Tag Archives: wikileaks

An introduction to the fight for the internet and humanity’s fate.

22 Nov

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

What if you could fight a war without the need for armies and large scale military operations? What if you could fight these wars proactively, before your enemy even attacks? What if you were able to identify potential enemies and neutralize them before they even organized? What if you were able to achieve near complete situational awareness, not just on the scale of your immediate surroundings, but on the scale of entire nation states? What if your definition of “enemy” was not limited to foreign agents but anyone who questions your total dominance?

What if your definition of enemy included your own citizens?

What if there was no one to stop you?

This is the situation humanity now faces with the US Government and technology.

Back in the days of knights and archers, castles were the primary force multipliers. A well-built and well situated castle would allow a small garrison of soldiers to fend off a much larger foe. The castle allowed for efficient and targeted use of force. Today intelligence is the ultimate force multiplier. The better your intelligence is on a target, the more efficiently you can apply targeted force. Just as the atomic bomb represented a paradigm shift in conventional warfare, so does the internet represent a paradigm shift in surveillance and intelligence gathering.

A government’s power rests on its ability to use violence to enforce its will. Note that I said “power” and not “legitimacy.” People sometimes confuse the two and mistakenly believe a government gets its power from the people when in fact it only gets its legitimacy from the people; but what does legitimacy matter when you have the power to eliminate those who say you’re illegitimate?

A government’s power in an operational theater (domestic or foreign) is limited by how quickly and effectively it can exert organized violence, usually through either a military or law enforcement.

At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted the technology was such that the exercising of power usually took the form of infantrymen with muzzle-loading muskets. The founding fathers understood the relationship between the ability to exercise violence and power. England had just attempted to exercise its power through violence on the colonies; hence why they codified into law a people’s right to bear arms. A populace without the final recourse of violence is a populace without the final say. To take away that populace’s ability to check government power (violence) with their own power (violence) is to take away all their power. They are then made subservient and can only hope that those with the power will consent to changes if only the populace asks nicely enough.

redcoats

The problem we face now is that government’s ability to exercise violence has vastly outstripped the populace’s ability to check that violence.  Instead of muzzle-loading muskets, we now have flying robots that kill people, including American citizens without trial.

drones

A side note on the accountability of government and the false dichotomy of liberal/conservative with regards to this issue:

This problem transcends the liberal/conservative paradigm everyone is used to. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. Liberal vs conservative is a false dichotomy encouraged by those in power to distract you from the fact that you have no rights and no real say over what the government does. No matter who you vote for, the government always wins. If voting actually changed anything it’d be illegal.
Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to believe the government is ultimately subject to its own laws. It writes the laws. Trying to defend your “rights” within the US legal system is like playing a football game against a team that wrote the rules of the game and can alter or ignore those rules at will.  The fact that the president can and has extrajudicially executed American citizens without trial is a recent example of the government’s immunity to its own laws. This attitude is nothing new. Nixon stated “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Well when the government does something, it’s not illegal. Any thinking person knows that just because something is legal or illegal doesn’t make it just or unjust.
(Possible videos of interest: Judge Napolitano was fired from Fox News for this 5 minute speech he gave pointing these facts out. The late standup comedian George Carlin explains here how “rights” are a myth. Recently making a lot of waves, Russell Brand explains in an interview why the current system is impervious to “approved” political outlets like voting.)

How does all this violence and politics relate to the internet?

Technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s important to understand the context of what you’re up against as a person who wishes to maintain their rights to privacy and personal liberty.

The internet is the force multiplier, like a castle, but is the most powerful force multiplier ever constructed. With modern surveillance techniques the government, who is effectively answerable to no one, can record practically everything you do: Where you go online, what you buy with your credit cards, who you call with your cell phone, even where you travel. The CIA is even preparing to spy on you with your home appliances.

How do they do this?

The key concept is what’s called “Data linking.” Through programs like PRISM, SIGINT, and BULLRUN, the government will record as much information about you as they can. Often they will ask companies like Verizon and Google to hand over all the information they have on you. If the company refuses, which they rarely do, the government just hacks the company and takes it. They then store this data in centers like the Utah Data Center, a $1.5 Billion dollar facility built specifically to house 100 years’ worth of data on everyone on the planet.  They then use all this data on you, credit card purchases, who you messaged on facebook, cell phone text messages, phone calls, GPS location, etc to create a matrix of dots. Each dot is a point of data. Jacob Appelbaum, a security research, privacy advocate, and member of the TOR anonymity project gives a great example of this during a digital anti-repression talk. Here’s the part where he introduces the concept of data-linking: 5:56-8:23

To watch the whole talk, and you really should if you want to understand what you’re up against, you can start from the beginning here.

They’re doing this to protect us from terrorists, plus, I’ve got nothing to hide!

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

The government will often use “we’re protecting you” as an excuse for power grabs. It could be something as simple as the mayor of NYC attempting to ban big sodas “for your protection” to something as massive as invalidating the 4th Amendment with the “Patriot” Act and super-secret FISA courts.

In reality, the government is protecting itself.  In addition to “we’re protecting you from terrorists”, you will often hear “we’re protecting the children!” as an excuse to take away your liberties.  Think of all the cries for repelling the 2nd amendment after the Sandy Hook shootings.  As if disarming an entire populace would somehow make people safe against lone shooters. Another example: UK prime minister David Cameron implemented a nation-wide ban on internet pornography. Starting in 2014, all new broadband accounts will come with mandatory pornography filters. “To protect the children.” Do you think pornography is the only thing these filters will be searching? (Hint: The answer’s NO.)

Do not be surprised if you hear the government label people who wish to maintain their right to privacy as criminals, terrorists and peddlers of child pornography. Just like guns, there will always be a few people who use a technology for unjust purposes, but this does not warrant attempting block everyone’s access to that technology. Those who still want to take a technology away from everyone more often than not have their own unjust motives for doing so.

But the government would never abuse this power and target political adversaries…right?

It’s the classic scenario: Would you do something you knew was wrong if you knew you wouldn’t be caught and punished? I would hazard to guess that most average people would say no, but then again average people aren’t the type of people to get themselves in positions of power like politicians, generals, and spies.

It is a well-known fact that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it… anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. ~Douglas Adams

Think about it. You’re the government. You are god. No one will punish you except yourself, and that’s not about to happen any time soon. You have this secret power to spy on anyone in the world. The public, hell even most of congress, doesn’t know about your secret abilities. If they do, you’ll pull the “terrorism” card or the “child pornography” card. Who wants to be labeled as “pro-terrorist child rapists?”

Do you do it?

OF COURSE YOU FUCKING DO IT! Are you serious? Every government ever has always sought to spy on their political adversaries. It’s like statism 101! The US government is no exception and has a long and rich history of spying on civil rights leaders, students, activists, anyone that didn’t fit with the party in power. Abusing power isn’t reserved for just political adversaries, the employees at the NSA even used their illegal powers to spy on spouses and ex-lovers!

What’s worse, all this spying has not provided any tangible benefits! In June of 2013, NSA director Keith Alexander sat in front of congress and flat out asserted that they had stopped 54 terrorist attacks as a result of illegally and unethically spying on 300 million Americans (and the rest of the world).

But guess what… he was lying.

Last month Alexander admitted as much. Instead of 54, Alexander said they had stopped “only perhaps one or two.”

Let me tell you a little story about a man arrested for drinking and driving. The officer pulled him over and asked him how many drinks he had that night. When the man replied “one or two” the office asked him to take a breathalyzer test and found that he was over the limit. When the man asked the office how he knew that he had been drinking heavily the office responded with “If you had had only two beers you would have remembered exactly how many you had.”

And that’s ladies and gentlemen yet another reason why the NSA (and Keith Alexander) is full of shit.

What are the risks?

Besides living in an Orwellian police state world (the internet knows no national boundaries and nor does their spying) where you automatically suspect and guilty until proven innocent, they’ll break the internet.

Most people don’t understand how the internet works. They get on a computer and it’s just there. Sadly, a lot of people in government don’t understand how the internet works either. As a result, they’re doing things that will destroy the internet on a fundamental level. Their short-sided goals of cracking down on political dissidents has led them to break common encryption methods used for things like whenever you purchase something from amazon with your credit card. They’ve also leaned on software developers to put back-doors (allowing the NSA to spy and steal information) into various programs and websites. (Most notably, Skype and Facebook)

One of the (many) big issues with this is that the government is not the only one who will be able to take advantage of these back doors and broken encryption. They’re basically smashing down the door to your house, ransacking the place to try and incriminate you, then leaving. Meanwhile the door to your house is still smashed in and anybody can just walk right in when they find that opening. When they break the ability to encrypt transactions online, they break the trust people have in online commerce. Imagine if nobody felt safe buying anything online anymore. What would that do to the world economy? According to the Wall Street Journal, Americans, just Americans alone, are projected to spend $327 BILLION online by 2016. That’s just Americans. Can you imagine what the total figure is for that plus the rest of the world? Now imagine what would happen if that disappeared? What would happen to the world’s economy? It would fucking crash in a catastrophic fashion. There is a serious threat now of Balkanization of the internet. When Snowden revealed just how massive the NSA’s spying is, countries started talking about segmenting themselves off from the internet. This will undermine the internet’s core concept: inter-connectivity. Can you imagine a country by country internet?

The internet is arguably the most amazing technological advancement in the history of humanity. The ability to communicate and share ideas instantaneously has produce a Cambrian explosion like advancement in science, commerce, and culture. There has never been anything like it. Unfortunately, there’s now a real risk that it will die. If it does die, die too does humanity’s chance to escape the bonds of its past and any hope for a brighter future. The fight for the fate of the internet is really a fight for the fate of humanity. It is perhaps the most important fight in human history.

So what can you do?

I hope you know by now that writing letters, calling your representatives, marching around in the cold with signs, and voting (all the socially “approved” outlets) are futile. They’re an illusion to make you feel like you’re accomplishing something when in fact you’re not. Instead the only thing you’re accomplishing is venting your frustration in a sterilized (non-violent) way. As far as the government is concerned, you can do that all day. What really matters to them is that you don’t challenge their power with your own.

So if the approved outlets are pointless and you’re unable to out-violence the government, what can you do to protect yourself from the monster of a surveillance state we’ve created? What will save us?

sacred_heart_of_jesus

End to End Encryption

Our only hope for salvation lies in end to end encryption of all internet traffic. Why? Remember how all government power rests on violence?

No amount of violence can solve a math problem. ~ Jacob Appelbaum

End to end encryption is based off of a complex math problem. (If you’d like to see a really clever and easy to understand explanation of encryption, check this video out.) Whenever you communicate with someone over the internet (or go anywhere for that example), unless you’re using end to end encryption to encrypt all your traffic, you’re basically having the equivalent of unprotected sex with the internet. You’re not anonymous and it is easy for someone, especially an oppressive government, to monitor your activity. Pretty Good Privacy was one of the first publicly available encryption methods. (Funnily enough, the US Government tried to throw it’s creator in prison for spreading a technology that would prevent them from spying on people.)

In addition to end to end encryption, another source in combating oppressive regimes online is to utilize open-source software. What’s open source software? It’s software that is created by anyone who releases the source code of the program for everyone to see. For example: A private company might write a program and sell it. They don’t want to give the program away for free, so they don’t show the source code. This way you have no idea what else is hidden in the program. It’s possible for governments and other entities to hide things inside the program that do things other than what the program is being sold to do.

Open-source, however, has the source code out there for all to see. This actually increases security as everyone can look to see if something bad is hidden in the program. It also opens the program up to peer review. People can often contribute to an open-source project and improve upon it, whereas a close-sourced project is restricted only to the people who originally wrote it.

Lastly, you can use some tools to help obscure your identity online. TOR is a browser, much like firefox or google chrome, that lets you surf around the web. TOR, however, obscures your traffic by sending it through multiple different paths before coming back to you. In addition, you can also use a VPN service that will act like a middle man. Say you want to go to a website, but you don’t want someone watching your internet traffic to see that you’re going to that website. If you use a VPN, the VPN provider will go to that website for you, and then forward everything to your computer. This way someone watching will only see the VPN provider going to that website and not who’s on the other end looking at it. An example of a VPN provider is Private Internet Access.

Encryption is so dangerous to the government precisely because it renders them powerless. You can bet your ass they’re going to do everything they can to demonize encryption, anonymity, and attempt to prevent its wide-scale adoption. It’s for precisely this reason that it’s so important to implement and popularize security measures like this. The fate of humanity depends upon it.

Assange’s fate will be decided after the Olympics

29 Jul

They Olympics are on but the most important event will come after they’re finished. It looks as though Ecuador will make a decision on his asylum request after the Olympics conclude. 

Assange is wanted for questioning in regards to an alleged sex crime in Sweden. He has not been charge with any crime, they just want him for “questioning.” Meanwhile one of the accusers has decided to stop cooperating with the Swedish police and instead left for Palestine. Everyone gets the sense that these accusations were drummed up conveniently right after Assange pissed off the most powerful government in the world by showing everyone the various war crime the US has been committing.

The Ecuadorian government has offered for Swedish officials to come and question Assange at their embassy in London, but Sweden hasn’t accepted this. Sweden to Stockholm is a 2 hour flight. The officials could literally have breakfast, fly down to question Assange, and be back home in time for dinner. The fact that they refuse to do this just lends credence to the fears that Sweden will hand Assange over to the US the moment they get him.

This is a life and death matter for Assange and journalism as a whole. If Ecuador doesn’t grant Assange asylum, he’ll be turned over to the US for the crime of infuriating the American government. He’ll be tried under US law, despite not being a US citizen and not being in the US while breaking US laws. Assange will be in the hands of a government that is known to consistently violate human rights by use of torture, execution, and the denial of a fair trial.

If you can be arrested, thrown in prison, and even executed for breaking American law despite not being an American, nor being IN America at the time, then it is clear that the US believes its law applies to the entire planet. It’s a tacit admission that the US believes it rules the world. Indeed its military budget, ubiquitous presence, and disregard for the sovereignty of other nations points to this conclusion.

Some thoughts on Anon, wikileaks, DDoS attacks

11 Dec

This has been an extremely exciting week. Some are calling it the first global cyber war. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that whistle blower group Wikileaks published thousands of secret government correspondences shortly after publishing thousands of classified documents on America’s wars in the middle east. These leaks infuriated governments all over the world and they in turn attacked Wikileaks by DDoSing their sites. (DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. It’s when you get a bunch of computers to try and load a page, 10-100+ times a second. If a crowd walks through a door one by one, they get through, if they all rush the door at once, nobody gets through. DDoS is like rushing a website, which makes it become overwhelmed and crash for as long as the attack is continued)

What I find really scary is just how intense the attacks are on Wikileaks and it’s chief editor Julian Assange. At the pressure of many powerful governments, corporations like Paypal, Amazon, Mastercard, and Visa have tried to financially strangle Wikileaks by making it impossible for people to donate their money to Wikileaks. They are telling you that you cannot use your money to support this organization because they revealed the dirty atrocities your government was doing in secret. (Meanwhile, you still have the ability to donate to the Klu Klux Klan on paypal)

Meanwhile it seems like everywhere in the media people are attacking Wikileaks. The degree of this is really fucking scary. It’s like big brother swung into action and all the talking heads are regurgitating the press releases over and over. Even the local paper is condemning Wikileaks. We find out from these cables that civilian deaths in Afghanistan are 15,000 higher than what is officially released, and yet when people are confronted with information like this, they jamb their fingers in their ears, scream, and try to kick the shit out of you for telling them! They don’t care that the whole system is evil, they’re comfortable and they don’t want to know what their government is doing so long as they have food and E! Entertainment Tonight. It just makes me want to burn the whole thing down.

On top of this, a lot of people are calling Assnage a terrorist. That’s right. The word “terrorist” is now completely worthless, just like the word “freedom,” because we apply it to whatever we want, making the word mean whatever we want for that particular moment. In this case a “terrorist” is anyone who does something that the US government doesn’t like. Some people are coming out saying we need to kill Assnage. Sarah Palin, not surprisingly, wants to hunt him down. Considering we still haven’t caught bin Laden, and that she can’t hit a buck that’s trapped, I think Assange is pretty safe. None the less, this is an extremely scary precedent they’re trying to set. Assange and Wikileaks did not acquire the information. It was presented to them by other heros who leaked it.

Do you know what they used to call these terrorists that published evidence of government wrongdoing? Journalists

But journalism is dead in America and largely around the world. Now we wait for the government to tell us the news in a press release where they decide what information we need, and how it’s going to be framed.

Now here is the exciting bit. Wikileaks is not alone. People are rising up to fight back against this free speech crackdown and attempts to police the internet. Perhaps you’ve heard of Anonymous:

Anon struck back earlier this week by launching Operation Payback, DDoS attacks against the corporations that caved to government pressure to police the internet. Within a few hours they crashed Paypal, Amazon, Mastercard, and Visa. They’ve been organizing by Twitter (I’ve been following them) and voting as a democracy on the next target. When the vote is finished, their twitter accounts name the target and time, and then once they send the tweet “FIRE FIRE FIRE”, thousands of computers attack those websites in unison. The main point is to send a message that we’re hear and we won’t tolerate these attacks on one of the last organizations doing actual journalism, or attempts to police the internet. (Paypal actually later released the money it had frozen from Wikileaks)  Meanwhile Twitter and Facebook are playing a cat and mouse game to try and shut down any Anon related account in an attempt to disrupt their ability to coordinate counterattacks.

That was just the first round. Now Anon has switched tactics to “Operation Leakspin”

But Anon is not the only one defending Wikileaks. The U.N. High commissioner, Navi Pillay, recently voiced her concern on government attempts to shut down Wikileaks. The Daily Show and Colbert reports have come out in support of Wikileaks. (It’s an extremely terrifying day when fake news has to remind real news how to do journalism) However, there is one other news group who has come out and sided with Wikileaks, The Young Turks.

The only thing that worries me is that a large potion of Anon (and thus the defense of the free internet) is made up of people from 4chan….

Why I love wikileaks

29 Jul

Just recently Wikileaks released 91,000 documents covering the war in Afghanistan from 2004-2010, the Afghan War Diary, which revealed what most of us already knew; we’re not in control. Wikileaks is the bane to authority and power the world over. The US government even tried to destroy it, but failed.  So what are the benefits and dangers of the existence of wikileaks. Do the benefits outweigh the danger?

The benefits I see are clear: The world is steadily getting more and more treacherous for whistleblowers. Despite the Whistleblower Protection Act , sounding the alarm can really be sounding your own death bell. Whistleblowers are harassed by all administrations or corporations, regardless of political/religious affiliation, but this really became noticeable during the run up to the Iraq war. They most visible example of the government going out of their way to destroy the life of a whistleblower, the one who told them the excuse for the war they’d been planing for years was BS, was Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame.

There was a really interesting segment on NPR’s This American Life last week covering the 1952-53 case of Reynolds vs US. The case is famous for establishing the “State Secrets Privilege” in the middle of the red scare where by the US government can get a case thrown out of court forever just by saying that to try it would “reveal state secrets”. Up until recently judges weren’t even allowed to see if the evidence would reveal anything, they just had to trust the government that they were telling the truth. The problem was, the case was founded on a lie. A B-29 carrying top secret equipment went down killing most of the crew. The widows sued for negligence and wanted to see the accident report. The government claimed “state secrets” and the supreme court agreed with them. Over half a century later that accident report was declassified and it showed that there was nothing in it about the secret equipment. Instead it revealed a laundry list of negligence on the part of the government. The sick thing is that the government lawyers at the time knew this, but they wanted to get their precedent at the cost of the victims’ families. The government has used this free pass to deny justice many times since, and the Obama administration continues to use it to this day.

I see things like this: a whistleblower going to the government to sound the alarm on something is like going to a crooked cop to report a robbery. Chances are the cop is getting a slice. The likelihood that justice will be done is even lower when it’s the government itself that’s doing something wrong. Politicians, almost by definition, are conniving***. As the saying goes “Nobody likes a tattle-tale”. The only time politicians appreciate whistleblowers is when they can use the whistleblower to score political points. To think otherwise is just naive.

So, if the neighborhood cop is in on the crime, and chances of justice are extremely low, what is the only option? Wikileaks. You publish the information and hope that public outcry at the injustice is so that something is done.  (which unfortunately is highly unlikely; most people can’t be bothered to cross the street to vote) It’s sad, but it’s your only option.

So, what are the dangers? Well besides bad PR for authority and possibly some lost revenue for corporations, the most cited danger is that someone might die. This is a very real possibility. I have been trying to find an interview I heard with NPR a year or so ago where somebody from wikileaks, possibly the founder Assange himself, tried to address this very issue. I feel they are better qualified to explain how they feel about the possibility that leaking something might endanger someone’s life. NPR’s Fresh Air had a show on wikileaks that aired July 14th, 2010, you can stream it here. During the discussion it is mentioned that Assange feels that it is very possible that wikileaks might have blood on it’s hands some day as a result of leaking classified information, but that the quest for open government, an end to censorship, and habitual abuse of power is too important to shy away from.

I think wikileaks stresses the importance of principled leaking best:

“Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.

Consider Daniel Ellsberg, working within the US government during the Vietnam War. He comes into contact with the Pentagon Papers, a meticulously kept record of military and strategic planning throughout the war. Those papers reveal the depths to which the US government has sunk in deceiving the population about the war. Yet the public and the media know nothing of this urgent and shocking information. Indeed, secrecy laws are being used to keep the public ignorant of gross dishonesty practiced by their government. In spite of those secrecy laws and at great personal risk, Ellsberg manages to disseminate the Pentagon papers to journalists and to the world. Despite criminal charges against Ellsberg, eventually dropped, the release of the Pentagon papers shocks the world, exposes the government, and helps to shorten the war and save thousands of lives.

The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. The public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions forces them to consider the ethical implications of their actions. Which official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment and discovery increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression. Open government answers injustice rather than causing it. Open government exposes and undoes corruption. Open governance is the most effective method of promoting good governance.

Today, with authoritarian governments in power around much of the world, increasing authoritarian tendencies in democratic governments, and increasing amounts of power vested in unaccountable corporations, the need for openness and transparency is greater than ever. In an important sense, WikiLeaks is the first intelligence agency of the people. Better principled and less parochial than any governmental intelligence agency, it is able to be more accurate and relevant. It has no commercial or national interests at heart; its only interest is the revelation of the truth. Unlike the covert activities of state intelligence agencies, WikiLeaks relies upon the power of overt fact to enable and empower citizens to bring feared and corrupt governments and corporations to justice.

WikiLeaks helps every government official, every bureaucrat, and every corporate worker, who becomes privy to embarrassing information that the institution wants to hide but the public needs to know. What conscience cannot contain, and institutional secrecy unjustly conceals, WikiLeaks can broadcast to the world.

WikiLeaks is a buttress against unaccountable and abusive power.

We propose that authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger — the consciences of the people within them.”

*** Ok, not every single politician is conniving, but the vast majority are. The longer you’re in politics, the more likely you’re conniving. I say that because there is a political “game”. In order to get anything you want in politics, you have to play the game. You have to do a few dirty deeds here and there so other politicians will help you with your dirty deeds. Any white knight that tries to charge into the halls of government quickly finds he is charging into a brick wall. If you don’t play ball then you’re a lame duck. Therefore, the longer you’re in politics, the more successful you are, the more likely you’re conniving. You know the saying: “Politicians are like diapers, both should be changed often, and for the same reason.”