It is hard to write about this. Not because of the topic, but because of the implications that derive from the thoughts I have. You see, I have thus far always had faith in the intelligence branch. When we look beyond the implied Hollywood drama of all matters, the intelligence branch is a dedicated underpaid group trying to keep its nation and its citizens safe. Yet, what lies beneath the veneer when we look deeper into certain matters. Are they for real or are we all played by the press to some extent?
This is at the foundation, as we cannot rely on any first-hand information, especially when the press is part of it, we are left with a question mark. One that might not need answering, but one that should not be ignored, this is at the core of me, for better or worse, I seek answers.
This all started yesterday when I got wind of a Guardian article at the earliest of dawn, as a final paper was due, I just left it to look at later (that later is now). The article is ‘Lee Rigby murder: internet firm could have picked up killer’s message – report‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/25/lee-rigby-murder-internet-firm-could-have-picked-up-killers-message-report-says).
Now, this should be a shock, especially to the family members of Lee Rigby, so why is this even a story? It starts with the first paragraph “Internet companies face intense demands to monitor messages on behalf of the state for signs of terrorist intent after an official report into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby said one of his killers wrote on a website – later named as Facebook – of his desire to slaughter a soldier, without the security services knowing“, was this written by someone who had a clue? If we consider CNet (at http://www.cnet.com/news/facebook-processes-more-than-500-tb-of-data-daily/), we see that Facebook processes 500 Tb a day, now this is all manner of data, yet consider another indirect connection when we see ‘Tesco director facing questions about lobbying government over dirty chicken report‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/25/-sp-tesco-director-facing-questions-lobbying-government-dirty-chicken-report), the first paragraphs says it all (as far as information goes) “Former FSA chief Tim Smith understood to have warned Department of Health that revealing food poisoning contamination rates could provoke a food scare and damage the industry“, so when we add the text “Tim Smith is understood to have warned the Department of Health in June that FSA proposals for publishing results, which included naming and shaming individual supermarkets, could provoke a food scare and damage the industry“, so when was all this released to the media? how much delay was there? Consider the implication of the statement in there that “it kills around 100 people and makes an estimated 280,000 sick each year“, now we get back to the implied message that might have saved Lee Rigby, if we take that a message in total is no more than 60Kb (it is a lot smaller, but could include graphics), we are looking at 8 billion messages each day (those we make, we forward or share, those we get offered as advertisement). Now, there is more, Facebook has applications with within that application message options. Not one or two, but a few dozen, which means additional messages, like simple online messengers, all that data, now also consider the implied message that the Guardian mentioned. “The report said the authorities were never told that one of the killers, Michael Adebowale, wrote of his murderous intent six months before he and his accomplice, Michael Adebolajo, brutally attacked Rigby in May 2013 in a street near his military barracks and attempted to behead him“, so finding the message, investigating it and acting on it. In well over 2.5 billion optional threats, the National lottery in the UK has better odds of winning a big price in it, so how did all this come about?
Here we get to the issue “The ISC chair, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, accused internet companies of providing a “safe haven” to terrorists but said a despite a string of failings by the security services, which had repeatedly monitored both men before the attack, there was nothing they could have done to prevent the murder of Rigby“, here I start having an issue, particularly with Sir Malcolm. Consider one sincere threat in a place where there are millions of threats, boasts and pranks, all claiming something pretentiously grandiose. It is my believe that Sir Malcolm is all about trying something different and he going about it the wrong way, he is trying to get to Damascus, via Washington and Los Angeles. Not the brightest route to take. Apart from the approach he is implying to take, he is also forgetting about a series of events that he needs to take, which will fail and in the process will enable commercial companies to actually hammer down on consumers in the wrong way. Does Sir Malcolm realise that, or did he intentionally forget about that part?
What did I mean by that? You see, the intelligence branch has access to enhanced statistical algorithms; they match it via other created profiles. Now, normally such a profile is only created when a person has too many flags in his/her name. For example members of an extreme faction, people with links to organised crime and those with additional political agendas. There is a bunch of reasons which will result on the eye of the intelligence community on you. For the most they are checked every now and then and if nothing happens, nothing happens, it is that simple, which an accumulative approach to sifting data tends to be. This is all good and proper; it is a way to protect national interests. For the most they end up verifying that you are not a threat, or not a concern to them, it comes with their territory.
The intelligence branch has resources, they are there, but they are finite. Sir Malcolm seems to be pushing for a change that is extremely dangerous, you see, at some point, Facebook, Google and others will all be shanghaied into becoming ‘volunteers’ in data oversight. They will get all kinds of tax breaks, so there will be interesting benefits for these data farms, but now we get to the real dangers. At one point, they want more and push for a change that will allow these farms access to those advanced algorithms, now we get a new problem, now we see a change where those farms will get to analyse US ALL! they will have the algorithms and the linked data no commercial enterprise should ever be allowed to have, now we will all be set into those who get access (viable as retail commodity) and those who do not matter, we will get marketed into oblivion, but now directly into the realms we use to love, it will be a push to sway us into a direction we never wanted to go, our freedom becomes a point of pressure. Consider, you might love ‘the Office’, once social media digs deep, how much will you enjoy getting 10-20 sales pitches a day on your personal interests? How long until you stop sharing interests?
