Do you hear that? It’s starting.
The predictable drumbeat of dire warnings about what will happen if portions of the Patriot Act – the post-9/11 law being used to conduct controversial NSA dragnet surveillance – are allowed to expire on June 1 has already begun.
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, issued what is likely to be the first of many vague warnings from the intelligence community on Monday. Faced with the expiration of the part of the Patriot Act that allows the bulk collection of information about Americans’ phone calls, Clapper brought out the favored hypothetical of the surveillance hawk: An unspecified attack will occur, which would have been prevented if Congress had reauthorized the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone calls.
“If that tool is taken away from us… and some untoward incident happens that could have been thwarted if we had had it,” Clapper said, “I hope that everyone involved in that decision assumes the responsibility.”
There’s just one problem with this particular bit of emotional blackmail, however. The pesky, rather inconvenient fact is that the government’s mass surveillance programs operating under Section 215 of the Patriot Act have never stopped an act of terrorism. That is not the opinion of the NSA’s most ardent critics, but rather the findings of the president’s own review board and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This program has had over a decade to prove its value, and yet there is no evidence that it has helped identify a terrorism suspect or “made a concrete different in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”
In less than three months, Section 215 will expire unless Congress takes action to extend that authority. As that deadline approaches, we will be hearing more from folks in the intelligence community who would like to see the program continued indefinitely.
Congress would do well to remember that this is a program that is sweeping up vast amounts of data on innocent Americans in violation of their constitutional rights. It’s also one that, despite the rhetoric, has not succeeded in making us any safer. In fact, even Director Clapper has expressed support for some reform of Section 215.
The drumbeat of doom is only going to get louder between now and June. But it can’t drown out the truth. Surveillance reform is urgently needed to rein in out of control government spying and to restore our rights.
The truth is that the risk of an American being killed by terrorism is close to zero, having been calculated at 1:20,000,000
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | February 25, 2015
In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.
Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.
Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed on 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.
So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.
Or is it?
Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.
Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.
I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.
It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.
Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behavior goes largely unremarked, at least in America.
In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given license to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly by America’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life – which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places – is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.
This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.
In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.
It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda – than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humor, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.
But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.
Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behavior, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.
In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street, someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a disliked Secretary General.
And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.
According to various publications in the American and foreign media, the United States has created a global system of cyber espionage that allows the interception and processing of personal data around the globe in violation of fundamental human rights. Tapped phones, intercepted short messages, supervised discussions in social networks and stolen emails – this is the ugly reality we are living in. The NSA and other units of the United States Intelligence Community are more than capable of breaching any mobile operating system, be it iOS, Android or BlackBerry OS.
In 2011 US intelligence agencies successfully finished the development of geo-location tracking software that allows the NSA to collect and save more than five billion location records of mobile users around the world on a daily basis, and then through a special program labeled CO-TRAVELER analyze and monitor the movement of certain individuals that could be of interest for Washington. In addition, since 2010 information on social contacts of US citizens, their personal data, including telephone calls, Internet logs, bank codes, insurance data is being processed by intelligence agencies on a regular basis.
The NSA’s secret project codenamed Boundless Informant seeks to establish control over “information space.” According to The Guardian it has been able to collect the data on 97 billion phone calls worldwide since March 2013.
The global electronic intelligence net Echelon (AUSCANNZUKUS or Five Eyes), that was established by the US in cooperation with the UK back in 1947, allowed the intelligence agencies of the the Untied States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Turkey and other countries to exchange secret information, including the records on their respective citizens.
Yet another secret project codenamed Prism established by the NSA and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), allowed intelligence agencies to establish close partnerships with major IT companies back in 2007, including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Such cooperation allows the secret services to read private e-mails and monitor the transfer of files throughout global information space. This allows the NSA to control sovereign leaders, business representatives and foreign diplomats as has been repeatedly reported on by various international media outlets.
However, Washington doesn’t seem to be satisfied with its “progress” since it continues funding and developing new secret projects that would not simply allow the United States to retain an effective control over global information space, but to influence web users worldwide to its own advantage as well.
Thus, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity Agency (IARPA) in recent years has started a number of research programs to manipulate social networks.
Programs for analysis of the socio-cultural content of language (Socio-Cultural Content in Language – SCIL Program) is implemented in order to develop algorithms, methods and technologies that could enable the intelligence community to supervise the activities of various non-governmental organizations that do not agree with the social policies of certain governments. The development of this program is dictated by the need to recognize the content of messages transmitted over the Internet, taking into account linguistic differences and dialects.
IARPA in close collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology is also developing a program codenamed Reynard, which aims at studying the phenomena of social dynamics in so-called virtual worlds such as MMOs. This particular study is carried out in the interest of the security agencies in order to assess the political mood of the population and taking proactive measures once it changes.
The intelligence community is also sponsoring the development of the Aladdin program designed for automated analysis and description of video content (Automated Low-Level Analysis and Description of Diverse Intelligence Video – VACE). The main goal of this program is to provide intelligence analysts with automated search capabilities to track videos that could be of interest for them. Videos for analytical processing can come from different sources – television, surveillance cameras, regular pictures, interviews or even footage shot by drones. The footage is systematized by time and place to identify certain individuals and determine the sequence of their actions which may be in certain semantic relations to present-day events.
Currently, IARPA implemented a program called Babel, which aims at developing effective speech recognition software in different languages and dialects.
Washington and its agencies are literally spending billions of taxpayer dollars annually under the convenient guise of the “war on terror”, which in fact turns out to be a hidden war against its own citizens, now deprived of basic human rights. But what makes it even worse is that it’s pushing its satellite countries to launch an all-out offensive against the civil liberties of Europe and beyond.
The chilling effect of surveillance may be spreading across the Atlantic.
We learned last week that GCHQ – the U.K. equivalent of the NSA – permits its employees to target the communications of journalists and lawyers. That revelation has serious implications for the work of both groups.
American surveillance is already impacting the work of U.S.-based journalists and lawyers. As the ACLU and Human Rights Watch documented in a recent report, the effects are not pretty. National security and intelligence journalists have been struggling to develop and maintain relationships with increasingly skittish sources, and lawyers are losing the freedom to communicate with clients, co-counsel, and witnesses without exposing confidential information to the government.
We depend on the press to keep us informed, helping ensure the government’s accountability to the governed. But when journalists are vulnerable to surveillance, that accountability suffers.
Attorneys are also indispensable, and their right to communicate privately with clients has long been recognized both in domestic and international law. When attorneys can’t communicate freely with clients, they can’t build trust or develop strategy. That weakens important due process rights and diminishes our confidence in the verdicts issued by our justice system.
Like the United States, the U.K. conducts significant surveillance, including tapping fiber-optic cables to gain access to enormous volumes of Internet traffic. The revelations from last week show not only that the communications of journalists and lawyers get caught up in the U.K.’s dragnet, but also that this may happen by design.
The breadth and poor regulation of the U.K.’s surveillance practices are a problem for everyone – including Americans. Here’s why.
The United States has extensive intelligence-sharing arrangements with key allies like the U.K., and through them has access to information that it can’t legally collect on its own. Sharing flows both ways, so the U.K. also has unfettered access to much “raw” or unfiltered U.S. surveillance data.
As far as we know, nothing stops the United States from accessing information from GCHQ that is derived from targeting journalists or lawyers. In fact, we’ve seen this movie before. Last February, we learned that an Australian intelligence agency gave the NSA privileged communications between a U.S.-based law firm and its clients. We’d be foolish to assume anything different happens between the United States and the U.K. – which, like Australia, is one of the NSA’s “Five Eyes” surveillance partners.
What happens in Britain reaches us, too, and U.K. surveillance programs almost certainly collect many Americans’ communications. But we also don’t want our government targeting U.K. journalists and lawyers by proxy.
Considering the extensive intelligence cooperation between our two countries, we should all be concerned about the United States outsourcing practices we would reject at home.
It’s part of the public record that the NSA has engaged in an industry-wide campaign to weaken cryptographic protocols and insert back doors into hi-tech products sold by U.S. companies. We also know that NSA officials have privately congratulated each other in successfully undermining privacy and security across the Internet. Hence it’s only logical to assume that the NSA’s numerous subversion programs extend into foreign “commercial entities”. Thanks to documents recently disclosed by the Intercept we have unambiguous confirmation.
Hi-tech subversion underscores the fact that the whole tired debate regarding cryptographic keys held in escrow for so-called lawful interception (what the Washington Post called “secret golden keys”) only serves to distract the public from programs aimed at wielding covert back doors. In other words, by reviving the zombie idea of an explicit back door the editorial board at the Washington Post is conveniently ignoring all of the clandestine techniques that already exist to sidestep encryption. In a nutshell: zero-day bugs and malware often trump strong crypto.
On an aside it’s interesting to observe the citadel of free thinkers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation continue to promote cryptographic tools as a privacy tonic with a faith that’s almost religious while conspicuously neglecting other important aspects of operational security. The EFF cheerfully provides a litany of alleged success stories. Never mind all of the instances in which the users of said cryptographic tools were compromised, even users who specialized in computer security.
Infiltrating the Media
The NSA’s campaign to undermine software and hardware is mirrored by parallel efforts in other domains. Specifically, the Church Committee and Pike Committee investigations of the 1970s unearthed secret programs like Operation Mockingbird which were conducted to infiltrate the media and develop an apparatus, a Mighty Wurlitzer of sorts, that allowed government spies to quietly influence public perception. The findings of congressional investigators have been substantiated by writers like Deborah Davis and Carl Bernstein.
Though much of the documented evidence is decades old the CIA continues to maintain its long-standing relationship with the press. For example in March of 2010 WikiLeaks published a classified CIA analysis which described a propaganda recipe for the “targeted manipulation of public opinion” in Germany and France to bolster support for NATO military action in Afghanistan. Also, here in the United States New York Times editor Bill Keller admitted to delaying the story on Bush-era warrantless wiretapping in direct service to the powers that be.
So don’t think for a minute that the CIA didn’t have a hand in the media’s assault on journalist Gary Webb after Webb exposed the CIA’s connections to the international drug trade. Gary caught U.S. intelligence with its pants down and spymasters had their operatives in the press destroy him.
More recently, the former editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung revealed that he worked for the CIA. In a televised interview Udo Ulfkotte described Germany as an American client state, noting the role of the CIA in the origins of German intelligence. He warned that powerful interests in the United States were pushing for war with Russia and that American spies have widespread links to foreign news outlets:
“Is this only the case with German journalists? No, I think it is especially the case with British journalists, because they have a much closer relationship. It is especially the case with Israeli journalists. Of course with French journalists. … It is the case for Australians, [with] journalists from New Zealand, from Taiwan, well, there is many countries, … like Jordan for example. …”
A Question for Ed Snowden
While media subversion enables political manipulation through indirect means, U.S. intelligence has been known to employ more direct means to impose its agenda in places like Angola, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Nicaragua, and Ukraine. In fact, stepping back to view the big picture, one might be tempted to posit that U.S. intelligence has established clandestine footholds globally in any institution seen as vital to the interests of the corporate factions that drive the American Deep State.
All of this subversion raises a question: are covert programs compatible with democracy? Can the public allow secrecy, propaganda, and infiltration to blossom while simultaneously expecting to be immune from their effects? Former CIA officers who went public, intrepid whistleblowers like Philip Agee and John Stockwell, answered this question with a resounding “no.” As would millions of people in third-world countries who suffered through the bloody proxy battles of the Cold War. For instance, Philip Agee stated in his book CIA Diary:
“When the Watergate trials end and the whole episode begins to fade, there will be a movement for national renewal, for reform of electoral practices, and perhaps even for reform of the FBI and the CIA. But the return to our cozy self-righteous traditions should lure no one into believing that the problem has been removed. Reforms attack symptoms rather than the disease”
Hence it’s unsettling to hear Edward Snowden, despite his commendable admonishments for an open debate on mass surveillance, maintain the underlying legitimacy of government subterfuge:
“We can have secret programs. You know, the American people don’t have to know the name of every individual that’s under investigation. We don’t need to know the technical details of absolutely every program in the intelligence community. But we do have to know the bare and broad outlines of the powers our government is claiming … and how they affect us and how they affect our relationships overseas.”
You’re witnessing the power of framing the narrative. Society has been encouraged to discuss the legitimacy of what spies do and how they do it. But the problem with this well-intentioned dialogue is that “we the people” are led away from the more fundamental question of whether society needs spies and their covert ops to begin with.
Author’s Note: In the past I’ve posed a question to Glenn Greenwald and was met with silence. Exceptional behavior for someone who is famous for responding vocally. Now we’ll see how Mr. Snowden replies.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
European Union member states have called on the EU Parliament to adopt legislation on new data protection as soon as next year.
The new regulations proposed by the member states in March 2014 include protecting the data of European citizens from espionage, illegal transfer to intelligence services, and illicit use of their information by business.
