Thursday, October 31, 2013

Operation Bold Brigand Continues!

Regular blog readers may notice that my posting has been just a touch spotty over the last couple of weeks. I've also now reached the point of having zero, count 'em, zero posts uploaded in draft form. I intend to remedy that over the next few days, as one of my blogging secrets is to do a lot of writing up front, and then post the drafted stuff for a few weeks thereafter - particularly on busy days. I have tons of cool stuff yet to come, but as the Operation Highlander extension, Operation Bold Brigand, continues up here in Orkney, I've had my hands full with a variety of worthwhile projects. Here are a few of the things I've been working on.

* * *


As I've noted before, I've been studying Arabic for years, trying to get myself to the point of basic fluency. During my year in Aberdeen, I was focused mainly on learning vocabulary from the Defense Language Institute's Libyan Basic Language Survival Kit (LSK), though my efforts waned later in the year. At the moment, I've transitioned to the Emirati LSK, as I think that future opportunities in the Gulf are more likely to manifest themselves than opportunities in Libya - the aforementioned Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research being but one example. At any rate, I've been (slightly) better about studying lately, which has involved listening to the DLI audio files while reviewing the written vocabulary on my Kindle. I've also been doing listening exercises with BBC Xtra podcasts and, occasionally, the Radio Sultanate of Oman live stream.

Physical Training:

In theory, I'm walking uphill from the city center to my digs three times per week, doing a full stretch-out three times per week, push-ups and sit-ups twice per week, and two swim workouts at the Pickaquoy Centre per week. In actuality, I've not set foot in the Pickaquoy Centre, I've tended to walk uphill three times, and I've done no stretching and neither a single push-up nor a single sit-up. I feel like this week will be my week... Or next week, maybe.

Business Development:

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about my work developing honesty traces over at the Joshua Tree Security blog. I've mentioned honesty traces on the Highlander blog once before. I'm working on this, and a handful of other projects, the idea being that I can either use them in future jobs, or possibly use them as products and/or services in the event that I ever decide to start my own business. In addition to that, I've been applying for at least twenty jobs per week, since I'll eventually have to transition back to the real world - something that requires gainful employment. (I suppose that the Arabic stuff technically falls into this category, but I prefer to keep it distinct.) So, this stuff keeps me somewhat busy as well.

PSP Certification:

I've spoken previously about my desire to get my PSP certification. In theory, I'm reading fifty pages per week in either The Design and Evaluation of Physical Protection Systems by Mary Lynn Garcia, or ATTP 3-39.32 Physical Security. The reality is that I've done so much studying this year, that maybe I can leave something for next year. On the plus side, the Garcia book is now available for Kindle, which meant that I was able to leave the physical copy that I'd lugged to three different continents (and only got about a quarter of the way into) with CN Homeboy, who should absolutely read it and pursue his own physical security qualifications.

Writing Projects:

I've actually been doing a lot of writing - just, not so much blog writing. The big thing I'm working on is a follow-on to my dissertation. When all was said and done, my final submission had fifteen or twenty mistakes in it (mainly mixed up citations, a couple of textual and bibliographical inconsistencies). As of last night, I think I've gotten the thing perfected, but should I have an occasion to use it as a writing sample, I want it to be perfect - the way it should have been when I handed it in, but that was a matter of managing my risks, so whatever. (It was still bloody good, regardless.) Anyway, the final submission was also just a portion of what I had hoped to write, so I'm also tearing the manuscript apart, reorienting it, and formatting it to include all of the notes and sources that I wasn't able to include in the original version. As discussed with the Director earlier this year, my intent is to get it to the length of a formal white paper, and then submit it to a think tank or journal for publishing along the lines of what CN Odin and I did earlier this year, except a bit more ambitious (and hopefully for pay this time).

I've also had a couple of other projects that have spun off from that. One (that will probably be included in that white paper) involves intelligence, and another involves cultural sensitivity restrictions with which American personnel must comply while deployed to the Middle East. So, I'm working on those bit by bit as well.

World War I Research:

So... I've just realized that, until now, I've almost completely omitted a major chunk of what I'm doing up here in Orkney. It's a long story, but the gist of it is that I sort of stumbled into a gig on behalf of the Gordon Highlanders Museum, about which I've written before. In advance of the centenary of World War I, I'm working with the Gordon Highlanders Museum and a number of local Orcadian sources to research Orcadians who served with the regiment in World War I. I've been on Radio Orkney and in The Orcadian, conducted several interviews, met with several local experts, and have a great deal left to do while I'm here. It's been really interesting research, and it will sort of forever link me with both the museum and Orkney - that's pretty sweet, huh?

Special Projects:

I've also been working on a number of projects each week that don't fit into any of these other categories. For example, this week, I need to: put a variety of replacement clothing items into online shopping carts to facilitate quick ordering right before I leave Scotland; do a test pack of the stuff I intend to take home with me to ensure that I have enough room in the bags I intend to take; work on a Strategic Studies archive/database project; send an E-mail about an outstanding financial matter; do laundry; and go to the chemist. See? One of 'em's already done!

* * *

Oh, yeah, and I also need to make an effort to see a bunch of parts of Orkney that I haven't seen yet, enjoy my time here, and do a bit of blogging when I have a few moments. So... Stay tuned. Still.

More to come.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bold Brigand: Nairn Station's Ambitious CCTV Mast

My route from the Isle of Wight back up to Orkney, I found myself waiting for half an hour on a rail platform in Nairn. I was actually fairly fortunate to get there - my flight landed with barely enough time to get to the station in Inverness in time for the late train to Aberdeen, but the cab driver asked where I was headed and suggested that he take me to Nairn instead. We got there with plenty of time, but I found myself killing time. As I was chatting on the phone with a couple of folks back in the States, I noticed a really ambitious CCTV mast. It's not uncommon to see CCTV (short for "closed-circuit television") cameras throughout the United Kingdom - British security folks love them. At any rate, I snapped a picture, and figured I'd share.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Island Paradise: Fun with Patties

One of my World War I contacts, a native Orcadian himself, recommended to me that I try a patty. As you'll learn from a variety of links (such as this one, this one, this one, this one, and this one), a patty is a uniquely Orcadian dish made of potato ("tattie"), a bit of minced beef, a little bit of onion, and some seasoning, and then fried. They're pretty good. I've had several of them, and trying them puts one particular aspect of this year's Giddy Limit calendar into context.

I was informed that the best place to go for a patties was Harbo(u)r Fry, near Kirkwall's little harbor. Last week, after a couple of drinks at a pub around the corner (to be featured soon), I decided to give it a try. I walked in, and was immediately and enthusiastically greeted by two of the young staff, one of whom is related to the restaurant's proprietor. We proceeded to have a lengthy conversation about me, them, the restaurant, and all things Orkney. I was informed that I need to be sure to stick around through Christmas and Hogmanay in order to witness or even take part in the Ba game. (I have yet to conclude whether I'll be participating or not, but if I do, you'll surely read about it.) I tend to enjoy talking to young people, not only because it's fun for people to be curious about me, but also because young people tend to be eager to talk about their experiences of living wherever it is that they live, be it Aberdeen, or Naples, or even Orkney.

Harbo(u)r Fry is open from noon to 2:00 PM for lunch, and then from 4:00 PM to 9:00 PM for dinner. As I mentioned previously, they're located adjacent to Kirkwall's harbor, on Bridge Street, just a few steps from Skippers Bar on the right and Dil Se Indian restaurant to the left. With most of Kirkwall's bars within a few steps (for the evening opening), and Kirkwall's high street just a quick walk (during the lunch hours), you'd be hard pressed to find a better location for authentic Orkney takeaway chow. That said, I don't really understand the whole curry thing; I realize that American restaurants, mainly McDonalds, sometimes have things like burritoes or whatever, but it just strikes me as really odd that you'd walk into, say, a burger joint, and they'd have all of the fare that you're expecting, and then have a whole part of the menu dedicated to Mexican food. (The reason why I use Mexican food as an example is that Indian food is to British cuisine as Mexican food is to American cuisine - the United Kingdom has almost no Mexican restaurants and tons of Indian restaurants, while the United States has comparatively few Indian restaurants and tons of Mexican restaurants.)

