Profile of a #TORrorist

Technology has automated a number of tasks required of a secret police state.  Consider how things used to be: The likes of Joseph McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover had to employ teams of people to  infiltrate groups, run blackmail and sting operations, threaten and pay off a load of people to maintain paper records of folks who may or may not have been communists, most of them in the latter category.

Modern methods aren’t any more precise, but you can employ far fewer people to create much bigger lists in a shorter amount of time and scare the shit out of many more people much faster. Miracles of the new age.

Will Potter says green is the new red.  He may be right, but I think the onion is actually the new hammer and sickle.

The onion is the new hammer & sickle.
This is the Tor projec’s aim that’s currently freaking out the United States. Pretty scary stuff, eh?

The program XKeyscore is an excellent case study in America’s schizophrenic attitude towards the internet, and more specifically, the Tor Project. I’m not going to go into how XKeyscore works, because Wired has done that.  And there are scads of resources explaining Tor.

More interesting is how XKeyscore is being used against Tor. This has been a fascinating week of revelations about America’s global data hoovering efforts, at least if you know German. XKeyscore is all over the news in Germany, where its source code has been leaked and analysed. It automates how people can be listed as potential threats simply based on which websites they visit. You could be up for automatic targeted surveillance if…

Hoover or McCarthy could have only dreamed of  such a toy. There’s bound to be more information on who gets listed in the source code that seems to have been released by an NSA whistleblower who may not be Edward Snowden.  “One of the biggest questions these new revelations raise is why?” asks Kyle Rankin on the Linux Journal blog. I thought it may have come down to beards. A lot of Linux users and Jihadists are known for them. Maybe it’s confusing.

The now infamous NSA powerpoint slide that launched a thousand Tor bridges.
The now infamous NSA powerpoint slide that launched a thousand Tor bridges.

Kyle points out: “the Boing Boing article speculates that it might be to separate out people on the Internet who know how to be private from those who don’t so it can capture communications from everyone with privacy know-how.” This is about activists. Who’s hosting, creating and teaching how these things work… and to whom? This reason seems to be backed up by testimony in Germany by two former NSA staffers.

It shouldn’t be surprising. A couple of weeks ago, we learned how the NSA remains able to access and retain American citizen private communications without a warrant. Earlier this week the NSA’s practices were endorsed by President Obama’s own appointed “privacy board” which reported finding “no trace of any such illegitimate activity associated with the program, or any attempt to intentionally circumvent legal limits.” Of course they didn’t.

XKeyscore itself has been known about for almost a year now. This new information only offers a bit more insight into some of the interests it targets. You’re interests, for example, if you’ve actually read this far. May as well keep going at this point.

America is far from alone in creating innovative ways to list people. In UK, the government wants internet service providers to block content unless users specifically ask to see it. Described as a porn filter, people wanting to opt out would also have to tell their ISP they want to access information on various topics, not all of them related to watching people shag in innovative ways. You’d also need to let your ISP know you want access to sites featuring web blocking circumvention tools, esoteric material, web forums, extremist material, and so forth. The ISP puts you on lists for each category. The government decides whether something is esoteric, extremist, pornographic, or the rest. How convenient.

Meanwhile, a group of seven international ISPs popular amongst human rights, environmental and civil liberty activists are taking GCHQ to court over attacks against their networks. There’s good reason to think they should have success in the lawsuit, though I’d be skeptical that it results in a shift of GCHQ practices.

This all fits nicely with my Bailing Hay thesis. Governments are in panic mode. We can see this elsewhere in Europe as well. The Index on Censorship and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso are using Ushahidi to  crowdsource a map of attacks on free expression and investigative journalism across Europe. It includes threats, intimidation, violence, censorship, detention against journalists and bloggers alike. It’s getting to be a pretty full map.

It’s not only media types who are facing more intimidation in countries that would rather be better known for civil liberties and democratic principles.  Increasingly across Europe unlawful monitoring and methods of coercion are being aimed at environmental activists and human rights advocates. Not exactly ISIS, but then the U.S. can’t seem to track them at all and they’re on Twitter.

Article 19′s report: “A Dangerous Shade of Green: Threats to Environmental Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Europe,” documents how most nations across Europe are using laws ostensibly created to fight terrorism are re-interpreted to go after GreenPeace and other entirely non-violent activists and trying to portray them as terrorist threats. Safety isn’t the main concern. Stopping disruption is. That’s not easy, really, because back in the U.S. you have a government that wants to simultaneously stir things up and shut things down.


The meme trending  on Twitter is #TORrorist. Someone’s already make a T-shirt, so you know it’s got legs. We’ve got a bizarre situation in which the NSA is attacking  users of an open source project originally sponsored by (though no longer related to) the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory that is still receiving funding from the State Department. Talk about your mixed messages. What’s important, though, is that it works.  Properly set up and used, Tor can make it much more difficult to track your online doings.

Be a #TORrorist

When it comes to production, America’s longest tradition is in producing its own adversaries. The profile of a #TORrorist is you. Happy 4th of July, all.

Experiments in modern living