Posts filed under Surveillance

Of course y’all are smarter than CIA agents

Shared Article from NPR.org

So You Think You're Smarter Than A CIA Agent

When 3,000 average citizens were asked to forecast global events, some consistently made predictions that turned out to be more accurate than those ma…

Alix Spiegel @ npr.org


For the past three years, Rich and 3,000 other average people have been quietly making probability estimates about everything from Venezuelan gas subsidies to North Korean politics as part of the Good Judgment Project, an experiment put together by three well-known psychologists and some people inside the intelligence community.

. . . For most of his professional career, Tetlock studied the problems associated with expert decision making. His book Expert Political Judgment is considered a classic, and almost everyone in the business of thinking about judgment speaks of it with unqualified awe.

All of his studies brought Tetlock to at least two important conclusions.

First, if you want people to get better at making predictions, you need to keep score of how accurate their predictions turn out to be, so they have concrete feedback.

But also, if you take a large crowd of different people with access to different information and pool their predictions, you will be in much better shape than if you rely on a single very smart person, or even a small group of very smart people.

The wisdom of crowds is a very important part of this project, and it’s an important driver of accuracy, Tetlock said.

According to one report, the predictions made by the Good Judgment Project are often better even than intelligence analysts with access to classified information, and many of the people involved in the project have been astonished by its success at making accurate predictions.

. . . There’s a lot of noise, a lot of statistical random variation, Tetlock said. But it’s random variation around a signal, a true signal, and when you add all of the random variation on each side of the true signal together, you get closer to the true signal.

In other words, there are errors on every side of the mark, but there is a truth at the center that people are responding to, and if you average a large number of predictions together, the errors will end up canceling each other out, and you are left with a more accurate guess.

That is the wisdom of the crowd.

The point of the Good Judgment Project was to figure out if what was true for the dead ox is true for world events as well.

It is.

In fact, Tetlock and his team have even engineered ways to significantly improve the wisdom of the crowd — all of which greatly surprised Jason Matheny, one of the people in the intelligence community who got the experiment started.

They’ve shown that you can significantly improve the accuracy of geopolitical forecasts, compared to methods that had been the state of the art before this project started, he said.

What’s so challenging about all of this is the idea that you can get very accurate predictions about geopolitical events without access to secret information. In addition, access to classified information doesn’t automatically and necessarily give you an edge over a smart group of average citizens doing Google searches from their kitchen tables.

— Alix Spiegel, So You Think You’re Smarter Than A CIA Agent (2 April 2014), NPR Parallels

It’s nice to see closer attention to this in ongoing research. It ought to be completely unsurprising to hear these results, though. The basics of the wisdom-of-crowds findings are well-established by now, even old hat. So it should not be surprising that when you let a lot of people look at a problem, they often do better than the predictions of official experts. If folks are still agog that jes’ folks might do better at predicting than spies with access to classified information, then it may be because they have too much of a science-fiction picture of how intelligence agencies actually work, and too much of a picture of intelligence agencies as omnicompetent, omniscient secret conspiracies — as if the most significant information for predicting world events were some secret world of deep, dark esoteric truths that are locked away in classified files, which give them some immense and systematic advantage over jes’ folks without access to such files. But that’s not how it works. The overwhelming majority of intel analysis has nothing to do with classified information in the first place; it has to do with the completely unsexy reality of systematically gathering publicly available information from foreign newspapers, television, statistical abstracts, etc. There’s no reason to think that privileged government experts have an advantage in doing that; the image of spy agencies as omniscient forces in control of secret wisdom has much more to do with politics than it does with practical reality.

(Via William Gillis.)

The Age of Bronze

As we approach the New Year, we naturally think of ends, and of beginnings; what has changed, and what we have lost. So hey, libertarians, let’s all get together and feel sorry about the golden age of Limited Government and Individual Liberty we have lost. Remember the ancient liberties that we all enjoyed only 60 years ago, back in the 1950s? Back when all military-age men were subject to the draft, people were being interrogated before a permanent committee of Congress over their political beliefs, the FBI was conducting massive illegal wiretapping, surveillance and disruption against nonviolent civil rights activists, the National Security Agency was established as a completely secret surveillance arm of the federal government, it was illegal for married or unmarried women to buy basic birth control, it was made illegal for anyone to buy any scheduled drug without a doctor’s prescription, government was conducting medical experiments on unwilling human subjects[1], Urban Renewal was demolishing the core of every major U.S. city to build government highways and housing projects, and massive community-wide immigration raids were terrorizing undocumented migrants throughout the Southwest.

Or like back in the 1940s when government spending was over 50% of GDP, nearly the entire consumer economy was subject to government rationing, Japanese-Americans were forced into internment camps, and a secret government conspiracy was building an entire network of secret cities in order to build atomic bombs to drop on civilian centers.

Or like back in the 1930s when the entire institutional groundwork of the New Deal was being implemented, Roosevelt was making himself president-for-life, government attempted to seize all gold or silver bullion in private hands, the federal government first instituted the Drug War, Jim Crow was the law of the land, Congress created the INS, Jews fleeing the incipient Holocaust in Europe were being turned away by immigration authorities, and psychiatrists were using massive electric shocks or literally mutilating the brains of women and men confined to asylums.

Or like the 1920s when it was illegal to buy alcoholic drinks anywhere in the United States, tariff rates were nearly 40% on dutiable imports, Sacco and Vanzetti were murdered by the state of Massachusetts, the Invisible Empire Second Era Klan effectively took over the state governments of Colorado, Indiana, and Alabama, hundreds of black victims were massacred in race riots in Tulsa and Rosewood, when Congress created the Federal Radio Commission[2], the US Border Patrol, passed the Emergency [sic] Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the authority of the state to forcibly sterilize women deemed “feeble-minded” or “promiscuous” for eugenic purposes.

Or the 1910s, when the federal government seized control of foreign-owned companies to facilitate production of chemical weapons, imposed the first-ever use of federal conscription to fight an overseas war, invaded Haiti, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico[3], Russia, and Europe, passed criminal anarchy and criminal syndicalism statutes, tried and convicted hundreds of people for belonging to radical unions, imprisoned hundreds of people for protesting the draft during World War I (ordered by the President of the United States and upheld by the Supreme Court in one of its most radical anti-free-speech decisions), deported hundreds of people solely for holding anti-state political beliefs, the Mann Act made it illegal to “transport women across statelines for immoral purposes” [sic], the Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and burned alive striking miners and their families in order to break a UMWA organizing campaign, and Congress created the Federal Reserve, the Income Tax, the Espionage Act, and the Sedition Act.

Or maybe like the 1900s. … .

  1. [1] See also the biological and radiological experiments documented here, and the Guatemala syphilis experiment conducted from 1946-1948.
  2. [2] Created in 1926; later converted into the Federal Communications Commission in 1934.
  3. [3] In 1914, and then again in 1916-1917

There is no such thing as a limited police state

Use of sneak-and-peek secret search warrants in federal investigations 2006-2009.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

— John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans
Reuters news wire, quoted by Matt Welch at Reason (August 5, 2013)

Well of course the NSA’s secret data-gathering, spying and warrantless wiretaps have been used to prosecute American drug cases. Every single fascist National Security monitoring program, secret search and seizure method, surveillance policy, financial regulation, foreign-aid slush fund, paramilitary police program and executive power that has been created over the last 20 years in the name of counter-terrorism — including large sections of Clinton’s AEDPA and large sections of Bush Jr.’s PATRIOT Act — has been utilized, over and over again, by federal prosecutors and the DEA in order to gather evidence and coerce testimony in drug cases. Every single National Security state program, regardless of its alleged purpose, has been used to strengthen the narcs’ hand, and to double down on the federal government’s insane and destructive prosecution of a War on Drugs. This one is just as outrageous; but it’s no different, and no more surprising.

Now, even if there were such a thing as a limited National Security state — even if there were some way to create a counter-terrorism-only police state, which would focus on a single threat without creating a general, all-powerful police state in the process — it would still mean shredding civil liberties, targeting people and activities which ought to be presumed innocent, and it would still be destructive and wrong.

But, in any case, there is no such thing. There is no way to focus a police state on only one group of people or one part of life; there are no partial or limited police states. There is only a police state — one which will come for you sooner, or later.

Progressive Politics: Send in all your private phone records to me, Al Franken, Washington, DC.

Via Sheldon Richman on Facebook, comes this story about political Progressivism.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) emerged as one of the most notable progressive defenders of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance programs on Monday when he expressed a “high level of confidence” that the federal government’s collection of phone and Internet data has been effective in thwarting terrorism.

I can assure you, this is not about spying on the American people, Franken told Minneapolis-based CBS affiliate WCCO. The junior Minnesota senator, who’s only been in the Senate since 2009, said he was was very well aware of the surveillance programs and was not surprised by a recent slate of bombshell reports by both The Guardian and The Washington Post.

I have a high level of confidence that this is used to protect us and I know that it has been successful in preventing terrorism, Franken said.

— Tom Kludt, Al Franken Defends NSA Surveillance: It’s Not Spying, They’re Protecting Us
in TPMLiveWire (Tuesday, June 11, 2013)

Of course he has. Because he is privileged to be part of the us that is being protected, not the us that is being spied on. The reactions of many political Progressives to this scandal — including many political Progressives who had presented themselves for years as civil libertarians — are outrageous; but they should not be even a little bit surprising. They are yet another illustration of why serious social change can never come about through electoral politics; because the only mechanism that electoral politics has for change is to make a different party into the governing party. But when a party becomes the governing party, the party that they belong to has always proved to be of far less practical significance than the fact that they are, or see themselves as, governing. Their first and last loyalty will never be to a professed set of principles or a party platform, but rather to the uninterrupted continuity of government, and the successful management of the core structures of state power. The first and last loyalty of the party in power in America will always be to power, both for their party and for the American government — not to the causes or the principles or the people that they claim to speak for.

Also.

Monday Lazy Linking