How The Government Blocked An Expert From Attending Its Own Cryptology Symposium

from the government-induced-xenophobia dept

One of the three crafters of the RSA algorithm, Adi Shamir (who is Israeli), has been effectively locked out of attending the NSA-sponsored Cryptologic History Symposium, thanks to a combination of bureaucratic inefficiency and the US government's ongoing paranoia about all things terrorism.

Shamir has written a long apology for his inability to attend which details the multiple events that led to his unavailability despite having a paper of his formally accepted by the Symposium. It begins with a series of delays centered around acquiring a visa for his visit to the US.

I needed a new J1 visa, and I filed the visa application at the beginning of June, two and a half months before my planned departure to the Crypto conference in mid August. I applied so early since it was really important for me to attend the Crypto conference – I was one of the founders of this flagship annual academic event (I actually gave the opening talk in the first session of the first meeting of this conference in 1981) and I did my best to attend all its meetings in the last 32 years.
Despite this early start, it took four months before his visa was finally stamped on his passport -- September 30th, to be exact, narrowly avoiding the government shutdown that would have likely prevented his visit entirely.

And it wasn't just Shamir who had difficulty securing a visa. It appears the US government's reticence and reluctance to approve visas for certain people has had a deleterious effect on other foreign scientists. Shamir quotes a letter from the head of Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science stating that more scientists are choosing to "opt out" rather than deal with the laborious approval process.
“I’m allowing myself to write you again, on the same topic, and related to the major difficulties the scientists of the Weizmann Institute of Science are experiencing in order to get Visa to the US. In my humble opinion, we are heading toward a disaster, and I have heard many people, among them our top scientists, saying that they are not willing anymore to visit the US, and collaborate with American scientists, because of the difficulties. It is clear that scientists have been singled out, since I hear that other ‘simple citizen’, do get their visa in a short time.”
After Shamir's paper was accepted by the symposium, he contacted the NSA, hoping that it could intervene to get his visa approved in time to make the conference.
In July 2013 I told the NSA-affiliated conference organizers that I was having some problems in getting my visa, and gently asked whether they could do something about it. Always eager to help, the NSA people leaped into action, and immediately sent me a short email written with a lot of tact:

“The trouble you are having is regrettable…Sorry you won’t be able to come to our conference. We have submitted our program and did not include you on it.”
Such helpful folks at the NSA. "That sucks for you. We'll just cross your name off the list." Shamir says he's never seen one of his accepted papers treated so cavalierly in his 35 years of attending conferences. (I would imagine he himself hasn't been treated that cavalierly either.) Perceiving this to be a dead end (and not feeling like attending an event where it seemed he "wasn't wanted"), Shamir scheduled an appearance at MIT -- only to be contacted far too late to change plans with a "reinvitation" to the NSA-sponsored event.

Shamir is clearly irritated by this lumbering bureaucracy and a visa process that has succumbed to intelligence agency/administration paranoia that clearly perceives foreigners, especially those in scientific fields, to be a "threat," rather than the non-harmful, non-dangerous human beings they are. If active terrorists only make up a very slim percentage of the world's population, why does the government continue to treat a large percentage of certain non-US citizens as potential threats?

Shamir's final paragraph takes aim at the painful visa process and adds a hilarious slam against the "dangerous foreigners" mentality that overrides logic and common sense in certain government agencies.
Clearly, no one in the US is trying to see the big picture, and the heavy handed visa bureaucracy you have created seems to be collapsing under its own weight. This is not a security issue – I have been to the US close to a hundred times so far (including some multi-year visits), and had never overstayed my visas. In addition, the number of terrorists among the members of the US National Academy of Science is rather small. As a friend of the US I am deeply worried that if you continue to delay visas in such a way, the only thing you will achieve is to alienate many world-famous foreign scientists, forcing them to increase their cooperation with European or Chinese scientists whose countries roll the red carpet for such visits. Is this really in the US best interest?
Shamir's criticism is dead-on. The overriding mentality post-9/11 throws everything out and starts at square one, even if it's someone like Shamir, who has visited the country hundreds of times. Apparently, every time someone visiting on a visa exits the country and returns to their homeland, they're opening themselves up to radicalization by our nation's unquantifiable and unverifiable "enemies." The post-9/11 climate of fear doesn't allow anyone to build up a track record of successful, peaceful, non-terrorist-related visits to the US. It's a blank slate every time.

As Shamir points out, the long-term repercussions of this mindset will be a reduction in cooperation and shared knowledge which will likely result in the US falling behind other countries in terms of technological and scientific advancement. Just as certainly as we view certain bigot-heavy areas of our country as "backwards," our country's xenophobic, supposedly "anti-terrorist" policies will soon see our country viewed as the world's Birmingham, Alabama.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Applesauce, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:00pm

    Terminally Stupid

    It is unrealistic to expect a terminally stupid government to know what it's best interests are, much less act on them.

    To some extent, this represents evolution in action: the stupid wither and die, tho it may take a while. It's kinda like a dinosaur with an infection in it's tail. The poison will reach the brain eventually, but it's a long, slow process along the sluggish nervous system.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Terminally Stupid

      Unfortunately, the terminally stupid here have a major nuclear arsenal, and government are famed for finding external enemies when it look like they may have internal problems.

       

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        Uriel-238 (profile), Oct 16th, 2013 @ 3:20pm

        Re: Re: Terminally Stupid

        Unfortunately, the terminally stupid here have a major nuclear arsenal, and government are famed for finding external enemies when it look like they may have internal problems.

        Even Hitler could not burn Paris. (And not for want of trying.)

         

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        •  
          identicon
          Brazenly anonymous, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 4:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: Terminally Stupid

          Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was much more successful when it came to burning cities, and we are the only country to have actually used the Bomb.

           

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

      Re: Terminally Stupid

      well.. at this rate Idiocracy seems to become a documentary more and more instead of a SciFi movie.

      I think we should also change its title back to the original one that the script had: "The United States of Uhh-merica" - perfect fit for a documentary.

      source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387808/

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:15pm

    America's Problem

    We voted these assholes in, but we are not taking them out.

    We truly reap what we sow.

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:23pm

      Re: America's Problem

      Given the dominance of party politics, how are people going to elect better representatives. Choices are limited by those who choose to stand, further electing a government of people with no experience seems to be a step too far for most people.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 3:31pm

        Re: Re: America's Problem

        Organize.

        The Tea Party did it and scored, they just didn't have any plans or draft laws in place.

        You don't need to elect "better" representatives, you will get none, a government is a gigantic creature that spreads far and wide along many fields, there is no person alive capable of being knowledgeable at all of them, so it doesn't matter who you elect really, what it does matter is if that person listen, the public needs socket puppets.

        The public needs to start public debate and creation of laws, the public needs a paralel system in which they debate and create laws and then chose to elect somebody to put them to a vote.

         

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:18pm

    The upside is.....

    Maybe we will see some cryptology that is not tainted by the NSA/CIA moles.

     

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    Namel3ss (profile), Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:32pm

    "our country viewed as the world's Birmingham, Alabama"

    That's an insult to Birmingham.

     

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    Richard (profile), Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:32pm

    Standard US Practice

    This is standard US practice I'm afraid. SHamir is far from being the only one.

    Appararently double Olympic Gold winner Mo Farah gets stopped and hassled by US immigration/customs every time he travels to the US. He even tried waving his Gold medals at the officials om one occasion - it had no effect on the jobsworths.

    It seems that being called "Mohammed" is enough to get you classified as a threat - even if you are a well known international sportsman.

     

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      JarHead (profile), Oct 17th, 2013 @ 4:41am

      Re: Standard US Practice

      In where I come from, it is known for a fact that if your name sounds arabic and/or islamic, you can kiss visa to US goodbye. The rejection rate for those people is 99.99%. Even if you fight for it, and lucky enough, you'll have to wait at least 43 days for your papers to be shipped, reviewed, and considered at US homeland.

      It doesn't matter who you are, unless you have some pull to make it a diplomatic disaster for the US.

       

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      Pseudonym, Oct 19th, 2013 @ 1:44am

      Re: Standard US Practice

      I was thinking that. All the trouble that Adi Shamir had, imagine what Taher Elgamal would have had to go through!

       

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    S. T. Stone, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:32pm

    >from the government-induced-xenophobia dept

    >title of the article refers to a person as ‘it’

    Uh…

     

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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:34pm

    So why we would want anyone here to help NSA?

    We The People should be happy whenever NSA is prevented from either good will or new techniques. But this seems to be portrayed not for humor or cheering the NSA getting bad PR, but as making entire US "the world's Birmingham, Alabama", whatever that means. (Seems to be a foreigner's perspective that's not to my knowledge a big point among we natives...)

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 2:48pm

    History repeats itself

    Stalin had the same attitudes towards experts, and look at how it did him (read: not very well at all).

     

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    JOHNNY CANADA, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 4:20pm

    If they can detain Yusuf Islam they can stop anyone.

    Homeland Security got their man.

    The guy who wrote Peace Train.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 5:21pm

    I've got it!

    The CPB/INS/whatevertheycallthemselvesthiselectioncycle just needs to issue a new T-1 "Terrorist" visa. Since terrorists never lie and would always pick the appropriate visa to match their purpose of their visit, we could easily weed out the true threats while streamlining the process for everyone else.

    Brilliant, I tell you!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 16th, 2013 @ 7:09pm

    and Israel is a US ally

    Remember, Israel has a Memorandum of Understanding with the NSA setting forth the conditions under which elements of Israeli intelligence get access to unfiltered NSA intercepts (which according to the memo, may include NSA intercepts of internal US government communications) -- but their crypto guys can't get a visa?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2013 @ 2:01am

    typical USA authority approach.

    'we dont want you to say anything, so we'll do whatever we can to be arse holes and stop you from attending and therefore being able to say anything. it is beside the point that what you're going to say will be beneficial to the USA as well as elsewhere. we can stop you, so we will, end of story!'

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 17th, 2013 @ 6:45am

    Shamir is clearly irritated by this lumbering bureaucracy and a visa process that has succumbed to intelligence agency/administration paranoia that clearly perceives foreigners, especially those in scientific fields, to be a "threat," rather than the non-harmful, non-dangerous human beings they are.


    What did he expect, having an Islamic-sounding name while attempting to enter a country whose Military Industrial Complex is dominated by crazy right-wingers who deem anyone who questions them a "Liberal Socialist," and therefore an enemy of the state? /s

    Seriously, though, they need to stop the stupidity. It's embarrassing the country. As a moderate conservative, I'm mortified by reports like this. It makes us look bad.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 18th, 2013 @ 7:45am

    Move next year's conference out of the US. I'm sure there are plenty of countries that would be more than happy to have it.

     

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