Staring into the Abyss: The Dark Side of Crime-fighting, Security, and Professional Intelligence

Presented at DEF CON 19 (2011), Aug. 6, 2011, 2 p.m. (50 minutes)

Nothing is harder to see than things we believe so deeply we don't even see them. This is certainly true in the "security space," in which our narratives are self-referential, bounded by mutual self-interest, and characterized by a heavy dose of group-think. That narrative serves as insulation to filter out the most critical truths we know about our work. An analysis of deeper political and economic structures reveals the usual statements made in the "security space" in a new context, one which illuminates our mixed motivations and the interpenetration of overworlds and underworlds in our global society. Crime and legitimacy, that is, are the yin/yang of society, security, and our lives. You can't have one without the other. And nobody should know this better than hackers. This presentation will make you think twice before uncritically using the buzzwords and jargon of the profession - words like "security," "defense," and "cyberwar." By the end of this presentation, simplistic distinctions between foreign and domestic, natural and artificial, and us and them will go liquid and the complexities of information security will remain ... and permeate future discussions of this difficult domain. As a result, we will hopefully think more clearly and realistically about our work and lives in the context of the political and economic realities of the security profession, professional intelligence, and global corporate structures.


  • Richard Thieme / neuralcowboy - ThiemeWorks   as Richard Thieme
    Richard Thieme has published hundreds of articles, dozens of short stories, two books (including Mind Games, a collection of short stories with more coming (FOAM, a novel, a serio-comic narrative of sex, secrets and intrigue, will be completed soon, followed by "The Room," a novelette about torture and the tortured), and he has given several thousand speeches. He speaks professionally about the challenges posed by new technologies and the future, how to redesign ourselves to meet these challenges, and creativity in response to radical change. Many recent speeches have addressed security and intelligence issues for professionals around the world. He has keynoted conferences in Sydney and Brisbane, Wellington and Auckland, Dublin Heidelberg and Berlin, Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam, Eilat Israel and Johannesburg South Africa, and the USA. Clients range from GE and Microsoft to the FBI, US Dept of the Treasury. and the US Secret Service. His pre-blog column, "Islands in the Clickstream," was distributed to thousands of subscribers in sixty countries before collection as a book by Syngress, a division of Elsevier. His work has been taught at universities in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States, and he has guest lectured at numerous universities. He lives with his wife, Shirley, in Fox Point, Wisconsin and can be reached at