Keeping someone in solitary for more than 15 days constitutes torture

Friday, February 8th, 2019

Professional gambler Rich Alati took an unusual bet:

On 10 September last year, the American was sitting at a poker table at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, when he was asked a question by a fellow professional player, Rory Young: how much would it take for him to spend time in complete isolation, with no light, for 30 days? An hour later a price had been agreed: $100,000.

Young would hand over the money if Alati could last 30 days in a soundproofed bathroom with no light. He would be delivered food from a local restaurant, but the meals would come at irregular intervals to prevent him from keeping track of time. There would be no TV, radio, phone or access to the outside world but he would be allowed some comforts: a yoga mat, resistance band, massage ball, and, appropriately for a bathroom, lavender essential oils as well as a sugar and salt scrub. If Alati failed he would have to pay Young $100,000.

[...]

Dr Michael Munro, a psychologist Young consulted before agreeing to the bet, told Young: “Even if he lasts for 30 days, it will be extremely taxing on his mental health for the short and potentially long term.”

There’s good reason for such caution. Solitary confinement is often used as punishment, most notably in the United States, where inmates in solitary are isolated in their cells 23 hours a day. The United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary for more than 15 days constitutes torture.

[...]

But Alati was confident. He had practiced meditation and yoga, and was certain his experiences at silent retreats would help him. On 21 November, a crowd of families and friends gathered at the house where the challenge would take place. Alati and Young’s lawyers were there as well as cameramen from a production company interested in buying television rights to the story. For that reason, as well as safety, the entire bet would be recorded. Alati’s father was given the power to pull Alati out at any time should he show signs of not being “in the right headspace,” as Alati puts it.

[...]

Around the 10-day mark, Young started to worry that Alati might make the 30 days, noting he looked “totally fine”. He worried he had miscalculated: Young hadn’t known Alati – a gregarious, fast talker – for long before they had made the bet. “His personality did not reflect that of someone who was proficient with meditation,” Young said.

On day 15, Young’s voice came on over the loudspeaker. Alati jumped out of bed, happy to hear a voice that wasn’t his own. Young told Alati that he had been in for around two weeks and that he had an offer for him: Alati could leave if he paid out $50,000.

[...]

Alati waited for a few days until Young came back on the loudspeaker and asked if he had any offers of his own. Alati said he wouldn’t come out for less than $75,000, to which Young countered with an offer of $40,000. They settled on $62,400. Alati had had been in the silence and dark for 20 days.

There is no trace to follow

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

The Internet is full of commercial activity, not all of it legal. Dropgangs may be the future of darknet markets:

To prevent the problems of customer binding, and losing business when darknet markets go down, merchants have begun to leave the specialized and centralized platforms and instead ventured to use widely accessible technology to build their own communications and operational back-ends.

Instead of using websites on the darknet, merchants are now operating invite-only channels on widely available mobile messaging systems like Telegram. This allows the merchant to control the reach of their communication better and be less vulnerable to system take-downs. To further stabilize the connection between merchant and customer, repeat customers are given unique messaging contacts that are independent of shared channels and thus even less likely to be found and taken down. Channels are often operated by automated bots that allow customers to inquire about offers and initiate the purchase, often even allowing a fully bot-driven experience without human intervention on the merchant’s side.

The use of messaging platforms provides a much better user experience to the customers, who can now reach their suppliers with mobile applications they are used to already. It also means that a larger part of the communication isn’t routed through the Tor or I2P networks anymore but each side — merchant and customer — employ their own protection technology, often using widely spread VPNs.

The other major change is the use of “dead drops” instead of the postal system which has proven vulnerable to tracking and interception. Now, goods are hidden in publicly accessible places like parks and the location is given to the customer on purchase. The customer then goes to the location and picks up the goods. This means that delivery becomes asynchronous for the merchant, he can hide a lot of product in different locations for future, not yet known, purchases. For the client the time to delivery is significantly shorter than waiting for a letter or parcel shipped by traditional means — he has the product in his hands in a matter of hours instead of days. Furthermore this method does not require for the customer to give any personally identifiable information to the merchant, which in turn doesn’t have to safeguard it anymore. Less data means less risk for everyone.

The use of dead drops also significantly reduces the risk of the merchant to be discovered by tracking within the postal system. He does not have to visit any easily to surveil post office or letter box, instead the whole public space becomes his hiding territory.

Cryptocurrencies are still the main means of payment, but due to the higher customer-binding, and vetting process by the merchant, escrows are seldom employed. Usually only multi-party transactions between customer and merchant are established, and often not even that.

Marketing and initial vetting of both merchant and customer now happens in darknet forums and chat channels that themselves aren’t involved in any deal anymore. In these places merchants and customers take part in the discussion of best procedures, methods and prices. The market connects and develops best practices by sharing experience. Furthermore these places also serve as record of reputation, though in a still very primitive way.

