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Ex CIA Spook Robert Steele on Open Source Everything: Ethics is an Operating System

Open Source Everything ManifestoRobert Steele is a very interesting person indeed: in the 1980s Robert was a clandestine CIA agent who believed not only in secrecy but also in Reagan’s right-wing politics and trickle down economics. Today Steele is the author of The Open Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust.

So how does a former spy and CIA intelligence professional, and Marine Corps infantry officer, become an honorary hacker, open source evangelist and the top Amazon reviewer devoted to non-fiction?

Well, I invited Steele on my Singularity 1on1 podcast to ask him about that, as well as a few other things.

During our 82 min discussion with Robert Steele we cover a variety of interesting topics such as: whether humanity is making progress or not; failed states, regime change and ISIS; The Open-Source Everything Manifesto; smart cities and nature; shifting from secrecy to open source; producing more actionable intelligence than the entire US intelligence complex; collecting systems versus sharing and processing systems; capitalism, the singularity and true cost economics; industrialization, education and being a sheep; open source everything as a way to unleash our entrepreneurial capabilities; polarization and the preconditions for revolution; panarchy as extreme democracy and informed self-governance; ethics and integrity…

My three favorite quotes that I will take away from this conversation with Robert Steele are:

“The chasm, the gap between people with power and people with knowledge is now catastrophic.”

“Open source intelligence is the application of the craft of intelligence, legally and ethically, to create smart cities, smart nations, smart companies and smart citizens. It’s about not being a sheep.”

“Ethics is about the truth. And transparency. And trust. Ethics is how a civilization hands on the lessons of history, from one generation to the next. Ethics is the cultural code for getting the most out of any group and any situation with the least amount of damage and the least amount of waste. So ethics is an operating system.”

As always you can listen to or download the audio file above or scroll down and watch the video interview in full. To show your support you can write a review on iTunes or make a donation.


Who is Robert Steele?

Robert SteeleRobert David Steele Vivas is a former spy, Marine Corps infantry officer, honorary hacker, past presidential candidate, and the top Amazon reviewer devoted to non-fiction, reading in 98 categories. He pioneered Open Source Intelligence (OSINT), teaching over 7,500 professionals from across 66 countries how to achieve decision-support (intelligence) with legal ethical methods. Author of many books and articles on intelligence and electoral reform, over time he morphed into a proponent for Open Source Everything Engineering (OSEE), publishing The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust (Manifesto Series) in 2012. A 2014 profile of him in The Guardian by Nafeez Ahmed earned 33,000 “likes” in three days and now stands at 68,000 “likes.” Learn more about him at http://robertdavidsteele.com.


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  • MajorCornwallace

    Catching up on your stuff. This is a great interview. I’ve been using open source software since the 90s — I mean, purposely GPL. I’ve run a nearly open source data center at a university. The issues of having open source are structured planning past component projects. Where this isn’t a problem is where the objective is relatively specific: Apache / Tomcat, DNS servers, etc.

    I’ve long argued that there should be wide-spread supported and standardized open source where as good projects emerge from the experiment of thousands (millions even) then an agency (a NASA for software and hardware) adopts, refines, and standardizes those products. They are still open but now people stop trying to rewrite the same exact engine for production systems and focus on iterative improvement.

    As a software developer this points out where some of the issues are:

    1) Forgetfulness — open source projects doing the same exact thing occur out of curiosity or a desire to learn. This is great — but then the overall “market” gets flooded with amateur products overshadowing older, actually advanced projects. Multiple solutions with only a few being more than mere experiments. Fadism also plays a role here.

    2) Charity Fatigue — Because there is a huge difference between producing, say, a tool, module or stand-alone piece of software it is another thing entirely to produce a framework, an interoperating framework or a standardized platform. It’s another thing to play catch up with multiple dependencies (this is a problem with driver development). It’s a big problem when more advanced solutions absolutely require expertise — narrowing the number of potential open source developers to a roomful. Nobody wants to produce and then maintain a sound card driver endlessly but hardware knowledge narrows the number of people who actually can.

    3) Complexity — have you ever noticed that it is very hard to move a piece of media source from one device to another with little to no problems? Sure, some move in limited ways but even sharing a bit of text without going through several hoops from a computer to phone, etc., is actually overly difficult. Data simply isn’t portable when everyone is using different frameworks by design. Yes, be design. Sometimes this is a competitive combat play and sometimes it’s just a design choice. Open source doesn’t make it go away — only purposeful design does.

    All 3 of those problems is why we need an “agency of technology solutions”. I totally think then we eliminate proprietary boundaries with (a bit more) ease.

    — EDIT: Sorry, here are some interesting bits for thought:
    * Read about Unicode and Windows BOM decoding
    * Look at developments in data API (which is becoming very useful but continues to be overly cryptic and hard to approach)

  • Matt

    Does this video look strange to anyone else? It looks like his head was added onto a different image. Why would he do that? Or am I wrong?

    Some of Steele’s claims are pretty outrageous, they would need to a lot of back up for me to believe them.

    I support his general thesis that we would benefit from more openness. Open source software, open data, transparent government less corrupt government, etc. Those are all great ideas, but very hard to implement.

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