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United States

Bazaars in the Government Cathedral 102

guanxi writes: "This article by James Fallows in The Atlantic is one of the most interesting I've read all year. It describes how innovators in government are applying the concept of the Bazaar: The many eyes of 'Open-Source Intelligence' movement that provides better intelligence than classified sources, and a b2b-like marketplace created by World Bank employees that distributes aid more efficiently than the bureaucratic process."
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Bazaars in the Government Cathedral

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    ...buzzword compliant.
  • Is this something different to the astronomers tapping into the ameteur network of willing eyes to watch the sky?


    Prehaps we could farm out the intellegence space to interested parties.

  • world bank (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gimpboy ( 34912 )
    not really on topic but-most of the people from asia that i have spoken with dont really like the world bank that much. the y equate them to loan sharks on a global scale. is there anyone here who would care to comment on this? i'm just curious.
    • Generally, the World Bank is seen by the poor as a front for big business (i.e. US based multi-nationals).....
      in most cases, this is true, not through deliberate acts of the IMF and World bank, but due to the effects of their actions...
      Examples are where making agriculture more "efficient" means converting to cash crops like coffee (which are useless to the natives without further processing), where the real money is made back in the developed world.

    • The measures discussed bring the WB a little closer to the beneficiaries. If this works, then great. In the past, it often hasn't. The WB is not unique in this and overseas aid is good business for the donor country. The World Bank is not evil, but it does make mistakes and their isn't really enough independent oversight at the moment.

      However traditional WB loans are given to countries to purchase products or services from WB lendor countries. Often projects do not promote independance and can leave the beneficiary too dependent on expensive overseas supplies.

      I don't work for the WB, but I have worked on a WB financed contract and I have seen enough to disillusion me.

    • 1) As someone else noted, often the World Bank loans are designed more to allow 3rd worlders to buy from or make products for international corporations than to actually meet local needs.

      2) WB makes loans that poor countries probably aren't going to be able to pay back, then harshly regulates their economies in an effort to wring out the money. Loan sharks generally won't loan to you if they expect to have to pay a legbreaker to collect, and certainly won't knowingly loan you more than you can possibly pay back, but the WB can't quite figure out whether they're a lending or a welfare instititution, so they make obviously bad loans and then go nuts trying to collect...

      3) Tiny loans to start small local businesses have been proven to fuel economic development much better than the WB's mega-loans to governments. However, even if the WB wants to make the tiny loans, I don't see how they can -- micro-loans have to be made by local people in the villages.
  • by meehawl ( 73285 ) <meehawl.spam@g m a il.com> on Sunday February 03, 2002 @07:25PM (#2948072) Homepage Journal
    From the article [theatlantic.com]:
    [the] GuideStar controls could be programmed to prevent any airplane from ever going someplace it should not ... The coordinates of restricted areas and important buildings could be entered into the new guidance system, which could thwart a pilot's

    I've read about this panacea repeatedly since 9/11. The existence of an irrevocable fly-by-wire lockout mode such as this gives hijackers a new physical location (the control room) or software/protocol system to target. I believe the Risks [ncl.ac.uk] inherent here are great.

    Having trained, experienced humans local and ready to override compromised Guidestar-like devices is crucial. The 9/11 hijackers gained easy access to a plane's most valuable assets -- pilots in the cockpit -- due to a lack of Sky Marshals, security doors, and cameras. That was a tragic case of cost cutting by the airlines.

    I'd hate to think that similar cost cutting measures could lead to adoption of this automatic flying device with an intention to deskill or replace pilots. The implementation of such a device requires careful human factor analysis. Perhaps a periodic, probabilistically triggered interrogation of pilot credentials (created for one-time-use during a single flight) according to flying patterns and location?
    • Having trained, experienced humans local and ready to override compromised Guidestar-like devices is crucial.

      Just in case it's not clear to everyone, "local" here means "on the airplane". Remote control piloting of aircraft is even more dangerous than the Guidestar idea.

    • Passenger jets already have autopilots, ya karma whore.
    • Somehow, I can't see cameras being a useful defense aginst someone willing to die. These are only useful as an intimidation factor to keep the drones in check.
      • No, cameras can alert the pilots and the ground about suspicious activity of the passengers. Fighter jets can be scrambled earlier, evacuation of buildings can start earlier and non-overridable autopilot can be activated from the ground if really necessary.
    • " due to a lack of Sky Marshals, security doors, and cameras. That was a tragic case of cost cutting by the airlines. "

      What good will 'Sky Marshalls' be? Everyone seems to forget that using a gun in a plane is a very bad idea. I now know that if I was on a plane that was hijacked I *would* fight and I would act as a 'Sky Marshall. I think there are many more like me now as well. I have complete respect for the people on the 4th plane and I pray that I would be as brave. As for 'Security doors', the ones that I have seen fitted are not much better than before. Cameras are only for use in court and have no effect at the time.

