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May 15, 2006

You really thought they weren’t going to start using all that surveillance on their political opponents?
Posted by Patrick at 02:41 PM *

Welcome to Soviet America.

Comments on You really thought they weren't going to start using all that surveillance on their political opponents?:
#1 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:00 PM:

its about time

#2 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:03 PM:

Oh, and there's a technical term that describes the process of analyzing connections between individuals, without looking at the content being transmitted, to determine any hierarchy between those people. I remember seeing something a few years ago about some organization using it to map out a drug dealing organization. Anyone know what the term is? it's been bugging me all morning.

#3 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:05 PM:

data mining?

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:06 PM:

Does anybody posting here have friends who are Republicans and with whom they have talked about the state of the Nation without coming to blows? How do they feel, if they are honest about it?

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:08 PM:

I wonder how many degrees of separation there are between any random US resident and a known terrorist? The usual six or so? (Someone over at Daily Kos said that one of the less-bright things about the phone information collection is that it makes the haystack in which they're looking for needles that much larger. I gather sanity of method is not a major selling point.)

#6 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:08 PM:

Pretty predictable really, and if they can connect the phone with a person they can soon start picking out who tips off a reporter. The original story then got a whole flurry of "you traitors deserve it" comments.

I don't know what the options are in the USA for getting a cellphone. But some of the possibilities are of little use if you want people you don't know to be able to contact you. And you can bet that all the known points of access to the media will be getting scanned.

Another inference: they're trying to monitor the Internet. After all, these reporters have published email addresses. And they've got to filter out the spammers too.

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:11 PM:

And people are talking about throwing the 2006 elections. Idiots.

And people are talking about pardoning the Bushies after we get rid of them, assuming we ever do. I want Karl Rove's head on a PIKE!!!!

#8 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Dave Bell: There are disposable cell phones (I figure the terrorist types, and some of the smarter mob types have been using them).

If you only care about making contact, one way connection is fine.

If you want secure two-way commo it's a little trickier (in that one must make some personal contact) but swapping phone numbers by mail would work. Some codes and the chain of connection can be made pretty weak.

#9 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:19 PM:

Paula, thanks, but that isn't it. The process works without looking at the data at all. It simply looks at who calls whom and figures out how an organization is organized, who is important, who isn't, what the hierarchy looks like, stuff like that. I remember the TV show about it had this agent in front of a big circle. There were points on the circle representing everyone they were interested in, and there were lines connecting the various points, and that reflected who contacted who, and from that, they could tell organizational information, without looking at the actual messages being sent, just the connection info. This was several years ago, before 9-11 maybe even, so my memory is quite a bit fuzzy. But since I can't remember the name, I can't even figure out how to read more about it to refresh my memory.

#10 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:20 PM:

Another horrifying aspect of this are the comments on the ABC News link. I'm wondering if Republicans actually oppose the Bill of Rights from an ideological standpoint. I always took it as a given that we all value the sanctity of that document, but that we quibble over interpretations, tactics, etc.

I heard that a survey was done in which people were asked if they approved of certain ideas. The ideas were actually the ammendments, but they weren't explained as such. Most of the people polled oppossed the concepts without knowing that they were protected freedoms. I wish I had a link or more information about this poll.

#11 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:21 PM:

My understanding is that the terrorist networks don't necessarily toss their cellphones; they just replace the SIM card periodically. I could be all wet, but I think I've seen that explanation in a couple of newsweeklies or newspapers.

#12 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:22 PM:

If we insist on the government being held accountable for its waste, corruption, incompetence and folly, then the Islamofascists have one!

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:23 PM:

Uh, make that "won."

#14 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Oh, I thought you meant 'one', as in 'one government'. But that would be the Christofascists, wouldn't it?

Besides, ur mispeling wud halve bin in charactar four a wright-whingknut.

#15 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:31 PM:

a technical term that describes the process of analyzing connections between individuals, without looking at the content being transmitted, to determine any hierarchy between those people.

Look at Social Network Analysis or Network Analysis on say Wikipedia and the associated references.

Social network analysis (also sometimes called network theory) has emerged as a key technique in modern sociology, anthropology, Social Psychology and organizational studies, as well as a popular topic of speculation and study. Research in a number of academic fields have demonstrated that social networks operate on many levels, from families up to the level of nations, and play a critical role in determining the way problems are solved, organizations are run, and the degree to which individuals succeed in achieving their goals.

Very quickly gets scientific trappings with terms like Eigenvector Centrality

#16 ::: JoshD ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:35 PM:

Greg, I think you could be talking about traffic analysis.

#17 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:44 PM:

Traffic analysis. Garh! That was it. My mind is a colandar.

#18 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:44 PM:

thanks everyone, btw.

#19 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:46 PM:

Serge asked:

"Does anybody posting here have friends who are Republicans and with whom they have talked about the state of the Nation without coming to blows? How do they feel, if they are honest about it?"

Yeah, I do. My whole family. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I usually ask their opinions about whatever the current scandal is. Their opinions are summarized below; I believe them to be fairly representative of middle america at large. Brace yourselves.

They're OK with the NSA database on the grounds of "if you're not doing anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about."

They're OK with the invasion of Iraq on the grounds of "Somebody had to do something about 9/11."

They're OK with torture and imprisonment without trial on the grounds of "they're not U.S. citizens so they aren't protected by the constitution".

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:49 PM:

Scott H, if you don't come to blows with these people, you must be a saint.

#21 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:56 PM:

Does anyone want to bet that this was at least part of the reason they started to collect this data? They don't seem to actually care about terrorism and terrorists except as figleaves to cover what they actually want to do.

I want the America I learned about in school back!!!

#22 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 03:58 PM:

Scott, are you sure you weren't adopted?

#23 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:02 PM:

I live many hours away. On the occasions when we gather, I speak of inconsequential matters and drink heavily.

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:05 PM:

Does anybody posting here have friends who are Republicans and with whom they have talked about the state of the Nation without coming to blows? How do they feel, if they are honest about it?

I know someone who voted for Bush last election. He now believes that Iraq is a mess that we should never have gotten into. he does believe getting rid of Saddam was good, but he believes the final total is a net loss. He's also not sure how we should get out, neither "drop everything and get out" nor "Iraqification" seems to be any better.

I talk with him once in a while. We haven't gotten to discuss the wiretapping stuff. I'll keep it in mind for next time.

#25 ::: Jess A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Chuck Nolan wrote: I want the America I learned about in school back!!!

No offense, Chuck, but has that America ever really existed?

#26 ::: Michael Falcon-Gates ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Xopher says: And people are talking about throwing the 2006 elections. Idiots.

No, Republican. I haven't seen any *actual* Democrats saying that, besides Tony Coelho, who's about as active in the party as Nixon was in 1978. The left has its idiots, but not as many of them as the right wants you to think.

#27 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:12 PM:

I want the America I learned about in school back!!!

The America where native americans were wiped out in systematic genocide? The one where only white, male, land owners can vote? The one where industrial barons own and run the country? The one where america dabbled in it's own empire building?

#28 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:14 PM:

Hmm. I have a strange feeling composing this post -- for once I am writing about something I get paid to know about. Strange.

For those of you who don't know, I am a database administrator with extensive experience in B2B web sites along with data warehousing and some data mining. Translated, that means I specialize in storing and managing large volumes of transactional data, and transforming that into information useful to acountants, analysts and managers. I have been reading and listening to all the discussions of the NSA programs (including Bobby Inman's statements on NPR today -- which incidentally were completly invalidated by the ABC story) and am simply tired of the bs floating out from various government spokescritters on this.

First, lets make a careful distinction in terminology. Social network analysis is a technique used in sociological and social psycological studies to analyze social interactions as a network of indivdiuals or nodes connected by specific relationships. Based on what has been learned from those studies, specific algorithms can be constructed for ferreting out different kinds of relationships within and across a social network of arbitrary complexity. When you use those algorithms against a large existing database, usually collected for some other purpose, often as a result of a sales or billing transaction, that is data mining. That is what the NSA appears to be doing. I see two key parts of the standard line now being issued by this adminstration that seems to contradict the very logic of data mining and the nature of databases, which means I suspect these points to be invented, or at least exagerrated, for public consumption.

It has been repeatedly stated that the phone numbers are not accessible by human beings during analysis. Well there are two ways that you could do this that might make sense. The first is for each telco to substitute a unique code number for each phone number when submitting records to NSA, and only supply phone numbers if NSA gets a good enough hit in data mining, using those code numbers for node identification, to go to a court and get a warrant (or an administrative process alleged to be the equivalent). The problem is that you are then splitting your analytical network up into separate pieces for each telco. And that would prevent analysis of traffic that went across more than one network, which is rather common. This does not make sense, and I don't find it likely. (Maybe this is the reason why they want to keep it secret -- if anyone knew what they were really up to, they would see immediately that it would not work.)

The other way would be to create that list of code numbers themselves, but only refer to it when authorized. Riiiiight, of course they wouldn't. (At least until someone high enough in the Adminstration asked.) Maybe some of the anlysts might not see phone numbers, but somebody would have to if the system is to be useful at all. The whole point is to derive a list of "high risk" phone numbers based on a large universe of transactional data, and an initial scoring of risk for some of the nodes. At some point in the process, you have to bring real phone numbers and the results of your data mining together. And after that, if those phone numbers are to be useful, you combine them with other information, like names.

So what if it isn't a NSA employee who actually sees the numbers. What do you think all these security and intellegence contractors we have been reading about are for? If you aren't supposed to follow up on a phoen number yourself, just hand it to a private investigator or the corporate equivalent.

There's nothing magic about database or data mining technology, the fundamental rules of information theory still have to apply.

#29 ::: AliceB ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:15 PM:

Years ago, before the Wall came down, an uncle of mine hosted friends from Eastern Europe. They kvetched and complained, saying that America wasn't so great. Look at all the social programs they had at home. Look at full employment. Look at free education. My uncle didn't respond. Instead, he stepped outside, stood on his patio, and for the next 10 minutes shouted at the top of his lungs, "The U.S. president is an idiot!" "The U.S. government stinks!" or some such variations on the theme. He returned inside to find white faced guests. "Now," he said, "if I were in the Old Country, I would be arrested as an enemy of the state. Here, a police officer might be called if I was bothering the neighbors, and I'd be asked to keep it down."

I shudder to think what would happen today.

#30 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:15 PM:

Greg: The traditional intel term is "traffic analysis", but the newer term in vogue (a little broader in scope) is "network analysis" or "social network analysis".

#31 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:18 PM:

Arrgh, this is what I get for leaving my post on "preview" while I did some other things. Sorry for the duplication.

#32 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:21 PM:

AliceB:

The police would tell you to stop telling people what they already knew.

#33 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:22 PM:

The America Chuck Nolan wants back is the one defined by our stories, the one we should strive for. I know exactly what he's talking about. And so do most people here, even the cynics. C'mon, admit it.

#34 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:27 PM:

"I want the America I learned about in school back!!!"

Never said it was perfect, because it wasn't. Lots of stuff sucked rocks.

But it was better than it is now.

Can someone tell me what powers totalitarian leaders had that Bush doesn't claim?

#35 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:29 PM:

Thank you, Serge. I know most of these folks understand what I meant. I just didn't want to come off as if I were one of those who think the country was perfect. It never was. But you said it better than I did.

#36 ::: Wrenlet ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:32 PM:

Can someone tell me what powers totalitarian leaders had that Bush doesn't claim?

... I'm thinking.

Really, I think we all share the wish that we as a country were still working towards the America of our myths rather than watching it be systematically dismantled.

#37 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:34 PM:

"traffic analysis", but the newer term in vogue (a little broader in scope) is "network analysis" or "social network analysis".

Every time I hear "network analysis", I think "ethernet analysis", the network your computer is plugged into. I think of a couple of EE courses that were called "network design" that were designing and analyzing resisters, capacitors, inductors, voltage sources and current sources, in various interconnection circuits.

Then again "traffic analysis" might make some people think we're talking about watching cars on a highway, so maybe there isn't a perfect name...

#38 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:35 PM:

Greg London:

I think you mean Traffic analysis.

It can be used for all sorts of things, not just phone patterns. Combined with a time/event chart and an associational matix we use it to make link diagrams.

All together those can tell a surprising amount about groups.

#39 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:36 PM:

By the way, Chuck, have you ever read the graphic novel "U.S.", by Alex Ross? It begins at an inner-city clinic and from there we follow an old man who not only dresses and looks like Uncle Sam, but he thinks he is. And, in his delusions, he finds himself fighting for the Soul of America against his counterpart who condoned genocide and out-of-control greed.

#40 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:41 PM:

Warrant? What warrant? We don't gotta show you no stinkin' warrant.

*sputtering with fury*

"They're OK with torture and imprisonment without trial on the grounds of "they're not U.S. citizens so they aren't protected by the constitution". Scott H, what about a situation where "they" ARE U. S. citizens, like Yasser Hamdi or Jose Padilla? I suspect (I don't know your family, please excuse any insult) that they might say in that cas: well, if the government arrested them, they/re probably really terrorists anyway.

Who needs trials, judges, juries, courts, a justice system when we have George Bush?

*more incoherent sputtering*

I want the America I believed in when I was a child, damn it. The land of the free, the home of the brave, not the torturers. And I want a pony, and a unicon, and a starship. I don't know whether to scream or weep, and this has been going on too long. Friends of mine are talking about leaving for Canada, or Mexico. One couple I know has already bought a retirement home outside the country. That attitude makes me almost as crazy as Bushco manages to do. This is my country. My great-grandparents emigrated here, my father fought in the South Pacific to defend it, I think the Constitution is fucking sacred, ain't no way you get to run me out of here. No way.

*deep sigh*

#41 ::: Bill Trimmer ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:43 PM:

May as well be hung for a goat as a sheep:

How much will people stand for? In 1972 the North Vietnamese and the Chinese made it public that Richard Nixon had kept the Vietnam War going for an extra four years as a reelection stunt. No one complained. No one arrested Mr. Nixon, nor brought him to trial as a war criminal. In 1980 the pres reported that Reagan and Bush Sr. had made an agreement to seel arms to Iran, a country that had declared war on the United States, so long as Iran held U.S. citizens hostage until after the Republican team had won the presidential election of 1980. No outrage came from the public. With the example of a war criminal and two traitors to follow, what did the public expect from a son of one of the traitors?

I'm tired of being polite about this stuff, and it is almost certainly way too late to do anything about it in the United States. As far back as Nixon's resignation I can recall classmates of mine remarking that Nixon's only real crime was being caught.

What are any of us going to do about this?

#42 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:44 PM:

I wonder how many degrees of separation there are between any random US resident and a known terrorist? The usual six or so?

I can most likely get to several of the 9/11 terrorists in 6; I know people in the local aviation community. And of course nearly anybody in the justice system and law enforcement has such close linkages :-).

#43 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:58 PM:

I always was a fan of the first amendment. I'm sure going to miss it.

#44 ::: Kelley Shimmin ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 04:58 PM:

Well... I voted for Bush.

Now, before you jump on me for that one, please try to understand where I'm coming from. At that point, the Republican platform's stated committment to small government, personal responsibility, prohibiting abortion and embrionic stem cell research were the deciding factors and I didn't yet understand that saying one valued something and actually valuing it are two decidedly different things. One is about action, the other words.

But I've had my opinion changed on all three of those deciding factors in the past two years. This change has looked like this:

(1) I'm pretty certain that the hawkish tendencies of the party will never be overcome and therefore Republicans will never actually be in favor of smaller government.

(2) At the time I knew a bunch of pretty irresponsible parents drawing TANF checks and I was hopping mad that the government let the completely incompetent ones keep their kids. (In the particular situations I saw, I directly tried to offer counsel and help on how to break the cycle but the recipients of said help were not really interested in getting jobs or spending money on food instead of DVDs - it's of note I live in Central Illinois, where getting out of poverty is probably a much closer reality than it is in urban areas.) I've since given up on the idea that those particular people will ever quit procreating or rehabilitate themselves and I've concluded I'd rather throw money at them hoping the kids have enough to eat and make it through school and end up OK than be concerned about parents who take advantage of the system and choose to stay in the poverty cycle. I've also been cultivating the conviction that we have to offer services because occasionally people who want out need to have options available to get out.

(3) Oddly enough a really bad Christian pop-culture book that I totally didn't want to read but was chosen for discussion by some friends whose feelings I couldn't bear to dash was what convinced me that abortion needs to be legal, accessible, and rare, instead of illegal. In her book she described the two abortions she had in her early twenties, both in Mexico, and both illegal. Those accounts (one of which she had no painkiller for but instead had a man laying on top of her to restrain her and cover her mouth to keep her screams unheard) and an account in a Self magazine about Planned Parenthood's operations in South America and how hard it is to clean up rural women's self-induced abortions without actual abortion equipment, got me. Even if I do think abortion is killing an embryo, opposing its legality is akin to saying to the women who make that choice "I don't care about you." Which isn't true. I do care about them.

(4) Actually I'm not so decided on embrionic stem cell research but I do feel like the embryos that are leftover from in vitro techniques shouldn't just be tossed - if they can be used to help research that might save lives in the future, great.

So about the NSA... I'd kind of thought initially that they'd just keep those records and use them to pinpoint individuals connected with future terrorist attacks on US soil, if there are any. In my opinion, collection of them for that reason, and put away safe not to be looked at except for that purpose, would probably be OK. I do kind of feel like it doesn't bother me because I have nothing to hide. But, they aren't just putting them away to check on later; they are digging into them now, and that makes me pretty darn mad. They have no right to intrude upon the records of private citizens without due cause. And an oblique reference to "fighting the war on terror" does not constitute due cause.

Anyway, so there you go, a Republican viewpoint, as initially seen and then warped by disilliusion - a disillusion that of course is highly coloured by my mixed feelings on Iraq - pleased as punch for the Shiites that were able to hold celebrations that people my age couldn't even remember having happened in their wee tot years, and annoyed as heck that people are still dying, Sunni insurgents from other countries are inciting violence, the Kurds of course still have no national home, and Kurkuk doesn't look like it will ever allow for one. And then there is the issue that the major stated justification for said violation of international law was one about which our leaders lied, and lied, and lied.

As an aside, I have now definitely left the Republican camp and can probably best be characterized as "a swing voter." Locally the Greens and Libertarians have some chances of winning the occasional election, so I might find myself hanging out with them occasionally. And of course, there are always the Democrats.

#45 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:01 PM:

I want Abraham Lincoln to get on down here and challenge Bush to a duel with broadswords in a ten foot deep pit.

This wouldn't solve all of our problems, maybe just one of them, but man it would be fun to watch.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:19 PM:

Abe Lincoln vs Dubya... Say, Stefan, this reminds me of an episode of the original Star Trek...

#47 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:35 PM:

Kelley, just a note to say I admire the courage it took to change your mind, let alone make it known publicly.

#48 ::: Max ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Over on the linked ABC story, the first run of comments were mostly folks saying, "Good. It's about time all you newspapermen/leakers/traitors were rounded up and put in jail."

Of course, the comments also carried the email addresses of said folks. Isn't it nice of them to leave us a trail so that when Hillary gets elected dictator we can round them up first?

#49 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:43 PM:

Kelley writes, referring to NSA phone record collection: "In my opinion, collection of them for that reason, and put away safe not to be looked at except for that purpose, would probably be OK."

Except that those who collect data seem to be able to find all manner of uses for that data which the original plan didn't include. Parkinson's law works like that. Hell, I've done it myself with accounting data. "Is there a way to find out 'x' from the data I collected for purpose 'y'?"

#50 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 05:56 PM:

Max: The first posts on the Slashdot story about this matter ran along those lines.

Then the people who actually had a thought in their heads and took more than thirty seconds to write their posts chipped in.

#51 ::: Ken ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:03 PM:

"I want Abraham Lincoln to get on down here and challenge Bush to a duel with broadswords in a ten foot deep pit."

You mean the guy that threw journalists in jail because they publicly suggested that the South ought to be allowed to depart the Union in peace? That Abraham Lincoln?

If Lincoln was running the show, there'd be a hell of a lot more chilling of dissent going on. There'd also be a #*&(#@ draft.

Bush doesn't seem so bad now, does he?

#52 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:04 PM:

Kelley, thanks. That's quite a journey you've made and I appreciate your posting about it.

And of course, there are always the Democrats.

Many of us who post here have complicated (and some not so complicated) feelings about the Democratic party, espeically that part of it which hangs out in D.C., as opposed to locally. As a lifelong Democrat, who once voted for an Independent, and once for a Republican who has since proved a total opportunist (no, not Bush), I am furious and frustrated that my party, especially the part that hangs out in D.C., appears with 3 or 4 exceptions to be composed of wimps, or worse. I suspect we'd agree on some goals: a functioning government (particularly as it involves, say, disaster relief and port security), deficit reduction, no pre-emptive war...? How do you feel about medical marijuana?

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:11 PM:

No, Ken, he still seems just as bad. He can't quite get away with some of the abuses you mention, but that doesn't mean he won't try. And he's done some things Lincoln couldn't dream of.

All this with none of Lincoln's upside.

Sorry, Bush compares badly to any other president, including Coolidge and Hoover.

#54 ::: Rasselas ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:49 PM:

If Lincoln was running the show, there'd be a hell of a lot more chilling of dissent going on. There'd also be a #*&(#@ draft.

I doubt that the Railsplitter would have invaded Iraq before having captured Osama bin Laden.

#55 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:50 PM:

"if you're not doing anything wrong you don't have anything to worry about."

Pick out any gulag memoir on your shelves, and you'll find that's exactly what people were saying over there when Stalin ran the show. In case anyone was wondering.

#56 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 06:56 PM:

It's at times like this when I start thinking, FOI request + database software + knowledge of DC area prostitution & drug sources = enormous power over politicians.

A man can dream, can't he? Is it really too much to ask that the phone web of all our elected officials be made public?

#57 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 07:12 PM:

If Lincoln was running the show

Who cares? I wanna know what the next batch of folks who are going to run this country are going to do. Sometimes I watch Maher and think, "Well, what exactly is the Democratic message?" The last one I saw on his show might as well roll over and play dead. Maher asked the question and as soon as the guy finished his answer, the word "coward" came in my head.

Someone posted something like "fear makes you stupid". But stupid people can still vote. If the Dems want to win, the first thing they need to do is put a spotlight on the right wing's alarmist bullshit and call it what it is: pure fear mongering. The next thing they need to do is stop buying into the fear themselves. Take a f---ing stand, gawddammit. Show some stones. And once they are no longer lilly livered yellow bellies, once they've found some f---ing courage, then and only then, can they get voters to find some courage too.


#58 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 07:31 PM:

The terrrists probably do toss the cellphones as well, if they're smart. Phone numbers are just related to the SIM, but the phones themselves have a unique identifying number called an IMEI which the phone network reads, and it's at least technically possible to track the IMEI.

