Missiles over London: a new Olympic event

MOD information: you have missiles!
MOD information: you have missiles! (Image of leaflet via Brian Whelan)

Today Brian Whelan woke up to find information from the Ministry of Defence waiting by his letter box.


The leaflet informed him that during the London 2012 Olympic games the army will be putting missiles on the roof of his building and there will be soldiers on duty there 24 hours a day. He was not asked about this in advance, or given a choice, simply informed that his building was the best place to site these missiles. From what Brian said it might not be the safest place for these missiles.




Even worse, it seems that there may already be military equipment in the building.


The missiles to be used are Ground Based Air Defence, High Velocity Missile (HVM) of the type shown in the picture below.


Ground Based Air Defence, High Velocity Missile
GBAD HVM missiles of the type to be installed on Brian's roof. (Image of leaflet via Brian Whelan)

Leaving aside the lack of consultation about this and the failure to ask the residents, we get to the question of what good these missiles could actually do. Presumably these missiles are to guard against aircraft piloted or hijacked by terrorists which might be flown into Olympic venues 9/11 style. In the event that such an aircraft was identified, unless it was shot down over open ground the wreckage will fall directly onto London streets and buildings. These hardly look like long range missiles; they look like the target must be in visual range. (Correct me if I am wrong here.) We knew from previous announcements that there would be missiles on board ships in the Thames, but I certainly didn’t realise that there would be more dotted around London. I expected the missiles that had been mentioned to be of the sort that could be fired at a plane a bit further away where plummeting debris might not have such an awful effect. Use of these missiles to bring down a hijacked jet would simply move the devastation from the intended target to somewhere else in London. Then we must ask how the army will identify a target. What is the criteria? A plane that has wandered off course? A passenger jet that doesn’t answer a challenge by radio in time? A microlight with no radio? A news helicopter? The scope for mistakes here is huge and the resulting carnage would be awful. In my opinion, if the MOD intend these missiles to be used at all then they are incredibly stupid and thoughtless. If they are not intended to be use then they are highly dangerous security theatre with a massive scope to go wrong.

I have been alerted by Games Monitor to information from the Blackheath Society last month. They write:

Blackheath has been awash with rumours that air defence missiles will be placed on the Heath to protect the capital during the Olympics.
To the credit of our Lewisham Councillors, security services personnel were brought in to give a briefing to the Blackheath Assembly on 13 March.

Blackheath is one of six sites being evaluated for a possible missile defence system for the duration of the Olympics and some radar equipment was tested on the Heath last week.

We understand that either all six will be chosen, or none. The Blackheath site is opposite Holly Hedge House, the police base for the Olympics. Oxleas Wood is another possible site.

There is already opposition to the missile deployment at Oxleas Wood, and their Facebook group has more information: No Missiles in Oxleas Woods!

Katie Draper is another person who has been informed today that there will be missiles sited on top of her home.



Soldiers on the streets of London

In reaction to the news that there would be 14,000 troops deployed in London during the Olympics as security personnel, I filed a Freedom Of Information request to find out whether these troops would be armed and what powers they would have. I recieved a reply from the Home Office so here it is.

Firearms use by military personnel at the 2012 Olympics

Freedom of Information (FOI) Request: Olympic safety and security

Military personnel deployed as security staff to assist the Police or for logistical support will not routinely carry firearms and firearms will not be available to military personnel deployed as Security staff to assist the Police or to provide logistical support. Because of this, the question about ammunition is not applicable.

Military personnel do not have any powers of arrest above and beyond those of an ordinary citizen under common law. The MOD has tried and tested arrangements in place for providing military support to the Police and other civil authorities, which means it is possible that military personnel providing assistance to the Police may be deployed outside of areas where Olympic events take place.

It is interesting to note that the soldiers will not be armed and will not even have powers of arrest beyond those of the ordinary citizen. I am also alarmed to see that soldiers may be used outside of areas of London where the Olympic games are being held.

Related articles

A Latent Existence | Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

A Latent Existence | Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread

Telegraph: Missiles stationed on residential roof for Olympics

BBC: London 2012: Missiles may be placed at residential flats


Computer game teaches depression management techniques

SPARX characters

A study carried out by the University of Auckland in New Zealand has found that using a computer game which teaches depression management techniques based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can reduce depression in teenagers more effectively than conventional treatment.

The game was developed by Metia Interactive under the direction of The Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health at The University of Auckland and a number of actors, musicians and artists donated their skills to help create the game.

This video explains the thinking behind the game.

SPARX trailer

You can read the results of the study at the BMJ: SPARX study results

The abstract gives us this information:

Objective To evaluate whether a new computerised cognitive behavioural therapy intervention (SPARX, Smart, Positive, Active, Realistic, X-factor thoughts) could reduce depressive symptoms in help seeking adolescents as much or more than treatment as usual.

