Category Archives: Security

The Security Derangement Complex: Technology Companies and Australia’s Anti-Encryption Law

Australia is being seen as a test case. How does a liberal democracy affirm the destruction of private, encrypted communications? In 2015, China demonstrated what could be done to technology companies, equipping other states with an inspiration: encryption keys, when required, could be surrendered to the authorities.

It is worth remembering the feeble justification then, as now.  As Li Shouwei, deputy head of the Chinese parliament’s criminal law division explained to the press at the time, “This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do”.  Birds of a feather, indeed.

An Weixing, head of the Public Security Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism division, furnishes us with the striking example of a generic state official who sees malefactors coming out of the woodwork of the nation. “Terrorism,” he sombrely stated, reflecting on Islamic separatists from East Turkestan, “is the public enemy of mankind, and the Chinese government will oppose all forms of terrorism.”  Given that such elastic definitions are in the eye of the paranoid beholder, the scope for indefinite spread is ever present.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, must be consulting the same oracles as those earning their keep in the PRC.  The first rule of modern governance: frighten the public in order to protect them.  Look behind deceptive facades to find the devil lurking in his trench coat.  Morrison’s rationale is childishly simple: the security derangement complex must, at all times, win over.  The world is a dark place, a jungle rife with, as Morrison insists upon with an advertiser’s amorality, paedophile rings, terrorist cells, and naysayers.

One of his solutions?  The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, otherwise known by its more accurate title of the Anti-Encryption Bill. This poorly conceived and insufferably vague Bill, soon to escape its chrysalis to become law, shows the government playbook in action: tamper with society’s sanity; draft a ponderous bit of text; and treat, importantly, the voter as a creature mushrooming in self-loathing insecurity in the dark.

The Bill, in dreary but dangerous terms, establishes “voluntary and mandatory industry assistance to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies via the issuing of technical assistance requests, technical assistance notices and technical capability notices”.  Technology companies are to become the bullied handmaidens, or “assistants”, of the Australian police state.

The Pentecostal Prime Minister has been able to count on supporters who see privacy as dispensable and security needs as unimpeachable.  Those who get giddy from security derangement syndrome don the academic gown of scorn, lecturing privacy advocates as ignorant idealists in a terrible world.  “I know it is a sensitive issue,” claims Rodger Shananan of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, “but the people arguing privacy just don’t have a handle on how widespread it’s used by the bad people.”  The problem with such ill-considered dross is that such technology is also used by “good” or “indifferent” people.

Precisely in being universal, inserting such anti-encryption backdoors insists on a mutual presumption of guilt, that no one can, or should be trusted.  It is in such environments that well versed cyber criminals thrive, sniffing out vulnerabilities and exploiting them.  Computing security academic Ahmed Ibrahim states the point unreservedly. “If we leave an intentional backdoor they will find it.  Once it is discovered it is usually not easy to fix.”

The extent of such government invasiveness was such as to trouble certain traditional conservative voices.  Alan Jones, who rules from the shock jock roost of radio station 2GB, asked Morrison about whether this obsession with back door access to communications might be going too far.  Quoting Angelo M. Codevilla of Boston University, a veteran critic of government incursions into private, encrypted communications, Jones suggested that the anti-encryption bill “allows police and intelligence agencies access to everyone’s messages, demanding that we believe that any amongst us is as likely or not to be a terrorist.”  Morrison, unmoved, mounted the high horse of necessity.  Like Shanahan, he was only interested in the “bad” people.

To that end, public consultation has been kept to a minimum.  In the words of human rights lawyer, Lizzie O’Shea, it was “a terrible truncation of the process”, one evidently designed to make Australia a shining light for others within the Five Eyes Alliance to follow.  “Once you’ve built the tools, it becomes very hard to argue that you can’t hand them over to the US government, the UK – it becomes something they can all use.”

There had been some hope that the opposition parties would stymie the process and postpone consideration of the bill till next year.  It could thereby be tied up, bound and sunk by various amendments.  But in the last, sagging sessions of Australia’s parliament, a compliant opposition party was keen to remain in the elector’s good books ahead of Christmas.  Bill Shorten’s Labor Party took of the root of unreason, calculating that saying yes to the contents of the bill might also secure the transfer of desperate and mentally ailing refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to the Australian mainland.

Instead, in what became a farcical bungle of miscalculating indulgence, the government got what it wanted.  The medical transfer bill on Nauru and Manus Island failed to pass in the lower house after a filibuster in the Senate by the Coalition and Senators Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson.  The Anti-Encryption Bill, having made is way to the lower house, did.

Shorten’s deputy, Tanya Plibersek, was keen to lay the ground for Thursday’s capitulation to the government earlier in the week.  A range of “protections” had been inserted into the legislation at the behest of the Labor Party. (Such brimming pride!)  The Attorney-General Christian Porter was praised – unbelievably – for having accepted their sagacious suggestions.  The point was elementary: Labor, not wanting to be seen as weak on law enforcement, had to be seen as accommodating.

Porter found himself crowing. “This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, the appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm.”

International authorities versed in the area are looking at the Australian example with jaw dropping concern.  EU officials will find the measure repugnant on various levels, given the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in place.  Australian technology companies are set to be designated appropriate pariahs, as are other technology companies willing to conduct transactions in Australia.  All consumers are being treated as potential criminals, an attitude that does not sit well with entities attempting to make a buck or two.

SwiftOnSecurity, an often canonical source on cyber security matters, is baffled. “Over in Australia they’re shooting themselves in the face with a shockingly technical nonsensical encryption backdoor law.”  Not only does the law fail to serve any useful protections; it “poison-pills their entire domestic tech industry, breaks imports.”

Li’s point, again something which the Australian government insists upon, was that the Chinese law did not constitute a “backdoor” through encryption protections.  Every state official merely wanted to get those “bad people” while sparing the “good”.  The Tor Project is far more enlightening: “There are no safe backdoors.”  An open declaration on the abolition of privacy in Australia has been made; a wonderfully noxious Christmas present for the Australian electorate.

