Tag Archives: spying

Excerpt: secrecy versus security; how information protects

Julian Assange WikiLeaks Publisher - The Numbers

It’s early days yet on the following preview excerpt from The Constellation of Man, but I wanted to publish something in support of the world’s greatest political prisoner (if only because the work he began empowers so many other dissidents). He is the founder of WikiLeaks and inventor of the only viable model for a free and independent press I can imagine in today’s world. He saw the need for 1) anonymous and secure submissions by whistleblowers, 2) publishing original source docs (unredacted) “so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth,” 3) actively protecting sources like Edward Snowden, and 4) broad, not beholden fundraising. Julian Assange, already of victim of many years of dirty tricks and concerted attempts at suppression by powerful state agencies and major corporations who fear public disclosures, currently languishes in effective solitary confinement in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. For 63 days now, his internet has been jammed and visitors blocked by the government that agreed to give him asylum and citizenship. Of course he is still targeted, surveilled and surrounded by agents ready to snatch him should he go outside. He is trapped, which has been the case for years. This for the crime of publishing freely and effectively on serious matters (unlike media compromised by financial interests). WikiLeaks thereby informs a public often thankless, or easily led to be vindictive, if they gullibly believe standard smears used in psyops against perceived enemies of states. It’s clear that many remain naive about the systems Assange tries to lay bare, clueless about their likewise precarious position, and even servile in the interests of the powerful who rule them. Despite all his maltreatment—which only vindicates and shows the need for Wikileaks’ mission “We open governments”—Julian has persevered, at appalling personal cost and risk. I doubt that any man living is more deserving of celebration as a popular hero. While I allow him human foibles (especially under such pressure), he is certainly a hero to me for what he has accomplished, speaking as a humanist, dissident, and human being. I have no doubt that a future that civilized people manage to create one day will owe Julian Assange a debt. The following excerpt undertakes to explain why he is correct in his theory of information, and the establishment case for secrecy is profoundly wrong. —CPB


GOVERNMENTS CLOSE, and restrict information in proportion to the factors of their centralization, and dominance.

Instead of an absolute, this describes an intention. The human factors of incompetence to keep secrets or incapacity to control information limit governments to obsessive undertakings. Just as reality has deprived rulers of the absolute power they claimed, when it came to molding the actual world to their desires, even autocratic or totalitarian systems have remained permeable. Certainly, every imperial republic with limited freedom of information and speech has been a sieve. Every breach pokes a hole in the pretense of state omniscience.

Mentality set in motion what incentives and motives perpetuate: the desire for a closed government empowered with secrecy and obfuscation.

The seed mentality for secretive policy was laid down long before any state’s military preeminence over rivals or bureaucratic centralization, because the deceitful rise high in a hierarchy of officials, bureaucrats, or rulers, all those who fancy themselves masters or servants of a public collective.

Their habit is mistrust, befitting those who are never true. They expect similar insincerity, fraudulence, and deception from the world. Remember that a megalomaniac can scarcely infer a mind unlike his or her own. To unscrupulous careerists, all are ambitious, dishonest, and engaged in a slow struggle against the world. Otherwise others must be fools—or relegated to the rank of pawns, among many. Therefore, in their relentless maneuvers they remain wary of shadows and likenesses who cannot be trusted, either. Fearing others’ strength, leery of others’ rise at their expense, they vaunt to mask their own vulnerability, the narcissist’s hollowness which delusions of grandeur and power cannot make replete.

Entrenched, established, they set up concentric rings of mistrust, from their own agitation for aggrandizement versus rivals, further outward, against clique, faction, or party, and further, to unseen enemies abroad, who bear the worst and most exaggerated projections and scapegoating. It is this mindset that sets the tone for an official culture that wishes to hide behind fortress walls, opaque to everyone outside.

The would-be lords of a realm set up means to hoard information like misers, because they seek an advantage over enemies—real or invented, or to hide their own misdeeds from those they claim to safeguard. The ethos of spies and public lies followed as an instrumental necessity of both—and as a consequence of mentality, intensified by fear, hysteria, and obsession echoing within closed halls of power and bastions of bureaucracy.

