The Other Surveillance, Security, and Police Powers: Corporate and FBI
(This post is by way of a PSA; if it’s 2L2R, save it for later, okay?)
From Foreign Policy magazine comes information about the ‘elite’ cyber-spy unit of the FBI based at Quantico. That the FBI has gotten a free pass in Congressional mass surveillance hearings is probably no accident is it? Their secrecy and hidden mission of their Data Intercept Technology Unit, or DITU, would give plausible deniability to questions about any of the NSA’s purposes or ‘legalities’, or not, as the case may be. Shane Harris reminds us that the Prism Power Point presentation that Edward Snowden gave for journalist hints at the FBI’s data collection which then flows into NSA databases. Yes, we were encouraged to believe that the NSA shared intel with the FBI, but both seem to be quite conveniently collected and shared.
‘But interviews with current and former law enforcement officials, as well as technology industry representatives, reveal that the unit is the FBI’s equivalent of the National Security Agency and the primary liaison between the spy agency and many of America’s most important technology companies, including Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Apple.’ [snip]
According to a senior Justice Department official, the NSA could not do its job without the DITU’s help. The unit works closely with the “big three” U.S. telecommunications companies — AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint — to ensure its ability to intercept the telephone and Internet communications of its domestic targets, as well as the NSA’s ability to intercept electronic communications transiting through the United States on fiber-optic cables.
For Prism, the DITU maintains the surveillance equipment that captures what the NSA wants from U.S. technology companies, including archived emails, chat-room sessions, social media posts, and Internet phone calls. The unit then transmits that information to the NSA, where it’s routed into other parts of the agency for analysis and used in reports.’
So when the big tech companies say they don’t no nuffin’ ‘bout no NSA, they may not be altogether lying, but I’d like to know how complicit they have been with the spies, wouldn’t you? It’s worth reading, if only for the explanation of ‘Port Reader’ technology, and their pursuit of metadata that the NSA allegedly gave up in 2011 when the FISA court balked at the process. Some of the programs, including the usual hilarious spook names are interesting: CoolMiner, Packeteer, Phiple Troenix, Cyber Knight Oh, and FBI’s Magic Lantern keystroke logging system, a device that could be implanted on a computer and clandestinely record what its user typed.
David Rosen recently wrote about ‘Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits’ by the Center for Public Policy. It describes the two-headed security state, including the formal network of federal, state, and local ‘duly constituted and ‘legal’ (in quotes) law and order entities to back up state power. The other is the shadow police network that corporate entities use, often illegally and uncontrolled, to monitor, discredit, or crush citizen’s democratic rights to question or undermine corporate power and its burgeoning control and abuse.
“Spooky Business” shows that many leading U.S. corporations are retaining the services of former federal security personnel to wage campaigns to subvert Constitutionally protected citizen rights. It details the practices of Bank of America, BP, Brown & Williamson, Burger King, the Chamber of Commerce, Chevron Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Kraft, McDonald’s, Monsanto, Shell and Wal-Mart. Going further, it argues that to pull this off, these companies hire former employees of the CIA, FBI, NSA, Secret Service, the military and local law-enforcement. As Ruskin shows, these “security officials” are linked to infiltration, espionage, surveillance and other tactics that are intended to undermine ostensible threats posed by nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.’
The report (pdf here) mentions that targets of corporate espionage are those who threaten a company’s assets or image sufficiently, and that:
‘In effect, corporations are now able to replicate in miniature the services of a private CIA, employing active-duty and retired officers from intelligence and/or law enforcement. Lawlessness committed by this private intelligence and law enforcement capacity, which appears to enjoy near impunity, is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. In essence, corporations are now able to hire a private law enforcement capacity – which is barely constrained by legal and ethical norms – and use it to subvert or destroy civic groups. This greatly erodes the capacity of the civic sector to countervail the tremendous power of corporate and wealthy elites.”
Rosen chronicles some of the history of the same two-headed security apparatus since the Civil War, including a section on the Pinkerton Agency as strike-busters and more, which reminded me enough of the security forces brought in to break the ILWU’s strike against EGT at the Port of Longview; Barack Obomba called out the Coast Guard to help EGT’s ships land at the port, too, if you remember). It was a company called ‘Special Response Corporation’, and in the Bing hits, it says ‘a leader in providing security for work stoppages, natural disasters and other needs nationwide. Based in Hunt Valley, Maryland’, but oddly, all of the links redirect you to another location; only two days ago they worked. Heh; speaking of ‘Spooky’… Pinkertons even had arrest authority, as did the ASPCA in New York State for a time earlier in history. Stay tuned for that trend…. Popular Resistance highlights more, including ‘one in four activists may be corporate spies’.
