It seems that the NSA’s “talking points” keep on leaking. The latest is a two pager it sent home with employees prior to Thanksgiving, so they’d have substance-free pablum to say in response to any family and friends who might actually have been paying attention to the news lately, and have some concerns to raise about the NSA violating our privacy and the Constitution. The document is broadly split into five sections, with sub talking points within each section. Here are the key points (underlines in the original):
- NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation”
- NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy
- NSA performs its mission exceptionally well. We strive to be the best that we can be, because that’s what America requires as part of its defense in a dangerous world
- The people who work for NSA are loyal Americans with expert skills who make sacrifices to help protect the freedoms we all cherish
- NSA is committed to increased transparency, public dialog and faithful implementation of any changes required by our overseers.
Almost all of the talking points are misleading, with some clearly being outright lies. Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake, who first obtained and published these talking points, does an incredibly thorough demolishing of the talking points, so I highly recommend reading that. Here’s a short snippet:
“NSA programs protect Americans and our Allies,” the document reads. “As an example, they have helped to understand and disrupt 54 terrorist events since 9/11: 25 in Europe, 11 in Asia and 5 in Africa. Thirteen of those had a homeland nexus.”
Deputy Director John Inglis admitted in August during a Senate hearing, when pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, that US bulk records phone spying had been “critical” in stopping just one terrorist plot. He clarified that the spying on phone records had only “made a contribution” to discovering the 13 plots.
Sens. Ron Wyden, Mark Udall & Martin Heinrich, who filed a brief in support of an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit challenging the collection of phone records of all Americans, explained the Executive Branch has defended the program by conflating it with “other foreign intelligence authorities.” The senators highlighted the fact that the collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had played “little or no role in most of these disruptions.”
“Indeed of the original fifty-four that the government pointed to, officials have only been able to describe two that involved materially useful information obtained through the bulk call-records program,” the senators added. “Even the two supposed success stories involved information that [the senators] believe—after repeated requests to the government for evidence to the contrary—could readily have been obtained without a database of all Americans’ call records.”
At this point, any intelligence agency leader, member of Congress or government official who highlights 54 “thwarted” plots is advancing propaganda to save the NSA from being forced into giving up this power to collect the phone records of all Americans.
There’s much, much more at the original. Go read it. Most of these talking points are pretty much what you’d expect, and the standard doublespeak we’ve been hearing from the NSA and its defenders ever since the Snowden revelations began. At best they’re setting up strawmen to knock down. No one has argued that NSA employees aren’t American citizens. We just question what they’re doing. Furthermore, the whole “lawful, compliant” thing is kind of laughable, given the numerous examples of abuses, and the regular discussions from the courts about how the NSA has abused its mandate. Even more to the point, many of these programs simply have not been challenged in court in an actual trial, so claiming that they’re legal is a huge stretch.
Maybe it’s time that someone put together a list of “talking points” for friends and family of NSA employees to read back to them the next time they spew these kinds of bogus claims.
Bonus: The folks at Gawker worked the talking points into a script. Here’s a snippet:
DAD: So, Ted, how’s work lately?
UNCLE TED: NSA’s mission is of great value to the Nation.
DAD: Oh, for sure. I was just thinking since it’s been in the news a lot…
UNCLE TED: NSA performs timely, actionable intelligence to political and military customers who use that information in a range of activities from decisionmaking to military operations.
MOM: Honey, maybe Ted doesn’t want to talk abou—
UNCLE TED: NSA performs its mission the right way—lawful, compliant, and in a way that protects civil liberties and privacy.
KEITH ALEXANDER: Pass the salt?
Glenn Greenwald on sharp form, as ever, and the BBC interviewer, on this occasion Stephen Sackur, on woeful form, as ever.
The last five-minute exchange, starting at about 19.20 mins, when Sackur ends up defending Britain’s security services against Greenwald’s charge that they lied during the Iraq war, is simply jaw-dropping in its asinine, dangerous complacency.
How do these BBC mouthpieces have the nerve to call themselves journalists?
The National Security Agency conducted widespread surveillance during the 2010 G8 and G20 summits with the blessing of host country Canada’s government.
Documents supplied by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the US converted its Ottawa embassy into a security command for six days in June 2010 as world leaders met in Toronto. The covert operation was known to Canadian authorities, CBC News reported.
The documents do not reveal targets of the espionage by the NSA – and possibly by its counterpart, the Communications Security Establishment of Canada (CSEC). The NSA briefing notes say the operation was “closely co-ordinated with the Canadian partner.”
Ultimately, the documents obtained by the CBC do not give exact specifications of CSEC’s role, if any, in the Toronto spying. Former Guardian reporter and Snowden’s chosen journalist to receive the NSA documents, Glenn Greenwald, co-wrote the story for CBC.
But the documents do spell out that CSEC’s cooperation in the venture was crucial to ensuring access to telecommunications systems needed to spy on targets during the summits.
Both NSA and CSEC were implicated, along with British counterpart GCHQ, for monitoring phone calls and email of foreign leaders and diplomats at the 2009 G20 summit in London. In addition, it was recently reported that CSEC hacked into phones and computers at the Brazilian government’s department of mines. These revelations also came via documents from Snowden, who has received asylum in Russia.
The revelations also contradict a statement made by an NSA spokesman to The Washington Post on August 30, which said that the US Department of Defense – of which the NSA is is part of – “does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.”
The NSA briefing document says the operational plan at the 2010 summit included “providing support to policymakers.”
The Toronto summit was chock full of major economic issues following the 2008 recession. Measures like the eventually-nixed global bank tax were strongly opposed by the US and Canadian governments. Further banking reform, international development, countering trade protectionism and other issues were on the docket – and on NSA’s list of main agenda items in the aim of supporting “US policy goals.”
The partnerships by some Western spying arms at the Toronto and London summits, not to mention other stories that have come out based on the Snowden documents, call attention once again to the “Five Eyes” surveillance coalition among Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz wrote a misleading and error-filled column on NSA surveillance Monday, based on documents obtained by EFF through our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Since we’ve been poring over the documents for the last week, we felt it was important to set the record straight about what they actually reveal.
Edward Snowden thought he was exposing the National Security Agency’s lawless spying on Americans. But the more information emerges about how the NSA conducts surveillance, the clearer it becomes that this is an agency obsessed with complying with the complex rules limiting its authority.
That’s an interesting interpretation of the recently released documents, given that one of the two main FISA court opinions released says the NSA was engaged in “systemic overcollection” of American Internet data for years, and committed “longstanding and pervasive violations of the prior orders in this matter.” The court summarized what it called the government’s “frequent failures to comply with the [surveillance program’s] terms” and their “apparent widespread disregard of [FISA court imposed] restrictions.”
[The documents] portray an agency acting under the watchful eye of hundreds of lawyers and compliance officers.
Again, this is not what the actual FISA court opinions portray. “NSA’s record of compliance with these rules has been poor,” and “those responsible for conducting oversight failed to do so effectively,” FISA court Judge Bates wrote in the key opinion released last week. In another FISA court opinion from 2009, released two months ago, the NSA admitted that not a single person in the entire agency accurately understood or could describe the NSA’s whole surveillance system to the court.
It’s true that the number of compliance officers at the NSA has increased in recent years, but as the Washington Post reported, so has the number of privacy violations.
These documents disprove one of Mr. Snowden’s central claims: “I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal email,” he told the Guardian, a British newspaper.
Here, Crovitz is setting up a strawman. Snowden wasn’t talking about the NSA’s legal authority, but their technical authority to conduct such searches. Snowden was likely referring to XKeyScore, which the Guardian reported allowed NSA analysts to “search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”
We actually have a specific example that proves Snowden’s point. As the New York Times reported in 2009, an NSA analyst “improperly accessed” former President Bill Clinton’s personal email. More recently, we’ve learned that the NSA analysts abused the agency vast surveillance powers to spying on ex-spouses or former lovers.
The NSA also released the legal arguments the Justice Department used in 2006 to justify collection of phone metadata-the telephone number of the calling and called parties and the date, time and duration of the call.
Metadata collection is about connecting the dots linking potential terrorist accomplices. The Clinton administration created barriers to the use of metadata, which the 9/11 Commission concluded let the terrorists avoid detection. Since then, metadata has helped stop dozens of plots, including an Islamist plan to blow up the New York Stock Exchange in 2008.
Again, not true. As Intelligence Committee members Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall have continually emphasized, there is “no evidence” that the phone metadata program is effective at stopping terrorists. Independent analyses have come to the same conclusion. When called out on that number in a Congressional hearing, even NSA Director Keith Alexander admitted the number was exaggerated.
The only “disrupted plot” the NSA can point to that was solely the work of the phone metadata program was a case where a man from San Diego sent a few thousand dollars to the al-Shabaab organization in Africa in 2008. In other words, the metadata did not disrupt an active terrorist plot inside the US at all.
The declassified brief from 2006 made clear that such metadata “would never even be seen by any human being unless a terrorist connection were first established,” estimating that “0.000025% or one in four million” of the call records “actually would be seen by a trained analyst.”
The major 2009 FISA court opinion released in September, that apparently Mr. Crovitz either didn’t read or conveniently left out of his piece, showed that the NSA had been systematically querying part of this phone records database for years for numbers that the agency did not have a “reasonable articulable suspicion” were involved in terrorism—as they were required to have by the FISA court. Of the more than 17,000 numbers that the NSA was querying everyday, the agency only had “reasonable articulable suspicion” for approximately 1,800 of them.
The FISA court concluded, five years after the metadata program was brought under a legal framework, that it had been “so frequently and systematically violated that it can fairly be said that this critical element of the overall…regime has never functioned effectively.”
These documents clearly do not paint a picture of an agency with a clean privacy record and a reputation for following court rules, as Mr. Crovitz claims, and in fact, they show why it is vital Congress passes substantive NSA reform immediately. You can go here to take action.
- How NSA Mass Surveillance is Hurting the US Economy (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Obama administration defends NSA against civil liberties lawsuit (counterinformation.wordpress.com)
In the five months since the world first learned of Edward Snowden, story after story based on documents disclosed by the young whistleblower have filled out a picture of the National Security Agency (NSA) as an organization with a limitless — and almost indiscriminate — hunger for information. Today, Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim add a startling new dimension to that portrait by revealing that the agency has contemplated ways to use its troves of data to discredit and undermine individuals who the agency believes are “radicalizing others through incendiary speeches” but who lack any ties to actual criminality. The government is apparently seeking out “personal vulnerabilities” of these individuals, including their online sexual activity, hoping to expose them as hypocrites to their followers. While all of the targets are outside the United States, at least one of them is a U.S. person — meaning, either a citizen or a permanent resident.
As Greenwald notes, it’s a story that’s eerily reminiscent of past abuses of government surveillance authority. Greenwald’s new report does not provide evidence of the NSA marshaling its vast databases to influence individuals or events within the United States. But you need not be a conspiracy theorist or a novelist with a knack for bending history to imagine how granting the NSA the power to “collect it all” might have seriously chilling and destructive repercussions here at home.
In fact, the NSA appears to be taking this effort right out of the shameful playbook of our not-so-distant history. Most infamously, as part of the COINTELPRO program, J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) obsessively monitored the activities of Martin Luther King, Jr., picking and choosing from the results to produce a report chock full of insinuations about King’s role in an evolving Communist conspiracy against the United States. Never mind that King unwaveringly espoused non-violence. It was King’s rising public stature and broadly influential political ideas that led the government to see him as a threat.
The FBI viewed no space as off limits. The agency consistently bugged King’s hotel rooms to monitor his planning of the 1963 March on Washington and to keep tabs on his strategic partnerships with other civil-rights leaders. But it also sought to compile a dossier of embarrassing information about King’s private sex life that the government could (and did) employ to discredit King and obstruct his political efforts.
King was not alone on the government’s long list of targets; he shared marquee billing with boxer Muhammed Ali, humorist Art Buchwald, author Norman Mailer, and even Senator Howard Baker. But the greater scandal was that — as the Church Committee revealed in 1976 — these big names appeared alongside more than one million other Americans, including half a million so-called “subversives.”
That is why, as disturbing as it is to read about the FBI’s sordid history of targeting domestic political “enemies,” the potential of the NSA to revive those tactics today (as exposed by Greenwald’s article) is alarming on a profoundly different scale. In the age of mass call-tracking and XKeyScore, hotel-room bugs seem almost quaint.
Indeed, Greenwald’s new story is a warning shot to those of us who have thus far ignored the Snowden revelations on the basis of having “nothing to hide.” As Greenwald makes clear, the subjects of the NSA’s newly exposed effort to target individuals with influence on social media have tangential (if any) ties to real terrorists or violent extremists. And as the ACLU has explained, the entire premise of the NSA’s focus on so-called “radicalizers” — the theory that a person’s adoption of what the government views as “radical” ideas is a step to terrorism — has been debunked. Intelligence programs based on that discredited theory are not just wrong, they’re ineffective. But they do very real damage to belief communities and political activists singled out for surveillance based on their views.
The efforts reported by Greenwald cut to the heart of the zone of expression and association that must remain free from intrusive, dragnet surveillance, both abroad and at home. In his very first public words, Snowden himself addressed the alarming consequences of the NSA’s hunger for obtaining and storing an incomprehensibly vast record of our lives:
Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded…[T]hey can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrong-doer.
In the months since the first Snowden revelations, few have managed to evoke the existential threat presented by unhinged NSA surveillance with such plain, direct force. In an instant, Greenwald’s new story has brought this surveillance nightmare— “collect it all” meets COINTELPRO — jarringly close to the here and now.
Privacy may not be the only casualty of the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance program. Major sectors of the US economy are reporting financial damage as the recent revelations shake consumer confidence and US trade partners distance themselves from companies that may have been compromised by the NSA or, worse, are secretly collaborating with the spy agency. Members of Congress, especially those who champion America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, should take note and rein in the NSA now if they want to stem the damage.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that AT&T’s desired acquisition of the European company Vodafone is in danger due to the company’s well-documented involvement in the NSA’s data-collection programs. European officials said the telecommunications giant would face “intense scrutiny” in its bid to purchase a major cell phone carrier. The Journal went on to say:
“Resistance to such a deal, voiced by officials in interviews across Europe, suggests the impact of the NSA affair could extend beyond the diplomatic sphere and damage US economic interests in key markets.”
In September, analysts at Cisco Systems reported that the fallout “reached another level,” when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) told companies not to use cryptographic standards that may have been undermined by the NSA’s BULLRUN program. The Cisco analysts said that if cryptography was compromised “it would be a critical blow to trust required across the Internet and the security community.”
This forecast was proven true in mid-November, when Cisco reported a 12 percent slump in its sales in the developing world due to the NSA revelations. As the Financial Times reported, new orders fell by 25 percent in Brazil and 30 percent in Russia and Cisco predicts its overall sales could drop by as much 10 percent this quarter. Cisco executives were quoted saying the NSA’s activities have created “a level of uncertainty or concern” that will have a deleterious impact on a wide-range of tech companies.
It is hard for civil libertarians to shed tears over AT&T losing business because of NSA spying, considering the company allowed the NSA to directly tap into its fiber optic cables to copy vast amounts of innocent Americans’ Internet traffic. AT&T was also recently revealed as having partnered with both the DEA and the CIA on separate mass surveillance programs. It is also hard to feel sorry for Cisco, which stands accused of helping China spy on dissidents and religious minorities. But the fact that the spying is hurting these major companies is indicative of the size of the problem.
This summer, European Parliament’s civil liberties committee was presented with a proposal to require every American website to place surveillance notices to EU citizens in order to force the US government to reverse course:
“The users should be made aware that the data may be subject to surveillance (under FISA 702) by the US government for any purpose which furthers US foreign policy. A consent requirement will raise EU citizen awareness and favour growth of services solely within EU jurisdiction. This will thus have economic impact on US business and increase pressure on the US government to reach a settlement.” [emphasis ours]
Meanwhile, Telenor, Norway’s largest telecom provider has reportedly halted its plans to move its customers to a US-based cloud provider. Brazil seems to be moving ahead to create its own email service and require US companies locate an office there if they wish to do business with Brazilian customers.
Laws like this mean that companies like Google “could be barred from doing business in one of the world’s most significant markets,” according to Google’s director for law enforcement and information security at Google, Richard Selgado. Google has been warning of this as far back as July, when in FISA court documents it argued that the continued secrecy surrounding government surveillance demands would harm its business.
Many commentators have been warning about the economic ramifications for months. Princeton technologist Ed Felten, who previously at the Federal Trade Commission, best explained why the NSA revelations could end up hurting US businesses:
“This is going to put US companies at a competitive disadvantage, because people will believe that U.S. companies lack the ability to protect their customers—and people will suspect that U.S. companies may feel compelled to lie to their customers about security.”
The fallout may worsen. One study released shortly after the first Edward Snowden leaks said the economy would lose $22 to $35 billion in the next three years. Another study by Forrester said the $35 billion estimate was too low and pegged the real loss figure around $180 billion for the US tech industry by 2016.
