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
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Franklin Lamb
Tehran’s Syria: Lebanon Colonization Project is Collapsing
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Fred Gardner
Medical Board to MDs: Emphasize Dangers of Marijuana
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Dean Baker
Finance 202 Meets Economics 101
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
Robert Fantina
“Damascus Time:” An Iranian Movie
David Yearsley
Bach and Taxes
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail