Monthly Archives: April 2013

Weapons are useful, but self defense is of the mind

Luis Quizhpe may never have articulated it thus, but he acted properly under the circumstances. Quizhpe, a shopkeeper in lawless Chicago, was attacked by two thugs who were willing to kill him and his family member Luis Aucaquizhpi (Chicago media variously call the guy brother, brother-in-law, or cousin) for the few dollars in the cash register. But Quizhpe was not up for dying. Denied a proper self-defense weapon by Chicago and Illinois laws, he armed himself with a baseball bat and proceeded to whale away on the robbers as one of them wildly fired shot after shot.

Of course, the robbery was unpossible because guns are banned in Chicago, right?

Anyway, the thug got off nine shots between taking hits from Quizhpe’s baseball bat and fending off Aucaquizhpi’s improvised weapons, including a chair and a fire extinguisher. One of the shots hit Quizhpe but didn’t interrupt his aggressive self-defense. Another shot hit the robber’s accomplice. It’s fair to say that marksmanship was not his strong point… fortunately.

Obe of the Chicago TV stations, WGN-TV, has quite a few stories on the event.

A Chicago man is recovering tonight after not only surviving a shooting in his store during a robbery but also fighting back.  And the whole melee was caught on tape.

Surrounded by family and friends, Luis Quizhpe prepared to go home after spending a day in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg.

The 62-year-old talked from his hospital bed about his terrifying  encounter with two armed men at the store he owns in Logan Square.

“It was really very scary,” he said.

Around 5:30 last night, two men walked into Luis’ souvenir shop.  One pulled out a gun and pointed  it at Luis’ brother-in-law and demands cash. The other man ran around the counter to the register.

“He started screaming, I don’t remember exactly what, but he was like ‘Kill them!’ “ Luis said.

Luis grabbed a bat and started swinging as the robber continued shooting.  At one point, he accidentally shoots his accomplice, who later limps out of the store.

One of the bullets hit Luis in the upper inner thigh, nearly hitting a major artery.

Luis’ brother-in-law also fought back, throwing a chair at one of the men and then  a fire extinguisher as he ran out of the store.

via Store owners fight off armed robbers | WGN-TV.

At least one of the robbers, a middle-aged guy, was later caught. He’s charged with attempted murder, saved from the homicide charge only by his own incompetence.

So — here’s a couple of guys who come in bent on robbery, under threat of deadly force, utter something like “kill him!” and don’t complete the killing only because their skills can’t close the gap with their intentions. Fair restatement of the above?

Now, had Luis Quizhpe done what the white shirts of the Chicago Police Department would have him do, he would most probably be dead, because the difference between the robber murdering him and failing to, at point-blank range, was the disruption to the robber’s aim caused by a Louisville Slugger upside the head. Most any combat vet will tell you his marksmanship takes a hit, pun intended, when you’re taking hostile fire. Imagine how much greater disruption when the hits are physical and the underlying marksmanship training is lacking!

So Quizhpe did the right thing. Resist, resist, resist, with the best weapon available to you. This does not mean that his bat is the best weapon possible in all circumstances, but in the peculiar environment of Chicago, where the robber will never be charged with gun possession, but Quizhpe would, a bat may be as near as he can go to full-on self-defense. A gun is a far more effective defensive weapon, but for many decades Chicago government has been one solicitous of the criminals — they and their relatives are reliable votes for the bipartisan Combine that runs the city and state governments and their associated patronage machinery — and contemptuous of the shopkeepers.


Quizhpe now faces the possibility that the robbers, once released, will come back, bent on revenge. Given the priorities and reach of the police, they are unlikely to be intercepted. Yet if he effectively arms himself for self-defense, they will surely throw the book at him.

In Boston recently, hospitals reacted to a mass casualty event. By the time the perpetrators were done, four were dead and scores wounded, some of them very seriously, (One wounded policeman lost all his blood and had his heart stop, and lives only because valiant doctors and nurses persisted with transfusions and artificial circulation, ultimately resuscitating him). In Boston this is an epochal cataclysm, requiring the utter lockdown of the city.

In Chicago, that’s any Saturday night.

!60th SOAR opens to women

160_SOAR(A)_Nightstalker_CrestPosted with the least of comment, just one fact missing from the press report.

The Army will soon have women flying special operations missions.

As part of a push by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to open more combat roles for women, the Army is looking for women for pilot and crew chief billets for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, according to the Army Times.

via Army opens Special Operations flying missions to women – Stripes – Independent U.S. military news from Iraq, Afghanistan and bases worldwide.

MH-60That fact: 160th normally conducts a selection course. It’s not exactly SFAS or RASP, but the air and ground personnel who experience it feel like they were well wrung out. it’s an important rite of passage, then, into ARSOF aviation.

The selection standards will be modified as necessary so that the initial women volunteers pass.

We won’t editorialize on that. That’s the aviators’ to do, not ours.

Weapons of the Boston bombers

A shattered lid from a 6 liter pressure cooker. Image: FBI

A shattered lid from a 6 liter pressure cooker. This was part of one of the finish line bombs. Image: FBI

We started a small fire in comments with our early criticism of the police — a criticism that cop readers argue is based on misunderstanding what they should be doing in the immediate aftermath of a bomb — and have come around to have a great deal of respect for what the law has accomplished. While we were tied up in that, others on the net began to figure out what went bang.

Joe Huffman, who we’re told has amateur experience with pyro and deflagration (black powder, Tannerite), thinks its a low explosive/homemade explosive, or a deflagration. We’ll try to restate his basic argument in a couple of lines before giving you the whole thing: the duration of flame means that the combustion time was measured in seconds, not milliseconds; therefore the bomb was not made of a stoichiometric mixture (one that contains fuel and oxidant in perfect measure), as it would be if it were pro explosive. His argument in full:

See all that flame? And it looks as if there is still fuel burning in the cloud two seconds after the explosion.

I’m almost certain that no commercial or military explosive produces that much flame. Something like that would be totally banned in the mining industry.

That may mean there was a great excess of fuel in the explosive composition. Boomerite has an excess of oxygen which makes for easier detonation. Maximum power comes from a balance of oxygen and fuel. Some explosives are naturally oxygen or fuel rich. For example TNT is fuel rich. During WW II they would add ammonium nitrate which is (under the proper conditions) an explosive that is oxygen rich. The excess oxygen in the AN increased the power of the detonation by consuming the excess fuel of the TNT.

With that much flame persisting that long after the explosion occurred means huge amounts of power was wasted in light and relatively slowly expanding gases. This was not a military grade explosive. Getting the most bang for the least weight is worth the cost of getting the oxygen balance right.

This means it’s a homemade explosive.

Another possibility is that it wasn’t really a detonation at all but rather a deflagration. For example gun powders typically do not detonate. They “just” burn very rapidly. The flash you see at the muzzle of your gun at night (and sometimes even in bright sunlight) is composed mostly of burning particles of gunpowder. Confine the powder in a strong closed container, such as a pipe, and you get an explosion when the container bursts.

via Boston explosives | The View From North Central Idaho.

Joe’s argument is based on the only evidence he then had, the videos and photos; he didn’t have the images of pressure cooker parts, which of course comport well with his theory. Our experience of HE is that there is flame involved (especially the newer, less practical variants with ATF-approved taggants), but it’s momentary. However, cameras and videos can exaggerate the amount and duration of the flame.

Still, take on board Joe’s suggestion that it might have been a deflagrant (like black powder), and note the investigational development that says the bombs were contained in pressure cookers. That would be the perfect pressure vessel to contain a deflagrant until overpressure burst the vessel, turning its parts into shrapnel. This is a widely used jihadi weapon; as we’ll get to, it’s a signature of certain terrorist groups, but all these guys share their information widely, and this type of bomb has been widely reported in both jihadi and Western press, so based on the bomb alone couldn’t rule out individuals stricken with sudden jihad sole-practitioner syndrome, or a non-moslem copycat.

Joe updated his post with a link to this analysis by Rick Boatright, which confirms based on calculated flame-front speeds that the bomb was a low order deflagration, ratherthan a detonation.

So, in 0.02 seconds, the flame front expanded about 10 feet, or about 500 feet per second (340 MPH). The speed of sound in air is about 1100 feet per second, so this is a sub-sonic deflagration not a detonation. (It’s still a bomb, and still an explosion but the stuff making the bomb BURNED andd the wave-front of the burning moved out through the explosive at less than the speed of sound. It was very fast, but it didn’t go off all at once.)

So, this is the result of a “low explosive.” High explosives detonate at 3 to 9 kilometers per second and produce sonic or super-sonic wave fronts.

In terms of being an “IED” and being a “terrorist improvised explosive” the bomb was probably -not- TATP for two reasons: TATP is a high-explosive, so it would have gone off all at once, rather than burning for many hundredths of seconds. In the New York Times You-tube video cited above, flame can still be seen in the cloud from the explosion until timestamp 70.5. – the combustion continued from 69.7 to 70.5, almost eight tenths of a second. That’s burning, not detonation.

More thorough versions of these calculations will be done by the FBI bomb experts investigating the blasts. Several witnesses commented on a “gunpowder smell” or “fireworks smell” but none of them distinguished between the smell of smokeless and black powder, at least as far as we have read. Black powder is far more likely to be involved — it’s more widely available, and superior to any smokeless powder for this purpose. It’s also homemade relatively simply, although homemade black powder will be weak compared to that commercially available.

The Pressure Cooker Bomb

Other pressure cooker (and containing bag) remains of the bomb planted by Tamerlan Tsarnayev. FBI.

Other pressure cooker (and containing bag) remains of the bomb planted by Tamerlan Tsarnayev. FBI.

The bombs used at the Marathon, and the bomb thrown at police during the Friday night firefight, were pressure cooker bombs. The bombs appear at first glance to be identical, having had a simple timer, a homemade explosive or deflagrant filling, all packed into a six-liter pressure cooker inside a nylon duffle bag or backpack. Components of all of these, including one largely intact pressure-cooker lid, were recovered from the scene of the blasts. The lid was found on a roof across the street from the blast.

Pressure cooker bomb from Inspire Magazine. Click to embiggen.

Pressure cooker bomb how-to from Inspire Magazine, July 2010. Click to embiggen.

The pressure cooker, of course, is the ideal pressure vessel for a bomb loaded with a deflagrant rather than a high explosive. Here’s the DHS warning of pressure-cooker bombs in 2010, and here’s the a large .pdf of the July 2010 Inspire magazine (Al-Qaeda’s magazine for would-be members with Sudden Jihad Syndrome) that describes how to make such a bomb. This link will take you to all issues of Inspire in captivity.

This kind of bomb is very widely used in Southwest Asia, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir. It was in the mid-oughts a signature of Pakistani bomb-makers and their trainees, and is often used by the TTP and by various ISI-sponsored terrorists in Kashmir. In that part of the world, pressure cookers are more common than in the USA (more of our homes have ranges with burners and ovens). But successful jihad approaches are quickly disseminated by AQ’s and other jihadi groups’ internet propaganda machines — Inspire magazine being a perfect example of the methodology.

