives that would be lost if a plane went down.”
Smart move to cancel the exercise, I have no doubt from the details revealed so far… and this reminded me of two things.
First, recent neuroscience studies of mental and physical well-being showing clear degradation from sleep loss.
Three consecutive nights of sleep loss can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Sleep deprivation can lead to an increase in anger, frustration, and anxiety. Additionally, those who experienced sleep loss reported a change in physical wellbeing, including gastrointestinal and respiratory problems.
Second, I keep seeing leaders who accommodate rest and recuperation get criticized as “quitting”, which seems totally counter-intuitive.
If you don’t “quit” to eat and drink, the body risks even bigger shutdown. If you don’t “quit” to heal from injury you may fail to heal and cause wider injury. If you don’t “quit” to sleep… disaster.
Knowing when to not do something could be as important as knowing when to do it.
Somehow a blind and unthinking version of “don’t quit” (urging people to damage themselves in ways they can not continue anyway) is growing out of control to a point where people are using social media platforms to push others off cliffs instead of stopping/quitting to consider obvious consequences of such a predictable failure.
Even more complicated than sleep loss are the “twisties” as noted recently in Olympic gymnastics:
“We also do a lot of work to teach them how to listen to their bodies’ warning signs that they are heading down the wrong path,” he continued. Andrews noted that Biles had more stressors than most, being forced to represent USA Gymnastics, the institution that enabled her sexual abuse by Larry Nassar, because it’s the only pathway to the Games. …getting past the twisties can take time, sometimes days, weeks or even months to resolve. “This isn’t as easy to fix as just sleeping it off and hoping for a better day tomorrow,” one former gymnast and diver pointed out on Twitter. […] The worst case scenario isn’t a lost competition or even a serious injury, like a ruptured Achilles. In gymnastics, it can result in paralysis, or even death.
Getting well to avoid death is a form of “quitting” only in the sense it’s taking a very wise step to ensure survival and thus continuation. The case of Biles is especially telling because it is about a black woman who had been forced into sexual abuse.
Biles clearly has declared self-control over her own body in a multitude of ways. This latest demonstration is surely inspiring others to think about mental as well as physical success. Her stepping aside allows her also to be in a better place to help/support her team to succeed than if she experienced catastrophic failure. It’s a very wise choice demonstrating excellent leadership qualities, and something I expect any special operations team would recognize.
From that a number of white men seem to be upset and hyperventilating publicly about her “quitting”; issuing completely tone-deaf comments that a black woman be forced to do what they want instead.
So I encourage people to read about the USAF and then the Olympics to think about the parallels. Did they quit, or did they refuse to quit by taking a safety break?
Simon Sinek says we should start calling it “falling” instead of “failing” (let alone quitting) because it implies we get up again:
The first operational anti-aircraft missile system, the Nike Ajax, was launched by the United States in 1953.
A new guided missile system was needed which could destroy entire formations of high-altitude, high-speed aircraft at a greater ranges with a single missile. After extensive studies, it was determined that this new system would require the use of a nuclear warhead in a new missile having greater range and speed than the Nike-Ajax missile.
Fast-forward to today and Raytheon PR announces an anti-swarm missile system, the Block 3 Coyote, has “aced” a military test.
Block 3 utilizes a non-kinetic warhead to neutralize enemy drones, reducing potential collateral damage.
To be fair, Raytheon distinguishes the Block 3 as a reusable model, unlike the Block 2.
Unlike its expendable counterpart, the non-kinetic variant can be recovered, refurbished and reused without leaving the battlefield.
It’s interesting to differentiate it in the PR as non-kinetic, given how it probably has a kinetic effect (e.g. waves of power destroying or disabling electronics).
Also it’s not really fair to say a kinetic platform can’t be reusable, since that’s a design decision (e.g. explosive warhead could be launched like planes do with missiles).
I suspect someone demanded a lower-cost profile on the Coyote and marketing came up with the language to make a false distinction from the earlier design.
An incredibly expensive electric car ($500-600K) has this to say about its simulation features:
Totem claims that using gaming algorithms and internal combustion engine calibration, it can make engine torque, gear ratios, power band, engine brake, and sound and vibration sound “realistic and customizable.” Even the gear lever can be made to have a conventional shifter’s mechanical feeling. Engine sounds are customizable as well.
Yuck. This reads to me like an electric carriage can be made to smell like it’s being pulled by animals. At some point people have to give up all the horseshit and move on.
In ancient Rome, Julius Caesar banned horse-drawn carriages due to gridlock and pollution. In New York City, though, that seemed implausible — horses were just too essential for urban transportation and shipping.
Things being too essential shouldn’t mean people are allowed to do the wrong things when those things no longer are essential, right? I guess someone would have to define what is wrong with things like engine sound.
Maybe for some this is yet another moment to celebrate technology holding on to distinct obvious smell and noise pollution of horse power. I still say yuck.
To be fair many years ago I spoke with nautical engineers about making a giant empty carbon fiber box with a tiny electric trolling engine that looked just like a $500K cigar boat with jet engines. Then I would slowly float and gurgle it along the Intracoastal Waterway with big speakers that made it sound real. True story. And we never built one but obviously there’s a market.
Update April 22, 2021: A statement from Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing, Jake Fisher confirms that the Tesla vehicles lack basic safety — fail to include a modern-day equivalent of a seat belt.
In our test, the system not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention — it couldn’t even tell if there was a driver there at all.
Other manufacturers neither have the safety failures of Tesla, nor the exaggerated safety claims, nor a CEO who encourages known unsafe operation of his sub-par engineering.
Just a few days ago on April 14th the CEO of Tesla tweeted a prediction:
Major improvements are being made to the vision stack every week. Beta button hopefully next month.
This is a “march of 9’s” trying to get probability of no injury above 99.999999% of miles for city driving. Production Autopilot is already above that for highway driving.
You might see a problem immediately with that prediction. “Production Autopilot” means it already is in production, yet the prior sentence was “Beta… next month”.
Can it both be in production and have vision a month away from beta? Also make special note of the highway driving reference. Production is being used as a very limited subset of production. It’s still being tested in the city because not ready while being production ready for highway, but all of it is called production while being unready?
This is very tortured marketing double-speak, to the point where Tesla language becomes meaningless.
Let’s move on to April 17th at 3:45PM when the CEO of Tesla was tweeting Autopilot claims about being standard on all Teslas, as part of a full endorsement of extremely bold marketing claims like this one:
Even when you’re driving manually, Autopilot is looking out for you
Hold that thought. No matter what, even manual mode, Autopilot is there. Got it? This is important in a minute.
Also this is not a statement about it being a production highway-only Autopilot. It is not specifying the beta button of vision of Autopilot. There is nothing anything about this or that version, in this or that situation.
This is a statement about ALL Autopilot versions on all Teslas.
ALWAYS on, looking out for you.
Standard. On ALL Teslas.
These are very BOLD claims.
Passive is active safety? What is this word soup?
Just to be clear about sources, this @WholeMarsBlog account tweeting safety claims is a Tesla promotional stunt operation.
It tweets things like “2.6s 0-60 mph” promoting extreme acceleration right next to a video called “Do not make the mistake of underestimating FSD @elonmusk”
Do not underestimate “full self driving”? Go 0-60 in 2.6s?
That seems ridiculously dangerous advice that will get people killed, maybe even launching them straight into a tree with no chance of surviving.
Here’s the associated video, a foreshadowing at this point.
To summarize, an account linked to the CEO explicitly has been trying to encourage Tesla owners to do highly dangerous performance and power tests on small public roads that lack markings.
Now hold those two thoughts together. We can see Tesla’s odd marketing system promoting: Autopilot is always looking out for you on all Tesla models without exception, and owners should try extreme tests on unmarked roads where underestimating Autopilot is called the “mistake” — drive dangerously.
See the connections?
I see the above introduction as evidence of invitation from Tesla (they certainly didn’t object) to use Autopilot for high performance stunts on small roads where even slight miscalculation could be disastrous.
Next, on April 17th just hours before yet another fatal Tesla accident, the CEO tweeted his rather crazy idea that a Tesla offers a lower chance of accident when it is compared to all automobile crash data combined.
Specifically, the CEO points to his own report that states:
NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles.
Where does it show this? Most recent data means what? Are we talking about 2016?
This is what I see in the 2020 report, which presumably includes Teslas:
Tesla offers no citations that can be verified, no links, no copy of the recent data or even a date. Their claims are very vague, written into their own report that they publish, and we have no way of validating with them.
Also, what is defined by Tesla as a crash? Is it the same as the NHTSA? And why does Tesla say crash instead of the more meaningful metric of fatality or injury?
NHTSA publishes a lot of fatality data. Is every ding and bump on every vehicle of any kind being compared with just an “accident” for Tesla? All of it seems extremely, unquestionably misleading.
And the misuse of data comes below statements the company makes like “Tesla vehicles are engineered to be the safest cars in the world.” This is probability language. They are to be safe, when? Sometime in future? Are they not the safest yet and why not? Again misleading.
The reverse issue also comes to mind. If a child adds 2+2=4 a billion times, that doesn’t qualify them as ready to take a calculus exam.
However Tesla keeps boasting it has billions of miles “safely” traveled, as though 2+2 is magically supposed to be equivalent to actual complex driving conditions with advanced risks. It’s a logical fallacy, which seems intentionally misleading.
You can see the CEO pumps up generic Autopilot (all of them, every version, every car described as totally equivalent) as something that will prevent huge numbers of crashes and make an owner exponentially safer, based only on hand-wavy numbers
Now let’s watch after a crash happens and he immediately disowns his own product, splitting hairs about this or that version and claiming there’s no expectation of capability in any common situation.
His next tweet on the subject comes April 19th at 2:14PM when he rage tweets about insider information (secret logs) to dispute claims made by witnesses and reporters.
To recap, before a fatal accident the CEO describes Autopilot as a singular product across all Tesla that dramatically reduces risk of a crash no matter what. And then immediately following a fatal accident the CEO is frantically slicing and dicing to carve out exceptions:
These caveats seem entirely disingenuous compared with just a day prior when everything was being heavily marketed as safer without any detail, any warning, any common sense or transparency.
Note that the WSJ report that prompted the tweet is gathering far lower social numbers than the CEO’s own network effects, which helps explain how and why he pushes selfish narratives even while admitting facts are not yet known.
The CEO is trying to shape beliefs and undermine the voice of professionals to get ahead of the facts being reported accurately.
Now just imagine if the CEO cared about safety. On April 17th he could have tweeted what he was saying on the 19th instead:
Dear loyal fans, just so you are aware your Standard Autopilot isn’t like Purchased FSD and it won’t turn on unless it sees something that looks like a lane line…don’t overestimate its abilities. In fact, it doesn’t turn on for a minute or more so you could be in grave danger.
Big difference right? It’s much better than that very misleading “always on” and “safest car in the world” puffery that led right into another tragic fatality.
Seriously, why didn’t his tweets on the 17th have a ton of couched language and caveats like the 19th?
I’ll tell you why, the CEO is pushing disinformation before a fatality and then more disinformation after a fatality.
Disinformation from a CEO
Let’s break down a few simple and clear problems with the CEO statement. Here is is again:
First, the CEO invokes lane lines only when he replies to the tweet. That means he completely side-steps the mention of safety measures. He knows there are widespread abuses and bypasses of the “in place” weighted seat and steering wheel feedback measures.
We know the CEO regularly promotes random evidence of people who promote him, including people who practice hands-off driving, and we should never be surprised his followers will do exactly what he promotes.
The CEO basically likes and shares marketing material made by Tesla drivers who do not pay attention, so he’s creating a movement of bad drivers who practice unsafe driving and ignore warnings. Wired very clearly showed how a 60 Minutes segment with the CEO promoted unsafe driving.
Even Elon Musk Abuses Tesla’s Autopilot. Musk’s ’60 Minutes’ interview risks making the public even more confused about how to safely use the semi-autonomous system.
We clearly see in his tweet response that he neither reiterates the safety measure claims, nor condemns or even acknowledges the well-known flaws in Tesla engineering.
Instead he tries to narrow the discussion down to just lines on the road. Don’t let him avoid a real safety issue here.
In June of 2019 a widely circulated video showed a Tesla operating with nobody in the driver seat.
…should be pretty damn easy to implement [prevention controls], and all the hardware to do so is already in the car. So why aren’t they doing that? That would keep dangerous bullshit like this from happening. Videos like this… should be a big fat wake-up call that these systems are way too easy to abuse… and sooner or later, wrecks will happen. These systems are not designed to be used like this; they can stop working at any time, for any number of reasons. They can make bad decisions that require a human to jump in to correct. They are not for this. I reached out to Tesla for comment, and they pointed me to the same thing they always say in these circumstances, which basically boils down to “don’t do this.”
September of 2020 a widely circulated video showed people drinking in a Tesla at high speed with nobody in the driver seat.
This isn’t the first time blurrblake has posted reckless behavior with the Tesla…. He has another video up showing a teddy bear behind the wheel with a dude reclining in the front passenger seat.
Show me the CEO condemnation, a call for regulation, of an owner putting their teddy bear behind the wheel in a sheer mockery of Tesla’s negligent safety engineering.
March of 2021 again a story hit the news of teenagers in a Tesla, with nobody in the driver seat, that runs into a police car.
That’s right, a Tesla crashed into a police car (reversing directly into it) after being stopped for driving on the wrong side of the road ! Again, let me point out that police found nobody in the driver seat of a car that crashed into their police car. I didn’t find any CEO tweets about “lane line” or versions of Autopilot.
Why was a new Tesla driving on the wrong side of the road with nobody in the driver seat, let alone crashing into a police car with its safety lights flashing?
And in another case during March 2021, Tesla gave an owner ability to summon the car remotely. When they used the feature the Tesla nearly ran over a pregnant woman with a toddler. The tone-deaf official response to this incident was that someone should be in the driver seat (completely contradicting their own feature designed on the principle that nobody is in the car).
People sometimes seem to point out how the CEO begs for regulation of AI, talks about AI being bad if unregulated, yet those same people never seem to criticize the CEO for failing to lift a finger himself to regulate and shut down these simple bad behavior examples right here right now.
Regulation by others wouldn’t even be needed if Tesla would just engineer real and basic security.
The CEO for example calls seat belts an obviously good thing nobody should ever have delayed, but there’s ample evidence that he’s failing to put in today’s seat belt equivalent. Very mixed messaging. Seat belts are a restraint, reducing freedom of movement, and the CEO is claiming he believes in them while failing to restrain people.
There must be a reason the CEO avoids deploying better safety while also telling everyone it’s stupid to delay better safety.
Second, lines may be needed to turn on. Ok. Now explain if Autopilot can continue without lines. More to the obvious point, does a line have to be seen for a second or a minute? The CEO doesn’t make any of this detailed distinction, while pretending to care about facts. In other words if a line is erroneously detected then we assume Autopilot is enabled. Done. His argument is cooked.
Third, what’s a line? WHAT IS A LINE? Come on people. You can’t take any statement from this CEO at face value. He is talking about lines like it’s some fact, when Autopilot has no real idea of what a line is. Again his argument is cooked.
Sorry, but this is such an incredibly important point about the CEO’s deceptive methods as to require shouting again WHAT IS A LINE?
Anything can be read as a line if a system is dumb enough and Tesla has repeatedly been proven to have extremely dumb mistakes. It will see lines where there are none, and sometimes it doesn’t see double-yellow lines.
Fourth, the database logs can be wrong/corrupted especially if they’re being handled privately and opaquely to serve the CEO’s agenda. That statement was “logs recovered so far”. Such a statement is extremely poor form, why say anything at all?
The CEO is actively failing to turn data over to police to be validated and instead trying to curry favor with his loyalists by yelling partial truths and attacking journalists. Such behavior is extremely suspicious, as the CEO is withholding information while at the same time knowing full well that facts would be better stated by independent investigators.
Local police responded to the CEO tweets with “if he has already pulled the data, he hasn’t told us that.”
Why isn’t the CEO of Tesla working WITH investigators instead of trying to keep data secret and control the narrative, not to mention violate investigation protocols?
…the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which removed Tesla as a party to an earlier investigation into a fatal crash in 2018 after the company made public details of the probe without authorisation.
The police meanwhile are saying what we know is very likely to be true.
We have witness statements from people that said they left to test drive the vehicle without a driver and to show the friend how it can drive itself.
Let’s not forget also this CEO is also the same guy who in March 2020 tweeted disinformation “Kids are essentially immune” to COVID19. Today we read stories that are the opposite.
…government data from Brazil suggest that over 800 children under age 9 have died of Covid-19, an expert estimates that the death toll is nearly three times higher…
Thousands of children dying from pandemic after the Tesla CEO told the world to treat them as immune. Essentially immune? That’s double-speak again like saying Autopilot is in production meaning highway only because still testing urban and in a month from now it will achieve beta.
Or double-speak like saying Autopilot makes every Tesla owner safer always, except in this one road or this one car because of some person.
Who trusts his data, his grasp of responsibility for words and his predictions?