Activist Guide to Security: Defeating Geolocation and Tracking

We live in a surveillance state. As the Edward Snowden leaks and subsequent reporting has shown, government and private military corporations regularly target political dissidents for intelligence gathering. This information is used to undermine social movements, foment internecine conflict, discover weaknesses, and to get individuals thrown in jail for their justified resistance work.

As the idea of the panopticon describes, surveillance creates a culture of self-censorship. There aren’t enough people at security agencies to monitor everything, all of the time. Almost all of the data that is collected is never read or analyzed. In general, specific targeting of an individual for surveillance is the biggest threat. However, because people don’t understand the surveillance and how to defeat it, they subconsciously stop themselves from even considering serious resistance. In this way, they become self-defeating.

Surveillance functions primarily by creating a culture of paranoia through which the people begin to police themselves.

This is a guide to avoiding some of the most dangerous forms of location tracking. This information is meant to demystify tracking so that you can take easy, practical steps to mitigating the worst impacts. Activists and revolutionaries of all sorts may find this information helpful and should incorporate these practices into daily life, whether or not you are involved in any illegal action, as part of security culture.

About modern surveillance

We are likely all familiar with the extent of surveillance conducted by the NSA in the United States and other agencies such as the GCHQ in Britain. These organizations engage in mass data collection on a global scale, recording and storing every cell phone call, text message, email, social media comment, and other form of data they can get their hands on.

Our best defenses against this surveillance network are encryption, face-to-face networking and communication, and building legitimate communities of trust based on robust security culture.

Capitalism has expanded surveillance to every person. Data collection has long been big business, but the internet and smartphones have created a bonanza in data collection. Corporations regularly collect, share, buy, and sell information including your:

  • Home address
  • Workplace
  • Location tracking data
  • Businesses you frequent
  • Political affiliations
  • Hobbies
  • Family and relationship connections
  • Purchasing habits
  • And much more

Much of this information is available on the open marketplace. For example, it was recently reported that many police departments are purchasing location records from cell phones companies such as Verizon that show a record of every tower a given cell phone has connected to. By purchasing this information from a corporation, this allows police to bypass the need to receive a warrant—just one example of how corporations and the state collaborate to protect capitalism and the status quo.

Forms of location tracking

There are two main types of location tracking we are going to look at in this article: cell tower tracking and GPS geolocation.

Cell phone tracking

Whenever a cell phone connects to a cell tower, a unique device ID number is transmitted to the service provider. For most people, their cell phone is connected directly to their identity because they pay a monthly fee, signed up using their real name, and so on. Therefore, any time you connect to a cell network, your location is logged.

The more cell towers are located in your area, the more exact your location may be pinpointed. This same form of tracking applies to smartphones, older cell phones, as well as tablets, computers, cars, and other devices that connect to cell networks. This data can be aggregated over time to form a detailed picture of your movements and connections.

GPS tracking

Many handheld GPS units are “receiver only” units, meaning they can only tell you where you are located. They don’t actually send data to GPS satellites, they only passively receive data. However, this is not the case with all GPS devices.

For example, essentially every new car that is sold today includes built-in GPS geolocation beacons. These are designed to help you recover a stolen car, or call for roadside assistance in remote areas.

Additionally, many smartphones track GPS location data and store that information. The next time you connect to a WiFi or cell phone network, that data is uploaded and shared to external services. GPS tracking can easily reveal your exact location to within 10 feet.

Defeating location tracking

So how do we stop these forms of location tracking from being effective? There are five main techniques we can use, all of which are simple and low-tech.

(a) Don’t carry a cell phone. It’s almost a blasphemy in our modern world, but this is the safest way for activists and revolutionaries to operate.

(b) Use “burner” phones. A “burner” is a prepaid cell phone that can be purchased using cash at big-box stores like Wal-Mart. In the USA, only two phones may be purchased per person, per day. If it is bought with cash and activated using the Tor network, a burner phone cannot typically be linked to your identity.

WORD OF CAUTION: rumor has it that the NSA and other agencies run sophisticated voice identification algorithms via their mass surveillance networks. If you are in a maximum-security situation, you may need to use a voice scrambler, only use text messages, or take other precautions. Also note that burners are meant to be used for a short period of time, then discarded.

(c) Remove the cell phone battery. Cell phones cannot track your location if they are powered off. However, it is believed that spy agencies have the technical capability to remotely turn on cell phones for use as surveillance devices. To defeat this, remove the battery completely. This is only possible with some phones, which brings us to method number four.

(d) Use a faraday bag. A faraday bag (sometimes called a “signal blocking bag”) is made of special materials that block radio waves (WiFi, cell networks, NFC, and Bluetooth all are radio waves). These bags can be purchased for less than $50, and will block all signals while your phones or devices are inside. These bags are often used by cops, for example, to prevent remote wiping of devices in evidence storage. If you are ever arrested with digital devices, you may notice the cops place them in faraday bags.

WORD OF CAUTION: Modern smartphones include multiple sensors including a compass and accelerometer. There have been proof-of-concept experiments showing that a smartphone inside a faraday bag can still track your location by using these sensors in a form of dead reckoning. In high-security situations where you may be targeted individually, this is a real consideration.

(e) Don’t buy any modern car that includes GPS. Note that almost all rental cars contain GPS tracking devices as well. Any time a person is traveling for a serious action, it is safest to use an older vehicle. If you may be under surveillance, it is best to use a vehicle that is not directly connected to you or to the movement.

Conclusion

There are caveats here. I am not a technical expert, I am merely a revolutionary who is highly concerned about mass surveillance. Methods of location tracking are always evolving. And there are many methods.

This article doesn’t, for example, discuss the simple method of placing a GPS tracker on a car. These small magnetic devices can be purchased on the private market and attached to the bottom of any vehicle.