The new legislation has been seen as a necessary step in the wake of revelations leaked to media in June 2013 by CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) global espionage and communication monitoring scheme, known as Prism.
The legislation also appeared to take on greater significance following reports from Austrian media, which published a number of photographs claiming they proved that the Washington-based NSA was operating a secret listening post a short distance from the Vienna International Centre (VIC).
The photos depict a listening post atop a skyscraper in the Austrian capital Vienna, located next door to the VIC which is considered the third United Nations headquarters after New York and Geneva, and regularly hosts meetings.
While not immediately independently verified, the Austrian media reports have alleged that an air-conditioned hut atop the building picks up transmissions from ‘bugs’ installed in the VIC.
Listening posts and their stealth implications have affected relations between US and European allies.
In November last year, the German government called in the British ambassador to explain a story published in The Independent claiming that London had a “top secret listening post” operated from the roof of the British embassy in Berlin.
The story was based on information leaked to the daily by Snowden.
While the newspaper said that the US closed down its spying base atop its embassy in Berlin, the British continued with their covert operation.
One evening over drinks in Ethiopia, during his tour as a CIA officer back in the 1960s, John Stockwell expressed reservations about covert operations to a senior fellow officer named Larry Devlin. Stockwell worried that the CIA was infiltrating governments and corrupting leaders to no useful end. Devlin, well-known in spy circles for his work in the Congo, berated Stockwell[i]:
“You’re trying to think like the people in the NSC back in Washington who have the big picture, who know what’s going on in the world, who have all the secret information, and the experience to digest it. If they decide we should have someone in Bujumbura, Burundi, and that person should be you, then you should do your job, and wait until you have more experience, and you work your way up to that point, then you will understand national security, and you can make the big decisions. Now, get to work, and stop, you know, this philosophizing.”
It’s a compelling argument: trust me, I know secrets. In fact it’s the same sort of argument that a federal informant named Hector Xavier Monsegur used to convince an activist named Jeremy Hammond to break into a whole slew of servers belonging to foreign governments[ii]. Monsegur assured Hammond: “Trust me, everything I do serves a purpose.” Hammond didn’t realize that he was actually part of an elaborate intelligence campaign being run by the FBI. Pimped out to other American three-letter agencies as it were.
Trust Me: I’m an Insider
John Stockwell was patient. He stayed on with the CIA and rose through the ranks, ultimately garnering enough clout to sit in on subcommittee meetings of the National Security Council. What he witnessed shocked him. Stockwell saw fat old men like senior ambassador Ed Mulcahy who fell asleep[iii] and petty officials like Henry Kissinger who got into embarrassing spats when someone else sat in their chair.[iv] All the while decisions were made that would kill people.
Quelle surprise! There were no wise men making difficult decisions based on dire threats to national security. Merely bureaucrats in search of enemies whose covert programs created more problems than they solved.
There’s a lesson in this story that resonates very strongly. A security clearance is by no means a guarantee of honesty or integrity. The secrets that spies guard don’t necessarily justify covert programs. Rather the veil of the government’s classification system is often leveraged to marginalize the public, to exclude people from policy making, and conceal questionable activity that would lead to widespread condemnation and social unrest if it came to light.
Past decades offer an endless trail of evidence: Operation Gladio, Operation Mockingbird, Project MKUltra, Operation Wheeler/Wallowa, Watergate, Operation CHAOS, COINTELPRO, Operation Northwoods, P2OG (the Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group), Iran-Contra, etc.
Cryptome’s John Young describes how this dynamic literally unwinds democracy[v]:
“Those with access to secret information cannot honestly partake in public discourse due to the requirement to lie and dissimulate about what is secret information. They can only speak to one another never in public. Similarly those without access to secret information cannot fully debate the issues which affect the nation, including alleged threats promulgated by secret keepers who are forbidden by law to disclose what they know.”
The Parade of Lies
In light of Ed Snowden’s revelations, and the remarkably flat-footed response of our political leaders, society is witnessing a crisis of trust. Time after time we’ve been lied to by ostensibly credible government officials. Not little white lies, but big scandalous ones. Lies that bring into question the pluralistic assumptions about American democracy and suggest the existence of what political analysts from Turkey would call a “Deep State[vi].”
For instance, both former NSA director Keith Alexander and House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers claimed that NSA mass interception was instrumental in disrupting over 50 terror plots, a claim that dissolved quickly upon closer scrutiny[vii].
