September 27, 2001

Kooks and Terrorists, a sample chapter from the O'Reilly book, Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century, by Simson Garfinkel, provides a very timely backgrounder about how the face of terrorism has changed over the years.

Here's an excerpt quoting James D. Kallstrom, who was the FBI's chief of engineering in Quantico, Virginia, before he became director of the FBI's New York office, before he left the FBI a year later to take a job as a vice president at a major financial institution:

Kallstrom believes that it's entirely possible that a single terrorist attack will kill more than 10,000 people sometime within the next 30 years. "I am not going to predict it, but I think that it would be naive to say it isn't possible," he says. And if it happens, he says, there will be a tremendous backlash on the part of lawmakers and the public to pass draconian laws and institute a virtual police state to make sure that such an attack never happens again.
"Legislators and lawmakers generally don't react to things without a body count and the prediction of a body count--they don't want to hear about it. They want to see the body count. It is not good enough to feel the door and feel that it is warm; you have to have smoke coming from under the door. . . . As we move to this new millenium, the risk of this mentality is terrible." Instead of waiting for the body count and a resulting Congressional attack on civil liberties, says Kallstrom, the United States needs to start preparing now for the unthinkable.

Here's a sneak preview of science fiction writer Cory Doctorow's latest work in progress, Eastern Standard Tribe, courtesy of Mindjack Magazine.

According to this Guardian article by Duncan Cambell (How the plotters slipped US net): "FBI assistant director Ron Dick, head of the US National Infrastructure Protection Centre, told reporters that the hijackers had used the net, and 'used it well'." (Sure, I get it....The same way that a gang of bank robbers "uses the roads, and uses them well" when they drive off in a getaway car...)

More from the story:

NSA has been attempting to keep up with the internet by building huge online storage systems to hold and sift email. The first such system, designed in 1996 and delivered last year, is known as Sombrero VI. It holds a petabyte of information. A petabyte is a million gigabytes, and is roughly equivalent to eight times the information in the Library of Congress. NSA is now implementing a Petaplex system, at least 20 times larger. It is designed to hold internet records for up to 90 days.
Dr Gladman and other experts believe that, unless primed by intelligence from traditional agents, these massive spy libraries are doomed to fail. The problem with NSA's purely technological approach is that it cannot know what it is looking for. While computers can search for patterns, the problem of correlating different pieces of information rises exponentially as ever more communications are intercepted. In short, NSA's mighty technology apparatus can easily be rendered blind, as happened here, if it has nothing to start from.
The new legal plans may therefore do more harm than good. According to Cambridge computer security specialist Dr Ian Miller, bringing back escrow "will damage our security in other ways, and divert an enormous amount of effort that would far better be spent elsewhere. It won't inconvenience competent terrorists in the least.
PGP inventor Phil Zimmermann thinks the penalty of politicians misunderstanding technology will be even more costly. "If we install blanket surveillance systems, it will mean the terrorists have won. The terrorists will have cost us our freedom."

September 25, 2001

Here's a letter I received from one of Barbara Lee's supporters:

"As one of Representative Barbara Lee's constituents, I am proud of her opposition to issuing the President blanket authorization to respond to the September 11 terrorist attack. I've told her so in a note to her office and I've shared with friends my agreement with her position. The response the people of this nation take to these acts needs to reflect the public will. Giving one man unfettered discretion to determine the response is dangerous and undemocratic."
"The current wave of patriotism is an understandable sentiment. We all feel outraged and violated ... just as we did when we believed one of our ships had been attacked back in 1964. It didn't take long for that sentiment to change once America's youth started coming home in body bags. For once let's take the time to determine all the facts before writing ANY check. The separation of powers concept has worked well for nearly 225 years, let's not abandon it and vote our way into a dictatorship just yet." -- Neil Cook, Attorney, Berkeley, California

September 24, 2001

Philip Zimmermann (PGP Encryption Software Creator) was recently quoted out of context in a Washington Post article.

Here's a Slashdot article that tries to set the record straight: Slashdot | Philip Zimmermann and 'Guilt' Over PGP.

Man Shoots Hermaphrodite Moose.

I think that says it all. (Thanks Cory).

The Industry Standard's Private Eyes, by Michaela Cavallaro, gives us a few examples of what kinds of government surveillance tactics we can expect in the future.

September 23, 2001

I took my first flight yesterday since the WTC attack.

How very strange it was to be flying again. The flight was eerily empty and the airline employees sure seemed happy to see us.

As my plane ascended and rose above the pillowy layer of fog that stretched out as far as the eye could see, I suddenly felt both fragile and invincible.

All and all the experience went smoothly. If you are a frequent traveller under normal circumstances, the best thing you could do right now is FLY! I think it's highly unlikely now that something like 9.11 will have the chance to happen again anytime soon. The sooner we all get back to business, the better for our country's economy.

I would still recommend taking the earliest flight of the day so as to avoid delays.

More random tidbits of travel information gleaned from the travel experiences of myself and others over the weekend:

  • Carry on luggage cannot exceed 22 lbs (each bag)

  • There is such a thing as getting to the airport too early. If you get there sooner than 3 hours before your flight, they won't let you check in your bags. (3 hours should be plenty of time for you to get through security and catch your flight.)

  • Many of the flights are only serving coffee and juice, and have dropped their in-flight meals, except in first class, so if you're like me and can't make it 4 hours without a nibble, better bring a banana, eat before you go to the airport or just eat in the long lines after you check in. (You'll probably have time to kill before your flight after you check your luggage and get through security, but be warned: the lines for food in the airport are quite long, and there's even less cream cheese on that overpriced bagel -- but at least the prices don't seem to have gone up yet.)

  • Reliable sources have reported experiences of being held up an extra two hours or more during international flights (after boarding the plane) due to the Border Patrol's performing random checks. According to my source, 12 brown-skinned people were escorted off of the plane and about half of them returned. I'm trying to find out more about this. If anyone knows more details, please let me know.