back to article Why Bletchley Park could never happen today

Following the torrent of revelations about US and British government surveillance unleashed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, we now know what many had previously guessed: with a few exceptions*, the spies have the electronic world pretty much wired. Some spied-upon countries – such as Brazil and Germany – have reacted …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    I think the revelations of Snowden and Manning have answered that one pretty thoroughly.

    No one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      "I think the revelations of Snowden and Manning have answered that one pretty thoroughly. No one."

      Yes and no. There are all manner of legal, constitutional, and regulatory checks on the agencies in question. The problem is that those charged with exercising those checks have failed to exercise due care, and what we see is an outcome of "regulatory capture". Those who should be holding the spies to account, and keeping their actions in check have instead rubber stamped anything they were asked to do, failed to be pro-active in investigating what the agencies are doing, and then failed to hold to account said agencies when inappropriate behaviours are apparent.

      One thing to bear in mind is that almost anything the NSA can do, it would seem likely the Russians and Chinese can and are doing. Hobbling NSA and GCHQ won't stop that, but would mean that "our side" wouldn't know what "their side" know about us, and "our" secrets would still be exposed to countries that have every interest in exploiting that data. Unless somebody can come up with some real, unhackable security that works (which I'm struggling to see), maybe we do have to accept that there is very little privacy in the digital world?

      1. DaLo

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        "One thing to bear in mind is that almost anything the NSA can do, it would seem likely the Russians and Chinese can and are doing."

        That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over. The foreign power can also not go to a US court and demand a secret court to agree that they have sweeping powers and that companies must comply and not talk about.

        Although other spy agencies are obviously utilising 'hacking' and social engineering to get into computer systems they are also being searched for and malware and systems access being blocked. You would not end up in court for actively trying to block a foreign power from getting access to your system, whereas you might if it is a local agency.

        1. John Hughes

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          But, unfortunately it seems that a Foreign Power (the US) can go to French, German and UK companies and demand that backdoors are put in place.

          Heads need to roll over this affair - British, French and German heads.

          The NSA is getting away with this shit beacause the default has been "do what the Americans want".

          1. Prndll

            Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

            "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

            It doesn't have to be demanded. The companies your referring to will do it willingly while claiming they didn't know or don't have the kind of control needed to prevent it.

            People will buy (and have in their homes) all those things that are made by the other guy. Then complain when a problem is found.

            Facebook is a great example of this.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Big Brother

          @DaLo Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          You think the Chinese government can't go to an equipment or software supplier and tell them that they have to insert a Chinese backdoor if they want to sell in the Chinese market? Sure they can, and with the size of the Chinese market that is a proposition that will probably be considered. Sure, doing that can screw things up for sales in the American market--PROVIDED that it is found out. But until the Snowden leaks, how many people could credibly say that the NSA was having backdoors installed in hardware and software for at the very least select IT deployments that were going to customers who were NSA target , or that the NSA was abusing it's dual mandate to promote IT security in order to identify vulnerabilities that it could exploit in service of its primary mandate of gathering SigInt.

          You can get backdoors installed, provided you are an important enough customer or you have the political/regulatory authority to inflict disproportionate pain on a vendor that doesn't comply.

        3. RTNavy

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          But how many US Companies are actually outsourced laboratories based around the Globe? That means local employment and local "spies" available to plant all sorts or code or devices into these products FOR ALL to see and use.

        4. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          The Chinese government did go to various American companies and ask that back doors be placed in their systems. Google said no, and decided to pull out of the country. Yahoo and Microsoft presumably decided they would comply with local laws and continue trading in the country. Chinese companies like Baidu, Renren and Sina Weibo will obviously comply with local laws and provide Chinese authorities with the information they ask for.

        5. AussieinHK

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          Crap. You think the Chinese don't influence foreign companies and the data they collect? Ask Google and Yahoo...

        6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "That is not actually true. A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          Demand, no. Put an operative inside the company to do the job? Easy.

          Keep in mind, the NSA had a mole: Snowden. A Booz Allan Hamilton contractor. Aside from his altruistic motives, what he did could be repeated as we speak by numerous others. Only the beneficiaries of their work would differ. And if their leaks don't reach The Guardian, we may never know of their existence.

        7. P. Lee

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          The other part of the equation is the wire-tapping and use of international cooperation to get around your own laws. China can tap its own infrastructure, but asking the UK, Australia and USA to filter off traffic for it to analyse probably wouldn't get it very far. China's reach into critical parts of the internet is rather more limited than the West's.

        8. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "A foreign power cannot go to a US company and demand that a backdoor is placed in their software or that their private keys are handed over."

          But they could, however, go to one of their own companies that just happens to be manufacturing components or devices for a US company and insist on some strategic 'tweaks' to the blueprints...

      2. breakfast Silver badge

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        In fairness, there isn't much point worrying about what the Chinese know about us if a) we use chinese kit for almost all of our network infrastructure and b) China owns more of our currency and major businesses than anyone else. If we got into some kind of fracas with them they would just have to sell all the things they own and western capitalism would be over. They are making a gradual, careful and well planned move to taking over the world and fair play to them, it's probably going to succeed.

        1. Gav

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "they would just have to sell all the things they own"

          Who would buy them? With what currency? What would happen is their "ownership" of them would be invalidated and their certificates of ownership worthless. Suddenly all the things they owned in our countries would be owned by us again.

          Not to say that this wouldn't have many bad repercussions for international trade.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        @ Ledswinger

        No, no and no ... president Obama is said to have personally known about the wiretapping of Angies phone in 2010, I assume it is the same for all other stuff ... they all damn well knew what they were doing, and they knew it was "legal" ... patriot act etc ...

        This is not just some rogue spys that have gone mad, this is institutionalized surveillance, as soon as info of some deal was detected and an American company was about to lose said deal, the information was passed on to the American company ... this has happened several, no, multiple times. Think of aerospace, credit card alternative in Russia ... I am even sure they looked into the MS-Nokia deal and helped MS get in for "cheaper".

        Silly thing for Blighty is that the same cannot be said when it was for the benefit of British companies, sometimes even British companies were "betrayed" by their government in favor of US companies ... BAE must be very happy to hear all this, believe me.

        BTW, while at it .... We knew already that the US was wiretapping frenetically across the EU. because of the prism installations in the UK - I do not really understand why this is news. I mean, Snowden only provided proof to the bloody obvious ... based on several documentaries I have seen, it appeared that the installations in the UK were "big enough" to wiretap every single mobile phone conversation in Europe - this was news probably some 5 or 6 years ago, to me at least.

        So no, you live on some other planet, have not read the news in the last 15 years, or simply fail to analyze it ... I am sure you fell for "Mandela is a terrorist" back in the 80's and still believe JFK was assassinated by some lone gunner, thought so.

        BTW, contrary to popular belief, some Dutch investigators found out some 7 or 8 years ago who killed JFK ... that info might be censured in your country, so I cannot really blame you for not knowing who exactly took which shot ... but still ... as Coldplay sing: Open up your eyes.

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      About time that the 'custodes' got out of their little bubbles and start interacting with the real world:

      "One implication is that governments should consider moving funds from signals intelligence (sigint) to human intelligence, the real-world spies that infiltrate terrorist groups."

      Of course, that would mean (shock, horror) lots less budget and shiny toys for GCHQ / NSA etc to play with. Also, would the general public be happy for that budget to be diverted to MI(x)* / CIA considering that these aren't the most popular agencies either?

      Also, how easy is it nowadays for an individual spy to remain anonymous, unphotographed etc in a world full of cameras and were likely as not all their life from age 10-12 onwards is highly documented and public-ish?

      *5 or 6?

      1. Scorchio!!

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        Although some terrorists do go 'off grid' much of their material is not. It would be stupid to scrap our capabilities. Indeed, if we did there would be a swift rush to use the media that our sigint scrutinises. The same argument applies to nuclear weapons. These things cannot be magicked away.

        1. Gav

          Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

          "It would be stupid to scrap our capabilities"

          That would depend on who you are calling "our". Right now I'm not feeling the NSA is part of "us". It feels much more that they are yet another "them".

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

            No American organisation is part of "us" from a UK or general European viewpoint.

            Indeed, it is strongly arguable that the USA have done and continue to do more harm to UK business and the population's rights and safety than almost any other country, from subverting our government policies and security to directly providing money and arms to the IRA, including a barely disguised aim to disrupt and destroy British influence and interests in its former empire, spying on its industry and putting administrative and bureaucratic obstacles in the way of British and other non-USA businesses operating in the USA. Heavens, in WW2, the families of Cheney and other American "leaders" were selling oil and much else to Germany until Rooseveldt made clear which side should be supported. A book about an American ambassador to Germany in the 1930s makes clear how difficult he found it to report Nazi actions, e.g. against even American Jews in Germany, because of the pro-nazi sympathies of his American upper-class staff and the American foreign office.

            Joseph Kennedy had to be repatriated because, as ambassador in London, he was spying for the nazis. Do not imagine that these attitudes have really changed.

            I do hope that Cameron and friends do not really believe that the NSA (and possibly GCHQ as their willing poodles) were not spying on them just as on Merkel, Hollande and others. Even if, by some miracle, they were not spying on Conservative ministers, we can be sure that the official Opposition and other groups were of interest, quite apart from industrial espionage.

    3. John Hughes

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


      The answer is:

      Manning and Snowden.

      AND US!

    4. Oh Homer
      Big Brother

      "We love our spooks"

      Yes, when they're defeating fascism, not when they're helping it.

      1. Oh Homer

        Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

        It's called GCHQ.

        1. Steve Knox

          Re: Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

          If you'd read the article (or even a smattering of the relevant history), you'd see why GCHQ is nowhere near the class of Bletchley Park, in almost every definition of the word class.

          1. Oh Homer

            Re: Bletchley Park 2.0 already happened

            Lacking class doesn't alter the fact that GCHQ is an intelligence agency. Indeed the only significant distinction the article makes between Bletchley Park and GCHQ is that the former was a secret, whereas the latter merely tried and failed to operate in secret. That's a pointless and vacuous analysis in comparison to the much more significant difference that Bletchley Park operated to defeat fascism, not serve it as GCHQ does.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: "We love our spooks"

        Exactly. Back then we were fighting a specific enemy, we had declared war on them and we were spying on them. Three green lights in a row.

        Now we have no specific enemy, just the nebulous term "terrorists", the USA hasn't declared war on any specific country and they are spying on them. Red, red, murky grey!

        That is the problem and that is why we are getting more whistleblowers.

        Last time I looked, the US Government and the NSA had not declared war on Germany, Brazil, the UK and they are not involved in being hostile against the USA, well, they weren't until Snowden told them they were being spied upon...

        Fighting against terrorists is all well and good (although when the US declared war on terrorists, I was expecting them to turn up in Northern Ireland and the Basque region, but I guess they meant "terrorists operating out of areas with oil interests, you can deal with your own poor terrorists"), but the NSA is basically treating the whole world and all its citizens as terrorists until proven irrevocably guilty and eliminated by a drone strike.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Do spies like Ginger Cake and Custard? Sorry, I've no idea. It didn't feature much in any Bond film I've seen.

    6. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

      Who polices the police? Maybe the police police police the police. In that case, who polices the police police? Ultimately you need to have someone at the top you can trust.

      1. Richard Gadsden

        Re: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

        Competition. Have two organisations that each police the other. Institutional loyalty and competitive instincts will drive them to do a good job.

  2. jabuzz

    No war

    Basically what has changed is we are not in a life and death fight where tens of thousands of people are dying against one of the most evil regimes in the history of mankind. The current war against terror really does not qualify.

    Also anyone surprised by Tempora has a really short memory. It is not that long ago that towers where built to intercept the phone calls between ROI and the UK during the troubles.

    1. Magnus_Pym

      Re: No war


      In a real war people know who the enemy is and what victory looks like. Bletchley Park staff knew that why secrecy was paramount and looked forward to they day they could all stop doing it.

      If any government want to stop whistle-blowers they should convince the people of the expediency of the bad stuff they do. That's not going to be easy because it's all bullshit.

      1. Scorchio!!

        Re: No war

        A surprising argument, coming from someone with your handle, 'Sir Magnus'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No war

          In the book, Pym spied on the US in the interests of the Soviet Union.

          A problem with globalisation that governments haven't really spotted is that there is no obvious reason for having any loyalty to the country in which you happen to be born. Many British people owe far more real allegiance to, say, IBM, Nissan or Honda than to the British government.

          If Philby (who must be a large part of Le Carre's Pym) decided that the British aristocracy was rotten and its government corrupt, and that Communism offered a better future for humanity once the United States was defeated, he might have been wrong but it is a consistent, coherent proposition that, in his mind, justified spying on the US on behalf of both Britain and the Soviet Union - which is what he always claimed to have done.

          1. Scorchio!!

            Re: No war

            "If Philby (who must be a large part of Le Carre's Pym) decided that the British aristocracy was rotten and its government corrupt, and that Communism offered a better future for humanity once the United States was defeated. [...]"

            Philby was one of a number of people recruited because of their belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden, and that they knew better than others. Along with the like of Eric Hobsbawm (a lifelong friend of Ralph Miliband [ ] who felt that the loss of 20 millions would justify a victorious socialism) they sided with the butcher, Stalin and his corrupt 'socialist' aristocracy. That was the point about Le Carre's work; this was a constant struggle during which western democratic countries evolved, while the empire of the USSR became more brutal, more paranoid and engaged in even greater military adventurism. By the time the setting in which Le Carre's book was chronologically apt the aristocracy were in decay and almost completely irrelevant, whilst the repression of the proletariat, by its vanguard, in the USSR was plotted by the likes of Charter 77; the Czechs, the Hungarians, these peoples were mauled by the invading, undemocratic east. After WWII states in eastern Europe were swallowed up by the adventurism of the eastern empire, which greedily sucked in their resources in return for 'protection' and the purging/liquidation of 'enemies of their people' (these people, who had false consciousness, could be 'guilty' merely of 'revisionism', or disagreeing with Leninist-Marxism [...])

            All of the apostles, and other Leninist Marxist twits supported a bankrupt system that was brutal, harsh, violent and economically foundering except for those few components which were in private hands, the allotments on which private individuals maintained high productivity, whilst the collective farms had increasingly worse results (as with all other state enterprises). Leninist-Marxists, both in the International and in the heart of the USSR, had necessarily to overlook these failures, partly because at home they would have been purged by Uncle Jo (as we once misguidedly called him), and partly because the pain of cognitive dissonance for those in the west would have been intolerable, given that this was their religion. To say nothing of feeling foolhardy for supporting such egregious bullshit (I am currently bereft of adjectives in this context, having read lotus eating posts in which people complacently suggest terrorism is not a problem because they have not seen any).

            The collectivisation process, in which the kulaks were variously dispossessed, slaughtered, persecuted, locked away and tortured [...] was a part of the utter ruination of the then USSR, in which after the revolution monks and nuns were gaoled, whilst murderers, rapists and thieves were released because the dictates of PC socialism held that society was responsible for their crimes (and let's face it they made excellent NKVD, KGB and other bullies), something from which those who believed in fairies at the bottom of the Marxist garden averted their eyes, especially when the commanding idiot of these 'useful idiots' ignored British warnings - and germane to the current debate, these were supplied only because we had broken German code - of a forthcoming invasion of the USSR by Stalin's pal in Berlin.

            Before this occurred, because Stalin professed the belief that they belonged to the former 'ruling classes' the officer classes were 'purged', and the army had become a headless, pointless socialist wreck (this is something recently proposed by some idiot in the British Fabian society, because it is 'classist'). After the invasion Stalin was forced to concede that his folly had resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Soviet soldiers, reinstated the rank structure of the Red Army and looked to Marshal Zhukov to pull his arse out of the fire.

            Meanwhile, in spite of the stupidity and waste, both of resources and human lives, people continued (and still do) to believe in the Leninist-Marxist fairy at the bottom of the garden. There was no comparison. These people were bunglers and murderers, they meant us no good, and the basis of any resemblance of an alliance with us was that we would distract the weight of German forces from them, hence them pressing us to open another front, even though we were at first too weak, having been defeated by a superior, better equipped German military that had evolved modern tactics to match.

            ...but of course the point about the apostles was that they believed they knew better, they believed in the vacuous concept of 'false consciousness', something which notables such as la Harman in the last Labour government believed, and felt that lying and overriding the electorate was their given right, though not given them by the electorate; rather it came from the circularity of believing in Marxist fairies at the bottom of the garden.

            The moral of the story; all revolutions, all attempts to impose an ideology, by means devious or blatant, are not only condemned to failure, but they also result in the loss of life on a massive scale, from the French revolution onward. These ideas are always imposed on people by others who feel that they know better, false consciousness or otherwise. Until 1997 the concept of gradualism, slow, careful reform, characterised this countries' diplomatic evolution. I don't need to remind you of what happened, except to observe that when people who profess to be socialists try to play population genetics the results are invariably ugly, and how Stalin led a life of luxury even when in his underground bunker (look at for an interesting peek) as the contemporary case of Tony Blair exemplifies, and the leaders of most British trades unions, who live very well thank you brothers. Flats in the Barbican for retired union leaders? Sumptuous pensions for retired union leaders? Animal farm indeed.

            What we protect, by means of intelligence that enables us to be prepared, is valuable. When we fail to scrutinise behaviour in advance of acts we see tall buildings felled, assassinations, people blown up under ground and the toppling of elected governments. That is the point of cold war novels; we protected ourselves, and we wrote about our struggles, even the minutiae of fictional personalities.

            Thank you for reminding me of the book. I have them all, and when I'm home next I'll have to look and see if mice have eaten them. Having lived through those interesting days in an interesting job I feel lucky. I was involved, and am concerned to see people sleeping again or using the argumentum ad hominem to support inactivity as happened some 80 years or so ago.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: No war

        In a real war people know who the enemy is and what victory looks like. Bletchley Park staff knew that why secrecy was paramount and looked forward to they day they could all stop doing it.


        Except that the people involved in Bletchley Park kept the secret after the war was finished. When that same technology continued to get used in the Cold War - even though that wasn't a real war either.

        And it isn't all bullshit. There is a real problem with international terrorism. It may be used as an excuse by governments and intelligence agencies to hoover up more power and money than they possibly should. But even that's no easy call. They're going to get blamed when there's a terrorist attack, as has happened with every major recent attack, for failing to stop it. And they're going to get blamed when they gather too much data in trying to do so.

        There is no perfect solution. But denying there's any problem at all, is just plain silly.

        1. pepper

          Re: No war

          Really? I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately, atleast no more then it ever has been. You have some peaks and some lows on the scales but in general its all still very meh. Its mostly a figment propagated by those with the biggest interest in perpetual war.

          1. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: No war

            " I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately...."

            That's like saying we don't need our "beware of the dog" sign anymore because no one has been bitten here recently..

            Or to put it another way;

            A chap was on holiday at the coast. One morning he's wandering along the edge of a steep cliff.

            He happens to get talking to a local and says that he's surprised there isn't a fence there.

            "There used to be", said the local. "But no one ever fell off so we got rid of it".

            1. Scorchio!!
              Thumb Up

              Re: No war

              "That's like saying we don't need our "beware of the dog" sign anymore because no one has been bitten here recently.."

              Or, as some Romans said "Si vis pacem, para bellum", something which the British forgot in between 1918 and 1939; we paid dearly for that mistake.

              1. Irony Deficient Silver badge

                as some Romans said

                Scorchio!!, the “Si vis pacem” quote is a paraphrase of what one particular Roman wrote. The British did not forget that between the wars; the generation of men who in their youth saw hundreds of thousands being slaughtered in No Man’s Land during the Great War were (in their middle age) trying to figure out how to avoid subjecting their sons to the same horrific experience. I dont think that it’s entirely fair to judge their choice of actions on the basis of our 20-20 hindsight.

                Regarding Stalin, he was called “Uncle Joe” not due to any sort of international proletarian affection, but in tongue-in-cheek honor of Joseph “Uncle Joe” Cannon, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives in the first decade of the 20th century, after whom Stalin allegedly modeled his own rule.

              2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

                Re: No war

                And from an IT angle, we all of course remember all the comments about the Y2K problem being overhyped...

                "All that time and money spent dealing with it, yet nothing major went wrong!"

            2. PJI

              Re: No war

              Oh dear, more 'ealth 'n safety. Fancy, a cliff and no fence. Wonder how many thousands and thousands of kilometres of unfenced cliff, ponds, lakes, beaches there are in Great Britain, let alone the whole of Europe. What an appalling analogy, and yet perhaps not.

              "Security" against "terrorism" is the fence. Freedom, with all the risks it entails, is the lack of a fence. I suggest that those seeking safety ask to be confined in a prison or a nicely fenced field, with a cuddly politician passing laws and monitoring their telephones, conversations, friendships, affiliations all in the name of safety against terrorism, paedophilia, child-stealing gypsies or whatever the latest scare factor is. Let the rest of us enjoy life, even if it means falling off a mountain while climbing sometimes, capsizing in our sailing dinghies, twisting an ankle or freezing to death while on a \Winter walk. At least we shall use life and freedom. You can stick with your fenced, cotton wool wrapped, but absolutely safe world. Ever read, "When the machine stops"?

              Freedom, justice and absolute safety are incompatible. On this ground alone, the all-pervasive spying ability of our government departments must be curtailed and a country should never enable or permit another state to spy on its citizens, their industry, their business or their opinions.

              Of course, any country may believe it is justified in spying on another. But the current scale and ability, along with collusion, is far beyond what is acceptable between countries not at war (please, terrorism is not a war between states, whatever the propaganda says), if sufficient trust and freedom of movement for international cooperation are to survive.

              You know, in Syria there are various sides fighting. These sides may be labelled, "government", "regime", "rebel", "freedom fighter", "terrorist", "resistance", "opposition", "defender", "aggressor". It all depends upon one's interest and point of view. The same is true in Europe and USA. The citizen spied on today is a "suspect". Perhaps he is simply in the wrong political party or none. Perhaps he expressed some view misunderstood by some frightened official. But, once he is being monitored, he is no longer safe and if government takes a wrong turn, he may be in actual danger.

              No one with half a brain or education can support all pervasive spying within a country or between "allies". Worse, in the current cases, it is not clear that the spying was within the laws of the countries paying for it.

          2. John Sturdy

            Re: No war

            If terrorism were to disappear, the focus would shift to `domestic extremism'. And a lot of that would probably disappear if the government spent similar amounts on the population's psychiatric health.

          3. tom dial Silver badge

            Re: No war

            For the sake of argument, does that lack of much terrorist activity indicate that NSA et al. activities are unneeded, or does it follow from their success? It is worth noting also that whether there is "much of a terrorist problem" is location and situation dependent. Perceptions in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan might well differ from those in the US or UK.

            That said, the type of data collection being done cannot prevent all terrorist attacks or even the worst. At best it can improve the ability to identify, track, and capture those who have committed terrorist acts or are planning them, but only if carried out a scale like that being reported. And it is most likely to succeed against terrorists who are not very bright, not very careful, or not very skilled at their chosen occupation. We are correct to doubt that marginal gains in the ability to track and catch terrorists (and other criminals) warrants the expense, and the general creepiness, of these programs, as well as their potential for serious misuse. Our elected officials, eyes fixed firmly on the daily news cycle and whose long term concern is the next election, have done a rather poor job representing us.

            1. PJI

              Re: No war

              A man was travelling on the train from London to Brighton, when he saw a fellow passenger screwing up pieces of paper and throwing them out of the window. "Why are you doing that?" he asked. The other answered, "It keeps the elephants away.". "But there are no elephants in Sussex." "I know, effective is n't it?"

            2. Vic

              Re: No war

              > does that lack of much terrorist activity indicate that NSA et al. activities are unneeded, or does it follow from their success?

              Well, from this side of the Atlantic, our terrorist issue pretty much disappeared the moment Americans stopped funding it...


            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: No war

              What if the terrorist attacks in our countries were insider jobs to swiftly loosen the barriers of freedom, who knows, these attacks do help the Israeli government depict stone-throwing kids as terrorists ...

              I hear black choppers, will be back ...

              Just another quicky: ... [knocks on the door] No, I have no particular love or hatred for jews, muslims, christians, UFO believers or jedi ... I consider them all equally worthless things to believe in and as long as nobody forces me into believing that stuff ... ;-)

              [more knocks on the door]


          4. Scorchio!!

            Re: No war

            "Really? I havent seen much of a terrorist problem lately, atleast no more then it ever has been"

            One of the problems with psychiatric patients is that, as soon as their psychotropic medication kicks in, they consider themselves better and not in need of their medication. When they are ill they sing a different tune. Again the other day some people were arrested on grounds of planning/preparing terrorist acts. That you do not see dead bodies means absolutely bugger all, except probably that the intelligence and security system works. When dead bodies are dredged up from the underground it has failed, and people start to squawk. Not unlike psychiatry, and general medicine too, where failure to complete a course of antibiotics merely strengthens the resistance of remaining microbial organisms to the medication.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No war

          I don't remember a huge backlash against the intelligence agencies after previous attacks in the UK.

          Huge hatred for the people who did it, but no normal people (obviously the likes of Blair, Straw and Blunkett don't count) were demanding our rights be thrown into the Moulinex on the spurious grounds it would make us safer. If anyone was saying the intelligence services had failed it was the politicians who promptly proceeded to shower them with more money and power.

        3. Scorchio!!
          Thumb Up

          Re: No war

          Until the next batch of bodies is dragged from the underground, or wherever, people will nay say.

          1. Intractable Potsherd

            Re: No war @Scorchio!!

            "Until the next batch of bodies is dragged from the underground, or wherever, people will nay say."

            And I, and many others, will still say "Nay". I will not be stampeded into believing in a war that doesn't exist merely because a few people with violence on their minds kill a few people. I will not believe that there is a significant, co-ordinated risk to me, society at large, or the country, from Al Qaida or any other group except short-termist, cowardly career politicians, and the likes of you who wish to give the government the power to do what they will based on nothing concrete.

            For dog's sake, man, stop living in fear!

        4. RobHib

          @I ain't Spartacus -- Re: No war

          "There is a real problem with international terrorism."

          The question is why.

          There's always been a few nutters with a grudge against society and there probably always will be but they're not the main threat. Most terrorism of recent times comes from people who either perceive they've been hurt or who have actually been hurt by policies of the countries of whom they are threatening.

          Since the Reagan Thatcher years and the downfall of communism the West has indulged itself in an orgy of internationalism, rampant capitalism, free trade, international treaties, multinational companies, etc. There's exploitation of third-world resources, exploitation of pharmaceutical patents, imperial imposition of intellectual property 'rights', exploitation of third-world labour (Pakistani building collapse etc.), cultural imperialism and so on and so on—much of which has disadvantaged those who've little power to fight against it.

          Even in instances where the West's wrongdoings are just perceptions, they're strong and firmly held. And why not? The recent behaviour of the West's bankers—those one would expect to be the most trustworthy—were found to be morally corrupt—is just another of many signals the West is sending as to its disingenuousness.

          Until the West straightens out its questionable ethics and genuinely tries to make the world a fairer and more equitable place, there'll always be those who'll take extreme and terrible measures to 'right' things.

          To date, terrorism hasn't made the West blunt its behaviour, thus perhaps the current 'threat' is the price it's prepared to pay for its continued indulgence.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: No war

          I ain't Spartcus: "Except that the people involved in Bletchley Park kept the secret after the war was finished. When that same technology continued to get used in the Cold War - even though that wasn't a real war either."

          Notwithstanding the probity and impeccable conduct of the vast majority of the people involved, Bletchley Park (and the general Military Intelligence operation) did suffer its Manning/Snowden type incidents. The Soviets were receiving information from within the Bletchey Park operation through internal moles - Cairncross, and possibly another codenamed 'Baron' are widely written about.

          All in all a very murky 'world' at times - but many of the major stories seem to turn on people being motivated by ideology, personal greed, and sometimes coercion; and t'was ever thus.

    2. Scorchio!!

      Re: No war

      Capenhurst. Thanks for reminding me, I'd forgotten. It's somewhere on the Sub Brit site ( ), which is a treasure trove of cold war nostalgia.

    3. James Micallef Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: No war

      Spot on.

      As much as politicians like to spout off about War on terror, on drugs, on obesity etc etc etc, they can't keep duping the people. It's just as Orwell anticipated, permanent war is required by politicians to be able to keep the population afraid and to divert resources and money to their pet projects and cronies. And since there isn't any real war against a real enemy, enemies have to be invented

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        @ James Micallef

        > permanent war is required by politicians

        Although it's worth noting that the British armed forces have been on active deployment somewhere on the planet every year since 1948.

