Saturday, October 16, 2004

Security in the SAF

NB: To the author's best knowledge, all of the below is true. Clarifications and corrections are welcomed.

A grand unifying theme in almost all of the SAF's policies and actions is their unceasing commitment to the core values of Stupidity, Sadism and Senselessness. These 3 values are clearly demonstrated in the SAF's attitude toward security.

Security is important in Armed Forces and other such places to prevent important information from falling into the hands of enemies. However, there are aspects of the SAF's security policy that appear curious to the untrained, who naturally believe that security policy is meant to prevent important information from falling into malign hands. All is made clear, though, when one realises that 'security' is a sham, used by the SAF to oppress and cow lowly slaves (ie Recruits, Privates, Lance Corporals, Corporals and even Third Sergeants). A look at some examples would be instructive.

Culture of secrecy

Slaves are warned not to tell third parties of any heinous abuses that occur within the system, or otherwise of what goes on beyond the walls of the concentration camp. However, there is a small complication in that in countries that practise conscription, if you draft at least half the male populace (many of them unwilling) much information, albeit mostly of the mundane and unimportant kind, is going to leak out. Like any good Armed Forces though, the SAF prefers to ignore this fact and continues to proclaim that soldiers are not to divulge any information regarding their military activities to third parties.

Dangerously, this leads to a lack of accountability. If third parties do not know what the armed forces are doing, there is much potential for abuse to occur and inefficiencies to result, and indeed that is what has happened, as all who have been slaves before know. For example, take the murder by drowning of Second Sergeant Hu Enhuai during the Combat Survival course. A not insignificant number of people knew about the questionable training practises that involved mock drowning, but it took someone's death (but more importantly, the rapid spread of this gossip through the medium of the internet, making a cover-up operation futile) for this gross abuse to be revealed to the public and debated in Parliament and by the populace at large.

As a friend adds: I believe there was a similar case in the ninties where a guy was killed (combat engineers) due to the negligence and stupidity of his superior officers. But, this case was not at all publicised. Why is this so? The govt likes to cite 'national security' as a blanket excuse, but I think that as citizens of an (ostensibly) democratic country, we have to right to know. Plus, there is almost no way for ordinary citizens or even MPs to have a say in how the SAF is run. In other countries which practice conscription, the military is expected to be fully accountable to the public. (This is with the exception of places like China and Russia, but well, let's not go there).

The SAF dictates that slaves are required to follow the chain of command: first report their problem or issue to their superior, then his superior, then his superior's superior and so on until the unit's Commanding Officer (CO) is reached. However, just who is a Private supposed to go to if he has a complaint about his Company's Officer Commanding (OC)? The OC himself? Surely not. And what about if he has something to say about his CO? Who then can he approach?

The SAF says it allows for such eventualities, and says the next step is to write to the Armed Forces Council or call the SAF Counselling Hotline. However, if a slave has already complained to his CO before calling the hotline, he is sure to be a marked man and there will be hell to pay. Besides which, who is the Armed Forces Council (presumably composed of senior officers) going to side with? A private? Or one of their own?

As for the SAF Hotline, it is more for counselling than anything else, and is widely reported as having little or no power to aid slaves in dire plights. Besides which, slaves are often told that employers have access to the SAF's records on them, and that those going to local universities will be unable to enter them if they offend the SAF or declare themselves to be stressed and/or depressed (and thus possibly be sent to see the SAF psychiatrists) and so many might be afraid of being perceived as stirring up trouble or revealing the depths to which their state-sanctioned torture has taken them. Furthermore, even assuming that these 2 channels are efficacious, they are sure to take a long time to make their weight felt.

To its credit, the SAF is trying to change this by fully bringing matters such as Hu Enhuai's deaht into the public (though that is also due to the power of the Internet) and having a safety hotline, but the problems remain nonetheless.

Digital Media

Take the SAF's policy on digital media, for example. Diskettes, Thumb Drives, CD-Rs, CD-RWs and the like are all contraband items. The rationale for this is that computer data is easily compromised by means of digital media, which can then be brought out of camp. However, all diskette drives in SAF camps are locked (or meant to be locked, at any rate), SAF computers (excepting I-Net computers, which have no access to the MINDEF Intranet) cannot recognise thumb drives (since they use Windows 95 or Windows 98 First Edition) and there are no CD-R or CD-RW drives in SAF computers (and external ones would require drivers and be harder to smuggle in anyway), so it would be impossible to transfer information out using them anyway. Anyhow, even if there were CD-R drives in SAF computers, CD-Rs can be written to only once, so pre-burnt (and finalised) CD-Rs should be legal.

Going by this logic, pen and paper should be contraband items in SAF camps too, since they can be used to smuggle classified information out of SAF camps. Hell, they should just subject all soldiers to mind wipes before they book out. As for the danger of infecting SAF systems with viruses, what self respecting virus would infect Microsoft Mail (1993)?

