A team of Brazilian arachnid biologists (and presumed literature lovers) has discovered 7 new species of cave spiders – and they named each one after a famous eight-legged (and in one case two-legged) character.
The species were discovered in a cave system formed of iron-rich sediment deposits in the state of Pará. The group’s paper, published in the open-access journal ZooKeys, represents five years of work studying the spiders in the field and the collection of approximately 2,000 specimens.
The spiders spend most of their time tucked away in darkness, though at times they were observed venturing into the light at the cave entrances. This lifestyle choice earns them the title of an edaphic troglophile species, meaning that they live in dirt and have adapted to spending all their time in caves. But unlike their troglobite cousins, they are not bound exclusively to a subterranean domain.
Now that these species are immortalized in the biological record, let’s explore some of the masterful fictional universes that inspired their monikers.
First up are two species whose namesakes are monstrous arachnids from the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien:
Ochyrocera laracna is named for Laracna, the Portuguese translation of Shelob, a giant spider that guards one of the passages into Mordor. Much like O. laracna, Shelob is also a cave spider (slash immortal ancient creature). According to her Lord of the RingsFandom Wikia entry: “she resided [near Cirith Ungol], making a labyrinth of webs within a network of caves… She feasted primarily on those who wandered into her webs, though if a particularly juicy morsel was available, she would silently pursue and kill it.”
You might recall from the Lord of the Rings books and films that Frodo, apparently looking quite juicy, is poisoned by Shelob and wrapped up in a cobweb. He is paralyzed, jaundiced, and pathetically in need of rescue, again (sigh).
Ochyrocera ungoliantis named for Shelob’s mother, Ungoliant, the primordial spider from the Undying Lands who later moved to Middle Earth. The Wikia page tells us she was once an ally of Melkor (also known as Morgoth) an even badder baddie than Sauron. But then she “changed her allegiance from him to herself, desiring only to be a mistress of her own insatiable craving to devour all light, to feed her everlasting emptiness.” Yikes.
Next up, Ochyrocera varys was the only species named after a human character, Lord Varys from the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Varys, a master of espionage, is called the Spider because of his skill at cultivating a web (get it?) of informants.
Ochyrocera aragogue is sure to please any invertebrate enthusiast in the millennial age bracket, as it’s named for Aragog, the car-sized sentient spider from the Harry Potter series. As everyone knows, Aragog was Hagrid’s pet back when the gamekeeper was a young Hogwarts student. But Aragog got loose around the time that Tom Riddle was terrorizing the school with a basilisk, and he and Hagrid became the unfortunate scapegoats.
Ochyrocera charlotte is an homage to – you guessed it – Charlotte, the clever and kind barn spider who saves the life of Wilbur the pig in the beloved 1952 children’s classic, Charlotte’s Web.
The last two species are Ochyrocera misspider and Ochyrocera atlachnacha, the former references a friendly children’s book character, and the latter represents Atlach-Nacha, a giant spider-like entity with a human face from the H.P. Lovecraft Myth Circle.
Now, unless you live in northern Brazil, it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any of these newly identified spiders. But the well-read researchers have provided an easy method for appreciating their existence: Go pick up one of the books or movies referenced here. And maybe think twice before messing with the next eight-legged friend you find hiding in the recesses of your closet.
LAST SONG AND DANCE is an illustrated novel which tells the grim story of Cy Sullivan, failed alcoholic author who has returned to his hometown after years of scandal and disgrace, not in triumph but simply to die. He has but a week to compose his great American novella, Curse of the Blue Nun which he structures in relation to the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis. A surrealist bible of sorts–but unlike the original, this one does not purport to be true.
Stylistic influences/parodies run the gamut from biblical parables, Shakespeare to various 20th century modernists—Joyce, Faulkner, Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs etc as well as film noir, supernatural horror and even Fellini. I employed a number of voices ranging from erudite to jail house slang to hillbilly (my Kentucky voice) so it’s a veritable literary collage. The artist at Bookfuel did a great job with my visual designs which were primarily inspired from Gustave Dore although it concludes with a pastiche of Grant Wood’s American Gothic which is quite nice. While this all sounds rather heavy and artistically over the top, Last Song and Dance is very much a black comedy which takes nothing seriously including itself or its failed author. The LSD initials of the title are appropriate given the hallucinatory quality of much of the writing. I believe there is a potential cult audience but as of today, it’s only sold three copies and there is no browsing on these sales sites nor is it visually displayed on Bookfuel’s site which is primarily genre or non fiction/ self help that sort of thing so it’s a bit of an orphan as such…
Buy it on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2BBqONP
San Francisco Book Review – 5 Stars
Christopher Woods has penned a curious yarn in the Last Song and Dance. The book is written in a unique style unlike any other. It addresses a chaotic set of contentious characters who dare to be noticed, each with an eagerness for confrontation. With wonderful black ink drawings that capture the mood of the characters of the story, the author paints an ominous narrative. Last Song can be compared to Sanctuary by Paul Monette for its imagery and imaginative style. Many of the illustrations feature symbolic references to the plot that add intrigue to the story, forcing you to reflect on the meaning of certain passages. Much of the narrative reads like dialogue, but conveys a meaning of reaching into the mind of the character. The storyline is complex, with a variety of characters who seem to share certain traits.
The storyline focuses on tested confrontations. Although these keep the reader busy, they add depth to the plot. It’s a little misdirected in places, giving the reader a chance to compare that part with other parts. This tends to function like a red herring in a mystery. You cannot tell if it’s a blooper or a ploy until you finish it. Sorry—no spoilers!
Christopher Woods does a fine job at depicting the characters with verbiage, the illustrations bringing them to life. The intricacy with which the characters are woven into the plot shows us only glimpses of what’s to come, kind of like a foreshadowing of events. The reader must do a lot of work to put the story together in his or her mind as he or she reads. This provides an overall aura of mystery, motivating the reader to keep turning the pages. And the text flows along fast, making it easy reading.
If you want to sit down and read something to contemplate and capture your attention, then you’ve come to the right work. Last Song kind of reads like a fairy tale or fable, yet some of the characters are using profanity that would not be appropriate for children under 18, and the characters appear to engage in behavior that would also not suit young readers.
Christopher Woods is aging gracelessly in Louisville, KY, USA. He lives in a box with his failing typewriter, Clarabelle and albino blind/deaf creature, Spot who is over fifty years old and rumored to be the world’s oldest living dog, if that is indeed its species. This is the first novel by Mr. Woods and assistants Clarabelle and Spot but, in all likelihood, is their last song and dance
This is the first of a three-part series based on never-before-published training manuals for the KGB, the Soviet intelligence organization that Vladimir Putin served as an operative, and that shaped his view of the world. Its veterans still make up an important part of now-Russian President Vladimir Putins power base. All were trained in the same dark arts, and these primers in tradecraft are essential to an understanding of the way they think and the way they operate.
U.S. intelligence operatives understand this only too well. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN earlier this month Putin is a great case officer, suggesting he knows how to handle an asset, and thats what hes doing with the presidentthat is, the president of the United States.
I am saying this figuratively, Clapper went on, when asked to clarify his remark. I think you have to remember Putins background. Hes a KGB officer. Thats what they do. They recruit assets. And I think some of that experience and instinct of Putin has come into play here, and hes managing a pretty important account, if I could use that term, with our president.
The first installment of this series, directly relevant to the question of how Putins minions played members of the Trump campaign, looks specifically at the use of third parties to target individuals and organizations.
Not many outside The Professors rarefied circle, knew who he was or what he studied or where he came from. No doubt that was part of his appeal. In his mid-fifties, he spoke of himself with a braggadocio not uncommon to unheard-of academics insisting that theyd been heard and heeded around the world. Hed served prominently, one online biography explained, in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of his native Malta, where hed also advised the Ministry of Education. Hed been an election observer in a Central Asian autocracy. Hed worked for the kinds of institutions one remembers, if one remembers them at all, as interchangeable word jumbles of faux-gravitas: The London Academy of Diplomacy; The Euro-Mediterranean University of Slovenia.
The Professor had also attended confabs hosted by Kremlin-financed think tanks in Russia and spoken on appropriately vague topics such as economic and international cooperation. Hed once even claimed to have had a brief private audience with the Russian president himself, although his own assistant didnt buy that. The Professor, she said, was too small-time for such world-historical encounters.
Maybe. But somehow he knew that the Russians had intercepted thousands of emails belonging to a U.S. candidate for the White House long before the rest of the world did and he relayed this information to a young, inexperienced campaign adviser to a rival candidate, with whom hed struck up a rapport while both were traveling in Italy. At first The Professor was uninterested in the American. Then the American explained his promising new role back in New York in a presidential campaign and The Professor became very interested.
In fact, five days after the American was named publicly as one of the candidates top foreign policy hands in an interview with a major U.S. broadsheet, The Professor met him for lunch in London. By now the American had taken to referring to The Professor as a good friend of mine in his communiques back to campaign headquarters. The Professor opened doors, introducing him to Russias ambassador to the United Kingdom and to a Russian woman mistakenly or purposefully misidentified as a niece of the Russian president.
From here, The Professors interaction with the American diminished. The woman who wasnt a niece or any relative of anyone that important, together with a third man, a program director at one of those Kremlin-financed think tanks in Russia, henceforth led the discussion via email and Skype about a prospective liaison between members of the U.S. presidential candidates campaign (possibly the candidate himself) and the Russian leadership (possibly the Russian president himself). If such a liaison happened, itd have to happen in Moscow or a neutral city.
True, The Professor was still on hand to advise his good friend as to who exactly in the Russian government in Washington or London the American might speak with about arranging such a sensitive rendezvous. But the semi-anonymous Malteses work as a go-between was done. The Russians would take it from here.
The KGB training manual is still classified in Russia. Even though it is nearly 30 years old, it is still relied upon as an educational tool for Putins clandestine cadres.
I am aware, wrote FBI Special Agent Robert Gibbs in his affidavit accompanying the federal complaint against George Papadopoulos, the American campaign adviser who confessed he lied to the FBI, that the Russian government and its intelligence and security services frequently make use of non-governmental intermediaries to achieve their foreign intelligence objectives I am aware that the Russian government has used individuals associated with academia and think tanks in such a capacity.
Indeed. This common practice makes the story of the professor mentioned in the FBI court document, whose real name has since been revealed as Joseph Mifsud, even more intriguing than his suspicious overtures to a well-placed American political operative. Mifsud told The Daily Beast in an interview immediately after his name surfaced that he couldnt be the man in the FBI complaint. I am an academic, he insisted. But multiple inquiries have made it clear that U.S. investigators do not find that denial credible.
How would a former employee of a European Union member states foreign affairs ministry be made use of by Russian spies? Was he even cognizant of his role as a talent-spotter for high-value targets for recruitment or were his personality traitsa propensity for exaggerating his significance, a fondness for name-dropping well-connected Russian acquaintances and attending international conferencessimply exploited to make him an unwitting agent of Moscow Center?Or was he drawn into an international masquerade by his own folly, some hapless indiscretion on one of those jaunts to Moscow or St. Petersburg, which happened years ago but which his handlers wont ever let him forget?
The type of tradecraft suggested in the FBI complaint against Papadopolous, the transformation of civilians into assets who are then tasked with targeting other civilians, possibly of foreign or hostile nations, has been standard operating procedure for generations.
MOST OF WHAT WE KNOW of the Cold War, at least as it went down on the oppositions side, has come to us from the testimony of high-level KGB defectors such as Oleg Gordievsky and Sergei Tretyakov, or from the post-retirement memoirs of spymasters such as Oleg Kalugin. In one staggering case of good fortune, Vasili Mitrokhin, the archivist for the KGBs First Chief Directorate, which was in charge of foreign intelligence in the Soviet Union, managed to smuggle into the West handwritten copies of an enormous tranche of Soviet intelligence documents. From Mitrokhins resulting file, we have perhaps the largest and most edifying glimpse into how a totalitarian secret police functioned for decades: whom it recruited, how it succeeded or failed in getting the better of its adversaries (especially its main one, the United States), and to what depths of cynical manipulation it sank to try to conquer the world.
The Russian component of the Eastern bloc spy archives is by far the least complete. Whereas many of the occupied satellite regimes sought total transparency in their truth-and-reconciliation transitions from communism to democracy, the Russian Federation has mainly kept its occluded history in the dark.
As Masha Gessen observes in her new book, appropriately titled The Future Is History, even Boris Yeltsin was more interested in getting right to the reconciliation part by skipping almost entirely over the antecedent truth. Only a small portion of the KGB archives was declassified because Yeltsin foreclosed on a policy of full lustration for fear of what that might do to a fragile society just discovering freedom.
How does one reckon with an intelligence apparatus so vast and powerful that its reach touched every living soul in nearly one-third of the planet and transformed even good men and womenmothers, fathers, and childreninto informants or accomplices?Recriminations on this scale could cannibalize a democratic Russia before it even had a chance to take hold. Better to let past stay past and hidden. If granting impunity to all KGB operatives meant that those who otherwise might have been brought to justice were now in excellent positions to seize control of the Russian government, so be it.
Still, every now and then, a few more shadows recede from this secret history, whether Moscow Center likes it or not.
THE 108-PAGE DOCUMENT is marked secret in Russian and titled Political Intelligence from the Territory of the USSR. It is dated Moscow, 1989 (the year the Soviet bloc collapsed) and comes with the following disclaimer: Approved by the USSR KGB PGU as a teaching manual for students of the Andropov Red Banner Institute in special discipline course 1 and agents of external intelligence. PGU stands for Pervoye Glavnoye Upravlenie, or the First Chief Directorate, and the Andropov Red Banner Institute is the famous finishing school for Soviet operatives.
The document is a how-to guide for recruiting and running foreign agents who traveled to the Soviet Union, using institutions ostensibly dedicated to everything but espionage. Such as?
Well, such as: The Foreign Ministry, the Ministry for Foreign Economic Ties, the State Education Committee, the Ministry of Culture, the Peace Committee, the Academy of Science, etc. can be used as well as theatre, art shows, cinema, tourism Opportunities for contact with foreigners come when they have to solve problems and resolve a conflict situation, for example, violation of customs rules, road accidents, or violation of other Soviet laws. Agents can be placed in trains, planes and hotels to make these approaches. Conveniently, where problems or conflict situations dont arise spontaneously, they can be manufactured to serve precisely this purpose.
