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  • Aug 21st, 2013 @ 10:05pm

    Exaclty right

    Exactly right. The whole argument has been, we will know if someone is accessing our info. Even if you go rogue, we will nail you. Thus, there is deterrence.

    The fact that this turns out not to be true is a problem , to say the least. The NSA needs to get straight on this point. They are putting in jeopardy the systems that they know only too well have the capacity to prevent a civilization destroying biological attack or the successful release of an engineered virus .

    They need to focus on what their conduct has been- with respect to punishing dissenters, hiding from Congress, deceiving the public, covering up, and especially malignantly and gratuitously going after people like Binney in such a way that Snowden happens in the first place.

    They act as if things are happening to them and they're pissed instead of acting like they know the world they live in, what might happen and the best way to react should it happen.

    Binney happened and the way you handled it lead directly to Snowden.

    Snowden happened and the way you're handling it is now jeopardizing everything.

    The attitude of the NSA, their own idea of their relationship to the nation appears to be autocratic and imperial. This appears to be because they consider their mission to be so critical to the nation that the basics of it it shouldn't be questioned or reviewed or even meaningful dissented from, even internally.

    It's not small irony that this is exactly what happened to the HAL 9000 computer in the movie 2001. The computer was unable to cope with the gravity of the knowledge it had and concomitant need for secrecy and that stopped it from conferring with outsiders and in the end seeing them only as threats to its "mission".

    There is more than a little of that going on here.

    Because the fact is, the type of threats the nation faces are totally sui generis and may require on the part of everyone some rethinking about aspects of governance, privacy, transparency and the consent of the governed. These are things that go to the foundations of how we are constituted as a nation and a people.

    I do blame the NSA now. For their apparent frat boy culture that, for instance, permitted passing around tapes of phone sex between our servicemen and women and their loved ones back home. For their ham-handed, low IQ and autocratic response to a true patriot like Binney. For their failure to understand that the nation needs to be brought current on the nature of the threats we face and what impact and sacrifices that may have on and require of civil society.

    For being caught entirely flatfooted by Snowden (you really never considered what to do if this happens? Really? Really????) and trying to lie their way out of it instead of using it as a teaching moment about why, what and when they do what they do.

    The enemy gets a vote. You , NSA and the administrations, should know this better than anyone. The model you have of keeping the American public and Congress in the dark as much as possible, not because doing so keeps necessary secrets but because you're afraid of the culture shock Americans would experience if they knew, generally speaking, what you know, feared what you feared, worried about what you worry about, has got to go.

    We need to all get on the same page so we can move forward as a nation, as a people unified in part by a shared understanding of the world and the real threats in it, not one that is being torn apart by paranoid ideas that their government is moving towards some totalitarian state.

  • Aug 20th, 2013 @ 10:15am

    Yoo's a threat to national security

    John Yoo is a direct threat to the national security of the Inited States of America and should be dealt with as such. For one, he minted terrorists by the thousands with his torture memo and the follow on practice. That's just a historical fact. Anyone who creates terrorists is worse than any one single terrorist, right? Who cares WHAT his intentions were? It's the results of his actions that count and have hurt the US>

    As far as his new utterances, his proposal to throw out the Fourth Amendment and his complaint - which is simply a straight up lie - that Obama doesn't interrogate prisoners (where does he get that from unless the only kind of interrogation worth being called such is torture- an idea that experts in the field of interrogation explicitly deny...) are poisonous enough to cause this nation to go up in civil war, at which point the terrorists really have more than "sorta" achieved their aim.

    No the only way we're going to get through this is all together, through the time honored- if boring to a sociopath like Yoo- process of deliberation and debate arriving at some agreed upon conclusions about how to proceed.

    Yoo is a textbook psychopath. Look it up. Completely textbook. Printing utterances by him, even as an object intended to inspire derision- is counter productive. Obama decided not to prosecute anyone in the Bush administration for torture. Future Presidents and Congresses may not be so lenient depending on how things evolve. The fact is, Yoo is a Nazi-level war criminal guilty of Crimes Against Humanity.

  • Aug 20th, 2013 @ 8:21am

    Uk has always had preemptive powers over press

    THe UK has always maintained preemptive powers over the press as a matter of law. I remember something about Princess Diana was going to be printed and the govt. was able to prevent its publication in the UK while at the same time in the US, some TV something involving Elizabeth Taylor was going to air and she was unable to stop it or sue until after it had aired. The two cases were contrasted in the media and used to illustrate the difference between the UK's system and our own.

