Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism

24
Mar
15

Why Mass Surveillance Can’t, Won’t, And Never Has Stopped A Terrorist

Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” So when do we step back and ask what is working and what is not – and also what freedoms are we giving up to gain this temporary security?

Original article found here.

Photo by pulparindo

Photo by pulparindo

In his latest bestseller,Data and Goliath, world-renowned security expert and author Bruce Schneier goes deep into the world of surveillance, investigating how governments and corporations alike monitor nearly our every move. In this excerpt, Schneier explains how we are fed a false narrative of how our surveillance state is able to stop terrorist attacks before they happen. In fact, Schneier argues, the idea that our government is able to parse all the invasive and personal data they collect on us is laughable. The data-mining conducted every day only seems to take valuable resources and time away from the tactics that should be used to fight terrorism.

The NSA repeatedly uses a connect-the-dots metaphor to justify its surveillance activities. Again and again — after 9/11, after the Underwear Bomber, after the Boston Marathon bombings — government is criticized for not connecting the dots.

However, this is a terribly misleading metaphor. Connecting the dots in a coloring book is easy, because they’re all numbered and visible. In real life, the dots can only be recognized after the fact.

That doesn’t stop us from demanding to know why the authorities couldn’t connect the dots. The warning signs left by the Fort Hood shooter, the Boston Marathon bombers, and the Isla Vista shooter look obvious in hindsight. Nassim Taleb, an expert on risk engineering, calls this tendency the “narrative fallacy.” Humans are natural storytellers, and the world of stories is much more tidy, predictable, and coherent than reality. Millions of people behave strangely enough to attract the FBI’s notice, and almost all of them are harmless. The TSA’s no-fly list has over 20,000 people on it. The Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, also known as the watch list, has 680,000, 40% of whom have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”

Data mining is offered as the technique that will enable us to connect those dots. But while corporations are successfully mining our personal data in order to target advertising, detect financial fraud, and perform other tasks, three critical issues make data mining an inappropriate tool for finding terrorists.

The first, and most important, issue is error rates. For advertising, data mining can be successful even with a large error rate, but finding terrorists requires a much higher degree of accuracy than data-mining systems can possibly provide.

Data mining works best when you’re searching for a well-defined profile, when there are a reasonable number of events per year, and when the cost of false alarms is low. Detecting credit card fraud is one of data mining’s security success stories: all credit card companies mine their transaction databases for spending patterns that indicate a stolen card. There are over a billion active credit cards in circulation in the United States, and nearly 8% of those are fraudulently used each year. Many credit card thefts share a pattern — purchases in locations not normally frequented by the cardholder, and purchases of travel, luxury goods, and easily fenced items — and in many cases data-mining systems can minimize the losses by preventing fraudulent transactions. The only cost of a false alarm is a phone call to the cardholder asking her to verify a couple of her purchases.

Similarly, the IRS uses data mining to identify tax evaders, the police use it to predict crime hot spots, and banks use it to predict loan defaults. These applications have had mixed success, based on the data and the application, but they’re all within the scope of what data mining can accomplish.

Terrorist plots are different, mostly because whereas fraud is common, terrorist attacks are very rare. This means that even highly accurate terrorism prediction systems will be so flooded with false alarms that they will be useless.

The reason lies in the mathematics of detection. All detection systems have errors, and system designers can tune them to minimize either false positives or false negatives. In a terrorist-detection system, a false positive occurs when the system mistakenly identifies something harmless as a threat. A false negative occurs when the system misses an actual attack. Depending on how you “tune” your detection system, you can increase the number of false positives to assure you are less likely to miss an attack, or you can reduce the number of false positives at the expense of missing attacks.

Because terrorist attacks are so rare, false positives completely overwhelm the system, no matter how well you tune. And I mean completely: millions of people will be falsely accused for every real terrorist plot the system finds, if it ever finds any.

We might be able to deal with all of the innocents being flagged by the system if the cost of false positives were minor. Think about the full-body scanners at airports. Those alert all the time when scanning people. But a TSA officer can easily check for a false alarm with a simple pat-down. This doesn’t work for a more general data-based terrorism-detection system. Each alert requires a lengthy investigation to determine whether it’s real or not. That takes time and money, and prevents intelligence officers from doing other productive work. Or, more pithily, when you’re watching everything, you’re not seeing anything.

The US intelligence community also likens finding a terrorist plot to looking for a needle in a haystack. And, as former NSA director General Keith Alexander said, “you need the haystack to find the needle.” That statement perfectly illustrates the problem with mass surveillance and bulk collection. When you’re looking for the needle, the last thing you want to do is pile lots more hay on it. More specifically, there is no scientific rationale for believing that adding irrelevant data about innocent people makes it easier to find a terrorist attack, and lots of evidence that it does not. You might be adding slightly more signal, but you’re also adding much more noise. And despite the NSA’s “collect it all” mentality, its own documents bear this out. The military intelligence community even talks about the problem of “drinking from a fire hose”: having so much irrelevant data that it’s impossible to find the important bits.

We saw this problem with the NSA’s eavesdropping program: the false positives overwhelmed the system. In the years after 9/11, the NSA passed to the FBI thousands of tips per month; every one of them turned out to be a false alarm. The cost was enormous, and ended up frustrating the FBI agents who were obligated to investigate all the tips. We also saw this with the Suspicious Activity Reports —or SAR — database: tens of thousands of reports, and no actual results. And all the telephone metadata the NSA collected led to just one success: the conviction of a taxi driver who sent $8,500 to a Somali group that posed no direct threat to the US — and that was probably trumped up so the NSA would have better talking points in front of Congress.

The second problem with using data-mining techniques to try to uncover terrorist plots is that each attack is unique. Who would have guessed that two pressure-cooker bombs would be delivered to the Boston Marathon finish line in backpacks by a Boston college kid and his older brother? Each rare individual who carries out a terrorist attack will have a disproportionate impact on the criteria used to decide who’s a likely terrorist, leading to ineffective detection strategies.

The third problem is that the people the NSA is trying to find are wily, and they’re trying to avoid detection. In the world of personalized marketing, the typical surveillance subject isn’t trying to hide his activities. That is not true in a police or national security context. An adversarial relationship makes the problem much harder, and means that most commercial big data analysis tools just don’t work. A commercial tool can simply ignore people trying to hide and assume benign behavior on the part of everyone else. Government data-mining techniques can’t do that, because those are the very people they’re looking for.

Adversaries vary in the sophistication of their ability to avoid surveillance. Most criminals and terrorists — and political dissidents, sad to say — are pretty unsavvy and make lots of mistakes. But that’s no justification for data mining; targeted surveillance could potentially identify them just as well. The question is whether mass surveillance performs sufficiently better than targeted surveillance to justify its extremely high costs. Several analyses of all the NSA’s efforts indicate that it does not.

The three problems listed above cannot be fixed. Data mining is simply the wrong tool for this job, which means that all the mass surveillance required to feed it cannot be justified. When he was NSA director, General Keith Alexander argued that ubiquitous surveillance would have enabled the NSA to prevent 9/11. That seems unlikely. He wasn’t able to prevent the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, even though one of the bombers was on the terrorist watch list and both had sloppy social media trails — and this was after a dozen post-9/11 years of honing techniques. The NSA collected data on the Tsarnaevs before the bombing, but hadn’t realized that it was more important than the data they collected on millions of other people.

This point was made in the 9/11 Commission Report. That report described a failure to “connect the dots,” which proponents of mass surveillance claim requires collection of more data. But what the report actually said was that the intelligence community had all the information about the plot without mass surveillance, and that the failures were the result of inadequate analysis.

Mass surveillance didn’t catch underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in 2006, even though his father had repeatedly warned the U.S. government that he was dangerous. And the liquid bombers (they’re the reason governments prohibit passengers from bringing large bottles of liquids, creams, and gels on airplanes in their carry-on luggage) were captured in 2006 in their London apartment not due to mass surveillance but through traditional investigative police work. Whenever we learn about an NSA success, it invariably comes from targeted surveillance rather than from mass surveillance. One analysis showed that the FBI identifies potential terrorist plots from reports of suspicious activity, reports of plots, and investigations of other, unrelated, crimes.

