Back of the Book — February 27, 2016

It's Saturday, March 12, 2016, 02:23, and I've updated this Web page with what we talked about regarding the FBI v. Apple case and what I think it really means. And, yes, we were able to fix the FTP problem that prevented this Web page from going live before the last program. Will there be more updated to this page? Right now I do not know. The original top of this page follows the arrow. ⇒ Not a lot here this time. We plan to update this Web page, and at least a couple of the previous ones, soon. So check back for all of that.

Did you know that I've got a brief synopsis of some of the WBAI LSB meetings? Well, I do, and I've recently updated some of that.

I have also posted a whole lot of the minutes of the Pacifica National Finance Committee. I'm a member of that committee because I'm the WBAI LSB Treasurer.

It's hard to tell when the next LSB meeting will actually be held.

The WBAI LSB was to have met on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, at 7:00 PM at the ARC Central Harlem Senior Center, 120 West 140th St., New York, NY 10030, between Malcolm X and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in Manhattan.

The elections happened right before the meeting was scheduled to begin, and then I was assaulted by the Chair, and can there be a legitimate meeting when people have been driven out by violence?

As usual I put out a written Treasurer's Report for all to read that morning.

Some years ago the WBAI LSB voted to hold its regular meetings on the second Wednesday of every month, subject to change by the LSB, which gives us the following schedule:

All of these meetings are set to begin at 7:00 PM.

WBAI has a program schedule up on its Web site. The site has gotten many of the individual program pages together to provide links and such, so check it out.

Here is WBAI's current Internet stream. We can no longer tell if the stream is working without testing every possible stream. Good luck.

WBAI is archiving the programs! WBAI has permanently switched to yet another new archive Web page! This one is more baffling than the previous one. We have to put archive blurb copy in before the program airs. The person in charge of the WBAI Web site says, “If you fail to create a playlist, your show may not show up in the archives at all.” So we made an archive blurb long before the program.

This is a link to the latest version of the official WBAI archive To get to this program you'll have to click on the drop-down menu, which says “Display,” and find Back of the Book on that menu. We're pretty early in the list, so it shouldn't be too difficult. Once you find the program name click “GO” and you'll see a list of programs, most of which are Back of the Book programs. I will see if this can be made easier to get to, but they've only recently implemented this new page and I haven't had time to see what I can do with it. Good luck.

Since the General Manager has banned Sidney Smith from WBAI there's no telling what's on in the alternate week's time slot anymore.

The Pacifica National Board (PNB) met in Washington, D.C. February 7-10, 2014. The big news from that meeting was that they mandated that there be no negotiations with the four candidates for the PSOA for 60 days. And this initiative appears to be dead, for the moment.

Given that the PNB has had a change in its membership that has affected the balance of power, this postponement of any negotiations may actually be a ploy by the people who want to sell WBAI to make that sale more likely. It is possible that a PSOA would allow WBAI to come back after a few years, but it would also not result in a big cash influx to the rest of Pacifica, and that is what some people at other Pacifica stations want. Well, things are pretty much up in the air with WBAI right now.

You can listen to the public parts of the quarterly PNB meeting by clicking on the below links:

The Friday session
The Saturday session
The Sunday session
The Monday session

Chaos and fighting continues on the PNB and at the Pacifica National Office a number of workers have quit their jobs in disgust. The people who want to sell off WBAI started on their destructive path with the firing of the Executive Director at a critical time. The Executive Director, Summer Reese, said she had a contract with Pacifica and that the PNB can't just violate that and fire her the way that they did. So the Executive Director barricaded herself and the National Office workers in the National Office along with some supporters. Yeah, Pacifica got some great publicity from all of this.

The disputed Executive Director issued a press release giving her side of this episode. Here is her press release. Luckily for the Pacifica stations Ms. Reese worked to get the CPB filings done by the March 14, deadline despite having been fired the day before. Had she not done this work Pacifica, and all of its radio stations, would have been ineligible for CPB funds, which have been a significant part of every station's budget.

There have been lawsuits filed, and judgments rendered in the cases brought by the minority PNB members against the actions of the majority PNB Directors. I'll keep this running battle updated on the appropriate Web page.

Bring Back Uncle Sidney!

Our friend, fellow WBAI producer and Saddle Pal Uncle Sidney Smith has been banned from WBAI by General Manager Berthold Reimers. The General Manager will not say why. He won't even tell Sidney why he's banned! This is grossly unfair to Sidney and constitutes abuse of Staff. Why did Berthold ban Sidney?

There's a posting here about it. More to come.


The WBAI Winter 2016, 'thon has begun. Management will be looking to see what programs give evidence of having listeners. I hope we raise some money for the station this time.

So for this WBAI Winter 'thon, if you can, please call 1-212-209-2950 during the radio program and pledge some amount of money to help keep Back of the Book on WBAI and help keep WBAI on the air.

We've actually registered some generic WBAI premiums for this program, so we hope that you'll be tempted to pledge for them. Remember, the pledge needs to come in while we're on the air for it to count.

If you want to pledge to the program via the Web it's best to do so while we're on the air, you need to go here and pick the amount you want to donate, then click on “Add to cart,” and then be sure to pick Back of the Book as the favorite show from the drop down menu. Otherwise your pledge won't be counted towards the program.

WBAI is fighting for its life right now, and the amount of money raised in this 'thon will be crucial for the station's survival.

encrypted red apple

So the big news is that Riverside, California U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym has ordered that Apple, which makes the iPhone and iPad, must provide a tool that would allow FBI agents to defeat a security feature which erases certain data on the phone after a number of failed unlocking attempts, the FBI also wants another safety feature of the phone defeated.

What the FBI wants to do is “brute force” the passcode for this particular iPhone. A brute force attack is one where you set up a computer to talk to the system you want to breach and you just send the system you're attacking one password after another at very high speeds. For systems that require long passwords a brute force attack can take centuries or more to hit upon the right password, which effectively makes the data inaccessible without the password for long enough to make the effort not worth it. For systems that have short passwords it can take very little time. I have seen an estimate that the FBI could brute force the iPhone in question inside of 26 minutes.

Apple's actual security and encryption is not all that impressive. Later versions of Apple's mobile software increased the size of the passcode, which must be entered in order to be able to use the iPhone, from four-digits to six-digits, making brute-force attacks designed to bypass the passcode just a little more difficult to accomplish.

Back when I was starting to get on line, in 1985, local Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) proliferated. Back then your password to get onto a BBS was usually required to be between 6 and 14 characters. That's right, 30 years ago a six character password was the minimum allowed for gaining access to your account on a computer that resided on someone's kitchen table and which was hooked up to a dial-up modem. I actually wrote a tiny program in the '80s, in the BASIC language, to create passwords that were 14 characters long.

!!!!!!all-seeing-eye-w_fbi_seal (8K)

The court order comes just a week after FBI director James Comey, who has advocated for the installation of backdoors in hardware and software encryption to help investigations, said the agency was “still working” on gaining access to the gunman's phone.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement on Apple's Web site, “The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.”

Cyber-Security expert Bruce Schneier has written, “The FBI wants the ability to bypass encryption in the course of criminal investigations. This is known as a 'backdoor,' because it's a way at the encrypted information that bypasses the normal encryption mechanisms. I am sympathetic to such claims, but as a technologist I can tell you that there is no way to give the FBI that capability without weakening the encryption against all adversaries. This is crucial to understand. I can't build an access technology that only works with proper legal authorization, or only for people with a particular citizenship or the proper morality. The technology just doesn't work that way.

If a backdoor exists, then anyone can exploit it. All it takes is knowledge of the backdoor and the capability to exploit it. And while it might temporarily be a secret, it's a fragile secret. Backdoors are how everyone attacks computer systems.”

The Apple encryption passcode is not exactly great. It uses six characters, up from four characters used in previous phones. There's also a little extra added by the iPhone's hardware, a unique ID. Apparently there is a way to make your iPhone use an 11-digit passcode, which will be combined with the hardware's unique ID. That will make things take a little while longer, but it would probably yield to a brute force attack in a reasonable amount of time. People are using graphics processors to generate huge numbers of passcodes to try. Surely the FBI has access to such technology, the NSA most certainly does.

The second iPhone security feature that the FBI doesn't like is one that makes successive tries for the passcode take longer after each entry of the incorrect passcode.

Apple's safety measure to make each additional try take longer and longer is good, as is the optional self destruct mechanism, but it turns out that it's easy to get around. Apparently the cloud backup of the iPhone's data can be brute forced without either of the two security features interfering. This is something the FBI could have done had not someone changed the backup password while the iPhone was in FBI custody. Duh!

Had Apple not done their encryption in a half-assed way they wouldn't have to be dealing with the FBI at all. Of course there's the trade-off. Good encryption and privacy requires some effort on the part of the consumer, and so many people just do not care, or will not make the effort. Apple wants to sell those iPhones, not have people going to the competition that makes things easier, at the cost of even less privacy protection.

