FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Snowden and the Stupidity of the Security State

Back in 2006 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, in The Starfish and the Spider, contrasted the way networks and hierarchies respond to outside attacks. Networks, when attacked, become even more decentralized and resilient. A good example is Napster and its successors, each of which has more closely approached an ideal peer-to-peer model, and further freed itself from reliance on infrastructure that can be shut down by central authority, than its predecessors. Hierarchies, on the other hand, respond to attack by becoming even more ossified, brittle and closed. Hierarchies respond to leaks by becoming internally opaque and closed even to themselves, so that their information is compartmentalized and they are less able to make effective use of the knowledge dispersed among their members.

We can see this in the way the national security state has responded to leaks, first by US Army PFC Bradley Manning and now by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Hugh Gusterton, in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (“Not All Secrets are Alike,” July 23), notes that the government is taking measures to avoid future such leaks by “segmenting access to information so that individual analysts cannot avail themselves of so much, and by giving fewer security clearances, especially to employees of contractors.”

This approach is doomed. “Segmentation of access runs counter to the whole point of the latest intelligence strategy, which is fusion of data from disparate sources. The more Balkanized the data, the less effective the intelligence. And … intelligence agencies are collecting so much information that they have to hire vast numbers of new employees, many of whom cannot be adequately vetted.”

Meanwhile, the internal witch hunt atmosphere in the U.S. security apparatus is alienating the very contract-work hackers whose skills it is increasingly dependent on. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sticker on Snowden’s laptop wasn’t a deviation the NSA’s leadership failed to catch. It’s typical of the cultural pool from which the NSA, of necessity, recruits its contractors. Such people read the news, and they aren’t impressed with the government’s draconian treatment of people like Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden. Recruiters are running up against increased skepticism among those with the skills it needs; the chilly reception NSA chief Keith Alexander met with at DefCon is symbolic of this new atmosphere.

Further, as an anonymous former EFF intern notes, even idealistic young people who believe in the NSA’s mission find themselves paralyzed by the increasingly adversarial atmosphere, afraid even to type code into a terminal for fear of learning after the fact that they violated one of the CFAA’s vague, Kafkaesque provisions.

All this is happening even as surveillance agencies are deluged with ever-increasing, unmanageable amounts of raw data. The ratio of hay to needles is growing exponentially. The larger the volume of raw data to be analyzed algorithmically, the larger the number of false positives the system generates. The sheer volume of false positives, and the ratio of false positives to genuine leads, is enough to paralyze government. Back in 2009, Homeland Security couldn’t react in time to stop the Underwear Bomber when his own father directly notified them he was planning to blow up a plane.

The very people the security state is most interested in monitoring — ranging from genuine terrorists to domestic dissidents like Snowden and the occupy movement — respond to every increase in surveillance by making themselves more opaque to the government. The Snowden scandal resulted in a spike in adoption of measures like PGP encryption and TOR browsing. Even as the NSA is hoovering up more and more hay, more and more needles quietly remove themselves from the haystack.

The U.S. security state and its agencies, in the long run, are doomed for the same reason that all authoritarian hierarchies are doomed: They’re stupid. And the people they’re trying to control are smart.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

 

More articles by:

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
Patrick Cockburn
Is ISIS About to Lose Its Last Stronghold in Syria?
Joseph Grosso
The Invisible Class: Workers in America
Kim Ives
Haiti’s Popular Uprising Calls for President Jovenel Moïse’s Removal
John Carroll Md
Dispatch From Haiti: Trump and Breastfeeding
Alycee Lane
On Heat Waves and Climate Resistance
Ed Meek
Dershowitz the Sophist
Howard Lisnoff
Liberal Massachusetts and Recreational Marijuana
Ike Nahem
Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle
Olivia Alperstein
Kavanaugh and the Supremes: It’s About Much More Than Abortion
Manuel E. Yepe
Korea After the Handshake
Robert Kosuth
Militarized Nationalism: Pernicious and Pervasive
Binoy Kampmark
Soft Brexits and Hard Realities: The Tory Revolt
Helena Norberg-Hodge
Localization: a Strategic Alternative to Globalized Authoritarianism
Kevin Zeese - Nils McCune
Correcting The Record: What Is Really Happening In Nicaragua?
Chris Wright
The American Oligarchy: A Review
Kweli Nzito
Imperial Gangster Nations: Peddling “Democracy” and Other Goodies to the Untutored
Christopher Brauchli
The Defenestration of Scott Pruitt
Ralph Nader
Universal Voting Dissolves the Obstacles Facing Voters
Ron Jacobs
Vermont: Can It Happen Here?
Thomas Knapp
Helsinki: How About a Fresh START?
Seth Sandronsky
A Fraught Century
Graham Peebles
Education and the Mental Health Epidemic
Bob Lord
How to Level the Playing Field for Workers in a Time of Waning Union Power
Saurav Sarkar
I Got Arrested This Summer (and So Should You)
Winslow Myers
President Trump’s Useful Idiocy
Kim C. Domenico
Outing the Dark Beast Hiding Behind Liberal Hope
CounterPunch News Service
First Big Strike Since Janus Ruling Hits Vermont Streets
Louis Proyect
Survival of the Fittest in the London Underground
David Yearsley
Ducks and Études
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail