There is a tide in the affairs of men

Above a suggested choice for the single take-away chart from the presentations at the Kansas City Fed’s economic policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s from Helene Rey’s paper (London Business School). It shows all types of capital inflows expressed a percentage of world GDP on a quarterly basis since 1990, plotted against the VIX, which is a measure of perceived volatility embedded in options markets (in green, higher level=lower risk).

The argument (which has been confirmed by deeper research of herself and others) is that there is a remarkably simple (conceptually) component in capital inflows worldwide which seems to correspond to a single driver across many markets, countries, asset types, and exchange rate regimes.

As she notes, the implication is that these capital flows might need to be regulated, including by various instruments that wouldn’t have been mentioned in polite economic society a few years ago.

The open question may be that if this capital flow beast is so virulent and global, are normal means of country policy and international coordination strong enough to do anything about it? We might actually need one of these global super-regulators that people seem to think we already have.

Security tactics

Regarding the headline here:

US and UK at odds over security tactics as row escalates

something comes to mind.

The signals intelligence alliance between the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is also an information security alliance. This may be the most important element of it. The countries involved, plus some other partners, maintain a big book of standards known as IRSIG (International Regulations on Signals Intelligence) which sets the standard operating procedures down.

First of all, this explains why the British (or, say, Canada) would care so much. There is no difference between the political decision to share intelligence, and the administrative one to classify it at a level that permits the recipient to see it. To do the latter implies the former, and vice versa. Therefore, most of the information in the system is as classified in the UK as in the US (or Canada).

Secondly, I wonder if there is a plan set out in IRSIG or a similar joint document on what to do in the event of leakers. This would explain a lot.

Their fibres are radioactive.

It’s been a bit All Snowden, All The Time on this blog. I think it makes sense to read the story as a European one, though. Here’s a little more. From Snowden Part One:

Snowden: As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.

This got remarkably little attention in the UK but it ought to have done. The southern UK is an enormous centre of telecoms infrastructure, especially in terms of peering and interconnection. There is just so much hard infrastructure in the ground that it’s not practical for this stuff to leave for some time. But some time only goes for some time. Amsterdam, for example, is already home to AMS-IX, an Internet exchange as big as LINX. Paris doesn’t have a serious IX for some reason, although there is a lot of fibre and that could change.

The real keys to the Internet economy are peering points and data centres. We would be horrified if someone with a global platform was to suggest blacklisting aircraft or ships that call in the UK. We should be similarly concerned about the long term costs of all this interception, especially as it didn’t keep us out of Iraq or provide useful information about Helmand before the Army went in.

Spies for Europe.

We’ve suspected for some time that the French and German governments’ refusal to take part in the Iraq war had something to do with their access to independent overhead imagery satellites. Briefly, France and Germany did (with the HELIOS and SAR Lupe programs respectively), and didn’t take part at all. Spain and Italy had some access to French imagery and had advanced plans to get their own. They made a limited commitment. The UK, Australia, Denmark, and the ROK relied on the United States and were, in a phrase that should be better known outside Australia, all the way with LBJ. Turkey didn’t have its own, although it has since acquired a satellite from Italy and it did have liaison staff at the little-known EU Satellite Centre, but it probably had ample intelligence from human sources.

The original statement is in this Ken Silverstein piece (see this blog post of mine from 2006):

“They say everyone else was wrong,” said this former official, “but we conditioned them to be wrong. We spend [tens of billions of dollars per year] on signals intelligence and when we reach a conclusion, the people who spend less than that tend to believe us. They weren’t wrong, they chose to believe us. The British, Germans, and Italians don’t have all those overhead assets, so they rely on us. Historically they have been well-served, so they believe us when we tell them the earth is round. The French have their own assets—and guess what? They didn’t go with us.”

Guilhem Penent, of France’s IFRI and IRSEM thinktanks, writes in the Space Review as follows:

Regarding outer space, France’s main objective is to perpetuate its autonomy and national sovereignty. As sovereignty is the state of determining itself based on its own will without depending on other nations, satellites are, first and foremost, the guarantee of France’s autonomy in assessment and thereby in decision-making.

The decision not to follow the US in 2003 was thus taken by then President Jacques Chirac in accordance with intelligence based for the most part on Earth-imaging satellite HELIOS 1, whose findings were in contradiction which was being said at the UN Security Council. When the war in South Ossetia broke out in 2008 between Russia and Georgia, then President Nicolas Sarkozy, as chair of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), used images provided by HELIOS 1 and HELIOS 2 to deny Russia’s allegations about the withdrawal of its troops when those troops were actually progressing southward.

This is the first public confirmation, I believe, that the French did in fact stand out of the Iraq war because HELIOS imagery showed that the WMD claims were nonsense. IFRI, and even more so IRSEM, are organisations with the status of something like CSBA in the States or RUSI in the UK, so this should be taken seriously.

Chris Williams, who pointed me to the TSR piece, contrasts the British concern about sovereignty with regard to things like bananas, beef, and birth certificates, with the French equation of it with independent verification technology. He has a point. (So does Dan Hardie in comments there, who points out that perhaps the French could have benefited by worrying more about their influence over monetary policy, something no British Eurosceptic has ever omitted to worry about.) I’ve repeatedly argued this elsewhere.

There are a couple of points here. I feel a degree of contradiction between my suspicion of mass telecoms surveillance and my enthusiasm for overhead imagery. Perhaps that’s just the conviction that however much fuss I kick up, it’s unlikely anyone will burn limited delta-vee to get pictures of me, but you can’t say that about X-KEYSCORE. With more consideration, I think it’s the terms-of-trade in the relationships I described in this post that worry me most of all.

From a British point of view, the deal was fairly simple. The UK would concentrate on signals intelligence and would share everything with the US, and would stay out of the satellite business. In exchange, the US would share back their satellite product. We know that on at least one occasion, during the Falklands War, this didn’t happen. Later, the UK started a major project, known as ZIRCON, to build a signals intelligence satellite. This went overbudget badly, but got a surprising degree of support from Margaret Thatcher for reasons of sovereignty vis-a-vis the US, before being abandoned when the Americans instead offered a share of the targeting slots for their equivalent system in exchange for cash.

But the ZIRCON strand of the story doesn’t cover imagery. It seems that the national interest was very poorly served by this part of the deal – the implicit sigint-for-imagery trade – to say the least, both in Iraq and possibly later in Afghanistan.

Since the 1980s, the cost of satellites has fallen sharply, notably due to the work at Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in Guildford. The UK had a very quiet test project between 2005 and 2009, and going ahead with an operational system on a similar basis to the Germans’ was being discussed openly by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills as late as early 2011. Since then, it’s all gone quiet over here…so what did happen to that project? And do we need more Europe here?

I think the answer to that is much more clearly Yes than it ever was with regard to the Euro. The main objection from the UK side (and from Atlanticist Europe more broadly) is that the Americans might not share as much stuff with us. But this makes less sense on close examination. In so far as it is a market-like, bargaining relationship, we would be in a stronger position. In so far as it is a relationship of integration among allies, the alliance would be better off as a whole and might be more allied. In so far as it is a feudal, tributary relationship, it would be less so. (You’ll notice that Penent alludes to this in the TSR article.)

And this doesn’t take any account of the quality of the information received. It seems that the information the US shared with its partners in the intelligence special relationship before Iraq was worse than useless – in fact, functionally defined, it was disinformation. Its recipients were less informed after receiving it than they were before. Even a small increase in independent capability might have the useful effect of keeping both parties more honest.

The United States economy recovered.

So I was arguing with Jamie Kenny about Obama’s economic record.

It was Friday night, so I had no inclination whatsoever to do economics. Anyway, I got around to it.


The top, blue line is the civilian unemployment rate in %, on the left scale. The next, red line is average weekly wages, on the right scale. The next, orange line is the average hourly wages for nonsupervisory, production employees, seasonally adjusted, multiplied by 40 to be comparable to the economy-wide, weekly series. Of course, this may be misleading if there is a big difference in average hours between them, but I wanted a measure that wouldn’t be skewed by Wall Street or Silicon Valley executive salaries. And the green line, on the left scale, is real-terms GDP growth per quarter.

Growth could certainly be higher and unemployment could be going down faster, but both are going clearly in the right direction, and at least in cash-terms, wages are up. This is, in a word, recovery. It’s far from obvious from these data that it constitutes “economic royalism”, even if the economy-wide wages measure is growing faster than nonsupervisory production.


Oh well, here it is: yes, Virginia, the BND shared enormous amounts of surveillance material with the NSA, both from their military SIGINT group deployed with the German army in Afghanistan and from, well, Germany. Officially, this didn’t contain any information on German citizens. Also, the Germans offered the Americans the use of two software applications they developed, presumably as part of the deal for X-KEYSCORE.

Meanwhile, the Germans have given notice on an agreement from 1968 that permitted the western allies to request surveillance in cases that affected the security of their forces in West Germany. This document had apparently not been used since 1990 (they say). Oddly, the US and UK agreed immediately to terminate it by exchange of notes, but the Germans were still negotiating with France yesterday.