Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Magical Technosignatures of Truly Intelligent Species

space |  Space.com: So, intelligence can be considered on a planetary scale?

Grinspoon: The basic ability to not wipe oneself out, to endure, to use your technological interaction with the world in such a way that has the possibility of the likelihood of lasting and not being temporary — that seems like a pretty good definition of intelligence. I talk about true intelligence, planetary intelligence. It's part and parcel of this notion of thinking of us as an element of a planet. And when we think in that way, then you can discriminate between one type of interaction with the planet that we would have that would not be sustainable, that would mark us as a temporary kind of entity, and another type in which we use our knowledge to integrate into planetary systems [in]some kind of long-term graceful way. That distinction seems to me a worthwhile definition of a kind of intelligence

Especially then going back to the SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] question, because longevity is so important in the logic and the math of SETI. There may be a bifurcation or subshell [of life] that don't make this leap to this type of intelligence. The ones that do make that leap have a very long lifetime. And they're the ones that in my view are intelligent. Using your knowledge of the universe to prolong your lifetime seems like an obviously reasonable criterion [of intelligence]. If you use that criteria, then it's not obvious that we have intelligence on Earth yet, but we can certainly glimpse it.

Space.com: You also wrote that sustainable alien populations could be harder to detect. What would that mean?

Grinspoon: One possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, which asks "Where are they?" is that they're all over the place, but they're not obviously detectable in ways that we imagine they would be. Truly intelligent life may not be wasteful and profligate and highly physical. Arthur C. Clarke said that the best technology would be indistinguishable from magic. What if really highly advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature? Or is hard to distinguish.

There's the set of assumptions embedded in [the search for extraterrestrial intelligence] that the more advanced a civilization is the more energy they'll use, the more they'll expand. It's funny to think about that and realize that we're talking about this while realizing things about our own future, that there is no future in this thoughtless, cancerous expansion of material energy use. That's a dead end. So why would an advanced civilization value that? You can understand why a primitive organization would value that — there's a biological imperative that makes sense for Darwinian purposes for us to multiply as much as possible, that's how you avoid becoming extinct. But in a finite container, that's a trap. I assume that truly intelligent species would not be bound by that primitive biological imperative. Maybe intelligent life actually questions its value and realizes that quality is more important than quantity. 

I'm not claiming to know that this is true about advanced aliens because I don't think anybody can know anything about advanced aliens, but I think it's an interesting possibility. That could be why the universe isn't full of obviously advanced civilizations: there's something in their nature that makes them not obvious.

The Unconscious is a Machine for Operating an Animal

nautil.us |  I call it the Kekulé Problem because among the myriad instances of scientific problems solved in the sleep of the inquirer Kekulé’s is probably the best known. He was trying to arrive at the configuration of the benzene molecule and not making much progress when he fell asleep in front of the fire and had his famous dream of a snake coiled in a hoop with its tail in its mouth—the ouroboros of mythology—and woke exclaiming to himself: “It’s a ring. The molecule is in the form of a ring.” Well. The problem of course—not Kekulé’s but ours—is that since the unconscious understands language perfectly well or it would not understand the problem in the first place, why doesnt it simply answer Kekulé’s question with something like: “Kekulé, it’s a bloody ring.” To which our scientist might respond: “Okay. Got it. Thanks.”

Why the snake? That is, why is the unconscious so loathe to speak to us? Why the images, metaphors, pictures? Why the dreams, for that matter.

A logical place to begin would be to define what the unconscious is in the first place. To do this we have to set aside the jargon of modern psychology and get back to biology. The unconscious is a biological system before it is anything else. To put it as pithily as possibly—and as accurately—the unconscious is a machine for operating an animal.

All animals have an unconscious. If they didnt they would be plants. We may sometimes credit ours with duties it doesnt actually perform. Systems at a certain level of necessity may require their own mechanics of governance. Breathing, for instance, is not controlled by the unconscious but by the pons and the medulla oblongata, two systems located in the brainstem. Except of course in the case of cetaceans, who have to breathe when they come up for air. An autonomous system wouldnt work here. The first dolphin anesthetized on an operating table simply died. (How do they sleep? With half of their brain alternately.) But the duties of the unconscious are beyond counting. Everything from scratching an itch to solving math problems.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Automation Grift?

theminskys |  Part 1 of this article made a case that macroeconomic data does not suggest that there is rapid automation occurring broadly in the economy nor in large industries or sectors. Other indicators, like slack in the labor market, support that assertion. It pointed to periods of rapid automation in the past as well, and found these were times with generally low unemployment and healthy job growth.

Regardless of the data past or present, there are still claims that society is on a precipice, facing mass unemployment due to wide-scale automation. Many say that the technology in the near future is different than developments that occurred in the past, and that instead of slow or moderate change that the economy can adapt to, the rate of change will be so profound that suddenly millions will be out-of-work. 

There are good reasons to be suspicious of this narrative. First, it is very difficult to predict how technology will develop and affect the world, and if it will be viable or even necessary in the first place. Second, adopting new technology — for example, automating a process and replacing workers — and more importantly, the threat of adopting new technology, gives power to employers and capital instead of workers. This weaponization of technology needs to be credible in order to be taken seriously; hence, it relies on the broader narrative that rapid automation is happening. The first point will be considered now; the second, in Part 3.

50 Years of Change Atop the Fortune 500

slantmarketing |  If you’re curious about the story of modern humanity, you’ll find few things more fascinating than the shapeshifting ways of our markets and industries, over many years and decades. These shifts reflect our whole society, our inspiration, our impulses, and our shortcomings. These shifts are us, as we make history, step by step, dollar by dollar, in good ways and in bad.

Brick-and-Mortar Stores Are Shuttering at a Record Pace

cnn |  Stores are closing at an epic pace. In fact, the retail industry could suffer far more store closures this year than ever. 

Brokerage firm Credit Suisse said in a research report released earlier this month that it's possible more than 8,600 brick-and-mortar stores will close their doors in 2017. 

For comparison, the report says 2,056 stores closed down in 2016 and 5,077 were shuttered in 2015. The worst year on record is 2008, when 6,163 stores shut down. 

"Barely a quarter into 2017, year-to-date retail store closings have already surpassed those of 2008," the report says. 

If stores do close at the rate Credit Suisse is projecting, it could mean America will lose more than 147 million square feet of retail space this year. 

Physical store fronts have been eclipsed by ecommerce masters like Amazon. The toll it's taken can be seen in emptying malls and shopping centers across the country. 

Among the casualties announced so far this year: Bebe said it's closing all of its retails spaces, JCPenney (JCP) announced plans to shutter 138 stores by July, Payless ShoeSource is closing hundreds of stores, and Macy's (M) said it's shutting down 68 locations. 

And onetime retail powerhouse Sears -- which also owns Kmart -- said in March that the company has "substantial doubt" that it can survive.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How Ayn Rand Seduced Young Minds

rawstory |  The ‘Atlas Shrugged’ author made selfishness heroic and caring about others weakness.
Ayn Rand’s “philosophy” is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society….To justify and extol human greed and egotism is to my mind not only immoral, but evil.— Gore Vidal, 1961
Only rarely in U.S. history do writers transform us to become a more caring or less caring nation. In the 1850s, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) was a strong force in making the United States a more humane nation, one that would abolish slavery of African Americans. A century later, Ayn Rand (1905-1982) helped make the United States into one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world, a neo-Dickensian society where healthcare is only for those who can afford it, and where young people are coerced into huge student-loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

Rand’s impact has been widespread and deep. At the iceberg’s visible tip is the influence she’s had over major political figures who have shaped American society. In the 1950s, Ayn Rand read aloud drafts of what was later to become Atlas Shrugged to her “Collective,” Rand’s ironic nickname for her inner circle of young individualists, which included Alan Greenspan, who would serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve Board from 1987 to 2006.

In 1966, Ronald Reagan wrote in a personal letter, “Am an admirer of Ayn Rand.” Today, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) credits Rand for inspiring him to go into politics, and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) calls Atlas Shrugged his “foundation book.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) says Ayn Rand had a major influence on him, and his son Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is an even bigger fan. A short list of other Rand fans includes Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; Christopher Cox, chairman of the Security and Exchange Commission in George W. Bush’s second administration; and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford.

But Rand’s impact on U.S. society and culture goes even deeper.

Visualizing the Collapse of the American Middle Class

visualcapitalist |  The fact is many people have less money in their pockets – and understandably, this has motivated people to take action against the status quo.

And while the collapse of the middle class and income inequality are issues that receive a fair share of discussion, we thought that this particular animation from Metrocosm helped to put things in perspective. 

The following animation shows the change in income distribution in 20 major U.S. cities between 1970 and 2015:
Animation: The Collapse of the Middle Class in 20 Major U.S. Cities
The differences between 1970 and 2015 are intense. At first, each distribution is more bell-shaped, with the majority of people in a middle income bracket – and by 2015, those people are “pushed” out towards the extremes as they either get richer or poorer.

A Broader Look at Income Inequality

This phenomenon is not limited to major cities, either. 

Here’s another look at the change in income distribution using smaller brackets and the whole U.S. adult population:

Income distribution
Courtesy of: FT (h/t Metrocosm)

It’s a multi-faceted challenge, because while a significant portion of middle class households are being shifted into lower income territory, there are also many households that are doing the opposite. According to Pew Research, the percentage of households in the upper income bracket has grown from 14% to 21% between 1971 and 2015.

The end result? With people being pushed to both ends of the spectrum, the middle class has decreased considerably in size. In 1971, the middle class made up 61% of the adult population, and by 2014 it accounted for less than 50%. 

As this “core” of society shrinks, it aggravates the aforementioned problems. People and governments borrow more money to make up for a lack of middle class wealth, while backlashes against globalism, free trade, and open borders are fueled

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Secret Societies, Ancient Ciphers, Machine Translation

wired |  The master wears an amulet with a blue eye in the center. Before him, a candidate kneels in the candlelit room, surrounded by microscopes and surgical implements. The year is roughly 1746. The initiation has begun.

The master places a piece of paper in front of the candidate and orders him to put on a pair of eyeglasses. “Read,” the master commands. The candidate squints, but it’s an impossible task. The page is blank.

 The candidate is told not to panic; there is hope for his vision to improve. The master wipes the candidate’s eyes with a cloth and orders preparation for the surgery to commence. He selects a pair of tweezers from the table. The other members in attendance raise their candles.

The master starts plucking hairs from the candidate’s eyebrow. This is a ritualistic procedure; no flesh is cut. But these are “symbolic actions out of which none are without meaning,” the master assures the candidate. The candidate places his hand on the master’s amulet. Try reading again, the master says, replacing the first page with another. This page is filled with handwritten text. Congratulations, brother, the members say. Now you can see.

For more than 260 years, the contents of that page—and the details of this ritual—remained a secret. They were hidden in a coded manuscript, one of thousands produced by secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak of their power, these clandestine organizations, most notably the Freemasons, had hundreds of thousands of adherents, from colonial New York to imperial St. Petersburg. Dismissed today as fodder for conspiracy theorists and History Channel specials, they once served an important purpose: Their lodges were safe houses where freethinkers could explore everything from the laws of physics to the rights of man to the nature of God, all hidden from the oppressive, authoritarian eyes of church and state. But largely because they were so secretive, little is known about most of these organizations. Membership in all but the biggest died out over a century ago, and many of their encrypted texts have remained uncracked, dismissed by historians as impenetrable novelties.

It was actually an accident that brought to light the symbolic “sight-restoring” ritual. The decoding effort started as a sort of game between two friends that eventually engulfed a team of experts in disciplines ranging from machine translation to intellectual history. Its significance goes far beyond the contents of a single cipher. Hidden within coded manuscripts like these is a secret history of how esoteric, often radical notions of science, politics, and religion spread underground. At least that’s what experts believe. The only way to know for sure is to break the codes.

In this case, as it happens, the cracking began in a restaurant in Germany.

Thirteen years later, in January 2011, Schaefer attended an Uppsala conference on computational linguistics. Ordinarily talks like this gave her a headache. She preferred musty books to new technologies and didn’t even have an Internet connection at home. But this lecture was different. The featured speaker was Kevin Knight, a University of Southern California specialist in machine translation—the use of algorithms to automatically translate one language into another. With his stylish rectangular glasses, mop of prematurely white hair, and wiry surfer’s build, he didn’t look like a typical quant. Knight spoke in a near whisper yet with intensity and passion. His projects were endearingly quirky too. He built an algorithm that would translate Dante’s Inferno based on the user’s choice of meter and rhyme scheme. Soon he hoped to cook up software that could understand the meaning of poems and even generate verses of its own.

Knight was part of an extremely small group of machine-translation researchers who treated foreign languages like ciphers—as if Russian, for example, were just a series of cryptological symbols representing English words. In code-breaking, he explained, the central job is to figure out the set of rules for turning the cipher’s text into plain words: which letters should be swapped, when to turn a phrase on its head, when to ignore a word altogether. Establishing that type of rule set, or “key,” is the main goal of machine translators too. Except that the key for translating Russian into English is far more complex. Words have multiple meanings, depending on context. Grammar varies widely from language to language. And there are billions of possible word combinations.

Will Artificial Intelligence Be the Last Human Invention?

npr |   It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. And on the show today, ideas about a new industrial revolution.

JEREMY HOWARD: I mean, it's not just a new phase of the Industrial Revolution. It's a - it's an entirely new revolution.

RAZ: This is data scientist Jeremy Howard.

HOWARD: So we went through the process of replacing hunting and gathering with domestication. We went through the process of replacing animal energy with mechanical energy. We're now going through the process of replacing human intelligence with artificial intelligence.

RAZ: So for the past 25 years, Jeremy has been working on a technology called deep learning, and it's based on the way the human brain and nervous system work.

HOWARD: Deep learning relies on a particular kind of function called a neural network. It is heavily inspired by neuroscience and can actually compute anything.

RAZ: Anything because these machines can learn and perceive. They can see, hear, read, write. They can make decisions all while being able to process billions of data points.

HOWARD: It's creepy.

RAZ: Yeah.

HOWARD: And it's possibly about to get creepier.

RAZ: (Laughter) Oh, no. But before we get to the creepy part, we should point out we're already using these neural networks for a lot of pretty cool things.

HOWARD: So today, we have a thousand-layer neural networks doing things like Skype translation. I don't know if you've tried that.

RAZ: Yeah. We just actually tried it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Perturbational Complexity Index

nature |  Understanding the brain basis of consciousness remains one of the outstanding challenges in modern science. While rigorous definitions are still mainly lacking, consciousness can be defined rather broadly as that which “vanishes every night when we fall into dreamless sleep” and returns the next morning when we wake up1. Equally, when we are conscious, our conscious experiences are populated by a variety of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that collectively form an integrated conscious scene. These observations lead to an intuitive distinction between conscious level (how conscious one is) and conscious content (what one is conscious of, when one is conscious). The large majority of recent neuroscientific research into consciousness has treated these dimensions separately2,3,4,5. Investigations of conscious level typically contrast global changes in brain activity among different states including wakeful awareness, various sleep stages, and different forms of anaesthesia. Many of these studies attempt to isolate neural changes that accompany alterations of conscious level independently of changes in general physiological arousal. Studies of conscious content have focused primarily on uncovering differences in brain activity between closely matched conscious and unconscious perception, while conscious level is maintained constant6.

Recently, following early suggestions that increased conscious level may be related to an increased range of conscious contents3,7, there has been growing interest in characterising how conscious level and conscious content may relate2,5. One empirical approach to this question is to apply emerging measures of conscious level to experimental manipulations that primarily affect conscious content. Here, we capitalise on the profound effects on conscious phenomenology elicited by psychedelic compounds, specifically LSD, psilocybin, and subanesthetic doses of ketamine. These drugs normally have profound and widespread effects on conscious experiences of self and world. More specifically, they appear to “broaden” the scope of conscious contents, vivifying imagination8 and positively modulating the flexibility of cognition9,10. At the same time, the states they induce are not accompanied by a global loss of consciousness or the marked changes in physiological arousal as seen in sleep or anaesthesia. These observations raise the question of whether theoretically-grounded measures of conscious level would be changed in the psychedelic state.

Empirical measures of conscious level have reached a new benchmark with the development of the perturbational complexity index, PCI11. The PCI quantifies the diversity across channels and observations of the EEG response to a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulse and has been shown to robustly index levels of consciousness6, ranging from anaesthesia induced by various substances11,12, sleep stages11 and graded disorders of consciousness such as (emergence from) the minimally conscious state11,13. Notably, all these comparisons resulted in lower PCI values compared to a baseline state of wakeful awareness.  Fist tap Big Don.

Spiritual Reductionist Consciousness?

nautil.us  |  The Integrated Information Theory of consciousness derives a mathematical calculus and gives rise to something known as a consciousness meter, which a variety of clinical groups are now testing. If you have an anesthetized patient, or a patient who’s been in a really bad traffic accident, you don’t really know if this person is minimally conscious or in a vegetative state; you treat them as if they’re conscious, but they don’t respond in any meaningful way.

How can you be sure they’re conscious?
You’re never really sure. So you want a brain-based test that tells you if this person is capable of some experience. People have developed that based on this integrated information series. That’s big progress. The current state of my brain influences what happens in my brain the next second, and the past state of my brain influences what my brain does right now. Any system that has this cause-effect power upon itself is conscious. It derives from a mathematical measure. It could be a number that’s zero, which means a system with no cause-effect power upon itself. It’s not conscious. Or you have systems that are “Phi,” different from zero. The Phi measures, in some sense, the maximum capacity of the system to experience something. The higher the number, the more conscious the system.

So you could assign a number to everything that might have some degree of consciousness—whether it’s an ant, a lizard, bacteria, or a vegetative human being?
Yes, you or me, the Dalai Lama or Albert Einstein.

The higher the number, the more conscious?
The number by itself doesn’t tell you it’s now thinking, or is conscious of an image or a smell. But it tells you the capacity of the system to have a conscious experience. In some deep philosophical sense, the number tells you how much it exists. The higher the number, the more the system exists for itself. There isn’t a Turing Test for consciousness. You have to look at the way the system is built. You have to look at the circuitry, not its behavior, whether it’s a computer or a biological brain. This has now been tested and validated in many patients, including locked-in patients who are fully conscious, people under anesthesia who are not conscious, people in deep sleep, and those in vegetative states or minimal-conscious states. So the question now is whether this can be turned into something practical that can be used at every clinic in the country or the world to test patients who’ve just been in a bad traffic accident.

Obviously, there are huge implications. Do you turn off the life-support machines?
First, does the patient suffer or is nobody home anymore? In the famous case of Terri Schiavo, we could tell the brain stem was still functioning but there wasn’t anybody home. Her consciousness had disappeared 15 years earlier.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Does Anybody Really Need a Book to Explain Why Hillary Lost?

Review Hillary Clinton's 1969 Wellesley College thesis titled: “there is only the fight” published on line in pdf format, where the key insights can be found that Mrs. Clinton understood that Saul Alinsky’s “political faith” along with that of his fellow thinkers, MLK, Eugene Debs, Walt Whitman was simply “democracy”. 

In the last chapter of her thesis, she rejects the “ideal” of democracy for herself and points out that Alinksy’s solution of new deal style mass projects like the TVA to provide jobs might work in some other countries but not here in this country. She affirms that sentiment with the mocking cartoon appended to the end of her thesis. 

consortiumnews |  An early insider account of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, entitled Shattered, reveals a paranoid presidential candidate who couldn’t articulate why she wanted to be President and who oversaw an overconfident and dysfunctional operation that failed to project a positive message or appeal to key voting groups.

Okay, I realize that people who have been watching Rachel Maddow and other MSNBC programs – as well as reading The New York Times and The Washington Post for the past four months – “know” that Clinton ran a brilliant campaign that was only derailed because of “Russian meddling.” But this insider account from reporters Jonathan Allen and Annie Parnes describes something else.

As The Wall Street Journal review notes, the book “narrates the petty bickering, foolish reasoning and sheer arrogance of a campaign that was never the sure thing that its leader and top staffers assumed. … Mr. Allen and Ms. Parnes stress two essential failures of the campaign, the first structural, the second political. The campaign’s structure, the authors write, was an ‘unholy mess, fraught with tangled lines of authority, petty jealousies, and no sense of greater purpose.’”

The book portrays Hillary Clinton as distant from her campaign staff, accessible primarily through her close aide, Huma Abedin, and thus creating warring factions within her bloated operation.

According to the Journal’s review by Barton Swaim, the book’s authors suggest that this chaos resulted from “the fact that Mrs. Clinton didn’t know why she wanted to be president. At one point no fewer than 10 senior aides were working on her campaign announcement speech, not one had a clear understanding of why Americans should cast their vote for Mrs. Clinton and not someone else. The speech, when she finally delivered it, was a flop – aimless, boring, devoid of much beyond bromides.”

The book cites a second reason for Clinton’s dismal performance – her team’s reliance on analytics rather than on reaching out to real voters and their concerns.

There is also an interesting tidbit regarding Clinton’s attitude toward the privacy of her staff’s emails. “After losing to Mr. Obama in the protracted 2008 primary,” the Journal’s review says, Clinton “was convinced that she had lost because some staffers – she wasn’t sure who – had been disloyal. So she ‘instructed a trusted aide to access the campaign’s server and download the [email] messages sent and received by top staffers.’”

America Cannot Be Great Until the Military and Police Uphold Their Oaths

washingtonsblog |  People around the world view the US as the greatest threat to peace; voted three times more dangerous than any other country. The data confirm this conclusion:
Rather than “drain the swamp” and focus US resources on US upgrades, President Trump joins our opponents with violating war law from two US treaties that armed attack is only lawful if, and only if, the US is under attack by another nation’s government.

Waiting for military honor
The ordinary US military are the used/abused pawns of the .01% psychopathic class. They enlist from economic need, desire to serve ideals within our Declaration of Independence and US Constitution, or from attraction to ideals within this profession. Although they’re trained to recognize unlawful orders within military duty, they are not trained to recognize unlawful Wars of Aggression. Of course, there are no lawful orders for unlawful war. Their Oaths of Enlistment swear them to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There is no greater domestic enemy than .01% “leaders” who lie them into unlawful Wars of Aggression.

Because US military are the ones applying War Crimes onto the world, with all risk and suffering at their immediate experience, one would imagine growing factions refusing to obey lying “leaders” and dishonorable illegal armed attacks.

One would imagine, except We the People see no evidence.

NYTimes Says Assad Used Chemical Weapon Because RUSSIA!

consortiumnews |  the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.

Any other interpretation of a set of facts gets dismissed as “fringe” or “fake news” even if there are obvious holes in the official story and a lack of verifiable proof to support the mainstream groupthink. Very quickly, alternative explanations are cast aside while ridicule is heaped on those who disagree.

So, for instance, The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4.

A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. The attack killed several soldiers and nine civilians including four children, according to Syrian press reports.

Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct.

To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.

Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Shadow Brokers Hit NSA a Devastating Lick

Don't forget I told you cats about the NSA creep-tip two years ago, and gave you a concrete specific recommendation for shoring up your end-point game to protect at least a little something...,

FP |  Weaver believes that when the Shadow Brokers published a broad list of the tools in their possession in January, hoping to auction them off, the NSA moved quickly.

The NSA “did clearly, quietly tell Microsoft,” Weaver said, allowing the company to repair the holes before script kiddies and criminal hackers started figuring out the specifics of the exploits.
Microsoft published a massive patch exactly a month before the Shadow Brokers unleashed its trove.
Neither Microsoft nor the NSA immediately responded to a request for comment.

Before Microsoft revealed it had patched most of the holes, the Shadow Brokers’ release reignited the debate about when government agencies should be required to disclose vulnerabilities it finds in such major products as devices and browsers.

The White House’s Vulnerabilities Equities Process, which determines whether those flaws should be shared with the company in order to be repaired, or taken advantage of by intelligence agencies, was reinvigorated in 2014. The process involves several major agencies, which consider the likelihood that other nation states or criminal actors would come across the same flaws.

It’s unclear, however, which agencies are involved in the process and how those decisions are made. The agencies are not required to disclose vulnerabilities purchased or researched through government sponsorship. If the NSA told Microsoft about the tools, it was because the agency knew or suspected the vulnerabilities had been compromised.

Intelligence officials see the latest Shadow Brokers release as part of a larger erosion of capabilities that has been going on since 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden gave journalists internal NSA documents. Snowden’s leak kicked off a chain of damaging exposures that, while sparking an important worldwide debate about privacy, severely damaged U.S. intelligence capabilities, the former intelligence official argued.

One former TAO employee who spoke with Foreign Policy believes the release is “a bit dated,” because hacking tools to access more current Windows projects and other browsers weren’t included.
“It is a significant leak. … It gets harder to develop tools as defenses improve,” the former TAO employee said. “But it’s still entirely possible. There are many bugs to be found.”

But the intelligence community’s ability to keep those bugs secret for any amount of time continues to be questioned. In this latest leak, detailed NSA notes and work product were included in addition to technical details about the hacking tools — likely indicating deep-level access to TAO troves. “This should be on an NSA computer only,” Weaver told Foreign Policy.

The details the Shadow Brokers revealed are “scary,” the former cyberintelligence employee said, details that must be from internal emails, chat logs, or insider knowledge.

Only a handful of countries could have pilfered such sensitive material from the NSA remotely, the former TAO employee wrote, Russia and Israel the mostly likely among them.

“If it was an inside job like an operator [typically military] walking out with a thumb drive, then who knows,” the former TAO source wrote.

In recent years, the intelligence community has largely failed to detect insider threats and stem leaks from contractors. Thousands of private companies and their employees make up a massive percentage of the intelligence community’s workforce. As of a decade ago, about 70 percent of the intelligence community’s budget was spent on contracts, according to the Congressional Research Service.

New Evidence Syrian Gas Story Fabricated by the White House

nakedcapitalism  |  It is now clear from video evidence that the WHR report was fabricated without input from the professional intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].

The press reported on April 4 that a nerve agent attack had occurred in Khan Shaykhun, Syria during the early morning hours locally on that day. On April 7, The United States carried out a cruise missile attack on Syria ordered by President Trump. It now appears that the president ordered this cruise missile attack without any valid intelligence to support it [emphasis mine (GP)].

In order to cover up the lack of intelligence to supporting the president’s action, the National Security Council produced a fraudulent intelligence report on April 11 four days later [emphasis mine (GP)]. The individual responsible for this report was Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster, the National Security Advisor. The McMaster report is completely undermined by a significant body of video evidence taken after the alleged sarin attack and before the US cruise missile attack that unambiguously shows the claims in the WHR could not possibly be true. This cannot be explained as a simple error.

The National Security Council Intelligence Report clearly refers to evidence that it claims was obtained from commercial and open sources shortly after the alleged nerve agent attack (on April 5 and April 6). If such a collection of commercial evidence was done, it would have surely found the videos contained herein.

This unambiguously indicates a dedicated attempt to manufacture a false claim that intelligence actually supported the president’s decision to attack Syria, and of far more importance, to accuse Russia of being either complicit or a participant in an alleged atrocity [emphasis mine (GP)].
The attack on the Syrian government threatened to undermine the relationship between Russia and the United States. Cooperation between Russia and the United States is critical to the defeat of the Islamic State. In addition, the false accusation that Russia knowingly engaged in an atrocity raises the most serious questions about a willful attempt to do damage relations with Russia for domestic political purposes.
We repeat here a quote from the WHR:
An open source video also shows where we believe the chemical munition landed—not on a facility filled with weapons, but in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun[Emphasis Added]. Commercial satellite imagery of that site from April 6, after the allegation, shows a crater in the road that corresponds to the open source video.
The data provided in these videos make it clear that the WHR made no good-faith attempt to collect data that could have supported its “confident assessment.” that the Syrian government executed a sarin attack as indicated by the location and characteristics of the crater.

This very disturbing event is not a unique situation. President George W. Bush argued that he was misinformed about unambiguous evidence that Iraq was hiding a substantial store of weapons of mass destruction. This false intelligence led to a US attack on Iraq that started a process that ultimately led to the political disintegration in the Middle East, which through a series of unpredicted events then led to the rise of the Islamic State [emphasis mine (GP)].

On August 30, 2013, the White House produced a similarly false report about the nerve agent attack on August 21, 2013 in Damascus [emphasis mine (GP)]. This report also contained numerous intelligence claims that could not be true. An interview with President Obama published in The Atlantic in April 2016 indicates that Obama was initially told that there was solid intelligence that the Syrian government was responsible for the nerve agent attack of August 21, 2013 in Ghouta, Syria. Obama reported that he was later told that the intelligence was not solid by the then Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper.

Equally serious questions are raised about the abuse of intelligence findings by the incident in 2013. Questions that have not been answered about that incident is how the White House produced a false intelligence report with false claims that could obviously be identified by experts outside the White House and without access to classified information. There also needs to be an explanation of why this 2013 false report was not corrected. Secretary of State John Kerry emphatically testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeating information in this so-called un-equivocating report.
On August 30, 2013 Secretary of State Kerry made the following statement from the Treaty Room in the State Department:
Our intelligence community has carefully reviewed and re-reviewed information regarding this attack [Emphasis added], and I will tell you it has done so more than mindful of the Iraq experience. We will not repeat that moment. Accordingly, we have taken unprecedented steps to declassify and make facts available to people who can judge for themselves.
It is now obvious that this incident produced by the WHR, while just as serious in terms of the dangers it created for US security, was a clumsy and outright fabrication of a report that was certainly not supported by the intelligence community [emphasis mine (GP)].

In this case, the president, supported by his staff, made a decision to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. This action was accompanied by serious risks of creating a confrontation with Russia, and also undermining cooperative efforts to win the war against the Islamic State.

I therefore conclude that there needs to be a comprehensive investigation of these events that have either misled people in the White House White House, or worse yet, been perpetrated by people to protect themselves from domestic political criticisms for uninformed and ill-considered actions.

Sincerely yours, Theodore A. Postol
Professor Emeritus of Science,
Technology, and National Security Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Email: postol@mit.edu

BBC News Massively Hypes North Korean ‘Threat’ To The United States

medialens |  One of the longstanding functions of the 'mainstream' media is to channel government ideology about who are 'the Good Guys' - that's 'us' and our allies - and who are the 'Bad Guys' – 'Putin's Russia', 'Saddam's Iraq', 'Chavez's Venezuela', 'Gaddafi's Libya' (until rehabilitated for a while by Blair) and North Korea.

Of course, 'we' often help 'Bad Guys' into power, even give them poison gas, sell them arms, and support them through thick and thin. But let's put all that to one side.
Consider a recent BBC News at Ten segment on the US, China and North Korea that began with presenter Huw Edwards saying:
'President Trump has said the United States will "solve" the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear programme. In an interview with the Financial Times, the president said the US would act alone if China would not intervene. He made his comments ahead of a visit to the US by the Chinese president later this week. Our North America editor, Jon Sopel, is at the White House.
'And, Jon, what does this tell us then about President Trump's approach to this upcoming visit?'
Jon Sopel: 'Well, Huw, for all the talk of surveillance and phone tapping and wire taps and Russia, this is the major strategic national security issue, at least as far as this White House is concerned. What to do about North Korea and their growing ability, it seems, to launch a nuclear missile that could hit the west coast of America.' (April 3, 2017; kindly captured and uploaded to YouTube for us by Steve Ennever)
As we will see, far from being responsible, 'impartial' journalism, this was blatant propaganda, depicting North Korea as a serious threat to the United States, capable of hitting California with a nuclear missile.

Consider, by contrast, a careful analysis by the US writer Adam Johnson in a piece for Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting last month. 
Johnson noted that:
'Tensions between the United States and North Korea are making their way back into the news after a series of missile tests and presidential Twitter threats. Meanwhile, a conservative think tank—previously thought all but dead—has seen a resurgence in relevancy, thanks to its alignment with Donald Trump. The result is that the Heritage Foundation has provided much of the narrative backbone for North Korean/US relations in the age of Trump, making the rounds in dozens of media articles and television appearances.'
Johnson continued:
'One key feature of reports on North Korea's nuclear weapons program is the Hypothetical Scary Nuke Map that shows an entirely hypothetical, not-yet-proven-to-have-been-built intercontinental ballistic missile hitting the US mainland.'
Two types of missile, known as KN-14 and KN-08, are depicted in media reports as capable of reaching the United States.
Johnson highlighted the crucial fact that:
'These missiles have not been tested by North Korea'.
In other words, the media have been publishing 'misleading' maps that 'buried the fact that the range indicating the US could be nuked had not, in fact, been demonstrated.'