Needling Haystack

In mid-2009, just after Neda Soltan was shot down on a Tehran street, I was working with a group of hackers attempting to provide covert communications support to the Iranian dissident movement. I blogged about it at the time, received my second death threat as a result, and had a couple of interesting conversations with the FBI. Eventually I stopped working with the group; they made what I considered some serious mistakes of direction, and I was anyway beginning to doubt the principal’s claims of having an extensive contact network on the ground in Iran.

The group I was working with was deploying stealthed HTTP proxies and Tor nodes; my main technical contribution was a Squid configuration tuned to the purpose in ways I won’t discuss because the techniques might be useful against another tyranny someday. We knew of other groups using different technology; one seemed to be organized around a program called Haystack and its designer, a guy named Austin Heap.

I had brief contact with Heap during that period. Now I learn that he may have been a fraud. The Great Internet Freedom Fraud all but accuses him of this.

I’m blogging about this because, on the one hand, I had a few suspicions about Heap at the time. On the other, neither my interactions with him nor (in my judgment) the public evidence quite supports the theory that he set out to scam people. For whatever it’s worth, I think he started with good intentions, talked a bigger game than he was really capable of executing, and got in over his head.

There was a lot of that going around – including, very possibly, in the group I was working with. To this day I don’t know what, if any, impact we actually had. Could have been a lot. Could have been nothing. All I know is that someone apparently affiliated with the Iranian regime threatened to have me killed over it, and the FBI believed the threat was credible enough to talk to me about the whole deal. But that threat, too, could have been a phantom or fraud, and well I know it.

Why am I blogging about this now? Partly because I think the Slate article overreached a bit in its implied accusations against Heap. I was in the trenches with him and others who were trying to help the dissidents, and I think he’s owed just a bit more benefit of the doubt than he’s getting there.

But mainly I want to point out what this episode teaches about the epistemic problems of operating in a stealth mode, among a group that is trying to do operational security. These problems are shared by spies, terrorists, and groups like the ones I was working with who are gaming against spies and terrorists.

The problem is this: to protect your network, and yourself, you have to accept that you are going to have relatively little information about what your network partners are doing and what their capabilities are. In this instance, I didn’t want to know details about the scope or nature of our on-the-ground network in Iran; I was, for some crucial weeks after the Neda Soltan shooting, our public contact person, and thus the most exposed to pressure by our adversaries.

The obvious problem was, my rationally-chosen ignorance left me unable to form judgments about whether people in my network were lying to me. More subtly (and here we get back to what I think happened with Austin Heap) it left me unable to form judgments about whether they were lying to themselves.

Normally, I think I’m pretty good at detecting self-deception – face to face. There are tells in affect, tone, and body language that you learn to spot after a few decades of peoplewatching that tell you a speaker is actively suppressing doubt about his own utterences (and these are slightly different than the tells for outright lying). I’ve actually had to practice this; it’s one of the most important person-to-person leadership skills. But it’s much more difficult to spot self-bullshitting over text links and chat, and I have little confidence that I can do that reliably.

Thus, my ties to this network depended on a high level of faith in my contacts. It couldn’t be otherwise, because trying to gather information that might have allowed me to reason out the odds better might have jeopardized them, jeopardized the dissidents I was trying to help, jeopardized me, and blown the network. As a direct consequence, my participation was fragile; when my contacts said and did things that eroded my faith in their judgment, I dropped out.

Here’s the next turn of the screw: I think living in that kind of informationally poor shadow-world makes it more likely that a well-intentioned but only marginally competent person will overcommit to others and himself in order to increase his influence, and eventually con himself into a role he can’t sustain. Because who has the information to call bullshit soon enough to stop the escalation before it gets past little white lies?

I suspect very strongly that this is the trap Austin Heap fell into. And I’m not sure my contacts weren’t down the same hole and my effort wasted. I don’t think I can assign less than a 30% probability to that outcome.

