Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Terrorists and Reporters Dumber than Rocks

By localroger in News
Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 04:19:45 PM EST
Tags: Humour (all tags)
Humour

Rotten.com, of all places, scooped the story, but it was later picked up by the Village Voice and then the New York Times. Those scary "nuclear secrets" found in the rubble of Kabul and waved before the camera by BBC reporter John Simpson were actually a parody written for the Journal of Irreproducible Results.


Some actual quotes from the dangerous paper Weekend Scientist: Let's Build a Thermonuclear Device:
Since the last column, Let's Make a Time Machine, was received so well, this month's column will follow the same format.

1. First, obtain about 110 pounds (50 kg) of weapons grade plutonium from your local supplier...

...any left over Plutonium dust is an excellent insect repellant...

3. Fashion together a metal enclosure to house the device. Most common varieties of sheet metal can be bent to disguise the enclosure as, for example, a briefcase, a lunch pail, or a Buick. Do not use tinfoil.

In next month's column, we will learn how to clone your neighbor's wife in six easy steps...

The Rotten reporter (whose name changed from "Sketch" to "Jason Scott" when the New York Times came a-calling) states it best:

It gives us pause and joy to know the Taliban are wasting their time downloading what amounts to joke mail and spending time trying to discern the facts therein.

I've said it before: While the enemy is certainly brave and vicious and nominally clever, they are not towering geniuses. While the Administration is still hedging its bets on the matter of bin Laden nukes, the fact that this paper was found alongside their real secrets would appear to speak volumes about their competence.

al Qaeda would obviously like us to think it has nukes, ricin, super germs, and so on, but it seems more likely that their arsenal is limited to the Stinger missiles we gave them and operatives willing to pilot planes into buildings. And like the Stingers whose batteries are now failing, only two of at least four pilots managed to hit their targets on 9/11. We do need to worry about these guys, but we don't need to worry about being nuked by them. If they could have, they already would have. And they wouldn't be reading parodies written in 1979 when plenty of real information is out there.

Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Poll
My favorite Weekend Scientist project is...
o Let's Make a Thermonuclear Device 7%
o Let's Make Test-Tube Babies 10%
o Let's Make a Solar System 12%
o Let's Make an Economic Recession 35%
o Let's Make an Anti-Gravity Machine 17%
o Let's Make Contact with an Alien Race 17%

Votes: 70
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Scoop
o Rotten.com
o the story
o Village Voice
o New York Times
o said it before
o real information
o Also by localroger


Display: Sort:
Terrorists and Reporters Dumber than Rocks | 26 comments (26 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Maybe it was a joke. (4.12 / 8) (#1)
by theboz on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 10:37:23 AM EST

If someone was intending to build a nuclear bomb, they could find plenty of valid information on the internet. This article which was clearly made for humor, may have been left as a joke. Yes, they're terrorists bent on the destruction of the West, but they can have a sense of humor too.

Remember, some sympathizers of this group put a picture of Usama bin Laden and Bert from Sesame Street on a sign.

Stuff.

I briefly considered this (3.50 / 6) (#3)
by localroger on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 11:07:58 AM EST

Yes, they're terrorists bent on the destruction of the West, but they can have a sense of humor too.

And how often have we seen the Taliban or al Qaeda express this sense of humor? Maybe they held up numbers to critique the style of the executioner at the public beheadings in Kabul? Do the men have contests to see who can pick the most lice out of his mandatory beard?

And anyway, what's the reporter's excuse?

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Well. . . (4.14 / 7) (#8)
by Anonymous 242 on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 02:30:15 PM EST

How much of the Taliban's culture have you been exposed to aside from healines about what killjoys they are?

-l

[ Parent ]

how often indeed? (4.00 / 2) (#22)
by streetlawyer on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 07:32:13 AM EST

And how often have we seen the Taliban or al Qaeda express this sense of humor?

How often do we see the Taliban express anything, given that we don't speak Arabic and we tend to be in the habit of bombing any station that shows them.

--
Just because things have been nonergodic so far, doesn't mean that they'll be nonergodic forever
[ Parent ]

A true nuke isn't what worries me... (3.75 / 8) (#2)
by Hechz on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 11:02:15 AM EST

As I write this I am sitting in a clasrrom in BMCC. I work downtown in Manhattan so I am next to the WTC site 6 glorious days a week. Now I would be completely unable to enjoy this remanant of my city if they had just exlpoded nuclear material around here. Hell I and most of Brooklyn would be dying of radiation poisining. So do I care if they can build a nuke, not that much I just pray that if they have nuclear material they do get the device right so that I am vaporised.

Er editor could you fix that link? (none / 0) (#5)
by Hechz on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 11:30:43 AM EST



[ Parent ]
we can't (4.00 / 1) (#7)
by hurstdog on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 02:16:36 PM EST

we don't have the ability to edit comments. Just stories. Sorry.

[ Parent ]
Curious (none / 0) (#9)
by John Milton on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 02:50:32 PM EST

Why has that function never been included? Is it too hard or was it just that the potential for being accused of abuse wouldn't be worth the effort?


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
See edit request above (5.00 / 1) (#10)
by rusty on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 04:10:30 PM EST

Actually, it wasn't included to avoid comment edit requests like the above. Right now, we can and will delete a comment, if requested, but we can't fix your typos, or link errors, or whatever. There are a lot more comments than stories, and I have no interest in editing them all. So far, the solution is to just not be able to, but if anyone ever does add that to Scoop, I'll still refuse to edit them. :-)

____
Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
While we're clearing stuff up... (3.66 / 9) (#4)
by TheophileEscargot on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 11:08:49 AM EST

...five British moslems who were allegedly killed fighting for the Taleban, are actually alive and well in Pakistan. The story is on Ananova, and is attributed to the extremist al-Muhajiroun group.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
Reporters dumb? (3.66 / 12) (#6)
by Jin Wicked on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 11:39:44 AM EST

There is the possibility that they were just being very cynical. Maybe they knew very well that the 'nuclear secrets' were just a parody, but like typical commercial reporters decided to take full advantage of twisting the facts by being selective with what they report, so they got a scoop.

And yes, I know the BBC isn't strictly commercial, but it is still infected by commercial motives, surrounded as it is by a lucrative news industry it can sell to and it also has to constantly justify its own existance.

It wouldn't surprise me if they were deliberately selective so they could get a huge scoop. Even a cursory examination would show to any fool that the document was useless for bomb making, I bet they knew well.

This post was probably not written by the real Jin Wicked. Please see user "butter pie" for Jin's actual posts.


Internet Hoax (4.00 / 10) (#11)
by J'raxis on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 05:36:02 PM EST

I've said it before: While the enemy is certainly brave and vicious and nominally clever, they are not towering geniuses. While the Administration is still hedging its bets on the matter of bin Laden nukes, the fact that this paper was found alongside their real secrets would appear to speak volumes about their competence.
How exactly would they know this was a hoax? They’ve cut their country off from the Internet, so things like common internet hoaxes and urban myths aren’t exactly common knowledge in Afghanistan. They also don’t natively speak English so they probably did not pick up on the sarcasm and humour in the text.

Also, it was probably one of dozens of documents they downloaded looking for nuclear secrets, this is just the one that got found. Remember the Bert-in-bin-Laden-poster incident, if you go to the Google image search and search for bin Laden, the first dozen or so pics that come up are the exact pics they included in their poster. Maybe they took the real ones with them and left behind the ones they found out were fake.

Then, there’s always the conspiracy theory: the CIA planted this only to have it found (and believe legit, hence stirring up more fear and loathing for the Taliban), and didn’t themselves realize it was a well-known hoax. The same organisation responsible for such farces as the Bay of Pigs and poisoned cigars to kill Castro.

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]

How they would know... (4.08 / 12) (#12)
by localroger on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 06:36:07 PM EST

How exactly would they know this was a hoax?

Well, it's simple; it's even in The Art of War. You learn your enemy. You do this by living with him, living like him, learning his habits and vices and weaknesses and strengths. As a nation or an organization like al Qaeda you do it by having American experts who live American enough to think like Americans and know the things Americans take for granted.

Of course al Qaeda pointedly doesn't do this, which is a tremendous weakness. Despite living among us for 10 years their operatives do not know things any 10-year-old American science buff would know, things like you don't need flight lessons to fly a jet if you don't care about takeoffs and landings, and that Microsoft Flight Simulator might be a useful guide to finding the White House from the air. To learn those things you'd have to expose yourself to American vices, like our books and movies and computers.

But since al Qaeda denies anything that might be "fun" they would never think of booting up Flight Simulator (or probably even of buying a computer that could run it). They already know The Truth, and that's an attitude that programs you for failure, because you never know "The Truth" in this world. I can readily imagine the terrorists poring over Let's Make a Thermonuclear Device, laboriously translating every word against the chance it might reveal something worthwhile. Of course they could go to Amazon and order The Making of the Atomic Bomb which would actually tell them a lot of real stuff, but that might involve reading a potentially corrupting, decadent Western book.

This is the clearest example you could ever hope to find of how an open society is inherently stronger than a closed society. It's especially troubling to watch our own government not just ignoring, but willfully defying this principle as it closes us down in the name of "home defense." The best defense is an alert and informed populace. Now that people know a hijacking might end the way 9/11 did, none will ever succeed again, until they have forgotten. There are not a lot of tricks like that which will work. Burning public documents and repealing the 4th amendment will hurt, not help, the situation.


I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Re: How they would know... (4.00 / 3) (#13)
by FattMattP on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 07:14:06 PM EST

Of course they could go to Amazon and order The Making of the Atomic Bomb which would actually tell them a lot of real stuff, but that might involve reading a potentially corrupting, decadent Western book.
I don't follow your logic. How is using the decadent, Western created Internet any worse than ordering a "corrupting, decadent Western book?" If they are willing to use the Internet, which they claim to have banned, then they are willing to pay attention to your media, read your books, and watch your movies to understand the American mind.

----
I am capable of masturbating for twenty-seven hours before achieving climax. This does include breaks for meals. -- Michael David Crawford


[ Parent ]
It's not my reasoning, and there is no logic (3.60 / 5) (#14)
by localroger on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 07:31:01 PM EST

I don't follow your logic. How is using the decadent, Western created Internet any worse than ordering a "corrupting, decadent Western book?"

It's the subjective impression. They probably think they are doing what they aren't, because they dare let a few trusted insiders dip a toe in the sea of the 'net, while they would never consider letting anyone (including themselves) hunker down with an 800 page Western book and reading it. This is what makes a short piece like Let's Build a Thermonuclear Device attractive; it looks like distilled knowledge, infected with a minimum of the culture that created it.

If you are closed to new knowledge you cannot really learn. The whole al Qaeda / bin Laden / Taliban approach is doomed to failure because it is inherently unadaptable. There is a great scene in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon where the Japanese character realizes, to his total astonishment, that the American attackers have (gasp) changed their tactics. He struggles to understand how this is possible, what heads must have rolled (as they would have inevitably rolled in imperial Japan) over the lost face of having the previous tactic abandoned. Shipwrecked in the Pacific he realizes that this is a great truth that dooms his nation, because it cannot adapt in this way. al Qaeda is about to learn the same lesson, the hard way.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

the Truth (3.80 / 5) (#15)
by bobsquatch on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 09:03:00 PM EST

But since al Qaeda denies anything that might be "fun" they would never think of booting up Flight Simulator (or probably even of buying a computer that could run it). They already know The Truth, and that's an attitude that programs you for failure, because you never know "The Truth" in this world.
And you know this about al Qaeda because... ?

I'm only asking because today's Guardian is reporting that retreating Taliban/aQ troops have left behind, among other incriminating papers, some flight simulator software. If you take this story at face value, it seems as though aQ isn't as morally opposed to computers as you insist.

Or, I suppose, I could take your "Truth" about al Qaeda at face value, and assume that the Guardian must be full of it.

I agree with your comments w.r.t. the open vs. closed society; that's why I'm dogging you on the Truth angle. If you're going to insist that cultures should have an open mind about what they regard as "Truth," it's probably a good idea to avoid making dogmatic statements about the Essential Truth of those cultures.



[ Parent ]

So . . . (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by J'raxis on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 02:10:17 AM EST

... So they left behind “nuclear secrets” and now flight simulator software. What’s next, our military finds a big book with the words OUR EVIL PLAN TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD! written on it? Oh, wait...
Other documents seen by Observer reporters make clear the scale of al-Qaeda’s ambitions for a global jihad, including a notebook detailing plans to assassinate Western leaders.
Uh huh.
The discovery of the documents will be a source of considerable satisfaction to President George Bush and his allies, who have sometimes seemed to struggle in providing the smoking gun linking bin Laden’s organisation to the 11 September attacks.
Well, it looks like everything worked out perfectly for George, now doesn’t it?

— The Cynical Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

...Maybe. (4.25 / 4) (#20)
by bobsquatch on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 03:41:57 AM EST

My point: "localroger's 'Truth' about al-Q is not the final Truth."

Not my point: "The Guardian's 'Truth' about al-Q is the final Truth." See, that would be something close to the Inverse Fallacy.

The Guardian's faboo cornucopia of evidence could be completely made up, fabricated by the NA, fabricated by the US, fabricated by the Guardian, or bogus in any number of other ways... and I have no way to double check. I suspect that nobody at K5 has a way to double check (or if they did, it would only be due to security clearances that prohibit them from sharing with us).

In other words: I don't know the Truth; you don't know the Truth; localroger doesn't know the Truth -- and shouldn't deign to tell us the Truth about al-Q in a post about not knowing the Truth.

...Maybe.



[ Parent ]

Obligatory Simpsons reference (3.83 / 6) (#23)
by Bunny Vomit on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 09:24:47 AM EST

In other words: I don't know the Truth; you don't know the Truth; localroger doesn't know the Truth -- and shouldn't deign to tell us the Truth about al-Q in a post about not knowing the Truth.

"The truth? You can't handle the truth! No truth handler you are! I deride your truth handling capabilities!" -- Sideshow Bob (somewhat paraphrased from memory).



--
(\_/)
(O.o)
((")(")
[ Parent ]
re: Internet Hoax (3.33 / 3) (#17)
by khym on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 01:43:16 AM EST

How exactly would they know this was a hoax? ... They also don't natively speak English so they probably did not pick up on the sarcasm and humour in the text.
Well, the "How to build a time machine" and "How to clone you're neighbor's wife in six easy steps" should have been glaring indications that it wasn't serious. Even if they weren't native English speakers, stuff like that should make it obvious that article isn't to be taken seriously (either because it was a joke, or the author was insane).
Also, it was probably one of dozens of documents they downloaded looking for nuclear secrets, this is just the one that got found.
This seems the more likely explanation. This could also be seen as encouraging: since whenever it was that they got those documents, they had no time to read through them and sift the wheat from the chaff.
Then, there's always the conspiracy theory: the CIA planted this only to have it found ... and didn't themselves realize it was a well-known hoax.
A CIA operative would have had some time to look through various documents, and would have rejected the JIR/AIR article because of the time machine and cloning references.

--
Give a man a match, and he'll be warm for a minute, but set him on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
[ Parent ]
Re: Internet Hoax (4.00 / 5) (#18)
by J'raxis on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 02:00:40 AM EST

If they understood what time machine and clone mean, at all. If I’d never read any science-fiction, I’d just think a time machine was a clock.

— The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

Consider this (3.77 / 9) (#16)
by scatbubba on Sun Nov 18, 2001 at 09:53:56 PM EST

There are 100 trillion billion million articles on the internet. How do you find the useful bomb making files? Add to that, you only have 3 guys who read english AND know the legit stuff when they see it. So, you get 100 flunkies to find all documents that look like nuclear, then have the 3 guys screen them. This would cause loads of junk nuke papers laying around. Just a thought.

