Kelsey Piper

1467Joined Jul 2021


I think Asterisk is deliberately trying to look different from Substack, Medium, news sites, etc., rather than doing so accidentally/ as a product of being unaware of how to look like those sites.

My best guess is:

- if you asked SBF "did you know that Kelsey was writing a story for Vox based on your conversation with her, sharing things you said to her in DMs?" the answer would be yes. Again, I sent an email explicitly saying I was writing about this, from my Vox account with a Vox Media Senior Reporter footer, which he responded to. 

- if you asked SBF "is Kelsey going to publish specifically the parts of the conversation that are the most embarrassing/look bad", the answer would be no. 

- if you asked me "is SBF okay with this being published", I think I would have said "I know he knows I'm writing about it and I'm pretty damn sure he knows how "on the record" works but he's probably going to be mad about the tone and contents". 

I agree that it would be bizarre and absurd to believe, and disingenuous to claim, "Sam thought Kelsey would make him look extremely bad, and was okay with this".


I believed that SBF thought not that the conversation was secret but that the coverage would be positive. 

Some thoughts about this --

I genuinely thought SBF spoke to me with the knowledge I was a journalist covering him, knew we were on the record, and knew that an article quoting him was going to happen.*** The reasons I thought that were: 

- I knew SBF was very familiar with how journalism works. At the start of our May interview I explained to him how on the record/off the record works, and he was (politely) impatient because he knew it because he does many interviews. 

- I knew SBF had given on the record interviews to the New York Times and Washington Post in the last few days, so while it seemed to me like he clearly shouldn't be talking to the press, it also seemed like he clearly was choosing to do so for some reason and not at random.  Edited to add: additionally, it appears that immediately after our conversation concluded he called another journalist to talk on the record and say among other things that he'd told his lawyer to "go fuck himself" and that lawyers "don’t know what they’re talking about".  I agree it is incredibly bizarre that Sam was knowingly saying things like this on the record to journalists.

- Obviously SBF's communications right now are going to be subpoenaed and presented in court. I can still get why he might not want them in the news, but that does seem like a significant constraint on how private he expected them to be. If we'd talked over Signal I'd feel differently. 

- When I emailed him "hey! Writing about what you said happened and your plans now. Just wanted to confirm you still have access to your Twitter account and that isn't a troll or something- Kelsey Piper, Vox Media", it seemed possible to me that he would claim it was a troll, or decline to answer, or ask me to take the interview retroactively off the record (which by journalism norms I am not obliged to do, but I would probably have worked with him to at least some degree - there are complicated moral tradeoffs in both directions, at that point!). But he didn't, which I thought was because he was okay with my writing a story about our conversation. 

With all that said, I was less careful with SBF than I am with most people. With most people, if it seemed possible they were under seriously mind-altering substances, I'd hesitate to interview them. If I was not completely sure they understood they might appear in press, I would remind them, and maybe even at particularly salacious quotes ask "okay to quote you on that?" Not all journalists do that, but I don't want to hurt people, and I don't want to be untrustworthy to people.

But in this case it felt to me like I had significant duties in the other direction - to get answers that made sense, if there were any, to the question of how this happened and (though as expected this did not have a thrilling answer) where the money was. A $10billion missing funds situation is just very very very different and much larger than most situations, and I think the right place on that tradeoff is also different.

I don't think (as we all fret about these days) that the ends justify the means, or that it's okay to break commitments of confidentiality as long as you have a good enough reason. I think I do believe that it's okay to not be as proactive about commitments of confidentiality, not work as hard to remind people that they probably should want confidentiality when they seem perfectly happy to talk to you, when something happened to ten billion dollars.

I think it might be good if journalists had something like the Miranda warnings, where if you want to quote someone you have to first explicitly with established language warn them how journalism works and how to opt out, and if you failed to warn them then you don't get to quote them. I think I would sign on to make that a norm of journalism. But it isn't, and so I'm just balancing a lot of things that all seem important.

It seems possible that SBF thought that as a person involved in EA I wouldn't hurt him, another person involved in EA. I don't think that would be the right approach. It is not my job to protect EA, and that's not what I do. It's my job to try to make the world a better place through saying true things on topics that really really matter. I share values and priorities with many of you here, but my job comes with obligations and duties on top of those, and I think it's overall good for the world that that's so. 

With all that said - I never intend to take a subject by surprise in publishing, and thought I had not done so. I wish that had happened differently, though I think I had serious professional obligations to write about this conversation.

 *** This is edited. The original said 'I genuinely thought SBF was comfortable with our interview being published and knew that was going to happen', which is as written kind of absurd - obviously he didn't want the mean stuff in print -- so I'm trying to be clearer about what specifically I thought he understood and what specifically I thought he knew.

I think we added alt text to all screenshots in the piece and if we missed one let us know.

I've had some people say to me "I'd like all future conversations with you to be off the record/confidential unless we agree otherwise". I agreed to this. 

I think EAs are broadly too quick to class things as infohazards instead of reasoning them through, but natsec seems like a pretty well defined area where the reasons things are confidential are pretty concrete .

Some examples of information that is pretty relevant to nuclear risk and would not be discussed on this forum, even if known to some participants:

How well-placed are US spies in the Russian government and in Putin's inner circle?

How about Russian spies in the US government? Do the Russians know what the US response would be in the event of various Russian actions?

Does the US know where Russia's nuclear submarines are? Can we track their movements? Do we think we could take them out if we had to? This would require substantial undisclosed tech. If we did know this, it would be a tightly held secret; degrading Russia's second-strike capabilities (which is one effect of knowing where their subs are) might push them towards a first strike.

Relatedly, are we at all worried Russia knows where our submarines are? 

In a similar genre, does the US know how to shoot down ICBMs? With 10% accuracy? 50%? 80%? Accuracy would have to be very good to be a game changer in a full exchange with Russia. (High accuracy would require substantial undisclosed technology, and be undisclosed for some of the same reasons plus to avoid encouraging other countries to innovate on weapon delivery.)

Does either side have other potentially game-changing secret tech (maybe something cyberwarfare-based?)

People making decisions on nuclear war planning have access to the answers to all of these questions, and those answers might importantly inform their decisionmaking. 

The black dots assumes Russia has 2000 functional missiles that they successfully launch against the US and that successfully detonate, and that the US is unable to shoot many of them down/destroy missile launch sites before launch. My understanding is, concretely, that even if all Russian missiles currently reported ready for launch are launched, there's 1500 of them not 2000, and that one would expect many to be used against non-US targets (in Ukraine and Europe). The 500 scenario (purple triangles) seems likelier to me for how many targets Russia would try to hit. 

Further, my impression of the competence of the Russian military, the readiness of their forces, the state of upkeep on their nukes and missiles, the willingness of individual commanders ordered to launch to do so, etc. is quite low. In many cases they have had an incredibly embarrassingly low success rate at firing missiles at Ukraine, which is an easier task than launching on short notice in a nuclear war. They seem to be using un-upgraded Soviet technology that is often degrading and failing, and the theft of parts for sale on the black market isn't uncommon. 

 For each nuclear missile, lots of things need to go right: the missile needs to be in good shape/ready to launch, the people ordered to launch need to do it, the missile needs to be successfully launched before anyone destroys the  launch site, the missile needs to not be  shot down, the missile needs to successfully be aimed at the target (this isn't even very hard, but there've been notable Ukraine failures) and the missile needs to actually detonate at the right time.  US capabilities to shoot down ICBMs, if such capabilities exist, would be extremely secret (we have no such public capabilities) but it seems like we almost definitely cannot shoot down or prevent the launch of submarine-launched missiles (of which there'd be perhaps a dozen). My personal median expectation is that submarine-launched missiles will likely hit and detonate and a relatively small share of non-submarine-launched missiles will hit and detonate. If Russia is also worried about this, they'll probably concentrate missiles further on critical targets.

This is decision-relevant in a couple of respects, the most important being that the fewer missiles hit and detonate, the less likely that a nuclear exchange results in a collapse of civilization/post-apocalyptic wasteland, though note that even if you assume all the purple triangles hit you don't have to go very far to be safe, and if we evacuate we'll evacuate to somewhere outside any of the purple triangles. People in major coastal cities should be more worried as they're likelier to be targeted by submarine-launched missiles which I think almost definitely 1) work 2) would be launched if ordered 3) could not be prevented from launching and 4) cannot be shot down, and people near US military bases should assume a lot of missiles would be launched at that target to make sure at least some get through. 

People elsewhere in purple triangles are at, in my assessment, 5x to 20x less risk from a combination of more uncertainty about whether their city will be targeted and much higher likelihood an attempt wouldn't work.


Plausible cruxes: 


I strongly do not expect full nuclear exchange in immediate response to Russia tac nuke use; the situation that seems plausible to me would involve conventional retaliation against Russian forces in Ukraine, Syria, etc., followed by Russia responding to that.  So I think leaving at a further point still means leaving well ahead of a full exchange. 

I think my work is much more valuable in worlds without a full nuclear exchange; iirc you are pretty doomy on current trajectories, so maybe you actually think your work is more valuable in worlds with a full nuclear exchange, or at least of comparable value?

I think I'm twice as productive at home, for reasons relating to childcare, disruption associated with fleeing, personal traits, my home being well set up to meet my needs, diet, etc.

There are a bunch of preparations the US military would want to take in the face of elevated odds of nuclear war (bombers in the air, ships looking for submarines, changes of force concentration) and I don't believe they will sacrifice making those preparations for crowd management reasons. I agree it's possible they'll say something noncommittal or false while visibly changing force deployments to DEFCON 2 or whatever, though this is not what they did during the Cold War and it would be pretty obvious.

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