Other than allowing much more secure and efficient business for both sides of the transaction, this has also led to changes in the organizational structure of merchants:

Instead of the flat hierarchies witnessed with darknet markets, merchants today employ hierarchical structures again. These consist of procurement layer, sales layer, and distribution layer. The people constituting each layer usually do not know the identity of the higher layers nor are ever in personal contact with them. All interaction is digital — messaging systems and cryptocurrencies again, product moves only through dead drops.

The procurement layer purchases product wholesale and smuggles it into the region. It is then sold for cryptocurrency to select people that operate the sales layer. After that transaction the risks of both procurement and sales layer are isolated.

The sales layer divides the product into smaller units and gives the location of those dead drops to the distribution layer. The distribution layer then divides the product again and places typical sales quantities into new dead drops. The location of these dead drops is communicated to the sales layer which then sells these locations to the customers through messaging systems.

To prevent theft by the distribution layer, the sales layer randomly tests dead drops by tasking different members of the distribution layer with picking up product from a dead drop and hiding it somewhere else, after verification of the contents. Usually each unit of product is tagged with a piece of paper containing a unique secret word which is used to prove to the sales layer that a dead drop was found. Members of the distribution layer have to post security — in the form of cryptocurrency — to the sales layer, and they lose part of that security with every dead drop that fails the testing, and with every dead drop they failed to test. So far, no reports of using violence to ensure performance of members of these structures has become known.

This concept of using messaging, cryptocurrency and dead drops even within the merchant structure allows for the members within each layer being completely isolated from each other, and not knowing anything about higher layers at all. There is no trace to follow if a distribution layer member is captured while servicing a dead drop. He will often not even be distinguishable from a regular customer. This makes these structures extremely secure against infiltration, takeover and capture. They are inherently resilient.

Furthermore the members of the sales layer often employ advanced physical tradecraft to prevent surveillance by the procurement layer when they pick up product. This makes it very hard to dismantle such a structure from the top.

If members of such a structure are captured they usually have no critical information to share, no information about persons, places, times of meeting. No interaction that would make this information necessary ever takes place.

It is because of the use of dead drops and hierarchical structures that we call this kind of organization a Dropgang.

The result of this evolution is a highly decentralized, specialized and resilient method of running black market commerce. Less information is acquired, shipments are faster, isolation between participants is high, and multiple independent sales channels are established.

Pay attention to all of the following body language

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Greg Ellifritz shares the crime prevention chapter from his upcoming third-world travel book, where he discusses pre-assault indicators:

Pay attention to all of the following body language:

Hands – Hands above the waistline and or being clenched are a warning sign. Look at people who are calm and are not angry. Their hands will be relaxed and generally below waist level. When the hands come up, get ready for action. Any time a person is hiding his hands may indicate that he is in possession of a weapon.

Lower body – Standing in a bladed stance with one leg (and the same side hand) back and out of view is a sign that the person has hostile intentions or is concealing a weapon. Standing on the balls of the feet indicates that the person is getting ready for rapid movement, which may also precede an attack

Arm movements – Wide gesticulating outside the framework of the body is threat and posturing. It’s the sign of a person who is trying to blow off some steam. Gestures inside the body frame and pointing are more closely associated with violent actions.

Breathing – As adrenaline spikes, the criminal’s breathing rate will increase. If you notice someone who appears to be “panting,” it should be a warning sign. Likewise, it should also be a warning when you see or hear someone take a big, deep, breath or audibly sigh. The criminal may be taking these actions to consciously slow his breathing rate and calm down so that he doesn’t prematurely alert you to his plans.

[...]

Masking Behaviors, Pacifying Actions and “Grooming Cues” – One of the really obvious pre-assault indicators is the unnecessary touching of the face, neck, or upper body. Described using different terms depending on the expert cited, these actions all have the same purpose, to “hide” psychological discomfort.

As criminals are evaluating you as a victim or planning their attack, their stress levels rise. The criminals don’t want to get hurt and they don’t want to get caught. The idea of pain, death, or imprisonment amps up the criminal’s fear and baseline level of stress. They know this is happening and subconsciously fear that you will pick up on their nervousness and do something to prevent their successful commission of the crime.

The criminal doesn’t want you to see his psychological stress reactions, so he subconsciously “masks” them by covering his face, eyes, or neck.

[...]

“Target Glancing” – When a criminal wants to steal something from you, he has to figure out how to physically remove it from your protection. Sometimes that takes time. While the criminal is figuring out his plan of action, he will likely be staring at what he wants to take. This is called this “target glancing.”

Any time someone stares intently at some item (especially a valuable item) in your possession, assume that he is planning on stealing it. Immediately implement countermeasures to ensure that he won’t be able to proceed with the criminal activity he is planning. If you take immediate action, there is a good chance the criminal will become frustrated and move on to another victim.

“Looking Around” – Immediately prior to his attack, the criminal has to make sure that there is no one in the immediate area who can frustrate his plans. The criminal will take a quick look around to ensure there are no cops or security guards in the area. He may also be looking for cameras or escape routes. This indicator almost always occurs. If you are being approached by someone who displays a grooming cue and then looks left and right in a furtive manner, get ready. You are about to be attacked.

While we are discussing the direction that a criminal may look, I should also mention criminals often “check their tail.” They look behind themselves to see if anyone is following or watching. If you are observing someone and you notice frequent looks to the rear, you can safely assume that the person you are watching is a criminal, a cop, or a spy. You don’t want to have contact with any of those people.

Predatory Movement Patterns – Criminals targeting you will regularly move in a predictable fashion. Anyone attempting to correlate their movement with yours (following, paralleling, directly approaching in crowds) should be viewed as a danger. Running directly towards you is an obvious threat cue.

People who turn or look away when you notice them are worthy of your attention. A conspicuous lack of movement should also ping your radar. People who are sitting in parked cars without getting out should be watched suspiciously.

A sudden change in status (focusing of attention) – If someone is watching you then suddenly looks away, he is probably trying to hide his attention. Likewise if someone “locks in” on you with his eyes, you should be ready for a potential attack.

It was the usual horror story

Friday, January 25th, 2019

I can’t say I know much about Mother Jones, but I was surprised to see them publish a “scary” look into the science of smoking pot:

It’s been a few years since Alex Berenson has “committed journalism,” as he likes to say. As a New York Times reporter, Berenson did two tours covering the Iraq War, an experience that inspired him to write his first of nearly a dozen spy novels. Starting with the 2006 Edgar Award-winning The Faithful Spy, his books were so successful that he left the Times in 2010 to write fiction full time. But his latest book, out January 8, strays far from the halls of Langley and the jihadis of Afghanistan. Tell Your Children is nonfiction that takes a sledgehammer to the promised benefits of marijuana legalization, and cannabis enthusiasts are not going to like it one bit.

The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson’s wife, a psychiatrist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was “the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment — typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house,” he writes. But then, his wife added, “Of course he was high, been smoking pot his whole life.”

Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn’t have strong feelings about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate pizza and played video games — they didn’t hack up family members. Yet his Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the science on the subject.

We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th century, when a Punjabi lawyer in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related insanity. The lawyer, like Berenson’s wife, described horrific crimes — including at least one beheading — and attributed far more cases of mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in 1920 — nearly 20 years before the United States did — after years of reports of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.

Over the past couple of decades, studies around the globe have found that THC — the active compound in cannabis — is strongly linked to psychosis, schizophrenia, and violence. Berenson interviewed far-flung researchers who have quietly but methodically documented the effects of THC on serious mental illness, and he makes a convincing case that a recreational drug marketed as an all-around health product may, in fact, be really dangerous — especially for people with a family history of mental illness and for adolescents with developing brains.

A 2002 study in BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) found that people who used cannabis by age 15 were four times as likely to develop schizophrenia or a related syndrome as those who’d never used. Even when the researchers excluded kids who had shown signs of psychosis by age 11, they found that the adolescent users had a threefold higher risk of demonstrating symptoms of schizophrenia later on. One Dutch marijuana researcher that Berenson spoke with estimated, based on his own work, that marijuana could be responsible for as much as 10 percent of psychosis in places where heavy use is common.

These studies are hardly Reagan-esque, drug warrior hysteria. In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine issued a report nearly 500 pages long on the health effects of cannabis and concluded that marijuana use is strongly associated with the development of psychosis and schizophrenia. The researchers also noted that there’s decent evidence linking pot consumption to worsening symptoms of bipolar disorder and to a heightened risk of suicide, depression, and social anxiety disorders: “The higher the use, the greater the risk.”

Given that marijuana use is up 50 percent over the past decade, if the studies are accurate, we should be experiencing a big increase in psychotic diseases. And we are, Berenson argues. He reports that from 2006 to 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of ER visitors co-diagnosed with psychosis and a cannabis use disorder tripled, from 30,000 to 90,000.

Legalization advocates would say Berenson and the researchers have it backwards: Pot doesn’t cause mental illness; mental illness drives self-medication with pot. But scientists find that theory wanting. Longitudinal studies in New Zealand, Sweden, and the Netherlands spanning several decades identified an association between cannabis and mental illness even when accounting for prior signs of mental illness. In an editorial published alongside the influential 2002 BMJ study on psychosis and marijuana, two Australian psychiatrists wrote that these and other findings “strengthen the argument that use of cannabis increases the risk of schizophrenia and depression, and they provide little support for the belief that the association between marijuana use and mental health problems is largely due to self-medication.”