However, these basic principles can be applied across a wide range of scenarios, with some modification, to greatly increase your privacy and security.

Good luck!

Security, Safety, Security! Dictatorship by Democracy

The other day, checking in at a European airport for an international flight, within about an hour it took to deposit my luggage, going through airport security, the metal detectors, body screening machines, the automatic passport reading procedure, waiting at the gate and finally boarding, I have heard or read the words security and safety, honestly speaking, more than a hundred times. There are now countless primitive videos – in fact, insultingly primitive videos – that show you the precise procedures to follow to keep you safe and secure. All you have to do is follow them to keep your life safe and in secure hands. It is a constant indoctrination that we are in danger and that the democracy around us keeps us safe.

Some paper in my shirt pocket and a handkerchief I didn’t remove from my pocket had to go through a special ‘dust reader’; my hands were also ‘dusted off’ and the special tissue used for it also went through the ‘reader’ only then, when indeed the result was negative, was I free to collect my things and get redressed. I wondered aloud how many valuable items, like cell phones, laptops, cameras and so on – ‘disappear’ – or get ‘lost’ in the hassle, and I could not shut up making my comments about the nonsense – the George Bush invented 9/11 endless war on terror, that itself was based on a false flag; i.e., the  self-imposed 9/11 – and that prompted this forced submission to an ever-more degrading and harassing security procedure. About three security agents descended on me – this time politely, I must say, assuring me that all this was for my own safety. Naturally. How could it be different. We want you to be safe and secure, Sir. Bingo. It’s difficult to protest against so much protective kindness.

Does anybody have an idea on what this security and safety industry – the machines and apparatuses, and ever newly invented security gadgets – cost?  And the profit they bring to the war and security industry and their shareholders, many of whom are former high-ranking US and other western government officials?  The airport security business alone is estimated at between US$ 25 and 30 billion per year. What can I say? These airport security employees have jobs; they have been trained to use these billions-worth devices to intimidate and harass people into fear, into obeying, into blindly, no questions asked, following the dictate of democracy. Most of these security agents don’t know much about what they are doing. They have a noble job: protecting the world from terrorists, a job that keeps them proudly off an ever-growing mass of unemployed, or underemployed, lowly-paid workers. Free thinking is not allowed, lest you are pushed out into the cold, to join the ranks of beggars, of the socially unfit, who depend on government handouts.

Once on the plane, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a flight attendant by the name of “security and safety”. Well, that was her title, instead of a real name. Lovely, I thought. It doesn’t stop. Security and safety brainwashing permeate every fiber 24/7 of our lives.

Security and safety über alles! – Heil to the neocons, heil to the neonazis that have taken over the reins of our every-day life. And I’m not talking about the political parties of the extreme ‘right’ in France or Germany, they are just puppets for the invisible elite, for those ‘deepstaters’ that pull the strings behind the Trumps, Macrons, Merkels and Mays of this world. – Of course, it’s all for your security, my security, at best, for national security – not theirs, the ones who impose these nonsensical rules, rules that serve strictly for no other purpose than to oppress the common citizen, to brainwash the populace into believing that they are under a constant threat of attack.

Back to the airport. At the hand baggage x-ray control, where everybody has to put their cosmetics in a transparent plastic bag, pull out their laptops, tablets and cameras, and are being told what items are not allowed on board, ridiculous stuff, absolutely hilariously ridiculous – if it wasn’t that serious – and all for your own safety, naturally – I was being pushed aside for a service man who delivered a case of bananas to the restaurant in the waiting hall. His bananas had to be cleared by the x-ray machine. Imagine!  They could be objects of terror, maybe even weapons of mass destruction – WMDs.

The real WMDs that kill millions on an every-day basis, in Yemen, in Syria, in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan – and the list goes on – nobody talks about. They have become common staple of our “secure” and “safe” world. The UN, during the ongoing Annual Meeting in New York, declared Yemen a country governed by terror – yes, the Yemenis, who are starved to death like no other nation in recent history, with – also according to the same UN – 5 million children at high risk of death by famine. Not the Saudis, or the United States of America, or the UK, the French, the Spaniards, who feed the Saudis with war planes and bombs, with real weapons of mass destructions are the terror nations. No, it’s Yemen. What world have we ended up with?

We are governed by a bunch of criminals and crooks, who benefit from our ignorance and mentally challenged brains. In the submissive west, the utterly brainwashed and by now almost brainless populace is reminded that we are screened for security purposes, for our own security. Every time the screws of security are tightened a little more, the arms are twisted a bit further, just a tiny bit – never forget, it’s only for our security and safety. By the time, my dear fellow citizens, we realize that our arms are broken and our skulls and brains smashed beyond repair, it’s too late.

As we are reminded by our masters that keep us secure and safe, we are also reminded that we are living in the only democracy that exists on the planet, namely western style democracy. Never mind, this democracy is often, most often, in fact, imposed to the rest of the world by sledgehammer, or even by WMDs. We, of course, don’t know that; we are made believe that all those countries that are being ‘regime-changed’, or destroyed for the sake of democracy are being destroyed for the betterment of their citizens living conditions. That’s what we are made believe. There is no other set of nations – with a thousand years of horrific history of exploitation, killing, raping, looting, lying – than the west. And the west, to this day, continues lying and manipulating peoples’ minds in a more sophisticated way than even Goebbels could have dreamed of.

Can you imagine – the “Peru Six”, the neocons – very close to neonazis – of the Americas – (Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Perú and Canada), of course, all in the pockets of Washington, have had the unbelievable audacity to file a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice of The Hague against Venezuela for torturing and oppressing her people to the point that 2 million had to leave the country. This is such a flagrant multiple lie – it is actually a crime against humanity, against the only – yes, the very only real democracy left in the west, Venezuela – to make one’s stomach churn.

The maximum 500,000 to 700,000 Venezuelans, who, according to UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration, have migrated to neighboring countries, because of the foreign imposed – yes, totally foreign imposed, sanctions of the US and the EU – plus shamefully neutral Switzerland – horrendous economic conditions of the country. The Maduro Government is struggling to reverse that situation by de-linking Venezuela’s economy from the dollar economy, by creating new alliances with the east, in particular China and Russia. And as there are signs that the wheel may be turning favorably for Venezuela, some of the migrants are already returning.

But can you imagine what these six Latin American Washington bootlickers do to the reputation of Venezuela? And they may actually be welcome in The Hague, especially after John Bolton, Trump’s neocon “Security Adviser” – again Heil-Heil Security! – has warned the judges of this once-upon-a-time noble-intentioned international court, to beware and behave, and never pursue (war) crimes committed by the United States and Israel, meaning in clear text – obey and do what is in the interest of the exceptional nation(s), or else. So, the ICJ may actually be compelled to consider the malicious and totally fake and deceitful complaint of the Peru Six seriously.

And all that under the name of democracy.

Wake up, dear co-citizens! Its high time. We are living in an abject Security Dictatorship, called Democracy. It imposes an ever-increasing militarization, becomes an ever more brutal police state, or better, an association of brutal police states, to be sure, that if and when you wake up, your awakening will be smashed with visceral power of a legalized, totally legitimate Security Dictatorship. If we don’t act now – and acting starts at these dreadful, humiliating and harassing security stupidities we accept every day at airports around the world – we will be fried for good. Stand up, folks! Stand up for your rights and against the day-in-day-out brainwashing of keeping you secure. Let’s take back our security sovereignty. We, and only we, as citizens, colleagues and comrades, are responsible for our own security. Let not security and safety be imposed by criminal, warmongering, children-killing Security Democracies, namely our western governments.

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them.  At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility.  When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants.  The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.”  First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics.  First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices.  Second is to continue a tradition of public service.  Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al.  Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive.  You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle.  This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city.  Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections.  Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic.  Mum’s the word.  Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients.  The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications.  But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

Irresistible Urges: Surveilling Australia’s Citizens

The authoritarian misfits in the Turnbull government have again rumbled and uttered suspicions long held: Australian residents and citizens are not to be trusted, and the intelligence services should start getting busy in expanding their operations against the next Doomsday threat.

This became clear from leaked material on discussions that illustrate in no subtle way the security paranoia afflicting officials in the nation’s various capitals.  A merry bunch they are too, featuring the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and his advisor and department secretary, Mike Pezzullo.  These latest discussions disclose not so much a change of approach as a continuation of a theme the Australian national security has taken since 2001: we are menaced constantly, and need the peering folk and peeping toms to pre-empt the next attack, fraud or swindle.

Central to the latest security round robin is a familiar, authoritarian theme: the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) should be given access to emails, bank records and text messages without the knowledge of citizens, tantamount to a data home invasion. A mutual role would thereby be cemented between defence and home affairs.

Minister Dutton has found it hard to contain his delight at the prospect of further influence, despite rejecting the notion that his moves would lead to carte blanche espionage on home soil. According to the ABC, which has attempted to make sense of the latest chatter, the ASD would be given a larger role on three levels.

The first would involve deploying shutting down or “cyber effects” powers against the usual gifts that keep giving alibis: organised criminals, child pornographers and terrorists.  “Penetration tests” on Australian companies to test the value of their cyber security against hacking would also be conducted.  The third arm of enlarged power would entail giving the ASD powers to coerce government agencies and companies to improve cyber security.

Over the weekend, the secretaries of Defence, Home Affairs and the ASD issued a joint statement claiming that the latter’s “cyber security function entails protecting Australians from cyber-enabled crime and cyber attacks, and not collecting intelligence on Australians.”

The secretaries insist on a scrupulousness that barely computes: “We would never provide advice to Government suggesting that ASD be allowed to have unchecked data collection on Australians – this can only ever occur within the law, and under very limited and controlled circumstances.”

The state of protections citizens have is hardly rosy as it is: ASIO is tasked with the issue of conducting espionage on Australian territory though it needs warrants signatured by the Attorney General.  The Australian Federal Police also require warrants.  The ASD, to date, has been a helper rather than a controller, a two-bit player and data cruncher.

Not all ministers are on board with the plan, notably the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.  A palpable shift of power is taking place in the bureaucratic machinations of Canberra, and the suggestions that the ASD be given enhanced powers to produce intelligence on Australians suggests a further circumvention if not outright evisceration of the Attorney-General’s department.

Dutton and his cadres are also mounting an offensive on other surveillance fronts, something typified by the weasel language of the “central interoperability hub”. The Home Affairs department already shows sign of bloating self-importance, floating more ideas about how best to keep the large eye of the state attentive to security threats.  A facial recognition system, for instance, is on the table, and is likely to be given the blessing of parliament.

The Law Council of Australia has reason to worry as, for that matter, does everybody else. Giving government agencies the means to identify a face in a crowd can only have a broadening effect, resulting in prosecutions for minor misdemeanours.

On this score, the governments of the states and territories are with the Home Affairs department, having agreed in October last year to the sharing of identity and facial recognition data between all levels of government to target the usual bogeys that threaten Australia’s cobbled civilisation: organised crime, terrorism and identity fraud.

The surveillance sorcerers, it would seem, are rampant, a point made clear in the Identity-matching Services Bill 2018.  This potentially insidious bit of drafting “provides for the exchange of identity information between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments by enabling the Department of Home Affairs to collect, use and disclose identification information in order to operate the technical systems that will facilitate the identity-matching services envisaged by the IGA.” (Crypto-authoritarians tend to be rather verbose.)

The Bill’s wording also abhors the state of current image-based methods of identification, these being “slow, difficult to audit, and often involve manual tasking between requesting agencies and data holding agencies, sometimes taking several days or longer to process”. The travails of a liberal democracy, ever a nuisance to those protectors citing omnipresent threats.

The Council’s president, Morry Bailes, has already hammered out the words he intends to tell the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security: “Clearly, provision of such capability has been desirable to facilitate detection of would-be terrorists scoping a site for a potential terrorist attack.  But that very same identity-matching capability might also be used for a range of activities that Australian citizens regard as unacceptable.”

Even Bailes effuses pieties, thinking that clearly drawn lines on the use of such data will somehow save the sacred cow of civil liberties.  (That cow, it must be said, is in a poor state of health as it is.)  He insists on such canons as legitimate use and proportionality, two features managers of the national security state are inherently incapable of.

“That line should also be assured by law to be fully transparent, understood and consistently applied by all relevant governments and their agencies.”  But such a line might creep, advancing “towards broad social surveillance” finding its way “to a full social-credit style system of government surveillance of Australian citizens.”

The issue common to the latest pro-surveillance bingers is an innate desire to remove the judicial arm from the equation.  Having a warrant takes time and resources; leaving surveillance to the discretion of state officials is far more expedient and tidy.

As the Australian Human Rights Commission notes, the “very broad powers” granted to Dutton as Home Affairs minister “could lead to further very significant intrusions on privacy.”  There are no discernible “limits on what may be done with information shared through the services the bill would create”.

The latest ASD affair, with other surveillance agendas in the wing, suggests that a very unfitting eulogy for Australian civil liberties is being written.  Authoritarianism is being kept in check by ever weakening forces and fetters.  The insecurity of citizens is deemed a suitable price for the security of the state – just the way Dutton likes it.

Inglorious Snitching: Adrián Lamo, Chelsea Manning, and Patriotism

The hacking community, like poets, tend to be irritable tribesmen and women. Their modus operandi functions on the stab, the enthusiastic penetration of insecure computer systems and mockery. Their role is as much to instruct as it is to disrupt.

To that end, such figures cut different forms. There is the lonesome soul finding solace in being a nuisance, or the idealist intent on revealing a compromised state of affairs (those working for Anonymous, by way of example). It was questionable whether Adrián Lamo was of the latter breed. According to his father, Mario, he lacked malice though not initiative. “Everything he did was out of curiosity.” Lamo’s views of his own activities suggested less a case of hacking than finding “different ways of seeing.”

Dead at 37 at his Kansas apartment on Wednesday in circumstances that barely struck an interest for most scribblers of the monopoly press, Lamo established his initial claim as one who hacked the Old Gray Lady. In breaking into the New York Times network in 2003, Lamo proceeded to run up $300,000 in data research fees by means of fake usernames, essentially adding himself to the paper’s payroll.

Cingular Wireless, Microsoft and Yahoo! were also accessed, the latter being notable for receiving touch-ups and satirical readjustments to news articles. After an 18 month investigation by the FBI, he was subsequently arrested and convicted for computer fraud, spending time in house arrest.

The now notorious James B. Comey, who was then the US attorney in Manhattan, was less than impressed. “It’s like someone kicking in your front door while you’re on vacation and running up a $300,000 bill on your phone, and then telling you when you arrive home that he had performed a useful service by demonstrating that your deadbolt wasn’t secure enough.”

It was with Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley, with whom he struck historical, if tainted gold. Lamo’s name had ventured far enough to reach the troubled army private who had, over time, amassed a sizeable trove of classified documents noting everything from brutal military engagements to diplomatic gossip in State Department cables. Lamo assumed the role of compromised confessor, drawing upon what he regarded as boasts by Manning.

Lamo, it seemed, had undergone a Damascene conversion. During the course of messaging Manning, a patriotic instinct had taken a gripping hold, though when exactly is unclear. This, from an individual who had shown little sign of it prior. Chat logs obtained via AOL Instant Messenger were thereby surrendered to the FBI, forever marking Lamo as an informant. Manning was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking some 700,000 government records, a term which was commuted by President Barack Obama in January 2017.

An explanation for his motives was quick to come. In a 2011 interview that ran in the film WikiSecrets, Lamo claimed a belief that Manning “couldn’t possibly have vetted over a quarter of a million documents”. She had merely assured herself “that they didn’t contain anything that would cause human harm.”

This criticism on vetting – or its absence – which has varying degrees of plausibility in the scope of information warfare, has also been levelled at WikiLeaks. Such is the distribution, and in some cases relocation, of power when it comes to revealing classified materials. Detractors prefer the deference to paternalism: only the traditional state and its operatives are fit to assess the quality of those secrets.

That aspect of harm, claims Lamo, was understood after his conviction. He was, on reflection, not merely dealing with computer systems, “just ones and zeros” but flesh and blood individuals who might be effected. He had not taken into account the “human cost”. But in becoming an informant, Lamo had decided to inflict another variant of harm – that of terrorising whistleblowers, notably to WikiLeaks, into revealing the dirty laundry of state entities.

This conformed rather neatly with the strategy outlined by the US Army Counterintelligence Center in 2008, whose own classified, and leaked report to WikiLeaks, proclaimed the organisation “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army.”

A vital strategy here entailed outing, targeting and ruining confidential sources and informants. “Successful identification, prosecution, termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the information by the governments and businesses affected by information posted by Wikileaks.org would damage and potentially destroy this center of gravity and deter others form taking similar actions.”

In life, Lamo remained itinerant. He moved repeatedly, and remained homeless for long stretches. “He was a believer,” claimed self-professed colleague and friend Lorraine Murphy, “in the Geographic Cure. Whatever goes wrong in your life, moving will make it better.”

He certainly engendered, if postings on his Facebook profile are anything to go by, strong impressions amongst those who knew him. “He was gifted with a brilliant curious mind that sprouted on a compassionate and loving heart,” goes a note from Saulo.

His name in the battlefield of public engagement was something else. For Julian Assange, he was no less an FBI snitch and poseur. “Lamo, a fake journalist, petty conman & betrayer of basic human decency, promised alleged source [Chelsea Manning] journalistic protection, friendship and support, then sold him to the FBI.”

Lamo’s mother responded with typical maternal distress. Being in the Ecuadorean embassy, speculated Mary Atwood Lamo, had denatured the publisher. “Perhaps if you dealt with what you need to personally, you might feel less mean-spirited and more able to exhibit the ‘basic human decency’ you endorse in your own words and behaviour, Mr. Assange.”

As for Lamo’s death, few eyebrows have been raised, though the conspiratorial wilderness may well dredge up something in due course. “There’s nothing suspicious about his death,” claimed Wichita police officer Charley Davidson. Toxicology tests will only yield results after some weeks, and the Regional Forensic Science Center is still numb on the cause of death.

Lamo’s underreported passing suggests one object lesson: no plaques are made to the tattler, the squealer, the snitch. To them is only owed suspicion, the sense that you might well turn at any given moment. The counterfeit currency that is patriotism only goes so far. The rest is less history than a concerted forgetting.

Dumping Wilson Security: The NGV, Art and Refugee Detention

Art and politics mix, often poorly.  Artists are sometimes the hoodwinked emissaries of the latter, sponsored, enlisted and marshalled by the state and corporate entities.  Self-proclaimed radical artists can become compliant, or at the very least mute cogs, aware of their patronage and finite sources of funding.  To question is to impoverish.

In Australia, the links between security companies and the art world have come in for a recent sniping.  Such episodes should be more regular, but artists in Australia have woken up from a prolonged slumber of selfish apathy to push back against companies who provide the gruesome bill for Australia’s offshore detention centres.

The issue drew some attention in 2014, when the Biennale of Sydney chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis resigned in response to an artist boycott regarding Transfield’s security role in offshore processing on Manus Island and Nauru.  Transfield’s other hat was that of committed art patron, an association begun by Belgiorno-Nettis’ father, Franco, in 1961. The irritating bee in the bonnet was less Transfield than its subsidiary company.

At the time, the then Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned what he thought was “sheer vicious ingratitude” on the part of artists.  The now retired Senator George Brandis found the gesture of protest “irrational” while chiding the Biennale board for capitulating “to the blackmail effectively of a small number of artists”.  Belgiorno-Nettis was unrepentant, claiming that there was “little room for sensible dialogue, let alone deliberation.”

The National Gallery of Victoria should have been cognisant of that episode when it sought the services of another security company linked to Australia’s offshore detention complex.  Hectored by disgruntled artists, the NGV announced at the end of last month that it would be ending its fraught association with Wilson Security.

During its tenure, the company presided over a lengthy log of abuses, physical, sexual and psychological, a point noted by the Australian Senate in 2015.   Last year, the company announced that it would cease providing security services at Manus Island and Nauru from October, an effort to rescue a tarnished brand rather than a wounded conscience.

The decision by the NGV has been put down to the Artists’ Committee, which made much noise last year against the gallery’s new contract with Wilson Security.  In August, a petition heavy with over 1,500 signatures, including various heavies of the Australian art world, was submitted to the NGV director, Tony Ellwood. In conducting business with Wilson Security, the gallery was effectively supporting “systematic abuse”.

Gabrielle de Vietri, speaking on behalf of the committee, put the position to Art Guide Australia.  “We’re talking about a company whose numerous and well-publicised ethical breaches while managing security at Australia’s reprehensible offshore detention centres amount to nothing less than human rights abuse.”

The attempt to ruffle feathers began in earnest in October, which featured the dyeing of water features outside the gallery a jarring red.  The participating artists courteously explained that the red dye was non-toxic and caused no damage.  On October 6, Picasso’s Weeping Woman was covered in black cloth sporting Wilson Security’s logo.  Twenty signatories stood in front of the painting, stymieing efforts of security staff from removing it for up to an hour.

The scene was set for the NGV Triennial in December, when international artists joined the scrap.  One salvo of protest involved South African installation artist Candice Breitz, who targeted the security outfit in Wilson Must Go, 2016, a seven-channel video installation spiked with reflections on the global refugee crisis.  It should, however, be noted that Breitz sensed an opportunity, less to create a work in direct protest against Wilson Security as renaming it for the occasion in an act of “self-sabotaging”.  (It had the previously bland title of Love Story.)

In Breitz’s words penned with political, albeit opportunistic purpose, “The new title will remain in effect for as long as the work is on the view at the National Gallery of Victoria, or when the work is exhibited in any other exhibition context on Australian soil, until the NGV severs its relationship with Wilson Security.”  Wilson Security, she noted, had “violently enforced the imprisonment of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres.”

The position on sponsorship, supply and largesse between soiled companies and the art industry remains slippery.  The bar is subterranean for such figures as Brandis, who claim that art institutions should not “reject bona fide sponsorship from commercially sound, prospective partners on political grounds”.  This neat nonsense provides a long iteration about the artist prostrate before the state, rather than one in resistance to it.

If detaining refugees and asylum indefinitely in indigent tropical states is deemed a sound policy to begin with, it only follows that security companies will be given a clean bill of health.  Fortunately for those in the art establishment congregated around the NGV, the bar has been raised.

Bungling Crown Privilege: Australia’s Cabinet Security Breach

Journalists would have seen it as a scoop, and insisted that no laws had been broken. Politicians might have considered it a calamity.  Whatever one terms Australia (parliamentary democracy; constitutional monarchy) secrecy remains the state’s watchword.  When it comes to bureaucratic provisions that supposedly safeguard the state against the prying eyes of the public, all justified in their name, Australia does rather well.

This is particularly so on the subject of Cabinet files, insulated from public view by that curious legal creature known as public interest immunity.  In its older variant, the term “Crown privilege” was used. Over history, the courts of Britain and Australia have shown a marked trust in the word of a minister.

