New York – The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not hear Center for Constitutional Rights v. Obama, a lawsuit challenging the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance of people within the United States. The suit sought an injunction ordering the government to destroy any records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal NSA program. The Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement in response to the Court’s decision:
The Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case guarantees that the federal courts will never address a fundamental question: Was the warrantless surveillance program the NSA carried out on President Bush’s orders legal? The Court’s decision also guarantees that the Obama administration, which has for the last five years refused to take any position on that question, will now never have to answer either.
Despite mounting evidence of government spying on attorneys’ privileged communications, the Court yesterday declined to review the lower court’s determination that CCR attorneys’ fears of surveillance under President Bush’s NSA program, which involved no review by judges or Congress and flew directly in the face of express criminal prohibitions, were too “speculative” to allow CCR to challenge the program in court.
The Court’s decision comes as increasing evidence suggests the government has been surveilling attorney-client communications for some time. The New York Times recently reported that in 2013 the NSA surveilled law firm Mayer Brown while it represented the government of Indonesia in trade talks with the United States. In 2008, The Times reported Justice Department officials had confirmed that attorney-client communications in terrorism cases were sometimes subject to surveillance. And a document accidentally released to an Islamic charity in 2004 indicated that the D.C.-based attorneys for the charity had been subject to surveillance while speaking to their clients.
A memo released by whistleblower Edward Snowden indicated that the government only excludes attorney-client communications from collection when the client is under actual indictment in the United States. Communications of attorneys not directly with a client (for example, with expert witnesses or investigators abroad), or with a client not formally charged in the United States (including, for example, the Center for Constitutional Rights’ many Guantanamo detainee clients, none of whom are charged in federal courts) might now be subject to surveillance under broad orders issued under the current FISA statute.
The Verge had a story last week (expanding on an August report from the Chicago Tribune that I’d missed) that the Chicago police have created a list of the “400 most dangerous people in Chicago.” The Trib reported on one fellow, who had no criminal arrests, expressing surprise over having received a visit from the police and being told he was on this list. A 17-year-old girl was also shocked when told she was on the list.
The database, according to the Verge, is based on historic crime information, disturbance calls, and suspicious person reports. The CPD’s list is heavily based on social network analysis (which is interesting considering the debates now swirling around the uses of metadata and the analysis such data enables). A sociologist whose work inspired the list, Andrew Papachristos, told the author of a Chicago Magazine piece (which goes into some interesting depth on some of the theory behind the list): “It’s not just about your friends and who you’re hanging out with, it’s actually the structure of these networks that matter.”
The list was funded through a Justice Department grant known as “Two Degrees of Association.” (At least that’s one less hop than the NSA uses.)
I’m still consistently surprised how often things we worry about in the abstract actually show up in the real world. For years, privacy advocates have been warning about how databases might be mined by the authorities for information used to label, sort, and prejudge people. True, there are all too many precedents for this sort of thing, including the CAPPS II program proposed early in the Bush Administration, the nation’s terrorist watch lists, various police gang lists, and the Automated Targeting System. The TSA’s Pre-Check whitelist is also a cousin of this kind of program. All are based on using various information sources and grinding them through one or another logic engines to spit out a judgment about individuals and their supposed dangerousness or safeness as a human being. But still, this program amazes me in how starkly it replicates the kinds of things we have been warning about in many different contexts.
Just two weeks ago, for example, I was asked by several news outlets what we think about police officers using Google Glass. I told them that Glass is basically a body camera, and that the issues were the same as those outlined in our white paper on police use of that technology. The principal difference between Glass and the body cameras being marketed to police is that Glass can also display information. I said this shouldn’t be a problem—unless (I added almost apologetically because of the slightly fanciful nature of this point) the police started using them with face recognition to display some kind of rating or warning for individuals who have been somehow determined to be untrustworthy.
“Of course, that’s not a problem today,” I said, “it’s more of a futuristic concern.”
Ha! Barely a week later, that scenario doesn’t seem so futuristic any more to me, especially at a time when some want to use face recognition to warn them when someone on a blacklist tries to enter a store or school. (True, Google doesn’t currently permit FaceRec apps on Glass, but it’s unclear how long that will last.)
Some further points and questions about Chicago’s heat list:
- The principal problem with flagging suspicious individuals in this way may be the risk of guilt by association. Although we don’t know how valid, accurate, and fair the algorithm is, it’s important to note that even if its measures were valid statistically—that one particular individual really does have an increased risk of crime because of certain things about his or her life—it may still constitute guilt-by-association for a person who actually remains innocent. It is simply not fair for people to be subject to punishments and disadvantages because of the groups they belong to or what other people in similar circumstances tend to do. I keep going back to the example of the man whose credit rating was lowered because the other customers of a store where he shopped had poor repayment histories.
- Why should the police restrict their hotlist to 400? Why not 4,000 or 40,000? In fact, why not give every citizen a rating, between 1 and 100 say, of how “risky” they might be? Then the police could program their Google Glass to display that score hovering above the head of every person who comes into their field of vision. This is a path it’s all too easy to see the police sliding down, and one we should not take even the first steps towards.
- Remember too the point that (as I made here) there are a vast number of laws on the books, many complicated and obscure, and anyone who is scrutinized closely enough by the authorities is far more likely to actually be found to have run afoul of some law than a person who isn’t. In that respect inclusion on the list could become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
- Will the Chicago police carry out any kind of analysis to measure how effective this technique is? Will they look at the success of their predictions, search for any discriminatory effects, or attempt to find out whether these rankings become a self-fulfilling prophesy? The police often have little inclination to do any such things—to adopt rigorous criteria for measuring whether their new toys and gizmos are providing a good return on investment. Purely from an oversight point of view, every aspect of this program would ideally be made public so the world could scrutinize it—certainly the algorithm. Privacy concerns, however, suggest that the names of individuals who are (quite possibly totally unfairly) flagged by these algorithms not be made public, nor any personal data that is being fed into the algorithms.
- A Chicago police commander is quoted as saying, “If you end up on that list, there’s a reason you’re there.” This framing begs the question at the heart of this approach: is it valid and accurate? Such circular logic is genuinely frightening when it comes from a police officer talking about matters of guilt and innocence.
- It’s true that there could be a fine line between laudable efforts to identify and help “at-risk youth,” and efforts to tag some people with labels that are used to discriminate and stigmatize. Research on the “epidemiology of violence” could be valuable if used as part of a public health approach to crime. But if it’s part of a criminal justice “pre-crime” approach, then that’s where the problems arise.
Overall, the key question is this: will being flagged by these systems lead to good things in a person’s life, like increased support, opportunities, and chances to escape crime—or bad things, such as surveillance and prejudicial encounters with the police? Unfortunately, there are all too many reasons to worry that this program will veer towards the worst nightmares of those who have been closely watching the growth of the data-based society.
In the wake of President Obama’s promise to stop spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the US intelligence has switched its attention to her top government officials, a German newspaper reported.
Washington’s relations with Germany were strained last year after revelations that the US National Security Agency (NSA) was conducting mass surveillance in Germany and even tapped the mobile phone of Chancellor Merkel.
Facing the German outrage, President Barack Obama pledged that the US would stop spying on the leader of the European country, which is among the closest and most powerful allies of America.
After the promise was made, the NSA has stepped up surveillance of senior German officials, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag (BamS) reported on Sunday.
“We have had the order not to miss out on any information now that we are no longer able to monitor the chancellor’s communication directly,” it quoted a top NSA employee in Germany as saying.
BamS said the NSA had 297 employees stationed in Germany and was surveying 320 key individuals, most of them German decision-makers involved in politics and business.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere is of particular interest to the US, the report said, because he is a close aide of Merkel, who seeks his advice on many issues and was rumored to be promoting his candidacy for the post of NATO secretary-general.
