Pluralistic: 26 Oct 2020

Today's links

Phone surveillance, made in Canada (permalink)

In 2013, Daniel Rigmaiden – facing life in prison for 35 counts each of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft – was offered a surprise deal by federal prosecutors.

They knew that he had uncovered an obsessively kept secret: that he had been caught with a surveillance device called a "Stingray" – a fake cellular tower that tricked phones into leaking their owners' identities to its operators.

Stingrays were made by the Harris Corporation, a notorious arms dealer. They came with onerous secrecy requirements that the feds enforced with criminal ruthlessness, like ordering cops to lie on the stand about how they caught their suspects.

Then it escalated to a French farce with a soupcon of police-state commando raids, when federal cops started raiding local police departments to steal their records so they couldn't be entered into evidence in trials.

Stingrays are a brutal reminder of the idiocy of "NOBUS" ("No one but us"), the US surveillance agencies' practice of deliberately creating and/or preserving defects in widely used systems so they can target their adversaries with them.

By preserving and exploiting – rather than reporting and repairing – the defects in cellular networks, the US government paved the way for criminal enterprises that fielded their own Stingrays, to track and infect their victims' phones.

By 2018, our cities were blanketed with mysterious Stingray devices – 40 were found in DC alone, presumed to be operated by foreign spies, criminal gangs, private espionage outfits, and US law enforcement agencies.

The US officials who deliberately weakened the US's mobile security insists it's a small price to pay for foiling major crimes. A closer look reveals that the major uses for Stingrays were penny-ante stuff, like tracking down an undocumented waiter.

And of course, this summer's BLM uprising saw Stingrays get a major workout as local law enforcement engaged in mass, warrantless surveillance of democratic protesters.

Now, Gizmodo reports that Harris has gotten out of the Stingray business, discontinuing sales and support for the existing units in the field. The likely cause is 5G, which requires a major retooling for this kind of surveillance.

But (according to Dell Cameron and Dhruv Mehrotra) US cops have a new arms-dealer, the Montreal-based Octasic, whose Nyxcell V800/F800 TAU cellular surveillance devices are marketed in the USA by Tactical Support Equipment of North Carolina.

Octasic's engineers seem to be headquartered in India, a country that, this year, saw the longest-ever internet shutdown of any country in the world, combined with mass-scale mobile surveillance.

US police departments are funneling millions to this Canadian firm. Canada's own law enforcement has a terrible track record with Stingrays, having secretly (and illegally) used them for years:

If you want to understand more about Stingrays, EFF's Threat Lab published an indispensible guide to the technology in 2019 that I highly recommend:

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY, modified)

Chile restores democratic rule (permalink)

Neoliberalism's starting gun went off on 1973, when a US- and UK-backed fascist military deposed Salvador Allende, the incredibly popular, democratically elected president of Chile.

The coup embodied Peter Thiel's summation of the libertarian principle that "Democracy is incompatible with liberty," where "liberty" means the freedom of the 1% to amass unlimited wealth at the expense of the starving, brutalized 99%.

The new dictator, Augusto Pinochet, was feted by Anglo-American right wing figures, including the elite of the Chicago School of Economics and their cult leader, Friedrich Hayek, who traveled to Chile to oversee a program of torture and murder as Pinochet consolidated power.

Pinochet's program was designed to cow the Chilean people into subservience, with thousands of disappearances and human remains left in trash-bags on the side of the highway. Government thugs kidnapped opposition figures and pushed them out of helicopters.

Folk singer Victor Jara was dragged to a stadium filled with his comrades. Soldiers smashed his guitar and fingers and then ordered him to play. As he began a defiant chorus of "Venceremos," he was shot in the head. Then, more than 40 rounds were unloaded into his corpse.

Pinochet's most lasting legacy was the Chilean constitution, a masterwork in antimajoritarianism that takes the worst aspects of the US Senate and Electoral College and supercharges them, creating a framework for an eternal domination of the many by the few.

In the years since, Chile – the richest country in the region – became the most unequal country in the region. That constitution was a looter's charter, a blanket permission for the wildly profitable immiseration of working people by parasitic rentiers.

The Chilean coup and reconstruction were the prototype for the neoliberal project. In the decades since, leaders like Thatcher and Reagan – and the vast fortunes that supported them – used it as a template for policy and legislation at home.

What's more, the Chilean model was exported to the rest of the global south through the IMF and other neoliberal institutions that used the pretense of indebtedness to create the conditions for eternal peonage for the world's majority.

Bans on labor organizing, imposed austerity, selloffs of state industries to foreign corporations that could gouge on life's essentials – water, transport, power, even seeds – to ensure that colonial debt could never be paid off.

A year ago, Chile exploded. A student protest movement – triggered by fare hikes in a privatized transit system – tapped into the nation's deep, simmering rage, the increasingly obvious fact of inexorable, bottomless downward social mobility.

People from all walks of life took to the streets – and stayed there. The protests grew, and as they did, the facade of eternal dominance of rich over poor crumbled. The constitution, rammed through by a murdering despot, became the object of the nation's fury.

It is a document designed to deliver legislative control to the wealthy and their lackeys, and, more importantly, to make impossible for any of that to change.

The Chileans demanded the impossible: they demanded a new constitution.

Now, a year later, a referendum to overturn the Chilean constitution has passed with a spectacular majority: 78% (!!) (!!!!).

What's more, 79% of voters asked for the new constitution to be drawn up by a popularly elected commission, rather than by the illegitimate congress installed under the rules of the constitution they have set out to abolish.

The exact method by which the new constitution will be drafted remains to be seen, and the process could still go horribly awry.

But this is light at the end of a tunnel we've been traveling for half a century.

The US right has embarked on its own Chilean project, with the GOP bent on creating eternal minority rule through systematic sabotage of America's democratic institutions, from voting:

to the Supreme Court.

Senior elected lawmakers from the GOP have started openly campaigning against the very IDEA of democracy:

And yet… The summerlong uprisings, people lining up all day to vote, the record small-dollar fundraising for transformative US politicians like AOC… There is a changing tide in US politics, and in global politics.

The Chicago School's ideal of plutocracy was tried, and it failed. It created a world incapable of addressing the pandemic emergency, let alone the climate emergency. It made billionaires out of sociopaths. They've been shoving us out of a helicopter for half a century.

Last year, a US-backed coup sought to depose Evo Morales, the democratically elected, indigenous socialist leader of Bolivia. Last week, Bolivians returned to the polls and delivered a landslide for Morales.

Plutocracy declared war on the human race and the only planet capable of supporting it in 1973. Today, their first fortress has fallen. In a moment of stark terror and despair, that is cause for hope and celebration.

(Image: FundaciĂłn GAP, CC BY-NC-SA)

Someone Comes to Town, Part 20 (permalink)

This week on my podcast, part 20 of my serialized reading of my 2006 novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, a book that Gene Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."

You can catch up on previous installments in the reading here:

And here's a direct MP3 link (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive, they'll host your stuff for free, forever):

And here's the feed for my podcast:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Bruce Sterling’s design future manifesto: viva spime!

#10yrsago South Korea’s US-led copyright policy leads to 65,000 acts of extrajudicial censorship/disconnection/threats by govt bureaucrats

#10yrsago Raiders of the Lost Ark as a Popeye comic

#5yrsago BBC helps Saudis whitewash arms trade to Syrian jihadis

#5yrsago Near-future Ikea catalog: the Internet of Things’ flat-pack as a service

#5yrsago Sony licensed stock footage, then branded its creator a pirate for using it himself

#5yrsago Youtube’s pay TV service makes video-creators a deal they literally can’t refuse

#5yrsago IMF: Cheap oil will bankrupt the Saudis in five years

#1yrago New Hampshire state Rep John Potucek kills Right to Repair bill: “cellphones are throwaways…just get a new one”

#1yrago Researchers’ budget blown when a migrating eagle’s tracker chip connects to an Iranian cellular tower and sends expensive SMSes

#1yrago Nearly all Americans’ taxes will go down under Medicare for All

#1yrago “Affordances”: a new science fiction story that climbs the terrible technology adoption curve

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Metafilter (, Schneier (, Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 518 words (76615 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 20)

Upcoming appearances: Schneier (,

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla