US Secret Service Intercepts “Functional” Bombs

News station WFSB is reporting that four attempted bomb attacks over three days have been thwarted by the Secret Service and others:

The bombs were found just two days after an explosive device was discovered in the mailbox of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who frequently donates to liberal causes.

Official investigators told the Associated Press the attacks are linked. A DC law enforcement official told CNN the devices appear rudimentary but functional.

After the attack on Soros Tuesday, the following attacks happened Weds morning:

  • Hillary Clinton
  • Barack Obama
  • Time Warner Center, home of CNN

The Secret Service statement (PDF) says two of the attacks were blocked because “routine mail screening procedures” that detects “potential explosive devices”. It does not mention processes that detected a bomb in the mail room of CNN.

The bomb attack at the New York residence of Soros has been described as hand-delivered.

…markings on the envelope were likely intended to make it appear as though the package was sent through the mail, though they believed it was not.

Related: “Trump links New York bomb attack to immigration debate

“Today’s attempted mass murder attack in New York City … once again highlights the urgent need for Congress to enact legislative reforms to protect the American people,” Trump said in a statement.


It is not the first time that Trump has quickly seized on a terrorist attack, in this country or abroad, to argue for his … agenda. Yet the president’s reaction contrasts with his response after violence involving American nationals.

Scooter Companies Charged With ‘Gross Negligence’

File this lawsuit news under things that anyone with a history degree could have predicted:

The suit alleges that e-scooter companies knew their riders were injuring pedestrians and –– by failing to stop the collisions from occurring –– assisted and encouraged scooter riders as they committed “assaults.”

The suit also states that both companies’ scooters contain defective electronics and mechanical parts, as well inadequate safety instructions for riders and that they have “a wanton disregard for the safety of others.” The risks posed by the devices, the suit states, “were known and/or knowable” based on “professional knowledge” known within the transportation community.

Scooters weren’t going to magically become safe, by increasing their supply and decreasing barriers to abuse (i.e. powered to a quick and high top speed at no cost to rider).

Another way of looking at this is to consider how Vespa was born out of WWII and became wildly successful, was banned, and then returned again.

Conversion of Italian warplane engineering to civilian mobility in war-ravaged Europe birthed the famous aeronautical-looking scooters of the 1950s. They were cheap and convenient for rebuilding markets after war, so the concept boomed.

Fast-forward to the 1970s and the scooters were being banned due to air quality concerns, in a large part related to their success. So many engines had been accumulating massive technical and healthcare debt, dumping toxins into the air without paying for consequences, legislation had to be passed:

Having returned to the US in 2000 after exiting the market in 1985 because of new emissions legislation that targeted two stroke engines, the Vespa was an immediate success all over again

And being a success all over again is a good thing, right? I believe that’s called innovation.

The birthplace of the Vespa has even banned 2-stroke engine versions for the same reason, air quality harms:

…environment assessor Italo Porcile is determined not to give in to the pressure.

‘I love the Vespino, I used to have one myself,’ he said. ‘But the ‘Euro 0′ (a model produced before 1999) pollutes terribly and public health is more important’.

Piaggio, which started off producing locomotives and then fighter planes, came up with the Vespa after the Second World War, when the country’s roads, severely damaged by bombing, were crying out for an alternative to cars for the masses.

With the 2-stroke air negligence version banned, scooter manufacturers are only now investing in superior engineering options:

Elettrica is propelled by an electric motor claiming peak output of 5.3 hp (with a continuous output of 2.7 hp) and more than 147.5 lb-ft. of torque, which Piaggio says is superior performance to a traditional 50cc gasoline-powered scooter

Scooters being dumped on sidewalks and running into pedestrians is literally the opposite of innovation. The lawsuit again negligent scooter manufacturers is an unfortunate start, though clearly what scooter developers really needed sooner was a regulatory wake-up to spur them into more innovative designs.

USAF Needs to Get a Handle on Costs

Nothing says AirForce like spending $1300 to replace a coffee mug because…safety

The cups, which plug into outlets on cargo planes to reheat liquids such as water or coffee, have a faulty plastic handle that easily breaks when the cups are dropped. And because replacement parts for the cup are no longer made, the Air Force has had to order a whole new cup when the handle breaks.

In an Oct. 2 letter to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Grassley said that 25 replacement cups, each costing roughly $1,280 each, have been bought this year alone, for a total of roughly $32,000.

That’s a latte money.

