Review (Guest): The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man

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Luke Harding

4.0 out of 5 stars Ed Snowden and the American tribal fear meme, February 19, 2014

 

This is a story about what one American saw atop the tip of an iceberg called the “American national security state.” In the end, Ed Snowden, a 29-year old, $200,00/year High School dropout turned Computer Systems Administrator for Dell, and then Booz Allen Hamilton, both of which were under contract with the NSA, is little more than a proxy for the rest of us: the “paying customer” zombies and drones for the American “national security state.”

As he tried to “ride out” his tenure astride this violently bucking institutional Orwellian Frankenstein, Snowden quickly realized that he was losing ground to this secret self-fashioned protector of America’s deepest values. In our life time, the NSA had joined a long string of other self-justifying, self-certifying, security institutions, like the CIA, the FBI, Swat Teams, the DEA, even local police intelligence units, especially in America’s inner cities. In our lifetime, these institutions have acquired immense and unwarranted powers, often even unauthorized, unconstitutional and unearned and even criminal influence over our democratic institutions. Today, as this evolving behemoth huffs and puffs and bucks wildly out-of-control, Snowden decided he had no choice but to “jump ship,” taking with him a treasure trove of all that lay below the national security waterline.

What exactly is it that Ed Snowden saw that frightened him out of his wits and out of his $200k job and into the hands of a most curious savior of last resort: Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the ex-Communist ex-superpower that, since it was forced to commit suicide as an empire, has now become a capitalist Wild West frontier, a land full of out-of-control oligarchs, which is exactly where Ed Snowden’s favorite political hero, Ron Paul would like to take America — if he is ever elected president, that is.

As he now sits ensconced somewhere in Russia, one thought above all else must have occurred to Mr. Snowden: Is this some kind of sick joke? That me, a freedom-loving American, who willingly exercised my civic duty as a free-thinking defender of American values and the U.S. Constitution, conveying crimes being committed against that very Constitution, is now forced to run, hide and seek refuge in a failed ex-Communist state?

That Snowden’s reality is true in a nation that is still living on moral credit, and that takes much more credit for being democratic than it deserves or its historical record can substantiate, is almost as embarrassing an irony and contradiction as seeing the U.S. being “in hock up to the hilt” to Reagan’s other Axis-of-evil: the last standing Communist Police State, “Red China.” And lest we conveniently forget, said “Red China,” is the same state that less than three decades ago, we were referring to mockingly and derisively as being backwards? Now, that they are in bed with our capitalist oligarchs (the Red Chinese “Job Creators,” par excellence) rather incongruously, China has now become the world’s leading capitalist country, holding 60% of our debt, while the U.S. slides noisily, defiantly, but nevertheless persistently and decidedly, backwards. There is an embedded poetic logic to this irony that Snowden’s Ron Paul-Ayn Rand Libertarian sensibilities seems to have missed?

This book rather inarticulately unravels the story of exactly what it is that Ed Snowden saw; why he was so alarmed; and why he had no choice but to expose what he saw to the American public and then had to run. It tells how in the ultimate act of patriotic suicide, Snowden had to respectfully sue for the mercy of the “Obama Courts.” However, since he knew that with the “Obama Justice Department,” a fair trial was already off the table, he had no choice but to “punt early” by “going on the lam,” and seeking protection and a haven elsewhere.

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Feb 19

Worth a Look: No Place to Hide – Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State

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Glenn Greenwald

No Place to Hide is a groundbreaking look at the NSA surveillance scandal, from the reporter who broke the story

Investigative reporter for The Guardian and bestselling author Glenn Greenwald, provides an in-depth look into the NSA scandal that has triggered a national debate over national security and information privacy. With further revelations from documents entrusted to Glenn Greenwald by Edward Snowden himself, this book explores the extraordinary cooperation between private industry and the NSA, and the far-reaching consequences of the government’s surveillance program, both domestically and abroad.

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Jan 13

Review (Guest): The Open Source Everything Manifesto – Transparency, Truth & Trust

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Robert David Steele

5.0 out of 5 stars PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN!,June 24, 2012

B. Tweed DeLions “B.T.”

If there’s a single Founding Father of the Open Source movement, Robert D. Steele is it. Everyone else has been playing catchup. And if you don’t know what the Open Source revolution is, you need to read this book. You don’t even need to know why! You need to buy it, read it, and then you’ll *know* why. No other book on Open Source can open your eyes the way this one can. That’s because there’s no potential use of Open Source intelligence that Steele hasn’t anticipated. Collective Intelligence is coming! It’s an unstoppable force. And it will change everything. So if you like to know about things like that in advance, you need to buy this book.

The information age that was created by personal computers was just a kiddie car with a squeaky horn. By comparison, the open source revolution is a freight train. Its potential to change your world is orders of magnitude greater. This is not hyperbole. In fact superlatives can’t begin to express the ground-shaking potential of this next wave of human evolution.

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Jun 24

Review: The Shadow Factory–The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America

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Author’s Two Points: NSA as Enabler of Tyranny, Channel for Israel, October 19, 2008

James Bamford

10 Aug 10 PBI Edit to add Amazon link and Review link.

The book is a devastating complement to A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America’s Intelligence Agencies. See also (or at least read reviews) his earlier books about NSA, The Puzzle Palace: A Report on NSA, America’s Most Secret Agency and Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency.

The author tells us that NSA red flag went up on 21 June. 30 distinct warnings within NSA in June-July; 6 August was the 36th time Bin Laden briefed to President, and blown off; by 21 August FBI and CIA both knew two terrorists were in the USA–FBI assigned to a rookie who ignored it for a week and then mistakenly marked as a witness wanted, not as a terrorist armed and dangerous.

911 Commission did not visit NSA or ask NSA questions–neither the Commissioners nor the staff understood NSA or how it contributed to 911

New insights into the culture of lethargy and inter-agency competition, with details on multiple failures by CIA, NSA, and FBI–NSA had location in California but did not bother to look up area codes; CIA knew two were in US but would not tell FBI; CIA did not inform State, INS issued asylum without checking false name.

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Aug 11

Review: VICE–Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency

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23 Documented High Crimes That Should Put Cheney in Irons Immediately,

January 9, 2007
Lou Dubose
EDITED 5 September 2007 to add ten links to other related books.

This book is vastly more detailed, and covers more high crimes and misdemeanors, than either State of Denial, which misunderstands Bush as being in charge, or Crossing the Rubicon, which focuses primarily on Cheney’s role in first permitting 9-11, and then working assiduously to cover up his malicious malfeasance. See also Ron Susskind’s book, “One Percent Doctrine,” which crucifies Cheney, Rumseld, and Rice.

I take this book so seriously that I urge everyone to get the “Do It Yourself Impeachment” kit. He should be required to immediately resign or be impeached. He should not be allowed to serve another month in office.

For the sake of brevity, here is a list of impeachable offenses documented by this book:

1) Secret meetings in violation of the law to include exclusion of government experts
2) Refusal to honor demand from Congress for a list of participants
3) Lies to the public about Iraq, while holding maps of oil fields and already having in mind a US-only domination of those oilfields (he first focused on Iraqi oil while serving Secretary of Defense Brown)
4) Over-ruling of the Environmental Protection Agency on very important matters including its concern over Halliburton’s reliance on hydraulic fracturing that uses chemicals that contaminate aquifers–Cheney personally ensured that the EPA’s wording was replaced with Halliburton’s wording.
5) Consistent and pervasive usurpation of Congressional authorities and consistent and maliciously deliberate avoidance of appropriate disclosure.
6) Fostered attacks on Sy Hersh, and considered authorizing a break-in on his home.
7) From the 1970′s, see also Ron Susskind’s One-Percent Doctrine, subverted the authority of the Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller, and teams with Justice Scalia (then an assistant attorney general) to increase executive privileges and push back reforms.
8) As a Congressman personally blew off Russian offer in 1983 for arms cuts, and subverted the authority of the President and the Secretary of State then serving.
9) As an extremist Republican, supported Ollie North and the White House in violating the Congressional prohibitions on aid to the Contras, and obstructed justice thereafter.
10) Page 78 has a lovely discussion of how Cheney and North were “in the zone” in deceiving the public and Congress during the televised hearings.
11) Adopted as his own the lunatic report by Khalizad (who is a very lazy scholar, see my review of his rotten RAND book on revolution) and Libby, on how the US as a superpower should be able to do ANYTHING.
12) Attempted to undermine due process and keep tactical nuclear weapons in the Army inventory.
13) Subverted the authority of the Secretary of State (Colin Powell) by allowing his daughter to overrule Ambassadors and meet privately with various heads of state.
13) Lied repeatedly to the public about his continuing financial equities with Halliburton, and was so involved in giving Halliburton up to 16 billion in no bid contracts.
14) Shut both foreign competitors and more cost-effective indigenous contracting solutions, severely harming the national security of the United States by fostering an environment of unproductive looting by Halliburton, Bechtel, and others.
15) Ignored his dual mandates on terrorism and intelligence. The book suggests that Bush was not briefed on Al Qaeda for the first eight months he was in office (the Vice President’s priorities were energy and missile defense).
16) Personally impeded negotiations with North Korea after they proved amenable to diplomatic engagement.
17) Personally rejected Iranian overtures for negotiation conveyed by the Swiss in 2003
18) Personally reinforced Rumsfeld on use of torture, by-passing the President’s more measured restrictions.
19) Conspired with Speaker Hastert to subordinate the House of Representatives, using a special office of his own (first time in history) so that Representatives could be brought to him rather than his calling on them.
20) Manipulated the President into numerous “signing statements” inconsistent with the will of Congress that ignored legislation then in force.
21) “Bureaucratically emasculated” the President (page 177–if the President has a friend that reads this review, PLEASE get the book and the review to the President–he really may have no idea his balls have been cut off)
22) Contemptuous and manipulative of the CIA, refusing to accept their best professional judgments based not only all source intelligence, but on a extraordinary effort by Charlie Allen in running line crossers into Iraq to document beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were no weapons of mass destruction there.
23) Lied repeatedly, over and over, to the public, to Congress, to the President, to foreign leaders, even after the lies were exposed he continued to repeat them.

The book does not discuss the 9-11 situation and emerging findings that place the Vice President at the center of our deliberately inept response.

Two gems apart from the impeachable offenses:

1) The search for a Vice President was a complete fraud, he was picked from day one, and made a fool of every serious candidate, while also personally leaking to destroy Keating just to ensure the only real rival would not be considered at the last minute.

2) The discussion of Joe Lieberman’s refusal to confront Cheney with all that was known to be wrong with him was explained at the time as “taking the high moral road.” I am not so sure. I speculate that Lieberman is actually a neo-con and has been playing the Democrats for fools while minding the interests of his Wall Street masters.

On page 147 the authors discuss how Cheney accused Clinton and Gore of “extend[ing] our military commitments while depleting our military power.” Lovely. And now?

The authors conclude that Dick Cheney is “nakedly amoral.” I agree.

One final scary note: in the many doomsday drills that Cheney participated in across his career and inclusive of his Vice Presidency, they always failed to reconstitute Congress.

Dick Cheney has done more damage and is a greater threat to our Republic and others, than Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein combined.

The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq
Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory
9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA, Fourth Edition
State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III
The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America
9/11 Mysteries Part 1: Demolitions
9/11: Press For Truth
9/11 – The Myth and the Reality
Aftermath: Unanswered Questions from 9/11

For those wondering why Congress failed to do its Article 1 job (hence all Members are impeachable for dereliction of duty as well):
Running on Empty: How the Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It
The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders

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Jan 9

Review: The Digital Person–Technology And Privacy In The Information Age (Hardcover)

Categories: 4 Star,Privacy
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Super on Law and Accountability, Read with “The Transparent Society”,

July 8, 2006
Daniel Solove
There are some great reviews below, so I will not repeat them. Amazon is getting to the point now where it is almost essential to read all of the reviews as a pre-cursor to buying and reading the book.

This book was instrumental, after I bought it, in pointing me to the preceding work by David Brin, “The Transparent Society,” and I found it useful to read that book first.

The two key points in this book that make it a notable contribution are:

1. Best available review of applicable laws; and

2. Superb expansive discussion of privacy violation that emerge not just for deliberate abuse and invasion, but from “careless unconcerned bureaucracies” with little judgement or accountability.

IDEA for Amazon: connect with the Institute of Scientific Information, and start showing us new books that cite existing books. I would love to be able to “fast forward” from this book to the “best in class” books that cite this book so that I could buy the best most recent book (I buy and read in threes on most topics). Amazon has become a major intellectual force, and is my starting point for every issue (Google is for fast looks, Amazon is for deep looks; I hope that one day they merge with Wikipedia).

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Jul 8

Review: Database Nation –The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century (Paperback)

Categories: 4 Star,Privacy
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4.0 out of 5 stars Quite Useful Exploration of Technology vs. Values,

May 31, 2006
Simson Garfinkel
I have been reading books about privacy, notably from Australia where they first got worried about this, and am an admirer of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) based in Washington, D.C. so I can say with confidence that this book is not completely original, but I can also say that it is quite useful. The single best and most original book in this area that I am aware of with my own limitations, is Jeffrey Rothfeder’s 1992 classic, Privacy for Sale: How Computerization Has Made Everyone’s Private Life an Open Secret.

The author captured my immediate interest when he posited early on that it is capitalism, not totalitarianism, that is the really grave threat to privacy, and then goes on throughout the book to demonstrate how capitalist innovation–and capitalist retribution–can find so many more profitable uses for stolen or insufficiently protected personal information including information about one’s precise movements, Internet access, payments, and so on.

I credit the author with providing us with a really SUPERB discussion of an expanded definition of privacy and why it matters for the future, to include how a lack of privacy stifles free speech and individual voting or engagement.

The book is of course timely with the recent revelation of widespread NSA access to telephone records and widespread domestic telephone interceptions without warrants. I am quite certain NSA has full access to all travel and credit card records, and relatively certain that NSA is also obtaining full access to all banking transactions both within and passing through the USA. Eventually, as the dollar collapses and foreigners realize their financial transactions are not private, I suspect that the NSA intrusions will lead directly to a substantial reduction in what people are willing to transfer via US channels, and in this way deprive the US of interest and assets.

The author merits credit for anticipating in 1999 that terrorism would one day be used to justify extensive intrusions against privacy.

Most interestingly, the author reveals, for the first time to my knowledge, that NSA is in the phone card business. All those phone cards that terrorists and criminals have been using evidently have tracking information, and the testimony in the McVeigh case that the author illuminates makes it certain that this source and method will dry up for NSA with those who really matter: literate terrorists and criminals who, like Bin Laden, understand the value of open sources of information and make it their business to follow the literature.

Although the author’s information with respect to credit card errors is somewhat dated, it merits comment that in 1991 there were errors in fully 43% of the files of the three main credit bureaus and–this I did NOT know–even if one corrects errors with those three credit bureaus, the corrections do NOT pass down to the 187 independent industry or localized credit bureaus that have purchased the incorrrect data prior to correction. More recently the industry claims a 1% material error factor, but in my own experience, the credit bureaus are quick to post liens or claims, and not at all interested in posting lien cancellations or settlements.

The author spends quite a bit of time, very usefully, in focusing on the fact that identity theft occurs due to lax banking and postal procedures (I for one am very upset over the countless offers of credit I receive in the undefended mail, offers that can be “hijacked” by anyone cruising for such mail before I collect it), and then denouncing the fact that victims of identify theft do not have “standing” in the courts–it is treated as a banking issue.

The book concludes with several scares and big ideas. Car have computers that can communicate–the day is coming when cars will report their owners for speeding, and a husband driving a wife bleeding to death from a farm accident will not be able to override the computerized speed limit. The author concludes that technology is eliminating the expectation of privacy, but I am more concerned by his documentation that we are becoming slaves to computers programmed by morons in bureaucracies.

The author suggests that a major challenge is how to create self-healing systems and I am curious as to why he did not know of Eric Hughes anonymous banking encryption protocols, in which only the bank and the client can see their banking data, which is otherwise constantly encrypted.

The federal government is clearly avoiding accountability, not only with respect to data privacy, but with respect to being accountable for who knew what when. The White House and the Senate clearly knew in 1974-1979 that Peak Oil was upon us (see my review of Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy and also of Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil), and deliberate decisions were made to conceal the facts from the public in order to keep the bribes coming and the easy elections going. We wasted 30 years because of decisions that can now be judged to be treasonous and retrospectively impeachable.

The book has acceptable coverage of biometics, RFID, public video, and commercial space imagery. In the latter, the book has a mistake SPOT Image likes to take credit for many things, and they evidently claim credit for creating a C-130 portable ground receiving station. This is not true. Colonel “Snake” Clark in the office of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, conceptualized and oversaw the development of that capability which made a major difference to air operations in Bosnia among other places, as it made possible near real time seasonally accurate wide area imagery feeds directly into the Air Force mission rehearsal systems.

