Category Archives: Energy

Tesla CEO Gaslighting Autopilot Safety Failures

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.


“2 dead in Tesla crash after car ‘no one was driving’ hits tree”. Source: NBC

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.

Production Beta

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:

Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes in 2019. Source: NHTSA

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:

  • Enabled
  • Purchased FSD
  • Standard Autopilot
  • Lane lines
  • This street

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.

@LyftGift Part One

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.

@LyftGift Part Two

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!

Emergency services personnel stand near the site of the Tesla vehicle crash in Spring, Texas, on April 17, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

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.

Conclusion

As I’ve posted on this blog before

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.

“Ghost” Camaro of Bosnia

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.

Source: jalopnik

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.


One of my readers has sent me a photo showing a Nazi t-shirt proudly being worn next to the car in a fashion shoot (pun not intended), from another version of the story.

Source: hagerty.com

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.

The US AirForce put it like this:

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.

1980 Datsun Electric Car (Lektrikar II) For Sale

Would you buy a 1980 Datsun electric car?

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:

Source: NYT

1796?! Wat.

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.

Let me just stop here to point out right now that the Department of Energy official history of this period is provably false and misleading.

…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:

Source: Foreign Commerce Weekly, Volumes 46-47, 1952

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:

Source: Nissan

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:

Source: Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Program Quarterly Report, United States Department of Energy, Office of Transportation Programs 1979

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).

Source: Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame

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.

More photos:

Is “Cash Strapped” The Right Analysis of American Critical Infrastructure?

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.

And here’s a post I wrote about many of the prior warnings: Was Stuxnet the First?

And here’s a post I wrote (in 2011!) about this exact issue: Chicken LittleStux is Falling

Let me now suggest a different narrative. “Cash strapped” is a military negotiation and planning phrase despite having an enormous amount of money in its budget.

Cash-strapped US military to cut Persian Gulf fleet: USS Harry S Truman will not return to Middle East, leaving only one American carrier group near the strategic Strait of Hormuz

And now for something completely different, look at hard lessons of 1991 when a missile downed an AC-130 gunship and how the US military responded.

America decided not one more AC-130 would be lost to attack. And 30 years later it’s still true. Was it cash infusion? No.

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.

Here’s the money quote from the story of how an AC-130 program now has run three decades without any attacker forcing one down.

…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.”

They don’t say the fundamental lesson is a cash infusion (in fact they brush that away as “really helped, but”). They certainly spent some money and also had some accidents — but it was focus on quality that mattered most.

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.


See also 2020: “What We’ve Learned from the December 1st Attack on an Israeli Water Reservoir?

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.

The Future-Future of Aircraft Carriers

The impressively huge Aircraft Carrier was a decisive platform in past wars and still gets a lot of airtime (pun not intended).

…when word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘where’s the nearest carrier?’

However, I can’t help but think about it in terms of a commoditization line over history.

What I mean to say is that there is a line that goes from the 1960s drone war being conducted on a mainframe in a few high-security buildings, all the way to warfare today being done using mobile phones in everyone’s pocket.

Take the core concept of the “carrier”. In today’s commodity technology terms I believe you get an autonomous sea box of tiny drones ready to swarm.

Source: Louisiana-based shipbuilder Metal Shark, selected to develop and implement the Long Range Unmanned Surface Vessel (LRUSV) System for the United States Marine Corps

One of the lessons of the 1980 failed operation Eagle Claw, for example, was they came up one single aircraft short of a complete mission.

Imagine telling that story instead where the numbers of aircraft launched from sea are no hurdle at all — opposite problem really, as you have surplus of highly operational units.

The sea launch platform already was pioneered a while ago by submarines launching drones out of their missile tubes. And the Navy many years ago was manually launching swarms of 50 drones. Surely by now they’ve combined these two advances into tubes at sea having a magazine attached.

Now flatten the carrier to waterline (e.g. into a Low Visibility Craft or LVC) to remove its target profile, and with a towline attach a submarine filled with sensors and tubes of hundreds or thousands or drones.

It would look like a fatter version of the 2016 Wave Glider submersible by Liquid Robotics.

Obviously this means surface vessels could easily reload by picking up another tow-line submersible, bringing resupply buoys (forward docking stations) into the picture on “long line” deployments.

Also I can’t help but mention this is very similar to what was being designed in the late 1800s and even demonstrated by Tesla himself, so we’re on a very late cycle of adoption (postponed by WWI emphasis on maintaining control over petroleum distribution).

The drones could launch undersea or on surface. Either way it’s a far more modern take on an old solution, for an even older problem in warfare.

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.”

This Day in History: 1945 US Dropped Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan

Japanese cities destroyed by strategic bombing in World War II. Source: “Tokyo vs. Hiroshima,” Alex Wellerstein, September 22, 2014

The usual story told in American history classes is that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan saved American lives. This is mostly false.

Studies now show nearly as many Americans died from nuclear radiation and fallout during creation of these bombs, as died in Japan from the bombs being dropped.

Source: “Some Unintended Fallout from Defense Policy: Measuring the Effect of Atmospheric Nuclear Testing on American Mortality Patterns,” Keith Meyers, University of Arizona

One might still say American soldier lives were saved at the time these two bombs were dropped (instead of invasion), even if so many Americans were killed at shockingly high rates for decades afterwards.

The problem with this theory is the atomic bombs didn’t force surrender either.

Nonetheless a story told in American policy circles has been that dropping two bombs on Japan proved such a level of superiority in warfare (“assured destruction”), it somehow suddenly compelled the Japanese to immediately give up… not to mention a story also told that atomic bombs held the Soviets at bay afterwards. All this unfortunately is false history (see “Hidden Hot Battle Lessons of Cold War“, for additional perspective).

Here is Truman’s famous June 1st, 1945 speech calling on Japan to surrender, just to set the context of what the public was hearing at the time:

Take note that the warning was after massive bombing campaigns like March 9-10, 1945 where some 330 B-29 bombers burned 40 square miles of wood-built Tokyo to the ground killing over 100,000 civilians.

Source: “A Forgotten Horror: The Great Tokyo Air Raid,” Time, March 27, 2012

However Japan didn’t fear civilian casualty loads and couldn’t have really understood at the time why this new bomb mattered in August after a long summer of entire cities being destroyed. In a chillingly ironic manner US military leaders also didn’t fear civilian casualties.

Source: “Dar-win or Lose: the Anthropology of Security Evolution,” RSA Conference 2016

Japanese leaders instead greatly feared Soviet declaration of war on them. They thought Stalin’s shift to formal enemy would very negatively alter the terms of surrender (Soviets no longer would mediate a surrender that Japan had been asking about for weeks before the bombs were dropped).

I don’t write these things to be provocative, rather to help us better educate people about the past and also to plan for the future. Perpetuating a false narrative doesn’t do America any favors. And most of what I’m writing here is old news.

In 2013 for example Foreign Policy published “The Bomb Didn’t Beat Japan … Stalin Did

Japanese historians contended it was the USSR declaring war against Japan that convinced their Emperor and gov that surrender was the only option.

In fact American propaganda dropped into Japan at that time (translated here to English) emphasized the Red Army invading, a “ring of steel” approaching with no mention of bombs at all.

Source: “Paper Bullets: a Brief Story of Psychological Warfare in World War II” Leo J. Margolin, 1946

Japan referred to atomic bombs like a “single drop of rain in the midst of a hurricane”, given that they already had seen months-long fire-bomb raids of Tokyo that left it over 50% destroyed with 300,000 burned alive and 750,000 injured.

The reason Tokyo wasn’t targeted with atomic bombs was it was too destroyed already — atomic effect wouldn’t have been measurable (125,000 were killed in atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which would mean it was similar in effect or even less than a single night of the fire bomb raids hitting Tokyo for months)

Two years before the Foreign Policy piece, a 2011 article in Boston papers offered the following insightful analysis in “Why did Japan surrender?

“Hasegawa has changed my mind,” says Richard Rhodes, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb.” “The Japanese decision to surrender was not driven by the two bombings.” […] “The bomb – horrific as it was – was not as special as Americans have always imagined. …more than 60 of Japan’s cities had been substantially destroyed by the time of the Hiroshima attack, according to a 2007 International Security article by Wilson, who is a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. In the three weeks before Hiroshima, Wilson writes, 25 cities were heavily bombed. To us, then, Hiroshima was unique, and the move to atomic weaponry was a great leap, military and moral. But Hasegawa argues the change was incremental. “Once we had accepted strategic bombing as an acceptable weapon of war, the atomic bomb was a very small step,” he says. To Japan’s leaders, Hiroshima was yet another population center leveled, albeit in a novel way. If they didn’t surrender after Tokyo, they weren’t going to after Hiroshima.

It’s very hard to argue with these common sense points. Massive civilian casualties were mounting and having little effect. Did novelty of a bomb that was a secret suddenly change minds? Even common sense would say no, and the historical record increasingly confirms this.

Or as DW puts it in their documentary, why did American drop a second bomb on Nagasaki if that Hiroshima one supposedly could send a message to surrender?

Video F18ODD8YyuE deleted from YouTube

Or here’s the BBC “accounts of American justification” for dropping a second bomb.

Civilian suffering had never coerced Tokyo to change tactics, and these bombs also failed in that sense. Hiroshima was the 69th city in Japan destroyed by bombing and Nagasaki wasn’t even the primary target (chosen after primary target had unfavorable weather) so it was destroyed just for the sake of bombing someplace at all.

In the end, America dropped these bombs most probably to see what the effects of dropping atomic bombs would be (expressed in the now deleted DW video above as “…my mother fell apart like dry sand when I touched her foot…”) and then the US Air Force created a supporting narrative to justify continuing the program.

Historians have been trying to explain the false stories away ever since.

Drone Countermeasures Against Laser Weapons

I’ve been getting involved in a counter-drone market for many years now, including time spent in government offices with operators discussing the “latest” technology advances. Not everyone seems excited to hear about details in this area of security research.

One thing that regularly has come up is whether the venerable laser weapons are yet effective. I have to use the term venerable because the US Air Force itself will tell you they’ve been experimenting with lasers shooting down drones since the early 1970s (according to AFD-070404-025).

…1972 when technicians fired a ground­ based 100 kilowatt CO2 laser that propagated at 10.6 microns against a variety of stationary targets. The tests went so well the project elevated to firing the laser at a moving airborne target. On November 13, 1973, the laser was used against a 12 ­foot­ long Northrop MQM­33B
radio controlled aerial target, a drone, in an attempt to knock it out of the air. Indeed, the drone did drop, but not precisely as planned.

Northrop (Radioplane) OQ-19/KD2R/MQM-33 drone was produced for over four decades

In theory the laser tracks the target drone and then emits hot light to melt inexpensive plastic. Popular Mechanics has just posted a good example of this theory being turned into real-world application, called “This Is How a Laser Weapon Torches Drones Out of the Sky“.

Unfortunately the story was written around “a simple promotional video for Rafael’s Drone Dome, an anti-drone laser weapon”, making it a bit of PR extending the PR released by the manufacturer themselves.

Instead of taking the video at face value, better analysis is in order.

Here are a few thoughts on why perhaps it’s not such a bright idea (pun intended) for journalists to uncritically post a laser vendor’s demonstration.

1) Light reflection. Mirrors are a simple and logical countermeasure. As Dr. Seuss might put it, any chrome drone would bounce a drone dome. The dissipation of energy, to be fair, isn’t child’s play so the mirrors have problems to tackle. But an Office of Navy Research is definitely proving the point with their work on Counter Directed Energy Weapons. More to the point, the Air Force says the latest reflective anti-heat technology developed for energy efficient buildings (windows and roofs) is something that could be applied to all their weapons systems.

2) Dissipation of energy. In a famous case in Mexico, a liquid-cooled door greatly slowed police battering rams. The point here really is to push energy into heat sinks or disposable parts to slow absorption. Again, energy efficient buildings are developing things like phase change materials to absorb energy that easily could be applied to drones. Slowing the energy effectiveness on the drones could mean a moderately-sized swarm might easily overwhelm or avoid laser weapons.

3) Obfuscation. Both above technologies have very useful civilian applications, and thus are likely to improve faster than any expensive laser weapon can innovate. There’s also a more traditional countermeasure, which is to foul the environment a laser has to pass through. Drones could generate a synthetic cloud or fog. A swarm of drones could even create a blanket or corridor that renders laser weapons ineffective. NASA a couple years ago described a version of this working.

10 canisters about the size of a soft drink can will be deployed in the air, 6 to 12 miles away from the 670-pound main payload. The canisters will deploy between 4 and 5.5 minutes after launch forming blue-green and red artificial clouds.

Again slowing down the laser weapon is all that is needed. As one counter-counter-drone researcher put it to me “the glitter bomb is a zero cost defense”.

4) Counterattack. Lasers depend on being able to see, and be seen, so drones can fire lasers back at the source in order to blind the tracking systems or disrupt the light waves.

There are four devastating examples and more probably exist. In every one it’s economics, a matter of having inexpensive and rapidly iterating countermeasures that bypass the extremely expensive and slow-developing laser weapons.

Let me be clear, laser weapons are effective against operations that are not explicitly trying to build countermeasures to laser weapons. There is still a need for laser weapons. However, journalists do us no favors by promoting vendor PR and repeating nonsense like “100% effective”, given we have nearly 50 years of evidence how and why laser weapons fail.

Interactive Map of U.S. Supply-Chain Vulnerabilities

Years ago I wrote about the secret history that lurks behind a famous American dessert.

Nobody else, at least to my knowledge, has been thinking and writing about the supply-chain vulnerability management required for America to promote itself as home of the banana split.

Now there’s an interactive map of supply-chain vulnerabilities, which seems like it would be ideal for speeding up research and illustrating stories like the one I wrote.

FEW-View™ is an online educational tool that helps U.S. residents and community leaders visualize their supply chains with an emphasis on food, energy, and water. This tool lets you see the hidden connections and benchmark your supply chain’s sustainability, security, and resilience.

FEW-View™ is developed by scientists at Northern Arizona University and at the Decision Theater® at Arizona State University. FEW-View™ is an initiative of the FEWSION™ project, a collaboration between scientists at over a dozen universities (https://fewsion.us/team/).

FEWSION™ was founded in 2016 by a grant from the INFEWS basic research program of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The opinions expressed are those of the researchers, and not necessarily the funding agencies.

However, there are two problems I see already with the map. First, it doesn’t go backward in time. The illustrations would be far more useful if I could pivot through 1880 to 1980. Second, the interactive maps allow you to break out a booze category but I have yet to find a way to filter on bananas and pineapples let alone ingredients for three flavors of ice cream.