Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 5th, 2014

Snowden data shows more and more NSA lies to the public

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Truly, the NSA simply cannot be believed. Time after time after time the NSA has been shown to have deliberately and consciously lied—to the public, to Congress, and (presumably) to the President. It is not even clear that the NSA has good intentions in much of this. Barton Gellman, Julie Tate, and Ashkan Soltani report now in the Washington Post more of the revelations for which we have Edward Snowden to thank. (And, as we saw in a post earlier today about how the CIA and FBI worked to destroy a man simply for filing a perfectly legal FOIA request, the idiocy of those who say that Edward Snowden “should have gone through proper channels” is apparent—as it should have been already: Snowden has reported how he repeatedly tried to go through channels.)

The report begins:

Ordinary Internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from U.S. digital networks, according to a four-month investigation by The Washington Post.

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

The surveillance files highlight a policy dilemma that has been aired only abstractly in public. There are discoveries of considerable intelligence value in the intercepted messages — and collateral harm to privacy on a scale that the Obama administration has not been willing to address.

Among the most valuable contents — which The Post will not describe in detail, to avoid harm to ongoing operations — are fresh revelations about a secret overseas nuclear project, double-dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.

Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali. At the request of CIA officials, The Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations.

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

In order to allow time for analysis and outside reporting, neither Snowden nor The Post has disclosed until now that he obtained and shared the content of intercepted communications. The cache Snowden provided came from domestic NSA operations under the broad authority granted by Congress in 2008 with amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA content is generally stored in closely controlled data repositories, and for more than a year, senior government officials have depicted it as beyond Snowden’s reach.

The Post reviewed roughly 160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts.

The material spans President Obama’s first term, from 2009 to 2012, a period of exponential growth for the NSA’s domestic collection.

Taken together, the files offer an unprecedented vantage point on the changes wrought by Section 702 of the FISA amendments, which enabled the NSA to make freer use of methods that for 30 years had required probable cause and a warrant from a judge. One program, code named PRISM, extracts content stored in user accounts at Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook, Google and five other leading Internet companies. Another, known inside the NSA as Upstream, intercepts data on the move as it crosses the U.S. junctions of global voice and data networks.

No government oversight body, including the Justice Department, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, intelligence committees in Congress or the president’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, has delved into a comparably large sample of what the NSA actually collects — not only from its targets but from people who may cross a target’s path.

Among the latter are medical records sent from one family member to another, résumés from job hunters and academic transcripts of schoolchildren. In one photo, a young girl in religious dress beams at a camera outside a mosque.

Scores of pictures show infants and toddlers in bathtubs, on swings, sprawled on their backs and kissed by their mothers. In some photos, men show off their physiques. In others, women model lingerie, leaning suggestively into a webcam or striking risque poses in shorts and bikini tops.

“None of the hits that were received were relevant,” two Navy cryptologic technicians write in one of many summaries of nonproductive surveillance. “No additional information,” writes a civilian analyst. Another makes fun of a suspected kidnapper, newly arrived in Syria before the current civil war, who begs for employment as a janitor and makes wide-eyed observations about the state of undress displayed by women on local beaches.

By law, the NSA may “target” only foreign nationals located overseas unless it obtains a warrant based on probable cause from a special surveillance court. For collection under PRISM and Upstream rules, analysts must state a reasonable belief that the target has information of value about a foreign government, a terrorist organization or the spread of nonconventional weapons.

Most of the people caught up in those programs are not the targets and would not lawfully qualify as such. “Incidental collection” of third-party communications is inevitable in many forms of surveillance, but in other contexts the U.S. government works harder to limit and discard irrelevant data. In criminal wiretaps, for example, the FBI is supposed to stop listening to a call if a suspect’s wife or child is using the phone.

There are many ways to be swept up incidentally in surveillance aimed at a valid foreign target. Some of those in the Snowden archive were monitored because they interacted directly with a target, but others had more-tenuous links.

If a target entered an online chat room, the NSA collected the words and identities of every person who posted there, regardless of subject, as well as every person who simply “lurked,” reading passively what other people wrote.

“1 target, 38 others on there,” one analyst wrote. She collected data on them all.

In other cases, the NSA designated as its target the Internet protocol, or IP, address of a computer server used by hundreds of people.

The NSA treats all content intercepted incidentally from third parties as permissible to retain, store, search and distribute to its government customers. Raj De, the agency’s general counsel, has testified that the NSA does not generally attempt to remove irrelevant personal content, because it is difficult for one analyst to know what might become relevant to another.

