Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Cold (Cyber) War

According to NSA's Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA sees massive data acquisition, even on American citizens, as analogous to the arms race in the Cold War. Yes, that Cold War. Remember how, if the Commies were reported to have a specific kind of weapon, something dread and terrible, even something capable of wiping out all of humankind, it was absolutely essential that the US have the same weapon, only better? Remember the arms race? Remember how secure it made us feel when our bombs were bigger than Soviet bombs? (Don't worry... I don't remember that last one either. The whole Cold War thing scared me shitless. YMMV.)

Well, that's how Alexander, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, described the massive warrantless data collection on American citizens: other nations' security agencies do it, so America has to do it to compete. And some senators... indeed, some Democratic senators... agreed with him.

As one commenter remarked (more or less), didn't Alexander's mother ever ask little Keithie if he would jump over a cliff just because one of his buddies jumped over a cliff? Are we in this helluva fix because the good General failed to absorb that one tiny bit of maternal wisdom?

Caution: small representation
appears much clearer than
data actually retrieved
This is fucking nuts. It would be nuts even if its implementation didn't cost a fortune. It would be nuts even if it didn't compromise the privacy of every American and most every other human being who has a phone or an internet connection. It would be nuts even if it didn't give even America's allies good reason to mistrust the United States. It would be nuts even if it didn't drive America's adversaries to prepare for an otherwise wholly needless war against the United States.

But it does. And it does. And it does. And it does.

I remember, decades ago, chatting during a rehearsal break with the very conservative husband of one of my musical colleagues. How we got off on the subject of nuclear disarmament I do not remember; I generally avoid such no-win debates. But I remember his stating as a premise... a fact already in evidence, to be assumed, something not necessary to demonstrate... that any weapon the Soviet Union had, the US must develop and deploy in more than equal quantities. That was his starting point. I didn't bother challenging him further: someone who believes that is unlikely to understand why that approach is a terrible idea.

And now we are repeating the whole cycle, this time with online weapons. I won't say it is more dangerous to our physical existence than the nuclear arms race was (and is). But it is every bit as hazardous to our fundamental rights and liberties. It is not an exaggeration to say that we've already lost them and must struggle to regain them. In this "era of Big Data," God help America, because Americans like Alexander sure as hell won't.


  1. It is very much like the Cold War arms race - predicated on lies. As someone who was in a position to know, the capabilities of Soviet strategic weapons was vastly overstated to justify the development of US weapons.

    The push to hoover up everything on the Internet has resulted in a system that is flawed on purpose and much easier for anyone to exploit than it should be.If NSA had done its mandated job and actually pushed to strengthen the Internet, hacking would be a hell of a lot harder for other governments.

    1. Bryan, you of all people would know what happened in the genuine Cold War. It must be somewhat discouraging to see NSA not only allowing but actively pursuing a comparable war on the 'net. It discourages me, and I wasn't even a participant in the cold war with the communists!

  2. Steve, the most appropriate theme song for NSA is, IMHO, Santa Claus is Coming to Town (...he knows...).

    1. George... hmmm...

      He knows when you've been surfing,
      He knows whom you've e-mailed,
      He knows the sites you've visited
      So be good, or you'll be jailed...



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