This is a critical point. Ubiquitous surveillance and data mining are not suitable tools for finding dedicated criminals or terrorists. We taxpayers are wasting billions on mass-surveillance programs, and not getting the security we’ve been promised. More importantly, the money we’re wasting on these ineffective surveillance programs is not being spent on investigation, intelligence, and emergency response: tactics that have been proven to work. The NSA’s surveillance efforts have actually made us less secure.

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17
Apr
13

Why Do Tragic Events Always Occur On The Same Day Government Is Training For That Event?

Is it just a coinscidence that many of our “terrorist” events have happened on the same days that government was performing training exercises for the same disasters? Are terrorist really so stupid that they are now planning their deviant acts around the calendars of government agencies training exercises for the very event they are training for?

“The easiest way to carry out a false flag attack is by setting up a military exercise that simulates the very attack you want to carry out. -Captain Eric H. May, former U.S. Army military intelligence officer

[1994] Estonia: Ship Estonia is sank on first day of a “10-day NATO naval exercise called Cooperative Venture 94, in which more than fifteen ships and “a number of maritime aircraft” were prepared to conduct ‘humanitarian and search and rescue operations’ in nearby waters.” While this was not considered a terroist attack, it was suspected that there was illegal arms trading with Estonia as the transporter and NATO was possibly escorting them). The Estonia sunk on the same day and the same waters where NATO was training on how to deal with a severely stressed ship. (Debatt Sanningssokande Mediakritik)

[2001] 9/11: National Reconnaissance Office (under the DHS and and CIA) had “planned a simulated exercise with a mock ‘plane-into-building’ crash on the morning of 9/11.” I believe this meeting was being held in NYC, and was “canceled” when it happened for real. NORAD also trained with emergency response of planes flying into prominent buildings in America. The planes hit the WTC and the Pentagon on the same day they planned a mock training exercise on how to deal with such an event. (Aviation Week)(Boston.com)

[2005] London: Visor Consultants’ Peter Power, was “running an exercise for a company of over a thousand people in London based on simultaneous bombs going off precisely at the railway stations.” The company turned out to be Reed Elsevier, which has been accused of being very politically connected. Visor Consultants and Reed Elsevier chose eight possible locations to drill at, to which three of them were actually chosen by the terrorist on the same day as the drill was to take place. (Channel 4)

[2011] Olso, Norway: Norwegian Police perform drill in handling a bomb in an official building. Bomb attributed to Anders Behring Breivik went off only 26 minutes after the anti-terror drill finished and a few blocks away. Breivik admitted to having carried out the actions he was accused of, but denied criminal guilt and claimed the defence of necessity. The training happened within 48 hours of the bombing. (The Local, Norway)

[2012] Aurora, CO: “Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine is in the middle of holding specialized classes in disaster life support for 150 second-year medical students. Along with response to natural disasters like hurricanes and floods and terrorist attacks, one of the scenarios being used to train the students is how to respond if a shooter fires at people in a movie theater and also uses a bomb in the attack.” The movie-theater shooting occured the same day. (Denver Post)

[2012] Newtown: Connecticut Department of emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) and Division of Emergency Management & Homeland Security (DEMHS) offer a FEMA/DHS drill in Bridgeport, CT (32 min away) from Sandy Hook called “Planning for the Needs of Children in Disasters” (FEMA L-366).

[2013] Boston: Boston Bomb Squad training. UM Coach, Ali Stevenson stated, “They kept making announcements to the participants do not worry, it’s just a training exercise.” The bombing happened on the same day. (GR)

Why have so many tragic events happened while training for the very event that occured?

27
Nov
12

Terrorism, not terrorist… stupid

What does it mean when our government and/or our politicians play semantics with words such as “terrorism” and “terrorist”?

As I posted on my last post, why is our American government so keen on defining who is, isn’t, could be, and might be a terrorist? Is it to their benefit to reserve the right to label people a “terrorist” as they see fit as to fit their current agenda?

In 2004 Obama reportedly stated that,

Ultimately, terrorism is a tactic. We’re not fighting terrorists, we’re fighting people who engage in terrorism, but have a whole host of rationales and excuses for why they do this,” Obama said. “And to the extent that we can change the sense of opportunity in many of these countries, we can change the manner in which we function in these countries in more positive, proactive ways, then we’re not going to eliminate terrorism entirely but we’re at least going to be able to make more of a dent than if all we’re resorting to is military firepower.

First and foremost I always thought that one who enganges in terrorism, by definition, was a terrorist. Secondly, when he states that people have a “whole host of rationales” of why they do what they do it reminds me of the Department of Homeland Security report stating that Maricopa was a hotspot for terrorism for “various reasons.” But equally scary is the idea that he states that he wants to actively manipulate other countries and that he admits that we never will win against terrorism… yet he still is participating in a top-secret drone strike policy.

What gives?

24
Nov
12

Maricopa Arizona — were you aware that the Federal Government labels you as a hotspot for terrorist activity?

I like Arizona. I have never felt unsafe here. Admittedly this is probably largely due to the fact that I live in suburbia-Chandler where there is barely a bar around. Nevertheless, I feel that Arizona does a lot right and that I feel safe.

However, according to a report written by the University of Maryland for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) in January 2012 Maricopa County is a hot spot for terrorism (p 2).

Terrorism? I honestly have no idea what they are talking about but apparently we have had 7 “single issue” terrorist attacks from 1970-2008 (p 18) with 6 of them being in the 2000’s (p 23).

What is more troubling is their definitions of who is considered “extreme right-wing.” They describe someone as extreme right-wing as a,

“group that believe that one’s personal and/or national ‘way of life’ is under attack and is either already lost or that the threat is imminent (for some threat is from a specific ethnic, racial, or religious group), and believe in the need to be prepared for an attack either by participating in paramilitary preparations and training or survivalism. Groups may also be fiercely nationalistic (as opposed to universal and international in orientation), anti-global, suspicious of centralized federal authority, reverent of individual liberty,and believe in conspiracy theories that involve great threat to national sovereignty and/or personal liberty.” (p 8-9)

Now mind you, the START report is the report that was written for the Department of Homeland Security to combat terrorism. So I must ask, why is one that trains with firearms or survialism considered terrorism? Or why is it considered terrorism if one believes that sovereignty is a good thing?

I’m already shooting myself here in the foot in regards to this START report, but this just goes hand-in-hand with the 2009 Department of Homeland Security report entitled Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment (here). In this specific document the DHS also calls out people concerned about “martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps” (p 4). So now we have two separate government documents that are labeling anyone that is concerned about the role of government… to be terrorist. The 2009 report also specifically calls out anyone that has purchased ammunition in bulk or that is a returning veteran.

Pair all these reports with the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allows indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial and you have the making of a police state that even North Korea would be proud of. The only difference is that in America people still think they are free and will call you out as a kook (or now a terrorist) if you try to say otherwise.

07
Sep
11

9/11: When will we learn?

Original here.

After 9/11, the U.S. Congress created the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. America went to war, overtly and covertly, in several countries. Nearly $8 trillion was spent on what is called “security,” Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project estimates.

Was it worth it?

Yes, in many ways, says author Ann Coulter. No, says Reason magazine editor Matt Welch.

There’s no reason at all that the bureaucratization of security is going to make us any more safe,” Welch said. “All we have to do is go on an airplane … to see that there’s a difference between security and security theater, between federalizing a problem and actually solving the problem.”

Coulter thinks the government got lots of things right.

“Whatever liberals screamed bloody murder about was very important on the war on terrorism,” she said. “I think Iraq was a crucial part … .” Welch dissented.

“We’re on the verge of bankruptcy. … We are at the sort of tipping point of imperial overstretch.”

Imperial overstretch? Welch has a point. Politicians talk about tight budgets, but National Defense Magazine recently ran this headline: “Homeland Security Market Is Vibrant Despite Budget Concerns.” I fear this is the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about. Military contractors collude with politicians to keep the money flowing.

I blame the politicians. The contractors just do what they’re supposed to do. The politicians are supposed to spend our money well. They don’t.

After 9/11, the Senate voted 100 to zero to federalize airport security. Then-Sen. Tom Daschle said, “You can’t professionalize if you don’t federalize.”

Nonsense. Before TSA was created, private contractors paid airport inspectors not much more than minimum wage. They weren’t very good. Now we spend five times as much, and they’re still not very good.

Today even the TSA knows that private security is better. In one of its own tests, its screeners in Los Angeles missed 75 percent of explosives planted by inspectors. In San Francisco, one of the few cities allowed to have privately managed security, screeners missed 20 percent.

In a reasonable world, the government would disband the TSA and move to a private competitive system.

But we live in a Big Government world.

Randolph Bourne, who opposed U.S. entry into World War I, said, “War is the health of the state.” He meant that in war, government grows in power and prestige — and freedom shrinks. As Robert Higgs documents in “Crisis and Leviathan,” government never recedes to its prewar dimensions.

Shortly after Sept. 11, Sen. Charles Schumer declared that the “era of a shrinking federal government is over.” This was more nonsense. The government hadn’t been shrinking. But for politicians like Schumer, 9/11 was an excuse to take more power. Price was no object.

I can’t tell you what Homeland Security does with your money. Much of its spending is secret. Certainly much is wasted. The department made a big fuss over its color-coded airport security system, then scrapped it because it provided “little practical information.” The department spent billions on things like special boats to protect a lake in Nebraska, all-terrain vehicles for a small town in Tennessee and 70 security cameras for a remote Alaskan village.

That’s what politicians do. Members of Congress say: “You want my vote? You’d better give my district some cash.” And when people are scared, they let bureaucrats spend.

This played into Osama bin Laden’s hands. In one videotaped message, he talked about “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

The attacks on 9/11 were largely a failure of government. Our so-called “intelligence agencies” knew nothing about the plot. The Immigration and Naturalization Service, charged with keeping track of foreigners who overstay their visas, didn’t pay attention to the 19 hijackers. And as Rep. Ron Paul points out, history did not begin on Sept. 11. Part of the failure was America’s interventionist foreign policy, which needlessly made enemies.

So government failed on 9/11, and yet the politicians’ answer to failure is always the same: Give us more money and power. And we do. When will we learn?

11
Sep
10

Who Was In Our Ranks on September 11th?

September 11th. A lot of words get tossed around on this day and a lot has happened since that day where nearly 3,000 people died  – people of all walks of life.

Since then the area has been a touchy subject, both literally and figuratively. It has been a soapbox for some on the right to claim endurance for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and the continued pressure on Iran. Likewise it has been a soapbox for the people on the left to have us just drop it and have a mosque built next to it. I have no concern on either of these issues or platforms but I do have an interest in the crisis it created.

With any crisis we are confused, scared, and bewildered. In this case, we also became patriotic. Most Americans took it as a slap in the face and wanted to serve justice to those who were responsible. We pumped our fists, waved our flags, and got on our bullhorns and proclaimed like we did with Pearl Harbor that we were going to go whoop some ass. And whooping some ass we did. But did we whoop the right ass?

Maybe we did kill some bad guys. I don’t doubt we did. I think, however, that we are walking away with many pieces of shrapnel in the back of our heads from the grenades that the government threw. Maybe those grenades were faulty or maybe those grenades were not tossed in the correct direction, but the fact remains that we have shrapnel. Of course I am talking about such things as the PATRIOT Act and the bump of the NSA wire-taps. And since then, many other things…

I don’t want to dwell on those things as this is a day to mourn those lost. I just want to bring to light that in times of crisis we must not only charge the enemy… but also remember to look behind us to make sure we don’t have assassins flanking us or spys in our ranks.

21
Apr
09

Stupid Terrorist

terrorist-certificate

Dontcha just hate it when you get called names? Well, in this case, I’m proud to be a “terrorist.” Click here to see if you qualify as a terrorist.




Quotes:

"We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth... For my part, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst; and to provide for it." - Patrick Henry

"Politicians and diapers both need to be changed, and for the same reason." - Anonymous

"Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it." - William Penn

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country" - Hermann Goering

"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do this I keep on doing." - Romans 7:18-19

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." - Mark Twain

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