America 2013: The NSA, our cyberwar machine and Edward Snowden

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Cyberterrorism at 4:43 pm by George Smith

I’m going to repeat myself in re-use of this from a few months back because there’s really no better way to say it: The US acts as if it is the exceptional nation in cyberspace. It reserves the right to criticize and lecture others on what constitutes proper conduct but reserves the right to do what it pleases because of its alleged exceptional nature.

The US, you see, only wages cyberwar, or cyber-espionage, campaigns in defense of freedom and to keep Americans safe. No other nations do similar things. They only cyber-spy on us and probe the net infrastructure to cause damage and steal our wealth.

But this country is now in a terrible position to talk terms in cyberspace, starting with its hot clandestine war on the Iranian nuclear program and subsequent related malware spilled over into other nations and ending with the Edward Snowden revelations.

One could add a chapter or two on the growing together of the private sector and defense structure in the national security megaplex and the fact that it’s a gigantic engine, one with a major focus in finding and securing ever more revenue in tax dollars.

Mix in the apathy of a public disconnected from everything and a supine media for over ten years during the war-on-terror.

The fact that random ‘friends’ and others are now outraged and posting on Facebook or tweeting about an agency they never thought about before is trivial, people complaining about another thing they were too busy or self-centered to pay attention to before it really got out of hand.

I would make Edward Snowden man of the year.

Whether you like what you know of him or not, he did something that made a difference. As in indirect effect of spearing the NSA, he derailed that agency’s (and the national security megaplex’s) propaganda machine on cyberwar.

Domestically, I would be surprised if anything changes.

However, when Brazil cancels an order for American-made fighter bombers for Saab Grippens and specifically says US cyberspying and a ham-handed attempt to get Snowden were the reasons one begins to see how external change might be enforced and extract a cost.

In the US, the cult of cyberwar was always one of avarice and bootlicking stenography in the mainstream and tech press.

And now, finally, at the end of 2013, no one with sense can possibly believe it’s a central issue threatening the economic lives and future of the majority, a sword of Damocles hanging by a thread which requires us to empower our computer security warriors to run over everybody, including us.

The Spiegel cover is from the beginning of November. And it is worth considering again because of the contrast it affords with an article that ran in the US at the same time, one that only demonstrated — again –how much of the mainstream American press lays down for the national security state.

The latter, almost totally removed from global sentiment on the Snowden affair, was a cover story by Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek, absurdly entitled “How Edward Snowden Escalated Cyberwar.”

Excerpted, it’s a perfect example of a news magazine as corporate national security structure mouthpiece. its only purpose to deny reality and feebly try to beat the dead horse of threat exaggeration on cyberwar back into life:

For more than a decade, a relentless campaign by China to steal valuable, confidential information from United States corporations flourished with barely a peep from Washington. And now it might never be stopped …

The administration’s attempt to curb China’s assault on American business and government was crippled – perhaps forever, experts say – by a then-unknown National Security Agency contractor named Edward Snowden.

Snowden’s clandestine efforts to disclose thousands of classified documents about NSA surveillance emerged as the push against Chinese hacking intensified …

“Snowden couldn’t have played better into China’s strategy for protecting its cyber activities if he had been doing it on purpose,” one American intelligence official says …

“Certainly no one cares anymore about our whining about Chinese espionage. The time we had for making the case on that is long gone. Internationally, I don’t see how we recover.”

[And, finally, the ludicrous claim NSA director Keith Alexander was telling everyone before Edward Snowden’s actions put a stop to it:]

The threat of Chinese espionage is so large that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, who chaired the Intelligence Committee’s Cyber Task Force, proclaimed it to be part of “the biggest transfer of wealth through theft and piracy in the history of mankind.”

[Include claims, much repeated, for which there is no evidence at all]:

“Twenty years after Iraq, China has stealth fighters stolen with hacker techniques, designs for its carriers, and can pick and choose from all the research the United States has paid for,” Stewart Baker [former general council for the NSA] says. “If we find ourselves in a serious conflict with a nation with those capabilities, we could find ourselves threatening cruise missile strikes and discover that hackers shut off all the power in New York” as a warning of how much power they have to disrupt and inflict damage – potentially including the American weapons reliant on computers to operate.

As for cyberspying advancing its stealth fighter, at the time, John Pike, director of Globalsecurity.Org, dismissed it out of hand to me in e-mail. (This handy chart at GlobalSecurity shows the lag time for China’s development of advanced weapon systems against the appearance of similar US milestones. “They are twenty years behind,” said Pike.)

But readers know well that when it comes to stories on cyberwar, you can get just about any outlandish claim or exaggeration published in the American press.

Edward Snowden’s former employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, flogging the cyberwar machine in 2011.

Additional notes:

“The U.S. always reserves the right to overdo things. That’s the legacy of the last 10 years,” [George Smith] said. “And to the world at large, it’s viewed as a nation that sees every potential problem as a nail to be hit with the hammer of the military and/or security contractors.” — US Exceptionalism, June 2103

When you let the people in the biggest cyberwar machine in history have whatever they want the only thing left is to turn it on everyone. If the power and resources are there to do it, it is done. Because they can.

Which is what has happened … [Through] Edward Snowden’s documents and their delivery via the Washington Post and the Guardian, one sees the world Alexander has created. It’s one that cements the global perception that people in the US computer security industry (government and private sector allies) are an untrustworthy lot, predatory and needing close oversight. — GlobalSecurity.Org

And with that, I hope you are enjoying your Christmas Eve.


  1. Bill said,

    December 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    “And to the world at large, it’s viewed as a nation that sees every potential problem as a nail to be hit with the hammer of the military and/or security contractors.” — US Exceptionalism, June 2103

    Wow, they’re still quoting you in 2103? If you didn’t think you were an influential writer, well now you know the answer…;)

    Orwell nailed it so well back in 1948. The face of the eur?asian dissolving into the east?asian as the alliance changed in mid sentence, the perpetual campaign of lies and disinformation from the party (so there are two of them in the USA, it’s all semantics – newspeak democracy) the constant terror, perpetual war, stifling and intolerance of dissent, brutality, inversion of reality, the leader being nothing but a face on a screen, fabricated entertainment and diversion for the proles, thoughtcrime (at least in Texas where the 4th amendment just went into the shredder), insiders having all the luxury while the workers are in perpetual shortage (coming soon to an area near you) and so on….

    You see, Mr. Smith (interesting coincidence there too) there is the reason why your readership is not in the millions. No one wants to read or confront or acknowledge the reality of the situation they are in. They want professional entertainers to fabricate reality for them so they do not have to think for themselves.

    The fact that you force them to cross that thought threshold makes you a dangerous man indeed.

    I hope these holidays hold some joy for you and all the readers of this blog.

  2. Frank said,

    December 25, 2013 at 9:41 am



    “A just, rules-based international order has long been touted by powerful states as essential for international peace and security. Yet there is a long history of major powers using international law against other states but not complying with it themselves, and even reinterpreting or making new multilateral rules to further their geopolitical and economic interests. The League of Nations failed because it could not punish or deter some powers from flouting international law.”

  3. George Smith said,

    December 25, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Interesting contrast with China. For the year I found the entire idea of the US “pivoting”, or whatever the favorite buzzword is, to confront China quite hilarious. Our economy, at least at the domestic goods level, is so bound up with theirs war is not possible. Even if something did break out, it would provide wonderful stories not to be topped by lampoons or satire. [Insert joke about Apple sending recall codes to the USAF and USN here. You think Indonesia or someplace else totally poverty-stricken could quickly take up the slack in dry goods production needed for the US poverty-wage mass? Or would we have to start actually making plates, cups, cookware, guitars and consumer devices again? Discuss.]

    And I’ve stayed clear of Keith Alexander’s show on any alleged Chinese kill-switch strategy to break financial computers worldwide by over-writing the CMOS. He was selling that tale to overawe people in security talks before Edward Snowden came along and made it something of last resort. The entire idea just shows how detached from the real world the national security megaplex has become.

  4. Frank said,

    December 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    How the heck did they expect to flash the BIOS from the innerwebs (unless they already have malware installed on all those computers)?

    Public (and reporters’) ignorance on how this stuff works is one of their best friends.

  5. George Smith said,

    December 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    How the heck did they expect to flash the BIOS from the innerwebs (unless they already have malware installed on all those computers)?

    That was the general idea, universal killswitch malware. Over the past two decades there have been a couple viruses that wrote to the BIOS as a destructive payload but none were particularly successful. The problem was, as it is with any universal killswitch strategy of this nature, is the anti-virus industry, which would get samples sooner or later.

    In the recent past some have overlooked US viruses that were quiet for months, but in other cases, competitors of lesser stature had acquired samples and configured them into detection and not thought much of them. But when the really corrupting payloads show up, the historical trend has been for everyone to pay attention, issue press releases and scream to the tech press.

    The entire nature of the description was half-baked, relying on the credulousness of audiences who don’t know much about such things and their histories.

  6. Tom Paterson said,

    December 27, 2013 at 8:20 am

    But who needs a virus:


    It was quite real … I killed 2 motherboards like this.

  7. George Smith said,

    December 27, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Here’s the Chen Ing Hau virus, now a distant memory, but one which apparently influenced NSA thought. Note: It’s the -wrong- China. I had a copy in my old collection.


  8. Tom Paterson said,

    December 27, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Dunno if this is the best place but just in case you missed this …


    *“The guys who are very wealthy don’t have personal assistants, many of them clean their own toilets,” Mr Hencken insisted. If not, there was capacity to pay people to do the “dirty work in exchange for a wage and a place to stay”.
    Even ardent supporters recognise that the plan may be ambitious and the seasteads are not the best places to live. “Get a group of libertarians on a boat and they won’t agree with each other,” said Cody Wilson, a libertarian activist and “open source” gun designer. “It’s in their nature to be anti-social.”*

  9. Frank said,

    December 27, 2013 at 9:41 am


    That story describes the BIOS itself as defective and therefore vulnerable. Not quite the same thing as reaching across the intertubes to pull the plug on an otherwise healthy box. Nice read, though. Thanks!

    (Of course, you can make a convincing argument that Windows itself is ipso facto malware, but that’s a different discussion.)

  10. George Smith said,

    December 27, 2013 at 9:50 am

    while water for showers and drinking would be supplied by the rain.

    See what happens when you don’t read books? They should refresh themselves to what happened to American sailors who went into the drink in the Pacific for a few days after their ships were sunk by the Japanese, and how many died or went mad from lack of drinking water from “showers” and “rain.”

    The vision is funded by a US non-profit organisation, the Seasteading Institute, established by two darlings of the libertarian movement including the billionaire founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel.

    Ah, he was a subject here once. The upshot is if you get one big success, luck might beget another and then you’ll have enough money to indulge your cracked pottery, like the wish to live forever and other things. And reports in the tech press will write about it like music journalists writing about the new music of their heroes.


    Libertarian tech nerd bosh


    Take my word for it, there was a really crappy movie made on this for the past summer — Elysium. The picture was dreadful, I watched a net purloined copy with a friend, which seemed appropriate but it was predicated on the same idea.

    One notices in the article that they’re most interested in a small floating pile surrounded by three countries notable for their small amounts of rich people, large amounts of poor people, and horrendous government — Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras. In fact, there is a steady flow of American older and moderately wealthy to wealthy white cranks who are emigrating to these places for just the same reasons as those who desire their floating-rich-towns-free-of-tyrannical-government.

    It’s a thread the runs through American crank demographics and our flavor of libertarianism. The love of starting your own country where you get to be Il Duce, make the rules, run tax evasion and parasitic banking (perhaps a bitcoin mining operation using sea-water as coolant), and keep all the undesirables out except for those needed to pick up the litter, run the sewage treatment plant, or be nannies and food servers.

    In fact, we all well know the ultimate fantasy is described in Atlas Shrugged — Galt’s Gulch, a paradise where the inventor/business tycoons secret themselves in the Rockies, hidden by an invisibility cloak and powered by a perpetual motion machine where they pursue their interests until the world collapses and it is time to emerge. They even successfully run a premium cigarette-making operation, the packs emblazoned with a little attractive dollar sign. Of course, you had to wade through the rest of the book, a pitiless slog, to get to it.

    It seems to me it would be easier to just go live in the Wart on the Tip of Malaya known as Singapore, which is the same thing, only with too many people, one imagines.

    Ultimately, the US could go that way, obviating the need for floating homesteads. One just buys private security, builds gated-developments, or skyscrapers in Manhattan, and lives in them. Southern California, for example, is great at hiding the very poor servant class right next to the super-rich.

  11. Tom Paterson said,

    December 27, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks for pointing to the stepping-stones. We’re lucky, then, that Ayn Rand wrote such a clunker of an operating-system!?

  12. Tom Paterson said,

    December 28, 2013 at 6:41 am


    Words fail me … fortunately there are lots of pertinent comments below the line. A Dickensian terraced house in east London now costs $750,000.

  13. George Smith said,

    December 28, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    We’re lucky, then, that Ayn Rand wrote such a clunker of an operating-system!?

    I don’t think it matters. I’m sure you checked the Fiore animated cartoon. One of the blog’s loyal readers got me the book “Pity the Billionaire” to review last year. It spends about a chapter on how the extreme right and the Tea Party turned her into one of their icons.

  14. Tom Paterson said,

    December 28, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Your reference to Slap Shot made me remember how almost overnight the ship-building town I grew up in turned from Belle Reve to Belly Rave … estates of houses for working- and lower-middle class people boarded-up, smashed windows, fires and gutted buildings, heroin (mind-blowing given the pragmatic morality/work-ethic that had previously guided people) … you’ve seen the same thing. So I climbed the stack and brought down Pohl & Kornbluth’s 1955 novella Gladiator-at-Law (sandwiched between Babel-17 and Donovan’s Brain). A dystopia, but not even P & K imagined that the dispossesed wouldn’t receive adequate rations. Green, Charlesworth are anti-Galts, struldbrugs living in glass cabinets, eventually self-destructing. My father’s generation would say (chillingly, I later realised) that life was too short to learn German … I’m glad that you’ve read Rand so that I don’t have to.

  15. George Smith said,

    December 29, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I used to have a couple of the Pohl and Kornbluth titles decades ago. Not that one, though. Here are Escape from WhiteManistan’s Cliff Notes for Atlas Shrugged, one of the funnier and more on point things I wrote at the end of 2012. You have to admit describing Robin Hood as “the double parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich” is pure accidental hilarity, enough to reduce one to tetany..


  16. Tom Paterson said,

    December 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Anthem is available on Gutenberg (except to Canadians!) … it’s a laugh a minute with a surprise ending.

    From a story by O Henry:

    *Not long before the beginning of this century, Septimus Kinsolving, an old New Yorker, invented an idea. He originated the discovery that bread is made from flour and not from wheat futures. Perceiving that the flour crop was short, and that the Stock Exchange was having no perceptible effect on the growing wheat, Mr. Kinsolving cornered the flour market.

    The result was that when you or my landlady (before the war she never had to turn her hand to anything; Southerners accommodated) bought a five-cent loaf of bread you laid down an additional two cents, which went to Mr. Kinsolving as a testimonial to his perspicacity.

    A second result was that Mr. Kinsolving quit the game with $2,000,000 prof—er—rake-off.*

  17. Christoph Hechl said,

    January 3, 2014 at 1:08 am

    This comes a bit late, but the latest reveals from Snowden where presented on the 30C3 (30th Chaos Communication Congres) last weekend in Hamburg:
    Please watch it all the way to the end, even if it is one hour long.
    It’s all about hardware hacking (well at least mainly) and well worth the time.

  18. George Smith said,

    January 3, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Ah, thanks. This must have something to do with what was showing up in Spiegel. Anyway, in terms of timeliness, I beat out the NY Times and others. I had Snowden for man of the year before they started advocating for clemency.

    It has to occur to people how rare the whistle-blower is in the national security context. Money and fear guarantee a great degree of allegiance, something I pointed out a couple years ago post-Manning at a trade publication covering the government. So when one of them comes along it has to be hard-hitting or no change occurs.

  19. Tom Paterson said,

    January 3, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Sometimes the old songs are the best:

    Don’t worry Mister Blue, we’ll take good care of you.
    Just think of it as sense and not surrender.
    But never think again, that you can think again,
    Or you’ll get something you’ll remember.
    What will it take to whip you into line?
    A broken heart?
    A broken head?
    It can be arranged.
    It can be arranged.

    Mr. Blue by Tom Paxton / Clear Light 1967