The Great Big Thing(tm): Ra-Ra-Russian Facebook Edition

I have spent the last year angry at basically everyone I know for participating in this Facebook Fake News/Russian psychological warfare campaign. I washed out of Facebook because convincing my friends and relatives that they’d been conned was slowly bleeding away my will to live. I also left because of the revelations about Cambridge Analytica’s role in swaying the election through targeted marketing. Just logging in to Facebook made me complicit in the whole campaign. As time goes on, it would seem that the HyperNormalization of Facebook users has been manipulated to one extent or another to sway a few key votes. Not sure how that helps me to be honest.

I don’t yet see a causal link between Cambridge Analytica, the Guccifer2.0 email leaks and APT28 hacking the DNC, but there does seem to be a fair amount of correlation. If it wasn’t a coordinated effort, at least a few people must have known they were happening. At the very least, some decision maker was advised by someone who was aware of these operations. A fair amount of my existential angst over the past year has been the polarization of the views of my Facebook friends. I don’t know if it helps me or hurts me more to know that at least part of it was a deliberate and cynical attempt by well funded groups to make it happen. On the one hand I can feel smug and superior that I am a freethinker that didn’t get caught up in Russian PsyOp. On the other hand, feeling smug is pretty much all I’ve got, and it’s just not worth it. The way that HyperNormalization works is being for a group or against the group doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you are interacting with whatever it is. It could be Nationalism, it could be political corruption, it doesn’t matter because it needs both supporters and opponents to continue to exist. Fighting it only makes you a part of it. Also, being in exile from Facebook has forced me to confront the fact that I’m a really shitty friend.

The Russia Thing

So my friends and family aren’t idiots, they’re just pawns in someone else’s game. That’s a relief, I guess?

That still leaves the whole Mueller investigation and the steady flow of soul destroying information that comes with it. As I have stated before, I don’t care about the Trump presidency. They had Richard Nixon dead to rights and all he did was resign and be pardoned by his successor. All the pee tapes and white-hot smoking guns in the world won’t make Trump suffer a single bit. So it’s not worth even daydreaming about. Also, if you think Trump is empowering White Power and Christian Identity Nationalism, wait until President Pence takes over.

What I *do* care about the collateral damage Russia and Cambridge Analytica have caused and will continue to cause. I also care about how we as an electorate deal with the huge vulnerability social media poses to democracy. Allowing the United States to descend into fascist tyranny is a hell of a price to pay for a couple of tax cuts. I like it when the government stays out of basically everything, but replacing the government with unchecked corporate power isn’t even remotely a good idea. On the list of “Top 10 Corporations that shouldn’t be in charge of the United States” Facebook owns at least two of them.

The thing that worries me the most is the fact that 12 of the Russians indicted in the Mueller investigation are officers with Russian Military Intelligence. Meaning that this was basically a military operation. Maybe GRU is military in the way that the NSA is – national level not operational level – but that still doesn’t make me feel good. If Russia was a country full of brown people, the US would be invading it right now. Fortunately for the world, US foreign policy is pretty racist and Russia is a Caucasian ethno state, so two nuclear superpowers probably aren’t going to go to war directly.

Intelligence isn’t evidence

My involvement with the American intelligence community was minimal at its very best about 20 years ago. I am not an expert on the subject, but I do understand a couple of basic concepts of military intelligence, such as casus belli. Before you can perform a military operation, you need to have intelligence to justify its necessity.

The difference between intelligence and evidence is that intelligence is information that something either has happened, is happening, or will happen. Evidence is proof of what happened and of the damage done as a result. As we learned about the Gulf Wars, the burden of proof to justify a war is far lower than the burden of proof for a judgement in an American court of law. Also, an indictment is a far cry from a conviction, but an indictment of 12 foreign nationals probably still requires more evidence than it takes to sanction any kind of military operation. Usually spies just get traded back to their home countries under diplomatic cover.

This is why the Russia thing is so concerning. Of course the US interferes in foreign elections. Of course the US is conducting PsyOps of its own against other countries. Of course the US is conducting like 6 shadow wars in Central Asia and North Africa. All that shit is proxy for conflict with Russia. APT28 and APT29 are taking direct action against the US which is threatening the delicate balance of terror between the US and Russia. Even without full-scale invasions, proxy wars between the US and Russia are sending the world into chaos. Just look at the baffling situation in Syria.

I can’t help but fear that the pieces on the chess board are lining up into an Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand-type situation. The elements are starting to form: trade disputes, economic sanctions, complicated [even contradictory] diplomatic alliances, and clandestine military operations on foreign soil. The scary thing isn’t a new WWI, it’s the genocidal chaos that followed WWI. Oh, and that it led to WWII and even more genocide.

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The Culture of the Intelligence Community and the Chelsea Manning Debacle

This video is an interesting take on the Manning/Snowden leaks by Joshua Foust. Foust says that Manning’s actions jeopardized a number of diplomatic and military undertakings. It sounds very well reasoned.

Whenever the criticism of Chelsea Manning’s actions flows, the first question that I ask is “What operations were compromised?” followed up by “Tell me just one person, by name, who was put at risk.” I ask this because the leaked materials were 6 or more months old, and Wikileaks states that steps were taken to not endanger people.

I also ask what was compromised because most who criticize the leaks aren’t familiar enough with the materials to have a an answer (certainly not me). I am also fairly confident that no one except for a few high ranking members of the intelligence community can actually answer that question definitively, and those few are not authorized to answer. Such is the nature of state secrets. The logic of our government and military is that we should just take their word for it that they have to operate in secrecy and with impunity because it’s for our own good. This is the crux of the issue: with no sharing of information, how are we to verify these claims? This is also why a national dialog cannot be had on the subject. The Executive Branch is simply unable to level with the American people about the things that they do to keep us safe, and about the things that they keep us safe from.

We, the American people are worried about our Constitutional rights to privacy, to free speech, our rights to due process under the rule of law, and in the case of Muslim Americans, our freedom of religion. The Executive Branch has been steadily over reaching and possibly abusing its power to surveil and detain, and thereby eroding our Constitutional rights under the guise of national security.

Having heard countless talks by federal types at places like Defcon, I have heard over and over again that our concerns are unfounded. The gist of most of it is that there are countless active threats, of a non-specific nature, that cannot be named. While I don’t think that the Executive Branch is lying to us so that it can hurt us, it would be very naive to say that there aren’t budgetary, political, and career management pressures on it to exaggerate the scale of the threats that we face. It is also naive to think that while the Executive Branch means well, there are those within it who would abuse these powers. This is why leaks and whistle blowing are so important, because the military, the intelligence community, and federal law enforcement agencies are bound by law to not discuss these matters.

My argument isn’t that there should be no such thing as national security. Of course there should be. My argument is also not that state secrets are by nature evil. Of course they aren’t. My argument is that there are laws in place to support the mandates for secrecy by the Executive Branch. These laws make a candid and honest discussion about what they are doing and why impossible. The act of facilitating an this sort of discussion is, by design, against the law.

Just because the conversation is illegal, doesn’t mean that it’s not still the right thing to do. Obviously the laws that prevent the conversation have to change, but some of those laws, particularly those that govern surveillance, are actually state secrets as well. If the laws themselves are secret, how are We The People supposed to work to change it?

This is why leaked documents and whistle blowing are important. I call it the “Watchmen’s Dilemma.” In business, there is a phenomenon called the “Innovator’s Dilemma” where a new idea will make a current product or business model obsolete, and so established businesses and markets have make a tough choice: do they endanger their established and profitable businesses with a new innovation, or do they keep doing what works for them, only to lose their share of the new market?

When it comes to national security, the culture of secrecy creates a similar dilemma. Should the Executive Branch (the watchmen) continue to keep the American people in the dark, thereby increasing the public’s mistrust? Or, does the Executive Branch level with the American People, and sacrifice some or possibly all of its advantage when it comes to protecting American interests? It’s a tough decision.

At one point in the video, Foust talks about how the NSA doesn’t have access to the content of our telephone calls, and then sort of glosses over the intelligence significance of mobile phone metadata. Faust is ex-military intelligence and has probably heard of traffic analysis. As a hacker and veteran who served with military intelligence my entire active duty career, I know a little about traffic analysis, but I am including a video of someone who knows significantly more about it than I do, particularly with regards to intelligence services and mobile phones. The video tells the story of how American operatives took a Muslim cleric captive, most likely as an extraordinary rendition. When you consider how much of the story can be told with just mobile phone metadata cross referenced with a paper trail, it makes me want to get a tinfoil hat and become Amish.