Summary: Hot stories like North Korea’s (alleged) attack on Sony show how the government officials and journalists shape our opinions. Open source information and analysis can provide alternative perspectives, helping us better understand our world. But this, by itself, provides only better entertainment unless we act upon it. We can learn to do better by learning from these events, a necessity for those seeking to reform America from the plutocracy it’s becoming. This is the 4th post in this series about the Sony hack; see links to the others at the end.
The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.
— Sir Arthur C. Clarke interviewed by Nalaka Gunawardene, once posted at OneWorld, 5 December 2003
- Why the government wins these debates
- Journalists struggle to understand the hack
- Sources of useful information
- Reminders about the big picture
- For More Information
- Better networks are the first step to reform
(1) Why the government wins these debates
“I have seen too many situations where government officials claimed a high degree of confidence as to the source, intent, and scope of an attack, and it turned out they were wrong on every aspect of it. That is, they were often wrong, but never in doubt.”
— A former Justice Department official involved with critical infrastructure protection, quoted in the NAS study “Technology, Policy, Law, and Ethics Regarding U.S. Acquisition and Use of Cyberattack Capabilities” (2009)
Open source provides an alternative to government pronouncements, but it’s useless information since we have no mechanisms to use it.
US experts tend to treat US government official’s words — even when anonymous — as gospel. National security and geopolitical experts are especially obedient (as economists are to the Fed, for similar reasons). That’s important, since experts provide the analysis which the news media features to explain events. As we see in other issues (e.g., climate change from 1989 until after 2010), journalists acts as gatekeepers to the mass mind. They filter what we learn to maintain the narrative. No matter how qualified the expert, journalists will mute voices dissenting from the narrative — unless powerful political interests intervene (as the GOP has, highlighting the views of skeptical scientists in the climate wars).
The government wins because they overwhelm the news flow, and confusion about complex matters forces people to trust somebody. And a majority reliably will decide to do nothing, and let the government handle it. Our only recourse is to find people whom we can trust for reliable information and analysis, no matter how unpalatable.
(2) Journalists struggle to understand the hack
Here are some of the most interesting bits from the flood of propaganda, noise, and information about the Sony hack.
Here’s a fascinating dissection of an early New York Times story about the hack, by the pseudonymous “Jericho”: “Anatomy of a NYT Piece on the Sony Hack and Attribution“, 19 December 2014. It shows the skill journalists use to create the shiny narratives that package information for us.
“Was North Korea behind the Sony hack? Not all experts agree.“, Christian Science Monitor, 22 December 2014 — “Some cyber specialists aren’t convinced that North Korea was the culprit. One critic calls the the FBI’s evidence ‘weak’ and ‘at best, speculation.’ Others back the FBI claims.” Pro-FBI article pretending to be skeptical.
An excellent and balanced follow-up by Kim Zetter to her first article: “Experts Are Still Divided on Whether North Korea Is Behind Sony Attack“, Wired, 23 December 2014
The New York Times shifts the debate to the government’s side: “When Does a Cyberattack Warrant a Military Response?“, 23 December 2014. US foreign policy has become largely a question of who we attack next, and how.