Stardate 20010922.1935 (On Screen): Over six thousand people died in the WTC collapse, but there seem to be people concerned about the fact that some "irreplaceable" works of art were also destroyed. I'm sorry, but I'm having a hard time giving a damn about whether a few paintings and a couple of sculptures were ruined by this disaster.
Ars longa, vita brevis and all that. People are dispensible; there's plenty more where those 6,000 came from, right? But there just aren't that many canvas-sized comic-book pictures from Roy Lichtenstein, so each one lost is a tragedy, right? Pfeh. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010922.1915 (On Screen): Notice how Chandra Levy suddenly disappeared off the news radar screen? There are two good reasons why: the obvious one, of course, but also that it was rapidly becoming evident that there wasn't really a story there. Levy's parents' publicist had done a remarkable job trickling out news items over a period of a couple of months to keep it on the front page, but until someone finds a body, there's not really a great deal left to do -- and I suspect that the DC police now have a lot more important things to investigate than the disappearance of one young lady without a trace. And that may never happen, as this news story makes clear. A 14 year old girl disappeared in Florida in 1987, and a man was convicted of her murder in 1994 and sentenced to death. As part of a bargain to get his sentence commuted, he just told investigators where he hid the body and they just found bones, almost certainly belonging to the victim. After 14 years, the only way they found her was because her killer told them where to look. In the case of Levy, they don't even have any idea who the murderer might be -- which leaves the entire US to search, inch by inch, for unknown graves. (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.1902 (On Screen): While I have no doubt whatever that these are principled people who truly believe what they claim, the idea that the US should just accept the deaths from last week and not respond militarily is preposterous. What they say is that any further hostilities will cause more people to die, which is true. But it isn't possible to unilaterally declare a peace. Even if we don't respond, our enemies will continue to attack us. Do we have any responsibility to the people who remain alive in the US and our allied nations to try to protect them against future attacks of this kind?
These demonstrators, of course, represent the absolute extremely position described in this article as "wishing really hard, perhaps while holding someone's hand, that hatred and violence will disappear from the world." Yeah, I agree that would be a nice thing. I don't believe that it will happen in this particular universe any time soon, though. It is, perhaps, a hopeful sign that they got a few hundred people to come out. Good that there were not any more, but also good that there were not fewer. Our nation is about to embark on a great war, and these idealists won't prevent us from fighting it. But it is important that there be dissenting voices constantly working to prevent us from becoming even more brutal than those we face.
Still, it's unfortunate that these people miss the essential truth that peace is a side effect, not a goal. The goal is political settlement; if we achieve that we'll get peace, but there's no way to get peace without it. (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.1512 (On Screen): Remember Who wants to marry a multimillionaire? Fox Broadcasting ran a beauty contest and the winner, Darva Conger, was married on the air to Rick Rockwell. They then left on a honeymoon and the marriage was annulled within days. Turns out that Rockwell was not what he seemed, and the entire concept was flawed and offensive. Fox promised not to do it again.
But never let it be said that Fox lets good taste or previous promises stand in the way of making ratings. This coming Monday they're going to do it again. This time it's Who wants to be a Princess? and 30 young women will "vie for the favor of a dashing young European prince." The supply of dashing young European princes is rather low right now, which leads to the suggestion that this one is another fraud. Expect another scandal. (That's what I get for watching baseball on Fox.) (discuss)
Update: You know, I bet they'd have gotten higher ratings and a more interesting selection of contestants if they'd labeled it honestly: "Who wants to be a high priced hooker?"
Stardate 20010922.1256 (On Screen via long range sensors): Steganography is a form of secret communication where a message is hidden in plain sight, in such a way that third parties don't even know that the message is present. The goal of cryptography is to scramble a message in such a way that a third party cannot read it, but cryptography does not attempt to disguise the fact that communication is taking place. The principle behind modern cryptography is known as Kerckhoff's dictum: "Security lies solely in the key." That means that even if you assume that your enemy intercepts every message and that he knows the algorithm that you are using, that if he doesn't have your crypto-key then he will not be able to read your communications.
Steganography does not operate the same way. In steganography there may not even be a key. Once your opponent even detects that a particular form of steganography is in use, it is probably defeated. During WWII, German agents working in the US and elsewhere in the Americas used very sophisticated cameras to take photographs of things like major newspapers and lists of ships and photographically reduced them to pieces of film the size of a pin head. These were fixed but not developed, which meant that they were clear, and were then glued to paper on the periods at the ends of ordinary sentences about meaningless subjects. These were known as microdots. The resulting letters would be mailed to intermediaries in neutral nations (especially Spain and Portugal) who would then forward them to Germany. They would be removed from the letters, developed and then photographically expanded again to recover the original information. This was never completely prevented, but a lot of it was stopped by fairly-routine screening of mail and by examination of suspicious activity to certain mail addresses.
One of the things about steganography is that the less information it carries, the more difficult it is to detect. Some reactions to the WTC bombing were legitimate but some have been a bit knee-jerk on both side. An immediate upcry was that people were using images on the web to send steganographic information to their comrades elsewhere in the world -- and it may be true. This article claims to have proved that it isn't happening, but I don't find their proof convincing. The main reason is that they're making some assumptions about how the data is encoded, and more important about the information density, which may not be valid. They provide two example pictures one of which apparently contains no secret information, while the other contains the first chapter of a classic book, in order to show that to the naked eye there is no apparent difference. That part's fine; there is no question that what they describe can be done. But I question whether they are capable of finding whether someone else has actually been doing what they say; I don't believe in their means of detection.
Their statistical approach (an analysis of the amount of redundancy in the images) detects the difference in their synthetic exmple, but the second image carries a few kilobytes of hidden data. I question whether an image carrying fifty bytes of hidden data (in a 300K file) would be statistically significantly enough different to stand out from the background using their approach to analysis. Equally, I find their claim to have used a dictionary attack on a large number of images suspect, because it assumes they know how the information was encoded.
The difficulty is that it is far easier to find the data in a modified image if you have the original to compare it against, such as in their synthetic example. Clearly the steganographically modified image will have lower redundancy. But like so many other things, the amount of redundancy in a population of JPG files will tend to land on a bell curve. Their screening algorithm calculates the redundancy ("entropy", a concept from Information Theory) and looks for images which are stastically abnormal. Implicitly they assume that an image whose redundancy lands in the normal range hasn't been tampered with. To go outside the normal range, a substantial amount of extra information would have to be added, and there's no guarantee that those hiding the data actually would put that much in each one -- why not spread it out over a few dozen pictures and put less information in each one? A picture which originally would have landed on the low-side of the normal zone could be specially chosen for that very reason, and only have enough additional information added to it to move it to the high side while still remaining within the normal range. Such an approach could not be detected by their sieve because it would not look statistically anomalous; it would not stand out because it would have the same degree of redundancy as numerous legitimate images which were not carrying secret information.
The likelihood is that the Internet is indeed one of many ways in which surreptitious communication takes place among bad guys. I have no doubt that drug smugglers have been using it for years, for example. But the whole point of steganography in a medium as rich as this one is that there are just too many places to hide. This study doesn't even convincingly prove that there are no messages in JPG files posted to eBay (which is all they looked at); and it could have been JPG files on porn groups, or it could have been nested data in HTML files, or images on web pages, or it could have been nearly anywhere. This is a case where the needle is very small and the haystack is immense, and the only way to destroy the needle is to burn the haystack, which would cause even more problems than it cures. (Hay, after all, is a very useful commodity.) We simply have to accept that from now on anyone in the world will be able to communicate with anyone else without interception if they're clever, and go from there. Modern telecommunications has changed a lot of rules, and this is one of them. (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.0953 (Crew, this is the Captain): I just came within about an inch of beating the crap out of a total asshole. There's a Starbucks near me; I used to go there every morning for breakfast but these days when I do go I leave almost immediately. There's an older guy who goes there every morning and sets up shop near the entrance and "holds court". He's maybe ten years older than me (or perhaps more than that) but much less better preserved; he's fat and ugly and obnoxious, he harasses all the beautiful women who come into the place, and he stays there for about three hours nearly every day.
This morning I went there to get some coffee and, blessedly, he wasn't there in his usual spot. But it turned out he was ahead of me in line, and while I stood there waiting he came back with his coffee and noticed that someone was sitting in his usual spot. So he asked a woman with a baby to move so he could sit down.
She had been sitting on one side of his usual table and her baby (maybe 18 months) was sitting on the other side playing with a typical baby toy on the table. There were other things of hers on the table and she had a baby carriage; moving was going to be a hassle. And he had the GALL to ask her to do it.
I have been putting up with him silently for two years and today seeing that I boiled over. I stalked up to him and got in his face and said "Who the fuck do you think you are? Do you think you own this store?"
Then I had to leave. If I'd stay there I would have beaten the crap out of him. I have never in my life seen an able-bodied man ask a woman with a baby to move so he could sit where she was.
The manager wasn't there this morning but next time I see him I'm going to have a long talk with him about this. I suspect this is not the kind of thing he will want to have happening in his store. I almost wish this nation didn't have laws against assault; taking out a miserable scum ought to be legal justification for that kind of thing. (Now you know what it takes in person to make me boil over. I haven't been this angry at a specific person in years.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.0717 (On Screen): Secretary of State Powell is showing himself to be a superb diplomat; his choice for that position was inspired. (It's interesting that probably the best Secretary of State of the 20th century, George Marshall, was also a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) Powell and his people have been doing a superb job of getting other countries to line up in support of the US: the Organization of American States, the EU, Pakistan, New Zealand, and Tajikistan among many others. A far more impressive diplomatic feat was to get China to cooperate, considering how high tensions were between the US and China just a few months ago. (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.0701 (On Screen): The blue-noses have gotten same pushed in. Tampa has zoning laws about placement of "adult entertainment" businesses; those kinds of laws have been upheld by the courts because of the fact that strip joints and the like tend to attract certain kinds of people to visit. So in the guise of maintaining public order, prudes have used such laws to try to prevent adult entertainment businesses from existing at all. In Tampa, there is a company running a web site where young women come to live and are observed via web-cams (on a subscription basis) as they go about their unclothed lives. Tampa tried to ban it using the zoning laws, but now a US court has overturned that -- and rightly so. Since the patrons don't visit, the ostensible excuse for the zoning law (to prevent the traffic by undesirables) doesn't apply, and the real motivation (censorship) pops up. That was never a legally justifiable reason for the zoning. The idea of "I hate my neighbors because I know what they're doing behind closed doors and the mere fact of it gnaws at me even though I can't see it" isn't something that should have force of law. (discuss)
Stardate 20010922.0654 (On Screen): One of the big mysteries about the attack was what happened to Flight 93, the jet which crashed in Pennsylvania without hitting anything important. Both flight data recorders from that jet have been recovered and the data on both of them now turns out to be good. In particular, given that there was probably nothing wrong with the jet itself (the crash wasn't due to equipment failure), the fact that the cockpit voice recorder data was preserved gives us a good chance now that we'll learn how it crashed. Did the passengers break into the cockpit and try to retake the plane? Was there actually a bomb and did it get set off? No-one survived the crash, but now we have a good chance of finding out what happened. (discuss)
Update: There was a struggle in the cockpit. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I read this.
Stardate 20010922.0646 (On Screen): The Taliban claim they've shot down an unmanned drone belonging to the US. This should not be a source of comfort to them. Drones are easy to shoot down; they have limited feedback to their pilot (back on the ground in the safe zone) and they are not very fast. They don't dodge; they don't carry ECM; they don't carry HARMs. They're also very short range, since they're remotely piloted, which means that there is now in place a significant US military presence on the border of Afghanistan. A UAV unit wouldn't be deployed unless it could be defended against ground attack.
If we decide to start doing scouting in a big way, it won't be with easily-shot-down drones. We'll be using Wild Weasels or U2's. Wild Weasels fly low but they don't fly straight; they're heavily armed and can shoot back; they carry ECM and flares and a lot of other nasty stuff. The U2 flies at extremely high altitudes and can only be shot down with very large SAMs (and not even very easily with those). And there may be a wild card. Remember how the US suddenly popped up with the F-117A stealth bomber for the Gulf War? Out of nowhere, we just happened to have a full squadron of these babies ready to go. It's been speculated for a long time now that the reason the US retired the SR-71 Blackbird spy planes about ten years ago was that they actually had something better. I think this is likely, and if so this would be the time to use it. (discussion in progress)
Update 20010923: The US confirms that it has lost a UAV.
Stardate 20010921.1820 (Crew, this is the Captain): So here I am, Friday night, watching the tube. It's a ballgame between the Braves and the Mets, which isn't too bad. Of course, I mute for the ads but sometimes I watch. First there was an ad for Budweiser which began with a big field full of golden barley being harvested by a middle-aged man and his wife with his-and-hers combine harvesters. (If that ain't love, what is?) It then segued to the Budweiser brewery showing brewing and bottling. That's almost deceptive advertising. There isn't a whole lot of grain in Bud to begin with, which is why it is so pale and flavorless. But most of the grain that they do use is rice; there's damned little malted barley in there at all.
