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The Creepy-State attracts Creeps

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Big Brother’s little brothers are listening in on your calls, tapping your data

When the government and ruling elites fashion a Creepy-State, it inevitably spawns a surveillance arms race. If your private data is valuable to the Feds, it is valuable to others….and if the Feds are violating the Constitution they aren’t too likely to energetically enforce the law against imitators.

Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US 

Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science.

Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts. 

Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, used ESD’s CryptoPhone 500 to detect 17 bogus cellphone towers. ESD is a leading American defense and law enforcement technology provider based in Las Vegas. 

With most phones, these fake communication towers are undetectable. But not for the CryptoPhone 500,  a customized Android device that is disguised as a Samsung Galaxy S III but has highly advanced encryption.

Goldsmith told Popular Science: ” Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated. One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found eight different interceptors on that trip. We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

The towers were found in July, but the report implied that there may have been more out there.

Although it is unclear who owns the towers, ESD found that several of them were located near U.S. military bases. 

“Whose interceptor is it? Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases? Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it? The point is: we don’t really know whose they are,” Goldsmith said to Popular Science.

It’s probably not the NSA — that agency can tap all it wants without the need for bogus towers, VentureBeat reported:

Not the NSA, cloud security firm SilverSky CTO/SVP Andrew Jaquith told us. “The NSA doesn’t need a fake tower,” he said. “They can just go to the carrier” to tap your line.

Indeed. Subterfuge is required only by those who cannot slap you with a national security letter.

My first comment is that the journalists did not engage in any serious kind of investigation here.

Every one of these towers, unless it was thrown up in the dead of night (unlikely), went through the usual local zoning or planning approval process, which means that there is a paper trail involving land sales, applications, permits and hearings before a local municipal or county board. I know. I sat on one of these commissions for a number of years and jack does not get built in most of the United States until they approve and (usually hefty) fees are paid. These towers aren’t some fat trucker’s CB antennae or ham radio set-up next to a double-wide. A construction crew and heavy equipment were required

My second comment is that since these devices are engaged in ongoing, infinite count, felony eavesdropping, wiretapping, hacking etc. violations, the chances are excellent that corruption of local officials was in play to get these fake towers approved. At least in some of the cases and it is likely that the local officials had some idea of what the tower builders were up to ( or at least their professional engineering staff did). All these towers and no one said “no” or asked tough questions. Think of the odds. You can’t get rubber-stamp approval to build a dog house in most jurisdictions.

My third comment is to wonder who would show up if motivated citizens decided to disable the towers – either by vigilantee action or pressuring public officials to remove these illegal towers.

My fourth comment is that when our public officials are co-conspirators with criminals against the people and their Constitution, the Republic as we knew it is fading away.

If we continue down this road we will await only the coming of a Sulla.

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The Darkness behind Colonel Nightingale’s Two Great Truths

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

Colonel Keith Nightingale, was featured  at Thomas Rick’s Best Defense blog  “future of war” series at Foreign Policy.com. It is a strong piece, well worth reading:

The seven ingredients of  highly adaptive and effective militaries  

The there are two great truths about the future of war.
The first is that it will consist of identifying and killing the enemy and either prevailing or not. We can surmise all sorts of new bells and whistles and technologies yet unknown, but, ultimately, it comes down to killing people. It doesn’t always have to happen, but you always have to prepare to make it happen, and have the other guy know that.
The other great truth is that whatever we think today regarding the form, type, and location of our next conflict, will be wrong. Our history demonstrates this with great clarity.
Well then, how do we appropriately organize for the next conflict if both these things are true? There are a number of historical verities that should serve as guides for both our resourcing and our management. In no particular order, but with the whole in mind, here are some key points to consider that have proven historically very valuable in times of war. The historic degree of support for any one or all within the service structures usually indicated the strengths and shortfalls of our prior leadership vision, preparation, and battlefield successes or failures at the time…..
Read the rest here.
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Nightingale goes on to explain the important variables of technology, intelligence, personnel quality eccentric or maverick thinkers, linguistic and cultural expertise, deployability and leadership. His points are sound and I recommend them with general agreement.
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One area I wish he had spent more time expounding upon was the part “prevailing or not“. We face a major problem here in that the current generation of  American leaders, our bipartisan elite, our ruling class – call them whatever you will – do not seem to care if America wins wars or not.
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Certainly, our civilian leaders stand ever ready to claim political credit from any tactical success or bask in the reflected glory of the admirable heroism of individual soldiers, Marines, pilots and sailors. And no one wants to be the guy blamed for an overseas disaster (“Who lost China?”, the Vietnam Syndrome, Desert One,  Iraq) or losing a war, but winning one? Victory in a strategic sense? Not really a priority for this administration or its prominent GOP critics. Not even close.
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While the Beltway elite are generally fairly enthusiastic about starting wars, once begun the orientation of our officials appears to be one of “management” rather than “leadership”. The war is perceived a problem to be “managed” – like unemployment, sex scandals or high gas prices – in terms of how short term public perceptions of the war impact domestic politics and the fortunes of politicians, donors, lobbyists and other credentialed, upjumped ward heelers. Victory, if it comes, is as likely to be a product of chance rather than design. Few nations as fantastically wealthy and militarily puissant as the United States could lose a war to an enemy as backward and impoverished as the Taliban without an impressively clueless political culture wallowing in narcissism and moral retardation.
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Perhaps this astrategic or anti-strategic posture is merely the natural course of cultural evolution in complex, imperial powers.  Did Roman senators,  patricians or the plebian masses living on the dole in Rome circa 180 ad trouble themselves to look beyond the pleasures of the bath house or the table and worry overmuch about the sacrifices of the legions manning the the forts on the Rhine that kept them safe? Did the British aristocracy and gentry of Hanoverian Great Britain cease their addictions to gambling and whoring long enough to preserve their empire in North America?
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Has human nature changed enough in the last two hundred or two thousand years that it is reasonable to expect that we are any different?
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There is time to turn away from the path of decline, oligarchy and creeping authoritarianism – America is an incredibly wealthy and powerful nation, blessed in many ways, which is why we can survive periodic bouts of corruption and gross mismanagement. However, this time we have raised a new class among us; children of the sixties and seventies, now turning gray, and this Manhattan-Beltway nomenklatura have the ethical compass of the locust and the spirit of the courtier as a form of class solidarity. They seem to view their fellow Americans with a mixture of paternalism, disdain and fear,
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They will go neither easily nor quietly.
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Heavy breathing on the line: The wheel of the mandala

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

[dots connected by Lynn C. Rees]

Sigh

Sigh

What did Lucius Aemilius Paullus know and when did he know it?

My teacher says:

  1. peace (sandhi)
  2. war (vigraha)
  3. observance of neutrality (ásana)
  4. marching (yána)
  5. alliance (samsraya)
  6. making peace with one and waging war with another

These are the six forms of state-policy.

But Vátavyádhi holds that there are only two forms of policy:

  1. peace 
  2. war

Inasmuch as the six forms result from these two primary forms of policy.

While Kautilya holds that as their respective conditions differ, the forms of policy are six.

Of these:

  1. agreement with pledges is peace
  2. offensive operation is war
  3. indifference is neutrality
  4. making preparations is marching
  5. seeking the protection of another is alliance
  6. making peace with one and waging war with another, is termed a double policy (dvaidhíbháva). 

 

These are the six forms.

Whoever:

  1. is inferior to another shall make peace with him
  2. is superior in power shall wage war
  3. thinks “no enemy can hurt me, nor am I strong enough to destroy my enemy,” shall observe neutrality
  4. is possessed of necessary means shall march against his enemy
  5. is devoid of necessary strength to defend himself shall seek the protection of another
  6. thinks that help is necessary to work out an end shall make peace with one and wage war with another.

 

Such is the aspect of the six forms of policy.

Of these, a wise king shall observe that form of policy which, in his opinion, enables him to build forts, to construct buildings and commercial roads, to open new plantations and villages, to exploit mines and timber and elephant forests, and at the same time to harass similar works of his enemy.