        As for the original piece:

        > The expiry period for such secrets is a bit shorter these days:

        There are secrets and there are secrets. I am sure, though based on no evidence, that what gets leaked to the public, or gets its whistle blown,is only the tip of the iceberg compared to all the stuff that does stay behind closed doors.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ James Micallef

          The amount of toilet paper used by the government is (or was) an official secret.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge


            The amount of toilet paper used by the government is (or was) an official secret.

            Quite bloody right too! If people knew how much toilet paper we were getting through, then the terrorists would be able to measure exactly how scared we are at any particular time...

            1. PJI

              Re: u

              Or how many soldiers are in a barracks ...

        2. Scorchio!!

          Re: @ James Micallef

          "Although it's worth noting that the British armed forces have been on active deployment somewhere on the planet every year since 1948."

          Just a small niggle; every year but one AIUI. I learned this during my period on duty. It will have preceded the last outbreak of 'the troubles'.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No war

      "permanent war is required by politicians"

      It's been going on for thousands of years, it swing between the evil invading empire, or the other religious groups.

      I don't see this changing for several thousand years. So long as we are a bigoted, self hating breed, it will happen.

    5. andylondon

      Re: No war

      Precisely. Back in WWII we were in a battle for survival. Now we have the "War on Terror". Horrible though 9/11 and 7/7 were, they were and are not existential threats, even if some find it convenient to dress them up as such.

  3. Trevor 3

    It just goes to show....

    ...the amount of disassociation governments feel with the people who voted them in.

    You don't need to spy on your own population. For any reason.

    You can't even trust the figures coming our of central government about how many attacks they have aborted. Or what data they are collecting, or anything.

    They can't prove anything to even come close to justifying spying on me or anyone on a mass scale.

    Whistleblowers are the "general public's" response to being spied on. That's about it. The whistleblowers are returning the favour.

    Retaliation if you will. Retaliation against having our own personal privacy attacked.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: It just goes to show....

      Well, there actually have been some terrorist attacks. Quite big ones, that have killed quite a few people. And there have definitely been some attacks planned that have definitely been blocked. The wood just up the road from me were searched for a year, and yes they did find lots of bombs, apparently destined for aircraft. Admittedly there could have been a vast conspiracy involving about 200 police, some shadowy spooks, a bunch of lawyers and the terrorist concerned (given some of them confessed and claimed to be morally justified). But it's quite hard to believe.

      So given the fact that there really are some terrorists, that do live in Britain, what level of spying is acceptable? Remember that if you say none, real people will get blown up. And if you're totally anti-spying and want all CCTV cameras removed, those real people will be even harder to catch and will kill several times before they're finally caught.

      There ain't no easy answers here. One big problem is that if you give power and secrecy to a small bunch of people, some of them will abuse it. Even if you watch them carefully. But you probably need to do that for some things, such as international relations and counter-terrorism. So in an imperfect world we have only imperfect answers to difficult questions.

      1. Mage
        Black Helicopters

        Re: It just goes to show....

        If the Governments esp. USA did NOTHING, it would hurt "terrorist" Recruitment. The number of people likely to be killed in UK or USA by Terrorists is less than car accidents and other more easily addressed things (Smoking).

        US policy has probably increased "terror".

        There is an inherent problem with Islam vs everything else. Spying on everyone will not solve that but increase Islamic Terror. How does NSA and GCHQ spying stop Islamic Terrorists shooting up African Shopping Centres or assassinating health workers in in Pakistan.

        The solution involves Culture and Politics. Not Sigint and Extra-judicial assassination using Drones.

        How much spying by USA and China is though industrial espionage and nothing to do with politics or the so called "War on Terror"?

        1. breakfast Silver badge

          Re: It just goes to show....

          If the money spent on spying on the populous was spent on almost any other social endeavour- mental health services seems particularly badly supported lately - how much better would life be for many people? We cannot eliminate risk entirely, but if our spending was commensurate how much risk there was of a given event maybe we could make a better effort to mitigate the highest risks rather than the high-fear, low-risk events.

          The CIA actually encouraged the assassination of health workers as that was one of their cover stories they used when hunting down Bin Laden. I guess they considered that an acceptable price to pay.

          1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

            Re: It just goes to show....

            "The CIA actually encouraged the assassination of health workers a"

            Did that back in Nicaragua when they backed the contras back in the 80's.

            Or to quote the (unofficial imaginary) policy paper.

            "Goddamm spic faggots, how dare they elect a bunch of socialists commie scumbags and think we won't go down their and stomp on their balls until they beg us to restore democracy"

            All that is old, is new again.

        2. DJO Silver badge

          Re: It just goes to show....

          US policy has probably increased "terror".

          Probably? Definitely - In the period between the end of WWII and 911 the US government spent more money PROMOTING terrorism than the rest of the world combined. They created Al Quida, they subsidised no end of terror organisations in South America and Asia, all they had to say was they were "anti-communist" and Uncle Sam would give them all the money, weapons & training they wanted and Uncle Sam did not give a damn about their methods until it was turned against them. The American populace were not much better with organisations like NorAid financing the IRA which merrily bombed civilians in the UK.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It just goes to show....

            Indeed, the IRA were officially communist - as I recall the Provos were officially Trotskyist - but in the US they presented a strong Catholic image to ensure that the finds kept flowing from the Irish diaspora.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: It just goes to show....

              "Indeed, the IRA were officially communist - as I recall the Provos were officially Trotskyist "

              Tony Blair was officially Labour, but he enacted policies to the right of the Tories (Daily Mail focus groups were a big favourite of his). Names are irrelevant. The actions define the man.

              1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

                We are expected to inherit the American fear...

                I'd say that the IRA bombings in the height of their campain were far more frequent and damaging (especially in London) than anything seen today, but the UK population were unspooked. (pun intended)

                It's only since Americans experienced 9/11 on their own doorstep that the worlds governments is exploiting Americas "fear export" for their own collective good

                1. Old Handle

                  Re: We are expected to inherit the American fear...

                  I guess phantom terrorists can be more frightening than real ones.

        3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: It just goes to show....

          "The number of people likely to be killed in UK or USA by Terrorists is less than car accidents and other more easily addressed things (Smoking)."

          If you included Americans abroad that would be literally true, as the US DoT warns USians traveling abroad that IRL (outside of a Tom Clancy novel, for example) the #1 killer of Americans is the fact they can't drive on normal roads very well.

          Actually the other 2 are right as well.... IIRC the UK suffered 57 terrorist fatalities in 10 years (55 of them connected to 7/7/05)

          Cost benefit analysis anyone? £500m/year to save (on average) 6 people? Are you f**king kidding me?

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: It just goes to show....

          You have to keep an eye out for actual terrorists, just look at the damage that 19 guys with box cutters and a little flight training did on 9/11. You definitely wouldn't want to see that repeated with large office/industrial/infrastructure/recreational facilities anywhere in the world

          The problem is casting a net of suspicion over EVERYONE, and then hiding that. If the intelligence agencies had come forward after 9/11 and said "This is what we would like to do to protect society. Do you approve?" it would look a lot less sinister than "We got changes in privacy laws passed, which we secretly interpreted in the most intrusive manner possible, then we built wide-scale programs based on those most intrusive interpetations, and we made a point of harrassing, discrediting and imprisoning anyone who did not want to protect those secrets. And then when the undeniable leaks came out we were caught in all manner of lying and disingenuous torturing of language to preserve or spin the fiction. "

        5. Hans 1

          Re: It just goes to show....

          > and other more easily addressed things (Smoking).

          I followed and agree except that sentence fragment ... you must be American, or never heard of the prohibition ? Like all drugs, it is not easy to address ...

      2. Paul_Murphy

        No easy answers

        Well the only 'easy answer' I can think of is:

        We do not spy or collect information in a general manner on anyone.

        We will use RIPA and other laws/ techniques to investigate any reported suspicious behaviour'

        Please tell us if you see anything suspicious.

        The hearts and minds approach to getting a population on your side is to ensure that the general population see that it's in their own interests to help.

        Without the willingness of the people to help it's only a matter of time before there is anarchy/ revolution/ civil war.

        Give people back the sense of the country actually being theirs and they need to help look after it.

        (wishful thinking I know, but hey - Friday!)

      3. strum

        Re: It just goes to show....

        Trouble is, it's all so indiscriminate. Thanks to Bush & co, there are a lot more active terrorists than there were 12 years ago - but we're still only talking about a few thousand. But, instead of zeroing in on the most likely targets, the spooks are gobbling up anything and everything, constructing the biggest haysatck the world has ever seen, in order to seek out the needle that must be in there.

        You can also argue about the ethics of it - but when it's so inept, it's hardly worth bothering.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          Re: It just goes to show....

          "But, instead of zeroing in on the most likely targets, the spooks are gobbling up anything and everything, constructing the biggest haysatck the world has ever seen, in order to seek out the needle that must be in there."

          What made you think this had anything to do with something as focused as catching terrorists?

          These people worship the collection of data.

          Everybodies, all the time, forever.

      4. James Micallef Silver badge

        Re: It just goes to show....

        "So in an imperfect world we have only imperfect answers to difficult questions."

        Agree on this. What I don't agree on is the imperfect answer settled upon by NSA / GCHQ. Yes, if secret spy agencies did not exist, there would probably be more violent criminal actions* involving death, injury and damage. There would probably also be a more open society that is less paranoid, and better-off**.

        On the other hand you could have what we have now - lots of intrusive and expensive spying, a complete disintegration of trust between government and governed, and you STILL don't have any security guarantees - SOME plots will still succeed.

        The main thrust of whistleblowers like Snowden and that of many articles and comments on these forums aren't to go completely to the first scenario and dismantle NSA / GCHQ, it's to limit them with due process and to only spy on people whom they have reasonable suspicion of. As another commenter mentioned, full unfettered access to all data communications just gives a much larger haystack to search through for the same number of needles, so it would also be more efficient on the part of NSA / GCHQ to focus their attention on likely sources instead of hoovering everything up.

        *In this case motivations matter little to outcomes, so I won't use the t-word

        **hopefully the money not spent on spying would be spent on something useful to the general public rather than ending up lining the same 1% of pockets

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It just goes to show....

        Given the fact that there _will_ be traffic accidents, how many cars are acceptable? Remember that if your answer is greater than zero, real people will get run over.

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: It just goes to show....

      "You don't need to spy on your own population. For any reason."

      I'd modify that to say "You may not spy on your own population".

      Because the security services certainly feel justified in what they're's just that the masses aren't privy to the tippy-top-secret reasons that support the "justification".

      Oh, it *is* against the law to spy on US persons, except in these special circumstances where the security services say that the law doesn't apply, and their "yes man" secret court agrees.

      Security organizations always seem to have an elevated sense of their mission, which makes them the only possible arbiters of what's legal and what's not...and very little is "not", from their point of view. It's them against a world of evil-doers..a thin blue line, as it were.

      Nixon had the same view. And look what happened to him.

  4. Grahame 2

    I can keep a secret...

    it's just the people I tell than can't!

    1. Joe Harrison

      Re: I can keep a secret...

      "Two may keep a secret, so long as one of them is dead"

  5. Gideon 1

    It's all about who you employ

    These leaks are failures of vetting, and failures of need-to-know policies. Both become difficult to maintain when the numbers of employees in the organisations reach the numbers in GCHQ and NSA.

    1. Another User

      Re: It's all about who you employ

      Your name alludes to Gideon's spies: The secret history of the Mossad.

      Now we can infer: a) You do not work for the Mossad, b) You have an interest in espionage,

      and c) Someone needs to double-check that you did not pass a vetting process which you should have not...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's all about who you employ

        Or... His handle could refer to the people who give away Bibles, or his name could be Gideon or it could just be a co-incidence.

        That said, I think we can be pretty sure he's not from Mossad. Or GCHQ, the NSA, FBI, CIA, MI5, MI6, etc. etc.

        1. Gideon 1

          Re: It's all about who you employ

          Mossad agents have sometimes pretended to be from other nations security services.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: It's all about who you employ

            They are also very good at forging foreign passports en masse.

          2. Alien8n

            Re: It's all about who you employ

            Quite famously as I recall, attempting to bomb a US warship while pretending to be Arabs. Right up until the point they got captured and revealed who they actually were...

    2. despairing citizen

      Re: It's all about who you employ

      "These leaks are failures of vetting, and failures of need-to-know policies."

      More likely a cause is that a number of the programmes lack justification, legally and morally, and therefore good people are willing to risk thier careers and lives to blow the whistle on things that they believe >their< country should not be doing.

      Most whistle blowers on military, and especially intel, activities do it knowing that they are going to be paying for that choice for the rest of their lives.

  6. Gav

    Nothing to worry about

    The security forces worry about the public knowing their secrets. If the security forces aren't doing anything wrong, then they have nothing to worry about.*

    That's the usual rational about surveillance, isn't it? Cuts both ways.

    * I stole this from a tweet by Jeremy Hardy

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing to worry about

      The security forces worry about people knowing their secrets, because that would give away how they monitor people. There is legitimate monitoring, that's the problem, if there were no legitimate monitoring it would be easy to stop the illegitimate monitoring, because you'd just stop all monitoring. Likewise it's perfectly reasonable for a state to keep secrets from its people, as an extreme example you wouldn't expect the UK state to tell everyone where all the submarines are and where they're going to be. A less extreme example is that if you're police monitoring a (picks random bad guys) group of armed bank robbers who are planning a new bank raid, you wouldn't go advertising it or the methods by which you achieve it and the fact that it's ongoing.

      This is the main part of the problem - it's legitimate to monitor some people, the state needs to have intelligence on its people and on other states, but that must not stray into illegitimate monitoring and interference in everyday life.

  7. James Micallef Silver badge

    Why, thank you!

    "You could see certain readers of The Register as freedom’s last, best hope."


    1. Jediben

      Re: Why, thank you!

      We're DOOMED!

  8. austerusz

    Actually, Bletchley Park *could* happen today.

    As long as the spy services target unquestionable aggressors, that is.

    However, when targeting terrorism, the reduction of privacy isn't the only problem.

    Terrorism - this is a term that has no 100% recognized definition, therefore it is often abused to describe anyone and everyone we disagree with. Things that 100 years ago made someone shrug are today labeled as symptoms of terrorism. Anything goes. How can you fight an enemy which isn't even properly defined in itself (tactics aside) ? They are nameless/faceless simply because we can't agree on how to define them, not because of what they do.

    Failure of immigration policies - don't open your door except to people you trust is a rule that applies n everyday life and should apply on country level as well. If you can't trust your allies then why open your door to them? There's little (if any) need to spy on your allies unless you can't trust them, case in which maybe you shouldn't call them allies in the first place.

    1. NumptyScrub

      quote: "However, when targeting terrorism, the reduction of privacy isn't the only problem.

      Terrorism - this is a term that has no 100% recognized definition, therefore it is often abused to describe anyone and everyone we disagree with."

      One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Quite literally, usually; side A think side B are terrorists, and side B think side A are terrorists. Both sides think they are the freedom fighters in this arrangement.

      The Cambridge online dictionary defines terrorist as "someone who uses violent action, or threats of violent action, for political purposes". Unfortunately, that's such a broad definition that it can be applied to any armed forces, even something like the UN Peacekeeping forces; there to keep the peace, by using threats of violent action, or actual violent action, as directed by the UN after being petitioned by political leaders.

      My proposed solution: if you really want to win a "war on terror(ists)", whenever you find an armed force is headed by a political figure, we should probably be asking our political figures to send our armed forces to take them out, because they are demonstrably terrorists ^^;

      1. Hans 1

        As a French stand-up comedian put it:

        The enemy is an idiot as he thinks I am the enemy when in fact it is him.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Terrorism - this is a term that has no 100% recognized definition,"

      The legal definition of terrorism is laid out in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000, as subsequently amended.

      Yet another pieces of carefully considered legislation (sic), as it manages to define all serving and former members of the armed forces and police as "terrorists".

      That will be the bit about doing or threating voilence and property damage for idealocial (i.e. political) goals, this is what we normally call policing (law enforcement), or warfare (pushing the UK political agenda)

  9. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    Just because you can spy on everyone...

    ... doesn't mean that you should.

    The problem is that the Security Services see their job as "protecting the country" and they'll protect it so much that whatever made it worth living here in the first place gets trampled underfoot in the process.

    Meanwhile they're telling the government "Look, X, Y and Z happened (or could have happened) because we weren't able to read everyone's mail/ monitor everyone's phone calls/ check what website people are visiting/ see who's talking to whom etc etc" and claming that the only way they can prevent terrorist attacks is to be allowed to do anything they want and trough huge amounts of information on everyone in the hope that, by making a bigger haystack they can find some more needles and, regrettably, our governments keep falling for this.

    Fortunately for us, the little people, there are a few people who actually have a conscience and believe that the right of Freedom of Expression and the right not to have the State snoop on everything people are doing is more important than preventing "terrorist atrocities" which are actually less likely to kill you than you being struck by lightning.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Strange how GCHQ has morphed.

    Their Irton Moor (Scarborough) outpost has even held open days, albeit to friends and family.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shit happens

    Spying happens, spying will always happen. It is fighting fire with fire.

    If we decide, as a society, that spying is no longer A Good Thing in today's world, and we debilitate our own capabilities by constant leaks, political pressure, etc, all that will happen is we will become vulnerable to be spied upon by rogue states, and nations which don't suffer from this collective lack of spine - they will prosper because they are capable of industrial espionage, and other financial/economic espionage methods which will harm our country and benefit theirs.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: Shit happens

      Whilst I agree with your basic thesis that some spying is necessary, I downvoted you for suggesting that anyone that thinks otherwise is a coward.

  12. Dave Bell

    In the past, the courts have challenged the excesses of those who police us.

    I am not so confident that will happen today. As Leveson said, the non-enforcement of laws against phone-hacking is used to justify new laws, not enforcement of laws. Jr ner abg nyybjrq cevinpl nal zber,

    1. Archivist

      Jr ner abg nyybjrq cevinpl nal zber,

      I particularly agree with your last sentence .... or was it the cat's?

  13. ukgnome
    Paris Hilton

    That's what they want you to think!

    *Paris, because that's what she thinks, at least she thinks that what she thinks.

  14. Charles 9

    So what can civilisation do if one man can REALLY wreck a country, can live within your borders (look at Oklahoma City, done by natural-born Americans), and can conceal his activities until it's too late? That's the biggest fear of the spy agencies: the existential threat (and it's hard to gauge a threat as existential until it's exposed or committed) that gets away. We may not be there YET, but there are signs it is dangerously close (the current leader is a long-incubation airborne rapidly-mutating RNA virus that's carried by a world-hopper who spends time in front of airport ventilation intakes and such).

    As for human intelligence, they've always had a big problem: the bad guys know the good guys' rules and can screen based on them--usually by taking you past a point of no return. For example, picture an organization that won't trust you until you commit a murder and get on the wanted list (preferably that of a soldier which would basically make you a traitor). Now you're basically stuck with them.

    1. bigtimehustler

      The problem is, whats the worst of two evils? I would rather live in a world where this might happen and deal with the fallout, but probably wont happen, than a world where my rights and freedoms are slowly eroded so that nothing does happen. There is always risk in life, the current way of the west is to try and remove all risk from life, but in doing so they remove all fun and enjoyment from life too.

    2. John Hughes

      So whan can civilisation do if, attempting to protect against that one man, it installs a panopticon state, vunerable to abuse by the people running it.

      The Stasi is an existential threat to civilisation that we've seen. Some super McVeigh, less so.

      1. Charles 9

        But one can live without civilisation. It can become a stark choice between anarchy and death (or as of now, the risk of absolute death vs. the certainty of chaotic existence), in which case, what would be your choice?

    3. Intractable Potsherd

      @Charles 9

      Before I accept your challenge, I need you to come up with a plausible-in-the-real-world scenario where "one man can REALLY wreck a country".* That whole idea is so far beyond far-fetched that it doesn't stand scrutiny. However, it does seem to be the basis on which the security agencies are functioning at the moment.

      *Without being in government, that is.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: @Charles 9

        How about a variant of avian flu with a longer incubation time? The one after WW1 was plenty deadly and was done with almost no air travel. Imagine one worse in today's world.

        1. Vic

          Re: @Charles 9

          > How about a variant of avian flu with a longer incubation time?

          How does spying on my email prevent avian flu?

          Or are you suggesting the bird flu epidemic of a few years ago was man-made? If so, the tin-foil shop is over thataway...

          > The one after WW1 was plenty deadly

          Ah, well there you ar then. If only there had been some encrypted web traffic to watch, that wouldn't have happened and all those people would still be alive...

          If governments were committing these obscene amounts of money towards preventing pandemics, most of us would be very happy. But they're not; they're spending that cash on lookingfor "reds under the bed", most of whom aren't there at all, and many of those that are there wouldn't have been had said governments acted lawfully and ethically in the first place...


          1. Charles 9

            Re: @Charles 9

            "How does spying on my email prevent avian flu?"

            How about an ENGINEERED flu? One that you're communication over the e-mail using codewords like "inoculation"? Recall the time antrax spores were sent over the mail. Bioweapons DO exist, and not necessarily in government facilities.

            PS. I don't trust tinfoil hats. That's propaganda meant to get you zapped even MORE (think antennae--or foil in a microwave).

    4. Richard Gadsden

      Humint doesn't involve inserting spies, that's where the Bond image gets it wrong. It involves recruiting people who are on the inside.

      Get an actual terrorist to give you information, don't send a Western spy-agency employee to pretend to be a terrorist.

      Real spy-agency employees aren't spies; they're handlers, they're couriers, they're the conduit between the actual source and the home agency.

      1. Charles 9

        So how do you penetrate a very tight organization, one that seriously vets everyone and is only composed of kin or other "untouchables" (to use the Prohibition-era phrase)? That's why you still need sigint--because sometimes humint is too risky to attempt or the adversary is surrounded by untouchables.

    5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Charles 9

      "So what can civilisation do if one man can REALLY wreck a country, can live within your borders (look at Oklahoma City, done by natural-born Americans), and can conceal his activities until it's too late? "

      Let's break this idea down.

      He is politicized without looking at websites, without talking to people already being watched for other reasons. IE Motive.

      He can do this without requiring materials on any watch list. IE Means

      But he communicates electronically with various people and reveals his plans to them (who are also not on any watch list).

      Because otherwise how do you find him to justify all that (unwarranted) spying?

      <profanity filter off>

      This is bullshit. Even Greg Bear could not construct a major threat that needed just 1 man to do it.

      </profanity filter off>

  15. Tom 7 Silver badge

    The real reason why you couldnt do it today

    is because the budget for carpeting and pictures in the foyer would be larger than that for IT.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: The real reason why you couldnt do it today

      More to the point, there'd be more people in HR and accounts than there were doing the decoding: And they'd be the ones with the really good computers while the decoders would be using a bunch of old XP machines and an abacus.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "I will make it legal" - Emperor Palpatine

    Perhaps the remit of GCHQ should be made completely public and written into law.

    Within the remit of anti-terrorism and anti-espionage matters, GCHQ will be given the ability to investigate any and all data that could be captured within our shores, or utilising infrastructure which falls within our territories. Access to this data will be retained for use only by UK MI agencies, and any data requests from civilian authorities are to be rejected as standard, unless specific, pre-organised joint operations within GCHQ's direct remit are underway.

    In short, the police will not be allowed access to any of this data, unless they are assisting on a terrorism / espionage case and have a specific need-to-know. Any data capture by the police must be carried out within their own legal boundaries.

    Data and information captured by GCHQ with no intelligence within their remit (and including any evidence of crimes at all levels- murder, child porn, drug distribution, TV-show piracy etc) is to be destroyed, and not made availalbe to local authorites.

    1. Old Handle
      Black Helicopters

      Re: "I will make it legal" - Emperor Palpatine

      That's an interesting approach, but it couldn't work as long their remit includes terrorism. What really is the difference between a terrorist and a murderer? It's not the scale. The "Dark Knight Rises" killer had four times the death toll of the Boston Marathon bombers. Yet he would generally be considered "a nut" and the later terrorists. And it's not just murder where it's blurry. We now know the NSA secretly gets involved in drug enforcement, which on the face of it is pretty far outside their supposed purpose. But I'm sure the argument was made at some point that it was proper because terrorists may get funding through the drug trade.

  17. josefmoellers

    Who is the enemy?

    I think another problem is the constant shifting of focus: especially the Americans drop friends easily. Who was once an ally in the fight against communism is now an enemy in the fight against "terrorism". So if someone has been sworn in to help this person/group/country suddenly finds himself ordered to fight the same person/group/country.

  18. Maharg

    No War

    A very well written and interesting take on the difference between the situations, but I think the main point is the second paragraph on the first page.

    The difference between then and now is quite simply we were in the middle of an industrial war, for the people at doing the code breaking it was a matter of not ‘national security’ but ‘national survival’ the enemy was tangible and identifiable threat and the effects of the war could be seen on a day to day basis.

    After the war the people that worked there kept the secrets because of the tangible and identifiable threat of the USSR and WWIII, and they had seen how important their work was, how it aided the allies and what happened because of it.

    Snowden, rightly or wrongly (and if you believe him) was against the idea of the US ‘spying’ on its own citizens and allies, during peacetime.

    The actions these people did was help to defeat the people trying to take over their country and kill them.

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Re: No War

      BRAVO! Well said, Maharg!

      Scorchio!!!, Charles9 and others, please take note.

  19. John Hughes

    The NSA is Bletchley Park!

    What was important about the whole Bletchley park thing was the industrialisation of espionage.



    Thousands of people worked on the project.

    Although it started in the UK, by the end of the war most of the effort was being run from the US.

    The NSA is the direct descendant of this. The current mess is simply the natural outcome. Did anyone seriously think they'd just shut up shop in 1945?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The NSA is Bletchley Park!

      I think Angela Merkel's new phone is probably an Enigma.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the future is bright

    for a wide range of mainstream and off-centre ideas to embed loyalty into lowly human minions, to perhaps trigger some response when they attempt such impure thoughts, let alone actions. George Clooney and his goats might get re-employed on very favourable terms indeed ;)

  21. James 36


    A war on terror is like trying to nail jelly to a wall, the only way to reduce terror is to improve the lives of the people from where the terrorists recruit.

    kill someone's relative they become easy picking for terror groups (or governments or criminals or ...etc) for vengeful acts of violence , educate them and improve their lives they will be harder to convince of the justification for "righteous slaughter" and also , hopefully , more critical of the arguments presented to persuade.

    Intelligence gathering is still needed, I do not think spying on everyone is a good thing or justified.

  22. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    You're SLOWLY getting there...

    While Mr Mathieson has a long way to go, he is clearly beginning to understand what has been happening - and some of the commentators are way ahead of him. Which is heartening...

    During the 1940s, we had a World War. In a war, the normal checks and controls that society expects to put on a government are thrown away. Your government may forcibly commandeer your property, attach you to the armed services, and investigate/spy on anything it likes.

    Just after the war, many of the state bureaucracies which applied these new powers were swept away. Several were happy to be closed down - but many put up quite a fight. One example of the sort of thing that happened can be seen here:

    Clarence Henry Willcock

    Our State Secret Police and Intelligence Services were lucky - they survived the end of the war quite easily by moving into the Cold War virtually unchanged. Gradually the Cold War shrank, disappearing entirely in the early 1990s. It may be interesting to consider whether it would have gone earlier if it had not been in the interests of Security Service, the SIS, NSA, the CIA, KGB, Stasi, and many similar organisations to keep it going.

    When the Cold War died these organisations were staring redundancy in the face. They have built up the threat of terrorism to justify their own existence. It may be interesting to consider whether Middle Eastern politics might have been very different if it were not for the intelligence services input encouraging destabilisation.

    The intelligence services do not particularly WANT to spy on the entire civilian population. I'm sure that they are quite uninterested in the information they are gathering - indeed, they probably can't make any practical use of it. Famously, they have NEVER been able to show an example of a plot uncovered by the use of it. What they are interested in is justifying their existence. And big projects like this are self-perpetuating, and ideal for maintaining a lifetime's career.

    We need supra-legal intelligence services in wartime. In peacetime we need the rule of law, applied by the police, democratically accountable and presented in open court. And that is what our intelligence services do not want to hear, and are very scared to see discussed...

  23. Tridac

    I was living in London, near Kilburn when the pub got bombed and was near enough to hear the bang. Compared to now, we had probably orders of magnitude more terrorist activity at the peak of the troubles, but we never allowed that to turn this country into a quasi police state, even after the Brighton bombing. Of course, this country always did bend over for anyone who offered enough cash. The NSA being the current client and gchq getting paid a tidy sum to proxy what can't be done legally in the US.

    More cctv than the former E Germany and legislation (RIPA) that allows councils to snoop on citizens who are supected of filing bins too full, or "cheating" to get theri kids into a preferred school. Then, blanket surveillance of everybody by unaccountables and you are already nearly at Orwell's nightmare. Sorry, but it's not ok by any measure. As for "parliamentary oversight", it's a joke, probably because they know they are at the edge of the law and really don't want to know what they are up to. All this, just to catch a couple of plots being plotted every year. Not even good value for money.

    As for privacy, some will argue that all this is ok because we live in a democracy, but what happens if we get an extreme right or left wing government in power, with all that "useful" infrastructure already in place ?. The last government presided over the most sustained attack on civil liberties and privacy in a hundred years, but will the country never wake up ?...

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "I was living in London, near Kilburn when the pub got bombed and was near enough to hear the bang. Compared to now, we had probably orders of magnitude more terrorist activity at the peak of the troubles, but we never allowed that to turn this country into a quasi police state, even after the Brighton bombing. "

      Damm right.

      I think if Margaret Thatcher believed ID cards, recording everybodies conversations and CCTV on every street corner would defeat the IRA she would have made it happen.

      But she read the paperwork and didn't.

      With the IRA shut down after 38 years of British troop deployment it took 4 men setting off 4bombs to get Tony Blair to want to bring in a national cradle-to-grave ID card data base.

  24. Spoonsinger

    "Can you keep a secret?"

    Had to sign a piece of paper way back which say's I should. Not entirely sure it was necessary, but you takes the money, you follow take the creed. It's how things work.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Can you keep a secret?"

      "Had to sign a piece of paper way back which say's I should. Not entirely sure it was necessary,"

      No you didn't, everybody in the UK is covered under the Official Secrets Acts, they make you sign at the start and end to "bring it to your attention", and it makes it hard to argue ignorance in a court as mitigation if they have your "john hancock" on the document.


      John Hancock and his buddies were terrorists according to current UK law, and come the 4th of July, most US citizens will be guilty of the offence of Glorifying Acts of Terrorism.

  25. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge


    During the war, and after, people kept quiet about what they did because they believed they should keep quiet. Not because a government told them to.

    It really is a question of whether a removal of a liberty is justified or not. Sometimes it is and people will lament that but shoulder the burden. Other times it is not and they are right to speak out.

  26. Arachnoid

    How does spying stop Islamic Terrorists shooting up African Shopping Centres

    It doesn't as the main priority of the spying game is to ensure the ball stays well out of your own goal and if it means it goes in someone elses then it goes in someone eleses same as it always has.Bletchly Park was about knowing when to use knowledge and when not to,sometimes this heart breaking process would lead to servicemen or allies dieing because of our inaction.So it was and still is a balancing act of when and not if to use the information.

    At the end of the day the park came about because of the boots on the ground that found the enigma machine and codes in the first place. So one does not work well with the absence of the other as the Americans keep finding out to their cost.

  27. Irongut

    freedom’s last, best hope

    I could be freedon's last, best hope if it wasn't for my terrible human rights record.

  28. despairing citizen
    Big Brother

    The easy way to stop secret leaks

    The government can pass all the laws it wants, but people have their own personal moral compass.

    Bletchly was kept secret because it was presenting staff with a very black and white moral choice. This included captured members of the Polish cipher bureau taking the secret to their grave.

    What the NSA and GCHQ are currently operating, covers many shades of gray.

    If you want the secrets to be kept, then they must have a moral justification for the staff working on them, no quantity of law or threats is going to keep the lid on, as somebody will sooner or later stand up an act on what they believe is right,, resulting in the programme being exposed..

    This leaves the NSA and GCHQ with basically two options, (1) recruit only people with a very loose moral compass (a bad security risk with forgein intel agencies for subversion), (2) restrict their operations to what can morally be justified, and ensure the absolute need for that programme be explained and justified to the people working on it.

    1. Zot

      Re: The easy way to stop secret leaks

      I get the feeling you're mixing up a moral compass with basic patriotism. They are not the same thing in a universal human sense.

      1. despairing citizen
        Big Brother

        Re: The easy way to stop secret leaks

        "I get the feeling you're mixing up a moral compass with basic patriotism. They are not the same thing in a universal human sense."

        If you believe in the values that your country has stood for, for hundreds of years, patriotism is a moral choice.

        If you do something for your country and your people, because you believe that to be right, that is a moral choice and patriotic.

        The problem comes when you consider peoples patriotic actions agianst personal definitions of good and evil, rather than the actors perspective.

        for example, nobody could question that Adolf Hitler and Victor Quisling both acted on what they thought was in the national intrerest for their people, the fact that Adolf was responsible for many horrendous acts, doesn't change where he started from, and Quisling from most peoples prespective, betrayed his country (Norway) doing what he thought was right. (you wil see him sometimes described as the patriotic traitor)

        The same can be said of Pierre Laval's partcipation in the Vichy government.

        When you are recruiting people to work in national security, you should looking for people who will protect their country as a moral choice, rather than a pay packet, that makes patriotism a subset of moral choice. The down side is if the current people in charge have other agendas, because that patriotism, makes for people who are willing to "go down in flames" to do what is right for their country, rather than their government and pay masters.

        I'm sure if we put a few philosophy profs. in a room they could argue about the linkage between patriotism and moral choice for a few decades

  29. Joe Gurman

    Privacy concerns are valid; spying ones are crocodile tears

    Every nation with the wherewithal spies on every other one in which they have an interest, friendly or unfriendly. If Brazil hasn't caught up, it will.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You're forgetting that GCHQ was the direct descendant of Bletchley Park

    A lot of the people who were involved in Bletchley Park stayed quiet because:

    A) They were proud to have helped in defeating the obviously evil Nazis

    B) They were absorbed into GCHQ after the war and were still collecting government paychecks.

    C) The government would throw the book at them using the Official Secrets Act if they blabbed.

    The success of Bletchley Park was the only secret. It was pretty obvious that Britain had SOMETHING big going on to intercept German communications, especially after the U.S. MAGIC intercept program of Japanese communications was declassified right after WW2 so that congressional investigations of Pearl Harbor could have a clear view of what was known about Japanese intentions and dispositions before December 7th, 1941

  31. Herby

    Why can's the likes of The Guardian ...

    Find and leak secrets of those who really need exposing. I put such things as Iran and North Korea and Al Queida [sp?] in this regard. Those "secrets" would be especially helpful in these "interesting" times.

    Sure, there are secrets some countries keep, but how about being an "equal opportunity leaker".

    Fair is Fair!!

    1. A J Stiles

      Re: Why can's the likes of The Guardian ...

      Possibly because North Korea have no secrets of any relevance, and Al Qaeda is basically a bunch of thirtysomething overgrown schoolboys in their mothers' basements, discussing how to make pipe bombs. Any real threats they might pose (a new type of radio valve that does not require a heated cathode? a few minor cuts and burns, mostly to the hapless backyard chemists?) are massively overstated by governments, as justification for their excesses.

  32. Herby

    An Obversation

    If someone asks you to tell them a "secret", you query them:

    "Can you keep a secret?"

    Of course they will answer "Yes.".

    The next statement should be: "So can I!".

  33. SirDigalot


    So the people who read the secrets, generally those in power, usually keep them until the day they die, many of them knowing why certain events happened and what the possible outcomes would have been because of them.

    We had many people back in the "golden days" who took what they learnt to the grave also

    It only seems recently that world+dog wants to be a whistle blower whether they think it is for the good of the world+dog or not.

    So what has changed between those who did ( and still do) keep those secrets with no desire to spill the beans and those who just want to shout it out to the world?

    are the new batch holding a higher sense of morals? Or do they just not value the word/promise given (probably numerous forms signed, and possibly an oath said too) that they are going to keep what they find out as hush hush for ever ( or until someone more important deems it ok to talk about it)

    yes I would love to know all the secrets that conspiracy theories are about, if I got to see them but had to keep my word until I die would I? I like to believe I would, many on the other hand seem to think that we all should know and damn the consequences ( maybe it is a result of there being less consequences for younger generations then we had, not sure on that but it does seem like it)

  34. chris lively

    I fear what this means long term for national sovereignty.

    Let's say the US admits we can listen to any phone and internet connection in the world. Let's say GCHQ says the same thing. Immediately one of two things will happen. Either various first world nations will scream and demand treaties preventing it... Or, more likely, anyone not already full vested in that space will want to get in on it. In other words it will draw the various first world countries closer together.

    Imagine the US signing a treaty with France allowing them to spy on US citizens at will. Why would the US do this? Because France would reciprocate. We already know some of this is happening, but it will grow more in depth. At some point these countries, in the interest of reducing costs, would likely want to setup an entity for this purpose. Oh, that's right, let's give control of that to the UN...

    Do you see where this leads?

    As good as the ideas on the article sound, I fear it's just another step on the path to a one world government which I feel isn't a good thing

  35. Vociferous

    There's dozens of Bletchley Park.

    I'm at a loss to understand how the author seriously thinks that all the security services do is known to him.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    War or no war

    Its is less about the objective reality of what is war and more about the shared perception of being at war with a another country. Where "us" and "them" is easy to portray in propaganda.

    If we (the general tendency of society) were living with a perception of being at War like they had in WW2, we would not have any empathy for Manning, Assange, or Snowdon.

    1. Vociferous

      Re: War or no war

      An added factor are the libertarians, who view _their own state_ as their mortal enemy, and will happily help any other state which is opposed to their own (because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend"). This is part of the reason why US libertarians love China and Russia so much, and the reason why libertarians hate all democracies.

      Both Snowden and Assange are libertarians.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: War or no war

        What a load of bollox. Libertarians want to lead their own lives as free of government interference as possible. I don't think the Chinese and Russians really fall into this category.

        1. Vociferous

          Re: War or no war

          > Libertarians want to lead their own lives as free of government interference as possible

          No no no, libertarians just want theirs. They don't give a shit about anyone else, and in Russia and China, if you're rich and connected (and all libertarians imagine that they would be if it wasn't for the nanny state getting in their way) you're above the law, and can do whatever you want. Free of government interference.

          That the plebs get thrown into prison - well, that just serves them right for being statists.

          1. Charles 9

            Re: War or no war

            That's not a true libertarian. That's a crony. A TRUE Libertarian distrusts government, period. They're essentially anarchists. Sure, the rich can pretty much get their way right now in China and Russia, but recall that was true in Cuba, too...until the late 1950's. The big problem with government is it's prone to changing and/or reneging, meaning you can never be truly safe with them. Most Libertarians as you see them AREN'T true libertarians because they see SOME role in government: just a very SMALL one (minarchists). But real libertarians don't see a role for government AT ALL. It's like that banner you see in the beginning of BioShock (which BTW was based a lot on Randian Libertarianism): "No Gods or Kings. Only Men."

            1. Vociferous

              Re: War or no war

              > A TRUE Libertarian distrusts government, period. They're essentially anarchists.

              No, not really. Libertarianism is simply egoism elevated to political principle, the credo of libertarianism is "fuck you I got mine". Yes they hate the state, but not out of principle like leftist anarchists do, but because the state is funded through tax money, they're anti-tax, because taxation, dontyouknow, is theft.

              All their positions follow from that: they're opposed to war not because people die but because wars cost tax money; they're opposed to environmental protection not because they don't believe nature is being damaged, but because environmental protection cost tax- and corporate money; they're in favor of legal drugs and guns because it doesn't cost tax money (plus companies can make money off them); they're opposed to immigration because that costs tax money; they're opposed to aid to disaster victims because that costs tax money... and so on and so on.

              There isn't a single position of libertarians which isn't motivated by Fuck You I Got Mine.

              As long as they, personally, don't have to pay taxes, they're perfectly OK with the state being an oppressive dictatorship to everyone else.

  37. Gannon (J.) Dick

    Long Live Bletchley Park!

    The World Wide Web ended in the US in early June 1942.

    That was the point when 2 characters of coded meta data all but did in Japan. Would it have helped if the code was 70 times longer ? A Tweet ? A Universal Resource Identifier (URI) (sorry, Tim B-L) ?

    How about a 30 second phone call to the Oncologist, Ms. Merkel ?

    No, data length has nothing to do with it. The American, United Kingdom, German and Japanese Governments have known that for 60 years.

    The "promise" of the Big Data Slurp has made the Spooks stupid. There is no other plausible explanation.

    “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

    -- Arthur Conan Doyle, Sr.

    No shit, Sherlock.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Long Live Bletchley Park!

      “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

      But then you have to ask yourself, "What's really impossible?" Given the advances of technology, the list is getting considerably shorter, and if you eliminate something you THINK is impossible but in reality IS possible, you've lost the game already.

  38. scrubber

    Fuck all you

    Can I vote for a party that accepts up to, say, 7,000 deaths per annum as acceptable collateral damage to be the freest and most liberal (classical sense) country in the world where my government looks after big stuff and has a priority of protecting my freedom rather than my life?

    1. Vociferous

      Re: Fuck all you

      Amen. You know the West has lost its way when it no longer feels that it is justifiable to fight to preserve freedom.

      As Ross Douthat observed some years ago: This is what decadence looks like: a frantic coarseness that “bravely” trashes its own values and traditions, and then knuckles under swiftly to totalitarianism and brute force.

  39. Allan George Dyer

    existential national threat?

    So John-Paul Sartre's followers have turned nasty?

  40. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    I suspect

    theres a simple reason why the people involved in 'ultra' never leaked anything.

    Its because they knew if they leaked it to our press, the government would D-notice the press and throw the leaker in jail, and if the leaker gave stuff to the germans , the leaker would be taken for a short dangle from a piece of rope in Pentonville jail....

  41. A J Stiles

    This is just Crypto 101

    Isn't this the principle on which crypto software is designed -- keep the minimum amount of information actually secret? Secure crypto software can have the Source Code and encrypting keys published, because the only secret is the naked decrypting key -- it's even safe to send out documents encrypted using it; and if the matching encrypting key (which is known to everyone) decrypts a document, you can be sure that it was sent by someone who has that key. Which, if it's the only thing that need be kept secret, is easier to keep secret than a whole bunch of other stuff. (Even sent messages cease to be secret, once the event referred to has already happened.)

    So, keeping the minimum possible amount secret -- and that must include not collecting data unnecessarily in the first place -- seems to be a reasonable principle to apply.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: This is just Crypto 101

      The trouble with that approach is that the smaller the secret, the easier it is to copy and slip away with it. No matter how tight you seal it, you can't keep out an insider who needs the key to conduct business, and if that insider's doubled...

      It's an alternate approach to security. Think the lockbox vs. the chain. Sometimes you WANT a big secret...because it makes the secret too big to move and thus steal.

  42. keithpeter Silver badge

    Milo Minderbinder

    Milo Minderbinder is behind all of this.

    As the Italians say, Cui Bono

    Ms May and her colleagues have been sold a pup. And they won't admit it. And we will carry on paying billions for espionage on ourselves that generates no advantage.

  43. johnwerneken

    To H with privacy

    Humans evolved where everyone in the band knew everything everyone was doing. Good idea now, abolish privacy, record anything, discourage harmful actions. It's what acts people take when they learn things that matters. So what, what adult has sex, or how, with what other consenting adult, for example. Bravo to the Spies. But piss on the TSA.

    1. Richard Gadsden

      Re: To H with privacy

      That means abolishing privacy for everyone. Starting with the powerful. Hmmmmm.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: To H with privacy

        Privacy is a relatively recent innovation, mostly a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution and the big city boom. Back in the days of the villages, there was pretty much NO expectation of privacy., as the community was small enough that people naturally kept tabs on each other: something a big city could prevent. Every time I think about this difference, I recall "The Scarlet Letter" (which was about small communities and shames that eventually came to light).

  44. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    "The problem is that those charged with exercising those checks have failed to exercise due care, and what we see is an outcome of "regulatory capture". "

    To a great extent, yes. Although, apparently the FISA court *did* stop rubber stamping, and straight-up tell the NSA they did not approve of their later plans. The NSA had one of their lawyers come up with a fairly non-sensical argument justifying their actions, and just kept doing them (they did not take up their counterarguments with FISA, just kept going). At this point, their actions were undeniably illegal, since they were collecting information without the required approval of FISA. They just assumed nobody would leak their illegal activities.

    Anyway, I agree with the article -- contractors are not guaranteed steady work, so they don't have that "work for life" kind of loyalty. There's not a clear enemy like the Nazis to unify people. I think leaking info is easier now; if the main stream media is just going to sit on something, it can be released publicly online instead. And finally, the NSA has been a bad actor, not following the minimal legal restrictions placed on them and then lying about it... I think if they had been better behaved, Snowden would not have had the fit of conscience to leak this information, and there would not have been interesting information to leak anyway.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    .....Since 1989, the threats to the countries of the free world have been from terrorists who certainly wish to commit mass murder, but do not pose an existential national threat......

    There are certainly sufficient grounds to suspect that a certain "religion of peace" would like to do sufficient damage to the infidel masses to create an existential threat to those infidel masses.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bletchley Park relied on total, long-term secrecy over its methods. If the Nazi regime had realised that the Allies were breaking its "unbreakable" Enigma machines on a routine basis, the game would have been up. But that secret was kept for the entire war and for three decades beyond.

    I think one of the reasons why it was kept secret for decades after the war was that the UK was recommending/selling Enigma machines to various commonwealth countries as being "the unbreakable code machine we never cracked" which allowed the UK to access their secure messages. Perhaps the reason why it was kept secret for so long was that then people felt a sense of duty to the country and if they were told it was a state secret then they didn't talk about it. However, now everything has been reduced to the individual so if someone (e.g. Snowden. Manning etc) thinks they should tell other people then that's what they do.

    1. Hans 1

      The Kriegsmarine knew and were changing the codes every so often, its the Heer (Wehrmacht and Waffen SS) and Luftwaffe that did not believe the Kriegsmarine ... So it was not all that great a secret ... now they did not know how the Brits did it and that was probably why they did not upgrade the system altogether ...

      That or maybe Canaris ... who happened to belong to the Kriegsmarine ....

      And, it is was NOT wrong to break the Enigma code, it saved many lives ... it is wrong, however, to spy on ALL citizens and, worse even, share that data with third parties (some of which are privately held/quoted companies). It is bad to kill innocent civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan for the sake of it or torture prisoners etc. This is why these things come to light, because it is obviously BAD - that is what the idea of "whistle-blower" is all about ... shit, guyz, come on ...

  47. Choofer

    I don't care

    I really don't care that states spy on each other and try to tap into other countries communications. I think that's just the real world, and is a requirement in keeping a nation secure.

    What worries me is when these abililities filter down to local law enforcement agencies. I should be able to communicate and store infromation without worrying about big brother government spying on my for whatever reason tickles their political or financial fancy on a day to day basis. That's what is worrying - that recent terrorist incidents seem to have bred a "right" and desire for government to spy on their own constituents.

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