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Foust on “False Fears of Autonomous Weapons”

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Hat tip for a strong recommendation from Adam Elkus:

Josh Foust has a very sensible piece up about the seemingly endless furor about “killer drones” (we never called our warplanes “Killer F-16’s” or guided weapons “killer cruise missiles”).

The false fear of autonomous weapons 

….Many of the processes that go into making lethal decisions are already automated. The intelligence community (IC) generates around 50,000 pages of analysis each year, culled from hundreds of thousands of messages. Every day analysts reviewing targeting intelligence populate lists for the military and CIA via hundreds of pages of documents selected by computer filters and automated databases that discriminate for certain keywords.

In war zones, too, many decisions to kill are at least partly automated. Software programs such as Panatir collect massive amounts of information about IEDs, analyze without human input, and spit out lists of likely targets. No human could possibly read, understand, analyze, and output so much information in such a short period of time.

Automated systems already decide to fire at targets without human input, as well. The U.S. Army fields advanced counter-mortar systems that track incoming mortar rounds, swat them out of the sky, and fire a return volley of mortars in response without any direct human input. In fact, the U.S. has employed similar (though less advanced) automated defensive systems for decades aboard its navy vessels. Additionally, heat-seeking missiles don’t require human input once they’re fired – on their own, they seek out and destroy the nearest intense heat source regardless of identity.

It’s hard to see how, in that context, a drone (or rather the computer system operating the drone) that automatically selects a target for possible strike is morally or legally any different than weapons the U.S. already employs.


Most of the anti-drone arguments are a third hand form of opposition to US foreign policy or Counterterrorism policy for a variety of reasons, sometimes tactical and strategic, but mostly just political. Saying you are against inhuman drone strikes sounds a hell of a lot better than honestly saying that you would be against any kind of effective use of military force by the US against al Qaida and the Taliban in any and all circumstances. I can’t imagine Human Rights Watch would be happier if the US were using F-16’s and B-52’s instead.

Or commandos with small arms for that matter.

Book Review: The Hunt for KSM

Monday, May 14th, 2012

The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind by Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer 

I received a review copy of The Hunt for KSM from  Hachette Book Group and was pleased to see that the authors, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer, are investigative journalists, one of whom, Meyer, has extensive experience reporting on terrorism, while McDermott is also the author of the 9-11 highjackers book, Perfect Soldiers. So, I was looking forward to reading this book. My observations:

  • In the matter of style, McDermott and Meyer have opted to craft a novel-like narrative of their research, which makes The Hunt for KSM a genuine page-turner. While counterterrorism wonks used to a steady diet of white papers may become impatient with the format, they already know a great deal about operational methods of Islamist terror groups and the general public, who are apt to be engaged by the story, do not. While enjoying the yarn about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the villain behind 9-11 and his downfall, the general reader picks up a great deal of important information.
  • McDermott and Meyer deserve kudos for their fair and balanced handling of Pakistan – and I say this as a severe critic of the Pakistanis. While pulling no punches about the perfidy of Pakistan’s elite, the ties of the ISI and their religious extremist parties to terrorist groups including al Qaida, they give credit where credit is due to Pakistanis who made the difference in assisting the United States and it’s investigators in tracking down KSM and his AQ associates . “Colonel Tariq” of the ISI, in particular stands out as a courageous and sympathetic figure.
  • Khalid Sheikh Mohammed emerges in the story as a master adversary, part Bond villain, part sinister clown, who confounded the efforts of the FBI and the CIA for years with his prodigious ability to organize and orchestrate geographically diverse terrorist networks, fundraising, logistical support, bombings and murder like a one-man KGB while remaining as elusive as a ghost. His abilities, daring, good fortune and defiant resilience in captivity are impressive enough in McDermott and Meyer’s telling that they unfortunately tend to overshadow the fact that KSM is an enthusiastic mass-murderer. A facet that comes out to it’s true ghastly extent only in their description of KSM personally beheading kidnapped reporter Daniel Pearl.
  • The bureaucratic bungling and stubborn infighting of the FBI and CIA, with assistance from the DoD and Bush administration on particularly stupid decisions related to the interrogation and reliance upon torture while excluding AQ experts and experienced KSM case investigators from talking to KSM, makes for a profoundly depressing read. It contrasts poorly with the dedication and sacrifice demonstrated by law enforcement agents Frank Pellegrino, Matt Besheer, Jennifer Keenan and those who aided them.

The Hunt for KSM closes with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as he is at the present time, on trial at Guantanamo Bay, a story with a climax but not yet an epilogue.

Well written, concise yet dramatic, The Hunt for KSM is warmly recommended.

Towards a Pattern Language for CT? III

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — all middle and no end ]


And while I’m at it, I might as well post one of the very first DoubleQuotes I put together when I was first experimenting with the format, sometime between October 2003 and June 2004


I thought then, and I think now, that a walkway lined with dozens of little plaques presenting odd snippets of fact like either one of those would be a marvelous device for triggering associations in ambulatory analysts…

And it is a recurring pattern, isn’t it?

Ominously, there have been cases of terrorist pirates hijacking tankers in order to practice steering them through straits and crowded sea-lanes-the maritime equivalent of the September 11 hijackers’ training in Florida flight schools. These apparent kamikazes-in-training have questioned crews on how to operate ships but have shown little interest in how to dock them. In March 2003, an Indonesian chemical tanker, the Dewi Madrim, was hijacked off Indonesia. The ten armed men who seized the vessel steered it for an hour through the busy Strait of Malacca and then left the ship with equipment and technical documents.
Gal Luft and Anne Korin, Terrorism Goes to Sea, Foreign Affairs, Nov/Dec 2004

It helps to be alert to rhyming between ideas

Impeach Napolitano

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Would DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano ever tolerate Border Patrol agents using the TSA “security” procedures on arrested illegal aliens that she demands American citizens submit to in order to catch a plane?

The woman really thinks she’s a central committee secretary of a small Eastern Bloc country circa 1982. Perhaps her view of ordinary Americans as dangerous security threats will change somewhat if she leaves office to become one of them again.

Then we can get a DHS Secretary who will take notice of the giant failed state to our South imploding under the attack of a rapidly expanding narco-insurgency instead of making it a top priority to get Mexican officials to use naked scanners at their airports. WTF?

What planet does she live on?


Apparently it is “Planet Oligarchy”.

Former DHS Secretary Chertoff has a lot of business riding on the USG enforcing the use of scanners on an unwilling public, which explains the TSA’s militant but politically inept position on scanning and groping. One of the bigwigs is trading on his government service and expects to feed at the public trough, so the bureaucrats are going to “hang tough”. Who the hell are we to dare to complain anyway?

Sunday, May 6th, 2007


This article is sensationalistic but useful, showing the effects of a small ” shoe bomb” on an airliner like the one used by bumbling malcontent and al Qaida adherent, convicted terrorist Richard Reid.

I am no engineer or pilot, so I’m willing to be corrected by those with expertise, but it occurs to me that a large part of the problem is that our passenger aircraft have deliberately been designed to be unsurvivable, because this saves pennies on the dollar, rather than to be resilient. Planes are not always by nature fragile; B-24’s during WWII or the more modern A-10’s could take devastating hits and remain airborne.

Much like not highjacker-proofing the doors of the cabin to protect the pilots, I suspect there are many known elements that could be engineered into passenger aircraft design that corporate executives and FAA officials intentionally choose not to require. Then there measures yet undiscovered, some possibly inexpensive or cost-reducing, that we will not find until we try.

I’m not advocating flying around in Abrams tanks with wings but in putting a greater effort toward thinking in terms of resilience when we sit down at drawing boards, instead of lamenting what was not done, after the fact.

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