Sunday, 19 May 2019

Ripped from the Headlines - Crossbows, China's CIA Man, Huawei

Several people in Germany have committed self-murder in what appears to be a quasi-medieval suicide pact led by a man named in the press as Torsten W. Torsten and two women were found dead in a hotel room, each having been shot with a crossbow. Two other women, one a nineteen-year-old, were also found dead in a house in Wittigen.

According to @thelocalgermany, Torsten W. "owned a shop that sold medieval-style weapons and flags, offered sword-fighting classes and featured a bizarre female mannequin wearing suspenders, tied with ropes and chains, and smeared with blood-like red paint."

In the same article, Torsten is described as the leader of "a kind of sex circle with a focus on the Middle Ages."

There's been a small resurgence in cult stories In the last five years alone we've had five documentaries on Charlie Manson, four of them in 2017, the year Manson died, and there's a film coming up, Charlie Says, with Doctor Who alumnus Matt Smith in the leading role.

Part of this is because it's been fifty years since Manson. There's two or three more documentaries and films due in 2019, to go along with the Manson Family musical, the South Park episode, and the indie comedy film.

Part of this is because, right now, we're obsessed with this kind of mass lunacy, for some reason. Can't think why.

Gamifying this is surprisingly difficult, since most of the compelling scenes take place within the group, impenetrable to outsiders. Viewed from the outside, the Manson Family's just another bunch of cult mooks with a big bad boss, and whether said boss plays guitar or conducts orgies in a medieval dungeon is almost irrelevant. A nice character detail, possibly, but it doesn't add to plot. Put it another way: knowing that the Beach Boys once recorded a tune Manson composed doesn't really add to the Bullitt-style Thrilling Chase scene down the California highway in the third act.

There are ways in. The quasi-medieval cult, in NBA, could be a rival band of vampire hunters, woefully short on Tradecraft but effective in close-up combat. However given their backstory they may fit better in an Esoterrorists or Fear Itself session. Charlie Manson and his followers definitely fit the Fear Itself formula.

In other news, former CIA man turned double agent for China, Kevin Mallory, was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week. He only received $25,000 from China for his efforts, so that's $1,250 per year; not the world's greatest paycheck. Particularly when, at 62, he's likely to die in prison, or emerge a doddering octogenarian.

Mallory's one of several former intelligence assets suborned by China, but what strikes me about this story is how little money's at stake. I wrote last year about Brian Regan, the spy who couldn't spell. He too did it for the money.

I have been in the CIA for over 20 years and will be retiring in two years, Regan wrote in his letter to Libya. I feel that I deserve more than the small pension I will receive for all the years of service at the CIA … Considering the risk I am about to take I will require a minimum payment of thirteen million US dollars wire transferred in Swiss francs, the exact amount, before I will risk my life …

In fiction, we place an extraordinary value on secrets. I'm fond of the game Hitman, which is all about secrets and assassination. The first real scenario in Hitman, Showstopper, features a spy organization named IAGO which makes its living selling secrets to the highest bidder.

Outside Xbox created the vid. If you enjoy that kind of thing, I heartily recommend 'em. They also do fun RPG videos, for those who like cats, explosions, Eldritch Blast, and wacky pirates.

We fill out NDAs, convinced of the mystical value of all those trade secrets. We believe corporate espionage is some kind of James Bond world of spies and counterspies, that mysterious Illuminati-esque figures grow fat on the flow of information, that all-powerful hackers can destroy the world at the click of a keyboard, sending our secrets hither and yon.

What cases like Mallory's ought to show us is that our secrets aren't worth a bucket of horse manure. Hell, at least you can grow something with horse manure. China - China! - couldn't be bothered to scrape up chump change for top level classified information. $25K? If you want to sit in the driver's seat of a 2019 Porsche Boxter, say, you've got to cough up $59K, minimum. A flat in Manhattan, even a dump in Greenwich, costs around half a million. Hell, a lousy Fabergé egg sells for several millions, though if you're lucky you might find one at an LA flea market for a mere $14K.

Finally, let's look back at the Huawei scandal and current fears about surveillance tech inserted into Chinese-manufactured smartphones. It's widely supposed that Canada's detainment of a senior Huawei exec for breaking sanctions against Iran is cover for a more in-depth effort to prevent the Chinese from gaining an unbreakable hold over 5G wireless networks. It's thought China would attempt to insert malware and spyware, using Huawei as a stalking horse.

This is worrying news, but what interests me is, China's been manufacturing high-end electronic goods for decades now. China makes pretty much everything from PS4 and Xbox consoles to desktop PCs. Odds are pretty good you're using a Chinese-made machine to read this post. Chinese surveillance tech is almost certainly a big part of the electronic ecosystem already.

Gamification … remember a while back when I talked about casinos in Macau, and hungry ghosts? I posited that a casino might use hungry ghosts as so-called luck ambassadors, slaving the ghost to a cloud-based slot machine system and using it to monitor player activity.

So here you have a slot machine that knows exactly who you are, I posted. It's tracked you from the moment you checked in at the hotel, and can continue to track you via the courtesy smartphone that the hotel gave you, or through your guest card, or any number of different ways. It can switch up the odds as it sees fit, to keep you playing. It can judge your tolerance for loss, and keep you pumped up for as long as your money holds out.

Now imagine if that machine was haunted - say, by hungry ghosts.

If you've followed gaming at all, you'll have seen anguished articles about gambling, and how some games use casino-style tactics to drain cash from underage players, and their parents. Take that a step further. Imagine a Chinese manufacturer who deliberately slips hungry ghosts into gaming consoles, ships them out to naïve Westerners, and lets the ghost handle the rest. A microtransaction or micropayment system, managed by the dead, whose purpose is to skim a little off the top and send it back to the manufacturer. Even if all they got was a fraction of a penny on every transaction, there are so many transactions it all adds up to one great big fortune.

Imagine what might happen if those ghosts get too ambitious …

That's it for this week. Enjoy!

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