November 13, 2015
Crisis: Snowden, Securus Insecure, Stiglitz On Obama, Stingrays, American Wars
 "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


Edward Snowden Explains How To Reclaim Your
2. Not So Securus
3. "A Very Big Mistake": Joseph Stiglitz Slams Obama
     for Pushing the TPP

4. Data-Grabbing ‘Stingrays’ Are Attacking Our Civil

5. American War in the 21st Century: A Scam, a Swindle
     and a Fraud


This is a Nederlog of Friday, November 13, 2015.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links (and some more links in item 1): Item 1 is about an interview with Edward Snowden who explains what one can do to try to retain some privacy on the internet; item 2 is about a major breach in security with Securus, which turns out to have recorded very many phone conversations of people imprisoned in the US, including their - supposedly private - conversations with their lawyers; item 3 is about an interview with Joseph Stiglitz, who insists - rather amazingly, in my eyes - that Obama doesn't understand the TPP (which he very much supports): I can't believe Stiglitz; item 4 is about the very great use of Stingrays - that steal data about your phone conversations, and may also download the conversations - that is made by the American police; and item 5 is about an article by Tom Engelhardt that outlines how very much American taxpayer money was wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 Edward Snowden Explains How To Reclaim Your Privacy 

The first item today is by Micah Lee on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

LAST MONTH, I met Edward Snowden in a hotel in central Moscow, just blocks away from Red Square. It was the first time we’d met in person; he first emailed me nearly two years earlier, and we eventually created an encrypted channel to journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, to whom Snowden would disclose overreaching mass surveillance by the National Security Agency and its British equivalent, GCHQ.

Actually, Snowden first mailed Lee nearly three years ago, but OK. Here is some more on the interview that makes up most of the text of the article:

He and I mutually agreed that our interview would focus more on nerdy computer talk and less on politics, because we’re both nerds and not many of his interviews get to be like that. I believe he wanted to use our chats to promote cool projects and to educate people.

OK. Here is a summary of the points covered (my summary) with some links provided:

Encrypt your phone calls and e-mails: Signal
Encrypt your harddisk: encrypting your disk
Use a password manager: KeePassX
Two-factor authorization: Two-factor authorization  
Non-persistent operating system:
Tails (operating system)
Use adblock software:

There is a lot more in the article, which is well done and recommended. Here are a few bits selected from the rest:

We should not live lives as if we are electronically naked.
We should armor ourselves using systems we can rely on every day. This doesn’t need to be an extraordinary lifestyle change. It doesn’t have to be something that is disruptive. It should be invisible, it should be atmospheric, it should be something that happens painlessly, effortlessly. This is why I like apps like Signal, because they’re low friction. It doesn’t require you to re-order your life. It doesn’t require you to change your method of communications. You can use it right now to talk to your friends.
This is mainly about how it should be. I agree, but it is not - by far - as easy as it should be, and one illustration is that Signal can be used on iOS and Android (both of which I do not have, while GPG is rather a pain, in part probably because of the e-mail service I have to use).

But OK - these are facts of life. Here is Snowden on Tor:
Snowden: I think Tor is the most important privacy-enhancing technology project being used today. I use Tor personally all the time. We know it works from at least one anecdotal case that’s fairly familiar to most people at this point. That’s not to say that Tor is bulletproof. What Tor does is it provides a measure of security and allows you to disassociate your physical location. …
I agree. Here is one reason why privacy is important:
What we do need to protect are the facts of our activities, our beliefs, and our lives that could be used against us in manners that are contrary to our interests.
Tell no one who doesn’t need to know.
Put otherwise: Because it is now for the first time in human history that secret services have secret access and secret knowledge on absolutely everyone, that in nearly all cases covers everything they do - write, say, store - with a computer. This gives incredible power to the secret few, which no one else has, and that will very probably be abused in every possible way, if the last 2500 years of history give any clue to how power may be abused.

Here is what your computer does for you (which nothing ever did for anyone at any time before 1995):
If you interact with the internet … the typical methods of communication today betray you silently, quietly, invisibly, at every click. At every page that you land on, information is being stolen. It’s being collected, intercepted, analyzed, and stored by governments, foreign and domestic, and by companies. You can reduce this by taking a few key steps. Basic things. If information is being collected about you, make sure it’s being done in a voluntary way.

There is a lot more, and this is a recommended article.

2. Not So Securus

The second item today is by Jordan Smith and Micah Lee on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:

AN ENORMOUS CACHE of phone records obtained by The Intercept reveals a major breach of security at Securus Technologies, a leading provider of phone services inside the nation’s prisons and jails. The materials — leaked via SecureDrop by an anonymous hacker who believes that Securus is violating the constitutional rights of inmates — comprise over 70 million records of phone calls, placed by prisoners to at least 37 states, in addition to links to downloadable recordings of the calls. The calls span a nearly two-and-a-half year period, beginning in December 2011 and ending in the spring of 2014.

Particularly notable within the vast trove of phone records are what appear to be at least 14,000 recorded conversations between inmates and attorneys, a strong indication that at least some of the recordings are likely confidential and privileged legal communications — calls that never should have been recorded in the first place. The recording of legally protected attorney-client communications — and the storage of those recordings — potentially offends constitutional protections, including the right to effective assistance of counsel and of access to the courts.

There is a whole lot more, but the above gives the essence: Conversations between people who are accused or convicted and their lawyers are no longer secret in the USA.

This is another recommended article, both for the message in the previous paragraph, and because it shows that (1) anything that passes through a computer can be used to track the computer's user (apart from steps one might take to prevent this, as outlined in item 1) and (2) it is very probable that both the secret services of many governments and the secret services that are in fact used by Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc. etc. (very many more) try to track, trace and store anything anyone does with a computer or a cellphone, simply because this can be done, and the commercial companies make money doing it.

3. "A Very Big Mistake": Joseph Stiglitz Slams Obama for Pushing the TPP

The third item today is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!:

This starts as follows, and the two reasons this is here is that it is about the TPP and that I find it very difficult to believe Joseph Stiglitz's quaint belief that the president of the USA (a former professor of law) does not know what he is doing when he plugs the TPP.

The article starts as follows:
As Congress debates the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we speak to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz about the trade deal. "The irony is that the president came out and said, 'This is about who makes the trade rules—China or the United States?'" Stiglitz said. "But I think the big issue is, this is about who makes the rules of trade—the American people, our democratic process, or the corporations? And who they’re made for, which is, for the corporations or for all of us?"
Yes, but I find it very odd to see that Joseph Stiglitz seems to accuse the president of the USA of incompetence, for he does accuse him of the fact that he does not know what the TPP is, while he very actively supported it.

But first there is this on the American middle class:
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Yeah, so, in a sense, what you see both in the Republican and Democratic Party is a sense that something is wrong. You know, America was the first middle-class society. We’re about to become the first society that ceases to be a middle-class society. The basic requirements of being a member of the middle class—the ability to send your kids to school, a secure retirement—all those things are being put in jeopardy.
I agree that the American middle class is disappearing (as is quite clear from a superficial glance at the income inequalities in the USA). But I don't think the politicians of the Republican and Democratic Party can be relied upon or trusted (for one thing, many of them are millionaires; for another, they talk very much more with lobbyists than with voters).

Here is some more on the TPP:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: (...) TPP, I think, is a very big mistake. On the other—

AMY GOODMAN: It means corporations control trade, as opposed to democratic societies and their governments?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: Exactly, and particularly as we move away from lowering tariffs, which is what the old trade deals—these are about regulations. And yes, regulations maybe have—so many regulations have to be harmonized, they have to be changed. But you can’t leave that up to corporations.
What amazes me is that somebody who won the Nobel Prize in economics cannot convince himself that a secret treaty (as it was, till very briefly ago) that evidently is designed by the lawyers of the big multi-national corporations to make the multi-national corporations as rich and as powerful as they can be, can present this as a mistake.

But Stiglitz does (or at least: he says he does):

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t think President Obama understands that?


Really now? How incompetent does he think Obama is? And how very dishonest does he think a president is who strongly supports what he doesn't understand? According to the 4th living economist, and one of 100 most powerful persons in the world (in 2011, according to Time magazine)?

Here is a final exchange, that also is a bit odd:

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: (...) I mean, our basic idea is that over the past 35 years we’ve rewritten the rules in ways that have weakened labor power, increased the financial sector power. There’s been a rebalancing of the power in the wrong way. And TPP—

AMY GOODMAN: What happened 35 years ago? Reagan?

JOSEPH STIGLITZ: President Reagan, but he was part of a zeitgeist, because you see it in Europe going on at the same time. And let me just say, TPP is another example of rewriting the rules in the wrong way. It’s a continuation of that trend that began back in around 1980 that has increased the imbalance and made things more difficult. (...) But realize that we rewrote the rules in ways that destroyed the kind of balance of power that we had.

Stiglitz is right it started in 1979/1980, when Thatcher and Reagan were elected in Great Britain and the USA, and he is also right that there have been 35 years of "weakened labor power, [and] increased (...) financial sector power."

But - according to Stiglitz - the president of the United States doesn't understand this. (?!)

Besides, he also says that "
we rewrote the rules in ways that destroyed the kind of balance of power that we had". No, definitely not: I wasn't asked anything, and hardly any American was asked anything either.

It was all done by the very few, who also were very rich; it was mostly done in secret or with minimal publicity; and it was all done to make the rich and the powerful even richer and much more powerful.

