A Geek With Guns

Chronicling the depravities of the State.

Archive for the ‘1984 was a Warning not a Blueprint’ tag

The Minneapolis Police Department’s Useless Body Cameras

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The City of Minneapolis spent $4 million to equip its law enforcers with body cameras. You might think that Minneapolis invested that money to hold its officers accountable but you would be wrong:

The Minneapolis Police Department is not tracking whether all officers are routinely activating body cameras and has not fully staffed the office tasked with reviewing body camera footage, despite the City Council’s directing it to do so last fall.


Deputy Chief Henry Halvorson told the council last week that such a comprehensive report would be too labor-intensive. Someone has to check several databases and watch the video to decide whether each officer followed department policy, he said. Instead, Halvorson said, the police will analyze 2 percent of officers’ body camera usage for each quarterly audit starting in the second quarter.

Mr. Halvorson’s excuse is pathetic. There is no need to manually watch all of the footage collected by an officer’s body camera to know whether or not they used it. The camera should create a record every time it is turned on or off. If the records shows that an officer didn’t turn their body camera on or turned it off during their shift, inquiries should be made. The technical solution is dead simple and requires almost no additional manual labor.

But body cameras aren’t about holding law enforcers accountable. If that were the case, Bob Kroll and his police union buddies would stopped their adoption. What body cameras are about is collecting evidence that a law enforcer can use against you in court. Since nobody is reprimanding officers for failing to keep their body camera on, they can turn it off while they’re executing an unarmed black man then turn it back on when they’re arresting somebody for possession of pot.

Minneapolis’ body camera program demonstrates once again that any solution offered by a government body will only benefit that body.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 22nd, 2018 at 10:00 am

Cellular Phones Aren’t the Only Way to Track People

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A lot of privacy advocates have a habit of developing tunnel vision. They’ll see an obvious privacy violation and fail to see dozens of others. For example, I know a lot of privacy advocates who have developed tunnel vision for cellular phones. Some of these individuals will even leave their cellular phone at home when traveling somewhere thinking that doing so will make invisible to surveillance. However, there is more than one way to track an individual’s movements. How many people who leave their cellular phones at home then immediately get into a uniquely identifiable vehicle?

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has officially gained agency-wide access to a nationwide license plate recognition database, according to a contract finalized earlier this month. The system gives the agency access to billions of license plate records and new powers of real-time location tracking, raising significant concerns from civil libertarians.

Every vehicle is legally required to have a uniquely identifiable license plate. Image recognition technology has advanced to the point where reading the unique identified on these plats is trivial. Now it’s trivial to create a vehicle tracking system with nothing more than strategically placed cameras that can talk to a central tracking system.

If you want to protect your privacy, you need to take public transportation, right? While this might seem like an obvious answer since public transportation mixes a lot of people together, most public transit systems include video surveillance and facial recognition is now at the point where uniquely identifying somebody’s face is pretty easy. Given enough surveillance cameras, it’s possible to track somebody walking in a city thanks to facial recognition technology.

Surveillance has always been a cat and mouse game. Right now the cat has some new tactics that give it an edge. In order to survive, the mouse must evolve too. The mouse won’t evolve if it succumbs to tunnel vision though.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 2nd, 2018 at 11:00 am

War Is Good for Business

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Yesterday I posted about my theory that the wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan aren’t meant to be won, they’re meant to grind of perpetually in order to enrich the military-industrial complex. Less you think I’m a complete wonk I would like to take a moment to point out that war is good for business:

As Donald Trump might put it, major weapons contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin cashed in “bigly” in his first year in office. They raked in tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts, while posting sharp stock price increases and healthy profits driven by the continuation and expansion of Washington’s post-9/11 wars. But last year’s bonanza is likely to be no more than a down payment on even better days to come for the military-industrial complex.

The nice thing about being a policy maker is that you’re in a position to make a great deal of money when your policies are enacted. If, for example, you plan to wage a perpetual war, you can invest in military contractors before you announce your policy. After you announce your policy, you can enjoy significant profits at the stock prices of those companies skyrockets. Moreover, you can buy more stock if you plan to announce a policy of increasing the war effort.

This is one of the reason political offices are magnets to corrupt individuals. It’s also one of the reasons why political reform is impossible. Do you think somebody in a position to make significant profits is going to willingly curtail their own power and thus harm their profits? Of course not.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 2nd, 2018 at 10:30 am

The War Is Not Meant to Be Won

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Vietnam taught the United States that fighting an asymmetrical war against an enemy willing to suffer horrendous losses is foolish. It’s too bad that the student didn’t pay attention to the teach:

Despite waging nearly 17 consecutive years of war and spending up to $1 trillion, the U.S.-led attempt to defeat the Taliban has left the insurgents openly active in up to 70 percent of Afghanistan, according to a BBC study published Tuesday. The report also found that a rival ultraconservative Sunni Muslim organization, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), controlled more territory than ever, further complicating the beleaguered effort to stabilize the country.

Or did it? Even the simplest of strategists would realized that this war isn’t winnable with the strategy being used and would decide to either change up their strategy or cut their losses and pull out. The fact that the United States has suffered through this kind of war before and is still waging this one using the same strategy indicates that the higher ups want this war to continue as it has been.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four Oceania took great care to ensure the war it was engaged in was perpetual. Oceania’s government’s goal was to use the war to destroy any surplus wealth that might otherwise empower the masses against it. I believe that the government of the United States has a slightly different goal. It is taking great care to wage a perpetual war to keep the military contractors enriched. The wars aren’t about fighting any specific enemy. There is no victory condition. Its purpose is purely economic. If the United States did manage to crush the Taliban or ISIS then it would have to find another enemy to fight just as it did once Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Written by Christopher Burg

February 1st, 2018 at 11:00 am

Time Flies

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Where does the time go?

For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We’ve just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.

Section 702 has already been on the books for 10 years. 10 years of the opponents of this legislation failing to vote hard enough to repeal it. But I’m sure this is the year where all that will change. This is the year where the plebeians will say that they’ve had enough, flood their representatives’ offices with letters and phone calls, and rush to the polling places to vote out everybody who worked to renew this legislation.

The thing Section 702 illustrates more than anything else is the relationship between bad laws and time. Originally the surveillance powers granted by Section 702 were called illegal by its opponents. Then those powers downgraded to merely being abusive as people started becoming more comfortable with their existence. Now the powers are little more than background noise. While a handful of people still make a fuss every time Section 702 comes up for renewal, most people don’t care because the law has been on the books for a decade and hasn’t impacted their lives in any noticeable way.

Time is the ally of legislation. If a law, regardless of how abusive it may be, can be kept on the books long enough for it to become background noise to the masses, it can exist forever. And it doesn’t take long for a law to become background noise. A few months is usually enough for a controversial law to fall out of the news cycle and by extend the minds’ of the masses. Once that has happened, building up enough momentum to get the law repealed is all but impossible.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 31st, 2018 at 11:00 am

The NSA Has Become More Honest and Open

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Believe it or not, the National Security Agency (NSA) has a set of core values. Those values are little more than doublespeak but the NSA has finally decided to be a bit more honest and open about its intentions:

Since at least May 2016, the surveillance agency had featured honesty as the first of four “core values” listed on NSA.gov, alongside “respect for the law,” “integrity,” and “transparency.” The agency vowed on the site to “be truthful with each other.”

On January 12, however, the NSA removed the mission statement page – which can still be viewed through the Internet Archive – and replaced it with a new version. Now, the parts about honesty and the pledge to be truthful have been deleted. The agency’s new top value is “commitment to service,” which it says means “excellence in the pursuit of our critical mission.”

This reminds me of a picture I saw of a homeless guy holding up a sign that read something along the lines of, “I need money for booze and cigarettes. Hey, at least I’m not bullshitting you.” By removing honesty and truthfulness from its core values, the NSA has ceased bullshitting us as much. While that doesn’t help us plebs who are being constantly surveilled by the agency, we at least have a better idea of what we’re getting.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 26th, 2018 at 10:00 am

America Had Always Been at War with the Great Powers

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America was at war with the great powers. America had always been at war with the great power.

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said competition between great powers, not terrorism, is now the main focus of America’s national security.

Just like that the War on Terror has taken a backseat and America is locked in a conflict with the forces of communism the great powers.

This shift in enemies isn’t surprising. America has been at war with terrorism for over one and a half decades and hasn’t achieved victory. It has to be pretty embarrassing for the world’s most powerful military to be unable to declare victory against a bunch of desert peasants in tents after more than a decade and a half. So instead of continuing to declare those peasants public enemy number one, America is going to shift focus to Russia and China who at least match up militarily and therefore aren’t as embarrassing to lose to.

The important thing to remember though is that America is at war with somebody and you should therefore continue to believe that the federal government is the only thing standing between you and certain death.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 24th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Political Euphemism are My Favorite

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Politicians come up with a lot of euphemisms to make their decisions appear friendlier than they are. For example, when you break a law you’re not kidnapped, you’re “arrested.” When you buy a home you’re not required to pay rent, you’re required to pay “property taxes.” Furthermore, when the government steals from you it’s not theft, it’s “taxation.” But politicians are at their absolute best when they’re creating euphemisms related to war.

The United States of America hasn’t been in many declared wars since World War II. It has been engaged in many “policing actions” though. Likewise, the United States isn’t planning to occupy Syria, it’s planning to have an “open-ended military presence.”

The US will maintain an open-ended military presence in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of the jihadist group Islamic State, counter Iranian influence, and help end the civil war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump did not want to “make the same mistakes” that were made in 2011, when US forces left Iraq.

The US has about 2,000 troops in Syria.

See? The United States isn’t making the same mistake it made in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan because it’s not occupying Syria. It’s merely keeping 2,000 soldiers in the country as an open-ended military presence! Think of it as the United States giving Syria a warm, friendly hug!

War is Peace! Freedom is Slavery! Ignorance is Strength!

Written by Christopher Burg

January 23rd, 2018 at 11:00 am

A Reasonable Response by Reasonable People

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Nuclear weapons provide humanity the capability to wipe out an entire city with a single missile. However, with the exception of the end of World War II, they haven’t been used in warfare. Each country that has developed nuclear weapons has performed a lot of test detonations to show the world how big their dick is but nobody has dared use them because they’re not seen as a reasonable response to anything other than weapons of mass destruction.

The Pentagon wants to change that attitude. Instead of treating nuclear weapons as an unreasonable response to anything other than weapons of mass destruction, it wants to treat nuclear weapons as a reasonable response to a list of other things including malicious hackers:

WASHINGTON — A newly drafted United States nuclear strategy that has been sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of devastating but non-nuclear attacks on American infrastructure, including what current and former government officials described as the most crippling kind of cyberattacks.

For decades, American presidents have threatened “first use” of nuclear weapons against enemies in only very narrow and limited circumstances, such as in response to the use of biological weapons against the United States. But the new document is the first to expand that to include attempts to destroy wide-reaching infrastructure, like a country’s power grid or communications, that would be most vulnerable to cyberweapons.

The paradox of nuclear weapons is that they offer a terrible power but are only useful as a deterrent. If you have nuclear weapons and your enemy has nuclear weapons, peace can exist because you both have the power to wipe the other side out. Neither side will launch because it will result in their demise as well. But what happens when a nuclear armed country acts in an unreasonable manner? What happens when one decides to nuke a nonnuclear power? In all likelihood that nuclear power would be seen by other nuclear powers as unreasonable, unstable, and an imminent threat. Their fear could lead them to bring aggression, possibly nuclear aggression, against the unreasonable nation.

As WOPR in the movie War Games concluded, when nuclear weapons are involved the only winning move is not to play.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 19th, 2018 at 11:00 am

Rand Paul Threatening a Filibuster Should Be Treated as Guarantee of Passage

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I have quite a few friends who remain deluded about the political process in this country. They still believe that the right man in the right office can reverse the course of the United Police States of America. With Ron Paul retired the hopes and dreams of these poor fools lies with Rand Paul.

The federal government is going through its yearly ritual of renewing its surveillance powers. As with previous years, this year’s ritual involves the members of the House and Senate pretending to debate whether or not they’re going to renew their own powers. Those who still believe in the political process also believe that these debates are genuine. Since they believe the debates are genuine they also believe that somebody like Rand Paul can prevent the passage of a bill by filibustering it. Several of my friends told me that Rand Paul would stop the renewal of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017. I told them that Rand Paul wasn’t going to stop shit, which proved to be correct.

I also pointed out the historical precedent, which is when Rand Paul attempts to filibuster a bill the bill ends up passing. Now there’s another data point to add to that precedent:

The Senate has voted to reauthorize a controversial legal authority that enables vast government surveillance programs, including spying operations used by the NSA.

The bill was passed 65 to 34, and now moves to President Trump’s desk. He is expected to sign it into law. Earlier this week, a group of senators threatened to filibuster the bill, but lawmakers cleared a 60-vote hurdle earlier this week that allowed them to block the attempt.

The bill allows for continued spying operations under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Critics charge that the bill, which renews 702 and powers National Security Agency spying, is nominally for foreign targets, but allows the government to sweep up American communications with few safeguards.

Although this post probably comes off as a criticism of Rand Paul, it’s really a criticism of those who continue to believe in the political system.

The political system of the United States, like the political system of every nation, is designed to concentrate power in the hands of the ruling class. The Founding Fathers, like the founders of almost every nation, claimed otherwise and many people foolishly believed and continue to believe them. But the results speak for themselves. George Washington himself lead a military force to deal with rebellious whiskey distillers during his stint in office and the federal government has only continued to expand its power since. At no point in the United States’ history has the federal government’s power receded in any meaningful way.

After more than two centuries you would think that people would catch on. But they haven’t nor are they likely to do so.

Written by Christopher Burg

January 19th, 2018 at 10:30 am