Posts Tagged ‘Edward Snowden’

What Obama could do to curb Trump’s power

December 5, 2016

President Obama said during the campaign that he’s worried about somebody like Donald Trump with access to the nuclear codes and all the other powers of the Presidency.  A writer named Pratap Chatterjee listed nine things Obama could do to reduce Trump’s power to do harm.

  1.   Name innocent drone victims.
  2.   Make public any reviews of military errors.
  3.   Make public the administration’s criteria for its “targeted killings.”
  4.   Disclose mass surveillance programs.
  5.   Make public all surveillance agreements with private companies.
  6.   Make public all secret laws created in recent years.
  7.   Punish anyone who has abused the drone or surveillance programs.
  8.   Punish those responsible for FBI domain management abuses.
  9.   Pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and the other whistleblowers.

That wouldn’t eliminate a President Trump’s power to start wars without authorization from Congress, but it would be a start on reducing Presidential powers to their Constitutional limits.

LINKS

Obama’s Last Chance by Pratap Chatterjee for TomDispatch.

FBI and NSA Poised to Gain New Surveillance Powers Under Trump by Chris Strohm for Bloomberg News.

 

The passing scene – October 9, 2015

October 9, 2015

Welcome to a New Planet: Climate Change, “Tipping Points” and the Fate of the Earth by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America’s Recent Manufacturing Resurgence by Alana Semuels for The Atlantic.

Harvard’s prestigious debate team loses to New York prison inmates by Laura Gambino for The Guardian.

10 Stories About Donald Trump You Won’t Believe Are True by Luke McKinney for Cracked.com.  Donald Trump is notable not as a business success, but as a promoter with the ability to distract attention from failure.

Can Community Land Trusts Solve Baltimore’s Homelessness Problem? by Michelle Chen for The Nation.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The Second Amendment’s Fake History by Robert Parry for Consortium News.  (Hat tip to my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack.)

The Afghan hospital massacre: Snowden makes a brilliant suggestion by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.  Why does the United States not release the gunner’s video and audio?

Ask Well: Canned vs. Fresh Fish by Karen Weintraub for the New York Times.  Canned fish is probably better.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Shell Game: There Is No Such Thing as California ‘Native’ Oysters, a book excerpt by Summer Brennan in Scientific American.   The true story behind Jack London and the oyster wars.  (Hat tip to Jack)

Russia, the surveillance state

September 9, 2015

With unlimited warrent-less surveillance and unchecked governmental power, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an example of what I fear the United States will become.

2014-03-07-PUTINI was reminded of this by a couple of recent articles I came across this week—two reviews of a book entitled The Red Web (which I haven’t read myself) and an interview with Edward Snowden on the occasion of him receiving a human rights award.

I’m not sure that “red” is the right adjective.  Putin is the heir of the Soviet state but not of the ideology of Communism.  I wouldn’t want to live under his government, but I see my own government becoming more Putin-like.

I don’t think the United States government has helped matters by confronting Russian power close to Russia’s borders.  This could culminate in another global Cold War, but as a pure struggle for power, minus  ideological conflict.   Both nations would suffer.  The best that could be hoped would be the good fortune to once again avoid nuclear catastrophe.

LINKS

The Red Web by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: review – Russia’s attack on Internet freedoms by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

How Putin Controls the Internet and Popular Opinion in Russia by Masha Gessen for The Intercept.

Edward Snowden attacks Russia rights curbs, would prefer to go home by Agence France-Presse via LiveMint.

Statues in Berlin honor famous whistle-blowers

August 23, 2015

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Life-size heroic bronze statues of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning were unveiled in May in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz Square.

“They have lost their freedom for the truth, said Italian sculptor Davide Domino, creator of the artwork.  “They mind us how important it is to know the truth.’

Domino depicted the three whistle-blowers standing on chairs and he added an empty fourth chair for anybody who wants to take a stand and speak (as shown above).

We Americans like to see the world as a battle between the good guys and the bad guys.  It is hard to accept that so much of the world sees us as the bad guys.

LINK

New Statue in Germany Illustrates Just How Much the Rest of the World Opposes the U.S. Police State by Jay Syrmopoulos for The Free Thought Project.  Hat tip to Avedon’s Sideshow.

Edward Snowden on the right to privacy

May 28, 2015

snowden-privacy-speechHat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

It’s not just Wall Street

May 21, 2015

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It’s not just the USA that allows bankers and financiers to break the law and get away with it.   Or regards the largest financial institutions as “too big to fail”.

This goes back to Prime Minister Tony Blair, who thought he could make London the world’s financial hub by freeing banks from all regulation.

As in the USA, the government’s priority is to protect the financial institutions rather than to protect the public.

Banking regulation is even weaker in Europe than in the United States, and one of the goals of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the next international agreement in the pipeline after the Trans Pacific Partnership, is to set limits on financial regulation.

That would make banking and finance un-reformable, either in the USA, the UK or other TTIP signatories.

Update 5/22/2015.  The five banks that pleaded guilty to rigging interest rates and the exchange rate for foreign currencies are Britain’s Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland, the USA’s Citicorp and JP Morgan Chase and Switzerland’s UBS.

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Citizenfour

November 18, 2014

Full Democracy Now broadcast and transcript

Last night I saw Citizenfour, the documentary movie about Edward Snowden.  Laura Poitras, the maker of the documentary, never appears on camera, but, next to Snowden himself, she deserves the most credit for bringing his information to light.  She  understood that she had to adopt the same mentality and procedures as somebody in an earlier era operating behind the Iron Curtain.

Poitras lives in Berlin, Germany.  The journalist Glenn Greenwald, who wrote most of the articles about the Snowden leaks, lives in Rio de Janeiro.  Snowden had to flee to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.  It is striking that these truth-tellers live outside the United States so as to be outside the reach of the U.S. government, while people who have committed actual crimes have nothing to fear.

§§§

The Question of Edward Snowden by David Bromwich for the New York Review of Books.  [added 11/21/14]

Law and justice: November 2, 2014

November 2, 2014

 Why Innocent People Plead Guilty by Jed S. Rakoff for The New York Review of Books.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury … .”   Yet few Americans charged with crimes ever go before a jury, and the U.S. criminal justice system would likely break down if they did.

The prosecutor threatens the defendant with the severest charge with the worst punishment if they insist on trial, and promise a less serious charge and lighter sentence if they plead guilty.

Innocent people sometimes do plead guilty.  About 10 percent of those exonerated of charges of rape and murder under the Innocence Project had accepted plea bargains and pleaded guilty.

Former CIA Analyst Ray McGovern Arrested While Trying to Attend David Petraeus Event in New York by Kevin Gosztola for Firedoglake.   (Hat tip to Mike Connelly)

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst and current CIA critic, was arrested and roughed up Thursday when he tried to attend a talk by David Petareus, fomer CIA director, with Lt. Col. John Nagi, a tank commander during the 1991 Gulf War, and Max Boot, a neoconservativ writer.  McGovern had bought a ticket to the event for $45.

Interestingly, the police recognized the 74-year-old McGovern and his peace activist friends by sight.  The friends also were barred despite having bought tickets.  No doubt this is the result of McGovern being on the State Department’s BOLO (be on the lookout) list.

The IRS Can Seize Your Cash Through Forfeiture by Erin Fuchs for Business Insider.  (Hat tip to tiffany267)

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “no person shall … be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”

But the Internal Revenue Service can seize your bank account without any warning if IRS officers think you have too many bank accounts under $10,000 and they suspect you are trying to evade a bank regulation regarding reporting of all bank accounts of $10,000 or more.

Gideon’s Army at Guantanamo by Phil Hirschkorn for Just Security.

Lawyers fight secrecy and eavesdropping to give accused terrorists at Guantanamo Bay a fair defense.  They say they’re concerned not just about the judgment of the military tribunal, but about the judgment of history.

Q&A: Edward Snowden in The Nation.

Q&A: Laura Poitras in The Nation.

MonsterMind: cyberwarfare on automatic pilot

August 15, 2014

Edward SnowdenWiredcover2James Bamford, a journalist who’s been writing about the National Security Agency for decades, traveled to Russia to interview Edward Snowden for Wired magazine.

He learned, among other things, of the existence of a disturbing new NSA program, MonsterMind, for automating cyberwarfare.

The massive surveillance effort was bad enough, but Snowden was even more disturbed to discover a new, Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind.

The program, disclosed here for the first time, would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack.

Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country—a “kill” in cyber terminology.

