There was a filibuster in the U.S. Senate last week. Yes, I know, that’s hardly news. And a cloture vote to end that filibuster. That’s hardly news, either. And the cloture vote failed. Not news.
The vote was, among other things, to end the National Security Agency’s collection of records of every phone call that you make. Which, sadly, also is no longer news. What would be news is if someone did something about it.
Fifty-eight senators voted in favor of ending the filibuster, and the "bulk collection." Only forty-two voted against. But we no longer live in a country where the majority rules, so every single time you make a phone call, the NSA will know to whom you spoke, and for how long.
Regarding the failed vote against the filibuster, the D.C. newspaper Roll Call opined that: "It’s probably going to take another series of revelations about NSA programs for strict legislation to get momentum again." But I’m wondering how much of the last series of revelations has been absorbed by the body politic. So I’m offering to you excerpts from a little-noticed interview that Edward Snowden did with The Guardian a few months ago, complete with British spelling. File it under the category of "read it and weep."
Yes, the NSA Shares Your Sexy Photos … And Other Observations from Edward Snowden
On NSA culture, sharing sexually compromising material
SNOWDEN: When you’re an NSA analyst and you’re looking for raw signals intelligence, what you realise is that the majority of the communications in our databases are not the communications of targets, they’re the communications of ordinary people, of your neighbours, of your neighbours’ friends, of your relations, of the person who runs the register at the store. They’re the most deep and intense and intimate and damaging private moments of their lives, and we’re seizing [them] without any authorisation, without any reason, records of all of their activities – their cell phone locations, their purchase records, their private text messages, their phone calls, the content of those calls in certain circumstances, transaction histories – and from this we can create a perfect, or nearly perfect, record of each individual’s activity, and those activities are increasingly becoming permanent records.
Many of the people searching through the haystacks were young, enlisted guys and … 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all your private records. In the course of their daily work they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work, for example an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation but they’re extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair and they show a co-worker. And their co-worker says: "Oh, hey, that’s great. Send that to Bill down the way." And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom and sooner or later this person’s whole life has been seen by all of these other people. Anything goes, more or less. You’re in a vaulted space. Everybody has sort of similar clearances, everybody knows everybody. It’s a small world.
It’s never reported, nobody ever knows about it, the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak. Now while people may say that it’s an innocent harm, this person doesn’t even know that their image was viewed, it represents a fundamental principle, which is that we don’t have to see individual instances of abuse. The mere seizure of that communication by itself was an abuse. The fact that your private images, records of your private lives, records of your intimate moments have been taken from your private communication stream, from the intended recipient, and given to the government without any specific authorisation, without any specific need, is itself a violation of your rights. Why is that in the government database?
I’d say probably every two months you see something like that happen. It’s routine enough, depending on the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as the fringe benefits of surveillance positions.
Why He Gave the Documents to Multiple Journalists
SNOWDEN: As an engineer, and particularly as somebody who worked in telecoms and things like that on these systems, the thing that you’re always terrified of when you’re thinking about reliability is SPOFs – Single Point of Failure, right? This was the thing I told the journalists: "If the government thinks you’re the single point of failure, they’ll kill you."
Whether Spying on Everyone Stops Terrorism
SNOWDEN: The White House investigated those programs [which allowed mass surveillance] on two separate occasions and on both occasions found that they had no value at all, and yet, while those panels recommended that they be terminated, when it actually came to the White House suggesting action to legislators, the legislators said: "Well, let’s not end these programs. Even though they’ve operated for 10 years and never stopped any imminent terrorist attacks, let’s keep them going."
Life at the NSA
SNOWDEN: I began to move from merely overseeing these systems to actively directing their use. Many people don’t understand that I was actually an analyst and I designated individuals and groups for targeting.
I was exposed to information about the previous programs like Stellar Wind [used during the presidency of George W Bush] for example. The warrantless wire-tapping of everyone in the United States, including their internet data – which is a violation of the constitution and law in the United States – did cause a scandal and was ended because of that.
When I saw that, that was really the earthquake moment because it showed that the officials who authorized these programs knew it was a problem, they knew they didn’t have any statutory authorization for these programs. But instead the government assumed upon itself, in secret, new executive powers without any public awareness or any public consent and used them against the citizenry of its own country to increase its own power, to increase its own awareness.
We constantly hear the phrase "national security" but when the state begins … broadly intercepting the communications, seizing the communications by themselves, without any warrant, without any suspicion, without any judicial involvement, without any demonstration of probable cause, are they really protecting national security or are they protecting state security?
What I came to feel – and what I think more and more people have seen at least the potential for – is that a regime that is described as a national security agency has stopped representing the public interest and has instead begun to protect and promote state security interests. And the idea of western democracy as having state security bureaus, just that term, that phrase itself, "state security bureau", is kind of chilling.
The relationship between the NSA and telecom and internet companies
SNOWDEN: Unusually hidden even from people who worked for these agencies are the details of the financial arrangements between [the] government and the telecommunication service providers. And we have to ask ourselves, why is that? Why are their details of how they’re being paid to collaborate with [the] government protected at a much greater level than for example the names of human agents operating undercover, embedded with terrorist groups?
What Happens If You Report Wrongdoing Through the Proper Channels
SNOWDEN: Thomas Drake, an American who exposed widespread lawlessness … [he was a senior NSA employee who raised concerns about agency programs and their impact on privacy] … rather than having those claims investigated, rather than having the wrongdoing remediated, they launched an investigation against him and … all of his co-workers.
They pulled them out of the shower at gunpoint, naked, in front of their families. They seized all of their communications and electronic devices, they interrogated them all, they threatened to put them in jail for life, for years and years and years, decades, and they destroyed their careers.
"The public should not know about these programmes. The public should not have a say in these programmes and, for God’s sake, the press had better not learn about these programmes or we will destroy you."
Compromising the Security of the Web Itself
SNOWDEN: A back door in a communications system, in an internet system, in an encryption standard is basically a secret method of getting around the security of those communications. It’s a way of subverting all of the privacy claims, all of the security claims that a company or a standard makes to the people who use a product or service.
The danger of building back doors like that, for example the Bullrun program where the NSA and GCHQ were shown to be collaborating and weakening the encryption standards that the entire internet relies on, means that when you’re accessing your bank account online there could be a secret weakness there that allows our western governments’ security services to monitor your bank details. What people often overlook is the fact that when you build a back door into a communication system that back door can be discovered by anyone around the world. That can be a private individual, that can be a security researcher at a university, but it can also be a criminal group. It can also be a foreign intelligence agency but, say, the NSA’s equivalent in a deeply irresponsible government in some foreign country. And now that foreign country can scrutinise not just your bank records, not just your private transactions but your private communications all around the internet and in every institution … that relies upon these standards – whether it’s Facebook, whether it’s Gmail, where it’s Skype, whether it’s Angry Birds. You’ve been made electronically naked as you go about your activities on the internet.
That decision wasn’t debated by any public body, it wasn’t authorised by any legislator. In fact, at least in the United States in the 1990s, law enforcement agencies asked specifically for this sort of back door access to internet communications. And our elected representatives in Congress rejected it. They said it was a violation of our civil rights and it was an unnecessary risk to the security of our communications, and so they shut it down.
But what we see is that 10 years later, instead of going back to Congress and asking again, they simply went ahead, and the intelligence community … said: "We’re going to do this. It doesn’t matter what Congress says. It doesn’t matter what the public thinks. We’re going to do this because it provides us an advantage."
And the consequences of that today are unknown because we could have foreign adversaries exploiting those back doors that intelligence agencies in countries like the United Kingdom, intelligence agencies like GCHQ, put into our communications … and we have no idea that it’s occurring.
What last year’s revelations showed us was irrefutable evidence that unencrypted communications on the internet are no longer safe and cannot be trusted. Their integrity has been compromised and we need new security pro[grams] to protect them. Any communications that are transmitted over the internet, over any networked line, should be encrypted by default. That’s what last year showed us.
Privacy and Liberty
SNOWDEN: Most reasonable people would grant that privacy is a function of liberty. And if we get rid of privacy, we’re making ourselves less free. If we want to live in open and liberal societies we need to have safe spaces where we can experiment with new thoughts, new ideas, and [where] we can discover what it is we really think and what we really believe in without being judged. If we can’t have the privacy of our bedrooms, if we can’t have the privacy of our notes on our computer, if we can’t have the privacy of our electronic diaries, we can’t have privacy at all.
* * *
The NSA claims that Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes bulk collection. Section 215 expires on June 1, 2015. Watch as the storm clouds collect.
Rep. Alan Grayson
One public definition of American Exceptionalism reads, “American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nation states.”
One could engage in a prolix discussion of this, that, and the other that prove or disprove that America is exceptional, and the result would be a lot of wasted breath on both sides.
But perhaps a simpler path is available. Baseball.
Is America exceptional because its professional baseball league runs a contest every year to determine the best pro team in American baseball and calls it ‘The World Series’? While it barely qualifies as a series worth a capital S, it does not involve baseball teams from any other country (alright, Canadian teams in MLB are eligible, but not as Canada). What the league calls a ‘World’ series is really nothing more than a local, United States activity.
For a real World Series one might want to consider the four-year international marathon of soccer, the World Cup, involving scores of nations.
Or perhaps the annual UEFA Championships of European pro soccer. Or the international Rugby championship. Or Cricket.
Now those could righteously be called World Series.
So perhaps we might consider America exceptional in that it pretends – oh, let’s just call it a lie – that it is a world class player playing in a worldwide baseball tournament.
It is not surprising that an American sport overbills itself this way, particularly baseball. After all, the lies and hypocrisy start out in baseball’s childhood game, the Little League. (Oh, how dare I sully that bastion of childhood and innocence! Perhaps because my idea of childhood does not involve angry, screaming parents and coaches.)
In any event, the Little League also runs a ‘World Series’ every year, down in Pennsylvania somewhere, I believe. Now it is true that the LLWS does involve teams from several countries, and that there is a playoff to determine the best teams for the final one-game ‘series’.
Actually, there are two playoff round-robins. In one, the non-US teams play each other to determine a contender. In the other, only US teams play to determine a contender.
Did you catch the whiff of American exceptionalism there? Did you notice that in the Little League World Series, there will always be a US team playing a foreign team. In effect, the LLWS is rigged.
In a fair contest, only one US team would be involved, and it would play in the round-robin with the foreign teams to determine the two best teams for the final. The US would thus not be guaranteed a spot in the final, and the LLWS could then call itself a real World Series.
Until that happens, perhaps it’s best to just consider the winner of the foreign playoffs the World Champion, who deign to play a United States team in a demonstration game that the Little League powers-that-be insist, contrary to fact and fair play, is a championship game.
As it is below, in the LLWS, so it is above, in Major League Baseball.
American Exceptionalism. A lie, a hypocrisy, an ego trip of gigantic proportion unrelated to reality.
That said, my bet in the World Series this year is on… umm… wait, who’s playing tonight?
The three stooges in this case are any three Republican wingers who are pushing the idea that the United States is in deadly peril because we had a couple of cases of Ebola and one entire, whole dead man. By extension ‘any three Republican wingers’ pretty much covers the entire Republican party, which seeks to spread terror about Ebola for the sole purpose of garnering votes next month. Americans appear to be stupid enough to allow that strategy to succeed.
However, by misdirecting the attention of the American electorate, they leave more room for the real threat. India. Southeast Asia. If the virus gets to India and Southeast Asia, given the massive poverty and the massive crowding of the poor in the major cities and the culture of saving face rather than saving lives, the virus will feed on those conditions and with a base like that it’s likely to burn its way through the primate population across the whole planet (primates include humans, though most of the other primates, I suspect, want as little as possible to do with humans).
For all the macho talk coming from Washington about the United States being prepared to handle an Ebola outbreak here, the truth is closer to the thought that American hospitals, in a serious outbreak, would just wash away in a stream of blood. They couldn’t handle it. They’d be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.
Here’s a bit of a sample of what’s up, from a commenter at Talking Points Memo yesterday:
My wife’s ER has an ‘ebola cart’ with some lightweight protective gear and written instructions for putting on a PPE, but the instructions are a loose bundle of papers and the pictures don’t match the gear in the cart and has inaccuracies that put them at serious risk. It’s an object of gallows humor for the staff. That’s the totality of their training or preparedness so far.
The commenter notes further on that the head of the hospital publicly declared that the hospital, a large hospital in a major city, is fully prepared to handle an outbreak.
Yeah, okay. The American Ethic: Cover your ass, always, and never mind reality.
Imagine masses of people fleeing India and Asia ahead of the epidemic. Panicked. Hysterical. Seriously determined to get the hell out of the way and into… oh, right, the United States where they will be safe and secure. A dozen carriers hiding in American city slums and civilization falls apart, with half the world dead. Slums in London. Paris. Moscow. Madrid. Istanbul. Indonesia. Tokyo. Manila. Australia might make it through, being an island continent, but all those sneaky Indonesians are just a stone’s throw away and they’ll just come crawling up the beaches in the dead of night, bleeding as they go, and pretty soon it’s ‘On The Beach’ again, only messier. Maybe Tony Abbott can build walls of coal along the shores of the continent.
Not too far fetched really. Especially given the willful ignorance and unmitigated stupidity of the politicians the Americans have sent to Washington and to their various state capitols the last couple of decades. Most of the Republican members of the House science committee have publicly stated, one way or another, that they don’t believe in science. I suspect that for all the noise they’re making about Ebola they don’t believe in viruses either.
And if the Republicans win control of the Senate next month, you can bet the Three Stooges Protocols of the American Government will be operating in full force. (Apologies to the original Three Stooges, who were a lot smarter than most of the Republicans slithering around on the floor of the House and Senate.)
Some of the more astute among you may have noticed I didn’t include China in the scenario. I suspect that if Ebola showed its bloody face in China, the victims and their families and friends would be summarily executed, their bodies burned en masse, and any town or city that harbored the virus would be firebombed to ashes, people and all. Followed of course by an announcement that there is not and never was Ebola in China.
Hint: it’s because of global warming climate change… so it’s not a good sign as some would crow.
Maybe one of these days the scientists will stop making estimates that are conservative and safe and start stomping their feet and raging at the idiot politicians pushing civilization into that not-so-good night.
Here’s an interview in The Guardian with the scientist who discovered the Ebola virus back in 1976. Interesting read.
During yesterday’s global warming parade in New York, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations said, “There is no Plan B, because there is no planet B.”
From an earlier post on Grumpy Lion:
From a NASA collection of photos of Earth from space.
The rings are Saturn’s. The photo was shot by the Cassini spacecraft in 2006, and shows Earth as seen from Saturn.
Earth is the small white dot in the upper right quadrant of the picture. In the detail photo at the upper left the moon is a hazy bulge at the upper left of Earth.
We are small, we are insignificant in the scheme of the universe, nothing out there gives a damn, and we have no place to go.
How does a cat perceive time? Simple question.
I think I can be certain that they don’t perceive days and nights, weeks and months and years. Or hours, minutes, and seconds. I suspect they perceive the passage of light and dark, one into the other, but they attach no artificial construct to such passages.
How do they know to be at a certain place at a certain time of day to get food? Kitty wristwatches? The quality of light in the sky – dawn, pre-dawn, dusk, late afternoon, high noon? Are they as accurate when the sky is darkly clouded? How accurate are they? Do they hit an approximate window and then wait for the food? I think Sammy, the outside cat, may do that.
Time, as we parse it, doesn’t exist for cats. Everything is now. They don’t worry about or get anxious about or think about the food delivery that will occur seven or eight hours from now. When the time is right they’ll go to the food spot. In the meantime they’ll lie in the sun, snooze in the shade, chase insects and butterflies, terrify mice and chipmunks, and nap.
Humans on the other hand have broken time. Shattered it. Hammered it into little pieces. Milliseconds. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Decades. What time is it? That’s the cry heard across the universe, the cry emanating from this little planet where humans may have run out the clock on themselves. Time is just another falsehood we use to prove to ourselves that we are in control of the world, of our lives.
Time may be running out for humans. Ebola is a deadly viral epidemic in West Africa now. From a killer of little villages, it has gained the potential to be a civilization killer. Ebola has entered the human population now in a big way, in crowded cities where the infrastructure needed to contain it is weak or non-existent, where ignorance and fear fuel the spread of the virus. And from what I read there are indications that the virus is mutating. Evolving to deal with its new ecological niche.
No one can predict what the mutations will ultimately amount to. One possibility, perhaps the worst, would involve two mutations. One would have it become transmissible via aerosol, via sneezes and coughs, able to survive outside a host or a victim for lengthy periods of time. The second would have it sporulate. If that happens then it could be picked up in the dust storms that blow westward from Africa and coat the Amazon basin, Central America, and the Southern United States with dust. If those two things happen then the virus could likely not be contained.
This morning there’s a story on BBC that a vaccine is being tested, one that shows good promise of being effective. Perhaps. Or perhaps too little too late? Time will tell. And if not Ebola, what else?
Obama is sending three thousand American soldiers to Liberia to fight the epidemic. They’ll build seventeen treatment facilities and act to educate the public and train health care personnel. Whether they’ll actually get it done in time to slow or stop the epidemic is an open question.
Africa could be hollowed out, relieved of its human burden, perhaps even its entire quota of primates. It could become the forbidden zone of science fiction, the place where no one goes. It might return to the state of being the Eden it once was, where Nature has full sway. Yes, with all the brutality of tooth and claw that goes along with Nature, that is a fundamental part of Nature, but Africa would once again become a place of balance instead of a place overrun with a plague of humans who corrode and destroy the Nature on which their very lives depend. And wouldn’t that be ironic, the place that gave birth to mankind would be scoured clean of men and become closed to men. Man, kicked out of Eden. By an invisible bit of barely animate protein.
Of course if the virus mutates, Earth, all of Earth, could become Eden, with life getting a fresh start, a new direction, perhaps creating a timeless world. Ruled, undoubtedly, by cats.