December 10, 2013 § Leave a Comment
To anyone with a remote interest in the inner workings of North Korea, the recent purge of Kim Jong Un’s perceived éminence grise Jang Song Thaek was stunning in its abrupt ferocity and in the sheer publicity that surrounded it.
Dragged from a Politburo meeting on December 8 in a staged public arrest – he is believed to have already been under detention – the 67-year-old was then excoriated in a front page editorial in a highly personal manner.
Jang committed “such acts of treachery as selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices… irregularities and corruption and led a dissolute and depraved life,” DPRK press reported, and whilst purges are nothing new in the isolated state, frank admissions of challenges to its leadership are.
Speculation around his removal has been rife and gone so far as to suggest Jang had been behind a plot that would have reestablished military power (waning as Party power waxes) or backed by China in a nascent palace coup.
Jang’s life has been rocky. His daughter Jang Keum-song, who lived overseas in Paris as an international student committed suicide in September 2006, after having refused to return to Pyongyang.
Married to – but estranged from - Kim Jong Un’s aunt Kim Kyong-hui, Jang held high rank until 2004, was reportedly purged and then made a remarkable comeback in March 2006, accompanying Kim Jong Il to China.
(His “dissolute” nature has been noted before in the DPRK. In 1975, then leading the “Three Revolutions, Organization and Guidance Department”, he was sacked and sent to work in a factory for allegedly presiding over an alcohol-heavy VIP party in one of Kim Jong Il’s suites.)
His recent removal has sent shockwaves through East Asia however.
China’s subsequent massive military exercises on the North Korean border have hardly lowered temperatures, with Beijing’s official military newspaper saying on Saturday that the exercises close to Mount Baekdu, unlike in previous drills, did not involve “any on-site survey or adaptation training”. The troops “will change areas of training continuously to improve their skills in real combat.”
It’s an interesting situation to watch unfold and with regard to Jang’s heavy fall from grace, the always excellent 38North has the best overview out there. Give it a read. Reading carefully through the KCNA piece on Jang’s fall, however, the very public acknowledgement that Kim’s power has been at threat (“our party will never pardon anyone challenging its leadership and infringing upon the interests of the state and people”) raises serious questions about his grip.
Below is the full text of the announcement against him, just in case it disappears as abruptly as Jang has from historic photos…
November 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
“Everything that computes will connect, and everything that connects will compute”,
Abhi Ingle, AT&T.
European outrage at the NSA spying revelations has been pronounced. Interest in the sort of surveillance capabilities being developed in Europe has been less so. Snowden’s massive trove of documentation showing how almost every online twitch of the fingers on a keyboard or cough down a phone are being mopped up and stored is almost beyond our understanding.
Perhaps to some, everything online seems vaguely unreal. And where a smirking bureaucrat standing outside your front door every day and reading your post, photocopying each item for his files or breathing heavily by your shoulder to eavesdrop when you made a call would outrage most citizens, somehow the abstract nature of the spying fails to strike home for many.
Interestingly, it is physical space rather than cyberspace that seems to interest Europe. The European Commission funds a swathe of research projects each year. Its Framework Programme (FP) for Research and Innovation operates in six year cycles. The last one (FP7) has just concluded and the next one, “Horizon 2020” has launched. It runs from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of just over €70 billion and dishes out cash for R&D projects. No bad thing.
Widely unnoticed, as are most things by the general public and the popular press in the machinery of the Commission, was that over 100 projects funded under FP7 (which received a healthy €10.8 billion budget of tax payer’s money this year alone) relate to various forms of security; many of them to developing sophisticated algorithms for detecting “abnormal behaviour”.
Little is broadly known about them or their objectives, nor does the main Commission page linking to them work.. (I hate dead links on official websites for projects funded by taxpayer’s money…) Perhaps with a little bit too much time on my hands one evening, I set about finding out about them all and compiling summaries, with links that work.
