This page you're reading is a topical "Front-End".
It explores some current issues as case-studies and entry-points,
to introduce and motivate the pervasive issues of Information Warfare.
My main, underlying webpage is here:
Information Ethics and Information Warfare in Social Climate Change.
Here is my Site Index.
I apply the label -- and the analytic techniques -- of "Information Warfare"
to this general case:
Every situation potentially contains elements of both Conflict and Cooperation. Different agents have different perspectives. You may communicate (intentionally) or "signal" or "leak" (unintentionally) information you believe to be true (or a lie). Various receivers may interpret your intention and/or your message in various ways. Whatever the combination, some consequences of the signalling may be good or bad. Perceptions may change, regarding the mix (or the "rules") of Conflict and Cooperation. (Example: Recently declassified documents support my contention that Saddam Hussein wanted to "bluff"; to deter local threats; by signalling -- to local internal and external rivals (Iran) -- that he might have WMD capabilities. Various receivers in the Bush administration interpreted Hussein's signals to mean that he did possess WMD, or that they could convince the public of that "fact". There were consequences.)
On this page, I introduce Info-War frameworks. I use these to examine some current issues involving U.S. intelligence agencies (the traditional domain of Info-War), the U.S. civilian "knowledge infrastructure" (its epistemological degradation due to Info-War bombardments, and to neglect of structural reforms and regular semantic maintenance), and also the "meltdown" of the civilian economy. Even if you are interested only in the economic meltdown, I recommend you read the initial section about U.S. intelligence agencies, because it introduces essential Info-War concepts -- and because it illuminates some of the Economic Espionage and Economic "Perception Management" factors that influence our economic trajectory. Subsequently, when you read about economic issues, this preparation may help you resist falling back into simplistic notions about a "free marketplace of ideas", that our economic choices and thoughts are "free from manipulation", or that products "compete on a level playing field".
Info-War is typically asymmetric warfare -- its tactics and strategies involve exploiting or maintaining Information Asymmetries. Joseph Stiglitz was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics for his analysis of pervasive Economic Info-War asymmetries. Powerful economic players continually use Info-War to change the economic "rules of the game" in their favor, and to tilt the slope of the socio-economic "Information Infrastructure playing field" to maintain or amplify favorable Information Asymmetries. Besides these intentional Info-War campaigns, unintentional, inadvertent Info-War dynamics -- emergent behaviors such as social partition into herd mentalities -- render our Social Institutions profoundly dysfunctional. Similar Info-War herd dynamics produce "Extraordinary Professional Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" in many different highly-specialized fields, including Economics and the Military. (Unfortunately, U.S. intelligence agencies also suffer from emergent dysfunctional herd dynamics.) There can never be complete freedom from Information Warfare. My purpose is to teach people how to become more aware, more ethical, and more responsible about Info-Wars -- so we can begin to hold major Info-Warlords democratically accountable, so we can negotiate beneficial Rules of Engagement to limit our intentional domestic Info-Wars, and so we can learn how to redesign our Social Institutions to more robustly withstand inadvertent Info-Wars.
I have 18 years experience in government-funded Computer
Security and Information Warfare R&D. That
further motivated me to research, develop, teach, preach,
and practice Information Ethics. For example, in
1992, I raised an Info-War early warning, and I appealed to the
Union of Concerned Scientists,
and to a then-obscure, but
promising young scientist, to help me combat a Disinformation
the risks of Climate Change, waged by Frederick Seitz via the
"George C. Marshall Institute" front group. We failed.
I failed. The climate has irreversibly tipped. That scientist
Holdren, now Obama's Director of the Office of
Science and Technology Policy.
"Soft Power" of a domestic, civilian (corporate) Info-War campaign has caused very Hard Realities globally, whose impacts will dominate humanity's future for at least the next 1000 years. A small domestic Info-War campaign has enabled the greatest Crime Against Humanity in history. (The fact that most Americans don't realize the climate has tipped, is a profound cognitive failure. The fact that most "climate-literate" Americans don't recognize it as a Crime Against Humanity, is a profound ethical failure.) I highly recommend every American read this Info-War Press Release, and then this Synopsis prepared by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). These cover only a few of the issues raised by modern Info-War technologies, but even these have profound implications for Democracy.
The NAS Committee almost completely avoided domestic Info-War actions. Why? Because it's a huge "can of worms", and their Info-War category of "foreign, offensive cyber-attack" -- although an artificial distinction -- is sufficiently complex and "wormy". In contrast, my work focuses on domestic Info-Wars among various factions. Why? Partly because they precede foreign aggression by most major states in the past 80 years. (Hitler, Milosevich, and both Bush presidents understood very well that "the war behind the foreign war" is the domestic propaganda war. Various domestic factions in China, also, likely must precede any significant foreign intervention with domestic Info-War actions, to solidify support, and align the disparate "fingers" of civilian life into a military "fist".) And partly because "defensive" domestic Info-Wars are inextricably coupled with continuing "offensive" foreign Info-Wars -- as we saw with the Pentagon's covert Pundit-Propaganda scandal, which violated the Smith-Mundt Act banning government propaganda aimed at U.S. audiences.
Arguably, a domestic Info-War campaign to repeal the Smith-Mundt Act has already begun, alleging that it puts the U.S. military at a "competitive disadvantage". It's true that Democracy, itself, can be a "Competitive Disadvantage" in wartime. Nevertheless, some of us believe that Democracy, despite its flaws, may be a better way of life than the even-worse alternatives. (Moreover, the power of "Open Source Intelligence" available within democracies potentially more than counteracts the weaknesses of democracy.) The primary reason I focus on domestic Info-Wars is because they determine who we are: as individuals, as sub-cultures, and as a nation. Info-War continually shapes how we think, and how our Social Institutions (dys)-function. With regards to Democracy, and to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the extent to which any government genuinely derives its "just powers from the consent of the governed" -- versus enabling corrupted insiders and corrupting outsiders to deploy unjust governmental powers to subtly "nudge", coerce, or manufacture that consent -- is a matter of domestic Information Warfare.
Info-War is older than humanity, and it is practiced by virtually every living organism at both the molecular and the macro levels. Info-War was used by George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the Revolutionary War to win American independence. Info-War was a major weapon used to maintain asymmetric political and economic power relations between White slave owners and Black slaves: 1740 marks America's first Info-War law prohibiting anyone from teaching slaves how to write. The small fraction of American slaves that did learn to read or write, necessarily developed literacy in secret. Frederick Douglass, the great Black Abolitionist, wrote of his discovery of written language, and the prohibition on teaching literacy to slaves, "It was a ... revelation ... I now understood ... the white man's power to enslave the black man." Having thus discovered (1) the existence of "classified information", and (2) the power of that particular information, "From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom." Frederick Douglass then "diligently sought" this capability, and eventually, he taught himself to write using an Info-War trick: He boasted to white children that he could write as well as they. When challenged to write a particular letter, the children ridiculed his errors, and in so doing, they "leaked" information about how to write various letters correctly. Thus, Frederick Douglass developed a "Social Engineering" technique in which white children inadvertently implemented an Error Detecting and Correcting code for him.
Clearly, Info-War covert action is as American as cherry pie. But is covert manipulation really how we want to treat each other in a "Democracy"? Long ago, Alasdair MacIntyre, the great moral philosopher, warned us that our Cultural Drift into routine, low-intensity Info-War meant, "the obliteration of any genuine distinction between manipulative and non-manipulative social relations". In After Virtue, he wrote (correctly, in my opinion) that our centuries-long collective ethical climate degeneration had degraded us -- as individuals and via our Social Institutions -- and now constituted an enemy within:
"[T]he new dark ages ... are already upon us · · · the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers;
they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this,
that constitutes part of our predicament."
Modern Info-War has escalated; it has put powerful Weapons of Mass Deception in the hands of unethical individuals, and of amoral corporations. As this NAS Committee, with seasoned intelligence professionals, argued in their press release, Info-War "is too important a subject for the nation to be discussed only behind closed doors." They called for "greater transparency", and an "open national debate". I particularly agree with their Finding #20: "Developing appropriate Rules of Engagement for [Info-War] is very difficult." But somehow, we must implement a domestic Arms Control Pact -- with appropriate Rules of Engagement -- to limit our internal Info-Wars. UNESCO's preamble was right: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." As I wrote in 1993: "Somehow the technologies of control must -- themselves -- be brought under social control."
Before I introduce my primary concerns, and the major thrust of my work, I want to provide some context -- via scientific and ethical frameworks -- to help Info-War novices think about these issues. One common theme underlying all Information Warfare is the Enemy within. From the most basic level -- of an individual human, a computer system, an economic firm, a market economy, an intelligence agency, or a confederation of intelligence agencies -- "the Enemy within" is a security vulnerability at risk of being exploited. E.g, every individual human being has Emotional and Cognitive Biases, which render that person vulnerable to various forms of Info-War -- distraction, deception, disinformation, and propaganda. Every collective Information System -- a computer, a network, an economic firm, a market economy, an intelligence agency, and a federation of intelligence agencies -- necessarily must grant certain privileges to "trusted Insiders" -- privileges which may be abused or escalated, to exploit vulnerabilities. Moreover, any collective Information System is vulnerable to Collective Perception Management, since social "herd instincts" and "epistemological biases" arise -- via emergent behavior -- from individual humans' Emotional and Cognitive Biases.
The "Information Security Architecture" of any collective Information System is inherently vulnerable to Insider Attacks. But to minimize the vulnerability, systems can (and should) have architectural designs where Information Security ("InfoSec") considerations are incorporated into the deepest foundations of the system. In the design of government institutions, we call these, "Checks and Balances". (This is akin to designing a communications protocol in tandem with a strong Error Detecting and Correcting (EDC) code, rather than haphazardly slapping any old EDC on top of a communications protocol that failed to consider InfoSec at its design stage.)
Thus, e.g, large economic firms require the signatures of 2 high-ranking company officials, to authorize large checks. This security architecture allows isolated Insiders to steal "small" amounts from the company gradually, but it ensures that a single "trusted Insider" cannot abscond suddenly with a "large" amount of money. Rather, a "large" security breach requires cooperation of 2 "trusted Insiders" -- a "Conspiracy". Incorporating further security constraints could prevent 2-person conspiracies, 3-person conspiracies, ... etc. But, as with EDC codes, there are inherent tradeoffs between security and efficiency -- collective usefulness. E.g, complete information security (including prevention of covert channels) is possible only by prohibiting all communications -- not a very useful design for any collective enterprise. But conversely, dismissing the possibility of multi-person Conspiracies, and neglecting to devote architectural layers and operational resources for Counter-Intelligence, virtually guarantees that the system will be subverted, and that the subversion likely will not even be detected.
Thus, national intelligence agencies devote great thought to their (initial) Security Architecture. Various data are classified at various levels, and within a given classification level, data are compartmented (so that only those with a specific "Need to Know" have access). It is assumed -- correctly -- that every intelligence agency is penetrated at some times by Double Agents. Hence, various Counter-Intelligence functions are institutionalized in the security architecture. Naturally, those Counter-Intelligence functions are a high-value target for opponents to neutralize or subvert.
In the U.S., "free market" ideology and the "capture" of regulatory agencies and politicians by powerful economic interests, strongly influence the Security Architecture of Markets. Often, "entry barriers" are erected and information flows are channeled and constrained, to deny access and to limit the capabilities of less economically powerful competitors and market reformers to penetrate that system and dislodge the interests that benefit most from that particular system architecture.
Any collective system may be seriously damaged if its Counter-Intelligence functions are penetrated or systematically evaded. The immune system of the human body implements its physical Counter-Intelligence function, and the human immune system is subverted by molecular Info-War organisms such as Malaria (which evades immune surveillance) and HIV (which penetrates various immune cells). Similarly, double-agent Robert Hanssen did extraordinary damage to U.S. national security, when he penetrated the Counter-Intelligence compartment at the FBI. (In fact, there was a "Remote Conspiracy" involving 2 Double Agents: Hanssen at FBI, and Aldrich Ames at CIA.) The U.S. Dept. of Justice characterized Robert Hanssen's 22-year Double-Agent career as, "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history". (For local police departments, Counter-Intelligence functions typically are concentrated in the "Internal Affairs" department. It is not uncommon for police Counter-Intelligence departments to be penetrated and subverted -- by organized crime, by vigilante-oriented "secret societies" within the police department, by private contractors and external private-sector security companies with serious conflicts of interest, or by a collective "loyalty mentality" that seeks to cover-up and excuse police brutality or incompetence, rather than investigate incidents and make that institution democratically accountable.)
Let me offer an explicit warning to the "Inner Conspiracy Theorist" in all of us: Info-War is never a simple matter of "Us" vs. "Them" -- where "Them" is (pick your favorite) the Jews, the CIA, Goldman Sachs, the civilization-clashing Muslim Brotherhood, the Chinese Communists, the "liberal" Big Brother U.N. World Government, the Illuminati, the UFO space aliens, etc. In his "Gulag Archipelago", Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being." Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic, described how the System of Political Economy induced each person to make "small" everyday moral compromises, and so they became complicit in maintaining the Power of that System over every individual: "The line [between good and evil] did not run clearly between 'Them' and 'Us', but through each person. No one was simply a victim; everyone was, in some measure, co-responsible."
Michel Foucault recognizes how an individual embedded or immersed in a surveillance field can become co-responsible; complicit in the power relations that constitute the social architecture of domestic Info-War: "He ... assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; ... he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection."
Holocaust survivor Primo Levi described moral "Gray Zone" situations; Nazi death camps and ghettoes where some prisoners held administrative responsibilities. Many prisoners in those positions originally did not intend to assist the Nazis; rather, they intended to help their fellow prisoners. But the Nazi's led them down a "slippery slope" of complicity. The Nazis tried, "to burden them with guilt, cover them with blood, compromise them as much as possible, thus establishing a bond of complicity so that they can no longer turn back." The Nazis understood how to employ Cognitive Dissonance as a coercive tool for behavior modification, even if they lacked a name for this Psychological Warfare weapon.
Especially in America, we are all both victims -- and instruments -- of Information Warfare. The "Good Germans" (and the complicit Jews in "Gray Zone" situations) did not suddenly decide to become evil. It was a gradual process -- their ethical transgressions were that they failed to detect they were gradually sliding down a slippery slope. It all seemed so normal ... the "logic" of that darkening Gray Zone began to seem natural and inevitable. (E.g, "If I don't do this ethically-problematic act, someone else will. Therefore, since so many people are willing to do it, it must not be unethical ... it must be the New Normal.") Many Social Institutions are like that -- they create their own "cultural bubbles", whose "internal logics" slowly shape and distort individuals' ethical standards, without them detecting any sudden change.
One clear example of how people embedded in specialized "Situational Bubbles" may gradually develop ethically-problematic "internal logics" is the case of Lawrence Summers' infamous 1991 World Bank memo. Opinions differ regarding whether Summers authored the memo, and whether its author was writing sincerely or sarcastically. But the most important point is that, purely from the standard Neoclassical (i.e, Walrassian) economic paradigm, the ethically-distorted "internal logic" is, indeed, impeccable:
" The measurements of the costs of health-impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view, a given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. "
(In other sections, I will address various "toxic logics" that arise as Emergent Behaviors within many specialized Social Institutions. Until then, the key point is that "Rationality" is relative to those situations in which we habitually are embedded. "Rationality" depends on "Frames of Reference" that, themselves, are profoundly shaped and influenced by "Social Conventions" of the relevant -- often highly specialized -- Social Institutions in which we are embedded. Hence, both intentional and inadvertent Info-War dynamics that shape prevailing Perceptions within any Social Institution, produce "rational logics" that may deviate significantly from the larger, enclosing society. From the larger society's viewpoint -- if those situational bubbles are illuminated by the "disinfectant of sunshine" -- some of those twisted "internal logics" may comprise "Gray Zones".)
At this point, let's take a step back to clarify the "Big Picture": My website's purpose is to help create new social power centers to drive the "intelligent design" of social change -- i.e, to enable (semi-)conscious Cultural Evolution. Many progressive thinkers in developed countries understand that Peak Oil, Peak Food, Peak Debt, and Climate Change will force profound social changes. But their typical "Response Plan" involves nothing more than naive, vague, and unrealistic notions of "Localization". They are as much in a state of denial ("motivated cognition") as are those who deny climate change, because these generally progressive thinkers deny everything that life and history have taught them about the centrality of power relations and of technological changes in all human interactions and institutions.
In the past 20 years, a handful of scientists has enabled fundamental advances in our understanding of "human nature", in fields such as Evolutionary Psychology, Behavioral Economics, Neuro-Biology, Sociobiology, Evolutionary Game Theory, and Gene-Culture Evolution. My purpose is to educate socially-progressive thinkers on these new understandings, to enable enlightened intelligence to play a greater role in humanity's Cultural Evolution.
Let me briefly "foreshadow" some radical -- but essential -- concepts. I will introduce these concepts in more detail in the section on the economic meltdown. But I sketch these concepts now, because the current material -- on the inter-penetration of intelligence agencies and technologies -- demonstrates and embodies these important concepts.
Much of what we call thinking or cognition -- memory, representation, symbol-processing -- occurs "outside" the individual human body. How is that possible? Answer: The individual human mind includes biological cells, plus the "natural" physical environment, the "artificial" physical technologies of the "built environment", and the "Social Technologies" of the Cultural Environment. Now subtract the obvious examples -- hardcopy written materials and signs, bits flipping inside computer networks, and wireless communication protocols for cellphones, radio and TV. My previous claims still stand. In fact, despite the (temporary) subtractions above, I'll clarify and amplify my claims ...
Metaphysical Alert! Epistemological Attention! Radical concepts: It is impossible to know where "Theory-laden" Interpretation ends, and where Reality begins. It is impossible to know where your own individual Mind ends, and where "Objective Reality" and other human Minds begin. Social and organizational psychologist Karl Weick agrees that -- in our modern, globalized "built environment" of technological infrastructures -- the processes of "sensemaking" (i.e., parsing Reality into things, actions, and categories) and subsequent interpretation typically, "are too complex these days for individual minds to comprehend. "I don't think the mind is located inside a single head, anyway." Security Alert: Other people can "read" your mind (but with unknown errors). Worse, other people can "write" your mind -- with unknown errors, and without your knowledge or consent. Or as one commentator wrote, when taking Zbigniew Brzezinski’s advice to question the contents of one's "own" mind, "I try to keep a half-closed mind -- you can’t let just anyone pour 'facts' into your brain."
I develop these concepts more fully on my main webpage's Overview, in the discussion of Cultural Software, and the Kantian Klein-Bottle Model of Mind. To sum up, my Info-War analysis adopts an Information-Security perspective on society -- it views individuals not only as people who "freely choose" to run certain mental programs, but also as programs running people. Both intentional and inadvertent Info-War dynamics produce (emergent) "herding behaviors" of human minds (and larger Social Institutions) into semi-captive "Bot-nets". This framework supports ethical analysis that recognizes individual responsibility, the power of social situations to shape individuals' perceptions and to distort their "rational logic" in specialized ways, and the power of Information Warfare techniques to undermine the ethical integrity of individuals and to subvert Social Institutions' safeguards. Bearing in mind that conceptual overview, let's return to the more detailed narrative · · ·
We can view the profound moral ambiguity, complexity, and corrupting influence of domestic Info-War more "objectively", by viewing it from a psychologically -- and ideologically -- "safe" distance: Consider the former East Germany, in which over a million citizens were co-opted, at various times, to serve as informers for the Stasi, the secret police, who built surveillance files on over one-third of the population. (Also, some Stasi agents and factions "massaged" or fabricated data in the secret police files, to serve their own purposes. "Info-Wars within Info-Wars!" are the rule, not the exception.)
After East Germany's dictatorship fell, Timothy Garton Ash, now the Isaiah Berlin Fellow at Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, reviewed a 2-inch-thick file the Stasi's informers had collected on him. Prof. Ash tracked down, and confronted, each of those informers. In his book, "The File", he writes, "If only I had met, on this search, a single clearly evil person. But they were all just weak, shaped by circumstance, self-deceiving; human, all too human. Yet the sum of all their actions was a great evil."
I'm not a Christian, but I find theologians often have deep insights into ethical problems. These passages, from Reinhold Niebuhr's 1932 "Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics", clearly describe detrimental Emergent Behaviors of complex Social Institutions. And Niebuhr ponders how individual ethical "defects" -- or ethical vulnerabilities -- seem, invariably, to become composed -- and/or exploited -- in ways that amplify, rather than reduce, the sum of ethical problems:
"men have made ... little progress in solving the problem of their aggregate existence. Each century originates a new complexity, and each new generation faces a new vexation in it. For all the centuries of experience, men have not yet learned how to live together without compounding their vices and covering each other 'with mud and with blood'." [p. 1]
"Perhaps the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy. We have noted that self-deception and hypocrisy is an unvarying element in the moral life of all human beings. It is the tribute which morality pays to immorality; or rather the device by which the lesser self gains the consent of the larger self to indulge ... Naturally this defect in individuals becomes more apparent in the less moral life of nations." [p. 95]
In "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil," psychologist Phil Zimbardo examines how, in any social system, situations and circumstances shape individuals (who are "all too human"), and can culminate in a "Perfect Storm of Evil" -- as occurred in his notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, and more recently at Abu Ghraib and other sites, where top-down ethical rot of "Command Complicity" enabled U.S. personnel to torture and abuse foreign prisoners.
I contend that a "Category 4 Storm of Evil" has already occurred, yet it remains invisible to most Americans, because it has happened so gradually. (You can't blame this on Bush/Cheney -- they are primarily Symptoms of longstanding cultural pathologies, and only secondarily the Causes. We need to acknowledge and address the underlying tides of social psychology -- the twisted "internal logics" -- that motivated Americans to elect, and to re-elect them.) This "Category 4" Social Evil has been amplified by our Technological Power, and caused "Category 5+" impacts in three areas: Our greenhouse gas pollution has tipped Earth's climate into chaotic instability. Our toxic debts (new euphemism: "legacy assets") have destroyed our globalized economy. And our domestic Info-Wars (political, economic, and cultural) have so seriously undermined Democracy, that the Substance of our democracy lingers precariously in a deep coma, while only the Appearance, the Forms, remain active.
Let me synthesize Zimbardo's "Lucifer Effect" with another concept to aid Info-War novices. Cass Sunstein's book, "Nudge", has brought "Behavioral Economics" to a widespread audience, via the notion of "Choice Architectures". Thus, any Social Institution -- a sub-culture, "corporate culture", or "professional community" -- can be understood as a "Choice Architecture" that shapes the perceptions, the behaviors, and eventually the character of its inhabitants. They can be shaped for the banality of evil, or the banality of good. As Technologies change and those Social Institutions change, individual intentions and behaviors that once produced "good consequences", may interact: Emergent behaviors may cause very "bad consequences". (In the worst case -- where those consequences produce ethically-toxic "Social Gray Zone Equilibria" that damage the ethical integrity and character of individuals -- we call this "Evil".)
With that ethical framework, let me sketch some history, and current facts about our intertwined domestic and foreign Info-Wars. The problem of domestic Info-Wars, and the banality of evil, is not safely confined to "Communist" dictatorships, nor to "Narco-Warlord-infiltrated" regimes like Mexico, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It troubles all modern democracies, including the UK and the USA. In particular, every intelligence agency is "infiltrated with evil" -- if only because it is comprised of people who are, "human, all too human" -- habitually embedded in specialized "situational bubbles", which develop their own, "impeccable" institutionally-unique "internal logics". The CIA is well known to Americans. But our primary intelligence agency is the NSA -- the National Security Agency.
When I began my NSA-funded research around 1990, I was aware that
the NSA operated a global electronic surveillance network -- "SIGINT"
is half their job. But the extent of that surveillance did
not become public knowledge until much later, when details of Echelon
were revealed by Nicky
Hager. (The implications for democracy,
of these coupled domestic and foreign Info-Wars,
prompted this former Prime Minister to call for, "a rational
debate on security and intelligence.")
From the beginning, I was "chronically" concerned about exactly how my
work might be used to protect individuals' privacy, vs. how
it might be mis-used to concentrate "Secret Power"
in unaccountable private corporations and national intelligence
agencies. I became "acutely sensitized" to the ethical
context -- and the potential impacts -- of my own work, when I was
informed that my NSA sponsors would not allow publication of some
of my research on Detecting Malicious Code -- such as a
"Trojan Horse" or secret "Back Door Spyware" --
in legitimate software code. This occurred in the midst of the
One explanation for that censorship/classification of
my research, is that publication of my
technique to detect threats, itself represented a threat
Info-War operations being conducted by American intelligence
A more innocent explanation is that NSA had no "offensive" Info-War
operations, but by keeping my "defensive" technique secret,
they were better able to detect "offensive" Info-War Trojan horses
that targeted them.
The best explanation is a combination of both the above.
There is an enormous amount of documentation on the Inslaw affair, but I urge readers not to get lost in speculative conspiracy theories: All conspiracies are possible; the only certainty is that we will never know all the facts. So don't waste your time, or your mind. Instead, ask yourself what practical knowledge you need, to become a more effective participant in protecting American democracy against all threats -- both internal and external. I suggest this is all you really need to know about the Inslaw affair: Elliot Richardson, the Attorney General who refused Nixon's order to stop the Watergate investigation, represented Inslaw for almost 10 years in its lawsuit against the U.S. Government. That does not necessarily mean all Inslaw's claims are true -- i.e, that Malicious Code was inserted into their software by U.S. intelligence agencies as a tool for "offensive" Info-War. But it does mean that Richardson found those claims credible. This lifelong Republican, former Secretary of Defense, and former Attorney General, wrote a NYT Op-Ed, calling the Inslaw affair: "A High-Tech Watergate". Congressional reports also found Inslaw's claims credible: "High government officials were involved ... several individuals testified under oath that Inslaw's PROMIS software was stolen and distributed internationally in order to provide financial gain ... and to further intelligence and foreign policy objectives."
Regardless of specific details on the Inslaw affair, here is the more general question for today. To paraphrase the old Chevron PR "scampaign", Do people in various governments' intelligence agencies insert Malicious Code -- particularly "Spyware" -- into legitimate programs used by various sectors of various societies? Of course people do! What Pierre Marion, retired head of the DGSE (the French CIA), said about the "friendly Info-War" of Industrial Espionage between France and the U.S., applies even more strongly to today's tactics of computerized Info-War: "A national intelligence agency that would not consider doing that kind of intelligence work would not be fulfilling its mission. ... Economic intelligence is a fact of life."
Given our current co-embedding of Societies within Globalized Technology, the evolution of similar psychological Frames of Reference in the specialized "situational bubbles" of every nation's intelligence agencies, seems "natural" and "inevitable". The impeccable "internal logic" of spy agencies' moral "Gray Zone" already has projected its power -- via laws, and via "special relationships" with private-sector Telecom actors. Globalized surveillance grids have long been in place, and they are functioning. (As I predicted in "Invisible Crises" in 1993. See "Architectures of Captivity".)
Widespread availability of strong Crypto among civilians cannot be allowed to undermine the centralized surveillance "Great Powers". Hence intelligence agencies research, develop, and routinely deploy methods to secretly implant Malicious Code (typically "Spyware") on targeted civilian computers. There are various "markets" for buying info on new "security vulnerabilities" and new, not-yet-detectable ways to "exploit" existing holes. Certainly some governments' intelligence agencies are buyers in these markets. Former NSA employee Charlie Miller describes the inherent "Information Asymmetries" that render such markets highly "inefficient". I view his admission that, "They didn't buy it in order to patch it ... I can speculate that it wasn't exactly used for the common good." -- coupled with the fact that he's still free to walk around in the U.S. -- as an "Open For Business" sign -- since the NSA is (discreetly) tolerating the presence of (wink wink, nudge nudge) "friendly" governments' intelligence agencies buying black art for "offensive" Info-War on its home turf. But exactly what kind of "Business"? The Risk-Benefit analysis of asymmetrically engaging in such ethically-problematic transactions with "existentially-problematic" counterparties, is an exercise I leave to the entrepreneurial reader: "You can check-out any time you -- or they -- like. But you can never, never leave."
Via "special relationships" with private-sector actors in the Computer and Telecom industries, government intelligence agencies routinely use those companies' "Automatic Update" channels to surreptitiously install newly "upgraded" Spyware, generic "Back Ends", and other (more active) software payloads on civilians' computers. An interesting case study came to light in July 2009, whereby an "Automatic Update" broadcast to Blackberry software in the Mideast contained Spyware. It was detected, primarily because it contained a bug that drained the batteries. This incident was highly unusual, only because the Spyware code was so buggy that it inadvertently announced its presence. I assume that normally, that particular Spyware designer, "SS8.com", has far higher standards of Quality Assurance. It must, if it wants to stay in business, since SS8's mission is to provide "lawful interception" capabilities to intelligence agencies of many nations. Quite a black eye for this Spyware company, and they compounded the blunder by actually putting their own company name on the Spyware!
Of course, given the "friendly Info-Wars" between various parties, it's also possible that this entire incident was perpetrated by a commercial rival of SS8.com, in order to put them at a "competitive disadvantage". But would rival economic companies engage, not merely in arguably "defensive" Info-War Industrial Espionage, but also in offensive Info-War Industrial Sabotage? Again, it seems the answer is, "People do." Consider this incident involving a former head of Israel's domestic intelligence agency. In order to discredit a rival maker of access-cards for Pay-TV satellite systems, his company, NDS, admittedly cracked EchoStar's encryption, then allegedly distributed counterfeit access-cards to the public, thus allowing consumers to access EchoStar's Dish Network programs for free. (The business model seems equivalent to a cryptographic "Protection Racket" -- "It's a dangerous world. Hire my company, or else hackers might crack your code, and destroy your business.") Perhaps, after the court awarded EchoStar $8.3 million in fees and costs, the "Crypto Protection Racket" may be less appealing as a business model for NDS. Of course, it depends, not merely on "the Cost of doing business" that way, but also the Benefits. Given the numerous ex-government intelligence agents working for NDS -- and the fact that the Chief Technical Officer at NDS' lab in Israel is a former would-be terrorist -- it would not be surprising if NDS' customers include government intelligence agencies.
Such is the world that we have created, by blindly following Economic ideologies, and pursuing short-term Technological "local optima", without questioning how our collective behaviors may be producing longer-term "global Black Hole attractors", into which our ethical "Gray Zone logics" lead us.
Particularly problematic (and implicated in further twisting the specialized situational "internal logic" of intelligence operations), is that, by 2008, fully 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget was OUTSOURCED to private contractors. As Tim Shorrock describes in his book, "Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing" the financially-lucrative "Revolving Door" between Government and Industry has morphed into a logically-twisted Moebius Strip: The task of administering the government database that tracks outsourcing, has -- itself -- been outsourced to a private-sector contractor. But the government has not yet identified which intelligence functions are safe to outsource, and which ones aren't! Clearly, it is vital that we make that distinction. That crucial National Security task (in Computer Security, this is equivalent to establishing a "Trusted Computing Base") has -- itself -- essentially been outsourced to Booz Allen Hamilton, a private intelligence contractor!
The inter-penetration of "friendly spying" is a particular problem with hi-tech industrial espionage, and especially when the technologies in question involve the state-of-the-art in hi-tech Information Warfare. Recall that, in the Inslaw affair, the evidence indicated that U.S. intelligence agencies had inserted hidden Malicious Code -- i.e, "Spyware" that may have had other, optional, more damaging capabilities -- into software used by foreign governments' intelligence agencies. After Inslaw, in the mid-1990s, the U.S. rushed into hi-tech domestic surveillance (as I describe in my 1996 update to "Intelligence Agencies and the Political Economy of Encryption"). In fact, the U.S. rushed so precipitously to implement "CALEA" (it passed Congress in an unrecorded voice vote in Oct. 1994), that they neglected to secure the system, to prevent gangsters and other governments from using it to spy unlawfully on U.S. civilians. Today, it appears that, since Inslaw, the tables have been fully turned. Israel's "friendship" with the U.S. best exemplifies this problem. Many experts, like James Bamford, believe that the NSA's "Trusted Computerized-Surveillance Base" has been penetrated by Israeli agents -- and "Trojaned" with Israeli Spyware -- starting at the most fundamental design, implementation, and deployment stages:
"high-tech Israeli wiretapping firms ... service US telecommunications companies, primarily AT&T and Verizon, whose networks serve as the chief conduits for NSA surveillance ... less is known about the links between those Israeli companies and the Israeli intelligence services. But what Bamford suggests in his book accords with the history of Israeli spying in the US: Through joint partnerships with US telecoms, Israel may be a shadow arm of surveillance among the tentacles of the NSA. In other words, when the NSA violates constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure to vacuum up the contents of your telephone conversations and e-mail traffic, the Israeli intelligence services may be gathering it up too -- a kind of mirror tap that is effectively a two-government-in-one violation. ... "Virtually the entire American telecommunications system," [Bamford] avers, "is bugged by [Israeli-formed] companies with possible ties to Israel's eavesdropping agency."
James Bamford wrote that at least one of these Israeli contractors, Verint, "can automatically access the mega-terabytes of stored and real-time ["driftnet wiretap"] data secretly and remotely from anywhere." In 1993, I warned that creating such a high-value target was extremely risky:,
this technology carries a similar risk to that of atomic power: It must be safeguarded from misuse for generations. Just as stockpiled plutonium represents concentrated military power, and thus must be guarded in perpetuity, so centralized mass-surveillance technology offers concentrated social power, and presents a long-lived irresistible temptation -- an attraction that eventually may prove fatal to democracy. ... Corporate interests are concerned that such a remote surveillance capability would be a security hole that could be exploited by competitors engaged in industrial espionage.
For an Israeli actor with that capability, it might be tempting not only to secretly read data, but also to secretly insert false data -- disinformation to confuse a "friendly" country like the U.S., or to "frame" various U.S. intelligence agents who became too vocal in raising alarms about this vulnerability in U.S. communications security. But apparently, so far, more diffuse forms of "Soft Power" have been adequate to enforce a conspiracy of silence. I.e, rather than inserting dirty lies into the Washington DC datastream, perhaps Israeli intelligence has found ample dirty truths already in that cesspool, and used its secret surveillance power like former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover did -- to blackmail politicians and other government officials into doing their bidding. But I suspect that even softer forms of power than blackmail may be adequate: traffic-analysis and automated content-analysis of "high-value" individuals' phone and email communications can produce detailed psychological profiles. And it's worthwhile to "cluster" various U.S. government officials into psychographic segments, and design custom "behavioral advertising" campaigns targeting them -- i.e, Perception Management. "Whether it's a Democratic or Republican administration, you don't bad-mouth Israel if you want to get ahead," says former CIA counterterrorism officer Philip Giraldi. "Most of the people in the agency were very concerned about Israeli espionage and Israeli actions against U.S. interests. Everybody was aware of it. Everybody hated it. But they wouldn't get promoted if they spoke out. Israel has a privileged position and that's the way things are. It's crazy. And everybody knows it's crazy."
I'm speculating that, perhaps, the embarrassing incident involving "SS8.com" was a not-so-subtle message from Israeli intelligence, that other "friendly" governments must sign Israeli-approved Info-War Spyware contracts, when deploying Info-War tools in Israel's sphere of influence. I.e, perhaps Israel is enforcing an unwritten "friendly" Info-War "Rule of Engagement", that civilian surveillance is fine, only if the results are shared! (I'm not familiar with the lower transport layers of the UK-USA global Echelon system. If -- as I hope -- NSA architects were smart enough to route that SIGINT domestically via dedicated, non-civilian channels, then it remains protected from Israel's CALEA remote-wiretapping capability. If so, perhaps the "SS8 caper" is a negotiating ploy by Israel to make a deal for that UK-USA SIGINT datastream.)
Here's another relevant fact about our intertwined domestic and foreign Info-Wars. The National Academy of Sciences report tried to limit its focus to "offensive foreign" Info-War. But as I've emphasized, there can be no clear boundary between that, and "defensive domestic" Info-War. A prime example involves the (in)-security of Electronic Voting machines. It appears on p. 2 of the NAS Synopsis: "cyberattack-based covert action might be used ... to influence an election, instigate conflict between political factions ..."
I've been somewhat involved in
security analysis of E-Voting machines, and in the resulting
domestic Info-Wars (against voting machine vendors and
some elected voting officials they co-opted, who falsely
claim their E-Voting machines are highly secure).
I describe on my E-Voting page, voting machine security
is so porous, and its software quality is so poor, that we
will never know, with certainty, whether U.S. elections were
"stolen" by "offensive foreign"
Info-War (e.g, Vladimir Putin), by internal domestic
Info-War (e.g, Republican operatives rigging the 2004
Presidential election via E-Voting machines in Ohio), or
whether poor software quality (bugs) determined the
If you don't trust my Computer
Security expertise, you might be more inclined to believe Richard
A. Clarke, the "Counterterrorism Czar"
for Presidents Clinton and G. W. Bush, who also served as Special
Advisor to the President on Cybersecurity. In his blurb for Avi
Rubin's 2006 book "Brave New Ballot: The Battle to Safeguard
Democracy in the Age of Electronic Voting", Clarke writes:
fact that our computerized voting machines are also not
secure from hacking means that Americans could also have their
elections stolen ... and not even know it."
Profound implications for democracy, indeed.
And the NAS makes an important point
that I've emphasized in my own E-voting Threat Assessment:
An E-voting attack can succeed by
changing votes and escaping detection;
but it also may succeed by intentionally being detected!
Merely the public
suspicion of a domestic Info-War attack on E-Voting
machines could, "instigate conflict between political
In effect, a foreign adversary might try to
techniques to foment domestic civil war. This might not cause
domestic violence, but it could succeed in dividing the country,
sowing deep suspicion, and thus prevent America from uniting against
a genuine external threat. How might we protect ourselves against
that type of covert foreign offensive Info-War attack? One
way would be for U.S. intelligence agencies to guard the polling
places. But that would have a "chilling effect" on
Americans' freedom to exercise their vote. Alternatively,
perhaps the NSA could "certify" the security of E-Voting
machines. But that would cause (justified) suspicion, that NSA
might certify only E-Voting machines that allow NSA to hack the
results without detection.
In America, our current (lousy) "solution" is for government-certified private companies, to certify that the ("new, improved") fundamental basis of democracy, our E-voting machines, are free of security risks. That's worth remembering for its own sake, and also because (as I describe below), government-certified private companies certified that ("new, improved") Financial Derivatives -- the foundation of our economy -- were sufficiently free of risks.
What are we to make of this complex and corrupting Info-War inter-penetration and subversion of several "friendly" nations' Public-sector Political machinery, their Private-sector Economic institutions, and their Public-Private Intelligence Agencies? The U.S. government's "self-induced" Info-War quagmire is largely a decades-long result of embracing a particular form of "crony capitalism" as unproblematic "natural law". Instead, various types of corporate "regulatory capture" have made American government more politically "accountable" to corporate parasites than to citizens, while simultaneously making corporations less economically "accountable" to consumers. (And via corporate capture of U.S. foreign policy, this parasitic model has been forcibly exported to other nations via "Free Trade" agreements.) Hence, the ascendance of "Non-State Actors" and the decline of nation-states (except as hollow forms) in the present era.
America -- as a sovereign nation-state -- was destroyed by failing to recognize two major security vulnerabilities: First, it is not only individual humans who can secretly be acting as double-agents. Machines, also, can be double-agents! This became an acute vulnerability once humans outsourced much of our communication, information-processing, and social-epistemological functioning to digital machines. Second, there was insufficient recognition (and fatal conflicts of interest) regarding the extent to which the corporation was no longer an obedient servant to national power under a Mercantilist regime, but instead had begun to domesticate and cannibalize the nation. I find the analogy of Mitochondria very helpful. Mitochondria ("exothermic" economic organelles) were domesticated by cells (Mercantilist nations). But our present situation is akin to mitochondria revolting, and cannibalizing the machinery of their formerly dominant and enclosing cell.
To aid in thinking about these inter-penetrations of power, I recommend, "Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire". It is published by the National Defense Intelligence College (NDIC) -- our own Empire's intelligence community, it is available free online, and it should be required reading -- not only for American intelligence professionals and their ossified Beltway bureaucrats -- but for every American academic in the social sciences.
Since admission to NDIC requires a Top Secret security clearance, reading "Remapping the Mind of Empire" -- and reading between the lines -- is one of the next best ways for American academics to understand the institutional and epistemological context of "Imperial Informatics". Here is a relevant excerpt from NDIC, about their approach to Intelligence Education. To promote a more constructive dialogue, I have added the bracketed boldfaced passages:
"The most valuable intelligence provides indications and warning about the constant evolution and adaptive capability of our enemies. ... [In addition, shouldn't NDIC students learn about actually and potentially pathological evolution and adaptation by American Social Institutions -- particularly in our Government and our Economy?] ... analysts and collectors must have a global perspective and understand the interconnected nature and interaction effects ... The Intelligence Community functions inside a complex national security policy-making process, while reforming traditional paradigms to meet the challenges of globalization. ... [Merely "reforming" is problematic; see Ackoff quote below.] ... Our programs prepare students to ... defend intelligence policies and programs in both the executive and legislative processes." [To "defend" the pathological institutional and policy status quo, is so stupid, that many sane people would also call it unpatriotic. It is a domestic Info-War recipe for stabilizing unsustainable "National Security" bureaucracies, by destabilizing both the Nation and the world that encloses those bureaucracies. It destroys the Village in order to save the Village Idiot.]This Russell Ackoff quote describes how "institutional reformers" typically fail to consider the Ethics means-ends distinction. As Thoreau said, they seek "improved Means to unimproved Ends".
"Reformations and transformations are not the same thing. Reformations are concerned with changing the means systems employ to pursue their objectives. Transformations involve changes in the objectives they pursue....there is a difference between doing things right (the intent of reformations) and doing the right thing (the intent of transformations)."
As sketched in this book review of "Imperial Secrets", all knowledge is inescapably situated in a context -- a (perhaps dysfunctional) community of practitioners. Moreover, both epistemological reflexivity and non-reflexivity of Social Institutions can be damaging, and context cannot be transmitted, unless it has first been directly lived and experienced.
Consider this observation -- published under NDIC's imprint -- by Major Patrick A. Kelley, the author of "Imperial Secrets: Remapping the Mind of Empire":
"If power corrupts absolutely, it also tends to isolate completely -- twin tendencies any executive authority risks as it ascends to the heights of imperial power. Bureaucracies rise in tandem with that isolation, providing the intellectual equivalent of walls and gates; but subverting that intellectual structure by act of will can prove nearly as impossible as escaping from the physical walls for reasons of status or security."
Note that the Institutional isolation Major Kelley refers to, is an inevitable result of specialization of labor, and of "leisure"; of production, and of "consumption" -- of any specialized technology or media. The impeccably-distorted "internal logics" I described -- which can transition a moral "Gray Zone" to an outright realm of evil -- arise from this specialized cognitive and experiential isolation. Unfortunately, these degenerating epistemological dynamics may be exacerbated for any actor who engages in Info-War. The "Fog of War" Clausewitz describes, can initially be self-induced. E.g, in describing the causes of the First World War, Austrian journalist Karl Kraus aptly characterized how Info-War Blowback envelops the practitioner in a distorting bubble mentality: "How are nations ruled and led into war? Politicians lie to journalists, and then believe those lies when they see them in print."
Having sketched some of the "National Security" Info-War tensions
between democracies and intelligence agencies, both domestic and foreign,
below is an overview of some primarily domestic "Political" and "Economic"
Info-War concerns, and the approach I pursue in my research and
public interest work.
"Everyone is involved in politics . . . a few people do politics; everyone else has politics done to them." Information Warfare is now pervasive; it is a frequent tool of those who do politics, and those who do economics. Those who do Info-War already know a lot about it. But most of those who have Info-War done to them know little about it. Or worse, Info-War has led them to believe they are not vulnerable to Info-War!
underlying Information Warfare thesis is that human collective
social behaviors are both products and ongoing
processes of evolutionary escalation pressures.
That is, our organizational forms -- Social Institutions
and sub-Cultures -- and our communication techniques --
our emotions, languages, and Conceptual Vehicles
-- are at once products, processes, channels, tools, and
"contested terrain" of evolutionary escalation
pressures. By definition, "civilized behavior" means
that Information Warfare has become the dominant force in
evolutionary escalation. We can predict primarily short-term
results of our Info-War tactics (e.g, demonize an opponent, win an
election). But over longer-terms, Emergent behaviors --
unanticipated consequences -- profoundly shape our Individual
Psychologies, and our Social Institutions.
apply Info-war perspectives not only to overt conflicts, in which
Friend and Foe clearly identify their opposing roles,
but also -- and especially -- to more complex, dynamic,
and ambiguous situations that have elements of conflict,
competition, collaboration, and cooperation. Moreover, some
participants may not recognize these complexities, or may
not know that some participants have different assumptions
about the roles and "rules". Also
very important, is that a participant's behavior may be
interpreted as playing a role that
this participant did not intend to play, does not
want to play, and/or does not realize
s/he is playing. Hence, unintentional escalation may
Every culture, every Society is a Political Economy -- a result of implicit Social Contracts. The balance of Power among various interests determines the contract's specific terms. These Social Contracts serve to define the acceptable "Rules of Engagement", by which we conduct our domestic Information Warfare ("Info-war").
The chronic "low-intensity conflict" of economic competition, and the acute flare-ups of periodic political campaigns, both comprise highly-evolved protocols of Information Warfare . . . socially-acceptable forms of "Civil War".
This is what we mean by the word, "Civilization". Our Social Contract says we should not engage in direct physical violence, but should channel our struggles for power, influence, and resources, via established Rules and Social Institutions we call "Politics" and "Economics". In civilized societies, we agree to fight our "civil" Wars with symbolic Information -- words and ideas -- instead of with direct physical force. Every defacto legally-acceptable means for communicating our dis-agreements -- for trying to rationally-persuade, emotionally-cajole, or perceptually-deceive another person -- is a form of Information "Civil-Warfare". (Many illegal Info-War tactics remain in widespread use. The perpetrators try to prevent detection of their crimes, by using legal Info-War tactics to cover-up or disguise the evidence of illegality. Their unethical "business model" -- and motto -- is: "It's only illegal if they catch you!" Many such tactics are in the legal category we call "Fraud".)
Some legal Info-War methods might be socially accepted, by some people, but are they ethical? Progressive social change happens when most people agree that ethical concerns require us to change our social behaviors. But if a few social outcasts refuse to change, then legal sanctions may become necessary. For example, a 2006 study found that 61% of subprime mortage borrowers were actually eligible for prime mortgages. Clearly, those borrowers were not given that information -- or were given misleading information -- about their eligibility for a better deal. The Info-War tactics of deception, distraction, evasion, or refusal to disclose data may have been used. Many such tactics remain legal. Given the disastrous consequences to "Financial Health" -- of those subprime borrowers, and all of Society -- perhaps we should legally require the ethical standard of "Fully-Informed Consent" that we require before subjecting a medical patient to a risky operation!
Many subprime borrowers lack
"literacy" (competence) both in matters of economics,
and of power relations. It seems likely that many
borrowers naively trusted a mortgage broker to be
their "good cop" advocate, who would strive to get
"the best deal possible" for the borrower. Even if
they were "economically literate", their failure to
understand they were playing a 3-way game of power relations
would be a major vulnerability, easily exploited
by their "friendly neighborhood mortgage broker" who
"helped" their (similarly illiterate) brother-in-law
get such a (similar, unnecessarily subprime) "great
deal". These naive borrowers did not even understand
the shape of the Info-War playing field, on which they
were used as pawns -- cannon fodder sacrificed to the
"securitization gods" higher up in the
financial food chain:
"If you do not have information to begin with, or know what new information could be assembled, initial inferiority is bound to be sharpened and perpetuated. This UNEQUAL BARGAINING POSITION will affect all relations whether labeled aid, trade, investment, transfer of technology, technical assistance, or any other."-- Hans Singer: "The Distribution of Gains from Trade Revisited," Journal of Development Studies 11 (1975): 377-382.
Our implicit Social Contract is always changing: one Power collapses in some area, so other Powers rush to fill that Power Vacuum. For example, in the current "meltdown" of previously-stable Economic Power-Structures, the Power of the ideas and the people of Goldman Sachs -- although unable to fill that Power Vacuum 100% -- is desperately "putting fingers in the dike".
Both greedy, and well-intentioned people throughout the economic upper echelons (not just at Goldman Sachs), are using whatever MENTAL TOOLS they can grab, to dig through the rubble of the economic earthquake; trying to re-establish the CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS of our economy on a stable footing ... since the "Fabric of Lies" based on unregulated Free-Market risk-shifting has eroded, and finally collapsed.
Unfortunately, like Goldman Sachs, Obama seems to believe that global economic security requires re-inflating the debt-credit bubble of "fictitious capital", by pumping taxpayer money into the same unaccountable oligarchic social institutions that caused the meltdown. Briefly, I view debt as the problem, not the solution. Former World Bank economist Herman Daly is correct: Debt is a claim on future social and environmental resources. Yet recent human activities have irreparably damaged both the Cultural and the Physical Environments so severely, that current monetary debts can only be repudiated (or inflated); the future capacity to repay those debts (via "ecosystem services" and "economic productivity") has been destroyed.
What has been the role of America's financial sector in growing those unsustainable debts? As Jeff Faux, of the Economic Policy Institute, noted, "Between 1979 and 2007 the debt of American financial institutions rose from about one-third to double the debt of all other U.S. businesses." The Wall Street Journal cites Federal Reserve data showing that Financial Sector debt as a percentage of GDP rose from 18% in 1978 · · · to 118% in 2008! Moreover, the "Too Big and Dangerous to Fail" syndrome has worsened: In 2000, the 4 biggest U.S. banks had $2 trillion in assets -- 35% of total bank assets. But as of Dec. 2009, the 4 biggest U.S. banks had $7.4 trillion in assets -- 56% of total bank assets!
When a group of bankers continued to claim that their "financial innovations" have benefited society, Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chair, and now the nominal (but powerless) head of Obama's "Economic Recovery Advisory Board" berated them, saying: "I wish someone would give me one shred of neutral evidence that financial innovation has led to economic growth -- one shred of evidence." The U.S. financial sector's business model is to leverage profits, but to socialize the resulting systemic risk onto America's taxpayers: "Wall Street has degenerated into a casino in which the house constantly invents new games to ensure that its profits keep growing · · · HEADS, I WIN; TAILS, YOU LOSE."
Therefore, I agree with Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, that the U.S. must "break the oligarchy" of the financial elite on Wall Street. But that task will be difficult, because it requires dismantling a pervasive cultural Belief System. Simon Johnson describes how that institutional belief system -- that specialized and ethically-distorting "impeccable logic" arose:
American financial industry gained political power by amassing a kind of cultural capital -- a belief system. ... Over the past decade, the attitude took hold that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country. The banking-and-securities industry has become one of the top contributors to political campaigns, but at the peak of its influence, it did not have to buy favors the way, for example, the tobacco companies or military contractors might have to. Instead, it benefited from the fact that Washington insiders already believed that large financial institutions and free-flowing capital markets were crucial to America's position in the world. ... One channel of influence was, of course, the flow of individuals between Wall Street and Washington.
... The flow of Goldman alumni ... not only placed people with Wall Street's worldview in the halls of power; it also helped create an image of Goldman [Sachs] (inside the Beltway, at least) as an institution that was itself almost a form of public service. Wall Street is a very seductive place, imbued with an air of power. Its executives truly believe that they control the levers that make the world go round. ... A whole generation of policy makers has been mesmerized by Wall Street, always and utterly convinced that whatever the banks said was true.
Society is a Political Economy. Both Political
and Economic factors drive new Technology. And in
turn, Technology influences and "shapes"
our cultural Belief Systems, and
the Methods (Means), the Goals (Ends), and even
the Rules of our Political and Economic
"Games". "Financial engineering"
involves products and processes of Financial TECHNOLOGY.
Society co-evolves with Technology.
. . . CONCEPTS are a form of Technology --
Mental Tools. Financial
TECHNOLOGY includes mechanisms to regulate
Markets. Those mechanisms are built from ECONOMIC
CONCEPTS: The specific Economic ideas we choose to serve as
the conceptual foundation of our financial Technology,
will profoundly shape the trajectory of our individual lives, and
evolution of our Society.
Conceptual Tools shape our thoughts: We have freedom of thought -- freedom to choose what ideas to accept or reject. But like any free-flowing liquid, our thinking Conforms to the shape of the conceptual container -- the idea -- the Conceptual Vehicle -- the tool we chose to think with. So our concepts shape and constrain our thoughts; our habitual thought-patterns shape our behaviors;and our behaviors then shape our Society.
We are shaped, and, "We are used BY our
conceptual tools". Unfortunately, some of
those Mental Tools are broken: we mistakenly built an Economy
dependent on them, and that Economy has collapsed. Our Society
implemented a conceptual structure, that exceeded the
design limits of some concepts used in constructing it.
This is analogous to building a 4-lane bridge, with steel girders
only strong enough to support 2 lanes of traffic.
The Deputy Director of the non-partisan Peterson Institute for International Economics emphasizes that "Financial Engineering" must be recognized explicitly as a Technology -- we should understand its design limits BEFORE allowing it to be introduced into Society, and we must monitor its subsequent use AFTERWARDS, to ensure that, as Society grows more heavily dependent on it, and builds more social infrastructure on top of it, we do not exceed those design limits:
"Who could be against innovation? ... We are all better off for having had new products and even paradigms ... But not every innovative product is safe, let alone productive. ... financial innovations have been allowed to proliferate unscrutinized and untested for safety or effectiveness. Yet the negative spillovers on the public ... from faulty financial engineering and toxic products have now been clearly demonstrated to be enormous. ... there is some solid evidence that the most recent batch of financial innovations was used in manners inconsistent with their labeling, and not only had terrible side effects, but did not even yield the advertised benefits. ... the record of recent financial innovations acts as a warning to be skeptical about excessive claims that all financial innovation is worthwhile. What was advertised as something to redistribute risk ... was mostly used in a speculative game between financial players. ... given the gap between these products claims and their actual usage and impact, one has to wonder whether recent financial products are like the recalled weight-loss supplement Hydroxycut, the repeatedly crashing DC-10 aircraft, or the Chernobyl nuclear reactor design. If so, even if many financial innovations are beneficial, all of them need to be monitored over the long term, as well as scrutinized before issuance, by regulators for their safety and effectiveness."
The "Powers that Be" forgot the limitations of our mental models. Mental Models are CONCEPTUAL TOOLS -- they include words, languages, concepts, logical abstractions, and ideologies (political, Economic, religious, and scientific). Every model is an abstraction tool. A model both describes -- and distorts -- reality. A model simplifies, divides into foreground (signal) and background (noise), imposes boundaries between objects and distinctions between categories, and defines what "legitimate" things (e.g, Nouns and Verbs) exist.
A model simplifies, but does it over-simplify? Do the Benefits Society gains via its description of reality ("goods" and "services"), outweigh the Costs and Risks due to its distortion of reality ("bads" and "dis-services")? We can perform "thought experiments" on a model, using logic to probe for conceptual flaws. But a model consistent with theoretical logic, may not be consistent with practical reality. We cannot know the real-world design limits of a model, until we implement a conceptual structure in the real world, and test reality via actual experiments. We call this process the "Scientific method".
poorly-designed, planetary-scale CLIMATE Experiments,
conducted on human subjects without their fullly informed consent,
are deprecated. They are unscientific. And they are unethical.
Unfortunately, our first experiment has already tipped us into
Climate Chaos. The first rule of black holes is to stop digging
your grave any deeper: NO FUTURE GEO-ENGINEERING
EXPERIMENTS! NO FAITH-BASED TECHNO-FIXES!)
Every model channels our attention, trains our perceptions, and colors our thoughts, emotions, and memories. Henry David Thoreau summarized the relationship between Society and Technology in the following quote, but it applies to every combination, every SET of tools, concepts, and models -- especially language (arguably our most problematic technology):
"Men have become the tools of their tools."
Wittgenstein said language is not merely a passive conceptual vehicle, but also an active driver of our thoughts. In a very real sense, we do not define the words, ideas, and concepts we use; rather, we are defined BY the words, ideas, and concepts that use us. The structure of our Society is defined by -- and constrained within -- the conceptual containers that -- long ago -- we freely chose ... without realizing how those concepts would shape our thinking -- and our Society -- in the future. When we test our concepts in the real-world context of "today", and they seem to work "good enough", we incorporate those concepts -- in our minds, our behaviors, and our social structures. But our tests only indicated that those concepts were "good enough" in today's context. By the time we incorporate those ideas into our Selves and our Society, and build new psychological and social structures dependent on them, "today" has become "tomorrow". But nobody performed rigorous testing of those concepts in the real-world context of "tomorrow"! The emotional STABILITY of the individual Self -- and the economic STABILITY of the collective Society -- have become dependent on "untested" conceptual models that are now deeply embedded in our minds, our behaviors, our infrastructures, and our social institutions.
The stages of that process -- embedding, shaping, and dependent-stability -- are clearly evident in our sociological history of ever-greater reliance on Quantitative Bias and Free-Market B.S. in our Ethical and Economic Systems. (See this study in PNAS on the Quantitative Bias of Economic Models.) What caused the global economic collapse, and why is our complex system unable to re-stabilize, so long as it retains its old conceptual architecture? Our obedient Tool, the CONCEPTUAL VEHICLE we called "Free-Market Economics", has taken our Society for a ride! (And driven us off a cliff.)
Bill Clinton promoted a "Big Picture" conceptual
model -- a UNIFIED-FIELD THEORY of Political
Economy -- that seemed to "capture" many Americans'
aspirations for a "high self-worth" Self-Image,
embedded in a socially-just World-View. The implicit
subtext was that we might simultaneously maximize -- or at
least minimally satisfy -- two different "Objective
Functions" -- Ethical self-worth, and Economic
net-worth. (A Republican presidential primary candidate had
tried a similar gambit previously. But most Americans didn't
buy Steve Forbes' explicit formulation: "In
America, there's no difference between values and
economics. They are one and the same." The
contradictions were simply too glaring, and required too much
"willing suspension of disbelief".)
Clinton was more cautious than Forbes about making explicit proclamations. He kept the "emotional payload" of his message implicit ("constructive ambiguity"), by suggesting we could revise and reform our Political Economy, to produce a system in which our deeply-embedded Ethical concepts were consistent with our deeply-embedded Economic concepts. Clinton used the connotation-laden phrase:
"People who work hard, and play by the rules."
Anybody who used to have a 401-K (or some home equity) now realizes, belatedly, that those Rules have changed! Who has the Power to Change the Rules? And how do they revise our implicit Social Contract -- the "Economic Constitution" -- the "Rules we Play by" -- in the Political Economy we call America?
Unlike ordinary Americans, those who
have the most Power to CHANGE the rules, do NOT have to play by
those rules. If those "Big Powers" fail to
grow even richer by competing "fairly" in our
economic "game", they change the rules -- to tilt
the playing field in their favor. (Why play by the rules,
if you can change the rules? Load the dice in your favor!)
Legions of Corporate Lobbyists hold a large share of the Power to write, and to Change the Rules. That's what's been happening-- madly, behind closed doors -- in the first months of the Obama administration. E.g, read this and especially, "Overhaul Leaves Rating Agencies Largely Untouched", on how companies like S&P and Moodys escaped responsibility for "putting lipstick on Toxic Asset Pigs" that destroyed the global economy. Finance Professor Joseph Mason is correct that, "Lacking any significant performance history, rating agencies rated unratable products for regulatory approval and escaped liability for doing so under First Amendment protection." These "Credit Rating Agencies" are for-profit companies. They were paid -- and continue to be paid -- by the "Risky Toxic Pigs", on whom they put the cosmetic lipstick of "AAA" risk ratings.
I offer the analogy of AIDS-infected prostitutes (debt-infected companies), who pay a corrupt "Blood Testing Lab" to certify that the prostitutes are AIDS-free, hence it's safe for customers (bond purchasers such as Pension Funds) to have unprotected sex with those prostitutes. And -- in the "unlikely" event that a customer catches AIDS -- these "Blood Testing Labs" indirectly certified that there was a guaranteed cure for AIDS -- Credit Default Swaps! Unfortunately, it was not safe -- the AIDS-like "DEBT-virus" spread throughout the global economy, thanks to "Blood Testing Labs" like S&P and Moodys. "Blood Money", indeed!
It's not surprising
that technocrats like Lawrence Summers and Treasury Secretary Tim
Geithner signed-off on the above cosmetic "Corporate
Rule" rewrites -- those immersed
in the corporate financial power structure have been trained
to perceive "Moral Hazard" as a character
flaw of individuals (e.g, "Liar Loans",
and economically-illiterate homeowners duped into getting
mortgages they could not afford), and a flaw that, occasionally,
corrupts "a few bad apples" in the corporate bin (e.g,
Worldcom and Enron). These Economic Technocrats are blind to
the fact that Moral Hazard is built-into the Conceptual
Foundation of the Economic Power Structure in which they
dwell. Instead, they believe their Financially-Engineered
Technocratic Structure -- and their PROCESS
of Corporate-Rule-Change -- is morally-neutral -- that
it is merely a "tool", and whether any tool is used for
good or for bad, is solely the choice of the techno-tool-users.
They are blind to the ways that our tools shape
us -- how, invariably, to some extent, we are used BY
our tools -- including intellectual foundations of economic
systems, and the social institutions to implement those economic
All these "devoted financial technicians" on Wall Street, who offer us "A New Financial Foundation", need to learn Hannah Arendt's lesson about "The Banality of Evil" -- that the Moral Hazard of Evil lurks everywhere; it hides in our "Social Conventions", our Legal/Financial Technology, and our "Political Reality":
"Basically, I exploited the phenomenon of the technician's often blind devotion to his task. Because of what appeared to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities."
-- Albert Speer (Hitler's Minister of Commerce & Industry)
Geithner and Summers make easy,
high-profile targets. But complicity is widespread.
I'm reminded of the final statement of a brave man, just
before he was hung by a dictator for the "crime"
of speaking out against the Morally-Hazardous Foundation of
the Power-Sharing Structure between Oil Corporations and his
Nation's ruling elites. Ken Saro-Wiwa was a journalist,
playwright, Environmental Justice activist, and winner of the
Goldman Environmental Prize. Before he was hung on Nov. 10, 1995,
he issued this final statement. It applies to all of us --
especially those "good germans" and "Good
Americans" who "just do their jobs" without
questioning social orders, and thereby serve as enablers for the
downward slide of our ethical standards and social institutions
into self-deception and corruption. We are all like
Enron employees; they failed to question the gradual corruption of
their corporate culture, and so those people went down with their
sinking ship. Unfortunately, the corrupt American ship has sunk
the entire global economy, and bears primary responsibility for
tipping the global climate into a dangerous, destabilized mode.
Here are Ken Saro-Wiwa's final words:
"We all stand before history. I am a man of peace, of ideas. Appalled by the denigrating poverty of my people ..., distressed by their political marginalization and economic strangulation, ... and determined to usher to this country ... a fair and just democratic system which protects everyone and every ethnic group, and gives us all a valid claim to human civilization, I have devoted ... my very life, to a cause in which I have total belief, and from which I cannot be blackmailed or intimidated. ...
I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. On trial also is the ... nation, its present rulers and those who assist them. Any nation which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the ... nation has done ..., loses a claim to independence and to freedom from outside influence. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected in a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of urine.
We all stand on trial, ... for by our actions we have denigrated our Country and jeopardized the future of our children. As we subscribe to the sub-normal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, denigrate our hospitals, fill our stomachs with hunger and elect to make ourselves the slaves of those who ascribe to higher standards, pursue the truth, and honor justice, freedom, and hard work. I predict that the scene here will be played and replayed by generations yet unborn. Some have already cast themselves in the role of villains, some are tragic victims, some still have a chance to redeem themselves. The choice is for each individual. ... I call upon the ... people ... to stand up now and fight fearlessly and peacefully for their rights."
It's unfortunate that Obama,
too, seems taken in by what appears to be the moral
neutrality of Financial Technology. Obama needs to
offer America a new UNIFIED-FIELD THEORY of Political
Economy: Any new Economic system must earn
legitimacy -- and that can happen only if it respects the
implicit Ethical foundations of both "liberals"
This economic infection has severely damaged the financial health of every American, so people are asking questions: How this could have happened? Who is responsible? How should we Change the Rules of our global economy to prevent similar debacles in the future? Public awareness and anger have caused corporate PR (Public Relations) campaigns to re-double their (always ongoing) efforts to SHAPE the thinking of the American public -- to "Manage our Perceptions" -- to keep us from realizing that the Conceptual Foundations of our economic system are fatally flawed: They want us to believe that there are no alternatives to the present power structure; that Political Reality requires everyone to accept the Power of Corporate Oligarchs. (Naturally: they want Corporations to remain at the top of the economic food chain.) The basic message is:
"Don't worry, be happy. This economic meltdown was just a glitch, not a profound and permanent structural earthquake that destroyed our foundations. You must think like docile Consumers, not like empowered Citizens: Return to your habitual tasks of working in corporate jobs, and shopping in corporate malls. Trust us! Citizens should not meddle in Politics, while we Corporations Re-write the Economic Rules."
Corporate PR (Public Relations) campaigns try to influence citizens by influencing the portrayals of Economic issues on TV, newspapers, and websites -- the way these issues and crises are "framed". They want to influence the way we think about the economic meltdown, by conveying information to us in certain conceptual vehicles that will contain our thinking safely "inside the box", and not let us "push the envelope" of Corporate Power that constrains our freedom. Corporate PR is a "civilized protocol" for "low-intensity conflict" -- one form of Information Warfare .
We are all, at various times,
both instruments -- and victims -- of Information Warfare.
(Who has never been hoodwinked into repeating a false rumor?)
The "Dittoheads" -- both on the political Left and the Right -- do this intentionally. They are willing tools of Info-War; "Serial-Repeaters" of misleading logic and outright lies. They no longer think for themselves. Instead, they have out-sourced their responsibility for critical thinking, and become mere pawns, parroting simplistic slogans. In Pentagon-speak, they function as "Message Force-Multipliers" in a human "Bot-net"; controlled by whatever demagogue or Corporate Info-Warlord downloads ideas and slogans into their head.
Those of us who value our freedom of thought are not willing to be puppets for any Info-Warlord. We realize that, if we want freedom to "think for ourselves", we must take back our responsibility for critical thinking: We have the power to choose the ideas and concepts we think with. But the conceptual vehicles we choose, may contain hidden "Trojan horses". These hidden dangers may be intentional Info-War booby-traps, or they may be unintentional design flaws. Either way, our thoughts and our resulting behaviors are hijacked by the Conceptual Vehicles we "choose to use", far more often than we detect that subtle "Nudging" of our perceptions.
(The Thaler-Sunstein notion of "Choice
Architectures" is a new
context for the ancient Info-War concept of "Perception
Management". Their ethical justification
-- "Libertarian Paternalism" -- may be little
more than an implicit version of Edward Bernays'
explicitly authoritarian "Elite Paternalism".
As Yale Law
Professor Walter Hale Hamilton succinctly wrote in the 1930s,
"Business succeeds rather better than the state in imposing
restraints upon individuals, because its imperatives are disguised
as choices." Thaler-Sunstein's "choices"
are founded on -- and perpetuate -- existing "Power
Relation Architectures": Who Decides
what's the "best menu of choices" to offer you,
and what will constitute "due process for Informed Consent
to opt-out"? Who will tell the people that they can
exert power to "order off the menu", that,
"There IS an Alternative"?
In the region where my work intersects with Behavioral
Economics "Nudge" notions, I advocate "Participatory
social choice architectures, a precondition for which, is more
equitable Sci-Tech Power Relations. Recall my Hans Singer quote
above. I support Loka's
vision toward more equitable participation in distributing
the Risks, Costs, and Benefits from the Co-Evolution of
Science, Technology, and Society. But here's
the core of my work, and the most important lesson that "Nudge" completely
misses: The Un-Intelligently-Designed Evolution
of our culture's shared Social Epistemology -- our
CONCEPTUAL INFRASTRUCTURE -- is, itself, a Choice
Architecture. Shaped by Info-War evolutionary
escalation, our individual Cognitive Biases and
dysfunctional Social Institutions have become
pathologically-coupled via emergent behaviors. Our
CONCEPTS have DESIGN FLAWS!)
An extremely important example involves the Concept
of "Measurement" in an Economic System.
Like any model, this concept can be beneficial
. . . "when used as directed" by a trained
Financial (Meta)-Physician! But those trapped in the
"Chicago-school" mindset -- like former Fed. Chairman
Alan Greenspan -- are blinded by ideology. They are not
competent Meta-Physicians! (Doctoral
Candidates in Economics should not be granted a Ph.D. until
they understand Tarski's "Concept of Truth in
Formalized Languages"!) It is worth examining this
concept of economic "measurement" in detail, for three
reasons: (1) It enabled the meltdown of our global economy,
and that concept has not yet been either "detoxified",
or "quarantined" within protective regulatory barriers.
(2) It illustrates how even smart "scientific" people can
be blinded to flaws and vulnerabilities in their conceptual models,
by their absolute ideological faith in those models. (3)
It provides a tangible case study in Information Warfare, in
which both intentional "offensive attacks"
and intentional "defensive actions" caused
unintentional, unforeseen, emergent consequences
-- the global meltdown.
One application where the Concept of MEASUREMENT in an Economic System has exceeded the limitations of that mental model, is the ongoing "Mark-To-Market" controversy: How can we "discover the price" of TOXIC ASSETS? We can never make any progress here, until we detect the conceptual flaw, that we are not "discovering" a thing that already exists "out there, in the world somewhere". Rather, we are constructing a price, by our actions that attempt to "measure" something. (It's fascinating to watch the extreme anti-government "Free Market conservatives" of the Congressional Republican Study Group demand that the Government construct a price!)
Whoever thinks, or communicates,
about the Mark-To-Market controversy must realize that,
in our current Complex Financial System, the very ACT of
MEASUREMENT (or "Price Discovery") in our Economic
System, can PERTURB that System! This is like the
"Heisenberg Effect" in quantum theory. It's
what George Soros calls "Reflexivity". The
essence of the problem in Economics is exactly what Heisenberg
discovered about Physics: The "Observer" may believe
s/he is "measuring" a property of an outside System,
but to some extent, the "Observer" is actually
a Participant inside that system, whose actions
(i.e, trying to "measure" something) disturb that
System. Example: Whenever you measure the weight of something
by placing it on a scale, the gravitational field from your own
body slightly changes the measurement result. In most cases,
that change is insignificant, so we can use a simplified model
that says you are an Observer, not a Participant. But in other
cases (e.g, in space halfway to Mars), your Participation is very
This concept of MEASUREMENT is particularly flawed, when applied to "Markets for Risk". Financial "Risk Markets" are a pure play on psychological arbitrage: No trading can occur unless players have different Risk Perceptions or risk tolerances. The current "price" of some specific risk reflects a tenuous and transient balance between psychological Fear and Greed. It cannot "measure" the real-world "probability" of any event. As Chris Whalen, the founder of Institutional Risk Analytics, wrote in this commentary, "few if any CDS traders would say that the current price is a good predictor of default [risk], just that the market agrees on a number." This "liberal" NYT Op-Ed and this "conservative" WSJ Op-Ed properly criticize Obama's Financial Technology Team for ignoring the Risky Credit Rating Agencies, in constructing our "New Financial Foundation". But the WSJ editorial board remains ideologically committed to the concept that "The Market" measures some "Objective Truth":
It's time to let markets decide how to judge [risk]. One lesson of the crisis is that the unregulated Credit Default Swap (CDS) market provided a more accurate measurement of the risk of financial firms than the [Credit Rating Agencies]. ... S&P has taken this lesson to heart. The company recently introduced a new "Market Derived Signals" model that incorporates the prices of CDS contracts "to create a measure that facilitates the interpretation of market information."
Embedded in this concept that purports to "Measure Risk", are fundamental flaws. First, this "MEASURE" can be buffeted and "gamed" by players in this thinly-traded market, who intentionally use offensive Info-War "Perception Management" tactics to manipulate an opponent's Risk Perception. Second, defensive actions by players may unintentionally "Mismanage Perceptions". George Soros' statement in this WSJ op-ed applies to both intentional and unintentional Info-War actions: "it's clear that AIG, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and others were destroyed by bear raids in which the shorting of stocks and buying CDS mutually amplified and reinforced each other." (Note: Soros' statement confirms that the global meltdown was enabled by the coupling of markets that "measured" CDS prices, and that "measured" stock prices.)
This was a coupled amplification of perceptions: Someone shorts a stock, causing its "measured" price to drop. Other traders then perceive more risk, so they buy more CDS to hedge against that perceived risk. That changes the "measured" price of CDS, which, in turn, makes the stock appear riskier, so traders then short the stock ... and we may -- unintentionally -- create a feedback loop that drives the company into bankruptcy. Obviously some traders intentionally used this offensive Info-war "Perception Management" tactic to "pump" this feedback cycle into resonance, to profit on both legs of this cycle. Other traders used defensive tactics that -- unintentionally -- amplified Risk Perceptions. Chris Whalen's commentary continues: "If you as a dealer are [selling CDS on Company_C] ... how do you hedge the position? You short [Company_C's stock]." But that causes Company_C's stock to drop, causing other players to perceive it as more risky, causing them to buy more CDS as "risk protection", which changes the "Measurement of Risk" ... and so the "Measurement" is captured in a positive feedback loop! The "Observers" who "measured risk" became Participants in amplifying risk! These "Risk Measurement Actions" by Big Money Players perturbed, destabilized, and ultimately destroyed the entire global Economic System. This was highly profitable to those Players who bought CDS, and taxpayers are now paying them Billions of dollars to "honor" those bets they made in the Financial Engineering Casino. Nobel-Prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz described the fundamental dynamics of Economic Info-War (both the intentional and the inadvertent forms) in his 2001 Nobel Prize lecture:
(The WSJ editorial board, like
many others, still doesn't get it. They remain captives
-- trapped "inside the box" -- of the concepts they
chose to think WITH; they are "tools of their tools".
Alan Greenspan also is a prisoner of his concepts. His Op-Ed, "We
will never have a perfect model of risk", completely
misses the point -- made explicitly in scathing Comments by
other prominent economists -- that the bubble-booming Greed
and the bubble-busting Fear are both enabled by the same
fundamental conceptual flaw: Big Money players perturb
economic "measurements". They are not Observers
who "measure", but Participants, whose
actions -- both intentional and unintentional -- construct
a price, and cause that price to go "Boom" and then
"Bust". Greenspan bemoans the "non-rational"
behavior of traders. But rational traders who intentionally
"gamed the system" via offensive Info-war "Perception
Management" tactics made Billions ... and it is now
taxpayers who are paying off their bets.)
There are two more, related lessons we must learn. CDS players must assess the risk that their counterparties will be unable to pay if they lose this risk bet. Who rates the risk of those counterparties? Moodys and S&P, of course! In fact, their "AAA" risk-ratings of AIG (and their indirect "AAA" risk rating of the CDS that AIG sold), and their sterling risk-ratings of CDS counterparties like Bear-Stearns and Lehman Brothers, were a major factor in enabling the toxic Risk bubble to expand to swallow the entire global economy, before imploding.
Perhaps the greatest absurdity is that financial new media still cling to the concept that the CDS market "measures risk" that the U.S. government will default on its Treasury bonds. Let's be charitable, and assume that the CDS covering U.S. bonds require 100% collateral to be deposited in an escrow account. (In reality, if even 10% collateral were required, that probably would kill the CDS market, since it would not be profitable for CDS sellers to play.) Now suppose the U.S. defaults on its bonds. The CDS buyer is then granted escrow access, and is paid 100% of the value of its U.S. bonds. But, pray tell, in what currency is that collateral denominated? If U.S. dollars (the only global standard), then the CDS buyer has a bunch of suddenly-worthless paper. If denominated in a foreign currency, it's likely that the global repercussions of a U.S. default would have destabilized that foreign government too. Ultimately, in the event of a U.S. government default, it seems the only "currencies" to retain their value would be Food, Oil, and Guns! Unfortunately, the conceptual toxic flaws in mainstream economic models have not improved since their absurdities were exposed in 1993 -- see the "Imaginary Worlds of Economic Modelers".
