Everyone needs to take several deep breaths and read a book about the Spanish Civil War.

Swear to God this is how you get masked centrists storming a building and threatening to shoot a hostage an hour until everyone sits down and has a civilized cross-factional dialogue.

I did my civic duty and went to Tax March DC yesterday, because lord knows il Douche needs to see yelling hordes demanding to see his taxes.  I went to Tax March DC expecting to march about the tax returns.  I had a flag and a sign and a snarky t-shirt and everything.  In retrospect this was foolish of me and I never should have allowed myself to be taken in.

There are many more people angry about the lack of tax returns than there are people who happen to share the specific economic agenda of some of the organizers of the event.  If the priority here is getting Congress and OGE to do something about creeping kleptocracy, the best tactic is to make the march as non-ideological and broadly appealing as possible.  This is not what they did.  Instead, they mixed in a menu of progressive economic policy items which alienated a lot of people who despise corruption but hold different policy positions.  There were also a series of identity-based non-sequiturs: there’s a prize for anyone who can tell me what his tax returns have to do with intersectional feminism.

We need to get back to a place where we can have a normal policy debate.  That is not possible right now.  The authoritarian populist thrives on polarization: he needs an internal enemy to demonize, or everyone will notice that he has no clothes.  When progressives rightly demand that Republicans denounce and oppose Trump, and then shut them out of the resistance on other policy grounds when they do, they are playing directly into his tiny tiny hands.  A resistance that apparently goes out of its way to alienate opponents of the populist who do not share their policy goals will drive those potential allies back towards the populist in the end.  Take alliances where you can get them.  An opposition party adequately alarmed by the threat that the populist poses in himself should try to build as broad a coalition as possible, rather than attempting to hitch their own economic wagon to the fortunes of the opposition.  This is going to end in the failure of both of their goals.  There are many people with substantial policy disagreements who share a determination to stand up against authoritarian populist horseshit.  Americans hate corruption and tax cheaters: we threw the British out and bonded into a nation over our shared hatred of unfair taxation.  It’s sort of our hat.  If you seek alliances, they will join you.  If you demand ideological purity, you might still get Evan McMullin and Country Over Party to show up, but you won’t get a coalition.

Instead I’m left with the impression that certain progressive factions are trying to use warranted alarm over the regime to mobilize the base, when they should be panicking about democracy and seeking alliances wherever they can find them.  Certainly economic solutions are part of the strategy to crowbar some support away from the populist, but that’s for the campaign trail, not for an anti-corruption demonstration.  The insistence on ideological purity suggests that either progressive organizers aren’t aware of the scope of the threat or even that in some cases they don’t believe their own rhetoric.  Perhaps they’ve managed to cry wolf on themselves: when you’ve been telling yourself and your supporters for years that your opponent is a wannabe tyrant and an existential threat, you find you’ve lost your sense of urgency when that turns out to finally be true.  Or perhaps it’s cynical political calculus combined with failure of imagination.  Or maybe they’re just short-sighted and strategically illiterate.

No one ever got into a position of authority by gleefully celebrating ideological impurity, however, so I’ll probably have to content myself with grumbling in cheap kabob restaurants after protests and yelling on the internet.  We’re all fucked.

Anyway Happy Easter.

April 2017: The URLy Bird Gets The Worm

Watch the video by Alexei Navalny, patron saint of OSINT nerds everywhere, that set off the protests on the 26th.

I’m a lifelong British monarch detractor and yet when I got done reading this I had to sneak off to cry in the bathroom.

The lesson from Egypt is that overthrowing the tyrant is only step one.  Make sure that, once he’s gone, you know what you’re going to try to replace him with.

Legislation has been introduced in the Duma that would allow police (and no longer just the FSB) to fire into crowds to “prevent terrorism” (link is in Russian).  Classy, Vlad.  Real classy.

Speaking of that bastard al-Sisi, Breitbart is alleged to be in with the Egyptians.

“Behind all the desktop screens and plate-glass of his office, the buzz of data and the hum of metrics, Nate Silver retreats to a quiet, dark, and holy room. He takes the knife and slits in one stroke the throat of a pure-white bull; its blood arcs and drizzles in all directions. He examines its patterns. And he knows.”

