Encryption and Terrorism: Pushing a Big Lie

After the attacks in Paris last November, our top security people said encryption apps were responsible. Authorities couldn’t stop the terrorists because new technology allows them to operate undercover (see FBI and CIA;  also, check leaders’ responses to the Hebdo and recent Brussels attacks).

Then the truth came out. The Paris killers didn’t use encryption. Instead, they relied on disposable “burner” phones to mask their movements (for more, go to BGR, ars, techdirt and The Intercept).

Truth Won’t Stop the Propaganda Mill

Like the boy who cried “wolf,” authorities have generated a predictable response to every recent attack:  Terrorists have “gone dark.” Because government spies are unable to track them, the threat only increases.

President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also jumped on the bandwagon. They agree that encryption is the new boogeyman. And that means law enforcement needs back doors to tap encrypted messages. Cameron is even calling for a ban on encryption in the UK.

Doubling Down on a Lie

Then, three months after the November attacks, the head of the U.S. National Security Agency enlarged on the original false claim: “Paris would not have happened” without encrypted apps, according to Adm. Michael Rogers.

That’s extreme and ludicrous. A technology was the sole enabling factor in the Paris attacks? Police incompetence played no part?

But, in light of the facts surrounding the Paris murders, Roger’s statement is pure hogwash. Why would a vitally important official repeat such an obvious untruth? As noted, Rogers spoke months after we found out encryption had nothing to do with the Paris slaughter. So what gives?

The Big Lie Technique

This rhetorical ploy is called the “Big Lie.” Hitler and his henchmen used it to consolidate their power during the 1930s. It’s simple. If trusted leaders repeat an outrageous lie often enough, people start believing it.

The technique works because accepting the lie is easier than believing a highly placed authority figure would engage in such a massive deception. As Hitler put it, no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” (For another example of the big lie, recall the fabrications, exaggerations and misrepresentations that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

It’s Fishy and It Stinks

So this, apparently, is the new game plan: The surveillance state wants back door access into every encryption technology. With the expanded monitoring, government spies will track everyone as much as possible. At the same time, they’ll conveniently ignore the unfortunate truth that extremists can easily dodge mass surveillance without using encryption software.

(And all this is a major irony because we have strong indications that available encryption software is vulnerable, possibly having back doors already installed for Big Brother’s access. Rogers and other surveillance mandarins are obviously playing a double game; they already have access to many or all encrypted messages, but they say encryption is enabling terrorist acts.

Deception and the Encryption Issue

The new set of talking points is alarming because of its transparent duplicity. By laying blame at the door of the technocrats, Big Brother has tipped his hand — as much as to confess he hasn’t a clue when it comes to fighting terrorism.

He’s going the red-herring route, but it makes sense from his perspective. If Big Bro targets a “technology” as the only reason for failure in the counter-terror effort, everyone may overlook the trillions that are thrown away on surveillance. (And, significantly, Big Brother has a sorry track record in the counter-terrorism realm. Our electronic spies have apparently never uncovered or disrupted even a single terror plot.)

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