Friday, July 27, 2012

On The Unpredictable

At the request of Sir Harry, I had been asked to review the security arrangements for the London Olympics. After a rather intensive review, I signalled that all seemed to work, save for the completely unexpected. Sir Harry, in his usual gruff way, asked just what the hell I meant.

So I told him.

I indicated that the problem had been best put by Donald Rumsfeld, in one of the few statements he had made that made sense: his reference to "unknown knowns and unknown unknowns". It is here, in my opinion, that the real security issue lies, and we have good evidence for the premise.

To wit: Marc Lepine, who took it upon himself to murder fourteen women at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique. No one saw this coming, and it was only through later research that his hatred of women came to light. Before the act, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. Thus King Duncan's observation in Macbeth about the betrayal of the Thane of Cawdor (and something instinctively known by every successful poker player): "There's no art to find the mind's construction in the face / He was a gentleman upon whom I placed an absolute trust." And at this point Macbeth enters....but I digress.

To wit: The attack on the World Trade Center. Here things get a bit complex. The attack was certainly unexpected, but unlike the Lepine situation,  there were some clues, not the least of which was the pilot training programs that the 9 / 11 Saudis enrolled in. Their only interest was in learning take offs and mid-air flying -- landing was of no interest whatsoever. This was noticed by several FBI field agents, and the warnings forwarded to their superiors in Washington. Of course, given that such information was sent by lowly field agents, the 'experienced' superiors ignored these warnings. (I have often wondered what happened to these agents. Probably counting ice worms in Barrow, Alaska, or hunting down gator poachers in The Everglades. We should be told.)

To wit: The massacre in Aurora, Colorado at the theatre showing the new Batman film. It is this type of situation that should worry Sir Harry and all others in charge of security at public events. No indications whatsoever were given. The perpetrator, one James Holmes, was an 'A' student in the field of neuroscience, and seen as industrious, clean-cut, and an all round good guy.

The only tip off would have been the number of guns he had purchased, but this raises no flags in the land of the free and home of the brave. So aided and abetted by five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, who could not get their pointy heads around the ablative absolute embedded in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ** (to say nothing of the pernicious effect of the National Rifle Association lobby) Mr. Holmes road to carnage was open.

It is only now that we are finding out that not all was as it seemed, given Mr. Holmes relationship with a psychiatrist. This, of course, is typical, and, if security is your profession, the stuff of nightmares.

And what of James Holmes now? Well, if you compare his 'before' pictures with those taken after the shooting, it's hard to believe they're the same person. A good looking young man is now a haggard shell, and brings to mind a statement upon which I will conclude: If you dance with the devil, the devil won't change.

But you will.

** The Amendment gives the right to bear arms only to the militia (now the armed forces and the states' National Guard.) This was crystal clear to the Founders, who knew their Latin, but not clear at all to the majority of Americans, who don't.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The War On Drugs. Not

My friend from the CIA, Matilda Hatt, got in touch the other day, and relayed an interesting anecdote. Apparently Tilly was given the task of delivering a package to a source in Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez to be exact. Just what the package contained was none of my business, and I refrained from asking. Professional courtesy, you understand.

The drop off was not far from the border at El Paso, so Tilly decided to walk back. Reaching a small city square, she espied a fruit stand. The peaches looked particularly good, and Tilly decided she wanted one. As she was paying the rather scruffy fruit stand attendant, she became conscious that all had gone very quiet. She heard the attendant mutter some curse, and saw him withdraw an AK 47 from underneath the stand. Then a shot rang out, and the attendant fell forward, shot through the head.

Tilly next saw four men approaching, armed to the teeth, with one brandishing a machete. Tilly, being not exactly unaware of these things, assumed the machete was to enable beheading, the classic calling card of the Zeta drug gang. Well, thought Tilly, not this time.

She grabbed the AK 47, checked that it was loaded, and as the men neared poked the weapon out from behind some cantaloupes and opened fire. The machete bearer went down, followed by two other gang members. The fourth, seeing his compatriots writhing on the ground, ran away, instantly realizing that he had other things to do, other places to be, and other people to see.

Tilly also decided that it would be best to get the hell out of there, her actions being a tad off the CIA reservation. She wiped the rifle clear of her prints, dropped it by the (late) fruit stand attendant, and took off. She did, however, remember to grab a peach, which she later informed me was delicious.

All this caused me to think of the phrase 'War on Drugs' as a massive misnomer. I mean, you declare war on a group, a country, a nation -- entities that are at least animate. The phrase could even be stretched a bit to include malarial mosquitoes or the elm bark beetle. (Torontonians, I know, would dearly love to have a war against raccoons officially sanctioned).  Calling something a war on drugs, however, is akin to declaring war on flagpoles, catch basins, buttons, or whatever.

Furthermore, it a strange war indeed where the ones at war are the very people giving enormous sustenance to the enemy. In North America, the biggest market for drugs is the U.S.A., who came up with the "War on Drugs' phrase in the first place. This is madness.

The way out of this morass is, of course, legalization, something only brave little Uruguay is seriously considering. In my view, I would start with marijuana, then, if this approach is successful, work up to heroin and cocaine (although not the crack variety). Amphetamines, ecstasy and other chemical concoctions would, however, be a bridge too far. Besides, law enforcement personnel have to be left with something to do. No point in swelling the unemployment rolls.

The current drug gangs could actually form a real cartel, along the lines of OPEC. I would also encourage the drug producers to consider IPO's and list on the world's stock exchanges. Thus public reports would become the norm, and if there were any hostile takeovers, these would occur in the boardroom using legal writs rather than bullets in the town square. Thus I can envision investing in such entities as The Zeta Corporation, or Guzman and Sons, or MaryJane Unlimited. It's all good.

