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French warn of "body bomb" threat for airplanes

Al Qaeda's newest suicide bombing tactic -- cellphone activated explosives hidden inside the bomber's rectum -- has French security officials worried:

French anti-terrorism chiefs are expected to recommend widening examinations already used to catch drug smugglers after President Sarkozy’s new domestic intelligence directorate (DCRI) learnt of an attack in Saudi Arabia in which the bomber detonated such a device in his rectum. 

Al-Qaeda gave video publicity to its new method tested by Abdullah Hassan al-Asiri, a 23-year-old terrorist, who blew himself apart at a meeting in Jeddah in late August with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi anti-terrorism chief. The Prince was slightly injured in the blast, but al-Asiri, who used a mobile telephone to trigger the bomb, was ripped into 70 pieces, the DCRI report said.

Such a blast, though limited in force, could be catastrophic in a pressurised airliner, say experts. Counter-measures would be draconian. As well as taking off shoes and handing in liquids, passengers could be subjected to X-ray screening or be required to hand in all electronic devices because they could be used as detonators, police commanders told Le Figaro newspaper.

Given that shoe removal has become an integral part of the "security theater" in U.S. airports since shoe-bomber Richard Reid's botched operation in 2002, one shudders to think where we're headed in response to the "keister bomber," as the Times calls him.

Normally I'm all for government transparency. But it seems like "body-bombing" is generally not a very effective tactic, since most of the explosion is absorbed by the bomber himself, but it could be very effective on a plane. Why exactly did French authorities choose to publicize this fact?

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Rogue listmaking and China's wealthiest

Last week, the Hurun Report released the top two on its 2009 China rich list, a ranking of the wealthiest people on the mainland: Wang Chuanfu at $5.1 billion, whose company makes electric cars and batteries, and Zhang Yin at $4.9 billion, whose company produces recycled paper products. The rest of the list comes out this month.

A few things about these two titans and the rich list and its older versions interested me. First, as the United States' billionaires are getting fewer and poorer, China's are getting more plentiful and richer. There are now 131 dollar billionaires in China -- compared with around 350 in the United States.

Second, an exceedingly obvious point but one to marvel at: Rich people in China own companies which make things. The country remains the organ that produces the world's stuff -- batteries, cars, paper, widgets, tires, you name it. And these companies remain relatively undiversified, vertically, not horizontally. One member of the rich list, for instance, owns a company that produces pig feed. 20 years from now, he might own a conglomerate that makes pig feed, feeds it to pigs, slaughters them, and sells the meat. Then, 20 years from then, he might own a holding company which subcontracts out all of those functions to workers and producers in cheaper markets.

In contrast, the 10 richest people in the United States (in descending order: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, assorted Waltons, Michael Bloomberg, and Charles and David Koch) run diversified companies which trade in finance, technology, information, and real estate.

I also took a bit of interest in the producer of the Hurun Report -- one Rupert Hoogewerf. He's a Luxembourgian alumnus of the accounting firm Arthur Andersen who produced Forbes' China rich list between 1999 and 2003. At that point, it seems that Forbes fired him, possibly due to "public doubts and questions of the accuracy and authority of the wealth ranking year after year," according to state paper China Daily. It added: "It is understood that he received no compensation settlement from Forbes."

The official line is that Forbes simply decided to have a Shanghai editor manage the production of the list. But I like the idea of list-maker Hoogewerf going rogue. Does make you wonder about the accuracy of those lists, though...