Heckling Alexander played right into the strategy. It gave him an opportunity to look reasonable compared to his detractors, and, more generally (and alarmingly), to have the NSA look more reasonable compared to opponents of NSA surveillance. It allowed him to "split the vote" with audience reactions, getting people who probably have serious misgivings about NSA programs to applaud his calm and graceful handling of shouted insults; many of those people probably applauded simply to protest the hecklers, who after all were making it harder for them to follow what Alexander was trying to say.
There was no serious Q&A on offer at the keynote. The questions were pre-screened; all attendees could do was vote on them. There was no possibility that anything would come of this speech other than an effectively unchallenged full-throated defense of the NSA's programs.
Even the premise of the keynote was calculated to wrong-foot NSA opponents. However much you might want to hear Alexander account for the activities of the NSA, the NSA itself is not the real oversight mechanism for the NSA! My guess is that no pol with meaningful oversight over NSA would have consented to address a room full of technology professionals about NSA's programs; they were happy to send NSA's own supremely well-trained figurehead to do that for them.
I think a walkout might have been effective, had it been organized well enough in advance (perhaps with some of the same aplomb as the [I think misguided] opposition to CISPA); at least you'd get some stinging photos.
The existence of nuclear weapons has rendered traditional warfare unprofitable, except against the very weak, and even in those cases only military contractors benefit.
We invaded and occupied Iraq and didn't even get any oil, just a trillion or so in national debt. At least in the time of Rome citizen soldiers were titled large swaths of land in the conquered territories.
I expect in the long drawn out economic warfare to come that cyber espionage and surveillance to be critical advantages & well connected military contractors with access to the NSA's total information awareness database to profit handsomely from insider trading.
Update & Question:
I'm taking a short break from work and wondering why this comment has been down voted twice?
Instead of down voting & unless you just hate ST: DS9 references, can you provide a plausible argument against the inevitability that tapping the entire world's communications will not lead to insider trading?
There are so few terrorists in the world, and so many opportunities to profit from having early access to employment reports, corporate revenue numbers and other economic data.
Please give me a compelling reason why a wiretap on all the worlds communications is more likely to be used to catch terrorists than for simple greed?
The trillions in national debt benefits somebody. Somebody somewhere gets those interest payments and they wouldn't have if the U.S had not borrowed from them.
We blew a trillion bucks on nothing useful. That's destroyed value. That somebody is benefitting in some small way from the side effects of this doesn't change that fact overall.
To reduce it to more comprehensible terms, imagine that I take out a $10,000 loan to buy a car, then crush that car into a cube. That's one less car in the world than before. That's a waste of $10,000 in value. That my creditors benefitted because they got interest off the loan doesn't change that fact.
This perspective, horribly, leans towards moving the large bulk of defense spending into the category of non-essential goods like cable tv, or beer, football, shopping at pottery barn. This is spending with a focus on the psychological state the good induces.
On the other hand, a true believer in the project of us military probably really feels that resources spent on war are actually essential to survival and should be categorized with spending on food, shelter,medical care, insurance.
There's a profound paradox here.
If this was all capitalistic private enterprise, it would be much simpler. The people who saw value in it would contribute whatever money they thought was worthwhile, and that would be the "value" of the effort. I kind of doubt that most of the people who feel the war was necessary would actually put up the $3,000 per person if they had to write a check for it, but who knows.
When you get government involved, the question of value becomes much more complex.
In this case of a trillion dollar war, the cost is to the US taxpayer, and the soldiers who fight the war.
The economic benefits go to military contractors, the various war departments of the USG who need reasons to keep their budgets intact, and holders of the US Government's debt (http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/politicalcalculations...)
I don't think the US far right is quite that farsighted or quite that cynical. However, I've historically been too optimistic about the American power elite, so I wouldn't take my word for it.
As an aside I never read that Hussein had threatened to flood the market, I read that he threatened, as a negotiating tactic, to withhold oil. Do you have a source for the "flooding the market" claim?
For values of "for other things" of creating a massive flood of dollars on the world financial markets, undercutting its value, and precipitating a financial crisis the likes of which the US still hasn't seen.
Truth is the story's likely complicated.
Just a few days ago was the 75th anniversary of Henry Ford getting a medal from Hitler. I guess we learn from history that we don't learn from history.
Those boys aren't so interested in "starving the beast" as they are in feeding their wealthy constituent-donors. We need campaign finance reform.
...a "business" which companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter et al. are certainly doing/planning on doing too, at least indirectly, privately or otherwise under the radar.
