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US census takers fight angry Americans for their data

The results from the US 2010 Decennial Census are guaranteed by the end of the year. However, those who collected it - called enumerators - already know quite a bit about the state of the nation. There's no good news. The census, conducted once every 10 years, hired a few hundred thousand Americans to collect names, ages and …
George Smith, 04 Nov 2010
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The anthrax scare: Case and flask closed

When the US government closed the anthrax case recently, the committee to clear Bruce Ivins and all the conspiracy theorists again emerged from the closet. Because the case took so long and the bioterrorist was at the center of the US biodefense research community, careers and reputations were made and lost on it. The Department …
George Smith, 02 Mar 2010
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Pants bombs vs America: The infernal conflict

Comment The underwear bomber almost perfectly illustrated the hard place the US has found itself in since 9/11. For all Washington's efforts to wall off the US, it is still unable to prevent the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs from walking in off the street, volunteering for service at the local al-Qaeda affiliate in the impoverished Muslim …
George Smith, 08 Jan 2010
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The best mad scientist memoir of the year

Book review The best mad scientist autobiography this year, perhaps the only one, is Tony Zuppero's To Inhabit the Solar System. Better still, it's free and in time for holiday reading. It's a long but definitely not windy 391 pages. In it, Zuppero confirms everything - bad, weird, insane, amusing or simply astonishing - you might have …
George Smith, 15 Nov 2009
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The Prisoner of Blogger

I am not a free man, I am a number - number 27950736 to be precise - on Blogger, the village cloud application I've been trying to escape from for the past year. Oh, it started out great in 2006. Seemed like a nice thing. But a year and a bit in, the Blogger machine's FTP service began stumbling. FTP publishing isn't …
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Censored scenes from the Congress WMD report

World at Risk, the final report of the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, received a good build-up. Its publicity stretched from reports outlining a draft of it in the Washington Post over the Thanksgiving Day weekend, with more news and private and public briefings the …
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Tell Santa to bring more assault rifles

It's guns and ammo for the holiday season if you read the news following Black Friday, the time annually reserved for the great annual shopping spasm in the US. "Panic at Gunfire in Toy Store," blared the November 29th frontpage headline in the Los Angeles Times, reporting a uniquely American muzzle flash. "Instead of the usual …
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The US and the impossible green revolution

Book Review Feel a little pity for Thomas L Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded, his new book on what must be done to deliver a green revolution in America. With the economy collapsed, political will in the United States is now decisively hostile to almost everything in it. Nevertheless, Friedman's premise is easy to absorb and reasonable. The …
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The amazing, endless, bioterror pork conveyor

Comment As the final days count down to the US election one can look at the past few years and be deeply disappointed at the country's approach to national security. Rather than count off every single well-publicized major gaffe and fiasco, it's possible to list more minor things which, when taken together, indicate the country …
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Melamine, poisons and the misappliance of science

As melamine alerts reverberate around the world in the wake of China's dairy export industry, it affords us an opportunity to look at bad chemistry while considering the scale of the global food market. And how vulnerable consumers are when garden-variety greed, not terrorism, is the driver in mass poisonings. In the first …
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'I can see dinosaurs from my back porch'

USA '08 GOP Veep candidate Sarah Palin's belief in creationism brings the evolution of a crank's outlook into an asset in US public life into plain view. It's simply the rock-like belief that if science isn't convenient to a very personal value or notion, then it constitutes an attack on such and is to be set aside. Kevin Phillips, a …
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Press proves immune to FBI's anthrax corrective

The posting to the net of a transcript of the FBI's briefing to the press on the science behind the anthrax case is remarkable for two things: first, for its explanation of the development of microbial forensics and the team of scientists behind it; and second, for the determination of some members of the press to run off on a …
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FBI sets out case against anthrax 'rogue scientist'

Yesterday the FBI published its search warrants and affidavits pertaining to the case of Bruce Ivins, the Ft. Detrick scientist fingered by the agency as the perpetrator of the 'Amerithrax anthrax mailings.. These documents contain no rigorous scientific evidence, but refer to it, and the FBI explains its rationale for accusing …
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Inside the tent, the best bioterrorist money could buy?

When Bruce Ivins, presumed psycho amateur juggler/church keyboardist/government scientist/bioterrorist, committed suicide by drug overdose, taking two days to die, everyone was taken by surprise by an FBI effort notable for almost complete information secrecy until the shoe was about to drop. In early July, many had commented, …
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Obama critical of Bush regime's bioterror fearmonger gap

In a speech on security policy a couple weeks ago, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama signaled that a change in administration probably wouldn't change the way the establishment views threats. "In a globalized world, the power to destroy can lie with individuals - not just states," the man said. This was supposed to …
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$5.8m payout draws line under FBI's anthrax screw-up

When the US Department of Justice agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill $5.82 million in damages for trashing his life and reputation late last week, it was another big low in the mess that's been the Amerithrax 2001 case. With the de facto exoneration of Hatfill, who had been dubbed a "person of interest" by the FBI, bystanders can …
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Gas crunch: Jatropha, kudzu, algae and magic to rescue

Read the daily reports on what to do to counter high gas prices, and you'll see the importance of magic in US energy strategy. A rich variety of schemes have been put forward, literally within weeks of the gas crunch, delivered with the traditional slogan that occurs to every editorial writer who believes children's fairy tales …
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Cyber B52 strikes mooted as response to Chinese infowar

"I have watched this thing grow... to the incredible proportions it has reached today. I have studied the facts ... facts, and by projecting the statistics I realized the time has come to act. I realized I had to act before the entire will and vitality of the free Western world was sapped and polluted and made rancid... The …
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Download al Qaeda manuals from the DoJ, go to prison?

Analysis If you download "the al Qaeda manual," never share it, even if you're a scholar-in-training studying terrorism. Especially if you and the recipient go by the wrong kind of names. In mid-May, University of Nottingham master's student Rizwaan Sabir apparently sent the electronic manual to a school clerk, Hicham Yezza, for printing …
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Pain ray really killer ray gun, many goats dead, says 'expert'

The US military's pain ray, aka the Active Denial System, is a certified excrement magnet. In March Reg readers learned that the US Air Force wonder weapon is still being pitched as a game changer in Iraq, a prediction that's never even been close to being tested. ADS defenders claim the Pentagon, afraid that using it would be a …
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The terror dam of doom that looms over Boise, Idaho

It shouldn't come as a surprise that some American scientists think terrorism can be defined by equations and a priori vulnerability factors. Close study of terrorist action and behavior is too dull for many in the US counter-terror business, so it's better to have numbers; insurance men, newspaper reporters and government …
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The American way of bioterror - an A-Z of ricin crackpots

It takes a special kind of American to be fascinated by ricin, and last week the latest, Roger Von Bergendorff, was indicted in the District Court of Nevada. Bergendorff possibly qualifies for an award in failed Darwinism, being the only person in recent times to have seemingly accidentally poisoned himself with the protein …
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MOAB and the pain ray - Iraq's war-missing wonder weapons

Five years ago, as we hurtled unstoppably towards war with Iraq, I was busy with an alternative weekly column called "Weapon of the Week." At the time journalists were being fed - and in general, were happily eating - a stream of marketing for the weapons and ideas that would make the coming war neat and painless. Well, we know …
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Caution - FBI fit-ups of Muslim patsies in progress

The trial of ex-Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad took merely a week, ending with the bang of a one-day deliberation in which Connecticut jurors found the man guilty, sending him over for providing material support to terrorists. The prosecution employed a strategy in which the jury was shown videotapes Abu-jihaad was said to …
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US scientists puncture the ethanol biofuel bubble

Good science news (or bad, depending on your point of view) has arrived with two reports on the carbon footprint of biofuels, in the paper edition of Science magazine. They deal serious damage to the belief - which up to now has been driving the biofuel bubble - that stepped-up ethanol production in the US is an answer to global …
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Email trail from navy man to London 'terror' site goes fuzzy

In pre-trial maneuvering this month the US government's case against ex-Navy signalman Hassan Abu-jihaad became more moth-eaten. Prosecutors filed an interesting brief indicating they had no evidence against the defendant of a terror plot modus operandi. Abu-jihaad has been charged with e-mailing information on the transit of …
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US looks to old Herr Kohle for energy security

Analysis By now we all know the United States has no energy policy for the future. Rather, it does and it's a humiliating one: Global warming is a conspiracy by other countries trying to squelch the American dream and the right to buy elephantine SUVs. As one journalist covering autos for the Los Angeles Times put it in late December: "[ …
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FBI's 'idiot dude' fails to boost US Navy terror emails

We now return readers to the case of alleged terrorist Hassan Abu-jihaad, the former US Navy signalman banged up for sending Babar Ahmad and Azzam Publications information on when his surface action group was transiting the Strait of Hormuz in 2001. Another alleged crime was buying a few Chechen jihadi videos and tipping the web …
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How to be a failure at Guitar Hero III

Review Guitar Hero III and Rock Band are totally unavoidable in shopping trips to consumer electronics stores. As a guitar player for 40 years, I view the in-store demos of the games as primarily exercises in pitiless annoyance. What could be more embarrassing than people holding plastic toy guitars in public while trying to mime along …
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It's not too late to join the bioterror gold rush

Analysis "If ramping up fear among American's about the threat of biological warfare was intended, in part, to drum up support for biodefense spending - as some conspiracy buffs theorize - then the downside is that accidents may result in an overreaction in the public and the media," reported The Fort Worth Star Telegram in a business …
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Promote your local synthetic biologist

Analysis If your news filter is set to "bioterrorism" you may have seen a recent column by Madeleine Bunting in the Guardian. Spurred by a London visit by Craig Venter, it was the usual journalistic script on synthetic biology. Having delved into Lexis, we can say with authority that a couple of hundred major stories have run on synbio …
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How just thinking about terrorism became illegal

"A proposal to scan suspect hard drives causes unease in [Germany]," read a recent frontpage story in the Los Angeles Times. Positioned boldly above the fold, the reporter and editors recognized the potential keen interest in anything having to do with the implementation of snooping in "My Documents". In the United Kingdom it's …
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TV for those who enjoy massacres

Analysis In 1991, Bad: Or the Dumbing of America was published. Written by Paul Fussell, a man with experience of war, it pessimistically ran through all that was execrable in the United States with the realisation things were only going to get worse. Under bad magazines, scorn was reserved for the successful Soldier of Fortune, a …
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The War on Terror's professional witness

Analysis The recent conviction of Mohammed Atif Siddique on terror charges highlighted the role of globetrotting professional witness Evan Kohlmann. Defenders in the US and UK have come to recognize him as a figure brought in to furnish opinions which are only of use to prosecutions in the frightening of juries. Kohlmann was also tapped …
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Renewing the mythology of the London ricin cell

Analysis A significant and noticeable part of the US and European academy of terrorism studies is like a shark. If it stops swimming forward, it dies. This has two consequences: a drive to publish or perish which, in turn, motivates it to creep onto past battlefields, assessing which bodies can be ignored for the sake of renewing …
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Legacy of Ashes - the undoing of the CIA

Book Review At the beginning of the Nineties, this journalist went through the Central Intelligence Agency's hiring process. The process took about a year to complete, its length and rigor attributed to the great importance of its classified mission plus a purported desire to get just the right kind of people - America's best. In any case …
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Gaming 4G warfare for the USAF, with rayguns

In press coverage of how virtual wargames will revolutionize actual war, the lion's share of publicity has generally gone to private sector boffins bankrolled by the US Army. Most often, they appear as wizards from the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies. Journalists love the place and can't …
hands waving dollar bills in the air

Crazy cyber-jihadi emails planned death for Mayport, FL

Younis Tsouli - irhabi007 - was earlier this month jailed for ten years. It's a good sentence for the cyber-jihad twit, someone who became fodder for television news shows like 60 Minutes. Wishing to show how al Qaeda was beating the pants off the good guys on the Internet, Tsouli was the perfect example for them, one of …
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'Effete' Europe useless in GWOT, says bin Laden man

"Everyone is entitled to my opinion!" could be the motto of Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit. Regularly showing up on American television, Scheuer is good as a talkative churl spewing calumnies on whatever political figure in the war on terror news hosts want defamed, always enthusiastically addressing …
Flag Iraq

Iraq collapse may pose new WMD threat, say UN monitors

As soon as 63-year old Russell Defreitas was arrested in early June for an alleged plot to destroy JFK through fuel explosions, terror beat journalists couldn't resist their favorite hobby: telling stories about how everything in the US is at risk. The description "elderly patsy" immediately came to mind when eyeballing …
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DHS: beware stink-bomb touting terrorists

Unusual paranoia over chemical attack in the US takes many forms. It can be seen in a recent piece of trouble from the Department of Homeland Security, a long list of "chemicals of interest" it wishes to require all university settings to inventory. "Academic institutions across the country claim they will have to spend …
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Suspect in case that helped sell Iraq war cleared, again

"An Algerian who was branded a terror suspect after being acquitted in the ricin plot trial, was yesterday cleared of being a threat to Britain's national security, reported the Guardian this week. "Mr Justice Mitting, chairing the special immigration appeals commission (SIAC), ruled that there were no national security grounds …
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Loose mouth and loose change - $5 tip leads to terror finance rap

In the terror case against Hassan Abujihaad, formerly known as Paul R. Hall - sailor on the destroyer Benfold, the US government has another mangy cat in the GWOT. "Material support of terrorism and disclosing previously classified information" are the beefs in the indictment against Abujihaad, according to a government press …
For Sale sign detail

TV's cyber-jihad slot exposes al Qaeda's web ops. Or not

Analysis Depressing evidence that the US news big deals have jumped the rails flows daily in the war on terror. Take 60 Minutes' recent special on "jihad.com." Reported by Scott Pelley and produced by Harry Radcliffe, the 800lb gorilla of US journalism led with the tired story of al Qaeda in cyberspace. It was so poor one could easily …
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Torture and '24' - because it hurts us less than the real thing?

The terrorism action show "24" is now thought to be such heady stuff to the average American, media sources have decided to complain about it. And what is the objection? The contrived plots or the utterly unrealistic grasp and use of technology? No, it's the torture. New Yorker magazine just spun out a longish piece on how Joel …
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Richard Clarke: cyberczar, prophet, terror tech porn king...

Book Review Richard Clarke, the world's most famous security expert, has a new book entitled Breakpoint. A techno-thriller, it takes its place among its equivalents, romance fictions for American men, a genre for combining combat action porn with loving trademarked descriptions of weapons. The men in this story get hard over firearms, …
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Fact, fiction or bioterror drill? How to cook up a ricin scare

We Yanks love to be scared. The more scared we can be, the better. The Effect of Bioterrorism Messages on Anxiety Levels, a recent article in a peer-reviewed health quarterly, put a point to it. Those covering the science of terror beat in the United States have known for a bit that the mainstream media's uncritical transmission …
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Frankenstein's cure for ageing - botulism

Chemical Alley How easy was it to buy an eye-popping 3,081 vials of research botulinum toxin, the deadly neurotoxin produced by Clostridium botulinum, always found on jihadist terror wish lists? Very easy in 2003 - unlike so many other things alleged to be simple to do by designated evil-doers in the war on terror. Two Arizona scammers in …
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The Electro-pulse of Doom that threatens America

Be afraid. The recent election removed a stalwart defender of the United States against one demonical menace among many, the electromagnetic pulse attack, the one that will fry our electronics. The spiritual leader of the cause, Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, was endorsed by Frank Gaffney, right wing defender of the faith …
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The myth of the home-bake terror nuke 'cookbooks'

Analysis Predictably, the Nov. 3 New York Times revelation that sensitive documents on a-bomb design, recovered from Saddam Hussein's regime and released on-line, became a political football. If there was value in it, as opposed to red meat for Democrat blogs, it was swept away by the mania inspired by a Times source, one anonymous …