The Fish in Peace and War

by Stephen Bryen*

The British learned about it from a spy working in a New York Congressman’s office who informed the British governor of New York by sending a coded message. The message said that the colonists would launch a new weapon in Boston Harbor where the British fleet was then based in 1775. Thus warned the British tried to take precautions, but at that point nothing happened.

The secret weapon was a near-underwater vehicle equipped with a drill screw and a barrel bomb. The purpose of the screw was to drill a hole into the submerged side of a British warship. Then, using a timing mechanism designed by a New Haven watchmaker named Isaac Doolitle, a flint-lock trigger would set off gunpowder packed into a barrel. On September 6, 1776 the semi-submersible, dubbed The Turtle, was taken out into New York harbor near Governor’s island where the British fleet flagship HMS Eagle was moored. The drill could not penetrate the Eagle’s hull because, while it was wooden, it was covered with copper sheathing. When British soldiers caught on to the attempt to attack the Eagle, the barrel bomb, which was then called a Torpedo, was released and floated down-river where it exploded. The Turtle managed to escape.

The Turtle, designed by Yale student David Bushnell, was the first submersible system used in combat. That it failed was rather an intelligence failure more than anything else, since the copper sheathing of the Eagle and other British vessels had only recently been introduced. While the presence of copper sheathing was new for the British fleet, other historians claim that the HMS Eagle didn’t have it, but that the crewman manning the Turtle either hit an iron bolt or some other iron plate and not the copper.

Bushnell was a creative inventor. While he used the Turtle to go after the British flagship, he went on to set off a floating keg mine aside the HMS Cerberus in 1777. It killed four sailors but the ship survived until it was captured by the French in 1778 and burned. Bushnell’s adventures with floating keg bombs not only earned him the admiration of many colonists, but a popular ditty was written to cheer the troops and encourage the public to keep the revolutionary faith. (Listen to the song Battle of the Kegs here  )

The Turtle was one of a number of early submarines built in the United States and Europe from the mid-1600’s until the latter part of the 19th century. All of them followed an important principal learned from fish: the ability to raise and lower themselves in water by adjusting ballast.

A fish does this by use of its bladder, called a swim bladder. Not all fish have swim bladders, but those that do can use them to raise or lower themselves in water.

The swim bladder has had value to humans for many centuries.** Today the collagen derived from the fish bladder from cooking is used to produce Isinglass that is used to clarify beer (and making Isinglass-cleared beers problematic for vegetarians). More recently Isinglass is being used to treat wounds without the need for additional dressing. Thus an ancient material is playing a new role in the rapid treatment of wounded soldiers.

The same material was used centuries back for condoms. It was also used in court plaster because of its glue like character. But most importantly it was used to produce much strong weapons in ancient times.

The bow and arrow is a very ancient weapon, known for more than 10,000 years. It was essential for hunting as well as for war. But, as archers surely knew, there were problems that plagued this weapon. The bow was subject to breakage, either snapping or cracking which made it worthless. So too was the bow string, made of animal gut, likely to fail at the most inopportune moment. Fighting range was limited and accuracy was poor because of the shock to the structure when the bow string was pulled back hard and released. The “snap” was moderated by transversal forces on the string, creating twist in the released arrow that would throw it off course unless compensated by an experienced archer.

The invention of the composite bow improved archery and was a key to giving the chariot archers greater range, better accuracy, and more killing power since an arrow launched from a composite bow at a target could penetrate a hard target up to three inches.

There is debate about the origin of the composite bow; whether it initially was a Sumerian or Akkadian invention, or whether it was Canaanite. It was surely a vital weapon for the Hyksos who, along with their chariots, overpowered Egypt’s military forces around 1650 BC.

The composite bow is made from wood, horn sinew and fish bladder. The secret is the fish bladder which, when prepared and cooked down, forms durable glue, the epoxy of the ancient war fighter.

The bladder itself is primarily a collagen material, and the best fish bladders for the collagen glue are found in carp, sturgeon, catfish and cod.

The advantage of glue based on the fish bladder is that it is stronger and can stand more torsion effects than glue made from beef sinew scrapings either from an animal’s gut or from the surface of leather. We don’t know whether bow makers in the Middle East produced their own Isinglass, or if it was imported. Certainly, for chariot and composite bow making, many of the woods needed to manufacture the bow had to be imported. The production of a composite bow was a slow process. Wealthy property owners paid by tribal chiefs managed bow and arrow production and used slave labor to do the manufacturing. Some believe that the production of a good composite bow could take a year’s work. This suggests there were many hands involved in bow and arrow making and that production was a vital part of a well organized and disciplined community that was hierarchically organized. The system provided everything for the foot soldier; uniforms, food, weapons, transportation and medical care.

If fish bladders could be used to help produce more accurate, more lethal and longer range bows for warfare, other parts of the fish can also serve in peace and war.

At the Tokyo Institute of Technology Junzo Tanaka and Toshiyuki Ikoma are using collagen derived from fish scales to help elderly people regenerate bones that have been weakened by tumors. They chose Tilapia for their experimentation and found that bone regeneration can be accomplished in as little as three months using this “new” fish technology.

At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Technion in Israel fish scales are the inspiration for a new generation of body armor. The Technion team has “created a composite material that consists of stiff, overlapping outer ‘scales,’ combined with a layer of soft and flexible material underneath. The addition of the scales boosts the softer material’s penetration resistance by a factor of 40, while reducing its flexibility by a factor of only five.”

Of course Samurai warriors’ armor also took advantage of the design of fish scales in the form of  overlapping curved enameled iron plates sewn into their armor garments. So the latest from MIT and the Technion inventions owe a lot not only to the fish, but also to the skilled artisans in Japan in the Sengoku period who fashioned the Samurai’s protective gear.

While we all know that fish are an important source of protein and nutrients for mankind, the fish is also an inspiration for inventors and for innovations that stretch over countless centuries, uniting our past with our future.
*part of this essay is derived from my forthcoming book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Press: 2016)

**fish bladders are also tasty and used in Chinese and Asian cooking where they are known as Fish Maws. For a recipe click here.

Germanwings Flight 9525

The tragic crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 has aviation experts trying to figure out what happened. While the French government is treating the crash as an accident, the possibility of terrorism has not been formally ruled out. What is known is that the aircraft cruising at altitude began an 8 minute descent staying on course until it crashed into the mountains. There was no distress signal and no call from the pilots.

There are four possible causes of this kind of plane crash. Three of the four causes involve depressurization.

The first cause is a catastrophic structural failure. This seems to be the least likely scenario because it is highly unlikely a plane would stay on course and descend so slowly if something terrible happened to the aircraft’s structural integrity, such as a wing failure or a lost rudder. The plane would in most circumstances have deviated from its course, and plunged down to the ground. The pilots would probably have had time to send a distress call.

The second cause is an external catastrophic event. This event would be a plane that was hit by an object of some kind, causing depressurization. If the plane was hit in the forward section or in the cockpit, there would not have been time for any emergency call. Since the weather at the time was fairly clear, such an object could be either a meteorite or some other kind of space junk that hit the airplane (a one in a billion chance) or the airplane was hit by another airplane or by a missile. At this time there is absolutely no evidence either for a “natural” or man-made cause of this kind. It is possible the recovered, but damaged, flight voice recorder may tell us something. But it is just as likely we may not learn anything.

One of the theories being put about is that there could have been a windshield (windscreen) failure. There is one significant example of a windshield failure where maintenance workers installed the glass with the wrong type bolts. While this theory could account for rapid depressurization and disabling one of the pilots, it is hard to account for knocking them both out. In any case there is not information as yet that would lead to a windscreen failure, and the altitude of the plane would mitigate against any possibility of a bird strike.

The third cause is an internal catastrophic event such as a debris from a disintegrating engine, an explosion caused by the airplane’s batteries, or a bomb. Neither an engine failure, a bomb or an explosion has been ruled in or out. An engine failure could create debris that might penetrate the aircraft skin and lead to depressurization. While pilots have little time to react, there is enough to send a distress call. It does not seem that an exploded engine was the cause. The possibility of a bomb is an entirely different matter, depending on where the bomb was placed. If it was in the passenger compartment or in storage, the plane probably would not have stayed on course, the pilots would have been able to react and try and control the plane. This does not mean there was not an explosion and it could be that the voice recorder will indicate that. The explosion of a battery also can cause a catastrophic event and might have shut down the electrical system. Battery explosions are a known risk. But a battery explosion almost certainly would not have stopped passengers from making cell phone calls.

The fourth case is a terrorist attack where the cockpit is immediately overwhelmed and the plane headed to the ground, in other words a suicide terrorist event. The voice recorder will probably tell us that such an event took place. It is surprising that the French view, which has not been disputed, is this was not a terrorist suicide attack. The French authorities have not assigned their counter-terrorist investigators to Flight 9525. It is important to note that there have been no claims by terrorist organizations that they were behind the destruction of Flight 9525.

Airbus aircraft are designed differently from Boeing passenger airplanes. In Boeing aircraft, the pilot can override automatic controls. In the Airbus design this is much more difficult because the software that controls the aircraft does not allow deviation from safe maneuvers. There are reports that Airbus aircraft have been difficult to manage under extreme conditions. Whether this applies to Flight 9525 is impossible to determine, since presently we have no evidence that the pilots tried to control the plane and no evidence whatever that the plane ever went off course. This means there was nothing to override and the pilots were not in positive control of the aircraft in any event.

The best we can say now is that some event rendered it impossible for the pilots to communicate to aircraft controllers or send any emergency message or to steer the aircraft to some kind of safe landing. It would also seem that the passengers had little realization the plane was in trouble because there are no known cellular phone calls. While the area was remote, there probably were cellphone towers capable of receiving calls. As the plane descended gradually passengers may not have been aware of any event in the cockpit, but this seems very unlikely. In fact, unless there were no cell towers anywhere near where the aircraft was flying, this is an even bigger mystery than the cockpit failing to send a warning.

The flight data recorder case has been found but not the innards. The search is on to see if any of the internal parts can be found. The aircraft is in many small pieces strewn over a fairly wide area. It will take time and some good luck to find the remains of the recorder’s components.

Airplanes do not just fall out of the sky. Generally speaking flight at cruising altitude is generally the safest part of flying; more accidents occur on take off and landing. This is why most of the experts are strongly of the opinion there was cabin and cockpit depressurization and that no one had control of the airplane. A slumped over pilot pushing the aircraft into a descent is probably what happened. The question is what caused the pilots to black out and the plane to go down. Or even if the pilot deliberately crashed the plane, also a possibility.

The latest information is that one of the pilots, probably the captain, had left the cockpit and could not get back in. The door was locked, as it is supposed to be, and the other pilot did not open it. The reason why remains a mystery. Had something happened in the cockpit to incapacitate the copilot? A stroke, heart attack, black out? Was it a suicide event?

Under Airbus procedures there is a code that the chief stewardess can use to unlock the door. However the pilot or co-pilot can override this attempt. This tells us that the co-pilot in the cockpit had to be alive and capable and prevented the pilot from entering.

The latest news is dramatic. The Marseille prosecutor said the plane was crashed deliberately by the co-pilot. “The German citizen, left in sole control of the Airbus A320 after the captain left the cockpit, refused to re-open the door and pressed a button that sent the jet into its fatal descent, the prosecutor told a news conference carried on live television.”

Encryption is Only Half the Story

By Stephen Bryen

There is growing enthusiasm and interest in encryption for smartphones and tablets in order to protect privacy.  But encryption is only half the story, and probably not the most important half.  What really matters is platform security.

A smartphone is a powerful computer and communications tool harnessed to a number of radios that link to the outside world.  Those radio links can be compromised fairly easily.  People worry about how they can keep their phone calls secure and private and are looking at alternatives such as secure phone APPS.

A secure phone APP encrypts the connection between one phone and another. In some cases the encryption works in a phone to phone scheme; in others the encryption and connections are managed by a server.  Either scheme can deliver some security for phone calls.  In elaborate set ups with servers, they can try and protect emails and text messages.  While encryption folks promise a lot, there are two main pitfalls to using encryption that are not so well understood.

The first pitfall is that a determined adversary, such as a competitor or enemy or government agency, can bypass your encryption without too much effort.  That is to say, any of these intruders can install spyware on your phone.  Spyware can record your conversation or transmit it no matter if you are using encryption or not.  That’s because your microphone and cameras are accessible to programs that might be secretly running on your phone being put there by the intruder. In these circumstances you may think that you are protected, but you are not and your risk is even greater since you are unlikely to be cautious and circumspect in what you say on your phone.

The second pitfall is that the platform’s vulnerability will be there with encryption installed, meaning that offline conversations can be “overheard” by an intruder without you knowing it.  This kind of malware is generally sophisticated and difficult to detect, making matters worse.  Think about it: you are in a meeting in your office and every word is being recorded secretly and will be sent over the internet to an intruder without you knowing it.  This can give a spy or competitor a tremendous amount of sensitive information.  He can use it for commercial advantage, or to bribe you or your colleagues, or sell it to other parties.

Encryption does not help against either Pitfall #1 or Pitfall #2.

Some people think the best thing to do is to turn off one’s phone when serious conversations take place.  To be sure, there are few people who actually do this, because they are always waiting for some phone call or text message to arrive. They “need” the information fix that the smartphone promises to give them on a minute by minute basis.

Even worse, turning off a phone does not really mean that it is safe. There are good quality spyware tools that can turn your phone back on without you knowing it.  The screen won’t illuminate, but the phone’s microphones will be on and the phone can record and stream out information.  One tip off that the phone might be so infected is that it seems oddly warm, even hot when you pick it up.

Are there solutions that can protect a phone’s platform and avoid the two pitfalls?

I will be talking about that in my next column.

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America’s Retreat and Japan

by Stephen Bryen

Japan is not much of a military power today, a mere shadow of what it was before World War II.  Since her defeat in 1945, Japan has relied on the United States for security.  The US keeps a large number of bases on Japan and Okinawa, and also shares facilities with Japan.  Below is a list, courtesy of Wikipedia, of American bases by service:[1]

The U.S. military installations in Japan and their managing branches are as follows:

USFJ Facilities
Admin Code
Name of Installation Primary Purpose
Air Force FAC 1054 Camp Chitose
(Chitose III, Chitose Administration Annex)
Communications Chitose, Hokkaido
FAC 2001 Misawa Air Base Air Base Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3013 Yokota Air Base Air Base Fussa, Tokyo
FAC 3016 Fuchu Communications Station Communications Fuchu, Tokyo
FAC 3019 Tama Service Annex
(Tama Hills Recreation Center)
Recreation Inagi, Tokyo
FAC 3048 Camp Asaka
(South Camp Drake AFN Transmitter Site)
Wako, Saitama
FAC 3049 Tokorozawa Communications Station
(Tokorozawa Transmitter Site)
Communications Tokorozawa, Saitama
FAC 3056 Owada Communication Site Communications Niiza, Saitama
FAC 3162 Yugi Communication Site Communications Hachioji, Tokyo
FAC 4100 Sofu Communication Site Communications Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 5001 Itazuke Auxiliary Airfield Air Cargo Terminal Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
FAC 5073 Sefurisan Liaison Annex
(Seburiyama Communications Station)
Communications Kanzaki, Saga
FAC 5091 Tsushima Communication Site Communications Tsushima, Nagasaki
FAC 6004 Okuma Rest Center Recreation Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6006 Yaedake Communication Site Communications Motobu, Okinawa
FAC 6022 Kadena Ammunition Storage Area Storage Onna, Okinawa
FAC 6037 Kadena Air Base Air Base Kadena, Okinawa
FAC 6077 Tori Shima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
FAC 6078 Idesuna Jima Range Training Tonaki, Okinawa
FAC 6080 Kume Jima Range Training Kumejima, Okinawa
Army FAC 2070 Shariki Communication Site Communications Tsugaru, Aomori
FAC 3004 Akasaka Press Center
(Hardy Barracks)
Office Minato, Tokyo
FAC 3067 Yokohama North Dock Port Facility Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3079 Camp Zama Office Zama, Kanagawa
FAC 3084 Sagami General Depot Logistics Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 3102 Sagamihara Housing Area Housing Sagamihara, Kanagawa
FAC 4078 Akizuki Ammunition Depot Storage Etajima, Hiroshima
FAC 4083 Kawakami Ammunition Depot Storage Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima
FAC 4084 Hiro Ammunition Depot Storage Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4152 Kure Pier No.6 Port Facility Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 4611 Haigamine Communication Site Communications Kure, Hiroshima
FAC 6007 Gesaji Communication Site Communications Higashi, Okinawa
FAC 6036 Torii Communications Station
(Torii Station)
Communications Yomitan, Okinawa
FAC 6064 Naha Port Port Facility Naha, Okinawa
FAC 6076 Army POL Depots Storage Uruma, Okinawa
Navy FAC 2006 Hachinohe POL Depot Storage Hachinohe, Aomori
FAC 2012 Misawa ATG Range
(R130, Draughon Range)
Training Misawa, Aomori
FAC 3033 Kisarazu Auxiliary Landing Field Air Facility Kisarazu, Chiba
FAC 3066 Negishi Dependent Housing Area
(Naval Housing Annex Negishi)
Housing Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3083 Naval Air Facility Atsugi Air Facility Ayase, Kanagawa
FAC 3087 Ikego Housing Area and Navy Annex Housing Zushi, Kanagawa
FAC 3090 Azuma Storage Area Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3096 Kamiseya Communications Station
(Naval Support Facility Kamiseya)
Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3097 Fukaya Communication Site
(Naval Transmitter Station Totsuka)
Communications Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3099 United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka Port Facility Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3117 Urago Ammunition Depot Storage Yokosuka, Kanagawa
FAC 3144 Tsurumi POL Depot Storage Yokohama, Kanagawa
FAC 3181 Iwo Jima Communication Site Communications
Ogasawara, Tokyo
FAC 3185 New Sanno U.S. Forces Center Recreation Minato, Tokyo
FAC 5029 United States Fleet Activities Sasebo Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5030 Sasebo Dry Dock Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5032 Akasaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5033 Sasebo Ammunition Supply Point Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5036 Iorizaki POL Depot Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5039 Yokose POL Depot Storage Saikai, Nagasaki
FAC 5050 Harioshima Ammunition Storage Area Storage Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5086 Tategami Basin Port Area Port Facility Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5118 Sakibe Navy Annex Hangar Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 5119 Hario Dependent Housing Area
(Hario Family Housing Area)
Housing Sasebo, Nagasaki
FAC 6028 Tengan Pier Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6032 Camp Shields Barracks Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6046 Awase Communications Station Communications Okinawa, Okinawa
FAC 6048 White Beach Area Port Facility Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6084 Kobi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6085 Sekibi Sho Range Training Ishigaki, Okinawa
FAC 6088 Oki Daito Jima Range Training Kitadaito, Okinawa
FAC 3127 Camp Fuji Barracks Gotenba, Shizuoka
FAC 3154 Numazu Training Area Training Numazu, Shizuoka
FAC 4092 Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Air Station Iwakuni, Yamaguchi
FAC 6001 Northern Training Area
(Incl. Camp Gonsalves)
Training Kunigami, Okinawa
FAC 6005 Ie Jima Auxiliary Airfield Training Ie, Okinawa
FAC 6009 Camp Schwab Training Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6010 Henoko Ordnance Ammunition Depot Storage Nago, Okinawa
FAC 6011 Camp Hansen Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6019 Kin Red Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6020 Kin Blue Beach Training Area Training Kin, Okinawa
FAC 6029 Camp Courtney Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6031 Camp McTureous Barracks Uruma, Okinawa
FAC 6043 Camp Kuwae (Camp Lester) Medical Facility Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6044 Camp Zukeran (Camp Foster) Barracks Chatan, Okinawa
FAC 6051 Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Air Station Ginowan, Okinawa
FAC 6056 Makiminato Service Area (Camp Kinser) Logistics Urasoe, Okinawa
FAC 6082 Tsuken Jima Training Area Training Uruma, Okinawa

Overall the United States has more than 50,000 military personnel stationed in Japan and Okinawa and employs around 5,500 civilians.  There are over 40,000 military family members associated with America’s presence.

Japan is the home base at Yokosuka for the US Seventh fleet and also the home of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force.  Along with troops, helicopters, ships and submarines the US Air Force has 130 fighters based in Japan.

The American presence is the successor to the US occupation of Japan at the end of World War II.  While the number of bases, facilities, training centers and storage facilities is large, the US also closed down close to the same number of facilities and bases over the years.

Japan pays the United States around $2 billion as compensation for America’s presence.  While this seems like a large number, the actual cost to the United States for the deployment is many billions more than the Japanese contribution. Japan therefore benefits from the American presence because it can keep a small defense budget even where potential threats in the region are growing.

And they are.  North Korea is already a nascent nuclear power and is likely in future years to use its missiles as a means of getting concessions from Japan. The Japanese have had a rocky relationship with Korea.  In 1905 Japan forced Korea to become a protectorate.  In 1910 Japan annexed Korea (then a unified peninsula).  Under this annexation Japan dealt harshly with the Korean people and exploited its resources.  Before and during World War II the northern part of Korea was an industrial center supplying Japan with armaments and ammunition. It is also one of the places where Japan worked on building an atomic bomb.

Along with roughly treating Koreans, using them as conscripts and forced labor, thousands were transferred to Japan and use as laborers there.  When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were hit by atom bombs, thousands of Koreans working in those cities were killed.  Adding to the misery of the Korean people was the use of young Korean ladies as “comfort women” for Japanese troops and administrators.  Bitterness over this issue still remains.

China, too, is turning into a true superpower, and confrontations between Japan and China over disputed islands has risen in the past few years. Their disagreement is over some uninhabited small ”rocks” in the East China Sea (known in Japan as the Senkaku islands).  These “rocks” are under Japan’s control, but the Chinese want them.  Their location is strategic, affecting China’s ability to control the sea lines of communication, and are positioned near important oil and gas reserves.

But much more is involved as China grows stronger.  China thinks of its perimeter as two imaginary boundaries, the inner boundary already clearly under China’s control; the outer one coming under its control as China expands its navy and develops new weapons that can challenge America’s aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

The United States has been trying to beef up its Pacific presence.  The bases in Japan offset, to a degree, China’s growing military power, but will that be enough?

The last test of military power in the region took place in the Taiwan Straits from July 21, 1995 to March 23, 1996.  In that period China carried out an “exercise” that included closing sea and air traffic in and around the Taiwan straits as China launched missiles, mobilized its land forces, and prepared its naval forces to support what looked like an invasion of taiwan itself.  Would the US respond to China’s provocation? Would China challenge the United States or back off?

The evidence shows that America delayed responding and finally put two aircraft carrier task forces on patrol near the Straits.  China, if it really planned to strike Taiwan, backed away and the crisis ended.  China blinked.

It is far from clear whether a repeat performance would be met resolutely by Washington. Even if America did move its naval and air forces to face China,   China might not cut and run.  There are many scenarios that could trigger a confrontation:  disputed territories, Taiwan, conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Americans tend to forget that we faced Chinese “volunteers” in the Korean War, and proxy wars involving China and Russia in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Which brings us back to Japan and the dilemma Japanese policy makers’ face.

Can Japan depend on the United States for its protection?  Should a confrontation unfold that directly impacts Japan, there is reason to believe, based on the worsening geopolitical posture of the United States and the drawdown of defense assets, that the United States might dawdle, seek diplomatic remedies, and try not to engage.

There have already been a number of incidents between China and Japan (see for an excellent review by Sheila A, Smith, a senior fellow for Japan at the Council for Foreign Relations).  So far they have been small scale and contained, but these were probes by China to judge not only Japan’s behavior, but to understand what America might do.  So far at least, the Japanese have worked to contain any incident and the United States has not needed to take any direct role.  But this can change at any time.  If China wants to do so she can ratchet up trouble at any time.

Japan is caught in a dilemma. Its military forces are weak compared to China and there is little chance much can be done to strengthen it in the next five years. Japan can compensate a little by buying new weapons. Japan has agreed to procure F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.  But these airplanes are years away from delivery, and they are tactical aircraft and will not be regarded by China as any sort of deterrent.  Japan really wanted the F-22, a true stealth penetration bomber capable of long range operations. The United States rejected Japan’s attempt to buy them.

Japan, therefore, has few options.  But there is one direction Japan can go, and it has the resources, know how, and delivery systems to get there.  That is to build nuclear weapons.  Doing this will surely antagonize the United States, China and North Korea, but Japan could nevertheless decide it is worth it.  Some suspect Japan may be laying the foundation for such a step. For example Japan has been energetically building long range rockets. It is hard to believe Japan would invest so much effort in rockets and space unless the investment was regarded as an important part of a future strategic system.

Japan had an atomic bomb program in World War II divided into two main programs, one run by the Army and the other by the Navy.  It had major facilities throughout Japan, and the Navy ran a secret operation in northern Korea that was taken over by the Russians at the end of World War II.  That facility, which produced thorium for the Russians, was bombed by B-29’s in 1950 in the early days of the Korean War.   In addition, Japan had a highly capable scientific community with excellent nuclear physicists and chemists. Major Japanese companies built equipment including cyclotrons and gas centrifuges for Japan’s atomic program and some participated in uranium extraction and enrichment.

Would Japan return to nuclear weapons after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the strong anti-nuclear feeling that permeates Japan’s politics?  That would depend on whether Japan felt sufficiently threatened by North Korea and China to do so.  A few islands are probably not enough to cause a major change in policy.   But minor clashes can turn into bigger ones, and the United States, its prestige in tatters and in retreat around the world, may not be able to play a role as Japan’s defender.  Then we will see.


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Lenin is in Poland

by Stephen Bryen

There is an old and rather awful joke that goes like this. The Russian Revolution has succeeded and the Communists are now in Power. Lenin is feeling very good about his great success and thinks there is a chance to convince some other countries to go Communist. He decides to go to Poland.

Meanwhile the Kremlin wants to honor the momentous occasion and commission a painting celebrating Lenin’s trip. The day arrives to unveil the painting and all of official Moscow has assembled. But alas, when the shroud over the painting is dropped there is a picture of a man in bed with a woman.

“What’s this exclaim the top Russian leaders? This,” the painter says, “is a painting of Trotsky, in bed with Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife.” And the painter explains, the title of the picture is “Lenin is in Poland.”

Today Lenin, in the form of Putin, is in the Ukraine, somewhere he surely does not belong. No one would dare to make a painting honoring the occasion.

Meanwhile the Western allies are in some turmoil. The Europeans are threatening more sanctions unless Putin pulls his forces out and wholeheartedly supports a peace effort (whatever that means). The United States is threatening to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, as if there is some other kind of weapon useful to the Ukrainian military.

The country is in a mess. Ukraine is no match for Russia’s army, who are better trained and well equipped; there is not much chance that the Ukrainians can prevail without outside help.

Technically Ukraine is not a NATO problem because the Ukraine was never admitted to NATO membership. In fact the Ukraine’s bid for such membership was one of the contributing causes (but not the only one) to the Russian-sponsored war that is enveloping the country.

What is worse, NATO is far from having a single mind about the subject of Ukraine. Right now Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are taking the lead as European leaders, not necessarily as NATO leaders, arguing for a cease fire and a peace process. Their chance for success is very small.

NATO itself is not what it used to be. NATO is a collective security system which was organized as the Soviet Union turned Eastern Europe into Communist puppet states under Communist Russia’s full control. The NATO idea and part of the Treaty agreement is that any attack on a NATO member can be met by collective force. But for NATO to act, all members must agree. When the United States asked NATO to join it after 9/11 to take down the Taliban, NATO could not agree. Keeping in mind that it was the same European states that pressured America into entering the war in Bosnia, NATO’s refusal to use collective defense on behalf of one of its members, in fact its most important member, was an especially rude slap in the face.

NATO also is paltry as a military operation. Many of the NATO countries reduced their armed forces after the collapse of the Soviet Union and major armor units were disbanded with land war equipment either sold or scrapped. Today NATO countries have an ability to launch a fight against the Taliban, but no ability to win the fight. That is the real reason Obama is pulling the US out of Afghanistan.  The British are doing the same and most of the others are only providing humanitarian aid.

Years ago in a meeting in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee over problems in Lebanon one of the Senators asked Dr. Henry Kissinger about French insistence to have a role in the affair. Where is their Navy, opined Kissinger, or their Army? Without a military capability and willingness to commit it, Kissinger had no interest or regard for the participation of the French, even though years ago they ran Lebanon for the League of Nations under a Mandate (1923-1946).

Today we have a rather parallel situation. Neither Germany nor France will commit one single soldier to any fight in the Ukraine. So their intervention with Putin lacks credibility. Putin’s only conceivable interest compelling his attention is European sanctions, but he has cards of his own he can play if he wants (like cutting off natural gas supplies to Germany or threatening other countries such as Poland or Estonia). For this reason Europe cannot risk war, and neither can the United States, because our country, like the rest of NATO, is woefully unprepared. Had America delivered on its promises to the Ukraine years earlier, after Ukraine got rid of Backfire bombers and other strategic assets, the situation today might have been different. But it isn’t and no one knows how to change history or make hindsight into a constructive tool.

There is also the problem that the NATO partners, aside from the bombastic statements by President Obama and Vice President Biden on Ukraine, do not see eye to eye. Greece has a new leftist leader friendly to the Kremlin. Will Greece be willing to vote for more sanctions on the Russians? From the Greek point of view they already have enough sanctions laid on themselves by European bankers. Or will Italy want to get into this quagmire, with Russia an important trading nation? Or for that matter will the Germans back up Mrs. Merkel?  Russia is a very important trading partner for Germany, the source of a significant flow of energy, and trades important raw materials in exchange for German manufactured goods. Merkel’s flexibility has to be extremely limited and her political future is far from assured.  Loss of jobs may well trump applying sanctions.

AS a result, these are not happy times either for Europe, for the United States, and certainly for the Ukrainian people who have been treated to a tap dance by the West’s leaders in place of a functional alliance. There is only so much of this sort of thing before things turn even more tragic.

Interestingly, despite the fissures and extreme problems with NATO, all the Western players are marching around and around without getting to some core issues that must be addressed for the future. At risk today is not only NATO survival, but peace in Europe. Putin is not Hitler, notwithstanding the rhetoric that has been coming from the United Kingdom. But Putin is an aggressive minded Russian leader who is filling a vacuum. He already learned he could get away with aggression in Georgia. And now he is taking advantage because he knows NATO has mutated into a paper tiger.

We need to wake up.  We don’t want Putin in Poland.

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Greece Will Need a New Currency

by Stephen Bryen

The new Greek government, mainly composed of former Communists and other leftists, with a dash of a far right political party giving Syriza enough support to form a government, faces a huge task in trying to reform Greece’s economy.  The idea that it can be done in negotiations with the European Central Bank and the key economic power, Germany, is wishful thinking at best.

The German government has already made clear it is not prepared to write off Greek debts.  Furthermore the Germans and the bankers expect Greece to pay back its loans and to retain an austerity program in order to squeeze enough resources out to make the required payments.

It is unlikely Greece can, or will comply.  What is more certain is that the new government will raise salaries, cut some taxes (but not to the rich), and hire back many unemployed State workers.  Of course this is impossible if the euro remains Greece’s currency.

Once the government gets organized and starts imposing its “cure” Greek repayments will have to cease, bond prices will escalate and will be chasing investors who will be running for cover, and the situation will rapidly become quite explosive.

At this point both the Greeks and the Europeans will have to make choices.  In such an environment, the most likely result is that Greece will have to replace the euro with a local currency.  For our purposes let’s call it the “New Drachma.”

Greece can get along with the New Drachma.  But a better solution for Greece is a hybrid approach: if possible retaining the euro and support a New Drachma –in other words, two currencies.

There are two ways this can be done.  One is a formal agreement with the European banks that will give Greece room for maneuver by stretching out loan repayments and making other credit provisions that are reasonable.  With a second, “local” currency Greece can pay its civil servants and encourage private business to also use the local currency for all internal transactions. André Cabannes, a professor at Stanford University, outlined this approach for Greece a few years ago, and his proposal remains the best one for Greece and for other weak players in the euro community such as Spain and Italy.

A New Drachma will start off in parity with the euro, but won’t stay there for long.  Unless the government exercises some discipline and restraint and builds confidence in the banking and business community, the New Drachma will rapidly lose value.  The real challenge for a radical Greek government is whether it can come up with a program that can be managed properly, kept sensible, and will be able to have the support of the financial community.

Europe cannot really afford to write off Greece.  Nor can the new Greek government survive if it is reckless or obnoxiously ideological.  It would help both sides in the argument to find independent experts who can structure a workable program for a second currency while keeping the euro alive.

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Now it is CENTCOM: But it is just the Tip of the Iceberg

by Stephen Bryen
You don’t have to be real smart to know that social media accounts are not private, even if you are told by their owners and operators that they are.  Social sites, all of them, are easily hacked by outsiders, and even the companies that offer own them exploit them to make money.  The monetization of privacy in the United States is highly advanced and represents a multibillion dollar, unstoppable, business.
But folks are starting to figure out that a major danger is lurking.
For this reason the French gendarmes and counter terrorism forces have been order to close any personal social media accounts they have and to do so immediately.
You would have thought that America’s Central Command, which focuses on the Middle East and plays a vital role in dealing with radical Islamic terrorism, would recognize social media risks and would have, long ago, taken security measures to protect sensitive information.  But that did not happen.  In fact, CENTCOM (as it is known) has been merrily running Twitter and YouTube sites without any care.
So now we know that ISIS hacked CENTCOM and published the names and addresses of top officials including four star generals, making the information generally available to any operational terror cells including some who may be lie embedded in the United States. US Cyber Command is only the tip of the iceberg.  ISIS could have got all the information and passed it to terror organization without defacing the CENTCOM twitter account and other CENTCOM-sponsored sites.  In this way Central Command would not know that critical information about their top personnel was in the hands of a vicious Islamic terror organization.  But ISIS wanted to get the propaganda value out of its hack, so they made a lot of noise.  No one knows how long they have been mucking about in CENTCOM’s operations.
The Pentagon says it was all a prank and is of no concern.  With this mindset anyone hoping there was a chance that the Pentagon might try and fix a looming problem now knows better: they are the problem.
But, under pressure, the Pentagon changed its mind.  Huh?families
Is CENTCOM an exception?  Hardly.  Americans, despite countless articles pointing out obvious vulnerabilities in social networking and media sites, continue with their obsession to leak information that compromises personal and organizational security.   It is a good bet that virtually every American military base, office, organization and unit is leaking away using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and all the others.  So too are folks at Homeland Security, the State Department, FBI and on and on.
The truth is we do not know just how much sensitive information is in the hands of terrorists, but if we have learned anything watching al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Iranians, the Syrian Electronic Army and all their brethren is that they certainly know how to exploit social media and build powerful attack databases.
They have already used their laptop computers and the lists they have generated and passed around on memory sticks to identify and kill their enemies in Iraq and Syria. It would be foolish to think they have confined themselves to the Middle East –indeed we know they have not.
In France the attacks on the Jewish community, for example, are not random.  Names, addresses and other information was gathered by the terrorists from social media sources, especially Facebook.  This exposed not only the targeted individuals, but also their families.  Even the Charlie Hebdo attack was precisely targeted.  The killers had the ID and photos of their victims well in advance.
For a long time the French government, trying to be politically correct in the French context, did almost nothing to protect its citizens from terrorists, especially its Jews.
Now, in the wake of Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher, a Kosher supermarket in Paris, the French government has taken an about face (volte-face) and decided to try and protect synagogues and religious schools. To this end the French government has assigned 10,000 soldiers.  But soldiers can’t protect someone in their home or walking down the street.  In the last decade Jews in France have been murdered, shot add, beaten up, raped and terrorized.  How to protect exposed individuals, their families and friends?
The American situation is not much better.  For years we have allowed terrorist organization free rein on the Internet, and have done little or nothing to stop them.  The fact that ISIS can get away with launching cyber attacks tells you all you really need to know.  Despite investing billions in so-called cyber security, and even creating a Pentagon unit (“Plan X”) that is supposed to deal with the bad guys, everyone is still looking at their thumbs.  US security policy is frozen, blindsided, hamstrung and inept.  The Pentagon can’t figure out which end us up, has not given direction to its millions of military and civilian employees, and has not engaged the enemy or tried to shut them down. Remember what happened in Boston.
Security comes down to protecting people, and if you can’t do that your security system is faulty.  A quick way to provide some modicum of protection is to purge social media of sensitive information that puts people directly at risk. The bigger job is to provide real aggressive leadership to take down the connections being exploited over the Internet by the Islamic terrorists.  The Pentagon can do the job; they just need to be told to launch the effort.
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Will the Stringray End Up At the Supreme Court?

by Stephen Bryen

The Stingray is a device that can track cell phones in real time.  It is a type of IMSI catcher.  IMSI, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity, is built into all cellular phones.  The IMSI number is broadcast by a phone when it connects to any cellular tower.  An IMSI catcher pretends to be a cellphone tower, “catches” the IMSI broadcast, and then can act as a relay to a legitimate cellular phone tower, meaning that everything that is broadcast across the IMSI catcher can be heard or intercepted.

The Stingray IMSI Catcher

The Stingray IMSI Catcher

There are many IMSI catcher devices on the market. Some of them are “active” intercepts and others operate passively. Stingray is the product used by the FBI and law enforcement.  Its capabilities are kept secret from the public.

All cellular phones encrypt the connection between the phone and the cellular tower. Thus for an IMSI catcher to be any good, it has to break the encryption or defeat it one way or another.

Essentially there are two ways of getting rid of the encryption:  Knowing the algorithms used by the phone companies and how the key is composed or finding a means to turn off the encryption.  Both are feasible strategies and it is likely that Stingray employs both strategies and perhaps others.

The IMSI catcher is a tool for law enforcement, for intelligence agencies, and for criminals.  Other than Stingray, many of these devices can be bought online. And the US government also supplies such devices to friendly foreign countries and foreign entities.

The heart of the FBI case is that it can use the Stingray because the public has “no reasonable expectation of privacy” when using a mobile phone.  This argument is not generally accepted, and nine states, including Virginia and Maryland, require a law enforcement agency to get a warrant if the agency wants to use a Stingray device, or to agree in advance on the protection of information gleaned from cellular phones that are not part of a current law enforcement investigation.

The expectation of privacy issue was first brought out in Smith vs. Maryland (1979). In that case law enforcement used a “pen register” to record the time, duration and phone numbers called from a phone line belonging to a suspect.  The Supreme Court said that the pen register (an electro-mechanical device) did not record actual phone calls and that use of a pen register did not rise to a violation of either the First or the Fourth Amendments (e.g., Freedom of Speech, Illegal Searches and Seizures).  In an earlier case, Katz vs. U.S., the Court held that warrantless wiretaps were unconstitutional searches and seizures because the public had a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Katz was decided in 1967, before the cellular phone era.

The FBI is not relying entirely on its argument that the public has no reasonable expectation of privacy when using a cellular phone.  It also argues there are urgent circumstances, such as preventing the commission of a crime or stopping a terrorist, where a warrantless wiretap of a cell phone is justified.  To my mind, law enforcement has to have the ability to make an informed judgment there is an imminent risk, and law enforcement should be able to move against these threats.  The same idea is what was behind the War Powers Act, which recognized that the President as Commander in Chief needed flexibility to protect American national security.  Law enforcement needs the same flexibility.

The question is whether one should hang that argument on the idea that the public lacks a reasonable expectation of privacy when using mobile devices.  It seems to me the stronger case is the ability to respond to a concrete threat.

And therein lies the rub, to quote the Bard.  Law enforcement has to take a risk when it uses the argument of dire necessity to justify acting without a warrant.  In other words, law enforcement will need to defend those decisions before an impartial court if challenged.  Law enforcement cannot, willy-nilly run around setting up fake cell towers just to suck up as much information as it can.  Right now, except in those states where there are laws on the books, the standards for law enforcement operations when it applies to IMSI catchers, are far from settled.  That is why, short of specific legislation, the use of Stingrays may end up in the Supreme Court.

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Ratcheting Up the Heat on North Korea

by Stephen Bryen

The North Korean Internet has gone dark.  Meanwhile the United States has demanded that Korea pay compensation to Sony for the damage they have caused.

First of all, Congratulations to the Obama administration.  After bumbling on this issue for more than a week, it seems they may have got up enough gumption to slam the North Koreans.

Even more importantly, the sordid threats to destroy the White House, Pentagon and other American institutions, perhaps with suicide attacks –all of this coming from North Korea and its inexperienced leader– are dangerous threats. Hitting back sends a message that statements of this kind are war like and unacceptable.  Perhaps the administration will finally forget about the silly language it used calling the attacks on Sony “cyber vandalism.”

It is likely in the days and weeks ahead that North Korea will try and punish South Korea which is regarded by them as an American lackey.  There already is a report that there were cyber attacks coming from North Korea against a South Korean nuclear power plant.  Temporarily at least, with North Korea’s Internet shut down, the Kim Jung-um gang will find launching attacks more difficult.

There is always the possibility North Korea will appeal to its friends abroad, namely China, Iran and Syria and attempt to get them to do what the North Koreans cannot.  But they may find less enthusiasm for this kind of gambit.  A lot of what the Iranians do relies on the Internet, even their nuclear program.  They won’t volunteer to help their North Korean “friends” if the risk is too great and the fear America might retaliate.

This will leave the North Koreans in a box.  Perhaps they can do some bad things with their army or navy, or fire off artillery rounds as they have done before.  But these steps could lead to military action by South Korea or the United States, and North Korea may find itself in big trouble.  One can doubt that North Korea can rally its troops in a country that still is starving.  The whole North Korean ill adventure may come to a crashing halt and even its government could collapse.

North Korea is a mad country.  It is run by a ruthless gang of thugs who don’t care one whit about their own people.  They live high on the hog while everyone else starves.  They waste their human capital and brainwash their people.  One wonders what Putin thinks he is going to gain by lining up with these guys.

Decidedly the response by the United States to North Korean cyber attacks and provocations is good news.  Perhaps it will help the administration to understand that North Korea is a danger to world peace. The idea that North Korea is building up a nuclear arsenal and is well along on missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads is a dire prospect.  Nothing is impossible in the wacky world of North Korea’s leaders.

In the meantime perhaps the Obama administration, if it can keep its focus and act maturely, will recognize that it now has a hold of the tail of the enemy and should not let go.  North Korea is a first step, but the United States should not tolerate cyber warfare by any foreign nation.  Not only is our country being ripped off, but our security systems are deeply at risk and exposed.  This needs to stop and hitting them back where it matters is how you send the right message.

Thus, Congratulations to the President.  Don’t stop and don’t flinch.

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When There Is No Price to be Paid the Hackers Win

by Stephen Bryen
If there is one salient fact that emerges from the now infamous Sony hack it is that the bad guys won.  The bad guys won because there they paid no price for the damage inflicted.  In the Sony case the hackers are outside and beyond the law, so their backers and sponsors are encouraged to cause even more damage in future. To stop cyber attacks, particularly those sponsored by foreign governments, we need to respond to attacks now.
Sony is a movie company, a major cog in the entertainment industry.  Whether Sony rises or falls has little or nothing to do with national security.  There are plenty of other entertainment companies that can fill the gap if Sony drops out, something that Sony surely understands.
But the sort of intimidation attack suffered by Sony is non trivial, and presages similar attempts that surely will come by hostile actors to intimidate our government.  The Russians have used such attacks against at least three former Soviet Republics (Lithuania, Georgia and Ukraine), electronically hacking telecommunications, banking, government and military organizations. Newspapers have also been attacked by foreign hackers, signalling displeasure over certain stories. The North Koreans have also pummeled South Korea with cyber attacks, destroying hard drives and shutting down banking operations.  One South Korean bank was out of commission for more than two weeks.
Despite precautions, cyber attackers can often stay one step ahead of protection mechanisms.  Sony, of course, had little in the way of cyber security protections, making it an easy soft target for hackers.  But even better protected systems can be penetrated. 
Liran Tancman CEO of CyActive in Israel, quoted in the Times of Israel, says “Cyber-security is, for the most part, reactive, not proactive. A company will spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to secure themselves against a major malware variant, fighting off a specific attack.”  But hackers can often get around better protected organizations. “All they have to do is insert some changes in their malware code, and they are in the clear. For $150, a cyber-criminal can hire a hacker to do $25 million of damage, and then do it again a few months later, making very minor changes to their malware code.”  (See )
In the wake of the Sony attack, former Republican Speaker Of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says that we have lost our first cyber war.  Commenting on Twitter, Gingrich said “it wasn’t the hackers who won, it was the terrorists and almost certainly the North Korean dictatorship, this was an act of war.”
Gingrich begs the question: if a serious cyber attack is an act of war, how should America respond?
The Pentagon has set up Plan X supposedly to respond to cyber attacks by launching cyber assaults of its own as retaliatory strikes.  But nothing like that has happened. Russian, Chinese, North Korean, Iranian and Syrian hackers –all government backed– continue to operate unabated.  Is there a threshold that remains to be crossed, and when it is will the Pentagon launch a massive retaliatory cyber attack on the perpetrators, namely the governments that sponsor the hacks?  Plan X is a nice idea, but it is a wasted effort unless it is used.
Hacking is a cheap crime to commit unless there are costly consequences.
It is a bad idea to wait around until a massive cyber attack leads to costly consequences such as paralyzing our government and military, creating a run-away chain reaction cascade at a nuclear power plant, or wrecking our banking system.
A prudent policy is to start striking back when we are hit the first time, not the last time.  Only in that way can limits be set and warnings understood.  If the United States answered even one of the Chinese-Russian-Iranian-North Korean-Syrian attacks by a strong meaningful response, the bad guys would get the message.  Then the hackers would lose.
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