From: f...@eff.org (Cliff Figallo)
Subject: EFF Speaks to CIA
Summary: John Barlows remarks before the Intelligence Community
Sender: use...@eff.org (NNTP News Poster)
Organization: The Electronic Frontier Foundation
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1993 15:36:39 GMT
Remarks of John Perry Barlow
First International Symposium on National Security & National
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
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
planet...is 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 interesting...it 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 overlooked...so 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 do...as 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 f...@eff.org
Electronic Frontier Foundation (617)576-4500 (voice)
Online Communications Coordinator (617)576-4520 (fax)