Just as a quick reminder, this crash is the 28th for Tesla to be investigated by the NHTSA. And in 2013 when this Model S was released the CEO called it the safest car on the road. Since then as many as 16 deaths have been alleged to be during Autopilot.
Fifth, the location, timing (9:30P) and style of the accident suggests extremely rapid acceleration that didn’t turn to follow the road and instead went in a straight line into a tree.
This is consistent with someone trying to test/push extreme performance “capabilities” of the car (as promoted and encouraged by the CEO above and many times before), which everyone knows would include people trying to push Autopilot (as recorded by witnesses).
Remember those thoughts I asked you to hold all the way up at the top of this post? A reasonable person listening to “Autopilot is always on and much safer than human” and watching videos of “Don’t underestimate FSD” next to comments about blazing acceleration times… it pretty obviously adds up to Tesla creating this exact scenario.
Tesla owners dispute CEO claims
Some of this already has been explored by owners of Tesla vehicles who started uploading proofs of their car operating on autopilot with no lines on a road.
In one thread on Twitter the owner of a 2020 Model X with Autopilot and FSD Capability shares his findings, seemingly contradicting Tesla’s CEO extremely rushed and brash statements.
7:55am, I returned to the parking lot to show you folks how the Autopilot engages with no lines marked on the road as @elonmusk claims is necessary. I engaged autopilot without an issue. I didn’t post this video right away, because I wanted to see how y’all would twist it.
Show me a line. Any line. Show me a speed limit sign. Any sign.
@LyftGift then reiterates again with a screenshot: “At 2:15 both icons are activated. Cruise and AP” with no lines on the road.
Something worth noting here, because the tiny details sometimes matter, is the kind of incongruity in Tesla vehicle features.
The CEO is saying the base Autopilot without FSD shouldn’t activate without lines, yet @LyftGyft gives us two important counter-points.
We see someone not only upload proof of Autopilot without lines, it is in a 2020 Model X performance, with free unlimited premium connectivity.
An eagle-eyed observer (as I said these details tend to matter, if not confuse everything) asked how that configuration is possible given Tesla officially discontinued it in mid-2018.
@LyftGift replies “Tesla hooked me up”.
So let’s all admit for the sake of honesty here, since Tesla bends its rules arbitrarily to say what is or is not available on a car, it is really hard to trust anything the CEO might say he knows or believes about any car.
Was it base Autopilot or is he just saying that because he hasn’t found out “yet” in his extremely early announcements that someone at Tesla “hooked” a modification for the owner and didn’t report it.
22 Hammock Dunes Place
Maps show that the empty wooded lot where the car exploded had desolate, simple lanes, near a golf club, where the roads were in perfect condition. The only complication seems to be the roads are constantly curved.
The car allegedly only went several hundred yards on one “S” curve and lost control, before exploding on impact with a tree. The short narrow path and turn suggests rapid acceleration that we’ve read about in other fatal Tesla crash and burn reports.
I would guess the Tesla owners thought they had chosen a particular safe place to do some extreme Autopilot testing to show off the car.
Apple satellite imagery looks like this:
Google StreetView shows these areas aren’t being mapped, which honestly says to me traffic is very low including police and thus a prime area for vehicle stunts:
Zillow offers a rather spooky red arrow in their description of the lot, also pointing roughly to where the burning car was found.
And I see lines, do you see lines?
Howabout in this view? Do you see lines plausibly indicating side of a road?
Ok, now this will surely blow your mind. The men who allegedly told others they were going to show off the Autopilot capability on this road were driving at night.
Look closely at the yellow light reflecting on this curve of the road like a yellow… wait for it… line!
Fighting the Fire
The Houston Chronicle quotes the firefighters in self-contradictory statements, which is actually kind of important to the investigation.
With respect to the fire fight, unfortunately, those rumors grew out way of control. It did not take us four hours to put out the blaze. Our guys got there and put down the fire within two to three minutes, enough to see the vehicle had occupants
This suggests firefighters had a very good idea of where the passengers were in the vehicle and how they were impacted, when everyone was reporting nobody in the driver seat.
The firefighter then goes on to say fighting the fire took several hours after all, but the technical description means it wasn’t live flames, just the ongoing possibility of live flames. Indeed, other Tesla after crashes have reignited multiple times over several hours if not longer.
Buck said what is termed in the firefighting profession as “final extinguishment” of the vehicle — a 2019 Tesla — took several hours, but that classification does not mean the vehicle was out-of-control or had live flames.
And then a little bit later…
…every once in a while, the (battery) reaction would flame.
It wasn’t on fire for more than three minutes. It could have reignited so we were on it for several hours. It was reigniting every once in a while.
So to be clear, the car was a serious fire hazard for hours yet burned intensely only for minutes. Technically it did burn for hours (much like an ember is burning, even when no flames are present) although also technically the fire fighters prefer to say it was a controlled burn.
Tesla, without a question, has a way higher incidence of fire deaths than other cars.
There already are many twists to this new story (pun not intended) because the CEO of Tesla is peddling disinformation and misleading people — claiming Autopilot is always there and will save the world until it doesn’t and then backpedaling to “there was no Autopilot” and tightly controlling all the messaging and data.
Seems to fit the bill for gaslighting. Autopilot is both on always but off, as the car is to be safest yet smashed into a tree and on fire for minutes and burning for hours.
Tesla’s production highway tested beta manual autopilot using passive active safety literally couldn’t see a tree for the forest.
A Danish Jaeger Corps (Special Ops Force) officer named Helge Meyer thought he could help with supply-chain issues of the early-1990s by creating a… Bitchin’ Camaro (ala Dead Milkmen). Ooops, I mean Ghost Camaro (although Meyer oddly referred to the whole thing as being God’s Rambo, which sounds like a 16 year-old white kid from Minnesota spending dad’s money).
