Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review - Killer Elite by Michael Smith

Book: Killer Elite by Michael Smith (St. Martins Press, NY: 2007).

Overview: Killer Elite purports to set out the history of "the Activity," an Army intelligence unit that was created in the aftermath of the failed attempt in April 1980 to rescue the American hostages being held in Iran. The purpose of the unit was to provide operational intelligence, primarily for use in planning and carrying out special operations missions. The book follows "the Activity" from its creation in the early 1980's, up through the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan (at least as of the time it was written).

Impression: This could have been an interesting book, but, alas, failed in most measures. This is the type of book that I refer to as a "meta-history." It is compendium of abstracted details, like a history text book, almost completely lacking any individual or specific details concerning the operations carried out by the unit. This is the difference between, for example, simply stating that "the next day, we overran a German bunker," versus explaining the details of the battle. The book is entitled "the inside story of America's most secret special operations team." They don't need to worry--their secrets are still safe.

Notable Points: For a person preparing for disaster or social upheaval, the most interesting (and, in reality, only interesting) portion of the book pertained to the use of the Activity in Columbia starting in 1989 to gather intelligence on Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel. In particular, it is interesting to note how they compromised the cartel's cell phone communications. The author writes:

"The Activity's well-equipped King Air intercept 'platform' had little problems [sic] getting 'ears on target.' A typical cell phone system is made up of a number of based states controlled by a mobile telephone switching office or MTSO. When a cell phone is turned on, its transceiver automatically starts searching for the base station with the strongest signal, like a baby animal bleating for its mother. Once it has established contact with the base station it sets up a control link, along which it transmits information about its identity so the network knows where it is. This allows incoming calls to be directed to the new 'mother' base station. The most effective way of monitoring the cell phone transmission is to use a process known as 'meaconing,' in which the intercept system takes control of the cell phone. It first jams the control link, forcing the cell phone to start scanning the available frequencies for another base station. It then sets up a new counterfeit base station with a much stronger signal, which attracts the target cell phone. All outgoing and incoming calls are not redirected through the counterfeit base station.

"Escobar and his colleagues believed they were immune to interception because even if their cell phone conversations were monitored, the phone network was encrypting the transmission in a way that made it impossible to understand them. But the intercept systems used by the military do not need to decrypt the transmissions. On a typical cell phone network, it is the base station that controls the encryption. So the intercept operator's counterfeit base section [sic] simply denies encryption, allowing the operator to listen into the calls 'in clear' without either party knowing what is going on." (p. 160).

The book also explains that "[t]hey could also use Escobar's cell phone as a bug even when it was not being used to make a call. The control link with the base station is on a completely different frequency to that used to transmit the actual calls and, if the cell phone is switched on, the intercept operator can listen in to what the owner or anyone else in the near vicinity of the cell phone is saying. The Activity's equipment also allowed them to locate the target even when he or she believed they had switched off their cell phone. Using the control link, the intercept operator could program the telephone to ensure that if it had been switched off, it came on at precisely the time the Activity needed to be able to locate it...." (p. 161). The author then goes on to briefly explain how the Activity would analyze the cell phone traffic to get an idea of the organizational structure of the cartel. (see p. 162).

One obvious point is that this describes capabilities that they were using 20 years ago! Today, with the full panoply of data on or transmitted by a cell phone (including GPS data), the capabilities to use cell phones to spy on citizens is much greater than what is described in the book.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Matthew 24 - No Man Knoweth The Time

 Okay. This has taken far too long to get out, but then I forgot the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle and tried to write an analysis that would rival that in Edersheim's Jesus the Messiah or Talmage's Jesus the Christ. While I was learning a lot from the exercise, it (a) was of little practical value for a prepper, and (b) was simply taking too long. So, back to the drawing board....

The Basics: At the end of Chapter 23 and beginning of Chapter 24, Christ pronounces condemnation upon the Jewish nation that (a) "their house" (i.e., the land generally, but the temple specifically, would be left "desolate" and, as to the temple, its destruction would be so complete that "[t]here shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down," Matt. 23:32 and 24:2; and (b) they (the Jews in a national sense) would not see him again "till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Matt. 23:39.

In response, certain of the apostles ask Jesus about when these will occur, and the signs of his return (or the end of the world). Christ's response comprises the bulk of Matthew 24 (and is also recorded by Mark and Luke).

(For the LDS Reader, you will immediately note that the account in Matthew is somewhat confusing as to the order of the information compared to the accounts in Mark and Luke. This is corrected in the Joseph Smith Translation (JST) of Matthew 24 found in The Pearl of Great Price. For LDS critics, I would merely point out that Eldersheim's analysis based on all three accounts compares favorably with the JST).

Lessons Learned: Christ makes it clear that he is not going to give a specific time to either event; and the scriptures indicate that no one, other than the Father, know the date of when Christ will return. However, He does give them some signs and, as to the destruction of Jerusalem, a very loose time-frame--it would happen before the current generation passed away.  This, I believe, is the primary lesson for the "practical eschatologist" approaching the scriptures for guidance in preparing for the end times: no matter how much you study the scriptures, no matter how much you desire to know, the time of His Second Coming has not been revealed. Rather, the commandment here is one of constant watchfulness and preparation.

Notwithstanding, Christ gave some signs and practical advice. As for the destruction of Jerusalem and tribulation of the Jews, He tells them that when they see "the abomination of desolation" (the encompassing of the Holy City by foreign armies), that they should immediately flee the City for the mountains, without stopping or pausing for any reason in their flight. See Matt. 24:15-22.

Christ then turns from the Jews to the Church. He warns them that there will be many false Christs and prophets, wars and rumors of wars, but that this will not be the end. As we know from the JST and Revelations, that "again shall the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, be fulfilled." JS-Matt. 1:32. Other signs we are given is that the Gospel will be  preached in all the word. JS-Matt. 1:31; Matt. 24:14. Finally, as noted above,the Jews must welcome Jesus as their Messiah.

The practical points here? In His discourse and the related parables, the Lord emphasizes again and again the suddenness of his coming. It will be unmistakable (like the sun rising or lightening shooting across the sky), but it will be sudden and, I suspect, when least suspected. See Matt. 24:37-41. In fact, the totality of these warnings lead me to suspect that we may pass through a period of tribulation, things will get better and people will celebrate (even if for only the shortest of times) and then ... wham!...we will see the Second Coming. Certainly, if there is any specific warning, it will be so close to the actual event that there will be no time for the unprepared to prepare. See Matt. 25:1-13 (the parable of the ten virgins).

There will always be war, upheaval, natural disasters, and economic crises, completely unrelated to the advent of the Second Coming. However, history has shown (and I'm thinking of the collapse of the Soviet Union) that huge, unimaginable events can occur suddenly. What starts off as just another intifada, minor political scandal, "sending in troops to stabilize the situation," or spike in commodity prices, could turn into the tribulations proceeding the Second Coming. So, it is time to prepare ourselves spiritually and physically for his return and to be ever watchful.

Friday, June 10, 2011

First Things First

My intent is to share and, hopefully, receive ideas concerning eschatology, or the study of the end times, together with ideas, links, and experiences concerning disaster preparation and provident living ideas. Although many "preppers" are religious, it is interesting to me how few ever try to tie in or justify their particular preparations to the scriptures concerning the last days. Although I am certainly no theologian, this is my attempt.

Obviously, the first place to start in a study of eschatology is with the holy scripture. Since I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (sometimes referred to as the "LDS" or "Mormon" church), I will make use of scripture unique to the LDS faith in addition to the Holy Bible. Since the LDS Church uses the King James version of the Bible as part of its official canon (i.e., standard works), all Biblical quotes will be from the King James.

During his ministery, the Lord discussed the signs of his second coming, and this discussion was considered so important that it was included in three of the four gospels. I am, of course, referring to Matthew 24 - 25, Mark 13, and Luke 21.

The trigger for this discussion was the Lord's prophecy that the Temple of Herod would be destroyed, such that "[t]here shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." Matt. 24:2. See also Mark 13:2 and Luke 21:6. Given the importance of the temple to the Jewish religion and national identity, this statement obviously disturbed the disciples. Matthew and Mark both record that the disciples, in private, sought further explanation. Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:3. 

Here, the record somewhat diverges between the gospels. Matthew indicates that three questions were posed: (i) when the temple would be destroyed; (ii) the signs preceding the Lord's Second Coming; and (iii) the signs preceding the end of the world. Matt. 24:3. Mark indicates that the questions put to the Lord were (i) when the temple would be destroyed and (ii) "what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?" Mark 13:4. This matches with the questions recorded in Luke. See Luke 21:7. Whatever the situation (recognizing that Christ might have given these teachings on more than one occasion), it seems clear that Lord's subsequent discussion concerned signs and warnings concerning both the destruction of the Temple and his Second Coming.

Coming Up: Matthew's account.