Illiberal Hollywood: Unchanged or Worse One Year Later

On May 12, 2015, the ACLU sent a letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asking the EEOC to look into the disparity of women directors hired to produce big-budget film and episodic television.

In October last year, the EEOC conducted interviews with women directors in film and television in response to the ACLU’s letter.

TIME reported yesterday that both the EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs launched investigations into

Today, one year after the ACLU’s letter, things have not only not improved in spite of an increasing amount of press coverage focusing on gender inequity in the entertainment industry.

It’s actually gotten worse:

A tally by TheWrap found 22 consecutive films from Fox — not counting Fox Searchlight, the studio’s art-house division — and 25 consecutive releases from Paramount had only male directors attached. So far, that covers all movies scheduled to hit theaters this year, next year and 2018 too.

The problem is systemic, from agents to studios — even union representation has been less than supportive:

Some women directors said they have noticed a backlash for their activism as well, and from a source that might be expected to be an ally. Over the summer, DGA leadership attempted to take over administration of a Facebook group of women directors who were discussing problems in the industry, according to Giese. …

Maria Giese was the first woman the EEOC interviewed; she kicked off the chain of events leading up to the EEOC’s investigation when she talked with the ACLU about the entertainment industry’s gender inequity.

The number of women directors in 2015 improved over 2014, the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University reported — but only matching a percentage last reached in 1998. This is NOT an improvement.

Nor is the continuing Ishtar effect, where male directors can fail upwards after releasing a dog at the box office, but women cannot fail and recover. Definitely not an improvement.

What has improved? The increasing level of organization across women and minorities in entertainment. They are far more outspoken and demanding about equitable representation; they are taking effective measures to promote their case and themselves. In the not-too-recent past it would have been difficult for non-industry folks to identify more than a dozen female directors. Now they can find them at The Director List’s searchable database featuring more than a thousand women who have directed a feature film, an episode of television, a national commercial, or has extensive music video experience.

Awareness has also led to changes in film festival-related events. Sundance Institute’s annual Directors Lab chose five women of a total eight first-time filmmakers to participate this year. 36% of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival’s competition films were women-directed. Four of nine judges at Cannes Film Fest are women this year, with more focus on women-directed films (though the number of women-directed films featured still lags badly).

Women empowered themselves to create new solutions, too, rather than wait for the male-dominated industry to catch up. Director Ava DuVernay and network owner Oprah Winfrey are executive producers for a new female-led/female-helmed TV series, Queen Sugar, for OWN network. DuVernay has also launched an indie film distribution outlet, ARRAY Now, to promote films produced by persons of color and women. Amy Hobby and Anne Hubbell launched Tangerine Entertainment, a film production company emphasizing works by female filmmakers and films with strong roles for women.

But the major studios lack of female-directed films (and too few female-run/-directed TV shows) for the next two to three years means women will still be cut out of big budget production and distribution, even though they are not sitting on their hands. This will not change without pressure from both the audience, shareholders, and government. Audience withdrawal is not enough, as we’ve seen with poorly performing male-directed films; their directors still get another crack. The EEOC’s work is slow; it’s already seven months now since the first interviews with female directors. Let’s hope shareholders catch a clue soon.

Like Disney — two of its seven biggest films over the last decade were directed/written/led by women (Frozen, 2013), or led by a woman (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015). Yet its stock is languishing, and its lineup thin of women-directed/-written/-led content. Maybe its board needs a shakeup and its stock needs to tank a little further before they wake up and realize an audience composed of +51% of the population shouldn’t be slighted by its hiring practices. Same goes for the rest of the entertainment industry: we expect better, and soon.

We know gender equity can happen; Sweden proved equality is attainable, and Norway’s nearly there. It’s past time for Hollywood to live up to its liberal image and hire women.

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Wednesday Morning: Wandering

This music video is the result of an insomniac walkabout. I went looking for something mellow I hadn’t heard before and tripped on this lovely little indie folk artistry. Not certain why I haven’t heard Radical Face before given how popular this piece is. I like it enough to look for more by the same artist.

Let’s go wandering…

Volkswagen: 3.0L fix in the offing, but too late for EU and the world?

  • New catalytic converter may be part of so-called fix for VW and Audi 3.0L vehicles (Bloomberg) — The financial hit affected dividend as reserve for fix/recall/litigation was raised from 6.7B to 16.2B euros. VW group will not have a full explanation about Dieselgate’s origins and costs to shareholders until the end of 2016.
  • But Netherland’s NO2 level exceeds the 40 microgram threshold in 11 locations, violating EU air pollution standards (DutchNews) — Locations are those with high automobile traffic.
  • UK government shoveled 105,000 pounds down legal fee rat hole fighting air pollution charges (Guardian-UK) — Look, we all know the air’s dirty. Stop fighting the charges and fix the mess.
  • UK’s MPs already said air pollution was a ‘public health emergency’ (Guardian-UK) — It’s killing 40-50,000 UK residents a year. One of the approaches discussed but not yet in motion is a scrapping plan for dirty diesel vehicles.
  • Unfortunately global CO2 level at 400 ppm tipping point, no thanks to VW’s diesel vehicles (Sydney Melbourne Herald) — Granted, VW’s passenger vehicles aren’t the only source, but cheating for nearly a decade across millions of cars played a substantive role.

Mixed government messages about hacking, encryption, and cybersecurity enforcement
Compare: FBI hires a “grey hat” to crack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone account, versus FCC and FTC desire for escalated security patching on wireless systems. So which is it? Hacking is good when it helps government, or no? Encryption is not good for government except when it is? How do these stories make any sense?

  • State of Florida prosecuting security researcher after he revealed FL state’s election website was vulnerable (Tampa Bay Times) — Unencrypted site wide-open to SQL “injection attack” allowed research to hack into the site. Florida arrests him instead of saying thanks and fixing their mess.
  • UK court rules hacker does not have to give up password (Guardian-UK) — Computer scientist and hacker activist Lauri Love fights extradition to U.S. after allegedly stealing ‘massive quantities’ of data from Fed Reserve and NASA computers; court ruled he does not have to give up password for his encrypted computers taken into custody last autumn.
  • SWIFT denies technicians left Bangladeshi bank vulnerable to hacking (Reuters) — Tit-for-tat back and forth between Bangladesh Bank and SWIFT as to which entity at fault for exposures to hacking. Funny how U.S. government is saying very little about this when the vulnerability could have been used by terrorists for financing.

Well, it’s not quite noon Pacific time, still morning somewhere. Schedule was off due to insomnia last night; hoping for a better night’s sleep tonight, and a better morning tomorrow. Catch you then!

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James Clapper’s Latest Effort To Fearmonger about Snowden’s Damage

In addition to getting him to admit the US can’t fix the Middle East but we have to stay because our “leadership” is needed there, in this column David Ignatius asked James Clapper, again, about how much damage Edward Snowden has caused.

Clapper said the United States still can’t be certain how much harm was done to intelligence collection by the revelations of disaffected National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. “We’ve been very conservative in the damage assessment. Overall, there’s a lot,” Clapper said, noting that the Snowden disclosures made terrorist groups “very security-conscious” and speeded the move to unbreakable encryption of data. And he said the Snowden revelations may not have ended: “The assumption is that there are a lot more documents out there in escrow [to be revealed] at a time of his choosing.”

Let’s unpack this.

Clapper provides two pieces of evidence for damage:

  1. Snowden disclosures have made terrorist groups “very security-conscious”
  2. Snowden disclosures have “speeded the move” [by whom, it’s not entirely clear] to unbreakable encryption

That’s a bit funny, because what we saw from the terrorist cell that ravaged Paris and Belgium was — as The Grugq describes it — “drug dealer tradecraft writ large.” Stuff that they could have learned from watching the Wire a decade ago, with a good deal of sloppiness added in. With almost no hints of the use of encryption.

If the most dangerous terrorists today are using operational security that they could have learned years before Snowden, then his damage is not all that great.

Unless Clapper means, when he discusses the use of unbreakable encryption, us? Terrorists were already using encryption, but journalists and lawyers and US-based activists might not have been (activists in more dangerous places might have been using encryption that the State Department made available).

Neither of those developments should be that horrible. Which may be why Clapper says, “We’ve been very conservative in the damage assessment” even while insisting there’s a lot. Because this is not all that impressive, unless as Chief Spook you think you should have access to the communications of journalists and lawyers and activists.

I’m most interested, however, in this escrow idea.

“The assumption is that there are a lot more documents out there in escrow [to be revealed] at a time of his choosing.”

Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras and Bart Gellman have said about a zillion times that Snowden handed everything off before he went to Russia. And everyone who knows anything about Russia would assume if he brought documents there, Putin has had them for almost 3 years.

Sure, there are surely documents that reporters have that, reviewed in the future by other people, may result in new disclosures. But the suggestion that Snowden himself is asking the journalists to hold back some of the documents “in escrow” is rather curious. Why would Snowden withhold documents until such time that the technology behind disclosures would be out of date.

I mean, it’s useful as a basis to claim that Snowden will continue to damage the IC when there’s actually not that much evidence he already has. But it doesn’t make much sense to me.

Ah well. In the article Clapper says he’ll be around for 265 days, which means around February 9 of next year, someone else will take up fearmongering about Edward Snowden.

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The US Person Back Door Search Number DOJ Could Publish Immediately

The Senate Judiciary Committee had a first public hearing on Section 702 today, about which I’ll have several posts.

One piece of good news, however, is that both some of the witnesses (Liza Goitein and David Medine; Ken Wainstein, Matt Olsen, and Rachel Brand were the other witnesses) and some of the Senators supported more transparency, including requiring the FBI to provide a count of how many US person queries of 702-collected data it does, as well as a count of how many US persons get sucked up by Section 702 more generally.

Liza Goitein presented a very reasonable view of the efforts the privacy community is making to work with the government to come up with reasonable counts.

But no one mentioned the very easy count of US person back door searches that FBI could provide today.

As I noted when this was released, as part of last year’s 702 Certification process, Judge Thomas Hogan required FBI to report every time FBI reviews data on a US person query of 702 data that doesn’t pertain to National Security.

[Hogan] imposed a requirement that FBI “submit in writing a report concerning each instance … in which FBI personnel receive and review Section 702-acquired information that the FBI identifies as concerning a United States person in response to a query that is not designed to find and extract foreign intelligence information.” Such reporting, if required indefinitely, is worthwhile — and should have been required by Congress under USA Freedom Act.

But FBI can and presumably will game this information in two ways. First, FBI’s querying system can be set such that, even if someone has access to 702 data, they can run a query that will flag a hit in 702 data but won’t actually show the data underlying that positive return. This provides one way for 702-cleared people to learn that such information is in such a collection and — if they want the data without having to report it — may be able to obtain it another way. It is distinctly possible that once NSA shares EO 12333 data directly with FBI, for example, the same data will be redundantly available from that in such a way that would not need to be reported to FISC. (NSA used this arbitrage method after the 2009 problems with PATRIOT-authorized database collections.)

Plus, such reporting depends on the meaning of foreign intelligence information as defined under the Attorney General Guidelines.

FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE: information relating to the capabilities, intentions, or activities of foreign governments or elements thereof, foreign organizations or foreign persons, or international terrorists.

It would be relatively easy for FBI to decide that any conversation with a foreign person constituted foreign intelligence, and in so doing count even queries on US persons to identify criminal evidence as foreign intelligence information and therefore exempt from the reporting guidance. Certainly, the kinds of queries that might lead the FBI to profile St. Paul’s Somali community could be considered a measure of Somali activities in that community. Similarly, FBI might claim the search for informants who know those in a mosque with close ties overseas could be treated as the pursuit of information on foreign activities in US mosques.

Hogan imposed a worthwhile new reporting requirement. But that’s still a very far cry from conducing a fair assessment of whether FBI’s back door searches are constitutional.

This requirement went into effect on December 4, 2015, and Hogan required updates on such reporting by January 27, 2016, so FBI is already reporting on this.

It would take minimal effort for ODNI to release how many of these notices got sent to FISC — it could do it quarterly so we didn’t learn too much from the process. Maybe there wouldn’t be any notices, though for a variety of reasons I doubt it. Maybe, as I note, the number is too fake to be useful.

But it is a number, one FBI is already required to report. So they should start reporting it.

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Tuesday Morning: Garbage in, Garbage out [UPDATE]

Why’d I pick this music video, besides the fact I like the tune? Oh, no reason at all other than it’s trash day again.

Speaking of trash…

Facebook furor just frothy foam?
I didn’t add yesterday’s Gizmodo piece on Facebook’s news curation yesterday or the earlier May 3 piece because I thought the work was sketchy. Why?

  • The entire curation system appears to be contractors — Where is a Facebook employee in this process?

    “…News curators aren’t Facebook employees—they’re contractors. One former team member said they received benefits including limited medical insurance, paid time off after 6 months and transit reimbursement, but were otherwise excluded from the culture and perks of working at Facebook. […] When the curators, hired by companies like BCForward and Pro Unlimited (which are then subcontracted through Accenture to provide workers for Facebook), arrive at work each day, they read through a list of trending topics ranked by Facebook’s algorithm from most popular (or most engaged) to least. The curators then determine the news story the terms are related to.

    The news curation team writes headlines for each of the topics, along with a three-sentence summary of the news story it’s pegged to, and choose an image or Facebook video to attach to the topic. The news curator also chooses the “most substantive post” to summarize the topic, usually from a news website. […] News curators also have the power to “deactivate” (or blacklist) a trending topic—a power that those we spoke to exercised on a daily basis. …” (emphasis mine)

    I see a Facebook-generated algorithm, but no direct employees in the process — only curator-contractors.

  • Sources may have a beef with Facebook — This doesn’t sound like a happy work environment, does it?

    “…Over time, the work became increasingly demanding, and Facebook’s trending news team started to look more and more like the worst stereotypes of a digital media content farm.

    […]

    Burnout was rampant. ‘Most of the original team isn’t there anymore,’ said another former news curator. ‘It was a stop-gap for them. Most of the people were straight out of [journalism school]. At least one of them was fired. Most of them quit or were hired by other news outlets.’ …” (emphasis mine)

    It’s not as if unhappy contractors won’t have newsworthy tips, but what about unhappy Facebook employees? Where are they in either of Gizmodo’s pieces?

  • Details in the reporting reveal bias in the complainant(s) — So far I see one reference to a conservative curator, not multiple conservative curators.

    “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential “trending” news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project.

    […]

    Other former curators interviewed by Gizmodo denied consciously suppressing conservative news, and we were unable to determine if left-wing news topics or sources were similarly suppressed. The conservative curator described the omissions as a function of his colleagues’ judgements; there is no evidence that Facebook management mandated or was even aware of any political bias at work. …”

    Note the use of “a” in front of “former journalist” and “the” in front of “conservative curator.” (Note also Gizmodo apparently needs a spell check app.)

  • No named sources confirming the validity of the complaints or other facts in Gizmodo’s reporting — Again, where are Facebook employees? What about feedback from any of the companies supplying contractors; did they not hear complaints from contractors they placed? There aren’t any apparent attempts to contact them to find out, let alone anonymous confirmation from these contract companies. There are updates to the piece yesterday afternoon and this morning, including feedback from Vice President of Search at Facebook, Tom Stocky, which had been posted at Facebook. Something about the lack of direct or detailed feedback to Gizmodo seems off.
  • Though named in the first of two articles, Facebook’s managing editor Benjamin Wagner does not appear to have been asked for comment. The May 3 piece quotes an unnamed Facebook spokesperson:

    When asked about the trending news team and its future, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation. As with all contractors, the trending review team contractors are fairly compensated and receive appropriate benefits.”

I’m disappointed that other news outlets picked up Gizmodo’s work without doing much analysis or followup. Reuters, for example, even parrots the same phrasing Gizmodo used, referring to the news curators as “Facebook workers” and not contract employees or contractors. Because of this ridiculous unquestioning regurgitation by outlets generally better than this, I felt compelled to write about my concerns.

And then there’s Gizmodo itself, which made a point of tweeting its report was trending on Facebook. Does Gizmodo have a beef with Facebook, too? Has it been curated out of Facebook’s news feed? Are these two pieces really about Facebook’s laundering of Gizmodo?

I don’t know; I can’t tell you because I don’t use Facebook. Not going to start now because of Gizmodo’s sketchy reporting on Facebook, of all things.

Miscellany
Just some odd bits read because today is as themeless as yesterday — lots of garbage out there.

Skepticism: I haz it
As I read coverage about news reporting and social media leading up to the general election, I also keep in the back of my mind this Bloomberg report, How to Hack an Election:

As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. […] On the question of whether the U.S. presidential campaign is being tampered with, he is unequivocal. “I’m 100 percent sure it is,” he says.

Be more skeptical. See you tomorrow morning!

UPDATE — 1:30 P.M. EDT —

@CNBCnow
JUST IN: Senate Commerce Commtitte chair sends letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg seeking answers on alleged manipulation of trending news

ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS? THE SENATE GOING TO WASTE TAX DOLLARS ON THIS WHEN EVERY. SINGLE. NEWS. OUTLET. USES EDITORIAL JUDGMENT TO DECIDE WHAT TO COVER AS NEWS?

Cripes, Gizmodo’s poorly sourced hit piece says,

“…In other words, Facebook’s news section operates like a traditional newsroom, reflecting the biases of its workers and the institutional imperatives of the corporation. …”

Yet the Senate is going to pursue this bullshit story after Gizmodo relied on ONE conservative curator-contractor — and their story actually says an algorithm is used?

Jeebus. Yet the Senate will ignore Sheldon Adelson’s acquisition of the biggest newspaper in Las Vegas in a possible attempt to denigrate local judges?

I can’t with this.

UPDATE — 3:35 P.M. EDT —
The Guardian reports the senator wasting our tax dollars questioning a First Amendment exercise by Facebook is John Thune. Hey! Guess who’s running for re-election as South Dakota’s senior senator? Why it’s John Thune! Nothing like using your political office as a free press-generating tool to augment your campaign. I hope Facebook’s algorithm suppresses this manufactured non-news crap.

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DOJ Confirms One or More Agencies Acted Consistent with John Yoo’s Crummy Opinion

There’s a whiff of panic in DOJ’s response to ACLU’s latest brief in the common commercial services OLC memo, which was submitted last Thursday. They really don’t want to release this memo.

As you recall, this is a memo Ron Wyden has been hinting about forever, stating that it interprets the law other than most people understand it to be. After I wrote about it a bunch of times and pointed out it was apparently closely related to cybersecurity, ACLU finally showed some interest and FOIAed, then sued, for it. In March, DOJ made some silly (but typical) claims about it, including that ACLU had already tried but failed to get the memo as part of their suit for Stellar Wind documents (which got combined with EPIC’s suit for electronic surveillance documents). In response, Ron Wyden wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, noting a lie DOJ made in DOJ’s filings in the case, followed by an amicus brief asking the judge in the case to read the secret appendix to the letter he wrote to Lynch. In it, Wyden complained that DOJ wouldn’t let him read his secret declaration submitted in the case (making it clear they’re being kept secret for strategic reasons more than sources and methods), but asking that the court read his own appendix without saying what was in it.

Which brings us to last week’s response.

DOJ is relying on an opinion the 2nd circuit released last year in ACLU’s Awlaki drone memo case that found that if a significant delay passed between the time an opinion was issued and executive branch officials spoke publicly about it — as passed between the time someone wrote a memo for President Bush’s “close legal advisor” in 2002 about drone killings (potentially of American citizens) and the time Executive branch officials stopped hiding the fact they were planning on drone-killing an American citizen in 2010, then the government can still hide the memo.(I guess we’re not allowed to learn that Kamal Derwish was intentionally, not incidentally, drone-killed in 2002?)

This is, in my understanding, narrower protection for documents withheld under the b5 deliberative privilege exemption than exists in the DC Circuit, especially given that the 2nd circuit forced the government to turn over the Awlaki memos because they had been acknowledged.

In other words, they’re trying to use that 2nd circuit opinion to avoid releasing this memo.

To do that they’re making two key arguments that, in their effort to keep the memo secret, end up revealing a fair amount they’re trying to keep secret. First, they’re arguing (as they did earlier) that the ACLU has already had a shot at getting this memo (in an earlier lawsuit for memos relating to Stellar Wind) and lost.

There’s just one problem with that. As I noted earlier, the ACLU’s suit got joined with EPIC’s, but they asked for different things. ACLU asked for Stellar Wind documents, whereas EPIC asked more broadly for electronic surveillance ones. So when the ACLU argued for it, they were assuming it was Stellar Wind, not something that now appears to (also) relate to cybersecurity.

Indeed, the government suggests the ACLU shouldn’t assume this is a “Terrorist Surveillance Program” document.

7 Plaintiffs conclude that the OLC memorandum at issue here must relate to the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the reauthorization of that program because the attorney who authored the memorandum also authored memoranda on the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Pls.’ Opp. at 10. The fact that two OLC memoranda share an author of course establishes nothing about the documents’ contents, nature, purpose, or effect.

Suggesting (though not stating) the memo is not about TSP is not the same as saying it is not about Stellar Wind or the larger dragnets Bush had going on. But it should mean ACLU gets another shot at it, since they were looking only for SW documents the last time.

Which is interesting given the way DOJ argues, much more extensively, that this memo does not amount to working law. It starts by suggesting Wyden’s filing arguing a “key assertion” in the government’s briefs is wrong.

3 Senator Wyden asks the Court to review a classified attachment to a letter he sent Attorney General Loretta Lynch in support of his claim that a “key assertion” in the Government’s motion papers is “inaccurate.” Amicus Br. at 4. The Government will make the classified attachment available for the Court’s review ex parte and in camera. For the reasons explained in this memorandum, however, the Senator’s claim of inaccuracy is based not on any inaccurate or incomplete facts, but rather on a fundamental misunderstanding of the “working law” doctrine.

In doing so, it reveals (what we already expected but which Wyden, but apparently not DOJ, was discreet enough not to say publicly) that the government did whatever this John Yoo memo said government could do.

But, it argues (relying on both the DC and 2nd circuit opinions on this) that just because the government did the same thing a memo said would be legal (such as, say, drone-killing a US person with no due process), it doesn’t mean they relied on the memo’s advice when they took that action.

The mere fact that an agency “relies” on an OLC legal advice memorandum, by acting in a manner that is consistent with the advice, Pls.’ Opp. at 11, does not make it “working law.” OLC memoranda fundamentally lack the essential ingredient of “working law”: they do not establish agency policy. See New York Times, 806 F.3d at 687; Brennan Center, 697 F.3d at 203; EFF, 739 F.3d at 10. It is the agency, and not OLC (or any other legal adviser), that has the authority to establish agency policy. If OLC advises that a contemplated policy action is lawful, and the agency considers the opinion and elects to take the action, that does not mean that the advice becomes the policy of that agency. It remains legal advice. 5

5 Nor could the fact that any agency elects to engage in conduct consistent with what an OLC opinion has advised is lawful possibly constitute adoption of that legal advice, because taking such action does not show the requisite express adoption of both the reasoning and conclusion of OLC’s legal advice. See Brennan Center, 697 F.3d at 206; Wood, 432 F.3d at 84; La Raza, 411 F.3d at 358.

Effectively, DOJ is saying that John Yoo wrote another stupid memo just weeks before he left, the government took the action described in the stupid memo, but from that the courts should not assume that the government took Yoo’s advice, this time.

One reason they’re suggesting this isn’t TSP (which is not the same as saying it’s not Stellar Wind) is because it would mean the government did not (in 2005, when Bush admitted to a subset of things called TSP) confirm this action in the same way Obama officials danced around hailing that they had killed Anwar al-Awlaki, which led to us getting copies of the memos used to justify killing him.

In short, the government followed Yoo’s advice, just without admitting they were following his shitty logic again.

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Monday Morning: Scattered

That’s how I feel this morning — my head feels like a bunch of scattered pictures lying on my bedroom floor. Can’t tell how much of this sensation is work hangover from a too-busy weekend, or a result of a themeless news morning.

Often as I browse my feeds I find narratives emerge on their own, bubbling up on their own. Today? Not so much. There are too many topics in flight, too many major stories juggled, too many balls in the air, everything’s a blur.

The biggest stories adrift and muddled are those in which elections are central:

  • U.S. primary season wrap-up and the general election ahead — and I’m not going to touch this topic with a 20-foot pole. Imma’ let better writers and statisticians handle it without me piling on.
  • The Philippines election — the leading candidate is alleged to encourage urban vigilante death squads to reduce crime.
  • Brexit — Britain votes on a referendum next month on whether to exit the EU. Brexit played a role in the election last week of London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, who also happens to be London’s first Muslim mayor.
  • Australia’s double-dissolution election — PM Malcolm Turnbull last week announced both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be dissolved and replaced in an election on July 2nd. Turnbull faces replacement depending on which party amasses the most power during the election. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia’s federation under its constitution in 1901.

Anyhoo…here’s some miscellaneous flotsam that caught my eye in today’s debris field.

  • Number of unique mobile device users: 5 BILLION (Tomi Ahonen) — Do read this blog post, the numbers are mind-boggling. And intelligence agencies want to map and store ALL of the communications generated by these numbers?
  • Browser company Opera just went after iOS market with VPN offering (PC World) — Opera already announced a free VPN to Windows and Linux users; today it targeted Apple users with a VPN for iOS (do note the limited country availability). Don’t feel left out, Android users, you’ll get a VPN offering from Opera soon.
  • Swarm of earthquakes detected at Mount St. Helens (KOMO) — The eight-week-long swarm has been likened to those in 2013 and 2014 due to fault slippage. An eruption may not be imminent.
  • Jihadi Gang Warfare (@thegruq at Medium) — A really good read about the Islamic militant gang in Brussels and how their amateurishness prevented even greater bloodshed in both Paris and Brussels. Unfortunately a primer on how not to do urban terror.
  • Google isn’t just feeding romance novels to its AI to teach it language (Le Monde) — ZOMG, it’s using them to teach it morals, too! That’s what Le Monde reported that Buzzfeed didn’t.

    Valeurs morales

    Deux chercheurs de Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl et Brent Harrison, vont encore plus loin. Selon eux, la littérature peut inculquer des valeurs morales à des programmes d’intelligence artificielle. « Nous n’avons pas de manuel rassemblant toutes les valeurs d’une culture, mais nous avons des collections d’histoires issues de ces différentes cultures », expliquent-ils dans leur article de recherche publié en février.

    «Les histoires encodent de nombreuses formes de connaissances implicites. Les fables et les contes ont fait passer de génération en génération des valeurs et des exemples de bons comportements. (…) Donner aux intelligences artificielles la capacité de lire et de comprendre des histoires pourrait être la façon la plus efficace de les acculturer afin qu’elles s’intègrent mieux dans les sociétés humaines et contribuent à notre bien-être.»

    Moral values

    Two researchers from Georgia Tech, Mark Riedl and Brent Harrison, go even further. They believe literature can inculcate moral values in artificial intelligence programs. “We have no manual containing all the values of a culture, but we have collections of stories from different cultures,” they explain in their research article published in February.

    “The stories encode many forms of implicit knowledge. Fables and tales were passing generation to generation the values and examples of good behavior. (…) Giving artificial intelligence the ability to read and understand stories may be the most effective way to acculturate them so they can better integrate into human society and contribute to our well-being.”

    Gods help us, I hope they didn’t feed the AI that POS Fifty Shades of freaking Grey. Though I’d rather 90% of romance novels for morals over Lord of the Flies or The Handmaid’s Tale, because romance’s depiction of right and wrong is much more straightforward than in literary fiction, even the very best of it.

That’s quite enough trouble to kick off our week, even if it’s not particularly coherent. Catch you tomorrow morning!

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Long-Serving Intelligence Executive: Sure, Government Has Been Thoroughly Pawned But What about Ordinary Citizens?

Three months after Obama rolled out a cybersecurity initiative backed by a piece in the WSJ, former Deputy Director of Defense Intelligence David Shedd has decided to critique it (the 3 month delay might have something to do with the fact that, in the interim, Shedd was getting beat up by DOD Inspector General over having created his own private limousine service).

In his op-ed, Shedd questions Obama’s embrace of a public-private partnership. He makes a good point that such government initiatives rely on voluntary participation. He insinuates that Obama ignores the contributions of Apple because of the fight over encryption.

How odd that the president didn’t even mention Apple among the other leading technology firms when it comes to cybersecurity. Apple, America’s (and the world’s) largest and most valuable technology firm, has led the industry in securing its products, a claim the others listed can’t stand by. But of course the president can’t mention Apple as a shining example of American cybersecurity, because his administration is entrenched in a political battle with the company over encryption.

It’s a fair dig. Except that’s the kind of anachronism I wouldn’t expect from a lifetime spook. It is true that Jim Comey was on the war path with Apple since the company made iPhone encryption standard in fall 2014. But things didn’t start ratcheting up until February 16, when DOJ got an All Writs Act to make Apple rewrite their operating system, after Obama wrote the op-ed that didn’t mention Apple.

Shedd then mocks Obama’s efforts to introduce more flexibility in hiring cybersecurity people. Here’s what Obama said:

We’ll do more—including offering scholarships and forgiving student loans—to recruit the best talent from Silicon Valley and across the private sector. We’ll even let them wear jeans to the office. I want this generation of innovators to know that if they really want to have an impact, they can help change how their government interacts with and serves the American people in the 21st century.

Here’s what Shedd (he of the personal limousine service) said:

While this proposal rightly addresses the need to recruit great talent, does the administration really think the ability to wear jeans is going to sway the best and brightest away from the pay in Silicon Valley?

Perhaps we’re all missing the metaphor of “wearing jeans” for smoking pot. But the truth is some people aren’t motivated primarily by personal limousine services; they would like to help the government. One real barrier to hiring talent — people like Ashkan Soltani — is something Shedd has been a very big player in: security clearances.

Which gets me to my real confusion about this piece.

First, even before he talks about how much better the tech industry, at least, is than the government on these issues, Shedd complains that there’s nothing in Obama’s policy for “everyday citizens or industry.”

It’s all well and good to talk about protecting U.S. innovation and giving every American a level of online security. But the president fails to suggest even a single solution that would impact everyday citizens or industry.

Then he lays out how absolutely incompetent the government has been in protecting itself.

[C]onsidering the fact that multiple government agencies, as well as the Justice and Homeland Security departments, have faced significant cyberattacks, this is an odd claim to make.

The most egregious breach took place less than a year ago, when the Office of Personnel Management suffered a huge data breach that continues to impact tens of millions of federal workers and contractors, including those with access to America’s most sensitive secrets. No one was fired over the incident. Is that accountability? In late February, the office’s chief information officer resigned just two days before having to testify before Congress.

The administration’s failed record in cybersecurity extends beyond the breaches on government systems. In a recent score card released by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the majority of federal agencies received subpar, if not failing, grades on their cybersecurity posture.

Among the worst was the Department of Energy, which is charged with protecting our nation’s nuclear technology. Given that the Obama administration had seven years to meet its cybersecurity obligations, why should the American people believe anything will change with a new initiative?

Now, if the government is a cybersecurity sieve, then why is Shedd bitching that there’s nothing in Obama’s policy for “ordinary citizens” or the private industry companies that aren’t getting pawned? Shouldn’t locking down the nation’s nuclear secrets — a point I’ve emphasized — be a higher priority than saving Target from liability when its customers get their credit card data stolen (besides the fact, for customers who can afford an iPhone, as Shedd pointed out, Apple is already doing something)? In a purportedly capitalist society, should the government free private industry of all responsibility for its own security?

Crazier still, Shedd — who worked in Bush’s National Security Council until 2005, then moved to Director of National Intelligence, then in 2010 moved to DIA — is bitching that no one (aside from Katherine Archuleta) got fired for the OPM hack. In several of those positions, Shedd was in a place where he should have been one of the people asking why the security clearance data for 21 million people was readily available to be hacked — though no one in his immediate vicinity thought to ask those questions until 2013 and even then not including the non-intelligence agencies that might be CI problems. He was in a position when he may have — probably should have — reviewed some of the underlying database consolidation of clearance databases, including (at ODNI) identifying them as a counterintelligence threat.

A report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence provides some insight: In order to report security clearance volume levels, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s Special Security Directorate (SSD) “compiled and processed data from the three primary security clearance record repositories: ODNI’s Scattered Castles (SC); DoD’s Joint Personnel Adjudication System (JPAS); and the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) Central Verification System (CVS). To fulfill specific reporting requirements of the FY 2010 IAA, the SSD issued a special data call to the seven IC agencies with delegated authority to conduct investigations or adjudications.” The purpose of the data call was to consolidate security clearance data.

It’s probably not Shedd’s fault personally OPM got hacked, but some of the people who directly worked for him along the way may well bear responsibility.

Moreover, when he bitches about how so little has been accomplished in Obama’s 7 years, it ought to raise questions about why nothing got accomplished in his own decade of service in a position when he might have done something. Perhaps he spent years fighting with Obama (and before him Bush) to do something about the government’s cybersecurity, but if so, that’s what he should be talking about, not that Obama wants to make it easier for hackers to wear jeans to work.

Some of Shedd’s complaints are spot on. Just not coming, as they do, from someone who spent a decade in a position to address cybersecurity himself.

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Happy Mother’s Day!

LOC_DLange_PeaPickerMotherChildren_1936Photo: Migrant agricultural worker’s family. Seven children without food. Mother aged thirty-two. Father is a native Californian. Nipomo, California
Taken by Dorothea Lange, Feb/Mar 1936
Library of Congress

Not the most famous of Lange’s photos, but one of the same subject. In another photo taken during this shoot, the mother shown here is nursing the baby she holds on her lap. How she produced any milk given their destitute circumstances is beyond me, but her haggard, aged-beyond-her-years appearance tells a lot.

Happy Mother’s Day, to mothers who survived these kinds of circumstances while birthing and raising children.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers who are surviving under similar conditions today — like the two mothers who gave birth during the evacuation of Fort McMurray, to the myriad mothers who struggled ferrying their children from Syria and other war zones, to mothers who wonder where their children are and if they’ll ever see them again.

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers of invention and godmothers, and mothers in spirit though not by birth. The creative force isn’t limited by one’s body or economics.

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The Intelligence Community Casts Its Vote for Hillary Clinton

Since Donald Trump all-but sealed the nomination the other day, there has been a bit of a tizzy because he’ll receive intelligence briefing(s). Several spooks and former spooks complained to the Daily Beast that Trump might run his mouth and let something slip.

And that prospect has some spies sweating. Trump, who can’t seem to dam his stream of consciousness on Twitter, and who has lately taken to spreading rumors and conspiracy theories on national television, has never been privy to national secrets. Nor has he ever demonstrated that he’s capable of keeping them.

“My concern with Trump will be that he inadvertently leaks, because as he speaks extemporaneously, he’ll pull something out of his hat that he heard in a briefing and say it,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official who has participated in the process of briefing presidential candidates.

[snip]

“It’s not an unreasonable concern that he’ll talk publicly about what’s supposed to stay in that room,” said another former senior intelligence official.

A currently serving U.S. official echoed some of those anxieties and wondered whether Trump would respect the discretion of the briefing and not use it to his advantage on the campaign trail.

The DB piece admits that Hillary is under investigation for mishandling classified information, with her presumptive National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan among the staffers who forwarded emails the CIA claims (dubiously) to be super secret (curiously, this flurry of Trump briefing stories came on the same date the FBI was leaking to CNN that thus far they’ve got nothing against Hillary). It doesn’t mention that Leon Panetta, who leaked classified information for political gain, is also among Hillary’s advisors.

WaPo’s Greg Miller airs more concerns from the spooks, including that intelligence briefers would be uncomfortable briefing people who have close business ties to rivals or adversaries, not to mention people who espouse torture.

Analysts selected for such assignments tend to be among the most polished and experienced in the intelligence community. “They are going to be very professional,” Peritz said, but Trump poses unique complications. “He has all kinds of relationships with Chinese investors and Russian investors. He’s spoken very highly of our adversaries. And he’s talked about using torture and waterboarding and attacking people’s families. All these things are going through the analysts’ minds.”

Huh? The CIA doesn’t have anyone left over who briefed Dick Cheney? Because those guys surely knew he talked about torture and waterboarding! Or how about the folks who briefed Obama before someone killed Anwar al-Awlaki’s teenage son? And if Hillary, with all her ties to Clinton Global Initiatives people, can be briefed, I’m not sure why Trump can’t, with his business ties. It’s not as if the Russians and Chinese haven’t already stolen the secrets that Trump would get.

Look. Michele Bachmann served on the House Intelligence Committee for four years. She’s every bit as unpredictable as Donald Trump. And aside from that time she claimed that jihadis had already tried to penetrate 6 of the 15 Pakistani nuclear sites that were vulnerable — a detail that had already been reported to the press — she never ran her mouth more than, say, Marco Rubio when he leaked details about the implementation of USA Freedom Act earlier this year.

The point is, all this Sturm und Drang about Trump getting intelligence briefings ignores all the other leakage that already goes on by people the Intelligence Community doesn’t seem worried about briefing. All the more so given what Charlie Savage notes — that this is just one limited briefing; Trump won’t get to learn the good stuff until after he wins the Presidency.

Michael J. Morell, a former deputy C.I.A. director, who regularly briefed Mr. Obama before retiring in 2013, said the postconvention nominee briefing would last several hours. The idea is to “get them to understand that they have now stepped into a bigger world” in which foreign allies, adversaries, and neutral parties are paying close attention to whatever they say, and that their words may have broad consequences, he said.

Michael E. Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, provided the terrorism portion of the briefing that Mr. Obama received after he became the Democratic nominee in 2008. Mr. Leiter said the post-convention briefings lay out a significant amount of important and sensitive information.

“You are not trying to give them a tactical update on the issues of the day, but to lay out the full panoply of issues that they are going to face; the good, the bad, and the ugly of what the world looks like and what implications there may be going forward,” he said.

Both former officials said that the postconvention briefing for nominees would contain top secret information, but not a discussion of the sources and methods used to gather it, or any description of covert operations.

Raising the specter of classified information is nice. But this seems to be more a statement of preference for Hillary Clinton, and a continuation of the status quo, with all its questionable aggression, than a case against Trump, no matter how bad his foreign policy would be (though his domestic policy against minorities would be worse than his foreign policy). The spooks want Hillary and a continuation of their current plans.

Plus, all this whining ignores something else.

Although the Executive does so by very broadly interpreting the relevant precedents, for decades, Presidents have claimed — and the Intelligence Community has backed that claim fully — that they have unlimited discretion to classify or declassify information. The idea is that if some guy can get elected, he can decide what counts as classified in this country.

If that would be a problem with Trump, then maybe now is the time to start thinking about codifying some limits to giving popularly elected Presidents unfettered discretion to play with classified information? I, frankly, don’t want Hillary to have that authority either (or any President!). You never know when someone is going to leak an officer’s identity just for political gain, after all.

But the IC has for decades agreed with a system in which the President has complete, arbitrary control over what counts as classified. That’s the underlying problem. Not that Donald Trump might get a single intelligence briefing.

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