Keeping America Safe from Terrorism by Monitoring Distillery Webcams


We had an email recently from an observer “curious as to why the webcam that was inside the shop/bar is no longer there, or at least, functional”. The email was from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the United States.

When we replied that it was simply a short term technical problem, we asked why on earth they could be interested in the comings and goings of a small Distillery off the West Coast of Scotland. Were there secret manoeuvres taking place in Loch Indaal, or even a threat of terrorists infiltrating the mainland via Islay?

The answer we received was even more surreal. Evidently the mission of the DTRA is to safeguard the US and its allies from weapons of mass destruction -chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives. The department which contacted the Distillery deals with the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, going to sites to verify treaty compliance. Funnily enough chemical weapon processes look very similar to the distilling process and as part of training there is a visit to a brewery for familiarization with reactors, batch processors and evaporators. As they said, it just goes to show how “tweaks” to the process flow or equipment, can create something very pleasant (whisky) or deadly (chemical weapons).

As they say: “In the post-Cold War environment, a unified, consistent approach to deterring, reducing and countering weapons of mass destruction is essential to maintaining our national security. Under DTRA, Department of Defense resources, expertise and capabilities are combined to ensure the United States remains ready and able to address the present and future WMD threat. We perform four essential functions to accomplish our mission: combat support, technology development, threat control and threat reduction. These functions form the basis for how we are organized and our daily activities. Together, they enable us to reduce the physical and psychological terror of weapons of mass destruction, thereby enhancing the security of the world’s citizens. At the dawn of the 21st century, no other task is as challenging or demanding”.

EDITED TO ADD (11/7): This story seems mostly bogus. See “The Story Continues…” on this page.

Posted on October 31, 2008 at 11:15 AM31 Comments


Reality Cheque October 31, 2008 11:50 AM

Well, this sort of does make sense. Some of the more “peaty” scotch can be a tad deadly if your not used to them and take a hefty swig…

Andy October 31, 2008 11:53 AM

Doesn’t the original post look like much ado about nothing? It seems that the lazy asses at that gov agency wanted to watch the chemical processes online rather than visit in person as part of training. What am I missing? I didn’t see any mention of monitoring. The original post even has a followup email where the gal (complete address) says “personal”.

That’s what you get when you send emails from work account…

Dr Jack Daniels October 31, 2008 12:22 PM

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2001–2005, in the USA there were approximately 79,000 deaths annually attributable to excessive alcohol use. Unless things have changed, I guess that makes alchohol a weapon of mass destruction.

Please note I like a drink and am not a recovering alcoholic.

baldheadedguy October 31, 2008 12:36 PM

I’m curious why everyone is poo-pooing this. I mean, Bruce, you constantly advocate for behavioural analysis, it sounds to me like the agency in question is doing behviour analysis of people taking tours using the web-cam. It makes reasonable sense to me anyway.

S October 31, 2008 12:41 PM

Please tell me what the consequences of a SHA256 collision are. Also if this is related to a partial preimage, what is the further consequence of that? Thank you.

Peter October 31, 2008 12:42 PM

Andy, much ado about nothing? Really, what business or authority has Defense Threat Reduction Agency in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA in the country called UNITED KINGDOM?

Michael Scott October 31, 2008 2:00 PM

A visit to the DTRA website ( is quite instructive. in language and pictures almost (but sadly not) a parody of itself.

An Icelandic terrørist møøse once recruited my sister ... October 31, 2008 2:05 PM

No realli! She was trained by the møøse how to hijack a plane with the sharpened end of an interspace tøøthbrush given her by Svenge – her brother-in-law – an Icelandic terrørist and star of many Al-Jazeera møvies: “The Høt Hands of an Icelandic Terrørist”, “Bømbings of Passiøn”, “The Huge Interspace Tøøthbrush of Møhammad bin Nørdfink”.

When they’re done boondoggling over to Scotland to buy single malt, they can have a layover at Reykjavík.

Truly insane.

Dr Jack Daniels October 31, 2008 2:21 PM

@Clive Robinson

Joke threat level severe……

The biological angle is a manageable threat as new all new home brew kits are monitored via embedded transponders.

