On Snowden

Whether or not you think Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain, he is getting the politicians to say a number of interesting things.  Take for instance, this blurb from Paul Ryan (R-WI) that was replayed on the CBC news on Monday evening:

If we are not able to convince our allies or other countries to help us with this, that doesn’t speak very well to how we are being viewed in the world, it does speak well to our credibility.

Let me highlight one part of this: …it does not speak well to our credibility.  What Mr. Ryan does not understand, or at least does not seem to grasp, is that the credibility of the United States is pretty much a joke in the rest of the world.  And the Snowden leaks are only the latest example of why the United States is the butt of the world’s jokes.

There have been several reports, reported by the BBC, and the CBC, but surprisingly not by any US news outlet of how trade with the EU and the United States is in rough shape because of US policies, public or not, on issues like transparency of government, crime and punishment, climate and environmental issues,  and of course, privacy.  The Snowden revelations are only the latest bit of glass being thrown into the international communities eyes.

This is a global economy.  Information is, for the most part, is available with a few key strokes, not just the unclassified, but much of the so called classified information, if you have the time and patience to sort through the minutia to find it.  Big data sifting can be done with almost any server today, so if you want to know what is going on, it is not hard to find out.

Yet there are many in the United States that do not want to know what is going on and see all of this as a great blow to the efforts and image of the United States.  To these individuals, Mr. Ryan included, I say this.  The image of the United States was irreparably damaged when the United States invaded a sovereign nation with little more provocation that they might have had weapons of mass destruction, and, having found nothing, did not so much as say sorry. Further, has left the country in worse shape economically and socially than when they invaded it.  And that is only one of many events I can point at.

I cannot help but laugh at the politicians and other pundits that are worried about the credibility of the United States.  You should worry more about other, more critical things.  This one is a tempest in a tea pot, designed to distract from the fact that these same politicians are the same ones that allowed the NSA to do this in the first place.

The NSA is listening – quelle surprise!

Through a top-secret program authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the U.S. intelligence community can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data. Documents describing the previously undisclosed program, obtained by The Washington Post, show the breadth of U.S. electronic surveillance capabilities in the wake of a widely publicized controversy over warrantless wiretapping of U.S. domestic telephone communications in 2005. These slides, annotated by The Washington Post, represent a selection from the overall document, and certain portions are redacted. (Washington Post)

I am trying hard not to laugh. No really, I am. Someone, and I am not sure who, has suddenly decided to release (sorry, a document was leaked) information that via FISA, under the Patriot Act, the National Surveillance Agency is listening to phone calls made by Americans, to Americans, within the United States, as well as filtering ISP pipes, social media sites and reading your email. What I find funny is the absurd level of outrage being vented by Congress (who knew all along about this) and the American public, who, despite having a short memory about things, should know better by now that the United States is one nation under surveillance.  And this is all to protect us from terrorists. Whatever that means.

If you find this offensive, well, the horses are well gone and the barn has burned down, the ashes already scattered to the four winds.  If you find this offensive, it really is too late to do much about it.

But if you want to keep most of your traffic safe, use encryption.  At least that way you are not publishing everything on a postcard and they have to at least work at it.

Feel free to use my PGP key for any correspondence.  The fingerprint is: 2428 CE82 2E0C E6B7 E1E3 8D84 85BD BF93 B6CF CE1B


Deja Vu all over again

The average American has a very short attention span.  Fortunately, there are some who remember what has gone before.  A talking head this morning pointed out that the Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on April 19, 1995.  The bombing in Boston occurred on the celebration of “Patriot’s Day,” the third Monday in April, but the official day is…April 19.

Neither Oklahoma or Boston is the first act of domestic terrorism, nor will it likely be the last.  And yes, I fully expect, once the officials in charge have sorted the mess, they will find it was an act of domestic terrorism.  What concerns me is not that it happened, but that there are Americans that feel this is an appropriate way to protest their government. And calling it terrorism really gives it more of a spotlight than it deserves.  It is murder, pure and simple, and the perpetrators are murderers.  Nothing more. They are not patriots or freedom fighters, they are murderers, slimy, bottom feeders that should be put out of our misery and not given any more of a platform than a swift drop and a sudden stop.

Sadly, this will only make the police state that has evolved since September 11, 2001 only worse.  And in that regard, we all lose.

TSA, not here to protect you

I have illustrated the lapses in the so called increased security at airports lately.  But in case you have been living under a rock or actually think being strip searched, fondled, and irradiated are good for you and mean that the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is there to keep you safe and ensure that the bad guys are not going to blow up or hijack your aircraft should think again.

This morning, this article was in our local news.  Drinks Bought Inside Airports Tested (WTOP).  Lest you think that is a typo and should read Drinks Brought Into Airports Tested, no, it is not.  The TSA is testing drinks, purchased inside the secure area for explosives because:

Vendors and employees at airports are not screened every day

As George Carlin would say: “Let me say that again, because it sounds, vaguely important.” Vendors and employees at airports are not screened every day. I can understand that there is a certain level of expectation of, oh, call it goodness in those that run the airport.  FAA air traffic controllers, airport management, and life safety officials (police, fire, rescue) are all subjected to numerous, one would hope, rigorous background checks.  They have access to areas of the airport that the average person would never get to go (like the runways for example).  But to extend this assumption to the vendors, many of whom are not US citizens – at least here in DC, and I am sure in other places – is ludicrous.  Worse, to think that they are more trustworthy than the traveling public, which includes numerous people with higher clearances, and more intense background checks than those who are working at the airport is just absurd.

The TSA’s job is to protect the traveling public.  Their focus, since their creation, has been on improving the perceived weaknesses in air safety. They have failed.  Utterly.  This is only the latest example of their short comings.  How many more are we, their paymasters, going to allow?

TSA, your tax dollars at work.

I have left no rock unturned in my derision of the Department of Homeland (In)security, and its security arm, the Transportation Security Administration.  Today, the Los Angeles Times posted the following article:

By Mary Forgione Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger October 31, 2011, 12:32 p.m. “Get your freak on girl.” That phrase written by a Transportation Security Administration baggage screener might get the worker fired. (L.A. Times)

The worker’s offence?  Writing a note on that form letter TSA put in your luggage when they riffle through it looking for your valuables…er…checking it for explosives.  In this case, the agent discovered a vibrator.  Way to jump right on that dangerous weapon there TSA, but why is it that you missed the loaded .38 not a week earlier?

TSA has argued that they are looking for explosives, not firearms, and clearly a pair of batteries placed end-to-end are more important to check out than a firearm with rounds in the chamber, because the super-sensitive detection equipment that cannot tell the difference between plastic explosives and peanut butter means you have to open the suit case, but clearly shows you that there are rounds in the chamber of a firearm!  And let’s face facts, if a gun discharges in the uncompressed baggage compartment, it will only make a hole in the aircraft.  At least that is probably what the folks at TSA are hoping anyway.  Never mind that they do not bother to actually check the airframe for explosives, which is a blessing for our friends in Columbia who continue to successfully smuggle drugs around the United States every day.

The bare facts are that the highly trained and background checked employees of the Transportation Security Agency are no better than the Keystone Kops they replaced in most airports.  I say that with a certain degree of derision because I do remember going through airports where the security was much better under the private companies because the private companies hired people that actually cared about what they were doing, which is protecting the flying public.  The TSA is only paying lip service.  And if you do not believe me, just look up the number of them that have been disciplined for doing little to protect you versus the number of times they have stopped a real incident from happening.