The pressure cooker bomb has been employed in the United States before. It was used in the Times Square, NYC bombing attempt. with consumer firecrackers as the explosive filling. That bomb failed. The individual who planted that bomb was Pakistani-trained.

The pressure cookers were filled with a deflagrating charge, as we’ve discussed, almost certainly black powder, and shrapnel (nails and ball bearings or BBs). The source of the powder in the bombs is, at this time, unknown. FBI bomb experts are leading the investigation into this part of the case.

What about the guns?

The investigators are being mum about the guns employed by the bombers, but at least three guns have been recovered: one with the corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnayev at the Friday night shootout scene, and two in the boat-bilge rathole into which  Dzhokar wormed himself. At least one of the guns had crudely defaced serial numbers, but investigators are confident they can recover the number and trace the guns as far as they went in lawful commerce. But the guns were not lawfully sold to, or possessed by, the Tsarnayevs. Under Massachusetts’s strict gun laws, they could not have bought them legally. (This is not a novelty. In the state. About 200 murders take place a year, and about 200 of them are committed with stolen or black-market guns. It is extremely rare for a legally-owned gun to be involved).

A Massachusetts State Police source informs us that neither Tsarnaev brother had a license to carry, which is required in the Bay State to purchase pistols and so-called “assault rifles” legally. (There are different “classes” of LTC for different purposes. All are de facto “may issue” permits, and municipalities have unfettered discretion and may interpose any additional requirements that amuse them). Dzhokar would have been ineligible for such a permit because he was not yet 21. Tamerlan would not have been eligible because he was a legal permanent resident, not a citizen. (Disarmament of legal aliens has been overturned by Supreme Court precedent, but the law has gone unchallenged in MA). In any event, the city where they lived, Cambridge, prides itself on not issuing permits, except to the wealthy and politically connected.

So the good news is: if the Feds utterly botch their prosecution of Dzhokar, he can still get the mandatory two years per gun for possession in Mass. However, the state normally does not enforce this law against violent criminals, only against otherwise law-abiding citizens who break the  malum prohibitum gun possession law alone, and somehow offended police, politicians, or other officials.

Their most probable sources are the criminal black market, first, and secondly, associates at the extremist mosque that both attended and that is a key to their radicalization, the Islamic Society of Boston’s satellite mosque in Cambridge. The ISB is a wahhabi/Muslim Brotherhood group; it’s directly controlled by the Muslim American Society, the overt arm of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood in America. The Brotherhood’s founder Sayyid Qutb is also the father of Sunni extremist terrorism and inspired Hamas and al-Qaeda. Under the circumstances, the very liberal governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, retracted an unwise invitation to an ISB imam to officiate at a memorial service for the victims of his adherents’ violence — the indirect victims of his own murderous message.

Things Investigators are Learning

A bomb contains many signatures. Bombers do what has worked for them before. Even a detonated bomb leaves clues by which it can be reconstructred. (The FBI has been reconstructing bombs used on airplanes from 1956 to Pan Am 103, despite what looks to a layman like the complete destruction of all evidence. The PA 103 reconstruction was a model of scientific assistance to law enforcement and intelligence). Different explosives affect metal, concrete, glass and human victims in distinct and distinguishable ways. These are a bomber’s tracks, as distinct to a bomb expert as animal sign to an Indian tracker in a James Fenimore Cooper novel. And the timer, if any, and detonator, are also extremely strong indicators a to the source and purpose of the bomb.

The Last Word

We’re seeing a lot of bending over backwards to See No Evil in this case. But the evil is there for all to see. We know who did it. We know how they did it. And we know, despite all the posturing and hand-wringing, why they did it. We don’t know all the details and we haven’t seen all the facts, and we don’t know who all the enablers were.

We do know enough to make those who tried, thanks to wishful thinking, to hang this on their political opponents and (in the case of media types like Wolf Blitzer) their critics. Wolf, just because we think you stink at delivering the news doesn’t mean we want to blow random people up. We don’t even want to blow you up. If somebody was to blow you up, or anyone else for that matter, the percentages argue pretty strongly for someone who attends worship services on Fridays that involve banging his forehead on the ground.

Not all moslems are terrorists. And not all terrorists are moslems. But if you bet the percentages, that’s the square to put your chips on, every time. Or you could do something really radical and wait for the evidence to come in. The irony is that the media rushed to judgment, until the evidence came in refuting their judgment, and now they are anxious to give the actual perps the benefit of the doubt.

Follow the evidence where it leads. Hang the guilty. Leave the innocent alone. Those concepts used to be enshrined in our laws and culture.

Springtime Sunday

A springtime Sunday, finally. Early spring, mind, like the days we should have had in March.

We blame global warming!  See you tomorrow, if the rising seas don’t sweep us away.

Saturday Matinée 2013 14(?): Spies of Warsaw

spies of warsaw tennant

For J-F Mercier, looks like the jig is up. They do what to spies, again?

Everybody likes a spy movie, right? And everyone likes a movie with a twist. And everyone likes a World War II movie, at least if it doesn’t suck like (we could name names here, couldn’t we?) Spies of Warsaw is a BBC TV film that was shown on BBC 4 in the UK and BBC America in the USA. (It’s available in the US on DVD already). As the title subtly trumpets, it is a spy movie. It’s actually set in the period just before, and in the first few days of, World War II. That’s the first part of the twist. The second part is that the hero is French.

Lt. Colonel Jean-François Mercier (David Tennant) is a French attaché — and, to be sure, spy and spymaster — in Warsaw. The movie sweeps along from 1937 or so to the first days of September, 1939. A great deal of the suspense is created because the viewer, unlike the characters, know what’s ahead for them, or at least people like them: the Old Bolsheviks, suddenly given a recall to Moscow. The gallant Polish officer who is ready to fight the Russians as he did in the Polish War of Independence, when the Bolsheviks first invaded the fledgling state after Versailles; but he also has to be ready to fight the Germans. And are the Germans preparing to fight? The answer seems to be ganz klar, but that raises the next burning question: where?

It’s for us to know, and Mercier and his agents and friends to find out (we assume that most readers of this blog are up on who attacked whom, where, and in what order; and what fates befell the nations attacked over the next six or so years).

Mercier has to deal with the case officer or agent handler’s common issues: agents who get burned by the SD and wind up dead; agents who lose their access, and therefore utility; agents who flip and start sending rubbish; agents who won’t cooperate unless they’re blackmailed; agents to whom you make promises, that are then broken by your superiors. Then there are the issues faced by every intelligence officer, whether he handles human sources or not. Chief among these is overcoming superiors who don’t trust you.

Mercier finds himself a Cassandra in France, even after he pulls off a case officer’s career coup: recruiting an officer on the German General Staff, one who had previously worked for the Soviets.

The two-part film is based fairly closely on a novel by Alan Furst, with a great deal of trimming to fit two 90-minute episodes (with a cliffhanging kidnapping at the end of the first). One nice touch for Furst fans is a character or two from other Furst novels — something Furst himself seems to delight in doing in the print realm.

Spies of Warsaw panzersBy filming in part in Poland, the producers had access not only to convincing Polish as well as “Czech,” “German,” and “French” terrain, they also were able to deploy Polish reenactors as Wehrmacht and Polish Army extras. One real coup was obtaining the use of two very convincing Panzer II replicas, which were used in two scenes. As this page explains, they were replica Pz. IIs built on the chassis of a small Franco-German APC, the Hotchkiss Schutzenpanzerwagen. Unlike CGI tanks or many stage-lot replicas, these things move like tanks.

There are two inaccuracies in the movie’s portrayal of small arms: while the spies of all nations use handguns, there’s a little too much use of the then-novel Walther P.38 to be accurate — the gun had barely been adopted by the aggressively rearming Wehrmacht, so it’s a bit strange to see them in the hands of foreign spies. And, in one case, an assassin is armed with a suppressed pistol — with a tiny, “Hollywood” suppressor. Other than that, and perhaps a slightly too dramatic gasoline explosion in one scene, the weapons depicted are correctly portrayed and used. In fact, this is one of the few movies where good guys as well as bad guys can fire a bunch of shots without connecting — just like real life.  A very few actual Panzer IIs and variants, of the many thousands manufactured, survived the war.

The script and acting are, as you might expecrt from the Beeb, first-class. There’s a tangled love affair that proves somewhat distracting to Mercier (with the distracting Janet Montgomery playing a League of Nations lawyer, a character description that just screams “naive and helpless,” like the League itself). There’s a best buddy, the friendship complicated by him being of another nationality (Polish). He’s ably portrayed by Polish actor Marcin Dorocinski. Character actors fill out the small and even bit parts convincingly.

Bottom line: at the end of two 90-minutes sessions of this, we were aching for a sequel, or at least another Furst adaptation, if we can’t have the sequel he didn’t write. We like the movie, and think that you will, too. It deserved better than a near-simultaneous cable and DV release, with zero publicity. So let’s give it some!

Wasp: a novel of sabotage

WaspNovelWe’ve just been reading this remarkable novel. We don’t usually read science fiction, but this novel, while set in the far future amid an interstellar war, is really a novel of underground warfare.

The first few pages set the UW value proposition before you as well as any other document in history has done, as the recruiting spymaster, a Mr Wolf, sets the hook for protagonist James Mowry, in a parable of Churchillian vision.

Wolf stared at him again, long and penetratingly. “You’ll do. Yes, I’m sure you’ll do.”

“Do for what?”

“I’ll tell you in a moment.” Opening a drawer, he extracted some papers, passed them across. “These will enable you better to understand the position. Read them through – they lead up to what follows.”

Mowry glanced at them. They were typescript copies of press reports. Settling back in his chair he perused them slowly and with care.The first told of a prankster in Roumania. This fellow had done nothing more than stand in the road gazing fascinatedly at the sky, occasionally uttering ejaculations and loud phrases such as, `Blue flames!’ Curious people had joined him and gaped likewise. The group became a crowd, the crowd became a mob, and the bigger the mob the faster it grew.

Soon the audience blocked the street, overflowed into side-streets. Police tried to break it up, making matters worse.

Some fool summoned the fire squads. Hysterics on the fringes swore they could see or had seen something weird above the clouds. Reporters and cameramen rushed to the scene.

Rumours raced around. The government sent up the air force for a closer look. Panic spread over an area of two hundred square miles from which the original cause had judiciously disappeared.

“Amusing if nothing else,” remarked Mowry. “Read on.”

The second report concerned a daring escape from jail of two notorious killers. They had stolen a car, made six hundred miles before recapture. Their term of freedom had lasted exactly fourteen hours.

The third detailed an automobile accident. Three killed,.

one seriously injured, the car a complete wreck, the sole survivor had died nine hours later.

Handing back the papers, Mowry said, “What’s all this to me?”

“We’ll take those reports in the order as read,” began Wolf.

“They prove something of which we’ve long been aware but, maybe you haven’t realised yourself. For the first one, that Roumanian did nothing, positively nothing save stare at the sky and mumble. All the same, he persuaded a government to start jumping around like fleas on a hot griddle. It shows that in given conditions action and reaction can be hopelessly out of proportion. Also that by doing insignificant things in suitable circumstances one can obtain results monstrously in excess of the effort.”

“I’II give you that.” Mowry conceded.

“Now the lamsters, They didn’t do much either; climbed a wall, grabbed a car, drove like mad until the petrol ran out, got caught’ He leaned forward, continued with added emphasis,

“But for most of fourteen hours they monopolised the attention of six planes, ten helicopters, one hundred and twenty patrol-cars, eighteen telephone exchanges, uncountable phone lines and radio link-ups, not to mention police, deputies, posses of volunteers, hunters, trackers, forest rangers and National . Guardsmen to a grand total of twenty- seven thousands scattered over three states.”

“Phew!” Mowry raised his eyebrows.

“Finally, let’s consider this auto smash. We know the cause; the survivor was able to tell us before he died. He said the driver lost control at high speed while swiping at a wasp which had flown in through a window and started buzzing around his face.”

“It nearly happened to me once.”

Ignoring that, Wolf went on, “The weight of a wasp is under half an ounce. Compared with a human being its size is minute, its strength negligible. Its sole armament is a tiny syringe holding a drop of irritant, formic acid, and in this case it didn’t even use it. Nevertheless it killed four big men and converted a large, powerful car into a heap of scrap.”

“I see the point,” agreed Mowry, “but where do I come in?”

“Right here,” said Wolf. “We want you to become a wasp.”

Mowry does, in fact, “become a wasp,” and travels to an enemy planet, where he is infiltrated clandestinely and sets to work sabotaging and disrupting the enemy. He relies on the fact that in any society there are disgruntled individuals; when he cannot suborn or exploit them to his ends, or make common cause with them, he’s quite content to let them be fall guys for his actions.

The tradecraft in the novel is very reminiscent of World War II SOE operations (with a touch of period SIS and OSS as well). This is true of both the offensive tradecraft employed by Mowry, and the defensive craft set against him by he Sirian Secret Police, the dreaded Kaitempi (clearly playing on the feared Imperial Japanese CI agency, the Kempeitai).

Wasp was written by Eric Frank Russell in 1957, and is available online as a .pdf here. (A fan has a large repository of Russell’s books on that site). It also has a footnote in music history: the Beatles’ firm, Apple Corps, optioned it in 1970 as a potential vehicle for Ringo Starr in the Mobry role. The film was never made.

It’s a hell of a story of a singleton agent in a repressive alien (literally) society. And it still really, really needs to be made into a film. Ringo was right!

Two decades later: Waco

FBI Raid on WacoTim Madigan, who wrote a quickie exploitation book on the Branch Davidians cult at Waco, Texas, is still struggling to understand them. (The book by someone who did understand them is Dick Reavis’s The Ashes of Waco, by a reporter who took the trouble to understand the Davidians’ odd theology and treats them with respect, while being as unsparing with them and their leader as he was with the authorities who burned them out. Reavis was later — still is — a journalism professor at North Carolina State University and his papers reside at a library in the Texas State system).

Madigan’s book was, unlike Reavis’s, shallow and lightweight; a journalist committed to the newsroom religion of snarky atheism usually has a hard time understanding people of a faith, no matter how mainstream and commonplace their belief is. He has utterly no hope of understanding a group as far out of the mainstream as the Branch Davidians; understanding them cost Reavis, a much harder-working and more honest reporter, a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and toil.

Absent the effort to understand the Davidians, Madigan comes across like a gawker at a Barnum sideshow. He hasn’t gotten any deeper or more introspective in the last two decades.

Yet 20 years ago this Friday, [Clive Doyle] was one of only nine Branch Davidians to survive the internationally televised inferno on the Texas prairie. Killed that day near Waco were cult leader David Koresh and 73 followers, including Doyle’s 18-year-old daughter, Shari, and 20 children under 14. Before the fire and the 51-day standoff with the federal government, Doyle’s daughter had been one of many women and girls of the cult taken into Koresh’s bed. Koresh — who preached that he was the Lamb of God, drove a sports car and motorcycle, and had a rock band and an arsenal of illegal weapons — had ordered his male followers to be celibate.

Doyle has had two decades to reflect on these things, and clearly he has. So my question was obvious.

“You mean, have I woken up?” Doyle said to me with a smile.

Well, yes.

“I’ve had questions and adjusted my beliefs somewhat,” Doyle said that day in the park. “But I still believe that David was who he claimed to be. You are sitting there listening to him. You hear all these things and the Scriptures come alive. And at the time, everything seems so imminent. That’s why I believed the way I did.”

via 20 years after Waco fire, David Koresh’s tragic spell lingers – U.S. – Stripes.

ATF raid on WacoAs we draft this, the same agency that so badly botched the 2nd Davidian raid — the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team — is closing in on the survivor of two brothers who perpetrated the Marathon bombings. The agency that botched the initial raid, and then shredded its raid plan to obstruct the investigation, BATFE, is so little trusted that in the intervening two decades it lost its bomb lab authority in terrorist cases to the same FBI. (Update: local police bagged the surviving bomber). Unlike Tim Madigan (or Clive Doyle for that matter), from all indications the FBI HRT has learned a great deal. While police and citizens in the Boston area have been hard hit by these jihadis, the cops have taken aggressive measures to contain the surviving bomber and protect the citizens. There will be weeks of debate about whether their measures were too hard on civil liberties. Bostonians didn’t seem to mind, but they’re not liberty-minded people.  On the other hand, one benefit of locking down the whole freakin’ city was that there was no repeat of the dismal civilian shootings that took place in the Chris Dorner disaster in Southern California. Boston has some bragging rights over LA today.

Despite the excellence of the response, we do have a single-source insider tip that a cop had a negligent discharge Friday morning. But one guy’s one screwup doesn’t define a whole police force, and Boston PD, the various ancillary forces (college campus cops, MBTA transit cops, State Police) and the FBI can take a bow — before moving on to cataloging evidence.

It’s encouraging to compare the performance of the ATF and FBI at Waco in 1993, which was dreadful, to the performance of FBI and local police since the Boston Marathon attacks. Even embattled US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, best known for her clumsy botch of the Aaron Swartz case and understood by all to lack the ability, character and temperament for the job, didn’t look bad — at least not yet.


This story was intended to run on 19th April at 20:00 EST, but the autopublish didn’t execute due to operator error. It was published on 20th April and backdated.

Boston response — a former top cop’s take

Boston_Police_patchThe Wall Street Journal had an opinion piece by Bill Bratton, former Police Commissioner in Boston (and subsequently, New York and LA), yesterday. Bratton notes that interagency cooperation is a real thing today, and not the zero-sum battle for primacy that it was in his day (in Boston, the late eighties to early nineties).

One good sign is that there don’t appear to be any major turf battles going on among local, state and federal authorities involved in the investigation. The FBI quickly took leadership, thanks to protocols put in place in the late 1990s and after 9/11 that set jurisdiction for different types of incidents. This allows other agencies (at all levels of government) to fall into line and know their respective roles. When I was on the Boston force, by contrast, all sorts of incidents—for example, a plane running off the runway at Logan Airport and into the harbor—would be followed by unproductive turf battles between city and state police.

The past few days have also vindicated the sort of heightened preparedness emphasized by security and health officials since 9/11. Controlling crowds and directing traffic remain priorities for Boston police on the day of the marathon, but they have also drilled to prepare for much more. The police tent by the finish line has gotten bigger over the years. Whereas it was once equipped mainly to deal with exhausted and dehydrated runners, it now hosts a wide range of personnel ready to activate various contingency plans, including responding to a terrorist attack—how to deploy emergency-medical technicians, where to arrange the ingress and egress of ambulances, etc. Then there was the senior doctor from Massachusetts General Hospital who noted that his team was prepared for the gruesome injuries they encountered because they received training recently from Israeli doctors experienced with terrorist bombings.

via William Bratton: A Cop’s-Eye View of Terrorism –


Bratton goes on to note the limits of police in securing something like the Boston Marathon, which starts in distant suburban Hopkinton, nearer Worcester than the finish line, and ends on whar are normally downtown’s busiest streets. Since they can’t lock down such an immense target, they need to be able to respond.

Such preparedness is so important because a democratic society simply cannot secure all venues and events at all times. There is no ability to cordon off a whole marathon route and treat miles of urban streets with the degree of security at, say, a baseball stadium. It is impossible to secure everything. There will always be vulnerabilities along a 26-mile route, and police will always have to make decisions about how to deploy their finite resources.

Public-safety officials are doing just that in London, where I have been visiting this week and where some 35,000 runners are expected for the city’s annual marathon on Sunday. Police will surely send extra resources to those parts of the course near historical sites such as Tower Bridge and Big Ben—the kind of landmarks that attract disproportionate attention from those who seek to create violent spectacles of mayhem.

boston police bikesOf course, terrorists are by design an asymmetric threat. They flow like water. Dam off one target, they flow around your security to strike elsewhere.

One thing that is always available to respond to terrorists is — the public. In Boston, as in every post-9/11 terrorist event, members of the public have stepped up to do the right thing. One young man who was waiting to see his girlfriend finish is alive today because a bystander applied an improvised tourniquet to one severed leg and put direct pressure on the other leg’s pulsing femoral artery. Another woman who was critically wounded was comforted — and treated — by a stranger as she lay wounded. The individual then handed her off to professional responders, and walked away, seeking no recognition; she only knows him as “Matt.” These guys are not on the org chart that Bratton and other high-level planners have, but time and again, starting with United 93, the regular guy has stepped up to help.

The same thing has happened with the investigation. As Bratton notes in his article, so many citizens came forward with so much video that evidence managers and their systems were overwhelmed — but they, too, stepped up when they had to. As a result, law enforcement yesterday received pictures and other information about suspects. For the bombers, the clock is ticking on the end of their lives at liberty, and a partnership of the public and Public Safety wound the clock.

Contrary to the suspicions and beliefs of many professionals, the citizenry have not botched, screwed up, or somehow failed the response or the investigation. They have assisted, and from what we have seen have had no complaints about handing off to the pros when the time comes. But used right, Joe Public, whose instinct is usually to do the right thing, Hollywood notwithstanding, is a force multiplier for public safety managers.

Bratton goes on to say that the police should not be ruling any class of suspect in or out at this point, simply following the evidence where it goes. Does he have that little faith in his former subordinates and their Federal alies? Of course that’s what they’re going to do. But he does cite evidence for his fear: “After the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, investigators lost months focusing erroneously on a security guard who was near the scene.” True enough.

He could also point out the many rabbit holes the FBI’s Amerithrax probe went down, or the recent Texas investigations that a fund-raising group, the Southern Poverty Law Center, managed to distract from the actual murderers (who had been identified pre-mortem by one of the victims, already). What those botched investigations had in common was bad conduct by LE leakers and the press working together. “The public should be prepared for more false or misleading news reports like those on Wednesday announcing an arrest in the case,” Bratton advises.

Part of the problem is the nature of police work, which is often a matter of building evidence to support conviction of a criminal who clearly did it. Part of it is the great sucking 24/7 news vacuum, which is going to be filled with something. Andy McCarthy, the prosecutor who put away the Blind Sheik, explains why investigators would rather not share their progress with the world:

This is a common phenomenon in the high profile investigations that follow terrorist attacks. The investigators actually working the case would rather there were no disclosures made about the status of the investigation. At this point, their work is best done in secret — or, at least, as much secrecy as is possible. Otherwise, any conspirators who may not already have fled will be alerted that it’s time to skip town, destroy evidence, and intimidate witnesses. These investigative agencies actually work for the public, however, and the public has an extraordinarily high level of interest in the progress of the case. Thus the agencies have official press agents whose job it is to keep the public reasonably informed without compromising investigative leads and tactics — not an easy job.

Then there is the most unruly and damaging dynamic in the equation: the media and its anonymous law-enforcement sources. It seems every media outlet is in a rabid competition to be first, rather than most accurate, with every breaking development. This combines toxically with the fact that sources who hide behind anonymity — precisely because they are not supposed to be running off at the mouth — have widely varying levels of knowledge about the actual goings-on in the case.

Couple this with the fact that most journalists and many agents are not well-versed in the esoterica of the justice system — in which, for example, “arrest” is different from “custody”; a “suspect” is different from a “person of interest”; and “detention” is different from “apprehension” — and you have the roadmap to error-ridden reporting. The problem is not that reporters and sources are intentionally misleading the public. It is that their information is both less reliable than they think it is and easily given to miscommunication. A potential witness’s voluntary submission to a law-enforcement interview could be mistaken for a suspect’s surrender to police custody. Solid leads on a potential bomber based on video and forensic evidence could be miscommunicated as a solid identification of a suspect. The issuance of an arrest warrant for a person not in custody could be miscommunicated as an actual arrest.

After having said all that, McCarthy does speculate about who is most likely behind the Boston bombs. Although “speculate” is a bit strong; what he’s really doing is noting that the media is shying away from one possible line of inquiry.

We know that jihadists tend to target predominantly non-Muslim civilian populations with mass destruction weapons, as was done in Boston on Monday. In addition, their preferred weapon for the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan has been the improvised explosive device (IED) — the kind of home-made bomb that is recommended by al Qaeda’s Inspired Magazine and that often employs “pressure cookers” of the sort used in two recent jihadist terror attacks in the U.S. The attacks on Monday were by IEDs that featured pressure cookers. None of that proves that the Boston Marathon bombing is the work of jihadists, but it does underscore that — absent hard information pointing in a different direction — it is entirely reasonable to suspect that this is the case and to investigate accordingly.

By contrast, we haven’t had much “anti-government” terrorism but when we’ve had it — e.g., the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing — it tends to be targeted at government installations, not civilians. And historically, the radical Left is far more wedded to violent “direct action” than conservative movements like the Tea Party, which has no history of violence. It should go without saying that we have had terrorists of varying political stripes, and even of no coherent political persuasion. Therefore, no radical ideology that urges violence should be ruled out at this point when, apparently, no perpetrators have been identified. How strange, though, that what experience suggests are the least likely scenarios — conservatives or anti-government extremists striking savagely at their defenseless fellow citizens — are being embraced seriously (even wistfully) by some media pundits, while one must walk on eggshells to describe scenarios whose proving out would surprise no one.

Bratton, a former top cop who would like to be a top cop again, is constrained by that. If you could talk to Bill Bratton, the former beat patrolman, without Bill Bratton, the police politician, intervening, you might find a view of the case close to McCarthy’s. Certainly the most likely perpetrators are Moslems, jihadis. But they’re not the only possible perpetrators, and so McCarthy would almost certainly agree with Bratton, that every line of evidence must be followed where it leads, and it’s not impossible that the media’s preferred perpetrator, a white guy in a wife-beater shirt with a Ron Paul sticker on his pickup truck, is to blame.

So far, from the outside looking in, the investigation looks solid. Maybe we should wait to see what the investigators find out.

The last reunion of the Doolittle Raiders

Painting_on_the_HornetBefore the war, Jimmy Doolittle was probably the most famous pilot in the Air Corps, except maybe for Lindbergh (who was the one reserve officer never activated in the war, by the personal order of the president; so he was unable, unlike Doolittle, to add to his legend). But while the Lone Eagle conquered the Atlantic and pioneered air routes to and in the Americas, Doolittle won races, set records, and perhaps most importantly, proved the feasibility of flying by reference to instruments. Doolittle could fly anything, and wring the maximum performance out of it. So when the Air Corps wanted to surprise Japan with a beyond-sane-range bombing raid soon after Pearl Harbor, they gave the mission to him.

At the end of the mission, the aircraft were all lost. Some crews were interned by the unfriendly Russians; some were captured by the Japanese — and murdered. Some were killed, many injured, and the survivors not in captivity were struggling through a Nationalist Chinese E&E net.

