Reuters: U.S. prepares high-seas crackdown ; N. Korea Submarine Hazard

(Reuters) U.S. prepares high-seas crackdown on North Korea sanctions evaders – sources.

North Korea has a fairly large submarine fleet,  as many as 70 antiquated diesel-electrics. In stealth or submerged range, none of them compare to Germany’s modern reinvention of the non-nuclear submarine, the Type-212, and Sweden’s Gotland class. These submarines use AIP, air-independent propulsion. Relieved of the necessity to recharge motive batteries by surfacing or snorkel, they have  submerged mobility similar in character  to nuclear submarines.

Various reports suggest that members of the above classes sank three U.S. aircraft carriers in mock exercises. None of the reports have been substantiated by the U.S. military. If the reports are approximately true, they are exceptions to the remarkable transparency of U.S. military self criticism. While official substantiation of these incidents would not endanger lives, it would endanger the congressional budgetary process that maintains the surface fleet.

All militaries, the U.S. included, have been subject to shock of new vulnerability similar to the above. The 1982 Falkland War sinking of the British destroyer H.M.S. Sheffield, by  a French Exocet missile, is a case in point. Even though the precise characteristics of the French missile were known, and available for simulation, serious consideration by Western navies required a catastrophe. Curiously, the earlier sinking of Israel’s Eilat by a Russian Styx missile was not enough to trigger this.

To the credit of the U.S. Navy, the apprehension of inadequate torpedo defenses has not required a catastrophe. The mock sinkings were enough.  A crash program, the Anti-Torpedo Defense System, is partly functional on five attack carriers. Carriers are distinguished as high value targets. But the distinction is obsolete. Today, all naval combat ships are high value. The days are long past when a destroyer could be manufactured in less than a year. The weapon systems contained by the hulls are too complex. Large hulls and superstructures are required to host these systems.

The general conclusions of the U.S. reviews were:

  • Towed sonar arrays, the mainstay of detection, are not effective against  AIP submarines.
  • Nuclear attack submarines, with the ability to deploy and orient sensor arrays at varying depths, are more effective. Compared to noisy surface ships, the awareness of the attack submarine is enhanced by the quietness of the submarine itself. This facilitates patrol of a volume of water with reduced chance of detection by the opposing submarine.
  • Passive defense, which includes screening of a high value ship  by lower value ships, is ineffective. Part of this owes to the fact that an Arleigh Burke class destroyer is not a low value target.
  • Active torpedo defense is a requirement.

But is the sophistication of an AIP submarine required to sink a ship? In 2010, a primitive North Korean midget submarine, with limited range and negligible endurance, sank the ROKS Cheonan. The location was less than 100 miles from an ongoing joint U.S.-South Korea antisubmarine exercise. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Kim Yong Chol, credited by some for the sinking, was (Reuters) on display at the Olympics closing ceremony.

In the case of  hostility with unlimited rules of engagement, the strategy of the Allied navy would be to decimate the opposing submarine fleet faster than the “replacement rate”. This was the essence of the Battle of the Atlantic.  The losses table is telling. Between 1939 and 1945, about 14.1 million tons of Allied shipping was lost to U-boats. Although massive technology deployments made  successful U-boat attacks increasingly unlikely,  Allied losses ceased only when the U-boat fleet had been effectively eradicated.  This would be more clear in the historical record if the sunk ships had been of high value. But Liberty ships were built in less than a month.

 Although the German U-boat, and the similar North Korean submarines, have limited mobility while submerged, they share in common the ability to lay in wait, with absolute silence, subject only to the limitations of battery charge and breathable atmosphere.  In this state, the submarine is detectable only by active sonar in circumstances manipulated by chance. The water column itself protects a submarine from detection by reflecting, refracting and redirecting sound in ways difficult to unravel.

So a program of high-seas interdictions involves complex hazards analogous to those of  recent and current limited wars.  The Battle of the Atlantic was not limited war, but the deployable assets and goals  of the interdiction program are  just as  asymmetric:

  • The U.S. desires only to interdict North Korea shipping.
  • North Korea wants to raise the cost  of this to the  unbearable level.
  • Exposed U.S. naval targets are high value.
  • Concealed North Korea naval targets (submarines) are low value.
  • Destruction of North Korea naval targets is preferably avoided as an escalation.
  • Destruction of U.S./Allied naval targets is a goal.
  • In unrestricted conflict, U.S./Allied forces have overwhelming advantage.
  • In conflict restricted to exclude proactive destruction of the North Korean submarines, North Korea may perceive an advantage.
  • U.S. / Allied naval assets have high mobility.
  • North Korea naval assets have limited mobility.
  • Q-ships are a possibility.

The above admits the possibility of a  shock of new vulnerability, particularly if operational planning is manipulated by diplomatic concerns.

In the Battle of the Atlantic, German U-boats, as a “wolf pack”, were pre-positioned so the target convoy would intersect the path of the U-boat. North Korean submarines  are similar in capability, slow, noisy and detectable when they move rapidly, yet silent in wait. This inspires a reverse tactic for North Korea., with the Allied warship lured to the submarine. By coordinated action, a North Korean cargo ship acts as bait, sailing “suspiciously”, in a track intersecting a North Korean submarine, as many times as required to make the kill.

Quoting the Reuters article,

Some U.S. officials believe the risk could be minimized if Coast Guard cutters, which carry less firepower and technically engage in law-enforcement missions, are used in certain cases rather than warships.

Unless other assets are deployed in combination, this idea, prioritizing appearance over firepower, ignores what we have learned of  North Korean psychology. Temperate rules of engagement are unsuited to this adversary. Perhaps those officials need a reminder. Perhaps they should take instruction from Hannibal Lecter’s artful escape.

Since the (Stars & Stripes)  “can-do” culture of  U.S. Navy is reluctant to decline a job, beware the shock of new vulnerability.





WaPo: Putin ally said to be in touch with Kremlin, Assad before his mercenaries attacked U.S. troops

(Washington Post) Key Russian oligarch in touch with Russia, Assad before mercenaries attacked US troops.

Or, if you’re afflicted by the paywall, (CNN) WaPo: Key Russian oligarch in touch with Russia, Assad before mercenaries attacked US troops.

Several narratives might be contemplated. One could be an additional item for the question posed in Mueller Indictments; Why We’re Mad; Walter Lippman’s Democracy:

  • Should this be confirmed by U.S. intelligence, will it inevitably force the conclusion that we are in a state of low intensity, “hybrid war” with Russia? Are there circumstances such that we could we let this pass as “water under the bridge”?

But the hopeless odds, and the apparent wish that the episode of the Wagner Group attack would simply go away offers yet another narrative: the ultra-nationalist tail wagging the Russian dog. Russia has a serious problem with ultra-nationalist steam in the kettle, with rare opportunities to blow it off.  By some accounts, it took about two weeks of unsanctioned, and at least partly self-financed activity by ultra nationalists in eastern Ukraine before Putin became a convert to that cause. He’s still stuck with it.

Ultra-nationalists are romantics, not in the delicate sense of flowers and perfume, but instead for blood-and-soil, and  mystical glorification of primitive tribal instincts. Russia has too many of these, the remnants of an aging, backwards mono-culture stuck in a downtrend. Vladimir Putin has found them useful tools in the reinvention of a Russia in the imperial image. But they are crude, uncontrollable, and have all the unstable, fulminating tendency of gunpowder that has been badly stored for a long time.

If you like Google Earth, take a close look at 35°24’17.07″N, 40°14’21.15″E. (or thereabouts). It’s 6.78 miles bearing 49.68 degrees out of Deir ez-Zur. Areas of vegetation extending as much as 2.3 miles east of the Euphrates were thought by Russian mercenaries to provide cover for river passage by tanks and infantry.   Once out of the cover of vegetation, it would take at most a  2.82 mile dash over flat terrain, with no cover, to overrun the SDF HQ.

But Wagner Group was pitting their spirited but primitive, full-of-guts but poorly trained, wanna-kill but short-on-brains ultra-nationalists against a reasonably professional Kurdish force hybridized with American doctrine and technology, combined with deep tactical air support. Incomprehensibly, the Wagner Group planners did not understand that the modern battlefield is electronic. It sensed their presence, even as they poked their way through the palms along the river, (Bloomberg) late  2/7/2017.

It appears that Yevgeniy Prigozhin received approval from a Kremlin figure for the operation to seize the al-Omar oil field, with Prigozhin rewarded by royalties on the oil. But what chance of success did the Kremlin give it? It wasn’t a small operation. The proposal had to be studied by somebody.

The Russian military intelligence counterpart to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency is the GRU. Since the 1991 Gulf War, the evolving tactics of  the U.S. military have been the main focus of their study. The modern Russian military is in many ways an emulation of that of the U.S. As a matter of course, the proposed operation of Wagner Group would have been studied,  the hazards, opportunities, and chances enumerated, and a prognostication rendered.

So it’s down to this. If the GRU produced a report, it expressed one of these opinions:

  • Significant chance of success, with deniability,  justifying Kremlin approval.
  • Coin-flip, But since it was deniable, and the reward substantial, approval was granted.
  • Failure, or small chance of success. But even if the op failed, approval by the Kremlin would constitute a safer diversion of ultra-nationalism than denial of approval by the Kremlin.

The assumption of reasonable or better competence of the GRU, and their long period of study of the American military, implies the the estimate of “failure.”

Approval of a hopeless mission has  not been the most severe sanction applied by the Kremlin to ultra-nationalists. In eastern Ukraine, a number of “first generation” “separatist” leaders, found uncontrollable by the Kremlin, were assassinated by Russian special forces.

Mueller Indictments; Why We’re Mad; Walter Lippman’s Democracy

The pdf of the indictment can be downloaded here.  Although the trolling itself was conducted under the cover of a visible public company, several items of KGB tradition also appear.

An  “illegal” is a Russian operative who assumes a fictitious identity in the target country, complete with a fictitious nationality. In the past, one fictitious identity was used to enter the target country, and then discarded. A second identity was used in residence. During the Cold War, KGB agents spent a lot of time combing graveyards for IDs that could be recycled.

The most recent illegals ring, busted in 2010, was made notorious in the media by Anna Chapman. This time, “illegal” was modernized.  Russian operatives visited the U.S. using their true identities. Once here, they used traditional spy craft to create “web illegals” via identity theft.

We begin with a set of questions for a worksheet. Fill in tentative answers, and read all the way to the end. Then have another look at the worksheet.

  • What is the overall state of our relations with Russia? Sergei Lavrov often used the word “partner”, which seems a little deceptive. This Russian Embassy link is provides an example of the word in context. Quoting,  “However, our American partners refuse to discuss these embarrassing issues…”

Your multiple-choice is: a) partner, b) rival; c) adversary, d) enemy. But Facebook lets us “un-friend” people. (CNN) Nikki Haley said. “Russia is not our friend.” Is Russia an  e) “unfriend”?

  • The election hacks did not occur in isolation. There is increasing suspicion that in Cuba, Russia permanently damaged the health of American diplomats by assault with a novel weapon. Should this be confirmed by U.S. intelligence, will it inevitably force the conclusion that we are in a state of low intensity, “hybrid war” with Russia? Are there circumstances such that we could we let this pass as “water under the bridge”?

(NPR) What Was Russia’s Role In 2016 U.S. Election? 2 Former KGB Officials Weigh In samples some interesting Russians, close enough for insightful perceptions, but distant from the Kremlin, yet tolerable enough to the Kremlin to survive in Russia. Both appear to be dissident patriots, with viewpoints that are different from ours, but not intentionally deceptive.

Quoting ex KGB Colonel Gennady Gudkov, “In fact, Putin and his entourage are absolutely not interested in bad relations with America. They’re scared of that,” Gudkov said. “But the circumstances are such that they can’t help but use anti-Americanism to strengthen their grip on power.”

Alexander Lebedev, also ex-KGB, who has already exported a good amount of his wealth from Russia, but afraid to leave Russia to be denied reentry, said, “It’s only fair to treat it as a phenomenon where all the major countries are using all the resources they can to influence others to follow their goals,” he said. “So why should it be one-sided – that the Americans are always right, and the Russians are always wrong?”

Vladimir Frolov defines a red line. Quoting, “When intelligence-gathering went to an influence operation, that was crossing the red line…”

  • So does interpreting the election hacks as an act of aggression depend solely on our perceptions of the gravity, or also  the Russian perception of the same? Does it matter that espionage, under the aegis of the Russian state, was used to enhance the operation?

The “sonic attacks” have yet to be factored into American anger with Russia. But our answers to the above questions could be influenced what psychology calls “floating anger”, an emotion searching for attachment to a cause. It could be that we are angry about our new vulnerability. Simply put, before social media came about, the influence of the election hacks could not have been accomplished. Even at the height of communist infiltration, in the years preceding and following World War II, the Russians lacked the capacity for influence of this magnitude. Now they have it with the press of “Enter.”

Walter Lippmann figured this out in 1922, with the publication of Public Opinion. He grappled with the fact that democracy works, even though many issues are beyond the comprehension of the average citizen. Recently, I mentioned Lippmann to a Columbia journalism teacher, who, surprisingly, was not familiar with him. This paragraph, published in 1922, reflects today’s problem (Wikipedia,  additional boldface):

That the manufacture of consent is capable of great refinements no one, I think, denies. The process by which public opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it has appeared in these pages, and the opportunities for manipulation open to anyone who understands the process are plain enough. . . . [a]s a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power…. Under the impact of propaganda, not necessarily in the sinister meaning of the word alone, the old constants of our thinking have become variables. It is no longer possible, for example, to believe in the original dogma of democracy; that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart. Where we act on that theory we expose ourselves to self-deception, and to forms of persuasion that we cannot verify. It has been demonstrated that we cannot rely upon intuition, conscience, or the accidents of casual opinion if we are to deal with the world beyond our reach.

Lippmann proposed that public opinion is molded by elites. Such was his reputation that his public persona survived his attack on the myth of democracy. If he was correct, this explains our new vulnerability. Social media has destroyed the hierarchy of the elites, replacing it with  random, and lateral structures.

In 1955, in Public Philosophy, Lippmann repudiated much of Public Opinion, arguing that the elites are destroying democracy. Perhaps both points are true. Thomas Jefferson thought we should have a revolution every 19 years.

But if democracy is a fiction, it is a very useful one. By all measures, the democracies are the most humane governments on the planet. All attempts to supplant their imperfection with the “perfection” of the dictator’s “vision” have failed.

Now social media purveyors are attempting to patch the vulnerabilities exploited by malign, lateral connections. This corporate limitation on the purest form of democracy cannot be denied. But what else  can we do? We still have the best serviceable democracy. We’ll keep rolling along. And after a while, maybe we’ll lose some of the anger.

Keep on truckin’.




School Shootings; Parkland, Florida; What is Patriotism?

There was a time,  before America became divided, when mass shootings were rare. A period of cultural unity and quiet occupied the space between successes of the civil rights movement, and before the erosion of the standard of living and the stress of terrorism. Perhaps the period between1972 and 9/11 will be recognized as our golden age.

With our division, there has come a change in the meaning of patriotism, which has multiple meanings to different people. The linkage between gun purchases and which party is in power suggests that a new idea of freedom has taken hold. Confidence in government to uphold civil liberty has been replaced by  the freedom to kill.

The most obvious kind of patriotism is devotion to national unity, symbolized by a national flag. But there was a time when the other form of patriotism, devotion to our fellow citizens, was the higher calling. Then, respect for the flag was  transcended by the civil right to desecrate it.  People were more important than symbols.

There is a spiritual war in America right now.  It’s about who owns the ideal, with the right to define it. The flag-wavers are now in ascendance. If they win, they get to define America in terms of a piece of dyed fabric.

Anyone who has read a little history, and understands that people change slowly over centuries, knows where that leads.

CNN: US personnel suffered ‘symptoms resembling brain injury’ in Cuba; New Weapon Design

This article sketches another design for an ultrasound weapon.

