All posts by Number9

CNN: Attack by drones with explosives raises alarm

CNN video: Attack by drones with explosives raises alarm.

The video misleads. Crucially, at 2:05, James Carafano states, “All these things are radio controlled.”

Cheap commercial drones are programmed by the factory to listen for the signal of a controller. But anybody who can hack firmware can take that feature out.

Expensive U.S. military drones, which are not intended for kamikaze use, have behaviors that enhance the chance of safe recovery if the controlling signal is lost. They cannot be fooled by false instructions, because the control stream is encrypted.  (Some readers may recall adversary eavesdropping in Afghanistan. That was of the video stream, from the drone camera to base, for which encryption was neglected. The enemy could see, but  could not control.)

The drones used in the attacks on Russian bases had advanced control circuitry that relied on two radios:

  • GPS, which is a form of one-way radio, where the receiver tells the drone autopilot where it is. You have it, you use it, you know what it is.
  • Link to a human controller, who can override the autopilot, operating paddles to move the control surfaces and throttle of the drone. The link is not encrypted, so if it is active, it can be hijacked by ECM ( jamming, electronic countermeasures.)

Subject to clarification, that the Russians  were able to crash some of the drones electronically suggests that both GPS and the controller link were active.

Drones were used by ISIS in defense of Mosul. Those drones did not have GPS. They were guided visually by ISIS controllers a few hundred yards away. They were brought down by U.S. countermeasures,  by jamming or inserting false commands into the human control link.

But there is, and always will be a form of navigation/control that cannot be jammed:  dead reckoning. The crudest approximation always works to some degree. Ancient mariners used it when they could not see the sky. You use it yourself  when the light goes out. So let’s pretend we’re a drone. This is what we do when the two radios, GPS and control link, go bonkers:

If we were moving towards our destination with such-and-such a heading and speed, keep moving the same heading and speed, and by your watch, you’ll know when you’re over it. Then dive.

I have no interest in offering refinements to the above.

Reports indicate that the drones used in the Russia attack did not have the smarts to deal with tampering of the radio signals. Lack of sophistication has been the hallmark of ISIS, because individuals who self-select terror are not the brightest specimens of humanity. But neither is it particularly hard to do.

So our desire for a rigorously proactive defense is thwarted. The current drones can be misdirected by GPS jamming, or caused to crash by tampering with the control signal. With help from a rogue state, this may not always be so.

One bright spot: Of all the possible targets of a directed-energy weapon, lightweight drones are the softest. The low energy required to deform or ignite  plastic or wood makes a man-portable laser feasible.


Senate Hearings on Havana Sonic “Attacks”

Today, (CNN) Senate holds hearing on Cuba ‘sonic attacks’

Here’s a link to previous articles. Since that time, the FBI has (ABC) come to doubt. But the Russian research involved exposure over weeks, at much lower thresholds than noted by Western sources. Did the F.B.I. consult “Effects of Ultrasonic Noise on the Human Body – A Bibliographic Review”, or set up a similar long term experimental facility?

The NY Post has the most clearly audible sound, as part of a video with spectrum display.  Points:

  • If  development of medical conditions, involving white matter brain damage  by  U.S. and Canadian diplomats, was contemporaneous with exposure to this noise,  the association  strongly indicates the operation of a purposeful, specialized device, not the accidental byproduct of some appliance that needs service.
  • If the recording device was a cellphone, or anything other than a specialized laboratory microphone-→amplifier-→digitizer, it adds artifacts to the record. Too much may be lost to reconstruct the gadget.
  • The audible noise of the recording cannot be the cause of harm. The audible noise is a byproduct, a trace left by ultrasonic noise as a result of nonlinear mixing. This is because high intensity audible noise causes extreme pain, the kind that makes you get up and move away, fast. Ultrasonic noise evades most of it. The lobster boils to death in the pot, but feels nothing.

(IEEE) Was a Sonic Weapon Deployed in Cuba dismisses the feasibility of weaponized ultrasound, citing (pdf) Acoustic Weapons—A Prospective Assessment: Sources, Propagation, and Effects of Strong Sound . But this is contradicted by the Russian references provided in Havana Sonic Attacks — Addendum for techies only.