One of the book’s most convincing arguments against the self-medication theory is that psychosis and schizophrenia are diseases that typically strike people during adolescence or in their early 20s. But with increasing pot use, the number of people over 30 coming into the ER with psychosis has also shot up, suggesting that cannabis might be a cause of mental illness in people with no prior history of it.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a similar piece in the New Yorker, emphasizing how little we know about marijuana compared to legal drugs, and Berenson himself has an opinion piece in the New York Times, where he points out that many of the same people pressing for marijuana legalization argued that the risks of opioid addiction could be easily managed.

The incredibly unpopular idea that could stem opioid deaths

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Megan McArdle sees two options for dealing with the fentanyl epidemic:

Keep doing what we’re doing and let addicts keep dying as they’re dying, until the opioid epidemic burns itself out. Or start talking about ways to make safe, reliable doses of opiates available to addicts who aren’t ready to stop. That would mean opening more methadone clinics and making it less onerous for doctors to prescribe buprenorphine, a relatively mild opioid that’s difficult to overdose on. But lowering the death toll may well require a more drastic step: legalizing prescriptions of stronger opiates.

Prescription heroin? Remember, I said you might not like the solution. I don’t like it, either — and frankly, neither do the drug policy researchers who told me it may be necessary. But when fentanyl took over the U.S. illicit drug markets, it also got a lot of addicts as hostages. We’ll never be able to rescue them unless we can first keep them alive long enough to be saved.

He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Greg Ellifritz reviews Vincent Sellers’s Eyes Pried Open, which offers some insight into the FBI:

The author of the book worked in corporate America but had a lifelong dream of becoming an agent. He left the corporate world and became an agent, serving for slightly less than two years.

It is painfully obvious that the author has zero police sense or comfort with violence. He laments the rigorous training he endured in the academy — they made them do pushups and everything….

He notices and complains that the agent trainees who had prior law enforcement experience seemed to fit in better with the “militant” nature of the FBI. The author struggles to reconcile his naïve world view with the reality he faces when he’s assigned to the violent crime squad in San Diego, CA. For instance, his first arrest involves picking up someone being released from a county jail for a Federal human trafficking warrant. The author feels guilty for re-imprisoning a guy who thought he was getting out. He downplays the significance of the human trafficking charge and seems to legitimately feel bad.

Later in the book, after seeing the nature of law enforcement along the border, he is a very strong proponent of building a wall to keep the bad people out. He talks about the numerous kidnapping cases he worked and how none of them involved innocent parties. Every kidnapping victim and kidnapper were eyes deep in criminal activity and all of it with a cross-border connection.

The author decides to leave after less than two years because the job is too hard on his home life. Apparently, he didn’t know that he’d have to work long days and be on-call for certain weekends. Despite being well published and high for law enforcement across the nation, he complains about his “modest” salary and how it doesn’t let him live in the manner to which he’s accustomed.

I’m convinced that he realized he could not handle what was required of him and opted out (which I can respect). I think his adamant support of a border wall shows an awareness that evil exists but his inability to internalize the ability to confront evil drives him away. The amount of cognitive dissonance this whole experience engenders is amazing. He’s terrified about the evil that lurks out there but is unable to deal with it himself and maintains a deep suspicion of those who can.

It was the Holy Spirit calling the demon out of the church

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

Last November, Stephen Willeford became the ultimate good guy with a gun:

On most Sunday mornings, Willeford would have been 45 minutes away, in San Antonio, at the Church of Christ he and his family had attended since his kids were young. But on November 5, 2017, he decided to stay home and rest up. He was scheduled to be on call the upcoming week at San Antonio’s University Hospital, and he knew he’d inevitably be summoned for a middle-of-the-night plumbing emergency. He had drifted to sleep sometime before 11:30 a.m. when his oldest daughter, Stephanie, came into his bedroom and woke him up. She asked if he heard gunfire.

He did hear something, but to Willeford it sounded like someone was tapping on the window. He looked outside but didn’t see anyone. He pulled on a pair of jeans and went to the living room, where the walls were less insulated. The sound was louder there. It was definitely gunfire, he realized, but he couldn’t tell where it was coming from.

He rushed into a back room and opened his steel gun safe, where he stows his collection of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Without hesitation, he snatched one of his AR-15s. He’d put the rifle together himself, swapping out parts and upgrading here and there over the years. It was light, good for mobility, and could shoot quickly. It wasn’t as accurate as some of his other rifles but good enough to hit the bowling pins he and his friends used for targets. He loaded a handful of rounds into the magazine.

Meanwhile, Stephanie had jumped in her car to drive around the block to investigate. Willeford’s neighborhood, in central Sutherland Springs, consists of modest ranch-style homes and trailers. The town itself is tiny, about six hundred people, a blue-collar agricultural community. Stephanie returned a minute or so later. She told her father she had seen a man wearing black tactical gear at the Baptist church just down the street, about 150 yards away.

