Category Archives: History

Detecting Different: How the CIA Caught a Spy

Aldrich Ames became famous for being a “slob” American spy, easily caught and convicted once suspected. (Source: FBI)

Spoiler alert, WBUR News ran a story called “Can A Computer Catch A Spy” that centers on this false premise:

Grimes suspected [Aldrich Ames] for a reason no algorithm would have divined: He just seemed different.

I call BS on the idea that humans in the CIA caught a spy by seeing something algorithms could not. Not only are algorithms incredibly able to divine different, they’re fast becoming a threat and we want them to overlook differences more often than find them.

Algorithms typically can see differences more often than we can, or want to, see them.

The story later admits this point itself by claiming computers are much faster than humans at making connections from random piles of data, forcing us to address some uncomfortable findings.

And then the story goes on to reverse itself again, claiming that algorithms can’t make meaningful connections without human assistance.

Bottom line is it’s a mess of a story, flip-flopping its way around the question of how to find a spy when he’s staring you in the face.

The lesson of Aldrich Ames was to question why humans had refused to “see” things that later seemed such obvious warning signs. So the next question in this context should be whether humans will detune computer algorithms in the same way humans are prone to ignore signals.

Fast forward to today and there’s a competition ending December 15 on new thinking in how to find insider threats:

The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence (OUSDI), in cooperation with WAR ROOM, is pleased to announce an essay contest to generate new ideas and elevate thinking about insider threats and how we respond to and counter the threat.

See also: Insider Threat as a Service (IaaS)

CIA History and Birth of Modern American Information Warfare

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) use of information warfare is often discussed and sometimes cited, yet is not clearly linked to any present day debates about authorization regarding “cyber” active-defense (offense). This becomes confusing as the intelligence community may be in competition with the military over emerging demand for modern hacking capabilities, particularly in cases outside the U.S. government’s own systems.

The clandestine nature of ongoing intelligence missions makes it difficult to expose and examine fully any examples, which unfortunately means the most current relevant trade craft goes un-examined while debates rage about who should be doing it. Perhaps an investigation of history would help here with direction.

A case easily can be made that information warfare options today are a derivation of 1930s experimentation and 1940s deployments, which means the CIA creation story might be extremely relevant to today’s Title 10 / Title 50 debates.

It thus is increasingly important for American “cyber” policy-makers to spend the time to consider international political winds of the 1930s, as this was when purpose and scope for information gathering was established for dissemination and covert operations against foreign adversaries.

Take for example Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) initiated steps around central intelligence operations in the aftermath of his U.S. presidential campaign victory, with an eye on tensions spreading in Europe and Asia.

During the 1932 U.S. presidential campaign William Hearst allowed his expansive media empire to circulate Hitler’s writing and spread white nationalist’s ideology in America.

Hearst defended his actions by expressing he had fear of socialism and was a believer in the false depictions by Hitler. To put it briefly, FDR won the Presidency in spite of an American media giant’s attempts to stir up Nazi sympathizers and groups of “devoted nationalist followers to threaten and beat up leftists”. 1

Later Hearst admitted a change of heart so by 1938 he had reversed position on Hitler, allegedly because the Nazi Kristallnacht facts being reported by his papers. However for FDR the information warfare die already had been cast by 1932; foreign military intelligence operations were correctly identified in undermining American stability. FDR after winning the election was immediately faced with how to put in place national security measures to counteract dangerous information warfare threats to global democracy.

A rarely referenced event in this context, yet still very important to this history of information warfare, is the 1934 establishment of a Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Overtly the FCC is described as a means to break up monopolization in American communications. It also should be seen in direct and stark opposition to what American and British officials had heard reports of in Nazi Germany. Hitler’s volksgemeinshaft meant a total centralization of communications under a state propaganda ministry, which manifested in April 1934 using the Reich Radio Company. 2

The 1934 move towards decentralized regulated communications not only was a reaction to Hearst’s role in 1932, but also appears to have been a reasonable means to neutralize future national security disaster (prevent broadcast subversion and manipulation by foreign military intelligence or domestic collaborators). FDR early on understood how Nazi military intelligence ability to control, disrupt or manipulate informational infrastructures was as decisive a factor as weapons superiority, with respect to democracy being protected from fascist aggression.

How better to defend both U.S. informational infrastructure against powerful yet naive Nazi sympathizers than just regulatory acts like the FCC? This is where the story of the CIA really begins, as FDR not only was exploring how to use his authority to block foreign information attacks, he initiated U.S. offensive capabilities.

The parallel to modern debates is interesting because critics of offensive hacking today often point to American infrastructure having a weak defensive posture.

Here we see FDR’s creation of offensive capabilities came after he had pushed improvements to defensive capabilities through a new FCC. It begs the question whether creating any sort of “cyber” equivalent to an FCC role today would placate critics of offensive operations. Perhaps even a hybrid third agency from the FCC and DoJ would work? The FCC notably predates all the deterrence theorists of WWII and after, playing a more subtle and often overlooked role in the conflict.

Offensive capabilities may be proposed as an alternative to improving resilience to attacks, yet balance makes sense and people today should really consider whether and how FCC and CIA both were created to deal with Nazi threats to democracy.

During the summer of 1940, at a time when there was no American clandestine service organization in operation (as evidenced by intelligence gaps in the 1936 Japanese sinking of USS Panay), FDR sent a special envoy to London. The President wanted to know whether unusually lackluster resistance to violent Nazi incursions in Europe was related to information warfare measures. FDR asked his envoy to assess whether “demoralizing propaganda and internal subversion by Nazi sympathizers” had been undermining national security of states targeted by Hitler. 3

The President obviously needed to curtail the influence of German military intelligence service information campaigns, and measure the effects of domestic espionage and sabotage. The insights gathered from his first envoy to Europe led FDR to dispatch another one the following year to assess strategic options for American military campaigns in the Middle East.

The result of information gathering by these special envoys came in June 1941 with the Creation of an Office of the Coordinator of Information (COI) led by Colonel William J. Donovan. Donovan was an internationally-renowned and highly-decorated WWI hero who had been on both trips and had written a “Memorandum of Establishment of Service of Strategic Information”. FDR charged him with building the clandestine operations group to report directly to the President.

Harpers Magazine a couple months later in August, a little over a year after the fall of France, wrote publicly about Nazi military intelligence using radio broadcasts to undermine resistance. 4

“…announcers would tell their listeners daily: Your leaders are corrupt. Your British Allies are cowards and traitors. The Fuhrer has said time and again: ‘Germany wants nothing of France.’ French listeners! Force your government to make peace!’ Together with such appeals went terrifying proofs of the omniscience of the German Intelligence. On one occasion two French generals sitting down to dinner in the Maginot Line heard on the radio an exact description of the menu.

During this time the “America First” campaigners had pushed a similar line of “make peace” to spread Hitler’s power (and they still continued even through WWII despite sedition charges and conviction of members of “America First”). 5 Because the State Department, Army, Navy and FBI were collecting information in a decentralized fashion, FDR found they didn’t address his need to protect America from the “Firsters”.

When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor months later and Germany declared war on America a dramatic elevation of task was imminent for the COI. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) began calling for measures of “subversive activity” to undermine German resistance. FDR’s concept of COI was set on a course to answer this call with a specific duty in operations. by the summer of 1942, a year after it was first setup with several hundred civilians reporting directly to the President, COI moved under JCS and was rebranded the famous Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

The JCS issued an OSS mission statement, which echoed FDR’s earlier emphasis: prepare studies and research, plan and execute subversive activity, and operate and train an organization to collect information via espionage. 6

The OSS was formalized into a military outfit because an acute need was perceived by Donovan for strategic analysis of vast information collections. Any initial propaganda functions of the COI were removed, per FDR’s requirement those capabilities not fall under military leadership, handed instead to an Office of War Information. The OSS now sought ways to operate along with other long-established Allied services such as British Military Intelligence, as well as Churchill’s newly formed Special Operations Executive (SOE), in recommending and executing methods to prepare for invasions and lower resistance to military campaigns.

FDR by this time seemingly had built almost a decade of political groundwork for American foriegn intelligence operations. Donovan’s leadership brought to the table a stellar reputation. Despite these huge advantages, the initial steps for OSS as a military service provider were far from easy. Detractors soon demanded trust come from evidence of extensive field expertise and experience with clandestine services, which few Americans could have possessed at its start.

A high bar for staff within the OSS maybe was a reflection of British reputation at the time, given its many decades of running global spy networks and sabotage operations (even a modern cryptanalysis unit “Room 40” — foundation of today’s GCHQ — was created by Winston Churchill in 1914). Orde Wingate, for example, in the late 1930s only was ranked as a junior intelligence officer as he pioneered “Commando” tactics to undermine Arab resistance to British rule.

The British also tended to exhibit overconfidence and unfairly dismiss other services. Collaborations with other nations fumbled so badly, for example, that during a September 1939 invasion by Nazi Germany the codebreakers in Poland already were fleeing for their lives by the time details of breaking German Enigma would be taken seriously by the British. 7 In many ways these failures had laid the groundwork for an American brand of centralized intelligence service to emphasize extremely rapid study and more open collaboration.

At the very least, without having yet built an espionage organization or a methodology for collaboration, OSS initially was built by Donovan as the coordinated path for longer-standing foreign intelligence services to funnel into American military objectives. Arguably this sharing emphasis was a wise move at the time to rapidly train and expand his staff. After WWII a highly-collaborative style confronted Donovan with an image problem, however. Some questioned in public whether the British training the OSS meant it was theirs to drive, and not something uniquely American.

In fact, Donovan quickly proved not only a uniquely American capability of the OSS, he also proved it to be an independent intelligence service provider very useful for military leadership. The first real opportunity to show what OSS could do in active war efforts was Operation Torch of 1942. Churchill and FDR had agreed in July of that year to a joint invasion of French North Africa controlled by the Vichy regime.

The U.S. Fifth Army called the OSS to aid with a November invasion plan in areas of Morocco, while the British called in their SOE for an Algerian front.

Torch symbolized more than just the test of OSS. It was the first American-led entry into the European war, and was described by General Eisenhower as a test of the Allies bringing “an unprovoked attack upon a neutral country.” 8 Psychological methods were a major consideration as the U.S. military wanted to ensure positive morale for landing forces, as well as lowered resistance from occupied areas, not to mention keeping political support at home.

Here’s an example propaganda leaflet that was titled “Cleaning in Africa” and dropped by the British during Operation Compass (Desert War) in Libya after 1940 (click to enlarge):

The small invasion force of 10,000 troops was believed to depend heavily on a welcome response by the French, while also maintaining secrecy to prevent Axis forces being allocated into the region. These essentially sat in opposition to each other, since secrecy hampered the ability to precisely time local support. General Eisenhower, along with military chiefs, decided the complexity of this would be dealt with best by their newly established OSS using its independent capabilities for sabotage and information warfare.

Success of the OSS during Torch is debated by historians and beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that being overly optimistic meant the U.S. military was faced with significant casualties; resistance falsely was predicted to be minimal (it was fierce) and subversion was ineffective (secrecy made landing coordination improbable). Even the goal of avoiding any build-up of Axis forces did not happen, if we consider mission scope to include the coming Tunisian campaign.

Instead of OSS successes, it was Hitler’s sudden violation of the armistice from 1940 — invading unoccupied parts of France — that brought unexpected relief on American forces. A Vichy authority in Algeria opened the door to negotiation with Eisenhower, signing a cease-fire that stopped resistance and Allied casualty counts.

This cease-fire was the most expedient path to set in motion transition to much larger landing forces, although it risked the Allies dealing with a known Nazi collaborator. French Admiral Darlan signed with American leaders only for a guarantee he would preserve authority over his concept of a French North Africa, as his trust in the erratic Hitler evaporated.

The OSS service, despite these non-optimal results in Torch, became seen by U.S. military commanders as an essential ingredient to future campaigns. A reputation spread for the service being a quick study of foreign data and providing useful analysis. This not only was recognized by Americans, it also led to British clandestine operations increasing in wake of Torch, represented in territorial competitions that would soon emerge. Just three years after Torch some asked whether FDR’s vision and Donovan’s execution had led America to surpass British capabilities in special operations and gathering secret intelligence. 9

After the war ended in 1945 the military operation of OSS led out of “room 109” was shut-down by then president Truman and restarted shortly afterwards without Donovan, renamed as the Central Intelligence Group (CIG). Two years later the CIA was named. 10

Three lessons can be learned from this sequence of events that ended in the creation of the CIA.

First, America before the 1930s was in grave danger as it lacked any mechanism to respond in-kind to active information warfare measures taken by foreign adversaries to undermine a political system. A rush to correct this disadvantage was felt by the U.S. presidential election winner of 1932, given no capabilities on par with German military intelligence methods that had been generating Nazi sympathizers. Moving early and quickly was essential to later success of information warfare.

Second, America in the 1940s benefited from establishing its own brand of professional spy service (information collection and analysis group) to support its military campaigns heading into neutral third-party states, to reduce resistance, minimize casualties, and maintain domestic support.

Third, the expansive global role the U.S. was holding after WWII meant it felt pressure to maintain a centralized collection of data to continue warding off apathy in the face of veiled yet serious threats to democracy.

Donovan perhaps said it best when in 1945 he advocated for creating the CIA because “America cannot afford to resume its prewar [America First] indifference…the greatest nation in the world cannot rely upon physical strength alone”. 11


  2. David Welch, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, (New York: Routledge, 1994): 38
  6. Thomas F. Troy, Donovan and the CIA (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1981), Appendix F, JCS 67: 429.
  8. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe (New York: Doubleday, 1948): 86.
  9. Bickham Sweet-Escott, Baker Street Irregular (London: Methuen & Co, 1965): 126.
  11. “Donovan: Father of US Intelligence”, CIA YouTube Video, 26 Jul 2012.

Lithuania Under Attack in Information War on NATO

Useful analysis of information warfare attacks on NATO can be found in the breakdown of a campaign in Lithuania. “Eugenijus Lastauskas, head of the Lithuanian military’s Strategic Communication Department” is quoted in DefenseOne:

  • September 26 & 27 operatives hack, a genuine news organization, to post a fake story as training for a bigger attack in October
  • October 17 operators again hack to post a false story about purported U.S. plans to move nuclear weapons to Lithuania
  • False emails, purporting to be from known journalists, are sent to Nausėda’s office and other officials asking for official comment on the false story
  • The false story is circulated widely across Russian social media channels
  • October 18 operatives again hack legitimate media outlets to deface them with the false news
  • Journalists outside of Russia also targeted with email campaigns made to look like requests from members of the Lithuanian government

And then the icing on the cake:

…attackers even drew up a fake tweet from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pomepo ‘congratulating’ the Lithuanian president on the news of the move of the nuclear weapons…

What is the response by the United States?

The American government now is debating the appropriate organizational structure to defend against latest formats of attack.

It is becoming increasingly clear that information warfare is a different phenomenon from traditional warfare: in information warfare, there are no sideliners, everyone is a target, and everywhere is the battlespace. Thus, any attempt to put the burden on just the Departments of Defense and State to counter information warfare efforts is likely to be fraught with complex authority issues about which domestic department or agency is charged with various information warfare tasks.[9] Here, the Department of Homeland Security, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various domestic intelligence agencies will undoubtedly have roles to play. The challenge is to precisely identify those roles.


An information warfare directorate within the National Security Council could help tease out answers by relying on expert briefs from the defense community, think tanks, corporations, and academia. In turn, the directorate could provide careful summaries to the National Security Council’s core members, allowing them to truly begin to enumerate the pragmatic policy options. Ideally, after frank debates among principal National Security Council members, resolutions for action should emerge and shape presidential policy.

It may be illustrative to note that in the 1930s FDR took quick action to research how best to respond to Nazi military intelligence campaigns, after he had watched American newspapers as well as European institutions fall victim to information warfare.

His rapid response helped slow Nazi collaborators in “America First” from expanding their influence campaigns before Germany formally declared war on America, and also led to the formation of a government team that eventually would become the CIA.

The man chosen to lead the CIA would say at the time “America cannot afford to resume it’s [America First] prewar indifference”.

Given how the current occupant of the White House literally returned to the apathy of “America First”, and has aligned with Russian interests more than American values, we are in very different times than when FDR appointed “Wild Bill” to direct what had to be done.

William Donovan’s duffel bag in the CIA museum

Why the White House Pardoned Convicted War Criminals

Italian dictator Mussolini was hanged (with his mistress) before he could be tried for war crimes. His soldiers claimed themselves victims while “committing atrocities that for 60 years have gone unpunished.”

The short answer: these pardons serve to undermine democratic institutions and demonstrate “strong man” capabilities of an unaccountable leader.

The longer answer: foreign military intelligence harnessing bias, a form of blind-spot no matter how intelligent the victim, can drive societal fracture and disfunction through manipulations of American sentiment. In this case a divisive issue of war crimes is being used as both proof of power and also a test of loyalty to an authority who is undermining checks and balances.

This kind of manipulation process should be familiar to some as canon of social engineering, with many books already written on the subject.

It also is well documented through the tragic history of the developing world, cruelly manipulated during the Cold War to foment coups and drive power towards dictators who would serve some narrowly-defined agenda (instead of allowing representative democracy). Chad, Guatemala, Angola, Mozambique, Iran…the list I’ve written about on this site alone is long.

The White House unilateral and un-American move to pardon war criminals shows how power is being manipulated by foreign military intelligence campaigns leveraging bias, much in the same way developing nations were manipulated during the past 70 years.

Rolling Stone explains succinctly how a modern system of malicious social media is being used:

Russia’s goals are to further widen existing divisions in the American public and decrease our faith and trust in institutions that help maintain a strong democracy. If we focus only on the past or future, we will not be prepared for the present. It’s not about election 2016 or 2020.

This is spot on. Militarized information campaigns push bias every day to build power slowly in order to wield at a moment’s notice, which Rolling Stone refers to as emotional drive:

She wasn’t selling her audience a candidate or a position — she was selling an emotion. Melanie was selling disgust. The Russians know that, in political warfare, disgust is a more powerful tool than anger. Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.

Pardoning war criminals thus does three things for the current White House by generating disgust:

  1. Demonstrates bias towards “supreme leader” who can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of law. This generates disgust among those who believe in the rule of law, such as the Constitution. Also this negates any commentary about war-crimes being committed in Syria after American forces retreated. It’s a negation of both domestic and international moral code.
  2. Demonstrates bias towards the “Christian warrior” who can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, regardless of law. This generates disgust among those who believe in the rule of law, such as the military code. Soldiers pay attention to example and failing to hold bad examples accountable generates dissent in ranks.
  3. By establishing these two bright lines of disgust on social media and elsewhere it slowly helps identify the extremists in America happy to obey a dictator. We see two national tests of loyalty based on emotive-based bias. Those disgusted by such obvious violations of laws are classified as disloyal to dictatorship and abruptly pushed out in favor of servile minds that give an ok to overtly destroying democratic concepts like the Constitution.

To make a finer point on this, some American military leaders are convinced that mutually assured destruction (MAD) kept the world free of war, while others realized there have been many wars despite MAD with untold suffering and the UN primarily has served to prevent escalations. This used to be a minor point of division worth debating.

By fueling bias, military agents have turned that division into a massive fissure where people are disgusted by the opposing side; either rule of law is respected (e.g. a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is signed easily) or laws get ignored because might is said to make right (e.g. abuse of children gets called an inherent right of parenting).

Already we see people defending the White House by saying their dictator can do no wrong as they consider the current occupant “strong” and therefore above all laws. They’ll follow his orders to abuse anyone even the most vulnerable populations unable to defend selves.

To be fair the supporters of the current White House don’t necessarily like its occupant as much as the theory of “strong man” power that political scientists used to refer to as fascism. The support is driven by disgust with representative democracy, which means there is desire for dictatorship where a small cabal of power can even dispose of the current bumbling occupant and his family.

There even could be simmering intent to soon install a new and more competent/healthy dictator via secret police (typical role for those who commit war crimes) in order to better achieve some narrowly-defined self-serving agenda (e.g. national socialism, where a very small group gets defined as being an elite nation to absorb all benefits away from much larger state populations).

Here’s how Mussolini himself described it in a text he was credited with in 1932 (“La dottrina del fascismo”, an essay written by Giovanni Gentile):

Fascism attacks socialism first, then tries to destroy all of democracy. In a reverse theory, Mussolini here is giving away the gatekeeper/antidote. He apparently believed if people helped genuine socialist candidates and causes they were holding back the slide to dictatorship.

Speaking of 1932, America saw a similar trend to today when Hearst published Adolf Hitler’s narratives and disseminated Nazi military intelligence propaganda as news.

At that time the bias technique was against “bolshevism” and for “pacifism”. Hearst (and the Koch family) were far less successful than today’s Zuckerberg, however, and the pro-fascism leader in America failed to get elected President that year.

Here you can see why the 1932 Presidential election was so critical to the rejection of fascism; rejection of the “strong man” propaganda spreading at that time

An Allied victory in 1945 clearly cuts fascism lines short. WWII soldiers from America destroyed the Axis forces, which had defeated socialism and trained their guns on all of democracy. This victory restored faith in laws and institutions (e.g. establishment of the UN) and meant the US was able to even export concepts of teamwork and respectful collaboration (lean out) onto occupied fascist countries. In that sense, Germany and Japan have become something of time-capsules for the values of the US that made it so successful.

Here’s how seasoned leaders have described the current White House attacking military values and authority, which appears to most as a mad man throwing away America’s democratic legacy to replace it with the disgusting ideas of fascism:

To put the US back on track and reverse the White House, these pardons for war crimes need to not disgust and divide the nation. And that seems unlikely given how fascist tactics are intended to disgust anyone who really believes in rule of law, let alone gave an oath to uphold the Constitution. A bully push towards divisiveness and away from law, as a disgusting test of loyalty, is exactly why the White House pardoned the accused.

See also: “2016 Republican Candidate: Fascist Week 2016”

Fullenkamp: We Use the Past to Better Understand our Present

Trips to relive famous tactical events sounds in this podcast like something we could do a lot more of for information security.

…military historian Len Fullenkamp reflects on the importance of immersing oneself in the minds of strategic leaders facing dynamic and complex situations. One tool is the staff ride, an opportunity to walk a battlefield and understand the strategic perspective of the leaders…

I’ve walked countless battlefields and tried to relive the decisions of the time. One of the most unforgettable was a trench line perfectly preserved even to this day on a ridge that held off waves of attacks for several sleepless days.

On another long-gone battle ground I stumbled upon three live bullets that had been abandoned for decades, slowly rusting into the ground atop a lookout. I held them in my hand and stared across the dusty exposed road below for what seemed like hours.

Yet I rarely if ever have seen a similar opportunity in the field of security I practice most today. Has anyone developed a “staff ride” for some of the most notorious disasters in security leadership such as Equifax, Target, Facebook…? That seems useful.

In this podcast the speaker covers the disastrous Pickett’s charge by pro-slaveholder forces in America. After two-days investment the bumbling General Lee miscalculated and ordered thousands of men to their death in what he afterwards described plainly as “had I known…I would have tried something different”.

Fullenkamp then goes from this into a long exploration of risk management until he describes leadership training on how to make good decisions under pressure:

What is hard is making decisions in the absence of facts.

Who could be the Fullenkamp of information security, taking corporate groups to our battlefields for leadership training?

Also I have to point out Fullenkamp repeats some false history, as he strangely pulls in a tangent about how General Grant felt about alcohol. Such false claims about Grant have been widely discredited, yet it sounds like Fullenkamp is making poor decisions with an absence of facts.

Accusations of alcoholism were a smear and propaganda campaign, as historians today have been trying to explain. For example:

Grant never drank when it might imperil his army. […] Grant, in a letter to his wife, Julia, swore that at Shiloh, he was “sober as a deacon no matter what was said to the contrary.”

We know today what actually happened was a concerted group of white supremacist historians of a defeated pro-slavery war machine began a campaign to posthumously destroy the character of Grant, to undermine his widespread popularity and programs of civil rights.

After Grant’s death, exaggerated stories about his drinking became ingrained in American culture.

First, the truth of charges against Grant are related to America’s pre-Civil War political and military patronage system (corruption basically) being unkind to him. He succeeded in spite of them and he was living proof of someone using the past to better understand the present.

After extensive experience fighting in all major battles of the Mexican-American War he didn’t sit well being idle and under-utilized. He was introverted and critical of low performing peers. A superior officer in California used minor charges of alcohol as a means to exercise blunt authority over the brilliant Grant.

Second, it was KKK propaganda campaigns of prohibition that pushed the false idea that Grant’s dispute with his superior was some kind of wild and exaggerated issue relevant to prohibition.

In fact history tells us how pro-slavery Generals literally became so drunk during battles they disappeared and were useless, every single time they fought. The KKK projected those real alcoholic events from pro-slavery leadership onto Grant to obscure their own failed history and try to destroy his name.

Apparently it worked because it’s 2019 and far past time for people to stop repeating shallow KKK propaganda about America’s greatest General and one of the greatest Presidents.

Why Does Modern Tech Try to Route Freeways Through Neighborhood Streets?

Since the introduction of new apps to help drivers find better routes, there’s been a persistent problem of freeways routing through neighborhood streets all over America, from NY to LA.

  • Jun 16, 2017 Slate: Suburbs Finally Figured Out a Way to Get Rid of Pesky Drivers on Waze Shortcuts
  • Dec 24, 2017 NYT: Navigation Apps Are Turning Quiet Neighborhoods Into Traffic Nightmares
  • Dec 26, 2017 NYMag: Waze Traffic Forces New Jersey Town to Shut Down Its Roads
  • Sep 20, 2018 WUSA9: Navigation apps flood neighborhood with traffic and VDOT proposes Beltway ramp shutdown
  • Aug 20, 2019 LAMag: Waze Hijacked L.A. in the Name of Convenience. Can Anyone Put the Genie Back in the Bottle?

I’ve spoken about this many times in my AI ethics presentations as a stupid flaw that should be easy to fix.

Meanwhile, news from Cloudflare is that the Internet is exhibiting the same flawed logic

Cloudflare traced the problem to a regional ISP in Pennsylvania that accidentally advertised to the rest of the internet that the best available routes to Cloudflare were through their small network. This caused a massive volume of global traffic to the ISP, which overwhelmed their limited capacity and so halted Cloudfare’s access to the rest of the internet. As Cloudflare remarked, it was the internet equivalent of routing an entire freeway through a neighbourhood street.

Funny thing, historically speaking, is that the Internet is based on transportation logistics. The first hackers were literally people who disobeyed road conventions and safety and went their own way for selfish reasons.

The answer for why a regional ISP in Pennsylvania wanted all the traffic to flow through their neighborhood is…still being discussed. Some speculate it was a test. Someone somewhere always is thinking about how to do Internet-scale attacks on confidentiality, integrity and/or availability.

MIT Tests AI-based Social Ranking System

While many Americans criticized China relentlessly for engineering a social-ranking system, MIT has proudly announced it’s working to improve prediction of car behavior with…a social-ranking system:

“We’ve developed a system that integrates tools from social psychology into the decision-making and control of autonomous vehicles,” Wilko Schwarting, a research assistant at MIT CSAIL, told Digital Trends. “It is able to estimate the behavior of drivers with respect to how selfish or selfless a particular driver appears to be. The system’s ability to estimate drivers’ so-called ‘Social Value Orientation’ allows it to better predict what human drivers will do and is therefore able to driver safer.”

What do you expect your social value to be in the classification system run by MIT? Here’s a historic reference to help:

Nowhere in the story do I see mention of the system being restricted to cars only, or prohibited from leaking into feudal-style governance. Thus, any car on the road could be running social-ranking on everyone and everything it sees all the time.

It will be interesting to see if any American news outlets pick this up as creepy social-ranking of populations, applying the same worry as they did with China.

Also it will be interesting to see how this expands into everything that can be seen at street level by cars.

Is your lawn mowed? Maybe you are being selfish by cutting that grass and denying wildlife a habitat. Or maybe you are being selfish by allowing a habitat to grow that naturally pollinates your neighbor’s lawn, who is trying hard to mow constantly and deny wildlife a habitat.

Who decides the rankings? Or more importantly, if we get transparency into the systems of rankings, will people build a level of trust by playing into expected behavior and then abuse that ill-gotten trust to switch behaviors and escape prediction?

Important to remember how the end of the Japanese feudal era was marked by creative yet selfish merchants. After being relegated to the bottom of the classification pyramid for so long they started to invert the stack and use self-centered social networks of enrichment to float towards the top.

By the end of the Edo period, Omi merchants, and their cousins in other areas of Japan, had grown immensely wealthy. They were also uniquely situated because they had far-flung interests which brought them into contact with the political and economic changes of the last decades of the period. They often proved quick to anticipate the changes and take advantage of them and became influential in the modern period of capitalist development.

It’s not only humans at risk of being ranked. Roads will be constantly assessed, judged and discussed by the things operating on them, according to a tire manufacturer

…data on current road conditions and aquaplanning risks can be sent to other cars in the nearby area, also via 5G

Imagine sending out false autoplane risk data in your neighborhood to slow traffic instead of having to pour on the road an expensive speedbump (sleeping policeman).

And things won’t be just judging what they see eye-level or at the surface, either. Last year a ground-penetrating radar company said cars soon could be judging what it finds under a road surface as well.

…system will scan up to 10 feet below the surface of the road in order to lock on to stable ground. It can then use this data, combined with data from the vehicle’s other onboard sensors, to build itself a map of subterranean features which it can then use to maintain its position on the road…

Putting it all together, combining scores of things around a car and under a car means the car can take action with a better sense of what to predict. However, the integrity of that data is nowhere near proven reliable, and may even open up whole new markets of manipulation for those trying to invert social pyramids.

AI Labels Harvard Man as Existential Threat

A Harvard man walks into a wildlife protection demo and an AI system made by Intel labels him a poacher. His reaction is fascinating. He criticizes machines in a way that seems just as fitting for humans. Would he have reacted the same to a human labeling him in this manner? Even more interesting is the man labeled a poacher is from an institution (Harvard) that has been known to perpetuate injustices like poaching.

This incident begs the question of whether we should expect human intelligence to be criticized as often or vocally as machine intelligence. I mean is it right to expect more of machines than humans in this scenario? I’d like to explore with this post whether humans of “Harvard intelligence” could be expected to pass the bar set by Harvard for a machine of “Artificial intelligence”.

In other words what if people who graduate from Harvard, who claim to be intelligent, exhibited the same or worse behavior as a machine labeling people poachers in the wildlife protection demo?


POACHER: A poacher is generally defined as someone who unfairly or dishonestly takes and uses something for themselves when it belongs to someone else.

Some have asked: “Does killing Elephants actually help save them?”
Here’s a hint from students of Data/Society/DecisionMaking: “No”

HARVARD: Harvard is generally defined as a school with a tarnished legacy that today remains affiliated with white men in positions of power who display very questionable ethics (Pompeo, Kobach, Zuckerberg…). Here’s a perfect example:

Harvard University is profiting from of one of the earliest known photographs of an enslaved man, despite requests by his descendants to stop doing so, the man’s great-great-great-granddaughter says in a lawsuit…

A little deeper inquiry into that lawsuit reveals that Harvard was heavily invested in perpetuating white supremacy doctrines even after the US Civil War forcefully decided blacks should no longer have their bodies taken unfairly or dishonestly for use by white men.

In 1865, just as emancipation was being secured in the United States, [Harvard professor] Agassiz had more than a hundred photos taken of nude African-descended Brazilians to build support for white supremacy and polygenesis. With slavery in the United States ended, Agassiz’s work became even more critical: In a moment when America’s future regarding race was highly malleable, building a scientific foundation to support continued white supremacy was even more of an imperative.

Harvard has been extremely slow not only to address its racist and unethical foundations, which supported unfair and dishonest practices, it should concern everyone the number of white supremacists even today who have Harvard degrees. Shouldn’t they fail tests of intelligence?

INTELLIGENCE: Intelligence is defined here with Gottfredson’s perspective that it relates to a broad and deep capability for comprehending surroundings, such as making sense or figuring out what to do. For example, what should Harvard do when asked to stop unfairly or dishonestly taking and using something for themselves?

Example of Harvard “intelligence”

Kris Kobach of Kansas (KKK) is a good example as he earned a BA degree in Government in 1988, earning distinction for being top student in his department. We also should include Kobach’s adviser (trainer, if you will), the director of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, Professor Samuel P. Huntington.

Huntington infamously taught Kobach nativist doctrine such as how to block non-white participation in government. One of the crazy theories was that people of Central and South America who enter the US pose an existential threat to the “American identity.”

Mexican intellectual Enrique Krauze described Huntington’s method as a “crude civilizational approach.” Carlos Fuentes called Huntington “profoundly racist and also profoundly ignorant” and accused him of adopting the favored fascist tactic of creating a generalized fear of “the other.” Henry Cisneros noted that Professor Huntington was “hand-wringing over the tainting of Anglo-Protestant bloodlines.” Andres Oppenheimer of Miami called Huntington’s work “pseudo-academic xenophobic rubbish” and called for national protests against Harvard University and publisher Simon & Schuster. Even those sympathetic to Huntington’s anxiety about Mexican immigration stood their distance. Alan Wolfe said that at times Huntington’s writing bordered on hysteria, and that he appeared to be endorsing white nativism. The editors of the British magazine The Economist questioned Huntington’s notion of Anglo Protestant culture, noting that it had been “a long time since the Mayflower.”

Kobach earned top honors in government theory in the late 1980s, and trained under this obviously racist and xenophobic adviser. Can you can guess, based on world political events at that time, what came next?

In 1990 (given the fall of South Africa’s apartheid was still four years away) Kobach published a pro-apartheid book titled “Political Capital: The Motives, Tactics, and Goals of Politicized Businesses in South Africa” (University Press of America).

Kobach wrote about a white police state as good for business. He seemed to think beating down non-white populations (those seeking equal rights with white police) was how to push wealth into white hands just as a matter of “peace keeping”.

Technically speaking he wrote “strict Verwoerdian apartheid enforced with an iron fist can be seen as a route to a more stable South Africa”. You can see it even on page 28 from his Harvard thesis:

After graduation and publication of pro-apartheid screed Kobach then embarked on a life quest “to enact a nativist agenda, often from within the government.”

In other words, intelligence doesn’t seem like the right word to describe a top student from Harvard. He did the wrong things over and over. What if a machine made these same mistakes? He literallyu made a career out of falsely labeling humans and declaring them a threat based on completely debunked white supremacist theories of species preservation (nativism).

Harvard criticism of Artificial “intelligence”

Fast forward to today’s debate on AI ethics and we have a Harvard man saying an “intelligent” system has unfairly labeled him a poacher, much to his astonishment.

Hey, did that system read history and know he was from Harvard, an institution known for its unauthorized appropriations? No.

Does looking at someone’s training environment, and probability of learning selfish supremacy doctrines, seem like a good way to find people who favor poaching? Maybe.

Those ideas are far more complicated as learning models than what actually happened. The label of poacher turns out to be very easily explained.

First, Kudos certainly go to Latonero for speaking out from within the horribly tarnished halls of Harvard.

His article does seem a little overly “why me” and primarily concerned for his own welfare, yet it makes a fair point that he doesn’t understand the authority or perspective of the system labeling him.

Walking through the faux flora and sounds of the savannah, I emerged in front of a digital screen displaying a choppy video of my trek. The AI system had detected my movements and captured digital photos of my face, framed by a rectangle with the label “poacher” highlighted in red. […] I couldn’t help but wonder: What if this happened to me in the wild? Would local authorities come to arrest me now that I had been labeled a criminal? How would I prove my innocence against the AI? Was the false positive a result of a tool like facial recognition, notoriously bad with darker skin tones, or was it something else about me? Is everyone a poacher in the eyes of Intel’s computer vision?

Second, at no point does he say, for example, 35,000 poached elephants is a catastrophe worthy of solving. Is there a case to be made for labeling ever? Perhaps this is one place where simple labels make sense, as a piece of a puzzle that trends towards more sophisticated answers and broader actions.

Those deaths are approaching extinction level threats, and the elephants are in natural prisons where no human should be…hold that thought.

Latonero gets a good and clear answer to his question and just brushes it off as insufficient.

When I reached out to the head of Intel’s AI for Good program for comment, I was told that the “poacher” label I received at the TrailGuard installation was in error—the public demonstration didn’t match the reality. The real AI system, Intel assured me, only detects humans or vehicles in the vicinity of endangered elephants and leaves it to the park rangers to identify them as poachers.

There we go. Intel clearly says a simplistic algorithm is looking for humans within a space that is authorized only for animals. When a human enters the space they are labeled a poacher because they do not have authorization, and it is assumed they entered unfairly or dishonestly.

I can understand Latonero was shocked to be labeled “unauthorized”. He probably wouldn’t have thought twice if the screen said that, or even just said “human”, instead of making the logical connection to unauthorized access being a poacher.

Walking around at a “MIT conference on emerging AI technology” he felt entitled to enter a space and approach the sensor. He did not appreciate being told his actions were a violation and linked to extinction-level threats.

It sounds perhaps like what a Mexican immigrant to Texas (a state forcibly taken from Mexico) might feel when being labelled by Kobach as a violation and an extinction-level threat.

Using the Harvard critique of intelligent systems to assess Harvard graduates

Ok, now imagine Kobach is that AI system that Latonero walks up to. Let’s say Latonero is an American migrating into the US. Kobach would then label Latonero a threat and…nothing seems to happen. Am I right here?

I don’t see any Harvard ethics experts lining up to warn us of the “intelligent” people emerging from Harvard training who use simplistic and dangerous labels to harm society.

Again, I can give kudos to a Harvard expert calling attention to simplistic labeling and calling it less than intelligent, yet I have to point out his warnings would be far more appropriate to issue a take-down on Kobach and ban him from any authority or office.

Graduates of Harvard who perpetuate its awful past and poaching ways are far worse than the AI system that Latonero is warning about.

We should fix both humans and machine, and by comparison we have easy solutions ready for the latter…but the real question here is whether an AI system designed to protect humanity from poachers would be seen as accurate if it labels Kobach as existential threat to society.

After all, a Harvard affiliation really could get classified as probable poacher

And on that note the parallels are closer than you might realize:

…Kris Kobach is having a tough time finding support for a plan that would allow the [2012 Kansas] governor to distribute 12 big-game hunting permits at his discretion.

In other words Kobach literally tried to pass a law to bypass wildlife safety authorities, which would shield himself/associates from being labeled a poacher. He could literally hand out a sort of get-out-of-jail card, the sort of thing the KKK were famous for using during prohibition to limit alcohol to whites only.

Kobach’s failure to pass a self-entitlement bill led to this embrace in early 2016 with an infamous elephant killer:

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach sports an orange hunting cap, a long gun and a wide grin as he stands alongside the president’s son and 20 dead pheasants.

And that meeting was followed by this 2018 policy failure at the national level:

…Trump announced that the lifting of the ban [on import of dead elephant] was on hold, pending further review. In a follow-up tweet, he went on to say he’d “be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.”

Hopefully this post has helped explain that Harvard makes the best case yet that Harvard should be criticizing Harvard more.

Could Poland’s “Blue Police” be Prosecuted for Nazi Crimes?

In 2012 I wrote about an “uncomfortable truth” that Poles who either murdered Jews during WWII or allowed it to happen continue to believe the Germans are the only ones to blame.

It makes sense why someone in Poland would object to Nazi death camps being labeled as Polish death camps. People unfortunately blur geographic location with who came up with an idea. Language should be precise where needed to avoid false attributions.

However, trying to draw clear lines in a very blurry situation also can go too far. Poles should not use a campaign for Nazi attributions to become a blanket excuse to deny any crimes committed by Poles, or to silence discussion of Polish logistics for death camps located in Poland.

The historian at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) wrote an excellent and detailed summary of the situation:

As German authorities implemented killing on an industrial scale, they drew upon Polish police forces and railroad personnel for logistical support, notably to guard ghettos where hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were held before deportation to killing centers. The so-called Blue Police was a force some 20,000 strong. These collaborators enforced German anti-Jewish policies such as restrictions on the use of public transportation and curfews, as well as the devastating and bloody liquidation of ghettos in occupied Poland from 1942-1943. Paradoxically, many Polish policemen who actively assisted the Germans in hunting Jews were also part of the underground resistance against the occupation in other arenas. Individual Poles also often helped in the identification, denunciation, and exposure of Jews in hiding, sometimes motivated by greed and the opportunities presented by blackmail and the plunder of Jewish-owned property.

I bring this up again because a guard of a death camp now is being tried on the basis of observing people go in who never came out.

Bruno Dey, 93, has claimed he had no idea Jews were being murdered in the Stutthof camp near what’s now Gdansk, where he began working in 1944. But he admitted at trial that he saw Jews taken into gas chambers at the camp, heard their screams and watched the frantic rattling of locked steel doors, The Guardian reported. On at least one occasion, “I didn’t see anyone come out,” he testified.

The USHMM historian estimates 20,000 Poles served in the “Blue Police” (Granatowa policja). They easily could have been in a similar situation as described in a USHMM paper on the subject (PDF).

And, as I’ve also written before, forced deportations since at least 1942 were known (even by the Allied forces) to mean people being sent to Nazi death camps in Poland. Those observing knew that by 1943 only 50,000 Jews out of 350,000 were in Warsaw, and it was this knowledge of certain death that led to the famous uprising.

England’s Use of Cypher in 16th Century

I’ve written here before about French use of encryption in the 16th Century, and prior art. A new history article makes brief mention of ancient secrecy methods found in England.

The spies had a few special tricks up their sleeves. “They practiced secret inks,” explains Alford. “Quite a lot of use of code and cypher, which to our eyes looks relatively unsophisticated, although it develops an increasing sophistication.”

Cyphers became particularly important during the infamous Babington Plot, when Walsingham’s agents decrypted letters to and from Mary Queen of Scots. This provided evidence that Mary was conspiring against Elizabeth, leading to Mary’s trial and execution.

The UK National Archives have an example of the letters used and the Tudor Times explains the level of sophistication at the time

By the 1580s, ciphers were extremely complex – they could incorporate substitute letters, Arabic numerals, nulls, letters with a dot before or after, substitute names for locations, and numbers, signs of the zodiac or days of the week for individuals.

If you think that sounds innovative, consider how French and English secrecy methods seem to have roots elsewhere:

Muhammad ibn Abbad al-Mu’tamid (المعتمد بن عباد), King of Seville from 1069-1092, used birds in poetry for secret correspondence.