The odd thing about patties is that they're apparently served with fries/"chips". It's roughly akin to saying to someone, "Hey, here are your carrots, would you like some carrots with that?" I've decided that, in fact, patties are best employed as a side, rather than as a main course. For example, one could walk into Harbo(u)r Fry and order a fried haggis and two patties, and it would make a perfectly good meal. They seem to have tons of different menu options to choose from, even though plenty of them aren't on their actual menu board. You'd better believe that as I continue spending evenings at the pubs, enjoying the Orcadian night life, I'll be stopping into Harbo(u)r Fry to refuel.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Songs That Remind You 13

Most of the music I've been hearing lately is absolute trash. Far too much of it is by Miley Cyrus. (Speaking of which... What happened with her!? The Onion totally called it.) Anyway, one of the great songs that I've heard while I was here was actually the soundtrack to a really weird Lexus commercial featuring kabuki dancers or something. The commercial's weird, and I'll almost certainly never buy a Lexus, but Kristina Train's cover of Aretha Franklin's song easily surpasses the original - easily.

So, that was pretty awesome. As I said earlier, I feel like I'm being inundated by lousy garbage from Miley Cyrus. So, in lieu of posting that lousy garbage, I'm going to link to the only decent song Miley Cyrus ever did, and at this rate, will ever do. Yup. Anyway, you know what I like even better than that? Katy Perry's latest single. Like many celebrities who have never accomplished anything and have no relevant experience, Katy Perry's politics and activism annoy the living daylights out of me, but I tend to like about two thirds of her music.

See? Isn't that so much better than anything Miley Cyrus has been releasing lately? Answer along with me: "Yes, Tom! You nailed it!"

Friday, October 25, 2013

Writing Sample: Strategic Intelligence Term Paper

Note: This is the term paper I submitted to E for Strategic Intelligence about this time last year. As I read through it, I'm tempted to update it and correct a few formatting errors, but instead I'm publishing it as is.

* * *

"Assess the strengths and
weaknesses of technology in
comparison with HUMINT."

1 Introduction

In a sense, all intelligence is human intelligence. Regardless of the method of collection, the platform, or the system of analysis, intelligence is the focused study of inherently human factors, actions, reactions, and behaviors. At its core, the purpose of each and every intelligence operation is to discover the prior actions, or predict the future actions and reactions, of humans.

Regardless of this philosophical observation, intelligence has become an increasingly technical field, with constantly increasing emphasis placed upon intelligence disciplines other than direct interaction between intelligence professionals and human sources. As a result, intelligence is increasingly divided between HUMINT and other, more technical fields. Chief among these are several key disciplines: signals intelligence (SIGINT); geospatial intelligence (GEOINT); and imagery intelligence (IMINT), itself a subset of GEOINT. These disciplines, like HUMINT itself, are subject to a variety of inherent strengths and weaknesses, both of which place limits on their ultimate effectiveness.

In order to analyze the relative strengths of these technical disciplines relative to HUMINT, this study will analyze each major discipline in detail, and provide additional reflections drawn from case studies from the recent history of intelligence operations. Special concluding attention shall be paid to the intelligence estimates of Iraq prior to the coalition invasion of 2003, and to the May 2011 American raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.


Assuming that one discounts such methods as mountain observation points and hot air balloons, the earliest technical method of intelligence collection is SIGINT. Military forces were among the earliest parties to utilize the new technologies developed during the industrial revolution. This included the first use of electrical telegraphy in the Crimean War[2.01], followed by the first practical use of wireless telegraphy by the end of the 19th century, and transmission of sound via radio by the end of 1900. Although terms such as "information warfare", "electronic warfare", and "signals intelligence" are generally considered modern disciplines dating back only to World War II, their genesis dates back as far as World War I, when the laying and defense of telegraph lines (or, conversely, the tapping and/or destruction of enemy lines) played an important role in the conduct of warfare for both sides.[2.02]

These early examples provide several key illustrations of the strengths and weaknesses of signals, and the corresponding weaknesses and strengths of SIGINT. First and foremost, in order to be useful to the users, signals must be accessible - a signal is useless if the recipient is unable to receive it. The result is that in order to be effective, signals require some degree of vulnerability, with puts them at risk of interception: cables can be tapped, and wireless signals such as radio and microwave transmissions can be intercepted.

These vulnerabilities demonstrate a second weakness of signals that presents a challenge to both signal originators, and intelligence practitioners: the requirement for security measures. Should parties sending signals wish to mitigate the risk of interception, the primary method (save for physically guarding closed circuit transmission lines) is encryption. Although generally used to describe electronic means of encoding signals, encryption can be more generally defined as a system whereby both sender and receiver (these roles being reciprocal in two-way communications) employ a system to convert messages from "plaintext" - plain, direct language - to an alternate form discernible only to the communicating parties.

For those attempting secure communication, this presents a complex challenge prior to, during, and following any communication. As security technologist Bruce Schneier notes, "keys have to be produced, guarded, transported, used and then destroyed"[2.03] - a time consuming and expensive process. While some methods of encryption (notably one-time pads) have been demonstrated to be entirely effective when used correctly, weaknesses in encryption methodology, weak codes, or failure to follow security procedures can introduce vulnerabilities to the system, making it possible for SIGINT practitioners to decode intercepted signals. Historical examples of this include the British government's successful cryptoanalytic efforts relative to the German Enigma machines in World War II; Operation Ivy Bells, the United States' operation to tap Soviet undersea communications cables in the Sea of Okhotsk; and the American detention and prosecution of La Red Avispa/the "Cuban Five" based upon decrypted signals from the Atención numbers station.

Numbers stations provide an excellent object lesson in the relative strengths and weaknesses of signals and SIGINT. In fact, the case of the Cuban Five is an excellent illustration of these phenomena. As noted by Brent Sokol of the Miami News Times:
[T]he simplicity of a numbers station also is its strength. Unlike telephone, e-mail, and Net connections, receiving a radio signal leaves no fingerprint, no hint as to where the recipient might be physically located. And with the numbers-to-letters code known only to the spy and his handlers -- and with that code changing with each broadcast -- the secret messages they contain are theoretically unbreakable. Unbreakable, that is, unless you were able to make a copy of the same computer decryption program, which is exactly what FBI agents did in 1995 as they surreptitiously broke into at least one of the spies' apartments, allowing them to subsequently decipher the shortwave broadcasts the unknowing Cubans continued to receive until they were arrested in September 1998.[2.04]
In fact, even if the FBI had not identified and surveilled the Cuban Five, the operators of the Atención station have made mistakes that undermine even the best tradecraft of field agents. Most notable among these are playing the audio intro from Radio Havana Cuba (RHC) on Atención; or playing Atención on the same frequency as RHC, and vice versa.[2.05][2.06] While these mistakes alone would compromise neither signals nor field agents, poor attention to detail by signallers suggests systematically sloppy tradecraft, the surest way to compromise the security of otherwise strong signal encryption. Thus, while perfect tradecraft can prevent (or substantially complicate) decryption by SIGINT practitioners, perfect tradecraft is rare, offering SIGINT practitioners an occasional advantage.

Long-term study of numbers stations around the world betrays another weakness of signals: triangulation. Wireless signals, and particularly radio signals, can be triangulated, allowing SIGINT practitioners to determine the location in which signals originate. In the event that field agents are called upon to transmit signals from their positions, the host nation's ability to triangulate a signal's point of origin can lead to a compromise of either the agent or the signal itself. In fact, this vulnerability formed a central story element in John Le Carré's 1965 novel The Looking Glass War[2.07]. This phenomenon has become even more useful to SIGINT practitioners with the advent of mobile telephones.

At the same time, triangulation betrays another drawback of SIGINT: while some signals can be intercepted from great distances, most require the surreptitious listener to operate - or, at very least, position equipment - in relatively close proximity to the point of transmission. One can imagine the sheer logistical challenges of deploying, operating, and maintaining listening equipment in even a relatively small theater of operations, such as Afghanistan or the Balkans. Given the likely wheat-to-chaff ratio from such a gargantuan endeavour, the analytical requirements alone would be staggering. This serves to reiterate the previous point: when combined with solid tradecraft on the part of those under surveillance, SIGINT practitioners will find themselves at a disadvantage with respect to the collection, interpretation, and analysis of signals. One recent example of this is the April 2001 Hainan Island incident, in which a U.S. Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals reconnaissance aircraft was forced to make a crash landing on the Chinese island of Hainan after a mid-air collision with an overzealous Chinese J-8IIM interceptor. Although the American aircraft was flying in international airspace, its mission required it to fly near Chinese territory in order to collect its signals.

For intelligence agencies and officers, encryption - whether by tradecraft or by technology - is challenging and resource-intensive. In the case of encryption based upon technology, it can also be extremely expensive, particularly if an opponent overcomes the encryption system, requiring it to be abandoned. One illustration of this is the 2009 revelation that insurgents in Iraq had been able to intercept the unencrypted video feeds from UAVs.[2.08] While this vulnerability was allegedly known by military, the sacrifice of encrypting the high-bandwidth feeds[2.09], beyond posing the aforementioned challenge of credential management[2.03], would have caused significant operational drawbacks:
For years, the video from UAV was unencrypted. This was to save communications capacity ("bandwidth"), which was always in short supply. To encrypt the video would require more bandwidth, and specialized equipment on the UAVs and ground receivers. There would also be a slight delay for the guys on the ground using the video. For all these reasons, the video remained unencrypted.[2.10]
Conversely, decryption by SIGINT practitioners is also difficult, resource-intensive, and extremely expensive, as evidenced by the infrastructure and staffs employed by the National Security Agency (NSA) in the United States and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in the United Kingdom.


GEOINT and its subset, IMINT, saw their effective genesis in World War II following the use of hot air balloons in the 19th Century and early aerial reconnaissance in World War I. Aviation having matured substantially during the interwar years, aerial reconnaissance in World War II was increasingly sophisticated, with armed and eventually fighter-escorted bombers re-equipped with cameras to provide aerial reconnaissance of potential target areas. These were succeeded early in the Cold War by specialized reconnaissance aircraft - "spy planes" - such as the U2 Dragon Lady and the SR-71. These and other aircraft, while unarmed, were designed for extreme high altitude flight. Their capabilities were eventually complemented, and ultimately overtaken and largely succeeded, by reconnaissance satellites, although the U2's capabilities and a lack of viable gap-filling replacements continue to prolong its operational lifespan.

As with SIGINT, GEOINT offer specific advantages and disadvantages to producers and consumers of strategic intelligence. For the potential subjects of GEOINT, GEOINT is exceptionally difficult to escape from. While the actual products of GEOINT are generally classified, some are known publicly. A few prominent open source examples from the last several years include:

  • In 2007, an open source satellite photographed a new Chinese Type 094 ballistic missile submarine.[3.01]
  • In 2007, Microsoft's Virtual Earth mapping service revealed an aerial image of an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine's exposed propeller, the design of which is classified.[3.02]
  • Open source satellite imagery has been studied extensively since the September 2007 Israeli air strike that destroyed a suspected Syrian nuclear facility. Open source analysts have compared pictures of the facility both before and after the attack, as well as subsequent open source GEOINT resources that suggest a hasty demolition, cleanup, and burial at the site.[3.03][3.04]
  • In 2008, an open source satellite photographed a Chinese Type 094 submarine, as well as new features at a Chinese naval base on Hainan Island.[3.05]
  • In 2009, Google Earth alerted open source GEOINT practitioners to the presence and new construction of Iran's previously clandestine Fordow uranium enrichment facility, located near the Iranian holy city of Qom.[3.06]
  • In 2012, publicly available satellite imagery revealed exterior water drainage and additional changes in appearance at Iran's Parchin nuclear site, suggesting that the Iranian government had carried out some type of testing at the site before cleaning it to eliminate evidence of illicit, possibly nuclear-related activities.[3.07]

    These cases represent a mere handful of publicly known cases of open source GEOINT betraying the national security secrets of a variety of major players in international affairs. If one considers the resources, including manpower, training, and equipment, that are available to the American National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and extrapolates the resources that are likely available to such other nations as Russia and China, the obvious conclusion must be that very little of strategic importance must take place on the face of the planet without first- and second-tier international powers finding out about it in due course of time. This betrays two of the challenges faced by GEOINT practitioners: location, and time.

    The case of the Iranian nuclear program is an excellent demonstration of the former, as the Iranian government has elected to tunnel deep into mountains and underground in order to protect nuclear sites from aerial bombardment, but also to protect those same sites from the prying eyes of Western GEOINT assets. A second example took place following the aforementioned Hainan Island incident, when the Chinese military used shrouds to obscure their exploitation teams' efforts from American GEOINT assets. In addition, orbiting satellites are observable from the Earth's surface, allowing their orbits to be determined - a phenomenon dramatized in the 1992 film Patriot Games. Accordingly, parties who expect attention from rival GEOINT practitioners are likely to adjust to the expectation that someone is trying to observe their movements and actions, potentially catching them in the midst of hostile acts.

    The latter factor - time - is another potential weakness of GEOINT. One of the reasons why the aforementioned U2 aircraft are currently expected to remain operational for at least another decade is that despite the strengths of satellite-based GEOINT, U2 observation flights can be scrambled to an area of interest in short order, whereas altering a satellite's existing orbital pattern can be cost- or operationally-prohibitive. Even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which boast much longer "orbital times" (airborne time on station), are incapable of lingering forever. In a limitation similar to the need to position SIGINT assets within proximity of a signal in order to capture it, GEOINT assets must be above a position of interest in order to capture events there; by way of illustration, an orbital observation platform passing over Severomorsk at 13:00 UTC is incapable of observing a ballistic missile test launch at Tonghae at 13:05. The result is a complex and imperfect dance in which GEOINT platforms overlap in their routes as well as possible, otherwise leaving gaps in coverage.

    GEOINT products also tend to be time-sensitive. In some ways, this can be helpful: for example, GEOINT products showing the aforementioned Syrian site on 05 September 2006 might be useless on their own, but would become substantially more relevant when compared to imagery from the same location on 05 September 2007 (the day before the Israeli air strike), 07 September 2007 (immediately following the strike), and six months thereafter. By contrast, however, GEOINT products showing the location of a Taliban encampment on Monday might be worthless if planning a military strike on the same location for Wednesday. While significant investment in GEOINT resources since their rise to prominence has allowed for a substantial improvement in the capacity for maintaining strategic, operational, and tactical situational awareness, limitations endure.

