Tag Archives: terrorism

Almost bombed in 2010, the IBM nanotechnology center in Zurich receives a William Tell Award in 2013

It certainly seems likely that IBM’s Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center in Zurich is the same center that suffered an attempted bombing in 2010. Here’s more about the 2010 incident, from my July 25, 2011 posting about what happened to the bombers after they got caught,

I hoped to get this final update about the trio who tried to bomb an IBM nanotechnology facility in Switzerland posted sooner. The three individuals who were held and tried last week were sentenced to three years in jail. From the July 22, 2011 news article by Jessica Dacey on swissinfo.ch,

A 26-year-old Swiss-Italian from Ticino and an Italian couple aged 29 and 34 were found guilty by the Federal Criminal Court of conspiring to destroy the IBM centre in Rüschlikon, near Zurich, while it was under construction.

They were also found guilty of importing explosives into Switzerland, then illegally hiding and transporting them.

The three detainees were caught last year [April 2010] about 3km from the IBM facility in possession of 476 grams of explosives and other components needed to build an improvised explosive device.

This group does not appear to be affiliated or associated with the group that has been sending bombs to nanoscientists in Mexico. My Mar. 14, 2013 posting is the latest information I have on that situation.

Here’s more about Switzerland’s William Tell Award and IBM’s nanotechnology center from the Mar. 17, 2013 news item on Nanowerk,

The Switzerland Trade and Investment Promotion, the Swiss federal agency that assists companies expanding internationally, bestowed its annual Tell Awards to IBM, Intermune, Kayak, Maxwell Technologies and Procter & Gamble. The awards, named for legendary Swiss hero William Tell, honor U.S. companies for significant recent investment projects in Switzerland. IBM received the award for the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center.

…  the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center is the latest extension to IBM’s research lab in Zurich. The facility is the centerpiece of a 10-year strategic partnership in nanoscience between IBM and ETH Zurich [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich] where scientists research novel nanoscale structures and devices to advance energy and information technologies. The building represents an investment of $60 million in infrastructure costs and an additional $30 million for tooling and equipment which, including the operating costs, are shared by the partners. As the laudation states: The center demonstrates IBM’s “magnitude of innovation and reinvestment in Switzerland”.

So, those folks wanted to blow up a facility which cost, according to this news item, approximately $90 million for infrastructure and equipment alone. The level of investment certainly explains the interest from the bombers (success would have meant major mainstream news coverage and notice) and this recent award fro IBM’s investment. Here’s a bit more about the center (from the news item),

The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center offers a cutting-edge, collaborative infrastructure for advancing nanoscience. It is part of IBM Research – Zurich, which was opened in 1956 as IBM’s first research laboratory outside the U.S. The nanotechnology center features a cutting-edge exploratory 950 m2 cleanroom fabrication facility and six uniquely designed so-called “noise-free labs” which shield extremely sensitive experiments from any disturbances, such as mechanical vibrations, electro-magnetic fields, temperature fluctuations and acoustic noise.

The news item also offers some information about why the center bears the Binnig and Rohrer names,

The center is named for Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, the two IBM scientists and Nobel laureates who invented the scanning tunneling microscope at IBM Research – Zurich in 1981, thus enabling researchers to see atoms on a surface for the first time. In 1986 Binnig and Rohrer received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this achievement, widely acknowledged for laying the foundation for nanotechnology research.

The Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center opened in 2011 and there’s more information about that,  Binnig and Rohrer, and their work with scanning tunneling microscopes in my May 26, 2011 posting which also features a link to an audio interview with the two Nobel Laureates.

Mexico, nano, and bombs

Violence in pursuit of a cause is not unusual. With a goal in sight, often it’s freedom of one kind or another, people will revert to violence to achieve their ends, especially when they feel there are no alternatives and/or are under attack. However, violence in pursuit of some vague worldview is more difficult to understand (at least, it is for me).

An anarchist group (ITS, aka, Individuals Tending to Savagery) has again claimed ‘credit’ for violence against scientists in Mexico. From Robert Beckhusen’s Mar. 12, 2013 article about the ITS and the violence for Wired magazine (Note: A link has been removed),

Over the past two years, Mexican scientists involved in bio- and nanotechnology have become targets. They’re not threatened by the nation’s drug cartels. They’re marked for death by a group of bomb-building eco-terrorists with the professed goal of destroying human civilization.

The group, which goes by the name Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS), posted its manifesto to anarchist blog Liberacion Total last month. The manifesto takes credit for a failed bombing attempt that month against a researcher at the Biotechnology Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. And the group promises more.

ITS posted on Feb. 18, 2013 on the War On Society blog something called the Seventh communique from Individualists Tending toward the Wild (ITS)  (Gabriella Segata Antolini is named as the poster)

The aim of this text is to make our stance clear, continuing the work of spreading our ideas, clearing up some apparent doubts and misinterpretations, as well as accepting mistakes and/or errors. In no way do we want to start an endless discussion that only takes up time and energy, nor do we want this text to turn into something other than what it is. Anyone who reads it will be able to interpret correctly (or incorrectly) what they are aiming to read; the intelligent reader will know to reflect and consequently do what seems right to them.

ITS is not going to cover every person or group’s forms of thought, but the ones we respect, that we tolerate, is something else; the ideas, doctrines, stances (etc) that deserve critiques (because we are in disagreement with them [being that they cover discourses that are leftist, progressivist, irrational, religious, etc]) will be mentioned in this way; the ones that don’t, we will let pass or agree with.

All the texts that ITS has made public are not for society to “wake up and decide to attack the system,” they are not to forcibly change what the others think, nothing like this is intended; the lines we write are for the intelligent, strong individuals who decide to see reality in all its rawness, for those few who form, think and carry out the sensible critique of the highest expression of domination–the Techno-industrial System (a).

And so that our words, critiques, clarifications and statements are made known as they have been spread up to now, we have decided (until now) to take the next step, which has been to attack and try to kill the key persons who make the system improve itself. [emphasis mine]

This is the only viable way for radical critiques to emerge in the public light, making pressure so this discourse comes to the surface. We are extremists and we act as such, without compassion, without remorse, taking any means to reach our objectives.

It’s a lengthy, rambling communiqué that provides little insight into what would motivate anyone to “attack and kill.”

Beckhusen attempts to make some sense of the situation in Mexico with references to the Unabomber (a US citizen who developed a radical critique of technology and bombed various facilities) and trends within Latin American societies.

In a couple of 2012 articles for Nature (May 28, 2012 and Aug. 29, 2012), Leigh Phillips discussed and tried to make some sense of the ITS attacks in Mexico and the attacks in Europe, which were carried out by different extremist groups who do not appear to be connected, by giving it a global perspective.

Meanwhile, nanotechnology continues to be practiced and discussed in Mexico. A Mar. 13, 2012 news item on Azonano notes a recent meeting,

Nano Labs Corp. is pleased to report on the Fifteenth Meeting of the ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnologies Conference held last week [Mar. 4 – 8, 2013?] in Queretaro City, Mexico.

Nano Labs was proud to sponsor two important events in the field of international regulations of nanotechnology, in the colonial City of Queretaro, in Central Mexico. The first was a joint Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)/ International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Expert Meeting on Physical-Chemical Properties of Manufactured Nanomaterials and Test Guidelines, and the second the 15th Meeting of ISO/TC 229 Nanotechnologies by the ISO Secretariat.

“… One of the major issues of the ISO conference is to establish a global ISO standard and regulate the safety issues related to the production and uses of nano particles in the manufacturing process on a global scale,” stated Dr. Victor Castano, Chief Innovations Officer of Nano Labs, who attended the conference.

Mexico also recently hosted a conference for the European Commission’s NanoForArt project, which I mentioned in a Mar. 1, 2013 posting,

The Feb. 2013 conferences in Mexico as per a Feb. 27, 2013 Agencia EFE news item on the Global Post website featured (Note: Links have been removed),

Baglioni [Piero Baglioni, a researcher and professor at the University of Florence] and Dr. Rodorico Giorgi, also of the University of Florence, traveled to Mexico earlier this month to preside over a conference on Nanotechnology applied to cultural heritage: wall paintings/cellulose, INAH [Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia] said.

I don’t know that there is any sense to be made of the situation in Mexico (certainly I can’t do it). The ITS communiqué doesn’t provide much insight. My guess is that this is a small group of people who will seem rather pathetic once they are caught—any power derived from their clandestine, violent activities disappeared.

