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Down the rabbit hole: researching the “jikhad”

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted from Chicago Boyz – a meander on the perils and promise of research, jihad, typos, books and more ]
It begins with an email from Lexington Green saying I might be interested in a tweet he had posted earlier this morning:

The Insurance Journal tells us:

Defendants named in the complaint were Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Saudi Joint Relief Committee for Kosovo and Chechnya, Saudi Red Crescent Society, National Commercial Bank, Al Rajhi Banking and Investment Company. Also included as defendants are three Saudi citizens connected to these organizations, Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Suleiman Abdel Aziz Al Saud and Yassin Al Qadi.

The case is Underwriting Members of Lloyd’s Syndicate 3500 v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 11-00202, U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania.

Okay, I’m curious. I go to the complaint [.pdf] and start reading… and on page 9, I find:

That’s interesting. A DIA report, better look that up. But there’s no reference provided…

So I googled for “latent penetration” NEI which sent me back to versions of the court filing, and then for “latent penetration” and found that Robert W. Schaefer on p. 166 of his book, The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad, quotes [with minor variations] from what is obviously the same DIA document and in footnote 29, p 165 identifies it as “Declassified DIA intelligence report NC 3095345, October 16, 1998, 3 (obtained through the Freedom of Information Act).”

Onwards to locate NC 3095345, which can be found here [.pdf] and contains the following relevant text on p. 3:

So that’s the source of the description of AQ’s overall plan in the Lloyds complaint.

But what’s “latent penetration”? The DIA document even has it in quote marks – does that make it a technical term?

Back to Google.

The FBI uses the term “latent penetration” – maybe I’m onto something! In their Electronic Biometric Transmission Specification (EBTS) [.pdf] on p. 58 they offer the “following list of TOTs is applicable to latent friction ridge searches transmitted to the FBI”:


I have to admit – a Latent Penetration Query sounds like just the thing I’m after – but the FBI appears to think of “latent penetration” in terms of fingerprints…

Okay, next up. A quick look at David Waterman and Andrew A. Weiss‘ book, Vertical Integration in Cable Television, (AEI, 1997) tells us:


That’s all a bit above my head, and in any case I don’t watch cable TV… and the networks in question aren’t terrorist networks, they’re cable networks…

When I add the word “terror” into my search, however, I get directed to Prof. Kostogryzov Andrey‘s paper [.ppt] addressing the question of a “methodical approach for the evaluation of systems vulnerability in conditions of terrorist threats” for a symposium at the University of Texas, Arlington – which sounds promising.

Searching the good professor’s powerpoint for “latent penetration” takes me to slide 36, however, where I read:


To be honest with you, I don’t feel any closer to understanding “latent penetration” beyond a sort of general “potentially getting inside the opposition” kind of sense.

So let’s get back to NEI – which is what the Lloyds transcription has in parens immediately after the quote-marked phrase “latent penetration” – what’s that about?

Well, on closer examination, it looks as though Lloyds got that wrong, and the DIA document — compare their E’s and F’s in the typed excerpt above and I think you’ll agree — actually says NFI…

Phew! NFI.

What’s that?

The DIA probably classifies its acronyms, but this particular document has been declassified and NFI hasn’t been redacted, so perhaps the Free Dictionary acronym finder will be able to help…

I quickly dismiss such possibilities as National Fatherhood Initiative and get down to my three basic possibilities:

NFI … No Further Information (available)
NFI … National Foreign Intelligence
NFI … No Freaking Idea

The last of these describes my own feelings at this point, although “freaking” would be the milder way to put it. So it’s down to guesswork: I’ll go with #2.

Okay: according to this particular DIA report, AQ “seeks to establish a worldwide Islamic state” by means that include “latent penetration” — I still have only the vaguest idea [OTVI] what that means — and “control over nuclear and biological weapons (Jikhad)”.


The DIA docu self-describes thus:


Variant spellings, okay…

But I’m wondering if “Jikhad” is one of them…

Back to the search engines, where I discover the word does have prior art in a terrorist – indeed, a specifically AQ — context, to wit:


$149.95, call it $150 on Amazon, and available for free shipping

Well, you can’t judge a book title by its cover, so I have an inquiry in to the good folks at the University of Calgary library, which has a copy – but I’m guessing “Jikhad” is a typo in both cases, aren’t you?


And what grand purpose does all this serve?

None, you may think – the complaint has been withdrawn, as Lex tells us, “without prejudice” – so the issue is, if I may use a legal term despite the fact that IANAL, “moot”.

Unless one is interested in the prices of books these days, or the frequency of spelling vagaries on their printed covers, or possible Arabic words bearing on terrorism that one hasn’t run across previously, or fingerprints, or the reliability of a document of which LTC Schaefer notes (p. 165, n 29):

It is important to note that no evaluation of the information detailed in the report is included in the declassified version; and anyone who deals with intelligence will tell you that text without context is pretext. It is entirely possible that this document was passed to U.S. Intelligence by the Russians in order to bolster the evidence linking the Chechens with Al Qaeda.

On second thoughts, we can learn something here about care in reading sources – about the transmission errors that commonly crop up when texts are translated or transmitted – and about the importance of context.

Text without context is pretext.

That whole paragraph of LTC Schaefer’s is worth the price of admission.

2011, meet 1997 (and 1995, and 1943…)

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — creativity, IARPA, HipBone Games, h/t Hermann Hesse ]

Funny thing, that.


In 1997, Derek Robinson wrote a short piece about my HipBone Games, indicating what they were good for. Read it – then read the IARPA solicitation that just came out.

My approach is to lure people into discovering analogies, metaphors, parallels and oppositions by playing a game which elicits them as game moves — a live process, and one that cuts to the very heart of creativity — IARPA wants an automated version, which will be clunky by comparison. And as Derek points out in his piece — pointed out, that is to say, fourteen years ago, quoting an even earlier (1995) comment from Douglas Hofstadter:

If, instead of using the real world, one carefully creates a simpler, artificial world in which to study the high-level processes of perception, the problems become more tractable.

That’s what my games are — “a simpler, artificial world in which to study the high-level processes of perception” — specifically, “of analogy, metaphor, resemblance, the making and taking of meaning”.

I’ve been working on this stuff for at least fifteen years… inspired by a book Hermann Hesse published in 1943.


And oh yes, there’s a “future of search engines” hiding in there, too.

The Year of Living Memory

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Some people’s — and more to the point, some peoples’ — living memory appears to be longer than others. China, for instance, has what you might call long term living memory.


But first, the Crusades. When Bush 43 first used the word “crusade” in reference to the US response to 9/11, I went to Google and checked, and the first listing for “crusade against” that came up was to The Crusade Against Dental Amalgam. I’m the suspicious type, and as I suspected, the word “crusade” simply doesn’t have the same valence for most twenty-first century Americans that it has for many in the twenty-first century Arab world. In the US, a crusade is a concerted effort to change just about anything, the use of mercury in dental fillings being just one example.

Across the Arab world, however, the word has very different connotations: thus Amin Maalouf writes in The Crusades through Arab Eyes:

The Turk Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to shoot the pope on 13 May 1981, had expressed himself in a letter in these terms: I have decided to kill John Paul II, supreme commander of the Crusades. Beyond this individual act, it seems clear that the Arab East still sees the West as a natural enemy. Against that enemy, any hostile action — be it political, military, or based on oil — is considered no more than legitimate vengeance. And there can be no doubt that the schism between the two worlds dates from the Crusades, deeply felt by the Arabs, even today, as an act of rape.

That’s long term living memory for you.


I’m writing this because I just read a fascinating article by Robert Barnett on the New York Review of Books blog titled The Dalai Lama’s ‘Deception’: Why a Seventeenth-Century Decree Matters to Beijing — need I say more?

The title will suffice for those who don’t have much time today — I understand, we’re all under the fire-hose one way or another — while those with the ability to sneak in ten or fifteen minutes laterally while the clock’s not watching can and should definitely read the whole thing…


I have just one side-observation though — the article tells us, among many other things directly relating to Tibet and the history of the Dalai Lamas:

And again, when Jiang Zemin made a brutal decision to annihilate the basically harmless Falungong cult in 1999, it is believed that he saw it as analogous to the religious movement that had started the Taiping Rebellion and nearly toppled the Qing in the mid-19th century.

I think that’s right — but what Barnett doesn’t mention, since Taiping is only an aside for him, is that the rebellion was only eventually quelled at the cost of between twenty and thirty million lives…

I mentioned my own hunch that memories of Taiping were behind the Chinese government’s fierce response to Falun Gong in question time after Ali A Allawi‘s talk on Mahdist movements in Iraq at the Jamestown Foundation a few years back, and he responded that similarly, the reason the Iraqi government took such fierce action against a small Mahdist uprising near Najaf — even calling in US air support as I recall, for an incident perhaps best compared in US terms with Waco — was that they remembered the Babi movement in their own neck of the woods, and the tens of thousands who died back in the 1850s, around the same time as the Taiping in China.


Living memory — which could almost be a definition of history, or at least of what historical research aims to create — can itself be long term or short, perishable or perennial.

And then there’s Psalm 90, which declares “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.”

Now (and I’m being playful here, albeit with a touch of serious intent) does that suggest a Memory that reaches back in perfect detail through the eons to the Big Bang and perhaps before it? Or … “twentieth century? nineteenth? the Crusades?.. it’s all a bit of a blur, I’m afraid — it all rushes by so fast…”


There seems to be a choice set before us as individuals — and more to the point, as peoples:

Shall we choose Lethe, and the restfulness of oblivion, or Mnemosyne — the mother of all Muses? There are, you know, immediate educational implications, and serious geopolitical implications down the road, for the choice we make…

Happy Birthday, Emlyn, and Applause, xkcd

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


My son, Emlyn, turns sixteen today.

He’s not terribly fond of computers to be honest — but he does follow xkcd with appreciation, as do I from time to time: indeed, I am led to believe I receive some credit for that fact.

So… this is a birthday greeting to Emlyn, among other things. And a round of applause for Randall Munroe, creator of xkcd. And a post comparing more reliable and less reliable statistics, because that’s a singularly important issue — the more reliable ones in this/ case coming from a single individual with an expert friend, the less reliable ones coming from a huge corporation celebrated for its intelligence and creativity… and with a hat-tip to Cheryl Rofer of the Phronesisaical blog.

The DoubleQuote:


Radiation exposure:

Today, xkcd surpassed itself / his Randallself / ourselves, with a graphic showing different levels of radiation exposure from sleeping next to someone (0.05 muSv, represented by one tiny blue square top left) or eating a banana (twice as dangerous, but only a tenth as nice) up through the levels (all the blue squares combined equal three of the tiny green ones, all the green squares combined equal 7.5 of the little brown ones, and the largest patch of brown (8Sv) is the level where immediate treatment doesn’t stand a chance of saving your life)…

The unit is Sieverts, Sv: 1000 muSv = 1 mSv, 1000 mSv= 1 Sv, sleeping next to someone is an acceptable risk at 0.05 muSv, a mammogram (3 mSv) delivers a little over 50,000 times that level of risk and saves countless lives, 250 mSv is the dose limit for emergency workers in life-saving ops — oh, and cell phone use is risk-free, zero muSv, radiation-wise, although dangerous when driving. [I apologize for needing to write “mu” when I intend the Greek letter by that name, btw — software glitch with the ZP version of WordPress.]

The xkcd diagram comes with this disclaimer:

There’s a lot of discussion of radiation from the Fukushima plants, along with comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Radiation levels are often described as “ times the normal level” or “% over the legal limit,” which can be pretty confusing.

Ellen, a friend of mine who’s a student at Reed and Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, has been spending the last few days answering questions about radiation dosage virtually nonstop (I’ve actually seen her interrupt them with “brb, reactor”). She suggested a chart might help put different amounts of radiation into perspective, and so with her help, I put one together. She also made one of her own; it has fewer colors, but contains more information about what radiation exposure consists of and how it affects the body.

I’m not an expert in radiation and I’m sure I’ve got a lot of mistakes in here, but there’s so much wild misinformation out there that I figured a broad comparison of different types of dosages might be good anyway. I don’t include too much about the Fukushima reactor because the situation seems to be changing by the hour, but I hope the chart provides some helpful context.

Blog-friend Cheryl Rofer, whose work has included remediation of uranium tailings at the Sillamäe site in Estonia (she co-edited the book on it, Turning a Problem Into a Resource: Remediation and Waste Management at the Sillamäe Site, Estonia) links to xkcd’s effort at the top of her post The Latest on Fukushima and Some Great Web Resources and tells us it “seems both accurate and capable of giving some sense of the relative exposures that are relevant to understanding the issues at Fukushima” — contrast her comments on a recent New York Times graphic:

In other radiation news, the New York Times may have maxed out on the potential for causing radiation hysteria. They’ve got a graphic that shows everybody dead within a mile from the Fukushima plant. As I noted yesterday, you need dose rate and time to calculate an exposure. The Times didn’t bother with that second little detail.

In any case, many thanks, Cheryl — WTF, NYT? — and WTG, xkcd!


Once again, xkcd nails it.

I’ve run into this problem myself, trying to use Google to gauge the relative frequencies of words or phrases that interest me — things like moshiach + soon vs “second coming” + soon vs mahdi + soon, you know the kinds of things that I’m curious about, I forget the specific examples where it finally dawned on me how utterly useless Google’s “About XYZ,000 results (0.21 seconds)” rankings really are — but the word needs to get out.


Paging Edward Tufte.

Sixteen today:

Happy Birthday, Emlyn!

Viewdle is a Two-Edged App

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Saw this on Shlok’s site:

Viewdle – Photo and Video Face Tagging from Viewdle on Vimeo.

This kind of app is a required step for making augmented reality devices part of the social media ecology. Therefore, this tech will become a standard for all mobile devices – merchants and advertisers want us as an army of data collectors on each other.

OTOH, automatic face-recognition and social media aggregation raises serious concerns about the potential dangers of living under a panopticon state if an app is aggregating and bundling all your online data in real time, while giving out your GPS and home address. A godsend to stalkers, oppo researchers, con men, disgruntled spouses or employees, autocratic governments and other creepy malefactors. Expect businesses, which are already attempting to illegally pry and spy into all areas of employee’s lives, to make surreptitious use of apps of this nature

Puts the protests to revolution in Egypt and Tunisia in perspective, doesn’t it?

If the FCC wanted to do something useful and promoting of liberty, they might consider regs to let individuals exercise greater control the use third parties would have to their collective online IDs – then you could be “out there” or not or to the degree you liked. Some people, do want to be “out there” professional or social reasons. While you cannot control pictures of yourself in a public space, I’m not sure the Supreme Court thought that your presence in public meant that random strangers and government officials should be able to run your credit history as you sit at a table in a restaurant or bar or take in a movie or ball game by taking your photo. A similar logic underlies state laws prohibiting wiretapping or making auditory recording individuals without their knowledge and consent (Illinois being one such state where Chicago aldermen and state legislators have acquired a healthy fear of recording devices).

Speaking of government, I have been told by an authoritative source that the USG rsearch is far advanced in this area. Probably a lot further along than is Viewdle, but perhaps not.

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