Reciprocity – Making Progress

future-city-1Hey all. Just wanted to let people know that I’m still around. And as luck would have it, I’ve found myself with some free time; free time that I’ve put towards creative writing again! In the past two weeks in fact, I have come up with a lot of new ideas for both Oscar Mike and (more importantly) Reciprocity. On this latter project, I’ve spent the past few days working through the half-written spots, and now I have a full five chapters done.

More importantly, I have revised the overall plot yet again. The last time I did this (not that long ago), I chose to change the nature of the antagonist to that of a Chinese ex-pat who was a former member of Unit 61398 – the People’s Liberation Army’s cyber warfare division. His name was Shen, and his plot involved a string of kidnapping, double-dealing, and cyber-terrorism that threatened to change the global geopolitical balance.

I liked this idea because I felt that after a good deal of research, the focus of the story should be on post-communist China, where a great deal of social confusion and economic turmoil was leading to the emergence of a semi-fascist state. In a pattern that is reminiscent to modern-day Russia, Shen sought to take advantage of these changes in order to unleash a massive cyber attack.

The downtown district of Shanghai. One of many locations in the story.
The downtown business district of Shanghai. One of many locations in the story.

This would have the effect of completely preoccupying the west, disabling the US Pacific Fleet, and allowing China’s new government to occupy Taiwan and the South China Sea, thus asserting their territorial sovereignty over the region. While this was interesting (at least to me), it still fell short. What I really wanted was an antagonist in the story that would make the focus be all about the two greatest issues we will be facing in the not-too-distant future.

These issues are none other than climate change, which will result in more in the way of droughts, wildfires, flooding, coastal storms, tornadoes, and diminishing resources; and technological progress, which will result in the pace of change and getting faster and faster to the point of total unpredictability.

For awhile, I’ve been writing about these subjects, and they were supposed to be the centerpiece of the story. So here’s the new plot, in a nutshell: The year, same as always, is 2030. A technological magnate’s child disappears while slumming in the Pacific Northwest in what appears to be an act of kidnapping. However, his disappearance is in fact orchestrated as part of a complex cyber intrusion designed to steal company data.

InternettrafficThe man leading this theft – who is known only as Zeke – intends to leverage this data in mainland China, where a former member of Unit 61398, now himself a technological magnate, is in possession of a quantum-based cyber virus of last resort, a weapon that was created for a war that never happened. This virus is known as “Baoying”, which in Chinese, loosely translates to Reciprocity.

Zeke knows about this weapon because he spent years developing contacts around the world, bringing together gun runners, terrorists, socialist and anarchist militias, and Chinese ex-pats that reaches from Central Asia and the Middle East all the way to South America and the South Pacific. Though separated by ideological differences, these organizations are united in wanting to see an end to the status quo.

Zeke, however, has his own agenda. A one-time member of the technological magnates he is now using as pawns, he saw so much of the world and witnessed atrocities firsthand. He also witnessed how the privilege of developed countries is paid for in the blood of others. After a scandal in which he publicly aired all of his companies many shady dealings, his partners crucified him and cast him to the fringes of society.

^In an age where the richer nations are facing the prospect of limitless energy, quantum computing, abundant resources and post-mortality while other states are failing due to displacement and mass starvation, Zeke is hoping to level the playing field once and for all. He is a genius and a man moved by a personal sense of justice. But most of all, he is a man dealing with terrible demons and some deep trauma that he can’t begin to suppress.

This kind of plot, I think, works so much better. The antagonist seems much more socially relevant, the story more focused on the big issues I like to explore, and it all seems a little less hawkish than a story where the Chinese are essentially the bad guys. But most of all, I envisioned a climactic scene where the antagonist – while explaining his motivations – says something like this:

I want a future I can control. I want a future where I have a choice. I am sick of unpredictability, or chaos and confusion. I’m sick of people being left behind, and our world being torn apart. Tomorrow, everyone will find themselves on common footing. Tomorrow, we will begin thinking towards our common future.

Try getting something like that out of a former communist who just wants to see his country win a war! Well, that’s the idea as I see it right now. What do you think? Sound good?

Reciprocity – First Peek, Part II

shutterstock_204508153

The air stunk of mildew of cigarettes. At least in the front foyer. Farther inside, the aroma of cooking smells and latrines began to intensify and take precedence. The interior floor space looked gutted, nothing but concrete floors and beams with barely any demarcation between one section and the next. In a central beam that lay several dozen meters inside, a large monitor had been mounted that was tuned to the local news.

The reporter recapped the game-winning goal by Villanueva, then quickly moved on to cover the displacement camps in Darwin clashing with police. After a few introductory words Shen could not hear, they moved to aerial footage of people with tan-complexions rioting, overturned cars and fires, and light-skinned police retaliating with shields and batons.

They passed many improvised rooms as they walked through the building proper. Tall stacks of crates or sheets of plywood, drywall or corrugated plastic that denoted the boundaries of different rooms. And inside, those who were at home sat huddled before monitors or gas stoves, cooking their afternoon meals or engaged in some online gaming. In one, a young lady as busy pleasuring and older man. Both parties looked up to acknowledge them as they passed a bead curtain that acted as the doorway, and then went right back to their carnal activity.

“This way,” said Shen, as they neared the stairwell at the end. The smell of mildew followed them, and on every stoop, a new waft of cooking smells. By the time they reached the fourth floor, the density decreased and it looked as if the entire space was dominated by one living area.

Not far from the doorway, two young toughs sat on some stacked plastic crates and exchanged words. The taller one wore a faux leather vest, what appeared to be tā moko ink on his arm. The smaller one wore a white tank and jeans, and his eyes glowed with a band of copper that indicated he had displays. Both jumped to their feet as soon as Shen and Ping walked in.

The tall one snapped his fingers, alerting three more youths in the room to approach them. Shen noticed the ink on his arm beginning to change shape, the intricate system of lines morphing to form something entirely different.

When the tall one spoke, he did so in Tagalog. “Ano ang gusto mo, tao?”

A small field of green characters formed in the lower right lens of Shen’s glasses.

What do you want, man?

“Is Wáng around?” he replied in Mandarin. He directed it to the smaller one, who immediately accessed a translation app and relayed it to the tall one. He stuck to Tagalog, and replied just as curtly.

“Siya ay hindi dito!”

He is not here!

Shen looked to Ping and reached into his pocket. Everyone reacted at once, pulling out assorted handguns and pointing them at him. Ping moved too, producing the impact gun he had inside his jacket. The weapon clacked loudly as he whipped it out, it’s targeting laser focused on the forehead of the shorter man.

“Stop!” Shen yelled.

The tall one’s ink had changed again. The line segments now converged to form the face of an angry tiger, mouth agape, fangs fully bared. Its purpose was clear to him now.

Dynamo ink, adrenal-activated, he thought. A way of letting people know exactly how pissed he was. He imaged there were many kids in Tondo that had them, perhaps it was a local gang’s calling card. Understandable that Wang had taken to hiring a few for security.

“Everyone just relax,” he said, raising his free hand defensively while the other slowly withdrew something from his jacket pocket. The tall one moved quickly to fetch what he’d removed as soon as it was clear.

A small folding leather case which he opened and examined. The display card inside read off a designation for a unit that no longer existed, and an army that went by a new name. But the identification and the picture were clear enough. A look confusion was the tall one’s reaction, which he directed at Shen. Shen nodded to him, motioning to the far end of the floor space, where he imaged Wáng would be.

“Go on. He’ll know what it means.”

The tall one said something to the others in Tagalog, and then ventured to the back, disappearing behind a large partition wall. All the weapons remained trained on them while they waited. Shen stood perfectly still and never stopped smiling. Ping, meanwhile, kept his weapon trained on the short one, his finger gently resting against the gun’s trigger. He, in turn, was now aiming his Glock squarely back at Ping.

Shen knew that if things went south, Ping would be the first to get a shot off. The make and model of the pistols the boys had indicated that they were old-world relics, double actions pistols with casings. No digital architecture in their design. In the time it took them to squeeze their triggers and ignite a single round, Ping’s weapon would have accelerated a full burst of caseless slugs into the short one’s forehead.

Of course, he also knew that that would be the only shot Ping could get off. Regardless of how fast the boy was, they had three more weapons aimed at them. And Shen knew he could only disarm one before the remaining three got a shot or two off at him.

Shooting first didn’t count much when you were horribly outgunned. Luckily, the tall one emerged again from behind the partition and yelled to his friends.

“Sabi niya ang mga ito ay okay!”

He says they are okay!

Shen smiled. He nodded to the men around him, who looked slightly dejected as they lowered their weapons. Ping lowered his as well and began to follow, when the tall one made an addendum.

“Siya ay nag-iiwan sa kanyang baril dito!”

He leaves his gun here!

Shen sighed and looked to Ping, nodding to his weapon. Ping didn’t argue, and flipped it around to pass it off to the nearest of Wáng’s henchmen. While reluctant, he didn’t appear particularly worried. He knew that the second any one of them tried to turn it on him, they’d receive a 2000 volt surprise.

Without further delay, they made it past the partition wall, and into the far end of the fourth floor. Shen immediately became aware of a long counter positioned next to the partition, and a large workstation pushed back against the far wall. Another thug-like man with dynamos was standing behind the counter, while at the workstation, a single Chinese national sat amidst a pile of scattered components and tools.

From the looks of things, he had been working on a wrist-mounted portable before they had arrived. Now, his eyes were fixed on Shen’s little “gift”. A monocle sat over one eye, but he wasn’t using it at the moment. As he gazed at the old credentials, no augments, apps or mediation were needed to make sense of it. Everything about it was known to him, as was the message it carried.

“Comrade Shen,” he said in Mandarin, his voice tired and harsh.

“Comrade Wáng,” he replied. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough.” He kept his eyes fixed downward. “I can only imagine you coming here means that you are in some kind of trouble.”

Shen chuckled and advanced towards Wáng several paces. The man at the counter kept eying him carefully, his right hand clenching at something underneath. He paid him no mind, leaving that for Shen to do as he followed behind.

“Strictly speaking, I am no trouble. Nothing new, at least, old friend. But there have been some developments. Things which I need to speak to you about.”

Wáng looked at him momentarily, a look of bitter mistrust in his one eye. He looked back to the credentials quickly, and removed the monocle. His eyes took on a faraway look then, an expression that seemed to contain equal measures of nostalgia and sadness.

“Do you remember the day when we you first became a member of the unit?” he asked.

Shen took that as an invitation to come closer. “Yes, I do.”

“You should,” said Wáng, a trace of bitterness returning to his face. “For you, it was not as long ago. When I joined, the unit was still in its infancy. The concept of warfare not fought with tanks, bombs and assault rifles was still alien to most in the army. But those higher up had wisdom enough to know that information was the new measure of a nation’s wealth. It only served to reason that it would become the basis of warfare as well.”

Shen advanced the last few steps that stood between them.

“Methods that are not characterized by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realization of the war’s goals, if not more so,” Shen said, reciting the famous quote.

“You remember?” Wáng’s face momentarily brightened.

“Of course I do.” Shen replied, keeping his tone as even as he could. “And it’s what brings me here.”

Wáng removed the monocle and began to look at him ominously. He gave a quick glance at the man behind the counter, who stirred ever so slightly. Ping stood tensely by, poised to strike at the man with whatever weapons he still had at his disposal. At the moment, that was just his hands and feet. Perhaps it was time to get the point.

“I need to find Li.”

“Oh?” said Wáng. “I assume you mean our mutual acquaintance, from the old days?” Shen nodded. “I haven’t seen him in years.”

Shen removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a long day, and there were limits to his patience as well. “I know you make regular trips to the mainland, old friend. And I know that you’ve met with members of the unit on your trips before.”

Wáng cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“Not necessary, or possible given my current circumstances. But I do hear things. And I know that you facilitate entry to the mainland for people looking to get back into Zǔguó. I am one such person.”

Wáng nodded. “I also hear things, Comrade. And I find it hard to understand why you would want to return a place that does not welcome you. If anyone at Interior knew you were setting foot on native soil, they would surely have you shot on sight.”

“I know,” said Shen. “But I know that you can help with that.”

“What is it that you think I can do?”

“I will need biometric IDs for myself and the young one here, ones which I know you can provide. And I need you to facilitate a meeting with Li. I will take care of the rest, and see to it that you come away all the richer for it.”

“What do you want from Li?” he asked finally.

Shen inhaled deeply and looked him in the eye as he said it. “Boaying.”

Wáng went silent for a moment and looked caught between disbelief and amusement. Eventually, he opted for the latter and began laughing.

“Boaying does not exist, old friend. It was lost with the ‘restructuring’, like so much else. I’m sorry you wasted your time –”

Shen raised his hand to interject. “I know that is not true. I know that certain copies were made and that Li had access. If you could just –“

“What you are asking for is not possible!” Wáng said, cutting off all talk. “And even if it were, I would be hard pressed to think of anything that would justify the risk for me.”

“Oh?” said Shen, genuinely surprised. “I can think of much and more in that regard. I would imagine you would leave this hovel behind in a heartbeat if you could afford to do so. And I know that Comrade Li would be most grateful to you once he hears what I have to offer. He has accrued great wealth and power back home.”

“Quite,” said Wáng, rather bitterly. “Such are the rewards for those who ingratiated themselves with the new government.”

“Yes, but his power currently has limits. What I am proposing to him could potentially benefit him more than anything the Tuánjié zhèngfǔ has given to him. And knowing that you helped facilitate would put him in your debt for life.”

Wáng once again looked caught, this time between disbelief and anger. Mentioning his current surroundings, and raising the issue of Li’s own status back home was sure to do that. For a moment, neither man said anything. The silence only broke when Wáng looked in Ping’s direction and frowned.

“This one I do not recognize. He is new, yes?”

“He is that, yes.” Shen replied.

Wáng shook his head, drew in a deep breath and spat it out like it was bile. “He’s not even old enough to remember, is he? In fact, he looks barely old enough to know anything of what you are talking about.”

“Do not speak about me like I’m not even here!” Ping stepped forward with his hands curled into fists. The man behind the counter removed the submachinegun he had been concealing until now and aimed it at squarely at Ping. A small laser sight beamed in the dusty air, painting a small, steady dot on his right temple.

Shen looked at him angrily. Wáng could only respond with laughter.

