zetasyanthis: (Default)
[Originally posted on Blogger during my angry politics phase.  Please take this journal with a grain of salt and realize I've grown a lot since then.  :)]

Some secrecy is and will always be necessary for governments to function, but too much threatens to undermine our understanding of how our own government functions and the true results of its policies. Wikileaks, or any other organization like it, cannot truly solve this problem.

Although some, including Assange himself, fantasize that the organization will produce a clampdown that makes it harder for secret channels to even function, the reality is that bureaucratic inertia will largely mitigate those type of effects.  Even if it were the case that the backlash caused a breakdown in these communication channels, it cannot be ignored that actually critical information would be jeopardized as a result.  We saw what happens when our government agencies don't co-operate and properly share information 9 years ago, and it would be both foolish and ironic for the same people who daily talk about the lessons of history to not have learned that lesson.

The most critical thing these leaks could possibly do is something they've already done.  They have kick-started debates about the nature of the classification process itself.  Congressional hearings about the organization have discussed the need to reduce the sheer amount of material that becomes classified, and others have picked up the tune, saying this is the perfect time to get moving on that subject.  Before the leaks even occurred, most people understood that over-classification was a problem in the US government, and now that problem has been brought center-stage.  Some of the reactions have been very troubling, yes; we may even descend into a new McCarthy-ism in the short term, but we've gotten through times worse than this before.  We will again.

Reading over some of Secrecy News' latest links, I've come across a rather interesting piece of information.  It is apparently both possible and encouraged for those with proper clearances to internally challenge the classification level or status of information in their care.  Quoting from the most current executive order proscribing the details of the classification system: "Authorized holders of information who, in good faith, believe that its classification status is improper are encouraged and expected to challenge the classification status of the information in accordance with agency procedures established under paragraph (b) of this section."

All the time now, we hear talk about the sheer number of people now working in the defense industry.  While usually cast negatively due to the secrecy ramifications, in this case, more people actually constitute an advantage.  If we can start making cleared workers aware of this ability and encourage them to take advantage of it, we can have the very people who are experts in this field help to solve the problem.  (At the moment bureaucratic CYA and default/derivative classification are the two main reasons we over-classify so much.)

A few related links:
zetasyanthis: (Default)
[Originally posted on Blogger during my angry politics phase.  Please take this journal with a grain of salt and realize I've grown a lot since then.  :)]

Full Disclosure:  I have worked in the defense industry twice now.  I interned at Rockwell Collins whilst a sophomore and am currently working for a (much) smaller contractor in the Arizona.

When I decided to go to school as an engineering major, I was mainly thinking about the ability to build cool, new things.  I never really thought to wonder what things I'd be building, or for who.  By the time I went to my first career fair, however, I found myself in a profession whose main employer was the defense industry.  Other than basic surprise, I didn't think much of it before my pre-graduation hunt for a full-time employer.

My senior year was extremely bad for new job seekers.  The financial collapse occurred just before the main career fair for the year, and the spring fair was almost non-existent compared to previous years.  The only companies that were still hiring, and even growing, at this stage were the larger defense contractors:  Raytheon, Rockwell Collins, and even Halliburton attended the fair, all looking for as many engineers as they could find.  I should take a moment and explain that last statement slightly further.  During my internship at Rockwell Collins two years prior, numerous official presentations reinforced the point that they needed to "offer every graduating engineer a job offer" to even fill the number of bodies required to continue growing the business.  This is a stunning admission to make, and really shows just how quickly the defense industry is growing post 9/11.

With the job market in such disarray, I stayed on another year to complete a Masters, interning at a local consulting firm attached to the college and trying to figure out how I'd get a job with the economy headed deeper and deeper into the Great Recession, as some were now calling it.  Back at school, the career fairs stayed small, but the contractors always attended and always had long lines at their booths.  Before graduation, I received two job offers, giving me more options than a lot of people today, but also presenting me with the clearest vision of the difference between defense and traditional engineering employment.  One promised a reasonable salary, with side benefits like medical insurance available via small paycheck deductions every month.  The other offered a significantly higher salary, as well as covering insurance types I hadn't even known or cared about before, a stock purchase program, and crazy-high 401k matching.

I made a choice, and as the 'full disclosure' at the top suggests, I chose defense.  I set aside my personal views and politics and chose the money, as many do every year.  That still does not make it right.  Since joining the company, I've had many a sleepless night wondering about the ramifications of the tech we're developing, about the potential abuses, and most importantly, about whether I should be in this industry at all.

Many people wonder why a lot of our best and brightest stay away from politics.  Politics is a messy, merciless, and downright brutal profession at the best of times, and many stay away if for no other reason than to avoid having their personal lives torn apart for the sake of their job.  Job safety is another reason.  As a politician, you're not guaranteed to be elected even once, let alone repeatedly and if you have (or want) a family, this isn't a very reliable career path with which to provide for one.  Still, those entering engineering don't initially think about the political choice they may be implicitly making.

Post 2001, and even more so since the beginning of the Great Recession, engineering has begun to shift towards being a profession largely in support of the military and, implicitly, our current foreign policy.  If you think otherwise, you need only look at the power these companies now wield in Washington.  Robert Reich's  August 14th piece entitled America's Biggest Job Program - The Military lays out this power, and how it reinforces job growth within the defense industry.

While this cycle is devastating on its own, its ramifications have caused another even more damaging one to come into existence.  We live in a world consumed by fear of the latest crisis, the latest problem and in which our elected officials offer no real solutions because they are too complex, or uninterested.  We have funneled our professional problem solvers, our engineers, away from the away from our most important issues without even realizing what we have done.

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Zeta Syanthis

June 2017

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