Archive for the ‘US’ Category.

On Spying

Like it or loathe it, espionage is part of a State’s foreign policy arsenal and any State which doesn’t practice it to some degree is missing a trick. Knowing what your allies as well as your enemies are planning before it occurs allows you to take advantage of any developing situation. Thus State spying will only cease when the whole concept of the Nation State ceases to exist…

… and even then the idea won’t die as trying to gain a jump on your competitors is only natural – corporations do it, sports teams also and so do individuals. When it takes place on the sports field or in the exam hall we call those practise it cheats – but outside?

For what we term the ‘advanced democracies’ military conflicts these days are generally remote affairs and so cross-border espionage is as likely (if not more) to be about the commercial and industrial secrets of our trading partners than state or military ones.

Any threat to these countries generally comes, these days, from single or groups of dissatisfied individuals (either internal or external) who look to conduct random acts of violence (or ‘terrorism’) against either civilian, military or governmental targets out of hatred, as a method of protest or misguided revenge, or for other petty reasons.

It is these people whom Western governments are more concerned about these days but whom it is much harder to spy upon as there are laws (and civil liberty concerns) about spying on domestic populations which simply do not apply to foreign ones.

Previously the smarter governments (UK, USA to name but two) have got around the need to have court authorisation for domestic signals intelligence (SIGINT) gathering (which they wouldn’t have got) by exchanging the information they collected on each other’s populations. The rise of the internet and changing technology has made this harder though and as a result attempts are made by governments (prompted, possibly, by their internal security apparatuses) to monitor populations directly, trampling over and, often, completely ignoring the civil liberty infringements which accompany such a move.

The problem with large-scale data collection, as laid out over at The New Liberty in regards to the ongoing PRISM relevations, is simply that so much data is transmitted electronically these days that it is highly improbable that it could all be stored by central government. Much more likely is that they store the metadata (still a not inconsiderable amount).

Secondly, governments who choose to undertake such mass surveillance have to process the data collected. By far the vast majority of what they collect will be static, stuff that needs to be filtered out in the search for useful information. Programming techniques will deal with a lot of this but they will still be left with false-positives which need to be examined by human beings before they can be safely discarded. There will also be false-negatives – and these may not be discovered until after something horrible occurs.

Even once any useful information is uncovered, governments need to have the human resources (HUMINT) in order to be able to analyse and follow-up on it – whether this means getting a court order to obtain more detailed SIGINT on the subject or just the number of warm bodies necessary to conduct long-term surveillance operations against them. Then you have to check every person the target comes into contact with just to work out whether or not there is a possible connection.

Spying on people can be a time-consuming, labour intensive and potentially fruitless task… and attacks will still happen. Attacks which will lead to calls by useful idiots and the media (but I repeat myself) for yet more surveillance, more restraints on liberties and thus more static to be sorted through in order to find the proverbial needle in the haystack…

State good, individualism bad…

On Sunday Barack Obama gave the commencement address to the graduating class of The Ohio State University at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio…

Ronald Reagan who?

h/t Maggie McNeill for re-tweeting it into my timeline.

No surprises allowed

With the hiding of tobacco products (no doubt to be followed by plain packing); minimum pricing on alcohol (no doubt to be followed by measures similar to those enacted against tabacco); the new idea to slap age certificates on pop videos and a myriad of other inanities which the UK population are going to be made to suffer, in part, because of the ‘think of the children’ lobby, it is surprising gratifying to come across a piece of draconian stupidity which has nothing to do with this government.

Instead I bring you the US government’s ban on Kinder Surprise eggs because of – you guessed it – the children:

As Easter approaches, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reminds international travelers not to bring any Kinder Surprise eggs into the U.S. Also known as Kinder Eggs, these chocolate treats may be cute and seasonal but they are too dangerous to children to be imported legally into the U.S. The problem is the small plastic toy inside the Kinder Egg. While sold in many countries, this product is banned from the U.S. because young children can choke on it.

Does anyone have any figures as to how many children have choked on the surprise inside of a Kinder Surprise? I would be surprised if the figure were even as high as 1 in 100.

Can someone please stop the world, I wont to get off!

Brown stuff on the doorstep

I’m sure that by now we have all read Greg Smith’s resignation letter.

Being neither an employee nor a customer of Goldman Sachs I won’t comment on the veracity of the claims within the missive but many of those who have commented about it on the sites of our so-called quality newspapers have not been as restrained.

How much we can read into the parting shots of someone who, despite being of ‘executive director’ (a somewhat debased job description these days), had, if Peston has his figures correct,

…more than 2000 managing directors and partners above him in the pecking order…

though is debatable. But, as Timmy points out, if they are true this is likely to be a self-correcting problem as clients take their money elsewhere.

No, in the long run I hope for his sake that Greg Smith made his pile before he cut and ran as this little stunt, however cathartic it may have been, will likely render him utterly unemployable in the financial sector – and probably many others as well.

A message to Obama from a taxpayer

Some of you may have seen this last week thanks to twitter. If not, well I think anyone who is fed up to their eye teeth with government expenditure will agree with his sentiments even if they wouldn’t use his language.


When is a public place not a public place?

When it is in Orlando apparently.

On Tuesday Ambush Predator shreded, in her usual inimitable manner, a Comment is Free article about a charity called Food Not Bombs who have discovered that laws, no matter how crap, still apply to them.

Obviously the sight of a such an obviously lefty organisation finding themselves in hot water with the State – a construct it appears most of them appear to support – over a matter of obeying silly laws which they and their fellow travellers are all to happy to foist onto the rest of us is obviously a matter of general hilarity. What I do not find so funny however is the underlying law.

In 2006 the City of Orlando amended Chapter 18A of its City Code to add the following section:

Except for activities of a governmental agency within the scope of its governmental authority, or unless specifically permitted to do so by a permit or approval issued pursuant to this Chapter or by City Council:

(a) It is unlawful to knowingly sponsor, conduct, or participate in the distribution or service of food at a large group feeding at a park or park facility owned or controlled by the City of Orlando within the boundary of the Greater Downtown Park District without a Large Group Feeding Permit issued by the City Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee.

(b) It is unlawful to fail to produce and display the Large Group Feeding Permit during or after a large group feeding, while still on site, to a law enforcement officer upon demand. It is an affirmative defense to this violation if the offender can later produce, to the City Prosecutor or the Court, a Large Group Feeding Permit issued to him/her, or the group, which was valid at the time of the event.

(c) The Director of Families, Parks and Recreation or his/her designee shall issue a Large Group Feeding Permit upon application and payment of the application fee as established by the City. Not more than two (2) Large Group Feeding Permits shall be issued to the same person, group, or organization for large group feedings for the same park in the GDPD in a twelve (12) consecutive month period.

(d) Any applicant shall have the right to appeal the denial of a Large Group Feeding Permit pursuant to appeal procedure in Section 18A.15 with written notice to the Director of Families, Parks and Recreation and with a copy to the City Clerk.

To me a park is a public space, generally maintained by the local authority which is paid for by local taxation, and is available for all to use without fear or favour. Heck, even Wikipedia agrees. Given this I consider any government body restricting what can and can’t happen in such a free space to be overstepping its authority.

Free space is free space, no matter whether the person using it be the lowliest beggar or the Queen of England. It is for the use of all persons and none. Thus imposing restrictions on an activity in a public space simply because you have issues with the people who might turn up violates the basic operating principle of free access.

The only time the government should consider interfering is if the organised activity actively interferes with the enjoyment of others using the park to the extent that the park is unusable. And yes, before anyone says it, the organisers of any event should (of course) be responsible for policing the area that they were operating in so as to ensure that it is left in a usable condition for the next person(s). If they don’t then the authority would be justified in going after them for the clean-up costs.

Until then they should just stay out of the way.

Politician 0, Writer 1

This week the US Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at the launch of a public awareness campaign to bring attention to the challenges faced by children and families affected by drug abuse issued an ‘order‘ to the creators of the popular TV drama ‘The Wire‘:

I want to speak directly to Mr Burns and Mr Simon: Do another season of ‘The Wire’. That’s actually at a minimum. If you don’t do a season, do a movie.

To which, in an e-mail to The Times, David Simon replied:

“I’ve spoken to Ed Burns and we are prepared to go to work on season six of The Wire if the Department of Justice is equally ready to reconsider and address its continuing prosecution of our misguided, destructive and dehumanising drug prohibition.”

Before going on to call the US government’s ‘War on Drugs’ “nothing more or less than a war on our underclass, succeeding only in transforming our democracy into the jailingest nation on the planet.”

I think we can call that game, set and match to David Simon.