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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Urban Terrorists are already here - Part 2

nother growing threat to our cities, commonest so far in the developing world, is gangs challenging government for control. For three sultry July days in 2006, a gang called PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital, “First Command of the Capital”) held hostage the 20 million inhabitants of the greater São Paulo area through a campaign of violence. Gang members razed police stations, attacked banks, rioted in prisons, and torched dozens of buses, shutting down a transportation system serving 2.9 million people a day.

The previous May, a similar series of attacks had terrified the city. “The attackers moved on foot, and by car and motorbike,” wrote William Langewiesche in Vanity Fair. “They were not rioters, revolutionaries, or the graduates of terrorist camps. They were anonymous young men and women, dressed in ordinary clothes, unidentifiable in advance, and indistinguishable afterward. Wielding pistols, automatic rifles, and firebombs, they emerged from within the city, struck fast, and vanished on the spot. Their acts were criminal, but the attackers did not loot, rob, or steal. They burned buses, banks, and public buildings, and went hard after the forces of order—gunning down the police in their neighborhood posts, in their homes, and on the streets.”

The violence hasn’t been limited to São Paulo. In December 2006, a copycat campaign by an urban gang called the Comando Vermelho (“Red Command”) shut down Rio de Janeiro, too. In both cases, the gangs fomenting the violence didn’t list demands or send ultimatums to the government. Rather, they were flexing their muscles, testing their ability to challenge the government monopoly on violence.

Both gangs had steadily accumulated power for a decade, helped in part by globalization, which simplifies making connections to the multitrillion-dollar global black-market economy. With these new connections, the gangs’ profit horizon became limitless, fueling rapid expansion. New communications technology, particularly cell phones, played a part, too, making it possible for the gangs to thrive as loose associations, and allowing a geographical and organizational dispersion that rendered them nearly invulnerable to attack. The PCC has been particularly successful, growing from a small prison gang in the mid-nineties to a group that today controls nearly half of São Paulo’s slums and its millions of inhabitants. An escalating confrontation between these gangs and the city governments appears inevitable.

The gangs’ rapid rise into challengers to urban authorities is something that we will see again elsewhere. This dynamic is already at work in American cities in the rise of MS-13, a rapidly expanding transnational gang with a loose organizational structure, a propensity for violence, and access to millions in illicit gains. It already has an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 members, dispersed over 31 U.S. states and several Latin American countries, and its proliferation continues unabated, despite close attention from law enforcement. Like the PCC, MS-13 or a similar American gang may eventually find that it has sufficient power to hold a city hostage through disruption.

The final threat that small groups pose to cities is weapons of mass destruction. Though most of the worry over WMDs has focused on nuclear weapons, those aren’t the real long-term problem. Not only is the vast manufacturing capability of a nation-state required to produce the basic nuclear materials, but those materials are difficult to manipulate, transport, and turn into weapons. Nor is it easy to assemble a nuke from parts bought on the black market; if it were, nation-states like Iran, which have far more resources at their disposal than terrorist groups do, would be doing just that instead of resorting to internal production.

It’s also unlikely that a state would give terrorists a nuclear weapon. Sovereignty and national prestige are tightly connected to the production of nukes. Sharing them with terrorists would grant immense power to a group outside the state’s control—the equivalent of giving Osama bin Laden the keys to the presidential palace. If that isn’t deterrent enough, the likelihood of retaliation is, since states, unlike terrorist groups, have targets that can be destroyed. The result of a nuclear explosion in Moscow or New York would very probably be the annihilation of the country that manufactured the bomb, once its identity was determined—as it surely would be, since no plot of that size can remain secret for long.

Even in the very unlikely case that a nuclear weapon did end up in terrorist hands, it would be a single horrible incident, rather than an ongoing threat. The same is true of dirty bombs, which disperse radioactive material through conventional explosives. No, the real long-term danger from small groups is the use of biotechnology to build weapons of mass destruction. In contrast with nuclear technology, biotech’s knowledge and tools are already widely dispersed—and their power is increasing exponentially.

