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Bugger (bbc.co.uk)
373 points by Ygg2 1505 days ago | hide | past | web | 101 comments | favorite

The danger with this very good article is that it underplays the danger inherent in this system of surveillance. The spooks who put the thing together are the hard-working idiots described here:

> I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent -- their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy -- they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent -- he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

(often misattributed to Rommel, but actually by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_von_Hammerstein-Equord )

What we have here is a band of diligent idiots who, with their persistent, hard-working little hands, are building an apparatus of oppression that will be the wet dream of whatever future tyrant emerges (as inevitably one must, if history is any guide). They form a powerful, hidden, well-funded department of our government, and they are, from the looks of it, largely incompetent, diligent idiots.

This article/documentary is very good, but don't think these guys are harmless fools. They are very, very dangerous fools - a danger well above their competence.

The movement to undermine US freedom and privacy has been focussed and well-funded since 9/11, under both Bush and Obama and involving more than just the NSA. If it's the work of idiots, they are very hard-working, successful idiots as they've managed to wrest considerable power from a nation of hundreds of millions, assuming control of the world's foremost superpower.

The movement to undermine US freedom and privacy has been focussed and well-funded since 9/11, under both Bush and Obama and involving more than just the NSA.

If that's true, then why don't they just, you know, end privacy? Tptacek was right when he said:

Obama could give a speech in the Rose Garden this week carefully explaining that NSA requires access to American communications, all of them, in order to defend the country against terrorist attacks, and that while privacy is "important", the expectation of perfect privacy in your cell phone and Internet communications isn't reasonable because it helps terrorist cells without providing much benefit.

I would recoil from such a speech, but the public probably would not.

The American public currently has a weak expectation of privacy in their electronic communications. But they make virtually no meaningful demand for that privacy. Thwarting terror attacks are a much higher priority to them. Want evidence of that? Well, the body-conscious, vain, generally out-of-shape American public routinely submits to electronic strip searches to get onto airplanes. You think they care if someone's screening their calls to catch Abu Shahid? They would accept that argument. And with that acceptance, the expectations of privacy and the notion of what "reasonable" searches are would be, in short order, redefined --- those rights being explicitly predicated on contemporary mores by the Constitution.

When I look at it from this angle, it becomes apparent that while privacy is inconvenient to the USG, and something they feel they have to work around, it's not something they're intent on eliminating. Despite the rhetoric from the tech punditry, the USG has not stated that it's reasonable for them to surveil US citizens; their defense has instead been that they are not surveilling them. I too think that's a falsehood, but it's truth or falsity is not the only thing that matters about it.

>If that's true, then why don't they just, you know, end privacy?

By covertly erecting systems that end privacy (and attacking privacy tools like Tor), they are, in effect, ending privacy (without hurting the "US is a champion of freedom" brand to the same degree that explicitly ending privacy would do).

I wonder if Americans know how long it's been since the US started taking photographs and fingerprints of every non-citizen entering the US?

That feels a bit privacy invading, but there wasn't much fuss over it when it was introduced.

This is a surprise. I've never been fingerprinted at a US port. Perhaps it's because I have a biometric passport. Still, such a practice can't be universal.

> Still, such a practice can't be universal.

What do you mean by "not universal"?


> The U.S. government has been collecting digital fingerprints and photographs of nearly all non-citizens aged 14 and up entering the country since 2004, officials said, in a Homeland Security program called US-VISIT, at a cost of $1.7 billion.

If they could "end privacy" like that and not have a revolt at their hands, why are they lying about it?

Where's the fun in that? From the article, it sounds like these guys really enjoy being part of this cloak-and-daggers world...

But then the terrorists would know too!

According to this article, in the UK they've been at work since 1914.

They are very hard-working, of course: they're on a mission to save the world!

Sounds like they fit in the "stupid and diligent" category and have successfully caused mischief.

Brilliant quote.

I've watched / read just about everything created by Adam Curtis. He is a brilliant documentarist.

