Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

NSA hiding Equation spy program on hard drives

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

– In 1999, Motorola, at my request, sent me to Silicon Valley for a week-long course in advanced Windows Win32 programming.  

– During this course, I remember talking with another participant; a young computer whiz who was from the NSA.  

– He talked about how they (the NSA computer guys) conducted red-team green-team battles to see who could infiltrate the other’s team’s computer systems.

– But the thing he talked about, that caught my interest the most, was when he said the hot new frontier was getting into firmware as a way of exerting control over computers remotely.  It was a new idea that immediately fascinated me but once he saw my interest, I think he realized that he might be talking too much and clammed up.  He avoided me for the rest of the week.

– The story, below, says that the technique of firmware infiltration may have been around since 2001.  I’m sure I heard the sound of the other shoe dropping when I read that.

– The article says:

It is not clear how the NSA may have obtained the hard drives’ source code. Western Digital spokesman Steve Shattuck said the company “has not provided its source code to government agencies.” The other hard drive makers would not say if they had shared their source code with the NSA.

– I don’t find it all that mysterous.  How hard would it be for the NSA to field computer-savvy agents directed to seek employment in these companies?  Or, as the article says, to require the companies to provide their source code to the NSA for security reviews before the U.S. Government will allow it to be used in U.S. facilities?

– Once the NSA has the firmware’s source code, they can modify it and then intercept the firm’s drives in shipment and refresh the firmware on the intercepted drives with the NSA’s new stuff …  that does everything the old firmware does … and a bit more.  

– The interception-during-shipment technique was outed over a year ago as being one of their favorite techniques though in that case it had to do with routers.

– dennis

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The US National Security Agency has figured out how to hide spying software deep within hard drives made by Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba and other top manufacturers, giving the agency the means to eavesdrop on the majority of the world’s computers, according to cyber researchers and former operatives.

That long-sought and closely guarded ability was part of a cluster of spying programs discovered by Kaspersky Lab, the Moscow-based security software maker that has exposed a series of Western cyberespionage operations.

Kaspersky said it found personal computers in 30 countries infected with one or more of the spying programs, with the most infections seen in Iran, followed by Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Mali, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. The targets included government and military institutions, telecommunication companies, banks, energy companies, nuclear researchers, media, and Islamic activists, Kaspersky said.

The firm declined to publicly name the country behind the spying campaign, but said it was closely linked to Stuxnet, the NSA-led cyberweapon that was used to attack Iran’s uranium enrichment facility. The NSA is the agency responsible for gathering electronic intelligence on behalf of the United States.

A former NSA employee told Reuters that Kaspersky’s analysis was correct, and that people still in the intelligence agency valued these spying programs as highly as Stuxnet. Another former intelligence operative confirmed that the NSA had developed the prized technique of concealing spyware in hard drives, but said he did not know which spy efforts relied on it.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines declined to comment.

Kaspersky published the technical details of its research on Monday, which should help infected institutions detect the spying programs, some of which trace back as far as 2001.

The disclosure could further hurt the NSA’s surveillance abilities, already damaged by massive leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden’s revelations have hurt the United States’ relations with some allies and slowed the sales of US technology products abroad.

The exposure of these new spying tools could lead to greater backlash against Western technology, particularly in countries such as China, which is already drafting regulations that would require most bank technology suppliers to proffer copies of their software code for inspection.

TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGH

According to Kaspersky, the spies made a technological breakthrough by figuring out how to lodge malicious software in the obscure code called firmware that launches every time a computer is turned on.

Disk drive firmware is viewed by spies and cybersecurity experts as the second-most valuable real estate on a PC for a hacker, second only to the BIOS code invoked automatically as a computer boots up.

“The hardware will be able to infect the computer over and over,” lead Kaspersky researcher Costin Raiu said in an interview.

Though the leaders of the still-active espionage campaign could have taken control of thousands of PCs, giving them the ability to steal files or eavesdrop on anything they wanted, the spies were selective and only established full remote control over machines belonging to the most desirable foreign targets, according to Raiu. He said Kaspersky found only a few especially high-value computers with the hard-drive infections.

Kaspersky’s reconstructions of the spying programs show that they could work in disk drives sold by more than a dozen companies, comprising essentially the entire market. They include Western Digital, Seagate, Toshiba, IBM, Micron Technology and Samsung.

Western Digital, Seagate and Micron said they had no knowledge of these spying programs. Toshiba and Samsung declined to comment. IBM did not respond to requests for comment.

GETTING THE SOURCE CODE

Raiu said the authors of the spying programs must have had access to the proprietary source code that directs the actions of the hard drives. That code can serve as a roadmap to vulnerabilities, allowing those who study it to launch attacks much more easily.

“There is zero chance that someone could rewrite the [hard drive] operating system using public information,” Raiu said.

Concerns about access to source code flared after a series of high-profile cyberattacks on Google Inc and other US companies in 2009 that were blamed on China. Investigators have said they found evidence that the hackers gained access to source code from several big US tech and defense companies.

It is not clear how the NSA may have obtained the hard drives’ source code. Western Digital spokesman Steve Shattuck said the company “has not provided its source code to government agencies.” The other hard drive makers would not say if they had shared their source code with the NSA.

Seagate spokesman Clive Over said it has “secure measures to prevent tampering or reverse engineering of its firmware and other technologies.” Micron spokesman Daniel Francisco said the company took the security of its products seriously and “we are not aware of any instances of foreign code.”

According to former intelligence operatives, the NSA has multiple ways of obtaining source code from tech companies, including asking directly and posing as a software developer. If a company wants to sell products to the Pentagon or another sensitive US agency, the government can request a security audit to make sure the source code is safe.

“They don’t admit it, but they do say, ‘We’re going to do an evaluation, we need the source code,'” said Vincent Liu, a partner at security consulting firm Bishop Fox and former NSA analyst. “It’s usually the NSA doing the evaluation, and it’s a pretty small leap to say they’re going to keep that source code.”

Kaspersky called the authors of the spying program “the Equation group,” named after their embrace of complex encryption formulas.

The group used a variety of means to spread other spying programs, such as by compromising jihadist websites, infecting USB sticks and CDs, and developing a self-spreading computer worm called Fanny, Kasperky said.

Fanny was like Stuxnet in that it exploited two of the same undisclosed software flaws, known as “zero days,” which strongly suggested collaboration by the authors, Raiu said. He added that it was “quite possible” that the Equation group used Fanny to scout out targets for Stuxnet in Iran and spread the virus.

– To the Original:  

UN says global violence against schoolgirls rising

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Girls in at least 70 countries facing higher number of threats and targeted killings for going to school, report says.

Girls in at least 70 countries are facing increasing threats, targeted killings and violence for trying to go to school, the UN human rights office, has said.

“Attacks against girls accessing education persist and, alarmingly, appear in some countries to be occurring with increasing regularity,” the OHCHR said in a paper looking at attacks on girls seeking to access education, published on Tuesday.

“According to UN sources, more than 3,600 separate attacks against educational institutions, teachers and students were recorded in 2012 alone.”

The report went on to remark that the exclusion or marginalisation of girls within the educational, political and economic realm means they are often unable to demand equal access to particular human rights.

The result, it argues, becomes a cycle of impunity reinforcing a subordinate social status for girls.

The right to education plays a “catalytic role in promoting substantive equality between men and women” in regards to economic, political, cultural and health development outcomes, the report said.

Underlying discrimination

Recent attacks targeting girls include the abduction of 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the armed group Boko Haram and the shooting of education activist Malala Yousafzai by members of the Taliban in Pakistan.

Many girls are the target of sexual violence, abduction, intimidation and harassment during war and peacetime resulting in lower attendance rates at schools, the report said.

In Pakistan’s Swat, the Taliban’s attacks and violent threats against girls, their families and teachers resulted in 120,000 female students and 8,000 female teachers ceasing to attend schools in 2009.

However, there have been other instances in which girls were targeted for their higher level of education.

The Lords’ Resistance Army in Uganda targeted secondary school girls because of their superior literacy which made them valuable recruits for military communications work.

The motivations for the attacks, in particular the underlying discrimination and gender stereotyping has aided in preventing girls from accessing education opportunities, the OHCR said.

