Bruce Sterling on Mon, 3 Dec 2001 21:38:22 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Viridian Note 00283: Geeks and Spooks


Key concepts: cryptography, information warfare,
imaginary products, American national security

Attention Conservation Notice:  Has nothing to do
with the Greenhouse Effect, but explains what the
Pope-Emperor has been up to this past week or so.

Made the Friday night beer bust at the Greenpeace
HQ in Washington's Chinatown. Time well spent!

Arquilla and Ronfeldt have edited a new netwar book,
just in time for serious mayhem.  The analysis of
Seattle 99 is the best I've ever seen.

Bill Tafoya, a true friend of the crypto "community,"
such as it is.

"Geeks and Spooks"

Speech at "Global Challenges, Trends and Best Practices in
Cryptography,"  the Information System Security and
Education Center, Washington, DC

November 20, 2001

Hi, my name's Bruce Sterling, I'm a science fiction
writer.  And a futurist.  You might also call me an
industry observer.  If you were kind.

The reason I showed up here is to listen to you guys,
because I'm rather interested in what comes next for
crypto, and you're standing a lot closer to that fire than
I am.

I myself don't do much 'best practice' for crypto,
because personally, I don't have a dog in that race.  So,
having so little to offer, and being so humbled by your
technological brilliance and all, my feeling is that I
should at least be frank. Like, very frank.  Like:
painfully frank.

So: flame on.   Here's the story as I see it.  The
big story about crypto is a power struggle between two
American tribes: geeks and spooks.  Occasionally innocent
people blunder into this situation, but they get lost,
either because they don't understand the technology
(that's what geeks say) or they're not to pry any further
into stuff beyond the reach of mere civilians (that's what
the spooks say).

There's the private crypto industry, which is a nice,
young little industry, and there are also some
intellectual property lawyers.  But they have so little
clout in this remarkably illegal struggle that they are
forced to cultivate either geeks and spooks, just to get
some traction.

Then there's the public interest in this matter.  The
general public is not all that interested.  I don't count
the EFF, and EPIC, and the GILC and the CDT, because they
are *real* interested, but they are basically all the same
twelve guys.  Very hardworking guys, but, you know,

The public has had plenty of chances to get interested
in this serious and important and painfully technical
story, and  really, they just don't wanna.  They think
that geeks are repulsively geeky, and they think that
spooks are scarily spooky, and they expect this unpleasant
and complex matter to shake out on its own somehow.

So how are the geeks and spooks doing?  Well, I was
touched and pleased to see here that they're no longer at
daggers drawn, and rather inclined to let bygones be
bygones; but society still has some big problems here.

I tend to be kind of pro-geek, myself, because geeks
buy a lot of my novels.  I recently learned that people in
the National Reconnaissance Office also buy my novels, but
they never send me fan email.  Therefore we'll begin our
story with the geeks.

Some time ago my friend and prominent industry
journalist Steven Levy wrote this book in my hand here,
which is called CRYPTO, and its subtitle is HOW CODE
REBELS BEAT THE GOVERNMENT.  That's a good snappy
subtitle, it makes the ol' product jump right off the
shelf.  But code rebels did not in fact beat the
government, unless you think that the National Bureau of
Standards is the government.

The truer and sadder story of crypto was that the
spooks and the geeks both beat the hell out of our
democratic process, rendering lawyers, consumers, the
Congress, the industry, and the Administration totally
irrelevant, and leaving crypto as a blasted technical
wasteland, in a kind of Afghan-style feud, where every
single party was necessarily a crook, or a  scofflaw, or a
deceiver, or weirdly suspect, and there was no legitimacy,
and no common ground, and still, today, no good method to
assemble any.

Okay, so take these geeks.  Basically, the geeks had
three good practices.  Number one, scientific research.
Crypto is an interesting mathematical and algorithmic
conundrum and all that, but it is not that hard a thing to
research and study.  You don't need a supercollider or an
Apollo rocket to get it about crypto.  Just because some
people tell other people that crypto is wicked and they
shouldn't even think about it, that doesn't mean that they
stop.  They just get on the Internet, and fire up their
computers, and practice practice practice.

Number two, the fait accompli.  Since making crypto is
kind of semilegal and it's an ITAR munition and all that,
I'll just quietly make some crypto software and let it go
in the public domain.  Then when you show up to bust me,
I'll say that a giant, distributed network did it.  And
they did it in Norway.  And they're all underage.  No:
it's even better than that.  Go ahead, bust me!  I'll get
all my running buddies to make angry T-shirts and bumper
stickers, and then we can laugh in the New York Times and
Washington Post about how you're even stupider than the

And number three, the big one, the commercial momentum
factor.  Follow the money, that is the pitch.  Never mind
that corny security crap from the Cold War, this is the
dotcom boom, we geeks have all the cash and all the
culture cred, and we're rich and sexy and cool, while you
spooks are a bunch of gray, snivelling, alcoholic, Aldrich
Ames lookalikes driving around in your rusty Toyotas.
Ha!  If you even dare to stop us from establishing our
giant booming international  personal crypto market, the
Danes and the Finns and the Swedes will do it instead, and
boy will you look stupid.  Even the Republican Party
fundraisers will hate you.  They'd cut your budget, if
they knew you had a budget.

So, with these three best geek practices, you'd figure
by now we'd be in the heady glamour days of total crypto-
liberation.   Or crypto-anarchy, even.   Back in 1992, the
cypherpunks list was a very happening thing.  They used to
quote from my cyberpunk novels about how the 21st century
was sure to see a lot of offshore digital terrorist action
from broken-down outlaw nation-states.

That is the ISLANDS IN THE NET scenario: where the
sinister digital underground takes over some penny-ante
country like Grenada, and we make every form of piracy
locally legal there, and then we just run up our black
skull-and-crossbones on the website, and we start selling
WINDOWS for nine dollars ninety-five cents.  We'll encrypt
every bit of data going in and out, so nobody will even
know what we're up to!   We'll have these key-sharing
digital networks of trust, where all the cool people will
have our crypto power-handshake, and it'll be like it was
when we were selling pot to each other in the dorm in
Berkeley, only, like, on a cosmic scale.

And this is where it just *starts* to get good,
because we rebel crypto-fiends will be  exchanging
messages, and conducting all kinds of business, and
negotiating electronic contracts, with people we don't
even know and who we're even *never gonna* know.  If we
need a hundred kilos of black tar opium, we just hit the
F1 function key, and some guy from Sinaloa or Medellin or
the Northern Alliance, whom we know only as QX5773 at
blacknet dot org, he accepts our anonymous electronic
funny money, and he ships the drugs to us to a dead drop
in a giant freight container, along with some illegal
refugees, and some pirated Gucci handbags, and all the
stolen UNIX code we can eat!  It's crypto paradise!  For
we have created a  totally  liquid market for any and all
material which can be put into words  and pictures:
books, movies, computer games, trade secrets, government
secrets, business software; it'll all be sucked down into
the black hole of the churning crypto mill, and the State
will wither away.  Wow!

Well,  ladies and gentlemen, I happen to be a science
fiction writer, so I have to say I have the warmest and
kindliest feelings for this kind of fantasy writing.  As
sci-fi, that stuff was dynamite.  Back in 1992, good old
Tim May's CRYPTO ANARCHIST MANIFESTO, a work I recommend
highly to every interested party, almost sounded kind of,
sort of, plausible.


In 1995, I wrote a very dark novel called HEAVY
WEATHER which was cram-full of outlaw crypto stuff.  But
it is now almost 2002, and we naturally have to ask
ourselves, where is the anarchist beef?

And the answer is that the frame of mind that can
produce a wondrous document like Tim's ANARCHIST MANIFESTO
is entirely different from the kind that can support a
stable civil society.   That is a pirate utopia! It lacks
any means of production!  It is parasitic and cannot earn
a living.  There's no constitution, no civil order, no
checks and balances and no rule of law there.   The guys
who are into this nutty schema couldn't run a lemonade
stand, much less establish a world-changing pirate
republic.  We're not talking Oz; we are talking like five
soggy hackers sitting in SEALAND, eating sardines and
powdered scrambled eggs on a rusty gun emplacement.


It's not that islands don't exist in our Net ==
Afghanistan is a huge one.   But if you're a geek and you
airdrop in with your Linux box to set up an outlaw pirate
website in the liberated Pashtun tribal lands, it'll be
about a week before you're shot.   They'll shoot you for
your shoelaces, much less your Pentium.

So where are these imaginary earthshaking geek
outlaws who laugh in derision at mere government?  Well,
they do exist, and they're in Redmond.   The big time in
modern outlaw geekdom is definitely Microsoft.  The
Justice Department can round up all the Al Qaeda guys they
can wiretap, but when they went to round up Redmond, they
went home limping and sobbing, and without a job.   That
is a geek fait accompli, it's a true geek lock-in.   In
2001, Microsoft has got its semi-legal code in every box
that matters.   They make those brown-shoe IBM monopolists
of the 1950s look like model public citizens.

I mean, think about this; consider the historical
record.  Back in 1974, when IBM was building its embedded
crypto chip for online banking, the NSA oozed up and said
why don't you IBM guys  throttle that back to 56-bit DES?
And IBM didn't fuss,  IBM was all groovy about it.  They
didn't say, you government dorks, get lost, we'll protect
our freedom to non-innovate by throwing wads of cash and
crushing you until we can buy ourselves a nicer President.
They were IBM, and they just, you know, knuckled.

So:  we don't have any crypto anarchy in computers
in 2001.  What  we have  is a feudal empire.  Innovation
is not bursting out of pirate utopias run by the mentally
liberated.   No, innovation has slowed to a crawl; no,
it's actually crawling in full reverse.   You can buy a
top-end Wintel machine now: say 512 meg of ram, 400
megaherz ==  with every rational expectation that machine
will last you ten solid years.   Maybe longer.    Good
luck finding any broadband for it, but as far as the
machine itself goes, it'll sit on a shelf like a lump of
putty, running Windows.  Moore's Law, to hell with that.
There's nothing new and fancy for a bigger chip to run.
Nobody's thought that up.   It's even worse than Detroit
before the Japanese.  It's all chrome tail-fins and
creeping featuritis: it's unsafe at any speed.

As soon as any digital innovation comes up out of the
mud and gasps for market oxygen, it'll be folded into the
operating system, along with several thousand viruses
invented by kids in the Philippines.   And is the Justice
Department going to do anything about that?  No, I don't
think so.  They don't dare.

So tech is in the dumps today, and the geeks sure
miss all their excitement, where'd it go... Maybe it's
hiding in the broadband!  And what is broadband about?  Is
it about the Al Gore Info Superhighway bringing the
blessings of democracy to the seven-year-olds in every
elementary school?  No, it turns out that broadband is
about moving television, telephones, radio, and the movie
industry into the operating system.

"Oops!  Look at this cool thing we geeks built while
you weren't looking!  We geeks accidentally ate your
industry!"  The boys from Redmond are just crouching there
behind their consoles... licking their thumbs and counting
that movie-ticket money, all those cable subscriptions...
Gosh, too bad about our overwhelming technological
imperative, Mr Redstone, Mr Ted Turner, Mr Prime Minister
Berlusconi...  You're part of our steamroller or you're
part of the road.

That's geek argument number three, you see; the
techno-imperative market.  Which, in a stagnant monopoly,
makes no sense any more, if it ever did.  Because the
steamroller is not moving.  It's just burning through
other people's cash.   What if the phone companies don't
want to sell the people broadband, and the FCC is too weak
and febrile to make 'em?  Is there any *reason* that some
geek with a Windows box should get to tear the music
industry apart like a cook de-boning a chicken?  Yes,
there are three traditional geek reasons:  (1) because we
thought it up!  (2) Because we already did it while you
weren't looking! (3) Because it is techno-destiny that
will make us all rich!

Well, forget about all that.

"Why don't you geeks just sit down with your cheap,
crappy plastic boxes, and shut up?  Here in the TV biz,
our boxes look nicer anyway!"

This would be a pretty good argument for the music
industry, and the cable industry, and the movie industry,
and the telephone industry, to make,  if they weren't
shameful oligarchies themselves.  They don't innovate
either.   Not a bit of it!   They are  trying very hard to
use intellectual property law to get a stifling hammerlock
on the culture industry,  much the same hammerlock that
Microsoft has on the computer industry.    Nothing much
will ever happen after they get full control == but that's
okay, because they'll be the only guys selling it!

Now, I'm not making this strange story up == Lawrence
Lessig is the guy making this story up.  Professor Lessig
wrote a book called THE FUTURE OF IDEAS.


