The 1% are changing America. It’s our move.

Summary: The moment approaches when every American sees that the 1% are taking it away. Then we each make a choice to go with the flow or resist. Here are a few events that show this time is close. I’ve predicted the events leading to this point, but have no idea how we’ll react. Much depends on our choice.

“An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.”
— From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, chapter on “Values” (1987).

Don't Tread on Me

We’re in the pursuit phase of our battle with the 1%, the quiet coup. Decades of quiet organizing and slow progress (see here & here) — then Reagan began their advance that continues to this day, inexorably accelerating. After breaking down the old order (e.g., unions, campaign finance limits, New Deal era limits on banks) we see them building a New America: dismantling the public-financed colleges (see here and here), shifting the tax burden from the rich to the middle class, and many other changes to core features of America.

The obvious moment of truth will come when events force us to see the systematic nation of these changes. Will we rise to the challenge, or look in the mirror and see cowards? That time approaches. Soon we’ll learn the answer.

(1)  Former NSA & CIA Director Hayden mocks us

This is almost too good to be true. Former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden spoke to America’s inner party at the Wall Street Journal’s CFO Conference.

If somebody would come up to me and say “Look, Hayden, here’s the thing: This Snowden thing is going to be a nightmare for you guys for about two years. And when we get all done with it, what you’re going to be required to do is that little 215 program about American telephony metadata — and by the way, you can still have access to it, but you got to go to the court and get access to it from the companies, rather than keep it to yourself” — I go: “And this is it after two years? Cool!”

He was speaking the truth. We deserve to be mocked The USA Freedom Act was mostly cosmetic reform (the NYT agrees). Two years ago I predicted our pitiful response to Snowden’s revelations.

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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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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 government strikes again, but finds yet another American willing to fight. Applause is not enough!

Summary:  As the Second Republic fades away, the Constitution abandoned, the government grows more powerful and bolder. As we see in its latest strike against Edward Snowden. But this time something strange happened. They came up against yet another American. A real American, willing to fight for the Republic against the government even at great personal cost. Don’t treat this as a spectator sport, with yourself as a consumer of news. Write your representatives. If you can, support the organizations on the front lines.

Lavabit

“Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, Chapter 12 (1959)

Contents

  1. The Empire strikes at Lavabit
  2. About Lavabit
  3. About National Security Letters
  4. Updates
  5. What was the Liberty Tree?
  6. For More Information

(1)  The Empire strikes at Lavabit

Lavabit was founded circa 2004 by Dallas programmers to provide (from their Features page) “a priceless level of security, particularly for customers that use e-mail to exchange sensitive information.”  They claim to have 350 thousand clients, reportedly one was Edward Snowden. Lavabit appears to have been served with a National Security Letter by the US government. Unlike the big telecom companies, however, Lavabit took the high road.  The Founders cheer!  Their home page now reads:

My Fellow Users,

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.

Sincerely,
Ladar Levison, Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.

Lavabit deserves our support!

(2)  About Lavabit

From Wired:

LIberty Tree
Let’s watch while they cut it down!

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The Empire Strikes Back: The Demonization of Snowden Begins

Summary: Marcus Ranum, our in-house cyber-expert, looks at the next stage of the government’s defense against the revelations of NSA surveillance. Like the surveillance itself, they rely on non-governmental agents to get the job done.

I’m sure we’re all shocked to see attempts to downplay the significance of the PRISM story.

What’s that you say? You’re not? Well, me either.

That was why I rushed together my article about finely slicing the word salad of “direct access” to servers, etc. It’s useful to try to clarify in advance the lies you are about to be told – it makes them more clear.

The attacks on Greenwald’s scoop tend to break into four categories:

  1. Traitor! Traitor! USA USA USA!
  2. It’s not new; we already knew all that.
  3. It’s not possible, it’s not feasible (reasons given)
  4. That’s not true! (no reasons given)

The people taking the second line of reasoning above either haven’t done their research or are deliberately ignoring the rich history of leaks about this kind of stuff dating back years. Past leaks about the surveillance state show not only the desire to massively tap data, but the resources spent doing so, and the technological capabilities. It is the latter that give the lie to responses such as farcical stories about thumb drives and FTP. Oh, we can be sure that thumb drives and FTP have occasionally been used, but that’s probably to collect information that can’t be gotten indirectly.

People who claim that Greenwald has it wrong are ignoring the rather obvious fact that the “Boundless Informant” slides show 97 billion records of data being injected into the system daily. That’s a lot of thumb-drives worth! They also are ignoring that Greenwald says there are more disclosures to come; my suspicion is that Greenwald has a couple bombs left up his sleeve and he’s waiting for the surveillance state to strongly stake out a position before he pulls the carpet out from under them.

Articles such as Rick Perlstein’s article in The Nation (“Glenn Greenwald’s Epic Botch?“) – title complete with face-saving question mark – show a lack of understanding of history. If Perlstein’s “no expert”, as he says, he should probably invest a day or two studying, rather than an hour or two writing. I find it amazing that any journalist would take a corporate spokesperson’s words at face value when they’re responding to a crisis, without researching the back-story. Was he born yesterday?

Room 641a

Previous whistle-blowers such as Mark Klein, who revealed the existence of Room 641A, have already described systems that align perfectly with what Snowden has revealed. For that matter, Duncan Campbell was documenting ECHELON back in the 80s.

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Someone call Nixon’s plumbers. We need them again.

Summary: Marcus Ranum looks to our past — the government’s history of surveillance — to see the future which the government’s vast surveillance machinery makes possible, and perhaps will help bring into being.

We prepare the way for a Leader
We prepare the way for a Leader

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The NSA Doppleganger and Enemies

The Nation currently has an excellent piece on some of the history of surveillance in the US. Combine it with reading Tim Weiner’s latest book Enemies, and you have a picture of a government that has always illegally surveilled its citizens (also see Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power).

Occasionally, as today, we are brought to confront that fact, and it’s always instructive because you can tell from the backlash how badly it stung those who enjoy secret power and status. The rule of law is something that you criticize other countries for not following. This amounts to moving from “US Exceptionalism” to exceptionalism for the US power elites.

In the long-term it’s poor strategy because it amounts to building the weapons that will eventually be used against one faction when there’s a disagreement among elites. It’s laying the framework for an eventual takeover of the republic by centralized power. The more you centralize and aggregate power, the worse it is when your Stalin or Bonaparte comes along. As soon as one faction of the power elites realizes they can use the power of the police state to silence internal dissent among the elites, rather than simply controlling the lumpenproletariat, the republican experiment will be conclusively ended.

What the article at The Nation, and Enemies show us is the constant presence and evolution of a society that does double-entry bookkeeping regarding the rule of law. While the US sports the largest prison population in the world thanks to the endless and unwinnable War On Drugs, the elites casually excuse each other for crimes that would result in long jail sentences for the 99%. Indeed the very notion of criminality becomes inverted and corrupted when it’s a greater crime to disclose a crime than it was to commit it in the first place.

The problem with living under a system that is so immoral, Kant would tell us, is that we can only expect its immorality will eventually be turned upon us and we will suffer in turn.

Irony is not the tool for patching leaks

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What they mean when the government says “We do not have ‘direct’ access to your info”

Summary: Even the best journalists and national security experts have difficulty with technical stories like the recent NSA revelations. Today Marcus Ranum (bio) cuts through the government’s lies, explaining the truth behind the NSA’s tapping vital telephone and email communication systems.

These are the small ones.
These are the small ones; America’s nerves

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When politicians and spokespeople choose their words with exquisite care, then it’s time to examine them with extra care. Let’s talk a little bit about the realities of how one might monitor a data center, shall we?

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“We have no direct access to their systems.”

Of course you don’t. By “direct access” you mean that you can log in and collect data directly from the system, or have database administrators’ credentials and can issue queries, or whatever. You wouldn’t want that, anyway, because the queries and the activities might then become public knowledge — those are traceable, you know.

When someone logs into a system, gains administrative rights, and looks at someone’s email in-box that leaves traces in the system logs, and that’s completely unacceptable because what you’re querying for is classified and suddenly those system logs contain extremely sensitive data, indeed.

Here’s how you do it

Those big outfits decrypt all their traffic at the edges of the network using a load-balancer/redirector that’s capable of offloading the CPU-intensive activity of decryption from the backend servers. Inside the provider’s core network, the traffic carried within their switches is all in the clear.

You show up with a national security letter and maybe a warrant and tell the provider that you’ve got a system that does classified stuff and they’re going to plug it into their network and have the core switches span some of the traffic between, say, the mail servers and everything else, and the user authentication servers and everything else, and send a copy of that traffic to the mystery box (or boxes, depending on the load you need to consume) and that’s it.

There’s no need even to give the box an IP address, which is a feature also, because that makes the box impossible for anyone to see other than in the configuration of the core switch or if they get into the special locked room in the data center and count the number of boxes in the rack there.

The box is a sniffer. Remember the old FBI CARNIVORE system that was “outed” back in 2000? That’s how CARNIVORE worked, pre 9-11. The newer systems may look like Insight.

Sniffing traffic is fairly straightforward

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