Saturday, May 31, 2008

Earth's Jihad

The Army National Guard: Always Ready?

The motto of the U.S. Army National Guard is "Always Ready - Always There" but, are they really ready?

A Feb. 14, 2008 report by the Government Accountability Office on current operations readiness suggests otherwise.

Equipment Shortages Affect Availability of Items for Nondeployed Units

The GAO report cites, "As we have reported, ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with harsh combat and environmental conditions are inflicting heavy wear and tear on equipment items that, in some cases, are more than 20 years old.

In response to the sustained operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and Marine Corps developed programs to reset (repair or replace) equipment to return damaged equipment to combat-ready status for current and future operations.

We also have reported that while the Army and Marine Corps continue to meet mission requirements and report high readiness rates for deployed units, nondeployed units have reported a decrease in reported readiness rates, in part due to equipment shortages.

Some units preparing for deployment have reported shortages of equipment on hand as well as specific equipment item shortfalls that affect their ability to carry out their missions.

The Army Chief of Staff has testified that the Army has had to take equipment from nondeployed units in order to provide it to deployed units.

The Marine Corps has also made trade-offs between preparing units to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan and other unit training.

In addition, the Army National Guard and Army Reserve have transferred large quantities of equipment to deploying units, which has contributed to equipment shortages in nondeployed units.

As a result, state officials have expressed concerns about their National Guard’s equipment that would be used for domestic requirements."

106th Aviation Illinois Army National Guard

Just three months after the GAO report, on May 21, 2008, the American Forces Press Service reports a different story.

“Today, the Department of Defense -- active, reserve and National Guard -- is better prepared to assist civil authorities than at any other time in our nation's history,” said Paul McHale, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and Americas’ security affairs.

“Our men and women in military uniform are well prepared to provide substantial life-saving assistance to FEMA,” McHale said. “And with a sense of urgency, we will do so if called upon during the 2008 hurricane season.”

Who's right? Let's hope it won't take a hurricane or worse to find out.

Sources: Testimony Before the Armed Services Committee House of Representatives United States Government Accountability Office, MILITARY READINESS, Impact of Current Operations and Actions Needed to Rebuild Readiness of U.S. Ground Forces - PDF (02/14/2008)

Military Better Prepared Than Ever for Disaster Relief, Official Says (5/28/2008)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Ode to the Captain of the Enterprise

At only 25 years of age, Commodore Stephen Decatur, Jr. (1779 – 1820) was the youngest man to reach the rank of captain in the history of the United States Navy.

Given his first command, the brig Argus in 1803, he took it to the Mediterranean for service in the First Barbary War against Tripoli.

Once in the combat zone, then Lieutenant Decatur commanded the schooner Enterprise and, on 23 December 1803, captured the enemy ketch Mastico.

Renamed Intrepid, that vessel was used by Decatur on February 16, 1804 to execute a night raid into Tripoli harbor to destroy the former U.S. frigate Philadelphia, which had been captured after running aground at the end of October 1803.

Admiral Lord Nelson is said to have called this "the most bold and daring act of the age."

"Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1804", by Edward Moran (1829-1901), 1897.

To honor Decatur after Tripoli was vanquished in 1805, Francis Scott Key wrote the following verse:


When the warrior returns, from the battle afar,
To the home and the country he nobly defended,
O! warm be the welcome to gladden his ear,
And loud be the joy that his perils are ended:
In the full tide of song let his fame roll along,
To the feast-flowing board let us gratefully throng,
Where, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Columbians! a band of your brothers behold,
Who claim the reward of your hearts' warm emotion,
When your cause, when your honor, urged onward the bold,
In vain frowned the desert, in vain raged the ocean:
To a far distant shore, to the battle's wild roar,
They rushed, your fair fame and your rights to secure:
Then, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

In the conflict resistless, each toil they endured,
'Till their foes fled dismayed from the war's desolation:
And pale beamed the crescent, its splendor obscured
By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation.
Where each radiant star gleamed a meteor of war,
And the turbaned heads bowed to its terrible glare,
Now, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Our fathers, who stand on the summit of fame,
Shall exultingly hear of their sons the proud story:
How their young bosoms glow'd with the patriot flame,
How they fought, how they fell, in the blaze of their glory.
How triumphant they rode o'er the wondering flood,
And stained the blue waters with infidel blood;
How, mixed with the olive, the laurel did wave,
And formed a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Then welcome the warrior returned from afar
To the home and the country he nobly defended:
Let the thanks due to valor now gladden his ear,
And loud be the joy that his perils are ended.
In the full tide of song let his fame roll along,
To the feast-flowing board let us gratefully throng,
Where, mixed with the olive, the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the brows of the brave.

Brushed up and revised a little for the War of 1812, and set to the same music (To Anacreon in Heaven), it has enjoyed considerable success since.

The Star-Spangled Banner

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'T is the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov'd homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us as a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause. it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

How to Tell if You're Being Bugged

Warning Signs of Covert Eavesdropping or Bugging - By Granite Island Group

  1. Others know your confidential business or professional trade secrets.
    This is the most obvious indicator of covert eavesdropping activities. Theft of confidential information is a multi-billion dollar underground industry in the United States. Often the loss of your secrets will show up in very subtle ways so you should always trust your instincts in this matter. When your competitors know things that are obviously private, or the media finds out about things they should not know, then it is reasonable to suspect technical eavesdropping or bugging.
  2. Secret meetings and bids seem to be less than secret.
    Confidential meetings and bids are very popular targets for corporate spies. How would you like the plans for the corporate takeovers you're planning to become public knowledge? Would copies of your product designs be of any use to your competitors? Would it be beneficial for your competitors to know how much you're quoting for the same project?
  3. People seem to know your activities when they shouldn't.
  4. You have noticed strange sounds or volume changes on your phone lines.
    This is commonly caused by an amateur eavesdropper when they attach a wiretap, or activate a similar listening device. Surveillance devices often cause slight anomalies on the telephone line such a volume shift or drop-out. Professional eavesdroppers and their equipment usually do not make such noises; so if this is going on it could indicate that an amateur eavesdropper is listening in. On the other hand you could simply be experiencing a flaw in the line, but you should check it out.
  5. VHF phone bug - 33x14x3mm, no need for additional power, up to 200m transmitted range.

  6. You have noticed static, popping, or scratching on your phone lines.
    This is caused by the capacitive discharge which occurs when two conductors are connected together (such as a bug or wiretap on a phone line). This is also a sign that an amateur eavesdropper or poorly trained spy is playing with your phone lines. It could be nothing more then a problem with your phone line or instrument, but a TSCM person should evaluate the situation to make sure.
  7. Sounds are coming from your phones handset when it's hung up.
    This is often caused by a hook switch bypass, which turns the telephone receiver into a eavesdropping microphone (and also a speaker). There is probably somebody listening to everything you say or do within twenty feet of the telephone (if this is happening).
  8. Your phone often rings and nobody is there, or a very faint tone, or high pitched squeal or beep is heard for a fraction of a second.
    This is an indicator of a slave device, or line extender being used on your phone line. This is also a key indicator of a harmonica bug, or infinity transmitter being used. Of course it may also be nothing more then a fax machine or modem calling the wrong number (but a TSCM person should evaluate the situation to make sure).
  9. Phone Parallel TX-1600 - uses its own power and having an input impedance of more than 9 Mohm it is not detectable by most sophisticated detectors.