Or contemplate an unnamed NSA spokesman who vehemently told the Washington Post that the NSA was not engaged in economic espionage[viii], only to be contradicted by leaked top-secret documents which described how the NSA broke into networks run by the Chinese telecom giant Huawei and made off with the company’s crown jewels (i.e. product source code).
When President Obama scored some air time with Charlie Rose, in soothing tones he calmly explained to viewers that the NSA doesn’t monitor American citizens without a warrant. It’s surprising that POTUS, a man with a background in constitutional law no less, would be unaware of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This legal provision contains a loophole that allows just this sort of warrantless monitoring to transpire[ix]. Never mind Executive Order 12333, which is arguable an even greater threat[x].
More recently, consider Dianne Feinstein’s claim back in March that the CIA had been monitoring a network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. John Brennan, the CIA director, told her that she was full of it and sanctimoniously replied “when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong[xi].”
Well guess what? It turns out Brennan was on the losing side of that bet. An internal investigation showed that CIA officers had indeed been watching the Senate Committee[xii]. Stop and pause for a moment. This disclosure is a serious warning sign. What, pray tell, do you think happens to the whole notion of checks and balances when the executive branch spies on the other two branches? Do you suppose there are implications for the balance of power?
Faced with this ever expanding dearth of credibility, spies have worked diligently to maintain the appearance of integrity. Specifically, industry conferences like Black Hat and DEF CON have regularly catered to the needs of U.S. Intelligence by serving as platform for the Deep State and its talking points: that Cyberwar is imminent[xiii], that cybercrime represents an existential threat[xiv], and that mass interception is perfectly normal and perfectly healthy[xv].
“If the tariff of security is paid, it will be paid in the coin of privacy. [xvi]”
In these hacker venues high-profile members of the intelligence community like Cofer Black[xvii], Shawn Henry[xviii], Keith Alexander[xix], and Dan Greer[xx] are positioned front and center in keynote slots, as if they were glamorous Hollywood celebrities. While those who value their civil liberties might opine that they should more aptly be treated like pariahs[xxi].
“Time Out” Posturing
One would hope that the gravity of Ed Snowden’s documents would have some impact. Indeed, Jeff Moss, the organizer who currently runs DEF CON and who originally founded Black Hat (and, by the way, currently sits on the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council[xxii]), did attempt to make a symbolic gesture of protest in the summer of 2013. He gently requested that feds call a “time-out” and not attend DEF CON[xxiii].
To grasp the nature of this public relations maneuver is to realize that roughly 70 percent of the intelligence budget is channeled to private sector companies[xxiv]. As Glenn Greenwald observed during the 2014 Polk Award ceremony, as far as the national security state is concerned there is little distinction between the private and public sector[xxv]. Anyone who has peered into the rack space of the data broker industry knows that the NSA is an appendage on a much larger corporate apparatus[xxvi].
So asking federal employees to stay away really doesn’t change much because the driving force behind the surveillance state, the defense industry and its hi-tech offshoots, will swarm Vegas in great numbers as they normally do. Twelve months after Moss calls his halfhearted “time-out,” Black Hat rolls out the red carpet for the Deep State[xxvii], (while the government threatens to clamp down on attendance to conferences by foreign nationals[xxviii]). This is all very telling.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
[i] John Stockwell, THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA: part I, lecture given in October, 1987,
[ii] Mark Mazzetti, “F.B.I. Informant Is Tied to Cyberattacks Abroad,” New York Times, April 23, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/world/fbi-informant-is-tied-to-cyberattacks-abroad.html
[iii] John Stockwell, THE SECRET WARS OF THE CIA: part I, lecture given in October, 1987,
[iv] John Stockwell, The Praetorian Guard: The U.S. Role in the New World Order, South End Press, July 1, 1999.