If you have a couple of hours start by watching "Century of the Self" where he tells the history of PR and Edward Bernays. (it's public domain)

If you like it then watch "The Trap" and "Pandora's box". "The Power of Nightmares" is also great. Subscribe to Adam's blog.

He is able to create brilliant connections which give a whole new perspective on history. Some people I've talked about him told they believe he is a conspiracy theorist however maybe I'm naive but most of the things he says make perfect sense to me.

I remember watching "Century of the Self" at 21 and having a tiny 'aha' moment about how things work.

Interestingly, one of his major themes is that powerful people and institutions are themselves driven by various "conspiracy theories," neuroses, and fiction.

In this post, he describes how the MI5 and other spy organizations need ideological support from authors like Le Carre.

In "The Power of Nightmares," this is also the primary theme, but focused on the mythical and paranoid ideology that drives the "War on Terror."

So, Curtis is maybe not a conspiracy theorist, but a conspiracy theory theorist... I see him as something like a humanist: he wants to the reveal the "humanity" (pettiness, confusion, imagination) of powerful actors which present themselves as serious.

Agreed. I was introduced to his work by watching The Trap in a seminar on Michel Foucault, interestingly enough. I was surprised how much depth there was in Foucault's work, despite his reputation as a fudging post-structuralist. Much of it complementary to Adam Curtis's work.

One of the important things we find in both (as well as in the last in my trifecta of organizational theory -- The Wire) is that conspiracy theories are almost impossible, because people are mostly either too stupid or too petty and shortsighted to pull off a true Illuminati-style conspiracy.

It might be tempting to call Adam Curtis a conspiracy theorist because his notion of how power is distributed and wielded is somewhat arcane -- for instance, it's at first odd to say that the populace is controlled by propping up freedom as the guiding ethos and removing arbitrary forms of control by implementing statistical guidelines, since these things are nominally in place to remove top-down control -- but such analyses, arcane though they may be, are not conspiracy theories, because a conspiracy requires a coordinated effort.

Adam Curtis describes situations in which there is no coordinated effort, and no secret cabal. Just struggles of power and agreed upon fields of debate/combat which are then exploited after the fact by those who are able to do so.

> I was surprised how much depth there was in Foucault's work, despite his reputation as a fudging post-structuralist.

While I want to make some snarky comment about how maybe this tells you what you've heard about those 'fudging post-structuralists' is incorrect, what I'll say instead is that out of that group, which, incidentally, he did not consider himself a part of, Foucault is widely considered the least-fudgy.

Consider Chomsky, for example: his (silly and vapid, in my humble opinion) beef with many continental philosophers basically excluded Foucault: "I find Foucault really interesting but I remain skeptical of his mode of expression." I highly recommend watching the debate between the two of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myy3vL-QKI4 (and the five-second summary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0dM6j7pzQA )

Oh, you don't need to convince me one way or the other. I spent my undergraduate career in a philosophy department that was extremely continental-heavy, as well as dedicated to reading only primary texts. After having read many volumes of Frenchies, my opinion on the two most famous is that Derrida fudged beautifully, even if he was ultimately a one-trick pony, while Foucault cherry picked some history but built a system of questions that were and are worth exploring.


I'm currently making my way through Derrida now, though I've put him down to take up some Kafka...

Hmm, what should I get from that debate? I just re-read the transcript [1], and seems they just had a minor disagreement over the notion of justice. (And a couple other little "differences" which we could consider clarifications.) I currently don't see why it's so heavily cited; some others (not you) seem to consider it some legendary heavyweight fight in the history of philosophy. But it was just... an interview.

As for his disagreements with certain philosophers... he makes a cogent point, that perhaps he simply doesn't understand it, but much of it seems to him written in a kind of gibberish, which can understandably lead to a lot of mistakes. [2]

Imagine if I wrote hopefully useful code, but it was extremely hard to read and poorly documented... What properties would we expect that code to have?

[1] http://www.chomsky.info/debates/1971xxxx.htm

[2] http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/chomsky-on-pos...

It's of particular interest to me because it really strongly illustrates the gulf between the two. It's a pretty solid introduction to both of their positions, and goes in interesting places.