    Another historic strength of GEOINT platforms - their relative invulnerability - may also be coming to an end. Three nations (the United States, the Soviet Union, and China) have worked to develop anti-satellite technology. To date, the United States has destroyed two satellites in what amount to proof-of-concept tests: a U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagle destroyed the P78-1 Solwind satellite using an ASM-135 ASAT missile on 13 September 1985, and the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Lake Erie destroyed the USA-193 satellite using a modified RIM-161 SM3 missile on 21 February 2008. The second event is believed by some to have been carried out in part as a response to China's own 11 January 2007 test of a modified DF-21 ballistic missile repurposed as a kinetic kill vehicle, which was used to destroy the Chinese FY-1C weather satellite. Given that USA-193 and FY-1C could both have been considered GEOINT assets (USA-193 by design, FY-1C by overall capability), the prospects for the future targeting of GEOINT-dedicated satellites for destruction by hostile rivals is obvious.

    GEOINT also suffers from a sort of ad hoc dichotomy: while photographs do not lie, their interpretation can indeed misinform the GEOINT analyst tasked with deciding what a photograph entails. By way of illustration, one virtue of orbital photography is that it prevents a covert agent from having to infiltrate an enemy ballistic missile base to count delivery vehicles; but this separation could potentially allow said enemy to fabricate false "Quaker Missiles" in the same vein as the American Civil War practice of creating so-called "Quaker Guns" by painting logs black to make them appear to be artillery pieces. An amusing real world example of this phenomenon is a former building at the center of the courtyard within the Pentagon that Soviet intelligence once speculated may have been the entrance to an underground bunker, but which was actually the Ground Zero Cafe, a snack bar for Pentagon employees.[3.08] Although GEOINT platforms include additional capabilities, such as infrared, thermal, and radar, the added capabilities of these systems are not entirely capable of eliminating the fog of war. Not unlike reading the Bible, GEOINT products require careful interpretation, and misinterpretation can be extremely costly.

    GEOINT, like SIGINT, is exceptionally costly. Reconnaissance satellites are among the most sophisticated machines ever created by man, and their launch alone can cost billions of dollars. According to some estimates, launching a satellite costs between $10,000 and $13,000 per pound, and the aforementioned orbital reconnaissance satellite USA-193 was reputed to be as large as a bus. When one factors the cost of the satellite itself, plus fuel, infrastructure to operate the platform, and staffing costs, the overall cost of operating a single satellite comes into stark focus. (That having been said, some overlap is likely - for example, operators and infrastructure are likely used for multiple satellites operating as a network of surveillance assets, vice independently.) Given the cost of such programs, one can only assume that intelligence agents and lawmakers alike are keen to rely on such resources to justify their overwhelming cost. Such reliance on any method, discipline, or function of intelligence gathering will prove necessarily problematic.

    4 HUMINT

    SIGINT and GEOINT can be compared and contrasted with HUMINT by breaking the aforementioned strengths and weaknesses of the two selected technical collection methods down into a simplified list, and addressing each item in relation to HUMINT.
    1) SIGINT exploits the inherent vulnerability of signals: signals must be accessible/vulnerable in order to be useful to the recipient, putting them at risk for interception.
    HUMINT displays corresponding strengths and weaknesses. The virtue of signals is that they allow two parties to communicate without physical proximity to one another - an advantage lost when conditions require two people to meet in person. However, by meeting and dispensing with the use of signals altogether, an added degree of security can sometimes be gained, particularly if two parties (for example, an intelligence officer and an asset) employ tradecraft to preclude the possibility of being monitored. If tradecraft is impossible or neglected, the two parties could still be vulnerable to clandestine monitoring by opposing agents or adjacent recording devices.
    2) SIGINT can be defeated by security measures such as technical or procedural encryption; however, SIGINT practitioners can gain an advantage because maintaining perfect signals tradecraft is difficult, repetitive, and contrary to human nature.
    The same strengths and weaknesses exist in HUMINT, although in different forms. Excellent and meticulously executed tradecraft can theoretically protect intelligence officers and their agents from security risks, though tradecraft is often difficult, repetitive, contrary to human nature, and sometimes time-consuming. As with SIGINT, HUMINT security tradecraft may still be unable to deter the efforts of a similarly meticulous opposing force, or one that is well resourced.
    3) SIGINT can triangulate signals to determine their point of origin.
    Although no legitimate corollary exists within HUMINT, humans are vulnerable to counterintelligence and clandestine observation efforts by opposing forces.
    4) SIGINT requires large networks covering a wide geographic area, or else large gaps in coverage will limit its effectiveness.
    In a similar fashion, HUMINT can be challenging based upon the existence and mobility of billions of human beings worldwide. This can be both an advantage and a challenge to HUMINT practitioners. The fact that, once found, each human responds to a unique set of motivations and values further complicates HUMINT efforts.
    5) SIGINT assets tend to intercept unrelated signals in the process of looking for relevant ones; this high "wheat-to-chaff ratio" is sometimes referred to as the "Vacuum Cleaner Problem".
    HUMINT practitioners are unlikely to encounter an exact corollary of this problem: the entire point of running HUMINT assets is that they will be recruited in the first place due to their special access to a program or location of interest to the presiding intelligence officer - in other words, the fact that a particular city may boast fifty thousand residents does not require an intelligence officer to hear from every individual resident. However, this does not preclude supposed insider agents from providing inflated credentials, nuanced or exaggerated information, or pure fabrications to the HUMINT practitioner. HUMINT practitioners may find themselves obligated to bestow unwarranted trust on their assets for lack of any capacity to corroborate their assets' reports.
    6) GEOINT is difficult for targets to escape from; conversely, parties expecting to be observed by GEOINT are likely to adjust their operations accordingly.
    Again, a corollary from the world of HUMINT is difficult to derive. In the event that an agent is voluntarily meeting with an intelligence officer, the two must employ careful tradecraft at all times in order to avoid compromise by opposing forces. Conversely, if an potential asset does not want to provide information - for example, a terrorist being pursued by HUMINT agencies for the purpose of detention and interrogation will likely employ strong operational security measures to avoid detention. In the event that the subject is eventually detained, information may still be difficult to obtain, particularly if the agency in question is restricted in its conduct by regulations or laws governing the treatment of detainees.
    7) SIGINT and GEOINT assets have a massive geographic area to cover, resulting in challenges for the positioning of listening assets and the timing of overflight and observation.
    HUMINT practitioners likely encounter similar challenges. The world is a big place, and coordinating location and timing to secure the desired results is likely challenging for HUMINT practitioners.
    8) GEOINT products tend to produce time-sensitive data that can be useful for trend analysis, but may be limited in utility for long-term mission planning. GEOINT is also vulnerable to potentially flawed interpretation despite the objectivity of actual images - for example, the Ground Zero Cafe. Despite the additional GEOINT capabilities of infrared, thermal, radar, and others technologies, these can not eliminate the fog of war entirely.
    The same can be said of intelligence data produced from HUMINT sources: information is likely to be time-sensitive, or in some cases incomplete. While GEOINT assets have the virtue of presenting an objective picture that must then be interpreted, HUMINT assets are capable of either providing false information of their own volition, providing false information as a result of external counterintelligence and deception operations, or providing incomplete information owing to limited or flawed knowledge of the situation in question.
    9) The traditional invulnerability of GEOINT platforms may be coming to an end.
    HUMINT assets are inherently vulnerable - in fact, even excellent tradecraft may fail to protect HUMINT assets in the event that their exploits are discovered by hostile opposing forces. In this case, the advantage goes to GEOINT platforms.
    10) SIGINT and GEOINT are both exceptionally costly in terms of equipment deployment, maintenance, collection, and analysis. Intelligence professionals and lawmakers may subsequently be motivated to rely on technical platforms in order to to justify continued expenditure for their maintenance.
    When available as an option, HUMINT tends to be considerably less costly than technical methods, as demonstrated by several cases involving payment for intelligence information. One example of this is the Robert Hanssen case, in which an FBI counterintelligence officer was convicted of having accepted payment of $1.4 million in cash and diamonds over the course of twenty-two years - an average of only about $64,000 per year[4.01], substantially less than the annual operating cost of most SIGINT assets and considerably less than the cost of a single GEOINT asset. Similarly illustrative is the case of Ronald William Pelton, who betrayed Operation Ivy Bells - the U.S. Navy's operation to tap unencrypted Soviet communications cables in the Sea of Okhotsk - for a mere $40,000.[4.02] Assets from developing nations with low per capita income might be motivated by far less money, and those assets providing intelligence due to personal motivation of one sort or another might be willing to provide that information at cost, or even without compensation.

    Worthy of note, and similar in nature to limitations inherent to SIGINT, is the potential language barrier. As organizations such as the NSA and GCHQ employ translators to convert intercepted visual and audio signals into comprehensible English, HUMINT-oriented agencies such as the CIA and SIS employ both interpreters and case officers with foreign language capabilities.

    5 Conclusion: Combined Arms

    These comparisons gain from an examination of how intelligence operations work under real world circumstances. In warfare, the concept of "combined arms" unifies infantry capabilities with other methods of fire and maneuver, such as armor, artillery, mortars, air support, and naval fires. The subsequent result is that forces employing combined arms, particularly in symmetrical operations against similar forces, are likely to prevail by, in essence, trapping the enemy through the limitation of his options for fire and maneuver. In a similar manner, the intelligence community employs a system similar to combined arms known as all-source intelligence or all-source analysis. The result is a system whereby multiple assets and disciplines are combined to overcome the limitations of each individual asset and/or discipline. The recent history of intelligence provides two prominent examples: the pre-2003 assessment of Iraq is an object lesson in the failure of intelligence, while Operation Neptune Spear is an object lesson in its success.

    In February of 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell, himself a retired U.S. Army general and the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the United Nations Security Council on the topic of Iraq. Secretary Powell's remarks addressed a number of topics relating to Iraq: weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs; denial and deception operations aimed at UN inspection and verification teams; WMD delivery systems; ties to terrorist groups; and human rights violations. Secretary Powell's remarks, built on the best available all-source intelligence derived in large part from a number of controversial Iraqi informants or defectors, reflected the best available estimation of the CIA, SIS, and the rest of the intelligence community. This estimation was used to demonstrate the Iraqi government's material breach of multiple United Nations resolutions requiring it to disarm, and submit to verification procedures to demonstrate the disarmament process to the international community.[5.01]

    While much of the evidence provided about WMDs was legitimate, it suffered from both falsifications and incorrect interpretations. Of particular note was one source, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al Janabi (pseudonym "Curveball"), who provided now-discredited intelligence about mobile biological weapons laboratories. Other information, such as SIGINT intercepts, were misinterpreted by SIGINT practitioners. Once coalition forces had occupied Iraq and conducted comprehensive inspections of the country, the original estimates of the strength and maturity of the regime's WMD programs were found to be incorrect. When he was captured in December of 2003 and subsequently interrogated, Saddam Hussein revealed that although his WMD programs were in a precursor state, he had considered Iran a greater threat than the international community and orchestrated the deception operation in an effort to keep his long-time Persian enemies at bay.[5.02] In the case of the intelligence estimates of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion, the best information available from HUMINT sources combined with technical platforms failed to provide intelligence professionals and policy-makers with the information they needed to make an appropriately informed decision regarding military intervention.

    The converse example is that of Operation Neptune Spear, the May 2011 operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden. Operation Neptune Spear represented the culmination of years upon years of all-source intelligence exploitation, but the trail began with a single piece of HUMINT data:
    The name Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti was first mentioned to authorities in Mauritania by an al-Qaida operative, Mohamedou Ould Salahi. It was obviously a pseudonym. The name meant "the Father of Ahmed from Kuwait". It was just one name among thousands that were daily being entered into what would become the Terrorism Information Awareness database.[5.03]
    HUMINT sources, particularly a series of high-ranking al Qaeda leaders who were detained and interrogated by American intelligence professionals, proved indispensible in providing the leads necessary to refine the search for bin Laden. These included Abu Faraj al Libi, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. According to Marc Thiessen, speaking at The Heritage Foundation in February of 2012 on the topic of enhanced interrogation:
    Leon Panetta, the then-CIA Director confirmed, quote, "Obviously there was some valuable intelligence that was derived through those kinds of interrogations." Now, if intelligence from CIA interrogations was not critical to the greatest achievement of the Obama administration, don't you think they'd be shouting it from the rooftops? Of course. Panetta's predecessor, Mike Hayden, was more explicit. He said, "Let the record show, when I was first briefed in 2007 about the brightening prospects for pursuing bin Laden through his courier network, a crucial component of the briefing was information provided by three CIA detainees, all of whom had been subjected to some form of enhanced interrogation." [...] And he... moreover said, "It's nearly impossible for me to imagine any operation like the May 2 assault on bin Laden's compound that would have not made substantial use of the trove of information derived from CIA detainees, including those on whom enhanced interrogation techniques have been used", unquote.[5.04]
    These quotes from Leon Panetta and Michael Hayden indicate the criticality of HUMINT to the successful raid. However, HUMINT alone would have been useless. In order to complete the picture, SIGINT was required to locate and track "Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti" (whose real name was Ibrahim Said Ahmed), and to identify that the compound was itself conspicuously bereft of signals since its residents did not have amenities like cable television or Internet access. This was combined with GEOINT from satellites and UAV platforms, which allowed analysts to determine the peculiar traits of the compound. The pseudonymous "Mark Owen", one of the U.S. Navy DEVGRU personnel involved in the raid, makes note of analysts who studied UAV footage of "The Pacer", a figure meeting bin Laden's description who would pace in circles in one of the compound's courtyards.[5.05]

    The natural conclusion is that technical intelligence collection provides unprecedented capabilities to policy-makers, military personnel, and intelligence practitioners. However, despite the increasing reliance on technical collection methods, HUMINT will continue to provide capabilities that SIGINT, GEOINT, and other technical methods are incapable of replicating. Because intelligence is an inherently human endeavour, HUMINT will continue to be the core of successful intelligence operations for the foreseeable future. In the same way that combined arms ultimately assists the infantryman with boots on the ground, technical intelligence will continue to provide ultimate assistance to the HUMINT core, rather than becoming an independent alternative.


    2.01 BACK Lambert, Andrew; The Crimean War; BBC; London; 2011;

    2.02 BACK Westwood, James T., Lieutenant Commander, USN; Electronic Warfare and Signals Intelligence at the Outset of World War I; NSA; Fort Meade, Maryland;

    2.03 BACK Schneier, Bruce; Intercepting Predator Video; Schneier on Security blog; 2009;

    2.04 BACK Sokol, Brett; Espionage Is in the Air; Miami News Times; 2001;

    2.05 BACK Poundstone, William; William Morrow; Big Secrets; New York City, New York; 1983

    2.06 BACK Grabow, Ryan; Long Island University; Numbers Stations; Brookville, New York; 2003;

    2.07 BACK le Carré, John; The Looking Glass War; William Heinemann; 1965

    2.08 BACK Shachtman, Noah; Insurgents Intercept Drone Video in King-Size Security Breach (Updated, with Video);; 2009;

    2.09 BACK Ackerman, Spencer and Shachtman, Noah; Almost 1 In 3 U.S. Warplanes Is a Robot;; 2012;

    2.10 BACK Strategy Page; Israeli UAVs Encrypt The Signal; 2010;

    3.01 BACK Kristensen, Hans M.; New Chinese Ballistic Missile Submarine Spotted; Federation of American Scientists Strategic Security Blog; Washington, D.C.; 2007;

    3.02 BACK Hutcheon, Stephen; Oops, another top secret exposed; The Age; Melbourne; 2007;

    3.03 BACK Broad, William J. and Mazzetti, Mark; Photos Show Cleansing of Suspect Syrian Site; The New York Times; New York City, New York; 2007;

    3.04 BACK 06 September 2007 Airstrike;; Alexandria, Virginia;

    3.05 BACK Kristensen, Hans M.; New Chinese SSBN Deploys to Hainan Island; Federation of American Scientists Strategic Security Blog; Washington, D.C.; 2008;

    3.06 BACK Geens, Stefan; Hunting for Iran’s secret nuclear plant near Qum on Google Earth; Ogle Earth blog; Stockholm; 2009;

    3.07 BACK Swaine, Jon; Iran suspected of clean-up operation at nuclear site; The Telegraph; Washington, D.C.; 2012;

    3.08 BACK Smith, Steven Donald; Pentagon Hot Dog Stand, Cold War Legend, to be Torn Down; American Forces Press Service; Washington, D.C.; 2006;

    4.01 BACK Wise, David; Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America; Random House; New York City, New York; 2003

    4.02 BACK Drew, Christopher and Sontag, Sherry and Annette Lawrence Drew; Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage; PublicAffairs; New York City, New York; 1998

    5.01 BACK Powell, Colin L.; Remarks to the United Nations Security Council;; United Nations, New York City, New York; 2003;

    5.02 BACK de Sola, David; FBI interviews detail Saddam Hussein's fear of Iran, WMD bluff; CNN; 2009;

    5.03 BACK Bowden, Mark; The death of Osama bin Laden: how the US finally got its man; The Guardian; London; 2012;

    5.04 BACK Thiessen, Marc; The Obama Doctrine at Year Three: An Assessment; The Heritage Foundation; Washington, D.C.; 2012;

    5.05 BACK Owen, Mark and Maurer, Kevin; No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden; Dutton Penguin; 2012

  • Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Bold Brigand: Revisiting the Isle of Wight

    The Isle of Wight is located south of Portsmouth, across a body of water known as The Solent - not to be confused with "Soylent Green", which is allegedly people. To the best of my recollection, I first became aware of the Isle of Wight in 2003 while doing intensive research into the Roman conquest of Britannia. During the first century invasion of southern Britannia as ordered by Emperor Claudius, the Isle of Wight - "Vectis" - was conquered by a Roman officer named Vespasianus, who would later become Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, the ninth emperor of the Roman Empire. Suetonius records:
    "In the reign of Claudius he was sent in command of a legion to Germania, through the influence of Narcissus; from there he was transferred to Britannia, where he fought thirty battles with the enemy. He reduced to subjection two powerful nations, more than twenty towns, and the island of Vectis [The Isle of Wight], near Britannia, partly under the leadership of Aulus Plautius, the consular governor, and partly under that of Claudius himself. For this he received the triumphal regalia."
    - Suetonius, The Life of the Deified Vespasian, ch. IV
    Being the Roman history aficionado that I was back in 2004, I determined to visit the Isle of Wight. In early August, I arranged digs for a couple of days and took first the train, then the ferry, then another train, to get to a town called Shanklin on the southeast end of the island. One of the fascinating things about the rail line on the Isle of Wight - a mere shadow of its former self - is that it uses retired coaches from the London Underground. So, if you love the Tube, but hate London, then the Isle of Wight is the place for you!

    As in 2004, I stayed at the Avenue Hotel. It's fairly centrally located, only about ten minutes walk from all of the "action" in Shanklin. Not that there's actually much "action" in Shanklin. While it's theoretically a big tourist destination, it doesn't seem that much actually happens there - as evidenced by the fact that the Bon Jovi concert from the 16th of June was still being advertised on buses in late September. That's part of Shanklin's charm, I suppose; and it's allegedly part of what drew the likes of Charles Darwin, among others, to the island during the nineteenth century. At any rate, the Avenue was just how I remembered it: friendly staff, comfortable rooms, big disused rear courtyard, and a great breakfast.

    One big difference was that, in 2004, the Isle of Wight was about ten degrees cooler than the weather where I was living (and working with Pockets). That was quite a welcome change, as it was wayyyyyy too hot where I was staying. This time around it was really warm and humid - not thrilling. I wandered around a bit more this time around than I did the last time, but didn't wander all the way down to the Esplanade - I got a look at it from above, which was quite sufficient. On the other hand, I wandered entirely by chance into a pub called Indy's, operated by Emilee, better known as "Indy" owing to her longstanding obsession with Indiana Jones; and her mother, Lorraine. I enjoyed a couple of long chats with Lorraine, and a couple of regulars named Mark and John.

    After a couple of nights in Shanklin, it was time to return to my island paradise. The time spent in Shanklin was bittersweet, as I remembered some good times I had there, as well as some of the less fortunate fallout that followed my departure from the United Kingdom. I'd wanted to revisit the Isle of Wight, sure; but in some ways, I wanted to overwrite some of those memories from 2004. Even though I visited some of the same places where I'd wandered all those years ago, I think that the new memories will prevail... To include a great memory of an Isle of Wight beer called Undercliff Experience from the Yates Brewery. Thanks, Avenue Hotel and Indy's for making my repeat trip to the Isle of Wight one to remember. As to whether I ever wind up making it back... I suppose only time will tell.

    Wednesday, October 23, 2013

    Around Aberdeen: IRN BRU Advert

    Many moons ago, I wrote about IRN-BRU. I've posted about how hilarious IRN-BRU adverts are... Twice! My buddy the Man of Steel caught wind that I was in Scotland, and begged that when I go home, I bring him as much IRN-BRU as I possibly can. (That's going to take some work.) A few weeks ago, during my waning days in Aberdeen, I saw this graphic on the back of a weathered delivery truck. I posted it to the Man of Steel's Facebook page, of course; but I also wanted to share it with you, my valued readership. I'll miss IRN-BRU, but more than that, I'll miss its advertising campaign.

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Around Aberdeen: Funny Signs Around Aberdeen

    Owing to its proximity to campus, the Bobbin is a pretty popular venue. CN GBU-16 and I tend to hang out there every now and again because it's near her place, and some of the Strategists' biggest social nights (notably the night of our Strategic Intelligence exam). A few weeks ago, I met up with GBU-16 for a couple of drinks, and was extremely amused with this printed sign taped to the door of the pub. Is there anything more quintessentially Scottish than not trusting one another's conduct with alcohol outdoors during home athletic matches? Hilarious.

    * * *

    Back in June, I'd spent a few minutes getting a snack at the Gurkha Kitchen, and then had to walk eastward for a social event. As I was walking, I found this sign. I just love that someone had to put up a sign to notify people that they need to pick up their dog's waste. That said, I had to take evasive action to keep the Navigator from stepping into some dog waste on Union Street in July (July?), and I ran into dog waste that hadn't been picked up a couple of times when I was in Paris. Okay, I'm probably overthinking and certainly overtalking it, I just found it funny, now I've shared it with you... So, good.

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Island Paradise: An Orcadian Sunset

    Last week, I was on the phone with an associate as part of my research into Orcadians who served in the Gordon Highlanders in the First World War. I saw bits of the sunset through the three panes of glass between myself and the western horizon, and as the call was ending, my associate noted the sunset. When we got off the phone, I walked out of the phone booth I'd (erroneously) taken refuge from the outdoor noise in, and got a good look at the sunset. I wish the pictures I took could even come close to approximating the beauty of that sunset, but they don't. Even so, they'll have to do. I snapped a few pictures, and then went to Helgi's for a couple of drinks.

    The place really is an island paradise, don't you think?

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

    Glaswegian Sensation Discusses Scottish Secession

    Note: This is a guest post from one of my neighbors when I was living in halls, Glaswegian Sensation. She's lived and worked in Australia, and just finishing her master's degree in Oil and Gas Law, so she's pretty smart and has a bit more life experience than most Scots her age. I'd like to thank her for taking the time to share her perspective on the question of whether Scotland should secede from the United Kingdom. Many of the topics she discusses have been addressed previously on the blog, which indicates - if nothing else - that I'm at least trying to keep track of some of the most pertinent issues in this important national discussion. I've not edited GS's contribution, save for one note in parentheses.

    * * *

    Co as leth a Thir, sa Coir,
    Thairneas staillinn chruaidh na dhorn?

    Above, in Gaidhlig (Scots Gaelic) is Scotland’s national anthem. I hear you say that I am wrong, as it is ‘Flower of Scotland’, but no. I am not talking about the ‘official’ one but instead ‘Brosnachadh Bhruis’ by Rabbie Burns. The translation is ‘Scots Wha Hae’ and the lyrics I have used are quite emotive for nationalists. It translates as ‘Wha for Scotland’s King and Law, Freedom’s sword will strongly draw...’ This was song created just before the Battle of Bannockburn and if you read up on Scottish history you will know why the Battle of Bannockburn is so important to Scots – it was the most decisive battle won by the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence. It seems now that in 2013, there commences a new war for Scottish Independence and this is in the form of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and its leader Alex Salmond. It does not seem surprising that Alex Salmond has called for the independence referendum to be held next year in 2014 – precisely 700 years after the Battle of Bannockburn was won. Smart move by the SNP.

    Now based on the above my learned friend, Tom or if he was Scottish Tam, has asked me to answer a couple of questions surrounding Scottish Independence. He has asked if I support the Yes campaign and why I do or why I do not.

    Now I think that is a somewhat difficult decision to make right now since it seems that the SNP do not have any idea what they are talking about in regard to fiscal policy if independence does indeed emerge. They have not yet produced a solid document with any creditworthiness establishing how on earth Scotland will cope on its own without the rest of the United Kingdom and recently emerging the European Union. Does the SNP honestly think that Scotland has the potential to sustain itself without these two bodies? I am not entirely convinced.

    From a personal perspective, I do feel very patriotic and do feel that my national identity is Scottish as opposed to British. I do not want to go into great lengths about the whole ‘British’ issue but I guess it is like saying to an English person the same question about are they patriotic about England and is there national identity English. You will get the same answer that the Scottish individual gave and that’s understandable. The two nations are very different and although I have forgotten about Wales and Northern Ireland, you will hear the same thing if asked.

    Now how patriotic do I feel about Scotland that I wish it to be independent from the rest of the United Kingdom? My answer would be that I feel that Scotland is a different place altogether and so on that alone, I would vote yes. However, I do not feel that voting yes is the right decision. Therefore I will probably not be voting yes.

    The reason for me for declining my beloved little land another vote in favour of independence is because I do not want to see Scotland suffer. I firmly believe that we will not be better off without the rest of the UK and certainly not without Europe. There have been various business figures that have said Scotland has the power and capabilities to become independent and that may very well be so in terms of business. However my concern is how do you get businesses to move away from the big city of London up to Scotland? The answer I reckon lies predominantly through the creation of tax breaks and the lowering of corporation tax. With this in mind, business will be more open to seeing it as a better deal. However if businesses do this, what about the revenue of tax that the government relies on to pay for our services such as education, health and welfare? If there is not enough revenue then goodbye services. This is a probably sceptical view and may not even be a concern but it is one I have. We do not have the population to provide the amount of revenue required to fund and sustains. Therefore it is up to external factors such as businesses. It is a complicated issue and quite frankly it still has not been dealt with properly.

    Moving on to the ‘money maker’ – oil. It’s Scotland’s oil. We can become like Norway. SERIOUSLY? ARE YOU STUPID? If you had advocated independence back when oil and gas was first discovered in the North Sea then maybe we could have been like Norway but as a society we are anything but similar. We have an entirely different attitude and that is probably what does not make us as successful as Norway. It is a shame really. What people also forget is in the Northern North Sea where predominantly the most amount of oil is and also west of Shetland where new fields are currently being discovered, it is not Scotland who has the oil but Shetland. Shetland has always been known for its views about Scotland and according to international law; Shetland has the right of self-determination. If Shetland were to do this then I am afraid not all would be well. Shetland could become independent in its entirety or side with the rest of the UK and then the oil and gas would be rest of the UK’s and not Scotland’s. Is this really what the SNP want? I am not so sure.

    I do think that it is a complicated issue and there are a lot of benefits to having independence such as making decisions more central to the people living in that nation and maybe devolution max or more devolved powers would be better suited at this stage. Going back to the song I mentioned at the start, voting yes will mean ‘But they shall be free’. However if we follow the song right to the end it will not be a matter of ‘Let us do or die’ but instead ‘Let us do AND die’ and I would never want to see that. Scotland has too much to offer but not on its own.

    * * *

    I've been sitting on this post for a few months now, as I asked both Glaswegian Sensation and another friend for their inputs. Glaswegian Sensation came up with hers in just a couple of days, while the other individual (an ardent supporter of Scottish independence) has encountered some delays. I'm finally posting this because I've given my nationalist friend a deadline of early next week to get his long-awaited response to me. So, either it's coming in the next few days, or else he'll forfeit his opportunity to present the nationalist perspective. Hopefully that forfeit won't take place, as I prefer that debates on all issues provide proper attention to both sides of the argument so that people can make informed decisions. So, since I know that he's reading this: the gauntlet is thrown down, my friend! The Operation Highlander audience is waiting!

    As I've mentioned before, I remain skeptical of the proposed Scottish secession referendum, but I'm also willing to be convinced that the SNP has a plan and a justification for secession. The wait continues.

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

    Bold Brigand: Royal Marines Museum

    When I arrived in England in 2004, the first tourist attraction I visited was the Royal Marines Museum. In the course of two visits that summer, I bought two T-shirts, one of which is now hilariously undersized, the other having mysteriously disappeared from Globetrotters Hostel in Dublin. (Unfortunately, the latter is no longer available - and it was the awesome blue one, too! Dagnabbit!) Anyway, as I was going to be passing through Portsmouth anyway... Sort of... I went to the Royal Marines Museum! With about fifty pounds of kit on my back! Just like a yomp, except I took a cab!

    The Royal Marines Museum is awesome - easily one of the best museums I've ever been to. It resides in the former Royal Marines barracks in Eastney, a neighborhood of Portsmouth not so far from the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - also worth your time if you get an opportunity. I remember back in July of 2004, when I insisted that I'd been to Eastney, and several of my employers insisted that I meant Eastleigh. I did not, in fact, mean Eastleigh. At any rate, there are a number of great exhibits throughout the museum, beginning with the formation of the Royal Marines in the 1600's and ending with current operations in Afghanistan. While I was disappointed that operations in Iraq were largely skimmed over, I was thrilled to see that both the Jebel Akhdar War and the Dhofar Rebellion were mentioned, as was an early 1960's operation in Kuwait about which I'd never heard at all, even once, in my entire life. My one gripe was with their SA80 simulator, the sighting for which was off, and the plastic/glass for which hadn't been cleaned in ages. Aside from that, it was great to review some of the old exhibits (including the talking Hannah Snell mannequin, using a projector that's probably been running non-stop since I last saw it in 2004); and, as before, my favorite bit in the whole museum was this gem at the very beginning, trying to put a positive spin on the American Revolution:
    "The war raged on for a further 8 years involving battles on sea and land. Peace and defeat came for the British in 1783 and the new republican nation of the United States of America made its triumphant military commander, General George Washington, the first President."
    Bam. We nailed it. And by "we", I mean America.

