Cybersecurity

Second Hack Attack Gained Access to Government Security Clearance Information

Are the feds still going to lecture us on how they should set the standard for cybersecurity?

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Stian Eikeland / Foter

Still in the process of cleaning up—or maybe just spinning—in the wake of last week's revelation that hackers based in China gained access to millions of Office of Personnel Management records on current and former federal government employees, officials now face reports of a second and even more serious cybersecurity breach. The Associated Press reports that Chinese hackers "appear to have gained access to the sensitive background information submitted by intelligence and military personnel for security clearances." And not just a few inconvenient bits of information. They appear to have nabbed lots of data.

According to the AP report:

The forms authorities believed to have been accessed, known as Standard Form 86, require applicants to fill out deeply personal information about mental illnesses, drug and alcohol use, past arrests and bankruptcies. They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence employees to coercion. Both the applicant's Social Security number and that of his or her cohabitant is required.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the security clearance material is classified.

The security-clearance records provide "a very complete overview of a person," said Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, a website that matches security-clearance holders to available slots. "You don't need these records to blackmail or exploit someone, but it would sure make the job easier."

The report cites officials saying that "[n]early all of the millions of security clearance holders, including CIA, National Security Agency and military special operations personnel, are potentially exposed in the security clearance breach."

Once again, the cornucopia of handy information seems to have found its source in the Office of Personnel Management, which does not yet have a notice up about the latest fumble.

Even before the latest revelation, government officials were debating whether hackers gained access to records on as many as 14 million Americans, or "only" the four million originally reported. The newly revealed fiasco should make the conversation that much more interesting.

The federal government has been actively battling against privacy advocates, the tech industry, and the general public in an effort to restrict the privacy tools that people can use to protect their personal information. D.C. officials would seem to be losing credibility in that debate.

The OPM is offering credit monitoring services to federal employees (that's all of them) affected by the first breach. We'll wait to see if they offer blackmail monitoring this time around.

NEXT: Videos Show Cops Tasing, Pepper-Spraying Man After Alleged Jaywalking

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  1. You know if you put all your eggs in one poorly guarded basket….

    1. Then you don’t have to worry about your eggs anymore?

    2. Some omelets just make themselves.

      1. The Tragedy of Omelette and the Prince of Danishes

  2. Enough of this shit, it’s time to fight back! Inform the Chinese Premier that he has won the trillion dollar world lottery jackpot. But we can’t send him the check until he pays a 10% processing fee.

    1. Those Sigerians were so good at that.

      /Rick & Morty

    2. Could we drop a trillion dollar coin on him?

      1. I hear Zimbabwe has a bunch we could use…

  3. Both at the OPM. The OPM is terrible.

  4. OT: Godfrey Elfwick may be Twitter’s greatest troll:

    I stand by #RachelDolezal.
    10% of all people are born #WrongSkin
    It’s not a joke and you have no right to shame us

    The number of people who took him seriously is astonishing. Fortunately, some others joined in the fun:

    Ashton Liu ?@Ash_Effect 3h3 hours ago
    I’m in the #WrongSkin, I’m actually black. So Harvard, take another look at my application?

    1. Okay, now #WrongSkin is trending globally, and the BBC and USA Today both fell for it.

      1. I like: When you get facial surgery to correct your #WrongSkin it’s known as a “race-lift”

      2. BBC…

        Huhuhuhuhuhuhuhuhuh

    2. That guy is the best. I don’t even twitter, but when i found him i was sold. i think he’s the only feed i’m subbed to.

      its somewhat pathetic that a twitter troll will probably do more to clarify the insanity of this issue (*by supporting it unconditionally) than the editor in chief of this mag did by simply qualifying that being ‘dishonest about it’ was the *real problem*….and that there was nothing more to discuss.

      1. Gillespie is still right. The dishonesty was the problem. Further, skin color has no mental component male/female does.

        1. Nick didn’t even address the question of whether or not ‘changing your race’ was a legit ‘trans-option’… whether a person was honest about it or not. He simply said Oreo woman had committed fraud, and was therefore incomparable to Jenner

          He made some passing references to Johnny Otis and otherwise left the issue of “choosing to be black” alone, with the unstated presumption that if said person were just more up-front about their Transracialism that there would be nothing to discuss.

          IOW, he completely dodges the question that the jenner critics implicitly pose = why do we think gender is so ‘flexible’ and race is not?

          He’s neither right nor wrong about anything. His only actual point was that ‘making fun of trannies is unpopular’, and therefore bad politics.

          Which is also sort of dumb. Who cares if socons ruin their brand further?

        2. Also = lots of people made this same point.

          (paraphrased)

          “” If a “right-thinking” society is supposed to respect the identity we feel we should be – rather than what our biology has determined – how is the comparison not legitimate?””

