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 AM •
Item 1: Kip Hawley says that the TSA may reduce size restrictions on liquids. You’ll still have to take them out of your bag, but they can be larger than three ounces. The reasons — so he states — are that technologies are getting better, not that the threat is reduced.
I’m skeptical, of course. But read his post; it’s interesting.
Item 2: Hawley responded to my response to his blog post about an article about me in The Atlantic.
Item 3: The Atlantic is holding a contest, based on Hawley’s comment that the TSA is basically there to catch stupid terrorists:
And so, a contest: How would the Hawley Principle of Federally-Endorsed Mediocrity apply to other government endeavors?
Not the same as my movie-plot threat contest, but fun all the same.
Item 4: What would the TSA make of this?
Posted on October 29, 2008 at 2:27 PM •
Guess the year:
Murderous organizations have increased in size and scope; they are more daring, they are served by the most terrible weapons offered by modern science, and the world is nowadays threatened by new forces which, if recklessly unchained, may some day wreck universal destruction. The Orsini bombs were mere children’s toys compared with the later developments of infernal machines. Between 1858 and 1898 the dastardly science of destruction had made rapid and alarming strides…
No, that wasn’t a typo. “Between 1858 and 1898….” This quote is from Major Arthur Griffith, Mysteries of Police and Crime, London, 1898, II, p. 469. It’s quoted in: Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism, New Brunswick/London, Transaction Publishers, 2002.
Posted on October 10, 2008 at 12:30 PM •
I get that this is terrorism:
A 24-year-old convert to Islam has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for plotting to set off hand grenades in a crowded shopping mall during the Christmas season.
But I thought “weapons of mass destruction” was reserved for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
He was arrested in 2006 on charges of scheming to use weapons of mass destruction at the Cherryvale Mall in the northern Illinois city of Rockford.
Like the continuing cheapening of the word “terrorism,” we are now cheapening the term “weapons of mass destruction.”
Edited: The link above now leads to a revised story that doesn’t use the term “weapons of mass destruction.” A version that does can still be found here.
Posted on October 1, 2008 at 6:37 AM •
Some reality to counter the hype.
The Bottom Line
While there has been much consternation and alarm-raising over the potential for widespread proliferation of biological weapons and the possible use of such weapons on a massive scale, there are significant constraints on such designs. The current dearth of substantial biological weapons programs and arsenals by governments worldwide, and the even smaller number of cases in which systems were actually used, seems to belie — or at least bring into question — the intense concern about such programs.
While we would like to believe that countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia have halted their biological warfare programs for some noble ideological or humanitarian reason, we simply can’t. If biological weapons were in practice as effective as some would lead us to believe, these states would surely maintain stockpiles of them, just as they have maintained their nuclear weapons programs. Biological weapons programs were abandoned because they proved to be not as effective as advertised and because conventional munitions proved to provide more bang for the buck.
Posted on August 13, 2008 at 2:29 PM •
Great security story from an obituary of former OSS agent Roger Hall:
One of his favorite OSS stories involved a colleague sent to occupied France to destroy a seemingly impenetrable German tank at a key crossroads. The French resistance found that grenades were no use.
The OSS man, fluent in German and dressed like a French peasant, walked up to the tank and yelled, “Mail!”
The lid opened, and in went two grenades.
Hall’s book about his OSS days, You’re Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger, is a must-read.
Posted on July 29, 2008 at 1:50 PM •
Who can not feel a little chill of fear after reading this: “Britain on alert for deadly new knife with exploding tip that freezes victims’ organs.”
Yes, it’s real. The knife is designed for people who need to drop large animals quickly: sharks, bears, etc.
I have no idea why Britain is on alert for it, though.
EDITED TO ADD (7/24): Knife crime is rising in the UK.
Posted on July 21, 2008 at 6:12 AM •
Did you know that, in some jurisdictions, police can inject midazolam (better known as Versed) into suspects to subdue them?
“There is no research guideline. There is no validated protocol for this. There’s not even a clear set of indications for when this is to be used except when people are agitated. By saying that it’s done by the emergency medical personnel, they basically are trying to have it both ways. That is, they’re trying to use a medical protocol that is not validated, not for a police function, arrest and detention,” Miles said.
“The decision to administer Versed is based purely on a paramedic decision, not a police decision,” Slovis said.
It’s up to the officer to call an ambulance and determine if a person is in a condition called excited delirium.
“I don’t know if I would use the word diagnosing, but they are assessing the situation and saying, ‘This person is not acting rationally. This is something I’ve been trained to recognize, this seems like excited delirium.’ I don’t view delirium in the field as a police function. It is a medical emergency. We’re giving the drug Versed that’s routinely used in thousands of health care settings across the country in the field by trained paramedics. I view what we’re doing as the best possible medical practice to a medical emergency,” Slovis said.
The biggest side effect is amnesia, which makes it harder for any defendant to defend himself in court.
Posted on July 18, 2008 at 11:28 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.