Aaaaaand Putin’s bringing back the use of psychiatric hospitals to confine dissidents.

If you happen to be a Spotify user, you can listen to the Operation Nifty Package playlist (there’s an argument to be made that the Army carried out the original rickroll, eighteen years before 4chan).

The Exxon payments weren’t real.

Stingrays?  In my city?  It’s more likely than you think (and these are just the ones we know about).

A new one for the Constitutional Violation Vault: an argument that Bannon and company’s habit of bossing department heads without having been congressionally approved might be in violation of the Appointments Clause.  I’m not sure how persuasive I find this, but it’s interesting.

Eduard Basurin gets OSINTed.

And the Opsec Fail Award of the Month goes to [drumroll] Jim Comey, who really really should be better at this.

Journalists and oppo researchers looking into the Russia thing are being harrassed.

The Straussians continue to be at it.

Interesting elaboration of Shadi Hamid’s point about secularization becoming a trap if what replaces religion is ethnonationalism.

“Large proportions of people from marginalized groups simply decline to be intersectional and this is a problem for an ideology which claims to listen to them and represent them,” or, as Terry Pratchett says in Night Watch, “People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.”

The latest installment in the Gorkening (I am waaaaay fewer degrees of Beltway from this man than I am comfortable with).

Heineken is apparently a Communist plot.

Populism vs. parliamentary democracy.  Also, Geert Wilders looks like a Batman villain.

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη, nerds.  Go eat some lamb.

There Is A Fancy Bear In The Woods…

The Warren assigned your Auntie Weasels to produce a full account of what our glorious leader likes to call The Cyber.  There has been a lot of idiocy flying around regarding the attribution, so Auntie Weasels is going to set this straight yet a-bloody-gain: it was the Russians.  Even without the IC’s TS-SCI Ears-Only Eat Before Reading sooper sekrit intel, the attribution is not seriously in doubt.  The DNC breach is the most straightforward.  It was carried out by APT28 (Fancy Bear, Sofacy, GRU) and APT29 (Cozy Bear, FSB).  These groups are Russian covers.  This was known well before the DNC hacks: these groups operate out of Russian time zones, build their code in Russian-language environments, and only seem to attack targets of interest to Putin’s ‘government’.  There’s more history of these threat groups here and here.

Guccifer 2.0 claims to be a Romanian, like the original.  They’re not.  The consensus is that Gucci is six KGB politicals in an unconvincing black hacker hoodie (TW: fake Cyrillic). To start with, a chat with a reporter from Motherboard revealed that Gucci does not, in fact, speak correct Romanian, and the metadata is riddled with Russian, as spotted by PwnAllTheThings (although interestingly suggesting a wannabe Chekist hacktivist rather than GRU).  Linguistic analysis of their English suggests Russian is a more likely native language than Romanian.  Later, they sent a written statement displaying some of the same grammatical markers to a cybersecurity conference hosted in London by PSBE Futures Group.  To cement the case against Gucci’s personhood, they cleaned up their English and their metadata soon after the first interview. As to The Cyber, in the chat interview with Motherboard, Gucci claims to have broken into the DNC via an NGP VAN 0day in the summer of 2015, except that:

  1. CrowdStrike found no such thing.
  2. NGP VAN is a cloud-based service not stored locally on any DNC machines and is not a particularly efficient attack vector.
  3. Any breach would have been spotted when NGP VAN did the Dec. 2015 audit to figure out how the Sanders campaign wound up seeing the Clinton donor and voter rolls.
  4. NGP VAN is sufficiently specialized and obscure that there isn’t a commercial market for 0days.

This is in effect a claim to be vastly more sophisticated than the Bears, and it’s coming from some time-traveling quantum twerp who doesn’t seem to realize that building a 0day is laughably inefficient when a phish would accomplish the same with much less sorrow.  Not only that, but they continue to insist that not only did they use a vulnerability which apparently does not exist, they also insist that they were the only attacker inside the DNC.  All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the person blogging and speaking to Motherboard and The Smoking Gun knows neither jack nor shit about The Cyber, and [bad Russian accent] also is KGB cutout.  Lastly, as has been observed over and over again, the dox Gucci released were hilariously boring and do not in any way further his alleged ideological goals.  Thomas Rid of King’s College Cambridge suggests, based on the quick turnaround between the DNC noticing Bears running around in their network, CrowdStrike’s involvement, and the sloppy appearance of Gucci, that the DNC leak was a panicky seat-of-the-pants attempt to salvage an otherwise blown operation, and not a very good one.  It’s evidently enough for KGB purposes to sow enough doubt to give a foothold to the Putin-fuckers, whataboutists, and conspiracy-mongers. The ThreatConnect guys’ theory, citing the ludicrous amplification of the whole thing on Russian state media and the low value of the dox, that Gucci’s stuff was ultimately more useful to Putin for reinforcing narratives on state media than as an active measure here in the US is very interesting.  But what was the primary purpose of the op, before CrowdStrike came along to blow the whole show sky-high: passive intelligence collection or active measures?  Since so far the Warren lacks the manpower and infrastructure to bug the Kremlin, we’ll have to invite wild speculation.

As for Podesta, SecureWorks has this technical account of the phishing campaign that got him and this breakdown of their targets.  The phishing email that got Podesta turns up in the Wikileaks dump (link obviously goes to Wikileaks, approach with however much caution fits your paranoia level).  TG-4127, the group it’s associated with, is our old friends Fancy Bear again.  Much of the information published by DCLeaks also seems to have come from this phish, and as far as I’ve seen all of it was obtained by APT28, but I need to follow that rabbit hole a little further to see whether other phishing campaigns may have been involved.  This one got caught because of an opsec fail in the use of Bitly to mass-generate customized landing pages.  The phish itself wasn’t nearly as crude as it looks from the plaintext in WL.  Podesta would have seen this, also via @PwnAllTheThings:

This is pretty good, as it goes: the tipoff is accounts.googlemail.com and of course the URL at the fraudulent login page [insert DON’T GET PHISHED BY FANCY BEAR lecture here].  One has to wonder if they tried to put the source of the fake breach in Ukraine deliberately, the bastards (maybe this phishing email may be what Putin was referring to when he tried to pin the leaks on the Ukrainian government?).

Krypt3ia makes a pretty good case, based on the metadata, that the Clinton Foundation dox were fake.  Motherboard has some reporting on the same thing (even the rightist Daily Caller).  The Hill reports that the Clinton Foundation was able to turn up no evidence of a breach: Gucci the invisible wonder-hacker strikes again?  You tell me.  This seems kind of weird and haphazard, and casts doubt on the authenticity of Gucci’s other data dumps.  It’s certainly not the KGB’s best work.  It’s also, let’s be real, kind of weird that no emails either from or claiming to be from the Notorious HRC Server have turned up anywhere in all this mess.  Maybe they would have, if Trump hadn’t publicly asked the Russians to cough them up.  Who knows.

Lastly, the feds interrupted an attack on voter registration infrastructure in Illinois and Arizona before any damage was done.  Voter rolls are part of the public record, so there’s no intel-collection motive for this, although the KGB is somewhat notoriously bad at OSINT.  It remains unclear what was intended.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

[Jefferson Airplane plays loudly]

I’ve enlisted a couple of friends (hereafter the Warren) to go down the Russia scandal rabbit hole with me for the next couple of weeks.  Having been unable to find a centralized account of everything known and everything alleged, we’ve decided to make one ourselves.

Our preliminary organizational work is turning up a reasonably straightforward story amidst all the weirdness: Paul Manafort is a direct link between the campaign and a dizzying tangle of sketchy Russians, and since the summer Roger Stone has been telling anyone who will listen that he has a back-channel to Wikileaks.  If any hard evidence of coordination is going to come out, it’s likely going to be related to those two.  I’m going to predict at the outset that we will not end up discovering that Trump is some sort of deep-cover Russian mole.  This isn’t an octopus, it’s a bucket of eels.  There isn’t going to be a continuous plot because there is no continuity of participants.  The bucket of eels is fascinating on its own— there are all sorts of other interconnected questionable characters in the regime’s orbit who manage to turn the whole mess into what a certain webcomic artist once called a double Mobius reacharound— but most of the connections are probably not very important.  We already know that Trump has a history with the Russian mob, and we’ll likely find out that he has a history of all manner of inappropriate contacts with people in the Russian intelligence services, but that does not mean that he is aware that these people are members of the Russian intelligence services.  We may also find out that he’s being blackmailed, through his financial entanglements or maybe through lifestyle kompromat, although it’s hard to envision what would embarrass him.