A spokesman for the German Interior Ministry told the newspaper it would not comment on the “allegations of unnamed individuals.”
Privacy issues are a very sensitive area in Germany, which holds the memory of invasive state surveillance practices by the Nazi government and later by the Communist government in the former East Germany.
Part of the outrage in Germany was caused by the allegation that US intelligence is using its surveillance capabilities not only to provide national security, but also to gain business advantage for American companies over their foreign competitors.
Berlin has been pushing for a ‘no-spying deal’ with the US for months, but so far with little success. Germany is also advocating the creation of a European computer network which would allow communication traffic not to pass through US-based servers and thus avoid the NSA tapping.
Mass surveillance of electronic communications is a vast, new, government intrusion on the privacy of innocent people worldwide. It is a violation of International human rights law. Without checks and balances, its use will continue to spread from country to country, corrupting democracies and empowering dictators.
That’s why, today, on February 11th, around the world, from Argentina to Uganda, from Colombia to the Philippines, the people of the Internet have united to fight back.
The Day We Fight Back’s main global action is to sign and promote the 13 Principles, a set of fundamental rules that, in clear language, tells lawmakers and governments how to apply existing human rights law to these new forms of surveillance. With the support of thousands of Net users, we’ll use your voice to demand that all governments comply with their obligation to protect privacy against unchecked surveillance.
But there’s more to today’s global action than the Principles. Hundreds of digital rights and privacy groups, thousands of individual Net users, in dozens of countries, have come together to protest surveillance by governments at home and abroad. Here’s just a sampling of the campaigns and events happening today:
In Argentina, the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles and Vía Libre Foundation is suing the Argentinian Congressional surveillance oversight commission for withholding basic information on surveillance practices in the country.
In Australia, a coalition of groups under the banner Citizens Not Suspects, is joining to demand a government investigation of the practices of the notorious “Five Eyes” countries — the nations, including Australia, which share intelligence with the NSA.
In Brazil, where the upcoming Marco Civil bill promises to encode human rights into the country’s Internet law, citizens are renewing their demands to include strong privacy protections.
In Canada, more than 45 major organizations, and tens of thousands of Canadians are calling their elected representatives to stop illegal spying by Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), Canada’s spying agency.
Colombians have launched “Internet sin Chuzadas”, a campaign calling for the end of unchecked surveillance at home and abroad.
France’s La Quadrature Du Net have started an NSA Observer program to inform people of the NSA’s global surveillance. The Philippines’ Internet Freedom Alliance (PIFA) is organizing a day of mass action against the country’s draconian Cybercrime Prevention Act.
In Serbia, SHARE Foundation, one of the earliest supporters of the 13 Principles, is renewing their campaign against surveillance locally and internationally.
In Uganda, Unwanted Witness will be urging their local telephone companies to stop sharing private data with politicians.
And in the United Kingdom, a huge coalition of Britain’s privacy groups is launching DontSpyOnUs.org.uk, to pressure the UK’s GCHQ to stop its global mass surveillance apparatus.
In the US? Call Congress today.
Dial 202-552-0505 or click here to enter your phone number and have our call tool connect you
Calling Congress takes just five minutes and is the most effective action you can take right now to let your elected officials know that mass surveillance must end.
Here’s what you should say:
I’d like Senator/Representative __ to support and co-sponsor H.R. 3361/S. 1599, the USA Freedom Act. I would also like you to oppose S. 1631, the so-called FISA Improvements Act. Moreover, I’d like you to work to prevent the NSA from undermining encryption standards and to protect the privacy rights of non-Americans.
Where ever you live, can join them: you can visit Necessary And Proportionate, the home of the 13 Principles, and add your name to our action, and find out what is happening in your own country. Write your own posts of opposition, and spread the word through the hashtag #stopspying .
The prominent Democratic website Think Progress recently took aim at the anti-NSA surveillance movement with a warning to “Beware of Libertarians Bearing Gifts”. The blog suggests bipartisan alliances between civil liberties advocates and libertarians will sink the New Deal, which some might say is already taking on a bit of water.
The direct target of authors Zack Beauchamp and Ian Millhiser is the Offnow.org coalition, a partnership anchored by the right-wing Tenth Amendment Center and the left-wing Bill of Rights Defense Committee.*
The premise of Offnow is local legislation in states, counties, and universities to make it policy to dis-invest in mass surveillance. Twelve state legislatures have introduced versions of the 4th Amendment Act (Alaska, Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Washington). The big target is Utah, home of the huge Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, where the provision of 1.7 million gallons of water by the state every day cools the huge supercomputers.
Think Progress’s objection to turning off the utilities on the NSA emanates from a liberal nightmare of a state like Texas darkening health clinics for poor people or cutting off water supplies to voting rights attorneys.
Let me be clear. I buy the idea that nutty contingents of the Tea Party might advocate for such things. Texas’s recent foray into fetal survival within the carcass of a deceased woman is evidence to never say never. But there is one basic difference.
Mass blanket surveillance of telephone metadata, email and Internet searches without individualized warrants and probable cause, is unconstitutional. The Bill of Rights doesn’t allow it. Congress didn’t approve it. The American public didn’t know about it until a certain contractor took a trip to Hong Kong. The idea Think Progress is embracing – the rogue activities of the NSA are established government policy – isn’t true.
Even the unaccountable secret FISC court has agreed: “The Obama administration, under pressure from continued NSA leaks, declassified documents Wednesday showing the agency scooped up tens of thousands of emails and other online communications from Americans beginning in 2008 that it wasn’t allowed to target, and was told to stop by the secret court that oversees the program”.
The Dems at The Center for American Progress also seem stricken by an attack of amnesia about the long tradition of local disinvestment movements to impact American policy – by progressives.
The anti-apartheid movement advocated for disinvestment in South Africa under apartheid from both private and public sources including state universities. By 1984, 53 U.S institutions divested, by 1987, 128 including the University of California. By the end of 1989, 26 states, 22 counties and over 90 cities had taken some form of binding economic action against companies doing business in South Africa. Most of this pre-dated the 1986 Comprehensive Apartheid Act by Congress.
Over 110 American cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities that will provide limited or no local cooperation with the Secure Communities deportation program run by the Department of Homeland Security.
Vermont, the state most often described as a progressive Disneyland has developed a virtual cottage industry in defying the federal government. In just the last few years, the state has authorized hemp growing without a permit, passed a law prohibiting patent trolling not addressed by the US Patent Act, opted out of the Affordable Care Act, and has considered a GMO labeling bill, currently stalled by litigation threats from Monsanto.
If the New Deal is sinking, the most progressive state in the nation appears to be steadily poking holes in the hull of the boat.
In the latest version of “you’re with us or you’re against us”, the Center for American Progress has embraced an a-historical definition of progressivism that prioritizes not sleeping with the enemy over principled dissent against unconstitutional activities.
The last line of the Think Progress article is “Ideology matters”.
Does it really matter more than justice?
*Disclaimer: Media Alliance, my organization, recently joined the Offnow coalition.
Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance (www.media-alliance.org), an Oakland CA-based democratic communications advocacy organization. Research assistance with this article was provided by Alexander Houk.
Orwell Would Be Proud
Benjamin Wittes of the Brooking Institution has become the go-to non-government NSA apologist. One of his most recent articles is a true work of rhetorical artistry, in which he tries to explain why saying “the NSA doesn’t spy on Americans” is acceptable shorthand for the fact that the NSA spies on pretty much every American. It’s a master class in political doubletalk. First, it’s the law’s fault. The law, you see, is too complicated for mere mortals not working for the NSA to understand, so that makes it okay to lie:
The law is so dense and so complicated that it cannot be accurately summarized at a level a citizen can reasonably process.
Any effort to summarize the relevant law necessarily ignores themes sufficiently important to its architecture that the reductionism will partake of serious inaccuracy. The person who told my friend that NSA does not spy on Americans was not lying. He or she was highlighting a crucially-important limitation on NSA’s authority vis a vis US persons. The law and the relevant regulations all contain significant territorial restrictions and significant protections for US persons overseas as well—all designed to separate the foreign intelligence mission of NSA from both domestic intelligence and domestic law enforcement. It’s a sincere and pervasive effort. “We don’t spy on Americans” is a common shorthand for a wealth of law and practice that really and meaningfully keeps the agency out of the business of being a covert domestic intelligence agency.
Got that? Because there are some limitations on all the spying they do on Americans, and it’s too complicated to understand those limitations, so it’s okay to lie and say they don’t spy on Americans. Of course, in the very next paragraph, Wittes tries to effectively brush away the massive amount of surveillance done on Americans.
NSA, after all, does spy on individual Americans with an order from the FISC. It does, moreover, capture all domestic telephony metadata. And most importantly, it does routinely capture communications between Americans and the targets of its surveillance and incidentally capture other material its systems scoop up overseas—subject to rules that limit the retention and processing of US person information. In other words, to say that NSA does not spy on Americans emphatically does not mean, as a reasonable student or citizen might expect it to mean, that the agency does not regularly acquire and process the communications of Americans.
Of course, as Jameel Jaffer from the ACLU points out, this is all nonsense because it’s a simple fact that the NSA does do surveillance on Americans, and to claim otherwise is not acceptable shorthand. It’s a lie. And while Wittes then tries to obfuscate things even more by trying and purposely failing to come up with a concise way of summarizing what the NSA does, Jaffer helps out with a few workable suggestions:
This is nonsense. Perhaps Ben’s right that it’s difficult to come up with a single sentence, or even a single paragraph, that clearly and comprehensively describes the nature and extent of the NSA’s surveillance of Americans. (Can you describe any federal agency’s functions in a single, comprehensive paragraph?) But it’s not difficult to come up with a sentence more accurate than “The NSA doesn’t spy on Americans.” Try this one: “The NSA spies on Americans.” Or this one: “The NSA collects a huge amount of information about Americans’ communications and in many contexts it collects the communications themselves.” Or this one: “The NSA is sometimes described as a foreign-intelligence agency but this label should not obscure the fact that a large part of the agency’s energy is dedicated to collecting and analyzing information about Americans.”
Jaffer further points out that Wittes’s suggestion that those who claim the NSA doesn’t spy on Americans are really trying to tell the truth through shorthand, is actually misleading. As Jaffer points out:
Any official who says the NSA isn’t spying on Americans is seeking to mislead.
And anyone defending that statement is trying to support that fundamental attempt to mislead.
Last week, the ACLU joined a constitutional challenge to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA), the statute that allows the NSA to engage in dragnet surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and emails. With the Federal Defenders Office, we filed a motion on behalf of Jamshid Muhtorov, the first criminal defendant to receive notice that he had been monitored under this controversial spying law. But Mr. Muhtorov received this notice only after the Department of Justice (DOJ) abandoned its previous policy of concealing FAA surveillance in criminal cases — a policy that violated both the statute itself and defendants’ due process rights.
For criminal defendants and for the country, it’s good news that the government is reviewing criminal cases in which FAA evidence has played a role. But the FAA is just one surveillance program among many. And given what we now know about the DOJ’s unlawful notice policy, we should be asking whether the government has concealed in criminal prosecutions its use of other mass surveillance programs.
Let’s start with the NSA’s internet-metadata program. That program involved the NSA’s bulk collection of records about Americans’ online activity between 2001 and 2011. Under this program, the NSA vacuumed up information such as the “to” and “from” data in emails and, in all likelihood, the addresses of websites visited by Americans.
As Brett Max Kaufman and I have described elsewhere, the program has a problematic past. It was secretly authorized by President Bush in 2001 and then belatedly approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in a secret opinion, recently declassified, that has been heavily criticized. In particular, the FISC found that bulk collection of Americans’ internet metadata was permissible under FISA’s pen-register and trap-and-trace provision (PR/TT). The program was reportedly discontinued in 2011 for “operational and resource reasons” — but only after the NSA had tracked Americans’ internet activity for a decade.
It doesn’t take much to imagine that, over those ten years, some of that internet data made its way into criminal investigations and prosecutions. Indeed, we know that the NSA collected huge volumes of metadata under this program, that it routinely pools its various streams of data in order to conduct “contact-chaining,” and that it often feeds tips or leads to the FBI and even the DEA.
If the internet-metadata program did contribute to criminal prosecutions, the government had a duty to tell defendants. That’s because FISA’s PR/TT provision includes a notice requirement. Notice is also a matter of basic due process, because defendants have the right to test whether the government obtained its evidence against them lawfully.
The government has never told a criminal defendant that the internet-metadata program supplied evidence for a prosecution — but, as the FAA experience makes plain, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. We know that for five years the government violated an identical notice provision in the FAA, adopting a self-serving interpretation of the law that allowed the government to effectively circumvent the notice provision altogether. Indeed, after learning of DOJ’s FAA notice policy, the solicitor general reportedly concluded that it “could not be justified legally.”
It seems likely that the government embraced the same flawed legal theory with respect to notice and evidence derived from the internet-metadata program. If so, then criminal defendants were almost certainly left in the dark — and were very likely convicted with the help of this evidence.
If that’s the case, those individuals went to prison without having a chance to test the legality of the government’s bulk collection of their internet records — a program that, from its inception, stood on precarious legal ground. Any failure to provide notice would have been a violation of those defendants’ due process rights, calling their convictions into question. Let’s hope their cases are part of the Attorney General’s ongoing review.
Dissatisfied with President Barack Obama’s reforms for the National Security Agency (NSA) and Congress’ lack of progress on the same front, state lawmakers across the country are introducing legislation to limit the spy agency’s snooping on Americans.
To date, a dozen states ranging from Alaska to Mississippi are considering bills to limit their state’s involvement with NSA surveillance programs.
The effort began in Arizona, where State Senator Kelli Ward, a tea party Republican, became the first legislator in the U.S. to offer up ways to curb NSA activity at the state level.
Her bill, SB 1156 (pdf), would prohibit local and state law enforcement from cooperating with the NSA. It also would bar state or local prosecutors from using NSA intelligence that had not been obtained with a warrant, and cut funding to state universities supporting the NSA with research or recruitment.
Ward’s actions inspired legislators in other states, who introduced their own anti-NSA plans.
“If the feds aren’t going to address the issue, then it’s up to the states to do it,” David Taylor, a Republican in the Washington state House of Representatives whose Yakima Valley district hosts an NSA listening post, told Mother Jones.
His measure, which enjoys Democratic support, would cut off “material support, participation or assistance” from the state and its contractors to any federal agency that collects data or metadata on people without a warrant.
Last month in California, state lawmakers introduced the Fourth Amendment Protection Act (pdf), which would ban state officials from assisting the federal government in warrantless collection of metadata on Americans. The same has been done in Alaska, with one bill proposed in the House, and another in the Senate.
It remains to be seen whether these measures, if they become law, will stand up to a likely court challenge by the federal government.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Irvine’s School of Law and a constitutional scholar, says the Arizona plan would likely be struck down because the state is trying to regulate the federal government.
“The question here is going to be to what extent is the state interfering with the achievement of the federal objective? To what extent is the state regulating the federal government’s activities?” he told the Los Angeles Times. “However well-intentioned it is, most would be preempted by federal law…. The law is clear that states can’t regulate the federal government.”
States have a right to regulate activity within its borders, counters Michael Boldin, executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, which provides states legislatures with model language for such bills. “If enough people in enough states say they are not going to participate in this, it will stop them from doing what they are doing,” he told the Times regarding the NSA. “It’s going to box them in a corner and be more difficult for them to pull things off.”
