Open Letter to My Congressman Regarding Impeachment of Five Supreme Court Justices

July 12, 2015

The Honorable Keith Rothfus
1205 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Rothfus,

I write to ask that you initiate necessary proceedings for impeachment of the five U.S. Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of the petitioners in the recently decided case, Obergefell v. Hodges. The justices are Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

If other members of the House are already taking steps for impeachment, please give them your earnest support.

Impeachment of the five justices is authorized by Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution:

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

And by Article III, Section 1:

The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour…

It is not good behaviour — indeed, it is very bad behavior — for appointed judges to seize law-making power which belongs to legislatures, and ultimately to the People, who express their will by voting. The five justices cannot possibly have behaved this badly by accident, setting a foot down on the wrong side of a fuzzy line, as it were. The opinion in which they all joined is clear evidence of their collaboration in what the House has every right to decide was a “high Crime or Misdemeanor.” (As an aside, it is for the House and Senate to interpret that phrase, not the Court; it will be perfectly reasonable when the House decides that it is a high crime to flagrantly subvert the Constitution.)

What was decreed by the five justices is obnoxious, but the ruling itself is not the issue. It is not for sharing a bizarre opinion (abeit fashionable in some circles) that justices should be removed from the Court. What is at stake is the Consitutional right of the People to be governed by their elected representatives. We, the People, do not want to be governed by an oligarchy — a tiny committee of unelected lawyers. We would not want to be governed by a committee of unelected lawyers even if they were not so disoriented and confused in their thinking.

Justices of the Supreme Court are unelected, but they are not unaccountable. Impeachment, followed by conviction in the Senate and removal from office, is the Constitutional remedy for tenured judges who run amok, disregarding the Constitution in order to rule according to personal moral and social preferences, in defiance of the will of the People.

Congressman Rothfus, what will you do to persuade the House to Impeach the five justices who are guilty of the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling?

Do all that you can. I will support you, as will many others. Please keep us informed so we will know how we can help.

Sincerely,

Peter Barry

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Normal

One of the government contractors slurping up our tax money has a slick idea for how the Department of Defense can spot the next Bradley Manning before that yet-to-be-discovered individual steals classified information and makes it public. [1]

This is the mission:

…blue-sky research firm Darpa asked software engineers to design a system to sift through Defense Department e-mail, web and network usage for “anomalous missions” indicating that a user might intend to siphon sensitive information to unauthorized entities. The program is called CINDER, short for the Cyber Insider Threat Program.[2]

According to Wired, HBGary claims it can create the necessary software.

Data will be collected on employees while they work. This data will include what they do, where they go on the internal network and the internet, how and what they type, mouse movements, etc. Computer webcams trained on employees could be used to get snapshots and video. A lot of data would be accumulated and used to determine what is “normal”. Employees who deviate from Normal in particular ways would be flagged as potential Bradley Mannings.

HBGary’s proposal acknowledges: The only way to judge anomalous user behavior is to create a model for normal behavior; that in turn requires mapping normal behavior for the median user — which in the Defense Department’s case is millions of people.[3]

Got that?

Now, if you think this project is credible, that it makes sense, on any level, in any way, you need to think about it a little longer. Thirty seconds should be sufficient.

Pause here to think…

Now you get it, right?

And you didn’t need the whole 30 seconds, did you? A regular snake-oil scam if there ever was one. But of course, DARPA put out an RFP that said, in essence, “Please submit snake-oil scams…”

Snake-oil scams are entertaining for everyone in the audience who has paused to think for a few seconds.

I like this bit:

The only way to judge anomalous user behavior is to create a model for normal behavior…[4]

Let’s work on that, come up with a couple of situations where we can identify “normal behavior”.

Here’s one: Picture yourself as a striking, 20-something blonde female US Army master sergeant employed by the Department of Defense. You know the webcam built into your computer monitor may at any time (or all the time) be taking close-up still shots or video of you while you work. Is it normal or abnormal for you to put a Post-it note or piece of chewing gum over the camera?

Normal, of course. In fact, it’s normal for everyone to put a Post-it note over the camera, simply because people don’t like being spied on and photographed at close range without their permission. Of course, every now and then a smart aleck will take off the Post-it to make a rude gesture, stick his tongue out at the camera, or to pose for a few seconds wearing mirror shades and a Bedoin-style turban.

Smart aleck behavior at some level is normal, and the HBGary software would have the intelligence to treat it as normal. [5]

But that’s an easy one. Let’s try something a little tougher.

You’re still a DOD employee, male or female, age is irrelevant. Would it be normal or abnormal for you to start your day by typing “Bradley Manning for President”, or “a republic, if you can keep it”, or the NSA couch potato joke-of-the-day …with nothing but a black DOS box in focus? Nothing saved; nothing sent; just private keystrokes.

That behavior wouldn’t be average, but remember, what this cool Bradley Manning detection software must do is figure out what “Normal” is in such a way that an employee’s deviation from “Normal” isn’t just any deviation, but a particular kind of deviation — a deviation that indicates that person intends to steal and misuse confidential information.

In any sizable group of Americans it will be absolutely normal to find one or two, or several, who are passionately American. They are wary of government power, they believe the 4th Amendment was written because it really does happen that jerks get into government, and they detest unwarranted government invasions into the lives of free citizens. They strenuously object to government lawlessness, incompetence, corruption and stupidity.

Again, in a normal group of Americans, there will be a few passionate Americans — Americans who take their citizenship seriously.

So, out of, say, ten thousand DOD employees, it will be perfectly normal for some number of them to occasionally type unsaved, unsent messages on their keyboards — if they think they are being  studied for deviations from Normal — because they take the view that the only way those messages can be read is if the reader is an anti-American (domestic) enemy of the Constitution, and they like to send taunting, insulting messages to enemies of the Constitution and enemies of America.

“Wikileaks Rocks! (for your eyes only, Stooge)”

It’s perfectly normal for a group to have a few indiduals of that sort.

Now, switch roles: You’re the tax-money-slurping contractor. You’ve collected a ton of data on ten thousand DOD employees. Those employees know you’ve been watching them, testing whether or not they are Normal, collecting and saving data — keystrokes, mouseclicks, video, still shots, whatever — in order to analyze them in detail, as individuals who may or may not be Normal. Out of that ten thousand DOD employees, not one person, not a single American, has ever typed “Bradley Manning for President” or some such provocative thing into a DOS window.

Now you’ve really got a problem.

A normal group of ten thousand Americans should include a few history-conscious, passionate Americans with enough courage to resist, at least quietly, a spirit of anti-American stupidity.

Here you’ve got a group of ten thousand Americans that is not Normal.

What will you do with that group?

PB

[1] At the time of this writing, Bradley Manning is accused; he has not been convicted of any crime. Regrettably, in this period of American history, it is possible for an accused-but-not-convicted individual to be cruelly mistreated if he has the misfortune to be held by the Department of Defense.

[2] Wired. “‘Paranoia Meter’ Is HBGary’s Plot to Find the Pentagon’s Next WikiLeaker”. Spencer Ackerman. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/04/paranoia-meter-hbgarys-plot-to-find-the-next-pentagon-wikileaker/

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] And snake oil is known to cure cancer.

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Enemies

Bradley Manning has been charged with “aiding the enemy”.

The charges, filed Tuesday but not disclosed until Wednesday, are one count of aiding the enemy, five counts of theft of public property or records, two counts of computer fraud, eight counts of transmitting defense information in violation of the Espionage Act, and one count of wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the internet knowing it would be accessible to the enemy. The aiding-the-enemy charge is a capital offense… [1]

I await with great interest the definition of “enemy” that will be used by prosecutors. As far as I know, the United States does not have any enemies. We are not at war with anyone.

We think and perhaps speak of al Qaeda as the “enemy”. We may think and speak of terrorists in general as the “enemy”. But that’s colloquial speech. In a court room, in a legal context, the word “enemy” must have a particular meaning. If you charge someone with “aiding the enemy” then for a start you’ll have to identify the enemy who received the aid.

Congress has not declared war on anyone, so identification of the “enemy” is highly problematic. Arguably, the definition is entirely subjective, in the eye of the beholder, as it were. Is bin Laden an enemy or a criminal wanted for conspiracy and murder? Will there be an effort to cast Wikileaks as an “enemy”? Is the New York Times an enemy, since the NYT has published material made available by Wikileaks? George Bush initiated a “war” (metaphor?) on “terror” (an abstraction, a word in the dictionary). Is it possible to give aid to an abstraction?

Anyway, I will be very interested to see how “enemy” is defined in the trial of Bradley Manning.

One thing to bear in mind:

The charge of aiding the enemy is a purely military charge from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which applies only to service members. [1]

So, if aiding the enemy is a crime that can only be committed by members of the armed services, it’s entirely possible that “enemy” can be defined by the military in a way that only applies within the military. Let me clarify…

The United States, as a nation, does not have any enemies at present because our Congress has not declared war on anyone. But the military services possibly do have one or more enemies, determined in some way by the military. If the military wants to put someone belonging to the military on trial for “aiding the enemy” that can work because the military will define “enemy” — for itself, not for the nation.

If I’m correct that the military can define “enemy” in its own way, to support a charge of “aiding the enemy”, then logically, nothing prevents an enemy of the United States military from also being a good friend of the United States, a constitutional republic.

PB

[1] “Bradley Manning Charged With 22 New Counts, Including Capital Offense” http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/03/bradley-manning-more-charge/

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Wikileaks and Secrets

Reactions from the U.S. Government to the Wikileaks publication of diplomatic cables are puzzling. For instance, here’s a USMC memo published by Wired:

[W]illingly accessing the WIKILEAKS website for the purpose of viewing the posted classified material [constitutes] the unauthorized processing, disclosure, viewing, and downloading of classified information onto an UNAUTHORIZED computer system not approved to store classified information. Meaning they have WILLINGLY committed a SECURITY VIOLATION.[1]

If you’re a civilian with an appreciation for slapstick comedy, you can just laugh. But if you’re one of The Few, The Proud, etc., and you’re not accustomed to turning off your brain when you hear trite, throw-away phrases like “national security” you might not see the humor in this.

Step back and think about who this material, now published by Wikileaks, was kept secret from, back when it was secret. More broadly, what is the purpose of a secret, any secret? What is a secret for?

If I’m negotiating to buy a house, the absolute maximum price I’m willing to pay is something I will want to keep secret from the seller, with whom I’m negotiating. I really don’t care who else knows my max price. All of my family and friends — indeed, all of the seller’s family and friends — can know, as far as I care. I only want to keep knowledge of my max price from the seller himself, because he might change his behavior in our negotiations if he knows the price. He’s the one chap who can take advantage of that knowledge to cause me a problem by shaking a few extra dollars out of my pockets.

As a practical matter, I’ll need to keep the maximum price I’m willing to pay quiet from just about everyone, because if I make it widely known among those whose knowledge of it does not matter at all, there’s a greater chance that the one person I’m actually concerned about will find it out. I will keep this secret from the many only because I want to be sure it remains secret from the one.

What if the seller of the house somehow finds out my maximum price?

Well, that’s it. He knows. If he wants he can dig in his heels and hold out for what he knows I’m willing to pay. For me, it’s Game Over, as far as the secret of my max price is concerned. It’s no longer secret from the one person I wanted to keep it secret from.

But what about everybody else?

What about them? I never cared about everybody else knowing; why would I start caring now?

How about U.S. diplomatic cables? What if an American ambassador makes a remark about Mubarak and his associates in a cable, and that cable is “secret”?

Who is it secret from? Clearly, it’s secret from Mubarak and his associates, and probably from Mubarak’s opponents, and maybe Mubarak’s peers in the Middle East — quite a few people for sure, but not everybody. It’s secret from people who might alter their behavior in some way that is disadvantageous to the United States. It isn’t secret from a random Chinese peasant or an Inuit seal hunter. It isn’t secret from me, or from a United States Marine. In fact, it isn’t secret from tens of millions of people. For the vast majority of the population of earth it’s a matter of indifference if it’s known or not.

But as a practical matter, there’s no way the cable can be shared with peasants and seal hunters and me and the Marines and millions of others whose knowledge of the cable doesn’t matter, simply because dissemination among those from whom it’s not secret will increase the chance of it falling into the hands of someone from whom it is secret.

What happens if somehow (NYT, Washington Post, Wikileaks…) Mubarak and his associates find out the contents of the cable? Well, that’s it. They know… Game Over.

Is it ok now if U.S. Marines and Inuit seal hunters read the cable?

What a weird question. Why would it not be ok? It never was secret from them, except as a precaution against the cable reaching Mubarak & Associates. Mubarak has it. If they’re so inclined, seal hunters can translate it into Greenlandic, add an iceberg and a whale to spice it up a bit, and read it to their children as a bedtime story. Whatever.

What the Marine Corps leadership and the leadership of the U.S. Government in general don’t seem to understand is that it’s “Game Over”: The people the documents were being kept secret from have them, and there’s nothing to be done about that.

The “few” have the documents.

The practical need to keep the documents secret from the many in order to keep them secret from the few no longer exists. As far as all the people from whom the documents never were secret — employees of the Department of Defense, for instance — the documents are still not secret from them. Nothing has changed. It never mattered, really, if they saw the cables, and it still doesn’t matter.

PB

[1] “Pentagon to Troops: Taliban Can Read WikiLeaks, You Can’t”: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/08/pentagon-to-troops-taliban-can-read-wikileaks-you-cant/

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Thank you, Wikileaks

In the recent public discussions of Wikileaks, I haven’t seen (though I could have missed it) any credit and congratulations given to Julian Assange’s organization for exposing the insecurity of the US Government’s SIPRNet. That exposure was an important service to the people of the United States, as well as to our hired help, the US Government.

According to the Pentagon, SIPRNet has approximately half a million users. Access is also available to a “…small pool of trusted allies, including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand…”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SIPRNet

I don’t know if Wikipedia is right about the number, “half a million users”. I’ve seen quotes lately that claim a million users. But even if it’s a tenth of the Wikipedia figure – that is, 50,000 users — that is a sizable global network, and if data on that sizable network has value, it’s simply naive for someone to think data will not leak out — naive about networks and computers, and naive about people.

The bureaucratic position is, “But this network is locked down, not physically connected to the Internet, accessible only by people who are authorized, closely monitored… blah, blah, blah…” In a word, Naive.

Think about it: Here’s a network 1) with data that has value and 2) 50,000 or 500,000 or a million users. A network admin claims data will never be copied from the network for some unauthorized purpose…

That doesn’t even make sense.

But if you’re a bureaucrat without much knowledge of technology in general, or of networks and the internet in particular, and if you have little or no understanding of human nature, you might think it does make sense, which is sad for you at a personal level, but also bad for the people you work for. And it’s why you should thank Wikileaks for giving you the benefit of a little education.

The way data would normally be copied from a network like SIPRNet — the way it has been copied from SIPRNet in the past, we can assume — is secretly, without fuss, without fanfare. People with access to the network, and with particular interests, have quietly copied data by various means, to be delivered to persons with a shared ideology or religion, or to persons of whatever ideology, who are able to pay well, and pay in cash.

Wikileaks, by making SIPRNet data available publicly and with great fanfare, badly mauled the business models and espionage exploits of everyone who was already quietly copying data from SIPRNet for profit or for a cause. The network security clampdown, inspired by Wikileaks, will impact an unknown number of enterprises.

The outrage of the US Government at Wikileaks for making secrets public is probably echoed behind closed doors in obscure facilities in Iran, North Korea and elsewhere. But the outrage in the echo is not that Wikileaks made secrets public, but that Wikileaks made it public that secrets could be acquired from SIPRNet. Lots of secrets.

The Big Secret — that SIPRNet leaks — was leaked by Wikileaks, and we can be certain there are people of various nationalities who would rather that were not known.

Thank you, Mr. Assange. You’ve done us a favor.

PB

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Al Jazeera

I recently discovered Al Jazeera news, via YouTube, in English.

http://www.youtube.com/user/AlJazeeraEnglish

I can’t compare it with other TV-style news outlets, like CNN and FoxNews, because I haven’t watched those. But Al Jazeera English is easily on par with, and in many ways superior to, The Wall Street Journal of our day, when it comes to coverage of world news, in both breadth and depth. The format is video, interview and discussion, so a comparison with print is not quite apples-to-apples. If you’re interested in keeping up with things going on in the world, Al Jazeera is worth following.

I subscribed to the Al Jazeera English YouTube channel and selected the option to get email alerts when something new is uploaded, so I get email for regular news updates, In Depth, 101 East, etc — all the Al Jazeera productions, I suppose. I don’t have time to watch many, but I can quickly click through emails and decide based on topic if it’s something I’m interested in. The emails have some basic description of what the video upload contains.

Their coverage of Sudan has been quite good — much better than the WSJ. Lately, I’ve watched informative shows about ETA, the Basque terrorist (a.k.a. “separatist”) group, how South Korea integrates North Korean defectors, the current Lebanese political crisis, Gbagbo vs Ouatarra in Cote d’Ivoire, Berbers in North Africa…

http://www.youtube.com/user/AlJazeeraEnglish

PB

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Hallmarks of Shallow Thinking

The rabbi at one of the synagogues told the Journal that its website had been visited dozens of times recently by individuals located in Egypt. The episode underscores how crucial it is that U.S. intelligence be able to eavesdrop on email and phone conversations between people abroad and in the U.S., and in real time without having to wait for a warrant.

This is from an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (October 31, 2010), “Hallmarks of al Qaeda,” which was published after the failed parcel bomb attacks on cargo planes.

Is it assumed that I will draw a conclusion from the fact that the website of one of the synagogues targeted has been “visited dozens of times recently by individuals located in Egypt”? Am I supposed to think, “…must have been terrorists, casing the joint” — and then congratulate myself on being a regular Sherlock Holmes?

Frankly, without context, I don’t know what to make of that information. It might be an interesting data point, but to know whether or not it’s interesting, we need more.

Note: “dozens of times” is not an exact number; “recently” is not a precise time frame.

In a typical week, looked at over the last 5 years, how many hits to the website come from Egypt? Was there a sudden jump in the number of hits from Egypt recently? In the past, have there been jumps in the number of hits from Egypt that didn’t correlate with a parcel bomb attack, or is this completely unique? How does the number of hits compare to other synagogues, or to other entities, like churches or mosques?

“Visited dozens of times” — are these unique visitors, or http requests? It’s important to know what is being counted. A single unique visitor to a single page might generate dozens of http requests in the log, depending on how the page is built.

The drift of reporting has been that these parcel bombs came from Yemen. What is the significance of Egypt in this context? Is it just that Egypt is, to a geographically illiterate readership,  “over there” where Yemen is? They aren’t in the same timezone, but it is probably less than 2,000 miles from Sana’a to Cairo, so I suppose you could say they are close, like Poland and Wales are close.

Is it that there are a lot of Muslims — and therefore potentially, a disproportionate number of terrorists — in Egypt? Were there recent visitors to the synagogue website from other places where there there might be terrorists, like Pakistan, or Gaza, or London, or New Jersey… or Chicago?

I presume the Journal editorial writer knows that the source IP of a website hit doesn’t say much about where the person looking at the the web page is sitting. And if that person doesn’t want his physical location known, the source IP says nothing at all, except perhaps that he’s not where the source IP is. Someone in Munich can vpn into a network in Egypt and his web requests, from the point of view of the website, will come from Egypt. And, by the way, are there TOR nodes in Egypt?

My point is that it’s silly for the Journal to throw out one piece that may or may not belong to a thousand-piece puzzle and expect intelligent readers to know whether the completed puzzle is an old man in a boat or the carcass of a leopard on Mount Kilimanjaro. And it is way beyond silly to propose that anything about this event “underscores how crucial it is that U.S. intelligence be able to eavesdrop on email and phone conversations between people abroad and in the U.S., and in real time without having to wait for a warrant.”

Warrants, among other things, prove there’s been some work done to ensure that “a person of interest” might really be up to something — not just that he appears to be in Egypt and browsed to a Chicago website. One reason, in my opinion, that the American 3-letter services want to avoid the warrant process and other controls that protect freedom, is that a large number of their employees are loafers, and protecting freedom while they try to catch bad guys is just too much like work.

Any guesses for what the ratio of false positives to real terrorists would be if U.S. Intelligence was not subject to law that prevents promiscuous snooping? Does anyone believe that promiscuous snooping would make it easier to catch real bad guys, who will, of course, change their comm channels as needed — from satellite phone to bicycle courier, or from in-the-clear email to 256-bit encryption?

U.S. “Intelligence” should just get off its obese government butt, quit whining about how it can’t do anything unless it can snoop on everything everyone is saying, and get to work.

PB

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