People have been asking about the proper means test for national gun registration. I've been thinking about panoptics a bit lately. It's part of the subject of my novel. So this is what strikes me today. First a couple headlines:
A woman’s decapitated body and two mutilated dogs were found by police Saturday morning at an apartment building in Phoenix, Arizona — along with the suspect who police say severed his own arm and took out one of his eyeballs.
The 30-year-old man found dead outside a Rockdale County apartment likely died playing Russian roulette, police said Friday. Robert Thomas pulled out a revolver, removed the rounds, reloaded one round, spun the chamber and told the three men he was with they were going to play the game, according to Capt. Jackie Dunn with Conyers police.
Two men in their 20s were killed in a drive-by shooting early Saturday on Interstate 5 in Mount Vernon, according to the Washington State Patrol. Troopers were called to the area near the College Way, Exit 227, where they found the driver and front-seat passenger dead inside a black Mercedes just after 3 a.m.
That took all of five minutes to discover, but I already know that there are somewhere between 15-17,000 murders every year here in the US, as well as 30,000 odd suicides. So my question is, if you could have a standard set of quizzes and evaluations put on every American, how many of them would show up to be these kinds of sociopaths? Ultimately, that's the question. What do you do with the knowledge that your society has sociopaths and psychopaths?
Now I stand against those with a zero tolerance attitude towards crime not because I have some special tolerance for crime or criminals, but because of the cost to ordinary Americans. The problem with American society, as I see it, is that we have abandoned a set of personal judgments between each other and looked away. Call it liberalization if you must. But our live and let live era has gone from the margins to the center and what was called crazy and worth of suppression 40 years ago has become manifest in the mainstream. Our natural inclination to persecute (yes), has now shifted to other weird things that don't deserve scrutiny because of our unwillingness to persecute what we instinctually and traditionally know to be hinky and wrong. The result is a mob social media following a set of narratives that don't make for common sense, but are accepted as the conventional wisdom. That and mindless aggregation as well as our democratic impulse trigger us to believe that there are new solutions to chronic problems and we need some kind of new shock to our system to right the wrongs. Does that make sense to you? Are you following me here?
Sin and crime are as old as humanity. We know them when we see them. But why should we institutionalize panoptics when everyone knows what crazy looks like? Because we are living in a society of cowardice, a nation of stooges, who prefer the institutionalization of common sense to direct action by individuals.
Oddly enough, I've been listening to and falling back in love with the music of Billy Joel. The lyrics of his song Pressure, are the poetry missing in my post:
You used to call me paranoid
But even you cannot avoid
You turned the tap dance into your crusade
Now here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle
All grown up and no place to go
Psych 1, Psych 2
What do you know?
All your life is channel 13
What does it mean?
Those with no scars on their faces organize frightened mobs to vote for the police state institutionalization of society from living in fear of any tool that could become a weapon. Because Confederate Battle Flags. Everyone with a scar will be searched because they disobeyed the 11th Commandment: Don't try this at home.
Keep America Safe from Stranger Danger! Register your psychological profile today! Vote for me and I'll set you free!
I'm attracted to spy stuff. So are you. We like James Bond 007 because he has a license to kill. He is intelligent, sophisticated, sexy, resourceful and dangerous. He lives outside of the law, and therefore is not protected by it. Everybody knows that when spies get caught, they get no trial. Spies are summarily executed, period. Still, it's cool right?
Like most Americans, I have spent a lot of time thinking about my privacy and security in the post 9/11 "connect the dots' era. And like most, I've been following stories about Edward Snowden with a bit of ambivalence. Is his an act of civil disobedience or treason? It's both, isn't it? I take the position, now, that without Snowden we would have been singularly unable to discover how much our government has been spying on us. Once upon a time, Congress warned us about the anti-democratic consequences of classified laws classifying what's classified. We yawned. The NSA did not, nor did Homeland Security, FEMA and the TSA. Now only conspiracy theorists talk about this stuff and only Snowden has proof. Maybe, just maybe we can elect a new Senator with the ball of Frank Church - after all, what can Snowden do that Congress can't? Hmm. A lot more than anybody should be comfortable with. So maybe Snowden's revelations were the only thing that captures our imagination: spycraft, double-agent stuff, secret loyalty, but most importantly, he got the goods.
Getting the goods on somebody, catching them red-handed, producing the smoking gun, cracking the code all of these are things we excpect a good spy to accomplish. It's the leading edge of Justice. You just shiver with anticipation that the bad guys are going to get their just desserts when they get busted. Americans really dig this, I know I do. And there is a sadness and righteous indignation when the bad guys were somebody we were supposed to be able to trust. In those cases, the anxiety is amped up because the consequences are so dire. Wait, you say, our spies are spying on us? The gloves come off, shit gets real, and it's on.
Of course these are human emotions more at work than human intelligence, and we are likely to make errors of judgment under such circumstances. We have laws and procedures and the presense of justice when calmer heads prevail, and after all, the 4th Amendment isn't a joke. But maybe it is, or maybe at this point in time when our faith in democratic institutional competence and integrity is at a low point, we are bound to make a joke of it. That's a profound error and it can have disasterous consequences.
I think of this because of the awesome power of the internet. It aggregates eyeballs. What one person sees, 10 million people can see the next day, practically the next instant. And what is it that we want to see?
We want to see justice, but justice cannot be crowdsourced.
These days, there is rioting going on in a town called Ferguson, MO. And the hackers at Anonymous have managed to get their hands on police audio dispatches, which have now been disclosed to the public. Our eyes and hungers have been satisfied for the moment. And while I have my beefs with Anonymous, their actions are the actions of spies. Well, that's part of the problem. The public cannot be anonymous because when you speak on behalf of the people, you need to be responsible, and you need to be inside the law.
That essentially means that if you expect the government to always respect the 4th Amendment, you should probably set a good example yourself.
What we know, for example, is that police are responsible for somewhere north of 400 killings every year. If you took an internet plebscite today, Americans would unquestionably require police to have cameras worn on their persons and in their squad cars and film every encounter with the public. Imagine a system in which every shooting were monitored. We could tell the good ones from the bad ones and bring the bad guys to justice. You realize this is exactly the reason behind the NSAs dragnets. I've got news for you, there are something like 3.4 million arrests every year. Oh sure, crowdsource it you say. We have the technology, we can make America safer, stronger, faster. Ahem, but who is going to edit the video and create the mashup, and how exactly is that going to be different than Cops? (And when is the last time you watched Cops?)
Think about it for a while. Is more surveillance really what you want? Because we already have reality TV and what a blessing that has been. More reality? The humanities are dying in America. We are becoming a people who actually believe we can negotiate our relationships and produce justice through electronic surveillance and spy tactics.
Last week an NSA spokesperson spoke to the Long Now. It was something of a friendly introduction to the NSA's culture of concern, but ultimately unsatisfying. When you come to your bosses, you generally offer a token of goodwill, NSA hasn't thrown us any bones. And so they will recieve rocks in return, but some measure of polite patience as well. The following is the list of questions provided by the audience:
But before I list them I'd like to put a question of cost-benefit analysis to everything. After all, the NSA's budget isn't and shouldn't be unlimited. So we really can't know if they are doing their job efficiently if some analysis of this sort isn't performed. Ultimately they want to reduce terror, and they might be effective if the intelligence they produce reduces the cost of war - after all, if you know exactly where and when the bad guy is, it takes less ammo to take off his head.
Most obviously the cost of domestic surveillance is the one I am concerned with and we would like to weigh that against the cost of domestic terror. So why not create a domestic terror insurance policy? If each American citizen were to pay $10 into a national terror insurance fund and every person who is killed by an actual act of domestic terror were compensated $5 million, then we could have a parallel strategy. After all, America can be very good with money and this is something we all could understand. What we don't understand is how much money the NSA spends on what and how many lives they have or have not saved. Insurance is transparent, the NSA is not. Let's try this alternate route.
Note that the implications of this alternate route on domestic terror puts the NSA against a very concrete standard - one that doesn't exist now except in the minds of the convinced insiders...
I have a general (unfocused) question about transparency – which
hasn’t been mentioned thus far. What is the NSA’s rationale around
hiding its activities from the American people? What can you tell us
about the issue of transparency going forward?
What are the key questions NSA is discussing following the Snowden
releases? And what is the NSA doing to address these issues?
Germany is very, very upset. What could we have done, and what should
we do in the future, to fulfill our many responsibilities while also
respecting our most valuable international relationships?
How can we work toward a new social contract when the intelligence
agency directors repeatedly lie to the Congress and to the public?
Is it true you can still find one-star generals playing Magic the
Gathering in the NSA canteen during lunch hour?
The failures of 9-11 were not technical failures, but failures of
individuals and organizations to work together toward a common goal.
What concrete steps can you describe in the intelligence community
that have been taken to remedy this?
What is the NSA doing to make the scope of its data collection efforts
as transparent as possible, while still achieving its goals w.r.t.
Is it an acceptable outcome that NSA fails at securing us in the
service of privacy considerations?
If the Snowden incident hadn’t happened, would the NSA have hired the
civil liberties expert? What structural changes will make this role
Has the real tension been between the NSA needing to protect its own
systems while ensuring that everybody else’s are vulnerable? Is this
Do you believe the mission of the NSA can be accomplished without
building a record of all worldwide communications and activities?
Is the NSA embedding backdoor or surveillance capability in any
commercial integrated circuits?
If you want to address the damage to public trust, and improve the
social contract, why not applaud the work Edward Snowden has done to
demonstrate how your agency has gone astray?
Do you consider the NSA’s role in weakening the RSA random number
generator to be a violation of the NSA’s existing social contract?
How do you think about its exploitability by criminal elements?
What do you tell American corporate tech leaders who are concerned
about lowered trust and security of their services and products? Lack
of trust based on national security letters, for example, or
weaknesses introduced into RSA crypto by the NSA?
What is the best mechanism for an intelligence agency to prevent
themselves from using “national security secrecy” to cover up an
embarrassment? Is there something better than whistleblowers?
Secure information and privacy need to be balanced – please give an
example of when you feel the NSA worked at its best in this balancing
act. Please be specific :-)
How much is your presentation a reflection of NSA or your personal views?
Should the NSA play a role in devising the new rules for cyberwar?
(Since the old rules for war don’t work in the digital universe.) How
do we citizens participate?
Do you personally feel that the leaks of the last year have revealed
serious overreach by your agency? Or, do you feel as though the NSA
has simply been unfairly painted and that the leaks have been
Privacy is, logically, implied (4th, and 5th and 10th Amendments).
Should it be an explicit right? If so, how should it be architected?
Amnesty for Snowden?
When Russia invaded Ukraine, it seemed to take us by surprise. Have
Snowden’s revelations damaged our ability to anticipate sudden moves
by rivals and adversaries?
How can the NSA build an effective social contract when it destroys
evidence in an active case and when its decisions are made in a secret
court without public scrutiny?
How can the public make informed decisions if NSA keeps secret what it
is doing from its public rulers viz the abuses exposed by Snowden?
Can you give an example of a credible “cyber threat” thwarted by the NSA?
Why did NSA dissolve its Chief Scientist Office? So too FBI. This
Office funded the disk drive and speech recognition.
How do you reconcile your stated goal of improving the security of
private sector products with NSA’s documented practice of
intentionally weakening encryption standards and adding backdoors to
exported network devices that facilitate billions of dollars of
How does surveillance directed towards the United States’s closest
allies help deter terrorist threats, and how does the damage of our
relationship with Germany and other allies offset the benefits of
conducting such surveillance?
I am an American, legally, politically, culturally, economically. I
was born in Pakistan and am a young male. My demographics are the
prime target of the NSA. I have no recourse if the NSA sees that I
have visited the “wrong” links. I am afraid that the NSA deems me a
suspect. Your response?
Balancing the needs of ‘security, society and business’ leaves most of
us with 1 vote in 3. Given the shared interest in big data by
security agencies and business, how do the rest of us keep from
getting outvoted 2-to-1 every time?
Your fears seem to be based on a highly competitive scarcity-based
economy. What is your role in a post-scarcity society?
In what ways do public, crowdsourced prediction markets help to
resolve the tension between public trust and the need for
Does the government have either a duty or a need to be open and honest
in its communication with the public?
How does the NSA approach biological data? Synthetic biology applications?
You never use the word law.
How many more leaks would it take to make your mission impossible?
Personally I look forward to this particular point in time.
Please share your thoughts on: Re: ‘talent leverage’ impact on world
stage. We are all one family on spaceship earth, and we have grave
system failures in the ship. If the U.S. gov’t can shift from empire
to universal economic empowerment, based on natural carrying capacity
of each ecosystem. Then, trust can be restored that this is not a
gov’t of and for the military-industrial complex, and the most
What are three basic reasons that make the NSA assume that it doesn’t
need to obey the law?
Surveillance and security are mutually contradictory goals. Shouldn’t
these functions of the NSA be split into different agencies?
Was Snowden a hero or a damaging rogue? Did he catalyze changes to
keep NSA from being the “KGB”?
Do we live in a democracy when there are no checks and balances in the
intelligence community? --> CIA/Senate, --> Snowden/NSA?
You described the importance of a social contract in determining the
appropriate balance between privacy and intelligence gathering. But
contracts require all parties to be well-informed and to trust each
other. How can the American public trust the intelligence community
when all of the reforms you mentioned only occurred because a
concerned patriot chose to blow the whistle (and now faces
How are we to maintain the creative outliers and risk takers (things
that have been known to create growth and brilliance) if we are
keeping / tracking ‘norms’ as acceptable – or the things we accept. –
How will we know if we are wrong?
Can or does the NSA influence or seek to influence immigration policy
so that the US could retain foreign workers here on expiring H1Bs?
What does the NSA see as some of the greatest emerging technologies
(quantum decryption for example) that can create the future
What are the factors that determines whether the NSA ‘quietly assists’
improving a company’s product security, or it weakens or promotes
weaker crypto standards / algorithms / tech?
Please talk about the recent large scale hacking from Russia.
Why frame this as “how can laws keep up with technology” instead of
“how do we keep the NSA from exceeding the law?”
1) Was NSA interdiction of a sovereign leader’s aircraft a violation
of international law? 2) Does NSA believe they can mill and drill a
database to find potential terrorists?
The NSA paid a private security form, RSA, to introduce a weakness
into its security software. Spying is one matter. But making our
defenses weaker is another. How do you defend this?
What is your biggest fear about NSA overreaching in its power [?]
How many real, proven terrorist threats to the U.S. have been
uncovered by NSA surveillance of email / cell phone activity of
private citizens in the last few years (4-8)?
Your list of tensions omitted any mention of corporate or otherwise
economic fallout that may result or have resulted from the Snowden
revelations. What relief mechanism do you foresee maintaining
corporate trust in the American government?
You mentioned doing during slide 14 that the Director of the NSA is
declassifying more information to promote “tranparency”. Can you
please elaborate on how we might find these recently declassified
Long ago we created a “privilege” for priests, doctors and lawyers,
fearing we could not use them without it. Today, our computers know
us better than our priests, but they have no privilege and can betray
us to surveillance. How do we fix that?
What systems are in place to prevent further leaks?
1) Is it ok for a foreigh entity to collect and intercept President
Obama’s communications without our knowledge? 2) Do you think William
Binney and Thomas Drake are heroes?
How do we build a world of transparency, while also enabling security
for our broader society?
As we grow more connected, the sense of distance embodied in national
patriotism and the otherness of the world shrinks. How is a larger
NSA a reasonable response in terms of a social contract?
Describe the culture that says it’s ok to monitor and read US
citizens’ email (pre-revelation) [?]
How can the NSA enable more due process during the review of approvals
of modern “wire taps” (i.e. translating big data searches to
In the next 10 years there will be breakthroughs in math creating
radical changes in data mining. What are the social risks of that
being dominated by NGO’s vs. government?
Has the NSA performed criminally illegal wiretapping? If so, when
will those responsible be prosecuted?
Can you define what unlocking Big Data responsibly really means and
give examples? Can NSA regulate Facebook in terms of privacy and
ownership of users’ data?
How do other governments deal with similar problems?
What prevents NSA from trusting “Intelligent America” revealing that
linking information but not the content was broadly collected could
have been understood and well presented. Funded [?] “Intelligent
Ingestion of Information” ...[?] DARPA 1991-1995.
Please address the spying upon and the filing of criminal charges
against US Senators and their staff by the USA, particularly in the
case of Senator Diane Feinstein of California.
Does the NSA’s legitmacy depend more on the safety of citizens or
ensuring the continuity of the Constitutional system?
Can you shed any light on why Pres. Obama has indicted more
whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined?
When will Snowden be recognized as a hero? When will Clapper go to
jail for perjury? Actions speak louder than buzz words.
Does NSA make available the algorithms for natural language processing
used by the data analysis systems?
In the long term view, it would seem freedom is a higher priority
value than safety so why is safety the highest value here? Why isn’t
the USA working primariy to ensure our continued freedom?
How do you protect sources and methods while forging the new social contract?
How can any company trust cybercommand when the same chief runs NSA
where the focus is attack? How can we trust the Utah Data Center
after such blatant lies of “targeted surveillance?”
Now that the mass surveillance programs have to some extent been
revealed, can we see some verifiable examples of their worth? If not,
will NSA turn back towards strengthening security instead of
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 encouraged our govt. leaders to adopt
aggressive surveillance laws and regulations and demands from the
intelligence communities. How do we reverse these policies adopted
When it comes to security and privacy, we haven't been abused by the internet, we've just misused it.
Filter Bubble: Them say..
The term “filter bubble” entered the public domain back in 2011when the internet activist Eli Pariser coined it to refer to the way recommendation engines shield people from certain aspects of the real world.
Pariser used the example of two people who googled the term “BP”. One received links to investment news about BP while the other received links to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, presumably as a result of some recommendation algorithm.
This is an insidious problem. Much social research shows that people prefer to receive information that they agree with instead of information that challenges their beliefs. This problem is compounded when social networks recommend content based on what users already like and on what people similar to them also like.
This is the filter bubble—being surrounded only by people you like and content that you agree with.
This is an interesting area of my concern. Still I haven't decided which I like better between tribalism and globalism. You see, it makes no sense to even know an opposing tribe if yours is comfortable and unthreatened. There is a necessary amount of distance required for independent thought and self-reliance. This is called 'turning off the television'. It's not useful to have your mind colonized by global aggregators. So, no you shouldn't care about waxy buildup or Zulu mating rituals. Nobody pledges allegiance to the UN. You need people you can trust, right here, right now.
On the other global hand, you are paying too much for your colonoscopy and you need to comparison shop outside of your neighborhood monopoly. And by gum those Russian chicks do look better than the kind we grow here. And were would we be without alternative world beats, pray tell? I mean, who eats just meat and potatoes when there's panang curry? When the locals get crufty, you have to get smart. This is called 'getting out of Dodge'.
Therefore is it more useful to have global anonymous untrustable networks of information which is constantly trolled for long tail payoffs, or native blood and soil networks of brick and mortar communities? The answer is both, but the answer for the web is have it global, anonymous and untrustable. Our problem is that we've not decided to *be* anonymous on the global web, which - when we first started as pioneers, we naturally understood to be a good idea.
Speaking for myself, I was raised in the proto-internet age. When what we cared about was hypertext because we understood that libraries were primative. All was going well until My.Yahoo started personalizing the web and then those crazy cool kids with disposable minds and income started having sex with each other because of something called MySpace. All this My stuff. The web isn't yours. But when you started treating it like it was yours, you made the fatal error. Early pioneers in places like The Well and other private communities had long and serious debates about online presence. Were you 'cyberpresent' or not? What was the difference between your online identity and your 'real' identity. (Note that this moment in time it makes sense to put 'real' in quotes because most people are who they say they are online, which is why this privacy issue is an issue. Pioneers began by being scrupulous, but now the discipline has faded with all of Netiquette.
It was brain dead simple for me to understand this vis a vis my 'racial identity'. Back in 1993, although there were black Americans online, nobody was supposed to *be* black online. The sentiments of the early adopters were generally 'scientific' or 'techno' if you prefer or... there is a whole cornucopia of identity political ideas about the propriety of online identity. I don't think anybody had to fight too hard, but there's this.
It could be said that in my life online I have been through three phases. In the first phase, mostly as a cat named 'mellow mike', I was primarily interested in black cultural content creation. I had honestly believed that I could transform the realm of hiphop through some kind of online interactive artform. I was also all about the writing, and so I did a lot of lower case, and spoke with flair and flavor. It was all about the culture and the existentials. It was all about the Representation I spoke of.
Then I found out that people were so stuck on race that I couldn't carve out such a space without it being attacked. The internet was a hostile environment for black creativity. I recall as I write this, the hostility a friend of mine received for proposing a black cultural forum from the editor of Boardwatch Magazine, which was very influential at the time. It is exactly parallel to the stink over TCB, the same whack logic. Like any number of new domains, you'll often find self-appointed white male guardians who require it to be 'colorblind' and are thus hostile against women and minorities who claim a spot. As if white wasn't a color and male wasn't a gender. And so faced with this racial problem in the way of my cultural expression, I became 'boohab' and fought the race man's battle.
There was a break and a breather between boohab and 'Cobb', and I'm not sure how much longer Cobb will last, but in this phase I am clearly more focused on the political. As such I am being much more personable rather than abstracted and talking about Domestic Affairs, from an Old School perspective. I don't so often pick the subjects and preach as I comment on the subjects most bloggers are commenting on. That was easy during the beginning of the war and during the campaign season, but not so easy now. At any rate, The Conservative Brotherhood and Cobb are specifically about the black Right, what it is, what it thinks, what it wants, how it operates. Simple.
I wasn't the first nor the last to entertain the idea and witness the reality that working through a cyber identity opens up interesting dynamics in human communication. It can blur what you want to blur and it can clarify what you want to clarify. As a written medium (originally), there were interesting semiotics you could invoke. And so I did, as did many others. We all rather take it for granted now, but a lot of thinking went behind online identity.
Here in Cobb, I have wrestled with the notion of 'famousity' as I went briefly into the domains of broadcast media. I resolved to have an overabundance of caution as far as that goes. Once you become a celebrity you require handlers to keep your image and reputation intact, no matter what reputation you seek to hold. The ability for mass communications to shout down anything that comes out of your mouth about you is awesomly scary. Editors of media companies know this, broadcasters know this, attorneys know this, but the average Joe, be he plumber or no, jumps right into the most powerful mass communications medium ever built without hesitation or legal representation. And now we are surprised that all our laundry is being 'spied' upon by entities unknown?
Are you serious?
So lets tangent off my example from 'Privacy & The Dead Hooker'. You are in the woods, alone, in a cabin. There is no cellphone coverage, no wifi, no television, no telephone, and the nearest mailbox is five miles down the mountain. You're quite private. But are you safe? It depends upon who else is in the woods with you and what their intentions are. Generally speaking, you don't get to a cabin by yourself. It belongs to your Church or your hunting buddies or your Uncle Jed. You're there to enjoy their company and solitude of a small group. Your friends, your family. Just you and them right on the lake by the fire. Those are the kinds of people you trust. Now I want you to meditate on what I just said. If you are here at the website, click on that picture. You'll see the whole big zoomed in beauty of what I'm describing and you know to be true. Don't worry, it's safe for work. Or maybe not. Maybe you'll start daydreaming and wondering why you are here in front of a computer connected to the world wide brain.
Bottom line. Your physical proximity to actors is what determines your safety and security. That is the kind of filter bubble you desire. In fact, it's the kind you really better have in the Zombie Apocalypse. The NSA may know all your online personnae, and they might even have an analyst tasked to you that's smart enough to figure out if you were joking about that BOMB you were going to DETONATE on the anniversary of SEPTEMBER 11 because now your pals at OCCUPY are paranoid about the new RQ-180. You might hope that analyst reads the context and not just the keywords. I don't care because I have lawyer friends and character references.
This also refers, my over-intellecutal friends, to my old question 'Who's your leviathan?'. What matters is who exerts the energy and force. If you can be identified as a target, and who can't, then you are vulnerable. The internet you wade into without the proper attire will make you a target for the global aggregator of whom the NSA is probably number one. But Amazon aggergates your non-anonymous ass too, as does Google. So what are they going to do? They're going to seduce your money away from you in ways you cannot imagine. And this is the television you are loathe to turn off. But even the mighty Bing, or the great and powerful Yahoo, is not likely to send men in black to your cabin. AT&T has always known who you are calling, duh.
One last thing.
The political implications of the alarmism expressed by Pariser and the Filter Bubble people are in his next line.
"And the danger is that it can polarise populations creating potentially harmful divisions in society."
Nothing with 300 million people in it is a society. That's more like a civilization. A society is the group of people you can socialize with, for better or for worse. I sense a kind of overbearing paternalistic need for something which isn't a society to be a society, or at least a polity. Since we're talking about America, why don't we acknowledge already that we are a fragmented society? You know where you don't want to be caught dead after dark. So do I. We all do. And we don't want to be around *those* people. It always has been that way, and we're a good enough nation to have dealt with every social issue. Yes every social issue. Just not for 300 million people, that's freaking impossible - unless your Leviathan is really really big.
So let us have our filter bubbles. Let us have our privacy. Let us have our cabins in the woods, enclaves in the city, cul de sacs in the suburbs and blocks in the 'hood. We all need our own space with our own people we trust, and we need you to respect that space and the dimensions of our bubbles. And when we go outside into the big old world, let us have our hoodies.
I realize that some of you might be new to Cobb and find it puzzling that I have redacted my blog's subtitle. It is, in fact, Cobb: Curious, Skeptical, Analytical. I redacted the texts as a part of an internet-wide protest of some breach of civil liberty represented by something ugly we found out that the federal government was doing, or planning to do. There was some four letter acronym of some sort representing the thing that we serious liberty-minded folks were upset about. Of course I don't remember any of the details including the exact year in which this outrage took place.
The protest is thus meaningless as is my banner redaction. Because when I look at it, it doesn't serve to remind me of something I should do, or something that I did which is significant. It won't make me appear clever, as if I were sampling Kafka and calling my blog K, (or C, as the case may be). So I'll go hunting for the original banner and replace it.
I still like the look of this, the main blog, and I retain enough trust in the folks at Typepad to continue hosting it and the seven or eight other blogs I have at cobb.typepad.com. I think I'll never combine them all into one blog as I thought I might. My weekends are too full of other interesting things to do - like helping my father organize his blogs.
I'm paranoid, but not to a level at which it causes me to lose sleep. NSA bastards don't really want to know what I'm up to, even though they can, easily. I have decided to stop arguing about it and trust them. So long as there are queer fuckups like Manning around, I'm faster than other bear hunters. Besides. It's not as if I could stop them.
The Downside Blog is going down. Everything there will be subsumed and reposted here under Security & Paranoia. As Col. Jessup might say, I don't have the time nor the inclination. It was nice to be instalaunched there once, but the blog defies my aim towards consolidation.
Here is the full content of the blog.
I just contributed a few dollars to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund. As you may know, Lavabit was one of the last secure email services anywhere that the common man could use. As it turned out, Snowden used them and so they ended up on some national security shitlist. I quote the owner:
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on--the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
It turns out that I am among one of the hundreds of thousands of people who trusted Lavabit and its owner, and as flaky as any individual can be, it's within my ordinary powers of perception to tell if I can trust them or not. In other words, it's easier for me to trust a person than an institution - institutions are pretty good at camoflaging their failure. Humans who fail are easier to spot. And sometimes, they're completely honest about it, as we are fortunate to see in the case of Ladar Levison.
Now, like a rich man, I recognize that through the greed and idiocy of others, I have a lot to lose. So I'm starting to overthink which people I should trust. I'm starting to tell those people about ways to get out of this deilemma. I starting to ask those people what they know. It's all getting chummy and clubby and less and less public - those people we can afford to have in our confidence. I am determined to have my way because I trust myself and my associates more than I trust those sworn to uphold ridiculous regulations. And if I have to hide away from the public in order to get my way, that's how it may have to be. That's what it's like to live when you recognize that entropy is a very big enemy. I'm feeling fragile.
So I think the safest place to be is in the woods, on my private property, with my closest friends, my guns and nothing electronic. Hmm.
It suddenly occured to me why the NSA and others in the security apparatus are getting away with murder. It's because they are doing what they do, unobstructed and unled. I didn't invent the phrase but I need to put it into Cobb's Rules: People don't have weaknesses, they just overuse their strengths. Well it's more appropriate to say that people have blindsides, and they tend to fight in one direction. It should be plain to see by anyone that Mr. Obama is blind when it comes to intelligence services and spycraft.
What we know is that the President is obsessed with the international perception of America as a military bully, which is why he has been moving as quickly as humanly possible to drain the world's battlefields of American soldiers. But he also has to maintain his image as the leader of the Free World. Contrast that with someone who pursues an unabashed American geopolitical strategy and agenda. So Obama must *do something* and as his drone strikes and victories at Natanz and Abbotabad make clear, he'd rather do something covert. In this way Obama replicates the worst aspects of the Reagan and Carter years, having a large and capable military that fought the last war and now sits on their thumbs. In the meantime, spooks, spies, wiretappers and covert operators are in full force in an attempt to dox, blackmail and assassinate our way towards security. It's not going to work.
In fact, I believe I see the unintended consequences of an image maintenance policy at the White House which supercedes a well-balanced national security policy. That is a set of intelligence agencies in the US government that are getting rubber stamps from a leader they don't respect. In other words, I believe there isn't a coherent direction coming from the top down, but that there is a patchy management of a million wishes coming from the agencies up.
Who is the strong hand showing continuity from this cast of characters?