Still – even with that uncertainty I’d do it again, death threat and all. Because I’m a man and an American and a libertarian, and all three of these entail duties. In the course of those duties, there are some sorts of risks that must be run; honor and ethics require it. The risks I took, and am still taking as a result, were among them.

I don’t think my experience was unique; people who fight for good causes in shadow have, no doubt, been experiencing these problems since history began. But I’m not sure I can extract any larger lesson here. I don’t mean to excuse whatever lies Austin Heap may have told, but I do mean to suggest he may well have been his own first victim.

60 thoughts on “Needling Haystack

  1. I know I disagree with you a lot, but for once I’m going to heartily agree.

    I don’t think Heap set up to scam people, I think he got caught up in something and for whatever reason (narcissism?, youth?, …) he ran with it. It looks like he was economical with the truth with the press and others, but that doesn’t make him a con man. He can be faulted for not be honest about the state of Haystack, but you may be right about him being his own first victim.

  2. > Here’s the next turn of the screw: I think living in that kind of informationally poor shadow-world makes it more likely that a well-intentioned but only marginally competent person will overcommit to others and himself in order to increase his influence, and eventually con himself into a role he can’t sustain. Because who has the information to call bullshit soon enough to stop the escalation before it gets past little white lies?

    Guess what’s another ‘informationally poor shadow-world’? A big company. You’ve probably been spared this experience, but I’ve seen it happen multiple times. Once this starts happening at a large organization pretty soon you’ve got an emperor running around in his underpants.

  3. The other lesson to learn from this is that regulation combined with secrecy (economic competition and openness being the two main safeguards against stuff in this sort of in current society) is bad.

  4. Another good (IMO) summary of events from a lwn_dot_net rss feed link on Sep 14 can be found here for anyone who might be interested?
    .

  5. >or whatever reason (narcissism?, youth?, …)

    Or he was just human. Everyone has a tendency to this, even experienced scientists.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are
    the easiest person to fool.” – from Richard Feynman’s cargo Cult Science.

  6. But how would have the system worked, in practice?

    How could have been possible to guarantee that the regime was not infiltrating the network? Who would have decided who could use the network?

    It seems to me that your post confirms the well-known fact that under a tyranny, to trust is to risk, and all the technology in the world does not change the equation …

  7. I’m interested in anything you’d like to say about how to tell whether people are suppressing doubts about what they’re doing.

  8. >I’m interested in anything you’d like to say about how to tell whether people are suppressing doubts about what they’re doing.

    In general, if someone is too upbeat about something, or talking about it too much, without asking questions of the people they are working with or even mentioning their doubts. If someone does not have doubts about something, then it is either fairly routine for them or they are pretty stupid, in neither case are they likely to make much of an issue of it.

  9. Nancy, I knew that question was going to come up and I’ve been working hard at trying to come up with a description. I don’t have a very good one yet.

    I think part of it is that when a person is suppressing doubts about their own deeds or speech, there’s an interior conflict that tends to be expressed in tense, jerky kinesics. Think of a cat’s tail twitching when it can’t decide whether to stalk or leap – humans bullshitting themselves are like that.

    A person who is lying generally either won’t make eye contact at all or will hold eye contact too long in an effort to project sincerity. A person who’s suppressing doubt because they’re feeding themselves a lie will be trying to maintain normal eye contact but tend to fall off it randomly because they’re distracted by their own interior dialogue.

    The most memorable occasion on which remember was seeing these tells was when I was on the board of directors at VA Linux. One of our executives, never mind who, was in over his head and kidding himself about it. I realized what I was seeing a few minutes before the king-shark VC on the board zeroed in some vague language in his report. We canned him, but without prejudice; he wasn’t a bad man, just overpromoted. The VC who I had watched ripping the guy a new orifice later told us privately he’d arrange a soft landing in a lower-ranking position at a different firm.

  10. > A person who is lying generally either won’t make eye contact at all or will hold eye contact too long

    If we grant that this is true, it’s important to note also that the reverse may *not* be true (that someone who won’t make eye contact is neccessarily lying). In fact, resistance to eye contact is a common trait among aspergers folks, who tend to be over represented among us geeky types. Such people are often noted for their lack of lying — which isn’t to say they are always correct; it’s simply that they tend not to be deceitful.

