A wallet returned after 60+ years

From KOMU’s “Sarah’s Stories – Wallet Memories” (KOMU: 4 January 2007):

MEXICO [Misouri] – A local resident enjoyed an early, unexpected Christmas present.

Ray Heilwagen, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, has a story that stretches from France to his front lawn.

During war, a wallet can be a soldier’s most prized pocession, full of photos and other family memories. Like many veterans, Heilwagen carried his wallet on the battlefields of northern France in 1944.

Just after D-Day, a mortar shell hit him in the leg, and the powerful explosion blew him into a nearby river. Heilwagen survived, but he lost his wallet between the battlefield and the tent hospital.

Then, last month, Heilwagen got a phone call.

“[He] wanted to know if I’d ever served in France during World War II. I said, ‘Yeah’ and he said, ‘Did you ever lose a billfold?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I sure did.’ It just kind of shocked me,” Heilwagen remembered.

“I didn’t even know that he lost his wallet, so he calls and says that this man that he doesn’t know calls and says he found his wallet from the service some 60 years later,” added granddaughter Kayla Sudbrock.

“And then he went on to tell me that his father was a World War II veteran and he found the wallet but he didn’t know where I was to return it,” said Heilwagen. “So he took it home with him and stuck it in a drawer some place where it’s been for 62 years.”

Steve Breitenstein of Illinois used the Internet to locate Heilwagen in Mexico. Decades after he lost it on the battlefield, the wallet arrived at Heilwagen’s house in mint condition, with his original Social Security card, his money and memories still intact.

The fact that he got his wallet back after six decades is amazing, but so is the timing because the Illinois man found it on Nov. 11.

“Finding it on that day is so ironic,” said Sudbrock, “that he found his wallet from the service on Veterans’ Day.”

Shelby Foote on how the Civil War changed the gender of the teaching profession

From Carter Coleman, Donald Faulkner, & William Kennedy’s interview of Shelby Foote in “The Art of Fiction No. 158” (The Paris Review: Summer 1999, No. 151):

About the time that war started I think roughly eighty-five or ninety percent of the teachers in this country were men. After the war was over something like eighty-five to ninety percent of teachers were women.

James Dickey on why he wrote Deliverance

From Franklin Ashley’s interview of James Dickey in “The Art of Poetry No. 20” (The Paris Review: Spring 1976, No. 65):

I wrote Deliverance as a story where under the conditions of extreme violence people find out things about themselves that they would have no other means of knowing. The late John Berryman, who was a dear friend of mine, said that it bothered him more than anything else that a man could live in this culture all his life without knowing whether he’s a coward or not. I think it’s necessary to know.

How male water striders blackmail females into sex

From Ed Yong’s “Male water striders summon predators to blackmail females into having sex” (Discover: 10 August 2010):

Water strider sex begins unceremoniously: the male mounts the female without any courtship rituals or foreplay. She may resist but if she does, he starts to actively strum the water surface with his legs. Each vibration risks attracting the attention of a hungry predator, like a fish or backswimmer (above). And because the female is underneath, she will bear the brunt of any assault. By creating dangerous vibes, the male intimidates the female into submitting to his advances. Faint heart, it is said, never did win fair lady.

A male water strider doesn’t have to go through the hardships of pregnancy and he plays no role in raising the next generation. It’s a theme that echoes throughout the animal kingdom and it means that the best strategy for him is to mate with as many females as possible. After all, he has plenty of sperm to go around. A female, however, has a limited supply of eggs and mating opportunities. When she has sex, it has to count, so it suits her to be choosy. And she has the right equipment for the job.

Last year, Chang Han and Piotr Jablonski from Seoul National University found that female red-backed water striders (Gerris gracilicornis) can block their vaginas with hard genital shields. This defence is important because once the male manages to insert his penis, he can inflate it to make him harder to throw off. The female’s only hope is to prevent him from getting through in the first place.

Hyper-violent males can sometimes wear the female down but some opt for a subtler approach – they tap intricate rhythms on the water with their legs. When Han and Jablonski discovered these rituals last year, they suggested that the males might be trying to demonstrate their quality, by tapping out the most consistent rhythms. Now, they have another explanation – the tapping is a form of blackmail, a way of coercing sex from the female with the threat of death.

The duo studied the preferences of the backswimmer – a predatory bug that floats upside-down at the water’s surface and listens out for the vibrations of potential prey. When given a choice between a silent male water strider and a mating pair with a tapping male, the backswimmer always headed towards the vibrating duo. And since these predators attack from below, the female was always the one who was injured while the male strode off to tap another day.

The backswimmer menace is so potent that after a few minutes of tapping from the male, the female relents by opening her genital shield. If she had been previously attacked by predators, she gave in almost instantly. And only when she relented did the male stop his threatening taps.

The battle of the sexes between male and female water striders has led to a whole suite of adaptations and counter-adaptations. Some males have evolved special grasping structures to give them a better hold of females, while females have responded by evolving spines and other defences to weaken their grip. Females evolved their impregnable genital shields, which males have countered with a behaviour that makes females more likely to lower their defences.

To be honest, the female water strider has an easy time of it. In other insects, where females have evolved an upper hand in the war of the sexes, males have developed even more extreme counter-strategies. Look no further than the common bedbug – the male bypasses the female’s genitals altogether and stabs his sharp penis straight into the female’s back, a technique known appropriately as traumatic insemination.

A summary of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society

From a summary of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (Abridge Me: 1 June 2010):

The Concept of the Conventional Wisdom

The paradigms on which society’s perception of reality are based are highly conservative. People invest heavily in these ideas, and so are heavily resistant to changing them. They are only finally overturned by new ideas when new events occur which make the conventional wisdom appear so absurd as to be impalpable. Then the conventional wisdom quietly dies with its most staunch proponents, to be replaced with a new conventional wisdom. …

Economic Security

… Economics professors argue that the threat of unemployment is necessary to maintain incentives to high productivity, and simultaneously that established professors require life tenure in order to do their best work. …

The Paramount Position of Production

… Another irrationality persists (more in America than elsewhere?): the prestigious usefulness of private-sector output, compared to the burdensome annoyance of public expenditure. Somehow public expenditure can never quite be viewed as a productive and enriching element of national output; it is forever something to be avoided, at best a necessary encumbrance. Cars are important, roads are not. An expansion in telephone services improves the general well-being, cuts in postal services are a necessary economy. Vacuum cleaners to ensure clean houses boast our standard of living, street cleaners are an unfortunate expense. Thus we end up with clean houses and filthy streets. …

[W]e have wants at the margin only so far as they are synthesised. We do not manufacture wants for goods we do not produce. …

The Dependence Effect

… Modern consumer demand, at the margin, does not originate from within the individual, but is a consequence of production. It has two origins:

  1. Emulation: the desire to keep abreast of, or ahead of one’s peer group — demand originating from this motivation is created indirectly by production. Every effort to increase production to satiate want brings with it a general raising of the level of consumption, which itself increases want.
  2. Advertising: the direct influence of advertising and salesmanship create new wants which the consumer did not previously possess. Any student of business has by now come to view marketing as fundamental a business activity as production. Any want that can be significantly moulded by advertising cannot possibly have been strongly felt in the absence of that advertising — advertising is powerless to persuade a man that he is or is not hungry.


… In 1942 a grateful and very anxious citizenry rewarded its soldiers, sailors, and airmen with a substantial increase in pay. In the teeming city of Honolulu, in prompt response to this advance in wage income, the prostitutes raised the prices of their services. This was at a time when, if anything, increased volume was causing a reduction in their average unit costs. However, in this instance the high military authorities, deeply angered by what they deemed improper, immoral, and indecent profiteering, ordered a return to the previous scale. …

The Theory of Social Balance

The final problem of the affluent society is the balance of goods it produces. Private goods: TVs, cars, cigarettes, drugs and alcohol are overproduced; public goods: education, healthcare, police services, park provision, mass transport and refuse disposal are underproduced. The consequences are extremely severe for the wellbeing of society. The balance between private and public consumption will be referred to as ‘the social balance’. The main reason for this imbalance is relatively straightforward. The forces we have identified which increase consumer demand as production rises (advertising and emulation) act almost entirely on the private sector. …

It is arguable that emulation acts on public services to an extent: a new school in one district may encourage neighbouring districts to ‘keep up’, but the effect is relatively miniscule.

Thus, private demand is artificially inflated and public demand is not, and the voter-consumer decides how to split his income between the two at the ballot box: inevitably public expenditure is grossly underrepresented. …

David Foster Wallace on the impossibility of being informed & the seduction of dogma

From David Foster Wallace’s “Introduction” (The Best American Essays 2007):

Here is an overt premise. There is just no way that 2004’s reelection could have taken place—not to mention extraordinary renditions, legalized torture, FISA-flouting, or the
passage of the Military Commissions Act—if we had been paying attention and handling information in a competent grown-up way. ‘We’ meaning as a polity and culture. The premise does not entail specific blame—or rather the problems here are too entangled and systemic for good old-fashioned finger-pointing. It is, for one example, simplistic and wrong to blame the for-profit media for somehow failing to make clear to us the moral and practical hazards of trashing the Geneva Conventions. The for-profit media is highly attuned to what we want and the amount of detail we’ll sit still for. And a ninety-second news piece on the question of whether and how the Geneva Conventions ought to apply in an era of asymmetrical warfare is not going to explain anything; the relevant questions are too numerous and complicated, too fraught with contexts in everything from civil law and military history to ethics and game theory. One could spend a hard month just learning the history of the Conventions’ translation into actual codes of conduct for the U.S. military … and that’s not counting the dramatic changes in those codes since 2002, or the question of just what new practices violate (or don’t) just which Geneva provisions, and according to whom. Or let’s not even mention the amount of research, background, cross- checking, corroboration, and rhetorical parsing required to understand the cataclysm of Iraq, the collapse of congressional oversight, the ideology of neoconservatism, the legal status of presidential signing statements, the political marriage of evangelical Protestantism and corporatist laissez-faire … There’s no way. You’d simply drown. We all would. It’s amazing to me that no one much talks about this—about the fact that whatever our founders and framers thought of as a literate, informed citizenry can no longer exist, at least not without a whole new modern degree of subcontracting and dependence packed into what we mean by ‘informed.’8

8 Hence, by the way, the seduction of partisan dogma. You can drown in dogmatism now, too— radio, Internet, cable, commercial and scholarly print— but this kind of drowning is more like sweet release. Whether hard right or new left or whatever, the seduc- tion and mentality are the same. You don’t have to feel confused or inundated or ignorant. You don’t even have to think, for you already Know, and whatever you choose to learn confirms what you Know. This dog- matic lockstep is not the kind of inevitable dependence I’m talking about—or rather it’s only the most extreme and frightened form of that dependence.

How security experts defended against Conficker

From Jim Giles’ “The inside story of the Conficker worm” (New Scientist: 12 June 2009):

23 October 2008 … The dry, technical language of Microsoft’s October update did not indicate anything particularly untoward. A security flaw in a port that Windows-based PCs use to send and receive network signals, it said, might be used to create a “wormable exploit”. Worms are pieces of software that spread unseen between machines, mainly – but not exclusively – via the internet (see “Cell spam”). Once they have installed themselves, they do the bidding of whoever created them.

If every Windows user had downloaded the security patch Microsoft supplied, all would have been well. Not all home users regularly do so, however, and large companies often take weeks to install a patch. That provides windows of opportunity for criminals.

The new worm soon ran into a listening device, a “network telescope”, housed by the San Diego Supercomputing Center at the University of California. The telescope is a collection of millions of dummy internet addresses, all of which route to a single computer. It is a useful monitor of the online underground: because there is no reason for legitimate users to reach out to these addresses, mostly only suspicious software is likely to get in touch.

The telescope’s logs show the worm spreading in a flash flood. For most of 20 November, about 3000 infected computers attempted to infiltrate the telescope’s vulnerable ports every hour – only slightly above the background noise generated by older malicious code still at large. At 6 pm, the number began to rise. By 9 am the following day, it was 115,000 an hour. Conficker was already out of control.

That same day, the worm also appeared in “honeypots” – collections of computers connected to the internet and deliberately unprotected to attract criminal software for analysis. It was soon clear that this was an extremely sophisticated worm. After installing itself, for example, it placed its own patch over the vulnerable port so that other malicious code could not use it to sneak in. As Brandon Enright, a network security analyst at the University of California, San Diego, puts it, smart burglars close the window they enter by.

Conficker also had an ingenious way of communicating with its creators. Every day, the worm came up with 250 meaningless strings of letters and attached a top-level domain name – a .com, .net, .org, .info or .biz – to the end of each to create a series of internet addresses, or URLs. Then the worm contacted these URLs. The worm’s creators knew what each day’s URLs would be, so they could register any one of them as a website at any time and leave new instructions for the worm there.

It was a smart trick. The worm hunters would only ever spot the illicit address when the infected computers were making contact and the update was being downloaded – too late to do anything. For the next day’s set of instructions, the creators would have a different list of 250 to work with. The security community had no way of keeping up.

No way, that is, until Phil Porras got involved. He and his computer security team at SRI International in Menlo Park, California, began to tease apart the Conficker code. It was slow going: the worm was hidden within two shells of encryption that defeated the tools that Porras usually applied. By about a week before Christmas, however, his team and others – including the Russian security firm Kaspersky Labs, based in Moscow – had exposed the worm’s inner workings, and had found a list of all the URLs it would contact.

[Rick Wesson of Support Intelligence] has years of experience with the organisations that handle domain registration, and within days of getting Porras’s list he had set up a system to remove the tainted URLs, using his own money to buy them up.

It seemed like a major win, but the hackers were quick to bounce back: on 29 December, they started again from scratch by releasing an upgraded version of the worm that exploited the same security loophole.

This new worm had an impressive array of new tricks. Some were simple. As well as propagating via the internet, the worm hopped on to USB drives plugged into an infected computer. When those drives were later connected to a different machine, it hopped off again. The worm also blocked access to some security websites: when an infected user tried to go online and download the Microsoft patch against it, they got a “site not found” message.

Other innovations revealed the sophistication of Conficker’s creators. If the encryption used for the previous strain was tough, that of the new version seemed virtually bullet-proof. It was based on code little known outside academia that had been released just three months earlier by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Indeed, worse was to come. On 15 March, Conficker presented the security experts with a new problem. It reached out to a URL called rmpezrx.org. It was on the list that Porras had produced, but – those involved decline to say why – it had not been blocked. One site was all that the hackers needed. A new version was waiting there to be downloaded by all the already infected computers, complete with another new box of tricks.

Now the cat-and-mouse game became clear. Conficker’s authors had discerned Porras and Wesson’s strategy and so from 1 April, the code of the new worm soon revealed, it would be able to start scanning for updates on 500 URLs selected at random from a list of 50,000 that were encoded in it. The range of suffixes would increase to 116 and include many country codes, such as .kz for Kazakhstan and .ie for Ireland. Each country-level suffix belongs to a different national authority, each of which sets its own registration procedures. Blocking the previous set of domains had been exhausting. It would soon become nigh-on impossible – even if the new version of the worm could be fully decrypted.

Luckily, Porras quickly repeated his feat and extracted the crucial list of URLs. Immediately, Wesson and others contacted the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an umbrella body that coordinates country suffixes.

From the second version onwards, Conficker had come with a much more efficient option: peer-to-peer (P2P) communication. This technology, widely used to trade pirated copies of software and films, allows software to reach out and exchange signals with copies of itself.

Six days after the 1 April deadline, Conficker’s authors let loose a new version of the worm via P2P. With no central release point to target, security experts had no means of stopping it spreading through the worm’s network. The URL scam seems to have been little more than a wonderful way to waste the anti-hackers’ time and resources. “They said: you’ll have to look at 50,000 domains. But they never intended to use them,” says Joe Stewart of SecureWorks in Atlanta, Georgia. “They used peer-to-peer instead. They misdirected us.”

The latest worm release had a few tweaks, such as blocking the action of software designed to scan for its presence. But piggybacking on it was something more significant: the worm’s first moneymaking schemes. These were a spam program called Waledac and a fake antivirus package named Spyware Protect 2009.

The same goes for fake software: when the accounts of a Russian company behind an antivirus scam became public last year, it appeared that one criminal had earned more than $145,000 from it in just 10 days.

Could Green Dam lead to the largest botnet in history?


From Rob Cottingham’s “From blocking to botnet: Censorship isn’t the only problem with China’s new Internet blocking software” (Social Signal: 10 June 2009):

Any blocking software needs to update itself from time to time: at the very least to freshen its database of forbidden content, and more than likely to fix bugs, add features and improve performance. (Most anti-virus software does this.)

If all the software does is to refresh the list of banned sites, that limits the potential for abuse. But if the software is loading new executable code onto the computer, suddenly there’s the potential for something a lot bigger.

Say you’re a high-ranking official in the Chinese military. And let’s say you have some responsibility for the state’s capacity to wage so-called cyber warfare: digital assaults on an enemy’s technological infrastructure.

It strikes you: there’s a single backdoor into more that 40 million Chinese computers, capable of installing… well, nearly anything you want.

What if you used that backdoor, not just to update blocking software, but to create something else?

Say, the biggest botnet in history?

Still, a botnet 40 million strong (plus the installed base already in place in Chinese schools and other institutions) at the beck and call of the military is potentially a formidable weapon. Even if the Chinese government has no intention today of using Green Dam for anything other than blocking pornography, the temptation to repurpose it for military purposes may prove to be overwhelming.

Al Qaeda’s use of social networking sites

From Brian Prince’s “How Terrorism Touches the ‘Cloud’ at RSA” (eWeek: 23 April 2009):

When it comes to the war on terrorism, not all battles, intelligence gathering and recruitment happen in the street. Some of it occurs in the more elusive world of the Internet, where supporters of terrorist networks build social networking sites to recruit and spread their message.  
Enter Jeff Bardin of Treadstone 71, a former code breaker, Arabic translator and U.S. military officer who has been keeping track of vBulletin-powered sites run by supporters of al Qaeda. There are between 15 and 20 main sites, he said, which are used by terrorist groups for everything from recruitment to the distribution of violent videos of beheadings.

… “One social networking site has over 200,000 participants. …

The videos on the sites are produced online by a company called “As-Sahab Media” (As-Sahab means “the cloud” in English). Once shot, the videos make their way from hideouts to the rest of the world via a system of couriers. Some of them contain images of violence; others exhortations from terrorist leaders. Also on the sites are tools such as versions of “Mujahideen Secrets,” which is used for encryption.

“It’s a pretty solid tool; it’s not so much that the tool is so much different from the new PGP-type [tool], but the fact is they built it from scratch, which shows a very mature software development lifecycle,” he said.

4 sources of tension between science and religion

From Steven Weinberg’s “Without God” (The New York Review of Books: 25 September 2008):

But if the direct conflict between scientific knowledge and specific religious beliefs has not been so important in itself, there are at least four sources of tension between science and religion that have been important.

The first source of tension arises from the fact that religion originally gained much of its strength from the observation of mysterious phenomena – thunder, earthquakes, disease – that seemed to require the intervention of some divine being. There was a nymph in every brook, and a dryad in every tree. But as time passed more and more of these mysteries have been explained in purely natural ways. Explaining this or that about the natural world does not of course rule out religious belief. But if people believe in God because no other explanation seems possible for a whole host of mysteries, and then over the years these mysteries were one by one resolved naturalistically, then a certain weakening of belief can be expected.

Of course, not everything has been explained, nor will it ever be. The important thing is that we have not observed anything that seems to require supernatural intervention for its explanation. There are some today who cling to the remaining gaps in our understanding (such as our ignorance about the origin of life) as evidence for God. But as time passes and more and more of these gaps are filled in, their position gives an impression of people desperately holding on to outmoded opinions.

The problem for religious belief is not just that science has explained a lot of odds and ends about the world. There is a second source of tension: that these explanations have cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God to play a starring part in a great cosmic drama of sin and salvation. We have had to accept that our home, the earth, is just another planet circling the sun; our sun is just one of a hundred billion stars in a galaxy that is just one of billions of visible galaxies; and it may be that the whole expanding cloud of galaxies is just a small part of a much larger multiverse, most of whose parts are utterly inhospitable to life. As Richard Feynman has said, “The theory that it’s all arranged as a stage for God to watch man’s struggle for good and evil seems inadequate.”

A third source of tension between science and religious belief has been more important in Islam than in Christianity. Around 1100, the Sufi philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali argued against the very idea of laws of nature, on the grounds that any such law would put God’s hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smolder because of the heat of the flame, but because God wants it to darken and smolder. Laws of nature could have been reconciled with Islam, as a summary of what God usually wants to happen, but al-Ghazzali did not take that path.

Al-Ghazzali is often described as the most influential Islamic philosopher. I wish I knew enough to judge how great was the impact on Islam of his rejection of science. At any rate, science in Muslim countries, which had led the world in the ninth and tenth centuries, went into a decline in the century or two after al-Ghazzali. As a portent of this decline, in 1194 the Ulama of Córdoba burned all scientific and medical texts.

Nor has science revived in the Islamic world. … in 2002 the periodical Nature carried out a survey of science in Islamic countries, and found just three areas in which the Islamic world produced excellent science, all three directed toward applications rather than basic science. They were desalination, falconry, and camel breeding.

Something like al-Ghazzali’s concern for God’s freedom surfaced for a while in Christian Europe, but with very different results. In Paris and Canterbury in the thirteenth century there was a wave of condemnations of those teachings of Aristotle that seemed to limit the freedom of God to do things like create a vacuum or make several worlds or move the heavens in straight lines. The influence of Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus saved the philosophy of Aristotle for Europe, and with it the idea of laws of nature. But although Aristotle was no longer condemned, his authority had been questioned – which was fortunate, since nothing could be built on his physics. Perhaps it was the weakening of Aristotle’s authority by reactionary churchmen that opened the door to the first small steps toward finding the true laws of nature at Paris and Lisieux and Oxford in the fourteenth century.

There is a fourth source of tension between science and religion that may be the most important of all. Traditional religions generally rely on authority, whether the authority is an infallible leader, such as a prophet or a pope or an imam, or a body of sacred writings, a Bible or a Koran. …

Of course, scientists rely on authorities, but of a very different sort. If I want to understand some fine point about the general theory of relativity, I might look up a recent paper by an expert in the field. But I would know that the expert might be wrong. One thing I probably would not do is to look up the original papers of Einstein, because today any good graduate student understands general relativity better than Einstein did. We progress. Indeed, in the form in which Einstein described his theory it is today generally regarded as only what is known in the trade as an effective field theory; that is, it is an approximation, valid for the large scales of distance for which it has been tested, but not under very cramped conditions, as in the early big bang.

We have our heroes in science, like Einstein, who was certainly the greatest physicist of the past century, but for us they are not infallible prophets.

Bush, rhetoric, & the exercise of power

From Mark Danner’s “Words in a Time of War: Taking the Measure of the First Rhetoric-Major President” (Tomgram: 10 May 2007):

[Note: This commencement address was given to graduates of the Department of Rhetoric at Zellerbach Hall, University of California, Berkeley, on May 10, 2007]

I give you my favorite quotation from the Bush administration, put forward by the proverbial “unnamed Administration official” and published in the New York Times Magazine by the fine journalist Ron Suskind in October 2004. Here, in Suskind’s recounting, is what that “unnamed Administration official” told him:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

It was the assumption of this so-called preponderance that lay behind the philosophy of power enunciated by Bush’s Brain [Karl Rove] and that led to an attitude toward international law and alliances that is, in my view, quite unprecedented in American history. That radical attitude is brilliantly encapsulated in a single sentence drawn from the National Security Strategy of the United States of 2003: “Our strength as a nation-state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes and terrorism.” Let me repeat that little troika of “weapons of the weak”: international fora (meaning the United Nations and like institutions), judicial processes (meaning courts, domestic and international), and…. terrorism. This strange gathering, put forward by the government of the United States, stems from the idea that power is, in fact, everything. In such a world, courts — indeed, law itself — can only limit the power of the most powerful state. Wielding preponderant power, what need has it for law? The latter must be, by definition, a weapon of the weak. The most powerful state, after all, makes reality.

The future of security

From Bruce Schneier’s “Security in Ten Years” (Crypto-Gram: 15 December 2007):

Bruce Schneier: … The nature of the attacks will be different: the targets, tactics and results. Security is both a trade-off and an arms race, a balance between attacker and defender, and changes in technology upset that balance. Technology might make one particular tactic more effective, or one particular security technology cheaper and more ubiquitous. Or a new emergent application might become a favored target.

By 2017, people and organizations won’t be buying computers and connectivity the way they are today. The world will be dominated by telcos, large ISPs and systems integration companies, and computing will look a lot like a utility. Companies will be selling services, not products: email services, application services, entertainment services. We’re starting to see this trend today, and it’s going to take off in the next 10 years. Where this affects security is that by 2017, people and organizations won’t have a lot of control over their security. Everything will be handled at the ISPs and in the backbone. The free-wheeling days of general-use PCs will be largely over. Think of the iPhone model: You get what Apple decides to give you, and if you try to hack your phone, they can disable it remotely. We techie geeks won’t like it, but it’s the future. The Internet is all about commerce, and commerce won’t survive any other way.

Marcus Ranum: … Another trend I see getting worse is government IT know-how. At the rate outsourcing has been brain-draining the federal workforce, by 2017 there won’t be a single government employee who knows how to do anything with a computer except run PowerPoint and Web surf. Joking aside, the result is that the government’s critical infrastructure will be almost entirely managed from the outside. The strategic implications of such a shift have scared me for a long time; it amounts to a loss of control over data, resources and communications.

Bruce Schneier: … I’m reminded of the post-9/11 anti-terrorist hysteria — we’ve confused security with control, and instead of building systems for real security, we’re building systems of control. Think of ID checks everywhere, the no-fly list, warrantless eavesdropping, broad surveillance, data mining, and all the systems to check up on scuba divers, private pilots, peace activists and other groups of people. These give us negligible security, but put a whole lot of control in the government’s hands.

That’s the problem with any system that relies on control: Once you figure out how to hack the control system, you’re pretty much golden. So instead of a zillion pesky worms, by 2017 we’re going to see fewer but worse super worms that sail past our defenses.

A one-way ticket to crazyville

Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr
Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr
Tanguma's The Children of the World Dream of P...
Image by rsgranne via Flickr

From Dave Alan’s “Interview with Alex Christopher” (Leading Edge Research Group: 1 June 1996):

Legend: DA [Dave Alan, Host] AC: [Alex Christopher] C: [Caller]

(Note: according to former British Intelligence agent Dr. John Coleman, the London-based Wicca Mason lodges are one-third of the overall global conspiracy. The other two thirds are the Black Nobility banking families who claim direct descent from the early Roman emperors, and also the Maltese Jesuits or the Jesuit – Knights of Malta network. All three networks each have 13 representatives within the Bilderberg organization, which is a cover for the Bavarian Illuminati, suggestive that Bavaria itself has orchestrated a “marriage of convenience” between these three formerly competitive global control groups. – Branton)

AC: All right. The information, primarily, that is in “Pandora’s Box” covers how the major corporations, railroad and banking concerns in this country were set up through a ‘trust’ that was originally known as the Virginia Company… The deal was that everything would remain under English control, or subservient to it, and that brings us right up to today, because we are still looking at everything falling under that ‘trust’ system going back to the Crown of England. It is mind boggling to think that everyone in this country has been led to believe that the people in the United States had won independence from England, when in fact they never did.

AC: The capstone, or the dedication stone, for the Denver airport has a Masonic symbol on it. A whole group of us went out to the airport to see some friends off and see this capstone, which also has a time capsule imbedded inside it. It sits at the south eastern side of the terminal which, by the way, is called “The Great Hall”, which is what Masons refer to as their meeting hall. And, on this thing it mentions “the New World Airport Commission”. …

AC: It has a Masonic symbol on it, and it also has very unusual geometric designs. It depicts an arm rising up out of it that curves at a 45 degree angle. It also has a thing that looks like a keypad on it. This capstone structure is made of carved granite and stainless steel, and it is very fancy.. This little keypad area at the end of the arm has an out-of-place unfinished wooden block sitting on it. The gentleman that was with me on the first trip out to the airport has since died. They say he committed suicide, but everything else tells me that this is not possible. No one can double-tie a catheter behind his own neck and strangle himself. I just don’t think that is possible. But, his name was Phil Schneider, and he started blowing the whistle on all this stuff going on in the underground bases that he had helped build for years and years. He worked on the underground bases at Area 51 and Dulce, New Mexico, as well as several other places. Schneider told me that this keypad-looking area looked like a form of techno-geometry that is “alien-oriented”, and that it had something to do with a “directional system”, whatever that meant, that functioned as a homing beacon to bring ships right into the “Great Hall”.

(Note: … Remember even through the Bilderbergers consist of a “marriage of convenience” between Londonese Wicca Masons, Basilian Black Nobility and Roman Maltese Jesuits… the supreme controllers of the Bildeberger cult itself are the secret black Gnostic cults of Bavaria whose ‘Cult of the Serpent’ — or Illuminati — can be traced back to Egypt and ultimately to Babylon itself. These Rockefeller-Nazi projects reportedly continued through at least 1975 during which period many thousands more “underground Nazis” were brought into America from Europe and also, if we are to believe some reports, from the secret German “New Berlin” base under the mountains of Neu Schwabenland, Antarctica that was established during World War II via Nazi-occupied South Africa. Is Neu Schwabenland the REAL power behind the joint Bavarian-Alien New World Order Agenda? …)

AC: … It took myself and two other people over eight months to figure out all the symbology that is embodied in these murals. It turned out that some of these are ‘trigger’ pictures, containing symbology designed to trigger altered personalities of people that have been groomed in MKULTRA type programs for specific tasks that they have been trained to do in terms of something connected with Satanic rituals and mind control. I had one woman that called me out of the blue one night, and she was really disturbed about some information. She told me many different things that later turned out to be known MKULTRA triggers. Also, almost every aspect of these murals contains symbols relating back to secret societies. When you get the overall view of what they are talking about in these things, it is very very scary. It goes back to the Bio-diversity Treaty, getting rid of specific races of people, taking over the world and mind control.

AC: Well, the gentleman that I was dealing with, Phil Schneider, said that during the last year of construction they were connecting the underground airport system to the deep underground base. He told me that there was at least an eight-level deep underground base there, and that there was a 4.5 square mile underground city and an 88.5 square-mile base underneath the airport.

DA: You were telling me that there are huge concrete corridors with sprinklers all along the ceiling. What are these sprinkler heads doing in a concrete bunker, pray tell? (Presumably concrete will not ‘burn’ if there is a potential fire, so is it possible that something other than ‘water’ is meant to be expelled from these sprinklers which are located “all along” the ceiling? – Branton)

AC: I think a lot of the people saw things that disturbed them so much that they would not talk about it. I know several people who worked on the project that managed to find their way down into the depths, probably close to the deep underground base, and saw things that scared them so badly they won’t talk about it. I interviewed a few of the former employees on these construction crews that worked out there on these buildings that ended up buried, and they are afraid to talk. They say that everybody is real nervous about it, and they decided to tell some of the secrets that they knew, but they don’t want anybody to know who they are. So, I can tell you that it is a very unusual and spooky type of place, and if you are a sensitive person you get nauseated as soon as you enter the perimeter of the airport. Especially when you go down underground. You become very nauseated a nervous. There is also so much electromagnetic flux in the area that if you get out on the open ground around the airport, you will ‘buzz’.

AC: If Phil is right, and all this hooks up to the deep underground base that he was offered the plans to build back in 1979, and that what this other man TOLD me in private [is] that there is a lot of human SLAVE LABOR in these deep underground bases being used by these aliens, and that a lot of this slave labor is children. HE SAID that when the children reach the point that they are unable to work any more, they are slaughtered on the spot and consumed.

DA: Consumed by who?

AC: Aliens. Again, this is not from me, but from a man that gave his life to get this information out. He worked down there for close to 20 years, and he knew everything that was going on.

DA: Hmmm. Who do these aliens eat?

AC: They specifically like young human children, that haven’t been contaminated like adults. Well, there is a gentleman out giving a lot of information from a source he gets it from, and he says that there is an incredible number of children snatched in this country.

DA: Over 200,000 each year.

AC: And that these children are the main entree for dinner.

AC: Yes. From some information that has been put out by a group or team that also works in these underground bases that is trying to get information out to people that love this country, THERE IS A WAR THAT IS GOING ON UNDER OUT FEET, AND ABOVE OUR HEADS, that the public doesn’t know anything about, and its between these ALIEN forces and the HUMANS that are trying to fight them.

DA: What other types have you seen?

AC: The ones that I have seen are the big-eyed Greys and the Reptilians.

DA: What do these Reptilians look like?

AC: There are three different types.

AC: … Anyway, they were both totally flipped out. I finally got them calmed down enough to let me go home. I went home and went to bed. The next thing I know, I woke up and there is this ‘thing’ standing over my bed. He had wrap-around yellow eyes with snake pupils, and pointed ears and a grin that wrapped around his head. He had a silvery suit on, and this scared the living daylights out of me. I threw the covers over my head and started screaming….I mean, here is this thing with a Cheshire-cat grin and these funky glowing eyes…this is too much. I have seen that kind of being on more than one occasion.

DA: What else can you say about it?

AC: Well, he had a hooked nose and he was [humanoid] looking, other than the eyes, and had kind of grayish skin. Later on in 1991, I was working in a building in a large city, and I had taken a break about 6:00, and the next thing I knew it was 10:30 at night, and I thought I had taken a short break. I started remembering that I was taken aboard a ship, through four floors of an office building, and through a roof. There on the ship is were I encountered ‘GERMANS’ AND ‘AMERICANS’ WORKING TOGETHER, and also the GREY ALIENS, and then we were taken to some other kind of facility and there I saw the REPTILIANS again … the one’s I call the “baby Godzilla’s”, that have the short teeth and yellow slanted eyes, and who look like a VELOCI-RAPTOR, kind of.

DA: So, why would these people pick on you?

AC: Well, I found one common denominator in the abduction, and it keeps on being repeated over and over again. I deal with lots of people who have been abducted, and the one common denominator seems to be the blood line, and its the blood line that goes back to ancient Indian or Native American blood lines.

AC: Well, at that facility I saw the almond-eyed Greys, but the thing that sticks in my mind are the beings that look like reptiles, or the veloci-raptors. They are the cruelest beings you could ever imagine, and they even smell hideous. There were a couple of very unusual areas down there where I was taken which looked like cold storage lockers, where these things were in hibernation tubes, and that is about all I remember, other than seeing some black helicopters and little round-wing disk type aircraft

In the book “Cosmic Conflict”, the author talks about the ancient city that was uncovered by the Germans before World War II, and tells about their effort to revive some frozen humans they found in this underground city, and that the true humans couldn’t be revived, but the ones that could be revived were in fact reptilians in disguise, and the reptilians have the capability to do shape-shifting and create a [laser] holographic image so when you look at them you see a human, but under that there is no human there. … Allegedly the reptilians re-animated and killed the Soviet scientists and through some type of psychic osmosis drained their minds and assimilated their memories and features through a molecular shape-shifting type process. … The alien ‘impostors’ then called for backup and more scientists came out and were ‘replaced’, and these eventually returned to Russia and began to infiltrate the Communist government.

AC: These people that have done all this research and are part of the underground government are telling that the humans on this planet have been at war with these reptilian aliens for thousands of years. At one point, things got so hot on the planet, like it is now, aliens took on this holographic image and infiltrated the human race in order to take it over and undermine it, just like this New World Order is doing right now. They’re saying that the same thing happened to civilization on Earth before, and that the humans before actually had the capability for interplanetary travel, and that it was so bad here with the reptilians that they had to leave… What they are also saying is that these beings that are human-looking that are visiting our planet, at this time, trying to inform people what is going on, and guide them, are actually OUR ANCESTORS THAT ESCAPED FROM EARTH before, when it was under reptilian domination.

AC: I went to South Florida a couple of weeks ago and interviewed a man who had done research for 30 years, and oddly enough, he tapped into some of the same information I had, in that our government has had round-winged, saucer-type technology, high mach speed aircraft since the 1920’s, and that in 1952 they had over 500 of these aircraft hidden in secret bases. Now, if they had that in 1952, considering that military technology grows by 44 years for every year that goes by, what do you imagine they have now, 44 years later, after technology has advanced the equivalent of 1,936 years?

AC: He claims to be one of the ones who jumped overboard off the Eldridge when it went into hyperspace during the Philadelphia Experiment. He actually traveled forward in time, and asked the people that he encountered there what happened in his future. At that time, he was given the information about the New World Order and that Denver was the location for the NWO Western Sector, and that Atlanta was supposed to be the control center for the Eastern Sector. Can it be that the fact that the Olympics is supposed to be in Atlanta is part of a scenario?

The NSA and threats to privacy

From James Bamford’s “Big Brother Is Listening” (The Atlantic: April 2006):

This legislation, the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, established the FISA court—made up of eleven judges handpicked by the chief justice of the United States—as a secret part of the federal judiciary. The court’s job is to decide whether to grant warrants requested by the NSA or the FBI to monitor communications of American citizens and legal residents. The law allows the government up to three days after it starts eavesdropping to ask for a warrant; every violation of FISA carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Between May 18, 1979, when the court opened for business, until the end of 2004, it granted 18,742 NSA and FBI applications; it turned down only four outright.

Such facts worry Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who worked for the NSA as an intern while in law school in the 1980s. The FISA “courtroom,” hidden away on the top floor of the Justice Department building (because even its location is supposed to be secret), is actually a heavily protected, windowless, bug-proof installation known as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF.

It is true that the court has been getting tougher. From 1979 through 2000, it modified only two out of 13,087 warrant requests. But from the start of the Bush administration, in 2001, the number of modifications increased to 179 out of 5,645 requests. Most of those—173—involved what the court terms “substantive modifications.”

Contrary to popular perception, the NSA does not engage in “wiretapping”; it collects signals intelligence, or “sigint.” In contrast to the image we have from movies and television of an FBI agent placing a listening device on a target’s phone line, the NSA intercepts entire streams of electronic communications containing millions of telephone calls and e-mails. It runs the intercepts through very powerful computers that screen them for particular names, telephone numbers, Internet addresses, and trigger words or phrases. Any communications containing flagged information are forwarded by the computer for further analysis.

Names and information on the watch lists are shared with the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and foreign intelligence services. Once a person’s name is in the files, even if nothing incriminating ever turns up, it will likely remain there forever. There is no way to request removal, because there is no way to confirm that a name is on the list.

In December of 1997, in a small factory outside the southern French city of Toulouse, a salesman got caught in the NSA’s electronic web. Agents working for the NSA’s British partner, the Government Communications Headquarters, learned of a letter of credit, valued at more than $1.1 million, issued by Iran’s defense ministry to the French company Microturbo. According to NSA documents, both the NSA and the GCHQ concluded that Iran was attempting to secretly buy from Microturbo an engine for the embargoed C-802 anti-ship missile. Faxes zapping back and forth between Toulouse and Tehran were intercepted by the GCHQ, which sent them on not just to the NSA but also to the Canadian and Australian sigint agencies, as well as to Britain’s MI6. The NSA then sent the reports on the salesman making the Iranian deal to a number of CIA stations around the world, including those in Paris and Bonn, and to the U.S. Commerce Department and the Customs Service. Probably several hundred people in at least four countries were reading the company’s communications.

Such events are central to the current debate involving the potential harm caused by the NSA’s warrantless domestic eavesdropping operation. Even though the salesman did nothing wrong, his name made its way into the computers and onto the watch lists of intelligence, customs, and other secret and law-enforcement organizations around the world. Maybe nothing will come of it. Maybe the next time he tries to enter the United States or Britain he will be denied, without explanation. Maybe he will be arrested. As the domestic eavesdropping program continues to grow, such uncertainties may plague innocent Americans whose names are being run through the supercomputers even though the NSA has not met the established legal standard for a search warrant. It is only when such citizens are turned down while applying for a job with the federal government—or refused when seeking a Small Business Administration loan, or turned back by British customs agents when flying to London on vacation, or even placed on a “no-fly” list—that they will realize that something is very wrong. But they will never learn why.

General Michael Hayden, director of the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and now principal deputy director of national intelligence, noted in 2002 that during the 1990s, e-communications “surpassed traditional communications. That is the same decade when mobile cell phones increased from 16 million to 741 million—an increase of nearly 50 times. That is the same decade when Internet users went from about 4 million to 361 million—an increase of over 90 times. Half as many land lines were laid in the last six years of the 1990s as in the whole previous history of the world. In that same decade of the 1990s, international telephone traffic went from 38 billion minutes to over 100 billion. This year, the world’s population will spend over 180 billion minutes on the phone in international calls alone.”

Intercepting communications carried by satellite is fairly simple for the NSA. The key conduits are the thirty Intelsat satellites that ring the Earth, 22,300 miles above the equator. Many communications from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to the eastern half of the United States, for example, are first uplinked to an Intelsat satellite and then downlinked to AT&T’s ground station in Etam, West Virginia. From there, phone calls, e-mails, and other communications travel on to various parts of the country. To listen in on that rich stream of information, the NSA built a listening post fifty miles away, near Sugar Grove, West Virginia. Consisting of a group of very large parabolic dishes, hidden in a heavily forested valley and surrounded by tall hills, the post can easily intercept the millions of calls and messages flowing every hour into the Etam station. On the West Coast, high on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Okanogan River, near Brewster, Washington, is the major commercial downlink for communications to and from Asia and the Pacific. Consisting of forty parabolic dishes, it is reportedly the largest satellite antenna farm in the Western Hemisphere. A hundred miles to the south, collecting every whisper, is the NSA’s western listening post, hidden away on a 324,000-acre Army base in Yakima, Washington. The NSA posts collect the international traffic beamed down from the Intelsat satellites over the Atlantic and Pacific. But each also has a number of dishes that appear to be directed at domestic telecommunications satellites.

Until recently, most international telecommunications flowing into and out of the United States traveled by satellite. But faster, more reliable undersea fiber-optic cables have taken the lead, and the NSA has adapted. The agency taps into the cables that don’t reach our shores by using specially designed submarines, such as the USS Jimmy Carter, to attach a complex “bug” to the cable itself. This is difficult, however, and undersea taps are short-lived because the batteries last only a limited time. The fiber-optic transmission cables that enter the United States from Europe and Asia can be tapped more easily at the landing stations where they come ashore. With the acquiescence of the telecommunications companies, it is possible for the NSA to attach monitoring equipment inside the landing station and then run a buried encrypted fiber-optic “backhaul” line to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where the river of data can be analyzed by supercomputers in near real time.

Tapping into the fiber-optic network that carries the nation’s Internet communications is even easier, as much of the information transits through just a few “switches” (similar to the satellite downlinks). Among the busiest are MAE East (Metropolitan Area Ethernet), in Vienna, Virginia, and MAE West, in San Jose, California, both owned by Verizon. By accessing the switch, the NSA can see who’s e-mailing with whom over the Internet cables and can copy entire messages. Last September, the Federal Communications Commission further opened the door for the agency. The 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act required telephone companies to rewire their networks to provide the government with secret access. The FCC has now extended the act to cover “any type of broadband Internet access service” and the new Internet phone services—and ordered company officials never to discuss any aspect of the program.

The National Security Agency was born in absolute secrecy. Unlike the CIA, which was created publicly by a congressional act, the NSA was brought to life by a top-secret memorandum signed by President Truman in 1952, consolidating the country’s various military sigint operations into a single agency. Even its name was secret, and only a few members of Congress were informed of its existence—and they received no information about some of its most important activities. Such secrecy has lent itself to abuse.

During the Vietnam War, for instance, the agency was heavily involved in spying on the domestic opposition to the government. Many of the Americans on the watch lists of that era were there solely for having protested against the war. … Even so much as writing about the NSA could land a person a place on a watch list.

For instance, during World War I, the government read and censored thousands of telegrams—the e-mail of the day—sent hourly by telegraph companies. Though the end of the war brought with it a reversion to the Radio Act of 1912, which guaranteed the secrecy of communications, the State and War Departments nevertheless joined together in May of 1919 to create America’s first civilian eavesdropping and code-breaking agency, nicknamed the Black Chamber. By arrangement, messengers visited the telegraph companies each morning and took bundles of hard-copy telegrams to the agency’s offices across town. These copies were returned before the close of business that day.

A similar tale followed the end of World War II. In August of 1945, President Truman ordered an end to censorship. That left the Signal Security Agency (the military successor to the Black Chamber, which was shut down in 1929) without its raw intelligence—the telegrams provided by the telegraph companies. The director of the SSA sought access to cable traffic through a secret arrangement with the heads of the three major telegraph companies. The companies agreed to turn all telegrams over to the SSA, under a plan code-named Operation Shamrock. It ran until the government’s domestic spying programs were publicly revealed, in the mid-1970s.

Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who led the first probe into the National Security Agency, warned in 1975 that the agency’s capabilities

“could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it is done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capacity of this technology.”

Presidential campaigns, campaign bios, & history

From Jill Lepore’s “Bound for Glory” (The New Yorker: 20 October 2008):

The biography was published in 1817 as “The Life of Andrew Jackson.” The next year, Eaton was rewarded with an appointment to a vacant seat in the United States Senate. In 1823, Jackson was elected as the other senator from Tennessee, and followed his biographer and friend to the nation’s capital. The two men took lodgings at the same Washington boarding house. The following year, Jackson was a candidate for the Presidency. Eaton headed his campaign. Jackson’s opponent John Quincy Adams refused to campaign at all. In keeping with the tradition of the first five American Presidents, Adams considered currying favor with voters to be beneath the dignity of the office, and believed that any man who craved the Presidency ought not to have it. Adams called this his Macbeth policy: “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, / Without my stir.” Jackson’s supporters leaned more toward Lady Macbeth’s point of view. They had no choice but to stir: their candidate was, otherwise, unelectable. How they stirred has shaped American politics ever since. They told a story, the story of Andrew Jackson’s life. In 1824, Eaton published a revised “Life of Jackson,” founding a genre, the campaign biography. At its heart lies a single, telling anecdote. In 1781, when Jackson was fourteen and fighting in the American Revolution, he was captured. A British officer, whose boots had got muddy, ordered the boy to clean them: Jackson refused, and the officer beat him, badly, with a sword. All his life, he bore the scars. Andrew Jackson would not kneel before a tyrant.

Since 1824, no Presidential election year has passed without a campaign biography, printed about the time a candidate is nominated, chiefly for the purpose of getting him elected. (Although, since Reagan’s “A New Beginning,” in 1984, the campaign biography, as book, has been supplanted somewhat by the campaign film, screened at the nominating Convention.)

The election of 1824 brought the first campaign buttons, the first public-opinion polls (undertaken by and published in pro-Jackson newspapers), and the first campaign biographies. Eaton’s “Life of Jackson” was the one that established the genre’s enduring conventions. When Eaton revised it in 1824, he turned what was a history, if a decidedly partial one, into political propaganda; his changes are carefully annotated by Frank Owsley, Jr., in a facsimile edition published by the University of Alabama Press. Eaton cut out or waved away everything compromising (the duels Jackson fought, a soldier he had executed), lingered longer over everything wondrous (battles, mainly), and converted into strengths what pundits had construed as weaknesses. Eaton’s Jackson wasn’t reckless; he was fearless. He had almost no political experience; he was, therefore, ideally suited to fight corruption. He lacked political pedigree; his father, a poor Scotch-Irish immigrant, died before he was born—but this only made Jackson more qualified for the White House, since he was, to use a phrase that was coined during his Presidency, a “self-made man.”

In 1834, Davy Crockett wrote the first Presidential campaign autobiography. Vying for the Whig nomination, he then wrote an ornery biography of his rival, upbraiding him for having traded his coonskin cap for a swankier hat. “Mr. Van Buren’s parents were humble, plain, and not much troubled with book knowledge, and so were mine,” Crockett allowed. But Van Buren had since put on airs: “He couldn’t bear his rise; I never minded mine.”

9 reasons the Storm botnet is different

From Bruce Schneier’s “Gathering ‘Storm’ Superworm Poses Grave Threat to PC Nets” (Wired: 4 October 2007):

Storm represents the future of malware. Let’s look at its behavior:

1. Storm is patient. A worm that attacks all the time is much easier to detect; a worm that attacks and then shuts off for a while hides much more easily.

2. Storm is designed like an ant colony, with separation of duties. Only a small fraction of infected hosts spread the worm. A much smaller fraction are C2: command-and-control servers. The rest stand by to receive orders. …

3. Storm doesn’t cause any damage, or noticeable performance impact, to the hosts. Like a parasite, it needs its host to be intact and healthy for its own survival. …

4. Rather than having all hosts communicate to a central server or set of servers, Storm uses a peer-to-peer network for C2. This makes the Storm botnet much harder to disable. …

This technique has other advantages, too. Companies that monitor net activity can detect traffic anomalies with a centralized C2 point, but distributed C2 doesn’t show up as a spike. Communications are much harder to detect. …

5. Not only are the C2 servers distributed, but they also hide behind a constantly changing DNS technique called “fast flux.” …

6. Storm’s payload — the code it uses to spread — morphs every 30 minutes or so, making typical AV (antivirus) and IDS techniques less effective.

7. Storm’s delivery mechanism also changes regularly. Storm started out as PDF spam, then its programmers started using e-cards and YouTube invites — anything to entice users to click on a phony link. …

8. The Storm e-mail also changes all the time, leveraging social engineering techniques. …

9. Last month, Storm began attacking anti-spam sites focused on identifying it — spamhaus.org, 419eater and so on — and the personal website of Joe Stewart, who published an analysis of Storm. I am reminded of a basic theory of war: Take out your enemy’s reconnaissance. Or a basic theory of urban gangs and some governments: Make sure others know not to mess with you.

The Chinese Internet threat

From Shane Harris’ “China’s Cyber-Militia” (National Journal: 31 May 2008):

Computer hackers in China, including those working on behalf of the Chinese government and military, have penetrated deeply into the information systems of U.S. companies and government agencies, stolen proprietary information from American executives in advance of their business meetings in China, and, in a few cases, gained access to electric power plants in the United States, possibly triggering two recent and widespread blackouts in Florida and the Northeast, according to U.S. government officials and computer-security experts.

One prominent expert told National Journal he believes that China’s People’s Liberation Army played a role in the power outages. Tim Bennett, the former president of the Cyber Security Industry Alliance, a leading trade group, said that U.S. intelligence officials have told him that the PLA in 2003 gained access to a network that controlled electric power systems serving the northeastern United States. The intelligence officials said that forensic analysis had confirmed the source, Bennett said. “They said that, with confidence, it had been traced back to the PLA.” These officials believe that the intrusion may have precipitated the largest blackout in North American history, which occurred in August of that year. A 9,300-square-mile area, touching Michigan, Ohio, New York, and parts of Canada, lost power; an estimated 50 million people were affected.

Bennett, whose former trade association includes some of the nation’s largest computer-security companies and who has testified before Congress on the vulnerability of information networks, also said that a blackout in February, which affected 3 million customers in South Florida, was precipitated by a cyber-hacker. That outage cut off electricity along Florida’s east coast, from Daytona Beach to Monroe County, and affected eight power-generating stations.

A second information-security expert independently corroborated Bennett’s account of the Florida blackout. According to this individual, who cited sources with direct knowledge of the investigation, a Chinese PLA hacker attempting to map Florida Power & Light’s computer infrastructure apparently made a mistake.

The industry source, who conducts security research for government and corporate clients, said that hackers in China have devoted considerable time and resources to mapping the technology infrastructure of other U.S. companies. That assertion has been backed up by the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said last year that Chinese sources are probing U.S. government and commercial networks.

“The Chinese operate both through government agencies, as we do, but they also operate through sponsoring other organizations that are engaging in this kind of international hacking, whether or not under specific direction. It’s a kind of cyber-militia.… It’s coming in volumes that are just staggering.”

In addition to disruptive attacks on networks, officials are worried about the Chinese using long-established computer-hacking techniques to steal sensitive information from government agencies and U.S. corporations.

Brenner, the U.S. counterintelligence chief, said he knows of “a large American company” whose strategic information was obtained by its Chinese counterparts in advance of a business negotiation. As Brenner recounted the story, “The delegation gets to China and realizes, ‘These guys on the other side of the table know every bottom line on every significant negotiating point.’ They had to have got this by hacking into [the company’s] systems.”

During a trip to Beijing in December 2007, spyware programs designed to clandestinely remove information from personal computers and other electronic equipment were discovered on devices used by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and possibly other members of a U.S. trade delegation, according to a computer-security expert with firsthand knowledge of the spyware used. Gutierrez was in China with the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, a high-level delegation that includes the U.S. trade representative and that meets with Chinese officials to discuss such matters as intellectual-property rights, market access, and consumer product safety. According to the computer-security expert, the spyware programs were designed to open communications channels to an outside system, and to download the contents of the infected devices at regular intervals. The source said that the computer codes were identical to those found in the laptop computers and other devices of several senior executives of U.S. corporations who also had their electronics “slurped” while on business in China.

The Chinese make little distinction between hackers who work for the government and those who undertake cyber-adventures on its behalf. “There’s a huge pool of Chinese individuals, students, academics, unemployed, whatever it may be, who are, at minimum, not discouraged from trying this out,” said Rodger Baker, a senior China analyst for Stratfor, a private intelligence firm. So-called patriotic-hacker groups have launched attacks from inside China, usually aimed at people they think have offended the country or pose a threat to its strategic interests. At a minimum the Chinese government has done little to shut down these groups, which are typically composed of technologically skilled and highly nationalistic young men.

The military is not waiting for China, or any other nation or hacker group, to strike a lethal cyber-blow. In March, Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, the chief of U.S. Strategic Command, said that the Pentagon has its own cyberwar plans. “Our challenge is to define, shape, develop, deliver, and sustain a cyber-force second to none,” Chilton told the Senate Armed Services Committee. He asked appropriators for an “increased emphasis” on the Defense Department’s cyber-capabilities to help train personnel to “conduct network warfare.”

The Air Force is in the process of setting up a Cyberspace Command, headed by a two-star general and comprising about 160 individuals assigned to a handful of bases. As Wired noted in a recent profile, Cyberspace Command “is dedicated to the proposition that the next war will be fought in the electromagnetic spectrum and that computers are military weapons.” The Air Force has launched a TV ad campaign to drum up support for the new command, and to call attention to cyberwar. “You used to need an army to wage a war,” a narrator in the TV spot declares. “Now all you need is an Internet connection.”

Bush’s Manicheanism destroyed him

From Glenn Greenwald’s “A tragic legacy: How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency” (Salon: 20 June 2007):

One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness — who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil — is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations — moral, pragmatic, or otherwise — on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be — and often are — produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.

That is the essence of virtually every argument Bush supporters make regarding terrorism. No matter what objection is raised to the never-ending expansions of executive power, no matter what competing values are touted (due process, the rule of law, the principles our country embodies, how we are perceived around the world), the response will always be that The Terrorists are waging war against us and our overarching priority — one that overrides all others — is to protect ourselves, to triumph over Evil. By definition, then, there can never be any good reason to oppose vesting powers in the government to protect us from The Terrorists because that goal outweighs all others.

But our entire system of government, from its inception, has been based upon a very different calculus — that is, that many things matter besides merely protecting ourselves against threats, and consequently, we are willing to accept risks, even potentially fatal ones, in order to secure those other values. From its founding, America has rejected the worldview of prioritizing physical safety above all else, as such a mentality leads to an impoverished and empty civic life. The premise of America is and always has been that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result. That is the foundational American value.

It is this courageous demand for core liberties even if such liberties provide less than maximum protection from physical risks that has made America bold, brave, and free. Societies driven exclusively or primarily by a fear of avoiding Evil, minimizing risks, and seeking above all else that our government “protects” us are not free. That is a path that inevitably leads to authoritarianism — an increasingly strong and empowered leader in whom the citizens vest ever-increasing faith and power in exchange for promises of safety. That is most assuredly not the historical ethos of the United States.

The Bill of Rights contains numerous limitations on government power, and many of them render us more vulnerable to threats. If there is a serial killer on the loose in a community, the police would be able to find and apprehend him much more easily if they could simply invade and search everyone’s homes at will and without warning. Nonetheless, the Fourth Amendment expressly prohibits the police from undertaking such searches. It requires both probable cause and a judicial warrant before police may do so, even though such limitations on state power will enable dangerous killers to elude capture.

The scare tactic of telling Americans that every desired expansion of government power is justified by the Evil Terrorist Threat — and that there is no need to worry because the president is Good and will use these powers only to protect us — is effective because it has immediate rhetorical appeal. Most people, especially when placed in fear of potentially fatal threats, are receptive to the argument that maximizing protection is the only thing that matters, and that no abstract concept (such as liberty, or freedom, or due process, or adhering to civilized norms) is worth risking one’s life by accepting heightened levels of vulnerability.

But nothing in life is perfectly safe. Perfect safety is an illusion. When pursued by an individual to the exclusion of all else, it creates a tragically worthless, paralyzed way of life. On the political level, safety as the paramount goal produces tyranny, causing people to vest as much power as possible in the government, without limits, in exchange for the promise of maximum protection.

How technologies have changed politics, & how Obama uses tech

From Marc Ambinder’s “HisSpace” (The Atlantic: June 2008):

Improvements to the printing press helped Andrew Jackson form and organize the Democratic Party, and he courted newspaper editors and publishers, some of whom became members of his Cabinet, with a zeal then unknown among political leaders. But the postal service, which was coming into its own as he reached for the presidency, was perhaps even more important to his election and public image. Jackson’s exploits in the War of 1812 became well known thanks in large measure to the distribution network that the postal service had created, and his 1828 campaign—among the first to distribute biographical pamphlets by mail—reinforced his heroic image. As president, he turned the office of postmaster into a patronage position, expanded the postal network further—the historian Richard John has pointed out that by the middle of Jackson’s first term, there were 2,000 more postal workers in America than soldiers in the Army—and used it to keep his populist base rallied behind him.

Abraham Lincoln became a national celebrity, according to the historian Allen Guelzo’s new book, Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates That Defined America, when transcripts of those debates were reprinted nationwide in newspapers, which were just then reaching critical mass in distribution beyond the few Eastern cities where they had previously flourished. Newspapers enabled Lincoln, an odd-looking man with a reed-thin voice, to become a viable national candidate …

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio to make his case for a dramatic redefinition of government itself, quickly mastering the informal tone best suited to the medium. In his fireside chats, Roosevelt reached directly into American living rooms at pivotal moments of his presidency. His talks—which by turns soothed, educated, and pressed for change—held the New Deal together.

And of course John F. Kennedy famously rode into the White House thanks in part to the first televised presidential debate in U.S. history, in which his keen sense of the medium’s visual impact, plus a little makeup, enabled him to fashion the look of a winner (especially when compared with a pale and haggard Richard Nixon). Kennedy used TV primarily to create and maintain his public image, not as a governing tool, but he understood its strengths and limitations before his peers did …

[Obama’s] speeches play well on YouTube, which allows for more than the five-second sound bites that have characterized the television era. And he recognizes the importance of transparency and consistency at a time when access to everything a politician has ever said is at the fingertips of every voter. But as Joshua Green notes in the preceding pages, Obama has truly set himself apart by his campaign’s use of the Internet to organize support. No other candidate in this or any other election has ever built a support network like Obama’s. The campaign’s 8,000 Web-based affinity groups, 750,000 active volunteers, and 1,276,000 donors have provided him with an enormous financial and organizational advantage in the Democratic primary.

What Obama seems to promise is, at its outer limits, a participatory democracy in which the opportunities for participation have been radically expanded. He proposes creating a public, Google-like database of every federal dollar spent. He aims to post every piece of non-emergency legislation online for five days before he signs it so that Americans can comment. A White House blog—also with comments—would be a near certainty. Overseeing this new apparatus would be a chief technology officer.

There is some precedent for Obama’s vision. The British government has already used the Web to try to increase interaction with its citizenry, to limited effect. In November 2006, it established a Web site for citizens seeking redress from their government, http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/. More than 29,000 petitions have since been submitted, and about 9.5 percent of Britons have signed at least one of them. The petitions range from the class-conscious (“Order a independent report to identify reasons that the living conditions of working class people are poor in relation to higher classes”) to the parochial (“We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to re-open sunderland ice rink”).