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Belmont Club

The Attack of the Golem

June 11th, 2013 - 3:30 pm

Before he went to the Guardian, Edward Snowden went to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post with 41 slides and a “demand that the Post publish all 41 slides within 72 hours of receipt”. Calling himself “Verax”, Snowden approached the Washington Post through an implied intermediary. Gellman writes:

A series of indirect contacts preceded our first direct exchange May 16. Snowden was not yet ready to tell me his name, but he said he was certain to be exposed — by his own hand or somebody else’s. Until then, he asked that I not quote him at length. He said semantic analysis, another of the NSA’s capabilities, would identify him by his patterns of language.

The Post dithered and the Guardian got the scoop. In the event, not even the Guardian published all the slides. “The Guardian also refused to publish the complete set. Why? If you saw them, you’d know, Gellman told the New York Times’ Charlie Savage.”

The slides remain in the possession of both the Washington Post and the Guardian, not to mention Snowden himself. Perhaps they’ve been glimpsed by the Chinese in whose territory the Snowden was last seen and  may possibly come into the hands of Vladimir Putin, who announced he’d consider granting Snowden asylum if asked. Twitchy rhetorically wonders who decides whether the other 36 slides will be published:

The Post, together with the Guardian, published five PowerPoint slides regarding the government’s PRISM program. However, both papers chose to withhold 36 more slides leaked to them by Snowden. That puts both papers, rather than the government, in the position of deciding what the public needs to know, and what it shouldn’t know about the government’s Internet surveillance infrastructure. Is everyone comfortable with that?

The answer is obvious: Snowden, Russia and/or China get to decide if the 36 slides get released. Nor is it to be discounted that Snowden has more in his possession than just the slides. A little noted detail in Politico hints there may be more: “additionally, according to Gellman, Snowden requested that the Post publish online a ‘cryptographic key’ so he could prove to a foreign embassy he was the source of the document leak.”

This strongly suggests that Snowden was going to post the material online together with a key allowing its decryption – so it could be read – and a digital signature proving that he alone encrypted it — so they would know it came from him.  He might have posted it anyway as a form of insurance.

There may exist a trove of unreadable NSA classified material already in the hands of a number of people simply awaiting a key and signature. Snowden may have arranged for the key to be released on a schedule unless he resets the timer at intervals through some instrumentality. This would be insurance against “disappearing” because if he vanishes, then who resets the timer?

The size of that potential bomb is difficult to estimate. What’s in the 36 slides? Now imagine that you are Google or Microsoft trying to estimate your possible exposure to a class action suit, the kind of which nearly sank AT&T in the Hepting vs AT&T case,  whose amounts were potentially “ruinous”.

What is Google’s liability?  It may not in fact know,  not only because it is uncertain what liabilities arise  from the current exposure, there is no way of estimating what liabilities may arise from a future exposure. What else is in the trove? Have health records been accessed? What about financial records? How big can this hit be? Google has tried to get out in front of the issue by “asking the Obama administration for permission to disclose more information about requests it gets from national intelligence agencies for its users’ emails and other online communications.”

It needs daylight between itself and the administration. This is the first step in pointing fingers.

The technology giant made the request in a letter to Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on Tuesday.

Google is trying to counteract damaging media reports that the company allows the National Security Agency access to users’ online communications.

The BBC is now reporting that Facebook and Microsoft have joined Google in requesting the government explain things. “Microsoft added that “permitting greater transparency on the aggregate volume and scope of national security requests, including FISA orders, would help the community understand and debate these important issues”. Ted Ullyot, Facebook’s general counsel, said the social networking leader wants to provide “a complete picture of the government requests we receive, and how we respond”.

They are unlikely to be completely successful, however. Some kind of court is in the cards. And any litigation is likely to involve trade secrets, patents, etc of tech companies. This could cost a lot of money.

For the NSA, things are only slightly better. Unless they can put a lid on this, or somehow restore public confidence in the broad intelligence gathering effort, then they may be the object of Church Committee-style hearings, which in the 1970s severely clipped the wings of the CIA. The lawyers and the budgets rivals to the NSA are probably orbiting like vultures right now, waiting for it to die or get downsized.