Congress apparently wants to get a grip on the situation and a brewhaha has started.

Quick, someone introduce these air crews to iced coffee before the bean counters bring the entire program to a grinding halt.

They Shall Not Grow Old: Color and Dub Revives WWI Footage

When you watch the footage from this new film, based on old footage, you should ponder if adding color and voices give it more impact as an educational tool:

All school children in the UK now are expected to watch it. The title comes from Binyon’s 21 September 1914 poem “For the Fallen

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

His words were meant to capture the tone after an August 1914 outbreak of war, where the German Army invaded Luxembourg and Belgium on the “Western Front”. British commitments to uphold Belgian neutrality (as well as Anglo-French naval agreement of 1912) led it to declare war in response and send forces into France.

Some have pointed out England’s response was very unlike their entry into Napoleonic wars where England delayed until 1803 coming to the aid of other nations. However, this provocative thinking is ignorant of history, as Britain faced a very different geo-political situation with the German invasion. Napoleon initially presented the opposite scenario, as his seizure of power within France came with an offering to stabilize and end hostility, given the “1801 Peace of Amiens“.

The treaty was welcomed with such enthusiasm by the British public that on returning to London with Bonaparte’s ratification of the preliminaries the First Consul’s ADC, Lauriston, was welcomed by a huge crowd that unhitched the horses and pulled his carriage through the streets shouting ‘Vive Bonaparte!’. […] “In less than two and a half years that is from 18 Brumaire (9 November, 1799) to 25 March, 1802, the date of the Peace of Amiens, France passed from the debasement into which the Directory had plunged her, to the foremost rank in Europe.”

That moment of celebration and hope for peaceful trade definitely was not the situation a year later, when Britain suddenly realized in 1803 they faced complete loss of economic control (Napoleon stated England deserved no voice in global affairs). Germany in 1914, like France in 1803, was threatening Britain’s empire. Delay didn’t seem to be a real option in 1914, given early attempts at German defeat (no matter how unlikely) could avoid another protracted decade-long Napoleonic war situation (1803–1815).

The 1914 German attack threatened stability and safety across Europe and beyond as it violently pushed all the way into France reaching the eastern Paris outskirts. From September 6th to the 10th, six French armies and the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) counter-attacked along the Marne River and defeated the German Army, forcing retreat northwest.

On 9 September Bülow learned that the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was advancing into the gap between his 2nd Army and Kluck. He ordered a retreat, obliging Kluck to do the same. The counterattack of the French 5th and 6th Armies and the BEF developed into the First Battle of the Marne, a general counter-attack by the French Army. By 11 September the Germans were in full retreat.

This remarkable change in fortunes was caused partially by the exhaustion of many of the German forces: some had marched more than 240km (150 miles), fighting frequently. The German advance was also hampered by demolished bridges and railways, constricting their supply lines, and they had underestimated the resilience of the French.

France suffered approximately 250,000 casualties in this battle as German forces desperately tried to take Paris. Germany refused to acknowledge their losses. And BEF casualties were recorded as 12,733. Perhaps most significantly, BEF losses signaled the significance of an allied front against German aggression. Some still debate had the BEF and French armies gone further, whether they could have ended German campaigns early and entirely.

A battle in September 1914 thus is considered one of the most important in WWI history, as German retreat at Paris destroyed the “Schlieffen Plan”; quick victory in the West was meant to allow focus on attacking Russia. Instead, Germany was forced to dig in for a protracted war on two fronts. Despite being able to regroup after this battle, ultimately German defeat four years later meant nearly 3 million of its own people killed.

“They Shall Not Grow Old”, named after a September 1914 poem, commemorates in new ways how the British decided to act early and decisively in response to German aggression, saving France and Russia from occupation.

An original written copy of “For the Fallen” has been digitized by the British Library.

‘FOR THE FALLEN’: autograph copy of poem by Robert Laurence Binyon, C.H., made for presentation to the Museum; 1938. First published in The Times, 21 Sept. 1914, and in book form in The Winnowing-Fan, 1914, pp. 28, 29.

Now, as you just read it, did you ponder whether adding color would help? Is that ink black or blue? What is the true shade of the paper?

Can Facebook Be Made Safe After Stamos?

The hits keep coming against Facebook’s CSO, as details of his breaches expand dramatically. Here’s the screenshot forwarded to me by a concerned reader:

Apparently two weeks passed with fiddles playing while the vulnerability languished. This hints at an organization awash in staff and money unable to execute on safety. One could say it is the legacy of one man, Alex Stamos.

