OHM and other Three-Letter-Agencies

<originally a column for OHM2013.org – also on HuffPo UK> – video of The Great Spook Panel below this post

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

This summer the Dutch hacker community, with help from friends all over the world, will organise the seventh hacker festival in a series that started in 1989 with the Galactic Hacker Party. The world has changed massively since then (we’ll get to that) but the goal of these gatherings remains the same: to share knowledge and ideas about technology and its implications for our world, have heated discussions on what we should do about the problems we see (sometimes well before many others see them), generally have fun in communicating without keyboards, and being excellent to each other.

Four years ago a somewhat unknown Australian hacker with some new ideas about the future of journalism gave the opening keynote at HAR2009. His site was called Wikileaks and some of us had a hunch that this concept might be going places. We had no idea just how far that would be…

Not long after the first gathering in the Netherlands in 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. While we can claim no connection, the interminable Cold War had finally ended and many of us felt, with the optimism so typical of youth, that world peace might just be possible in our lifetimes. We would go back to making rockets that went up instead of straight-and-level and other great things would follow.

Regrettably that was not to be. First the .coms imploded, then three skyscrapers in New York, and soon after that our entire economy turned out to be a sort of multi-level-marketing casino. The 3rd millennium has started with a bang that is still echoing around the planet. Since then we’ve seen the ‘free’ part of the world become rather un-free rather fast. “US Department of Homeland Security relaxing a ban on toenail clippers” would have been be a scary headline for someone in 1993 on several levels. But in 2013 it is just one of those things to which people have sadly become accustomed.

What happened? And is there anything we can do about it? Why not ask some of the people who were insiders with some of those three-letter-agencies-that-many-of-us-fear*, who left and are now speaking out often at great personal risk and cost. Five former insiders from different government organisations will all give talks about their experiences within various secret agencies and provide a historic context to what is happing right now.

The alphabet soup begins with ex-CIA Ray McGovern who is now an outspoken and indefatigable international peace campaigner. Ray will give a broad historic context based on his experiences as an analyst and presidential ‘daily-briefer’ during a career with the CIA that started during the Vietnam war.

Ex-FBI Coleen Rowley will talk about her experience working against organized crime and terrorist organisations at the FBI. She went public over the intelligence-sharing failures that allowed 9/11 to happen, and in 2002 was voted “Time” Person of the Year.

In a more recent case, ex-NSA and natural-born geek Thomas Drake and ex-DoJ Jesselyn Radack will discuss Tom’s whistleblowing case relating to his work for the NSA were he was managing very large information gathering projects. Tom was one of the first victims of the recent US push-back against whistleblowers under the reanimated 1917 US Espionage Act and was threatened with life in prison.

Annie Machon, a former intelligence officer for MI5, will discuss her experience working for UK’s Security Service against terrorist organisations, why she became a whistleblower about the crimes and incompetence of the UK spies, and how all of this relates to current developments both in the Middle East and the shredding of our civil liberties in the West.

To try to make sense of all these insights and figure out what we should do to get out of the mess, the five experts will discuss our options in a special “Spook Panel”, and you can join in. How can we resist, retain privacy and perhaps get back to a world where you can get on a plane without being prodded, scanned and forced to give up dangerous materials like mineral water?

It is easy and understandable to get depressed about the world today, but that doesn’t help. Hackers are people who do things. So join us, share your knowledge, creativity and talents to help figure out what we can do to fix this. New media, crypto, art, networks, music, blogging, fast & clever analysis of news and patient explanations of history & culture. We need it all and much more. And we need everyone to help out because while the freedom to play with tech is vital, the freedom to do so while not being subjected to ‘extraordinary rendition‘, torture, or drone-strikes is even more important.

The summer of 1989 was long, hot and free. Let’s make another one at OHM2013.

*)If you don’t fear these agencies you’re either not paying attention or you have a very boring life.

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