Some phones, however, you can rewrite enough of the firmware with a laptop and appropriate cables that you can change the (software) IMEI at will, so they could be using that. However, I suspect getting a new $50-100 cell with PAYG plan is easier, cheaper, and less prone to tracking.

#59 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 07:52 PM:

Zak, you realize of course that the people collecting that data may have exactly the same thought? And they don't need an FOI request.

#60 ::: Nessus ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 08:19 PM:

Paul Wellstone would have taken a stand. But his plane went down the week before he would have been re-elected. Funny timing, that was.

#61 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 08:23 PM:

Claude, there's at least one more option similar to "for each telco to substitute a unique code number for each phone number when submitting records to NSA, and only supply phone numbers if NSA gets a good enough hit in data mining". They could do that where the 'unique code number's are a deterministic one-way hash value of the phone number, so that all the telcos use the same code for each number but there's no way to reverse the operation.

Of course, that assumes that there are one-way hashes the NSA hasn't broken; whether that's true in general is an interesting question. Whether it's true for such a limited input space seems very doubtful.

And of course, it assumes good will on the part of the designers of the system, which is even more doubtful.

#62 ::: Robert West ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 08:28 PM:

I'm quite certain, zak and jeremy, that the information in this database will never be made available via an FOI request.

Either (a) it will be dismissed for 'national security' reasons, or (b) it will be dismissed under the theory that releasing it will violate the privacy of the people whose calls are in the database.

#63 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 08:51 PM:

Kelley--
Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

My thoughts about the NSA's activities are simple--as James Madison put it, this is a government of men by men--we aren't angels, so we need governing, and the people who govern aren't angels themselves, so they need rules to follow also. Further, the laws we make should not be based on the world we want to live in, but the one we are in, because those are the problems we have to deal with.

Finally, there are people who are glad to escape from the welfare system--I work with several, and most of them say there aren't words to reflect how good it feels to know you're making your own way in the world. There are people in the world who, if you locked them in a room with nothing but good choices in it, would pick the lock so they could get out and make bad ones instead, but I hate to punish all the people trying to get back on their feet after personal disasters just to nail the others.

#64 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 09:15 PM:

"I heard that a survey was done in which people were asked if they approved of certain ideas. The ideas were actually the ammendments, but they weren't explained as such. Most of the people polled oppossed the concepts without knowing that they were protected freedoms. I wish I had a link or more information about this poll.

Sean, the survey you mention, or at least one just like it, was done quite some years ago: I think Nixon was in office the first time I heard about it. The First Amendment, and the phrase from the Preamble which refers to promoting the general welfare, were both slammed as "communist propaganda."

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?


#65 ::: Ross Smith ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 09:20 PM:

Todd Larason: They could do that where the 'unique code number's are a deterministic one-way hash value of the phone number, so that all the telcos use the same code for each number but there's no way to reverse the operation.

No, they couldn't, not when the plain text being protected is a phone number with only about ten digits (33 bits). A brute-force search of the entire space of possible phone numbers is something you could easily do on a desktop PC, never mind the NSA's supercomputers.

#66 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 09:45 PM:

At firedoglake, a few weeks back, someone summed up the way the Democrats should be doing it as:

1. Name three things this administration has done right.
2. Aren't you tired of being afraid?

#67 ::: Bill Hooker ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 10:18 PM:

He may have written about this since I stopped reading him, but I sometimes idly wonder what Derek Lowe thinks of his Bush vote now?

#68 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 10:20 PM:

ABC News gets confirmation from the FBI that it's being done.

#69 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 10:21 PM:

"America never was America to me/And yet I swear this oath--/America will be!" (Langston Hughes) There is something to be said for loving ideals while recognizing that we fall short of them.

Bless you, Kelley; you have shown yourself both compassionate and thoughtful.

#70 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 10:40 PM:

It probably says something that I'm no longer surprised by any of this. And I'm getting to the point where I can't even be disgusted and that scares me a great deal

#71 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:01 PM:

Bill: In 1980 the pres reported that Reagan and Bush Sr. had made an agreement to seel arms to Iran, a country that had declared war on the United States, so long as Iran held U.S. citizens hostage until after the Republican team had won the presidential election of 1980.

"The press" is a rather broad term. I recall from the time that there were people who found this plausible, and people who wouldn't listen, and people who believed the way some people believe in aliens in a freezer in Roswell and who so muddied the waters that the facts will probably never be known.

Ken: You seem to have forgotten that Lincoln was dealing with an army on \our/ side of the pond (a real army led by some of the best generals of their generation, not a few handsful of wingnuts), not to mention Brits who were happy to see a potential(?) rival tear itself apart. This country as such has never been even vaguely imperiled by Iraq, or bin Laden, or any other bugbear Bush has tried to frighten us with; to compare his actions with Lincoln's is to declare a zephyr as dangerous as Katrina. Worse, Bush has utterly failed to truly defend the U.S.; we're bleeding money to the Saudis and the Chinese so his rich friends can have more goodies, and at some point those states are going to start using that leverage against us.

#72 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:04 PM:

Kelley, that was fascinating self-appraisal, warm and useful. Thank you very much for sharing it.

#73 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:16 PM:

I'm getting to the point where I can't even be disgusted
Dave, can you still get mad?

#74 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:22 PM:

Thanks, Randolph, for citing the poem I immediately thought of. I can't get over a belief in American exceptionalism, in spite of everything I know about American history, because it does seem to me that America always strives to become what it should be. But the past six years have made me wonder if all that is over. We finally achieved democracy in 1964; it lasted till 2000; are the current times an aberration or cresting the hill?

Does anybody posting here have friends who are Republicans . . . ?

Well, Ms. Kael, some of us live in Red states. Unlike Kelley, I've never voted R, but that's probably because I was raised in a Dem-voting, union-loving Northern industrial city, and now live in the boondocks and in the South. Being a transplant makes me very aware of how bedrock cultural attitudes from childhood shape people's allegiances. It has always boggled my mind the difference in my response to Bush from my neighbors': his voice, speech, demeanor, and meanings would make my skin crawl and my righteous anger flare, while for many people I know his presentation made them swell with pride -- they thought he was one of them, a good man. These responses go much deeper than intellectual agreement or disagreement.

People here avoid discussing the scandals. They are turning away from Bush, I think -- but only by putting him in the category of just another crooked politician. They aren't bothered by the substance of the scandals. There's an oppositional, defiant strain in Southern culture that says "if you think this is wrong, I'm gonna defend it twice as hard," and I've heard that attitude in relation to whatever Bush does. There's also an authoritarian strain in the culture -- police powers are good because it helps us get the bad guys.

#75 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:24 PM:

the Democrats should be doing it as: 1. Name three things this administration has done right. 2. Aren't you tired of being afraid?

First, no one can hear them answer the questions if most of the populace is still in Republican-induced panic. The first thing they need to do is point out that the republicans are not leading, they're stampeding. They've surrounding the herd with boogeymen on three sides, so the only place the people can run is towards them.

So, the first thing Dems need to do is a "only thing to fear is fear itself" kind of speech, and they need to f---ing mean it. They can simultaneously point out the republicans and their boogeymen trying to cause a permanent stampede to the right, and they need to f---ing not pull any punches about that. Then they need to calm the people down, get them to stop knee-jerk reacting to the right winger war mongering with their phantom menaces. Get them to think. THen and only then, can anyone hear them answer the actual questions.

as for the questions, here are my answers:

1) (a) Bush hasn't dropped a nuclear weapon on anyone. Yet. (b) Bush hasn't threatened anyone to the point where they drop a nuclear weapon on us. (c) America hasn't actually devolved into civil war.

2) I was never afraid, I've just been going through varying levels of pissed-offed-ness.

#76 ::: Jonah ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:25 PM:

Charles, over at Through the Looking Glass has posted the lyrics for Humanwine's Big Brother, a "tune for our times".

...
What, are you gonna sit around and worry,
chewing your life to its tomb?
What, have you given up on freedom
before they've taken it from you?
You're unhappy and losing your mind.
You're naked and weeping in the mall.
Shiveringly asking, "why is everyone looking at me?"
...
You can also listen to it on Humanwine's MySpace page (requires Flash).

#77 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:26 PM:

Dave, Lizzy --

Disgust and anger.

You've gotten to the root of the discussion, I think.

#78 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2006, 11:30 PM:

"As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
William O. Douglas

I think we're well past that point.

#79 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 12:55 AM:

"So, the first thing Dems need to do is a 'only thing to fear is fear itself' kind of speech, and they need to f---ing mean it." Greg, I think this is the best rhetorical idea for liberals that I've heard in a long time. Amazing that it's taken so long to stumble on.

rm, thank you. On Bush II being a "good" man: his spiritual pride and self-righteousness seem to easily be mistaken for spirituality and righteousness. If that distinction can be clarified in the minds of the public, he will lose many supporters. Perhaps we had best be quoting "By their fruits...". Plenty of thistles from Bush II.

#80 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:26 AM:

Ross Smith,

[irreversible one-way transform of phone numbers]

No, they couldn't, not when the plain text being protected is a phone number with only about ten digits (33 bits). A brute-force search of the entire space of possible phone numbers is something you could easily do on a desktop PC, never mind the NSA's supercomputers.

That assumes that they're using a known function for the transform. Store all the phone numbers in a table, shuffle it, and use the index of a given number, and there's no way to invert without the table (it's trivial with the table).

#81 ::: Mari ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:10 AM:

As far as creating an irreversible encoding of phone numbers, I can think of a way to break it one at a time. Set up a noticable pattern of phone calls to a suspected leak, find your pattern in the data, then watch everything coming in to that number, right?

#82 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:29 AM:

You know, if I were CIA staff wanting to tip off a journalist, I don't think I'd use my own phone.

#83 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 07:17 AM:

Seth, that would be a one-time pad, which is generally regarded as unbreakable, provided the random function is truly random and unpublished. I don't know if there are any random number generators that will produce, what is it, a CD's worth of unbiased random numbers? But if anyone has one, I'm sure the NSA has.

Though it would be hard for any oversight to check the veracity of such a thing without publishing the pad, which would make it useless.

#84 ::: JoshJasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 08:24 AM:

Read the comments on the ABC Blog for the conservative reaction

If they are investigating leaks they probably have warrants for the searches so they can see who is leaking information. I am glad they are rooting out the people breaking the law. I hope they get the one who broke the law by telling you about this.

...

I am a journalism graduate, UNC-Chapel Hill. I am also a veteran.
I hope they catch every government leaker of classified secret information and put them in prison for life. And any reporter publishing known classified secret information should be shot. It is called treason, not first amendment rights.

...

...


Does anyone here have any doubts that these commentors would cheer at a "final solution' for liberals, latinos, GLBT people, athiests, and probably science fiction fans, if Rush Limbaugh told them to? I don't. I hate Godwinizing a thread, but these *are* the sort of people who make fascism possble, and they *would* cheer if we were all executed. They are already suggesting it.

#85 ::: JoshJasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 08:25 AM:

oops. Missed this one

I think that this is very good news. Something has to be done to investigate the main-stream media as the MSM has obviously declared war against the President in regards to the war on terror and and the liberation of Iraq. It is outrageous how they are working to leak classified information and to undermine our security at every turn with their reporting. It is also outrageous how they fabricate stories against the President or in a timely fashion recycle old stories as if they were new. I personally no longer trust the MSM at all and feel extremely threatened by their agenda.

#86 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 09:13 AM:

JoshJasper... Has anybody asked them if they are against ALL leaks? Does that mean they're all for hanging Rove and Cheney by their thumbs?

#87 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 09:24 AM:

Sean Bosker:

I heard that a survey was done in which people were asked if they approved of certain ideas. The ideas were actually the ammendments, but they weren't explained as such. Most of the people polled oppossed the concepts without knowing that they were protected freedoms. I wish I had a link or more information about this poll.

This poll/type of poll has been done numerous times over the past fifty to one hundred years. IIRC, the ammendments are presented as if they are bills being presented to Congress, and the poll has always gotten those results. I suspect there are two main reasons:

1) It is easy to word the freedoms so they sound bad, so the poll could be deliberately skewed. Consider:

"Would you agree with a law that allows people to say whatever they want?" vs.
"Would you agree with a law that prevents the government from taking action against those who talk about acting against the government?"

2) Any poll that comes out of the blue like this is going to have people's spur of the moment answers, not -- for the most part -- what they would give after analyzing the laws. (Now, what percent of the population would bother to analyze the law if it were real is another question. Certainly in my area there have been several ballot questions apparently designed on the theory that pople won't, where voting "yes" meant you were against the proposed change, and voting "no" meant you were in favor of it.)

Linkmeister:

Parkinson's Law? Is that a variation on "the Law of Unintended Consequences" or something else?


Regarding the Republican thought process:

My dad was a Republican. His last bit of "political analysis" to me before he passed away round about 2002 was that Bush was a political genius.

My Dad felt that America as the sole world-power was in grave danger. That we (I am still unclear whether that meant the country, or the republicans) needed to have an opposition partner, otherwise we would be that "biggest kid on the block" and everyone in the world would get jealous of us and try to knock us down.

So Bush was deliberately trying to inflate Iraq as a new super-power to restore a sense of balance to the world political spectrum. He wanted to set Saddam and Iraq up as a new Russia. There would be no war, it was just political noises to set up a situaton where Iraq could fill a power gap in the Middle East.

I'd love to know what he'd say now ...

But there is a huge point to consider in rm's post:

his voice, speech, demeanor, and meanings would make my skin crawl and my righteous anger flare, while for many people I know his presentation made them swell with pride -- they thought he was one of them, a good man. These responses go much deeper than intellectual agreement or disagreement.

No one believes in or agrees with every point or move of their preferred politico; everyone is willing to make some allowances.

We invest a huge amount of emotional capital in our political candidates, and just like when you have a friend (or spouse/kid/significant other) who makes a series of extremely boneheaded moves, or has a self-destructive habit, or has one major flaw in their personality, the human tendency is to make allowances -- because if you chose him and he's wrong or bad or etc., then you must be guilty by association -- the tendency is to ignore , dismiss, or downplay "your" politician's mistakes as the equivalent to a minor personality flaw.

This is all the more true when he's being attacked. You may not like what your friend does. When he does enough of it, you'll probably re-think things. But, dammit, he's your friend and you are, by God, a good, loyal friend and even if you don't agree with him, even if you think what he's doing is wrong, you're not going to abandon him to those guys, his enemies, and if you happen to agree with his enemies, then you're sure a hell not going to stick a knife in his back!

More often than not, minds are changed by virtue of quiet thought, not by constant brow-beating.

To his dying day, my Dad maintained that JFK was a lousy president whose fame was due to martyrdom, and the Bay of Pigs (among others) were proof of his incompetence.
Nixon, on the other hand, was according to my Dad, one of the best presidents we've ever had, whose one mistake was a sense of loyalty that made him start a cover-up to protect his friends and employees when he discovered what they were doing. According to my Dad, if Nixon had just stood up when Watergate started and said he'd discovered that his staff had been doing this, he was unaware, and they would be disciplined, it would all have blown over in a week.

So it's not especially surprising that some (most?) republicans will make allowances and rationalizations for Bush. Especially when they perceive it as an "us against them" fight.

#88 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 09:53 AM:

"the Law of Unintended Consequences"

Who came up with that one? I suppose it wasn't cooked up by a Republican, unlike "PC" which was just an excuse for the jerks to sound iconoclastic when they really are jerks.