I’ve written about this quite a bit and maybe here I should add that this really is about managing security mindset at the top of the pyramid.

Mark Zuckerberg built not just a business, but a company culture with the fervor of a messianic sect

When the messiah doesn’t make customer privacy a priority, a CSO is collecting paychecks and getting rich while people suffer. It is like being a doctor for a cult leader who runs a hospital and doesn’t believe in soap, so you sit there watching germs spread among those you provide “care”, killing women who give birth.

That seems worse than just being bad at the job, because it implies knowing things aren’t getting any better yet staying on claiming things are fine, just fine.

So what comes next? Show me a cult leader who was able to recognize an external authority, and we might have clues to the answer.

Many people may have speculated that CEO of Facebook was traveling around meeting people in order to run for some political office. This overlooks the fact that he has no interest in quaint concepts of democracy or election. Do you see anything democratic in a Facebook management organization when black hires sit at zero percent?

Zuckerberg profits from a cult-like obsession with knowing everything about his followers in order to get their likes. He apparently sees little or no value in protecting his followers from harm. In reality he has been researching how his confession-like service would be modified to increase his control over users:

Christian publications interpreted Zuckerberg’s remarks in different ways; some said he was suggesting the social network should draw inspiration from the church, while others fretted he was envisioning a future where Facebook replaces the church. […]

“As I’ve traveled around and learned about different places, one theme is clear: Every great community has great leaders,” he said.

“Think about it. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter.”

Food and shelter. Is there a pastor who cares for privacy?

And so it came to pass that in every town where the CEO of Facebook visited, he went inside their religious centers looking for ways to convert followers of others to his own sect.

These are not the actions of a man who is thinking about things like granting privacy to people. Safety of his flock in terms of privacy remains an open question, but at least the ruse of security was forced out by regulators.

Transit Management Leaders: Copenhagen Bans Cars; Sweden Halves Pedestrian Deaths

Copenhagen is estimating a $1-2 million gain every day — that’s right, EVERY DAY — when people in the city ride bicycles instead of drive cars. Since the biggest friction to cycling is the fact that cars kill those around them either immediately (crash) or slow and painfully (disease), a great deal of money and time is being spent by the Danes to isolate cars and reduce societal harms.

In other words, restricting the violence of cars enables Copenhagen’s population to flourish in multiple ways:

The city’s investment in impressive cycling infrastructure is paying off in multiple ways. For not only are there many health benefits to getting more people to use bikes, there are some serious economic gains too. Cycling is a great, low-impact form of exercise which can build muscle, bone density, and increase cardiovascular fitness. Figures from the finance minister suggests that every time someone rides 1 km on their bike in Copenhagen, the city experiences an economic gain of 4.80 krone, or about 75 US cents. If that ride replaces an equivalent car journey, the gain rises to 10.09 krone per km, or around $1.55. And with 1.4 million km cycled every day, that’s a potential benefit to the city of between $1.05m and $2.17m, daily.

That’s the World Economic Forum reporting these numbers, and perhaps even more impressive is the risk management graph they offer readers. Apparently Copenhagen has invested an average of $10m each year over 13 years in cycling infrastructure, which is now believed to return benefits of $300-600m each year. Here is what the investment return looks like in terms of safety and ridership:

As distance ridden on bicycles goes up, health risks go down significantly across the population. That is just health risk related directly to cycling, as there will be additional health risk reductions in terms of physical and mental fitness. The World Economic Forum turns to UK data on this point:

…a single ‘cycling city’ worth £377 million to the National Health Service in healthcare cost savings

I wrote the other day about a cities around the world that are banning cars altogether in their city center, some on an accelerated 5-year timeline such as Oslo and Madrid.

Given all the data above, it should come as no surprise Copenhagen is considering the same road forward and banning cars entirely from some neighborhoods.

Don’t worry Americans, we also have a few car-free neighborhoods, believe it or not. My favorite part of a study of where to live in America without danger from cars is the disclaimer at the beginning of the list:

New York City is not included in this listing. If it was, neighborhoods from that city would dominate the entire list. In fact, you could place the whole of Manhattan on this list as only 5% of residents use a car for their daily trips

With the most-successful city out of the running, the list then goes on to recommend being in the Tenderloin of SF. The author clearly hasn’t tried riding down the infamous Golden Gate corridor of Tenderloin cars parked or driving in the bike lanes.