They can also simply look at the correlations between the movements of their data and the market movements, and then make their predictions and thus investment decisions. It's not even rocket science.
Given their "Big Data" treasures, I don't think they will be able to resist that temptation.
This is another reason why I generally see a future of decentralization: it's simply a concept that's less prone to corruption and failure.
"Ubiquitous surveillance prevents millions from speaking
freely. BlackHat keynote attendees, let's not let Gen.
Alexander speak freely today."
I think the thing that made this disruption ineffective is the majority of attendees weren't black-hat hackers. They were mostly corporate professionals. See Black Hat's own demographic survey http://www.blackhat.com/docs/bh-us-12/sponsors/bh-us-12-spon...
It's therefore not really surprising that most of the audience wanted to hear the general speak, and was annoyed by the disruption.
If, on the other hand, the general were speaking at DEFCON I think he probably would have been almost unanimously booed off the stage. But the feds are staying away from DEFON this year (for that reason).
So in retrospect, I think the disruption was a miscalculated PR move for the hacker community.
If that's the narrative we want to create, then I think we need to take every opportunity we can to inject whatever cultural influence we can, because keynotes like this are the NSA's effort to do the opposite. I agree that one or two people heckling doesn't mean much, but I appreciate the bravery of the people that were disruptive, and I only wish that everyone there critical of Gen Alexander had contributed to an enormous chorus of boos and forced him off the stage.
In the end, at the very least the title of this story is "NSA director heckled on stage at Black Hat security conference" rather than "NSA director universally applauded by Black Hat security conference."
I think the walkout would have had the benefit of creating a wall of peers waiting outside the conference hall watching their peers who refused to participate. Also, again, good photo op.
It's funny, you and I are on the same page about wanting to disentangle software security (and I guess infosec) people from USG/SIGINT/LEO work, but for I suspect are somewhat different reasons. So many people on HN seem to think the whole industry is in the back pocket of the USG, which just isn't true; I think a lot of people considering careers helping with online privacy think they need to surrender their moral qualms about assisting the USG, which just isn't true.
BUT, you're making it sound like getting heckled on stage was desirable. I don't agree. I think it is more appropriate to say that the NSA is between a rock and a hard place. They could either...
* Get heckled and look culpable, but maintain the illusion that they give a shit what the general public thinks, or...
* Not attend and completely look like assholes hell bent on violating civil liberties.
Keith Alexander didn't win any friends by getting heckled. He just made fewer enemies.
I think they're between breaching the constitution with far-reaching surveillance the Stasi would've given their left nut for, and hiding behind secret courts to legitimise their acts through rubber stamping. The surveillance continues. The genie is out of the bottle, justified by the biggest lie you were told - i.e. that there ever was a rock or hard place to begin with.
In my mind, I imagine what I wrote above as being disinformation 101.
Aside from that, It struck me that a lot of people at conferences like this are on the NSA payroll one way or another. I'd hardly call the group a bunch of freedom fighters.
Now, if he had a full blown press conference with civilian attendees, then, well...
He was recruiting. Don't let the tattoos and black shirts worn by the crowd fool you, many work and/or consult for the government.
Those young people look strongly to the culture defined in large part by conferences like Defcon and BlackHat in order to make their choices. For many of them, the trip to LV is the highlight of their year. If the culture of those events changes to be substantially hostile to the NSA and its employees, I can believe that young people in that demographic would at least think twice about joining the NSA.
Basically, I think keynotes like this are part of a cultural war for this community, and I think it's an important one.
Wow. That's really above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks for being one of the good guys. Sometimes it doesn't feel like there are any left.
I also wish that Good Will Hunting were required viewing, if only for the NSA monologue.
I think it's also worth mentioning that while sometimes indistinguishable, BlackHat != Defcon, even if tptacek wants them to be.
Abu Dhabi anyone?
Given the nature of the technical problems they face, they would have to be pretty incompetent to not be good at recruiting from engineering universities.
"Would you rather build yet another CRUD app, or build systems that trawl through 20+ TB of data every day?"
Obviously there are ethical issues, but peoples' ethics are much more pliable than most of us like to believe.
The irritating thing about this is that most of us aren't taught ethics. Most people don't take philosophy courses. Most people don't take civics courses. We're expected to just figure it out through osmosis.
It's not about pliability. Most people never actually develop their own approach to ethics.
I suspect that one could teach an excellent non-religious Sunday School class by only asking difficult questions. The only people who scare me more than people who have never thought much about ethics are the ones who think they know The Answer.
