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Belmont Club

The Broadband Empire and the Game of Drones

June 6th, 2013 - 6:48 pm

At a recent dinner with friends last month, some of whom were writers, I was asked for a developer’s opinion on the security of various cloud-based products. I told them that ultimately, they had no security at all.  We were so thoroughly spied on, I suggested that “you have to regard yourself as potentially sharing every keystroke, every search, every message with the NSA. If you want security, encrypt. Or better still, buy untraceable clothes and while disguised send one time messages via disposable or public devices.”

My answer elicited a nervous laugh, but I meant it. And besides, who’s laughing now? Recent revelations have shown that the Obama administration is collecting traffic analysis data on Verizon’s customer base (and by implication has similar arrangements with every other provider) and is mining data straight from the servers of companies providing Internet services. The Washington Post reports on codename PRISM:

That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.

The technology companies, which participate knowingly in PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted significant traffic during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

Dropbox , the cloud storage and synchronization service, is described as “coming soon.”

For those who don’t know what this means, it means that the administration is able to draw a graph (like a network chart) of who is talking to whom. It is able to say what are the key nodes through which any business passes, find all its Internet ‘friends’ and interlocutors and potentially drill down into the comms themselves — in time series.

This would pick up every organization of significance, whatever its purpose. Medical associations, pedophile rings, prayer groups, Tea Party groups, lesbian sororities, gay date swapping groups, business networks, professional networks, spy rings and terrorist cells. The works. It picks up the civilians more easily than the players, because the players use encryption, buy untraceable clothes and while disguised send one time messages via disposable or public devices.

The civilians don’t.

Your only safety lies in being overlooked, that is to say, in not being part of an affinity group of interest to the Obama administration. Otherwise you become part of the result set of a query, or search pattern. The reason everyone must sooner or later fall into the toils of the data mining operation is something called Dunbar’s Number. It holds that no cell can grow beyond 150 members in size without resorting to communications and hierarchies.

So unless your organization wants to doom itself to insignificance, you will use email. You will use cloud apps. You will use IM. And you will wind up on the administration’s database.

The fact that you belong to a large group, for example the 50% of the US population that is conservative or Republican, does not give you safety in numbers. Within this large group of millions are a much smaller number of key leadership nodes. They are the nodes that matter, the top of the hierarchy mandated by Dunbar’s Number.

If you can control, corrupt or even bait those nodes you can reduce the entire group to impotence. You can effectively decapitate it, a strategy applied not only to al-Qaeda but apparently also by the IRS in its hunt of Tea Party and Republican fundraising groups. The virtual world let’s you dominate the virtual high ground. You don’t have to clobber all Muslims and Republicans. You just have to clobber the key nodes and the rest will mill around like leaderless ants.

What the IRS and AP wiretapping scandals demonstrated was the administration’s intent in action. They want to clobber key nodes.  What the FBI/NSA data mining operations show is capability. They can clobber key nodes. The Obama administration has demonstrated the intent to pick apart affinity groups with IRS. The Verizon and PRISM stories show how they have potentially been doing it.

From another vantage, the IRS actions and the drone program were loop closers. They were the shoot step in a look-shoot-look cycle that begins and ends in the virutal world. For conservatives the action step is the audit letter. For jihadis the end of the line is the Kill List.  This is where the Broadband Empire meets the Game of Drones.

It’s almost funny in a macabre sort of way, a kind of Second Life Universe which Jihadis enter via YouTube or some Islamic militant site run perhaps by an FBI webmaster and exit via a Hellfire controlled by a stream of bits. Call it the Jihadi Paradox, born by YouTube, died by GPS.

But what is most interesting about these breaking revelations is another question: “why now?” Why are all these programs, so long in gestation and so advanced in perversion now being brought to light?  The most reasonable conjecture is things have reached a tipping point in even the internal bureaucracy’s perception of their legitimacy.

For while there may be a difference of opinion over the initial character of these programs — the Bush started it versus the Obama did it debate — what cannot be denied is that the providers of these exposes to the media have decided that things have gone too far.

There must have been thousands of people who knew for a fact what I only gussed as a logical truth at that dinner party. The thousands or tens of thousands included those who worked for the data mining programs; or the legislators who had been briefed on the data collection efforts. Somewhere, somehow a critical mass of them said basta, enough, no mas, no more. For even the Broadband Empire and the Game of Drones are composed of people.  And so the leaks.

Why the change of heart? Take the established media which may known or suspected the existence of this control system for some time. To keep their friends or out of ideological conviction they long kept silent.  Well they are silent no more, a trickle that threatens to be a flood if only out of the fear that motivated Trotsky to speak out against Stalin.  They finally realized they too are in the cross-hairs, that what every Leftist fears in his DNA —  the purge — is coming.

Do you know why no hard-core Leftist ever publicly admits that he is?  It’s because he knows what membership in that club means.  A word about Purges. Once I was told that Leftists were smarter than conservatives, to which I retorted, “then how come they all wound up in the Gulag?” But they too can wise up.

By whatever process, the existence and operation of these vast data mining schemes have lost legitimacy within the establishment and even the bureaucracy itself. Perhaps it was because some saw these magnificent virtual machines perverted in ways they were never intended to serve, converted into political persecution machines, or worse taken over by an enemy who could bribe his way into anything.

Perhaps it was because some True Believer finally realized he was a True Chump. When he finally realized “it’s you they are talking about, your IM message they are hacking,  your email they’re analyzing, your phone calls they are tracing. You are not exempt.”

Well why would you be? But we should take luck as it comes. To those who’ve finally chosen put the questions out in the public space, welcome to the fight. And never say your part is small, for whatever you do may  prove more important then you think.

Yet things might have gone far otherwise and far worse. When you think of the Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valor of Durin’s Folk. Think of what might have been. … ruin and ash. But that has been averted — because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth.

When we act in conscious freedom, there are no chance meetings in this or in Middle-Earth.

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99
Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99
No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99
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Top Rated Comments   
It will be interesting in the coming days to see who tries to defend this wanton trashing of the Constitution. This is really the litmus test if you have gone full TWANLOC or not.

Unfortunately, some prominent Conservatives already have defended the Verizon caper - John Yoo for one - and others trying to defend this crap under the Patriot Act can't be far behind.

Stuff it guys.

We will be told this surveillance is absolutely,- I mean absolutely - necessary for our national security. Supposedly one out of seven NSA reports is now based on PRISM. Why we will be left defenseless without it! Why it was so important in catching those Boston Bombers, er, or maybe not.

Lord Acton's quote " Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely" still applies. What exactly is the check on this power? How exactly does one defends oneself against this damnable intrusion? How does one prevent the abuse of this power?

The answer is one can not - effectively - defend oneself ever again against this government power if it is left to remain in place. Particularly with Buraq in office.

We must rid ourselves completely of these surveillance methods, and I mean all of them, - damn the damage and cost to our security - and beat back with a huge bloody club any effort or anybody who tries to re-impose them. Otherwise all our freedoms will vanish completely before you know it.

This idea that we need this kind of surveillance - so praised by so many - is a terrible cancer on our society. It must be cut out completely and not allowed to grow back.

Btw- our security is only at risk because we simply refuse to confront and destroy our enemies when and where we find them. I seem to remember, before this surveillance thing took hold, when we carried a really big stick and weren't afraid to use it, that our security was pretty damn good. Time to go back to those unfashionably retro and provincial ideas.

There is simply is no excuse for this damage to our freedoms.
None, whatsoever.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
...and I laughed at people who speculated that someone "got to" John Roberts before the Obamacare decision. Hmm...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (84)
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I worked at a regional telecom some years ago and this company owned a good stake in one of the smaller national cellphone companies. I typically parked at the top of the parking garage and there were always a number of Federally tagged vehicles parked up there as well.

I assumed they were working in a black-room somewhere in the building going through the telecom's data in some way shape or form. I was not aware of any official federal office in the nearby area. Since that point, I have pretty much taken it for granted all of our communications are subject to Federal snooping
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
'Safety in numbers' only works for someone truly has their head buried in the sand.

I have no doubt a lot of us exist (stood out) on SEVERAL lists cross-referencing each other - if you ever purchase a firearm, your Christian belief, your race, your 'rant' on the internet, etc etc. The 'red flag' would have us all pegged.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Glenn Beck also said he's extremely suspicious about John Roberts's last-minute change about Obamacare -- he thinks the guy was "gotten to."

I think we've been living in a banana republic for a lot longer that we knew. This also sheds some light on the enduring mystery of the Republican castrati.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This explains the Leftists' insouciance, doesn't it?

And I saw this, from The Blaze, June 7th: Not "metadata/envelope info only." William Binney, Technical Director of the NSA's World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Group, with 6,000 analysts under him, which is basically the intelligence reporting of NSA, had this to say (yes, Wretchard, he was pricked by his conscience):

GLENN: I’ve heard conflicting reports on this and I would like to get your opinion, because I believe I know what this [system] is capable of. They are saying that, two things: One, “oh, no, they’re just connecting the dots. They are not ‑‑ they don’t have access to any conversations or anything.” Then on the other side of that I’ve heard “They can take every keystroke. So in other words, you start writing an e‑mail and you can delete, delete, delete, delete, and they’ll have what you wrote and all of the deletes if they care to open those packages.” True or false?

BINNEY: That’s true. I mean, their statement about we don’t have content is an outright lie. I mean, that’s been going on ‑‑

PAT: Wow.

BINNEY: ‑‑ the NARIS devices from 2003 give them that data. Even the telecoms. If you looked at that report on PRISM, they were requesting information like e‑mails, you know, videos, all kinds. That’s all content.

GLENN: So, Bill, they have ‑‑ I know this. We started getting on this because we had Michael Chertoff and John Ashcroft on in the days when Bush was still in office and neither of them would go online. Neither of them would have a phone either and they just laughed at me. And they were like, “If you knew what we could do, you wouldn’t have it either.” And we started talking about it at that point.


GLENN: And so it won’t really stop, because how do you dismantle something like this? First of all, for all of those members of the media that were talking about these things as a conspiracy theory, what the hell did they build the Utah information vault for? How do you dismantle something like this?

. . .
GLENN: So how do you end it? So how do you end it? Does it end?

BINNEY: I mean, it’s going to take radical action by the people just to vote these idiots out of office.
GLENN: But they ‑‑ again, I go back to what George Bush said to me, you know, “my hands are ‑‑ my hands are pretty much tied, I have no real decisions.”

[What does THAT mean? Anyway, watch/or read the interview at the Blaze. And howdy, No Such Agency!]
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Prior to Clinton, Microsoft had nothing to do with Politics. lobbyists, no contributions to career criminals. exceptional position to take given the size they had achieved,
still much like the 7 man shop in Arizona where MS got started.

Clinton/Reno "justice" took care of that, and they have fallen in line.

How far we have come.

All our laundry "dirty" as it is, insecure in the cloud for The Regieme's convenience.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was wandering in this thought path today and posted this elsewhere:

I think something went completely unnoticed by the general public(myself included), that relying on email in place of snail mail meant your conversations were always vulnerable to outside perusal. There are no longer any sealed envelopes and we traded expediency for privacy. And now we become concerned the governmant routinely violates the illusion of privacy we thought we had? No one is forcing us into bondage, we are walking under our own steam. What to do?

Only two things come to mind, 1) disconnect completely from all forms of electronic communication or 2) invent something that encrypts all your communications that is not itself connected to any kind of modem. Laws won't protect us, leftists believe in the rule of men and are not restrained by laws.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Disconnecting" from American live punishes us, not the Democrat outlaws. There are better options involving massive civil disobedience.

I've been thinking for some time about how to wage an effective war of civil disobedience if the US government openly violates Constitutional law. As we have seen, a President and his men can do nearly anything with little to no accountability if the Senate and Congress is divided, and unable to impeach. However, since government in American has "automated" compliance and penalties in just about every area of live (e.g. Taxes, EPA regulations, National Parks "service fees" - you name it), identifying effective means of civil disobedience has been difficult.

1) Bit Chaff: NSA and Justice "hoovering" personal data and internet search habits. Response: Saturate the network. You and a million of your dearest friends start logging internet searches on "bomb making", Patriot, Tea Party, Constitution, sabotage, "Murrah Federal Building", domestic IED, and such. I have over 100 email aliases used for various purposes - my method of defeating spammers (i.e. I identify and drop the spammed email address). If every one of the million faithful added 20 email addresses, and started communicating "chaff" email with all kinds of loaded terms, every one would be picked up and added to the government database. That much "bit chaff" in the system would sharply degraded the effectiveness of the government database, as data is only as valuable as it is clean and relevant.

2) Anti-IRS chaff: It would not be terribly complicated to file returns with minor "errors" in them, forcing some level of human intervention. It might ultimately cost a few $100 in penalties (which can be offset by understating a few deductions). The goal is to create an administrative cost 10x higher than the value created. Again, if a million tax payers act in concert, it'll CHOKE THE LIFE OF THE EVIL, CONSTITUTION VIOLATING M***F***kers.

While the notion of marching on Washington (and/or the IRS NTEU headquarters) with pitchforks, tar, and feathers (with or without AR15's in two) may have a certain gratifying feeling to it, it's not practical nor realistic for conservatives, many of who have taken oaths to the Constitution of the USA that they have never recanted.

There ARE better, effective means of civil disobedience. The Treasury (IRS) and Justice (FBI) departments are effective against individuals. They won't be effective against a million committed taxpayers and citizens. The answer to information abuse is to saturate the system with chaff.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I heard someone else propose something similar just today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Mass demos outside the gates at the Utah Data Center at Camp Williams 25 miles south of SLC would be a good start. Photograph everyone going in and out and tape the cops if they beat photographers or smash the cameras. Risky for those involved -- yes. But low risk compared to the dumb and abandoned idea of marching on D.C. even with rifles slung. Carry banners, perhaps an enlarged photo of the Nuremberg Nazis on trial, telling the NSA agents present that if their data collection becomes used to target people they will be held accountable. They kick it up a notch on the parading the genitalia of their surveillance apparatus in our faces, we kick it up a notch - non-violently -- reminding them of the consequence should their data facilitate the mass arrest or killing of fellow citizens on a political basis.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And that is of course, NOT carrying banners suggesting that their facility becomes a valid military target if it is used to target Americans for political thought 'crimes'. I wouldn't recommend that even though it happens to be true.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Left this note for the NSAers and Tea Partyers reading about the facility outside Salt Lake City at Business Insider:

JackJD Montana on Jun 7, 9:41 PM said:

Dammit it's time the Tea Partyers in SLC get off their butts and picket outside the gate of this facility and the National Guard territory. Oath Keepers should put up a big fat billboard for every NSA employee to see driving in to work in the mornings of the Nuremberg Nazis in the dock. Just to remind them of what happens if the data collection they are doing is ever used to blackbag, incarcerate, or murder fellow Americans for political 'offenses'. They'll end up just like the 'I vaz just vallaling orders!' Nazi thugs. And that's assuming if NSA data is used to kick off a hot war against 'insurrectionists' that the 'insurrectionists' don't have an air force of their own out West.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
[blockquote] ---
Whew. Well its not like the USG is using its massive intelligence gathering apparatus, including, of course, its signals intercept capability and PRISM, to target and then launch drone strikes against American citizens.

Oh, wait:
13 hours ago Reply Like (1) Report Abuse Link To Comment

Fletcher Christian
I might be wrong about this - but doesn't signing up with an enemy military automatically revoke American citizenship?
13 hours ago --- [/blockquote]

I would remind everybody that the only real example of Republican Congressional resistance to Obama was the old school filibuster by Rand Paul [and a few other Patriots] against the confirmation of John Brennan as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency back in March of this year. Which was opposed by the Institutional Republicans, most vocally by John McCain.

The trigger was the insistence of the Obama regime that they had the legal right to use drones to kill US citizens inside the United States without warrants, formal charges, or due process. The regime backed off, Brennan was confirmed, and the regime recanted their backing off. Killing American citizens who are declared enemies of the regime has already been publicly contemplated, and privately planned inside the regime. The means will vary. Drones don't fit every situation. But then there are DHS, the FBI, and hordes of other organizations who are proven loyal to the regime and not the Constitution.

I am somewhat of a historian. History does not repeat itself. But human stupidity, and the 7 Deadly Sins very much do. My read is that TWANLOC are making their move. It is now or never. Regardless of which anti-American ideology this ends up being attributed to, Obama will have his "third term" and it will be for life. There will be a Night of the Long Knives; or more accurately two of them. One within the regime to consolidate power, one without to seize power.

I do not know if the revelations by informants are caused by conscience or as part of a deeper false flag. Anyone who works for the coercive organs of the State, or has, must be approached with caution in any case as their loyalties are suspect until proven, and that proof is almost impossible.

[Wretchard, any hints as to tradecraft based on experience?]

It appears that:


Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Obama will have his "third term" and it will be for life."

Cue Patrick Henry: "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell, & George III--may profit by their example."

"There will be a Night of the Long Knives; or more accurately two of them. One within the regime to consolidate power, one without to seize power."

As Tom Bombadil might have said, our songs are stronger--& my knives are longer!

It appears that:


Turnabout is fair play.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine last night. He is a professional photgrapher and says that community, displeased with the Adobe people for some time, is now totally enraged.

Abobe will no longer sell Photoshop. They will license it to you on a monthly basis and you will download it from the Cloud as required, whenever you need to use it. They will make changes to the software as they desire, as frequently as they desire, how they desire. If something gets screwed up in that delivery path when you want to use the software to do a job, them's the breaks, sucker.

Unfortunately no one has come out with a software that does all that Adobe Photoshop does relative to what the professionals need. My friend has adopted an approach to using Adobe not too dissimilar to what Wretchard recommends.

Perhaps home Tornado Shelter/RF-tight Screen Rooms might be a potentially thriving new business?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I've never used PHotoshop, but I hear it said that The GIMP is a pretty good alternative, and that one I have used quite a bit (maybe not with lots of talent and skill) It comes from the open source movement so you are not going to have the same difficulties with licensing and the like.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
RWE3 said:

"Abobe will no longer sell Photoshop. They will license it to you on a monthly basis and you will download it from the Cloud as required, whenever you need to use it. "

I am completely baffled by why people tolerate this. It does not matter how good their software is if they are constantly changing the standards and formats. The PDF format was supposed to be generic and suitable for archive storage. Prior to the Adobe PDF format, people were archiving documents as MS-Word documents but that soon became a sucker's game because Microsoft kept changing their format. It has been my practice to convert anything of long term interest in a Microsoft format over to PDF. However Adobe has begun playing the same evil games with their formats that Microsoft was doing with there's. A recent trick is to rotate documents by 90 deg. If I create a PDF under Linux and send it to a Mac running under OS-X, the document is right side up. However if the same PDF is sent to a Microsoft machine, the document is rotated by 90 deg. If I create the PDF on a Microsoft machine, I can take it back to the Mac or the Linux platforms and it remains right side up. Microsoft probably with the connivance of Adobe has broken the PDF format to make it less friendly for Apple and Linux.

This is where our government could actually make itself useful by providing standards. If there was a National Institute of Standards and Technology specified PDF format, I would avoid the proprietary versions like the plague. That brings up another mystery: Why do people program with computer languages that are not ANSI standard? Linux and the GNU General Public License was supposed to answer the problem of programming standards by creating open software (Gcc is a god send). However Microsoft, Apple, Adobe, etc. have done a good job of convincing the sheeple not to use open standards and use the proprietary garbage instead.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They use Adobe because as bad as it is and as incredibly arrogant as they are and as terrible as what they call customer service is, it's still better than anything else. There are any number of image manipulation programs out there but none do all that Photoshop does. And Adobe basically is trying to get away from Photoshop to boot.

Deju Vu is a document viewing program that has some significant advantages over PDF, including smaller files, but it never caught on and its creator stopped supporting it.

PDF Viewer has gotten larger and larger in size and has gotten absurd. They wanted me to download an upgrade and I finally did. It was 150MB! With my dial up connection it took me 5 hours to download it.

And my friend tells me the reason it is so big now is to allow Adobe to sell advertising when you use it!

Get with Annoy Mouse and develop a image manipulation program that does what Photoshop does, or at least the better parts of it, and the world will beat a path to your door.

And I view this Cloud stuff as a computer major's wet dream. They always want to control eveything.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Call me naïve, but Paint Shop Pro has often been called “The Poor Man's Photoshop”. It isn't perfect, but just as Photoshop does things that PSP can't, PSP has some features that Photoshop lacks. And Paint Shop Pro and Painter put together aren't going to cost as much as Photoshop. Do they achieve as much? I don't know, because I can't afford Photoshop. I can't afford Autodesk either, so I suppose I don't know what I am missing in 3-D design. I can't afford Illustrator, but I do use Inkscape and Creature House (later Microsoft) Expression.

Sometimes, old software does a better job than newer (and obviously more expensive) software. Having a range of old software can create effects that aren't easily duplicated by the latest technology.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ah, yes ... the True Chump, eg the famous rigged poker game. After all, the other party may win the White House some day; then what?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BC Alexis. I must admit that I have nothing more than a quesy feeling...unfortunately for me, whenever I ignore it I get bitten.
But, how would this support the China Summit? Prove to them we can hack as well as they? (FWIW I believe the Sino-American Cyber War is in full swing)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We are in a raw economic war with Red China.

In a nuclear age, the prior art of shooting it out for resources can't quite work.

So, it's a trade and currency war, period.

Red China just took a HUGE body blow with Abenomics -- the devaluation of the Yen just clipped the Asset Base of Beijing by $200,000,000,000+!

For those not following the bouncing Yuan: the CCP has punked their own banking system by putting pennies in the fuse box: lending growth towards bizarre malinvestments has reached new global extremes.

As profligate as Barry has been, Red China's government mandated (deficit / money printed) spending has eclipsed America.

In the downturn immediately ahead, the query is: which trading engine will break down first?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What do you think about today's stockmarket ramp? Was that due to a Fed action or a reaction to Abenomics?

People say that the money printing by different central banks will continue until one of the national economies implodes. The argument follows that the implosion of one national economy will cause a domino effect and spread world wide. It is then argued that Japan is poised to be the first domino with others claiming that China will be the first to implode. I remember similar arguments being made about Greece, Spain and Portugal. Those economies proved to be too small to trigger a global domino effect.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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