Mathematicians Call For NSA Boycott

“Already unpopular for our role in the banking crash, we [mathematicians] now have our largest employer running a system of whole-population surveillance that even a judge appointed by George W. Bush called “almost Orwellian”.”

This article was floating around a little while ago but it’s still worth covering. In a nutshell, a number of people in the math community have called for mathematicians to boycott, or rather reverse-boycott, the NSA.

Whereas normal boycotts center around refusing to give money to an organization, this one’s about refusing to take money from it.

Such a boycott is significant to anyone who understands the fall of the Soviet Bloc. From my own area of interest — East German history — it’s an oft-cited fact among Stasi / MfS historians that the quality of spy agency recruits started going downhill long before the fall of the Wall.

For most of the DDR’s existence, staff and operatives at the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit* were recruited using the motto immortalized by Will Smith in “Men in Black”… they wanted the “best of the best of the best,” and with honors!

(Historical note: actually, the motto was “a hot heart, a cool head, and clean hands,” but whatever)

And for most of their history, they got what they wanted. Up until the mid ’80s, or therabouts, most Stasi recruits were indeed from the top of the class. But then, all of a sudden, the “best of the best” were no longer interested in spying on their neighbors. They wanted to do something else.

So the Stasi said, instead of taking those with best grades (a “1” average), they’d make do with second-best (a “2” average).

Then, and there are documents describing this, the Stasi started up programs intended to train the “3s,” and maybe the 4s. The “2s” were no longer interested either.

Apparently the instructors in these programs frequently complained about the lackluster quality of their recruits. I don’t think they got desperate enough to try the 5s… because their world collapsed shortly after.

* incorrectly translated recently by Rick Falkvinge as ‘National Security Agency,’ Ministerium für Staatssicherheit is actually Ministry of State Security. Or Department of State Security, if you prefer. The Stasi was on the same level as the US Department of Defense, in fact… the National Security Agency is one rung lower on the ladder than the Stasi was.

Also, the East Germans, seeing themselves as opponents of National Socialism, would not have intended a meaning of ‘nation’ in any case. (Note: It’s my contention that, though they opposed ‘black’ Nazi/Italian fascism, the Communists were themselves simply a different kind — ‘red’ fascists.)

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