          Collective wisdom says i should be obligated to call bruce jenner a “she”. People argue that *not* doing so is unconscionably cruel and wrong.

          why then would/should anyone balk at respecting the self-perception of a white woman who wants to be recognized as a black woman? why does anyone have a choice now about that?

          1. “His mama call him ‘Bruce’, I’ll call him ‘Bruce'”.

  5. Maybe China is just researching the U.S. government’s credit rating.

    1. +1

      It’s about time they did some due diligence!

  6. This is a colossal fuck up. There are no words.

    1. It’s hard to talk anyway when you’re too busy loling.

    2. Sure there are. There’s [redacted] and [redacted] and [redacted]!

    3. Sure there are….$%^&8 it you idiot Feds, if my last clearance was in there, you have just given my identity info to a hostile nation. This is the thanks I get for three deployments?!

      1. This is the thanks I get for three deployments?!

        Yes.

  7. These instances of government incompetence clarify the need for more government control.

  8. “Associated Press reports that Chinese hackers “appear to have gained access to the sensitive background information submitted by intelligence and military personnel for security clearances.””

    Put it up on Wikileaks and all is forgiven?

  9. Both the applicant’s Social Security number and that of his or her cohabitant is required.

    Strictly spouse/partner or are children included????

    1. Children under 18 are excluded, except for the purposes of verifying child support information.

      1. So… yup, I’m sure my father submitted my information when I was in college.

        Oh, and I’m pretty sure I had to submit a background check to go on base to pick my father up from work when I was visiting him once.

        My information has been compromised.

        Thanks, Uncle Sam!

        1. The background check will not have released the same amount of information. You’d know if you’ve filled out an SF86. It’s a LONNNNNNNNGGG process.

          1. Your SSN was probably released if your dad had to disclose it on his SF86. But you likely don’t have to worry about the other sensitive information discussed here (arrests, convictions, mental health history, etc). Unless you filled out an SF86.

            1. Depends on when. My stuff is locked away in a filing cabinet somewhere. I have no idea when they went digital.

    2. I got my Secret NORFORN right after I joined the USN when I was 17. The background check goes back 15 years. Let me tell you trying to remember the full names and addresses of my “associates” and friends when I was 2 was a bitch.

      1. I went abroad when I was 16 for 2 months. They actually sent somebody down to Costa Rica to knock on doors and ask about me.

        1. I’m sure mine was an epic adventure for the investigators. I’m a military brat. As a child, I lived all over the world changing addresses every 18-36 months. I attended 15 different schools in 3 countries, and 8 states before I graduated. The worst question I’m ever asked is: “Where are you from?”

          1. I lucked out — my dad’s tour was up right after I was born so I only had a few months of being military brat.

            I made the most of the brat part. 😀

        2. My former (non-governmental) employer sent investigators to Srinigar to perform background checks on one of my intern coworkers…

      2. I got my Secret NORFORN

        And you just committed a security violation by accessing this classified information through unofficial channels. Boosh.

        1. Not particularly worried. Every thing secret I worked with was basically described blow-by- blow in the book The Hunt For Red October. And there you now know what I did in the Navy. 🙂 And NORFORN just means you can’t share with Canadians or other NATO dudes.

          1. I totally believe you despite the fact you just mispelt an access specifier twice.

            1. I got out of the Navy in 1994. How well do remember the headers printed on reams of paper from (dear god! has it been so long) 21 years go when you didn’t care to read what they said only if the printer was working correctly? If you don’t believe, google Oceanographic Systems Technician Maintainer which should now be sufficiently obscure since that rate is no longer active. Sorry extra R.

  10. Hey, Obama did promise to be the most transparent administration ever. Looks like he finally made good on it.

    1. Yeah, the files will probably turn up on Hillary’s old desk with no apparent explanation.

      “Transparency” is when Hillary Clinton knows all of your dirty little secrets.

    2. Transparent. . .to whom?

      1. The… Kardashians?

  11. OT:

    http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/w…..an-5872674

    I apologize in advance for my racial insensitivity but just as an intellectual exercise, would this guy’s proper racist epithet be a “crigger?”

    1. See 5:47, above.

      1. le sigh

    2. I was going to go with “artisanal jiggaboo”.

  12. “[…]The OPM is offering credit monitoring services to federal employees (that’s all of them) affected by the first breach. We’ll wait to see if they offer blackmail monitoring this time around.[…]”

    That makes it sound as if the OPM is paying for something, doesn’t it?

  13. This is just the beginning. Can you imagine how many other systems are going to get hacked now that they have such personal info on so many people with their combined clearance/access levels? Either thru phishing (they literally know every intimate detail about every fed employee) or thru password cracking (using birthdays, kids/spouses/pets names, alma mater, etc) – within a year or two every single unclassified network will be breached. And it will largely go undetected because the intrusions won’t be a hack in the normal sense – they’ll just gain access using the proper credentials.