To end on a positive note, I point to page 108 of the book, where the author discusses inexpensive discreet video surveillance systems that can be used to keep an eye on kids, cats, baby sitters, realtors showing one’s home, and so on. Technology does have its uses for the individual, and I will end by saying that I found this book to be a very professional and useful overview of the implications of both digital technology, and the personal information that technology can capture, store, manipulate, share, and exploit.

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May 31

Review: Spychips–How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID (Hardcover)

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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Review, Somewhat Hyped, Tries to Scare,

October 30, 2005
Katherine Albrecht
This is a tremendous, absolutely superb example of what “citizen intelligence” can mean in the world today. Two individuals have come together to thoroughly investigate the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) marketplace, and they have published a book that is nothing short of brilliant in its detail, its notes, its photos, and its objectives.

They have even embedded in the book the fundamentals of mass psychology, and found two “hooks” for spreading fear of RFID among Jews (calling it the modern equivalent of the Yellow Star, which makes light of the Holocaust in this context) and fundamentalist Christians (calling it the Mark of the Beast that preceeds the apocalypse, also a step too far, in my view). My goodness-a two-woman CIA/Special Operations PSYOP unit!

On balance, the book is a superb technical review of what is possible and what is planned, and it is also seriously oversold and out of context. There is no question but that many companies, aided by the US Government, are planning for very intrusive tracking of individuals and their purchases. At the same time, the book ignores what is called a “path loss” obstacle (need for short-range transmitter to plugged in receiver), they ignore the ready availability of counter-measures (including aluminum foil, which they do mention in passing), and they fail to understand the severe challenges to massive data mining.

The book is somewhat out of context. While it enjoyes a superb Foreword from one of my five hacker/snowcrash heros, author Bruce Sterling, and it is full of unquestionably serious information, it is also oblivious to books like “The Long Emergency,” or “PowerDown,” and hence it fails to see that while RFID may be a pervert’s dream and a Hitler-esque opportunity, the coming Great Depression is likely to bury most RFID applications as unaffordable.

There is much that is good about RFID that the authors leave unsaid. As companies like BreakAwayLtd.com advance reality games, RFID could allow citizens to understand how many child labor hours went into a product, or how much cheap oil was wasted on a product, or–as WIRED Magazine noted a few issues ago–actually tell a potential buyer “If you eat me I will kill you.”

The authors have performed a brilliant public service–I am absolutely totally admiring of what they have done–but the book must be understood to be somewhat unbalanced. Apart from not discussing the good of RFID as a logistics and cost of goods/return on investment capability, the authors also do not discuss the greatest danger within RFID data, that of ignorant programmers and stupid assumptions.

They do a very fine job of discussing how RFID can lead to a depersonification of services–a “smart” medical cabinet replacing a nurse, for example.

Throughout the book they offer quotes from great works or great speakers that are very good contributions to their work, and they also do a superb job of summarizing the RFID industry’s spin and slur defenses against the kind of fact-finding and public disclosure that this excellent work embodies.

They conclude that the US Senate and the US Executive have “sold out” to the RFID industry, but that the consumer taxpayer can indeed stop RFID in its tracks by boycotting. They offer a thoughtful list of possible actions by any individual at the end of the book, and if they have one lament, it is that the RFID industry may be right about anticipating the “apathy” of the citizen taxpayer, and being able to implement it vision of persistent surveillance of all individuals and all things.

As an intelligence professional, long critical of the excessive investments in satellite collection (for example, the moronic current new system that will cost $9 billion and not add any substantive new capability), I have a note to myself that RFID is the private sector’s tarpit–RFID is to industry what secret satellites were to government: a sucking chest wound into unreal amounts of cash will go, with little to show for it beyond the the logistics routing function.

The authors accept financial contributions but are not a 501c3. I believe that the best way we can honor them and help them is by buying their book. I have done so. Very worthwhile.

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Oct 30

Review: Privacy for Sale–How Computerization Has Made Everyone’s Private Life an Open Secret

Categories: 4 Star,Privacy
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4.0 out of 5 stars In Your Face and In Your Best Interests,

April 7, 2000
Jeffrey Rothfeder
This book is a perfect complement to Anne Branscomb’s, and provides a well-told tale, researched in partnership with a private investigator, of just what can be gotten on you through the electronic web within which we all live our lives. This book is the tactical gutter in your face version, Branscomb’s book is the academic dissection.
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Apr 7