Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ilves on Cybersecurity

While the presidents of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are in Washington, DC to meet with President Obama to discuss economic cooperation and theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, Estonian President Hendrik Ilves sat down with Atlantic Council Executive Vice President Damon Wilson for an exclusive interview on Estonia's role in cyber security and its importance in the global context.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taisia Osipova being "slowly killed"

RFE/RL has an article on Russian rights activist Taisia Osipova's third birthday in prison: 
Osipova, who has a 7-year-old daughter, was initially sentenced to 10 years in prison for the possession and attempted sale of heroin.
The ruling sparked an outcry and was denounced by critics as a setup aimed at putting pressure on her husband's political activities.
She got a retrial in 2012 after then-President Dmitry Medvedev criticized the verdict as "too severe."
But her sentence was trimmed by just two years, although prosecutors had recommended that she serve a total of four years.
Osipova has complained of being subjected to humiliation by officials at her prison near Tver, including being held in a crowded cell and routinely barred from meeting with her lawyer.
According to Fomchenkov, she is also being denied proper medical treatment for diabetes. She is also reported to be suffering from pancreatitis.
Her health, he says, is rapidly deteriorating.
"She is not receiving suitable treatment. As a person with diabetes, she should have appropriate living conditions and diet," Fomchenkov says. "This is impossible in prison. There is no endocrinologist there. In three years of detention she has seen an endocrinologist only twice, although she should be under constant monitoring by a specialist. This is not happening. They are slowly killing her."

See also in this blog: Taisia Osipova sentenced to 8 years 

The Technorevolutionaries - 3

At Wired State, Catherine Fitzpatrick examines the career of Nadim Kobeissi, the techno-prodigy who devised the encryption program CryptoCat, and is now an advisor to the New America Foundation think tank. She draws some interesting conclusions about the activities of WikiLeaks and other online self-styled "Internet freedom" organizations:
If you have a social movement that depends solely on encryption to succeed, then you don't have a social movement, you have a conspiracy and a clandestine partisan movement. It can't succeed when it is so dependent on encryption. It is antithetical to the open society you are ostensibly trying to build.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The New "Hooligans"

At, Lev Rubinstein considers the current wave of arrests, detentions and court hearings in Russia, all targeted at those who dissent from the Putin government's harsh and repressive social policies. Whereas in Soviet times the principal accusation leveled at dissidents was that of being "spies", the most common charge now is "hooliganism". But unfortunately for the authorities the new "hooligans" don't look, speak or behave like hooligans, especially when compared with their judicial tormentors:
Well, just go and attend one or two of these hearings. Just take a look at the faces of the accused and compare them with those of the judges, prosecutors, and  "victims of crime" who have suffered primarily from Mother Nature and from a lack of love in childhood.
What in the Soviet era was explained as a "class" difference, Rubinstein interprets in modern terms as an anthropological one:
Isn't it because most of these new "hooligans" conduct themselves so honourably and bravely in the shameful courts and in the prisons, and because they are perfectly aware of their own value and of the value of those institutions.They are simply unable to talk to the goblins and gnomes in their language, that language called "cooperation with the investigation". It's an anthropological incompatibility.
No, what governs here is not only the "social imperative". What rules here, as in a Greek tragedy, is not only fate, which has taken up residence in our great city behind red brick walls.
"Here, dear sir, is anthropology," as some character from Dostoyevsky might say in this or another connection.   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Soviet Russia


MOSCOW -- Police in Moscow have detained 10 activists attempting to mark the anniversary of a 1968 Red Square protest against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Security Trap

Craig Pirrong recently wrote in a post to his Streetwise Professor blog that he wondered why British journalist Edward Lucas, otherwise known for his criticism of Putin and warnings about post-Soviet Russia, was so pro-Snowden. Lucas, Pirrong said, 
has taken a very benign - to say the least - line on Snowden, Poitras, Greenwald, etc. Indeed, the publication has been broadly sympathetic with the Snowden-as-whistleblower meme, and quite uncurious about Poitras and Greenwald.  Lucas has expressed similar views on his Twitter timeline.  Yes, often in RTs and MTs which he will no doubt claim do not represent an endorsement, but given the obvious tilt in what he RTs, and the correlation with the Economist’s editorial line, it’s clear where his sentiments lie.
Understandably, Lucas wrote back in correction: not only was he not "pro-Snowden" - he had even written an article criticizing Snowden in European Voice.

I wrote in a comment:
I’ve followed Edward Lucas’s writings for many years, and particularly admire the forthright stance he has taken on support for the aims and aspirations of the Baltic States in the aftermath of the fall of Communism. In the present instance, regarding Snowden and the NSA leaks, I suspect that his allegiances may be torn, and that in the activities of the NSA he fears a lapse into practices more typical of the KGB than of Western power institutions. After all, the possibility that some collusion between Western and Russian security agencies may have taken place during the curiously-named “war on terror” is not to be excluded, particularly when the former senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007 can make such enigmatic statements as the following:
"Russia is not the Soviet Union; it offers no compelling ideological alternative, nor is it about to invent one.”


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ukraine Approaches Europe

A number of recently-published articles focus on Ukraine's forthcoming signing of the Association Agreement with the European Union at the November 28–29 EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius. RFE/RL's Dmytro Shurkhalo writes about the fears of a possible trade war between Ukraine and Russia, while Yevhen Solonyna examines a document that purports to be a plan drafted by Moscow and its allies in Ukraine "that outlines a multipronged effort to extend Russia's influence in the country." Attention is concentrated particularly on the Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk and his Ukraine's Choice civic movement, whom some analysts have suggested are responsible for the 10-page document. 

In Eurasia Daily Monitor, Maksim Bugriy asks How Powerful Is the Pro-Russian Lobby in Ukraine?, concluding:
While to date, the pro-Russian lobbyists' activity in Ukraine seems generally ineffective to alter the country’s course, their influence cannot be underestimated. At a minimum, such activity increases the costs for the Ukrainian government to pursue a pro-Western policy. And in the medium term, Russia may increasingly rely on Ukrainian Eurosceptic power players, who will inevitably gain political weight as Ukraine works to accommodate Europe and the West.
Meanwhile, the imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko has sent a greeting to the Ukrainian World Congress being held on August 20-22, in which she says that  the matter of signing an association agreement with the European Union is a matter of the existence of Ukraine, because the accession to the EU will guarantee the country’s independence. From the text of the greeting:
It so happened that forces came to power in Ukraine that don’t recognize the Holodomor as genocide - the Party of Regions and its satellites - the Communists. Instead of honoring the innocent victims of Stalin's cold-blooded regime, they are trying to rebuild a new regime in Ukraine, destroying freedom, democracy, denigrating our language, history and national pride. 
In the name of the dead, the living and unborn, we must finally break out of this darkness, where famine killed children, where injustice, lies and humiliation reigned. We must escape to the world that has overcome tyranny and authoritarianism, to our historical home - the European community. 
Right now there is no greater priority than the signing of an agreement between Ukraine and the European Union on political association and a comprehensive free trade area. For me this isn’t a matter of my liberty or imprisonment, it’s a matter of the existence of our country, because joining the European Union will guarantee our independence and protect Ukraine from returning to a new empire. 
We must consolidate our historical European choice with a victory of the democratic forces in the 2015 presidential elections and move to full EU membership for Ukraine. We have learned all the painful lessons we should have from 2005-2010. Three parliamentary opposition forces have already concluded an agreement on full coordination of activities during the next presidential elections in 2015. Not a day or hour goes by when I don’t think about the design for the future of our country, about every detail of the plan of changes in Ukraine after the victory of the democratic opposition in the presidential election. 

The Technorevolutionaries - 2

But you know, why is the New York Times breaking the story that Miranda was transporting stolen intelligence data, stolen by Snowden? Why wouldn’t our fearless truth-seekers at the Guardian let Britain know what David Miranda was really doing?
If the Guardian is employing at least one reporter driven by revenge to damage this country, hasn’t the time come for the paper to review this connection with Edward Snowden? Hasn’t this whole thing got out of hand?
As the hours tick away, this whole computer caper is appearing more and more like that time when Morton Downey Jr., with his ratings in decline, staged an assault in which he shaved his own head and drew several badly rendered swastikas on his body with a Sharpie. It’s getting to be just that silly. And it would be equally entertaining to observe if it wasn’t orbiting such a deadly serious topic.
I had noted before that Snowden's entire digital footprint seems to drop off in 2009. You just don't see him post or do things from then until he posts his PGP key and starts his life as a defector. But in fact there are a few posts on Ars Technica -- like once or twice a year in 2010, 2011, 2012.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Manning Apology

Via BuzzFeed:  “I’m sorry that my actions hurt people. I’m sorry that it hurt the United States.”

