Understanding Snowden (and Mesmer/Microtubules, “Fuck the EU” redux, Germany/NSA, Snowden/EU)

Luke Harding, author of a controversial book that formed part of a roundly-disliked Wikileaks film’s backbone, has a new book on Snowden. And he’s published two excerpts from it to the Guardian’s website.

The first is quite well researched, following much of Edward Snowden’s early life and providing a perspective on the whistleblower’s politics while stationed in Geneva. (Harding managed to find an Estonian singer who’d hitched a ride with Snowden, and interviewed him.)

Also notable are a few details I haven’t seen anywhere yet, like the diggers that showed up outside the homes and offices of everyone involved in the Snowden leaks. My guess — this was the NSA installing taps directly on their phone lines, in order to ensure they got ALL their communications.

Or how before leaving his Hong Kong hotel room, Snowden would put a glass of water near a tissue paper with a soy sauce stain, right behind the door. The idea being anyone entering would spill the water on the tissue and change the stain. (

I’m skeptical how well this would work against a determined adversary… surely they would open the door slowly enough to spot the glass and move it out of the way? Any searcher would be trained to check for and disable “traps” like an intelligence operative would leave.)

The second half — went straight into the same kind of territory that got Harding excoriated by Assange for the book on him. Wikileaks et al were NOT happy about the allegations that Snowden was under the protection of the FSB. (Even if it’s not officially true — Snowden uses “privately hired” bodyguards — in practice you have to be pretty blinded to allege otherwise.)

Granted it doesn’t help that Luke Harding has a bone to pick with Russian intelligence. (He wrote a book on the subject — “Mafia State: How One Reporter Became An Enemy Of The Brutal New Russia”)

Nevertheless Harding’s probably understandable dislike of the Russkies bubbles over into innacuracy. Certainly as of the latest (“GCHQ dirty tricks”) leaks, it should be clear that the Russians are not the only ones who engage in “demonstrative pursuit,” leaving behind clues that they’ve rummaged through your flat.

In the West the concept is widespread enough to have a name (gaslighting), and to have made a guest appearance in Ben Mezrich’s book “Bringing Down the House” — according to Mezrich, casinos started intimidating card counters by leaving single poker chips on their kitchen tables.

Mesmer: A while back I linked to some physics stuff to the effect that consciousness originates with “microtubules,”[2] noting this was not dissimilar to Mesmer’s model of the world.

Before I forget entirely, I should explain a little further.

Dig into the history of hypnotism and related phenomena, and it’s hard not to hear about Franz Anton Mesmer and his “animal magnetism,” “all-filling fluid,” or similar terms. Everything we know about hypnotism has its origins in Mesmer’s work — even if what he did bore little resemblance to the modern way of doing things. Indeed, Mesmer’s theories are widely considered to have been discredited.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to observe a few parallels between the mental model Mesmer used for “magnetizing” and healing people, and this most recent concept of “microtubules.”

(For those of you who grew up in a US history-centric educational model, consider that Mesmer started his research before the United States existed!)

Disclaimer: I’m going off my reading of the early 19th century German in Mesmer’s last book[1]. There may be a few errors, as this is the territory of a significantly different alphabet (Gothic script) and half-page long sentences with more clauses than you have fingers.

The essence of Mesmer’s model was that matter as we know it is basically porous, with the intervening space filled by his own take on “dark matter” — an all-filling aetheric fluid, which circulates constantly through the passages in physical bodies.

(One of the parts of his model that was evidently incomplete was gravity — Mesmer held this “all-filling fluid” flowed inward to the center of e.g planets, dragging objects with it… but never seemed to explain where the fluid went from the center.)

Just as sound propagates through air, Mesmer held it was possible for movements in the passages through matter to affect the flow of this “fluid.” It was through the interaction of the “all-filling fluid” and the passageways in matter that Mesmer believed he was healing.

Specifically, Mesmer found that if he did things which, in his model, caused more “fluid” to flow through a person, that flow would selectively irritate whatever structures were making them sick.

In the process of doing this, Mesmer demonstrated the first examples of hypnotic effects and suggestion. By the action of this “fluid” —
imposing what he believed were certain oscillations on the “fluid” emerging from his body — he transmitted suggestions to his patients and caused them to act on those suggestions.

Most intersting was his observation that a perfectly healed patient was immune to these kinds of suggestions. (This was one of the bases of his conclusion as to why the whole model worked.)

Once someone was perfectly healthy, Mesmer was unable to influence them!

This observation is roughly consistent with modern research on suggestion… though modern research mostly looks at the flip side. To sum up the modern side of things, the more out-of-kilter you are, the more suggestible you are. Are you tired? Hungry? Sick? Afraid? If so, you’re much more suggestible.

Anyway, by causing the “fluid” to flow through an ill person, Mesmer believed he was selectively irritating whatever was “out of whack.” These were structures — changes in the sub-microscopic “fluid passages” — that the body’s own defenses had learned to ignore, but that were all of a sudden so clearly wrong (due to the fluid-flow backing up or whatever) the body finally had to pay attention.

Eventually the patient, subject to this treatment, would enter what Mesmer called a “crisis” and heal themselves. The healing having been done, the fluid went back to flowing normally.

[1] https://archive.org/details/mesmerismusoder00wolfgoog
[2] http://phys.org/news/2014-01-discovery-quantum-vibrations-microtubules-corroborates.html

Sochi headline of the day: “Russia Says Its Sochi Bathroom Spy Cameras Show No Plumbing Problems”
In other news, now we know why the hotel construction was so far behind schedule… wiring all the rooms for video and sound takes time!

Some commentators, including a CCC spokesman[1], have remarked that the “Fuck the EU” SIGINT release is something new. It’s less new than they think — this sort of thing is fairly commonplace in Eastern European politics. For example, during the Orange Revolution, Ukraine’s internal security service released phone transcripts… in order to discredit pro-establishment candidate (and current president) Yanukovych!

What’s new about the “Fuck the EU” release is that, rather than staying among the intended audience (mostly Ukraine, I think) it spread across the world.
[1] “The “Fuck the EU”-leak means that open, unashamed use of SIGINT-Kompromat is now a normal international politics tool. Strange times ahead.” https://twitter.com/frank_rieger/status/431762109501042688

Germany’s federal prosecutor has made it official — there will be a criminal investigation into NSA spying. http://www.fr-online.de/datenschutz/nsa-ermittlungen-gegen-die-nsa,1472644,26127294.html

Snowden has expressed his readiness to testify in front of the European Parliament. http://www.greens-efa.eu/nsa-scandal-11654.html


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