Willeford and his family know almost everyone who attends the church. Some of the elder members of the congregation knew his great-grandparents. Each Christmas, he rides his Harley with a motorcycle group from the church that delivers toys to poor kids across the county.

He called his wife, Pam, who was five miles away, drywalling the house the family was building for their youngest daughter, Rachel, who was almost three months pregnant at the time, and her husband. Willeford told Pam that there was an active shooter at the church and asked her to stay put. The last thing he heard before hanging up was her pleading, “Don’t go over there!”

Then he barreled out the front door, down the street toward the church. He didn’t even bother to put shoes on.

Stephanie tried to follow, but he turned and asked her to go back inside and load another magazine for him (he wanted to give her a task so she wouldn’t leave the house).

As he approached the old white chapel, he screamed as loud as he could, “Hey!” To this day, he’s not sure why—he knows that giving away your position is foolish, tactically—but friends inside the church later told him that when the gunman heard Willeford’s cry, he stopped shooting and headed for the front door. “It was the Holy Spirit calling the demon out of the church,” he tells people.

Just as Willeford reached the front yard of Fred and Kathleen Curnow, whose house faces the church entrance, a man wearing black body armor and a helmet with a visor emerged from the church. Willeford scrambled behind the front tire of Fred’s Dodge Ram. The gunman raised his pistol and fired three times. One bullet hit the truck. One hit the Dodge Challenger parked behind him. One hit the house.

Willeford propped his AR-15 on the pickup’s hood and peered through the sight. He could see a holographic red dot on the man’s chest. He fired twice. He wasn’t sure he’d hit him, though he was later told that the man had contusions on his chest and abdomen consistent with getting shot while wearing body armor. Regardless, the gunman stopped shooting and ran for a white Ford Explorer that was idling outside the chapel, roughly twenty yards from where Willeford had positioned himself.

As the shooter rounded the front of the Explorer, Willeford noticed that the man’s vest didn’t cover the sides of his torso. Willeford fired twice more, striking the man once beneath the arm—in an unprotected spot—and once in the thigh.

The man leaped into the vehicle, slammed the door, and fired twice through the driver’s side window. Willeford aimed for where he thought his target’s head would be and pulled the trigger, shattering the driver’s side window completely. The Explorer sped away, turning north onto FM 539, and Willeford ran into the street and got off another shot, this time shattering the SUV’s rear window.

The vehicle roared out of view. For a moment, it seemed he had gotten away. Then Willeford looked to his left and noticed a navy-blue Dodge Ram stopped at a nearby crossroad.

Johnnie Langendorff, a 27-year-old who had driven down from Seguin, thirty minutes north, that morning to visit his girlfriend, had arrived at the intersection across the street from the church just as the gunman walked out and began firing at Willeford. Langendorff had already dialed 911 when Willeford, whom he’d never met, ran toward him, barefoot and brandishing a warm AR-15.

“That guy just shot up the church,” Willeford shouted. “We need to stop him.”

The next thing Willeford remembers hearing was the sound of Langendorff’s doors unlocking. He hopped in the truck, and they sped after the Explorer.

Going north from Sutherland Springs, FM 539 is a two-lane blacktop that winds around craggy hills, through open pastures, past a handful of ranch houses toward Guadalupe County. As they raced after the Explorer, Langendorff topped 90 miles per hour, overtaking four or five other cars along the way. He stayed on the phone with the 911 dispatcher and updated their location every time they passed a cross street. They’d traveled seven or eight miles when they came around a bend and, for the first time, spotted the Explorer a few hundred feet ahead.

“If we catch him, we may have to put him off the road,” Willeford said.

Langendorff nodded. “I already figured that.”

As they closed in on the SUV, it swerved back and forth across both lanes and then, abruptly, careered off the road into a ditch. Langendorff pulled up about five yards behind the Explorer. Willeford clutched the AR-15 in his right hand— he only had two rounds remaining, not enough to survive another shootout—and reached down to open the door with his left. Just as he was stepping out, the Explorer peeled off, plowing through a street sign on its way back to the road. Willeford closed his door. Langendorff stomped on the gas. The SUV made it only a few hundred yards before veering off the road, smashing through a fence, and rolling to a stop roughly thirty feet into a field.

Langendorff put the truck in park on the road, about fifty yards from the Explorer. Willeford told Langendorff to duck under the dash as he, for the second time in a span of ten minutes, posted up behind the front tire of a Dodge Ram, perching his rifle on the hood. He screamed at the man in the SUV, who didn’t budge or utter a sound. (He says he isn’t proud of the language he used that day, that he was angry in the moment.) He’s not sure how long he stayed there before hearing the voice of a police officer on a PA behind him.

“Driver, put down your weapon and come out with your hands up,” Willeford remembers the officer saying. When the officer repeated himself, Willeford laid his rifle on the hood and turned toward the squad car.

“Not you!” the officer shouted.

Soon, other officers arrived. To Willeford’s recollection, there were a dozen, at least, from jurisdictions all over the area. Rather than assault the vehicle, they decided to dispatch a drone to inspect the SUV for any movement inside. An officer arrived with the drone after nearly an hour, and through its camera they could see that the gunman was dead in the driver’s seat. Willeford watched as the officers cautiously converged on the Explorer, until they were close enough to peer through the window. The fatal wound was a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

Terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society

Saturday, November 24th, 2018

Gary Saul Morson concludes his history of Russian terrorism with these words:

Dostoyevsky’s Possessed had suggested that terrorist success depends on support from polite liberal society, and that proved accurate. The division of people into friends and enemies, the celebration of righteous anger, and the romanticization of violence eventually led to a state based on sheer terror. In the name of the many, the radical intelligentsia and their liberal defenders made possible the rule of the chosen few.

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

After 1917, Socialists-Revolutionaries and anarchists denounced the Bolsheviks as betrayers of the cause, Gary Saul Morson notes, but all the Bolsheviks did was direct the same tactics against them that they had directed against others:

The terrorist state emerged directly from the terrorist movement and did so without a break. The Bolsheviks employed terror — including random killing, taking hostages, and seizing property by force — as soon as they took power. Lenin set up the Cheka, his secret police force, in December 1917, before the Bolsheviks faced any serious armed resistance. That same month Trotsky declaimed: “There is nothing immoral in the proletariat finishing off the dying class…. Be put on notice that in one month at most this terror will assume more frightful forms.” Concentration camps were set up in 1918. We “must execute not only the guilty,” Nikolai Krylenko, a top Bolshevik, demanded. “Execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.” Even in relatively peaceful 1922, Lenin wrote that in any new criminal code “jurisprudence must not eliminate terror…. It must vindicate and legalize it.’”

At first the goal is social justice

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

The history of Russian terrorism reads like fiction — for a reason:

Boris Savinkov’s life not only reads like fiction but, as historian Lynn Ellen Patyk has argued, was consciously lived according to fictional models. As director of the SR Combat Organization, Savinkov organized several important assassinations. His career also included a prison escape, a later attempt to set up a new combat organization, service in the French Army during World War I, a cabinet post in Alexander Kerensky’s Provisional Government, and the founding of a terrorist organization directed against the Bolsheviks. Pretending to be a group of his followers, Bolshevik officials lured him from abroad, arrested him, and condemned him to death, after which he offered to join them. He begged the head of the secret police, Feliks Dzherzhinsky, to be employed in more terror, but soon after, in 1925, either committed suicide or, more likely, was defenestrated. Much later, Stalin, demanding that one of his henchmen employ more torture during interrogations, supposedly exclaimed: “Do you want to be more humanistic than Lenin, who ordered Dzherzhinsky to throw Savinkov out a window?”

The hero of Savinkov’s novel What Never Happened at last realizes that “he had fallen in love, yes, yes, fallen in love with terror.” Savinkov’s own memoirs describe one figure after another who shared this passion. His friend Kaliayev, a terrorist almost as famous as Savinkov himself, “dreamed of future terror… he said to me… ‘A Socialist-Revolutionary without a bomb is no longer a Socialist-Revolutionary.’” Savinkov describes Christians who worship terror and a “convinced disciple of Kant… [who] nevertheless regarded terror with almost religious reverence.” Russian philosophers are a breed of their own.

Savinkov’s career exhibits a dynamic found in most, if not all, revolutionary movements. At first the goal is social justice, which must be achieved by revolution. Soon the goal becomes revolution itself, which in turn requires terror. Finally, terror itself becomes the goal. Whenever sufficient justification for a position is that it is more radical, and whenever compromise suggests cowardice or collusion, the drift toward greater horror becomes irresistible.

Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

The Russian revolutionaries had no more effective advocate abroad than the charismatic Stepniak, Gary Saul Morson explains:

Stepniak made his literary reputation with Underground Russia (1882), written in Italian but soon translated into English, Swedish, German, French, Dutch, and Hungarian. The best commentator on Stepniak, Peter Scotto, stresses the significance of a letter Stepniak wrote to some Russian comrades to explain why the book was less than candid. Underground Russia was designed, Stepniak explained in the letter, to convince polite Europeans that Russian radicals shared their liberal ideals — a bald-faced lie — even if they were compelled to resort, highly reluctantly, to violence. Westerners won’t sympathize if you talk to them the way we talk among ourselves, he cautioned, and so you must omit mentioning our program and illuminate the movement “in a way that makes it clear that the aspirations of Russian socialists are identical — temporarily, to be sure — with those of the radicals of European revolutions.” By “temporarily” Stepniak means that the radicals demand civil liberties only so long as they make terrorism easier. “Propaganda in Russian for Russian youth should, of course, have a completely different character.”

