In the ongoing international debate over NSA spying there are few voices of reason. The NSA would like you to think they are the eye on the pyramid of the great seal. An all-seeing all-knowing department of the most powerful government on earth. A division of James Bonds and Bondettes with the latest gadgetry spying on all manner of digital communication to protect the world from the scariest terrorist de jour.
On the other side of the same coin are the whistle blowers like Edward Snowden. He has now joined the ranks with Julian Assange and the Wikileaks hacktivists. They fancy themselves a gang of revolutionaries striking fear in the heart of evil government ‘leaders’, and corporate CEOs. Digital warriors, exercising their superior-hacking skills to bring nefarious secrets into the light of day. The truth is not nearly as sexy as the media, the NSA, or the hacktivists would have you believe.
In reality NSA spies are cubicle-dwelling keyboard jockeys not tuxedo-wearing international men of mystery. They are people who like the hacktivists have devoted inordinate amounts of their life to learning a technology. A technology that may have important applications but still represents a small part of a full life. Making room in your brain for all this tech knowledge requires clearing out junk like interpersonal skills and a social life, even personal hygiene. More like Dilbert than James Bond.
Collecting data is the easy part, the hard part is finding someone who can read it without going into a coma. This is where the job descends into one of the most pointless and mind-numbing ventures imaginable. Since the NSA can read my texts, tweets, and emails they know the wife wants me to stop on the way home to get milk, eggs, and a pack of Marlboro Lights. (NSA if you are reading can you please text later and remind me so I don’t forget?)
Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, much like the NSA spy-clones seems to fancy himself as a sexy international man of mystery. In reality he is a self-important, arrogant, accused rapist. I haven’t seen every Bond movie, but I don’t think James was ever brought up on rape charges. Even if it’s just a smear it’s one that sticks to him because of his personality. And just like the NSA he claims his power from the hundreds of thousands of government documents he is able to leak on ‘his’ site. Trying to actually read these documents is an exercise as equally boring and pointless as the work of the NSA.
What about Edward Snowden you might ask. Is he not important because the government stripped his passport and wants him dead? Not so much. The people who inflate his importance by wishing to see him dead in a ditch are those same NSA geeks who only think that way due to their own inflated sense of self-importance. His revelations about spying may have been shocking to some and launched an international debate. Yet to anyone who works in Information Technology or has stopped to think about how technology works it’s no surprise.
The whole point of digital technology is the ability to store and search data. It’s more efficient. Anyone old enough to remember library card catalogs and the Dewey Decimal System can attest to this. Of course the government uses this ability, everyone does; garages, grocery stores, Google. Garages subscribe to searchable online databases now, they don’t order countless Haynes paper repair manuals. Groceries collect as much data as possible through their discount cards. Google has made a business out of nothing but collecting data.
Google CEO Larry Page says transparency and data security are:
“undermined by the wholesale collection of data in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world.” ‘That’s our business goddamnit!’
According to Brad Smith, General Counsel, and Executive VP at Microsoft:
“People won’t use technology they don’t trust. Governments have put this trust at risk, and governments need to help resolve it.” ‘You are cutting into our profits margins dumbasses!’
For all Bill Gates’ faults he does make some astute observations. He once said:
“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
There is no business in the world more inefficient than the US Government. All the technology at the NSA’s disposal has only magnified this inefficiency. The revelation on the Steven Colbert show that the NSA spies on the World of Warcraft online game chat is a prime example. Government contractors getting a six figure salary to play Warcraft. Wow! It is a detestable waste, but you have to give those guys some credit for figuring out a way to get that kind of money for playing games. What kid wouldn’t dream of that job? I know I did.
For many years I actively worked towards a job like this. I became a Systems Administrator in the mid-nineties. Even back then it was obvious how easy it was to spy on people. Want to read every email from a company employee containing the word sex? Just log into the email server and run a ‘cat mail | grep sex’ command.
By the early 2000s I was a secret-cleared systems administrator for the Defense Department. In the same loop as Snowden I was considering a CIA job that required a ‘lifestyle polygraph’ as part of the interview. What questions could they ask to prevent a Snowden? ‘Do you have integrity or a conscience?’ ‘Yes? ! Oh sorry you aren’t CIA material.’ I could have become Snowden. I owe a debt of gratitude to George Bush and the Supreme Court for saving me from that fate.
Living in OB in the early oughts I witnessed the death of American democracy that was the 2000 ‘election’. I remember it vividly. My neighbor came to my door despondent after the Supreme Court decision, desperate for someone to talk to. We didn’t even get along but we were both so appalled we needed any company. Soon after that I quit my systems admin job to attend and organize demonstrations. My tech skills refocused on healthcare and small business as a means to support my organizing efforts, and I never looked back. Thanks George! If it wasn’t for you I would be holed up in Moscow right now with nowhere to go but Equador.
The comical nature of what the NSA is trying to do is not lost on everyone. Projects like ScareMail endeavor to game the system by embedding ‘scary’ keywords into all your emails. Seemingly the goal is to overload the NSA with fake suspicious data. As if they don’t have enough already. I’m not sure exactly what phrases NSA programs like Prism are designed to detect. Perhaps a fake email like this: ‘Dear Osama Bin Laden, Please meet me at the end of the OB pier to plan our next terrorist strike. Let’s go biological with this one. The infidels won’t know what hit them! ROFLMAO – Kaliek Sheikh Mohammed’
Attention NSA-clones this is a joke ! Hopefully all the Aspergers cases at the NSA can have the social skills to tell the difference between a joke and reality. If they can’t and there is a drone strike on the pier later today my apologies to all OBceans.