Putin probably believes that offering asylum to Snowden is a good investment. Because he can sell Snowden back to Obama in exchange for a whole lot more than he can screw out of Snowden on his own.  But not before he gets Snowden’s stash, and not before he gets stuff to hold US tech over a barrel.

The enormity of the potential catastrophe facing US intelligence and US tech can hardly be overstated because we don’t even know what it is. It’s not just a ‘known unknown’. It’s an ‘unknown unknown’. The only way out is for everyone who stands to down the tubes  to be held harmless. The political system has to absolve the citizens who just went along. “Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine gubernatio, et populorum, et lex.”

Do you think “in nomine Obama” will be enough?

Most problems in human history, but politics in especial, have been solved through human sacrifice.  We just call it something different now.   To restore legitimacy to the system, the system needs a human sacrifice. Someone or something has to take the rap, accept responsibility, take a bullet for the team so we can all agree to move on.

Who’s going to take the rap?

Sometimes that person is a US President. For example Lyndon Johnson resigned after his Vietnam policy failed. Richard Nixon, who had just won a landslide election shortly before, resigned after Watergate. They did this because they were in the way of keeping the system going;  while they remained things were paralyzed. In the end Johnson and Nixon went because hanging on to the Oval Office was bad for politics, bad for business, bad for everybody.

A political crisis is usually about the establishment coming to a consensus decision of who has to go. But somebody has to go. The NSA’s intelligence collection system is too valuable to lose. And so are the banks and tech companies and whatever else might be caught up in this. Somehow the governance system has to be purged of what is paralyzing it so life can go on. One blogger writes to say that the “Golem of Government” is running rampage through the system.

You see, for generations now you have collectively built and nurtured a massive, living, metabolizing creature. From the inanimate, intellectual detritus of “progressivism” and your unending and increasingly all-consuming narcissism you have kneaded it into a shapeless husk, pouring in rank mud like “Save the Planet,” “Global Warming,” “The American Dream of Home Ownership,” “The War on Drugs”, “Mothers Against Drunk Driving”, “The War On Terror”, “Speculators”, “Too Big To Fail”, “The 1%”, and of course the essence and spark of its life, “…if it saves just one child.” In conjunction with (but far more so than the other buckets of intellectual mud) “…if it saves just one child” has created the Golem of Government.

And it grew, and grew, and grew until it blew a fuse. Nobody knows how to turn it off any more. It ain’t just the Tea Party guys any more. Now it’s after Google! So it’s serious. Something has to stop it or slow it down before it smashes everything in its agony. Now let’s see whether the political system is up to the task.


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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(continued...)


• (12) Remember FAST AND FURIOUS, in which the Obama DOJ deliberately allowed thousands of military-grade "assault rifles" to be delivered to Mexican drug cartels, resulting in HUNDREDS of murders, including those of two U.S. law enforcement personnel?

• (13) Remember the Obama DOJ refusing to prosecute the most conspicuous and well documented case of Voting Place Intimidation in U.S. History?

• (14) Remember the sitting Attorney General refusing to answer Congressional questions about "Fast and Furious" and hiding behind a PRESIDENTIAL assertion of executive privilege?

• (15) Remember the IRS official directly responsible for the targeting of conservative applicants for protected status TAKING THE FIFTH AMENDMENT and refusing to answer Congressional questions, then going on an extended vacation on FULL SALARY?

• (16) Remember the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin when he investigated Obama's pal, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former pro basketball star? That investigation was of the alleged misuse of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars by the Mayor's friends…

I could go on, but you get the picture. We forget. Nobody can keep track of all the BS this administration has shoveled; there's just too much. And that's without even mentioning the sickening corruption of the Democrat party when they had full control of both houses in Congress… Ms. Pelosi and her Air Force Jet party central for all her pals - hundreds of thousands of dollars just in LIQUOR BILLS, not to mention the cost of fuel, maintenance, parts, air and ground crew. God Help the US.

Parasites.

Will the host survive?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
The trouble is, I'm far more afraid of my own government than I am "terrorists". Who kills more innocent Americans in the US? Terrorists or law enforcement officers?

That's what is so puzzling about people on the right who support a police state, don't you grasp that Obama and many on the left consider you terrorists? My own state police issued a report that people who displayed the Gadsden flag should be considered potential terrorists.

Look at how the IRS has been harassing Tea Party groups, again for the same reason, they consider them to be enemies of the state.

All these rules and special exceptions to the constitution can and will be used against political enemies. That's why they shouldn't exist.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
There is a lot of chaff in the air.

First I think that Snowden probably was a dupe of Chinese State Security. He is in effect a traitor. His motives may be legitimate. His grievances may be real. The danger of overreaching intrusion by the NSA is serious. The organs of the American government have been penetrated by forces hostile to the people and the Constitution. But he is still likely guilty.

China is effectively at war with us. They bought, or is it rented, the Clintons and are aggressive to the edge of recklessness in challenging our technology and military. Is there a line between the Chinese and the Russians on this? Are they like the Sunni and the Shi'a, who hate each other and kill each other but who despise us more? The Kremlin shill is spinning at 5,000 rpm to stampede us into pouring our trust and hopes behind the Isolationist fringe of the Paulbots. Who wins if we do that? The world is on fire and evil is growing. This is no time to hide.

Our enemies, in Tehran and Beijing and Moscow and Quetta etc. benefit by our lack of focus as we run from fire to fire. We need to identify our enemies and our friends and work patiently to disempower our enemies. We need a strong foreign policy with strong tools to support it. Those tools include a strong military and a strong intelligence system.

Domestically we need to restore the Constitution and get the real traitors and subversives out of power. The best long term defense we can bring to the Republic is engagement in the political process, don't just complain about the Republicans while allowing Democrats to win but support real patriots, and we need support for any changes that would weaken the authoritarians by defunding them. Pry their fingers off the education system and the health care system and locate every crack they use through charities and mandates to divert funds, especially tax payer funds. No one should be allowed to vote for their own income.

Do we need a Communications and Signals Intelligence Service? Yes we do and we need the most iron clad safeguards possible to ensure that the likes of Obama never get near the keys to the Puzzle Palace. Do we need an Internal Revenue Service capable of interfering in the exercise of Constitutional speech and effecting the results of elections? No we do not and serious restructuring of our tax system is imperative.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (84)
All Comments   (84)
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Wretchard,

As always, thank you for your commentary. With a definite plus for linking to the Finem Respice blog. That blog may well be worth reviewing...
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment

formerly Eggplant
Snowden may have been a Barney Fife but Wretchard's comment about who was getting wobbly with the Ray-gun was I believe in reference to Obama. Our problem is the corruption that allowed at best an incompetent amateur, and possibly something far worse and more hostile, into the office of POTUS.

The MSM is certainly complicit. If we were to analyze the 'root causes' that allow people like Obama, and Manning and Snowden and Major Hassan etc. into positions of trust and then devise a structure to keep them out what would we get? Arguably the Constitution as intended would be a pretty fair effort with a few thoughtful prunings or patches.

We have played the fantasy Amendment game before. My favorite ideas are:
1. Repeal the XVIIth Amendment,
2. No votes in federal elections for federal tax eaters, except enlisted military and officers activated for war,
3. No votes in state/local elections for those tax eaters, both restrictions kick in at 50% of income,
4. Census records lawful citizens eligible to vote for apportionment.
5. No federal role in education or health care, except safety and purity of Rx and 'weights and measures' issues, and education for military and dependents and Indian tribes and Merchant Seamen and health care for the preceding and Border Security from communicable disease under the Public Health Service.

Calling his pole dancing fiance a common prostitute may be unjustified. Clearly any good LEO unraveling his case, like any good HUMINT officer would have done in getting him into this position if as I and some suspect he was reached, would have to get to know the facts behind his emotional condition. Eventually the truth may come out.

If he did this spontaneously, without being recruited by a foreign service, then that is a condemnation of an education system and culture so enervated as to produce people who do not consider the possible cost and spontaneously turn to outside support when facing corruption. It is also a reason to replace a management culture that would hire unreliable people and resorts to massive overreach because they are unwilling to focus on specific and real threats.

I have tried to find a clip from the movie of Yossarian comforting the dying Snowden.
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
Perhaps Maxine "The Mouth" Waters spilled the beans in public about what all this data is actually doing, as it most certainly is not being used against Wahhabis / Iranian Shia.

If all this stuff feeds into the OFA database in the sky, the thing that allows them to micro target both supporters and opponents during political campaigns, it may explain a lot about how and why the NSA et al is collecting it.

The thing about databases and Big Data is that is needs a lot of care and feeding, a moderate to large amount power to support, a number of sysadmins for care and feeding. It also needs backups and offsite backups. Finally, it can also be corrupted.

Rather than worrying about its existence, perhaps it is time to Stuxnet it and return this weapon into the garbage in, garbage out from whence it came. Cheers -
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Constitution Allah Ackbar Tea Party bomb abortion patriot gun IRS Islam dog whistle Obama prayer tax surveillance. Obama is awful. Bidden is an idiot. IRS is corrupt.
Michael Hoskins

No comment, just adding a little noise to the system.
ta
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Three Days of the Condor is an old movie (1975) where a low level CIA bookworm discovers a plot to take over the old fields in the Middle East and, doing his job, reports his discovery up his chain of command. Somewhat later, returning from lunch, he finds his entire section murdered. When the bosses ordering the assassinations discover that the main target was missed, the CIA orders a hit on Robert Redford, the hapless analyst.

After the “3 Days” (and Redford dispatching some of the ham handed CIA assassins) the CIA decides too much time has elapsed and they re-direct a French hit-man (contractor) to stop pursuing Redford, and instead kill all of those “faithful” CIA folks who were planning the oilfield contingency operation. The really big boys apparently have concluded that they can no longer wait to kill Redford, so they kill everyone else so that when Redford finally spills his beans, all the evidence will be erased.

In the final scene, the CIA handler trying to bring him “back in” (to kill him) realizes Redford has turned over all that he knows to The Old Grey Lady – the NYT. The parting scene shows a very confident handler asking Redford,

“What if they decide not to print it?”

We may find out.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
SD - The Tea Party harassment by the IRS is not a scandal it is a cautionary tale. They just let us know how they can gut us.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
These FedGov flunkies haven't seen a true gutting.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I thought it interesting that the YouTube of the final scene - that last conversation between Higgins and Redford - has been taken down. Or it may be that I didn't search all that well for it.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Many of us are biting at the edges at the horror and evil that misuse of the Prism system might portend. The following is right out of the Weather underground that Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dorn have embraced for decades:

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2008/10/eliminating_25_million_america.html

Watch the FBI video at the bottom.

Remember the Jews? There may be a new placeholder for extermination.

Prism out to be able to round up those miscreants right quick.


44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Identifying the enemies and dealing with them are separate problems. Only an incompetent manager (like the current Disaster in Chief) would think PRISM had done it all.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Chicago on the Potomac knows what Snowden has by now and if truly damaging has already retrieved it from their lapdogs at the Washington Post who would not dare to print anything not received through the proper channels complete with glowing editable talking points.
Greenwald and his bosses at gaurdian.co.uk are very likely feeling the wrath of influence while we ponder implications.
Criminal activity such as Fast and Furious can now go back to being five..wait six flicks and Ben Ghazi, just somebody that we used to know.
Smart Power leaning forward.
The sun is shinning the market is up...well except BAH. Embrace the new world order.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bear in mind that computer systems administrators hold extraordinary power over the computer systems they maintain. These are the people who have to go in and fix the computers when they break, including when the security system fails. They have the knowledge and ability to change anything on the computers they control, including files, password databases, all user data, and even the security logs set up to detect intrusion. Their job is knowing all of the nuts and bolts of exactly how the software works.

There's also an expectation that system administrators will spend their time keeping their computers up and running smoothly, not spend their time snooping through the data on those computers.

So yes, 3 months is plenty of time for a really good sysadmin to get the lay of the land, identify what was on the computers and figure out a way to get the data off and spirit it away.

It might have been as simple as getting a target computer into single-user mode for some perfectly legitimate reason, such as hardware replacement, plugging a micro SD card reader into a USB socket and copying the data in the background while he did the real maintenance. How hard would it be to get a micro-SD card out of the building? It's smaller than your fingernail.

Another issue here is our government's push to flood the technology field with H1B visa holders. If I were a foreign nation looking to infiltrate American business and government, this would be the easiest point of attack. All it would take would be one sysadmin spy in an organization and the entire enterprise would be completely compromised from top to bottom. Business plans, data, email, everything.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Written in the wake of the Sea Peoples catastrophes, when the wreckage of once great Bronze Age civlizations was still floating on the tide:

Far-seeing Zeus then made another race,
The fifth who now live on the fertile earth.]
I wish I were not of this race, that I
Had died before, or had not yet been born.
This is the race of iron. Now, by day,
Men work and grieve unceasingly; by night,
They waste away and die. The gods will give
Harsh burdens, but will mingle in some good.
Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men,
When babies shall be born with greying hair.
Father will have no common bond with son
Neither will guest with host, nor friend with friend
The brother-love of past days will be gone. . . .
Men will destroy the towns of other men.
The just, the good, the man who keeps his word
Will be despised, but men will praise the bad

And insolent. Might will be right and shame
Will cease to be. Men will do injury
To better men by speaking crooked words
And adding lying oathes, and everywhere
Harsh-voiced and sullen-faced and loving harm,
Envy will walk along with wretched men.

- Hesiod, The Works and Days
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment

blert
Embedded replies end up down thread and unread.

Agreed that no professional HUMINT officer wants his asset going public and ending the game, unless HQ thought he was going to be exposed anyway and decided that discrediting the NSA and the US tech industry was more valuable than what could have been accessed in the future.

My guess is that they had made contact with Snowden, maybe he was a walk in, and would have loved to leave him in place. Maybe in Snowden's mind refusing to do that makes him a patriot and not a traitor. Where could he have gone to that wouldn't have put him under the control of America's enemies? No state governor in the US could have offered him sanctuary. Even an opponent of the DC regime like Perry of Texas or Bryant of Mississippi or Haley of South Carolina would have had to turn him over to the feds. Would the Israelis have taken him in? Maybe or as likely, or more given that he doesn't even have the fig leaf of the Law of the Return on his side, they might have decided he was not worth the trouble and sent him back, like Meyer Lansky.

My best WAG is that Snowden is something of an idiot savant who is good with computers but knows nothing of larger issues, such as the fact that Hong Kong is controlled by the Chinese Communists and that they are among America's enemies. He likely was contacted, possibly on his earlier vacation in Hong Kong or by US based recruiters, maybe under the cover of Peace Activists or freelance journalists. Any US based reporter or stringer for the Grauniad could be complicit. The real possibility that the foreign press are linked to hostile intelligence services will likely be used to defend government surveillance and bury the over reaching with regards to the domestic press AP and Fox.

The real culprits are the shoddy educational and managerial systems that the Left have fostered. While the old fashioned reliance on educated elites subject to intrusive personal security checks could still fail the current system will give the keys to people like Manning and Snowden who can't be trusted. Agreed that the abuses revealed by Snowden are serious but the culture that trusted him is also a serious problem.

In summation we need to reestablish serious Counter Intelligence and background check controls and we need to focus our intelligence system on real threats. Congress needs to assert itself, partly to ensure potential whistleblowers that there is a safe haven they can go to without turning to hostile foreign agents.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agreed that he gives e v e r y appearance to be an idiot savant...

Wareham wrote of the Type: Lockheed.

I had a friend who fit Wareham's schema to a tee.

It's an analysis that deserves m u c h wider circulation. For Google, et. al. are larded with 'Lockheeds.' What they all have in common is a mono-mania on tech -- and a total zero on just about everything else.

They are an unfocused danger.

While astoundingly clever at craft... they are... literally... narrow minded... and typically have no historical perspective whatsoever.

Which makes sense. To be at the top of their game means to be so driven that they have not the time in any day to get a wider back round.

What we're left with is an individual that conflates their expertise in ONE area to be all-around-super-knowledge.

At the extreme -- the college professor.

Sheesh...

Wilson... Obama....

Is there a trend?
43 weeks ago
43 weeks ago Link To Comment
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