      The only good thing is that people prepared to die for a cause are a dying breed.
      • Everyone seems to forget that using a gun in a plane is a very bad idea.
        Tasers. Mace. Glubombs.
        • Nun-chucks. Battleaxes. Two-handed swords.
          :)
        • Everyone seems to forget that using a gun in a plane is a very bad idea.

          Tasers. Mace. Glubombs.

          Useless. Useless. Useless.

          Remember Rodney King? Specifically, do you remember the couple of minutes of video that the TV news 'forgot' to air? It features King being shot several times with a taser, and getting up to attack the officers after each one.

          And I've had plenty of failures with defense sprays like Mace and pepper. If the subject has any meaningful amount of alcohol in his system, the sprays are about fifty-fifty.

          And batons have their failings. I'm about 6'2", 220 pounds, mostly muscle. There was one fine night where I got called to deal with a scrawny 15-year-old girl who had been mixing meth, PCP, and alcohol at once. As the contact evolved, I ended up hitting her on a nerve cluster on her leg, hoping to shut down that nerve temporarily so I could settle her down without having to shoot her. Nope. One strike will work, in theory. In practice, the fourth one broke a metal expandible baton. How we got control of her, I'll never quite understand.

          In other words, I would never trust my own life to OC or taser. And I'm not comfortable trusting it to a baton either, not on an airplane. I do, however, have a great deal of faith in overpriced German handguns. And where the mission is to keep an airliner from becoming a missle, I'm not exactly willing to take unnecessary chances.

          Sometimes I've been thinking, it's actually a pity that I'm too old to apply for the air marshal's program.

          • Useless. Useless. Useless.

            Maybe you're right. Maybe the best approach is for all "road warriors" to club hijackers repeatedly with their overweight Armada laptops...
            • Maybe you're right. Maybe the best approach is for all "road warriors" to club hijackers repeatedly with their overweight Armada laptops...

              Heh. I've got a Dell Inspiron I'm willing to sacrifice for a good cause.

              Or break out the airplane food. Just be sure that the hijackers don't get any eggs in their mouths if you want to take them alive.

      • Everyone seems to forget that using a gun in a plane is a very bad idea.

        I've noticed the reverse, everyone keeps repeating that it's a bad idea without making it clear why. I mean, what happens, the gun (maybe) puts a hole in the plane, which will (eventually) depressurize the plane, forcing the pilots to bring the plane down to a reasonable altitude (15,000 ft?) and make an emergency landing... Which is, I imagine, exactly what they were going to do anyway if there's trouble on the plane.

        Or maybe there's something I'm missing, and firing a gun on a plane would cause a certain crash, which, of course, is not exactly the worst-case scenario.

        --
        Benjamin Coates
        • Firing a gun in a plane will almost certainly cause decompression, but the problem is the rate of decompression. A bullet will only cause a small hole on its own, but the pressure of the air trying to escape through the whole will make the hole much much larger, possibly ripping off a huge section of the skin of the aircraft and causing explosive decompression and a crash.
          • Sky marshals would presumably use the same type of low velocity rounds that the Israelis use for thier sky marshals. Enough to stop a terrorist (not like they're going to sneak body armor onto the plane) but not enough to pierce the hull of the plane.
          • Any relevant data to back up that claim? We're only talking a 9mm hole and a couple of pounds of pressure differential here. It seems to me if the slug went out forward, the pressure would actually increase, a 500 mph wind causes a lot of pressure. If someone is taking over the plane, my life is likely toast anyway so I would be willing to risk a couple of small holes.
  • by Rayonic ( 462789 ) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @07:32PM (#2948088) Homepage Journal
    I just hope the information isn't passed through too many hands (or too many languages):

    > They will strike the White House on the 27th of September.

    > Ils heurteront Maison Blanche sur le 27ème septembre.

    > Sie werden sich weißes Haus auf 27. September stoßen.

    > ih biti njoj samoj bjeloa dom da 27. rujan aktivnost.

    > áü á áëçí îí÷ííé îí âî ä äëü 27. íáü äí ü.

    > ay 27. .

    > Their close amplitude modulation her six flower bone territory ay reservation 27. September attack.