To summarize, the "Neo-Newtonian" Concept of "Measurement" in an Economic System is a model that has been pushed beyond its design-limits in our actual real-world global economic "experiments". I examined the damaging Economic Impacts via an Information Warfare framework that recognizes the potential for unintentional and/or defensive actions to significantly escalate the Info-War, and have profound but unanticipated consequences. In my discussion above, I identified the specific Info-War mechanisms (both intentional-offensive "gaming", and unintentional-defensive "hedging") that amplified certain Information Flows, via positive feedback loops that heightened Perception of Risks. But we must not let the Economic Meltdown divert our attention from the far more important lessons we need to learn from my Vulnerability Analysis of this Economic Conceptual Model ...
The "Neo-Newtonian" Concept of "Measurement" in an Economic System is a model that channels our thinking, and causes even more damaging Ethical Impacts. The same fundamental architectural flaw -- the notion of an "Observer" whose actions do not disturb the "System", rather than a Participant whose actions have consequences -- channels our Attention and suppresses certain Information Flows, via positive feedback loops that dull our Perception of Responsibilities.
"The world is full" now! The Social Environment is full: World population has increased so much that humans live on almost every square mile of habitable land. The Physical Environment is full -- literally: Our rate of Carbon Dioxide emissions into the atmosphere has exceeded the removal rate of "linear" mechanisms, and forced increased ocean acidity (via carbonic acid) whose risks we've just begun to consider. The "unknown Unknowns" now dominate our risk horizon.
The Risk-Security Environment is full: "Blowback" and conflict are everywhere; tensions rise not only between nations, but within nations. These conflicts will increase as human population and consumption push the shrinking-limits of finite resources like oil, and of finite sinks, like the ability of our atmosphere to function both as a climate life-support system, and as a dumping ground for our greenhouse gas emissions. And the Economic Environment is full -- America's "externalized" Toxic Debt now crowds all global economic Space, and pollutes all global Time far into our descendents' future. Trying to perform an "act of measurement" on a large economic object causes "ripples". In the past, those ripples dissipated their energy before overwhelming the limits of the economic world. They did so by spilling over, or "externalizing" into our physical environment, and our social environment.
But now the world is full. Those ripples soon rebound, and excite previously undetected resonance modes within the Economic system. Similarly, social resonance modes within our Ethical system -- our Web of Trust -- have been activated: "Trust was the coin of the realm." But the Ethical CREDIBILITY Crunch is tightly-coupled with the Economic CREDIT Crunch. Economic "inflationary expectations" oscillate, as "rational actors" attempt to capture, in scenario spreadsheets, new chaotic concepts of ethical stagflation or hyper-inflation that challenge previous Social Conventions of "rationality".
CONCEPT of "rationality" is -- itself -- a SOCIAL
INSTITUTION! The legitimacy of longstanding social
institutions -- the integrity of unwritten treaties --
has collapsed. We built a complex system, using
conceptual components with design limitations we failed
to understand. When problems became more difficult to ignore,
we implemented "Don't Ask; Don't Tell"
policies for "well-behaved" social institutions of
economics professionals, or we introduced new epicycles to
address symptoms, rather than confront the intellectual
"heavy lifting" and the socio-economic "bigtime
wrestling" required to understand and address underlying
structural causes/flaws. When considering the dynamics
(stasis) of social change, and the relationship between Power and
Ethics, between public deeds, public words, "conventional
definitions" of concepts, and private morality, recall this
"There is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer, than to introduce new political orders. For the one who introduces them has as his enemies, all those who profit from the old order, and he has only lukewarm defenders in all those who might profit from the new order."-- Niccolo Machiavelli, "The Prince". 1532 (p. 22)
To construct a system that is "sustainable" -- stable in its relation to this now Full World --we must examine, and rectify, the design limitations of our underlying economic and ethical concepts that have produced these emergent consequences. I suggest we begin by jettisoning the concept of a rational agent as atomic, and recognize the obvious reality that an individual human being is a collective agent, whose continued functioning in a given social environment not only may involve internal "Information Asymmetries", but often may require near-total "Knowledge Isolation" between various mental subsystems of that collective agent, in order to preserve stability of the individual in that social environment.
The capability of human cognitive architecture to support internal "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" protocols may be a key feature of gene-culture co-evolution. Or to "re-purpose" a longstanding joke in the computer industry, "A Security Over-ride to prevent destabilization under heavy cognitive loading by Distractions or Cognitive Dissonance is not an implementation bug ... it's a design feature!" :- )
Psychological Denial is one such protocol. As rational scientists, we detest Denial! (We deny that Denial has any useful benefit; any "rational, instrumental" purpose.) When we detect it in others, we try to overcome it by the sheer "rational" force of our arguments, rather than "rationally" examining its structure and origins. But I fear we are, in part, "Blaming the Victim": The Cultural Environment that has emerged from our 2500-year history of Info-War is a cognitive minefield; our concepts are littered with semantic shrapnel. (2500 years brings us to Aeschylus' observation that, "In time of war, truth is the first casualty," and to Sun Tzu's "Art of War." Indus cultures may have older documentation.) It's sometimes the case that, "Paranoia is a normal, healthy adjustment to the fact that people are out to get you." Similarly, I suggest that Denial is "normal" (meaning it is ubiquitous); it is "healthy" (for an individual, in some cases, since it may operate as a semi-automatic protective mechanism), and it may be an appropriate "adjustment" to the fact that our Cultural Environment's Conceptual Infrastructure has been significantly "degraded" by generations of Info-War, with "semantic maintenance" performed mostly by dedicated and perceptive individuals, since there is no Social Institution devoted to that task. So instead of (or in addition to) "blaming those victims" who exhibit symptoms, we need to address the underlying causes of this cultural pathology. I.e, why is Denial so rampant within all modern Social Institutions, which -- with few exceptions -- are so dysfunctional? What is the relation between individual psychological Denial, and collective institutional Dysfunction? To what extent does collective Dysfunction cause individual Denial, and vice versa?
A central finding of my Info-War analysis involves America's "Culture Wars". Our collective dysfunctional Polarization into (broadly) "Red" vs. "Blue" warring camps is coupled with our individual psychological Denial: "Knowledge Isolation" mechanisms enable the "functional stability" of both Individuals and social Institutions, in an extremely dysfunctional and sub-optimal set of "equilibrium states". If the Knowledge-Isolations mechanisms at both levels ceased operating, Cognitive Dissonance would force individuals to resolve their psychological contradictions, and our sub-cultural polarizations would dissipate. Conversely, what keeps both levels going, is that they are coupled via a cognitive-emotional "Strange Attractor": the polarized social camps are powered by individual emotional hostility, and those sub-cultures, in turn, function as "Support Groups" to sustain the cognitively-polarized Worldviews of the individuals that comprise the groups.
This dynamic can be understood via the Mass Communications theory of "Uses and Gratifications", which says that individuals select certain media (e.g, magazines, TV shows, etc.) because those media convey instrumental benefits (tangible "Use-value" of information), or offer emotional gratification (e.g, via the "community" of a TV soap opera). By "subscribing" to a magazine or TV channel, the individual, in turn, conveys tangible (monetary) benefits to the chosen media. Hence, there is a symbiotic relationship between the individual "consumer" and the media-institutional "producer". Those "old-media" business models have morphed into today's for-profit "Anti-Social-Media" Institutions such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox "News". On my main website, I analyze how these Social Institutions survive (and thrive) by marketing Private-label Designer Brands of Cultural Relativism, disguised as Moral Absolutism. The Product they are selling is the certainty of a "high self-worth" Self-image embedded in a meaningful World-view ... and Consumers who Subscribe to those Beliefs are addicted.
Social Epistemology is our collective public health problem! Longstanding problems of public education among the workforce, and the implications for "national competitiveness" in the globalized Information-Age economy, have grown worse. These traditional concerns always tip-toed around the problem, by framing it in terms of "Equal Info-Access and Equal Opportunity"; as "Info-Rich vs. Info-Poor"; as distributive "Information Asymmetries" of knowledge "Goods and Services". But those (justifiable) concerns long ago were dwarfed by the flows of Information "Bads and Dis-Services".
example, in 2005, the U.S. spent 7%
of GDP for public education at all levels. Since 1920, U.S.
advertising has exceeded 2% of GDP. But
advertising does not include PR campaigns, or marketing
or promotion expenses, which are built into products even
before the design stage (via "consumer research"),
or via efforts to influence middlemen and retailers. (E.g, a PLoS
study puts Big Pharma's total "Cost of
Pushing Pills" at 24% of sales, nearly twice
that of R&D expenditures.) Across all economic sectors, advertising
accounts for at most 30% of total marketing expenses.
That means total marketing costs rival total public education
expenses. In any case, $250 Billion is spent annually
in the U.S., strictly on "advertising".
Scant funding went to countervailing "Economic- or
Media- Literacy" education; and those programs
offered defensive methods for individuals
to protect themselves against symptoms, rather than
promoting collective offensive campaigns to address the
causes. The Public-Health impacts? Physical
Obesity and Fiscal Debt -- individual financial
Malnutrition and national economic Meltdown. Baran
and Sweezy's 1966 analysis was correct: "the
function of advertising ... becomes that of waging ... a relentless
war against saving and in favor of consumption."
Advertising won its Info-War, and so now we are drowning in
Debt, and dying of Consumption. In contrast, efforts to
address Tobacco impacts became effective, when they
finally undertook a collective, public-health offensive to
confront the causes, and to strip Big Tobacco Power
of its "First Amendment" shield.)
Now our Social Epistemology is infected by far more dangerous toxins -- Dis-Information "Bads and Dis-Services" via the Asymmetric Info-Warfare-induced proliferation of false beliefs. This 2006 Zogby poll found that 46% of Americans believed "there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 terror attacks". Fully 65% of Republicans still were "clinging to" this belief, despite the highly-publicized 2004 findings of the Bipartisan 9/11 Commission that there was no evidence of cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Such beliefs are "cultivated" by carefully-designed Info-War message discipline and "Perception Management", exemplified by Bush's 9/17/03 statement that, "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11th [attacks ... but] there's no question that Saddam Hussein had Al Qaeda ties." Purportedly, that "combined-statement" by Bush was intended to "clarify" public confusion. But it follows a consistent and deceptive pattern of "message discipline", in which Bush and other top White House officials, "often combined the two subjects in speeches and interviews". When the Republican Chair of the Bipartisan 9/11 Commission announced, "there is no credible evidence that we can discover, after a long investigation, that Iraq and Saddam Hussein were in any way part of the attack on the United States," the Bush administration again went on the offensive, issuing "combined-statements" to confuse those issues in the public mind. (E.g, Cheney's 2004 claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague on April 9, 2001, directly contradicts 2003 FBI evidence that Atta was in Florida at that time.)
I raise these issues in Summer 2009 not to re-hash the history of yet another domestic Info-War, but to build a case that this old Info-War fallout -- its "collateral damage" -- continues to POLARIZE the present, and its toxic impacts, increasingly, will pollute our future. Social polarization rarely occurs in isolation, without inducing something akin to an "equal and opposite reaction". So it's not surprising that, also in 2006, this Scripps-Howard poll found that 36% of Americans believed that the Bush administration's government either participated in the 9/11 attacks, or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East." As we see with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what one side perceives as a (John Yoo-assisted) "justifiable and proportionate response" (akin to an "equal and opposite reaction"), is perceived by the other side as "disproportionate escalation".
My central underlying Information Warfare
thesis is that human collective social behaviors are
both products and ongoing processes of evolutionary
escalation pressures. That is, our organizational
forms -- Social Institutions and sub-Cultures -- and our
communication techniques -- our emotions, languages, and
conceptual vehicles -- are at once products, processes,
channels, tools, and "contested terrain" of
evolutionary escalation pressures. By definition, "civilized
behavior" means that Information Warfare has become
the dominant force in evolutionary escalation, ...
both domestically -- within a culture -- and internationally
-- between cultures.
Social Institutions are technological artifacts. The procedural knowledge they support -- their "code" of policies, procedures, and institutional behaviors -- can also be read, and interpreted, as "data". Social Institutions have embedded in them, data that has recorded an archaeological history of Info-War, exactly as does the human genome. (Today's DNA code can be read as data -- interpreted as RNA traces of ancient molecular battles and sieges, "strategically-arranged" marriages and slave raids. Molecular mimicry Info-War tactics developed eons before any multi-cellular human emerged, to invent concepts like "intentional" and "unintentional" actions by unified, sovereign, conscious, "Rational Actors".)
We inherited a
cultural pathology that we continue to escalate.
(The common definition of "escalate" -- as
in, "Arm both sides!" to escalate conflict
-- is adequate. But I'm simultaneously using its formal
definition in Evolutionary Theory: "Escalation
is the process by which species adapt to, or are limited by,
their enemies, as the latter increase in abilities to acquire and
retain resources." So escalation produced big teeth on
Tyrannosaurus, causing Triceratops to develop a bony shield and
horns, causing bigger Tyrannosaurus teeth ... etc.) So besides
changing the dynamics -- the "intensity of conflict"
-- escalation changes the STRUCTURE of organisms! Escalation
shapes both form and function.
Human Social Institutions also are profoundly shaped by escalation; as they compete for "social resources" including money, power, status, influence, ... and Information resources. The evolutionary process of escalation describes selection pressures that apply at many levels, not only to organisms. Escalation shapes the form (structure) and the function (behavioral dynamics) of Organizations like our Social Institutions. Our failure to implement a domestic "Arms Control Pact" for Info-War techniques and technologies has escalated the size of the "Organizational Networks" on opposing sides of our "Culture Wars". And it has escalated the development of "bigger" Info-War weapons -- "Mass Media Megaphones" like Fox "News", and massive database resources, whose indexed-fields are "data-mined" to discover which "framing" and "persuasive definition" techniques are most effective at "manufacturing consent" of a micro-targeted population segment.
In 1993, I predicted this development of a nationwide Surveillance and Data-mining infrastructure, and I portrayed the modern computerized technologies of consumer-surveillance and micro-targeted marketing as extensions of Jeremy Bentham's 1791 Panopticon. I wrote:
The power of Panoptic architectures derives not only from data surveillance, but also from techniques that classify, segment, and isolate the population. In Bentham's vision of the Panopticon, the inmates, isolated from communication with one another, would be reduced to the status of "solitary sequestered individuals ... Indulged with perfect liberty within the space allotted to him, in what worse way could he vent his rage, than by beating his head against the walls?"
These passages chillingly foreshadow the much-vaunted "consumer choice" of modernity. As the public sphere erodes, the public space available for community fragments, leaving individuals isolated inside shrinking private spaces -- corporate-designed technological enclosures such as the automobile and the "home entertainment center." While mentally confined within these cells, individuals are "indulged with perfect liberty" to choose among the commodities advertised as individual "solutions" to collective social problems. Segmented by psychographic class into virtual Panoptic internment camps, citizens and consumers are bombarded with targeted images as symbolic substitutes for freedom and community, thereby dissipating the forces available for genuine social change.
That work, "Computer-assisted Crises", is on my main website, and was published in a book in 1996. But perhaps I should have titled it, "Of Technological Bondage" ! These developments were clearly visible to other people. For example, in 1982, Oscar H. Gandy, Jr. predicted "the regular, patterned, and skillful manipulation of the information environment to ensure that ... perceptions of past, present, and future lead ultimately to the selection of a preferred option or plan." But "preferred" by whom? In his 1996, "The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy of Personal Information," Gandy wrote, "Within the panoptic future, addressability and verifiability mean that it is much more likely that each of us will be exposed to a different, customized, administratively tailored image of our immediate environment, our risks, our options, and the opportunities for the realization of our dreams."
