July 2013

Politics and Rumors23 Jul 2013 at 1:01 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Uptodatepronto posted the results of the July 2013 poll of r/SyrianCivilWar opinions in the Syrian conflicts. With only 333 samples, a huge unknown self-selection bias and who knows what ballot stuffing, this data must be taken as anecdotal.

There were three questions :

  1. Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ?
  2. Do you believe there can be a political solution to the conflict ?
  3. Who, if anyone should the United States, France and Britain arm ?

The possible answers to the first question were quite sparse, so I decided to aggregate them to have large enough samples in each category… I’m sure that many will object to the mixed bag that I made of the ‘Government’ and ‘Rebels’ aggregates – did I mention that I’m a clueless foreign observer ?

Original answer Aggregate
None of the factions involved Neutral
FSA Rebel
Al Nusra
Islamic State of Iraq and Levant
SAA Government
Kurdish Kurdish


I consider the first and third questions to be redundant : while a majority rejects foreign injection of weapons into the conflict, there is a strong correlation between support for a given side and desire to see it armed… Though two government-side supporters want arms for the FSA and one government-side supporter wants them for ‘anyone who opposes the Assad regime’ – remember what I said about the data  ?

Who, if anyone should the United States, France and Britain arm ?
Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ? No-one FSA through Supreme Military Council SAA Kurds Anyone who opposes the Assad regime
Government 108 2 9 1
Kurdish 17 4 5
Neutral 69 7 1 1
Rebel 49 53 1


Now, let’s perform the cross tabulation that I came here for :

Do you believe there can be a political solution to the conflict ?
Who do you support in the Syrian Civil War ? Certainly Very likely Likely Maybe Unlikely Very unlikely Impossible
Government 10 4 19 21 32 21 13
Neutral 8 4 7 12 20 20 8
Rebel 3 2 3 16 22 45 12
Kurdish 2 3 8 8 4


From that chart lets graph the proportion of supporters of each aggregate party for the total of each political solution likelihood answer class :

From this representation, I make the following observations:

  • Neutrals and supporters of factions aligned with the government are slightly more likely to believe in the likelihood of a political solution
  • Kurds and other rebels are more likely to find a political solution highly unlikely

Those could be interesting hypothesis to test in a wider and more disciplined survey… So, more than ever, the real conclusion is : moar data !

The worksheet I produced this from is available here but,  again I must emphasize how lacking the raw material is.

France and Military and Politics and Security05 Jul 2013 at 12:06 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Remember when I was writing about ‘hypocrisy all around‘ a few days ago ? This is what it was about… As if on cue, Le Monde revealed from unnamed sources that France operates its own mass interception infrastructure (for non-French speaking readers here is the Guardian’s paraphrasing of The World).

Le Monde’s article was of course published on the Fourth of July in honor of our American friends, thought leaders in mass surveillance.

That France had such capability at that scale had long been guessed by anyone with even a slight interest in surveillance technologies, especially since we make brisk business peddling that sort of stuff we to splendid chaps all around the world (no questions asked – don’t forget to wash your hands afterwards)… Now it is not just guesses and rumors anymore.

But, in spite of the amusingly conflicted public reactions, that is not where the real substance of Le Monde’s revelations lies : the problem with surveillance is not the capability but how it is used… And used it is : not only external intelligence but also internal intelligence and a host of other agencies who happily dip their fingers into the jam with an utter lack of adult supervision.

Is that so bad ? What about the children ? What about tax-evading Nazi terrorist pedophiles music sharers ?

Lets first remind ourselves about a basic principle : the distinct nature of external and internal intelligence. Like military and police, they handle different businesses : while the military exists to dominate designated external enemies by force, the role of  police is to keep our society in working order by enforcing the law. One is only subject to the law of the strongest and whatever can be gotten away with diplomatically, the other operates encumbered by strict rules that sacrifice efficiency and sometimes even the officer’s own security for the sake of lawfulness. Again, war and law enforcement are not the same – bad things happen when cops play soldiers, as the militarization of the police forces in the USA shows.

So spying is not the activity that requires attention – as long as we manage to get away with it diplomatically… Don’t get caught ! Spying on allies will certainly complicate relationships, but managing that is what diplomacy is for. Ignorance and hypocritical reactions will be plenty but the professionals will keep balancing themselves on the tightropes of international relations, in ways perfected during thousand of years of practice. This is not what I find disquieting – don’t let the cruel world of state to state relationships distract you from the actual scandal: mass surveillance of one’s own citizen in a democratic state.

We don’t yet know the extent of the communications surveillance apparatus revealed by Le Monde – but we already know what matters most : it operates outside of any legal framework. Some would say that it makes them illegal – but no law forbids it so an unnamed boss of a French intelligence agency declared them “a-légal” instead. Isn’t that cute ? Of course, nullum crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege poenali – but those activities may actually fall under existing law:

Code Pénal, Article 226-15 (official English translation) :

Maliciously opening, destroying, delaying or diverting of correspondence sent to a third party, whether or not it arrives at its destination, or fraudulently gaining knowledge of it, is punished by one year’s imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.

The same penalty applies to the malicious interception, diversion, use or disclosure of correspondence sent, transmitted or received by means of telecommunication, or the setting up of a device designed to produce such interceptions.

Code Pénal, Article 226-18 (official English translation) :

The collection of personal data by fraudulent, unfair or unlawful means is punished by five years’ imprisonment and a fine of €300,000

Now, The French People vs. The French State – wouldn’t that make an interesting case ?

But anyway, whether past misdeeds are prosecuted or not is not the most important point. What is essential is that we now demand proper democratic oversight. The extraordinary privileges granted for security reasons require equally extraordinary control. Secrecy matters of course, but secrecy is no reason for lack of accountability. Secrecy is not even incompatible with a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

The political divide about surveillance is about whether or not the ends justify the means. I believe they don’t, or rather that those who focus on the immediate benefits of surveillance are myopic to its other effects on society. Those people by the way are well meaning – always keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind : never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. What it means about surveillance is that we don’t need to have intent to create a fascist regime – we can just sleepwalk into it. Let’s wake up a few people !

Military and Politics and Security01 Jul 2013 at 11:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

While I happily keep giving the USA the bashing they deserve about mass surveillance of citizens, you won’t hear me cast the first stone about industrial espionage – for well-known reasons.

While direct evidence of my own country’s industrial espionage activities rarely surfaces, we sometimes hear echoes of what goes on under the tables – take for example the testimony of Orbital High-Technology Bremen (OHB) CEO, Berry Smutny to the US Embassy in Berlin on 2009-11-20 :

Smutny frankly said “France is the evil empire stealing technology and Germany knows this”, but Germany´s decentralized government is not willing to do much about it. Going on at length of his despise of the French, Smutny said French IPR espionage is so bad that the total damage done to the German economy is greater the that inflicted by China or Russia.

Sure, this quote being in the context of sales by OHB to the US government, it is likely to be biased toward exaggeration – but such open expression of defiance from very close allies of France is nevertheless a strong hint that righteous outrage from French sources about industrial espionage is laughably hypocritical.

In addition, industrial espionage should be kept in perspective : it is not even comparable to mass surveillance – let’s not dilute the evil of mass surveillance by amalgamating them ! While corporate actors are strong enough to thrive on their own in a state of information warfare, citizens are not – they need political diligence toward a strong framework of laws and regulations consistent with human rights and ensuring adequate protection of the rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

Remember : the reason for rule of law is to protect the weak – the strong already take good care of themselves, though the European Union might want to upgrade its defense to a level more compatible with its international status