[v] John Young, “Wall Street Journal Secrecy,” Cryptome, August 22, 2014, http://cryptome.org/0002/wsj-secrecy.htm
[vi] Peter Dale Scott, “The Deep State and the Wall Street Overworld”, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, March 10, 2014, http://japanfocus.org/-Peter_Dale-Scott/4090
[vii] Cindy Cohn and Nadia Kayyali, “The Top 5 Claims That Defenders of the NSA Have to Stop Making to Remain Credible,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, June 2, 2013, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/06/top-5-claims-defenders-nsa-have-stop-making-remain-credible
[viii] Barton Gellman and Ellen Nakashima, “, U.S. spy agencies mounted 231 offensive cyber-operations in 2011, documents show” Washington Post, August 30, 2013
[ix] Nadia Kayyali, “The Way the NSA Uses Section 702 is Deeply Troubling. Here’s Why,” Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 7, 2014, https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/05/way-nsa-uses-section-702-deeply-troubling-heres-why
[x] John Napier Tye, “Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans,” Washington Post, July 18, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/meet-executive-order-12333-the-reagan-rule-that-lets-the-nsa-spy-on-americans/2014/07/18/93d2ac22-0b93-11e4-b8e5-d0de80767fc2_story.html
[xi] Mark Mazzetti And Jonathan Weisman, “Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry,” New York Times, March 11, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/us/cia-accused-of-illegally-searching-computers-used-by-senate-committee.html
[xii]Mark Mazzetti, “C.I.A. Admits Penetrating Senate Intelligence Computers,” New York Times, July 31, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/01/world/senate-intelligence-commitee-cia-interrogation-report.html
[xiii] Molly Mulrain, “Former CIA Official: ‘Cyber Will Be Key Component of Any Future Conflict’”, ExecutiveBiz, August 4, 2011, http://blog.executivebiz.com/2011/08/former-cia-official-cyber-will-be-a-key-component-of-any-future-conflict/
[xiv] Gerry Smith, “Cyber-Crimes Pose ‘Existential’ Threat, FBI Warns,” Huffington Post, January 12, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/12/cyber-threats_n_1202026.html
[xv] “U.S. Cyber Command Head General Alexander To Keynote Black Hat USA 2013,” Dark Reading, May 14, 2013, http://www.darkreading.com/risk/us-cyber-command-head-general-alexander-to-keynote-black-hat-usa-2013/d/d-id/1139741
[xvi] Daniel E. Geer, “Cybersecurity and National Policy,” Harvard Law School National Security Journal, Volume 1 – April 7, 2010, http://harvardnsj.org/2011/01/cybersecurity-and-national-policy/
[xix] Jim Finkle, “Defcon 2012 Conference: Hackers To Meet With U.S. Spy Agency Chief,” Reuters, July 20, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/defcon-2012_n_1691246.html
[xx] Spencer Ackerman, “NSA keeps low profile at hacker conventions despite past appearances,” Guardian, July 31, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/nsa-hacker-conventions-recruit-def-con-black-hat/print
[xxi] George Smith, “Computer Security for the 1 Percent Day,” Escape From WhiteManistan, May 19, 2014, http://dickdestiny.com/blog1/?p=18011
[xxiii] Dan Goodin, “For first time ever, feds asked to sit out DefCon hacker conference,” Ars Technica, July 11, 2013, http://arstechnica.com/security/2013/07/for-first-time-ever-feds-asked-to-sit-out-defcon-hacker-conference/
[xxiv] Tim Shorrock, “Put the Spies Back Under One Roof,” New York Times, June 17, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/put-the-spies-back-under-one-roof.html
[xxv] “”We Won’t Succumb to Threats”: Journalists Return to U.S. for First Time Since Revealing NSA Spying,” Democracy Now! April 14, 2014, http://www.democracynow.org/2014/4/14/we_wont_succumb_to_threats_journalists#
[xxvi] “Inside the Web’s $156 Billion Invisible Industry,” Motherboard, December 18, 2013, http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/inside-the-webs-156-billion-invisible-industry
[xxvii] Spencer Ackerman, “NSA keeps low profile at hacker conventions despite past appearances,” Guardian, July 31, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/31/nsa-hacker-conventions-recruit-def-con-black-hat/print
[xxviii] Andrea Shalal and Jim Finkle, “U.S. may act to keep Chinese hackers out of Def Con hacker event,” Reuters, May 24, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/24/us-cybercrime-usa-china-idUSBREA4N07D20140524
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying
China has dismissed the recent allegation by the US that the Chinese military has been involved in hacking a US security firm, describing Washington’s approach on the issue as unconstructive.
A private US cyber security firm accused a unit of China’s military on Monday of hacking attempts to access information on US satellite and aerospace programs, Xinhua reported.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying rejected the allegation at a press briefing on Tuesday.
“I have noticed the report you mentioned, its wording and style looks familiar, citing the names of the hackers and their claims of their military identity,” she said, responding to a question about US reports alleging Chinese hacking attempts. “Have you ever seen thieves bearing a name tag saying ‘thieves?’” she said.
