Maybe We Should Turn STRATCOM Off And Then On Again


On Thursday, Air Force General Anthony Cotton, the head of the US Strategic Command, the service in charge of nuclear weapons, argued in testimony before Congress for more nuclear weapons, specifically a sea-launched cruise missile or SLCM-N. Back in the nineties, we pronounced this “slickem.” All things old are new again.

General Cotton referred to a “strategic gap or challenge in the availability of low-yield, non-ballistic nuclear weapons that do not generate a radar signature.” Nuclear weapons of this type, he said, “could be used without reaching a threshold that could trigger nuclear war.”

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No Adversary, No Directed Energy Weapon

The other intelligence assessment that dropped last week was on so-called Havana Syndrome.

This one was led by the CIA, and, unlike the assessment of how SARS-CoV-2 jumped to humans, there is a reasonable role for intelligence agencies. Whether an adversary country is sending agents with a mystery weapon to disable government workers is the kind of thing the intelligence agencies are set up to investigate. The assessment issued last week also represents several years of effort; investigation of one sort or another has been in progress since the first reports of symptoms in 2016.

A summary report has been issued, but the complete report is classified. Beyond the CIA, none of the intelligence agencies was identified in the New York Times or Washington Post reports, which contain additional material.

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Intelligence Analysis Is Not Scientific Investigation

Several developments this week in stories I’ve been following. I finally have some time to post about them.

Questions about how SARS-CoV-2 jumped from animals to humans and the so-called Havana Syndrome have both been subjects of recent intelligence assessments. Intelligence assessments are different beasts from scientific conclusions. I wrote about that for Scientific American.

Intelligence analysis privileges the credibility of sources; science privileges the analysis of data. Intelligence keeps much of its analysis secret; science publishes and argues in public.

Intelligence analysis is a poor way to investigate the origin of SARS-CoV-2 in humans. Several good scientific studies, linked in my op-ed, point strongly toward the animal market in Wuhan as being the source. Those advocating an origin in a laboratory have put forth a number of scenarios, and very little data. The overall intelligence assessment ranges from “not enough data,” through most agencies’ “low confidence,” to the FBI’s slightly more confidence in a lab leak.

The FBI botched a somewhat similar investigation into the anthrax letters sent after 9/11. There is no reason to believe their assessment, offered without explanation.

The Biden administration used intelligence powerfully in the runup to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The intelligence agencies would do well to learn from that experience.

Photo: Wuhan Institute of Virology, from their website.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

There’s A Lot To Be Depressed About

Last week, a CDC report,  “Youth Risk Behavior Survey” dropped. It shows devastating levels of depression in young people, particularly young women. A great many people, predominantly middle-aged white men as far as I can see, have hastened to tell us that it’s all because of those newfangled phones.

There might just be a few other things that might depress young women.

  • Getting into the right college and its costs
  • Climate change
  • Gun violence
  • A pandemic that is not being dealt with
  • Rising fascism
  • A future in which it is unlikely they will be financially secure
  • Increasing numbers of laws taking away their bodily autonomy
  • Laws persecuting trans and gay people, soon to come to the rest of us
  • A government of old people
  • Sexual violence against them
  • The opioid crisis
  • A sense that their concerns are not being heard; those same middle-aged men gaslighting them
  • One of our two political parties dedicated to preventing any solutions to these problems
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Betting On Putin’s State Of Mind

A couple of Twitter threads this morning point to the central problem of strategy in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

Rob Farley’s argument with Emma Ashford starts here:

Ashford enters here:

The gist of the argument is how and when to end the war. Ukraine is being devastated, but nonetheless wants to continue. Its supporters see the devastation and also that their participation implies the possibility of the war widening, even to nuclear war. So it’s tempting to argue for a negotiated ending, with negotiations starting as soon as possible.

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Twitter And Its Substitutes

I get my news from Twitter. I follow experts in various fields, from universities, think tanks, wherever. I also follow individual reporters and editors who have proved their worth and governmental officials. I do not follow “official” news feeds from media.

I use Tweetdeck on the desktop with an ad blocker, and my mobile is an Android. Both of those seem resistant to Elon Musk’s mucking about. In any case, my experience on Twitter is about the same as it’s ever been, minus some of the people I’ve followed who’ve given it up, plus far too much about Musk. My “For You” feed shows only people I follow anyway, with their tweets mixed up in time, not the string of Musk tweets others are reporting.

I have signed up on Post, Spoutible, and Mastodon. Mastodon came last night, when the feed on Twitter seemed particularly thin. I have been avoiding it for many reasons, mainly its complexity. I looked at it before the rush and was put off by the demand to choose an “instance.” WTF. I later joined up, randomly chose a server, and then tried to set up a profile. It was during one of the rushes, and the screen kept freezing. I really really hate software malfunctions and am slow to go back to sites that display them. It doesn’t matter that I knew why it was.

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The Ohio Train Derailment

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed near the town of East Palestine, Ohio. Fifty cars derailed, ten of which carried hazardous chemicals. Federal investigators say a mechanical issue with a rail car axle caused the derailment.

A fire broke out in the rail cars, residents were evacuated, and the material in some of the cars was drained and set on fire. Draining the material prevented a BLEVE, a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion, which is what happens when tanks of liquid are heated in a fire. A breach in a hot tank like this releases both chemical energy when the liquid explodes and the heat energy as the liquid flashes instantly into a gas. These explosions are extremely powerful.

But then they had to do something with the liquid, so they burned it, producing a thick black cloud of smoke.

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Russia Opens The Floodgates

Russia controls one side of the Kakhovka Dam at the end of the Kakhovka Reservoir on the Dneiper River. Back when Russia was withdrawing to the east side of the Dneiper, they exploded a couple of mines at the dam.

The reservoir provides drinking water to many Ukrainians and is the main water supply to Crimea, where they have been filling reservoirs. It is also the only water supply to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The reactors at ZNPP are shut down, but they still need cooling water. The intake pipe extends some way into the reservoir. A large supply of cooling water will be essential if the reactors are to be started up again.

Since November, the Russians have been draining the reservoir. Geoff Brumfiel of NPR has the story.

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Chinese Spy Balloon Over The US

A Chinese spy balloon has been spotted over Montana. NORAD says they saw it before that, and it was probably launched from China. It’s at an altitude above that of commercial flights, which probably means above 50,000 feet, but it can be seen from those flights, according to reports. There are a few videos that claim to be of the balloon, but who knows, and some of them are of the moon, which is in its gibbous phase, so it’s a nice roundish thing in a blue sky.

Most likely, NORAD hasn’t shot it down because it looks like a surveillance vehicle, rather than weapon-equipped, regardless of the jokers (I’ve only seen jokers so far on this subject) who are shouting “EMP”! Montana suggests that the subject of surveillance has to do with our missile silos in that part of the country, and the balloon is most likely designed to pick up signals. Satellites can do the optical job quite nicely.

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The Enemy Gets A Vote

It’s easy to get down in the weeds of getting Leopard tanks to Ukraine or when the spring offensive will come, but I want to draw back to a bigger picture.

Vladimir Putin, or Russia, depending on how you look at it, is determined to bring Ukraine back into their sway. The shelling of civilians, a war crime, makes that point clear. The concern about NATO is not entirely rhetorical.

Putin and his cronies, particularly Dmitri Medvedev, dragged out the nuclear threats early. They have damped them down recently. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, has consistently clarified to something like “existential threats to Russia itself,” a phrase from Russian doctrine that has been parsed over the years. It is now more unclear with Putin’s ceremonial welcome of four Ukrainian districts in which the war continues.

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