To Learn More:
Arizona Legislator Pushes Bill to Combat NSA Surveillance (by Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times)
Legislators in 6 States Want to Pull the Plug on NSA Spying—Some Literally (by Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones)
California, Other States, Weighing Anti-NSA Bills (by Jacob Gershman, Wall Street Journal)
Haphazard Police Spying Across U.S. Puts Americans’ Civil Liberties in Jeopardy (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Senate Committee Approves Continued Bulk Spying on Americans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Did Campaign Contributions Influence Representatives who Voted in Favor of NSA Phone Spying? (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
Brazil on Thursday said the US has not been able to satisfactorily answer the spying charges or eke out a “permanent solution” to restore bilateral ties damaged by the revelations.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo met Thursday with US National Security Advisor Susan Rice in Washington.
According to a report by the Brazilian daily O Globo, the talks failed to resolve the matter.
The Brazilian Minister said his meeting with Rice did not signify a permanent solution to the tension between the two countries, created by reports of massive US government snooping amid continued revelations based on documents leaked by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
“A conversation at this level will not lead to an improvement in relations,” Figueiredo said, stressing, however, that the dialogue between the two sides will continue.
During the talks, Rice presented the US government’s defense of its espionage scheme, said Figueiredo, adding those explanations now need to be relayed to President Dilma Rousseff. The Brazilian President had earlier canceled a state visit to the US after the spying charges were first reported.
America has failed to provide clarifications that the Brazilian government required, Figueiredo added.
Bilateral ties were hit after leaked NSA files revealed the US intelligence agency intercepted Brazilian communications and spied on Rousseff and her aides and on the state-owned Petrobras, the largest company in Brazil and one of the 30 biggest businesses in the world.
Rousseff had earlier said the US spying program was “economic espionage”. In November last year, the “right to privacy” resolution, drafted by Brazil and Germany, was passed by the UN rights committee.
Why would US leaders, lawmakers, intelligence and law enforcement agency administrators allow foreign intelligence and espionage agencies and their front companies unfettered, unexamined, long-term access to vast audiences of American children and young adults? And does not that question represent legitimate and vital concerns regarding privacy, public health, public safety, and national security?
It is a matter of public record that, through its intelligence agencies and their spin-offs and many front companies, Israel is actively and deeply involved with the NSA in collecting and organizing data on Americans. The information thus collected by the NSA is shared with Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand as well as Israel, but Israel is the major threat to legitimate US interests. Israel’s equivalent of the NSA, Unit 8200, or Israel SIGINT National Unit (ISNU), is notorious for its spin-off companies that become private intelligence gathering and espionage operations under Israeli control, in much the same way that Mossad has long been known to use front companies for its operations. In 2010, the investigation of a Mossad assassination team that used fraudulently obtained and falsified European and Australian passports and funding provided via US-issued bank cards revealed that the corporation that arranged the funding of the kidon team, Payoneer, was itself funded by venture capital firms linked to Israeli intelligence organizations.
One of the firms, Greylock Partners, founded in 1965, “operates in a number of global centers of innovation, including Boston, China (Beijing), India (Bangalore), Israel (Herzliya) and Silicon Valley. … Current Greylock portfolio companies include Data Robotics, Digg, Facebook, Imperva, LinkedIn, Palo Alto Networks, Pandora, Picarro, Redfin, Workday and ZipCar,” according to the firm’s website. Greylock’s investment activities in Israel were launched in 2002 by partner Moshe Mor, who “served six years in the Israeli Army as a Captain in the Military Intelligence branch.” Unlike the CIA, which has an unfortunate history of ineffective and failed business operation covers, Mossad- and Unit 8200-controlled business operations are known for lucrative success.
That record is not unblemished. According to numerous published reports, one of Mossad’s most important early software trap-door sales operatives, Robert Maxwell, a media magnate who owned several major Mossad-controlled media outlets, came to a rather spectacularly embarrassing bad end when a Mossad kidon team assassinated him on his yacht off the Canary Islands on October 31, 1991. More recently, one Israeli spy working on US soil, Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan, is reported to have run as many as “30 companies in 17 countries on behalf of Israel” at one point. That Milchan was actively involved in espionage and arms dealing appears to have been an open secret in Hollywood, according to his own public statements.
A 2007 NSA secret report published by the Guardian (UK) on September 11, 2013, noted NSA’s “only true Third Party [counter-terrorism] relationship being driven almost totally by the needs of the partner [Israel].” The same Guardian article reported on a 2007 NSA document quoting a senior NSA official: “One of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services, like Israel. There are parameters on what NSA shares with them, but the exchange is so robust, we sometimes share more than we intended.”
If restrictions placed on the NSA negatively impact US counter-intelligence operations directed against foreign intelligence agencies, like Israel’s, those agencies will be quick to take advantage of any void created by those restrictions or by the withdrawal of US intelligence assets. Experienced observers and analysts have seen this happen before, and not so very long ago, when the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) became a front organization for Israel’s Mossad and began funneling confidential information about Americans to the Israeli government.
“After COINTELPRO, a still-controversial FBI operation to destabilize black nationalist and other groups in the ’60s and ’70s, the FBI, state and local law enforcement authorities were ordered out of the business of gathering information about legitimate political activity by American citizens. But in some major American cities, law enforcement files relating to legitimate and Constitutionally protected political activities that had been ordered destroyed instead found their way to the offices of the ADL, which quickly became a clearinghouse for such illegally obtained and illegally retained information.
“The absence of the FBI, state, and local police investigators in the field created a void the ADL rushed to fill, with remarkable success, by increasing its in-house ‘fact-finding’ assets and capabilities and developing enhanced working relationships with ‘official friends’—government officials, investigators, and intelligence officers. … The ADL favored many of its ‘official friends’ with expense-paid trips to Israel, where they met with and were entertained by friendly officers of Israel’s espionage and counter-intelligence organizations, Mossad and Shin Bet, thus creating a major conduit for the flow of sensitive and useful U.S. domestic political intelligence to Israel’s spymasters in Tel Aviv,” wrote this reporter in a Special Report published by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs in December 1999.
Because broadcast media news outlets in the USA seldom if ever mention Israeli espionage in their news coverage or in their ever more rare investigative reports related to matters of public interest, most Americans are unaware of and unconcerned about Israel as an espionage threat. Nevertheless, Israel has long been at or near the top of the list of nations with active and robust intelligence and espionage programs aimed at the USA and is by far the single worst offender among nations with propaganda campaigns directed at American audiences. Israel calls its public diplomacy efforts hasbara, and it is well-nigh impossible to overstate the influence of Israeli propaganda on American audiences. Likewise, because Israeli leaders and their political and media operatives exercise truly extraordinary influence over them, the vast majority of US elected officials seldom if ever mention the Israeli espionage threat or criticize Israel in any way. Rather, currying favor with Israeli leaders, media operatives, and spies is seen by many as a fast lane to success in government service and longevity of tenure in Congress. The grilling of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska by Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who filibustered his nomination in February 2013 is illustrative. Hagel, who “volunteered to join the United States Army during the Vietnam War, rejecting a draft board recommendation that he go to college instead,” received two Purple Hearts among other commendations during his service in Vietnam. The filibuster of a nominee for Secretary of Defense was unprecedented in American history. Hagel was eventually confirmed by a vote of 58 to 41. His nomination was controversial only because he was viewed by Israeli leaders and their political and media operatives in the USA, their lobby, as being insufficiently subservient to Israel and, on rare occasions, publicly unenthusiastic about pro-Israel US policy and legislation.
Few Americans recognize the breadth, depth, and scope of Israel’s hasbara or propaganda campaign directed at Americans through media corporations, their products, and media outlets. Newsweek‘s Jeff Stein reported in a December article titled, “Former NSA Boss Michael Hayden Can’t Stop Talking” on the close relationship between Michael Hayden, former Director of the NSA (1999-2005) and former Director of the CIA (2006-2009), and former Mossad chief Maer Dagan, writing that, “They were so close when Hayden ran the CIA, a well-placed source says, that the Israelis were afforded the unique privilege of bringing cell phones and laptops into the spy agency’s headquarters. Nobody but nobody gets to do that.”
Today, reports Stein, Hayden is, “comfortable in his expansive corner office in downtown Washington, with big windows overlooking a busy intersection only a few blocks from the White House. Along with other big guns at the Chertoff Group, the consulting firm headed by another all-everything, Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, he’s cashing in and having a ball.”
How should Americans evaluate their government’s counter-intelligence efforts against such an insidious, pervasive Israeli threat? Files released by whistle blower Edward Snowden have shed new light on a particularly troubling and under-explored aspect of that question. Among those files is an NSA document titled, “Exploiting Terrorists Use of Games and Virtual Environments” dated “20070108” but described by the Guardian (UK) as having been “written in 2008.” The document, published on December 9, 2013, limns a brave new world of espionage in the era of on-line video gaming. Taking the document at face value, it appears that seven years ago someone in or closely associated with the NSA became concerned that terrorists could exploit and were exploiting on-line video games and virtual environments (GVEs) that allow like-minded individuals to gather and communicate privately on-line. The unnamed author notes that video games offer “realistic weapons training (what weapon to use against what target, what ranges can be achieved, even aiming and firing), military operations and tactics, photorealistic land navigation and terrain familiarization, and leadership skills”; that GVE’s can “reinforce prejudices and cultural stereotypes while imparting a targeted message or a lesson,” and that, “one cannot discount the ‘fun factor’ involved – it is important to hold your target audience’s attention – and makes ingesting the message not even noticeable”.
The great danger inherent in such technologies, of course, and the aspect of these technologies that makes them so valuable to intelligence/espionage organizations, is their usefulness as means of covert messaging and manipulation of the behavior of individuals and groups of individuals who can be tracked and targeted on-line over time for espionage purposes, including the creation and direction of unwitting or Manchurian Candidate operatives and assassins. Think operant conditioning on steroids or behavior modification perverted by intelligence/espionage agency psychological operations (psy-ops) teams and taken to the deepest, darkest corners of the human psyche. This is work for which spook shop psy-ops teams once relied on short-range, low power FM radio broadcasts in order to covertly transmit programming created to manipulate their mentally unstable targets, work in which first-person-shooter video games represent a major technological advancement.
The author of the 2007 NSA paper on GVEs wrote, “We know that terrorists use many feature-rich Internet communications media for operational purposes such as email, VoIP, chat, proxies, and web forums, and it is highly likely they will be making wide use of the many communications features offered by Games and Visual Environments (GVE) by 2010,” and warned that the “NSA can’t even recognize the traffic, and therefore it is impossible to even say what percentage of the environment is GVE; let alone how targets are using the communications features of GVEs. However, GVEs offer a SIGINT/HUMINT opportunity space and more research is needed to figure out effective exploitation.”
Readers conversant with the history of video game technology will know that the technologies in use in today’s first-person-shooter video games, games that many mass murderers have used as training aids, have been in development since the 1990s. “By the late 1990s most [real time strategy] RTS games had native Internet support, allowing players from all over the globe to play with each other.” This, of course, puts the NSA document’s revelations regarding the NSA’s posture and policies regarding GVEs in a rather embarrassing light that should raise some serious questions about Gen. Michael Hayden’s leadership at the NSA. Apparently, Gen. Hayden was not much interested and perhaps not even aware of a need to be interested in GVEs while he was the Director of NSA, the primary producer and manager of signals intelligence (SIGINT) for the US government. Given that in 2007, NSA could not recognize the traffic, determine what percentage of internet traffic was devoted to GVEs, or see how [NSA] targets – terrorists or other intelligence/espionage agencies or their front companies – were utilizing the communications features of GVEs, Hayden’s and his successor Gen. Keith Alexander’s apparent indifference and ignorance with regard to these technologies prior to 2007 would appear to be well-nigh incomprehensible.
One might also ask why, today, Hayden is so popular among major broadcast and print news organizations as explainer- and defender-in-chief of the NSA. The answer, of course, is that currying favor with Israeli leaders, media operatives, and spooks in the USA is a fast track to success in the defense and security industries and associated media outlets following a career in government service – for those who view public service as a casino and retirement as an opportunity to cash in their chips and have a ball.
It is noteworthy that the NSA did not block the Guardian’s release of the GVE document, which Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman’s subsequent comments suggest it might have done on national security grounds. With regard to their government’s relationship with Israel, there is much about which their elected representatives and the vast majority of honest bureaucrats are unable to speak to the American people directly and plainly for fear of reprisal by Israeli leaders and their political and media operatives, aka the pro-Israel lobby. Those US officials who have been thoroughly corrupted by the powerful and influential pro-Israel machine, and many of those who might be described as duped and co-opted, are, of course, committed to keeping their own secrets as well as Israel’s secrets by adhering to a public narrative that is distinctly Israel-friendly.
So uncharacteristic of former CIA and NSA chiefs is Hayden’s media act that in his December Newsweek article Stein characterized Hayden’s public post-government-service defense of the NSA as, “So very un-spook-like.” Obviously, Hayden feels he has “a lot of ‘splainin to do.” Is the former NSA and CIA director worried that, should the truth become known, he might come to be widely viewed as the most feckless spy chief in American history, a figure of fun and ridicule, the Pillsbury Doughboy of espionage?
More information about on-line video games came to Americans courtesy of National Public Radio (NPR) on October 29, 2013, in an All Tech Considered segment, “How Video Games are Getting Inside Your Head – and Your Wallet,” by Steve Henn.
While the author of the 2007 NSA secret report on GVEs was concerned about terrorists who exploit video game technologies, Henn, who won an Edward R. Murrow Award for national investigative reporting on his way to becoming NPR’s technology correspondent, focuses on the effects of today’s video game technology on American children and their parents.
Henn writes, “… being connected to the internet … means that kids … can play with people spread across the globe. It also means that gaming companies can analyze how gamers play — each and every decision they make.
So when kids sit down with a game, they are actually sitting across a screen from adults who are studying them — and, in some cases, trying to influence their behavior in powerful ways.
Researchers in game companies tweak games to get players to stay on longer, or to encourage them to spend money on digital goods. They study gamers’ reactions. It’s become a science. And parents … often feel out-gunned.
In millions of families, video games are a source of intense love and intense hate because they can be so incredibly compelling. You might not believe that if you don’t play them, but you can get lost in a great game. They make you feel good.
And it’s no accident, says Ramin Shokrizade, the game economist for Wargaming America.
“The technology for this has gotten quite sophisticated,” says Shokrizade, who began his career in neuroscience and behavioral economics. “At this point, every major gaming company worldwide either has in place a fully developed business intelligence unit, or they’re in the process of building one.”
Today’s game design is dominated by research, he says. As we play games, game developers are tracking every click, running tests and analyzing data.
They are trying to find out: What can they tweak to make us play just a bit longer? What would make the game more fun? What can get us to spend some money inside a game and buy something?
“So as millions of people play, designers introduce little changes and get answers to all of these questions in real time [covertly, without the gamer’s knowledge – emphasis supplied]. And games evolve,” wrote Henn.