Friday, August 09, 2013

Julian Assange and 1917

In Western Europe and North America the name of WikiLeaks is often invoked by advocates of Internet freedom and liberty of expression. An hour or so spent with the 2011 Russian-language publication WikiLeaks. Разоблачения, изменившие мир [Wikileaks. Revelations that Changed the World] (available from B&N here) has been enough to convince me that the information-leaking system devised by the "Internet warrior" Julian Assange is viewed rather differently at the far eastern end of the Baltic Sea.

The book, by the journalist Nadezhda Gorbatyuk, presents an overview of Russian-language material in the WikiLeaks archives, focusing mainly on those parts of the material that concord with the official Russian state view of events in the Baltics, Georgia, and the Middle East during the first decade of the 21st century, and makes no bones about the true nature and purpose of Assange's project. Right from the start, the services of Yulia Latynina are enlisted to make one thing clear. Assange has not been publishing secret U.S. documents in the name of freedom of information:
Assange's purpose is exactly the opposite, and it is formulated in two of his programme articles of 2006 which not been translated into Russian, and so they are given here in the original language - "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance". 
"They are rather amusing essays, which follow a remarkable schizoid-cybernetic logic," writes Latynina. "('Conspiracies are cognitive devices.'; 'What does a conspiracy compute? It computes the next action of the conspiracy.') If the mathematician Perelman had taken an interest in the problems of society, perhaps he would have written something similar."
Following Latynina, Gorbatyuk first explains that for Assange 1) America is an "authoritarian state";  2)  all authoritarian states are ruled by a conspiracy; 3)  a conspiracy exists when the conspirators have dedicated links to each other and therefore have privileged access to information that is not available to those who are not members of the conspiracy. This structure can be weakened by strategically removing the secrecy from the conspiracy. To quote Assange himself:
The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
Latynina emphasizes the importance of this point. Assange's aim is  not to increase the amount of information available to the public, but to limit the amount of information on the basis of which the U.S. government takes decisions. This, she says, is a revolution in the classical Marxist sense of the word:
Once upon a time these guys were throwing bombs at presidents, "physically destroying the conspirators". In 1968 they were throwing Molotov cocktails at the Paris police, and in the early 21st century they were making revolution, trying to force the system to take wrong decisions by restricting the amount of information available to it.
According to Marxist theory, a revolution takes place when the the relations of production change in the wake of the productive forces.
Now the productive forces have changed - the Internet is here, and Assange has changed the relations of production. He has made use of the Internet, in the same way as in 1917 the proletariat made use of cobblestones.  

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Reading about WikiLeaks

Looking again at Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy (David Leigh and Luke Harding, Guardian Books, 2011) in the context of the Snowden affair, which it predates, it's possible to see some places in the book where more information might have been useful. While the sections on the Afghanistan and Iraq cables are fully worked out, with many fascinating details, the passages that deal with Russia and Eastern Europe are sketchy, to say the least.

Although the flow of descriptive and biographical material is generally strong and animated, at one curious point in the narrative there is what feels like a sudden hiatus, a tug of uncertainty. We read first about "Adam", to whom Assange handed over batches of cables:
"He seemed like a harmless old man," said one staffer, "apart from his standing too close and peering at what was written on your screen." He was introduced as the father of Assange's Swedish crony, the journalist Johannes Wahlstrom, and took away copies of cables from Russia and post-Soviet states. According to one insider, he also demanded copies of cables about "the Jews". 
This was the WikiLeaks "associate", Israel Shamir, who in the wake of events in Sweden said that Assange had been framed by "Langley spies" and "crazy feminists". Some details about Shamir are given, including a very brief biographical profile, and his activities in Belarus are noted. But then we are told that "Assange himself subsequently maintained that he had only a 'brief interaction' with Shamir." And with that, Shamir drops out of the Guardian Books narrative altogether.

This seems a pity, as some further investigation of this enigmatic figure might have proved more interesting than the rather bland few pages devoted to the Russia cables and the characterization of the "mafia state" (the title of another book by Harding).

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Technorevolutionaries

Some comments I wrote on the Wired State blog, in a discussion of Edward Snowden, Sarah Harrison and WikiLeaks:

... I wonder what it is one might be looking for amid all this intrigue, these wheels within wheels? Back in the Soviet era there was clarity in most of the Kremlin's strategies: it was a power game, played mainly with the United States, with stocks of real weaponry on both sides, and the real prospect of the game turning nasty - after all, nuclear war was just around the corner in 1962 and 1983. Nowadays, however, one has the sense of watching an almost surreal parody of the old power struggle: the postmodernist propaganda pumped out by RT may be flashy, grotesque and fun to watch, but it has nothing like the sinister and soul-crushing presence of the anti-Western stuff that churned from Moscow in endless volumes across the airwaves during the Cold War.
Looking at Russia and the West in the context of Snowden and the WikiLeaks scandal it's not clear what we are witnessing: is it just that a generation of young and relatively young folk in the West have developed a strain of nihilism that caused them to turn against their own heritage of relative freedom in the name of a suddenly-conceived dislike of national security? Did some diehard retro Kremlin stooges decide to take advantage of this, out of boredom, resentment and bile? Or are we genuinely seeing a replay and revival of the Cold War in modern dress? What could have induced a nice young American man like Edward Snowden to re-enact the role of Cold War NSA defector, or a nice young Englishwoman like Sarah Harrison to resurrect the somber memories of 1951?
Perhaps there are unresolved questions of education and social psychology at work here, and until these essentially domestic, home-centered issues are examined and analysed, the true political dimension of what appears to be a spontaneous protest hijacked by some ex-KGB pros will remain obscure. The children are acting out a drama based on the political past of their parents and grandparents, but the plot of the drama is confused, and so far the characterization is at best sentimental and shallowly defined. 
One difficulty with the "Cold War isn't over" argument is that it immediately brings anyone trying to promote it into contact with people whose motivations and world view are often far from balanced - all the way from those who push the conspiracies associated with the Mitrokhin Archive to one or two comparatively respectable international commentators and journalists on the right - and sometimes the left - of European and American politics. The real, authentic Cold War had a presence and an atmosphere that was irreversibly fixed in the historical ambience of the twentieth century, with a peculiar, unique quality that can't be repeated, any more than the unique socio-political ambience of the Soviet Union can be repeated now. Those who say without metaphor, as if it were an established fact, that the Cold War never ended, or the Soviet Union never went away, are talking from a position of unreality which deprives their otherwise often plausible arguments of the support they need. The world has changed, and the political processes and the actors that drive them have changed with it. To deny this is to drift off into a mode of thinking about the past and present of global politics that is unhistorical, and therefore likely to be fruitless.
Where the WikiLeaks scandal and the leadership of Julian Assange are concerned, it's often noted that both the movement and its leader style themselves as "anarchist", whereas in fact - as you point out - the techniques and ideas they employ have much more in common with those of Leninism and early Bolshevism than with any recognizably anarchist instruction book. Perhaps it's not going too far to move the Cold War analogy out of the way and gaze further back into twentieth-century Russian history. In the period immediately preceding and following the October Revolution of 1917 there was a similar blurring of the lines between the different revolutionary movements, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, Anarchists and Social Revolutionaries. In looking at the contemporary techno-revolutionary phenomena it may make more sense to view them in an analogy with the era of 1917 - not as an exact copy or a continuation of that era, but as manifestations of the "revolutionary pragmatism" that Lenin advocated: a practical and technical agenda and strategy for radical international social and political upheaval, in which the overthrowers of the established order become the guardians and rulers of the world that is to replace it.
For that is what is really so disturbing about the technolibertarians and technocommunists, the Assanges, Snowdens, Greenwalds, Appelbaums and others who seek to destroy the governmental,security,informational and social structures of the Western state. What they all share is a desire to dominate - on the successful completion of the revolution to fill the empty seats of power themselves, and to impose their own intolerant notions of social and political justice. Given the choices and rejections of those who hold them, those notions appear to derive more from the authoritarian and totalitarian ideologies of countries like Russia, Iran and China than they do from the "distillation of Australian cultural values...[the] distillation of American cultural values" and "the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution" that is claimed by Assange.
And maybe that is what Obama needs to be focusing on right now.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Menendez: Russia Must Return Snowden

Robert Menendez, chair of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
Edward Snowden is a fugitive who belongs in a United States courtroom, not a free man deserving of asylum in Russia.
Regardless of the fact that Russia is granting asylum for one year, this action is a setback to US-Russia relations.
Edward Snowden will potentially do great damage to US national security interests and the information he is leaking could aid terrorists and others around the world who want to do real harm to our country.
Russia must return Snowden to face trial at home.