Thursday, February 09, 2006

ADVISE: Another massive government spying program

This administration just can’t help but keep on outdoing itself time after time. Right as congressional inquires are underway into one certainly illegal wiretapping and data mining operation – ECHELON -in order to monitor alleged terrorists, we find out that there’s another, bigger spy apparatus chugging away, looking for potential terrorists among American bloggers, emailers and Internet users.

The Christian Science Monitor is reporting that the program, Code-named ADVISE, is a behemoth of a snooper, using purchased information from credit card applications, financial records, DMV records, blogger entries, emails, and recorded Internet surfing habits, and anything else that may be available online to sift for patterns that may point to potential “terrorist” activity.

This program, administered by the Department of Homeland Security (sic), is similar to a program –
TIA, Total Information Awareness - that was shut down after Congress blew its top because they had not been consulted on its implementation, and its legality was dodgy, to say the least.

In 2002, news reports revealed that the Defense Department was working on Total Information Awareness, a project aimed at collecting and sifting vast amounts of personal and government data for clues to terrorism. An uproar caused Congress to cancel the
TIA program a year later.

From the Monitor:

What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.
As envisioned, ADVISE and its analytical tools would be used by other agencies to look for terrorists. "All federal, state, local and private-sector security entities will be able to share and collaborate in real time with distributed data warehouses that will provide full support for analysis and action" for the ADVISE system, says the 2004 workshop report.

Now, just what the hell does that last statement mean?

Which way is the sharing going, and who’s interpreting this stuff? A bunch of bloggers or on-line chat room customers start yakking about a SIM CITY war game, and suddenly the freaking Secret Service is pounding on their doors? And we already know that the information backlog on similiar systems (ECHELON, for instance) is weeks’ worth of jumbled information.

Given the way this administration works, you have got to be banging your head on your desk.

As I write this, CNN is reporting that the feds had a report/tip/data-mined, trawled, probability/guess that a building in Los Angeles was the target of a “terrorist” plot, and the Mayor of LA is right now telling us that he just found out about it from President Bush’s self-serving TV speech a couple of hours ago.

When did the feds know this, and why is the President taking this moment in time to tell us about it? Surely, this is politically motivated, designed to distract the American public from the ongoing Senate NSA wiretapping investigation.

I applaud the fact that the feds managed to disrupt some attacks - that’s their freaking job, after all - but the release of this information at this particular moment is grandstanding of the most odious sort.

This just gets stupider and stupider.

There's a discussion about all of this vis-a-vis our new-found high tech ability to sweep massive amounts of data from the Net - with the ethical implications involved - over on visit.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bubbles and Hoaxes

"I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community, and the United Nations Security Council," says Col. Larry Wilkerson.

As I have insisted time and time again in this journal, the Bush administration is a criminal conspiracy, intent on turning America into a cash cow for a select few.

Two articles appearing on Information Clearing House provide more clarification on my views. As both are rather lengthly, I will quote only briefly from each, but it behooves you, Gentle Readers, to follow the links and read the articles in their entirety.

The first is from a PBS interview with Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former asistant to Secretary of State Colin Powell, also former Deputy Director and Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College. David Brancaccio is Bill Moyer's erudite replacement on PBS's Now television program.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: We've been talking grand policy. The then director of the CIA, George Tenent, Vice President Cheney's deputy Libby, told you that the intelligence that was the basis of going to war was rock solid. Given what you now know, how does that make you feel?

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: It makes me feel terrible. I've said in other places that it was --constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. My participation in that presentation at the UN constitutes the lowest point in my professional life. I participated in a hoax on the American people, the international community and the United Nations Security Council. How do you think that makes me feel? Thirty-one years in the United States Army and I more or less end my career with that kind of a blot on my record? That's not a very comforting thing.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: A hoax? That's quite a word.

LAWRENCE WILKERSON: Well, let's face it, it was. It was not a hoax that the Secretary in any way was complicit in. In fact he did his best -- I watched him work. Two AM in the morning on the DCI and the Deputy DCI, John McLaughlin. And to try and hone the presentation down to what was, in the DCI's own words, a slam dunk. Firm. Iron clad. We threw many things out. We threw the script that Scooter Libby had given the -- Secretary of State. Forty-eight page script on WMD. We threw that out the first day. And we turned to the National Intelligence estimate as part of the recommendation of George Tenent and my agreement with. But even that turned out to be, in its substantive parts -- that is stockpiles of chemicals, biologicals and production capability that was hot and so forth, and an active nuclear program. The three most essential parts of that presentation turned out to be absolutely false.

The rest of the interview is here.

Mike Whitney is an independent investigative reporter. He has some very interesting things to say about Bush's economic policies, with a special tip of the hat to Alan Greenspan, probably the biggest asshole to come out of Wall Street since Teapot Dome.

01/05/06 "ICH" -- President Bush has consistently defended his massive $500 billion tax cuts. He has insisted that deficit spending be a “permanent” part of the national budget. His economic plan has eroded the confidence of central banks around the world and increased the federal debt by a whopping $3 trillion.

Still, he persists in his claim that deficits should be an enduring function of government. Doesn’t this confirm that bankrupting the country is an integral part of the Bush grand strategy? What more proof do we need?

Imagine someone stealing your credit card and running up a $450,000 bill year after year and then defending the theft as necessary to “create more jobs” as the “trickle-down” theorists do? Would you take such a person at his word? Deficits are theft; and the determination to make these lavish tax cuts for the wealthy permanent proves beyond a doubt that it is part of a larger strategy to bring about an economic meltdown that will change the political complexion of the country. What else could it mean?

Dick Cheney recently opined, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t mean anything.”


In fact, Cheney was part of the Reagan administration when Reagan’s tax cuts created monstrous $200 billion deficits, up 75% from 1980. The effects were devastating. Unemployment jumped to 10%, the 30 year mortgage skyrocketed to 15%, the economy ground to a standstill, and the nation plunged into the deepest recession since the 1930s. Cheney fully understands the suffering that deficits produce. Now, he wants to continue that misery as a permanent function of government.


And, what is the relationship between the ocean of debt produced by the Bush team and their strengthening of police-state apparatus like unlimited spying on Americans, the NSS (Bush’s new Secret Police), the uniform Federal ID program, the Patriot Act, and Halliburton’s $385 million contract from Homeland Security to construct new detention and processing facilities within the United States?

Is the ascendancy of the police-state intended to balance the catastrophic effects of economic destruction? Or, do the new instruments of repression anticipate the “political turmoil” (Warren Buffet’s words) that naturally results from financial collapse?


Regardless of what the public-relation gurus on the business channel say, the state of the union is disastrous. Bush has intentionally looted the treasury and torpedoed America’s economic future. Federal Reserve chief, Alan Greenspan cooperatively kept interest rates low so the greatest swindle in history could take place while the drowsy American public snoozed away.


Greenspan knew as early as 1996 that the stock market was over-inflated when he warned that “there was a stock market bubble at this point” that is “a problem we should keep our eye on”. (Remember “irrational exuberance”?) Still, he accommodated his friends in Washington and Wall Street by waiting until tens of thousands of Americans had lost their savings (and retirement) before ratcheting up interest rates and cooling down the spec-market.

The final loss to investors was an estimated $7 trillion dollars, an amount that pales in comparison to the current housing bubble which “The Economist” calls “the greatest bubble in history”. Again, it was Greenspan who instigated the housing bubble by dropping rates to a paltry 1.5% following the decline in the stock market.


More on Greenspan and the financial plottings of this administration here.

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson.": Franklin D. Roosevelt - (1882-1945), 32nd US President November 21, 1933 - Source: letter to Colonel E. Mandell House

ECHELON is data-mining you

While people argue about the possible illegality of President Bush’s ordering of wiretapping of US citizens by the NSA - flatly ignoring the NSA’s own internal guidance forbidding listening in on American citizens’ private communications, not to mention FISA - there has also been some debate about what the NSA is capable of doing, and whether or not the eavesdropping might actually be practical.

Interestingly, the NSA is more than happy to
share a great deal of information about its tasked mission with the general public. This seems reasonable to me, as any modern hacker is probably as up to speed on eavesdropping capabilities as any government employee, and in many cases, probably more so. It’s only that most civilian hackers don’t have access to the government funding to duplicate the NSA’s capabilities.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

All electrical communications devices emit electromagnetic radiation, which can be sent over wires or broadcast through the air. We’re talking telephones, fax, the Internet, TV, radio, everything. It’s no big deal for anybody with sufficiently sensitive equipment to pick up these signals, which is all that the NSA is doing on the mechanical side.

Their program for the harvesting of signals is called
ECHELON. It is basically a world-spanning, ground- and space-based network of antennas, picking electronic signals out of the ether, amplifying them and sending them to Ft. George Meade, Virginia, where the signals are processed by a program called DICTIONARY. The FBI has had a similar program for years, code named CARNIVORE, which has its own troubled history.

Some nice graphics illustrating the various mechanical devices used and their locations are available
here, here, and here.

DICTIONARY is a search
algorithm, kind of like what Google, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, and other search engine sites use. In fact, the NSA has applied to the US Patent Office for a patent on the kernel of DICTIONARY’s algorithm.

The only real secret about NSA’s search capability is the fact that they even exist, and, until recently, the code names. Once we know that they do exist, we can extrapolate the sophistication of the enterprise just by comparing it to what Google does in matching Google Ads or AdSense ads to your search results. There is no practical difference. In fact, Google probably has the better search engine. Free enterprise at work, don’t you see.

So here is the real nut of the problem: as anyone who has actually looked at the ads that Google presents to you as a reward for your search for “widgets” knows, the results are, to be fair, mixed.

The NSA has the same problem. If they intercept a person talking on the phone about exploding piƱatas, however innocent the conversation may be, as a conversation about explosions it gets tossed into the bin along with conversations of members of the 9-11 survivors’ group, say, or Fourth of July celebrations, as well as the targeted Golden Gate Bridge explosion plot, and about ten thousand other conversations to boot.

Because they have one more problem that Google or Yahoo doesn’t.

Bear in mind that all modern electronic signals are
multiplexed. In order to first get even one of those conversations, unless they are actually tracking a particular cell phone number, or have a physical tag on a landline, they willy-nilly pick up every other signal that is piggybacked with that targeted signal. So, in order to get the one fishy signal, they have to listen to one thousand, and in order to get a thousand, they have to listen to two hundred thousand. In a weird way, we are all on a planet-wide telephone multiple-party line.

To illustrate: the Feds have a tip that an al-Qaeda cell is located somewhere in a city block. They want to intercept the telephones calls of that cell. Unless they know the apartment number of that cell, they have to eavesdrop on every telephone call on that block, which could be upwards of ten thousand people in a place like New York City, for example.

That’s information overload folks, with a vengeance. It’s also why we call it data-mining, or dragnetting. And to make it even worse, it’s probably useless and a huge waste of the taxpayers’ money.

Not only are they listening to the bad guys, they’re listening to you, too, and that’s illegal, and that’s why they need a warrant, no matter how loudly they scream “national security.”

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Hymn

From all that terror teaches,
From lies of tongue and pen,
From all the easy speeches
That comfort cruel men,
From sale and profanation
Of honor and the sword,
From sleep and from damnation,
Deliver us, good Lord.

‘A Hymn’ by GK Chesterton, 1915

State of the disUnion

Have you ever seen such a piss-poor example of public speaking than President Bush’s State of the Union speech the other night? Alternately grimacing, smirking, and with facial ticks exploding, he gave the worst delivery I have seen since Betty Ann Gowdowski gave my junior high school commencement address.

And, of course, he lied right through his very teeth; every word a sculpted falsehood, and every breath mendacious. Plus he had that look of the inner spoiled child we all know him to be - that furtive, sneaky, corner-of-the-eye look you get from a nine-year-old who has been caught breaking into the liquor cabinet. Yep, that look you get from adolescents when they know that we know that they’re lying. They don’t stop lying, of course, but still, that look that makes you want to smack ‘em.

The Constitution of the United States, that quaint document, requires that the President make a report to Congress annually, describing the “state of the union.” It doesn’t stipulate the form, length, time of delivery or even any other particular; the assumption being (I guess) that the Framers thought that the President would be forwarding a kind of corporate statement: monies in the bank, troops deployed where and for how long, debts outstanding, how many cities under water, stuff like that. You know, facts. It also doesn’t require that the PreZ actually deliver a speech, or even appear before Congress in person, and in fact the first-ever state of the Union report was a handwritten letter from George Washington to the Speaker of the House.

Where and when it became a grandstanding propaganda event is hard to pinpoint, as these kind of things usually morph slowly over time, much like volunteering to drive your neighbor’s kid to soccer practice - next thing you know, you’re a Boy Scout troop leader descending the Grand Canyon on a twenty-six inch wide trail on a sick burro with fifteen pimply-faced Boy Scouts crowding your butt.

So we all know that the delivery sucked, with the PreZ looking like a juvenile delinquent caught in the policeman’s flashlight beam, and every word a lie. So what exactly is the state of the Union? Is there an elected Democrat out there who has a grip on this thing? Any clue at all?

Newly-elected Democratic Governor of the state of Virginia Tim Kaine took a stab at it and gave a fair but lame speech right after, if you could concentrate on his words while trying like hell to ignore his semaphoring left eyebrow. Jeez; this is the best the Dems could put up? No wonder the rank and file are disgusted by the leadership.

Anyway, he only hit some highlights while pretty much glossing over the real stench of the state of the Union, and this ain’t the half of it: 80,000 mutilated American veterans of the Iraq war; 200,000 dead Iraqis; absolutely no intention of pulling out of the Middle East any time soon; a trillion dollars down the toilet in Iraq with zero light at the end of the tunnel; Halliburton is still building permanent military bases in Iraq like there’s no tomorrow; they’re still disappearing prisoners when they’re not waterboarding them; 200,000 homeless and a thousand dead as a direct result of Hurricane Katrina; eight billion bucks in cold hard cash was stolen right out from under the nose of Paul Bremer, Interim Imperator of Iraq and he’s still walking around a free man; Osama bin Laden is still sunning in the south of France a free man; John Bolton is single-handedly wrecking the United Nations; Paul Wolfowitz is loaning money to blood-thirsty African thugs who hack off the hands and feet of four-year-old kids; Ann Coulter still hasn’t had her yap stuffed with wet sand yet; the House Republicans just elected a Leader with the ethics of a wharf rat who has a history of handing out bribes and kickbacks to fellow corporate stooges on the floor of the House of Representatives; and on and on and more coming soon.

But it occurs to me, since the Republicans have this big majority in Congress and all, and Georgie has three more years in which to blow up this planet, that nothing the Dems say or do will make a damn bit of difference for the people’s business unless they get a majority again – then clearly the bare minimum they could do is to start saying something real, like telling the Truth of the state of the Union. Loudly, clearly, and often.

It couldn’t hurt. The Repugs are only pausing from counting their corporate bribes to laugh like hell at the Dems anyway, so what have they got to lose?

I’ll tell you: all they have to lose is this Republic.