On the situation of the customer in the modern retail business of computers

The Problem:

A computer. It does not work. It comes from the Gateway company. The Gateway System Restore / Recovery CDs do not work either. Instead, one gets a 'Blue Screen of Death'. The BSOD corrupts the Microsoft Windows Vista installation process. The computer will not boot. Not even in safe mode. It displays various error messages instead:

*"The computer restarted unexpectedly or encountered an unexpected error"
*"Windows installation cannot proceed"


0. Turn off power supply, don't unplug
1. Open case
2. Remove all of the cards from their slots
-careful to not damage the motherboard
-rocking back and forth oh-so-gently may help
3. Remove RAM, if you dare.
4. Flash to new version of BIOS
5. Installation should now complete OK
6. Put all the cards and RAM back in


The person who brought me this problem said that they had taken it to Best Buy for help. Best Buy refused them, claiming the warranty only covered hardware problems, not software problems like viruses, which they claimed the person had. Best Buy suggested that the person pay Best Buy over one hundred dollars American for some sort of repair service.

The person pointed out to Best Buy that upon purchase, Best Buy had told person that if they "had any problems at all" to bring it back in, and it would be repaired under warranty. If I am not mistaken, that constitutes and oral contract.

The person also pointed out that Best Buy had sold the person the Kaspersky 'anti virus' software, implying that it would prevent viruses.

In total, Best Buy received over $100 more than the computer would have initially cost, by upselling the customer various extras such as the warranty and anti-virus program; neither of which performed as advertised.


Did Best Buy violate a contract?

Did Best Buy perpetrate a fraud?

If Best Buy does this thousands of times a day, how much of their corporate income is based on these activities?

Like a sieve: The assassination of Bin Ladin and the hypocrisy of Obama's espionage prosecutions

Yesterday Osama Bin Laden met his fate in Pakistan. Apparently one of his couriers gave away his position; this was learned through information from Al Qaeda detainees. Assistance also possibly came from Pakistani Intelligence. The team that shot Bin Ladin was part of the US Navy Seals, and was working with the CIA and the NSA, all controlled on the word of Leon Panetta, while the President and others watched on video. The NSA apparently tapped the phone of the courier, and this led to the location of the house. The burial was at sea, death was by a shot to the head, infiltration was by Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters, and took only 40 minutes.

How much classified, secret, or top secret information did I just give away in that paragraph? How much of it was 'information related to the national defense'? How much that information was in the Presidents official, cleared statement that he made to the American People? How much of this information was, in fact, leaked by 'senior officials, on condition of anonymity'? What do you call it when you leak classified information? What if you leak national defense information?

What if you pass along national defense information to someone else who is not entitled to have it? What if you just 'retain' it? What do you call that?

I am no expert. I know nothing about classification procedures or standards. Im not a lawyer or law expert. But I would wager that if you work for Obama's justice department under Eric Holder, then you probably call these things Espionage. I say this not out of facetiousness, but rather because 3 people are, as I write this, awaiting trial under 18 USC 793, the Espionage Act, for either 'retaining' or 'disclosing' information "related to the national defense". Officials in the DOJ have repeatedly lectured the public on the illegality of having 'classified information'. The officials have even commingled and confused Espionage law's "national defense" information with the phrase "classified information"; thats another story for another time.

The point is that three people; Thomas Andrews Drake, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, and Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, are right now facing felony charges and possible decades in jail for having far, far, far less important information than, apparently, several dozen 'senior officials' have just leaked regarding the Osama Bin Ladin assassination.

Why are these three being treated differently? There is a case to be made that two of these three were targeted because they were whistleblowers. It seems like there is a good case to be made that these 'leak cases' are about politics. The leaks about Bin Ladin make the government look good. The information 'retained' by Drake revealed government wrongdoing and waste. The information 'disclosed' by Sterling allegedly pointed out the shortcomings of the CIA -- from 10+ years ago. Kim's 'disclosure' was apparently simply banter that goes on all the time; pick up any recent non-fiction work on politics and it is full of the same kind of information. And yet, these three are facing felonies and decades in prison, while Obama's administration staff who are leaking about Bin Ladin will never face anything other than a nasty lecture. They certainly will never face Espionage charges.

Let us consider a few items on drudgereport.com right now, and then consider what classification they might receive.

*"One unwary phone call led to Bin Laden's doorstep"

Here we have revealed communications intelligence information, which violates 18 US 798. If I am not mistaken, I believe the government phrase is that this reveals "sources and methods". What is the problem? The enemy now knows that some phone call made by some individual led the US to be able to track Bin Ladin. Now the enemy can figure out which phone call it was, and use this information to better plan in the future how to avoid making such phone calls. They will also be able to figure out which type of phone call was tapped, and whether any scrambling procedures they are using are working.

The irony here is that this is almost the same thing that happened to the Chicago Tribune during World War II, when the isolationist publisher basically revealed that the United States had broken the Japanese encryption codes. The government was almost going to prosecute the paper under the Espionage Act but decided not to at the last moment; fortunately the Japanese government either didn't believe it or didn't read the paper.

This example also proves another hilarious point; if there is one thing that American conservatives and liberals both agree on, it is that they love to tell other people the news. It doesn't matter what website you go to, whether it is Fox News, the Long War, NPR, Democracy Now, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, etc, they will all be talking about this information, discussing it, chewing it over, and using it to make points. None of them care if it is classified, or sensitive national defense information. Leaked information is a uniter, not a divider. God bless us, if there is one thing we love to do, it is to talk.


Now the enemy knows that we have their information, including perhaps various encyrption codes, emails, meeting times, and god knows what else. If the enemy thought that the computers had been destroyed in a hail of bullets or fire, or that Bin Ladin had destroyed the computers in 30 seconds before anyone could reach them, then our troops would have an advantage over the enemy.

Instead, they will cancel all meetings, change all their encryption codes, realize a bunch of their sources and communication channels have been compromised, and thus switch to alternate methods. This information clearly could be used to harm the United States or help an enemy nation.

Those are just the headlines, sprayed across Drudge Report. Now let's dig into the stories.

Let's look at "The secret team that killed bin Laden", National Journal, May 2, Marc Ambinder:

*"From Ghazi Air Base in Pakistan",
*the modified MH-60 helicopters made their way to the garrison suburb of Abbottabad
*Aboard were Navy SEALs, flown across the border from Afghanistan,
*along with tactical signals intelligence collectors,
*and navigators using highly classified hyperspectral imagers.

What do we have here?

One: Giving away the fact the helicopters were modified.
Two: Navy SEALs have are crossing borders into Pakistan by air
Three: There were SIGINT people on the mission
Four: They used 'hyperspectral imagers'

What does this do for the enemy? They now know where to hit to get 'revenge' for the assassination. Ghazi Air Base. They also know that somehow Navy SEALs are coming across the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan through the air. They know that hyperspectral imagers are good for raiding a house in the middle of the night. They also know that some sort of SIGINT was involved, perhaps either in finding Bin Ladin or making use of any data found at his house.

Could any of these things really help the enemy that much? How can I claim those are sensitive secrets when my conclusions seem so obvious?

That is a good question; it is a question that Drake, Kim, and Sterling might want to ask at trial, since the information they are accused of dealing with is orders of magnitude less interesting or significant than the information Ambinder just wrote about in his article.

Here is another question: where did Ambinder get this information? How does he know any of this stuff? Of course, journalists are not supposed to reveal sources; that's why Judith Miller went to jail over the Valerie Plame affair a few years ago. But how many sources could possibly know this stuff?

Let's continue with Ambinder. His article is good because he has gathered together other information from other reporters, each of whom has their own 'official sources who spoke on condition of anonymity':

*"A memo from CIA Director Leon Panetta sent Sunday night provides some hints of how the information was collected and analyzed. "

That is basically a bald faced admission to violating 18 USC 798, the Espioange statute that specifically bans releasing classified information about intelligence procedures. Again, where did Ambinder get this memo? How many people could possibly have had access to it? A half a dozen? A baker's dozen? Is it really that hard to figure out who 'leaked' this?

*". . . NSA figured out, somehow, that there was no telephone or Internet service in the compound".

I don't know what to say. How can this possibly not be classified? Drake is accused of having a document that said "Great meeting, everyone!" And yet here, in the middle of a news story, we have intricate details of the most significant assassination raid in US history.

*"people familiar with [JOSC] suggest that McChrystal and Flynn introduced hardened commandos to basic criminal forensic techniques"

Again. What "people" told him this? Now the enemy can watch all the true crime shows on cable TV and figure out how to outwit the JOSC. I believe the phrase is 'develop countermeasures'.

*"One way they did this was to create forward-deployed fusion cells, where JSOC units were paired with intelligence analysts from the NSA and the NGA. Such analysis helped the CIA to establish, with a high degree of probability, that Osama bin Laden and his family were hiding in that particular compound."

Again. Please remember. Stephen Kim is facing felony charges and years in prison for telling a reporter that North Korea might test a nuclear bomb if we put sanctions on them. This is what he is charged with under the Espionage Act. And here is what we see in the papers. A detailed list of the tactics and methods used by a secret military group that killed Osama Bin Ladin. Thomas Drake's charges are for 5 documents, basically inconsequential things like 'Great meeting everybody' and 'Dont worry about getting too much data'. Jeffrey Sterling is charged for revealing information about CIA mistakes made over a decade ago.

Contrast that with what these news reports have disclosed. They have given away detailed operational details about the most important raid in modern US history. The 'senior officials' have released countless tidbits of information that are highly classified and/or "related to the national defense".

And yet, none of them will ever worry about going to jail. Why? The mind boggles. What is the answer to this question? Why is it OK for some inner circle members to leak, but other people get punished as if they had guaranteed the destruction of the country? Some of these people are simply leaking for political gain, a fine American tradition going back to the founding fathers. Others, as Bob Baer (a former CIA agent who has made a career of writing about and discussing it's true nature) points out, might be leaking disinformation on purpose.

The point of this article is to consider the hypocrisy and arbitrary nature of the Espionage Law, as it is used in actual courtrooms. First, take the Drake case. There are only two explanations out there for how the FBI came to be interested in Drake; one is that they stumbled onto him through their investigation of the warrantless wiretapping program leak in 2005 to the New York Times. The other is that they stumbled on to him after the Baltimore Sun articles on Trailblazer in 06/07. Which story you get depends on who you ask. He actually had nothing to do with the warrantless wiretapping story. The point, though, is this - he wound up on the FBI radar not because they were investigating spying, but beacuse they were investigating journalism. In both these cases, the journalism was critical of the government. They both alleged wrongdoing, possibly of a criminal nature. The Sun articles alleged massive wastes of money.

Now look at the Sterling and Kim cases. Those cases too are directly related to journalism. Sterling's case comes out of James Risen's book, State of War. Kim's case comes out of having a telephone conversation with a journalist; James Rosen of Fox News. Both of these cases came from the government reading media reports and then deciding the media had printed 'national defense' information. The government was not investigating 'spying' or 'espionage', it was investigating the media.

Drake was clearly a whistleblower; he even followed the Whistleblower legal protocol such as first going up his chain of command, complaining to the Inspectors General, making sure that he didn't reveal classified information to the reporter he talked to, etc. Sterling's details are less well known to me, but it doesn't seem unreasonable to put him somewhere in the whistleblower ballpark, since he was discussing, apparently, a big CIA mistake with Risen. Kim is not really claiming to be a whistleblower per se; he was just doing what "senior officials" have always done as long as the nation has been in existence - discussing things with members of civil society.

It makes a body wonder then; how do you know when your 'leaking' or 'disclosure' or 'retention' of information is a vast crime against the national security, and when it is simply doing whatever the top circles of government are doing right now about Bin Ladin?

If one examines the cases, it would appear that leaking when you are a whistleblower is not OK. However, leaking about how awesome your Navy Seal team is when they totally popped Bin Ladin in the face, well, that is 100% red blooded American leaking. I know it seems silly. There is no way the stuff in the newspapers about Bin Ladin could really hurt the US, or aid a foreign nation, could it?

Well, that is the problem. The government decided what "could" meant when it indicted these three folks under the Espionage Law, because that law is full of tricky words like 'could'. Disclosing information that 'could' harm US security is listed as a violation. In some situations, the information doesn't have to actually harm security, it just has to have the potential to harm it.

The ultimate expression of the conflict can be found in the situation of Wikileaks. Certain people, like foreign service students and Guantanmo laywers, are banned from reading Wikileaks. However, they can read all of these front page stories about Bin Ladin's death to their hearts content. It is not OK to read about Ghaddafi's "buxom nurse", but you can read about how a secret Navy Seal team is using modified helicopters to kill terrorists, after the NSA detects whether a house has phone lines or not and cracks a courier's cellphone. How does that make sense?

Wikileaks, Manning, and Assange are criticized because their activities might endanger US-allied informants who are helping fight the Taliban. And yet, on the front page of dozens of newspapers and websites, we are reading that Bin Ladin's courier was given away by information from a detainee. How is that detainee going to survive now? Won't they have a target on their back forever? The detainee has not been named; how long will it take the rest of Al Qaeda to figure out who it was? Now, they are even revealing the identities of the military personnell involved in the raid; there is even a picture of the "Dog who got Bin Ladin" on the front of huffingtonpost.com.

Here is a quote from NPR a few days later: "A former senior intelligence official with knowledge of the operation told NPR that there was a CIA safe house close to the bin Laden compound." Really?

Update: In 2008, an 'intelligence official' leaked to Christiane Amanpour of CNN that Osama Bin Ladin was living in a 'villa' in Pakistan. Uhm. Wow.

How can the modern treatment of espionage exemplify the 'rule of law', when nobody seems to be able to define the law or apply it consistently?

Update 2:

According to the Associated Press article in the Washington Post, Leon Panetta, head of the CIA, has commanded everyone to 'stop leaking' about Osama Bin Ladin or they may face 'legal' consequences.

If President Obama really wanted to avoid 'leaking', he could simply have had the DoD announce the killing. Or done a million other things differently. Instead, his top staff have been leaking like a sieve. It just goes to underscore the true nature of 'leaking' in Washington; it is done for political purposes, it always has been and always will be. The stopping of leaks is also done for political purposes. The prosecutions under Espionage Act of 'leakers' and whistleblowers and innocents in the past few years have been about politics too. This stuff is almost never about National Security. If they cared about national security, they wouldn't have leaked anything about Bin Ladin at all, except that he was dead. And they would take all the agents and resources assigned to prosecute Drake, Kim, and Sterling, and instead use them to prosecute actual terrorists and actual criminals. They could slap Manning on the wrist and let him go, just like they did ITT corporation or John Deutch or Sandy Berger or Bill Casey or dozens of other high officials who have done similar things.


New Details on bin Laden Death; Interview With Morgan Spurlock; Interview With Marlo Thomas, JOY BEHAR SHOW, CNN, May 4, 2011

The secret team that killed bin Laden National Journal, 5-2-11, Marc Ambinder

Despite openness pledge, President Obama pursues leakers, Josh Gerstein, Politico, Mar 11 2011

Drudge Report, May 2 2011

Al Qaeda vows to remain a curse, NPR 2011 5 6

Bin Ladin lived next to a military academy, but the 9/11 hijackers lived next to the NSA

There have been countless folks on the news talking about how Osama Bin-Ladin lived right next to a military academy in Pakistan, and how this apparently means that someone in Pakistan should have known he was there.

The problem with all this is that we had a slightly similar situation in the United States in 1999-2001. Several of the 9/11 hijackers not only lived in the US, two of them, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, lived in San Diego, which is near a military base. Later, they lived with a man who happened to be an actual FBI informant, but didn't find them suspicious. Right before the 9/11 attacks, they lived almost nextdoor to the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Maryland. James Bamford has written about all this in exhaustive detail in his book "Shadow Factory". PBS's Nova program did a documentary about his book, entitled "Spy Factory", which you can watch online here: Link to Spy Factory.

It is common knowledge that Pakistan's spy agency, the ISI, has close links with groups like the Taliban, which was allied with Al-Qaeda. It goes back to the history of horrific wars between Pakistan and India, where millions have died; of course that goes back to the British Raj and colonialism. Of course it also goes back to the 1980s, when president Reagan declared the Mujahideen to be freedom fighters against the godless Communists of the Soviet Union. This goes back even further, according to Ian Johnson's book "A Mosque in Munich", which loosely links the Muslim Brotherhood to the CIA's attempts to recruit former anti-Soviet Central Asians who had been drawn into the German Army during WWII; resulting in the creation of an extremist Mosque which would later be frequented by 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta. You could go further back, to the Great Game, the Crimean War, and Tolstoy's "Haji Murad", which could have been written last year not in the 1890s. But I digress. I'm not saying the CIA knew about 9/11 or any of that kind of conspiracy stuff. All I'm saying is this:

The fact that a terorrist lived undisturbed for a few years in a nice house next to a military base does not necessarily mean that the nation's government somehow approved of this, or even knew about it. Perhaps Pakistan's internal intelligence agencies are simply full of bureaucracy and incompetence, just like ours were in 1999-2001; you may recall during this time the big fear was 'China-gate', which culimnated in an innocent man, Dr. Wen Ho Lee, being charged with Espionage. They said he had sold China nuclear secrets. What he actually did was back up non-classified information to a tape drive in case LANL's computers broke again. While dozens of FBI agents, the media, and Congress were investigating this bogus line of inquiry, the 9/11 hijackers were in San Diego, right next to the Miramar Naval Air Station which is where Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis had their sunset motorcycle rides in Top Gun.

I'm just saying.

Now of course there is a possibility that someone inside the Pakistan government knew about Bin Ladin living in Abottabad. But where is the proof? Where is the evidence? How will we ever know for sure? How do you ever know what is truth and what is fiction? This question of course goes back to the ancient Greeks, and farther. I think the philosophical term used is "Epistemology". How, then will we know about the Pakistani government and Bin Ladin? Let us ask ourselves, then, how we came to know what happened with the 9/11 hijackers living in the United States and how the US government relates to this situation.

Consider James Bamford. Bamford's book revealed a good deal of detail about the pre-9/11 government understanding of the hijackers; especially Osama's communications hub in a house in Yemen. How did Bamford piece together so many details and get so much background information from various anonymous officials? Bamford's work comes out of a long tradition of a free press in the United States; something that is enabled by the legal protections afforded to this trade in the Bill of Rights of the US constitution. It goes farther than that, though; there is a long history of case law, i.e. court cases in which the judges of the nation have decided that the Congress intended the Bill of Rights to be very lenient and to grant journalists a large amount of freedom. Other important pillars of the judicial tradition are the notion that journalists should not generally have to reveal their sources, that publishing information is not a crime, etc. All of these enabled the journalism industry as we know it; without that industry perhaps Bamford would not have learned the skills and techniques he uses to write his books.

The same can be said of the other sources about information on the pre-9/11 activities of the hijackers, from CBS to various other writers and sources. The 9/11 commission was created by the pressure of citizens exercising their right to petition their government. This right is also enshrined in the US Constitution. However the commission failed to interview some of the people in the CIA's Bin Ladin group (Alec Station) about what happened before 9/11; Bamford did interview them. An independent and free press, protected by a constitution, and a body of case law, with a court system independent from the executive and legistlative branches, are what allowed citizens to examine the hijackers and their pre-9/11 activities.

In Pakistan, the curious citizen and the free press have a much harder time. The Freedom of Information Act there does not work very well. Pakistani journalists also tend to get murdered. The International Federation of Journalists said the country was just about the worst country in which a journalist could work in 2010. Now, consider James Bamford; roughly 7 years passed between 9/11 and the publication of Shadow Factory. That is in the United States, one of the most free countries for journalism. Bamford relied on networks of officials he had cultivated over many years of reporting on national security issues. He relied on the Freedom of Information act, and the protections provided by the courts to people who do work like he does. Would James Bamford have any of those pillars to stand on in the modern Pakistan? If in a free country it took 7 years to find out some of the basic facts about the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11, how long would it take a journalist in Pakistan to tease out the same information about Bin Ladin?

Perhaps the hunt for Mr Bin Ladin is over; the hunt for the truth has only begun. I shall not hold my breath waiting for it.


Why Did Bin Laden Hide In Plain Sight For Six Months?, Marcus Baram, 5-2-11, Huffington Post

Jeremy Scahill on Democracy Now "he must have had some sort of protection from the Pakistani state", May 2 2011

Bin Laden's luxury hideout raises questions, By NAHAL TOOSI and KATHY GANNON, Associated Press, 5-2-11

Take my Breath Away, Berlin, Top Gun, 1987

James Bamford Q&A for Nova's "Spy Factory", including pre-9/11 hijacker whereabouts information, 2009

President Reagan on the Mujahideen (Reagan Library)

India v Pakistan (wikipedia)

Cox Report on Chinese nuclear espionage, 1999

The Cox Committee Report: An Assessment (critique of Cox report) 1999

History Guide,Greek Thought: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, Steven Kreis

Freedom of Information Act is a bad law: Naqi, Amar Guriro, Daily Times (Pakistan), August 29, 2009

International Federation of Journalists / UNESCO "Free Speech In Peril", 2010

old James Bamford biography , Random House, 2001