Thursday, June 13, 2013


So there's this vast federal facility for storing data in Utah, the Intelligence Community Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative Data Center, and other federal storage facilities, which may have more data than is necessary or even useful in mining for information to protect us from terrorism and cyber attacks.  Vast as is the amount of information gathered and processed, the system did not work well enough to warn the federal agencies of the Tsarnaev brothers' plan to bomb the Boston Marathon, which leads me to think again of the possibility that more is less (Or is it less is more?) or TMI.

As marvelous as is the ability of the machines of technology to function all on their super-intelligent own, human interaction is sometimes necessary for monitoring, repairing, etc. in the facilities, so who are the people minding these stores?  We know that much of the work of government today, including collection and storage of data on persons at home and abroad for purposes of security, is contracted out to private companies.  Who are the people minding the privately-owned stores?

Edward Snowden is a high-school drop-out, who eventually obtained a GED and took college courses, after which he joined the U S Army Special Forces but was discharged after several months, according to Snowden, because he broke both legs in a training exercise.  The Army will not comment on why Snowden was discharged.  As I've said before, a person with Snowden's background does not seem to me an obviously wise choice for a position which requires top security clearance, and, indeed, the choice proved to be disastrous.

Perhaps the good that may come from the Snowden leaks is a conversation about how much information the government can and should be gathering and how it safeguards the information in its possession.  


IT said...

It's an ancient question, isn't it? quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

As for Snowden, isn't he supposed to be some sort of computer whiz? In high school, I hung on the periphery of the computer geek crowd, and some of the most brilliant ones were the most disconnected from school.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I've heard Snowden described as a computer genius, but surely that alone should not qualify a person to have top security clearance. It does appear that a good many students who are brilliant with computers are impatient with school routines.

Also, about Snowden, his parents divorced in his senior year of high school.

Marthe said...

Data is not intelligence and wildly smart people sometimes do the dumbest possible things out of sheer ignorance of their own limitations and over-blown egos. What bothers me most about all of this is the private contractor role. The mantra of "privatization" of government functions bothers me. When GOP capitalists extol the "virtues" of contracting, all I hear is greed, private greed, public greed, total disregard of actual human needs ... an excuse to profit privately from the "public trough" while pretending to despise the public trough. Having survived a corporate giant, I'll never trust one again ... hint: they're chock full of fools getting ahead by guile not actual productivity, by social networking not actual work or integrity or achievement ... and none of them ever take any sort of oath to protect and defend the constitution, so their only real consideration in making decisions is how much money can be made. I'd rather have civil servants doing the spying for me, on me than the likes of Blackwater or Halliburton.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Marthe, although every institution, government or otherwise, eventually tends to become complacent and will mess up and then may move to self-protection and cover-up mode, the profit motive goes into the mix with private contractors. Given a choice, I'd rather trust the government agencies, untrustworthy though they may be, rather than a for-profit contractor.

Halliburton and Blackwater bilked the government of billions of our tax money just during the Iraq war.

Russ Manley said...

So his parents divorced - like a hundred million other American couples. And your point is?

Also, let me ask you, if you have time to reply: what should qualify a person to have a top security clearance? What guidelines would you list for that? How exactly would you score potential candidates, based on - what?

Disclosure: I have never been remotely important enough to need or want a top secret clearance, and I have no idea whatsoever what that involves. I'm just asking for clarity here, with a splash of tabasco. Grin.

Russ Manley said...

As a tangent off Marthe's comment - what about all the megatrillion bits of info that the internet companies already hold on us? I well recall about 15 years ago when I got my first home computer, there was much ado in newspapers and magazines about cookies - those sinister little bugs lurking on every website that would place themselves on your computer and never die but continue reporting on your web visits etc. forever - to some company or other.

In consequence, for years I religiously deleted all the cookies off my computer every night before bedtime. But the last few years I've rarely bothered - for one thing, when I do, it also logs me out of all my Google programs and Blogger and YouTube etc., so I have to fiddle with signing back in and hope I remember the damn passwords!

But nowadays, one hears very little talk about cookies - which are still there in even greater numbers, reporting to someone all the time about every click we make. But nobody seems to worry about it anymore - yet all that very personal data is going somewhere and stored somewhere, by private corporations. Who's to say they cannot or will not use that in some malicious or maleficent ways at some point?

I am not techie enough to know whether our personal usage data can be eradicated or cloaked, or set with a quick expiration time. But it does seem to me that there's a huge national discussion that we've never gotten around to. It's not just the feds we should be worried about.

In any case, even if the feds as well as the private companies are all doing good things and not evil - it is well to keep reminding them that there is a public keeping tabs on them and an ever-present need for accountability.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Russ, I don't know, but it seems to me that the person should be steadier, more stable. Snowden went into the Army and became disillusioned, then he went to work for the CIA and became disillusioned. Instead of leaving that field of work behind, he went to work for a private contractor doing the same work as he'd done at the CIA. He does not seem like a good choice for top security clearance. I don't look down on him because of that, because I would not be a good choice for security clearance, either.

Russ Manley said...

I'm not sure where you get "disillusioned" from - not Fox News, I hope? Now I haven't studied his career in depth but what I did read was he has had three "jobs" as an adult: the Army, which he was given a medical discharge from after breaking both legs in a training accident. The CIA was second. Then a private contractor. But one story said his salary at the last place was nearly $200,000, which I expect is 3 or 4 times what he would have made as a federal worker. I would have jumped at it too, and I am sure many hundreds if not thousands of other federal workers have done exactly the same thing.

Americans change jobs numerous times in their career; the average is now 4.4 years per job:

So I'm still not hearing what is so dreadfully awful about Snowden's personal life and work history. But I'll drop the subject there; we are both entitled to make up our own minds on this very contentious topic.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I never said there was something so dreadfully awful about Snowden's personal life, Russ. Much of what I know about Snowden, I learned from this article at TPM and one other source, which I don't remember now. I never watch Fox News, so nothing of what I know comes from the cable channel.

Snowden believes in free expression, and he chose China as his place of refuge, that bastion of free expression, where Chinese citizens are jailed for expressing themselves freely. He has been offered sanctuary in Russia, another bastion of free expression. I'm sure the officials in both countries would like access to Snowden's materials. He chose to break the law, but it appears that he is not willing to face the consequences. Good luck to him in either China or Russian.

Grandmère Mimi said...

What a surprise.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Russ, I once worried about cookies, too, but no more. I delete my history every day simply to keep clutter out of my computer. I frequently delete cookies for the same reason.

If you are on the internet or use an electronic device your privacy is pretty well ended. I have no idea how long information stays wherever it goes and if it is ever purged. I've stopped worrying about it.

If a serious conversation begins about the vast amount of data gathered and stored by the government, then I will be grateful to Snowden for it, but I will thank him for nothing else.

As for information gathered by private companies, I have no idea how that would be addressed.