Programs like this had existed for decades, but MonsterMind software would add a unique new capability:

Instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement.

That’s a problem, Snowden says, because the initial attacks are often routed through computers in innocent third countries.

“These attacks can be spoofed,” he says. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”

In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMindas the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US.

“The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”

A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment on MonsterMind, the malware in Syria, or on the specifics of other aspects of this article.

via WIRED.

This reminds me of earlier reports that the Pentagon is researching ways to automate flying killer drones, so that the decision on whether to attack will be made by an artificial intelligence algorithm, not a human operator.

The great danger of this is not that machines will become intelligent and take over.  The danger is that human beings will come to treat machines as if they were intelligent, and abdicate responsibility for making decisions.

The passing scene: Links & comments 8/7/14

August 7, 2014

New Snowden? Leaks indicate more than one hole in American national security community by Ben Mathis-Lilly for Slate.

The Intercept is reporting new information about the National Security Agency that apparently comes from someone still on the inside.   The huge U.S. national security apparatus has too many secrets and too many people with access to those secrets for those secrets to be truly secure.

My guess is that for every Edward Snowden who patriotically tells the American public what their government is doing behind their backs, there are one or more people who really are spies and are selling information to Russia, China or other foreign governments.

The economics of a McDonalds franchise by Cathy O’Neil as Mathbabe.

The terms and conditions under which McDonalds grants restaurant franchises make it impossible for the restaurant owner to pay a living wage and still make a profit.  That’s why it was both just and important that the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow restaurant employees against McDonalds as a joint employer.

While I am disappointed in President Obama’s record overall, I have to say that such a decision would not have been made under a McCain or Romney administration.  Whether the decision will be upheld in the courts is another question.

Flight MH17 – What You’re Not Being Told by SCG News.

There are many unanswered questions about the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian rebel-held territory, and circumstantial evidence that it was a false-flag attack by conspirators.  All I am willing to say is that we the public don’t know the facts, and that the tragedy should not be used as an excuse to start a new cold war with Russia.

Data Mining Your Children by Stephanie Simon for Politico.

Book review: To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Mozorov. (Daniel Brandt)

Facebook’s Gateway Drug by Evgeny Mozorov for the New York Times Book Review (Daniel Brandt)

Technology is a good servant but a fearful master.

 

NSA: a bureaucracy in search of a function

April 22, 2014

Edward Luttwak, a historian and long-time consultant to the Pentagon on military strategy, wrote an article in the Times Literacy Supplement of London recently arguing that the National Security Agency’s all-encompassing surveillance is simply the result of a bureaucracy looking for a way to justify its existence.

Compared to the days of the Cold War, he wrote, there is little scope for the NSA is trying to keep track of scattered Islamic militants who don’t even use phones for communication.  The NSA’s response was, in its own way, a stroke of genius.  Don’t just track people who are threats to the United States.  Track everybody who is a potential threat, which means tracking everybody.

Luttwak’s article is behind a pay wall, but Peter J. Leithart wrote a good summary in First Things magazine.

In a TLS review of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Edward Luttwak traces things back to dynamics within the post-9/11 intelligence bureaucracy. In Luttwak’s telling, it’s a case study of bureaucratic expansion.

He argues that “Only a few hundred were really justified of the many thousands employed to service collection antennae on land, at sea and in the air operated by the signals’ branches of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and of the many thousands of translators, cryptologists, decoders, super-computer operators, and analysts of all sorts as well as more thousands of managers. As the Cold War receded, there was an increasing danger that the fiscally prudent on Capitol Hill might uncover the situation, and demand mass firings.”

Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak

After all, “the sum total of emitters in Afghanistan was tiny, while communications identified as suspect worldwide were scarcely more numerous. . . . things looked up for the signals intelligence business with the 2003 Iraq war, but again the volume of business was not substantial, compared to the huge size of the installed capacity – so long, that is, as it was suspects that were to be intercepted.

If there wasn’t enough work, the solution was not to cut personnel, but to make more work: “the answer to the problem of the shortage of suspects was simply to intercept ‘possible’ suspects as well.”