Why anyone would eliminate the best option in America and then recommend living in a filthy run-down neighborhood with awful bike and pedestrian access options…is beyond this blog post. But it definitely shows American analysts often don’t understand this transit topic.

First, they don’t factor for overall health improvements as a function of car-less urban spaces. They just draw a circle around transit stations and measure nothing else. That isn’t how this works.

Second, based on the radius of the circle they think like car drivers and assume you are better off living directly above a subway as if it’s a straight substitute for having a car in your garage. Remember at the start of this post how the distance traveled by foot/bike leads to multiple facets of financial and health improvement?

Forget about the model where you roll out of bed and stumble into an elevator that drops you into a car so you can avoid using a muscle. Wrong quality of life model.

Notice that the author admits these errors in analysis, without even realizing it:

…this area of San Francisco is known for drugs and crime, it is surrounded by very desirable places to live. It’s also lies adjacent to the rapid transit line, BART

Yeah, go live in the desirable places surrounding the transit line, not inside the train station. Moreover, let’s be honest here, the author also regurgitates an old American white supremacist trope, probably without even knowing.

All of San Francisco is known for drugs, and crime is widespread. You literally can’t go to a neighborhood in SF and find it free of drugs. This tracks to the rather sad fact that Nixon’s racist “war on drugs” still lives on, giving people the impression urban areas are dangerous because “drugs and crime” (Nixon’s propagandist way of saying blacks and pacifists).

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities [by turning them into rubble and building highways through]

In fact, the only reason Highway 101 abruptly ends at Octavia and does not cut through the Haight (a formerly black neighborhood) and Golden Gate Park as planned is because civil-rights protests blocked “disruption” for white-flight-suburb road construction. There is no highway to this day running through urban SF because quality of life protests against it meant the successful rejection of white supremacist propaganda, which meant streets and houses instead of overpasses and parking lots.

Tenderloin is not more dangerous than the Mission area, which also lies “adjacent to the rapid transit line”, and it certainly is not more dangerous than the Marina if you are measuring getting raped by white football player who just moved to SF to party and “get some” before getting appointed to Vice President or the Supreme Court.

Nixon was elected because he said things like blacks can’t handle drugs, and he enacted policies to incarcerate blacks and not whites for the same behaviors. And that’s just a modern version of America First, which in the early 1900s under President Wilson argued non-whites (Irish, German, Blacks…) couldn’t handle liquor.

Prohibition was passed to destroy black lives, while whites could continue producing and drinking because notes from wealthy/connected doctors cited “medicinal” reasons.

Anyway, if you want to cite SF, look at the SOMA neighborhood sitting at the head of the CalTrain station, adjacent to the new high-speed rail station, and also on the new north-south local transit line, which will feed into BART, not to mention on the water with easy access to the ferry.

SOMA has far superior pedestrian, cycle and transit options to the Tenderloin or any other neighborhood in the city. This tracks historically to SOMA having amazing trolley grids before the car enthusiasts ripped it all up to drive up air/noise pollution and cause traffic jams as their preferred lifestyle.

Ok, back to the Scandinavian leaders in transit management. Sweden in 1997 set about trying to cut down to zero the number of pedestrians killed by cars. The strategy used has produced impressive results, yet nowhere near the kind of zero-death safety they had targeted:

Since the scheme began, road deaths have almost halved: 270 people died in road accidents in Sweden in 2016. Twenty years earlier the figure was 541.

America lags so far behind on this topic, its numbers are in a completely different ballpark. While Sweden is annoyed that it only has seen a 50% reduction in death from cars, some states in the US are actually tracking increases. Texas, for example, apparently is aborting human life at an alarming rate by repeatedly failing to address cars as a threat to health.

NSC estimates traffic fatalities in Texas have jumped 7 percent from 2015 to 2017

This is not normal, or acceptable, and could easily be going the other direction. NY proves to the rest of America what needs to be done, by deploying solutions similar to those proven in Denmark and Sweden:

NSC estimates traffic fatalities in New York fell 3 percent last year and have dropped 15 percent over the last two years. Safety advocates say the decline may be due to New York City’s push to eliminate traffic deaths by lowering speed limits, adding bike lanes and more pedestrian shelters.

“Changes like those being made in New York can save lives,” said [Deborah Hersman, CEO of the National Safety Council]

When NYC releases the financial and healthcare benefits that derive from fewer cars, maybe it will help steer the discussion forward in Texas. Seems unlikely, though, as Texans do not seem to be pro-life as much as they think their success is measured by ability to collect and carelessly operate things that kill others.

American cities in places like Texas paint a stark contrast to the quality of life stories around the world, and especially Scandinavia, that highlight enabling people with the freedom to live, without being unjustly harmed. The automobile industry is going through a transformation that will be wise to learn from the leaders, gaining trust in urban areas committed to freedom and justice through respect for diverse ideas and modes of movement.

American transit managers of the southern states who watch their neighbors and friends be killed by drivers without feeling any guilt should in the near future be about as common as politicians today who would look the other way when they see slave drivers.

Postdiction: Setting Perceptions of an Earlier Event

Everyone knows about prediction, because we often discuss how best we can accurately see into the future. Who predicted this? Consider also the opposite, postdiction, where we discuss how best we can accurately see into the past. Who postdicted this?

Researchers at Caltech are calling their emerging research in this area an insight into time-traveling. Really it’s just manipulating integrity of stored data. With prediction we would say someone has true clarity of what will come. With postdiction the brain can have true clarity of what has been.

Caltech researchers have developed two new illusions that reveal how the senses can influence each other — in particular, how sound can give rise to visual illusions. These illusions occur so quickly that they illustrate a phenomenon called postdiction (as opposed to prediction) in which a stimulus that occurs later can retroactively affect our perceptions of an earlier event.

[…] how does the brain determine reality with information from multiple senses that is at times noisy and conflicting? The brain uses assumptions about the environment to solve this problem. When these assumptions happen to be wrong, illusions can occur as the brain tries to make the best sense of a confusing situation. We can use these illusions to unveil the underlying inferences that the brain makes.

In brief, the experiments manipulate the brain by associating a sound to only two of three images. The brain later believes it saw only two images because it heard no sound for one of the three images; a simple trick to make things seem invisible when they lack the data of other things.

This seems to be an inverse method to distraction, which nets the same result. Instead of drawing someone’s attention away for a single event, add a stream of data for all events, then remove it during an attack to hide it.

A History of Rubber-Hose Cryptanalysis

Lately I often have been asked about cloud counter-measures to rubber-hose risks, and as I begin to explain I get interrupted with “wait, hold on, but why is it called rubber-hose?”

It is a fair question and, as a historian, I am eager to indulge those willing to ask a “how did we get here from there” security question.

Rubber-hose implies a means a type of physical torture used to extract a secret without leaving evidence of torture.

Physical Torture to Break American Cryptography

To understand why this phrase is so commonly used in America, we have to remember first that slave rebellions in 1830s led to a reign of brutal white-supremacist terror escalating until they started a full Civil War in 1861.

New York abolished slavery in 1827, around the same time many countries around the world were doing the same. Abolition and/or laws prohibiting slavery spread quickly:
1824 – Mexico
1831 – Bolivia
1831 – Brazil
1833 – England
1835 – France
1836 – Portugal

An important footnote here is that the Mexican abolitionist movement greatly angered white immigrants to Mexico. These settlers to the “wild” Texas territory demanded they be allowed to keep slaves.

This came to a head at the Alamo in 1836 when violent secession formed a new nation for slavery. That is right, every time you hear someone say “Remember the Alamo” think of white supremacists expressing pride at preserving slavery while globally it was condemned.

This fits a pattern more widespread, that between 1831 and 1861 many US slaveholders thought a “reign of terror” was their best method of preserving white power.

In case you are wondering, encryption was very present in America during the next 30 years, and needed key management that could withstand physical torture by those who did not want slavery to end.

Had the US not declared independence from the King of England, slavery arguably would have ended in the US by 1834 if not earlier.

Alas, this was not to be the case under a pro-slavery President Jackson who had been elected in 1829. By 1835, around the time of Texas seceding to preserve slavery, Jackson was harshly criminalizing speech in order to prevent even the discussion of abolition (his federal Postmaster General Kendall was ordered to intercept and inspect mail).

As you can imagine, encryption becomes very useful for those working towards freedom under a white supremacist President inspecting all mail.

The punishment for anyone discussing abolition was severe. Abraham Lincoln famously gave a speech in 1838 condemning the surveillance and torture methods used upon Americans who believed in the kind of freedom found in other nations:

Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every road side; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest.

Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, of any thing of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.

Such are the effects of mob law; and such are the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark.

Sadly a great many Americans, from large plantation owner to poor white laborers, aspired to dreams of sudden wealth by harming others. America, long after the rest of the world was moving in a better direction, continued to think of an expansion of slavery practices as their get-rich-quick scheme.

Certain American men, as well as their enablers, kept arguing that the Constitution “enriched” whites by giving them the exclusive right to torture and murder without penalty as long as they were preserving their right to leisure time and preference for avoiding work by playing golf instead. There is a simple reason why many golf courses to this day market themselves by highlighting pro-slavery terrorists:

When Southwick G.C. in Graham, North Carolina first opened in 1969, it was known as Confederate Acres G.C. for no apparent reason other than to appeal to golfers who might be [pro-slavery].

Mountaintop G. & Lake C. in Cashiers, North Carolina one of the newest members of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses, has in its clubhouse suites named in honor of Confederate generals such as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Turner Ashby, all of whom fought [to preserve slavery] alongside early Cashiers resident General Wade Hampton

Yes, golf courses around America are out in the open about being pro-slavery, as if it is comforting to golfers if they can celebrate men who tortured and murdered Americans to enrich themselves. But I digress…

Managing secrets in the 1840s context of Americans surviving torture and murder by violent pro-slavery militants, even Edgar Allen Poe by 1843 entered the fray, publishing instructions in a story set in South Carolina to help increase the use of cryptograms. It was his most popular story during his lifetime.

In 1844 President Adams was elected and overturned the Jackson ban on free speech, but torture and murder by pro-slavery terrorists continued to rise. Although Texas agreed to annexation by the US in 1845 they came with the stated hard requirement that slavery remain legal (foreshadowing their second secession, remembering the Alamo by declaring a war on abolitionists again in 1861).

It was because John Brown witnessed the wholesale torture and murder of abolitionists at this time that he became compelled to answer with force the literally burning question “are we free or are we slaves under Southern mob law?” His forceful attempts ended with his execution in 1859. And his demise was thought by slaveholders in 1860 as a great victory; sort of a proof at the highest federal levels that brutally murdering abolitionists and slaves carried no consequences, while resistance to slavery would continue to be fatal.

And yet the situation worsened further, with abolition demands of course growing. By 1861 the white mobs who had for three decades been torturing and murdering fellow Americans raised their violence even further and declared an all-out war to preserve slavery.

At this point I just want to mention key management in American history continues to be documented. Now it is soldiers in the US Army talking about fighting to preserve the Union, deploying encryption that has to withstand attacks by people who would torture anyone just to continue slavery practices.

Here’s an example from “The Military Telegraph During the Civil War in the United States: an Exposition of Ancient and Modern Means of Communication, and of the Federal and Confederate Cipher System” by code-breaker Captain William R. Plum

Fast Forward to the Rubber Hose Years

With the 1860s encryption in mind, we need to skip 100 years ahead to the 1960s. The American south still had white supremacists infiltrating departments of authority such as the police as a means to perpetuate their unjust power over non-whites, through violent means including torture.

Freedom riders gives a good snapshot of the situation at hand, no pun intended:

Freedom Riders is the powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961, more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives—and many endured savage beatings and imprisonment—for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South. Deliberately violating Jim Crow laws in order to test and challenge a segregated interstate travel system, the Freedom Riders met with bitter racism and mob violence along the way, sorely testing their belief in nonviolent activism.

Those savage beatings were with rubber-hoses, as well as with phone-books and other soft materials that caused maximum pain with minimum evidence.

Cyber-security-historian protip: we won’t ever say phone-book cryptanalysis to refer to physical torture methods because that becomes confused with logical brute force techniques (use of the contents of a phonebook to reveal secrets).

Thus one can read about torture techniques used by white supremacists during the 1950s and find exact reference to the rubber hose method as a subset of “third degree” questioning. For example, in a History of Torture text, you can read about US police methods used to force confessions and reveal secrets:

There you have it. The rubber hose is an American torture method commonly used in attempts to gain access to secrets without being held accountable. Cryptography withstanding a rubber-hose really refers to politics of torture in America from the mid-1800s resurfacing in the mid-1900s as rubber hoses became a common product.

Bringing It Back to Cryptanalysis Today

This is not just about the past, unfortunately, as I implied at the start of this post. People considering cloud computing are asking daily lately about the rubber-hose. There still is a real threat of torture. World Affairs vividly explains this situation in a political analysis of American traditions:

Decent people and decent countries do not engage in [torture] under any circumstances, whatever the consequences, and that’s really all there is to it.


Ideals are one thing, the reality of American history quite another. There is, in fact, a well-established American tradition of torture. The definitive text on it is Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali, himself an opponent of torture. He sees “a long, unbroken, though largely forgotten history of torture in democracies at home and abroad.” What the torture techniques of democracies have in common is that they leave no lasting marks on the victims, no proof. Rejali calls this “clean torture.”

Electroshock began in democracies, and it was in the United States that interrogators first used rubber hoses to administer beatings that left no bruises. Sleep deprivation and stress positions (the “third degree”) were once common practices of American police.

It’s not only the police who have tortured or used other harsh methods. The U.S. military has, too. During the war in the Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century, American troops employed the “water cure,” a forerunner of waterboarding. During the Vietnam War, torture was probably even more extensive. Whatever its professed ideals, the United States has tortured in the past. It has tortured in the near-present. And should needs arise and circumstances dictate, it will probably torture in the future.

My only addition to this analysis is that “water cure” was treated as a war crime by the US and cited in its court cases against the Japanese during WWII. I spoke about this in my RSAC presentation “Security Humanitarianism: Extraordinary Examples of Tech Improving Lives

It is a sad footnote to history that war crime cases before 1945 and prosecuted in 1946 were sealed after WWII and the US then began engaging in the exact practices they earlier had argued were a clear violation of human rights. As the quote above warns: “ideals are one thing, the reality of American history are quite another.”

If you seek a more contemporary example, November 2003 was when the US Army tortured to death an Iraq army general who had served under Saddam Hussein. General Abed Hamed Mowhoush died aged 56, beaten and then suffocated to death by Americans using methods including a rubber hose to forcibly extract secrets. Case details were revealed in 2005 court-martial proceedings for two men, without getting into details of government agencies giving orders.


Rubber-hose cryptanalysis is rooted (pun not intended) in American traditions of torture to disclose secrets and preserve power. Despite white supremacists losing their war of aggression against own country, their history of torture methods still seems nowhere near being abolished. And perhaps most dangerously, despite being proven ineffective, some groups may still see themselves as maintaining or gaining power with old “reign of terror” practices.

Hopefully now you can see how we got here from there. This is why when helping with key management solutions for cloud workloads running in America, I increasingly hear requests from people to discuss models that address threats like rubber-hose cryptanalysis techniques.

Binocular Night Vision Goggle II

One deep dark night on a dirt road on a remote mountain of an even more remote island, I rode swiftly downhill, passenger of a pickup truck. The driver shut our lights off. We sat in silence as the truck skidded and careened along the dusty road.

I barely could see the driver’s hands rolling quickly back and forth on the steering wheel to keep us from driving off the cliff ledge to our left. He didn’t slow down after lights-out, and when I turned my head more towards him he said warmly l’appel du vide or something like that and smiled broadly at the barely visible road ahead.

While the road itself is seen better with headlamps, by shutting them off we actually expanded our visibility further and were safer overall. And of course we revealed ourselves less dramatically (noise and dust still were emitted), which can reduce blindness in oncoming vehicles.

With so many experiences like this in the past, I often see lights as pollution and wonder how much longer we must accept theories of Victorian street-lamps as safer?

Apparently, the original lighting in London was so poor in 1763 that James Boswell was able to have sex with a prostitute on Westminster Bridge. The shadows and gloom of the pre-electrified world not just provided privacy for Mr Boswell’s actions but it was also a haven for crime.

To be fair I have seen couples having sex in the broad daylight on the eastbound platform at Charlton Station (CTN) in London, so it might not just be about visibility. Anyway, developing better vision integrated directly into the windshield, or our glasses seems like a much more sane and modern idea than trying to increase lumens everywhere. We wear sunglasses while driving, why not a night glass?

We save immense amounts of energy when we choose to leverage starlight and ambient heat, and reveal so much more…fortunately the US military is a big investor in technology along these lines and the latest iteration sounds quite nice:

The BNVD amplifies the small amount of existing light emitted by stars, the moon’s glow or other ambient light sources, and uses the light to clearly display objects in detail in very dark conditions. The COTI uses heat energy from the Marine’s surroundings to add a thermal overlay which allows the image to be viewed more clearly.

This seems light years ahead of driving with a common joint electronics Portable Visual Detecting or Range and Bearing, Search (AN/PVS)

the poetry of information security