I’ll also soon be moving to a squalid apartment filled with newspaper cuttings and red string.

March 2017: Duke of URL

Daesh burned the libraries, and Mosul needs books.

Repeat after James Mickens: “The CIA Is Not In My Threat Model.”

The Evola chatter continues with this piece at the Atlantic about how old Jules’s faintly Nietzschean Roman-revivalist ideas should be incompatible with Bannon’s Christianist traditionalism (which manages to be neither particularly Christian nor particularly traditional).  They should be, of course, but the alt-right’s ideological reasoning processes resemble those of Umberto Eco’s Diabolicals more than they do normal political movements.  I remain annoyed that Evola is in the zeitgeist at all.

The Dictator Style guy has analyzed our glorious leader’s felony interior decorating.

I find the Grugq’s theory that Russian lightswitch shenanigans in Ukraine are more about the US-Russia-China cyber arms race than they are about Ukraine persuasive.

“Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon arranged the timing in the expectation that opponents, freed from work on the weekend, would stage huge protests.”

Scott Alexander’s review of Eichmann in Jerusalem is great.

“Facebook’s business is to simulate you and to own and control your simulation, thereby owning and controlling you.”  Really, why are you still on Facebook?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Viktator’s got a man in the White House.  The anti-Semitic Populist-Nationalist International aside, I’ve read this guy’s book about terrorism and it’s crazy enough that it probably deserves a post sooner or later.

“Throughout history, only massive, violent shocks that upended the established order proved powerful enough to flatten disparities in income and wealth.”

Go practice your vehicular surveillance.

From September, Corey Pein at the Baffler on conspiracy theorists.

I’ve always found it weird that people manage to be for the death penalty while also being squeamish about the appearance of whatever method the state uses to kill people.  FiveThirtyEight has weighed in on that lethal injection vs. firing squad debate: the conclusion is tentatively in favor of the firing squad but there’s still insufficient data compounded with puzzling squeamishness. Obvious warning for discussion of execution methods is obvious.  I overthought this and now you can too (out of the methods listed, I’d definitely prefer a firing squad, in case anyone is keeping track, and hold the blindfold).

Rafia Zakaria at the Baffler on flying while Muslim.

“I am a white, English-speaking law professor, affluent, privileged, articulate, and a native-born citizen. Such hair as I have is white and I can hardly seem like a threat to anyone. I have researched the matter, and feel reasonably confident that an agent would have to let me pass if I refused the demand for my papers. If not, I can afford counsel and my family knows excellent lawyers to call. I am vowing here and now not to show papers in this situation.”

I found this article on US-Russia relations from Foreign Policy in my own Hindsight File archives.  Mainly it’s interesting because neither candidate would have followed its advice.

Steve Bannon is a big fan of a weird racist French novel that’s more or less the European equivalent of The Turner Diaries.

“The alternative to facts on the ground is to act, regardless of the facts on the ground. When you act you make new facts. You clear new ground. And when you roll over or roll back the people who have a duty to report the situation as it is—people in the press, the military, the bureaucracy, your own cabinet, or right down the hall—then right there you have demonstrated your might.”

Poland’s governing party is the latest in a string of far-right madpersons taking potshots at the EU, using a bizarre conspiracy theory about the plane crash that killed Lech Kaczynski as cover (Anne Appelbaum sees this as an omen).  By the time this post is published, we’ll know what happened at the summit.  I’m taking odds on the EU surviving until 2020.

You’re not crazy: American media does seem to give disproportionate attention to Salafi-jihadist terrorism.

In which the goddamn Straussians continue to be at it.

FiveThirtyEight finds that, contra the Monkey Cage, geographic polarization is real.  No comment on whether or not it’s caused by foot-voting.  I have a headache, and minus five to Slytherin for two FiveThirtyEight links in the same roundup.