These are all huge opportunities to teach ethics. We don't take them, because ethics isn't a marketable skill and has always been an implicit lesson. So we wrote standards and tests and teach to those and now here we are. Most people who graduate from high school do so believing that democracy is a flawed-but-least-flawed model of government they just have to endure, that history consists of great figures who dwarf the capabilities of the little people, and that actually understanding the breadth of our social fabric is pretty much impossible.
Ethics? Ethics is whatever doesn't piss off your best friend and still gets you laid.
I took Ethics as an elective during my C.S. undergrad and I think it's still in the top 3 of the most-formative individual courses of study I've ever undertaken. I'd highly highly recommend people take ethics or philosophy classes, if only to see how even the simplest scenarios can have complex dilemmas.
To draw an analogy, most programmers can write code. But programming class isn't really about teaching a language's order of operations or explaining its particular grammar: the value of a programming class has to do with its explanations of modularity and data encapsulation, of structuring flow and conceptualizing objects. Then examples are provided that exercise these explanations so that you can apply them in future situations.
E.g., the nice person at the mortgage issuer said the loan was good for them, so they just signed what he told them. And the mortgage guy was just doing what his boss told him. And that boss was just following the incentive plan set up. And the people buying the mortgages in bulk seemed happy with them, as did the ratings agencies. But in my view, most or all of them acted unethically; one can't swim in the mud and come out clean.
Or take a look at the content of a medical ethics class: http://web.missouri.edu/~bondesonw/MedicalEthicsSyllabus.htm...
Even if everybody wants to do the right thing, what the right thing is hard to figure out. Ethics classes force people to think things through. They can't make a sociopath healthy, but they can help everybody else to sort out right from wrong in complicated situations.
Your write-up of Alexander is spot on. He has been referred to both the most powerful and the most feared man in the world.
Again, the truth is simple: it was a press op. The event was corporate enough that nobody was going to throw pies at him, but just countercultural enough that he could be assured that someone would make him look better by heckling.
It was said, which is basically confirmed with this latest revelation, that he has all the information on everyone and can blackmail anyone....
I am trying to recall where I heard that though, originally.
"I’ve been tough on Spitzer, but we can’t forget that the reason he got in trouble was because of the new NSA domestic surveillance apparatus that was so brilliantly depicted in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Here’s the Lede.
Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon
anti-terrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data
about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious
patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on
Americans’ privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist
But the data-sifting effort didn’t disappear. The National
Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance,
has been building essentially the same system.
I haven't actually seen the Black Hat talk yet, but I can imagine the audience does not compare favorably to another recent PR event:
This kind of thing helps build up the conscious and unconscious associations in the minds of many that favor the NSA a great deal.
To the extent that this audience has any engagement with public policy, that engagement is likely to take a Ron Paul-ish flavor.
Notice how he wore his uniform this year instead of something more casual like he did at last year's Def Con. I agree, this was very carefully orchestrated to help discredit his detractors.
Q: "[..]Does the NSA really keep a file on anyone? [...]"
A: "[..] Frist, no, we don't [...]"
listen/watch here: http://youtu.be/tz0ejKersnM?t=33m2s
Not technically the same as a blanket ban, but they were pretty clear that they didn't want anyone attending while representing federal agency...
News shows and websites will tell the story about a reasonable-seeming establishment guy going to give a speech, and a bunch of weird-looking hackers acting unruly.
I mean, can you imagine how horrible this would have turned out if he didn't stay calm? It's basically standard procedure to stay calm and try to explain your way out of it. Sure, he got some applause, and the heckler got some applause too. I think anyone could have imagined something like that happening.
A joke in every sense, then. Audacious. He leads with a bit of humor, then says,
> and I do want to give a chance for you to ask some questions. Hopefully they'll be easy ones, and I have a crew here that can answer the hard ones if I need to.
I'm certain that this infiltration will be a pretty standard play; you can bet the security services also have people who get extra money at Google, Amazon, Facebook, Skype etc.
(the whole keynote is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvVIZ4OyGnQ)
Alexander didn't score any points for himself or his organization by coming off like he has something to defend besides American citizens.
0. The intros were more than courteous, they were gushing
1. "Holding questions to the end" was an obvious grinfuck
2. The 8 minutes of q&a seemed completely prepared
3. It also had a sense of "we're hiring"
Obama's promises sounded very compelling and believable, too - until we learned the facts of his actions after he already won his 2nd mandate. I think it's important to remember that whenever you hear a politician speaking nicely without anything real to back it up. Otherwise we'd doomed to repeat the same mistakes, over and over and over again, fooled by master actors.
If this is how it goes in the United States, and the U.S. is held up as the standard for freedom, how is that good for the rest of the world?