The report concluded that violence against schoolgirls cannot be preventing without addressing broader patterns discrimination against women and girls.

– To the Original:  

The Davos oligarchs are right to fear the world they’ve made

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Escalating inequality is the work of a global elite that will resist every challenge to its vested interests

The billionaires and corporate oligarchs meeting in Davos this week are getting worried about inequality. It might be hard to stomach that the overlords of a system that has delivered the widest global economic gulf in human history should be handwringing about the consequences of their own actions.

But even the architects of the crisis-ridden international economic order are starting to see the dangers. It’s not just the maverick hedge-funder George Soros, who likes to describe himself as a class traitor. Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, frets about the “capitalist threat to capitalism”. Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, fears capitalism might indeed carry Marx’s “seeds of its own destruction” and warns that something needs to be done.

The scale of the crisis has been laid out for them by the charity Oxfam. Just 80 individuals now have the same net wealth as 3.5 billion people – half the entire global population. Last year, the best-off 1% owned 48% of the world’s wealth, up from 44% five years ago. On current trends, the richest 1% will have pocketed more than the other 99% put together next year. The 0.1% have been doing even better, quadrupling their share of US income since the 1980s.

This is a wealth grab on a grotesque scale. For 30 years, under the rule of what Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, calls “market fundamentalism”, inequality in income and wealth has ballooned, both between and within the large majority of countries. In Africa, the absolute number living on less than $2 a day has doubled since 1981 as the rollcall of billionaires has swelled.

In most of the world, labour’s share of national income has fallen continuously and wages have stagnated under this regime of privatisation, deregulation and low taxes on the rich. At the same time finance has sucked wealth from the public realm into the hands of a small minority, even as it has laid waste the rest of the economy. Now the evidence has piled up that not only is such appropriation of wealth a moral and social outrage, but it is fuelling social and climate conflict, wars, mass migration and political corruption, stunting health and life chances, increasing poverty, and widening gender and ethnic divides.

Escalating inequality has also been a crucial factor in the economic crisis of the past seven years, squeezing demand and fuelling the credit boom. We don’t just know that from the research of the French economist Thomas Piketty or the British authors of the social study The Spirit Level. After years of promoting Washington orthodoxy, even the western-dominated OECD and IMF argue that the widening income and wealth gap has been key to the slow growth of the past two neoliberal decades. The British economy would have been almost 10% larger if inequality hadn’t mushroomed. Now the richest are using austerity to help themselves to an even larger share of the cake.

The big exception to the tide of inequality in recent years has been Latin America. Progressive governments across the region turned their back on a disastrous economic model, took back resources from corporate control and slashed inequality. The numbers living on less than $2 a day have fallen from 108 million to 53 million in little over a decade. China, which also rejected much of the neoliberal catechism, has seen sharply rising inequality at home but also lifted more people out of poverty than the rest of the world combined, offsetting the growing global income gap.

These two cases underline that increasing inequality and poverty are very far from inevitable. They’re the result of political and economic decisions. The thinking person’s Davos oligarch realises that allowing things to carry on as they are is dangerous. So some want a more “inclusive capitalism” – including more progressive taxes – to save the system from itself.

But it certainly won’t come about as a result of Swiss mountain musings or anxious Guildhall lunches. Whatever the feelings of some corporate barons, vested corporate and elite interests – including the organisations they run and the political structures they have colonised – have shown they will fight even modest reforms tooth and nail. To get the idea, you only have to listen to the squeals of protest, including from some in his own party, at Ed Miliband’s plans to tax homes worth over £2m to fund the health service, or the demand from the one-time reformist Fabian Society that the Labour leader be more pro-business (for which read pro-corporate), or the wall of congressional resistance to Barack Obama’s mild redistributive taxation proposals.

Perhaps a section of the worried elite might be prepared to pay a bit more tax. What they won’t accept is any change in the balance of social power – which is why, in one country after another, they resist any attempt to strengthen trade unions, even though weaker unions have been a crucial factor in the rise of inequality in the industrialised world.

It’s only through a challenge to the entrenched interests that have dined off a dysfunctional economic order that the tide of inequality will be reversed. The anti-austerity Syriza party, favourite to win the Greek elections this weekend, is attempting to do just that – as the Latin American left has succeeded in doing over the past decade and a half. Even to get to that point demands stronger social and political movements to break down or bypass the blockage in a colonised political mainstream. Crocodile tears about inequality are a symptom of a fearful elite. But change will only come from unrelenting social pressure and political challenge.

– To the original:

 

As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Hedge fund managers are preparing getaways by buying airstrips and farms in remote areas, former hedge fund partner tells Davos during session on inequality

With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people’s mind, the world’s super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session in Davos, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said.

Johnson, who heads the Institute of New Economic Thinking and was previously managing director at Soros, said societies can tolerate income inequality if the income floor is high enough. But with an existing system encouraging chief executives to take decisions solely on their profitability, even in the richest countries inequality is increasing.

Johnson added: “People need to know there are possibilities for their children – that they will have the same opportunity as anyone else. There is a wicked feedback loop. Politicians who get more money tend to use it to get more even money.”

Global warming and social media are among the trends the 600 super-smart World Economic Forum staffers told its members to watch out for long before they became ubiquitous. This year, income inequality is fast moving up the Davos agenda – a sure sign of it is poised to burst into the public consciousness.

Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and a Davos star attraction after giving the closing address in 2014, said he had spent a lot of time learning from the leaders behind recent social unrest in Ferguson. He believes that will prove “a catalytic event” which has already changed the conversation in the US, bringing a message from those who previously “didn’t matter”.

So what is the solution to having the new voices being sufficiently recognised to actually change the status quo into one where those with power realise they do matter?

Clarke said: “Solutions are there. What’s been lacking is political will. Politicians do not respond to those who don’t have a voice In the end this is all about redistributing income and power.”

She added: “Seventy five percent of people in developing countries live in places that are less equal than they were in 1990.”

The panellists were scathing about politicians, Wallis describing them as people who held up wet fingers “to see which way the money is blowing in from.”

Author, philosopher and former academic Rebecca Newberger-Goldstein saw the glass half full, drawing on history to prove society does eventually change for the better. She said Martin Luther King was correct in his view that the arch of history might be long, but it bends towards justice.

In ancient Greece, she noted, even the greatest moralists like Plato and Aristotle never criticised slavery. Newberger-Goldstein said: “We’ve come a long way as a species. The truth is now dawning that everybody matters because the concept of mattering is at the core of every human being.” Knowing you matter, she added, is often as simple as having others “acknowledge the pathos and reality of your stories. To listen.”

Mexican micro-lending entrepreneur Carlos Danel expanded on the theme. His business, Gentera, has thrived by working out that “those excluded are not the problem but realising there’s an opportunity to serve them.”

He added: “Technology provides advantages that can lower costs and enable us to provide products and services that matter to the people who don’t seem to matter to society. And that’s beyond financial services – into education and elsewhere.”

Which, Danel believes, is why business was created in the first place – to serve. A message that seemed to get lost somewhere in the worship of profit.

– To the original:

– Research thanks to Kierin M.

Exposed: NSA program for hacking any cell phone network, no matter where it is

Monday, December 8th, 2014

– Worth noting how high the percentage is for New Zealand in the chart which you can find in the original article.

– dennis

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The National Security Agency has spied on hundreds of companies and groups around the world, including in countries allied with the US government, as part of an effort designed to allow agents to hack into any cellular network, no matter where it’s located, according to a report published Thursday.

Armed with technical details of a specific provider’s current or planned networks, agents secretly attempt to identify or introduce flaws that will make it possible for communications to be covertly tapped, according to an article published by The Intercept. Security experts warned that programs that introduce security flaws or suppress fixes for existing vulnerabilities could cause widespread harm, since the bugs can also be exploited by criminal hackers or governments of nations around the world.

“Even if you love the NSA and you say you have nothing to hide, you should be against a policy that introduces security vulnerabilities,” Karsten Nohl, a cryptographer and smartphone security expert, told The Intercept. “Because once NSA introduces a weakness, a vulnerability, it’s not only the NSA that can exploit it.”

t’s not the first time the US agency has been reported to introduce backdoors into widely used technologies. Last year documents provided by former NSA subcontractor Edward Snowden—the same source for documents supporting Thursday’s story by The Intercept—showed that the NSA worked with standards bodies to adopt encryption technologies with known vulnerabilities in them. Two weeks later, the RSA division of EMC warned customers to stop using the default configuration of its BSAFE BSAFE toolkit and Data Protection Manager because it contained code reported to contain an NSA-engineered vulnerability.

The program reported Thursday, codenamed AURORAGOLD, has monitored messages sent and received by more than 1,200 email accounts associated with large cell phone operators around the world. One surveillance target is the GSM Association (GSMA), a UK-based group that works with Microsoft, Facebook, AT&T, Cisco Systems, and many other companies to ensure their hardware and software related to cellular technology is compatible. At the same time the NSA has been monitoring the group, other arms of the US government has funded GSMA programs designed to boost privacy on mobile networks. According to The Intercept:

The NSA focuses on intercepting obscure but important technical documents circulated among the GSMA’s members known as “IR.21s.”

Most cellphone network operators share IR.21 documents among each other as part of agreements that allow their customers to connect to foreign networks when they are “roaming” overseas on a vacation or a business trip. An IR.21, according to the NSA documents, contains information “necessary for targeting and exploitation.”

The details in the IR.21s serve as a “warning mechanism” that flag new technology used by network operators, the NSA’s documents state. This allows the agency to identify security vulnerabilities in the latest communication systems that can be exploited, and helps efforts to introduce new vulnerabilities “where they do not yet exist.”

The IR.21s also contain details about the encryption used by cellphone companies to protect the privacy of their customers’ communications as they are transmitted across networks. These details are highly sought after by the NSA, as they can aid its efforts to crack the encryption and eavesdrop on conversations.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that the NSA had already managed to break the most commonly used cellphone encryption algorithm in the world, known as A5/1. But the information collected under AURORAGOLD allows the agency to focus on circumventing newer and stronger versions of A5 cellphone encryption, such as A5/3.

The documents note that the agency intercepts information from cellphone operators about “the type of A5 cipher algorithm version” they use, and monitors the development of new algorithms in order to find ways to bypass the encryption.

NSA documents show that AURORAGOLD focuses on collecting details about virtually all technical standards used by cell phone operators.

– to the original article:

 

 

US government planes collecting phone data

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

– Remember the piece I posted not long ago entitled, “Crypto phones and dubious cell phone towers“, that was about unidentified cell towers scattered around the country soaking up data for unknown purposes?  

– Well, here’s another story along that line.

– dennis

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Devices that gather data from millions of mobile phones are being flown over the US by the government, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The “dirtbox” devices mimic mobile phone tower transmissions, and handsets transmit back their location and unique identity data, the report claims.

While they are used to track specific suspects, all mobile devices in the area will respond to the signal.

The US Justice Department refused to confirm or deny the report.

The Wall Street Journal said it had spoken to “sources familiar with the programme” who said Cessna aircraft fitted with dirtboxes were flying from at least five US airports.

The department said that it operated within federal law.

– More…

 

Crypto phones and dubious cell phone towers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

HackedPhoneMysterious Phony Cell Towers Could Be Intercepting Your Calls

Every smart phone has a secondary OS, which can be hijacked by high-tech hackers

Like many of the ultra-secure phones that have come to market in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks, the CryptoPhone 500, which is marketed in the U.S. by ESD America and built on top of an unassuming Samsung Galaxy SIII body, features high-powered encryption. Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, says the phone also runs a customized or “hardened” version of Android that removes 468 vulnerabilities that his engineering team team found in the stock installation of the OS.

His mobile security team also found that the version of the Android OS that comes standard on the Samsung Galaxy SIII leaks data to parts unknown 80-90 times every hour.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the phone has been hacked, Goldmsith says, but the user can’t know whether the data is beaming out from a particular app, the OS, or an illicit piece of spyware.  His clients want real security and control over their device, and have the money to pay for it.

To show what the CryptoPhone can do that less expensive competitors cannot, he points me to a map that he and his customers have created, indicating 17 different phony cell towers known as “interceptors,” detected by the CryptoPhone 500 around the United States during the month of July alone. Once the phone connects with the interceptor, a variety of “over-the-air” attacks become possible, from eavesdropping on calls and texts to pushing spyware to the device.

“Interceptor use in the U.S. is much higher than people had anticipated,” Goldsmith says.  “One of our customers took a road trip from Florida to North Carolina and he found 8 different interceptors on that trip.  We even found one at South Point Casino in Las Vegas.”

– More…

– 16Sep14 – More on this story…

U.S. censors what its military personel can read

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

– Ominous.

– I’ve thought for sometime now that the U.S. military would eventually try to block access by soldiers to social commentary and criticism so that they would remain motivated if they are asked to go out and suppress social unrest in the U.S. 

– To be fair, in this article they are suppressing a different kind of information. But the principle is the same and what we see here will be the thin edge of the wedge making its entry.

– The kind of unrest we’re talking about here is what will surface in the U.S. eventually, if the gap between the rich and poor keeps growing, if the weakening of the U.S. dollar keeps undermining the very fabric of people’s entire financial lives (even as the wealthy walk away with immense profits) and if the growing threats of climate change are not addressed and hundreds of thousands of people along the U.S. coastlines begin to find their lives, their futures and their properties vanishing beneath the rising waters.

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cyber_censorshipThe U.S. military is banning and blocking employees from visiting The Intercept in an apparent effort to censor news reports that contain leaked government secrets.

According to multiple military sources, a notice has been circulated to units within the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps warning staff that they are prohibited from reading stories published by The Intercept on the grounds that they may contain classified information. The ban appears to apply to all employees—including those with top-secret security clearance—and is aimed at preventing classified information from being viewed on unclassified computer networks, even if it is freely available on the internet. Similar military-wide bans have been directed against news outlets in the past after leaks of classified information.

A directive issued to military staff at one location last week, obtained by The Intercept, threatens that any employees caught viewing classified material in the public domain will face “long term security issues.” It suggests that the call to prohibit employees from viewing the website was made by senior officials over concerns about a “potential new leaker” of secret documents.

The directive states:

We have received information from our higher headquarters regarding a potential new leaker of classified information.  Although no formal validation has occurred, we thought it prudent to warn all employees and subordinate commands.  Please do not go to any website entitled “The Intercept” for it may very well contain classified material.

As a reminder to all personnel who have ever signed a non-disclosure agreement, we have an ongoing responsibility to protect classified material in all of its various forms.  Viewing potentially classified material (even material already wrongfully released in the public domain) from unclassified equipment will cause you long term security issues.  This is considered a security violation.

A military insider subject to the ban said that several employees expressed concerns after being told by commanders that it was “illegal and a violation of national security” to read publicly available news reports on The Intercept.

“Even though I have a top secret security clearance, I am still forbidden to read anything on the website,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject.  “I find this very disturbing that they are threatening us and telling us what websites and news publishers we are allowed to read or not.”

– Click the arrow for more of this story…

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– Here’s another news article, below, that reveals that the Pentagon is preparing for mass civil insurrection in the U.S.   The combination of the information these two articles is interesting in it implications.

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Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown

Social science is being militarised to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

30592minervaDOD_678x320_frontA US Department of Defense (DoD) programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various agencies. The multi-million dollar program is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions.” The project will determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined “to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised.”

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.” The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity,” and will cover 58 countries in total.

– Click the arrow for more of this story… 

The free market is an impossible utopia

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

– This is one of the best things I’ve read in some time.  

– Will it be generally appealing?   I don’t think so.  

– Most of us just want simple understandings and good guys and bad guys.  We only need look around to see that sound bites predominate in the discussions among the average man.  

– Among these, I would include the “Free Marketeers“.   They want a world made of good guys and bad guys and a simple idealistic world in which entrepreneurs are absolutely free, where market economics solves all problems, and where all forms of government control simply withers away before the market’s profound self-balancing wisdom.

– This article says it cannot be so.

– dennis

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Article by Henry Farrell of The Washington Post about a book, The Power of Market FUNDAMENTALISM, by Fred Block and Margaret R. Somers:

Fred Block (research professor of sociology at University of California at Davis) and Margaret Somers (professor of sociology and history at the University of Michigan) have a new book, “The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique” (Harvard University Press, 2014). The book argues that the ideas of Karl Polanyi, the author of “The Great Transformation,” a classic of 20th century political economy, are crucial if you want to understand the recession and its aftermath. I asked the authors a series of questions.

HF – Your book argues for the continued relevance of Karl Polanyi’s work, especially “The Great Transformation.” What are the ideas at the core of Polanyi’s thought?

FB & MS – Polanyi’s core thesis is that there is no such thing as a free market; there never has been, nor can there ever be. Indeed he calls the very idea of an economy independent of government and political institutions a “stark utopia”—utopian because it is unrealizable, and the effort to bring it into being is doomed to fail and will inevitably produce dystopian consequences. While markets are necessary for any functioning economy, Polanyi argues that the attempt to create a market society is fundamentally threatening to human society and the common goodIn the first instance the market is simply one of many different social institutions; the second represents the effort to subject not just real commodities (computers and widgets) to market principles but virtually all of what makes social life possible, including clean air and water, education, health care, personal, legal, and social security, and the right to earn a livelihood. When these public goods and social necessities (what Polanyi calls “fictitious commodities”) are treated as if they are commodities produced for sale on the market, rather than protected rights, our social world is endangered and major crises will ensue.

Free market doctrine aims to liberate the economy from government “interference”, but Polanyi challenges the very idea that markets and governments are separate and autonomous entities. Government action is not some kind of “interference” in the autonomous sphere of economic activity; there simply is no economy without government rules and institutions. It is not just that society depends on roads, schools, a justice system, and other public goods that only government can provide. It is thatall of the key inputs into the economy—land, labor, and money—are only created and sustained through continuous government action. The employment system, the arrangements for buying and selling real estate, and the supplies of money and credit are organized and maintained through the exercise of government’s rules, regulations, and powers.

By claiming it is free-market advocates who are the true utopians, Polanyi helps explain the free market’s otherwise puzzlingly tenacious appeal: It embodies a perfectionist ideal of a world without “coercive” constraints on economic activities while it fiercely represses the fact that power and coercion are the unacknowledged features of all market participation.

– More…

Net Neutrality may be on the ropes

Saturday, May 3rd, 2014

– Big money interests don’t give up.   They see the possibility to extract more profits for themselves from a ‘controlled’ Internet and the goal of increasing profits is their one aim.  The idea that it might disadvantage the rest of us simply doesn’t come into it.

– As I have said before, these situations come about because we, humanity, have not come to a clear decision about what our civilization should be about.

– Should we choose to make it a civilization which has the optimization of the quality of life for all of us as its highest priority?

– Or will we allow it to continue, by default, to be a Darwinian stage upon which we all struggle and in which the strongest cyclically and repeatedly corner the power and wealth of the world?   And these cyclic struggles to be periodically  punctuated by wars as different dominant factions vie or by revolutions because the unreasonably repressed and disadvantaged revolt against the unfairness.

– The calls for revolution are growing even now.

– A few years ago, I read the Rifters Trilogy (SciFi) by Peter Watts.  These were Starfish (July 1999), Maelstrom (October 2001) and Behemoth: Seppuku (December 2004).  Excellent books all.

– But what stuck with me from this series was Watts’ prediction that the world’s Internet would at some point be divided up into smaller regional units as a way of dealing with the rise of viruses, malware and attempts by various factions to control the medium of discourse.  

– Interestingly, Europeans are talking about doing just that as are some other countries.  

– Within such regional Internets, each region could have the Internet it wants.  

– And between regional Internets, the interfaces would be a matter of negotiation between regions.   Today, we can see the beginnings of such separations when we observe the Great Firewall of China.

– It is sad that it will come to this but, until we decide on a world for all of us rather than a world for the strong and greedy, we will inevitably have the conflicts and power grabs that will lead us down this road.

– dennis

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Net NeutralityLast week, an obscure but potentially internet-transforming document was leaked from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission. It revealed that government regulators are considering rules that would give big companies a chance to make their online services run faster than smaller ones.

The proposed rules were revealed in the New York Timesand they would overturn the principle of “network neutrality” on the internet. Put simply, network neutrality allows you to use services from rich companies like Google and small startups with equal speed through your ISP. You can read a blog hosted on somebody’s home server, and it loads just as quickly as a blog on Tumblr.

Without network neutrality, Tumblr could cut a deal with your ISP — let’s say it’s Comcast — and its blogs would load really quickly while that home server blog might take minutes to load pictures. It might not even load at all. You can see why people in the freedom-of-speech obsessed United States might not be happy with chucking network neutrality. It privileges some speech over others, based on financial resources.

At the same time, ISPs would love to end network neutrality because they want to charge more to major players like Netflix in order to support their streaming content. Now, it looks like the FCC is thinking seriously about letting ISPs have what they want.

Over at Slate, lawyer Marvin Ammori sums up:

The FCC is going to propose that cable and phone companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are allowed to discriminate against them, giving some websites better service and others worse service. Cable and phone companies will be able to make preferred deals with the companies that can afford to pay high fees for better service. They will even be allowed to make exclusive deals, such as making MSNBC.com the only news site on Comcast in the priority tier, and relegating competitors to a slow lane. The FCC is authorizing cable and phone companies to start making different deals with thousands or millions of websites, extracting money from sites that need to load quickly and reliably. So users will notice that Netflix or Hulu works better than Amazon Prime, which buffers repeatedly and is choppy. New sites will come along and be unable to compete with established giants. If we had had such discrimination a decade ago, we would still be using MySpace, not Facebook, because Facebook would have been unable to compete.

The chairman believes he can help us in one way: He will make sure all these highly discriminatory new tolls are “commercially reasonable.” Will that matter? No. Commercially reasonable deals won’t be measured by the market. If Amazon is paying twice what eBay is paying, the FCC will only make sure each price is reasonable, not that the prices are nondiscriminatory.

He adds that this “reasonable” pricing will hardly be reasonable, unless your company is insanely rich:

So, according to the FCC, when Verizon discriminates against a startup, we shouldn’t be alarmed, because (while being discriminated against), this startup can hire a lot of expensive lawyers and expert witnesses and meet Verizon (a company worth more than $100 billion) at the FCC and litigate this issue out, with no certainty as to the rule. The startup will almost certainly lose either at the FCC or on appeal to a higher court, after bleeding money on lawyers.

Big internet service companies have been pushing the FCC to craft such regulations for years. In 2010, we wrote about a proposal from Amazon and Google, urging the FCC to adopt pay-to-play rules that would allow some companies to get their content to your eyeballs faster than smaller players. It’s no exaggeration to say that rules like this would destroy the internet as we know it.

Now it looks like the rules that Googlezon wished for are actually in process.

Writing in the New Yorker, law professor Tim Wu explains:

The new rule gives broadband providers what they’ve wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others. (With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.) We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead. The motivation is not complicated. The broadband carriers want to make more money for doing what they already do. Never mind that American carriers already charge some of the world’s highest prices, around sixty dollars or more per month for broadband, a service that costs less than five dollars to provide. To put it mildly, the cable and telephone companies don’t need more money.

Wu has studied corporate controls of electronic communication for most of his life, and is the author of a terrific book about telecom monopolies called The Master SwitchHe’s worked as an adviser for the FCC, and has personally talked to President Obama about the need for net neutrality. So his disappointment is palpable when he notes that the leaked rules, confirmed as real by insiders at the agency, would allow internet companies to pay ISPs payola to get their traffic privileged above others.

This is the first step toward a world where corporate monopolies on content start affecting not just what you can see and read online — but also how you gain access to it. The signal will be out there, but your ISP just won’t deliver it to you.

An internet without network neutrality will look a lot like television does now. You’ll depend entirely on your cable company to get broadcasts, and they will only deliver their handpicked channels in their cable packages. There will probably be a little room for the web equivalent of public access television, but it will be so underfunded and slow to load that almost nobody will see it.

It used to be that when a show couldn’t make it on broadcast television, we would watch it online. That’s how amazing stuff like Dr. Horrible made it into the world. But without net neutrality, we lose that option too. If a company doesn’t have the money or legal acumen to get its content included in ISP packages, you will never see its programming. You’ll never have those shows; you’ll never have those apps; and you’ll never know what you’re missing.

– To the original…