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by rthieme on January 16, 2018

Real Birds in Digital Cages: The Chickens Come Home to Roost

So who do you think you are? Whatever you reply, Richard Thieme will go zen on you and say, no, not that.

Because identity is by social agreement and social agreement is manufactured, managed, and manipulated on the internet these days. We should all know that by now, but knowing something and acting on it are two different things. We live in the confines of prior technologies as if they define our lives – think “horseless carriages” before “automobiles.” Even as the frames of the 20th century dissolve, we live as if they persist.

The Russians have been at it for a long time, but so have we and many others. To have a clue as to what’s real these days, we need to be counter intelligence experts, and most don’t have the time for that. So we uncritically accept that we live in digital cages large enough to let us flap our wings and have the illusion of freedom and flight, but the cage keeps turning and takes us with it.

Richard Thieme invented that phrase,“real birds in digital cages,” a quarter of a century ago. He has worked with colleagues at the NSA, the Pentagon, the Secret Service, the FBI, and more to frame ways to flee those cages. Reality is that which does not go away even when we refuse to believe in it. The task is not trivial but it IS necessary if we are to remain capable of sane decisions as a digital tsunami washes away the structures of a prior society.

 

A Playing Through the Pain variation: Strategies for Working in the Real World integrates insights into living as a minority (as Richard has in 5 ways) and how that relates to the experience of women above all and other “minorities” and strategies for effectively dealing with the dynamics of both.

The webinar for EWF now available for all.

After 25 years of speaking and writing about the impacts of technologies on “the human in the machine,” Richard Thieme documented the traumatic consequences…
BRIGHTTALK.COM
  • Playing Through the Pain – The Impact of Secrets and Dark Knowledge on Security and Intelligence Professionals

Dismissing or laughing off concerns about what it does to a person to know critical secrets does not lessen the impact on life, work, and relationships of building a different map of reality than “normal people” use. One has to calibrate narratives to what another believes. One has to live defensively, warily. This causes at the least cognitive dissonance which some manage by denial. But refusing to feel the pain does not make it go away. It just intensifies the consequences when they erupt.

Philip K. Dick said, reality is that which, when you no longer believe in it, does not go away. When cognitive dissonance evolves into symptoms of traumatic stress, one ignores those symptoms at one’s peril. But the very constraints of one’s work often make it impossible to speak aloud about those symptoms, because that might threaten one’s clearances, work, and career. And whistle blower protection is often non-existent.

The real cost of security work and professional intelligence goes beyond dollars. It is measured in family life, relationships, and mental and physical well-being. The divorce rate is as high among intelligence professionals as it is among medical professionals, for good reason – how can relationships be based on openness and trust when one’s primary commitments make truth-telling and disclosure impossible?

One CIA veteran wrote: “I was for a while an observer to the Personnel Management working group in the DO. I noted they/we were obscenely proud of having the highest rates of alcoholism, adultery, divorce, and suicide in the US Government. I personally have 23 professional suicides in my mental logbook, the first was an instructor that blew his brains out with a shotgun when I was in training. The latest have tended to be senior figures who could not live with what they knew.”

Richard Thieme has been around that space for years. He has listened to people in pain because of the compelling necessities of their work, the consequences of their actions, the misfiring of imperfect plans, and the burdens of soul-wrenching experiences. Thieme touched on some of this impact in his story, “Northward into the Night,” published in the Ranfurly Review, Big City Lit, Wanderings and Bewildering Stories before collection in “Mind Games.” The story illuminates the emotional toll of managing multiple personas and ultimately forgetting who you are in the first place.

The bottom line is, trauma and secondary trauma have identifiable symptoms and they are everywhere in the “industry.” The “hyper-real” space which the national security state creates by its very nature extends to everyone too, now, but it’s more intense for professionals. Living as “social engineers,” always trying to understand the other’s POV so one can manipulate and exploit it, erodes the core self. The existential challenge constitutes an assault on authenticity and integrity. Sometimes sanity is at stake, too, and sometimes, life itself.

We might as well begin our discussion with reality. Choosing unreality instead means we have to spend energy and time on a trek from unreality to reality simply to begin. This talk is about reality – the real facts of the matter and strategies needed for effective life-serving responses, a way to manage the paradoxical imperatives and identity-threatening pressures of our lives and work.

When Privacy Goes Poof! – Why It’s Gone and Never Coming Back

Get over it!” as Scott McNeeley said years ago about the end of privacy as we knew it is not the best advice. Only by understanding why it is gone and never coming back can we have a shot at rethinking what privacy means in the context of our evolving humanity.

Richard Thieme provides a historical and social context for some of that rethinking. He goes both deep and wide and challenges contemporary discussions of privacy to get real and stop using a 20th century framework.

Our technologies have changed everything, including us. We humans are loosely bounded systems of energy and information. We interact with other similar systems, both organic and inorganic, “natural” and “artificial.” These “differently sentient systems” all consist of nodes in intersecting networks extending in several dimensions. We have always known we were like cells in a body, but we emphasized “cell-ness.” Now we have to emphasize “body-ness” and re-imagine who we have become.

What we see depends on the level of abstraction at which we choose to look. Patterns extracted from data are either meta-data or just more data, depending on the level of scrutiny. The boundaries we like to imagine around our identities, our psyches, our “private internal spaces,” are violated in both directions, in and out, by symbolic data that, when aggregated, constitutes “us.” It’s like orange juice, broken down into different states before recombination as new juice; it is reconstituted by others but still constitutes “us,” and we are known by others more deeply in recombination than we know ourselves.

To understand privacy – even what we mean by “individual human beings” who want it – requires a contrary opinion. Privacy is honored in lip service, but not in the marketplace, where it is violated or taken away or eroded every day. To confront the challenges generated by technological change, we have to know what is happening so we can re-imagine what we mean by privacy, security, and identity. We can’t say what we can’t think. We need new language to articulate our experience and grasp the nature of the context in which we live. Then we can take the abstractions of data analytics and Big Data down to our level.

The weakest link in discussions of privacy is the definition of privacy, and the definition of privacy is not what we think. But pursue the real at your peril: Buddhists call enlightenment a “nightmare in daylight.” Yet when the screaming stops, it is enlightenment, still, after all. That clarity, that state of being, is the goal of this presentation.

Flying Blind: A Framework for Thinking About Biohacking … and Hacking … and Life

Not every country or person in the world talks the ethical talk often heard in the USA regarding (1) hacking (2) biotech (3) biohacking (4) the freedom to live (or die) as we like. And not every country or person who talks the talk, walks the walk. Different rules apply “inside” the national security apparatus than apply to “humplings” who hump along in the body of the bell curve and there are different rules for those with money and clout. I am going to try to talk about those slippery slopes and what they imply for ethics in the domains of hacking, biohacking … and life..

Ethics is just thinking together about what’s the right thing to do, the best thing to do, and the fun thing to do. And we can go off the tracks. From long experience on the edges, Thieme provides a framework for thinking about how to stay steady in a quaking world.

“Biohacking: A Voyage on the High Seas without GPS, Sextant or Stars”

Distinguishing the transhumanist hype from the sane science is not always easy. Then add the antics of real hackers to the mix – adventuresome sometimes reckless souls who want to tease out of a complex system ways to make it do what it was never designed to do, sometimes something playful, sometimes something malevolent. Biohacking is now established as the number one go-to domain for R&D in intelligence and counter-terrorism and a source of sleepless nights for those protecting food, humans, all other animals and plants, from mischief. And yes, we are well on the way to becoming another species – if mutants among us have not already taken that step.

Philip K. Dick was called a paranoid psychotic. But now we are living inside one of his novels.  From “Scanner Darkly” to “Androids Dreaming of Electric Sheep,” the future he imagined is already past, and the present is full of “unknown unknowns.” Take a walk on the wild side with Richard Thieme in this challenging keynote and be sure to bring your towel.

Richard Thieme recently spoke at Def Con for the 21st straight year. An author and professional illuminator of dark alleys, he has been addressing edgy issues for 23 years, traveling the globe and engaging with his betters, who teach him everything he knows. Whether speaking to the NSA about the chill wind blowing from their antics or keynoting Code Blue in Tokyo with “Fiction is the Only Way to Tell the Truth,” he makes the hyper-real real with insights and speculation and suggests strategies for staying more or less sane in a crazy world. As one enlightened author put it, “The situation is hopeless, but not serious.” So buckle up and enjoy the ride.

 

Hacking Humans: The Future-scape of a New Humanity

Government and corporate structures become more opaque while intrusion and surveillance makes the notion of “privacy” 20th century old-think. The interface of humans with other information systems slights the human itself as an open system of information flow. Research in biotech/nanotech/electromagnetic fields is largely neglected in discussions of privacy and security.

Current research in neuroscience and the extension and augmentation of senses is proceeding in directions that might sound like science fiction. Progress is rapid but unevenly distributed: Some is directed by military, intelligence and corporate interests but beyond their aims, we can discern the future shape of human identity in preliminary forms. Identity – the self we think we are – is undergoing transformation. We are thin-skinned, vulnerable open systems of energy and information interacting with other systems, and as IT eroded boundaries in the geopolitical world, making “foreign” and “domestic” obsolete, biotech is eroding boundaries around individuals and species and between “natural” and “artificial.”

The human body/brain is being hacked to explore radical applications for helping, healing, and harming this and future generations. It is all dual use. One area of research is the recovery of memories, the deletion of emotional charges from memories, the removal of specific memories, the alteration of the content of memories, and the implantation of new memories, some from other organisms and some false. Another area seeks to “read minds” at a distance and extract information. Another explores the use of genomes to understand and replicate thinking, feeling, and behavior patterns. Another implements mind-to-mind communication, using neuroscience to understand brains best suited for remote viewing as well as implants and non-invasive technologies that control the electromagnetic energies of the brain to enable psychokinesis, clairvoyance and telepathy.

Augmentation of human abilities is being achieved by splicing information from sensors into existing neurological channels. To feel the magnetic field of the earth, see the infrared and ultraviolet parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, discern the yaw and pitch of airplanes, see and hear by going around our eyes and ears — all this means we are experience the “self” in new ways.

“We” are more than we think we are, and not what we thought we were. This presentation seeks answers to the question the caterpillar asked Alice: “Who are you?”

Thinking Beyond the Edges: The Sources of Creativity

The edges of our thinking, the edges of consensus reality, the edges of organizational structures – that’s where new ideas first show up. Those we call “geniuses” see them first and give them names. Using the insights and wisdom of the best and the brightest of the infosec and hacking worlds as well as the practice of the craft of intelligence, this presentation demonstrates how creativity infuses the best practices of security and intelligence, how to tend it and make it more likely to happen, and how to capture it on the fly.

Hackers and makers and thinkers and dreamers create the mind of society as it evolves. They make the frame while others live in the picture and often do not see the frame. The battle between Jedi Knights and the Dark Side will never end, but one can choose to be a “Luke Skywalker” hearing the siren call of destiny on Tatooine and committing oneself to recreate humankind as it moves through a major transitional era by making extensions, enhancements, augmentations, and transformational engines of identity and personal and collective power.

Richard Thieme has a long track record of seeing and saying clearly what’s coming and what’s needed to thrive during times of radical change. His own reinventions of himself serve as evidence that one can master a resilient response along the way.

Thieme suggests strategies for making choices: join the powers, sidestep the powers, or die a martyr’s death at the hands of the powers. The stakes are high, and it’s no joke – disruptive technologies threaten current investments. The battles will be economic and political, but the geopolitical structures of the world are already morphing in response, and there are thousands of bays and inlets on the coastlines of a fractal reality. These days, the edges are endless.

Engage. Think critically. Design. Do.

“Hacking as Practice for Transplanetary Life in the 21st Century: How Hackers Frame the Pictures in Which Others Live

“In my end is my beginning,” said T. S. Eliot in The Four Quartets, and he might have been talking about hacking. Because radical hacking is a state of mind, an approach to life, the universe, everything, a practice that must be understood with humility, explored with persistence, and mastered with grace and a flair for style.

It begins in the beginning. In Zen we hear of “beginners’ eyes,” which look with no preconceptions and see clearly what is there. That also means we can distinguish what’s in our own minds, see our perceptual apparatus and distinguish it from what’s “out there.” The boundary where those meet, where we half create and half perceive the reality in which we live, is the fertile area where radical hacking takes place. It’s the brackish tidewater in which new forms of life are evolving.

So the future of hacking is in a way already here, a mold for possibility that draws us into itself. Those who allow the future to reach back to them and show them the way look like pioneers, creative geniuses, but really, they’re just hackers.

The future may exist, but not as we think it does. It’s not “there” in an objective way, it’s there as a possibility, actualized when we instantiate it. If that sounds like quantum physics, maybe it is: studies testing ESP have detected hits at a rate greater than chance for the next perception, the next event, suggesting the future is already available to us here and now.

But another point of view understands “the future” as how we hold ourselves here and now as possibilities for action. What we call the future is a range of possibilities and when we choose one, it happens in the now. And all is always now.

Thieme suggests possibilities for hacking aligned with these insights based on his experience. The necessity for mastering radical hacking is a non-trivial imperative, mandated by the untimely stories hackers must invent by making and creating contrary to the consensual realities of our time. They are untimely because they cause cognitive dissonance for those who inhabit the consensus, the “userspace” of our world, which is why hacking requires courage, discipline, the management of one’s ego, and a willingness to go as insane as a shaman, remembering how to return to the village of the present, the village of the damned.

Hackers worthy of the name live by the torchlight of doubt and chaos and find their way by fits and starts. Welcome to the world of not try, but do.

 


Staring into the Abyss: The Dark Side of Security and Professional
Intelligence

Nothing is harder to see than things we believe so deeply we don’t even
see them. This is certainly true in the “security space,” in which our
narratives are self-referential, bounded by mutual self-interest, and
characterized by a heavy dose of group-think. We become assimilated
by the conversation and cease to see the bigger picture.

An analysis of deeper political and economic structures reveals that
narrative and therefore our core beliefs in a new context which
illuminates mixed motivations, some of the reasons we chose to do this
work, and the interpenetration of overworlds and underworlds in our
global society and profession. This analysis will make you hesitate
before uncritically using the buzzwords and jargon of the profession –
words like “security,” “defense,” and “cyberwar,” and thinking in a
binary fashion of good guys and bad. By the end of this presentation,
simplistic distinctions between foreign and domestic, natural and
artificial, and us and them will have gone liquid while the complexities
of information security will remain … and continue to challenge us
personally and professionally.

The Only Way to Tell the Truth is in Fiction: The Dynamics of Life in the National Security State

Over a decade ago, a friend at the National Security Agency told Richard Thieme that he could address the core issues they discussed in a context of “ethical considerations for intelligence and security professionals” only if he wrote fiction. “It’s the only way you can tell the truth,” he said.

Three dozen published short stories and one novel-in-progress (FOAM) later, one result is “Mind Games,” published in 2010 by Duncan Long Publishing, a collection of stories that illuminates “non-consensual realities:” the world of hackers; the worlds of intelligence professionals; encounters with other intelligent life forms; and deeper states of consciousness.

A recent scholarly study of “The Covert Sphere” by Timothy Melley documents the way the growth and influence of the intelligence community since World War 2 has created precisely the reality to which that NSA veteran pointed. The source of much of what “outsiders” believe is communicated through novels, movies, and television programs. But even IC “insiders” rely on those sources, as compartmentalization prevents the big picture from coming together because few inside have a “need to know.”

Thieme asked a historian at the NSA what historical events they could discuss with a reasonable expectation that their words denoted the same details. “Anything up to 1945,” the historian said with a laugh – but he wasn’t kidding.

Point taken.

This fascinating presentation illuminates the mobius strip on which all of us walk as we make our way through the labyrinth of security and intelligence worlds we inhabit of necessity, all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time. It discloses why “post-modernism” is not an affectation but a necessary condition of modern life. It addresses the response of an intelligence analyst at NSA who responded to one of Thieme’s stories by saying, “most of this isn’t fiction, but you have to know which part to have the key to the code.” This talk does not provide that key, but it does provide the key to the key and throws into relief everything else you hear – whether from the platform or in the hallways – inside this conference. And out there in the “real world.”

“Nothing is what it seem.”

UFOs and Government: a Case Study in Disinformation, Deception, and Perception Management

There is no one “government.” There are many components of government that interact and respond to challenging and anomalous events, often contending with one another – and leaving their disputes on record.

UFOs were challenging and anomalous since the 1940s, when “foo fighters” trailed planes on bombing runs over Germany and Japan. But strange flying vehicles did not go away when the war ended. In the 1950s, the CIA advocated training observers “inside” to learn what they could while dismissing reports from “outside.”

To understand why and how a government responds that way is analogous to hacking a complex system. One has to do appropriate reconnaissance, then execute effective counter-measures, then engage in offensive operations.

The proliferation of reliable reports of unidentified flying objects elicited a response that feels familiar in the days of Assange, Snowden, and the NSA. UFOs were anomalous, well-documented, and challenging because, as Major General John Samford said, “credible people have seen incredible things.” Snowden, too, thought he had seen incredible things that needed to be brought into the light.

But this talk isn’t about Snowden, it’s about how governments manage these challenges. An NSA veteran thinks that Thieme’s talk is “perfect timing – it’s about how the government deals with serious yet largely unknown or not understood potential threats, while trying desperately to keep the public from knowing what they are doing. What better way to discuss the current situation at a meta level, without ever getting into the knee-jerk muddle of response to current events? You can’t ask for a better context for this talk.”

Richard Thieme was privileged to be invited to join the UFO History Group which includes the best researchers in the field. After 5 years of work, they produced “UFOs and Government: A Historical Inquiry,” an outstanding work of historical scholarship that reads like a fascinating detective story. In almost 600 pages and with nearly 1000 citations, the work illuminates the response of the government since the early 1940s. how and why policies were set, and how they were executed. Reviewers say, “this is the best book about the UFO phenomena that was ever written” and “UFOs and Government is a triumph of sober, conscientious scholarship unlikely to be equaled for years to come.”

Don Quixote said, “Insanity is seeing things as they really are.” This speech uses UFO phenomena as dye in the arteries of “how things really are.” And how governments carry out cover and deception with all of the best intentions in the world.

Soft Boundaries: Challenges to Identity, Structure and Security

All systems are means of exchanging knowledge, information, and energy, some public and some private. But how do we define public and private partnerships, distinguish governmental from non-governmental organizations, or characterize non-state entities when we live in amorphous clouds of power created by distributed networks?

We know we should work together to fight the bad guys. But in a world of porous borders, melting boundaries, and geopolitical restructuring, how do we know who is who? How do we play the intelligence game when the board itself is disappearing?

This speech confronts the challenges of soft boundaries and the transformation of the structures in which we live, identifies some of the consequences of identity-shift and distinguishes the business of
security from the myths of the security business. It describes new ways to organize ourselves, ways that complement rather than replace more traditional methods of defending both electronic and human networks.

Living in a World Without Walls

Ten years ago hacking was a frontier; ten years from now, hacking will be embedded in everything we do, defined by the context in which it emerges. Real hackers will be pushing the frontiers of information networks, perception management, the wetware/dryware interface, and the exploration of our galactic neighborhood. Mastery means not only having the tools in your hands but knowing that you have them … and using them to build the Big Picture.

Because identity is by social agreement and social agreement is manufactured, managed, and manipulated on the internet these days. We should all know that by now, but knowing something and acting on it are two different things. We live in the confines of prior technologies as if they define our lives – think “horseless carriages” before “automobiles.” Even as the frames of the 20th century dissolve, we live as if they persist.

The Russians have been at it for a long time, but so have we and many others. To have a clue as to what’s real these days, we need to be counter intelligence experts, and most don’t have the time for that. So we uncritically accept that we live in digital cages large enough to let us flap our wings and have the illusion of freedom and flight, but the cage keeps turning and takes us with it.

Richard Thieme invented that phrase,“real birds in digital cages,” a quarter of a century ago. He has worked with colleagues at the NSA, the Pentagon, the Secret Service, the FBI, and more to frame ways to flee those cages. Reality is that which does not go away even when we refuse to believe in it. The task is not trivial but it IS necessary if we are to remain capable of sane decisions as a digital tsunami washes away the structures of a prior society.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Bev Deprey January 18, 2018 at 10:08 PM

Could definitely use more details. Not just teasers.

JimBob January 18, 2018 at 10:33 PM

Hey, Richard. This is great, but you’ve doubled the content up accidentally; and the whole thing would benefit from a bit of extra formatting!

rthieme January 19, 2018 at 10:46 AM

Thanks, will check. I don’t know WHAT wordpress does to destroy formatting that looks right on two word processors 🙂

rthieme January 19, 2018 at 10:56 AM

Many are on you tube so you can scratch that itch over there. I did the webinar, now posted yesterday …

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