AT LARGE: Lackadaisicalness

AT LARGE: Lackadaisicalness

A couple of months ago I reported to you, with what can only be described as "chagrin", that I had been robbed. My home was broken into and electronic goods (my own property as well as review products) were stolen to the value of some thousands of dollars. I commented at the time that the thief (or thieves) had made some interesting and obviously considered choices in their spree.

I can now report, with what I would describe as "mitigated glee", that the perpetrator (or at least one of them - I still subscribe to a conspiracy theory) has been arrested. The arrest came about, ironically, as a result of one of these considered choices my light-fingered houseguests made.

They gained entry, you see, by very carefully breaking a kitchen window and removing it from its frame. He carried the broken halves away from the kitchen and placed them in the backyard, under the stairs. Crafty. Then, whilst pilfering, he used a handtowel to remove any fingerprints. Slick.

Problem: he got the handtowel from inside. The broken halves of the window had nice, clear fingerprints along the broken edge - prints that could only have been made by the person who broke the window. He sowed the seeds of his downfall before he entered the house.

I told you that story so I could tell you this one.

Not long ago, an American spy plane full of American spies was forced down in Hainan, which is Chinese territory. It was in all the papers. I shan't go into who was to blame for this because I wasn't there and I suspect the full truth (not filtered through diplomatic channels) will never be available to me. After the plane was forced down, the American government, with what can only be described as "chagrin", attempted to get the crew back. Now that the crew is home, the second Bush administration has returned to an aggressive stance in its negotiations for the return of the plane. It was clearly annoyed at having to be so darn "diplomatic" in order to effect the return of the crew.

Coincidentally, at exactly the same time as all this was playing out, the American and Australian Governments unveiled a joint project they had been developing: a robot spy plane. It was shown on the evening news, looking to all the world like a large pelican that had attempted to swallow a humpback whale. It doesn't need to be designed for comfort, since it will carry no crew - it's simply chock-full of spy stuff.

This, of course, means that if it is forced down over Hainan (or anywhere else that is deemed worthy of a covert look) there will be no strained attempts at diplomacy and no halfway apologies to return crew members. The person with the remote control will simply push the "self destruct" button and the secret spy technology will be safe. (I imagine, having seen many spy movies, that the plane that was forced into Hainan probably had a "self destruct" button as well - but those pesky humans failed to push it).

Now the plane has almost no markings on it. It has no US flag, nor a US Air Force logo. It does, in order to express the Australian involvement in its development, have a silhouette of a kangaroo on the side. Great. Whose idea was that? This thing isn't exactly a PR gimmick. If this lands accidentally somewhere, it means spying was being done. I don't know who the Americans are planning to spy on, but I'm pretty sure I don't want whoever it is to think it was us doing the spying.

In the same news report, we were told that the plane was piloted from a "camouflaged control room" by the side of the runway. We were treated to a shot of this control room. It was one of those portable buildings often deployed as temporary classrooms at cash-strapped schools. It was, as you might expect, painted in those dappled greens, browns and blacks typical of camouflage. In the jungle, it would have been virtually invisible.

Problem: it wasn't in the jungle. It was in the Nevada desert. Rather than fading into the background and looking like nothing, or even like an innocuous shed by the runway, it looked very much like a room in which secret military stuff was going on. Like spying and so forth.

Anyone who's ever watched a James Bond movie, and wondered how a secret agent can possibly be so famous, need only look at the slapdash attempts at secrecy by these folks in the real business of espionage.

Details, people. Details.

Matthew JC. Powell wants to keep his e-mail address at a secret. Oops!

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