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?

The Rescue: A Revenger Mission Update

top_secretAtrum opened the laptop and spun it around in one fluid motion. The screen was now aimed at everyone standing in the small room, a map with a large, square configuration of buildings sitting in a large, green field in the middle of it. The overhead view provided few details, but the setting looked very similar to the one they had just left – a string of warehouses or an industrial park of some kind. Despite how confined they already felt, most felt the need to lean forward to get a better look.

“Thanks to the device the Captain handed off to us, I’ve been able to isolate the frequency of the tracker he had implanted on his person. Once I tuned my instruments to it, I was able to locate him.” He hit a button on the console, and a small, red blinking light appeared in the middle of the largest box-like structure. “This is the last reported location of the Captain. An abandoned truck park outside of Clarksville. This has to be a holding facility of some kind, or a transfer point for prisoners taken by the Intelligence services.”

“It looks weak,” said Pax, noting the frequency and intensity of the signal. “Which means he’s either barely in range or they’ve got him in some kind of hardened bunker.”

“Good eye,” replied Atrum. “I wish I knew more about the tracker he’s got, but the Captain never was one to share.”

“It’s not that far from here. If we move now, we could hit the place before they’re ready.” said Tsunami, drawing herself back up to her full height. Even with her shades on, the look on her face was plain for all to see. As was the fatigue, the poor woman had not slept since they had returned from their last outing. And she seemed destined not to until they made their next move.

“You got my vote,” said Judgement, his skin bristling with several new veins of gold.
Atrum raised his hand. “Now hold on, people. Like I said, this is a transfer point. And as Pax pointed out, its probably a hardened facility of some kind. We all remember what happened the last time we hit one of those. They were ready and waiting.”

“No shit, they were ready. They set us up!” Judgement growled.

From her spot at the outer edge of the circle, Erotica nodded. “And I seem to recall, we still managed to take out the better part of their defenders.”

“Yes, and what are the odds they’ll have so many surprises prepared for us this time around?”

It was Freedom saying this, and Atrum looked to her now. A current was flowing through the group and growing in intensity. He feared as much. After what had happened at the facility, everyone was in a hurry to rectify what they perceived as their own failure. But running headlong into a fight was likely to result in another. Conveying that though, that required some tact. There was a lot of anger in the room right now, and a lot of special powers…

“Look team… chances are, he’s going to be moved from that facility very soon. Our best bet is to try and get him while he’s in transit. The people holding him will be more vulnerable to an attack.”

“And how long will that be?” asked Panacea, her voice mild, but containing an unmistakably steely tone within.

“Before they try to move him? Shouldn’t be long. With prisoners like the Captain, they want to move them to a secure location as quickly as possible. Minimizes the chances that they might escape, or get rescued.”

Bonfire raised his voice next. “So they are anticipating that we might try to rescue him?”

Atrum shrugged. “Standard procedure really. Everything they’ve done thus far makes it look they are treating him like a high-valued enemy asset, lIke a terrorists mastermind. Always assume their followers will try to spring them.”

Judgment growled again. Everyone looked towards him just in time to see his fangs bared. “I don’t like where this conversation is going. And I don’t much like being compared to a terrorist.”

Pax raised his hands and intervened on Atrum’s behalf. “That’s not what he meant, people. Its just a question of procedures, not methods or motives. Right now, they are dealing with us as if we’re a domestic terrorist cell. But that doesn’t mean we are.”

“You’re damn right,” said Tsunami. “They started this fight. And if they want to see terror, they will shortly.”

“Terrorists,” said Panacea with a scoff. “Their methods are based in fear. They hope to paralyze us with terror and intimidate us into submission. They are cowards.”

The group began to raise their voices as one. The thought of striking fear in their enemy’s hearts, of paying back their terror with some terror of their own; it was a like lightning rod that was catching all their rage. Atrum looked to Panacea, and felt a sudden surge of trepidation himself. If even she was speaking of vengeance, then their situation was truly dire.

He raised his hands one more time and asked for calm. “Hold on, people! We need to be careful about going off half-cocked. If we try to rescue the Captain now, from this holding facility, we’re likely to hit them when they’re most prepared.”

“He’s right,” said Pax. “There’s no guarantee this isn’t an ambush too. For all we know, they’re waiting for us to make a move, to commit ourselves prematurely and run into another carefully laid trap.”

“Yeah, and while we’re waiting, what happens to the Captain?” asked Styka. She was joined by Freedom and Tsunami, both of whom began to voice their concern for his well being in Pax’s direction.

“For all we know, they’re torturing to death. He doesn’t have the ability to heal like you do.”

“And he can’t exactly just will himself out of that place. He’s stuck there until we free him. Helpless and alone.”

“No way!” said Judgement. “He’s not alone! He’s always been there for us, and we’re going to be there for him, dammit. Come hell or high water.”

Many began to voice their assent. Others began to avert their eyes, no doubt because they were having a hard time keeping their emotions in check. Anger wasn’t the only thing running the group like a current. One didn’t have to be a telepath to sense that their was a terrible amount of guilt and grief in the room as well.

“Okay,” said Atrum finally. “We’re going to be there for the Captain. But we need to do it in such a way that won’t put his life in danger. And won’t run the risk of failure. That’s not what the Captain would want. He’d be the first to tell us to play this smart.”

A short, tense silence followed. When someone did speak again, it was Angel, and Atrum could sense what she was going to say before he said it.

“I can’t help but notice that since the Captain’s departure, you’ve been stepping in to fill his shoes.” She looked to Pax next. “The two of you in fact have been acting like you’re giving the orders now. Am I the only one who notices this?”

Several more people exhibited the same combination of sudden anger, anger which they were directing at him and Pax now. It was predictable, so much emotion looking for an outlet. And since he was telling them to sit on it and wait, it was inevitable it would be directed at him. Out of desperation, he reached out to Styka and Tsunami ,using their shared telepathic link.

[I’m losing them here. I could use some help.]

Tsunami didn’t even respond. Her thoughts had become a wall, her emotions as cold and impenetrable as the look on her face. Styka answered him, but was not much more receptive.

[Don’t try to avoid them. It’s disrespectful.]

[Please. They’re not listening to reason.]

[Who’s reason? I don’t agree with your plan as it is. Don’t ask me to speak for it.]

[Fine. We can certainly disagree as to how to proceed. But the last thing we need is people turning on each other.]

Styka emitted an audible sigh. In real-time, people were beginning to shout at each other, most in Atrum’s or Pax’s direction. Few seemed to be coming to their defense, but it didn’t really matter. Even those who were in agreement seemed to be attacking each other with their words now.

Atrum reached out to Tsunami again. [Please, you can see they are on the verge of cracking. Help me restore some calm so we can sort this out.]

To his surprise, Tsunami did answer, though not quite as expected. At the far end of the room, the door blew open and a cold gust of wind thundered through. Not a soul was undisturbed by it and everyone was fast looking in Tsunami’s direction. Of all the people present, only she maintained her steady, forward-looking glare until the wind died down and the door slammed shut again.

Waiting for total quiet to return, she finally spoke. “The last thing the Captain said to me was ‘they’ll be another time’. He also told me that Atrum here would know what to do. If he has a plan… then let’s hear him out.”

Atrum was a little surprised.She said the words, but he could feel something menacing not far behind them. Though he could tell she was sincere, he wasn’t sure if what she’d said had been a vote of confidence, or a warning not to screw things up. Either way, he took his cue and continued.

“Like I said, our best bet is to hit these feds when they try to transfer the Captain. They’ll try to do it either by convoy, or by air. Either way, they will be most vulernable at this time. An convoy, even if its stacked with armored vehicles, won’t be unstoppable.”

“Yeah, we proved that much to them last time,” said Angel, looking to those who had been intrinsic in that regard. Standing not far away, Bonfire smiled while Judgment bristled happily.

“And an air lift would be useless. We’ve got several people who could take out escort choppers, and then land on board the one carrying the Captain and whisk him away before anyone could stop them. Either way, we’d have them.”

“What about aerial drones?” asked Freedom, remembering the last one and how it had ruined their day.

On that, Atrum smiled. Reaching to his laptop, he punched a few keys and brought up a new display. In the center, a large green reticule sat, with what looked like a picture of a radio wave bouncing around inside it. “Don’t worry. They caught us with our pants down last time. This time around, we’ll be ready…”

“What is that?” Erotica asked at last.

“That…” Pax interjected, “is the frequency that last drone was using. Next one we see one, we’ll be able to hack it.”

Atrum’s smile broadened, to the point where he was beaming at everyone in the room. “We all saw what just one of those things could do with its big old arsenal of missiles and bombs. Just imagine what kind of hell we could raise with that kind of firepower.”

Again, one did not need telepathy to know that the mood had suddenly changed in the room. What had been anger and grief was slowly morphing into anger and elation. Everyone was beginning to see just how good a plan they had before them, and how much it would hurt the bastards who had put them here…

Panacea was the one to say it, putting all that raw emotion into words.

“When we came together, we took the name of revenge for ourselves,” she said. “Let’s show these men what revenge looks like.”

Cyberwars: Snowden Reveals NSA’s Been Hacking China

nsa_aerialEdward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the NSA and its domestic surveillance program – aka. PRISM – has reemerged to reveal some additional secrets. It seems that in addition to spying on their own citizens, the NSA has been using its resources to spy on tens of thousands of operations around the world. Not surprising, but what Snowden revealed showed that when it comes to nations like China, surveillance was just the tip of the iceberg.

Snowden, who has been hiding in Hong Kong since May 20th, revealed in an interview on Thursday with the South China Morning Post that the NSA has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. Among the targets in Hong Kong were the Chinese University of Hong Kong, public officials, businesses and even students in the city.

?????????????All told, Snowden estimated that there are more than 61,000 NSA hacking operations globally, with at least hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and on the mainland. The tactics, he claimed, involve selecting large targets and infiltrating in many places at once:

We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one.

Snowden also explained his motivation for blowing the whistle on the NSA’s foreign operations. It seems that in light recent tensions between the US and China, which has been characterized by ongoing accusations and recrimination, he felt the need to tell the truth behind the lies. As he told the SCMP, his motivation was based on:

the hypocrisy of the U.S. government when it claims that it does not target civilian infrastructure, unlike its adversaries….Not only does it do so, but it is so afraid of this being known that it is willing to use any means, such as diplomatic intimidation, to prevent this information from becoming public.

Edward-Snowden-660x367Though Snowden also discussed possible plans to seek asylum in Iceland or elsewhere during an interview last week, he told the SCMP  that he’s staying put in Hong Kong for now. He emphasized that his stay in China was not an attempt to avoid justice, but to reveal criminal behavior.  He also expressed admiration for countries that have offered asylum (such as Russia), claiming that he was “glad there are governments that refuse to be intimidated by great power.”

The Guardian newspaper, which has published information from documents leaked by Snowden, has said that it has more than a thousand other documents that Snowden managed to smuggle out or download from the NSA using a series of laptops and a thumb drive. These documents are to be disclosed in the coming weeks, according to the paper, so more revelations are expected to come.

secret_documentsThough there are those who question his motivations and methods, no one can deny that thanks to Snowden, some very questionable  behavior has been revealed that involved people at the top echelons of government. One can’t help but be reminded of Richard Clarke, former head of the NSA, who came forward in 2004 to testify before to the 9/11 Commission and reveal the extent to which the Bush Administration failed to prevent the largest terrorist attack in history, or how it sought to pin that attack on the Iraqi government.

And for those who have lived long enough to remember, these events also call to mind the Pentagon Papers of 1969. In this case, it was another whistle blower named Daniel Ellsberg who, through the publication of hundreds of government documents, revealed that the US government had been lying about the Vietnam war, the number of casualties, and the likelihood of its success. And let’s not forget  former FBI Ass. Dir. Mark Felt – aka. “Death Throat” – the man who blew the whistle on the Nixon Administration.

whistleblower-protectionIn the end, whistle blowers have a long history of ending wars, exposing corruption, and force administrations to take responsibility for their secret, unlawful policies. Naturally, there were those who are critical men such as Felt, Clarke, and Ellsberg, both then and now, but they have never been able to refute the fact that the men acted out of conscience and achieved results. And while I’m sure that their will be fallout from Snowden’s actions, I too cannot dispute that what he did needed to be done.

As Edmund Burke famously said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil  is for good men to do nothing.”

Sources: wired.com, scmp.com

Hacker Wars: Hacker Breaches U.S. Army Database

Hackers-With-An-AgendaIt appears that the ongoing campaign of cyber warfare has claimed yet another victim, once again a government institution. In the latest in a long series of institutions and organizations plagued by cyber crime, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that back in January, a hacker compromised a U.S. Army database that holds sensitive information about vulnerabilities in U.S. dams.

The database in question was the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ National Inventory of Dams, a source that contains information about 79,000 dams throughout the US and tracks such information as the number of estimated deaths that could occur if a specific dam failed. It’s accessible to government employees who have accounts, and non-government users can query the database, but are not permitted to download data from it.

hacker_damThe breach was first reported by Free Beacon, a non-profit online publication, and has since been confirmed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Pete Pierce, a spokesman for the ACE, released a statement, saying that:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aware that access to the National Inventory of Dams (NID), to include sensitive fields of information not generally available to the public, was given to an unauthorized individual in January 2013 who was subsequently determined to not to have proper level of access for the information. [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] immediately revoked this user’s access to the database upon learning that the individual was not, in fact, authorized full access to the NID.

The Corps of Engineers further indicated on their website that account usernames and passwords had since changed “to be compliant with recent security policy changes.”

Unnamed U.S. officials told the Free Beacon that the breach was traced to “the Chinese government or military cyber warriors,” but offered no information to support the claim. It is well known by intrusion specialists that hackers can use proxy servers or hijacked computers to conduct a breach and make it look as if the source was a specific country or individual.

hackers_securityMichelle Van Cleave, a former senior adviser to the Executive Agent for Homeland Security and Department of Defense and a former consultant to the CIA, went on record as saying that the breach appeared to be part of an effort to collect “vulnerability and targeting data” for future cyber or military attacks, though she didn’t say how she came to this conclusion.

If the intrusion was the work of the Chinese military, then it’s possible this was nothing more than a fact-finding mission on their part, designed to gather information on America’s infrastructure and hydroelectric facilities. The far worse possibility was that this was the result of private hackers, who sought to obtain information about US dams are part of a planned attack, looking to see which dam would cause the most harm if it were disabled by a physical or cyber-attack.

Whether it was the result of government-sponsored hackers, private hackers, or potential terrorists, it is clear that in the wake of the recent intrusions into US government databases, and the recent bombing in Boston, that security forces in the US will be on the lookout for similar breaches. In an age of electronic warfare, the best defense is not a good offense, but the ability to identity enemies and deploy countermeasures.

Source: Wired.com

The Boston Manhunt: A Victory for Technology?

boston-marathon-bombing-suspects-2013It was announced yesterday that after an intense manhunt, a prolonged shootout, and the death of an MIT police officer, that the second and final suspect in the Boston bombing was finally captured. Identified as Tamerlan and Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, the eldest brother was killed during the shoot out in Watertown and the latter who was captured while in hiding under an overtunred boat in a nearby residence.

Naturally, there are still many questions about the two brothers when it comes to their motives and whether or not they had any help in the commission of this crime. But in the meantime, one can’t help but acknowledge the swiftness with which the suspects were identified and the case resolved. Considering the fact that the police had no leads and no one had come forward to take credit, the fact that the men responsible were captured and killed within four days is nothing short of astounding.

boston-marathon-bombing2So compared to past instances of terrorist acts – where the incident took place in a mass gathering and the perpetrators were mixed in with the crowd – what was different here? For one, the sheer amount of information that was provided by people who were on the scene. From torrents of photography to cell-tower information to locals’ memories, the police, FBI, and other investigators opened their investigation to spectator surveillance in a way like never before.

And in return, they received a mountain of data, which surprisingly proved quite helpful. Between the images submitted to the police from those who took pictures and video with their smartphones, PDAs and video cameras, and tips provided via Twitter and other social media, the police were quickly able to determine who the likely suspects were and how the bombing took place. After making their findings public, the suspects then fled, and committed the monumentally stupid mistake of drawing attention to themselves.

boston_bombing_manhuntAll this represented a modern twist on the age-old policy where law enforcement agencies consider the public’s eyes and ears as the crucial investigative asset. Just like with all cases, authorities opened their inquiry to account for what people saw and heard. The only real difference was that this time around, the Internet rapidly compressed the time it took for tips to arrive and get analyzed.

Mike Rolince, a retired FBI special agent who set up Boston’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, recalls a time in the 90’s when the FBI was much more reticent about accepting information from the public and local police:

If law enforcement didn’t share any information — [as with bombers] Terry Nichols, Ted Kaczynski — if your intel is shared with no one, that is the consummate investigative challenge.

However, he acknowledges that things have since changed:

The great advantage here is the number of cameras out there. Without the cameras, I don’t know where we are.

boston-marathon-bombing-watertownBut of course, those cameras went way beyond the surveillance cameras that were in place downtown. They included every mobile camera in the hands of every person who happened to bring one. All of the information thus provided allowed the FBI and local police to turn a crime scene trampled by thousands and no leads into a solid case against two suspects and an active manhunt that led to their death and capture in four days time.

This was a victory for not only modern technology but the very democratic powers it is making possible. Much like crowdsourcing, crowdfunding, DIY research and biohacking, public surveillance is something which could very well turn the tables on terrorism. It could also go a long way to undermining fears about a surveillance-based Big Brother state, ushering in instead an era of public-government cooperation that provides for the common good.

Might sound a bit utopian, but it is a first and represents a big victory for all those who were fighting on the side of good in the midst of a heinous act of evil.

Source: Wired.com

Messages of Hope for Boston

boston-marathon-explosion-1I think it’s fair to say that the weekend bombing attack in Boston was a shock to us all. Worse yet was the horror faced by those who were at ground zero when it happened, men, women and children taking part in a public sporting event that was hurting no one and served no political purpose. The deaths and injuries sustained to these people who were simply out for a run with hundreds of their fellow Bostonians is an outrage to say the least.

And of course, there has been plenty of speculation and attempts at recrimination, the kind of thing that always follows in the wake of a terrorist bombing. Though no guilty parties have been identified and no one has come forward to claim responsibility, there are those who want to point fingers and start beating the war drums, demanding blood and vengeance for the terrible crime. At a time so soon after the tragedy struck, this kind of attitude can only add to the hurt and difficulty.

Boston_projectorAnd yet, in the midst of this tragedy, there are thing that remind us that there’s always reason for hope, like in how people overcome their differences in times of strife to show mutual love and support. A perfect example is how last night in Brooklyn, a glowing message of hope appeared on the face of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Here, New Yorkers were treated to a series of messages offering their support for the city of Boston in the wake of the Marathon bombings, such as “Brooklyn Loves Boston” and the Martin Luther King quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

But here’s where it gets especially inspiring! The lights were the work of a van that was outfitted with special projection technology that was originally designed for the Occupy Wall Street protests. As a mobile offshoot of the “We Are The 99%” projections that were placed on the sides of skyscrapers some years back, this vehicle was planned for upcoming Tax Day, projecting the message “Tax Evader”. However, it quickly retooled the moment news of the bombings broke. Hence, what was originally intended as a message of protest promptly switched to one of support, peace and love.

boston-marathon-bombingAnd then there was another news story to come out of the carnage, something which reminds us that human beings are capable of exceptional good when the chips are down. With all the news about how social media has been used for evil (i.e. to document cases or rape or bully people into committing suicide), the Boston Marathon presented a side of social media that shows how effective it can be in a crisis.

Within seconds of the first bomb blast, pictures, video and news of the horrific event were pulsing over social networks. For many, this was how news of the attack first came to light, and first responders and police even used Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr and other networks to get valuable information out, like warning people to stay away from the crisis area. In times of mass panic, when conventional means of communication can be overwhelmed, this kind of response can be invaluable.

Boston Marathon ExplosionThe memes that quickly emerged from the event involved the sharing of photos and questions about how to reach loved ones when cell coverage was down in large parts of the Boston Area. Google immediately set up a “person finder” system for posting and finding information about specific people. And while major news outlets covered the casualties and law enforcement’s efforts to locate more bombs, citizens reached out to each other with the best factual information they could find.

Granted, there were some offensive memes, but by and large, the efforts of bloggers had the effect of providing real-time information on the bombing and allaying fears. Some even went as far as to correct misinformation and rumors spreading about the attack, about the bombers, and to place the events in a global context. One blogger reminded people of the recent bombings in Iraq which killed 37 people and left 140 injured. It says something about people when, even in the face of fear and sadness, they are able to remind people that there are some that have it worse.

Whereas many people think that social media is little more than a means of spreading rumors, gossip, or the hurtful trifecta known as FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), thus making a crisis situation that much worse, the speedy response and responsible use of social media sites in the midst of this crisis was actually very helpful and may have averted further problems. I for one hope this is a sign of things to come, how technology can and will be used responsibly to deal with challenges and extend help to those in need.

At this point, I hope this spirit of support, love and mutual assistance continues on into the foreseeable future. As 9/11 reminded us, terrorist attacks and tragedies can so easily become the fodder of extreme intolerance and questionable agendas. Thought it’s not clear yet who did this or why, I am hopeful that what President Obama said about finding the people responsible and holding them accountable proves true, and soon.

Sources: IO9, fastcoexist.com

RIP Hugo Chavez: Venezuelan Strongman and Master Troll

hugo_chavezThe death of Hugo Chavez, which took place on March 5th, has not only left a vacuum in Venezuelan politics, but deprived the world of one of its most prolific trolls. In his many years dominating South American politics, Chavez distinguished himself as more of a nuisance than a threat to US and western interests. But what a nuisance! And his tool of choice in this onslaught? Social media!

While he once thought Twitter was a tool of terrorism, Chavez became convinced it was an asymmetric tool to combat what he called a “conspiracy” of pro-American opponents. As a lover of hyperbole and over-the-top statements, how could he not take to a forum that rewarded such behavior? And like all good trolls, Chavez was evangelical in his vitriol, comparing his enemies to fascists and barbarians, making grandiose boasts, and dispensing exclamation points from a virtual pez dispenser!

And of course, his tweets kept pace with political intrigue, both domestic and foreign. In May 2011, when the U.S. State Department imposed sanctions against the Venezuelan state-run oil company PDVSA for selling gasoline reformate to Iran, Chavez’s cash-cow was blocked from receiving U.S. export licenses. In response, Chavez tweeted:

Sanctions against the homeland of [Simon] Bolivar? Imposed by the gringo imperialist government? Well: Welcome Mr Obama! Do not forget we are the children of Bolivar!

When Tripoli fell, the result of rebellions against Gadhafi and Coalition support, the long-time supporter of the Libyan dictator responded in the following way:

We must stop the unleashed imperial madness! World, good world, humane world, do not be overwhelmed by the barbarism!

And when Syria’s Alawite regime began to show signs of going the same way, also the result of uprisings from pro-democracy groups, Chavez moved quickly to declare his support for the Bashar Assad. In the midst of the regime using live fire to murder civilians, Chavez declared openly:

I talked a few minutes with the Syrian President, our brother Bashar. Syria is the victim of a fascist attack. God help Syria!!

And of course, he used Twitter plenty to disseminate plenty of self-serving propaganda at home. He dispensed advice on dealing with “traitors”, which amounted to a “raging socialist revolutionary offensive!” On accusations about poverty in Venezuela, he replied: “There is no poverty in Venezuela! Factory capitalism is poverty!” He also trolled an opposition primary debate: “The opposition is once again a fool!”

The US did not engage in flame wars with the former presidente, but the White House did release a statement offering condolences over his death. However a statement from President Obama on Tuesday evening was admittedly curt and seemed to hint that they were happy to be rid of his influence:

At this challenging time of President Hugo Chavez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government.

Without a doubt, Chavez’ successor will have his hands full with regards to Venezuela’s economy and its internal political divisions. And I have to say, regardless of Chavez’s ongoing and annoying bombastic personality, he did pull much of Venezuela’s working class out of poverty. And even if you hated him, you had to admit, the man was interesting! RIP Hugo Chavez, you annoying bastard! Can’t imagine how quiet it’s going to be without you…

Data Miners Published!

Dataminers_3It’s finally happened. After three years of writing, editing and constant picking, I finally got around to pushing Data Miners through publication! As you can see, I decided to go with the black and green cover, which I feel highlights the lines of code best. And I also made sure there’d be print on the side. I feel there should be demarcation between the front and back covers, hope you agree.

And here is the precis I decided to go with on the back of the dust jacket. Hope it encapsulates the story without giving too much away:

“Prad is a member of the DeMarchy, an elite society of data miners dedicated to finding the patterns in chaos and exposing the lies that permeate our society. Or so he thinks. In reality, he’s a second-rate programmer working for a faceless company and obsessed with a woman he can’t possibly have. Until one day when a mysterious package arrives that plunges him into a mystery ten years in the making.  If he can crack the code, he just might be able to save his friends and himself.  If not, they’ll lose everything: their jobs, their freedom, and even their lives. Like everything else in Prad’s wireless world, the answer is out there, just waiting to be mined!

But to give my loyal followers are more in-depth survey, the book was inspired largely by the works of William Gibson and his exploration of technology and its effects on society. But for my own purposes, I wanted some serious espionage and spy thriller stuff, the kind of things people would expect from a techno-thriller. After all, one of the cornerstones of the digital age has been fears about the loss of privacy, the dangers of government surveillance, and the threat posed by insidious people with the wrong kinds of talents!

Add to that the concept of Democratic Anarchy, a west-coast libertarian perspective, and some real history – which I shamelessly exploited for the sake of fiction – and you’ve got Data Miners. In time, I will be producing the sequel, Data Pirates, which focuses on the darker side of hacking and libertarianism, and a finale, entitled Data Moguls. But those will have to wait for my current workload to cool down a little…

In the meantime, look for Data Miners on Amazon-Kindle! It will be appearing on my author page for the ebook price of 4.99, or for free if you’ve got a Kindle Select membership. My first full length novel is out, Yaaaaaay! Follow the links below if you want a copy:

Amazon Author Page

Data Miners – Chapter 1

Hello! In anticipation for Data Miners release, I will posting chapters of the upcoming novel online for free over the next couple of days. As usual, I will be posting sample chapters over at my free ebook sites as well. So if you feel like downloading a larger text file, feel free to  visit them. Otherwise, stay tuned and enjoy the first five chapters, free of charge and hot from my own personal printing press (by which I mean my laptop!) Look for the rest, coming soon, on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble, or at Kindle and Nook for iPads, tablets and other devices.

http://www.feedbooks.com/
http://www.free-ebooks.net/

Epilogue:

“Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for… I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.  You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.”

-The Mentor, “The Conscience of a Hacker”,
January 8, 1986

One
June 23rd, 2009

2:35 pm.

Yamal Pradchaphet eyes the preference line for what feels like the millionth time in the last few minutes.  It’s not an easy question and he needs to think it over for a minute or two.  His right hand poised over the keys, his left scratching at the tuft of greasy hair hanging in his face.  He looks to his right and spies the big pile of blank reports and worksheets next to his monitor.  He’ll be sure to get to those just as soon as he takes care of this little task.

“What kind of women do you want to meet?”

The undressing lady holds her pose after pushing her lace-covered chest outward.  The gentle soprano that is her voice is still ringing in his ears.  He dares not say Asian, or Filipino.  That would limit his options greatly in the latter case, and he doesn’t much trust the former.  If he wants to meet girls his mother approves of, he might as well date the girls they keep suggesting for him.  The old joke he used to tell his parents runs through his mind.

Mom, I bring home nice girls all the time.  You don’t need to.

Still, the woman is looking for an answer.  Damn she’s hot too.  Why can’t he just say he wants her?  Her black lace underwear and shapely curves are something he could wear all day.  Why doesn’t she come with the service?

Because she’s a fucking model you idiot, and those curves are digitally enhanced!

So many years and so many kilometres separating him and his heritage, and he still can’t seem to screw up the courage to be honest, not without looking over his shoulder.  He checks once more, then clicks on the boxes he really wants.

Blonde, Brunette, Redhead.  And Caucasian just in case that’s not clear enough.  He looks at the other possibilities for a second too and selects Latina and Mediterranean.  It’s interesting how specific they can be, but preferences tend to be that way.  Those were the women he truly fantasized about, the ones he thought of whenever… you know.

“What kind of relationship are you looking for?” the woman asks, and starts to undo the hook on her bra.  Pradchaphet’s breath goes shallow and he lowers the volume to one shade above mute.  She’s on the verge of exposing her tits, the straps dropping and exposing the slip of pale flesh above the nipples.  He’s never found the nerve to go this far at his desk in his place of work.  But boredom and horniness are the fertilizers of impetuous acts.  And right now he is really, really bored… and the rest.

He clicks once on discreet relationship and again on erotic chat/email, just for good measure.  Please let this be the last step, he prays to any God that will listen, and hits Enter on his keyboard.

Her breasts are now bare.  Prad is momentarily excited, then slightly disappointed.  The fine, pink globes and the tiny brown nipples just don’t seem so thrilling now that they are out.  Perhaps it was a buildup.  Still, he’s not going to count his chickens until he sees her totally in the buff.

“What’s your name?” she asks, undoing her short skirt.  The panties match the bra, black, thin and lacy, showing just enough skin around the most sensitive areas.  But alas, a name for his account…  He really didn’t give that one any thought until now.  It’s important not to use his Society name, the one his friends see whenever privileged emails are sent. Lucky he has a family name that translates so well when it comes to internet handles.

PradChap.  No one ever uses that name.  The numbers aren’t even really necessary, just a way to meet the minimum field requirement of seven figures.

He hits Enter again and holds his breath.

The woman disappears.  Her almost naked body vanishes into the thin air of cyberspace while somewhere, a computer processes his application.  Damn you vile temptress, he thinks as he waits for the list of possible hook ups to appear.  Sure enough, they do, a new focus for his sexual frustrations.  The title line says it all.

Women In Your Area Looking for Fun and Casual Hook-ups.

He scans through the long list of grainy pics, nothing like the ones used to lure him in while he was cruising the torrent sites, looking for downloads.  Already he’s losing interest in the whole process.  Playmates just isn’t living up to its name just yet.  He looks at the clock in the lower right hand corner of his screen.  The thought of cruising some free sites suddenly seems much more appealing.  At the very least it would kill some time before he finally has to punch out.

He calls up the Candylist directory and starts right clicking on the sites he wants from the long list that Candy, the site’s hot little avatar that dances in the upper right corner, has graciously provided him with.

Busty, Teens, and what the hell, Asians.

***

3:15 pm.

The coffee has turned stale and is just hot enough to melt the three sugar cubes that are needed to mask the awful taste.  Coffee mate is available, but something about the powdered shit makes him uneasy.  He decides to raid the fridge, see if there is any fresh milk or cream in there.  An opened carton of half-and-half is all he can find.

“Don’t let Miriam catch you with that.”

Prad recognizes the voice.  It’s Rohit, his only real companion in this jungle of steel and concrete, at least the only one he truly thinks of as a friend.  He eyes the container and assumes the obvious.

“It hers?”

“Yep, and she’s not one for sharing.”

“How would she know?” Prad says.  “As if there aren’t enough people crammed into this floor as it is.”

“Yeah, I suppose.  What are you working on?”

“Fucking the dog,” Prad says, giving his coffee a stir and sip.  His appraisal of the taste comes through in a big wide grimace.  Too sweet, and kind of burnt, like honey on blackened toast.  Rohit gives him a nervous look.

“Uh-oh, I know what that means.”

“It’s not like you spend every hour at your desk working,” Prad reminds him.

“No, but Tetris and Minesweeper aren’t considered offensive.  You know they’re short-listing people for the downsizing list.  Quickest way to get on that list is to commit a sex offence.”

“Like flash my junk at the software chick with the big tits?”

Rohit takes a sip from his own mug of stale coffee and looks at the break room door.  He shoots Prad a look that says “watch it!”  Even joking about that sort of thing is a no-no in the workplace nowadays.  Prad rolls his eyes and tries to absorb the moral.  He will be sure to lower his voice when making such comments again.

“Alright, I get the point,” he concedes.  “So you have an idea who’s on that list?”

“Oh, you know, same old.  Temps, part-timers, and a few old people who they figure they can kick out with some severance and not have to worry about promoting.  And I hear there’s a couple who are finally getting the boot because of complaints filed against them.”

Please be O’Malley, Prad thinks.  The old prig is a constant fucking pain, disliked by the ladies and the younger gents alike, especially the ones he refers to as the “ethnic ones”.  He isn’t the only one Prad would be happy to say goodbye to, but based on Rohit’s criteria, he seems the most deserving.

“So how much time do you figure we have here?”

“We?” Rohit says incredulously.  The idea that Prad would speak about them in the same sentence is clearly a shock.  “Not sure how much time I got.  Job security isn’t exactly a solid commodity around here right now.”

Prad scoffs.  “Big execs always use that ‘bad economy’ shit to justify firing people.”

“Doesn’t make any difference to us though does it?  Laid off is laid off.”

Prad nods, conceding the point.  “So how much time do you figure?”

“Me, I’m guessing us baseline programmers got about six months before they start streamlining us.”

“Christmas?  You think they’d lay people off before the holidays?”

“Easier than waiting til after to do it.  Plus you get to spend the severance on presents and booze, helps numb the pain.”

“Still cold, man.”

“Anyway, I don’t think I’ll be getting a pink slip during the first round.”

“What about me?”

Rohit takes another sip and looks to be running Prad’s prospects in his mind.  One thing programmers were good at was statistical analysis, which also made them adept gamblers.  Not that Rohit could ever be tempted into doing any.  He was boring like that…

“Well,” he finally says with a shrug.  “I’m sure you could look forward to a big, fat holiday severance.”

“Woohoo…” Prad raises his hand in a mock victory salute.  “At least I can look forward to sleeping in, and not working for people way stupider than me.”

Rohit looks at the break room doorway again.

“Dude, you need to shut up.”

***

6:30pm.

Prad is home from work in the Empire State Towers, apartment fourteen-eleven, which is a one bedroom suite.  In point of fact, it’s floor thirteen, but due to the superstitious nature of most builders, floor thirteen does not exist.  The view provides a lovely view of the skyline.  At present, a beautiful orange hue is settling over the city, due in part to humidity, engine emissions and the fact that a stiff sea breeze hasn’t rolled in in recent days.  Prad loves the colors, but would enjoy another transfusion of ocean air soon.  The smell of smog reminds him too much of visiting family overseas.

A takeout box of fried Singapore noodles sits next to the keyboard.  A few splotches of sauce decorate his shirt, but none had reached the keyboard thanks to his chopstick handling skills.  The television plays in the background.  It’s six o’clock so there’s nothing on except for the news.  Scarcely anything that deserves attention, just more fear and controversy, people dying in the Middle East, murder and mayhem here at home.  Rummaging through Shoutwire is so much more interesting.  There are two stories that occupy his attention at the moment. One is a recent study conducted in France that is making waves, linking crime rates to ethnicity.  Apparently, the researcher contends that people of Muslim backgrounds, specifically Algerians and Moroccans are more likely to commit crimes.  He can bear reading about this study for only a few minutes before losing his cool and starts leaving harsh comments.

Everybody knows the French want to ban Muslim immigration!  This study is propaganda and nothing more.  Quit pretending like this is an issue!

The other is summed up by its title, “Facebook linked to rise in Syphilis”.  He has to admit, the link is tenuous, but makes for much more interesting reading.

Some news hits the screen that catches his attention, both ears tuning in.  A special interest story concerning a person whose name he recognizes.  He hasn’t heard it in awhile, but he’s certainly no stranger to national news.  His fame was one of the reasons Prad was proud to know Professor Germaine of MIT, a big name in the wireless world.  Prad had read about it already on all the webnews sites for days now; the mainstream media is only now getting around to talking about it.  The once proud and eccentric teacher of Data Systems Analysis at MIT is under the weather and not long for this world, the perky Asian reporter, Hillary Qin, is saying.  The investigative report takes the usual circuitous route to tell him this, going back over his life for those who did not have the benefit of knowing him.

“Albert Germaine was a gifted student who excelled in the maths and sciences.  From an early age, he was fascinated with computers and data systems.  In his teen years, when most boys his age were interested in cars and going to drive-in movies, Professor Germaine was at work loading punch cards into his IBM or reading up on Alan Turing.  In 1978, he was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he furthered his studies in computer science, with a double minor in linguistics and behavioural psychology.  His doctoral thesis, entitled “The Turing Test from a Behavioural Perspective”, argued that machines, in time, would be capable of imitating basic human thought and behaviour.  His thesis drew on many seminal thinkers of his time, from Wittgenstein and Ryle to B.F. Skinner and John B. Watson.  Arguing that the human brain, in its most basic form, is essentially a series of program instructions which are formed in accordance with conditioning and experience (similar to computer algorithms) he believed that a sufficiently advanced data system would be capable of independent thought and reason.  In addition to behavioural psychologists, he also drew on noted authors, such as Philip K. Dick and Arthur Koestler, to make his point.  The human brain, he argued, had evolved to meet the challenges of life through adaptive hardware and tailored software.  Language, reasoning, routines, even philosophy could be broken down into programming language.  This sort of language, rendered in digital form, could give a machine the same capabilities.

“After a five year stint as a researcher with a private laboratory, Germaine returned to MIT where he divided his time between teaching and advancing his research.  Convinced that Alan Turning’s theories could be proven, he began using CT scans to map the brains of volunteers.  As would later be learned, he performed many scans on himself as well.  Once he had a sufficient idea of what specific human neural patterns looked like, he ventured, he would be able to design a synthetic version.  For years, his work would attract scorn and controversy from theorists and the general public who accused him of practising a sort of technological Fascism. Some went so far as to compare him with Nazi researchers who performed cruel tests on human subjects.  Others claimed that his ideas and research sought to deprive the human mind of its mystery and sacred value…

Prad had to tune out at this point, as he is already intimately familiar with most of the details of the professor’s history.  Any student of data systems analysis at MIT knew about the professor.  Anyone who was anyone in the programming world knew the name by reputation.  They all knew exactly how he viewed all that hubbub as well, so Prad didn’t need to hear it from Qin.  Germaine was as myopic as he was fucking brilliant; he believed those who didn’t understand or agree with him were small-minded or blind to simple realities.  He had little time for what he called “mind-body dualistic nonsense”, just as he had little time for Christians and other religious people.  Many of his students dropped or boycotted his courses because of this.  The campus’ Christian Coalition smeared him with pamphlets and seminars and petitioned the university to fire him.  Eventually, they got their way.  Prad smiled when he heard Qin addressing this next.  It was as if they had a direct line to his brain and he were the one giving the report:

“In 1996, Germaine was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition which had been misdiagnosed in his youth.  Like many of his generation, he grew up with various labels, some saying that he was a genius, others that he was intellectually disabled.  Germaine worked through and around these labels, and succeeded in spite of them, only to find out in his later years that his gifts and flaws were due to a common neurological disorder.  As if this wasn’t enough, MIT chose to end Germaine’s tenure due to the controversy his work attracted.  Professor Germaine retreated into isolation for a time, reappearing only on occasion as a guest lecturer at symposiums or seminars.  In time, however, a movement arose to restore the professor to his former glory.  A number of organizations and some of his former students, many of whom had risen to positions of prominence in the scientific world, agreed to mount a class-action discrimination lawsuit against MIT for their release of professor Germaine.  The suit never made it to court, as the Institute chose instead to reinstate the professor and allow him to continue his work.  Germaine returned in the fall of 2000.”

And in 2000-2001 (or was it 2001-2002? He couldn’t remember which year it was), Prad had met him.  Angie was a student of his as well, though she and Prad had not known each other until after they had finished their degrees.  It was kind of a bragging rights thing, knowing a man like Germaine.  Most people in the Society did not, something that gave Angie and him some additional prestige, but everyone knew enough about him that it didn’t really matter.  Just about all of them had read Turing, the book he wrote on his seminal mentor, or some of his later published articles. There was also the study he wrote on the next great leap, entitled “Our Silicate Future”.  Most agreed that the man talked like he wrote anyway, one was as good as the next.

In any case, now the professor was on death’s door, diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.  He was sure some assholes in the media would say it was because of all those brain scans, but what the hell did they know?  The Christian students unions would be celebrating for sure as well, even going as far to say that it was God’s punishment for his arrogance.  God liked to punish people who tried to tear the veil of mystery away from his creations, apparently.  He was full of love, but if provoked, would get very nasty, like an abusive dad.  Who knew God was such a good imitator of human behaviour?  He looked up some recent articles on CNN.com and from The Boston Globe that mentioned where he was and how he was doing.  He was still working, they said.  Brave soul, with only a few months left at the outside, but he was carrying on.  The pictures showed him smiling bravely and being helped around by some students in their white coats.  Prad felt a tinge of jealousy.  The honour of helping the man complete his work was something only the truly skilled should be doing.  Someone like him, in other words.

Maybe when I get fired, he ventures.

The television moves onto more boring matters, crime and death in the nation.  Off it goes, and his full attention is back on his computer (or Dorothy, as he knows her).  A little first-person shooter feels right about now, or maybe some time with the blogosphere.  But then there’s the matter of his inbox which has a few new messages he hasn’t checked yet.  He decides to check these before doing anything else.  There’s one for discount boner pills, one for vitamins from the General Health Store, and one for an online dating service.  He shakes his head mournfully before deleting them all.  No matter how many spyware and adware zappers he installs on his machine, his surfing habits still end up in a database somewhere, prompting hordes of unwanted spam.  But at least the dating service offer has reminded him that he needs to check on his account with Playmates.  Despite getting bored with it earlier, he wants to see who might have earmarked him in the Playmates system, see if any of them have more attractive profiles.

Then he notices the email from the Society, the subject line saying “Meeting.”  He quickly opens this one and scans the first few lines of text.  Angela’s signature is at the bottom, her DeeMark as they refer to it.  She’s advising him that their chapter has received a challenge, a test of their mettle from the local DeePs.  Angie’s never one to turn down a challenge; as a matter of honour, she can’t abide trash talk from those bloody pirates!  As a result, she is writing to tell them that their next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, won’t be the normal online meet and greet.  This time, it will involve a mission, and a rather lucrative one at that.  The nature of it is too sensitive to talk about here, she says.  It will have to be conveyed in person.

The time and the place are written in code one line above her signature.

SCH, D-1, XVIII H-H.

Well that settles things for the evening.  Tomorrow he can look forward to his date with Angela, and whichever other Society guests are in attendance. Tonight, he has a few programs to watch but needs to eat and kill a few hours before that can happen.  He fetches his jacket and keys and decides to head for the pub.

***

8:30pm (or thereabouts).

The killing field stares back at him.  The baked bones and greasy guts are strewn about in a semicircular pile, forced to share space with a defiling mass of crumpled litter.  Prad wonders just how many animals died in this particular holocaust.  Their limbs torn from their bodies, blood gushing and bringing their steroid pumped, cage ridden, grain-fed existence to a slow, agonizing halt.  Born on a death farm, forced to wander around on broken legs, then cut down in their prime to feed the hungry barons of the inner city.  Just like those poor calves in their plastic cages, senseless and isolated until the day when a patron looking to serve up veal parmesan or scaloppini puts the wheels in motion whereby their horrible existence is mercifully ended.  Prad thinks it all over and considers becoming vegetarian until his order of potato skins arrive and he realizes the bacon bits are the best part.

He orders another Sapporo and resolves to give the subject some more thought before making any decision on the matter.  Never hurts to drown a moral decision in endless debate.  The cute underage waitress smiles at him mechanically and takes the plate of bones away.  He knows he’s too messy and bloated to flirt or be of genuine appeal to her, so he resolves to behave himself and not be that asshole who is low enough to flirt with bar staff, or stupid enough to think they are taking him seriously.

Just another Thursday night, and he’s bored, restless, kind of drunk, and aching to go on vacation.  He doesn’t have to drive home and he could find his way back to his flat blindfolded and half-dead.  The potato skins looks good, but he knows they’d be better with a little added cheer.  He makes a beeline for the men’s room and finds a stall where he can sit alone and pop the little something he slipped into his pocket back at his flat.  The tap water has a chemical taste and is way too cold, but he only needs an ounce or two to wash down the jagged pill.  He takes a deep breath and looks at himself in the mirror.  In a few minutes, his night will become a hell of a lot more interesting.

What does Osama’s death mean (part II)?

What is to be done? Well for starters, the US and its coalition allies should withdraw from Afghanistan. If history has taught us anything, its that occupations are a losing battle, especially in places like Afghanistan. That country has made a name for itself grinding up invaders and spitting them back out. It’s mountainous terrain, hardened people and impenetrable network of tribal loyalties have always proven to be the undoing of invaders, no matter who they were or what kind of technological superiority they possessed. But above and beyond all that, it is startling how much Afghanistan is beginning to look like Iraq, which in turn showed the same signs of failure early on that haunt all occupations and foretell their failure. To break it down succinctly, there are five basic indicators that indicate that an occupation has failed.

1. Insurgency: If the population turns against you and begins mounting an armed resistance, you know you’ve lost. Little to nothing can be done at this point because tougher measures will only aid in their recruitment, they have the home field advantage, and can recruit endlessly from their own population. The occupier, no matter how benign their original intentions, can’t allow violence to go unchecked, and so they inevitably play into the hands of their enemy. Already Afghanistan has mounted its own insurgency in the form of a resurgent Taliban that is actively recruiting from the country’s Pashtun majority. Recruits spill over the border on a regular basis from Pakistan, where millions of Pashtuns also live, and there is little the US and Coalition can do about it because the Khyber Pass (the mountainous region that spans the border) is too vast and rugged to keep sealed.

Much like in Iraq, what we’re seeing is a major resistance that is actively recruiting from a major ethnic group that is fighting to regain the power it once enjoyed. In some ways, it worse than with the Sunnis of Iraq, because the Pashtuns constitute the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan with 40 percent of the population, the remaining 60 being made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Arabs, and many other groups. In short, they constitute a larger chunk of the population, and their counterparts are disparate and divided.

2. Weak/Crooked Allies: Hamid Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun who served in the post-Soviet Afghani government, has a long history of allying himself with US interests. During the Russian occupation, he was a secret contact for the CIA and helped run guns and money to the mujahedin from neighboring Pakistan. During the Taliban’s rise to power, he became a vocal opponent, and after 9/11 he became a major ally of the US . It is also rumored that he was a consultant for Unocal, a major oil firm with strong ties to the Bush family. It’s little wonder then why he was installed as president once Coalition forces had ousted the Taliban. Unfortunately, since the invasion, his government has been notorious for its corruption and impotence. In the former category, his election win in 2009 was tainted by scandal and blatant instances of fraud. His family have also thrived under his rule and committed numerous criminal acts, the most notorious of which were by his half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, a prominent drug trafficker and CIA contractor.

In the latter category, Karzai’s political impotence is legendary. In fact, he is often playfully referred to as the “mayor of Kabul” because his power does not extend beyond the capitol. Warlords who owe no allegiance to him or coalition authorities, who were bought off in order to fight the Taliban, are largely responsible for controlling the other regions of the country. Though corrupt and weak, Karzai’s remains an important political ally to the US because of his background and ethnic-ties. He is able to put a Pashtun face on a government dominated by non-Pashtun groups, and is a long-standing enemy of the Taliban which it is still doing battle with. Beyond that, however, he is powerless and fast becoming a liability.

3. Civil War: When the people turn on each other as a result of the occupation, you know you’re not doing a very good job. Iraq is a prime example of this, with the Sunni minority doing battle with the Shia majority and the US and its allies playing the role of arbiter. No one, especially the Iraqi people, can forget the carnage of that episode. But worrying still is how Afghanistan is going in the exact same direction. While the country is no stranger to civil war, it is clear that it has been inching in that direction for years now and another civil war seems inevitable. And when that happens, the general chaos tends to be blamed on the occupation force. Not only is their presence seen as the catalyzing force, which it usually is, but their inability to contain the situation also makes them accountable.

4. Unclear Enemy: While the US and its allies have always claimed that their fight is with the Taliban on behalf of the Afghani people, the reality is quite different. The line between Taliban and Pashtuni’s became blurred sometime ago, with US and Coalition forces now waging war on the dominant ethnic group. This is not a choice position for an occupier to be in. When you can’t tell the difference between your enemy and the general population, you know you’re in trouble. When the line that separates them becomes blurred, and not just to you, you know your mission is doomed to failure. In any failed occupation, this is precisely what happened. What began as a controlled, limited engagement, spilled over and became messy, brutal and confusing. This is what happened to the United States in Vietnam and to the Russians in Afghanistan, not to mention every colonial ruler everywhere. And, inevitably, it backfired… horribly!

5. Criticism at Home and Abroad: When your own people begin to criticize you, not to mention your allies, you know you’ve overstayed your welcome. In any democracy, one cannot prosecute a war without popular support. Dictatorship’s fare slightly better with domestic opposition, but sooner or later, any war effort can be broken because of popular resistance. For years now, public opposition to the presence of US and Coalition troops has been on the rise. Recent survey’s conducted by US news services even went as far as to claim that Afghanistan was becoming “Obama’s Vietnam”. A comparison to Iraq would be more apt, but the existing metaphor has more power.

In addition, Karzai himself has become increasingly vocal in his condemnation of Coalition forces “methods”. In this respect, he is not unlike Nouri al-Maliki, the current Prime Minister of Iraq, who also skirted the fine line between supporting and condemning his US-allies. In time, Maliki even began to go as far as to say that Iraq would demand a total withdrawal of US forces if things continued on their current track. Karzai may not be in that kind of position, he knows he cannot survive without US support for the time being, but he also cannot sit idly by while Afghani civilians are killed and not speak up. In time, as civilians casualties mount, he may very well be forced to choose sides, no longer able to skirt the line between his allies and his people.

6. Widening Conflict: When your conflict begins to spill into neighboring countries, you’ve got a full blown quagmire! Remember the US bombing of Cambodia during the 70’s, which took part because US forces believed the Viet Cong were running guns through that country? Well, the outcome – hundreds of thousands of people killed, no change in the course of the war, and the rise of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia – was hardly a success, regardless of what Nixon would say. Much the same is true of Iraq, where Iran began exercising a sizable influence over Shia politics in the south and had to be called in to mediate. Turkey’s border conflicts with the Northern Kurds is another example, lucky for everyone it did not end in an invasion! But in any case, the rule is clear. If you have to widen the scope of the conflict to strike at your enemy, you got a problem and need to examine your options.

For many years now, this has been the problem in Afghanistan. The conflict has been spilling over the border into Pakistan, due in part to the fact that Osama found refuge there, but also because the shared border region, which remains unsealed, is heavily populated by militants, most of whom share ethnic and cultural ties to Afghanistan Pashtuni population . The US began conducting Predator strikes in the area in 2008, and has since expanded its involvement to include special forces and CIA operatives. While the death of Bin Laden is certainly a symbolic victory for this expansion, it cannot be expected to make the war in Afghanistan itself any easier. In the long run, its more likely to destabilize Pakistan’s already shaky government and create a permanent haven for Islamic militants, much like Cambodia became a radical communist regime.

So, since the war in Afghanistan possesses all of these things in abundance, I would argue that the time has come to pack up and leave. In addition to it being a potential disaster, and that its really not making life any better for those affected, there is also the fact (as stated in my previous article) that it ceased being about Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden some time ago. Now that he is dead and his whereabouts confirmed, perhaps this is just the justification that’s needed to put an end to the last war in the “war on terror.” I doubt anyone would buy it, but what can you do?