Still, let’s look at some alternate explanations:

  • A “toxin” theory has bee proposed. Quite a number of botanicals consumed by humans contain neurotoxins, such as BMAA.
  • Various neurotropic viruses, such as Zika, cause white matter damage.
  • They were all sick before they took up residence in Cuba (C’mon!)

But for these to fit, they must also cause auditory parasthesia, changing the sensation of innocuous sound to noxious sound.

A few consumer appliances  can make high frequency, or ultrasonic noise, particularly if they are slightly broken:

  • An old fashioned television, which can be ruled out immediately.
  • A light dimmer.
  • A defective compact fluorescent light bulb, a  CCFL. But rare, and multiple locations were affected.
  • A high frequency inverter, found in backup power systems. But one that makes noise is rare, and multiple locations were affected.

If the quality of the recordings provided to the Office of Naval Research is sufficient, it can be determined if the spectra

  • match a consumer appliance.
  • match industrial machinery.
  • has an intricate, purposeful structure, which strongly implies a weapon.
  • is an ambiguous fit for the above.

One of the two spectral displays I’ve seen, not the one in the NY Post video, shows a sharply defined “comb structure”. It has the purposeful signature of a weapon.

The argument for a weapon hinges on Russian research:

35. Il’nitskaia AV, Pal’tsev IuP. [Combined
action of ultrasonics and noise of standard
parameters]. Gig Sanit. 1973;(5):50–3. In

36. Roshchin AV, Dobroserdov VK. [Reactions
of the human auditory analysor to the effect
of high frequency acoustic oscillations].
Gig Tr Prof Zabol. 1971;15(12):3–7.

But how ludicrous to think they could be involved in any way. I’ll lay money Greenland’s independence movement is behind it!





U.S. suspending security aid to Pakistan: State Department, Part 1

Reuters: U.S. suspending security aid to Pakistan: State Department.

The top question for many readers is whether the aid suspension is a good idea.  Let’s outline the problem:

  • Pakistan harbors the sustainable root of the Afghan insurgency. If it weren’t for Pakistan’s double game, the U.S. presence could be much smaller.
  • It could save us $2BN a year of military aid.
  • Unless the Russians decide it’s in their interest to resume land transshipment, the $2BN could be quickly eaten up by the cost of supply by air.
  • The aid cutoff may be informed by a special situation, with greater understanding of Pakistan’s volatile internals than evident in open sources. If so, it has a chance of success. There is  indication of conflict on this issue, between civil and military, that the cutoff could leverage.
  • Absent that special situation, it won’t have the desired effect, which is primarily to force Pakistan to destroy the parts of the Haqqani network that intrude into Pakistan, and similar groups.
  • Something is birthing in Pakistan that could eventually result in what we want, though on a time scale too slow for quick relief.

There’s a long and a short to why U.S. money and pressure has not thus far motivated action against the Haqqani network.. Preferring a definite statement instead of a waffle,

***Pakistan is a failed state***

Pakistan is #17 on the 2017 Fragile State Index. It has improved annually since 2012.

This is easily concealed to the new or  hopeful statesman, because the elite of Pakistan are a cultured bunch,  more than able to hold their own in conversation, in beautifully spoken English. With impeccable social skills, they will fete you at dinners, all the while displaying table manners that are probably superior to our own.  And after you’ve burped your way back to comfort, you’ll discover that they have told you nothing. Former defense secretary Robert Gates remarked on this in (Reuters 1/21/2010), “Pakistan’s future military plans? U.S. doesn’t know”:

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid and a charm offensive that included Thursday’s trip by Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ to Islamabad, a significant “trust deficit” is putting distance between the two militaries....“The Pakistan military - they don’t share with us in advance their plans and intentions,” the official told reporters in Pakistan, speaking on the condition of anonymity....“We’re reliant on what their public press statements are, just like everybody else is... Any question about the future, honestly, we find out about the same time everybody else does, because they don’t tell us in advance what they intend to do.”

Even Gates was susceptible to the hospitality of his hosts. So he politely left them an out for their double game, which at the time included support of Haqqani:

The official said he was certain the “trust problem” was a major factor, although he and a U.S. defense official added that secrecy has its advantages when launching offensives.

Fragile or failed, the index is compiled from statistics. It can’t express the personal factor: A failed state offers no one to negotiate with. Talk to, yes. Negotiate with, no. The Pakistanis, with their white glove hospitality, conceal this well. You think you are talking to an authority. Perhaps, in a limited way, this is true. Pakistan is a place of fiefs. But unlike the traditional fief, which was a land domain, patent, or right granted by a sovereign, Pakistan’s fiefs are quasi-sovereign themselves.

For example, Pakistan’s military is not subordinate to the civil government. Open sources on this subject are highly charged, as if written by stakeholders.  Examples are provided by The Diplomat pages, and particularly, After Dawn: The Civil-Military Chasm Deepens in Pakistan. Lacking the literal reliability of Western reporting, there is information to be gleaned. The article begins with

On October 6, Cyril Almeida, a senior Pakistani journalist, published an article in the English-language daily Dawn entitled “Act against militants or face international isolation, civilians tell military.” The article narrated an intense scene of heated debate between the country’s top civil and military leaders, held a few days ago.

China’s influence turns out to be crucial:

The government’s cautious demand — some might call it an expression of frustration — of the military to gain consensus on some of the country’s security policies may not have been the result of India’s recently declared policy to isolate Pakistan internationally, but due to the steadily building pressure from Pakistan’s closet ally, China, which has questioned Pakistan’s logic behind putting a technical hold on India’s move to ban Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar at the United Nations (UN).

China is crucial because it has made Pakistan a major part of Silk Road, aiming to create a modern corridor of influence and prosperity all the way to Karachi.  The reporting of The Diplomat implicitly suggests China as a reason for (Reuters) Exclusive: Pakistan plans takeover of charities run by Islamist figure U.S. has targeted. But there is no evidence that U.S. pressure has anything to do with it. It precedes the aid cutoff.

There remain strong counter currents to the above.  Pakistan as it now exists is not going to quietly cede the future to something else.

Conclusion: If the aid cutoff is an intelligently informed attempt to strengthen the hand of the civil government, it might work.

Let’s not end the discussion like this, because it resembles a traditional chess game of geopolitics. It’s really a currents-of-history thing. Questions:

  • How did Pakistan become a failed state?
  • Who is going to rescue it?

To be continued shortly. In the meantime, meet the new kid on the block.

A New Reign of Terror in Iran ?

August 30, 1981 began seven years of terror. The trigger was the assassination of Mohammad Javad Bahonar, prime minister of Iran, by the MEK. More hits followed. It has been asserted that the pace of hits was so quick, it threatened to eviscerate Ruhollah Khomeini’s government.

The MEK, a mind control cult, has isolated specks of appeal, such as equal rights for women. It is co-lead by a man and a woman. Nothing about those isolated specks justifies what the organization did in the 1981-1982 frame, or how it treats its members. Iran Protests notes that Iran is drowning in ideas. The creators of MEK made one more of the infinite varieties of folk stew philosophy out of these ideas, which include mayhem and murder. It also tastes of Marxism, Maoism, and Shi’ism. Scholars call it syncretistic,  an amalgam of mutually incompatible ideas.

There has always been extrajudicial killing in Iran, but the pace accelerated in 1982, and climaxed in 1988. Nine years after the 1979 revolution,  Ruhollah Khomeini was still, in word and reality, the supreme leader. In 1988, Khomeini had only one more year to live; perhaps he was anxious that the new forms of Iran would outlast him. So he suspended the rule of law.

What Khomeini’s followers did in the in the years climaxing in the 1988 executions of “political prisoners”, and doubtless at his direction, was absolutely horrible. The following year, echoing the reaction against the excesses of Iran’s reign of terror, Khomeini proclaimed a “year of law.”

As the Nuremberg Trials established, the will of the leader does not exempt his followers from guilt. The youngest victim of the French Reign of Terror was aged 14.  Iran’s Terror was similar. Memories of the stories, which so vivify Iran’s native practice of terror, have faded. All this happened before Internet archiving, which makes it impossible to offer you reliable, respectable links. Nevertheless, I have a little, approximate corroboration for  10 Of The Youngest Children Sentenced to Death. Quoting,

According to the Organization of Women Against Execution, Iran’s Islamic regime executed 187 juvenile females between 1981 and 1990, including nine girls between the ages of 10 and 13.

It is likely that a good proportion of the stories, which can be found in contemporary nonfiction literature, are true.

By 2009, Iran  had developed civil institutions useful to both religious and secular elements. Members of the Green Movement were punished in the civil framework. There was no need for terror, because the Greens had private lives of sufficient satisfaction that it was enough punishment to interrupt those lives.

But now Iran is faced with a bunch of rowdy, unemployed young men who have nothing to lose. They don’t feel prison, or house arrest, quite the same way. “Inside” is about the same as “outside.” If a young man has nothing to lose but his life, what effective punishment and deterrent can there be?

The complex of religion and military, the Qom religious establishment, the bonyads, and the IRIG, hold Khomeini’s charter, to create and perfect an Islamic state, and to expand it beyond Iran’s borders. Now there is civil conflict between the charter holders and the secular, civil needs of Iran. It’s really quite simple. Where  does the money go?

The charter holders are old men now. Many of them are senior clerics. Like Khomeini in his last years, they may, in futile search for stasis, push for what worked for them in 1988. Immersed and isolated in their own ideas of “jurisprudence”, which are to us medieval, they may not be concerned with history as written by Western historians. History may be the judge, but not for them.

This is why Western cheerleading  risks a new Terror.






Happy New Year, Spaceman!

We’re all voyagers on Spaceship Earth.

(Click to enlarge. There may be a delay.)

The spaceship is in trouble. The crew is squabbling. The biosphere is touch-and-go. Black holes threaten obliteration. Our final destination is unknown. Let’s try to hold it together for another spin around the Sun!



(Portrait of a Spaceman. 36×24″, oil on canvas.)

Iran Protests

A little like France under the Ancien Régime, we can try to divide the pie of Iran into estates. The slices are messy, but it’s still worth doing:

  • Clergy, the Qom religious establishment, encompassing both the religiously liberal, and  hardliners. It has  institutional resemblance to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.
  • IRGC, the Guard. A warrior class, it analogizes with the French nobility.
  • Secular society, with a Western orientation, tending towards higher economic status.
  • Religious society,  tending towards lower economic status. The peasants.

The monarch is missing. Unlike the relationship between the Papacy and the monarchs of Europe in the late age of the Roman Empire,the president of Iran is kept on a short leash. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president from 2005 to 2013, tried to slip his leash by establishing a religious basis of legitimacy outside  the clerical establishment.  I don’t want to vet the articles, so just google “Ahmadinejad mystic“, and pick it over.

Had he succeeded, he would have analogized well with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope’s irritating rival. The clergy noticed this and became extremely irritated,   So irritated, in fact, that it was expedient to replace him by a liberal, Hassan Rouhani, just to get rid of him. If it had not been so urgent to get rid of Ahmadinejad, who pulled support from religious society, Qom might have had a better-for-them choice than Rouhani as  the most conservative electable candidate.

The clergy is closed to those without training, but religious society could be bundled with the IRGC, making a bundle of the “lay religious.” The secular government is not itself  a a group; it’s a battleground. Political machinery is short lived. Ahmadinejad’s machine had the greatest potential longevity, but he overplayed his hand.

The liberal tide reached a peak with the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. In 2005, unable to deliver on his platform of liberal reform, his second term ended with deep personal frustration. With political  fluidity the measure, it marked the end of the Iranian Revolution. It bears comparison with French Revolution, which by the same measure  ended with the Paris Commune revolt of 1871. Eventually, every revolution declares itself the last.

To make sure that the 1979 revolution was the last, Iran has impressive machinery of repression. There are so many hidden hands  there can be traffic jams behind the curtain. The  security establishment is working on the diagnosis. Protestors have been released so  the secret police can observe who is talking to who. Then there will be a sweep.

Differences between the 2009 Green Movement and this one have been noted:

  • To the extent that the protests are not spontaneous, the leadership lacks previous political visibility.
  • The  Green Movement was a clash between secular society and the clergy. This time, it’s different.