Kerry is clearly in place because of Clinton is gone. You can be certain that the history of the Obama administration is now undergoing a strategic rewrite in the minds of the Clintons - a deadly force to reckon with. The 3am phone call has happened. Rice, McDonough, Blinken and Holder are all a political choir to back up the President. Without him, they are non-entities. Hegel is a political creature, and none of these people impress me as those of the calibre of Richard Holbrooke. Leon Panetta bounced from DCI to SecDef after two years and then just got bounced out. Clapper is clearly the career man here, as in Brennan. These are the guys who are not political trapeze artists. A nod goes to Dempsey, but how does the Secretary of Defense end up in a Senator's pocket? This looks to be a National Security Council that serves the whim of the President and the wants of the Intelligence Community, none of whom any of us can figure to have much respect for the hands that feed them. So I think they have run amok as if they actually were the last line of defense America has. Not enough generals here, I think.
The more I think (these anti-fragile days) about the number of systems in place and the ability and willingness for this small crowd of actors to alter the pace and direction of their use the more clear it becomes that Snowden's leak is more substantive than the initiative of the President in determining the future of how this unleashed beast works.
We already know that Obama comes from the kind of Chicago politics that can be deadly to American citizens, and that he's willing to execute them as terrorists without due process despite not having what I consider (without much review) a proper domestic terror court. More clearly i should say that when I proposed a domestic counter-terrorist court rather than the abuse of an open court, I expected more disclosure than what the FISA court is providing, and the movement of NSA and other agencies towards domestic suspicionless surveillance is a gross overstep which defies the public's confidence in what the FISA court might have been.
The bottom line is that the programs are already in place, and they are the way Obama likes them, secret. He is just the sort who would capitalize on secret advantages and powers which play to his strengths as a campaigny politician. And as we saw with his ACA, he will break arms to make Congress whistle his tune. Obama does not have the strength to roll back NSA's programs, just as he would continue to support TSA despite their security theater, buffonery and affront to American air travelers. This is just another pothole in Obama's second term. He'll try to make us get over it, because the alternative must come with some ugly admissions. He doesn't have enough people left to throw under the bus, and it's a long way to 2016.
And Walmart is still out of bullets.
I just read something interesting from the Backblaze blog, which made me think about something I learned from spycraft. Call it the evidence of things unseen.
The way the planet Uranus was found was not through direct observation, but rather through the perturbations it made in the orbits of known planets. If you wanted to know how much of your data the government might be able to store, you might try to figure out how much you can't store because of tight supply of hard drives. Or you might try to figure out the size of the hard drive market and pie chart it. These methods could only give some odd approximations because the NSA forces you to lie. As well, of course, there is no perfect information. But if the spy agencies are using a great deal of hardware, you can bet they're not building it themselves and the details are in the supply chain. There are money trails to be followed.
When SGI bought super-computer maker Cray in 1996, our CTO who worked there at the time said the running joke was, “SGI sold no units this quarter, but made a healthy profit.” That wasn’t magic accounting. It was the NSA requiring purchases not be disclosed. The problem was, revenue still had to be reported.
Now I remember not long ago, because I have several terabytes at home, that the price and availability of external USB drives went pear shaped. Prices went up and availability went down. The story that was largely circulated was that some floods put some Asian factories out of commission. I never saw a picture of that flooded Asian hard drive factory and I never suspected the story until a couple weeks ago when I added three more terabytes to my little farm. The shelves at Fry's were practically empty. So how many years is this shortage supposed to last?
Being a TNPer I have followed a bit about 'Firearmageddon', the depletion of guns and ammo from American retail stores. We know that Homeland Security is buying historical levels of bullets. If we can forget 'why' for a moment, it becomes apparent when we add these two phenomena together that this is something of a zero-sum game. It's us vs the hungry government agencies when it comes to buying sophisticated hardware because neither of us can build it ourselves.
If We The People could figure out what the government wanted next and buy it all first, we could limit it.
Back several years ago when I had my nascent media career - I think it was 2007 when I won the Aaron Hawkins Award, I invented a term called 'famousity'. I thought I could be considered a media person of interest but not quite a third rate celebrity, but I was on my way. I wondered aloud as I do from time to time whether in a dire situation it is better to be famous or not, concluding that it is.
But now I had a startling thought, which is that depending upon who whispers what to whom, infamousity is much more likely to bogard all the safety credits one might amass. I am thinking, of course, about the chances that anybody with any clout in media bothers to read significant parts of a body of work found about any individual accused of misbehavior. I conclude briefly that one must enter a web of famousity and credibility if one is to avoid infamousity.
We are a nation of stooges, most of us, and there is a significantly gullible chatting class who can be relied on to hold any degree of ridiculous opinions. I know this because of the number of people who 'like' the Rosetta Stone Language Software on Facebook. (15,000) and where on Earth could I manage to get 15,000 'likes'?
I thought about a very reasonable essay on the foolishness of Snowden with which I agree. My last writing on the man made too many points. But I do lean more forcibly towards certifying his insanity, and perhaps it is true that he lived in a world too solopsistic to give him the benefit of a doubt, which is the main argument of that essay.
What is evident at this moment is that the poor boy is a man without a country, as is anyone who asserts the need for the defence of human rights. Nations don't step outside of their own laws of civil rights to extend such airy fairy human rights to strangers - not even to those bearing gifts. It's difficult enough in most places to have ones civil rights consistently defended. Snowden must clearly realize by now that he must choose sides because that's all there are. No third ways. For him to move forward, he must further expose the US to the specific benefit of some country that wishes to play enemy to the United States. And thus he must become more infamous than he already is.
This is all reminescent of the Fencing Problem. Snowden managed a great hack, a magnificent theft. Or maybe it wasn't so great and he just walked off with the keys he was given. But he ended up in possession of a great treasure that wasn't his. So he imagined, like all theives, that such treasure would enrich his life. But the treasure of state secrets can only be spent in a very few ways, and the people who sell them are spies by definition. You cannot sell or even give away such treasure and be repaid in any other way than as spies. That's the size of the market and the definition of the currency.
I have read Edward Snowden's recent interview in the Guardian and recognize the depth of his heroism. I think he is challenging all of us on several levels. If it is possible for a double-agent to be respectable, then he has just about all I can give. That's because I beleive he is smart, conscientious and that he has the goods on the NSA. So much so that lots of people are scared to death to present them.
...remember that just because you are not the target of a surveillance program does not make it okay. The US Person / foreigner distinction is not a reasonable substitute for individualized suspicion, and is only applied to improve support for the program. This is the precise reason that NSA provides Congress with a special immunity to its surveillance.
At the core of Snowden's challenge is to consider the value of suspicionless surveillance from a cost benefit analysis to American citizenship. Most publications have picked up on that 'consent of the governed' piece. But then he throws us a deeper, moral consideration. If the NSA gives us civil libertarians pause, it is because its awesome apparatus is aimed at American citizens. Snowden challenges us further by implication - if we don't like our privacy violated because we have not given informed consent by our government, then what hope does any non-US citizen have? In this regard, Snowden is not merely asking a civil rights question, but a human rights question.
Except that he can't because there is no such thing.
Yes, I'm repeating that old line of paleo-conservatives that there is no such thing as human rights. Unless and until the actual New World Order comes into being, we are citizens of nations, and as such there are only those civil rights we are guaranteed by our constitutions, within the ambit of our nation's ability and willingness to defend them. Everything else is wishful thinking. Especially when it comes to SIGINT. It is thus absurd for anyone, especially an American vetted into the highest echelons of the American Military-Security Complex (aka Echelon) to expect some higher authority than the self-interest of American citizens to reign in that which was built for our benefit.
It comes down to the simple question of whether or not we believe that the average American will be persecuted. And that eventually comes down to whether or not we actually trust our government in this matter, and I firmly believe that will come down to cases.
My personal opinion is that I find it difficult to believe that the NSA is out of control. So long as there are appropriate controls and oversight, I think Americans' well-justified fears of abuse of NSA powers can and will prevail. I think that American military leadership will not be hushed. I also believe that the CIA and the NSA and all of the new intelligence organizations are more incompetent than evil. I have advocated for a separate MI5 domestic surveillance agency and for a separate counter-terrorism court a la Posner. Yes of course the possibility for abuse is there, but is this an area that we would rather not police? That's a tough question, and although I fall on the libertarian side of that equation, I do not believe that the system has been abused enough to justify its dismantling. This is a specie of a Cold War question of unilateral disarmament. We survived Cold War nukes. We can survive NSA snoops. But can we survive Islamist nukes without NSA snoops?
So the only real pressing question is whether or not we trust the FISA court. If we do not, and we believe that the NSA tail is wagging the FISA dog, then our problem is not at all with PRISM. Rather this is a specie of Iraq War torture. In short, either the Administration knows exactly what the NSA is doing or they don't. If they don't, then the answer lies in the direction of Snowden's admonishment - but only to the extent that we the people are willing to eyeball our consent with discipline. Of course we in the alarmed public will inevitably punt that duty to the attorney class. The law *is* transparent, isn't it? If we do know what the NSA is doing (wrong) then what is it? So. Who has disappeared? Where are all the victims of this snooping and what pain has been visted upon them by our watchdogs? Are we, in this era of Benghazi incapable of sniffing out what goes horribly wrong?
See the other side of the story here is that there probably, and I would say 95% probably, isn't very much that goes on in SIGINT that your ace hacker at DefCon or SchmooCon et al hasn't already figured out. And we also have a critical mass of people who understand very well what can and what cannot be done with data mining and all that other stuff. And to counter the paranoia, you really have to deal with more paranoia - which is to say, the people who know best what can be done hack and snoop wise, know it because they've done it themselves. And it just so happens that those people are not committing mass suicide. That's the thing about science. It works the same everywhere.
Brewster Kalhe, who first started archiving the whole of the Internet a decade ago has done the math. It would cost less than $30 million per year to build, staff and maintain the facility to capture all the phone traffic in America. NSA has got way way more than that. They can do all the video on the planet, plus satellite streams and military telemetry that most people don't even know exists. How much do you want to bet that the American intelligence establishment never wants to make a mistake about stockpiles of chemical weapons again? How much do you want to bet that they knew what was going on at Benghazi?
Which interestingly brings us back to the matter of policy and judgment. The American public can and will be deceived, and they can and will be duped by politicians who will claim to have superior moral judgment. Everybody wants only their hands on the ring of power. But who is going to decide that? Americans.
From the same pool of people who created the beast will be those who decide how long its leash shall be. Not the Chinese. Not the Koreans. Not the British or the French or the Canadians or anybody else we have decided to share the spoils of digital war. It is now and forever shall be Us vs Them. We can only hope for a better Us.
Snowden's simple challenge requires only a change of complexion, a change of policy, a new CC on the email distibution list of NSA power. But it will not destroy the beast. It's still our beast. Snowden's deeper challenge requires that the US not be the power that decides US power, and for that he's a bit late. The Cold War is over.
Unless he thinks he knows something about China that Washington doesn't already know.
Suspicionless surveillance is the term used by Edward Snowden to describe the ambit of the US government's ongoing SIGINT. It is, as I understand it today, a total capability which is limited only by policy. Being a database architect myself, the extent of this capability comes as no surprise. I guess I just finally heard what I needed to hear from Snowden's recent Guardian interview which I will publish here in its entirety...
We interrupt this post to entertain a paranoid fantasy.
As I am writing this, I am having trouble logging into Evernote and also in sending an email confirmation for something else entirely unrelated. And I am considering a phrase called 'direct access' and the likelihood that Cutlass and I here can be on a list which is a million lines long of 'owned computers'. With the presumption that NSA can bruteforce TrueCrypt, and/or are keylogging my machine, there is no doubt that somebody is watching me.
But what if that person watching me were sympathetic to my ethical discipline? What if they were a dude like Spy (of my existential partners Cobb readers may recall) that really is a genuine big brother - somebody who doesn't want to see me get in trouble? Somebody who says, look once you go play in this arena, you're going to lose all your legal support. Somebody on the inside who, for all they can see, is convinced that liberty as we once knew it, is gone and only the fantasy of it remains, but that the only real liberty left is a particular subset, a subset whose definitions are clear within the realm of the watchers, but not so clear in the civilian population.
Well, then we are already dead. Let's have a bourbon. Let bourbon be in America, what vodka is in Russia and let us all sing together as we drown.
Da hoo doray!
That said, I will continue with what I was saying (and search around for my Gadsden flag). But first, a small video.
Some young dude named Snowden with a clear and present risk to his own freedom has divulged something that may or may not be relevant to Americans' privacy and freedom. He is ratting out the existence of a tool used by the NSA which goes under the name of PRISM. As far as anybody can tell, and there are probably only a few who actually could, this PRISM tool is used on ordinary Americans without their knowledge to collect and/or organized data for the purposes of the American Intelligence establishment.
Now several months ago, I came to understand that the authorization of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act (how Orwellian is that?) would create secret laws authorizing secret laws. At the time there were several folks who ought to know, who vehemently protested these provisions. Knowing in my heart that President Obama has all the integrity of a Maitre D', I figured that Americans would get the responsible service in this regard that they paid for, which for most of us is a contemptible near-zero amount. In checking my archives on Security and Paranoia I can't find everything that I want, but thankfully there are enough bloggers out there with some history that hasn't been erased.
My gut is telling me that Snowden is about as reliable a source as can be had - which is to say very bloody unlikely to be left standing credibly at the end of the day. Whatever grains of truth he is able to reveal should be sufficient for society's wheels to start churning up the checks and balances we can rely upon to find out. Snowden is the pebble at the center of what should become a snowball rolling down the mountainside. The fate of the pebble is not the issue, but how big the waves are that ripple in a properly democratic pond. Snowden will sink and can only rise if we are not drowned or mired and actually drain the swamp. But of course there will be an ocean of resistance.
On the one hand, Snowden either had to apprehend somebody abusing the system or find it easy enough to abuse the system himself to call its controls into question. Either one of those actions in a relatively closed organization can result in 'career limiting moves'. There is no way easy to leak what one knows as a professional - our shorthands and our Dilbertisms limit us. We all know what goes wrong and what can be improved - and in some way we are all in the same boat. There is no inconsequential way for him to leak if we are a serious society of law. The significance of all this must be hyped to a certain level - meaning those of us who care about the core issue of civil liberty must keep on the backs of the experts we will need to get to the bottom of this problem. I say this because I expect the Administration to cover its tracks.
It seems we cannot keep up with the number of scandals coming out of Washington. But I will try to keep up with this one. As an IT professional, the ability for any to trust in what I aim to do is at risk. In the meantime, I'll be checking on Schneier, Spook86, Volokh and Fernandez in order to keep up.
I like Snowden today better than I ever will sympathize with Julian Assange or with Bradley Manning, his agent. I believe that Snowden was simply astonished at what he found, and that the other two were angry men with knives just looking for someone to stab.
I believe that there is a switch that law enforcement has. I have no idea when it is right or proper to flip that switch. I have no idea how many times it has been abused. But I do have an idea what is behind that switch. As the Vietnamese hooker said "Any thing you want".
I'm talking about the hackers that hack the hackers. I'm talking about the NSA.
Here's what I believe about how 'anything' comes from a limited set of somewhat anonymous things. First of all, what I don't doubt is the skills of investigators who are in the business of CT. What I suspect is that they have gained legitimate access to non-anonymous stuff that can be named in a warrant, but that they also have shady access to anonymous stuff that is collected on the sly. In otherwords, like every other police force, they have admissible evidence and non-admissible evidence. The difference between the two can always be attributed to 'a hunch'. If you bust a jaywalker and destroy his lunch plans, you can find out who's sitting in the restaurant you know he was going to and casually observe who is checking their watch.
