By John Kendall Hawkins
Last week was a shocker for news.
First, there was the Guardian resurrection of Cambridge Analytica “whistleblower” Brittany Kaiser putting out the clickbait headline, ‘global data manipulation is out of control’. She was promising to release more damaging data about the 2016 US presidential election — in the coming months. Her book marketing tactic (Targeted, see the Times review) was endorsed by another self-described “whistleblower,” Christopher Steele, the British contractor who sold the dossier of turds to the FBI.
Steele commented, “…these problems are likely to get worse, not better, and with crucial 2020 elections in America and elsewhere approaching, this is a very scary prospect.” Both Kaiser and Steele interfered in the 2016 election themselves (on opposite sides! maybe even cancelling each other out.) So, what’s scary is that they’re promising to ‘do something about it’ again, and seem to be in league this time. Why the Guardian chose to link them this way is a mystery for the oracle.
Before I could fully recover from that prospect, Pulitzer prize-winning journalist James Risen went apoplectic over at the Intercept: “Donald Trump is a murderer.”
While I was digesting that, over at Rolling Stone, Andy Kroll was proffering the sadistic notion that holding up Nancy Pelosi’s deliverance of impeachment articles to the Senate was her possible tactic of holding back one article in order to try Trump on the other one later, closer to the election. A kind of political double-tap, and a precedent. But there’s been talk of multiple impeachments too. (Think Joe Pesci: Die, die, die.)
That’s all bad enough, but then you go ahead and make the mistake of thinking: Fuck, if Biden gets elected in November, the Democrats had better maintain a majority in the House at the mid-terms, because the Senate’s solidly Republican, and when he get’s impeached (fuckin count on it) probably for his Burisma/Ukraine doings, he could be the first US president to be canned. Mitch McConnell threatened as much on TV just yesterday. These professional quid-pro-quoers in Congress have been going tit-for-tat since Nixon. It was amusing until the circus distraction led to the 1% taking over.
But perhaps the biggest bullshit item of the week was the recent New York Times piece claiming Russians hacked into the servers of Burisma Gas. Forget the convenient timing of it and lack of logic — the suggestion that the same Russian GRU group that “hacked” the DNC in 2016 was now doing Trump another solid by seeking diabolical data on Burisma servers, while the MSM, at the same time ,claims the existence of such data is nothing but “conspiracy theory.” Well, wouldn’t the Russians know the score already? Can it be both ways?
Area 1 is the name of the security firm announcing the breach. No link to the website was offered, but that’s alright, I know how to do a little research, and soon found my way there. “It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for,” write our intrepid Times reporters, but this assertion is contradicted just a few graphs later, when the Times tells us that the “firm maintains a network of sensors on web servers around the globe — many known to be used by state-sponsored hackers — which gives the firm a front-row seat to phishing attacks, and allows them to block attacks on their customers.”
Well, by gum, if their specialty is watching the hackers hack live, as they claim, wouldn’t that suggest that they were watching the Russkies do their B-and-E in real time? And wouldn’t they have followed the mean red hackers all the way back to the mother lode of kompromat? There would have been forensic trails. See, logic tells me that’s what would have happened. But maybe the strangest thing about the Times piece was the presumably unintentional gaffe in one paragraph:
The timing of the Russian campaign mirrors the G.R.U. hacks we saw in 2016 against the D.N.C. and John Podesta,” the Clinton campaign manager, Mr. Falkowitz said. “Once again, they are stealing email credentials, in what we can only assume is a repeat of Russian interference in the last election.
Has the Times become so careless that they don’t bother with a quick copy edit? If Falkowitz was the Clinton campaign chair, we may have a Constitutional crisis on our hands.
Okay, who are these newbie-sounding Area 1 technologists? Well, all three co-founders of Area 1 — Oren Falkowitz, Blake Darché, and Phil Syme — are former hackers or programmers for the NSA. One notes that Darché was formerly a “principal consultant” at Crowdstrike, the DNC-contracted security firm. Then with a little data digging and dot matrix control, one discovers that one of the founders of Crowdstrike — no, not the Russian guy — is Shawn Henry, a 24-year veteran of the FBI, who “oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide.”
But back at Burisma, why is there no mention in the Times article of Cofer Black, the ex-CIA director of the Center for Counterterrorism (CTC), who once vowed something like he’d fight terrorists until flies were skating across their eyeballs like they were at the Rockefeller Center. He joined the Board of Directors of the under-investigated Burisma shortly after Trump’s Inauguration in 2017? Did Black, who Burisma’s web profile describes as “an internationally recognized authority on counterterrorism, cyber security, national security,” get consulted, questioned, or de-briefed by Area 1, given Black’s expertise? Might Black have had conversations with the NSC officer (the unnamed Deep State Throat) assigned to Ukraine when he arrived — to go over the political terrain, as it were? Burisma employees were said, in the Times piece, to have been deluged by a Russian phishing expedition in an effort to get someone to take the bait: Did Black bite?
All of this ex-Intelligence Community (IC) activity in the private sector made me think of Edward Snowden’s memoir, Permanent Record, and, more specifically, his chapter Homo Contractus, which details how the system works. Snowden says that the main reason for the huge surge in private contracting since 9/11 is to get around congressional limits on hiring more IC operatives. There are kickbacks, he writes: cooperating Congressmen get “high-paying” positions at “the very companies they’ve just enriched.”
So, some ex-government employees and retired military types start up security companies and at job fairs poach government IC workers with high security clearances. “After all,” writes Snowden, clearance can take a year to obtain from the government, and rather than “pay you to wait around for a year for the government approval. It makes more financial sense for a company to just hire an already cleared government employee.” And, after he negotiated his salary upward at his interview, Snowden was hired by a private company to do public work — with no real accountability to the public.
Snowden seemed to be working for Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell Computers, but he was actually working for the CIA and, later, the NSA — at their offices. In other words, the jobs were just cover. If something went wrong with an operation conducted by a contractor, then the contractor could be blamed, which is what happened with Snowden, he says; his leaks were a ‘rogue contractor’ problem.
So, considering Snowden’s insider observations, many questions emerge about these various doings: Are Oren Falkowitz and Blake Darché still working for the government, but under the cover of private contractors? What about Crowdstrike’s Shawn Henry? Hell, for that matter, what about Cofer Black — is he a homo contractus in the Snowden style, doing the US government’s bidding at Burisma? What’s Black’s take on Trump’s telephone pressure on Zelensky to start up the investigation of Burisma again?
I am reminded of something I read from Kevin Mandia, founder of Mandiant (since merged with the CIA-startup FireEye), a few years back. He gave testimony before a congressional subcommittee on intelligence back in 2011 and it was double-take stuff:
The majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, more than 90 percent of the breaches MANDIANT responds to are first detected by the government, not the victim companies. That means that 9 in every 10 companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until the government notified them.
Think of what he’s saying here. Back in 2011, in 90% of the cases companies victimized by hackers first found out about it from the government. The other part of the equation is that companies like Mandiant, FireEye, Crowdstrike, etc., are called in to be ghostbusters to the presumed spooks hacking at company secrets.
I don’t blame James Risen for his rage. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who may have been driven from the Times due, in part, to the timidity of their national security reporting: In October 2004 they quashed an extremely important public information story just before the election that would harmed George W. Bush’s re-election chances by revealing that his administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans — information that would have come nine years before Snowden ended up detailing it, in 2013.
But I never read Risen refer to Bush as a murderer in the media, although his illegal devastation of Iraq was nothing short of mass murder. Risen never called Obama a murderer, although his use of drones, especially in targeting American citizens overseas (including a teenager sitting at a cafe), was premeditated as can be. Poor Risen may have snapped with Trump, and who can blame him. We have a cartoon figure in charge of real people.
Similarly, talk of multiple impeachments is pure crazy talk, and sadly, once again, the Democrats, who aren’t much better than the Republicans (remember: Americans vote the lesser of two evils) and play right into the hands of would-be electoral manipulators who seem intent on making the 2020 election a referendum on the Trump presidency rather than a contest of the best ideas for progressing a 200-year old democracy into the 21 century with devastating issues to solve — like Climate Change..
What the fuck are we going to do if He wins again — or worse: we accept the crypto-mandate that states He must lose at any price, even a secret Banana Republic intervention (think: Henry Kissinger) that will finish off any pretense that the country is free?
“But all the same,” insisted the Savage, “it is natural to believe in God when you’re alone—quite alone, in the night, thinking about death…”
“But people never are alone now,” said Mustapha Mond. “We make them hate solitude; and we arrange their lives so that it’s almost impossible for them ever to have it.” Brave New World (17.31-3)
There’ll come a time when you’ve gone too far with your thinking. You’ve crossed the Imaginot line. Which is to say, à la Descartes, that you’ve gone too far with your being. Cogito ergo sum. A knock comes on your door. You open to find an agent of information (AI) say, “We have so much information on you. Please, follow me. We need to blow out your candles. Have your cake and eat it too. A long convalescence. Some adjustments and renewal.” They’re not asking and God help anyone who tries to stop them.
Amazon, Google, Facebook. Recorded Future, predictions of what you’ll do. MyActvity, the copious details of where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and implicitly what you’ve thought.. Algorithms up the yinyang. Fused databases, a life’s postings of “thoughts”. Cogitos you cannot defend. Offenses “Made” on the run, arbitrary, charges bespoken, tailored to your presumed needs. You’ve always been a criminal — like, say, Trevor Noah — but never knew until the fascists came to collect you. To blow your mind to kingdom come. And reset to factory default.
As in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, it’ll be the Savages who want to be left alone, off the grid, who appreciate the value of privacy, who will be targeted, breaking as they do from the conditioning required by late metastatic Techno-Capitalism breaking real bad. In an information age your cogito is the final frontier for economic growth, your thoughts mere commodities. Settled into Soma, you’ll soon be swimming with the endolphins and feeling new porpoise, but the reality is that the sharks are swimming all around you in algorithmic circles. Only a savage would want to be free.
In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Huxley discusses his new book Enemies of Freedom and the myriad ways growing technology can be used to influence mass thinking, and suggests ways that a candidate could be pushed by subliminal forces to elect a person that reasoned consideration would otherwise have rejected. One thinks of Trump, the pushing of emotional buttons, the swarming action, the slogans, rallies, and Triumph of the Buffoon’s Will.
One also thinks of the frenzied Joseph Kony campaign, the sudden swarming by millions of largely white, clueless suburban teenagers invited to join an intervention to capture an evil, but obscure African warlord in a staggering display of militarized political correctness. Lots of money raised. Congress, which can do nothing about gun control, immediately mobilized to pass a bill to allow American soldiers to foot-down in Uganda, where oil, by coincidence, is in great supply. Nobody’s looking for Kony today; nobody any longer cares. Kony is said to be alive and still kickin’ in Central Congo.
The Trump and Kony campaigns highlight how the Internet can be used and abused by nefarious forces to create flash floods of chaos online and in the ‘hood. It’s exactly the kind of desecration and trashing that has put the father of the Web, Tim Berners Lee, into teary despair. It’ll get worse: we know now the US military regards the Internet as a battlefield, needing constant reconnaissance, and a look-out for spies. We’ve come to see that ordinary citizens can be mobilized in an instant by government agents, some of whom may not have democracy’s best interest in mind.
We’ve gone way beyond just needing to Keep the Bastards Honest. As we’ve been reminded often enough, ex-general Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his final presidential address, warned explicitly about the threat to democracy by the secretive powers and influences of the Military Industrial Complex (MIC). Only a well-informed democratic populace is capable of keeping the bastards honest. That’s the job of the Fourth Estate. Today, through mergers and shutdowns, there are fewer and fewer newspapers, and only three global mainstream newspapers of record: The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Guardian. But they aren’t trustworthy.
The NYT once quashed a crucial story by its prize-winning staff journalist James Risen about the Bush administration’s illegal domestic spying on American citizens — a story that might have derailed Bush’s re-election a couple of weeks later. The NYT claimed that they didn’t want to influence the election; but not running the story did just that. The Washington Post has, primarily through owner Jeff Bezo’s work with the CIA, been undermined; and they have worked to defame legitimate alternative news sources, such as Counterpunch and Black Agenda Report. The Guardian, while famous for helping to report on Edward Snowden’s leaks and a one-time partner with Julian Assange, has curiously withdrawn a vigor of reportage on national security issues and seemingly gone to war with Assange.
It seems like Julian Assange has been at war with the MIC forever. At least, that’s how he’s been depicted. He’s always known the Bastards couldn’t be kept honest by simple, ordinary mainstream means — not when they’ve turned into paper tigers and no longer practice adversarial journalism (their approach to Trump being the exception — and instructive). He also seems to appreciate the Abbie Hoffman yippie credo: Revolution — for the Hell of It. And he understands that the Cogito is facing extinction, threatened like never before by the forces of conditioning that will only deepen as we approach the Singularity. He’s even written an extremely thoughtful book about cryptography, how it will be required to protect privacy in the future.
In his 2012 Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet, which he calls a “warning” rather than a “manifesto, Assange writes, “The internet, our greatest tool of emancipation, has been transformed into the most dangerous facilitator of totalitarianism we have ever seen…within a few years, global civilization will be a postmodern surveillance dystopia, from which escape for all but the most skilled individuals will be impossible. In fact, we may already be there.” Hacker, certified, ethical or otherwise, Assange has demonstrated he is a kind of hero for the new dark digital age. And he’s provided tools to fight back to a new generation of ethicists.
Rewatching “Collateral Damage,” the Wikileaks video from 2010 that shows an American Apache gunship firing on unsuspecting Iraqi civilians, one is awed not only by the brazen cold-blooded murder depicted but also what the incident encapsulated: The war on journalism; the disgusting impunity the War on Terror has engendered; the secrecy and lack of accountabilty; and the sheer pleasure in the double-tap murder exhibited that goes against all the boastful bullshit of democratic America’s exceptionalist imperialism.
Well, Assange may end up a martyr for the freedom we all threw away, cogs instead of cogitos, locked away in America after an Espionage Act conviction in a max security prison, in the hole, his privacy ‘privileges’ taken away, hosed down constantly by the surveillance camera hanging from the ceiling. It’ll be interesting to see if the MSM comes to his emotional rescue when he goes on trial, criminally charged with the adversarial journalism they’ve so often neglected in the name of protecting what used to be called the bourgeoisie.
For now, they treat him like he’s all wrapped up like a douche in the night, comparing the wicked leaks of his condom one night to his wikileaks, the idea being in each case that he’s careless with the information he disseminates, and leaves behind questions as to whether his hacking was ethical or not. While the ‘vast conspiracy’ of right wing sexual hypocrites continue to press for his annihilation, Assanges and his work endures. Keeping these secrets, our thoughts — this is the last frontier. “If we do not [redefine force relations], the universality of the internet will merge global humanity into one giant grid of mass surveillance and mass control.”