As the House of Lords decision of Duncan v Cammell Laird & Co. (1942) asserted, the minister’s certification that the documents should not be produced as contrary to the public interest was essentially unimpeachable.  The public, effectively, had to be protected from the government’s own conduct.

Cabinet minutes, discussions and associated documents were deemed particularly sensitive, though Australian courts have, at stages, taken it upon themselves to determine whether their contents ought to be made known to the public.

In the words of High Court Justice Harry Gibbs in Sankey v Whitlam (1978), “It is however clear that the court should prevent the disclosure of a document whose production would be contrary to the public interest even if no claim is made by the Minister or other high official that its production should be withheld.”  How paternalistically grateful we must all be for that.

Cabinet is an enclave, where, supposedly, frontbenchers of government can hammer out in frankness and candour policy viewpoints in a pre-pasteurised way.  In such a state, the goo, the fat and the flavour remain, at least before it reaches the party room or parliamentary chamber.  By that point, sanitisation might have taken place and scandal avoided.

That this approach, and dare one say it, mentality, has not been challenged with more rigour by Australian electors and, in some cases, the elected, is a sure sign about how healthy the actual state of democracy is in the country. Nanny and nurse, in other words, retain their aura, a vestigial power over the political fabric.

All’s the more interesting, then, when this wall of secrecy finds itself breached.  This week, government faces turned crimson with what may well be one of the largest breaches of cabinet security in the country’s history.

It all happened because documents were found in two locked filing cabinets as part of an auction of ex-government furniture in Canberra. The files in question duly wound their way to the national broadcaster, precipitating discussion between the ABC and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

On late Thursday evening, officers from the domestic intelligence agency, ASIO, could be seen retrieving the papers in question in Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra from the premises of the ABC.

The return of the documents was discussed in a statement released by the ABC.  “The ABC and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have agreed on the securing of and the return of the documents which were the subject of the ABC’s Cabinet Files reporting to the Commonwealth.”

The statement continues, not without some cheekiness, that, “This has been achieved without compromising the ABC’s priority of protecting the integrity of its source and its reporting, while acknowledging the Commonwealth’s national security interests.”

The documents – numbering thousands marked “top secret” and “AUSTEO” (for Australian Eyes Only) are illuminating on a several levels. For one, they enable Australians – and others, for that matter – to get a flavour of what exactly is busying those keen members of Cabinet.

A series of reactionary nuggets come to the fore.  Former immigration minister, Scott Morrison, for one, is particularly charming.  When advised by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that up to 700 asylum seekers had to be granted permanent protection under existing legislation, he demurred.  He duly sought “mitigation strategies” to prevent such a grant, including delaying ASIO’s security-checks.  Deadlines would duly pass, as would the problem.

Another juicy instalment can be found in a proposal considered by the Abbott government ahead of the 2014 budget to ban anyone under 30 from accessing income support.  The expenditure review committee, comprising the dark Trinitarian force of former Prime Minister Abbott, former treasurer Joe Hockey and Finance Minister Matthias Cormann, requested then social services minister Kevin Andrews to consider methods of prohibiting “job snobs” from receiving welfare payments.

The response from parliamentarians to this breach do not centre on scolding government officials or members of cabinet for inappropriate views or policies.  Attitudes and opinions are less important than the management of information.  The breach, in other words, rather than the substance of it, is what matters.

Chris Bowen of the opposition Labor Party, for instance, fears for his country, which is another way of saying he fears what others might think of it. “This is embarrassing for the country, it is embarrassing to our allies who share intelligence with us and assume that we will be able to keep it.”

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have come to a solution on how best to cope with the breach: investigate itself.  The prospects of this generating into a Canberra farce, a bureaucratic comic interlude, are high.

One person not laughing (he rarely does in any case) is former intelligence analyst and current independent member of the Australian federal parliament, Andrew Wilkie. “We need an independent investigation to look at this systematically.” This is exactly what the government will do its best to avoid.

America Breaks Down: The Anatomy of a National Nervous Breakdown

This country has been having a nationwide nervous breakdown since 9/11. A nation of people suddenly broke, the market economy goes to shit, and they’re threatened on every side by an unknown, sinister enemy. But I don’t think fear is a very effective way of dealing with things—of responding to reality. Fear is just another word for ignorance.”

— Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist

Another shooting, another day in America.

Or so it seems.

With alarming regularity, the nation is being subjected to a spate of violence that terrorizes the public, destabilizes the country’s fragile ecosystem, and gives the government greater justifications to crack down, lock down, and institute even more authoritarian policies for the so-called sake of national security without many objections from the citizenry.

Take this latest mass shooting that took place at a small church in a small Texas town.

The lone gunman—a former member of the Air Force—was dressed all in black, wearing body armor, a tactical vest and a mask, and firing an assault rifle. (Note the similarity in uniform and tactics to the nation’s police forces, SWAT teams and military.)

Devin Patrick Kelley, the 26-year-old gunman, had served a year in military prison for assaulting his wife and child in 2012. Domestic disputes aside, Kelley—like many of the other shooters in recent years—was described as a “regular guy” by those who knew him.

This “regular” guy’s shooting rampage left at least 26 people dead.

President Trump and the Governor of Texas have chalked the shooting up to mental illness.

That may well be the case here.

Still, there’s something to be said for the fact that this shooting bore many of the same marks of other recent attacks: the gunman appeared out of the blue without triggering any alarms, he was dressed like a soldier or militarized police officer, he was armed with military-style weapons and clearly trained in the art of killing, and the attacker died before any insight could be gained into his motives.

As usual, we’re left with more questions than answers and a whole lot more fear and anxiety.

As The Washington Post reports:

For some, the church massacre … reinforced a sense of unease that no place could be considered immune from possible violence after a concert ground in Las Vegas, a Walmart in Colorado, a Nashville church and a bike path in New York all became scenes of death and bloodshed over the past six weeks.

That sense of unease is growing.

