January 14, 2005

Schneier joins the DHS-WG - a new attack on open governance?

Axel tipped me to an entry over on Bruce Schneier's new blog about the latter's concerns over an NDA he had to sign in order to join a working group on flight security.

I must admit to being troubled by this. The principles of open governance have drawn a lot from the sort of open scrutiny that keeps government honest. In fact, a key component of the 5PM is to encourage the user to replace the bevy of expensive but secret auditors; and to do so in an open, shared fashion. In the fledgling gold issuance community, it has been one critical factor in letting the honest issuers stand out and be counted for what they are.

Yet, drawing your key critics in and silencing them with money and an NDA seems to be too much of an attack on that model. I suppose the question arises rhetorically whether one can do more good on the inside than on the outside, and to be fair there must be cases where this is possible. Many outside the US pin their hopes on Colin Powell's continued presence within as a voice of reason, and it seems reasonable to postulate that the retired general would do less good on the outside.

It has to be fair to consider the possibility at least that no good can be done on the inside. In which case, we are left with a simple calculation as to how much it costs to draw ones critics sufficiently to the inside. (Biblical monetarists could then calculate the exchange rate to the silver unit and thus get a measure of dollar inflation over the last couple of millenia.) Again over on Axel's blog is some evidence of advertising the benefits of war on terror to the skeptical Europeans. It would seem to be that the current Bush administration sees no conflict in spending public funds to shift public opinion, and democracy as we've known it in the past (where the people decide and the government acts as it is told by the people).

Some might suggest that a single NDA wouldn't do it, and an attack of this form on Bruce Schneier, perhaps the world's leading rockstar cryptographer, would run the risk of backfiring. Shades of the early 90s battles of cause celebre, Phil Zimmerman spring to mind. I would think such confidence naive. Imagine a series of lucrative projects and NDAs. After a while it may simply become too costly to analyse the words, postings and thoughts from an NDA standpoint.

Another possibility is that the activities of the WG and the government in general might be more founded than what we as an open society can do, so we might see some benefit coming our way from spillover security knowledge. Once upon a time, all security knowledge resided in a secret forest in Maryland called the NSA, and systems like Unix benefitted from the leakage; we all knew the apocryphal story of the Unix password salt, but did we ever wonder how that arose? Yet, today, I think we can pretty much dispose of the argument that the government knows better than the people how to secure these assets. It doesn't pass the laugh test.

Of course such ramblings cut both ways. Who among us wouldn't like a lucrative contract to advise on security? And don't we all write blogs or books in order to attract such business? So how do we address the balance between open governance, and needing to make a crust? Today at least, I have no answer to that!

Posted by iang at January 14, 2005 04:32 AM | TrackBack

When at peace prepare for WAR we are now at war. Previously the NSA was preparing and they have gone to war with the army they now have. This is a massive defensive stance based on security of a rather large country of an unorganized social structure. So assets worth protecitng are spread all over. Basic allocation of resources will tell you that you cannot protect everything so the selection process starts what to save and what to burn before the invading horde arrives. I suggest that the Open Society become aware of their position outside the circle of protected assets. So it stands to reason they must fortify in what way seems best to them. The Closed Society will look at them as canaries brought down to mines. The large mass of cannon fodder in between Colin Powell leader of the Closed Society and the Invading Horde is of little or no interest in this War scenario. Imagine if the NDA where issued by the Peoples Invading Horde. I suggest the Open Society find a nice valley in Switzerland where the prevailing winds will not carry the fallout. The Open Society must now defend itself by creating limited access to itself. A greater threat is about to make itself known. The invading hordes are coming from both sides the closed society is really a horde and Powell would as easily as blink an eye do what is felt the right thing. Remember Clinton painted a rational face on a horde's desire for power. Imagine the shock of having climbed into bed with reason ready for a nights passion only to find a rather large Goblin next to you. Now we have all done this drunk and upon awakening found Goblins but this one will eat while you sleep. Wake up, sober up and stop trying to figure out which Goblin eats less or looks nicer than the other Goblins. I've been reading the exploits of Ryan Lackey lately in Iraq and find it interesting that his access to the Open Society has not been curtailed due over self promotion. If one where to wish to obtain money by attracting attention to join a WG in the time of War one might expect restrictions. Stop pretending there is no war just becasue the two parties are so bad at conducting it that it goes un-noticed.

Posted by: Jimbo at January 14, 2005 05:52 AM

Those contracts are nice, but it's a matter of ethics and morale with me. If I thought I could make a difference and wouldn't need to bend out of my personality too much, I might take it. If not, the contract can get lost (not without me blogging about it, however :)

Posted by: Axel at January 14, 2005 08:53 AM

@Jimbo: your diction is very militaristic. It has been said by a lot of people (including me, of course :) that there is no "war on terror" like there is no "war on drugs". You can try hard to fight both, but you have no well-defined front line. Face it: it's threats we have here and risks, not a "war" nor "fights". The best way to keep safe and/or get safer is dealing with the risks (i.e. minimizing them in the most efficient way - and classifying once public information is not going to work, see below) and minimizing the threats (by taking away the incentives of potential attackers).

Trying to classify each and everything in order to keep it safe or, rather, make it safe, is a silly effort because it will not help anything. In other words, the people will feel safe while essentially they aren't.
An Open Society can still be vigilant - and it's not even debatable whether that's a good idea or not (of course it is). And you're very wrong if you say that "the Open Society must now defend itself by creating limited access to itself". It's not possible to "defend" oneself alone or to make oneself scarce. That's one of the biggest failures I attribute to the American Way Of The 90s: the arrogance of thinking "We can do what we want because we are the only remaining super power and no one will be able to harm us." This thinking definitely was one of the reasons for 9/11/2001 and it is proven to be false by the extreme failure of the Iraq war.

Posted by: Axel at January 14, 2005 09:11 AM

Well, tap dancing here to avoid war-on-FC that is about to erupt ... But there is a connection between the whole war thing and FC so it has to be given some careful, sanitised airplay, otherwise we are in danger of missing the reality.

FC is connected to all that political bumph by means of the war on our money. This manifests itself in the various drugs, money laundering, OECD harmful taxation, etc etc. Each of those loosely coordinated attacks on the financial system need to be critically analysed for their efficacy and return on investment. (Having lived in two countries that were battered by this war I can suggest that questioning their efficacy is quite a reasonable thing to do.)

For the current war on terror, I'd suggest the best source for information would be the thread on 4GW and John Boyd's work. This basically attempts to package up the writings of others into an americanised format.

Posted by: Iang at January 14, 2005 11:17 AM

Ian G: reading your post gave me the impression that Colin Powell
is going to remain an insider in the Bush Administration. This
is untrue: when he leaves his Secretary of State job, he is not
going to take some other job in the Administration. Of course,
he will still have the contacts/goodwill that he made while Secretary.
Is that what you meant by his "continued presence within"?

Posted by: Richard Uhtenwoldt at January 16, 2005 11:57 AM

I have no special info on that, last I heard he was taking a post inside, which I was surprised at. I'd say that it's much more likely he is leaving.

(I think the example he makes is still good, regardless of what Gen. Powell decides to do.)

Posted by: Iang at January 16, 2005 12:29 PM
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