The Dim-Post

October 31, 2013

For the lulz

Filed under: intelligence,technology — danylmc @ 8:26 am

I’ve been reading a book called We Are Anonymous, by Forbes journalist Parmy Olson. It’s about the Anonymous hacker collective and their various off-shoots, and one of the things that comes across in the book is that the majority of the hacks carried out by these groups were opportunistic attacks carried out ‘for shits and giggles’, that were retro-actively justified by citing causes like internet freedom.

And reading the recent NSA revelations I kinda get the same vibe. Did US intelligence really need to hack the cellphones of its closest allies, or steal data from the networks of its largest technology companies? The post-hoc justification is always 9/11: there are bad guys out there and the intelligence community is keeping us all safe from them. But I do wonder how big a role the techno-geek ethos of ‘Hey! Let’s hack the German chancellor’s cell-phone because we can!’, played in these decisions.

About these ads

31 Comments »

  1. The post-hoc justification is always 9/11 becuse their spin-doctors told them to hide behind it. But I don’t think its the techno-geek desire to hack so much as the spy’s control-freakery and seeing enemies behind every computer screen.

    Comment by idiotsavant23 — October 31, 2013 @ 8:40 am

  2. I think that in the case of the NSA – actually any security agency that lack proper democratic oversight, from the local council’s CCTV footage to the police to the GCSB etc – a kind of collective authoritarian OCD madness gets hold of them. The need for data becomes a obsessive craving and paranoia provides the rationalisation to feed the habit.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 31, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  3. Sanc, know of any intelligenge agencies with proper democratic oversight, off the top of your head?

    Comment by Hugh — October 31, 2013 @ 9:17 am

  4. @Hugh – nope, which is why whenever we get to see what they are up to it inevitably involves some sort of outrageous abuse of their powers.

    The other thought about the NSA. The United States is a country that is historically obsessed with brute force technological solutions for problems. The USA is a country that is governed by a 225 year old document that was the product of the enlightenment, and the ideas of the enlightenment still heavily influence they way the USA tries to solve problems. It seeks solutions based on reason (hence their seemingly sudden and incomprehensible levels of mundane institutional violence) and the scientific method (Taylorism in the workplace, for example). From the Norden bombsight to cruise missiles to drone strikes this scientific precision is a key value in how it presents itself as a more perfectly civilised nation than anywhere else. The United States is just as ideologically informed in how it sees its own morality as as a nation as the USSR ever was.

    Seen in that light, the NSA desire to know everything and measure everything in order to create a fully informed and rational response to something it considers completely incomprehensible is entirely understandable.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 31, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  5. Solutions based on reason? The bastards!

    Comment by Hugh — October 31, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  6. “.Sanc, know of any intelligenge agencies with proper democratic oversight, off the top of your head?”

    OK Hugh, do you?
    Perhaps you could elucidate for us your opinions about the ‘brute force technological solutions for problems’ that Sanctuary observes. After all, our society lives with the manifold consequences of the war on drugs, and the war on terror.

    Comment by paritutu — October 31, 2013 @ 10:36 am

  7. One hopes that philosophical thought as moved on from the 1700′s In the case of the US, probably not.

    Comment by northshoreguynz — October 31, 2013 @ 10:42 am

  8. “…Solutions based on reason? The bastards…!”

    You do understand that I am using the word “reason” within a philosophical context?

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 31, 2013 @ 10:45 am

  9. The NSA and Rupert Murdoch are planing to rec

    Comment by Tonka — October 31, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  10. It seems logical to me that all countries spy on each other including friends.. to the extent that they can.

    The US is simply one of the biggest spooks out there and through its incompetence has allowed one and all to have a free hit at its expense. If Germany and others can force Obama to pull back his spys then its a coup surely while they continue to spy on the US.. at least to the extent they can.

    JC

    Comment by JC — October 31, 2013 @ 11:17 am

  11. @pari: No, I don’t. I think intelligence agencies are innately undemocratic and incapable of adequate supervision. Any such agency that was subject to sufficient oversight would functionally stop being an intelligence agency and would instead be a small, possibly over-funded police agency.

    It just seemed that when Sanc talked about improperly supervised agencies, he was implicitly postulating the existence of properly supervised ones. Otherwise he would have just said ‘agencies’.

    As for your question, I don’t think the war on drugs or war on terror are examples of ‘technological solutions’.

    @sanc: Yes, I figured you weren’t using the term ‘reason’ in a way that most people would. The ‘philosophical sense’ is vague, though. Is the ‘reason’ the US government practices the reason of Pythagoras? Of Descartes? Of Kant?

    It’s ironic that you, in advocating a decision making process that depends on things other than reason, are basically echoing John Locke, who I know you’re not really a fan of.

    Could it be that, far from carrying through a consistent or even evolving line of thought, you are simply building a mini teleological empire in each of your rants against “Whatever it is the government’s doing today that I don’t like?” I mean, in the past you’ve accused neoliberals of being slaves to unthinking, religious devotion, now they’re apparently slaves to cold, cynical logic. It really does appear that you’re just against whatever the conservative anglosphere has to offer.

    And again, for the record, not that I really think my views should be at the centre of this conversation, but I’m basically against the existence of intelligence agencies, full stop. Which admittedly does give me little patience for people who think that, if we could just fiddle and finetune with the oversight framework and get it right, they could become functioning parts of democratic polities.

    Comment by Hugh — October 31, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  12. Somewhere on 4chan:
    German Intelligence: These practices are completely unacceptable and it is serious breach of confidence. Such practices have to be halted immediately!
    NSA: U mad bro?

    Comment by Auto_Immune — October 31, 2013 @ 11:40 am

  13. @JC: “It seems logical to me that all countries spy on each other including friends.. to the extent that they can.”

    Have you shared this insight with our Prime Minister and Minister of Defence? Because on your account, either they are desperately naive or lying their asses off to us.

    Alternatively, they may be telling us the truth, and there actually are countries who don’t spy on at least some of their friends (even though they could).

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — October 31, 2013 @ 11:43 am

  14. I’ll go with 1 and 2. Think TPP, its in the USA’s interests to know exactly what our government, and possibly the next government are thinking.

    Comment by northshoreguynz — October 31, 2013 @ 12:03 pm

  15. Paul Buchanan – no liberal he – was telling RNZ on Tuesday that the 5 eyes agreement included rules against using any information gathered against one of the participants. On the other hand that wouldn’t stop member countries using old fashioned agents. I’ve always thought that Sanctuary, aside from being impeccably old fashioned, was a possible CIA agent provocateur.

    Comment by Tinakori — October 31, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  16. @Hugh:

    “… being slaves to unthinking, religious devotion, now they’re apparently slaves to cold, cynical logic…”

    These two things are not mutually exclusive – for example, the Holocaust was the result of unthinking, religious devotion to the idea of the racist state that was executed with cold, cynical logic. In the case of neo-liberals and their project, as Bruce Jesson so wonderfully put it – “Only Their Purpose is Mad”.

    “…Could it be that, far from carrying through a consistent or even evolving line of thought, you are simply building a mini teleological empire in each of your rants against “Whatever it is the government’s doing today that I don’t like..?”

    I would say I am probably just a believer in common sense, meaning that I believe there are things that are right -and wrong – just because they are. For example, saying that helping a little old lady across a busy street or offering a heavily pregnant woman a seat on the bus is a good thing is, to my mind, simple common sense. Try as soiciologists might, you can’t come up with a good rational reason why might do those things; you just know it is the right thing to do.

    As Michael Jospeh Savage said “…“I want to bring about security for everyone during illness, whether it be temporary incapacity due to accident, or anything else. I should think it was the inalienable right of every person to be secured against distress of any form. THAT IS ONLY COMMONSENSE”.

    I think this idea of common sense isn’t as trivial as it sounds at first blush. For example, we talk a lot about why the German nation willingly participated in genocide, but to me the fascinating question is why did those Germans who opposed the Holocaust – the Scholls, the Schindlers etc – do so? There is no unifying, objective condition common in them all that can be identified and distilled. If there were, it would have been identified by science and it would now be taught to every child on the planet with their mothers milk. To me, they opposed the Nazis because common sense compelled them to do so. This is to me an important concept in the digital age, when the data sharing and data analysis is being done by an increasingly monolithic surveillance bureaucracy. As Zygmunt Bauman observed, a reasoned, rational bureaucracy running the NSA or the GCSB and the administration of the Holocaust are simply the same thing wearing two different masks – both, after all, offer bureaucracy a “…collection of so many ‘problems’ to be solved, as ‘nature’ to be ‘controlled’, ‘mastered’ and ‘improved’ or ‘remade’…”

    To me, our individual and collective common sense – and our moral courage to act on that common sense – is our only defense against the amoral logic of reason, and I try and use to guide what I think about the world.

    Comment by Sanctuary — October 31, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

  17. …in the past you’ve accused neoliberals of being slaves to unthinking, religious devotion, now they’re apparently slaves to cold, cynical logic.

    Hugh – they are not mutually exclusive positions.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

  18. Urrgh, snap. Apologies Sanc.

    Comment by Gregor W — October 31, 2013 @ 3:56 pm

  19. For example, saying that helping a little old lady across a busy street or offering a heavily pregnant woman a seat on the bus is a good thing is, to my mind, simple common sense. Try as soiciologists might, you can’t come up with a good rational reason why might do those things; you just know it is the right thing to do.

    Then you should ask an economist.
    We choose to do these things because we all, on some level, know (a) there’s a sufficient differentiation in risk of injury between able-bodied me and the old/pregnant lady that society is, as a whole, is better off by me bearing the small cost of assisting them and, (b) evolutionary speaking, I ‘look better’ to others and signal I have strength and capacity to assist another human being. These are positive traits to potential mates.

    To me, our individual and collective common sense – and our moral courage to act on that common sense – is our only defense against the amoral logic of reason, and I try and use to guide what I think about the world.

    That would be fine, if not for the fact that common sense (more often than not) turns out to be grossly inadequate, subject to the inertia of consensus, and often contradictory.

    Comment by Phil — October 31, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

  20. Yeah, sociologists are crap at explaining altruism – evolutionary biologists can do it in their sleep though.

    Comment by Psycho Milt — October 31, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

  21. Well, good luck with all that, Sanc.

    Comment by Hugh — October 31, 2013 @ 7:53 pm

  22. Sanctuary you are right but also wrong. Do you have a blog? Please tell us if you do. If not you should.

    Comment by grant — October 31, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

  23. Two reasons I can see for the over-reach are:

    1) post 9/11 civil servants not wanting to be on the receiving end of another round of scapegoating and witch hunting as a result of everyone else’s brilliant 100% hindsight-you-didn’t-join-the-dots, and

    2) the change in communication technology since 9/11

    To me, our individual and collective common sense – and our moral courage to act on that common sense – is our only defense against the amoral logic of reason, and I try and use to guide what I think about the world.

    Reason, common sense, morality – add emotions and it’s a wonder we have any functioning liberal democracy at all.

    Comment by NeilM — October 31, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

  24. Can you paraphrase sancy, can’t be bothered wading through that.

    Comment by bart — November 1, 2013 @ 3:49 am

  25. This adds nothing to any reasonable discussion but to me the ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ is an oxymoron.

    Sanctuary I think there is ‘common sense’. as a consensual notion about ‘what is reasonable’. Then there is moral courage. History is populated by people with little ‘common sense’ (oxymoron #2) but lots of moral courage. I think they are the ones who really make a difference when the ultimate decisions about how a society should act have to be made. Appeals to ‘common sense’ are usually exercises in persiflage. Example: It’s common sense that …. [insert contemporary bias]. Such as ‘A politician’s private life is private’ for example.

    But interestingly, perhaps, ‘moral courage’ (#3?) is oxymoronic in that people do the right thing not because they are courageous, but because it’s the right thing to do. One can argue (and many may) that most people don’t ‘know’ what is right, which is why they ‘tolerate’ ‘wrong’ and also why they need leadership to ‘tell’ them what is right – but that means there’s no such thing as ‘common sense’.

    However, ‘moral courage’ too is a movable feast – in that ‘morality’ may be considered the preserve of the dominant interest ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’ for example.

    In short, IMO (amongst other evolutionary and neurological factors) the quality of our right-brain/left-brain connection ensures that no matter what we do individually, we can ‘justify’ it a-priori or post-event, All we need is a motivation or reward strong enough to over-ride our ‘common-sense’ notions of ‘right or wrong’. Which is essentially why people bullshit themselves and others in blogs, pontificate in defense of double-standards they hold of which they are unaware, and generally worship those who appear most able to promise them the ‘common sense’ things that they want.

    So the little credo that gets me through the working day therefore, guess is:

    ‘So if you don’t understand what I’m telling you it’s not because you lack common sense, it’s because you have a deficit of moral courage.’

    Sorry.

    Comment by Lee C — November 1, 2013 @ 6:38 am

  26. @bart – your inability to concentrate for a modest period of time is a matter for you to grapple with, not me. :)

    Comment by Sanctuary — November 1, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  27. “…evolutionary biologists can do it in their sleep though…”

    That’s fighting talk!

    Comment by Sanctuary — November 1, 2013 @ 8:37 am

  28. >Yeah, sociologists are crap at explaining altruism – evolutionary biologists can do it in their sleep though.

    Yes, but they can explain pretty much anything. Evolution is the ultimate magic wand.

    >To me, they opposed the Nazis because common sense compelled them to do so.

    I don’t think so. It was extremely dangerous. If they did it out of a sense of morals, then they were being highly idealistic. In Schindler’s case, it’s not clear it actually started out that way – he may have just been exploiting cheap Jewish labor at the start, then ended up trying to protect that, and then when he’d got too deep in, he decided to do the right thing. Good on him, for whatever reason he did it, though.

    Common sense is always a difficult notion to really pin down. It’s possible to find examples of rationalization going horribly wrong, but there isn’t any doctrine of common sense, it can lead in many directions and often contrary ones depending who is having the sense. It can end up being a hand-waving magic wand to explain things every bit as much as a dogma can.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — November 1, 2013 @ 9:01 pm

  29. “To me, our individual and collective common sense – and our moral courage to act on that common sense – is our only defense against the amoral logic of reason, and I try and use to guide what I think about the world.”

    That would explain your imperviousness to reason then.

    Comment by Swan — November 1, 2013 @ 9:27 pm

  30. Oh look, we’re talking about the Nazis now.

    Comment by Hugh — November 1, 2013 @ 11:25 pm

  31. If there were, it would have been identified by science and it would now be taught to every child on the planet with their mothers milk.

    A Clockwork Milk Bottle.

    There’s people standing up to tyranny at the present time – and suffering horrendously and the world just looks on. Not much change in 60 years.

    Common indifference.

    If NSA were to give advantage to the Syrian secular opposition then I wouldn’t really care if Merkek’s phone was tapped.

    Comment by NeilM — November 1, 2013 @ 11:36 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 420 other followers

%d bloggers like this: