Thursday, October 06, 2016

Sobering update on the war on terror

From John Schindler--strategist, scholar, and former intelligence operative:

We’re Losing the War Against Terrorism

Now, however, the SpyWar waged against terrorists in the ether is changing, and not to the West’s benefit. Although it’s normal for the enemy to learn from his mistakes, the changes to jihadist tradecraft that we’re witnessing of late are alarming and unprecedented. A new report in The Wall Street Journal brings to light what spies across the West have been privately fretting about over the last year.

Alarmingly, ISIS terrorists have begun to demonstrate a never-before-seen level of sophistication in communications security and encryption. We’ve known for some time that ISIS has cadres of skilled counterintelligence professionals, some of them holdovers from Saddam Hussein’s nasty secret police, but this new emphasis on security is a major problem for the West.
Schindler notes that the West depends on signals intelligence to dirupt terror cells and to prevent terror attacks. We are good at it, but out edge is eroding.

This emphasis on rapidly improving clandestine tradecraft, particularly in pre-attack communications, is terrifying Western security services, since it bluntly means that we will disrupt fewer atrocities “left of boom” as the counterterrorism pros like to say. “More civilians will die, it’s that simple,” explained a Western European security official who specializes in countering jihadism at home.

Over the last 12 months, ISIS fighters in Europe have demonstrated a clear learning curve in communications security and encryption. They stay offline and keep phones away unless they’re really neededand even then they’re relying on harder-to-track technologies and encrypted apps that make it increasingly difficult for European security agencies to keep tabs on them.
The problem with being really good at one facet of intelligence is that it is easy to become over-reliant on your strength and allow other capabilities atrophy.

In World War Two, British signals intelligence had tremendous success against Germany. The code breakers and analysts at Bletchley Park were vital to the victories in the Battle of Britain and the Battle of the Atlantic. But as the allied armies swept across France, the German commanders used wireless less and less. This reduced the material Bletchley Park had available to decrypt.

The Allied commanders, however, were confident in their goose that laid golden eggs of intelligence and early warnings. Their intelligence chiefs were not up to the task when the Bletchley mother lode played out.

The consequences were severe: Failure of Operation Market-Garden and near-disastrous strategic surprise when Hitler launched the Battle of the Bulge.

Schindler’s warning is especially concerning given the historical weakness of Western counter-intelligence.

See, for example, the al-Qaeda disinformation game which led to a deadly suicide bombing near Khost, Afghanistan in December 2009. Joby Warrick’s book on this case is highly recommended.

There is also the fact that CIA was repeatedly duped by the KGB and its affiliates during the Cold War: The CIA was fooled by scores of double agents pretending to be working for the agency but secretly loyal to communist spy agencies during the Cold War and beyond, according to a former CIA analyst, operations officer, and historian.

(See here for more)

From this blog in April 2009

One point Tennent Bagley makes in Spy Wars is that the Bolsheviks and the Cheka quickly became adept at counter-intelligence and sophisticated disinformation very quickly. They ran large-scale operations like the Trust that fooled their enemies-even experienced intelligence agencies in Britain and France. Bagley estimates that they ran 25-40 successful deception operations between 1917 and 1940.

Not bad for a raggedy bunch of revolutionaries.

Which makes you wonder: Could al Qaeda or another terrorist group do the same thing?

And if they could, are they doing it now?
It appears we now have our answer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Ain’t gonna work on @Jack’s farm no more

Instapundit is done with Twitter:

But the other problem with Twitter is that it’s the crystal meth of social media: Addictive, but unsatisfying. I’ve been spending a lot of time on it even though it doesn’t make me any money, and even though I kind of doubt it has much of an impact on anything. As I said a while back: “I think Twitter is overrated. It’s a good way to chatter with the chattering classes, but (1) it doesn’t drive traffic; (2) its impact outside the chattering classes is basically nil; and (3) it encourages people to think they’re being ‘activists’ when they’re really just tweeting to a few hundred people.”
The crystal meth point is most apt.

Nicholas Carr:

Would it be too much of a stretch to suggest that solitaire is a perfect microcosm of personal computing, particularly now, in our social media age? In “The Psychology of Games,” a 2000 article in Psychology Review, Mark Griffiths pointed out that games are a “world-building activity.” They offer a respite from the demands of the real. “Freud was one of the first people to concentrate on the functions of playing games,” Griffiths wrote. “He speculated that game playing provided a temporary leave of absence from reality which reduced individual conflict and brought about a change from the passive to the active.” We love games because they “offer the illusion of control over destiny and circumstance.”

Solitaire, a game mixing skill and chance, also provides what psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement.” Every time a card is revealed, there is, for the player, the possibility of a reward. The suspense, and the yearning, is what makes the game so compelling, even addictive. “Basically,” wrote Griffiths, “people keep playing in the absence of a reward hoping that another reward is just around the corner.” Turning over an ace in solitaire is really no different from getting a like on Facebook or a retweet on Twitter. We crave such symbolic tokens of accomplishment, such sweet nothings.
Addicted to Anticipation

The high is in expecting an outcome, desiring it, imagining it, not in its fulfillment.

Why twitter?

The Twitterverse is dominated by people who refuse to heed Mencken’s warning that “There is always an easy solution to every human problem--neat, plausible, and wrong.”
The problem with twitter

Before tweets, bumper stickers, sandwich boards, and peanut-gallery chants advertised shallow conformity. Twitter, to borrow from an ancient aphorism, is old wine in a new bottle
Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Government sucks and no one cares

Has there ever been a better example of failure laundering?
Why the U.S. Still Can't Track Visitors Who Overstay Their Visas

Five years before 9/11, it passed legislation requiring the government to put this kind of “Entry-Exit” biometric identity-capture system in place by 2001. That was followed by renewed mandates after the attacks. Each congressional directive, which had the force of law, resulted in promises by the government to get the system in place by deadlines that were never met, with each failure followed by an announcement of an entirely new initiative (requiring a new acronym).
Charleton Ogburn understood this problem a half-century ago:

We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization.
Sadly, politicians, journalists, and voters still get distracted by the shiny objects which pass as "news" and almost no one cares about what happens after a law is passed.

This same problem can be found lurking behind every big corporate scandal.

One way journalists could win back the public's trust is to actually do the job they claim they do.