How do you keep a nation safe when not even seemingly “safe places” like churches and rock concerts and shopping malls are immune from violence?

The government’s answer, as always, will lead us further down the road we’ve travelled since 9/11 towards totalitarianism and away from freedom.

Those who want safety at all costs will clamor for more gun control measures (if not an outright ban on weapons for non-military, non-police personnel), widespread mental health screening of the general population and greater scrutiny of military veterans, more threat assessments and behavioral sensing warnings, more CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities, more “See Something, Say Something” programs aimed at turning Americans into snitches and spies, more metal detectors and whole-body imaging devices at soft targets, more roaming squads of militarized police empowered to do random bag searches, more fusion centers to centralize and disseminate information to law enforcement agencies, and more surveillance of what Americans say and do, where they go, what they buy and how they spend their time.

All of these measures play into the government’s hands.

As we have learned the hard way, the phantom promise of safety in exchange for restricted or regulated liberty is a false, misguided doctrine that has no basis in the truth.

Still, why do these things keep happening?

We have been plagued with trouble at every turn, from racial unrest and political upheavals to environmental disasters and economic bad news.

Clearly, America is in the midst of a national nervous breakdown.

Things are falling apart, and the inmates in the asylum are starting to turn on each other.

This breakdown—triggered by polarizing circus politics, media-fed mass hysteria, militarization and militainment (the selling of war and violence as entertainment), a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness in the face of growing corruption, the government’s alienation from its populace, and an economy that has much of the population struggling to get by—is manifesting itself in madness, mayhem and an utter disregard for the very principles and liberties that have kept us out of the clutches of totalitarianism for so long.

When things start to fall apart or implode, as they seem to be doing lately, I have to wonder who stands to benefit from it. In most cases, it’s the government that stands to benefit by amassing greater powers at the citizenry’s expense.

See, we’re like lab mice, conditioned to respond appropriately to certain stimuli.

Right now, we’re being conditioned to be reactionaries capable of little more than watching and worrying. Indeed, we are fast becoming a nation of bad news junkies, addicted to the steady and predictable drip-drip-drip of news—be it sensational, devastating, demoralizing, disastrous, or just titillating—that keeps us plastered to our screen devices for the next round of breaking news.

Just consider a small sampling of headlines from two days’ worth of the news cycle:

Senator Rand Paul suffers five fractured ribs after being tackled by a neighbor while mowing the grass at his Kentucky home. Donna Brazile rocks the political sphere with a claim that the Democratic National primary was fixed to favor a Hillary Clinton win over Bernie Sanders. Kevin Spacey joins the lineup of celebrity men to be accused of sexual assault. The Pentagon hints at the possibility of a ground invasion of North Korea. And then this latest mass shooting, supposedly over a domestic dispute, in Texas.

No wonder America is breaking down.

So much is happening on a daily basis that the average American understandably has a hard time keeping up with and remembering all of the “events,” manufactured or otherwise, which occur like clockwork and keep us distracted, deluded, amused, and insulated from reality.

We are suffering from “the crisis of the now.”

As investigative journalist Mike Adams points out:

This psychological bombardment is waged primarily via the mainstream media which assaults the viewer by the hour with images of violence, war, emotions and conflict. Because the human nervous system is hard wired to focus on immediate threats accompanied by depictions of violence, mainstream media viewers have their attention and mental resources funneled into the never-ending ‘crisis of the NOW’ from which they can never have the mental breathing room to apply logic, reason or historical context.

Professor Jacques Ellul studied this phenomenon of overwhelming news, short memories and the use of propaganda to advance hidden agendas. “One thought drives away another; old facts are chased by new ones,” wrote Ellul.

Under these conditions there can be no thought. And, in fact, modern man does not think about current problems; he feels them. He reacts, but he does not understand them any more than he takes responsibility for them. He is even less capable of spotting any inconsistency between successive facts; man’s capacity to forget is unlimited. This is one of the most important and useful points for the propagandists, who can always be sure that a particular propaganda theme, statement, or event will be forgotten within a few weeks.

All the while, the government continues to amass more power and authority over the citizenry.

When we’re being bombarded with wall-to-wall news coverage and news cycles that change every few days, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing—namely, holding the government accountable to abiding by the rule of law—and the powers-that-be understand this.

As long as we’re tuned into the various breaking news headlines and entertainment spectacles, we will remain tuned out to the government’s steady encroachments on our freedoms

This is how the corporate elite controls a population, either inadvertently or intentionally, and advances their agenda without much opposition from the citizenry.

Rod Serling, the creator of the Twilight Zone, imagined just such a world in which the powers-that-be carry out a social experiment to see how long it would take before the members of a small American neighborhood, frightened by a sudden loss of electric power and caught up in fears of the unknown, will transform into an irrational mob and turn on each other.

It doesn’t take long at all.

As Serling concludes in the Twilight Zone episode of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.

Among the 26 people killed in that small church in Texas, at least half of them were children. One was a pregnant woman: both she and her unborn were killed.

Devin Patrick Kelley may have pulled the trigger that resulted in the mayhem, but something else is driving the madness.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re caught in a vicious cycle right now between terror and fear and distraction and hate and partisan politics and an inescapable longing for a time when life was simpler and people were kinder and the government was less of a monster.

Our prolonged exposure to the American police state is not helping.

As always, the solution to most problems must start locally, in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our communities. We’ve got to refrain from the toxic us vs. them rhetoric that is consuming the nation. We’ve got to work harder to build bridges, instead of burning them to the ground. We’ve got to learn to stop bottling up dissent and disagreeable ideas and learn how to agree to disagree. We’ve got to de-militarize our police and lower the levels of violence here and abroad, whether it’s violence we export to other countries, violence we glorify in entertainment, or violence we revel in when it’s leveled at our so-called enemies, politically or otherwise.

Unless we can learn to live together as brothers and sisters and fellow citizens, we will perish as tools and prisoners of the American police state.