As for the above Law, these days, it seems to come out of the mouth (if not from that other orifice) of Republicans as an example of their usual message that Government can't do anything right so we should keep it from trying anything new even if it could fix a problem.

#89 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 09:57 AM:

Parkinson's Law? Is that a variation on "the Law of Unintended Consequences" or something else?

C. Northcote Parkinson's Law (put forward in a book of the same name decades ago) states that "work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion," and by corollary that the size of a bureaucracy will also increase, without corresponding increases in its output. It used to be very well known, and indeed Laurence Peter's "Peter Principle" ("People rise through an organization until they reach a level where they cannot perform the work, at which point they stay at that level forever") refers to it constantly.

#90 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 10:11 AM:

On Tony Coelho: Is there any chance he's taking the position he does because of his name? 'Coelho' is the Portuguese for 'rabbit'.

#91 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 10:26 AM:

Serge: "The Law of Unintended Consequences" isn't limited to politics or sociology. Like Murphy's Law, I consider it a politically neutral law and a result of the complex nature of natural systems (societies count).

You could basically state it as "any human action is going to cause more and/or different results than was expected or intended." Wikipedia traces the origins to the Scottish Enlightenment and gives a number of nice examples.

#92 ::: JoshJasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 10:45 AM:

In other news of Fascists and Final Solutions, our fellow SF fan Vox Day Makes with the self Godwinizing in suggesting that the USA take on a more Nazi-like solution to the "Immigrant Problem".

But what he *really* wants is to take a gun, head to the border, and make like a first person shooter video game with the rest of his millitia buddies.

#93 ::: Richard Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 10:47 AM:

Zeynep, I'm not sure the Law of Unintended Consequences is politically neutral. It's often rephrased as "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" -- a cliche, yes, but one that has obvious policy (and thus political) implications.

#94 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:18 AM:

The table solution is a neat trick, but I don't think it would solve the proposed problem (getting numbers from different telcos in the same format without the NSA having access). If the table is distributed by the NSA to the different telcos, then the NSA has the table and can reverse. I don't think it's likely that the telcos would be asked to collaborate and create the table and translation methods themselves (nor that they'd want to do so if asked). There's also: what happens to a phone number that is implicated by mining? Any further steps would require knowing the actual phone number etc.

Finally, I'm sure that the domestic call logs include calls to international numbers, and that the social networks being composed include people outside the US. When doing data mining in this, one wouldn't just look for abstract patterns - one would also follow connections from known hot spots. This is how you get from some unsavory person that Christiane Amanpour talked to on the phone, to Jamie Rubin, to Wesley Clark and John Kerry.

#95 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:41 AM:

JoshJasper, that is amazing. That even Vox Day would suggest Death Trains astonishes me. He's a crazy fascist. I'm so glad he's banned from here.

#96 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:50 AM:

I'm pretty sure that what Vox Day really wants is for lots and lots of people to link to him and give him attention.

#97 ::: Zeynep ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:55 AM:

Richard, I guess I didn't word it well enough---of course it has political implications or applications, but it can also have many others when someone makes (especially design) decisions. Serge and you rightly pointed out that it can be used as an excuse not to do anything. It can be used as an excuse, but it can also be used as a caution to be aware, because it's also quite true in many cases.

#98 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:58 AM:

I find this blog very interesting, particularly since I am viewing from north of the border, but sometimes I am worried about the level of pessimism I see. You have some brilliant people down there, and no one can say Americans, as a whole, can't get things done. Particularly intelligent, motivated Americans. I'm just wondering if there is some concrete action that can be taken to cause change to happen more quickly. Because I believe you will change.

#99 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 12:30 PM:

So just who is Vox Day?

I want to make sure I can avoid him as he deserves.

#100 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 12:34 PM:

Noelle wrote:

"I am viewing from north of the border"...{snip}..."Because I believe you will change."

Personally, I'd like to change into being a Canadian. What are my chances of getting political asylum?

#101 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 12:53 PM:

I am something of a pessimist, Noelle, but I don't let that stop me from trying to get things done. Also pessimism can be a useful approach in my line of work, which is computer programming. One sure way to write tight code is to know that, unlikely as this or that chain of events is, someone will do the unbelievable.

#102 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:08 PM:

Political asylum from the U.S. might be bit tricky Scott, but you would certainly have many people's sympathy. Immigration would likely be easier, though it takes a while to work through the system. I suspect, since you are posting on this blog, you wouldn't be turned back for a lack of viable skills.

I can see your point Serge. It does make sense to plan for every possibility, as long as you are still working towards the end result you want.

#103 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:22 PM:

By the way, did anybody have the stomach to watch last night's speech? Last time, he showed disrespect for the manimal voters by poo-poo'ing the idea of human-animal hybrids.

#104 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:24 PM:

I'm just wondering if there is some concrete action that can be taken to cause change to happen more quickly.

Fire Rumsfeld. Impeach Bush and Cheney. Arrest Rove.

do that, and you'll see a lot of changes.

#105 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:53 PM:

FFY - you beat me to it. The closing comment at the end of my rant referred just to that kind of case.

The problem with looking to encryption and security technologies for a solution to this kind of a problem is that most of them are concieved to protect from unauthorized access or abuse. What they cannot help with is abuse of information by someone authorized to use it, which is the predicament here. You can restrict this or that user or group from seeing a particular kind of information, but you cannot create a perfect technical solution to the posibility of the NSA putting together one kind of information or another once it has access to them, or authorized (which is different from legal) release of the information to someone who will misuse it.

Controlling that requires social and political engineering, not computer science.

#106 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:55 PM:


I don't know if there are any random number generators that will produce, what is it, a CD's worth of unbiased random numbers? But if anyone has one, I'm sure the NSA has.

If I was the NSA I'd use alpha particle detectors, or similar, for my RNGs.

760 Mb of events. . .that's going to take a while, though. If we generate 256000 events per second, that's about 10 days per CD.

Better get a couple dozen detectors and run 'em in parallel.

#107 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 01:57 PM:

Dave Bell, Vox Day is the hubristic pseudonym (from 'vox Dei', "voice of God") of a misogynist, homophobic (gay as he looks in his picture), racist, and, as of his post cited above, genocidist blogtroll who, oddly enough, has his own blog.

You would be wise to avoid him to the extent possible.

#108 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 02:58 PM:

I'm just wondering if there is some concrete action that can be taken to cause change to happen more quickly.

Noelle, some of us who post here are thinking almost obsessively about that very thing, working on that very thing, dreaming about it, blogging about it, arguing about it -- even doing it.

#109 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:10 PM:

If I was the NSA I'd use alpha particle detectors, or similar, for my RNGs.

I think the digital equivalent of a gieger counter is one way.

There is also a purely digital solution that can work, depending on the silicon you're using. You take a flip-flop and you tie the clock and data inputs together, and you toggle them. Flops are normally stable devices. The data in is captured and transfered to the data-out pin ever positive clock edge. But if the data changes at the same time the clock changes, the device becomes unstable, and it will settle out to a random value. Since the data has to toggle at exactly the same time as the clock, what you might do is have a bunch of these in a single chip with slightly different wire lengths, then at least one of them will be right, which will then be random. Then you take the output of all fo them and XOR them together. That's the theory anyway.

I've also heard of quantum device detectors of various sorts that are supposed to be random. wave/particle thingies, or tunneling electrons, or other wacky stuff.

#110 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:21 PM:

Traditionally Zener diodes have been used as a noise source in analogue devices.

#111 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:29 PM:

Xopher, I could figure out that much about this Vox Day bloke. But he's claimed to be a member of the SFWA, amongst other things, and I want to be sure that, should I ever chance to read any of his published works, I may do so with the whole Robert Newton, "Shiver My Timbers", routine.

I don't have access to a dead man's chest, and bottles of rum are medically contra-indicated, but it's the thought that counts.

(I didn't pay anything to read The Da Vinci Code but Dan Brown did get some money when the public library bought the book.)

#112 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:38 PM:

Traditionally Zener diodes have been used as a noise source in analogue devices.

hwa? the only time I played much with Zener diodes was designing power supplies and using them as a relatively stable voltage reference. How do you get something like that to generate noise? maybe I slept through that part of class.

#113 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 03:55 PM:

Greg, it's the avalanche noise of a reverse-biased Zener diode in breakdown mode.

Here's a circuit for a white-noise generator

#114 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:00 PM:

it's the avalanche noise of a reverse-biased Zener diode in breakdown mode

What? Did the Heterodyne Boys sneak into this thread?

#115 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:22 PM:

As an alternative to a geiger counter, consider running atmospheric radio static through an D/A processor, then do some additional filtering.

I don't know if it is as random, but it's a lot faster than radioactive decay -- at least at radiation levels I care to deal with.

#116 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:25 PM:

wow, that's phreakin cool.

the output is white noise, and the spectrum is flat, so it would seem that the generated signal must be random. Yes? like cryptographically secure random? I'm a digital guy, so I've long since forgotten pretty much all of my solid-state physics stuff.

Putting this into a usable encryption application, you could take the output of the last op amp, continuously sample it as a 1 or 0, and then push the value out of a USB or ethernet port. You could build a dongle that plugs into your PC and does nothing but generate gobs of random numbers.

where the heck is my digikey catalog.....

#117 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:31 PM:

Dave Bell: it's the avalanche noise of a reverse-biased Zener diode in breakdown mode

Who put that princess warrior gal in charge of diode production, anyway? First a noisy avalance, and now a breakdown!

Man, what we need around here is an HR department that thinks with its head, not with its gonads.

#118 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:37 PM:

Kelley - I was raised Republican, and was a Republican all my life. I left the party and actually changed my registration to Democratic (I announced here first) because of my reaction to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other such incidents and the complete lack of accountability for such acts. Enlisted men and a few offices were made to take the fall. Flag-rank officers higher in the chain of command were white-washed. I do not at all belief that everything ended with Brig Gen Karpinski and Lt Col Pappas. I believe that Maj Gen Barbara Fast, the former top intelligence officer in Iraq, and Lt Gen Sanchez, commander of the Multinational Corps, were fully knowledgable and should be help culpable, as well as others up the food chain, as high as it goes, even if that chain leads up to Donald Rumsfeld or into the White House.

I'm old school. Patrick and Theresa (and others) will tell you that. There are some things that the US military just doesn't do, and there should be harsh and swift punishment for those who break the rules. The Abu Ghraib folks should have gotten twenty to twenty-five years at hard labor; hand out a few sentences like that and the number of incidents will go down dramatically...

#119 ::: Noelle ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:38 PM:

Greg - While your comment gets right to the heart of things, I was kind of wondering if there was something that could be done at a more personal level.

Lizzy - I'm an erratic blog reader, so this may be a topic that's been discussed to death, but I'm really interested in what people on the ground are doing. Could you tell me where to look for info?

#120 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:39 PM:

Randolph Fritz said:

"America never was America to me/And yet I swear this oath--/America will be!" (Langston Hughes) There is something to be said for loving ideals while recognizing that we fall short of them.

I wrote this almost two years ago. It still applies.

#121 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:45 PM:

Well written, Leigh.

#122 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 04:48 PM:

Greg, I think it would need a little care to get the 1/0 balance right on the A/D conversion: the output levels are a bit dependent on the Zener characteristics.

#123 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 05:19 PM:

I was kind of wondering if there was something that could be done at a more personal level.

Tell yourself and everyone you see to not live from fear. This country has been operating from fear for the last five years. In a life and death situation, fear will be present, but it doesn't have to rule your actions. People in the military, firefighters, police officers, will feel fear as part of their job, but to do their job successfully, they cannot succumb to it. America has succumbed to fear, and when people succumb to fear, they stop thinking long term and go into immediate survival mode. It is a part of being human, but it isn't a viable long term strategy for success. People get stupid when they are wrapped up in their fear. They attack needlessly, they panic and run needlessly, they pound their chests boastfully to convince everyone else that they're not afraid. People need to get that they feel fear, but not let it swallow them. Courage is to act in spite of fear. And that's the kind of leadership we need now. That's the kind of citizens we need now. People must be able to think and plan and find a path to long term success even if they're feeling fear. Killing everything we fear, running from everything we can't kill, and pounding our chests that we're not afraid of whatever's left will only lead to a snowball effect of mistakes that will eventually accumulate in result in our own self destruction. We must stop operating from fear. We must start thinking long term. We must acknowledge the mistakes we made during the last five years while we succumbed to fear. And we must see past our fear to find a way to fix them.

If there is something everyone can do on a personal level, it is to find courage to succeed in spite of their fear.

#124 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 05:21 PM:

And any reporter publishing known classified secret information should be shot. It is called treason, not first amendment rights.

Two words: Bob Novak

#125 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 05:28 PM:

Greg, I think it would need a little care to get the 1/0 balance right on the A/D conversion

Yeah, I was thinking I'd need some sort of averaging circuit that would give me the mid-level cut-off point for a 1 or 0. Give it a response time of a second or two so that it tracks slow moving averages and the high speed noise remains, and the results should be fairly good.

Over a long period, you should have 50% zeroes and 50% ones. That could be monitored digitally, and some sort of correction could be piped back to analog "average" via a D/A to bump it up or down a bit to find the exact, moving, midpoint average of the opamp output.

a pic processor, or maybe a Xilinx fpga, should be able to handle the corrective logic.

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 05:49 PM:

"No, not the Xilinx fpga!!!"

#127 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 06:39 PM:

"No, not the Xilinx fpga!!!"

"Sergeant! Give this man a good dose of corrective logic."

#128 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 07:20 PM:

Xiiiiiiii-linx fpga
As the stack rolls down and changes state
At the end of run, it's Nought or One
And the invert comes behind the gate
Xiiiiiiii-linx fpga
Every night the Booley boys and me
Shove a bunch of code
Up someone's node
And we don't need no CPLD
Our honey will ping us at home
And we'll take her out to the PROM
Exclusive AND
Defines our operand
We're truthly tabled
You're solid state, Xilinx fpga
Xilinx fpga, QA!

-- Oscar Hammerstein IIbis

#129 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 08:45 PM:

Thank you, Mr. Ford.

Noelle, go to MyDD -- it's the blog for learning about current election campaigns, etc. for Democrats and Independents. The only thing I can see to do is to get the Republicans out of office, starting in November 2006. I don't know where you are or if political action appeals to you... Other people may have other suggestions. Good luck.

#130 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 10:22 PM:

mr: 1964? What do you figure happened then? (The most common point I've seen for the start of democracy was 1916, when senators became directly elected.)

#131 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:19 PM:

CHip,

mr: 1964? What do you figure happened then? (The most common point I've seen for the start of democracy was 1916, when senators became directly elected.)

I would guess the Voting Rights Act.

#132 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2006, 11:32 PM:

Field Programmable Gate Array... I think the drain is currently charged elsewhere and that the logic in here is usually analog, not digital, though it is subject to reprogramming (for some. The trolls generally are write-only, stuck in variants of boring infinite loops...)

#133 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 08:26 AM:

CHip: I would date American democracy to 1966 (the first election after the Voting Rights Act of 1965), prior to that citizens were excluded from voting on the grounds of race.

#134 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 08:29 AM:

a pic processor, or maybe a Xilinx fpga, should be able to handle the corrective logic.

Logic here is dangerous -- too easy to have a bug. Easier -- high frequency source, a couple of inverters to smooth transitions, and a dual op amp -- first one acts as a voltage follower, second one as an integrator, feeding back into the loop, with a very long time constant, compared to the source. Details here, and you probably have all the parts already. Note this include a shift register, so you can read out bytes directly.

#135 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 09:11 AM:

And any reporter publishing known classified secret information should be shot. It is called treason, not first amendment rights.

The death penalty is hardly ever asked for or imposed for leaking classified information. Even big-time spies like Aldrich Ames get prison terms. Leaking is almost never treason, which has a very specific definition contained in the Constitution.

#136 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 11:17 AM:

The captive-audience screen in the elevator says that there's a class-action lawsuit being filed against the (allegedly leaking) phone companies, who are busily claiming that they didn't give any information to the NSA. I would guess that they gave or sold it to a third party, or maybe got something in return directly from the NSA?

#137 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 12:23 PM:

I don't think messing around with Zener diodes is the way to go; consider that every digital camera has an array of some millions of exquisitely manufactured shot-noise sources behind its lens, so take a photo of anything and use its MD5sum for 128 bits of tasty fresh randomness.

#138 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 12:25 PM:

Field Programmable Gate Array

Oh! Like the one in the Pegasus Galaxy. I get it now.

#139 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 12:26 PM:

bits of tasty fresh randomness

Crunchy outside. Chewy inside. Yum.

#140 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 01:52 PM:

The captive-audience screen in the elevator says that there's a class-action lawsuit being filed against the (allegedly leaking) phone companies, who are busily claiming that they didn't give any information to the NSA. I would guess that they gave or sold it to a third party, or maybe got something in return directly from the NSA?

Or flat out lying about it; apparently Bush put out a memorandum on May 5th that says Negreponte can authorize them to lie about "national security activities."

#141 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 03:17 PM:

Serge -- perhaps my favorite Far Side.

#142 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 03:19 PM:

The captive-audience screen in the elevator says that there's a class-action lawsuit being filed against the (allegedly leaking) phone companies, who are busily claiming that they didn't give any information to the NSA. I would guess that they gave or sold it to a third party, or maybe got something in return directly from the NSA?

Or flat out lying about it; apparently Bush put out a memorandum on May 5th that says Negreponte can authorize them to lie about "national security activities."

Or it could be a combination of symptoms.

The phone companies playing extreme semantics because "give" implies "of your own free will" and while there was no warrant, they were perhaps threatened/blackmailed by the NSA or government at large. Remember that the phone company (TPC) is one of the largest regulated non-monopolies we've got. There's got to be dozens of ways of underhandedly forcing compliance:

Threats of an audit because they're investing overseas;
FCC regulation reviews and other bureaucratic hell;
Loss of business (Who does the government use for phone service, anyway?);
Loss of service ("We have reason to believe the terrorists have been using your network. Do this or we'll just shut you down.").

This is in less than five minutes, without even trying ...

#143 ::: Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 03:26 PM:

Ack! Yes, the Voting Rights Act was in 1965, the Civil Rights Act in 64. What Fragano Legister said.

Don't tell my sweetie the history guy that I got the dates wrong or he *will* come home with the 1000 books his mentor offered him.

#144 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 03:31 PM:

Bush put out a memorandum on May 5th that says Negreponte can authorize them to lie about "national security activities."

WTF is this? What is the legal status of a Presidential memorandum? Does it have the force of law? How can it? Can it authorize a company to lie to Congress? How about the courts? A prosecutor?

*head spinning*

#145 ::: P J evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 03:41 PM:

Bush put out a memorandum on May 5th that says Negreponte can authorize them to lie about "national security activities."

WTF is this? What is the legal status of a Presidential memorandum? Does it have the force of law? How can it? Can it authorize a company to lie to Congress? How about the courts? A prosecutor?

It's 'Whatever the Preznit wants, because there's a war going on!'
Drugs, hypnosis, blackmail, or pure stupidity: take your pick (note: these are not mutually exclusive choices).

#146 ::: John Peacock ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 05:26 PM:

Someone has already built a RNG (random number generator) based on a commercial CCD source, but for the good stuff, you need to pay dearly. Most of the hardware SSL accelerators include an onboard RNG, as do some of the recent Intel chipsets. There was some controversy about Intel including both an RNG and CPU ID functionality in one of the earlier Pentium family, but that got nixed when Microsoft was intending to use that to tie you copy of Windows to that chip.

Of course, they've gone and done just that...

John

#147 ::: Jonathan Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 05:40 PM:

Does anyone remember lavarand, an attempt to generate truly random numbers by taking CCD images of three or four lava lamps? I believe it was cooked up by some engineers at SGI (RIP) in the mid-90's.

#148 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 05:46 PM:

Knuth's random number generator at http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/~uno/programs.html (scroll down, there's a lot of stuff above ti):
RANARRAY
Portable random number generator recommended in Seminumerical Algorithms, 3rd edition, new and improved version (last updated November 2002)
C version, int
C version, double
FORTRAN version, INTEGER
FORTRAN version, DOUBLE PRECISION

#149 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 05:46 PM:

Lizzy: over here.

And here's some information about the net monitoring tool that the NSA ("allegedly" now, *cough, cough*) had AT&T use to gather its information. Apparently, AT&T captured telephone traffic with a commercial application, not a custom-developed, top secret device.

"'Anything that comes through (an IP network), we can record,' says Steve Bannerman, marketing vice president of Narus, a Mountain View, California, company. 'We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their VOIP calls.'"

The Narus application doesn't decode encrypted packets out-of-the-box, but saves them to be crunched by a larger computer, if anyone decides they want to do that.

#150 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Bush put out a memorandum on May 5th that says Negreponte can authorize them to lie about "national security activities."

WTF is this? What is the legal status of a Presidential memorandum? Does it have the force of law? How can it? Can it authorize a company to lie to Congress? How about the courts? A prosecutor?

In essence it is an interpretive statement saying that, given existing law and the Constitution, agents of the federal government have the authority to do X, Y, and Z. This isn't new, Tricky Dickie had the same sort of idea (and did the same sort of thing, remember Cambodia).

#151 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Lenny, I saw that, but it doesn't answer my questions. When I try to frame them, i.e. Can the President "authorize" a company (anybody? Enron? Halliburton?) to lie to a court, Congress, etc. I just start sputtering.

#152 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2006, 08:56 PM:

Serge asked:

"Does anybody posting here have friends who are Republicans and with whom they have talked about the state of the Nation without coming to blows? How do they feel, if they are honest about it?"

Up to about 1983 (my teens and early 20's), I was a card-carrying member of the College Republicans. Even though I then grew up, many of the friends I made during that time did not, and are still voting to the right of reasonable. Over the last 20 years we have had many debates, not always quiet ones.

What I have seen in them is an unwillingness or inability to see the larger picture. They're a group of very successful entrepenuers and professionals with large incomes, large homes, kids and cars. Their worlds are defined by their homes, incomes and families. They don't tend to give much thought to issues that don't intrude *directly* into those small worlds. They feel for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the various victims of the world's evil, but not so much that they will vote away any of their comforts. They say things like, "I can't save the whole world, so I'm just going to worry about my family and be satisfied with that." They don't see the indirect damage caused by their efforts (votes) to protect those comforts.

A few times I would like to have throttled them, but hopefully the slow and bloodless path will yield results. In '04, only one of the four voted for the Shrub. These small victories keep me from thumping them, even when they refer to my hero, the late Sen Wellstone, as "Comrade." And so it goes...

#153 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2006, 01:57 PM:

A quote on This Week from our esteemed Attorney General, via Daily Kos, from an AP story (one of these days I have to learn how to link):

"The First Amendment right of a free press should not be absolute when it comes to national security." The context is: a discussion of the government's right to prosecute reporters who write stories that contain classified information.

Never mind that pesky First Amendment. We're the Executive branch. We're not Congress.

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