For my previous postings about the bombings in Mexico:

Nanotechnology terrorism in Mexico? (Aug. 11, 2011)

In depth and one year later—the nanotechnology bombings in Mexico (Aug. 31, 2012)

ETC group replies to Nature’s “Nanotechnology: Armed resistance” article (Oct. 11, 2012)

While this isn’t strictly speaking on topic, I did cover a fascinating study on right wing violence in this posting,

Higher education and political violence (Sept. 23, 2010)

65 + and another poll about nanotechnology awareness

As soon as you reach the age of 65, you cease to develop as a human being and nobody really cares about your opinions. The same is true of you prior to the age of 18. You are of interest from 18 to 29, more interest from 30-39, and 40-49 but by the age of 50, you hold diminishing interest (50-64) and after that it almost disappers. At least, that’s what I’m deducing from these standard age categories.

We don’t think a 25 year old and a 45 year old belong in the same category but have no problem putting a 65 year old and an 85 year old in the same category.  Interesting, non?

While the latest nanotechnology poll from Harris Interactive doesn’t break any new ground regarding age categories or ways to ask about nanotechnology awareness (How much have you heard about nanotechnology?) or results (low awareness), Harris offers a very interesting proviso about the poll results,


This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between June 18 and 25, 2012 among 2,467 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. [emphases mine] All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

I don’t know if this is a standard wording or if it’s unique to Harris but it’s certainly the first time I’ve seen a statement that the term ‘margin of error’ is misleading. Coupling it with a frank description of the possible errors and suggesting there may be even more sources for error is refreshing. I also very much appreciate the fact that they’ve shown the questions although I  would like to confirm the order in which they were asked (which I imagine is in the order shown).

A Sept. 6, 2012 news item on Nanowerk summarizes the poll results,

Awareness of nanotechnology is still low, but there are some surprising differences in opinion. Perhaps not surprisingly, reports of having heard at least a little about nanotechnology were significantly higher among all sub-65 age groups (ranging from 37% to 46%) than among those in the 65+ age group (26%). However, those older Americans aware of nanotechnology were more optimistic about its potential, with a stronger likelihood than any other age group to indicate a belief that the potential benefits of nanotechnology outweigh the risks (58%, vs. 32%-36% among other age groups).

The Sept. 6, 2012 press release from Harris Interactive (which originated the news item) provides more details including the wording of the questions and tables summarizing the data. Here are a few tidbits from the press release,

Older Americans aware of nanotechnology were significantly more interested than other age groups in seeing it applied to healthcare (80%-83% among those ages 50+, vs. 42%-66% among younger groups), energy production (63%-74% among those 40+, vs. 43%-53% among those under 40), whereas younger adults familiar with nanotechnology were more interested in seeing nanotechnology applied to clothes (16%-19% among those 18-39, vs. 4%-9% among those 40+) and skincare (20% and 10%-12%, respectively) than the older groups. The youngest age group was also significantly more likely than other groups to select “None of these” (15% among those 18-29, vs. 2%-6% among those 30+).

“Though it may initially seem counterintuitive, it actually makes sense that those aware of nanotechnology within the 65+ age group tend to believe that the benefits of nanotechnology will outweigh the risks, as the prevalence of worry in general tends to decline with age,” said Dr. Kathleen Eggleson, leader of the Nano Impacts Intellectual Community at the University of Notre Dame. “Older Americans also have firsthand experience with the emergence of many different technologies that have brought new benefits to their lives.”

“These data may help stakeholders nationwide make informed decisions, plan investments, and tailor education, advocacy, and marketing efforts in the nanotechnology field,” said Peter Tomanovich, Research Director, Health Care at Harris Interactive.

The poll also has information (taking all provisos into account) about US regional differences in awareness and sources for information amongst those who are aware here.

There is no indication in the press release that this poll was requested or paid for by any Harris Interactive client. Based on Tomanovich’s comments, the poll seems to  have been conducted at the company’s own expense as a means of gaining some attention within their government and business client base.

In any event, the poll provides an interesting contrast to the recent article in Nature about nanotechnology and terrorism (mentioned in my Aug. 31, 2012 posting) which suggested there may be a rising tide of violence against nanoscience and nanotechnology based on the bombings in Mexico and other incidents on the international stage.

In depth and one year later—the nanotechnology bombings in Mexico

Last year in an Aug. 11, 2011 post I covered some stories about terrorism and nanotechnology in the aftermath of a major bombing in Mexico where two scientists were injured. Leigh Phillips has written a substantive news feature focusing largely on the situation in Mexico.

From the Aug. 29, 2012 news feature (open access) in the journal Nature,

Nature assesses the aftermath of a series of nanotechnology-lab bombings in Mexico — and asks how the country became a target of eco-anarchists.

