08 July 2008

The Past Through the Looking Glass, Darkly

Today, attention for stopping the FISA Amendment, H.R.6304, is turning towards the Bingamen amendment, which would delay the retroactive immunity that Title II of the bill grants to the telecoms until the review, in Title III, is conducted and Congress has 90 days to review it. The amendment is seen as the last best hope of passing something to prevent the immunization of the companies involved, dismissing the lawsuits, and finding out how the program worked. The review, for its part, identifies several government agencies, and asks for all communications with and participation of individuals and entities in the private sector.

Tellingly, it begins review at September 11, 2001, and ends it at January 17, 2007. Since we have benchmarks for when the intelligence agencies began breaking the law elsewhere in the handiwork of the Congress, perhaps the final date should be moved to the present. A year and a half is a long time in the computer and surveillance industries. And since it's good enough for the intelligence agencies with respect to other lawbreaking (war crimes, for instance), perhaps that earlier date should be moved to November 26, 1997.

And then, since the list of participants is incomplete, we should add in those that are conspicuously missing from the list of public and private sector entities: Companies and governments outside the United States. I'd like to add Singapore, for instance. Singapore implemented the John Poindexter's TIA program when the Congress here shut it down. That means the program got a beta test offshore, and you can take it to the bank that a group already operating illegally isn't going to ask for permission to bring it online once it works. And we really ought to know what foreign R&D labs of American companies have been cooking up in the way of products that our government can access off-the-shelf. So we should add those R&D labs, if any of their product was ever used by the U.S. government, even if they developed the product for other governments, like China, Pakistan, or other places where the government makes deals to listen to, or restrict, communications.

Sadly, though, any investigation, no matter how detailed, is just looking through the glass darkly, and every revelation of lawbreaking will simply be a way of telling the American citizen what is presently being done legally. The new bill gives such sweeping power to eavesdrop that it is hard to know where to start. I put up a note to this effect on FireDogLake yesterday, I will embellish it here:

As I and others have warned many times before, it is very necessary to look at this bill as stating what queries and artificial intelligence, what data mining, they will be allowed to do on a database of enormous proportions containing the information on the internet, including the traffic of communications (emails, text messaging, etc.). Any interpretation that brings to mind a guy up on your telephone pole splicing wires and some guys in a dark van with lots of glowing LEDs outside your house is simply the wrong picture entirely. The machine that Mark Klein saw being installed in San Francisco takes a snapshot of the web as it is being transmitted at any instant, and reconstructs it to web pages, images, videos, emails, text messages, VoiP, not to mention phone calls and the rest, directly from the optical signals in the fiber optic trunk lines where it is installed.

There are very thoughtful opinions available online that such information quantities are not useful because of things like false positives. In actuality, there are many ways around the problems with false positives if you have the capital in equipment, people to monitor output, and money to spend on research and development. And false positives don't wreck the intelligence so much as make it hard to find. Hard to find intelligence results in spying on more people than you have to, not in abandoning the program. It also results in more and more intense spying on the target, the same way that failure to get usable information out of prisoners results in harsher and harsher torture.

Another thing. I think you could call it toponoesis, since I can't find a term for it, the gut perception that one is in a space. It pervades all of our talk about the internet. The feeling is palpable that one is looking out into a vast virtual place where websites live and spiders and bots roam, where people get together in groups, and movies and various -casts get shown. The intelligence people see it much the same way, in fact, it may not be possible for people to see it as what it really is, a large number of one-to-one and one-to-many communications, with requests made by your browser and fulfilled by a server on the other end of a routed, packetized communication stream.

So there is no way to sit quietly at some vantage point and look with binoculars for some bad guy out there, because there isn't really an out there, and there are no vantage points. What seems like a vantage point, if that vantage point is somewhere in our toponoetic world that can see everything, is actually an enormous vacuum cleaner sucking down a copy of every piece of communications going through it. Think of the guy in the Matrix that points to the vertical strings of numbers and characters and says, "I don't even see the numbers anymore, I see a person here, and agent there..."

Got it? The vacuum cleaner and the database and all that? Because it's important not to let people frame what's going on as just listening in when al Qaeda makes a phone call.

The bill allows surveillance of targets for whom the names and addresses are still not known. Under the circumstances, the requirements in the minimization rules that they delete such information are meaningless.

Consider the following information: Each of 7 people are members of a database and each is a member of one of 7 groups. No two members are members of more than one group, all members are members of at least one group as any other. Under these circumstances, regardless of whether you destroy the personal information of any member, you can always use group memberships to target a single individual. Group memberships in this kind of set up are who you call on the phone, or even which vocabulary words you use most frequently, not to mention nationality or political affiliation.

This is the simplest possible example of what is called an admissible set for an inverse finite Radon transform, sometimes in more general situations called a Galois connection, in very constrained form like in this particular example it is also called a BIBD (balanced incomplete block design), sometimes it is called a finite projective geometry. With all those names, its a good bet that the phenomenon in the previous paragraph is well studied. It needn't be 7 and 7 and 2, it can be a lot of combinations, it can contain more categories than it needs, it can contain more overlaps than 2.

What it means is that if a database exists that contains enough categorical (who is in what group) information, it can always target individuals even though the identification information has been deleted. If part of the identification information is where the individual is (and it is), then one can claim that there was a reasonable expectation that the person is outside the United States with as just as much surety and impunity as one can testify under oath before a Senate committee that one “does not remember” even though it is obvious to everyone watching that one does.

I hope this helps clarify whether, after the passage of this bill, there is anybody they cannot legally target temporarily (for 7 to 60 days depending on court interations after the targeting has started). Once they narrow to a specific individual, this bill, together with those passed before (Patriot Act, FISA upgrades), allows them to claim what this bill says needs to be claimed to get a warrant, and continue the surveillance.

Any bill that does not include rolling back information as a requisite for minimization, and allows targeting without personal information, as this one does, allows spying on you. You. Not just some guy in a turban with a rocket launcher, You. Period and end of story. Go to the White House complaint list for the Leahy bill (SJC version from last Fall) and read what the Bush people hated in that bill, if you don’t believe me.

Oh, and there is that extra kicker I've been trying to warn about, too. Part of the quest for power of this administration is built on developing a class of people who have no rights, and then making that class as large as possible. The designation whenever the class needs to be justified to the public is terrorist. The designation whenever the offender is a country, is proliferator or creator of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Barbara Olshansky's book, Democracy Detained, contains an excellent account of how the class of no rights is intimately involved with mixing up criminal/police work with military/intelligence work until the distinctions between the laws of war and the laws of civil society have been so blurred as to render both meaningless and create the place with no law. Conflating of weapons definitions, emergency medical definitions, civil rights laws, and international human rights laws does the person thing: It creates the person so evil that they belong in the place in which there is no law, and the situation so dangerous that they need to be put there so good people will be allowed to do evil to stop them.

Section 110 of this bill makes everyone that transgresses in any way in the "Global War on Terror" into a trafficker in Weapons of Mass Destruction. If they are persons, they become agents, if they are nations they become proliferators. The IED and any similar weapon becomes a WMD -- a mushroom cloud, to use Condi Rice's characterization. By blurring the lines between a homemade improvised bomb and what the Geneva Conventions commentary refers to as "weapons of annihilation", everyone in the class of people with no rights becomes as evil as if they had detonated a nuclear weapon. Thereby cementing in the public consciousness why they have absolutely no rights and can be tortured. Every country accused of trafficking to such people in weapons or parts, has then been accused of a major act that can, and has been, used as a casus belli for pre-emptive war.

This bill ought to be called the Democratic Version of the Patriot Act. Just like the Republican version, it seeks to remove from living memory whatever it was that patriots once stood for.


Karen M said...

So, if I comment here in support of this post, and in particular in support of defeating the so-called "compromise" FISA bill, then I'm in danger of being considered an agent?

bamage said...

Ondelette, as I'm sure you're aware, SLOTEO just voted AYE on cloture.

Stick a fork in the Constitution.

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