This reporter, who does not allow his son to play violent video games for the same reasons he would not hand any child a loaded revolver with the suggestion that he play Russian roulette, is astonished that so many American parents are apparently willing to allow their children to play violent video games widely known to have been used by gun massacre murderers for training purposes. Does not the enormous popularity of first-person-shooter video games, in and of itself, serve as compelling evidence that the flood of violent media product sluicing through screens large and small, a raging river of murder and mayhem, has desensitized large numbers of Americans to violence? Moreover, is the frantic, paranoid zealotry that so often characterizes the reactions of many American gun enthusiasts to proposals for background checks and restrictions on the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines not persuasive evidence of a dangerous gun mania abroad in the land, yet another of the many negative effects of the surfeit of violent media product?
Here, one might pause to speculate that the media corporations responsible for creating and mass marketing GVEs knew in 2007 and, still today, know far more about the capabilities of their products than does the NSA. It would seem to be in the public interest for Americans and their elected officials to look closely at those corporations, take note who owns them, and to examine where their owners’ and managers’ political loyalties lie. We are, after all, talking about the most significant and alarming technological developments in the field of covert behavior modification and behavior manipulation in human history, the most lucrative — video games now generate more profits than do motion pictures — and the most dangerous of such technological developments. Are many of these companies using technologies developed by Israel’s spook shops? Might many of these companies be spin-offs of Israel’s Unit 8200 or Mossad front companies? Among the hundreds of gun massacres carried out by apparently deranged adolescents and young adult men in recent decades, is it possible to differentiate between those in which an obsession with violent media product was incidentally causal and those in which intelligence/espionage organizations covertly tracked and targeted individual gamers and influenced their behavior using GVEs for political purposes, such as inciting fear and animosity across political, social, racial, and religious dividing lines? Or instilling and maintaining in a significant number of Americans a pervasive sense of anxiety, fear, and anger? Should not every politically-related shooting by a mentally-ill individual be thoroughly scrutinized with regard to the shooter’s on-line GVE use? Why would US leaders, legislators, intelligence and law enforcement agency administrators allow foreign intelligence and espionage agencies and their front companies unfettered, unexamined, long-term access to vast audiences of American young people? And does not that question represent legitimate and vitally important concerns about privacy as well as public health, public safety, and national security?
Though few are asking publicly, these would seem to be important questions. To fail to ask and answer them would represent a grave counter-intelligence lapse, given that just one particular series of violent video games, Call of Duty, is reported by news organizations to have been used for training by at least three mass murders. Mohamed Merah, who shot dead seven people in France in March 2012; Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in August 2012; and Adam Lanza, who gunned down 20 first-graders and six educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT in December 2012, all trained for their killing sprees using Call of Duty series video games.
The casual observer might have assumed that Merah acted out of political, religious, or racial animus, given his background and his choice of targets, four of whom were Jews, including three children, but his wife told investigators that he was obsessed with violent video games rather than politics or religion.
“Miriam, who was married to Merah for 17 days before his death, said: ‘We had many religious conversations, but we spent our time playing PlayStation, including ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Need for Speed,’” reported Richard Hartley-Parkinson, in an article published by the Daily Mail Online (UK) on December 15, 2012.
Breivik testified in open court at his trial that his motives were political, and he told the court that he trained for his killing spree with first-person-shooter video games.
“Breivik said he spent up to 16 hours a day playing the game in preparation for the attack. He said he became a deadly marksman by honing his gun skills on the Modern Warfare part of the [Call of Duty] series. He even bought a special gun sight used on the game, attaching it to the hunting rifle he used for his deadly rampage…” wrote Hartley-Parkinson.
Lanza’s mental health issues have been documented and widely reported along with his obsessive use of violent video games. A March 17, 2013 New York Daily News article by Mike Lupica draws heavily on an officer’s comments about a presentation by Col. Danny Stebbins of the Connecticut State Police at an April 2013 conference of International Association of Police Chiefs and Colonels in New Orleans.
Stebbins spoke for a long time about the morning of Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary. Those in the room were told of first responders in Newtown who have since quit their jobs, so shattered were they by what they found when they got to the school that morning, when they saw dead teachers with their arms wrapped around the children they had tried in vain to save.
“The man to whom I spoke, a tough career cop who did not wish to see his name in the newspaper, was in the room when the state cop from Connecticut spoke,” said the man was well into his presentation when he began to talk of the spreadsheets that had been found at “the shooter’s” home.
“They don’t believe this was just a spreadsheet. They believe it was a score sheet,” he continued. “This was the work of a video gamer, and that it was his intent to put his own name at the very top of that list. They believe that he picked an elementary school because he felt it was a point of least resistance, where he could rack up the greatest number of kills. That’s what (the Connecticut police) believe.”
The man paused and said, “They believe that (Lanza) believed that it was the way to pick up the easiest points. It’s why he didn’t want to be killed by law enforcement. In the code of a gamer, even a deranged gamer like this little bastard, if somebody else kills you, they get your points. They believe that’s why he killed himself.” …
The fascination (Lanza) had with this subject matter, the complete and total concentration. There really was no other subject matter inside his head. Just this: Kill, kill, kill. It really was like he was lost in one of his own sick games. That’s what we heard. That he learned something from his game that you learn in (police) school, about how if you’re moving from room to room — the way he was in that school — you have to reload before you get to the next room. Maybe he has a 30-round magazine clip, and he’s only used half of it. But he’s willing to dump 15 rounds and have a new clip before he arrives in the next room.
The career law enforcement veteran paused again, and when he started speaking again his voice was shaking, like a wind had blown through it.
They believe he learned the principles of this — the tactical reload — from his game. Reload before you’re completely out. Keep going. When the strap broke on his first weapon (the AR-15), he went to his handgun at the end. Classic police training. Or something you learn playing [first-person-shooter video] kill games.
Despite the impressions of the Connecticut officers, the voluminous final, official report identified no particular motive for Lanza’s actions, according to a November 25, 2013 article in the New York Times, a publication that has long claimed to be the nation’s newspaper of record, but one which did not find it necessary to publish a news article about revelations that the NSA shares intelligence data on Americans with Israeli spy agencies. That news was not “surprising” enough to cover, in the opinion of the editors and publisher of the New York Times.
In a September 2013 interview, Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, which publishes and mass markets Call of Duty and other first-person-shooter video games, told Rob Crossley that he was pleased with a business strategy that the nation’s most accomplished consumer protection advocate, Ralph Nader, has accurately if bluntly described as electronic child molestation.
Yeah I don’t see that strategy changing, it’s been one we’ve had for a while and I think our slate has always been relatively small and narrower than most of our competitors. We’re getting good results with this strategy too, and I think that kind of focus is good for us creatively. It allows us to focus on the choices we make very carefully, and to ensure you’re working with the best development talent, and you’re making the right investments from a marketing standpoint in order to succeed.
I look at the continued momentum of Call of Duty, the explosive success of Skylanders, the potential of Destiny and I see this as the right strategy for us.
Asked by Crossley if his strategy lacked diversity and he was, perhaps, relying too heavily on first-person-shooter games, Hirshberg responded:
First-person-shooters have been stable for a number of generations now, and I don’t think that just because Destiny and Call of Duty are in the same genre that they are not diverse. I think they couldn’t be more different from one another. One is a deep, mythological sci-fi epic opera in space, the other is a gritty action movie that’s come to life. The games are very different from a pacing and design standpoint too, so I think there is diversity there, you just might not see it at face value.
Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Hirshberg’s Activision hired a high-powered Washington, DC lobbying firm to counter a potential legislative response to its lucrative business strategy and socially-destabilizing, violence-inciting products.
There can be no doubt that gun massacres and other violence attendant upon the widespread availability and use of violent, first-person-shooter video games as entertainment represent, at the very least, a major public safety challenge, one that US intelligence and law enforcement agencies and lawmakers have failed to identify for what it is and are apparently powerless to address effectively. Whether the larger entertainment industry and its subsidiary news organizations are complicit in the continuing epidemic of gun massacres across the USA is not a question – they are. The question is, What can be done to reduce the deluge of violent media product these industries pump into American popular culture with criminal abandon?
In two countries, Venezuela and Switzerland, governments have acted to ban completely the sale and distribution of violent video games on the basis of violent content posing an unacceptable threat to public health and safety. With regard to gun violence and crime, Venezuela and Switzerland are a study in contrasts. Venezuela experiences high rates of crime and gun violence, while Switzerland, despite the Swiss owning more assault rifles per capita than, for instance, Americans, and competitive marksmanship being the national sport, enjoys remarkably low rates of both crime and gun violence. Many other countries have banned some games, most for violent content but also for a variety to other causes including pornographic content. It is noteworthy that video game industry flaks and gamer site writers typically sneer at bans on violent content and blatantly misrepresent the nature of the problem that violent video games represent.
In the USA, those who attempt to start or encourage a substantive public discussion in television news venues about the horrific effects of violent media product find themselves silenced in short order. Less than 48 hours after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge raised the issue on NBC’s Sunday morning news program, Meet the Press. Ridge, a former Secretary of Homeland Security and a member of the panel that investigated the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech gun massacre, the nation’s worst, which left 32 victims dead and 17 wounded, is eminently well-qualified to speak on these matters. That did not prevent well-heeled corporate media operatives David Gregory and David Brooks shutting Ridge down almost immediately and dismissing his concerns. Brooks, taking on the role of propagandist for the video game industry, in defiance of decades of social science research flatly contradicted Ridge’s observation that young and impressionable viewers are put at serious risk by exposure to “the corrosive influence of a violence-oriented world, TV, video games, shoot-to-kill video games,” causative factors in gun massacres.
Attempts to restrict the manufacture, sale, and distribution of violent video games that all too frequently incite children, typically boys, young men, and mentally unstable adults to devastating acts of gun violence have been unsuccessful. In 2011, a California law was nixed by the US Supreme Court on free speech grounds .
“Leland Yee, a California state senator who wrote the law, said in a statement that ‘the Supreme Court once again put the interests of corporate America before the interests of our children,’ adding: ‘It is simply wrong that the video game industry can be allowed to put their profit margins over the rights of parents and the well-being of children,’” reported Adam Liptak for the New York Times on June 27, 2011.
“The video game industry, with annual domestic sales of more than $10 billion, welcomed Monday’s ruling,” wrote Liptak.
In the months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the entertainment industry fought back against a small number of news stories apparently crafted to persuade Americans that some in Hollywood recognize a sense of responsibility for the violence their products all too frequently incite. To address the potentially problematic public awareness of the entertainment industry’s causative role in gun massacres, Variety, the entertainment industry’s major trade publication since its founding in 1905, published a special edition titled Special Report: Violence & Entertainment (Winter Edition, Vol. 429, No. 10). The visually-impressive, glossy, 79-page report attempts to put an industry-friendly spin on violent media product and to place it in a larger, violent, but seemingly disconnected social context so as to effectively absolve Hollywood’s media moguls of culpability in societal violence.
Perhaps the report’s single most interesting and unintentionally revealing article is one authored by Variety’s Israel correspondent, Debra Kamin.
“Israel, well versed in terror attacks, has never had a U.S.-style mass shooting,” writes Kamin.
Apparently Kamin does not consider American-born Israeli physician and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein’s February 25, 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinian Muslim worshipers at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron to be a “U.S.-style mass shooting.” Goldstein, who used his Israeli government-issued, IMI Galil assault rifle to commit the murders, was an admirer of Rabbi Meir Kahane and active in the Israeli far-right political party founded by Kahane, Kach, a group classified by the United States and Israeli governments as a terrorist organization.
Kamin quotes an Israeli-American writer, editor, and cultural commentator, David Hazony, at some length. Hazony, too, is at pains to differentiate American and Israeli attitudes about guns, gun violence, and media violence.
“Israelis,” declares Hazony, “draw a very sharp line between cartoonish, U.S.-made TV violence and reality.”
But just who is responsible for most if not all of that “cartoonish, U.S.-made TV violence”? There is no mention in Variety’s Special Report: Violence & Entertainment that, according to a widely-respected Jewish-American author who among his many other accomplishments served as “a sharpshooter with the Israeli Border Police Civil Guard,” the industries that create, produce, market, advertise, promote, and defend lucrative, socially-destabilizing, violent US media product are heavily influenced or largely controlled by Jews.
It is true that Jews are represented in the media in numbers far out of proportion to their share of the population. … they make up one-fourth or more of the writers, editors, and producers in America’s ‘elite media,’ including network news divisions, top news weeklies and the four leading daily newspapers (New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal).
In the fast-moving world of media mega-corporations, Jews are even more numerous. In an October 1994 Vanity Fair [magazine] feature profiling the kingpins of the new media elite, titled ‘The New Establishment,’ just under half of the two dozen entrepreneurs profiled were Jews. In the view of the magazine’s editors, these are America’s true power elite, ‘men and women from the entertainment, communications, and computer industries whose ambitions and influence have made America the one true superpower of the Information Age.’
“And in a few key sectors of the media, notably among Hollywood studio executives, Jews are so numerically dominant that calling these businesses Jewish-controlled is little more than a statistical observation,” wrote JJ Goldberg, in his book, Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment (Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, 1996).
Variety is, after all, a propaganda organ for a much larger propaganda organ, an industry that year after year lavished its most prestigious awards and award nominations on 24, a long-running popular prime time American television series that ever so persistently attempted to “normalize torture in the public consciousness.” That particular effort by Hollywood producers to legitimize torture was so successful that, “in February 2007, the New Yorker magazine reported that U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan (dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point), accompanied by three of the most experienced military and FBI interrogators in the country, met with the producers of 24 to criticize the show for misrepresenting the effectiveness of torture as an interrogation technique, saying it encouraged soldiers to see torture as a useful and justified tactic in the War on Terror, and damaged the international image of the United States.”
Violent media product and its many various and well-documented pernicious effects on vast audiences, particularly young, naïve, and impressionable viewers, across human society represent an increasingly serious public health and public safety challenge. Research studies indicate that first-person-shooter video games are likely the worst offenders. There was gun violence in an American school every two weeks on average in 2013. And, on September 16, 2013, a shotgun-wielding video game addict entered the Washington Navy Yard, a restricted access military facility in the nation’s capital, where he gunned down 15 people, killing 12. This year has already seen three shootings in American schools. An eleven-year old boy firing a shotgun injured two fellow students on January 14 at Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, NM. Two students were wounded in a shooting on January 17 at Delaware Valley Charter High School in Philadelphia, PA. A teaching assistant was shot dead on January 21 at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. Also on January 21, a student was shot while sitting in a car near the Widener University athletic center in Chester, PA.
America’s continuing epidemic of gun violence and gun massacres, a result in part of a massive counter-intelligence failure, is but the tip of an iceberg of espionage-related-and-facilitated, socially-destabilizing gun violence, death, and destruction, violence that is attendant upon and to some extent caused by the U.S. entertainment industry’s lucrative obsession with violent media product. The entertainment industry’s deadly focus on violent media product, much of it freighted with political and social messaging crafted to further the social, economic, political, and military agendas of industry moguls and Israeli leaders, is in large part a function of Israel’s robust overt hasbara and covert psychological operations campaigns aimed directly at credulous US audiences.
Israel’s long history of espionage against the United States government on Unites States soil, Israel’s long history of spying on Americans and listening in on Americans’ private conversations – even the communications of FBI counter-intelligence units and the telephone conversations of president of the United States – is largely absent from the thus distorted but crucial public debate about the NSA’s overreaching surveillance programs only because Israel-friendly US politicians and media organizations typically cover up or down play those crimes.
