Sri Lanka Bombings; Argentine author Jorge Borges, The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim

In 1935, Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges wrote the short story,The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim As with all of Borges’ stories, it is brief and dense with meaning, a critique of a fictitious novel that Borges invents as a plot device. Quoting Wikipedia,

The narrator then summarizes the plot of the novel. The book is a detective story about a freethinking Bombay law student of Islamic background. He becomes involved in a sectarian riot in which he impulsively kills a Hindu, after which he becomes an outcast among the lower classes of India. …

He meets a man who, though destitute, is happy and spiritual. The student encounters many such people radiating a small amount of this spiritual clarity. From these experiences, he infers the existence of a perfect man, whom he calls Al-Mu’tasim. (Al-Mu’tasim means “he who goes in quest of aid” or “the seeker of shelter”.)[2] This perfect man is a higher spiritual being, the source and originator of this pure spiritual clarity. Obsessed with meeting Al-Mu’tasim, the student goes on a pilgrimage through Hindustan to find him. He eventually hears the voice of the Al-Mu’tasim resounding from a hut. He pulls back the curtain and goes in. The book ends at this point. The reviewer then gives his criticisms of the work.

Borges’ story is fiction, yet it illuminates in two ways:

  • The inference of a “perfect man” is analogous to the problem of the “mastermind”. When can the existence of a “mastermind” be inferred,  and when is it just a leap of imagination?
  • The story intertwines murder with the problem of human perfection.  It offers an empathic view of the mind of the terrorist, as only fiction can provide.

Borges’ story was an unconscious influence towards the theory of a mastermind, presented in Sri Lanka Bombings.




Sri Lanka Bombings

(CNN) Sri Lanka attack death toll rises to 290.

To identify the name of the group, and affiliations, will be solved by police work, not speculation.  It is not too early to think about how this relates to global terrorism. The bombings have features that set them apart from others:

  • With high confidence, both the perpetrators and victims come from groups that are minorities: Islamic terror against Christian groups.
  • The prior ethic conflict, the Sri Lanka Civil War, Tamil versus Sinhalese, has nothing to do with it.
  • During the Civil War, the Tamils were internally fractured by multiple political and military groups. As with FARC in Colombia, this assures that there are significant numbers of Tamils who are still aggrieved.  Even today, FARC sympathizers can be found just a ten minute drive out of Medellin.
  • The majority of Tamils are Hindu, but 10% of the total Sri Lanka population is Muslim; most Muslims are Tamil speakers, though not culturally Tamils.
  • 10% Muslim against 7.4% Christian seems thin gruel for an insurrection.

Islamic terrorism has tended to directly target  groups they wish to displace. Then why not the majority of Sri Lanka, who are Buddhist?

A recurring idea among terrorists of all kinds, including White Nationalists in the U.S., is to artificially kindle a conflict to weaken existing society, thereby facilitating their goals.  But as the Islamic population  of Sri Lanka is small, a direct attack on the Sinhalese majority could provoke a backlash, both official and grass-roots, too violent to withstand.

To be considered is the possibility that an intellectual core of “masterminds” have devised a kindling strategy particularized for Sri Lanka,  carefully staged to avoid effective counter-terrorism at an early stage. The strategy might have these elements:

  • The antagonism of the Christian community results in an enforcement activity directed at Muslim elements within the Tamils, enough to antagonize the Tamils, but not resulting in effective action against the terrorists.
  • Antagonism of the Tamils creates sanctuary space for the terrorists within the Tamil community.
  • Relying on the Tamil tendency towards political fracture, demonstrated during the Civil War, the terrorists hijack part of the community.
  • With enlarged resources, the terrorists increase the tempo of attacks, as Tamils flock to them in the face of Sinhalese repressive measures.
  • The immediate goal: a chunk of Tamil territory.  The Mystical goal: the whole island is repopulated.

This sounds crazy to us. (Particularly, since the majority of Tamil-speaking Muslims are not culturally Tamils.)

But it cannot be judged by the yardstick of rationality. Mystical thinking  bridges all gaps of logic. It implies one prediction to be tested by police work: The design of  attacks, focusing on Christians, is a foreign import. Since Indonesia and Malaysia are loci of church bombings, some suicidal, little ideological packaging is required.

This theory conveniently explains why responsibility has not yet been claimed. It involves reasoning of such complex fiction, the perpetrators may not understand it themselves.





U.S. intelligence says Huawei funded by Chinese state security: report

(Reuters) U.S. intelligence says Huawei funded by Chinese state security: report.

The server that hosts records attempted hacks.  For those who are not familiar with server management, most websites are subject to constant attacks, producing large samples amenable to analysis.

In the case of Intel9, most attacks trace to rented servers and botnets. A small proportion of them, identified by reverse-IP lookup, appear to originate from  China companies. At least one of them has a well-known name. In other cases involving the Baidu search engine, the server may be owned by Baidu, or the user-agent string forged to fit the “white list.”

(Lawfare) Beijing’s New National Intelligence Law: From Defense to Offense explains the legal obligation of such companies to participate in espionage. Questions:

  • Arer these companies are aware of these activities, or have they themselves been hacked?
  • Are such companies required to participate to a minor degree to demonstrate  compliance with the National Intelligence Law?
  • Is the participation of these companies fully revealed by reverse-IP, or does obfuscation hide more of it?

The severity of the problem is not yet appreciated by many members of the EU. (Reuters) Belgian cybersecurity agency finds no threat from Huawei. No greater threat to freedom exists.





U.S. Will Not Support U.N. Security Council Draft Resolution Calling for Tripoli Cease-Fire

(Stratfor) Libya: Russia, U.S. Will Not Support U.N. Security Council Draft Resolution Calling for Tripoli Cease-Fire. Quoting,

Why It Matters: The U.S. decision not to support the resolution may indicate that Washington is considering shifting its stance toward supporting the Libyan National Army and its commander, Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter [Haftar].

The shift has a surprising element, since Stratfor also states that Haftar is not clearly winning. This is far more significant than if he was. Quoting,

According to the latest reports, LNA members have been retreating toward al-Ghariyana as they have struggled to break into Tripoli’s southern districts.

I’ve been a Haftar fan from the start. He lived here for  two decades, and made the politically significant choice of U.S. citizenship. Before we get  intellectual, let’s use a broad brush:

  • He’s one of ours.
  • He despises Islamism, the theocratic intrusion of religion into government.
  • He has no enthusiasm for democracy in Libya.

Haftar’s aim is the overthrow of a government that was formed by a consensual process that included some elections, though the electoral process was discontinuous. Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, though honored mostly in the breach, states

“…none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available pursuant to this Act shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree.”

Carthage was a city; Libya is not.  The U.S. realization is that the Government of National Accord, confined to a single city, with only partial recognition by other elements, and a discontinuous electoral process, does not conform with the definition of democracy assumed by the Foreign Assistance Act.

This is the broad brush. In Russians Deploy to back Libya’s Haftar, I wrote,

  • As a consequence of the U.S. historical tradition of religious tolerance and democracy, U.S. foreign policy in previous administrations has attempted to embrace Islamism without prejudice or distinction. The U.S.  backed Islamists who feigned  the pretense of democracy, such as Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi, and Syrian rebels.

There is a reflexive U.S. tendency to oppose Russian initiatives, which are frequently, though not always, damaging to U.S. interests. Quoting,

  • Russia is our adversary, for various reasons that have entirely to do with aggression and subversion in Europe.

Through sloppy thinking, this tends to  generalize to  the assumption, left over from the Cold War, that Russia will inevitably pull a society down.  Russia is a state of intermediate development. Whether a Russian intervention is likely to damage the development of a client state, or help it, depends upon the client’s development.  In Venezuela, or Eastern Europe, Russia may do great harm. In Libya or Syria, there are no institutions to damage, although Russian tactics often cause large loss of life.

The battle for Tripoli hangs in balance. Haftar’s forces have exhibited uncoordinated movements, with losses in ambush. A low-tech army is plagued by the fog of war, not knowing the locations of one’s own units, as well as those of the enemy. Haftar’s demonstrated sympathy for the U.S. can be enhanced by the provision of a type of aid at which the U.S. is superlative, battlefield intelligence, gathered mainly via technical collections.

The taking of a city: John Toland’s The Last 100 Days (of the 3rd Reich), Part 3, chronicles how the Austrian resistance group “0-5” saved Vienna from total destruction by guiding Soviet troops around the German flank, through the Vienna Woods, and into the city from the rear.

These days it’s all technical.

Dispute among U.S. officials; IRG Terror Designate? Trump administration Iran arms control report

(Reuters) Exclusive: Dispute flares among U.S. officials over Trump administration Iran arms control report. Quoting

The report’s publication follows the administration’s formal designation on Monday of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s elite paramilitary and foreign espionage unit, as a foreign terrorist organization.

The case that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism has the very respectable General James Mattis attached.  Quoting from General Mattis; Iran continues to sponsor terrorism; Iran, Iran, Iran,

“At the time when I spoke about Iran I was a commander of US central command and that (Iran) was the primary exporter of terrorism, frankly, it was the primary state sponsor of terrorism and it continues that kind of behavior today,”

At the time I argued with use of the word:

I agree with all but the choice of words. Iran is in an expansionist, revolutionary phase, not unlike the early years of the Soviet Union. Unlike any other state adversary extant, it also exports an ideology, with the gleam of the caliphate, something we were hoping would not recur since the downfall of communism.

Iran has at times lead the world in assassinations on foreign soil, and continues to have a very active program. But so does Russia.  Particularly hateful to Mattis is the slaughter of Marines in the Khobar Towers bombings in 1996. The principal  Iranian controlled agent, Ahmed al-Mughassil was captured in 2015. (Brookings) Captured: Mastermind behind the 1996 Khobar Towers attack. Some say the Iranians deliberately betrayed him. This is possible, since at the time the moderates were ascendant.

The domino theory, so popular during the Cold War, is alive again. I might be one of the proponents, but unlike those who justified the Vietnam war with the fear that North Vietnam would take over Southeast Asia, I have no solution. If there is a row of dominoes, Iraq is first in line. This proposition is partly indexed in Trump wants U.S. military in Iraq to ‘watch Iran’: CBS interview. The blog search for Sistani brings up all the pieces.

The gist is that Iran, several times the center of an empire, will, with a certain degree of inevitability, swallow its politically weak neighbor. Complicating any U.S. effort to prevent this is the prediction that Iraq will in a few years become inhospitable to any U.S. presence. (2/4/2019 NY Times) Trump’s Plan for U.S. Forces in Iraq Met With Unified Rejection in Baghdad. Quoting,

President Trump’s unexpected announcement that he wanted American troops in Iraq to stay there to “watch Iran” achieved a previously unattainable goal on Monday: unity in the Iraqi political establishment….The unity was a collective rejection of his proposal, and added momentum to proposed legislation that could hamper American troops’ ability to operate in Iraq.

The Trump administration has innovated a number of aspects of U.S. foreign policy in positive ways. This is not one of them. As an author of the idea that Iran will absorb Iraq,  I would certainly like to avert the event. But Pax Americana is done with, and we have to pick our battles. To declare the IRGC a terrorist organization offers advantages with respect to sanctions and rules of engagement, but not enough to overcome the hostility of a whole region, including the part to be defended.

Talk loudly and carry a small stick? Talleyrand (if you like him), or a Kissinger (whether you like him or not), were successful at statecraft in a world of diminishing influence, which Kissinger actually anticipated  by 40 years. Both understood force, diplomacy backed by force, and had the bargaining skills of a union organizer. They also knew how to fold most advantageously.

Of choices to be made, with limited resources, I  prefer Venezuela.



(CNN) North Korea tests ‘tactical’ weapon; Kim’s Panzerfaust / Davy Crockett

(CNN) North Korea tests ‘tactical’ weapon, report says. Quoting a South Korean assessment,

A South Korean government source with military knowledge told CNN that weapon was likely a piece of long-range artillery “likely to be a multiple rocket launcher.” At the time, South Korean Unification Ministry deputy spokeswoman Lee Eu-gene downplayed the significance of the 2018 event, saying Kim had been continuing his inspections in the military sector “intermittently.”

The downplay could reflect the actual state of affairs. But there is a worrying alternative, made possible by the participation of physicists from the former Soviet Union. In the past few years, the North’s nuke program, formerly glacial, has produced a torrent of results.


No missile launch was detected by US Northern Command and Strategic Command, according to US Department of Defense officials.

The absence of a missile launch detection, if not a very small missile, still allows a weapon like the nuclear Davy Crockett M-28, which resembles an upsized Panzerfaust antitank weapon from World War II. The recoilless rifle design consists of a launcher tube containing a powder charge that acts against a stick  within the barrel. At the forward end of the stick is a bulb that contains the destructive device. The Panzerfaust contained a conventional shaped charge. The Davy Crockett contained a version of the W54 nuclear warhead.

Is Kim inviting us to fill in the blank after “tactical” with “nuclear”? An assessment  could center on the shape of the plutonium pit in the “primary” of a warhead. Two practical choices exist: round, or like a football (elliptical)/ linear implosion. Round is most efficient, and requires the least fissile material. Elliptical/ linear implosion is the choice of space limited applications, like a skinny MIRV warhead,  a nuclear artillery shell, or a Davy Crockett.

In flight, the Davy Crockett is a skinny stick with a bulb on the front. The fatter the bulb, the less aerodynamic it is. The greater yield of the round design is of no value with very short range, as some distance is required to survive even a very small nuclear explosion.