Not dumb (3.66 / 6) (#21)
by benhammersley on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 04:33:02 AM EST

The reporters weren't being dumb, because that was not the story. The facts that al-qaeda were
a) looking for instructions,
b) had found some,
and c) have now disappeared,
is the story.

That the reporters did not recognize the papers left behind as an obscure geek joke from nearly 20 years ago is not exactly surprising, but either way, it's not the story. Presumably Bin Laden's men didn't recognize them as a joke either, and it was their intent that is revealed, and that is the story.

Don't dismiss it outright (4.33 / 3) (#24)
by taerom on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 12:56:37 PM EST

While it's not the easiest thing in the world, don't forget that a teenager built a nuclear reactor in his back yard, using common materials and duping various officials along the way.

Who's to say <insert favorite terrorism group here> couldn't build their own rudimentary nuclear device in a similar fashion?



Ermm.. not really. (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by mindstrm on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 08:12:17 PM EST

He *may* have cause a small amount of nuclear reaction in his backyard... but saying he 'built a nuclear reactor' is a bit far fetched.

To get a nuclear reaction going.. all you have to do is get the right materials near each other.. that's it.


[ Parent ]
Dumber than rocks, yes indeed (5.00 / 4) (#25)
by localroger on Mon Nov 19, 2001 at 07:18:38 PM EST

I've encountered a broad-based resistance to the idea that the terrorists are less than Moriarty-like evil geniuses ever since 9/11. Despite their many mistakes and miscalculations and failures their 9/11 efforts are described as "brilliant," their timing "perfect," their resources "limitless," and yadda yadda yadda.

These guys are fuckups. Rich, vicious fuckups, but fuckups nonetheless.

Look, it's embarrassing to be sucker-punched by the village idiot, but that's what happened. It's much more embarrassing to be caught complaining that he was able to sucker-punch you because he was Einstein, when he's more like the evil twin of Dudley Moore's Arthur.

On the Left it seems that people are acting this way because they want the evil to be suitably vast to justify our engaging in yet another war against a bunch of primitive goatherders. On the Right they want the evil to be suitably vast to justify ripping apart our civil liberties and diverting as much tax money as possible to war-justifiable pet projects. All around nobody wants to admit we were sucker-punched by the village idiot.

There is no reason for a bit of fluff like Weekend Scientist to have ever been printed out, or to have been kept instead of immediately thrown away, by anybody who had the least meaningful understanding of what he was reading. Either their resources are pitifully inadequate to deal with the volume of research they've collected, or their understanding is so poor that they didn't understand the uselessness of the piece. A group which has methodically made every conceivable source of pleasure illegal certainly wasn't keeping it around for the laughs.

I have also heard some justifications for the reporters. Maybe they were cynical, maybe they were dazed into oblivion by the magnitude of the disaster they were experiencing, but whatever the reason they produced a really, really, unforgivably bad piece of journalism.

I'm sure, given their banning of satellite dishes and radios, that the portal to the deep and mysterious Internet was carefully guarded, that only the most trusted and fanatical lieutenants were allowed to risk pollution by its Western bias. Maybe they didn't get around to reading what they downloaded, maybe they didn't understand it; but either way their efforts were pitiful and fruitless. Someone conversant with Western literature could have pointed them to Howard Morland and Richard Rhodes, but anyone that conversant with our literature would undoubtably be among the newly headless at the Kabul soccer stadium.

Same for the decadent and frivolous Flight Simulator, perhaps researched by a suitably puritanical screener and judged not worthwhile for the field lieutenants like Atta, who were actually learning to fly like real pilots -- a skill none of them really needed.

It's important not to underestimate your enemy, but it's also important not to overestimate him lest you find yourself pounding nails with dynamite. The Taliban, like the Japanese in WWII, will insist to the end that they have a chance and that God and valor will overcome decadent pansies with any "superior" weapon system. It only remains to be seen if some of them will be shocked into admitting the obvious, as the Japanese were, before the last are hunted down and killed.

I can haz blog!

Terrorists and Reporters Dumber than Rocks | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!