The First Chief Directorate training manual was passed to The Daily Beast several weeks ago by a European security service, which says that the document is still classified in Russia primarily because, even though it is nearly 30 years old, it is still relied upon as an educational tool for Putins clandestine cadres.
In the United States, spying was always a little-understood activity that took place at the margins and in the shadows, under the rule of law. In the Soviet Union, spying was central, and was the law.
CIA veteran John Sipher
We assess with high confidence, an officer from this European service says, speaking on condition of anonymity, that the thrust of this material is taught at Russias intelligence academies even today. Russias services are proud of their Cold War history, specific case studies and the lessons learned then continue to be relevant for current operational work.
Much of whats in here indeed has a ripped-from-the-headlines feel to it because, as two former U.S. intelligence officers who have studied the manual and attested to its authenticity suggest, plus a change.
There is a reason that espionage is referred to as the second-oldest profession in the world, says Steven Hall, a former CIA station chief in Moscow. Things dont change that much. Now, though, we have a fuller picture of what we always knew, and what makes this document valuable is it comes straight from the horses mouth.
Reading this document made me smile, says John Sipher, a veteran of the CIAs Senior Intelligence Service. This is The Sword and the Shield [the Mitrokhin archive], the basic playbook of Russian intelligence. In the United States, spying was always a little-understood activity that took place at the margins and in the shadows, under the rule of law. In the Soviet Union, spying was central, and was the law.
WITHIN THE KGBS FIRST CHIEF DIRECTORATE, the department responsible for recruiting foreign agents on native soil was known as Directorate RT, for Razvedka s Territorii (intelligence from the territory).According to the training manual, some 2,000 Soviet diplomats and hundreds of Soviet journalists and trade representatives were press-ganged into working on Directorate RTs behalf recruiting foreigners. Directorate RT had an ample number of people to work with. Virtually everyone living in the Soviet Union was a potential spy, as the KGB harvested a certain amount of its data from Soviet citizens in various ministries who work with foreigners. Poets, novelists, singers, painters, ballerinas could be enlisted in sophisticated operations aimed at snaring both minnows and whales from the West. French President Charles De Gaulles ambassador to Moscow once got reeled in by a KGB cast of hundreds, including some of the finest Soviet prostitutes.
There were, as the manual puts it, several thousand foreign government representatives to draw on, plus the children of those representatives; businessmen looking to widen their portfolios in the Eastern bloc under glasnost (which would certainly include New York real estate moguls); an untold array of visiting scientists and academics, many of them affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; 2,000 diplomats, 100,000 foreign students in 800 universities; 10,000 military people from 30 countries; those with relatives in the USSR who remain for three to six months, including some 1.5 million Russian emigres, 2 million Ukrainians, 1.5 million Armenians, and 800,000 Balts.
Social scientists such as our Maltese professor of diplomacy were of particular interest given their likelihood of contract government work back home, drafting military or economic policy. If you were from abroad, there was almost no way you werent surveilled and scrutinized as a possible asset, with the omnipresent danger being of course that you were actually sent from abroad by a Western intelligence servicea danger Directorate RT was all too keenly aware existed and took a host of precautionary measures to avoid.
Thats why the due diligence for recruits was so exhaustive: Each time a foreign student goes to the USSR, he has to go through an application process, the manual states. The agentura [network of agents] becomes involved in the process of get-acquainted chats, and PGU operatives especially sent to various countries may be involved. After these students get to the USSR, they are studied via agents from among Soviet and foreign citizens in their universities, by administrative, professorial and other personnel and by the military in the cases of military training. … Before recruiting, it should be determined what prospect the student has of getting a job in institutions of interest to Soviet intelligence. Some potential recruits identified abroad can be invited especially to the Soviet Union for further workover.
The manual goes on to say: Diplomats and journalists accredited in the USSR cannot make a career without contacts among authoritative political and civic circles in our country." Foreign graduate students need access to professors and researchers. "Many political and civic figures in foreign countries need contacts with Soviet institutions and organizations for reasons of prestige, and sometimes strive to ensure themselves and their political groupings success in their domestic political arena as authorities in the area of relations of their country with the Soviet Union." (One thinks of The Professor and his American friend.) "All of these elements create bases for establishing contacts with foreigners, their operative development and attraction of them to intelligence cooperation.
Good tradecraft means inconspicuousness. If a potential recruit is traveling to the Soviet Union as part of a delegation, he should never be the head of that delegation and the delegations size should be sufficiently large to ensure greater anonymity for the mark. If the recruit cant come to Russia, then Russia will come to the recruit: An agent might be sent to visit him under the guise of a professional conference or a study-abroad program, or an embedded agent already residing in the recruits country can be activated and a pretext for contact created.
YOURE A PHYSICIST from Paris who has in the past done work for Frances nuclear weapons program. You naturally study research conducted by your Soviet counterparts and because you grew up in the West, where there still remains a healthy separation between government and private citizens, you assume that science is its own sacred field of human inquiry, free from the profanities of geopolitics. Although you have belatedly begun to believe that the arms race to which you contributed is madness and, afflicted with bourgeois ideology though you may be, you consider yourself a man of science first, a citizen of France second, and a NATO ally with clearance last.
Directorate RT is counting on this being your set of priorities and therefore on your eventual connivance, for the sake of preventing a nuclear disaster, of course.A scientific institution in the USSR is found to make the initial contact with you via a letter of introduction. Dont worry, theyll work around your busy schedule with ease because each year there are 300 international forums within the USSR and 700 abroad in which the Soviet Union takes part and the KGB ensures that these events are held with political interests of the USSR.
A Soviet physicist, one whose scholarship you greatly admire, is prevailed upon to do a bit of extracurricular work for Directorate RT by extending the offer of a visit to Moscow State University in the coming months to attend a symposium on antimatter which is preplanned or will perhaps be cobbled together solely for your benefit.
Outreach will take place carefully, as French counterintelligence will no doubt be alive to the prospect of a trained specialist who worked on the most sensitive national defense sector being lured beyond the Iron Curtain for less than scientific reasons. That is why the rules of the game here may get a little more complicated, owing to the need for plausibly deniable cut-outs who will act, in aggregate, as a convincing cover story should the operation go sideways.
As the manual puts it, the recruitment agent, in this case the Soviet physicist, is introduced into the operation separate from the agent who is running the recruitment, that is, the more established asset of Directorate RT who in turns answers to an officer of the KGB. This chain of command is in place so that in the event of failure, the intelligence agent who is working through the cover institution isnt exposed, the institution here being one of the most prestigious and oldest universities in the world. Also, given the specialized nature of the quarry involved, the recruitment agent is needed when the agent doesnt have enough background in the topic in which the foreigner specializes or doesnt have a position in the cover organization which would be at the foreigners level and authoritative for him. In other words, because youre coming to Moscow to discuss antimatter, youll need to do so with someone who understands the subject matter and with whom you can develop a mutual trust and camaraderie before any trap may be set.
A file is drawn up on you known as the Initial Study File. If the operation proceeds well and a relationship with you migrates into the realm of actual intelligence work then an Operative Development File will be opened. You will be handled by multiple agents of various departments of KGB, not just Directorate RT, and some of these will be working under cover in ministries; counterintelligence agents, agents from among Soviet and foreign citizens, trusted persons, and the special PGU reserve disguised as citizens from foreign countries. Ernesto, that lovely Argentine lawyer you shared a cigarette with at the InTourist Hotel?He works for the First Chief Directorate.
From the moment you arrive in Moscow, you will be watched and followed everywhere you go.
If all proceeds well, the final stage of your recruitment will be an assessment of your reliability and loyalty. Do you have the bravery, restraint, operational acuity, resourcefulness and readiness to take an intelligence risk?
Your word will not be enough given what is to be invested in you. If physics and de-proliferation got you on the hook, then what will keep you dangling there indefinitely is a flagrant act of criminality.
Maybe youve already committed a crime without realizing it. Maybe you let slip a telling classified detail of Frances atomic program with a colleague at the antimatter symposium, a detail to which only yourself and a handful of others in France were ever privy to. It wasnt your fault. You were conferring with such engaging and charming equals at a symposium few scholars could comprehend. If yours was an unconscious misstep, even better.
If you didnt break the law up unbidden, there will be plenty of other opportunities to do so, with encouragement. Recruitment is strengthened above all by giving intelligence tasks to the person recruited for collaboration, the performance of which violates certain legal or moral norms of his country. Now your interlocutors are revealed to you as more than physicists and academicians. You are asked to return to Paris, regain access to Frances nuclear program and begin stealing state secrets.
You will be brought deeper into a criminal conspiracy, if only to confirm your readiness for practical intelligence cooperation and to make it impossible or difficult for you to refuse such cooperation in the future. Even now, your fate is not entirely clear because there is always the chance that youll go wobbly. You may even be introduced to a psychiatrist at some point who will sketch a personality profile of you and find out what really motivates you. Contrary to your professed love of knowledge and world peace, are you actually driven by baser instincts: career ambition, status anxiety, revenge, hatred, love? Are you perhaps attracted to one of the agents assigned to your case and, even though youre married, acted on that impulse? (Here the psychiatrist will be aided with an array of audio and visual materials to confirm your behavior in Moscow.) Do you fear betraying your country and the legal consequences?
You could run home only to inform the French authorities of your treachery and beg forgiveness, which they might actually, dreadfully, bestow upon you by asking you to turn double agent: Spy on the spies who recruited you. Or your nerves might simply get the better of your resolve in the course of some as-yet-determined practical intelligence cooperation and you could be caught red-handed by the DGSI, Frances internal security service, and then locked up or worse: traded for some complementary French asset being held the USSR. That might be worse than prison because it would mean being sent back to Moscow, your new and permanent home, where you spend the rest of your life, never to see your friends and family again.
What began as a pantomime of professional courtesya simple invitation to attend a symposiumhas culminated in your personal and professional destruction. You have become a citizen of no-mans-land, as one fictional hero of counterintelligence memorably phrased it, the collateral damage of History. No one told you it would ever be otherwise.
VICTOR CHERKASHIN, THE ERSTWHILE handler of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, the two biggest KGB moles in American history, was also the chief of Directorate RT. Contacts included members of almost every U.S. organization whose members set foot in the country, he writes in his memoir Spy Handler. As a rule, the arrival of every foreigner created counterintelligence work.
Directorate RT was a truly totalitarian approach to intelligence, according to Andrei Soldatov, the co-author of The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russias Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB. It made the territory of the Soviet Union a gigantic trapall regional branches of the KGB had special departments tasked to look for ways to recruit foreigners on their soil.And this extraordinary apparatus, dedicated to the incrimination of hapless visitors as to the complicity of coerced natives, is by no means a relic of the Cold War.
There is a certain irony that when Putin became chief of the FSB in 1999, and the FSB wanted to expand its powers and get a foreign intelligence branch, this empire of regional departments was used to build it, Soldatov says. A special coordination body was created and then turned into the foreign intelligence arm of the FSB, the Federal Security Service, the domestic security arm that grew out of the demise of the KGB. The foreign arm is today known as the SVR, which is the actual successor of the First Chief Directorate; the Andropov Red Banner Institute, in fact, is now called the SVR Academy.
The continuity doesnt end there.
A phrase that recurs quite a lot in the manual is one that the American man in the street now knows, thanks to the unpleasantness of the last two years.Active measures, or activniye meropriyatiya, is an antique KGB concept of deploying dirty tricks to vitiate and demoralize a Western opponent, now much in sensationalized circulation in the Age of Trump owing to the deluge of falsehoods emanating from Russian government media portals and non-government, non-Russian social media platforms.
Nobody does it better, and if you dont trust MSNBC to define what disinformation is and how it works, you can trust the KGB: The conspiratorial promotion to the enemy of fabricated news, especially prepared materials and documents, so as to lead him into confusion and motivate him to decisions and actions that meet the interests of the Soviet state. Disinformation measures are undertaken to undermine the positions of imperialism in various countries of the world, increase the contradictions among imperialist states, bourgeois political parties and individual figures, to weaken their positions, counteract the unleashing of anti-Soviet campaigns and also for the purposes of influencing the outcome of negotiations not only on political matters but in concluding major trade deals with foreign companies and firms.
Disinformation isnt designed to make you believe something false but convincing; it is designed to make you doubt everything true and demonstrable; to make the very existence of unimpeachable facts null and void.
Excepting the turgid and outmoded ideological terms, how can this not still be a serviceable textbook on deceiving and dividing the West for those just initiated into the ranks of the FSB, SVR, and GRU, Russias domestic, foreign, and military intelligence services, respectively?
Maybe the CIA invented Ebola to kill Africans.
Neo-Nazis have taken over Ukraine with the help of the State Department.
Russia is pulling its military out of Syria because its destroyed ISIS.
Emmanuel Macron might be gay.
Couldnt the Democratic Party have had Seth Rich murdered?
What if they hacked themselves?
Did you hear there was a chemical plant explosion in Louisiana?
Hillary Clinton had a stroke.
North African migrants have raped a young German girl and Merkel is covering it up.
These ideas, once injected into the zeitgeist, are incredibly difficult to dislodge from it, which is precisely the point of them. Disinformation isnt designed to make you believe something false but convincing; it is designed to make you doubt everything true and demonstrable; to make the very existence of unimpeachable facts null and void.
And where crude or inventive falsehoods dont work, the truth will often suffice, provided its told with bad intent or weaponized, in the contemporary parlance. Disseminating the private correspondence of one political party or campaign in order to embarrass it in a democratic election, if not make it lose that election, is undoubtedly interference in the sovereign affairs of another country. But that doesnt make the content of such correspondence fabricated.
Exposure as a method of active measures is used to reveal to the world public or the public of individual countries secret anti-Soviet plots, aggressive plans and intentions, bad deeds and other such actions of military political groupings of the enemy Exposure operations can have significant influence on the formation of public opinion abroad in the direction favorable to the Soviet Union, enable the strengthening of anti-American sentiments in various countries, the growth of the anti-war movement and so on.
The italics are mine. The ablest of these operations seize upon already existing weaknesses and vulnerabilities and simply nudge them along. The victims herethe Western recipients of propaganda and disinformationare themselves the plausibly deniable cut-outs of Russian intelligence, only they dont know it. When is someone predisposed to accepting the false statistics or bogus news clippings posted to some anti-Muslim Facebook page transformed into a dupe of an influence operation, and when is that person just a whipped-up bigot?
On the other hand, the classified works of Directorate RT remind us that the KGB was one of the most high-octane engines of mass media in the 20th century. Active measures, the manual states, took the form of publication in the foreign press of articles, publication of books, brochures, leaflets in the name of foreign authors; organization of radio and television broadcasts; press conferences and interviews with prominent state, political and civic figures, prominent scientists and other influential foreigners instigation in foreign countries of meetings, rallies, demonstrations, appeals to the governments, inquiries in parliaments; promotion of decisions, resolutions, manifestos corresponding to the interests of the Soviet Union and so on.
Putin and his surrogates decry a Cold War mentality in the West while never having abandoned it themselves.
Foreign journalists and commentators were of particular value because they could easily be made to appear in print or on air with KGB-derived talking points, or theses. Now Directorate RT has given way to RT and Sputnik, and presidents, too, can be made to recite or retweet the concoctions of Moscow Centerall without the need of expensive and months-long recruitment efforts.
Here is Steven Hall, once Langleys top man in Russia: Russian intelligence is more sophisticated and better today than it was during the Cold War. Why? The dictatorship of Putin has got far better resources to play with. Alexander Herzen once said that what he feared most for the future was Genghis Khan with the telegraph. Newspaper, radio, and television never possessed the universality and possibilities of the internet, where content is manufactured by anyone with a keyboard and a pulse, and sometimes not even then, but by self-running algorithms.
Technology may have improved by orders of magnitude, but the general contours of these influence operations have not changed overmuch since Lenins Cheka, the predecessor of the KGB. It scarcely helps that the West has had to re-learn this toolkit, and its manifold adaptations for the 21st century, in extremity and only after suffering unexpected tactical defeats in Ukraine and Syria and perhaps more lasting strategic ones in Europe and the United States.
This shock in Western societies, Hall says, from the Catalonian independence movement, to the German, French elections is navet. The Russians never got rusty at this, we just got rusty at identifying it.
Moreover, the virtues of an open society are vices to its enemies. The notion, for instance, that foreign spies might look to blackmail or incriminate and then recruit sojourning scientists or graduate students or newspaper columnists was anathema to liberal sensibilities. The Russians just think it so quaint when we say, students and cultural exchanges ought to be sacrosanct and certainly nobody would use these honest exchange programs for espionage purposes, said Hall. "They take it to the bank every time.
There is no such thing as clean business, people-to-people contact or cultural work that is off limits, agrees John Sipher. Any time a foreigner interacts with the Russian state, he or she should expect to be targeted, assessed and scrutinized. But it wont do to have that foreigner know this going in, or to understand more broadly that he is naturally a target for manipulation.
Putin and his surrogates decry a Cold War mentality in the West while never having abandoned it themselves because doing so preys upon a very Western sense of self-criticism and guilt. Suspicions about people and institutions make us feel lousy. How McCarthyist! Yet the absence of vigilance leads to susceptibility. Is it a surprise that the Russians would have a full dossier on someone like Donald Trump? asks Sipher.
Mobbed-up blowhards, flashy pop singers who have married into (and out of) kleptocratic dynasties in the Caucasus, ex-prosecutors from the Moscow suburbs who defend state oligarchs and their offspring from money-laundering allegations in foreign jurisdictions, founders of anti-virus software companiesall may seem a likely dramatis personae for a carefully choreographed influence operation. But, says Hall, even well-meaning people under normal circumstances, if they have any exposure in Russia whatsoever, whether its family, finances, connections, friendsthose are vulnerabilities for the FSB. They can be coaxed into living a double, triple, quadruple life when it comes to interacting with a Westerner. If they dont say the right things under the right conditions, they could get a call or a knock at the door that would be disastrous for them.
Doesnt that make the work of Western spies and counterspies infinitely more difficult, given that those they will have to rely on for credible human intelligence may be keeping multiple sets of books. Say, your lowly Gazprom secretary who is reporting everything she says to her British informant back to her Russian handler. Hall laughs. They dont call it a wilderness of mirrors for nothing.
Start scrounging up your birth certificate if your name is Sydney, because it could be your golden ticket for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia. United Airlines recently announced that they are adding nonstop service from Houston, Texas to Sydney, Australia, and they’re giving away a killer grand prize to celebrate. Keep reading to find out how to win a free trip to Australia, because if your name is Sydney, you could start the new year down under.
United Airlines will have their first flight with nonstop service from Houston to Sydney take off on Jan. 18, 2018, according to To kick it off, United wants all people named Sydney (first last name) to enter the airline’s sweepstakes for a chance to win roundtrip tickets to their namesake Australian city. Five “Sydneys” and their guests (hope for non-Sydneys!) will be chosen to fly on the inaugural flight on Jan. 18, 2018.
So, if your legal name is Sydney — or one of the other 19 accepted spellings of the name — you can enter the contest by filling out the entry form on the United Airlines website. Seriously, pretty much all you have to do is fill out the form and be named Sydney. The other musts are that you’re a legal U.S. resident and are at least 18 years old.
Hey, Sydney! Want to go on a #UnitedJourney to Sydney?! If you have the first or last name Sydney, enter for a chance to win a trip to Australia on our new nonstop flight between Houston and Sydney! Enter/Official Rules: https://t.co/QWbk5ztvKr https://t.co/ChNICEXMl6
If you fit all the contest parameters, remember that the entry period runs from Dec. 13, 2017 to Dec. 27, 2017 (so enter ASAP). The winners will be chosen on Dec. 28, 2017.
What exactly will you win if you’re one of the five lucky Sydneys? First, you’ll get two free economy-class roundtrip tickets that will take you to Sydney from Jan. 18 until Jan. 25, 2018. While you’re in Australia, you’ll spend your five nights at the Westin Sydney, explore the beautiful sights aboard a Sydney Harbor Sightseeing Cruise, check out the iconic Sydney Opera House, and discover Australia’s natural beauty during a day tour in the Blue Mountains. Plus, you’ll receive a $500 gift card to help you live your best Sydney life.
With a prize package that loaded, United must be excited about their new nonstop flights from Houston to Sydney. Even though the trip is free if you win, you be paying for it with your time. The nonstop flight to Sydney from Houston is a whopping 17 hours and 35 minutes long, but the return fight cuts it down a bit lasting just 15 hours and 45 minutes. I get it, that is a time to be up in the air — but hey, it’ll be a great time to get a jump on all that reading that you resolved to do in 2018. Or, you can prep for your Australian adventure by re-watching the Mary-Kate and Ashely Olsen classic, (feel free to enjoy it totally un-ironically). Either way, you’re on a free trip to Sydney, so really it’s all good.
Before you hop on that free flight, you can take some steps to ensure that you’re not waiting around all day at the airport. Instead of arriving at the airport at the crack of dawn to make sure you don’t get stuck in a long security line, you can check security line wait times on the TSA website beforehand. You can also sign up for TSA Precheck to cut down wait times to a mere five minutes. Given that your flight will be quite the haul, cutting down wait times is a definite must.
If you’re name is Sydney, make sure you remember to enter the contest before Dec. 27. For all of us poor non-Sydneys, all that’s left to do now is buddy up with your closest pal named Sydney and hope their name gets drawn on Dec. 28. Good luck!
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Being a climate scientist is a pretty depressing job these days, since it involves predicting disaster and being ignored even when you’re not getting death threats and legal harassment. So to blow off a little steam, climate researchers at the Universities of Bristol, Cardiff, and Southampton decided to create the scientific equivalent of fan fiction. The consequence is a climate model of the world in which Game of Thrones takes place.
Scouring the books for every weather reference they could find (rather a lot in a series obsessed with the coming of winter), the authors have created a climate model so detailed it explains the flight-path of Targaryen dragons across the Narrow Sea.
Sensing that a boring commitment to “fact” might make it hard to get such a paper published in the peer-reviewed journals of Earth, the authors have submitted their work to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of King’s Landing. Modestly, rather than publish under their own names, they attributed the work to Samwell Tarly, who has a particularly acute familiarity with how important the Westeros climate can be.
To ensure the widest dissemination, and because too much geekery is never enough, the work has also been published in Dothraki and High Valyrian, although Tarly complains that the Dothraki not being sailors have no word for “isobar”. There is also a twitter account where citizen scientists wishing to collaborate with Tarly can contact him.
Tarly observes that, despite the different lengths of the seasons, the climate at the Wall resembles that of Lapland, while Casterly Rock is similar to Houston – a warning the Lannisters are unlikely to heed. The season length, which others have attributed to everything from sunspots to the ridiculous notion of “magic”, Tarly explains as the consequence of chaotic tumbling of the planet’s axial tilt. Although Tarly is forced to guess the continents of the Southern Hemisphere, his work matches the books closely.
Chaotic axial tilt does little to alter climate sensitivity to greenhouse gasses, so emissions from dragons and deforestation for the purposes of shipbuilding may soften future winters. Desirable as this may be to keep White Walkers at bay, Tarly notes the consequences it would have on the low-lying parts of coastal cities, particularly Kings Landing. Consequently, Tarly calls on the rulers of the seven kingdoms to install windmills and use dragons sparingly.
The work follows in the footsteps of less challenging efforts by Radergast the Brown to simulate the climate of Middle Earth, noting the rainshadow of the Misty Mountains, the climatic similarity of The Shire to Leicestershire, and Mordor’s likeness to west Texas. Tarly and Radergast want spoilsports to know their work was unfunded and simulations run in their spare time.