  10. You can hear a tone on your line when your phone is on the hook (by using an external amplifier).
    To check for something like this you would have to obtain a "recorder starter" interface (with a VOX option), or some kind of a high gain audio amplifier such as a uAmp or Kaiser 1059. Then with the phone hung-up listen to your telephone wiring. If you hear a faint solid dual tone it is a dead giveaway of someone using a "slave" eavesdropping device on your (or one of your neighbors) telephone lines. Such devices create a "command tone" when the subject hangs up the phone (so you must ensure that all of your phones are hung-up). On an added note: the most common command tones for illicit eavesdropping devices are 2100 Hz and DTMF-C, but any tone combination may be used.
  11. Your AM/FM radio has suddenly developed strange interference.
    Many amateur and spy shop eavesdropping devices use frequencies within or just outside the FM radio band, these signals tend to drift and will "quiet" an FM radio in the vicinity of the bug. Look for the transmissions at far ends of the FM radio band, and at any quiet area within the FM band. If the radio begins to squeal then slowly move it around the room until the sound become very high pitched. This is referred to as feedback detection or loop detection and will often locate the bug. The "stereo" function should be turned off so the radio is operating in "mono" as this will provide a serious increase in sensitivity. If you find a "squealer" in this manner then immediately contact a TSCM and get them to your location FAST.
  12. Your car radio suddenly starts "getting weird"
    Keep in mind that the antenna your car radio uses may be (and often is) exploited by an eavesdropper, and that such usage may interfere with radio reception (so be concerned if you automobile radio suddenly starts getting weird).
  13. Nanny cam - wireless surveillance inside a child's toy.

  14. Your television has suddenly developed strange interference.
    Television broadcast frequencies are often used to cloak a eavesdropping signal, but such a devices also tends to interfere with television reception (usually a UHF channel). Televisions also "suck in" a lot of RF energy and because of this are very sensitive to any nearby transmitters (this is technically called "Bandwidth, and TV signals use a lot of it). A small handheld television with a collapsible antenna may be used to sweep a room. Carefully watch for interference around channel numbers 2, 7, 13, 14, 50-60, and 66-68 as these frequencies are very popular with eavesdroppers.
  15. You have been the victim of a burglary, but nothing was taken.
    Professional eavesdroppers often break into a targets home or office, and very rarely leave direct evidence of the break-in; however, occupants of the premises will often "pickup on something not being right" such as the furniture being moved slightly.
  16. Electrical wall plates appear to have been moved slightly or "jarred".
    One of the most popular locations to hide eavesdropping devices is inside, or behind electrical outlets, switches, smoke alarms, and lighting fixtures. This requires that the wall plates be removed. Look for small amounts of debris located on the floor directly below the electrical outlet. Also, watch for slight variations in the color or appearance of the power outlets or light switches as these are often swapped out by an eavesdropper. Also note if any of the screws which hold the wall plate against the wall have been moved from their previous position.
  17. Measuring a miniscule 2x2x2cm, this little camera can be inserted inside your shirt. It can monitor activities 100 meters away and has a very good quality colour lens with a sensitive microphone.

  18. A dime-sized discoloration has suddenly appeared on the wall or ceiling.
    This is a tell tale sign that a pinhole microphone or small covert video camera has been recently installed.
  19. One of your vendors just gave you any type of electronic device such as a desk radio, alarm clock, lamp, small TV, boom box, CD player, and so on.
    Many of these "gifts" are actually Trojan horses which contain eavesdropping devices. Be very suspicious of any kind of pen, marker, briefcase, calculator, "post-it" dispenser, power adapter, pager, cell phone, cordless phone, clock, radio, lamp, and so on that is given as a gift. That little gift the salesman left for you may be a serious hazard.
  20. A small bump or deformation has appeared on the vinyl baseboard near the floor.
    Strong indicator that someone may have concealed covert wiring or a microphone imbedded into the adhesive which holds the molding to the wall. Such deformation will often appear as a color shift, or lightening of the color.
  21. The smoke detector, clock, lamp, or exit sign in your office or home looks slightly crooked, has a small hole in the surface, or has a quasi reflective surface.
    These items are very popular concealment for covert eavesdropping devices. Often when these devices are installed at a target location they are rarely installed straight. Also watch out for things like this that "just appear", or when there is a slight change in their appearance.
  22. The Digital Spy Camera Pen is compact enough to fit in your pocket. The device can take images and stores them on its built-in 2MB memory and transfers images to your PC using a serial cable.

  23. Certain types of items have "just appeared" in your office of home, but nobody seems to know how they got there.
    Typical items to watch for and beware of are: clocks, exit signs, sprinkler heads, radios, picture frames, and lamps.
  24. White dry-wall dust or debris is noticed on the floor next to the wall.
    A sign that a pinhole microphone or video camera may have been installed nearby. It will appear as if someone has dropped a small amount of powdered sugar either on the floor, or on the wall.
  25. You notice small pieces of ceiling tiles, or "grit" on the floor, or on the surface area of your desk. Also, you may observe a cracked, chipped, or gouged ceiling tiles, or ones that are sagging, or not properly set into the track.
    Prime indicator that a ceiling tile has been moved around, and that someone may have installed a hidden video camera or other eavesdropping device in your office or near your desk. Also watch for cracks or chips in the ceiling tiles. Amateur and poorly trained spies tend to crack or damage acoustical tiles. The ceiling tiles in any executive areas should never contain any cracks, nicks, gouges, or stains. Any ceiling tile that becomes damaged (for what ever reason) should immediately replaced and the cause of the damage documented. In such cases it is also wise to have a TSCM specialist inspect the area around the chipped, broken, or damaged tile to determine if a hostile eavesdropping device may have been introduced.
  26. You notice that "Phone Company" trucks and utilities workers are spending a lot of time near your home or office doing repair work.
    If you see the same or similar vehicles more then three times then you may have a serious problem (at least according to the U.S. State Department training course on counter surveillance).
  27. The SC4142 sprinkler camera blends in with virtually any office, warehouse, restaurant or other public interior environment without giving any sign of surveillance.

  28. Telephone, cable, plumbing, or air conditioning repair people show up to do work when no one called them.
    A very common ruse which eavesdroppers use to get into a facility is to fake a utility outage, and then show up to fix the problem. While they are fixing "the problem" they are also installing eavesdropping devices. Some of the more popular outages involve power, air conditioning, telephone, and even the occasional false fire alarm.
  29. Service or delivery trucks are often parked nearby with nobody (you can see) in them.
    These vehicles are commonly used as listening posts, be very cautious of any vehicle which has a ladder or pipe rack on the roof. Also, be wary of any vehicle which has tinted windows, or an area which you cannot see though (like a service van). The listening post vehicle could be any vehicle from a small Geo Tracker, Suburban, Blazer, Trooper, or Cargo Van. Look for any vehicle which could conceal a person in the back or has tinted windows. Also, keep in mind that the eavesdropper may relocate the vehicle several times, so look around. Typically, eavesdroppers like to get within 500-750 feet from the place or person they are eavesdropping on.
  30. Your door locks suddenly don't "feel right", they suddenly start to get "sticky", or they completely fail.
    Prime evidence that the lock has been picked, manipulated, or bypassed. Try to always use biaxial locks with sidebars (such as ASSA or Medeco). Also, only use double sided deadbolts in all doors, and good quality window bars on all windows, and a good quality door bar on all doors not used as a primary entry doors.
  31. Found in a major food distributor's conference room. It was purchased on Ebay for $23.00.