Meyer pitched US military leaders in charge of humanitarian efforts in Bosnia on a small and “fast” car for him to drive about, given the typical slow-moving military supply-chain. He asked the US to sponsor him, and supplied a 1979 Chevrolet car for the Americans to upgrade.
What else was from 1979…I mean besides gasoline for $0.75/gallon?
The first “Mad Max” movie was in 1979, starring a Ford with an engine that a character describes as “…last of the V-8s. She sucks nitro”.
And Mad Max was only a few years before “Knight Rider” became an American TV show centered on high-tech communications stuffed into a sports car.
One can guess Meyer was a fan of both.
For his project he had US military engineers juice his 1979 Camaro stock 5.7-liter V8 engine from 175 horsepower to 220 (more like a Camaro V8 of the early 1970s). Then they added nitrous for a double jump to 440.
Very Mad Max.
Then the US engineers added radar-defeating paint leftover from an F-117, giant infrared driving lights, run-flat foam-filled tires, a ground-to-air radio system for aircraft communication, kevlar doors and trunk, steel panels under and around the driver, body-heat sensors, fire extinguishers, night vision systems and a mine-clearing blade. Plus a personal armor system (PASGT) vest and helmet.
Very Knight Rider.
Indeed, DriveTribe called it “combining [Knight Rider] with Mad Max in order to save lives”.
One thing I’ve never seen discussed is why the engine wasn’t quieter, or even silent. In some cases story-tellers say they believe people felt joy when they could hear the loud V-8 coming, yet that seems completely counter to everything “ghost” about it.
Missed opportunity in the 1990s for US military engineers to produce a high-performance electric car to save lives like the 1980 Lektrikar II, if you ask me. After all, while electricity could still be found in Bosnia how was a gas-guzzling thing like this Camaro supposed to recharge its nitrous or avoid stopping for gas? Apparently it couldn’t go very far.
In 2006 I wrote about fast quiet special operations engines, when I briefly profiled the 1999 US Military RST-V Hybrid Electric Diesel: the “Shadow“. It had an electric-only mode with three huge “ghost” benefits: super fast, yet the heat and sound emissions were reduced to almost nothing.
I guess anytime someone brings up the “ghost Camaro” car story, it could be a good conversation starter to ask why high profile emission signatures were favored over silent and clean options available.
This photo indeed explains the childish “God’s Rambo” mindset I alluded to above.
The “Aloners MC” is a German organization that flies the loser US Confederate battle flag as their logo. This is well known in Germany as symbolizing support for extreme right-wing terror groups (Nazism), given a Swastika flag is banned.
The Aloners also fly a 1% symbol next to their loser US Confederate battle flag, to symbolize they see themselves as above the law and irresponsible — thus “God’s Rambo” is reference to extreme right-wing politics, refusing to follow any laws.
Bottom line is the car wasn’t a ghost, it emitted a huge signature on purpose to let people know its presence from far away, and the man driving it can no sooner call himself a humanitarian wearing an Aloners MC shirt (promoting human slavery), than if he wore a Nazi swastika.
Here’s a sobering thought. At the same time as this guy’s operation, I knew personally some anti-fascist Germans who repeatedly drove a small diesel Volkswagen unmodified into Bosnia and survived. You’ll never hear about them or see them. They seem more like the real “ghost” deal than a show-boating Nazi club member infatuated with power unregulated, trying to emulate movies and television.
In terms of scale, UN humanitarian efforts in Bosnia were recorded as the largest operation in their history.
UNHCR managed to deliver some 950,000 metric tonnes of humanitarian assistance to some 2.7 million beneficiaries in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995. It became UNHCR’s largest humanitarian operation ever. […] By the end of 1995 there were over 250 international humanitarian organisations operating under the UNHCR ‘umbrella’. The only major humanitarian organisation to operate outside the UNHCR framework was ICRC. […] By the end of 1995 there were more than 3,000 people from over 250 humanitarian organisations carrying valid UNHCR ID cards [and] over 2,000 vehicles from more than a 150 humanitarian organisations driving around Bosnia with UNHCR registration plates.
During the three-and-a-half year operation, the 21 nations supporting [UN] Provide Promise flew 12,895 supply missions (4,197 by USAF) and delivered 160,536 metric tons (62,801.5 by USAF) of humanitarian goods to Sarajevo. In addition, the USAF airlifters flew more than 2,200 airdrop sorties across Bosnia.
Here’s another sobering thought. Some journalists at the same time as the Camaro story started running aid on their own initiative and ended up building a hugely successful humanitarian organization.
People in Need organization was established in 1992 by a group of Czech war correspondents who were no longer satisfied with merely relaying information about ongoing conflicts and began sending out aid. It gradually became established as a professional humanitarian organization striving to provide aid in troubled regions and support adherence to human rights around the world. Throughout the 25 years of its existence, People in Need has become one of the biggest non-profit organizations in Central Europe.
Now that’s an impressive legacy; Šimon Pánek and Jaromír Štětina setup a system lasting to this day. Compare that with a gas-guzzling orange parade float paid for by American taxpayers that has been in some random guy’s garage after a very brief (albeit useful) stint down range.
So I hereby propose future stories about Helge Meyer use a little more context to point out the wild inconsistencies to his story:
Felt he needed US government to engineer an extremely expensive vehicle just for him and protect him with communications to networks, yet calls himself “alone”.
Made a car obnoxiously loud to alert people of his movements, yet promoted it as a “ghost”.
Said he did it as a warrior for god, yet poses for publicity in a white-supremacist t-shirt that violates most basic (modern) religious principles.
If the measure of the story is someone who did something selfless with technology in order to help others, there are surely far better examples than this hollow-sounding one.
Let me explain why such a car would exist in America, by telling you an obscure and old story that nobody really remembers anymore, and as far as I can tell has never been told in full before (given so many records/pieces are missing).
The New York Times in February 1981 boldly claimed the electric car was returning to America.
THE internal-combustion engine may have been king of the road for the last 70 years, but as a result of the gasoline hysteria that has struck the United States twice in the last decade, its chief competitor – the electric car – is again being seriously considered as an alternative.
Now here’s the big clue about where Datsun comes into play: GM and Gulf and Western are mentioned in the same sentence as “making commitments”.
“A whole new stage is being set for the electric car,” said John Makulowich, executive director of the Electric Vehicle Council, a trade association. “Major corporations like General Motors and Gulf and Western are making commitments to electric-vehicle engineering.” He attributed this in part to legislation giving financial aid and other incentives to research and development in this area.
Dozens of large and small companies are investing time and money in battery and electric-vehicle development, while hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals are tinkering in garages and laboratories to find an answer to America’s energy needs in a world of shrinking gasoline supplies. The answer, some think, could lie in the past.
Ah, well if the answer to electric cars lies in the past… will 1981 prove to be the answer for electric cars in 2021? Probably, but NYT wants us to go back even further in time since 1981 was current (pun not intended) for them back then.
By around 1910, one out of every three cars or trucks on American roads was there under electric power. But by 1920, Ford had sold nearly 10 million assembly-line-built gasoline-powered cars.
10 million gasoline-powered cars sounds like a lot of output until you look at the number of anti-Semitic hate propaganda and disinformation rags that Ford published.
I mean talk about “selling” a lot… Hitler even gave Ford a medal after taking millions of dollars to deliver products to American military, disappearing with it and instead showing up as ally of Nazi Germany!
I’m not kidding. That’s real, Ford’s abject failure to deliver as promised is even recorded in US Congressional debates.
Anyway, setting all that dark and serious history aside, here’s my absolute favorite part of this NYT article. I have to screenshot it so you’ll believe me:
Given the Department of Energy (DoE) was created in 1977 by President Carter (August 4 Department of Energy Organization Act abolishing the Federal Energy Administration and Energy Research and Development Administration) it seems very unlikely that the year 1796 is anything but a typo that still hasn’t been corrected.
I mean if America had electric vehicle commitments all the way back to 1796… hooo boy talk about this country being late to deliver on promises of freedom!
Speaking of promises, GM was literally saying in this 1981 article that they soon would be leading the world in electric cars. No, really they were saying how electric was going to be like a whopping 10 percent of their fleet 40 years into the future.
G.M. is planning to put a mass-produced electric car on the road by the mid-1980’s. Alex Mair, vice president in charge of technical staffs, said that by 2020, 10 to 15 percent of G.M.’s total production will be electric vehicles. “We think we’re leading the world this time around,” Mr. Mair said.
Someone could have stopped Mr. Mair right there and replied “10% is the opposite of leading the world, and a 40 year timeline is pathetic…just say never.”
Yeah, that didn’t turn out anything like what GM said. GM and electric car still are like saying oil and water.
But here is where the story gets really interesting, in two parts.
First, news of a breakthrough vehicle being developed by “Gulf and Western Industries” and second, calling out a Datsun employee driving an electric car around Los Angeles.
Earlier in 1980, Gulf and Western Industries announced a zincchloride battery system that David N. Judelson, the company’s president, called “a major achievement in the world of high technology – perhaps one of the most meaningful developments since the turn of the century.” The company said that vehicles powered with its battery had traveled 55 miles per hour for more than 150 miles on a single charge and that the battery system had a life cycle of more than 1,400 recharging cycles, or 200,000 miles.
Art Spinella, who works in public relations for Datsun in Los Angeles, has driven a converted Renault electric car since “the scare of ’73.” He said he just got tired of waiting in long gas lines. Powered by lead-acid batteries, the four-speed, late-60’s-model conversion cost just $600, and will run over 70 miles per hour and travel just over 60 miles before he has to recharge it. “People follow me off the expressway to ask what it is,” Mr. Spinella said, “They sometimes don’t believe what they just saw when I tell them it’s electric.” “Yes,” he added. “They work.”
Did the Datsun guy really plug a Renault (pun not intended)?
And now back to the point of this blog post, the 1980 Datsun electric car for sale.
A campaign called “Yes, they work” isn’t the best one I’ve ever seen. Yet such a definitive statement by Datsun PR in 1981 should have gotten a LOT more attention.
Apparently 1,200s Nissan vehicles without combustion engines were purchased by the US government under the 1970 Clear Air Act (with the 1976 Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act) to make electric cars for power companies and municipality workers; eventually these vehicles ended up in the hands of “Lectra Motors” of Las Vegas.
…vehicles developed and produced in the 1970s still suffered from drawbacks compared to gasoline-powered cars. Electric vehicles during this time had limited performance — usually topping at speeds of 45 miles per hour — and their typical range was limited to 40 miles before needing to be recharged.
That is just not true. “Typical range” and “usually topping” are weasel words because they’re talking averages, hiding the fact that cutting-edge advances of that day proved far, far better performance.
Here’s a late 1970s Lectra 400 brochure blowing away those deflated numbers (top speed over 65 mph, and 70 mile range, both far more than necessary in urban environments).
Let me explain with some more history.
The relationship between all these parties in the late 1970s might sound strange to the modern ear until you roll way back to the end of WWII and consider one of Nissan’s first products under occupation by Allied forces was an electric car.
In 1947, the company succeeded in creating a prototype 2-seater truck (500-kg load capacity) with a 4.5-horsepower motor and a new body design. It was named “Tama” after the area where the company was based. Its top speed was 34 km/h (21 mph). Next, the company created its first passenger car. With two doors and seating for four, it boasted a top speed of 35 km/h (22 mph) and a cruising range of 65 km (40 miles) on a single charge.
In other words, what the Department of Energy was claiming to be 1970s limitations were really from the 1940s! By the 1970s the new electric cars were capable of 70 mph and 70 mile range, far exceeding electric car requirements of that time.
To put it another way, context matters. Tokyo in 1945 had been burned to the ground (over 50% destroyed by months of firebomb raids) and industrial production let alone gasoline was non-existent.
Engineers from a Japanese Aircraft company in Tokyo were hired into Nissan and set about designing an electric car that would restart their country’s infrastructure and commerce.
They immediately put into production a car that could run off hydro-electricity from the mountains outside devastated Tokyo. Electricity infrastructure repairs meant production jumped nearly 55% right after war ended and here you can see hydro’s stability:
Even manufacturing of the car itself was supposedly designed to run on excess electricity in the immediate after-war years. Sure, the car was limited, but it was aircraft engineers redeployed to civilian needs and delivering something where there had been nothing.
There are a lot of “airplane-engineers must have built this” innovation moments when looking at a Tama, especially when you see a battery refuel concept of 1947 giving drivers a fast swap on both sides like reloading wings for bombing runs:
Military engineers designing electric cars after WWII…hold that thought.
Now back to all the fancy sounding language from GM about leading the world in electric vehicles. Remember that? Instead GM used its giant budget to buy a majority stake of small but very plausible emerging electric car companies in Las Vegas to shut them down completely, allegedly even destroying records (if you know of any Lectra files, please let me know).
Any guesses why the Nissan electric car development with the US evaporated in 1981? Ronald Reagan.
It doesn’t get mentioned much, but in 1981 the Reagan Administration asked Japanese automakers to impose a “voluntary export restraint” (VER), which capped at 1.68 million the number of cars Japan could send to the United States each year. Reportedly, this was under threat of an outright tariff, but the VER accomplished just about the same thing.
Thus GM and Reagan ruined an early emerging success story involving Nissan and US government from 1979-1981 — thousands of cars were very briefly released for Gulf and Western (WRI), which were transitioned into LectraMotors run by Albert Joseph Sawyer (per his obituary from 2012).
After moving to Las Vegas in 1960, [the Navy veteran] worked for [Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier defense contractor] as an electrical engineer. In 1974, he made his first electric car. After retiring from EG&G in 1978, he formed LectraMotors to mass produce electric cars. He was a true visionary and pioneer in the electric car industry. Some cars are on the road to this very day.
Here’s how a US government report put it in 1979, with only a brief mention of testing the Lektrikar II, which at that time was still WRI:
And here’s a promotional video for the “advanced Zinc Chloride energy storage system” that boasted of $27 million in US government funding:
Did I say military engineers designing electric cars after WWII? Responding to a Japanese energy crisis in 1946 had quite a lot in common with responding to an American energy crisis in 1976, although I don’t see anyone make the obvious connection here from Nissan’s aeronautical engineers to EG&G’s…
EG&G jobs near Las Vegas meant something rather special. I didn’t find Albert Sawyer’s name on a 1967 drawing from EG&G “Special Projects” team, yet the imagery depicts a certain sentiment about the world for top engineering teams when the CIA terminated their Operation OXCART (SR-71 Blackbird).
Think about the Japanese engineers who built planes, shifting after defeat in WWII to making electric cars, giving those to engineers in America who were shifting from a company making the SR-71 to a new company to mass produce and represent cutting-edge electric cars.
Instead of “Yes, it works” perhaps the PR guy from Datsun could have said something like “If engineers working on our new 310 model can build a real-life R2-D2 astral navigation system for a top-secret long-range, high-altitude, Mach 3+ strategic reconnaissance aircraft, just wait until you see what they can do for the electric car”.
And so we come to the conclusion of this post.
One of these rarest of rare American cars sold by an ex-EG&G engineer’s company Lectra still exists today in Santa Cruz, California because… of course.
The car originally was badged as Datsun (US brand-name for Nissan) 310 Lektrikar II.
Nobody knows how many existed. Again, it is believed GM intentionally destroyed records during the Reagan Administration to cheat history of these emerging electric car projects.
This Lektrikar II has been “modified” over the years but fundamentally it’s always been a fine vehicle by even today’s standards.
Weirdly you will find no mention of any of this real history on Wikipedia’s retelling of electric car history, let alone any other “authoritative” versions of electric car company history in America. It’s almost impossible to find any mention of one at all anywhere.
The surviving Lektrikar II started with eighteen 6V golf-cart batteries (US Battery US-145 Lead-Acid Flooded with 7 front, 11 rear), and replaced them with a simpler array of nine 82-pound Trojan 1275MV automobile 12V Lead-Acid Flooded with 4 front, 5 rear.
The motor is a Prestolite 7.2 inch Series Wound DC 22 HP, with a 4-speed drivetrain and clutch.
And the controller is said to be a Curtis 1221C MOSFET transistor Technology, 15,000 cycles per second, 400 Amps.
It’s for sale… but really the story is that in 1981 the Datsun PR guy was telling people that converting his daily driver car to electric (for 60 mile range capable of 70 mph) cost around $600 and GM was telling the world they would be the leaders in this market while working behind the scene to shut it all down.
If you’ve been a long-time reader of this blog you may recall seeing here before that in the early-2000s the US government left security of critical infrastructure up to the market investors in infrastructure (mainly banks) to figure out.
It was like a “trickle-down” theory of investment bankers showering the littlest critical infrastructure projects with the kind of money they would need to make things safe — at a market-designated level.
I have done critical infrastructure security audits, as well as security strategy consulting, before and after this time. What one might imagine on the outside is very different than what I found on the inside. That is to say, I expect most people (even myself before I started going inside) expect management to be laser focused on safety of service delivery, and willing to invest even a little extra to protect people from harm (capacity and disaster planning).
Yet that hasn’t been my experience.