This article from WSJ is for everyone for whom opera has been permanently ruined by Looney Tunes (as always one of the great mysteries of the 20th century is why in hell Elmer Fudd is persistently attracted to a male rabbit in drag.)

Try telling people in this dog-forsaken city that the USSR dissolved for complicated internal reasons and not because of anything in particular the West did, and you’ll get run out of town on a rail.  It’s still true.

A plurality of respondents in Russian polling believe that the Bolshevik revolution was a Western plot.  What.

Randall Munroe tried to warn us.

And Another Thing

I find the Greenwaldian muttering about the IC not tolerating contact with Russia totally preposterous.  In an absolute sense, the Trumpist reconciliation line on Russia is not hugely different from the previous two administrations’ positions at the beginning of their terms, and is just as likely to run headlong into fundamental incompatibilities in US and Russian interests as the last two were.  Making friends with Russia and going skipping off happily into the steppe has been an ambition of US presidential candidates since the end of the Cold War, and it just never does seem to go as planned.  This is because there is a Chekist asshole in charge now and before that there was Yeltsin, who only looks good by comparison.  You didn’t exactly see this supposed cartoonish hostility to diplomatic relations with Russia manifesting in the same way when Bush and Obama had their respective disastrous goes at it.   Fuck you, Glenn.  Get off my lawn.

What does make the Trumpist line stand out from the past is Trump’s characteristic fondness for strongmen (c.f. Erdogan, al-Sisi, Orban, need I go on), and that this comes on the heels of Putin’s deliberate, hostile interference in our domestic politics.  This is not perhaps a common view, but I have no problem with above-board, clearly-labelled foreign involvement in US electoral politics, as long as it doesn’t involve campaign donations.  Putin wants to come and give an opinion?  Fine.  He wants to run his crazy TV station here?  Also fine.  He wants to pay canvassers to go out in the streets and tell people that Putin thinks they should vote for Trump?  Sure, still don’t care, so long as they’re clearly labelled.  I do take a dim view, on principle, of covert election meddling.  It’s bad when we do it, it’s bad when the Russians do it too.

The issue here remains overclassification.  This is updated mischief for the 21st century, and we need to understand the extent and intent of the mischief before we can arrive at any sort of democratic consensus on what should be done about it (and obviously something like cutting off diplomatic relations with Russia over this would be beyond stupid but as far as I know, no one serious is suggesting that).

Oh yeah and also all the lying.

Warranted Twitter Panic

I got on Twitter just now and everything was on fire so I went to do my laundry and think about this a little.  It seems to me there are four possibilities here:

  1. There was a legitimately obtained FISA warrant, for whatever value of “legitimately” can be associated with FISA.
  2. There was an ordinary surveillance warrant out on the campaign.
  3. The Obama administration did something spectacularly illegal.
  4. There is no warrant at all and POTUS is just raving.

2, 3, and 4 seem relatively unlikely to me, except insofar as FISA is sometimes unconstitutional.  If there’s an ordinary, fully-constitutional warrant out, we need to know about it yesterday if not sooner, but what he’s talking about is most likely the FISA warrant reported at the Guardian, which was initially turned down as too broad.  It’s not inconsistent to believe simultaneously that FISA is sometimes unconstitutional and also that we have a problem that requires investigation if there is sufficient evidence on POTUS to eventually get any kind of FISA warrant on him.  How the constitutional needle is to be threaded depends on the specifics [Edit: I went digging around again and other reporting seems to suggest that the FISA warrant was obtained in the course of a felony investigation, which may mean probable cause was required, but this is also mainly from British sources so take the salt shaker].

And then one wonders where exactly the regime plans on taking this.  They’re not about to be going after FISA: that would be reducing their own power.  They’re not going to plead insanity: that would be crazy.  So that leaves them either with giving in to demands for an investigation (which won’t happen), or with an attempt to launch their own into illegal Obama administration wiretapping, for which there is no known evidence but when has that ever stopped them.

Anyway it’s totally insane that people who likely couldn’t pass an SSBI are running around the White House unhindered.