Category Archives: Security

Hitchcock’s “Decentering Whiteness”

Speech given at the 3rd National Conference on Whiteness, University of Chicago, November 7, 1998.

I use the term whiteness to describe such things as white racial identity, white culture and European Americans as a people.

This is different and broader from how other people may use the term.

At the Center for the Study of White American Culture we’ve developed a perspective we call decentering whiteness.

In brief, we say that…
* Whiteness forms center of our society in the United States
* We believe no single racial or cultural group should control the center
* We need to take whiteness out of the center and replace the center with multiracial values

When we talk about being in the center of society, by that we mean having access to power, control of resources and having the ability to enforce one’s values.

“Like mustard gas… psychological warfare and its poison… linger on for years.”

The post title comes from a 1946 “Paper Bullets” booklet that was “DEDICATED to the men and women of the Overseas Branch, United States Office of War Information… to serve their country as propagandists in time of war….”

…like mustard gas, which clings to the ground for months after battle, psychological warfare and its poison of hate and distrust linger on for years.

Fast forward to 2016 and American soldiers still suffer from mustard gas experimentation done on them. They were told by their government to never speak about it and were denied healthcare claims.

We girls could not use perfume, we could not use hairspray, anything in the house” because of his ailment.

Daughter Beverly Howe, a nurse trained in chemical, biological and radiological treatment from Thomasville, Ga., said she interviewed her father for a school paper in the early 1970s, and he disclosed the gassing reluctantly to her for the first time. As a nurse, she recognized the symptoms from her training. “He said it was secret and they weren’t supposed to talk about it,” she said. “If they did, they’d be in big trouble.”

Then, while visiting a Veterans Administration hospital in Columbia, Mo., in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a VA X-ray technician who had seen Arlie Harrell’s records asked if he had ever been exposed to mustard gas.

“I was mostly horrified when I saw the look of terror in my dad’s eyes,” said Ayers, who was with her father at that appointment. “The man told him it was OK, you can talk about it now. He said, ‘Yes,’ and that was about it.”

Put these two themes together and you get a story about lingering effects of mustard gas mixed with racism (hate and distrust).

Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American.

“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,” Edwards says.

An NPR investigation has found evidence that Edwards’ experience was not unique. While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

[…]

All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.

Source: NPR

New Massachusetts Law Requires Vehicle Data Be Made Accessible

Simple sketch of the kind of telematics system found in any modern car. Hughes was acquired by Verizon in 2012.

Massachusetts has just voted by wide margin to extend their 2013 right to repair law to cover connected-car platforms and telematics (tracking and analysis) services after 2022.

The aim was to fight the growing problem of automakers restricting their proprietary diagnostics tools to anyone other than official franchised dealer networks. When the law came into effect in 2018, it required that every vehicle sold in the state has a “non-proprietary vehicle interface device” for accessing mechanical data.

The state now requires new telematics-equipped vehicles be made accessible via a standardized open-data platform for owners and their third-party mechanics or service providers to access a vehicle data from mobile devices. General Motors calls their telematics system OnStar, and Ford’s system is called SYNC.

The letter I signed in support of this new law is here.

Some background to these issues, which I’ve documented on this site since at least 2005, can be found here.

Ancient “Taboo” Custom Credited With Avoiding COVID19

“Easter Islanders Likely Believed Megalithic Statues Helped Maintain Soil Fertility”, Source: SciNews
The BBC has published a story of how Easter Island government officials invoked prohibition customs to control the pandemic in their country.

Thanks to both tapu and umanga, Easter Island has not only successfully warded off the coronavirus; it’s revived past practices in order to plot a more sustainable future.

Tapu is practiced in various forms across Polynesia, from New Zealand to Hawaii, and is believed to be the origin of the English word “taboo”, with British explorer James Cook first noting the concept on a visit to Tonga in 1777. While tapu is a divine mandate controlling a society’s access to certain people, places or things (with potentially dire consequences for those who transgressed in historical times), taboo is similarly used in English to describe practices that are either forbidden or restricted by social or religious customs.

