[cryptography] motivation, research ethics & organizational criminality (Re: Forward Secrecy Extensions for OpenPGP: Is this still a good proposal?)

David D david at 7tele.com
Fri Sep 13 10:28:40 EDT 2013

Applying one's beliefs to another can be a fatal mistake as people truly do "think", "feel", and "act" differently based on various factors.  

I agree that there are people who will drop one opportunity and pick up something else quickly.    If you are one of these people, then think back to every job/project you ever worked and ponder the handful of people you would consider stellar minds/performers.    How many are still at the old jobs?    From my experience there are always a small handful of stellar people that really drive an organization and some do leave, but many stay in the less than optimal situations out of fear of the unknown, comfort, money, "hope", etc.   

The power of group think should also not be discounted.    Using your presented example of MIT in the 1960s, what was the consensus opinion in the society during the 1960's of those aged 18-24?  The MIT mention was part of the larger article and no source was provided with details of the protests, but the article you presented does discuss the recent objections of the APL program by the Political Science dept.  It seems reasonable that the Political Science dept would object, but where are the objections from the (real) Sciences depts?  Academia is fortunate to have many different viewpoints in one place, but I suspect the NSA is not so fortunate. 

As to the NSA directly, how many liberty minded people 1) Apply for a job at the NSA  2) Make it through the Security Clearance process  3) Overcome the NSA group think once hired?    I can plainly state that I and everyone of my associates fail all 3 immediately.    What type of person actually applies for a job at the NSA/CIA/FBI?  There may be the percentage that are young/naïve/moldable that are picked up fresh out of school, but I suspect most know exactly where they are going to work.

It is my opinion that if you want to stop the NSA by focusing on those who might still have a sliver of humanity remaining one would want to:

1.  Make working at the NSA a series of scarlet letters. 
2.  Make their existing and future work useless.   
3.  Make their ideas/opinions unheard or highly suspect.    
4.  Provide opportunities in the private sector/open source that provide gainful employment.    
5.  Exposing those responsible for sabotage.   Think: e-mail dumps, more leaks, etc.     

Many in the above list are already in play...    

-----Original Message-----
From: Adam Back [mailto:adam at cypherspace.org] 
Sent: Friday, September 13, 2013 2:10 PM
To: David D
Cc: cryptography at randombit.net; Adam Back
Subject: motivation, research ethics & organizational criminality (Re: [cryptography] Forward Secrecy Extensions for OpenPGP: Is this still a good proposal?)

I suspect there may be some positive correlation between brilliant minds and consideration of human rights & ability to think independently and critically including in the area of uncritical acceptance authoritarian dictates.  We're not talking about random grunt - we're talking about gifted end of PhD mathematicians or equivalent to be much use to NSA for surrepticiously cracking or backdooring ciphers in the face of public analysis.  (Well the DRBG one was pretty ham-fisted, but maybe they have some better ones we hvent found yet, or at least tried).

Take a look eg at this washington monthly article, there is a history of top US universities having to divest themselves of direct involvment with classified research due to protestations of their academic staff about the ethical considerations.


> “In the 1960s students at MIT protested strongly against having a 
> classified research laboratory on the campus and MIT said we will 
> divest it, so it won’t be part of MIT anymore,” said Leslie.  “It 
> still exists in Cambridge, but it’s not officially connected.” Leslie 
> also points to Stanford, where they made the decision for their 
> Stanford Research Institute to disaffiliate and become an independent non-profit.

Psychopaths are a minority, and people on the top end of crypto/maths skills are sought after enough to easily move jobs even in a down market - so the "must collect pay-check" argument seems unlikely.  So I stand by my argument that they probably scored an own goal on the retention and motivation front. 
I think for the majority of people - they wont like to go to work, or will feel demotivated, feeling the world is sneering at their employer as a quasi-criminal org.


On Tue, Sep 10, 2013 at 11:05:58PM +0200, David D wrote:
>Quote, " You've got to think (NSA claims to be the biggest employer of
>mathematicians) that seeing the illegal activities the US has been 
>getting up to with the fruits of their labour that they may have a 
>mathematician retention or motivation problem on their hands."
>You mean like the principled mathematicians working on cluster bombs, 
>drones, and other "cool shit"?
>Everyone at the NSA knows exactly what they are doing.
>I suspect, like most that suck off the military-industrial complex tit, 
>there is surprising low turnover.
>Paychecks only go so far with the principled, but spineless will 
>collect a check forever and do whatever it takes to keep it coming.
No virus found in this message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 2013.0.3392 / Virus Database: 3222/6656 - Release Date: 09/11/13

More information about the cryptography mailing list