Net Nonsense

Market competition is creating a better Internet, without the FCC by JULIAN ADORNEY.

Over the past few years, millions of concerned citizens have called on the FCC to pass Net Neutrality. Many claimed that without tight regulation, Internet service providers (ISPs) would wreak all kinds of mischief, from creating “slow lanes” for ordinary users to blocking access to certain sites. After a number of false starts and under pressure from the White House, the FCC gave in and voted to regulate the Internet as a public utility in order to ban such practices, thus saving the Internet from a variety of boogeymen.

This is a tempting narrative. It has conflict, villains, heroes, and even a happy ending. There’s only one problem: it’s a fairy tale. Such mischief has been legal for decades, and ISPs have almost never behaved this way. Any ISP that created “slow lanes” or blocked content to consumers would be hurting its own bottom line. ISPs make money by seeking to satisfy consumers, not by antagonizing them.

There are two reasons that ISPs have to work to satisfy their customers. First, every company needs repeat business. DISH Network couldn’t grow if customers signed up for one month, suffered from poor access, and then decided to spend their money elsewhere. If — as Net Neutrality advocates fear — DISH decided to throttle Internet access to regular users or small businesses, these irritated consumers would just switch brands.

For Internet service providers, getting new business is expensive. To convince me to sign up for their service, DISH must first spend a lot of money on advertising. After I sign up, they must pay for the dish itself and for employees to install it at my house. But after that initial up-front cost, the marginal cost to provide me with Internet access falls to almost nothing. Satisfying customers so that they continue subscribing is cheaper, easier, and more profitable than continually replacing them. ISPs’ self-interest pushes them to add value to their customers just to keep them from jumping ship to their competitors.

In fact, this is what we’ve seen. ISPs have invested heavily in new infrastructure, and Internet speeds have increased by leaps and bounds. From 2011 to 2013, the top three national providers alone invested over $100 billion upgrading their infrastructure to provide cutting edge service. In 2013, average broadband speed grew by 31 percent. These faster speeds have not been limited to big corporate customers: ISPs have routinely improved their services to regular consumers. They didn’t do so because the FCC forced them. For the past twenty years, “slow lanes” have been perfectly legal and almost as perfectly imaginary.

In one sense, ISPs do have fast and slow lanes, because customers can pay for higher speeds. When I called DISH, for instance, their sales reps offered me a variety of packages from 7Mbps (megabits per second) to 20Mbps. But tiered service is different from the nightmare scenario that Net Neutrality advocates are worried about.

To demo the slow lane it feared, for instance, Neocities dropped the speed at which their website was delivered to 28.8 Kbps, or about 1/250th of the slowest speed DISH offered me. Brad Feld proposed an Internet-wide “slow day” of 1 or even 0.5 Mbps to show what life in a hypothetical slow lane might look like. For DISH to offer such slow speeds would be ludicrous: consumers would switch service providers in a heartbeat. ISPs shy away from creating slow lanes not because they have to but because they have a vested interest in offering fast service to all customers.

Contrary to the myth about ISPs being localized monopolies80 percent of Americans live in markets with access to multiple high-speed ISPs. While expensive regulations can discourage new players from entering the market, competition in most cities is increasingly robust. Google Fiber recently expanded into several cities, offering speeds up to an astounding 1Gbps (1,000Mbps), with predictable results. AT&TGrande Communications, and other service providers have rushed to match the offer, and Verizon is pushing its own fiber optic services. Even the lumbering telecom giant Comcast is under pressure to upgrade its network.

ISPs still have to compete with each other for customers. If one ISP sticks them in the slow lane or blocks access to certain sites — or even just refuses to upgrade its service — consumers can simply switch to a competitor.

The second reason that ISPs seek to satisfy customers is that every business wants positive word of mouth. Consumers who receive excellent service talk up the service to their friends, generating new sign-ups. Consumers who receive mediocre service not only leave but badmouth the company to everyone they know.

In fact, this happened in one of the few cases where an ISP chose to discriminate against content. When Verizon blocked text messages from a pro-choice activist group in 2007, claiming the right to block “controversial or unsavory” messages, the backlash was fierce. Consumer Affairs notes that, “after a flurry of criticism, Verizon reversed its policy” on the pro-choice texts. The decision may have been ideological, but more likely Verizon reversed a policy that was driving away consumers, generating bad press, and hurting its bottom line.

In 2010, an FCC order made such “unreasonable discrimination” illegal (until the rule was struck down in 2014), but even without this rule, consumers proved more than capable of standing up to big corporations and handling such discrimination themselves.

In competitive markets, the consumer’s demand for quality prevents companies from cutting corners. Before the FCC imposed public utility regulations on the Internet, ISPs were improving service and abandoning discriminatory practices in order to satisfy their users. Net Neutrality advocates have spent years demanding a government solution to a problem that  markets had already solved.

ABOUT JULIAN ADORNEY

Julian Adorney is Director of Marketing at Peacekeeper, a free app that offers an alternative to 911.  He’s also an economic historian, focusing on Austrian economics.  He has written for the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Townhall, and The Hill.

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Internet at the Speed of Government MARCH 10, 2015 by LAWRENCE W. REED

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.

Internet at the Speed of Government

Warmed over regulations from 80 years ago won’t fix the Web by LAWRENCE W. REED.

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission launched a historic power grab over the Internet, euphemistically known as “net neutrality,” based on a Great Depression-era law to regulate public utilities. While entrepreneurs are pursuing cutting-edge business models and developing previously unimaginable technologies, Washington bureaucrats are reaching back eight decades to find a rationale to control a booming industry that didn’t even exist 25 years ago.

Conventional wisdom holds that government regulation is created by benevolent policymakers in order to protect the public from dangerous, exploitative private industry. But the idealistic progressives who push for an expansive regulatory state rarely follow up to see what the regulation accomplished in practice. That job is usually left to those whose warnings about incentives and unintended consequences were ignored in the first place.

People who support high-minded regulation in theory should survey how such bureaucratic “solutions” have tended to work (or not) in practice. That history gives us little reason to expect that the latest, greatest experiment in heavy-handed control will turn out any differently.

Consider one of the first attempts to control American communications. Mail delivery was humming along just fine until Congress banned privately-delivered first class mail in the 19th century. It did so not because private firms were lousy, but precisely because they were so good they were depriving the federal post office of business and hence congressmen of patronage jobs.

Or look closer at one of the textbook cases for regulation: the government’s noble attempt to save us from the predatory railroad robber barons. In reality, it was federal and state subsidies to railroads, not market forces, that produced the abuses that led to the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which then played a central role in bankrupting American railroads and strangling interstate commerce for decades.

Anti-trust regulations were also sold as a way to protect the little guy from the big guy. But now we know that, in practice, they’ve functioned to curtail competition, slow innovation, and stop the little guy from ever becoming a big guy.

The 1906 Meat Inspection Act, lauded as the first of many crucial “public safety” regulations, was inspired by Upton Sinclair’s fictional work The Jungle and was supported by the major meat packers who wanted to put the taxpayers on the hook for the cost of inspection. The upshot was that government inspectors actually spread deadly disease through unscientific and unsanitary methods of detecting meat quality.

Speaking of cattle, disease, and government, the sacred cow known as the Food and Drug Administration seems to actually cost more lives than it saves by keeping life-saving drugs off the market for more than a decade on average.

In 1913, Congress created the Federal Reserve System and told the country it would protect the integrity of the currency, iron out the business cycle, and promote full employment. A hundred years later, we have gotten a dollar worth perhaps a nickel of its 1913 value, a Great Depression, a Great Recession, and more volatility than in the century before the Fed.

Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was a blizzard of regulations designed to help prop up big industry and labor unions; we now know its principal effect was prolonging the Great Depression by about seven years.

The Civil Aeronautics Board, for instance, cartelized the airline industry for decades, restricting plane travel to wealthy citizens who could afford the high fares it mandated, until its dissolution in 1985. Interstate trucking also suffered from high prices under similarly byzantine rules and restrictions until it was deregulated in the 1970s and 1980s.

Remember the FCC’s Orwellian “fairness doctrine”? In the name of “fairness,” the FCC stifled diversity of opinion in broadcasting. The doctrine’s abolition led to an immediate blossoming of new voices and new media, but now the same government agency that censors radio and television is putting itself in charge of making sure the Internet is “fair” and “open” and “neutral,” so that corporations don’t slow down our content. Like so many benign-sounding schemes before it, Internet at the speed of government is liable to be more (and, in the end, quite a bit less) than regulation activists bargained for.

In the Wall Street JournalL. Gordon Crovitz asks, “What if at the beginning of the Web, Washington had opted for Obamanet instead of the open Internet?” The thought is appalling: “Yellow Pages publishers could have invoked ‘harm’ and ‘unjust and unreasonable’ competition from online telephone directories. This could have strangled Alta Vista and Excite, the early leaders in search, and relegated Google to a Stanford student project. Newspapers could have lobbied against Craigslist for depriving them of classified advertising. Encyclopedia Britannica could have lobbied against Wikipedia.”

One would think that with such a sorry track record, Washington would be looking for market-based ways to solve problems, instead of constantly taking on the responsibility of fixing every real or imagined problem. But such is not the nature of the beast.

So here we are in 2015 with this massive, wondrous, global network called the Internet. It’s empowering billions of people, rich and poor, with a universe of knowledge and opportunities. While virtually everyone is going online for virtually everything, from education and entertainment to shopping and employment, here come the troglodyte regulators with their 80-year-old hammers, once again, planning to “fix” it for us. No thanks.

ABOUT LAWRENCE W. REED

Lawrence W. (“Larry”) Reed became president of FEE in 2008 after serving as chairman of its board of trustees in the 1990s and both writing and speaking for FEE since the late 1970s. Prior to becoming FEE’s president, he served for 20 years as president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Michigan. He also taught economics full-time from 1977 to 1984 at Northwood University in Michigan and chaired its department of economics from 1982 to 1984.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.

Brookings Study of ISIS Twitter Accounts Reveals U.S. among Top Targets

A Brookings Institution examination of a complete data set of 20,000 ISIS Twitter accounts ranked Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and US as the top four locations of twitter users, The ISIS Twitter Census: Defining and Describing the population of ISIS supporters on Twitter. The authors of the ISIS Twitter census are J.M. Berger and Jonathan Morgan.  Berger “is a non-resident fellow with the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings and the author of Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam (Potomac Books, 2011) and ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco, 2015).”  Morgan “is a technologist, data scientist, and startup veteran. He runs technology and product development at CrisisNET, Ushahidi’s streaming crisis data platform, and consults on machine learning and network analysis. Morgan is also co-host of Partially Derivative, a popular data science podcast.”  The Brookings ISIS Twitter project was “commissioned by Google Ideas and published by Brookings”.

The Brookings Saban Middle East Center think tank has had a close relationship with the Obama National Security Council. Use of social media by Islamic extremist groups like ISIS figured prominently in President Obama’s recent, Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. See our March 2015 NER article, ‘Did President Obama’s Violent Extremism Conference Fail?

Notwithstanding the provenance of the Brookings Twitter Census report, the data and methodology are credible and revealing of  how ISIS and supporters use social media.  The authors noted three classes of Twitter users as a precaution interpreting the study results:

Covert supporters of ISIS:

Users who took medium to strong steps to conceal their support due to fear of prosecution or suspension by Twitter. Users who took only casual steps to disguise their support were generally detectable.

Pro-ISIS intelligence operatives:

Some users who follow accounts related to the enemies of ISIS, such as rival jihadists, would be coded as non-supporters under the conservative criteria we employed.

Anti-ISIS intelligence operatives:

These are accounts created to appear as ISIS supporters in order to allow ISIS’s enemies to monitor its activities, which would be coded as supporters (if done effectively).

Brookings ISIS Twitter top locations_jpg SMALL

Locations of ISIS Twitter Accounts. Source: The ISIS Twitter Census, Brookings Institution, 2015.

 Here is the  Twitter Census Data Snapshot drawn from the Brookings study:

Best estimate of total number of overt ISIS supporter accounts on Twitter: 46,000

Maximum estimate of ISIS supporter accounts on Twitter: 90,000

Number of accounts analyzed for demographics information: 20,000

Estimated percentage of overt ISIS supporters in demographics data set: 93.2 percent (+/- 2.54 percent)

Period over which data was collected: October 4 through November 27, 2014, with some seed data collected in late September 2014

Top Locations of Accounts: “Islamic State,” Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, U.S.

Most common year accounts were created: 2014

Most common month accounts were created: September 2014

Number of accounts detected using bots and deceptive spam tactics: 6,216 using bot or spam technology for some tweets; 3,301 accounts were excluded from the Demographics Dataset for primarily sending bot or spam content

Average number of tweets per day per user: 7.3 over lifetime of account, 15.5 over last 200 tweets by user

Average number of tweets per user (Over lifetime of the Account): 2,219

Average number of followers: 1,004

Smartphone usage: 69 percent Android, 30 percent iPhone, 1 percent Blackberry

Among the principal findings from the Brookings Twitter Census were:

  • From September through December 2014, the authors estimate that at least 46,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters, although not all of them were active at the same time.
  • Typical ISIS supporters were located within the organization’s territories in Syria and Iraq, as well as in regions contested by ISIS. Hundreds of ISIS-supporting accounts sent tweets with location metadata embedded.
  • Almost one in five ISIS supporters selected English as their primary language when using Twitter. Three quarters selected Arabic.
  • ISIS-supporting accounts had an average of about 1,000 followers each, considerably higher than an ordinary Twitter user. ISIS-supporting accounts were also considerably more active than non-supporting users.
  • A minimum of 1,000 ISIS-supporting accounts were suspended by Twitter between September and December 2014. Accounts that tweeted most often and had the most followers were most likely to be suspended.
  • Much of ISIS’s social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume.

Based on their analysis, the authors concluded:

Recommend social media companies and the U.S government work together to devise appropriate responses to extremism on social media. Approaches to the problem of extremist use of social media, Berger and Morgan contend, are most likely to succeed when they are mainstreamed into wider dialogues among the broad range of community, private, and public stakeholders.

Our assessment is that given the close Brookings Middle East Center liaison with the Obama National Security Council and Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy, Richard Stengel, the latter tasked with social media counter messaging,  that little follow will occur. That is reflected in Google sponsorship of this Brookings Twitter Census report and overarching concerns of social media like Facebook, Google YouTube, Twitter and  Instagram about maintaining Constitutional guarantees of free speech.  These social media would prefer to establish their own criteria for suspending terrorists and supporters accounts.  Monitoring and development of metadata from  ISIS Twitter supporters in the West, especially in the US and the UK, should be left to counter terrorism intelligence echelons or private groups like SITE Intelligence Group and effective individuals like our colleague Joseph Shahda. Congressional Homeland Security and Select Intelligence Committees should hold hearings and investigations into current terrorist social media surveillance, especially for those US ISIS accounts identified in the Brookings ISIS Twitter Census.  Shahda commented after reading:

The only way to stop the terrorists propaganda and recruitment is to keep shutting down all their means of communications which means all their social media (Facebook, Twitter) accounts as well as their websites.

EDITORS NOTE: This column with graphics originally appeared in the New English Review.

Iran behind cyber-attack on Adelson’s Sands Corp.

Adelson is “a leading U.S. supporter of Israel and of Republican political candidates.”

Since Obama is relentlessly courting Iran and making concession after concession to the mullahs, this is unlikely to be taken in the highest circles in Washington as a belligerent act. After all, they hate Adelson, too.

“Iran Behind Cyber-Attack on Adelson’s Sands Corp., Clapper Says,” by Anthony Capaccio, David Lerman, and Chris Strohm, Bloomberg, February 26, 2015 (thanks to Marc):

(Bloomberg) — The top U.S. intelligence official confirmed for the first time that Iran was behind a cyber attack against the Las Vegas Sands Corp. last year.

