Friday, June 14, 2013

Why now in Syria?

Today Obama announced that we're going to begin military aid to the Syria rebel group Supreme Military Council. Supposedly, this is because the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on rebels and civilians. Despite the fact that we've repeatedly condemned Russia for seeking to aid the Syrian regime, we're going to do the opposite and arm the opposition which has a massive group of hardline extremists that will likely turn against the US as soon as they are in the position to do so. Furthermore, there are rumors, according to the UN, that the Syrian rebellion has also used chemical weapons. This combined with the fact that 93,000 civilians have been compared to the 150 killed with the chemical weapons usage makes me think that this is a shaky argument at best. I certainly hope we don't find ourselves arming a group that also used chemical weapons.

Before this announcement and continuing after, John McCain has and is calling for a "No Fly Zone" in Syria, while the Obama administration has declined to implement one because of Syria's air capabilities. However, it's been effectively confirmed that Israel has in the past bombed Syria. A no fly zone would preclude Israel from bombing Syria in anyway shape or form. In fact, when Russia wanted to enact a no Israeli fly zone, through providing anti aircraft weapons (only capable of hitting planes), the US condemned this as aiding the Syrian regime. It's also likely that those same systems would have been able to hit the majority of US planes as well as the Israeli Air Force, so we were as much protesting anything that would have prevented our Air Force from dominating the sky above Syria.

Based on the interviews I've heard, I don't think the end result in Syria is going to be a beneficial one for the US unless something magical happens. Where we arm the right people and they are the only ones we help and they automagically kick the Syrian Regime out of the country. It's not going to happen. Even after Assad is overthrown (if he is) it's likely that Syria will continue to be consumed by a civil war, which will likely be even more of a religious civil war than it is now. Now it's as much ethic based as not.

On Reddit, there's a meme that's arguing that the reason we entered Syria now is an attempt to distract the US media from the NSA and Prism debacles. This could be on the right trail. The news is dominated by the fact that we're supplying aid to the rebels, what the implications of these actions will be and what won't be. I think getting involved in another conflict in any manner isn't good for the US, especially if the side we backs fails, which it is still likely to do so. We've lost any moral authority we had with Russia in an argument regarding supplying weapons to either side.

I do not think that this will pull people away from the NSA issue, we're going to keep seeing it. I'm going to keep writing about it - I just wanted to post something about the hypocrisy of the US entering the Syrian civil war. The big story for this week and next week is still the NSA and PRISM. We are going to continue seeing new developments in this area and we need to keep our eyes on it. If we don't keep pushing this, it will become 'ok' through passive consent. That's not acceptable.

Monday, June 10, 2013

NSA and Edward Snowden

Today saw the unveiling of the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, a highschool dropout that worked his way through sheer capabilities as a programmer. To me this guy is pretty amazing. He cares about the people that he could have put in harms way, he made sure that he did not release any information that would put anyone in harms way, even though he had the capabilities. He learned from Bradley Manning and worked to ensure there would be no risks of physical injury. He felt that these actions violated the constitution and decided to expose these deeds to the public even though he knew his life was over. He believes he's likely to be targeted by the US government or an agent, such as a member of the Triad gang (he's in Hong Kong), to be executed.

Not only he is clearly concerned, but the media seems to think that this is also true. My roommate was watching ABC news with Diane Sawyer and during one segue she mentioned that he may have left because he feared for his life and was likely in danger. Think about it. It's publicly acknowledged by our press, that it's likely a whistleblower might be killed by the US government. This is a US citizen that has a family history of serving (father a member of the coast guard and mother a legal clerk) the US government. He is afraid for his life because he believes that the US government would murder him. If he dies and his body is found the blame will automatically fall upon the government. Edward will not be able to answer phone calls, call anyone, and is essentially on his own to make it to a country that has no extradition treaty with the US. This is a travesty - the fact that many people believe this man is going to die within the next few weeks - killed by his own government without his right to a trial.

