Monday, December 4, 2017

The spy in the palm of your hand

The New York Times has an impressive report on the likelihood that Trump's claim that a Patriot missile shot down a Houthi Scud at Riyadh was mistaken.

The report relies on something called the Middlebury Institute, which I'd never heard of, and the institute, in turn, assembled its information from Google satellite images, social media posts of videos and similar open sources.

This is a good news/bad news revelation for military intelligence analysts. For one thing, now it's comparatively easy for savvy people to determine the actual results of an attack using stand-off weapons. For another thing, now it's comparatively easy for savvy people to determine the actual results of an attack using stand-off weapons.

I am reminded of the "Battle of the Beams" during the German bombing of England. The Germans used a radio-triggered bombing release, the first ever GPS technique. The British developed a countermeasure that "bent" the trigger beam, inducing the planes to drop their bombs in the countryside instead of on London.

The Germans, with no sources on the ground to report where the bombs fell, never realized their system had been spoofed.

It is easy to think of later examples of offensive efforts that were ruined by lack of targeting data: the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail is an obvious one.

Now, at least in some cases, results are discoverable.

Of course, you have to be smart enough to assess the evidence. WBD isn't that smart.

Are American military officers? Past experience suggests they are not.


  1. The piece reports supposed American officials among the doubters.

    Among the many things stupid that Trump says, I don't think anyone will notice. Not even Erp really pays attention to what he says, with exception to the parts that she wants to.

  2. Probably Trump got an optimistic report, before any real analysis had been attempted. Nothing unusual or even reprehensible about that. It will be the later analysis in reflection that tells the story.

    You are right about Americans not listening. That's what I meant about the breakdown of political discourse.

    On the topic of this post, NPR just ran a story about courses in Brazil teaching people how to use digital tools to keep track of what government is doing, eg, where Rio water fees are really spent. I believe the teacher was named Morimoto, and the story said 1,000 signed up for one course, with more turned away.

  3. Harry,

    Accountability of public money has been getting a boost for the last 10 or so years down here.

    There is a "Law of access to information" that can be used by any citizen to require information from a good deal of the admnistration structures (federal, state and municipalities).

    We've had some good developments on that front, but they still pale in comparison with the size of the problem. It was never for lack of knowledge that our corrupt system got away with everything it did (and still does).