Washington had issued an indictment against five Chinese military officers on charges of cyber theft earlier on May 19.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman further challenged the integrity of the US allegations against her country, referring to the massive American espionage efforts across the globe as part of its PRISM program under the US National Security Agency (NSA).
The program, which was revealed by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden in 2013, showed that the US was spying on the phone and email communications of top world leaders, including those of Washington’s allied countries as well as China.
“The US is a hacking empire,” Hua said. “It is not constructive for the US to attack others instead of repenting and correcting its own mistakes.”
The Chinese official further pointed out that cyber attacks are a global challenge – transnational and anonymous in nature – requiring cooperation among all countries to be countered.
Former NSA counsel and surveillance/security state hypeman Stewart Baker has had just about enough of Techdirt making “distorted claims” about his statements for the “purposes of making money.” To counter this, he’s sent a “right to be forgotten” request to Google stating the following:
Reason this link violates the right to be forgotten:
This link is inappropriate. It compiles stories making many distorted claims about my political views. Political views are a particularly sensitive form of personal data. The stories are written by men who disagree with me, and they are assembled for the purpose of making money for a website, a purpose that cannot outweigh my interest in controlling the presentation of sensitive data about myself.
Baker’s certainly not hoping for Techdirt’s posts on him to be de-listed (although I imagine he’d indulge in a chuckle or two if they went down). He’s mocking the ridiculousness of the “right to be forgotten” ruling Google is now attempting to comply with. He has submitted other requests as well over such things as outdated photos and “inaccurate” statements as the kickoff to an informal “hack” of a bad law.
I feel bad for Google, which is stuck trying to administer this preposterous ruling. But that shouldn’t prevent us from showing quite concretely how preposterous it is.
I propose a contest. Let’s all ask for takedowns. The person who makes the most outrageous (and successful) takedown request will win a “worst abuse of privacy law” prize, otherwise known as a Privy.
Stewart’s takedown request targeting Techdirt is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but it does highlight the sort of abuse that should be expected when government bodies attempt to force the internet to bend to their will. Granting a “right to be forgotten” pretty much ensures that a majority of the requests will be no more legitimate than Baker’s.
Multiple advocates for the law have compared it with the infamous DMCA takedown notice, something that has also been routinely abused. But at least the DMCA takedown carries with it the (almost never enforced) charge of perjury for issuing bogus takedowns. The RTBF form simply asks for a copy of the submitter’s identification. There’s nothing in it to discourage abuse of the system. If you don’t like something someone has said about you on the web, just fill out a webform.
While we at Techdirt disagree with most of what Stewart Baker says, at least his position on privacy remains consistent. His “Privys” — an “award” given to the worst or most hypocritical abuser of privacy laws — have generally been awarded to worthy recipients, usually people who tend to think these laws exist to save them from their own embarrassments.
As for the “right to be forgotten,” it appears as though requests may be forwarded to Chilling Effects. On June 6th, this test post showed up in the database.
A request has been made to remove one or more links from a search page under European “right to be forgotten” rules, following Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Espanola de Proteccion de Datos, Mario Costeja Gonzalez.
The body of the post contains nothing but the word “TEST” but this seems to indicate that an attempt will be made to publish takedown attempts. At this point, it’s impossible to say how much information will be redacted, or if the European Commission will even allow this sort of transparency. Google is also toying with appending messages to the bottom of search results pages indicating that link(s) may have been removed due to “RTBF” requests. If this works like DMCA requests do, then a link to Chilling Effects database will be provided. These measures won’t necessarily deter abuse, but they will make it much easier to track.
The German government has been trying to avoid upsetting either the US by denouncing the large-scale surveillance being carried out by the NSA in its country, or the German people by not denouncing it. It finds itself in the same quandary as regards opening a formal investigation into the spying, which is probably why it has held off for so long. But now, the German authorities have come up with a sort of compromise, as GigaOM reports:
Germany’s federal prosecutor has launched the country’s first formal investigation into the activities of the NSA in Germany, specifically the U.S. intelligence agency’s reported bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.
Harald Range said on Wednesday that the other potential avenue of investigation — that of the surveillance of the German people — remained open, though no investigation was being launched yet due to a lack of evidence.