The shoe-box-sized package was addressed to Armando Herrera Corral. It stated that he was the recipient of an award and it was covered in official-looking stamps. Herrera, a computer scientist at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico City, shook the box a number of times, and something solid jiggled inside. What could it be? He was excited and a little nervous — so much so, that he walked down the hall to the office of a colleague, robotics researcher Alejandro Aceves López, and asked Aceves to open it for him.

Aceves sat down at his desk to tear the box open. So when the 20-centimetre-long pipe bomb inside exploded, on 8 August 2011, Aceves took the full force in his chest. Metal pierced one of his lungs. “He was in intensive care. He was really bad,” says Herrera’s brother Gerardo, a theoretical physicist at the nearby Centre for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute (Cinvestav). Armando Herrera Corral, who was standing nearby when the bomb went off, escaped with a burst eardrum and burns to his legs.

As was reported at the time, an eco-anarchist group calling itself ‘Individuals Tending Towards (or To) Savagery’ laid claim to this ‘achievement’.

While there have been attacks elsewhere*, Mexico has experienced more attacks and more violence and the impact is being felt personally and institutionally,

One year on from the bombing at Monterrey Tec, the repercussions are still being felt. Armando Herrera Corral and Aceves will not speak to Nature about what happened. “It’s too sensitive, you understand?” is all Aceves would say. Herrera has left his job as director of the university’s technology park and is now head of postgraduate studies. Other Mexican universities with nanotechnology research programmes have evacuated campuses in response to bomb threats, and universities across the country have introduced stringent security measures. Some researchers are anxious for their own safety; some are furious about being targets. But all the researchers that Nature spoke to in Mexico are adamant that the attacks will not discourage them from their research or dissuade students from entering the field.

As for reasons why Mexico, to date, has experienced more attacks than other countries,

Reporting by Nature suggests that several broad trends have come together to precipitate the violence. Over the past decade, Mexico has invested heavily in nanotechnology relative to other developing countries, because it sees the field as a route to economic development; mainstream green groups worldwide have grown increasingly concerned about nanotechnology’s health and environmental risks; and there has been a shift towards extreme ideas and tactics among radical environmentalists critical of technology. In Mexico, this has been set against a general background of growing violence and political upheaval.

According to Phillips’ article there were three incidents in 2011 (April, May, and August, respectively)  in Mexico as compared to one attempted attack in Switzerland in 2010. This year, there has been one attack in Europe as I noted in my May 29, 2012 post which featured Andy Coghlan’s article for New Scientist on rising violence against scientists. From Coghlan’s article,

It’s like something out of Kafka. Anti-science anarchists in Italy appear to be ramping up their violent and frankly surreal campaign. Having claimed responsibility for shooting the boss of a nuclear engineering company in Genoa, the group has vowed to target Finmeccanica, the Italian aerospace and defence giant.

In  a diatribe sent on 11 May to Corriere della Sera newspaper on 11 May, the Olga Cell of the Informal Anarchist Federation International Revolutionary Front said it shot Roberto Adinolfi, head of Ansaldo Nucleare, in the leg four days earlier. “With this action of ours, we return to you a tiny part of the suffering that you, man of science, are pouring into this world,” the statement said. It also pledged a “campaign of struggle against Finmeccanica, the murderous octopus”.

Coghlan suggests that the focus is being shifted from nanotechnology to nuclear science in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

Philips takes a different tack in the Nature article,

As nanotechnology has been growing in Latin America, a violent eco-anarchist philosophy has taken root among certain radical groups in Mexico. Mexican intelligence services believe that the perpetrators of the bombings last year were mainly young and well educated: their communiqués are littered with references to English-language texts unlikely to have been translated into Spanish.[emphasis mine] Intelligence services say that the eco-anarchist groups have been around for about a decade. They started off protesting against Mexico’s economic and political system by setting off small explosives that destroyed bank machines.But around 2008, certain groups began to adopt an ‘anarcho-primitivist’ perspective. (Locally, they are called primativistas, says Gerardo Herrera Corral.) This philosophy had won little notice until the past few years, but with increasing media reports of looming global climate disaster, some radical green activists have latched on to it. California-based environmental writer Derrick Jensen — whose popular books call for an underground network of ‘Deep Green Resistance’ cells — is a highly influential figure in this otherwise leaderless movement, which argues that industrial civilization is responsible for environmental destruction and must be dismantled.

