Friday, October 3, 2008

The Intelligence Game and Democracy

Having had several friends who have been or currently are members of the intelligence community, I've had a unique perspective on the entire purpose of intelligence, and how and why the "spy game" works internationally. Having OC or NOC makes no real difference to the people who aren't in intelligence: all they know is that anyone working with the CIA is likely working as a spy for someone. And spies kill people, drive luxury sports cars, wear Armani suits, and have lots of guns all over the place. At least, that's what Hollywood sells. And Hollywood's great at selling lies.

However, there are some realities to face, for those who decide to enter this highly risky field: the sports cars are rentals, only assassins really intentionally kill people, Armani knock-offs are not very expensive, and the only gun is a field-issued service pistol which stays locked at the embassy most of the time. Real spy work is un-sexy, boring, and a horrific way to spend any time. Once you retire, you still have the same issues finding a girlfriend that you did before. And if you ever tell anyone that you yourself worked for an intelligence agency without a good reason, you place them in danger.

There are four ways that a spy dies: killed by the enemy (rare, but it does happen from time to time), old age (also rare, but it happens), suicide (fairly common), and hypertension (let's face it: diet goes out the window in the international scene, and it's hard to regain once you come back home). Forget neat little assassinations in broad daylight: spies who die are captured, taken into a dark hole, and shot in the back of the head if it's not personal, and let's just leave it at "less pretty than that" if it happens to be personal.

Which is why it's hard for anyone sane to really become a sexy field agent. In the intelligence field, you have limited options for a normal life. You are permanently damaged goods upstairs once you're in. You do what you do because it's important, not because it pays great (it doesn't) or because you get lots more ladies (if you weren't getting them before, being a spy won't increase your chances... well, not a lot).

There are three kinds of motivators for spies: money, respect, and ideas. Those who are motivated by ideas are the best spies in the world: easy to train, hard to break, and dedicated to the task's cause in a way that the others just can't compete with. Those motivated by money or respect can be corrupted, and they tend to really only do as much as the money or power being offered is worth to them. Ideas, on the other hand, are priceless. They can't be bought or sold with mere possessions, such as money or respect.

As such, money and respect are completely worthless. Piece of mind is the only thing that anyone can sell to someone who is motivated by ideas. Ideas like patriotic duty, protecting the innocent, and keeping the world of safety a little more safe. Ideas like truth, loyalty, and honor. Ideas such as emotional attachments to things and people.

That last one's really pretty important. We love our families. Everyone does. I hate my sister, but that's my right. Anyone else says something negative about her, they answer to me. I'm not violent, and I'm certainly no spy, but that's the exact motivation that I'm talking about, here: love.

Hatred can also be a powerful motivator. People are controlled just as easily by their hate for something as their love for something else. As a nation, we love our country, and hate the President who has sought nothing but power and glory. We watch as the Republican Party bails on "Old Shrub" and the Democrats are poised for power. And this angers a lot of people who solidly believe that the government isn't going to help them any more. People like militia members, racist gangs, and actual terrorists (not the Middle Eastern ones who stick to Baghdad or Riyadh or Kabul... real terrorists, who are already on our soil and in our midst, whether we see them or not).

And it's the intelligence community that has our backs. They deal with the unpleasantness, because without them we'd have a constant adrenaline rush from the fear of attack. Except that's already happened. We call it the PATRIOT Act. It's the single most effective terrorism tool against the people of the United States, because it unlocks doors to get the bad guys, and opens all kinds of things that shouldn't be opened to scrutiny that only serves to damage the already-frail trust that many people have in the government. And then there are those who don't trust the government at all, to the point that they make up half-truths and outright lies in order to work people up into a froth.

Conspiracy theorists (the fakes like Michael Moore, I mean, not the real ones who actually have our backs) cause more problems than they solve. We're 7 years past 9/11 as I write this, and people still haven't been able to resolve their questions about what happened on a sunny Tuesday morning in September. They aren't willing to accept the story that twenty religious zealots stole four passenger liners and crashed them into buildings. They aren't told about the near-attempt that morning on our President's life. They don't want to take the facts into consideration, because they see only liars and thieves in our government, stealing from the very people they're sworn to protect... liars who lie for oil and thieves who steal for the entertainment industry. Big business, who wants to "manage" the population to death for the lining in their own pockets. Big business, who funds smear campaigns and manufactures situations in order to get their way, and control who does or doesn't get into Washington. Big business, who have become every bit the tyrants that Andrew Jackson's contemporaries warned us about. The Democrats tries to do something in the late 1800's about it. And now they're just as culpable.

