Journalist Patrick Radden Keefe has done plenty of extensive and gripping longform journalism, including his most recent book, Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland (which I could not recommend more highly). His newest project is a slight departure from covering topics of crime and radical separationists, but still deals heavily with espionage and subterfuge.
It's about the Scorpions, the English-speaking German rock band who rocked you like a hurricane. And also the CIA.
Here's the official blurb:
It’s 1990. The Berlin Wall just fell. The Soviet Union is on the verge of collapse. And the soundtrack to the revolution is one of the best selling songs of all time, the metal ballad “Wind of Change,” by The Scorpions. Decades later, journalist Patrick Radden Keefe heard a rumor: the song wasn’t written by The Scorpions. It was written by the CIA. This is his journey to find the truth.
Told through exclusive interviews with former CIA officers, on the ground reporting, and more - this podcast embodies the traditional tones of investigative journalism while keeping listeners on their toes through its cinematic pacing, simulating the theatricality of the critically acclaimed film Argo in a podcast. This 8-part series follows Patrick’s search for the truth, a 10 year investigation that traces the 70 year history of our government's meddling into pop music, including everyone from Louis Armstrong and Nina Simone, to Bon Jovi and the Beach Boys.
I've listened to the first two episodes available so far (which is also embedded below), and I'm absolutely hooked. Read the rest
In the 1970s, the Soviets managed to intercept top secret communications in the US embassy in Moscow and nobody could figure out how. While an antenna was eventually found hidden in the embassy's chimney, it took years to determine how what data was being collected for transmission and how. As a last resort, all equipment at the embassy was shipped back to the US for analysis. From IEEE Spectrum:
After tens of thousands of fruitless X-rays, a technician noticed a small coil of wire inside the on/off switch of an IBM Selectric typewriter. (NSA engineer Charles) Gandy believed that this coil was acting as a step-down transformer to supply lower-voltage power to something within the typewriter. Eventually he uncovered a series of modifications that had been concealed so expertly that they had previously defied detection.
A solid aluminum bar, part of the structural support of the typewriter, had been replaced with one that looked identical but was hollow. Inside the cavity was a circuit board and six magnetometers. The magnetometers sensed movements of tiny magnets that had been embedded in the transposers that moved the typing “golf ball” into position for striking a given letter.
Other components of the typewriters, such as springs and screws, had been repurposed to deliver power to the hidden circuits and to act as antennas. Keystroke information was stored and sent in encrypted burst transmissions that hopped across multiple frequencies.
For more on this fascinating story, check out former intelligence officer and technologist Eric Haseltine's new book: "The Spy in Moscow Station"
image: IBM Selectric by Oliver Kurmis (CC BY 2.5 Read the rest
Cliff Stoll (previously) is a computing legend: his 1989 book The Cuckoo's Egg tells the story of how he was drafted to help run Lawrence Berkeley Lab's computers (he was a physicist who knew a lot about Unix systems), and then discovered a $0.75 billing discrepancy that set him on the trail of East German hackers working for the Soviet Union, using his servers as a staging point to infiltrate US military networks.
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50 years ago this month, our species placed its first footprint on the moon... and we've been leaving space junk there ever since. I mostly kid: the limits of our technology at the time forced us to leave bits and pieces of what NASA's astronauts brought to the moon with them—I like to think of what's up there more as monuments to audacity than litter.
If you're so inclined, CBS is streaming their coverage of Apollo 11's 1969 mission to the moon right now, from soup to nuts. They've even left in the OG commercials that those keeping up with the mission's progress would have watched. It's a great way to grasp a better understanding of the risk, tension and wonder that our venturing beyond our home brought to the world.
Image via The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force Read the rest
I want XCOM 2 on the Nintendo Switch. I'm waiting for it. Hoping. It has yet to come, be announced or even rumored by its developers. So, of late, I've found myself looking for other ways to get my turn-based combat fix. I completed Wasteland 2 some time ago. Japanese games seldom hold my attention and, even Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle has lost its charm. A couple of days ago, despite its mediocre reviews, I downloaded Phantom Doctrine, for $20. It's so close to being pretty much what I'm looking for. Sadly, it's held back by a number of issues.
In the game, you're in charge of a cell of cold-war era spies who bop around the world collecting intelligence, killing members of a shadowy opposing faction and trying not to get captured or liquidated in the process. What are they collecting intel on? It's hard to say. Unlike XCOM, which has a solid story that leads you from one plot point to the next, in Phantom Doctrine, it's hard to keep track of what why you're doing what you're doing. The game's story is paper thin and even when it becomes a little more clear, still isn't all that compelling. Mission briefings inform you that you're supposed to collect an informant or, in some cases, kill someone who recognized one of your agents. You base is always under threat of being exposed. Your spies are always run the risk of having their covers blown. It's run-of-the-mill stuff.
As with XCOM 2, your team members gain experience from every encounter they survive. Read the rest
For just $15, you can have your own GP-5 Original Soviet Civilian Protective Gas Mask. The seller reassures us that the standard issue asbestos filter has been replaced by activated charcoal. Shipping is free. From the product description:
It is one of the most popular and truly reliable civilian gas masks produced in the Soviet Union from 1970 to 1989. The GP-5 was made famous for its apparent use in Chernobyl after the nuclear disaster. It can operate in all weather and withstand temperatures from −40 degrees (Celsius and Fahrenheit) to 114 °C (237 °F). The GP-5 also comes with sealed glass eye pieces. They were originally made to protect the wearer from radioactive fallout during the Cold War and were distributed to most fallout shelters. They have recently been tested to see if they have NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protective capabilities. It was concluded that the mask will last in an NBC situation for 24 hours.
GP-5 Original Soviet Civilian Protective Gas Mask (Amazon via Daily Grail)
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You've got one week to vote in the Children's History Book Prize, whose nominees this year include Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages -- the third book in the Gordon Family Saga, which includes 2009's incomparable White Sands, Red Menace, a book that like a genderswapped, woke Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, with extra helpings of Cold War paranoia and terror, all wrapped up in poetic, Bradburian nostalgia.
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As President Trump continues his campaign to piss off anyone who’s not a Nazi or the leader of an oppressive dictatorship, CNN is reporting that Russia may have dropped some serious coin to modernize a strategically-placed nuclear weapons storage facility. The facility is located in Kaliningrad – a wee bit of Russia all jammed up between Poland and the Baltics.
On Monday, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) published aerial photographs that the group says show the facility in the Baltic outpost has been under major renovation since 2016.
FAS said the images document refurbishments at the site back in 2016, when one of three underground bunkers at the location was excavated and deepened before it appeared to have been covered over in recent months, "presumably to return (to) operational status soon."
Now, here’s the fun part. Despite the fact that the bunker is designed for the secure storage and deployment of nuclear weapons for use by the Russian Air Force and Naval dual-capable forces, there’s no knowing whether it has ever stored nuclear weapons in the past or whether it will do so in the future: just because a military installation comes packing mission capabilities doesn’t mean that it has to use them. It’s the world’s shittiest shell game!
Even without the atomic weapons being packed into the Kaliningrad bunker, the joint still serves a purpose. The installation is one of the most westerly located in Russia. Upgrading it, in a manner that’s observable via areal photography or satellite imagery, provides an unspoken political message: The Russia that’s currently hosting the World Cup is the same one that invaded Ukraine in 2014, vandalized Georgia in 2008 and continues to giddily weaponize the baltic region, prompting a tactical response from NATO. Read the rest
It's eschatology in motion: 62 tests carried out between 1945 and 1962, of detonations filmed from up to 50 angles. A total of 210 tests were carried out and this tranche is a good slice of them.
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Love puzzles, crypto, making, control panels and nuclear extinction? John Edgar Park has a maker project for you! Read the rest
Fusion looks at the tensions between a pacifist religious sect and local North Dakota officials over an abandoned Cold War anti-missile complex that looks like something out of Illuminati conspiracies. The Hutterites won the auction for the giant pyramid on the prairie to the chagrin of local officials, who unsuccessfully tried to buy the decomissioned military facility. Read the rest
The legendary underground lair of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) was so secretive that few photos have been published. Russ Kick at Memory Hole was good enough to locate one of 27 libraries in the world with an obscure book titled NORAD Command Post: The City Inside Cheyenne Mountain. The photos he shared will make you want to watch Dr. Strangelove again. Read the rest
Austin Grossman's first-person secret memoir of Richard Nixon sounds like a Lovecraftian gag, but Crooked
is a brooding, bitter Cold War novel that gets deep into the psyche of "the funniest president that ever lived."
The largely aboriginal youth club -- historically called upon to fight forest fires and volunteer in parks -- is now part of the Canadian Prime Minister's "arctic soveriegnty" plan. Read the rest
Michael from Muckrock sez, "Starting on April 19, 1956, the federal government practiced and planned for a near-doomsday scenario known as Plan C. When activated, Plan C would have brought the United States under martial law, rounded up over ten thousand individuals connected to 'subversive' organizations, implemented a censorship board, and prepared the country for life after nuclear attack.
There was no Plan A or B." Read the rest
Here's a photo-tour of Girard "Jerry" B. Henderson luxurious Las Vegas fallout shelter, built in 1978 and now on sale (along with the house above it) for $1.7M, following a bank foreclosure on the property's most recent owner. It was built by Kenneth and Jay Swayze for $10M in 1979, when a million was a million (Swayze was an authority on subterranean living, and wrote the now out-of-print Underground gardens & homes: The best of two worlds, above and below). Read the rest
In the 1960s, Russian scientists discovered a new form of water that congealed at room temperature, froze at -40, and wouldn't boil no matter the temperature. For a few brief years, "polywater" was a scientific rage — the subject of pop culture craziness, Cold War research races, and CIA interrogations. At Slate, Joseph Stromberg tells the story of polywater and explains why, despite all that hype, most of us have never heard of it today. Read the rest