Tag: Moscow

The eleventh post of pre-Christmas 2018: November

Sunday, 23 December, 2018

Frederick Forsyth was 33 when his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, was published in 1971. The story of how the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète) hires an English assassin to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle became an international bestseller and gained the author fame and fortune. On 14 November, here, we welcomed Forsyth’s latest novel, which is very much about modern espionage.

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What if the most dangerous weapon in the world is not a nuke in a backpack but a 17-year-old boy with a brilliant mind, “who can run rings around the most sophisticated security services across the globe, who can manipulate that weaponry and turn it against the superpowers themselves?” That’s the premise of The Fox, the new thriller from Frederick Forsyth. Born in the year of the Munich Agreement, when British, French and Italian leaders agreed to Hitler’s demand for the German annexation of the Sudetenland, Forsyth has grown up in a world that has experienced its share of evil in his 80 years. The latest manifestation, in his latest novel, is the Vozhd, a Russian word meaning “the Boss” or, in the world of crime, “the Godfather”. When Forsyth was 15, the old Vozhd, Joseph Stalin, died. The new Vozhd is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his prized assets arrived in Russia in 2013, having fled from Hawaii. Snippet:

“When defector and traitor Edward Snowden flew to Moscow it is believed he carried over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check into the human anus. ‘Back in the day’, as the veterans put it, a column of trucks would have been needed, and a convey moving through a gate tends to be noticeable.
So, the computer took over from the human, the archives containing trillions of secrets came to be stored on databases… Matching pace, crime also changed, gravitating from shoplifting through financial embezzlement to today’s computer fraud, which enables more wealth to be stolen than ever before in the history of finance. Thus the modern world gave rise to the concept of computerized hidden wealth but also to the computer hacker. The burglar of cyberspace.”

The Fox

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The review of the year as posted by Rainy Day ends tomorrow with the twelfth post of pre-Christmas 2018. The subject is the street-fighting man, then and now.


World-class World Cup trolling by @qatar

Thursday, 14 June, 2018

Background: Saudi Arabia claims Qatar is a sponsor of extremist political movements in the Middle East, including Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Qatar denies the charges and accuses the Saudis of attempting to curtail its sovereignty. It’s a nasty feud and the pot is simmering, as they say.

Today’s World Cup opener between Russia and Saudi Arabia offered Qatar Airways a golden opportunity to indulge in some world-class trolling of the neighbors and the state-owned carrier didn’t miss the open goal in Moscow.

World Cup


Kersti Kaljulaid and Sophia talk weaponized AI

Friday, 16 February, 2018 0 Comments

The organizers of this year’s Munich Security Conference decided they’d try something novel for the pre-event titled “The Force Awakens: Artificial Intelligence & Modern Conflict”, so they put Sophia centre stage and had her do the introductions. Hanson Robotics, Sophia’s creator, describe her as their “most advanced robot” and for many last night this was their first opportunity to see a chatty bot in action.

The verdict? Unimpressive. The quality of Sophia’s audio output was sub-standard, but much worse was her language. The Munich Security Conference is an annual gathering of a global elite that’s comfortable with the global lingua franca but those in charge of Sophia’s speech rhythms ignored that fact that speed does not always equal progress. Her pace of delivery was way too fast for even most native speakers present. Earlier this week in the Financial Times, Michael Skapinker posited that “Europe speaks its own post-Brexit English” and he claimed that this so-called “Eurish” is a mix of “romance and Germanic influences — and no tricky metaphors”, but Sophia, clearly, does not read the FT and neither do those in charge of her interaction with the real world. Skapinker’s “Eurish” is mostly imaginary but chatbot programmers would do well to slow the pace of delivery, simplify the vocabulary and go easy with the metaphors.

That aside, the real star of the show was Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia. Her English was perfectly attuned to the wavelength of the audience and her knowledge of both artificial intelligence and modern conflict was extraordinary. Then again, she would be familiar with both topics as Estonia is a leader in digital transformation and the 2007 Russian cyber-attack on Estonia was a sign of the dangerous new world we now share with the ruthless regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Teheran. Kersti Kaljulaid is on the front line and we are lucky that she understands the grave nature of the threats posed by AI in the hands of those who wish to destroy the civilization and the society she represents so eloquently and so knowledgeably.

Sophia


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


St Patricius joins the menology

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 0 Comments

“These saints did their service in the Western countries. St Patricius, the enlightener of Ireland who is more commonly known as St Patrick is one of them.” So spoke Dr Vladimir Legoida, head of communications for the Russian Orthodox synod, on Friday in Moscow. The occasion was the decision by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to enlarge its menology with the names of some 15 saints, “who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054” in what became known as the Great Schism.

