Happy Festivus And 2013 Year In Review

Happy Festivus, Dear Reader


We ponder 2013’s biggest story:

  • Boston’s terror attack
  • Rightist congressional theatrics
  • Syria and Obama’s stumbling
  • Miley Cyrus twerking
  • Egypt and Arab Spring’s collapse
  • Obama’s passivity
  • Iran’s opening
  • L’Affaire Snowden
  • Snowden Wins No Surprise

    Neocons and their R2P fellow travelers get runner up for their urgent efforts to jump start yet another American Middle East war. Bandar’s bizarre lashing out at American last minute resistance to Sunni manipulation a Golden Globe-worthy turn.

    Still, we come back to Snowden and the baggage train in his wake. We’re not wholly derisive. Much of what Snowden needed to say was already public. Michael Hayden conceded that. Journalists and bloggers chasing clicks, ‘Likes’ and SEO page views couldn’t be bothered to put it together.

    Snowden’s initial meme-ready slides with pretty logos cut through it all. That’s an achievement. So kudos. NSA’s outright misrepresentations to Congress, the FISA Court and others needed to come out. If only he stopped there.

    After that, his actions and those of his supporters are a whole ‘nother ball game. With little to praise or support. The real purpose of the exercise now isn’t U.S. domestic constitutional order but a full assault on Amerca’s global position. Snowden’s embrace and praise of Putin’s Russia and FSB control appallingly stupid. Snowden under FSB control simply can’t be a credible individual. That’s on top of his initial courtship of authoritarian China, Venezuela and Ecuador. Clumsy U.S. diplomacy played not a small part, too.

    We support legitimate U.S./allied foreign collection activities. Merkel’s non-sensitive, non-government phone faux pas aside, the U.S. designed the NSA to listen abroad. Attacking foreign taskings and stealing military codes is wholly unrelated to privacy. Commingling it all undermines prospects for real reform at home. Snowdenista ‘expose artists’ objectively strengthen NSA and its enablers fighting for the status quo.

    Obama’s Review Group NSA report is Exhibit A. Almost all of the post-2001 apparat is left intact. NSA’s permanent bulk, all-source meta-data collection and retention would be cut off. New reports to Congress on business records and meta data suggested. For lazy headline writers, the report floats new restrictions on collecting head-of-state communications and splitting NSA from Cyber Command. Making the NSA director a Senate confirmable position not a bad idea, either.

    But by and large, it’s a punt.

    We’d like to see PATRIOT rolled back, personally. Not tweaked. Not adjusted. Rolled back. And we’d like to see updated privacy protections that would fence in Google, Facebook et al. With real, biting sanctions for violations. The issue is so much bigger than the NSA. Silicon Valley is a more active menace to stealing and using our data than theoretical NSA abuses.

    Defending privacy with government and corporate voraciousness is not easy. We know a little bit about it. Not just because we presented Silicon Valley’s views fighting NSA over its demand for weak 56 bit encryption exports, etc. But because if you’ve ever bought something online with a mouse click, we had a role in that becoming legally meaningful, too. We’ve been in empty hearing rooms at 2:00 AM with a yellow pad, writing out language on digital privacy issues that would enable a bill to pass by suspension.

    Coalition management is awesomely tricky on a good day. Privacy, consumer rights, finance, technology groups have their own agendas. And add retail/the Chamber? Layering all the ego and puffery of national security on top makes any coalition especially daunting. Threading a needle doesn’t come close. The President’s Review Group is so modest and limited that is it is incapable of launching, let alone sustaining a real reform conversation.

    Your thoughts? We’ve gone on at length about Snowden and would like to hear from you. Or what you think the big story was in 2013. Any Miley fans?

    And from all of us to all of you, Happy Festivus!!!


    1. DrLeoStrauss says

      Nice to see you Aldershot. There was much gnashing of teeth and people fleeing the abode, not out of the traditional fear of wrestling, but because no one could agree on who was the actual head of the household. Things degenerated into a Peoples’ Liberation Front of Judea squabble, with everyone calling everyone else splitters.

        • DrLeoStrauss says

          Precisely! The wrestling to conclude the Feat of Strength couldn’t begin because we apparently have no head of household among the extended family. Or more precisely, if truth be told, it actually might be truly a young nephew wielding the power of a Ben 10 comic book.

          • Aldershot says

            Doubtless, he and my young nephew will be drone jockeys one day. Shhh…don’t tell my sister, she’s already neurotic. Be good, Doc :)

    2. Aldershot says

      Hey, Doc, I’m just under the wire to wish you and the merry band a Merry Christmas :) Happy Festivus, belatedly. What was your feat of strength?

    3. davidly says

      That’s it. Screw the whistleblower sitting in the brig, who needed to say what wasn’t already public.

      • DrLeoStrauss says

        Had Snowden stopped after exposing NSA domestic abuses via WaPo and remained in the country standing his ground, his appraisal would be different. But he fled to China and is now under FSB control in Moscow.

        U.S. privacy is not his goal. He stole vastly more information than domestic abuses and released it via his sock puppet army relating to legitimate foreign intelligence collection and other activities. His own words to the Chinese and Russians were he wanted to help them take down the NSA/America.

        Snowden is the Wikileaks wet dream. Like Manning. (Wikileaks likes to exploit the naive and clueless). Manning’s treatment was inhumane and counterproductive, making him a martyr. Doesn’t excuse what he did.

        Indiscriminate leaking to damage the U.S. is the secretive Wikileaks/their Russian friends’ schtick. If that’s your gig, so be it. It’s not ours.

        • davidly says

          Exposing war crimes is not schtick or a gig, regardless of Wikileaks motivations. I cannot think of anything that doesn’t excuse what Manning did.

    4. Scaremy Jayhill says

      Maybe you could list the relevant NSA lies and misrepresentations to the Congress.

      Maybe you could explain how the Congress did not know the wrongness (falsity) of those alleged lies and misrepresentations.

      And maybe you could explain Snowden’s lack of tech skills yielding a 200k/yr job in the tech world at NSA’s e-spook central via BAH, and how that may have been influenced by Snowden’s life collisions with the boys & girls of Langley.

      Oh I know, you’re a real satirist. But still. Do this for me.

      • DrLeoStrauss says

        Ever since formal oversight began with the 1980 Act (not counting the Church and far more chaotic Pike Committees’ expose hearings in mid-1970s), the Community has used formalism and process against full compliance. Data might be shared in passing to SSCI or HPSCI but the importance/relevance of that data often is not. Nor does the Community volunteer to explain, typically.

        This pattern began under Casey. It explains why HPSCI knew actual information on some things SSCI did not re say the mining of harbors – HPSCI happened to ask a specific question that never occurred to SSCI. And of course, Casey and his successors routinely would obfuscate. To the point Bobby Inman would pull up his socks when Casey did so to signal the committees.

        But it’s not just Casey. (His operationalizing the NSC re the Contras btw a typical NYC SEC lawyer’s reaction to creatively interpreting statute). It’s a hallmark of the oversight process down unto today. Clapper’s bald misrepresentation in open hearing what all knew to be otherwise from classified hearings just the latest.

        When Hayden and Cheney et al. tied HPSCI and SSCI up in knots by compartmentalizing who on the Committees could be briefed after 9/11, the rapid fire declarations of TCP/IP networking, routing, packets, to stain them with complicit knowledge in the extra-Constitutional program in no way constituted informed briefing. Staccato factoids that no one on the Hill had the technical expertise to understand. And so on.

        What has changed most since the late 1980s is that the Committees have been captured in the regulatory sense by the Community. Rather than being the American peoples’ watchdog on the Community, the Committees by and large are the Community’s ambassadors to Congress and media. Diane Feinstein. Rodgers. And their predecessors. Maximizing their stature, ego, Committee jurisdiction, etc. — all play a role. And Committee staff/personnel, too.

        The idea of a Senate staffer running the Agency would have been absurd in 1979. And the results predictably lamentable. The idea of the Agency being so militarized afterwards doesn’t even merit an eye blink.

        Snowden technically is neither the hum drum systems admin or the genius many claim. By all accounts his work for the Agency was more of a traditional support nature. He was not in the DO.

        At Dell, in Hawaii, he maintained Windows security for the Pacific region as a contractors for NSA. This too is largely a systems job. What changed?

        It was here he began to take courses paid for by NSA on how to hack and evaluate foreign targets for intrusion. NSA encourages internal advancement like this while still scouting for ‘white hat’ hacking talent outside.

        He essentially did a career lateral and worked hard to qualify for offensive cyber and defensive counter measures.

        He was taught how to do what he did. The USG paid for it. He just turned what he learned back on NSA. He evaluated NSA like NSA paid for him to learn to evaluate foreign networks. Much of his success wasn’t do to mad computer skillz. He covered his tracks and accessed systems using human engineering. Much like Mitnick.

        For example, he persuaded colleagues and NSA employees to volunteer their passwords and other account information, allowing him to defeat a single source damage evaluation, etc. Had NSA had better common sense internal training and procedures Snowden would have been far less successful. Apart from the facility being slow to upgrade defensive software.

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