What I am not likely to find out is the exact record layout of the sort that Verizon is giving up to the Feds. But somebody knows. If I had a peak at those, I could tell you what kind of information is inferrable. What I believe happens is that network analysis is done to identify the suspect's contacts and then observations are made based on suspicions of who those individuals are. In other words, it's up to the investigating agency to de-anonymize those anonymous, non-content records since they will have some key even if the lookup to that key is not made available.
Take a cell phone call. What can I know? I can take Tsarnaev's cell phone and determine its identification. Then, knowing where T has been on the day of his crime, I can isolate all cell traffic within X radius of the cell phone towers. Know that basically all towers carry all traffic. Either you're CDMA or GSM, Verizon and AT&T have a trading backchannel clearinghouse where they exchange information about 'cross' traffic. So even if I'm looking at AT&T's tower, I could still have (what I remember to be) about 40% of other carrier's traffic.
So I figure out what I know to be true, and exclude what I know to be false. I can deduce a great deal. For example. Who has called Russia in the past 12 months? Believe me, that cuts down a whole lot of traffic. Who called Russia in the past 12 months that was in Boston in May? This kind of programming is very simple. The question is merely whether it comes from admissible sources and whether or not those who have secret inadmissible sources are clueing in investigators as to what they may have proven to be impossible. IE, a senior guy saying "I have a very strong hunch that it's not Suspect 22". Or "Have you considered the possibility that Suspect 22 might have been using the public phones over at Harvard Square?"
The more data sources, the more triangulation. For example. It doesn't take much to figure out that the likelihood of a person writing a post this long onto Facebook wasn't composed on a mobile device. So it would be easy to find confirmation or denial of a person being at home vs not at home. After all, if Facebook is passing weblogs with a GUID, it would be very burdensome for them to scrub out the IP addresses of the web clients. In fact, my nickel says weblogs are probably open season because it costs so much to process them that website owners would only pass them in a pure unadulterated form.
Let us not forget that hackers hack. An NSA without a botnet is unthinkable. An FBI without a favor from the NSA is also inconceivable, as is an Eric Holder who doesn't play fast and loose with domestic firewalls. Our Congress refused to sunset the Patriot Act. So there are many things government agencies can know and do know. And the cost to know gets lower every month.
So I'm just talking around what I believe - which is that the best way to avoid getting busted by the cops is to be a cop. The next best thing is to know what cops know, and try not to be surprised. When it comes to domestic surveillance, nothing surprises me. Nothing at all.
So like most of the early adopters, I joined Google Plus. Unfortunately, most of the people who started adding me into their circles, and the most verbose people I added into my circles had a network effect of pulling me into the Occupy discussion. The good news was that since I'm hanging out with hackers more and more, I had some hacker tangents as well. The bad news was the overlap between hackers and Occupy was annoying, and I said as much. The interesting news is that with the infiltration and subsequent arrest of Lulz members, almost all of those people have disappeared from Google Plus.
The general news is of course that LulzSec has been pwned by the FBI and its ringleader has turned defector for consideration of leniency. This comes to me as no surprise. Much of the noise surrounding Anonymous, Lulz and Wikileaks comes from people who demonstrate little legal or political sophistication. They surely didn't know how outgunned they are.
I made an AnonymousCowardly remark over at Slashdot the other day.. let me see if I can find it. It was my last word prior to the bust.Nope. Can't find it. Anyway, I've never been impressed that the political end of Anonymous capabilities have been properly aimed for the benefit of democracy. I think they remain incapable, and I believe they are learning the hard way that democracy requires exactly the openness that is resisted at the core of their being. All of this appropos my musings on 'famousity'.
My first reaction to 9/11 was 'This is the beginning of the end of the nation-state as we now know it.' I may be right, and that's a scary thing for a nationalist like me. I was impressed by the possibilities of assymetrical warfare and the ability of non-state actors to foment insurgency and anarchy. However I am not particularly impressed with the idea that assymetrical warfare causes disproportionate spending. After all, a billion mosquitoes over ten generations could never amass the assets required to produce the single barrel of DDT that exterminates them all. The miracle of assymetry is its impact on the perceived legitimacy of the Leviathan state.
Even before I came up with my Peasant Theory, which originates with the idea that some cataclysm could stagger confidence in Western democracy, I began questioning the swiftness with which intelligence services can act in such a way that informs the electorate. We experienced the rapid spread of the WMD meme despite the fact that it was a term of art never before used in presidential elections. Who knew who the peers and proper critics of Scott Ritter and el Baradei were before their reports became politicized? The blogosphere, ever partisan, expanded the influence of individual analysts like Juan Cole, Robert Fisk and later Michael Yon but who were the professionals who did this every day?
Enter STRATFOR and open source intelligence. It rapidly became evident that consumers of strategic intel could not depend entirely on partisan sources and needed much more and more credible information to make rational political decisions. I subscribed to those free services STRATFOR offered as well as those of a broader variety of milbloggers, even as far as Russian ex-military sources. A new era had begun.
But in some ways we were, with our internet searches and bloggy trackbacks, still a sort of democratic movement of outsiders not necessarily connected with the reigns of power. No matter what we could learn about Saddam Hussein, the new geopolitical prosumers were not going to change the content or context of Colin Powell's speech to the UN. We could only hope to second-guess wisely after the fact and be satisfied with our own growing sophistication. And in that regard we were as vulnerable to disinformation as any member of the Arab Street. We may have the advantage of critical literacy and experience in analyzing multiple media sources, but when it came to matters like L'Affair Plame, with its official secrets, insider politics and selective leaks we were all ultimately blind. The best state intelligence agencies will always have that advantage over everyone else. We may have STRATFOR as the Arab Street has Al Jazeera, but those too have their own weaknesses.
Along comes Anonymous, the anarchic hacking collective to demonstrate more of the power of assymetrical attacks. They have hacked STRATFOR and distributed the names of its subscribers and are presumably holding identity information of all of them. It is not coincidental that the black hat security experts of Anonymous have access to IT WMDs. There are no real treaties and only the vague outlines of anything that might police this Hobbsian domain. Anonymous, Lulz, Anti-Sec and others have characters as varied as Jesse James, Billy the Kid and other legendary outlaws of the old American frontier - and they are testing the security of every Wells Fargo Stagecoach, locked in battle with white hat Pinkertons and outgunned sheriffs at every turn. Who is to say when and how the conflict will be resolved?
We are left with several dilemmas. If those like STRATFOR who exist outside of the state intelligence apparatus (if it can be trusted that they are not fooled by CIA disinformation) cannot be secured, then what good are they? Second, how can Anonymous, whose members are secret and who are accountable to nobody be a trusted political actor? Anonymous can claim, as it has, that it is not actually responsible for the hack.
The single advantage we have is the understanding that black hats are not generally known to sustain disinformation campaigns themselves. For example, a 'dox' attack is one that exposes an individual's secret information in order to publicly shame or discredit them. The credibility of the attack is based in the premise that the revealed information is in fact authentic and certain bona fides of system information that could only be known to system owners (or successful crackers) could know. The point is generally to demonstrate the insecurity of the target and thus discredit their security with regards to their trustworthiness on security matters. But that's rather inside pool for which there is little credibility for the average Joe.
I got this from the VWRC this morning captioned "Irony". And now I finally get it. The Left typically says that using a picture ID for voting is discriminatory and on the slippery slope to the sorts of dirty tricks of the Jim Crow South. But here when there is a vote required to make a union labor decision, specifically one involving Boeing who has been in hot water with the Democrats over their new open shop factory, ID is required.
My position is that ID should be required, and that Americans should vote more often in more convenient and secure ways. I'm for electronic voting. The thing is, I find it very difficult to believe that electronic voting cannot be secured.
One of these days, I would love to be involved in a project aimed at revolutionizing democratic processes via IT, and this is one of the first steps. Let us vote often, let the results be distributed and open sourced. Let the code for voting be open sourced. Anyway, this is what I want Anonymous and lulz to do. AntiSec too. BTW, I just listened in on an AntiSec message the other day, and so far they sound like people with the best grasp of liberty. I don't doubt there are members of the other groups who may be as enlightened, but perhaps they are taking a silent backseat on this OWS flyer.
So tell me. What would it take to make a secure electronic voting system on the Internet? Make it as secure as credit cards and as open as SourceForge. I should probably go check Larry Lessig on this too.
It is the passive voice. Which is to say, anonymous groups can only describe things it does with a necessary use of pronouns:
The amorphous nature of Anonymous can also cut the other way, however. If Los Zetas abduct and execute random patrons at an Internet cafe, behead them and place Guy Fawkes masks on their heads, it will be very difficult to prove that they were not associated with Anonymous. Los Zetas also could execute random people and claim they had provided Anonymous with information in order to intimidate people from actually cooperating with Anonymous. As Anonymous noted in its Oct. 31 video, this is dangerous business indeed.
Read more: Anonymous vs. Zetas Amid Mexico's Cartel Violence | STRATFOR
It is going to be an extraordinary development when groups like Anonymous hack politics. But it will only be significant when the actors come out.
My cousin Star lives in a high rise apartment building in Manhattan. She's a commercial real estate broker, five foot ten and stunning. The first thing you notice when you walk into her pad is the large painting she made in the style of Basquiat, and secondly if the blinds aren't drawn, the New York skyline. I hung out with her for a week and learned a lot about her, and our family that I never knew. What I appreciate about her is that she is excruciatingly honest and not shy about anything. Of course she has a marvelous sense of taste and an engaging personality, but there are many things about us that are radically different. What I love about her is hard to define, but it's stronger than ever.
This essay is about identity and some of the ideas I will take when I start looking at the right way to implement identity management. So the first reference you might want to consider is The Last ID.
It took Star all of three days to get to the point at which she was comfortable enough with me to perform two very annoying acts. The first was to force me to watch Loose Change, the hiphop video / obiter dicta comspiracy tape about who was actually behind the 9/11 attacks on America. I didn't realize that my cousin was a Truther and it took many hours for me to discover this, as close as we are. All the while we were watching this video that she had obviously not watched herself in many years, she kept voicing impatient concern that this might not be the proper version of the documentary. So while she is fundamentally on the Truther side of the equation, perhaps what she recalls being more convinced by something other than the exhibit in question. The second annoying act was for her to read, given my birthdate, my full horoscope and assert with confidence that it was quite accurate. In fact it was.
I could go on about other evidence I have to support my prejudicial notions about the practicality of Star which is hindered by such poisonous superstition, but she's more than good people, she's family. And today, all of that evidence is none of your gluten-free business. In a town where advertisements for Moving & Storage have taglines (I am not making this up) "Rick Perry: That voice in your head is not God", she fits right in.
I don't fit right in anywhere. So when I think of social media, as I often do, and in response to many such questions I reply "I don't have any friends." So when I consider what's missing from social media and identity management it is the extent to which it does not identify the importance of certain of your traits with any bidirectional weight.
If I cared as much about 9/11 today as I did when I was reading 'The Man Who Warned America' or 'The Looming Tower', I would have found my sojourn in NYC unbearable. As it stood, as I was referencing my iPad during the movie, I had a hard time recalling the name of that first book. If I had known somebody who died there that day, as Star did, the significance of the 'Truth' would be greater to me. So how could I adjust my affinity to such a 'friend' and still actually love her? It's easy to do in real life, but not done at all online. Star didn't even know what a Truther is, so it would not be something she would put in her profile for me to accept or reject in the first place.
The context for what I'm attempting to describe as an affinity system goes under the label 'WWID' for What Would I Do? And the first thing that I say about it is that it is a self-generated 'purity test' whose results you own and then selectively publish.
As oldheads on the internet know, one of the first viral documents was the Armory Purity Test. I took it about 22 years ago - that's an old document by internet standards. Well, it actually precedes the WWW; it was on USENET. (USENET seemed so huge back in the day). So if you bother to take the test, you will recognize peculiarities about the set of questions. But what if everybody were the author and everybody were the test takers and all of the results could be stored in a document under your control? This would be the beginning of WWID, except of course that there would be literally hundreds of such tests and many thousands of questions brought to bear. One could imagine, based upon the matter of 9/11 one such test with 500 questions.
I propose a system of such generalizable tests with each individual question indexed and tagged and then correlated into bunches. These bunches over time may vary but the more popular questions will tend to be central in them. People will then take these bunches of tests at their leisure, answering one or some fraction of all of the questions and have their answers under their secure control. Then for the purposes of affinity, the user of the system may publish results under an anonymous avatar linked to their Last ID in order to make matches.
Tests may be generated for any purpose. They may be job appliations, consumer preference surveys, political push tests, religious fidelity tests, entrance exams, special knowledge competency tests, psychological profiles, intelligence tests or medical diagnostics. Anywhere there is a question with an answer that in some way can be used to identify some personal trait of an individual, this system can be employed.
I am not your friend. But there is probably some subject upon which we could communicate a great deal for a couple of hours. I am trying to avoid short painful conversations, and engage long fruitful discussions. This tool would help a great deal more than Meetup + Facebook.
There has been something of a controversy about pseudonyms on Google+. This is something I know about, outside of that particular controversy. Interestingly, I have decided in one way what to do that forces me to deal and I think forces others to deal as well.
I have dealt with identity online for just about all of my professional life, which to be technical about it, started around 1984 when had my second internship at Xerox. That's when I got my first email account, learned JCL and first got my hands on a Xerox workstation, the legendary Star. That summer, I opened up the icon on the desktop that said 'Organizations' and I saw Shinjuku. My mind blew. It wasn't long thereafter that I started talking on bitnet, the Xerox corporate internet (CIN), email@example.com and a host of other proto-internets. Naming conventions and pesuds were part of the early netiquette but it was finally my introduction to the Well several years later that took this to an artform.
By the time that I got to the Well, I had been on Prodigy, Compuserv, several fido BBSs, some legendary others not so. My favorite, of course, was Panix. I was accustomed (especially on Compuserv) of not using my name and getting into the sorts of discussions that would generally lead to fistfights face to face. That and a combination of things led me to be specifically provocative by adopting a pseudonym known as Boohab. One of the most interesting things about the Boohab is how I was consciously attempting to be postmodern and wear postmodern gear while actually being a bit less clever and a bit more postmodern than I thought I was. Somebody whose rationale I couldn't completely grasp (and who has since abandoned the Internet) was able to get the highest Google page rank on Boohab by making a bad example of me. The work of Boohab, was something I did not want directly associated with me personally, and that is primarily because I knew it was something that could overshadow everything else about me were I to become as famous as the implications of the work might become.
After the Boohabian project, I wanted to be myself, and found someplace to do so, but later found something more public, blogging, which would push me into the spotlight again. This time, I found a pseud, Cobb, that was closer to me but not fully me. It was just another part of me and still is. Even as Cobb, I have mutated my face and orientation as a blogger, but I've left the pseud intact.
On Facebook, another major departure, I did something fairly unusual, which was to use my full legal name: Michael David Cobb Bowen. The idea wasn't purposefully to have an anchor person but something close to that. I only use my full name and signature on things like being a witness at a wedding or a funeral - the big life and death moments that deserve my full attention. But I'm out there, you see. I've been writing online in public and private spaces for over 20 years. I have changed so many ways, I recognize that any segment of Mellow Mike, or firstname.lastname@example.org or mdcb@well or the me I was at Cafe Utne or Slate's Fray or CafeLosNegroes are all just fragments of the whole person. Nobody could stitch all that together and make sense of it without scholarly infrastructure. And in one way I do hope that I earn the honor and privilege of a biographer or harried researcher, but for the most part I don't expect to be made sense of longitudinally.
So while I sympathize with those who want a pseud, I have come to terms with the fact that a pseud is mostly used as a mask, which is a fragment of a deception. There is indeed a greater truth to be found in the integration of all one's internet writings even if it is not accomplished during your life. There's that, and the fact that we now know who Deep Throat is, and most of our business pales in signficance.
It makes sense for the people at Google to make the strong suggestion for real names. Those who have other than personal issues for wanting to use a pseud would actually be fairly foolish for using Google plus to communicate that which needs communicating in secret. But for those who, like Boohab, just want to avoid fistfights by saying online things they are afraid to say face to face... well, there are other places for that sort of thing and I doubt that G+ is going to replace them.
There is the small problem of being hacked by people who mostly don't care to do you harm, and the real problem of being hacked by people who do. I find it difficult to believe that a pseud on G+ is going to indemnify you from either sort. And while it is certainly possible to anonymize yourself through being clever with security tools and methods, I have a hard time believing that these are the people who are doing the complaining about Google policy.
All that said, I'll leave you with two notes. The first is that if you want to be anonymous, you're probably better off using the name of somebody already famous. Searches for that name will bring back so many hits that your actual use will be buried. The other is The Last ID.
An old friend is considering all of the aspects of piracy and is trolling for some juicy tidbits on the subject for a seminar, nay maybe even a symposium on the subjects. I thought about different areas of interest from the typical to the recondite to the ridiculous.
My biggest interest is hacking public institutions. I'm curious as to what sorts of attacks might do other than to destabilize. Beyond just the coolness and power of assymetrical attacks, can a reasonable case be made for a constructive kind of destruction? It's dicey.
On the one hand, I am reticent about the kind of reporting / Woodward & Bernstein attitude that does less to inform than to cast doubt on national institutions. That entire cant of journalism strikes me as craven, because I don't see it ever shedding light on the virtues of the institution itself. It's always in the vein of the lone whistleblower whose deadly secret must take down the entire enterprise, rather than illuminate the inevitable failure that requires new energy to repair. Once you have decided that the tobacco industry is immoral, for example, you'll have 30 years of crusading journalists tearing it down brick by brick. That sort of thing is what I distrust.
On the other hand there can never be any slack in understanding the length to which human beings will corrupt themselves, and a dispassionate cold-eyed stare is a requirement. Moreover there should always be some agency involved in undermining that which is corrupt working hand in hand with proper rivals. Let there be a collection of underdog tobacco companies who are doing it right. Reveal their virtues, and strike at the heart of the devils.
Some piracy is not. Rather it is the sort of competition required. Speaking into this grey area, I think about the add for LifeLock in which the CEO gives out his Social Security number over the air - defying the conventional wisdom which is ossified into our trust in a broken security and ID system. I can think of that as a kind of assymetrical attack that undermines confidence in the status quo.
Back when I was about 30, I used a similar device by always saying my salary and debts and credit aloud in a kind of effort to undermine the respectability of such numbers. I think ultimately that was wrongheaded, but it made perfect sense to me at the time and did overcome 'silences'. I still have a lot of that ethic alive in me. It's unresolved.
Corporate espionage, according to somebody I know who knows, is much much larger than most people are aware. Patent trolling and intellectual property wars rage. I think there is a kind of intrigue in that area of American life that we probably spend more time moralizing against than actually understanding. And it is that aspect of piracy that requires some airing such that we can begin to support the kind of robustness we need in all aspects of our lives.
One of the things that I understand that I don't think a lot of people understand is the nature of the fence. I'll tell the brief story and shutup. I read a story about some clever kids who figured out exactly how to hack the subway fare cards of Boston's T. They got away with it until they began to try to profit from their enterprise. Technically it wasn't stealing until they tried to sell these fare cards. The same is true about the law against counterfeiting DVDs - or at least it was when I asked my brother the cop about it a couple years ago. It's not illegal to sell disks on the street, but it's illegal to copy the artwork that advertises that the content is a bootleg. The ethical boundary between hacking and theivery is all about making a market, of engaging buyers and sellers, not in the hacking.
The implications for corporate espionage and breaches are now thrown into a different light. The way that hackers can profit are by demonstrating flaws in systems - rather the way Penn & Teller show how magic tricks work. But if the corporation refuses to play along, it does in some way force the hand of the hacker.
So the ethics of free market competition would dictate that people sharp enough to discover flaws in security ought to be promoted. But if a hacked entity decides to keep things secret and not improve their system by admitting its weakness & committing to its improvement, then it is a kind of anti-intellectual dumbing down of security and meritocracy. Enough of this sort of corruption makes the hacker the real heroic character.
I have watched about eight or nine reality TV episodes, ever. Then again, I don't count Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch as reality TV. But there's a new game show in town that's rather interestingly shabby, which is One Man Army. It's so good that it made me do pushups.
The premise is simple. Take four macho dudes from various military, para-military, police and other such agencies and get them to compete in three super rigorous contests. For 10K dollars and the honorific 'One Man Army'. It's shabby because the production values and on screen graphics and sound effects are overdone - to the point of annoyance. The host's voice has got that mix reminescent of cartoon superheroes like Dr. Quest but not so smooth as made to sound artificially deep. I liked the guy from Superweapons much better.
But. It is by far the most difficult set of tests I've ever seen on any TV show. It's harsh. It's real.
When people complain about the levels of violence on TV, we tend to forget what real violence is like - as if we ever knew. Just one 20 second clip of Joe Theisman's leg going the wrong way or a weightlifting event gone horrible and then we instantly know what's too painful to watch. We are shocked by our ability to empathize with something that stands out from fiction. We immediatley know it's not drama for its own sake. So One Man Army impressed me with the harshness of its trials.
There are three challenges in each episode. Speed. Strength. Intelligence.
The first episode I watched, only one man finished the first challenge. It was crazy difficult.In this challenge, the contestant was placed in a tank filled with 50 degree water where the only breathing room was a hole about 6 inches in diameter. He has to breathe through that hole, then move back underwater to cut through about four inches of steel to escape the tank. This was the Speed Challenge, and the only man who finished too 45 minutes.
The strength challenge on the second show had men breaching through five barriers, one of which was a cinderblock wall with rebar. Another had them sprint uphill to fire a pistol at a target 60 feet away. One had them hang upside down and crack four safes.
I can't wait to see what they think of next, because when these guys fail, they fail hard. I'd have to say this is the unwussiest.
(from the archives May 2004)
It's very difficult to talk about Denzel Washington's latest film without also talking about Abu Ghraib and bunch of other stuff. As much as I want to keep the subjects apart, I cannot manage it. I am at the point at which I am wanting to make the film a litmus test for sense and sensibility over the question of Iraq, but in a deeper way. However instead of stringing this character study together with what I've been talking about in 'Monsters on a Leash', let it stand as a metaphor for the man who does democracy's dirty work and sacrifice. Denzel Washington has given us a performance for the ages which resonates in many directions.
Here's what I'm getting at. I am trying to break through a kind of social phlegm which I believe to be a self-imposed exile. It is part and parcel of my antagonism to that which I describe as 'dainty'. If I were to call it 'liberal' then it would score me points with my conservative brethren but that's not my aim. Rather I am trying to reveal a kind of denial which will get us in deeper trouble. In the context of Man on Fire, it is the denial that there is a necessary good in the dealing with evil in the harshest ways. I am trying to break through the denial that says there are no noble ends worthy of extreme prejudice.
If the Geneva Conventioneers go to the movies, they would certainly have to give a huge failing grade to the Man on Fire. However I don't think they would convince many Americans that this is not an extraordinarily moving film. But let me qualify that one more step. A moving film in the genre of action is what I'm talking about, and I realize that many Americans don't go to the theater in order to see action films. I don't quite know what to make of such Americans because the great advantage of going to such events is the technology of emergence possible with the large screen and the booming system. Unless you are one of the types who are unimaginative enough to consider 'Sleepless in Seattle' a good reason to date... excuse me, my demographic is showing. 15 years ago, I'd go for a Tarkofsky at the Nuart, these days I go for a Scott at the Bridge. As for Amelie, she waits for pay per view. What I expect from an action film goes beyond the boom to the character in focus, the hero. What is his code?
From the very opening credits, I was stunned at the brilliance of director Tony Scott's sensibilities with light and film. I have been watching a great deal of digital entertainment recently: digital shorts, gaming and game cut scenes. Scott's ability with film expresses a much larger visual vocabulary, and his facility with it is often breathtaking. It is an accelerated communication I am witnessing, the visual equivalent of New Yawkese at a rapid clip. Not since Soderbergh's 'Traffic' has this kind of film been made, and yet where Traffic is an investigation into a series of characters and tragedies, 'Man on Fire' comes down to one. What does it take to unravel the kind of organization that sanctions terror and extortion? What happens when a man who can, does with trained lethality?
Washington brings a gravity to the action hero previously unknown. I even heistate to call him an action hero or this an action film. He is deliberate without being obsessed. He is damaged without self-pity. He has no attitude whatsoever. I regard him as the man who stands in disbelief at the fact that he remains alive despite the great damage done to him. He is mortally wounded, and yet he persists, seemingly in defiance of God. He is aligned to his condemnation, but ultimately accepts the opportunity for redemption offered by chance.
Washington's John W. Creasy is a frightening individual. For he makes life and death decisions on his own. He follows his own conscience, not a manual. He isn't following orders or procedures of the sort which in a democracy give the public the confidence that all is well enough. He is a protector, and he is not merely satisfied with punishing. Instead he demonstrates that it is possible to destroy all corruption - the full plant, leaves, stalk and roots. He is not a professional in the justice system, he is investigator, judge, jury and executioner. He is a scarred warrior past all ideology surviving on bible verses, whiskey and the deadly drills of the counter-terrorist trade. He knows he has gone too far.
This makes him frightening not because he a loose cannon. He paces in a cage of his own creation. He dulls his own blade. He could be sharp, deadly but he chooses to be disengaged. Such a man defies what is often expected of an assassin. We have become used to the idea that no man is capable of all that, and that given any such capability such a man should work as part of a team. We are led to believe that there is a button that can be pushed, a memorandum of understanding corroboratively agreed upon which sets in motion a series of professional actors who bring evildoers to justice. And this is satisfactory for the bourgie American citizen. Were we to find John W. Creasy somewhere in that bureaucracy, were we to know his sources and methods, we would be crying "Who let the dogs out?". We would resist his truth. We could forgive an ignorant brute, but Creasy is neither. He is an artist of death, an assassin. Echoes of 'The Professional'. But Creasy is completely self-possessed. He is a man without external sanction.
Think of the adage 'Women and children first.' When a ship is sinking, this is the rule. Why? While everyone knows that cowards will try to escape and women will die, there is more than mere chivalrous attitudes. There is an understanding that dirty work and sacrifice must be done in the interests of human survival. There is so much of our economy and culture that is available to the weaker sex, that perhaps we have forgotten about blood, guts and glory. We forget that there are monsters which arise and so we create thoughtcrime out of that which would arm us for the unthinkable. These are the thoughtcrimes which become armor in the conflict we dread. Those are the thoughtcrimes that are Creasy's training - it's what keeps him alive in the in-between times.
I think 'Man on Fire' is an excellent parable and a tragic drama. Technology has enabled the ordinary thug to commit crimes like none other in history. In the cracks of our society grow dangerous weeds. If Creasy makes us uneasy it is because he is today's man fighting tomorrows battles. One day we may come to understand him better. Until then our sensibilities may be challenged by his methods, but that is not the worst thing we face. We face our own unwillingness to fight.
I have just read one of the most mindblowing fictions I've ever seen. It rings perfectly true. If in fact it is true, it would blow the doors off of the Obama Administration. Even if it's not, it makes for extraordinary reading.
As I think about it, it seems more unlikely that some guy with a website I've never heard of would have access to the sort of insider that could and would leak such blockbuster information. I only hope that this story gets enough traction so that somebody can find this Ulsterman and wring a confession out of him.
The gut of the story is that Leon Panetta, in cooperation with White House Cheif of Staff , pre-emptorily approved the mission to bag Osama against the protests of Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett who kept raising objections to the attack based upon political grounds of offending Muslims and the chance of failure. The military and intel guys agonized while Obama dithered.
If you've ever watched the movie 'Spy Game' with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, you can get the feeling for how something like this could happen.
So the details of the raid are starting to come in and it's very cool to consider who had to know what as the facts roll in. So here's the thing that has been on my mind for a while. This safehouse is clearly deep into Pakistan. You don't get a joint like that without lots of help, and I mean ISI and PakMil. I've been figuring that elements in the ISI have been playing this game for a while. Last June I wrote:
What if our troops found Osama? I mean practically speaking it should be understood that the reason why we don't find him is because he's got protection in Pakistan and Pakistan is generally off limits to our troops. We found Saddam, and he had a whole army to protect him - Osama's army only needs to be a few loyal and trusted men in the forbidden zone. So surely he is there. But what if?
You and I both know that if we found Osama, it would be all over. It being 'every reason' we are over there. GWBush's war would be declared over and our President would focus more closely on the domestic narratives he believes he has a better chance at controlling. And then so what if there was another mastermind?
Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you Anwar Al-Awlaki.
What do I expect you to do about it? I expect you to remember you are an American and for that reason you are a target of his holy war. And if you cannot remember his name, or the names of the hundreds of his closest followers, maybe you can remember that he exists, is connected and has some time to become a mastermind. Maybe you can remember that the ending purposes of our global war on the Jihadis is not merely a convenient narrative that conforms to a dramatic arc - that it is full of reality and therefore unpredictable and messy. It requires work to combat it, deal with the facts of it, communicate the truth of it. It requires attention to detail, and that if *we* are to be organized and purposeful that we require loyalty when our leader communicates and trust when he doesn't. But for us, as for everyone, such matters take time to establish and maintain.
And before Obama was elected, I predicted that as Musharraf was a lame duck, we had a bipartisan new front. IE nobody would care much or raise a ruckus if and when we caught Bin Laden in 'off limits' territory of Pakistan.
Now here's the cool thing. Obama is now poised to kick Karzai to the curb, once again and leave him to the crazed warlords. Which is to say that all of the bad blood Obama got for disssing McChrystal, Eikenberry et al, is now erased in the political victory of finding OBL somewhere other than Afghanistan. Land war in Asia? Now who has the last laugh. It is the mighty Obama who, never admitting to standing on the shoulders of GWBush, has now captured all the geopolitical glory he really cares about. So what if the Middle East goes to shit? We got Bin Laden!
But surely even Obama could not be blind the the fact that Hamas rued the day. They had the nerve to call him a great warrior. Hoo boy. Is there any question that these fools need to be restrained? I can't think of any reaction that I've heard from Israel on the news. Hmm.
So the SEALs ripped into Abbottabad, now synomomous with 'spider hole' and took OBL's compound apart, got the intel goods and shot the bastard in the head, along with all of his minions and immediate family. I wonder if they were dumped into the ocean as well. Probably not. Which leaves something of an interesting question about how many of the dead flunkies were left about on the floor, and who is going to miss them.
But the bigger question is who in the ISI is now a little bit panicked. There has got to be some forensic evidence the team picked up which could lead to clues about who was running to the store for groceries and video tapes. And of course now that the US has the computers and files and whatnot, it's just a matter of time before more sluething yeilds more results. It is becoming clear that this is Obama's military style, which makes sense in the Ronald Reagan worldview of secret engagements with only the most special type of boots on the ground. I have growing confidence that such matters will work.
It is also interesting to note that the tweeters who didn't realize exactly what those helicopters and explosions were on the fateful night suggested that it might be a drone attack. It means that Abbottabad must have gotten one or two in the prior week, because you want that kind of misdirection when you're about to pull a covert op. Get people used to thinking they know what's up.
All in all, I really hope some of the shooters picked up their shell casings. They would go really nice on eBay.
Over the years I've been thinking a lot about privacy and its opposite, 'famousity'. These are things gained and lost by degrees, but people tend to forget that. The simple association I wish to make today is about the matter of fact way I believe that privacy does not automatically lead to safety.
There are few transactions more private than sex, and few sexual transactions more private than the illicit kind. But there is something about a murdered prostitute that should make you think about serial killers. There is a kind of privacy that draws attention to itself, like the privacy of the President Obama's health records. Call that secrecy. Similarly, there is a kind of like of privacy that draw attention away, like dressing as a typical tourist at Disneyland. Call that plainness.
This subject is, of course, tangential to both the breach of the Playstation Network and of iPhone location services data in plain sight. For the hundreth time, I say that you give away private information all the time, ordering a pizza with your credit card. There was a time when people used to fear Caller ID. Can you remember that?
There is a sort of privacy we lose by degrees, but that is not the same thing as becoming less secure by the same degrees. One can be secure in the open, and one can be secretive and attract all kinds of danger. Let's not confuse privacy with security.
One last example. You are in the woods, alone, in a cabin. There is no cellphone coverage, no wifi, no television, no telephone, and the nearest mailbox is five miles down the mountain. You're quite private. But are you safe?
Back when I was considering rescuing hiphop from itself, I wrote a poem in the mode of Public Enemy's 'Don't Believe the Hype'. It started like this and went downhill from there:
don't forget the nukes
I never forget the nukes completely, but sometimes I need to be reminded. This morning, waiting for a doctor's care I watched the following video.
It rather hit me like a ton of bricks that the possibility for a massive explosion was possible and covered up. It reminded me of the salient phrase from last week which will get into Cobb's Rules. Don't plan for the small emergency, plan for the Black Swan emergency. When all of your emergency plans rule out the unthinkable, it means you haven't done enough thinking. And the inevitable result is that you cover your ass, lie and fudge. That creates risk by definition, and when you hide that risk you don't get to choose whose life it affects. That's where my head is at these days - the consequences of not thinking of the biggest big picture - of not considering your own mortality in it all. So it does not surprise me that the Party official who covered up the scope of the disasters committed suicide.
I think all of us have, or should have after watching this documentary instead of something dumb and funny on television, a deep sense that we should be getting rid of nuclear weapons. It is a political consensus that is awaiting some common sense talk. When you recognize that 600,000 Soviets fought in the war against Chernobyl we shouldn't have any problem or fear making similar efforts in containing proliferation.
If honesty is the best policy, then here are the facts that my iphone knows about my whereabouts. It's actually not that scary is it?
If you haven't heard, our illustrious new Senator Franken has decided to go after Apple for having this information on your iphone. It being somewhat persistent give an opening to those of us concerned with privacy. But here's the thing - once again. If you go to a restaurant and pay with a credit card, you are giving information away to a complete stranger, or two or three, as it changes hands. Are you that interesting? Is your money? Is your location? Sure it's easy for hackers to get your info, just like its easy for mechanics to steal your car.
My point is, no matter how important your private information is to you, it's even less important to the overwhelming majority of people.
It turns out that I found some fairly interesting things about my Mac and iphone today with regard to where stuff goes on my machines. Also, the best guess is that the information that persists is done in error. All this app that takes my data to this visualization has is a few days of information. I was actually hoping for a lot more to show up, but maybe I did something wrong. Either way, I'm pretty much broadcasting from Foursquare anyhow.
...given the lack of transparency, given the lack of implementation of the design changes, given some of the other shortcomings that we've heard of in terms of radiation suits and radiation badges, I don't think it's unreasonable to question if TEPCO should be allowed to continue to operate nuclear power plants. Now, I'm not yelling, I'm not screaming, but I don't think I can be any clearer in saying that I don't trust TEPCO, and I'm not sure anybody else should either based on what's happened during this accident. "
-- Cdr. Mark L. Mervine, Nuclear Engineer (USNR, Ret.)
Following up on my Radioactive Fish investigation, I've been trying to find some better, and now the best information I can find on regular updates from Fukushima. Something that's comprehensive, expert and not dumbed down. So far I have found Mark Mervine who has recorded 19 or 20 interviews that can be found on Vimeo. That's going to be my first source.
I found nothing good at INPO and the USNRC that satisfied me. I knew INPO because I put together a reporting system for them for a power company that operated nukes in CT back in the 90s. Anyway, here's the blog.
Of all the things I could blame on Obama, there is one that I cannot, and it is his or anyone's ability to give the wealthiest Americans any reason to maintain some sense of patriotism when it comes to the NYSE. I'm sure that there are some conversations I probably should have heard over the past few months on Bloomberg, but I decided that the $100 subscription to the podcast was not worth it. Maybe this quarter, considering whatever bonus I might keep after I buy my iPad, I'll think about getting jiggy in the market again.
As you know, the NYSE is being sold to Germans.
If that doesn't make you stop and think what's going wrong in America, then reconsider the fact that Budweiser is not owned by Anheuser Busch. Remember that? Nothing is American but brand names it seems, and nobody in America makes anything except cool ideas. We don't even make money any more. Wall Street is for sale.
I don't quite understand how or why this happened which is really strange considering the rules about foreigners owning American banks. It seemed to be a no-brainer to keep the Feds out of the banking business to allow any number of international investors to buy Wamu or Wachovia, but there were rules. Not real rules, I suppose, but the kinds of rules that apply in dorms at the LSE - you know, conventions that keep the kids thinking they are really and truly civilized, but are actually nothing more than dormhouse rules.
There is one sparkling hope, which is that Germans maintain the sort of grounding we have seen in Merkle over her regime, no foolishness when it comes to big finances. Perhaps as well there will be a sort of cultural sensibility in the new ownership which will be a bit more intolerant of the sort of monkeyshines (to put it mildly) that have ruined so many fortunes and created so many empty ones. But I don't know, and I haven't studied that level of high finance in quite some time. Sadly, I haven't developed the sort of gut I would have hoped to when I began studying economics several years ago, and I feel rather like the guy who can only program Excel macros, trying to make sense of what Larry Ellison does.
I do remember when the Obama administration attempted to put a certain set of shackles on executive pay and the quickness with which that was both shouted down and evaded. I have no confidence that there is anyone who might have been more capable than the vengeful and powerful Eliot Spitzer in putting the appropriate bite down on people with f*k you money. And I know a bloody lot will starve before anybody short of a Vladimir Putin clamps down on the anybody like George Soros.
I listened to a podcast last night that actually put into words the kind of resignation many Americans might someday fear. "At least in an empire, where you have no vote, you don't feel so disgusted that your government is screwing you over." Living with no choice is always easier than living with a choice. It's so tragic that so often so many poor choices are made.
So I guess it's time to resubscribe to Zerohedge.
Sometimes the only way to play is to jump in over your head but the border between fearlessness and foolishness is slim. I have been transformed by my exposure to matters of duplicity in theory and practice and I still find it fascinating for the same reason I stated several years ago in my Normblog Interview.
Who are your cultural heroes? > I confess that I am drawn to spies and, to a lesser extent, priests. They hold in their heads ideas that are worth killing and dying for, and yet unlike writers and intellectuals of other sorts, they are restrained by ethical virtues from gaining any notoriety, wealth or respect from the dissemination of said ideas. Anyone can blurt the beautiful and be blessed, but there is nothing so frighteningly powerful, I think, as an idea whose time may very well never come. They are the reverse of us who clamour for glory and vindication.
I should probably add hackers to that. Hackers of all sorts. It's a layer of understanding I haven't applied most of my adult life because I have spent a great deal of time and effort being a team player and expecting the leverage of corporate entities to pay off. They do. But what I didn't realize was how flexible they are, and it is that combination of flexibility and dynamism of individuals within the constraints of corporate frameworks that can be their downfall. It's something that hackers can exploit and proves the fundamental vulnerability of all collective enterprises. (I was thinking 'corporate' in reflection on my own ambition, but you can read 'collective' in defense of the principle).
Organized decentralization is not even the thing here, but individual initiative. We are much more beholden to personal ethics than I had previously considered. There are many implications, some of which just make sense.
The impetus for this post is the startling piece over at Ars Technica. Not since I was much younger and obsessed over more simple stuff like Guy Kawasaki's Tsutomu Shimomura's old tale of intrigue has the impact of a hacker's handiwork smacked me in the head. Anybody can be owned.
As I write this, and in reflection of a couple things, I wish I could remember a piece of verbiage I came across with its apporpriate acrimony to script kids about a particular hardened version of OS that a certain kind of individual would need. It's my new mind splinter. Because other than Sandmonkey, 'we' know very little about who was communicating at what level with the outside world as Egypt flipped. And it certainly would have been the aim of an appropriated armed individual to use this particularly secure distro as government forces would have been on his ass.
Note to Alex and the dude to my left: The name of the detective show was 'Touching Evil'. So that settles *that* mind splinter.
I watched Anderson Cooper stumble over his words last night because I wanted to see what CNN was saying about the collapse of Egypt. Fouad Adjami was the only literate person on the sceen. All of the journalists right about now sound like bad Oracle salesreps. They have some general idea what the software is supposed to do, but really only understand the art of the deal. These journalists sound so much more like journalists on these days that the news doesn't fit. They talk about the quality of the images. It's all down to the business of talking and filling the screen with faces, but are we learning anything? Not so much.
There has basically only been one idea circulating in my head over this matter of Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, which is the speed at which collapse occurs. I've reflected back on the days, a couple years ago, when I was at Microsoft and watched the heads at CNBC say that what has become the drubbing of our financial sector would only take about 600 billion dollars out of our accumulated wealth. They were off by a factor of five, I would guess. So how many years will it take for anything to collapse? It never takes years, it only takes years of neglect bu the collapsing comes swiftly, like a thief in the night. Either you are or you are not prepared.
The only people who seem to be prepared for the future are those people who have none. The rest of us imagine that the one we have will continue. The folks at Intuit tell me that my employer took out too much of my Social Security last year. I'm pretty much resigned to expect that I won't get any of it back, and that may find me out on the street like the lunatics in Egypt. Yeah, they're lunatics. They are the same lunatics that were in Iran a couple months ago. Only the people with no future are out there trying to make one just by showing up, yelling at police, throwing rocks, taking pictures, turning a car over, burning a building, dragging a dead body from the middle of the road. That seems to be all that ever happens. What would you do? I think I'd buy my guns and ammo ahead of time, get my shortwave transciever hooked up, find some ex-military guys, get my women out of town. There's gotta be a playbook somewhere. I can read. None of the lunatics can read. I wonder if I ever wrote it down and gave it a number for Cobb's Rules. If the poor and oppressed could work the system, they wouldn't be poor and oppressed. They can't work the system when it works well enough to oppress them, they can't build a system when it doesn't. Whomever gets them to shut up, leave the streets and go home where the power doesn't work and the water doesn't run, will become the new system.
It always comes down to the Slice doesn't it? What level of outrage the military officers, engineers, doctors and literates can tolerate. Everybody else goes, more or less, with the flow - where the bullets are flying away from you, the electricity and painkillers to you. That's all the masses need to grant political consent. The first rule of maintaining democracy? Keep the streets clear of garbage. For that, you need people to work the infrastructure. Egypt uses pigs. Mubarak's government has been walking on stilts for years. Easy to tip over.
I'm making friends at 2600 and may go to Defcon this year. These are the people who could rebuild the internet from scratch, who might be found if they could be found, looting Fry's and building a packet radio network, resurrecting Fido and policing their IRCs with smarter bots than anybody in the FCC could possibly understand. I'm getting face-time with them because today it only costs 12 bucks to buy a pair of 4GB flash chips from Amazon.com. Tomorrow who knows? America is full of the same lunatics, but with a larger Slice, and with many more in close proximity to the Slice, armed and sensible, unafraid and hostile to the Mubaraks of the world.
I watched the film Buried last night. Lesson: It takes less than two hours to get somebody to tell you the truth which is that you're a pawn and only a very small number of people really care if you live or die. I wish the lunatics who voted for Obama could learn that lesson with the swiftness. Does anybody still believe his geopolitical vision is any better than Anderson Cooper's? Are there still people who remain confident in his 'Middle East Peace Process' who don't get paid to say so?
Right now what matters is what the Egyptian Army decides to do. What the Egyption ISPs decide to do. If they were partners with the American Systems Administration Force, they guys in the Pentagon would know the frequencies and codes on their communications systems and recognize their voices on the air. They could be in confident contact right now, and the Commander in Chief would be in the loop. But arrangements would require the presumptions of empire, a presumption that Barack Obama would never hold. He believes in natural law, but not that rights are the gift of the strong. And so he has faith that the lunatics in the streets everywhere will arrange themselves into the proper queues and that peace will establish itself. He's a dreamer that Obama and he and his brain dead hack Secretary of State are sleepwalking through yet another crisis, like spectators of the NFC playoffs who care more about the commercials at the Super Bowl than who wins.
Violence never solved anything, goes the mantra. Speeches do?
Speeches only work in the hegemony over the Slice, and then only when the Slice is being paid with regularity. Obama doesn't have money for Egypt. He doesn't have money for anybody, and people are waking up to that reality. The only question is whether or not he has the audacity to use troops, which he doesn't. So he is essentially out of equation. America sleeps once again. Wake us when you have a new leader, Egypt. He can come to Disney World. Shake hands. Take pictures. Maybe even get a bow out of our lame duck Commander in Chief. You can play whatever song you like on the piano at the White House. We don't care. Really, we don't.
Rabbi Hillel says when there is no hero, you be the hero. I've often considered myself that, or at least possessed of enough ego to be, but I've never flirted with the idea that I had some destiny that narrowed my focus to a singular act of purpose that might justify something like what today's nutcase has done. I've always wanted to do too much, and I've always to much enjoyed the pleasant surprise of life to ever reduce myself to an extreme act of pinpoint power. I even acknowledge my best ideas and do only a little to move them forward. It's ok for me to live for others - I have learned to serve.
But not being possessed of a great number of possessions, I began experimenting with my own imagination. I can recall the mid 80s when I became confident that I would not be able to transfer to Stanford, and realized that I would not be able to prank my way through ample spare time. I wouldn't have a real boat to bump my drunk friend off in jest, so I had to invent one in my mind. If it wasn't to be Yale for me, I would go metaphorically sailing with Buckley and God. So it has not been beyond me to entertain personal fantasies unbounded by the physics of reality; I indulge in fantasy. If my writing would be without any purpose or shape, I probably would write more of such fantasies.
What if some circumstance beyond my imagining came to convince me that my redemption, or the fate of something critically symbolic came to rest on a choice of mine to perform an assassination? That idea has crossed my mind. I've most often thought of it in the context of Robert Nozick's book in which he suggests that a man approaching death might volunteer, owing to the inevitable imminence of his own death, to make such a sacrifice that would ruin his own life. It is rather fortunate that old men most often cannot be persuaded to care enough to even keep their knees flexible through the means available to them and for the most part enjoy the liberty from responsibility that old men take. Who knows what trouble we'd have if chess in the park were not enough for Geri's cohort? But an old man might decide to go out with a blast, and as such an old man, I might. Who would I take with me?
That doesn't matter to me so much as my desire that my reasons be made clear should I not survive. Now that I think about it, I most certainly would desire to have my day in court, so as to give audience to whatever profound motivation made me act.
Still, I am convinced that in our society, such as it is, very few acts of complicated bravery could survive the contempt of contemporary news. One could not expect the likes of today's yuppies to recognize anything involving blood. They're even afraid of sugar. But even a complaint such as this I'm making about them would be lost. I could only hope that the impact of such an act would survive in the memory of another generation who might interpret my message more properly. On the other hand, how simple it would be to have me whitewashed, and my writings all redacted.
If I were to go nutty, I would have no redemption. The act itself would have to be entirely worth my sacrifice because I cannot imagine the whole truth of any motivation to ever reach the light of a reasonably sane public. If I were not nutty, I would be made to appear nutty and perhaps this very text might be used as proof. So I'll hash it.
I've probably said, after 7 years of blogging and lord knows how many rants into USENET, enough foolishness to discredit my entire self. But then again there is the context of all those years, that nobody would bother to read. And those that know me enough to love me, well what could they do?
My saving grace, in the end is rather pitiful. It is that I don't care enough to go nutty over anything other than symbolically. The rest of me is bound in canonical human emotions and typical of mankind's history. I'm easy enough to figure out because I have hewn to recognizable conventions. I am indeed a family man, a professional, a patriot, a Christian. People know enough of those things to expect in me a reasonable man. So I'd have to be particularly and extraordinarily nutty for assassination. And that would force anyone with intelligent curiosity to get through Cobb and other utterings for a reason that seems consonant with my peronality and ambition.
If I were to go nutty, people could see it coming and they'd be sucking their teeth long before I climbed the bell tower. I'm no Anakin. You wouldn't be surprised, nor would I. So... I can't even speculate about how I might go nutty. I know me. I'd implode first. Hmm. I guess that's pretty boring... But one thing you could be relatively sure of, I'd be a lone nut. I'd do it for me. There's nothing any of y'all could do for me..
There are days like today when I believe that I should belong to a secret society. Last evening as I worked with my son to study for his AP US History class we talked about the Anti-Masonics, the Whigs, Andrew Jackson and a bunch of other stuff I never learned in high school. In fact, I did not have an American History class at all in high school. That was the 70s for you.
My buddy Lee was out here on the weekend, and he's the one guy I know who retains something ineffable despite his academic achievement. Regularness? He's been recognized as one of America's top young scientists (young <= 46) and as such was regaled with a presentation of the state of the art of what we know at the National Academy of the Sciences. They've got a nice conference center down in Irvine. I perused the presentations out in the lobby as the last session was breaking up but decided not to take any photos. His was about machine learning. I remember very little about the others, but here's something he explained to me of one of the subjects discussed.
You have taste buds in your stomach and intestines. They are the same kinds of taste buds that are on your tongue, and their function is to serve as an early warning system. Imagine that you're drinking a diet soda. It tastes sweet and so you like it. When exactly should your body start producing insulin to deal with all that sugar you are tasting? Insulin stops the use of fat in the body as an energy source, so when insulin is present the body will depend on the sugars and carbs you eat. The taste buds in the mouth would signal too soon, but the taste buds in the gut would signal right on time. Except what you're drinking in that Fresca is not sugar, so you've got all this insulin ready and no sugar to process. For the sake of the pleasure in your mouth, you're freaking out your body. Diet sodas are worse than water. That should be obvious, but now you have another reason.
When I developed the ideas around XRepublic, and now for the Lorite Interrogator, I had some very specific things in mind concerning the melioration of knowledge via computer mediated communications. The term "CMC" penned by Howard Rheingold is so influential and central to my thought process that I named my son so that his initials would be CMC Bowen. It worked out that we had ancestors other than Cobb for the second C. One of the biggest problems is the level of patience the learned have for the unlearned, because while there are thousands who know what the millions do not, only hundreds are willing and able to teach. One of my solutions is to maintain separate 'houses' for debate, and that may or may not work - we'll have to see in practice. Despite the existence of such houses, there would be transparency. For example, I have just declared Nulan personna-non-grata in this house, but in the act of doing so I also asked for him to trackback to our common subjects, and I presume that I would remain on his blogroll. Obviously I can't stop anyone from going over to his own house, and I would encourage that. MIT has some of this kind of transparency in its OCW, but I imagine Yale does not. It is the transparency of CMC that has allowed more to learn indirectly from various universities and learned individuals than would ordinarily be admitted through physical gates. This is, indeed how you have come to know that the stomach has taste buds - Lee as a top scientist invited to the private gated affair shared with me and I shared with you. But the many were not and will never be invited to The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center of the National Academies of Science and Engineering.
In the prior post 'Vox Populi', the ancient aphorism rings true, that is if you know the whole thing: And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always very close to madness. It exactly what I say about the Denizens of Sherwood Forest. It should be what people say about the Tea Party. It is the proper warning against populism. Then again on occasion, it is wise to trust the revulsion of the masses against the corruption of the few. But looking in the other direction there are often things the millions feel that the thousands do and only hudreds can communicate. These are the edge conditions of mass communication and they have not been solved to my satisfaction.
When I am pessimistic about this problem, as I generally am when I consider American politics in its current state, I seek to take shelter from a public and public debate I find debased. I would much rather listen to and hang out with my friend Lee. We talked exactly zero about politics. Lee shares a certain epistemological modesty. If there is something true to be said about geeks, it is that they accept the isolation their interests and arcane knowledge bring. Geeks seek the company of other geeks, happy to find a confidant or someone else who gets it. This is reward enough for the dissonances from the millions. Nerds, on the other hand, seek revenge. In a social apocalypse, what happens to destroyed nerds and geeks? Their presentations are photographed but who has the patience to teach Morlocks? I search for the signs of the mood towards cloistered knowledge, the arrogance of nerds, the desperation of geeks and the madness of crowds.
Computer literacy is something very different in CMC. It is the ability to sniff out the good content from the zettabytes of spew. It is in its own way the New Latin, a way of recognizing the style of a website of value, of tracking one's way towards the company of the hundreds from both directions. It is a facility with the many tools of the internet.
Some zealot named Assange is responsible for leaking the names of dozens of Afghan informants through WikiLeaks as part of a greater effort to fight the Pentagon. Over the past week many comments have been made to suggest that in light of this, perhaps unintended consequence of Assange's mission to disclose the ugly truth about war, that he doesn't have problems sleeping with the knowledge that these informants will be hunted down by the Taliban.
Aside from the matter of Assange's apparent moral fecklessness, there is the matter of his entry into the intelligence business. The fact that the release of such names has been disclosed in this instance does not mean such leaks have never taken place before - if so, how would we know? Clearly, Assange has decided to work at cross-purposes to the Administration's war effort. He is apparently not up to it. That he comes to us in large print, compromised in the same vector he wanted to be sainted.
Coincidence? I think not.
I can't find the URL to the new Al Qaeda website Inspire, but if I could, I'd find it hacked. Of course. I've read about six stories about the existence of this online magazine which I'm told includes an IED tutorial. None of those stories contain a link. So after a few minutes my curiosity ran to nil.
This morning however, I read in another story that all but 3 of the 67 pages of the premier issue has been rendered unreadable. This contradicts another story which said the first three pages were unreadable. I like the second story as more true. Note that the second story said the problem was due to a computer glitch. Yeah right.
What do you think are the chances that American intelligence services would NOT hack an AQ news outlet aimed at inspiring Jihadis in America? Are you kidding me?
This all reminds me of the old Loompanics controversy, and something like Michael Pollan's report on poppies. On the Loompanics side, it wouldn't surprise me to find some of those guys in mysteriously failing health, and that goes to show us all some lesson about the short attention span theatre that is popular civil libertarian activism. By the way, are there any Americans still in Haiti, or have they all gone to Toronto by way of the oil spill? Loompanics was a used bookstore that specialized in various hackeries including explosives. But it was a prelude to the Whole Earth Catalog IIRC - an ultimate DIY resource. Kind of like a combination 1st and 2nd Amendment challenge. It left the FBI and the public in a quandary way back when in the 70s. In the end, the controversy faded from view. Nobody blew up anything until McVeigh, and it's probably a fair bet to say that a lot of the characters who got excited by Loompanics ended up working for the FBI.
Pollan wrote a story that was its own virus which was to inform people that the only legal way to grow certain species of poppy was if you were unaware that you could make opium from them. Of course if you read the story, you'd know the species - or at least be aware of what the species might be and therefore could be legally indicted if you had those in your garden. Then again, I forget the details...
How the American intelligence community deals with AQ's propaganda could take one of these two routes. It would be trivially easy for them to hack the website, or with the ascent of Akamai, duplicate out a fake one with embedded code, say from Google Analytics, that could tell them who's reading what. The question is whether or not they decide to let the original content go out or not. But then they'd be competing with every other hacker on the planet. Who wouldn't want to hack AQ's English website? It's almost stupid for AQ to even bother trying.
So basically this is a good test to find out where the doublespeak is coming from. I cannot even think of the logic that prevents the US Government from waging cyberwar against this website. So what's interesting is how they evade the issue.
I hear that Canada spent 1 Billion dollars on security for the G20 Summit in Toronto. What a bunch of maroons. They built a wall.
In Toronto this week, contract workers are putting final touches on the three-metre high and six-kilometre long $5.5 million dollar concrete and metal security fence encompassing the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Total security bill for the G20 in Toronto and G8 in Huntsville is expected to reach over $1 billion, the most expensive in history. Within and around this armed camp are 20,000 law enforcement officials, 1,000 private security guards, closed circuit TV cameras, military-style checkpoints along with sound and water cannons.
But people will challenge that wall, because they have nothing better to do than be general malcontents and anarchists. I have a suggestion. That is to continue building walls that are cheap, build concentric defenses and up the ante.
Here's what my mind is thinking. There ought to be a point at which, for various methods of protest, the protester gets a very clear reminder of the physical and legal lines they are crossing. Security for affairs such as the G20 and other such bitch magnets should make such things as clear as possible. Take the following tour with me.
What can your generic protester expect when approaching a line of riot cops? Some teargas? Some rubber bullets? A water cannon? Handcuffs? And if they are to be reminded of their rights and hauled off for due process, matters favor the overwhelming numbers. In other words, in sufficient quantities, an amateur protester can outmaneuver traditional security of the sort - well, that amateur protesters generally overcome. But what if the level of confrontation were escalated through the physical acts of the protesters? What if perimeters were set such that in breaching them, the protester could have little doubt in their mind of the consequences? How could such a gauntlet be created?
Well, I think a wall makes a lot of sense, as do choke points. But I also like the idea of free spaces with concentric defenses. Imagine a defense zone beyond a low wall (say five feet high) with a fat red stripe painted on the ground. Let us imagine then, that outside of the wall, your protest can remain peaceful. But by scaling the wall and coming into the first defense zone, you are now subject to arrest. Then if you pass beyond the red stripe, you are now subject to greater force. As individuals pass over the red stripe, they are targeted by paintball snipers and fired upon. Without having come in contact with any officers, you now have three physical reminders of how close you are to putting yourself in harm's way. Now there is a second wall. It is a mere three feet high, but it has barbed wire. And in the second defense zone is a fat black stripe. Inside the black stripe are the carcasses of dead animals. You can smell them. If you cross the barbed wire you will be hit again with a different color painball. You will be bloodied by then, and beyond the black stripe is the lethal zone.
A level of security can be set such that it requires planning of a military nature to breach. The rules of engagement can be simplified, and a clear public case can be established by creating the concentric zones. The point is not that I could perfect security, but that there is a level of conflict that the protesters own physical presence dictates and that these are fixed positions not subject to the interpretations of orders given at the spur of the moment.
I also like the idea of a moat filled with psychotropics, or a line of mist with nitrous oxide. You pollute yourself by taking the bait - like the exploding ink bombs put in money bags by robbed bankers. But I'm sick that way.
It's altogether foolish, in my view, to have the G20 Summits anywhere but castles or military installations. As soon as it is made clear that the first car will burn, the venue must be made beyond general accessibility. So even preferable to everything I've mentioned would be to have such an affair at Camp David, or its equivalent. To put it in the middle of a crowded large city is crazy, and the bold hubris of suggesting that the G20 or any such organization with mortal enemies is a special entity that shouldn't 'hide' is foolishness. That's like saying military barracks shouldn't be guarded, or cops shouldn't have secure headquarters.
Build a castle on an island in a lake.
Why does AT&T stumble? Maybe it's because they are doing more than anyone suspects. If you read about DCSNet, the FBI's wiretapping network, you'll learn that Sprint provides a network for the FBI so that they can track and trace all sorts of communications of the sort we mortals participate in.
What if the reason we all can't have FaceTime right away everywhere is because AT&T has obligations to the government to make all of their networks available for the domestic surveillance needs of the FBI and Homeland Security?
Think about a little history. Bell South Cellular and AT&T formed a joint venture called Cingular. Cingular was by far the premier cell network in the country just 7 years ago. Verizon was Bell Atlantic, fer chrissake - the absolute worst of the Baby Bells. Cingular then got folded into SBC which was the other excellent RBOC, and then SBC all reverted back to AT&T. So did they somehow forget everything they learned? Well, that's possible. But there's also the other possibility I suggest.
Just a thought.
While you're thinking about it, is Steve Jobs *that* stupid? I think not.
You know I've heard a lot of crazy things, especially since I listen to the No Agenda Show. But one thing I don't hear is that Wall Street has been hacked. I mean, I have heard that just about everything on the planet has been cracked some kind of way, but why is it that I never hear that Wall Street has been?
Have they figured out how to beat every botnet on the planet? Are they just completely off every grid but their own, and nobody on the inside could possibly be paid off? I'm curious.
Here's what I just heard:
Speaking of circuitbreakers, in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Senator Ted Kaufman pointed to evidence that the May 6 flash crash may not have been an isolated event. On June 2, stock in Diebold, a technological services company, experienced a “mini-flash crash” of its own, plunging 35% and recovering fully in only minutes. The sudden decline and rebound appeared to be the result of an “electronic overreaction” to news reports of Diebold’s long-expected settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over fraudulent accounting practices.
I'm cool with riding Occam's Razor on this. There are idiot programs making guesses in stochastic world. Taleb. We know. But what about back doors?
Knowing what we know about how many credit cards are hacked and stolen, are we to presume that Wall Street has a pristine record? It's the biggest fish in the ocean. No way we know how much dirty business is going on.
I never heard of Ben Lichtenstein before today, but I have a feeling that if we may have some panics to come in the future, his voice may become immortal. Listen to this man. You don't know exactly what he's saying but you know exactly what it means. Ladies and gentlemen:
Here are some words of explanation:
I'm on the mailing list of the International Spy Museum in Washington DC. Now you know. Since I've been working here in DC for a while, I thought I might attend a seminar in their series. It was good.
On the dais were three talking heads who carried forth on matters concerning Rendition and CIA Black Sites. According to those gathered the CIA operated at least four. Thailand, Poland, Lithuania, Afghanistan and possibly Diego Garcia.
It was a very good session, but as expected, not long and detailed enough to satisfy my curiosity and questions. I did get an opportunity to ask two. Since I think quantitatively, my first question was how many do we know, of those external renditions detoured captives through the black sites? The answer was about 3 dozen over past 20 years. A couple of the speakers did throw around the word 'disappeared' used as a verb, but it was not made clear to me how long it is that a rendee is rent. If I'm in the business of moving Suspect A to Country Two in a legal rendition I do so with the cooperation of Country One and Country Two. So if I take him to Black Site X for n years, how long is it before Country Two starts pissing and moaning? It wouldn't make much sense to disappoint them, especially if we want some cooperation in the future. The overall numbers of renditions number in the hundreds but not in the thousands over the past 20 years. Starting somewhere around 1995 under Clinton there were 70 some-odd renditions, they stepped up sometime later and really got going after 9/11.
It is also unclear to me the ratio of countries who use rendition vs those who use extradition. The manner in which the subject was discussed leads me to believe that extradition treaties are rarer than one would expect - rarer than say trade treaties, and so rendition picks up more than a little slack in the global market of prisoner exchange.The guy in the red shirt across the room asked that question derailing one of mine about the difference between rendition and extradition and Bellinger responded lawyerly well. Mine would have been more specific to Bush's Coalition of the Willing with regard to its expansion of the number of extradition arrangements we have with those countries specifically relating to enemy combatants. However Bellinger's response alluded to the heavy consequences of reciprocity in establishing extradition treaties and, well I think it should be rather obvious that Americans are often seen as criminals by the G77 and we'd be haggling all freakin' day. Better to use rendition than suffer the extra burdens of extradition - even for Al Qaeda.
So to be clear, my reckoning is that there were maybe 1200 renditions in the past 20 years some fraction of those were directly to the US and the great majority of all renditions lead to criminal trials either here or elsewhere. The more controversial of the renditions were those facilitated by the CIA between two countries other than the US, and the most controversial are those between other countries with a stop at a CIA black site along the way. And of those we know to the best of our ability to know that half a half dozen detainees were waterboarded on our properties, though some unknown number may have been subjected to more inhumane treatment by parties known to the CIA in exchange of coerced intelligence. Sources and methods, I'd tell you but I'd have to kill you, yadda yadda.
To remedy all of this madness would require someone with the cajones of Alberto Gonzales to stick his neck out and do independent research on what an enemy combatant is and how you handle such creatures. However since Gonzales was hung out to dry by the like of Nancy Pelosi and the loyal opposition in Congress, the entire subject matter has become uncomfortably taboo under the present Administration. And thus the solution to capture or kill has become kill. And today we have Predator drones doing dirty work that is more acceptable than GTMO work. In other words, instead of capturing personas non grata of foreign soil and subjecting them to the moral and legal complexities of rendition and coercive interrogation, we are merely subjecting them to remotely controlled high explosive munitions on foreign soil without a declaration of war. Pick your poison. Oh ye of Democrat short attention span, do ye recall your horror at Colin Powell's 'video game warfare' in Desert Storm? Well, there is a quantitative difference, but the fact that nobody's even trying to lawyer their way towards a better solution shows the damage done to the body politic by rhetorical bombast and overkill against Bush, Gonzales, Cheney et al. In the meanwhile the military tribunals are still in effect because those running them sued Obama when he tried to stop them.
So my second question was in reference to what possibilities we might have to get Judge Posner's ideas about a CT Circuit implemented. I got some appreciative nods from the panel but Bellinger steered the question back towards rendition. He suggested something I forget because it seemed off the point and tangent I was getting towards. Half of the disgust, from my perspective, with rendition has everything to do with whether the end result is a legitimate criminal trial. And as much as Halperin squawked about failure to Mirandize, as much as Priest duly noted the problems criminal judges have in bringing forth evidence of national security in open court, you'd think they would be much in favor of such a court. To this end, I think Bellinger was playing his hand as a Congressional lobbyist and former White House insider. He knows the answers about policy and now is in a position to get paid for shaping legislation out of a no-op Congress. I really don't know how that business works, but it sounds like a whole lot of fun and profit. Nevertheless, his point, though I forget it, made some sense.
Still, since we only had 90 minutes and three speakers it was predictable that various tactics were employed to make the maximizing (or minimizing) impact.
I came prepared not to like Dana Priest, since I was somewhat familiar with her Post work and noted how bloggers in my circle faulted her for not outing the political persuasion of Mary McCarthy, that woman most closely identified with being the source of her information on CIA black sites. Instead, she detailed a trail of evidence demonstrating the dogged determination of herself and her colleague in tracking down tail numbers of mysterious planes owned by mysterious companies with officers who all have 'Episcopalian' names. Hey, I resent that, says Michael David brother to Bryan Thomas, grandson of Raymond Curtis. But she didn't seem to have much of an axe to grind and was somewhat deferential to yet mystified by the awesome power of computer mediated communications, aka 'the internet' or as she called it, the 2.0 World.
As an aside, it turns out that I may have been one of the crowd whose participation in the planespotting swarm assisted in driving attention towards Priest's research. Oh no wait. That was a year late. Hmm. Point taken.
Without 'journalism', meaning the dogged determination of people with curiosity and database resources, we would not be able to know what it is the government doesn't want us to know. Of course the CIA may be a lot further down the pike with respect to their ability to corral dogged determination and database resources, but just because Dana Priest cannot bell that cat doesn't mean a lot of us mice cannot. I tend to, some would say callously, not give a rat's about the fate of three dozen international terrorist rats over twenty years. So I'm not so interested in belling the CIA cat. AFAIK they were not a rogue operation as the panelists agreed, and the convenient amnesia of critters like Nancy Pelosi is more disgusting to me than the cruelty heaped upon various and sundry jihadis.
Speaking of cruelty, there was no way that we couldn't derail the conversation in the direction of 'waterboarding is torture' histrionics. Mort certainly had a point, a crusader's point, but a valid one nonetheless that you cannot make any judgment on the merits of rendition without giving consideration to the ends of that rendition. If a legal rendition results in an illegal interrogation or worse, then the legality of that rendition is questionable. Moral figleaf. Criminal facilitation. Nor can you insert the comforting language of Condoleeza Rice with regard to the US' respect for the sovereign integrity of Country One and Country Two, if the assurances of rendition amount to a wink and a nod between two intelligence services. Do I trust the CIA when it collaborates with ISI or Shin Bet? Hell no. Those bastards can do anything, and that indeed is their purpose - to do what is doable. Mort's crusade is not without merit, it just defies logic and is ultimately indefensible. You can't ask spy agencies to be accountable in such matters as renditions and black sites. Well, you can, and you set yourself up for being the recipient of an arbitrarily long paper trail. And considering the fact that the Congress will necessarily dither based upon how electable it makes them, and the Judiciary cannot get a lawyer with good shoes in edgewise, especially in Lithuania, we are at the mercy of the Administration. In the case of Obama, Bush and Clinton, war is war, and they reserve all powers they can muster, including Monsters on a Leash.
What I could not get a good sense of was the degree of culpability approaching a standard of declaring some individual persona non grata and subject to an extra-territorial arrest, rendition, detention and such (such meaning interrogation approaching and including torture).
I had some difficulty with Mort Halperin because he works for George Soros, the kind of globalist who defies nationalism. At the same time Halperin speaks about America being a beacon on the hill whose respect for the rule of law should have no peer, he crosses himself to defy America because certain European countries have laws against extradition and rendition to countries that have the death penalty. He has what seems to be an extraordinary faith in the ability to trust democratic actions to make the proper corrections for the excesses of executive action such as the CIA is involved in - all for the purposes of justice. But I think he believes that there is more justice in the world than the world is capable of delivering on time and under budget. Therefore it is his wont to go after the obvious excpetions, the biggest cases where we did wrong, wrong, wrong. Well there are plenty of barrelfish for that moral shotgun, starting with Khalid El Masri the German citizen who, in a case of mistaken identity, was actually kidnapped and detained in a black site for a year then dumped back into Germany without so much as an apology and a pack of hand sanitizer. That guy convinced an attorney that his incredible journey actually happened and so we have a real scandalous fiasco, and a legal victory for the victim. But as witness for the prosecution of the US, I think Halperin overstates (difficult for a neocon like me to admit) the intensity of America's beacon of light to the world. I am not one of those who believes that the level of civilization of a nation can be determined by the fate of its prisoners. I think it should be obvious that enemies of the state, such as Al Qaeda is determined to be, will face some of our most inglorious bastards, and they should. I am not so convinced that three dozen assassinations over 20 years is unacceptable, but perhaps I read too much history and am not so convinced that America breeds a different, kinder, gentler sort of human being.
So as Halperin rants under the wing of Soros, I tend to be very skeptical of his concepts of international law and of his application of it in this case. After all, it is not his job to keep anyone safe. And while I appreciate his appetite for limiting undemocratic power, I can't say with confidence that any greater good is adequately served by drawing attention to the families of Al Qaeda fighters who may have been used to draw such fighters into traps. Why should those widows and orphans be compensated by the US, ever? As well, Halperin stepped into a sandtrap in describing his view of 'the field of battle'. That was just an error born in the Vietnam era that has yet to be buried. It is not useful at all.
All of the panelists remarked on the relative amnesia of the public and what's not getting done to move reasonably forward on this complex matter. And all said Obama's no better, which is not really a surprise to me. Still, I'm thinking, perhaps to the chagrin of both Bellinger and Halperin that some of us out here in the blogosphere are a very proper audience to all of the details that can be exposed. And the International Spy Museum is really missing out on an opportunity, given the SRO turnout at their 12.50 a head seminar, to extend this conversation onto a website. There may not be a business model that can get someone with the skills of Dana Priest, John Bellinger, and Mort Halperin to enter arguments and documents into a critical and thoughtful public. That is why I find it rather sad that they make money where they are tangential to their ability to hold forth an extraordinary discourse on a matter of such weight.
On the other hand, the whole thing was taped. Maybe we'll find it on YouTube.
Technorati Tags: alberto gonzales, black cites, cia, counter-terrorism, dana priest, domestic surveillance, halperin, international spy museum, john b. bellinger, nancy pelosi, rendition, torture, washington dc, waterboarding
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I just thought about something after reading this longish and well thought out essay on password security. A key is just a key. It doesn't matter how sophisticated the lock is if you can break the door.
The answer to his questions and longing are PasswordSafe, a tool that generates excellent quality passwords and doesn't require you to remember them. I've been using it for years and I have 843 passwords.
But think about choosing passwords just like you choose car keys and how cars are stolen. Wait. You say you don't spend a lot of time choosing your car key? And you know that car thieves don't pick locks, they hotwire? You mean they just defeat all that security by going around it? Yep. When identity thieves steal, they might make use of the occasional unlocked door, but they have tools that bypass security systems over which you have no control.
But use a good password anyway, and have a nice day.
Down this way in Miller's Alley, we don't get bent out of shape over things we cannot control. So it goes without saying that it's not bloody likely that we're going to make a big deal over something we can't even see. Yet the firestorm heading this way over the fact that Dick Cheney is involved with a still secret CIA anti-terrorist program has got people freaking out left and right.
It's all a matter of trust.
I trust Dick Cheney because I read his biography, and I determined that I found his character admirable. I understand very well that the man lost much sleep over concern for American safety from terror. It's true that the government has had a heavy hand in much we might have handled for ourselves. In the same way we tend to discount the effectiveness of color-coded warnings at the airports, we Americans are ready to look after our own safety. We know that we have our own back, but does Cheney have it? For all of us, he did, but only half of us believed him. Those of us that did would still have been fine, for the most part, if he said we were primarily responsible.
I suspect that the secret CIA program is domestic spying above and beyond the whole FISA envelope. My guess is that the CIA took over or co-opted the infamous Carnivore and ran botnets. But that's just wild speculation. My other guess is that it might have something to do with other secret sites that were built after the first set of secret sites were closed and as such were involved in reditions. But whatever it was that the CIA did, domestically or otherwise, one cannot prove much right now. It means that the Left and Democrats will have to jumpstart an entirely new sort of diatribe. Civil liberties can't be the subtext, nor can international relations. Whatever it is, coming out on Obama's watch, it is fundamentally unproductive to drag Cheney or Congressional oversight through the mud.
It seems to me that the only way to win is on one extreme or another. Squelch the entire matter, or expose it 100% Of course that would be logical. So long as there is some way to squeeze an emotion out of the American public, there will be an illogical political win inherent in this matter. This undermines the confidence that logical Americans have in their own politics.
The terrorists win
Driving through California's Central Valley gives one a lot of time to think. But only when I was smelling something thickly agricultural did I think last week of the valley itself. It wasn't until I was on my way back home and crossing the road to Bakersfield did I really ponder all those fruits and vegetables and livestock en masse.
The thing I was thinking was a dirty bomb, and I scared the piss out of myself.
The Central Valley is one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. On less than 1 percent of the total farmland in the United States, the Central Valley produces 8 percent of the nation’s agricultural output by value: 17 billion USD in 2002. Its agricultural productivity relies on irrigation from both surface water diversions and groundwater pumping from wells. About one-sixth of the irrigated land in the U.S. is in the Central Valley.
Virtually all non-tropical crops are grown in the Central Valley, which is the primary source for a number of food products throughout the United States, including tomatoes, almonds, grapes, cotton, apricots, and asparagus.
Four of the top five counties in agricultural sales in the U.S. are in the Central Valley (2002 Data). They are Fresno County (#1 with $2.759 billion in sales), Tulare County (#2 with $2.338 billion), Kern County (#4 with $2.058), and Merced County (#5 with $2.058 billion). 2002 Data Sets
Now I could probably do some smarter thinking about it, but I just figured that the right dirty bomb in the Central Valley would just kill all the agriculture and basically Los Angeles would starve.