    I bought myself another shirt - the green one, as the blue one isn't available anymore... drat! - and was on my way, after taking a few more pictures. One of those was of the legendary "Yomper" statue, dedicated by Baroness Thatcher and commemorating the Royal Marines' 1982 yomp across East Falkland. You can see an overhead shot of The Yomper statue here. And then, with my fifty pounds worth of kit, I got into another cab and headed to the ferry terminal for the next leg of Operation Bold Brigand.

    But wait! There was one more thing! As the cab was pulling away from the museum's "car park" (parking lot), we saw a Trafalgar class fast attack submarine pulling out of Portsmouth harbor! It was quite obviously a Trafalgar class sub, because the new Astute class submarines look completely different, and the Vanguard class ballistic missile subs are all based up at HM Naval Base Clyde, outside Glasgow. Suh-weet! With that, I was off to the Isle of Wight.

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    The Dissertation: Result!

    One of the few drawbacks of studying in the United Kingdom has been the pace with which grades are finalized. Owing to both British and European Union quality control standards, all coursework must be marked by the instructor, then reviewed by a secondary marker, and then sent off to an external examiner for final review before the grades can be finalized. At any point, the marks can be disputed, at which point a review takes place. It's understandable, but a bit tedious. I think we got results for our January exams at the end of February, and for our May exams in late June or early July. Everyone's dissertations were turned in no later than the second of September, and...

    And we waited. And we've talked amongst ourselves, and asked one another if we'd heard anything, and such. I met with the Director a few weeks ago, and he gave me a tentative hint that he'd given me a "mark of distinction", and that he hoped that the external examiner down at King's College London would uphold the mark he'd given me. I was intrigued, but patient.

    I E-mailed a link to the Director last week, and finally heard back from him on Tuesday morning. That response read as follows:
    Dear Tom
    Thanks for article. You guessed right – music to my ears! And, yes, it will appear in cuttings.
    Delighted to hear that Orkney is recognising talent.
    External examiner has responded – and supports grade of 19. So all well!

    Best wishes
    The Director
    For those who are unfamiliar with the Scottish grading system, it's all graded on a scale of one to twenty. The best example of the grading scale I can come up with is here, though this one doesn't match Aberdeen precisely. Basically, if you receive a grade of 18, 19, or 20, that's called a "first", or "first class honors". A 15, 16, or 17 is "upper second class honors", or a "two-one". A 12, 13, or 14 is "lower second class honors" or a "two-two". The Director soundly corrected me when I used the word "first", because apparently the 1, 2:1, and 2:2 scale is for undergraduates, while postgraduates receive "distinction", "commendation", and I think there's a phrase for the postgraduate equivalent of a 2:2.

    So, where does a 19 put me? It puts me solidly in "distinction" territory. I've spoken with the one coursemate who had the potential to score higher than me in the overall markings, and he's done so - by a single point in the overall tally. There are two others with whom I may have tied, but I'm not sure that I'll learn of their grades - typically, grades are discussed in the same manner as salaries, which is to say in torchlit rooms while wearing hooded robes and Guy Fawkes masks. Regardless, with some of the demanding coursework, a year's worth of study, and twelve peers to compete with, I'd say I've done pretty well.

    As I've read through my dissertation, I've inevitably found a few mistakes. CN GBU-16 found one in her essay that's been driving her absolutely crazy, but I helped to calm her down a bit, and as I expected, she scored quite well (but if you want to know what she got, you'll have to convince her to start her own blog, and then write a post about her dissertation mark). I intend to correct some of these mistakes before submitting my paper to Small Wars Journal - this time as the sole author, though I really enjoyed working with CN Odin on our previous submission. I may also try to format some of my other essays from Strategic Intelligence and Strategic Nuclear Doctrine, as they might be of use to others. However, that's for another day.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    Island Paradise: Voyage Aboard the MV Pentalina

    I've travelled by ferry many times before - and written about it! I've travelled with Northlink Ferries more times than I can count. I've sailed aboard the Hrossey, the Hjaltland, and the Hamnavoe. However, there was something I hadn't done - I'd never sailed with Pentland Ferries, Orkney's non-subsidized ferry service. Pentland carries passengers and cars aboard the MV Pentalina, a purpose-built catamaran, between St. Margaret's Hope (Orkney) and Gill's Bay (Scotland). Needing to make a run to Aberdeen, I sailed with Pentland Ferries for the first time last week.

    The day was slightly windy - as days in and around Orkney tend to be - but there was enough sunshine to warm things up a bit. There were amazing views of both Scapa Flow and South Ronaldsay - the latter of which I have fond memories of. We passed by Flotta, and I explored the ferry. It's basically a big horseshoe, with an internal corridor, an upper observation deck, all of the crew areas up front in the bow, and a big, open car deck. The Pentalina swings around before docking, and lowers the stern ramp to allow both passengers and vehicles to disembark.

    Having not studied the route very extensively before departing, I was pleasantly surprised that although we didn't pass directly by Burwick (at the southern tip of South Ronaldsay), we did pass by two islands: Swona and Stroma. Neither are populated, though there's a sort of abandoned village and a lighthouse or two on Stroma. Both are gorgeous and green in the sunlight, with awe-inspiring swells. It's tough to take pictures of things like swells, or waves, or whatever. I tried, but they just turned out as scenery shots. Maybe I'll try again later or something.

    The catamaran design is faster than a standard ferry, but it doesn't handle that turbulence quite as well. The Pentalina isn't quite as plush as the Hrossey, the Hjaltland, or the Hamnavoe, but there are some advantages, which Pentland Ferries is keen to advertise. One example is its short duration - compared to about an hour and a half from Stromness to Scrabster, the run from St. Margaret's Hope to Gill's Bay is only about seventy minutes. Another example is the timetable - while the Hamnavoe runs pretty early in the morning, and then again in the evening, the Pentalina boasts mid-day runs throughout the year. At any rate, something else I find fascinating is just how good the Scots are at transport - whether you take the Hamnavoe or the Pentalina, Stagecoach has a bus there to take you to Inverness within about twenty minutes. That's pretty cool, right? I can see myself sailing from St. Margaret's Hope - or from Gill's Bay - again in the foreseeable future.

    Sunday, October 13, 2013

    Bold Brigand: The Mary Shelley

    I've mentioned my good friends The History Chicks on several occasions. My "gateway podcast" from the Chicks was their minicast on Mary Shelley (podcast/shownotes). When I saw The Mary Shelley (located here) while engaged in my close protection course, I had to take a picture to share with the Chicks, and now I'm sharing it with you. The Mary Shelley is a J.D. Wetherspoon pub, as is the Archibald Simpson.

    The History Chicks' feature on Mary Shelley is great, and since it's a minicast it's fairly short, so go check it out!

    CN GBU-16 and the Red 2 Poster

    As dissertation season progressed, CN Homeboy was done, I was in great shape, an CN GBU-16 was in rough shape. So, what did we do? We went to see a few movies. One evening, when seeing The World's End, Homeboy was sorting himself out and GBU-16 and I were in a holding pattern, so what did we do? BAM! GBU-16 photo op with the Red 2 poster! When we roll in Aberdeen, we roll raw! I don't think that actually means anything, but the point is that we have fun together. I still chat with GBU-16 and Homeboy a few times a week. Even though we don't get to the theater ("cinema") together anymore, there's always hope for the future.

    And hopefully, whatever we see next will be better than Red 2... Or the last ten minutes of The World's End.