Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Learnable lessons from Manning, Snowden and inevitable others 28 –the emerging Obama cyber-doctrine 3 and a news update

Posted in business and convergent technologies, in the News by Timothy Platt on September 18, 2014

This is my 29th posting on what is becoming a series of leaks and unauthorized disclosures of classified US government documents that relate to its War on Terror (see John Peter Zenger, Henry L. Stimson, Edward J. Snowden and the challenge of free speech and the first 27 postings to this series, available at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 as postings 225 and loosely following.)

I began outlining and discussing the emerging core framework elements to President Obama’s national security cyber-doctrine in Part 26 and Part 27 of this series. And to reorganize and recap the key points that I outlined there, ongoing events show this new and emerging doctrine to be based on at least these points:

1. The United States government has both a right, and even a fundamental obligation to conduct surveillance on any group or individual who might conceivably be involved in, or in any way communicating with a War on Terror threat – and even unwittingly and unknowingly.
2. The United States government has a fundamental right and even obligation to pursue its online cyber-defense across any and all borders and boundaries in its pursuit of national security and as it conducts its side of the War on Terror.
3. The fundamental and unchallengeable goal in this has to be the achievement of absolute, perfect national security and reduction of any War on Terror threat to zero.
4. And while the US national government has a right and even an obligation to conduct open ended surveillance on anyone and everyone in pursuit of this goal, private sector businesses and organizations have very circumscribed rights as to what types of personal data they can gather, how and how long they can store it, and how they can use and share it. Open ended data collection and surveillance are a national governmental prerogative.

I write this series installment at least to a significant degree as a news update, with a goal of further clarifying this here-stated four point doctrine. And I begin it with what as of this writing should already seem old news: the US National Security Agency (NSA) phone surveillance of Germany’s Chancellor Angela_Merkel. Germany is one of the United States’ closest allies, and most certainly in fighting the War on Terror. They have even actively supported and participated in NSA-led surveillance programs doing so through their counterpart to the US NSA, their Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND); I have discussed this in earlier series installments. Then one of these same programs was used against the leadership of this ally nation.

Setting aside the irony of that, this did cause embarrassment and friction between the United States and Germany, and proclamations from the Obama administration that this type of activity would not be repeated. And this brings me to more recent news events and the revelation that the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has since then suborned – turned in intelligence service parlance, several and even many members of the BND and other government agencies, in sensitive positions there, to bring them to spy on their government and share highly classified information without German governmental approval or permission, with US intelligence services.

This has even included covert surveillance – spying, on the German commission that was set up to examine and report on the by then already publically revealed phone surveillance of Merkel. (For three general news and opinion piece examples, coming out of all of this, see: Over a dozen CIA-recruited spies work in German ministries – report, Hunting American Spooks: Germany Prepares Further Spying Clampdown, and CIA might as well learn from Germany’s economy while spying.)

I raise these news stories here as they directly address, and shed light on the Obama Administration’s cyber-doctrine. More specifically and with Points 1 and 2 above in mind, this news story shows that the Obama cyber-doctrine sees no boundaries beyond which its open-ended surveillance would be inappropriate or viewable as unlawful – including spying on the governments of closest allies and even after being caught at that already. But perhaps more importantly, and certainly for its long-term consequences this highlights the centrality of what in my above listing, I posit as point 3: the search for absolute security and I add absolute certainty of it. The revelations of these repeated and I add undoubtedly still ongoing surveillance efforts against our ally Germany have forced them to step back and reconsider how close an ally they can afford to be. This search for the mirage of absolute security has in fact weakened our overall security.

I add as a final thought here, that the United States government, and the Obama administration leading it do not hold a monopoly on seeking absolute security here. The British and I add many of the US’s other allies in the War on Terror actively pursue this same mirage too. I am going to follow this posting with a next series installment where I will discuss how agents of the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) – their counterpart to the US NSA, broke into the offices of The Guardian newspaper to physically destroy computer hard drives and portable storage devices with shredders, in an attempt to destroy their copies of the Snowden documents – that are by now widely enough distributed so that this effort could only be seen as retribution – not as a national security action. I will discuss this for its unintended but perhaps quite predictable consequences.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 2 and in my first Ubiquitous Computing and Communications directory page. I am also listing this under my In the News posting category.

A July 21, 2014 update (noting as to possible date discrepancies that I am writing this well in advance of its going live): I finished writing this posting and was preparing to upload it to the server so that it can go live on its scheduled date when I decided that I had to add a final note to it. Britain’s GCHQ just as actively conducts online and telephone systems surveillance as the United States’ NSA does, and both of these government agencies keep a close eye on news reporters and the publications they do work for. I noted above in anticipation of my next installment to this ongoing discussion that agents of the British government and of their GCHQ in particular entered the offices of The Guardian under court-approved order and literally destroyed computer hardware with cross-shredders. Their ostensible reason for taking this action was to destroy copies of the Snowden files that he leaked and that they held – even if that was a relatively pointless exercise given that others have copies of those same leaked documents and even many others do. But on further reflection, I feel that I have to note a more compelling reason that might have motivated this action, and this direct attack on the freedom of the press. Reporters from The Guardian were in the process of conducting an in-depth tele-interview with Edward Snowden and on the topic of how effectively national intelligence agencies have safeguarded their most sensitive and highly classified files from improper access and/or use. And his observations on this, palpably verified by the simple existence of what he himself was able to do and undetected, are damning. It can be argued that this action on the part of British government agents was no more than and no less than an act of intimidation. I used the word retribution above, but note here that this action was taken proactively at least as much as it was taken reactively. I will write of this in my next series installment too.

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