As for profits, governments should tax heavily as done with alcohol and cigarettes, with the proceeds broken down as follows: 30% to general revenue; 30% to deficit reduction; 30% to rehab sites; 10% to administration.

Yet as long as the drug trade remains illegal, and as long as the U.S. and other countries remain heavily addicted, the carnage will continue, not the least of which occurs in Mexico. In this regard, the words of a former President of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, are worth citing: "Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States."

Well bespoke, Porfirio.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Southern Exposure

My daughter Victoria loomed large this week.this week.

Now Vicky is a first class historian and supplements her income by acting as the occasional 'victim' in various and sundry horror films. She was in the town of Belmont in North Carolina, and had been asked to give a lecture on some aspects of North Carolina history to the local Rotary Club. This was odd, and I could only surmise that there was some member of the Rotary Club that had caught her fancy. This proved to be the case -- "Oh, Mum, he's gorgeous!" -- and I was gratified to know that my mother's instincts in this type of situation still rang true.

Vicky's lecture topic had been well chosen: 'North Carolina Regiments in the Civil War: A Synonym for Bravery'. When all the graduates of American high schools had figured out the meaning of 'synonym', they surged to the lecture hall, and the event was a huge success. All this was good to know, but what was really interesting was what occurred when Vicky made her way back to her hotel, the Hampton Inn.

There she ran into a host of police, including a fully-kitted out SWAT team. Apparently a man had barricaded himself in his room, threatening to shoot anyone who tried to remove him. The SWAT team were negotiating, and were fully aware that the man might be heavily armed, given the U.S. Supreme Court's inability to discern the ablative absolute used in the Second Amendment to the American Constitution. They had reached a point in the negotiation where the man was making demands.

He wanted a pizza, which was at least a somewhat reasonable request, and encouraged the negotiator that a solution might be found. This approach, however, was blown out of the water when they received his second request -- that Paris Hilton be brought to him so that they could be married. This immediately indicated that the man was mentally unbalanced on a number of levels, not the least of which was his choice of bride. The negotiator threw up his hands, out came the pepper spray, and shortly after that the man, one Fredrick Denny, 61, was apprehended and sent off to jail and a much needed mental evaluation.

I thought Vicky's account of what happened was a bit cruel to Paris Hilton, who to my knowledge has never threatened to shoot anybody, but then young women in this regard resemble Arabs; they profess solidarity, then invade Kuwait.

Have a nice week.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Arma Higgsque Cano

I was happily plowing through Virgil's Aeneid when my physicist son Mark called from Switzerland, all agog about determining the existence of the Higgs Bosun. Hence the title of this report -- the 'arma' will become clear in a moment.**

I congratulated him and the other scientists at CERN, while at the same time a memory suddenly flooded into my mind. After he had rung off, still all excited, I recalled one of the first times the search for this elusive particle had focused my attention.

Now Peter Higgs had hypothesized the existence of this particle in 1964, on the grounds that if it didn't exist, there would be no mass to any other particle, hence no electrons, no atoms, no us. This approach to the universe is known as the Standard Model, and the Higgs Bosun is absolutely critical to its being taken seriously. All of which was in a sense germane to what happened in Mississippi about a decade ago.

Matilda Hatt of the CIA had asked for my help in uncovering an arms ring operating in Mississippi, and Sir Harry, my immediate boss in MI 6, had sanctioned this (wonder what he got in return?) so I was off to the Deep South. Now the CIA cannot operate within the U.S.A., and therefore Tilly had been seconded to the FBI for this operation. How this came about Tilly would dearly love to know to this day -- the two organizations operate within a Hatfield / McCoy context -- although she has her suspicions. Apparently there were rumours of sexual shenanigans in the CIA, and the FBI had found out some of the details. But she isn't sure, and after all, rumour is a bloodstain on silk.

A venue had been identified as a hangout of some of the perpetrators, a rather seedy bar on the outskirts of Biloxi. We needed some of the bar patrons to open up about the logistics of the arms operation. Tilly had rented a semi, with 'Tara Cotton Inc.' emblazoned on the side. We wore jean shorts and had on our T-shirts with the message 'Truckers For Christ'  prominently displayed. Tilly eased the big rig into the parking lot, and we entered the dimness of the bar, confident that we would be welcomed.

This proved the case, and the guys were generous in buying us several what they termed 'B and B's', to wit: local beer with a shot of bourbon. Both Tilly and I knew how to appear to drink without actually doing so, and no, not possible to relay the specifics -- the technique is still in use today in The Trade.

There was a TV set over the bar, and that's when a news item mentioned Peter Higgs, CERN and the search for the Higgs bosun. Elmer, one of our bar mates, asked the barkeep to turn the volume up, but the  news item had gone, to be replaced on the latest pork belly prices.

"I knew him, you see," said Elmer in words that were somewhat slurred.

"Knew who?" I asked.

"Billy Bob Craig," he replied. "He was the boatswain on the U.S.S. Higgs. I wonder why he, the Higgs bos'un, made the news?"

Tilly and I were dumbfounded, but let it pass. We still had work to do. When we had found out what we needed to know, we left, but the incident sticks in my mind. Oh, and shortly after, the FBI conducted a very successful raid, putting paid to the whole arms ring.

As for the Higgs bosun, I note that another name for it is 'the God Particle', and again I fail to understand that when anything that is of scientific interest, religion has to stick its barnacle-encrusted oar into it. On the other hand, the particle conceivably have links to existence itself, and I recall from my days at Oxford a quote from one of the Dons:

"I exist!" the man exclaimed to the universe.

And the universe replied, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't feel any sense of obligation."


** The Lady's title is a play on the opening line of the Aeneid, Arma virumque cano -- 'I sing of arms and the man.' --ed.