Showing posts with label spying. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spying. Show all posts

07 July 2013

Pam, Prism, and Poindexter


A week and a half ago, David Edgerley Gates wrote a column, Through a Glass, Darkly, discussing PRISM, TIA, NSA, and Edward Snowden. As I tapped out a comment in response, it grew and grew until I realized I had an article based on the premise governments worry more what their citizens think than what their enemies know. Historically, governments prefer a blind citizenry, a practice anathema to our founding fathers (and presumably mothers).
NSA

Snow Job

I harbor mixed feelings about Snowden, and while I seldom agree with Fox News about anything, I’m slow to tar the man. After all, what is his crime?

He revealed the NSA spies on us.

What? You’re surprised? And revealing a crime’s a crime?

Thanks to the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Acts, it may well be. All hell rained down with thus far spurious claims that Snowden will defect to China or Russia or Venezuela or Narnia. Apparently Moscow and Caracas made offers, but he turned Venezuela down and hasn’t responded to Putin. Yesterday, CBS News reported the Venezuelan offer remains open but Russia wishes to close the door on the issue. Ecuador and Bolivia remain possibilities.

I would prefer Snowden return to the US where he runs the risk of becoming either a political pariah or a cult hero. But, given the twisting of US law to declare even Americans enemy combatants, to imprison people without trial, and the sins of rendition, I’m not surprised he chose otherwise.

Despite the outcry, at this juncture there’s no evidence he’s divulged information (other than the US spies on its friends and citizens) to any outside country. I’d like to think he wouldn’t, but time will tell.

The Spies Among Us

Let us not focus on Snowden but his revelation: We’re spied upon. Here is where rubber meets the road, where liberals and conservatives break with left and right. Our readers know this but, those who think 'left' and 'liberal' or 'conservative' and 'right' are synonymous haven’t been paying attention. True liberals and conservatives recognize a nation spied upon is preyed upon and in danger of losing its freedom.

We’re like wussy parents whose daughters spend all night out wearing less clothing than a cartoon duck, and then express shock when the girls turn up pregnant. Who do people blame when they turn a blind eye? Are we angry to learn our government has gone all-Animal Farm or are we furious another Daniel Ellsberg peeled the scales from our eyes?

Most of us in the software industry knew (or suspected) spying all along. Ten years ago our government supposedly banned the Information Awareness Office (IAO) and by extension the NSA from spying on us, yet the outsourcing contracts quietly continued. Private firms continued development. Now ask yourself this question: Does a business continue a program that has only one potential customer unless they expect to turn a profit?
TIA

Sheep Herding

Shaping a citizenry has gone by various names such as dynamic social engineering, societal actualization, and in darker moments, ‘sheep-herding’. Three guesses who the sheep are.

Total Information Awareness was the dystopian brainchild of John Poindexter, the Dr. Strangelove of an all-seeing Information Awareness Office. For years, politicians and citizens chose to overlook his more outrageous programs such as rewards for spying against your neighbors and reporting upon your friends. Poindexter became an embarrassment to the Bush/Cheney administration, even through they encapsulated his proposals in such Machiavellian legislation as the misnamed USA PATRIOT Acts I and II.

By 2003, Poindexter’s liability grew to such political proportions, Don Rumsfeld had enough. He asked the admiral to resign over a project called Policy Analysis Market, PAM, part of a larger program called Future Map. Although PAM was conceived long before Poindexter came on board, he was credited– or blamed– and certainly confused with its invention.

The public reacted with gut outrage to PAM. Some bloggers misunderstood PAM asking “Is it outside the box or off the wall?”

Perhaps it was a bit of both, because genius usually is. I like off-the-wall, outside-the-box and those crazy, trite expressions of invention. PAM emerged from a theory of efficient markets and 'dumb agent' discovery, to wit: An international market with possibly millions of participants making thousands of decisions creates a 'price' equilibrium that portends more information than even a collective of experts.  Who knows if the notion would succeed or fail, but the concept was bizarrely brilliant.

Political fallout raged. Some called PAM terrorism futures, a catastrophe casino, a death pool, a stock market of anarchy, and even “a federal betting parlor on atrocities.” But imagine a real life Minority Report where hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of people weigh in on a geopolitical futures market, who might be financially rewarded for participation. What could be more capitalistic than wagering on death and destruction?

Well, yeah, if it helped prevent death and destruction.

Cooking with PAM

PAM began as a $2-million DARPA research project designed to test the ability of speculative markets to forecast overall global trends, not just terror prognostication, but economic, civil, political, and military indicators. Such a market might have predicted Obama’s reelection, an uprising in Libya, or that Egypt's President Morsi could be ousted, not to mention a terror attack in Boston or London.

How might this work?

Last month I wrote about working in New York’s financial district. As I mentioned, one of the first things Wall Street denizens learn is the stock market is emotional. It reacts, even over-reacts to every bit of news.

The US Air Force web site Air University points out that commodity traders regularly analyze events in the Middle East to gauge futures prices. Likewise, events around the world determine market prices of wheat, corn, soybeans, rare earth metals, and cotton. And similarly, national and international news affects arbitrage pricing theory.

PAM proponents reason if buying and selling in Chicago and New York can divine prognostications from world events, why can’t we devise further predictive tools based upon reactions from the free market? Why not foster a program that could foretell regime change in the People’s Democratic Republic of Krasnovia, bankruptcy of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, or assassination of the Marxist President of Freedonia.

Those in the know, those involved in the project like USAF’s Robert Looney and George Mason University’s Robin Hanson, believe intelligence gathered through market sources could be far more accurate and reliable than present methods, including input from experts and analysts (polls and Delphi methodology), espionage, and especially torture. Some point to a recent example of a massive and embarrassing failure of traditional techniques: the invasion of Iraq based upon a political delusion that Iraq must possess weapons of mass destruction. Advocates of PAM not only believe they could have determined the answer, but also predicted the destructive, counter-productive result of toppling Iraq.

So that’s the much-reviled Policy Analysis Market. No spying, no sleep deprivation or torture, no rendition, no violation of human rights. Just smart guessing– or gambling.

10 February 2013

Spy in the Sky


by Leigh Lundin

Dones part 2: Spy in the Sky

Last week's article sparked debate both on-line and off. I hadn't planned a followup article, but from our friend Vicki comes another Hightower newsletter that addresses questions that have arisen. A couple of days later, the President announced he'd make available the legal justification for drones, presumably military UAVs. Now, a handful of officials in Washington, both liberal and conservative, are asking questions. How far can spying go?

unmanned Predator drone
Limitless, if we do nothing. Suppose your friend (because you wouldn't do such a thing), thinking her property is sacrosanct keeps a few marijuana plants in her back garden, away from prying eyes. What happens when her property's seized now that police eyes in the sky? Is this a warrantless search?

Sty in the Eye

What if a police drones sporting IR/UV capability peeked in your neighbor's house and discovered five people instead of three thought to be living there? It could mean Constitutionally protected free assembly, but it might also imply illegal aliens, a terrorist cell, or… visiting cousins from Michigan or a private prayer meeting.

Of course an armed UAV with penetrating audio capability might sort that out. Whether illegal pot grower, terrorist, teenage boyfriend, secret Christian prayer group, or someone wanting to get away from the spy machine– a drone can take them out with a variety of weapons from tear gas and tasters to live ammunition.
all-seeing eye
US Government seal

Posse Comitatus

Our military is not supposed to operate on US soil, but again, these fine points of the law have been swept under the carpet. Not counting a myriad of police agencies rushing to embrace these new gadgets, our own military has built 64 drone bases throughout our nation and the Pentagon plans to add 33% more in the next few months. Military bases, with drones, watching you.

And beware: Insect-sized nano-robots are presently flying in nano-technology laboratories. Leave a door or window open in the not-too-distant future, and they could be inside your house or your office. Singly, current weaponized capabilities are barely there, but en masse, the potential could be powerful like a swarm of bees. Recalling some of the sophisticated Soviet assassination techniques, might we some day encounter a nanobot that stings or drops a radioactive pellet in a cup of tea or glass of beer? (13:00 paragraph update to the original article)

We are supposed to have government oversight. The House Unmanned Systems Caucus, led by funded supporters of drone manufactures, doesn't view their rĂ´le as defending individual rights. Instead, they promote "the overwhelming value of these systems." They clearly state their intent to "rapidly develop and deploy" more UAVs.
eyes
© FreeWorldAlliance

Drone of Another Sort

In other words, your congressmen have become a Chamber of Commerce for manufacturers who want to spy on you. Lobbyists forced through a law written by the industry instructing a reluctant FAA to speedily approve new drones– brainless machines sharing the same airspace as our passenger airliners. Experts calculate drones will outnumber airplanes almost five to one. If a seagull can bring down a passenger plane, what can an electronics-packed drone do?

On and On


When the misnamed US PATRIOT Acts I and II were implemented with barely a whimper within Congress, a colleague flummoxed me when he said he was happy to trade civil liberties for better security. It reminded of a line in the film Little Murders where barbed wire was going up around apartment buildings and a character approved. "We're talking about freedom," he cries.

Yes, we are, but I'm not sure our definitions are the same. I welcome other opinions.

30 September 2012

Spying E-Readers


by Louis Willis

Are we Americans overly paranoid about corporations and government collecting information about us?

I’m not sounding an alarm, but based on two articles I read in the online journal The Guardian, our reading privacy and reading freedom, it seems, are being threatened.

Like many people, I worry about privacy when I use the Internet. The article “Big e-Reader is watching you” (July 4, 2012) by Alison Flood has increased the worry gremlins running around in my head. “Retailers and search engines,” she writes, “can now gather an astonishingly detailed portrait of our book-reading habits: what we buy, what we browse, the amount of time we spend on a page and even the annotations we make in an ebook.”

As the article suggests, if you use an E-reader or computer, the Big Brothers--book publishers, booksellers, the government, and maybe even authors--are watching what you read, how long it takes you to finish a novel, and what parts you highlight. I read an article (forgot to copy the URL) in another online publication or blog that a small publisher of E-books has gone so far as to allow readers to chose their heroes, heroines, and plots. It seems the publisher wants to make storytelling and reading what it is not and shouldn’t be for adult readers--interactive.

Jo Glanville in his article “Reader’s privacy is under threat in the digital age” (August 31, 2012) notes that the digital trail we leave behind when we download an E-book to our computer or E-reader is a source of information for the government to track us and for business to see us as potential customers and thus profit. California is tackling the problem of government spying head on. The legislature passed “The Reader Privacy Act” that requires government agencies to obtain a court order to collect information about a reader online or from bookstores. We can solve the problem of the government gathering information about our reading habits by following California’s example and forcing the government at all levels to obtain a court order before gathering information about what we read.

Authors, publishers, booksellers, and E-reader makers are a different matter. Authors already cater to readers’ taste in novels that have series protagonists. Authors want two things: to be read and to be paid for what they write. Publishers, booksellers, and E-reader makers want one thing: to make a profit. The E-book sellers for now, through E-readers, are in the driver’s seat. I can’t share an E-book with friends without the seller’s permission, though I suspect some smart geek will eventually, like music sharing, find a way around the restrictions, and, like the music producers, publishers, E-book sellers, and authors will fight back. Authors and publishers are challenging E-book sellers for control of E-book pricing. I hope the authors win but who ever wins, I also hope it benefits us readers.

That our E-readers are spying on us should be no surprise, for our computers have been spying on us for years. We will, because we don’t have a choice, accept the spying because the control of E-books and what we read is in the hands of manufacturers and sellers of E-readers. I have not yet made up my mind as to whether this is a good or bad thing. I don’t like the gathering of information on me by businesses or government, just as I don’t like authors posting fake reviews or bullying reviewers and critics (see Leigh’s September 9 post), but I’ll keep reading E-books on my three E-readers.

I tried but couldn’t write a humorous post on the threat to our freedom and privacy to read. There has to be some humor in the situation, doesn’t there?