In their writings, anarcho-primitivist groups often express deep anxiety about a range of advanced research subjects, including genetic engineering, cloning, synthetic biology, geoengineering and neurosciences. But it is nanotechnology, a common subject for science-fiction doomsday scenarios, that most clearly symbolizes to them the power of modern science run amok. “Nanotechnology is the furthest advancement that may yet exist in the history of anthropocentric progress,” the ITS wrote in its first communiqué, in April 2011.

If the perpetrators are young and well-educated then the comment in this excerpt from the article does not follow logically and Phillips does not explain this seeming disparity,

In Mexico, the existing social and political climate may have helped light the fuse, says Miguel Méndez Rojas, coordinator of the department of nanotechnology and molecular engineering at the University of the Americas Puebla in Mexico. He says that the bombings cannot be understood outside the context of what he describes as a dangerous cocktail of poverty and poor education, widespread ignorance of science, ongoing social upheaval and a climate of violence. [emphasis mine]

Phillips’ article goes on to discuss some of the more moderate groups including the Canada-based ETC Group, which has an office in Mexico,

Some researchers in Mexico say that more-moderate groups are stoking fears about nanotechnology. One such body is the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC, pronounced et cetera), a small but vocal non-profit organization based in Ottawa, Canada, which was one of the first to raise concerns about nanotechnology and has to a large extent framed the international discussion. Silvia Ribeiro, the group’s Latin America director, based in Mexico City, says that the organization has no links to the ITS. The bombings were a “sick development”, she says. “These kinds of attacks — they are benefiting the development of nanotechnology,” she says. “It polarized the discussion. Do you want nanotech or the bomb?”

ETC wants to see a moratorium on all nanotechnology research, says Ribeiro, who is the lead author on many of the group’s reports criticizing nanotechnology research and commercialization. She says that there have not been enough toxicological studies on engineered nanoparticles, and that no government has developed a regulatory regime that explicitly addresses risk at the nanoscale.

However, ETC also infuriates researchers by issuing warnings of a more speculative nature. For example, it has latched on to the concept of ‘grey goo’ — self-replicating nanorobots run wild — that was raised in the book Engines of Creation (Doubleday, 1986) by nanotechnology engineer Eric Drexler. In ETC’s primer on nanoscale technologies, it says that the “likely future threat is that the merger of living and non-living matter will result in hybrid organisms and products that are not easy to control and behave in unpredictable ways”.

Ribeiro has also criticized genetic modification and vaccination against human papillomavirus in a weekly column in La Jornada. Méndez Rojas says that ETC “promotes beliefs, but they are not based on facts, and we need a public discussion of the facts”.

The impression I’ve had from reading ETC materials is that they are trying to repeat the success they enjoyed with the GMO (genetically modified organisms) and frankenfood campaign and they’d dearly love to whip up some strong feelings about nanotechnology in aid of more regulation.

I’m not a big ETC fan but I do have to note that their research is solid, once you get past the annoying ‘smart ass’ or juvenile attitude in the literature. Yes, they have an agenda but that’s standard. Everyone has an agenda so you always have to check more than one source.  When you analyze it, Phillips’ article is just as emotionally manipulative as the ETC Group’s communications. Including the ETC Group with the eco-anarchists in an article about terrorism and nanotechnology is equivalent to including the journal Nature with North Korea in an article about right-wing, repressive institutions framed from beginning to end to prove a somewhat elusive point.

Scientists in general seem to recognize that there are some legitimate concerns being expressed by the ETC Group and others,

Most nanotechnology researchers acknowledge that some areas of their work raise legitimate environmental, health and safety concerns. The most important response, says Gerardo Herrera Corral, is for scientists to engage with the public to address and dispel concerns. Herrera is head of Mexico’s only experiment at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, and he points to how CERN dealt with public fears that its Large Hadron Collider could create a black hole that would swallow Earth. “We set up a committee to deal with this. We looked into the real dangers. There were journal articles and we answered all the e-mails we got from people. I mean top-level physicists answering thousands of e-mails.”

“But this is work we should all be doing,” says Herrera. “Even if it’s extra work on top of all the other things we have to do. It’s just part of our job now.”

I like the idea of high level scientists taking the time to answer my questions and I imagine others feel the same way, which may go a long way in explaining why CERN (European Particle Physics Laboratory) has acquired such good will internationally.

Overall, I suspect Phillips is a little over-invested in Mexico’s nanotechnology terrorism. Three incidents in one year suggests something deeply disturbing (and devastating if you are the target) but in an international context, there were only three incidents. If you add up all of the nanotechnology incidents cited in Phillips’ article, there are three bombings (Mexico), one attempted bombing (Switzerland), a successful arson attempt (Mexico), and a few cancelled public debates (France) from 2009 – Fall 2012.

I am inclined to Coghlan’s argument that there is a disturbing trend toward anti-science violence and, it seems to me, it is largely unfocused, nanotechnology here, nuclear science there, biotechnology everywhere, and who knows what else or where else next?

ETA Feb. 21, 2013: Leigh Phillips contacted me to mention that there was a May 28, 2012 article for Nature, Anarchists attack science, which preceded Coghlan’s article for New Scientist and to which Coghlan provides a link. Phillips’ preceding article was subtitled, Armed extremists are targeting nuclear and nanotechnology workers. Phillips opens with the then recent attack on a nuclear engineering executive and subsequently focuses on attacks in the nanotechnology sector.

* ‘While there have been other attacks ‘ changed to ‘While there have been attacks elsewhere’, on Aug. 9, 2015.

Nanotechnology terrorism in Mexico?

The nano terrorism trial in Switzerland concludes (my July 25, 2011 posting) while Mexico seemingly has an outbreak of nano terrorism.  According to one account, there were two incidents this week, one at Mexico’s National Polytechnical Institute on Tuesday, August 9, 2011 (another account notes that there were previous incidents in April and May 2011 targeting the same professor but does not mention an August 9 attempt) and a more serious one (two professors were injured) at the Monterrey Technological Institute (the campus on the outskirts of Mexico City) on Monday, August 8, 2011.

The group identified as likely culprits (a partially identified note was found at the scene of the August 8 incident) is called, in English, ‘Individuals Tending to Savagery (ITS)’. They have attacked academics before and are known for opposing nanotechnology experiments.

One of the injured professors works in the field of robotics and the intended target of the August 9 (?), April and May 2011 incidents, Oscar Camacho, works in the field of micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).

I gather the group (ITS) has posted a manifesto online which states that nanoparticles could cause the planet earth to turn into grey goo (a well worn and popular ‘end of the world because of nanotechnology’ scenario first posited by Eric Drexler who has since repudiated it but taken up by any number of science fiction writers).

Dexter Johnson at Nanoclast (on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering [IEEE] website) notes in his August 11, 2011 posting,

The confusion—that now seems insurmountable—over the advanced material science that accounts for the nanotechnology being used in products today and the molecular mechanosynthesis of the famed “nanobot” variety has now resulted in violence.

My sympathies to the injured academics and their families.

Jail sentences for attackers of IBM nanotechnology facility of Switzerland

I hoped to get this final update about the trio who tried to bomb an IBM nanotechnology facility in Switzerland posted sooner. The three individuals who were held and tried last week were sentenced to three years in jail. From the July 22, 2011 news article by Jessica Dacey on swissinfo.ch,

A 26-year-old Swiss-Italian from Ticino and an Italian couple aged 29 and 34 were found guilty by the Federal Criminal Court of conspiring to destroy the IBM centre in Rüschlikon, near Zurich, while it was under construction.

They were also found guilty of importing explosives into Switzerland, then illegally hiding and transporting them.

The three detainees were caught last year about 3km from the IBM facility in possession of 476 grams of explosives and other components needed to build an improvised explosive device.

Also found in their car were 31 letters claiming responsibility for the planned attack in the name of a group calling itself ELF Switzerland Earth Liberation Front. Known in the United States as eco-terrorists, the group carry out “economic sabotage” to stop the destruction of the environment.

The trial has shed light on a loose-knit network of European anarchists, with prosecutors linking the detainees to extremist movements that have claimed responsibility for several violent attacks in the United States and Europe since the 1990s.

In a July 21, 2011 news item published on The Local, prior to sentencing, the three are identified,

Local and international news reports say prosecutor Hans Joerg Stalder argued in court on Tuesday that the three — two Italians and a Swiss — are “criminal tourists” who tried to smuggle explosives into Switzerland to carry out their eco-terror attack. Experts testified at the hearing that the planned combination of fuels and explosive gel could have been deadly.