CNN: Study: US personnel suffered ‘symptoms resembling brain injury’ in Cuba. Quoting,

The report found “audible or sensory phenomena” were from an unknown source but came from a specified direction. In conclusion, the authors say their study raises “concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”

I’ve written extensively about this. You could start with Senate Hearings on Havana Sonic “Attacks”. Further articles are accessible through this link. Quoting further,

“We actually don’t think it was the audible sound that was the problem,” said Dr. Douglas Smith, another of the study’s authors….We think the audible sound was a consequence of the exposure,” added Smith, who is the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair.”

That’s right. The audible component was not responsible. It’s just a byproduct of nonlinear mixing of ultrasonic components.

In order to overcome skepticism of a practical ultrasound weapon, I wrote a six-part series on the design of such a weapon, beginning with  Havana Sonic Attack Weapon — Let’s Build It! Part 1.  Although I attempted to anticipate Russian capabilities, my design does not necessarily resemble the actual weapon. There are probably six ways from Sunday to design one. My design is a didactic example, separating  the problem into easily digestible pieces.

Fragments of the victims’ experience suggest possible deployment of more than one design. Quoting, “One patient said they heard two short 10-second pulses,…” , differing in duration from all the other reports. Was this divergence the result of:

  • Immediate dysfunction of the auditory nerve?
  •  Efficient, active nulling of the audible mixing product by the weapon?
  • Delivery of tremendous power in a short interval, differing with the long duration of exposure of the other patients, requiring less power?

Given Russia’s relative strength in hydrodynamics and weakness in electronics, a Russian design might be even less electronic and more mechanical. So here’s another design. Unlike  the “Let’s Build It” series, it isn’t going to help the typical reader of this blog understand what is going on. But physicists will understand immediately:

  • The ultrasound generators are arrayed around a cavity filled with gas under high pressure. The pressure increases the “characteristic impedance” of the gas, so the generators can couple better.
  • The gas could be a non-ideal gas-law “gas”. Instead of PV=NRT, it has a triple point near room temperature. A Freon, perhaps.
  • Multiple coupled cavities can be used for impedance matching.
  • The frequencies of the sound generators are adjusted to random correlation, so the mixing products are “white”. This doesn’t help with power, but the combination still contains peaks.  Goal: sigma that exceeds Gaussian.
  • My first design used piezo transducers to generate ultrasound. The actual weapon may use ultrasonic gas whistles, or cavitation coupled to resonance. For high power, the gas whistle could be powered  by deflagration, or detonation slowed to subsonic by a “gas capacitor.” For longer duration with less peak power, gas could be pumped or stored in an accumulator.

The above design is not a good explainer, but it fits well with Russian capabilities. It could have been built by the 1950’s.




Who is behind the Olympics Cyber Attack?

Edit 2/13: As Occam’s Razor (see Wired article) points increasingly towards Russia, keep the below discussion handy as a template for future complexities of North Korean tactics.

Reuters: Games organizers confirm cyber attack, won’t reveal source. A theory has attraction that, in other circumstances, would have all the hallmarks of conspiracy insanity.

South Koreans have a unique psychological susceptibility for their lost half, exceeding even that of West Germans during the Cold War. The vulnerability  has seen multiple uses by the North in the past, gaining aid and development from the South, which was diverted to the elite, or to funding the weapons programs of the North.

South Korea lives in denial. Two notable examples are:

  • Sinking of the Cheonan, The conclusion that a North Korean torpedo had sunk the ship could not be formally reached, even though torpedo parts with North Korean markings were found  under the sunken vessel.
  • The Kaesong Industrial Region, a special economic zone north of the DMZ, funded by South Korea, has been closed since 2/2016. A special panel chose to reject the presidential conclusion that wages paid to workers in the zone were diverted to  North Korea’s nuke program.

Quoting via Wikipedia,

The head of the panel Kim Jong-soo said, "The presidential office inserted the wage-diversion argument as major grounds, yet without concrete information, sufficient evidence and consultations with related agencies, mainly citing defector testimonies that lack objectivity and credibility...

Does Kim Jong-soo really expect North Korea to open up to Price-Waterhouse-Cooper? Defectors are the #1 source of information about this uniquely closed off country.

To South Koreans, North Korea is like the phantom limb of the amputee, never seen but perpetually a source of feeling. What North Korean strategist could ignore the precedent and practicality of exploiting this  sentimentality to undermine? Yet North Korea, isolated by another iron curtain, must not allow punctures by romantic approaches of the South. Analogously, reunification was never a dream of the GDR leadership. It came in the nightmare of collapse.

This suggests that North Korea seeks to manipulate the political landscape of the South, but without the annoying, cloying embrace of the great aunt you’ve never seen before. The public displays of the Olympics have the crowd swaying thrum of a national romance. All that is required is to convert the romance to an object of fear, but by actions perceptible only to South Korea’s leadership.

A hack by North Korea accomplishes this. It converts a feel-good love-fest, dangerous to the North, into a warning about political stability.

The major news sites tend to use hackneyed headlines. One of their favorites is, “So-and-so sends a message to so-and-so.” The body of such an article typically tries to decode the hidden-in-plain-view message.  Hack writing  fills up column inches, without being provably wrong in the short term.

But in this case, the headline “King-Jong-un Sends a Message to South Korea” has a significant chance of correctness.  It could make a nice article. The message:

Look at what we can do to you if you let the U.S. strike and/or support sanctions without relief. We can turn your government over at will. We can divide you against  yourself.

Division is the currently fashionable, deniable weapon of foreign affairs.


Nunes Memo

Reuters: Explosive memo released as Trump escalates fight over Russia probe. PDF download here.

The press seems disinclined to lay a finger on the heart of the controversy, so here it is. This is nonpolitical analysis. If you’re interested in a break from politics, read on. Quoting,

a) Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations –an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016 Mother Jones article by David Corn…

In this case,  Steele as a source simply means that he was under contract to the FBI to collect from, curate, and pay informants for information.  But why does unauthorized disclosure constitute such a serious violation? There is a specific reason. If the Russians know he is a source with a formal relationship with the FBI, it’s worth their trouble to

  • Contaminate the pool of sources by insertion of false information, which, it appears, they did. Very early on, a fan-fiction group recognized some of their authorship in Steele’s submissions. Neither that group, nor Steele, were necessarily aware of it. 
  • Discover Steele’s legitimate sources, particularly inside Russia, and sanction or liquidate them.

The Russians would be an easy guess for the fan-fiction, because insertion of blatantly false information discredits the whole pile. But Steele himself, with strong negativity about Trump, cannot be completely excluded.

Espionage is a highly intellectual game, a hall of mirrors, in which every lie turns back on itself to contradict the truth. Almost all raw information, save that of a few Cold War super spies, is of low quality. Steele’s information is just typical of the game. If you want to understand this better, take a break from politics and read John le Carrés Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, or Body of Lies by David Ignatius.

When Steele was professionally employed, he was an “intelligence officer”, which means  that he developed sources, and collected from them.  In retirement, Steele became a middleman with his former sources.  But he made two mistakes:

  • Abandonment of the key  stricture of his former profession: silence.
  • Expressed negativity about a Trump presidency, which may have influenced  his collections.

These failings do not imply that all of the sources he collected from are worthless. Steele was the conduit to  numerous, unnamed people, with independent reputations, whose identities must forever remain top secret.  Only meticulous correlation, curation, and judgement can decide the value, what Mike Pompeo calls “exquisite truth”. This is the province of the analyst.

The challenge for the Democrats is that the greater truth of the matter lies not in Steele himself, but in his sources. (Daily Beast) Fusion GPS claims that Kremlin tried to purge their sources. The lives of sources who are still healthy, and would be crucial to a Dem rebuttal, would be put at unacceptable risk by the declassification process.

Of Christopher Steele’s clandestine world, only Steele himself, already a public figure, is immune to added risk from the Nunes memo, which is why Steele’s name alone appears in it.

Very clever, Representative Nunes.