If Lawrence were merely some kind of delightful wacky
crank like Tim May, I guess that would be okay and it
might even be great material; but unfortunately, Lawrence
Lessig is an American Justice Department lawyer who had
his head handed to him in court by Microsoft, and that
made him really mad.  And he's a pretty good lawyer too.
He's a better lawyer than Bill Gates is a programmer.  I
like reading Lawrence Lessig.  He doesn't read very much
like science fiction, but you know, we don't actually
govern with that stuff.

The future of cyber anarchy is cyberfeudalism.  It's
Politics 301.  We had a lot of booming cyberanarchy in the
USA for 20 years, and now we are looking at several years
of stagnant feudal nothingness.  I would guess about maybe
one Presidential administration worth of nothing.  About
one Presidential Administration, and maybe a severe
economic setback's worth of nothing.   Then people are
gonna start wondering why nothing important is happening
any more in computer technology, and when they look at
that technology, all they are going to see is Microsoft.
Because that is all there is.  If you want to guess what
happens after that, you probably shouldn't even ask me.
You should probably ask Lawrence Lessig.

So let's forget the geeks.  For the moment, these
culture heroes are a spent force.  Let's look at the other
major players.  The spooks. That's the other good reason
nothing sane and sensible ever happened in crypto: because
that the NSA wouldn't let it.  Everybody knew this, but
nobody was ever allowed to say it.  It's really a
fantastic situation, a thing to marvel at, unless you're
French or something.   In which case the American spooks
get to spy on your faxes and phone calls at will, while
your own spooks are reduced to pathetic penny-ante stuff
like blowing up Greenpeace boats.

I imagine that must hurt their feelings.  Imagine if
the shoe were on the other foot.    Imagine that somebody
else's country, like, say, Finland or Pakistan, invented
some kind of neutrino-powered super X-ray machine that
could spy on unsuspecting Americans around the clock.  If
we Americans found out about that, of course America would
go completely ape with paranoia and start launching the
cruise missiles.  I mean: why wouldn't we?

That is the big political problem with signals
intelligence.   The NSA and ECHELON, they've become the
world's most visible, invisible enterprise.


And what is their future?  Well, the NSA nobly thinks
that their future is Double Cross and Purple Code, because
hey, breaking codes is how the US wins wars.  But a
likelier future is all kinds of American spooks hastily
dumping the rulebook and running loose all over the map.
And that is not World War II.  That would be Iran-Contra.


It's amazing how much the post September 11 situation
already looks like Iran-Contra.  Mostly because so many of
the same guys are still on the scene.  I mean, the
Ayatollah is dead now, thank goodness, but we're still
baking cakes for detente with the Iranians, and Daniel
Ortega == you might remember when he was a serious
national security menace == Daniel Ortega just lost an
election in Nicaragua.

The problem with spooks is, when you give them their
heads, they never have any common sense.  They're weird
little naive underworld creatures, and when they hang out
with terrorists, they get Stockholm Syndrome.

You know, I could stand here all day and talk about
the symbiotic relationship of spooks and terrorists, but I
really shouldn't, because I'm just a novelist, and when we
get into our full Tom Clancy spook freak mode, it gets
kind of tedious.  So let me just offer you a few
suggestive leads for your own researches.

First, remember Oliver North, okay?   Imagine Attorney
General Ashcroft on TV doing the next Attorney General
Meese thing, two, or three, or five years from now;  he's
outing the next Oliver North.  Why?  Because Ollie forgot
that his email got backed-up automatically on the PROFS
system.  The guy's got a serious geek problem.  And what
was Lieutenant Colonel North's other serious problem?
Well, Congressional oversight.  It's a real drag kowtowing
to the Congress when you're trying to secretly kill the
undeclared enemies of the United States.

The difficulty here is that when you've made up your
mind to ignore the US Congress, it's really hard to stop.
The US Congress is not the kind of enterprise you can
ignore just once!   Nobody ever ignores civilian oversight
just once.  Ollie North isn't the best example of this,
because when it came to fighting Moslem terrorists, Ollie
was a weekend amateur.  If you want to look at serious
institutional corruption in the War on Terror, you've got
to look at some spooks who've been fighting Moslem
terrorists for decades now.

Consider a guy named Abdullah Catli.  That's C-A-T-L-
I for you folks who use Google.   Mr Catli was a Turkish
spook who made a career of fighting Kurdish terrorists,
and Armenian terrorists.  He worked for the Turkish secret
service as a terrorist-killer.  He got killed in a car
wreck in 1996, but  if Mr Catli were alive today, he'd
definitely be one of our primary assets in our global war
on Moslem terror.   Because he was a NATO Moslem, and very
pro-American, and on the best of terms with the CIA.  He
was also a member of the Turkish Gray Wolves movement, who
are terrorists, and he was a multiply-convicted heroin
smuggler, and he's also the guy who gave Mehmet Ali Agca
the handgun that shot the Pope.  He was a really busy guy.

Under normal circumstances, pre-Internet, Mr Catli
would have remained a really secret guy.  Nowadays,
however, if you look up Mr Catli on Google, you will find
a whole lot of terrible secret news about him that was
carefully collected and archived by Kurds and Greeks, the
arch enemies of the Turks.  And oh my goodness Mr Catli
did some remarkable things, like taking over oil companies
by force and violence, and shooting owners of casinos, and
kidnapping the owners of television stations....  And the
best part is == this part kills me == Abdullah Catli has
got his own website now.  It's Catli dot com.


It's all in Turkish, but it's run by his daughter, who
wrote his biography and is eager to exhonerate her dad.
She's doing a kind of Ollie North talk-show rehabilitation
thing for Mr Catli, she's got the book, she's got the
website, and wow, when it came down to extralegal
executions of terrorists,  maybe Dad was just ahead of his
time, huh?  Wow!

Then there's Arkan.   Another really secret guy.
Arkan is also stone dead now, and he also got his start as
an extra-legal anti-terrorist.  In particular, Arkan shot
exiled Croatian terrorists in Europe  in the 1970s.  Then
he branched out into killing Moslems inside Bosnia
Hercegovina.  Arkan was a Serbian paramilitary warlord,
and a robber baron, and a smuggler, and a gangster, but he
definitely started as a big anti-terrorist secret.
Nowadays Serbs rarely tire of telling us that the
Albanians and Bosnians liked to hang out with Osama bin
Laden.  And yeah ==  as long as Arkan was around, the
Moslems in Yugoslavia were really glad to see Osama bin

Arkan got his brains blown out by some off-duty
cops, but Arkan was an off-duty cop himself, so that makes
sense.   Arkan always sold himself as a secret anti-
terrorist and the friend of law and order.  That was
always his pitch, even when he was hauling wounded
prisoners out of hospitals and shooting them in cold
blood.  He was in the business of secretly and heroically
protecting people from menace.   He was Mr Croat Menace,
and then Mr Bosnian Menace, and then Mr Moslem Menace, and
he ended up as Mr NATO Menace and Mr American Menace; as
long as the Serbian people were paying him and giving him
guns, he would give them all the menace they could eat.
Finally the Serbs had a coalition of 19 separate countries
blowing them up and it was *still* everybody else's fault.

You can go to Serbia right now and walk around, and
it's all about how great Arkan was, and how it was all
some terrible misunderstanding. Serbia was and still is a
police state, where the police are the spies, and the
spies are the mafia,  and everything is always a secret,
and the people are always innocent, because nobody ever
tells them anything, because it's a dangerous world out
there, and people have to be protected from the truth.

Mossad gets a lot of good press these days.
Consider the Olympic killings of the Israeli athletes back
in the 1970s.  That was a very malignant and gruesome
terrorist act that shocked the whole world, and  it's
often compared to the 9.11 catastrophe.   Mossad made it
their business to patiently track down that multinational
terror group, year after year, nation after nation, and
relentlessly wipe them out.   And it was hard and
dangerous work, and I give them some credit for that,
except for the slip-ups.

Like the day in 1973 when Sylvia Raphael, and Avraham
Behmer, and Mike Harari went up to Norway and
acccidentally executed the wrong guy.  They meant to kill
this malignant terrorist named Ali Hassan Salameh, and
instead they shot this harmless Moroccan waiter named
Achmed Bauchiki.   The Norwegian police arrested them for
it, because they hadn't been let-on about Mossad's global
war on terror.  The Norwegian police naturally assumed
that it was just some sneaky-looking people killing


Now, it's not like Mike Harari, and Avraham Behmer,
and Sylvia Raphael ever did any hard time for killing that
waiter; they managed to pull some diplomatic strings and
they got off.  Most Americans have never heard of Mossad
killing the wrong guy in Lillehammer in 1973.  But when
you're running around in neutral third countries with
crack teams of armed super-agents blowing people away,
stuff like this happens.

And what are the consequences?  Well, this time,
people are gonna talk on the Internet.   The net is
swarming with NGO guys, and Amnesty guys, and activist
guys, and enemy guys, and psychological warfare guys, who
do nothing but point these things out, all day, every day.

Now, since I'm a novelist, I think that Sylvia
Raphael, who was a comely Mossad female assassin from
South Africa, is a really interesting subject.  And if you
go to Israel and ask around about her, it's like "Who?
Huh?  They serve in secret silence, God bless 'em!"  And
if you go to the USA it's rather like "Whaaah?  Huh?"
But if you happen to be hanging around on the websites of
the *enemies* of Israel, you'll hear quite a lot about
Mossad personnel.

When I predict that spooks are not to be trusted and
will end up doing themselves big, ugly, scandalous harm,
it's not that I don't trust the President.  On the
contrary;  I come from Texas, I've been living under a
Bush regime for years now.  He strolled off with the
elections in Texas, nobody ever accused him of stealing
them.  If he was some kind of malignant power-crazed
lunatic, we'd know  all that by now.  I had a pretty good
time in the years when George W. Bush was my Governor.
Laura Bush is a librarian.  We novelists have very warm,
affirmative feelings towards librarians.

I'm just declaring that rule by spooks does not work
because of civics.   Spooks have no checks and balances.
You don't get to sue them.  They're never held
accountable.  They're not elected.  They don't worry about
return on investment and they don't answer to the
stockholders.  They don't even have to bury their own
mistakes; they usually get the diplomats to do that for
them.  Do you think they're any smarter now than they were
during Iran Contra?  Or any less reckless?

Let me put it this way: if you're running around
dropping domestic wiretaps for national security, you're
always gonna get around to wiretapping the President's
real problem: the opposition party.   And that's kind of
conspicuous.  For instance: what are three Cuban-American
guys doing wiretapping the Watergate hotel?  Well, you
know, we spooks were supposed to worry a lot about Cuba,
so we had some spare Cubans around!


So our two power groups, geeks and spooks, may have
resolved some of their ugly quarrels from ten years ago,
but they have both failed us politically.  We have had
arrogant secrecy versus arrogant technocracy, and they
have both failed the people. Now the geeks are inert and
the spooks are going bonkers.  That leaves... I dunno....
businessmen.  Intellectual property people.  And it's
pretty interesting to see them wade in.

This Dmitri Sklyarov guy... Why anybody thinks e-
books are worth even one lousy lawsuit, that is beyond me.
I guess they had to show they had some kind of teeth in
their big pink intellectual gums, so they collared this
Russian guy instead of that Finnish juvenile, and off we
go on the bloody-shirt parade.  Abducting foreign guys at
the hacker conference, that was kind of their spook


Then we've got their geek approach: the invisible
dongle business.  We're gonna make some CDs and DVDs and
such, except they won't play inside computers.  Better
yet, we won't tell anybody that they don't do that.   That
is an impressively geeky little move.   Hire some geeks
and sneakily ruin the hardware so it suits your business
interests!  If it were up to me, I'd actually *promote* it
that way == "This virginal Britney Spears CD guaranteed
free of the evil clutches of Bill Gates" == but they
prefer to try the geeky, sneaky way.  And why not?   If
it's okay for geeks to invent some crypto and leave it
lying around on the ground, then it ought to be okay for
the MPAA or the WIPO to invent some kind of software
landmine that makes computer pirates blow right up!  If
it's sauce for the geek goose, it's sauce for the geek


Everybody knows that Mickey Mouse has a permanent
hammerlock on the public domain.  Every time the Mouse is
about to slide out of copyright, Disney runs back to
hustle Congress and pump some more air into his mummy.
It's a scam and a ridiculous scandal, but at this moment
intellectual property is probably *farther* away from a
sane resolution than it's been in many years.  It has
degenerated into cloak-and-dagger inside the box.

If there's hope, frankly, I think it's offshore.  I
have come to suspect that the American polity has
foundered here.  We Yankees just may not be up for the
necessary leadership.  The public interest has vanished
into a welter of panic-stricken cartels.  We don't get
good security, we don't get innovative technology, least
of all do we get some cleverly designed and genuinely
useful cryptography.  We get a computer industry in abject
monopolist collapse, as a smorgasbord of newly-minted
spooks trample the landscape!

It's not that the problems posed by crypto are any
less pressing ==  they're much *more* pressing, because we
have some deadly security threats == but  they've been
left in the underworld so long that they've fossilized.
It's as if we'd all just discovered prostitution.  "Gosh,
do men and women have sex for money?  That's a big AIDS
risk, isn't it? I should call my Congressman and lobby to
have something done."  Did you ever wonder *why* there are
so many demimondaines and courtesans in centers of
government? It's the world's second-oldest profession,

You know something?  I blame society!   Maybe those
dismal Americans should no longer be trusted with crypto!
Of course, nobody ever *did* trust us with it, or
somebody, somewhere, somehow would have bought a Clipper
Chip.  We were willing to settle for technical faits
accompli and secrecy, and their global political
consequences have caught up with us.  We never made an
open, public case for the global benefits of a global
sensory network.  Although they clearly must be pretty
extensive. Instead, we forced ECHELON on the rest of the
world == because we have bigger satellites and nicer
microwave antennas than they do.

Whenever the truth about that lurches up == that
wrecked Chinese spyplane, the *Pueblo* in North Korea, the
USS *Liberty* and such == we just trip over it, dust
ourselves off and pretend it never happened.   Now we're a
nation that has just had its military nerve center and
4,000 people blown up in a gruesome atrocity, and we are
carrying out a land war in a sump infested with landmines,
and heroin, and fanatics, and torturers, and war
criminals, and anti-terrorist terrorists that we once used
to finance ourselves, who feed at will off our giant lust
for narcotics....  Hoo-ah!

It's a global war, and there's an interesting aside
here: this is the first global war to come along where
it's not all the fault of Europeans.  How refreshing!

So maybe Europeans can think this issue through and
take some useful and constructive steps, while the rest of
us are busy killing evildoers.  Really, at this point, in
all humility, we should seek the aid and counsel of our
allies.  World Wide Web, that was Swiss, and Linux, that
was Finnish; so if they think really hard and they make
sure to pay no attention whatsoever to the British, maybe
the Europeans could bring some fresh perspective to
surveillance and cryptography.

Now, I've delivered a pretty severe excoriation to the
crypto circus here, and one might even call it crabby and
ill-tempered.  But I've been watching this mess develop
for years and years on end, and really, my hair has gone
all gray, and I've adapted bifocals watching the crypto
scandals.  It's not getting better.  It was "the Bosnia of
Telecommunications," and even Bosnia looks better by now.
I've earned a right to some crypto cynicism.  The record
speaks for itself.

But nevertheless, I can't leave you without a
positive vision.  A couple of hopeful, off-the-wall
suggestions, maybe.

So.  What might we do with crypto, if we were smart
and constructive about it, and let bygones be bygones,
and if we could pacify the brawling among dysfunctional
interest groups who clearly are not mature enough to
handle it?   Well, my first suggestion would be crypto in
passports.  Because passports suck.  It's time we dumped
these ludicrously insecure and easily forgeable paper
passports, and went for something a lot chippier.

You know what I want?  I don't want a National ID
Card.  I want a Global Coalition Visa.

Like it or not,  we've got a huge global diaspora
now.  It is a fact of life.   Nations with stupid and
corrupt politics have seen their clever people brain-
drained away, to places where the cops don't shake you
down twice a day.  And jet-setters go everywhere.  And
properly so.   If you're in a true global society,  then
you spend a lot of your time among aliens. Quite often you
are the alien.   You might notice that even Al Qaeda is a
genuinely multinational group.  They gravitated to wicked,
lawless places like Sudan, Chechnya and Afghanistan, where
the locals shoot you if you ask for a badge.

But what about all us bright, shiny, world-trading
jet setters, huh?  There are thirty percent fewer Yankees
in Europe this Christmas, and that is bad.  Let me pose
the problem this way.   If I am going into a Japanese
restaurant in Japan, I would rather like to be able to
haul out some gizmo and flash it at my fellow civilians,
and have these kindly people understand with a high degree
of likelihood that I am not a mass murderer.  On the
contrary, I am quite civilized, and I should be brought a
beer immediately.

A platinum VISA card and a five-hundred-dollar suit
will almost do that, but those are too easy to forge and
steal, plus they are not very democratic.   The UN should
get together on this. We should have a high level summit
about digital hardware support for  the crippled tourist
economy.   Fear and ill treatment shut down tourism faster
than anything short of open warfare.  That is bad for all
of us.  Killing off tourism harms our civilization and
impoverishes our cultures.   People in civilized states
shouldn't routinely treat one another as criminal
suspects.   I don't want to get done-over for three hours
every time I get off a plane in London.   When I go to
London, I go with empty suitcases.  I don't plan to stay,
but I am better news for the London economy than a lot of
the people who live there.