Stalin added very little to this sort of thinking

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

What motivated Russian nihilist terrorists?

Solzhenitsyn got it right: what is most remarkable in the memoirs of terrorists is how rarely they express concern for the unfortunate. “Sympathy for the suffering of the people did not move me to join those who perished,” Vera Zasulich explains. “I had never heard of the horrors of serfdom [when growing up] at Biakolovo — and I don’t think there were any.”

Then what did motivate terrorists? Zasulich describes how as a girl she wished to become a Christian martyr, but when she lost her faith, terrorism offered a substitute martyrdom. Some men and women were, like Veronika, attracted to the excitement of living the prescribed terrorist biography. The fact that life was likely to be short endowed each moment with a vertiginous intensity that became addictive, and many reported that they could not live for long without committing another murder.

Zasulich also saw terrorism as an escape from a lifelong feeling that she “didn’t belong. No one ever held me, kissed me, or sat me on his knee; no one called me pet names. The servants abused me.” Like many others, she loved the camaraderie of the closely knit terrorist circle, in which mortal danger created bonds of intimacy experienced nowhere else. Many found the idea of suicide enchanting. We often think of suicide bombing as a modern invention, but it, too, was pioneered by the Russians.

It never occurs to these memoirists that their motives are entirely selfish. They amount to saying that one practices terrorism for one’s own satisfaction. Other people, whose suffering is a mere excuse, become what Alexander Herzen called “liberation fodder.” Interestingly enough, some heroes of Savinkov’s novels do know that such murder is above all self-affirmation. As aesthetes affirm art for art’s sake, they accept terror for terror’s sake. “Earlier I had an excuse,” one hero reflects, “I was killing for the sake of an ideal, for a cause…. But now I have killed for my own sake. I wanted to kill, and I killed…. Why is it right to kill for the sake of an ideal… and not for one’s own sake?”

Like Kropotkin’s autobiography, Figner’s became a classic, but the two differ in one important respect. Figner is utterly unable even to imagine any point of view but her own. “My mind was not encumbered with notions and doubts,” she explains. She describes her early life as the sudden discovery of one unquestionable truth after another. “Every truth, once recognized, became thereby compulsory for my will. This was the logic of my character.” Although she disdains attachment to any specific socialist program, she is certain that socialism will at once cure all ills. She gives up medicine for revolution when she concludes that medicine can only palliate ailments but socialism will eliminate them.

After the revolution, Bolsheviks insisted that anyone who differed from party dogma in the slightest respect deserved liquidation: There could be no nuance or middle ground. Figner, too, presumes that no decent person could think otherwise. “If all means of convincing him [someone who disagrees] have been tried and alike found fruitless,” she explains matter-of-factly, “there remains for the revolutionist only physical violence: the dagger, the revolver, and dynamite.”

To be a terrorist, Figner explains, one must practice constant deception. One lives under a false identity and regularly abuses trust. One spreads rumors among the peasants and plants spies in the enemy’s camp. So it is mind-boggling to read of her shock upon discovering that she herself has been deceived. It turned out that her comrade Degaev was working for the police. His betrayal led to her capture, but what did that matter “in the face of what Degaev had done, who had shaken the foundation of life itself, that faith in people without which a revolutionist cannot act? He had lied, dissimulated, and deceived…. To experience such a betrayal was a blow beyond all words. It took away the moral beauty of mankind, the beauty of the revolution and of life itself.” The same act is not the same act.

On one page Figner denounces the unjust persecution of radicals’ harmless work in the countryside while on the next she describes their work as revolutionary propaganda. With no irony she says that soon after Perovskaya killed the czar she “was treacherously seized on the street.” She finds imprisonment of terrorists immoral even though she also claims that upon release they immediately resume killing. How dare the government defend itself! She mentions only casually the death of many innocent bystanders, as if no one could seriously object. More horrifying than her actions is her mentality. Someone who reasons this way could justify anything. Stalin added very little to this sort of thinking.

Liberal professionals and industrialists did more than applaud

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Liberal professionals and industrialists did more than applaud Russian terrorists, Gary Saul Morson notes:

They offered their apartments for concealing weapons and contributed substantial sums of money. Lenin supposedly said “when we are ready to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope,” but he might better have said “buy us the rope.” Liberals proudly defended terrorists in court, in the press, and in the Duma. Paul Miliukov, the leader of the liberal Constitutional Democratic (Kadet) party, affirmed that “all means are legitimate… and all means should be tried.” The Kadets rejected the government offer of amnesty for political prisoners unless it included terrorists, who would, they well knew, promptly resume killing government officials. “Condemn terror?” exclaimed Kadet leader Ivan Petrunkevich. “Never! That would mean moral ruin for the party!”

