Sunday, June 23, 2013

Insider Fret

From Bob the Angry Flower.
People are getting very Pastor Niemöller out here in the aether. Here's the Telegraph's tech blogger Mic Wright:
I’ll now immediately fall foul of Godwin’s Law – “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches” – but history offers too important a lesson not to make that connection. The punch-card powered computerised census of Germany enabled by IBM in 1933 and subsequent efforts thereafter made it far easier for the Nazi regime to identify Jews, Gypsies and others it deemed undesirable. [jump]
Pastor Niemoller’s “First they came…” poem is over-quoted but with good reason. It is far too easy to be complacent.*
And here's novelist and occasional talking head Walter Kirn in the New Republic, via Digby, reacting to his, and everybody's, permanent loss of privacy in the ghastly New Information Order, and the advice from Silicon Valley to "get over it":
I will keep my opinions to myself online.
I will keep my opinions to myself when speaking to anyone who goes online or who speaks to anyone who goes online.
I will speak on the phone only to people who keep their opinions to themselves, and hang up on them if they don't.
I will buy nothing online or with a credit card or in a store that keeps electronic records of its sales or in a store that uses security cameras that I am not absolutely proud to own, and absolutely happy for everyone to know I own.
I will pay my taxes to the last penny, and then I will pay a penny more, just to be safe....
I will always, when given the option, push Allow.
I will hide nothing.
But I will conceal everything.
I will be a good American.
You know what? I'm not buying it. He's not going to do any of that stuff, because he's not one bit frightened. He's more likely to send out a Tweet thanking Digby for the mention and add that, or at any rate its metadata, to his files at Safari, Google, and the NSA, without a second thought. Except Digby's not as famous as Jay Rosen among the Serious, and he may not even know about her. He took care to retweet Rosen's shout-out:
Because they're not, in fact, coming for him. There will be no late-night knock on the door and trip to the re-education camp for Walter Kirn.** Nor for Jay Rosen. They're not coming for Glenn Beck, or Glenn Reynolds, or Glenn Greenwald either. Actually I'm not totally convinced about Greenwald, who has probably made himself real enemies in the matrix of invisible power, but I expect he is protected to a great extent by his very in-your-faceness. And, whatever he thinks, by the US Constitution. Not because they couldn't arrest him but because they'd lose the trial. And a good thing, too.

*Really, the NSA is not collecting data on the race—or religious or political affiliation—of any phone number.  That's exactly how the metadata approach doesn't work.

** Kirn doesn't exactly reveal a lot of political opinions anyway; in political commentary, he belongs to the Maureen Dowd drama critic school, only more radically than Dowd herself. Here he is for the New Republic on the first Romney-Obama debate last year:
Do you think maybe Naomi Wolf gave Romney one of her media manliness coaching sessions, maybe? Romney was damn alpha in his body language and whole affect, from posture to arm placement, and his tie had a kind of rakish slant to it sometimes. 
Read the whole thing if you think I'm exaggerating.
J. Edgar Hoover, uncredited, via The Cassiopaean Experiment.
Way too much of this discussion is theatrical posturing, people deliberately trying to creep themselves out. Here's another Kirn retweet:
The link is to a harrowing article by A.E. Hotchner that appeared in the Times almost exactly two years ago—I remember reading it then. Not that J. Edgar Hoover was not really persecuting Hemingway, the "premature anti-fascist" and semi-friend of the Cuban Revolution; he certainly was. But what exactly makes it relevant just now, to Anonymous or to Kirn? Maybe they had to kill Papa because only he knew that the eight-months' pregnant Stanley Anne Dunham was in Havana, about to give birth on foreign soil to an incipiently fascist president-to-be! Uh, no.

Who's actually living in fear of the watchful government, it turns out (aside from the Muslim community in the New York City area and, of course, any young black man), is the government itself, that is the folks who staff it, under the glaucous eye of the Insider Threat Programs being set up in every executive department and agency under the president's order
to gather, integrate, and centrally analyze and respond to key threat-related information; monitor employee use of classified networks; provide the workforce with insider threat awareness training; and protect the civil liberties and privacy of all personnel.
Nobody knows exactly what the protection of civil liberties and privacies entails, but
The Department of Education . . . informs employees that co-workers going through “certain life experiences . . . might turn a trusted user into an insider threat.” Those experiences, the department says in a computer training manual, include “stress, divorce, financial problems” or “frustrations with co-workers or the organization.” (McClatchy)
So you need to report to the boss if you have a colleague with financial problems, being careful to protect the colleague's privacy. Because everybody knows how important it is to keep all our classified education information out of the hands of our enemies, and how likely that some manager with gambling debts would sell Iran the secrets of how charter schools raise math test scores (or don't, as the case may be). God forbid!

And meanwhile at the NSA, where indisputably classified information surely exists,
Even though [Insider Threat] severely restricts the use of removable storage devices on classified networks, Snowden, the former NSA contractor who revealed the agency’s telephone data collection operations, used a thumb drive to acquire the documents he leaked to two newspapers.
If only he'd been getting a divorce at the same time, he might have been caught.

I understand that all right-thinking people right and left are supposed to find these things "chilling", but they're just pathetic. Turning every government office into its own little East Germany of betrayal and recrimination is not going to stop leaking, but it will certainly make it harder than ever to get the government's work done, beyond the bad-enough-already effects of ferocious budget cuts, senatorial refusal to confirm appointees, and right-wing Bush holdovers "burrowed" into key positions, especially at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security.
Dr. Franklin, as member of the Hellfire Club. Via TRUTV, with rumor.
Our republic-if-you-can-keep-it is now at the weakest point of its history, I think, since the Great Complacency of the 1920s. It is unable to implement any program at all without figuring out a way to cut in corporations for a share of grift, whether it's defense contractors or State Department security, for-profit hospitals and universities, megabanks and insurers and drug makers and gigantic agribusiness entities, textbook publishers and test constructors—even our quondam pride and joy of disaster relief. And that's one of our problems with intelligence; I'm minded to agree with Nancy Pelosi, responding to a heckler at the Netroots Nation conference the other day:
“You’re absolutely right!” said Pelosi. “I’m with you babe, all the way! If you couldn’t hear her, the real problem, she said, is outsourcing our national security. I get criticized by this community a lot. [Former NSA director Mike] O’Connell worked at Booz Allen Hamilton, came in, worked in the federal government, exatled to the positions he was, hired consultants galore, contractors galore from Booz Allen Hamilton. And now he’s at Booz Allen again. This really is astounding.”
Government doesn't make itself strong by bringing espionage charges against people who are guilty at most of larceny; since it can't get a conviction, it weakens itself further. It doesn't make itself strong by having all its employees inform on each other. We're not helping, either, by crying fascism (in chorus with the Grover Norquists and Ron Pauls) at what is really only crappy, fearful government; it just puts their backs up.

We need to connect with Obama over the things that will make a difference: the health insurance reform, and the environmental initiative to be rolled out this week. And it's really hard to shake hands with a guy when you've just called him a Nazi: in the case of the vast intelligence fail, we need to emphasize that it's not going to work; that they're collecting way too much data, classifying way too much of it, obsessing over the inevitable breaches of classification that follow, and completely losing sight of what's happening. As far as abusing the data collection goes, he says he's against it: why not assume, just for the sake of the discussion, the position of trust (as I do for Ayatollah Khamenei, on the question of the nukes)? Verify, but trust.
"Reagan wiggled." Uncredited, via His Vorpal Sword.

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