NSA's pre-history turns out to be a love story

Episode 350 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


This episode features an interview with Jason Fagone, journalist and author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America's Enemies. I wax enthusiastic about Jason's book, which features remarkable research, a plot like a historical novel, and deep insights into what I call NSA's "pre-history" – the years from 1917 through 1940, when the need for cryptanalysis was only dimly perceived by the US government. Elizebeth and William Friedman more or less invented American cryptanalysis in those years, but the full story was never known, even to NSAers. It was protected by a force even stronger even than classification – J. Edgar Hoover's indomitable determination to get good press for the FBI even when all the credit belonged elsewhere. And, at all its crucial stages, that prehistory is a love story that lasted, literally, right to the grave. Don't miss this (long!) interview with Jason Fagone, or his book.

Meanwhile, in the news roundup. Dmitri Alperovitch covers the latest events in what we just can't call the SolarWinds hack any more. There's no doubt that Microsoft code is at the center of the hack, though not because of unintended flaws; the hackers showed great interest in Microsoft's code and took full advantage of its most easily abused features. Dmitri predicts multiple executive orders from Anne Neuberger's review of the matter, and he hopes it means more centralization of federal civilian security monitoring and policy under CISA.

Dmitri and I agree that the Congressional effort to turn the cybersecurity director position into a Senate-confirmed White House office is more trouble than it's worth.

The Maryland law taxing Google and Facebook ad revenue is ground-breaking, and for that reason is will also be heavily litigated. First time caller, first time listener David Fruchtman explains the tax and the litigation it has already spawned.

Which came first, China's dream of a rare-earth boycott or U.S. nightmares of a rare-earth boycott? We ask Jordan Schneider, who suggests that neither the dream nor the nightmare is likely to come true any time soon.

Is Australia going to war with Big Tech?  I take on Oz's link fee and end up siding, improbably, with Mike Masnick and Facebook and against the fee. Meanwhile, the Australian infrastructure protection bill is drawing fire from Microsoft. Dmitri leans toward Microsoft's view that the law should not give government authority to intervene when a private sector entity is unable or unwilling to respond to an attack.  I lean toward the government's position.

Jordan Schneider reviews the latest stories of tech companies getting a little too close for comfort to the Chinese surveillance state. The ByteDance censorship story is compelling but not new.  The Oracle story is compelling, new, and a clever piece of journalism by another alumna of the podcast, Mara Hvistendahl. 

Finally, in a series of quick bites, we cover:

And more!

Download the 350th Episode (mp3)

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  1. All around LGBTQ scumbag Hoover was, of course, a … lawyer.

    The lawyer profession is in utter failure in its most crucial subject, the criminal law. Its pro-criminal bias is due to criminals’ being clients. It is allowing 100 million internet crimes a year, 15 million common law crimes a year, 5 million being violent. It is in utter failure. It must be crushed before the criminals can be reached.

    A bank robbery is dangerous, risky, and nets $4000. Identity theft is safe, risk free, and nets $5000. Only a drunken, suicidal fool would rob a bank today. The criminals have updated to version 2.0. The lawyer profession has not.

    1. “Identity theft is safe, risk free, and nets $5000.”

      Become a director of an investment bank, have your lobbyists peddle the notion that equity demands loose lending standards for disadvantage people who are poor credit risks, pay some struggling academic to write a book making past lending practices designed to ameliorate bank and government exposure to bad loans sound like racism, defame or de-platform anyone who points out the obvious, that people with bad records paying back loans are bad credit risks regardless of race, push the real estate industry to sell young people on the notion they’ll never own a home if they don’t act now and when the scheme collapses have your lobbyists get the government to pick up the bill so you don’t even lose your annual bonus. Tout it all as reform and justice. When the foreclosure victims start complaining find some young minority kid mistreated by police and focus all of your newspaper leverage on redirecting public attention away from the financial crises and on to racial conflict. Do the same thing all over again in ten years.

      The flawless crime.

      1. I will see your 2008 crisis, and raise you the 2020 lockdown. Dropped the world GDP $4 trillion, killed millions of poor people by starvation, and hundreds of 1000’s of Americans by excess deaths from the lockdown, not from COVID. At worst, that really killed 100000 people. Then haul in $1.3 trillion in profits over those of 2019 to the tech billionaire owners of the media and of the Democrat Party. Take down the best President since Washington, and install your boy, and your San Fran tech billionaire prostitute in the highest offices in the land. They are smarter than we are.

        My reply? Forget ridiculous anti-trust. It is not even constitutional, is likely to fail, will take years, generate massive lawyer employment. Seize their assets in civil forfeiture for the 100 million federal crimes on their platforms a year, and the millions of crimes they committed in overstating viewership to advertisers. Half their viewers are non-human bots who do not shop for products or for services. Then, auction them off like the Ferrari of a drug dealer.

  2. I’m of two minds about Hoover.

    Yes, he did realize that “Wild” Bill Donovan’s OSS had been extensively infiltrated by Soviet intelligence. And Hoover was clearly anti-Communist, at a time when we needed someone who was.

    On the other hand, it wasn’t just his lace & petticoats — that I could live with, his sending innocent men to die in prison I can’t.

  3. Unrequited love may be a sort of trial and error method that helps you research who you are and what variety of accomplices would make an excellent match. For more https://unrequitedlover.com/

  4. Is “cryptanalysis” the description of stone chambers of sarcophagi, coffins, and relics, or is it the encryption and decryption of encoded messages?

    Or, could it be both, as in “his burial tomb engraving in the French Quarter read ‘RIP’, signifying a permanent Restin peace from anxiety upon too many 0.25 mg tablets”?

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