Wow! This piece by Andrew Leonard in Salon is astonishing—and enthralling:
In the wee hours of the morning of January 27, 2013, a Wikipedia editor named “Qworty” made a series of 14 separate edits to the Wikipedia page for the late writer Barry Hannah, a well-regarded Southern writer with a taste for the Gothic and absurd.
Qworty cut paragraphs that included quotes from Hannah’s work. He removed 20 links to interviews, obituaries and reminiscences concerning Hannah. He cut out a list of literary prizes Hannah had won.
Two edits stand out. Qworty excised the phrase “and was regarded as a good mentor” from a sentence that started: “Hannah taught creative writing for 28 years at the University of Mississippi, where he was director of its M.F.A. program …” And he changed the cause of Hannah’s death from “natural causes” to “alcoholism.” But Hannah’s obituaries stated that he had died of a heart attack and been clean and sober for years before his death, while his role as a mentor was testified to in numerous memorials. (Another editor later removed the alcoholism edit.)
Taken all together, the edits strongly suggest a focused attempt to diminish Hannah’s legacy. But why? Who was Qworty and what axe did he have to grind with Hannah?
The answer to this question is on the one hand simple, almost trivial: Qworty turned out to be another author who had a long history of resenting Hannah. The late night Wikipedia edits are certainly not the first time that a writer’s ego has led to mischief. But the story is also important. Wikipedia is one of the jewels in the Internet’s crown, an amazing collective achievement, a mighty stab at realizing an awesome dream: a constantly updated repository for all human knowledge. It is created from the bottom up, a crowd-sourced labor of love by people who require no compensation for their work but also don’t need to jump through any qualifying hoops. Anyone can edit Wikipedia. Just create an account and start messing around! . . .
Here’s yet another instance of a student—a minor, a kid—being arrested for a trivial prank. Do people now expect that nothing will ever go wrong and if it does, someone must pay? Can’t they just grow up and get over it? Remember the girl who did a science experiment out-of-doors in which no harm was done and no one was injured, and she was charged with a felony crime?
I expect many of these will be thrown out, but they serve their purpose: to teach and to demonstrate that everyone can immediately be arrested and harassed and possibly beaten and possibly sent to prison. The idea is train the populace to react as potential victims of the authorities, to fear the power of the authorities (very gratifying to the authorities, to be sure—thus attracting a certain sort of personality to positions of power, especial power over the people s/he sees daily). That’s the explicit idea of the stop-and-frisk harassment.
Why do you want a populace trained in this way? to be cowed? Well, it’s much easier to control large masses of people if they have first been trained to be cowed. Certainly that was the experience of South Africa in the last century, and of the American South in the century before that. I get the idea that authoritarian regimes pretty much depend on keeping the populace in a state of fear.
And that seems to be the state to which we’re headed. Cops in the school, training a new generation of children to fear the power of the police and their ability to detain and arrest and take to trial: that’s just another tactic. Terrorists—and even the threat of terrorists—are enormously useful in this training, as we’ve seen: people will give up pretty much all their rights if they are in a state of fear and “safety” is promised in exchange, though that “safety” of course requires, e.g., police officers arresting your children. (Don’t complain: you asked for it.) And we take another step toward becoming a cowed and fearful populace controlled by an elite minority. As little as 1%.
Controlling the government automatically means controlling the legal means of force, and if you control those, you might as well use them: that’s what it’s for. Keep the military busy! Keep the police and law enforcement busy! Tap everyone’s phone! Look for things, anything: you never know what you might find. Plus it’s also all great market research!
The first thing we do, we take the brakes off the banks—let them do whatever they want, because the money they make/steal all comes to us—well, 99% of it, anyway. And if they do get caught, slap ‘em with a fine and let them get back to work. No penalties and no accountability: those slow things down.
Paul Waldman at The American Prospect:
In case you’ve forgotten, what took Benghazi from “a thing Republicans keep whining about” to “Scandal!!!” was when some emails bouncing around between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department were passed to Jonathan Karl of ABC last Friday. The strange thing about it was that the emails didn’t contain anything particularly shocking—no crimes admitted, no malfeasance revealed. It showed 12 different versions of talking points as everybody edited them, but why this made it a “scandal” no one bothered to say. My best explanation is that just the fact of obtaining previously hidden information, regardless of its content, is so exciting to reporters that they just ran with it. They’re forever trying to get a glimpse behind the curtain, and when they do, they almost inevitably shout “Aha!” no matter what.
But then the problem comes. The White House decided to release a whole batch of emails related to the subject, and when they were examined, it turns out that what was given to Karl had been altered. Altered by whom, you ask? Altered by Karl’s source: Republican staffers on the House Oversight Committee, which had been given the emails by the White House (CBS’s Major Garrett confirmed this yesterday).
Let me just explain quickly in case you haven’t been following this, and then we’ll discuss what it means. Two changes to the emails were made, one in an email from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and one from State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland. Rhodes actually wrote, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.” That was changed to, “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.” In the Nuland email, she actually wrote, “the penultimate point could be abused by Members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency [CIA] warnings so why do we want to feed that either?,” which was changed to, “The penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.”
So the changes have the effect of making it look like 1) the CIA was tying the attack to al Qaeda, but the State Department wanted to play that down publicly, and 2) the White House was taking special pains to protect the State Department. Neither of these things appear to be true, but there’s a logic to the Republican staffers wanting to paint that picture. Their argument, after all, is that the wrongdoing here consists of the White House (Obama!) and State Department (Clinton!) trying to fool everyone in America into thinking Benghazi wasn’t a terrorist attack, because Obama’s re-election hinged on the false belief that he had defeated al Qaeda forever, and if there’s any al Qaeda left then Mitt Romney would have won. And yes, that’s ridiculous, but it’s what many conservatives seem to believe. . .
George W. Bush famously explained the reasons why terrorist act: They hate our freedoms. An alternative motivation becomes available with the explicit written explanation by one of the Boston bombers. Ray McGovern at ConsortiumNews.org:
Quick, somebody tell CIA Director John Brennan about the handwriting on the inside wall of the boat in which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was hiding before Boston-area police riddled it and him with bullets. Tell Brennan that Tsarnaev’s note is in plain English and that it needs neither translation nor interpretation in solving the mystery: “why do they hate us?”
And, if Brennan will listen, remind him of when his high school teachers, the Irish Christian Brothers, taught him the meaning of “handwriting on the wall” in the Book of Daniel and why it became an idiom for predetermined, imminent doom.
CBS senior correspondent John Miller, who before joining CBS served in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, broke the handwritten-note story Thursday onCBS This Morning. He described what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scribbled on the side of the boat as he lay bleeding “from multiple gunshot wounds” in the boat. Here, according to Miller’s sources, is what Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s note said:“The [Boston] bombings were in retribution for the U.S. crimes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan [and] that the victims of the Boston bombing were collateral damage, in the same way innocent victims have been collateral damage in U.S. wars around the world. Summing up, that when you attack one Muslim you attack all Muslims.”
My experience with now-CBS-This-Morning’s Charlie Rose is that he does listen closely. Thus, I believe it is to his credit that he seemed determined, with his follow-up question, to drive home what I think is by far the most important point:
Co-anchor Charlie Rose: “Does it [the note] answer questions about motives?”
Miller: “Well it does … there it is in black and white – literally.”
Co-anchor Norah O’Donnell: “But they still believe he was self-radicalized and not part of a larger group, right?”
Miller: “That’s right. …”
Note to CIA Director Brennan
If you didn’t understand much about such motives three years ago, after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to down an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, here’s a chance to learn. I actually felt embarrassed for you when you – then-White House counter-terrorism adviser – were asked on Jan. 7, 2010, two weeks after the almost-catastrophe over Detroit, to explain why people want to kill Americans. I’m sure you remember; it turned out to be Helen Thomas’s swan song.
It took the questioning of the then-89-year old veteran correspondent Thomas to show how little you were willing to share (or how little you knew) about what leads terrorists to do what they do. As her catatonic White House press colleagues took their customary dictation, Thomas posed an adult query that spotlighted the futility of government plans to counter terrorism with more high-tech gizmos and intrusions on the liberties and privacy of the traveling public.
She asked why Abdulmutallab did what he did: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.” It was a highly revealing dialogue; this is how it went. Remember?
