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My Life Unmasking British Eavesdroppers (firstlook.org)
309 points by aarkay on Aug 3, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

Back when I was a kid, Enemy of the State was not a documentary.

But really, if you cared about Privacy/Security at all since the 80's you'd've known about Echelon, Echelon II, etc. You've also read up on ThinThread and Trailblazer.

My favorite is the No Such Agency adjunct that pulled like $200m a year in funding with 3 people in the division. Well and this patch: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Logo_of_... quite literally the greatest US Gov't Patch of all time.

The dystopian film of the late 90's I recall being most frequently cited as a glimpse at our future was "GATTACA". While that portrayal may one day come to pass, it doesn't feel like something immediately dangerous.

"Enemy of the State" wasn't a particularly great film at the time it was released, but these days it feels remarkably prescient. We've willingly accepted an eerily similar world to live in, and we have to place an awful lot of trust into those at the helm...

For some reason Gattaca doesn't seem like that much of a dystopia. Poverty and disease are largely conquered. It's a harsh future that fosters alienation (or there wouldn't be much of a movie), yet the problems of that world seem fewer than those of today.

I didn't ever figure out why it was 'distopian'. Guy with a heart condition was cheating to get in an astronaut program. Disguised his cheating by playing on folks sympathy for a natural-born citizen (vs genetically designed). He was a real conniving bastard, through and through.

It's never really made completely clear if he actually has a heart condition or whether his genes just predict one.

Eugenics. How may society adapt to genomics.

Gattaca society used your genes determine your worth, your opportunities, our future. Stuff like nature vs nurture, triumph of an individual over prejudice, the apathy of genetic winners, etc.

Like Brave New World, it appeals to (most of) our distaste for treating people differently based on their class. Meritocracy and all that.

Sure I get all that. But that theme was poisoned by the fact that, he should not have been in the astronaut program, because heart condition. Which leaves him just a lying cheat, and not sympathetic.

He didn't have a heart condition, that was the whole point, congrats on an epic whoosh.

" high probability of several disorders and an estimated life span of 30.2 years"

I've always been partial to this one: https://i.imgur.com/XaIWseY.jpg

Sure, that's a great example of classic Bond-villain-like appeal, but I still have to recognize the design team who pushed this work of an entirely different level of greatness through committee approval:



The text translates to: "Better the devil that you know".

A 2006 Italian movie, "In ascolto" ( The Listening ) [1] [2] [3] presents a much more realistic plot.

[1] The Listening (film)


[2] NYT Review


[3] Trailer - The Listening (2006)


Wow, an Italian film on Echelon starring Michael Parks and I didn't know the first thing about it... Thanks for the tip!

Back when I was a kid, Enemy of the State was not a documentary.

No, but The Conversation might have been.

They spelled "Semper Villains" wrong.

I remember the Zircon affair quite vividly. At the time I was a 20 year old student union activist, CND member (still a member) and involved in the Scottish independence movement (SNP member when it was unfashionable).

A couple of days after BBC Scotland was raided by Special Branch a bunch of us attended a viewing of the "banned" Secret Society "Zircon" programme in Edinburgh in the City Chambers (I think). Duncan Campbell was present and gave a short introduction. It was a positively electrifying event. I managed to get hold of a copy of the episode for distribution and viewing at my college. It was handed to me in a jiffy bag, the VHS video cassette was labelled "Mickey Mouse", I think I have it in a box somewhere.

Is this[1] the programme you refer to?

[1]: https://vimeo.com/44948377

At 19:19 it's hilarious - British Aerospace gave the game away about the 3rd "Skynet" satellite being at 53deg East instead of where it should be, then that info was rescinded in later releases (showing it was important), then the centre for tracking the Skynet satellites (in this segment) only has 2 tracking dishes.

British SigInt were really, really bad at lying it seems.

Or, was this just the diversion ...

Also worth a watch, Mr Campbell himself giving a talk at The Register Christmas Lecture:


Yes, that's the one. Seems like a storm in a teacup now.

I've been looking for a copy of that for ages - thank you!

The problem with Echalon-type programs today is cultural. They were/are intelligence operations. But today "intelligence" has grown to encompass criminal investigations and targeted, violent, operations such as drone strikes.

An intelligence operation does not need to be 100% accurate. Huge volumes of less-than-perfect data are examined by experts who then issue reports, opinions, on what is actually happening. The top report would be the sort of things included in a president's daily briefing. That was basic cold-war intelligence.

Today's leaders expect surveillance to be absolute. They don't want "and increased likelihood of attack", they want "Mr. Smith will be onboard flight 123 at 2pm". That's the level you need to send a bunch of cops to lawfully and publicly arrest a specific person and take them to a court for prosecution. Such things require very different methods, methods for which ECHALON was never designed.

> today "intelligence" has grown to encompass criminal investigations

That's a function of changed political objectives. "The enemy" became a liquid definition, purely for political reasons: "Arab terrorism" can easily be redefined as OLP or Taliban or Iran or AQ or IS or or or, keeping the public "at war" indefinitely and impeding scrutiny of reigning confusion in foreign policy. Until that stops, it's politically very difficult to fight calls for "more intelligence to stop our planes blowing up".

Unfortunately, the US (and EU allies, especially France and Britain) have now managed to screw up an entire continent so much, that a clear statement of interest to "reset" this state of things is almost impossible. In comparison, Vietnam and Cambodia were a walk in the park.

The Intercept: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/08/03/life-unmasking...

There's lots of 1998-2001 stuff on cryptome.org :)

Total TFH then. Now, not so much :(

Time seems to have had a way of vindicating at least some tin foil hatters, yet people today are just as ready to dismiss as 'crazy conspiracy theory' any similar extrapolations or speculations.

If you strip off the really genuinely nutty stuff, quite a bit of what I remember reading nutters talk about on places like Usenet alt.conspiracy in the 1990s is now reality. Some of what's now reality would have made them blush. The conspiranoids would have called you crazy if you'd suggested that everyone would be carrying devices that constantly report their location at all times to central servers owned by closely state-connected corporations -- and that people would accept this willingly and even pay out of pocket for these devices themselves.

> If you strip off the really genuinely nutty stuff, quite a bit of what I remember reading nutters talk about on places like Usenet alt.conspiracy in the 1990s is now reality.

well, yeah. if you ignore all the crazy, what's left isn't crazy. why is that surprising?

> The conspiranoids would have called you crazy if you'd suggested that everyone would be carrying devices that constantly report their location at all times

would they? that seems like a pretty obvious consequence of carrying a cell phone.

maybe my recollection is different, but i don't think people were saying "the government reads your email" was a crazy idea. they were saying "the government reads your email on their secret moon base staffed by hitler clones" was a crazy idea.

if you want to make the argument that the hatters were right all along but were wrongly dismissed, find a specific claim that was made, and a specific counterclaim. these "right all along" discussions always slide into unfalsifiable generalities and strawmen.

> well, yeah. if you ignore all the crazy, what's left isn't crazy. why is that surprising?

Come on, you gave an example of "really genuinely nutty stuff" yourself: '"the government reads your email on their secret moon base staffed by hitler clones"'.

I'm not saying I agree with GP exactly, but you're strawmanning it into a tautology when you seem to know exactly what was really meant.

I am saying that theories without predictive power are generally worthless. (this is true in many fields.)

it is not enough to be right all along. if you want to be credible, you need to avoid being wrong all along, too.

real example. the theory that the NSA secretly poisoned the DES s-boxes to introduce a backdoor. People insisted that's what happened without any evidence. They were wrong all along. Later, when dual-EC came along, I think people were a little skeptical it was really a backdoor precisely because of the DES story.

My issue is that if you dug through all the claims you found the ones OP was talking about and thought "this isn't actually implausible" and if you go a step further and check some sources, it's not for certain but there's enough evidence to be compelling. Yet you would only hear about these things mixed in with the nutty ideas, I guess because it was disreputable to even talk about the government having certain kinds of secrets. Post-Snowden this attitude seems to have been reduced.

> would they? that seems like a pretty obvious consequence of carrying a cell phone.

Cell phones didn't always have GPS. "Closest cell tower" is less scary than "Within two metres"

you could get quite close just from triangulation

"if you ignore all the crazy, what's left isn't crazy."

That's exactly what I'm saying.

If you ignore all the crazy, the stuff that's left was stuff that almost nobody else was saying: that there was some kind of "conspiracy" to implement a total surveillance state (PRISM and friends, and location-aware phones), that in the future the middle class was going to be destroyed and the world enslaved to the service of a tiny elite (the "sharing economy" of non-employees with no benefits), fascism is coming back (too many examples to list), corporations with shadowy "deep state" links will rule the Earth (TPP), etc.

Remember that this was in the post-cold-war 1990s when everything was getting better, a rising tide would lift all boats, and freedom was going to ring. This was before 9/11, the great housing hyperinflation, the 2008 crash and the great stagnation, or our experiment at bringing democracy to Iraq ended with ISIS.

Polite establishment intellectuals weren't saying those things. Only crazies were, and the crazies were largely right. Maybe they were bat shit crazy about the underlying mechanisms, but they were right about where things were going.

IMHO a lot of conspiracy nuts are actually very perceptive and intelligent. They've got good pattern recognition circuits going. The problem is that they've got poor epistemology. They're not very careful thinkers, and they're often a bit uneducated and inexperienced about how the world really works. As a result they tend to force-fit their observations and extrapolations onto silly cartoonish models of how the world works. The observations are correct, but the models are not.

This is coupled with the fact that being loony outsiders, they have no reputation or political street cred to protect. They don't have to care about offending their superiors because they have none, and they aren't afraid of damaging their reputation because there's nowhere to go but up from 'fringe lunatic.' As a result, they can tell the truth insofar as they can point out trends nobody else wants to look at. According to Pravda grain production is only going up!

Just replace the word "conspiracy" with "emergent behavior in a complex system" and re-read all that stuff.

There is no Illuminati, but there is an "old boy network" where favors are traded for favors and corruption breeds. There is no New World Order per se, but there is a complex global economic system full of paradoxes and feedback loops and perverse incentives that behaves very much like one, and we do have corporations so big and complex and entrenched they're almost like a model of what a hostile AI would be like. Put these things together and you get everything the nutters write about minus the funny hats and secret societies.

Then again...


> the middle class was going to be destroyed and the world enslaved to the service of a tiny elite

wait. is this an example of a good theory or a crazy one?

> The flip side of these trends at the top of the wealth ladder is the erosion of wealth among the middle class and the poor. There is a widespread public view across American society that a key structural change in the U.S. economy since the 1920s is the rise of middle-class wealth, in particular because of the development of pensions and the rise in home ownership rates. But our results show that while the share of wealth of the bottom 90 percent of families did gradually increase from 15 percent in the 1920s to a peak of 36 percent in the mid-1980, it then dramatically declined. By 2012, the bottom 90 percent collectively owns only 23 percent of total U.S. wealth, about as much as in 1940 (see Figure 2.)[0]

> The structure of the control network of transnational corporations affects global market competition and financial stability. So far, only small national samples were studied and there was no appropriate methodology to assess control globally. We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.[1]

[0] http://equitablegrowth.org/research/exploding-wealth-inequal...

[1] http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1107/1107.5728v2.pdf

Probably a case where choosing ones words carefully helps. If you told me in the 90s "wealth inequality will increase" I probably would believe you. If you had told me "the world will be enslaved" I would have been skeptical. Saying that you were right all along because, while you said the latter, you really meant the former, sounds like retconning.

True. But I do fear that wealth inequality will go exponential with automation. At least slaves are needed.

If we get real, robust automation, we're not going to see wealth inequality head that way. Or, at least, it's not going to matter as much. When anyone can get automation to do all the things they care about, what's the incentive to work like a dog for your whole life?

Automation is gradually stripping our economic power.

When everything is automated and nobody knows how to build anything anymore, what's the incentive to keep the idle masses fed?

> When anyone can get automation to do all the things they care about ...

Why would it necessarily be "anyone"? If wealth and capitol are concentrated, and wealthy own automated factories, then what will provide income for the rest? Maybe, as Gibson projects, population will crash (the "Jackpot"). If everyone has enough automation, on the other hand, then we get a Vinge-like future.

What makes you think that everyone will have access to automation? Once a substantial part of society does have it the incentive to provide it to more people will wither away because no one who already has power will gain any by doing so.


I wonder how many high-end restaurants and gathering spots are bugged (not necessarily by the gov).

There's conspiracy theory, and there's conspiracy theory. Nazi spacemen from the Moon are obviously bullshit, but there's a heuristic I found to be good at predicting the real stuff that most people still don't recognize and treat as conspiracy - namely, that with technology, if something is possible (i.e. not breaking the laws of physics) and would benefit a group with deep enough pockets, it will be done.

So for example, is reading through most of the e-mail traffic possible? Yes, it is, there are ways to get this data in principle, and algorithms will help you in filtering. Is it useful for a government agency? Obviously. So it is most likely being done. Believing that before Snowden was not tinfoilhattery, it was accepting an obvious conclusion. Lo and behold, now we know for sure it happens.

People still don't get it. I die a little inside every time I see someone genuinly surprised about side-channel attacks like timing, reading the screen from light reflected off a wall, reading keys by power analysis, reading keypresses from accelerometer, etc. It's obvious this can be done and will be done. Computers are not magic boxes, they're made of matter and obey the laws of physics. They interact with the world.

Everything not impossible is inevitable.

I wouldn't go that far. You need both physical possibility and a good reason for doing something. Government dumping fake snow on Georgia is certainly possible, but much too expensive for no real reason whatsoever. Tapping all communications worldwide? Doable and there are parties with enough resources that would benefit greatly, so it's being done.

So a little poetic license, within the realm of reasonableness. :)

> dismiss as 'crazy conspiracy theory'

This is simply a current example of the political strategy known as the paranoid style. Just like the fear about "reds" in McCarthyism and various right-wing groups that used racial fears for political gain, there has been a very succcessful application of the paranoid style against the very idea of investigating the intelligence community.

If you (or anybody else) haven't read it, I suggest reading the original essay[1] on the subject. It may be over 50 year old, but it is probably one of the more important essays for understanding the modern (~post-WW2) American politics and how "conspiracy theory" has been used as a way of rallying people against "the enemy".

[1] http://harpers.org/archive/1964/11/the-paranoid-style-in-ame...

I know quite a bit of conspiracy nuts and I'm sure that some of the stuff they talk about may one day be revealed as true, but that doesn't mean that I will listen to 99% of their bullshit for 1% of potential truth.

Throw enough mud at the wall...

>people today are just as ready to dismiss as 'crazy conspiracy theory' any similar extrapolations or speculations.

Extraordinary claims, extraordinary proof. No exceptions.

Because 99% of the time, those extrapolations or speculations are exactly that - uninformed, paranoid fantasies without any grounding in reality. The ones who turn out to be right are inevitably drowned out by the ones who will believe any conspiracy so long as it seems paranoid enough, and given that signal to noise ratio, skepticism even in the face of vindication seems only right.

I predicted mass surveillance in 2008 and I am not known for jumping on board conspiracy theories. My reasons were that server infrastructure costs are getting lower while elites seek power to control others, and monitoring electronic things seemed like a natural conclusion to me. I was labeled a conspiracy theorist by my own family.

Today, when I bring the Snowden revelations up with my family they say, "well duh, everybody knew that for many years"

facepalm you just can't win. Everything at high levels is shit and corrupt and it will always be that way. Go make yourself a sandwich and be glad we aren't living in anarchy.

Today, when I bring the Snowden revelations up with my family they say, "well duh, everybody knew that for many years"

To be fair, here's a Slashdot story from '98 mentioning Echelon:


I think the wider problem you're coming up against is that hardly anyone cares.

> ...be glad we aren't living in anarchy.

We aren't?

Haven't you been paying attention? We're living in a police state.

Isn't that anarchy of a sort?

Maybe of a very weak sort, if you define anarchy as "lawlessness." Maybe they're two sides of the same coin.

But to me, you can't have a police state without a state, or laws to enforce, or a way for the state to coerce involuntary obedience to those laws (which is what police are theoretically for.) All of these things seem fundamentally non-anarchist in principle.

I think of police states as authoritarian. Maybe there could be a democratic police state. But that would be odd.

Anyway, with anarchism there are voluntary associations. In free-market anarchism, there are private services for defense and contract enforcement. But if wealth is concentrated, such services that serve the wealthy will be far more powerful than those who serve the poor.

In effect, they will be "the police". And so we would have an authoritarian police state.

The police very definitely work for a power structure. Not very anarchic in my book.

I've started to dislike this phrase. Extraordinary is subjective.

Obviously you can trot out edge cases. The claim that extraterrestrials run the US government is quite extraordinary. But edge cases aren't that interesting. Most claims fall somewhere in the middle, and in that case can be called extraordinary or not based on the personal biases of the claimant. Thus "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" becomes a goal-post-moving fallacy in practice.

Personally I don't consider claims about governments wanting to surveil people, economic systems tending to concentrate wealth, or the dystopian potential of supra-national corporate governance to be particularly extraordinary. YMMV.

I considered chemtrails extraordinary. Then I learned about this, on HN of all places: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-military-tested-bacterial....

The majority of chemtrail reports are doofuses seeing contrails, but the rumor mill may have started around a kernel of truth. I've thought about a couple possibilities:

(1) Cloud seeding, either experimental or operational.

(2) Experiments with the injection of aluminum nanoparticles into the upper atmosphere to increase the Earth's albedo as a potential geoengineering solution to climate change. There's some documentation for this if you Google it, and it might look pretty funky to a ground observer.

(3) Other experiments with spraying nanoparticles, such as for radar reflection or to attempt to simulate difficult radar conditions to test stealth-busting radars.

Folklore and wild rumor often starts around a seed crystal of truth. Note that many of the early chemtrails rumors came from the American Southwest, which is where the black project kids play with their toys.

> The majority of chemtrail reports are doofuses seeing contrails, but the rumor mill may have started around a kernel of truth.

Yeah, I'm perfectly aware that most "chemtrails" are just contrails, but I have a feeling now that it might have started around a quite solid kernel of truth.

You know, I used to post this picture as a joke: http://i.imgur.com/MM9YsTM.jpg. Now I realize it's exactly what the US military did in San Francisco.

After WWII, through at least the early 60s, the US military discounted risk quite heavily. Human experimentation with virtually uninformed consent was not uncommon. Knowledge of the effects of radiation exposure, and diagnostic methods, was limited. And so they tested on poor people and prisoners.

I'm not even saying that they did a wrong thing here (I do believe that there are important experiments that can only work when subjects are unaware that they're participating; I don't have a definite opinion on this particular one) - it's just that it's hard to dismiss something as TFH if even the craziest stories turn out to be rooted in truth.

> I do believe that there are important experiments that can only work when subjects are unaware that they're participating ...

Medical experiments? Sure, those were "harmless" bacteria, but maybe a few people died as a result of the test.

But would you believe that indigent cancer patients were given lethal whole-body x-ray exposures, and then observed (without treatment) while they died?

I was thinking more about social experiments than medical ones. A lot of problems with current social science research comes from telling people they're part of a study. Humans change their behavior when they know they're being watched (not to mention selection bias; people who agree to be a part of the study are often a very specific population subset, on the intersection of people with too much free time and the kind of people who like taking part in experiments). I think we need more studies like that infamous Facebook one (the one which media took and turned into an overblown ethical issue) - tweaking something and observing the dynamic response of the system, without the system being aware that it's being explicitly influenced.

It seems to me that in today's environment with what we already know even using the term "conspiracy theory" marks you as a little bit naive.

I'm very reluctant to dismiss anything as tinfoilhattery nowadays. I always thought that people afraid of "chemtrails" are paranoid and believe obviously silly stories. Because why would anyone do that? And then very recently, on HN of all places, I learned that US Government did in fact spray bacteria on their own civilians for biowarfare research purposes, without the public knowing for decades.

It's getting harder to distinguish the crazy from the truth. I still don't believe in faked Moon landing though.

Imagine what actually goes on now.

They intercept just about everything, for sure.

And they apparently do a decent job at triage.

But the false positive paradox is still problematic.[0]

Epidemiology is a bitch ;)

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_positive_paradox

I think it's more interesting to wonder how it's possible for the US to be surprised by movements like ISIS or by random shooters when surveillance is supposed to be total.

Obviously there are many ways in which information can be lost between source and policy. But it's still strange that some events appear to be a complete surprise.

If Snowden and Campbell are correct, they really shouldn't be.

There's the possibility that total electronic surveillance is real and that it's no good at countering the kind of threats it supposedly is used against.

If you want conspiracy, consider this: what impact did the #occupy movement have on the world order? That certainly was more dangerous to the establishment than someone scaring the population with terror attacks.

Or if you believe the official story: who are all the people assassinated with extra-legal (from an international law perspective, anyway) drone strikes in Yemen? Are they enemies of the US?

> what impact did the #occupy movement have on the world order?

Exactly none? People just shouted for a while, maybe burned a few cars, and then they got bored with it. Terror attack on the other hand tend to scare the living shit and every remaining ounce of rational thought out of people. People worldwide supported two wars over 9/11.

It may be total, but there aren't enough resources to process absolutely everything. I'll grant you ISIS, but random shooters? That's hardly a national security threat. When you're running a secret surveillance program you probably don't want to go and tell police about every planned murder you discovered, because at some point people will start asking questions about how you know the things you do (or some Joe Random Officer will decide to disclose your program for a 5 minutes of fame in a late night show interview).

I guess it does work, but they prioritize the threats (possibly still missing some important ones).

Mass surveillance may simply be less useful. There are people that use the fact that 'it works' as an argument pro-surveillance. I don't agree with that argument but it gets used quite frequently. Now imagine how bad it would be if all this mass surveillance went on and it wasn't even effective. That's no way to get a bigger budget next year.

So Snowden and Campbell are likely correct and those that argue that 'it works' could very well be wrong at the same time.

There are two problems with ISIS and surprise:

1. The internet is not (in my guess) as ubiquitous in the Middle East as it is in more developed societies. If you want to monitor everyone in that environment, you're limited to Stasi style personal informants.

2. As information flows up to policy makers, it's transformed, shaded or obscured to fit the world views and agendas of the agencies and individuals "analyzing ans summarizing" it and passing it up.

Total Information Awareness is not for policy makers, it's for spies and law enforcement.

That may well reflect the false positive paradox. Let's say that the US has total surveillance. When they're interested in rare events, they'll be overwhelmed by false positives, unless the rate of false positives is very low. And so they need to check out all of the hits, and that takes time.

I remember an IRC channel about security in the early 2000s. Somehow we started discussing government surveillance, and someone mentioned ECHELON. People's reactions were interesting: most people immediately dismissed it as being "impossible", or "another conspiracy theory".

It makes me sad.

How quickly we forget. Long before that, back in the USENET days, it was a common joke to include a .sig line "for the ECHELON line reader" with a list of words that the presumed NSA computer would match against, like "KGB nuclear anthrax bioweapon" etc. The joke being that if everyone would include these, they would end up having to analyze the entire newsgroup feed.

Heh, there's an emacs command for that too. M-x spook

I took that more as a subversive act, rather than as a joke.

Yeah. The worst part, though, is that a lot of the same people now did a 180 and reside firmly in the "I have nothing to hide" camp. They jumped from dismissing global surveillance as too far-fetched and intrusive for reality straight to dismissing it as a triviality not worthy of further though.

These people have no imagination, that's the problem. They could not imagine the possibilities, which were easily guessable at the time if you knew anything about technology. Now, they cannot imagine the consequences, which are easily guessable if you know anything about people and intelligence agencies.

That's what happens when the ones in charge have a deep understanding of the human mind and how trivial it is to shape it and the ideas/values it contains.

As I said in another thread, unrelated, things like propaganda and by association advertising are unethical at best, it's subversion/coercion on a massive scale, it truly shapes people in something they are not.

And they count on the fact that people reject the fact that they are easily manipulated (applies for me too).

A somewhat philosophical question: what is the endgame here?

Cracking codes was no doubt fundamental to winning the Second World War (and I would imagine all wars since the invention of the Caesar cipher) - but since then the motivation for surveillance appears to have from safeguarding the freedoms and rights of the people to an full-scale assault.

We now have nation-wide surveillance of the British public (and no doubt the people of most other countries), who for the most part couldn't be of less interest if they tried. So what is the motivation for this? What is it about you or I that is so interesting to GCHQ/NSA?

The priority has been the same for hundreds of years: protect the Establishment from "subversives" threatening instability. This includes anyone leaking damaging true information. The grip seems to have loosened in recent years, partly due to overseas media and partly due to the security services genuinely having increasing panic over ISIS and Islamic radicalisation.

What is being concealed? Not just Zircon, but all the persistent allegations of sexual assault on children. A lot of the stories that have surfaced include elements of either the Metropolitan police or MI5 taking over the files and then "losing" them or silently shutting down the inquiry.

It's not a popular opinion, but what they are interested in is silencing and curbing any attempt to attack the current system, regardless of the merit and legitimacy of the "attackers" ( by that I mean activists, journalists, ...), they want to defend their position of power using all means necessary while pretending it's for "freedom & democracy"™.

Their repeated attacks on the press, the persecution (at time violent, if not deadly) of activists/journalists, the illegal wars, the financing of terrorism, protection of known paedophiles,... The list of fucked up shit they pull is so long I personally have lost faith of anyone -in significant numbers- caring, because if you don't care right now, you'll never do.

It's called COINTELPRO. Just like "total information awareness", the program didn't really end; it was simply broken up and renamed.

Great insight into how free-speech, freedom of press and privacy laws work and have evolved on both sides of the Atlantic. Having lived on either end of the pond as an average citizen, I know the American Press enjoys greater and truer freedom. They hold the legislators accountable. The British press, on the other hand, felt malleable, made to bend any which way the government choose. The BBC creates invaluable programming, but also is bound to the government by the purse. It always felt like the government meddled with its affairs. And now some great to get some historical context into it as well!

"Since then, the program has largely been presented to the public only through posts on government surveillance/conspiracy forum..." ------ I guess the conspiracy theorists weren't that crazy after all.

First learned about ECHELON in Robert Ludlum's Bourne series: http://bourne.wikia.com/wiki/ECHELON The key difference being that this is trunk VOIP ingestion, not the more sinister PRISM and TURMOIL stuff which is much more invasive

This page will reliably kill X.Org X Server 1.7.6 regardless of the browser used to render it.

OK on xorg-server-1.9.5 which is pretty old. What GNU/Linux are you using? Debian Squeeze?

> The next morning, as the New Statesman hit newsstands, I went early to Parliament to meet a friend and supporter, an MP named Robin Cook. He led me to a sanctuary in Parliament, where I could stay long enough to avoid being served by the authorities and get our story out safely.

Robin Cook was one of the good guys.

Interesting to know about a remaining enclave of asylum after our discussion recently: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9951283

Historically GCHQ has had a strong relationship and support from British government and politicians at government level probably reinforced by the 'troubles'. Mrs Thatcher altered the culture of the rank and file GCHQ staff by removing union representation and replacing it with a 'staff association'.

The original source link with the new content:


Yes. Url changed from http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/03/uncovering-echelon-the-top-..., which points to this.

A Moral Thesis in Defense of Surveillance

People talk about civil freedoms, and they incorrectly attribute lack of surveillance the status of a civil freedom. Freedom from observation is not freedom, freedom from incorrect enforcement is freedom.

Observation does not alter the moral scope of the individual, or the moral scope of the society. The individual's choice to limit their own moral scope under observation is what limits their scope. Surveillance does not affect the effective moral scope. Enforcement defines the ( effective ) moral scope ( the scope of actions that individuals can do without expecting hindrance from society ).

More comprehensive surveillance, leads to more clear enforcement, and more clear enforcement preserves in clearer definition those freedoms which are expressly not prohibited under the moral scope of a society. Surveillance is a tool of freedom. Specifically, a tool that contributes to preserving the freedom of action of individuals by contributing to more effective enforcement.

Without surveillance the machinery of enforcement can be more messily and liberally applied.

The fake left doctrines complain about surveillance as a tool of oppression.

Surveillance is seen in fact a tool of freedom, it is the light shone upon. The fake left doctrine has framed the entire debate incorrectly. Absence of surveillance is not a civil freedom, it is in fact an assurance of imprecisely applied enforcement.

Surveillance is a civil freedom.

Lawful enforcement is a civil freedom.

The remaining civil freedoms, known as "civil liberties" are those things permitted by an individual's effective moral scope.

Civil liberties, like morals in general, are not absolute, they are the choices made by societies to define themselves at a particular time and place. ( The color of absolutism is invoked because that promotes harmony -- if something is absolute it is beyond question. This is not a real admission of absolute, simply a shorthand for a society saying the debate about this way we define ourselves is complete, for now. )

Civil freedoms are distinguished from civil liberties in that civil freedoms include those acts, two of which are defined above, which effect whatever civil liberties are chosen. Civil freedoms include the machinery of creation of civil liberties.

The relationship between the state and the individual is somewhat akin to that between a parent and a baby. A baby is many things, and it is also helpless and chaotic without the governance of the parent. The parent's attentive observation ( surveillance ) of the baby presents the baby from harming itself. The state's attentive surveillance of the individuals presents them from harming themselves and others.

If large groups of individuals were capable of governing themselves in an ad-hoc fashion then...the internet, reddit, all of these places would be domains of inclusion, tolerance, peace, and respect. In fact, moderators, and moderators of moderators, and policies, and a central authority are required to prevent chaos and harm.

These things ( observations and controls -- surveillance and enforcement ) are the very enablers of the same liberties that the fake left doctrine purports they destroy.

The fake left doctrines complain about surveillance as a tool of oppression. They use "freedom" in an intangible, absolute sense. A mythological "Perfect Freedom of the Individual", a delusion that fails to acknowledge the social context in which any freedom of action exists.

These fake left doctrines are founded on a delusion of a freedom unhindered by a social context. They are the fake left's dream of the mythical Powerful Individual, a delusion to compensate for the collective belief of the fake left of the powerlessness of the individual against some mythical oppressive force. In fact, for an individual exposed only to lawful restriction of their action, their only powerlessness is their fabrication of their own powerlessness.

The mythical oppressor of the fake left is in fact, not the lawful surveillance state, it is the individual that chooses to believe itself powerless. Surveillance is not oppression, incorrectly applied enforcement is the very definition of oppression. And as the net of surveillance is narrowed, a broader net of enforcement must be cast to protect individuals from themselves. The fundamental that the fake left has not grasped is that the trade off is not between "broader freedoms and broader surveillance" it is between "broader surveillance or broader enforcement", and broader enforcement, without the information, is going to be incorrectly applied.

1. Global surveillance is not a left/right thing. No matter what you believe in or where you stand on issues, global surveillance can be used to force you to do things you do not want to do - without regard to any moral, ethical or legal considerations.

2. The article pretty much proves you wrong on the moral scope thing.

> Surveillance is seen in fact a tool of freedom, it is the light shone upon.

War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.

> If large groups of individuals were capable of governing themselves in an ad-hoc fashion then...the internet, reddit, all of these places would be domains of inclusion, tolerance, peace, and respect.

Many parts of the Internet are domains of inclusion, tolerance, peace, and respect. Reddit, Twitter and 4CHAN are designed to be what they are. They're not the only models of how things work, they're just the largest centralized platforms that draw the most attention.

Your intriguing missive would be better served by not slandering your opponents. By which I mean, why say "fake" left without explaining what the left position is and what is fake about it. It's as if you expect us to be privy to some evolving thought process or conversation and that expectation is a little troublesome for me.

But apart from that. Of course you come across as a little, (um, how do I put this delicately?) ... half-baked. Sorry! It's true. Like that old joke, you read 1984 as an instruction manual, not a warning? But seriously, surveillance is freedom. Like I say, intriguing. I've often wondered about the behaviour modifying properties of believing in an omniscient creator. I think you're pointing to something similar, except humans themselves are the ever-watching eyes and ears. I actually think you could be correct to some extent, the knowledge that someone is observing you does affect ones behaviour -- cf: chilling effect.

Taking you at face value: counter-argument. 1) Adults are not dependent on the government in the way you describe. In modern society we are all dependent on each other. 2) Who watches the watchers becomes a very real problem and not one that has been solved. 3) We know empirically that total surveillance states don't last very long. Have we got it right this time? Let's see. If we have then human society has been changed utterly and political theorists will have a lot of work to do. 4) Lots of people (from the left and right) don't want to live in that kind of society, no matter the benefits. 5) I'm not convinced the good you put forward outweighs the obvious dangers, you'd have to present a much more coherent argument than the one you are presenting.

I know you'll be shot down here but I find the intellectual challenge of responding to your position rewarding, so thanks for that.

edit: thought of a sixth. 6) maybe some behaviours you want (like being able to speak out against injustices and corruption and so on) will be suppressed as well as the "bad" beahviours you want rid of.

The surveillance-enabled "freedom" you describe relies on those doing the surveillance to be either nearly incorruptible or thoroughly monitored. And we know that in practice they are neither.

This stream-of-consciousness manages to get surprisingly far before the utterly irrelevant personal definition of "left" comes out, revealing this particular poster's koolaid of choice. The fake left doctrines? Really? Still, at least it doesn't have a go at "liberals".

What about the real left though? You've left their arguments completely unscathed.

Make absolutely all payment and money transfer records completely public, and then we can talk about freedom of surveillance.


> Are you on coke? Have you read Huxley? Seriously, you sound like a well-scripted quote out of the most totalitarian bullshit I have ever come across. If that's original, no matter how dumb you are for saying it...salute.

Whoa. No matter how bad the comment you're replying to was, you've been on HN long enough to know that this is not ok here.

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