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In the case of NSA vs Justin Bieber…

Friday, January 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — consider my mind once again blown, but not at all surprised ]
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You may or may not all have seen this — I don’t watch TV, so such things only reach me if they crop up in my usually pristine Twitter feed — but here is a quick update from the intersection of News and Worthy. It’s like a Freudian slip — or what William Burroughs called “naked lunch” — the moment when you see all too clearly what’s on the end of your fork.
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The news media, my friends, aren’t biased “left” or “right”. I mean, they may be and in fact are, but that’s not the only bias. The bias I’m seeing here is in favor of the superficial over the serious, it’s pervasive, and it’s beautifully captured in this short video.

This bias is obvious, we all know it so well that it’s easy to miss. But it’s also a leading indicator of the advertiser-popularity-media loop, and is to be taken seriously.

And if you know, you know, you already know, and are ready for the occasional laugh — put @KimKierkegaard on your own Twitter feed, for “philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard mashed with the tweets and observations of Kim Kardashian”.

Double or quits?

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Taoism with Intelligence, yeah!

Monday, December 30th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — this post is useless and a delight, if you catch the same drift I do ]
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Well you know me, I love juxtapositions and variations on a theme, and I have a keen interest in applying them with intelligence to Intelligence — especially where it meets Religion — so this one’s a natural!

I mean, you might think the upper panel was an IC logo since it uses the word “intel”, but it’s not — it’s the long-time logo for a brand of computer chips from Intel Corp — now found in both PCs and Macs.

But the IC was not to be outdone, and — mirabile dictu — has responded with its own “inside” logo. Intel is fine, you see, but frankly Tao is better.

My own preferred Taoist text is that of Chuang Tzu‘s Inner Chapters — “chapters inside” one might almost say — which you can find translated by the excellent Burton Watson in Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.

Open it up, go inside…

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NSA’s Tao source:

  • Der Spiegel
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    An Absurd Column by Walter Pincus

    Thursday, December 26th, 2013

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    Walter Pincus, taking notes for the embattled bureaucrats of the creepy-state here:

    ‘Front-Page Rule’ is unprecedented in U.S. intelligence community 

    ….“Accountability and secrecy” were two watchwords a former senior intelligence official said guided operations during his 40-year career, not whether the public would approve of everything he was doing.

    However, that’s not what President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies said last week after its study of intelligence gathering in the wake of disclosures generated by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaking of tens of thousands of previously secret NSA documents.

    The president’s five-member panel called for reinstituting what it called the “Front-Page Rule,” which it described as an “informal precept, long employed by the leaders of U.S. administration.” It said such activities should not be undertaken if the public couldn’t support them if exposed.

    In some 40 years of covering intelligence, I have never heard of such a rule, nor have several former senior intelligence officials with whom I have talked.

    ….Today, within the ranks of the intelligence community, there is concern that, in the face of the political uproar growing out of the Snowden disclosures, Obama might be backing away from the NSA after initially supporting the agency. “The White House may be looking to escape responsibility,” the former official said, adding that recently not enough public support has been given to Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and NSA Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who are out front defending the programs.

    There are other recommendations and statements put forward by the president’s review board that run contrary to past and present operations.

    For example, the panel said a collection effort should not be initiated “if a foreign government’s likely negative reaction” to it being revealed “would outweigh the value of the information likely to be obtained.” That’s a judgment call that every CIA officer, from junior to senior, routinely makes.

    ….The president’s review board writes that “if we are too aggressive in our surveillance policies under section 702 [a program that permits collection of intelligence from foreign targets associated with terrorists], we might trigger serious economic repercussions for American businesses.”

    It is true that the Church and Pike hearings left a generation of IC personnel feeling burned and very risk averse toward covert operations and distrustful of politicians as a career philosophy. We are seeing that longstanding IC bureaucratic preference for risk aversion here in the veiled threat by senior insiders that the IC will have to sit on their hands vis-a-vis foreigners unless the NSA is greenlighted to spy on Americans to an unlimited degree.

    What utter rubbish.

    The Church and Pike hearings were primarily about the so-called CIA “crown jewels” – clandestine operations, actual and proposed, against foreign targets that were hostile to the United States and usually sympathetic to the Soviet Union when not outright Communists. Some of these operations were ill-considered and harebrained while others were well conceived if not executed, but the driving force behind the hearings was that many prominent committee members were very liberal to leftist antiwar Democrats, some had monumental egos or presidential ambitions and many strongly opposed anti-communist and interventionist foreign policies for ideological reasons.

    It is also true that this 1970’s history has little or nothing to do with the NSA becoming an unconstitutional organ of mass domestic surveillance. Apples and oranges. Letting the NSA control all our private data data does not mean the CIA then runs a more robust HUMINT clandestine program against the Iranians, al Qaida, the Chinese or Pakistanis. Likely it will produce the opposite effect as relying systemically more and more on SIGINT is a dandy bureaucratic excuse to approve fewer and fewer covert operations or risky espionage targets.

    Americans, outside State Department personnel who have to deal with the resultant headaches, could really care less if the NSA bugs the German chancellor’s cell phone or the ex-terrorist Marxist president of Brazil. To the extent they think of it at all, most would probably say “Hell, yeah!” because that is exactly what a foreign intelligence service is for. If Americans heard the NSA or CIA conducted some surveillance that resulted in Ayman al-Zawahiri being killed in a horrible way it is likely to meet with high approval ratings.
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    The idea that Americans as a whole, outside of the usual anti-American activist-protestor crowd, dislike successful covert ops against our enemies is a proposition for which there is scant evidence. The so-called “Frontpage rule” being touted by Pincus is complete B.S. intended to blur the lines of what institutional missions are really being discussed.
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    If senior managers of the NSA and CIA would rather investigate American citizens on a national scale in secret then they are in the wrong line of work and should resign or retire so that people more motivated to harry our enemies can take their places. Mass surveillance is the job of a secret police, not a foreign intelligence or even a counterintelligence service. In some countries a secret police agency is a normal and legal part of the government structure. The United States is not one of those nations and the “big boy rules” for IC operations overseas against specific, dangerous, hostile foreign targets cannot apply inside the United States against the broad mass of citizens while having the US remain a constitutional democracy anchored in the rule of law.
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    You can have one or the other but not both.
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    Serpent logics: a ramble

    Sunday, November 24th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — continuing my exploration of a pattern language of thoughts, both verbal and imagistic ]
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    One of my favorite patterns derives from the nesting of Russian dolls inside Russian dolls, so it’s only appropriate to start with an example of what I can only call.. Matrioshka shipping!

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    It’s my habit, as you may have seen, to collect certain “ways of thinking” in the miniature format provided by my Twitterstream. Whether you think of them as logical forms, patterns in a pattern language, or amuse-bouches for the mind, they are here to delight and instruct — and when you pile a whole lot of them up together, they can make you just a touch dizzy.

    Today I’ll be bringing my collection up to date with two posts, Serpent logics: a ramble, and Serpent logics: the marathon. If you want a quick look at some of the neat patterns I’ve seen since I last posted on these topics, this post — Serpent logics: a ramble — is the one for you. If, after reading it, you want a gruelling, hilarious, insightful, insane, devious, extended course in this kind of pattern recognition — try Serpent logics: the marathon.

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    Here’s one from today, tweeted as I was prepping this post — in a category I’ll simply call…

    Counter-intuitive?

    Admit it, that’s just a trifle mind-blowing, no? C’mon!

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    Serpent Bites Tail:

    Here’s a light-and-dark-hearted example of the ourobouros or serpent-bites-tail recursive patterm, with a hat tip to Allan Stairs:

    Follow Kim Kierkegaardashian (@KimKierkegaard) on Twitter if you like mashups between the deepest of theologians and the shallowest of celebrities…

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    I have no idea what category this one belongs in, so I’ll slip it in here. It’s from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, protecting our digital private parts:

    Oh my! A Clash of Classifications!

    The EFF even has it’s own playful-serious version of the NSA logo —

    — as the DoubleQuote above — juxtaposing how the Agency views itself with how the EFF sees it — illustrates…

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    DoubleQuotes in the Wild

    DoubleQuotes in the Wild is my on-going collection of paired juxtapositions that say more together than they do apart. It’s a beginning training in what F Scott Fitzgerald claimed was the “test of a first-rate intelligence” — “the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.

    The example above comes from Parecidos Razonables, a blog that takes off from the Separated at Birth concept and specializes in double-takes of this sort, often satirical. One of their more celebrated examples:

    I’d have juxtaposed Vladimir Putin with Daniel Craig as James Bond myself, but that idea has already been taken — a Bond fan apparently photoshopped Putin’s face onto a poster of Bond in Casino Royale, and then “plastered” Moscow with his handiwork.

    Apparently the Apparat, like Queen Victoria, was not amused. I’d have been flattered…

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    While we’re on the subject of President Putin, here’s another category to consider…

    Mixed games:

    The op eds by Presidents Putin and Rouhani to which Soufan refers are Putin’s A Plea for Caution From Russia and Rouhani’s Why Iran seeks constructive engagement.

    Ali Soufan, the author of Black Banners, is always worth paying attention to — and his tweet, above, clearly belongs with that Alasdair MacIntyre quote I’m so fond of [1, 2]:

    Not one game is being played, but several, and, if the game metaphor may be stretched further, the problem about real life is that moving one’s knight to QB3 may always be replied to by a lob over the net

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    Let’s close with some examples from the arts, the first with just a touch of Tibetan Buddhist flavor…

    One of mine:


    For further details, see Death and hallucination color new work by Chinese artist Zhang Huan after life-altering Tibet trip.

    And the second, a pair of images — each in itself a sort of DoubleQuote in the Wild comparing the forms of birds and mechanical objects in a single photo — posted together today by Wm. Benzon under the title Conjunctions:

    Birds and cranes, New Jersey and Lower Manhattan.

    IMGP3517rd - Five ducks and freedom tower

    Birds and cranes, Brooklyn and Governors Island.

    birds of a feather.jpg

    Magnificent — what a generous eye he has — many thanks, good Sir!

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    Patterns? You might think of them as Jungian archetypes, Platonic ideas, Hofstadterian analogies — or Ayat, the same word used to describe the verses of the Qur’an, signs in the calligraphy of God:

    Qur’an 41 (Fussilat), 53

    We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves

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    And now, consider your options. Have you had enough of these damn patterns of mine — or would you like to try out for the marathon version?

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    Madame Feinstein and the NSA

    Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

    Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.) is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. She and her closest aides are privy to some of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets above and beyond that of an ordinary member of the intelligence committee. When a highly sensitive covert operation requiring a presidential “finding” be reported to Congress hers is one of the very few offices in the loop and one of the first to be briefed.

    Senator Feinstein is also suddenly shocked that the NSA, which was set up to spy on foreign governments and has been briefing her for years – is allegedly spying on foreign governments:

    “It is abundantly clear that a total review of all intelligence programs is necessary so that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are fully informed as to what is actually being carried out by the intelligence community,” Feinstein said in a statement to reporters.

    “Unlike NSA’s collection of phone records under a court order, it is clear to me that certain surveillance activities have been in effect for more than a decade and that the Senate Intelligence Committee was not satisfactorily informed.

    With respect to NSA collection of intelligence on leaders of US allies – including France, Spain, Mexico and Germany – let me state unequivocally: I am totally opposed.

    Lest you be forgiven for thinking that Senator Feinstein was chairing an intelligence committee in some other universe than the one in which we live, she recently had this to say about NSA domestic mass surveillance of ordinary Americans (which the NSA is not supposed to be doing at all except in very narrow circumstances):

    The NSA call-records program is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight. Above all, the program has been effective in helping to prevent terrorist plots against the U.S. and our allies. Congress should adopt reforms to improve transparency and privacy protections, but I believe the program should continue.

    The call-records program is not surveillance. It does not collect the content of any communication, nor do the records include names or locations. The NSA only collects the type of information found on a telephone bill: phone numbers of calls placed and received, the time of the calls and duration. The Supreme Court has held this “metadata” is not protected under the Fourth Amendment.

    Set aside the cutesy and deliberately misleading part about the underlying metadata case which was decided in a radically different context than NSA mass surveillance – these two statements together effectively mean that Senator Feinstein is ok with the NSA functioning unfettered as the world’s most powerful secret police agency but not as an agency tasked with acquiring foreign intelligence. Doing things, like, you know, espionage to discover the real views of other world leaders….

    WTF?

    Now fairness admits that there are other possibilities for Chairman Feinstein’s public statements:

    • Senator Feinstein is giving “cover” for allied leaders to save face with their domestic critics up in arms about US spying by throwing them a bone to help them calm their voters and media.
    • Senator Feinstein is playing to the Left wing of her own Party and in the California electorate
    • Senator Feinstein is sticking a well-deserved knife in the backs of a few people high up in the NSA and the White House for previous slights directed at her personally and her committee
    • Senator Feinstein sees herself presiding in nationally televised Church Hearings II, starring the heroic Diane Feinstein
    • Senator Feinstein is a loose cannon

    Your guess is as good as mine, but the idea of America getting out of the foreign intel business or taking German crocodile tears at face value is harebrained.

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