    1. They probably already are breached. It’s been reported that the original OPM hack started 2 years ago and was just discovered. I wouldn’t be surprised if this hack had happened on a similar timeline.

  14. You know, if they kept these in paper format, they wouldn’t have to worry about this. And if they ever want to permanently dispose of them, they only have to…shred them.

    1. Chisel them onto stone tablets. Think of the jobs it would create!

      1. Chisel them onto wood tablets. This will create jobs too, and the disposal process will boost sales of oodway-ipperchays.

        1. [Narrows gaze in la mode Suisse]

  15. There won’t be any American missiles launching all by themselves though, right?

  16. I especially liked the whole “because security clearance information is classified” bit.

    “Not anymore,” thinks I.

    1. Yeah it is real classified, that is why every idiot son intern in the old Clinton White House got to review every Republican in Washington’s security clearance.

    2. If clearance info is classified at the same level and in the same way as the secret stuff that cleared persons are allowed to handle, then who knows what else may have been hacked?

      And the AP report doesn’t say that the weaknesses have been fixed.

      It’s one thing if the government will have trouble hiring because employees will fear that their clearance info will be hacked, but what about federal contractors? Their employees get cleared, too, and I believe that the Feds hold that clearance info, too, not just the contractors.

      What a mess.

  17. I watched Jon Stewart’s takedown of the Marco Rubio scandal. Well, fake, scandal. Sort of a scam scandal. Scamdal. Anyway, Jon Stewart takes down NYT over their hilariously underwhelming exclusives on Rubio’s driving and spending habits. And it reminded me that Jon Stewart is in fact a pretty funny personality and his staff writers are pretty competent (“petty in print” goes the segment blurb), but really only when they critique the powers which be. When they’re carrying water for the dominant party, which he normally is, the result is just… shabby. The past several years have not been good for Mr. Stewart.

    1. “really only when they critique the powers which be. When they’re carrying water for the dominant party, which he normally is, the result is just… shabby”

      ^ This.

      The most fortunate transition was when Clinton-hating Kilborn stepped aside for Bush-hating Stewart pretty much exactly as the administration changed.

      Once Obama came into office, TDS got resoundingly un-funny and just turned into government-worshipping party-line apologism.

      1. Those Republicans won’t stay down no matter how long and hard we beat this dead horse. *continues flailing*

    2. You know who else was obsessed with fake scandals?

      1. Charles Armand Auguste Ferdinand Mercier du Paty de Clam?

        1. J’accuse!

          1. Paty de Clam. Now there’s a porn star name with which to conjur.

  18. I don’t think was a pure hack. I think it was an inside job. The SS numbers were not encrypted. No one, not even OPM is that fucking stupid. And there are very few if any true hacks where the guy does it totally from the outside actually happen. The big ones usually involve an insider who lets the hackers in. I bet anything that is what happened here. And likely, the insider was a fucking child of a Chinese national who did everything but advertise that they were a Chinese agent but got hired and moved right up to the top because no one wanted to look racist and point out the giant poster of Mao, Mr. Lee keeps in his office or say anything about his new Ferrari or ten trips back to see the cousins in China last year.

    1. No, John. They are that fucking stupid. For a while I was in charge of ADP security at one of the bases I was stationed at and every month I’d have to track down some high ranking schmuck and tell him NOT to use PASSWORD as his fucking password.

      1. Some schuck having his password cracked doesn’t get you into the system like this. This was an inside job. I bet anything.

        1. Some schuck having his password cracked doesn’t get you into the system like this.

          Depends on whether the unionized government employees designing OPM’s network were vigilant enough to include insider threat defenses and internal firewalls in their network.

        2. That was just one example of the security idiocy I had to deal with. I could list examples for hours and this was in the early 90’s before notebooks, wifi, flash drives, and mass internet connectivity. It’s comforting to think that data breaches like this are caused by some highly trained Evil Mastermind or Traitor, because the reality that the US most secret stuff is being handled by clueless boobs who accidentally leave the keys to the kingdom laying around on a commuter train (or the equivalent thereof) is just too scary.

        3. It doesn’t need to be an inside job, John. As BuSab says, people are fucking stupid about security. In computer circles it is widely known that the greatest security risk is…people. Not getting brute force hacked, not inside jobs, just…stupid fucking people who do things like leave their password on a post-it on their desk (there’s an episode of Silicon Valley that deals with that exact situation).

          I think in the early 80s the Legion of Doom, a sort of legendary hacking group, got asked by the DoD to “test their security”. As soon as the “challenge” began, they had their one female member call up the secretary of one of the higher up officers at the base they were supposed to “hack” and she said “hey, this is [fake name], I’m [insert actual high up officer’s name]’s secretary, and he forgot his password. Again. Can you get it for me?” And she did.

          They were in within 10 minutes. The easiest route in to security is through people, not hacks or exploits. It’s called “social engineering”.

          1. “They were in within 10 minutes. The easiest route in to security is through people, not hacks or exploits. It’s called “social engineering”.”

            Richard Feynman’s recollections of ‘cracking safes’ at Los Alamos was the same; ‘what’s your birthday?’.

          2. I have no doubt that anyone could wander back through the clinical area at our main location and pretend to be from (redacted) IT and collect at least a dozen sets of credentials that would allow them to log into our system and steal patient demographic data. Even better is that most of the clinical systems are all accessed using SSO so that anyone who logs in with malicious is not limited to only our patient databases.

            Hell, on any given day, they could browse the trash cans in the clinical areas and harvest enough info to feed themselves for a year or two.

      2. “I’d have to track down some high ranking schmuck and tell him NOT to use PASSWORD as his fucking password.”

        But that’s the same combination I have on my luggage!

        1. Maybe you might want to change the password on your luggage to 1-2-3-4-5 . 😉

          1. *orders aide to change combination on luggage*

    2. More likely is that this is retaliation against our own cyber attack against China. We are (of course) hacking China as they are us, along with pretty much every other nation on earth. China most likely started finding malware from us in their systems and returned the favor.

      Every large nation with a decent enough sized military is currently engaged in cyber warfare with everyone else. The part that is so terrible about it on our end is that it took an outside vendor to wake up our security systems to our own holes.

      1. That is probably true. That doesn’t mean that the way they did ti was not with the help of an insider.

        1. Or vice versa. Everyone has a price, and double agents are nothing new in the world of espionage.

          1. Everyone has a price

            Bullshit.

            1. Everyone except you apparently.

              1. I’d watch every embarrassing secret about my life posted on the Internet for all to see, and die ostracized and starving in a gutter, if the alternative was betraying my country.

                Perhaps you’re just projecting?

                1. “I’d watch every embarrassing secret about my life posted on the Internet for all to see, and die ostracized and starving in a gutter, if the alternative was betraying my country.”

                  Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know, that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “thank you”, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

                  YOU WANT GIARDIA ON THAT WALL. YOU NEED HIM ON THAT WALL

                  1. DID YOU ORDER THE CODE TULPA!?!

                    1. Community college math teacher by day, 007 internet warrior by night!!!

                2. Would you watch the people you care about most be tortured and killed, knowing you could stop it with a word or two? Price just means a breaking point, not a literal dollar number.

                  Disclaimer: The question was purely philosophical; no threat was made or implied toward Giardia or Giardia’s loved ones.

                  1. “We were taught to hold out indefinitely.”

                    “Nobody can hold out indefinitely.”

                    “Ah, is that so?”

                    “Everybody has a limit. l spent some time in interrogation… once.”

                    “They make it hard on you?”

                    “They don’t make it easy. Yeah, it was unpleasant. l held out as long as l could. All the stuff they tried. You just can’t hold out forever. lmpossible.

                    “How’d they finally get to you?”

                    “They gave me a grasshopper.”

                    “What’s a grasshopper?”

                    “That’s two part gin, two part brandy, one part cr?me de menthe.”

                3. I’d watch every embarrassing secret about my life posted on the Internet for all to see

                  Funny. All my embarrasing secrets are now possessed by Chinese hackers, because my country is a moron.

            2. Giardia is out there. It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you finish your antibiotics regimen.

              1. Ah, thanks for the heads up cs.

      2. My first guess would be that it’s retaliation for Obama getting a little more serious about contesting China’s claims in the South China Sea.

        We’ll never hear that explanation in the MSM, though, because that might mean that Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing–and, obviously, that can’t be right.

        1. This is the kind “face”/”saving face” thing they’re really into.

          You embarrassed us in the South China Sea, and we’re embarrassing you.

        2. I don’t know that Obama got serous about that at all. The US Navy performs freedom of navigation exercises all the time.

          1. The Obama Administration’s rhetoric has stepped up rather dramatically over the past couple of weeks–even if he isn’t doing much about it.

            The Chinese care a lot about public appearance and anything they consider a slight. They’d be up in arms if we said the wrong thing about Taiwan tomorrow–whether we did anything or not.

            http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ob…..china-sea/

            Just because we don’t see this stuff as being really important or really interesting doesn’t mean the Chinese don’t. They’re kind of obsessed with two things: access to raw materials and being taken seriously as a superpower. It goes back to being colonized. Hell, the financial success of Hong Kong, which was a colonial holdover, was so embarrassing, it had something to do with why they embraced capitalism.

            It wasn’t the only reason, but there was some serious leverage there. Okay, Hong Kong, reunify with us, and we’ll make ourselves nice and capitalist for you, okay?

  19. The Council for Secular Humanism published an absurd article where they argued we should limit immigration with the express goal of causing negative American population growth for environmental reasons. The writers of this piece are very special:

    “At Negative Population Growth (NPG), we accept that there must be some immigration?we must meet our irreducible national interests such as investors and those with rare skills. We must also fulfill our ideal as an “open society,” acting as a refuge of last resort for limited numbers of those truly fleeing mortal danger. But above all, NPG believes that U.S. population should decline to an environmentally sustainable level?fewer than 200 million people?as soon as reasonably possible. Prolonging the transition will only compound the damage to our nation and the planet.”

    Where did they get that 200 million number? It is a mystery because they never actually explain.

    1. How, pray tell, do they plan on executing their master plan to hit this magic number of permissible humanity?

      1. Womyn’s Studies, Veganism, and Abortion. This technique is working for the pandas.

        1. Veganism would do it.
          Hell, I’d die before I ate the next meal.

          1. Eating vegetables meals isn’t the worst of it. It’s the not eating meat at all. Ever.

            I find the desire to recreate meat dishes as vegan to be just bizarre, though. It’s like lesbians with a strap-on.

            1. If a vegan is trying to recreate meat, they’re doing it wrong. I learned to cook vegetarian food first. Once you learn to impart flavor on a bunch of flavorless vegetables, meat is easy.

            2. I would much rather watch lesbians with strap-ons go at it, than eat a demented vegan’s attempt to recreate a cheeseburger.

            3. Lesbians with strap-ons? Yes, please.

      2. Ironically, I’m reading a scifi book right now where that is actually put in play. Directive 51 by John Barnes.

        1. And I just finished The Owner trilogy, where more or less the same thing is done. With robo-Ebola.

          1. The difference between The Owner series and Directive 51, though, is that in Directive 51 it is implied that the plan happened organically by emergent order among thousands of different people, whereas in The Owner it is set in play by one horribly evil politician.

        2. Good series. I’ve read the first 2 books.

      3. There is something seriously fucking wrong with that Secular Humanism organization. I don’t know how these people get this stupid.

        Unfortunately it’s behind a paywall, but here’s an article that is apparently about how we definitely have no free will.

        There’s absolutely no evidence we don’t have free will and it’s actually irresponsible to live as if we do. Disbelief in free will basically guarantees tyranny because if people aren’t really capable of choosing in any meaningful way, it’s totally okay for us to rule every aspect of their lives.

        What makes it obvious this writer is an idiot is the argument he has in the comments. Look at this:

        “Commenter: Society understands that free will is real and irrefutable. Free will makes perfect sense- we are all responsible for our choices and our choices are real- we could have chosen differently if we so chose to do so.

        Article Writer: You’re a troll with unsubstantiated claims. You are certainly not a secular humanist, to boot.”

        If free will doesn’t exist, then why can you insult this guy for being a troll? After all, it’s not his fault for being a troll, it was predestination. This is proof that no one actually believes we have no free will – even the people who claim we don’t have free will nonetheless behave in their own lives as if free will exists, thereby making a mockery of their stated intellectual beliefs.

        1. Wow! I don’t even…

        2. I’ll assume the writer is a combatiblist. Regardless, by claiming free will doesn’t exist means that life doesn’t really exist. Just a bag of atoms. Morality and ethics are nothing more than by products of natural processes. I like to ask these type of people that if I pick up a rock, am I breaking the laws of physics? If they say yes, then I put it down. If they say no, I drop it on their foot.

        3. I used to go to secular humanist meetings when I was younger. Bunch of geriatric fogies competing with one another for the title of atheist supreme. Imagine WWE matches, but not at all interesting and no belt or gladiatorial combat whatsoever. And then imagine the resident socialist overriding the topic du jour to argue pointlessly with the resident libertarian. And then imagine me never going to another secular humanist meeting.

        4. I think there is a reasonable claim that generally people do less thinking than than they think they do, things like heuristics and priming influence us, but to say that there is no ability to yank the manual control cord on our brains is just fucking nuts.

          1. “I think there is a reasonable claim that generally people do less thinking than than they think they do, things like heuristics and priming influence us, but to say that there is no ability to yank the manual control cord on our brains is just fucking nuts.”

            Well, I think there’s a reasonable claim to say that since we are influenced by our upbringing we don’t have PERFECT free will. I’m educated because I come from an educated family – if I grew up in the fucking Sudan, I would have fewer options available to me, would behave much differently than I do, would be less educated, and would be poorer.

            So there are confines within which your will can act which depend upon your environment. That’s obvious and no one’s ever disagreed with that assertion. Within those confines though you obviously have the option of reasonably picking between different choices and can go in radically different directions based on those decisions.

            1. I think of it probabilistically. How many decisions do you make per day that are actually 50-50? One, maybe two? How many decisions are weighted 90%+ toward one outcome each day? Too many to count.

              Does that undercut free will? Of course not. Does that undercut the idea that free will is some sort of all-encompassing thing that influences our every move? I’d say yes.

        5. I read this book on why conscious/free will doesn’t exist (I think there was some distinction but I don’t remember it).