On the other hand, he charges, the CIA doesn’t do what is necessary actually to have a major impact on terrorism – they aren’t engaged in operations: “terrorist groups simply cannot be defeated without action on the ground, to infiltrate them with volunteers, to detect them in the dodgy places where they can still emerge, to lure them into false-flag traps, and such like – all the activities that the CIA performs splendidly in films, but which in real life interfere with intra-office, other-office, interagency and intra-embassy meetings, so that in reality they are not performed at all. . . . Operators are outnumbered even by fairly senior managers, they are outnumbered by the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office, they are outnumbered by the human relations and affirmative action.”

When Congress increased the CIA budget, little went to improving operations: “The CIA knew exactly what to do with the money: it promptly added new layers of management on top of the old ones, just in time for the arrival of a whole new intelligence Directorate for all intelligence organizations placed over it, increasing the administrator/operator ratio to levels scarcely credible.”

The intrusions that Snowden revealed arose, Luttwak claims, in a context of incompetence and cowardice: “the mass intercept of everyone’s telecommunications became just another way of evading the penetration and disruption tasks that need to be done – the tasks that the CIA will not do because of sundry inconveniences and possible dangers.”

via Snowden and Bureaucracy | Peter J. Leithart | First Things.

In  Luttwak’s opinion, Edward Snowden is a true patriot for revealing the extent of the NSA’s improper opinions.  He said Snowden should be invited to return to the United States and granted amnesty for his lawbreaking.   He said the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency should be scaled back to what is needed to collect information, and a new agency, separate from the CIA, should be created to conduct operations against terrorists as Israel’s Shin Bet does.  The new agency should consist of people who speak foreign languages, understand foreign cultures and are willing to get out of the office and take risks.   This all sounds reasonable to me.

Click on The interception scandal for something else by Luttwak on Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance.  He thinks the disclosures will result in a drastic change in U.S. policy.  I’d like to think he’s right.

Who are the NSA’s real targets?

February 4, 2014

privacy+violation

Is the National Security Agency simply over-zealous in trying to protect Americans from foreign terrorists, or do NSA officials regard Americans themselves as a potential threat to the powers-that-be?

I think the answer is indicated by the fact that the NSA has weakened cryptography and installed back-door systems that weaken the ability of Americans to protect themselves and their businesses from foreign spies, cyber-criminals and malicious hackers.  It shows that NSA officials are more interested in spying on Americans than protecting them.

Any government needs some sort of secret, intelligence-gathering operation.  And, I agree, you can’t have such an operation of any low-level employee is allowed to indiscriminately publish confidential information for all the world to know.  A certain amount of confidentiality is necessary to the administration of any structured organization.This was as true of the newspapers where I worked as anything else.

But when the organization is guilty of wrong-doing, there is a duty to report to higher authority.  And who is the higher authority when the government itself is violating its laws and Constitution?  In a democracy, the higher authority is the citizens.  In a dictatorship, the higher authority is the world.

I think in the case of the U.S. surveillance scandals, we are well past the point where governmental authority can be trusted to act in good faith and correct itself.

This is shown by the massiveness of the surveillance, the huge number of people inside and outside the government (it may be as many as a million) with secret clearances, the willingness of government officials to lie about the scope of what is being done, and the willingness of high-level administration officials to leak confidential information themselves when it makes them look good.

LINKS

The Three Leakers and What to Do About Them by David Cole for the New York Review of Books.   The three leakers are Snowden, Assange and Manning.

A Vindicated Snowden Says He’d Like to Come Home by John Cassidy for The New Yorker.

How the NSA Threatens National Security by Bruce Schneider for The Atlantic.

NSA defenders’ shameless “national security” bait and switch by David Sirota for Salon.

It’s About Blackmail, Not National Security by Alfred McCoy for TomDispatch.

Spy Agencies Probe Angry Birds and Other Apps for Personal Data by ProPublica, the New York Times and the Guardian.

Forget Metadata … the NSA Is Spying on Everything by Washington’s Blog.

It’s Vitally Important That Your Government Continue to Spy on You by Chris Bray for The Baffler.

Hat tip for the cartoon to jobsanger.

Brazil, Germany should offer Snowden asylum

December 20, 2013

Earlier this week the United Nations General Assembly passed a strong general resolution, introduced by the governments of Brazil and Germany, affirming “the right to privacy in the digital age”.

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

It didn’t mention the U.S. National Security Agency, but it was obviously inspired by what Edward Snowden revealed about the extent of the NSA’s worldwide surveillance.   I think the governments of Brazil and Germany should show their appreciation by offering Snowden asylum.

