Steeling data

Paul Raven @ 25-03-2011

Via Bruce Schneier, here’s a piece about how a graduate student has reinvented – and hence blown the lid off of – a technology that can “transmit data at high rates through thick, solid steel or other barriers”. It can carry power, too.

Why is this a big deal? Well, not only is it a reinvention of something that BAE had built for the British government for purposes undisclosed, but it’s a technology that can cut through Faraday cages and eavesdrop on electronic communications that are supposed to be heavily shielded from the world outside:

If you had the through-metal technology now reinvented by Lawry, however, your intruder – inside mole or cleaner or pizza delivery, whatever – could stick an unobtrusive device to a suitable bit of structure inside the Faraday cage of shielding where it would be unlikely to be found. A surveillance team outside the cage could stick the other half of the kit to the same piece of metal (perhaps a structural I-beam, for instance, or the hull of a ship) and they would then have an electronic ear inside the opposition’s unbreachable Faraday citadel, one which would need no battery changes and could potentially stay in operation for years.

So Tristan Lawry has unwittingly levelled the espionage-tech playing field. It’s hard to hide secrets about hiding secrets.

Jaron Lanier on Wikileaks

Paul Raven @ 22-12-2010

The Wikileaks story just keeps on rolling, but in defiance of the cliché it’s picking up a fair bit of moss as it goes. At the risk of repeating arguments made, well, pretty much everywhere (and to reiterate a point I made before), it’s quite possible to be supportive or generally approving of Wikileaks as a principle and as an organisation at the same time as thinking Julian Assange to be a serious douchebag who’s responding to the limelight like weeds to the springtime sun… though the caveat there is that most of what we’re hearing of Assange’s public statements is being filtered through other news organisations whose fondness for Wikileaks is less than complete. The truth remains obscure, in other words.

That said, it’s been interesting – and heartening – to watch the results of genuine grassroots action as regards the #MooreAndMe rape apologism campaigns; it’s a horrible way for it to have happened (and a horrible that it should even be necessary), but I can’t help but feel that there’s a good side to the way that discussion and criticism of mainstream cultural attitudes to rape have been brought out from the marginalised sidelines of feminism into highly visible layers of public discourse. Granted, it’s been rather like overturning a rotten log in a gloomy forest, but that’s the price of progress, I suppose; a societal problem can’t be fixed until society becomes conscious of it. Sunlight, disinfectant, you know the drill.

So to the tireless folk behind the #MooreAndMe hashtag, my utmost respect. As hard as it might be to believe for a regular reader of this site, there are times when I realise that the most helpful thing I can do is shut up and let people who really know what they’re talking about do their thing. Perhaps stepping back from the fight isn’t as useful as pitching in, but personal experience dictates that the greatest of harm can result from the best of intentions, and that one learns much more from listening than flapping one’s own uninformed lips.

But there’s one commentary link-out that needs to be made, and it’s to Jaron Lanier’s Wikileaks piece at The Atlantic. I’m by no means in complete agreement with it on a number of points, and there’s a slightly patronising “yeah, I was once naive enough to believe all that stuff, too, but I done growed up” undertone to it that grates somewhat… but of all the negative responses to Wikileaks I’ve read so far, it’s by far the most cognisant of the playing field it discusses, and the first that has really made me think hard about my own stance on the matter. It’s a long one, and not easy to yank quotes from while maintaining context, so just go read the whole thing… whether you’re for or against.

The Net interprets censorship as damage…

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2010

… and routes around it. So runs Gilmore’s old theory, anyhow, and it looks like we get to witness a full testing of it as the Wikiwars roll on. Too much happening for me to be able to do any sort of coherent commentary on it, really; I suspect we’ll still be picking apart the fag-end of 2010 a decade from now. So instead, a bunch of links:

Interesting times ahead…

chaotic system hazard sign

Assange essay reveals motivation behind Wikileaks

Paul Raven @ 01-12-2010

Yup, still talking about Wikileaks; even if the content of the leaks is boring you, their existence is one of the biggest sociopolitical stories of the moment, and as such it’s gonna be a while before I stop thinking about them. So here’s a link for those who’ve asked “what’s this Assange character’s motivation, anyway?”, via the double-Boing; Assange wrote an essay in 2006 entitled “State and Terrorist Conspiracies” [PDF link].

It’s the sort of document I’m going to need to spend some time with before I can offer my own opinions on it, but I’m immediately getting serious harmonic chiming with a lot of my own (admittedly far less thoroughly baked) theories on the-state-as-sytem. In the meantime, it is analysed in detail at ZunguZungu, offering an insight into the philosophies that inform Assange’s projects.

[Assange’s] model for imagining the conspiracy, then, is not at all the cliché that people mean when they sneer at someone for being a “conspiracy theorist.” After all, most the “conspiracies” we’re familiar with are pure fantasies, and because the “Elders of Zion” or James Bond’s SPECTRE have never existed, their nonexistence becomes a cudgel for beating on people that would ever use the term or the concept. For Assange, by contrast, a conspiracy is something fairly banal, simply any network of associates who act in concert by hiding their concerted association from outsiders, an authority that proceeds by preventing its activities from being visible enough to provoke counter-reaction. It might be something as dramatic as a loose coalition of conspirators working to start a war with Iraq/n, or it might simply be the banal, everyday deceptions and conspiracies of normal diplomatic procedure.


He decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make “leaks” a fundamental part of the conspiracy’s  information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the “Collateral Murder” video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire…


Because we all basically know that the US state — like all states — is basically doing a lot of basically shady things basically all the time, simply revealing the specific ways they are doing these shady things will not be, in and of itself, a necessarily good thing. In some cases, it may be a bad thing, and in many cases, the provisional good it may do will be limited in scope. The question for an ethical human being — and Assange always emphasizes his ethics — has to be the question of what exposing secrets will actually accomplish, what good it will do, what better state of affairs it will bring about. And whether you buy his argument or not, Assange has a clearly articulated vision for how Wikileaks’ activities will “carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity,” a strategy for how exposing secrets will ultimately impede the production of future secrets. The point of Wikileaks — as Assange argues — is simply to make Wikileaks unnecessary.

And as an added bonus (not to mention yet another reason for any right-leaning pro-nation types still reading to write me off as a mad raving lefty pinko), here’s arch-academic Noam Chomsky pointing out that the most interesting thing about the Cablegate material is the subtext [via BigThink]:

… the main significance of the cables that are being released so far is what they tell us about Western leadership. So Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu surely know of the careful polls of Arab public opinion. The Brookings Institute just a few months ago released extensive polls of what Arabs think about Iran. The results are rather striking. They show the Arab opinion holds that the major threat in the region is Israel — that’s 80. The second major threat is the United States — that’s 77. Iran is listed as a threat by 10%.

With regard to nuclear weapons, rather remarkably, a majority — in fact, 57 – say that the region would have a positive effect in the region if Iran had nuclear weapons. Now, these are not small numbers. 80, 77, say the U.S. and Israel are the major threat. 10 say Iran is the major threat. This may not be reported in the newspapers here — it is in England — but it’s certainly familiar to the Israeli and U.S. governments, and to the ambassadors. But there is not a word about it anywhere. What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership and the Israeli political leadership. These things aren’t even to be mentioned. This seeps its way all through the diplomatic service. The cables to not have any indication of that.

When they talk about Arabs, they mean the Arab dictators, not the population, which is overwhelmingly opposed to the conclusions that the analysts here — Clinton and the media — have drawn. There’s also a minor problem; that’s the major problem. The minor problem is that we don’t know from the cables what the Arab leaders think and say. We know what was selected from the range of what they say. So there is a filtering process. We don’t know how much it distorts the information. But there is no question that what is a radical distortion is — or, not even a distortion, a reflection — of the concern that the dictators are what matter. The population does not matter, even if it’s overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. policy.

Cue lots more stuff about Israel/Palestine… you can say what you like about Chomsky, but at least the guy’s consistent, AMIRITES? 😉

But this all kind of underlines the point I’ve been trying to make about Wikileaks-as-phenomenon, which is to say that waving it off as “an attempt to embarrass the United States” is to engage in exactly the same myopic narcissism that it’s trying to destroy. Whether you think destroying that narcissism is a good thing is different question entirely, of course…

Cablegate: the morning after

Paul Raven @ 29-11-2010

Well, here we are: no one yet dead as a result of the latest WikiLeaks release, so far as I can tell, but a lot of egg on political faces. I remarked to a friend on Saturday that it’d probably contain depressing proofs of things we’d long suspected, and it looks like I wasn’t far off the mark… though that’s hardly an act of staggering insight and prescience on my part.

I’m going to leave the punditry and predictions to the professionals (or at least those with far more of the pertinent specialist knowledge than myself), but the one thing I’ll assert without any hesitation is that, while it may cause friction and difficulty in the political short- and medium-term, this leak – and others like it, past and future – is a good thing for us, the people of the world. Sure, nothing’s going to change overnight, and the removal of the public facades of diplomacy from the theatres of contemporary conflicts – be they physical, ideological, economic or all three – will certainly make things more difficult for all parties involved in them… but maybe that’ll mean said parties are less willing to start such conflicts in the first place.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” in other words. But what do you lot think?

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