    Bah, I'll probably get modded down for this.
  • Open Society (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Pfhor ( 40220 ) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @07:53PM (#2948139) Homepage
    I got the sense from the article that the whole point is still a "we are better than them" pat on the back. Look at all the freedom we have, we can make a self powered balancing unicycle, and then use it to control weapons. We have the freedom of email to communicate information that is publicly available to another group of people to get their ideas on it.

    Yes, it is amazing what some freedom of speech can do for a country, imagine what would happen if there was more. Because, most of the sources listed in there are all centered around either war or business. Both things our country seems to be good at. It makes no mention of any protesters or activists showing up at the world bank's Bazaar. Did they? Did they get money, or were they just ignored.

    It touches on the fact that in an open society, it is really hard to keep secrets (the fact that Boston was/is a no fly zone, hmmmm, maybe because of the big dig, any terrorist setting off a biochemical weapon would be extremely successful because of the cities horribly transportation system. And the boston T could be a wicked way to spread it).

    If having an open society is so key to our ability as a nation to defend itself, wouldn't that mean that anything that inhibits the free flow of information (the basis of an open society in the article, the idea of the AI email list) should be considered a threat to open society? Of course, that shouldn't be a problem as long as the media conglomerates and mega corporations are on our side. But wait! Didn't the author mention that news one person wouldn't think as important, another person would be able to get some vital information from? So they are still a problem, even if they are on our side, they could be ignoring information that is vital to our survival!

    Something to chew on.
    • Pfhor said: If having an open society is so key to our ability as a nation to defend itself, wouldn't that mean that anything that inhibits the free flow of information should be considered a threat to open society? [...] But wait! Didn't the author mention that news one person wouldn't think as important, another person would be able to get some vital information from? My wife once said "the Atlantic doesn't actually care what you think, they care that you think". I think Mr. Fallows had done a very good job for his slightly unusual magazine (as usual!) --dave
    • Re:Open Society (Score:2, Insightful)

      by darien ( 180561 )
      Re: Boston: this [go.com] article seems to suggest it's very easy to navigate from Boston to Indian Point nuclear power plant. According to this protest site [closeindianpoint.org], the plant lies "within a 50-mile radius of 8 percent of the population of the U.S.A." This is a tolerably good reason to impose a no-fly zone; so perhaps no need to start hypothesising about Dick Cheney's big glass dome o' smallpox just yet.
      • A few percent of the world's gold is (or at least used to be, my information is about 12 years old)stored at the Federal Depository in Boston. A few Third World nations with hard currency keep the gold that backs their currency there.
  • "one of the most interesting I've read all year."

    Yep, it's SO interesting, it surpasses all of the previous month's content...
  • Can anyone get to g2-forward.org? That's where the Access Intel mailing list seems to be based on a quick googling (there's scarce mention of it as it is...), but the domain's nameservers aren't being very helpful. Does anyone know if the list has moved (and to where)?

    Thanks in advance.
  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @09:19PM (#2948397)
    Every tool has its application. Obviously, some secrets are worth keeping: for example, the code for the President's briefcase that launches the nukes is something best kept off Slashdot, or the open-source intelligence listserv. At the same time, I think this intelligence listserv shows how much of our gov't secrecy may be counter-productive. It's long been asserted, and not with tongue-in-cheek, that better intelligence is available from the newspaper than the CIA. There is a significant cost to our government keeping secrets (besides the obvious one that it prevents citizens from monitoring gov't behavior): A very prominent former Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan [nydems.org] wrote a book called Secrecy [amazon.com] ,where he describes classification by the gov't as counter-productive on the whole, and nothing more than another form of regulation. He says it impedes the flow of valuable info, and allows ridiculous ideas to take hold in the intelligence community because only a few people ever know about them -- i.e. they never get exposed to the 'many eyes' of public debate. A significant source of secrecy was explained by a well-known sociologist, I think Max Weber (can someone confirm/correct?), who said the main occupation of bureaucrats in a large organization is to keep to themselves as much information as possible and trade it with other bureaucrats, like currency. It's a natural consequence of humans working in bureaucracies. I've also read that it's a status thing in D.C., to have higher security clearance than the other guy. And of course, people keep secrets to cover their a**'s. Overall, I think democratic gov't is the most important place to utilize open, free information.
  • by goldspider ( 445116 ) <ardrake79@nOsPAM.gmail.com> on Sunday February 03, 2002 @09:22PM (#2948410) Homepage
    I work for the DoD (Department of Defense) and recently attended a Web Content Vulnerability seminar at the NSA's Cryptologic school, and one of the points they stressed was how open-source information can often yield more useful intelligence than classified information.

    Being that open source information is relatively easier to acquire, more of it can be gathered and pieced together to make a more complete picture than scattered pieces of classified information.

    In the Bazaar, as I read it, alot of open source information is being shared. I'm a little apprehensive, especially after that seminar, that if the wrong people are allowed to acquire alot of this information, they can eventually piece together and learn an awful lot about the future systems, processes, etc. of our government.

    In light of the current conflict abroad and at home, I don't think making all this information available is necessarily a Good Thing (tm).

    • In the Bazaar, as I read it, alot of open source information is being shared. I'm a little apprehensive, especially after that seminar, that if the wrong people are allowed to acquire alot of this information, they can eventually piece together and learn an awful lot about the future systems, processes, etc. of our government.

      the following thoughts came to mind (in the following order)....
      1. Who decides which of the little pieces is the key piece that the wrong people are not allowed to see ?

      2. Who decides who the wrong people are ?

      3. Who audits the people who make decisions one and two ?
      • Aaaahhhh! An infinite regress of monitoring problems! Run for the hills!

        Seriously, 19 centuries after Juvenal -- the Roman satiric poet who remarked, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?, or "Who watches the watchmen?" -- it is no longer the height of originality to point out that any scheme for exercise of regulatory authority will require some control on the regulator's power. If you have some interesting comment to make about the form that control should take, great. Otherwise, it would save time if people would just say "Juvenal's Remark" instead of spelling out at length what is obvious.

    • by devphil ( 51341 ) on Monday February 04, 2002 @06:36AM (#2949624) Homepage
      I work for the DoD (Department of Defense) and recently attended a Web Content Vulnerability seminar at the NSA's Cryptologic school, and one of the points they stressed was how open-source information can often yield more useful intelligence than classified information.
      [...]
      In the Bazaar, as I read it, alot of open source information is being shared.

      Well, yes, but I think any presentation from the NSA will get these terms mixed up, due to no fault of their own.

      From http://www.opensource.org/advocacy/faq.html [opensource.org]:

      The term "open source" has a technical meaning in the intelligence community; it refers to publicly accessible intelligence sources such as newspapers.
      By default, an NSA person would hear their own definition, not the programming community's definition. Related, but not the same thing.
    • Well, perhaps I don't get it either:

      "...they can eventually piece together and learn an awful lot about the future systems, processes, etc. of our government."

      Well, yes. *Our* goverment. Wouldn't it be nice to know how it actually works? Shouldn't we *know* about the systems and processes of our goverment?
      • "Shouldn't we *know* about the systems and processes of our goverment?

        To an extent, but not when the information presented can be used by an adversary's (generic term). I can't tell you specifics (the whole "I'd have to kill you" thing) but you would be amazed what people have been able to piece together from open source information, and more amazing still is how it was exploited.

    • In the Bazaar, there are many participants, both buyers and sellers of information. The sellers of useful information tend to prosper. It is difficult foor any one source of information to dominate the market.

      This is a lot harder for a government to emulate. The danger here is that there are fewer sources and it becomes easier for a single viewpoint to override others. The Bazaar becomes necessary if only to give a sanity check on your own sources of information.

      Yes, the US govt. needs its own sources of information, but if they don't look at CNN or even better read The Economist as well, then they are in deep trouble.

      As for the accessibility of info for a potential enemy, doesn't it help things if that enemy knows that you have both the intention and the capability to respond to threats?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    One of the discoveries that led to the open source intelligence gathering methods was the discovery (by the Washington Post, IIRC) that they could get several hours advance notice on U.S. military operations merely by asking local pizza delivery shops to inform them when late-night pizza orders from the pentagon and the White House skyrocket.
  • by spook brat ( 300775 ) on Sunday February 03, 2002 @10:41PM (#2948670)
    they can't trust the sources. Having performed collection missions it's obvious to me that the AI list is a misinformation magnet. Since _anyone_ can submit, people who were interested in subverting the collection effort would be anxious to post erroneous or misleading information. The quality of the various sources would be completely random (even among the truthful sources), and there would be no guarantee that further information on any of the posts would be available (you can't give assignments to the submitters and they might not give important updates on their own).

    Even assuming that all of the reports were factual (ie. actually came from a newspaper or witnessed first hand) it would take a great deal of analyst time to separate the signal from the noise (s/n in the media being quite low), which is why "open source" intelligence is generally viewed with skepticism even after analysis. Trusted networks are already in place for watching CNN and the various newspapers, and there are teams dedicated to their analysis, so an untrusted network doing the same thing isn't likely to get a lot of respect.

    I'm very skeptical of the professionalism of anyone who would brief one of the posts on the AI list to a general. Generals usually want summaries and analysis of collected data, not the raw data itself - especially if it's of potentially dubious origin. It would be appropriate to attach the post to an information report, describe its source, and forward it to analysts; but to present it as final, analyzed intelligence is misleading and dangerous.

    Further, in the big scheme of things, open source intelligence counts as one "discipline" in the minds of the analysts, just as all data derived from imagery collection platforms are lumped into the "image intelligence" discipline. Giving it undue credit (especially to the detriment of other intelligence disciplines) would be bad policy, even in a perfect world.

    Open source intelligence doesn't "[appear] less valuable than classified information because it does not carry the classification mystique", it is generally less valuable because of its unpredictability, poor information quality, and high susceptibility to subversion.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I'm a subscriber to AI and have to disagree with the post above - the only folks on the list are vetted (approved) by pre-existing members and it's not a "public" list where anyone can sign up to promote an agenda or publish propaganda.

      In fact, there have been times where this information has been MORE useful for us (I work in a military intel shop) because it's 80% reliable and I have it NOW - and don't need to lug it around in a safe with armed guards - than the stuff I get from 'sources and methods' that are classified and not as portable. Do I brief from AI material only? No way - but it sure helps support what I get from other sources, and helps monitor trends in areas where MY approved 'sources and methods' don't, or I can't get the appropriate system where it's needed.

      I've rarely seen anything that was 'dubious' of 'subversive' on the list - what we do see that is such types of material (eg, some of the Middle East radical stuff in the weekly newsletters of various organizations) is clearly marked by the AI subscriber posting it, and such information is taken in that context, not as 'news' or 'gospel.' In this case, it's good to at least be aware of what the other person (eg, the 'bad guys') are thinking, doing, and saying to their peoples.
    • _anyone_ can submit, people who were interested in subverting the collection effort would be anxious to post erroneous or misleading information.
      BZZZT. The reason it works is that its private. The people who read it know the other people who read it. And just like slashdot, you ignore the guys who talk crap.

      In fact, it is a samller, more targeted Slashdot... As you pointed out, you wouldn't use the one list or source as your only source. I bet you use other sites, even for linux "propaganda". I know I don't rely on slashdot for all my tech news, and to just cut-and-paste an internet article before passing it up the chain of command is unprofessional in any job...

      but as confirmation or background, knowing, for example, that all the aircraft from a given squadron were doing a flyby [smh.com.au] would confirm or disprove other reports about their activities and / or readiness....
    • It's interesting to learn some standards by which info is judged by intelligence professionals. But aren't these just theories about why the info would not be valuable. The main point of the story is that, contrary to usual practices and expectations, in reality the info on the list is valuable. So the question is, why? Were the theories always wrong, or has the world changed?
  • Hell I knew 5 years ago the value of open source intelligence. Simply put the United States intelligence network would not function without open source information.

    Think about it. Who hit the beaches of Somalia first? Not the Marines, CNN, who somehow got ahold of classified operational information and knew the location and time before most of the Marines did(that pissed off alot of the Marines there).

    In the wake of 9/11, the first thing my intelligence officer did was set up a TV and turn on CNN. For that whole week that tv was running 24/7 on either CNN or MSNBC.

    Open Source intelligence is nothing new... this article makes it seem revolutionary. Its not.
  • from the article [theatlantic.com]: I asked Steven Brown, the FAA official in charge of airspace, why Boston? Because the planes that hit New York took off there? He said, essentially, If you knew what we know, you'd understand. What he actually said was "The vulnerabilities in Boston, those known to the public and others, are unique." Until we do know what he knows, there's no choice but to take it on faith. Maybe this is where Dick Cheney has been.

    I realize there are a lot of government jobs in the Big Dig...

    Seriously, does anyone know what is so important about the Boston airspace?
    • >Seriously, does anyone know what is so important about the Boston airspace?

      Actually, I do know now (this is from Jim Fallows, author of the article). Just after that issue went to press, the no-fly restrictions in Boston were changed.

      Previously they were a 15-mile radius centered on Logan airport.

      Now they are a 4-mile (I believe) radius centered on a bunch of LNG tanks in Boston Harbor. Apparently it was about LNG all along.
  • The Brazilian city of Porto Alegre [google.com] is an amazingly successfull example of social involvement [google.com]. With a previous history of political corruption, the new town goverment decided a new model to manage the budgets: letting the people decide.

    Half of the funds are spent in the way that neighbour associations decide in public debates. From the moment this model was adopted, the city has made spectacular progress in public infraestructures.

    Porto Alegre has been chosen as the meeting point for the World Social Forum [forumsocia...ial.org.br] as an acknowledgement of its innovative democratic operation.

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