Anonymous October 31, 2008 3:41 PM

@Armin: If you come to Islay with a bit of luck you might even bump into George Robertson, formerly NATO Secretary General.

Bump into or trip over?

John Campbell October 31, 2008 3:42 PM


Consider the 1920s.

If I recall history correctly, one of the first things FDR did on entering office was to have Prohibition repealed.

It strikes me that the current GOP have a whole bunch of things they’d like to Prohibit… as if you can legislate, execute or judificate (sic) morality.

Ed T. October 31, 2008 3:44 PM

Uh… even if it was “personal viewing”, if equipment belonging to DTRA were being used to (en effect) SPY on a facility on the soil of the UK (nominally a US ally), wouldn’t they need to get the OK of the British government first? Or, at least let MI5 monitor a US-based microbrewery (or maybe a “gentleman’s club”) in return?


robert the shrubber October 31, 2008 4:26 PM


“Please tell me what the consequences of a SHA256 collision are.”

The same as the consequences of any hash collision. It depends on what the hash is being used for.

“Also if this is related to a partial preimage, what is the further consequence of that?”

You’d first have to explain exactly what you mean by “related to”.

Sparky in North Canton October 31, 2008 4:45 PM

The government agent in question was probably just on-the-lookout for attractive females….

Andre LePlume October 31, 2008 6:17 PM

“The government agent in question was probably just on-the-lookout for attractive females….”

Could be, but given that the agent’s name is Ursula, and this is a U.S. military organization, this may be one of those DADT situations.

Steve October 31, 2008 7:56 PM

I don’t know if anyone noticed or if it’s relevant, but this story is more than five years old!,,175-832349,00.html

In addition, the “observer” points out that it was for her own use and interest that she was monitoring the site, not an official program. You may, of course, believe or disbelieve her but there is a ring of plausibility to her assertion.

Sometimes it helps to read all the way to the bottom.

Clive Robinson November 1, 2008 5:17 AM

I suspect at the end of the day the truth of it lies between personal use and work use.

If she is a trainer teaching a fairly dry subject then being able to appeal to “mans baser instincts” would be a way of enlivening the course.

The there is “course critique” time when the knuckle chewers say just how boring the tutor was. Which as we who have been there know appears to be managments way of assessing how good a teacher you are…

What better way to improve your popularity than as a final excersice to take the grunts around a virtual distilary tour whilst having a bottle of the quality product and some glasses on “teachers desk” to be handed out with the critique forms…

After all Highland Hospitality was a way of bribing your foe into negotiations (Unless as the Cambells found out you are a perfidious Stewart)

Armin November 1, 2008 6:04 AM


The “weapons inspector” web cam is called that because it looks at a weapons inspector.

You can’t see it very well on the camera (or the preview), but there are a pair of legs sticking out of the top of the old still. Obviously they are the legs of a weapons inspector checking out the still…

Neighborcat November 3, 2008 5:47 AM

I picture a DTRA supervisor berating an employee after this story came out: Weapons of MASS DESTRUCTION, you idiot, not “mash production!”


Kadin November 3, 2008 5:23 PM

The webcam has as much to do with the actual activities of the DTRA, as Buffy the Vampire Slayer has to do with the CIA (remember all those Wikipedia edits?).

Somebody from DTRA apparently got a kick out of watching this webcam, and when it went offline sent them an email (unfortunately from their work account). Then they tried to come up with a shoddy excuse for why they cared when they got called on it.

DTRA, like virtually every other USG agency, is filled with a whole lot of bored people with a surplus of free time. Some particular peon just happened to enjoy staring at this webcam while on Uncle Sam’s dime; they could just as easily spent their time doing crossword puzzles, but that would probably be harder to explain away when they got caught. (That’s assuming anyone actually cares, not a safe assumption.)

John Waters November 4, 2008 1:33 AM


Exactly! That’s what would make this threat so insidious. They hate your toddler’s freedom, if your toddler ends up being a single malt man (or Amy Winehouse).

John Waters November 10, 2008 12:23 AM

What about all those fellas in rural America cooking up moonshine, methamphetamine, and psiclobe cubensis? One would think that the people that are manufacturing or cultivating these three things are far more threatening to our security than well established, publicly accessible, businesses.

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