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78 Comments

1:

In a Tom Clancy novel or NCIS the recordings would probably conceal steganographic messages. In the real world it's probably just porn.

2:

Why is that weird? Why should Osama bin Laden be the only man on the planet that doesn't watch porn? It would be way weirder if the man had a computer without porn.

3:

"If you can imagine it there's porn of it on the internet."

I'm now speculating not about Osama bin Laden's porn but about Osama bin Laden porn.

4:

I think this makes me more excited for Rule 34 to be released, which in turn makes me question my emotional health.

5:

Oh great, and now there's porn about Charlie Stross thinking about Osama porn. Stop the madness now!

6:

Could it be that the Powers That BEE in the US of A have access to those, Looted from Obamas HQ FILES, in which it is disclosed that OB was indeed in receipt of Effective HERBAL V Stuff .. why else all of those Wives? .. and was planning to RUN, not Walk, in the next Ameri- Con Presidential Elections as the OMN?I -Potent G.O.P. candidate in his Fleshy Cloned Disguise as - Alien Lizard Reference - " Newt " Gingrich.?

7:
In a Tom Clancy novel or NCIS the recordings would probably conceal steganographic messages.

Which, when properly decoded, say "I buried Paul."

8:

'shops featuring Bush porking Bin Laden and viceversa have been floating around for years. There's also a porn manga called "Spirit of Capitalism" that features Osama in a couple chapters iirc.

But obviously the porn found at the complex was there for research purposes. After all how can you properly motivate yourself against the decadence of the west if you remain ignorant about it? I mean if Sayyid Qutb was outraged and motivated to start the whole fundamentalist movement by the saucy dancing of the American 1950s I can't imagine what Debbie Does Dallas would do to their minds.

9:

Oh, I get it! Sitting and watching himself on TV, yeah!

...

I'll bet there would be a market.

10:

Note that he wasn't watching himself on a modern flat Plasma or LED TV but upon an old fashioned, bulbous, and suggestively shaped Phallic CRT TV !

11:

"Reports from Abbottabad have said that bin Laden's compound was cut off from the Internet or other hard-wired communications networks. It is unclear how compound residents would have acquired the pornography.

I love the naive and earnest youthfulness of this sentence. Where else could you even GET porn, in this century, than the Internet?

12:

Er, perhaps ... delivered by Hand in the form of a HARD Drive that is loaded with Intelligence Info about the Decadent West ... the more Decadent the Better that the Great Leader be Hardened in his Resolve to Defeat the Vile Democratic anti Religious Crusaders!

13:

He had several wives and as John Stewart put it "wang juice", and they all spent the last few years locked inside a million dollar mansion, with extensive recording equipment and very little else in the way of entertainment according to the abbadabad twitter guy.

The probability that there are Osama Porn Tapes out there now is 100% or near enough as long as rounding errors are ignored.

14:

I'll admit I was thinking steganography when I read it too.

There's a simpler explanation.

OBL used flash drives and couriers to get email to and from his computer, and the flash drives went to internet cafes.

Probably the couriers spent hours in internet cafes waiting for messages and such.

Now, if you were a suspicious bastard doing security, you'd ask why some Al-Qaeda looking dude was sitting there in an internet cafe waiting for emails for hours.

So you'd check his web traffic (which, I'm sure, was being monitored by the cafe. They might have even had keystroke monitors, see if they can grab a useful password). Aha, you'd realize, he's not waiting for emails from central Al Qaeda operatives all over the world. He's downloading massive amounts of porn to take home, and while that's going on, he's checking email. Nothing dangerous here, just some guy indulging his baser nature. Probably hates the wife his family got him. Happens all the time.

Moreover, if he's stopped in the street, why, these flash drives are full of porn movies. See? No hidden communications from OBL. Totally normal. If the courier can pay baksheesh, he gets to walk away.

Flash drives full of porn and email communications go back to OBL's hideout. OBL reads his mail, keeps the porn too. After all, he's got the perfect cover: he just tells his wives its steganographic communications from his underlings. It's not like he's watching it or anything.

15:

A friend who served in the UK military in Afghanistan told me that the porn collections found on computers belonging to members of the Taliban were really quite lurid (the sort of thing that would fall foul of 'extreme pornography' laws in the UK). I'm not that surprised...

16:

There was no net or phone in his compound. The porn probably came with the couriers.

17:

This story repeats the myth that because the compound had no phone or Internet connectivity it was therefore "cut off" from the modern world. Yet photographs of the place clearly showed a hunking big satellite dish on the roof of one of the buildings. Osama didn't need couriers and flash drives for everything, he could watch his TV appearances on al Jazeera like everyone else. And he, or his associates, could presumably obtain porn the same way. The internet didn't invent porn, it merely perfected it.

18:

It seems to me to be far more likely that that " hunking big satellite dish on the roof of one of the buildings " wasn't active and was merely window dressing for the benefit of the locals to whom such a compound would look to be really odd if it didn't have a satellite dish.

Why would Osama take the risk of the omnipotent American Crusaders hacking his coms system ?

19:

I'm still sitting here scratching my head over why everybody in the whole damn world is just shocked, SHOCKED, at the idea of a traditionalist religious leader being a hypocrite. If it doesn't surprise you out of, say, a David Vitter, then why all the astonishment here?

20:

"This is either black propaganda of the most brilliant sort"

It would be brilliant if it didn't immediately come to mind of anyone with an IQ over 90 that "OBL has porn" is probably black propaganda.

It actually would be brilliant black propaganda by Al Qaeda. That would be brilliant, since this over the top kind of propaganda has a tendency to undermine the credibility of the purported sellers.

That was the principle that Gregory Bateson used during WWII working as a consultant to the US military in the pacific theater. They recorded Japanese propaganda radio broadcasts, multiplied all the numbers by some absurd number (if the Japanese claimed to kill 40 Americans, they made it 4000), then rebroadcast it as Japanese propaganda.

This would take it to another level, of course, with AQ spreading black propaganda about themselves in the guise of the US.

Of course, if they've managed to get that far, well the war is lost -- it's more likely that we have propaganda buffoons in the US government who can't bother to hire some old anthropologists to do half the job that was done during WWII.

21:

"In the real world..."

Wow -- open up a history book some day. A little bit about intelligence operations during WWII would be a start.

If you think this is paranoid and conspiracy minded, you have no clue about the well-attested insanity that goes on in the intelligence world. Don't you remember old Hansen in the FBI, who was married, spending cash on strippers, a member of Opus Dei, was responsible for counter-intelligence against the Soviets -- and also took cash from the Ruskies.

These are some weird fuckers. They are involved professionally with conspiracies. Look up Duane Clarridge for another freak who's busy with the psycho game.

In the real world, freaks much weirder than fiction rule.

22:

Not to say that OBL probably didn't consume porn in the same way most men do, I think the thumbdrive camouflage explanation is the more probable. Just imagine a top level directory with folders like "DONKEY SHOW", "DVDA", or "WATERSPORTS" with appropriate materials in each along with a folder labelled "VANILLA" or "STORIES" where you'd hide the email .txt files a couple folders deep. Only a VSB security type (Very Suspicious Bastard) is going to go rooting through the "VANILLA" folder first and if the content of the other folders were sufficiently hardcore it's unlikely they'd ever get there.

23:

Haar: I can imagine it taking about thirty seconds to find the text files in an arrangement like that -- there are other ways of finding files than by looking at directory listings. I can also imagine a competent forensic analyst ignoring the porn entirely, except while examining it for steganographed sneakiness.

I don't buy the camouflage-at-rest explanation because, honestly, if the courier gets popped and things escalate to the point where people are analyzing the contents of the thumb drives he had on his person, the game's already pretty much over.

I can almost buy the camouflage-in-motion explanation of using the porn downloading to explain sitting around in an Internet cafe for hours on end, except that last I checked, sitting around in an Internet cafe for hours on end really isn't all that unusual a thing to do, and is much less likely to attract attention than, say, a screenful of hardcore porn in a public place would do. (And it's certainly not going to conceal anything from a halfway competent password sniffer.)

I think bin Laden just liked to jerk off, the same way nearly every other human male in the entire history of our species has done, and since he didn't have Internet access at home he sent his courier out with orders to pick him up some recreational material along with his latest batch of email. Why assume, in the absence of evidence, that it must be more complicated than that?

(I can imagine it having been a little weird for the courier, though, having a sideline in maintaining the boss's porn collection.)

24:

Sure, it's possible that there were concealed messages, but you get a largely male community with a lot of time on their hands the most likely explanation is that it really is just porn.

I doubt that Bin Laden would trust steganography, given his general paranoia about the USA, CIA, NSA etc.

25:

But why porn and not Cat Macros? Or most regulars at 4Chan have special image macro folders arranged for the sole purpose of being readily able to use an appropriate macro with a posting... similarly you could just embed a lot of crypto information into the clipart used in a powerpoint file, or build it into the back end of an ebook or or or.

And we're still assuming that a somewhat successful terrorist organisation would rely on security via obscurity as a protection, and then preferentially try to build such a system around porn...because.

I also doubt Pakistan's censorship laws are exactly lax, meaning that essentially what you're looking at is a person who is trying to avoid being picked up by a secret police force carrying around entirely unneccesary contraband and then inserting secret messages into the contraband.

Not to mention the whole issue of "and who exactly has to spend hours finding and processing the porn for the purposes of cryptographically priming the damn things?"

The idea that the porn is code is so insane that it's just as likely the porn was being held for the sole purpose of trying to make people think that the porn is a cipher when it is no such thing in some attempt to troll the paranoia of various intelligence agencies that got their hands on the stuff.

26:

Hell, I bet the POPE has a porn stash. All hypocrites these religious holyholes

27:

The pornography recovered in bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, consists of modern, electronically recorded video and is fairly extensive, according to the officials, who discussed the discovery with Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Note: "officials" not intelligence operatives, so it's not like they're seeking anonymity for operational reasons.

So - once more for the dummies: officials who are neither whistle blowers nor dissidents communicate anonymously with the press for only three reasons. They do not wish the public to be able to assess the credibility of the story by knowing its exact source. They do not wish to be publicly associated with a lie. Or it so happens that this particular story is true but the officials want to establish a pattern of always being anonymous to protect themselves on the more usual occasions when they're lying. That is all.

No-one should take such stories on trust and, more to the point, journalists should stop publishing them. There is no legitimate reason for anonymity here. Name the sources, or stop being a mouthpiece passing on official BS.

28:

Ummm, I should point out that my saying OBL told his wives that he was holding onto the porn because it contained secret messages was meant with total sarcasm. If OBL had porn, he was probably watching using it as intended. Telling his wife that it's part of "his work" is a classic BS strategy, and certainly not limited to Al Qaeda.

Besides, I'm perfectly capable of turning a document into something called sex.mpeg or whatever. It's a normal practice more carrying documents out of areas where people scan directories.

So far as the leakage goes, we've already heard four different versions of OBL's death, we've already been told that the SEAL cameras were dark and chaotic, yet we saw Obama and Clinton both responding emotionally to whatever was on the screen, which means they could see well enough. Etc. And we have a lawsuit in the US by a conservative group to get the president to release the photos, for whatever reason.

Do I trust anything ANYONE is saying, beyond that OBL is dead and his body's in the water? Not really.

I figure we've already been told the most of the truth. Problem is, it's coming out in small bits, so buried in plausible BS that we'll have trouble ever disentangling it.

Too bad we're not talking about silver-plated stealth copters and China buying the pieces again. Or not.

29:

Osama Been Whackin?

30:

I see evidence that truth is weirder than the worst I could think of all the time. But this smells like a long dead fish. But the "OBL used flash drives and couriers" is likely.

31:

I'm trying to work out which is the black propaganda:

Is it saying Osama was watching porn?

Or is it saying Osama didn't watch porn?

The former humanises him, whereas the later would make him look weird. Maybe it says more about the US that they would consider porn to somehow be shameful and worth commenting on.

Anyway, it's all a distraction from the video we know exists of the raid, and might well provide evidence of an extra-judicial execution. After all, when we know he was unarmed, and we know they got the body back to a ship to then dump in the ocean, we know they had the real option of capturing him for trial. Sounds to me like a shoot first, second and third operation that someone now realises was illegal.

32:

Not just "officials", but "current and former". Former? Is this someone who quit in the last week? Someone who shouldn't have the information to pass on? Someone who used to be an official, but is now something else and this is trying to add a veneer of credibility?

33:

Some aspects of Islam, as implemented in some places, can be interpreted as meaning that men can't be trusted around women, and so the porn might be intended to distract his male staff and so protect his wives.

In other parts of the Islamic world, attitudes are different: such things as female modesty of dress are a common rule interpreted in widely different ways.

And some parts of the Islamic world may view some other things differently to us. I can believe the mention of the Taliban possessing porn which could be classed as "Extreme Porn" under British law, partly because the definition is so broad, and because I have seen convincing accounts of porn made in Japan and the USA which would be in breach of UK law.

And the legality of the porn doesn't map onto the legality of the acts depicted: not reliably. At the most basic level, pictures of the most vanilla of sexual intercourse between a married couple could be classed as porn, and in the UK, for many years, would have been considered obscene.

It's possible that bin Laden's courier didn't sit around waiting for replies. Consider Hotmail as an example. Upload the emails to send out, download the replies since the last session, leave the Internet Cafe. I don't expect he would use Hotmail, of course.

As for location, I would be astonished if Abbottabad didn't have Internet Cafes. It's not just the Military Academy that's there. And it's only 70 miles to Islamabad. But if I were setting something like this up, I wouldn't use a local connection. Even if the other side traced me to Islamabad, it just leaves such a huge area to physically search.

And wasn't there a story, a few years back, about how the Al Quaeda tech guy had been turned, but it was blown by another intelligence agency?

Ah, here we are: Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan in 2004.

Incidentally, Abbottabad was affected by the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. Any new building wouldn't have been exceptional after that.

I can't say that I am surprised by the US keeping this whole thing very quiet until they moved on OBL.

34:

It's good propaganda because it's believable.

But when you look past the surface, anonymous sources and all the rest, it looks very fishy.

I can understand not mentioning a source's name, even if release of the information is properly authorised. You really shouldn't be publishing the names of CIA personnel. This isn't just an anonymous source, it's untraceable. Is this any different from Wikileaks, and how would anyone know?

35:

As to the pope and porn, the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana is (of course only rumoured to be) mainly a collection of porn of the centuries...

36:

It's got to be from the US, I'm amazed they haven't accused him of drinking too, (that old prohibition spirit)

37:

Wait: the only evidence we're going on is a blurb article in an issue of the Vancouver Sun... Sun newspapers being best-known for daily doses of semi-naked females, vast sports coverage, and Conservative-partisan hectoring of the educated, thoughtful & discerning news reader...

oh! right...perfect bowl for this kind of feces...

38:

Whether or not the report is legitimate, I'd be surprised if Bin Laden didn't have lots of fairly bizarre porn. It's atypical for extreme sexual moralism to lack a shadow formation, because that's usually why it's extreme. While there are probably people who have a moral crusade against this or that who don't engage in it in private (or want to), someone who merely has sexual interests in line with his or her own sexual taboos is unlikely to feel the need to overcompensate. Given the sexual-purism angle of the propaganda, I suspect that a lot of the people attracted to this are kinky as hell.

But, just because he had porn and Reuters reported that the military found his porn doesn't mean the military actually found his porn.

I don't think this qualifies for putting the news in Warren Ellis territory. I do, however, wonder why people believe it's newsworthy that a man holed up in a fairly small area for ten years would have some porn.

(NB: yes, I realize that there are men who don't like porn. This isn't a gender thing. This is a moral-crusader thing. Someone who crusades for any rigid moral system is fairly likely to do so to compensate for cognitive dissonance, so someone who crusades against the sexualization of culture is fairly likely to be a pervert.)

39:

Someone who crusades for any rigid moral system is fairly likely to do so to compensate for cognitive dissonance, so someone who crusades against the sexualization of culture is fairly likely to be a pervert.

Yup. As witness the way that you can just about make a living by betting that any US Republican politician who starts yakking about the evils that are gay marriage or porn is going to be arrested in a compromising position in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

(Back in the early 1990s in the UK, in the wake of a disastrous economic cock-up, John Major announced that the Conservative government was going to go on a back to basics campaign emphasizing victorian virtues. The press went on a barrel-shooting expedition and bagged plenty of fish -- so many so that in five years they had more resignations from the cabinet due to sex-related scandals than every previous government since 1832 combined.)

40:
I also doubt Pakistan's censorship laws are exactly lax, meaning that essentially what you're looking at is a person who is trying to avoid being picked up by a secret police force carrying around entirely unneccesary contraband and then inserting secret messages into the contraband.

But your courier now has an entirely legitimate and obvious reason for being nervous, and for trying to bribe the officer who picked him up, should he have happened upon an unbribeable one. So when OBL's friends/fellow-travellers in officialdom notice that you've picked up the courier, you probably haven't bothered to do anything except keep him in a cell - he's obviously guilty as charged, so why would you go looking to see if he was using his guilt to hide a separate crime. Whereas if he's picked up with a bunch of innocent stuff but acting guilty and trying to bribe the officer, there's a real incentive to find out what he's hiding, and quickly - it isn't as though Pakistan is without internal terrorism, after all.

Such things really do happen in the world of espionage; as someone elsewhere in the thread observed, some of these people are professional conspiracy theorists, with the heavily warped minds that implies.

41:

My guess is that all of the above is true to some extant. A comic strip had an interesting angle on OBL this week: http://candorville.com/2011/05/13/the-man-who-changed-history-5/ To paraphrase, lets forget him better still.

42:

Not sure about OBL porn, but there is this highly disturbing and notorious Hitler/Stalin slash pic:

http://i26.tinypic.com/13yeqp.jpg

(not for those faint of heart. Will mess you up)

FYI, the Dutch terror gang(the one that killed van Gogh) they broke up apparently shared a necrophilia porn fetish. Somehow, that seems appropriate in a group of homicidal morons.

43:

But your courier now has an entirely legitimate and obvious reason for being nervous, and for trying to bribe the officer who picked him up, should he have happened upon an unbribeable one.

Except that police don't just arrest people carrying illegal porn, they do an investigation of their friends & families to see if there's a porn ring that the person arrested is involved in.

And that goes double for REALLY WEIRD porn.

Oh, and after being arrested the police now have the important communique locked up where no one can get it except the security services. If you're doing that kind of bluff it's better to carry contraband that doesn't have the message on it for the purpose of conveying messages and better to have them carry contraband that doesn't cause the local authorities to start investigating the prisoner's social circles for suspicious activities. Not to mention the relative willingness of a policeman tendency to accept bribes is relative to the offence being covered up, if you're caught with small quantities of drugs they might take a bribe to ignore that but won't if you're carrying pictures of kiddy porn.

So when OBL's friends/fellow-travellers in officialdom notice that you've picked up the courier, you probably haven't bothered to do anything except keep him in a cell

So AQ isn't using the traditional and effective cell structure of organisation that would mean that OBL's fellow travellers wouldn't know that a courier had been picked up? Or are you assuming that OBL is phoning up pakistani officials to ask for a man on handling of pornography charges be set free every so often?

44:

Well, now, maybe it's appropriate that they were delivering files on thumb drives. Always wondered where that term came from; seems like you really need to use the fingers on that hand as well.

45:

You make good points, but the US propagandists aren't quite as inept as they seem. The reason this simplistic stuff actually works is that some people want to believe it. As Heinlein said, 'man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalising animal', IIRC.

'The officials said they were not yet sure precisely where in the compound the pornography was discovered or who had been viewing it. Specifically, the officials said they did not know if bin Laden himself had acquired or viewed the materials.' Maybe it was the gardener's. Maybe anything. Yet some people on here are cheerfully assuming it was bin Laden's. Job done.

46:

The other reason we're speculating about porn is that this is a blog, and we're babbling.

The nice thing about the porn story is that it's such a good distraction.

After all, we're not having that oh-so-interesting discussion about whether OBL was killed because if he was captured and taken to a US ship, Pakistan would have been obliged to ask the US to kindly bring him back RIGHT NOW, so that he could be tried in a Pakistani court before he went to the US.

I don't have a clear take on how objective and independent the Pakistani courts are, but given that OBL was killed near a military academy, there's this natural assumption that he had a protector in the Pakistani government, whether this is true or not.

It would have truly sucked if the US had captured him alive, the Pakistanis had taken him into custody, and he'd escaped from a Pakistani jail.

While personally I would have liked to see justice done in court, justice depends on a working civil society in any country. If you can't be sure that a particular judicial system is adequately functional, what do you do about a mass murderer living in its jurisdiction?

I don't have an answer, but I do note that we're talking about potential porn instead.

47:

If you can't be sure that a particular judicial system is adequately functional, what do you do about a mass murderer living in its jurisdiction?

I should just like to note at this point that Henry Kissinger appears to be alive and has living in the USA for the past couple of decades without being arrested and charged with any crimes.

Meanwhile, in Indiana ...

(My work here is done.)

48:

A few interesting points. However, I think that ObL could have been taken to NYC and the Pakistanis could have demanded him and the New Yorkers would have laughed. ObL knew too much. He was the CIA's point man in Afghanistan for years, and allegedly a former business associate of the Bush family. Ayatollah Rafsanjani believes he never left the CIA's employ. He could have argued this in court. In addition, the court-admissible evidence against him may have been lacking. Was it really him? We don't really know as they have conveniently managed to lose the body. When you are dealing with spies, do you ever really know anything? Deception is their occupation.

49:

WashPost editorial that says Osama bin Laden's death is legal.

50:

I thought about that to start with. I think there are three good reasons that he was killed:

  • If he stays in Gitmo, everybody will remember him. He'll be forgotten soon enough this way.

  • Pakistan might ask for him back.

  • Members of our SEAL team might die while collecting him.

  • It does make me feel the same way I feel about Hiroshima/Nagasaki.

    51:

    Satellite TV is not a 'comms system' and there's nothing to hack, it's just TV. Web and email he may have gotten via flash drives, but I'll bet he got his TV the regular way using that dish.

    52:

    Re: trying OBL in New York. The Obama administration attempted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York, and the political kerfuffle ended with Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, which essentially barred the US from trying Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts.

    In other words, New Yorkers and Republican politicians can't stand the thought of having a single Al Qaeda member in New York for a criminal trial. Since then, Obama's policy has apparently been to kill terrorist targets rather than capture them. Given the way the Republicans are acting (torture, indefinite detention, anything but resolution), this might actually be more merciful.

    So in other words, no, the US doesn't have a functional judicial system either, at least where Al Qaeda is concerned. Considering the questions about vote-rigging in judicial elections in Wisconsin (and elsewhere), I think the rot has spread rather widely.

    Unfortunately, that means we're left with summary executions. As an example of civil society, this sucks dead rat through a straw.

    How far we've fallen since World War II and Nuremberg.

    53:

    I thought the problem with KSM was that they had no evidence other than that from world-record amounts of waterboarding. They allegedly have loads of computer evidence against ObL... How far we've fallen since World War II and Nuremberg. Did we fall or were we pushed?

    54:

    Did we fall or were we pushed?

    You jumped. Some time in the 1890s, I think.

    This sort of extrajudicial violence is the fingerprint of Empire -- all imperial powers do it, because by definition an empire is a state that has overflowed the geographical frontiers of its popular legitimacy. Empires exercise dominance outside their frontiers by the use of force -- economic warfare or assassination or overt military occupation.

    The USA had some of the characteristics of an empire in its early days, especially in its dealings with the native Americans, but the rot set in properly after the internal frontier closed and the external military adventurism began -- remember the Maine!

    And it caught hold post-1945, post-Yalta, when the USA inherited the oil-related remains of the British empire and came out of WW2 as the last man standing, at least economically.

    For a while, the US empire was run in a relatively "clean" manner. It was a maritime trade empire, after all, rather than a boots-on-the-ground occupation like the Roman empire; and there was an ideological rival, the USSR. Hegemony was enforced via multilateral trade agreements and ideological cohesion in the face of an oppressive dictatorship. But the combination of ideological panic and personal cupidity in the face of the eye-watering amounts of money to be made were a powerful driver towards lawless and corrupt behaviour. As witness the CIA's assassination and destabilization campaigns from the early 1950s onwards, the multiple attempts on Castro's life, the killing of Lumumba, and so on.

    The first decade of the 21st century was characterised by an acute political trauma (9/11) which was seized upon by an ascendant political faction (the neocons) to energize support for an overt military-imperial gambit: the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, simultaneously, the build-up for the war on Iran (postponed due to overstretch). NB: If you think I'm going too far, look at a map -- what countries lie to the east, and to the west, of Iran?

    My hypothesis is that that particular bid for overt military hegemony in the former Persian Empire has failed. As empires wane they contract, and bring their tools home to consolidate their grip on what remains. The political corruption and arbitrary violence you're complaining of isn't anything new: it's just that it was mostly held at arm's length previously, confined to the Middle East and executed at arms length by the tools of empire like the corporation formerly known as Blackwater.

    If you want to see the future they're lining up for you, imagine Er*k Prince's boot stamping on your face for eternity, while Goldman Sachs pick your pocket.

    (Do I sound bitter? Hell, yes! The Arab Spring is giving us an object lesson in the limits of people power in the networked century, and I think it'll take a lot longer before the sane majority of the US population figure out what's being done to them and start doing it back. Because another of the policies of empire is divide-and-conquer, and nobody does that better than the US media system.)

    55:

    ... And this will teach me to post too early in the morning, before I've had my second cup of tea.

    56:

    In Abbotabad, sharia pr0n transfers your critical capacity as a lifestyler out on flash drives.

    Next shocks: Flash memory and USB are tough enough for high desert at least some of the time! The crysknife we found disintegrated when taken away from the human body.... Flash Photo Recovery applications discovered on courier flash media! Terrorist dies wearing natural fibers! 3 out of 4 people shot by Navy look much better; Seals Division hard-pressed to make any further improvement. AFP, Judge, Cleric disagree on pornography disposition; one man's fight in, against bar. Jordan to change official dress pending Amman Quaeda Party Chapter 22 Filing; linen for now. Single-color sheets banned as matte, backgrounds under new sharia law--completely consistent with Fox News Style Manual, same organization's reading of Koran. 45 new, sharp, well-shot practicum of low-water hairstyles found in full 64MB SDHC-micro card in manicured border cave of Afghanistan. Agile defeats Divide-and-Conquer, Waterfall, Kanban in US Media Systems; Pattern Language of Agility APA Manual 2002, matching AdAge Correspondence Journal to banner move.

    57:

    Well, you could shoot the porn of your self if you thought you were the cleric to do it? I think a DailySquee submission stream or Yesbot sort of thing might count; nothing as precocious as save-it-with-fire oiled onto virgins or pitching self-help vaporware.

    Sort of starting out as an awkward teen making 'zines on actual papyrus, moving through the studio webcam work and audio production and recording using Altavista translations of online work, steadfastly eschewing anything (readers should have a long shot of their switchgear suspending disbelief staged, double-redundant circuits, delays, alternate locations, disconnected systems and all) that Zion craft might have related. Swallow the webcam in a water balloon, eat the storyboard a burrito gave you, and gift some Christian Scientists ray-bans having invited them over for dinner & movies.

    I like Film Terrorists as much as anyone thanks to Michael Palin, Marion Merrell and many others, but the metaphorical 33' USB cables, beatific revelation to the hard-put, and waiting a week, not so much.

    58:

    Fred: you appear to be confusing Pakistan with the USA. Not only that, but the mythical USA of propaganda, not the real one where police harassment (mostly of non-white people) is a major-but-largely-ignored issue and a pilot can refuse to fly until the Muslims in cattle-class have been unloaded from his plane (but anyone who can afford first gets a super-rapid pass through security so they don't have to wait with the peasants - even though the September 11 hijackers had... first class tickets).

    So AQ isn't using the traditional and effective cell structure of organisation that would mean that OBL's fellow travellers wouldn't know that a courier had been picked up?

    Cell structures are designed to keep the amount of information possessed by any individual to a need-to-know minimum. Now, who might it be useful to have know the identity of the courier? Also, have you heard of a marvellous thing called a "password" that allows someone to identify themselves in circumstances where their identity is otherwise unknown? (The Courier and fellow-traveller don't need to know each other's identities; they just both need to know that anyone arrested in that location who says he's part of "Operation Stross" will be released because he's carrying out important work for the state to catch real porn users. The fellow-traveller, if highly placed, doesn't even have to arrange the release himself - he can let his minions know that "Operation Stross" exists and is very important, and people who have nothing to do with OBL will work urgently to release his courier. Come to that, it can be a real long-term sting operation that happens to also function as a cover for the courier.)

    59:

    Yes, posting without adequate stimulants is bad. It gives one a ludicrously linear view of history.

    While I don't subscribe to the shining city on the hill view of the US future, I really need to add a couple of bits of needed complexity.

  • The abuse of native populations and foreign powers in the Americas goes back to some time in the middle 1490s. Things have gone up and down since then, and there's little that's special about the 1890s.

  • Intercultural and interracial relations have always been complex and fraught in the US. As the white half of an inter-racial marriage, I'm now negotiating fault lines I never paid attention to before. But I'm comforted by history. My Irish ancestors were once not considered white, while my German ancestors had their businesses confiscated in World War II. Now I'm a mainstream mutt, and I'm quite sure my descendants will be as well.

  • The US went through a similar pay-for-play mess during the Gilded Age (Remember the Maine?). While some of the companies of that time are still around, none of the prominent families of that era are prominent today. Many are still wealthy to some degree, but even died bankrupt decades ago.

  • While I see a number of huge crises trundling down the path towards us, I'm not particularly worried about the current super-wealthy setting up the New Feudalism. History seems to show that most of them aren't any better at negotiating the future than I am, whatever their PR says.

    60:

    In other words, New Yorkers and Republican politicians can't stand the thought of having a single Al Qaeda member in New York for a criminal trial.

    As I recall there was NO support from pols of ANY strip willing to support trials in their districts. Except for a few locals wanting the jobs if they would jail them there. This was not a position exclusive to the Rs.

    61:

    Things have gone up and down since then, and there's little that's special about the 1890s.

    The 1890s is a useful marker, however, because it marks the closing of the frontier. Up to that decade, you have the dynamic of an expanding and rather lawless frontier. After that time, you have consolidation of state power within a colonized territory. It marks, in other words, a turning point in US history. (Not so much a turning point in the treatment of native Americans -- other than insofar as the expanding frontier stopped intersecting with new populations.)

    In the long term, the loss of relative advantage of the US among world powers will not automatically translate into a loss of absolute standard of living for Americans. (At least, that's how things played out in the UK. A soft landing from empire is possible.)

    62:

    I don't want to cause your blood pressure to go any Higher Charlie, BUT ..have you read the New York Times as of this morning? ....

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html?_r=1&hp

    " Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has a new project.

    By MARK MAZZETTI and EMILY B. HAGER

    Published: May 14, 2011 .....

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand. Copy of Mercenary Contract ....

    Doug Mills/The New York Times

    Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi hired Erik Prince to build a fighting force.

    The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

    Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times. "

    But I 'm more than a little miffed by this - given this mornings news that the Tories are devoting themselves to the welfare of the U.Ks armed forces -so why shouldn't I spread the Joy around a bit ?

    63:

    “The US killed bin Laden not to fight terrorism and not to eradicate groups it claims as terrorist but as [part of] its election propaganda to win people's votes in the election,” said President Ahmadinejad in a meeting with participants in the International Conference on Global Alliance against Terrorism for a Just Peace (GAATJP) in the capital Tehran on Sunday. The Iranian chief executive added that he has “precise information” that bin Laden was being held by US military for a long time before his death, IRNA reported.

    Oh well, at least he seems to think it was bin Laden, and not some ringer.

    64:

    Remember ..." Carlos the Jackal " who scurried around the world for decades being Public Enemy No ! ..until it became convenient to catch him, at which time he faded into obscurity as the Next Super Villain did appear ?

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2076014.ece

    We NEED Super Villains !

    That being said my own plans to Rule The World from my Secret H.Q beneath an extinct Volcano situated in the U.K. have undergone a severe setback given the collapse of property values in the UK/Scotland and the cost of Retro Chic 60s interior decoration ...also the Minions maundering on about ' Pension Plans ' and such like.

    65:

    On the topic of Erik Prince -- why is Ian Fleming dead when we so badly need to read his [fictional] treatment of Prince?

    I mean, if this guy isn't a real-life Bond villain, who is?

    (Nobody say "Elon Musk". He's got boiler-suited goons, a tropical island HQ where he builds space rockets, and an electric car, but he doesn't actually seem to want to take over the world. Ahem. Our world.)

    66:

    I know, I KNOW ...the nearest I can come to a Prince Super villain is in " The Fifth Element " the wonderfully kitsch Luc Besson film .. I particularly love the 'Diva Sings ' episode in which Milla Jovitch beats up Alien Lizard Mercenary Pirates whist elsewhere Opera is Being Sung by a Diva who is just about to be shot.. now wots not to love about that?

    67:

    Er .. that is to say 'Prince ' the Singer, and artist ' formally known as .. ' as against 'Prince the ego-centric Mercenary Bastard.

    68:

    Besson took the term "space opera" a bit too seriously, if you ask me -- I don't recall that scene serving any plot-advancing purpose other than, hey, opera in space!

    69:

    Ted Koppel suggests we get rid of "democracy". (his quotes)

    70:

    Those in the US can watch Freedom Riders on the American Experience program on PBS tomorrow night.

    71:

    The Reuters version of EP's new company.

    72:

    If you want semi-interesting and hilariously funny porn (ish) ... Try THIS entry

    The preceding and following ones are quite good as well - however, unless you are into railway operation, I would not suggest going any further ....

    73:

    The dropout rate from the ruling class doesn't alter their behaviour, they just assume the casualties were 'weak sisters' and carry on as though it was all going to work. They have a strong group identity and mostly have an indifference to people who aren't as rich as they are. Berlusconi's Russian girlfriend says she met him at a billionaire party, where she was 'Miss Billionaire'. She flattered him shamelessly in a media interview. It was shocking stuff. The new rich are more dangerous than the old, as they believe they got their wealth on merit, and see the rest of us as lesser mortals. The ranks of the rich are now dominated by parvenus, who are much more Darwinian the the old families.

    74:
    The new rich are more dangerous than the old, as they believe they got their wealth on merit, and see the rest of us as lesser mortals.

    Why, it's almost as though they've reinvented the divine right of kings. (See also "Mandate of heaven", "God-emperor", etc.)

    Rich/powerful people have always liked to think that it's purely the result of merit - otherwise, they would have to consider the possibility that they could equally easily have been a pauper. Much more satisfying to believe that you're a millionaire because you're naturally superior (and/or favoured by god) than because you got lucky.

    75:

    Back to the original topic.

    Prior to the announcement of the US finding porn in bin Laden's bedroom The Register (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/06/aq_hard_disk_treasure_trove/) stated "In distinction, and contrary also to the severe cultural norms of Islam, a slim majority of hard drives collected in Britain or Iraq have been found to contain, in deleted browser records or wiped but not erased hard drive areas, evidence of browsing and viewing of porn sites. The computers of at least two of those accused of planning some of Britain’s most serious offences of the past decade have even shown rather more interest in male than female images – ironic when contrasted to the hatefilled homophobic prose as well as severe imprecations against "immodesty" found in the undeleted parts of the same hard drives."

    So, I wasn't surprised when I heard the news. The article also discusses other items commonly found on jihadist's computers.

    76:

    Steve Martin figured it out and posted it on Twitter:

    http://twitter.com/SteveMartinToGo/status/69231987591872512

    77:

    I think Elon Musk wants to be a real-life D.D. Harriman, in the vein of Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold The Moon." As for Erk Prince, if you read that article all the way through, it looks like the Colombians aren't quite working out. Their "soldier's pay" attitudes didn't endear them to the straitlaced locals.

    Unlike the great Bond villains, Sgt. Prince and his Howling Commandoes aren't exactly a global threat. In Abu Dhabi, he's just the help. And if the sheiks use him to block the Arab 1848, he could face a war crimes rap as well. Not good for his stateside revenue stream. He's got friends, but they don't love him enough to go out on a limb to save him.

    The 1890s are special in another way too. Mark Twain had a go at General Funston, following testimony of the latter's suppression of the Philippine Insurrection through deceit and torture, the latter including the "water cure," the first documented case of waterboarding by US forces.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cure_%28torture%29

    And--whaddya know--a connection to my hometown of Houston, TX. One Sheriff James "Humpy" Parker, the Terror of Highway 59 was a fan of waterboarding for getting false confessions out of anyone unlucky enough to be pulled over by his thugs.

    And I'll bet there's porn for that too.

    78:
    I'm not particularly worried about the current super-wealthy setting up the New Feudalism.

    I agree with you if we're talking about the chattering classes and the absentee owners. But the Lords of Finance seem to be adept at siphoning money out of the economy (and everybody else's pockets). Last I heard, they'd made off with several trillion US dollars and about 9 million jobs. And I see signs that they're setting up to do it again, before the economy has even had a chance to bounce back to where it was after the recovery from the dot.bust.

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