  1. Whoever thinks himself to be growing in power more rapidly both in quality and quantity (than his enemy), and the reverse of his enemy, may neglect his enemy’s progress for the time.
  2. If any two kings hostile to each other find the time of achieving the results of their respective works to be equal, they shall make peace with each other.
  3. No king shall keep that form of policy, which causes him the loss of profit from his own works, but which entails no such loss on the enemy; for it is deterioration.
  4. Whoever thinks that in the course of time his loss will be less than his acquisition as contrasted with that of his enemy, may neglect his temporary deterioration.
  5. If any two kings hostile to each other and deteriorating, expect to acquire equal amount of wealth in equal time, they shall make peace with each other.

More:

A king who is situated between two powerful kings shall seek protection from

  • The stronger of the two
  • Or from one of them on whom he can rely
  • Or he may make peace with both of them on equal terms

Then he may begin to set one of them against the other by telling each that the other is a tyrant causing utter ruin to himself, and thus cause dissension between them.

When they are divided, he may:

  • Pat down each separately by secret or covert means
  • Or, throwing himself under the protection of any two immediate kings of considerable power, he may defend himself against an immediate enemy
  • Or, having made an alliance with a chief in a stronghold, he may adopt double policy (i.e., make peace with one of the two kings, and wage war with another)
  • Or, be may adapt himself to circumstances depending upon the causes of peace and war in order
  • Or, he may make friendship with traitors, enemies, and wild chiefs who are conspiring against both the kings
  • Or, pretending to be a close friend of one of them, he may strike the other at the latter’s weak point by employing enemies, and wild tribes
  • Or, having made friendship with both, he may form a Circle of States
  • Or, he may make an alliance with the madhyama or the neutral king; and with this help he may put down one of them or both
  • Or when hurt by both, he may seek protection from a king of righteous character among:
    • the madhyama king
    • the neutral king
    • their friends or equals
    • any other king whose subjects are so disposed as to increase his happiness and peace, with whose help he may be able to recover his lost position, with whom his ancestors were in close intimacy, or blood relationship, and in whose kingdom he can find a number of powerful friends

The near weak fear near strength more than far strength. The near weak fear near hurt more than far hurt.

Near strength fears far strength more than near strengthNear strength fears far hurt more than near hurt.

For the near weak, fear is near. For near strength, fear is far.

For the near weak, hurt is near. For near strength, hurt is far.

The near weak support far strength to keep near strength doing what they must. Near strength opposes far strength to keep the near weak doing what they must.

The near weak support far strength so the near week can start doing what they can. Near strength opposes far strength so near strength can keep doing what they can.

Winner: far strength consolidates near strength into more far strength at the behest of the near weak.

There is a tipping point between the dispersed strength that favors liberty and the consolidated strength that favors tyranny. Localizing power away from a global center is insufficient. More appeal hurt from private wrongs than public hurt from government. A consolidated local grudge is more tightly held than a dispersed global grudge. Words and activity in private law dwarf words and activity in public law.

The wheel turns.

Local gripes get appealed over the head of private social circle to local predominance of violent strength. Hope that distance makes the heart grow objective springs eternal.

The wheel turns.

If appeal to local predominance of power proves unsatisfactory, local gripes shop far and wide for a more amenable remote predominance of violence hopefully free of local bias.

While far power can be free of locally shared bias, it is never free of a globally shared bias in favor of opportunity. There is profit for the strong in the grievance of the weak.

The wheel turns.

The far power intervenes. Intervention opens doors. Local power is suppressed, often in the name of the powerless.

The wheel turns.

Locally strength and local weakness find themselves pureed equally together into a uniform goo of even consistency with insufficient roughage to effectively resist an emboldened center. And all this in spite or despite their local merits.

The wheel turns.

The wheel of the mandala as outlined in the Arthashastra veers toward consolidated strength. When tilt is sufficient, bandwagoning commences.

The wheel turns.

Opportunists driven by fear, honor, or profit pile on the winner’s bandwagon. Tilt becomes pronounced.

The alternative to wheeling in circles is balancing. Localization is useless if it only replaces consolidated far tyranny with dispersed near tyranny. That leaves the chief window of opportunity for a re-consolidation of power, the appeal by the locally weak to remote strength for help against local oppression, ajar and tempting to the aspiring entrepreneur of power.

The Public Thing (Latin: res publica) is not rule by numbers. It is rule by balance.

Balance of strength and balance of fear within the Public Thing are like turtles: they must go all the way down.

Strength must not only be dispersed but it must be balanced, globally and locally. Any power, local or global, must be countered, checked, balanced, opposed, resisted, and cultivated for vigor to pervade the Public Thing. As a symbol, the scales of justice capture the essence of the Public Thing than the ballot. While the Public Thing may be unrepresentative of the public, it is never unjust to the public.

If unjust, it becomes a mere thing.

Possession of passing plurality does not grant permanent license to tip the division of power and terror one way over the other. The eternal dynamics of the cycle of strength mean that every political participant, weak or strong, fearful or comfortable, will triangulate between countervailing strengths in search of institutionalized victory for themselves and cronies. This triangulation powers the forever spin of the wheel of the mandala as the six forms of political power are deployed as strength allows and opportunity beckons.

The Public Thing relies on habit and a robust division of power to keep strength and consolidation apart, the center from stagnant fragilizing, and the whole thing from catastrophic disintegration. The Public Thing is an covenant to keep the wheel of the mandala spinning at a speed safe enough for foot traffic. To do otherwise unleashes the escalatory logic of politics, speeding the spinning of the wheel of the mandala as increased and mutualized resort to violence leads to consolidation followed by fragmentation followed by consolidation followed by fragmentation.

The wheel turns.

You’ll shoot your eye out. Woe unto the world for liberation through disintegration. For it must needs be that liberation must come through disintegration but woe unto those who find themselves so liberated.

Agreements are fragile. Graveyards are full of public things. Their epitaph is the moral of the story: break a deal, face the wheel.

And that’s why the NSA records (meta)data on all Americans.

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For the Fourth of July: The Once and Future Republic?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Ahem….”I told you so“.

“Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

                                                             - Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
                                                                 A primary author of The Patriot Act 

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation”

                                                                 - Senators Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) and Mark Udall (D- Colorado)

“What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country….The actions of the DoJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person. This chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well”

                                                               - Gary Pruitt, President of the Associated Press 

“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry….But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

                                                              – Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City 

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”

                                                                -Thomas Friedman, NYT Columnist 

“Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called and when they called, that’s something you show to the phone company. That’s something you show to many, many people within the phone company on a regular basis.”

                                                                 - James Cole, Deputy Attorney-General 

“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

                                                                 -Barack Obama, President of the United States 

While we need intelligence services, including the formidable collection capacity of the NSA, we don’t need a mammoth repository of information being continually compiled on every American, held in perpetuity by the US government.

First, the mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch.

How many Snowdens have we *not* heard about because they were quietly fired by a contractor? How many other Snowdens working for foreign intelligence services eluded government detection and got away with who knows what?  Or are still doing it now?

Not exactly a resilient system from a cybersecurity perspective, is it?

What the USG has done here is not dumb. It is fucking dumb with a capital F. Sometimes we get so caught up from a technical viewpoint in what we might be able to do that no one stops and seriously considers if we should do it. From such unasked questions come the unwanted second and third order effects we live to rue.

Unless, of course,  building a draconian comprehensive digital dragnet for a  “leaky system” is what was desired in the first place. If so, bravo gentlemen.

Which brings us to the second point: the surveillance state as currently configured in law with the legal equivalent of string and chewing gum is inimical to the long term survival of the United States as a constitutional Republic. This is not an attack on any particular person or politician or three letter agency. It’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm, so we need our spooks, but the spooks need proper constitutional boundaries set by our elected representatives in which to operate and somewhere in the past decade we have crossed that Rubicon.

The United States of America has had a historically remarkable run of 237 years of good government and in all that time the system failed us only once. That one time cost the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans.

On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological machine, a sleepless cyber  J. Edgar Hoover on steroids that contradicts our deeply held political values that define what America is and aspires to be. There is no way to reconcile cradle-to-grave digital dossiers on the 24/7 life of every American with the provisions of the US. Constitution. Really, an ever-watching state was not in the cards at our Constitutional Convention, even with the delegates like Alexander Hamilton who privately thought George Washington might make a fine King.

On a more pragmatic level, in creating the SIGINT-cyber surveillance state we have made not an idiot-proof system, but an idiot-enabling one that represents an enormous potential reserve of power that will be an unbearable temptation for misuse and abuse. The long, bloody and sordid record of human nature indicates that someone, eventually, will not be able to resist that temptation but will be smart enough to get away with it. If we are greatly fortunate, it will be a lazy person of limited vision looking merely to enrich themselves and their friends. Or a malevolent minor bureaucrat like Lois Lerner looking to punish “the little people” who raised her ire.  If we are unlucky, it will be a gifted figure of ill intent and outsized ambitions, an American Caesar.

Or an American Stalin.

In the long term, our Democracy will not be healthy when the government – that is, the Executive – monitors everyone and stores everything  we do forever. While most of us are not that interesting, reporters, public figures, newspaper publishers, members of Congress, aspiring politicians, their campaign donors,  judges, dissenters, writers and so on are very interesting to people in power. The Congress, for example, cannot do it’s job properly when it’s cloakroom is bugged and their email is read anymore than can the editorial office of the Associated Press. What we have built, if it existed in a foreign country, would be frankly described as a “Deep State.  Nations with deep states are not pleasant places to live and they usually do not work well. At best, they look like Russia and Turkey, at worst they look like Pakistan and Iran.

Rolling the surveillance state back to targeting foreign enemies, it’s proper and constitutional role, instead of every American citizen – yes, we are all, every man, woman and child of every race, creed, color and political persuasion being treated as potential enemies by the Federal government – is up to us and only us.  Tell your Congressman, your Senator and the President what you think in a respectful and thoughtful way – and then make this an issue that decides your vote.

If we do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes next. We can at least console ourselves with pride in the fact that the US had a good go at making freedom work unequaled in world history, but that democracy may had had it’s time.  Others in the distant future, may profit from our example the way we learned from Athens, Rome and Britain. Or we can leave while the door still remains open.

Enjoy your Fourth.

                                                “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

                                                                      – Mrs. Powell

                                             ” A Republic, if you can keep it”

                                                                      – Benjamin Franklin
                                                                         Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                                                                         Delegate, Constitutional Convention

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Heavy breathing on the line: Uniform disbelief

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

[dots connected by Lynn C. Rees]

Sigh

Sigh

What did Lucius Aemilius Paullus know and when did he know it?

Once upon a time

During my first year’s encampment General Scott visited West Point, and reviewed the cadets. With his commanding figure, his quite colossal size and showy uniform, I thought him the finest specimen of manhood my eyes had ever beheld, and the most to be envied.

General Winfield Scott

I could never resemble him in appearance, but I believe I did have a presentiment for a moment that some day I should occupy his place on review—although I had no intention then of remaining in the army. My experience in a horse-trade ten years before, and the ridicule it caused me, were too fresh in my mind for me to communicate this presentiment to even my most intimate chum.

Flashback.

There was a Mr. Ralston living within a few miles of the village, who owned a colt which I very much wanted. My father had offered twenty dollars for it, but Ralston wanted twenty-five. I was so anxious to have the colt, that after the owner left, I begged to be allowed to take him at the price demanded. My father yielded, but said twenty dollars was all the horse was worth, and told me to offer that price; if it was not accepted I was to offer twenty-two and a half, and if that would not get him, to give the twenty-five.

I at once mounted a horse and went for the colt. When I got to Mr. Ralston’s house, I said to him: “Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for the colt, but if you won’t take that, I am to offer twenty-two and a half, and if you won’t take that, to give you twenty-five.” 

It would not require a Connecticut man to guess the price finally agreed upon…

I could not have been over eight years old at the time. This transaction caused me great heart-burning. The story got out among the boys of the village, and it was a long time before I heard the last of it.

It was a setup.
(more…)

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