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Tradecraft and surveillance from a jewel thief

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Hello! Say, Is That Bulgari? is delightful tradecraft from a presumably retired 35-year career jewel thief and is loaded with content as to what he looks at in terms of printed intel (exactly the items that society matrons and pretenders want to be mentioned therein), humint (where he goes to examine the merchandize and evaluate the character of the wearer -- an indication of the class of items she would own -- as much as the jewelry), and operational flair (his poise and charm as he gains entry and bluffs his way through the crowd to soon appear next to a walking jewel display).

It is yet another clear case of 'find them in surveillance mode' as when this fellow went into attack mode, an insurance claim was a seeming fait accompli. I hope that the security details of these wealthy folks take note and begin to surveil their society audiences.  One would think that they already do so, but perhaps not.  I have also seen the host, or even the wearers, at such affairs dismiss concerns of their security staff.  Chafing under security restrictions is not limited to formal practitioners.

I do find it interesting that he wrote his book now that the statue of limitation had expired on all his crimes. Whose statue, I wonder, as I contemplate his burglary of a crime boss. I also wonder if his fence has retired and thus whether his statue has expired. Rich and angry husbands might also qualify.

Tradecraft is where you find it and this fellow had much.

Hello! Say, Is That Bulgari?
By RANDY KENNEDY
New York Times
April 18, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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GPS projectile 'sniper rifle' hoax generates telling interest at China Police 2002

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Jakob Boeskov is a conceptual artist rather than a weapons dealer, yet he set off for China Police 2002, armed with a poster and false business cards from a fictitious firm, Empire North. His weapon was one "of the most terrible… he could imagine," the "ID Sniper Rifle," a 'GPS microchip based identification rifle' that fires a tracking device into a human target.

Boeskov shared his experiences at China Police 2002 with NPR’s Next Big Thing interviewers on 11 April, 2004.  Listen to the audio.

The project rose back in Copenhagen out of sci-fi conceptual art with colleagues. Boeskov left on day three of China Police 2002 as interest in his rifle was apparently getting serious. He was also rattled that no visitor to his booth evinced any human rights issue with shooting ‘microchips’ into a human body -- and the projectile in question was anything but small.

I found his comments on responses from a Brazilian arms dealer, a French diplomat, and a Chinese agency delegation to be revealing:

A Brazilian "arms dealer" was fond of the rifle’s concept, noting that Brazil has many prisoners held in jungle prisons subject to escape and this would facilitate their recapture.

A "French diplomat" asked what would happen to the target’s internal organs, appearing not to believe that its effect would "like a mosquito bite." Boeskov finessed him, saying (and I am speaking from my handscript notes of the interview) ‘that his firm was working on it as it was one of our most pressing issues.’

On day three, a "Chinese agency" visited Boeskov and appeared to show great interest. A prime question seemed to be, would the weapon violate human rights? Boeskov countered that ‘it is a problem that we watch and if things continue as they appear after 11 Sept, that we can proceed.’ The Chinese helpfully offered that ‘another solution would be to move production to China.’

Readers may draw their own conclusions as to merit.

FYI, checking the China Police 2002 website, there were luminaries from China’s Ministry of Public Security. From what I could make of limited English text, there were three country pavilions: Civipol (France), Defex (Spain), and Rosoboronoexport (Russia). Participating Countries were Belarus, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Korea, Morocco, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, UAE, United Kingdom , and the US.

Gordon Housworth



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Closer than you think - chemical attack thwarted in France

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When speaking of the possibility of chemical or biologic attack, it is all too easy to dismiss it as improbable. This should be a marker of reality -- and worst of all -- it was decidedly low-tech.

While the recent arrests in the Pacific Northwest for ricin production have been more likely criminal foul play or derangement, the ricin sent to the White House, Transportation Department, and Senate Majority Leader Frist are leaning more along the lines of the thwarted terrorist attacks in France.

It is instructive to remember how relatively low tech its production is and how fatal it is. (This said, the current ricin recipe circulating on the web is a bit off the mark and we should let it stay that way.) While there are more dispersible vectors such as anthrax and smallpox, ricin remains one of the most poisonous naturally occurring compounds in nature. It is an attack agent for both foreign and domestic terrorists.

The French DST have been pursuing members associated with the ricin production and delivery for more than a year, detaining individuals here and there. Originally seen as an anti-Russian attack by Chechen separatists, it has assumed wider scope.

In January, 2004 the French press reported that an Islamist chemical attack had been thwarted by French DST internal security arrests in the Lyon area. Plans for the attack came to light during the arrest of six suspected Islamic extremists, including the Imam of a Lyon mosque. The suspects appeared before Paris anti-terrorist judges the following week. Evidence gained from the suspects made it clear that an attack with botulism or ricin toxins was being actively prepared. Chellali Benchellali, an imam in Venisseux in the Lyon suburbs, his wife Hafsa and his son Hafed were among those detained on 6 January in a series of dawn raids.

While it has not gained any traction in the US, the Guardian article is the best single English summary that I've seen. (And as the Guardian is seen as some as center left, I have Reuters articles on file that corroborate).

Al-Qaida terror plot foiled, say French police
Jon Henley in Paris
Monday January 12, 2004
The Guardian (UK)

Gordon Housworth



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Woodward follows Clarke

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It will be interesting to hear Woodward's interview on 60 Minutes this Sunday (the interview was taped a week ago). I do so like the "the Pottery Barn rule," or the "you break it, you own it" rule of military action.

I remember Tom Friedman using it in February 03: "The first rule of any Iraq invasion is the pottery store rule: You break it, you own it. We break Iraq, we own Iraq - and we own the primary responsibility for rebuilding a country of 23 million people that has more in common with Yugoslavia than with any other Arab nation."

I am discomfited by the fact that, "Conservatives have long accused Mr. Powell of pursuing his own agenda, and of being more interested in depicting himself as right on the issues than as loyal to his president." Personally, I favor 'right' over blindly 'loyal' as you may not be extending allegiance to the right person. And if you cannot, then leave or start looking around.

It is daunting to follow the Quaker admonition "to speak truth to power" and I think that Powell does a creditable job. Perhaps Powell felt that he could have an influence. I think that he has but it has been more an external influence on a portion of our electorate and upon foreign leaders. It's a hard job. More of us track to Voltaire's "I am very fond of truth, but not at all of martyrdom."

Exploring the episode with Tenet and McLaughlin will be interesting.

Wary Powell Said to Have Warned Bush on War
By DOUGLAS JELL
April 17, 2004
New York Times

Gordon Housworth



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Hundreds of hand-wired satellite TV dishes in slums without sanitation

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NewsHour, 15 April, carried an audio clip on Al Hurra (The Free One), a US sponsored TV channel broadcasting to 22 Middle Eastern countries with 170 million potential listeners that is fighting for space among the some 130 satellite stations now in the Middle East.

Yes, al Hurra has blundered badly, perhaps very badly, commencing its inaugural broadcast with talking head interviews so reminiscent of other state sponsored stations and failing to report news of critical interest to listeners at the same level of priority coverage.

Yes, US diplomatic circles have voiced considerable frustration over earlier efforts, and many potential listeners say that, "If U.S. policy in the region was sound and convincing, they would not resort to cosmetic means to improve their image."

Yes, its sibling Arabic-language radio, Radio Sawa, or in English, begun two years earlier is doing better.

But as the NewsHour clip pointed out that in slums "too poor to have plumbing and sanitation," it was easy to spot the "hundreds of hand-wired satellite TV dishes."

Yes, we desperately need to balance our approaches to Israel and the Palestinians, but we must continue this program -- and continue to improve it -- as some will admit to watching it in private.

As the audio concludes, "The stakes are huge, nothing less than the hearts, minds, and attitudes of the Arab world."

Think what the Voice of America did for the US during the Cold War. Al Hurra could be the cheapest weapon that the US ever inserted into the middle east.

Gordon Housworth



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Blowback on French institutional coupling of politics and business

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I found the extended criminal trial over French culpability in the collapse of the large California insurer, Executive Life, in the early 1990s, less interesting as a marker of a declining Franco-American relation than as a window into a very tight coupling of French politics and business (supported by intelligence) that assumes ('presumes' might be a better word) a "political solution" can always be relied upon to sweep away the putative laws and treaties in force between any partner, competitor, and customer.

In a series of court proceedings that predated by far the second Iraqi invasion, one negotiated settlement after another fell through as the French "couldn't accept that there was not a political solution," and that the criminal matter being pursued by US federal court would proceed unimpeded.

Now the French government has pleaded guilty to a criminal count, paid a packet over and above the bailout costs already borne by their taxpayers, and is staring down the bore of 'big money' in the US civil suit to follow. It must astonish the French just as it has, and still does, the Chinese, say, when they expect the US in suppress activities of Chinese dissidents here in the US.

On the reverse, US businesses are lulled into a false sense of security when they go overseas assuming that the 'script as written are the words that make it into the movie.' It does not work that way and US firms need to have a risk mitigation strategy in place when they go so that their investment is protected.

As one who has advised US firms in resisting the deprecations of combined French political, intelligence, and industrial assets in the energy sector, part of our guidance to mid-size energy firms operating in Africa are to:

Be offshore in partnership with at least one other major US player. Third world governments are less prone to interfere with the super majors.

If no US player is possible, be offshore in partnership with at least one major non-US player that has similar interests and risk assessments. Areas where the French have an overwhelming presence carry added risk.

Postwar France has deemed its right to a foreign policy independent of NATO to rest upon its nuclear Force de Frappe and its suzerain over Francophone Africa. France exercises that suzerain aggressively by using all its state and commercial assets. (The French are not all that pleased of our presence in non-Francophone Africa for that matter. Witness our rapprochement with Libya. In a stroke, we divert both Libyan spending and Libyan crude oil to the US -- crude oil that was flowing inexpensively across the Med to France, a point not lost on the US government.)

Do read the article as it is a delicious tale. And do armor up your risk detection and risk amelioration posture when you venture offshore into a region, or an industrial segment, of high value to France.  Or Israel, or Germany, or Russia, or the PRC:

How Insurance Spat Further Frayed U.S.-French Ties
Paris Forks Over $375 Million In Executive Life Dispute; Gucci Owner Pinned Down
California's Civil Suit Looms
By JOHN CARREYROU and GLENN R. SIMPSON
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
April 16, 2004; Page A1

Gordon Housworth



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Patch stampede on Microsoft is a wonderful sign of awareness

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Maintaining that awareness is the first step to salvation, certainly preemption, I was overjoyed by the patch stampede on Microsoft -- and I dismiss any complaint over lacking infrastructure response as misplaced carping.

As DCI George Tenet said in his 14 April testimony to the 9/11 Commission amplifying his comment that it would take "[five] more years to rebuild the clandestine service":

"Well, sir, you know, you have an infrastructure, you have a recruiting framework, you have a quality control, you have a student- to-faculty ratio, and you have a big pipeline. We built all of that in to make sure we can get this done.

Nobody was paying attention to the plumbing. It's not sexy. You got to pay attention to the plumbing."

This time, millions of users were paying attention to their plumbing in excess of 50GB per second.

It is absolutely wonderful.

Microsoft took immediate note by adding CPU cycles to support the demand and observed that "the flood of users means more customers are worrying about security."

I trust that Microsoft saw tangible evidence that there is competitive advantage in safe code and that they will redouble their Trustworthy Computing initiative. 

That is the kind of "feature set" for which I will pay a premium.

Stampede for patches disrupts Microsoft update site
By
Robert Lemos
CNET News.com
April 14, 2004, 5:32 PM PT

Gordon Housworth



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Muslim extremist sites borrow e-commerce tools

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Ref my earlier note on sites offering guidelines for prioritized attacks on Western commercial and private humint targets, these sites also offer their own form of 'sign-up here" along with tradecraft instructions. Al Jazeera (in English) is tame in comparison to Maktab-al-Jihad. Both are worth reading from time to time as you will wonder if you and they are on the same planet. Not much room for compromise here.

Our tools work just as well for them as they do for us. I find it interesting that the most conservative wings of Muslims and jihadists that would take themselves, and presumably ourselves had they the option, back to a seventh century apogee in terms of cultural horizon are only too willing to harvest 21st century communication tools to get there.

This article details some of the offending sites as well as efforts to take them down. As of this writing the Islamic Jihad site may be installing a new Apache web server version, but still validates its URL; the Hamas page is returning "page cannot be displayed;" and the Al-Qaeda site remains in 'takeover state.'

But al Fateh for children and Maktab-al-Jihad for adults are alive and well, as well as many more.

Activists Crusade Against E-Jihad
IPS-Inter Press Service International Association (Rome)
Cam McGrath

Gordon Housworth



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The wisdom of laying siege to Najaf

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Before starting any discussion on Arabs and Middle Eastern Muslims, I keep in mind this Bedouin saying:

"My full brother and I against my half-brother, my brother and I against my father, my father's household against my uncle's household, our two households (my uncle's and mine) against the rest of the immediate kin, the immediate kin against non-immediate members of my clan, my clan against other clans, and, finally, my nation and I against the world."

The many-to-many relationships of interacting clans is much more useful to understanding this area than is the concept of a nation-state. Indeed, Saddam Hussein acted much like Josip Broz Tito in Yugoslavia in restraining this web of conflicting relations that US forces released at the fall of Saddam.

Juan Cole (Middle East history at the University of Michigan) writes with much nuance on the region. In a recent PBS Newshour interview with Ray Suarez, both Cole and Reuel Gerecht (ex CIA DO now at the American Enterprise Institute) weighed in on the merit of entering Najaf. Both academic and operative were firmly against it. I find it astonishing that we can be massing at the gates of what a US commander has called the 'Shite Vatican.' Yes, I appreciate the threat of force as a negotiating tactic but if our bluff were called we would face a fearsome endgame. Here is a snippet of that exchange:

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor Cole, the commanding officer of those troops, U.S. troops outside Najaf, said today, 'look at this as the Shiite Vatican, a single shot in Najaf could outrage the Shia majority.' He seems to be well aware of the delicacy of his mission. Is that a good analogy? Is Najaf the Shiite Vatican?

JUAN COLE: It is an excellent analogy and it should be remembered that the implications of U.S. invasion of Najaf would go far beyond Iraq.

All the Shiites in the world, in Lebanon, in Iran, in Bahrain and Pakistan and Afghanistan would be outraged by such an action and there would be terrible repercussions possibly for the United States in moving in this way.

And the problem is the U.S. military authorities have said that they want to either capture or kill Muqtada al Sadr. I don't understand this aspiration. If they capture him, there will be demonstrations by all of his fanatical followers -- and they are not miniscule in number. Every day in many cities until he is released, there will be hostage taking in hopes of trading hostages for him. If he is killed, then they will go into a guerilla insurgency. There has to be a third way -- possibly finding a way to exile him to a neighboring country without harming him.

Having US forces (read Infidels) at the gates of the Shite Vatican at all, much less without a plan other than to lay siege, is numbing. It is difficult to operate solely on unclass information, but one wonders who is thinking of the immediate secondary effects much less the longer term effects. It reminds me of the change that I so often level at Israelis in their dealings with the Palestinians: They win every battle and lose every war.

Even as I write things are moving rapidly as the US has enlisted Iran to offer temporary sanctuary to al Sadr after he surrenders to the grand ayatollahs who will then negotiate with US authorities. Cole is surprised that the US would seek Iranian assistance, thinking it a "sign of real desperation on the part of the Bush administration to turn to the Axis of Evil for help."

Cole warns that once Iran is in Iraqi politics that it will not be easy to get it out.

Gordon Housworth



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Browsers as growing attack path for malware

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We are no stranger to web sites with malicious code as our open source investigations have taken us to fringe sites or to sites hijacked, in whole or in part, such that have one or more legitimate pages are replaced with hostile code and payloads. For that purpose, while IE is our standard browser, we maintain a single PC with an older, stripped down Netscape version, no email, etc., in order to minimize blowback. Now browser-based attacks are predicted to rise for the general web user as email vectors are terminated by better defenses. But what used to be a passive attack in that the unwary had to make their way to the malicious page or site on their own, the newer active attacks are using email containing links to hostile code:

"Because the attacks usually aren't launched until the user clicks on the link, many firewalls don't catch them. Traditional firewalls examine traffic coming into the network, but guarding against browser attacks requires that traffic leaving the network also be inspected."

As firewall vendors scramble to catch up, the security updates to IE can come none too soon as this attack vector enters the mainstream user population.

Concern grows over browser security
By
Marguerite Reardon
CNET News.com
April 12, 2004, 11:14 AM PT

Gordon Housworth



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