Advice to supervillains – killing your own scientists


in Bombs and rockets, Books and literature, Geek stuff, Psychology, Rants, Security, Writing

One classic mistake made by cartoon supervillains concerns the complicated piece of machinery that is inevitably at the heart of their secret plan. It might be a time travel device of some sort, or a machine that strips the opposing superhero of their power, or a key part of a world domination scheme.

As a way of illustrating just how evil and ruthless they really are, supervillains will often kill the whole team of scientists who built the thing, perhaps by having them all drink poisoned champagne. This does make a certain measure of sense. Killing the scientists keeps them from going off and telling people about what they did, which could cause problems for you.

That being said, I strongly object to the timing that is frequently used for these killings. The supervillain will kill off the science team right before testing the device for the first time. As anyone who has worked on anything remotely technical and complex can tell you, this is the worst possible time to kill off all the people involved. Chances are, the machine will not work properly on the first try and that the only people who can figure out what went wrong are the people who designed and built the machine.

By all means, kill the science team once you are confident that you have a machine that will do what you want. Build it, test it, build an improved model, build a backup copy or two, and then hand out the glasses of killer champagne.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan January 13, 2012 at 8:50 pm

The killing of scientists seems an unfortunate thing to joke about this week, given the fact another Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed, probably by the CIA or Mossad.

Milan January 13, 2012 at 8:58 pm

The targeted killing of scientists can potentially be defended as a means of retarding Iran’s nuclear program.

There is probably less collateral damage associated with assassination than there could be with other covert options such as sabotage (which the U.S. and Israel are probably also doing) or overt options like airstrikes. Scientists working on a program that is probably aimed at the development of nuclear weapons are probably more legitimate as assassination targets than most people, though I agree that assassinations are certainly worrisome from the perspective of both ethics and of regional stability.

Iran’s nuclear program may well be illegal, and it is certainly a worrisome source of instability in the region. Slowing it down may be sufficient justification for killing a few people who are directly involved in it.

. January 13, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Iran: Scientist Connected to Tehran’s Nuclear Program Killed

An Iranian nuclear scientist was killed Jan. 11 in Tehran when an explosive device attached to his vehicle detonated. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, who allegedly supervised a department at Iran’s primary uranium enrichment complex, Natanz, was the fifth Iranian scientist connected to the nuclear program killed in the past five years. Given the tactics and target set, the attacks likely were carried out by local actors with foreign sponsorship. Besides continuing a trend, Ahmadi-Roshan’s death also revealed that Iran could be pursuing a second method of uranium enrichment.

Milan January 13, 2012 at 9:10 pm

Were the Manhattan Project scientists not legitimate targets for the Japanese armed forces during WWII? (I think they probably were)

How does the distinction between being legally being at war and using covert means affect the legitimacy of targeted attacks against military scientists? (probably to an extent)

Is it morally important that Ahmadi-Roshan worked for a university, rather than an Iranian military facility? (quite possibly)

. January 13, 2012 at 9:16 pm
. January 14, 2012 at 1:29 am

US ‘concerned’ over possible Israel strike on Iran

WASHINGTON — The US government is concerned that Israel is preparing to take military action against Iran over US objections, and has stepped up contingency planning to safeguard US facilities in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported.

. January 14, 2012 at 10:35 am
. January 16, 2012 at 10:30 am

The arrival of the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) and its escorts in the Middle East on Monday has continued to reverberate in world news in a testament to the enduring value of “gunboat diplomacy.” The conspicuous assassination of an Iranian scientist associated with the country’s nuclear program Wednesday has done nothing to quell the issue. Slated to replace the USS John C Stennis (CVN 74) carrier strike group (CSG), which has been operating in the U.S. Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility since last summer, the Vinson will soon be joined by the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) CSG, currently steaming westward from the Pacific.

As the U.S. Navy has insisted, this is perfectly consistent with routine deployment patterns. The Pentagon maintains a “1.7” carrier presence in Fifth Fleet — keeping an average of 1.7 carriers on station over the course of the year. But the possibility of three American aircraft carriers being positioned off the coast of Iran in the wake of a 10-day Iranian naval exercise in the Strait of Hormuz is hard to ignore.

A single modern U.S. carrier air wing includes four squadrons of multirole F/A-18s and a fifth electronic warfare squadron. This air wing is larger and more capable than the entire air force of many American allies. And the Islamic Republic has spent essentially its entire existence, since the fall of the Shah in 1979, considering and evolving its capability to repel an American attack. Iran’s military has studied U.S. operations, particularly Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and 2003’s Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Tehran is also well aware that the Americans have excelled operationally, since the Cold War, at executing complex air campaigns.

The reality is that an air campaign against Iran would not simply involve a one-off strike against a handful of key nuclear sites. Such a campaign must include battle damage assessments and follow-on strikes on hardened facilities (built specifically to protect against at least some American bunker-busters), a massive suppression of enemy air defenses campaign and both initial strikes and sustained suppression of all activity along Iran’s coast, as any fishing dhow might well be attempting to lay naval mines. This is why Stratfor’s position has long been that Israel alone cannot attack Iran. The Israeli Air Force lacks the capacity to achieve the kind of devastation of Iran’s nuclear program that Israel desires. It is certainly in no position to manage the consequences of such a strike in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and contain Iranian conventional and other national capabilities.

. January 16, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Former spy Michael Ross was on Mossad’s very first pathfinding mission into Iran in 1993.

As a combatant in the Israeli intelligence service, he knows any covert operation — such as the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist this week by a hitman on a motorcycle — is the culmination of a finely honed plan.

“There would have been a huge mosaic of activity going on around [the targeted killing],” said Mr. Ross, who is no longer in the field but still uses a pseudonym.

“How did the assassin know what car he was in? What street he was on? What time he’d be there?”

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