The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'stasi'
Two fragments of the secret history of the Cold War have come to light. In 1969, US President Nixon sent a squadron of nuclear bombers towards the Soviet Union, and instructed Kissinger to tell the Soviets that Nixon was "out of control", leading them to believe that they're dealing with a dangerous madman, in order to scare them into leaning on the North Vietnamese government.
Apparently neither Nixon or Kissinger had absorbed another Schelling insight - if you want to credibly pretend you are out of control then you have to push things so far that sometimes you will be out of control. The number of ways such a plan could have resulted in a nuclear war is truly frightening. After all, Nixon was gambling millions of lives on the Soviets being the rational players in this game.Fortunately, the Soviets didn't call his bluff and civilisation as we know it still stands.
Meanwhile, it turns out that the West German policeman who shot dead an unarmed left-wing demonstrator in West Berlin in 1967, touching off riots and enraging the protest movement, had been working for the Stasi.
The most insidious question raised by the revelation is whether Mr. Kurras might have been acting not only as a spy, but also as an agent provocateur, trying to destabilize West Germany. As the newspaper Bild am Sonntag put it in a headline, referring to the powerful former leader of the dreaded East German security agency, Erich Mielke, “Did Mielke Give Him the Order to Shoot?”
In an interview with the Bild, Mr. Kurras, 81, confirmed that he had been in the East German Communist Party. “Should I be ashamed of that or something?” Mr. Kurras was quoted as saying. As for the Stasi, he said, “And what if I did work for them? What does it matter? It doesn’t change anything,” the paper reported.
An investigation into German discount supermarket chain Lidl has revealed an extensive campaign of surveillance of employees, which has been compared to the Stasi's monitoring of East Germany's population (though perhaps Walt Disney's surveillance of animators and Henry Ford's sociological department are also good comparisons):
The detectives' records include details of precisely where employees had tattoos as well as information about their friends. "Her circle of friends consists mainly of drug addicts," reads one record. The detectives also had the task of identifying which employees appeared to be "incapable" or "introverted and naive".
While most incidents seem to have occurred in Germany, the most shocking one allegedly occurred at a Lidl store in the Czech Republic, where a female worker was forbidden to go to the toilet during working hours. An internal memorandum, which is now the centre of a court case in the republic, allegedly advised staff that "female workers who have their periods may go to the toilet now and again, but to enjoy this privilege they should wear a visible headband".
Recording how a German employee identified as Frau M spent her break, one report read: "Frau M wanted to make a call with her mobile phone at 14.05 ... She received the recorded message that she only had 85 cents left on her prepaid mobile. She managed to reach a friend with whom she would like to cook this evening, but on condition that her wage had been paid into her bank, because she would otherwise not have enough money to go shopping."A spokesperson for Lidl has said that the surveillance was intended "not to monitor staff, but to establish possible abnormal behaviour".
Wired has an interesting article on the project to reassemble shredded Stasi documents in Germany, a vast project involving scanners and custom-developed software from the Fraunhofer Group (best known for developing the MP3 audio compression algorithm):
The data for the 400-bag pilot project is stored on 22 terabytes worth of hard drives, but the system is designed to scale. If work on all 16,000 bags is approved, there may be hundreds of scanners and processors running in parallel by 2010. (Right now they're analyzing actual documents, but still mostly vetting and refining the system.) Then, once assembly is complete, archivists and historians will probably spend a decade sorting and organizing. "People who took the time to rip things up that small had a reason," Nickolay says. "This isn't about revenge but about understanding our history." And not just Germany's — Nickolay has been approached by foreign officials from Poland and Chile with an interest in reconstructing the files damaged or destroyed by their own repressive regimes.
The truth is, for Poppe the reconstructed documents haven't contained bombshells that are any bigger than the information in the rest of her file. She chooses a black binder and sets it down on the glass coffee table in her living room. After lighting a Virginia Slim, she flips to a page-long list of snitches who spied on her. She was able to match codenames like Carlos, Heinz, and Rita to friends, coworkers, and even colleagues in the peace movement. She even tracked down the Stasi officer who managed her case, and after she set up a sort of ambush for him at a bar — he thought he was there for a job interview — they continued to get together. Over the course of half a dozen meetings, they talked about what she found in her files, why the Stasi was watching her, what they thought she was doing. For months, it turned out, an agent was assigned to steal her baby stroller and covertly let the air out of her bicycle tires when she went grocery shopping with her two toddlers. "If I had told anyone at the time that the Stasi was giving me flat tires, they would have laughed at me," she says. "It was a way to discredit people, make them seem crazy. I doubted my own sanity sometimes." Eventually, the officer broke off contact, but continued to telephone Poppe — often drunk, often late at night, sometimes complaining about his failing marriage. He eventually committed suicide.
(via Boing Boing)
Among the research projects being funded by the US military in the age of terrorism is sensors for identifying enemies by scent:
"Recent experimental results" show that chemical compounds in a mouse's "urinary" scent produces an "odortype" that's unique to each individual rodent, Darpa observes in its original solicitation for the project. "Although experimental data for humans is far less quantitative," the agency is hoping that a similarly "genetically determined," "exploitable chemosignal" can be found in people, too.
Once that marker is found, Darpa's proposed 2007 budget notes, the agency wants to know what "the impact of non-genetic factors (e.g., diet, stress, health, age) [have] on the signal." That could help figure out how to "robustly extract" the signal "from a complex and varied chemical background."This is by no means a new concept: the Stasi, the East German secret police, kept scent samples from known dissidents and suspects. Though the Stasi used an almost Victorian low-tech method (swabs of cloth in glass jars), whereas this, if it works, will take the technique into the 21st century, by digitising scent signatures. Then miniaturised sensors, dropped by the trillion from unmanned drones over Waziristan or Venezuela or whatever the future theatre of war may be, can not only phone home if they find Osama (or whatever enemy the state of the day—or, indeed, any non-governmental agency with the resources to deploy such a system—needs to hunt down), but report back on what he's been having for dinner and what state of health he's in.
Coupled with the sort of data-mining/pattern-matching that gives PNAC technocrats woodies, the possibilities are even broader. What if there are certain molecular aspects of one's smell signature that correlate with interesting aspects of one's ideological beliefs or behavioral tendencies (for example, whether one is a devout Wahhabi Muslim, or a vegetarian, or possessed of an unusually high sex drive or a propensity to anger). A fine mist of sensors could find potential jihadists before they ever strap on a bomb; as it could well find other people worth keeping an eye on, in the interests of national security, global stability, public order and/or the status quo. It's the old SubGenius idea of "whiffreading", updated for the post-1998 and post-9/11 Homeland Security Age.
(via Boing Boing)
Here come Ashcroft's Stasi. The Bush Administration is planning to recruit 1 in 24 Americans as informants, to watch their neighbours and report "suspicious activity". The Citizen Corps, as it's called, will include a greater proportion of the population than East Germany's notoriously comprehensive informant network ever did.
Historically, informant systems have been the tools of non-democratic states. According to a 1992 report by Harvard University's Project on Justice, the accuracy of informant reports is problematic, with some informants having embellished the truth, and others suspected of having fabricated their reports.
Present Justice Department procedures mean that informant reports will enter databases for future reference and/or action. The information will then be broadly available within the department, related agencies and local police forces. The targeted individual will remain unaware of the existence of the report and of its contents.
There goes that unpopular notion of the "consent of the governed".
Aren't you glad you live in a country so concerned about your safety? Because if you aren't and say so, your unpatriotic sentiments will end up in the mother of all Oracle databases, to be used against you at some future time.