20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – NSA Taps into Fiber Optic Cables

WebIt’s the sort of thing you would have expected if George Orwell and Jules Verne had been contemporaries and collaborated on a novel.  The Department of Defense creates a vast Hypertext Transfer Protocol Network and allows the private sector to take it over and expand it worldwide. Rather than passing through the pesky step of securing private data through the system’s service providers, the government simply taps into the data as it passes through the undersea fiber optic cables stretching from one continent to another. Suddenly the World Wide Web is one vast party line, at least from the NSA’s perspective.

That’s the theory presently being promulgated by investigative reporters with the New York Times. According to The Times‘ article, NSA May Have Hit Internet Companies at a Weak Spot , the data centers belonging to companies like Yahoo and Google are “are locked down with full-time security and state-of-the-art surveillance, including heat sensors and iris scanners.”   If anything, it’s easier for government spies to tap the Level 3 Communications Infrastructure, the so-called backbone of the  World Wide Web, made up of  high capacity optic fiber cables owned by companies like Verizon, the BT Group, and the Vodafone Group.

Nearly everything you and I do online passes through this backbone in route to its final destination.  I  guess you can say that the NSA has taken up global  spinal tapping: sampling the flow of information for infectious or inflammatory elements.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Vernes wrote “The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe… It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides.”

This statement is perhaps more true now than ever before.  The sea is a very busy place indeed. And the NSA is one very busy body.

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Welcome to Millionaire’s Row – The United States Congress

Gold CoinAccording to a survey just released by The Center for Responsible Politics, for the first time in American history, most members of Congress are now millionaires. Republicans in Congress have a median net worth of $1 million, while the Democrats’ median net worth is $1.4 million. Hmm, maybe Democrats are a lot better at business than people think..

Indian Diplomat Expelled for Employment Fraud and Bullying

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Americans have developed a knack  for discerning which of our laws are strictly enforced and which can be broken with little fear of punishment. For diplomats the seemingly fine line between some of these laws may be difficult to discern. For example, it’s common in many areas of the United States to pay cash, no questions asked, for someone to mow your yard or clean your house. If you are determined to go the legal route, be prepared to pay wages in line with a chemical engineer’s for an e-verified, social-security recognized individual, if you can find one willing to do the work.  Oh, and don’t forget to withhold social security and Medicare taxes from that person’s paycheck, to match those withholdings out of your own pocket, and to issue a W-2 in January.

The film A Day without a Mexican captures the predicament of Americans needing assistance with their yards and their housework. The movie begins with border patrol officers in southern California arresting would-be immigrants coming across the Mexican border. Fast forward to the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of all Mexicans from California. Yards and houses and children go unattended. Construction comes to a halt. Restaurant meals go uncooked. Crops go unpicked. The state slowly but surely descends into chaos.

In the film’s final scene, (Spoiler Alert) Mexicans illegally cross the border late at night, then freeze when La Migra (now  ICE)  trains spotlights on them. Only this time the border patrol doesn’t handcuff them and load them into vans. Instead, the officers pat them on the back and welcome them to the U.S.A.

It’s little wonder  Devyani Khobragade, the Indian diplomat living in New York, was confused. What she apparently did not understand when she hired a fellow Indian, Ms. Richards, to cook and clean for her, is that paying cash for household help would have been one thing, but committing outright employment fraud by falsifying documents to secure an employee’s visa is another. However, the greatest error in judgment Ms. Khobragade made may not have been fraud, but her unethical, cruel treatment of Ms. Richards.  Ms. Khobragade reportedly forced the maid to sometimes “work 100-hour weeks, even when sick and often without a day off, for pay as little as $1.22 an hour.”

Living in a country which has made anti-bullying a national campaign, Ms. Khobragade had the audacity to bully her employee, an employee so isolated from her homeland, Ms. Khobragade assumed she wouldn’t fight back.

Is this why Ms. Khobragade felt pressured to falsify documents, so that she could hire a maid from her own country? Was she afraid that a documented American, or even an undocumented Mexican or Central American working in the United States, would not have tolerated such treatment?

Apparently she underestimated her fellow expatriate’s tolerance for abuse. Last June, Ms. Richard told Ms. Khobragade that  she was unhappy with the work conditions and wanted to return home. Ms. Khobragade refused the request and would not return her passport. Ms. Richard then turned to Safe Horizon, which helps trafficking victims, for help.

After being indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on charges of visa fraud and employment fraud, Ms. Khobragrade was granted immunity just long enough to be allowed to leave the United States and return to India. Since then, her name has been  placed on U.S. Immigration watch lists and she cannot return unless she surrenders to the court upon arrival.

In retaliation, India has   asked the U.S.  to withdraw one of its senior diplomats from New Delhi.

Diplomats living in the United States would do well to learn and follow not only American laws, but American ethics and not assume immunity when they violate them.

Risk Management Sochi Style: Snow and Surveillance Top Priorities

I wonder if Edward Snowden will show up in Sochi. That would boost the ratings!  Speaking of  snow—,  did you know that Sochi has stockpiled snow from last winter just in case they run low during the games?  They should get a gold medal for risk management.Sochi Olympics 2014

The Russians will be managing other risks, as well, by listening in on all communications. “Athletes and spectators attending the Winter Olympics  … will face some of the most invasive and systematic spying and  surveillance in the history of the Games.”

University of Toronto Professor Ron Deibert,  has dubbed the Russian FSB’s   Surveillance System PRISM on Steroids.

Presumably the primary purpose of the system is to protect against terrorism, with Chechen terrorists already threatening to sabotage the games.

Meanwhile, there is some concern among the international LGBT community  that Russia may use its comprehensive surveillance system to identify and target promoters of gay rights, as the country recently  passed a controversial  law banning gay propaganda.

On second thought, this is the sort of event Snowden, Patron Saint of Privacy, is likely to boycott.

Total Compensation: Hot Lunches, Beer, and Cigarettes

Government sponsored alcoholism is now keeping the streets of Amsterdam clean and tidy.  Each morning at 9 a.m., alcoholics arrive at a Rainbow Group Center to begin work, removing litter from the streets and sidewalks, as well as from nearby Oosterpark. These workers ” take extended breaks for beer, cigarettes and a hot lunch, all provided free of charge,” before ending their workday at 3 p.m. So far local residents support the program. Since it began, “local police have received fewer reports of stabbings and muggings in the park.

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Oosterpark, Amsterdam

While the Dutch government does not fund the entire program, it is the primary sponsor. Critiques may complain that the government is not only enabling but fueling alcoholism. Proponents counter that the program offers  meaning and purpose to its participants’ lives. They also point out the savings generated by fewer arrests exceeds the cost of  providing people with beer, cigarettes, and  food in exchange for their services.

What’s your take?  Will this strategy attract unemployed alcoholics to Amsterdam just as the country’s decriminalization of marijuana  has attracted pot users as a Dutch tourist industry? Or is it a creative, humane way to reduce both litter and panhandling in one fell swoop?

What’s Bugging You? Is Parental Spying Increasing Millennials’ Tolerance for Surveillance?

It’s the sort of thing we would have expected the Soviets to do if they had survived into the new millennia: intercept laptop deliveries   and install malware   so they can spy on users. For those of us Baby Boomers who grew up during the cold war when we condemned the enemy for spying on its citizens,  intrusions of this nature are  untenable. However, I wonder if the millennials have been partially inoculated against feeling that same level of rage when they’re being monitored. A growing number of parents are keeping a close eye on their teens by installing camcorders in their rooms, tracking their every movement by way of their phones’ GPS devices, and demanding their children’s Facebook and E-Mail passwords so that they can read what they’re posting and what they’re receiving.

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A teenage boy and longtime family friend recently posted a plea on his Facebook page for his friends to be careful with their comments.  “My parents read everything I post and if they don’t like it they make me take it down. If they don’t like what my friends write, they tell me to unfriend them.”

Some parents have even installed  the same type of spyware on their children’s computers that the NSA is installing on  computers-in-transit: a program which allows the voyeur to monitor what is being typed on the user’s screen in real time.  These young people will either become anaesthetized to those in power looking over their shoulder  or they will find ever newer and more creative ways to elude surveillance.

When I recently had lunch with a university student who is majoring in a foreign language, she told me she would   eventually like to work for U. S. intelligence. “Maybe I’ll become a translator and I’ll get to be one of those people who listens in on everyone’s phone calls. I know it’s wrong but it would be an interesting job.”

Indeed.

What’s bugging  you and your office these days?  It might just be the NSA. Good luck finding a pest control company to take care of that.

(Photo courtesy of pdphoto.org)