You: “Al-Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al-Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al-Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”
Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”
You: “I’m saying it’s because of an al-Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”
You: “I think this is a — long issue, but al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”
Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”
Actually, there is a ton of information explaining why people try, for example, to explode bombs in Times Square, in airliners over Detroit, in remote CIA outposts in Afghanistan just to kill Americans, even when it means killing themselves. [See, for example, Consortiumnews.com’s “Answering Helen Thomas on Why.”]
It was painful to watch you suggest on Jan. 7, 2010, that, apparently in some mysterious way, some folks are hard-wired at birth for the “wanton slaughter of innocents,” and your contention that – in the case of Abdulmutallab – al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf was able to jump-start that privileged 23-year old Nigerian, inculcate in him the acquired characteristics of a terrorist, and persuade him to do the bidding of al-Qaeda/Persian Gulf.
Your words were a real stretch as to how the well-heeled Abdulmutallab, without apparent prior terrorist affiliations, was suddenly transformed into an international terrorist ready to die while killing innocents.
Perhaps no one told you that . . .
Talk about tunnel vision! The FBI is demanding that companies make their communications insecure so that the FBI won’t have to work so hard. Timothy Lee reports in the Washington Post:
The FBI is pushing for expanded power to eavesdrop on private Internet communications. The law enforcement agency wants to force online service providers to build wiretapping capabilities into their products. But a group of prominent computer security experts argues that mandating “back doors” in online communications products is likely to compromise the security of Americans’ computers and could even pose a threat to national security.
The fundamental problem is that eavesdropping facilities are a double-edged sword. They make it easier for the U.S. government to spy on the bad guys. But they also make it easier for the bad guys to hack our computers and spy on us. And, the researchers say, the Internet’s decentralized architecture makes it particularly hard to build effective and secure wiretapping capabilities online.
Since the 1994 Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), telephone companies have been legally obligated to build wiretapping capabilities into their telecommunications equipment. But CALEA didn’t apply to Internet-based communications technologies. The result, the FBI says, is that its surveillance capabilities are “going dark,” as criminal suspects increasingly shift to digital communications platforms that don’t offer real-time interception capabilities.
In response, the government is reportedly seeking to impose CALEA-type requirements on Internet services. But rather than mandating the implementation of specific surveillance standards, as the original CALEA did, the government’s proposal would fine online service providers who failed to comply with a wiretapping request from the government — leaving it to each individual firm to decide the best way to comply.
Crucially, according to reporting by The Washington Post, the FBI proposal would apply even to “Internet phone calls conducted between two computer users without going through a central company server.” In a paper published Friday by the Center for Democracy and Technology, more than a dozen prominent computer security experts warn that such a requirement would be a disaster for the security of online communications.
If information isn’t flowing through a central server, then the only way to intercept it is to add surveillance software to the user’s PC. But popular software is constantly being probed by hackers seeking vulnerabilities they can exploit. The more complex a system, the more likely programmers are to make mistakes that could provide hackers with an opening. And surveillance features are particularly dangerous, the researchers argue.
“The cleverest and most dangerous cyber-attackers are those who are able to not only compromise a system but also to evade detection,” they write. “That is also precisely the objective of a government surveillance solution.”
Even worse, a huge number of companies could be forced to comply with the government’s proposed regulations. Ed Felten, a computer scientist at Princeton and one of the paper’s authors (and, full disclosure, my graduate adviser) points out that a growing number of companies are adding peer-to-peer communications capabilities to their products. For example, many multi-player video games include built-in facilities for players to communicate with each other in real time. . .
Continue reading. Later in the article:
Worst of all, the researchers say, the proposed mandate is unlikely to even be effective. People who want to evade surveillance will inevitably find ways to modify the software on their computers to deactivate the eavesdropping feature, just as many people today “jailbreak” their smartphones to activate forbidden features. Indeed, some popular communications software is open source, making it trivial to build a version of the software with the wiretapping feature removed. So an Internet wiretapping mandate will do little to help the government spy on the bad guys, while reducing security for everyone else.
The Federal government is starting to become a serious threat—no news to villagers in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and so on.
Kevin Drum helps me understand the response of the Obama Administration—perhaps not an overreaction, but unfortunately Obama has poisoned the well by his vindictive pursuit of whistleblowers so he gets no trust on the subject.