Coping: With the Reality of XKeyscore

It’s not very often that we nail use-case and software development as accurately as this, but  a couple of weeks ago I wrote up for readers [SUBSCRIBE] how to develop a scoring algorithm for electronic surveillance of an entire country.


After you go here and read how “NSA tool collects ‘nearly everything a user does on the internet‘ come back here and read how such systems, even using meta data, can pose a serious risk to personal freedom.


In the interest of wider public discussion, here’s the “How it could work” part of that Peoplenomics report from July 20th:


— Peoplenomics extract —


“Let me run through an example of how this can work.  As a practical matter, the first thing you’ll need will be a huge government data center. As luck would have it, exactly such a center is now under construction in Utah. In terms of what will feed into this megalithic computer empire, we already know that bank and credit card transaction information is likely to be there, metadata about cell phone calls and possibly landline communications as well.

As long as we’re at it, let’s also toss in a real-time feed from Google which can be traced back to your Internet protocol numerical address. That could give government keen insight into the kinds of websites we’re visiting, which in turn will reflect our personal tastes and philosophies of life.  Sexual peccadilloes, too, if any.

In the book I begin with the example of a John Doe who wakes up to the sound of a colleague from work calling him on the phone.

“Hello, this is John, who’s this?”

“Hi John, this is Abu and services in IT at the office, and I wanted to talk to you about your computer. You know, I have been working on it and I would like to have your permission to backup your hard drive over the Internet because you’ve apparently had a head crash at some point and you’re experiencing errors. Would that be okay with you John?”

“Well, sure Abu of course you can and thanks for calling. I have some pictures of my wife on their from her birthday party and I wouldn’t want those to get lost, but you guys in the IT department do what you need to do.  I’ll be in early on Monday in case anything needs attention that. Hey! Thanks for calling to I really appreciate that.”

It all seems like such a simple transaction to occur: a guy from the IT department on work calls on Saturday morning, there in doing some computer work, he wants to do something your hard drive, he has enough respect for you that he calls you up on the phone, and you tell him he can backup your computer.

Except for one ugly fact. Abu happens to be on a government watch list because he is not from America, and as a result, his cell phone is subject to more or less constant surveillance. This means that at 9:17 AM on Saturday July 20th you received a phone call from someone under surveillance.

As a result, now your telephone number, which is keyed back to you and your spouse, is about to get wrapped around the axle of a wider government operation.

The way to envision this type of algorithmic surveillance program working is quite simple: we will use a simple scoring system because it’s very compact, numerical in nature, easy to score, and incredibly powerful.

In the development of our hypothetical scoring technique will give everyone in America – hypothetically about 230 million individual dossiers – an initial score at a very low level. Let’s call this level 10.

Obviously, someone who doesn’t understand how the security elite place themselves above the people being surveilled might be somewhat confused.

“Why not simply start everybody gets zero?”

It’s a reasonable thing to ask. However, the people who are in the surveillance business would never like the messiness of becoming involved in their own machinations, so they would devise a system where negative scoring (special status) would be granted to them, exempting them (and their families).

The alternative approach, would be for them to simply be exempted from having a dossier collected on them completely, but everyone has a boss who wants to keep an eye on things, so a low (or even negative score) but still being in the system would be how to build it.

Either way, those in the spy business get to behave separately and distinctly – without review – from the general population under surveillance.


So back to our Saturday morning: Let’s further suppose that on your way home Friday afternoon you heard a story about how terrorists were targeting the Internet’s soft underbelly. Maybe you had read something or heard something about how IT platforms that controls data operations could be hacked by enemies of America.

Having a few minutes before the coffee since Abu’s call, you decide to pop online and do some searches, not realizing that your initial score of 10 initially granted to you because you’re just an average guy (or gal) has already been bumped up to a score of 14 by virtue of having received that called from the foreign – named fellow in the IT department.

As you go through your search, and the search engine feeds your queries back up to the Big Black Box center, you begin to get off the beaten track a bit. Maybe you wander into a government website where there is a discussion or a PDF file related to attacking America’s infrastructure online.

Unbeknownst to you, once you cross a specific search trip-wire, your IP address may be noted.

This is clearly stated on many government websites such as the U.S. Army’s Internet portal available for civilians who have been granted access. However, when it comes to matters of national security, the government likely feels no compulsion to tell anyone (except our big security database scoring system) about the visit of your IP address (your computer, right?).

All of a sudden, but again with no notification to you, your Current Threat Score (CTS we’ll call it),  has now been bumped up to 23.

Ah, at last: that first cup of coffee is ready. And as you sit there, idly wondering how all this terrorism stuff works, you seem to remember from the old days in school and oddly titled book titled “The Anarchist’s Cookbook.”

What the hell? Wasn’t Friday payday?

“I wonder if I could find that book on Amazon,” you ask yourself with that, you hit the world’s largest online retailer, login not realizing that you are now traceable back to our big security Center database, and you begin trying to find that book.

Silently, your current threat score has just increased to 37.

“Hey honey, could you run to the store for me? I almost ran out of gas coming in the driveway last night, so the car needs gas and as long as you’re out we’re out of gas for the lawnmower and the edger, and don’t forget Billy Sue needs some gasoline for his go kart to.”

“No problem dear I’ll get to it right away. I need to get a few things at the grocery store to so is there anything you need there?”

“Well, gosh, as long as you’re going there, why don’t you pick me up a couple of boxes of laundry detergent. I like to have several boxes on hand if we can get them on sale.”

Being the good spouse you are, you trundle off to the store and noticed that laundry soap is on sale.

Not only is it on sale, but this is the best price you’ve seen in probably five years. We did say yesterday was payday, right? Let’s load up on half a dozen boxes of this as long as were here. Happily loaded to the gills with groceries and six big jumbo sized boxes of laundry detergent we now go to the gas station.

Let’s see now, your car takes 21 gallons of gas when the tank is absolutely empty, you have a 5 gallon jug of gas that you give your son for his thinking around with the go kart, so that’s what 26 gallons? And there’s that other 5 gallon jug which you make premix and for the chainsaw and the two cycle weed Whacker. That comes up to 31 gallons of gas.

Once again, halfway across the country, the terrorism suspect scoring algorithm notices the following: first you bought six boxes of laundry soap which is an unusual amount for you because you have a family of 3.2. Oh, the system knows it was you who bought the laundry soap because you wrote a check and it was confirmed with your use of your super-duper discount card at the grocery store.

That got the attention and an escalation to 52 on your threat index because large quantity purchases may indicate hoarding, which in turn may indicate a month which in turn may insinuate an antigovernment or at least a noncompliant kind of attitude.

Not exactly the kind of person to be trusted.

But now it got worse, when you filled up the car because the system already knows that your license plate number is XXX123 and that is tied to you and your spouse. What’s more, yet another SQL table has informed the indexing code that the maximum amount of gasoline that should never be purchased by you should be in the vicinity of 25 gallons.

This act in and of itself further increases your score to 61 in the threat index. But suddenly, another subroutine kicks in, and all of a sudden the score reflected in your dossier climbs to a remarkable 65.

What happened? In George’s fantastic algorithm for terrorism surveillance, all goods are coded as to their applicable in the to make terrorism, subversion, and sabotage devices.

Obviously, since napalm is built out of gasoline and the detergent, your score jumped quickly even though your specific purchases may have been done innocently. On the way home, you seal your fate: a visit from officials of the government who wish to interview you about your recent activities.

Your final straw that got you over a visit threshold score of 75?

You stopped at RadioShack and bought a few electronic parts as well as some batteries and although these may show up on your receipt as incidental household items, they could also be timer chips, circuit boards, diodes, relays, capacitors, and maybe even an altimeter sensing switch.

You go home, oblivious to the fact that sometime in the next week you may have an official visit. Or, more subtle means may be applied such as regressive software which will look more into your personal background and purchase history.

Say, what’s this 640 round canister of Russian military 7.62X 39 MM ammunition that was purchased five years ago from the online ammunition store? It doesn’t take very much work by a competent investigator (or back-testing software)  to determine if you are likely to be an antigovernment agitator, saboteur, or terrorist.

— end Peoplenomics extract —


So that seems, indeed, to be roughly how it works.  Not a bad approach and simple to implement from a software perspective.  It is, after all, just a “use case” and some high speed SQL indexing.  Toss in a $2-billion data center in Utah, a government massive load-balancing project and you’d have it all.


All, except for a tiny nit of a problem: The Fourth Amendment:


“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


With the Second Amendment already circumvented through ammunition purchases, the 5th Amendment in trouble, I doubt that many in Washington will have the mental acuity to see how the corporate coup is taking down another Amendment, now playing in a country near you.


Under the new regime, being a tax slave is now probable cause, it seems.  And today’s big whoopdy at the White House on topic will undoubtedly be more platitudes and pandering on top of lies and diversions.


Why the Federal Trade Commission can’t enforce “truth in advertising” laws against politicians is beyond my feeble mind’s ability.  But the oath does demand protection of the Constitution from “…all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Another Second Depression Indicator

It’s always good to hear from my friend Claus Dettelbacher in Tanzania…and his note this morning is of particular interest because it deals with one of the traditional outlets of the middle class:


“Hi George,   Guess these figures would be interesting to you:   (Link to story)   After all, cameras are the ‘luxury goods’ of the lil man and the (former) middle class. A good indicator in my eyes (pun intended).   Best wishes,   Claus “


Claus, who I’ve mentioned to you many times as the author of “The Pre-Revolution Handbook: How a non-violent constitutional movement could transform collapse into rising freedom & real change” certain has a keen eye for detail.


But, then again, so does Ure’s truly:  I figure it is just a function of having all those new cell phones on the market which incorporate built-in cameras.


In fact, near as I can figure at the moment, the highest resolution cell phone available right now is the Nokia 808 PureView Unlocked Phone with a 41 MP Camera with Carl Zeiss Optics–U.S. Warranty (White)


Holy crap!  Sure, it’s a bit spendier than my $80 dollar Tracfone LG LG800G with 1200 Minutes and Triple Minutes for Life!! (Tracfone) but, then again, it’s not the newer 840-G model. 


Even so, it comes with 2-megapixels and both pictures and video’s…which are them emailed back to our “mothership” computers.


Like I say, part of me wants to think that photography is alive and well, but the purpose-built cameras are, in fact, losing head space.  People are getting more and more used to having “everything-in-one” convenience.


Which gets me to the point here:  I’m beholding (in amazement) how my “matrix approach to life” is coming to pass.  What that means is that we are in a marvelous part of financial/economic/industrial history at the moment when each potential development node is being “built-out” to see if anyone will buy the resulting product.


So because a cell phone has a battery in it, anything else in your entire daily life experience that uses a battery becomes fair game to be included in the evolution of some “ultimate, be-all, end-all” cell phone.


I’ll give you an example of what I mean:  Take that remote control for your TV/DVD/Home Theater rig of yours.  It has a remote control, right?  Well next time you wind up one too many and lose the remote, you can grab your handy Samsung Galaxy S IV/S4 GT-I9500 Factory Unlocked Phone – International Version (Black Mist) that you’ve paid a mere $623 for and using WatchOn, you can get back to surfing channels before the Ibuprofen hits.


Another household item you have that runs on a battery is a flashlight.  Oh, sure, that was built in to the Nokia 1280 Beamshot series, but with so many phones handling apps, there are scads of apps that simply turn on all the phone’s LED’s on the screen (some with different colors) and that’s that.


On the other hand, with a space $500 laying around, you could pop for the Nokia Lumia 928, White (Verizon Wireless) for $500 (!) which comes with a flash-system for its onboard camera.


I can hardly wait for additional battery-driven tools to be introduced and maybe, just maybe, someone besides me will see the wisdom of building a “power takeoff” into cell phones to run useful workshop items like a plug-in electric screwdriver or perhaps a mini- Dremel tool.


Or, maybe a toothbrush…you know… a link-up between LG or Samsung and SoniCare, right?  Yessir, buy 1200 more of those triple minutes for life and you get a tube of (fluoride-free) toothpaste!


Say, you don’t think a special ladies phone with an extended vibrator app would sell, do you?  Why then we could invent lubricated cell phone covers!  We’ll all get rich!


Virtual Oshkosh

I don’t know if I’ll be able to score any credits in the FAA WINGS program for this, but I did two virtual sessions online from the annual ultimate airshow going on this week up at Oshkosh.


It’s called Airventure 2013 and it is THE place to go if you’re a pilot and have a ton of cash burning a hole in your pocket.  Since I only meet one-half of the criteria, we didn’t go, but the FAA has put on some dandy webinars from up there and I logged two hours yesterday learning about what maintenance an aircraft owner can do themselves, and more important, what the regs are regarding when an entry has to be made into a log book to return an aircraft to service.


A few of the hints included learning where to get a complete copy of all your aircraft official paperwork on CD  (here) and a process to organize all the paperwork.


So, if you’re a pilot and don’t have enough suck points to score time off during the pilgrimage to Oshkosh, there are plenty of seminars and webcams and even live aircraft audio to be had (cams and audio here).


This airport is now the busiest one in the world and it has been a remarkably safe event…which is amazing because I’ve heard tell that they do things like simultaneous landings on two halves of the runway and things like that to keep things moving along…


Art Bell’s Return

Word is that long-time late-night radio legend Art Bell will be coming to XM channel 104 this fall.  The show, which will be dubbed “Art Bell’s Dark Matter” will originate from his home studio near Pahrump, Nevada…


OK, which matter’s why?  Well, last time I checked, Art had one of the most impressive large loop antenna installations in the world.  I seem to recall it’s a full wave 80-meter loop up about 70-80 feet on four towers…so with his return to Nevada, does that mean W6OBB will be back on the ham bands more often?

Another hand radio note:  I’m putting together an updated version of my “Gentle Intro to Ham Radio” for the followers of  No, Gaye still hasn’t gotten her ticket yet, but I’m after her and survival hubby to get active at least on the two meter band.

And my lifelong pal (since age 4), who turns 64 tomorrow, has been having RF “in the shack” issues in his 20-froot camping trailer.  So we’ve been troubleshooting that with 0.1 uf caps and ordering clip-on ferrites to keep the low-band antenna from lighting up the trailer’s LED lights.


Around the Ranch

Summer brings a unique set of mysteries to the ranch…one of which is how a 55-gallon drum of diesel, about 2/3rd’s full, managed to have an algae bloom in it, which means I’ll be trying to rig up a “fuel polishing” system one of these days. Lots of dope on this on sailing/cruising websites like here.


Just a reminder that there are two distinct problems when storing diesel.  One is the preservation part (which we’ve talked about before and there are several good products for that) and the other is the growth of algae.



One product out there which promises to dissolve the algae slowly is called Fuel Medics 37364 Diesel Cleaner for All Diesel Engines, 32-Ounce and while it’s not cheap ($30) is may be cheaper than buying a couple of Raycor filters and a small pump, getting some fuel hose and building a REAL fuel polishing set-up.


And on the Kubota tractor (which has been getting some exercise keeping the rifle/pistol range hacked down, I found I could buy Wix filters for about 50% cheaper than the Kubota OEM brand…and since I seem to be using a few of them…


I’ll look at the fine print on the diesel cleaner when it shows up…since some chemicals aren’t recommended for use on plastic fuel tanks…and no, I don’t think Kubotas have stainless steel tanks…


Meantime, speaking of cleaning up the range, we’ve been looking for the return of .22 ammo for plinking and darned if we can find any 500-round bricks at anything near reasonable prices.  I’m  still kicking myself for not buying up a dozen bricks of the stuff back when Wal-Mart had it for $15-bucks a block a few years back in the days before Ammunition Control in lieu of Gun Control.  But don’t get me started on that.


That would no doubt set off a firestorm of emails from gun-grabbers who would ask me if I’d seem how George Zimmerman was pulled over here in Texas and had a gun in his possession.  But I’d say there was no arrest, so why is it anyone’s business?


Oh wait!  I forgot:  The (corporate-owned) media needs to keep the media histrionics ramped up otherwise there will be millions people pissed about ammo disappearing….


But that then leads us into the NSA spying story…but since that was our lead story this morning, been there, done that.


So…time to ‘hit it and git it’ so more tomorrow…


Write when you get rich…


George Ure (george at ure dot net)



Here are some useful ways to spend your money…


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CJ’s Boolean & Investing in the Ganzfeldn>

This weekend, reader CJ in Connecticut (who sadly missed out meet-up back there  in June) has a very well thought-out question about how economics works…so we  will dig into that.  Then we’ll ponder how comparative risk between assets  classes may be starting to come loose from its moorings…and the ice cream  Saturday…er…sundae will be considering how to invest in the Ganzfeld.   Before going there, however, a twinge of Gestalt from our usual quick survey of  this morning’s headlines.  You’ll want to pay close attention this morning  because we’re going to use the news to do some ad hoc “Event scoring” as a way  to intuit the future and make better investment decisions…as we arrive at  another system of handicapping the future on our way to the $2-dollar options  window…


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