February 04, 2014

America’s Cyber-Contortionist (and Free Trade Champion? – Not)

Just a few days ago, cyber-security specialists and senior government representatives met in Germany at the 50th annual Munich Security Conference.  

Since 1963, the MSC has served as “an independent forum dedicated to promoting peaceful conflict resolution and international cooperation and dialogue in dealing with today’s and future security challenges.” (More at: https://www.securityconference.de/en/).

Needless to say, in recent years, the MSC has focused on security challenges in the realm of cyber.  This year’s sessions were no different.  One session in particular stood out for me: The January 31 Panel Discussion focused on: "Rebooting Trust? Freedom vs. Security in Cyberspace."

The President of Estonia made an opening statement, and then the CEO of Deutsche Telekom introduced the panelists, including the German Minister of the Interior, the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Microsoft’s VP of Security, Huawei’s Chief Security Officer (reminder: Huawei is my employer), and the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), Mike Rogers. 

The panel was moderated by the President of the EastWest Institute, an organization founded in 1980 which “seeks to make the world a safer place by addressing the seemingly intractable problems that threaten regional and global stability.” (More on EWI at http://www.ewi.info/).

Generally speaking, the panelists (almost all) acknowledged the shattered trust in the information communication technology industry (and select governments) in the wake of the Snowden revelations.  Likewise, the panelists (most) detailed possible steps towards restoring confidence.

One panelist, however, stuck out like a sore thumb (one cannot imagine the countless phrases I considered and rejected for that analogy): Chairman Mike.

Go figure.

Mike opened with an acknowledgment that there is “a trust issue,” but pondered aloud about why the group was really gathered: “Damaging classified information that was leaked?  Maybe so.”  But, Mike thinks not.  Indeed, Mike commented that he was “a little surprised” that people were talking about “the problems with the NSA.” 

The Chairman then transitioned into scare-mongering about Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, etc., oozed into an explanation that reports of U.S. spying on French phone calls were misrepresented, and, subsequently, segued to his key mis-direction of the day:  

The most recent release of information…the United States engages in economic espionage…I have been on the oversight committee doing oversight for our 16 intelligence agencies…for the last ten years…It is against the law in the United States to use our intelligence services for industrial espionage…If they do it, they are going to jail. Period. End of story.” 

Now that’s only part one of the mis-direction, but let’s take a brief time-out to consider it.

Last September I posted on Mike’s utter failure to conduct the oversight with which he is charged (link), so I won’t belabor that point.  But, since he has raised laws and jail, let’s hold him to it: If future revelations show that such industrial espionage did take place, then Mike, by virtue of his position, is aware of and as such complicit to such “illegal” activity and he should be summarily incarcerated…

…But let’s get back to the Chairman’s key mis-direction, part two:

Per Mike: “Now wouldn’t you find it interesting that that information was released at a time when we’re trying to arrange a trade arrangement that I think benefits both Europe and the United States…  I do…

This little nugget doesn’t get fully matured until the Q&A session, but, the gist: The Russians are managing Snowden in order to time his revelations to tank U.S.-EU Free Trade talks.

In the Q&A session, Mike hammers it home: “I think it’s a huge mistake to allow this issue…to step in the way of a trade agreement between Europe and the United States.  These are two very separate issues…but by tying them together I will guarantee you that you will see more disclosures like we saw last week that the Americans engage in economic espionage…” 

He went on: “You’re gonna see more of that because it breeds distrust – the Russians have a specific purpose for driving a wedge between us and our European allies.”

The Chairman is wrong.  

Not in terms of our seeing further revelations, but in terms of his interpretation of the “tie” between European privacy concerns and the U.S.-EU Free Trade talks.

Europeans have every right to consider privacy protections in the context of U.S.-EU Free Trade negotiations – the former might (albeit unlikely) serve as leverage towards achieving some sort of protections in the context of agreeing the latter, although not likely in the actual substance of any trade agreement.  That is a legitimate tie.  Mike’s suggestion that the Russians are somehow orchestrating the tie borders on absurd.

It gets worse.  Following his initial suggestion that the Russians are orchestrating revelations, and in advance of his Q&A session elaboration on this point, Mike goes on to propel himself headlong into a trap he has set for himself more than once in recent months: 

In defending the integrity and due process of U.S. espionage activities, the Chairman refers to “an oversight mechanism that is not seen anywhere else in the world.  Our judicial branch, our…legislative branch, and our executive branch have to go through an approval process for these activities… that is an important distinction and we argue that is our transparency.”


Really?  That reference, and the Chairman’s subsequent Q&A session reference to the FISA court and 4th Amendment protections, are both to processes that only apply to American citizens, and, seemingly, only within U.S. borders, and, from what we have had revealed to us by Mr. Snowden, perhaps not at all. 

One thing is certain though: Europeans and other non-Americans do not benefit from any such oversight or Constitutional prophylaxis (as was pointed out by one clued-in questioner).

C’mon Mike. C’mon America.  Is this the best we have, is this the best we can do?  

(Link to video of the full 1.5 hour panel discussion)