Saturday, November 22, 2014

Glenn Greenwald's "No Place to Hide" is a shocking read; "Edward Snowden v. the NSA" is only part of the story of a challenge to journalists


Author: Glenn Greenwald

Title: “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State

Publication:  2014, Metropolitan Books (Henry Holt), ISBN 978-1-62779-073-4, 259 pages, hardcover (available in paper, Kindle, author download, MP3, 259 pages, five chapters, Introduction and Epilogue


The notes and index seem to be available online only at Greenwald’s site, here  I have never seen this done with a conventionally published book before.  I have to say something for buying a hardcopy and reading it on the DC Metro or NYC subway.  Doing so will attract attention and conversation from other passengers, who wouldn’t notice what’s on a Kindle or iPad.

The riveting film “CitizenFour” (Radius TWC, directed by Laura Poitras) presents the Hong Kong meeting with Snowden and  is discussed on my Movies blog Oct. 27, 2014.  But I suspect this book will become a film in its own right. The Weinstein Brothers must be pondering the idea.  
So, let me get to my own review!

In fact, this book is a shocker.  I could almost call it “Do Ask, Do Tell IV” because it talks about many of the same kind of existential problems I covered in DADT III. Glennwald probes and reflects and argues with himself about things as if he were sitting on the Supreme Court.  His writing style, sentence structure, logic flow and world view seem a lot like mine.  I've noticed the same similarity with the work of two or three other men (artists) two generations younger than me. Lawyers notice these similarities among various people!  Cognitive identity seems to be genetic.
  
It’s not that I necessarily agree with everything Greenwald says.  In fact, he attracted the ire of gay conservative writer Andrew Sullivan, with whom I share a lot of common views.
  
As part of the background, it’s important note that Greenwald lives in Brazil because US law (not yet recognizing same-sex marriage at the federal level) prevents his marital partner David Miranda from getting a visa to live in the US (Wikipedia, link  ). Change in marriage law may be an easier legal battle for him than the consequences of his participation in Edward Snowden’s disclosures, although the exact status of the latter is likely to vary with time.
  
  
The most captivating parts of the work are the “bookends”.  In December 2012, Greenwald gets a mysterious email from “Cincinnatus” and is told that there are folks who will share a lot more with him if he will learn to use encryption, particularly for email.  That is difficult for those not proficient in shell script programming, and in fact Electronic Frontier Foundation has announced an initiative, called “Let’s Encrypt”, to make encryption (related to PGP) more usable by everyone by the end of 2015. 

Greenwald let this slide for a while, until he came into contact with documentary film-maker Laura Poitras.  That led to the encounter in Edward Snowden in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong at the end of May 2013. In the film, noted above, Snowden takes over, and seems charismatic.  No one seems to have more integrity.

The details of the encounter, reported in the book, track to the film closely.  (“Ten Days in Hong Kong”, as a title, reminds me of the movie “Seven Days in May”.)  But what gets really interesting is the idea that Greenwald would have published Snowden’s contents himself if the Guardian didn’t meet his deadline.  (How he could enforce that, I’ll come back to.)  He was going to use a new domain name “NSAdisclosures.com”.  That domain name does exist now, and re-directs, here. The disclosures are in many pieces, including a program called PRISM, involving major US Internet and telecommunications companies, especially Verizon.  Part of the shocker is the way the government had compelled the cooperation of Silicon Valley.

It’ important to remember the illegality of some of the NSA’s activity: that is, spying on purely domestic activity without warrants, or with (under FISA) only very weak supervision. Richard Nixon had done the same with telephones a few decades before. 

The third chapter of the book (“Collect It All”) is well illustrated with black-and-white Visio-like diagrams of how NSA surveillance works.  I suspect that a future film will animate this material (and cost some $$$ to do).  “XKeyscore” gets particular attention. Also, the NSA seems to have a particular fixation with Facebook (as opposed to all other social media companies and formats), as if Mark Zuckerberg really rules the world and has sole contact with extraterrestrials (or were one himself).  The NSA will also, as a military DOD-authorized operation, hamper communication with a target, by hacking or DDOS.  The government will probably say that this would happen only to prevent a terrorist attack.  For example, the NSA, in this theory, might interfere with someone who had returned from Syria and ISIS radicalizing others at home.
  
The fourth chapter is “The Harm of Surveillance” and Greenwald argues convincingly that the expectation of surveillance tends to suppress dissent and compel social conformity.  That reminds me of the paranoia of my parents in the 1960s and 1970s, both about radicalism (whether related to Civil Rights or to anti-Vietnam protests) and then my homosexuality.  My parents would talk about “subversiveness”, as something that could lead enemies to counter-attack and expropriate from those of us who led more sheltered, suburban (and in the past, segregated) lives.  That matches concerns I developed in my young adulthood, that “anti-establishment” rhetoric on the far left was about more than opposition to government; it regarded upper middle class white people as “privileged” and as potential individual targets of revolution.  It’s happened in history (look at Bolshevism) and it could happen again.  In fact, the tendency of radical Islam to target civilians is a secondary perversion of this kind of thinking.  So, in my own experience, over decades of adult life, is that surveillance is a relative thing.  It can come from government, but it might come from real enemies, too.

Greenwald explains well why "metadata" gathering compromises individual lives.  In past generations (before attitudes toward sexual orientation improved), it could have outed people as homosexual. David Mixner, in his 1996 book "Stranger Among Friends", related a 1969 sting by the government against him with male partners apparently set up by Hoover-era wiretapping.  Greenwald also argues here that metadata and other sweeping surveillance, which can install a chilling effect on personal life choices, wasn't instrumental in stopping several terror attacks that might have happened, or in preventing what happened in Boston in 2013.  Plain old ground police work is what was needed.
           
I’ve written often, however, that the expectation of social conformity is enforced another way: by the common practice now of employers monitoring personal social media of associates.  This is far more significant in practice for most people than NSA surveillance.
  
The fifth chapter (misnumbered by one) is “The Fourth Estate”, and is perhaps the most challenging of all.  Greenwald examines the apparent contradictions within the journalism world about journalistic “objectivity”.  Greenwald seems to have left his former career as a litigation attorney to become an independent journalist.  After the Snowden leaks, some members of the “formal  press” did maintain that he was indeed not “one of them”, because, well, he didn’t report to a particular editor.  But he has real contacts, with entities like Salon and The Guardian, and his own businesses.  It seems that his “blogging” and “self-publishing” has always paid its own way (a major contrast with mine).  He has always been able to “sell” his work without conventional hucksterism. He doesn’t say who paid for all these last-minute intercontinental plane fares, hotels, and special hardware. Maybe The Guardian did so, but it looks like he makes enough from his journalism himself to pay for all this.  That puts him in the category of an independent film company or media producer, rather like Oprah Winfrey (that’s probably good company).  Whether he is an “activist” or “reporter” may indeed matter to whether he can face US charges, whether he can live here again or even could be extradited. 
  
It’s not clear exactly what the law does demand of “reporters” if someone dumps classified material into their laps.  It also is not totally clear if the law would treat me (an independent blogger who “subsidizes” his activity from other personal assets) the same as a formal member of the “press” (which I would love to become, maybe).  In fact, particularly in the years immediately following 9/11, people did share “tips” with me.  Several times, I passed these on to authorities (and at least one of these resulted in a 20-minute phone conversation with an FBI agent from Philadelphia).  In 2002, one file on an HTML file that would become a chapter in my second DADT book was hacked, and overlaid with information that looked like it had to do with relations between Russia and Finland.  The government has not seized it, but as a legal matter, would I “own” this if the hacked information was classified?  (That sounds more serious now, given how Putin is behaving.) Later in 2002, someone sent me a map of the sites of nuclear waste all over Russia.
  
I have been aware of the desirability of encryption for several years, but, like Greenwald, have not had time to learn it.  That may change in 2015, as I noted.  But supposed I had learned to use encryption before the end of 2012.  With my own catchy domain name and book series title (“do ask do tell”) might I have attracted the contact from “Cincinnatus” instead of Greenwald?  Again, the biggest “disadvantage” is that I cannot show commercial success with my publishing, but Greenwald can. Maybe it helps that he is 25 years younger.  Had I been contacted, would I have dismissed it as spam?  (There were “spammy” emails warning of 9/11 Labor Day weekend of 2001; I got one of them.)  Would I have paid my own way to Hong Kong?  (I could afford it, but only because of estate money, not business operations).  Could the NSA leak have wound up on my own “doaskdotell.com” site?  Would my ISP have objected?  Does this violate “acceptable use policy”?  Again, it seems murky where journalists and bloggers have some responsibility to protect information they didn’t get legally. 

Greenwald is right that “journalistic objectivity” is a bit of a myth.  Anderson Cooper is always chiding guests on their “moral compass”.  Some of them do seem in cahoots with the “neo-liberal” establishment, and some (like Fox and The Washington Times) with conservatives.  They do tend to be partisan.

It’s worthy of note to remember that in the 1990s, a reporter for a Tacoma, WA newspaper was transferred to copy-editing for public activism for lesbian causes, and the courts agreed with the “reporter objectivity theory”.  That was then.

Even if Greenwald is right, I find myself resisting being asked to join and pimp “other people’s causes”, and people will say that I am too “stuck up” to carry a picket sign.  This can get dangerous. No, I won’t nominate someone for the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Reason: Objectivity! I will report on things like homelessness, but keep some comfortable personal distance from it.  I might not get away with that forever, unless I become part of the “legitimate Fourth Estate”.

The final episode in the book considers the detention of Greenwald’s gay marriage partner David Miranda when he was transiting a London airport.  It’s important to note that, early in the story, the government seems to have delayed a shipment of encryption firmware to Greenwald’s home; then David’s laptop was stolen.  Greenwald talks about the idea that the government could try to destroy all of someone’s media (including thumb drives and cloud copies). 


Note that in the video embedded above, Greenwald talks with Noam Chomsky.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dov Seidman (CEO of LRN): "How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything", review


Author: Dov Seidman, with Foreword by Bill Clinton

Title: “How: Why HOW We Do Anything Means Everything
  
Publication: 2011 (Expanded edition, originally published in 2007), Wiley: ISNB 978-1-118-10627-2,  344 pages, hardcover (also e-book), 4 Parts, 12 Chapters, with a Foreword, Preface (38 roman pages), Prologue, and two Afterword’s (“How’s Matter”).
  
Amazon link
  
Before I move on, let me note something about the format of the book.  There are multiple introductions and epilogues, which I know a NYC literary agent with whom I worked in the 1990s would have seen as unnecessary.  Also, I get annoyed when books have small roman page numbering for introductory material.  I say, make the title page as “1” and number on, so we can tell how long the book is.  With my own DADT III book, the half-title page is page 1.  The actual text starts on p. 9.  I call my opening a “Foreword”, but literary agents prefer the term “Introduction”. 
  
The author is CEO of LRN, which helps companies with regulatory and compliance issues.
  
  
Seidman also has filed trademark litigation against yogurt manufacturer Chobani, which I discuss on my Trademark Issues blog Oct, 6, 2014, over the use of a common English adverb “How” as a wordmark. 
  
This leads me next into noting that Seidman’s thinking and ideas are a lot like mine, in my “Do Ask, Do Tell” books (three of them), but he has made it less personal, more generic, and more suitable for commercial use in a consulting business or as a motivational speaker.  For example, he avoids all discussion of sexuality, although he does recognize there is tension between the goals of the individual (as Ayn Rand would see them) and the needs of the group.

I'll also add here that in 2003 I developed a certification exam for Brainbench on "business ethics", dealing with some of the issues in the book.  One of the most controversial ideas them that I promoted was avoiding "conflict of interest", which is definitely a "How".  
   
The difference between “What” and “How” comes up in systems development.  Back in 1979, a consortium of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans tries to set up a combines Medicare system project (“CABCO”), which I moved to Dallas to work for.  The group used a project management system called “Pride Logik” (rather like SDM70) with different phases.  Phase 2 was the “What” (the input and output specification for each subsystem), and Phase 3 was the “How” (Structured English, which would lead to pseudocode).  The project stumbled and failed in 1982 over the inability of the sponsoring Plans to agree on “the Whats”, not realizing that modern computing could allow users to specify not only “the How” but even “the What”. 
  
Seidman’s book is divided into parts related to change, thought, behavior, and governance.  Along the way, he gives a lot of interesting anecdotes, starting out with explanations of how “The Wave” self-generates at large sports events.  He has some stories from his own business, and some troubling examples of where entrepreneurs went wrong, as when a new restaurant in Los Angeles was socked with frivolous litigation from a competitor over how it had violated a local license. 
  
The most serious point, in my experience, comes out of transparency.  In the past, gatekeepers monitored information, which allowed individuals to lead double lives and keep past indiscretions secret, often from future employers.  Since the early-to-mid 2000’s (about the time of Myspace, which preceded Facebook – and at one point Seidman makes the point with the older Myspace, like he was Dr. Phil) employers have realized they can check up on prospective and current employees online with search engines, often pulling up information for the wrong person or getting misleading impressions.  In fact, reputation management has become a whole industry, most visibly started my Michael Fertik with his “Reputation Defender” (my own “BillBoushka” blog, Nov. 30, 2006). Reputation goes global, but it used to be more dependent on family and social station and connections in a community, the loss of which some commentators like Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) lament (March 14, 2012).  Daniel Solove of George Washington University has also written about reputation (Jan. 12, 2008).  
  
In his last section, Seidman categorizes different cultures of management, starting out (after “anarchy”) with the purely authoritarian – like the military.  That culture dominated early years of my own life, when we had a male-only draft.  Most companies in my career followed “informed acquiescence” but the most progressive – and I believe this includes companies like Apple, Facebook and Google – use more self-governance.  Actually, the idea of self-managed teams was developing in the 1990s and was promoted at my own employer (USLICO-ReliaStar-ING-Voya) as Team Handbook and then TQM (Total Quality Management, which he mentions by name at least once).  I’d say an earlier stint in the credit industry (Chilton-TRW-Experian) as more like his “acquiescence”. 
  
I can remember, as a boy, being very concerned about my father’s ideas over authority, and the idea of doings something “just for authority”.  My father had a little “proverb” or inevitable aphorism, that is, “to obey is better than to sacrifice”.  That’s because, in his world, and really for a lot of people today in a universe of gross inequality, if you don’t step up to what you have to do, “sacrifice” can really happen and it can get ugly.  I talk about that in the “Epilogue” of the “non-fiction” part of my DADT III book.
  
I can provide a particular perspective on when “How” matters.  Think about the way we got grades, and in my era, avoiding the draft, or at least getting used as cannon fodder in Vietnam, depended on academic records – that’s the whole moral debate over student deferments.  But if you cheated on a test, that was no good.  I remember that, in my senior year of high school, a girl thought I had cheated on a government test because I had predicted that the teacher would ask about “institutionalism” on  a test.  Well, he did, but I had simply put 2+2 together and predicted it.  She was wrong, but the unfounded accusation did hurt my reputation a bit.
  
Fast forward a few decades, to the time my mother passed away at the end of 2010.  I’ve written in my DADT III book about the seven years living with her, in her (not my) home after I returned from Minnesota in 2003, when I was already 60 myself.  People put a lot of pressure on me to become more “emotionally” involved and more assertive with health care providers than I was.  This was disturbing.  I felt a bit like a parasite, the way the Left Wing sees it.  I did land rather well.  I am financially stable enough now NOT to have to look at hucksterism to  stay afoat in my own retirement, but I didn’t exactly “earn it”.  (That’s a line from “The Proles”, my underground novel some people know.)  But I get threatening proposals from people to give up my own ends and join them, or else, because inheriting wealth is not quite morally legitimate as a “How”.   But is telemarketing more legitimate?
  
Or back up to 2005, when I was substitute teaching.  Again, I would sometimes be confronted with disciplinary situations that required more intimacy than I was prepared to offer (as a never married, childless, older homosexual man, used to double lives).  But my undoing was my own transparency, the way one particular web posting of mine had been (mis)interpreted, as connected to other events (when it wasn’t). 

And I can back up to the mid 1990s, to another HOW.  I was working for a life insurance company (USLICO) that specialized in selling to military officers.  I had started working on my first DADT book, which would deal, in large part, with the moral controversy associated with the debate over gays in the military, following Bill Clinton's proposal.  I felt that publication would constitute a conflict of interest, because it was no longer a legitimate "HOW" for me to earn a living from a source connected to the military if I wrote about it.  So I arranged a transfer to Minneapolis in 1997. 
   
There is something to say about work habits – HOW you do the job is important so that you know that you did it right and that the customer can depend on what you did to work after you’re gone.  In information technology, following security procedures to the letter is part of the expected “How” now, but this has evolved over decades.  (In fact, some hierarchal separation of functions, which Dov sees as divisive, is necessary for security in some workplaces.)  My father’s prescription for “how” was “formation of proper habits” and even “learning to work”.
  
There’s another reason, however, that “WHAT” matters.  In these days of equality and individual rights, the purposes that one has in mind for one’s own freedom do eventually matter to others.  This was an important idea in that troubling early period of my college days, including the “hospitalization” at NIH in 1962.  But one’s desires and fantasies, if they surface, can indeed create contradictions. 
   
So while others would barge in on my life and concern themselves with “what” I wanted, I could rightfully ask, “WHAT do you want from me?”  Sometimes it seemed like it was surrender of the self and submission to their purposes, their authoritarian structure.  That sort of thinking is what ISIS uses to recruit teens now.  (“Why are you sitting around when we are attacked?”)  Shame itself comes full circle.
 
 This book should be compared to David Callahan's "The Cheating Culture" (2004), reviewed here March 28, 2006.