The local description of the safety and security that can come from a taboo is very poetic.

What the pandemic did, [Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa] explained, was change the position of the mask from the eyes to the mouth.

“It shut our mouths, because we kept eating and consuming and searching for money and building and destroying the nature and our fragile culture, without seeing the jeopardy that we were putting ourselves in,” he said. “Now, our eyes are open, and we are more keen to promote sustainability in words, actions and plans than we ever were before.”

Unknown artist rendering of open eyes, closed mouth moai

A common thread in education has been to point to Easter Island as a lesson in ecological collapse. If true, perhaps it would be wise to look towards them for insights in environmental and health policy.

However, history is not quite so obvious, and so it turns out there is an even better reason to learn from Easter Island. The latest research shows it was invasion by foreign threats that was the main calamity to their thriving civilization.

…disease and slavery, introduced by Europeans, are more to blame than ecocide and self-destruction.

One of the turning points in analysis, from internal collapse to external threats, was a realization that fragments of “weapons” were more like evidence of sophisticated peaceful agrarian tools.

“It’s assumed that [pieces of glass] are the WMDs that led to the collapse of people,” the study’s lead author, Carl Lipo, an anthropologist and director of Binghamton University’s environmental studies program, told the BBC. “And what we found was there was no evidence, in fact, to support that these were used in a systematic, lethal fashion, and that they’re best explained as cultivation tools and things used in daily household activities.”

The assumptions made by Europeans were ignorant, a bit like someone from Easter Island landing in France observing that everyone owns a shovel and assuming it means civil war.

Two parts of the big shift in analysis are related to some pretty simple, even common sense, threads.

First, the rounded and short glass tools called “mata’a” were nothing like the offensive long-pointy weapons found in other places around the world. Who innovates around a big spoon when they could have enhanced their knife designs?

Here’s the data:

Ok I said spoon for a very specific reason. And now I have to take a second to discuss how disappointing it was to read that “researchers call them the ‘swiss army knives’ of stone tools”. I mean these same researchers are claiming tools were NOT primarily military issue while trying to describe them as ancient Swiss army knives?

SWISS ARMY KNIVES are standardized, military issue and pointy… it’s like the researchers couldn’t have possibly used a worse phrase to make their point (pun intended).

Second, these islands lacked defensive evidence expected from innovation around fortresses and garrisons built for civil wars.

No strong offensive evidence, no real defensive evidence… the island populations were decimated by something else.

So while past lessons erroneously have suggested Easter Island is about environmental disaster from over-production, instead it serves as an example of collapse from disease-infested invasion.

It all registers as important food for thought about data integrity as they practice taboo to save their population from pandemic; show the world a “good model” of disease prevention as one of the most important forms of sustainability.

… why did the population shrink after the Europeans arrived in the eighteenth century? Lipo has a single, stark answer: “Disease that is introduced by Europeans after contact.” Smallpox and plague ripped through Easter Island, halving the population in a short time. […] The fate of the Rapa Nui on Easter Island is often used [falsely] to illustrate how humans destroy their communities with environmental destruction and warfare. But it might actually provide a good model for sustainable civilizations of the future.

Oh, and why did all the trees disappear? Rats, known also for spreading the plague, are blamed for Easter Island deforestation.

Almost all of the palm seed shells discovered on the island were found to have been gnawed by rats. Thousands of rat bones have been found, and crucially, much of the damage to forestry appears to have been done before evidence of fires on the island. […] Unchecked, a single mating pair can produce a population of nearly 17 million in just over three years…capable, on their own, of deforesting large lowland coastal areas in about 200 years or less. “In the absence of effective predators, rats alone could eventually result in deforestation.”

Once again, it seems prevention of invasive and uncontrolled threats is the Easter Island lesson for COVI19 and human sustainability.

Are We Approaching An American Political Stress Revolution?

An historian writing for the British Library argues that Britain did not go through the same course of fundamental government upheaval as its neighbors in the 18th century because its social classes had methods and means for “dialogue” and political change.

A major question is why Britain did not experience a political revolution, similar to those which took place elsewhere in Europe. Rioting and protest against the Establishment was certainly serious in Britain in the late 1700s, but it never resulted in fundamental upheaval. An answer can perhaps be found in the fact that the relationships between different social classes were mainly stable. The working classes remained the backbone of the industrial revolution, and their rights and customs were usually recognised by those in power. By the 1790s many working-class protests were also channelled through more formal political organisations that proved highly effective in bringing about political change by peaceful means.

His point seems to be that while there were riots and violent clashes, and the majority of people couldn’t vote, they still could create influence and direct general political will through movements such as the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots and the much misunderstood Luddites.

However, he does allude also to the fact that threat of invasion by Napoleon was a factor in bringing Britain together in a shared fight.

A coalition formed with Europe against France for two decades with hundreds of thousands enlisted to fight, and prohibited from political expression… perhaps had more effect in keeping domestic relations pointed in a similar direction than saying the occasional riots and protests had peaceful resolutions.

The more modern take on this analysis comes from researchers in America claiming a “political stress indicator” (PSI) can predict revolution.

The social problems are the gasoline. [Russia’s puppet] is throwing matches.

[…] One key concern, according to Goldstone, is that people across the political spectrum have lost faith in government and political institutions. “In short, given the accumulated grievances, anger and distrust fanned for the last two decades, almost any election scenario this fall is likely to lead to popular protests on a scale we have not seen this century.

[…] But recent events, notably the [Russian puppet inspired] plot by a group of right-wing militants to kidnap and potentially kill the Democratic governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, over her policies to limit the spread of the coronavirus, have shocked even skeptics of the idea that the US is teetering on the brink of civil conflict. This is really concerning.

The PSI comments track somewhat to the historian of 18th century Britain. If there is no public faith in systems to foment political change, even without the ability or right to vote, then fundamental upheaval is more likely.

A better way perhaps of framing this for America is to say fundamental upheaval was during the Civil War and the current White House is being played by foreign adversaries to reopen those old wounds to keep them festering; loss of faith in government is a foreign plot, further inspiring domestic violent plots to assassinate democratic leaders as if it were still the 1850s.

Critics of the PSI point out that inequality may be high, which is a factor, yet America isn’t predominantly low-income at a level that would lead to widespread failure. In that sense preventing and delaying response to COVID-19 could be steered by foreign adversaries as a way to push America to being a low-income country and more likely to erupt into revolution.

Critics of the PSI also point out that revolutions come with some sudden rotation in control like natural resources being seized. This is interesting because when you look at the British examples the riots tended to be labor and technology related more than source/material.

America from that perspective tracks more closely to a discontent due to skilled labor displacement (machines doing work of unskilled staff) without having any centralized asset to be grabbed for violent power shift and foundation of new government. The funny thing about data/information being the current asset market is that, unlike things pulled out of the ground with intentional scarcity and centrality, information assets are easily shared, replaced and grown.

For another perspective, the American philosopher Richard Rorty wrote the following prediction about America in the 1998 New Statesman (Volume 127, Issues 4379-4391, Page 29)

Many writers on socioeconomic policy have warned that the old industrialized democracies are heading into a Weimar-like period, one in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments…Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for – someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots… One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words ‘nigger’ and ‘kike’ will once again be heard in the workplace. All the sadism which the academy left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

An American conflict analyst and journalist covering civil wars for three decades across Europe, Africa and the Middle East adds this perspective from her time in Bosnia:

What happened in Bosnia shows us how essential it is that we open up dialogue and encourage peaceful dissent — long before we get anywhere near the point of self-destruction.
Bosnia should be a lesson for us, a case study in how quickly things can unravel. If talks had been set up after the referendum, and if all sides sat down to hash out some kind of agreement, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives might have been saved. There are dangerous preconditions for a conflagration, and we are showing some of them in America today: the erosion of our basic rights, the anger, and the tribal divisions.

In conclusion, out of all these I find the British historian gives us the most insights into the vulnerabilities as well as the solutions.

If foreign adversaries can continue to manipulate the White House and destroy confidence in American political systems (e.g rush Supreme Court nominations using highly partisan and unqualified candidates, replace career state positions with fealty and patronage placements), while increasing discontent over inequalities, then there’s a much higher chance of fundamental change in government along the lines of revolution.

However, if America bonds in resistance to a shared adversary (whether it be COVID19, climate change, Russia, China, etc.) political systems (even without voting) are far more likely to be swayed and changed due to riots and protests to express need for change rather than seize assets or upend and replace government.

NSA Top Secret History of Computer Security

A FOIA request made ten months ago (Case 60495C) has just released the 1998 “Unknown Author, draft history of COMPUSEC” from the NSA

Here’s an example of the kind of juicy details to be found:

ON THE POLITICAL FRONT… in 1966, a Democratic Congressman from New Jersey, Cornelius Gallagher, chaired a special subcommittee of the House of Representatives Government Operations on the invasion of privacy. The hearings were the first of their kind regarding computer technology and the need to establish ethical and legal protection as well as technological safeguards for certain computer applications. They would not be the last!

The purpose of the hearings were to establish a “climate of concern” in regard to the Bureau of the Budget proposal for establishment of a data bank. The bank would combine all personnel and business files that were maintained by different government agencies.

The document then makes reference to one such result of the “climate of concern”: a February 1970 publication by the Department of Defense called Security Controls for Computer Systems.

Gallagher’s Invasion of Privacy Subcommittee was meant to ensure “that the Government computers do not provide the means by which federal officials can intrude improperly into our lives.” He then tried in 1969 to create a Select Committee on Privacy, Human Values, and Democratic Institutions, which failed in a 1972 political power struggle.

House committees and their chairmen do not react lightly to potential incursions on their jurisdiction, Mr. Gallagher of New Jersey discovered last Tuesday when the House defeated his resolution that would have created a select committee on privacy, human values and democratic institutions to look into potential invasions of privacy by government and industry. Mr. Gallagher’s resolution drew the opposition of Representative Emanuel Celler, Democrat of Brooklyn and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who argued on the House floor that his committee already was dealing with the issues that would have been handled by the new committee. Mr. Celler’s view prevailed, and Mr. Gallagher’s proposed committee was rejected, 216 to 168, with 20 New York Representatives voting with Mr. Gallagher and 18 New Yorkers siding with Mr. Celer, the dean of their delegation, and voting against the proposed committee.

In reality the committee on privacy was torpedoed by the FBI. Equifax (then known as the Retail Credit Corporation) was a staunch ally of J. Edgar Hoover. The FBI mined the data bank for background checks on their agents.

More importantly, however, Hoover or the Treasury department blackmailed and destroyed political careers of anyone who dared attempt to investigate either commercial or political privacy problems in America.

Indeed, Gallagher faced a barrage of false allegations and fraudulent claims from Hoover to block any attempts to investigate government privacy abuses. In one infamous case Hoover tried to pressure Gallagher to frame the FBI’s illegal bugging of MLK as a Kennedy plot.

Mr. Gallagher said his troubles with the F.B.I. began in June, 1966, when as chairman of a House subcommittee on invasion of privacy, he refused to sign a letter to then Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbuch demanding copies of “the authorizations for the illegal bugging” of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “and of the casinos in Las Vegas.” He said Mr. Cohn, a personal friend, had dictated the letter for his signature and had urged that it be forwarded.

[…]

“He told me that Mr. Hoover was very upset about the statements being made by Mr. Kennedy about widespread illegal wiretapping, eavesdropping and bugging and that Mr. Hoover was sick and tired of being made the sole brunt of that kind of criticism. He stated that Robert Kennedy had authorized those two activities by the [F.B.I.] and that Mr. Hoover was furious with Senator Kennedy, who was blaming it on Mr. Hoover.”

The core of this debate really was civil rights when you look at who experiencing privacy violations by the FBI. Consider that Gallagher’s concerns were being aired just as FBI wiretaps and bugs targeting MLK were believed to have violated the privacy rights of over 6,000 people by 1968.

In case you haven’t heard the story, here’s a brief recap:

Hoping to prove the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was under the influence of Communists, the FBI kept the civil rights leader under constant surveillance. The agency’s hidden tape recorders turned up almost nothing about communism.

In fact, recordings turned bore the opposite truth, that MLK privately referred to communism as…

…an alien philosophy contrary to us.

It probably is important here to mention, therefore, that this very secret NSA history of Computer Security document made no mention anywhere of these core issues of American civil rights or the surveillance of black political leaders. And there’s only one mention of the FBI:

…the FBI file contained unsubstantiated gossip against many individuals…

Ok to be fair there are two mentions, but the other one is about the Soviets controlling an asset inside the NSA to expose intelligence information (an early Edward Snowden).

See also:

Hacker Valley Studio 100th Episode

I’m honored to say I was invited to speak with Ron Eddings and Chris Cochran from the Hacker Valley Studio. They’ve posted our conversation in their 100th episode, released today.

In this special 100th episode we dip into the Hacker Valley Studio vault to bring you never before heard content from some brilliant experts in their field…
Travis McPeak
Rishi Bhargava
Simran S. Sakraney
Gary Berman
Josh Halbert
Nick Vigier
Davi Ottenheimer
Christina Morillo
Rafael Nunez

My segment is at 49:25 of the podcast.

How to Win With Propaganda

An advertisement writer recently posted to LinkedIn his reflections on how to hire the best talent by using “the copy test“. It boils down to this:

… if you can get your readers to empathise with you, in a tone they resonate with, you’ve won.

Judging by comments I sometimes get here (e.g. a white woman angry about my Dambusters post because she thinks the n-word is a very fine name for a dog)… clearly I still have more copy tests to do before I’ve won.

In related news, a book by Thomas Kent is coming out now with advice on how to advance democratic values to combat dangerous Russian propaganda.

Significant attention has been given to Russian disinformation operations and their corrosive effect on the United States and other democratic governments. The Western responses have thus far been weak and uncoordinated, according to Thomas Kent, former president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who is currently a Jamestown Senior Fellow and adjunct associate professor at Columbia University. He proposes an energetic new strategy to confront this threat: aggressive messaging to combat Russian information operations, while promoting the values of democracy that too many in the West have lost faith in.

I look forward to seeing how to get Russian readers to empathize with American democracy.

And on that note, a very old book called “Techniques of Persuasion” looked into Communist indoctrination camps run by the Chinese during the Korean War and highlighted how important information gathering (“confession”) was to any propaganda method.

Source: Techniques of Persuasion From Propaganda to Brainwashing by J.A.C.Brown, p. 257

Similar methods are described in the film “The Luft Gangster: Memoirs of a Second Class Hero“. When black pilot Lt. Col. Alexander Jefferson, USAF (Ret) was shot down in Germany he was surprised to find Nazi prison camps working hard to get empathy out of him.

The Nazis demonstrated they already had access to every detail of every American’s life down to home street, even showing him high school photos. The real elephant in the room, and palpable in the film, is whether Jefferson fell for Nazi propaganda that they respected his life more than America.

That kind of propaganda gets right into the question of using tribalism to undermine morale and distract enemies from any kind of unified objective. It’s a whole other level of winning, as documented by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS).

…conflict does not necessarily imply a pure contest of arms. It may center on an economic crisis, a sponsored pattern of betrayal and defection, or broad civil unrest. Whatever form it takes, it remains for the instigator a divide-and-exploit or divide-and-distract strategy that turns the enemy against himself, away from others, and exposes opportunities not otherwise available to an external State actor.

Allegedly it was this kind of strategic thinking that compelled Britain, France and America to operate heavy propaganda and even false flag operations in Africa through the 1980s intended to undermine black nationalism. More specifically, the racist apartheid government of South Africa wanted all its neighboring states to constantly be in a state of permanent improvisation and thus frame itself — an oppressive white police state — as the only stable regional partner for business deals.

Swarms of Decoys Disarmed Anti-Aircraft Defenses… in World War II

I probably should have put a spoiler alert in the title.

A brand new 2020 report from the British Royal Air Force (RAF) warns that they were able to use a swarm of “affordable off-the-shelf decoy to wreak havoc on enemy integrated air defense systems.”

“During the demonstration, a number of Callen Lenz drones were equipped with a modified Leonardo BriteCloud decoy, allowing each drone to individually deliver a highly-sophisticated jamming effect,” according to Leonardo’s press release. “They were tested against ground-based radar systems representing the enemy air defence emplacement. A powerful demonstration was given, with the swarm of BriteCloud-equipped drones overwhelming the threat radar systems with electronic noise.”

You may be wondering if this is the first successful test by an air force of affordable off-the-shelf decoys wreaking havoc on air defense systems.

To answer that quickly, I present to you an account of decoys in a 1946 report called “Paper Bullets” from the United States Office of War Information.

A Mitchell bomber crew, which had been bombing Italian rail communications carried a couple of bundles of leaflets and some wine bottles every time they went out to bomb. Questioned by a psychological warfare officer, who failed to find this particular plane on his schedule, one member of the crew replied: “This is psychological warfare, Mac. Before we hit the target we take a fake bomb run over the nearest flak crew and throw these bottles and the leaflets out. They whistle just like bombs and the flak crew takes cover. Then we go on and bomb as per schedule.”

Set aside the point that maybe the crew was joking and they came up with a funny story to hide the fact that they were alcoholics or at least drank a lot of wine while flying as some form of self-medication.

John Belushi stars in the movie “1941” directed by Steven Spielberg

The idea of dropping whistling bomb decoys over air defense units makes a lot of sense, and wine bottles might disintegrate or disappear enough to avoid suspicion of decoys.

Here’s the full report as a PDF on archive.org:

Another perspective from history on “drones” (human pilots seen as disposable) overwhelming air defenses is here:

RAND’s first attempt to model a nuclear strategy ignored so many key variables that it nonsensically called for deploying a fleet of aging turboprop bombers that carried no bombs because the United States did not have enough fissile material to arm them; the goal was simply to overwhelm Soviet air defenses, with no regard for the lives of the pilots.

In related news, DefenseOne asked readers earlier this year “Should the US Have a Secretary For Influence Operations” and Military.com has just published the headline “‘Data Is the Ammunition’: Inside the Pentagon’s New Strategy to Dominate Future Battlefields“.

Looking back again, the 1946 Paper Bullets view of the world ends with these questions:

We are very well aware that the right words properly put together, delivered at the right spot at the right moment, can capture and kill. Why not use words and ideas as an instrument of peace, rather than as an instrument of death? A longing for peace is deep in the hearts of all decent peoples everywhere. There are good arguments for those who insist the best way to maintain the peace is to maintain a war machine to police the world and to keep the peace by force. Why not, then, the establishment of a U.S. Department of Information on the same status as the War Department and the Navy Department? Why not a U.S. Department of Information to police the world with words of truth?

We’ve come a long way from swarms being empty wine bottles, yet it seems also we haven’t moved very far along at all.

And I have to wonder if veterans talking about dropping bottles from planes is the kind of story-telling that inspired the iconic opening scene in The Gods Must be Crazy…