Seeing behind the headlines about China’s attack, stealing the governments’ jewels

Summary:  China attacked! Playing a script from countless action-adventure movies, our political leaders and columnists gear up for bold headlines by screaming for war while they know nothing. It’s America. But the info highway gives us information to see beyond the headlines and sort fact from fancy. Here’s the latest news about the massive theft of Federal personnel data. It’s a follow-up to the post describing the attack and who was at fault.

“Experts, shmexperts. Time for action…. Attribution solid enough for the US government is solid enough.”
— Tweets from a man on the street. The kind of American that rulers dream of having.

Cyber Warriors

Contents

  1. Dueling US officials.
  2. About attribution of attacks.
  3. What we know.
  4. For more information.

 

(1) Dueling US officials

From the initial announcement of the theft of files from the Federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), anonymous officials confidently blamed China — which journalists repeated as fact. The FBI has made no official statement since its “we working” on it statement on June 4. China has denied the accusation, of course.

Today we got more useful information from the GeoInt 2015 Symposium (geoint: geospacial intelligence):

“So what really makes you think that, as the head of NSA and Cyber Com, I’m going to talk with you about this,” he told a reporter here today. … Rogers’ response did seem a trifle dismissive of a reasonable question asked reasonably in an open forum. {Breaking Defense}

Rogers spoke in response to a question about how the National Security Agency was going about attributing the breach to the Chinese government. “You’ve put an assumption in your question,” he said. “I’m not going to get into the specifics of attribution. It’s a process that’s ongoing.”

… Rogers’s hedged response, given during a question-and-answer session at the GEOINT symposium in downtown Washington, comes in stark contrast to the NSA’s approach to attribution during the Sony hack. In that case the FBI, working with the NSA and DHS, quickly named North Korea as the perpetrator, resulting in the prompt issuance of sanctions.

Rogers called that a great example of cross-agency collaboration. “Working across the United States government, DHS, FBI and the National Security agency, we were able to relatively quickly come to consensus about the characterization of the activity we were seeing coming in, which formed the basis of our attribution, and with a relatively high confidence factor, which allowed us to respond in a very public and direct way.”

Why hasn’t that collaboration worked in the case of the OPM hack? Said Rogers: “every dataset is different.”  {Defense One}

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also spoke at GeoInt, giving a remarkably casual statement on a matter of such importance.

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The Snowden affair has ended. What have we learned about ourselves, and about America?

Summary: We’ve concluded the 17 month national dialog started by Edward Snowden’s revelations. As I predicted, nothing happened. In effect, we acquiesced to our government’s mass surveillance. This encourages them to expand further. With each such victory the State grows stronger, its citizens grow weaker (becoming subjects).  But nothing is written. It’s all about choice. America will be what we strive for it to be. For the Boomers, that’s a nation of high and growing inequality plus a powerful and growing Security State. It seems the baton passes to the millennial generation to reform America.

4 July 1776: birthday of the America-that-once-was, start of the successful Revolution.

5 June 2013: birthday of the New America, start of the first reform movement — which failed.

NSA Octopus: NROL-39
NSA staff proudly wear this badge.

Contents

  1. A funereal announcement.
  2. Significance.
  3. What to do?
  4. For More Information.
  5. Our present, our future.

 

(1)  A funereal announcement

The USA Freedom Act was not much reform (although better than the toothless bill the House passed this year after voting down real reform last year. But it was a Bill too far for the GOP.

The End of the Snowden Affair“, Steve Vladeck (Prof of Law at American U; bio here), Just Security, 19 November 2014 — Opening:

Sometime around 7:30 p.m. (EST) last night, the 17-month-long national conversation over how to reform U.S. foreign intelligence surveillance authorities effectively ended when the Senate failed to clear a crucial procedural step en route to what would otherwise have been the near-certain passage of the Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act — the surveillance reform bill that has been in the works for well over a year. The vote “failed” 58-42, falling two votes short of the 60-vote threshold necessary to invoke “cloture.” The preposterousness of the filibuster notwithstanding, I believe that this will mark the moment, in retrospect, when any real hope of meaningful surveillance reform died–and with it, any chance for many of the most important lessons from last summer’s Snowden revelations to be reflected in new U.S. policy.

The Hill explained how reform dies:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) may have dealt the legislation a fatal blow when he used a floor speech on Tuesday to argue that passage of the legislation would hurt U.S. efforts to stop terrorist groups. “At a minimum, we shouldn’t be doing anything to make the situation worse,” McConnell said ahead of the vote. “Yet, that’s just what this bill would do.”

Yesterday’s Senate motion failed 58-42, (GOP: 4 pro, 41 con; Dem: 52-1; Independents 2-0). This follows the 24 July 2013 vote in the House to limit NSA surveillance, which failed 205-217-12 (GOP: 94 pro, 134 con, 6 other; Dem: 111-83-6). So what now?

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Members of the Deep State exchange high-fives, celebrating our passivity

Summary:  On 6 June 2013 the Guardian and Washington Post published the first in the latest round of revelations about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Amidst the outpouring of brave rhetoric about the need to change, I predicted that nothing would happen. Rather, our passivity would encourage the leaders of the national security state (aka the Deep State). After 17 months it’s clear I was right. As explained in today’s guest post by the Michael Brenner (Professor of International Affairs, U Pittsburgh).

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NSA Octopus: NROL-39

“The CIA in Texas”
by Michael Brenner (bio below)
Posted with his generous permission

A review of the Deep State’s staff exchanging high-fives at

Intelligence Reform and Counterterrorism after a Decade:
Are We Smarter and Safer?

Conference at the University of Texas at Austin
16 – 18 October 2014

The United States Intelligence Community was in Austin last week for their second visit of 2014. In May it was primarily an NSA show.  This time a combined National Intelligence/CIA show with a dash of the Pentagon – but no DIA. Led by General James Clapper, who gave the keynote speech, the all-star cast included several prominent figures from the post 9/11 era.  That was appropriate since the occasion was the anniversary of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004’s passage. As a result the meeting had something of an alumni reunion flavor.

There was much serious reflection about institutional issues and methods; very little about concrete security problems (IS got 47 seconds by my watch) and nothing about civil liberties issues. No critics or skeptics were among the participants.  That omission added to the eerie sensation that this was a conclave of the “deep state.”

Clapper set the tone with a smug exposition of how the IC had mastered its GWOT brief.  It was patronizing to absent critics – including Congress – supremely self-satisfied, and righteous. He had the air of a winner who had earned a deserved triumph.  Clapper had reason to be confident. As he confided to the audience, the move to rein in the NSA’s electronic spying had run out of steam.  Personally, he had escaped unscathed despite perjuring himself.

That’s all true. Legislation proposed to tinker with data collection procedures, already watered down, is lost in the maze of Congressional election year maneuvering; the president is exposed as an active collaborator  with his aggressive intelligence agencies – including the campaign to bury the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA mendacity and failings; and the media have shied away from any follow-up reporting.

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Celebrate what happened one year ago. It’s the birthday of a New America!

Summary:  Exactly one year ago Glenn Greenwald published the first of Snowden’s revelations. Two days later I forecast that our response to these momentous disclosures would be nothing. That our passivity would mark the birthday of the New America, and the death of the Second Republic (under the Constitution). Today I add this to the successful predictions page. It’s reposted below, as worth reading today as then (more so now, since we know so much more about the government’s activities than we did a year ag0)

As I said then: Our children are the victims. Powerful elites are the agents. We are the cause. This is now obvious to any who choose to see. 4 July 1776 was the birthday of the America-that-once-was, start of the successful revolution. 5 July 2913 was the birthday of the New America, start of the failed first reform movement!

Watching the little people

—– Reposted from 5 July 2013, birthday of our New America —–

This week we learned more about the extent of the National Security Agency’s surveillance. Do not see this as an event, but as a step in a process. Slowly we are broken to accept a harness designed by our ruling elites, administered by their agents in the government.  Slowly since WWII, more quickly since 9-11, the government has extended its supervision over us. Not to control our daily acts — as in 1984 (the 1% doesn’t care what the proles do after work) — but to limit our political activities. Limit our ability to run the Republic.

The changes come slowly. It’s not like a frog being boiled, because frogs are smart and jump out of the pot. More like bondage porn, where a sub slowly surrenders to domination by the will of another. We are surrendering responsibility, the burden of self-government.

We cannot admit the harsh truth, and so take comfort in lies, myths, and amnesia.

We hope this will save us from the shadowy threat of jihadists – who one day over a decade ago killed a fraction of those who die each year in traffic accidents, or suicide by guns, or from other causes we cannot bother to address because we spend so much on security (internal and external, formerly known as police and defense). We give up so much in fear of an organization which probably no longer exists in significant form, bequeathing their name to nationalistic movements who fight us because we go to their lands and fight them.

We yield to the government because we believe that they — and our ruling elites — are too strong. We let the democratic machinery of the Republic lie unused because we believe that resistance is futile.

In fact we yield because it is easier for us. More comfortable.

What about all the bold noise in the newspapers, on the internet?

Yes, we boldly write and speak.  As we boldly protested when we learned of the previous set of outrages. And the ones before that. As we will for the next one.  And the next one.

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We lived amidst dreams in 1963 & were harshly awakened. How clearly do we see today?

Summary: History can tell us not only about the past, but also suggest insights about our time. Here examine a bright episode from the past. In the 1960s we were wrapped in illusions about the nature of our government, which were ripped away during the 1970s. Do we see the world as poorly as we did in 1963? Has a new cycle of revelations begun? Will we react as we did in 1970s? Or worse? Hopefully better.

Habakkuk 2-2

Contents

  1. How the people of 1963 saw their world
  2. Our reaction to that news
  3. Has a new cycle begun?
  4. Our reaction to this news
  5. For More Information
  6. A New America under construction

 

(1)  How the people of 1963 saw their world, and the harsh truth

In the 1960s we were wrapped in illusions about the nature of our government.  The shocking revelations of the 1970s altered — perhaps permanently — our relationship with it.

Kennedy was the star of Camelot, an ideal President. Athletic devoted father, war hero author. In fact he was almost a cripple, sustained by a diet of powerful drugs. He was the very opposite of a “family man” (I’ve long suspected Jackie had him killed; no jury of women would convict her). He received a Pulitzer Prize for Profiles in Courage, mostly written by Ted Sorensen.

FBI agents were honest, incorruptible guardians like Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on “The FBI” TV show (1965-1974; see Wikipedia). The reality was quite different. The FBI denied even the existence of the Mafia until public pressure forced action after 1957.  The fabled FBI crime lab was found to be corrupt (see Wikipedia). Much of the FBI’s effort went into illegal political operations, such as COINTELPRO.

We knew the CIA was an effective secret organization, like the Mission Impossible Force. In fact generations of revelations (most recently in Legacy of Ashes) reveal it to be a clown show, with a long history of failed forecasts, missed major developments (most notably, surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union), and botched operations.

We lived in the 1950s and 1960s safely behind the shied of the US military, defending us from the horror of atomic war.

(2) The shocking revelations of the 1970s

The revelations came with shattering force came in the 1970s, shattering our vision of America. These began the era of cynicism about government, about America, which continues today.

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Scoring the game so far: NSA is winning, we’re losing

Summary:  Eleven  weeks have passed since the first revelations by Snowden about the NSA’s surveillance programs. Let’s total up the results. Spoiler for the post: the NSA is winning, we’re losing. But there are some potentially significant effects in other nations.

Keyhole view

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What’s been the effect of the revelations by Snowden about the NSA’s surveillance programs, which has in turn sparked other revelations?

(1)  Column-miles of newsprint and countless hours of broadcast time spent discussing these matters. Entertainment for nerds and political junkies. Success for the news media!

(2)  Column miles of newsprint and countless hours of blather by the government’s courtiers mocking Snowden (e.g., Michael Cohen, Steven Metz) and justifying the government’s actions (e.g., Joshua Foust, Tim Stanley). Entertainment for nerds and political junkies. Success: careers boosted in DC!

(3)  Politicians giving bold speeches. Success: more exposure, name-recognition!

(4)  Effect on the NSA so far: nil. They continue to expand their reach; reforms are defeated or meaningless. In fact, defeating their opponents might make them bolder. This revelation of their strength only boosts their fearsome reputation among US citizens (and tells our foes little they did not already know or suspect).

  • Feds put heat on Web firms for master encryption keys“, CNET, 24 July 2013 — “Whether the FBI and NSA have the legal authority to obtain the master keys that companies use for Web encryption remains an open question, but it hasn’t stopped the US government from trying.”
  • Feds tell Web firms to turn over user account passwords“, CNET, 25 July 2013 — “Secret demands mark escalation in Internet surveillance by the federal government through gaining access to user passwords, which are typically stored in encrypted form.”
  • Pretend reforms: Who will be on the new Committee to review NSA programs? A former CIA Director, a former Homeland Security “Czar”, a White House official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, and an advocate of secret infiltration of citizen groups to increase citizens’ faith in government officials. Its a bad joke. Sources: ABC News and Marcy Wheeler.
  • Three Illusory “Investigations” of the NSA Spying Are Unable to Succeed“, Electronic Freedom Foundation (“Defending Your Rights in the Digital World”), 23 August 2013

(5)  But, there is possible serious damage to exports of US technology (there is a price paid for every win):

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The US government is competent, as proven by the results of the latest terror alert

Summary: Since 9-11 Homeland Security has declared 15 alerts (8 Red and 7 Yellow) with no terror strikes. Now we have another, this time overseas. Again, nothing has happened. These alerts are successes on a historic scale, as the government has maintained a climate of fear and built support for the vast and growing security state. But the US government must share the credit. They could not have done it without us, and our gullibility. Our inability to learn might prove more destructive to America than any likely terror strike. Will we change?

Doveryai, no proveryai (Trust but verify)
— Russian proverb

Charlie Brown & the football
The definition of gullibility

Contents

  1. The latest warning
  2. The threat is serious
  3. Criticism of the story
  4. The classic plays that work
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

(1) The latest warning

We what appears to be yet another in the US government’s long series of successful information operations waged against us. Bomber gap, missile gap, Tonkin Gulf incident, Saddam’s WMDs, etc. Post-WW2 history has been shaped by our gullibility.

For a description of the latest terror alert we turn to that source of right-wing fear-mongering propaganda, The Washington Times: “Congressional leaders agree on drastic response to al Qaeda terrorist threat” 4 August 2013 — Excerpt:

Key Democratic and Republican members of Congress said Sunday that the terrorism threat reportedly triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives is the most serious threat in years, with some warning that the threat is an indication the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks still poses a significant danger to the U.S.

The threat forced the closings of more than 20 U.S. embassies and consulates this weekend. A travel alert was issued for Americans planning to travel overseas, particularly in the Middle East, and will remain in effect for the rest of August. The closures of the embassies and consulates and the travel alert were triggered by an intercepted message between senior al Qaeda operatives, CNN reported Sunday.

Like clockwork our leaders and national security gurus nod in agreement. Cue the fear-mongering…

(2) Our leaders tell us, as usual, that the threat is serious

(a) Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R-TX, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) on “Face the Nation“, CBS, 4 August 2013:

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