Get PJ Media on your Apple

Belmont Club

The Flow of Mistrust

June 12th, 2013 - 6:03 pm

One of the conundrums of delegated power is that to be effective, it also has to be capable of potential abuse. Deprive an agent of discretion and the point of hiring him disappears. He may be able to do many things, but not everything he can legally do should be done. Take the question of whether the NSA has too much power. Commenter RWE3  compared it to the USAF’s even more awesome power. “The question in reality is not whether the NSA is accessing such data. Of course they have the capability to do so; it’s their job. It’s like asking if the USAF has the capability to nuke Chicago; if they cannot they better well explain why the hell not.”

We grant agents enormous power but on the implicit understanding that they selectively use it.  Andrew McCarthy makes a similar argument. He says the problem with arguing the NSA has too much leeway is that they simply had a larger version of the power granted to every prosecutor. The problem is not with the grant of power, but the abuse of power.

Again, as noted above, usage records for services, like telephone service, to which a customer subscribes do not belong to the subscriber. They are the property of the service provider. As a result, they have never had any Fourth Amendment protection, and they have precious little statutory protection. Again, we on the national security right wanted this legal reality, long ingrained in routine law-enforcement, to be reflected in national security investigations.

When I was a federal prosecutor, if I wanted phone records for an investigation, I wrote a subpoena and had an agent serve it on the relevant phone company. I did not have to go to court. I did not have to make any showing to a judge that the records were relevant, much less that I had probable cause to believe the customer whose records I wanted was suspected of committing a crime….

It has long been the law that grand juries do not have to suspect a crime in order to conduct an investigation; they can investigate, if they wish, just to satisfy themselves that no crime has been committed. As a practical matter, that never happens. Grand juries, agents, and prosecutors are too busy with real crime to conduct witch-hunts….

I could have compelled the production of phone records of countless innocent people. If I did not have a good reason for doing so, it would have been an abuse of my power. But it would not have been a violation of laws that, quite intentionally, allow the executive branch to compel non-privileged records with virtually no oversight. It would mean we’d need a new, more responsible prosecutor, not new laws.

Of course the USAF is not in the business of nuking American cities, even if it could. Though that does not prevent Hollywood from imagining scenarios where the President orders New York destroyed, usually to prevent the Zombie apocalypse from spreading or as a last ditch measure against Space Aliens. But the fact remains that as with a guns anything powerful enough to do the job on enemies can do a job — on civilians.

One solution to this problem is to remove all sources of danger. This is the logic behind campaigns to create a world without nuclear weapons, wiretapping or guns. And it’s had to argue against this in principle, other than to point out that we have been unable to figure out how to do it. The bad guys maddeningly insist on keeping their nukes, China will undoubtedly keep its hackers and the criminals will insist on retaining their guns.  So while we can decree that henceforth the USAF will no longer have nukes, the wisdom of that course is doubtful for as long as Russia, China or Pakistan keep theirs.

Since we can’t control things the next best approach is to control people through molding organizational cultures and implementing accountability.  That is the approach of checks and balances and the role played — until recently — by culture. It is fairly safe to assume that the generals in charge of the USAF don’t spend much time thinking about how to nuke America, and so “as a practical matter” — to borrow a phrase from McCarthy — “that never happens”.

We have confidence in the USAF culture, which is sometimes referred to as “trust”. We trust the gun in the hands of policemen; in the hands of our friends on the firing range. We form trust networks.  In the current debate over surveillance it’s useful to ask ourselves, in this instance who do we trust?

Most people who use Google, Facebook or Microsoft self-evidently trust Google, Facebook or Microsoft. If they didn’t then they would not have subscribed to or used their services.

The decline in trust must therefore be attributed to the introduction into the trust network of an untrusted party. In the original web of trust we are “Friends of Google” or Facebook, or Microsoft as the case may be.