  > Imagine if I wrote hopefully useful code, but it was extremely hard to read 
  > and poorly documented... What properties would we expect that code to have?
This is not the right analogy. The right analogy is a C programmer looking at some Haskell code, and complaining that they don't understand where memory is allocated, where the pointers are. I mean, after all, who can get real work done without pointers?

Let's examine his essay, but substituting in Haskell and C... actually, wait a minute. I know I've heard this before... ah yes, here: http://byfat.xxx/chomsky

Okay, so that's only kinda what I'm saying... what would you think about this paragraph?

  > But from 50 years in this programming game, I have learned two things: (1) 
  > I can ask friends who work in object oriented areas to explain it to me at 
  > a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular 
  > difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I 
  > will come to understand it. Now functors, arrows, hylomorphisms, monads, 
  > etc. --- even first-class functions, whom I knew and liked, and who was 
  > somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't 
  > understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand 
  > can explain monads to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to 
  > overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new 
  > advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic 
  > mutation, which has created a form of "programming paradigm" that is beyond procedural 
  > programming, structured programming, etc., in depth and profundity; or 
  >  (b) ... I won't spell it out.
You'd probably say "seriously, stop being an idiot. Haskell is hard, and strange, and weird, but it has value. If you like C just keep on writing C, no need to be such a jerk about it. But Haskell is for doing different kinds of programming than C."

Let's not take one throwaway analogy I made (to help illustrate someone's point), and base an entire post on highly leaky programming analogies. Why not actually help us understand the useful aspects of continental philosophy? I cited explanations, not shaky analogies. (I'm sorry for using an illustrative analogy, because they serve as good rhetorical targets.)

Why not pick a technology made by a charlatan, and see how it sounds? You're after all assuming that the philosophy he criticizes is Haskell. What if instead, it's some closed source, obfuscated "artificial intelligence" snakeoil which barely even compiles?

And why pick that one particular paragraph? How about the one where he mentions meeting some luminaries he criticizes, like Foucault, Derrida, and Kristeva? Does the aggressively ignorant C programmer go so far as meeting the Haskell implementors, trying to understand their perspectives? Does anyone go around citing the ignorant C programmer's debate with a famous Haskell implementor, where they mostly agree?

What about when he requests these philosophers "to do what people in physics, math, biology, linguistics, and other fields are happy to do when someone asks them, seriously, what are the principles of their theories, on what evidence are they based, what do they explain that wasn't already obvious, etc. These are fair requests for anyone to make." Does anyone think Haskellers don't do this? Then as programmers, we need to focus some efforts on that. Because in the software world, that's a sign of charlatans!

> Why not actually help us understand the useful aspects of continental philosophy?

Sorry, I thought you were trying to understand what Chomsky is saying here, not get an introduction yourself.

> You're after all assuming that the philosophy he criticizes is Haskell.

I'm not assuming; I've read most of these people, or at least have a basic grasp of their ideas.

> And why pick that one particular paragraph?

I thought it was the one that was most illustrative.

> How about the one where he mentions meeting some luminaries he criticizes, like Foucault, Derrida, and Kristeva?

Uhhh I replaced "Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault," with "functors, arrows, hylomorphisms, monads, etc. --- even first-class functions". I'm not sure how I could more directly engage there.

> What about when he requests these philosophers [explain themselves]

They do. There is a wealth of introductory literature. I think you're taking Chomsky too literally here; this is rhetoric.

As an incredibly simple, basic introduction, here's an eight minute video on postmodernism and Community http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YanhEVEgkYI

And here's a 5 minute introduction to Zizek, who Chomsky has been reviving this spat with in the press as of late: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZDNhKBxgTw

> I'm not assuming; I've read most of these people, or at least have a basic grasp of their ideas.

Should you believe something I believe, merely because I claim it's right (with no evidence)? I likely believe some false things. People believe all sorts of weird things. The AI snakeoil salesman might believe in his own snakeoil.

> I'm not sure how I could more directly engage there.