Identifying Iran as the perpetrator came more than a year after the Feb. 10, 2014, attack against the world’s largest gambling company, which crippled many of the computer systems that help run the $14 billion operation. Sands’ chairman and chief executive officer and top shareholder is billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a leading U.S. supporter of Israel and of Republican political candidates.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that the attack by Iran, followed by the hacking of Sony Corp. by North Korea in November, marked the first destructive cyber-assaults on the U.S. by nation-states. Iran’s role in the attack that crippled operations at several of Sands’ U.S. casinos was reported in December by Bloomberg Businessweek.

“While both of these nations have lesser technical capabilities in comparison to Russia and China, these destructive attacks demonstrate that Iran and North Korea are motivated and unpredictable cyber-actors,” Clapper said.

He also said the cyberthreat from Russia is “more severe than we have previously assessed,” without elaborating.

Computer attacks such as those by Iran and North Korea are more likely to threaten the U.S. in the future than a single massive assault crippling the country’s infrastructure, he said….

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AFA Parental alert for McDonald’s and Starbucks

The American Family Association (AFA) is reporting that, “Public Wi-Fi hotspots are attracting pedophiles and sex offenders to McDonald’s – where we bring our children to eat and play – and where illegal p*rn can be accessed easily with anonymity. According to federal officers, open Wi-Fi like that at McDonald’s, Starbucks, and other companies is being increasingly used to traffic child p*rnography and the sexual solicitation of children – serious criminal felonies that are hard to stop because of the anonymity offered by open Wi-Fi.”

“He spent 12-15 hours per day at the McDonald’s because of the free Wi-Fi. Tonight, a sex offender is arrested – caught using free internet in public to download child p*rnography…

Detectives say the 25-year-old spent the past two years using the free Wi-Fi at the McDonald’s… He worked on his computer and was a known regular of sorts in the children’s play area at the restaurant.”News story here.

AFA notes, “Because there are no filters to block online p*rnography and child p*rnography in these restaurants that so many families like yours and mine frequent, this toxic illegal content is readily available in every Starbucks and McDonald’s in America.”

The best way to combat this growing trend – and to protect our children – is for you and me to pressure companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks to implement filtering to block p*rnography on their public Wi-Fi networks.

Both McDonald’s and Starbucks have already proactively filtered their public WiFi services in other nations including the United Kingdom and Australia.

“If they can protect children in other nations, then why won’t they protect our children here in America – where they are headquartered?” asks AFA.

AFA is asking concerned citizens to sign a letter of petition to McDonald’s and Starbucks to be delivered to the CEO’s of both companies and their Board of Directors. AFA will include only your name and state on the petition.

AFA notes, “Your support will help us get protective WiFi in McDonald’s and Starbucks 25,000 combined locations to protect children and families.”

The King of Espionage Malware Revealed: The Equation Group

The Kaspersky Lab  left its Moscow headquarters with  its wintry grip behind to hold a Security Analyst Summit in sunny Cancun, Mexico. Kaspersky has already made it a torrid conference with disclosures last weekend of an estimated $ 1 billion stolen from 100 banks by a network of hackers. CNN reported what was revealed in the Kaspersky report:

…hackers surreptitiously installed spying software on bank computers, eventually learned how to mimic bank employee workflows and used the knowledge to make transfers into bank accounts they had created for this theft.

Yesterday, at the Summit, they introduced another cyber security bombshell, a super malware, The Crown Creator of Espionage: the Equation Group.

Equation Group linkage to other Malware

Equation Group Connections to Malware Stuxnet, Flame and Duqu. Source:  Kaspersky.

 Consider it the granddaddy of Zero-days Malware starting earlier than Stuxnet, and its offspring Duqu, and Flame/Gauss.  Kaspersky dramatically announced:

The team has seen nearly everything, with attacks becoming increasingly complex as more nation-states got involved and tried to arm themselves with the most advanced tools. However, only now Kaspersky Lab’s experts can confirm they have discovered a threat actor that surpasses anything known in terms of complexity and sophistication of techniques, and that has been active for almost two decades – The Equation Group

Malware in the Group use tools that are very complicated and expensive to develop, in order to infect victims, retrieve data and hide activity in an outstandingly professional way, and utilize classic spying techniques to deliver malicious payloads to the victims.

To infect their victims, the group uses a powerful arsenal of “implants” (Trojans) including the following that have been named by Kaspersky Lab: Equation Laser, EquationDrug, DoubleFantasy, TripleFantasy, Fanny and GrayFish. Without a doubt there will be other “implants” in existence.

equation group  timeline-650-38010-260926

For a larger view click on the chart.

According to  Kaspersky what makes the Equation group dangerous  is:

Ultimate persistence and invisibility- ability to enter hard drives  enabling  reprogramming of firmware:

Ability to retrieve data from isolated networks- using the Fanny malware to map networks via USB memory sticks, and;

Classic spying methods to deliver malware – through  internet and physical means.

The Equation Group according to Kaspersky has a powerful and  geographically distributed network  covering more than 300 web domains  involving over 100 servers located in the US, UK, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Panama, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Colombia and the Czech Republic.  Since 2001, it has infected tens of thousands of “high profile victims”  in over 30 countries. Examples  include: “Government and diplomatic institutions, Telecommunications, Aerospace, Energy, Nuclear research, Oil and Gas, Military, Nanotechnology, Islamic activists and scholars, Mass media, Transportation, Financial institutions and companies developing encryption technologies.”

Kaspersky has observed the Equation Group malware in a number of zero days exploits against, for example Firefox and the Tor browser.   It notes the prowess of its detection with this comment:

Automatic Exploit Prevention technology which generically detects and blocks exploitation of unknown vulnerabilities. The Fanny worm, presumably compiled in July 2008, was first detected and blacklisted by our automatic systems in December 2008.

A FoxNews report gave further examples of  the power of this “sneakiest” of malware:

Kaspersky’s researchers say that the Equation group uses a hacking tool called “GROK.” That is a tool exclusively used by the NSA’s elite cyber-warfare unit, Tailored Access Operations, according to classified NSA documents released by former contractor Edward Snowden last year.

Kaspersky says the Equation group also appears to have ties to Stuxnet, the computer worm that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear enrichment program in 2010 and was later revealed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli project.

The history of the Equation Group malware origins stretches back nearly 20 years:

Kaspersky research director Costin Raiu said the Equation Group hacked into hospitals in China; banks and aerospace companies in Iran; energy companies and government offices in Pakistan; and universities, military facilities and rocket science research institutions in Russia.

They attacked Iran the most, researchers said.

The Equation group also spied on Muslim scholars in the United States and the United Kingdom, Raiu said. It emerged last year that the NSA and FBI have been monitoring the emails of prominent Muslim-American lawyers and activists.

The group monitored keystrokes and stole documents from computers. In one instance in the Middle East, the hackers programmed the malware to specifically look for oil-related shipping contracts and inventory price lists.

Malware attacked Windows computers, Macs and even iPhones.

Unlike other hackers, however, the Equation Group wasn’t interested in destroying computers or wiping them clean, the way North Koreans hurt Sony last year.

“They’re interested in long-term intelligence gathering,” Raiu said.

[How far back does this go?] Kaspersky researchers say the Equation group built some of its earliest malware in 2002, but the computer infrastructure used to spread the group’s computer viruses dates back to 1996.

Their ability to stay quiet this long goes to show how talented they are, the Kaspersky report noted.

As the Kaspersky report stated Enterprise Group could be a co-development of  state sponsors. Given the connections to Stuxnet, Flame/Duqu Groups, it may be likely that it is  a joint project  of the US and Israel.  For a useful understanding of the development and detection of Malware, read Free eBook: Stopping Zero Day Exploits for Dummies.  Also  read the fascinating chronicle of  discovery of Stuxnet by a researcher at a small Belarus anti-virus firm  and  by international cyber sleuths from  anti-virus firms like Kaspersky and others in, In Countdown to Zero Day by Wired cybersecurity writer Kim Zetter.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

You’ll Never Guess Who’s Trying to Hack Your iPhone, Hint: It rhymes with Eff Bee Eye by Nichole Kardell

The FBI wants to search through your electronic life. You may think it’s a given that the government is in the business of collecting everyone’s personal data — Big Brother run amok in defiance of the Constitution. But under the limits of the Fourth Amendment, nothing it finds can be used to prosecute its targets. Now the FBI is taking steps to carry out broad searches and data collection under the color of authority, making all of us more vulnerable to “fishing expeditions.”

The investigative arm of the Department of Justice is attempting to short-circuit the legal checks of the Fourth Amendment by requesting a change in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. These procedural rules dictate how law enforcement agencies must conduct criminal prosecutions, from investigation to trial. Any deviations from the rules can have serious consequences, including dismissal of a case. The specific rule the FBI is targeting outlines the terms for obtaining a search warrant.

It’s called Federal Rule 41(b), and the requested change would allow law enforcement to obtain a warrant to search electronic data without providing any specific details as long as the target computer location has been hidden through a technical tool like Tor or a virtual private network. It would also allow nonspecific search warrants where computers have been intentionally damaged (such as through botnets, but also through common malware and viruses) and are in five or more separate federal judicial districts. Furthermore, the provision would allow investigators to seize electronically stored information regardless of whether that information is stored inside or outside the court’s jurisdiction.

The change may sound like a technical tweak, but it is a big leap from current procedure. As it stands, Rule 41(b) only allows (with few exceptions) a court to issue a warrant for people or property within that court’s district. The federal rules impose this location limitation — along with requirements that the agentspecifically identify the person and place to be searched, find probable cause, and meet other limiting factors — to reduce the impact an investigation could have on people’s right to privacy. Now the FBI is asking for the authority to hack into and search devices without identifying any of the essential whos, whats, wheres, or whys — giving the FBI the authority to search your computer, tablet, or smartphone even if you are in no way suspected of a crime.

All you have to do is cross the FBI’s virtual path. For instance, the proposed amendment would mean that agents could use tactics like creating online “watering holes” to attract their targets. Anyone who clicked on law enforcement’s false-front website would download the government malware and expose their electronic device to an agent’s search (and also expose the device to follow-on hackers). One obvious target for this strategy is any forum that attracts government skeptics and dissenters — FEE.org, for example.  Such tactics could inadvertently impact thousands of people who aren’t investigation targets.

This sort of sweeping authority is in obvious conflict with the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment makes it clear that the government cannot legally search your house or your personal effects, including your electronic devices, without (1) probable cause of a suspected crime (2) defined in a legal document (generally, a search warrant issued by a judge) (3) that specifically identifies what is to be searched and what is to be seized.

The FBI is not the first government agency to find itself challenged by the plain language of the Fourth Amendment. Past overreach has required judges and Congress to clarify what constitutes a legal search and seizure in particular contexts. In the 1960s, when electronic eavesdropping (via wiretaps and bugs) came about, Congress established the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (the Wiretap Act). The law addressed concerns about these new surreptitious and invasive investigative tactics and provided several strictures on legal searches via wiretap or bug. Since covert investigative tools can be hard to detect, it was important to institute more rigorous standards to keep agents in line.

The same concerns that Congress addressed in the 1960s are present today, but they take on far greater significance. With our growing reliance on electronic devices to communicate with others, to transact business, to shop, travel, date, and store the details of our private lives, these devices are becoming our most important personal effects. The ability of government actors to enter our digital space and search our electronic data is a major privacy concern that must be checked by Fourth Amendment standards. As the Supreme Court recently pronounced in Riley v. California, the search of a modern electronic device such as a smartphone or computer is more intrusive to privacy than even “the most exhaustive search of a house.”

What seems most troubling, though, is that the FBI is attempting to override the Fourth Amendment, along with the body of law developed over the years to reign in surveillance powers, through a relatively obscure forum. Instead of seeking congressional authority or judicial clarification, it has sought a major power grab through a procedural rule tweak — a tweak that would do away with jurisdictional limitations and specificity requirements, among other important checks on law enforcement. The request seems objectively — and constitutionally — offensive.

ABOUT NICOLE KARDELL

Nicole Kardell is an attorney with Ifrah Law, a Washington DC-based law firm. She represents clients in government enforcement actions and other regulatory compliance matters before federal and state agencies.

Arkansas: Middle East Cyber Army hacks Little Rock School District website

“F**k Israel / Free Palestine / Jerusalem is Ours / Al khilafah is coming soon.” Why would they hack into the Little Rock School District’s website with such a message? For the same reason that a Muslim cleric would take hostages in a chocolate cafe in Sydney, Australia: to “strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah” (Qur’an 8:60).

“Hackers Target Little Rock School District Website,” by Susanne Brunner, Fox16.com, December 12, 2014 (thanks to Creeping Sharia):

LITTLE ROCK, AR- If you typed in lrsd.org in the search engine around 7am Friday morning, chances are a hacking message popped up.

“I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me comfortable,” says Jason Spees, LRSD Parent.

Uncomfortable with the images and words displayed on the homescreen and the possible threat it could have on his two boys.

“I think they should notify everybody when there’s what could potentially be a terroristic threat. And that’s what that is to me,” he says.

The video playing on the site read “Hacked by MECA” the Middle East Cyber Army.According to its Facebook and Twitter pages, it appears to be a muslim group dedicated to cyber attacks around the world.

“It’s a little shocking to be informed of it,” he says.

Another parent I spoke with didn’t see it, but learned about the hack through an automated call from the school district around noon.

“It basically said there had been a cyber attack against the district’s landing page on their website,” says Mandy Shoptaw, LRSD Parent.

Shortly after, that message from LRSD was relayed via email to parents and staff saying, “No student, parent, or personnel data was compromised. That information is housed on separate servers. When we discovered the unauthorized information on the landing page, it was immediately removed.”…

RELATED ARTICLE:

Over 100 children massacred as Taliban storms school; ‘set teacher on fire, made kids watch’

Blood on Snowden’s hands: A Poster that Tells the Story

I have already made a few posters and book covers for Cliff Kincaid’s America’s Survival, Inc. This time the subject is the true story of Edward Snowden, whose theft and publication of U.S. intelligence files has allowed both Putin’s regime in Russia and the butchers of ISIS to avoid American surveillance and make brazen moves that resulted in thousands of dead bodies, both in the Middle East and Ukraine.

From the very start of the Ukrainian revolution Putin’s propaganda has been making claims that the Maidan was staged and financed by the CIA and the U.S. State Department in order to hurt Russia. But if that were true, Snowden’s archives would have revealed at least some proof of that.

Instead, Russia used Jen Psaki’s speech on YouTube and lame phone intercepts of the U.S. ambassador, which prove nothing at all – except, perhaps, by implication – that the FSB officers couldn’t find a thing about the alleged CIA involvement in Ukraine within Snowden’s files, otherwise the Kremlin would have trumpeted it to the world a long time ago.

However, Moscow did use Snowden’s information to avoid CIA detection in recreating the same scenario in Ukraine of which it accused the United States: Russia’s agents spread throughout Ukraine, planting disinformation and rumors about the intentions of the new Ukrainian government to kill off ethnic Russians, organizing violent armed groups, providing weapons and training, staging the takeover of government buildings and military facilities, setting up local “people’s governments,” and starting an all-out war that has already claimed 4,000 lives on both sides.

Thanks to Edward Snowden, the Crimean and “Novorossia” operations conducted by Russia’s FSB and the GRU (military intelligence) were a complete surprise to the U.S. and its allies. As for the Ukrainian security service (SBU), law enforcement and the government, they have been long ago penetrated by Russian agents, who are only now undergoing a massive lustration.

The methods, intentions, and very nature of Putin’s corrupt and violent regime speak volumes about Edward Snowden’s moral compass and his intellectual honesty. Granted, today’s America has its problems, but one can’t simply condemn the U.S., settle for a life in the Russian police state, and remain a credible defender of freedom, transparency, and individual rights.

Snowden might have been right in a Utopian world consisting of peaceful and transparent nations. But our world is full of violent thugs looking for an opportunity to get ahead. That makes Snowden’s disclosure of U.S. intelligence secrets both morally wrong and criminal.

In short, this is my take on Edward Snowden. Read Cliff Kincaid’s more extensive take on this issue in his recent article, The Bloody Hands of Edward Snowden.

On November 17, in Washington, D.C., ASI held a news conference on Edward Snowden’s KGB connections and espionage affair, in which my poster was used. Soon it will also become a cover for the upcoming book, Blood On His Hands.

blood on snowdens hands peoples cube

For a larger view click on the poster.

For further reading, see very informative key documents from this conference:

Israel Launches ‘Cyber Iron Dome’ to Protect its Electrical Grid

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) is concerned about protection of the Jewish nation’s electrical grid. The recent 50 day summer 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza witnessed more than 2,300 rockets reining death and destruction on Central and Southern Israel. Several hundred rockets headed towards major population centers in the State of Israel were detected and literally knocked from the skies by the Iron Dome system batteries. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets over the period from 2006 to 2014 have targeted the Rutenberg Power Plant of the IEC in Ashkelon. The power plant has also been subject to periodic outages. The vulnerability to physical attack was illustrated by Gaza’s sole power plant destroyed during the conflict.

Physical threats are only one aspect. There are also Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) and cyber attacks. Cyber attacks on critical operating systems, such as Siemens’ SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) are something that Israel may know about. There was the development of the Stuxnet malware that disrupted Iran’s nuclear enrichment program. Israel to this day remains silent about any involvement in the malware’s development.  Israel’s electrical network vulnerabilities led the IEC to partner with the Israeli firm of mPrest that had developed the critical sensor and detection software system at the core of the Iron Dome System. The objective was to develop a means of intercepting and deterring cyber threats to the national grid.  On Tuesday, the Information Grid (IG) system was unveiled at a Homeland Security Conference in Tel Aviv.

The Times of IsraelStart Up-Israel technology publication reported this ground breaking development; Israel presents an ‘Iron Dome’ for ‘electricity terror’. Eugene Kaspersky of the eponymous cyber protection concern that discovered Stuxnet recently commented:

“We’ve seen numerous cases of attacks on industrial infrastructure – Stuxnet was far from the only one,” said Kaspersky. “There is an international army consisting of tens of thousands of engineers out there developing SCADA malware. One day, a terrorist organization is going to get the bright idea to acquire one of these tools and deploy it to make their ideological point. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s just a matter of time until it does.”

Because of the terrorist threat to Israel’s national grid, the IEC reached out to mPrest to develop a solution. Start Up –Israel described the process and what IG does:

IEC partnered with a subsidiary of mPrest Systems, called mPrest Electric, which was a member of the IEC’s KARAT Incubator. Drawing on the tech used by mPrest to design and operate Iron Dome, the companies designed the Information Grid, which checks the flow of electricity to ensure that lines are not overloaded, and that electricity “viruses” — attacks on specific sections of the grid – don’t spread, allowing administrators to quickly identify suspicious activity and isolate it.

The heart of IG is:

a command and control system similar to the one that controls Iron Dome. When an attack is detected – if a SCADA system that is controlling electrical flow starts acting “funny,” for example – the Grid will notice it right away, and it will automatically shut off connections to the substation or segment of the system that has been compromised, preventing further damage and allowing security personnel to better track the source of the attack.

The system allows integration and control in real-time of thousands of sensors, which are installed at about 300 different sites in Israel. The sensors measure a wide variety of data, which flows into the Grid and is analyzed in real time. The Grid is based on a unique architecture which allows the integration of an infinite number of systems and assets, with no limitation on the number of links or data, said the IEC, and it can also handle additional information from a wide variety of legacy programs that measure and record data.

Here in the US we had investigative articles by the Wall Street Journal about a purported terrorist attack against the Metcalf substation of Pacific Gas and Electric in Silicon Valley. Aroused by the Metcalf substation attack, Jon Wellinghoff ,the former head of the Federal  Energy  Regulation Commission (FERC),   directed that   simulation studies  of  possible attacks be made  at key substations in the national grid. Those simulations of the national grid alarmingly revealed that terrorist attacks at just 9 strategically located substations in the US could collapse the entire grid.   The Congress has also been concerned about the vulnerability of the national grid arising from a Commission that released a report in 2006 about how to protect the electrical infrastructure from both natural and man-made EMP attacks.  That  led to development of   H.R. 2417 SHIELD (Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act)  and  H.R. 5026 GRID  (Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense Act) -proposals to harden the nation’s electrical system and protect the infrastructure from EMP, physical and cyber attacks.  Neither of these legislative proposals has progressed due to  opposition by the US electrical power industry because of alleged significant additional investment to achieve security. We wrote in a March 2014 Iconoclast post:

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), the principal electric utility standard setting organization, has opposed passage of the SHIELD Act calling the network “resilient”.  Au contraire says an official of Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) cited by the WSJ: “The breadth and depth of the attack was unprecedented” in the U.S., said Rich Lordan, senior technical executive. “The motivation”, he said, “appears to be preparation for an act of war.”  When we checked the websites of the  House Energy and Commerce Committee  Chairman  Fred Upton (R-MI ) and  Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) their major concerns  were the vulnerability of the grid to cyber attack.

The  joint IEC-mPrest  Information Grid cyber protection  development should be of interest to  FERC, NERC and EPRI given  Congressional concerns over the vulnerability  of the  national  grid to terrorists, EMP  and cyber threats.

This latest display of Israeli high tech ingenuity should raise interest in protecting currently vulnerable US, EU and other electrical grids.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the New English Review. The featured image of a hacker is by Dreamstime.

Google, Facebook and the NSA establish ‘listening posts’ on my computer — you may be next!

I just entered my computer and used the CMD prompt to see if anyone had hacked my trusty desk top. Surprise, well not really, I found six established listening posts on my trusty liberal bashing Collectivist crushing operations center in my bunker in Navarre.

Now don’t get me wrong its okay to spy, like on the Russians the Chinese and the North Koreans, but hanging out in my computer really angers me. First of all I am an American and second of all this is the United States and third of all where’s the warrant?

So I called up the PID’s and Internet Protocol Addresses (ISP) of the “Established files” in my computers operating center and ran a check.

I find the listening post (1) is my router… that’s okay because I set that up.

But… listening post (2) has an ISP address of 173.252.102.24. I traced this to Facebook headquarters in California.
And… listening post (3) has an ISP address of 173.194.37.78. I traced this to Google headquarters.
And… listening post (4) has a foreign ISP address of 31.13.65.33. This I traced to Facebook headquarters in Ireland.

Just so you know. I wanted to make it much easier for you to look into my computer so I used my iPhone and took a screen shot of you guys watching me and me now watching you. Cheers. See the below picture.

geoff ross screen shot

For a larger view click on the image.

To my patriot friends reading this. If you look carefully at the picture above… where you see an established file this is a potentially hacked file and or listening post for others to see what web sites you visit. These files maybe used to get passwords or other information from your computer.

Now everyone knows…smile…don’t forget to vote today. And you boys at Google…don’t be giving my personal data to the government…its illegal and unconstitutional. Read the 4th Amendment.

I sent this column to: The NSA, NSA SELinux Team the math wizards at the NSA (I know I got your e mail address) hey spies like us right?, Google, Facebook, CIA Langley and Fox News New York.

RELATED ARTICLE: UK spy chief: Facebook, Twitter “command and control networks” for jihadis

UPDATE NOVEMBER 6, 2014.

The listening posts set up on my computer have mysteriously vanished after I sent out my public email disclosing their presence to the NSA, FACEBOOK and GOOGLE. POOF they are gone. Imagine that. I wonder if the NSA got irritated that I outed them publicly. Well you know I am not just a pretty face. I did send them a nasty EXE file to play with buried in a covert file. My day job in the Navy did sometimes include programming computers.

Anyway if you want to check your compute for hackers like I did go to the START button. Click on the box search programs and files. Type in CMD. Then click on the created Icon CMD and you will be taken to a black screen box.

You will see C:\user\ and the name given to your system. Type in netstat -ano and click enter. If you see any files listed that say ESTABLISHED these are potentially hacked files and or listening posts set up by outside users to spy on your activities. IE websites you visit. If you have a router you will have an established file. Look up the ISP addresses listed by any ESTABLISHED files and google search them. This will tell you who the culprit it spying on you.