For example on one engagement I had a bank ask if they should put their investments towards building adjacent bitcoin mining operations in power stations to shove “excess” power into assets they would sell off to an unregulated market.
On another engagement, as I was on my way to hack into the generation and distribution networks (they were weak), management stopped me and said “wait a minute, we care not much if those go down and people are without service, as that’s routine for us; instead please focus attacks on our trading systems and financial operations around billing and pricing” (they were weak too).
To be fair they were saying they could handle dangerous life-threatening accidents because that’s what they have been planning for all along… yet when I probed deeper it was more like they knew that those accidents wouldn’t have an effect on their P&L. Really.
And these were giant even “bulk” organizations, not “small systems” that have less of a fighting chance to argue with banks that may make final decisions on risk management models:
There are over 145,000 active public water systems in the United States (including territories). Of these, 97% are considered small systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning they serve 10,000 or fewer people.
Alas, from an economics standpoint it’s easy to say “poor” American banks do not have the money to spend on public utilities. Yet a wider macro view is probably that American investors with loads of cash to invest made it a conscious market decision since at least 1998 (when I pwned 1,000s of infrastructure routers across five states using clear-text passwords) to not invest in service safety. They’re not cash strapped as much as they’re not regulated in a way that a whole history of relevant accidents and basic common sense would force a cash infusion into the areas we might expect.
Also sometimes I wonder things like why Microsoft’s billionaires even charged utilities to license software for water utilities in the first place… or why the utilities didn’t all shift to software that came without a license, avoiding built-in end-of-life (EOL) and support models wildly inconsistent with their operation plans.
Anyway, here’s the TL;DR on the most recent “news” in America that uses the headline of “cash strapped” Americans (who have been violating basically every basic principle of safe operations even as laid out by the US government for years):
All computers used by plant personnel had remote control
All computers connected to plant’s control system
All computers connected directly to Internet
Out of date OS (Win7 – EOL Jan 2020)
All users share the same password
No network protection (firewall)
Shocking. It doesn’t take much money to fix all of that, especially if you had done it a year ago.
All 14 airmen aboard were killed, but one Air Force general wrote that their sacrifice helped usher in a new era of the AC-130, one where new technology and tactics helped ensure that no gunship has been lost in combat since.
“We owe much to those who sacrificed everything aboard Spirit 03, not only because ‘they gave the last full measure of devotion’ for us, but also because they bequeathed to us, at a critical point in history, the decisive motivation to reinvent the AC-130 for a new challenge and a new century,” wrote now-retired Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks, a career gunship pilot, in the summer 2014 issue of Air Commando Journal.
The lesson from the US military success with the AC-130, however, was not an expensive reinvention of technology and newly dedicated staff as much as what Deming called the statistical control process to improve existing practices — commitment to delivering quality and identifying exposure or risks earlier.
For what it’s worth, in 1980s when “cash strapped” Ford hired Deming he improved safety, quality and changed management practices in those areas. They called it Total Quality Management and focus on lack of cash; he turned risk around so much they soon outperformed GM and became the most profitable car company.
Had Ford stuck with Total Quality Management, it might have avoided many of the problems that have plagued it recently. Instead, as the years rolled by, the concept faded into the background at Ford as its champions retired and were replaced by executives who had other priorities. “U.S. automakers had so much confidence, they felt they had achieved quality and didn’t need to focus on it anymore”…
Perhaps read that insight as Ford was no longer was “cash strapped” so their focus deteriorated and safety declined.
Cash infusions could have actually led to the wrong outcome. Again, it was focus on the wrong things that led to the AC-130 being shot down, and like Deming’s work at Ford maintaining focus on quality is what made a huge difference in safety. Spend as little as possible and no less.
…improved fire control and better sensors really helped, but it was a commitment to be tactically sound that really made the difference,” Hicks wrote. Walter expressed a similar view. “The fundamental lesson learned is to always expect to be fired upon when firing.”
Although losing a brand new, low density-high demand asset like an AC-130J is bad news, this is what testing is for. Better have a permanently grounded plane than one laying on the ground burning in the enemy’s backyard.
And I wonder if we should apply the same lessons domestically. Stop making safety in critical infrastructure about cash moving hands and instead make it about being tactically sound. I don’t mean NERC’s Critical Infrastructure Protection (CIP) either as some of you may remember it was a very cynical game by utilities to avoid NIST 800-53 and pretend they needed their own set of rules so they could ignore them.
We’ve known what happened in a water system in 2021 is what we talked about in 2000 after a water system was compromised, as I said above in my links to blog posts from a decade ago. There have been many, many studies in between then and now.
However, unlike the US military resolve to care deeply about stop loss, the market-driven critical infrastructure seems to have long taken the opposite approach and push the question how many more catastrophes are allowed before they really, really have to care.
I say don’t make it about cash, because it’s always been that way. Take a look at America’s healthcare system for reference. Anyone who says government run health care would be more inefficient is willfully ignoring that the United States pays more per capita on health costs than any advanced country, yet is the only one without universal health care. Cutting out health insurance companies whose sole goal is to manage “cash strapped” issues by pushing huge amounts of money around using a market-based solution could save billions and still improve safety.
In fact, you might say the inflationary cost of security has made safety even less likely to happen because it gives bankers and easy out by claiming the risks are worth not spending on controls. So the less cash-strapped the less secure… could be a logical outcome.
Make it about quality, about tactical soundness, not about opening coffers or another form of congressional-military-industrial-complexity.
The reservoir’s HMI system was connected directly to the internet, without any security appliance defending it or limiting access to it. Furthermore, at the time of the publication, the system did not use any authentication method upon access. This gave the attackers easy access to the system and the ability to modify any value in the system, allowing them, for example, to tamper with the water pressure, change the temperature and more. All the adversaries needed was a connection to the world-wide-web, and a web browser.