Stuxnet v2.0

Modern warfare looks nothing like the industrial-age warfare of World War II. I covered this in The Laptop Luftwaffe, a post I wrote comparing the sabotage of the Iranian nuclear programme ten years ago with the sabotage of the Nazi atom bomb project in the 1940s.

Iran’s nuclear programme isn’t the only cyber-warfare target. The country’s missile programme is also a target.[1] This week President Trump posted a tweet taunting Iran for a missile launch failure.[2] The tweet included a detailed photograph of the damaged launch pad taken from a highly classified Keyhole-11 spy satellite.[3]


This attack on the Iranian ballistic missile programme invites the same sort of comparisons as the sabotage of the nuclear programme.

The world’s first ballistic missile was Nazi Germany’s A-4/V-2 rocket programme, run from the research station at Peenemünde on Germany’s Baltic coast.


The first V-2 to hit London arrived without warning on the 8th September 1944, killing three people in Chiswick.[4] The second hit a minute later, twenty-five miles away outside Epping. The raids continued for seven months.

There would have a been many more attacks and many more deaths had it not been for a massive raid on the Peenemünde works on the night of the 17th August 1943. The rocket works was considered such an important target that Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris committed a massive force of nearly six hundred bombers to a dangerous moonlit raid. Forty bombers were lost that night – shot down or crashed – and 245 crew were killed. On the ground, many were killed, including five hundred foreign prisoners working as forced labour.

The raid was judged as success, setting back the Nazi missile programme by months, saving unknown lives in London and, later, in newly liberated parts of France and the Netherlands. The setbacks also ensured that the missiles weren’t ready at the time of the D-Day Normandy landings.

That success came with a heavy loss of life, both in Allied air crew and people on the ground. It’s obvious why the option of a cyber-attack, now that it exists, is preferable.

As I’ve said previously:[5]

The ghostly stealth of a self-replicating software worm could not be more different to the noise, smoke, and violence of an air raid and yet, six decades apart, the results were similar. What used to take an air force is now silent, invisible, and fits in your pocket.


[4] (Middlebrook, 1982)


Middlebrook, M. (1982). The Peenemünde Raid. London: Allen Lane.

Who Let the Underdogs Out?

Before social media professionals grabbed control of the United States and gnawed at the foundations of the European Union with their pervasive tracking, personality profiling, and hyper-targeted ads, came a bunch of amateurs who had no idea what they were doing. I know this because I was one of them.

In 2006, an opportunity to hack away at the establishment presented itself and I took it. If Trump was a magnitude-eight quake that tore a rift through the political world, ten years earlier I was a tiny foreshock. The sort of thing that a political geologist might have recognised but that to everyone else was an inconsequential bump. It wasn’t much, but this early social media campaign had far more impact than all my previous late-night attempts at proving people wrong on the Internet.

I was leader of the Libertarianz, a tiny political party in New Zealand, which, to date, had achieved pretty close to nothing. We held a position that about 2% of the New Zealand population agreed with and, of those 2%, 1.95% didn’t want to vote for someone who wasn’t going to win. I lived in Lower Hutt but stood for Parliament in Wellington Central, which meant I couldn’t even vote for myself.


Continue reading “Who Let the Underdogs Out?”

Who Wants to Be a Trillionaire?

A Real Space Race

Exploration has always been motivated by the desire to get our hands on more resources. The recent anniversary of the Apollo programme reminded us that exploration for its own sake is a dead end. We haven’t been back to the moon in 50 years.

If we want space exploration to continue, there needs to be a reward at the end. Asteroid mining will be worth trillions and show us what a real space race looks like.

It will also teach us some lessons about economics.


Continue reading “Who Wants to Be a Trillionaire?”

An Air Force in Your Pocket

The age of the self-bombing factory is here. Information age warfare looks as different to an industrial age bombing campaign as telecommuting does to a Chevy Impala.

In 1942, the Allies were desperate to prevent Nazi Germany from developing an atomic bomb. Thirty British Royal Engineers were given the job of sabotaging the heavy water plant in Vemork, in Norway. They were flown from Scotland across the Norwegian Sea in gliders towed behind Halifax bombers. Bad weather and equipment failures meant that both gliders and one of the bombers crashed, killing eleven crew and seven engineers. The remaining 23 engineers were captured, tortured, and shot by the occupying troops.


Continue reading “An Air Force in Your Pocket”

Height Speech

SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites on Friday afternoon (Thursday night in the US), with the initial deployment an hour later over the Southern Ocean. You can’t quite see my house from there.


I’ve been watching SpaceX launches for years because, after decades of industry stagnation, they’ve made spaceflight exciting again. Partly it’s cool engineering but, as important, it’s economics. Making spacecraft reusable could slash costs and when prices crash interesting things happen. One of those interesting things is Starlink.

Continue reading “Height Speech”

Inhuman Resources: Recruiting for Terror

We have better tools than ever to start a race war. The power of the rifle that Brenton Tarrant brought to two Christchurch mosques in March was greatly magnified by the Go Pro strapped to its barrel and an easy-to-use video streaming platform.

The same tools that have made it possible for small-time entrepreneurs to take on big brands have made it possible for small-time terrorists to steer global events.


There are practical reasons for restricting terrorist propaganda, but we need to make sure we don’t do more harm than good.

Continue reading “Inhuman Resources: Recruiting for Terror”