What's really happening is that the FBI is lobbying for legislation to force a backdoor on everything. They've been lying about “going dark” for years. Truth is, they can't deal with the huge volume of data that they already have. I've read in a article about a confidential National Security Council “decision memo,” telling government agencies to develop encryption workarounds, estimating how much more they'll need to add to their budgets and identifying laws that may need to be changed to counter what FBI Director James Comey calls the “going dark problem” where the FBI can't easily access the contents of encrypted data. The article says, “ private, the government was honing a sharper edge to its relationship with Silicon Valley alongside more public signs of rapprochement.”

So we have the fact that the FBI had made someone change the passcode for the backed up data for the phone. They could have simply had Apple take that backup and make a copy, then they could have brought the captured iPhone to a place with wi-fi access, and it would have automatically backed up to the cloud! The FBI would then have two backups of the iPhone's data and they could have attacked both with brute force attacks for as long as they pleased, and they would have gotten not only the data that had been in the cloud, but the latest backup data from the phone. The FBI technical experts can't have missed that obvious maneuver. So I think that the FBI had the cloud passcode changed, thus making it impossible for the iPhone to be simply backed up anymore, since the iPhone wouldn't have the new passcode for the cloud, and that gave the FBI the excuse to after Apple and the iPhone's encryption. The FBI has engineered the dilemma of not being able to access the data on that iPhone! And they have been going to judges and making speeches about how the “terrorists” are going to take over if we allow strong encryption. And they will try to use this to pass laws that mandate backdoors on everything and outlaw encryption software that isn't backdoored.

This is a big fight. Some at WBAI are even complacent about these things, saying that they don't have anything to hide from the NSA or the FBI. But once your privacy can be breached anyone who knows about the backdoor or other flaw in your security can breach it. You already use on-the-fly encryption to do your on-line banking, use credit cards, etc. And even if you don't do any of that on-line your bank does and it uses encryption too. Back doors are a bad idea.

We hope that we're going to be able to get to the bit about distractions on this program, if not (due to having to pitch) we'll be sure to get to it on the next program, when we will not be pitching. This, of course, assumes that we have a next program. No guarantees there.

There are a lot of issues that are considered hazardous to talk about on the air at WBAI, even though the gag rule was lifted in 2002. However, there is the Internet! There are mailing lists which you can subscribe to and Web based message boards devoted to WBAI and Pacifica issues. Many controversial WBAI/Pacifica issues are discussed on these lists.

One open list is the WBAI specific “Goodlight” Web based message board. It is sometimes referred to on Back of the Book as “the bleepin' blue board,” owing to the blue background used on its Web pages. This one has many people posting anonymously and there's also an ancillary “WBAI people” board that's just totally out of hand. The bleepin' blue board had to add a step for folks to get onto it because it was under attack by spambots. When you click on the above link you may be asked for a username and password. Type in Username: poster Password: enternow

UPDATE: In of June 2012, I ended up having to salvage the bleepin' blue board, and so I'm the moderator on it now.

When the computer in Master Control is working we sometimes have live interaction with people posting on the “Goodlight Board” during the program.

Our very own Uncle Sidney Smith, whose program Saturday Morning With the Radio On used to alternate with us, has a blog these days. You can reach his blog here.

Sidney is also posting occasional podcasts these days at the Web site he's established.

One formerly popular mailing list is the “NewPacifica” mailing list. Founded October 31, 2000, this list has been moribund for a couple of years due to de facto censorship by the group owner. As of early 2015, it has 693 subscribers coast to coast, but postings on it are very infrequent now.

Back in the day it sometimes also got a bit nasty. All sorts of things used to happen on this list and official announcements were frequently posted there.

You can look at the NewPacifica list here, and you can join the list from that Web page too. If you subscribe to the “NewPacifica” mailing list you will receive, via E-mail, all of the messages which are sent to that list.

There is the option to receive a “digest” version of the list, which means that a bunch of messages are bundled into one E-mail and sent to you at regular intervals, this cuts down on the number of E-mails you get from the list. You will also be able to send messages to the list.

This list also has a Web based interface where you can read messages and from which you can post your own messages.

We like to stay interactive with our listeners. Here are the various options for you to get in touch with us.

You can also send me E-mail.

And now you can even reach me on Twitter Twitter logo

WBAI related links

WBAI Listeners' Web page

WBAI Management's official Web site

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The contents of this Web page are copyright © 2016, R. Paul Martin.