Snowden is in a precarious position in Russia.  He was granted permission to stay in that country for a year, of which about nine months remain.  President Vladimir Putin said in an interview that he wouldn’t tolerate a Russian who revealed information about the secret Russian security agencies, and that the only reason he permits Snowden to remain in Russia is that there is no extradition treaty with the United States.   If the United States signed such a treaty, and handed over certain Russian fugitives that Putin wants, he would hand over Snowden without hesitation.

Why are Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Germany’s Angela Merkel and other national leaders unwilling to give Snowden refuge?  One obvious reason is that they fear to displease the U.S. government.   Another might be that they, too, don’t want to set a precedent that would encourage Snowdens in their own countries.

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Should good deeds be allowed to go unpunished?

August 22, 2013

There are many people who think that Edward Snowden did a public service in revealing lying and abuse of power by the National Security Agency, but still think he should be punished for revealing secret information.

snowden.spy.paradoxKevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, argued the other day that no government can afford to tolerate the workings of its secret espionage organizations being made public.  On the other hand, he wrote, Snowden has revealed a lot of things that are important for the public to know and this information never would have been made public otherwise.

I believe that 30-year-old contractors shouldn’t be the ones who decide which secrets to keep and which ones to reveal. I also believe that, overall, Snowden has been fairly careful about what he’s disclosed and has prompted a valuable public conversation.

So how do you prevent an epidemic of Snowdens while still allowing the salubrious sunlight of the occasional Snowden?  The answer to the former is that intelligence workers need to be afraid of prosecution if they reveal classified documents. I t can’t be a casual act, but a deeply considered one that’s worth going to prison for.  The answer to the latter is that prosecution needs to be judicious.

There’s no question in my mind that Snowden should be prosecuted for what he did.  That’s the price of his actions.  But he shouldn’t be facing a lifetime in a Supermax cell.  The charge against him shouldn’t be espionage, it should be misappropriation of government property or something similar.  Something that’s likely to net him a year or three in a medium-security penitentiary.

via Mother Jones.

This reasoning would make more sense to me if, in fact, the U.S. government did systematically prosecute people who leak classified information.   But in fact classified information is leaked all the time—the latest example being how the U.S. government detected the al Qaeda plot to attack U.S. embassies (assuming that the leaked information was not an attempt to mislead).   Leaking sensitive information that makes the government look good is common and accepted.  Only the leakers who make the government look bad are prosecuted.

snowden.quote_nRobert Zubrin, writing for National Review, had a much better idea:  Offer Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in return for testimony before a congressional committee.  He reasoned that if Snowden has all this vital secret knowledge, it is better from the standpoint of national security to have him under U.S. jurisdiction than Russian jurisdiction.

There are two important kinds of information that Snowden might reveal.  The first is information of value to America’s adversaries in operations against the United States, its armed forces, and its intelligence agencies.  The second is information of value to Congress and the American public in assessing the NSA’s domestic operations and in taking action, if necessary, to uphold the Constitution and stop NSA malfeasance.

In Moscow, Snowden is well situated to provide the first type of information to our enemies and poorly situated to provide the second to us.  If he were here, on the other hand, he would be well positioned to provide Americans with the second kind of information, and his opportunities to provide our nation’s foreign adversaries with the first kind would be most limited.

So we need to get Snowden back, and the only way to get him back is to set forth terms that induce him to return voluntarily. […]

One must therefore ask the conductors of the chorus chanting “Death to Snowden” why they prefer to have the analyst talking to Russia, Iran, and North Korea rather than to Congress.  Is it because the NSA regards the holders of America’s purse strings as the greater threat?  If so, it would appear that the agency’s leadership has misplaced its priorities.

On the other hand, Snowden may be lying, or grossly exaggerating, in his accusations of deeply subversive anti-constitutional actions by the NSA.  If so, he has done real harm to American freedom by chilling the public with unnecessary fear of a nonexistent panopticon state.  Such falsehoods therefore need to be refuted.

The NSA has issued denials.  Unfortunately, however, because the agency previously lied to Congress and the public about the very existence of the domestic-spying program, those denials have no credibility.  If the NSA is now being truthful, it needs to establish that by taking Snowden on in open confrontation.

via National Review Online.

And maybe after Snowden gets finished testifying to Congress, he should testify to a special prosecutor and a grand jury.  I would think there would be a rich field for investigation just of financial corruption, given the lack of supervision of the vast sums that the secret surveillance agencies handle.

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The passing scene: Links & comment 8/14/13

August 14, 2013

How Laura Poitras Helped Snowden Spill His Secrets by Peter Maass of the New York Times.  Hat tip to Daniel Brandt.

The documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras was the key figure in bringing Edward Snowden’s information before the public.  Glenn Greenwald is brave enough, but she was the one with the skills to evade the surveillance state.  She is like the heroine of some dystopian science fiction novel about a totalitarian state of the future.  This well-written, informative article is worth reading in its entirety.

Bandar Bush, ‘liberator of Syria’ by Pepe Escobar of Asia Times.

Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, who at one time was so close to the Bush family that George W. Bush nicknamed him “Bandar Bush,” flew to Moscow to offer to buy huge amounts of Russian weapons if the Russian government would withdraw its support for the Assad regime in Syria.  As Pepe Escobar noted, this will never happen.  Vladimir Putin would never tolerate Syria being taken over by radical jihadists, whose next target undoubtedly would be Chechnia, less than 600 miles away.

Hague war crimes ruling threatens to undermine future prosecutions by Owen Bowcott of The Guardian.  Hat tip to Jack C.

Three Serbian generals were acquitted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia because they did not give orders for the atrocities committed by troops under their command.

Buddhism’s ‘lords’ must be challenged by Sanitsuda Ekachai of the Bangkok Post.

An editorial writer said that the Theravada Buddhist clergy are governed by an autocratic system that tolerates corruption and misconduct but not dissent and reform.  Accountability is needed, she wrote; one starting point would be for Thais to only contribute to temples with transparent accounting systems.

Judge Says That Baby ‘Messiah’ Will Have to Change His Name Because He’s Not Jesus Christ by Hemant Mehta on Patheos.

I was surprised to learn that “Messiah” is one of the 1.000 most common first names for newborn male babies in the United States.  The Tennessee judge is out of line, but perhaps the parents could settle for naming their baby “Senator,” “Colonel,” “Professor” or “Doctor”.

An American dissident in Russia

August 5, 2013

Vladimir Putin’s Russia seems like the last place that somebody who believes in freedom of information would want to live.   The Russian Federation is not a complete dictatorship and many governments are much worse, but everything of which civil libertarians complain in the United States exists in stronger form there.

snowden-russiaThe Russian Federation has its own domestic spying system, with greater power under law that the U.S. National Security Agency, although perhaps not as technologically advanced.  Russian whistle-blowers who revealed state secrets would go to prison.

Investigative journalists, such as Anna Politkoskaya, are sometimes murdered or die mysteriously.  Earlier this year Alexei Novalny, an organizer of protests against alleged fraud in the recent Russian elections, was accused and convicted on corruption charges that human rights activists believe were trumped up, although he recently has been released pending appeal.

Edward Snowden will most certainly be under surveillance of the Russian FSB, successor to the KGB.  President Vladimir Putin has warned that he will not be allowed to engage in activities harmful to the USA.  It goes without saying he will not be allowed to engage in activities deemed harmful to Russia or Putin.

So why would Snowden go to a place like Russia?  He had little choice.  Russia and China are the only countries in the world, not aligned with the United States, that have the capacity to prevent Snowden from being snatched by a U.S. special operations team.  This is not true of Bolivia, Nicaragua or Venezuela, the countries that have offered him political asylum.

Come to think of it, Julian Assange is probably safer in the Ecuadorian embassy in London than he would be in Ecuador itself.

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Edward Snowden, a profile in courage

August 1, 2013

It took a lot of guts for Edward Snowden to go up against the United States government, when the examples of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange showed him what he might expect.

President Obama regularly signs death warrants of persons he deems threats to national security.  He has authority under U.S. law to order fugitives seized and brought them back to the United States even if this violates the laws of the country they’re in.   Obama has prosecuted more whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act than all his predecessors put together.

Recently Attorney General Eric Holder assured President Vladimir Putin that if Snowden was given over to U.S. custody, he would not be executed or tortured.  Imagine—the highest-ranking law enforcement official of the United States gives assurance to a former officer of the Soviet KGB that the United States will not torture a wanted fugitive.  What does it say about the United States that Holder has to give such an assurance?

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Now the fact that Edward Snowden is brave does not prove that he was right.  Maybe you believe that the National Security Agency is exercising its just powers when it puts all the world’s electronic communications under surveillance and keeps the fact that it is doing so a secret.  If you’re right, then Snowden is in fact a criminal and should be brought to justice.

But not everybody thinks that way.  The governments of France and other European countries that object to NSA surveillance do not think that way.  The editors of the Washington Post and other newspapers that made use of Snowden’s leaks do not think that way.  If they’re right, Snowden is not in fact a criminal.

But they nevertheless agree with treating Snowden as a criminal and bringing back to the United States.  This is a profile in cowardice.

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High-tech spy agency messes up on basic spying

July 10, 2013

U.S. intelligence agencies have a technological capability that makes me feel as if I’m living in a science fiction novel.   They capture, record and retrieve millions of telephone, Skype and e-mail conversations, from Brazil to Germany.  Yet they can’t keep track of one high-profile fugitive.

imagesSomehow some higher-up got the idea that Edward Snowden was on a flight to Bolivia with President Evo Morales.   It appeals clear that, in violation of international law, they pressured the governments of France, Spain and Portugal to deny him landing rights, and the government of Austria to demand his plane be searched when he landed in Vienna.

The demonstration of the subservience of these governments to the United States, and the alienation of Latin American governments, did great damage to the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy, all based on bad information and bad judgment.

Earlier a U.S. request for extradition of Snowden from Hong Kong was rejected because it was not filled out in accordance with Hong Kong law.   An extradition request from Ireland also was rejected for similar reasons.   As Casey Stengel supposedly said, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The management expert Clayton Christiansen has written about how companies fail, even though they can do things no other company can do, because they scorn maintaining the ability to do common, low-end things that everyone can do.   This is an example of what he meant.  Hubris, meet Nemesis.

Click on Snowden: towards an endgame for brilliant analysis and writing by Pepe Escobar of Asia Times.  If you only have time to read one link, click on this one.

Click on On Snowden, has Putin been playing 11-dimensional chess? for an interesting speculative article on the Corrente web log.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. intelligence agencies were victims of malicious mischief by the Russian FSB.  Neither would I be surprised if the Ecuadorians in their London embassy put some misinformation into the hidden listening device they’ve known about for weeks, but only just now revealed.

At this point, is anybody certain of Snowden’s present whereabouts except the Russian government, Wikileaks and Snowden himself?

Click on Business failure and the neglect of low-end skills for my post on Clayton Christiansen.

Why the US risks outsourcing secret intelligence

July 8, 2013

If there were Top Secrets whose disclosure would endanger the nation, wouldn’t you restrict knowledge of those secrets to as few people as possible?  Wouldn’t the last thing you would do is to share them with private contractors over which you do not exercise direct control?

Booz_Allen_logo_strat_tag_blackYet an estimated 400,000 employees of private contractors are cleared for Top Secret information, the highest level of security clearance, including 10,000 at Booz Allen Hamilton, the former employer both of Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistleblower, and James Clapper, the current director of national intelligence.  Even the process of granting Top Secret clearances has been outsourced to a private company.

Why would you do such a thing?  Here’s what I think.

Outsourcing creates the possibility of a revolving door for lucrative jobs in the private sector for intelligence officials who want more than the limited pay of a federal civil servant.  Many former CIA and NSA officials work for Booz Hamilton, including the former director of national intelligence under the Bush administration.

The cutoff between the federal government and the private company allows the government to plausibly deny responsibility for bad behavior of the private company, and makes it harder for Congress and the press to keep track of secret intelligence work.

Corporate employees, unlike civil servants, are allowed to participate in politics and hire lobbyists to represent their interests.  Booz Allen is a Fortune 500 company, with more than $5 billion in annual revenue, almost all with the government and about a third with secret intelligence work.  That is a powerful vested economic interest.

We are developing a security-industrial complex more dangerous than the military-industrial complex against which President Eisenhower warned, because it operates in secret and without accountability.

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Post reveals more NSA PRISM slides

July 1, 2013

Over the weekend the Washington Post revealed more of the NSA slide presentation on the secret PRISM program.  Click on NSA slides explain PRISM data-collection program for the Post’s report.  Here are the slides, in their order on the Power Point presentation.   I think they make more sense in that order, even though you have to scroll down to see the newly-released slides.   Double click on the slides to enlarge them.

prism-slide-1 (more…)

Suppose Manning and Snowden really were spies

July 1, 2013

Suppose Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden really had been spies.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529Suppose they had taken their information to the Russian, Chinese or Iranian embassies instead of Wikileaks or The Guardian.

Would we even know about them?

Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in the Washington Post three years ago that more than 850,000 people, working for at least 1,271 agencies and 1,931 contractors at 10,000 locations, had not just clearances, but top secret clearances.   They said no single person in government knows the names of all the secret agencies involved in intelligence, national security and counter-terrorism work.

The other day Ronan Farrow, a former Obama administration official with top secret clearance, wrote than 4.8 million people have clearances to read classified information, and trillions of new documents are classified every year.

How would it even be possible to keep track of secret information, especially when so much work is done by subcontractors outside the direct control of the government?  The Obama administration last year launched a new policy of requiring government employees to report suspicious behavior on the part of fellow employees.  This policy, besides being creepy, seems like an admission of failure of security.

Click on Top Secret America for the Washington Post’s 2010 report.  It’s reasonable to assume that everything that was true then is worse now.   I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a million people with U.S. top secret clearances.

Click on Why are so many US government documents classified? by Ronan Farrow in The Guardian for his full article.

Click on Let’s Not Pretend the Government’s Mass Spying Is an Effective and Efficient Way to Keep Us Safe  for examples of why indiscriminate collection of data has not prevented intelligence failures.  This is from Washington’s Blog, which does a great job of keeping on top of this issue.

Is mass surveillance even legal?  Click on The Criminal N.S.A. for reasons why it isn’t.

If you want to keep something secret … …

June 10, 2013

If you want to keep a secret, you shouldn’t tell anybody.   The more people you tell a secret “in confidence,” the greater the certainty that it will cease to be a secret.  Everybody knows this.

Everybody, it seems, except the Homeland Security agencies.  Dana Priest and William R. Arkin reported three years ago that there were at least 854,000 Americans with top-secret clearances—not just access to classified information, but access to top secrets.   It wouldn’t be surprising if the number now exceeded 1 million.  If the top secrets are known to hundreds of thousands of people, how secret can they be?

top.secretDaniel Ellsberg, who made public the Pentagon Papers, which outlined the secret history of the Vietnam war, was a member of the inner circle of government.  He was a consultant to Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, and helped write the Pentagon Papers.   A low-ranking person like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden would not have had access to that information.

In the novels of John Le Carre, the fictional spy George Smiley never writes down any of his big secrets.   In the National Security Agency, the supposedly big secrets are put on slides for Power Point presentations.   It seems to me that when you disseminate information this widely, it is bound to leak out to the general public.

The alleged crime of Edward Snowden is to alert foreign terrorists to the fact that their electronic communications are being monitored.  But they already know that.  Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants stopped using e-mail or cell phones years ago, and communicated only by courier.   What Snowden did in releasing the PRISM slides is to provide proof to the public of what most well-informed people had believed all along.

The real way to keep secrets is:  (1)  Minimize the number of top secrets.  (2) Minimize the number of people who know the top secrets.

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NSA’s PRISM slides: what they show

June 9, 2013

The leak of a set of Power Point slides revealed the surprisingly wide scope of the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program.  Click on Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations for a report on the leaker and his motivations by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras for The Guardian.

But just what is on the slides?  This is what I found in a Google Image search.

Click to view.

Click to view.

Prism

Click to view.

prism-slide-4_1

Click to view.

new prism slide

Click to view.

The top slide indicates that the NSA is leveraging the United States’ position as the world’s telecommunications center in order to monitor Internet and electronic traffic which, as indicated in the third slide, covers virtually everything.

The second slide shows the dates in which the NSA started collecting PRISM data from various companies.  I wonder why they started with Microsoft in 2007 and didn’t get to Apple until five years later.  Did Apple management have objections?  How were those objections overcome?  Or was there some technical reason why it wasn’t practical to start PRISM collection with all the companies all at once.

The bottom slide indicates that the NSA does not depend on access to Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the other six companies in the PRISM program for electronic eavesdropping.  It collects information as data flows through fiber optics cables and Internet nodes.   PRISM is just a supplemental program.

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