The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Life on Mars

At some point, we will probably settle on the red planet. In a fascinating article from 2018, The Atlantic wondered how we'll police it:

Consider the basic science of crime-scene analysis. In the dry, freezer-like air and extreme solar exposure of Mars, DNA will age differently than it does on Earth. Blood from blunt-trauma and stab wounds will produce dramatically new spatter patterns in the planet’s low gravity. Electrostatic charge will give a new kind of evidentiary value to dust found clinging to the exteriors of space suits and nearby surfaces. Even radiocarbon dating will be different on Mars, [UC-Davis archaeologist Christyann] Darwent reminded me, due to the planet’s atmospheric chemistry, making it difficult to date older crime scenes.

The Martian environment itself is also already so lethal that even a violent murder could be disguised as a natural act. Darwent suggested that a would-be murderer on the Red Planet could use the environment’s ambient lethality to her advantage. A fatal poisoning could be staged to seem as if the victim simply died of exposure to abrasive chemicals, known as perchlorates, in the Martian rocks. A weak seal on a space suit, or an oxygen meter that appears to have failed but was actually tampered with, could really be a clever homicide hiding in plain sight.

Imagine a criminal armed with a knife has been cornered on a Martian research base, near a critical airlock leading outside. If police fire a gun or even a Taser, they risk damaging key components of the base itself, endangering potentially thousands of innocent bystanders. Other forms of hand-to-hand combat learned on Earth might have adverse effects; even a simple punch could send both the criminal and the cop flying apart as they collide in the reduced Martian gravity. How can police overpower the fugitive without making things worse for everyone?

And then there's the surveillance....

Updates

I spent an hour trying (unsuccessfully) to track down a monitor to replace the one that sparked, popped, and went black on me this morning. That's going to set me back $150 for a replacement, which isn't so bad, considering.

Less personally, the following also happened in the last 24 hours:

I don't have a virus, by the way. I'm just working from home because the rest of my team are also out of the office.

Great security, guys

Via Schneier, it seems that our security services have not done a great job at, you know, security:

[J]ust how bad is the CIA’s security that it wasn’t able to keep [accused leaker and former CIA sysadmin Joshua] Schulte out, even accounting for the fact that he is a hacking and computer specialist? And the answer is: absolutely terrible.

The password for the Confluence virtual machine that held all the hacking tools that were stolen and leaked? That’ll be 123ABCdef. And the root login for the main DevLAN server? mysweetsummer.

It actually gets worse than that. Those passwords were shared by the entire team and posted on the group’s intranet. IRC chats published during the trial even revealed team members talking about how terrible their infosec practices were, and joked that CIA internal security would go nuts if they knew. Their justification? The intranet was restricted to members of the Operational Support Branch (OSB): the elite programming unit that makes the CIA’s hacking tools.

Oh dear. We used to have the best tools and people in the world. Now it just looks like we have a bunch of tools.

So much corruption! We're going to do corruption like you've never seen it

President Trump's list of felons to whom he granted clemency yesterday seems to have a common element. First, Rod Blagojevich, possibly the most corrupt governor Illinois has ever had, which is saying something in a state that sent 4 of its last 8 to prison, and who seems less than contrite about his crimes:

“I had a unique opportunity to represent Congress and be (Illinois’) governor for six years and fight for things I truly believe is good for people,” he said, adding “the fight” now was against the “people that did this to me” and to regain the public’s trust.

“That if I were to give in to the pressure and give in to the shakedown that was done to me, that I would be violating my oath of office to fight for the Constitution and fight for the rule of law and keep my promises to (the public),” he said. “ ’Cause I didn’t do the things they said I did. And they lied on me.”

And the president also pardoned Michael Milken, who has his own glorious history of malfeasance:

Lest history be entirely rewritten, it’s worth considering what Judge Kimba M. Wood told Mr. Milken at his sentencing on Nov. 21, 1990, on charges including conspiracy and fraud:

“When a man of your power in the financial world, at the head of the most important department of one of the most important investment banking houses in this country, repeatedly conspires to violate, and violates, securities and tax laws in order to achieve more power and wealth for himself and his wealthy clients, and commits financial crimes that are particularly hard to detect, a significant prison term is required in order to deter others.”

[I]t’s not hard to fathom why Mr. Milken’s saga would resonate with Mr. Trump.

Like the president, Mr. Milken studied business at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania but was largely shunned by New York’s elite.

Mr. Milken’s early clients were corporate raiders who, like Mr. Trump, were disdained by establishment firms like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Mr. Milken and his junk-bond-fueled takeovers were seen as disruptive forces, threats to a complacent status quo on Wall Street and in corporate America, just as Mr. Trump has upended Washington.

And of course Mr. Milken underwent years of distracting investigations and related bad publicity.

NPR interviewed NYU law professor Rachel Barkow this morning, who summed it up nicely. (I'll edit this post later today to add her comments when the transcript comes out.)

I really hope whoever gets the Democratic nomination hammers the president on this stuff. The corruption! Such corruption! It's the one thing Donald Trump does best.

I actually LOL'd when I saw this news alert

The President was busy this morning:

President Trump has commuted the 14-year prison sentence of former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois, the Democrat who was convicted of trying to essentially sell President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat for personal gain, as well as the financier, Michael R. Milken and Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, the president announced on Tuesday.

The president’s decision came the same day that he pardoned Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., a former owner of the San Francisco 49ers who pleaded guilty in 1998 to concealing an extortion attempt and eventually surrendered control of his team.

Mr. DeBartolo, the scion of a prominent real estate development family who created one of the National Football League’s greatest dynasties, was prosecuted after agreeing to pay $400,000 in brand-new $100 bills to Edwin W. Edwards, the influential former governor of Louisiana, to secure a riverboat gambling license for his gambling consortium.

Like attracts like, I suppose. I wonder, will he now turn his attention to freeing the immigrants he's detained at our borders? Or the millions of low-level drug offenders clogging our prisons?

Two-tiered justice in the US

Veteran crime and justice reporter Rodney Balko outlines the pernicious effects of reducing Roger Stone's sentence while continuing to throw the book at ordinary people:

So we get righteous fury over the FBI’s mistakes in obtaining wiretaps for former foreign policy adviser Carter Page, even as Republicans vote to reauthorize the law that allowed those taps and reject proposed reforms. We get President Trump bashing the federal law enforcement apparatus even as he praises countries whose governments execute people accused of selling drugs. We get angry denunciations of the “jackboots” who arrested Roger Stone and raided Michael Cohen’s office and residence (though they were both treated far better than, say, your average suspected pot dealer), while Trump encourages police brutality against everyday suspects and Attorney General William P. Barr declares that people who criticize law enforcement for brutality against black people aren’t worthy of police protection. And now we have Stone, and Barr’s decision to rescind the seven-to-nine-year sentencing recommendation filed by the federal prosecutors working on the case.

There’s no better example of the Trump administration’s embrace of tiered justice than the one pointed out by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly. On the very day that Barr intervened to rescind the Justice Department’s sentencing recommendation for Stone, he also gave a speech to a conference of county sheriffs in which he attacked progressive, reform-minded district attorneys for their refusal to prosecute certain types of crimes. He argued that those decisions jeopardize investigations of more serious crimes that “depend heavily on obtaining information from members of the community.”

Barr was accusing progressive DAs of undermining criminal investigations by enabling witness intimidation. One of the crimes for which Stone was convicted: undermining a criminal investigation by threatening a witness.

Meanwhile, the president continues raging against the people who still have the power to thwart his whims, even as Congress passes a war-powers resolution that has no chance of curbing the president's adventures in Iran.

Shaking my head, for the next 265 days

Some headlines this morning:

Happy Wednesday!

Boy, he sure learned his lesson

In just one more example of the president slipping his leash, thanks to the Republican trolls in the Senate giving him permission to do so, the Justice Department said it found prosecutors recommendations for Roger Stone's sentence "shocking." Three Assistant US Attorneys immediately quit the case:

Jonathan Kravis, one of the prosecutors, wrote in a court filing he had resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney, leaving government entirely. Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, a former member of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team, said he was quitting his special assignment to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute Stone, though a spokeswoman said he will remain an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore.

Adam Jed, also a former member of Mueller’s team, asked a judge’s permission to leave the case like the others, though gave no indication of resigning his job.

None provided a reason for their decisions.

Uh huh. Thanks, WaPo. ("Three people left their office in haste this afternoon after their work area became engulfed in flames. None provided a reason for their decisions.")

Greg Sargent says the president's strategy is "designed to get you to surrender:"

In the end, many of President Trump’s ugliest degradations — the nonstop lying, the constant efforts to undermine faith in our political system, the relentless delegitimization of the opposition — often seem to converge in some sense on a single, overarching goal:

To get you to give up.

To give up on what, exactly? On the prospects for accountability for Trump, via mediating institutions such as the media, or via other branches of government, or even via the next election, and more broadly, on the very notion that our political system is capable of rendering outcomes that have not been thoroughly corrupted to their core.

Meanwhile:

Fun times. Fun times. At least we can take some comfort in Japanese railway station psychology.

Things of interest when I have the time to spend on them

Not just articles today, but also a whole HBO mini-series:

For yet another thing to worry about today, after this post and the one before it, the New Yorker has started a series about the last time democracy almost died. (Hint: it got better.)

In case you didn't have enough to worry about

Via Bruce Schneier, two Harvard undergraduates have demonstrated that the volume of easily-obtainable information from multiple, large-scale data breaches makes targeting people for cybercrime easier than you could have guessed:

The students found a dataset from a breach of credit reporting company Experian, which didn’t get much news coverage when it occurred in 2015. It contained personal information on six million individuals. The dataset was divided by state, so [students Dasha] Metropolitansky and [Kian] Attari decided to focus on Washington D.C. The data included 69 variables—everything from a person’s home address and phone number to their credit score, history of political donations, and even how many children they have.

But this was data from just one leak in isolation. Metropolitansky and Attari wondered if they could identify an individual across all other leaks that have occurred, combining stolen personal information from perhaps hundreds of sources.

There are sites on the dark web that archive data leaks, allowing an individual to enter an email and view all leaks in which the email appears. Attari built a tool that performs this look-up at scale.

“We also showed that a cyber criminal doesn’t have to have a specific victim in mind. They can now search for victims who meet a certain set of criteria,” Metropolitansky said.

For example, in less than 10 seconds she produced a dataset with more than 1,000 people who have high net worth, are married, have children, and also have a username or password on a cheating website. Another query pulled up a list of senior-level politicians, revealing the credit scores, phone numbers, and addresses of three U.S. senators, three U.S. representatives, the mayor of Washington, D.C., and a Cabinet member.

"We're two college students. If someone really wanted to do some damage, I'm sure they could use these same techniques to do something horrible," [Metropolitansky said].

As Schneier points out, "you can be sure that the world's major intelligence organizations have already done all of this."

This is also why we need government regulation or stricter liability laws around data breaches. Experian's sloppiness imperiled six million people, and has probably resulted in crime already. But they have no incentive to fix their issues. In fact, they didn't even reveal the breach for years.