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From: (Cliff Figallo)
Subject: EFF Speaks to CIA
Message-ID: <>
Summary: John Barlows remarks before the Intelligence Community
Sender: (NNTP News Poster)
Organization: The Electronic Frontier Foundation
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1993 15:36:39 GMT
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Remarks of John Perry Barlow
to the 
First International Symposium on National Security & National 
McLean, Virginia
December 1, 1993

I can't tell you the sense of strangeness that comes over 
someone who earns his living writing Grateful Dead songs, 
addressing people who earn their livings as many of you do, 
especially after hearing the last speaker. If you don't 
appreciate the irony of our appearing in succession, you have 
no sense of irony at all. You and I inhabit very different 
worlds, but I am pleased to note, as my presence here strongly 
suggests, these two worlds may be growing closer.

The reason I am here has absolutely nothing to do with the 
Grateful Dead. I'm here because I met a fellow named Mitch 
Kapor in 1989. Despite obvious differences, I felt as if we'd 
both been up in the same saucer or something...that we shared 
a sense of computers being more than just better adding 
machines or a better typewriters. We saw that computers, 
connected together, had the capacity to create an environment 
which human beings could and did inhabit.

Yesterday, I was encouraged to hear evidence that [former 
Presidential Science Advisor] Dr. Jay Keyworth and [Conference 
Organizer and former CIA agent] Robert Steele, might have 
been up in that saucer too. The people who share this 
awareness are natives of the future. People who have a hard 
time with it may always be immigrants.

When Mitch and I saw that computers had created a place, we 
started asking some questions about what kind of place it 
was....what were the operating terms and conditions of this 
place, what kinds of people already lived there, who was going 
to inhabit it, what was going on in it, did it have a name?

We decided to name it Cyberspace, after Bill Gibson's 
description of a futuristic place rather like it which we found in 
his novel Neuromancer. Rather than being a figment of Bill's 
imagination, we felt that Cyberspace was already up and 

Indeed, if you're having trouble with the concept, ask yourself 
where phone conversation takes place. That's right. Cyberspace 
is where you are when you're on the phone. It's also where 
most of your money is, unless you keep it in Krugerands buried 
out in the garden...which I suppose some folks in this room 
might just do. It's also...and I think this is very important... the 
place where the greater part of the world's business is 
happening now. 
So it's a highly significant locale, and yet it's invisible to most of 
the people who are in it every day of their lives. I believe it 
was Marshall McLuhan who said, "We don't know who it was 
that discovered water, but we're pretty sure it wasn't a fish..."

In any case, when EFF first got together, our principal concern 
was making certain the U.S. Constitution applied to Cyberspace. 
We could see the government, specifically the Secret Service, 
taking actions which made it obvious that they didn't quite get 
it. They didn't seem to be acting out of malice, but they were, 
at best, differently clued. They clearly didn't understand that 
the First Amendment applied as certainly to bytes as it did to 
ink on paper.

At the time we thought that we could just hire a few nasty civil 
liberties lawyers from New York to put the fear of God in them, 
and that would be that. But it's been like tugging at a thread on 
your sweater, where you begin to pull, and pretty soon you 
have more thread on the ground than on your back. It turns 
out that there are questions raised in this environment to 
which we don't have good answers. 
Indeed, it turns out that this is a place where the First 
Amendment...along with just about every other law on the a local ordinance. There are no clean jurisdictional 
boundaries. This is a place which may always be outside the 
law. This may be an unwelcome concept, but it is true, and it is 
something we will all have to grapple with as society moves 
into the virtual world.

I believe you folks in the Intelligence Community are going to 
be  challenged by these issues as directly as anyone. This is 
because intelligence, and especially the CIA and NSA, are 
supposed to work under stern guidelines intended to separate 
the domestic from the foreign. You're not supposed to be 
conducting domestic surveillance. Well, in Cyberspace, the 
difference between domestic and foreign, in fact the difference 
between any country and any other country, the difference 
between us and them, is extremely blurry. If it exists at all...

This is also an economic environment in which everyone seems 
to be everywhere at once. I hear you're becoming interested in 
protecting American Business from foreign espionage. But 
against this "everywhereness" it becomes very difficult to say, 
"Alright, this is our guy, this is General Motors, we're going to 
take care of his interests." Nothing is so cleanly delineated.

These are a few of the fundamental changes which arise as a 
result of literally moving out of the world of experience and 
onto the map of information. Another one which is especially 
pertinent to the people in this room, is what happens when you 
have direct e-mail access to every member of your 

This can have a terrifically decentralizing effect on structure. It 
weakens hierarchy. It flattens the organization. It can create 
one hell of a lot of confusion, even as it speeds response time. 
There are in this room representatives of some tall and rigid 
outfits. Prepare for the possibility that your organization is 
about to go all flat and squishy due to tenderizing influence of 

We are also looking at a complete redefinition of ownership 
and property. I mean, we now have the mind as our principle 
source of commercial goods. At last it seems we can we can 
really get something for nothing. As recently as fifteen years 
ago all new wealth derived from minerals extraction or 
agriculture. Everything else was simply passing it around. No 
longer must you rip your goods from the ground. You don't 
have to wait for the sun to grow some. New wealth can be had 
by just sitting around and rubbing some facts 
together...essentially what you folks have been doing all along. 
This economy of virtual substance is a fundamental change and 
one which you can exploit if you're willing. 
We're also looking at some fundamental shifts in the nature of 
property. This is going to be relevant to you as you move into a 
more open interaction with the rest of the world. In an 
information economy, much depends on the sanctity of 
copyright. But copyright, it turns out, derives most of its force 
from the physical manifestation of intellectual property.  
Copyright protects expression, the thing that happens when 
you print a book or press a record. In Cyberspace, you don't get 
that manifestation. It never goes physical.

So the bottles we have been relying on for the protection of our 
intellectual goods are disappearing, and, since we've been 
selling bottles and not wine all along, we will soon have a lot of 
wine and nothing to put it in. Interesting problems will arise. 
They're already upon us. 
In any case, when EFF saw the multitude of things going on in 
this arena, we battened ourselves down for the long haul, and 
we are dealing with a whole range of issues, including the Open 
Platform initiative. Which is our effort to try to deploy 
something like universal data service. 
We believe that the best thing that could happen for the 
American economy, and actually the best thing that could 
happen for liberty on the Planet Earth, would be to make 
everyone capable of jacking in if they want to. 
We find that other countries are lagging in this. For example, 
the Japanese see absolutely no use for high speed personal data 
connections. The folks at NTT certainly can't see any reason to 
trade their 70,000 operators on digital switches. So we have a 
significant leg up on the Japanese that is not well known in this 
Another thing that we are working on is the FBI's Digital 
Telephony proposal which is, as you may know, the idea that 
we should stop all telecommunications progress in this country 
in order to accommodate the FBI is just amazing to me, and yet 
it somehow manages to live on Congress. 
Also, for those of you whose badges say U.S. Government [code 
for National Security Agency], we are trying to overturn NSA's 
data encryption embargo. It's our position that trying to 
embargo software is like trying to embargo wind. This is a fact 
that you are going to have to come to grips with. Digitized 
information is very hard to stamp "classified" or keep 
This stuff is incredibly leaky and volatile. It's almost a life form 
in its ability to self-propagate. If something hits the Net...and 
it's something which people on there find will 
spread like a virus of the mind. I believe you must simply 
accept the idea that we are moving into an environment where 
any information which is at all interesting to people is going to 
get out. And there will be very little that you can do about it. 
This is not a bad thing in my view, but you may differ...

I'm going to talk a little bit now about the very nature of 
information. This conference, I must say, has blown me away. I 
had no idea there were people in your [the intelligence] 
community talking about these things. I am pleased and 
gratified by the folks I have met here and talked to personally, 
but I want to reiterate Dr. Keyworth's phrase yesterday: which 
is that government, especially American government, must end 
its obsession with secrecy.

We must do so because we are engaged in...and I don't want to 
use the word warfare here...we are engaged in a form of 
economic competition where our principal advantage is our 
ability to distribute information. It is not our ability to conceal 

Perhaps this has always been true. Let me tell you a story. Last 
year, I was addressing the computer security establishment at 
the Department of Energy. These are the people in charge of 
protecting the computers that nuclear weapons get designed 
The other keynote speaker at this conference was, uh, Edward 
Teller. [Laughter.] Yeah, well, I was pretty sure if evil walked 
the planet, its name was Edward Teller. Anyway, I got up and 
said that I wasn't sure that DOE's secrecy was an asset. I wasn't 
going to say that it was a liability, so much as beside the point. 
After all, I know how to make an atomic bomb. 
You give me five and a half pounds of weapons grade 
plutonium and a week in my garage and I'll give you a nuclear 
weapon. It will be dirty, but it will work. The problem for 
anyone who wants to do this is that they can't get enough 
industrial capacity ginned up to create the plutonium. I mean, I 
just can't get my high temperature gas diffusion centrifuges to 
work. Indeed, it takes a whole society to put them together, 
even if the design information is available. It is not the 
information, which is readily available, that is crucial. It is the 
ability to execute that is the critical factor.

I was interested to see how Dr. Teller would respond to that. To 
my surprise and satisfaction, he got up and agreed with me 
completely. He went on to say that he had never found a 
nuclear secret that the Russians could not obtain within a year 
of its development. Where they couldn't compete with us was 
in the areas where we were wide open. He cited the electronics 
industry, saying that at the end of World War II, we were 
about 20 years ahead of the Russians in nuclear weapons 
design, and roughly neck and neck in the electronics.

Both sides entered a closed program on nuclear weapons 
design. And we went into a wild free-for-all in electronics. I 
mean, you should know that in the computer business, there 
are so many loose lips, you actually have to really try not to 
learn what you competitor is up to. Computer scientists are the 
meetingest bunch of people you ever saw, and when they meet, 
they tell one anther everything.

The results of this approach speak for themselves. As Dr. Teller 
pointed out, by the time the Russians quit being a threat, they 
had moved to a position of parity with us in nuclear weapons, 
but they were 25 to 30 years behind us in electronics.

I suspect one reason for this conference is to figure out how 
you guys are going to make your living now that the Party's 
Over. I believe the Intelligence Community still has a role. We 
are entering the Information Age. And Information, after all, is 
what you do. You have an edge in the field, and I would hate to 
see you blow your lead. 
But there are some serious issues about information which 
must be dealt with, and they have almost nothing to do with 
whether it is open or closed.  The real questions regarding 
information relate to usability...whether or not it is meaningful, 
whether or not it is relevant, whether or not it accurate, 
whether or not it is genuinely useful. 
There is, for example, an enormous amount of information on 
the Net. But the signal-to-noise ratio on the net is terrible. 
There's an awful lot of racket. So I suppose you do get a kind of 
secrecy, rather as in those fancy restaurants with the highly 
reflective walls, where you can hear the people shouting at you 
at your table, but you can't make out what anyone else is 
saying for the hub-bub. It's the intimacy of white noise. 
You folks have some expertise in an important function: sorting 
out that which is relevant from the huge spray of data that is 
coming at everyone. That is an important problem that is 
largely far the software solutions to it don't 
strike me as being much good. We talk about "smart agents" 
but they aren't smart, they're pretty dumb. You send them out 
and they return with too much.

The problem is that the difference between data and 
information is meaning, something machines know little of. To 
determine whether data are meaningful, whether they are, in 
fact, information, you must pass them through a human mind. 
There is also a question of authority, reliability, and bias. For 
example, I think one of the things you will find in using open 
sources is that most media are intentionally designed to evoke 
a fearful response in the reader. I mean, fear sells, as well you 
Perhaps you have an important role in certifying the reliability 
of materials in open circulation. Perhaps you are already 
engaged in it. I recently got a call from a friend who is an 
expert on computer networking in the Confederation of 
Independent States, or whatever they call what's left of the 
Evil Empire these days. He was in a terrible state. He said, "I 
just got visited by the CIA, I don't know what to do. They 
showed up and wanted to know all about my most recent 
report. I'm afraid they're going to try to make me a CIA agent!" 
A scary thought, eh? 
I told him, "Look, it seems to me you already are a CIA agent." 
They're just trying to figure out if you're a good one!" 
We may find that there are many CIA agents, of widely 
varying reliability. The real CIA agents will have the subtler 
job of finding out which of them is telling the truth.

The most important problem which the intelligence community 
must now confront relates to your own bureaucratic sclerosis 
and the pace at which information moves through your 
honeycomb of secrecy. The future, as IBM is learning, will be to 
the supple and swift and not necessarily to the mighty.

In a world moving as rapidly as this one, information becomes 
incredibly time sensitive. Even if you I think you 
absolutely must...eliminate the unnecessary classification 
within and without your organizations, you still have all the 
cumbersome buffers of bureaucracy to contend with. 
As I was preparing these remarks, I considered coming in here 
and suggesting that you break up the CIA into about five 
different private companies and go into business. That's 
probably too good an idea to implement. But it seems worthy of 
consideration. There is something that happens to your sense of 
urgency when you have a bottom line. You know that if you 
don't deliver, someone else will, which might be exactly the 
though to leave you on.

I would like to thank you very much for your indulgence of an 
entirely different perspective. I've genuinely enjoyed this 
opportunity to get to know you.

Cliff Figallo                           
Electronic Frontier Foundation                    (617)576-4500 (voice)
Online Communications Coordinator                 (617)576-4520 (fax)

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