Why does what he said matter? A lot of people are talking about it being only Metadata - here's an excellent article explaining what would have happened if the British had meta data during the revolutionary war. It would have ID'd Paul Revere as a likely revolutionary based on his association. Knowing nothing else about him other than a few clubs he and 254 other people in Boston were members of it was possible to deduce the entire social network and who was at the center of the networks.

As I mentioned in my last blog post this network analysis would have caused the changes in my Facebook network to raise some red flags. I suddenly move to Europe (I didn't list Eindhoven has my city of residence it would have been inferred from my friends), some of my first connects in Europe on Facebook were 2 Colombians, 2 Pakistanis, an Iranian, and a Turk. These changes represented a major shift in my circle of friends. I had few non-americans as friends and no Iranians or Pakistanis in my network. Using the full history of my data they wouldn't have found much except that I liked to drink and wrote drunk posts on Facebook while in college. However, it's likely I would have remained someone to keep an eye on, and since then I've written numerous posts about Anonymous, LulzSec and other controversial topics.

Anyway, it's important to keep this in mind when selecting the companies you decide to store your information with, even if it's "only" metadata. Where you go, who you talk to, and what you do online are all representations of you and a lot of information can be gleaned from that.

What can we do? Vote all the bums out of office next go around for one. Start companies that only hand over encrypted data that the end users are the only ones that can decrypt it. Educate your friends, family, co-workers, and anyone politically minded you know. We need to drive change otherwise this will continue and will only get worse. At what point do we need to start worrying that the NSA/US Government will start killing your friends because of who they talk to and what they believe?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

NSA, Phone Records, and access to data systems

NSA - Nothing to See Anywhere around here. The past two days have been bad for the Obama administration for both leaks and for privacy concerns. It was leaked yesterday to the Guardian's reporter Glenn Greenwald whom a lot of people in the US aren't fans of because he sticks to his morals regardless of which party is in power. This leak showed something that really shouldn't be that big of a surprise to anyone. In fact, Senators are all like, what's the big deal this has been going on since 2007. This was originally just AT&T that was wrapped up in this, but everyone suspected other telecoms were involved. After that had come to light congress retroactively gave immunity to the telecoms, despite an ongoing law suit from the EFF - which was dismissed, although EFF filed another shortly their after.

Today was another turn of events where operation PRISM was unmasked, by both the Guardian and Washington Post. This system has direct access to major technology companies servers including Google and Facebook, although both companies deny this. Superficially, PRISM is intended to filter through to a majority of foreign based data. In this case it's seriously the slimmest majority - only 51% - a majority though, although in the US Senate you'd never know.

How are these things possible? Two major reasons, the Patriot Act and the "Secret" FISA Court. I use quotes around "Secret" because it's as "secret" as the drone program. However, we don't know what decisions are being made, we don't know what is being taken before the court, and we have no idea what sort of "do process" standards have been implemented in this court. If it's anything like the drone program it's likely just a few people sitting in a room talking about how bad terrorism is and data like the above to determine the guy needs to die. It's no way to run a democracy.

With the combination of the data in our phone records and our internet usage the NSA can create a massive time based network of connections between both Americans and Foreigners. Abrupt changes in the make up of a persons network with people from countries of interest likely flag them as a risk for interacting with Terrorist. Additionally, if a new pattern was detected the NSA would likely go back and look at historic data to try to understand why this new pattern arose and what they could do to predict future shifts in networks towards engaging with these groups of people. It would also lead the NSA to create models that could indicate how likely someone is to develop behavior patterns of terrorists after their network shifts from one sub group to different subgroups. Furthermore, it's likely that this information would be even more of interest if there's a full shift of members of that person's network towards more potential extremists.

We need to work to change this. The Senate knew about this and plans to hold closed door meetings to discuss it. These discussions should be public not behind closed doors. It's a disgrace.