Leaving aside the question just how much evidence the federal prosecutor needs before he investigates whether the German people have been subjected to US surveillance — a signed confession from President Obama perhaps? — the other issue here is the astonishing lack of sensitivity this move displays. The German government seems to be saying that spying is outrageous and must be investigated immediately if it’s directed against the powerful; but if it’s against the little people, then, well, sorry: we need more evidence before we could possibly risk upsetting the US.
A federal judge who ordered the National Security Agency to retain all records of its secret telephone surveillance related to an ongoing case has reversed the order – just a day after it was issued.
“In order to protect national security programs, I cannot issue a ruling at this time. The Court rescinds the June 5 order,” US District Judge Jeffrey White said from the bench on Friday.
The NSA had been prohibited from destroying any of its records of communications surveillance on Thursday – specifically under the government’s Section 702 program.
Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) has been used by the NSA to justify widespread collection of phone calls and emails.
White first ordered that the agency retain records in March, to which the NSA responded that it was legally obliged to destroy all documents after a five year period.
White issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) in March to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, on Thursday, EFF filed an emergency motion, stating that in the past week interactions with government lawyers demonstrated that the destruction of records had continued.
Records could form a basis of evidence for two pending lawsuits posing a challenge to the surveillance program. One was filed by AT&T customers and the other by 23 Californian organizations.
The case – Jewel v. NSA the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the NSA and other government agencies on behalf of AT&T customers.
The Friday hearing saw lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) going up against lawyers from the Department of Justice.
The case has stagnated in the court system for several years. In 2008, the original complaint was filed against AT&T and the government, which it was alleged, was involved in “illegal and unconstitutional program of dragnet communications surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency and other Defendants in concert with major telecommunications companies.”
Evidence pre-dated Snowden’s revelations in June 2013, and was based on evidence from former San Francisco AT&T technician Mark Klein in 2006.
“I don’t want the preservation effects to get in the way of national security, but I don’t want national security to checkmate our case,” Cindy Cohn, an EFF attorney, told the court, reported arstechnica.
Justice department lawyers sought a stay. They argued that phone records and internet programs were separate. Section 702 allows the government access to emails and Facebook messages. The lawyers said that their compliance would put the program at risk.
Remember When Venezuela and Bolivia Kicked the U.S. DEA Out of Their Countries, Accusing It of Espionage? Looks Like They Were Right…
In their latest article on U.S. government spying for The Intercept, Ryan Devereaux, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras review and publish leaked documents that show that the U.S. government may have used the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to aid the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on U.S. citizens and non-citizens in foreign countries. The NSA is shown to have assisted the DEA with efforts to capture narcotraffickers, but the leaked documents also refer to “a vibrant two-way information sharing relationship” between the two intelligence agencies, implying that the DEA shares its information with the NSA to aid with non-drug-related spying. This may explain how the NSA has gathered not just metadata but also the full-take audio from “virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”
The authors write,
The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.
But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”
What’s more, Selander adds, the NSA has aided the DEA for years on surveillance operations. “On our reports, there’s drug information and then there’s non-drug information,” he says. “So countries let us in because they don’t view us, really, as a spy organization.”
While the documents accompanying the article reveal detailed information that has never before been available to the public, this is not the first time that the DEA has faced allegations of spying.
In 2005, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela stopped cooperating with the DEA after accusing it of espionage in his country. At the time, a State Department spokesperson responded by saying, “the accusations that somehow the Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in espionage are baseless. There’s no substance or justification for them.” Using arguments that would change very little over the next nine years, a State Department official said at the time, “I think it’s pretty clear to us that the motivation for this is not the accusation itself or not what they state is the problem. The motivation is an effort to detract from the government’s increasingly deficient record of cooperation.”
Three years later, President Evo Morales expelled the DEA from Bolivia saying, “there were DEA agents who worked to conduct political espionage.” He also said, “we can control ourselves internally. We don’t need any spying from anybody.” The State Department spokesperson said in response, “the charges that have been made are just patently absurd. We reject them categorically”, and the news agency EFE reported that “Washington has repeatedly denied that the DEA has been involved in any activities in Bolivia apart from the war on drugs.”
Few of the press reports from 2005 or 2008 took these accusations seriously, and the State Department dismissed the allegations categorically, but in 2008, CEPR’s co-director Mark Weisbrot wrote that “To the Bolivians, the U.S. is using the “war on drugs” throughout Latin America mainly as an excuse to get boots on the ground, and establish ties with local military and police forces.” To this list, we can now add access to national phone and communication networks, and storage of the content of phone calls.