Meanwhile, those who enter camps in cars (ie many or most people of higher rank) are subjected to only cursory checks of their boots and undercarriages. Cars are a great way to smuggle contraband into SAF camps.

One of the SAF's favourite mottos is that "The greatest threat to security is the belief that there is no threat". Perhaps, but surely the next greatest threat to security is a morbid obsession with imagined or inflated threats (read: CD-Rs and Camera Phones). Indeed, guard duty personnel (or whoever checks bags when people book in) are told to look for such things as pirated CDs (not because they are a security threat but because they are illegal), camera phones and CD-Rs, so that people who bring those items into SAF camps can be made to sign extra (do extra weekend duties) or otherwise punished. In this crazed pogrom, it is a sure bet that other, more dangerous items like plastic explosives, bombs and such will be missed, not to mention the amount of time and energy expended in the fruitless witch hunt, whose true purpose is to stop slaves from bringing in luxury items, pictures to look at or games to play so as to make their years of indenture less intolerable.

Unnecessary classification

"Hell, boy, didn't you ever work for the government? They'd classify sex if they could. There doesn't have to be a reason; it's just their policy."

- Chuck Freudenberg to Daniel B. Davis. The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein

What was true in Heinlein's day and country is equally true in ours. How else can one account for the rampant classifying of such National Secrets as a Guard Duty list ('Restricted') and the guidelines for holding a military wedding (also 'Restricted'). To get a documents true security classification, it is thus necessary to downgrade its security classification by one: Restricted documents become Unclassified, Confidential Restricted, Secret Confidential and Top Secret Secret.

During my period of full-time slavery, someone who had gotten his ticket of parole (a reservist) commented that "Restricted stuff will embarass the SAF if it is leaked". Indeed, innocuous material is classified merely to avoid the scrutiny and gaze of the public.

Classification of innocuous material also means that people monitoring security have more material to oversee and protect, and thus impedes them in their quest to prevent real security breaches.

Overseas camps, Mindef and CMPB

Overseas camps, Mindef and CMPB provide an instructive contrast with other SAF camps in their implementation of security policies.

In overseas camps, laptops, digital cameras, CD-Rs, pirated CDs and what not are not only not banned but are practically SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) items - everyone has them. This is so even though there is arguably more at risk - the compromising of the details of SAF training areas and methods, and other materials from the SAF Intranet (since overseas camps are connected to Singapore's SAF Intranet). Among other reasons, this is because there is no Military Security Department (MSD) to bother them, and to prevent the permanent staff (permstaff) from going mad with boredom, and to cajole gullible NSFs into going for year-long overseas attachments.

Meanwhile, computers in Mindef and CMPB have both internet access and floppy and disk drives (how else do you think all those inane games and semi-pornographic airbrushed pictures of post-implant Japanese lolitas in near-compromising positions get into the SAF intranet?)

Rank and Security

Despite the SAF's senseless policies on security, it is easy to get around them if you have rank. In theory, no one should breach security, but as with all things in the SAF, rank makes everything (well, almost everything) possible. After all, is the Lance Corporal Regimental Policeman (RP) going to report the Second Lieutenant's bringing of a laptop into camp? Even if he does, will his Sergeant let him? And if by some miracle, this breach of security is reported to the Second Lieutenant's OC, is he going to punish him? After all, as everyone knows, rank makes people smart and sensible - enlistees don't know how to think for themselves (and thus prevent a breach of security), only commanders do.

Interestingly, it is precisely those of higher rank who are more likely to leak classified information. The nameless enemy nation is not going to buy out a private and ask him about how his SAF platoon flanks the enemy - it is going to bribe a Captain into revealing the specifications of the latest prototype weapon being tested.

Unnecessary bother. Case study: Encryption

Security, especially those measures relating to computer security, is an unnecessary bother to many. Faced with draconian, efficiency-impeding and frankly dumb security measures, people just try to find ways around them, rather than adhering to them. For example, people didn't use to enable encryption on their SAF intranet accounts, since it reduced productivity, though it was a security breach not to do so. And officers, frustrated by the paranoid security measures, task their minions to find ways to break the encryption and otherwise make life easier for themselves by evading senseless security measures.

Meanwhile, there is a false sense of security among the Military Security people that their marvelous encryption is protecting data.


With sufficient thought, more useless and self-defeating aspects of SAF security policy could be thought up, but I trust the above will suffice to show that the various senseless and draconian 'security' measures of the SAF are thus as air for those with rank. Security and the various policies cooked up to protect it is a sham - used to terrify, intimidate and oppress lowly-ranking NSFs, or perhaps a way for the MSD to justify its existence.