Sunday, May 31, 2009

North Korea Preparing for Long-Range Missile Test

North Korea appears to be preparing for a long-range missile test, defying the U.N. Security Council whose members are negotiating a resolution to punish it for its recent nuclear test, Yonhap News Agency reported Saturday, quoting an informed intelligence source.

The source, asking not to be identified, said an object that appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was recently spotted on a cargo train at an artillery research center near Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

"We believe that the object is certainly an ICBM," said the official, adding that its size is somewhat similar to the one the North fired into the Pacific on April 5.

North Korea is believed to have started moving the object to a missile launch pad in Musudan-ri on the country's east coast, according to the official.

"The missile may be a modified version of a Taepodong-2 missile, which can travel over 4,000 km," the official said. A Taepodong-2 missile is theoretically capable of reaching the western U.S.

"It usually takes about two months to set up a launch pad, but the process could be done in as little as two weeks, which means the North could launch a long-range missile as early as mid-June," the source said.

The developments of what appears to be preparations for a missile launch follow Monday's nuclear test, which drew the international community's condemnation against North Korea. The test came less than two months after it fired a rocket that the U.S. and its allies say was a disguised form of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The remarks came shortly after a South Korean defense source in Singapore said some activities were spotted at a North Korean munitions factory used to build long-range missiles.

Some watchers speculate that North Korea may launch a missile at a time close to a summit set for June 16 between South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama.

"There is a possibility that North Korea may push the 'fire' button right before or after the South Korea-U.S. summit," said a key diplomatic official at the presidential office, requesting to be unnamed. -- The Korea Times

Continuing story...

Israelis must ready for missile attack

By Yaakov Katz, The Jerusalem Post

Israel is facing a "real live missile threat" from surrounding Arab countries [The Israeli government considers Iran's nuclear program as the dominant threat facing the country.] and needs to be prepared for possible missile attacks at a moment's notice, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i told The Jerusalem Post Saturday, ahead of the nationwide emergency drill that begins on Sunday.

The largest civil-defense exercise since the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Turning Point 3, will begin on Sunday and last until Thursday [when Obama will speak to Muslims from Egypt].

The highlight will be at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, when air-raid sirens will sound nationwide. Citizens are asked during the siren to enter nearby bomb shelters and protective rooms.

The drill will include the evacuation of commercial buildings as well as the IDF and Defense Ministry Headquarters in the Kirya in Tel Aviv.

Government offices and local councils will open 252 "crisis rooms" that will respond to various simulated emergency scenarios. Over 70 foreign government and military officials will arrive in Israel on Sunday to participate in the drill.

"While we do not have any intelligence about an imminent conflict, the potential threat for what we are drilling exists in surrounding Arab countries," Vilna'i told the Post. "The question is whether they will use it and when."

Referring to the Second Lebanon War, when Hizbullah fired 4,000 rockets into Israel and Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in January, during which Hamas fired some 900 rockets, Vilna'i said, "They can make use of this threat whenever they want and there is nothing we can do to avoid it except to prepare ourselves." He downplayed reports that Hizbullah was beefing up its forces along the Lebanese-Israeli border ahead of the exercise but said that Israel was "watching the movements and acting accordingly."

Israel, he said, would continue to drill its civil defense forces as well as the public. He said that plans were already in place to hold a similar drill in the summer of 2010.

"As opposed to the past we are not afraid to involve the entire population," he said. "We have nothing to hide and don't want to scare anyone, but it is our obligation to prepare the home front and the public for the various emergency scenarios that exist."

On Sunday, the Home Front Command will unveil a new rapid-alert technology that it plans to begin using to warn civilians of incoming enemy missiles via cell phones. Cell phone users will receive text messages that will warn of an incoming missile and its estimated fall site.

"Most Israelis have cell phones and this is a fast and easy way to warn people of an incoming missile," a defense official explained.

[Recalling how well U.S. cell phones worked during 9/11...]

Jasper, Alberta, Canada

Just one of the many scenic wonders at Jasper National Park, world-famous Moraine Lake is a glacially fed lake situated in the Valley of Ten Peaks at an elevation of about 6,183 feet. Photo by Desiree Adib/ABC News.

Jasper National Park

Towering mountain ranges, icy blue lakes, dense forests, wolves and other wildlife. This video from Jasper National Park shows you highlights of this spectacular part of Canada. Follow a pack of wolves as they interact with each other and travel across the landscape. See impressive elk and bighorn sheep at home in their habitat. Listen to the sound of Canada geese flying overhead. Watch mountain bikers navigating a trail and people riding on horseback all set against a backdrop of the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains. This video will show you why Jasper is one of Canada's natural treasures.

Athabasca Falls. See more spectacular photos at Most photos are very large and suitable for wallpaper.

Only a few hours drive from Edmonton, Jasper National Park runs along the spine of the Canadian Rockies. Jasper is the largest and most northerly Canadian rocky mountain national park and is part of a spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site. Comprised of delicate and carefully protected ecosystems, Jasper's scenery is also rugged and mountainous. In this special corner of Canada you can thrill to the thunder of Athabasca Falls, enjoy the serene beauty of Mount Edith Cavell, connect with nature along more than 1,000 kilometres of trails, tour the world-renowned Icefields Parkway and experience the Athabasca Glacier up close, or just resign yourself to a relaxing soak in Miette Hotsprings to recover from the endless activities and experiences you'll discover in Jasper National Park.

P.S. Don't forget your passport!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Global Food Crisis: The End of Plenty

Photograph by John Stanmeyer

By Joel K. Bourne Jr. for National Geographic

It is the simplest, most natural of acts, akin to breathing and walking upright. We sit down at the dinner table, pick up a fork, and take a juicy bite, obliv­ious to the double helping of global ramifications on our plate. Our beef comes from Iowa, fed by Nebraska corn. Our grapes come from Chile, our bananas from Honduras, our olive oil from Sicily, our apple juice—not from Washington State but all the way from China. Modern society has relieved us of the burden of growing, harvesting, even preparing our daily bread, in exchange for the burden of simply paying for it. Only when prices rise do we take notice. And the consequences of our inattention are profound.

Last year the skyrocketing cost of food was a wake-up call for the planet. Between 2005 and the summer of 2008, the price of wheat and corn tripled, and the price of rice climbed fivefold, spurring food riots in nearly two dozen countries and pushing 75 million more people into poverty. But unlike previous shocks driven by short-term food shortages, this price spike came in a year when the world's farmers reaped a record grain crop. This time, the high prices were a symptom of a larger problem tugging at the strands of our worldwide food web, one that's not going away anytime soon. Simply put: For most of the past decade, the world has been consuming more food than it has been producing. After years of drawing down stockpiles, in 2007 the world saw global carryover stocks fall to 61 days of global consumption, the second lowest on record.

Read the full story at National Geographic magazine.

~ ~ ~

Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834)

Essay on the Principle of Population

Common Snails: Edible? You Betcha!

There is a feast lurking at the bottom of your garden.

By Alex Renton, Times Online

It’s very wrong to toss snails over the garden wall into your neighbours’ nasturtiums. Far better to eat them: they don’t come back from that. Don’t flinch: the common garden snail, helix aspersa, is the one known as petit gris in France, smaller and far more prized for cooking than the official edible snail. There is a feast lurking in the dark corners of your garden.

The Romans, it is said, introduced the brown snail to Britain, for their own pleasure. The statesman and agriculturalist Cato the Elder wrote that you should feed the snails on wine-soaked bran and keep and breed them in a paddock with a water-filled trench around it. This, he says, saves the expense of keeping a slave to catch escapers. Until quite recently snails were rural pub fare from Somerset to Sunderland, but now people — even my wife — are strangely squeamish about them. All the more for us, we snail eaters say.

There are some foodies who complain that snails are only texture, and that they could be confused with a bit of sandal or garden hose. Snails they say, are merely a chewy vehicle for garlic, parsley and butter and good bread. But this I think is the legacy of bad experiences in French restaurants where, rumour has it, strips of curled sheep tripe have been substituted for the gastropods when the English arrive. There is also the sad sham of tinned snails. Snails fresh and at their best are succulent, mysterious and intriguingly green-tasting — very rewarding for the cook who likes a reaction from his subjects. Try not telling them until after the meal.

Collecting snails is easy, especially if you have small children to hand. When you’ve got a dozen or so per dinner guest you need to put them under a bucket or box with air holes in it, somewhere damp and shady, and let the snails detox for a week. Feed them lettuce or bran. When you’re ready, boil them for a minute to kill them. Then they should come out quite easily from their shells, with a pin if necessary. You must soak them in very salty water for half an hour, rinse them and then repeat the process. After that the slime should now be gone. If not, do it again.

My mother, who has been cooking snails from the garden since the 1970s, stews them gently with an onion and herbs for 90 minutes. She drains them and puts them in useful little earthenware snail dishes with half a dozen little hollows in them. (The shells are too fiddly, and too hot to hold if they come straight from the oven.) Then she fills the hollows with garlic and parsley butter, and grills the dishes until the butter bubbles.

But there are many other methods. All around Europe people glory in snails, particularly the Portuguese: I’ve had them stewed with herbs and chorizo. The Spanish put them with rabbit meat in a paella — slime and turf. Germans make a chowder from them, and the Maltese simmer them in red wine with tomato and garlic. The chef Fergus Henderson sautés his snails in a reduction of wine and shallots, then he tosses them in a lettuce salad with bits of fried bread.

I’ve always meant to try Escoffier’s “snails as a greedy man likes them”, where the cooked snails are stuffed back into their shells in a “meat jelly”, topped with butter with pepper, parsley and garlic and then baked for 10 minutes. He served them with a cap of bread crumbs fried in butter.

And what about the slugs, you wonder? They’re not so very different, anatomically, and they come shell-free. In the Hebrides they used to chop up the big black ones, salt them and store them for use in the hungry days of the winter. Then the crofters would stew the slugs with oatmeal in a porridge. Bet they wished they had some olive oil and garlic.

Be warned: Snails in the shell can be slippery devils. ;)

Bon Appétit!

Recette d'escargots à la Bouguigonne

Friday, May 29, 2009


Overnight the world has become just a little too crazy.

Time to take a few days off and regroup.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Gone fishing. - c

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Practical Implications of the WHTI

By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton, Stratfor

On June 1, 2009, the land and sea portion of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) will go into effect. The WHTI is a program launched as a result of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 and intended to standardize the documents required to enter the United States. The stated goal of WHTI is to facilitate entry for U.S. citizens and legitimate foreign visitors while reducing the possibility of people entering the country using fraudulent documents.

Prior to the WHTI, American travelers to Mexico, Canada and several countries in the Caribbean needed only a driver’s license and birth certificate to re-enter the United States, while American travelers to other regions of the world required U.S. passports to return. This meant that immigration officials had to examine driver’s licenses and birth certificates from every state, and since the driver’s licenses and birth certificates of all the states change over time, there were literally hundreds of different types of documents that could be used by travelers at points of entry. In practical terms, this meant there was no way immigration officers could be familiar with the security features of each identification document, thereby making it easier for foreigners to use counterfeit or fraudulently altered documents to enter the country by claiming to be returning U.S. citizens.

The air portion of the WHTI went into effect in January 2007 and required that all international air travelers use passports to enter the United States. However, the land and sea implementation of WHTI will be a little different from the air portion. In addition to passports, travelers can also use U.S. passport cards (a driver’s license-sized identification document), an enhanced driver’s license (which are currently being issued by Michigan, New York, Vermont and Washington) or “special trusted” traveler identification cards such as Nexus and Sentri to enter the country by land or sea.

The WHTI will greatly simplify the number of travel documents that immigration officials have to scrutinize. It will also mean that the documents needed to enter the United States will be far harder to counterfeit, alter or obtain by fraud than the documents previously required for entry. This will make it more difficult for criminals, illegal aliens and militants to enter the United States, but it will by no means make it impossible.

An Evolutionary Process

Identity document fraud has existed for as long as identity documents have. Like much sophisticated crime, document fraud has been an evolutionary process. Advancements in document security have been followed by advancements in fraud techniques, which in turn have forced governments to continue to advance their security efforts. In recent years, the advent of color copiers, powerful desktop computers with sophisticated graphics programs and laser printers has propelled this document-fraud arms race into overdrive.

In addition to sophisticated physical security features such as ultraviolet markings and holograms, perhaps the most significant security features of newer identification documents such as passports and visas are that they are machine-readable and linked to a database that can be cross-checked when the document is swiped through a reader at a point of entry. Since 2007, U.S. passports have also incorporated small contactless integrated circuits embedded in the back cover to securely store the information contained on the passport’s photo page. These added security measures have limited the utility of completely counterfeit U.S. passports, which (for the most part) cannot be used to pass through a point of entry equipped with a reader connected to the central database. Such documents are used mostly for traveling abroad rather than for entering the United States.

Likewise, advancements in security features have also made it far more difficult to alter genuine documents by doing things like changing the photo affixed to it (referred to as a photo substitution or “photo sub”). Certainly, there are some very high-end document forgers who can still accomplish this — such as those employed by intelligence agencies — but such operations are very difficult and the documents produced are very expensive.

