Quotulatiousness

August 3, 2016

The scandal of the Chevalier d’Eon

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Atlas Obscura, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie tells the story of the French soldier, diplomat and spy, the Chevalier d’Eon (also known as Mademoiselle la Chevaliere d’Eon):

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or The Chevalier D'Eon. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-03347)

Mademoiselle de Beaumont or The Chevalier D’Eon. (Photo: Library of Congress/LC-DIG-ds-03347)

When the Chevalier d’Eon left France in 1762, it was as a diplomat, a spy in the French king’s service, a Dragoon captain, and a man. When he returned in July 1777, at the age of 49, it was as a celebrity, a writer, an intellectual, and a woman — according to a declaration by the government of France.

What happened? And why?

The answer to those questions is complex, obscured by layers of bad biography, speculation and rumor, and shifting gender and psychological politics in the years since, as well as d’Eon’s own attempts to reframe his story in a way that would make sense to his contemporary society. (Note: In consultation with d’Eon’s biographer, I have decided to use the male pronoun when talking about d’Eon before the gender shift and the female pronoun after.) Professor Gary Kates of Pomona College is one of the first modern academics to look closely at the life — or lives — of the Chevalier d’Eon, in his comprehensive biography Monsieur d’Eon Is a Woman. Kates had access to d’Eon’s personal papers, a treasure trove of manuscripts, diaries, financial records, documents, and letters housed at the University of Leeds, and his work is widely considered the best place to start when considering d’Eon.

The story Kates tells is a complex narrative, involving Ancien Regime intrigue, secret spy rings, political necessity, burgeoning celebrity culture, and nascent feminism. The meaning of d’Eon’s transformation has been dissected for centuries; feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft praised d’Eon in their lifetime and contemporary trans groups have named themselves in d’Eon’s honor.

Even so, Kates cautions that the history of this fascinating figure is far from complete. “I don’t think I’ve written the definitive book on d’Eon,” he says. How could he? This is a person who lived enough for three lifetimes.

July 12, 2016

Mexico in WW1 – The Mexican Revolution I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 11 Jul 2016

The full text of the Zimmerman Telegram: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimmerm…

Mexico was mainly focussing on internal struggles and the Mexican Revolution during World War 1. But Germany’s stance against the USA actually brought the country into the international spotlight. After the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram, sent by the Germans to Mexico, was decoded it was clear that Germany wanted to bring Mexico into the war – against the United States.

June 2, 2016

Fat Leonard and the corruption of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet

Filed under: Asia, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

An amazing story in the Washington Post details how a Malaysian defence contractor got his claws into the senior officers of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet:

A 51-year-old Malaysian citizen, Francis has since pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, is financially ruined.

But his arrest exposed something else that is still emerging three years later: a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy itself.

Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.

[…]

In his dealings with the Americans, Francis went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with senior officers, recognizing that they often cared more about high-quality service than how the bill would be paid.

Whenever a Navy vessel arrived in port, the odds were high that Francis would be waiting at the pier. Like a five-star concierge, he would arrange for shopping trips, sightseeing tours and concert tickets. A limousine and driver would be reserved for the ship’s commander.

Select sailors would be invited to an extravagant banquet, featuring cognac and whiskey, Cohiba cigars from Cuba, and platters of Spanish suckling pig and Kobe beef. Francis would sometimes fly in a band of pole dancers, which he called his Elite Thai SEAL Team, for X-rated shows, court records show.

In another display of panache, he purchased an aging, decommissioned British warship, the RFA Sir Lancelot. He refurbished and renamed it the Glenn Braveheart.

The vessel became the flagship of his fleet, and it would often deploy alongside the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, according to court records and interviews.