As long as the Israeli political and media machine wields such wildly inordinate and inappropriate influence over US politicians, political institutions, and what passes for popular culture and a public discussion in America, it is very difficult to imagine that the NSA, CIA, FBI and other US law enforcement agencies will find the guidance and political support necessary to address effectively these increasingly problematic espionage-related-and-driven public health, public safety, and national security challenges.
The single greatest danger in restricting the ability of the National Security Administration (NSA) to collect information broadly is that no foreign intelligence agency will necessarily be similarly impacted by such restrictions. Foreign intelligence agencies, especially Israeli intelligence and espionage agencies and their front companies, may well find their ability to act against the USA and its interests, and to act with impunity, substantially enhanced by restrictions placed on US intelligence agencies.
Michael Gillespie, in addition to his regular freelance work for Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, is also a contributing editor and the Des Moines, IA correspondent for The Independent Monitor, the national newspaper of Arab Americans, published by Sami Mashney in Anaheim, CA.
Update, January 2014: Polls continue to confirm the trend. In a poll conducted in December 2013 by the Washington Post, 66% of Americans were concerned “about the collection and use of [their] personal information by the National Security Agency.” Americans aren’t only concerned about the collection. A recent Pew poll found—yet again—that a majority of Americans oppose the government’s collection of phone and Internet data as a part of anti-terrorism efforts.
Since Americans are both concerned with, and opposed to, the spying, it’s no surprise that they also want reform. In a November 2013 poll by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research,1 59% of respondents noted that they wanted surveillance reform and 63% said they wanted more oversight of the spying programs. While these polls focused on the larger population of Americans, a Harvard University Insitute of Politics poll focusing on younger Americans (aged 18-29 years old) reaffirmed younger Americans are both wary of the NSA’s activities and that a majority do not want the government to collect personal information about them.
Shortly after the June leaks, numerous polls asked the American people if they approved or disapproved of the NSA spying, which includes collecting telephone records using Section 215 of the Patriot Act and collecting phone calls and emails using Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The answer then was a resounding no, and new polls released in August and September clearly show Americans’ increasing concern about privacy has continued.
Since July, many of the polls not only confirm the American people think the NSA’s actions violates their privacy, but think the surveillance should be stopped. For instance in an AP poll, nearly 60 percent of Americans said they oppose the NSA collecting data about their telephone and Internet usage. In another national poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, 74 percent of respondents said the NSA’s spying intrudes on their privacy rights. This majority should come as no surprise, as we’ve seen a sea change in opinion polls on privacy since the Edward Snowden revelations started in June.
What’s also important is that it crosses political party lines. The Washington Post/ABC News poll found 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans believe the NSA’s spying programs intrude on their privacy rights. This change is significant, showing that privacy is a bipartisan issue. In 2006, a similar question found only 50 percent of Republicans thought the government intruded on their privacy rights.
Americans also continue their skepticism of the federal government and its inability to conduct proper oversight. In a recent poll, Rasmusson—though sometimes known for push polling—revealed that there’s been a 30 percent increase in people who believe it is now more likely that the government will monitor their phone calls. Maybe even more significant is that this skepticism carries over into whether or not Americans believe the government’s claim that it “robustly oversees” the NSA’s programs. In a Huffpost/You Gov poll, 53 percent of respondents said they think “the federal courts and rules put in place by Congress” do not provide “adequate oversight.” Only 18 percent of people agreed with the statement.
Americans seem to be waking up from its surveillance state slumber as the leaks around the illegal and unconstitutional NSA spying continue. The anger Americans—especially younger Americans—have around the NSA spying is starting to show. President Obama has seen a 14-point swing in his approval and disapproval rating among voters aged 18-29 after the NSA spying.
These recent round of polls confirm that Americans are not only concerned with the fact that the spying infringes their privacy, but also that they want the spying to stop. And this is even more so for younger Americans. Now is the time for Congress to act: join the StopWatching.Us coalition.
- 1. Full disclosure: Mark M. Jaycox previously worked for Grove Insight, the polling firm that later became Anzalone Liszt Grove Research.
In his recent speech on surveillance, President Obama treated the misuse of intelligence gathering as a relic of American history. It was something done in the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover, and never countenanced by recent administrations. But the accumulation of menacing stories—from fusion centers to “joint terrorism task forces” to a New York “demographics unit” targeting Muslims—is impossible to ignore. The American Civil Liberties Union has now collected instances of police surveillance and obstruction of First Amendment‐protected activity in over half the states. From Alaska (where military intelligence spied on an anti-war group) to Florida (where Quakers and anti-globalization activists were put on watchlists), protesters have been considered threats, rather than citizens exercising core constitutional rights. Political dissent is a routine target for surveillance by the FBI.
Admittedly, I am unaware of the NSA itself engaging in politically driven spying on American citizens. Charles Krauthammer says there has not been a “single case” of abuse. But the NSA is only one part of the larger story of intelligence gathering in the US, which involves over 1,000 agencies and nearly 2,000 private companies. Moreover, we have little idea of exactly how information and requests flow between agencies. Consider the Orwellian practice of “parallel construction.” Reuters has reported that the NSA gave “tips” to the Special Operations Division (SOD) of the Drug Enforcement Administration, which also shared them with the Internal Revenue Service.
The legal status of such information sharing is murky at best: the national security data is not supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes. Apparently the SOD sidestepped these niceties by re-creating criminal investigations from scratch, fabricating alternative grounds for suspecting the targets. Thus the “parallel construction” of two realities for the law enforcers: one actual, secret record of how targets were selected, and another specially crafted for consumption by courts. Two senior Drug Enforcement Administration officials defended the program and called it legal, but did not disclose their reasoning. At present, the practice looks like little more than intelligence laundering. Five senators asked the Department of Justice to assess the legality of “parallel construction;” it has yet to respond.
I have little doubt that the DEA used parallel construction in cases involving some pretty nasty characters. It must be tempting to apply “war on terror” tactics to the “war on drugs.” Nevertheless, there are serious legal and ethical concerns here. One of the American revolutionaries’ chief complaints against the British Crown was the indiscriminate use of “general warrants,” which allowed authorities to search the homes of anyone without particularized suspicion they had committed a crime. Thus the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution decrees that “no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause.” Law enforcers aren’t supposed to set up “dragnet surveillance” of every communication, or use whatever data stores are compiled by the National Security Agency, unless there is a true security threat.
Between 1956 and 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program engaged in domestic covert action designed to disrupt groups engaged in the civil rights, antiwar, and communist movements. As Lawrence Rosenthal has observed, “History reflects a serious risk of abuse in investigations based on the protected speech of the targets,” and politicians at the time responded. Reviewing intelligence agency abuses from that time period, the Church Committee issued a series of damning reports in 1975-76, leading to some basic reforms. If a new Church Committee were convened, it would have to cover much of the same ground. Moreover, it would need to put in place real safeguards against politicized (or laundered) domestic intelligence gathering. Those are presently lacking. I have yet to find a case where the parties involved in any of the intelligence politicization (or laundering) were seriously punished. Nor have I seen evidence that the victims of such incidents have received just compensation for the unwarranted intrusion on their affairs.
Before we can develop better surveillance policy, we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to review (and rebuke) the politicization of intelligence gathering post-9/11. Too many privacy activists have been unwilling to admit the persistence of catastrophic threats that may only be detected by spies. But the US government has been even less moored to reality, unwilling to admit that a runaway surveillance state has engaged in precisely the types of activities that the Bill of Rights is designed to prevent. To have a debate about the proper balance between liberty and security, we need to confront the many cases where misguided intelligence personnel spied on activists with neither goal in mind.
Frank Pasquale is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. His research agenda focuses on challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries. Frank accepts comments via email, at email@example.com.