One of the benefits of the WHTI is that it will now force those wishing to obtain genuine documents by fraud to travel to a higher level — it has, in effect, upped the ante. As STRATFOR has long noted, driver’s licenses pose serious national security vulnerability. Driver’s licenses are, in fact, the closet thing to a U.S. national identity card. However, driver’s licenses are issued by each state, and the process of getting one differs greatly from state to state. Criminals clearly have figured out how to work the system to get fraudulent driver’s licenses. Some states make it easier to get licenses than others and people looking for fraudulent identification flock to those states. Within the states, there are also some department of motor vehicles (DMV) offices — and specific workers — known to be more lenient, and those seeking fraudulent licenses will intentionally visit those offices. In addition to corrupt DMV employees and states that issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, an illegal industry has arisen devoted entirely to producing counterfeit identification documents, compounding the problem.

Birth certificates are also relatively easy to obtain illegally. The relative ease of fraudulently obtaining birth certificates as well as driver’s licenses is seen in federal document-fraud cases (both documents are required to apply for a U.S. passport). In a large majority of the passport-fraud cases worked by Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) special agents, the suspects have successfully obtained fraudulent driver’s licenses and birth certificates, which are submitted in support of a passport application. It is not uncommon for DSS special agents to arrest suspects who possess multiple driver’s licenses in different identities from the same state or even from different states. Such documents could have been used to travel across the U.S. border via land prior to the implementation of the WHTI.


For those able to afford the fees of high-end alien smugglers, who can charge up to $30,000 for a package of identification documents that contains a genuine U.S. passport with genuine supporting documents (birth certificate, social security card and driver’s license), or $10,000 to $15,000 for a genuine U.S. visa (tied to a database, the newer machine-readable visas are very difficult to counterfeit), the WHTI will not make much difference. These high-end document vendors obtain legitimate identification documents by paying corrupt officials who have been carefully cultivated.

That said, the WHTI should succeed in causing the vast majority of criminal aliens, illegal economic immigrants and even militants — people who have not traditionally patronized high-end document vendors — to change the way they enter the United States. Of course, perhaps the simplest way is to take the low road. That is, get to Canada or Mexico and then simply sneak across the border as an undocumented alien — something that hundreds of thousands of people do every year. Once inside the country, such aliens can link up with lower-level document vendors to obtain the driver’s licenses, social security cards and other identity documents they need in order to live, work and travel around the country.

But there are other ways that the WHTI measures can be circumvented. For example, the crush of passport applications the WHTI is now causing will create a distinct vulnerability in the short term. Although the U.S. Department of State has hired a large number of new examiners to process the flood of passport applications it is receiving (and also a number of new DSS special agents to investigate fraud cases), the system is currently overwhelmed by the volume of passport applications.

Historically, passport examiners have had their performance evaluations based on the number of passport applications they process rather than on the number of fraudulent applications they catch (which has long been a source of friction between the DSS and the Bureau of Consular Affairs). This emphasis on numerical quotas has been documented in U.S. Government Accountability Office reports that have noted that the quotas essentially force examiners to take shortcuts in their fraud-detection efforts. As a result, many genuine passports have been issued to people who did not have a legitimate right to them. The current overwhelming flood of passport applications as a result of WHTI, when combined with a batch of new examiners who are rated on numerical quotas, will further enhance this vulnerability. Unless a passport application has an obvious fraud indicator, it will likely slip through the cracks and a fraudulent applicant will receive a genuine U.S. passport.

Stolen passports are another area to consider. In addition to being photo-subbed, which has become more difficult, stolen passports can also be used as travel documents by people who resemble the owner of the document. All the holograms, microprinting and other security features that have been placed on the laminates of passport photo pages tend to make it difficult to clearly see the photo of the passport holder. Also, people change over time, so a person who was issued a passport eight years ago can look substantially different from their passport photo today. The passport process and the laminate can also make it especially difficult to see the facial features of dark-skinned people. This means it is not at all uncommon for a person to be able to impersonate someone and use his or her passport without altering it. This problem persists, even with digital photos being included with the information embedded electronically in the memory chips of newer electronic passports.

Because of these possibilities, stolen passports are worth a tidy sum on the black market. Indeed, shortly after U.S. passports with green covers were issued, they were found to be extremely easy to photo-sub and were soon fetching $7,000 apiece on the black market in places like Jamaica and Haiti. In fact, criminal gangs quickly began offering tourists cash or drugs in exchange for the documents, and the criminal gangs would then turn around and sell them for a profit to document vendors. The problem of U.S. citizens selling their passports also persists today.

On the flip side, many Americans are unaware of the monetary value of their passport — which is several times the $100 they paid to have it issued. They do not realize that when they carry their passport it is like toting around a wad of $100 bills. Tour guides who collect the passports of all the people in their tour group and then keep them in a bag or backpack can end up carrying around tens of thousands of dollars in identification documents — which would make a really nice haul for a petty criminal in the Third World.

But U.S. passports are not the only ones at risk of being stolen. The changes in travel documents required to enter the United States will also place a premium on passports from countries that are included in the U.S. “visa waiver” program — that is, those countries whose citizens can travel to and remain in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. There are currently 35 countries in the visa waiver program, including EU member states, Australia, Japan and a few others. The risk of theft is especially acute for those countries on the visa waiver list that issue passports that are easier to photo-sub than a U.S. passport. In some visa waiver countries, it is also cheaper and easier to obtain a genuine passport from a corrupt government official than it is in the United States.

While there are efforts currently under way to create an international database to rapidly share data about lost and stolen blank and issued passports, there is generally a time lag before lost and stolen foreign passports are entered into U.S. lookout systems. This lag provides ample time for someone to enter the United States on a photo-subbed passport, and it is not clear if retroactive searches are made once the United States is notified of a stolen passport in order to determine if that passport was used to enter the United States during the lag period. Of course, once a person is inside the United States, it is fairly easy to obtain identification documents in another identity and simply disappear.

There have also been cases of jihadist groups using the passports of militants from visa waiver countries who have died in order to move other operatives into the United States. On Sept. 1, 1992, Ahmed Ajaj and Abdul Basit (also known as Ramzi Yousef) arrived at New York’s Kennedy Airport. The two men had boarded a flight in Karachi, Pakistan, using photo-subbed passports that had been acquired from deceased jihadists. Ajaj used a Swedish passport in the name Khurram Khan and Basit used a British passport in the name Mohamed Azan.

Click image to enlarge.

Ultimately, the WHTI will help close some significant loopholes — especially regarding the use of fraud-prone driver’s licenses and birth certificates for international travel — but the program will not end all document fraud. Document vendors will continue to shift and adjust their efforts to adapt to the WHTI and exploit other vulnerabilities in the system.

~ ~ ~

For information on how to apply for a U.S. Passport Card or the traditional passport book please visit the following website:

The End of the World

It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine. -- R.E.M.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

For Iran, It's Apocalypse Now

By James Zumwalt for Human Events

Since first taking office, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned an imminent apocalypse awaits mankind -- for which Iran will be the catalyst. With his impending re-election, Ahmadinejad’s threats need be taken seriously.

Ahmadinejad believes this apocalypse has been in the making for eleven centuries. He -- and his bosses, the ayatollahs -- believe divine destiny has set events in motion -- and their mission is to precipitate their evolution. Ahmadinejad believes next week’s presidential election is an important step in this evolution.

Ahmadinejad is, by our standards, a madman. But in his culture -- among the Iranian Shia who believe that the return of the “twelfth imam” can be precipitated by a man-created apocalypse -- he is entirely sane. Ahmadinejad’s re-election is one he believes he must win for the final phase of this divine plan to evolve. And, because theocratic Iran “elects” presidents under a sham democratic process controlled by its religious leaders, it is an election he already has won.

It is important to understand the driving force behind Ahmadinejad and how it will dictate his actions following his re-election. Such an understanding explains why there can be no peaceful resolution to stop Iran’s quest to develop a nuclear weapon -- i.e., because everything Ahmadinejad does is preparation for the inevitable apocalypse.

The apocalypse Ahmadinejad sees looming on the horizon will usher in the return of the “Hidden Imam” -- an event into which he has injected a role for himself. Shia Islamic belief is the last direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, also known as the “Mahdi,” was but nine years old when he disappeared eleven centuries ago -- destined to remain hidden from mankind until his pre-ordained return by Allah. For Muslims, the good news is his return will restore Islam to greatness and to a world ruled by a Sharia dictatorship. For both Muslims and non-Muslims, the bad news is the Mahdi’s return only occurs after the world experiences extreme chaos. The Shia “twelvers” believe Jesus will accompany the Mahdi and, in submission to Islam, acknowledge the supremacy of the Koran to the Gospel.

In 2005, one of Ahmadinejad’s first acts as president demonstrated his determination to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran had halted its uranium enrichment program in 2003, allowing international inspectors to seal its equipment. Immediately after taking office, he re-started the program, also acquiring 18 North Korean BM-25 long range, land-mobile missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Unbelievably, a 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), using intelligence provided by a questionable defector suspected of being a double agent, asserted the Iranians had halted work on their nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had not yet restarted it. Critics pointed out the NIE’s conclusion was reached without even reporting on the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps -- the group actually holding the keys to the country’s nuclear weapons program.

The 2007 NIE has since been discredited. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, even President Obama acknowledged Iran’s “pursuit” of a nuclear weapons capability in a news conference and CIA Director Leon Panetta admitted in his confirmation hearing, “From all the information I’ve seen, I think there is no question that they (the Iranians) are seeking that capability.”

Needing to buy time for Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Ahmadinejad undoubtedly viewed the NIE report -- as well as the international community’s continuing inability to agree on a unified approach to stop Tehran -- as yet another sign of Allah’s divine intervention to ensure the program remains on track.

Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made clear his intention to destroy Israel and the US. As the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini asserted and Ahmadinejad has agreed, “Islam makes it incumbent [for believers] to prepare for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country of the world … [by fulfilling Islam's mandate to] kill all unbelievers.” Those believing nuclear retaliation deters Ahmadinejad from launching a first strike against the US or Israel should know he also supports Khomeini’s 1981 position: "I say let Iran go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

Ahmadinejad’s true intentions, revealed by his actions as researched by author Ron Cantrell, are also most telling.

- While mayor of Tehran in 2004, Ahmadinejad mapped a parade route for the Mahdi to follow through the city. One of the outgoing mayor’s last orders to city officials was to widen a major boulevard to prepare for Mahdi’s return.

- Upon becoming president, Ahmadinejad declared his mandate was “to pave the way for the coming of this Islamic messiah.”

- The site of the Mahdi’s return is the site of his disappearance -- a well behind a mosque in the village of Jamkaran in the holy city of Qom. As president, Ahmadinejad has funded millions of dollars in improvements for the mosque and well.

- To prepare for the eventual pilgrimage from Tehran to Jamkaran following the Mahdi’s return, Ahmadinejad has ordered construction of a railroad line connecting the two locations.

- In speeches caught on camera, Ahmadinejad repeatedly prays to Allah to expedite the Mahdi’s return.

- After returning to Iran after a UN speech, Ahmadinejad informed religious leaders he felt a halo of light engulfing him as he spoke. A video reveals Ahmadinejad telling them, for the duration of his speech world leaders were mesmerized, not moving “an eyelid… as if a hand was holding them there, and had just opened their eyes to the message of the Islamic Republic.”

- In conversations with some world leaders, Ahmadinejad confides the Mahdi’s return is imminent.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson reports Ahmadinejad’s “presidential obsession” with the Mahdi’s return has brought him to “a certitude that leaves little room for compromise… every issue is designed to lay the foundation for the Mahdi’s return.”

The light from Ahmadinejad’s halo appears to have blinded him from reality and the world community from taking meaningful action. No nation -- save Israel -- seems intent on really stopping Iran’s nuclear pursuit.

For Iran’s theocratic leadership -- and especially Ahmadinejad -- it is truly “Apocalypse Now.”

James Zumwalt is a retired Marine who served in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He has written opinion pieces on foreign policy, defense and security issues for dozens of newspapers. He is president of his own security consulting company.

~ ~ ~

Apocalypse Now Original Trailer (RARE)

The North Korean Nuclear Test and Geopolitical Reality

By Nathan Hughes, Stratfor

North Korea tested a nuclear device for the second time in two and a half years May 25. Although North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues to be a work in progress, the event is inherently significant. North Korea has carried out the only two nuclear detonations the world has seen in the 21st century. (The most recent tests prior to that were the spate of tests by India and Pakistan in 1998.)

Details continue to emerge through the analysis of seismographic and other data, and speculation about the precise nature of the atomic device that Pyongyang may now posses carries on, making this a good moment to examine the underlying reality of nuclear weapons. Examining their history, and the lessons that can be drawn from that history, will help us understand what it will really mean if North Korea does indeed join the nuclear club.

Nuclear Weapons in the 20th Century

Even before an atomic bomb was first detonated on July 16, 1945, both the scientists and engineers of the Manhattan Project and the U.S. military struggled with the implications of the science that they pursued. But ultimately, they were driven by a profound sense of urgency to complete the program in time to affect the outcome of the war, meaning understanding the implications of the atomic bomb was largely a luxury that would have to wait. Even after World War II ended, the frantic pace of the Cold War kept pushing weapons development forward at a break-neck pace. This meant that in their early days, atomic weapons were probably more advanced than the understanding of their moral and practical utility.

But the promise of nuclear weapons was immense. If appropriate delivery systems could be designed and built, and armed with more powerful nuclear warheads, a nation could continually threaten another country’s very means of existence: its people, industry, military installations and governmental institutions. Battlefield or tactical nuclear weapons would make the massing of military formations suicidal — or so military planners once thought. What seemed clear early on was that nuclear weapons had fundamentally changed everything. War was thought to have been made obsolete, simply too dangerous and too destructive to contemplate. Some of the most brilliant minds of the Manhattan Project talked of how atomic weapons made world government necessary.

But perhaps the most surprising aspect of the advent of the nuclear age is how little actually changed. Great power competition continued apace (despite a new, bilateral dynamic). The Soviets blockaded Berlin for nearly a year starting in 1948, in defiance of what was then the world’s sole nuclear power: the United States. Likewise, the United States refused to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War (despite the pleas of Gen. Douglas MacArthur) even as Chinese divisions surged across the Yalu River, overwhelming U.S., South Korean and allied forces and driving them back south, reversing the rapid gains of late 1950.

Again and again, the situations nuclear weapons were supposed to deter occurred. The military realities they would supposedly shift simply persisted. Thus, the United States lost in Vietnam. The Syrians and the Egyptians invaded Israel in 1973 (despite knowing that the Israelis had acquired nuclear weapons by that point). The Soviet Union lost in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan went to war in 1999 — and nearly went to war twice after that. In none of these cases was it judged appropriate to risk employing nuclear weapons — nor was it clear what utility they might have.

Enduring Geopolitical Stability

Wars of immense risk are born of desperation. In World War II, both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan took immense geostrategic gambles — and lost — but knowingly took the risk because of untenable geopolitical circumstances. By comparison, the postwar United States and Soviet Union were geopolitically secure. Washington had come into its own as a global power secured by the buffer of two oceans, while Moscow enjoyed the greatest strategic depth it had ever known.

The U.S.-Soviet competition was, of course, intense, from the nuclear arms race to the space race to countless proxy wars. Yet underlying it was a fear that the other side would engage in a war that was on its face irrational. Western Europe promised the Soviet Union immense material wealth but would likely have been impossible to subdue. (Why should a Soviet leader expect to succeed where Napoleon and Hitler had failed?) Even without nuclear weapons in the calculus, the cost to the Soviets was too great, and fears of the Soviet invasion of Europe along the North European Plain were overblown. The desperation that caused Germany to seek control over Europe twice in the first half of the 20th century simply did not characterize either the Soviet or U.S. geopolitical position even without nuclear weapons in play. It was within this context that the concept of mutually assured destruction emerged — the idea that each side would possess sufficient retaliatory capability to inflict a devastating “second strike” in the event of even a surprise nuclear attack.

Through it all, the metrics of nuclear warfare became more intricate. Throw weights and penetration rates were calculated and recalculated. Targets were assigned and reassigned. A single city would begin to have multiple target points, each with multiple strategic warheads allocated to its destruction. Theorists and strategists would talk of successful scenarios for first strikes. But only in the Cuban Missile Crisis did the two sides really threaten one another’s fundamental national interests. There were certainly other moments when the world inched toward the nuclear brink. But each time, the global system found its balance, and there was little cause or incentive for political leaders on either side of the Iron Curtain to so fundamentally alter the status quo as to risk direct military confrontation — much less nuclear war.

So through it all, the world carried on, its fundamental dynamics unchanged by the ever-present threat of nuclear war. Indeed, history has shown that once a country has acquired nuclear weapons, the weapons fail to have any real impact on the country’s regional standing or pursuit of power in the international system.

Thus, not only were nuclear weapons never used in even desperate combat situations, their acquisition failed to entail any meaningful shift in geopolitical position. Even as the United Kingdom acquired nuclear weapons in the 1950s, its colonial empire crumbled. The Soviet Union was behaving aggressively all along its periphery before it acquired nuclear weapons. And the Soviet Union had the largest nuclear arsenal in the world when it collapsed — not only despite its arsenal, but in part because the economic burden of creating and maintaining it was unsustainable. Today, nuclear-armed France and non-nuclear armed Germany vie for dominance on the Continent with no regard for France’s small nuclear arsenal.

The Intersection of Weapons, Strategy and Politics

This August will mark 64 years since any nation used a nuclear weapon in combat. What was supposed to be the ultimate weapon has proved too risky and too inappropriate as a weapon ever to see the light of day again. Though nuclear weapons certainly played a role in the strategic calculus of the Cold War, they had no relation to a military strategy that anyone could seriously contemplate. Militaries, of course, had war plans and scenarios and target sets. But outside this world of role-play Armageddon, neither side was about to precipitate a global nuclear war.

Clausewitz long ago detailed the inescapable connection between national political objectives and military force and strategy. Under this thinking, if nuclear weapons had no relation to practical military strategy, then they were necessarily disconnected (at least in the Clausewitzian sense) from — and could not be integrated with — national and political objectives in a coherent fashion. True to the theory, despite ebbs and flows in the nuclear arms race, for 64 years, no one has found a good reason to detonate a nuclear bomb.

By this line of reasoning, STRATFOR is not suggesting that complete nuclear disarmament — or “getting to zero” — is either possible or likely. The nuclear genie can never be put back in the bottle. The idea that the world could ever remain nuclear-free is untenable. The potential for clandestine and crash nuclear programs will remain a reality of the international system, and the world’s nuclear powers are unlikely ever to trust the rest of the system enough to completely surrender their own strategic deterrents.

Legacy, Peer and Bargaining Programs

The countries in the world today with nuclear weapons programs can be divided into three main categories.

  • Legacy Programs: This category comprises countries like the United Kingdom and France that maintain small arsenals even after the end of the threat they acquired them for; in this case, to stave off a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In the last few years, both London and Paris have decided to sustain their small arsenals in some form for the foreseeable future. This category is also important for highlighting the unlikelihood that a country will surrender its weapons after it has acquired them (the only exceptions being South Africa and several Soviet Republics that repatriated their weapons back to Russia after the Soviet collapse).
  • Peer Programs: The original peer program belonged to the Soviet Union, which aggressively and ruthlessly pursued a nuclear weapons capacity following the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 because its peer competitor, the United States, had them. The Pakistani and Indian nuclear programs also can be understood as peer programs.
  • Bargaining Programs: These programs are about the threat of developing nuclear weapons, a strategy that involves quite a bit of tightrope walking to make the threat of acquiring nuclear weapons appear real and credible while at the same time not making it appear so urgent as to require military intervention. Pyongyang pioneered this strategy, and has wielded it deftly over the years. As North Korea continues to progress with its efforts, however, it will shift from a bargaining chip to an actual program — one it will be unlikely to surrender once it acquires weapons, like London and Paris. Iran also falls into this category, though it could also progress to a more substantial program if it gets far enough along. Though parts of its program are indeed clandestine, other parts are actually highly publicized and celebrated as milestones, both to continue to highlight progress internationally and for purposes of domestic consumption. Indeed, manipulating the international community with a nuclear weapon — or even a civilian nuclear program — has proved to be a rare instance of the utility of nuclear weapons beyond simple deterrence.