May 17, 2016

Charles Stross updates a classic WW2 field guide – a dot-com sabotage manual

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Many people have noted that the sabotage techniques listed in a Second World War espionage manual seem to have somehow migrated into a lot of management texts in the last few decades. Here he imagines what an updated version of the manual might look like:

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services — the predecessor of the post-war CIA — was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It’s not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale […]

So it occurred to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, “what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company”? And the obvious answer is “send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground”. But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

  1. Obviously, engineers and software developers (who require deep focus time) need to be kept in touch with the beating heart of the enterprise. So open-plan offices are mandatory for all.
  2. Teams are better than individuals and everyone has to be aware of the valuable contributions of employees in other roles. So let’s team every programmer with a sales person — preferably working the phones at the same desk — and stack-rank them on the basis of each pair’s combined quarterly contribution to the corporate bottom line.
  3. It is the job of Human Resources to ensure that nobody rocks the boat. Anyone attempting to blow whistles or complain of harassment is a boat-rocker. You know what needs to be done.
  4. Senior managers should all be “A” Players (per Jack Welch’s vitality model — see “stack ranking” above) so we should promote managers who are energetic, inspirational, and charismatic risk-takers.
  5. The company must have a strong sense of intense focus. So we must have a clean desk policy — any personal possessions left on the desk or cubicle walls at the end of the day go in the trash. In fact, we can go a step further and institute hot desking — we will establish an average developer’s workstation requirements and provide it for everyone at every desk.

This would explain some of the management policies at a few places I’ve worked at over the years…including the software company where I first met Charlie.

February 2, 2016

Edith Cavell – Not A Martyr But A Nurse I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 1 Feb 2016

The execution of British nurse Edith Cavell by German soldiers in 1915 was instrumental to British propaganda at that time and the story became legend. But who was Edith Cavell really? Find out more about the humble nurse in Brussels and if she was really a spy after all.

January 11, 2016

Dancer, Lover, Spy – Mata Hari I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Jan 2016

Mata Hari or Margaretha Geertruida Zelle is one of the most fascinating women of the 20th century. Not only did the Dutch woman charm half or Paris with her exotic and erotic dancing. After several up and downs she ended up as a spy for love gathering intelligence for the German secret service. When she was caught by the French, her live ended as unglamorous as it started.

December 8, 2015

Kind words for “Tail-Gunner Joe” McCarthy?

Filed under: History, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Patrick Crozier says we shouldn’t automatically believe the “common wisdom” about the career of Senator Joe McCarthy:

The vast majority of books and articles written on the subject claim that [Senator McCarthy] made it all up. M. Stanton Evans begs to differ. In Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies he argues that in the vast majority of cases those accused by McCarthy of being communists were exactly that. Some were out and out spies. Some were agents of influence. Some were happy to help in the running of communist front groups. But the argument still stands: they were aiding a power that was hostile to the United States.

Evans comes to this judgement mainly by leafing through the files that have become available. These include the FBI files and what have become known as the Venona transcripts: Soviet messages de-crypted by the US military in the 1940s.

It is important to realise that these weren’t just spy games. Communist activity had a real impact. In the early 1940s, for instance, John Stewart Service, the State Department’s man in China produced a string of reports. In them he praised Mao’s Communists to the hilt claiming that they were democrats and successfully fighting the Japanese while condemning Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) for being incompetent, corrupt and uninterested in prosecuting the war. This was a travesty of the truth. Reports like this led to the KMT being starved of money and weapons which may well have tipped the balance in the Civil War leading, in turn, to the misery that was subsequently inflicted on the people of mainland China.

So, if he was right why has he been condemned and why does he continue to be condemned by history? Some of it appears to have been McCarthy’s own fault. He puffed up his war record. He over-stated his case. He bullied witnesses. He made the odd mistake. He criticised revered war heroes. Some if it was snobbery. McCarthy was from the wrong side of the tracks. There was no Ivy League education for him. He left school early but through hard work still managed to become a lawyer. He was also a Catholic. But most of it was because he was up against the combined forces of the communists and the establishment.

The Tydings Committee – a special sub-committee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – was established to get to the bottom of his initial 1950 claim that there were 57 communist agents working in the State Department. It did no such thing. In fact it didn’t even try.

According to Evans it was a cover up from start to finish. There was almost no attempt to get at the facts. Often a denial from the accused was sufficient. At one point they even asked the leader of the US Communist Party if certain people were members. He had to be prompted to say “no”. Most of the hostile questioning was not aimed at the accused – who were often evasive – but McCarthy himself. An inordinate amount of time was given over to attempting to prove that McCarthy had initially claimed a figure of 205 rather than 57 – as if it mattered. There was a definite suggestion that State Department personnel files had been tampered with. It was no great surprise when the official report concluded that McCarthy had made it all up.

October 23, 2015

The Crime That Shook the World – The Execution of Edith Cavell I THE GREAT WAR Week 65

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 22 Oct 2015

Edith Cavell was a British nurse serving in a nursing school in occupied Belgium. She was executed by the Germans for treason and espionage in Brussels. Her death and the surrounding atrocity propaganda caused a public outcry all over the world. At the same time the First World War continued like never before. The Third Battle of the Isonzo didn’t bring a decision between Austria-Hungary and Italy, in Gallipoli the troops were slowly withdrawn and the the Champagne offensive of the French army was still in full swing.

October 20, 2015

Soviet bugging technology and the US embassy’s IBM Selectric typewriters

Filed under: History, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

John Turner sent me this link on a remarkably adept (and technologically sophisticated) hack the Soviets slipped over the US government at their Moscow embassy:

A National Security Agency memo that recently resurfaced a few years after it was first published contains a detailed analysis of what very possibly was the world’s first keylogger — a 1970s bug that Soviet spies implanted in US diplomats’ IBM Selectric typewriters to monitor classified letters and memos.

The electromechanical implants were nothing short of an engineering marvel. The highly miniaturized series of circuits were stuffed into a metal bar that ran the length of the typewriter, making them invisible to the naked eye. The implant, which could only be seen using X-ray equipment, recorded the precise location of the little ball Selectric typewriters used to imprint a character on paper. With the exception of spaces, tabs, hyphens, and backspaces, the tiny devices had the ability to record every key press and transmit it back to Soviet spies in real time.

The Soviet implants were discovered through the painstaking analysis of more than 10 tons’ worth of equipment seized from US embassies and consulates and shipped back to the US. The implants were ultimately found inside 16 typewriters used from 1976 to 1984 at the US embassy in Moscow and the US consulate in Leningrad. The bugs went undetected for the entire eight-year span and only came to light following a tip from a US ally whose own embassy was the target of a similar eavesdropping operation.

“Despite the ambiguities in knowing what characters were typed, the typewriter attack against the US was a lucrative source of information for the Soviets,” an NSA document, which was declassified several years ago, concluded. “It was difficult to quantify the damage to the US from this exploitation because it went on for such a long time.” The NSA document was published here in 2012. Ars is reporting the document because it doesn’t appear to have been widely covered before and generated a lively conversation Monday on the blog of encryption and security expert Bruce Schneier.

October 16, 2015

The rules of war, US edition

Filed under: Law, Media, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Tom Kratman read through the latest edition of the US government’s Law of War Manual, so you (probably) won’t have to:

I thought I was free of one thousand plus page books of the driest prose imaginable when I finished law school. Sadly, no such luck; the Department of Defense released, back in mid-June, its Law of War Manual, which is eleven hundred and seventy-six pages of painfully sere verbiage. Go ahead and divide the number of pages by the number of days since about 15 June, 2015. Yeah, that dry.

But, dry or not, it’s not that bad. Nothing that induces the legal LibLePRs (Liberals, Leftists, Progressives, and Reds) of ICOTESCAS (the International Community Of The Ever So Caring And Sensitive) to denounce it as something that “reads like it was written by Hitler’s Ministry of War,” could be all that bad.

[…]

The left’s grasp of law of war is tenuous at best, often mistaken and frequently fraudulent. For example, one of their usual charges, also much heard during the campaign in Iraq and especially at Fallujah, was that incendiary weapons are banned, per the Protocol on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons (Protocol III). The fraud there is that incendiary weapons are not banned there or anywhere. Their use under some circumstances is restricted or banned, but the weapons themselves, and their use for other purposes or other circumstances is perfectly legal.

That’s just one example of the fraud the left has perpetrated with regard to the manual. There are numerous others, too numerous to list here. I will limit my comment, therefore, to the observation that attacking a legitimate military target in proximity to a civilian or civilians is not quite the same thing as carte blanche to attacks civilians, qua civilians, generally. ICOTESCAS seems to harbor some confusion about this or to pretend to confusion to cover their fraud.

One aspect, in particular, that has the left up in arms about the manual is in its treatment of journalists. I suppose in their ideal world, camera teams from Al Jazeera should be able to do reconnaissance for groups of guerillas and terrorists, scot free. Too, one suspects, in the ideal lefty world, the presence of a journalist, even if he happens to be carrying ammunition for the other side, should protect all combatants around the “journalist,” lest the journalist’s expensive coif be mussed.

Sadly, for that set of values and outlooks, in the real world, once the soldiers realize that some “journalists” are helping the enemy, those journalists are going to be killed as quickly and conveniently as possible, as they should be. Aim true, boys, aim true.

The rules, as outlined in the manual, for journalists are actually pretty reasonable. To paraphrase:

  1. If you are a journalist and among the enemy, your presence will not protect them. Their presence will endanger you and the closer you are to them the more you will be in danger. We will neither aim expressly for you if we know where and who you are, nor avoid targeting places you might be, if we don’t know who and where you are, nor avoid targeting places where you are, if we know or suspect the enemy is there, too. You knew it was a risk when you undertook the profession.
  2. If you take part in hostilities, to include by providing reconnaissance or by spying, you will have lost your immunities as a civilian, but not gained the privilege of a combatant. We can kill you.
  3. If you act as a spy and we catch you, we can try you as a spy, give you a judge and jury who may not much care for you or your profession, then stand you against a wall and shoot you.

July 13, 2015

Japan’s cross-dressing WW2 spy in China

Filed under: China, History, Japan — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

In The Diplomat, Stephen Joyce reviews Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, a recent book by Phyllis Birnbaum:

Divisive figures often make the most compelling biographical subjects; and Kawashima Yoshiko is no exception. During her life and in death opinions have varied markedly. Loathed by the Chinese as a traitor, extolled by the Japanese for her talents as a spy, more recently she has even become a heroine to the LGBT community.

In Manchu Princess, Japanese Spy: The Story of Kawashima Yoshiko, the Cross-Dressing Spy Who Commanded Her Own Army, Phyllis Birnbaum provides a measured assessment of the fascinating rise and fall of this erratic, narcissistic, cross-dressing, bisexual princess.

Born in 1907 as Aisin Gioro Xianyu, Kawashima Yoshiko was the 14th daughter of Prince Su of the Qing imperial family. Soon after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1912, she was unwillingly sent to Japan to be adopted by family friend Kawashima Naniwa.

Her formative teenage years were spent in Matsumoto being educated in Japanese language and culture. It was not the happiest of upbringings. An attempted suicide and sexual assault by her new father are noted as potentially life-defining events but are hard to verify. Whatever the root cause of her discontent, in 1925 she shaved her head and started wearing men’s clothes.

In 1927 she married a Mongolian prince in a politically convenient union that quickly failed and Yoshiko soon travelled to China to pursue her dream of a honorable return to power for the Qing dynasty, beginning with Manchuria and Outer Mongolia.

With Japan increasingly active in China she soon found herself a raison d’etre: a spy in the service of the Japanese. Several incidents define her status as a spy; all are shrouded in mystery.

[…]

Although it would be hard to argue that she had a major influence over the key events of her time, Kawashima Yoshiko is a superb subject for biography and should interest all lovers of Asian history. And despite living her life in the public and media glare her essential mysteriousness remains—even in death. Did the Chinese Nationalist government execute her (as Kim Bai Fai) in 1948 or, as some would have it, did she escape and live out her last days quiet obscurity? Birnbaum concludes that the latter outcome is questionable, to say the least. Assuming she was indeed executed, her memoirs reveal a wry acceptance of her ultimate fate, despite her life aims lying in tatters.

The sheer wealth of material — autobiographies, Yoshiko’s letters, interviews, press reports, sensationalist magazine articles and official documents — with which to write a biography to some extent serves to cloud rather than illuminate the life of Yoshiko Kawashima. Much like her futile efforts to restore the Qing dynasty in China, any attempt to firmly pin down her real life story and true character seems destined to fail.

July 1, 2015

Remembering Patrick Macnee … I mean, of course, John Steed

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Mark Steyn on the (not-technically) original Avengers star:

But for a while Americans liked The Avengers, and it lingered in the memory so warmly that, three decades later, Hollywood opted to do a big-screen, big-budget remake. Patrick Macnee, the original John Steed, sportingly agreed to do the usual cameo — in this case, as a ministry bureaucrat rendered invisible in some research mishap and now consigned to a cramped office in a Whitehall basement. As I say, he was invisible, so we heard Macnee’s affable drawl (he had a smile in his voice, even when beating up the bad guys), but the audience never saw him, which was probably just as well — because, if they did, they’d remember the sheer affability of Macnee’s Steed. He was never a conventionally handsome leading man — he had a bit of a dumplingy face — but he brought a bonhomous ease to the role of the unflappable secret agent: the bowler, the brollies, the buttonholes and the Bollinger seemed like natural extensions of his charm; you can understand why groovy birds like Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg and Linda Thorson would dig such an ostensibly squaresville cat.

He wasn’t supposed to be the star. The Avengers began in 1961 with Ian Hendry as a mystery-solving doctor David Keel. Macnee returned to England from an indifferent theatrical career in Canada to play the role of Dr Keel’s assistant “John Steed”. But then the star departed, and Steed found himself carrying the show with a succession of glamorous gal sidekicks — Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale, Diana Rigg as Emma Peel, Linda Thorson as Tara King. They were very literal sidekicks in that they kicked to the side, being masters — or mistresses — of martial arts, doing most of the heavy lifting while Steed occasionally boinked someone over the head with his bowler. Many years ago, Dame Diana told me “Emma Peel” came from “M Appeal”, as in “Man Appeal”. But Steed always called her “Mrs Peel”, just as he called her predecessor “Mrs Gale”, because he was a gentleman. And the ladies always called him “Steed” because they were one of the boys, as in that English public-school thing whereby grown-up chaps who know each other well address each other by their surnames (“I say, Holmes!” “Yes, Watson…”).

The Avengers was created by Sydney Newman, the greatest of all Canadian TV producers (he also inaugurated Dr Who), but hit its high-water mark under Brian Clemens and Albert Fennell. In the early days, they didn’t have a lot of money, but they spent it wisely. The difference between the two principals was defined in what they wore and what they drove: Steed favored a vintage Rolls or Bentley, the ladies the latest convertible sports car. After seeing Mrs Peel drive one, my dad bought a Lotus Elan — a beautiful ride with a fiberglass body that crumpled to dust when a truck brushed us ever so lightly on the Route National 7 in France. The ladies wore fab gear from Carnaby Street, while Macnee, ditching the trenchcoats he’d worn in the first series, opted for a slightly heightened version of an English gent’s get-up that he designed with help from Pierre Cardin. Laurie Johnson wrote one of the best telly-spy theme-tunes and the opening titles are pure style: Mrs Peel shooting the cork off the champagne bottle, Steed’s unsheathed sword-stick swiping a carnation and sending it flying through the air for Mrs Peel to put in his buttonhole.

June 23, 2015

Obama needs to convey a sense of urgency over the OPM hack

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle on what she characterizes as possibly “the worst cyber-breach the U.S. has ever experienced”:

And yet, neither the government nor the public seems to be taking it all that seriously. It’s been getting considerably less play than the Snowden affair did, or the administration’s other massively public IT failure: the meltdown of the Obamacare exchanges. For that matter, Google News returns more hits on a papal encyclical about climate change that will have no obvious impact on anything than it does for a major security breach in the U.S. government. The administration certainly doesn’t seem that concerned. Yesterday, the White House told Reuters that President Obama “continues to have confidence in Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta.”

I’m tempted to suggest that the confidence our president expresses in people who preside over these cyber-disasters, and the remarkable string of said cyber-disasters that have occurred under his presidency, might actually be connected. So tempted that I actually am suggesting it. President Obama’s administration has been marked by titanic serial IT disasters, and no one seems to feel any particular urgency about preventing the next one. By now, that’s hardly surprising. Kathleen Sebelius was eased out months after the Department of Health and Human Services botched the one absolutely crucial element of the Obamacare rollout. The NSA director’s offer to resign over the Snowden leak was politely declined. And now, apparently, Obama has full faith and confidence in the folks at OPM. Why shouldn’t he? Voters have never held Obama responsible for his administration’s appalling IT record, so why should he demand accountability from those below him?

Yes, yes, I know. You can’t say this is all Obama’s fault. Government IT is almost doomed to be terrible; the public sector can’t pay salaries that are competitive with the private sector, they’re hampered by government contracting rules, and their bureaucratic procedures make it hard to build good systems. And that’s all true. Yet note this: When the exchanges crashed on their maiden flight, the government managed to build a crudely functioning website in, basically, a month, a task they’d been systematically failing at for the previous three years. What was the difference? Urgency. When Obama understood that his presidency was on the line, he made sure it got done.

Update: It’s now asserted that the OPM hack exposed more than four times as many people’s personal data than the agency had previously admitted.

The personal data of an estimated 18 million current, former and prospective federal employees were affected by a cyber breach at the Office of Personnel Management – more than four times the 4.2 million the agency has publicly acknowledged. The number is expected to grow, according to U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.

FBI Director James Comey gave the 18 million estimate in a closed-door briefing to Senators in recent weeks, using the OPM’s own internal data, according to U.S. officials briefed on the matter. Those affected could include people who applied for government jobs, but never actually ended up working for the government.

The same hackers who accessed OPM’s data are believed to have last year breached an OPM contractor, KeyPoint Government Solutions, U.S. officials said. When the OPM breach was discovered in April, investigators found that KeyPoint security credentials were used to breach the OPM system.

Some investigators believe that after that intrusion last year, OPM officials should have blocked all access from KeyPoint, and that doing so could have prevented more serious damage. But a person briefed on the investigation says OPM officials don’t believe such a move would have made a difference. That’s because the OPM breach is believed to have pre-dated the KeyPoint breach. Hackers are also believed to have built their own backdoor access to the OPM system, armed with high-level system administrator access to the system. One official called it the “keys to the kingdom.” KeyPoint did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

U.S. investigators believe the Chinese government is behind the cyber intrusion, which are considered the worst ever against the U.S. government.

June 14, 2015

From SOE to Hammer horror to LOTR, Christopher Lee’s remarkable career

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn looks back at the real life and cinematic exploits of Sir Christopher Lee:

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow — and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun — and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned — a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

His own favorite film was Jinnah, in which he played the title role of Pakistan’s ascetic founder. It’s very credible, but it’s not why audiences loved him. Lee redeemed almost anything he was in, but had his work cut out when George Lucas signed him for the Star Wars prequels. By then Lucas was a director without peer when it comes to getting bad performances out of great actors. Once upon a time Ewan McGregor was one of the sexiest actors on the planet. Then George Lucas cast him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and turned him into a souvenir action-figure with no private parts and a flat monotone voice. As Princess Amidala, Natalie Portman couldn’t be Aniduller. The kid who plays Anakin seems like he should be the shy fellow in the back in some passing boy band but instead his agent stuck him with some lousy movie gig in a language not his own. He and Miss Portman roll in the grass like it’s a contractual obligation. The most fully realized characters are the computer-generated ones, like Yoda, the wrinkly midget with the inverted word order that nevertheless sounds less unnatural than the rest of the inert, stilted dialogue.

May 8, 2015

Quantum Insert

Filed under: Britain, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Kim Zetter talks about some of the NSA’s more sneaky ways of intercepting communications:

Among all of the NSA hacking operations exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden over the last two years, one in particular has stood out for its sophistication and stealthiness. Known as Quantum Insert, the man-on-the-side hacking technique has been used to great effect since 2005 by the NSA and its partner spy agency, Britain’s GCHQ, to hack into high-value, hard-to-reach systems and implant malware.

Quantum Insert is useful for getting at machines that can’t be reached through phishing attacks. It works by hijacking a browser as it’s trying to access web pages and forcing it to visit a malicious web page, rather than the page the target intend to visit. The attackers can then surreptitiously download malware onto the target’s machine from the rogue web page.

Quantum Insert has been used to hack the machines of terrorist suspects in the Middle East, but it was also used in a controversial GCHQ/NSA operation against employees of the Belgian telecom Belgacom and against workers at OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. The “highly successful” technique allowed the NSA to place 300 malicious implants on computers around the world in 2010, according to the spy agency’s own internal documents — all while remaining undetected.

But now security researchers with Fox-IT in the Netherlands, who helped investigate that hack against Belgacom, have found a way to detect Quantum Insert attacks using common intrusion detection tools such as Snort, Bro and Suricata.

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