St Patricius

Dr Legoida told Pravmir that there was evidence Patricius had been venerated by the Russian Orthodox faithful. Critically, given Russian sensitivities, a key question was the role the saints might have played in polemics between Catholics and the Orthodox. “We took account the immaculateness of devotion of each saint, the circumstances in which their worship took shape, and the absence of the saints’ names in the polemic works on struggle against the Eastern Christian Church or its rite,” Dr Legoida said.

When it came to engaging in polemics or ridding Ireland of its snakes, St Patricius decided to concentrate on removing the reptiles. And, lo, his chosen land has been blessed since. “Russians to invade Trump’s luxury Irish golf resort” crowed the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, adding that “Up to 100 wealthy Russians will visit Doonbeg, Co Clare, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” What a saint!


Barbarians And The Civilized

Friday, 10 March, 2017 0 Comments

That’s the title of a stimulating essay by the French writer Pascal Bruckner in the Winter 2017 issue of City Journal. It’s a continuation of the ideas he developed in his 2006 book La Tyrannie de la Pénitence: Essai sur le Masochisme Occidental (The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism), which was memorable for statements such as, “Europe relieves itself of the crime of the Shoah by blaming Israel, it relieves itself of the sin of colonialism by blaming the United States.”

In “Barbarians and the Civilized”, Pascal Bruckner argues that “The civilized man must constantly look barbarism in the face, to remember where he comes from, what he has escaped — and what he could become again.” Snippet:

“Today, being civilized means knowing that we are potentially barbarian. Woe to the brutes who think they’re civilized and close themselves in the infernal tourniquet of their certitudes. It would be good to inject in others the poison that has long gnawed away at us: shame. A little guilty conscience in Teheran, Riyadh, Karachi, Moscow, Beijing, Havana, Caracas, Algiers, Harare, and Islamabad would do these governments and their peoples considerable good. The finest gift that Europe could give the world would be the spirit of critical examination that it discovered and that has saved it from many perils. It is the best remedy against arbitrary violence and the violation of human rights.”

Since Le Sanglot de l’Homme blanc (The White Man’s Tears), Pascal Bruckner has fought valiantly against the anti-Western and pro-Third-World sentimentalism of the Left in the West. His Resistance continues.


Assange, Snowden and Putin walk into a bar

Thursday, 9 March, 2017 3 Comments

First thing: Assange and Snowden and working with Putin. Second thing: Don’t believe what you read in the papers, especially regarding the WikiLeaks claims that the CIA can intercept encrypted WhatsApp and Signal messages. It can’t. If you have a secure device, then WhatsApp and Signal are secure. If your device is insecure, nothing is secure. As Robert Graham of Errata Security puts it:

The CIA didn’t remotely hack a TV. The docs are clear that they can update the software running on the TV using a USB drive. There’s no evidence of them doing so remotely over the Internet. If you aren’t afraid of the CIA breaking in an installing a listening device, then you should’t be afraid of the CIA installing listening software.

The CIA didn’t defeat Signal/WhatsApp encryption. The CIA has some exploits for Android/iPhone. If they can get on your phone, then of course they can record audio and screenshots. Technically, this bypasses/defeats encryption — but such phrases used by Wikileaks are highly misleading, since nothing related to Signal/WhatsApp is happening. What’s happening is the CIA is bypassing/defeating the phone. Sometimes. If they’ve got an exploit for it, or can trick you into installing their software.

Bottom line: Assange and Snowden are Russian agents. Bonus joke: Snowden and Putin and a dog walk into a bar in Moscow:

“Ow!”
“Ow!”
“Woof!”


Cyberwar: Moscow? Beijing? Pyongyang?

Friday, 16 September, 2016 0 Comments

“Over the past year or two, someone has been probing the defenses of the companies that run critical pieces of the Internet. These probes take the form of precisely calibrated attacks designed to determine exactly how well these companies can defend themselves, and what would be required to take them down.” Says who? Says the Chief Technology Officer of Resilient, an IBM company that “empowers cyber security teams to transform their security posture.”

That CTO is none other than Bruce Schneier, and when he talks, people listen. When he issues a warning, people should act. In his blog post Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet, Schneier echoes the conflict of a previous era: “It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.”

Fancy Bear But this is not the work of a data fundamentalist like Julian Assange or a data thief such as Fancy Bear, Schneier believes. To him, it feels like a large nation state is at work. “China or Russia would be my first guesses,” he says, although he accepts that the identity of the country of origin for the attacks now being mounted could be disguised.

All this reminds the avid reader of espionage thrillers of the time when a rogue Russian spy warned an MI5 agent of a plot to hack into a top-secret US-UK military satellite system. Tomorrow, here, we follow Liz Carlyle to Geneva as she tracks the moles.


Putin, perfidy and pastry

Saturday, 23 April, 2016 2 Comments

There are many compelling reasons to read Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews. Perfidy is one. The villainy of Russia under Putin is well documented by non-Russian media, but it acquires a new pungency in a fiction that mirrors fact. Snippet:

“What fuelled the Kremlin kleptocracy, what motivated it, was not to bring back the Soviet Union, nor to reinstall the worldwide dread generated by the Red Army, nor to formulate a foreign policy based on national security requirements. In Russia today, everything happened to maintain the nadzirateli, the overseers, to protect their power, to continue looting the country’s patrimony.”

The characters in Palace of Treason ping-pong around the world — from Paris to Moscow to Athens to Vienna to Washington — as they attempt to steal secrets and outdo each other in a deadly game of influence zones, encompassing Europe and the Middle East. All of this activity demands feeding and Jason Matthews has come up with a novel touch: each chapter ends with a short recipe for one of the delicacies consumed by the protagonists. When an Iranian nuclear scientist is caught in a honey trip, he’s served shirini keshmeshi: Persian pastries dotted with raisins. “Jamshedi goggled at the cakes. Here he was, sitting with a blackmailing Russian intelligence officer, spilling his country’s secrets, and this prostitute was serving him the confection of this childhood.”

Palace of Treason recipe for shirini keshmeshi: “Thoroughly mix flour, sugar, melted butter, vegetable oil and eggs. Add saffron diluted in warm water, small raisins, and vanilla extract. Blend well. Put dollops of dough on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and bake in a medium oven until golden brown.”

Palace of Treason


World Book Day reading: The Yid

Thursday, 3 March, 2016 0 Comments

Today is World Book Day and our recommendation for this special occasion is The Yid by Paul Goldberg, a Russian émigré to New York in 1973. His debut novel opens in Moscow in February 1953, when three goons in a Black Maria leave the “castle-like gates” of the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square to arrest Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, a Red Army veteran and actor at the Jewish Theatre. But Levinson performs a grandiose stage trick and escapes. So begins this absurd, deadly droll escapade in which the “Yid” and his associates attempt to assassinate Stalin before he can see through his “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”. Snippet:

A Black Maria is a distinctive piece of urban transport, chernyy voron, a vehicle that collects its passengers for reasons not necessarily political. The Russian people gave this ominous carriage a diminutive name: voronok, a little raven, a fledgling.

At night, Moscow is the czardom of black cats and Black Marias. The former dart between snowbanks in search of mice and companionship. The latter emerge from the improbably tall, castle-like gates of Lubyanka, to return laden with enemies of the people.

The arrest of Solomon Shimonovich Levinson, an actor from the defunct State Jewish Theater, is routine. An old, likely decrepit Yid, Levinson lives alone in a communal flat at 1/4 Chkalov Street. Apartment 40. No hand-wringing wife. No hysterical children. No farewells. No one to hand the old man a toothbrush through the bars of a departing Black Maria.

In the parlance of state security, arrests are “operations.” This operation is easier than most: collect some incriminating rubbish, put a seal on the door, help the old man into the truck, and a little before dawn, the Black Maria drives back through Lubyanka’s armored gates.

This is wonderful stuff and it shows just how powerful the book is as a format for entertainment and enlightenment. On World Book Day, then, let us remember what John Milton wrote in Areopagitica in 1644:

“For books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them.”

The Yid


Occupied: Cold horror

Sunday, 22 November, 2015 0 Comments

Present: Norway supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports and 10 percent of its crude oil imports. Future: The US is no longer a member of NATO, fossil fuel reserves are running low and a new Norwegian Prime Minister has decided that his country will switch from oil and gas to alternative energy options. Faced with this crisis, Brussels turns to Moscow for muscle and thus Okkupert (Occupied) begins.

Conceived by Jo Nesbø, the best-selling Oslo-based writer, Occupied is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Norwegian and it is excellent. The scenery is cold, the colours are cold, the occupiers are cold and the horror is cold. With winter at hand, Occupied forces us to ask ourselves what we would tolerate to stay warm. The dismemberment of Ukraine? By the way, Nesbø had the idea long before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, but the story reveals the unease that many of Russia’s neighbors feel. It’s cold up north. Occupied is now showing on Arte, the Franco-German TV network.