I can tell you how to remove these ESTABLISHED files but its better you contact a computer person in your area and get them looked at and removed.

If you want to remove a virus from your computer go to START button. Go to the search programs and files box. Type in %temp%. This will create an icon called TEMP. Click on it. Open this file and delete all files that end in .TEMP. This will kill 99% of all viruses in your computer. Empty this trash from the recycle bin on your main screen. Your good to go.

Fighting Social Media Jihad: An Interview with Joseph Shahda

The chilling constellation of lone wolf attacks by self-actualized domestic Jihadis in Canada and the US present a dilemma for national counterterrorism and intelligence echelons in both countries. How best to deny access to provocative social media effectively used by foreign terrorist groups to inspire and arouse deadly acts by these isolated individuals? These individuals are not directly associated with terrorist groups, but may be exercising their right to free speech under our First Amendment. In a Fox News “Brett Baier Special Report” panel discussion, Jonah Goldberg, Senior Editor at National Review On-line, referred to it as “crowd sourcing terrorism.”

isis-brand-goes-global-marketing-jihad-allah-islam-terrorists-muslimsThese foreign terrorist groups, whether Hezbollah, Hamas, and, most prominently, the Islamic State (ISIS) have found Facebook, Twitter and Instagram effective means of virally broadcasting extremist Islamic theocratic doctrine – a fundamentalist doctrine anchored in the Qur’anic canon that has attracted thousands of converts and fighters to their Salafist Jihadist cause to implement Sharia, Islamic law. Western multi-cultural policies and political correctness confound the ability to rein in the most egregious of terrorist social media. Vice News in a July 2014 report drew attention to ISIS’ spectacular and professionally executed utilization of social media, ISIS Has a Really Slick and Sophisticated Media Department:

In addition to being one of the most brutal militant groups currently fighting in the Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) might also have the most elaborate public relations strategy.

In addition to the blatant propaganda vibe, the videos have strikingly high production quality — they are shot in HD and include sophisticated graphics and logos. Most of the content is in English, suggesting that they are specifically designed as a recruitment tool for Western audiences.

One Mujatweet video shows smiling ISIS members handing out candy and ice cream to cheering children; others include images of militants fighting in Syria set to a song extolling the group’s virtues.

All of these videos are distributed by Al Hayat Media Center, the new media arm for ISIS that was established in May, 2014. It is unclear exactly who is behind Al Hayat, but it is thought to be an initiative of Abu Talha Al Almani, a former German rapper also known as Deso Dogg, who left Europe to fight alongside ISIS in Syria, according to MEMRI.

[…]

Almani explained his motivation for joining ISIS in one video, saying, “That’s why I pledged allegiance [to ISIS], in order to help the brothers and sisters of ISIS… and teach them how to make Da’wa [preach] to people who have long lived in humiliation and do not know the laws of Allah.”

To understand the dimensions of this phenomenon of beguiling propaganda preying on receptive adherents in the West, we turned to Joseph Shahda. Shahda is an American Lebanese and Orthodox Christian who has spent the last seven years fighting Arabic language internet jihad. We profiled him in one of our earliest New English Review articles, “Fighting Internet Jihad” (Nov. 2007). We collaborated with Shahda in facilitating information on Internet Service providers used by AQ and other terrorist groups for former US Senator Joseph Lieberman and his staff at the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The Senator and his Committee were endeavoring to enlist the cooperation of Google YouTube to take down Al Qaeda training videos, despite the objections of the company, the ACLU and First Amendment protected speech proponents, including the New York Times. See our June 2008, NER article, “Is Google An Enabler Of Terrorists?” Lieberman, as we noted in the article, presciently responded to a New York Times editorial in a Letter entitled: “Terror and the Internet” published on March 28, 2008:

The intelligence community, moreover, sounded the alarm about proliferation of radical Islamist sites in a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate: warning that, even absent guidance from established terror organizations, the Internet enables “alienated people to find and connect with one another, justify and intensify their anger, and mobilize resources to attack.”

What is ludicrous is the claim that YouTube has been pressured to pull down videos just because I don’t like them. Al Qaeda and its affiliates are engaged in a wartime communications strategy to recruit, amass funds and inspire savage attacks against American troops and civilians. Their Internet videos are branded with logos, authenticating them as enemy communications. They are patent incitements to violence, not First Amendment-protected speech. And they fall outside Google’s own stated guidelines for content.

The peril here is not to legitimate dissent but to our fundamental right of self-defense. For those of us in government, protecting Americans is the highest responsibility. Asking private parties operating public communications systems to assist that effort is common sense.

Against this background we interviewed Shahda.

Jerry Gordon

Jerry Gordon:  Joseph Shahda, thank you for consenting to this interview.

Joseph Shahda

Joseph Shahda:  Thank you for inviting me.

Jerry Gordon:  How long have you been monitoring Arabic language terrorist and social media on the internet and what have been some important findings?

Joseph Shahda:  I have been monitoring Arabic language terrorist websites and their social media since 2007. The most important findings are that they have used these websites and social media to propagate their terrorist ideology, to widen their support base, to recruit more terrorists to their ranks, and to teach the new recruits how to build bombs, explosives, and other terrorist activities using the websites/social media as their virtual training camps.

Gordon:  What motivates you to continue as a private individual in the effort to identify terrorist exploitation of the internet and social media?

Shahda:  It is my duty as an American to help my country during this long and hard war on terror. I believe that it is very important to monitor the terrorist activities on the internet and better yet shut their websites/social media accounts to prevent the spreading of propaganda, recruitment, and training.

Gordon:  What has changed over the past decade in the use of the Internet by terrorist Groups, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic State?

Shahda:  They are getting more sophisticated and savvy in using the internet to achieve many of their goals. They moved from simple release of media statements, to creating forums with hundreds of thousands of subscribers, to creating hundreds of Facebook pages, and now creating thousands of twitter accounts for instant propaganda.

Gordon:  The Islamic State or ISIS has run a number of graphic social media campaigns that have branded it. How successful has that been in viral messaging and recruitment?

Shahda:  I believe it has been very successful in achieving its desire goal.

Gordon:  Can you provide us with some specific examples of ISIS’s social media successes?

Shahda:  Take for example any propaganda or act of terrorism video created by ISIS terrorists. Their followers can spread such a video within minutes and like a wildfire on Facebook and more so on.

Even their non followers and enemies help them indirectly by retweeting their terrorist propaganda.

Gordon:  Has Facebook, Twitter and Instagram been able to knock off ISIS and other terrorist group accounts? If not, what are hurdles these social media face?

Shahda:  They have done so but they keep creating more and more accounts. Some compare it to whack a mole.

Gordon:  Given your experience in monitoring websites, chat rooms and now social media, how difficult is it to monitor and prevent abuses by terrorist groups?

Shahda:  It is difficult because it requires considerable dedicated resources. Monitoring chat rooms is easier because there are probably dozens of them fully dedicated for terrorist activities. However it gets much more difficult with Facebook and even more so with Twitter where thousands of accounts can be created in very short period of time and quickly spread propaganda and other terrorist activities.

Gordon:  The recent attacks by isolated Islamic extremists in Canada and the US are evidence of the extensive use by the perpetrators of social media resonating Islamic doctrinal hatred and calls to jihad. Is there any way that counterterrorism and homeland security echelons can identify and effectively monitor such potential cases?

Shahda:  The “Lone Wolf” terrorists are hard to track down as many of them will be using proxy servers such as TOR to hide their actual IP addresses and avoid being detected by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. To track them down requires long term monitoring and most importantly a mistake on the part of the Lone Wolf terrorist where he may give a clue of his whereabouts or his identity. However it is worth noting that the terrorist who attacked the Canadian parliament was not this unknown lone wolf as the Canadian government was very aware of his terrorist inclinations.

Gordon:  How do the US First Amendment guarantees of free and protected speech impede surveillance and takedown of terrorists’ social media platforms?

Shahda:  The eternal debate of what constitutes free speech is still going on. Is incitement to violence against the United States and Americans considered freedom of speech? Is teaching people how to make bombs, explosives, IED’s, kidnapping, and other acts of violence considered freedom of speech? In my opinion absolutely not for all of the above. These types of terrorist activities must never be accepted as freedom of speech.

Gordon:  Do you believe that US counterterrorism and intelligence echelons have the requisite linguistic resources to monitor terrorist social media, and, if not, what should they be doing to obtain them?

Shahda:  I cannot answer this question as I do not know what resources that our government has in this field.  However, I hope that we do have enough because as I said before this is very long and hard war against Islamic terrorism and requires a lot of resources, patience, fortitude, and strong will to defeat this enemy.

Gordon:  How could the US government make more effective use of private individuals like you and others in this important effort to keep tabs on emerging jihad threats on social media?

Shahda:  I am ready to help anytime if and when they ask me to do so. Our bravest troops are fighting and dying in foreign lands to protect our freedom and our way of life. The least that I can do is to help in monitoring terrorist activities on the internet from the comfort of my living room.

Gordon:  Joseph Shahda, thank you for this thought provoking and timely interview.

Shahda:  You’re welcome.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review. The featured photo is courtesy of Al Jazeera and the insert photo of Joseph Shahda courtesy of the New York Times. Also see Jerry Gordon’s collection of interviews, The West Speaks.

“PreCog Audience” – Software that is poised to hand control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans

ARLINGTON, Va., PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The data and analytics firm Evolving Strategies, in concert with the largest campaign technology firm in the world, Aristotle, have developed a new technology – the “PreCog Audience” – that is poised to hand control of the Senate to Republicans.

The PreCog Audience (PcA) consists of the voters in the “Big 4” Senate states that should be targeted because these voters will be persuaded by a specific message – and that will change their vote. The PcA includes each and every one of the more than 13 million voters in ColoradoIowaLouisiana, and North Carolina that have been determined — right now, in advance — who will be persuaded.

“Is it a crystal ball? It’s as close as we can get,” said Adam Schaeffer, Director of Research at Evolving Strategies. “Is it a game-changing weapon for the Right this election season.”

“We are making available to Republican campaigns an exclusive product that no one else is offering. It has the potential to push Republican candidates to victory in the final weeks of this election cycle because you can now be certain your efforts are hitting the right voters with the right message. It’s political precognition.”

“Evolving Strategies now has access to our 190+ million records, including 4,000 election boards, county clerks and voter registrars, as well as party affiliation, race, exact age, vote history and school board districts,” said Aristotle CEO John Aristotle Phillips. “This is very powerful information, and we are honored to be working with such an innovative company.”

Background on PreCog Audience:

The team of PhDs and data scientists at Evolving Strategies utilized bleeding-edge, proprietary machine-learning techniques to analyze data from over 600,000 voters across the Big 4 Senate states involved in the largest known experiment in the history of political campaigning on the Right — ultimately predicting how a message will shift an individual voter’s support before it’s been delivered.

The PreCog Audience is the easy-to-use product resulting from this complicated work – an audience composed of all the individual voters needed to win an election.

Evolving Strategies will only offer access to the PreCog Audience to political operatives and organizations on the Right.

Evolving Strategies is now taking a limited number of pre-orders for the PreCog Audience. In addition to direct sales through Evolving Strategies, Aristotle, with more than 2,000 political clients throughout the world, will offer these audience lists through their platform as a super-premium item, exclusively to conservative operatives and organizations.

Evolving Strategies is a data and analytics firm dedicated to understanding human behavior through the creative application of randomized-controlled experiments.

Let’s Get Serious About Radical Islam

In a nationally televised speech on Wednesday, September 10, Barack Obama announced a four-part plan for dealing with the terrorist organization, ISIS. Here are the four parts of his plan:

  • A systematic campaign of airstrikes against terrorists.
  • Increased support for forces fighting terrorists on the ground.
  • Draw on substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIS attacks. And finally,
  • Provide humanitarian assistance to civilians whove been displaced by ISIS terrorism.

Does his plan have any chance of success? No.

Air-power alone will not defeat ISIS. To defeat ISIS it will be necessary to take and hold ground and to flush the 30,000 or 40,000 jihadists out of the cities and towns where they hide among women and children. To date, it is only the Kurds who have expressed a willingness to put troops on the ground. We are told that only 5% of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims are radicalized, but that comes to 70 million radicalized jihadists. To put that into perspective, during World War II the combined uniformed forces of Germany, Japan, and Italy totaled only 34.1 million.

Would Obama have gone before the TV cameras to announce his plan unless something or someone forced his hand? No, this is a man who actually said in his speech that “ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is not Islamic. But just as the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 changed Americans from pacifists to war hawks, literally overnight, the public beheading of two American journalists and a British aid worker has had exactly the same effect. But, while revenge is sweet and it might make us feel good to see a bit of ISIS blood spilled on the desert sands, the Obama plan will accomplish nothing more than to infuriate more and more young Muslims, driving them into the welcoming arms of al-Baghdadi and his army of lunatics.

So how do we attack the problem? First, while we’re busily engaged in bombing individual cars and trucks with $110,000 Hellfire missiles, just to make us feel as if we’re doing something to eradicate ISIS, we must pursue a strategic two-pronged non-military effort to, a) Separate the good Muslims from the bad by prosecuting radical Islamists here at home, and b) Use whatever means we have at our disposal to change the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world.

violentislam-150x150Islam is not a religion, as we understand the term. Rather it is a complete political, judicial, economic, military, and cultural system, masquerading as a religion. Its adherents refuse to assimilate into host country cultures, insisting that they be allowed to exist as an independent entity, not subject to the laws of their host nations. In order to accomplish their ends, they regularly preach the overthrow of their host governments, by violence if necessary.

Accordingly, we must resolve that, “What is sauce for the (Communist) goose is sauce for the (Islamic) gander.” In order to neutralize Islam’s cultural institutions within our country, we must do as I have previously suggested: We must tailor the language of Section 2 of the Communist Control Act of 1954… a law that has not been struck down by the Supreme Court and which is still on the books… to read as follows:

The American people are determined to eliminate from their midst organizations which, purporting to be religious, in the accepted sense of that term, are conspirators dedicated to the destruction of our form of government by force and violence…

The Congress hereby finds and declares that Islam, although purportedly a religious sect, is in fact an instrumentality of a foreign conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States. It constitutes an authoritarian dictatorship within a republic, demanding for itself the rights and privileges accorded to individuals of other religious denominations, but denying to all others the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution

As a segment of the U.S. population, Islam is relatively small, numerically, and gives scant indication of its capacity ever to attain its ends by lawful means. The peril inherent in the existence of Islam arises not from its numbers, but from its failure to acknowledge any limitation as to the nature of its activities, and its dedication to the proposition that the present system of government of the United States ultimately must be brought to ruin by any available means, including resort to force and violence. Holding that doctrine, its role as the agency of a hostile foreign power renders its existence a clear and present danger to the security of the United States. It is the means whereby individuals are seduced into the service of Islam, trained to do its bidding, and directed and controlled in the conspiratorial performance of their revolutionary services. Therefore, the organization known as Islam shall be outlawed in the United States.”

behead those who insult islam photoWith that statute on the books we can make it very uncomfortable for radical Islamists. We can make their presence in our country so unpleasant that they will long for a return to whatever hellhole they and their predecessors crawled out of. With eyes and ears planted in every mosque and every Muslim cultural center in America, radical Imams such as the late Anwar al-Awlaki could be readily identified and FBI agents could quickly make arrests.

And finally, we Americans have always prided ourselves on our ingenuity. Whatever problems we’ve confronted, we have found ways to solve them. So let’s use that ingenuity to change, to the extent possible, the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world. Consider this example: I suggest that we conduct a major SOFTWAR campaign utilizing a photographic projection technique called “holography,” the creation of images that appear to be three dimensional, when in fact they are only images created by focused beams of laser light.

We already have made-to-order audiences: hundreds of jihadists and other soldiers of the faith, warehoused in various CIA black sites, as well as prison compounds in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. The only thing missing is the Prophet Mohammed, himself.

Scientists have been working since 1947 to perfect 3-dimensional holographic imaging, but the greatest advances in the art were made by physicist Lloyd Cross in 1972. Cross developed the integral hologram by combining white light transmission holography with conventional cinematography to produce lifelike moving 3-dimensional images. It gives special effects technicians the ability to produce the Prophet Mohammed, in three dimensions and in living color, and we can make him deliver any message we want, to any audience we assemble.

Imagine the scene in the Pulacharke Prison in Afghanistan, a thousand-year-old stone structure the size of a small gymnasium, filled with radical Muslim clerics and an assortment of al Qaeda and Taliban faithful. And imagine that one moonless night, at midnight, the Prophet Mohammed appears to the sleeping throng, his image floating in mid-air, high in a corner of the room, some fifteen or twenty feet above the floor.

In a loud booming voice, with a slight echo chamber quality, the Prophet would awaken the terrified throng. His reason for returning, he would say, is to tell the radical Islamists that they have misinterpreted his teachings and that he looks with great disfavor upon the radical Islamic interpretation of the Quran. He would declare that Islamic jihad is a great sin, it is Hirabah (prohibited war against society), and that ISIS leader Bakr al Baghdadi is the leader of the Mufsidoon (evil-doers condemned by the Koran). He would tell them that all those who follow the evil ways of ISIS and the Taliban will suffer Jahannam (eternal hellfire) unless they repent.

With the flick of a switch he would be gone, leaving his listeners trembling in terror at what they had just witnessed. Could the “second coming of Mohammed” be staged in such a way that the faithful would be left with no doubt that theyd actually seen the Prophet and heard his words? Of course. If the “second coming” were properly planned and executed, we could even tell those who witnessed our artful hoax what we’d done and they’d never believe us. With the average jihadi having the intellectual capacity of an angry chimpanzee, it would be impossible to convince such primitive minds that they had not actually seen the Prophet.

What I suggest may sound a bit “off the wall, but is it? There is nothing new about the use of the elaborate hoax as an instrument of war. World War II is replete with such stories. Given the computerized advances in cinematic special effects, today’s special effects technicians could produce absolute miracles. And while it may not be kosher to mess around with someone else’s religion, in the present circumstance we are dealing with religious fanatics whose only goal in life is to kill us all, and for no other reason than that we exist. Our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren, hang in the balance. Drastic measures are called for.

Unlike soldiers of civilized cultures, jihadists cannot be captured, imprisoned, and sent off to “reeducation camps… they can only be killed. And since we can’t begin to think of killing 70 million jihadists, it’s time we got serious about finding more creative ways of defeating the most barbaric enemy in all of recorded history.

Thomas Friedman put it best in a September 13 editorial in the New York Times. He wrote, “Our staying power is ambiguous, our enemy is barbarous, our regional allies are duplicitous, our European allies are feckless, and the Iraqis and Syrians we’re trying to help are fractious. There is not a straight shooter in the bunch. Other than that, it’s just like D-Day.

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Sending Money Home: Technology or Bureaucracy? by Iain Murray

Remittances are helping poor people globally, but regulators loom.

Some of the world’s poorest people depend on the money they receive from relatives working in developed countries. In fact, this money dwarfs the world’s official foreign aid budget, and the gap is increasing.

In 2011, total private flows of aid totaled $680 billion—almost five times the $138 billion official figure. As I noted in 2005, “the future of aid to developing countries is private.”

This increase in private aid is great news for all concerned. Except, perhaps, for bureaucrats, who are loath to let good deeds go unpunished. World Bank and United Nations bean counters are denouncing remittance transfer fees as exploitative. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has issued a rule to crack down on supposed fraud and exploitation affecting the existing remittance-transfer infrastructure. Its most important provision is the right to cancel a money transfer within 30 minutes of its being initiated. Proposals to cap the fee charged by remittance firms have also been agreed to internationally.

Critics claim that high transfer fees are the result of a so-called market failure. Yet, markets in remittances are frequently overregulated. Many African governments have exclusive deals with money transfer companies, which operate as national monopolies, free from competitive discipline. And there are other regulatory pitfalls that drive up prices. A Western Union spokesman told The Guardian

Our pricing varies between countries depending on a number of factors, such as consumer protection costs, local remittance taxes, market distribution, regulatory structure, volume, currency volatility and other market efficiencies. These factors can impact the fees and foreign exchange rates offered by corridor and service type.

All this suggests the remittance market needs less regulation. Proper competition, lower taxes, less restrictive “consumer protection” measures (which quickly become outdated), and less red tape in general would all likely increase the flow of funds between individuals.

Such a solution would be inconceivable for global bureaucrats. Indeed, their house organ, The New York Times, last week recommended that the industry should be not only nationalized, but internationalized, with the World Bank taking on the role of remittance service provider, a role the Times actually described as “critical”:

The World Bank could pool deposits from banks and nonbank money transfer agents and parcel them to recipient banks, using its formidable certification protocols to verify that the money is coming from and going to legitimate parties. Such pooling could also reduce exchange fees, a big cost to migrants. Equally important, the World Bank could use its relationships with regulators around the world to enhance the remittance system’s integrity.

Technology is already solving many of the problems faced by the money transfer industry, making the industry obsolete in the process. For example, in the central Asian republic Kyrgyzstan, which relies heavily on remittances—accounting for 31 percent of its GDP, mostly from within the former Soviet Union—an Italian entrepreneur named Emanuele Costa is able to promote bitcoin as an alternative to the expensive, heavily regulated money transfer firms. 

Costa can do this because Kyrgyzstan is notably less oppressive and more free-market-oriented than its neighbors, and it has much less regulation than is typical in the area. He regularly hosts meetups to explain the currency to potential recipients and has installed a bitcoin ATM at a pizzeria (which, as Eurasianet notes, has been “bombarded with calls” since it publicized its existence).

In Kenya, meanwhile, a bitcoin startup called BitPesa offers money transfers “twice as fast and 75% cheaper” than traditional competitors. Kenya is an especially interesting place for this innovation to happen, as it was the scene of a “cell phone revolution” that allowed its telecommunications market to work around a serious case of government failure. As a result, most Kenyans now use a form of mobile wallet on their cell phones.

The potential for bitcoin to revolutionize the global remittance industry is hard to overstate. It largely cuts out the middleman, reducing the fees and charges some view as exploitative. Converting to local currency would be the most significant charge for most users. Bitcoin facilitates the establishment of trust through its “blockchain” public ledger, potentially reducing fraudulent transfers to near zero (although there is always the chance of someone stealing a wallet key). Taxes, at the moment, are minimal. 

For these reasons, bitcoin represents the best hope to ensure that all of the $680 billion in remittances goes to the people who need it. That might be why in America, bitcoin is most popular among Hispanics, who send more money abroad than any other group.

Yet, roadblocks remain. If Kyrgyzstan joins Moscow’s customs union as expected, bitcoin’s days may be numbered there, as Russian officials have taken a dim view of anonymous payment vehicles. Meanwhile, in the UK, where many Kenyan remittance senders live and work, banks are wary of taking bitcoin businesses on as clients. As BitPesa’s founder told The Guardian:

Most UK banks won’t let Bitcoin businesses open bank accounts. These businesses want to be licensed, but UK banks shy away, just like Barclays cut Somalia off the map. 

British banks are highly regulated and probably fearful of what regulators might do to them if they did business with companies that present “reputational risk”—as defined by regulators, of course.

In the United States, the CFPB rule mentioned above could threaten to make bitcoin illegal for remittance purposes. The average time for a Bitcoin transaction to go through is around eight minutes, and reversing a transaction is impossible unless an escrow service is used. It is possible that the rule may not apply to a decentralized network like bitcoin, but in its short existence, the CFPB has not become known for reading its powers narrowly.

Regulators could wind up killing off the solution to problems created by, well, regulators. If they are serious about reducing costs and decreasing the potential for fraud in remittances, they will stand aside and let bitcoin develop in this role. If the choice is between a distributed, autonomous cryptocurrency network approved by the people who need the remittances most, or a combination of policies approved by The New York Times, the World Bank, and international regulators, Public Choice economics suggests that the technological option faces a long struggle ahead.

ABOUT IAIN MURRAY

Iain Murray is vice president at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.