The Challenges of a Nuclear Weapons Program

Pursuing a nuclear weapons program is not without its risks. Another important distinction is that between a crude nuclear device and an actual weapon. The former requires only that a country demonstrate the capability to initiate an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction, creating a rather large hole in the ground. That device may be crude, fragile or otherwise temperamental. But this does not automatically imply the capability to mount a rugged and reliable nuclear warhead on a delivery vehicle and send it flying to the other side of the earth. In other words, it does not immediately translate into a meaningful deterrent.

For that, a ruggedized, reliable nuclear weapon must be mated with some manner of reliable delivery vehicle to have real military meaning. After the end of World War II, the B-29’s limited range and the few nuclear weapons the United States had on hand meant that its vaunted nuclear arsenal was initially extremely difficult to bring to bear against the Soviet heartland. The United States would spend untold resources to overcome this obstacle in the decade that followed.

The modern nuclear weapon is not just a product of physics, but of decades of design work and full-scale nuclear testing. It combines expertise not just in nuclear physics, but materials science, rocketry, missile guidance and the like. A nuclear device does not come easy. A nuclear weapon is one of the most advanced syntheses of complex technologies ever achieved by man.

Many dangers exist for an aspiring nuclear power. Many of the facilities associated with a clandestine nuclear weapons program are large, fixed and complex. They are vulnerable to airstrikes — as Syria found in 2007. (And though history shows that nuclear weapons are unlikely to be employed, it is still in the interests of other powers to deny that capability to a potential adversary.)

The history of proliferation shows that few countries actually ever decide to pursue nuclear weapons. Obtaining them requires immense investment (and the more clandestine the attempt, the more costly the program becomes), and the ability to focus and coordinate a major national undertaking over time. It is not something a leader like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez could decide to pursue on a whim. A national government must have cohesion over the long span of time necessary to go from the foundations of a weapons program to a meaningful deterrent capability.

The Exceptions

In addition to this sustained commitment must be the willingness to be suspected by the international community and endure pariah status and isolation — in and of themselves significant risks for even moderately integrated economies. One must also have reasonable means of deterring a pre-emptive strike by a competing power. A Venezuelan weapons program is therefore unlikely because the United States would act decisively the moment one was discovered, and there is little Venezuela could do to deter such action.

North Korea, on the other hand, has held downtown Seoul (just across the demilitarized zone) at risk for generations with one of the highest concentrations of deployed artillery, artillery rockets and short-range ballistic missiles on the planet. From the outside, Pyongyang is perceived as unpredictable enough that any potential pre-emptive strike on its nuclear facilities is too risky not because of some newfound nuclear capability, but because of Pyongyang’s capability to turn the South Korean capital city into a proverbial “sea of fire” via conventional means. A nuclear North Korea, the world has now seen, is not sufficient alone to risk renewed war on the Korean Peninsula.

Iran is similarly defended. It can threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, to launch a barrage of medium-range ballistic missiles at Israel, and to use its proxies in Lebanon and elsewhere to respond with a new campaign of artillery rocket fire, guerrilla warfare and terrorism. But the biggest deterrent to a strike on Iran is Tehran’s ability to seriously interfere in ongoing U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan — efforts already tenuous enough without direct Iranian opposition.

In other words, some other deterrent (be it conventional or unconventional) against attack is a prerequisite for a nuclear program, since powerful potential adversaries can otherwise move to halt such efforts. North Korea and Iran have such deterrents. Most other countries widely considered major proliferation dangers — Iraq before 2003, Syria or Venezuela, for example — do not. And that fundamental deterrent remains in place after the country acquires nuclear weapons.

In short, no one was going to invade North Korea — or even launch limited military strikes against it — before its first nuclear test in 2006. And no one will do so now, nor will they do so after its next test. So North Korea – with or without nuclear weapons – remains secure from invasion. With or without nuclear weapons, North Korea remains a pariah state, isolated from the international community. And with or without them, the world will go on.

The Global Nuclear Dynamic

Despite how frantic the pace of nuclear proliferation may seem at the moment, the true pace of the global nuclear dynamic is slowing profoundly. With the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty already effectively in place (though it has not been ratified), the pace of nuclear weapons development has already slowed and stabilized dramatically. The world’s current nuclear powers are reliant to some degree on the generation of weapons that were validated and certified before testing was banned. They are currently working toward weapons and force structures that will provide them with a stable, sustainable deterrent for the foreseeable future rooted largely in this pre-existing weapons architecture.

New additions to the nuclear club are always cause for concern. But though North Korea’s nuclear program continues apace, it hardly threatens to shift underlying geopolitical realities. It may encourage the United States to retain a slightly larger arsenal to reassure Japan and South Korea about the credibility of its nuclear umbrella. It also could encourage Tokyo and Seoul to pursue their own weapons. But none of these shifts, though significant, is likely to alter the defining military, economic and political dynamics of the region fundamentally.

Nuclear arms are better understood as an insurance policy, one that no potential aggressor has any intention of steering afoul of. Without practical military or political use, they remain held in reserve — where in all likelihood they will remain for the foreseeable future.

North Korea like you've never seen it before

via Foreign Policy

Here's a bonus map for you cartophiles out there: a Google Earth file of North Korea pulled together by Curtis Melvin, a Ph.D. student at George Mason University. The Wall Street Journal explains:

Mr. Melvin is at the center of a dozen or so citizen snoops who have spent the past two years filling in the blanks on the map of one of the world's most secretive countries. Seeking clues in photos, news reports and eyewitness accounts, they affix labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth, an online service that stitches satellite pictures into a virtual globe. The result is an annotated North Korea of rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on white-sand beaches.

"It's democratized intelligence," says Mr. Melvin.

More than 35,000 people have downloaded Mr. Melvin's file, North Korea Uncovered. It has grown to include thousands of tags in categories such as "nuclear issues" (alleged reactors, missile storage), dams (more than 1,200 countrywide) and restaurants (47). Its Wikipedia approach to spying shows how Soviet-style secrecy is facing a new challenge from the Internet's power to unite a disparate community of busybodies.

Click photo to enlarge.

Did you know that Kim Jong Il has his own personal waterslide?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cluster of Quakes Rock Yellowstone's Caldera

Yellowstone River in Hayden Valley. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

Yesterday nearly three dozen small earthquakes rattled Yellowstone National Park. Most of the tremblers were clustered within a section of Yellowstone's super caldera, in an area known to be a hydrothermal-explosion crater. Half of the quakes occured at magma depth, reminding us that the volcano's real threat is continually on the move.

Click map to enter USGS Yellowstone Earthquake website.

The USGS, University of Utah and Yellowstone National Park continue to carefully review all data streams that are recorded in real-time. At this time, there is no reason to believe that magma has risen to a shallow level within the crust or that a volcanic eruption is likely.

The USGS Volcano Alert Level and Aviation Color Code for Yellowstone remain at Normal and Green.

Yellowstone sits on top of three overlapping calderas. Click map to enlarge.

Earthquakes at Yellowstone are caused by a combination of geological factors including:

  1. regional stress associated with normal faults (those where the valleys go down relative to the mountains) such as the nearby Teton and Hebgen Lake faults
  2. magmatic movements at depth (>7 kms or 4 miles)
  3. hydrothermal fluid activity caused as the groundwater system is heated to boiling by magmatic heat

Read more about Yellowstone's most recent earthquake swarm here: December 2008 - January 2009 Earthquake Swarm

Yes! Yellowstone is a Volcano (Part 1 of 3)

USGS Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, Jake Lowenstern, answers the following questions to explain volcanic features at Yellowstone: "How do we know Yellowstone is a volcano?", "What is a Supervolcano?", "What is a Caldera?", "Why are there geysers at Yellowstone?", and "What are the other geologic hazards in Yellowstone?"

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory (Part 2 of 3)

Dr. Lowenstern, answers the following questions to provide a tour of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory: "What is YVO?", "How do you monitor volcanic activity at Yellowstone?", "How are satellites used to study deformation?", "Do you monitor geysers or any other aspect of the Park?", "Are earthquakes and ground deformation common at Yellowstone?", "Why is YVO a relatively small group?", and "Where can I get more information?"

Yellowstone Eruptions (Part 3 of 3)

Dr. Lowenstern, answers the following questions to explain volcanic eruptions at Yellowstone: "When was the last supereruption at Yellowstone?", "Have any eruptions occurred since the last supereruption?", "Is Yellowstone overdue for an eruption?", "What does the magma below indicate about a possible eruption?", "What else is possible?", and "Why didn't you think the Yellowstone Lake earthquake swarm would lead to an eruption?"

Israel, Obama, Iran, and Journalism

Excerpt from article by Sam Vaknin, Ph.D. for Global Politician

"During Netanyahu's visit, Israel shared intelligence with the CIA regarding the potential for a terrorist attack which will dwarf 9/11 if Iran is allowed to continue with its nuclear designs and share its outcomes with allies such as Hamas and the Hizbullah. Iranian proliferation is a direct threat to US National security.

Obama's staff is ignoring the intel (HUMINT) because they believe that it is intended to manipulate the Administration into accepting Israel's planned bombing of two facilities in Iran.

They are also ignoring intel regarding a Hamas cell in Cairo that is bent on mischief. The Israelis are shunned. The CIA is exasperated."

How reliable is this information? Can journalists be trusted not to be manipulated; not to substitute opinion and wishful thinking for facts; not to be corrupted with the trappings of power or outright pecuniary incentives?

Is it true? Did it happen?

Who knows! All I can say is that someone wanted this information leaked. It could be a arrow shot across the Obama administration's bow. It could be part of a much larger picture. It could be a signal aimed at Iran. It may be a brazen fabrication. History will tell.

But one thing it is for sure: a story. Someone(s) told me, a journalist, this story. They wanted it out. The importance of a story sometimes lies not with its content, but with its very release. It is the role of the discerning reader to read between the lines, connect the dots, and come up with his or her own narrative.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Tribute

Memorial Day Tribute Presented By J.M. Studios

Dreams of a Madman: Kim Jong Il

I had a feeling last night, when I signed off with the Allman Brothers, that I was missing the day's big story. This morning, when I awoke to news of a North Korean nuclear test and a fully fledged nuclear North Korea, I had another feeling... "Kim Jong Il is a dying madman who plans to secure his everlasting remembrance by taking out millions before he exits the world stage." I hope I'm wrong and that I just need a little more sleep or coffee or both. But, what if I'm right? Who would be his target? And when could Kim Jong Il launch for real?

Perhaps these questions can be answered by a closer inspection of North Korea's missile arsenal:

TAEPODONG: This group of rockets is the pinnacle of North Korea's missile technology. Though known to the outside world as Taepodong, North Korea uses the name Unha, or Galaxy. Pyongyang claims they are space launch vehicles (SLVs) to launch satellites for a peaceful space program. Satellite and missile technologies are interchangeable.

ADVANCED TAEPODONG-2: Under development. Potential range: about 5,000 miles, putting the U.S. West coast, Hawaii, Australia and eastern Europe within striking distance.

TAEPODONG-2: Three-stage rocket with potential range of more than 4,100 miles, putting Alaska within striking distance. South Korea says the rocket fizzled soon after takeoff in a July 2006 test. First two stages are liquid-fueled, while the third is believed to be solid-fueled. Iranian engineers are thought to have observed the 2006 launch. Cooperation with Iran has been extensive; Iran's Safir-Omid space launch vehicle owes much to the Taepodong.

TAEPODONG-1: Estimated range of 1,550 miles, according to South Korea. North is believed to have test-launched the missile in August 1998, calling it a Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite mounted onto a Paektusan-1 rocket. Launch shocked the world because it was well beyond North Korea's known capability at the time. The second stage flew over Japan into waters off the country's east coast. Both lower stages are liquid-fueled, with a potential solid-fueled third stage. Payload is thought to be about 750 pounds. Accuracy is believed poor, with no meaningful strike capability.

NEW MISSILE: North Korea has fielded a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, according to South Korea's Defense Ministry. With a range of 1,800 miles, it could reach Guam, northern Australia, most of Russia and parts of India. North Korea reportedly used Russian SS-N-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile technology for the mobile, land-based missile. It reportedly is liquid-fueled with one or two stages. Some reports say North Korea put the new missile on display during a 2007 military parade. Accuracy is unknown.

NODONG: Japan is the likely target of this short-range missile. Nodong is almost identical to Iran's Shahab-3 and Pakistan's Ghauri II (Hatf V), the strongest evidence of the countries' collaboration and of North Korean sale of technology and missile equipment to others. All three countries continue to refine the design. Estimated range of 620 to 930 miles and maximum payload of 2,200 pounds. They are single-stage, liquid-fueled missiles on mobile launchers. Most have fairly poor accuracy, though some may have been fitted with warhead separation and more modern guidance systems.

SCUD: Single-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of up to 500 miles. Known in North Korea by the name Hwasong, the SCUD B and SCUD C can reach only South Korea, but the SCUD D could target Japan. Accuracy is extremely poor. Ballistic missile programs in Pakistan and Iran were built on SCUD technology.