Looking at his bleak future, then-Colonel Doolittle told the men of his crew, “They’re probably going to court-martial me,” for the failure of the mission. One of his loyal gunners contradicted him instantly: “No sir. They’re going to give you the Medal of Honor. And make you a general.”

And that’s exactly what they did. The attack might have been a futile pinprick, but it was bold and daring and caught the admiration of the public.

After the war, Doolittle went to work for Shell Oil, flying around the world with his sidekick (the equally celebrated, equally deserving Englishman, Douglas Bader), and his men met for reunions that got smaller and smaller over the decades. Now, the last nonagenarian Raiders are holding their last public reunion. Stars and Stripes:

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – At 97, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole can still fly and land a vintage B-25 with a wide grin and a wave out the cockpit window to amazed onlookers.

David Thatcher, 91, charms admiring World War II history buffs with detailed accounts of his part in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, in which he earned a Silver Star.

Retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, still gets loud laughs from crowds for his one liners about the historic bombing raid 71 years ago Thursday that helped to boost a wounded nation’s morale in the aftermath of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

Cole, Thatcher and Saylor – three of the four surviving crew members from the history-making bombing run – are at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle for a final public reunion of the Doolittle Raiders. They decided to meet at Eglin because it is where they trained for their top-secret mission in the winter of 1942, just weeks after the Japanese devastated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

The fourth surviving raider, 93-year-old Robert Hite, could not make the event.

via Famed World War II aviators hold final reunion – U.S. – Stripes.

The Raiders gave up their regular reunions after the 60th Anniversary of the raid in 2002, but the last survivors gathered one last time at Eglin this year. One tradition the Raiders have maintained is the set of goblets and an associated death tontine. The raiders’ website explains:

Doolittle GobletsIn honor of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented a set of 80 sterling goblets to the Raiders following WW II. In turn, they were presented to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs by General Doolittle on behalf of the surviving members of the Raiders for safekeeping and display between reunions.

The silver goblets are housed in a special glass-enclosed trophy case which is guarded by two Airmen. In addition to the goblets, the case contains a bottle of brandy to be used by the last two remaining Raiders at the last reunion to toast their departed comrades. Many of the goblets are already turned upside down for the men who were killed in the raid or who have since died.

At each reunion, the Raiders hold a brief ceremony to honor those who have passed away. This emotional remembrance often marks the passing of additional Raiders during the year since the last reunion.

Each goblet is inscribed twice with a Raider name – both right-side up & upside-down – so that the names are always readable.

The brandy was bottled in 1896 — the year of James H Doolittle’s birth. And the four survivors plan to meet privately to open it this year, rather than wait until two of them are gone, and maybe the last two can’t drink. They will drink a toast to the 76 raiders who have preceded them into history.

Bomb_SightThe raid required some unusually flexible adaptations of weapons technology. To get the maximum range out of bomber aircraft, and to enable them to fly from aircraft carriers, which only launched and recovered smaller, single-engine planes at the time, the planes had to be lightened — so they discarded most of the B-25’s defensive armament, and the gunner that operated it. They even reduced the offensive armament, fitting an extra fuel tank in the bomb bay in place of bombs. And finally, they planned to attack at low level. Given that, the classified Norden computing bombsight, the pride of the Air Corps, wouldn’t be effective (it had a hard-deck limit of 4,000 feet MSL coded into it); and adding in the high risk of capture, there was no percentage in bringing it. Instead, the crews themselves developed what was called the Mark Twain bombsight or the twenty-cent bombsight; a Captain Greening was responsible for the math and the design, and the airframe sheet metal techs fabricated the sights with hand tools.

Right after the attack, the story of the raid was told in Lt. Ted McClure’s book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. Still a good read today, and it was made into an excellent movie. Since then the story has been told many times, and while some of these tales may be more accurate, it’s hard to beat the immediacy of the story of Ted, his crew, and his plane, The Ruptured Duck. 

It will be a sad day when the last of these men are no longer with us. Time never relents. But for today, take a breath of fresh air and rejoice that you are sharing that with four surviving Doolittle Raiders. Theirs was an important role in ensuring that the liberties of their fathers were passed on to us, their sons and grandsons.

Micturating Marine to stand trial

piss_on_terroristspiss_on_terroristsOne of the four Marines who rocketed to YouTube stardom with a video showing them urinating on fresh Taliban corpses is going to face a special court martial. His former Company XO may also stand trial, although the decision has not been made in the officer’s case. Stars and Stripes has the story.

Sgt. Robert Richards, 27, is charged with dereliction of duty, violating a general order and conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline. He underwent an Article 32 hearing on the charges in March and is one of four Marines in a video of the July 2011 incident that was posted on YouTube in 2012.

Another Marine, Capt. James V. Clement, also faced an Article 32 hearing recently, though no reporters were informed about the hearing. Clement and three other Marines took the stand.

via Marine accused of urinating on Taliban bodies will face court-martial – News – Stripes.

Oddly enough, the charges are all about whizzing on the enemy — not about being so earth-shatteringly stupid as to video and publish the event. But the fix may well be in for this young man. The command wants to Send the Message that we don’t relieve ourselves on the enemy dead, no matter how relieved we might be that the enemy are dead in the first place. When the command Sends a Message using a Special Court-Martial rather than any of the fancy commo gear it has access to, that usually means that the accused is getting a Trial by Red Queen: “Sentence first, then the verdict!”

But it’s very important that the enemy are not pissed on. Because if they get pissed on, they get pissed off, and then they might blow up a sporting event or something.