Now consider the following:
The ISC said in its report: “Whilst we note that progress has started to be made on this issue, with the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 (Drip) and the appointment of the special envoy on intelligence and law-enforcement data-sharing, the problem is acute. The prime minister, with the National Security Council, should prioritise this issue”.
The part not mentioned or looked at is data retention. I wrote about it on October 2nd 2014 in ‘Advice from the press?‘ there I wrote “I am still convinced that if data retention becomes a larger issue, the intelligence community will be lacking in hardware, knowledge and staff to deal with these massive amounts of data, which leaves us open to other issues, yet this is just my view!“, now we see a push that social media will do more scanning.
The next two paragraphs illustrate certain dangers down the track: “Adebolajo, the more dominant of the two, had featured in five MI5 investigations and Adebowale in two, but none found evidence of an attack. The ISC said MI5 made errors and was plagued by delays, but even if corrected none of this would have helped the security service to spot the level of danger posed by the attackers before they struck“, so how could we have kept Lee Rigby alive? The information to the better extent is stating that this would not have been the case and I am not the only one thinking this.
When we consider “The Guardian understands senior figures in MI6 expressed anger at the criticisms in the report. One source familiar with the committee’s work said: “It is fair to say that the chaps across the river are not happy at all.”“, we see another part. This is not just within the UK, the UK needs to protect itself, especially with the ISIS acceleration we see all over North Africa and in the Middle-East; this all requires a new strategy. Data is at the centre of it, that part is correctly seen by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the ISC. Yet, my issue is the view the man seems to have in regards to integrity. Commercial enterprises have no integrity and to a larger extent, neither do internet providers. So we have an upcoming issue. The next part you the reader might observe is the part that was not clearly seen in the article and it has been part of the events that miss one item as we see these discussions.
What time is it?
Yes, the timeline! That is part of all this. No matter how lovely that ‘donut’ looks in London, the people there have been delaying with an increased amount of data. I personally would consider it to be in excess of 30% in growth per year, which means that the data collectors and analytical group grows over 100% in size in a little over 3 years, the accumulated requirement for the UK, and beyond that the Commonwealth requires growth beyond that. In my view, letting places like Facebook crunch that data and giving them access to some of these algorithms is clearly a bad idea. In addition, consider that these firms could harbour ‘sympathisers’ to chaos. Once these algorithms gets into other hands, how long until those supporting ISIS and like-minded extremists will get a handle on lowering their profile even further, making this entire approach pointless?
That danger is twofold, storage, which is the non-essential part. As storage seems to become cheaper and cheaper, that part will be decently manageable overall, the other part is the issue, processing power. We can want for all the processors we can, but the power processors of tomorrow are less and less equipped to deal with such a growing load of data. Now consider that this is just Facebook, how much additional data will we need to see mail providers, twitter, Instagram and loads of other multi Gigabyte collecting options. There is no denying that data needs to be looked at, yet direct data crunching is less and less an option. The question becomes how to tackle it, can or even the question should it be tackled like this at all?
That is the dangerous side, isn’t it? When we are confronted with such an abundance of data, why seek the pressured solution? Let’s not forget that the example taken here, namely Lee Rigby, would not have been saved. So why try to seek a solution in such a pressured environment? Consider the lottery example; if 1,000 out of the 5 billion are death threats, we get a number one in 5 million, now we need to tackle these 1000 messages, which ones are genuine? Consider that some are below the radar, which means that some could be WRONGLY disregarded. Add to that the danger of a prank jest where a group and all THEIR friends send one threat regarding a VIP, politician or regent. It would drown out intelligence resources in mere minutes.
So yes, no one denies that something must be done, yet giving social media these responsibilities is not the best idea, giving them access in some way to other algorithms is less a solution, we are in a shift of dimensions, an interaction of data dimensions and profiling intelligence. Consider the NSA data center in Utah, costing over 5 billion in total, in addition, the cost of electricity, manpower and other costs, taking it to an additional 50 million a year (for just one location). Now consider that this centre will need to grow processing power in excess of 50% within two years, how much additional costs will it require? Add to this the energy needs, well over 60 Megawatts, yet within 2 years, that could be closer to 80 megawatts. That means in excess of 10 wind turbines, just for one location, the equivalent of 15,000 households of energy. I think that certain parties are not thinking in the right location, if we disregard the lack of expertise and an offer (in abundance) of revenue based (read commission seeking) expertise, it seems to me that even though data should never be ignored, certain approaches will require a different hand.
Perhaps it is not a new solution they need, but to reinstate a very old one.