They should know all that that *before* I get off the
plane.  My arrival is excellent news for Britain, so I
should be treated that way.   If this is a new kind of
war, I don't want to be the evil guy hunkered down in the
bunker; I want to fly with the boys from Air Assault.  I
want one of those handy crypto-style Friend-or-Foe IDs.

These people who normally meet me whenever I am an
alien, they don't need to know my nationality, my home
address or my shoe size.  They just need to know that,
despite being alien, I'm sort-of okay.

I want a democratic, citizen-to-citizen device that
will bridge those social barriers and language barriers.
I think we could invent devices and means of verification
that would strengthen the global social fabric that
terrorism wants to rip.  It wouldn't be easy or simple,
but it's not beyond our ingenuity.  Our social capital
sustains all civilized societies, and it is all about
trust.  So let's invent new methods of trust.

If you look at what happened on September 11, you
find one American victory in that first skirmish of the
war.  That was the flight in which the passenger revolted
against the hijackers.  Why? Because of their cellphones.
That was a battle of civilian cellphones versus terrorist
boxcutters.   I suspect that episode will turn out to be
the rehearsal of the whole war.   The good news here is
that boxcutters are not capable of much military
improvement, while cellphones could improve by leaps and

This suggests the invention of the weaponized and
ruggedized GI cellphone.  You could think of it as the
"wingless angel," as they liked to call them after
September 11; and as a kind of personal black-box recorder
for the endangered citizen.   This cellphone would be
federally manufactured, and distributed en masse as a
general-issue security device.   The point of this device
would be to arm the population in surveilling and
recording acts of unconventional warfare.  You don't shoot
anybody with it; but if you see anything weird, suspicious
and asymmetric going on, you formally act as a mediated
witness: you  hold this device up, and you start looking
and talking.  And all this safety data is instantly
streamed off and stored in Fort Knox and Fort Meade.

Now, if you turn the entire population into
anonymous snoops and peeping Toms, it's a nation of
snitches, which is very destabilizing.  I'm not suggesting
that. I am suggesting secure, accountable devices with
digital signatures built in.  They're cryptographically
time-stamped, their voice signals and photographs are
cryptographically overwritten, proving their source.
They are tamperproofed, and very sternly verifiable, and
usable as proven evidence in courts of law.  They're not
civilian toys, they are genuine weapons of information
warfare, in much the same way that an unarmed Predator
surveillance aircraft is a weapon.  They are people's
media weapons.   Their proper use requires some training
and discretion; it's like a citizen's audiovisual arrest.

This is the civilian militia Minuteman version of
surveillance.   The omnipresense of this kind of civilian-
owned and civilian-deployed surveillance would not make
anyone's society kinder and happier.  But it certainly
would make that society a very dangerous place for urban
guerrillas.  And it would not centralize the great power
of surveillance in the unstable hands of unelected

That's my futuristic suggestion; maybe it's somewhat
far-fetched and impractical, but this seems like the kind
of audience with whom one ought to broach the subject.

In conclusion, I must say that although I am by no
means a happy man this season, I think that in five or six
years, we may look back at this time of confusion and
sorrow with some sense of real satisfaction.   The
President was right to say that our society had been
challenged by a serious act of terror, and it's a genuine
and sober challenge, and we could blow it.  It isn't
written on tablets of gold that we pampered Yankee mall
rats are destined to rule the universe.   There are times
in life when people are required to measure up and show
some mettle.

It's alarming when our Congress does dumb things and
our institutions look like they're caught all flat-footed,
but you know, we don't have some extra, better Congress
stashed away in an attic; this is Washington, and this is
it.   We don't have an extra American population, either;
dumb, pampered, red-white-and-blue, whatever, we are them.
Adversity has its uses.  We're learning a lot about
ourselves by going through this.  If we can just manage to
make some fresh mistakes, we may end up in some place
really interesting, better than we had, not all damp,
crooked, and muddled, but clearer and more sensible.  We
should hope for that, and work for that.

That's all I have to say, thanks for your attention.

O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O
O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O O=c=O

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: