The Rule of Law

Of course, anyone with a modicum of computer science/IT skill knew the the FBI hacked the Silk Road Box at the application layer to obtain its IP layer address. And anyone with a modicum of political science knowledge would have easily been able to predict that these methods–which are in stark violation of the heuristic operability of the internet–would be gerrymandered into permissible legal status. The science of the rule of law is its rational pattern…

The FBI Pwns You

A few hours ago Wired published details of the FBI’s rebuttal to the previously filed Ross Ulbricht defense motion that proffered the State’s case necessarily rested on evidence obtained from illegal searches(read: NSA dragnetting). The gist:

In the latest filing, however, former FBI agent Christopher Tarbell counters Ulbricht’s defense by describing just how he and another FBI agent located the Silk Road server in June of last year without any sophisticated intrusion: Instead, he says, they found a misconfiguration in an element of the Silk Road login page, which revealed its internet protocol (IP) address and thus its physical location.

As they typed “miscellaneous” strings of characters into the login page’s entry fields, Tarbell writes that they noticed an IP address associated with some data returned by the site didn’t match any known Tor “nodes,” the computers that bounce information through Tor’s anonymity network to obscure its true source. And when they entered that IP address directly into a browser, the Silk Road’s CAPTCHA prompt appeared, the garbled-letter image designed to prevent spam bots from entering the site.

The actual technical claim: Arbitrary HTTP Posts to the login form action leaked the Server’s Internet Protocol Address in the Response Headers and/or data payload.

Probability of said claim: Assuming Ulbricht(and the chain of ownership that preceded him) not to be idiots of the first order, ~0. The only likely “misconfiguration” would be the typical default configuration, which is to “leak” the web server and OS type/version in the response headers.

If we assume the FBI letter to be a half-truth, which frankly is not necessarily a reasonable presumption to make(as opposed to, say, the outright lie), we can ascertain a more accurate technical translation:

We sent a malicious string in the request body of a login submission to inject an executable code payload, $ curl, which essentially allowed to us to perform a remote drive-by phone home on the target.

Now, if we assume the half-truthiness of the FBI in this matter, we can thusly deduce a methodology of counter-attack by US intel organs against network obfuscation techniques–namely directly attacking the target at the application layer. In other words, the use of buffer overflow exploits(maybe zero-day or not) on the target itself to perform drive-by phone homes, or in a more sophisticated attack, to install a wiretap implementation.

Going forward, one has to assume that the use of “cyber-hacking” as means to facilitate a court-approved wiretap will be deemed legal in much the same way breaking into your property to install the old-fashioned wiretaps was deemed legally proper. Of course, I would be remiss not to point out that the legal sanctification of State hacking by organs of the justice department provides a very convenient laundromat for laundering the legality of any data collected by the 3-hop graphical dragnet(read: NSA).

Finally, it should be noted that it’s not surprising the State would eventually seize on this vector of attack. Since 1988(the infamous morris worm), it is been well-known that the weakness of the internet was not in the layered protocol design itself but in the client-server software implementation of the protocol standards. In particular, the c and c++ languages are susceptible to memory violations in string operations against arbitrary data length, resulting in access violations that can produce malicious results if the violating data is carefully formatted to do exactly that. In a sense, it is enough a problem that it could have killed the internet from the start if not for a sort of spontaneous, heuristic security best practices regime that arose that limited the problem of rogue actors to a tolerable one.

But if the heuristic law saved the internet, it is the “rule of law” that will surely kill it(in terms of being a utopian instrument). For it is the latter which turns software vulnerabilities into a primary means of both wiretapping targets and laundering graphical dragnets, reminding us, once again, that the State is indeed its own agency and its preservation best executed by a type of competitive agency of invasion of the body snatchers.

The State is its Own Agency

That the NSA has now commenced with overt pressure campaigns to countermand any legislative effort to curtail its vast surveillance enterprise cements an obvious liberal dilemma regarding the agency of the State. Make no mistake, totalitarian spying exemplifies an agency whose ends are in competition with the ends of its own citizens. This is a fatal violation of the liberal paradigm out in the open, staring you right in the face.

The germane question which moves to the fore of consideration hence pertains to the extent of government surveillance. Is it indeed totalitarian? If we were to constrain the scope of consideration strictly to the NSA itself, then the answer would probably be no. It’s modus operandi does not follow the traditional taxonomy of the textbook totalitarian spymaster. However, thanks to the documentation leaked by Edward Snowden, what we have now is confirmation of the cypherpunk dystopian model, which in a real sense, is much worse, for it portends a sustainable template of planetary social control. The NSA in and of itself is one thing. However, in the larger context of its coerced “strategic partnerships” with the top US internet & software companies–as means to facilitate/execute the data collection requirements–what we end up with is quite another: the equivalent of a libcap library on every one of your network devices persistently cataloging your “matrix” in the well-connected social graph, built and maintained under the “legal auspices” of a three-hop dragnet.

In light of the Snowden revelations, the NSA has embarked on the aforementioned pressure and information campaign to countermand the PR damage. Just yesterday, the NSA released two documents that purport to dispel the notion of it being an agency of totalitarian collection. Having just read them , I can say that the 1.6% statistic of “touched traffic” and 0.025% statistic of “reviewed traffic”, on a daily basis, are highly misleading. The first hoodwink is to point out that out of the exabyte daily traffic volume, roughly 60%-70% is ip video traffic1, which shrinks our “basketball court” down to the size of a racquetball court. The second hoodwink is to infer the sampling follows a pattern of independent random trials–in the classic stats model, proving or disproving a hypothesis drawn from such a random sample–instead of what it actually is: the accumulation of a graph-based document store enabling a traversable, retrospective query system. The whole thing is just plain subterfuge.

By now, it should be apparent that I consider the cypherpunks to be the most relevant social scientists of our day. In no small part because they are at the forefront of the battle-lines of 21st century political economy. Assange, for one, has been singularly confirmed on a number of points. In particular, the US reaction of “Insider Threat” has to count as spectacular confirmation of his thesis of “conspiracy and networks.” The kernel of differentiated political and economic jurisdiction that always lurked beneath the rationale of wikileaks now seems obvious in light of what is required for secure and autonomous cloud computing platforms going forward2. Assange’s contention that legal and regulatory entities were engaging in data-laundering–that is, ex post manufacturing legal reconstructions of “evidence” gathered from the NSA dragnet spying enterprise–has since been confirmed by Reuters with respect to two agencies: the DEA and the IRS.

In contrast, the “liberal” political and academic establishment are dinosaurs. No better example of this than this piece at “Bleeding Heart Libertarians,” The United States is not a Police State. The entire piece is a confirmation of my (quite prescient, as it turns out) old post, Free Market Fairness: A bridge to nowhere. Fernando Teson’s entire argument boils down to the position that truth should never stand in the way of mainstream recognition. Of course, as I pointed out in that earlier post, the “respectable libertarian formulation,” in the form of the chicago school, had held sway for thirty years in the domain of finance and “regulatory reform” leading to nothing but banking oligarchy and a permanent severance of political freedom from capitalism. As I pointed out at the end, all it would take would be a minority dissident faction to blow that entire thesis to smithereens and force the “bleeding hearts” to side with what everyone and their brother–outside of polite academic company–knew to be tyranny and oppression. I’m not surprised “Edward Snowden” doesn’t appear in any post on that site, outside one inclusion in an obscure link.

Frankly, the boogeyman of North Korea is tiresome as the singleton measuring stick of totalitarianism. For starters, the inquisitive person might ask just how long North Korea would last if not for China and the US directly and indirectly propping it up(which should trigger a deeper discussion of the taxonomy to begin with when considering States that prop up even worse monsters). However, the better question might be why the persistent singleton casting of 21st century totalitarianism in the mold of mid-20th century soviet model when that model–in terms of having any sphere of international influence–died out two decades ago?

In the recent book, “Cypherpunks: Freedom & The Future Of The Internet,” Andy Muller-Maguhn specifically outlines the stated intent of our 21st century spooks: the use of secrecy as a means to gain control of social processes. This presents a countervailing agency problem more along the lines of a “squishy totalitarianism,” but this is more than sufficient to eviscerate the liberal paradigm. In fact, it acquires a particular sinister aura because it appears quite apparent that most are quite comfortable persisting the liberal mythology within its confines. The industries of “social justice” and “the invisible hand of market social coordination” will continue to spit out oblivious drivel because after all, they are “industries.”

As I have noted on previous occasions, the planned order or surveillance introduces a potentially glaring incentive-incompatibility agency problem into market exchange. One that makes mincemeat of any position that uses the existence of markets as an immediate counterfactual to any claim of systems of social control. If we cast “spontaneous order” as a type of “social graph” and then analytically run it against the “planned order of surveillance” that exists to anatomize it, we obtain a “second-order dynamic” between the social graph and its surveillance that illuminates the distinction between laissez-faire and capitalism in a far greater clarity than the dinosaur methods of 20th century classical liberalism still mired in the roots of the socialist calculation debates.

Frankly, to avoid serious methodological error, one should start from the assumption of “the State as its own Agency.” Everything else flows from there…

1 As I pointed out in this old post, Technology is not Freedom, ip video has its own extensive surveillance regime.

2 Ideological preferences aside, the cloud, in any rent-seeking context, is where the internet goes because it is simply a much more efficient computing platform.

Comrade Joe Biden: “Every Great Idea the Past 3 Centuries has Required Government Vision and Incentive”

The intrepid vice-president on the campaign trail:

“Every single great idea that has marked the 21st century, the 20th century and the 19th century has required government vision and government incentive,” he said. “In the middle of the Civil War you had a guy named Lincoln paying people $16,000 for every 40 miles of track they laid across the continental United States. … No private enterprise would have done that for another 35 years.”

Oh, the irony. In one hypertrophied moment of campaign propaganda, Biden managed to undercut the entire historical progressive critique against laissez faire. After all, how could Progressivism, historically, be a movement to tame the “excesses of laissez faire” when every great idea the past three centuries has been the result of government intervention? In Biden’s own words, private enterprise could not have completed the transcontinental railroad until the 20th century. So, we apparently have Lincoln to thank for the post-civil war Robber Baron era that otherwise could not have happened if private enterprise would have been left to it’s own devices. No transcontinental railroad, no robber baron era.

This is classical politician doublethink. In one context, to justify political intervention, we are told of the utter inertness of the private market in comparison to the power of the State. In another context, we are warned of the need for intervention to restrain the powerful unbridled, unregulated market. In doublethink, there is never any need to reconcile these contradictory statements. Which one is true simply depends on the political objective to be had at the given moment.

Of course, we don’t quite live in an Orwell or Huxley novel where doublethink political reality is the only reality or where historical reality is subsumed by complete distraction. There have been several great technologies–steam engine, telegraph/telephone, AC(alternating current) Electricity, automobile, airplane and transistor–that I would classify as having the greatest impact on civilization over the last three centuries. Most, at the outset at least, had little or nothing to do with government intervention. The transistor is debatable, but like anything significant that has come off the drawing board since the early to middle part of the 20th century, it’s going to be ambivalent/murky because the government is so involved in the control of the economy and funding the nexus of corporate/university research.

What’s not debatable, however, is that, in the end, everything becomes incorporated into the political economy. For the politician, an idea is only great if it can be monetized by artificial rents. So, in empirical political reality, it is empirically true for the politician that every great idea the past three centuries indeed has required government intervention. No doubt….

Once Upon a Time in Afghanistan…

Let us consider the recent words of Jacob Appelbaum:

All governments are on a continuum of tyranny. In the US, we don’t have censorship but we do have collaborating news organisations.

In the immediate wake of Wikileaks Afghanistan classified document disclosure, Time Magazine, acting as Obama’s press secretary, publishes a story on it’s cover depicting a woman disfigured by the Taliban with the tagline: “What happens if we leave Afghanistan.” Of course, the immediate question that comes to mind is that this is what still happened despite the decade long US occupation, an occupation that now constitutes the longest war in US history. From my previous post below, there is video visualization of the Wikileaks’ disclosure of the field reports of IED attacks. Note the increasing frequency over time. Note that most of the victims are either civilians or “friendlies.” It would be just as easy to show the victims of these attacks, or the civilian victims from the attacks of the US “death squads,” with a caption: “This is what happens if we stay.”

While the Taliban has always been a creature of the Pakistani government, the US, after initial invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban, could have possibly staved off a return of the Taliban by implementing a legal opium production scheme. Instead the US would turn this into a Narco War by bringing in the DEA black helicopters and waging war against the Afghan farmers. This is how the Taliban got their feet back in door. As a regime, they had prohibited the production of opium, but as an insurgency, they offered protection services against the US Narco warriors. The US has since backed off the policy of eradication, but, nonetheless, when this occupation became a Drug war, the game was up. I won’t even go into the futility of any “counter-insurgency” strategy that has to deal with an insurgency that has external State support and has cross-border sanctuary. This is the lesson of Vietnam.

If Time really was interested in doing hard-hitting investigative journalism, it could have tied Afghanistan in to the broader misery and suffering the US Narco wars have caused worldwide, wars that are now spilling over into our own borders with the US-Mexican Drug War. Better yet, Time could have done a hard hitting piece on the role the West has played in fomenting Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Southern Asia, and Northern Africa since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following WW I.

Afghanistan is often portrayed as a universally backward country with a 13th-century mentality. Afghanistan does have a diverse ethnic and tribal population, which has made a “central government” difficult to rule. However, this article in Foreign Policy by a western academic who grew up in Afghanistan strikingly shows how “westernized” Afghanistan was in the 1950s-1960s. Of course, this was not representative of Afghanistan as a whole, as much of the country certainly didn’t resemble Kabul. And it’s not an endorsement, on my part, in pointing this out, of the government at the time. The purpose here is to counter the widespread ignorance regarding as a society stuck in the 13th century.

But what happened to Afghanistan? I tell you what happened. Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew the Afghan monarchy central government and installed a communist central government. One of his designs was for the Pashtuns to have their own state: Pukhtunistan. Now the Pashtuns were sunni islam but not the Wahhabi strain that one associates with the Taliban today. This was imported from Saudi Arabia courtesy of the United States. In the cold war chessboard, the US actively supported and radicalized Wahhabism in the sunni islam of the Pashtuns to counter and bait the Soviet Union into an invasion and occupation.

To quote Zbigniew Brzezinski:

“What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?”

Of course, the Wahhabi strain of sunni Islam is universal Jihad and all the social repressive practices one associates with fundamentalist Islam. But universal Jihad was convenient for the US at the time for countering the Soviet Union in the cold war games. However, after the Soviet Withdrawal, the Pakistanis found a Pashtun Wahhabi sunni Islam rule in Afghanistan particularly convenient from a strategic standpoint. Afghanistan governed by a “universal Jihad” provided a population of jihadists motivated to carry out asymmetrical warfare against India in the Pakistan-India (not so) cold war. And a Wahhabist universalism among the Pashtuns keeps a separatist Pukhtunistan from gaining any traction among the Pashtuns. For various reasons, this development would be viewed by the Pakistanis as particularly detrimental to their deemed national interests. This is why Pakistan supports the Taliban and will continue to support the Taliban.

The blowback, however, for the Pakistanis is that the US occupation of Afghanistan has created serious problems for Pakistan in terms of it’s own Pashtun population. Pakistan is never going to be threatened by a government takeover by Wahhabist Pashtuns, but the Pashtun population in Pakistan is significant enough that the US WOT extended in Pakistan has created a much more repressive State and in some areas, a much more fundamentalist type of rule.

Wikileaks: The Afghanistan Files

Afghanistan war logs: Massive leak of secret files exposes truth of occupation

White House Response:

“We strongly condemn the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations, which puts the lives of the US and partner service members at risk and threatens our national security”

Additional paraphrased White House response: “Btw, all that bad stuff, that happened under Bush.”