“You see? He exhibits the petulance of the new generation. No deference at all.”

Ping face turned red and he was prepared to say something obscene, but thought the better of it. At this point, he had another gun aimed at him and was too far away to do anything about it. Shen was thankful at least that cooler heads were prevailing and the latest in Wáng’s group of thugs hadn’t lost control yet.

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade,” Shen said, hoping to get them back on track. “Perhaps the fault lies in the world we left for them. It has corrupted them with excess and makes them forget.”

“Perhaps.” Wáng turned his attention back to the materials on his desk and began to tinker with them quietly. “But it too late to help that now. The world has moved on without us. My advice to you, Comrade, is to accept that.”

Shen waited momentarily. He was sure his old colleague would have more to say. When nothing came, he stepped back from the table and turned to Ping.

“I shall be in the city for a few more days. Please let me know if you reconsider.”

Wáng kept his eyes on his work and didn’t bother to reply. Shen turned to leave, but paused to say one last thing.

“Life certainly has not worked out the way any of us planned, old friend. Despite what you might think of the path I have chosen, I know that we share the same sense of loss. All that I ask is that you consider helping me right that wrong, and leave something better for those who follow in our footsteps.”

Wáng still would not acknowledge him. But Shen knew he had absorbed everything he had just said and that it made an impression. He came about again and walked by Ping, who seemed surprised and a bit beleaguered to see that they were leaving. Following Shen out, they returned to the thugs that guarded the stairwell where he retrieved his weapon. Stern glances were exchanged between them as they walked out, but Ping ignored them. His only concern at the moment was keeping up with Shen, and asking him the obvious once they were well out of earshot.

“Is that it? We’re just leaving?”

Shen slid his glasses back on and powered them back up. He had a number of new messages, all encrypted. No doubt, they were from his contacts back east. “He will come around. Just give him some time to think it over.”

“And what if he doesn’t?”

Shen smiled. “You do not know him as I do. He will not pass up an opportunity to place Li in his debt. And he is not as satisfied with his current predicament as he would pretend. He just does not want to admit as much openly. Give him time.”

Ping sighed, checking his weapon to make sure Wáng’s men hadn’t stripped it of its magazine. He was pleased to see that all the slugs were still there. “In the meantime, what do we do?”

They had come to the ground floor, where Shen stopped and turned to look at him. “Same as always,” he said. “We stay with those who would harbor us, and hope that no one in Beijing realizes we are here. Otherwise, we can expect to be returning to Zǔguó ahead of schedule.”

Reciprocity – The Deets

self-aware-colonyHey again, all. I find myself with some spare time for the first time in awhile. So I thought I might take a moment to share an idea I’ve been working with, in a bit more detail. Last post I made, I talked about the bare bones of a story I am working on known as Reciprocity, the successor to the story known as Apocrypha. But as it turns out, there are a lot of details to that story idea that I still want to share and get people’s opinion on.

You might say this is a story that I am particularly serious about. Should it work out, it would be my break from both space-opera sci-fi and zombie fiction. A foray into the world of hard-hitting social commentary and speculative science fiction.

The Story:
So the year is 2030. The world is reeling from the effects of widespread drought, wildfires, coastal storms, flooding, and population displacement. At the same time, a revolution is taking place in terms of computing, robotics, biomachinery, and artificial intelligence. As a result, the world’s population finds itself being pulled in two different directions – between a future of scarcity and the promise of plenty.

space-solar-headSpace exploration continues as private aerospace and space agencies all race to put boots on Mars, a settlement on the Moon, and lay claim to the resources of the Solar System. India, China, the US, the EU, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, and Iran are all taking part now – using robotic probes and rovers to telexplore the System and prospect asteroids. Humanity’s future as an interplanetary species seems all but guaranteed at this point.

Meanwhile, a new global balance of power is shaping up. While the US and the EU struggle with food and fuel shortages, Russia remains firmly in the grips of quasi-fascist interests, having spurned the idea of globalization and amicable relations with NATO and the EU in favor of its Collective Security Treaty, which in recent years has expanded to include Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

shanghai_towerMeanwhile, China is going through a period of transition. After the fall of Communism in 2023, the Chinese state is lurching between the forces of reform and ultra-nationalism, and no one is sure which side it will fall on. The economy has largely recovered, but the divide between rich and poor is all too apparent. And given the sense of listless frustration and angst, there is fear that a skilled politician could exploit it all too well.

It’s an era of uncertainty, high hopes and renewed Cold War.

The MacGuffin:
The central item of the story is a cybervirus known as Baoying, a quantum-decryption algorithm that was designed by Unit 61398 in the early 2020’s to take down America’s quantum networks in the event of open war. When the Party fell from power, the Unit was dissolved and the virus itself was destroyed. However, rumors persisted that one or more copies still exist…

MatrixBackgroundNotable Characters:
For this ensemble to work, it had to represent a good cross-section of the world that will be, with all its national, social and economic boundaries represented. And so I came up with the following people, individuals who find themselves on different sides of what’s right, and are all their own mix of good, bad, and ambiguous.

William Harding: A privileged high school senior with an big of a drug problem who lives in Port Coquitlam, just outside of the Pacific Northwest megalopolis of Cascadia. Like many people his age, he carries all his personal computing in the form of implants. However, a kidnapping and a close brush with death suddenly expand his worldview. Being at the mercy of others and deprived of his hardware, he realizes that his lifestyle have shielded him from the real world.

Amy Dixon: A young refugee who has moved to Cascadia from the American South. Her socioeconomic status places her and her family at the fringes of society, and she is determined to change their fortunes by plying her talents and being the first in her family to get a comprehensive education.

Climate_ChangeFernie Dixon: Amy’s brother, a twenty-something year-old man who lives away from her and claims to be a software developer. In reality, he is a member of the local Aryan Brotherhood, one of many gangs that run rampant in the outlying districts of the city. Not a true believer like his “brothers”, he seeks money and power so he can give his sister the opportunities he knows she deserves.

Shen Zhou: A former Lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army and member of Unit 61398 during the Cyberwars of the late teens. After the fall of Communism, he did not ingratiate himself to the new government and was accused of spying for foreign interests. As  result, he left the country to pursue his own agenda, which places him in the cross hairs of both the new regime and western governments.

artificial-intelligenceArthur Banks: A major industrialist and part-owner of Harding Enterprises, a high-tech multinational that specializes in quantum computing and the development of artificial intelligence. For years, Banks and his associates have been working on a project known as QuaSI – a Quantum-based Sentient Intelligence that would revolutionize the world and usher in the Technological Singularity.

Rhianna Sanchez: Commander of Joint Task Force 2, an elite unit attached to National Security Agency’s Cyberwarfare Division. For years, she and her task force have been charged with locating terror cells that are engaged in private cyberwarfare with the US and its allies. And Shen Zhou, a suspected terrorist with many troubling connections, gets on their radar after a mysterious kidnapping and high-profile cyberintrusion coincide.

And that about covers the particulars. Naturally, there are a lot of other details, but I haven’t got all day and neither do you fine folks 😉 In any case, the idea is in the queue and its getting updated regularly. But I don’t plan to have it finished until I’ve polished off Oscar Mike, Arrivals, and a bunch of other projects first!

Rebooting An Idea – Reciprocity

future-city3For awhile now, I’ve been tinkering with a story idea known as Apocrypha. It first came to me back in 2009 when I decided to move away from space opera and into more hard science fiction. I even decided to relaunch the idea a few months back, which would be the second time I decided to reboot the idea. And now, I’m rebooting it yet again, but with one major change.

Basically, I’ve re-conceived the plot to focus on a world set in 2030, where China’s Communist system has collapsed, Russia continues to exist as a semi-fascist state, the internet of things is in full swing, and several different forces are competing for control over which direction the future takes. Some want to rehash old rivalries, while others want to bring about a revolution in computing that will dissolve all boundaries.

shanghai_towerThe name of the new story is Reciprocity, which is taken from the Chinese concept of Bao Ying. I chose this as a name because while researching Chinese ancestral religion, I came across a central theme which states that the fate of all human beings is determined by cosmic reciprocity.

The concept of Bao Ying is also expressed as follows in various Zhou-Dynasty texts:

On the doer of good, heaven sends down all blessings, and on the doer of evil, he sends down all calamities.

This belief incorporates two separate elements:

  1. Ming yun: which loosely translated, means personal destiny. Whereas ming is “life” or “right”, the word yun defines “circumstance” and “individual choice”. In the Chinese ancestral faith, it is perceived as something both fixed (bound by fate) and flexible (implying choice and free will).
  2. Yuan fen: which means “fateful coincidence”, describing good and bad possibilities and potential relationships. Here too, the elements of fate and choice intersect, with good and bad casualties being assigned usually to one or the other.

Both concepts are linked, because what appears on the surface to be chance events (for better or worse), are part of the deeper rhythm that shapes personal life based on how destiny is directed. Given the fact that I thought the story should focus on China, this concept spoke to me.

cyber_virusOriginally, Apocrypha was all about a group of apocalyptic terrorists who have ties to various anti-modernist, anti-western groups who try to use a Chinese cyber-virus named Hǔnluàn (Chinese for chaos) to accomplish their goals. However, this idea wasn’t panning out in a few ways. Mainly, the antagonists didn’t seem believable to me, especially where their motivations are concerned.

But after talking it over with a friend and neighbor, I came to realize that the real focus of the story was China – or rather, how the aftermath of Maoism would affect the country and the global balance of power. In this sense, the antagonists were much more believable if they themselves were Chinese ex-pats, people who were unhappy with the current world order and wanted to change it.