Now, the good news...

According to Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group think-tank, the long-range Taepodong-2 rocket that North Korea fired this month is an unsuitable vehicle for a nuclear bomb because it takes weeks to assemble, fuel and arm, giving ample time for it to be destroyed on the launch pad.

And the bad...

The danger lies with shorter-range weapons, some of which are difficult to detect. They include variants of the Scud, which could strike South Korea, and the Nodong, which could reach much of Japan. Pyongyang also has a short range weapon called the Toksa, which is highly accurate up to 75 miles. The Musudan, which can be transported by road, could reach US bases on the Pacific island of Guam.

Well, I hope that answers who. Unfortunately, the answer to when seems to be "standby..."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Allman Brothers Band - Midnight Rider

The Allman Brothers Band - Midnight Rider

Live at the Beacon Theater, 2003.

Well, I've got to run to keep from hiding
And I'm bound to keep on riding
I've got one more silver dollar
But I'm not gonna let them catch me, no
Not gonna let 'em catch the midnight rider

I don't own the clothes I'm wearing
And the road goes on forever
I've got one more silver dollar
But I'm not gonna let them catch me, no
Not gonna let 'em catch the midnight rider

And I've gone by the point of caring
Some old bed I'll soon be sharing
I've got one more silver dollar
But I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no
Not gonna let 'em catch the midnight rider

h/t: Blackfive & Rolling Thunder video

Click image to enter the Rolling Thunder website

Queen of England Betrayed for £1,000

An outrageous Buckingham Palace security breach - set up by a Lithuanian hooker - could have put the Queen at the mercy of terrorists.

On Friday two undercover News of the World reporters were given access to Her Majesty's fleet of limos inside the palace grounds by the prostitute's boyfriend - grasping royal chauffeur Brian Sirjusingh.

Read the full story here:

QUEEN TERROR BOMBSHELL: How money-grabbing chauffeur sold out Her Majesty

The reader comments that follow are almost as good (and shocking) as the story itself. Here's my favorite:

"You are lucky it was News of the World reporters instead of New York Times reporters. Otherwise the story wouldn't be about the chauffeur, but instead they would be spilling all the top secrets they had learned. I praise you for keeping the secrets instead of boasting of what you know, as the chauffeur did." -- Tarnian

Buckingham Palace security: chauffeur and hooker girlfriend let strangers into palace

Oklahoma's 'Cherokee Cowboy'

by Kevin Connolly for BBC News

Traveling through Oklahoma, Kevin Connolly recalls the life of Cherokee-American Will Rogers, a star of silent and talking movies.

When someone is a real star you know it because on the day of their death, the world seems to turn more slowly and feels as though it is just a little further from the sun.

Well on the day Will Rogers died in 1935 for most Americans the sun felt a very long way away indeed.

He was a passenger in a seaplane which crashed back into the water seconds after it took off from the surface of a lake where the pilot had landed to ask a group of Eskimos for directions.

He and the round-the-world aviator Wiley Post had been lagoon-hopping in Alaska planning to prospect an air route for postal services to Russia.

Rogers was a Wild West show performer, vaudeville comedian, a movie star and newspaper columnist. But somehow, he was more than any of those things.

In the depths of the Great Depression he helped Americans make sense of a world which had stopped making sense on its own.

His fame has not perhaps transcended the generations as the fame of some celebrities does - it is the light of a distant star - but as word of his death began to spread, the US experienced one of those moments of collective numbness which marks its very darkest hours.

Elusive quality

I knew a little about him because he was part of a kind of private pantheon created for us when we were children by a great-uncle with a gift for weaving disjointed recollections of old films and news stories into a romantic vision of the past.

He did it so well that it was many years before I realized that people like the American child-actor Jackie Coogan and the Polish pianist and politician Ignacy Paderewsky had ceased to be household names in everyone else's house 30 or 40 years before I was born.

Most of the characters in this pantheon I now realize were at the peak of their powers in the late 1920s when a new kind of fame was inventing itself around the spread of the radio, the rise of cheap photo magazines and the coming of the 'talkies'.

It was like a magnesium flashbulb going off in the darkness of history and it burned a jumbled assortment of boxers, footballers, actors and politicians into my memory forever.

But there was always a quality of elusiveness about Will Rogers in particular. He filled and defined his own times so completely that it was hard to piece him back together again for ours.

Cowboy and Indian

And then, last week, I found myself driving through the plains of Oklahoma where Will Rogers was born, and I found his life story and the role he played in the America of the Great Depression starting to make a little more sense.

He was born into a part-Cherokee family in Oklahoma before it became a state and worked as a ranch hand on some of the last great cattle drives that swept beef herds across the prairies to the stockyards of Kansas.

In a country where they set great store by their founding myths he could thus argue that he was both a cowboy and an Indian. And he relished the heritage of both.

Where other distinguished Americans trace their lineage back to the Pilgrims who came across the sea from England, Rogers liked to say "My people met the boat."

And he started out in show business doing cowboy roping tricks in the theater in an act that involved riding his horse onto the stage.

Reassuring words

When his newspaper writing made him more famous still, they called him the Poet Lariat.

And it was that newspaper column more than his films or his work on the radio and stage that made him such an important presence in the America of the early 30's.

He wrote as he spoke - all "kind-a", "should-a" and "could-a" - and in a country which instinctively values folk wisdom above book learning his tone was re-assuring, asserting the timeless certainties of American values and reassuring his readers that the political leaders he encountered were for the most part likable men.

There was an innocence about him which has not traveled well through the years and he is often quoted as having said he never met a man he did not like.

It cannot have been an easy message to sell in the America of the Great Depression but businessmen and politicians probably were likable enough when they were in Roger's company.

He was a natural comedian whose irreverence to politicians was tempered with a sort of kindliness which would make him seem hopelessly tame in our world.

He was said to have wept when he heard that some gentle ribbing of President Harding had irritated that least impressive of leaders.

At the memorial center which the people of Oklahoma built for Will Rogers a statue captures him perfectly.

Still a cowboy on horseback heading optimistically in death towards the distant prairie horizon he so far transcended in life.

He once said: "The secret to being a hero is knowing when to die," but you sense that for the people of Oklahoma, when Will Rogers died his lonely death in Alaska, that for once his timing let him down.

~ ~ ~

THE ROPIN' FOOL (1922) Will Rogers

Will Rogers plays Ropes Reilly, a cowboy who ropes anything that moves until a lynch mob decides to use Reilly's rope for a hanging party, with Reilly as the guest of honor.

Motion Picture World wrote: "Plentiful use of slow motion photography shows how it is done and dispels any possible belief that the stunts are faked. No audience can help but marvel as Rogers throws a figure eight around a galloping horse, or lassos a rat with a piece of string, or brings to term a cat melodiously inclined."