The technology they display is incredible. And whilst their objectives – automating threat detection being a common one – might be benign and intended to filter out some of the noise in CCTV footage for example that might mean an operator overlooks a genuine crime or alarming situation, their potential for both abuse and their reach is alarming.
Running in a place where you normally do not run. Using an emergency exit. Going the wrong way down a one-way passage. Fighting. Screaming. Entering a “sterile zone”. Those are just some of the things that can set off alarm bells on one system being developed by BAE and funded by the EC.
The ADABTS system also aims to “automatically detect person interaction”, so that camera operators can ask their system to “mark me all the persons that this person interacted with in the last five minutes” then traces everyone tainted by their contact with the target. The system also automatically determines typical and anomalous movement patterns, without need for additional user input.
Many of them seem useful; who can argue that a portable radiation detector is not probably worth a bit of taxpayer’s money. Others are incredibly broad, seeking to detect trace elements that could be used in bomb factories or drug factories, using a network of sensors placed in the sewers allied to a roving, mobile alert system.
Some are just bizarre; what appears to be a giant, inflatable bulletproof balloon; what amounts to a giant ray gun to stop “uncooperative cars”, others do not, the European Commission emphasis, very much do not and “contrary to widespread allegations”, involve “plans for a European wide Orwellian surveillance system”. (Read on…)
After rather more than a mere spot of online trawling, I’ve compiled them here with a précis and links – where possible – to their own individual pages, so you can learn more. They are divided into seven categories, comprising:
1) Security of the Citizens. 2) Security of Infrastructure and Utilities. 3) Intelligence and Border Security. 4) Restoring Security and Safety in Case of Crisis. 5) Security Systems Integration, Interconnectivity and Interoperability. 6) Security and Society. 7) Security Research Coordination and Structuring…
Here’s the first batch, after lots of dead links and digging. To be updated…
1: Security of the Citizens
Avert: This is essentially to develop some form of autonomous robotic capability for police and armed forces to “rapidly deploy, extract and remove both blocking and suspect vehicles from vulnerable positions such as enclosed infrastructure spaces, tunnels, low bridges, under-building and underground car parks.”
Bio-protect: This project is to develop a “fast-alert, easy-to-use device to be applied for detection and identification of airborne bacteria, spores, viruses and toxins” such as Anthrax. Field-testing activities are being carried out at a specialised medical institution of the Czech military in Techonin, Czech Republic
Bonas: Or “Bomb Factory Detection by Networks of Advanced Sensors” envisions three levels of sensors that can detect “the presence of precursors or the transformation of such chemical compounds into IEDs inside a suspected object”. 1: City wide sensors. 2: A mobile unit to narrow down. 3: Building level.
Caper: This is an interesting one. “The goal of the CAPER project is to create a common platform for the prevention of organised crime through sharing, exploitation and analysis of open and private information sources” via “collaborative multilingual analysis of video, audio, speech and images and biometrics information, based on Visual Analytics and Data Mining”.
Cbrnemap: “CBRNEmap is aiming to create a road-map for development of a CBRNE demonstrator, i.e. a large technology development industrial project” whatever that means. The project wrapped up in 2011. The main link (here) is dead.
Cocae (Website link at left is dead, but this is: A project looking to develop technologies for nuclear radiation detection with the target outcome of creating “a portable instrument able to answer where (within a range of some meters) and of what kind a radioactive source is.”) Another link is here
Commonsense: “The goal of the CommonSense project is to create and demonstrate [a] sensor network, through the simultaneous and parallel development of novel materials, portable sensors and a wireless communications network, which uses chemometric data processing algorithms to ‘learn’ to recognise trace amounts of explosives, and differentiate them from interferents.”
Conphirmer: “A portable and easy-to-use sensor for telling genuine medicines from fakes without having to remove the medicines from their packaging”
Custom: More chemical identification equipment research for drugs busts, aiming to create a system that is “easy to use, compact, able to provide screening over a large number of compounds and discriminate them with low false alarm (FA) and high probability of detection (POD)
Dirac: This project aims to create a “rugged and hand-portable unit” that can perform rapid detection of key chemicals. (Using “miniaturized Gas Chromatography as its key chemical separation tool, and Hollow-Fiber-based Infra Red Absorption Spectroscopy” since you asked…)
Emphasis: The objective of the EMPHASIS project is to test a system for detecting production of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in urban areas. Basically, that means dotting sensors everywhere, including in the sewers, to pick up trace elements.
Forlab: FORLAB is about optimising evidence collection after a bomb blast. (It is a “forensic laboratory for in-situ evidence analysis in a post blast scenario” and involves creating analytical technologies for in-situ sample screening and searching along with a command and control centre with real time 3D scene recreation of the scene.
Hemolia: Another interesting one with a possible mission creep/privacy element to it. What is it? A planned “intelligent multiagent alert and investigation system” that will demonstrate the “extensive benefits of fusing the Telecom Plane and Financial Plane for the sake of fighting financial crime, fraud and money laundering”. That will include financial sector, mobile, telephone, web data mining.
Hyperion: “HYPERION is a research project which aims at developing a forensic analysis system for areas where explosions have occured. By detecting explosives and IED residues and acquiring 3D images of the scene the aim is to recapture what happened during the explosion and calculate where it took place.”
Indect: See the previous post.
Linksch: The LINKSCH project offers a comparative study of two major drug markets, cannabis and heroin, through the prism of the transit chains operating between Central Asia and the EU and those between North Africa and the EU. In particular, the project will develop a strategic model of how these two markets operate, conduct interviews with counter-narcotics practitioners, and carry out field research in both source and transit chain countries.
Lotus: Yet more high-tech drugs and bomb detecting sensor kit…
Meprocs: This is all about skulls. Or rather, creating “a common EU framework to allow the extensive application of the craniofacial superimposition technique in practical forensic identification scenarios.
Midas: “The objective of the MIDAS project is to realize a comprehensive framework able to support automation and intelligent management of SOA testing. Know what that means? Do share…
Modes_snm: Creation of a mobile system for the detection of Special Nuclear Material (SNM).
Odyssey: The creation and development of a secure platform for the sharing of information about gun-crimes throughout the EU. Objectives are: Creation of European standards for ballistics data collection, storage and sharing; demonstration of a secure, interoperable platform for the management of crime information and the sharing of ballistics intelligence.
Optix: OPTIX objective is to develop a transportable system for the detection and identification of explosives in real scenarios at distances of around 20 metres (sensor to target), using three different optical technologies, LIBS (Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy), RAMAN and IR absorption. Clever stuff…
Proactive: The main goal of PROACTIVE is to “research a holistic citizen-friendly multi sensor fusion and intelligent reasoning framework enabling the prediction, detection, understanding and efficient response to terrorist interests, goals and courses of actions in an urban environment.” Do you know what that means? Me neither. Hit the link for more though… Apparently it also includes “ad-hoc networks, visual scene analysis, intelligent information fusion and reasoning, information acquisition from mobile nodes (notably UAVs), as well as with the development of the sensor fusion engine and the terrorist reasoning kernel of the project.”
Prevail (PDF): This is about flagging up possible bomb-making ingredients, through adding: “additives to precursors to explosives; either by adding inhibitors to prevent them from being used to manufacture improvised explosive devices, or by adding markers to allow for easier detection”.
Raptor: This is frankly bizarre. In Raptor-speak it is “a mobile, rapid deployable and inflatable structure for ballistic protection of European civilians against threat scenarios, such as crime and terrorist attacks.” To you and I, it appears to be an inflatable, bulletproof balloon we can all climb into when stuff gets crazy…
Reward: More mobile radiation detection…
Saliant: Another handheld bomb/drug/chemical detector…
Savelec: Whoa! The planned use of electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and high power microwaves (HPM) to stop “non-cooperative” vehicles. Roll out the ray guns!
Savemed: “The aim of this research collaboration is to add anti-counterfeiting and track & trace technology to the product level that goes beyond the state-of-the-art security approach on the packaging level.”
Sciims: This is one of the several projects being funded where a combination of seemingly intentionally obfuscating language and the occasional mention of privacy and creation of an Independent Ethical Advisory Board ring alarm bells. Quite it what aims to do is less clear, but it involves online visualisation of heterogeneous data sets, “anomaly detection” and “web data extraction techniques” and will also “develop and incorporate new capabilities (beyond state of the art), in order to speed introduction of new innovative techniques, technologies and systems which is vital to the improvement of information management and exploitation techniques”. Oh. It’s led by BAE systems and it’s to catch people smugglers.
Scintilla: Even more radioactive materials detection.
Tiramisu: One of the few unmitigatedly good ideas being funded (and not because it involves a coffee-flavoured Italian dessert). “Demining planning tools, which will help locating the threats and define the contaminated areas. Detection and disposal tools, which will physically neutralise mines and UXOs and improve operators’ safety. Training and Mine Risk education tools…”
Twobias: “The aim of this project is to develop a modular demonstrator of a stationary, reliable, vehicle-portable, low false alarm rate Two Stage Rapid Biological Surveillance and Alarm System for Airborne Threats (TWOBIAS) for use at indoor or outdoor public sites regarded as targets for bioterrorist attacks”
Uncoss: Little aquatic robots that can find underwater bombs? Can’t be a bad thing.
2: Security of Infrastructure and Utilities
ADABTS: ADABTS aims to develop “models for abnormal and threat behaviours and algorithms for automatic detection of such behaviours as well as deviations from normal behaviour in surveillance data.” What might that mean? “Let us give a few possible examples: Running in a place where you normally do not run (security check at an airport, at a bank office). Using an emergency exit (a good indicator that we have some kind of emergency situation). Going the wrong way in a one-way passage. Fighting. Screaming (agressively or for help)” Arms manufacturer BAE and the Home Office are among the partners… This project is making serious headway.
Arena: More mobile and automated threat detection. (“Architecture for the Recognition of thrEats to mobile
assets using Networks of multiple Affordable sensors”). It aims for a flexible surveillance system for detection and recognition of threats towards deployment on mobile critical assets/platforms such as trucks, trains, vessels, and oil rigs. “A critical issue for the ARENA project is to have sensor-independent threat recognition. The architecture should be able to exploit existing and low cost sensor technologies for e.g. video surveillance (visual and thermal infrared), acoustic sensors, seismic sensors and radars.”
Basylis: A portable, multifunctional security/surveillance platform to include five “highly sensitive” sensors exploiting different parts of the spectrum: radio, magnetic, seismic, acoustic and optical waves, as well as images via intelligent video. These are the technologies.
CockpitCI: “CockpitCI aims to improve the resilience and dependability of Critical Infrastructures (CIs) by the automatic detection of cyber-threats and the sharing of real-time information about attacks among CI owners.”
Demasst: This is about security in mass transportation ” with the task to provide a roadmap for the development and integration of system-of-system solutions.” What does that mean? Hard to say, and it also has the most singularly uninformative website. Sweden’s busy (FOI) Swedish Defence Research Agency is doing most of it though…
3: Intelligence and Border Security
4: Restoring Security and Safety in Case of Crisis
Sgl for usar
5: Security Systems Integration, Interconnectivity and Interoperability
6: Security and Society
7: Security Research Coordination and Structuring
November 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
October 27, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I’m strangely calm. The beer-clutching crowd looks like a sea of churning tattoos. My entry song is playing. I slap my face four or five times in fast succession. Louts lumber aside as I make my way through to the ring. I’m ready. Life is happening in slow motion. And when the bell goes I’m not scared, but surprised by how much he wants to hit me. It’s a storm for 40 seconds; fists flailing at me. I clench my hands to the side of my head and tuck my elbows into my waist. I hunch down because my corner have told me that stretched ribs break and set about taking evasive action. I’m sticking the odd jab out, more to keep him at bay. After the chaos has taken order and I see a rangy but tense man standing in front of me I come back at him: one – one – one-two. The two connects hard and I’ve got him on the run, on the ropes, covering up his face whilst I pick punches and throw them at him as fast and hard as I can: Straight left, right hook, left hook, straight right, uppercut, left body shot, straight right. He’s off. He’s hurt but has slipped away. The quarry is ferocious and comes back bleeding, baying, game for the kill. The bell goes. I’m in my corner standing up, big hands pull my gumshield out and thrust chilled water in my mouth. It’s ice on my gums and I can’t swallow. I can’t breath deeply enough. The cornerman looks me in the eye and holds it until I’m listening. “Breath”. A deep breath. “Take some water”. I take some water. “You’re winning. Keep following the game plan.” I’m following the game plan. Bell. Touch gloves. Go. A straight left slips by his head and he counters with a slick uppercut. I’m in trouble. I slip inside and lock up, pushing him against the ropes. I punch his kidneys but he’s covering up well. It’s a haze, a blur, we’re hitting each other hard. I can hear the cornerman telling me to cover up. Time stands still for a second and I can see a friend standing 10 rows back, grinning and filming on his mobile hand. He looks at me and gives me a thumbs up. Someone is punching me all the while. Somehow everything is very still. The bell goes. Cold water. Cold looks. “Cover up. Don’t fight his fight. Last round. You’ve got this. Don’t brawl.” The bell. We brawl. He’s come out frantic. His corner have told him to dig deep. “You’re losing. Pull something out of the bag.” He’s pulling. Ferocious punches. The side of my head. My ribs. My knees start to go. I can’t get out the way. I can’t evade. I can’t buy time. I’m going down under a hammer of blows. I can’t lose. No way. Not like this. I summon up one punch, a right from deep down. I must be bent double. The punch comes up straight at him. It’s the weakest punch in Christendom but it backs him up. I breathe deep. Two left jabs. Both miss. He’s slippery. A straight right, my best punch; right at his face. He’s backpeddling again. He almost had me. The bell. Ladies and Gentlemen. The winner in the red corner, by two rounds to one. I raise my fist. A rivulet of blood runs down my nose.
(Written after my first fight. 2011. Just found in my drafts…)
October 27, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Somewhere on the A2, coming out of London,
Where the bikers begin to nod again
And the curling road surface – buckled down the central strip
Fucks up your filtering and flips you sideways into oncoming traffic
Somewhere there, that full moon -
Fat and flat on the edge of the horizon, taunting me with literary allusions,
A two dimensional circular cut out,
Like… a metaphor for something -
Promising nothing, just a light like the streetlamps.
August 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
There are few topics as polarising and oozing pus into the collective consciousness in Britain as immigration. It’s an issue I, like everyone, have fairly pronounced opinions on, but the debate is so poisonous and complex I haven’t dedicated time to putting some thoughts down on paper, as it were. A combination of these hectoring, quasi-dystopian billboards and the sight of immigration officials apparently checking the status of people at random in a London tube station this month have tipped me out of my torpor.
Firstly, a disclaimer: These views are likely to be unpalatable to my friends on both the left and the right. (Being a contrarian, I’m pleased with that). I hope that what follows however is neither taking sides in this great divider nor simply muddling through the middle; the caricatured “I’m not racist but…” nor converse paean to the cliché of the Indian doctors, Polish plumbers and Filipina nurses without which the country would apparently collapse like a sagging sack of homogenous skin with no bones in it.
As things currently stand, opposition to immigration is strongest on the right whilst the left reacts by lauding the contributions both economic migrants and refugees have made to the cultural fabric of the country. There’s an astonishing failure by the left to engage with some of the key points the right makes, largely, I suppose, because they are couched in the shrill tones of the Daily Mail, hysteria at “bogus” asylum seekers and because the jackbooted tactics of the government are so reprehensibly designed to grab headlines in the way coherent policy won’t.