They claim that secrecy protects—an article of faith. They hold military secrets to be especially sacrosanct, and inviolable on penalty of espionage or treason. Well-trained authoritarian instincts, which become the rule under a domineering state, reflexively proclaim the right and necessity of state security, and cite the exigencies of the military. This obsequious defense answers any doubt.

The logic of public secrecy presupposes that the fates of ruler and ruled are, more than intertwined, a single bloc; as goes the ruling system, so goes the people. Thus “national security,” the security of empire, of imperial interests shared by rulers, is supposed to ensure the security of the people. [In the extremity of this rationale, the doctrine of total war which has been a plank of imperial nationalism, the population form a reserve army of the state, working to supply logistic needs if they do not fight. All share the same destiny or downfall, in this concept. To the contrary, conscripts in a universal army endure much that its commanders do not.]

 

RATHER, the flow of information protects people from their rulers, who occupy an immediate position to do them harm. 

Transparency opens governments to wider criticism, of which they are intolerant, of cruelty, brutality, officiousness, rapacious corruption, and indifference, and of the double standards which the powerful and their enforcers enjoy, such as effective immunity from prosecution under the same laws they use against others.

Official secrecy and privileged access keep the confidence of the furtive state, hiding personal misdeeds and policy failures under the unquestioned protections of classified information. Imbued with seriousness, this works effectively, together with public fear—fear of punishment for knowing, and the vaguer fear of “the wrong hands” to have information. Yet knowledge of the wrong hands who are already in power, already unworthy of the one-sided trust placed in them, would be quite specific and not so speculative.

Knowledge would be a means to gain insight into the nature of those who seek to rule others, instead of governing themselves. To know rulers with sufficient knowledge is to dispute their fitness to rule. Therefore, ruling systems employ misinformation and propaganda systematically to exclude “their own people” from inside knowledge, more than an enemy. 

Even insiders isolate themselves from [contradictory] knowledge and self-knowledge; for they are too closed in, and too comfortable with loyal falsehoods. An indoctrinated propagandist does not have the clear, cynical awareness of fooling other people, despite keenness to say (and half-believe) whatever serves their cause. Rulers themselves believe in their own mythology. Note that it is very possible for those with no aptitude for truthfulness, and no reinforcement of telling the truth at a personal cost, to believe in specific lies they tell. They will bow to a mandatory correction of transparency if they must, just as matter-of-factly as they will tell uncorrected lies when they are allowed.

 

OPENNESS additionally provides strategic protection at a broad scale, precisely the security that institutions modeled on comprehensive secrecy are supposed to provide for a society, by bracing for conflict across territorial or factional lines. 

The flow of information protects all people, whether they fall under the designation of “ally” or “enemy,” from dangerous uncertainty over military intent and relative power, which is caused by keeping secrets. It is they who will be the casualties of wars sought out of grave miscalculation. In the history of militarized states, the greatest defeats and mutual disasters of all have demonstrably happened from miscommunications of intent, and poor estimates of strength, not from clearer and freer knowledge. Ultimately, the flow of information protects people from accidental extinction through military miscalculation, the foolish end which may easily befall a group, or the species, until the de-militarization of human society.

Even in decentralized society, it is knowing the threat posed by an individual or organization that saves others from harm, and those who seek to do harm with impunity will try to keep secrets for the purpose. A murderer tries to keep his intent secret. One with malicious intent can be overwhelmed by many. Imagine also a scenario of local people relying on themselves, instead of a state. A gang among them who sought to dominate their pacific neighbors by force would surely make use of conspiracy, knowing they would likely be thwarted if there were warning to form a defensive league against their plans.

Much the same applies to large-scale society broken up by states, each with rulers proposed as “government.” In conditions in which intentions and capacities are more likely known far and wide, instead of walled off elaborately, they are more likely to find balance in mutual security, because those who are threatened have the ability to collaborate with alacrity. Identification of aggressors is more possible with knowledge of the intentions of rulers, and the relative capacities of state militaries. Combined defense against aggressors is more likely possible. Those who cannot defend themselves are more likely to know whom they must accommodate in order to survive. Futile wars happen out of ignorance.

The degree of centralization under a hierarchy is a societal flaw and strategic liability that obstructs the corrective network of information-sharing, and undermines the available distributed means for security, which include mutual collaboration, and awareness of genuine threats. At the same time, leaders’ infectious mindfulness of insecurity and concomitant pursuit of military dominance jeopardize peace through the provocation, or creation of enemies. Military antagonism demands secrecy, and an organization better able to constrain information, through centralization. The combination builds dangerously, like a runaway mechanism. Imperial states are the most unsafe, cursed with both (top-heavy bureaucratized states, and supreme, blundering military ambitions). About empires, the most tumultuous history has been written.

The logic that secrecy protects must be turned on its head. The advantage conferred by secret tactics in the field should not be mistaken for a comprehensive policy which is strategic for a society’s way of life. The same strategy of espousing communication that opens cloistered and controlled societies to commerce, trade, and prosperity also contributes to literal survival.

Global and regional security is not a game played by opponents, who must deceive each other. That is a lesson of conquerors and political rivals, brutes and paranoiacs, and the world they made. For people who are not concerned with their own power, mutual security is put at risk by the very presumption of opposition, instead of the construction of mutual interests in peace—through trade, communication, and other means to facilitate interaction and familiarity.

A universal society of people espousing shared information works to include more people, and de-emphasizes enmity. A closed society defending distinctions and lines with secrets and lies exacerbates it.

Advertisements

Paranoia, narcissism, and the risible fantasies of the Information Domineers

Glenn Greenwald writes:

“Any casual review of human history proves how deeply irrational it is to believe that powerful factions can be trusted to exercise vast surveillance power with little accountability or transparency. But the more they proudly flaunt their warped imperial hubris, the more irrational it becomes.”

Indeed it does. But before we get to the punch line, let me back up for a moment.

There is a picture painted by myself and some other dissident writers about the psychology of the state supremacists behind militarism and omnipresent surveillance, who found themselves off the leash since 9-11. This is the picture that led me to write an (unpublished) satirical novel called Pyramid of Babel, about an imperial successor capital to DC (and Big Brother), and feel that it was entirely fair to lambaste and mock its semi-fictional mentalities.

This picture has been thought a bit of a caricature by some folks who were willing to give these people the benefit of the doubt. Surely, if they say “national security” depends on it, they must have good reasons? They don’t just want to be in charge? They can’t just be enamored by immature power fantasies? most people assumed.

Consider Exhibit A: NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander, and his Information Dominance Center constructed to look like the bridge of the starship Enterprise.

As you can see, most people were giving these dangerous characters far too much credit. In this case I’m genuinely sorry to have been proven 100% correct, because “we’re all in this together,” to steal a line from one of my favorite movies.

(An aside: In my case, I had the advantage of having studied the “Pentomic Era,” in which this level of mad, bizarre indulgence excused by “national security” had already been taken as seriously as could be and funded as seriously, and quite nearly killed everybody.)

Yes, it really is just as bad as we, “the extremists,” said. Far too many of the men and women who have risen to the top, as scum does, really are the most absurd caricature of narcissist. They really are playing games with all of our lives. It’s as plain as the starship chair in the “Information Dominance Center.”

dbi

And no, it wasn’t just some odd whim of one man. This effectively captured the spirit behind Total Information Awareness by another name, the spirit of paranoid madmen with too much money and too many toys,  US versus THEM (and the ‘them’ are us, to echo Pogo). Congressmen—who supposedly, laughably, provide oversight for the military-industrial complex—fit right in:

“When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a ‘whoosh’ sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather ‘captain’s chair’ in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

“‘Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,’ says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.”

Shut them down. Shut them down, now, before it’s too late. Above all, don’t take them seriously. They don’t deserve the respect.