The Obama administration declines to discuss the scale of incidental collection. The NSA, backed by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., has asserted that it is unable to make any estimate, even in classified form, of the number of Americans swept in. It is not obvious why the NSA could not offer at least a partial count, given that its analysts routinely pick out “U.S. persons” and mask their identities, in most cases, before distributing intelligence reports.

If Snowden’s sample is representative, the population under scrutiny in the PRISM and Upstream programs is far larger than the government has suggested. In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance. . .

Continue reading. You’ll soon come to the litany of lies that the NSA uses as chaff:

. . . In Snowden’s view, the PRISM and Upstream programs have “crossed the line of proportionality.”

“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”

For close to a year, NSA and other government officials have appeared to deny, in congressional testimony and public statements, that Snowden had any access to the material.

As recently as May, shortly after he retired as NSA director, Gen. Keith Alexander denied that Snowden could have passed FISA content to journalists.

“He didn’t get this data,” Alexander told a New Yorker reporter. “They didn’t touch —”

“The operational data?” the reporter asked.

“They didn’t touch the FISA data,” Alexander replied. He added, “That database, he didn’t have access to.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 7:23 pm

Why North Korea is so sensitive

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Very perceptive column by Paul Fischer in the NY Times. From the column:

. . . One thing is clear: Mr. Kim deals in perception, not reality. His father and grandfather tried to assert that North Korea was the more legitimate and successful of the two Koreas. That battle was lost a long time ago. Now the grandson and his theater state must act as if his country still has any reason to exist, and so his first job is to sustain that illusion.

However, like any person whose keenest concern is not to be laughed at, North Korea has quickly become ridiculous — and, from its position of weakness and impotence, only more prone to take offense. Last year, the North Korean regime issued no threats of war or destruction when the Hollywood action thriller “Olympus Has Fallen” featured North Korean commandos attacking the White House; it had no problem being portrayed as rogue, dangerous or aggressive. But funny — that’s taking it too far.

Kim Jong-Il’s movies — and operas, architecture, mosaics, music, news reports, documentaries, stage performances, all of them part of an elaborate propagandistic visual language — built a worldview for his citizens in which North Koreans were both the purest race on earth and the last people bravely resisting Yankee imperialism. The fear, for his son, is that films like “The Interview” are contributing to another narrative: one in which North Korea is laughable and irrelevant. . .

By all means, read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Government, Movies & TV

The Wyatt Earp of cute doggies

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 1:17 pm

Posted in Video

Useful medical knowledge from WebMD

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I know that some of my regular readers are MDs, but I wonder if they know this important fact from WebMD, which The Wife pointed out to me:

Manganese is used for prevention and treatment of manganese deficiency, a condition in which the body doesn’t have enough manganese.

This same penetrating insight is found on several other sites (word for word), such as Medline Plus, the National Institutes of Health’s Web site for patients and their families and friends, produced by the National Library of Medicine.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 10:33 am

Posted in Daily life

Only you can prevent blackouts… [photo of sad Reddy Kilowatt]

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Erez Yoeli, Moshe Hoffman, and David Rand write in the NY Times:

IT’S July, and it’s starting to get hot. This month last year — on Friday, July 19, 2013 — New York City broke its electricity usage record. The demand strained Con Ed’s grid until it broke. Within hours, 5,200 Bronx residents were without power. And as more heat rolled in, the blackouts did too, in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Boston — no major metropolitan area on the East Coast was spared. Earlier that summer, California, Texas, Illinois and other states fought the same battle with heat-driven peak demand. Canada, Japan, India, Nepal and virtually the entire world face the same issue.

We have the technology to eliminate these blackouts. We’ve had it for years.

It works like this: Your utility installs a small radio device near your air-conditioner that can receive a signal from the power company when there’s a risk of a blackout. When the signal is sent, the device raises the temperature a bit, and, while you go about your business in the slightly less-air-conditioned comfort of your home, all those devices together ease the pressure on the system. In tests, most participants aren’t even aware that the device has been activated. Without noticing a thing, you’ve helped prevent a blackout.

The M.I.T. Technology Review calls it “the key technology for the electricity grid of the future.” President Obama’s administration has identified these programs as the answer to improving electrical grid reliability.

What’s the problem? It’s not the utilities. Virtually every large utility in the country has asked residents to sign up for these programs. It’s not the devices. They’ve proved themselves to be reliable over years of testing and in a host of real-world conditions. It’s not the installers. They get it right.

You are the problem — getting you to sign up in the first place. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 9:20 am

A reprise of a fine Chalmers Johnson column, with a good introduction by Tom Englehardt

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Extremely good; written in August of 2010, republished because it’s still appropriate.

In September 1998, I was handed a submission for a proposed book by Chalmers Johnson. I was then (as I am now) consulting editor at Metropolitan Books. 9/11 was three years away, the Bush administration still an unimaginable nightmare, and though the prospective book’s prospective title had “American Empire” in it, the American Empire Project I now co-run with my friend and TomDispatch regular Steve Fraser was still almost four years from crossing either of our minds.

I remembered Johnson, however. As a young man, I had read his book on peasant nationalism in north China where, during the 1930s, Japanese invaders were conducting “kill-all, burn-all, loot-all” operations. Its vision of how a revolution could gain strength from a foreign occupation stayed with me. I had undoubtedly also read some of Johnson’s well-respected work on contemporary Japan and I knew, even then, that in the Vietnam War era he had been a fierce opponent of the antiwar movement I took part in. If I didn’t already know it, the proposal made no bones about the fact that he had also, in that era, consulted for the CIA.

I certainly turned to his submission — a prologue, a single chapter, and an outline of the rest of a book — with a dubious eye, but was promptly blasted away by a passage in the prologue in which he referred to himself as having been a “spear-carrier for empire” and, some pages in, by this passage as well:

“I was sufficiently aware of Mao Zedong’s attempts to export ‘people’s war’ to believe that the United States could not afford to lose in Vietnam. In that, too, I was distinctly a man of my times. It proved to be a disastrously wrong position. The problem was that I knew too much about the international Communist movement and not enough about the United States government and its Department of Defense. I was also in those years irritated by campus antiwar protesters, who seemed to me self-indulgent as well as sanctimonious and who had so clearly not done their homework [on the history of communism in East Asia]… As it turned out, however, they understood far better than I did the impulses of a Robert McNamara, a McGeorge Bundy, or a Walt Rostow. They grasped something essential about the nature of America’s imperial role in the world that I had failed to perceive. In retrospect, I wish I had stood with the antiwar protest movement. For all its naïveté and unruliness, it was right and American policy wrong.”

I was little short of thunderstruck. I knew then — and I think it still holds today — that no one of prominence with Johnson’s position on the war and in his age range had ever written such a set of sentences. At that moment, knowing nothing else, I made the decision to publish his book. It was possibly the single most impulsive, even irrational, and thoroughly satisfying decision I’ve made in my 30-odd years as an editor in, or at the fringes of, mainstream publishing.

Though I didn’t have expectations for the book then, the rest is, quite literally, history. After all, its title would be Blowback, a term of CIA tradecraft that neither I nor just about any other American had ever heard of, and which, thanks to Johnson, has now become part of our language (along with the accompanying catch phrase “unintended consequences”). On its publication in 2000, the book was widely ignored. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, however, it seemed nothing short of prophetic, and so, in paperback, stormed those 9/11 tables at the front of bookstores, and soared to bestsellerdom.

That I ever edited Blowback or Johnson’s subsequent books was little short of a fluke, one of the luckiest of my life. It led as well to a relationship with a man of remarkable empathy and insight, who was then on a no less remarkable journey (on which I could tag along). Now, a new book of his, Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope, has arrived, focused on the many subjects — from our empire of bases to the way the Pentagon budget, the weapons industries, and military Keynesianism may one day help send us into great power bankruptcy — that have obsessed him in recent years. It’s not to be missed. Tom

The Guns of August
Lowering the Flag on the American Century
By Chalmers Johnson

In 1962, the historian Barbara Tuchman published a book about the start of World War I and called it The Guns of August. It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was, of course, looking back at events that had occurred almost 50 years earlier and had at her disposal documents and information not available to participants. They were acting, as Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara put it, in the fog of war.

So where are we this August of 2010, with guns blazing in one war in Afghanistan even as we try to extricate ourselves from another in Iraq? Where are we, as we impose sanctions on Iran and North Korea (and threaten worse), while sending our latest wonder weapons, pilotless drones armed with bombs and missiles, into Pakistan’s tribal borderlands, Yemen, and who knows where else, tasked with endless “targeted killings” which, in blunter times, used to be called assassinations? Where exactly are we, as we continue to garrison much of the globe even as our country finds itself incapable of paying for basic services?

I wish I had a crystal ball to peer into and see what historians will make of our own guns of August in 2060. The fog of war, after all, is just a stand-in for what might be called “the fog of the future,” the inability of humans to peer with any accuracy far into the world to come. Let me nonetheless try to offer a few glimpses of what that foggy landscape some years ahead might reveal, and even hazard a few predictions about what possibilities await still-imperial America.

Let me begin by asking: What harm would befall the United States if we actually decided, against all odds, to close those hundreds and hundreds of bases, large and small, that we garrison around the world? What if we actually dismantled our empire, and came home? Would Genghis Khan-like hordes descend on us? Not likely. Neither a land nor a sea invasion of the U.S. is even conceivable.

Would 9/11-type attacks accelerate? It seems far likelier to me that, as our overseas profile shrank, the possibility of such attacks would shrink with it.

Would various countries we’ve invaded, sometimes occupied, and tried to set on the path of righteousness and democracy decline into “failed states?” Probably some would, and preventing or controlling this should be the function of the United Nations or of neighboring states. (It is well to remember that the murderous Cambodian regime of Pol Pot was finally brought to an end not by us, but by neighboring Vietnam.)

Sagging Empire

In other words, the main fears you might hear in Washington — if anyone even bothered to wonder what would happen, should we begin to dismantle our empire — would prove but chimeras. They would, in fact, be remarkably similar to Washington’s dire predictions in the 1970s about states all over Asia, then Africa, and beyond falling, like so many dominoes, to communist domination if we did not win the war in Vietnam.

What, then, would the world be like if the U.S. lost control globally — Washington’s greatest fear and deepest reflection of its own overblown sense of self-worth — as is in fact happening now despite our best efforts? What would that world be like if the U.S. just gave it all up? What would happen to us if we were no longer the “sole superpower” or the world’s self-appointed policeman?

In fact, we would still be a large and powerful nation-state with a host of internal and external problems. An immigration and drug crisis on our southern border, soaring health-care costs, a weakening education system, an aging population, an aging infrastructure, an unending recession — none of these are likely to go away soon, nor are any of them likely to be tackled in a serious or successful way as long as we continue to spend our wealth on armies, weapons, wars, global garrisons, and bribes for petty dictators.

Even without our interference, the Middle East would continue to export oil, and if China has been buying up an ever larger share of what remains underground in those lands, perhaps that should spur us into conserving more and moving more rapidly into the field of alternative energies.

Rising Power

Meanwhile, whether we dismantle our empire or not, China will become (if it isn’t already) the world’s next superpower.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:37 am

The resurgence of the Stirling engine

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I’ve always been very fond of the Stirling engine, which uses an external heat source (external combustion or hot springs or other geothermal energy) for its power. From the Wikipedia article at the link:

In contrast to internal combustion engines, Stirling engines have the potential to use renewable heat sources more easily, to be quieter, and to be more reliable with lower maintenance. They are preferred for applications that value these unique advantages, particularly if the cost per unit energy generated is more important than the capital cost per unit power. On this basis, Stirling engines are cost competitive up to about 100 kW.[59]

Compared to an internal combustion engine of the same power rating, Stirling engines currently have a higher capital cost and are usually larger and heavier. However, they are more efficient than most internal combustion engines.[60] Their lower maintenance requirements make the overall energy cost comparable.

Now Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway) is developing Stirling engine power generators for commercial use and developing models for home use.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:27 am

Posted in Technology

Why we stuck with Maliki — and lost Iraq

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Fascinatingly up-close look at what has happened in Iraq and why. This is a long article in the Washington Post by Ali Khedery, chairman and chief executive of the Dubai-based Dragoman Partners. From 2003 to 2009, he was the longest continuously serving American official in Iraq, acting as a special assistant to five U.S. ambassadors and as a senior adviser to three heads of U.S. Central Command. In 2011, as an executive with Exxon Mobil, he negotiated the company’s entry into the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. I encourage you to read the entire article:

To understand why Iraq is imploding, you must understand Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and why the United States has supported him since 2006.

I have known Maliki, or Abu Isra, as he is known to people close to him, for more than a decade. I have traveled across three continents with him. I know his family and his inner circle. When Maliki was an obscure member of parliament, I was among the very few Americans in Baghdad who took his phone calls. In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister. In 2008, I organized his medevac when he fell ill, and I accompanied him for treatment in London, spending 18 hours a day with him at Wellington Hospital. In 2009, I lobbied skeptical regional royals to support Maliki’s government.

By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests.

America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East.

Finding a leader

Born in Tuwairij, a village outside the Iraqi holy city of Karbala, Abu Isra is the proud grandson of a tribal leader who helped end British colonial rule in the 1920s. Raised in a devout Shiite family, he grew to resent Sunni minority rule in Iraq, especially the secular but repressive Baath Party. Maliki joined the theocratic Dawa party as a young man, believing in its call to create a Shiite state in Iraq by any means necessary. After clashes between the secular Sunni, Shiite and Christian Baathists and Shiite Islamist groups, including Dawa, Saddam Hussein’s government banned the rival movements and made membership a capital offense.

Accused of being extensions of Iranian clerics and intelligence officers, thousands of Dawa party members were arrested, tortured and executed. Many of the mutilated bodies were never returned to their families. Among those killed were some of Maliki’s close relatives, forever shaping the psychology of the future premier.

Over a span of three decades, Maliki moved between Iran and Syria, where he organized covert operations against Hussein’s regime, eventually becoming chief of Iraq’s Dawa branch in Damascus. The party found a patron in Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic of Iran. During the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when Iraq used Western-supplied chemical weapons, Tehran retaliated by using Shiite Islamist proxies such as Dawa to punish Hussein’s supporters. With Iran’s assistance, Dawa operatives bombed the Iraqi Embassy in Beirut in 1981 in one of radical Islam’s first suicide attacks. They also bombed the American and French embassies in Kuwait and schemed to kill the emir. Dozens of assassination plots against senior members of Hussein’s government, including the dictator himself, failed miserably, resulting in mass arrests and executions.

During the tumultuous months following America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, Maliki returned to his home country. He took a job advising future prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari and later, as a member of parliament, chaired the committee supporting the De-Baathification Commission, an organization privately celebrated by Shiite Islamists as a means of retribution and publicly decried by Sunnis as a tool of repression.

I volunteered to serve in Iraq after watching the tragedy of 9/11 from the Texas governor’s conference room. The son of Iraqi immigrants, I was dispatched to Baghdad by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for a three-month assignment that ultimately lasted almost a decade. As special assistant to Ambassador Patrick Kennedy and the Coalition Provisional Authority’s liaison to the Iraqi Governing Council, and as one of the few American officials there who spoke Arabic, I became the Iraqi leaders’ go-to guy for just about everything — U.S.-furnished weapons, cars, houses or the much-coveted Green Zone access passes.

After the formal U.S. occupation ended in 2004, I stayed in Baghdad to facilitate the transition to a “normalized” American diplomatic presence, and I often shared tea and stale biscuits with my Iraqi friends at the transitional parliament. One of those friends was Maliki. He would quiz me about American designs for the Middle East and cajole me for more Green Zone passes. These early days were exhausting but satisfying as Iraqis and Americans worked together to help the country rise from Hussein’s ashes.

Then disaster struck. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:18 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Differential effects of intrinsic vs. instrumental motivation on performance

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Interesting column in the NY Times by Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College.

There are two kinds of motive for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since the relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.

What mix of motives — internal or instrumental or both — is most conducive to success? You might suppose that a scientist motivated by a desire to discover facts and by a desire to achieve renown will do better work than a scientist motivated by just one of those desires. Surely two motives are better than one. But as we and our colleagues argue in a paper newly published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, instrumental motives are not always an asset and can actually be counterproductive to success.

We analyzed data drawn from 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point, all of whom rated how much each of a set of motives influenced their decision to attend the academy. The motives included things like a desire to get a good job later in life (an instrumental motive) and a desire to be trained as a leader in the United States Army (an internal motive).

How did the cadets fare, years later? And how did their progress relate to their original motives for attending West Point? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:13 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

CIA employee’s quest to release information ‘destroyed my entire career’

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The CIA seems to have serious organizational problems, quite apart from their willingness—indeed, their alacrity—to embrace the systematic use of torture for interrogation (and, presumably, punishment). The fact that the CIA suffers no sanctions and faces no accountability for misbehavior simply allows the organization rot to run deeper—and as this report by Greg Miller in the Washington Post reveals, the rot is already there:

His CIA career included assignments in Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, but the most perilous posting for Jeffrey Scudder turned out to be a two-year stint in a sleepy office that looks after the agency’s historical files.

It was there that Scudder discovered a stack of articles, hundreds of histories of long-dormant conflicts and operations that he concluded were still being stored in secret years after they should have been shared with the public.

To get them released, Scudder submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act — a step that any citizen can take, but one that is highly unusual for a CIA employee. Four years later, the CIA has released some of those articles and withheld others. It also has forced Scudder out.

His request set in motion a harrowing sequence. He was confronted by supervisors and accused of mishandling classified information while assembling his FOIA request. His house was raided by the FBI and his family’s computers seized. Stripped of his job and his security clearance, Scudder said he agreed to retire last year after being told that if he refused, he risked losing much of his pension.

In an interview, Scudder, 51, cast his ordeal as a struggle against “mindless” bureaucracy, but acknowledged that it was hard to see any winners in a case that derailed his CIA career, produced no criminal charges from the FBI, and ended with no guarantee that many of the articles he sought will be in the public domain anytime soon.

“I submitted a FOIA and it basically destroyed my entire career,” Scudder said. “What was this whole exercise for?”

The CIA declined to comment on Scudder’s case, citing privacy restrictions and litigation related to his FOIA request. CIA personnel files obtained by The Washington Post accuse Scudder of having classified materials on his home computer and “a history of difficulty in protecting classified information.”

“The CIA does not retaliate or take any personnel action against employees for submitting [FOIA] requests or pursuing them in litigation,” said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. “Of course, officers at CIA must also exercise their rights consistent with their obligation to protect classified material.”

At a time of renewed debate over the proper balance between secrecy and accountability for U.S. spy agencies, Scudder’s case reveals the extent to which there can be intense disagreement even inside agencies over how much information they should be allowed to withhold from the public and for how long.

Scudder’s case also highlights the risks to workers who take on their powerful spy-agency employers. Senior U.S. intelligence officials have repeatedly argued that Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, should have done more to raise his concerns internally rather than exposing America’s espionage secrets to the world. Others who tried to do that have said they were punished. [emphasis added – LG]

Scudder’s actions appear to have posed no perceptible risk to national security, but he found himself in the cross hairs of the CIA and FBI.

Scudder’s attorney, Mark Zaid, described the case as an example of “aggressive retaliation against employees who seek to act in the public’s interest and challenge perceived poor managerial decisions. . . . The system is really broken.”

The documents sought by Scudder amount to a catalog of a bygone era of espionage. Among them are articles with the titles “Intelligence Lessons from Pearl Harbor” and “Soviet Television — a New Asset for Kremlin Watchers.”

Scudder said he discovered them after he took an assignment in 2007 as a project manager for the CIA’s Historical Collections Division, an office set up to comb the agency’s archives for materials — often decades old — that can be released without posing any security risk.

In recent years, the division has organized the release of records on subjects including the CIA’s role in the publication of the novel Doctor Zhivago and the historic role of women in the CIA workforce.

Scudder was hired by the CIA as a computer expert in the 1980s and rose through the ranks as a project manager in various departments. Colleagues described him as earnest and energetic, an effective troubleshooter who routinely volunteered for assignments in war zones. He also had a reputation for impatience with agency bureaucracy.

“He was excitable and was in almost constant motion,” said Charles A. Briggs, who served as the No. 3 official in the CIA during the Reagan administration and worked alongside Scudder as a contractor in the Historical Collections Division. “He can’t stand not doing what he thinks is proper.”

Scudder led efforts to upgrade the historical collection, converting thousands of documents to digital files that could be searched electronically. In the process, he said, he discovered about 1,600 articles that were listed as released to the public but could not be found at the National Archives. Further searching turned up hundreds more that seemed harmless but were stuck in various stages of declassification review.

Scudder said he made numerous attempts to get the trove released but was repeatedly blocked by the Information Review and Release Group, the office in charge of clearing materials for the public. In 2010, Scudder took a new assignment in the CIA’s Counterintelligence Center, but couldn’t forget his unfinished historical collections business. Filing a FOIA, he thought, might force the agency’s hand. . .

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Authoritarians resent challenges to their authority, regardless of the merit of the challenge. They do not tolerate dissent.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 8:10 am

Barrister & Mann and the Feather AS-D1

with 5 comments

SOTD 5 July 2014

An extremely fine shave today, and I think I am definitely learning how to use Barrister & Mann shaving soaps. I still have a bit of fading lather by the third pass, but I think it could be insufficient loading or too much water added. But I did not have to reload the brush—squeezing it gave sufficient lather for the third pass. Still, I do recognize that generally that step is not required with other soaps I use, so I still have a way to go.

My Feather razor with a Feather blade did its usual excellent job: three passes to a smooth face. A small splash of Victorian Rose aftershave from the Shave Den Store, and the weekend starts.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2014 at 7:58 am

Posted in Shaving

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