The Pokemon Go craze is beyond me but I’ve never been into computer games. As the craze kicked off and I learned what the game is about and how it works it got me thinking. Is there something more to this game than meets the eye?
How the game works is cool, no denying it. Get people running around their local towns, chasing down Pokemons which are computer graphic characters layered on top of the real world view of your smart phone camera. But then I started thinking more about how the creators of the game could use it in other ways. When you play the game, a huge amount of information is collected, it has access to your GPS location, camera and microphone. For this reason I began to understand how Pokemon Go could quite simply be the biggest intelligence gathering tool of the digital age. In general Pokemons are scattered around, waiting to be caught in parks and on the street etc. But they can also be inside buildings and other private spaces. Today I was reading in the Independent newspaper, the Israeli army have been banned from playing because of the fear of sensitive information being leaked. The article also tells of a Palestinian player in Gaza who was playing but couldn’t capture a Pokemon because it was inside a Hamas run government building.
This is the point, if you want to collect information about locations and what is happening there, plant a Pokemon and wait for a player to go after it. If there is a player who works in the Hamas run government building and is not aware of security, they could be running around the building capturing all sorts of camera footage for whoever runs the data collection for the creators of the game.
In fact, some companies I know, have banned playing the game on their premises due to the risk of sensitive information being leaked. With data security being such a big issue these days, even if the game is not being used deliberately to gather intelligence the fact remains, your data from the game, camera footage and GPS location plus most of the other permissions on your phone, are being captured stored. This is a goldmine of information for hackers, you can be sure they will try to steal it. So either way, I will not be touching Pokemon Go with a barge-pole
Given the mass surveillance that is going on and how our governments want to profile us in ever finer detail, it struck me today that the growth of streaming media is an absolute goldmine for them in this regard. As an example, many people now subscribe to film streaming websites such as Netflix. It goes without saying that intelligence services have access to these types of sites and what their clients watch. The type of movies and shows you watch do actually say quite a lot about you, tie this in with the rest of the mass surveillance of general populations and you can see how it soon becomes quite easy to build a psychological profile for the majority of the population. The sort of film you watch from a website such as Netflix could have you marked out as a potential political agitator. Thought crime is slowly becoming a reality, maybe not today, but the time is coming.
What I don’t understand is how it is possible, with all the mass surveillance of the internet and telecom systems around the world, security services were caught with their pants down. Think about it, the group Al-Shabaab used a lot of foreigners to carry out this attack so it is obvious that where would have been a lot of communications via the internet and phone. Obviously there are different ways you can try and secure your communications but nothing is 100% secure. This leads me to two possibilities.
The first is that despite the ability of intelligence services to hoover up pretty much everything that happens on the internet they were unable to get the real intelligence out of the raw data. It is possible but that would assume intelligence services had no idea that Al-Shabaab would attack in Kenya. Considering the fact that Al-Shabaab had made it clear they would attack Kenya if it attacked Somalia then we can assume that intelligence services were watching for specific threats.
Which leads me to my second possibility. Intelligence services were aware of the impending attack and chose to do nothing about it. I know this is a deeply cynical opinion but at the end of the day there needs to be an occasional high profile terrorist attack so that intelligence organization can justify their existence and ask for ever increased funding. If they can stop attacks with their current resources there is no justification to increase their budgets.
It is interesting that when we look at different types of organizations, from charities and political parties to Intelligence services, they all have some vital things in common. They all start out with an objective and all the organizational effort is put into reaching the objective for which it was created. So a charity that looks after animal welfare or an intelligence organization that is tasked with protecting the country. As the organization becomes more successful it finds that its political and financial power increases as it grows in size and influence. What invariably happens next is a result of some interesting psychology. The organization develops an institutional mentality. What this means is that the continued growth and recognition of the organization becomes more important than the job it originally set out to do. This is also the time when those who are a part of the organization have to be much more conformist if they wish to continue working there. Internal rules and regulations become more important than the actual job. Creativity of thought and action is suppressed. Along with this you also have empire building within the organization as it moves from internal collaboration to protecting and developing internal power.
So we come back to the intelligence services. We see how they have become institutionalized. The attack in Nairobi was quite probably a combination of the two possibilities that I mentioned above. The report into the 9/11 attack shows that there was a lot of evidence beforehand of a planned attack and the report criticized the security services because of their internal conflicts of interest. So quite probably there was a lot of evidence in the system regarding Nairobi but for whatever reasons it wasn’t acted on. Secondly the existence of the organization has become more important than its stated job. Internal empire building will mean that different elements will look for ever increased funding as they consolidate their positions. They are in competition with each other rather than genuinely collaborating. In order to justify increased funding they need to show two things; their successes, terrorist attacks they have stopped and their failures, it is the failures that will be used in combination with the success to ask for more money. If only we had more money for more resources then we could have stopped that particular attack.
So actually it serves the purpose of the intelligence services for there to be a high profile attack from time to time. Also, and this is my cynical thinking, the attack in Nairobi was against civilians in an African country where the number of dead Europeans and Americans would be reduced and the intelligence services knew and used this to their benefit. Another point is that the more institutionalized an organization becomes, the less efficient it also becomes. I would say that the point has been reached where no matter how much money and new technology is pumped into security services the returns will be very much reduced due to ossifying institutionalization.