The New York Times - The Doomsday Scam 5-15min

To approach the subject of red mercury is to journey into a comic-book universe, a zone where the stubborn facts of science give way to unverifiable claims, fantasy and outright magic, and where villains pursuing the dark promise of a mysterious weapon could be rushing headlong to the end of the world. This is all the more remarkable given the broad agreement among nonproliferation specialists that red mercury, at least as a chemical compound with explosive pop, does not exist. ... Legends of red mercury’s powers began circulating by late in the Cold War. But their breakout period came after the Soviet Union’s demise, when disarray and penury settled over the Kremlin’s arms programs. As declining security fueled worries of illicit trafficking, red mercury embedded itself in the lexicon of the freewheeling black-market arms bazaar. Aided by credulous news reports, it became an arms trafficker’s marvelous elixir, a substance that could do almost anything a shady client might need: guide missiles, shield objects from radar, equip a rogue underdog state or terrorist group with weapons rivaling those of a superpower. It was priced accordingly, at hundreds of thousands of dollars a kilogram. With time, the asking price would soar. ... Red mercury was a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. ... When the Crocodile placed his order, Abu Omar said, the smuggler asked how much the Islamic State was willing to pay. The answer was vague. The Islamic State would pay, he said, ‘‘whatever was asked.’’ This was not the practical guidance a businessman needs. So the Crocodile sharpened the answer. Up to $4 million — and a $100,000 bonus — for each unit of red mercury matching that shown in a set of photographs he sent to Abu Omar over WhatsApp, the mobile-messaging service. ... the hoax has roots in an intelligence-service put-on, a disinformation campaign of phony news articles planted decades ago in Russian newspapers by the K.G.B. and one of its successors, the F.S.B.

International Business Times - Taser Takes Aim At Europe 5-15min

Taser is hoping France’s second encounter with terrorism this year will similarly set the stage for lucrative purchases of its wares overseas. ... Right now, two out of three uniformed police officers in America are carrying Tasers. Internationally, that figure drops to about one in 50, according to Taser estimates. As the American market has become saturated with Tasers, Smith views the European police market as ripe for disruption. ... But as Taser sets its sight on Europe in an age of deepening fear of terrorism, it is discovering that its own name and provenance pose significant challenges. Among law enforcement agencies in Europe, the American company is seen as symbolic of an American mode of policing that, far from pacifying communities, has provoked a backlash of violence and bitterness. Its eponymous product, the stun gun, speaks to an American reliance on technology over humanity and an overemphasis on heavy-handed security tactics instead of finesse. ... While plenty of European police would likely prefer the option of using “less lethal” force, they view Taser as an American firm that enables a uniquely American version of policing. ... Of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies in America, about 17,800 have a contract with Taser. …= “Here's the deal with Taser,” says Richard Lichten, a 30-year veteran in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who now serves as a Taser expert on criminal trials. “Any tool the policeman carries -- Taser, baton, pepper spray -- can be misused. The officer has to be trained on the device. I am a proponent of the use of Tasers when it's used properly.”

Bloomberg - Three Days Behind the Counter at a Vegas Gun Shop 5-15min

“It’s been this way for the last seven years,” since President Obama got into office, says Mike Moore, Westside’s account manager at RSR Group, a large national gun-and-ammunition wholesaler based in Winter Park, Fla. Moore and others in the industry marvel at the staying power of what they call “the Obama surge”—elevated sales driven by the (unfulfilled) fear of tougher federal gun control. ... “There’s four things selling guns at the moment,” says Rocky Fortino, one of Hopkins’s employees. “One: ‘I’m afraid they’re going to make it harder to buy a gun, so I better get one now.’ Two: ‘I’m afraid of home invasions and other violent crime.’ Three: ‘I’m afraid of mass shootings.’ And four: ‘I’m afraid of terrorism.’” ... With an estimated 300 million firearms already in private hands and surveys showing that a third or so of American households possess a gun, one might assume that the consumer market is saturated. “It’s not,” Hopkins says. “Gun owners are buying more guns, and lately we’re seeing some first-time buyers, too.”

Texas Monthly - Two Sams and Their Six-Shooter 5-15min

The standard frontier gun at the time was the mountain or plains rifle, a more compact version of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky flintlock muzzle loader, accurate to about two hundred yards. Dependable and powerful, it had one drawback: it took time to properly load—a full minute or close to it, and even longer on a horse, in a fight. Indians knew this and adjusted their tactics accordingly. They would send a few warriors to draw fire; then the entire band would swoop down onto the furiously reloading Anglos. Carrying a pistol or two or three helped, but these single-shot flintlocks were inaccurate at anything but the closest range, and they often snapped, or refused to fire, because of wet powder. And since an Indian could shoot ten to twelve arrows in the time it took to reload, the Anglos were at a serious disadvantage. Until now. ... A Connecticut Yankee who had been raised in a family of some privilege—at least before his father lost the bulk of his fortune—Colt had been fascinated with explosives and firearms since childhood. He’d come up with the idea for his revolver while still in his teens, but he didn’t have the funds for such an undertaking, so he’d hit the road for a few years as the Celebrated Dr. Coult, putting on stage shows demonstrating the wonders of laughing gas. Besides being smart and mechanically curious, Colt was a born huckster, and these shows were popular and lucrative. ... Much later, Colt would write that he burned with a desire to do “what never before has been accomplished by man.” Toward that end, in 1836, at the age of 22, after he’d saved enough money and acquired several investors, and after years of experimenting, he patented a five-shot revolver. ... Firing five shots in less time than one man could reload a flintlock weapon should have guaranteed large orders from the government. But the Paterson, as Colt’s first revolver became known, was fragile and fired a small-caliber ball, and it had to be half-disassembled to reload, so military tests were unimpressive, as were sales. When his company went bankrupt in 1842, Colt had turned to other pursuits, such as underwater mines and waterproof cables.

Wall Street Journal - A First Look at America’s Supergun 5-15min

The weapon is called a railgun and requires neither gunpowder nor explosive. It is powered by electromagnetic rails that accelerate a hardened projectile to staggering velocity—a battlefield meteorite with the power to one day transform military strategy, say supporters, and keep the U.S. ahead of advancing Russian and Chinese weaponry. ... The Navy developed the railgun as a potent offensive weapon to blow holes in enemy ships, destroy tanks and level terrorist camps. The weapon system has the attention of top Pentagon officials also interested in its potential to knock enemy missiles out of the sky more inexpensively and in greater numbers than current missile-defense systems—perhaps within a decade. ... The future challenge for the U.S. military, in broad terms, is maintaining a global reach with declining numbers of Navy ships and land forces. Growing expenses and fixed budgets make it more difficult to maintain large forces in the right places to deter aggression. ... Railgun research leans heavily on commercial advances in supercomputing to aim and on smartphone technology to steer the railgun’s projectile using the Global Positioning System.

Minnesota Law Review - Financial Weapons of War > 15min

Finance may be the most powerful weapon of war. It moves armadas, armies, and squadrons. It funds troops and artillery. It endows suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices. It pays for special forces and mercenaries. It underwrites cease-fires and purchases surrenders. Finance is the weapon that makes all other weapons of war possible. ... This Article is about the financial weapons of war, their growing importance in national affairs, and their wide-ranging effects on law, finance, and society. This Article offers an early, broad examination of the realities of modern financial warfare. This Article descriptively and normatively explores the new financial theater of war, analyzes the modern arsenal of financial weapons, highlights emerging legal and policy concerns, and proposes key recommendations for current and future financial warfare. ... While policymakers, analysts, and scholars have long been studying the respective, evolving fields of modern finance and modern warfare, there has been surprisingly little meaningful legal scholarship on the crosscutting realities of modern financial warfare. Drawing on a rich legal literature that spans the laws of war, finance, and cyberspace, this Article seeks to fill this understudied, underappreciated—yet critically important—legal intersection of war and finance. ... Part I provides a general layout of the modern financial theater of war. It describes the modern financial infrastructure as a globalized, high-tech, American-centric system. ... Part II highlights particular armaments of financial warfare. Rather than provide an exhaustive catalog of financial weapons, it offers a broad inventory of the financial weapons of war. It classifies the financial weapons of war as analog weapons and cyber weapons. ... Part III contends with new concerns. It asserts that the financial weapons of war present critical challenges for traditional laws and norms relating to financial hostilities, cyberattacks, and non-state actors. ... Part IV offers new pathways. It proposes three pragmatic policy recommendations that should be undertaken in the near term response to modern financial warfare while larger issues remain unresolved by global policymakers.

BuzzFeed - Attack of the Killer Robots 27min

One afternoon this spring at the United Nations in Geneva, I sat behind Wareham in a large wood-paneled, beige-carpeted assembly room that hosted the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a group of 121 countries that have signed the agreement to restrict weapons that “are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately”— in other words, weapons humanity deems too cruel to use in war. ... The UN moves at a glacial pace, but the CCW is even worse. There’s no vote at the end of meetings; instead, every contracting party needs to agree in order to get anything done. (Its last and only successful prohibitive weapons ban was in 1995.) It was the start of five days of meetings to discuss lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS): weapons that have the ability to independently select and engage targets, i.e., machines that can make the decision to kill humans, i.e., killer robots. The world slept through the advent of drone attacks. ... Yet it’s important to get one thing clear: This isn’t a conversation about drones. By now, drone warfare has been normalized — at least 10 countries have them. ... LAWS are generally broken down into three categories. Most simply, there’s humans in the loop — where the machine performs the task under human supervision, arriving at the target and waiting for permission to fire. Humans on the loop — where the machine gets to the place and takes out the target, but the human can override the system. And then, humans out of the loop — where the human releases the machine to perform a task and that’s it — no supervision, no recall, no stop function. The debate happening at the UN is which of these to preemptively ban, if any at all.

Modern War Institute - The Most Effective Weapon on the Modern Battlefield is Concrete 5min

Ask any Iraq War veteran about Jersey, Alaska, Texas, and Colorado and you will be surprised to get stories not about states, but about concrete barriers. Many soldiers deployed to Iraq became experts in concrete during their combat tours. Concrete is as symbolic to their deployments as the weapons they carried. No other weapon or technology has done more to contribute to achieving strategic goals of providing security, protecting populations, establishing stability, and eliminating terrorist threats. This was most evident in the complex urban terrain of Baghdad, Iraq. Increasing urbanization and its consequent influence on global patterns of conflict mean that the US military is almost certain to be fighting in cities again in our future wars. Military planners would be derelict in their duty if they allowed the hard-won lessons about concrete learned on Baghdad’s streets to be forgotten.

Bloomberg - Is the F-35 a Trillion-Dollar Mistake? 13min

The ambition to create the version of the F-35 that I watched on the tarmac at Patuxent River—one that can make short takeoffs and vertical landings—was what got the fighter jet’s development under way in the 1980s. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon’s tech arm, began working at the Marine Corps’ behest on an improved version of the Harrier, a crash-prone vertical-landing jet of British design. According to a Pentagon history of the F-35, Darpa quietly sought assistance from a research and development arm of Lockheed Martin known as the Skunk Works. By the early 1990s, the Darpa-Skunk Works collaboration had produced preliminary concepts, and the Marine Corps began pressing Congress for funding. The Air Force and Navy insisted that they, too, needed stealthy, supersonic fighters to replace aging Cold War-era models. Out of this clamoring grew a consensus that the only way to afford thousands of cutting-edge fighters was to build a basic model that could be customized for each service. ... The degree of commonality among the three versions of the F-35—the shared features—turned out to be not the anticipated 70 percent but a mere 25 percent, meaning that hoped-for economies of scale never materialized. A pattern of continual reengineering resulted in billions of dollars in cost overruns and yearslong delays.

The Atlantic - How to Deal With North Korea 26min

Kim’s regime may be evil and deluded, but it’s not stupid. It has made sure that the whole world knows its aims, and it has carried out public demonstrations of its progress, which double as a thumb in the eye of the U.S. and South Korea. The regime has also moved its medium-range No-dong and Scud missiles out of testing and into active service, putting on displays that show their reach—which now extends to South Korean port cities and military sites, as well as to the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan. ... In short, North Korea is a problem with no solution … except time. ... True, time works in favor of Kim getting what he wants. Every test, successful or not, brings him closer to building his prized weapons. When he has nuclear ICBMs, North Korea will have a more potent and lethal strike capability against the United States and its allies, but no chance of destroying America, or winning a war, and therefore no better chance of avoiding the inevitable consequence of launching a nuke: national suicide. Kim may end up trapped in the circular logic of his strategy. He seeks to avoid destruction by building a weapon that, if used, assures his destruction.