« "Hollywoodland" a Review | Main | OSP redux? »

20 September 2006


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Any answer that underestimates the intelligence and capacity for hard work of the Iranians is avoiding reality.

It is a popular notion to relegate Islam to the Middle Ages. And to assume that anything modern in Islam is a gift from the "West".

Dream on.

Abu Sinan

Some of the best engineers in the world are Muslim. Remember, math as we know it, is an Islamic science.

I am an engineer and I work with many engineers from all over the Muslim world. I would not be surprised if Muslims helped design these projects.

When it comes to such thing one should never work on the assumption that the other side will not be able to gain access to your communications.

Whether they cracked it themselves or paid others to do it, it can be done, and often pretty easily.

Did you all hear about the lady that went into space the other day? She is an Iranian engineer who made millions with her work here in the USA.

Engineering is probably the main field of study for Muslim students abroad. The idea that Islam or Muslims are behind on a technological basis is wrong.

The West should feel lucky that the best and brightest of the Muslim engineers come to the West looking for better money and a better life.

If they stayed at home working on projects there we might be in more trouble than we already are.

Were not a significant number of the 9/11 attackers either engineers or in school to become engineers?

Were not some of the Iranian weapons used in Lebanon basically knock offs, reverse engineered versions of western arms?

I am interested to hear how others think this event came to pass. The recent happenings in Lebanon should worry Israel greatly.


Hebrew and Arabic are cognate languages similar to French and Italian. Rosh and ras, Aviv and habib. I don't know if they are mutually intelligle to the casual istener but it can't be too hard to learn one language for a user of the other.

A similar but related tech question about cell towers and stealth fighter detections that came up doing the Kosovo war. The British showed that you could detect stealth fighters from the interfence they caused to cell tower signals.

The first targets in an air war would be the cell towers. That is the U.S. advantage in air war- stealth technology. And apparently cell towers provide a way to crack it.

Best Wishes

Charles H Milelr

Dear Pat,
Just a note: the first "elicitation" occurred in Genesis 3:1--the serpent saying sometheing incorrect. Eve responded in vv. 2-3, but exaggerated the command in Gen 2:16-17 in her defense of God.... And the rest is the history we still live with today.


The comment by arbogast may well be right, but there could be an alternative explanation.
Perhaps the Israelis "lost" some radios at the first Hezbolla incursion, when several of their soldiers were killed. If the Israelis then, negligently, omitted to recogise a potential comms compromise and change their codes the described consequencies would follow.
I hope my guess is correct, else US forces could have a serious comms security problem.

Nicholas Weaver

Speaking as a Ph.D. EECS Geek (more CS than EE overall, but still some EE and DSP by osmosis) and a computer security professional.

I suspect a lot was actually two sources:

Cellphones and LOCATION tracking.

Cellphones are obvious. ALthough the Israelis weren't supposed to be using cellphones for anything secure, even unsecure information, such as a call home to a loved one, would be a huge trove of information. Given how much else was a bit of a fiasco on the Israeli army's part, I'd worry about signal discipline.

THe other is simply location tracking. Although its hard to key in on a spread spectrum signal, its actually really easy to triangulate.

You have a bunch of receivers, with high precision, synchronized clocks. You record when you get pulses of communication, both start and end, on various frequencies. You can even have reference pulses sent out from known locations, if the clocks are too drifty.

Then you tie all the data together and the time of flight (Light is actually SLOW by the standards of modern electronics, 3 microseconds/kilometer, in the days when electronic clocks are in nanoseconds), and now you can track where the signal came from.

Just knowing and trakcing where all the transmitters ARE gives a huge wealth of information. Add in the types of transmitters and an enemy commander can see a wealth of information.

Such technology is effectively implementation: someone who's well educated (MS EE, signal processing) could design and implement such a system, be they in Taiwan, China, India, Iran, or the USA.

Breaking the crypto, on the other hand, would be a BIG deal. IF that happened, it was probably a case of bungled key management combined with one or more captured radios. Or relatively obsolete radios (64 bit keys are brute-forceable, 128 bit AES keys? forgetaboutit)

Oh, Will, its not that stealth fighters interfear with radio transmitters, its that US stealth is based on scattering and some absorbtion, not transparency (eg, Piper cub).

As a result, the signals are never bounced BACK at a radar. But if you have dozens or hundreds of transmitters, and a bunch of receivers, you can see the SCATTERED radio energy off the stealth aircraft. THis is known as "Multipath Radar"

This poses two BIG problems to US air doctrine: not only does it break stealth, but it also breaks anti-radiation missile based strategies, as the transmitters are cheap and pletniful (the transmitters basically just have to broadcast an identity signal and be at known locations) and disposable, while the receivers, the complex parts, are radio-silent.

The USAF is quiet in public about multipath radar, but I'm willing to bet its considered a big concern in private.

Colonel, if you have further questions, I can attempt to elaborate in more detail.



It's good to see your readers are thinking. I would say that more troubling is that the PRC has far more graduate students at American Universities than anyone else. They get a paid ride from their government and our fine administrators keep adding more - and taking spots away from US students- all while charging more out of state tuition and raising test scores. Damned short sighted.

Also I think far more troubling is the concerted effort by this administration to project a position of the 'West'/Christians vs. followers of Islam. You can not beat an idea with bullets or bombs and the continued hypocrisy of the politicians to call to 'sacrifice' when it appears all we are actually sacrificing is the lives of those who put our nation first and our nations founding principles.


Will, PL can explain in more detail, but Arabic and Hebrew are NOT "mutually intelligle to the casual listener." They use different alphabets (and not at all in the way Hindi and other northern Indian languages use deva-nagri vs. Urdu with its script.) I think Russian-German is closer to describing the similarities than French-Italian.


The "Arabic Numbers" are technicaly "Hindu." But they did come to the West thru the Arabs by the Italian "rabbit man" Leonardo of Pisa aka Fibonacci (Filius Bonaccio). His dad had made him learn the system for business in the family counting house at the port of Bugia east of Algiers. Bugia is the same place George Felix's mother was born. He popularized the numerals in his book Liber Abaci written in the 13th century.

One thing the Ancient Lebanese, the Phoencicians, did invent beside the Tyrean purple is the phonetic alphapet. Our own script thru the Latin, the hebrew script, Arabic, and even the Hindu script thru Aramaic is descended from it.

On the subject of Iranian-American engineers, you may want to look up Fuzzy Logic invented by Lotif Zadeh. In binary logic something is either on or off. But often things are not like that. For example there is hot, cold, and warm.

The subject was popularized by the logician Bart Kosko.
The Japanese have done great things with it.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_logic

Best Wishes


Are Chinese students really "taking away spots" from American grad students in engineering? Please. If American students were really motivated to study in large numbers, they would be beating down the doors. Instead they're all in law school, MBA school or medical school, where they hope to earn much, much more money than measly engineers.

Jon Stopa

Dear Colonel,

Juan Cole has this: "
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said that the Middle East could not bear the problems that would ensue from a break-up of Iraq. He said that if the country did move further toward a breakdown in security, Turkey would protect the Iraqi Kurds.

I can't figure out whether that is an overture or a threat."

What do you think? There is so much logic here either way. If one were to move these people around as if they were stick figures in a novel, I could see either one. I suppose it depends on whether the Turks could be so rational, and on how much the Kurds hated them.

john in Los Angeles

Macro view:

Americans are so used to considering themselves superior...and others - notably Arabs - inferior... that they're losing track of reality.

1. American science, math, engineering and CS grad schools are full of foreigners. My buddy with a recent Phd. in physics from MIT said there were no Americans in his study group.

2. Free market, baby. Technology is proliferating like crazy - cellphones in Uganda, sophisticated programming in Kuwait.

3. The American presumption of leveraging high technology in war has been utterly defeated in Iraq. American high tech weapons systems are designed to defeat other high tech weapons systems. The US will never fight another "standing national Army" - not in our lifetime. Stateless zones - Norther Pakistan, Somalia, Western Iraq, Gaza, So. Lebanon, big areas of Asia, Africa and South America - are the primary source of international conflict and will continue to be.

4. The NeoCon-Israel axis wants to use military power to avoid political compromise. They have opened their kimono and the natives are...decidedly... not quaking. The defeat in Iraq has been noticed - in Russia, China, Venezuela etc.


Seeing that most of our electronics are already outsourced to the Far East, I think Fred's comments are particularly apropos.

For the love of God, nothing is more dangerous that a belief in omnipotence.

This is what makes Don so truly scary. All that talk about killing people. He desperately needs to be tossed down an oubliette. It might be hard on him initially, say for the first several days, but it would help humanity a ton.


Nicholas Weaver's comment was very informative. To follow up on it.

Found a very good article on "stealth radar" or "noise radar."

Source: Ohio State University
Date: June 26, 2006

"Stealth Radar System Sees Through Trees, Walls -- Undetected

Ohio State University engineers have invented a radar system that is virtually undetectable, because its signal resembles random noise."

Best Wishes


I believe the US puts out about 50,000 engineers a year, while China does 500,000 and funds heavily.


Pat, it may be inappropriate to respond to a post, but I believe Leila's 'the students should be beating down the doors' misinterprets the meaning of my post and shows what I believe to be a basic misunderstanding of our culture and the basic economics of collegiate education - especially graduate education. It would make a good topic for another discussion. BTW I'm one of those 'engineers' - at least navy nuclear program- who did 8 years active duty to save the money to pay my way through college; and yes I have that MBA too and any decent fuel cell engineer would be making twice what I do. Unfortunately they'll be getting outsourced to the PRC real quick too, (and the PRC's energy oil independence program will leap ahead) anyone who's paid attention to what Wall Street's strategic vision is doing to our industrial base would be able to connect those dots also.


Arabs and Persians were encrypting messages regarding affairs of state and tax records in the Abassid dynasty more than a millenium ago. A chapter of the 10th century text 'Adab al-Kuttab' deals with cryptography.

The Arabs of that era were also familiar with cryptanalysis or the breaking of codes and ciphers. There are some that say Muslims invented cryptanalysis because of their study of the etymology of words and sentence structure in the fragments of writings that later became the Quran and the Hadiths. Others say that the Arabs built and expanded on the code-breaking efforts of previous or contemporary civilizations because of their massive translation of texts from the Babylonians, Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews, Assyrians, Chinese, Indian, Roman, etc.



thanks for pointing out the financial disincentives for staying in technical professions. It is much more lucrative to move up into management and stop contributing novel technical ideas. These disincentives are to the detriment of our national security, and are not dicussed nearly enough, in my opinion.

Also, thanks to PL for the irreplaceable site.


too many posts today. if you"ll indulge one more.

hebrew is basically the phonecian tongue or west semitic. Arabic is south semitic. All semitic languages are based on the tri-syllabic root. Nouns, verbs, everythng is made from the root. There are consonant shifts between the languages them but they are all basically the same.

The scripts as well as ours all are based on the the original phonecian alphabet. The hebrew script is block. The arabic script is cursive and derived from the flowing aramaic script.

here is an example of the commonality. the letter "S". From the phoencian Sin for tooth. Looked like a w or upper teeth. In arabic it looks like a w. The Greeks turned it on it side and called it Sigma. In Hebrew it is has a stylized block form. In English derived from the Latin script, the Greek Sigma is curved and all association with teeth is forgotten.

hebrew for tooth is "shin"
likewise the symbol for eye started as a circle. Arabic word for eye is ayin, hebrew is ayin. Could you get closer?

Above link is to blueletterbible where you can see hebrew and Greek characters for bible verses.

Above link is for "eye for eye tooth for tooth" verse
you can also look up strong's index for each character to research tricharacter root.

Here is another eye opener for you. The name Maryam. It means "the bitter one." In Hebrew and Arabic. Mir=bitter very strange

best wishes


Mr. Weaver gave very good information. It doesn't matter even if Iranian engineers ARE smarter than Israeli or US ones (by a factor of ten). The simplest and easiest way to intercept communications are by physically getting your hands on a piece of it, not recreating it out of whole cloth and trying to break 128bit encrypted spread spectrum. If ANYONE had that technology, say goodbye to the international economy because that is what most corporate and government WLANs systems use. In fact, much of that equipment is made in Israel (Alvarion).


My only comment would be to reference the excellent site Global Guerillas (http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/) in which John Robb discusses in detail his (and others') theories about fourth generation warfare. One of the key components of Robb's posts is the democratizing effect of the spread of technology on warfare; it removes the monopoly on concentrated violence held by nation states and distributes it more evenly to smaller states and non-state actors. Doing so allows smart enemy combatants to hit opposing armies at their weakest points.

This is also echoed in the comments about Rumsfeld above: the man seems to believe we're fighting dumb peasants with muskets, not smart people with missiles.

Nicholas Weaver

One other thought, just having a cellphone ON is a huge no-no: this gives a huge amount of trivial tracking information.

All it takes is one reservist who left his cellphone on and his entire unit's location can be tracked.

Byron Raum

I have a question about all of this; it seems to me that there's an inherent contradiction in what we are being told. First, we're told that the Hizbollah were broken up into teams of autonomous fighters, consisting of at most 1/2 a dozen men. These teams each were supposedly given very sophisticated information about the locations of their adversaries, and not only that, there was some way to find out which piece of information went to which team. It seems to me that the location or locations which could coordinate a system as described by Nicholas, as well as a clearinghouse for the amount of information passing through would present a huge target to the Israelis.


I can't speak on this specific issue, but 20 years ago the most powerful computer you could buy was a Cray 2. You would have a hard time getting one out of the country.

Today you can walk into a store and buy a significantly more powerful machine for hundred a thousand dollars. You can carry it anywhere and rin it on a battery. Look at how much of our defence infrastructure was designed on weaker machines. And for free you can get a base of much more sophisticated programs than we had.

This is typical of a common event. In parts of electronics civilian and even consumer technology started to overtake the military. Indeed the military shifted, many systems are run on windows.

Military stuff takes a long time to develop, the private sector evolves faster in many areas. And competitors can skunk tank.

Another example occured in the first Iraqi war. We had a difficult time knocking their communications out because they were using standard commercial products which rapidly found a way toi reroute.

In the general electronic wars we are possibly quite vulnerable. I am also quite concerned about the high tech buildup to meet the Chinese threat. We will have committed trillions of dollars, be locked into those technologies with huge government debt and if 10 or 15 years down the road they decide to compete they will start with a cheaper, more sphisticated base of technology.

I think the goal should be to mantain superiority with carefully selected changes, a gradual evolution which ibncludes trying to speed up development time rather than the Rumsfeld plan of committing an extra hundred plus billion to currently design the system that will give us superiority in 10, 15 and 20 years.

W. Patrick Lang


Buried cable. pl

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

February 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
Blog powered by Typepad