Evidence points to another Snowden at the NSA

NSA-CIA-Edward-Snowden

By James Bamford

Source: Reuters

In the summer of 1972, state-of-the-art campaign spying consisted of amateur burglars, armed with duct tape and microphones, penetrating the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Today, amateur burglars have been replaced by cyberspies, who penetrated the DNC armed with computers and sophisticated hacking tools.

Where the Watergate burglars came away empty-handed and in handcuffs, the modern- day cyber thieves walked away with tens of thousands of sensitive political documents and are still unidentified.

Now, in the latest twist, hacking tools themselves, likely stolen from the National Security Agency, are on the digital auction block. Once again, the usual suspects start with Russia – though there seems little evidence backing up the accusation.

In addition, if Russia had stolen the hacking tools, it would be senseless to publicize the theft, let alone put them up for sale. It would be like a safecracker stealing the combination to a bank vault and putting it on Facebook. Once revealed, companies and governments would patch their firewalls, just as the bank would change its combination.

A more logical explanation could also be insider theft. If that’s the case, it’s one more reason to question the usefulness of an agency that secretly collects private information on millions of Americans but can’t keep its most valuable data from being stolen, or as it appears in this case, being used against us.

In what appeared more like a Saturday Night Live skit than an act of cybercrime, a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers put up for bid on the Internet what it called a “full state-sponsored toolset” of “cyberweapons.” “!!! Attention government sponsors of cyberwarfare and those who profit from it !!!! How much would you pay for enemies cyberweapons?” said the announcement.

The group said it was releasing some NSA files for “free” and promised “better” ones to the highest bidder. However, those with loosing bids “Lose Lose,” it said, because they would not receive their money back. And should the total sum of the bids, in bitcoins, reach the equivalent of half a billion dollars, the group would make the whole lot public.

While the “auction” seemed tongue in cheek, more like hacktivists than Russian high command, the sample documents were almost certainly real. The draft of a top-secret NSA manual for implanting offensive malware, released by Edward Snowden, contains code for a program codenamed SECONDDATE. That same 16-character string of numbers and characters is in the code released by the Shadow Brokers. The details from the manual were first released by The Intercept last Friday.

The authenticity of the NSA hacking tools were also confirmed by several ex-NSA officials who spoke to the media, including former members of the agency’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, the home of hacking specialists.

“Without a doubt, they’re the keys to the kingdom,” one former TAO employee told the Washington Post. “The stuff you’re talking about would undermine the security of a lot of major government and corporate networks both here and abroad.” Another added, “From what I saw, there was no doubt in my mind that it was legitimate.”

Like a bank robber’s tool kit for breaking into a vault, cyber exploitation tools, with codenames like EPICBANANA and BUZZDIRECTION, are designed to break into computer systems and networks. Just as the bank robber hopes to find a crack in the vault that has never been discovered, hackers search for digital cracks, or “exploits,” in computer programs like Windows.

The most valuable are “zero day” exploits, meaning there have been zero days since Windows has discovered the “crack” in their programs. Through this crack, the hacker would be able to get into a system and exploit it, by stealing information, until the breach is eventually discovered and patched. According to the former NSA officials who viewed the Shadow Broker files, they contained a number of exploits, including zero-day exploits that the NSA often pays thousands of dollars for to private hacking groups.

The reasons given for laying the blame on Russia appear less convincing, however. “This is probably some Russian mind game, down to the bogus accent,” James A. Lewis, a computer expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, told the New York Times. Why the Russians would engage in such a mind game, he never explained.

Rather than the NSA hacking tools being snatched as a result of a sophisticated cyber operation by Russia or some other nation, it seems more likely that an employee stole them. Experts who have analyzed the files suspect that they date to October 2013, five months after Edward Snowden left his contractor position with the NSA and fled to Hong Kong carrying flash drives containing hundreds of thousands of pages of NSA documents.

So, if Snowden could not have stolen the hacking tools, there are indications that after he departed in May 2013, someone else did, possibly someone assigned to the agency’s highly sensitive Tailored Access Operations.

In December 2013, another highly secret NSA document quietly became public. It was a top secret TAO catalog of NSA hacking tools. Known as the Advanced Network Technology (ANT) catalog, it consisted of 50 pages of extensive pictures, diagrams and descriptions of tools for every kind of hack, mostly targeted at devices manufactured by U.S. companies, including Apple, Cisco, Dell and many others.

Like the hacking tools, the catalog used similar codenames. Among the tools targeting Apple was one codenamed DROPOUTJEEP, which gives NSA total control of iPhones. “A software implant for the Apple iPhone,” says the ANT catalog, “includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact-list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell-tower location, etc.”

Another, codenamed IRATEMONK, is, “Technology that can infiltrate the firmware of hard drives manufactured by Maxtor, Samsung, Seagate and Western Digital.”

In 2014, I spent three days in Moscow with Snowden for a magazine assignment and a PBS documentary. During our on-the-record conversations, he would not talk about the ANT catalog, perhaps not wanting to bring attention to another possible NSA whistleblower.

I was, however, given unrestricted access to his cache of documents. These included both the entire British, or GCHQ, files and the entire NSA files.

But going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find a single reference to the ANT catalog. This confirmed for me that it had likely been released by a second leaker. And if that person could have downloaded and removed the catalog of hacking tools, it’s also likely he or she could have also downloaded and removed the digital tools now being leaked.

In fact, a number of the same hacking implants and tools released by the Shadow Brokers are also in the ANT catalog, including those with codenames BANANAGLEE and JETPLOW. These can be used to create “a persistent back-door capability” into widely used Cisco firewalls, says the catalog.

Consisting of about 300 megabytes of code, the tools could easily and quickly be transferred to a flash drive. But unlike the catalog, the tools themselves – thousands of ones and zeros – would have been useless if leaked to a publication. This could be one reason why they have not emerged until now.

Enter WikiLeaks. Just two days after the first Shadow Brokers message, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, sent out a Twitter message. “We had already obtained the archive of NSA cyberweapons released earlier today,” Assange wrote, “and will release our own pristine copy in due course.”

The month before, Assange was responsible for releasing the tens of thousands of hacked DNC emails that led to the resignation of the four top committee officials.

There also seems to be a link between Assange and the leaker who stole the ANT catalog, and the possible hacking tools. Among Assange’s close associates is Jacob Appelbaum, a celebrated hacktivist and the only publicly known WikiLeaks staffer in the United States – until he moved to Berlin in 2013 in what he called a “political exile” because of what he said was repeated harassment by U.S. law enforcement personnel. In 2010, a Rolling Stone magazine profile labeled him “the most dangerous man in cyberspace.”

In December 2013, Appelbaum was the first person to reveal the existence of the ANT catalog, at a conference in Berlin, without identifying the source. That same month he said he suspected the U.S. government of breaking into his Berlin apartment. He also co-wrote an article about the catalog in Der Spiegel. But again, he never named a source, which led many to assume, mistakenly, that it was Snowden.

In addition to WikiLeaks, for years Appelbaum worked for Tor, an organization focused on providing its customers anonymity on the Internet. But last May, he stepped down as a result of “serious, public allegations of sexual mistreatment” made by unnamed victims, according to a statement put out by Tor. Appelbaum has denied the charges.

Shortly thereafter, he turned his attention to Hillary Clinton. At a screening of a documentary about Assange in Cannes, France, Appelbaum accused her of having a grudge against him and Assange, and that if she were elected president, she would make their lives difficult. “It’s a situation that will possibly get worse” if she is elected to the White House, he said, according to Yahoo News.

It was only a few months later that Assange released the 20,000 DNC emails. Intelligence agencies have again pointed the finger at Russia for hacking into these emails.

Yet there has been no explanation as to how Assange obtained them. He told NBC News, “There is no proof whatsoever” that he obtained the emails from Russian intelligence. Moscow has also denied involvement.

There are, of course, many sophisticated hackers in Russia, some with close government ties and some without. And planting false and misleading indicators in messages is an old trick. Now Assange has promised to release many more emails before the election, while apparently ignoring email involving Trump. (Trump opposition research was also stolen.)

In hacktivist style, and in what appears to be phony broken English, this new release of cyberweapons also seems to be targeting Clinton. It ends with a long and angry “final message” against “Wealthy Elites . . . breaking laws” but “Elites top friends announce, no law broken, no crime commit[ed]. . . Then Elites run for president. Why run for president when already control country like dictatorship?”

Then after what they call the “fun Cyber Weapons Auction” comes the real message, a serious threat. “We want make sure Wealthy Elite recognizes the danger [of] cyberweapons. Let us spell out for Elites. Your wealth and control depends on electronic data.” Now, they warned, they have control of the NSA’s cyber hacking tools that can take that wealth away. “You see attacks on banks and SWIFT [a worldwide network for financial services] in news. If electronic data go bye-bye where leave Wealthy Elites? Maybe with dumb cattle?”

Snowden’s leaks served a public good. He alerted Americans to illegal eavesdropping on their telephone records and other privacy violations, and Congress changed the law as a result. The DNC leaks exposed corrupt policies within the Democratic Party.

But we now have entered a period many have warned about, when NSA’s cyber weapons could be stolen like loose nukes and used against us. It opens the door to criminal hackers, cyber anarchists and hostile foreign governments that can use the tools to gain access to thousands of computers in order to steal data, plant malware and cause chaos.

It’s one more reason why NSA may prove to be one of Washington’s greatest liabilities rather than assets.

 

About the Author

James Bamford is the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA From 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. He is a columnist for Foreign Policy magazine.

 

Posted in Activism, black ops, Conspiracy, culture, Dystopia, hacktivism, History, police state, Social Control, society, State Crime, surveillance state, Technology, Whistleblowers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Americans Must Demolish the Political Duopoly and Create a New Progressive Alliance

the-evil-and-corrupt-duopoly

By Thomas Baldwin

Source: Dandelion Salad

A Call to Action!

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”– Albert Einstein

Duopoly: “preponderant influence or control by two political powers.”

Demolish: “to destroy by breaking apart; to put an end to.”

Corporate fascism (or Corporatism): “the complete merger of corporate and state entities to create a political entity.”

The United States is experiencing a serious crisis and most Americans know it. Our government and the Washington establishment is disintegrating at near breath taking speed. It could well be the most serious situation in at least a hundred years. For years now several authors have described our government in Washington as being “broken” or “dysfunctional”. But these words seem inadequate any longer.

It is much more like a “living” entity which is dying and is in a critical state; all vital signs are poor. Crises are generated in Washington from incompetence and corruption. Little or nothing gets done; few if any serious problems are addressed. Everything is addressed as “partisan.” But that is a delusion because as I will mention later there is really only one party with two different factions serving the corporate fascists. When the two factions finally agree on something, then it is called “bipartisan” because the two political parties appear to be constantly fighting over power and money. What, if anything, is to be done about this evil charade?

Read the full article at  Dandelion Salad.

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Two for Tuesday

Greyhounds

Radiohead

Posted in Art, Music Video, Two for Tuesday, Video | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Entire Status Quo Is a Fraud

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By Charles Hugh Smith

Source: Of Two Minds

Fraud as a way of life caters an extravagant banquet of consequences.

This can’t be said politely: the entire status quo in America is a fraud.

The financial system is a fraud.

The political system is a fraud.

National Defense is a fraud.

The healthcare system is a fraud.

Higher education is a fraud.

The mainstream corporate media is a fraud.

Culture–from high to pop–is a fraud.

Need I go on?

We have come to accept fraud as standard operating practice in America, to the detriment of everything that was once worthy. why is this so?

One reason, which I outline in my book A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All, is that centralized hierarchies select for fraud and incompetence. Now that virtually every system in America is centralized or regulated by centralized hierarchies, every system in America is fraudulent and incompetent.

Nassim Taleb explains this further in his recent article How To Legally Own Another Person (via Lew G.)

The three ingredients of fraud are abundant: pressure (to get an A, to please your boss, to make your sales numbers, etc.), rationalization (everybody’s doing it) and opportunity.

Taleb explains why failure and fraud become the status quo: admitting error and changing course are risky, and everyone who accepts the servitude of working in a centralized hierarchy–by definition, obedience to authority is the #1 requirement– is averse to risk.

As as I explain in my book, these systems select for risk aversion and the appearance of obedience to rules and authority while maximizing personal gain: in other words, fraud as a daily way of life.

Truth is a dangerous poison in centralized hierarchies: anyone caught telling the truth risks a tenner in bureaucratic Siberia. (In the Soviet Gulag ,a tenner meant a ten-year sentence to a labor camp in Siberia.)

And so the truth is buried, sent to a backwater for further study, obfuscated by jargon, imprisoned by a Top Secret stamp, or simply taken out and executed.Everyone in the system maximizes his/her personal gain by going along with the current trajectory, even if that trajectory is taking the nation off the cliff.

Consider the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a $1+ trillion failure. The aircraft is underpowered, under-armed, insanely overpriced, insanely over-budget and still riddled with bugs after seven years of fixes, making it an unaffordable maintenance nightmare that puts our servicepeople and nation at risk.

But no one in a position of power will speak the truth about the F-35, because it is no longer a weapons system–it’s a jobs program. Defense contractors are careful to spread the work of assembling parts of the F-35 to 40+ states, so 80+ senators will support the program, no matter how much a failure it is as a weapons system, or how costly the failure is becoming.

A rational person in charge would immediately cancel it and start from scratch, with a program run outside the Pentagon and outside congressional meddling.But this is impossible in America: instead, we build failed, under-armored, under-powered, under-armed and unreliable ships (LCS) and failed under-powered, under-armed and unreliable fighters as the most expensive make-work programs in history.

As for our failed healthcare system, one anecdote will do. (You undoubtedly have dozens from your own experience.) A friend from Uruguay with a high-tech job in the U.S. recently flew home to Montevideo for a medical exam because 1) the cost of the flight was cheaper than the cost of the care in the U.S. and 2) she was seen the next day in Montevideo while it would have taken two months to get the same care in the U.S.

I’ve listed dozens of examples here over the years: $120,000 for a couple days in a hospital, no procedures performed; $20,000+ for a single emergency room visit, no procedures performed; several thousand dollars charged to Medicare for a few minutes in an “observation room” that was occupied by patients, no staff present–the list is endless.

We’ve habituated to fraud as a way of life because every system is fraudulent.Consider the costly scam known as higher education. The two essentials higher education should teach are: 1) how to learn anything you need to learn or want to learn on your own, and 2) how to think, behave, plan and function entrepreneurially (i.e. as an autonomous problem-solver and lifelong learner who cooperates and collaborates productively with others) as a way of life.

That higher education fails to do so is self-evident. We could create a highly effective system of higher education that costs 10% of the current corrupt system. I’ve described such a system (in essence, a directed apprenticeship as opposed to sitting in a chair for four years) in The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education.

As for what passes as culture in the U.S.: the majority of what’s being sold as culture, both high and low, is derivative and forgettable. We suffer the dual frauds of absurd refinement (so only the elites can “appreciate” the art, music, food, wine, etc.) and base coarsening: instead of Tender (romantic love and sex) we have Tinder (flammable trash).

Fraud as a way of life caters an extravagant banquet of consequences. While everyone maximizes their personal gain in whatever system of skim, scam and fraud they inhabit, the nation rots from within. We’ve lost our way, and lost the ability to tell the truth, face problems directly, abandon what has failed and what is unaffordable, and accept personal risk as the essential element of successful adaptation.

Here’s a good place to start: require every politician to wear the logos of their top 10 contributors–just like NASCAR drivers and vehicles display the logos of their sponsors. The California Initiative to make this a reality is seeking signatures of registered California voters. Since politicians are owned, let’s make the ownership transparent.

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Why Ajamu Baraka? Why Vice President? And Why the Green Party?

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What does the Green Party nomination of longtime Black Agenda Report contributing editor Ajamu Baraka for Vice President mean for the Green Party and the 2016 presidential election?  Is he just a black face on the ticket, or is it really time to begin organizing in black and brown communities outside the matrix of the bankrupt black and brown misleadership class?

By Bruce A. Dixon

Source: Black Agenda Report

In Houston on the first Saturday of August, the Green Party nominated Jill Stein, a Massachusetts physician, and Ajamu Baraka, a longtime human rights activists as its presidential and vice presidential candidates for 2016.  Stein’s nomination was a foregone conclusion, having been the Green candidate in 2012 and the only one of several aspirants to raise money, hire staff and campaign across the country full time for more than a year.

Ajamu Baraka followed a different road to the nomination, having been an interested observer but with no organizational connection to the Green Party till now.  Ajamu Baraka was the founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network, which still seeks to have the framework of internationally recognized human rights law applied to the victims of social and economic injustice in the US.  This is a truly radical concept because the supreme law in the US is the Constitution, which chiefly guarantees property rights and the rights of corporations but not necessarily the rights of human beings to a quality education, the vote, decent housing, health care, renumerative jobs and the right to organize, or to a safe and clean environment, none of which are mentioned.
Ajamu Baraka was among the first to demand, in the wake of the Katrina disaster, that the 300,000 or so persons uprooted, the majority of them African American, be classified as “internally displaced” under international law, a status which would have guaranteed them the right to return to the cities and towns from which they were displaced and dispersed to the four corners of the US.  Since the 1980s Baraka has been a consistent and principled critic of imperial US foreign policy over the years in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East.  He’s served in and led fact-finding delegations to Central America, Cuba, Israel-Palestine, Colombia and other places.  In the wake of the 2010 hunger strike waged by Georgia prisoners, Baraka led an unprecedented civilian inspection team into two state prisons where they were able to interview staff and prisoners alike.

I should say here that I count both Jill and Ajamu as comrades and personal friends, that I was on Jill’s campaign staff for several months and that Ajamu Baraka has more than 50 articles published at Black Agenda Report.
So why Ajamu Baraka?

It’s not a simple matter of putting a black face on the ticket.  Greens have run black candidates in local and national races before without managing to make a significant dent in traditional black allegiances to the Democratic party.

Stein chose Baraka because one of her campaign’s objectives is to strengthen state and local Green parties.  As a result of his more than four decades of work in the movement, Baraka has longstanding personal ties with and has been mentor to many of the activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement around the country.  If anyone can carry the message to these forces that now is the time for organizing alternative centers of struggle for political power, centers of struggle outside the two capitalist parties and outside the nonprofit industrial complex, that someone is Ajamu Baraka.

African American voters have long been the rock upon which the Democratic party’s voting coalition rests.  But since blacks vote Democratic mainly out of fear of the Republicans, they are a captive constituency whose votes are counted but whose demands are ignored.  Jill and the Greens know it will take more than running good black or brown candidates to make its black, Latin and working class captive constituencies climb out of the Democrats’ trunk.  Realistically that won’t much happen this election.  The candidacies of Greens like Joshua Harris in Baltimore and Ashley Flash Gordon in Travis County TX are signs that something new and unprecedented is peeking over the horizon, something that will challenge the vacuity and lack of vision of the black political class.  It’s not a challenge mature enough to accomplish a string of local electoral victories across the country.  But it’s real, it’s gaining ground, building experience and it’s not going away.

The present black political class and the leadership model that supports it have been in place pretty much since the days of Booker T. Washington twelve decades ago.  They won’t be displaced this election cycle, but their political bankruptcy is every bit as real and obvious as that of their white counterparts.

Why Vice President?

A frequently asked question is why Greens run candidates for president every year, but haven’t elected or even run candidates in many states for state reps and state senators, for county commissioners and members of congress.  The answer is really simple.

The two capitalist parties protect themselves against competitors with a briar patch, a minefield of provisions and conditions expressly designed to make it all but impossible for parties not financed by the one percent to appear on the ballot.  In many states, candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans are prohibited from appearing on the ballot until after their parties have scored one percent, two percent or five percent, depending on the state, in a statewide election.

This legal requirement in states like Georgia that Greens must score tens or hundreds of thousands of votes in statewide races before being allowed to run in local races is one more of the deliberate obstacles Democrats and Republicans have erected to competition from third parties at the ballot box.  And it’s why Ajamu Baraka is running for vice president and Jill Stein for president much of the country were Greens are not allowed to run for local office.

Why the Green Party?

For the last fifty years, Republicans have deliberately made themselves the party of white racists and nativists.  There’s simply in the Republican party or African Americans except a shorter line.  Democrats talk a different game, but are responsible to the same one percenters who fund Republicans, so once in office, Democrats govern pretty much like Republicans.  In fact Democratic presidents and governors frequently enact the oppressive policies we won’t allow Republicans to enact.

NAFTA came up twice during the first Bush presidency and failed.  It took a Democrat, a President Clinton to rally enough right wing Democrats to ally with Republicans to get it into law.  Ending public aid was also something no Republican could do, but Democrats only need  the support of the black and poor when they’re candidates, not so much when they’re governing.  The 2008 Bush bailout went before a Democratic Congress and it failed.  Barack Obama had to suspend his campaign for a week and come to DC and work the phones to flip the Congressional Black Caucus and enough other Democrats to pass the Bush bailout, which he quadrupled down on once in the White House.  Again it was a blow no Republican could have struck, though many wanted to.

Barack Obama used stimulus money to fund what he called “Race To The Top”, a drive to privatize public education that resulted in the closing and privatization of thousands of public schools, and pushed hundreds of thousands of qualified experienced public school educators out of the classroom.  This too was something no Republican could have accomplished, much as they wanted to.  There are many, many similar examples of Democrats accomplishing the right wing goals Republicans can only talk about on the state and local levels.
Republicans like Donald Trump talk about how they’d like to do mass deportations.  But our First Black President has deported two million people, more than any other three presidents combined, after promising Latino voters “a road to citizenship” in both his campaigns.

The only reason to vote for Democrats is our fear of Republicans, and as Jill Stein says, this politics of fear has delivered to us everything we were afraid of.  People voted Democratic to end the war in Iraq but we got more war in the Middle East and Africa.  People voted Democrat to raise the minimum wage and see millions of new jobs created.  But the minimum wage has barely risen and the only reason official unemployment figures are down is that his policies have pushed millions of people out of the formal workforce into increasingly precarious economic situations.

At the end of the reign of our first black president, a Democrat when blacks have been the rock and mainstay of Democratic voting coalitions for two generations, forty percent of black children are growing up in poverty.  Isn’t it time for some new questions?

Why must “progressives” ride to Hillary’s rescue if we don’t get progress?

Trump is a bumbling clown and a bogeyman.  He’s raising a fraction of the money Romney raised, four years ago.  Hillary Clinton has a billion dollars to campaign with and most of the corporate media. If she can’t beat this fool with all the resources available to her, why is it up to us?  Why?  Hillary ought to be, and ought to have been helping us, not the other way around.

I don’t expect the Greens to win the presidential election.  But the US system is almost 250 years old, one of the most elderly on the planet.  Its creaks and cracks are highly visible and aren’t going away.  Isn’t it time to start imagining and building what comes next, what comes after capitalism, what comes after genocide and ecocide, what comes after patriarchy and white supremacy?

Isn’t it time to start being the change we want to see?

That won’t happen inside the Democratic party.  It’s been tried again and again.  It’s time to build something different.  So why not the Green Party?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party.  He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

 

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Fear our new robot overlords: This is why you need to take artificial intelligence seriously

Matrix-Machines-Best-Movie-AI

Killer computers determined to kill us? Nope. Forget “Terminator” — there’s something more specific to worry about

By Phil Torres

Source: Salon

There are a lot of major problems today with tangible, real-world consequences. A short list might include terrorism, U.S.-Russian relations, climate change and biodiversity loss, income inequality, health care, childhood poverty, and the homegrown threat of authoritarian populism, most notably associated with the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump.

Yet if you’ve been paying attention to the news for the past several years, you’ve almost certainly seen articles from a wide range of news outlets about the looming danger of artificial general intelligence, or “AGI.” For example, Stephen Hawking has repeatedly expressed that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” and Elon Musk — of Tesla and SpaceX fame — has described the creation of superintelligence as “summoning the demon.” Furthermore, the Oxford philosopher and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Nick Bostrom, published a New York Times best-selling book in 2014 called Superintelligence, in which he suggests that the “default outcome” of building a superintelligent machine will be “doom.”

What’s with all this fear-mongering? Should we really be worried about a takeover by killer computers hell-bent on the total destruction of Homo sapiens? The first thing to recognize is that a Terminator-style war between humanoid robots is not what the experts are anxious about. Rather, the scenarios that keep these individuals awake at night are far more catastrophic. This may be difficult to believe but, as I’ve written elsewhere, sometimes truth is stranger than science fiction. Indeed, given that the issue of AGI isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s increasingly important for the public to understand exactly why the experts are nervous about superintelligent machines. As the Future of Life Institute recently pointed out, there’s a lot of bad journalism about AGI out there. This is a chance to correct the record.

Toward this goal, step one is to realize is that your brain is an information-processing device. In fact, many philosophers talk about the brain as the hardware — or rather, the “wetware” — of the mind, and the mind as the software of the brain. Directly behind your eyes is a high-powered computer that weighs about three pounds and has roughly the same consistency as Jell-o. It’s also the most complex object in the known universe. Nonetheless, the rate at which it’s able to process information is much, much slower than the information-processing speed of an actual computer. The reason is that computers process information by propagating electrical potentials, and electrical potentials move at the speed of light, whereas the fastest signals in your brain travel at around 100 miles per second. Fast, to be sure, but not nearly as fast as light.

Consequently, an AGI could think about the world at speeds many orders of magnitude faster than our brains can. From the AGI’s point of view, the outside world — including people — would move so slowly that everything would appear almost frozen. As the theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky calculates, for a computer running a million times faster than our puny brains, “a subjective year of thinking would be accomplished for every 31 physical seconds in the outside world, and a millennium would fly by in eight-and-a-half hours.”

Already, then, an AGI would have a huge advantage. Imagine yourself in a competition against a machine that has a whole year to work through a cognitive puzzle for every 31 seconds that you spend trying to think up a solution. The mental advantage of the AGI would be truly profound. Even a large team of humans working together would be no match for a single AGI with so much time on its hands. Now imagine that we’re not in a puzzle-solving competition with an AGI but a life-and-death situation in which the AGI wants to destroy humanity. While we struggle to come up with strategies for keeping it contained, it would have ample time to devise a diabolical scheme to exploit any technology within electronic reach for the purpose of destroying humanity.

But a diabolical AGI isn’t — once again — what many experts are actually worried about. This is a crucial point that the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker misses in a comment about AGI for the website Edge.org. To quote Pinker at length:

“The other problem with AGI dystopias is that they project a parochial alpha-male psychology onto the concept of intelligence. Even if we did have superhumanly intelligent robots, why would they want to depose their masters, massacre bystanders, or take over the world? Intelligence is the ability to deploy novel means to attain a goal, but the goals are extraneous to the intelligence itself: being smart is not the same as wanting something. History does turn up the occasional megalomaniacal despot or psychopathic serial killer, but these are products of a history of natural selection shaping testosterone-sensitive circuits in a certain species of primate, not an inevitable feature of intelligent systems.” Pinker then concludes with, “It’s telling that many of our techno-prophets can’t entertain the possibility that artificial intelligence will naturally develop along female lines: fully capable of solving problems, but with no burning desire to annihilate innocents or dominate the civilization.”

Unfortunately, such criticism misunderstands the danger. While it’s conceptually possible that an AGI really does have malevolent goals — for example, someone could intentionally design an AGI to be malicious — the more likely scenario is one in which the AGI kills us because doing so happens to be useful. By analogy, when a developer wants to build a house, does he or she consider the plants, insects, and other critters that happen to live on the plot of land? No. Their death is merely incidental to a goal that has nothing to do with them. Or consider the opening scenes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which “bureaucratic” aliens schedule Earth for demolition to make way for a “hyperspatial express route” — basically, a highway. In this case, the aliens aren’t compelled to destroy us out of hatred. We just happen to be in the way.

The point is that what most theorists are worried about is an AGI whose values — or final goals — don’t fully align with ours. This may not sound too bad, but a bit of reflection shows that if an AGI’s values fail to align with ours in even the slightest ways, the outcome could very well be, as Bostrom argues, doom. Consider the case of an AGI — thinking at the speed of light, let’s not forget — that is asked to use its superior intelligence for the purpose of making humanity happy. So what does it do? Well, it destroys humanity, because people can’t be sad if they don’t exist. Start over. You tell it to make humanity happy, but without killing us. So it notices that humans laugh when we’re happy, and hooks up a bunch of electrodes to our faces and diaphragm that make us involuntarily convulse as if we’re laughing. The result is a strange form of hell. Start over, again. You tell it to make us happy without killing us or forcing our muscles to contract. So it implants neural electrodes into the pleasure centers of everyone’s brains, resulting in a global population in such euphoric trances that people can no longer engage in the activities that give life meaning. Start over — once more. This process can go on for hours. At some point it becomes painfully obvious that getting an AGI’s goals to align with ours is going to be a very, very tricky task.

Another famous example that captures this point involves a superintelligence whose sole mission is to manufacture paperclips. This sounds pretty benign, right? How could a “paperclip maximizer” pose an existential threat to humanity? Well, if the goal is to make as many paperclips as possible, then the AGI will need resources to do this. And what are paperclips composed of? Atoms — the very same physical stuff out of which your body is composed. Thus, for the AGI, humanity is nothing more than a vast reservoir of easily accessible atoms, atoms, atoms. As Yudkowsky eloquently puts it, “The [AGI] does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.” And just like that, the flesh and bones of human beings are converted into bendable metal for holding short stacks of paper.

At this point, one might think the following, “Wait a second, we’re talking about superintelligence, right? How could a truly superintelligent machine be fixated on something so dumb as creating as many paperclips as possible?” Well, just look around at humanity. By every measure, we are by far the most intelligent creatures on our planetary spaceship. Yet our species is obsessed with goals and values that are, when one takes a step back and peers at the world with “new eyes,” incredibly idiotic, perplexing, harmful, foolish, self-destructive, other-destructive, and just plain weird.

For example, some people care so much about money that they’re willing to ruin friendships, destroy lives and even commit murder or start wars to acquire it. Others are so obsessed with obeying the commandments of ancient “holy texts” that they’re willing to blow themselves up in a market full of non-combatants. Or consider a less explicit goal: sex. Like all animals, humans have an impulse to copulate, and this impulse causes us to behave in certain ways — in some cases, to risk monetary losses and personal embarrassment. The appetite for sex is just there, pushing us toward certain behaviors, and there’s little we can do about the urge itself.

The point is that there’s no strong connection between how intelligent a being is and what its final goals are. As Pinker correctly notes above, intelligence is nothing more than a measure of one’s ability to achieve a particular aim, whatever it happens to be. It follows that any level of intelligence — including superintelligence — can be combined with just about any set of final goals — including goals that strike us as, well, stupid. A superintelligent machine could be no less infatuated with obeying Allah’s divine will or conquering countries for oil as some humans are.

So far, we’ve discussed the thought-speed of machines, the importance of making sure their values align with ours, and the weak connection between intelligence and goals. These considerations alone warrant genuine concern about AGI. But we haven’t yet mentioned the clincher that makes AGI an utterly unique problem unlike anything humanity has ever encountered. To understand this crucial point, consider how the airplane was invented. The first people to keep a powered aircraft airborne were the Wright brothers. On the windy beaches of North Carolina, they managed to stay off the ground for a total of 12 seconds. This was a marvelous achievement, but the aircraft was hardly adequate for transporting goods or people from one location to another. So, they improved its design, as did a long lineage of subsequent inventors. Airplanes were built with one, two, or three wings, composed of different materials, and eventually the propeller was replaced by the jet engine. One particular design — the Concorde — could even fly faster than the speed of sound, traversing the Atlantic from New York to London in less than 3.5 hours.

The crucial idea here is that the airplane underwent many iterations of innovation. Problems that arose in previous designs were improved upon, leading to increasingly safe and reliable aircraft. But this is not the situation we’re likely to be in with AGI. Rather, we’re likely to have one, and only one, chance to get all the problems mentioned above exactly right. Why? Because intelligence is power. For example, we humans are the dominant species on the planet not because of our long claws, sharp teeth and bulky musculatures. The key difference between Homo sapiens and the rest of the Animal Kingdom concerns our oversized brains, which enable us to manipulate and rearrange the world in incredible ways. It follows that if an AGI were to exceed our level of intelligence, it could potentially dominate not only the biosphere, but humanity as well.

Even more, since creating intelligent machines is an intellectual task, an AGI could attempt to modify its own code, a possibility known as “recursive self-improvement.” The result could be an exponential intelligence explosion that, before one has a chance to say “What the hell is happening?,” yields a super-super-superintelligent AGI, or a being that towers over us to the extent that we tower over the lowly cockroach. Whoever creates the first superintelligent computer — whether it’s Google, the U.S. government, the Chinese government, the North Korean government, or a lone hacker in her or his garage — they’ll have to get everything just right the first time. There probably won’t be opportunities for later iterations of innovation to fix flaws in the original design, if there are any. When it comes to AGI, the stakes are high.

It’s increasingly important for the public to understand the nature of thinking machines and why some experts are so worried about them. Without a grasp of these issues, claims like “A paperclip maximizer could destroy humanity!” will sound as apocalyptically absurd as “The Rapture is near! Save your soul while you still can!” Consequently, organizations dedicated to studying AGI safety could get defunded or shut down, and the topic of AGI could become the target of misguided mockery. The fact is that if we manage to create a “friendly” AGI, the benefits to humanity could be vast. But if we fail to get things right on the first go around, the naked ape could very well end up as a huge pile of paperclips.

 

 

Phil Torres is the founder of the X-Risks Institute and author of The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse. He’s on Twitter @xriskology.

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Saturday Matinee: The Grey

dvd-grey-splsh-500x200

“The Grey” (2011) is an existential survival thriller directed and c0-written by Joe Carnahan. The other co-writer was Ian MacKenzie Jeffers, who wrote the short story “Ghost Walker” which was adapted for the screenplay. Liam Neeson stars as the leader of a group of oil men who, after their plane crashes in Alaska, are pursued by a pack of grey wolves. The simplistic plot is given emotional depth with great acting from Neeson and the screenplay’s philosophical allusions.

Watch the full film here.

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Finally: the Eruption of the Clinton Foundation Scandal

hillary-frustrated

By Gary Leupp

Source: CounterPunch

“It’s getting really hard to know where any lines were drawn.”

-CNN

I confess I’d been looking forward to this. My son, following the Judicial Watch website, has been saying for months that the big email scandal will involve the State Department-Clinton Foundation ties and Hillary’s use of her office to acquire contributions from Saudi and other donors. As someone opposed to World War III (beginning in Syria and/or Ukraine), I was hoping that they (and he) were right.

It might not be all that immediately clear to many why this is another big deal. After all, it follows Hillary’s ongoing private server email scandal, involving not just issues of the Secretary’s “judgment” and so-called “national security” but also revealing details about Clinton’s key role in the bloody destruction of Libya and her hawkish views in all circumstances.

CNN commentators assure us that the FBI investigation “went nowhere” because the FBI decided she’d committed no crime. (Just move on, folks; this was political all along.)

These new revelations come just after the scandal of the DNC rigging the primaries for Hillary, revealed by email leaks (from an unknown source) provided through Wikileaks. The content of these has been avoided like the plague by mainstream media, which is in Hillary’s camp and is generally protecting her. The focus instead is on alleged Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election, and the imagined Putin-Trump “bromance.” Respectable news agencies have been announcing, as fact, the idea that Wikileaks got the emails from Russia; and that Moscow is trying to swing the election towards Trump (because he’ll accept an invasion of Estonia, wreck NATO etc.). It’s (or it should be) obvious bullshit, an effort to change the subject while exploiting the McCarthyite paranoid sentiments of the most backward.

The headlines are so far cautious. “Emails renew questions about Clinton Foundation and State Department Overlap.” “Newly released Clinton emails shed light on relationship between State Dept. and Clinton Foundation.” They are not (yet) shrieking, “Sheik bought State Dept. favors from Clinton Foundation donation” but we shall see.

What do the emails show so far? Two examples have been highlighted by the conservative Judicial Watch, which requested the email transcripts through the FOIA. In the first, in 2009, Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-born billionaire who has given the foundation up to five million dollars and used its assistance to build a project in Nigeria, and is one of the foundation’s top donors, contacted Doug Band, head of the foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative, asking to be put in touch with a high ranking State Department official connected to Lebanon.

Band emailed Hillary’s top aide Huma Abedin and advisor Cheryl Mills, expressing a need. He writes: “We need Gilbert Chagoury to speak to the substance person re Lebanon. As you know, he’s a key guy there and to us and is loved in Lebanon. Very imp.”

A key guy to us. To the Clinton Foundation? The U.S.A.? Abedin did not ask that question before responding, “It’s jeff feltman. I’m sure he knows him. I’ll talk to jeff.” Feltman had been U.S. ambassador to Lebanon from July 2004 to January 2008 but was apparently still seen as the go-to guy. So Hillary’s chief aide took it upon herself to contact the former ambassador to tell him Chagoury (whom she might mention is a major contributor to the Clintons) needed to talk with him.

Nothing illegal there, they will say. Why shouldn’t the State Department arrange contact between a billionaire Lebanese Clinton donor, loved in Lebanon, and the ex-ambassador, if it contributes to regional stability or U.S. national security? And the hard-core Hillary supporters will nod their heads, and maybe point out that Feltman has denied any “meeting.” (Maybe Huma just passed on his address and they chatted online.)

(CNN I notice is showing a video of Bill Clinton with Chagoury in Nigeria, inaugurating a multi-billion dollar waterfront development on the coastline established “under the umbrella of the Clinton Global Initiative.”)

The other instance of “overlap” central to the discussion so far is a request of Band to Abedin and Mills for “a favor.” Someone who had recently been on a Clinton Foundation trip to Haiti wanted a State Department job. He indicated that it was “important to take care of” this person. Abedin, apparently without questioning Band about why this person was important, got right back to him: “We all have him on our radar. Personnel has been sending him options.” So the head of the Clinton Foundation could snap his fingers, again stressing how “important” his demand was, and Hillary aides Huma and Cheryl paid by your tax dollars would snap into action.

A CNN report deplores “the intermingling of emails between State and Clinton Foundation and others, giving the overall effect that it’s getting really hard to know where any lines were drawn.”

Maybe nothing illegal here. But there is an ongoing FBI investigation, no longer about Hillary’s multiple phones and private server, nor about the content of the communications (revealing her hawkish savagery), but about the routine trade-off of foundation connections for political rewards.

Those transactions are mere corruption, not war crimes. But the U.S. mass media never targets politicians for their bloodiness, and they love the conventional corruption scandal. So let there be more leaks that will absorb the attention of the talking heads! Let’s see clearer pay-for-play evidence! And let’s see more details about how the DNC midwifed Hillary’s nomination, actively sabotaging a supposedly democratic process.

Let the American people see how thoroughly rotten both candidates are, and how thoroughly rotten the system that barfed them up.

Bernie in a fair process would be the Democratic nominee now. Clinton didn’t so much steal the election as buy it in advance, arranging the details through lackey Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Trump would not be the Republican nominee but for the editorial decisions of cable news producers to—from the very inception of his campaign—announce BREAKING NEWS and cover his nearly identical rants every time he held a rally.

This gratuitous coverage obviated the need for any (other) Trump advertising. Even as the anchors, commentators and other talking heads ridiculed, denounced and appeared puzzled about the Trump phenomenon, the networks made the viewers imbibe his vapid rants. They hooked the most reactionary elements of the population on this blowhard billionaire nut case.

In the Democrats’ case, Wall Street and Wasserman Schultz controlled the primaries. In the Republican case, the corporate news media (for its immediate profit motives) advertised a total dick who happened to be a billionaire and represent the One Percent every bit as much as Hillary.

So they’re now in our faces, day after day. Hideous people with their news-anchor supporters, and cable commentators so ready to dismiss serious issues, put the very best face on their candidate, and change the subject to attack the other candidate. In the end it comes down to: We have a two-party system. The parties made their choices. So you HAVE to choose one.

Julian Assange described the U.S. presidential race as a choice between cholera and gonorrhea. Why should the people of this great country of 310,000,000 people—many with great creativity, integrity and intelligence—be assigned this sick choice of Clinton or Trump by the One Percent that controls everything?

Why should any Bernie supporter so debase himself or herself as to say, “Okay, I know the primaries were fixed and that Bernie could not win because the cards were stacked against him. And despite the fact that I put passion and effort into an anti-Wall Street campaign, now I’ll support the Wall Street candidate, who’s also a liar, who’s going to flip-flop again on TPP and bomb Syria to produce regime change, and provoke Russia in Syria and Ukraine—because well anyway she’s better than Trump, and we all have to vote, don’t we”?

But why should anybody have to hold their nose while they vote? The whole process has been exposed as never before as a farce. Why participate at all in something so corrupt? Do you want to vote just to vote, to publicly display the fact that you believe in the system itself, like the North Koreans who routinely go to the polls patriotically to vote for the options available? (As you may know, in some elections in the DPRK you can vote for a candidate of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chondoist Chogu Party, Korean Social Democratic Party or independent. There is the manicured appearance of multiparty democracy—just like here. And no doubt some people feel good after the voting, knowing they’ve done their civic duty in a system they believe in. But what if you’ve woken up and don’t believe in the system anymore?)

Why not think bigger, and beyond? Either Clinton or Trump will likely take office in January, as the most unpopular newly elected president of all time. Either will have been brought to power by a manifestly anti-democratic, corrupt process that, more than in past years, is well exposed this time. Either will be vulnerable to mass upheaval, in the wake of Mexico wall construction or the announcement of a Syrian no-fly zone. Appalled by the election choices and result, the majority could maybe consider targeting the rigged system itself.

Just a suggestion. Massive demonstrations in Washington on Inaugural Day by people who have come to reject its legitimacy itself, knowing that it’s run by the One Percent to whom black lives don’t matter, drone warfare is cool and global warming is a hoax. Posters and banners with the curt, easy-to-understand and undeniably true popular slogan: THE WHOLE SYSTEM IS RIGGED!

Imagine a huge rally Jan. 20 demanding its overthrow, or at least the immediate resignation of the system’s illegitimate new executive, even if we don’t know what comes next.  Imagine the admiration that would invite throughout the world, the hope it would inspire should the people of this country rise up to challenge not just a war, policy or person but the corrupt (capitalist and imperialist) system under which we live.

***

Now I read that the FBI, directed by James Comey (who recommended no charges for Clinton for her private cell phone use but left open the prospect of recommending criminal charges against Clinton for abusing her office to profit the Clinton Foundation) in fact has recommended charges against Hillary.

But the Department of Justice headed by Clinton loyalist Loretta Lynch rejected the recommendation. Because—don’t you see?—Hillary has to be the next president. To stop Trump, at all costs! And to stop Putin, that aggressive Putin. And to keep together the “Clinton Coalition.”

Good job, Loretta! But regardless of your effort, Hillary’s Pinocchio nose grows longer by the day, while the whole system is exposed as a cancer requiring the most aggressive treatment.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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