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Lord Blair: we need laws to stop 'principled' leaking of state secrets (theguardian.com)
157 points by pwg 1401 days ago | hide | past | web | 141 comments | favorite

Having spent quite a bit of time in the last three years living in countries where there is no free press or protection for critics of the government at all, I feel I can pretty confidently say that a completely unanswerable government is far more of a threat to its people than any outside terrorist threat could ever be. Without checks on government power, corruption is absolute.

If people that have been carefully vetted for security clearance are willing to risk their freedom and perhaps even their lives to bring to light abuses of government power we should protect them.

> outside terrorist

We all know this is a big word to make headlines and influence people to be in favor of extreme laws. No country has ever been destroyed by Terrorism. Terrorism is, before all, a political tool. That's why States finance terrorist actions (the archives are full of that) to reach political means.

It is worse than any terrorist threat. It is worse than any civilian threat in general. States wield the powers of money, authority, law, and they are the only bearer of a legal right to violence. The worst people can do is ruin their own lives - the worst states can do is ruin everyone elses.

When principles are outlawed, only outlaws will have principles.

“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”

George Orwell, 1984

He argues that the release of this knowledge facilitates terrorism. I'm curious, has there actually been a leaked secret that could facilitate terrorism?

Perhaps in the accidental leaks back when the password for all those diplomatic cables leaked?

Or is the only way they facilitate terrorism that they make the public mistrust the authorities?

It would be hard to prove with the existing leaks, but there are certainly forms of information that could be considered very valuable to and likely to incite known terrorist groups, no? I'm thinking things like detailed floor plans for embassies, personal info about members of the special forces, confirmations of extralegal executions and details of the people who carried them out, etc.

So far it seems no-one who has leaked information has had the clearance to get to the truly painful stuff, but the psychological screening to get to those levels is specifically designed to keep potential Snowdens and Mannings out.

What you discuss sounds like the sort of information Stratfor sell to the highest bidder.

Snowden and greenwald had damaging information, but chose not to release it. I think instead of dealing with hypotheticals, which can be twisted to frame absolutely anyone for 'potentially aiding the enemy' when the enemy is a fluid and vague terrorist label, and aid is exposing gov wrongdoing by releasing information, we should deal in specifics.

If snowden's revelations are damaging enough to endanger lives, the onus is on the prosecution to demonstrate that in front of an impartial judge. If they can't, or hide behind state secrets, their actions are not fully accountable to the public.

Is US support for the mujahideen, contra and Syrian terrorists more damaging than snowden's revelations and more likely to lead to terror attacks worldwide? I'd argue yes.

Is this war on whistleblowers and principled leakers more damaging to our democracy than any revelations which have yet come out? I'd argue yes.

Flight schedules should be secret. Also, dates of sporting events should be secret. Actually, keeping current time secret would help a lot.

Seriously, the fact that information can be used by terrorists doesn't imply that it should be secret.

I agree with you that that information must surely exist. And if it was true that in recent times people who stole and leaked that information for the terrorists to profit got away with it lightly, then I would agree that stricter laws were in order.

But in this case, he's referring to Miranda's case. Miranda was in _possession_ of the leaked documents, he did not steal them himself. Besides that he is clearly (in service of) a journalist.

Are we to prosecute journalists for possessing secret information no one knows of, that they haven't even leaked yet? Aren't the Snowdens and Mannings already punished enough to deter any selfish leaker?

Why are you conflating information that is useful to terrorists with information that might get people so angry that they commit terrorist acts?

If I were to think about information valuable to terrorist, I'd consider things like reports about weak points of national power grid, etc. - big vulnerabilities that have been discovered, but didn't get fixed yet.

> So far it seems no-one who has leaked information has had the clearance to get to the truly painful stuff, but the psychological screening to get to those levels is specifically designed to keep potential Snowdens and Mannings out.

This implies that the reason nobody has leaked such things is because it's too high in the security clearance hierarchy and therefore nobody of good conscious has been near it. The reality is much more likely to be a result of compartmentalization rather than "making it high enough security clearance" such that few can reach it - as if getting higher security clearance grants you access to more and more information. Even at the highest levels of clearance, you can only see what it is deemed necessary for you to see.

Sorry, which known terrorist groups? If you say Al Qaeda, you're forgetting that there's still not a single attack in the west which has, in a court of law, been shown to be their doing.

"The Terrorists" are "The Reds" are "The Jews". It's not "us and them" because there is no "us" and "them". There's just "us".

It almost seems as though you're asserting that facts can only be established by court trials, which is a farcical notion. Sorry, but just because there was never a trial doesn't mean Al Qaeda wasn't behind the 9/11 attacks.

Really? So you'd argue that we should sentence people, and pass judgment on groups, without any legal basis?

Without a trial, there is NO VERDICT. The entire point of the judiciary is to adjudicate - and without their judgment, in legal standing (which is what, y'know, laws, such as those being proposed, are based upon), there is no fact, nor precedent.

There's no doubt in my mind that Mickey Mouse and the Legion of Doom carried out the 9/11 attacks. I mean, who needs a trial or a legal process to reach a conclusion about a legal matter?

>So you'd argue that we should sentence people, and pass judgment on groups, without any legal basis?

Of course not. We should obviously have a trial before passing sentence on any individual, but it's ridiculous to suggest that legal judgements are the only valid way to establish facts about a particular situation. There were no trials relating to 9/11 because anyone who could have been sentenced is either dead or in another country. So suggesting that a trial be used as the burden of proof in this case is preposterous.

In a way, you're both right.

You are correct in saying that particular example (9/11) cannot be be tried in court. Sometimes the perpetrators are obvious and sometimes it's impossible to follow established court proceedings to legally appoint the blame.

But the former poster is also correct that we shouldn't go around passing judgements without taking matters to court and giving all parties a fair opportunity to prove their case.

This is the problem that the government face, they do occasionally need special powers to combat unusual circumstances. The problem is knowing where to toe the line. In my opinion, they've hop, skipped and jumped over that line.

You seem to be forgetting the bevy of gentlemen "awaiting trial" at Guantanamo, ostensibly for 9/11, among other things.

I do not see what other proof there is, and basing LAWS on "well, it was probably these guys" does not strike me as a wise course of action.

> Really? So you'd argue that we should sentence people, and pass judgment on groups, without any legal basis?

We pass judgement on others all the time without any trials. Note the discussion currently going on about us intervening in Syria. Also a trial really isn't the be all end all for rendering judgement. The 9/11 Commission Report wasn't factual enough?

> Note the discussion currently going on about us intervening in Syria.

There is no discussion to be had. International law is perfectly clear as to what actions should be taken.

The Chemical weapons angle just blows my mind. The US use the argument that Israel can have, and use, if they fancy it, nuclear weapons, because they have not signed the NPT. They then go on to say that Syria can't use chemical weapons, because they haven't signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

In a nutshell, the only legal actions available are the deployment of UN peacekeepers, or none. If you ignore the Rule of Law selectively, you have no law.

The 9/11 commission report wasn't factual, no, and is widely acknowledged as such. It's also not a binding legal decision based on evidence and facts, nor was there any trial by peers. Just summary justice in absentia, and indefinite detention without trial. I'm not just talking the THF crowd. It's a thousand pages of back-patting and rah-rah. I mean, if you want to understand just how good the gov't is at assessing its own actions, disasters, or anything else, really, look at Feynman's involvement in the Challenger investigation.

We are facing a troubling future as increasingly squeezed natural resources combine with the ever mounting public debt burden to create a toxic environment, perfectly suited to breed civil unrest, subversion, and anti-authoritarianism, terrorism and open revolt.

The stability and security of a well-ordered society demands conformance to certain social norms and limits on behaviour. These limits must be upheld even in the face of rising food insecurity, income inequality, and economic distress.

The protection of civil order requires the enforcement of conformance to behavioural norms, which in turn demands that that we crack down on destabilising influences, both in traditional and digital/distributed media.

Fortunately, modern digital tools allow the state to monitor and control discourse, behaviour and thought as never before. These tools must be exploited to their full potential, and dissent and nonconforming behaviour - in all it's forms, must be detected, isolated, and crushed immediately.

For example, forums such as this one are hotbeds of dissent - anarchic and destructive cess-pits of ideological filth that lead our vulnerable and easily influenced youth astray.

The state must identify the minority of subversive participants in these forums who are actively encouraging dissent -- and must silence them, for the good of a well-ordered society.

He claims the release of information facilitates terrorism, without sharing any argumentation: no examples, not even hypothetical scenarios, nothing.

He's asking to restrict the sharing of information, supposedly information on how "the government fights terrorism". He glosses over the fact that once law enforcement can persecute people for sharing some information, it is incredibly easy to persecute people for the sharing of _any_ information if it choses to. Power creep is a scary and dangerous thing, and it is very hard (impossible?) to guard against it.

This is from a person who persued the initiation of an illegal war. I was watching as Blair said "If you knew what I know, you would support [our war]" (paraphrasing). It turned out of course that he knew nothing that would justify a war. Why would we expect anything less than draconian measures from Blair on the issue of state secrets?

Reference for illegality of the war: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legality_of_the_Iraq_War

You are right. If this is acceptable, there isn't really anything to prevent restriction of any kind of knowledge, like even the pure scientific material, on the ground that it may somehow be used by the boogeyman. Lets imagine the consequences...

Well, oversight might lead to a restriction of unchecked governmental power, which would reduce their ability to combat terrorism.

"I think there is going to have to be a look at what happens when somebody possesses material which is secret without having authority."

I think there is going to have to be a look at what happens when someone with a huge blindspot implies we should make a law about something they clearly don't understand.

"The peer insisted there was material the state had to keep secret, and powers had to be in place to protect it."

How does he propose that we keep a check on the state to make sure that it is not abusing its powers? Did he omit to mention this obvious flaw in his proposal, or is it an omission of the journalist reporting on what he said?

It seems like such statements by Lord Blair, insofar as they make people distrust the government, are "but of conduct which is likely to or capable of facilitating terrorism".

Or was it the journalists interviewing him? Or the guardian reposting it? Just arrest the lot and let the juries sort them out!

> we keep a check on the state to make sure that it is not abusing its powers

To the Statist, there is no such thing. A state's purpose is to exude power, for it is not a benevolent beast but it is a malevolent. The end-goal of a state will always be the curtailment of all other power that can be used to remove its power.

>"Did he omit to mention this obvious flaw in his proposal" //

Is it a "flaw". Surely it's impossible to have a system where the state retain information as secret that yet has third-party oversight and doesn't require the populous to trust a person in power (the third-party).

It seems more to be an outcome or corollary than a[n unexpected] error or "flaw".

Here's a work around for the "flaw."

Reduce the need for secret information.

No. A work around would have to entirely remove the need for secret information.

This. The "need" for secret information frequently means covering up for whatever rotten thing the government is doing somewhere. Decades later, you get to see the declassified documents, and you can see why the criminals of the time wanted it all kept a "secret".

There are legitimate needs for secret (or protected) government information.

However, over-classification tends toward the abuses you fear.

What we actually need are laws that make it an offence for any government to cover up projects and operations that materially impact the lives and rights of their citizens. Whether a single citizen or all of them are affected it should be a punishable offence if higher ups cover up the actions of a government official.

What you should be learning from this is that there is no government that rules government - that laws, constitutions, and democracy exist only when and where those in power believe they ought to. I'm not arguing they're all amoral monsters. Often, it's their moral side that's the problem. They want a reasonable thing, such as protection from terrorism, and they sweep all impediments aside to obtain it, because they care, and they can.

Yes. Unfortunately given that the government gets to decide which laws to enforce....

This is getting very scary. Politicians who say something like this at any time, should be met with extreme outrage and make them lose whatever position they're holding immediately. Otherwise they'll get their way, rise to power, and attract more like him there.

What he's saying is unacceptable, but I fear many in the governments think like that right now, which why extreme outrage over this is so important.

This is getting very scary. Politicians who say something like this at any time, should be met with extreme outrage and make them lose whatever position they're holding immediately.

Ian Blair is a Life Peer, not a politician. The UK's House of Lords is not a democratic institution even in pretense.


I think hn's definitely doing its part on the "extreme outrage" front. Thank goodness.

Snowden did not leak the information he did because he felt that states should not have secrets. I think any reasonable person would agree that there is information states legitimately need or want to keep secret. What Snowden did was in response to abusive overreach in secret domestic surveillance, which (to me anyway) is quite different.

* > I think any reasonable person would agree that there is information states legitimately need or want to keep secret. *

Such as? Why should the state have a higher expectation of privacy than its citizens, if it's representative of them?

Names of undercover agents infiltrating criminal organizations, to start?

Fundamentally, gov't policy at various levels allows organized crime to exist via things like the war on drugs. Indeed, it can be argued that undercover police of any kind is undesirable and that gov't policy should not facilitate large scale organized crime.

You mean, names of agent provocateurs infiltrating peaceful protest groups?

You see, the thing is, as soon as you say "well, clearly X needs to be secret", you open the avenue for all of the unintended, unforeseen uses of said secrecy.

The only solution, as far as the state is concerned, is to have no secrets. Undercover police/intelligence work would be obviated by not defining economic and social systems which engender the kind of behaviour that mandates such in the first place.

> You mean, names of agent provocateurs infiltrating peaceful protest group

Yes. And when they leave, abandoning the infant child that they had with a member of the protest group. Yes, that happened.

He warned there was a "new threat which is not of somebody personally intending to aid terrorism, but of conduct which is likely to or capable of facilitating terrorism".

== What. The. Fuck.

Didn't you get the memo? When someone says that something is causing terrorism, you must stop thinking about it and just take their word for it.

Memos can be used by terrorists, so no I did not get a memo, terrorist.

Next time you hear the word 'terrorists', stop listening.

Correction: Every time you see or hear "terrorists" replace it with "citizens".

> Lord Blair told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme: "The state has to have secrets – that's how it operates against citizens.

We know we have a problem when transparency is largely demonized. Allegations of "terrorism" seems to be bringing much benefit to government. I saw a movie recently from the 1980's called "They Live!" I noticed that in the movie the word terrorism, allegations of terrorism or terrorists toward those who opposed them, was the weapon of control of the disguised, camelion totalitarian regime in power. Only those with special glasses could see them. It would seem as if this would be the playbook in protecting criminal government activity done under the auspices of law. Al Capone would have drooled for such type of power.

Top Secret should not be an excuse to undermine the law, the rights of individuals, and the Constitution of the United States. Those who witness such crimes have the duty to come forward to the public. By keeping quiet and turning a blind eye to crime, one partners with it.

Crime grows in the dark while the light of day exposes it. Freedom requires transparency. A war on whistle-blowers is really a type of barometer as to the amount of freedom that we really have.

This is not even politics. This is irrelevant politics. The article boils down to a retiree saying something.

Afraid not. He used to be less political than he is now. He used to be in the police, now he is a life peer and gets to actually vote on stuff.

A policeman joining the police state lobby. Well, I never.

He's not a mere lobbyist, though. He sits in the House of Lords, where he wields actual legislative power but has no corresponding accountability to the electorate.

If you ever wondered why so many people have been campaigning for an elected second chamber in the UK, now you know.

And who elects them? Politicians ready to bestow favours. Thus we have a self-appointed club. Hereditary peers had at least one worthwhile characteristic in that they owed their position to no one save a long-dead ancestor.

I think he means a second chamber elected by voters. That's certainly what I mean.

I meant 'lobby' as in 'club' or 'group', and I agree. I'm all for an elected second chamber rather than the current system.

So he is wanting a new law to cover people who haven't signed the Official Secrets Act from spreading information that is covered by that act?

Given how existing legislation is abused I would hate to see how that could be used. What if I've read something secret that I shouldn't have - would I be commiting Thought Crime?

Actually the provisions of the OSA cover you even if you haven't signed it. Signing it is generally just a reminder thing, hence the fact that if you have to sign it once, you will probably end up signing it several times (when you join, when you leave, when you change roles, etc).

The OSA primarily covers how you handle secret information that you legitimately have access to. He was talking about stuff outside the scope of the OSA - i.e. when you acquire material that you shouldn't have to start with.

Good point, but still, one still needs to just laugh at this guy. The idea tha any idea (data, knowledge) can be mis-used for terrorism is non-falsifiable hypothesis. It makes a mockery of the adverserial justice system.

Many pieces of data can be used for such purposes. Its precisely the innocence of the victims and the innocuous and everyday nature of the means, that is the purposes of this new bloody sport.


We taught them how to fly a guided missile into a FRIGGIN SKYSCRAPER.

We gave the STUDENT VISAS.

Teaching people how to fly can facilitate terrorist acts. Therefore we must arrest all flight instructors.

s/flight instructors/flight manual authors, readers, flight sim writers, players, planespotters, and anyone who knows what an NACA 0012 is/

I'd say lock up everyone and let the juries sort them out but I wonder where we'd get juries in that case....

But it's not outside the scope of the OSA, necessarily - Section 5 covers the recipients of secret material leaked by a civil servant.

The current leaks are only outside of the scope of OSA because Snowden isn't a civil servant of the UK. It appears Blair wants to prevent the publication of all information considered highly embarrassing - er, I mean, 'damaging to national security' - regardless of where it came.

We already have thought crime. See the several groups of chaps who were all locked up for life for talking about making a bomb last year.

This is probably an attempt to move the 'overtone window' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_Window

It's an attempt, but I suspect one which moves it in the opposite direction to what he intends.

"The state has to have secrets – that's how it operates against terrorists"

Secrecy allows the state to do a lot of things.

Defenders of the State on this issue tend to answer the question they want to be asked - "should the state have secrets".

No-one (except maybe Julian Assange) is arguing that the State shouldn't have secrets - the recent leaks occurred not as a blow against secrecy but to expose State wrongdoing. That's why it's whistleblowing, and not just vandalism.

Guys like Blair like to pretend that they're fighting for the government's right to keep secrets, which no-one is seriously challenging; they run shy of addressing the specific secrets exposed - be it military misbehaviour against civilians, civil servants deceiving lawmakers and so on.

The root cause of all of this is really simple - our definition of terrorism, and the fact that we are at war with it. The solution is unfavorably not simple.

First thing's first, we need to redefine what constitutes terrorism, otherwise this situation will only get worse.

As often with powerful tools, what we miss is an effective counter-power to restore balance. In this case, I'd investigate:

* making it a crime for officials to use anti-terrorism provisions without a serious enough ground (this poses the problem of legally defining "serious enough")

* nullifying any legal procedure which uses anti-terrorist laws yet doesn't yield a terrorist indictment (Today, sticking a terrorist charge on an investigation just gives free super powers to judges and cops; with this caveat, making terrorist claims would become an all-or-nothing gamble, which would be used much more carefully)

From what I've seen in the US political and judicial system (I may be too cynical), I believe that the following would happen:

Point 1: The definition of what is "serious" would be so watered down and full of political rhetoric that anyone, at any time could be found to be a 'serious threat'.

Point 2: This would simply increase the amount of 'terrorism' convictions, and may actually lead to a quicker trials and harsher sentences --- surely the police and prosecution wouldn't bring a charge to MY court unless it was serious! Look at the new law that makes it so!

The issue is that the people using the powerful tools are also the same people allowed to write the checks and balances. . . .

Great, so the government would have laws that prevent us from ever knowing what they think is an acceptable level of surveillance of our daily lives. That has no potential for misuse.

I get that the leaks could potentially give an advantage to terrorists, but if they're so smart they're following the leaks with baited breath and reworking their tactics, the likelihood is they're probably already avoid using channels that they believe are compromised. If they're using channels that are compromised they're probably too ineffective to pull off a large scale terror attack.

Well, as for the bad guys, most of the public perception of them seems to be based on Holywood movies. In real life their sophistication seems to be absolute BS -- crude stuff that only works (sporadically at that) because a) it's simple to the point that nobody can prevent such stuff anyway, b) the agencies let it happen, c) the agencies are incompetent.

I don't believe they blocked any large scale stuff we don't know about. If they did, they would be shouting it on the rooftops, to show how effective and necessary they are.

That's the argument isn't it, 'we need this to protect you, but we can't tell because it's super classified'.

If you want to see the largely-tamed press suddenly become rabidly anti-national security, go ahead guys.

The press is still massively powerful in the UK, and even more so in the United States, where the First Amendment still holds relatively strong. More importantly than any legal protection, civil society won't stand for it.

I think I've made clear through previous comments that, by HN standards, I'm slightly to the right of the Kaiser on SIGINT to prevent terrorism. Large scale persecution of the press would be enough to get even me to consider switching sides.

He is right about one thing: times are changing and our institutions need to change too.

There are things considered to be "tenants of democracy." Press freedoms (independence, access, source anonymity) political rights (secret ballots, right to organize, rights to protest). People actively claiming those rights is seen as a sign of health for democracy. If a government is harassing journalists, finding out people's vote or preventing political protests we immediately see this as an attack on democracy. These are protected by public opinion (formed over generations), courts and basic/fundamental/constitutional laws, usually old ones. They are not protected by governments.

If the definition of "leak" or whistleblower is left to governments (pretty much any current government in the world), they will define them as some variant of "traitor" or "terrorist."

In order for a distinction to be made between someone who makes information available to The People and someone who make information available to The Enemy, courts need to be involved. They need to have basic laws to lean on.

BTW, I think that distinction is incredibly clear. All the cases under discussion made information available to the US public (and in some cases the subjects of other governments). They were primarily of interest to the US public. I believe independent courts would be able to make that distinction easily.

Yeah, I get the logic: 'terrorism' is knowing what the government is doing. Perhaps there's another logic: a government which hides in the shadows terrorizes everyone.

Why don't 'they' get it? What the Guardian has leaked does not benefit terrorists, and I've heard nobody make a case that it does. Until they make that case, the reason this was hidden was not because of terrorists unless we've widened the definition to preliminarily classify the whole worked as such.

Sure there's stuff that's reasonable to keep secret (in my opinion), but if this is identified as such that just weakens the case for any of it being secret.

And the "War on Dissent" rears its ugly head again. Anyone that doesn't gladly salute the state is "terrorist."

>"I think there is going to have to be a look at what happens when somebody possesses material which is secret without having authority."


This describes journalists and news organizations unless his proposed ratchet-tightening carves out clear and bold exceptions, which are, by definition, not clear, bold, or easy to define in this age of new media.

What the hell makes this guy a lord? Secrets are secret because they are controversial or out right illegal (from what Snowden has showed us at least). So what he's basically telling us is the government should be allowed to be above the law because they need to catch terrorist while at the same time broadening the definition by including journalists reporting of the truth. The only people these journalists re terrorizing are the people in power who are hiding their abuses of power by classifying them top secret.

Does anyone have an original thought on this, or is everyone going to keep saying "this is bad because I read it in a book about bad things"?

I personally, coming from admittedly a position of ignorance where I don't know what secrets may or may not exist and what their implications may or may not be, have trouble picking a side. As we don't know the secrets, any opinion we take on them, other than a general one, is purely emotional.

Aren't there laws already in place? If I have access to confidential information, and I disseminate, there's criminal and civil consequences.

Laws that revolve around preemptive action to prevent something that's already illegal (war on terror, gun control) offer marginal benefit at the cost of making life difficult for those who wouldn't have violated the laws already in place.

How is this not a bigger deal? This man is completely mind boggling. Is the corruption in the UK really this bad?

There must needs be an independent and viable channel for whistle blowers to report government abuse to and be protected from retaliation. The problem with terrorist is real; but there is also a real problem with bad/corrupt government cronies.

The State is the one that must have no expectations of privacy and in fact be held to rigorous transparency an independent audit, not the other way around.

Like in software, security that relies on closed source is in fact more vulnerable.

Well, if government stopped abusing our trust, we wouldn't need leaks. What this ex policeman is saying is that we have no right to know if government and his lot in the police are abusing the power we grant them.

What a surprise.

Most people don't challenge the states right to keep secrets, what Snowden, Assange and others challenge is the right to commit crimes and keep them secret.

Then maybe governments should stop doing things that require people of principle to have to make the difficult decision to leak state secrets.

Coming from Ian Blair, this is fairly unsurprising. It's amazing he's even being put in print, given his prior behaviour.

I've got a great way to do that, no law necessary!

Stop having state secrets that 'principled' people will want to leak!

Is it just me, or are the words "terrorist" and "terrorism" starting to lose their meanings?

Did they ever have any?

"Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, often violent, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no legally binding, criminal law definition.[1][2] Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror); are perpetrated for a religious, political, or ideological goal; and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians). Some definitions now include acts of unlawful violence and war. The use of similar tactics by criminal organizations for protection rackets or to enforce a code of silence is usually not labeled terrorism, though these same actions may be labeled terrorism when done by a politically motivated group. The writer Heinrich Böll and scholars Raj Desai and Harry Eckstein have suggested that attempts to protect against terrorism may lead to a kind of social oppression.[3][4]

The word "terrorism" is politically and emotionally charged,[5] and this greatly compounds the difficulty of providing a precise definition. Studies have found over 100 definitions of “terrorism”.[6][7] The concept of terrorism may be controversial as it is often used by state authorities (and individuals with access to state support) to delegitimize political or other opponents,[8] and potentially legitimize the state's own use of armed force against opponents (such use of force may be described as "terror" by opponents of the state).[8][9]"

- wikipedia, at the time of writing


We're not in 1984. We're not in Brave New World. We're not even in Zamyatin's We. We're in bloody Brazil.

                         Deputy minister, what do you believe 
                         is behind this recent increase in 
                         terrorist bombings?

                         Bad sportsmanship. A ruthless 
                         minority of people seems to have 
                         forgotten certain good old fashioned 
                         virtues. They just can't stand 
                         seeing the other fellow win. If 
                         these people would just play the 
                         game, instead of standing on the 
                         touch line heckling

                         In fact, killing people

                         In fact, killing people  they'd 
                         get a lot more out of life.

               We PULL AWAY from the shop to concentrate on the shoppers. 
               Helpmann's voice carries over the rest of the scene.

                         Mr. Helpmann, what would you say 
                         to those critics who maintain that 
                         the Ministry Of Information has 
                         become too large and unwieldy... ?

                         David... in a free society 
                         information is the name of the 
                         game. You can't win the game if 
                         you're a man short.

I hate to draw the comparison, but it reminds me even more of this:

""What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing.

"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.

"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter."

More: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/511928.html

So now we're suggesting the United Kingdom in 2013 is like Nazi Germany in 1933? Snowden-era Hacker News has gotten completely ridiculous.

Tell us what about that excerpt doesn't precisely describe what has been occurring in the US?

No one said we're going to become Nazi Germany, but Nazi Germany also didn't appear out of thin air. There were a series of actions and evolution at the state level that eventually provided the necessary preconditions for Nazi Germany to exist. I'm sure that what ended up being Nazi Germany was one of several path that Germany could have taken given those necessary preconditions that permitted its existence. We don't know what those other paths are, one of those paths could be where we end up instead. What is known, is that this ever widening gap permits individuals, possibly several acting in concert and possibly in the belief that they are doing the right thing to exert undue influence upon the political decisions of the country for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. The two wars we have become embroiled in unnecessarily are prime examples of such acts.

We probably won't become Nazi Germany. But there is nothing going on that suggests that we won't become something that is a democracy or republic only in name, and that the will of the people and the rights of individuals simply become inconsequential. I personally have no reason to believe that we will become Nazi Germany, but I have every reason to believe that we are becoming a nation that no longer protects my rights and the rights of my fellow citizens and that we are becoming a nation that protects the self interest of the few at the expense of the self interest of the many... us.

Furthermore, there a large number of cultural precursors that existed from before Hitler was even born.

Hitler didn't invent antisemitism. Martin Luther clearly envisioned a genocide of Jews, in what was one of Hitler's favorite books. [1]

Eugenics was bigger in the U.S. than anywhere else.

The U.S. even invented modern nationalism, and it clearly remains more popular here than anywhere else in the western world. (Though, at least originally, this was tempered by the idea that Enlightenment ideals were universal, though admittedly, "Freedom" and "Liberty" are now just empty newspeak)


No no, you see, the Germans were EVIL and were knowingly doing terrible things because they enjoyed them. Hitler was drinking the blood of children while the wehrmacht paraded guns around going "BLITZKREIG! BLITZKREIG!", and everyone supped from the skulls of slaves on a daily basis.

Sadly, this was the vision promulgated by western propaganda, as the notion that a civilised group of people could end up where Germany ended up was unconscionable, and incomprehensible to most - and this visage is still stuck in the mind of most as "how NAZIsm happened", rather than the very slippery, very real slope they found themselves tumbling down.

Exactly. Instead what should have been popularized were Stanley Milgram's obedience to authority experiments that were performed to answer the question as to why many otherwise well meaning humans would collectively engage in horrible acts like extermination of a race of people. That experiment and Soloman Asch's experiments in conformity pretty much show that Americans are just as capable of the same acts as Nazi Germany.

Sadly we really don't even need those experiments to show we are also capable of such atrocities. Abu Gharaib, Guantanamo Bay, Extraordinary Rendition, WWII Japanese Internment camps and other examples from our history show that we already have.

Godwin's Law is well rooted in basic human nature.

Go back to Reddit.

You're really not grabbing the intellectual high ground here.

Debate cogently rather than reverting to childish "go back where you came from" type "arguments"?

I've got a better argument: Go back to Reddit, because things are better there now than they are here.

I downvoted you for your mid-brow dismissal of the parent comment.

Yes, there are parallels between UK in 2013 and Nazi Germany in 1933. Scary parallels. People who know their history understand that authoritarianism and fascism tend to take hold within a relatively short amount of time. In Germany for example, the Nazi party was formed in 1920, came to power in 1925 and within a decade it was implementing racist and nationalist policies all over the country. We all know what that led to.

That would be the same United Kingdom that now has posters on busses in London telling illegal immigrants to go home? The one with the opt-out web-filter to stop "terrorists" and "paedophiles" who can't Google "proxy"? The one where failing to turn your encryption key over to the police will land you in jail? The one where teenagers are arrested for obvious jokes on Twitter?

That United Kingdom?

The Nazis have been given this special place in history, in discussions, in almost all aspects they've been examined, such that they are seen as the extreme end of the spectrum in almost all cases, brutality, efficiency, deadliness, zealousness, etc.

Propaganda is good for motivating people, it's not good for making rational, informed decisions (indeed, it's point is to bypass rational decision making by applying to emotional cues).

The truth is, they were an entire country of people, with varying and diverse opinions on everything. The fact that we elevate them to this position does not make us less likely to follow their path, by viewing them as so distinct from us, it makes us more likely. There's a little Nazi in all of us, and the sooner we come to terms with that, the better we'll be at noticing and taming it.

Godwin's law aside, how is it more ridiculous than comparing it to science fiction?

I was re-watching Brazil the other day and this was exactly what came to mind. We are not in 1984. Terry Gilliam's vision is terrific, and captures with precision how someone working for the NSA (even though it's not called like that in the movie) thinking he is working for Good actually discovers the impact of his actions on real people's lives.

It's frightening how close we are to that place.

Ducts. We need more ducts.

The internet is a series of round ducts, called tubes. Pneumatic tubes, I have heard.

That must be what all the ducts in the movie were!

Not sure this is fair. The government isn't crazy like Deputy Minister Helpmann in Brazil. It really is trying to do its job. Imagine if every American football coach had to announce his play to the other team. What purpose would there be in it? So, there needs to be a system in place that helps keep secrets. But, the question is how should those that expose secrets be dealt with? No one wants to deal with those exposing state secrets because they are doing it to no one in particular, and aren't being seen as actively trying to help terrorists. That is the problem and that is the reason we are comparing things to the movie Brazil here.

Growing up in the U.S., we were all taught the history of our country, which included Benedict Arnold. But very few see a parallel to Benedict Arnold in Snowden. They cannot see how someone whose main claim to fame in the press has been, "They are watching you!" has exposed state secrets. Neither do they think Julian Assange is Benedict Arnold. Julian is just posed as a well-meaning but much misled Australian hacker that probably got framed in a rape case and is on the run, like a modern day Frank Abagnale, but with state secrets instead of fake checks.

The fact is, our governments need respect in order to keep secrets better, but prosecuting and hunting down these people is not the answer, neither are other "control" techniques. They just need better security. If they had better security, I for one would respect the fact that they said, "Oops! I guess I left the playbook in front of the press tent. I guess I should keep it on my person at all times."

The Benedict Arnold comparison is absurd and the football analogy is very weak.

There is no 'other team' and the coach is paranoid. He keeps the playbook secret from his own team, suspecting any one of them may be playing for the other side, which does not exist. No games are scheduled anyway, but still he insists on spying on them and recording all the details of their private lives in his secret playbook.

One day one of the team finds the playbook and is horrified at what their coach has been doing behind their backs...

etc etc

I agree that the football analogy is weak. As an outsider looking in, it seems as though the 'secret plays' are secret just because that's the way it's become... not because it's the only way.

I mean, you just have to look at pretty much every other team sport out there: none of those have secret playbooks. The team is smart enough to work together to determine the best course of action, sometimes taking the advantage, sometimes responding to the loss of that advantage.

So what we have is one sport out of dozens that has a particular quirk, and then we use that weirdness to justify what the government is currently doing?


Whether or not it's appropriate to be using sports analogies here, it's not true that football is unique in the secrecy of information. Plenty of sports have information that is known between teammates and not shared with the other team (baseball pitchers don't communicate what they're going to throw, basketball teams draw up plays, etc.).

The only thing that's unique about football is how much complexity they can factor into each play since they've got 11 players to work with and there's a stoppage before each play during which they can regroup and coordinate.

A better analogy from sports is Jerry Sandusky. Snowden is analogous to someone who had the fortitude to draw attention to obvious wrongdoing.

Our elected officials are analogous to Joe Paterno as they try to hide the truth and deny the wrongdoing.

Respect, both for governments and individuals, must be earned. Many Americans still do trust the US Government, but Snowden's revelations have caused many to question that trust. When we watch our leaders (Obama, tech leaders, etc.) deny responsibility and show no interest in doing anything about the actual crimes that the leaks revealed, we rightly lose trust and respect for our government.

So, there needs to be a system in place that helps keep secrets.

How about a simple workflow before marking something Top Secret?

1. Did we break the law?

-> Yes -> End: don't mark Top Secret; call the police and have responsible parties arrested.

-> No -> End: mark Top Secret.

-> Maybe -> End: don't mark Top Secret; call the police and have responsible parties arrested.

And we could use the same workflow for encountering already Top Secret docs. In fact, that's exactly what Snowden and Manning did. Not sure what the fuss is about: they're whistleblowers, so we should all be happy and all see a lot of DoJ guys in vests escorting NSA guys from datacenters in handcuffs (or gals).

You work flow is slightly askew. Let me fix this:

----- 1. Did we break the law?

-> Yes -> GOSUB Modify_Law_To_Make_This_Legal -> End: mark Top Secret. -----

You're welcome.

-> (Yes || Maybe) -> ...

Well, it is a fair comparison in that the crazy torture/interrogation state of Gilliam's "Brazil" was driven by the profit motive -- the victims of torture paid for their own interrogation.

This is eerily similar to the manner in which our own surveillance state is also driven by the profit motive - ordinary people paying for the profit-driven private companies that subject them to surveillance -- and in the process, keeping us all in a state of abject terror of the hidden dangers from which we are being "protected".

Hmmm... how much is it like a protection racket? Indeed, look at what happens to the people who want out?

That's preposterous, are you suggesting that government in Brazil isn't trying to do its job?

Jokes aside, I don't think comparisons to football game are apt. Most people are simply not interested in competing with people in other countries, at least not any more than in competing with their own elites in government and elsewhere. So it's not like we are all one happy team inside the state.

> Imagine if every American football coach had to announce his play to the other team.

That actually does happen in most sports though. Football (Soccer) coaches announce the line up and formation. In fact in most team sports you know who's going to be playing and who's on the bench before the match starts. In F1, you know which cars are carrying more fuel or planning for more pit-stops. And even with sports popular for gambling (eg horse racing) you are given the history of horses races, it's trainer and the jockey riding it.

Sports are seldom played with any kind of secrecy - the only exception being games likes Chess or Poker and even in those cases, everyone is on a level playing field with access to the same information, it's only the individual players strategy and their bluffs that's kept secret.

I can understand and even agree with governments not announcing secret agents, what locations they're going to raid or even what specific information they've collected on genuine suspects. The problem is their entire operation is done in secret and they indiscriminately monitor the entire worlds population. This is more than just hiding your next move, this is a gross abuse of power and with the officials well aware that they're on legally dubious ground which is why they're so keen to keep even the general overview of their operations a secret. And ironically, in doing so they turn people into terrorists because any form of direct opposition to their operations - regardless of how reasonable the individual is being - and anyone who dares expose such activities are automatically added to the "naughty list". It's become a self fulfilling prophecy because they're now classifying innocent people as terrorists just to hide the fact that their operations have spun out of control.

Sports are seldom played with any kind of secrecy - the only exception being games likes Chess or Poker and even in those cases, everyone is on a level playing field with access to the same information, it's only the individual players strategy and their bluffs that's kept secret.

Maybe you are not familiar with American football; replace "players" with "coaches" and that's exactly how it works.

Maybe you're not familiar with every other sport, but seldom is secrecy used as a strategy.

> The government isn't crazy like Deputy Minister Helpmann in Brazil.

Who said Helpmann was crazy? He's perfectly sane and rational, from his frame of reference. So are our governments. The issue arises when the subjective reality in which ones leaders reside and the subjective reality in which you reside are radically disconnected, which makes decisions and actions made by either side seem irrational and scary.

I'd argue that governmental secrecy is bad, in all its forms, as it always ends up being abused, from the perspective of the cit. I understand your point, but it's demonstrably the case that secrecy begets secrecy, which begets corruption.

I stand by my parallel of Brazil, for we do not exist under a brutal, evil, autocratic government, nor under a consciously designed society intended to be "better", but instead under a self-sustaining zombie bureaucracy that no longer connects to the world it governs, and in fact is attempting to reshape the subjective reality of others to suit its own ends - which are, in fact, none, other than perpetuation of the status quo and hegemonic systemisation of anything which conceivably can be - which was the crux of Brazil.

What I admire about Edward Snowden was that he leaked documents that revealed secrets that are important for the public to know. But most importantly, his leaks did not contain secrets about the whereabouts of American personnel. No one was put in immediate danger because of his leaks. And Mr Snowden has stated himself that was his intent; he had come across documents that revealed a far reaching system that he simply could not justify not revealing.

However, while Mr Snowden's conduct was admirable, there will be some people out there interested in state secrets, with the intent of malice. With the intent of doing harm to the government, the state, people working for the government/state or the people of that state.

I agree that secrecy is bad, but I feel we must at least have some secrecy, but clear and public requirements for when something can become (or remain) secret.

Sweden has a relevant law to define a public requirement for when someone can become liable for publishing secrets¹. It demands evidence that shows that the information was correctly classified, and that some damage actually happened from the publishing. Simply having a seal on the document is not enough.

The precedent case for this law happened during the cold war, and was about a newspaper that published a counter-espionage report (Case: NJA 1988 s. 118²).

The military argued that the national safety was damaged by the publishing, but would not give any details because of the nature of doing national security work.

The court made two tests to decide the case. Did the information deserve to be classified under secrecy, and was the damages reported by the military believable. On the first, they said it was doubtful, and on the second they said a straight no. Case dismissed.

To me it sounds as very clear and public requirement, which would work fine in both Snowden's and Manning's cases.

1) Please note that this is only about publishing secrets. Breaking a contract or an oath can and is likely to be punished under different laws.

2) https://lagen.nu/dom/nja/1988s118

Was the law used in the 1988 ruling? Or was the law created following that ruling? I assume it is the former, as Sweden is a Civil Law countries and judgements don't make something enforceable.

But regardless, that is a decent enough requirement system. The military refusing to present evidence in the case also hurt their argument, which is how it should be.

Correct, the law(s) was made before the ruling. Sweden still use precedent cases as guides, but they don't decide the law.

Funny that you should say that. I read HN every day and I don't know what's in the documents that Snowden leaked. Granted, I usually only skim these types of posts trying to glean any insightful comments.

Anyway, the point is that if I don't know what Snowden leaked, I bet most people don't know either.

I think the easy opt out here then is to say that governments shouldn't be secret, but the military can. But then you get to the strange point, as to whether the government can trust the military.

That's not a strange point. That's the way it should be. The military represent the people. The government represent the people. The police/law enforcement agencies represent the state-sanctioned violence of the government's legislative branch. Note that this does not mean that the military represent the government. This has come to be the case in many western democracies, but has not always been the case.

Military coups are the outcome of a disconnect. Whether that disconnect lies between the people and the government, or the government and the military, varies.

But fundamentally, no, the government should not trust the military, nor the military the government, as the two should be at odds, for otherwise the military have no distinction from the police - and the police no distinction from the military - and then you find yourselves in a scary place indeed.

Ere I am JH, the ghost in the machine.

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