Much of the economic problem stems for the US government’s view that it’s open season when it comes to spying on non-U.S. persons. As Mark Zuckerberg said in September, the government’s position is“don’t worry, we’re not spying on any Americans. Wonderful, that’s really helpful for companies trying to work with people around the world.” Google’s Chief Legal Officer David Drummond echoed this sentiment last week, saying:
“The justification has been couched as ‘Don’t worry. We’re only snooping on foreigners.’ For a company like ours, where most of our business and most of our users are non-American, that’s not very helpful.”
Members of Congress who care about the US economy should take note: the companies losing their competitive edge due to NSA surveillance are mainstream economic drivers. Just as their constituents are paying attention, so are the customers who vote with their dollars. As Sen. Ron Wyden remarked last month, “If a foreign enemy was doing this much damage to the economy, people would be in the streets with pitchforks.”
The American intelligence service – NSA – infected more than 50,000 computer networks worldwide with malicious software designed to steal sensitive information. Documents provided by former NSA-employee Edward Snowden and seen by this newspaper, prove this.
A management presentation dating from 2012 explains how the NSA collects information worldwide. In addition, the presentation shows that the intelligence service uses ‘Computer Network Exploitation’ (CNE) in more than 50,000 locations. CNE is the secret infiltration of computer systems achieved by installing malware, malicious software.
One example of this type of hacking was discovered in September 2013 at the Belgium telecom provider Belgacom. For a number of years the British intelligence service – GCHQ – has been installing this malicious software in the Belgacom network in order to tap their customers’ telephone and data traffic. The Belgacom network was infiltrated by GCHQ through a process of luring employees to a false Linkedin page.
NSA special department employs more than a thousand hackers
The NSA computer attacks are performed by a special department called TAO (Tailored Access Operations). Public sources show that this department employs more than a thousand hackers. As recently as August 2013, the Washington Post published articles about these NSA-TAO cyber operations. In these articles The Washington Post reported that the NSA installed an estimated 20,000 ‘implants’ as early as 2008. These articles were based on a secret budget report of the American intelligence services. By mid-2012 this number had more than doubled to 50,000, as is shown in the presentation NRC Handelsblad laid eyes on.
Cyber operations are increasingly important for the NSA. Computer hacks are relatively inexpensive and provide the NSA with opportunities to obtain information that they otherwise would not have access to. The NSA-presentation shows their CNE-operations in countries such as Venezuela and Brazil. The malware installed in these countries can remain active for years without being detected.
‘Sleeper cells’ can be activated with a single push of a button
The malware can be controlled remotely and be turned on and off at will. The ‘implants’ act as digital ‘sleeper cells’ that can be activated with a single push of a button. According to the Washington Post, the NSA has been carrying out this type of cyber operation since 1998.
The Dutch intelligence services – AIVD and MIVD – have displayed interest in hacking. The Joint Sigint Cyber Unit – JSCU – was created early in 2013. The JSCU is an inter-agency unit drawing on experts with a range of IT skills. This new unit is prohibited by law from performing the type of operations carried out by the NSA as Dutch law does not allow this type of internet searches.
The NSA declined to comment and referred to the US Government. A government spokesperson states that any disclosure of classified material is harmful to our national security.
Inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee
Internet surveillance by British and US spying agencies has posed a threat to online freedom and the future of democracy, British inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee has warned.
Berners-Lee said some governments are jeopardized by how the Internet and social media help exposing wrongdoings across the planet, adding that the “growing tide of surveillance and censorship now threatens the future of democracy”.
He also said that whistleblowers who have leaked secret surveillance by US National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s eavesdropping agency the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) deserve praise and need to be protected.
Berners-Lee’s comments come after classified documents, leaked by US whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in June, showed the NSA and its British counterpart the GCHQ had been eavesdropping on millions of American and European phone records and the Internet data.
“Countries owe a lot to whistleblowers – there’s a series of whistleblowers who have been involved. Snowden is the latest. Because there was no way we could have had that conversation without them,” he said at the launch of a new index showing web freedoms around the world.
“At the end of the end day when systems for checks and balances break down we have to rely on the whistleblowers – I think we must protect them and respect them,” he added.
In his interview with The Guardian earlier this month, Berners-Lee described the spying activities by the US and UK spying agencies as “dysfunctional and unaccountable.”
The inventor of the World Wide Web slammed the US and British governments for weakening online security and said their spying activities have contradicted all efforts to stop cybercrime and cyber warfare.
Revelations about the long-term global, intrusive spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other allied intelligence apparatuses have provoked widespread protests and indignation and threatened ties between erstwhile imperial allies.
Allied regimes have uniformly condemned NSA espionage as a violation of trust and sovereignty, a threat to their national and economic security and to their citizens’ privacy.
In contrast, Washington has responded in a contradictory manner: on the one hand, US officials and intelligence chiefs have acknowledged ‘some excesses and mistakes’, on the other hand, they defend the entire surveillance program as necessary for US national security.
Interpretations vary about the US global spying apparatus – how it was built and why it was launched against hundreds of millions of people. ‘Subjective’ and ‘objective’ explanations abound, evoking psychological, social, economic, strategic and political considerations.
A multi-factorial explanation is required.
The Integrated Hypothesis of the Global Police State
One of the essential components of a police state is an all-pervasive spy apparatus operating independently of any legal or constitutional constraints. Spy operations include: 1) massive surveillance over text, video and audio communications and 2) the capacity to secretly record, store and use information secretly collected. This information strengthens political and economic leaders who, in turn, appoint and direct the spy chiefs. The political and economic rulers control the spy-lords by setting the goals, means and targets of the surveillance state. The US global spy apparatus is neither ‘self-starting nor self-perpetuating’. It did not arise in a vacuum and it has virtually no strategic autonomy. While there may be intra-bureaucratic conflicts and rivalries, the institutions and groups function within the overall ‘paradigm’ established and directed by the political and economic elite.
The Global Spy Structure
The growth and expansion of the US spy apparatus has deep roots in its history and is related to the colonial need to control subjugated native and enslaved peoples. However, the global operations emerged after the Second World War when the US replaced Europe as the center of world imperialism. The US assumed the principal role in preventing the spread of revolutionary and anti-colonial movements from the Soviet Union, China, Korea, Vietnam and Cuba to war and crisis-burdened countries of Europe, North and Southeast Asia and Latin America. When the collectivist states fell apart in the 1990’s the US became the sole superpower and a unipolar world emerged.
For the United States, ‘unipolarity’ meant (1) an impetus toward total global domination; (2) a world-wide network of military bases; (3) the subordination of capitalist competitors in other industrial countries, (4) the destruction of nationalist adversaries and (5) the unfettered pillage of resources from the former collectivist regimes as they became vassal states. The last condition meant the complete dismantling of the collectivist state and its public institutions – education, health care and worker rights.
The opportunities for immense profits and supreme control over this vast new empire were boundless while the risks seemed puny, at least during the ‘golden period’, defined by the years immediately after (1) the capitalist takeover of the ex-Soviet bloc, (2) the Chinese transition to capitalism and (3) the conversion of many former African and Asian nationalist regimes, parties and movements to ‘free-market’ capitalism.
Dazzled by the vision of a ‘new world to conquer’ the United States set up an international state apparatus in order to exploit this world-historical opportunity. Most top political leaders, intelligence strategists, military officials and business elites quickly realized that these easy initial conquests and the complicity of pliable and kleptocratic post-Communist vassal rulers would not last. The societies would eventually react and the lucrative plunder of resources was not sustainable. Nationalist adversaries were bound to arise and demand their own spheres of influence. The White House feared their own capitalist allies would take on the role of imperialist competitors seeking to grab ‘their share’ of the booty, taking over and exploiting resources, public enterprises and cheap labor.
The new ‘unipolar world’ meant the shredding of the fabric of social and political life. In the ‘transition’ to free market capitalism, stable employment, access to health care, security, education and civilized living standards disappeared. In the place of once complex, advanced social systems, local tribal and ethnic wars erupted. It would be ‘divide and conquer’ in an orgy of pillage for the empire. But the vast majority of the people of the world suffered from chaos and regression when the multi-polar world of collectivist, nationalist, and imperialist regimes gave way to the unipolar empire.
For US imperialist strategists and their academic apologists the transition to a unipolar imperial world was exhilarating and they dubbed their unchallenged domination the ‘New World Order’ (NWO). The US imperial state then had the right and duty to maintain and police its ‘New World Order’ – by any means. Francis Fukiyama, among other academic apologists celebrated the ‘end of history’ in a paroxysm of imperial fever. Liberal-imperial academics, like Immanuel Wallerstein, sensed the emerging challenges to the US Empire and advanced the view of a Manichean world of ‘unipolarity’ (meaning ‘order’) versus ‘multipolar chaos’– as if the hundreds of millions of lives in scores of countries devastated by the rise of the post-collectivist US empire did not have a stake in liberating themselves from the yoke of a unipolar world.
By the end of its first decade, the unipolar empire exhibited cracks and fissures. It had to confront adversarial nationalist regimes in resource-rich countries, including Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Bashar Assad in Syria, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Khamenei in Iran. They challenged US supremacy in North Africa and the Middle East. The Taliban in Afghanistan and nationalist Islamist movements questioned US influence over the vassal rulers of Muslim countries – especially the puppet monarchs in the Persian Gulf.
On the other side of the imperial coin, the domestic economic foundations of the ‘New World Order’ were weakened by a series of speculative crises undermining the support of the US public as well as sectors of the elite. Meanwhile European and Japanese allies, as well as emerging Chinese capitalists, were beginning to compete for markets.
Within the US an ultra-militarist group of political ideologues, public officials and policy advisers, embracing a doctrine combining a domestic police state with foreign military intervention, took power in Washington. ‘Conservatives’ in the Bush, Sr. regime, ‘liberals’ in the Clinton administration and ‘neo-conservatives’ in the Bush, Jr. administration all sought and secured the power to launch wars in the Persian Gulf and the Balkans, to expand and consolidate the unipolar empire.
Maintaining and expanding the unipolar empire became the trigger for the White House’s global police state apparatus. As new regimes were added to Washington’s orbit, more and more surveillance was needed to make sure they did not drift into a competitor’s sphere of influence.
The year 2000 was critical for the global police state. First there was the dot-com crash in the financial sector. The speculative collapse caused massive but unorganized disaffection among the domestic population. Arab resistance re-emerged in the Middle East. The cosmically corrupt Boris Yeltsin vassal state fell and a nationalist, Russian President Vladimir Putin took power. The willing accomplices to the disintegration of the former USSR had taken their billions and fled to New York, London and Israel. Russia was on the road to recovery as a unified nuclear-armed nation state with regional ambitions. The period of unchallenged unipolar imperial expansion had ended.
The election of President Bush Jr., opened the executive branch to police state ideologues and civilian warlords, many linked to the state of Israel, who were determined to destroy secular Arab nationalist and Muslim adversaries in the Middle East. The steady growth of the global police state had been ‘too slow’ for them. The newly ascendant warlords and the proponents of the global police state wanted to take advantage of their golden opportunity to make US/Israeli supremacy in the Middle East irreversible and unquestioned via the application of overwhelming force (‘shock and awe’).
Their primary political problem in expanding global military power was the lack of a fully dominant domestic police state capable of demobilizing American public opinion largely opposed to any new wars. ‘Disaster ideologues’ like Phillip Zelikow and Condoleezza Rice understood the need for a new ‘Pearl Harbor’ to occur and threaten domestic security and thereby terrify the public into war. They lamented the fact that no credible regimes were left in the Middle East to cast as the ‘armed aggressor’ and as a threat to US national security. Such an enemy was vital to the launching of new wars. And new wars were necessary to justify the scale and scope of the new global spy apparatus and emergency police state edicts the warlords and neoconservatives had in mind. Absent a credible ‘state-based adversary’, the militarists settled for an act of terror (or the appearance of one) to ‘shock and awe’ the US public into accepting its project for imperial wars, the imposition of a domestic police state and the establishment of a vast global spy apparatus.
The September 11, 2001 explosions at the World Trade Center in New York City and the plane crash into a wing (mostly vacant for repairs) of the Pentagon in Washington, DC were the triggers for a vast political and bureaucratic transformation of the US imperial state. The entire state apparatus became a police state operation. All constitutional guarantees were suspended. The neo-conservatives seized power, the civilian warlords ruled. A huge body of police state legislation suddenly appeared, as if from nowhere, the ‘Patriot Act’. The Zionists in office set the objectives and influenced military policies to focus on Israel’s regional interests and the destruction of Israel’s Arab adversaries who had opposed its annexation of Palestine. War was declared against Afghanistan without any evidence that the ruling Taliban was involved or aware of the September 11 attack of the US. Despite massive civilian and even some military dissent, the civilian warlords and Zionist officials blatantly fabricated a series of pretexts to justify an unprovoked war against the secular nationalist regime in Iraq, the most advanced of all Arab countries. Europe was divided over the war. Countries in Asia and Latin America joined Germany and France in refusing to support the invasion. The United Kingdom, under a ‘Labor’ government, eagerly joined forces with the US hoping to regain some of its former colonial holdings in the Gulf.
At home, hundreds of billions of tax dollars were diverted from social programs to fund a vast army of police state operatives. The ideologues of war and the legal eagles for torture and the police state shifted into high gear. Those who opposed the wars were identified, monitored and the details of their lives were ‘filed away’ in a vast database. Soon millions came to be labeled as ‘persons of interest’ if they were connected in any way to anyone who was ‘suspect’, i.e. opposed to the ‘Global War on Terror’. Eventually even more tenuous links were made to everyone… family members, classmates and employers.
Over 1.5 million ‘security cleared’ monitors were contracted by the government to spy on hundreds of millions of citizens. The spy state spread domestically and internationally. For a global empire, based on a unipolar state, the best defense was judged to be a massive global surveillance apparatus operating independently of any other government – including the closest allies.
The slogan, ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT) became an open-ended formula for the civilian warlords, militarists and Zionists to expand the scope and duration of overt and covert warfare and espionage. ‘Homeland Security’ departments, operating at both the Federal and State levels, were consolidated and expanded with massive budgets for incarceration and repression. Constitutional protections and the Writ of Habeas Corpus were ‘rendered quaint vestiges of history’. The National Security Agency doubled its personnel and budget with a mandate to distrust and monitor allies and vassal states. The targets piled upon targets, far beyond traditional adversaries, sweeping up the public and private communications of all political, military and economic leaders, institutions, and citizenry.
The ‘Global War on Terror’ provided the ideological framework for a police state based on the totalitarian conception that ‘everybody and everything is connected to each other’ in a ‘global system’ threatening the state. This ‘totalistic view’ informs the logic of the expanded NSA, linking enemies, adversaries, competitors and allies. ‘Enemies’ were defined as anti-imperialist states or regimes with consistently critical independent foreign and domestic policies. ‘Adversaries’ occasionally sided with ‘enemies’, or tolerated policymakers who would not always conform to imperial policies. ‘Competitors’ supported the empire but had the capacity and opportunity to make lucrative trade deals with adversaries or enemies – Allies were states and leaders who generally supported imperial wars but might provide a forum condemning imperial war crimes (torture and drone attacks). In addition, allies could undermine US imperial market shares and accumulate favorable trade balances.
The logic of the NSA required spying on the allies to root out any links, trade, cultural or scientific relations with adversaries and enemies, which might have spillover consequences. The NSA feared that associations in one sphere might ‘overlap’ with adversaries operating in strategic policy areas and undermine ally loyalty to the empire.
The spy logic had a multiplier effect – who gets to ‘spy on the spies?’ The NSA might collaborate with overseas allied intelligence agencies and officials – but American spymasters would always question their reliability, their inclination to withhold vital information, the potential for shifting loyalties. ‘Do our allies spy on us? How do we know our own spies are not colluding with allied spies who might then be colluding with adversarial spies?’ This justified the establishment of a huge national vacuum cleaner to suck up all transactions and communications – justified by the notion that a wide net scooping up everything might catch that big fish!
The NSA regards all ‘threats to the unipolar empire’ as national security threats. No country or agency within or without the reach of the empire was excluded as a ‘potential threat’.
The ‘lead imperial state’ requires the most efficient and overarching spy technology with the furthest and deepest reach. Overseas allies appear relatively inefficient, vulnerable to infiltration, infected with the residue of a long-standing suspect ‘leftist culture’ and unable to confront the threat of new dangerous adversaries. The imperial logic regards surveillance of ‘allies’ as ‘protecting allied interests’ because the allies lack the will and capacity to deal with enemy infiltration.
There is a circular logic to the surveillance state. When an allied leader starts to question how imperial espionage protects allied interest, it is time to intensify spying on the ally. Any foreign ally who questions NSA surveillance over its citizens raises deep suspicions. Washington believes that questioning imperial surveillance undermines political loyalties.
Secret Police Spying as a “Process of Accumulation”
Like capitalism, which needs to constantly expand and accumulate capital, secret police bureaucracies require more spies to discover new areas, institutions and people to monitor. Leaders, followers, citizens, immigrants, members of ethnic, religious, civic and political groups and individuals – all are subject to surveillance. This requires vast armies of data managers and analysts, operatives, programmers, software developers and supervisors – an empire of ‘IT’. The ever-advancing technology needs an ever-expanding base of operation.
The spy- masters move from local to regional to global operations. Facing exposure and condemnation of its global chain of spying, the NSA calls for a new ‘defensive ideology’. To formulate the ideology, a small army of academic hacks is trotted out to announce the phony alternatives of a ‘unipolar police state or terror and chaos’. The public is presented with a fabricated choice of its perpetual, ‘well-managed and hi-tech’, imperial wars versus the fragmentation and collapse of the entire world into a global war of ‘all against all’. Academic ideologues studiously avoid mentioning that small wars by small powers end more quickly and have fewer casualties.
The ever-expanding technology of spying strengthens the police state. The list of targets is endless and bizarre. Nothing and no one will be missed!
As under capitalism, the growth of the spy state triggers crisis. With the inevitable rise of opposition, whistleblowers come forward to denounce the surveillance state. At its peak, spy-state over-reach leads to exposure, public scandals and threats from allies, competitors and adversaries. The rise of cyber-imperialism raises the specter of cyber-anti-imperialism. New conceptions of inter-state relations and global configurations are debated and considered. World public opinion increasingly rejects the ‘necessity’ of police states. Popular disgust and reason exposes the evil logic of the spy-state based on empire and promotes a plural world of peaceful rival countries, functioning under co-operative policies – systems without empire, without spymasters and spies.
We’ve been among those who have suggested that the best way for the NSA to deal with the upcoming NSA leaks is to just stop lying and come clean about what they’re doing. It’s such a crazy suggestion that even former NSA boss Bobby Ray Inman has suggested it as well. It looks like the NSA is considering revealing something, but it’s likely to be pretty limited:
With respect to other information held by Snowden and his allies but not yet publicized, the NSA is now considering a proactive release of some of the less sensitive material, to better manage the debate over its surveillance program.
“We’re working on how do we do that,” says Richard Ledgett, the NSA official in charge of the agency’s response to the Snowden disclosures.
This came following a story about Keith Alexander claiming that Snowden may have taken “up to 200,000″ documents with him — a number that has generated some headlines. Of course, when you read the details, you realize that while Alexander quoted a range that had 200,000 as the ceiling, it also notes that officials at the NSA “remain unsure which documents he downloaded for leaking to the media.” Yes, nearly six months in, they still don’t know what he took. And this is the agency saying that they have such great audits that no one can abuse their systems? Really?
Glenn Greenwald has already mocked the claim of 200,000 documents (and, I was pretty sure in the past he had put the number in the tens of thousands — closer to 60,000). But, once again, we’re left wondering how the NSA can claim it has controls in place when it still has no idea what happened. Either way, open on up, NSA. Let’s see what you’ve got. I’m sure that each attempt to spin things will be quickly debunked by actual documents from Snowden.
Rep. Mike Rogers, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), is a busy man. Since June, he (and HPSCI) have been all over the media with press statements, TV appearances, and tweets, relentlessly trying to persuade the public that the National Security Agency (NSA) is merely doing its job when it collects innocent Americans’ calling records, phone calls, and emails.
One such release is a “Myths v. Facts” page tackling the fact and fiction of the NSA’s activities. In addition to collecting phone calls and emails, we now know these practices include deliberately weakening international cryptographic standards and hacking into companies’ data centers, but, unfortunately, the page is misleading and full of NSA talking points. And one statement is downright false.
In the “Myths v. Facts” page, HPSCI touts company cooperation with the spying programs, writing: the NSA is not stealing data from tech companies without their knowledge. But two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported the exact opposite: the NSA secretly broke into the main links connecting data centers within Yahoo! and Google. Time for an update?
HPSCI is supposed to be informed of significant intelligence activities—and given Rep. Rogers’ well-publicized concerns over cybersecurity (he introduced a bill called CISPA), we’d expect him to ensure the committee knew of such an attack if he’d been informed. Members of Congress must find out whether HPSCI knew about the attacks on private companies, and if they did, why they published such misinformation.
The document also uses two different word games. First, it sets up a straw man by focusing on how the phone records program using Section 215 of the Patriot Act doesn’t collect the content of Americans’ communications. But NSA is using Section 215 to collect “metadata” that reveals every American’s calling records—calls to your doctor, your church, your partner, etc.—which severely chills core Constitutional freedoms.
HPSCI’s site neglects to note that the ongoing leaks provide evidence that, while spying on foreigners, the NSA collects Americans’ phone calls, emails, and other content using Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Instead of discarding emails belonging to innocent Americans’, the NSA keeps the communications. The Intelligence Committee document completely ignores this point by focusing on Section 702′s prohibition of “targeting” Americans. That’s a red herring: regardless of “targeting,” the NSA is still collecting and storing the content of Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.
The “Facts” Continue
HPSCI also tells us that members of Congress were fully aware of the programs. But freshmen members of Congress have noted that that they were not shared important documents before key votes in December 2012 reauthorizing the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. More generally, senior members of Congress have decried briefings by the intelligence community as playing a game of “20 questions.” Just last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, the Senate counterpart to HPSCI), admitted how hard it is to get straight answers. In a recent article, she noted: “Once it gets started in one administration or two administrations back, it just continues on. They grow, they mutate, whatever it may be. You wouldn’t know to ask, that’s the thing. I wouldn’t have known to ask.”
Lastly, HPSCI says that the NSA isn’t “using the ‘[Business Records]‘ program to do extensive data mining on Americans’ phone records.” The Business Records program may not be doing the actual data mining, but as we noted in our recent post on Executive Order 12333, there are secret guidelines that supposedly allow NSA to use the metadata collected under Section 215 and Section 702 to map out social networks. Essentially, the data mining is occurring under a different program that is still secret, and unknown, to the American public.
The Intelligence Committees’ Role in Oversight and Information
HPSCI, like SSCI, was originally created in the 1970s after the Church and Pike committees investigated the activities of the intelligence community, found systemic abuses of privacy and civil liberties, and recommended reforms to prevent those abuses from happening again. Its primary responsibility is to oversee the intelligence community and to inform the public and Congress about the intelligence community’s activities. We need HPSCI to tell the truth. That’s clearly not the case with the supposed “Myths v. Facts” website. And it’s sad to see a committee originally created to rein in the abuses of the intelligence community—as when NSA collected every single telegram leaving the country—tout incorrect or misleading talking points.
Congress Must Investigate
It’s one of the many reasons why Congress must establish a special investigatory committee into the spying as a result of the Intelligence Committee’s inability to release factual information about the spying. A special investigatory committee could look into the NSA’s activities and perform a review of the current oversight regime—paying particular attention to what other information the NSA is collecting about innocent users and how Congress can be better informed. As this document shows, members of Congress and the general public should not rely solely on HPSCI for facts about the NSA’s activities. It also forces us to ask: How much do these intelligence committees really know about what the intelligence community is doing? Do they understand enough about what they don’t know to be able to avoid unwittingly misinforming us?
- NSA’s Notion of Regaining Confidence (emptywheel.net)
- Less Than 20% Of Americans Believe That There’s Adequate Oversight Of The NSA (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Cell Phone Manufacturers Offer Carefully Worded Denials To Question Of Whether NSA Can Track Powered-Down Cell Phones
Back in July, a small but disturbing detail on the government’s cell phone tracking abilities was buried inside a larger story detailing the explosive expansion of the NSA post-9/11. Ryan Gallagher at Slate pulled this small paragraph out and highlighted it.
By September 2004, the NSA had developed a technique that was dubbed “The Find” by special operations officers. The technique, the Post reports, was used in Iraq and “enabled the agency to find cellphones even when they were turned off.” This helped identify “thousands of new targets, including members of a burgeoning al-Qaeda-sponsored insurgency in Iraq,” according to members of the special operations unit interviewed by the Post.
Ars Technica reports that some security researchers are calling this statement into question and have contacted cell phone providers for statements on the NSA’s claim. Only a few have responded at this point, and their denials have been worded very specifically.
Google had this to say:
When a mobile device running the Android Operating System is powered off, there is no part of the Operating System that remains on or emits a signal. Google has no way to turn on a device remotely.
Google may not have a way, but that doesn’t mean the NSA doesn’t.
Our devices are designed so that when they are switched off, the radio transceivers within the devices should be powered off. We are not aware of any way they could be re-activated until the user switches the device on again. We believe that this means that the device could not be tracked in the manner suggested in the article you referenced.
Once again, we’re looking at words like “should” and “not aware.” This doesn’t necessarily suggest Nokia does know of methods government agencies could use to track phones that are off, but it doesn’t entirely rule it out either.
Samsung’s response is more interesting. While declaring that all components should be turned off when the phone is powered down, it does acknowledge that malware could trick cell phone users into believing their phone is powered down when it isn’t. Ericsson, which is no longer in the business of producing cell phones (and presumably has less to lose by being forthright), was even more expansive on the subject.
The only electronics normally remaining in operation are the crystal that keeps track of time and some functionality sensing on-button and charger connection. The modem (the cellular communication part) cannot turn on by itself. It is not powered in off-state. Power and clock distribution to the modem is controlled by the application processor in the mobile phone. The application processor only turns on if the user pushes the on-switch. There could, however, be potential risks that once the phone runs there could be means to construct malicious applications that can exploit the phone.
On the plus side, the responding manufacturers seem to be interested in ensuring a powered down phone is actually powered down, rather than just put into a “standby” or “hibernation” mode that could potentially lead to exploitation. But the implicit statement these carefully worded denials make is that anything’s possible. Not being directly “aware” of something isn’t the same thing as a denial.
Even if the odds seem very low that the NSA can track a powered down cell phone, the last few months of leaks have shown the agency has some very surprising capabilities — some of which even stunned engineers working for the companies it surreptitiously slurped data from.
Not only that, but there’s historical evidence via court cases that shows the FBI has used others’ phones as eavesdropping devices by remotely activating them and using the mic to record conversations. As was noted by c|net back in 2006, whatever the FBI utilized apparently worked even when phones were shut off.
The surveillance technique came to light in an opinion published this week by U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan. He ruled that the “roving bug” was legal because federal wiretapping law is broad enough to permit eavesdropping even of conversations that take place near a suspect’s cell phone.
Kaplan’s opinion said that the eavesdropping technique “functioned whether the phone was powered on or off.” Some handsets can’t be fully powered down without removing the battery; for instance, some Nokia models will wake up when turned off if an alarm is set.
While the Genovese crime family prosecution appears to be the first time a remote-eavesdropping mechanism has been used in a criminal case, the technique has been discussed in security circles for years.
Short of pulling out the battery (notably not an option in some phones), there seems to be little anyone can do to prevent the device from being tracked and/or used as a listening device. The responding companies listed above have somewhat hedged their answers to the researcher’s questions, most likely not out of any deference to government intelligence agencies, but rather to prevent looking ignorant later if (or when) subsequent leaks make these tactics public knowledge.
Any powered up cell phone performs a lot of legwork for intelligence agencies, supplying a steady stream of location and communications data. If nothing else, the leaks have proven the NSA (and to a slightly lesser extent, the FBI) has an unquenchable thirst for data. If such exploits exist (and they seem to), it would be ridiculous to believe they aren’t being used to their fullest extent.