Since 2006, the Republican Party's once-dominant "Voter Vault" Database has been out-gunned by two brand-new Info-War "Weapons of Mass Persuasion": The Democratic Party's "Vote Builder", and "Catalist", a for-profit DB developed by Harold Ickes (former deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House), and made available only to "progressive" groups. According to an April 12, 2008 NY Times article:
"Candidates and organizations like the Sierra Club and the A.F.L.-C.I.O. now have the time and money to start focusing beyond basic microtargeting and to understanding more advanced voter behavior," said ... chief technology officer at Catalist ... "There is a breadth and depth that we did not have before. ... There has been a concerted, deep and well-financed effort to catch up with and surpass what has been done on the other side." Microtargeting has become so widespread that it is now used by all House and Senate candidates, on both sides, in state legislative races and, in some cases, all the way down the ballot to local school board elections.Consider this excerpt from an Oct. 31, 2008 NY Times article:
"What you are now seeing in politics is a level of precision in finding people who are potentially swayable," said Colin Shearer, vice president at SPSS, a data-analysis company in Chicago with clients in both parties. "Once you find out who they are, you want to know what are the specific messages. It is not just who to target, but what is the right thing to say to provide a resonant message."
Consider the "precision-targeting and message-shaping" capabilities in the above excerpt, in the context of the following two quotes. Clearly, the underlying trends in Info-War driving recent developments are decades old, yet we have ignored earlier warnings. Edward Bernays, the "Father of Public Relations" (and the nephew of Sigmund Freud) wrote books in the early 1900s such as "Crystallizing Public Opinion", "Engineering Consent", and "Propaganda". For Bernays, the "masses" are ignorant, irrational, and emotional. They are incapable of doing what is "best for society" without industrial-strength manipulation by the elite sectors of society. Bernays defined PR as an "applied social science", the goal of which is to:
"control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it ... in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can regulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline."In his 1954 book, "The Technological Society," Jacques Ellul wrote:
"It will not be a universal concentration camp, for it will be guilty of no such atrocity. It will not seem insane, for everything will be ordered ... We shall have nothing more to lose, and nothing to win. Our deepest instincts and our most secret passions will be analyzed, published, and exploited."
Using Edward Bernays' idea of "manipulating information flows", we can divide "Information Warfare" into 2 modes of operation: an Info-flow can be "down-regulated", discouraged, suppressed, taxed, or fully censored (by Governments or by Corporate Powers who control access to information channels), or it can be subsidized and amplified. If one desires to amplify an Info-flow that does not yet exist, then Disinformation can be created, with no factual basis in reality. In this manner, "Perception Management of the mind" can become "facts on the ground", which then become re-cognized as inescapable "Political Reality". (Altering existing info can be viewed as a combination of these 2 modes.)
Short of an outright Denial-Of-Service attack, the goal of Info Warfare is "Perception Management". According to my 1990-era download from the FBI's website, when Perception Management is employed by a "foreign power", it is defined as:
" ... foreign power-sponsored or foreign power-coordinated intelligence activity directed at the U.S. Government or U.S. corporations, establishments, or persons, which involves manipulating information, communicating false information, or propagating deceptive information and communications designed to distort the perception of the public ... or of U.S. Government officials regarding U.S. policies, ranging from foreign policy to economic strategies."
If the FBI's definition were broadened to include domestic powers, then it seems to apply to the techniques of Public Relations (PR), whose goal is to "alter perception, reshape reality and manufacture consent." Although that passage has disappeared from the FBI site, copies and paraphrases remain at numerous other U.S. government agencies. Several interesting results come from a google search for this italicized string:
site:.gov "perception management" manipulating false deceptive
Of particular interest, the CIA website describes the spymaster skills, covert actions, and counter-intelligence operations (respectively) of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Chief Justice John Jay. See: "The Founding Fathers of American Intelligence." The CIA's "slant" on this history seems to be that, "Covert action is as American as cherry pie; so trust us, we're always working for you." If you doubt the CIA's history on those early White American revolutionaries, then consider more recent Black American revolutionaries' observations: "Violence is as American as cherry pie," (H. Rap Brown) and "Our objective is complete freedom, justice, and equality by any means necessary." (Malcolm X). Politics _is_ about Power. But even in outright warfare, we've agreed not to "destroy the global village in order to save it" by means of nuclear weapons. Isn't it time we negotiated similar agreements, to limit use of Info-War Weapons of Mass Deception?
Obviously, any spying or
infiltration involves "perception management" of the
individuals an agent encounters. Franklin manipulated the
perception of the entire French government, to convince them to
join in military alliance with Washington's revolutionaries.
Franklin succeeded in this, by "leaking" information
to the French that he was negotiating with the British to
establish a separate peace that would damage French interests.
Franklin also propagated disinformation -- false reports
of atrocities -- to sow dissension among German
mercenaries fighting for the British, and among the British
civilian population against their own government.
(I confirmed this CIA account via a 1983 hardcopy biography
of Franklin by Ronald W. Clark (p. 367). While in Britain, Franklin
printed a spurious supplement to Boston's "Independent Chronicle".
In it, Franklin printed a letter, written by a fictitious
"Captain Gerrish of the New England Militia", describing some materials
captured from British troops: 8 packages containing 954
human scalps. Package #8 contained ... (drum roll please) ...
"29 little Infants' Scalps of various Sizes ... they were
ript out of their Mothers' Bellies." Shades of fictitious Iraqi troops
ripping Kuwaiti babies out of incubators!)
What, if any,
"defensive" domestic Info-War by the British
government -- to "protect" or "inoculate"
British civilians against Benjamin Franklin's
"offensive" Info-War -- would have been ethically
justified? What safeguards might be required, to ensure that
British"defensive" domestic Info-War did
not "escalate", to become an "offensive"
domestic Info-war directed by the British government
against its own people?
This latter campaign by Benjamin Franklin brings to mind the Pentagon's disinformation campaign against the American public during George W. Bush's Iraq War. The April 2008 NY Times expose, "MESSAGE MACHINE: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand", received the Pulitzer prize. (On my main website, I discuss some of the issues raised by such campaigns.) Most of us will agree that, "In times of Foreign War, there may be very good reasons for Truth -- between Warring Parties -- to become the first casualty." But what about Domestic Info-Warfare (by government agencies, political parties, and corporate powers) during peacetime, or during what is claimed to be a permanent, undeclared "War on Terror"? How compatible is Democracy with modern forms of domestic Computer-assisted Information Warfare? As I wrote in my 1993 "Computer-assisted Crises":
"Just as each new generation must learn for itself the lessons of war, so must each generation renew its contracts with democracy, and it must renegotiate those contracts in light of the prevailing media technologies of the times. ... no matter what form of government we have in the U.S., it will always be called 'democracy'. ... Human beings must be treated as subjects of communication, not as objects of manipulation. Somehow the technologies of control must -- themselves -- be brought under social control."
John Stauber, editor of PR Watch, and founder of the Center for Media & Democracy, characterizes the PR industry as a threat to democracy, and as, "an occupation army in our midst". "Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq", the 2003 book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, is excellent. It also reviews (pp. 70-75) the involvement by U.S. government officials and politicians, in a massive disinformation campaign to build public support for the earlier "Gulf War" waged by George H. W. Bush. A staged "Congressional Human Rights Caucus" featured a hearing at which a young Kuwaiti girl testified, "I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns ... They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die." This was completely false, and many U.S. politicians and officials knew that the young Kuwaiti "refugee" witness was, in fact, the daughter of Kuwait's ambassador to the U.S., and a member of the unelected family that rules that country. Kuwait was never a democracy, but the Kuwaiti ruling family (aided by the U.S. PR industry), updated Benjamin Franklin's old Info-War technique: They sowed false reports of atrocities. How is it, that both the FBI and the CIA failed in their duty to protect us -- or at least, to detect -- this:
" ... foreign power-sponsored ... intelligence activity directed at the U.S. Government or U.S. ... persons, which involves ... communicating false information, or propagating deceptive information ... designed to distort the perception of the public ... or of U.S. Government officials regarding U.S. ... foreign policy."
What is the difference between an ethical system promoting mass education, a political campaign's Info-War "Weapon of Mass Persuasion", and a national government's Info-War "Weapons of Mass Deception" -- that it deploys against its own population, in order to "manufacture consent" for its foreign aggression? The differences are in purpose (targets and message content), techniques, and Information Ethics: To what extent is the "information target" respected as a Subject of communication, whose integrity must not be subverted, vs. treated instrumentally, as an Object of manipulation?
It's very late,
but ordinary Americans must learn to think more critically
about what the slogan -- "Free Speech" --
really means. We need to unpack our vague and confused notions,
and develop more precise understandings about exactly what
"freedoms" various Info-warriors should be permitted,
under what circumstances (time, place, and manner), what
responsibilities those freedoms entail, and what democratic
mechanisms we must institute to ensure accountability. In
short, we need to develop and codify the permissible Rules of
Engagement for domestic Info-Warfare. We must implement
a domestic "Arms Control Pact" for Info-War
techniques and technologies!
The evolutionary process of escalation has led to more efficient means of recruiting, deceiving, "cultivating", and subtly socially-coercing "dittohead" foot soldiers. It is apparent to any thinking American, that tremendous polarization has occurred, and continues to cause large shares of the population to diverge into 2 different "sub-cultural species". Interbreeding no longer seems possible. Ironically, two top Info-Warlords -- James Carville and Mary Matalin -- may have been the last of their respective warring camps who could co-exist in "domestic tranquility"!
I claim that a predictable consequence of these Info-War barrages on civilian populations, is that this escalation process has emotionally provoked "illegal combatants" into acts of murder, while the Info-Warlords remain shielded from legal accountability by the facades of "free Hate-speech" and "Plausible Deniability". As a case study, consider the May 31, 2009 murder of abortion doctor George Tiller. Certainly, no top-level Right-wing Info-Warlord could have reasonably foreseen the specific identity of George Tiller's murderer. But every Info-Warlord inveighing against George Tiller - by name - should have reasonably foreseen that he was creating significant risk that some angry foot-soldier would commit murder. Repeatedly referring to Dr. Tiller as, "Tiller the Baby Killer", and warning about Tiller's "judgement day", in a highly-charged Cultural Environment, is a blatant Act of info-War. "Inciting to riot" can be a crime, whether that inciting is mediated by a hand-held megaphone, or by a "Mass Media Megaphone," like that wielded by Bill O'Reilly of Fox "News". Yet this analogy also has a weakness: An in-person inciter is assumed to perceive feedback, to "have his hand on the pulse of the crowd". If pulses race, yet the speaker continues to escalate his speech-acts, then clearly he bears major responsibility for the consequences.
How might we ratchet-down the escalation of our Culture Wars, and reduce this damaging and dangerous social polarization? We need to be clear about the differences between the Intentionality, the Predictability, and the Responsibility for consequences (e.g, murder). Consider various Info-Warlord(s) whose formal and informal "Social Institution/Network" might have promoted hostile and polarized beliefs, emotions, and behaviors, in a specific individual who committed murder. Assuming we lack evidence of Intentionality (for this specific target to be murdered), is there Responsibility? And how is Responsibility distributed?
I'm not sure any "reasonable people" remain on the Right, to hear my suggestions. (Andrew Sullivan has always been extremely reasonable; but I don't know whether he's still willing to accept the "Right" label.) Reasonableness now seems limited to the "Reality-based communities", so you, dear readers (both of you :-) are my audience.
Science of Complexity "seeks to explain the ways
that interactions cause actors to adapt, and how even
minor adaptations can echo recursively throughout
a system, leading to outcomes that might or might not be
predictable." Consider the beautiful images created
by mathematical "strange attractors", the Mandelbrot
set, etc. Are those consequences predictable or unpredictable,
intended or unintended? I suspect that, the first
time Mandelbrot printed images to examine the behavior of this
mathematical function, he was astonished. He had intended
to print an image, but he had no idea it would contain
those specific beautiful patterns. After repeating
such experiments, it was clearly predictable that the image
outcomes would be some form of beautiful pattern, although the
specifics continue to remain entirely unpredictable.
Mandelbrot characterized a class of functions guaranteed
to produce this family of beautiful (but unpredictable)
patterns. Thus, by his intention to use that specific class
of mathematical tools to generate images, Mandelbrot exerted full
Some consequences of "Emergent
Behaviors" cannot possibly be predicted; other consequences
can be reasonably foreseen; and intentional control can guarantee
some properties of an outcome.
Major portions of
Internet communication infrastructure intentionally rely on
unpredictable consequences. Computer scientists designed
these Info-War Protocols to produce consequences
in which certain properties were intended and predictable,
yet other properties could not be predicted. (These
Cryptographic techniques ensure security -- e.g, to
prevent an enemy from forging electronic documents, or from
reading private/secret/confidential information.) Climate
change is another realm where we can reasonably foresee, i.e,
predict, that continued CO2 emissions will cause a pattern
of extremely damaging consequences for our physical environment
(via "greenhouse forcing"), but the consequences for
a specific city are less predictable. Here is a
diagram that models the essential aspects of both these examples:
[Intention] ==> [Control/Influence/Agency] ==>
[Predictable general property] + [Unpredictable specific details]
(Contrast those examples with a gambler who rolls the dice, "gets lucky", and achieves intended consequences that were not predictable. This differs from the above Diagram, because the gambler had no significant degree of influence or control.)
is our responsibility to anticipate the Consequences of our
communicative action? Failure to "reasonably foresee"
harmful consequences among likely readers (Interpreters)
is ethically irresponsible, and constitutes the tort of "Negligent
Liability" in our legal system.
individuals who develop procedural or declarative competence in
Info-War, soon hire themselves out to Info-Warlords. I'm now
a reluctant, last-resort info-warrior. I suggest we devote our
abilities to finding ways to stand-down, to de-escalate the
threat level (if not to build actual trust). Can we maintain the
individual ethical discipline, and develop the collective
cultural maturity, to apply our science to study our own
Cultural Evolution, and publish our results?
What if everyone knew about the inescapable pervasiveness of
Info-War? Would that be our doom? Could we really do worse
than what we've alreay done? The ongoing Info-War campaigns
over "managing" our collapsing climate are waged
by shifting alliances of interests, and their struggles have
destabilized our globalized socio-economic climate. Why not
admit these systems are tightly-coupled, and wage our Info-Wars in
full public view? We might publish our Rules of Engagement,
and subordinate our tactics to sanctions of public shame, via a
"Copenhagen Protocol on the Treatment of Prisoners of
Info-War" to the Geneva Conventions. We are all
prisoners of Information Warfare -- victims press-ganged into
Info-War dis-service! Or will the great
Powers continue fighting for the most favorable position, at
the top of the hill which their own struggles are collapsing?
Game-theoretic "Common Knowledge" may be the catalyst required to enable a stand-down from our old Info-Wars, and to obtain commitments to originate a new Social Institution. Conversely, "Mutually-assured Plausible Deniability" may be the "social lubricant" required to maintain the creaky functionality of existing Social Institutions, by enabling our individual, internal "Knowledge Isolation" protocols to ward off Cognitive Dissonance. Such "convenient fictions" may be re-negotiated indefinitely, and hence dysfunction persists until faced with the hard-power reality of "Inconvenient Truths" in the physical environment -- or the soft-power "political reality" of "Common Knowledge" in the cultural environment. The transparency of "Common Knowledge" may allow sunshine in, to disinfect our pathology. As physicist Richard Feynman concluded his report on the Challenger disaster :
"For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."As Ronald Wright wrote in, "A Short History of Progress", when he analyzed the "flight recorders in the wreckage of crashed civilizations", the ominous lesson he drew was this: "Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up!" I would apply this wisdom to rewrite Feynman's Challenger conclusion:
"For a civilization to survive, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."
In short, I suggest that Information Warfare is a useful organizing and explanatory framework that is applicable to many levels of selection (and layers of abstraction) in Gene-Culture Co-Evolution.
My problem with rational choice theorists is not that their models fail to capture various "irrational" ("non-instrumental") behaviors (e.g, the "choice" to risk addiction). In his insightful, "Rational Choice and Dysfunctional Institutions", Gary Miller is justified in claiming significant, "empirical success of [rational choice] models that assume instrumental behaviors by lobbyists, legislators, and bureaucrats." My suggestion for rational choice theorists is that they extend their models: First, by modeling a rational actor as a multi-processor; a network of cognitive components. Second, via cross-disciplinary boundary cooperation with psychologists. Finally, they should recognize and respect the influence of their models on human behavior. What was initially a pattern of "Measurements" or observations, has become a "moving target", a conceptual vehicle in which the participants they study are embedded. It's not just that rational choice Observers "have their finger on the scale" when they conduct a "measurement". Rather, they attempt to measure the dynamics of experimental "Participants" inside a moving reference frame, which is partly steered by the "Observers" conducting the measurement! Some social institutions comprise what Alaisdar MacIntyre might call a "practice of excellence" (but also an enabler of top-down ethical rot) -- that, itself, shapes and constrains the aspirations and behaviors of lobbyists, legislators, and bureaucrats who now are embedded in the social institutions that have internalized rational-choice concepts in their architecture.
My usage of "Information Warfare" is probably more expansive than your implicit definition of that term. So let me state, explicitly, that I apply Info-war perspectives not only to overt conflicts, in which Friend and Foe clearly identify their opposing roles, but also -- and especially -- to more complex, dynamic, and ambiguous situations that have elements of conflict, competition, collaboration, and cooperation. Moreover, some participants may not recognize these complexities, or may not know that some participants have different assumptions about the roles and "rules". Also very important, is that a participant's behavior may be interpreted as playing a role that this participant did not intend to play, does not want to play, and/or does not realize s/he is playing.
Random noise in a Prisoner's Dilemma cannot model this. It would require context-specific, asymmetric noise; a generative grammar whose production rules change as agents "learn" from what they interpret to be their interactions. The difficulty of this approach is not that it is mathematically intractable. (I suspect that simplifications and heuristics will be sufficient to vastly increase the empirical power beyond current methods.) Rather, the problem is that to develop it seems to threaten the stability, and the socioeconomic status, of the technocratic elite -- including the "well-behaved" institutional priesthood that profit from their privileged position as "Observers" at the intersection of Political power, and Economic power.
As a solution, we might promote "Disciplinary Arbitrage" to the status of a First-class Object of study. The dreaded alternatives involve promoting Qualitative analysis, crossing disciplinary boundaries (as a clearly-identified Participant; i.e, lacking the privileged status of a legal non-combatant Disciplinary Arbitrage "Observer"), and acknowledging one's role as a "Participant" in a system of power, with all that implies about ethical responsibilities to all of humanity -- not only those at the top of the Power Structure. It's time to widen the scope of Participation. The "human subjects" on which this experimental research is conducted, must be included in the PARTICIPATORY DESIGN PROCESS of those same experiments. Yes, they're somewhat illiterate. Worse, they're cognitively distorted and emotionally traumatized by unethical Info-War that used them as cognitive cannon-fodder instruments to project Power. Teaching them will profoundly alter the practice of "Political Science". See my Hans Singer quote in the subprime mortgage discussion above. But in a chaotically-compressing "Full World", the only ethical and practical way to restore legitimacy to social institutions, is to provide knowledge as a precondition for trust, and for earning the fully-informed consent of the governed.
My main website samples many issues --
Climate/Environment, Economics, National
Security, and Technological Ethics, including the Right
of citizens to be Secure against unreasonable Surveillance and
Manipulation by their own Nation's government ... and by
Corporate Power. In all these areas, Information Warfare is
a significant force, operating "under the radar"
of most citizens' ability to detect its influence. We
need to learn how we are used by intentional
Info-War, and by the un-intentional "semantic
shrapnel" of long-ago Info-Wars that remains buried,
like dangerous landmines, deep inside the concepts we use
today. "Eternal vigilance is the price of Freedom of
The dominant Conceptual
Brands of Economics continue to distort our thinking,
even without explicit corporate PR efforts. Our thinking has
become trapped -- constrained and imprisoned in outmoded
concepts: We have become embedded in habitual
ways of thinking that are not sustainable. We must learn
to free ourselves. And we must learn to free one another.
We cannt hide forever in the comforting illusions of a polarized
collective "herd mentality". Those subcultures -- of
the "Left" and the "Right" -- are human
Bot-nets, manipulated by today's Info-Warlords for
their own benefit -- and weighed down by the invisible, dead
hands of yesterday's Info-Warlords, who originally designed
those conceptual containers.
Mass-media reporters were "embedded" in the American military's invasion of Iraq -- visibly, voluntarily, and temporarily. Nonetheless, that battlefield environment colored their perceptions and influenced their emotions, inevitably "compromising their objectivity" to some extent. In America today, every person is embedded -- invisibly, involuntarily, and permanently -- in the subtle, "civilized" domestic violence of Information Warfare protocols.
So I repeat: We are all both instruments -- and victims -- of Information Warfare.
If you want ordinary American citizens to get more Bargaining Power at the "negotiating table" where Corporate Lobbyists are now Changing the Rules, you need to learn to better detect when -- and how -- the frayed and now fatally-flawed CONCEPTS of the dominant economic paradigm are influencing your thinking.
Individuals chained to "iron rice-bowls" inside a Corporate herd mentality have a difficult decision to make: To what extent can they be positive "change agents" by remaining inside their corporate subculture, and supporting fellow colleagues who seek to free their thoughts from the wreckage of their Corporate Culture's old, implicit social contract? Or does it seem that their particular Corporate Culture is so rigid that it cannot adapt and bend, but will break into bankruptcy and legal proceedings (perhaps including individual criminal prosecutions)? How long should one wait before leaving? Waiting too long may mean going down with the ship, because other colleagues already filled all available lifeboats. In which colleagues can one trust, to confide doubts, and to discuss options for promoting internal change?
These same considerations apply to every Social Institution -- military colleges, Professional Societies, academic departments, editorial boards of scientific journals and popular media, foundations, non-profit think tanks, . . . the list goes on.
These considerations even -- and especially -- apply to marriages: A private Social Contract may be a "committed relationship", that was stable only in yesterday's social context. What if two people were once committed to a common purpose, that was originally defined in terms of concepts that are now broken?
Broken concepts of self-worth, that depended on economic STABILITY of the Society, can produce shattered faith: emotional STABILITY of the individual Self can collapse under the trauma of perceived betrayal, by those whose failure to "play by the rules" has destroyed one's TRUST in the present, and one's corresponding vision of the future.
If you continue to "use" flawed Concepts uncritically, you will be used BY them. You will have scant POSITIVE power to change the world, because misleading Conceptual Vehicles will HIJACK your thoughts and your efforts: To that extent, you will remain, both a victim -- and an unwitting instrument -- of Information Warfare.
To learn more, please visit my main webpage: Information Ethics and Information Warfare in Social Climate Change (There's more material, with greater detail in some issues, but it's older material.)
Here is an "include" of relevant Site-index material:
Regarding political campaigns and eternal vigilance, it might be a good idea (in a democracy) for citizens to ensure that votes are accurately counted. But what happens when the mainstream media, elections officials, and the manufacturers of electronic voting machines are clueless about computer security facts, and instead rely on faith-based security?
My Electronic Voting page documents my attempts to educate technologically-illiterate Americans about the facts, in a highly polarized political climate.
Power Relations and Information Warfare was written to teach students in my Information Ethics classes how information is actually used in America and the globalized modern economy, and more importantly, how information is abused. It teaches some Info-war history (e.g, how the pre-Civil War U.S. controlled its slaves by prohibiting anyone from teaching slaves to read or write), and provides a gentle introduction to the Rules of Engagement that govern the conduct of modern, "civilized" political and economic Information Warfare.
Computer-assisted Crises was written for the intelligent layperson, who should be more skeptical about blindly worshiping any and every computer technology. It's my chapter in:
"Invisible Crises: What Conglomerate Control of Media means for America and the World",The Introduction offers a conceptual framework that helps clarify our perspectives on technology. Societies and individuals co-evolve with technologies:   Our minds are embedded in various technological environments, and those technologies are embedded in our minds. Thus, technologies influence our emotions and actions in ways more complex and specific than the simplistic overgeneralizations popularized by a prominent publicity-seeking media theorist of the 1960's. Technology-assisted capabilities become "habits of mind": compiled, compressed algorithms of instrumental rationality. In any situation, we naturally tend to reach for the available tools; thus, we learn to perceive situations in terms of those tools. As one wag remarked, "When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." In conjunction with any technology (whether a physical or a mental tool), our bodies become "differently abled", as do our mental abilities to perceive and conceptualize. Because ethics, emotion, and cognition cannot be completely separated, the passive worship, by Postmodernist elites, of any and every technology imposed on society is self-indulgent and irresponsible. In contrast to that obsequious deference to power, Phil Bereano highlighted one important implication of the differential effects of technological specialization of labor and consumption: "Only the naive or the scurrilous believe that   'information is power'.   Power is power, and information is particularly useful to those who are already powerful." Although Neil Postman's writings provide clarity and insight on the effects of media technologies, Postman seemed either complacent, or reluctant, to address the causes of those effects -- i.e, techno-assisted power relations. Some academics may denigrate Jerry Mander for being too practical, but that may be because their lifelong specialization ("knowing more and more about less and less") has destroyed their common sense. I respect Jerry's intelligence, and I applaud his courage in applying his ethics to change the real world.
edited by George Gerbner, Hamid Mowlana, and Herbert I. Schiller (Westview Press, 1996).
Shaped by our Technology is a case study in comparative social pathology. It examines the historical record of how Japan developed firearms technology, produced far more guns than Europe, and deployed guns in battle for nearly 100 years. Then, recognizing the negative impacts of guns on their society, Japan was able to isolate that particular socially-disruptive technology, and to "put that genie back in the bottle" for over 200 years · · · while Japanese civilization continued to advance via other technologies. Japan's ability to reject guns in favor of swords led to radically differing outcomes in 17th Century Japan vs. Germany.
This juxtaposition of historical threads -- contrasting the historical fact of Japan's ascent into a "golden age" with Europe's descent into cannibalism -- suggests the high stakes we face today as we consider various technological choices in the context of global warming, and the knowledge that technologically-civilized (but ethically-primitive) societies such as America already may bear responsibility for irreversible climate holocausts in "newly-submerging democracies" such as Bangladesh.
Hopefully everyone starts to question whether techno-change always equals techno-progress, and whether that equals social progress. (This used to be called "Critical Thinking", before it became a lost art entirely ;-) (The Redefining Progress org seems to focus narrowly on ecological economics, rather than on remedying the core ethical problem that Americans confuse Quality of Life with the "freedom" to consume a vast Quantity of Stuff.) This essay also raises issues about the extent to which technologies (and their limits) can be "democratically" chosen via cultural maturity/discipline, vs. imposed by power relations -- where some social or economic groups control others by outright coercion, or by more subtle manipulation of information or emotions.
(During this period, the "Luddites" whose interests were threatened by a new technology were the warrior-castes. As the essay describes, these Warrior-Luddites won in Japan, but lost in Europe. That's partly because Japan's samurai class had a greater power advantage over Japan's peasants than Europe's knights had over their serfs. Although I don't cover them, there are interesting parallels with the U.S. in the early 1900s, in which various power relations were exercised to destroy urban mass-transit systems, narrow-gauge railways, and a thriving solar energy industry, and replace them with fossil-fueled technologies. Invariably, history is written by the winners.)
We're Not as Green as we Think: Infrastructure, Psychology, Risks, and Responsibility addresses our ethical responsibilities for understanding and improving the complex "Infrastructures of Democracy". The primary focus is our globalized Carbon-Energy Infrastructure, and its ethical tradeoffs involving human life. (This is Introductory-level material -- it does not begin to address Regulatory Capture, Corporate Power, or other Non-State Actors.)
Techno-Ethics Quotes is a collection of technological commentary. For example:
"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."
-- Nobel laureate economist (and AI theorist) Herbert A. Simon
My early peer-reviewed research on Computer Security was fairly esoteric. (In order to get published in a "scientific" journal, that's pretty much a requirement.) But prompted by the dictatorial excesses of the Bush-Cheney regime (which, not surprisingly, were welcomed by most Americans, because they defined "the good life" as the Freedom to Shop Without Fear), I tried to open up yet another new disciplinary field -- Sanitization (also known as Information Disclosure Control) -- would allow policymakers to detect whether information truly necessary for "Homeland Security" infringed on Civil Liberties or Privacy, and if so, exactly how policymakers could make intelligent decisions about balancing Security with Civil Liberties and Privacy. (I'm still waiting for Dick Cheney's phone call :-)
Sanitization Models and their Limitations summarizes my several years of wrestling with these problems. Although it's a peer-reviewed publication, many parts of it can be understood by the intelligent layperson. Here is the Abstract for the paper:
Abstract: This work explores issues of computational disclosure control. We examine assumptions in the foundations of traditional problem statements and abstract models. We offer a comprehensive framework, based on the notion of an inference game, that unifies various inference problems by parameterizing their problem spaces. This work raises questions regarding the significance of intractability results. We analyze common structural aspects of inference problems via case studies; these emphasize why explicit policies are needed to specify all social context and ethical values relevant to a problem instance.
Here's a 180-degree change of pace from the intellectual rigor of peer-reviewed "Sanitization Models" ... You Broke It -- You OWN It! tries to summarize the content on my entire website, but it's written via Lyrics -- in an Intellectual Rap style. Here is one possible introductory "WRapper" [sic] to contextualize the middle column of that material:
A Midsummer Night's Meditation on Economic Models and Meltdowns
In which the Dark Lord Bondmarket informs his young apprentice,
Obama Wanna KenyaBe,
"I find your lack of Faith disturbing."
Young KenyaBe attempts to remonstrate with his Master, but to no avail. As KenyaBe succumbs to the relentless force of the "impeccable economic logic" that turned Lawrence Summers into a steaming pile of toxic Sith waste, the Narrator intercedes, vanquishing Lord Bondmarket with potent Teachings from the ancient Reality-based ones.
Obama Wanna KenyaBe is able to turn himself -- and the Ship of Empire -- away from the Dark side. All live happily ever after. (Applause)
Following Scene II, the audience is forcibly removed from the Theatre of Enlightened Discourse ("Don't tase me, Bro!"), and returned to their regularly-scheduled Economic nightmare in the Theatre of the Absurd.
Click here (*) to enter the "Theatre of Enlightened Discourse", as young KenyaBe engages in inner soliloquoy, and external dialog with his Master:
* The FINE PRINT -- all roads lead to the Theatre of the Absurd!