But oh, dear, oh dear; if you can afford the time, read Darwin Bond-Graham’s creepy-bo-peepy ‘Iron Cagebook: the Logical End of Facebook’s Patents’, especially if you are a Facebook dependent. Graham describes a number of the patents pending for the company (and other similar ones) in The Big Data Analytics Revolution, all of which are designed to profit from, predict the behavior of, and manipulate the participants who willingly surrender ‘trillions and trillions of missives and images, and other data about the lives’ of their billion users per month globally, all with few, if any, government regulations. ‘America’s bidness is…bidness’, as Molly Ivins put it so succinctly. Yes, indeed; (at least for now, ya bastids).
There are too many patents and applications to describe, but suffice it to say that figuring out what you buy, estimate your income, social and political leanings is just the tip of the coming iceberg.
‘Speaking of feeds, U.S. Patent 8,352,859, Facebook’s system for “Dynamically providing a feed of stories about a user of a social networking system” is used by the company to organize the constantly updated posts and activities inputted by a user’s “friends.” Of course embedded in this system are means of inserting advertisements. [snip]
Perhaps we do know who will live in the iron cage. It might very well be a cage made of our own user generated content, paradoxically ushering in a new era of possibilities in shopping convenience and the delivery of satisfactory experiences even while it eradicates many degrees of chance, and pain, and struggle (the motive forces of human progress) in a robot-powered quest to have us construct identities and relationships that yield to prediction and computer-generated suggestion.’
In the extreme shiver-inducing category is Peter Van Buren’s ‘Could Google and the NSA Make Whistleblowers Disappear? There will be no need to kill a future Edward Snowden. He will already be dead’.
He likens the present abilities and past deeds of tech companies* to Orwell’s Memory Hole, a vacuum tube into which old documents were physically disappeared forever, other documents were doctored to stand as Truth instead, and of course, anyone expressing doubts about the truth of the fabricated present would be marginalized or eliminated for the guilt of ‘thoughtcrime’.
‘What if everything a whistleblower had ever exposed could simply be made to go away? What if every National Security Agency (NSA) document Snowden released, every interview he gave, every documented trace of a national security state careening out of control could be made to disappear in real-time? What if the very posting of such revelations could be turned into a fruitless, record-less endeavor?
Am I suggesting the plot for a novel by some twenty-first-century George Orwell? Hardly. As we edge toward a fully digital world, such things may soon be possible, not in science fiction but in our world—and at the push of a button. In fact, the earliest prototypes of a new kind of “disappearance” are already being tested. We are closer to a shocking, dystopian reality that might once have been the stuff of futuristic novels than we imagine. Welcome to the memory hole.’
He describes different programs that filter key words, then redirect searchers to sites Google, as a for instance, deems more helpful, like those in search of child pornography. He, by the way, reckons that Google is one of the Good Guys as far as allowing successful searches for Edward Snowden’s documents.
But he warns that the technology to do so is chilling.
Imagine if, back in 1971, the Pentagon Papers, the first glimpse most Americans had of the lies behind the Vietnam War, had been deletable. Who believes that the Nixon White House wouldn’t have disappeared those documents and that history wouldn’t have taken a different, far grimmer course?
Or consider an example that’s already with us. In 2009, many Kindle owners discovered that Amazon had reached into their devices overnight and remotely deleted copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (no irony intended). The company explained that the books, mistakenly “published” on its machines, were actually bootlegged copies of the novels. [snip]
The future for whistleblowers is grim. At a time not so far distant, when just about everything is digital, when much of the world’s Internet traffic flows directly through the United States or allied countries, or through the infrastructure of American companies abroad, when search engines can find just about anything online in fractions of a second, when the Patriot Act and secret rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court make Google and similar tech giants tools of the national security state (assuming organizations like the NSA don’t simply take over the search business directly), and when the sophisticated technology can either block, alter or delete digital material at the push of a button, the memory hole is no longer fiction.
The ever-developing technology of search, turned 180 degrees, will be able to disappear things in a major way. The Internet is a vast place, but not infinite. It is increasingly being centralized in the hands of a few companies under the control of a few governments, with the United States sitting on the major transit routes across the Internet’s backbone.
About now you should feel a chill. We’re watching, in real time, as 1984 turns from a futuristic fantasy long past into an instructional manual. There will be no need to kill a future Edward Snowden. He will already be dead.’
In the whopping twelve comments under the Nation’s version of the piece, one mentions the International Whistleblower Archive set up by the Whistleblower Support Fund in partnership with the Internet Archive to keep the stories of whistleblowers from disappearing. Another hilariously calls out the site for its hypocrisy in publishing the piece because the editors seem to disappear comments, then asks: ‘Or is this only the capability of the NSA and CIA controlled Disqus platform which runs The Nation’s “community” and that of many other sites ?
I sure don’t like sites that use Disqus, but mainly because there must be so much associated content that my browsers freeze and crash.
Remember: always say hello to the heads of the main Security Snoops Powers online to keep them busy: James Comey of the FBI, and Generals Clapper and Alexander (for now; he’s retiring soon so he can spend less time with your family). 😉
(cross-posted at Cafe-Babylon.net)