Unit-61398-Chinese-Army-Hacking-Jobs-With-Great-BenefitsBorrowing from Russia’s post-Communist experience, I basically foresee China going through many of the same problems in the near future. First, the state would find itself under a great deal of pressure due to ongoing demands for reform, pro-democracy protests, and the memory of Tienanmen Square. And I also imagine the health effects of air pollution and cancer farms would also add to the resistance.

But by the 2020s, I expect that the country will also be reeling from the effects of drought, famine, and the destruction of water tables. And then there would be the collapse of the economy caused by the implosion of the real estate bubble – a very likely possibility – which would end the Party’s long history of buying loyalty with economic growth. At that point, the Party would officially fall under the weight of its own corruption, bankruptcy and failure.

phoenix-towers-worlds-tallest-wuhan-china-designboom-01Ten years later, China would find itself in a state of serious change and facing an ambiguous future. On the one hand, it would remain a major power economically and militarily, but would still be suffering from lingering environmental damage and uneven development. As a result, it would find itself vulnerable to quasi-fascist politicians looking to exploit people’s uncertainty and funnel it towards a revisionist agenda.

I think you’ll agree, this idea makes way more sense than its predecessor. What’s more, it would give me a chance to cover a big angle I was looking at, which was the involvement of former members of the People’s Liberation Army Cyberwarfare Division (aka. Unit 61398). Assuming that said people were out a job in the not-too-distant future, they would be seriously upset and willing to help in a malicious plot.

What do you think? Too political? Or does it have potential?

Cyberwars: Is Putin Going to Cut Off Russia’s Internet?

Russia ButtonFew politicians today elicit the same level of controversy as Vladimir Putin. Adored by many Russians at home and abroad, he is also reviled by many for his near-absolute grip on power, intimidation of political opponents, political repression, and military aggression against neighboring states. But in this latest coup de grace, Putin may be seeking the kind of power that few modern states enjoy – the ability to shut down his country’s access to the internet.

According to the Russian business newspaper Vedomosti, Putin and his security council met this past Monday to discuss a way to disconnect Russia’s internet should it be deemed necessary. According to various sources, it is a tool that could be enacted in times of war, massive anti-government protests, or in order to “protect” Russians from Western countries like the United States or members of the European Union.

putin-sanctions-west-response.si_Citing an intelligence officer as their source, Vedomosti claims that this is the result of the Ministry of Communications conducting exercises to test vulnerabilities in Russia’s internet and can now successfully disable IP addresses outside of Russia. All of this is being done in order to see if the Runet (Russia’s internet) can operate on its own without Western web access, with the hope that it will be functional next year.

It is not hard to imagine the Kremlin justifying such a clamp-down by whipping up fears that it’s the West that wants to disconnect Russia from the web, said industry experts. In Russia’s current political environment, anti-western propaganda has been used effectively to create the impression of a siege mentality, used largely to justify their current economic woes and the ongoing Ukrainian Crisis.

RunetAnalysts say similar measures have been introduced by countries such as Iran and Cuba, which developed national Internet limits to curb the spread of Western culture and ideas. Prior to the meeting, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the Security Council meeting on Internet security would be taking place, but he declined to discuss details of the agenda.

In addition, he denied that Russian authorities have plans to disconnect the Internet, instead insisting this is a question for other countries to answer. He also added that Russia needs a way to protect itself from the West. Peskov cited the “unpredictability” of the European Union and the United States before implying that these countries would in fact disconnect Russia from the Internet and not the reverse.

russia-internet-putin-670-1In a statement to Russia Today – a government-run website launched in 2005 by Putin as a “PR campaign to improve [Russia’s] image in the eyes of the world.”- Russia’s communications minister, Nikolay Nikiforov, said:

Russia is being addressed in a language of unilateral sanctions: first, our credit cards are being cut off; then the European Parliament says that they’ll disconnect us from SWIFT*. In these circumstances, we are working on a scenario where our esteemed partners would suddenly decide to disconnect us from the internet.

*Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication

The “unilateral sanctions” he refers to are the ones that were placed upon Russia by the US and the EU in response to its seizure of the Crimea, which have since escalated thanks to Russia’s ongoing involvement in the eastern portions of Ukraine where rebels – whom many claim have been supplied with Russian-made weapons and are now being supported by Russian troops – continue to fight against the new Kiev government.

Ukraine_crisisInterestingly enough, whether it is the West that disconnects Russia from the Internet or if it is Putin that does so, both possibilities highlight the world’s dependence on Western internet. In fact, many countries, including Brazil and Germany, have been complaining about this since Edward Snowden’s revelations last year. Putin himself has expressed concern over the NSA spying on him via the web and the security of the internet in his country in the past.

Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether or not it could be done. According to Andrei Soldatov, a Russian spy expert who recently spoke to the Guardian on the subject, claims that it is technically possible given how few internet exchange points Russia has. However, it seems unlikely at this point that Putin would do this given the repercussions for Russian businesses that rely on the Western internet to function.

russia_protestsAlready, Russia has been feeling the pinch because of Western sanctions, particularly sanctions targeting its oil industry that have been leading to a drop in prices. At this rate, several economists and even Russian ministers are predicting a recession in the near future. This in turn could present Putin with a scenario whereby he would have to disconnect the internet, in order to block mass protests sites in the event of people protesting the economic downturn.

Similar measures have been taken in the past by countries like Egypt, Iran, Syria, China, the UK, and Thailand, who chose to block Facebook at various points because protesters were using it to organize. Venezuela also blocked Twitter this year during times of political unrest to prevent people from sharing information and real-time updates. But a total disconnect has yet to be seen, or even seriously contemplated.

russia-censorshipWhether or not Putin and Russia’s ruling party is the first to do so remains to be seen. But it is not entirely unfeasible that he wouldn’t, even if economic consequences were entailed. For as the saying goes, people will “cut off their nose to spite their face”, and Putin has already shown a willingness to challenge his country’s economic interdependence with the world in order to ensure control over neighboring territories.

One can only hope that he won’t feel the need to snip his country’s connection to the rest of the world. In addition to ensuring its ec0nomic isolation – which would have dire consequences and reduce the country to the status of a developing nation – it will also resurrect the specter of the Cold War years where Russians were effectively cut off from the outside world and entirely dependent on state-controlled media.

We’ve simply come too far to go back to an age where two superpowers are constantly aiming nuclear warheads at each other and entire blocs of nations are forbidden to trade or interact with each other because of political rivalries. History does not respect regression, and the only way to make progress is to keep moving forward. So let’s keep the internet open and focus on building connections instead of walls!

Source: motherboard.com, news.discovery.com, ibtimes.com

Drone Wars: China’s Rainbow Drone Unveiled

CH-4RainbowAs part of their ongoing efforts to become a world power, China has spared no investment when it comes to the development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology. And after several successful missile tests, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is all set to receive the next-generation aerial drone. Known as the CH-4, the development of this UAV is just the latest in China’s attempt to catch up to western developers.

Although China’s drone technology may be several years behind top manufacturers in the US and Israel, the country’s UAV manufacturers are hoping that their mid-range prices and middling technology will lure potential customers from developing nations. During the unveiling, which took place at the beinnial Zhuhai Air Show in late August, officials from Kenya, Russia and other countries were on hand to witness this an other examples of China’s exportable UAVs.

CH-4Rainbow2 Representatives from China Aerospace Long-March International, a division of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), were on hand at the presentation and spoke with relative candor about the CH-4 and two other drones the company was showing for the first time. Guo Qian, a director at a division of CASC, when talking about the interest and marketability of the company’s military grade drones, had the following to say:

We’ve been contacting many countries, especially from Africa and Asia. They are quite interested in the intermediate and short-range UAVs because they are portable and low-cost.

Similarly, Li Pingkun , the head of the Rainbow 4 project at the aerospace corporation, told state television the drone could make a long-distance hit on a target with a margin of error of less than 1.5 metres. He said the system was very precise because it used several methods to guide missiles or smart bombs to their target. As he told ChinaNews, the drone is “well-positioned to carry out the subsequent missions.”

CH-4Rainbow1The unveiling of this drone comes at a time when the PLA is actively and publicly promoting the use of drones by its military personnel. During the show, the CASC also displayed a handful of smaller short range drones and set up a flashy ground-to-ceiling UAV attack simulation compete with a dozen technicians glued to computer screens in a the make-believe war room. As Guo explained:

Our company has set up a pretty aggressive sales target for UAVs, but the global market competition is quite fierce. There are many similar products in the global market and they are quite mature, so we haven’t had a big impact in the market. It will take some time for our products to be known and accepted.

The Rainbow 4 is the CASC’s latest creation, and is intended to act as the PLA’s answer to the MQ-9 Reaper – a hunter-killer drone mainly used by the US military for reconnaissance and high-precision air strikes. The CH-4 can carry a payload of 345 kg (760 lbs) of missiles of precision-guided bombs, can reach an altitude of 8 km (26000 feet), has a range of 3,500 kilometers, and fly for up to 30 hours depending on how heavy a payload it is carrying.

China_dronetestHowever, it remains much slower than the Reaper, which can fly at a top speed of 482 km/h compared to the Rainbow’s 235 km/h. In addition, the MQ-9 has a much higher payload of 1700 kg  (3800 lbs), which works out to six Hellfire missiles or precision-guided bombs. And while it has greater range – 3000 km vs. the MQ-9’s 1850 km – the Reaper has a service ceiling of up to 18,000 meters.

The PLA also has limited experience in using drones in combat zones; whereas for the USAF, drone use has become second nature. But above all, the most glaring aspect of the “drone gap” is the fact that this latest Chinese drone was not the result of indigenous design or innovation. Much like other aspects of China’s stealth and weapon’s development, it is the result of mimicry.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)Nevertheless, China’s plan to market the technology to other nations does mean that the use of UAVs is likely to become much more universal in the coming years. Beyond the US, NATO, Israel, Russia and China, middle powers like India, Pakistan, Brazil and various Sub-Saharan African nations are likely to have their own soon. In addition, certain “rogue states” – i.e. Iran, North Korea, Syria – are likely to have their own as well.

The term “Drone Wars” is likely to become very literal as a result!

Source: gizmodo.com, scmp.com, globalpost.com

The Future of Naval Warfare: Supersonic Submarines

Chinese_subsResearchers in China are reporting that they’ve taken a big step towards creating a truly revolutionary submarine. For years, the nation has been dedicated to the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Submarine Force. That latest announcement in this plan is the intended development of supersonic submarines. And if feasible, it could a sub to travel from Shanghai to San Francisco a distance of about 9650 km (6,000 miles) – in just 100 minutes.

The research behind this proposed development comes from the Harbin Institute of Technology’s Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab, where researchers are applying a concept known as supercavitation. Originally conceived by the Soviets in the ’60s to create high-speed torpedoes, the Harbin researchers are looking to take things to the next level by applying it to a much larger sea-faring vessel.

https://i2.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/supercavitation-diagram.jpgAs is commonly known, objects moving through water have a harder time than those moving through air. While automobiles are only able to travel so fast before succumbing to wind resistance (aka. drag), surface ships and submarines must content with fluid-dynamics, which are much more tricky. Compared to air, water is far more dense and viscous, which means more energy is required to get up to a certain speed.

Even the most modern and advanced nuclear submarine cannot travel much faster than 40 knots (74 kph/46 mph), and the same applies to torpedoes. Higher speeds are possible, but would require so much power to make it impractical. That’s where supercavitation comes into play, a technique devised with the explicit purpose of creating high-speed torpedoes during the Cold War.

Shkval_headThis technique gets around the drag of water by creating a bubble of gas for the object to travel through. In the hands of the Soviet’s, the research resulted in the Shkval torpedo, which uses a special nose cone to create the supercavitation envelope that allows it to travel through the water at speeds of up to 200 knots (370 kph/230 mph) – much, much faster than the standard torpedoes fielded by the US.

The only other countries with supercavitational weapons are Iran – which most likely reverse-engineered the Russian Shkval – and Germany, the creators of the Superkavitierender Unterwasserlaufkörper (“supercavitating underwater running body”). The US is researching its own supercavitational torpedo, but there’s very little public information available. Meanwhile, China is not only looking to create supercavitating torpedoes, but an underwater vessel.

supercavitational-torpedo-techUnlike previous designs, which had to be launched at speeds of 95 km (60 mph) to create a supercavitation bubble, the method described by the Harbin researchers uses a “special liquid membrane” to reduce friction at low speeds. This liquid is showered over the object to replenish the membrane as it’s worn off by the passage of water, and once the object gets up to speed, it would theoretically use the same nose-cone technique to achieve supercavitation.

In theory, supercavitation could allow for speeds up to the speed of sound — which underwater is 5343 kph (3,320 mph) – which would allow a sub to go from Shanghai to San Francisco in well under two hours. For any nation with a nuclear arsenal – i.e. China, Russia, France, the UK, the US – the ability to deploy nuclear missile subs speedily around the world is certainly desirable.

https://i2.wp.com/grupocaos2007.brinkster.net/supercav2/BancoPruebMini.JPGBut of course, there are some challenges posed by the concept and any ship that is equipped to run on it. For one, it is very difficult to steer a supercavitating vessel and conventional methods (like rudders) don’t work without water contact. Second, developing an underwater engine that’s capable of high velocity over long distances is very difficult. Jet engines do not work underwater and generally, rockets only have enough fuel to burn for a few minutes.

Nuclear power might be a possibility as far as supersonic submarines go, but that’s strictly academic at this point. Li Fengchen, a professor at the Harbin Institute, says their technology isn’t limited to military use. While supersonic submarines and torpedoes are at top of the list, the same technology could also boost civilian transport, or even boost the speed of swimmers. As Li put it:

If a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water, it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying in the sky.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/e1095-chinese_submarine.jpgAs always with such advanced (and potentially weaponized) technology, it’s hard to say how far away it is from real-world application. Given that this is primarily a military research project within China, one can expect that it will remain shrouded in secrecy until it is ready. And if civilian researchers are making good progress, then it’s a fairly safe bet that the military is even further along.

While the future of transit is already exciting – what with hyperloops, aerospace travel, robotaxis and robot cars – the idea that people could travel under the waves as fast as on they could on the Concorde is pretty cool! At the same time, the idea that subs equipped with nuclear missiles could reach our shores within two hours is pretty scary. But futuristic military technology has never been known to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings, has it?

Sources: extremetech.com, scmp.com