All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
I was going to call this post ‘Hopeful headlines’, but the more I dug into the topic, the less hopeful things seemed. So the title was borrowed from one of my favorite (albeit none-too-upbeat) documentary filmmakers: Adam Curtis. I have yet to watch this particular series, but plan to, as its topic has a lot of resonance in today’s world – both in the literal (perhaps unintended) sense, as well as in the sense of a societal addiction to and dependence on technology and interconnectedness:
“All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is a series about how humans have been colonised by the machines they have built — “Although we don’t realise it, the way we see everything in the world today is through the eyes of the computers.” […]
Part one explores the dream that rose up in the 1990s that computers could create a new kind of stable world. They would bring about a new kind global capitalism free of all risk and without the boom and bust of the past. […] Part two shows how our modern scientific idea of nature, the self-regulating ecosystem, is actually a machine fantasy. It has little to do with the real complexity of nature. [… The final] episode looks at why popular culture finds this machine vision so beguiling. The film argues it is because all political dreams of changing the world for the better seem to have failed, meaning the retreat into machine-fantasies that say we have no control over our actions because they excuse our failure.” – Thought Maybe -- also hosting all other Adam Curtis films, as well as a wide selection of other interesting documentaries. Highly recommended for browsing.
The above is just historical perspective and background – I wanted to highlight a few angles of the ongoing eavesdropping/surveillance/data collection ‘controversy’ – then meander over to the subject of misinformation and subterfuge.
Russia is quite likely getting chuckles (if not guffaws) from being able to be part of ‘inspiring’ mass demonstrations in D.C. for a change, rather than being on the receiving end of what they like to call US-funded internal destabilization operations (the US, of course calls it 'democracy-building'):
“We've learned that the U.S. intelligence community secretly built a system of pervasive surveillance. Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands. Our representatives in Congress tell us this is not surveillance. They're wrong.
Now it's time for the government to learn from us. On Saturday, the ACLU, EFF, and the rest of the StopWatching.Us coalition are going to D.C. Join us in sending the message: Stop Watching Us.” – Ed Snowden via the ACLU, calling on folks to attend the rally at Union Station in Washington, DC on Saturday, October 26, at 12:00pm local time.
If you (or people you know) are planning on attending this (or any other) demonstrations, there is an interesting Rolling Stone piece detailing the ever-encroaching reach and scope of surveillance society:
“Promotional materials for private spy companies show that mass surveillance technology is being sold to police departments as a way to monitor dissent […]While the specifics of which police departments utilize what surveillance technologies is often unclear, there is evidence to suggest that use of mass surveillance against individuals not under direct investigation is common. "The default is mass surveillance, the same as NSA's 'collect it all' mindset," says King. "There's not a single company that if you installed their product, [it] would comply with what anyone without a security clearance would think is appropriate, lawful use."
Another possible step in the right direction, from (Google-funded) Mozilla (hopefully not a Trojan honeypot):
"Users who activate Lightbeam will be able to see a real-time visualisation of every site they visit and every third-party that is active on those sites, including commercial organisations which might potentially be sharing your data.
Mozilla wants users who install the Lightbeam add-on to Firefox, to crowd-source their data, to produce the first “big picture” view of web tracking, revealing which third-parties are most active.
Lightbeam promises a “Wizard of Oz” moment for the web, “where users collectively provide a way to pull back the curtains to see its inner workings,” Mozilla claimed. " -- The Independent
Unfortunately, many of our fellow denizens of Earth are pursuing other priorities – when presented with a chance to be on a closed express train with Michael Hayden (who happens to be giving 'off the record interviews' in the seat in front of him), this guy goes straight for the jugular: posing for a photo with the ex-spookchief -- to be transmitted immediately to his (presumably fawning) followers on Twitter. At least he shared some vague outline of what he overheard...
Apparently, the international tensions and universal anger over US intel policies are growing, if one is to believe reports:
“Brazil and Germany today joined forces to press for the adoption of a U.N. General Resolution that promotes the right of privacy on the internet, marking the first major international effort to restrain the National Security Agency's intrusions into the online communications of foreigners, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the push.” – Foreign Policy
There are some who think otherwise:
“I think especially with Germany and France, of course, they are very familiar with U.S. signals intelligence, which is the technical term for eavesdropping…We use a lot of signals intelligence, we share it with our allies. And they spy on us too. France is one of the most aggressive collectors of intelligence. So what you are seeing is a bit of kabuki theater that will probably blow over before too long.” -- Christian Whiton, former senior advisor at the U.S. State Department, talking to CNN
Of course, talking heads trotted out to do damage control spin are dime a dozen – Christian certainly seems to be heavily vested with the status quo (just like another Christian we know…).
It is fascinating to look for the reflections of truth among the lies and the misdirection. Could it be that the ‘outrage’ over spying really IS just theater – but for an altogether different reason? Rather than to ‘appease home audiences’, let alone to truly try to restore rule of law and privacy, the controversy is convenient smokescreen to mask European (as well as LatAm) realignment eastward? The distancing from the US we are seeing around the world must be done as carefully as possible, a cornered, wounded giant can be extremely dangerous. Pretexts and excuses must be found to slowly, gradually gain distance (before breaking into a full evasive sprint). Of course, it is easy to fall prey to paranoid speculation, and always difficult to try to unravel who is spinning which yarn, and why.
Take the following news as another example:
“Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief has said the kingdom will make a "major shift" in dealings with the US in protest at perceived American inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran, a source close to Saudi policy said on Tuesday.
The source said that Prince Bandar bin Sultan had told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed a 2011 anti-government revolt.
In an unprecedented move last week, Saudi Arabia rejected its first offer of a seat on the UN security council and denounced the UN for failing to resolve world conflicts. The move appeared largely directed at the US.
"The shift away from the US is a major one," the source said on Tuesday. "Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent.” -- Guardian
If one ignores the filler material and focuses just on the highlighted segments, it might lead one to believe that Kingdom of SA is positioning itself to go with the flow of a future without the petrodollar, with a world order and hierarchy different than the one currently enshrined in the UNSC, and is seeking new protectors. In case you haven’t caught it, ZH has a piece on the same topic.
Of course, it seems a bit unusual that 'Bandar Bush' would so hastily bare fangs at the hand that has so long ‘fed’ his family's regime. While Saudi Press Agency releases certainly imply that King Abdullah is no longer ‘resting’ (as per JW), it does seem curious to me that it is the head of Saudi intelligence that would be the one to deliver such momentous news.
The recent visit by the Turkish PM to reaffirm an historic and strategic alliance with the House of Saud followed on the heels of royal visits from another King Abdullah (II), from Jordan and a Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi (UAE) . I may be reading too much into this, state visits happen all the time, but if one WERE considering a large-scale realignment in terms of the way oil is traded, these would be the kind of meetings one might have.
Lest anyone think I am shirking my duties, and not being skeptical enough (would any of you believe the man in those pictures above is 89 years old?), here’s an interesting little snippet:
“A large audience packing a stadium for a football match in Saudi Arabia stampeded to take a close look at King Abdullah before realizing they made a mistake. As they tried to push their way through, they were told the man who is sitting near the main podium in the stadium in Riyadh was a Syrian expatriate who resembles the 90-year-old King. Yet they kept pushing to have a photograph with the man, in his 50s.” Emirates 24/7
Getting back to the matter at hand, remember this story from August?
“Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria. […]
As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord. “I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the games are controlled by us,” he allegedly said.”
Imagine, just for the sake of argument, that all of these issues WERE, in fact discussed. I think it likely that they WERE – just not in the context, and with the outcomes reported.
The part I am having trouble with is that such an incredibly detailed transcript of such an incredibly momentous meeting could be fortuitously leaked to As-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper with a circulation of 50K. The story is then translated by Al Monitor, and is promptly picked up by the Telegraph. Incidentally, Al Monitor’s contact address is -- I kid you not: K St NW, Washington, D.C. As always, the question is -- who benefits from creating/leaking such a story?
The spin presented by RT has a slightly different focus, and claims that Reuters was the source of the story:
"Bandar offered to intensify energy, military and economic cooperation with Moscow," a senior Syrian opposition figure told Reuters.
"Bandar sought to allay two main Russian fears: that Islamist extremists will replace Assad, and that Syria would become a conduit for Gulf, mainly Qatari, gas at the expense of Russia." -- Russia Today -- follow-up story on rejection of Saudi offer here
Again, is this extremely visible, very image-damaging conflict for real? Or is it just another part of the dance necessary to maintain appearances? If two of the largest producers of oil were to try to seek a path towards new alliance and alignment that directly violates the existing 'world order' (such as it is), would they simply state they are sitting down to hammer out the details of the deal? Would we see a summit with lofty platitudes, handshakes and photo ops, when what is being discussed is the dismantling of the petrodollar? I really don't think so.
As always, DYODD. Just never, and I do mean NEVER EVER trust any single source or explanation as the SOLE truth of any matter – and try to take an extra step or two to look behind the motivation and background of the outlet. While it seems the world as we know it will survive yet another week, the web of holograms being spun all about us seems to me to be more intricate, desperate and implausible by the day. From Seal Team 6’s fate, to the ‘other’ Chechen connection – the list goes on. The spin/PR/propaganda machines are providing the input, the surveillance/SigInt/dragnet data collection machines are monitoring the output.
The good news is… well, it’s Friday, isn’t it? Focus on things that are truly and directly important, and have a great weekend.
PS: If instead of being sensible and going out to enjoy nature/family/food/libations, you are interested in more on the topic of misinformation and tinfoil hattery - take a look at these:
Lots more rabbit holes here.