Sunday, February 26, 2006

Our right to privacy, killed by the Bush administration? Or was it inevitable?

It's easy to lay the blame for loss of privacy on the Bush Administration. It is while the Bush Administration was in power when massive privacy invasion by the government was disclosed. While I'm quick to lay blame on the Bush Administration, in this case there's a heavy dose of inevitablity.

Let's consider these articles which make an interesting juxtaposition.

No longer can the right of privacy be expected in any walk of life -- an editorial in a local newspaper in Hagerstown Maryland.

Invasion of privacy must stop -- An editorial in a local newspaper in India

Taking Spying to Higher Level, Agencies Look for More Ways to Mine Data - A New York Times article by John Markoff

The first two take the opinion that we have a "right to privacy". As the Hagerstown editorial mentions, a right to privacy wasn't written into the U.S. Constitution, but that was because the Founders assumed privacy was such an obvious right as "breathing" or "eating" that they didn't bother to discuss it. But little did they have a clue of the sort of technology which would be developed.

The article from India is interesting because of the expression of fear which comes up just with a hint that any of our phone conversations could be tapped.

The NY Times article just demonstrates how the government is continuing to look for more and more surveillance and privacy-destroying tools. It discusses an NSA visit to Silicon Valley looking for data mining tools. Which just makes me think of the Total Information Awareness project.

Data mining is widely used by corporations. For example credit card companies data-mine transactions looking for possibly fraudulent activity. In the article they discuss a prison which used data mining of telephone call records to discover a drug smuggling ring.

The point is technology creates new possibilities. The digitization of "everything" makes privacy invasion so much easier to do. Which gets to the inevitability.

Even if it's inevitable, that doesn't mean "we the people" should just allow it to happen without protest.

Thursday, February 23, 2006 | Alaskan Senator Threatens to Halt Cape Wind Project

The cape wind project intends to install dozens of wind towers off Cape Cod. This project has drawn a ridiculous storm of criticism with "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBY) style protests from people who normally support ecological initiatives, but call this a blight. er... The huge cities are ecological blights, but how are wind towers a blight?

Alaskan Senator Threatens to Halt Cape Wind Project discusses a proposed ammendment by Alaska Congressman Don Young which would change the buffer requirements around offshore wind tower projects. There's more details in the article, the gist being that the current standard is a 500 foot zone around each wind tower and any shipping lanes. Further the current standard has the Coast Guard reviewing these plans. The proposal arbitrarily sets a 1.5 mile buffer zone, and removes the Coast Guard from review.

Fortunately this is only a proposal to put an ammendment on in committee. But it's a dangerous sort of thinking that's clearly intended to scuttle offshore wind projects.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Asia Times Online :: India to join Turkmenistan gas pipeline

Hopefully you saw Fahrenheit 9/11, the movie by Michael Moore that was prominent in 2004. His main topic throughout the movie was to explore cronyism and how that created the war in Iraq. The main example is the laundry list of business ties between the Administration, the Saudi royalty and even to the bin Laden family. That most of the Administration has ties to the Oil Industry (both GW and GHW Bush owned oil companies, VP Cheney was the CEO of Halliburton, Chevron named an oil tanker for Condoleeza Rice, etc) figured heavily in this movie.

In one segment Moore talked about the oil in Central Asia and the U.S. plan for bringing that oil to market. The Central Asia oil has been a matter of power play for several years, and it's land-locked position that isn't easily accessible makes it difficult to "extract" and sell on the market. Taking it in one direction, you'd be going through Russia. Another direction and you're going across Siberia and then the port is in the arctic and probably locked in by ice. And to the south are steep mountains, some of the highest in the world. Also to the south is Iran, a sworn enemy of the U.S.

The chosen U.S. route was through Afghanistan. The U.S. has pushed for this route since the 1990's. The problem was, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan were terribly friendly to the U.S. The Taliban was in control, and Pakistan was very friendly with the Taliban. It didn't make any difference that during the 1980's the U.S. worked closely with Pakistan and the people who became the Taliban. In the 1980's the menace was Russia's invasion of Afghanistan, and the U.S. effort to drive Russia out, which meant a secret operation supplying the mujahadeen (as they were known then) with arms and training. By the 1990's that was long in the past, and U.S. policy had shifted away. Even so the Taliban government visited the U.S., as Michael Moore documented, working to negotiate both the opium poppy eradication as well as the pipeline deal.

BTW, since the toppling of the Taliban government, opium poppy production has sprung back to pre-Taliban levels.

In any case there was an existing plan to run an oil pipeline through Afghanistan. And you can imagine the big question in U.S. and oil industry planning -- how the heck do we get access to Afghanistan? Essentially that country had become enemy territory.

Conveniently the September 11, 2001 attack provided the needed excuse. The culprits were in Afghanistan, which gave us all the excuse in the world to invade that country, topple its government, etc.

And, now, conveniently the path was clear. Afghanistan was no longer essentially enemy territory. Further, in the process of making war on Afghanistan the U.S. established bases and cooperation with several Central Asian countries. These countries had been carved out of the former Soviet Union after its collapse in the early 1990's.

A nagging question is whether the September 11, 2001 attack was merely a coincidence, or whether some behind the scenes conspiracy created it? There's enough connections there to make one ponder. The Bush family had ties with the bin Laden family, to the point that one of the bin Laden cousins bailed George W Bush out of at least one of his failed businesses. And there was the pre-existing plan for a pipeline through Afghanistan, and coincidentally the major players in creating that plan are now major players in both the Afghanistan government and the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan.

But there isn't enough proven data to truly connect the attack to any behind the scenes conspiracy. So we'll just leave that question dangling out there.

What's of interest now is this article: India to join Turkmenistan gas pipeline

It discusses two different pipeline projects to bring Natural Gas to "market". One is the US-backed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) while the other is the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI).

This appears to be part of the larger geopolitics power struggle. The different sources of these two pipelines is interesting. Iran being an U.S. enemy at this moment makes this statement interesting:

Moreover, unlike IPI, the project does not run the risk of being blacklisted for participation by US and European financiers and companies. The US has been encouraging Pakistan to abandon the IPI project and consider TAP for meeting its gas needs.

Blacklisted?? This isn't explained, but clearly the official relationship with Iran is problematic for many countries. But Pakistan probably has a lot of cooperation with Iran, given they share a long border and probably have common cultural elements. But to the U.S. and the "west" Iran is a pariah, being controlled by fundamentalists who are opposed to the western powers.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Chavez threatens to cut off oil to U.S. - Feb 18, 2006

This CNN article: Chavez threatens to cut off oil to U.S. discusses a threat by Hugo Chavez to cut off Venezuela's shipments of oil to the U.S. Part of this has been an ongoing story, for example the American-backed coup attempt in Venezuela a couple years ago.

Chavez has been making statements for years about vague threats against him by the U.S. They might sound like the ravings of paranoia, except that there was this weird coup which started to topple him out of power. A coup which was clearly inspired by American interests. And, there is the long history of the U.S. toppling governments in the Western Hemisphere through following the Monroe Doctrine, in which President Monroe declared to the world, "The Western Hemisphere is ours, and you can't have it" and which has justified repeated actions by the U.S. government against western hemisphere governments from at least the Dominican Republic, to Allende's government in Chile, to the invasions of Grenada and Panama.

A part of the game playing between the U.S. and Venezuela is repeated expulsions of diplomats over allegations of spying.

Which just reminds me of: The confessions of an economic hit-man an interview I heard on Democracy Now a few days ago. The interviewee, John Perkins, had written a book exposing, as a former insider to the game, how the U.S. government has quietly created a worldwide economic empire. A part of that game is to make deals with world leaders where people like him would meet newly elected world leaders and offer them a deal. In one hand the economic hit man will offer riches, kickbacks for example from the sale of whatever resources that country has. In the other hand the economic hit man will hold a threat of violence against that leader or his/her family. These leaders know the history and know that legions of previous world leaders have been assassinated or overthrown by these people.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The confessions of an economic hit-man

Democracy Now for February 15, 2006 has an interesting interview with John Perkins, author of "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man". Ostensibly he worked as an economist for a big consulting company, but he describes his real job as

JOHN PERKINS: We economic hit men, during the last 30 or 40 years, have really created the world's first truly global empire, and we've done this primarily through economics, and the military only coming in as a last resort. Therefore, it's been done pretty much secretly. Most of the people in the United States have no idea that we've created this empire and, in fact, throughout the world it's been done very quietly, unlike old empires, where the army marched in; it was obvious. So I think the significance of the things you discussed, the fact that over 80% of the population of South America recently voted in an anti-U.S. president and what's going on at the World Trade Organization, and also, in fact, with the transit strike here in New York, is that people are beginning to understand that the middle class and the lower classes around the world are being terribly, terribly exploited by what I call the corporatocracy, which really runs this empire.

His story is as an insider to the creation of the current empire, what techniques are used by these self-described economic hit-men. The empire was constructed quietly through economic leverage rather than in obvious ways like marching armies into a country and toppling governments. The fact that we're in Iraq and Afghanistan today is more an example of the extremes to which the economic hit-men will go, that they begin with threats and bribes, but if the individual government leaders do not cooperate under threats or bribes then they can create wars as needed.

He ends with this thought: "...I look at myself as an extremely loyal American citizen. I believe in the principles of this country, which I think that in the past few decades, increasingly, we've put them way in the back burner. But as good Americans, we need to insist that our government and our corporations honor democracy."

But I think that, while he said that very nicely, it's very short sighted. This empire is economic, and is based on the corporations being used as leverage against other countries and to control other countries. In my view this story isn't about the United States controlling other countries ... but instead some other entity, which is not beholden to any one government but instead beholden only to itself. It's using the United States government today simply because of the power the U.S. holds.

I think the same leverage is being used against the United States as well. For example consider the debt being run up under the Bush Administration. John Perkins describes how debt is being used as a lever against these other countries, so of course it's also being used against the U.S. as well. A huge amount of our national strength is going towards paying off that debt.

And, always, when you owe money to others, those others has some measure of control over you.

At a personal level what happens when you "own" a house? The vast majority of people don't own their houses, they have a mortgage and it's the mortgage company that owns the house. If they don't keep up a sufficient income level to pay the mortgage payments, the mortgage company will forclose and take away their house. Therefore the debt they have against "their" house forces them towards some kind of work life, towards having a job so they can have the money to pay their debt. They wouldn't have the freedom to quit their stinking job and go off to the country and paint art. They have to stay in their job to pay their debts.

So it goes also for governments.

Is this the world we want to live in? Where a kind of secretive entity of some kind is controlling the world, toppling governments, etc, all to maintain some kind of power stranglehold?

Jeremy Scahill: On CNN The Real Abu Ghraib Scandal is The Photos, Not the Torture | The Huffington Post

U.S. and British soldiers in Iraq are torturing their prisoners. Pictures are published documenting the torture. And what's done? What does the press do, that is? The press complains that the only legitimate pictures that can be taken are ones by the Defense Department, and can only be done for documentation purposes. At least that's the story here: On CNN The Real Abu Ghraib Scandal is The Photos, Not the Torture

Jeremy Scahill quotes a CNN reporter who repeatedly said: "Let's start by reminding everybody that under U.S. military law and practice, the only photographs that can be taken are official photographs for documentation purposes about the status of prisoners when they are in military detention. That's it. Anything else is not acceptable. And of course, that is what the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal is all about."

er... Again, U.S. and British soldiers are conducting torture, and the whole thing the story is about is the illegally taken pictures? What about the bigger crime of torture?

Is this the country we want to have, where our soldiers are conducting torture?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Encrypted file systems, terrorism, personal privacy, oh my

Here's an interesting question ... suppose police capture a terrorists laptop and they want to get into the laptop to extract plans and other documents? Suppose the laptop is rigged so the file system is encrypted meaning the police can't get through the encryption? Suppose there's a ticking bomb, and the plans for the bomb are in the laptop?

That's the scenario posed here: UK holds Microsoft security talks (By Ollie Stone-Lee, BBC News political reporter) Microsoft is apparently in talks with the British Government to install a backdoor allowing Police to snoop into otherwise encrypted hard disks.

Hmmm... One glaring fault leaps to mind. Any backdoor installed for Police use could also be used by "hackers" to sneak through the same back door. And, for that matter, what if the Police (or someone) were to come up with a stealthy virus, that didn't announce itself, and simply sneaked through the backdoor and retrieve any interesting data? The utility of the backdoor of course depends on the implementation. But since the backdoor is targeted to be used by Police departments, that means the details are going to be widely dissemenated and hard to keep secret. There's an adage that security through secrecy just does not work.

The article makes this out to be a new problem brought about by Windows Vista. It's actually older, since on some operating systems you can make encrypted disk images that require a password to open. The easiest to use implementation is on Mac OS X, one simply makes a disk image file (using Disk Utility) and specifies options including read/write and encryption. When you want to fiddle with sensitive files, just open the encrypted disk image and fiddle away. Make sure to unmount it when you're done.

Suppose your computer is stolen, would you want the thief to have easy access to all that data? Wouldn't you breath easier knowing the data on your computer was safe because the thief didn't have your password?

And, why does the article only talk about the need to thwart terrorists? "Terrorists" have become the big bugaboo under which all sorts of threats to civil liberties have been enacted. Shouldn't the same concern also be aimed at ordinary criminals?

Would this backdoor only be documented for nice police departments? Or would it also be made available for other police departments, e.g. in totalitarian states? Another current events story is China gaining some success at their dissident crackdowns through working with the tech companies. Clearly a tech company like Microsoft would be obeying Chinese law by helping the Chinese government in understanding the backdoor into Windows Vista. And, then what?

Would China then have greater success in cracking down on their dissidents? Whom, from western eyes, are freedom fighters?

And, for that matter, it's well known that the majority of cyber attacks are coming from China. What if the backdoor Microsoft discloses to the Chinese government is also something they can use in the cyber attacks, which then threaten American computer security?

Iraq, Vietnam all over again?

In Permanent bases in Iraq? Tom Engelhardt suggests we interpret Iraq as Vietnam.  Iraq is a worsening situation, where it's hard to see any face-saving exit from the country and where the population is increasingly rising up against the American presence.  Plus, at home there's a growing anger over this war.  I don't know what's taken the American people so long, the war is clearly illegal and immoral.

Engelhardt's main point of discussion is to contrast the plan for troop reductions with a fact "on the ground".  Namely the presence of the permanent bases that have been constructed, which cost several billion dollars.  An army engineer tasked with facilities development described them in an engineering magazine article with "staggering" cost.  If the plan is to withdraw, then why spend billions of dollars on bases?

One of the bases has finally been discussed in the mainstream press as having a "small town feel".  It has all the comforts of home, extensive telecom and other infrastructure, etc.  And in the London Telegraph is another covering the still-under-construction al-Asad airbase.  Apparently each of these bases cover 15-20 square miles of land.  There are at least four of these bases in Iraq and the fact we're stating this as "at least" is a symptom of the secrecy.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Why we Fight", a movie you must see

On January 17, 1961 (45 years ago) President Eisenhower delivered his farewell address as he was leaving office, and as President Kennedy was taking office.  It is this speech in which he made the fateful warning to beware the growing influence of the military-industrial complex.  I'll copy the text of that address to the end of this posting.

"Why We Fight" is a new movie, released on January 17, 2006, which takes his speech and examines the state of that military-industrial complex.  Well, it's clear the military-industrial complex is alive and well, and has great influence in all branches of U.S. government.

A point made strongly by this movie is that supplying the military with weapons and equipment and services is big business.  Somewhere around three quarters of a Trillion dollars, per year.  That's more than a lot of money.  Which makes me wonder, just how much of the current U.S. militarism is inspired by those companies.

As a speaker says in the movie, the companies in the defense industry have fiduciary requirements just the same as any other company.  Those fiduciary requirements obviously require keeping the shareholders happy, require continued improvement in revenue and earnings.  But what if the natural course of the country were peace, and to require fewer armaments, wouldn't those companies have decreased revenues?  It's well understood the defense industry has powerful lobbyists and everything else in the halls of government, so can't the defense industry pull some strings to create wars and conflict?

This movie makes a very powerful statement about the current conduct of war.  It includes in-depth interviews of a range of people who were directly involved with either creating that war, or the consequences of it.   The movie is presented as several story threads that proceed together to tell a joint story, one of an overbearing U.S. power being used for Imperialistic ends.

One of the moving story threads is that of a NY City cop who was a Vietnam veteran.  One of his sons worked in the World Trade Center, and on his way to work on September 11, 2001 he saw from the subway train the WTC burning.  In his grief from losing his son he became, like many of us, angry and vengeful.  Through the progress of the movie he tells that story of vengeance, including how he got his sons name painted on the side of a bomb which was used in the Iraq war.  And then he heard President Bush admit on national television that he was confused how anybody could have thought there was a connection between Iraq and the events of September 11, 2001.

President Bush lied to us.  He lied us into war.  As this NY City cop says, the stereotype of the office of the President is Integrity.  President Bush ran on a platform of Integrity.

But, as the movie says, in almost every armed conflict the U.S. has been involved in, the President and other leaders lied to us.  One of the clearest cases was the Gulf of Tonkin incident which President Johnson used to justify launching the Vietnam War.

This movie contains so much information and ideas.  It is a very moving and full of powerful statements from all sides of the debate over the military-industrial complex.

Since Eisenhowers farewell speech plays such an important role in this movie, and contains some powerful statements, I thought to see if it could be found on the Internet.

The Disclosure Project has the video of the address.

On Eisenhower's Farewell Warning Was Meant For Our Time by James Carroll, says what I tried to say above very well. And, it's interesting that article was written in 2001, on the eve of GW Bush being sworn in as president.

Here is the text (copied from

Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation
January 17, 1961

Good evening, my fellow Americans: First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunity they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening. 
Three days from now, after a half century of service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor. 

This evening I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen. 

Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all. 

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on questions of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation. 

My own relations with Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years. 

In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation well rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So my official relationship with Congress ends in a feeling on my part, of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together. 

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment. 

Throughout America's adventure in free government, such basic purposes have been to keep the peace; to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity and integrity among peoples and among nations. 

To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. 

Any failure traceable to arrogance or our lack of comprehension or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us a grievous hurt, both at home and abroad. 

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method. Unhappily the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle – with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment. 

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in the newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research – these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in light of a broader consideration; the need to maintain balance in and among national programs – balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages – balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between the actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress; lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration. 

The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well in the face of threat and stress. 

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. 

Of these, I mention two only. 

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. 

Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea. 

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. 

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. 

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. 

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. 

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. 

In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government. 

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. 

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present – and is gravely to be regarded. 

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. 

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society. 

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society's future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow. 

Down the long lane of the history yet to be written America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. 

Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. 

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war – as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years – I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight. 

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But, so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road. 

So – in this my last good night to you as your President – I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and peace. I trust that in that service you find some things worthy; as for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future. 

You and I – my fellow citizens – need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations' great goals. 

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America's prayerful and continuing aspiration: 

We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love. 

Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it. 

Thank you, and good night. 

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Revenge of the Return of the Son of TIA, Part LXVII

arsTechnica has an interesting overview of government spying on U.S. Citizens. Revenge of the Return of the Son of TIA, Part LXVII It refers to a Christian Science Monitor article I discussed here: U.S. Spies plan massive data sweep of Internet as well as other information.

The overall context for this story is the Total Information Awareness system which had been under development by the DoD, been exposed to the public, which caused a stink, resulting in the supposed cancelation of the project.

What actually happened is one sub-project was canceled, and the remnants has continued on. As the arsTechnica article says:

When Total Information Awareness (TIA) was shot down by Congress amid a storm of public controversy, it seem pretty clear that the government would keep trying, and trying, and trying until it got something that was very much like TIA. The promise of the Big Database in the Sky, the database that knows everything about everyone and can tell who's been naughty and who's been nice, is just too tempting for The Powers That Be to pass up. As it turns out, there's more than one program going on at the moment that's designed to implement such a database,

They discuss two (known) projects that are obviously implementing the same goal. The first, Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), is discussed by the Christian Science Monitor article. The other is Topsail, which is the actual successor to the TIA project (minus the futures market).

Topsail is discussed in this Newsweek article: Wanted: Competent Big Brothers As the Senate frets over whether the NSA has violated the outdated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, no one is paying attention to the real issue: proficiency. by Michael Hirsh

There's an interesting question here between the different views in these articles.

On the one hand we, Americans anyway, are very opposed to massive government surveillance. I say this because of the nearly universal abhorent reaction to 1984 (the book). Just say Big Brother and watch the heebie jeebies crawl up peoples spine.

On the other hand Michael Hirsh makes some interesting points. His article is very positive to these developments. His article claims the NSA is stuck in old technology, and old ways of conducting its business of watching communications. His article repeats the claim that the spy agencies had enough facts about the terrorist attack, but didn't have the technology required to connect the dots.

As Hirsh says "data mining", when used well, can connect facts together to let one see the bigger picture. Given that there are, clearly, some people out there who want to cause damage to society, it makes some sense to use advanced technology to try and find their tracks.

A part of this story is that the capabilities of technology are advancing. As we make more powerful computers, the spooks can do more stuff.

The spooks clearly want to create a system that can track a large portion of the transactions that happen every day. By connecting together disparate transactions, they might detect an attack before it happens.

For example ... take the Oklohoma City bombing. The story is the bomb was made from fertilizer and kerosene, and they used a rental truck as a "car bomb". This means the conspirators will have bought certain supplies before making their attack. Since the area has a lot of farming, a large fertilizer sale wouldn't be too strange by itself, but when connected by data mining to other purchases that together could create a bomb. Well, that's tantalizing the spooks, I'm sure.

But, I think, what about when they make mistakes? As the arsTechnica article alludes, they don't know what patterns to look for.

In the Newsweek article, Hirsh relies on perfect hindsight. It's easy to say the attackers used some specific weapon, and if only we'd known what to look for ahead of time we could have stopped the attack. But, in truth how can one know what to look for ahead of time? That is, until someone makes a weapon how do you know what form their attack will take?

Friday, February 10, 2006 - Libby: My 'superiors' authorized leaks - Feb 9, 2006

Libby: My 'superiors' authorized leaks Prosecutor says Libby shared classified intelligence with media: Summary is, Scooter Libby, VP Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, has apparently testified that he leaked Valerie Plame's identity under orders from his superiors. While the article tries to be vague about who they are, well, doesn't a "chief of staff" generally work directly for the person whom they are the chief of their staff? So isn't the superior for the Vice President's chief of staff, then, the vice president?

Thursday, February 9, 2006

U.S. Spies plan massive data sweep of Internet

There's this current story about massive snooping into telephone conversations by the NSA. The NSA and CIA and other spy agencies are supposed to turn their efforts on targets outside the U.S. but under Bush Administration edict they've been working inside the U.S., in opposition to U.S. law. Yes, the President has been breaking the law.

The conduct of the U.S. Administration is that this is not a war on Terror, but instead a war on Personal Freedom.

Consider: US plans massive data sweep Little-known data-collection system could troll news, blogs, even e-mails. Will it go too far? (Christian Science Monitor, February 09, 2006)

The article describes a little-known system called Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE), a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio.

The project it describes is very similar to the process of search engine companies like Google, Yahoo, Technorati, etc. It's to scoop up a vast amount of data from the Internet and to draw out extra information from it. The technical phrase is "data mining" which is a practice of taking one data source, and putting it to a different use. Data mining is widely performed in businesses.

For example credit card companies perform data mining to detect fraudulent use of credit cards. e.g. they might look for your card being used to make an abnormally large purchase, or a purchase made far from your normal area of activity. And if they see it, they could give you a phone call saying "we noticed suspicious activity, did you make purchase X on date Y".

So long as the ADVISE system is collecting publicly available data, is there a problem?

The difference here between the government activity and what, e.g. Google, would do with it is: The government is looking for "terrorists", and the government has people with guns who are known to use those guns to kill people.

The problem with the government's hunt for terrorists, is they've got a rather loose definition and they make mistakes. For example in the Extraordinary Rendition stories, one was a German tourist who the U.S. agents identified as Al Qaeda linked, they kidnapped him, flew him to Afghanistan, tortured him for months, eventually realized they mistakenly identified him, and dropped him off penniless in Kosovo. And for loose definitions of terrorism, we can think of the people arrested for "ecoterrorism" where they are taking their protests of e.g. logging activities to doing property damage and whatnot. Sure, commiting property damage is illegal and they should be punished, but labeling them as terrorists is going too far.

In other words, I think it's legal to collect data that's publicly available (e.g. published on a web site) and to make secondary uses of it. If it's good enough for Google or Technorati, then it's good enough for the U.S. Government. But there needs to be oversight and measurement to ensure they don't overstep themselves.

For example, what if they made a deal with Google or other search engines to capture some of the private search query data which the search engines have on hand. That is, each time you make a search engine query, the company running your preferred search engine receives your IP address, your web browser, your operating system, etc, along with the query terms. If you've registered with the search engine (e.g. signed into your "mail" account) then the search engine can know exactly who you are.

Now, that's private data which the search engine collects. One way they use it is to further tailor your search results based on past queries you've made. But what if they began handing that data over to the government, which the government would than incorporate into this ADVISE system?

Would you get a knock on the door just because you had a hankering to learn about terrorists and did a lot of google searches about activities done by terrorists? Or you wanted to see for yourself just how easy (or not) it is to get information on making nuclear bombs?

I want to close by reminding the reader of the Total Information Awareness system. TIA is/was a Department of Defense project to that acted as an umbrella over several inter-related projects, some of which would use data mining techniques of the kind described in the CS Monitor article. While a couple minor TIA projects were shut down, it's clear the bulk of them went forward, and that the intent of the Government for several years has been to create a technologically advanced system that can effectively track every action and look for "dangerous" patterns.

The TIA existed before the September 11, 2001 events which "changed everything". The TIA existed before the Bush administration. This is just an ongoing desire by government agencies to vastly step up their capabilities to spy on everyone.