          Mostly, the argument was “People can be fooled into doing things without realizing it, therefore conscious will is an illusion”. Shoddy.

          1. “Yet if psychological and neural mechanisms are responsible for all human behavior, how could we have conscious will?”

            That’s a stupid question. Neural mechanisms being responsible for human behavior doesn’t mean you have no conscious will. That’s a total non-sequitor.

          2. Actually, there’s another book on that Amazon page where someone argues in favor of the existence of free will, and one of the comments on that book explains nicely why this argument about ‘neural mechanisms’ is so poorly thought out:

            “Mele also spends the final chapter hammering home (in a gentle way) the importance of clarifying definitions in discussions like these. It seems that many prominent anti free will proponents have in mind some sort of completely Cartesian immaterial basis for free will, and take any evidence for material influences on decision making as proof against free will. Apparently, most people don’t associate such a view with the term ‘free will’, and what has been disproven by the experiments is only an extreme form of free will.”

            Exactly. A lot of people who don’t believe in free will will argue against free will by saying that since we don’t have ‘souls’ or any non-material means of decision making, we’re just biological robots. However, all of your thinking can stem from brain processes and you would still have free will because in any given situation you would have a number of potential choices your ‘brain processes’ could allow you to choose.

            1. I think a great deal of it is hubris. They can’t envision a chemical/biological process that allows for free will, so it can’t exist.

              It’s like a thought experiment with a non-biological consciousness. I suspect that if you asked it if chemicals can self-replicate and evolve, it would say no. It can’t imagine DNA, so DNA must not exist.

              1. It’s like a thought experiment with a non-biological consciousness. I suspect that if you asked it if chemicals can self-replicate and evolve, it would say no. It can’t imagine DNA, so DNA must not exist.

                Why would that be the case? As biological consciousnesses, we can imagine, and are trying our damnest to create, the processes that would lead to an artificial intelligence. So, why not vice versa?

                1. I’m not trying to be too precise. My point is that it can be really difficult for people to imagine things they have never observed. And too often people fall into the trap of thinking that what they can’t imagine can’t exist.

                  1. My point is that it can be really difficult for people to imagine things they have never observed. And too often people fall into the trap of thinking that what they can’t imagine can’t exist.

                    That’s very true. From what I’ve read of the research on the topic, I don’t think that is the case for most neuroscientists. They can imagine the processes just fine, that’s why they’re designing experiments to test for evidence of them. However, most results continue to suggest the opposite.

                    1. You may be more well read on it than I am, but the experiments I’ve read about are largely not about understanding the process of free will (or lackthereof) but about looking at behavior under a variety of circumstances. So it’s more purely empirical than theoretical (by which I mean looking at outcomes without really developing a deeper theory to explain them). Which is fine so far as it goes.

                      More generally, I see the sort of “boxed in thinking” at play in lots of other areas. One is in astrobiology, where people often talk about preconditions necessary for life (like liquid water). What they really mean is Earth-like life, and they know that on some level, but few people are thinking of totally revolutionary ways of defining life. Which is understandable, because that really isn’t science, it’s just pure speculation at this point. But eventually we may need to open up the definition, and I think that is going to be hard.

                      A more relevant area is in economics, and this under girds a lot of the suspicion of free markets. Most people have trouble wrapping their heads around emergent order in markets (even though it is broadly understood quite well). But since *they* can’t understand how it works, they are all to ready to believe that it can’t work.

            2. However, all of your thinking can stem from brain processes and you would still have free will because in any given situation you would have a number of potential choices your ‘brain processes’ could allow you to choose.

              But free will isn’t about the number of options; it’s about how a choice from those options are made.

              1. Yes, and the fact that we don’t know how they’re made does not mean free will does not exist. Since there is no evidence to prove that their is or is not free will, it seems a tad irresponsible to undercut the very basis of moral reasoning by proclaiming human beings have no ability to choose between different options.

                Here’s the thing: there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that believing in free will and believing that you have control over your own destiny has a positive impact upon people’s lives. People who believe they are in control tend to end up being more successful, even when you account for background differences.

                So if we have no free will, we should still behave as if we do have free will because belief in free will has benefits. Therefore, arguing against free will actually has a negative impact upon individuals and is therefore irresponsible.

                Then again, if free will does not exist irresponsibility does not exist since no one can be responsible or irresponsible as all their actions are predetermined and the entire concept of personal responsibility is rendered meaningless.

                1. Since there is no evidence to prove that their is or is not free will, it seems a tad irresponsible to undercut the very basis of moral reasoning by proclaiming human beings have no ability to choose between different options.

                  I reject that premise. If tomorrow’s headline was “Scientists Disprove Free Will!” are you going to pencil in a rape and murder spree for 1 pm? Secondly, by disputing the “free” part of free will, one is not saying humans have no ability to choose between different options. What one is saying is that humans aren’t consciousness aware of the decision making process.

                  Here’s the thing: there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that believing in free will and believing that you have control over your own destiny has a positive impact upon people’s lives. People who believe they are in control tend to end up being more successful, even when you account for background differences.

                  So if we have no free will, we should still behave as if we do have free will because belief in free will has benefits. Therefore, arguing against free will actually has a negative impact upon individuals and is therefore irresponsible.

                  So, we’re back to Plato’s noble lie? Personally, I prefer the view outside of the cave.

                  1. Then again, if free will does not exist irresponsibility does not exist since no one can be responsible or irresponsible as all their actions are predetermined and the entire concept of personal responsibility is rendered meaningless.

                    And speaking of ancient Greeks, they believed the opposite, actually. In their worldview, a person was responsible for his or her actions, even if they were believed to be under the influence of the gods.

                    1. a person was responsible for his or her actions

                      The whole point of the tragedies is, more or less, you’ll get yours, motherfucker. That’s not an accident, I think,

                    2. I remember reading this book almost 15 years ago. I recommend it. It’s more rigorous than the cover would suggest.

        6. “There is something seriously fucking wrong with that Secular Humanism organization. I don’t know how these people get this stupid.”

          I blame utilitarianism.

          It’s the recent explosion in technology and scientific knowledge, as well.

          Once you’ve got a critical mass of experts who think they know what’s best for all of us, look out.

          Utilitarians can hardly conceptualize qualitative considerations, much less account for them. They come to imagine that qualitative considerations are irrational specifically because they’re unquantifiable.

          Sometimes, I think Bailey falls prey to this kind of thinking.

        7. Obligatory.

          Been almost an hour. Really, sometimes I’m really ashamed of youz guyz.

        8. It’s certainly possible that the universe is deterministic and therefore free will doesn’t exist. But it certainly appears to us that we have free will, so there’s no downside to acting as if we have free will. I’m comfortable with the idea that free will is a lie and consciousness is an illusion. But maybe most people aren’t.

          What cracks me up is that people like this think that there’s anything left to say on the topic. This has been debated for at least 2500 years. You’re not going to think up anything new on the subject, you know? Thought experiments only go so far.

          1. “But it certainly appears to us that we have free will, so there’s no downside to acting as if we have free will.”

            I’m down with that.

            Even if the world is deterministic, if letting people make choices for themselves bring about better outcomes, then you can even defend respecting free will from a utilitarian standpoint.

            But it’s just really hard to get atheists and environmentalists to buy into letting rednecks and people who don’t care about the environment make choices for themselves that impact them. It’s like expecting black civil rights leaders to stand up for the Klan’s right to free speech–you’re not going to get that from them.

            Incidentally, the world isn’t deterministic. I have a hard time believing it is. Everything I’ve accomplished has been through sheer determination–on my part. There are aspects of my life that wouldn’t be as they are if I hadn’t asserted my will. The universe trends toward entropy! I took on investors, buyers and renters, the banks, and the market, and built a 300,000 square foot industrial center in the middle of it. That would have happened without me and my will?

            Bullshit!

            I suspect there are a lot of deterministic people working for the government. They imagine that the world would be the same without them–and they’re probably right.

            I doubt there are many entrepreneurs who think that way. It’s hard to convince people whose hard choices have made a difference–that their choices don’t make a difference.

            1. I understand the utilitarian argument for believing in free will, but that doesn’t prove it exists. As Warty pointed out, I can’t add anything new to a debate that has been raging for millennia. However, avoiding a metaphysical possibility because we’re afraid of the implications only allows dirtbags to explore it and exploit it. Look at what happened to Charles Murray for taking on a subject that people believed would be used to justify horrible behavior.

              1. If you can show that respecting people’s choices as a matter of public policy brings about superior outcomes, both quantitatively and qualitatively, then whether the world is really deterministic is merely academic.

                I think there are implications for public policy that can be drawn from the observation that the world wouldn’t be as it is if I hadn’t made some of the choices I did. We certainly can’t talk about whether people should have the opportunity to make more choices for themselves as a matter of public policy–talk about the pros and cons of them doing that–and then turn around and maintain that it might not make any difference which policy we choose.

                In other words, I think people often conflate two different questions. Question One is whether we have free will, and Question Two is whether people being free to make choices for themselves from a public policy standpoint has net benefits. A lot of people seem to think those two questions are the same question, and if our answer to Question One is that we don’t have free will, then they think it necessarily follows that the answer to Question Two is that letting people make choices for themselves is a farce.

                1. It ain’t so. Individuals making deterministic choices from a multitude of perspectives will still outperform other people making choices on behalf of the multitude for all sorts of reasons–reasons that start with important observations made by Adam Smith and Charles Darwin. So, in terms of public policy, whether people’s choices are really deterministic is a bit of a red herring. That’s basically what I’m trying to say.