The three, identified as 35-year-old Costantino Alfonso Ragusa, his 29-year-old wife Silvia Ragusa Guerini and their 26-year-old Swiss friend Luca Cristos Bernasconi, were charged with “planning an incendiary attack on a nanotechnology centre under construction”, and are being tried by Switzerland’s top criminal court.

The three have already served 15 months of their three year jail sentences.

My most recent posting on this topic was July 19, 2011 and I also posted about this near the time of the attempted bombing, April 26, 2010.

Update on 2010 planned attack on Swiss IBM nanotechnology centre

In April 2010, two Italians and a Swiss were caught in an apparent plot to bomb an IBM nanotechnology facility being built in Rueschlikon, near Zurich (there’s slightly more in my April, 26, 2010 posting). The three went on trial today (Tuesday, July 19, 2011) for their offenses. From the Reuters news item,

One Swiss and two Italian suspected far-left militants went on trial on Tuesday accused of planning a foiled bomb attack on an IBM nanotechnology centre in Switzerland.

A group of Italian anarchists gathered outside the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona in support of the suspects on Tuesday. A verdict is due on Friday, SDA news agency reported.

Hopefully, I’ll find out what happens on Friday (July 22, 2011).

Higher education and political violence

There’s a fascinating study by Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta and political scientist Steffen Hertog, of the London School of Economics, first published in 2008, where amongst other findings they noted a disproportionate number of engineers were found in right-wing groups that practice or advocate political violence. Since the 2008 publication,  Gambetta and Hertog have continued the study and are preparing to publish a book on their work. Steven Curry at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Spectrum recently (Sept. 15, 2010) interviewed Hertog about the findings. You can find the podcast here.

Thanks to Christine Peterson’s (Foresight Institute) Sept. 16, 2010 posting for pointing to this podcast and here are a couple of excerpts on her thoughts about the study,

I have not listened to this, but the obvious answer would seem to be that many people might wish to be effective terrorists, but only the more technical ones have the needed skills to carry out an action that causes significant harm. (I have often been thankful that the superb technical people I know appear to have no leanings in that direction.)

For now, nanotechnologies are primarily being developed by people who are not likely to deploy them for terrorist purposes, but as time passes this will change. It took about a century for airplanes to be used outside traditional warfare to do major harm; probably that sequence will be faster for nanotechnologies.

I did listen to the podcast and Hertog was very careful to make clear that there are some nuances to be considered. First, the study was not focused on engineers or right-wing groups.  As he points out in the podcast, left-wing groups also practice or advocate political violence but they don’t tend to have disproportionate numbers (as compared to what you’d expect from a random sampling of the population) of engineers. If I understand Hertog correctly, left-wing groups tend to attract students and graduates from the humanities and social sciences and can be just as successful with their attempts at political violence. (Note: In the Vancouver (Canada) area, there was the Squamish Five [aka Direct Action] in the early 1980s who firebombed three porn video outlets, a munitions manufacturer (located in the Toronto area), and a BC Hydro substation on Vancouver Island amongst other activities to protest capitalism and the failure of other forms of political activism. Not a single one of the ‘activists’ was an engineer. Wikipedia essay here.)

In much the same way that trying to establish simple causal relationships has led to some of the disappointments in gene therapy and other recent scientific endeavours (my Sept. 21, 2010 posting), Hertog is careful to provide some nuance to this social discussion.

The researchers broke down Islamist and other groups by country and found that in Middle Eastern countries engineers are held in high esteem so ambitious young people study to be engineers. High numbers of recently graduated engineers when coupled with a poor labour market in Middle Eastern countries that also host groups advocating/practicing political violence had a higher than expected  proportion of engineers. In other words, the engineers’ job prospects were not good.The two Middle Eastern countries with the best labour markets for engineers didn’t have disproportionate numbers of engineers in right-wing groups advocating/ practicing political violence.

The researchers also noted that engineers regardless of their geographic location tend to be more politically right-wing than other occupations which, if they are frustrated, may predispose them to right-wing causes. By that token, I imagine that frustrated social scientists and humanities graduates would be predisposed to left-wing causes. In any event, having a predisposition to left-wing or right-wing causes and being frustrated in the labour market doesn’t guarantee that you will be practicing political violence. It’s not that simple but the study does provide some food for thought as we try to figure out why people are moved to political violence and whether we can find better ways to respond ahead of time. Bravo to Steven Curry and the IEEE for opening a discussion about this work.