The NSA in this case is a FOAF; a “friend of a friend”.  They are not our friends. They are Google’s — as mandated by the Patriot Act — or not, as I am unqualified to interpret the law. The problem lies with Transitivity. “In situations where A trusts B and B trusts C, transitivity concerns the extent to which A trusts C.” Since we don’t trust the NSA to the extent that perhaps Google does, our trust of Google doesn’t carry over completely to the NSA. It is less than complete and therefore the overall trust metric declines. Like a convoy that travels at the speed of the slowest ship, the trust network is only as strong as the node that we trust the least.

In a pretty fundamental way the question is not whether you “trust Google” — you already did — but whether you trust Obama. And even if you did trust Obama, would you trust his successor and the one after his successor? In general, do you trust the FOAF?

There is one final wrinkle in this problem. The FOAF is no ordinary “friend”. He is a sovereign; a person with vast power over you. Can you really be “friends” with such an entity or should the friendship have special and limited properties?

It is important to grasp this argument in crafting a solution to the current crisis of trust. You cannot fix the problem of trust by purely technical means; by limiting the fix internally to Google, Facebook or Microsoft. The contagion comes from elsewhere. What you do not trust — not completely anyway — is the new entrant into the trust network.

Therefore the solution to the problem can only take two basic forms 1) either you sever the network connection to the FOAF or 2) you make the FOAF accountable by insisting on an organizational culture of integrity and making it subject to oversight or some other form of review.  In other words, you either remove the power or make those who exercise it accountable. Some combination of the two can doubtless be conceived, but basically those are the variables in play.

For this reason the current crisis of trust in tech cannot be dispelled without resort to a political solution, just as the question of trusting the USAF with nukes cannot be severed from the question of whether those in charge of the Air Force daily dream of nuking America or not. The Administration is part of the problem. Though they pretend it is not, the quality of their character is relevant. In fact, the doubts over that quality are the central element in this crisis of trust. It spreading the contagion of mistrust into the system. The vector of doubt doesn’t go from Tech to the Administration. It goes from the Administration to Tech.

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
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Regarding the surge of cointelpro talking points -- it's interesting that they are seizing on guilt by associations. I saw a typical example of this from the U of H Russophobic fanatics tusovka -- can't rebut Binney? Attack his associates. Snowden is to be blamed for what one of the journos who co-bylined with Greenwald ALLEGEDLY did years earlier in Iraq. And so on and so forth.

Let's lash Sean Hannity because he's following the ratings and the legitimate outrage of his audience instead of the hackles of a few neocon old farts who cannot admit that the system they're so proudly waving has been fully captured by the Obamanoids, and only LEAKING fast and furiously can expose how deep the rot goes. They've not only lost the 'lunatic fringe' hosts -- the rantings Savages or Jones or even the humorous but also conspiratorial and double-dealing with the conspiracy theorists Beck. They've lost El Rushbo, and Mark Levin, the two mainstream hosts who said 'it's nuts on parade' regarding the Paul candidacy, and Levin who denounced pro-Ron Paul callers, including those from the military. If they cannot even keep the usual mainline conservative friends of the military industrial complex in line (as El Rushbo said, 'it keeps me free'), how the hell are they going to convince independents that the NSA listening to their phone is a ok? Only the drooling Obamaphone users will buy it now. What you are seeing is the total crackup and breakdown of the GOP because even if they could convince anyone in the GOP tent with the slightest libertarian inclination that Andy McCarthy could be trusted with everyone's metadata...NO ONE TRUSTS OBAMA. AND NO ONE HAS ANY REASON TO TRUST HIS RINO ALLIES MCAINIAC AND LINDSEY 'gay escort service metadata' GRAHAM.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Recently one USAF missile wing took the extraordinary measure of removing 17 ICBM crewmen from their jobs. Not one of these people had demonstrated a desire to nuke Chicago or any other US city. And obviously, none of them had refused to launch a Minuteman missile at a target, because they had not been told to do so.

Their unsuitability for their duties was not due to their demonstrated inability to perform them under actual combat conditions because they had not been called upon to do so. Rather, they failed to meet certain standards, and that led their leadership to conclude they were unsuitable.

We have to infer a reason to trust people based upon bits of information other than the actions they must do or are forbidden to do. Otherwise, we could end up with a conversation like this:

“General, I thought that your personal reliability programs ensured that this sort of thing would not happen.”

“Well, Mr. President, it this point it looks as though this officer has exceeded his authority.”

So police officers who get arrested for drunk driving have a limited future in their profession, as do surgeons who forget to show up for the operation and teachers who seduce high school kids. They may be great at what they do when they do it but we can’t risk them screwing up based on other characteristics they exhibit not directly associated with the most important task they do; we can’t trust them

The Obama Admin has produced a huge number of indicators that they cannot be trusted.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The funny thing about the movie "Fail Safe" was the US bombers were too good to be stopped by Sovs even with Henry Fonda's people feeding them the courses. They went past the fighters, past the Triple-A, past the missile defenses of the Moscow ring.

"Hello Mr. Ambassador," Fonda tells the State Department guy in Moscow. "When your phone melts I'll hear I high pitched whine".

"Yes Mr. President"


Too good to be stopped by any tech. Hoist by its own petard. Too powerful for it's own good. That's America's curse isn't it. And that's why Obama's people voted in Obama, because he promised to make America weaker.

But once Obama was on office, it was a different story, wasn't it? ... "Say Tom. What did you say the NSA could do?"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (73)
All Comments   (73)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
The 4th Amendment is a dead letter. It is wildly unpopular. The vast, overwhelming majority of searches and seizures performed by American law enforcement are warrantless. The utter destruction of the 4th Amendment's prohibition against warrantless and unreasonable searches and seizures has been an incredibly popular political program.

Look at the Reagan and Bush 1 appointments to the Supreme Court. Reread their testimony before the Senate. They said what they were going to do, and then they did it. Surprised? Why?

This site continually blasts Obama's domestic surveillance programs. Why? There is nothing, NOTHING about the NSA scandal that significantly departs from what was the normal practice under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. This is the outcome of a generational goal under several presidents that simply was unmasked because the president is politically unpopular among conservatives. Had Bush W been the instigator of this, it would have been defended to the death by Pajamas Media.

This is simply flagrant, unprincipled political posturing, especially given today's testimony about the terrorist attacks that have been stopped by these measures.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The flow of mistrust also applies to the Institutional Pubs. Repair Man Jack at REDSTATE does a much more articulate job of making a point I was trying to do a couple days ago:

"The IRS, The NSA and Comprehensive Amnesty Reform All Tie Together In a Very Nasty Way. Keeping You Down Is Way More Important Than Keeping You Safe"

By: Repair_Man_Jack (Diary) | June 14th, 2013 at 11:38 AM | 10

Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters nationwide believe it is likely the NSA data will be used by other government agencies to harass political opponents. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 30% consider it unlikely and 14% are not sure.

(HT:Rasmussen Reports)

The government claims it will keep Americans safe. It says it will do so by establishing the most extensive data surveillance system in human history. It also pushes hard to pass Comprehensive Amnesty Reform. Our political leaders seem deliberately blind to this obvious contradiction.

Then, on top of the obvious epistemological blindness of building a security state with open borders, they make it worse by knowingly and deliberately unleashing the IRS on their political opponents like an underfed pack of Dobermans. All of this makes the true values of the current administration apparent. Keeping you down is far more important than keeping you secure.

So we build this gigantic security apparatus. Ft. Meade, MD bristles with antennae that listen to all of your phone calls and their analysts can scan through your credit card transactions before you even get mailed your monthly VISA bill. Yet they still wave Dzohkar and Tamerlane Tsarnaev through the door with no problem even after the Russian Government wrote them directly and mentioned the Tsarneavs directly as potential threats. And then stand there like slack-jawed idiots when the pressure cooker goes off at the finish line of The Boston Marathon. Nothing that happens at Fort George G. Meade has the intent of actually protecting my safety. I’m being spied upon instead.

Our Commander-In-Chief went to The National Defense University and proclaimed that he was winding the War on Terror down. He stated “This war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.” This would explain his willingness to open the borders, but it doesn’t explain why the IRS people are getting issued AR-15s. Who are those weapons intended to be used upon? If we no longer have to fear Jihad, why is Peter King demanding that journalists get put in prison for publishing what Edward Snowden gives them on a thumb drive*?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So is this latest landslide of national trust and legitimacy issues which threaten the Republic that was gonna be resolved by a series of somethings akin to "Three Days of the Condor" [] or will 'trust' be restored by something along the lines of a few million American citizens finding themselves compelled to break in Condor three-day assault packs []?

...Or is it gonna manifest as some new [progressive] iteration of Operation Condor []?

..'Cause the gaggle of alphabet agencies, oversight bodies, and captured civilian institutions busily riding their long train of abused checks and balances over the cliff is apparently not up to the task of policing their trash within the "confines" of the Constitution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This may be off topic, Wretchard - but the title fits this as well as your topic above. Here's a message in a bottle for you. In any case I'd love to hear what you think this should tell us. It certainly sends an unmistakable message to me.

From the estimable WRM:

Last month Politico reported that Congressmen were looking to exempt themselves and their staff from the insurance exchanges they are mandated to join under Obamacare. They feared that premiums would be too high for an average Hill staffer on a shoestring salary. Now there’s a new twist in the story: a group Senators, Representatives, and congressional aides are thinking of retiring early or quitting their jobs entirely to avoid the exchanges...
...Remember, these are the people who passed this law. The fact that they’re already running for the exits doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a smooth rollout.

Oh my.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The USAF with the ability to nuke a US city is a good point. But my newest nightmare is the President ordering paramilitary units based in the inner cities to raid the rural areas for food supplies; a US version of the Ukraine's holodomor.

Which seems to make the point. The US Military wouldn't necessarily nuke the president's political base in the inner cities, but if food riots were to break out it's easy to accept that the President would order the military to supply 'humanitarian aid' to starving people in the cities by taking food supplies from those areas who have more than they need.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hal - I have long maintained that the real zombie threat is when the SHTF the inner city maroons who have not talent or skills come out to the country hungry and mean. They will be suitable for only two things.

Do not fret. City slickers will not stand a chance against country boys.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was Don Rodrigo, Unsk,

People who knew better walked away. In essence they let it burn. Whether it was in Harlem or "Chinatown" they let the cancer take root. All the burning suburbs of Paris and the festering cesspits of treason in America can be traced back to that night in Harlem. Charlie Rangel, the Korean War hero who replaced Adam Clayton Powell showed he had more brass than John Lindsay. It took a while to get people to see that Rangel outdid Powell, who was "just about sex," in venality.

Some might push the problem back to University administrators caving in to violence a few years earlier.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
- Edmund Burke

Dr. Mabuse, Ratbert,
Thank you, especially for bringing up Chesterton who I had forgotten. The argument is even stronger I would think for a restraining legislative body like the Lords. The Executive being by its' nature active and unitary carries greater risk if left to random choice. In America the effort to involve nonpolitical local civic leaders into selecting the POTUS through the Electoral College has not taken root as intended. I would deepen that institution by making the appointments more long term, and some ex officio for each state's Governor, Speaker and Chief Justice, and then using it as an Inspectorate and Court of Constitutional Review, somewhat like the Control Yuan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The devils of the Internet (Google) are again screening out Wretchard: I can't get to this web site directly -- Google is insistent that the site is : too busy."

This 'difficulty' only pops up when the Pink House is on the ropes.

What a coincidence.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Should have jumped in earlier, but we are kinda busy here in Colorado with 4 major wildfires, one of which is not far from me.

---"Of course the USAF is not in the business of nuking American cities, even if it could."---

I grant that there are political considerations in the concept that would make it unfeasible for Obama. Certain American cities are his power base, so the use of nuclear weapons against his enemies in rural and suburban areas would be impractical. Hitting suburban areas would spill over into the inner cities. And nuking rural areas is not sufficiently efficient and would stop the flow of food to the cities.

However, we now know for an absolute fact that the current regime governs outside both the law and the Constitution and is blatant about it. We know the supposed political opposition are collaborators. We know that they willingly, eagerly, and enthusiastically use the powers granted in theory to the State to defend the country; exclusively to target the political enemies of the regime. I emphasize the exclusively, as the enemies of the country and the American people are deliberately given free rein.

But he very definitely has created, armed, and supplied a large armed force loyal to him and not the Constitution, that can take care of the retail work of suppressing the Kulaks. He has created a database/metadatabase/hit list of enemies of the regime for that force to use.

Trust US! ????

Not bloody likely. The social contract is broken.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I feel so much better and safer now.

According to this Brietbart piece:

The surveillance of Mosques is now prohibited and has been for several years under an Obama Administration DOJ order.

So let's get this straight, all of us "criminal","potential terrorists" out there who mistakenly thought we were just minding our own business, had better have an all encompassing, nailed down to the short hairs, 24/7/365 surveillance placed on us or otherwise the security of the entire country will be severely compromised, but those nice people plotting to overthrow the country down the street in that building with that funny Crescent thing on it, absolutely, under the penalty of law, need to get a pass. Right.

Gee, could that be why they didn't catch the Boston Bombers?

This report effectively confirms that all those RINO Institutional Republicans supporters of this Stasi surveillance regime, are complete incompetent boobs and nutjobs, who should ,if they have any honor left, crawl back to the rock from under which they came. How could Comrade Boehner support such a fascist infringement on our rights if he knew that the real "terrorists"s weren't being surveilled at all?

This report confirms our wildest imaginings. It would be really, really funny, if it were not so tragic.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Back in the 70's there was a group of "Black Muslims" known as the "Zebra Killers," who were terrorizing California, killing whites at random. The murders were often gruesome, and most of those murders were never widely publicized by the press. The plotting and planning for this murder spree was done from inside a California Nation of Islam mosque, and the authorities were not allowed to go in, or even bug said "mosque."

Much of what is occuring now is a reprise of past liberal/leftist/progressive policy, but becoming more pervasive because of the greater reach of the federal government than was the case in tha past.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fletcher Christian said "...the entire apparatus was spinning out of control in a similar way to a steam engine with no governor".

We can invent a governor, if we recognize the need for one. For all the whining by Obama et al about the BP oil spill and the explosion at the BP Texas City refinery before it, have you heard anything about preventing diesel engines from over revving due to ingesting highly volative vapors?

Both fatal accidents were initiated by overrevving engines. At its refineries, BP now restricts private vehicles and shuttles people by bus or has them walk/ride bicycles. That is a real world risk mitigation. On their offshore drilling programs, they should require the contrators (e.g. Transocean) to have an effective engine shut down mechanism and add an air independent engine to run the generators in the event of a blowout. The crew of the Deepwater Horizon had disconnected to air intake dampers because they wanted to ensure they were never left without emergency power for generation and the fire pumps. That is a real concern, but not at the expense of a deadly explosion. So, for the future, they need to provide a reliable emergency generator that will not rely on potentiallly volatile vapor laden air. Hence, use an air independent emergency generator and shut down the dampers on the main diesels in the event of a hazardous vapor alarm.That would mitigate the risk.


That spill could have, and should have, been stopped in late May, 2010, not on july 15, 2010. The fault lies with Steven Chu. He caused the spiil to be so big. He killed the dolphins!

Add that to your list of Obama scandals. But then ask yourself, can Obama's political machine absolve him of the blame for covering the birds with oil and killing the dolphins, just so he could get more time to pass Cap & Trade in the Senate?

Was the cost of environmental catatrophe worth the political win?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1 2 3 4 Next View All

One Trackback to “The Flow of Mistrust”