The biotech field is in the middle of a massive improvement in productivity through advances in computing power. In fact, the curves of improvement that we see in biotechnology mirror the rates of improvement in computing dictated by Moore’s Law—the observation, borne out by decades of experience, that the ratio of performance to price of computing power doubles every 24 months. This means that incredible power will soon be in the hands of individuals. University of Washington engineer Robert Carlson observes that if current trends in the rate of improvement in DNA sequencing continue, “within a decade a single person at the lab bench could sequence or synthesize all the DNA describing all the people on the planet many times over in an eight-hour day.” And with ever tinier, cheaper, and more widely available tools, a large and decentralized industrial base that is hiring lab techs at a double-digit growth rate, and the active transfer of knowledge via the Internet (the blueprints of the entire smallpox virus now circulate on the Web), biotech is too widely available for us to contain it.

In less than a decade, then, biotechnology will be ripe for the widespread development of weapons of mass destruction, and it fits the requirements of small-group warfare perfectly. It is small, inexpensive, and easy to manufacture in secret. Also, since dangerous biotechnology is based primarily on the manipulation of information, it will make rapid progress through the same kind of amateur tinkering that currently produces new computer viruses. Terrorists also have a growing advantage in delivering bioweapons. The increasing porousness of national borders, size of global megacities, and volume of air travel all mean that the delivery and percolation of bioweapons will be fast-moving and widespread—potentially on several continents at once.

It is almost certain that we will see repeated, perhaps incessant, attempts to deploy bioweapons with new strains of viruses or bacteria. Picture a Russian biohacker who, a decade from now, designs a new, deadly form of the common flu virus and sells it on the Internet, just as computer viruses and worms get sold today. The terrorist group that buys the design sends it to a recently hired lab tech in Pakistan, who performs the required modifications with widely available tools. The product then ships by mail to London, to the awaiting “suicide vectors”—men who infect themselves and then board airplanes headed to world destinations, infecting passengers on the planes and in crowded terminals. The infection spreads quickly, going global in days—long before anyone detects it.

It’s very possible that many cities will fall in the face of such deadly threats. Megacities in the developing world—which often, because of their rapid growth, widespread corruption, and illegitimate governance, aren’t able to provide security or basic services for their citizens—are particularly vulnerable. However, cities in the developed world that properly appreciate the threats arrayed against them may devise startlingly innovative solutions.

In almost all cases, cities can defend themselves from their new enemies through effective decentralization. To counter systems disruption, decentralized services—the capability of smaller areas within cities to provide backup services, at least on a temporary basis—could radically diminish the harmful consequences of disconnection from the larger global grid. In New York, this would mean storage or limited production capability of backup electricity, water, and fuel, with easy connections to the delivery grid—at the borough level or even smaller. These backups would then provide a means of restoring central services rapidly after a failure.

Similarly, cities may combat networked gangs by decentralizing their own security. Cities have long maintained centralized police forces, but gangs can often overwhelm them. Many governments are responding with militarized police: China is building a million-man paramilitary force, for example; and even in the United States, the use of SWAT teams has increased from 3,000 deployments a year in the 1980s to 50,000 a year in 2006. But militarized police may too easily become an army of occupation, and, if corrupt, as they are in Brazil, they may become enemies of the state along with the gangs.

A better solution involves local security forces, either locally recruited or bought on the marketplace (such as Blackwater), which can be powerful bulwarks against small-group terrorism. Such forces may become a vital component in our defense against bioterrorism, too, since they can enforce local containment—and since large centralized services, like the ones we have today, might actually accelerate the propagation of bioweapons. Still, if improperly established, local forces can also become rogue criminal entities, like the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia and the militias in Rio de Janeiro. Governments need to regulate them carefully.

In the future, we probably won’t know exactly how we will be attacked until it happens. In highly uncertain situations like this, centralized solutions that emphasize uniform responses will often collapse. Heterogeneous systems, by contrast, are unlikely to fail catastrophically. Moreover, local innovation—supplemented by a marketplace in goods and services that improve security, detection, monitoring, and so on—is likely to develop responses to threats quickly and effectively. Other localities will copy those responses that prove successful.

In June 2007, the FBI and local law enforcement halted a plot to blow up the John F. Kennedy International Airport’s fuel tanks and feeder pipelines. This was another great example of how police forces, if used correctly, can defuse threats before they become a menace [see “On the Front Line in the War on Terrorism”]. However, our current level of safety will not last. The selection of the target demonstrated clearly that future attackers will take advantage of our systems’ vulnerability to disruption, which will sharply increase the number of potential targets. It also showed that these threats can emerge spontaneously from small groups unconnected to al-Qaida. More and more attempts will come, with higher and higher rates of success. Our choice is simple: we can rely exclusively on our current security systems to stop the threats—and suffer the consequences when they don’t—or we can take measures to mitigate the impact of these threats by exerting local control over essential services.

The Urban Terrorists are already here - Part 1

For the first time in history, announced researchers this May, a majority of the world’s population is living in urban environments. Cities—efficient hubs connecting international flows of people, energy, communications, and capital—are thriving in our global economy as never before. However, the same factors that make cities hubs of globalization also make them vulnerable to small-group terror and violence.

Over the last few years, small groups’ ability to conduct terrorism has shown radical improvements in productivity—their capacity to inflict economic, physical, and moral damage. These groups, motivated by everything from gang membership to religious extremism, have taken advantage of easy access to our global superinfrastructure, revenues from growing illicit commercial flows, and ubiquitously available new technologies to cross the threshold necessary to become terrible threats. September 11, 2001, marked their arrival at that threshold.

Unfortunately, the improvements in lethality that we have already seen are just the beginning. The arc of productivity growth that lets small groups terrorize at ever-higher levels of death and disruption stretches as far as the eye can see. Eventually, one man may even be able to wield the destructive power that only nation-states possess today. It is a perverse twist of history that this new threat arrives at the same moment that wars between states are receding into the past. Thanks to global interdependence, state-against-state warfare is far less likely than it used to be, and viable only against disconnected or powerless states. But the underlying processes of globalization have made us exceedingly vulnerable to nonstate enemies. The mechanisms of power and control that states once exerted will continue to weaken as global interconnectivity increases. Small groups of terrorists can already attack deep within any state, riding on the highways of interconnectivity, unconcerned about our porous borders and our nation-state militaries. These terrorists’ likeliest point of origin, and their likeliest destination, is the city.

Cities played a vital defensive role in the last major evolution of conventional state-versus-state warfare. Between the world wars, the refinement of technologies—particularly the combustion engine, when combined with armor—made it possible for armies to move at much higher speeds than in the past, so new methods of warfare emphasized armored motorized maneuver as a way to pierce the opposition’s solid defensive lines and range deep into soft, undefended rear areas. These incursions, the armored thrusts of blitzkrieg, turned an army’s size against itself: even the smallest armored vanguard could easily disrupt the supply of ammunition, fuel, and rations necessary to maintain the huge armies of the twentieth century in the field.

To defend against these thrusts, the theoretician J. F. C. Fuller wrote in the 1930s, cities could be used as anchor or pivot points to engage armored forces in attacks on static positions, bogging down the offensive. Tanks couldn’t move quickly through cities, and if they bypassed them and struck too deeply into enemy territory, their supply lines—in particular, of the gasoline they drank greedily—would become vulnerable. The city, Fuller anticipated, could serve as a vast fortress, requiring the fast new armor to revert to the ancient tactic of the siege. That’s exactly what happened in practice during World War II, when the defenses mounted in Leningrad, Moscow, and Stalingrad played a major role in the Allied victory.

But in the current evolution of warfare, cities are no longer defensive anchors against armored thrusts ranging through the countryside. They have become the main targets of offensive action themselves. Just as the huge militaries of the early twentieth century were vulnerable to supply and communications disruption, cities are now so heavily dependent on a constant flow of services from various centralized systems that even the simplest attacks on those systems can cause massive disruption.

Most of the networks that we rely on for city life—communications, electricity, transportation, water—are overused, interdependent, and extremely complex. They developed organically as what scholars in the emerging field of network science call “scale-free networks,” which contain large hubs with a plethora of connections to smaller and more isolated local clusters. Such networks are economically efficient and resistant to random failure—but they are also extremely vulnerable to intentional disruptions, as Albert-Laszlo Barabasi shows in his important book Linked: The New Science of Networks. In practice, this means that a very small number of attacks on the critical hubs of a scale-free network can collapse the entire network. Such a collapse can occasionally happen by accident, when random failure hits a critical node; think of the huge Northeast blackout of 2003, which caused $6.4 billion in damage.

Further, the networks of our global superinfrastructure are tightly “coupled”—so tightly interconnected, that is, that any change in one has a nearly instantaneous effect on the others. Attacking one network is like knocking over the first domino in a series: it leads to cascades of failure through a variety of connected networks, faster than human managers can respond.

The ongoing attacks on the systems that support Baghdad’s 5 million people illustrate the vulnerability of modern networks. Over the last four years, guerrilla assaults on electrical systems have reduced Baghdad’s power to an average of four or five hours a day. And the insurgents have been busily finding new ways to cut power: no longer do they make simple attacks on single transmission towers. Instead, they destroy multiple towers in series and remove the copper wire for resale to fund the operation; they ambush repair crews in order to slow repairs radically; they attack the natural gas and water pipelines that feed the power plants. In September 2004, one attack on an oil pipeline that fed a power plant quickly led to a cascade of power failures that blacked out electricity throughout Iraq.

Lack of adequate power is a major reason why economic recovery has been nearly impossible in Iraq. No wonder that, in account after account, nearly the first criticism that any Iraqi citizen levels against the government is its inability to keep the lights on. Deprived of services, citizens are forced to turn to local groups—many of them at war with the government—for black-market alternatives. This money, in turn, fuels further violence, and the government loses legitimacy.

Insurgents have directed such disruptive attacks against nearly all the services necessary to get a city of 5 million through the day: water pipes, trucking, and distribution lines for gasoline and kerosene. And because of these networks’ complexity and interconnectivity, even small attacks, costing in the low thousands of dollars to carry out, can cause tens of millions and occasionally hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

Iraq is a petri dish for modern conflict, the Spanish Civil War of our times. It’s the place where small groups are learning to fight modern militaries and modern societies and win. As a result, we can expect to see systems disruption used again and again in modern conflict—certainly against megacities in the developing world, and even against those in the developed West, as we have already seen in London, Madrid, and Moscow.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Things your burglar wont tell you

Sources: Convicted burglars in North Carolina , Oregon , California , and Kentucky ; security consultant Chris McGoey, who runs http://www.crimedoctor.com/ and Richard T. Wright, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who interviewed 105 burglars for his book Burglars on the Job.


1. Of course I look familiar. I was here just last week cleaning your carpets, painting your shutters, or delivering your new refrigerator.

2. Hey, thanks for letting me use the bathroom when I was working in your yard last week. While I was in there, I unlatched the back window to make my return a little easier.

3. Love those flowers. That tells me you have taste... and taste means there are nice things inside. Those yard toys your kids leave out always make me wonder what type of gaming system they have.

4. Yes, I really do look for newspapers piled up on the driveway. And I might leave a pizza flyer in your front door to see how long it takes you to remove it..

5. If it snows while you're out of town, get a neighbor to create car and foot tracks into the house.. Virgin drifts in the driveway are a dead giveaway.

6. If decorative glass is part of your front entrance, don't let your alarm company install the control pad where I can see if it's set. That makes it too easy.

7. A good security company alarms the window over the sink. And the windows on the second floor, which often access the master bedroom - and your jewelry. It's not a bad idea to put motion detectors up there too.