Then there was an AOL advertisement which kept putting a huge text banner up (they know about people like me with mute buttons) saying "1000 free hours!". Finally one of them had, at the bottom in fine print, "over 45 days". Hmm, is that so? In other words, any of those hours still remaining are lost after 45 days. To use a thousand hours over 45 days you'd have to be online more than 22 hours per day. Again, it's almost deceptive advertising.
And then there was a closeup of a poster at the ballgame: it was an American flag and under it were the words: "These colors don't run." Damned straight. At least there's something honest on TV. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010921.1718 (On Screen): It is not often that I find an article on FindLaw that I consider so blatantly mistaken. Julie Hilden evaluates the kinds of limits that American citizens should and should not willing to accept on civil liberties during the upcoming war, and misses horribly at least twice.
First, she uses a false conundrum to justify eliminating Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. The logic goes like this: one prosecutor she spoke to said that he'd provide discovery to criminal defendants (i.e. let them know what evidence was going to be presented against them) if they'd depose;and since she thinks that discovery is important then we just need to revoke the Fifth Amendment and then everything will be peachy. But the two issues are not really linked this way just because she quoted one prosecutor grumbling about it.
Less obvious but no less wrong is her contention that the US public has a right to accurate press coverage of military operations. She wants reporters to have the right to demand to be attached to any military unit they want and to report anything they wish about it. I can see it now (or then): "So, Dan, we're out here along the border with Iraq preparing a surprise attack which they tell me will start tomorrow morning at 6:00." "Thanks, Ben, for that report. Is there any indication yet that the Iraqis know where you are?" "Dan, we haven't seen any sign of them." "OK, next on CBS news..." and then the Gulf War "Left Hook" fails when the Iraqi leadership learns about the "sneak attack" on American television. Yeah, right.
The military must have the ability to operate in secrecy because anything which is reported back to US citizens is instantly known to its enemy. The First Amendment protects the right of free press; it does not grant a right for reporters to look at anything they damned well feel like. There is no constitutional right of access for the press and there never has been. I am astounded that Ms. Hilden could make such a fundamental mistake; ordinarily I have found her writing to be reasonably clear-headed. Of course, she's never been involved in a war and quite evidently doesn't know anything about how they're run. (discuss)Update: In actual fact, during the Gulf War Dan Rather actually did nearly give away the game on live television. He was complaing about limits on press access and then popped up with "I know where thus-and-so units actually are; why won't they let me cover them?" Which instantly raised the question "Oh, is the location of those units secret? Interesting. I wonder why? Must be because they moved them. I wonder where they moved them to?" Had the Iraqi leadership been awake, it might have figured out Schwarzkopf's plan of attack from that slip of the tongue and thousands of American servicemen might have been killed, becaue Dan Rather decided to have a tantrum on the air. I lost all respect for Rather that day and have never gotten any back.
Stardate 20010921.1545 (On Screen via long range sensors): OK, it's black humor, but it's funny anyway. There was one last joke in AYBABTU, and my man John 13 found it. (He claims to be my kid. Genius must run in the family -- 'cause he took it all with him.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.1537 (On Screen): Anyone care to read what Attorney General Ashcroft thinks is legally needed to fight terrorism? Among other things, he wants the ability to seize any non-citizen in the US, to lock them up for as long as he wants, and to deport them without hearings or recourse. Doesn't that violate the 14th amendment?
Notice that the first two clauses discuss "citizens" but the last two discuss "persons". The distinction is clear and deliberate: due process applies to citizens and non-citizens alike. There is strong court precedent that this applies equally to the US itself (not just to the "States"). As such, sections 202 and 203 of this proposed law are blatantly unconstitutional. There are a lot of other things wrong with this; no wonder so many people are up in arms about it. What was Ashcroft (or his aides) thinking, anyway? (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.1519 (On Screen via long range sensors): There is indeed both courage and honor among Christians. The executive editor of Christianity Today, not exactly known as a flamingly liberal rag, has come out forthrightly and condemned Falwell and Robertson for their vile utterances blaming the bombing on Americans who don't follow biblical teachings (you know who you are). He doesn't even try to make excuses. More power to him. Now let's see if we can find some high-profile liberals to condemn Michael Moore. (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.0849 (Crew, this is the Captain): One of the big problems with the Star Trek series was that it risked its top officers much too much. In particular, in ST:TNG, whenever the ship was at general quarters, Riker would be sitting there right next to the Captain on the bridge. If the bridge were taken out, the ship's command structure would be decapitated. That's not how it is on an actual warship in combat. US ships have a reserve bridge station capable of conning the ship in case the main bridge is taken out. (The fictional Enterprise D also had a reserve bridge, called the "Battle Bridge".) During general quarters, the duty station for the ship's executive officer is the reserve bridge. He will have with him a cadre of top officers. If the main bridge gets pasted, which has happened many times, he will take over and continue to fight the ship.
Engineers know that in critical systems redundancy is not a luxury. That is also the case in political control systems. Shortly after last week's bombing, Vice President Cheney vanished from the public eye. His location is not now being publicized, and we can expect that to continue for the forseeable future. Whereever he is, he has with him a core group of advisers who amount to a shadow government. Our enemies may have access now or soon to nuclear weapons, and if they managed to use one on Washington DC, they'd take out not just the President and all of his advisers, but also Congress and the Supreme Court. But as long as Cheney and his advisors are still alive, then we would still have a government, and this nation would be able to survive. There would still be continuity; there would be an orderly transition of power. Cheney would be sworn in as President and would begin the long slow job of holding elections and rebuilding the essential bureaucracy, while continuing to fight the war. I don't know where Dick Cheney is, and I neither need nor want to know. (discuss)
Update: You know, we lucked out: Cheney is a good man. We could have done a lot worse than to have him as our VP during this crisis -- it could have been Dan Quayle.
Stardate 20010921.0826 (On Screen): Fairly soon, a decision is going to have to be made that there is no more hope of finding survivors in the rubble left over from the WTC collapse. No survivors have been found in a week, but as long as the possibility exists that there may be people alive, the effort of removing rubble has to be careful and slow to avoid setting off a collapse that might kill someone still in there. Once we accept that everyone is dead, they can start using much more efficient techniques for removing the debris (which are also much more safe for the people working on it). The reason that this is important is that though there is no-one left alive in there, there is a quite a mass (I know this is hard to say but it's true) of rotting flesh mixed in with the debris, and that is a non-trivial health issue. It may begin to imperil the living; it could set off a plague. It's got to be cleaned up. I do not envy the politician (probably Mayor Giuliani) who has to make and announce that decision, but it's probably going to happen in the next day or two. After 10 days, there is no longer any chance that there's anyone left alive in there. Giuliani has been edging towards this with press releases trying gently to dampen hope; it's not cruelty, it's just reality. They are all dead. No-one likes that, but pretending that it isn't true won't change it. (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.0700 (On Screen): A lot of people have never heard of Applied Materials. It's the world's largest manufacturer of equipment used for processing integrated circuits. It's an example of what's known as a "secondary industry", one which is in the business of creating and selling products to other companies, who use those products to make things directly for consumers. There are many of these companies and some of them are huge: Tektronix and Agilent are two more. They're important to watch because their economic fortunes tend to lead the rest of the economy. When primary companies begin to feel the pinch, they cut back on capital acquisition, and the secondary industries go into decline. When primary companies sense that a recovery is coming, they increase capital acquisition in anticipation, and the secondary companies boom. Generally the lead-time is six months to a year. So it is not good news that Applied is laying off 10% of its workforce; this bodes ill for a rapid recovery of the economy. It means that despite any public statements by the semiconductor makers, they actually think things will be bad for a long time because they're cutting back on capital investment. If they were really optimistic, Applied would be hiring. (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.0641 (On Screen): This article discusses how Osama bin Laden seems to have nowhere else besides Afghanistan that he could go. Well, yes. That's quite deliberate. The US doesn't want him to "go" anywhere else; we want him in custody and his organization shut down. Displacing him does us no good whatever; it is a deliberate result of US diplomacy to make damned sure he has nowhere to go. Why is this remarkable? (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.0552 (On Screen): In the Microsoft antitrust suit, Windows XP is not the issue. The issue is Microsoft's changed licensing practices. Antitrust law is not intended to protect competition (a fact some people find surprising) and it does not actually make monopolies illegal (which surprises even more people); its intent is to prevent a company who has a monopoly from using that power to subvert market forces and gouge its customers. The new Microsoft licensing which is scheduled to go into effect in October is a blatant use of monopoly power to raise prices. In the guise of "rationalizing" licensing, the effect will be to raise Microsoft's revenues without relation to a change in Microsoft's products, which is a blatant violation of antitrust law. (discuss)
Stardate 20010921.0546 (On Screen): Of all the problems that the WTC bombing will raise, the most important is to make sure that it is not used as an excuse by reactionary legislators to erode our freedom. (discuss)
Update: You know, when a proposal manages to unite the Gun Owners of America, the Eagle Forum, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the NAACP in opposition to it, it's probably a really terrible idea.
Stardate 20010921.0542 (On Screen): Remember the California Energy Crisis? Somehow or other all the predicted blackouts didn't happen, but there's still have immense mountain of debt that Pacific Gas and Electric managed to pile up before finally declaring bankrupcy last spring. Now they've described a plan to try to recover from it all and pay that debt down. I have no opinion about whether the plan is any good, but I note the usual outcries about "protecting the ratepayers". That's hopeless. One way or another, this company (or these companies) will have to raise extra money over a period of years to pay back that thirteen billion dollars, and the only place that extra money can come from is their customers; they have no other source of income. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.2208 (On Screen): Parkinson's Law is a gem of a book; I'm pleased to see that it is back in print, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was published originally in the 1950's and it contains a series of short chapters which describe observations on the nature of the world which are simultaneously funny and true. It's essential equipment for anyone operating in today's bureaucratic world (i.e. for all of us). The first article, which has the same title as the book, lists the justification for the now famous Parkinson's Law: "Work expands to fill the time available." (Along with a large number of correlaries not described by him: "Clutter expands to fill the deskspace available", "Books expand to fill the shelf-space available", "Computer files expand to fill the diskspace available", "Expenses expand to fill the budget available", "Programs expand to consume the CPU power available" and so on.) Another one points out that any organization which actually fits its office space is dying; vibrant growing organizations invariably are cramped. One of them talks about how to write a help-wanted ad and how to consider candidates. Each article visits its subject in sufficient depth to explore it and to entertain, without pounding it into the ground. (It's not like "The Peter Principle" which only has one thing to say but uses an entire book to say it; Parkinson tosses off even more profound observations than that about every seven to nine pages.)
One of the most piercing of the articles talks about the life cycle of governmental cabinets. The problem is that there is a general tendency for them to grow because there is prestige and power associated with membership, but as they do so they also become inefficient. At a certain point, they cease to matter and a new body will form which contains the most important members of the old one, which is smaller and which takes over most of its functions. He gives as a historical example various cabinets in the government of Great Britain, and documents how this process has happened fully six times. His analysis places the point of inefficiency somewhere near 14 members, but the practical way of telling that a cabinet has ceased to matter is when people start getting put onto it as a means of affirming how important they are, for the prestige alone, at which point the size of the body begins to grow rapidly. He also discusses the US cabinet and mentions that (at the time) it remained an important body (with some 11 members) but that it was perilously close to ceasing to matter.
Based on his principles, I date the death of the US cabinet to the 1980's, at which point it got replaced by the National Security Council as the critical governing body of the executive branch. The Cabinet still meets but it no longer actually does anything important; the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are in the NSC (which, with six permanent members is still capable of functioning) but such less important positions as Labor, Commerce and Interior are only invited to attend when they're actually needed. The beginning of the end for the cabinet as a meaningful body was when the Department of Health, Education and Welfare was divided into two (creating a new cabinet secretary) by separating Education out "to prove our commitment to Education". That was, IIRC, the first propagandistic (as opposed to functional) addition to the cabinet. The Cabinet was certifiably dead when the head of the Veterans Administration and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency became members. For the last fifteen years, addition of anyone to the US cabinet has been a symbol without actual meaning, and so it is today. President Bush just added its 22nd member, and a cabinet that large cannot function effectively. (It's also at the cusp of one of Parkinson's transition points, 22-24 members, where it is about to undergo another major transition and deemphasis.) That's not to say that Bush's creation of an anti-terrorism czar is guaranteed to be a waste of time, but the fact that he has been made a member of the cabinet is meaningless and unimportant. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.1541 (On Screen): A crisis like this always brings out the worst in some people. A US Representative made a comment in a radio interview that "If I see someone come in and he's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt around that diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over and checked." Needless to say, there was outrage. He begrudgingly apologized but said that the war on terrorism cannot be won "if we have to stop every five minutes to make sure we're being politically correct." Let's get this straight: his comments weren't politically incorrect, they were gross bigotry. I'm no fan of politically correct speech, God knows, but there's a pretty big stretch between that and what this asshole said. He wants to run for the Senate next year; I hope the people of Louisiana remember his true colors when the time comes. We need our leaders now to heal us, not to divide us and set us upon each other. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.1354 (On Screen): If anything will demonstrate just how wrong liability law has gone, it will be the forest of lawsuits which will get filed in the wake of last week's bombing. The Bar has appealed to its members to not file lawsuits yet for fear of interfering with government investigations -- and rightly so. If anyone has been served, they're going to clam up for fear of revealing things which might end up costing them millions or billions of dollars in court. But look at some of the people that this guy says may end up getting sued: the designers of the WTC towers because the buildings collapsed? The flight schools who may have trained some of the terrorists?
The fundamental problem is something known as the principle of "joint and several liability". What it means is that if you're injured and a lot of other people are at fault, you can pick any one of them (usually the one with the most money or most insurance) and sue that one for the entire amount of damages and he'll have to pay up if he loses. The idea is that he then would sue all the others to get back what he'd lost, though that rarely happens. A different name for this is the "deep pocket fishing" principle. Now one of the strange things is that even if you yourself are primarily responsible for your own injury, you can still sue someone else even if they contributed a percent or two to the whole thing. Sound implausible? It isn't; there are cases of people who got paralyzed while driving drunk, and who successfully sued the bars that served them the drinks. Some cases of application of joint and several liability approach the lunatic, and it's time for it to be reigned in. When you have a case like this one which is so complex and where literally tens of billions of dollars in real damage were done, let alone "pain and suffering", it's going to jam up the court system for years.
Take, for example, the flight school. How could it possible be found to be negligent? Were they supposed somehow to read the mind of their students and determine that they were planning a completely unprecedented hijacking and suicide attack? Combine that with the fact that if they had refused to teach Arabs, they might have been subject to a quite legitimate civil rights suit, and you see that they're stuck. There's no way out for them. They are innocent victims in this; no more culpable than are the stores in Switzerland where the knives used were apparently purchased (who will probably also get served, eventually).
The group which benefits most from the current law is, needless to say, trial lawyers. These kinds of cases are usually taken on a commission basis, which does help victims because they couldn't otherwise afford legal representation. But it's not uncommon for the lawyers to take one third of the payout, and when you combine that with major league class action lawsuits, the quantities of money involved can be staggering. Some law firms collected fees in 8 figures from the asbestos suits, let alone the tobacco suits. But the potential damages from this could make those look tiny. Do we really want to see some law firm collect a commission in excess of a billion dollars? No-one should be cashing in that way on a national tragedy of this magnitude.
With tens of thousands of potential victims, there simply isn't any way that this can be dealt with through the normal mechanisms of our courts, even with class action. I think that it is virtually certain that Congress will pass a special law to handle grievances in this case in a much expedited fashion. What I hope is that they'll also take a closer look at tort law. Reform is overdue. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.1317 (On Screen): I suppose that no-one else cares about the RAMBUS war except me, but I'm going to indulge myself here. Via just introduced a chipset for the P4 which permits use of DDR-SDRAM and preliminary reports indicates that it performs as well as Intel's i850, and much better than the emasculated i845, while resulting in a system which costs vastly less than the i850 and about the same as the i845. The big problem is that DDR runs at 266 MHz while the P4 bus runs at 400 MHz; that results in beating which punishes performance a bit. Via has been making chipsets which can run memory and CPU at different speeds for a long time, but there's always a performance hit associated with that. The real problem was that the P4 was really designed to work with RDRAM and RDRAM's clock is 800 MHz.
But that's all changing: Intel just announced a P4 which will use a 533 MHz FSB. That clock rate makes no sense whatever for use with RDRAM but is beautifully designed to work with DDR-SDRAM, and in particular with the upcoming QDR-SDRAM. Intel also made a deal with RAMBUS recently which, effectively, paid them off. Their contract had prevented Intel from supporting DDR until 2003, but now Intel will support DDR beginning in 2002 and maybe even sooner than that. Whatever it was that RAMBUS had hold of (Intel's short-and-curlies) their grip seems to be loosening. It's evident that Intel is backing away as fast as they legally can. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.1159 (On Screen): In a war which respects no borders, there can be no neutrals. Everyone in the world is going to have to choose sides this time. No-one will be permitted to sit it out. As should probably not be a surprise, so far nearly everyone who has gone public has chosen our side. (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.0937 (On Screen): One of the most important military operations of World War II was Operation Fortitude, a plan for the First US Army Group to invade France by landing at the Pas de Calais. The Normandy invasion was a feint whose purpose was to draw German forces away from Calais so as to leave the coast relatively undefended for the real attack to come later by FUSAG.
You mean you don't remember history that way? That's because it was a lie. It was an elaborate deception, possibly the largest, most elaborate and most successful deception in the history of warfare. FUSAG didn't exist; some of the units assigned to it were real (such as the British Guards) but most of the divisions in it were completely mythical. The purpose of Fortitude was, actually, to tie down German units uselessly in Calais so that they could not oppose the actual landing in Normandy, and in fact the majority of German armored units in France sat patiently in that area while their brothers were getting butchered in the hedgerows. The Germans finally wised up when it was too late, after the Cobra breakout.
The kinds of things involved in Fortitude stagger the mind. Entire areas were populated with fake aircraft and trucks and tanks, often made of rubber which was inflated. From closeup they wouldn't convince anyone but from air they looked completely convincing. German aircraft were largely not permitted to scout the UK at that point, but some of the ones flying over these phantom units were permitted to live and report back. All the notional divisions and units had real radio units which sent fake traffic back and forth, consistent with what real units of those sizes would have been sending. Occasionally one of the radio units would "slip" and send a message to another in clear with chatty questions like "Know any good brothels in Calais?" In the US, factories were contracted to create unit insignias for divisions which never existed. National Geographic magazine published an issue which had a color spread showing insignias for various units, including some of the ones which didn't exist. Then, that issue was recalled and a new one was issued which didn't have them -- the idea being to try to fool German agents into thinking that the US had slipped up and was trying to hide their existence. Some units were shipped out of the US wearing insignias for fake divisions, and once at sea were issued the correct ones for the units they were actually going to join. During the preparatory bombing of France, for every bomb which was dropped in the Normandy area, two were dropped on Calais on targets consistent with trying to soften the area up for invasion.
This is just a small sample of the things which were done; the deception involved thousands of men all over the world. The Germans went for it hook, line, and sinker; and this before the age of big telecommunications -- enormous planning went into figuring how to let Germany know about Fortitude without letting the Germans realize that they were getting fed. In 1944 there was no internet, no international television. Deception campaigns have to be designed for the era in which they take place.
It should not come as a surprise that the same kind of thing happens all the time. During the Gulf War, there was also a great deal of deception intended to fool the Iraqis into not realizing that the attack would actually come out of the desert far to the west of Kuwait, the now-legendary "left hook". One part of that deception was feigned preparation for a Marine landing on the coast of Kuwait. This time the force making the feint wasn't phony; there was a real US battle group sitting off the coast of Kuwait and it had attack ships. There was a full marine unit (probably brigade strength) ready to go and it could have landed if the opportunity had arisen. But it wasn't expected to do so; its purpose was to tie down Iraqi forces, and it succeeded in doing that: one third of a US Marine division tied down more than three Iraqi divisions. That is economy of force; it was one of the major contributors to the victory. As a result, those Marines' mates on the shore didn't have to fight those same divisions frontally; they hit them in flank and rolled them up, causing them to rout. (Many of them were then caught on the "Highway of Death" by allied air power.)
In that particular operation, the US relied heavily on the big media. The media were kept in the dark about the movement of troops to the west, but they were given ample opportunity to cover that Marine landing force -- and the Iraqis saw that coverage and prepared for it, to their detriment. Of course, that also meant that the US public were deceived, which was unavoidable -- and unimportant.
To the men on the ground (and civilians at home), sometimes the orders they receive seem totally nonsensical. They often explain this as a general stupidity by top command, not realizing that there may be a method to their madness and one which cannot be explained at the time without rendering the entire operation useless. By its nature, a deception campaign is intended to fool the enemy about our intentions; and if we tell our own people the truth our enemy will learn it. So don't be surprised if you see things reported in the news about our upcoming war which are later corrected, or intimations of military operations which never happen. They may announce that bin Laden is in a certain place when he's actually somewhere else; they may actually know and may be trying to lull him into thinking he's fooled our people about hs location. There may be small military operations which end up being unimportant -- except that the importance may not be readily apparent, as they may be part of a ruse. It will not necessarily be stupidity or incompetence in the US military; it may be our operations people playing games with our enemies' minds. Maybe these things will be mistakes, but maybe they'll be deliberate. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010920.0848 (On Screen): President Bush has proposed a much more restricted bailout for the airlines. The one which was defeated last month was budgeted for upwards of $20 billion, which was pretty extreme. This one is quite a lot less, and it does indeed include a provision to help shelter the airlines against liability lawsuits, which is important. One aspect of the bill would be to prevent punitive damages, which I think is vital here. What we don't need is to make a whole bunch of liability lawyers rich. The point of punitive damages is to punish someone for gross negligence so as to deter them from doing the same again; I hardly think that the airlines need that incentive. Trial lawyers are worried about this; tough shit. There's a war on, in case you haven't noticed. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010920.0731 (On Screen): A link from last week: the question has come up in Clueless Comments as to whether the US has made a Declaration of War. As part of an emergency budget bill last week, $40 billion was allocated partly for disaster relief and partly to fund initial military operations. The bill also contained an authorization to use force against those who were responsible for the attack.
It was not formally a Declaration of War, but it is comparable to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which also was not formally a Declaration of War but which was judged by the courts to have the same legal effect. In addition, under the War Powers act, the President can commit US military forces for sixty days without permission of Congress. (On the 61st day he has to either get approval or withdraw.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010920.0600 (On Screen): I confess that I'm surprised. The Afghani Ulema (the gathering of clerics, essentially their legislature) found a third alternative between simply giving bin Laden up to the US and pugnaciously refusing to do so. They've asked him to leave the country "voluntarily" to go into exile somewhere else. Unfortunately, that's not good enough, and it won't prevent the US from bombing. (discussion in progress)
Update: The US has rejected this compromise, which is no surprise.
Stardate 20010919.2322 (On Screen): French President Chirac says that he thinks the UN should spearhead the fight against terrorism. While I think that's a nice sentiment, I have serious misgivings about it. The organization of the UN Security Council is such that it is too prone to deadlock; this makes it primarily a talking-forum rather than a body of action. For all intents and purposes it can't do anything unless there is near unanimity, and for a struggle like this one that's not going to happen consistently enough when contentious issues arise. As to the UN General Assembly, as long as the US, India and Gambia have equal votes it should be clear that it isn't going to represent anything remotely like a representative decision making body.
This looks suspiciously like a rhetorical attempt to reign in the US by trying to convince the Bush Administration to forgo unilateral action. That's not acceptable. If the UN wishes to have its own war against terrorism, they're welcome to do so. In the mean time we've got our own and we plan on fighting it. (Possibly starting as soon as this coming Sunday.) (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010919.2256 (On Screen): Your market share is deteriorating. One of the largest and most successful companies in the world, one known for rapaciousness and ruthlessness, with a thousand times the resources you have, is eagerly eyeing your market and has introduced a product which threatens to take it from you. You've made missteps and had to bury millions of dollars of unsellable product in a pit. Things are looking bad. What do you do?
Well, if you're Palm, you proceed to go out and threaten trademark-infringement lawsuits against all the people who are running fan websites for your product, who had been providing free advertising for you and support for your users, thereby alienating them all and driving them into the waiting arms of Microsoft. Good work! (Let it not be said that Palm hasn't taken every possible opportunity to screw up. When it goes OOB, this one won't be Microsoft's fault.) (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.2218 (On Screen): Sean sends in this link to an analysis of the military options available to the US. It's a brief analysis of the situation and who might have to be attacked, plus an analysis of the assets available to the US for doing so. It's by an organization called "CDI" which claims on its splash page to be "the nation's foremost independent military research organization." If so, i'm rather suprised by some of the lapses in its analysis. It's OK as far as it goes, but in my opinion they have far too much faith in the B-2, which I think would be nearly useless for this kind of operation. But, then, I think the B2 is useless for nearly any kind of operation. It's true that B2's were used once in the bombing of Kosovo, but only because that was an opportunity to give them a try. They didn't make any kind of significant contribution. It apparently required a 32-hour sortie for the one attack they launched into Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan is fully 2500 miles further away. The only way they'd be useful is if they could be based further forward, and I don't believe they can be.
On the other hand, the analysis doesn't mention the B1 at all, even though B1's have already been ordered into the region. The B1 was, for a long time, a hanger queen but apparently ten years after they were deployed they've finally got them to the point where they're useful, and this may be their first big war. They'll probably be deployed to Diego Garcia. The analysis mentions some of our carrier groups but doesn't mention the Theodore Roosevelt battle group, which just left port yesterday headed east. Supposedly they're heading for the Mediterranean, but they could be redeployed if need be.
One goal of military operations will be defeat in detail (i.e. "divide and conquer"); the idea being to fight one enemy at a time and to apply the full force available to it then once it is defeated to move to the next, rather than trying to fight them all at once. It is likely, therefore, that our naval forces in the Mediterranean will be beefed up while we are operating against Afghanistan, so as to intimidate Libya and Syria to make sure they don't get involved. Khaddafi has already had experience with the US Navy and shows no sign of wanting a return match. Even if Roosevelt group hadn't been scheduled for the Mediterranean already, it would have been sent now. Interestingly, Roosevelt group includes the amphibious attack ship Bataan a light carrier which also serves as the mother ship for a Marine assault group. (Note that "light" is a relative term; Bataan displaces more than any of the Essex-class carriers from WWII.) Likely the group which it would have relieved will remain, as happened when Vinson relieved Enterprise and Enterprise remained in the area. We will not be getting told exact ship movements, but I put the odds at 10:1 that Enterprise and its escorts are sitting off the coast of Pakistan right now, and when bombing starts (which I think is now inevitable) aircraft from Enterprise and missiles launched from its escorts will almost certainly be involved in the first strike. It would be extremely interesting to know if Enterprise group also includes an amphibious attack ship. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.2115 (On Screen): "Islam must rule the world and until Islam does rule the world we will continue to sacrifice our lives," Al-Badr spokesman Mustaq Aksari told CNN in an interview four months ago. If that chilling statement truly represents the attitude of his group, then there is no middle ground, no way to live-and-let-live, no compromise possible. His group will accept nothing less than the end of all non-Islamic nations and their conversion into Islamic Republics. They can't possibly achieve that, of course. But it means that they'll continue their struggle, including making suicide attacks, until either they're all gone or we are.
Not all Islamic groups are this radical, and most Muslims are not even in political activist groups at all. But there doesn't appear to be any solution for the ones that are like this other than to attempt to eradicate them. If we ignore them they will grow larger and do more damage. Even if we don't successfully eradicate them, if they become smaller because of our efforts then they will do less damage. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.2058 (On Screen): Bill Maher stated on his show that past US military actions had been "cowardly". As a result, Fedex and Sears pulled their sponsorship of the show. Maher defends his right to offer criticism; he's correct that he has that right. But Fedex and Sears have the right to decide whether they want their company names associated with him. Maher has the right to speak; he doesn't have the right to insist that Fedex and Sears pay for the air time he uses. No-one is threatening him with jail that I've heard of, which means his rights are preserved. What he said wasn't illegal -- it was just exceedingly unwise, and also factually wrong.
He said "We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly." No, I'm afraid not. Macho displays of bravado are not bravery, they're merely stupid. A soldier's job is not to prove how brave he is, it's to win the war he's been assigned to fight in a fashion which leaves his nation with as much power as possible afterwards. It's always desirable to avoid pyrrhic victories. A prudent soldier is always careful with his own people -- willing to risk them when necessary, but not when unnecessary. The best case is to emerge from a war with a victory and an intact army if at all possible. Maher's comment was ignorant of the realities of warfare. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.1740 (Crew, this is the Captain): If you've been having any trouble getting into this server in the last couple of days, it's because of the NIMDA infection. I am absolutely getting flooded with bogus requests. Since I last reset my statistics Sunday morning, I've received 2000 requests to try to access "cmd.exe" in the "winnt" directory that this Linux server doesn't have, and there are probably a whole lot of other equally bogus requests. The "received data" light on the cable modem is blinking constantly; I think I must be getting between ten and twenty requests per second pretty much continuously. I've got three IPs hanging off it and they're all getting probed constantly. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.1610 (On Screen): If someone writes something on the Internet and someone in another country doesn't like it, whose law covers it? The CDA decision gave very broad First Amendment protection to free expression by Americans on the Internet, but if some other nation's laws can be applied, then that could vanish like a popped soap bubble. So a recent decision by an Australian judge is particularly important, and chilling. An American publisher posted an article on a server in the US, which a man in Australia claims libeled him. The issue is whose court had jurisdiction. Dow Jones claimed that since the article was published in the US it should be tried in front of a US Court; Joe Gutnick wanted it tried in his home town in Australia. The judge there has ruled in favor of Gutnick. Dow Jones has appealed. I do not know the constitutional basis for law in Australia, but as an overall principle I feel as if this decision should be overturned. Otherwise the Australian legal system is declaring that it has power over everything published on the Internet by anyone anywhere in the world, as long as it can be accessed by anyone in Australia -- and if Australia can do that, so can anyone else. Do Australians want their own people to be sued by, for instance, people in such freedom-loving nations as Afghanistan and Myanmar and China because material posted by Australians on servers in Australia which is legal under Australian law nonetheless violates the laws in those other nations? (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.1216 (On Screen): Senator Richard Shelby characterizes last week's attack as a "massive intelligence failure." I don't agree. Rather, it was a lack of success. Intelligence is not a certain thing; it isn't possible to sniff out every plot by everyone every where in the world. When they do so, you should be grateful. When they fail, you should not recriminate. It is possible that our intelligence services are not performing adequately. But the mere fact that one particular operation was not detected is not proof of that. Senator Shelby is taking the low road to get headlines; he should really know better. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.1202 (On Screen): There's caution, and then there's hysteria. A teacher's group in Salt Lake City wants the city to close all the schools during the upcoming Winter Olympics, out of fear that terrorists might seize a school full of children and hold it hostage or destroy it. But if they were interested in doing such a thing, why at that time and place as opposed to any other? That is a possibility at any time, for any school in any city. I don't see any reason why it would be a greater risk in Salt Lake City during the Olympics. (discussion in progress)
Stardate 20010919.1008 (On Screen): Despite my general feeling about Dan Gillmor, he brings up peripherally an interesting point regarding the airlines. What is going to happen to United and American when liability lawyers decide they're responsible for tens of billions of dollars of real damage in NYC last week? Let alone perhaps a trillion dollars in "punitive" damage and "pain and suffering" awards? Regardless of anything else, Congress is going to have to relieve them of liability or they are going to be destroyed. This country cannot do without both of those companies; airlines are too important a part of the economy for us to let someone sue them out of existence. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.0942 (On Screen): Apparently there exist computer hackers who favor bin Laden; that should be interesting. One of them defaced a web server here in California. He's reported to have asked the following:
May I have the pleasure to know a single place where the U.S. government is collecting money and blood donations for Palestine victims? Is there any place where the U.S. government is working to solve the Kashmir issue? The answer is obvious, there are no such places. The U.S. government has just tasted what the Muslims are tasting for years.
This guy seems to be angry at the US not for what it has done, but rather for what it hasn't done. He wants the US to be the world's policeman, to go to places like the Middle East and Kashmir and impose solutions (favorable to his side). For him, the US simply staying out of it isn't sufficient. Kashmir is a particular example of that; so far as I know the US has no interest in the region and has applied no diplomatic capital towards a solution. Both Pakistan and India are allies, so the US can't really favor either. About the only thing the US does is to yell "KNOCK IT OFF!!" at them both when the bodies start to pile up at too alarming a rate.
He equates a direct attack by Islamic terrorists on the US to US inaction regarding a trouble spot elsewhere in the world. (Obviously the US has not attacked Kashmir.) He betrays a fundamental faith in the US: what he's saying is that he believes that if the US really wanted to, it could solve those problems, and he seems to feel we have an obligation to do so. He posts recriminations because we haven't. How strange to find a US patriot in Pakistan supporting bin Laden! (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.0927 (On Screen): Another big winner in this is the Afghani northern alliance. (If they have a formal name, I haven't seen it anywhere.) They almost instantly offered any aid they could provide to the US, naturally, and the US is going to them now for intelligence which they are uniquely qualified to provide. But they're dancing with elephants and they better be careful. They'd be well advised to get their quid pro quo in the form of hard goods (weapons and ammunition) ASAP, since the US is just as likely to drop them like a hot rock as soon as the US gets what it wants in the region. In the mean time, this is a Godsend for them. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.0643 (On Screen): Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, one of the best ways to combat an enemy was to try to interfere with his logistics, his ability to move supplies to his armies and navies. (The technical term for this is "interdiction".) Even terrorists have logistical problems, though they're not as great as for a normal high-tech army. One thing in particular is money: even a terrorist campain uses a lot of it, and it's got to come from somewhere. Tracing the money which is paying for organizations such as Al Qaeda isn't, however, going to be very easy. International banking is as full of holes as a sieve. There's a black list of countries whose banking rules permit easy laundering of money, and some of them are going to be really hard to influence. Does anyone really think that Myanmar is going to cooperate? (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.0635 (On Screen): Boeing has announced that it will lay off 30,000 workers. Well, maybe. The plan is to lay them off by the end of 2002; they probably won't be laying off anyone in the next week or two. I think maybe we're seeing some grand-standing here. Congress is considering a bill right now to give a pile of money and loan-guarantees to the airline industry; the bill was turned down already once and is up for consideration again next week. I think Boeing is trying to raise the stakes to force Congress to pass that bill, after which Boeing will announce that not so many layoffs will be needed after all. Which is not to say that I don't think the bill should pass -- I do. (discuss)
Stardate 20010919.0623 (On Screen): Intelligence resources are a very fragile asset. Getting spies into place is difficult; capturing a spy once you know he's there is much easier. Breaking someone's code is exceedingly difficult; changing a code once you know it's broken is much easier. So if you've broken into an enemy's communications, then if he gets any suspicion that you've done so, he will change the code and lock you out. If you have a spy in place and he figures it out, you'll lose him. This leads to a dilemma: reading your enemy's communications is an enormous advantage, but what good is it if you can't use the information? And yet, if you do, you may give away the game and lose that resource. It comes down to a series of calculated risks, where information gets used and you try to cover up the source so that your enemy doesn't suspect.
During World War II, this happened constantly. The British had broken the German ciphers, and the US had broken the Japanese codes and ciphers. (That division of labor wasn't planned, it was just how it worked out.) During the North Africa campaign, one of the critical factors controlling Rommel's ability to attack the British was his ability to get supplies across the Mediterranean from Italy by ship. The Italians were responsible for these supply convoys -- and the British were reading the codes which carried those orders. Obviously when such convoys were planned, the Royal Navy wanted to be out there to meet them, but didn't want to give away the game. So whenever a convoy was planned, the British would send a scout plane out to where the convoy would be. They were scouting constantly anyway, so this wasn't particularly a surprise. That plane would then radio the information back and the Italians would see the plane and intercept its message (and though they couldn't read it, it didn't take too much intelligence to know what it said), so when the RN showed up and attacked it wasn't unexpected. The crew of the plane didn't know wny they were sent where they were; they just thought they'd been lucky. And this kept the secret that the British already knew where the convoy would be.
In early 1943 as the campaign in the Solomon islands began to go against Japan, Admiral Yamamoto decided to tour certain front-line positions. His itinerary was radioed to all the units in question so that they could be prepared for him, and the code used was one that the Americans had broken and could read. The message was translated and instantly sent to the office of Admiral Nimitz. The importance of Yamamoto to the Japanese cause can't be underestimated; his death would have the same kind of effect that Churchill's death would have had on the Allies. And now they knew where he'd be on a certain date in the future, which means they had the opportunity to kill him. Should they? This was hotly debated, because it included the possibility that the Japanese might figure out where the information had come from. But they decided to take the risk, and included a cover story that his plans had been discovered by the legendary "Coast Watchers" (whose reputation was enormous anyway, so this wasn't implausible). 16 P-38 Lightnings from Guadalcanal flew to Bouganville and intercepted the Betty bomber in which he flew and shot it down. The effect on the Japanese was devastating; they never found another commander for the rest of the war who was his equal. And they did not change their codes.
Sometimes if you reveal intelligence, the mere information itself will let your opponent know where it came from. If that information was only in a few places, that's where they'll search. If the Republic of Pongoraku releases a memo they claim was written from the President of the US to the VP, US security people will then investigate everyone who has the ability to see such memos. This is obvious. If one of them is a Pongoraku spy, there's a good chance they'll figure it out -- and then Pongoraku will lose that asset and not be able to get anything else from him in future. (And likely he'll be killed or imprisoned.) If the message was sent using a particular cipher, that cipher will probably be changed. If Pongoraku was reading that cipher, they'll lose the ability to read it. So obviously Pongoraku is going to want to be careful with the kind of information they receive; if they reveal it at all, they'll couch it in different terms. They'll announce that "We have information that" and then talk vaguely about what they've learned, in such a way as to disguise the fact that they've been reading Presidential memos. They may reveal only part of what they know. They may, in fact, deliberately change some of it and announce things they know are wrong, so as to pretend that their source of information is less than reliable. It's all part of the game. As long as they don't get too specific, then US security people won't have as much of a clue where to look, and the Pongoraku spy will be much less likely to be found, or the specific cipher much less likely to be changed, and Pongoraku will keep that intelligence asset for the future.
Which brings us the US accusations against bin Laden. The Taliban are demanding "proof" that bin Laden is involved. (So are some Americans.) But what the Taliban are really demanding is that the US reveal enough information so that the Taliban can figure out where their security leaks are and plug them, depriving the US of future information through those leaks. Even if the US does have iron-clad proof of the involvement of bin Laden, it wouldn't be able to reveal that information, to the Taliban or to us as citizens, without compromising its ability to learn more in future about him and his orga