August 12, 2015
Crisis: NSA-Socrates, DuPont's Toxins, China devaluates again, Assange, Privacy

"They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next


The Philosophy of Surveillance
The Teflon Toxin - DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception
China stuns financial markets by devaluing yuan for
     second day running

Sweden and Ecuador edge closer to end of Julian Assange

5. Where did the principle of secrecy in correspondence go?

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday August 12, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the NSA-Socrates that Peter Maass found thanks to Edward Snowden (and some own research) - and yes: the philosophy of the NSA seems to be postmodernism; item 2 is about DuPont and the enormous amount of chemicals that have been added the last 50-100 years to air, water, food and utensils, all with very little research and hardly any responsibility; item 3 is about another devaluation of the Chinese yuan; item 4 is about Julian Assange and the Swedes (who may try to extend Assange's misery till 2020); and item 5 is about secrecy of correspond- ence, which I think still exists even if it has been thoroughly raped by Bush & Cheney and the NSA.

And I should say I uploaded yesterday's autobiographical file (in Dutch) again, with working links.

1. The Philosophy of Surveillance

The first article of today is by Peter Maass on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
ARE YOU THE SOCRATES of the National Security Agency?

That was the question the NSA asked its workforce in a memo soliciting applications for an in-house ethicist who would write a philosophically minded column about signals intelligence. The column, which would be posted on a classified network at the NSA, should be absorbing and original, the memo said, asking applicants to submit a sample to show they had what it takes to be the “Socrates of SIGINT.”

I say. Well...

I am a philosopher, who only did not make his - excellent - M.A. in philosophy because he was briefly before it removed from the right of doing it and kicked, as a student, from the faculty of philosophy of the University of Amsterdam [1], largely because I asked - as a public speaker, who was asked to speak publicly - questions (<- what I said in 1988: only questions!), from which it emerged that (1) unlike most leading students of philosophy I was not a communist (2) unlike most leading students of philosophy and most teachers of philosophy I did (and do) believe in the existence of truth (whereas all others agreed that "everybody knows truth does not exist", also - or especially - not in the University of Amsterdam) and (3) I did not consider my teachers - none of whom has published anything ever since 1988 - competent (in which I was completely right).

Also, merely the directory philosophy on my site currently is 200 MB with 15,780 items, of which I wrote about half (and the rest are philosophical classics that I comment), and that was all done while I was ill and among the poorest in the country, with always less than a minimal income, and never with any help.

I sketched my background, because it is relevant. Next, about the quoted first paragraph:

This was found by Edward Snowden, and the whole question the NSA asked is very much more propaganda/public relations than a real question, were it only because there have been extremely few persons like Socrates [2] and - even for
wild admirers of the NSA - it should be a no-brainer that the NSA does not have anyone like Socrates amongst ite employees (though I grant many are clever).

But OK, since the NSA insists, I will call him "the NSA-Socrates" and I will consider a few of his opinions, like the following one:

“I found myself wishing that my life would be constantly and completely monitored,” he continued. “It might seem odd that a self-professed libertarian would wish an Orwellian dystopia on himself, but here was my rationale: If people knew a few things about me, I might seem suspicious. But if people knew everything about me, they’d see they had nothing to fear. This is the attitude I have brought to SIGINT work since then.”

These are the opinions of an eager slave, who loves being a slave.

For consider:Who are the "people" who know "everything" about him? They are certainly not anyone, not everyone, and not most or even a few: these are all and only his own superhuman colleagues and superiors of the NSA, for only these superhumans are allowed to spy on everyone, in secret, and this is also why I call them superhumans: They and only they are allowed to spy on everyone, anonymously, in secret, and with special clearances from the government.

It is also for this reason I call the NSA-Socrates an eager slave: He must totally trust the wisdom, the integrity, the insight, the knowledge and the moral character of the superhumans he wants to know "everything" about him, for otherwise he must be a silly fool.

Then again, what I wrote in the last two paragraphs was merely what follows from a literal understanding of his claims, and that is probably not correct, for what the NSA-Socrates is really doing is propagandizing the NSA view of how mankind is supposed to feel to his NSA colleagues.

Here is some more:

“We tend to mistrust what we do not understand well,” he noted. “A target that has no ill will to the U.S., but which is being monitored, needs better and more monitoring, not less. So if we’re in for a penny, we need to be in for a pound.”

Again this is pure baloney without any evidence, that seems in fact a somewhat more polite statement of the NSA's desire to know everything about everybody,
which in turn is what every totalitarian secret police organization (like the NSA)
does desire, and not out of interest, but to control everyone.

Here is a comment by Peter Maass (who is a journalist, but not a philosopher):

I wanted to know more about Socrates, but one of the asymmetric oddities of the NSA is that the agency permits itself to know whatever it wants to know about any of us, yet does everything it can to prevent us from knowing anything about the men and women who surveil us, aside from a handful of senior officials who function as the agency’s public face. An NSA spokesperson refused to confirm that Socrates even worked there. “I don’t have anything to provide for your research,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Yes, indeed - but this "assymmetric oddity" is precisely the reason I call them superhumans: they did arrogate themselves the powers of God and the angels,
or indeed of Satan and his angels.

I have two more quotes, both for a specific reason. Here is the first:

The blog consists of more than 20,000 words Socrates wrote about his failed effort, before joining the NSA, to earn a living as a writer. As he explained in often bitter and personal detail, he reluctantly went from starving writer to salaried spy. Instead of creating fictional characters, he spied on real ones. It dawned on me: coming from the world of books and words rather than technology and code, Socrates represented a post-modern version of the literary eavesdropper.

There is considerably more about the NSA-Socrates, but I selected this because I think Peter Maass is probably correct in identifying the NSA-Socrates as a postmodernist: Postmodernists do not believe truth exists. What they do believe - other than in their own supreme self-importance - is unclear, but I am willing to believe that the NSA-Socrates has a strong faith that his own superhuman colleagues and superhuman superiors mean well, are moral, and are entitled to know absolutely everything (in secret, anonymously) about absolutely everyone.

The last quotation I have is this:

If the original Socrates of ancient Greece were still around, he would probably suggest that it is morally compromising to conduct surveillance on people who have done no harm — no matter whether the surveillance is carried out by a philosopher in a robe, a journalist with a laptop, or an intelligence agency with a $10 billion budget. Surveillance, as a word, is a cleaned-up version of voyeurism, and whether state-sponsored or editor-approved, it’s creepy to carry out, and probably futile in most cases.

Yes and no. I agree with the beginning, but I think "voyeurism" is too soft, too kind, too limited a word, because it generally connotes an interest in seeing sexual things, and that also possibly with the ones viewed knowing they are viewed.

It is plain spying, and it is spying on everything, nearly always without any legitimate reason: sexual things, financial things, health things, work-related things, ideas, values, orientations, religions, friendships, family-relations, plans, illnesses - the superhuman spies of the NSA want and read it all, anonymously and in secret.

But this is an interesting article, which is recommended (though you will in fact learn no philosophy from it).

2. The Teflon Toxin - DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception

The next article is by Sharon Lerner on The Intercept:
This is basically a long read about a chemical, called C8, and DuPont, a corporation that manufactures it:
UNTIL RECENTLY, FEW PEOPLE had heard much about chemicals like C8. One of tens of thousands of unregulated industrial chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — also called C8 because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone — had gone unnoticed for most of its eight or so decades on earth, even as it helped cement the success of one of the world’s largest corporations.
There is also this:
Over the past 15 years, as lawyers have been waging an epic legal battle — culminating as the first of approximately 3,500 personal injury claims comes to trial in September — a long trail of documents has emerged that casts new light on C8, DuPont, and the fitful attempts of the Environmental Protection Agency to deal with a threat to public health.

This story is based on many of those documents, which until they were entered into evidence for these trials had been hidden away in DuPont’s files. Among them are write-ups of experiments on rats, dogs, and rabbits showing that C8 was associated with a wide range of health problems that sometimes killed the lab animals. Many thousands of pages of expert testimony and depositions have been prepared by attorneys for the plaintiffs. And through the process of legal discovery they have uncovered hundreds of internal communications revealing that DuPont employees for many years suspected that C8 was harmful and yet continued to use it, putting the company’s workers and the people who lived near its plants at risk.

And there is a lot more, which I will leave to your interests.

The two reasons this article is here are these:

(1) it illustrates quite well that no one can trust corporations like DuPont: They
     always let their own financial interests determine their responses; they introduce a great amount of chemicals in the air, the water and the food; and
nearly all of the long term effects or the interactions of these chemicals with
other chemicals are vastly under-researched (so to speak); and
(2) I am ill now since 1.I.1979 with a mysterious disease, that started with an
     Epstein-Barr infection, that never went away, and that so far has not been
explained, but yes: it is quite possible that my disease (and that of my ex)
may have been (co-)caused by some of the myriads of chemicals that chemical
companies like Dupont have put in the air, the water and the food, and that
were mostly absent 50 or 100 years ago.

3. China stuns financial markets by devaluing yuan for second day running

The next article is by Martin Farrar and Fergus Ryan on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

China stunned the world’s financial markets on Wednesday by devaluing the yuan for the second consecutive day, triggering fears the world’s second largest economy is in worse shape than investors believed.

The move sent fresh shockwaves through global markets, pushing shares sharply lower and sending commodity prices further into reverse as traders feared the move could ignite a currency war that would destabilise the world economy.

There were widespread losses in Asia, and in Europe stock markets suffered falls of about 1%, with the FTSE 100 tumbling almost 2% at one stage.

The Chinese currency hit a four-year low on Wednesday after the People’s Bank of China set the yuan’s daily midpoint even weaker than in Tuesday’s devaluation.

There is considerably more in the article, but the above is a decent summary.

It is important because China has an enormous economy, and its economic rises and falls are also followed - to an extent - in European and American stock exchanges.

Sweden and Ecuador edge closer to end of Julian Assange standoff

The next article is by David Crouch and Esther Addley on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

Sweden has offered to negotiate an agreement with Ecuador to enable Swedish prosecutors to interview Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, potentially ending the standoff between the two countries but almost certainly too late to prevent some allegations against the WikiLeaks founder from expiring.

Sweden’s government had agreed to open direct talks with Ecuador to explore the possibility of “a general agreement” on legal assistance in criminal matters, the Swedish justice ministry said.

“The coming discussions will show if this is a way forward,” said Cecilia Riddselius, the senior justice ministry official responsible for the case.

I say. To start with, here is some background: On August 1, 2015 I reviewed an article by John Pilger, Kafka-like Persecution of Julian Assange, that you may well read before continueing with this article. I grant Pilger's article is written by a strong supporter of Assange, but that does not mean that his facts are biased.

Next to the present article (on the supposition that either you've read the last mentioned article, or know at least a bit more about Julian Assange (<- Wikipedia)): Ms Riddselius still seems to feel that she has all the time in the world, even though Assange still has no formal complaint lodged against him:

Assange is wanted for questioning over allegations of sex crimes in Stockholm in August 2010, but has resisted extradition to Sweden citing fears that he could be transferred to the US to face espionage charges. He has repeatedly requested that he be questioned in London. He has not been charged with any offence.

There is one good thing and one bad thing I can see. First the good thing:

The statute of limitations on allegations of unlawful coercion and one count of sexual molestation, made against Assange by two Swedish women, expires on Thursday, and on one count of sexual molestation next Tuesday.

Next the bad thing:

An outstanding allegation against Assange of “rape, less serious crime” remains current under Swedish law until August 2020.

Note that this is an allegation that is rejected by Assange.

But from the past three years - Assange has been locked up in the Ecuadorian Embassy for more than three years now - in which the Swedes moved like treacle in high frost, I wouldn't be amazed if they are willing to stretch it for five more years, of course meanwhile hoping there will be another Ecuadorian government with other policies and values.

For Assange's real "crime" is that he has published truths that the American government thinks the people should not know.

5. Where did the principle of secrecy in correspondence go?

The last article is by Shawn Powers on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:
Privacy as a legal construct is relatively recent. Until Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis penned their famous 1890 essay “The Right to Privacy”, private information was protected from disclosure and surveillance by another name: the secrecy of correspondence. Perhaps ironically, the right to secrecy has long been considered sacrosanct – both in domestic and international communications – a fundamental precondition for the honest and free flow of ideas and information and the development of a mature international political system. The right to have secrets, despite centuries of legal lineage and a firm grounding in democratic theory, remains elusive in an era of ubiquitous digital communication (and hackers hell-bent on outing Ashley Madison subscribers). But it is central to the vitality of democratic and international governance.
There is a lot more, but I will only quote three bits.

The first is about how things were before there was internet:

Mail, on the other hand, is considered a specific transmission of information between two or more people, and is afforded robust protections from government intrusions on the content of the messages. The content of telephone calls, too, is typically considered private, unless they take place in a public place. International treaties and organizations continue to ensure the secrecy of correspondence, as long as that correspondence takes place via traditional, twentieth-century means of communicating. So why wouldn’t analogous attempts to communicate, when taking place via the internet, be afforded similar types of protections?
The answer is, in the end, mostly this: Because Bush and Cheney thought 9/11, which happened while the internet was growing rapidly, was a golden opport- unity to let their spies spy on  everything, which they again did by signing away such rights as Americans had (by means of the Patriot Act and others, some
also secret) and by pretending new means of communication gave them the
freedom to declare everything that was done on them as public and open to inspection by their secret spies.

This was all a lie, but they were helped by several things, and two were Google and Facebook (and others):
Targeted advertising accounts for the vast majority of internet revenue. It is a technique incompatible with the principle of secrecy of correspondence. If correspondence (and browsing) remained secret, internet companies couldn’t promise advertisers that their ads will be effective. Advertisers would thus revert to traditional mass-communication platforms to reach their potential consumers.
Personally, I hate liars, I abhor advertisers and public relations degenerates,
and I think targeted advertising is deeply criminal precisely because it denies any and all privacy to me in order to give rich assholes "the right" to address their lies and propaganda to me.

But OK - perhaps that set of values is in a minority position in the population in which I live.

Even so, I think the situation that existed before the internet was there, was quite good (though I did see and hear far too many advertisements), and I think it must be maintained if only to deny the systematic manipulation of the majority by secret spies of their own or other governments.

And yes: the only means to maintain it is to encrypt everything.

I think this also may be the conclusion the writer of the article draws, except that she is a bit more coy. Here is the end of the article:
(...) perhaps it is time to consider expanding our definition of internet freedom to include a guarantee of secrecy of correspondence. Such a move may, at a minimum, provide the historical context for protecting the integrity of online communications and establish a path forward for a shared, global, and democratically inclined internet.
I agree, though I add that another reason is that an internet controlled and manipulated by secret spies and secret advertisers will be extremely ugly, and
almost certainly will lead to absolute dictatorships like the GDR, except that
this time the secret spies of the government really will know everything.

[1] Indeed, to the best of my knowledge I am the only person since WW II who has been removed from a Dutch university because of his opinions. Also, the UvA has since not replied so extremely many times to my letters, mails and site, just like the City of Amsterdam that I think this is an intentional policy of both institutions, both of which are still run (since 1948 also) by prominent members of the Dutch "Labour Party" (which is now a Blairite "New Labour", mostly run by millionaires or billionaires - from the very rich Cohen and Asscher families - for their own profit, and to further the legally/illegal selling of - soft - drugs in Holland (where it is illegal and is - since 1986 - "personally protected" by mayors, who are mostly from Dutch "New Labour", who will all reply, with a very sincere face, that they do not earn anything while contributing to the safe and undisturbed sales of at least 10 billion dollars in Dutch soft drugs every year, and it is quite possible several believe them).

[2] In case you doubt this: I only know Buddha, Confucius, Aristotle, Aquinas and Marx who had an influence that was as widespread and as lasting. But sure, the NSA knows everything, so these spies also must have the equivalent of a Socrates....(not really, of course, but that is just my point: the whole question is much more in the realm of propaganda/public relations than in the realm of facts).

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