Although the U.S. makes wide use of linear implosion primaries with elliptical pits, a publicity photo of a happy Kim with a North Korean  “physics package”  goes against this design. Missile warheads are more sensitive  to weight and yield than to shape. Linear implosion requires more fissile material, with greater weight for a given yield than a “round” design.

Should we look for evidence of linear implosion to rule in/out a battlefield weapon of Davy Crockett ilk? This risks captivation by the U.S. approach to weapons design, which aims for best-in-class. North Korea’s iffy rockets  dispose of this.

A battlefield tactical nuclear weapon could be astonishingly primitive yet still deliver the goods. A sufficiently vertical trajectory, as with a mortar, can optimize the range of the most awkward projectile.   Similar astonishment comes with Russia’s Hypersonic Missile; Reverse Engineering Secrets of Avangard.

However primitive, resumption of nuke testing is implied, to optimize a physics package to fly on the front of a stick.

They know how to do it at Warwick Castle.








Khalifa Haftar Attacks Tripoli; Physical Illness?

Khalifa Haftar’s assault on Tripoli is described in some circles as a massive  failure of judgment,  a rash strategy breaking from previous   tactical brilliance. This point of view is supported by reports of uncoordinated moves by small units of the LNA, resulting in ambushes and captures of some LNA units by the defenders.

Explanations  for Haftar’s  risky assault  center on alleged defects or new facts of character, based mainly on anecdotes and interviews. To break with one’s own established character is a privilege of free will, but a theory that relies upon it is weak.

At the cost of one more hypothesis, we can avoid this. The hypothesis: Haftar is physically ill. Critical condition is not required; all that is required is a chronic sign of mortality, a signal that he may not have the half decade or required required to finesse all the opposing elements.

Haftar was  hospitalized in April 2018 with what was claimed by some sources to be a stroke. Given his short hospitalization, the most likely event is a TIA (transient_ischemic_attack). Other possibilities include the mass effect of a benign tumor, a low grade malignancy, or an early-stage neurodegenerative disorder, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Most neurological disorders in the elderly leave constant reminders of their presence. Sometimes the symptoms are unapparent to others; they may progress in ways that interfere with the image and reality of power.  Physical illness requires Haftar to act with haste.

Absent a medical history, Occam’s Razor discourages the addition of this hypothetical to what is known, in order to solve the problem of Haftar’s behavior. But the hospitalization supplies the predicate.

With the predicate, we can disregard Haftar’s hyperbolic speech, which cannot be reliably distinguished from showmanship.





Guide to Bob’s Solo Manhattan Art Show

School of Visual Arts Link:   Project Space.Through April 29. For hours and locations see  Bob’s Manhattan Art Show; Burning Man.

Exhibit Guide

At 209 E. 23rd:

I’m Inna Shower. Acrylic on canvas.

Fish Eye. Acrylic on Canvas.

Portrait of a Spaceman. Oil on canvas.

Generations. Oil on canvas.

The Devil of 7th Avenue. Sumi ink and oil pastel on paper

How Will They Remember Us? Commentary on the Technological Singularity . Oil on traditional gessoed panel.

Burning Man. Oil on canvas.

At 380 2nd Ave. 8th floor:

Paintings in Acrylic

Uber Ride Times Square

Jacob’s Ladder

Oil Painting

Joe and Mary Six Pack Admired by Their Miraculous Baby

Relief Paintings with Molding Paste

George Washington Cracked

Abraham Lincoln

A Day at the Beach

The Monuments of Mars

Bob’s Manhattan Art Show; Burning Man

You are cordially invited to view my art, now on display at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, as a solo show, in two location, through April 29. Open to the public at no charge.

Burning Man (click to enlarge)

  • Location #1:  SVA Gramercy, 209 E. 23rd Street, north side, between 2nd & 3rd, ground floor hallway off lobby.  Open 8 a.m – 10 p.m, 7 days/week.
  • Location #2: 380 2nd Avenue, 8th floor, SE corner 2nd & 22nd, 8th floor, opposite guard desk. Open 8 a.m – 10 p.m., weekdays only.

See also Guide to Bob’s Solo Manhattan Art Show and School of Visual Arts Link:   Project Space.

This solo show includes oil and acrylic paintings, and relief sculpture, a kind of hybrid between painting and sculpture.

This is a MUST SEE for all hackers, spies, station chiefs, and news reporters (Take note, CNN and Reuters, it’s only a brisk walk from your HQs), for whom Intel9 is the blackest of mysteries. Practice your brush-passes, exchange microdots and secret handshakes while you look for steganographic codes in my paintings.

If you find any hidden meaning, let me know. This is, after all, the essence of modern art. But is there a hidden agenda? Consider (Independent) Modern art was CIA ‘weapon’.

See the art. Then make your report.