  11. The way to determine doubts is to drill into the specifics, then it becomes obvious (unless your knowledge is insufficient).

  12. I must say, the process you describe sounds a lot like the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, at least as portrayed in Fawn Brodie’s biography of Joseph Smith. And perhaps of other religious movements.

  13. Better model for attacking tyranny is one that is popular, then anonymity is not relevant. The failure is expected given the irony of an anarchist investing in elections and politics (statism aka democracy-by-proxy). More effective to work on popular models which the entire Iranian population will use that are like termites to statism.

  14. esr: Your experience with signs of lying are probably of very limited use with Iranians. Telling falsehoods is part of the culture. They expect other Iranians to pick up on it, but I doubt that foreigners can do that very well, if at all.

    It’s not even a good bet that Iranian reformers are real reformers, in the sense that we Americans would understand it. We tend to see hard-line Islam as a problem, while the clash really has roots that lie deeply in economic factors among factions that we don’t perceive. Islam is just a cover, and a convenient tool to use against political enemies.

    I know that it’s real hard to stand by and watch women being stoned, or having their noses and ears cut off, but the fact is, we really haven’t got a clue about what is *really* going on. First, do no harm.

  15. As I said elsewhere on this subject — and I knew this story would pop on this blog sooner or later — it’s not just Heap.

    Even before I read this post, the impression I have of Austin Heap in this whole mess is that he’s just a kid who got caught up in the idea that he was going to be a hero; unfortunately, he failed to realize that he was in over his head. I always take everything the press says with a large grain of salt and the reasons for that should be very obvious in looking at the media attention surrounding Austin Heap and Haystack

    The problem with the whole damned mess is that the media, before publishing their glowing “kid saves world by writing software” article, should really have done their homework and spoke with additional sources besides Heap. No, the media does not get a pass on this one because the subject is tech. This is Journalism 101. You don’t write an article based on a single, unverified source. I can’t believe papers such as friggin’ Newsweek don’t know any better. If anyone deserves the hall of shame here, it’s the media.

  16. esr wrote:
    “I realized what I was seeing a few minutes before the king-shark VC on the board zeroed in some vague language in his report. ”

    You detected it by body language – but the venture capitalist, who is presumably an expert at detecting self deception, detected it from the text.

    I have become somewhat competent at detecting lies and self deception in text.

    The person who knowingly lies in text, equivocates, covering his ass, preparing an exit route, avoids being pinned down, avoids giving unnecessary details that could be scrutinized. His words have too many meanings.

    The person who deceives himself renders the deception visible – he is emotionally and logically inconsistent.

  17. https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/09/on-software-for-dissidents

    Unfortunately, a million dollars demonstrably buys a lot of smart. Look to any major credit card exfiltration ring or botnet operator or pay-per-install site for evidence that there are many hundreds of people who can find vulnerabilities in software and are willing to do so for the highest bidder.

    Into this environment, inject the fact that a vulnerability in circumvention software “turns” the tool, allowing it to be used as a dragnet to conduct sweeping arrests (or simply to create files on people for later use). We’re talking about regimes that hang people from construction cranes for writing blog posts.
    This isn’t a technology problem. If you don’t speak Farsi, you probably shouldn’t be thinking about what you can do from your office chair in North America to help overthrow goverments.

  18. ESR A technical issue with this blog entry: all other entries with significant length show only excerpt on the main page… but not this one.

  19. LS:

    I know that it’s real hard to stand by and watch women being stoned, or having their noses and ears cut off, but the fact is, we really haven’t got a clue about what is *really* going on. First, do no harm.

    Please tell me you’re not advocating we just stand by and watch women being stoned or having their noses and ears cut off. Those are wrong, no matter “what is *really* going on”. Those who complain about people imposing values on others’ cultures ignore the fact that there are some things that are wrong no matter what the cultural background.

    And since I don’t recognize you, I’ll point out that this is not Christian morality I’m pushing. I’m an atheist.

  20. @Jay Maynard
    > Please tell me you’re not advocating we just stand by and watch women being stoned or having their noses and ears cut off.

    No you are welcome to go there with your guns to protect them. But politics (statism) is not protection, it is guaranteed failure. When denigrate your effort to the statist “solution”, then you’ve already failed. Sometimes you just have to admit you are powerless.

    Rather what you are driving at is a technological solution that eliminates the statism, but as I explained, it is not anonymity (which never exists absolutely) but rather the termite subversion model of N! factorial virtual network scaling law.

    Anonymity can never exist in the absolute physical network because it is statist at the trunk-wise, but anonymity can exist in the sense of compartmentalization of referential transparency (no person knows or needs to know the whole), which is what Haystack could be. In other words, the ultimate steganography is the one where the entire colony is culpable, then the statism can only prosecute itself.

    > imposing values on others’ cultures ignore the fact that there are some things that are wrong
    > I’ll point out that this is not Christian morality I’m pushing. I’m an atheist.

    The morality trap ends in my mathematical model. Morality exists because of a lack of referential transparency, meaning that we bind each other non-orthogonally (insurance, contracts, fiat, laws, etc), which restricts individual choice preventing optimum annealing and fitness to dynamic diverse environments, thus cause humans to argue incessantly about what they can not control. Rather in my model, the optimum annealing proceeds.

  21. Those who complain about people imposing values on others’ cultures ignore the fact that there are some things that are wrong no matter what the cultural background.

    I’d cheer on anyone who is willing to go anywhere in the world to defend the innocent, but I don’t want our government to be involved in any way if it’s taking place beyond our borders.

  22. Meanwhile, how about permitting people who live under such conditions to emmigrate to the US?

    Works for me. Come to think of it, I believe that anyone who manages to get here can petition for asylum.

  23. @Nancy Lebovitz:

    Meanwhile, how about permitting people who live under such conditions to emmigrate to the US?

    It’s already the case that official U.S. policy is that those who manage to get here from countries that the federal government considers to have oppressive regimes are usually granted asylum once they petition for it. This is true, for example, for Cuban immigrants. Border Patrol and the Coast Guard will stop and deport Cubans out on the open waters attempting to make it to the U.S. (“wet feet”), but once on U.S. soil (“dry feet”), they’re considered political refugees and won’t be deported.

    The policy is the same for Iranians, North Koreans, etc.

  24. @Morgan Greywolf
    > Coast Guard will stop and deport Cubans out on the open waters attempting to make it to the U.S.

    So in practical effect our statism is cooperating with enforcing their statism.

    Nancy ideal is practically void.

  25. So in practical effect our statism is cooperating with enforcing their statism.

    Kind of. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy primary extends to Cuban immigrants. I didn’t mean to imply that that policy particularly applied to anyone but Cuban immigrants, but rather to demonstrate that the U.S. has a history of granting political asylum to immigrants from oppressive regimes.

  26. I thought it was obvious that one can’t (short of hijacking) get on a airplane without a visa. I suppose it is possible to pilot a small plane and refuel at Pacific islands, but very dangerous.

    I too wish the world had open borders as was the case before 1900s.

    Tangentially, I wish that wealth was distributed more equally naturally, as was the case on the bimetallic gold+silver standard in the 1800s, before statism took hold in USA. A saver in the 1800s, gained 33,900% more than a saver in 1900s.

    So how do we get back to that “everything I tried, turned to gold”[1] time? That is what I have been searching for and I think I’ve found it.

    [1] How some Europeans I know described the difference between the hellhole they left behind when they arrived in the USA even in 1900s.

  27. In general, if someone is too upbeat about something, or talking about it too much, without asking questions of the people they are working with or even mentioning their doubts…

    There was a brief article in a recent Economist. Researchers looked back at the earnings calls of companies that were later required to re-state their financials – their hypothesis was that executives who were knowingly misstating results would be over-represented in this group. What they found was an increased level of (expressed) optimism and enthusiasm, shown by more, and stronger superlatives – “we had a good quarter” became “a terrific quarter” or “an outstanding quarter” and a focus on narrow measures (revenues or units shipped, rather than gross margin or net income, for instance), and superlative comparisons: highest, best, largest, etc. As well, there were fewer doubts expressed about current strategies and future outcomes. Interestingly, the language became stronger, more oppositional and less controlled (which I suppose could be a sign of stress) – those who held contrary opinions were “assholes” (I think that was a direct quote from Jeff Skillings), or idiots, morons, etc, rather than simply people who had a different opinion.

  28. >>I’d cheer on anyone who is willing to go anywhere in the world to defend the innocent, but I don’t want our government to be involved in any way if it’s taking place beyond our borders

    Why individuals instead of government agents? What if you get a bunch of crazed volunteer commandos who think that they are saving the world?

  29. Why individuals instead of government agents? What if you get a bunch of crazed volunteer commandos who think that they are saving the world?

    There’s nothing stopping anyone from raising their own private army and attacking Iran or North Korea, or any other number of enemies, imagined or otherwise.

    Ever heard of Blackwater? Sure, they are/were working for the government, but do you suppose that the U.S. government is their sole customer?

    Of course, such a mission would probably be foolhardy and would likely result in the death and/or imprisonment of those who attempted same. The advantage of working for a major world government is that you have that government’s resources backing you.

  30. What would the legal status be of Americans helping to get people out of bad nations? Of the people they helped? Would it be a bad thing if the US government did that sort of help?

  31. Beyond the emotional context associated with the software, I don’t see how Haystack is any different than any other classic case of vaporware. Note, my opinion when writing this comment is that software that releases, but never does what it’s advertised to do is still vaporware.

    Vaporware is almost always met with more skepticism than hope. In this case, people wanted the idea so urgently that the media decided to go ahead and codify it. Now you have an ill fated design being hyped by people who have no idea how TCP/IP actually works and all of a sudden money comes in.

    I’d agree that there was no intentional fraud. Still, classic lesson to be learned, implement reliably and reproducibly first and tell people what it _does_ rather than banking on your confidence to get it to that point. The Dunning Kruger effect really hits home – those who have the skills to work software miracles often doubt their own ability, those who lack skills often overestimate their ability.

  32. > The VC who I had watched ripping the guy a new orifice later told us privately he’d arrange a soft landing in a lower-ranking position at a different firm.

    Why would a VC do this?

  33. >Why would a VC do this?

    Humanity?

    Just because you know that an individual is not up to the task, does not mean you should destroy them.

    Perhaps they will be some day. You can’t blame somebody for reaching for the brass ring a little early. Perhaps your odd VC might have been on the other end of the table at one point….no?

  34. Trust, Blat, Guanxi. How to quantify. That is the issue. Very difficult in an anonymous network. How to certify a contact is trustworthy.

    I’m not sure there is a way other than long established relationships. A progressive level of trust. It becomes even harder across cultural boundaries.

    Each party must have something at risk. Something the counter-party can destroy. There must be some sort of MAD in the relationship.

  35. The Dunning Kruger effect really hits home – those who have the skills to work software miracles often doubt their own ability, those who lack skills often overestimate their ability.

    Yeah, but there are no hard and fast rules, either. I don’t think I’ve ever heard our host here say that he doubted his ability to write this or that; yet those with a clue will definitely vouch for his mad coding skillz. I’m sure the converse exists as well: people who suck at coding who readily admit it.

    The best way to know who you’re dealing with, if you can’t look at them face-to-face, is to look at their code. Unfortunately, in this case neither were possible.

  36. >I don’t think I’ve ever heard our host here say that he doubted his ability to write this or that; yet those with a clue will definitely vouch for his mad coding skillz.

    There are tests you can apply in the absence of access to the subject’s code.

    One clue to look for in evaluating the extent to which someone is screwed up by the Dunning-Kreuger effect is whether said person exhibits a model of his or her own skills that includes failures and gaps. I, for example, will cheerfully admit that I’ve never quite gotten the hang of Prolog and that my lack of clue about applied numerical analysis caused a chronic problem for the regression-test suite in gpsd until I stumbled over the bug by accident. To demonstrate how this looks in a different domain, I present myself as a multi-skilled martial artist but make no bones about the fact that I was a pretty pathetic aikidoka for four years.

    Another thing to watch for is whether the person has a generative model of how long it will take him or her to acquire skills that is actually predictive. For example, if you’re a manager I might say to you “You want me to code in Ruby? I don’t know Ruby, but I do know Python. And there’s a bug in rcs-fast-export I’ve been wanting to fix, and a feature that it needs. Give me, hm, four days to hack on that and I’ll be up to speed.” If, on the close order of four days later I say “Hey, boss! The rcs-fast-export maintainer took my patch. What was it you wanted in Ruby again?” your confidence that I’m not seriously compromised by the Dunning-Kreuger effect can go up.

    Unfortunately, tests like these are also difficult to apply in conditions where nobody wants to reveal too much.

  37. Esr

    Most people seriously underestimate the level of skill required for aikido. It starts to come when they understand why people make these crazy airflips when thrown.

    Btw, I am a really pathetic aikidoka after 10 years. And no progress is imminent.

  38. Esr, i don’t always agree with you, but i have learnt a lot these 2 last years following your blog. And on this post, i tell you thank you for your actions.

    David Pradier

  39. “Dunning-Kreuger effect”

    Do we really need such fancy names for phenomena as simple and as well known for millenia as _vanity_?…

  40. > Do we really need such fancy names for phenomena as simple and as well known for millenia as _vanity_?

    Generally, “vanity” relates to how much someone loves themselves, particularly their appearance. “D-K” relates to ignorance impeding someone’s ability to accurately assess their own capabilities. I think I understand what you’re trying to say, but they’re two pretty distinct concepts IMHO.

    ESR says: I concur.

  41. Morgan Greywolf:

    [blockquote]
    There’s nothing stopping anyone from raising their own private army and attacking Iran or North Korea, or any other number of enemies, imagined or otherwise.
    [/blockquote]

    You mean other than a imperial assload of laws?

    [blockquote]
    Ever heard of Blackwater? Sure, they are/were working for the government, but do you suppose that the U.S. government is their sole customer?
    [/blockquote]

    Blackwater is VERY careful about whom it’s other customers are, and while I’m not completely familiar with the laws in that area, I’m REALLY sure that they are very, very careful about what clients they accept.

    [blockquote]
    I’m sure the converse exists as well: people who suck at coding who readily admit it.
    [/blockquote]

    I do. I suck out loud.

    I’m a Sysadmin (And I’m ok. I work all night and I sleep all day. I do NOT however wear women’s underthings) and I wind up using Perl or Python once and a while to do something (depending on the shop, I don’t force my preferences, I use whatever the local culture requires, including once using that “new” windows shell scripting language whose name I don’t care to look up). Every time I go back to Perl/Python I have to relearn it.

  42. Austin Heap was a evil, low down, lying, son of a gun. He attacked our group, spread false rumors, and works with some trange group called WhyWepProtest.net who apparently also fight the church of scientology. Very strange stuff.
    I have more about this situation at http://iran115.org/blacklist
    I would love to talk to anybody who can shed more light on not just Austin Heap, but this entire group that was on twitter.
    My number in DC is 202-509-0933.
    Jamshid
    .

  43. You mean other than a imperial assload of laws?

    OTOH, if you build a large enough and well-trained enough army, then enforcing that imperial assload of laws might become rather difficult. Every member of the Continental Army under General Washington’s command was an outlaw in the eyes of the Crown.

    Blackwater is VERY careful about whom it’s other customers are, and while I’m not completely familiar with the laws in that area, I’m REALLY sure that they are very, very careful about what clients they accept.

    And yet I’m really, REALLY sure that Xe Services neé Blackwater has clients that the general public is not aware of.

  44. @Jamshid:

    WhyWeProtest.net is, AFAIK, a mostly harmless group called “Anonymous” that anonymously protests the Church of Scientology. I’m not sure why that group would have any interest in what’s going on in Iran.

    The term “Sea of Green” refers to a method of growing marijuana with hydroponics. If they’re smoking enough of it, they’re definitely nothing to worry about. ;)

    Sounds like you’ve stumbled onto a covert group of hippies.

  45. > Sounds like you’ve stumbled onto a covert group of hippies.

    Thanks for that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get something to cleanup the coffee I just spewed onto my screen.

  46. Apparently not only is Haystack vaporware, but the test code that is out there is extremely broken, according to one Danny O’Brien, who seems to be involved in the project. Looks like the entire network has been compromised.

  47. In terms of Haystack itself(i.e. leaving aside the politics, personalities and promises), I can’t help feeling that there’s a re-enforcement of the standard open source security message. While it might have been kept secret for a good reason, the safest assumption is that a secret algorithm means an insecure one. (And i’m glad i’m not in a position that I need to rely on one… so far).

  48. > I can’t help feeling that there’s a re-enforcement of the standard open source security message. While it might have been kept secret for a good reason, the safest assumption is that a secret algorithm means an insecure one.

    well, right. this is basic stuff.

    So the question becomes, why is eric involved with a non-OSS effort?

    ESR says: Huh? I was never involved with Haystack.

  49. You mean Kerckhoff’s principle Yes. Put another way, security through obscurity is the same as no security at all.

    You are correct although I did mean ESR’s stronger reformulation that equates closed source to effective obscurity. In truth either one buries Haystack.

  50. Just to be clear, Morgan, I wasn’t involved in Haystack either. I spent some time (since July of last year) encouraging Austin to allow an external security audit of the Haystack system. I later acted as an intermediary between Jacob Appelbaum and the Haystack people when he discovered serious flaws, both in the Haystack system and what Austin was telling others.

    I agree with Eric’s analysis. I do think everyone involved was well-intentioned, but they didn’t have good external grounding. Wandering off track is a recurring problem when secrecy is required, or thought to be required.

  51. when government was killing his people, i hear something about Haystack on VOA news. later when i looking for a ADSL provider, accidentally find NedaNet for similarity in names. i was surprised when saw your name… but finally get nothing…
    i really hate to talk about lacks of foreign countries/peoples functions; my country usually is a software thief, doesn’t help on community and … you didn’t owe us. but what really done for my us?!
    when facebook, twitter, blogs search in wordpress, lastfm, operaunite, SSL port on somedays (so google, yahoo, MSN mail affected) and hundreds of political blogs and sites like BBC blocked, why USA make laws for blocking googlecode or sourceforge? i don’t say thats our own rights, you don’t do that or similar. but say why see such paradoxical movements? this is not populism?
    i really hate when protest for government lying, foreigns lie me too…

    very sorry for my bad English.

  52. @Reith:

    Understand that the sanctions imposed on Iran, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba by the Bush administration are not something that we, as citizens, had anything to do with. In particular, I think most of the regulars around here would be idealistically opposed to blocking access to software; in particular the strong crypto that our government has a history of declaring as “munitions.”

    Note that while we like saying that our country is “free” and that we defend the ideals of “free speech,” if we look at Google’s latest transparency report, look at which country has the most requests for both user data and for censorship requests. Clearly our government fails to carry out the ideals stated in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence, ideals which the American people cling to and wear as a badge of honor. I, for one, am disgusted with my government.

  53. > Note that while we like saying that our country is “free” and that we defend the ideals of “free speech,”

    People have forgotten what the Founders knew – every law is an imposition on freedom. This did not keep the founding generation from being enthusiastic legislators, saying every time, in effect, “Every law is an imposition on freedom, but…”

    There is a natural freedom, given from God (or produced from evolution if you prefer): “People have the freedom to make collective rules which they intend to be followed, and to have the rules enforced.”

    I know this because all humans I know like to make rules for fun and have them enforced. Any behavior that common must be a natural right.

    Yours,
    Tom

  54. RE: LS Says:
    September 17th, 2010 at 9:34 pm (excerpted)

    ********** It’s not even a good bet that Iranian reformers are real reformers, in the sense that we Americans would understand it. We tend to see hard-line Islam as a problem, while the clash really has roots that lie deeply in economic factors among factions that we don’t perceive. Islam is just a cover, and a convenient tool to use against political enemies.

    I know that it’s real hard to stand by and watch women being stoned, or having their noses and ears cut off, but the fact is, we really haven’t got a clue about what is *really* going on. First, do no harm. **********

    When it comes to the subject of this Iranian issue, I’ve seen several posts like this one. And while I generally agree that there is a disturbing trend of viewing the Iranian protesters as “just like us” (or to put it thusly, if the protesters/reformers are victorious, Iran will become an awesome place of liberty, equality, etc. etc. etc. just like US, as soon as the protestors/reformers triumph), I would like to point out that those who value such things in the world may well consider themselves duty bound to assist in the “NedaNet” manner of things, or however they can.

    Almost all of the people who read and post on this blog are very intelligent and thoughtful, and I have not seen anyone make this claim here, but I do see the general thought in the “virtuous” assisters of the Iranian electoral protests – I’m not even sure most are aware of it.

    But, anyway, to the point: Yes, any replacement government will still be bad by libertarian/American ideals. Consider the culture in question, and the religious and theoretical grip that has been a part of their society for ages. We may see a less extreme form of the derived abuses from such by any replacement government, but yes they will still be there. However, action is needed because the domino/opening of the door effect is critical.
    If the people of the nation can break the death grip of the Mullahs, then Iranians, and the rest of the world will see the possibility for change there, and the possibility to end the tyranny. In the course of things, this can help them ask questions about their government and their society, and that will open the door to the evolution of freedoms. Just as religion had a choke hold on the west for a long time, and a key revolution that played a part in the eventual founding of the USA was the English Protestant Reformation (still a bunch of religious crazies (well, by and large), so too might a similar path have to be taken in Iran, and the other tyrannical theocracies of the world.

  55. @WCC:

    Yes. The way I see it (and I may be wrong about this, these are my own ideas and are not based on any sort of orthodox theories), societies throughout history have progressed in stages that look somewhat like this (warning, this is very stream of consciousness):

    Unorganized Tribal Communities => Organized Tribal Communities (tribes war; take each other over, eventual peace and reorganization; rule by some consensus of ‘elders’ ) => Theocratic Kingdoms (rule usually by monarchies, one ‘elder’ emerges as the natural ruler by divine right) => Empires (kingdoms war and take over other kingdoms) => “Enlightenment”-type period (advancement of science makes it clear that rule by divine right is silly and a recognition that people need to have fundamental rights)

    Unfortunately, from there, it kinda goes off in a few different directions, based on varying ideas.

    On one front, “equality” we can divide that into two different schools of thought around the idea of “equality” that naturally develops from scientific enlightenment: equality of opportunity (U.S., much of the West) and equality of outcome (Communist and totalitarian-type states). Equality of opportunity, in a way, implies ideas about individualism and the rights of the individual over the rights of the state. Similarly, equality of outcome pretty much implies a collectivist state where things are regulated (controlled) by those in charge of the state to ensure that everyone gets an equal share of the pie.

    Of course, in the end, the second idea doesn’t work because the folks in control usually make sure that things are equal alright; it’s just that some are more equal than others. (Read Animal Farm by Orwell).

    Sadly, it seems that through what esr calls “Gramscian brain damage,” some members the lower and middle classes, through ideas about class warfarism, have gotten a thirst for equality of outcome. The only direction this can move to is a collectivist state (read: communism or totalitarianism).

    (This whole thing glosses over some other concepts and needs further refinement)

    In any respect, that should give you some idea of how I see a post-Mullah Iran unfolding. As you say, they’ll go through that Enlightenment and then post-Enlightenment period. Where they go from there depends a lot on what kinds of leaders will emerge, I suppose.

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