Interventions Computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (SPARX) comprising seven modules delivered over a period of between four and seven weeks, versus treatment as usual comprising primarily face to face counselling delivered by trained counsellors and clinical psychologists.

Conclusions SPARX is a potential alternative to usual care for adolescents presenting with depressive symptoms in primary care settings and could be used to address some of the unmet demand for treatment.

Although this treatment has only been tested in teenagers I think that is only because that is the focus of the centre where it was developed. Computer gaming is popular in a far wider age range than just teenagers. I hope that this kind of treatment could be used to treat adults too, not least because I think that I would gain much more from this method myself than I have from the conventional CBT that I have been treated with so far.

SPARX is intended to be available to the public soon, although no information is given as to whether there will be a charge for the game.

Read more at the SPARX web site

Project details: SPARX – Gaming helps fight depression

Press release: E-therapy effective in combatting youth depression

BMJ: SPARX study results


Home server project – HP Microserver

HP MicroserverThere are a few computers in our house. I have a PC on my desk. I have another PC connected to the TV which we use for watching and recording TV, films, music, and playing games. I have a netbook in the bedroom for those days when I can’t get out of bed, and an Android phone which I use for music and video too.  My wife has a laptop and an Android tablet computer.Keeping track of our files on all of that can be a bit chaotic and so I have an old PC which works as a file server – a central repository for all of our music and video files which all of the other devices can fetch files from.

That file server consists of an old under-powered PC which runs FreeNAS and has a couple of not-quite-worn-out laptop disks in it because those were all that I had. Since this server isn’t very fast or reliable, Last week I bought a 2TB hard disk to replace the dying disks. I also had an email from ebuyer (my normal source of computer parts) which featured a HP Microserver for £229 with an offer of £100 cashback from HP. A new server capable of running four disks with low power consumption and a warranty all for £129 seemed like a fantastic deal to me, so yesterday I bought one. (It had gone up by £10 though.) The server came with a 250GB hard disk which is a bonus since hard disks are still very expensive after flooding in Thailand destroyed several factories recently.

HP Microserver - open

I intend to use the new server to hold all our music and video as before, plus our photographs. I will store all my files and documents on it, and I will backup the other computers to it. Now that I have my new server I have to work out what operating system I am going to run on it. My old server has FreeNAS installed onto a 2GB USB memory stick, and the hard disks are formatted with ZFS for high file integrity. I could do the same with my new server but since the new server is a bit more powerful (Dual-core CPU, 6GB RAM) I want to also run a couple of Linux virtual machines on it and I can’t easily run virtual machines with FreeNAS as the host operating system. I don’t want to run a file server from a virtual disk either, to avoid any data loss. Oracle Solaris has ZFS so I could run that on the new server and then run VirtualBox on that to host my Linux VMs. Another option is to run a bare metal hypervisor like VMWare ESXi or Citrix Xenserver, and then run Linux and FreeNAS as clients under that. I still wouldn’t want to serve my files from a virtual disk but I could give the FreeNAS virtual machine direct access to the 2TB hard disk. The only question then is where the virtual machines reside. I would prefer not to use the 250GB disk as that would be a welcome upgrade in my Media Centre PC which currently has a horrifically slow IDE disk which struggles to record two programmes at once. I could possibly host the virtual machine for FreeNAS on a USB memory stick too, maybe even the same one as ESXi is installed on although I don’t know if that can be done. I am curious as to whether ESXi could load a second virtual machine through an iSCSI drive served up by another one of it’s clients but that does seem like a recipe for slow operation and data loss.

Comments on which way to go are welcome.

Help We Are Spartacus respond to the PIP consultation

We Are Spartacus: PIP Consultation

The government are carrying out a consultation about Personal Independence Payments, known as PIP, which will replace DLA from next year. The consultation is our chance to tell the government what is wrong with PIP, and it could determine who qualifies for help and who does not. We Are Spartacus have come up with a survey which will help them write a group response to the consultation. Please help them by taking a few minutes to answer their survey. The survey assumes that you have seen the draft PIP descriptors, so if you have not please head to the We Are Spartacus website and have a look through the Unofficial Guide to PIP Consultation.

Read the unofficial guide to the PIP consultation

Take the We Are Spartacus PIP Consultation Survey






Evesham Observer on A2BForAll and Henshaw’s Coaches

Article in Evesham Observer 6/4/12

I was featured in an article in the Evesham Observer on the 6th of April,  Disabled passenger wants action after bad experiences [Evesham Observer], in relation to the A2BForAll campaign about difficulties that disabled people face in using public transport. I was pleased at how the article highlighted some of the problems that I have experienced but I feel that there was too much focus on one particular incident on a local bus service run by Henshaw’s Executive Travel. In this case there was a problem with the ramp which prevented the bus from moving for about quarter of an hour after I boarded the bus.

In other areas I have often come across buses which lack ramps and wheelchair spaces. I have had far more problems with boarding and leaving trains, with pre-booked assistance not turning up on arrival at train stations such as Birmingham New Street, London Paddington and Manchester Picadilly. This makes boarding a train a gamble as to whether I will be able to get off again at the other end before the train leaves. I have particular problems at Evesham station because it is not manned after 12:30pm and so I must rely on train staff to be able to put the ramp in place – that is, if there are staff on the train to assist at all.

I am actually very pleased with the effort that Henshaw’s have made in making sure that the new routes which they run through Badsey use low-floor buses with ramps for wheelchairs. I am very happy with the service which I receive from Henshaws and their drivers are always polite, helpful and ensure that the experience is a good one. I feel that this incident was an unfortunate accident which will not happen again and I would certainly not want anyone to avoid travelling on this bus route because of one incident.

Olympic threat to freedom and liberty

Hugh Robertson MP, minister for sport, has a message for you.  Here it is:

“If you know of people, including neighbours, who are going to break the law during the Olympics you should let the authorities know.”

He said protesters targeting the Games will be “letting down” Britain.

Mr Robertson said the right to peaceful protest was enshrined in English law but added: “If people get involved in illegal activity we expect the police to crack down straight away. This is an opportunity for us all to show the world the best of Britain and the last thing I want is that ruined by Occupy London protests or anything like that.”

Does this sound a little bit… familiar? Fear of informants among family, friends and neighbours is a characteristic of most totalitarian regimes. When the state is so authoritarian that everyone is guilty of some crime or another, everyone must fear being reported by everyone else, perhaps in return for some government favour or some hope of immunity. I note that Mr Robertson implies that any dissent, any protest should be reported, not just illegal behaviour.

General clampdown on protest

Before we go any further, it’s worth looking at what happened at the last big event. Prior to the royal wedding last year the police arrested people pre-emptively, people who only wished to protest in a perfectly legitimate way. Some of them merely had signs expressing their objection to the public spectacle. I suggest you read my blog post on this, The suppression of dissent. Protesters have often been intimidated by police in the past, and it has been happening a lot recently too. A protest in November last year was heavily intimidated in the days before with talk of rubber bullets and water cannon, and with letters sent to warn people away. In the end it wasn’t as bad as that, but the police effectively silenced the protest and kept it out of sight.

Protesters have routinely been kettled, including “hyper-kettling” and beaten with batons. Alfie Meadows was injured so badly by a police baton that he needed emergency brain surgery, yet he was charged with violent disorder instead of the police officer that did that to him. The Met deny responsibility even when innocent bystanders are unlawfully killed (murdered) such as in the case of Ian Tomlinson. Kettling has recently been found legal, although hyper-kettling was not considered in that judgement. We have seen armed police at protests recently. Austerity is causing massive dissent. NHS cuts, service cuts and closures, welfare cuts have all been controversial and provoked protest. Despite all this, most protests go unreported by the press unless there is violence.

I would expect peaceful protest around the Olympic games; something of that expense and magnitude and with so much corruption will of course be a focus of unhappiness from those who see what is happening. I think that it is highly likely that we will see pre-emptive arrests before the Olympic games, and in all likelihood it will be worse than those at the royal wedding. I seriously doubt that the police will care whether or not a planned protest was going to be peaceful and obedient or was going to break the law. In fact the last government already made arrangements to make even peaceful protest, a vital right, illegal around the Olympics.

More Information: How protest is being outlawed [New Statesman] From kettles to courtrooms: The police crackdown on protest [Red Pepper]

Olympic Security

It is the security operation around the games themselves that worry me though. The Met police have been acquiring new toys recently. Water cannon are still a possibility, but these CBRN barriers will certainly be used.

CBRN barrier

CBRN barrier - rear

CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear. That’s right, the police are so scared about rebellion that they are using steel cordons designed for use around nuclear accidents and incidents of a similar level. Pretty intimidating, don’t you think? They have also acquired these nifty watchtowers:

#operationtrafalgar #totalpolicing on Twitpic No running, no heavy petting, no bombing. on Twitpic

These towers will be dotted around London so that the police can make sure that you are being watched, and that you know it. Lest you forget, though, we are being offered some Olympic merchandise to remind us about everything. Here’s Olympic mascot Wenlock in his police uniform:

Wenlock in police uniform, Photo by Dan Hancox
Olympic mascot Wenlock in police uniform - Photo by Dan Hancox

More information: Kettling 2.0: The Olympic State of Exception and TSG Action Figures [Games Monitor]

Absurd security around the Olympics

Even with all the security equipment the government are obviously scared of dissent. During the games there will be 13,500 troops deployed as security staff, in addition to an unknown number of police officers. MI5 has recalled 3,500 agents and cancelled holidays around the games. HMS Ocean will be moored on the Thames estuary with Royal Marines on board, and HMS Bulwark will be present for events around Weymouth. There will be Surface to Air Missiles around London ready to bring down any threatening aircraft. There will be an SAS unit nearby. So that these can all be deployed quickly to quash any naughtiness, 290 CCTV cameras have been moved from Birmingham to London.

More details: Olympics 2012 security: welcome to lockdown London [Guardian]

Draconian clampdown on Olympic terms and symbols

Just what is and isn’t allowed has also been tightened up. The last government introduced a law to make all the changes for the games. The no marketing right protocol says that businesses are forbidden to associate activity with the Olympic Games. No Olympic Rings can be used in any signs or displays, the phrase “London 2012” is protected and enforced, and you can’t use “2012” either because the enforcement got a bit over-zealous. First we have the case of Cafe Olympic, a fairly generic name and innocuous enough, you would have thought. The name had to be changed. A butcher in Weymouth had to remove display of Olympic rings and the number 2012 made from sausages.

Section 22 of the Olympics Act 2006 gives police power to enter private property including homes where they believe that an advert referring to the Olympics is either being displayed or created, and to seize materials. Although intended to prevent businesses from associating themselves with the Olympics, it equally applies to political posters or banners made in protest. Questions have been asked about that: The law and the Olympics [BBC] Police powers for 2012 Olympics alarm critics [Guardian]

Surveillance state

In a slightly bizarre move it seems that border control at our airports and ports have access to information on people involved in the Olympics – even torch bearers. When Bryony Gordon was stopped on entry to the UK she was questioned on what she was doing at the Olympics – who knows why – because the person checking her could see that she is going to be a torch bearer.

All of this security clampdown is really just the last straw. I have already written about how the Olympics are full of corruption, taken over by corporate involvement, hugely expensive (Possibly as much as £24 billion in reality) and has many more problems. See my previous blog post, Olympic Opulence: Bread and circuses without the bread. Even the BBC published an article with 10 reasons some people will dread the Olympics which I recommend that you read.

I wouldn’t object to an Olympic games that focussed on the sport and the athletes. These Olympic games, though, are an expensive, corrupt, authoritarian farce. Are you sure that they are worth the price?


Government plans to read your emails, IMs, txts, web browsing – not a joke

A lot of people were surprised to see a story from the BBC and from ITV claiming that the government plan to monitor and store details of electronic communications of everyone in the UK, including emails, web pages browsed, text messages and telephone calls. Many have decided that it cannot be true, especially as it appeared on the 1st of April.

Sadly, it is true and it is not a new idea. The plan was written about in The Telegraph last month but the plans are much older than that. The last Labour government, lover of all things authoritarian, came up with the Interception Modernisation Programme which in its original form would have had details of all electronic communications sent to a central government database. When the government eventually realised that this would be completely impractical they shifted the work to the service providers, who would all have to keep the details of the communications travelling through their networks and give the government access to their database at all times. The service providers realised just how much this would cost and so the government committed £2 billion to cover those costs over ten years. The plan was heavily criticised by the Conservatives, who published a paper titled Reversing the rise of the surveillance state. (Which is still on their website.) It was also criticised back then by the London School of Economics.  The plan was shelved in 2009 after opposition from communications service providers and a realisation that it would not be popular with the public.

After the election, though, the Conservatives decided to resurrect the plan, giving it a new name, the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. (CCDP) Questions were raised in 2010 by the Information Commissioner’s Office and it was mentioned in The New Statesman.  Now the government are pushing ahead with the CCDP and the queen’s speech will say that they intend to introduce legislation to implement the programme as soon as possible.

There are many things wrong with this programme of spying. It is impractical, expensive, a huge violation of our privacy, it places too much power in the hands of government, a government who we cannot trust. Making the full details of who talks to who available will allow security personnel to trawl through our data on fishing trips instead of requiring some basis for suspicion. Combined with the database for Universal Credit, which will be almost as comprehensive as the National Identity Register that was criticised so much by the Conservatives, and the centralisation of medical records, this provides private information about us all to the government on an unprecedented scale with huge scope for abuse and for life-destroying mistakes.

If these plans scare you, please write to your MP to tell them your objection to the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. You can use WriteToThem.com to send it if you don’t have their details. Please sign the Open Rights Group’s petition against government snooping and maybe consider joining the group too.

You should also look at ways of concealing your communications. This works best when you hide everything, innocent or not so that nothing is suspicious. I have written in the past about TOR from the point of view of helping other countries, but it is worth a read giving consideration to using it to protect your own privacy. The more technical might consider reading my thoughts on the concept of a paranoid computer.

Related stories

Here are news stories from before the 1st of April, for those who refuse to believe it.