    What the UK can do to publishers really rubs us the wrong way and the first time you hear about it, it's shocking. just the way it is there. Fully agreed that the reaction was counter productive wrt to whatever the UK was trying to achieve.

    The degree of hamfistedness that's been displayed by the authorities surprises me. You expect that they expect that one day they'll have to deal with exactly this leak- revealing the degree to which they capture and process internet traffic. It now seems as if they thought such a leak could just never happen and have been caught completely flatfooted and dumbfounded.

  • Aug 16th, 2013 @ 4:38am

    First thing that struck me

    Try pleading this before even the smallest violation of law before a court sometimes:

    "We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” a senior NSA official said in an interview, speaking with White House permission on the condition of anonymity."

    People are reasonable and lenient when evaluating their own actions and motivations. They know what they intended and this ought to count, they think - a lot. Just an interesting, if expected, contrast to the regime everyone else lives under. Since their PR function generated this and it passed the gatekeepers, we can conclude they have a bit of a tin ear.

    I personally think the NSA culture is about what you might expect to arise from people doing that job.

    They take their job seriously and don't see it as a kind of game or something that is going to permit itself to be gamed by an overly strict interpretation of law. The consent of the governed depend on the durability and continuance of the underlying civil society. Without national security, they know, there will be no democracy, no governance through consent. From their perspective , those are the threats. From TechDirt habitue's POV, Big Brother and corruption from within are the real dangers to civil society. Both parties are right.

    Probably some ironical formulation like "we do our job so well, civilians only have us as a target of anxiety" flashes across the collective mind of NSA.

    Unavoidably, they have a bunch of every kind of person employed present, from a bunch of Snowdens to a bunch of Clappers- people who think it's necessary and expected to lie to the American public for national security reasons they aren't permitted to explain. Catching shit for such lying is seen, internally, as a form of falling on your sword.

    They have people who have deeply felt political beliefs, that are factually and evidentially challenged and ultimately injurious but which potentially intersect with their jobs in some way and which might lead them to break the law while doing their jobs. Zealots I think they're called.

    No matter how we assembled this functionality for society, abuse of some magnitude will occur.

    The fact that there IS an internal review process in the form of this audit is significant and either means they realize they're uniquely dangerous or they can't get away from the imposition of the auditors, probably for both technical and cultural reasons.

    Even the civilian police don't engage in pre-crime arrests- violations of law will happen first, adjustments in procedures and policies only follow after the fact. The question is, is there real deterrent imposed and how do we know ?

    No one wants another Hoover or some form of distributed Hoover in place, a guy who made national policy through blackmail. The question is, how to prevent that and maintain national security. At least laws have to be respected internally. At least.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 7:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Re bin Laden, establishing Sharia in SA and the rest of traditionally Islamic nations was a first goal (however dream-like it may have been). He had already stated that because democracies explicitly elect leaders, every civilian American was responsible for the crime of stopping Sharia from being established and could be killed despite the Koran explicitly forbid3ding killing non-combatants.

    Beyond that, he argued that since he was living by (his interpretation of) the Koranic dictates, then the fact that he did not have the religious authority to issue fatwas was irrelevant since, by his own reasoning, he wa1s upholding the Koran and other reconciliatory voices in Islam were not. He was nothing if not self-affirming.

    People not only think up this shit but buy into it.

    Nothing we could do or refrain from doing was going to stop his expansionistic lust for power over the lives of others. All this shit about being mad because we were in SA or whatever is just an attempt to divide the enemy and get what he wanted- us out of the way so he could get the show on the road in earnest. Afghanistan society was just a starting point. al Zarahiri wanted Egypt to be next. bin La1den wanted Sa1udi Ara1bia which wa1s not cons2ervative enough for his vers2ion of Islam.

    It's not he US sticking its nose into other people's affairs that is the problem this time. I agree that in the past we have been wrong and short sighted, but that is NOT what bin Laden was about. He understood that he had to provide some excuse to western audiences that would ma1ke them withdraw from the ME, but what he sa1id3 for western consumption and what he said in honesty to his followers was radically different.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 7:17pm

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Given a clear and non-windy night, anthrax spores distributed over 300 km would kill millions, perhaps up to 3 million. If it was windy then the concentration would be lower and the casualties fewer, 50k to 1 million say. These are very bad numbers on par or even exceeding even a hydrogen bomb.

    This is just what can be done with relatively crude, non-designer biological weapons, Other thinkable scenarios for the coming decades are even worse, much worse. Designer devices utilizing nanotechnology have no theoretical upper limit to their destructiveness.

    The problem is we're dealing with an enemy that is fighting on an unseen spiritual plane what they take to be ultimate evil. Worse, they can and do believe the in the crudest compensatory schemes for jihadiis. Dying is not just not a problem and wiping everyone out is actually a thinkable option because , basically, they believe in magic and the magical outcomes magic can render for the pious.

    It's no joke. That world view and civilization are fundamentally incompatible. People walking around with that world view cannot be mass produced and any one of them is a major threat to all of us.

    This problem is of a magnitude we've not only not faced, but don't even have a framework to contain or deal with. There is no plan for scouring the minutia of individual's belief system and seeing if they're intersecting now with, or are capable of in the future, technical know how.

    It's a real problem, sui generis. What we're living through is a time in history when we (we == intelligence agencies of the West) are thinking through this problem and3 trying to deal with it with the tools we have. That is what all this shit, from 9-11 to Iraq to Snowd3en and3 the NSA is all about.

    To tell you the truth, it's probably going to lead to a radical restructuring of society in ways we can't think of and if we could, we wouldn't like much, because it's so intractable on the face of it. Nothing we have in law of technology can really solve it. It's a BFD and drives all these is2sues we're talking about.

    That's a big picture overview. Right now, I think we need to do what I wa1s s2ugges2ting- hammer out beforehand what our response will be to the next attack.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 4:09pm

    Re: Re:

    Thanks for addressing the issues directly. I agree there needs to be proportionality in response. In fact, that is what I am arguing for and afraid we won't display in the future.

    As far as preventative measures go, they exist on many levels, everything from spying and interdiction (NSA / CIA ) to propaganda and PR to supporting democratic movements that will result in durable democratic institutions, as opposed to the one person, one vote, one time regimes that sometimes get in through democratic elections.

    I am a drain the swampper as it were. Draining the swamp is costly or c4an be but we created a lot of that swamp so I think we (American tax-payers) should just STFU and foot the bill.

    I also believe that draining the swamp is ultimately much less costly than deciding not to owing to the very rapid advancement in technology and the wide spread dissemination of specific technical knowledge. Not only that, but also the very large number of say ad3vanced math PhDs and biochemistry PhDs educated in the West who return to home countries whose populations hate the U.S..

    I think of us as in race against time. Thanks to advances in home and small scale fabrication, nanotechnology, the globalization of trade etc there will come a time when the number of people needed to build something very very bad3 will effectively fall to some very small number. Before that time comes, we have to have understood, identified and neutralized the sources of guys like bin Laden. The goal is to buy as much time as possible. It means an active posture in world affairs, stopping specific bad guys and also "invading" them democratic values. That's what bin Laden feared the most- the ascension of the West not geographically by in the battle for minds, for belief systems.

    His chief gripe was we (advancing Western notions of freedom, sexual equality, religious freedom) would not leave him alone to impose Sharia law. People were not "free" to be spiritual in a way that only living under Taliban style Sharia can provide a society. Literally, that was his problem with the US and all Western nations and globalization.

    This is so far removed from any way we think it's hard to grasp. There's nothing to say here, it IS a battle for realities, for visions of what "freedom" is. I'll bet you share with me Western notions of freedom. Those notions are what we're fighting for. The fight involves us in seeming paradoxes of privacy, freedom and war.

    I am ad3ding this because I think it's easy to focus in on NSA abuses and such like while forgetting the larger context all this exists2 in.


  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:45pm

    Re: Re:

    It's a misconception that individual human decision making is subject to Bell curve analysis because humans display statistical regularities in some domains.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    I do understand the point. The "exceedingly rare" part of the argument is what I took issue with. The rarity is neither a guarantee of future rarity nor is it a limit to what one single, and therefore rare, occurrence could unleash.

    I am not arguing for anything more than a serious, informed contemplation of just that- what could happen.

    My goal in arguing that we need to bring this into our collective cultural consciousness is so that we are prepared, as a people and in advance, for a far more lethal / devastating attack and will not overreact, i.e. shred the Constitution.

    When people are taught to deal with overwhelming, horrifying situations, they rehearse so that when it happens, their reactions are mechanical. I am arguing for something like this on the socio-political realm.

    I want us to 1 know what could happen 2) what the down and dirty consequences could be 3) decide beforehand what we'll do both domestically and internationally and 4) all be in agreement.