Also, I think all of this is rather easy to get (also apart from one's values and preferences) for anybody who studied the papers the last years.

So no, I cannot convince myself that Stiglitz is honest when excuses Obama - it seems to me - for being incompetent (he doesn't understand) and dishonesty (he nevertheless strongly supported what he doesn't understand).

I think Obama is dishonest, but he quite well understands what he is dishonest about, and whom he is dishonest for: The big multi-national corporations and banks that are going to profit (and have profited) from all the deregulations that were introduced since Reagan.

Data-Grabbing ‘Stingrays’ Are Attacking Our Civil Liberties

The fourth item today is by Thor Benson on Truthdig:

This starts as follows:

A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that Michigan police have been using portable cellphone tracking devices—so-called Stingrays and Kingfish among them—to investigate crimes since 2006. These devices are designed to imitate cell phone towers in order to gather metadata from cellphones in their vicinity. Police departments claimed to have purchased the equipment as a counterterrorism measure, but in fact it has been used for 128 “run-of-the-mill” investigations in Michigan, including burglaries and robberies.

One reason this is concerning is that police agencies have been required to sign contracts with Harris Corp., the company that makes the devices, saying they will not reveal they are using them. The devices are being used by police departments across the country, as well as the IRS.

Note that there are at least 57 state agencies and a dozen federal agencies who use these devices that simply steal most or all private data from cell phones:

“We [now] have a much better handle on the incredible magnitude of use and proliferation of this technology,” Nathan Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology, told Truthdig. “We now know of 57 state and local agencies and more than a dozen federal agencies that have bought these devices, and surely there are many more that have bought them or are borrowing them,” he said.

There is considerably more in the article, that ends as follows (in case you were somewhat less worried when you read they gather metadata):
According to a report on the website Wired, Stingray can actually record conversations, rather than just picking up metadata.

“I sort of suspect what we’re learning about now is from two or three generations ago,” Northrup said.

Abuse of new technology clearly is putting defense lawyers and defendants at a disadvantage, one that is both unfair and contrary to the law of the land. Advances in science and technology need to correlate with the continuing protection of civil liberties, and perhaps the only way that will happen is one court case at a time.

Also, you need to consider item 2: The conversations between lawyers and their clients, that are supposed to be private, were recorded and downloaded (at least) many thousands of times.

American War in the 21st Century: A Scam, a Swindle and a Fraud

The fifth and last item today is by Tom Engelhardt on Truthdig (and originally on TomDispatch):
This starts as follows:

Let’s begin with the $12 billion in shrink-wrapped $100 bills, Iraqi oil money held in the U.S.  The Bush administration began flying it into Baghdad on C-130s soon after U.S. troops entered that city in April 2003.  Essentially dumped into the void that had once been the Iraqi state, at least $1.2 to $1.6 billion of it was stolen and ended up years later in a mysterious bunker in Lebanon.  And that’s just what happened as the starting gun went off.

It’s never ended.  In 2011, the final report of the congressionally mandated Commission on Wartime Contracting estimated that somewhere between $31 billion and $60 billion taxpayer dollars had been lost to fraud and waste in the American “reconstruction” of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that is just the beginning. Here is some more, including how the Marshall Plan (of the 1950ies) compares with the money invested in - just - Afghanistan:
Clearly, Washington had gone to war like a drunk on a bender, while the domestic infrastructure began to fray.  At $109 billion by 2014, the American reconstruction program in Afghanistan was already, in today’s dollars, larger than the Marshall Plan (which helped put all of devastated Western Europe back on its feet after World War II) and still the country was a shambles. In Iraq, a mere $60 billion was squandered on the failed rebuilding of the country.  Keep in mind that none of this takes into account the staggering billions spent by the Pentagon in both countries to build strings of bases, ranging in size from American towns (with all the amenities of home) to tiny outposts.  There would be 505 of them in Iraq and at least 550 in Afghanistan.  Most were, in the end, abandoned, dismantled, or sometimes simply looted.
There is also this:
Take the Pentagon-CIA program to train thousands of carefully vetted “moderate” Syrian rebels, equip them, arm them, and put them in the field to fight the Islamic State.  Congress ponied up $500 million for it, $384 million of which was spent before that project was shut down as an abject failure.  By then, less than 200 American-backed rebels had been trained and even less put into the field in Syria—and they were almost instantly kidnapped or killed, or they simply handed over their equipment to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.  At one point, according to the congressional testimony of the top American commander in the Middle East, only four or five American-produced rebels were left “in the field.”  The cost-per-rebel sent into Syria, by the way, is now estimated at approximately $2 million.
And that was just a brief selection from 3 rather amazing pages, that are recommended reading, and especially if you disagree with the title.

P.S. Nov 14, 2015: Reformatted.

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