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A modest Jurassic Park: Simultaneous recreation of a certified bioweapon and a pandemic diagnostic tool


Part 1

A decade's concerted effort has culminated in the reconstruction of the 1918 Spanish Flu (H1N1) pandemic flu virus:

  • Armed Forces Institute of Pathology: secured lung tissue samples from three 1918 victims, extracting and sequencing genome structures, publishing the sequences of five of the eight genes.
  • Mount Sinai School of Medicine: Using AFIP coding data, employed reverse genetics to create strings of genes called plasmids
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Inserted Sinai's plasmids into human kidney cells whereupon H1N1 reassembled itself
  • GenBank, National Institutes of Health: H1N1 genetic sequences stored in a public genetic sequence database

The outcome was the publishing of remaining three genes, completing the genetic sequence, and the production of ten vials of H1N1 virus, with more on order as research demands dictate. What is reasonably the "most effective bioweapons agent ever known" and noted for "preferentially striking the young and the healthy" is in the public domain. It seems a Faustian bargain, but I agree with D.A. Henderson that it is critical for its ability to inform our analysis of potential lethality of the current H5N1 avian flu.

What we've learned is useful: H1N1 was actually a bird flu that had leapt to human-to-human transmission without apparently mixing with a human form of flu. It is this co-infection of a human host with both avian and human flu producing a human transmissible strain that is being watched for with H5N1. It would be startling if H5N1 could make an H1N1-like leap.

It has been found that H1N1 and H5N1 share some critical genetic changes, but not all the 25 to 30 that turned H1N1 into a pandemic:

The new studies could have an immediate impact by helping scientist focus on detecting changes in the evolving H5N1 virus that might make widespread transmission among humans more likely.

We now know that H1N1 was very different from ordinary human flu viruses in that it infected cells deep in the lungs such as the cells lining air sacs that are normally impervious to flu. H1N1's similarity to H5N1 confirms current fears of current avian flu strains migrating from China and Southeast Asia through Russia and into Europe.

Crucial requirements for human adaptation are already being discovered:

In gene-swapping experiments, for example, they put the hemagglutinin gene from the 1918 virus for one from a more recent human virus. Suddenly, the reconstructed virus could no longer replicate in the lungs of mice and no longer killed the animals. It also could not attach itself to human lung cells in the lab. Yet the 1918 virus' hemagglutinin protein differs in just two critical amino acids from the protein of a typical avian flu virus.

A desired outcome would be a likely checklist of pandemic-inducing changes in H5N1 and other wildfowl flu variants.

As one who researches low tech asymmetric production of chem-bio agents, I am aware that advances in molecular biology will make it more feasible for small groups to harvest this genetic sequencing for production of a new weapons strain for which human immune systems may be unprepared. Given the threat of an H5N1 pandemic it is a daunting but necessary compromise.

Researchers Reconstruct 1918 Flu Virus
The Associated Press
October 5, 2005; 3:30 PM

Deadly 1918 Epidemic Linked to Bird Flu, Scientists Say
New York Times
October 5, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Shifting from "if" to a "best case scenario" of a global 7.4 million dead


By late September 2005, estimates by WHO and others placed the death toll of an H5N1 avian flu pandemic at 150 to 200 million. Within two days, citing that WHO "can't be dragged into further scare-mongering," the organization reduced the death toll  towards the "best case scenario" of 7.4 million dead.

Not if but how many millions. How great the change from my November 2004 note, The flu season not yet underway and uncomfortable signs that 'when, not if' is shifting to 'soon, not when'.

I find it remarkable that Bush43 has publicly mooted the halting of air transport, the imposition of a regional quarantine and the use of US military assets to enforce that quarantine. That is refreshing given that broad surprise from the lay community greeted the outgoing US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, in December 2004 when he described avian flu was a "really huge bomb" that frightened him above all other threats. Only in September 2004 did the US begin ordering a promising vaccine from France's Sanofi-Aventis, but the two million doses is only a pittance of that needed and one wonders under what "emergency conditions" will decide who gets what when if it comes to that.

The virulence of H5N1 is remarkable, even as it is not well understood. The invasion of Influenza viruses typically proceed from the throat to the windpipe and then the lungs where the outcome can be either viral or bacterial pneumonia. Some H5N1 strains greatly exceed that usual worst case condition by:

  • Replication triggering in organs other than the lungs, e.g., liver, intestines and brain, creating a "whole-body infection"
  • Excessive human immune system response generating high volumes of cytokines which at normal levels aid the immune response but at high levels cause damage to the victim's own tissue

H5N1 virulence as a percentage of deaths from infection is stunning, some 51% of those known infected die. (As of 5 August, 57 of 112 known infections in four nations died: Cambodia (4 cases), Indonesia (one case), Thailand (17 cases) and Vietnam (90 cases)). During the same period H5N1 has killed "more than 150 million birds in 11 nations."

It helps to put that virulence beside previous flu pandemics. The 1918-1919 Spanish Flu (H1N1) pandemic only killed 2.6% of those infected to reach its 40 to 50 million global fatalities (500,000 in the US) - and that in an era of relatively low personal mobility. Scaling that death rate to today's global population points to a possible 200 million dead. The 1957-58 "Asian Flu" (H2N2) killed an estimated 2 million while the 1968-1969 "Hong Kong Flu" (H3N3) killed some 750,000 people. While the origin of the 1918 virus is unclear, the 1957 and 1968 viruses are thought to have resulted human and avian influenza viruses. These three pandemics "tend to infect 25 percent to 35 percent of the population" unlike the usual seasonal flu viruses that infect "between 5 percent and 20 percent" with a death rate of under 1% for an annual toll of 250,000 to 500,000 dead.

Influenza A is a simple virus constantly undergoing genetic reassortment. H5N1 is rapidly mutating:

The highly lethal H5N1 viruses isolated from last year's human cases of avian flu were genetically 99 percent identical to each other. The slightly less lethal -- but perhaps more transmissible -- virus taken from patients in northern Vietnam early this year is only 98 percent identical to last year's; more important, it isn't completely inhibited by antibodies to last year's strain. It may be on its way to becoming a new, human-adapted strain.

Such flexibility makes an H5N1 pandemic merely a "matter of probability and opportunity," especially as ducks may become a "permanent reservoir of H5N1 virus" even as it is fatal to chickens, and one of the duck virus variants was fatal to ferrets thereby jumping the bird-mammal boundary.

It now appears that a potential human to human (instead of wildfowl to human) transmission clustering is occuring in the Soreang District of South Sulawesi. Indonesian H5N1 avian flu cases are now spreading throughout the country and are appearing as clusters. In Jakarta there are now clusters of clusters. (See maps here, here and here).

These larger growing clusters define phase 5 of a pandemic and as the reports accumulate daily, it seems that Indonesia is very close to the final phase 6, which is defined by sustained transmission in humans. Some of the members of the familial clusters may have become infected by a common source, but the vast majority have a 5-10 day gap between the onset of symptoms in the index case and family members. This time gap is characteristic of human-to-human transmission.

How many, not if. I again suggest readers review Using SARS to predict H5N1 Avian Flu impacts on regional & global supply chains along with its part 2.

Part 2 of this note

Bush Weighs Strategies to Counter Possible Outbreak of Bird Flu
International Herald Tribune
October 4, 2005

World Health Agency Tones Down Alarm on Possible Flu Pandemic
Published: October 1, 2005

Bird flu pandemic 'could kill 150m'
James Sturcke
Guardian (UK)
September 30, 2005

H5N1 Cluster in South Sulawesi Increases Pandemic Concerns
Recombinomics Commentary
September 29, 2005

H5N1 Cluster in Samerang Raises Phase 5 Concerns
Recombinomics Commentary
September 29, 2005

Avian Influenza in Asia: September 2005 Update
Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
28 Sep 2005

Richer Nations Seek Protection From Bird Flu
International Herald Tribune
Published: September 19, 2005

EU Concerned About Spread of Bird Flu
Published: August 25, 2005
Filed at 1:09 p.m. ET

Scientists Race To Head Off Lethal Potential Of Avian Flu
By David Brown
Washington Post
August 23, 2005

U.S. and other nations brace for bird flu
By Steve Mitchell
UPI Medical Correspondent
Published July 14, 2005 Bulletin Board
Spotlight => Disease outbreaks => Message started by: christian on July 31, 2005, 03:32:53 pm

Gordon Housworth

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A modern Charge of the Light Brigade: Karen Hughes' brief to invert Islam's opinion of the US


Hurricane Katrina accompanied Karen Hughes to the Middle East, adding yet another layer of dismissive opinion of any US action. The inept US response to the storm was seen in the European and Arab press to have humbled the US and shown it to be a less powerful nation than many had thought. (It is my opinion that we will see secondary effects in actions of various anti-US factions that are emboldened by a perceived weakness, i.e., perception is reality. I further believe that Katrina submerged the earlier US effort to curry pan-Muslim favor in its response to humanitarian relief after the 2004 Indonesian tsunami.)

Hughes has been given the most impossible of briefs, a modern Charge of the Light Brigade as it were, and it is to her credit that she commenced it. (Note that I said 'commenced' rather than 'undertook' as this is a generational effort against which US strategic interests are in direct opposition and requires a continuity of intent, action and positive reinforcement for which the US has little prior history.)

I must also suppose that US diplomatic and subordinated military policy will not square General John Abizaid's recent testimony to the effect that the US must change how it is "organized to make it more effective at building democracy abroad":

"It is important [that] we recognize the global threat that al-Qaida presents to the United States and to the civilized nations of the world. We are not yet organized to the extent that we need to be to fight this enemy, with coordinated and synchronized international and inter-agency action. We have time to do that, but we need to seize the moment and do it now."

That this testimony was only one among many comments between military and senate members is, to me, all the more sad that the US will not, possibly can not, make the changes to square the gap into which Hughes fell.

Only Hughes' position as a longtime Bush43 political counselor gained her the access and deference she received, i.e., she was treated as Bush's emissary and not as an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. I liked that the tour was advertised as a "listening tour" instead of more instruction that fell on increasingly alienated ears, but I was extremely disappointed in her responses in the face of the criticisms that she received even from handpicked audiences supposedly assumed to be modestly pro-American. In other words, if someone has come to listen, then they should be sufficiently briefed so that they can listen intelligently, take the medicine without flinching, and not cause further missteps.

Anyone not living in a bubble should have know that the US still receives no credit for any shred of a pro-Palestinian policy, is still seen as hypocritical in its pro-democracy protestations in comparison to its actions, and is roundly condemned for it current 'occupation' of Iraq (which I admit might have been better had we been able to improve the economic and security lot of the ordinary Iraqi). I would be very interested in seeing the briefing documents that Hughes received as well as the after action reports of her three-country visit so as to have a sense of the delta between administration opinion and public fact. My fear is that the gap remains very high.

I leave it to the diligent reader to follow the links below that describe the increasingly bumpy reception Hughes received in three linchpin countries to US strategic, economic and political interests, Egypt (also here), Saudi Arabia (also here) and Turkey (also here).

My interest is more in defining my dream team solution for Hughes' task:

  • Move her office to Dubai: While her title says Public Diplomacy, it is really Islamic diplomacy. Recognize it and make a stroke that would lift eyebrows. Dubai is also one of the best protected and most affluent of Middle East states. If someone else is paying your rent, it is good duty.
  • Appoint her co-chair for the office: Appoint Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed as her co-chair. Actually I would prefer to have al-Rashed in the role, but Hughes is needed to make the "last mile" delivery to the White House. Al Rashed also resides in Dubai.

Al Rashed is a remarkable individual, the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat and now general manager of Al-Arabiya television. I find it instructive to follow what he writes and have cited him twice in this weblog. (See Overcoming a Muslim cultural view that can describe Saddam's capture as "The hero fell yesterday" and Putting aside militant ire, can Muslim moderates merely survive their conservatives?) Al Rashed's opinion piece in Asharq Al-Awsat is the best of all the reporting on Hughes that I have read. My dream team is that Al Rashed develops the message and Hughes delivers it and gains a semblance of compliance and cooperation.

Using Egypt whose citizens dislike us more than do Palestinians who have more reason, Rashed digs in -- and remember that he is head of the neutral, even pro-Western al Arabiya, not al Jazerra:

Even if the current US administration turned into to the world’s largest cleaning company, it would still be unable to clean its reputation and improve its image in the Arab world. The mission is nearly impossible. I say this in light of the visit by Karen Hughes, the presidential adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs at the US State Department, or in clearer terms, George W. Bush’s cleaner in the Arab region.

As a superpower, the United States has enough enemies and conflicts to keep it up at night. The minority, which believes that in politics no country can be totally good or wholly corrupt, finds itself unable to change reality…

Egypt suffers from a common problem whereby no one wants to be seen in public with Washington . The latter resembles a woman of ill-repute whom everyone wants to court but only in secret.

How can Karen Hughes change her country’s reputation, especially in Egypt, the country which the US administration has repeatedly backed and sponsored?

On the financial level, not much can be done, as Washington is unable to pay more than it already has. Politically, additional pressure [beyond that] already exerted, and which has achieved important results [would] be impossible.

It might be that Hughes believes she will meet journalists and reveal to then what they do not know about her country, its policies, and its president. She might say he was the first to recognize a Palestinian state, strongly encourage democracy and push governments to grant opposition parties more freedom. Bush also insisted local Arab market reform.

The diplomat is deluding herself if she thinks anyone will believe her or show interest in the good deeds she will enumerate. All those she will meet are sure to repeat one word, "Occupation, occupation, occupation". Her planned meetings will end as they started. Hughes will face an important decision: repair the US’s reputation, which is nearly impossible, or modify the country’s policies, also almost unfeasible. The price to pay will be a Palestinian state, a fundamentalist Iraq, and the ignoring of the region for the next twenty years.

Contrast that gulf with Abizaid's detailing of al Qaeda's long-term goals for a resurgent caliphate across the Muslim world - and remember that al Qaeda can and does operate with consistency of goals and efficiency of operations that transcend administrations. The US has no real understanding of the value and the urgency of Hughes' brief.

U.S. military questioned on Iraq
By Brian Knowlton
International Herald Tribune
SEPTEMBER 30, 2005

Abizaid Details al Qaeda's Long-Term Goals
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 29, 2005

Vastness of Karen Hughes's Task Looms Larger
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 29, 2005; 3:39 PM

Judge Orders Release of Abu Ghraib Photos
The Associated Press
September 29, 2005; 2:24 PM

Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Asharq Al-Awsat

Turkish Women Blast Karen Hughes With Iraq War Criticism
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 28, 2005

U.S. Envoy's Message Falls Flat Again, This Time in Turkey
New York Times
September 28, 2005

Saudi Women Have Message for U.S. Envoy
New York Times
September 28, 2005

Hughes Raises Driving Ban With Saudis
More Political Freedom For Women Also Urged
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 28, 2005

Reforms in Time, Bush Envoy Is Told
New York Times
September 27, 2005

The Karen Hughes Cleaning Service
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Asharq Al-Awsat

A Bush Envoy, Visiting Egypt, Defends U.S. Policies in Iraq
New York Times
September 26, 2005

Hughes Reaches Out Warily in Cairo
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post
September 26, 2005

The East in the West
New York Times
September 25, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Katrina as an "incident of national significance" puts the lie to DHS scenario planning for terrorist event preparation


The president's Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5 directed the development of a new National Response Plan (NRP) to "align Federal coordination structures, capabilities, and resources into a unified, all-discipline, and all-hazards approach to domestic incident management." One wonders where that plan was when Katrina struck New Orleans and within a day had caused the Doomsday Scenario that flooded the city, paralyzing the break in bulk point for crops descending the Mississippi and the hub of pipelines feeding gas and oil northward. Yes, it was invoked this week by DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, but wonders what took so long given that the city's levees:

aren't intended to protect from a Category 4 or 5 hurricane (a 5 has winds greater than 155 mph and storm surges above 18 feet), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is at least a decade away from upgrading to that level of protection. The corps says the current levee system doesn't provide full protection from even Category 3 storms, which could be the scariest scenario of all. "If a Category 5 storm enters the Gulf, I don't think we'll have to encourage people to leave--it'll be an easy sell," says New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin. Category 3 or 4 storms, though, "are more dangerous . . . the community says, 'We might ride this out.'"

Two of the greatest asymmetric attack prizes in the US are the ports of Houston (as a petrochemical trove waiting to be ignited) and New Orleans (as the center of navigation of materials moving up and down the Mississippi River which Friedman describes as the point where "bulk commodities of agriculture go out to the world and the bulk commodities of industrialism come in"). While the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port that services supertankers in the Gulf of Mexico is operational and Port Fourchon that serves energy extraction operations in the Gulf can be recovered, the manpower and supporting infrastructure that mans so much of the bulk goods and energy extraction and transport has been disabled and dispersed.

One wonders where was the federal government once it became clear that on D-Day +1 the levees were compromised and the city was to be flooded. The perils of the loss of New Orleans have been known for some time in many quarters in state, federal and scientific literature.

I am habitually critical of large federal scenario-based exercises, especially those in homeland defense against terrorism as they:

  • Confuse defining consequences with detection, prevention and interdiction
  • Exhibit difficulties as they grow in scope, complexity and political visibility

Politically mandated scenarios tend to mirror the exercises of the commercial power industry in which overly-broad scenarios too often see their operating parameters constrained to maximize the chances of success ("rigged" has appeared in private correspondence) with results "adjusted" to achieve success. Deprived of a systematic threat analysis and response this truncated process never allows the system's flaws to be fully identified and so lulls the defender into a state of undeserved comfort. As we like to say, an asymmetric attacker will not be as kind. Neither was Katrina.

Our typical federal scenarios do not have senators verbally upbraided for their obtuseness as CNN's Anderson Cooper did to Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu in asking her, "Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?" After Landrieu had offered the obligatory gruel of the seriousness of the situation, issued thanks to former presidents "for their strong statements of support and comfort", to "all the leaders that are coming [to] our help and rescue"' to the "military assets that are being brought to bear", and Congress for passing a "$10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating"' Cooper cut her off at the knees (you should really watch the video) with this comment:

Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated.

And when they hear politicians slap -- you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.

Do you get the anger that is out here?

Our typical federal scenarios do not have heads of FEMA dismembered for their ineptitude as Nightline's Ted Koppel did to Michael Brown (video) posing questions such as:

Koppel: I've heard you say during the course of a number of interviews that you found out about the convention center today. Don't you guys watch television? Don't you guys listen to the radio? Our reporters have been reporting on it for more than just today.

Koppel: Here we are essentially FIVE DAYS after the storm hit and you're talking about what's going to happen in the next couple of days.... You didn't make preparations for what was going to happen in the event that [a category four storm hit]. Why didn't you?

Our typical federal scenarios do not have a Secretary of Department of Homeland Security grilled relentlessly as Robert Siegel did to Michael Chertoff. Chertoff is an accomplished individual but I had difficulty in accepting his premise that Katrina was a "double catastrophe" of hurricane followed by flood. With all due respect, a major hurricane against New Orleans IS a flood, i.e., a single catastrophe that would form the core of recovery of the city and the surrounding region.

Our scenario planning would be the better if the above bits or realism were inserted and the interviewees evaluated on the outcomes.

I consider the failure to respond to the debacle at New Orleans with other 'federal realism' scenarios that exhibit adjusted conditions to encourage success yet repeatedly reinforce the failure of command and coordination, the overwhelming of hospitals and first responders, and the gulf in both inter- and intra-agency coordination:

  • The 1994 "Mirage Gold" exercise played out a scenario in which a fictitious militia, Patriots for National Unity, threatened to explode a nuclear bomb in New Orleans. While the test's organizers claimed that the bomb was found and defused, a later report by Rear Admiral Charles J. Beers Jr., then Department of Energy's (DOE) Deputy Assistant Secretary for Military Applications and Stockpile Support (DASMASS), found the exercise "conducted in a manner to 'stack the deck' in favor of unrealistic success," e.g., the game's players were "inappropriately leaked" information about the bomb's location and technical features. The reality was that the New Orleans was lost. (A private refrain among Counterterrorism (CT) practitioners is that is difficult to gain a realistic assessment in any politically mandated or politically important exercise as those who conduct the exercise will not fail. After Action Reports (AARs), if performed, can also suffer in such circumstances.)
  • Congress had since mandated exercises "designed to strengthen the nation's capacity to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from large-scale terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)." The first was the 2000 ''Operation Topoff,'' (for "Top Officials" and now called TOPOFF 2000) simulating three simultaneous terrorist strikes: chemical weapons in Portsmouth, New Hampshire., biological weapons in Denver, Colorado, and a dirty bomb in Washington, D.C. As with Mirage Gold, TOPOFF 2000 was an extremely complex scenario set up in a way to maximize the chances of success, e.g., prior to a supposedly `no-notice' exercise, the FBI leased 11 T-1 phone lines and installed them in an empty warehouse planned for use as a command post.
  • The 2003 TOPOFF 2 involved a fictional terrorist group, GLODO, carrying out a simultaneous attack again Chicago using pneumonic plague and Seattle using a radiological bomb. (GLODO had clandestine bioweapons labs in each city.) The difficulty with this exercise, and those who planned it, is that whoever GLODO is modeled on, it is not al Qaeda.
  • The 2005 TOPOFF 3 involved interruption and possible compromise of planned terrorist attacks in the New York and Boston metropolitan areas, causing the terrorists to accelerate their schedule; Simultaneously the vehicle-based improvised explosive device (VBIED) chemical weapon containing mustard gas meant for Boston is executed in New London, Connecticut, while the vehicle-based biological agent dispersal device employing pneumonic plague meant for New York is executed in the Union and Middlesex Counties of New Jersey.

Each TOPOFF looked for command and coordination issues. ICG's research into the series showed a predominance to repeat prior results, i.e., what we learn in each city of each TOPOFF event is that the diseases are fearsome, hospitals and first responders are overwhelmed, interagency and intra-agency coordination is pummeled while communications in the form of multiple control centers, numerous liaisons, and increasing numbers of response teams merely complicate the emergency response effort.

If we actually learned these lessons, how could we let Katrina get so far ahead of us?

Part 2

Convoy Bearing Food, Water and Weapons Arrives in New Orleans
New York Times
September 2, 2005

Special Edition: Hurricane Katrina
Aired September 1, 2005 - 19:00 ET

U.S. Aid Effort Criticized in New Orleans
by Robert Siegel
Sept 1, 2005

Extraordinary Problems, Difficult Solutions
By Guy Gugliotta and Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post
September 1, 2005

Newspaper That Had Warned Of Disaster Lives Own Prophecy
August 31, 2005

Big Blow in the Big Easy
By Dan Gilgoff
U.S. News And World Report
July 18, 2005

National Response Plan
Department of Homeland Security
December 2004

Analysis Planning for a Domestic Weapon-of-Mass-Destruction Exercise
Brian McCue with Christine A. Hughes, Kathleen M. Ward
The CNA Corporation
Alexandria, Virginia
(IPR) 10856/May 2003

Special Report: Washing Away
Part 1 - In Harm's Way
Part 2 - The Big One
Part 3 - Exposure's Cost
Part 4 - Tempting Fate
Part 5 - Cost of Survival

For those wishing more fun with scenarios:

Bioterrorism Drill TOPOFF 2 -- Failing to think like al Qaeda & relearning old lessons
[ 3/18/2004]
Worldwide maritime interception, search, and destroy
[ 4/9/2004]
'Dirty Bomb' worries continue
[ 3/22/2004]
The danger of confusing terrorist interdiction with the consequences of terrorist action
[ 7/6/2005]

Gordon Housworth

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Architectures of testimony, architectures of control propelled to convergence


Architectures of testimony - systems that can testify upon the actions of individuals, for or against, and architectures of control - systems that can shape and coerce individual behavior, are being propelled to convergence by a combination of technological, economic, and political forces that are stealing (have stolen may be the better phrase) a march on society as political actors and consumers.

I believe that I am the first to coin the phrase, "architectures of testimony" which contain the subpoena power upon the likes of stored automotive handling and position data, indexes of all past on-line and off-line search activity, and computer "crash" data that contains all programs running at the time of the error and the contents of all documents that were being created.

This newer sibling joins the much older architectures of control which have been with us for some time, though not recognized as such. Witness the likes of Baron Haussmann's redesign and broadening of the streets of Paris to forestall a recurrence of street fighting in a warren of medieval streets during the revolution of 1848, and Robert Moses' intentionally designed low-clearance Long Island overpasses that eliminated buses (public transit) from his parkways while leaving those owning cars free to use them at will.

Langdon Winner was writing on the capacity of "technical things" being imbued with "political qualities" (to which I would add economic qualities) in the 1980s:

[T]echnologies can [encompass] purposes far beyond their immediate use [and] be used in ways that enhance the power, authority, and privilege of some over others… In our accustomed way of thinking technologies are seen as neutral tools that can be used well or poorly, for good, evil, or something in between. But we usually do not stop to inquire whether a given device might have been designed and built in such a way that it produces a set of consequences logically and temporally prior to any of its professed uses… If our moral and political language for evaluating technology includes only categories having to do with tools and uses, if it does not include attention to the meaning of the de signs and arrangements of our artifacts, then we will be blinded to much that is intellectually and practically crucial.

In parallel, Stewart Brand was writing on information in 1987:

Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive. Information wants to be free because it has become so cheap to distribute, copy, and recombine---too cheap to meter. It wants to be expensive because it can be immeasurably valuable to the recipient. That tension will not go away. It leads to endless wrenching debate about price, copyright, 'intellectual property', the moral rightness of casual distribution, because each round of new devices makes the tension worse, not better.

In that same text, in a section dealing with the political economy of the media, he added, "Information wants to be (politically) free." In his late revision in 1989, Brand stated, in part:

The pressure of the paradox [between free and expensive] forces information to explore incessantly. Smart marketers and inventors quietly follow-and I might add, so do smart computer security people.

Jump forward to Gartner Group's 2003 forecast on Technology Trends 2005 - 2014:

Through to 2015, the over-arching trends for humanity will be the creation of the truly connected society, smart networked objects and semantic connectivity.

Dan Farber's commentary on the Gartner forecast continues:

Wireless sensor networks based on RFID or other technologies that capture data -- such as location, movement, temperature, molecular data or auditory signatures -- will improve safety and support better decision-making and convenience.

[With] all the data come the problems of collection and analysis, as well as with privacy in a world in which information is the major form of currency... Privacy will continue to be a volatile issue in the next decade, but the die has been cast. Rather than trying to prevent data collection, the focus is on controlling access to data and creating a balance between privacy and personalization.

Farber merges the architectures of testimony and architectures of control:

What is less predictable is the social impact of embedded computing, in which the entire environment of everyday objects is invested with some form of computing power and possibly intelligence. It's also likely that in the next decade computers will get much smarter, not just faster and cheaper, and understand more about content in context.

Dan Lockton asks, "What if your computer locks up your dissertation because it detects a copyright-infringing mp3 or image?" and then goes on to cite "primarily commercial control intentions [connected] with enforcing intellectual property rights, from copy-protection on DVDs to more complex ‘analogue hole' patching algorithms [that] identify copyrighted material [seen by cameras and camcorders] ‘in the wild.’

He goes on to describe "products [being] designed with features that restrict or enforce modes of behaviour or use on the part of the consumer, often in ways with parallels in software licensing techniques and digital rights management" for commercial, moral, environmental, social, or psychological purposes.

The means of economic and political shaping of individual actions at the device level are at hand and deserve thoughtful attention.

Designs on your... freedom
Dan Lockton
Gown, 2005

Microsoft to add 'black box' to Windows
By Ina Fried, CNET
ZDNet News: April 26, 2005, 4:00 AM PT

Microsoft's reveals hardware security plans, concerns remain
Can trusted computing hardware deliver security without locking out competition?
By Robert Lemos, SecurityFocus Apr 26 2005 7:29AM

Google Launches Personal History Feature
20 April 2005, 9:25pm ET

Hollywood Wants to Plug the "Analog Hole"
Posted by Cory Doctorow at 03:44 PM
EFF Electronic Frontier Foundation
May 23, 2002

Langdon Winner
FROM: The Whale and The Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology, 1986

Gordon Housworth

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Jihadist strategy formulation reaches maturity, uniting tactics, fulfilling doctrine


Jihadist warfighting has taken a quantum leap in formulating strategy in two volumes. Time will tell if it is maturity or response to disappointment with achievements to date.

A Jordanian analyst, Bassam al-Baddarin, has drawn what he believes is a coherent long term strategy until 2020 from the works of al-Qaeda's ‘strategic brain' Muhammad Makkawi, an Egyptian known as Sayf al-Adel. Ulph rightly questions if the ideas "predate events, or whether they constitute a ‘moving target' that takes as much from the unfolding of events as it purports to steer them." Time will tell, but it's clear that strategy is a rising idea that must be promulgated and transmitted, and even if it is being 'steered,' it becomes a workable handbook and proselytizing tool.

Makkawi/Sayf al-Adel outlines a strategy to regionalize the struggle against the US, drawing it into an extended war of attrition in the Arab region (now achieved), then provoking a rising of the Islamic Nation (now underway). I find it interesting that al-Baddarin reports that al Qaeda believes the US has "defined five objectives: ending the Palestinian intifada; controlling Lebanon's Hizbullah; effecting the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon; promoting the success of the Iraqi election process; and securing the oil fields in the Arabian Gulf region and maritime crossing points." What seems like desirable US policy is seen by al Qaeda is "the draining of the superpower's military resources," and indeed could be if the terrorists can extract a sufficiently high cost.

Abu Bakr Naji has written a remarkable strategy treatise, filling a void between doctrine and tactical matters such as the al Battar paramilitary series, that steps through a "strategic program towards empowerment" or "the phase of transition to the Islamic state" as seen through the eyes of an everyday mujahid, Idarat al-Tawahhush, "The Management of Barbarism," which is an extension to his Tuhfat al-Muwahhideen fi Bayan Tariq al-Tamkeen, "Gift of the Monotheists on the Way to Empowerment."

"Management of Barbarism" refers to a period of "savage chaos" after the collapse of a superpower or enemy regional state and is the first of five themes:

  1. Definition of ‘Management of Barbarism'
  2. Path of Empowerment
  3. Most Important Principles and Policies
  4. Most Pressing Difficulties and Obstacles
  5. Conclusion, demonstrating jihad as the ideal solution

"Management of Barbarism" is unique in that it:

  • Places extraordinary value the media, both in its admission of failure to build overwhelming support for Islamist aims, and the need to counter target government and "western media control of information delivery"
  • Promotes the use of maximum violence as a deterrent against the goals of Jihad
  • Outlines future desired 'crusader and infidel' targets within and outside current Islamic lands, i.e., soft targets, economic interests, and petroleum facilities
  • Advances pragmatism over doctrinal propriety and legal literalism in dealings with the enemy
  • Reduces individual reverses to secondary importance

Jihadist strategy is contained in Path of Empowerment in three phases:

  • Disruption and Exhaustion, exhausting the enemy while attracting converts
  • Management of Barbarism, establishing internal security, social administration, public services, and religious control
  • Empowerment, extending Management by continuing disruption and exhaustion activities, forming logistics lines with Management zones

Prime attention is given to media and propaganda strategy for winning support, recruitment, and deterrence. Attacks against soft, economic, energy, and commerce targets are underway on a global scale.

Most Important Principles and Policies is a thorough tactical treatment including mastering transition, chains of command, adopting "tested military principles," commencing and managing violence, understanding international politics, establishing security, intelligence and counterintelligence, education and training.

When mujahideen demands are not met, prisoners are to be taken and "liquidated horrifically."

Most Pressing Difficulties and Obstacles address attrition and believer casualties, lack of trained administrators, poor behavior, over-enthusiasm, infiltration, and schism.

Use of the media and the "number of attacks and threats of attacks by mujahideen on media offices and individuals in Iraq [including awe-inspiring execution], demonstrates that the value of this arm of the strategy is well understood, and indeed appears to be following the textbook."

The Conclusion asks "Is there any Easier Solution than Jihad? The answer is no, the outcome is global domination through Jihad, with maximum violence for as long as it takes.

Marxism was a lark in comparison and that took three generations.

By Stephen Ulph
Volume 2 Issue 6 (March 17 , 2005)

By Stephen Ulph
Volume 2 , Issue 6 (March 17, 2005)

"Voice of Jihad" Author Publishes al Qaeda Playbook
Northeast Intelligence Network

Al-Qa'ida book on managing savagery
Jihad Watch
March 09, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Implications of US plans for Iraqi national infrastructure privatization


In Secret US plans for Iraq's oil, Greg Palast develops ideas posted in Adventure Capitalism. Those ideas mirror Antonia Juhasz's reporting in Ambitions of Empire, Part 1: Extreme Makeover: The Americanization of Iraq and Ambitions of Empire, Part 2: Understanding and Opposing the Colonization of Iraq.

His premise is that the US administration had two conflicting plans for dealing with Iraq's oil production as a part of a broad privatization and restructuring effort, with 'neocons' at OSD against State 'pragmatists' and 'Big Oil' commercial interests. The zinger, if substantiated:

The sell-off was given the green light in a secret meeting in London headed by Ahmed Chalabi shortly after the US entered Baghdad, according to Robert Ebel [a] former Energy and CIA oil analyst... [Falah] Aljibury... claims that plans to sell off Iraq's oil, pushed by the US-installed Governing Council in 2003, helped instigate the insurgency and attacks on US and British occupying forces. "Insurgents used this, saying, 'Look, you're losing your country, you're losing your resources to a bunch of wealthy billionaires who want to take you over and make your life miserable,' We saw an increase in the bombing of oil facilities, pipelines, built on the premise that privatisation is coming."

Leaving aside imputed motives and focusing on outcomes, the following neutral and primary source materials go far in substantiating the privatization claims:

The Neoliberal Model's Planned Role in Iraq's Economic Transition
by Robert Looney
Strategic Insights, Volume II, Issue 8 (August 2003)
Center for Contemporary Conflict (CCC)
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California

Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century
Edward L. Morse, Chair
Amy Myers Jaffe, Project Director
Sponsored by the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations, 2001

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)
"Due to the dissolution of the CPA, this site for the CPA-Iraq Coalition will no longer be updated. It will remain available for historical purposes until June 30, 2005."

Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) Official Documents

  • Regulations are instruments that define the institutions and authorities of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).
  • Orders are binding instructions or directives to the Iraqi people that create penal consequences or have a direct bearing on the way Iraqis are regulated, including changes to Iraqi law.
  • Memoranda expand on Orders or Regulations by creating or adjusting procedures applicable to an Order or Regulation.
  • Public Notices communicate the intentions of the Administrator to the public and may require adherence to security measures that have no penal consequence or reinforces aspects of existing law that the CPA intends to enforce.

  • Order 12 Trade Liberalization Policy (Annex)***Rescinded per Order 54 Sec 3 Para 4*** 26 February 2004
  • Order 54 Trade Liberalization Policy 2004 with Annex A (Amended per Order 70) 04 April 2004
  • Order 37 Tax Strategy for 2003 19 September 2003
  • Order 39 Foreign Investment (Amended by Order 46) 20 December 2003
  • Order 46 Amendment of CPA Order 39 on Foreign Investment 20 December 2003
  • Order 40 Bank Law with Annex A **Rescinded per Order 94 Sec 3** 19 September 2003
  • Order 94 Banking Law of 2004 with Annex A 07 June 2004

Technical Assistance for Economic Recovery, Reform and Sustained Growth in Iraq
USAID contract to BearingPoint
Go to C.1. Statement of Work, Pages 4-11, then to Section J - List of Attachments, Page 40, then Annex B, Page 76; Annex C, Page 84; Annex D, Page 91; Annex E, Page 106.

Gordon Housworth

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The most likely of US Allies: Iraqi Shiites


To say that "Shiites may be unlikely US allies" is to misunderstand the Shia, the subtleties of their religion, their national as well as religious aspirations, the gentle tarring of Shiites by generations of Arabist scholars (English long before American) who tilted to the 'ruling' Sunni view, and to remain blinded by the searing embassy hostage episode whose Khomeini descendents are what I believe to be more of an aberration rather than the rule of Shia behavior.

While I have long felt that US administrations, scholars, and populace had a frozen view of what they consider a monolithic group, a recent Washington Post article that I submit perpetuates these stereotypes while denying us significant maneuver opportunities requires a contrarian view. 

First demographics as destiny:

Shiites are 10 percent to 15 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. But almost half of Muslims from Lebanon to Pakistan are Shiites… If democratic openings widen, the United States may find its dealings with Shiite communities deepen. Often persecuted, Shiites have long challenged autocratic rule. Given current opportunities, some fall naturally into the role of agents of change. "For over 1,000 years, Shiites have been critical of political affairs in Muslim states. The Shiites have been encouraged recently to speak up and spell out injustices. They've now become really vocal about it."

The cradle of this Shia concentration is Iraq, not Iran, and the Iraqis, unlike the Persians of Iran, are Arab.

Second, Shia versus Sunni: With a few notable exceptions, the Shia have been subservient to Sunnis or powerful minorities such as Alawites, and deprived of political power. By accident of US policy, the Iraqi Shia see political power within their grasp and seem determined to reach accommodation with Kurd and Sunni, while placating US authorities, in order to retain it. (Do not be deceived by the Muqtada al Sadr group as the father was appointed by Saddam Hussein to predate upon Shias. Had we left the younger al Sadr alone, the mainstream Shia would have dealt with him.)

Third, separating "church and state: Unlike Iranian mullahs, the mainstream al-Sistani, Fayadh and al-Najafi factions believe that religion should inform the state but not control it. I find mainstream Shia preferable to the Salafist/Whahabbi Sunni that have so long held sway among Western Arabist scholars.

Now consider this amalgam of undifferentiated Shia actors with very different goals and drivers, all viewed by the US through a hostage-polished lens:

The White House is now counting on a Shiite-dominated government to stabilize Iraq. In a tactical shift, the United States is indirectly reaching out to Iran, backing Europe's offer of economic incentives to get Tehran to surrender any nuclear weapons program. And in Lebanon [Washington] might accept Hezbollah as a political party… The shift is a striking contrast from the U.S. encounter with Shiite activism in 1979, when students stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Three actors with differing needs are present:

  • Iraqi Shia
  • Iranian hard-line Shia
  • Hezbollah, a closely coupled and directed Iranian government proxy mistakenly labeled pro-Syrian

While the Iranian government and Hezbollah are closely linked, so much so that I believe that it was Hezbollah that assassinated Rafik al Hariri on instruction from Tehran, and not Syria or its local proxies, the Lebanese government and security forces, the Iraqi Shia. While Iraqi Shia share the religion, they do not share the activism of Iranian or Hezbollah factions.

I find it reasonable that mainstream Iraqi Shiites will increasingly separate from their more politically ideological peers in order to protect and consolidate their nascent political base. Iraqi Shiites could emerge as a more dependable, constant partner to US interests than the Sunni with whom we first treated while ignoring the Shias.

We could do far worse for thoughtful allies in the Middle East.

In Mideast, Shiites May Be Unlikely U.S. Allies
By Robin Wright
Washington Post
March 16, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Planning Scenarios: Just because DHS deletes it doesn't mean it isn't there


Persistence is, well, a persistent characteristic of distributed digital data:

Hawaii officials published a draft copy of a confidential Homeland Security report that catalogues ways terrorists might strike in the United States. The report, requested by a presidential directive in December 2003, marks Homeland Security efforts to spur state and local authorities into thinking about preventing attacks. "My understanding is this was an error," Chertoff said in an interview with reporters. "... The report was deleted from Hawaii's site late Tuesday night.

Not quite. Its segments such as the now frequently quoted PLANNING SCENARIOS Executive Summaries can be found here.  A bit of tradecraft:

Look around and you will find articles such as Security Report Outlines Terror Scenarios which contain a useful phrase, National Planning Scenarios, in:

Over the last year, the department has drafted its National Planning Scenarios plan that poses the possibility of credible and destructive attacks including by nerve gas, anthrax, pneumonic plague and truck bomb

Search on the word 'Hawaii' + exact phrase 'National Planning Scenarios':

DHS's Draft Versions of the Capabilities Summaries for Review
Hawaii State Civl Defense - Leading the State in Providing Rapid Assistance ...
conditions defined int eh National Planning Scenarios that define the nature ...

Select the Cached version:

The Department of Homeland Security's Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness (DHS/SLGCP) has released draft versions of the Capabilities Summaries for review. These documents are provided by DHS for broad review and input by the homeland security community at all levels. Comments received will inform future versions of the Target Capabilities Summaries and directly influence broader homeland security policy and doctrine.

There are 35 Capabilities divided up into 10 categories (Agriculture and Foods, Criminal Investigation, Incident Management, Incident Response, Mass Care, Prevention Intelligence, Public Health and Medical, Public Information, Public Protection, Recovery) plus an 11th category, Reference Material. Scroll down to Reference Material for:

Planning Scenarios (Exec Summary) (.pdf)

While the PDF is down, a search on the title as exact phrase yields:

PLANNING SCENARIOS Executive Summaries
File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - View as HTML
... Version 2.0. ii. PLANNING SCENARIOS. Executive Summaries...

Select view as HTML. (You can also search on the URL itself (pasting the URL into the search field)). The "deleted" 55 pages appear:

Planning Scenarios
Executive Summaries
Created for Use in National, Federal, State, and Local Homeland Security Preparedness Activities

Choose File/Save As and select either Web page, complete or Web archive, single file and a local copy is yours. (Repeat the process for any of the other capabilities desired.)

Now that you have it, read Chertoff's risk-based approach speech to gain insight as to how the materials are being evaluated.

Chertoff: Release of Terror Report a Mistake
Hawaii Officials Posted Confidential DHS Report on Web Site
By Lara Jakes Jordan
Associated Press
March 16, 2005; 2:08 PM

Security Report Outlines Terror Scenarios
Upcoming Federal Report Outlines Frightening Range of Terror Scenarios to Spur Preparedness
Associated Press
Mar. 16, 2005

Remarks for Secretary Michael Chertoff U.S. Department of Homeland Security
George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute
Washington, D.C.
March 16, 2005

Gordon Housworth

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Implications of absence of liability: shifting the cost from perpetrator to consumer and bystander


Absence of liability in software design and data aggregation share a common theme: The absence of liability or responsibility for human action in any system leaves a massive open loop in which damaging action is allowed to rise, and to continue, without impact to the perpetrator's finances, equity and reputation. The unregulated impact of such action is a form of collateral damage to consumer and bystander as the cost to correct wrongful action or inaction is transferred to them.

The politico-economic system is as much at fault as are the perpetrators as the latter are only responding to the risk-reward calculations that the system presents them. If I am producer of product, tangible and intangible, and am not held accountable for the quality of those products, I will devote more attention to 'features' than to the quality of those features. If I am an aggregator of information and not held accountable for the security and accuracy of that information, I will focus on gathering/acquiring more information and designing data mining tools to exploit that information than to securing and updating that information. In both cases, it comes down to the consequences of shabby 'product.'

Speaking as one who has spent quite some time in software and systems firms, and who uses both event and entity (personal) information in data mining and analytic projects, I can say that redress is as long overdue as the risk of failing to secure that redress is rising. But if we are going to haul these 'producers' into the dock, we should also fix the system that allows them to operate - and that is the hardest of all solutions. Add to this the speed of technology, which outstrips the ability of laws to catch up with its implications. Readers are referred to these short introductions for the scale of the problem: Applying Ackoff's rules of system interdependency, Part I and Ackoff on Reductionism and Expansionism, Part II.

Rising economic loss has joined cybersecurity and homeland defense risk in driving the market, e.g., driving software and systems to improve, and driving more data aggregation and mining:

  • Software asks: Does the liability exemption relieve pressure on software makers to write more secure code? If so, are legal or regulatory changes required to correct such a "market failure?
  • Data aggregation asks: Does the US need a national data privacy law, or, at a minimum, that data aggregators must observe the Fair Credit Reporting Act rules designed to ensure that credit reports are accurate?

The software industry is maturing as spending is slowing, thus giving buyers more leverage. Conversely, proprietary software presents buyers with the high cost (direct, opportunity, and training) of a vendor change. The net gain as been in the vendors' favor. I expect that to change. (The 2002 recommendation to Congress that it "consider lifting software vendors' liability immunity because vendors had failed to "respond adequately to the security challenge"" is a case in point.)

I agree with Oracle's chief security officer that "national-security needs combined with the lack of accountability could make software ripe for regulation"; with CA that "some form of liability may be needed to focus the software industry's attention on security"; and with NSA's director of information assurance that "Congress would be quick to intervene "if something bad happens and it's because of bad software.""

Matters are worse in data aggregation and worse still for non-US nationals. Sale of personal data is permitted in many states. Data-sharing agreements among nations and the US are not publicly defined. Foreign states are increasingly concerned that the US Patriot Act can be extended to US subsidiaries on foreign soil, thereby leaving the foreign state no legal recourse in US courts.


  1. Federal and state privacy laws and regulations will see customers hold vendors increasingly accountable for customers' liability in using flawed software
  2. Sarbanes-Oxley will bring increasing transparency and risk identification to vendor (for software) and customer (for breaches of their own making) alike
  3. Software license agreements will slowly, with FUD resistance, soften liability waivers that hold the vendor "harmless for damages caused by software defects"
  4. Vendors will attempt to negotiate exemptions in return for taking appropriate security measures
  5. Very large firms and systems integrators acting as intermediaries will negotiate stricter liability in their SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
  6. Those SLA advances will trickle down to the general user base
  7. The structure of the software market as we know it will change
  8. Major data aggregators, fewer in number and acting as a private intel agency to federal and state entities, will move even slower than software
  9. Foreign nations will react with laws and limits on data repatriation of local data to US parent firms

When identity thieves strike data warehouses
By Robert Vamosi
February 25, 2005

Senator Says Data Service Has Lax Rules for Security
New York Times
February 25, 2005

Companies Seek to Hold Software Makers Liable for Flaws
February 24, 2005

ChoicePoint's error sparks talk of ID theft law
By Grant Gross, IDG News Service
February 23, 2005

Canadians Fight for Privacy
By Kim Zetter
Wired News
02:00 AM Feb. 04, 2005 PT

Gordon Housworth

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