I’ll come to those disgusting tactics last. Firstly, some statistics from the government’s Office of National Statistics. Most recent ones first: 500,000 people migrated to the UK in the year ending September 2012. The previous year 581,000 migrated to the UK. In the year ending September 2010, 600,000 migrants moved to England – figures the ONS describe as having “remained at a similar level since 2004. That is a million people (conservative ballpark estimate) migrating to the UK every two years since 2004, or six million people in a decade, very close to 10% of the British population of some 62 million. It is a lot of people.
A lot of people have left in the same period, emigrating to the tune of 347,000 in the year ending 2012, 339,000 in the year to September 2011, 344,000 in the year to September 2010, 427,000 in the year to December 2008, etc. Net migration is significantly lower than that figure of six million would imply; the overall British population has not risen by 10%. (It has risen by 4,592,000 or 7.2% since 2001, if my calculations from ONS figures are correct).
Nonetheless, the movements are striking and current popular unease surrounds the lifting of restrictions on entry by Romanian and Bulgarian nationals to the UK (Since joining the EU on 1 January 2007, migrants from Bulgaria and Romania coming to the UK have been subject to transitional employment restrictions which end on 1 January 2014). Many on the left would construe this fear as “Little England” racism. The economic logic of the concern is not as misguided as they think however.
Here’s a darling of the left, Ha Joon Chang, author of “23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism”, on migration control: “Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. How is the immigration maximum determined? Not by the ‘free’ labour market, which, if left alone, will end up replacing 80–90 per cent of native workers with cheaper, and often more productive, immigrants. Immigration is largely settled by politics… the living standards of the huge majority of people in rich countries critically depend on the existence of the most draconian control over their labour markets – immigration control. Despite this, immigration control is invisible to many and deliberately ignored by others, when they talk about the virtues of the free market.
I have already argued that there really is no such thing as a free market, but the example of immigration control reveals the sheer extent of market regulation that we have in supposedly free-market economies but fail to see. While they complain about minimum wage legislation, regulations on working hours, and various ‘artificial’ entry barriers into the labour market imposed by trade unions, few economists even mention immigration control as one of those nasty regulations hampering the workings of the free labour market. Hardly any of them advocates the abolition of immigration control. But, if they are to be consistent, they should also advocate free immigration. The fact that few of them do once again proves my point that the boundary of the market is politically determined and that free-market economists are as ‘political’ as those who want to regulate markets.
The notion of “floods” of Eastern Europeans is also not as outlandish as many on the left think. In 2004, the EU8 (Czech Republic Estonia Hungary Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovakia and Slovenia) plus Malta and Cyprus joined the EU. The next year Poland, previously nigh invisible on UK immigration charts, became the top source of immigration to the UK. It remained the “top country of last source of residence” all the way until 2009, with approximately 60,000 Poles entering the country every year. (See the ONS’s handy interactive timeline for source material). Those who think similar migration patterns will not result from the poorer Romania (average monthly salary is €370, or just £78 per week) and Bulgaria would do well to look at the evidence of the previous few years. The proof will be in the pudding, but similar, if not greater movements, are far from inconceivable.
This is, however, clearly an issue of policy and economics. That policy is the Schengen Agreement and those economics have been sketched out above. The government, meanwhile, unable and unwilling to discuss serious matters of treaties, has been pulling on its jackboots and scapegoating the “illegal” immigrants with its stinking billboards and heavy-handed collaring of anyone who doesn’t look as pasty white as its aggressive agents do outside London’s tube stations. It’s a classic distraction tactic from the issue of European migration that quite probably needs to be had and sadly, many seem to have fallen for it, with public opinion once more falling into the crude dichotomy of for or against migration as a whole.
The tactics are disgusting, the government’s approach reprehensible, the issue of illegal immigration not the question and the national debate scandalously hysterical, but the question of current immigration levels and their effect on wages, job availability and public services needs to calmly addressed and the evidenced presented for and against it.