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March 13, 2017

Video Explaining Wikileaks' "Vault 7" Disclosures

This guy, Sargon of Akkad, runs through the disclosures.

I've said this before in posts (when the NSA revelations where news) and in comments recently. But here's my take:

I think when people discuss this, they tend to conflate two separate questions:

1. Do I want the nation's spy apparatus having the capability of invading the privacy of my enemies?


2. Do I want the nation's spy apparatus invading my privacy?

Or, a variation on that second question:

2a. Do I trust the current crew at the CIA and NSA to have these capabilities?

Obviously the answer to question 2 is "No," and the answer to 2a. for most people will probably be either "No" or "I have deep doubts."

But what about the answer to question 1? Are we really saying we don't want the CIA to find malware developed by hackers or foreign governments (malware captured "in the wild," as a released document calls them) and then offered up as a way to hack a foreign embassy or the computers at a Lahore internet cafe a suspected terrorist is known to use?

Is it that we don't want them to have these capabilities, period, or we don't mind them having these capabilities so long as they use them against actual enemies and not against ourselves?

Sargon of Akkad brings up the claim that a car can be hacked and that the hacked car can then be caused to have an "accident." Well -- don't we want the CIA to be researching how to do this? I trust everyone understands the CIA knows how to cut brakelines, install an explosive in a car, or install a radio signalling device in a car which will cause an explosive to off when it passes a certain spot. (Say a mine hidden in a road.) I assume we're all aware the CIA has committed assassinations of foreign enemies before and that many such "targeted killings" were in the US interest.

I don't really see what's shocking about this, or even particularly controversial.

I assume the CIA is working on -- who knows, maybe they've perfected -- an assassination satellite like the one in Real Genius. Let's say they've figured out a way to position a satellite over a target, pump a microwave laser into his brain, and cause death in a way that maybe is even disguised as an aneurysm or something.

Who knows -- maybe they're working on a "heart attack gun" (like on featured in an old spy-themed computer game) that alters the nerve impulse firing pattern of the heart and can induce something that looks like a natural heart attack. Kind of like a remote anti-pacemaker.

Do we want them to throw the plans for something that away, just because it could be misused?

Because I'm thinking stuff like that could come in handy on occasion.

One thing Sargon of Akkad gets into is the automobile-accident death of a reporter named Michael Hastings. I remember the conspiracy talk at the time -- he was just about to break some big story about the CIA or oil companies or whatever the claim was.

But let me ask everyone a question: Does it strike anyone as plausible that killing a guy "about to break a big story" would actually stop that story from coming out?

It's not like he's the only guy who knows about the story -- his sources would all know, of course. They're the ones he relied upon for this hypothetical "big story."

Did he tell no one else about the basics of his story? No colleagues? No editors?

I've known reporters who've used stories they were working on as a pick-up line to get a girl into bed.

No other sources in the intelligence community who didn't deliver him the story but whom he did check with to see if they heard anything, or to see if the story sounded plausible?

No one out there knows anything? He was the only one?

So what does killing him actually accomplish? The story is still out there.

And before you rush to say "But now all of his sources are too scared to come forward!" -- how could the CIA predict that? The sources couldn't just go straight to a local tv station and do a silhouetted/disguised voice interview laying the whole tale out? Or contact someone with juice, like a big Harvard lawyer known to be anti-CIA?

Some people have guts. Some people (many in government) have a bit of a messiah complex, and maybe aren't afraid to be martyred for a grand cause.

I never buy this "kill one person and the story doesn't come out" motive. It happens a lot -- in detective tv shows and in thriller movies. It usually happens in the first five minutes, and then the rest of the movie is about Lt. Columbo* or Will Smith Playing Himself But As an IT Guy trying to piece together the big secret known only by the guy who died in the first five minutes.

And of course the sleuth on the trail always does piece it together, because, of course, all the people the Guy Who Got Killed Early talked to are still alive and can relay the story in pieces to the Hero.

I just never buy that. Ever. It doesn't work. Even in fiction, it still doesn't actually work.

In sum, I can completely support the idea that the CIA and intelligence establishment needs a thorough housecleaning, and some investigations, and maybe some prosecutions to encourage the others to keep it legal, but I can't buy into the idea that they shouldn't be researching and deploying spytech against our enemies, or looking for sneaky ways to kill hostile enemy actors. It's what we pay them for.

* In the beginning of many episodes of Columbo, a guy confronts another guy and tells him something like "Only I know what you did on that boat that day, and if you don't give me $100,000, I'll tell the world."

And the other guy's like: "No one else knows?"

The first guy's like: "No one! So this secret is very very valuable and you must pay."

And the blackmail victim, usually Patrick MacGoohan, then says: "Let's go back to that part about no one else knowing. You're quite certain? Absolutely no one?" Meanwhile, Patrick MacGoohan begins laying a tarp on the floor right behind the guy, who doesn't seem to mind or care.

"Absolute no one else knows," the guy says proudly, noses flaring defiantly like mustangs in the sunset. "And to make sure there's not even a connection between us, I didn't tell anyone I was coming to your house today, and even took a strange route to make sure I wasn't being followed."

At this point in the show, I always say, "This is beginning to sound an awful lot like Victim-Talk to me."

Then the guy goes, "With no one else knowing your deep dark secret except me, and no one else in the world, it follows, logically that you have no other choice but to pay me one million dollars."

And then, Bang!, Patrick MacGoohan goes "Well I do have one other choice," and shoots the guy, to no one's surprise except this idiot, then rolls him up in the tarp, takes him out on the boat, and dumps him into a current that is moving right out to sea.

Just like he did to his wife. Patrick MacGoohan was even playing with his boat-keys and his Lucky Murder Guy while the guy was talking.

But even here, it turns out the guy who likes to say things to cause Patrick MacGoohan to murder him was wrong about "no one else knowing," because in a few days of investigating Columbo does piece it together that MacGoohan killed his wife and dumped her out into the same sea-going current.

We let that go, because we want a fun show, and besides, people under extreme pressure do make flawed decisions. Or at least risky ones.

But I don't get four or five guys in the CIA conspiring together, having plenty of time to analyze their plan, and concluding, "If we just kill this one guy who knows the story about Lahore, then no one will ever know the story about Lahore."

You sure about that? Better check with Patrick MacGoohan. He's thought that four different times and Columbo caught him on every single murder.

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posted by Ace at 05:23 PM

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