By using the actual paragraph where he mentions actually meeting Foucault, Derrida, and Kristeva. Or in general, try peforming the same trick on a passage where your point maybe doesn't look so hot. Or instead of Haskell, the aforementioned AI snakeoil.

> There is a wealth of introductory literature.

Here, I cite introductory literature on a non-mainstream programming language, on many levels: (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6038989). It took work, but I hope it helped a couple people.

(It's unhelpful to merely cite the existence of literature (rather than naming it), leaving people ignorant. After all, I demonstrated that I was willing to re-read the Chomsky/Foucault discussion. I'm not lazy.)

And I vouch for the literature I cite. That means if people have problems with it, I know places where people can go and ask away to their heart's content. Or I will sit down and help people understand, until they're satisfied (or no longer interested).

[Edit: I see you edited to offer youtube links. Thanks, will watch! If they're good and in-depth, then ignore my last point.]

Sorry, I really think we were talking past each other for a bit here. I misunderstood what you were actually asking for.

And sorry for misunderstandings on my part.

“I’m no good for anything except taking the world apart and putting it together again (and I manage the latter less and less frequently).” -- Derrida

Both you guys might enjoy this essay on Derrida. I've read a couple volumes of his work, and this is a very balanced view of it: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/mar/25/derrida-exc...

I do think that Foucault's theories are quite applicable and expandable, though it's true that he can be pretty obscurantist. As the Chomsky essay notes, the history of French intellectualism that these guys come from is a very particular situation, something that even most of their non-French acolytes fail to appreciate. Most specifically, this whole generation of French theorists came of age around 1968.[1]

A whole lot can be deduced when you understand that France's intelligentsia at the time were largely structuralists who believed that history moved along rationally, according to an underlying structure. Post-structuralism as such was an attempt to reappropriate the happenings of 1968 as a "rupture", something that was new, unprecedented, unforeseen -- a real event. As Deleuze writes about it, the concept of an event is unintelligible in a structuralist sense, since a structuralist views an event as a mere surface-level phenomenon of a static underlying structure. I imagine if you went to Woodstock and told the hippies that nothing new was going on, but that their generation was the inevitable result of everything that went before them, they would similarly protest in the name of personal freedom.

It is unsurprising, then, that Derrida's work is much like the brooding of an intelligent teenager. All across the world, the Teenager came into his own in the late 1960s. Any adult of reasonable humility knows that a teenager can bring to light simple truths that the adult has grown accustomed to ignoring. And that is the value of Derrida. I agree with Chomsky that much of it is banal -- but so are most bits of wisdom.[2]

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_1968_events_in_France

[2] The real shame of French Theory is more about the way it contributes to the already benighted state of humanities education in a professionalized capitalist society, which rewards specialization and competition and opens the way for obscurantist occultism as the easiest way to maintain a level of job security. Sigh...

Many "conspiracies" do seem to require implausible, superhuman feats of coordination driven by Machiavellian malfeasance.

These can be dismissed as improbable.

However, many horrible things happen in the world that are not driven by a plot, but by dumb nature, stupidity, or the conflux of human biological urges -- ill suited to a technologically advanced world.

Such "emergent" threats deserve greater consideration; particularly if the theory renders them (at first glance) plausible.

I agree with you. It particularly resonates in this piece as he repeatedly tears into the intelligence services (specifically MI5) as being completely incompetent.

I find his work to be a constant reminder of how fallible the human species is, how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise (some are better at it than others) and the utter inanity that it almost always leads to.

If only it were humourous endings to these reports.

It would be funny if it wasn't sad.

Many, perhaps most, people are equating "conspiracy theory" with "total madness", as if there is no empirical proof of a conspiracy, such as hijacking (call it "grounding" all you want, the plane was hijacked) of the bolivian president - or the conspiracy, sorry, co-operation between the five eye secret services to have each other's help spying on their own citizens when occasionally they pay attention to the law.

It's total madness to assume that there are not thousands of "conspiracies", nothing more than covert agreements between parties (some of these agreements legal, some not), that benefit the conspiring parties at the expense of some non conspiring parties. And yet most people pride themselves on being rational for consistently ignoring any idea of such a conspiracy.

Conspiracy Zero: Hijacking the term "conspiracy".

It's crazy to make affirmative declarations without solid evidence. But it's equally crazy not to make a reasonable inquiry into the possibility that you are being deceived by any person or group with the means, motive and oppurtunity to do so.

"People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public." - Adam Smith

I've loved Curtis's work, but I parted ways from him slightly with Machines of Loving Grace. While technological transhumanism certainly opens up new vistas for potential abuses of human (or sentient?) rights, I have a hard time seeing it as intrinsically negative, rather than the natural progression of the evolutionary process.

I don't know why people give him so much credence. He's an expert in making entertaining TV shows. He's not a historian or an expert in any of the areas he discusses.

He's an artist who uses archive footage to tell a story. The story is often so simple that it isn't strictly true, but it's still worth a watch. I think his films will be treasured by future historians to get an insight into the current events of our time.

Future historians will look at stuff that isn't true to get an insight into our time? Can you spot the flaw there?

Historians pull their information from sources of all kinds. For example, a piece of propaganda from WW2 (which is likely to be almost completely untrue) could be an invaluable insight into determining a collective mindset of the time. Similarly, a diary of someone on the street, who's been taken in by that propaganda is also useful.

Adam Curtis exists in the outskirts of a behemoth of a broadcaster, so his interpretation of these events will be useful - especially given that they are broadcast so widely.

You think that current historians only look at stuff that's true to get an insight into the past? Can you spot the flaw there?

How can any one individual get an insight into a population of millions -- without making at least some concessions to practicality, and the generalisation and other "technical" untruths that this implies.

For those that don't make it that far through, one of the things that's mentioned that I hadn't heard about before is that in 1982 a GCHQ employee called Geoffrey Prime was caught selling British secrets to the Soviets, not because of the work of the security services but because he confessed after being caught sexually assaulting children whose movements he'd been monitoring via his job.

You'd be surprised at how many things throughout the world can be easily explained through the lense of utter incompetence. Think of any type of failure out there, and more often than not plain human incompetence is at the centre of it.

When you start to understand how utterly incompetent most people are at their jobs, you quickly adopt an almost anti-conspiracy mindset that only changes it's mind based on positive evidence of actual competence.

Human error is the number one most common failure mode in complex systems. So before you think conspiracy, think idiocy.

> Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

- Robert J. Hanlon of Hanlon's razor fame (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanlon's_razor)

To summarize:

"The terrible truth that began to dawn in the 1980s was that MI5 - whose job it was to catch spies that threatened Britain - had never by its own devices caught a spy in its entire history."

hey right I believe you and price philip is realy a lizard man from plant zog

Karl Hans Lody is but one example

The truth is somewhat in the middle. I've worked with a couple ints and a couple of their bosses. Some are hyper competent, some are effectively the equivalent of people that "play business" by forwarding technical "advisories" to non-technical people.

So yeah, it's a range of skills and dispositions, at least from what I've seen.

I would counter that the real state secret is that the threat of global conflict in this day and age has dimished but the cold war mentality has persisted.

Furthermore, people don't care about privacy and are willing to trade liberty for securiy. We like to talk the talk but when the we get to the crossroads the general public is indifferent.

I'd forgotten about Duncan Campbell until I saw a reference to him the other day on HN. I ended up watching his 1980s documentary from the Secret Society series "In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers".

The described how the UK goverment prepared legislation that would be rushed through in times of crisis. However, as this is held in a perpetual "draft" status this legislation is never really discussed and would be rushed through in Parliament should an emergency arise. From what leaks suggest this draft legislation allowed for extremely widespread and sweeping powers. Perhaps understandable in the context of the Cold War....

Now what I thought was interesting is that I bet those Cold War era Emergency Powers bills are still sitting there in Whitehall waiting to be passed. However, we still don't discuss them and I can see no good reason why not.

The documentary is on Youtube - search for "In Time Of Crisis: Government Emergency Powers"


Anecdotal: Back in 1987, after BBC Scotland was raided over Campbell's [0] "Communications Zircon" [1] episode of the Secret Society series [2], and it being "banned" from broadcast, I attended a semi-secret viewing of that particular episode organised by Richard Kinsey of Edinburgh University. I vaguely remember Duncan being present at the viewing, but it's such a long time ago my memory may have faded.

It was one of the most fascinating nights out I've had ever with the venue being populated not just by students and civil liberties folks, but also by Special Branch who were identified and pointed out by our hosts that evening.

After the viewing I asked Mr Kinsey for a copy of the programme and it turned up at my parents house in a jiffy bag under the guise of "Disney: Mickey Mouse" on VHS format, it's in a box somewhere.

As a fairly active member of Scottish CND, Scotland out of NATO and various other passive lefty groups of the day I kinda miss the cold war protest game. It's a shame we don't hear more from DC these days, but then that's to be expected now that the BBC's journalistic integrity has been compromised by a knackered London SW1 control centre.

[0]: http://www.duncancampbell.org/content/biography

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

[2]: http://www.duncancampbell.org/content/secret-society

>> the threat of global conflict in this day and age has dimished but the cold war mentality has persisted.

I couldn't agree more. I think a large part this mindset may be due to the large govt organizations whose many employees and contractors make a living on there being an enemy to defend against. It's the whole “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” thing, taken to an organizational level...

it's also possible the spies (and their stories) who really do know whats going on, and are doing the job they are supposed to, are the ones (and the threats) we will never know about... Also, I see spying as just another type of arms race. If we stop, but country xy keeps doing it and has better information, if/when things go downhill, we're up shit creek without a paddle. Weapons can be powerful, but Knowledge is Power, don't ever forget that.

the threat of global conflict in this day and age has dimished but the cold war mentality has persisted.

While that's true, I think it is misrepresentative.

The Cold War was in some ways safer than the environment we have today. There were two (main) known players, and the threat of mutually assured destruction kept the Cold War from becoming hot. Now we have one known (main) player- the US, and a number of unknowns. You can't threaten mutually assured destruction upon Al Qaeda because it isn't a nation state.

So while the threat of global conflict has diminished, the threat of conflict has not. In many ways it has become a lot more complicated.

> the threat of global conflict in this day and age has dimished but the cold war mentality has persisted

This is the problem at the bottom of the whole thing, Why do we have a Cold War sized NSA, or bigger, when we can look out decades or even centuries and see no totalitarian threat on the scale of the Soviet Union, and today not within three orders of magnitude of the Soviet Union? Nobody is occupying half a continent. No columns of thousands tanks are poised to invade. No multi-megaton hydrogen bombs are aimed at our cities.

The only threat this weapon is aimed at is the people.

I agree completely with your sentiment, but I'd like to point out that there are still "multi-megaton hydrogen bombs" aimed at our cities.

I would check on that. As far as I know, the US no longer stocks any "high yield" nukes, and the same for Russia, or at least a very small fraction of their previous arsenal. Not that a "small" nuke would be any picnic.

There's good reasons for that, unless you're trying to hit a particularly hard target, like the Cheyenne Mountain bunker that's now on "warm standby", really large nukes don't gain you anything, you get diminishing returns as additional heat liberated just radiates back into space.

Hitting a modern city with 3 low-centi-ton yield airbursts will do a lot more damage than one megaton class one.

> The only threat this weapon is aimed at is the people.

Downloadable 3D-printable isotope separators are coming. We will want to have had extensive surveillance decades before they arrive.

“Right.” Rachel sat. She made a steeple of her fingers, then sighed. “How sure are you that this is genuine?”

“The first thing anyone knew about it was when the building’s passive neutron sniffer jumped off the wall. At first the block manager thought it was malf-ing, but it turns out yon Idiot was tickling the dragon’s tail. He’d got a cheap-ass assembler blueprint from some anarchist phile vault, and he’s been buying beryllium feedstock for his kitchen assembler over the past six months.”

“Shit. Beryllium. And nobody noticed?”

“Hey.” MacDougal spread her hands. “Nobody here is paying us for sparrow-fart coverage. Private enterprise doesn’t stretch to ubiquitous hand-holding. We go poking our noses in uninvited, we get sued till we bleed. It’s a free market, isn’t it?”

“Huh.” Rachel nodded. It was an old, familiar picture. With nine hundred permanent seats on the UN Security SIG, the only miracle was that anything ever got done at all. Still, if anything could stimulate cooperation, it was the lethal combination of household nanofactories and cheap black-market weapons-grade fissiles. The right to self-defense did not, it was generally held, extend as far as mutually assured destruction — at least, not in built-up areas.

   -- Iron Sunrise, Charles Stross
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1841493368/charlies... [his affil, not mine.]

Don't be joking that way. I would not be surprised if some consulting futurist convinced some general that, unless everyone is under constant surveillance, some anarchist is going to turn his precious bodily fluids into self-replicating gray goo.

Yep. That was the scene that inspired my comment.

It doesn't matter whether they are any good at catching bad people. What matters is how they impact the lives of good people.

But this is what I worry about. A competent corrupt government is mostly concerned with crushing its genuine enemies. An incompetent one thrashes around crushing arbitrary people.

A government branch, when faced with difficult choice of either harming its own budget or exaggerating its legitimacy, will always do the latter.

Those who have high enough morale to harm their own interest for public good can only thrive in an environment of lots opportunities. So after making the case that they should be fired, they can find other equal or more lucrative careers.

Welcome to this entire planet. We're so screwed, it's not funny.

Don't stand near the democracy if you are afraid of stampedes.

Haven't read this yet - it's a bit of a long one. But I just thought I'd leave a comment for anyone wondering if this is worth reading. I can categorically say YES, yes, a thousand times yes. Adam Curtis is a master artist of a documentary film maker and everything he has produced is worth combing over in fine detail when alone and feeling introspective or with friends who are curious and open to new and exciting ideas. He will quite simply intrigue the ever loving bejesus out of you and I think the HN crowd (if not already) should be much better acquainted with his work.

If you need further convincing (and a shorter read), just check out this interview: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/looking-beneath-the-waves-v10...

I definitely haven't seen a finer writer or more intriguing than Adam Curtis. Malcom Gladwell comes to mind, but I subjectively like AC bit better. My favorite is the one on the interaction between pets and their owners on TV and how it changed over time.

I still would like to see some contra argument, though I doubt I'll find much on HN.

Malcolm Gladwell is a fool. Curtis is better, though far from flawless.

The only comparable person in terms of documentary is perhaps Jonathan Meades.

What about Simon Reeve? Maybe not in the same deepness level as Curtis but very much worth watching. Especially if you want to better understand human/nature interactions and how climate change and globilisation are effecting the world's poor.

>the historian EP Thompson said that really Chapman Pincher was: "A kind of official urinal in which ministers and intelligence and defence chiefs could stand patiently leaking."

Wow. I wonder what EP Thompson would say about the media today.

That line could be straight out of "The Thick of It".

"If you wish to keep slaves, you must have all kinds of guards. The cheapest way to have guards is to have the slaves pay taxes to finance their own guards. To fool the slaves, you tell them that they are not slaves and that they have Freedom. You tell them they need Law and Order to protect them against bad slaves. Then you tell them to elect a Government. Give them Freedom to vote and they will vote for their own guards and pay their salary. They will then believe they are Free persons. Then give them money to earn, count and spend and they will be too busy to notice the slavery they are in." --Alexander Warbucks

Another example of MI5 dropping the ball was in the Irish War of Independence in the early 1920s. The "old" IRA was able to infiltrate it, execute various secret agents, manage to convince them that the IRA had much more guns and men then it actually did, etc.

Interestingly, an Irish passport still gets the highest scrutiny at British borders, significantly more than say an Iraqi, Iranian or Libyian. That little bit of info surprised me recently.

Depends. Ireland & the UK are in the "Common Travel Area", which is basically a mini-Schengen passport free zone. You can land in a UK Airport after flying from Ireland and just walk straight out without showing anyone your passport.

Likewise you can drive into the UK (into Northern Ireland) and there is no border control. The only way you know you've crossed a border is the change in speed limit signs.

Which is weird when we compare that to the STEAKKNIFE[1] infiltration of the IRA. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeknife)

[1] I like this convention of putting everything secrety in capitals.

Difference of about 50→100 years there.

"Thousands of Daily Mail readers couldn't be wrong."

I think it is also very sad, that the things that KGB traitors did tell western people that KGB do, people don't believe, maybe because it worked as KGB intended (search around for Yuri Bezmenov interview... amazing)

Is this article returning a Server Error page for anyone else? Whereas the others by this same author are not.

Since i'm not using Flash anymore i wasn't able to watch the videos, but from the descriptions in the article i believe they would have added a lot to the text.

Appearently BBCs 'iPlayer' does support https streaming (for their iOS App), but only if you have an Apple signed client certificate.


Yes, thank you :)

So, at the end if, now, intelligence agencies are spying retrieve information from Google et al and analyzing it with algorithms that are already in the public domain why they need a large budget or a budget at all?

yeh right in reality there was a concerted effort by N the German navel intelligence to recruit and run spies in the UK.

A number of them where caught bang to rights both pre and during ww1.

hes right that Quex caused more harm than good but hey its the daily mail see the recent hysteria about opt in to porn which is David Cameron jumping the the DM's tune

Off topic, but am I the only one who noticed "spies aren'y" in the image?

Nice URL.

I admit it is a nice wordplay on "bugs" that spooks use and the very British coarse word - bugger.

So ... they're like any other bureaucrat?

Ugh, op here. Why was title changed? It's less informative now :(

Agreed. There's seems to be a semi-automatic title change process that can make wildly poor decisions. "Bugger" is an absolutely useless title.

HN Guidelines[1] state that original article titles should be used as the title on HN (though I agree that it's sometimes to the detriment of HN readers).

[1] http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html

Indeed, title changes (by either submitter or an admin) which improve the original title, without adding spin or sizzle, should be welcomed.

The mechanistic insistence on original titles often gets things wrong, leaving a title in place that "buries the lede" (the actually new nugget in a particular story) or includes its own misleading spin. People then either miss or waste time on stories, when a few reasonable extra words in the title would have helped.

Possible experiments to address this might include:

• Adding a separately-voted 'title tournament' for each story, in which the original title, submission title, and others audience-submitted compete. (They're not competing for which gets the story the most upvotes, but which best describes the item.)

• Allowing a subhead per story, where either the original subhead or some other pull-up excerpt can appear for context. (This could be from the OP, admins, a group tournament, or even just wiki-style.)

Yeah, there's a line here. Changing a title for the purpose of being MORE sensational and attention grabbing is a good reason to change. But if you're changing it to be informative, then to me its a reasonable change.

SEO, click-through rate et cetera

Hacker News isn't even listed on search engines because it disallows Googlebot.

I dont' think that's true. https://news.ycombinator.com/robots.txt

  User-Agent: * 
  Disallow: /x?
  Disallow: /vote?
  Disallow: /reply?
  Disallow: /submitted?
  Disallow: /submitlink?
  Disallow: /threads?
  Crawl-delay: 30
Links in comments are marked nofollow but submissions are not.

Maybe I'm missing something but


shows no such thing...

It is definitely listed.

Hm, that's a recent change, then. HN wasn't listed just a week or two ago.

I've been using Google to find things on HN for a few years.

The file from January 2013 appears just as permissive:


I have been too. I was surprised to find that HN didn't show up on Google a couple weeks ago. Yes, it looks like I was wrong. No, pg isn't changing titles because of SEO.

That explains why the guy who made the Facebook Event of 'spook spotting walk' in Brittain after the news that there was NSA personnel working there got inquired about his intentions! Idiots.

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