If the strategy was to demoralize the government, it worked. Wearing a uniform made one a target for a bullet — or sulfuric acid in the face, another favorite form of attack. In Petersburg the head of the security police faced insubordination from agents afraid of revolutionaries. My favorite story concerns the reporter who asked his editor whether to run the biography of the newly appointed governor-general. Don’t bother, came the reply. Save it for the obituary.

It is impossible to draw a line between revolutionary and criminal action

Sunday, November 18th, 2018

It is hard even to fathom the extent of the terror in early 20th-Century Russia:

The Party of Socialists-Revolutionaries (or SRs), founded in 1901, immediately created a combat organization to conduct mass terror. Each of its three leaders—the second was Savinkov—achieved mythic status. In 1879, the People’s Will had some 500 members, but by 1907, the SRs had 45,000. So many bombs—referred to as “oranges”—were manufactured that people joked about fear of fruit. In 1902, SRs killed minister of the interior Dmitri Sipiagin and in 1904 his successor Vyacheslav von Plehve, along with the czar’s uncle Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich in 1905, among others.

As Geifman calculates, between 1905 and 1907, some 4,500 government officials of all ranks were murdered, plus at least 2,180 private individuals killed and 2,530 wounded. Between January 1908 and May 1910, authorities recorded 19,957 terrorist acts that claimed the lives of 700 government officials and thousands of private people. Robberies—called “expropriations”—became commonplace. Terrorists robbed not just banks and the imperial treasury but also landowners, businessmen, and eventually just ordinary people with barely a ruble to steal. According to one liberal journalist, robberies occurred daily “in the capitals, in provincial cities, and in district towns, in villages, on highways, on trains, on steamboats.” Newspapers published special sections chronicling violent acts, while murder became more common than traffic accidents.

The SRs were far from the only terrorist organization. Even more crimes were committed by various anarchist groups. The Bolsheviks, while late to the game, caught up. Though some other Marxist parties rejected terrorism as contrary to the dogma that individuals don’t matter, the Bolsheviks engaged in it anyway. Criminals calling themselves revolutionaries joined in, but since revolutionaries themselves recruited criminals and applauded their violence, it is impossible to draw a line between revolutionary and criminal action. Some terrorists would give half their take to a revolutionary party and use the other half to buy a villa or even their own business. In Riga, terrorists effectively replaced the local government by levying taxes, establishing police patrols, and, of course, creating their own secret police to uncover disloyalty.

Quickly fire barbed Kevlar cords toward suspects at speeds of 640 feet per second

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

The NYPD is testing a high-powered lasso gun to subdue mentally ill suspects:

Unveiled last year, the BolaWrap™ 100 is a hand-held remote that allows officers to quickly fire barbed Kevlar cords toward suspects at speeds of 640 feet per second. The stated goal of the product is to entangle a person’s limbs “early in an engagement,” thereby allowing police officers to avoid using lethal force. The intended target is described by the company as “the mentally ill population” and, elsewhere, “the bad guys.” Each unit costs $800, and sounds like a gunshot when discharged.

[...]

Wired Technologies, which manufactures and distributes the wraps, claims that 24 police departments across the country are testing the product internally, and that six departments are testing it in the field. A version that sounds less like a gunshot is currently in development, for use on college campuses, according to Mike Rothans, the senior vice president of Wrap Technologies.

During Thursday’s demonstration, Adams, flanked by Rothans and Wired Technologies CEO David Norris, assured reporters that the product was neither painful nor dangerous (Adams did wear protective goggles, just in case). The trio brushed off questions about whether it might be more difficult to deploy the wraps in a crowded, high-pressure environment, rather than a tightly controlled courtroom, by pointing to the device’s laser sight. Despite the fact that a website advertises the wraps as having 380 pounds of strength, Rothans promised that they wouldn’t be strong enough to strangle someone if accidentally fired at their neck.

Rather, the gizmo should be seen as a low-risk alternative to the more painful, less reliable stun gun, they said. At one point, Adams referred to a video—shown by company reps earlier in the demonstration—of an 86-year-old man with dementia getting tased by police officers during a traffic stop, as precisely the sort of situation in which the resistance tool could be of use. “Some might look at the incident with the 86-year-old and say why would you need any force there, but that’s not the real universe of policing,” said Adams, a former NYPD officer. “I would have used the device with the 86-year-old. Maybe I strike his legs instead of his arms, so he can break his fall.”

In Adams’s estimation, the device could successfully subdue about 70 percent of the 150,000 or so emotionally disturbed individuals encountered annually by the NYPD. The department’s handling of such cases—known as EDPs—has attracted scrutiny in recent years, with advocates demanding better training for officers responding to mental health crises, particularly following the deaths of Saheed Vassell and Deborah Danner.

The article refers to “Wired Technologies,” but I believe the company name is Wrap Technologies: