One computer security concern is that various insiders — including hardware and software manufacturers, and governments which may compel them to comply — will build back doors into their products to allow the security to be compromised.

Doing this is a terrible idea. A back door put in for government surveillance or police use is also vulnerable to use for any purpose by anyone who discovers it. There’s no way to create strong encryption and security against everyone except the government, so building in back doors means deliberately spreading insecure systems throughout your society. When you deliberately design your systems to be vulnerable to one attacker (however well-motivated and regulated) you inevitably create an attack vector for an unauthorized person. You also face vulnerability if the mechanism of the backdoor is reverse engineered by unregulated agents, like criminal groups or foreign governments. With the degree of espionage focused in high-tech industry, it’s hard to imagine that any government could keep their back door strictly for their own use when well-resourced and determined opponents would also achieve many objectives through access.

The latest high-profile example of such a back door is the revelation that Swiss cryptography firm Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA. There have been numerous recent news stories, but the same information was reported in 1995. The National Security Archive has some further context.



Don Braid is reporting on recent comments from Alberta premier Jason Kenney, presumably uttered in the hope of bolstering the chances the Trudeau cabinet will approve the Teck Frontier mine:

“Over the next decades as we go through the energy transition, we all know that there will be a continued demand for crude,” he told a panel at Washington’s Wilson Center last Friday.

Kenney added: “It is preferable that the last barrel in that transition period comes from a stable, reliable liberal democracy with among the highest environmental, human-rights and labour standards on earth.”

Energy transition. Last barrel. Transition period. Six not-so-little words we’ve never heard clearly from Kenney before.

“I have a firm grasp of the obvious,” Kenney said in a later interview. “There is no reasonable person that can deny that in the decades to come we will see a gradual shift from hydrocarbon-based energy to other forms of energy.”

There is still a lot to criticize, of course, and Canadian oil is far less positive from an environmental and human rights stance than industry boosters admit.

Still, there is cause to see these comments as significant. Even for a politician that defines their political programme in terms of support to the oil and gas industry it has become necessary to acknowledge that there is a limit to total permissible global production because of climate change, even if Kenney talks about it here in the impersonal and indirect language of a ‘change in demand’.

Kenney is setting out the logic of the bitumen industry’s downfall here, even though he is trying to do the opposite. Once you accept that oil production can’t continue forever or until all reserves are exhausted, and then you start deciding which oil to produce or not produce on economic and environmental grounds, unless you have motivated reasoning and a set conclusion all along, few people are going to conclude that it makes sense for that oil to come from the bitumen sands.

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Hi Holly


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Samoyed (By icezar, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/)


Now that it seems virtually certain that the US senate will acquit Donald Trump the key question about resisting him effectively is who the Democrats could nominate to beat him in November.

There are passionate arguments in favour of both a progressive and a moderate. William Saletan at Slate argues that being able to run against Bernie Sanders and socialism is just what Trump wants: enough Americans are or can be made fearful enough of socialism to give him a path to victory. On the other side are those who argue that a moderate candidate like Joe Biden has the best chance of winning, even if there may be less reason to hope that such an administration will make big positive changes. Of course, there are also those who argue that a progressive candidate will be so out of step with congress that even if they win they will spend their term getting blocked from implementing all their big ideas.

What’s happening in the US is frightening. Republicans have proved terrifyingly willing to back an incompetent president who aspires to authoritarianism, and America’s checks and balances have somewhat hampered but not really impeded his agenda. Republicans seem to have made the cynical calculation that supporting Trump can get them what they care about – whether that’s gun rights, conservative judges, uncritical support for Israel or whatever else – and that the steamroll strategy which blocked Obama’s last supreme court nominee can help them keep winning. At the same time, relatively mainstream Republicans perceive the intense emotions of Trump supporters and fear what will happen to them if they openly break ranks.

It’s a mark of the decay of US politics that it was ever possible for Trump to be nominated and elected. It’s even more disturbing that his contempt for the law has now been ratified by the senate and chief justice. Virtually anybody would be better and might have some chance to start repairing the damage, but it’s also quite possible the Democrats will elect someone whose flaws are sufficient to let Trump win again. If so, we can expect a second term to be a further erosion of the supports which maintain America as a free and democratic society.


There are several reasons to conclude that the world today is experiencing a nuclear arms race alongside conventional military buildup by many actors and a breakdown of multilateral cooperation.

Partly driven by US ballistic missile defence development, Russia began deploying weapon systems meant to counter them like the Topol-M in the 1990s. Now they are talking about hypersonic weapons and underwater cruise missiles.

China’s nuclear arsenal is developing, including through a rapidly enlarging submarine fleet with the resulting ability to carry out very rapid sub-to-shore SLBM strikes as well as less vulnerability to having land-based weapons and command systems destroyed.

India and Pakistan are also developing their nuclear capabilities, which may be the most threatening in the world because of the short flight times between the countries. Fear that a preemptive strike may destroy their ability to retaliate may be driving both countries to adopt dangerous policies to launch on what they perceive to be an attack and to delegate authority to use nuclear weapons to field commanders.

In the broadest terms, the US development of nuclear weapons in WWII encouraged Soviet weapon development (partly through extensive espionage in the US program) as well as British nuclear weapons after the US cut off cooperation. UK-French rivalry, national prestige, and skepticism about US protection helped motivate the French arsenal and their first test in 1960. Fear of Russia and the US led to Chinese nuclear weapons after 1964, and fear of the Chinese arsenal helped drive India to develop nuclear weapons and test one in 1974. Fear of India led to the current Pakistani arsenal and their test in 1998. North Korean nuclear weapons are partly consequences of fear of the United States, and also the hope they will bolster regime legitimacy and survival. The Israeli arsenal isn’t known to have been tested, and may have been motivated more by fear of being overwhelmed by conventional forces from hostile neighbours than specifically from fear of someone else’s nuclear weapons.

Despite being bound by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty not to do so, all of the long-established nuclear powers have been tempted by geopolitics or profits to share technologies and expertise that helped later nuclear weapon states.

There is now a credible fear that regional nuclear arms races could break out in the Middle East and Asia. There are whispers that Pakistan has promised weapons to Saudi Arabia if Iran ever becomes a nuclear weapon state, and other states in the region may choose the same course. In Asia, South Korea and even Japan may be secretly considering nuclearization, and many other states in the region have the wealth and technical potential to do likewise.

These weapons threaten everyone, not least because accidental or unauthorized launches or detonations are a constant risk. The best thing for the world would be the emergence of a belief that possessing nuclear weapons is a stain on a country’s honour because of their indiscriminately killing power, not a golden demonstration of national prestige. I believe we should fight for a world where these fissile isotopes are put to life-affirming purposes rather than the threat of obliteration, but it’s hard to see the path from here to there while states continue to grow more distrustful about one another and while the capabilities needed to build nuclear arms become more distributed and available.


Because the alternative is deep and rapid emissions cuts which countries are unwilling to implement, the IPCC now assumes that stabilizing the climate will involve heavy use of negative emission technologies: “between 100bn and 1trn tonnes of CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere by the end of the century if the Paris goals were to be reached; the median value was 730bn tonnes–that is, more than ten years of global emissions.”

There are numerous possible options. CO2 could be separated from flue gasses from power plants, compressed, and injected underground. If those power plants burn biomass which recently took CO2 out of the atmosphere, that could help draw down the stock of carbon in the atmosphere. That approach is called bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or BECCS. It’s also possible to separate CO2 directly from the air and bury it (direct capture). It’s also worth bearing in mind that sometimes CO2 is injected underground to push up oil to be sold (enhanced oil recovery or EOR). In that case, it likely creates more emissions than it avoids since the same volume of oil is pushed out and then likely burned in a vehicle where it cannot be captured.

All this may be highly questionable as a climate change solution and, indeed, the main push for CCS is from corporations and states that don’t want to give up fossil fuel production. The notion the technology will eventually exist at scale helps justify today’s fossil fuel burning, even though right now we’re buying about 40 million tonnes of CO2 while emitting 43.1 billion tonnes. Burying any substantial fraction of global CO2 emissions would mean compressing and burying many times the total quantity of oil we take out of the ground — with everything that implies about costs, deployment times, and capital requirements — and this whole infrastructure would require energy to run instead of producing it, either requiring us to deploy yet-more climate-safe energy to build and power the equipment or putting us in the self-defeating position of burning more fossil fuels to generate energy to bury the CO2 from the fossil fuels we already burned.


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In Victoria today, about ten young Indigenous protestors were arrested after occupying the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources building.

Meanwhile, British security authorities have categorized Greenpeace and the Extinction Rebellion with far-right groups and neo-Nazis.

Today’s George Monbiot column calls out how government security forces have often been more focused on threats to the political and economic order than on genuine threats to security:

The police have always protected established power against those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this country. Part of it is empire-building: if police units can convince the government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they can argue for more funding.

But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world, corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen. A recent article in the Intercept seeks to discover why the US Justice Department and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “You don’t have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something about these rightwing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights activists.

Decarbonization is going to be a huge political fight, and it’s clear that the fossil fuel industry has the support of the security and surveillance states which have exploded since the September 11th, 2001 attacks. At the societal level we need to reconceptualize the threats which we face and the appropriate means for dealing with them. Armed force in defence of economic interests which hope and plan to keep fossil fuel use going as long as possible is the opposite.