  32. Furniture has been moved slightly, and no one knows why.
    A very popular location for the installation of eavesdropping device is either behind, or inside furniture (couch, chair, lamp, etc.) People who live or work in a targeted area tend to notice when furnishings have been moved even a fraction of an inch. Pay close attention to the imprint which furniture makes on rugs, and the position of lamps shades. Also watch the distance between furniture and the wall as eavesdroppers are usually in a hurry and rarely put the furniture back in the right place.
  33. Things "seem" to have been rummaged through, but nothing is missing (at least that you noticed).
    A "less than professional spy" will often rummage through a targets home for hours, but very rarely will they do it in a neat and orderly fashion. The most common "rummaging" targets are the backs of desk drawers, the bottom of file cabinets, closets, and dresser drawers.
  34. An eavesdropper sends you a copy of your private conversations.
    As simple as it seems this is the strongest indicator, and solid proof of eavesdropping. An eavesdropper will sometimes send a victim a copy of a private conversation they intercepted in an attempt at blackmail, or in an attempt to terrorize, or to just stalk the victim. This is commonly seen in civil lawsuits, criminal court cases, marital problems, shareholder disputes, custody battles, and other situations were one side has a position of weakness and is trying to physiologically undermine their opponent.

Who Gets Bugged?

High Threat Business Situations

  • Your company has stock which is publicly traded (or will be soon)
  • Your company is having labor problems, union activities, or negotiations
  • Your company is involved in any type of litigation or lawsuit
  • Your company has layoffs pending (or they have just happened)
  • Your company is involved in the fashion, automotive, advertising, or marketing industry

Anyone can be the target of covert eavesdropping, however; some people are under greater risk than others because of financial position, occupation, legal, or domestic situation.

  • Spouses bug each other on a regular basis
  • Parents bug children
  • Businessmen bug other businessmen
  • Scientists bug other scientists
  • Students bug professors
  • Attorneys bug other attorneys (and their clients)
  • Insurance companies bug accident victims, and other claimants
  • Construction companies bug other construction companies
  • Salesmen bug clients
  • Collection agencies bug debtors
  • Police officers bug suspects
  • Executive recruiters bug personnel directors
  • Rock fans bug rock musicians
  • Department stores bug customers and merchandise

High Threat Personal Situations (when to be seriously concerned)

You (or someone close to you) have been:

  • Involved in any type of litigation or lawsuit
  • Been questioned, arrested or arraigned by the police
  • In the process of getting married, divorced, or separated
  • A minister or religious leader (i.e.: priest, rabbi, deacon, bishop, elder...)
  • Running for any type of elected public office
  • Elected to any public office (i.e.: mayor, selectman, school principal)
  • Executive or scientist at any large company
  • Recently filed a insurance claim
  • Engaging in political demonstrations or activism
  • Employed by a defense contractor, Department of Energy, etc...
  • Private Investigators have been "poking" around
  • You are in the upper income bracket

Keep in mind that anybody with Money, Power, Influence, or access to sensitive, classified, or personal information is at serious personal risk.

On a related note: If you work (or have worked) for any kind of military, governmental, law enforcement or judicial agency the possibility of you being targeted for eavesdropping is very high. Such eavesdropping can come from either side of the law, and is rarely legal or court sanctioned.

Additionally, people married to, associated with, divorced from, getting divorced from, dating, or getting intimate with a member of law enforcement, private security, PI, or any level of the judicial system should be concerned about illegal eavesdropping (yes, cops love to bug their wives and girlfriends).

If any of the above warning signs apply and you are concerned about covert eavesdropping or wiretapping then it would be wise to immediately contact a Technical Surveillance Counter Measures firm and schedule a "Bug Sweep" or TSCM inspection. However, do not call from a suspect telephone, cellular telephone, or cordless phone.

Visit my Spy Store to pick up your own gear. - c

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent, Chapter 1

This is the first chapter of Fred Burton’s new book, GHOST: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent. Burton is vice president for counterterrorism and corporate security at Stratfor. He is the former deputy chief of the Diplomatic Security Service, the Department of State’s counterterrorism division.

Chapter One: The Buried Bodies


February 10, 1986

Bethesda, Maryland

On my morning run through February’s chilly darkness, my chocolate Lab, Tyler Beauregard, sets the pace. This is our routine together, though we always vary our route now. At agent training, which I just completed, they drilled into us the notion that in our new lives, routines will get us killed. When you join the Dark World, you must become unpredictable. Erratic. We must strip away all the conventions of our old lives and fade into the background. We’ve been trained. We’ve practiced. Today, I begin my life as a ghost.

These morning runs will be my one tip to the old life I’m leaving behind. Still, today I take new precautions, such as the snubby Smith & Wesson Model 60 .38-caliber revolver tucked away under my belt.

I love these morning runs with Tyler. She is a remarkable animal, my familiar, a canine that intuits more about loyalty and honor than most of the people I encountered as a police officer in Montgomery County, Maryland. She pads along, tongue lolling, breathing steady. She’s a pro. She could run marathons of her own.

My footfalls echo across the empty Bethesda neighborhood. The tidy brick houses and apartments are dark. In my new life, I’ll be spending a lot of time in darkness. I’ve learned to be paranoid. I’ve learned to look around corners and watch my back. Our instructors warned us that the KGB opens a file on every one of us new agents as soon as we graduate. Then they probe our lives and backgrounds in search of weaknesses, skeletons, or any sort of leverage by which to exploit or co-opt us. Sooner or later, they will make contact with an offer. Or a threat.

I glance behind me, half expecting to see some Eastern Bloc thug in a trench coat shadowing me. But all I see is a thin layer of fog and an empty suburban block.

I look behind me a lot these days. It goes with the job. Situational awareness is essential if we are to stay alive. I don’t run with a Walkman banging out Springsteen’s Born to Run anymore. My ears are unbound and tuned to the street. Every little sound, every shuffle or distant downshift of an automobile on MacArthur Boulevard registers with me. I file each new noise away in my mind, cataloging it so I’ll notice anything out of the ordinary. I’ve been trained to be an observer. Since I started my training last November, I hone and refine this skill on every morning run.

Tyler picks up the pace. She’s taking me toward Glen Echo, a small town on the Potomac. We reach a little jogging trail that runs along Reservoir Road. Here, we escape the suburbs and plunge into the woods. Just before we enter the tree line, I steal a sidelong glance behind me again. I practice this move every day; it is something we learned in training. The trick is to be unobtrusive, to not reveal that you’re clearing your six. It has become automatic for me now.

No tails. We’re not being followed.

Today my life changes forever. I have no idea what is in store for us new guys. I just know that a year ago, I was a Maryland cop. I protected my community. I loved law enforcement, but I wanted something more. So I applied for federal service, and the Diplomatic Security Service offered me a job. Until last fall, I’d never even heard of the DSS.

I started my training in November 1985, just a few weeks after terrorists hijacked the cruise liner Achille Lauro and executed Leon Klinghoffer for the crime of being an American citizen-and a Jew. They shot him then dumped him overboard in his wheelchair.

The world needs more cops.

Only three out of every hundred who start the training get to the finish line. I felt lucky just to be there. After the ceremony, we stood in alphabetically arranged lines waiting to receive our first assignments. Our class coordinator, Special Agent Phil Whitney, began reading off our names and telling us what we’d be doing for the next phase of our lives. Some of us picked up overseas assignments in our embassy field offices. Some landed protective security tours, guarding our diplomats and the secretary of state. Whitney told a few they’d be assigned as diplomatic couriers, where they would carry our nation’s most-guarded secrets from one place to another all around the globe.

When he got to me, Whitney paused. He stared at his clipboard for a moment before saying, “Burton, Counterterrorism Branch.”

I’d had no idea what that was. When Whitney reached the middle of the alphabet he called out, “Mullen, Counterterrorism Branch.”

I looked down the rows of agents to John Mullen. His flaming red hair was easy to spot. I could see him searching me out. We were the only two to be sent to this puzzling assignment. We exchanged confused glances. What had we gotten into?

At least I’d be going into it with a rock-steady veteran. Before he joined the DSS, Mullen had been an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, battling the growing narco-criminal element and cocaine cartels on the streets of New York City. Legend had it that he’d been in a nasty shoot-out and had run out of ammunition in the midst of the fray. After that, he always carried two guns. One he tucked away in a shoulder holster. The other he wore strapped to his ankle. He prepared for the worst and trusted in firepower. I swear we all thought he slept with those weapons. They were his pacifiers.

A light rain drizzles down on us now. Tyler shakes her coat in midstride, sending water droplets flying. I wish I could do that. We’re still on a course that is taking us away from our little redbrick apartment, a fact that I sense is starting to disappoint my dog. I hurry forward until I’m even with her and bend down to run my hands through her damp fur. She looks up at me with pure love. I’ve already told my wife that when I die, Tyler’s ashes will be buried with me.

Back home, my wife, Sharon, is probably just getting up to face her own Monday. We were high school sweethearts and have known each other most of our lives. Up until now, we’ve lived an average DINK life (Double Income, No Kids). She’s an accountant, a damned good one. She’s aggressive and driven and works long hours. Now, I’m a spook. Secrecy is our watchword. I realize with a grin that we’ll have nothing to talk about at cocktail parties.

Tyler Beauregard dashes ahead of me again until she reaches a narrow footbridge. She waits for me to catch up. She knows this bridge. We’ve investigated it before. It is top on the list of Dark World sites to see in Washington, D.C. Of course, there are no plaques or markers noting this piece of spy history. To the average workaday American-guys like me until four months ago-it was just a little bridge over a small creek.

But now I know its dark side. This was Kim Philby’s dead-drop point. Philby was the KGB’s first true superspy, a British intel operative who embraced Communism while at Oxford in the thirties. He compromised hundreds of agents, destroyed scores of operations, and sold out the lives of countless patriots. When his cover was finally blown in the sixties, he escaped to Moscow and got what he deserved: a hellish life under the regime he had helped sustain. In the dingy concrete apartments he later called home, he devolved into a bitter, broken alcoholic given to frequent bouts of complete incoherence. His conscience became his enemy. He died in shame, his name a byword for treason.

In the late 1940s, Philby was posted to Washington, D.C. It was said that he somehow learned the true size of our atomic stockpile, which was not large at the time. He passed that vital tidbit of national security on to the KGB by taping a tube full of documents under this bridge. Legend has it that the information the Russians retrieved here emboldened Stalin to blockade Berlin in 1948.

This is my world now. The days of chasing speeders, driving drunken high school kids home, and taking down burglars is over. At least for me.

Tyler senses I’m brooding and sets off again. This is her way of telling me it is time to return to the warmth of our apartment. I trail along behind her, my breathing easy. As I watch her galloping for home, it strikes me that she too has a connection to the Dark World. She’s from Winchester, Virginia. I bought her from a breeder there in town when she was just a pup. That’s John Mosby country. He was a Confederate colonel, a renegade guerrilla nicknamed the “Gray Ghost” who struck terror into the hearts of Union rear-area types during the height of the Civil War.

Now I’m counterterror. Whatever that means. I suppose like every American who watches the evening news, I’ve seen Americans abroad fall victim to political violence. One terror attack after another has darkened the nightly broadcasts-the Achille Lauro, plane hijackings, car bombings, Beirut. We’re a nation still scarred by the Iran hostage crisis and that 444-day nightmare. Will I be fighting against this sort of criminal now? I’m not sure, but I hope so.

Time to find out. We run through the morning, never retracing our steps. Periodically, I check my rear. No KGB agent picks up my tail. When we reach the apartment, we’re still alone. A half hour out in the neighborhood and we never saw another soul. It is refreshing to have such privacy.

A quick shower and a hastily downed breakfast soon follow our arrival home. I dress carefully. I toss my Casio watch onto the nightstand. I use it only for running. In its place, I strap on a black-faced Rolex Submariner. There’s no way I could afford such a luxury at retail price on my salary. A government special agent makes $22,000. But on our honeymoon to the Virgin Islands a few years ago, I snagged this one for $750.

In the closet, I find my Jos. A. Bank suit. Brown. Standard spook issue. The company gives us agents a discount. I button up a white dress shirt and throw on the one thing that will give me any distinction among my colleagues: a duck-patterned Orvis tie. No sense in totally obliterating my identity with my government threads.

Finally, I reach down to find my Johnston & Murphy lace-up shoes. I used to wear loafers when I wore a suit, but that’s a no-no in the Dark World. Our instructors taught us to always wear lace-up shoes. Why? If you have to kick someone while wearing loafers, chances are your shoe will fly off. Lace-ups stay on through hand-to-hand combat.

I wonder who I’ll need to kick in the months to come.

I slip a Parker rollerball into my shirt pocket, then check my briefcase. Inside is a small black pouch with the Holy Grail of our business: five little pins designed to be affixed to our left lapels. Each one is color-coded: black, red, blue, green, and gold. Depending on the day and the mission, they denote to other agents that the wearer is on protective security duty. That’s basically bodyguard detail, like what the Secret Service does for the president. In agent training, we were told that if we lose these pins, it would automatically trigger an internal affairs investigation.

In the briefcase next to the pouch is my custom-made radio earpiece. It was molded specifically for me and my left ear. When in the field, this will be my lifeline to my fellow agents.

I pull my credentials out of the briefcase. They look like an average wallet until you open them. Inside, they’re marked “This special agent holds a Top Secret clearance and is worthy of trust and confidence.” Our gold badge sits next to those words. I fold the creds up and tuck them into my left jacket pocket. I’m agent number 192.

Last, I strap on my belt holster. It holds two speed loaders for my Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357 Magnum. I slide the ebony weapon into its sheath and snap the strap in place. With the two speed loaders, I’ve got eighteen rounds. That should be enough. If you can’t get the job done with eighteen shots, you’d better run.

I’m ready for work. Well, almost. It’s a cold day and I’ll need a jacket. Inside my closet hangs a green Barbour Beaufort. This is a standard-issue piece of cold-weather gear for the British MI5 and several other intelligence services. They’re warm and have inner pockets that are perfect for hiding an extra revolver or a small radio. The pockets are lined and keep hands toasty, even on a snowy day. This allows us to forgo gloves, making it easier to draw our weapons.

Or so the veteran spooks have told me.

Back in the day, special agents preferred tweed. Look around D.C. in the sixties and seventies, and the spooks from Langley and the Hooverite FBI agents all wore brown tweed with elbow patches. They looked a bit like college professors, only cooler and in better shape. And well-armed.

That’s old-school now. We new guys go with the Barbour Beauforts. One of my instructors told me just before graduation that in a pinch, if you need help while out on the street during an assignment, look for the Barbour Beaufort jackets. Chances are they’ll be keeping a spook warm.

But for which side?

By now it’s almost six. Sharon’s coiffed and ready for work. We kiss and both of us depart, leaving the apartment to Tyler. She’ll take good care of it.

My gold Jetta awaits. It is not James Bond’s Aston Martin, just the best we could do on our salaries. I climb aboard and head for MacArthur Avenue. I check my rearview mirror every few seconds, memorizing the cars behind me. Are any following? I merge onto Canal Road and pass along the outskirts of the Georgetown University campus.

