June 13, 2009

You're on the Battlefield Right Now

My head began exploding when I read the opening paragraph of this NYT article:
A plan to create a new Pentagon cybercommand is raising significant privacy and diplomatic concerns, as the Obama administration moves ahead on efforts to protect the nation from cyberattack and to prepare for possible offensive operations against adversaries’ computer networks.
It's impossible to say which is more disturbing: that the Pentagon will be in charge of this "cybercommand" monstrosity, or that the U.S. government -- which, as all good Americans know deep in their hearts, wants only peace and sunshine and puppy dogs and kitty cats and ponies! for all humanity (if not for any sizable number of actually existing individual persons) -- is yapping about "possible offensive operations against adversaries' computer networks."

I mean, hell. Hell. All those bullets, bombs, missiles and nookleear thingamajigs aren't enough? We gotta attack evil, terroristic 'puter networks -- and do so offensively? Whatever.

And then the few remaining bloody bits of my brain simply dissolved into gooey slime when I read these two paragraphs in the middle of the piece:
Some administration officials have begun to discuss whether laws or regulations must be changed to allow law enforcement, the military or intelligence agencies greater access to networks or Internet providers when significant evidence of a national security threat was found.

Ms. Leed said that while the Defense Department and related intelligence agencies were the only organizations that had the ability to protect against such cyberattacks, "they are not the best suited, from a civil liberties perspective, to take on that responsibility."
"Not the best suited, from a civil liberties perspective..."

This is first-class comedy material. Truly, it is. I doff my blood and goo-encrusted cap to these Comedy Clowns of Mirth and Merriment.

Let us also note the concluding paragraphs of this masterpiece of black comedy (you know, when blood dries, it often turns black; I'm just saying, no reason to be concerned -- they're only trying to help and protect us):
Frida Berrigan, a longtime peace activist who is a senior program associate at the New America Foundation’s arms and security initiative, expressed concerns about whether the Obama administration would be able to balance its promise to respect privacy in cyberspace even as it appeared to be militarizing cybersecurity.

"Obama was very deliberate in saying that the U.S. military and the U.S. government would not be looking at our e-mail and not tracking what we do online," Ms. Berrigan said. "This is not to say there is not a cyberthreat out there or that cyberterrorism is not a significant concern. We should be vigilant and creative. But once again we see the Pentagon being put at the heart of it and at front lines of offering a solution."

Ms. Berrigan said that just as the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had proved that "there is no front line anymore, and no demilitarized zone anymore, then if the Pentagon and the military services see cyberspace as a battlefield domain, then the lines protecting privacy and our civil liberties get blurred very, very quickly."
In other words, you're on the battlefield this very minute, and your computer might be a deadly weapon. In these circumstances, it's remarkably shortsighted and selfish of you to think your computer is yours and that you're entitled to some nambypamby notion of "privacy." What world are you living in? The Pentagon will decide what you're "entitled" to. Or not.

With due respect to Ms. Berrigan, it's a little late in this game for any of us to be expressing "concerns" about whether the government, most decidedly including the administration of the Prince of Hopetastically Hopey Hopeiness, is going to be keeping "its promise to respect privacy." I repeat: what world are you living in?

I analyzed the broader issues involved almost a year ago, in "No One Is Safe: FISA Is Only the Prelude to Nightmare." The theme of that article was this: "The selective focus on FISA misses the crucial larger picture in a way that ensures that the ruling class's hold on increasingly tyrannical power will never be consistently or seriously challenged -- which is, of course, precisely what the ruling class wants. ... [I]f the protests about FISA remain the sole (or even the major) focus of [the] complaints about the surveillance state, the protesters will make a very large gift to those who wish to oversee, regulate and control every aspect of our lives."

The heart of my argument will be found in this passage. I repeat it, because I think a great many people still fail to understand this issue fully:
With regard to FISA and issues of liberty and privacy in general, let me now ask you a few questions. How long do you think it would take you to identify, read, and understand every provision in every statute, regulation and other authorization that gives surveillance powers to the government? Furthermore: Would you know each and every place to look, or how to determine what those places were? Additionally: With a staff of 20, or 50, could it be done, even if you were provided with limitless time and limitless funds?

I submit to you, without qualification or reservation, that you could not do it. No one could. Consider that most legislators in Washington aren't even aware of much of what's in the bills they so eagerly vote on. Consider the prohibitive length and complexity of legislation that comes before Congress. That's true of what is going on now. If you tried to track down every piece of legislation, every regulation, every administrative agency ruling, and every other pronouncement still in effect that allows the government to surveil and otherwise keep track of you, me, the guy down the street, the woman next door and the man in the moon, based on alleged concern with and the need to protect us all from the ravages of drugs, "illicit" sex, any and all other suspected criminal activity and, natch, terrorism, how on God's green earth would you do it? You couldn't. I further submit to you that the only reason you appear to have some precious remnants of freedom left, and the only reason you remain at liberty, is that the government hasn't comprehensively focused on all the powers it already possesses and hasn't come anywhere close to utilizing them fully and consistently. This is the moment you should fall to your knees and thank whatever gods may be for the miraculous, close to perfect incompetence of the pathetically ineffectual blockheads in Washington.
I now add a few further comments on that last point. Many people frequently praise Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or many other Democrats on the grounds that they're so much more able and "competent" than Republicans. Let's assume that's true. Given the staggering and frightening powers that the government already possesses -- powers which, as my earlier discussion emphasizes, already allow the government to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, to whomever it wants -- the fact that they may be "competent" should terrify you.

If the Obama administration is determined to continue and expand America's wars and foreign interventions for the purposes of control and domination, and it is, competence only makes the ensuing devastation and murder that much worse. This is especially true for the victims of America's campaigns of destruction abroad. If you're minding your own business in the Middle East or Central Asia, or Latin America, or Africa, and someone decides you're in the way of America's imperial plans, the last thing you want is to be hunted down by a competent killer. Your obliteration is almost certain.

In the same way, if the Obama administration is determined to consolidate and expand the scope and reach of the surveillance state, and it is, the fact that those who may wish to keep watch over a huge range of online activities, all in the name of "cybersecurity," of course, know what they're doing should not be a source of comfort for you. It should fill you with dread. And always remember: just as the government will never hesitate to manufacture an alleged justification for its overseas campaigns of terror, so too the government will find some reason, even if it has to concoct it out of less than nothing, if it decides to go after you.

Confronted with a government of already massive, ungraspably broad and invasive powers, powers which only increase by the day, you should pray as fervently as you can that those who would track your every keystroke, every email, and every moment of internet activity are the most colossally incompetent, ignorant fools the world has ever seen.

And when they are not, when they are competent or, far worse, even expert at what they are doing, that's precisely when you should run for your life. Of course, where you can go to be left alone might be a problem of some significance, assuming you can even manage it. But I think you take my point.

Aw, they're only trying to protect us. Of course. As I remark from time to time, it is a grievous error to think that those who possess enormous power of this kind seek power for some other end, whether you imagine that end is "national security" or "peace" or whatever other propaganda slogan they may throw at you. No: power is the end. It is the purpose, and the only purpose: power for its own sake. That's the whole pathetic, detestable truth.

I respectfully suggest that you never, ever forget it.