The FISA telecommunications amendments were necessary. The retroactive immunity wasn't. The President's word isn't good enough to seal a deal if the deal is the break the law. Passing a law in Congress first allows activity to proceed. The terrorists are already here: they're in Congress.

And in the middle of it all are the entire intelligence community, just waiting to take the fall. And they will, too, if they're told to. They'll be an unpopular topic, they'll lose money in the short run, but running any country in the world today--especially a world superpower--takes having good intelligence. And that requires that everyone else in the world be our friends. And that requires that the intelligence community not be treated merely as something that can be cast aside like yesterday's apple cores and orange peels. The entire world hinges on the operation of these people, and we never hear about it. They don't do it for the respect. The money's never going to be good enough. They do it because these people are patriots. They are enraptured by an ideal.

And our government is falling far short of the mark of that ideal. Liberty and freedom are used as words for leverage, rather than as things to be held as sacred. Honor is what people have in Iraq, who torture prisoners and kill women and children because they're so pumped up all the time in anti-American sentiment that they're sick and won't be right for a long time. Truth is what you buy from slick lawyers when you're friends with the President. Our entire ideology is shot to hell, and people wonder why "American" is used as an epithet instead of a blessing.

To fix our government, we need to vote. The people have no faith. You see, it doesn't really matter whom you vote for. A write-in vote for Mickey Mouse is better by far than not voting. Of course, I'm sure the Disney Corporation will have words to say about my use of their copyrighted trademark, but the point is this: voting tells the government exactly the message you want it to. Voting gives power. And even if only 35% of the population votes, that's the percentage with power. If only 10% votes, that's the percentage with power to say which direction our government takes. So long as that's the case, America continues to lose freedoms.

The solution is to get involved. Gather your own intelligence. Snoop. Get the dirt on everyone. Vote for the person you think will do the best job. Because leaving it to someone else is what causes the political machine to force Obama to vote in favor of FISA and to choose a corporate croney as a running mate.

Make no mistake: Biden's not the worst Obama could have picked. But he's still pretty bad, and he's got to have a message sent to him. The white-haired men who go for power in Congressional office aren't motivated by ideas or ideals. That makes them corruptible. If you don't believe me, just find a member of the intelligence community who can talk in private and ask.

We treat retired spies worse than we treat child molesters. The people who protected and defended our country long enough to retire are treated with disdain, suspicion, and even rejection. We toss them away like something used up. And that's wrong.

Because without intelligence, we wouldn't be a country. Intelligence is absolutely necessary for the protection of democracy. The problem is that when the entire community as a whole can't count on the government, the government ceases to be able to reliably count on them. When the ideals are compromised, all that's left are money and power. And that compromises our entire intelligence community at once.

Congratulations, G.W., you've just destroyed the one thing in our country that we need to honestly defend against terrorists. It's not your secret nationalized police (which would normally have been Unconstitutional). It's not your airline marshalls. It's not even the administrators of the CIA. It's the human assets that have been developed, and which we casually toss aside with the ideas upon which our country was founded. The FISA amendments were unforgiveably late, and the price so high that I'm shocked anyone would pay it.

And you did it for money and power.

That's not a President the American people can support. And even your own political party knows it. The accusations of stealing elections seem solid enough. Impeachment seems to be our only way out. This doesn't negate the good you've done for our country, Mister President; it merely diminishes it to a level that makes people ask: "so what?"

I respect the office, but I make it a rule never to confuse the office with the person holding it. Others would be less rational. I merely believe that a treasonous fascist (both using the textbook definitions, rather than a mere political slur) should not hold office in this country. The man lost our respect. Let's hope he doesn't take the office with it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Net Neutrality and Democracy

I've been studying the concept of network neutrality since June. I do know one thing to be a relative certainty: net neutrality is inherently linked to free speech, not to mention the other things like commerce and politics. And I support net neutrality, not because it's what my political choice demands, or because someone else has somehow misinformed me, but because it simply and undeniably makes logical sense.

Common sense dictates that network neutrality is going to mean government regulation. That part is pretty much a given. And while I'm generally against regulations that are imprudent, this is a major case of consumer protection versus corporate interests. When given a choice like that, I'm forced to choose consumer protection almost every time (except in some cases, where it's clear that consumer protection would have minimal impact on consumers while inexorably damaging corporate ability to do business... and there are even exceptions to that, as well).

Regulations about network neutrality would limit corporate abilities to control traffic that didn't originate within their own networks. The Supreme Court in June of 2007 already ruled that companies may control their own network traffic, but specifically excluded traffic outside their network from being throttled or controlled. This was essentially what was already happening, but Comcast began throttling P2P traffic such as BitTorrent or Gnutella, and I actually know some of the people who first reported the story (and no, it wasn't the Associated Press reporters who blew the story wide open). And it's wrong, in spite of their aims.

This is non-neutrality, because it's preventing a type of legitimate traffic from being used. I've been trying to get the Ubuntu CD for over a month, and downloaded a few documentaries (one called "Route Irish," which was a good primer on what not to do during a protest), and because I believe in law, I don't like the idea of stealing the work of others, so I don't trade the RIAA's MP3s or Hollywood's movies (not that I would want to anyway... my tastes are much more refined than that). But I have a friend who told me he found and downloaded the entire "Transformers" movie in about two hours flat, only to find that it was mislabelled and home-produced gay porn. He and I are in the same neighborhood. If he can download his porn file which looked to be a copyrighted file from the outside, why can't I get my legal downloads to work? That's one drawback to net neutrality: trusting the gatekeepers.

So what's the big deal? Why is there so much hype about it? The answer is: corporate interest. The facts of the matter are that the corporations have generally been led to believe (quite incorrectly, I might add) that a neutral network means that so-called "smart" switches would not be permitted. However, the pro-neutrality people are in favor of "smart" switches, so long as they don't give favoritism to traffic based on financial considerations to or from the target site. If it was a radio station, it would already be considered illegal to do this, because this is the definition of payola in the radio system (which, admittedly, is a different medium).

However, the same logic should hold true: paying an ISP (as an example) to either throttle your competition or to not throttle your own connection with them, in addition to charging consumers to access the internet. This is precisely the kind of logic that many media industries employ in their rabid enforcement of copyright: when you take from both ends of the equation, you become rich. Except that we have a word for that. It's called exploitation.

Neutral networks mean that there is no censorship of the "slowing down traffic" kind on the net. Unlike print media, the internet requires neutrality in order to operate correctly. Simply slowing down traffic has the effect of discouraging the dissemination of information and can also be used by people such as your own political adversaries. Network neutrality requires that the flow of traffic be determined only by the limitations of the network, not the chosen limitation of commerce. However, companies do need to be able to "shape" traffic in order to manage a large network.

Oddly, this is not against network neutrality. A "smart" network is a happy network. Managed switches used ethically for the purposes of creating a network that flows smoothly and efficiently is within the interests of network neutrality, as well as corporate interests. It's when this shaping of networks becomes an excuse for limiting traffic to or from a site in the name of forcing profits that the shaping even becomes an issue. Net neutrality is about ethics reform, not about limiting the ability to ethically prioritize traffic in order to assist or increase network functionality. The concept is neutral, not anarchic.

The proponents of neutrality are sometimes criticized for not having a grip on the situation. I was trained at ITT Technical Institute (though I didn't graduate) and my last course of study was network administration. I can assure everyone: I have a very solid grip on the situation, the issue, and the consequences of both choices. And I choose neutrality because it simply makes better logical sense to protect against barriers to entry, and to promote a sound economic development of healthy competitive practices. Raising a required fee to every ISP in the world in order to ensure connectivity of one company's web site would only further the gap between the wealthy and poor companies of the world, rather than assisting in competitive practice.

To date, I have read some 400 documents about network neutrality, both for and against. Early on, I was against neutral networks because I understood that the argument was to be one of "smart" versus "unmanaged" networks. However, that argument is not, and has never been, the issue at all, in spite of the anti-neutrality folks' arguments to the contrary.

The issue of net neutrality is also not simply about consumer protection. It's about censorship. And censorship is contrary to our First Amendment. If we are to embrace democracy for our republic instead of allowing it to devolve into a despotic or fascist state, we must vigilantly protect the traditional rights our Founding Fathers laid out, with the intent in which these rights were specified.