The current protests cross the societal divide. In the years following 1979, the IRIG became an avenue of opportunity for poor young men. In return for ideological fervor, and willingness to enforce internal repression, they had jobs. Slowly but inevitably, in the absence of external challenge to the state, or of a “renewal movement” internal to the IRIG, things have taken the natural course, further towards flab and corruption.

If we except monosyllables, Iran is the last ideological state in the world today. Corruption is dressed with ideas.  So is money. Religious and ideological ardor opens the door to financial gain. This should not surprise; it’s just one more recapitulation of the history of Western Europe. In Qom, the currency of personal advancement is religious exegesis, a special kind of literature. This seems strange to us, but as Bitcoin shows, all money is based on an abstraction. It also shows that quantity beats quality. The quantity is huge, the results are poor, but the money is still green.

The minds of the decision makers and religious establishment of Iran are totally occupied with the vast indigenous ocean of thought. There are divergences, which even those immersed in it poorly understand, if they are aware of it at all, between:

  • Stated reasons for something.
  • Real reasons, as understood by them.
  • Real, unconscious reasons, of which they are not aware.
  • Collective unconsciousness.

But we can do a little exegesis on the above. In order:

  • The constitution of Iran contains clauses aggressive to other nations, expressions of the theology of Iran.
  • Preserve the power structure of the theocratic state.
  • Personal status would vanish in the absence of a theocratic state.
  • Expansionism, which could be the root cause instead of the expression.

An expansionist phase, as occurred following the French and Russian revolutions,  Hitler’s putsch, and now, Iran, is one of the most common, but poorly understood motifs of history. Does it have a rational basis, or is it a mechanism of evolutionary/socio biology for species dispersal? If it is the root cause, we can drop a lot of boring academic papers in the trash can. We’re done!

We haven’t used the phrase “political change.” But if you want it, compare Trotskyism (build socialism everywhere) to Stalinism (build socialism in the Soviet Union first). While you’re at it, compare Trotsky’s complaint about Stalinist bureaucracy to the motives of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

If ideologies have mass, Iran has stability in mass. In the idea-mill of Qom, the current topics of discussion are probably something like this:

  • If   political stability is best served by creating the largest cohesive political bloc, is the presidency of Hassan Rouhani the best choice?
  • How can the challenge of expansionism be represented as a threat by foreign powers, so as to unify the country?

This is not a revolutionary situation. It lacks the potential instability of North Korea. Because Iran is drowning in ideas, Iranians are likely to be tone-deaf to ours.

Containment may eventually blunt Iran’s expansionist drive.





UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 3

(Click to enlarge. There may be a delay.)

In,  UFOs: Let’s Get Serious; Why a Program Goes “Black” Part 2 I wrote

What if an alien vehicle were not physically located where it appears to be? If it was a projection through a rent in space time, could we make sense of it by our tools of observation? What if the very fact of witnessing an event does not fit our conception of logic, which goes back to Aristotle?

 Are UFOs material objects? A good first step  is to try to fit UFOs into  categories  of physical phenomena:

  • Condensed matter physics? In other words, solid objects?
  • Other states of matter? Gas, plasma, Rydberg?
  • Exotic. Interaction between states of matter and space-time not known to us on smaller than cosmic scale.
  • Weakly interacting, leaving slight or no traces of interaction with the environment.  An elementary particle, the neutrino, is a good example of this. It can pass through a million miles of lead without a scratch.
  • Almost immaterial, Dark matter may comprise a large part of our universe, yet it is known only by weak interaction with normal matter.
  • Hints of the physical, but with contradiction in logic as we know it.

Quoting (NY Times) Glowing Auras and ‘Black Money’: The Pentagon’s Mysterious U.F.O. Program,

Under Mr. Bigelow’s direction, the company modified buildings in Las Vegas for the storage of metal alloys and other materials that Mr. Elizondo and program contractors said had been recovered from unidentified aerial phenomena.

This gives the  impression that  part of the mystery is solved: UFOs are condensed matter, solid objects. Unfortunately, this is not so. We live in a world made largely of cheap plastics. Within six feet of where you are sitting, there is a consumer product made of ABS. It has a heft and feel familiar to you. It isn’t very strong; if you drop it, it might crack.

When an airplane crashes or a missile impacts, particularly in the southwest, debris is created that appears very exotic. If you were hiking and found a part made by superplastic forming and diffusion bonding, and you were a UFO believer, you would be very impressed. You would bring it to Mr. Bigelow’s warehouse, to be bagged, tagged, and shelved.  Identification of all this crushed-beyond-recognition junk is an open-ended effort that could take open-ended money. It’s too much work for negligible return.

Since we have no fenders that fell off UFOs, how can we get a hint of whether they are material? If you have a sick child, you touch your kid’s forehead with the back of your hand. Heat receptors in your skin detect the fever. Regardless of whether your child has a fever, your child has a temperature. All material objects have temperatures. Actors, projections on the silver screen, do not.

So if it’s material, it has a temperature. But can we measure it without touching? I’ve summoned the Chromatic Demon to demonstrate. He lives in a hot place. He asks if you have an electric stove. If you do, turn the room lights out,  turn an element on high, and watch it heat up. Your hand notices first; then the dimmest deepest red (his feet are always “cold”), which seems totally out proportion with the fiery heat; then the red of his cheeks, as the burner gets going, and finally, the element turns cherry red (the Demon’s heart), scorching your hand as you reach for the knob to turn it off.

The Chromatic Demon doesn’t like to be touched, but we can take his temperature without risking his irritation. All we have to do is procure an infrared thermometer from Amazon. This approach works for objects which are not hot enough to glow. It even works with cold things.

You might have a look at  Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) – The Secret Of The U-2’s Imaging Power. Scroll down to the chart in the box “SWIR for Military Applications.” Where does the Chromatic Demon fit on the chart? Does he occupy multiple spots? What would we expect for an infrared measurement of a UFO, and how could it defy our expectations?

Please don’t make him mad. If his horns turn from blue to red, bad things happen.

To be continued shortly.


(Chromatic Demon, 13″x18″, oil on canvas.)









Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 2

I promise we’ll get back to UFOs soon. But let’s turn now to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The North Korea technical was covered Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 1.  This is about political process.

(The Diplomat) UN Security Council Unanimously Approves New Sanctions Against North Korea. Until very recently, North Korea was  the irritating pawn of balance-of-power games. Now it has become an unprecedented example of cooperation between competing spheres.

Without fanfare, there seems to be a new desire  to avoid conflict in the larger world. In the past century or so,  most conflicts involved the  pretext of at least one side that concealed the desire for war. There seems to be an unprecedented  aversion of state actors for high intensity conflict. It could be the only plus of terrorism, a constant, visceral reminder of the cost of conflict. But the current situation also vindicates Henry Kissinger’s assertion that diplomacy must be backed by the potential use of force.

The distillation:

  • A unique international  coercion by economic means of an outlaw state.
  • An adversary who, the intelligence community has concluded, satisfies at least some of the definitions of sanity, but not all of them. He has an unremitting blood lust.
  • A weapon of poor quality, but not proven to invariably fail in all modes of use.
  • The assumption that the adversary is sane enough to lack confidence in his poor quality weapon, and to understand the consequences to him of use.
  • Retaliative acts by North Korea in modes other than nuclear.
  • Random factors internal to North Korea in the area of political stability.
  • Clandestine factors. Hinted at, there is no point in guessing.
  • The risks of doing something, which include collateral damage to South Korea.
  • The risks of doing nothing.
  • The U.S. domestic political climate.

The last three items result from examination of ourselves. Their sum  are the inputs for the  three modes of accepted legality of war directed by the Commander-in-Chief: Congressional declaration, imminent threat, or implied by  the War Powers Resolution of 1973.

Declared war is no longer the norm. Starting with the Korean War of 1950-1953, presidents have on numerous occasions bypassed legal mechanism,  involving the U.S. in major conflicts without  legal confirmation of the power to do so. Unlike those prior conflicts,  North Korea then and now  presents a level of threat to national security not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both occasions test the assumption of rationality of the opponent.

The political context is provided by the Congressional testimony of Mattis and Tillerson to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 10/30/17. (The Hill) Mattis, Tillerson: No authority for military action in North Korea outside ‘imminent threat’. So rather than again stretch the war powers of the President, Mattis, Tillerson, and, no doubt, McMaster, have opted to shape the administration’s response to North Korea, as much as possible, to conform with:

  • The Constitutional right of Congress to declare war, which in the 18th century encompassed any prolonged conflict.
  • The power of the President, established by custom, to respond as Commander-in-Chief to an imminent threat.
  • The constraints of War Powers Resolution of 1973, which are most likely to limit the executive if an obvious imminent threat is not demonstrated.

The use of the war powers of the President as an adjunct to foreign policy have been subject to constant challenge and debate since 1973. The argument can be forcefully made that it is  essential  that force be available as an option  without the encumbrance of legislation for every action. The abuses can be stated with equal force. But quoting Mattis again,

“I believe under Article II, he has a responsibility to protect the country and if there was not time, I could imagine him not consulting or consulting as he’s doing something along the lines of for example of what we did at Shayrat air field in Syria where we struck that and Congress was notified immediately,” Mattis said. “In this case of North Korea, it would be a direct imminent or actual attack on the United States I think Article II would apply.”

The Shayrat strike was to stop a slaughter. If it had a connection with U.S. security, it is too distant to argue. But it had a very low risk of blow back. Let’s put  ourselves in the room again. Every President is conscious that  history will be his judge. But history has other actors as well: adversaries, friends, and chance. In (Face the Nation 5/28/17, transcript)  War with North Korea would be “catastrophic,” Defense Secretary Mattis says,

"But the bottom line is it would be a catastrophic war if this turns into a combat if we're not able to resolve this situation through diplomatic means," Mattis said.

If you’re a fly in the room, you might hear the comparison with selling a stock short. If you’re long a stock, all you can lose is what you paid for it. But as with shorting a stock, a war with North Korea could have unanticipated costs.

The interview continues:

SECRETARY JAMES MATTIS: We consider it a direct threat even today, the North Korean threat. As far as that specific threat, I don't want to put a timeline on it. At this time, what we know, I'd prefer to keep silent about because we may actually know some things the North Koreans don't even know.

We  began this piece with Mattis’s statement of 12/16 that North Korea is not a threat. We have a statement from 5/28 that it is. Since then, what has changed? The North Korea threat combines two extremes with one policy implication:

  • In contrast with  grinding land warfare, the North Korea threat can only be appreciated as an idea.
  • In spite of the lack of visceral cues such as bullets and blood, the North Korea threat is the most serious of all, both in risk and gain.
  • Policy makers have decided that a serious war, with serious risk, calls for a conservative interpretation of Presidential war powers, with an eventful trigger, understood by a broad swath of Americans.

The more significant the required trigger, the longer a strike is deferred, with possible loss of effectiveness. This could occur with actual deployment of nuclear tipped ICBMs to locations resistant to attack. But in spite of our overwhelming advantage in brainpower, circumventing-the-trigger is an open-ended question. It can’t be absolutely nailed down.

The magnitude of the required trigger is a compromise between eventfulness and factors of risk and reward not known to open source. What might that trigger be?

  • A missile-born  atmospheric detonation in the Pacific.
  • A long range test of ICBM standard trajectory, possibly with a survivable reentry vehicle, although it is not required to pose an EMP threat.
  • A deployment surge.
  • An orbiting satellite, or constellation of satellites, of plausible size and mass to contain a nuclear device.
  • A threat of unconventional delivery. The channels of communication relating to the North Korea threat, which are currently vibrantly clear, would suddenly become opaque.

An orbiting warhead is not part of any of the development tracks we have seen. But the Hwasong-15 is a new, second track. A third could be imagined. Could Kim Jong-un be a  strategist of sophistication? Could he be capable of  circumventing the trigger? A rapid surge of deployment, a fait-accompli?

(Reuters) North Korea likely to pursue talks, South says in rosy New Year forecast. It could be a sophisticated move of obfuscation, to interfere with a response if a trigger occurs. In a culture of elder-hierarchy, negotiations have precedent with the father, Kim Jong-il.

We’ve made the lists. But Occam’s Razor slices right through them, with the conclusion of  Reuters: Trump says ‘major, major’ conflict with North Korea possible. Sometimes a person can’t back up. We’ve seen this on all scales; from the trivial lie that cascades to the absurd, all the way to the dictator in the bunker.

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.