Insider Threat Program

Max Frankel, the 83-year-old former New York Times executive editor, wrote this week in his old newspaper: “As those of us who had to defend the 1971 publication of the secret Pentagon Papers about the Vietnam War have been arguing ever since, there can be no mature discussion of national security policies without the disclosure – authorized or not – of the government’s hoard of secrets.”

[Guardian editorial: “Edward Snowden: in defence of whistleblowers”]

That’s the dilemma.

Some things do need to be kept under wraps but the choice can’t safely be left to those seeped in the business of hoovering up data and secrets. True north for them will always point one way.

So who decides?

Ideally some arm of government, responsibly and as transparently as possible monitoring (and where necessary reining in) what the spooks are doing. Trouble is, from a politicians’ of view, unless there’s some public outcry the path of least resistance is to let the pros get on with it. Worse still, in the wake of 9/11 national security has become a bipartisan obsession. Continue reading

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Oh dear

If the protagonists were bigger and the issues more crucial, the Australian Labor leadership battle might have qualified as tragedy. As things stand, it seems closer to a farce.

The old tale about the son who murdered his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan springs to mind. Having undermined his party for the last three years, Rudd now poses as its saviour.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Or perhaps that should be the other way around..

For all her flaws, Gillard comes away with a battered kind of honour. As to whether this last-ditch move lessens Labor’s loss, maybe. The polls certainly say so but Rudd does come with a heaped dray cart of baggage.

Perhaps we should view it as an interesting little test of principle versus pragmatism.

Slip sliding away

Fallout from the Snowden saga continues to spread.

Take Hong Kong’s press release on Sunday:

Mr Edward Snowden left Hong Kong today (June 23) on his own accord for a third country through a lawful and normal channel.

The US Government earlier on made a request to the HKSAR Government for the issue of a provisional warrant of arrest against Mr Snowden. Since the documents provided by the US Government did not fully comply with the legal requirements under Hong Kong law, the HKSAR Government has requested the US Government to provide additional information so that the Department of Justice could consider whether the US Government’s request can meet the relevant legal conditions. As the HKSAR Government has yet to have sufficient information to process the request for provisional warrant of arrest, there is no legal basis to restrict Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong.

The HKSAR Government has already informed the US Government of Mr Snowden’s departure.

Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. Continue reading

White collar mercenaries

It’s a strange, twilight world.

[U]nlike the case with nuclear weapons, anyone can play. Wes Brown, who has never sold a bug or exploit to a government but whose Mosquito program may have inspired part of the best-known cyber-warfare operation so far, puts it simply. “You don’t have to be a nation-state to do this,” he says. “You just have to be really smart.” (Vanity Fair)

Hackers who unearth software bugs and create “zero day” exploits to capitalise on them are richly rewarded by criminals, brokers and governments.

“We wouldn’t share this with Google for even $1 million,” says Bekrar. “We don’t want to give them any knowledge that can help them in fixing this exploit or other similar exploits. We want to keep this for our customers.” Continue reading

Smooth Transfer

A little Sunday morning satire (h/t FB Ali):

DAMASCUS (The Borowitz Report) — Supporters of the United States’ twelve-year quagmire in Afghanistan cheered the news today that the U.S. would strive to achieve a seamless transfer of that quagmire to Syria, effective immediately.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sought to reassure those who were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan signalled a wavering of the nation’s commitment to being mired in open-ended military muddles.

“I can tell you, right here and right now, that the U.S. is every bit as determined to engage in an ill-defined, ill-advised and seemingly interminable mission in Syria as we were in Afghanistan,” Gen. Dempsey said. “All that’s changing is the Zip Code.” Continue reading

Reintroducing big banks to the market

Two senior fellows at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) recently proposed a scheme for recapitalising too big to fail banks.

It’s quick and simple, respects the existing credit hierarchy, lets the market determine the ultimate allocation of losses and spares long-suffering taxpayers any further pain.

As well as tidying up a hitherto insoluble problem, their plan would reintroduce a far broader range of market disciplines into the future determination of financial system risks. Hallelujah.

If they really have nailed it (and I think they probably have), this is a big deal.

Still, even the best horse can’t run when hobbled and politics, private interests and the perverse power of sunk costs may do just that:

And even though not much progress has been made by big jurisdictions such as the EU and US, what has been achieved has cost so much time and labor that the authorities may not want to unravel it and start afresh. That would be a shame. TBTF hasn’t gone away, and the next banks to need resolving may not be as small as Cyprus’s. (WSJ)

Deeper into the surveillance debate

“Remarkably thoughtful essay; if you read only one thing this week, make it this.” (John Gruber at Daring Fireball)

The security state operates as a ratchet. Once you click in a new level of surveillance or intrusiveness, it becomes the new baseline. What was unthinkable yesterday becomes permissible in exceptional cases today, and routine tomorrow. The people who run the American security apparatus are in the overwhelming majority diligent people with a deep concern for civil liberties. But their job is to find creative ways to collect information. And they work within an institution that, because of its secrecy, is fundamentally inimical to democracy and to a free society.

Maciej Ceglowski puts his best case against the unfolding surveillance state and, as Gruber says, it’s a good one. David Simon, however, isn’t persuaded. Continue reading