The new red scare and fake news


In the December 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine (subscription required) , Andrew Cockburn writes about the constant threat inflation that is practiced by the US government, whipping up one scare after another in order to support the vast expenditure on new weapons system, many of which do not work and cost vastly more than originally budgeted. We had the Soviet Union and president Kennedy’s infamous ‘missile gap’ and then when that threat waned, we had the war on drugs and then the war on terror and now we are in a retro period in which Vladimir Putin and Russia are back as the new scary monster that will destroy us if we do not spend more on fighting them.

“Welcome to the world of strategic analysis,” Ivan Selin used to tell his team during the Sixties, “where we program weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist.” Selin, who would spend the following decades as a powerful behind-the-scenes player in the Washington mandarinate, was then the director of the Strategic Forces Division in the Pentagon’s Office of Systems Analysis.

Of course,” [Pierre Sprey] added with a laugh, “the art of creating threats has advanced tremendously since that primitive era.”

Sprey was referring to the current belief that the Russians had hacked into the communications of the Democratic National Committee, election-related computer systems in Arizona and Illinois, and the private emails of influential individuals, notably Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — and then malignly leaked the contents onto the internet. This, according to legions of anonymous officials quoted without challenge across the media, was clearly an initiative authorized at the highest level in Moscow. To the Washington Post, the hacks and leaks were unquestionably part of a “broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions.”

Cockburn says that the evidence that Russia is behind the leak of the Democratic emails is extremely weak, despite Hillary Clinton speaking as if it were an established fact.

“OK,” wrote Jeffrey Carr, the CEO of cybersecurity firm Taia Global, in a derisive blog post on the case. “Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker.” As Carr, a rare skeptic regarding the official line on the hacks, explained to me, “They’re basically saying that the Russian intelligence services are completely inept. That one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing, that they have no concern about using a free Russian email account or a Russian server that has already been known to be affiliated with cybercrime. This makes them sound like the Keystone Cops. Then, in the same breath, they’ll say how sophisticated Russia’s cyberwarfare capabilities are.”

In reality, Carr continued, “It’s almost impossible to confirm attribution in cyberspace.” For example, a tool developed by the Chinese to attack Google in 2009 was later reused by the so-called Equation Group against officials of the Afghan government. So the Afghans, had they investigated, might have assumed they were being hacked by the Chinese. Thanks to a leak by Edward Snowden, however, it now appears that the Equation Group was in fact the NSA. “It doesn’t take much to leave a trail of bread crumbs to whichever government you want to blame for an attack,” Carr pointed out.

The latest incarnation of malevolent Russian intent is, of course, the charge that these godless commies are undermining the home of democracy by interfering in the US elections. The Washington Post is one of the leaders in this latest propaganda push, as seen by as article written by Craig Timberg that is being excitedly passed around as providing ‘proof’ of Russian skullduggery.

But Timberg’s article has been criticized severely for its heavy dependence on anonymous sources associated with an outfit that has dubious credentials and its claims that all manner of media groups, other than those who toe the US establishment line, are either Russian allies or dupes.

Max Blumenthal wrote a scathing critique of one of the main sources of the article, a shady outfit called PropOrNot, saying that it employs the old McCarthyite tactics of smearing people and organizations without any evidence, and depending on establishment outfits like the Washington Post to give its claims credibility.

A shady website that claims “Russia is Manipulating US Opinion Through Online Propaganda” has compiled a blacklist of websites its anonymous authors accuse of pushing fake news and Russian propaganda. The blacklist includes over 200 outlets, from the right-wing Drudge Report and Russian government-funded Russia Today, to Wikileaks and an array of marginal conspiracy and far-right sites. The blacklist also includes some of the flagship publications of the progressive left, including Truthdig, Counterpunch, Truthout, Naked Capitalism, and the Black Agenda Report, a leftist African-American opinion hub that is critical of the liberal black political establishment.

Called PropOrNot, the blacklisting organization was described by the Washington Post’s Craig Timberg as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” The Washington Post agreed to preserve the anonymity of the group’s director on the grounds that exposure could result in their being targeted by “Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.” The Post failed to explain what methods PropOrNot relied on to conclude that “stories planted or promoted by the Russian disinformation campaign were viewed more than 213 million times.” (Timberg also cited a report co-authored by Aaron Weisburg, founder of the one-man anti-Palestinian “Internet Haganah” operation, who has been accused of interfering in federal investigations, stealing the personal information of anarchists, online harassment, and fabricating information to smear his targets.)

Despite the Washington Post’s charitable description of PropOrNot as a group of independent-minded researchers dedicated to protecting the integrity of American democracy, the shadowy group bears many of the qualities of the red enemies it claims to be battling. In addition to its blacklist of Russian dupes, it lists a collection of outlets funded by the U.S. State Department, NATO and assorted tech and weapons companies as “allies.” PropOrNot’s methodology is so shabby it is able to peg widely read outlets like Naked Capitalism, a leading left-wing financial news blog, as Russian propaganda operations.

Glenn Greenwald also writes that the article is an astonishing example of shoddy propaganda masquerading as journalism to serve a particular agenda of discrediting anyone, on the left or right, who is not within the centrist Clinton/Jeb Bush spectrum, and that even a cursory look at PropOrNot will reveal it to be not credible.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website after it was published on Friday.

Yet the article is rife with obviously reckless and unproven allegations, and fundamentally shaped by shoddy, slothful journalistic tactics. It was not surprising to learn that, as BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, “a lot of reporters passed on this story.” Its huge flaws are self-evident. But the Post gleefully ran with it and then promoted it aggressively, led by its Executive Editor Marty Baron:

In casting the group behind this website as “experts,” the Post described PropOrNot simply as “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds.” Not one individual at the organization is named. The executive director is quoted, but only on the condition of anonymity, which the Post said it was providing the group “to avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

In other words, the individuals behind this newly created group are publicly branding journalists and news outlets as tools of Russian propaganda – even calling on the FBI to investigate them for espionage – while cowardly hiding their own identities. The group promoted by the Post thus embodies the toxic essence of Joseph McCarthy but without the courage to attach their names to their blacklist. Echoing the Wisconsin Senator, the group refers to its lengthy collection of sites spouting Russian propaganda as “The List.”

In his article, the Post’s Timberg did not include a link to PropOrNot’s website. If readers had the opportunity to visit the site, it would have become instantly apparent that this group of ostensible experts far more resembles amateur peddlers of primitive, shallow propagandistic clichés than serious, substantive analysis and expertise; that it has a blatant, demonstrable bias in promoting NATO’s narrative about the world; and that it is engaging in extremely dubious McCarthyite tactics about a wide range of critics and dissenters.

The group commits outright defamation by slandering obviously legitimate news sites as propaganda tools of the Kremlin.

One of the most egregious examples is the group’s inclusion of Naked Capitalism, the widely respected left-wing site run by Wall Street critic Yves Smith. That site was named by Time Magazine as one of the best 25 Best Financial Blogs in 2011 and by Wired Magazine as a crucial site to follow for finance, and Smith has been featured as a guest on programs such as PBS’ Bill Moyers Show. Yet this cowardly group of anonymous smear artists, promoted by the Washington Post, has now placed them on a blacklist of Russian disinformation.

The group eschews alternative media outlets like these and instead recommends that readers rely solely on establishment-friendly publications like NPR, the BBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Buzzfeed and VICE. That is because a big part of the group’s definition for “Russian propaganda outlet” is criticizing U.S. foreign policy.

While blacklisting left-wing and libertarian journalists, PropOrNot also denies being McCarthyite. Yet it simultaneously calls for the U.S. government to use the FBI and DOJ to carry out “formal investigations” of these accused websites, “because the kind of folks who make propaganda for brutal authoritarian oligarchies are often involved in a wide range of bad business.” The shadowy group even goes so far as to claim that people involved in the blacklisted websites may “have violated the Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, and other related laws.”

In sum: they’re not McCarthyite; perish the thought. They just want multiple U.S. media outlets investigated by the FBI for espionage on behalf of Russia.

When asked for information about where PropOrNot gets its funding and its links to any government entities, the author of the Post report Timberg has refused to answer, saying “I’m sorry, I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post.” As Greenwald says, ” As is so often the case, journalists – who constantly demand transparency from everyone else – refuse to provide even the most basic levels for themselves. When subjected to scrutiny, they reflexively adopt the language of the most secrecy-happy national security agencies: we do not comment on what we do.

Greenwald adds that this kind of propagandistic work is nothing new for the Post.

EVEN MORE DISTURBING than the Post’s shoddy journalism in this instance is the broader trend in which any wild conspiracy theory or McCarthyite attack is now permitted in U.S. discourse as long as it involves Russia and Putin – just as was true in the 1950s when stories of how the Russians were poisoning the U.S. water supply or infiltrating American institutions were commonplace. Any anti-Russia story was – and is – instantly vested with credibility, while anyone questioning its veracity or evidentiary basis is subject to attacks on their loyalties or, at best, vilified as “useful idiots.”

Two of the most discredited reports from the election season illustrate the point: a Slate article claiming that a private server had been located linking the Trump Organization and a Russian bank (which, like the current Post story, had been shopped around and rejected by multiple media outlets), and a completely deranged rant by Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald claiming that Putin had ordered emails in the WikiLeaks release to be doctored – both of which were uncritically shared and tweeted by hundreds of journalists to tens of thousands of people, if not more.

The Post itself – now posing as warriors against “fake news” – published an article in September that treated with great seriousness the claim that Hillary Clinton collapsed on 9/11 Day because she was poisoned by Putin. And that’s to say nothing of the paper’s disgraceful history of convincing Americans that Saddam was building non-existent nuclear weapons and had cultivated a vibrant alliance with Al Qaeda. As is so often the case, those who mostly loudly warn of “fake news” from others are themselves the most aggressive disseminators of it.

Indeed, what happened here is the essence of fake news. The Post story served the agendas of many factions: those who want to believe Putin stole the election from Hillary Clinton; those who want to believe that the internet and social media are a grave menace that needs to be controlled, in contrast to the objective truth which reliable old media outlets once issued; those who want a resurrection of the Cold War. So those who saw tweets and Facebook posts promoting this Post story instantly clicked and shared and promoted the story without an iota of critical thought or examination of whether the claims were true, because they wanted the claims to be true. That behavior included countless journalists.

There is no question that we are entering a new media world in which ordinary people have to tread gingerly to distinguish between real and fake news. It is not enough to go by the brand name of the organization. One rule of thumb that I have found to be useful is to be always very wary and reserve judgment of any news report that happens to conveniently mesh with establishment propaganda needs and serves to demonize the enemy du jour. I wait until solid evidence is presented and it is corroborated by other sources not part of that agenda.

Comments

  1. says

    Cockburn says that the evidence that Russia is behind the leak of the Democratic emails is extremely weak, despite Hillary Clinton speaking as if it were an established fact.

    Attribution is hard and the US organizations that talk about it (mostly FBI) aren’t competent enough to be taken seriously. Those that don’t talk about it (primarily NSA) probably could tell us a thing or two, but won’t. It’s unfortunate that the American people have come to accept “Because *waaaaaa* it’s the Chinese North Koreans Russians!” as an ‘attribution’.

    I’ve written endlessly on the topic for years and very few people are listening because they’re all jostling for their place at the trough.

  2. says

    ordinary people have to tread gingerly to distinguish between real and fake news

    ordinary people have to tread gingerly to distinguish between real and fake news, candidates, budgets, historical quotes, brilliant speeches, chess players, banks, emails.

  3. Hj Hornbeck says

    The latest incarnation of malevolent Russian intent is, of course, the charge that these godless commies are undermining the home of democracy by interfering in the US elections. The Washington Post is one of the leaders in this latest propaganda push, as seen by as article written by Craig Timberg that is being excitedly passed around as providing ‘proof’ of Russian skullduggery.

    PropOrNot is not making an extraordinary claim, though. Just last month, the CIA was busted for spending $500 million on propaganda in Iraq, some of which was used to influence elections (emphasis mine).

    From 2007 to 2011, the Pentagon paid Bell Pottinger $540 million, the Bureau confirmed. The reporters were also told that the P.R. company made an additional $120 million in 2006, putting the potential total at at least $660 million.

    Bell Pottinger entered Iraq in 2004 with the goal of “promotion of democratic elections” and a $5.8 million contract. This soon grew enormously.

    The British P.R. company was not alone. “Iraq was a lucrative opportunity for many communications firms,” Bureau of Investigative Journalism reporters Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith wrote. They found that at least 40 media companies were paid for services in Iraq from 2006 to 2008. But Bell Pottinger received the largest contracts.

    Meanwhile, it’s not hard to roll back a few years and find news reports of Russia ramping up disinformation campaigns. For instance:

    “Aggressive and deceptive propaganda… worse than anything I witnessed in the Soviet Union,” is the verdict of Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Centre, Russia’s most well respected polling organisation. Cultural historian and publisher Irina Prokhorova goes further – she calls it “Stalinist”, reminiscent of the anti-Western hysteria which marked the grim repressive years of the late 1940s.

    And what worries the liberal intelligentsia is that the aggressive tone is being directed inwards as well. Ever since President Putin warned he would not tolerate a fifth column of national traitors in his historic speech on Crimea’s annexation in March, Russia’s beleaguered opposition has felt under siege. “We’ve been investigated four times this year already. We live on tenterhooks – at any point they could close us down,” says Gudkov.

    and

    Those who read comments posted under articles about Ukraine on news websites will have noticed in recent months that they have been filled with missives that always seem to follow the same line of argumentation. Moscow’s independent business daily Vedomosti reported recently that, since the start of the Ukraine crisis, the presidential administration in Moscow has been testing how public opinion in the United States and Europe can be manipulated using the Internet and social networks. The paper reported that most of the professional comment posters active in Germany are Russian immigrants who submit their pro-Russian comments on Facebook and on news websites.

    In addition, journalists and editors at German websites and publications report receiving letters and emails offering “explosive information about the Ukraine crisis” on an almost daily basis. The “sources” often mention they have evidence about the right-wing nature of the Kiev government that they would like to supply to journalists. The letters are written in German, but appear to include direct translations of Russian phrases. They would seem to have been written by mother-tongue Russian speakers.

    Other forms of propaganda have also been deployed in recent months. For example, there have been frequent incidences of intercepted conversations of Western diplomats or Kiev politicians getting published in ways that serve Russia’s interests. From the “Fuck the EU” statement by Victoria Nuland, the top US diplomat to Europe, right up to statements made by Estonia’s foreign minister that were apparently supposed to prove who was responsible for the deaths of protesters on Maidan Square.

    Both of which are in foreign media, and date from 2014. Is it really that big a leap to go from “Russia is spreading false news stories to promote their interests” to “Russia is spreading false news stories to promote their interests, one branch of which is attempting to manipulate another country’s elections?”

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    The Washington Post agreed to preserve the anonymity of the group’s director on the grounds that exposure could result in their being targeted by “Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

    Just about any lone skilled hacker could probably find this person’s identity (and address, school records, et cetera ad infinitum) in the time it takes to consume a medium-sized pizza ‘n’ Pepsi. 4chan & friends have an opportunity to perform a public service here – if they dare… [♫♪ scary ☠ bass ☢ chords ♪♫]

  5. says

    Pierce R. Butler@#4:
    Just about any lone skilled hacker could probably find this person’s identity (and address, school records, et cetera ad infinitum) in the time it takes to consume a medium-sized pizza ‘n’ Pepsi.

    It’s weird. Normally, I’d say “probably not even that long” – I used to play with friends by dropping huge dossiers on them so they could see what’s out there about them. But sometimes you run into someone who’s managed to stay largely off the grid, and then finding them is nearly impossible without resorting to extreme methods such as police and insurance databases (which are much easier to access than most people think).

  6. Mano Singham says

    Marcus,

    I am sure that you have at least heard about, if not watched, the TV series Mr. Robot about hackers. The main character reflexively hacks into and looks up information about the people in his life, though not with malicious intentions. I have found it quite engrossing (I have watched only the first series so far) and am curious as to what you think of it.

  7. Dunc says

    PropOrNot is not making an extraordinary claim, though.

    Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence. I’m not seeing anything that would rise to that level.

    Do the Russians employ all of the usual tools of statecraft, including propaganda? Undoubtedly. However, that doesn’t mean that we can just automatically assume that any news story which in some way serves to advance Russian interests is propaganda. Firstly, some things which serve Russians interests are nevertheless true, and secondly, Russia are certainly not the only power employing propaganda here.

  8. Hj Hornbeck says

    Dunc @8:

    However, that doesn’t mean that we can just automatically assume that any news story which in some way serves to advance Russian interests is propaganda.

    Are you suggesting that we can’t prove someone committed murder unless we prove they committed all murders? Or did you think I was saying every false story is a Russian plant?

    Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence. I’m not seeing anything that would rise to that level.

    Soooo you don’t see stuff like this?

    The planting of false stories is nothing new; the Soviet Union devoted considerable resources to that during the ideological battles of the Cold War. Now, though, disinformation is regarded as an important aspect of Russian military doctrine, and it is being directed at political debates in target countries with far greater sophistication and volume than in the past.

    The flow of misleading and inaccurate stories is so strong that both NATO and the European Union have established special offices to identify and refute disinformation, particularly claims emanating from Russia. ….

    The Kremlin uses both conventional media — Sputnik, a news agency, and RT, a television outlet — and covert channels, as in Sweden, that are almost always untraceable.

    Russia exploits both approaches in a comprehensive assault, Wilhelm Unge, a spokesman for the Swedish Security Service, said this year when presenting the agency’s annual report. “We mean everything from internet trolls to propaganda and misinformation spread by media companies like RT and Sputnik,” he said.

    Or this?

    The turning point is generally agreed to have occurred in 2008, when Russia provoked the Georgian government into an attempt to recover its lost province of Ossetia and promptly responded with an invasion and occupation of parts of Georgia. RT gave Putin cover with a jingoistic campaign that denounced the Georgians as genocidal. That campaign in turn now looks like a dry run for RT’s reporting and commentary on the Ukrainian crisis, which depicted the Kiev government as bloodthirsty neo-fascists intent on ethnic cleansing etc. — while depicting actual bloodthirsty neo-fascists (and Russian soldiers) in eastern Ukraine as peace-minded democrats.

    If that were all, RT would be as ineffective as Radio Moscow used to be. Simple ideological abuse alerts people that they are being manipulated. But as Peter Pomerantsev explains in his forthcoming book on modern Russia, Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, what makes RT more insidious is that it has most of the external features of legitimate western journalism:

    Russia Today began to look and sound like any 24/7 news channel: the thumping music before the news flash, the earnest pretty newscasters, the jock-like sports broadcasters. British and American twentysomethings straight out of university would be offered generous compensation packages, where in London or Washington they would have been expected to work for free. Of course they all wondered whether RT would turn out to be a propaganda channel. ‘Well, it’s all about expressing the Russian point of view,’ they would say, a little uncertainly.

    Or this?

    In 2013 the head of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, Valery Gerasimov, claimed that it was now possible to defeat enemies through a “combination of political, economic, information, technological, and ecological campaigns”. This was part of a vision of war which lay not in the realm of physical contact but in what Russian theorists described as the “psychosphere”. These wars of the future would be fought not on the battlefield but in the minds of men.

    Disinformation and psychological operations are as old as the Trojan horse. But what distinguished the Kremlin’s approach from that of its western rivals was this new stress on the “psychosphere” as the theatre of conflict. The information operation was no longer auxiliary to some physical struggle or military invasion: now it had become an end in itself. Indeed, as the Russian encyclopedia for its practitioners concluded: “Information war … is in many places replacing standard war.”

  9. Dunc says

    Holms: I’m saying I don’t see any evidence for the specific claims at issue here, namely that “the Russians had hacked into the communications of the Democratic National Committee, election-related computer systems in Arizona and Illinois, and the private emails of influential individuals, notably Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — and then malignly leaked the contents onto the internet”.

    Honestly, this isn’t difficult. Pointing to evidence that Russia has done other similar things does not constitute evidence that they have done these specific things.

    Are you suggesting that we can’t prove someone committed murder unless we prove they committed all murders?

    I’m suggesting that you can’t prove that someone committed this murder by pointing to other murders they have committed elsewhere in the past.

  10. Dunc says

    Sorry, I’ve just realised I completely misattributed the comment I was responding to. I don’t know what happened there…

  11. Hj Hornbeck says

    Bah, no harm done.

    Pointing to evidence that Russia has done other similar things does not constitute evidence that they have done these specific things.

    PropOrNot did point to specific things. Pages 10 to 13 are on ZeroHedge.com, for instance, quoting other research that shows a pro-Russia bent and possible connections to the KGB. They do their own legwork, and show it’s part of an informal network spreading Russian propaganda. You may not believe their conclusions, but you don’t have to. They’re not the only analysts out there looking at this.

    We have been tracking Russian online information operations since 2014, when our interest was piqued by strange activity we observed studying online dimensions of jihadism and the Syrian civil war. When experts published content criticizing the Russian-supported Bashar al Assad regime, organized hordes of trolls would appear to attack the authors on Twitter and Facebook. Examining the troll social networks revealed dozens of accounts presenting themselves as attractive young women eager to talk politics with Americans, including some working in the national security sector. These “honeypot” social media accounts were linked to other accounts used by the Syrian Electronic Army hacker operation. All three elements were working together: the trolls to sow doubt, the honeypots to win trust, and the hackers (we believe) to exploit clicks on dubious links sent out by the first two.

    The Syrian network did not stand alone. Beyond it lurked closely interconnected networks tied to Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia. Many of these networks were aimed at U.S. political dissenters and domestic extremist movements, including militia groups, white nationalists, and anarchists.

    Today, that network is still hard at work, running at peak capacity to destroy Americans’ confidence in their system of government. We’ve monitored more than 7,000 social media accounts over the last 30 months and at times engaged directly with them. Trump isn’t the end of Russia’s social media and hacking campaign against America, but merely the beginning. Here is what we’ve learned.

    Imagine someone pointed to a convicted serial killer, during a time when people were turning up dead via the methods this serial killer used, and claimed they had killed again. Would you be so quick to dismiss this? If not, why are you so skeptical that Russia is continuing to pursue the same disinformation campaigns they’ve done for years, in a way that would advance their interests?

    I’m saying I don’t see any evidence for the specific claims at issue here, namely that “the Russians had hacked into the communications of the Democratic National Committee, election-related computer systems in Arizona and Illinois, and the private emails of influential individuals, notably Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta — and then malignly leaked the contents onto the internet”.

    blink blink, you might want to scroll up and refresh yourself on what this thread’s about.

  12. Dunc says

    Imagine someone pointed to a convicted serial killer, during a time when people were turning up dead via the methods this serial killer used, and claimed they had killed again. Would you be so quick to dismiss this?

    I certainly wouldn’t vote to convict on that basis, especially given that we know that there are many other serial killers out there using identical methods.

    blink blink, you might want to scroll up and refresh yourself on what this thread’s about.

    My quote is from the OP. I don’t know what you think the thread is about*, but the OP is pretty clearly about those specific allegations. Did you even read it?

    (*Well, actually, I do – you’re derailing into general criticism of Russia, which is all fair enough, but not relevant to the OP.)

  13. Hj Hornbeck says

    Dunc@13:

    My quote is from the OP.

    Your quote is from the introduction of the OP. A third of the way down, we find:

    The latest incarnation of malevolent Russian intent is, of course, the charge that these godless commies are undermining the home of democracy by interfering in the US elections.

    The main content of the OP is about Russian interference with US elections. I’m sorry, but I can’t be arsed to argue with someone who can’t read the blog post they’re commenting on, let alone my replies.

    you’re derailing into general criticism of Russia, which is all fair enough, but not relevant to the OP.

  14. Dunc says

    I’m sorry, but I can’t be arsed to argue with someone who can’t read the blog post they’re commenting on, let alone my replies.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  15. says

    Mano Singham@#7:
    I am sure that you have at least heard about, if not watched, the TV series Mr. Robot about hackers. The main character reflexively hacks into and looks up information about the people in his life, though not with malicious intentions. I have found it quite engrossing (I have watched only the first series so far) and am curious as to what you think of it.

    I haven’t watched any of it, though I know some of the people that some of the characters are (loosely) drawn on. Short form: it’s quite plausible.

    Hacking is a self-reinforcing activity for some people. You break into a system, you get a rush of adrenaline, then you’re more likely to keep doing it for the rush. In a lot of ways the reinforcement loop is similar to gambling. Also, while it’s a stereotype, there are a lot of computer programmers (and hackers) that are in various places between “badly socialized” and “high functioning autistic” Some of that also ties into “obsessive-compulsive” behavior – I hate throwing around psychology buzzwords because I dislike psychology in general, but there are patterns of behaviors, and I could easily see that some hacker might have a reflexive near-compulsion to do something like that. If you read about folks like Kevin Mitnick and Adrian Lamo, they’re pretty good examples of the kind of badly socialized but self-reinforced sociopaths that make up the hacker stereotype.

    I also know a few hackers who are fairly (again, pop psychology) paranoid. For good reason, in some cases. I’ve also known hackers for whom it has become such a matter of personal identity that they could not possibly go without trying to break into systems – even when they know it’s a very bad idea. (e.g: Mitnick, who was given a great opportunity working at SRI proceeded to throw it down the toilet because his compulsion to hack overrode his sense of self-preservation)

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