It seems like such a normal commute in an average part of America. Yet I know that today is going to be different. The life here on the surface, the life 90 percent of us lead, is going to be a mere reflection from now on for me. Already there have been changes. I have a false driver’s license. I’m Fred Booth to people in the normal world. We keep our first names so we respond naturally when somebody uses it. I stole my uncle’s last name for my pseudonym.

There’s another distinction. The plates on my Jetta are standard- looking Maryland issue, but they are blanks in the state’s computer system. If anyone runs a trace on them, the Maryland DMV will alert our office. If the KGB wants info on us newbies, our license plates will be a dead end.

Through the predawn darkness, I drive and watch my tail in the light traffic. Seventeen minutes later, I reach the Harry S Truman Building. This is the State Department’s home base. Located a short ways off the National Mall, it is an imposing edifice.

I flash my creds to the guard. He nods. I’m new; he recognizes it. I ask him where the Counterterrorism Branch is located. He shrugs. Even the guards don’t know where it is. It takes me a few minutes to find my way down to the investigations section, located deep inside the bowels of the building. I find myself underground. No windows, poor air circulation. Government-issued desks abound. Someone takes pity on me and leads me to a narrow corridor, past a set of restrooms, where I am left in front of an oversized wooden door, painted blue. Embedded inside the wood is an S&G combination lock. I knock tentatively.

The door opens, and I come face-to-face with … not James Bond. Medium length, salt-and-pepper hair, mustache, ruddy, rugged features make this man look more like a patrol sergeant than James Bond. For a moment, I’m rooted in place with astonishment. All I can do is stare as he swings back out of the doorway and sits behind a weather-beaten old desk, cigarette dangling from his lips. He ignores me and picks up two phones, sticking one in each ear. Piled on the desk in front of him are stacks of paper. He seems to be reading as he talks. Using a red pen, he scribbles something across a piece of paper even as he shouts into one of the phones. Then he slams it down, takes a long drag on the smoke, and stares up at me.

I look around the room. The walls are bare. The office is tiny, made even smaller by the fact that there are three oversized wooden desks in it. Not Bond’s sits slightly off to one side, but the other two are back-toback. Mullen is perched in an ancient chair that looks like it could have gone government surplus sometime before the Spanish-American War. He appears completely dumbfounded. He’s already surrounded by stacks of paperwork and file folders. He’s gamely making an effort to read something, but I can tell his attention is really on Not Bond, who has returned to chewing somebody out over the other phone while crushing his cigarette out in an overflowing ashtray. He nods at me and points at the remaining desk. Apparently, I get to sit face-to-face with Mullen all day. Privacy is not a luxury we will enjoy here.

A couple of fans blow the dusty air around. Already, it carries a whiff of body odor, tinged with that musty smell yellowing documents give off. They mingle to create a totally new sort of odor, one part locker room, one part dingy, dank document repository, like a high school football team has set up shop in the basement of the National Archives.

Mullen gives me a weak grin, as if to say Welcome to Oz, Burton.

I step to my desk. Around it, in every nook and cranny, tan burn bags are stacked and double stacked. Apparently, we’ll be turning much of the paperwork in here into ashes at some point or another. More burn bags slump against a series of five paint-flecked, industrial gray file cabinets. I wonder what those contain. I glance over at Not Bond. He waves at me and points to my chair. Dutifully, I sit in it. He’s jabbering a mile a minute. Words spill out of his mouth, but I can’t understand what he’s saying. He seems to have his own language. I hear him use Fullback, POTUS, Eagle 1, LIMDIS, and NODIS all in the same series of sentences. Is this English or is Not Bond a Navajo code talker? And will I have to learn all this stuff, too? Who starts a new job that requires a new language?

I try not to stare by keeping my eyes on the file cabinets. It takes me a minute to realize that stacked around us are piles of plastic explosives, some of which are labeled in Russian Cyrillic.

Not Bond lights another cigarette and sticks another phone in his ear. I wonder if smoking around stuff that blows up is all that wise of an idea.

One of the fans blows a big waft of tobacco smoke across my desk. I try not to cough. Mullen studiously avoids eye contact. He looks like a frazzled redheaded college student cramming for a midterm.

Not Bond slams one of his phones down onto its cradle. It’s an old rotary, like something from the seventies. Minutes later, he cradles the other one. This is a mixed blessing. Now all his multitasking attention is riveted on me. We stare at each other. I try not to look panicked, but the truth is I can already see I’m in way over my head. I’m in an office full of bombs.

“Steve Gleason,” says Not Bond. “Sorry about that. Talking with the Folks Across the River.”

I give him a blank look.

“The CIA. This is an unsecured line. We have to talk around things.” He guffaws, takes a deep drag on his smoke, then adds, “As if the Reds couldn’t figure out who the ‘Folks Across the River’ are.”

I stay silent. It seems like the prudent thing to do.

“See those cabinets?” He points his cigarette at the line of gray boxes on the far wall.

I nod.

“That’s where the bodies are buried.”

I hope that’s not literal. At this point, given the plastique, the burn bags, the smells, all bets are off.

He reaches over his desk and grabs a couple of files. He tosses them at me. They slide across my desk. “Beirut I and II. Read them.” I look down. The files are coded with numbers and letters. They offer me no clue as to what they contain.

He lunges for more paperwork. “Open a case number on these two. Then go draw some travel money. We take turns running to FOGHORN to pick up the latest cables.”

I don’t understand any of this. I want to ask what FOGHORN is, but I decide it would be more prudent to remain silent.

“Look, what we do here is very secret. Hardly anyone here at State knows what we do. Keep it that way. What we do here stays in this room, clear?”


“Read these.” He launches a raft of diplomatic cables my way. The top ones are marked “SECRET” in red letters. I’d never read a secret document in my life. Now, I’m trapped in a blizzard of them. It’ll take me hours to read this stuff.

“Check out the cold cases. Dissect them. Find ways we can keep our people alive in the future, okay?” He stabs the air with his cigarette, pointing at the file cabinets again.

His phone rings. He snatches it up, his attention on me broken. It is time to get to work.

I look down at the pile of paper and wonder where to start.

Chapter Two: Down the Rabbit Hole

Flying into a Hurricane: First-Hand Account

NOAA hurricane research meteorologist Shirley Murillo aboard on one of NOAA's WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft. Credit: Paul Leighton, NOAA/AOML/HRD.

Flying into a Hurricane: First-Hand Account - By Annaliese Calhoun, SOARS Program Associate.

Shirley Murillo is a research meteorologist at the NOAA Hurricane Research Division in Miami, Fl., an expert on the behavior of hurricanes when they reach landfall. Murillo specializes in examining how hurricane wind fields change as they approach land, and as part of her job, she gets to fly directly into the storms she studies.

In this interview, Murillo discusses what it's like to fly into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane, and how she first became interested in researching weather.

What is flying into the eye of a hurricane like?

It's a once in a lifetime experience! We fly aboard NOAA WP-3D four engine turbo prop research planes. Flying into a hurricane can be turbulent at times. You feel like you're on a roller-coaster -- for 10 hours. I have flown in a variety of storms, from tropical storms that have winds speeds in the range of 34-63 knots (39-73 mph) to powerful category 5 hurricanes with winds speeds that exceed 136 knots (156 mph)!

A lot of people have the misconception that we fly above the storms, but we actually fly into the thick of it, about 10,000-12,000 feet above sea level.

The most turbulence is experienced in the eyewall. The eyewall is a ring or band of strong deep convective clouds that surrounds the eye of a hurricane. The highest wind speeds are found in the eyewall. Once you go through the eyewall to the eye—the storm's center— it can be fairly calm. It's an amazing sight to see; it's almost like being in the center of a football stadium where the seats surrounding you are made out of clouds. At the same time, you look above you can see the bluest color of sky and if you look below you see the ocean roiling with huge waves crashing.

While I've flown into numerous storms, usually a few each year, I always have a sense of excitement and curiosity about how the storm is changing and evolving while we're in there collecting data.

Inside the eye of hurricane Katrina.

Why do you fly into hurricanes when radars and satellites already give us images of the storm?

There's nothing that can replace the type of data that we gather straight from the storm!

During our 8-hour-long flights, we have several flight patterns that we follow to collect various data sets. We're also dropping an instrument called the GPS Dropwindsonde throughout the storm, and even in the eye. This instrument essentially gives us a 3D vertical profile of the storm, including its temperature, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, pressure and location every half second. The data is transmitted instantaneously from the GPS Dropwindsonde to the aircraft where I process the data and quality control it.

This information shows us what's going on inside the storm, and how it's changing or intensifying. The data is transmitted via satellite to the National Hurricane Center and other NOAA agencies that use the data in their computer forecast models to improve track and intensity predictions for the hurricanes.

The data that we collect during these flights often plays a critical role in helping hurricane forecasters to produce accurate and timely warnings. These warnings can save lives and reduce property losses.

The data we've gathered has certainly improved our understanding of the structure of storms. Over the course of a single flight, we can see how quickly the storm evolves in a matter of hours. As we fly back and forth through the eye we can track the pressure dropping and the storm intensifying. You may think you know what the storm is doing, but when you sample it you discover it's a whole different animal.

How did you first become interested in hurricanes and meteorology?

It all began with hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was the first storm I ever experienced firsthand. I was young and I tracked the storm from my home in Florida.

Fortunately my family and I didn't experience the strongest winds and rain so there was not much damage afterwards. Once the electricity came back on and we watched the news, I was really struck by all the images of destruction in southern Florida caused by the category 5 storm. I was intrigued by the strength and power that nature can hold.

You've come a long way since your initial experience with hurricane Andrew. How did you go from observing a hurricane's destruction to flying into its very center?

When I was in high school I decided that I wanted to be a meteorologist and got an internship at the Hurricane Research Division of NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, Fl. I thought that since I was a high school student the scientists would give me busy-work, but they didn't. They gave me actual data that had been collected in a storm, and when I finished my project they asked for my opinion and conclusions on what the data meant. They even used my findings for some of their research! It struck a chord with me that they valued my work, and since I enjoyed the research atmosphere and community so much I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this field.

~ ~ ~

Ride the Hurricane Hunter into Wilma - YouTube link

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How Many Diggers Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

One to change the light bulb and to post that the light bulb has been changed.

Fourteen to share similar experiences of changing light bulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently.

Seven to caution about the dangers of changing light bulbs.

Seven more to point out spelling/grammar errors in posts about changing light bulbs.

Three to correct spelling/grammar errors.

Six to argue over whether it's "lightbulb" or "light bulb".

Another six to condemn those six as stupid.

Fifteen to claim experience in the lighting industry and give the correct spelling.

Nineteen to post that Digg is not about light bulbs and to please take this discussion to a lightbulb (or light bulb) forum.

Eleven to defend the posting to Digg saying that we all use light bulbs and therefore the posts are relevant to Digg.

Thirty six to debate which method of changing light bulbs is superior, where to buy the best light bulbs, what brand of light bulbs work best for this technique and what brands are faulty.

Seven to post URLs where one can see examples of different light bulbs.

Four to post that the URLs were posted incorrectly and then post the corrected URL.

Three to post about links they found from the URLs that are relevant to Digg which makes light bulbs relevant to Digg.

Thirteen to link all posts to date, quote them in their entirety including all headers and signatures, and add "Me too".

Five to post to Digg that they will no longer post because they cannot handle the light bulb controversy.

Four to say "didn't we go through this already a short time ago?"

Thirteen to say "do a Google search on light bulbs before posting questions about light bulbs."

Three to tell a funny story about their cat and a light bulb.


One Digg lurker to respond to the original post 6 months from now with something unrelated and start it all over again.

The Sirens Remain the Same

Ulysses and the Sirens, Herbert Draper

As we departed Circe's Island, she warned me of the impending danger ahead as we passed the island of the Sirens. She instructed me to plug up all of the ears of my crewmen and to have them tie me to the mast as the beauteous melodies that came from the Sirens cast a spell over those who hear it. Their tunes cause men to thrust themselves overboard into the sea and ultimately to their death.

I vowed to myself that this would not be the fate of my crew. I obeyed Circe’s advice and filled all of my seamen’s ears with wax. They then bound me to the mast tightly. I instructed them to keep me tied up, even if I begged and pleaded with them to untie me. The Sirens weren’t going to get another ship.

As we sailed by, I became desperate to lunge into the sea, but my crew obeyed my previous orders and just pulled me tighter to the mast. Then, as we sailed away, the music becoming fainter, I gave the signal to unseal their ears and untie me. We had conquered the Sirens.

-- by the Greek poet Homer in his Epos Odyssey, circa eighth century BC.

~ ~ ~

"Song of the Sirens" scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, 2000 AD.

Monday, May 26, 2008

An American Gorbachev

The following excerpt is from an interview with Lebanese Sunni cleric Sheik Muhammad Abu Al-Qat', which aired on Al-Manar TV on May 10, 2008: (watch it here)

"We say that Allah willing, within 10 to 12 years, America will collapse. This won't happen as a result of war. Not at all. Allah will send to America an American Gorbachev, from within. Gorbachev, who brought about the USSR collapse, was one of them. Everybody knows this story. An American Gorbachev will surface in America, and he will destroy this empire."

Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. - speaks

Smaller Asteroids: A Greater Danger than Previously Believed

Incineration Possible - Fine points of the "fireball" that might be expected from an asteroid exploding in Earth's atmosphere are indicated in a supercomputer simulation devised by a team led by Sandia researcher Mark Boslough. (Photo by Randy Montoya )

The stunning amount of forest devastation at Tunguska a century ago in Siberia may have been caused by an asteroid only a fraction as large as previously published estimates, Sandia National Laboratories supercomputer simulations suggest.

“The asteroid that caused the extensive damage was much smaller than we had thought,” says Sandia principal investigator Mark Boslough of the impact that occurred June 30, 1908. “That such a small object can do this kind of destruction suggests that smaller asteroids are something to consider. Their smaller size indicates such collisions are not as improbable as we had believed.”

Because smaller asteroids approach Earth statistically more frequently than larger ones, he says, “We should be making more efforts at detecting the smaller ones than we have till now.”

The new simulation — which more closely matches the widely known facts of destruction than earlier models — shows that the center of mass of an asteroid exploding above the ground is transported downward at speeds faster than sound. It takes the form of a high-temperature jet of expanding gas called a fireball.

This causes stronger blast waves and thermal radiation pulses at the surface than would be predicted by an explosion limited to the height at which the blast was initiated.

“Our understanding was oversimplified,” says Boslough, “We no longer have to make the same simplifying assumptions, because present-day supercomputers allow us to do things with high resolution in 3-D. Everything gets clearer as you look at things with more refined tools.”

Sandia is a National Nuclear Security Administration laboratory.

The new interpretation also accounts for the fact that winds were amplified above ridgelines where trees tended to be blown down, and that the forest at the time of the explosion, according to foresters, was not healthy. Thus previous scientific estimates had overstated the devastation caused by the asteroid, since topographic and ecologic factors contributing to the result had not been taken into account.

“There’s actually less devastation than previously thought,” says Boslough, “but it was caused by a far smaller asteroid. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete wash in terms of the potential hazard, because there are more smaller asteroids than larger ones.”

Boslough and colleagues achieved fame more than a decade ago by accurately predicting that that the fireball caused by the intersection of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter would be observable from Earth.

Simulations show that the material of an incoming asteroid is compressed by the increasing resistance of Earth’s atmosphere. As it penetrates deeper, the more and more resistant atmospheric wall causes it to explode as an airburst that precipitates the downward flow of heated gas.

Because of the additional energy transported toward the surface by the fireball, what scientists had thought to be an explosion between 10 and 20 megatons was more likely only three to five megatons. The physical size of the asteroid, says Boslough, depends upon its speed and whether it is porous or nonporous, icy or waterless, and other material characteristics.

“Any strategy for defense or deflection should take into consideration this revised understanding of the mechanism of explosion,” says Boslough.

One of most prominent papers in estimating frequency of impact was published five years ago in Nature by Sandia researcher Dick Spalding and his colleagues, from satellite data on explosions in atmosphere. “They can count those events and estimate frequencies of arrival through probabilistic arguments,” says Boslough.

The work was presented at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 11, 2007. A paper on the phenomenon, co-authored by Sandia researcher Dave Crawford and entitled “Low–altitude airbursts and the impact threat” has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Impact Engineering.

~ ~ ~

Supercomputer Movie Clips

Movie 4 (11.4 MB)
A 62 thousand ton stationary asteroid explodes with an energy of 5 megatons at 5 km above the surface. The movie window is 15 km wide and about 8 km high. Bright colors of the fireball indicate temperature, ranging from steam (dull red) to rock vapor (white). Gray background indicates air density and shows a spherical blast wave that reflects from the ground. The fireball rises buoyantly and cools as it recedes, limiting the thermal effects on the surface. This simulation shows what happens when momentum is ignored to simplify the problem as scientists have done in the past. The airburst is approximated by a "point source" explosion similar to a nuclear detonation.

Movie 1 (11.4 MB)
This simulation shows what happens when momentum is not ignored, an approach that is allowed with modern supercomputers and codes. The same asteroid is now moving through the atmosphere at a typical impact velocity (20 km/s). For illustration purposes, extra energy is deposited into the asteroid when it reaches 5 km, for a total of 5 megatons. Momentum carries the hot fireball down to the surface, which enhances heat and wind effects on the ground.

Movie 8 (9.8 MB)
Close-up of the previous simulation. The box dimensions are 4 km wide and 3 km high. The colors indicate the energy associated with vorticity, the swirling, tornado-like eddies generated by the downward motion. High velocity winds can be sustained at ground level by vortex flow.

Movie 7 (5.3 MB)
Tracking of 5 megaton asteriod that begins exploding at 20 km above the surface, but carries its energy down to about 8 km. Axes are labeled in cm, and colors indicate velocity in cm/s.

Movie 3 (4.8 MB)
3D simulation of a 15 megaton explosion that is initiated 18 km above the surface, for an asteroid entering at an angle of 35 degrees above the horizontal. Box dimensions are 40 km wide, 20 km high. Colors indicate speed. The hot fireball decends to the surface and slides downrange at high velocities, subjecting the landscape to blast-furnace condtions. This did not happen at Tunguska.

Movie 5 (4.2 MB)
Map view of blast zone from 3-D simulation of a 15 megaton explosion. Axes are labeled in centimeters, and colors indicate wind speed. Expanding oblong shape is the blast wave moving along the surface, blowing down trees with wind speeds decreasing from high hurricane force of 60 m/s (magenta) to below 20 m/s (yellow). Blast-furnace conditions are sustained downrange (left) of the origin where the fireball contacted the surface. This did not happen at Tunguska, so the asteroid must have been smaller (less energetic).

Movie 2 (4.8 MB)
3D simulation of a 5 megaton explosion that is initiated 12 km above the surface, for an asteroid entering at an angle of 35 degrees above the horizontal. Box dimensions are 40 km wide, 20 km high. Colors indicate speed. The hot fireball does not reach the surface, but descends to an altitude of 5 km before buoyantly rising. At ground zero, the blast wave comes from directly above, consistent with observations of standing trees at the Tunguska epicenter.

Movie 6 (3.4 MB)
Map view of blast zone from 3-D simulation of a 5 megaton explosion. Axes are labeled in centimeters, and colors indicate wind speed. Expanding oblong shape is the blast wave moving along the surface, blowing down trees with wind speeds decreasing from high hurricane force of 60 m/s (magenta) to below 20 m/s (yellow). Because the fireball stops at high altitude, there is no blast furnace zone near the epicenter and trees remain standing as observed at Tunugska.

~ ~ ~

Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

7 Reasons a Gun is Better than a Woman

#7. You can trade an old .44 for a new .22

#6. Your primary gun doesn't mind if you keep another gun for a backup.

#5. Your gun will stay with you even if you run out of ammo.

#4. A gun doesn't take up a lot of closet space.

#3. If you admire a friend's gun and tell him so, he will probably let you try it out a few times.

#2. A gun doesn't ask, "Do these new grips make me look fat?"

And the number one reason a gun is favored over a woman....

#1. You can buy a silencer for a gun. :X

Microbial Threats to Health: The Threat of Pandemic Influenza

Microbial Threats to Health: The Threat of Pandemic Influenza

By Mark S. Smolinski, Margaret A. Hamburg, and Joshua Lederberg, Editors, Committee on Emerging Microbial Threats to Health in the 21st Century.

Microbes live in every conceivable ecological niche on the planet and have inhabited the earth for many hundreds of millions of years. Indeed, microbes may be the most abundant life form by mass, and they are highly adaptable to external forces. The vast majority of microbes are essential to human, animal, and plant life. Occasionally, however, a microbe is identified as a pathogen because it causes an acute infectious disease or triggers a pathway to chronic diseases, including some cancers. Certainly, humankind remains ignorant of the full scope of diseases caused by microbial threats, as only a small portion of all microbes have been identified by currently available technologies.

Microbial threats continue to emerge, reemerge, and persist. Some microbes cause newly recognized diseases in humans; others are previously known pathogens that are infecting new or larger population groups or spreading into new geographic areas. Within the last 10 years, newly discovered infectious diseases have emerged in the United States (e.g., hantavirus pulmonary syndrome from Sin Nombre virus) and abroad (e.g., viral encephalitis from Nipah virus). During the same time, the worldwide resurgence of long-recognized infectious diseases (e.g., tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and dengue) has gained in force. The United States has seen the importation of infectious diseases, such as West Nile encephalitis, measles, multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, malaria, and cyclosporiasis, from immigrants, U.S. residents returning from foreign destinations, and products of international commerce.

The realization of just how quickly newly discovered infectious diseases can spread has generated a heightened appreciation of the inherent dangers of microbial pathogens. Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) has become the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide in a mere 20 years since its discovery. Today, more than 40 million people are living with infection from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and 20 million people have died from AIDS. In just 3 years since West Nile virus was discovered in the Western Hemisphere, the virus has spread from its epicenter in New York to 39 states (including California), infecting thousands and killing hundreds.

Can a focus on naturally occurring microbial threats be maintained in the face of expanded efforts to contain the threat of intentional biological attacks? Some may ask which is the greater risk—the intentional use of a microbial agent to cause sudden, massive, and devastating epidemics of disease, or the continued emergence and spread of natural diseases such as tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria, influenza, and multidrug-resistant bacterial infections. It is a tragic reality that hundreds of people die from naturally occurring infections every hour, whereas until now, intentional biological attacks on a major scale have remained a theoretical risk, rife with political as well as technical uncertainties. HIV/AIDS has taught us the importance of remaining vigilant to the devastation of naturally arising epidemics, which can have profound effects not only on individuals, but also on whole nations and regions. The economic and social disruption that often follows an infectious disease outbreak and typically accompanies the persistent burden due to endemic infectious diseases can be a major destabilizing force for any nation. The challenge is to keep our concerns and responses in reasonable balance.

Throughout history, humans have struggled to control both the causes and the consequences of infectious diseases, and we will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Disease control for many pathogens includes vaccines and pharmaceuticals, but how long these controls will remain effective or even available is uncertain. We appear less able (or willing) to develop new antimicrobials and vaccines than once was the case, especially for infectious diseases that affect developing countries disproportionately.

A variety of technical, political, social, and economic issues challenge our ability to develop and deploy new antimicrobials and vaccines. The burden of infectious diseases has become further compounded as resistance to vector-control agents and antimicrobials has grown pervasive not only in the United States, but also worldwide.

Factors in Emergence

The convergence of any number of factors can create an environment in which infectious diseases can emerge and become rooted in society. A model was developed to illustrate how the convergence of factors in four domains impacts on the human–microbe interaction and results in infectious disease.

The Convergence Model. At the center of the model is a box representing the convergence of factors leading to the emergence of an infectious disease. The interior of the box is a gradient flowing from white to black; the white outer edges represent what is known about the factors in emergence, and the black center represents the unknown (similar to the theoretical construct of the “black box” with its unknown constituents and means of operation). Interlocking with the center box are the two focal players in a microbial threat to health—the human and the microbe. The microbe–host interaction is influenced by the interlocking domains of the determinants of the emergence of infection: genetic and biological factors; physical environmental factors; ecological factors; and social, political, and economic factors.

Ultimately, the emergence of a microbial threat derives from the convergence of (1) genetic and biological factors; (2) physical environmental factors; (3) ecological factors; and (4) social, political, and economic factors. As individual factors are examined, each can be envisioned as belonging to one or more of these four domains.

Microbial adaptation and change.
Microbes are continually undergoing adaptive evolution under selective pressures for perpetuation. Through structural and functional genetic changes, they can bypass the human immune system and infect human cells. The tremendous evolutionary potential of microbes makes them adept at developing resistance to even the most potent drug therapies and complicates attempts at creating effective vaccines.

Human susceptibility to infection.
The human body has evolved with an abundance of physical, cellular, and molecular barriers that protect it from microbial infection. Susceptibility to infection can result when normal defense mechanisms are altered or when host immunity is otherwise impaired by such factors as genetically inherited traits and malnutrition.

Climate and weather.
Many infectious diseases either are strongly influenced by short-term weather conditions or display a seasonality indicating the possible influence of longer-term climatic changes. Climate can directly impact disease transmission through its effects on the replication and movement (perhaps evolution) of pathogens and vectors; climate can also operate indirectly through its impacts on ecology and/or human behavior.

Changing ecosystems.
In general, changes in the environment tend to have the greatest influence on the transmission of microbial agents that are waterborne, airborne, foodborne, or vector-borne, or that have an animal reservoir. Given today’s rapid pace of ecological change, understanding how environmental factors are affecting the emergence of infectious diseases has assumed an added urgency.

Economic development and land use.
Economic development activities can have intended or unintended impacts on the environment, resulting in ecological changes that can alter the replication and transmission patterns of pathogens. A growing number of emerging infectious diseases arise from increased human contact with animal reservoirs as a result of changing land use patterns.

Human demographics and behavior.
An infectious disease can result from a behavior that increases an individual’s risk of exposure to a pathogen, or from the increased probability of exchange of a communicable infectious disease between humans as the world’s population increases in absolute number. Additional factors include demographic changes such as urbanization and the growth of megacities; the aging of the world’s population and the associated increased risk of infection; and the growing number of individuals immunocompromised by cancer chemotherapy, chronic diseases, or infection with HIV.

Technology and industry.
Infectious diseases have emerged as a direct result of changes in technology and industry. Advances in medical technologies, such as blood transfusions, human organ and tissue transplants, and xenotransplantation (using an animal source), have created new pathways for the spread of certain infections. Even the manner in which animals are raised as food products, such as the use of antimicrobials for growth production, has abetted the rise in infectious diseases by contributing to antimicrobial resistance.

International travel and commerce.
The rapid transport of humans, animals, foods, and other goods through international travel and commerce can lead to the broad dissemination of pathogens and their vectors throughout the world. Microbes that can colonize without causing symptoms (e.g., Neisseria meningitidis) or can infect and be transmissible at a time when infection is asymptomatic (e.g., HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C) can spread easily in the absence of recognition in traveling or migrant hosts. Pathogens in meat and poultry, such as the agents of “mad cow disease,” can also be delivered unintentionally across borders, while the vectors of tropical diseases can be transported in cargo holds or in the wheel wells of international aircraft.

Breakdown of public health measures.
A breakdown or absence of public health measures—especially a lack of potable water, unsanitary conditions, and poor hygiene—has had a dramatic effect on the emergence and persistence of infectious diseases throughout the world. The breakdown of public health measures in the United States has resulted in an increase in nosocomial infections, difficulties in maintaining adequate supplies of vaccines in recent years, immunization rates that are far below national targets for many population groups (e.g., influenza and pneumococcal immunizations in adults), and a paucity of needed expertise in vector control for diseases such as West Nile encephalitis.

Poverty and social inequality.
At the same time that infectious diseases have significant and far-reaching economic implications, social inequality, driven in large part by poverty, is a major factor in emergence. Mortality from infectious diseases is closely correlated with transnational inequalities in income. Global economic trends affect not only the personal circumstances of those at risk for infection, but also the structure and availability of public health institutions necessary to reduce risks.

War and famine.
War and famine are closely linked to each other and to the spread of infectious diseases. Displacement due to war and the fairly consistent sequelae of malnutrition due to famine can contribute significantly to the emergence and spread of infectious diseases such as malaria, cholera, and tuberculosis.

Lack of political will.
If progress is to be made toward the control of infectious diseases, the political will to do so must encompass not only governments in the regions of highest disease prevalence, but also corporations, officials, health professionals, and citizens of affluent regions who ultimately share the same global microbial landscape. The complacency toward the threat of infectious diseases that has become somewhat entrenched in developed countries must reverse in direction if we are to avoid losing windows of opportunity to reduce the global burden of infection.

Intent to harm.
The world today is vulnerable to the threat of intentional biological attacks, and the likelihood of such an event is high. The U.S. public health system and health care providers should be prepared to address various biological agents that pose a risk to national security because of their potential to cause large numbers of deaths and widespread social disruption.

Recognizing and addressing the ways in which the factors in emergence converge to change vulnerability to infectious diseases is essential to the development and implementation of effective prevention and control strategies.

Detecting and responding to global infectious disease threats is in the economic, humanitarian, and national security interests of the United States and essential to the health of its people.

~ ~ ~

Excerpt from: Microbial Threats to Health: The Threat of Pandemic Influenza. ISBN: 978-0-309-09717-8, 48 pages, 6 x 9, paperback (2005). Available through The National Academies Press.