    That process is not taking place, just as it wasn't in place before 911 , which is why we had John Yoo and Cheney making it up as they went along with nation dividing consequences all the way up to Snowden. This not wanting to talk or think about it is how we got here, where we don't want to be.

    The rarity of the event means nothing because it's not prospective of the future in any way and not a restraint on the degree of damage which could result either.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    War crime- possibly, yes..a known to be false pretext was used. I am just saying that you may be correct under the current laws. I am not agreeing that it was a bad thing per se. Maybe it was a good thing. It sounds as if I am saying war crimes are good things (I am not as a rule.. just for the record). In this case it may have been the best thing to do and a war crime, both. The world is like that , or can get like that. There is no upper limit to the complexity and uncertainty of the geopolitical situation you can get handed.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    Costs on both sides need to be taken into account, I agree. A full ac4counting of the human cost of the Iraq War is beyond the scope of this thread, obviously. I have no problem with this most recent post of yours.

    What ARE the possible consequences of terrorists using advanced technology against us ? What are those technologies and what could you do with them./ because THAT is the thing driving everything (I assume) you detest from both the government and the terrorists.

    You should know that thing. We should be hearing about what might be done, today, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.

    The point of going into Iraq was to establish a functioning democratic / modern state in the M.E., however it has or will turn out, that was the strategic aim. The strategy is, guys like bin Laden and al-Zawahiri are borne of swamps like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Repressive shitholes (yes that we supported). So let's drain that swamp.

    bin Laden hated the Iraq invasion for just that reason. Same reason he hated Iraq Wa1r I. He was trying to position himself as the protector of SA so he could later over throw it from the inside and, in his mind, use SA oil and wealth to establish a caliphate . It's not even a hypothesis- it's was his stated intention.

    When the US got the job of protecting SA bin laden freaked out, watching his fine plan go up in smoke. When the Iraq War happened, the prospect of an other-than-100%-repressive regime in ME was totally threatening to him. It's the Westernization of the ME via democracy and representative govt. A worst case scenario for him. He explicitly hated democracy and saw it as the biggest threat to his Taliban vision of the ME.

    So in so far as we deprived him of that SA scenario and started the idea of representative govt in the ME, and we did, then it may have been worth it.

    Just saying, thinking about terrorism isn't a game of counting bodies.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:17am

    (untitled comment)

    Your importing into your reasoning the idea of rarity. What is that rarity caused by? Earthquakes are rare. Pandemics are rare. These are rare because they're natural phenomena. That fact is highly relevant to reasoning about their risks- they nature will insure that they will continue to be rare.

    Terrorism is not a thing like those. You can't count on nature keeping it either rare nor of certain defined scope.

    So doing a rearward looking body count and developing stats around that tells you nothing- no information- about the future. It's just falsehood.

    The author of this article is engaging in fallacious reasoning.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 11:01am


    lucidrenegade read my post in reply?

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:24am


    Hephaestus, see my posts for a rebuttal to this.

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 10:22am

    Re: Re: Your analysis is wrong-headed

    No fair.

    First, you didn't addres2s the substantive criticism of the major point of "odds based analysis" I leveled . It's not a detail- it goes to the heart of what it is to reason about terrorism.

    Secondly, I am not counseling "live in fear". I am saying that we should live in reality- the reality that we probably will get hit- without fear (terror, paralyzing fear) but WITH acute and foreknowledge of the possible scope and specific nature of what might occur.

    In this way we can begin to secure the Constitution against those who in a fit of panic would usurp it, or usurp it further if that sounds better to you.

    Finally, if by "live in fear" you mean "we will get hit, we just haven't yet", if that is what "live in fear" is your shorthand for, then their position is unfortunately harder to assail. Yes, I get it could be used cynically to repel all attempts at disproof, OK, but how would you distinguish that from their just being factually correct? You have to allow that a future attack of unknown (and as of now, unconsidered by the general public) scope and is not only possible but likely given the motivations and public utterances of the terrorists.

    The way to get by this that is just what I was arguing for- ask: what it possible (within reason), what would the damage be, what is the price we would be compelled to pay and given that information, what can we agree is prudent now? What is an acceptable response afterwards?

  • Aug 9th, 2013 @ 9:06am

    Your analysis is wrong-headed

    It's not the right analysis to do- what are the odds / slipping in the bathtub type analysis.

    The question isn't what have they done historically- that's a false statistic in the Black Swan sense. The question to ask is- given what is technically feasible, what COULD they do in the near future?

    Much more worrisome.

    There's a lot of false tropes running around amongst my (liberal) side of the world, amongst them is this one. The od3ds of dying in a terrorist attack are.. fill in the blank.

    The "odds" are only interesting when the phenomena under study is produced by the intersection of variables which themselves are not intentional, that is, not subject to direct human determination or intentionality, not to say involvement. They are random, independent variables.

    You can see how this thinking breaks down in the analogy of the chicken and the farmer. The chicken reasons that the farmer is a great guy who feeds him reliably. Chicken has statistics to back this up.

    Then one day, c4hicken gets a big surprise.

    The problem with the chicken's thinking was the farmer's actions were not the effect of random variables interacting with each other to produce an outcome- the farmer feeding the chicken.

    The reality was, the farmer was just consciously waiting for the chicken to reach the age of slaughter.

    Slipping in the bathtub or dying by car accident or even the rate of suicide in an age bracket is not collectively determined by human intent, although of course a single suicide is.

    They're events which while effected3 by random variables, like rain and car crashes , do not effect each other - no one is deciding and then directly determining how many car crashes there are going to be.

    Random variables interact rand3omly and prod3uce the effects. These random variables have the property of being normally distributed- the frequency of each of their values taken together form a Bell curve.

    The interaction of independent, normally distributed variables is where you can productively ask "what are the odds?"

    For terrorism you have to ask- what can they get a hold of technically-wise and how much damage can it inflict on how many people.

    THAT "calculation" is highly distressing.

    Remember this also. A tactical point. Those who counsel "don't worry" lose 100% of their credibility and ability to determine future directions when the worse than you ever thought shit hits the fan.

    So you have a more than one dog in this fight.

    Better to map out what terrorists could do, what would be the effect if they did it and then facilitate a public discussion about upsides / downsides to various prophylactic measures like the NSA program relative to what could realistically happen.

    THAT would be a unique and very positive contribution to this discussion.

    Other than that, when they get through, and they will, the follow on events, like those after 9-11 of which the NSA program is one, will be haphazard, instrumental, unethical and divisive.

    But terrorism is exactly the opposite.

  • Jun 25th, 2013 @ 7:54am

    This makes no sense

    This article only makes sense if the NSA is using Google to reach out and FIND terrorist activity. But it doesn't. It plugs into the undersea cables etc and scopes up absolutely everything that goes across the line, indexed or not. Terrorists would have to have a dedicated separate cabling system to communicate and not be intercepted.

  • Jun 23rd, 2013 @ 8:25pm

    I would guess that stat is about right

    It's way way too easy to click on a link in say Tumblr and come across an image that makes you back out as quickly as possible, as if you'd stepped on a hot coal. I am not sure if they're actually classifiable as kiddie porn but that seems to be the effect they're going for and anyway I don't stay and ponder the issue either...they're clearly pictures of people of questionable age or made to look as such. Who needs these landmines laying about ? Good riddance.

    As far as reporting them goes, that would require me to look at them for longer than it takes to find my browser's back button. The general fear I think is that a crusading AG (I am in the US) would see you as an easy target since in theory at least that image could be cached somewhere on your computer, thus you *have* it and thanks for reporting yourself , sucker. Who wants to invite that wolf top your door? Who needs the feds kicking down your door at 3 a.m. ransacking your house, filing charges even if it all gets sorted out later? Try *rehabilitating* yourself after something like that.

    The lack of reporting represents one very dysfunctional thing, I am quite sure. It's silent testimony to people's lack of faith in their attorneys general's sincerity, trustworthiness, honest intentions and good judgement. Maybe some of them have common sense, but what if you have one who doesn't? How do you know? In the US more than a few appear to be careerist opportunists and even likely sociopaths who have wormed their way into positions of power and will take any innocent, low hanging fruit they can get, charge the shit out of it, force a plea bargain on the properly terrorized citizen then use the whole affair in their next election commercial in order to show that they're "tough on crime".

    I say go Google go. I wish Tumblr and some of the other mainstream image sharing sites would police themselves a lot better. Are you really saying it costs too much or you're worried about *free speech*? Give me a break. These sites who are raking in cash from their free user generated content, if they had a freaking conscience, would jump over each other to get a the chance to target this crap for the bit bin and just eat the cost, figuring that along with making money, you're on earth to do some good where you can.

    Guess they don't see things that way.