Later On

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

Archive for October 4th, 2014

How soon we forget: Moving to a new computer…

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I remembered that my new MacBook can be cloned from the old one, but I forgot about clone followup/cleanup: all the programs that require reassurance when run for the first time on a new computer, various apps that have to be redownloaded and/or re-initialized (and in the process lost all the addresses in my Dymo labelwriter app—no biggie, since most were obsolete anyway), and so on. At least this time I was able to find my Microsoft Office authentication code…

Still, it’s much better than re-installing everything.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 7:47 pm

Posted in Technology

Problems in law enforcement

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This post documents several horrifying instances of police misconduct, the officers generally going unpunished. The truth about one incident (quite different from the lies told by the police involved) was revealed only because one of the officers forgot that his dashcam was on, capturing what actually happened. That video is at the link. (In viewing it, think about how you might have reacted.)

And if that’s not enough, read this brief article about the overuse of solitary confinement (which for humans, who are social animals, is considered a form of torture) in the Rikers Island jail in NYC.

Our criminal justice system is much more criminal than it is just.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Law, Law Enforcement

The CIA’s destruction of a reporter

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Another long and interesting read, this one by Ryan Devereaux in The Intercept:

Eighteen years after it was published, “Dark Alliance,” the San Jose Mercury News’s bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua’s Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism.

The 20,000-word series enraged black communities, prompted Congressional hearings, and became one of the first major national security stories in history to blow up online. It also sparked an aggressive backlash from the nation’s most powerful media outlets, which devoted considerable resources to discredit author Gary Webb’s reporting. Their efforts succeeded, costing Webb his career. On December 10, 2004, the journalist was found dead in his apartment, having ended his eight-year downfall with two .38-caliber bullets to the head.

These days, Webb is being cast in a more sympathetic light. He’s portrayed heroically in a major motion picture set to premiere nationwide next month. And documents newly released by the CIA provide fresh context to the “Dark Alliance” saga — information that paints an ugly portrait of the mainstream media at the time.

On September 18, the agency released a trove of documents spanning three decades of secret government operations. Culled from the agency’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence, the materials include a previously unreleased six-page article titled “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story.” Looking back on the weeks immediately following the publication of “Dark Alliance,” the document offers a unique window into the CIA’s internal reaction to what it called “a genuine public relations crisis” while revealing just how little the agency ultimately had to do to swiftly extinguish the public outcry. Thanks in part to what author Nicholas Dujmovic, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence staffer at the time of publication, describes as “a ground base of already productive relations with journalists,” the CIA’s Public Affairs officers watched with relief as the largest newspapers in the country rescued the agency from disaster, and, in the process, destroyed the reputation of an aggressive, award-winning reporter.

(Dujmovic’s name was redacted in the released version of the CIA document, but was included in a footnote in a 2010 article in the Journal of Intelligence. Dujmovic confirmed his authorship to The Intercept.)

Webb’s troubles began in August 1996, when his employer, the San Jose Mercury News, published a groundbreaking, three-part investigation he had worked on for more than a year. Carrying the full title “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion,” Webb’s series reported that in addition to waging a proxy war for the U.S. government against Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, elements of the CIA-backed Contra rebels were also involved in trafficking cocaine to the U.S. in order to fund their counter-revolutionary campaign. The secret flow of drugs and money, Webb reported, had a direct link to the subsequent explosion of crack cocaine abuse that had devastated California’s most vulnerable African American neighborhoods.Derided by some as conspiracy theory and heralded by others as investigative reporting at its finest, Webb’s series spread through extensive talk radio coverage and global availability via the internet, which at the time was still a novel way to promote national news.

Though “Dark Alliance” would eventually morph into a personal crisis for Webb, it was initially a PR disaster for the CIA. In “Managing a Nightmare,” Dujmovic minced no words in describing the potentially devastating  effect of the series on the agency’s image: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 9:31 am

Posted in Government, Law, Media

Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain: CNN edition

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Reza Aslan speaks quite rationally about bad cultural practices, but unfortunately the interviewers have trouble listening and thinking at the same time, so they choose to do neither.

Note, for example, how the woman learns that female genital mutilation is heavily practiced in some Christian African nations as well as in some Muslim African nations. Aslan points that female genital mutilation is indeed a problem, but it’s a cultural problem in Africa and really has nothing to do with Islam—the practice is followed in some Christian African nations as well—and at the end the interviewer returns to the point, apparently having completely dismissed the examples he offered of Christian African nations that follow the same practice. She simply cannot grasp what seems to me a fairly elementary idea.

UPDATE: This article suggests that Aslan’s case is not so good as it sounds.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 8:57 am

Posted in Media, Religion

The Obama Administration makes a strong push to make your data insecure

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The Obama Administration really does not want you to encrypt your data securely because it makes things difficult for the government surveillance efforts. Eric Holder claimed that having easy ways to break into your data would protect children, and who could be against that?

As this article in the Washington Post by Craig Timberg points out, putting a back door in secure data encryption enables anyone—NSA, the friendly deputy sheriff, the Russian Mafia—who discovers or buys or steals the information on the back door to get free access:

The government’s increasingly loud complaints about Apple and Google’s tough new forms of smartphone encryption have sidestepped a crucial fact: The same security measures that make it hard for police to get into electronic devices also deters other – be they foreign governments, business rivals or creepy guys looking to steal your photos and post them on the Internet.

In other words, it’s not technically possible to build a backdoor for the FBI without weakening a smartphone’s security in fundamental ways. Doors are made to be opened, and once they’re built, you never know who might find a way to get in.

Such is the consensus view of security experts. And to hear them tell it, the reality of backdoors is even worse than it may seem at first glance.

Imagine a house made entirely of bricks, with no doors or window. It’s as secure as it will ever be. Now cut a hole into the bricks and install a door. No matter how thick the door or tough the lock, the house is now more vulnerable to intrusion in at least three ways: The door can be battered down. The keys can be stolen. And all the things that make doors work – the hinges, the lock, the door jamb – become targets for attackers. They need to defeat only one to make the whole system fail.

Add to that the inherent bugginess of computer code, and you’ve got a recipe for insecurity.

“You’re certainly weaker than if you hadn’t built the door before,” said Johns Hopkins cryptology expert Matthew Green. “We don’t know how to write perfect code.”

This debate was touched off by . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Check out this post by Kevin Drum: nitwits at the Washington Post want a magical key that will somehow give the government access to all your data but not affect security otherwise—the thinking of an 8-year-old child.

The US government now wants full access to private data at all times. And the driving force is doubtless the NSA, which does not seem to recognize limits, legal or otherwise. Read this fascinating account by James Bamford of his experience writing about the NSA: long but interesting and illuminating. It’s a lengthy account, but provides quite an interesting view. This section is from the middle of the article:

. . . The discovery that the NSA had been lying to the Church Committee shocked me. But it also gave me the idea to write the first book about the agency. As more and more revelations came out about the NSA’s widespread, illegal eavesdropping activities, I found myself filled with questions. Where did the agency come from? What did it do? How did it operate? Who was watching it? In the summer of 1979, after a year of research, I submitted a proposal to Houghton Mifflin for The Puzzle Palace, and within a few months was awarded a book contract. It was the start of wild ride, taking on an agency so secret that even New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley told me, at the time, that he had never heard of it.

I soon learned that there was one major advantage to being first: The NSA had grown so confident that no one would ever dare to write about it that it had let its guard down. I would occasionally drive up to the agency, park in the executive parking lot, walk in the front door to the lobby, get some coffee and have a seat. All around me were employees from the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies, all waiting to be processed for their NSA visitor’s badge. As I read my paper and sipped my coffee, I quietly listened to them chat away about signals intelligence operations, new listening posts, cooperative agreements, and a host of other topics. No one ever asked who I was or why I was there. In the parking lot, I copied the license plate numbers of the dozen cars parked closest to the front entrance, then ran the numbers at the registry of motor vehicles. The result was a Who’s Who of the NSA’s leadership, as well as the liaison officers from America’s so-called Five Eyes surveillance partners: England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

By the summer of 1981, I had also won several significant legal battles with the agency. As a result of an out-of-court settlement, the NSA was forced to give me a tour of the agency, detail the entire structure of its internal organization to me, and provide me interviews with senior officials. Even though the agency was virtually immune from the Freedom of Information Act, I managed to find a loophole that allowed me access to more than 6,000 pages of internal documents. I even worked out an agreement whereby they would provide me with an office in the agency for a week to go through the 6,000 pages. But then the NSA got its revenge—when they handed me the 6,000 pages, they were all out of order, as if they had been shuffled like a new deck of cards. Nothing in the Freedom of Information Act, it turns out, requires collation. The hostility became so intense that the director, Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, accused me of using a “hostage approach” in my battle to force the agency to give me documents and interviews.

But the NSA knew nothing about one of my biggest finds, which took place on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute. Nicknamed “the West Point of the South,” VMI housed the papers of William F. Friedman, a founder of both the NSA and of American cryptology. The NSA’s own auditorium is named after him. Yet Friedman had soured on the agency by the time he retired, and deliberately left his papers to a research library at VMI to get them as far away from the NSA as possible.

After Friedman’s death, and without his permission, agency officials traveled to the library, pulled out hundreds of his personal letters, and ordered them locked away in a secure vault. When I discovered what the NSA had done, I persuaded the library’s archivist to give me access to the letters, all of which were unclassified. Many were embarrassingly critical of the agency, describing its enormous paranoia and obsession with secrecy. Others contained clues to a secret trips that Friedman had made to Switzerland, where he helped the agency gain backdoor access into encryption systems that a Swiss company was selling to foreign countries.

I also discovered that a former NSA director, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, had left his papers – including reams of unclassified documents from his NSA office – to the same research library at VMI. They included personal, handwritten correspondence from Carter’s British counterpart about listening posts, cooperative agreements, and other sensitive topics. Later, Carter gave me a long and detailed interview about the NSA. The agency knew nothing about either the documents or the interview.

Following the publication of my book, the NSA raided the research library, stamped many of the Friedman documents secret, and ordered them put back into the vault. “Just because information has been published,” NSA director Lincoln Faurer explained to The New York Times, “doesn’t mean it should no longer be classified.” Faurer also flew to Colorado, where Gen. Carter was living in retirement, met with him at the NSA listening post at Buckley Air Force Base, and threatened him with prosecution if he ever gave another interview or allowed anyone else access to his papers. . .

But my biggest battle with the NSA came before my book was even published. Without the agency’s knowledge, I had obtained the criminal file that the Justice Department had opened on the NSA. Marked as Top Secret, the file was so sensitive that only two original copies existed. Never before or since has an entire agency been the subject of a criminal investigation. Senior officials at the NSA were even read their Miranda rights.

The secret investigation grew out of the final report by the Rockefeller Commission, a panel that had been set up by President Gerald Ford to parallel the Church Committee. Issued on June 6, 1975, the report noted that both the NSA and CIA had engaged in questionable and possibly illegal electronic surveillance. As a result, Attorney General Edward Levi established a secret internal task force to look into the potential for criminal prosecution. Focusing particularly on NSA, the task force probed more deeply into domestic eavesdropping than any part of the executive branch had ever done before.

I had heard rumors from several sources about such a probe, so I thought it would be worth requesting a copy of the file under FOIA. Nevertheless, I was surprised when the documents, with relatively few redactions, turned up at my door 10 months later. They included . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 8:17 am

BBS with no-name slant

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SOTD 4 Oct 2014

Back at the old pop stand at last: SOTD photos can now resume. This morning I used HTGAM’s pre-shave soap shown, which worked quite well. The lather from Otoko Organics shaving soap, made this morning with the Mr Pomp brush, was superb, as always. I have very good luck with this soap.

I don’t now recall the name of this slant, which is less comfortable than my other slants. With a Personna Lab Blue blade, however, it provided a BBS nick-free result.

A splash of Geary & Henson aftershave from ProspectorCo.com, and the weekend begins. The aftershave is quite pleasant and is based on witch hazel.

I never got to post the following SOTD photo from 23 Sept, but I thought I’d put up to show my gold Gillette Tech. With a Feather blade, it provides very good shaves.

SOTD 23 Sept 2014

Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2014 at 7:40 am

Posted in Shaving

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