                2. I agree that conflating the two is part of the problem. The people doing that are precisely the people I don’t want making public policy. Of course the choices we make have consequences. I’m getting to work, so maybe continue later?

    2. They realize that the US has substantially lower population density than the rest of the world, right?

      1. I’m going to guess that they do not. I’ll also guess that isn’t really the point.

  20. They also require the listing of contacts and relatives, potentially exposing any foreign relatives of U.S. intelligence employees to coercion

    Hey govt worker, it kinda sucks when a hostile, violent and retributive group knows that personal stuff, doesn’t it?

    1. Yeah, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

      1. If you have nothing to hide you wasted your youth.

        1. If you have nothing to hide, you’re probably locked in Warty’s basement.

  21. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the security clearance material is classified.

    How can this info be classified? It sounds more like PII, which would make it FOIA exempt but not classified. I’m nitpicking, but that’s a lame excuse for demanding anonymity.

    The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the security clearance material is classified they didn’t want to lose their jobs.. Fixed.

    1. We’ll wait to see if they offer blackmail monitoring this time around.

      Also… I thought they already do blackmail monitoring. Isn’t that part of the point of collecting all that data?

      1. It’s so much harder to blackmail people than it used to be. I mean being gay, or an atheist, or some weird political or religious affiliation, or having an STD, or an affair used to be the golden ticket for blackmail, but now about the only thing that would seem useful is pedophilia.

        1. Hey BuSab, I have video of you being a LARPer. But not just being a LARPer…being a racist LARPer! You’re appropriating the culture of that elf! Pay up!

          Jokes aside, there are plenty of new “taboo” things, and a lot of them are the shit the SJWs focus on. Really, the similarities between old-school nasty gossips and SJWs are actually quite substantial. But now instead of losing your job because you’re a homo, you, say, lose a basketball team because you’re a racist.

          People love to have things to look down their noses at other people about. That shit will never go away.

          1. But I AM a racist LARPer.

          2. It’s would be a simple task to list those few which are not the products of the SJWs focus.

        2. Pedophilia and owning fishing boats.

            1. Playa,
              Check Paul’s blog; near the bottom. There’s a suggestion of possible assistance.

          1. LynchPin1477|6.12.15 @ 9:04PM|#
            “Pedophilia and owning fishing boats.”

            Sorta boxed the compass there, didn’t ya?

            1. My buddy’s been letting me barrow his 12 foot aluminum fishing boat for a few months and so I’ve been learning every nautical term I can. Box the Compass is one I hadn’t come across until now.

              Been learning more reading comments on this site than I ever did attending college.

        3. What about being a libertarian?

  22. I’m so glad it’s the Chinese doing the hacking and not the Soviets, or we’d never hear the end of “Edward Snowden told them how to get in” bullshit.

    1. With Russia building an awesome new world based on capitalism, while we head the opposite direction descending into communist hell and certain ruin, Snowden’s real plan all along was probably merely to gain admittance onto the new winning team.

      Nice work, Eddy. Enjoy sharing in all that incredible new capitalism.

  23. OT: Microsoft has decided to do to the Oculus Rift what did it do the Xbox. This is a cut of the OR conference and Jesus it is painful. Just awful. Lose all hope ye who enter the hell of corporate buzzspeak.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkqC_DSZZNY

    1. I liked that better when it was this.

    2. Oh great and this other company steals my idea. Just great.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=414YxebrtoE

      1. If I had access to such technology, I wouldn’t have to sit back in the sticks waiting for prog-fascism to finish destroying this world so we can rebuild a new one from the ruin, I could just cut to the chase and build a new one in VR right here and now.

  24. “Are the feds still going to lecture us on how they should set the standard for cybersecurity?”

    The feds are skilled multi-taskers. They can both lose their own sensitive computer files, lose files with my sensitive personal information along with those of many other Americans, allow every computer system from top to bottom to be hacked, go after citizens for speaking figuratively or out of jest online, and still find time to lecture us on how they should set the standard for cybersecurity!

    They are pure awesomeness!

  25. So what assurance do the poor little feds have that the Chinese spys won’t get hacked by the Moldovians or have one of their own just take a thumb drive of a few million IDs and sell them to the Israeli mafia (who will then churn out millions of credit cards)?

    All that shit is out there.

    My guess is that there will be a move by the feds to de-legitimize credit reports.
    Always protect your own.

  26. At this point, if you worked for the federal government, or if you have or had a security clearance, assume China has all your information.

    1. This is a quantitative change, not qualitative.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a little upset- my info was probably in there (how far does the stolen data go back?). But the only difference between now and before the hack is that my data is in the hands of at least two hostile governments, instead of just one.

  27. I expect better of Reason than to report, without proof, that the source of the hack was China. Attribution of any cyber attack is extremely difficult and often impossible. Why is Reason, of all outlets, so accepting of the government accusation?

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