8. It's raining, you're fumbling with your umbrella, and you forget to lock your door - understandable. But understand this: I don't take a day off because of bad weather.

9. I always knock first. If you answer, I'll ask for directions somewhere or offer to clean your gutters. (Don't take me up on it.)

10. Do you really think I won't look in your sock drawer? I always check dresser drawers, the bedside table, and the medicine cabinet.

11. Here's a helpful hint: I almost never go into kids' rooms.

12. You're right: I won't have enough time to break into that safe where you keep your valuables. But if it's not bolted down, I'll take it with me.

13. A loud TV or radio can be a better deterrent than the best alarm system. If you're reluctant to leave your TV on while you're out of town, you can buy a $35 device that works on a timer and simulates the flickering glow of a real television. (Find it athttp://www.faketv/.com/)


1. Sometimes, I carry a clipboard. Sometimes, I dress like a lawn guy and carry a rake. I do my best to never, ever look like a crook.

2. The two things I hate most: loud dogs and nosy neighbors.

3. I'll break a window to get in, even if it makes a little noise. If your neighbor hears one loud sound, he'll stop what he's doing and wait to hear it again. If he doesn't hear it again, he'll just go back to what he was doing. It's human nature.

4. I'm not complaining, but why would you pay all that money for a fancy alarm system and leave your house without setting it?

5. I love looking in your windows. I'm looking for signs that you're home, and for flat screen TVs or gaming systems I'd like. I'll drive or walk through your neighborhood at night, before you close the blinds, just to pick my targets.

6. Avoid announcing your vacation on your Facebook page. It's easier than you think to look up your address.

7. To you, leaving that window open just a crack during the day is a way to let in a little fresh air. To me, it's an invitation.

8. If you don't answer when I knock, I try the door. Occasionally, I hit the jackpot and walk right in.

Protection for you and your home:

If you don't have a gun, here's a more humane way to wreck someone's evil plans for you.


A friend who is a receptionist in a church in a high risk area was concerned about someone coming into the office on Monday to rob them when they were counting the collection. She asked the local police department about using pepper spray and they recommended to her that she get a can of wasp spray instead.

The wasp spray, they told her, can shoot up to twenty feet away and is a lot more accurate, while with the pepper spray, they have to get too close to you and could overpower you. The wasp spray temporarily blinds an attacker until they get to the hospital for an antidote. She keeps a can on her desk in the office and it doesn't attract attention from people like a can of pepper spray would. She also keeps one nearby at home for home protection.. Thought this was interesting and might be of use.


On the heels of a break-in and beating that left an elderly woman in Toledo dead, self-defense experts have a tip that could save your life.

Val Glinka teaches self-defense to students at Sylvania Southview High School . For decades, he's suggested putting a can of wasp and hornet spray near your door or bed.

Glinka says, "This is better than anything I can teach them."

Glinka considers it inexpensive, easy to find, and more effective than mace or pepper spray. The cans typically shoot 20 to 30 feet; so if someone tries to break into your home, Glinka says, "spray the culprit in the eyes". It's a tip he's given to students for decades. It's also one he wants everyone to hear. If you're looking for protection, Glinka says look to the spray.

"That's going to give you a chance to call the police; maybe get out." Maybe even save a life.

Put your car keys beside your bed at night.

Tell your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your parents, your Dr.'s office, the check-out girl at the market, everyone you run across. Put your car keys beside your bed at night.

If you hear a noise outside your home or someone trying to get in your house, just press the panic button for your car. The alarm will be set off, and the horn will continue to sound until either you turn it off or the car battery dies. This tip came from a neighborhood watch coordinator. Next time you come home for the night and you start to put your keys away, think of this: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation. Test it. It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your driveway or garage. If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break into your house, odds are the burglar/rapist won't stick around. After a few seconds all the neighbors will be looking out their windows to see who is out there and sure enough the criminal won't want that. And remember to carry your keys while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there. This is something that should really be shared with everyone. Maybe it could save a life or a sexual abuse crime.