Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been evaluating ProtonMail. This service is part of a new generation of tools (most inspired by Edward Snowden) developed with the aim of delivering robust encrypted communications and file sharing to the widest possible audience.
Blogs of War readers know that I’m not an Edward Snowden fan, far from it in fact, but I do believe that we have to secure the applications and communication channels that now pervade our lives. Not because I’m worried about the NSA. Frankly I’m far more worried about every other threat. However, I’m also keenly aware of the terrorist and criminal threats we face and why law enforcement agencies and intelligence services (the friendly ones) are deeply concerned about bad actors having the ability to go dark.
There are well-intentioned people on both sides of the privacy debate (see episode 18 with retired FBI agent David Gomez for a law enforcement perspective) and Andy Yen, as a privacy advocate, makes a powerful case for making encrypted communication tools as widely available as possible.
I emailed retired FBI agent David Gomez from my new ProtonMail account to propose a podcast about encryption and its effect on mass surveillance from a homeland security and law enforcement perspective. You’re reading this because he immediately accepted.
Encrypted communication has been available to consumers for decades but new tools are arriving that are actually making it an accessible and realistic option for the majority of users. Easy to use strong encryption is, in many ways, a wonderful thing. It means that good people in bad places might have more freedom to communicate. It means that people can trust that a point to point communication is just that. But it also means that a lot of people with bad intentions will find it easier to go dark, to plot, and to recruit – often across international borders. How are governments going to cope with this especially when they’ve enjoyed great success with the current collection models that allow them to intercept electronic communications on a massive scale?
Even if you support strong encryption and disagree with government interception of electronic communications you must acknowledge the impact that cutting them out of the loop could have on our security. That tradeoff is the topic we struggle with in this episode.
In this episode I catch up with Francesca Recchia to get an update on life in Kabul, Afghanistan where, mostly thanks to the weather, life has been even more difficult than usual. But the conversation also shifts quickly to the subject of art, and artists, in the country. Francesca is working hard to develop cultural programs there and she explains how local artists view and approach their work in a conservative environment.
We know that terrorism succeeds at terrorizing its targets but does it help the groups behind it achieve their political goals? In this episode I’m joined by Northeastern University professor and terrorism theorist Max Abrahms who makes a persuasive case that terrorism does not succeed where other more selective uses of violence might. I made a similar argument in episode 7 when I said that the much discussed (and very barbaric) ISIS social media campaign would ultimately be considered a failure because it had helped permanently undermine any possibility that the group could ever transition to political legitimacy.
William J. Tucker joins me again to discuss Hillary Clinton’s decision to manage her own email services while Secretary of State. While this decision has angered political opponents and government transparency advocates (not to mention a few historians) we are bypassing the political and legal issues to zero in on the risks associated with her decision – and there are many. Join us as we walk through the information security and intelligence aspects of this story and examine the risks posed to Hillary Clinton, our government, and potentially anyone that maintained contact with her through this method. If you’re not concerned now, you will be.
Policing is on the agenda again in episode 14. In this episode I talk to Andy Priest about his international rapid intervention concept that focuses on providing advanced police support during critically destabilizing events. Andy stresses the importance of building this capability now so that participating nations can draw on a stabilizing resource in an inevitable crisis rather than over-reacting, over-reaching, or stretching existing resources to the breaking point. It’s an important concept that will only get more important if the threat of Charlie Hebdo style attacks (or other destabilizing attacks) scale up in impact and frequency. Preserving individual liberty could prove challenging in such an environment and Andy makes the case that clearly segregating the roles of police, military, and specialized response forces is work that should be occurring now – before the crisis.
In episode 13 I speak to security blogger/podcaster, and Blogs of War contributor, Scriven King about some of the challenges in modern policing. Security professionals, police included, are scrambling to understand rapidly evolving technologies and threats. Evolving to meet those threats, and leverage those technologies, without significantly changing what it means to be a police officer, without undermining the ideals of the profession, and without permanently damaging public perception of the profession is proving difficult. Even greater challenges loom on the horizon so the time for serious apolitical dialogue is now.