Meet Covert Big-Data Warrantless Surveillance of Americans
There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around
Who’s Turning These Algorithms Loose on America, the Russians? No, It’s the US National Security Agency
Totalitarianism used to be when the Gestapo kicked down your door. Not any more. Now it’s when the United States government, in the person of the National Security Agency and under the pretext of anti-terrorism, kicks down your firewall and gathers up and analyzes your phone calls and emails, your Twitter and Facebook accounts, your browsing history, your credit card and bank transactions, your Skype conversations with your grandchildren and your communications metadata. With all this raw data in their swag bag they can identify you, sort you, categorize you, locate you, follow you and, when they think you’re ripe, take the necessary measures. What can you do about it? Keep an overnight bag prepared with your toothbrush and clean underwear.
This situation would be alarming enough under a sane and reasonable government but under the current atypical American administration, it’s a clear and present danger. This is not to suggest that there’s no opposition to these procedures. Since 2006, when Edward Snowdon released the secret NSA papers to the press, The American Civil Liberties Union began working on the case, as well as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the leading nonprofit defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation.
Electronic Surveillance Is Not New
Wiretapping in the United States goes back more than 150 years, long before the telephone. The earliest statute prohibiting wiretapping was passed in California in 1862, just after the Pacific Telegraph Company reached the West Coast. The first person convicted was a stockbroker named D.C. Williams two years later. He was listening in on corporate telegraph lines and selling the information to stock traders.
In the beginning, it was mainly detectives and corporations who resorted to electronic eavesdropping but when Prohibition came along wiretapping became a valuable law-enforcement tool. That is not to say it didn’t face opposition on moral grounds ever since. (Source: Smithsonianmag.com)
Following the September 11th, 2001 attacks, American domestic and international surveillance capabilities escalated intensely. Today’s mass surveillance relies upon annual presidential executive orders declaring a continued State of National Emergency, first signed by George W. Bush on September 14, 2001 and then continued on an annual basis by Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and upon several subsequent national security Acts including the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA ) PRISM surveillance program. Critics and political dissenters currently describe the effects of these acts, orders, and resulting database network of Fusion centers as forming a veritable American police state that simply institutionalized the illegal COINTELPRO tactics used to assassinate dissenters and leaders from the 1950s onwards. The American Civil Liberties Union says on its website:
Our Constitution and democratic system demand that government be transparent and accountable to the people, not the other way around. History has shown that powerful, secret surveillance tools will almost certainly be abused for political ends.
Today’s advances in information technology allow the creation of huge national databases that facilitate mass surveillance in the United States by Department of Homeland Security–managed Fusion centers, the CIA’s Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) program, and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Data Base (TSDB). (Source: Wikipedia)
What’s a Fusion Center and Why Do We Need It?
A fusion center is an intelligence gathering, analysis and dissemination state or major urban area center, which is owned by state, local, or territorial law enforcement and Department of Homeland Security entities, many of which were jointly created between 2003 and 2007.
The National Network of Fusion Centers was established after the September 11 attacks to provide a focal point for successful collaboration across jurisdictions and sectors to effectively and efficiently detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. It is a decentralized, distributed, self-organizing national asset composed of state and major urban area fusion centers and their respective nodes within each center’s area of responsibility. This composition enables the National Network to meet local needs while providing valuable information to understand the national landscape of threats and criminal activity. (Source: Wikipedia)
What They Say They Do and What They Actually Do
When I read a line like, “This composition enables the National Network to meet local needs, while providing valuable information to understand the national landscape of threats and criminal activity,” it brings out the skeptic in me. What sordid realities lie behind that curtain of bland and comforting officialese? Identification and neutralization of political opposition? Following of wrong-thinking journalists and academics? Tracking down dissidents and whistleblowers? Total control of civil society? What controls are in place?
There is a horrendous historical precedent for “what they actually do.” After the Second World War the British MI6 clandestine service had the wholly laudable idea to set up, staff and equip secret “stay-behind” military units all over Europe, against the possibility of a Russian invasion. So far, so good. But in 1949 the stay-behind groups came under the authority of the recently-formed NATO, and that British defensive operation soon morphed into a Europe-wide terrorist network made up of Nazi collaborators, fascist fugitives and criminal gangs that indulged in false-flag bombings and shootings against random European citizens and blamed the actions on left-wing “terrorist groups.”
The purpose of these NATO-sponsored horrors? To instill massive doses of fear in European voters to prevent them once and for all from voting for Socialist or Communist candidates, who had gained a lot of credibility in Europe thanks to their role in the fight against the Nazis. This long-term terrorist operation is referred to as Operation Gladio, in Italian, as it was in Italy where it was first uncovered by government authorities. It was a typical, if particularly cynical, manifestation of standard, corn-fed anti-communism, and the cost to the Americans was bearable as all the victims were European civilians.
And it’s not over yet. Now it seems we have Gladio B. Here’s what Sibel Edmonds, ex-employee of the American clandestine services and whistleblower par excellence, has to say about NATO and the CIA creating ISIS:
How can in two years some ferocious terror group get to form and they have all these guns all these bombs, and they have range rovers and they have jeeps, and they have all this sophisticated training, military and paramilitary training. They have two billion dollars plus. They have IT networks and they are the worlds scariest terror organization. That is the hallmark of Operation Gladio B. That is what they have been doing since the 1950’s and now with people getting likely to buy they types of brands and subscribe to these types of brands to them, they are being marketed to the consumers in the west. They are gobbling it up with the mainstream media about this ISIS. They even have uniform like looks with the special bandanas. They look like ninja turtles.
Recent terrorist actions, including the July 22, 2011, massacre of Norwegian adolescents–sons and daughters of Norwegian socialists–on the tiny island of Utoya outside Oslo, might also be attributable to Gladio B. This is what Danish author and investigator, Ole Dammegard, claims in a two-and-a-half-hour talk called “When Terror Struck Norway,” which you can see on YouTube. Dammegard’s rambling presentation is thoroughly convincing and enhanced by his frankness regarding the limits of his investigation. When there are aspects that he has failed to clear up he admits as much with refreshing humility.
The Oslo mass murders have an interesting post-script. The Norwegian politician, Jens Stoltenberg, was prime minister when the events took place in 2011. In 2014, just three years later, he was named NATO Secretary General. Then, last month, Norway hosted 50.000 NATO troops for “Trident Juncture,” their largest military exercises since the Cold War. Norway shares 198 kilometers of border with Russia. In all, this is a curious set of coincidences. One is inclined to wonder if it’s not too many coincidences.
What’s the PRISM Program? Is It Reassuring or Frankly Sinister?
PRISM is a code name for a program under which the United States National Security Agency (NSA) captures internet communications from various U.S. internet companies. PRISM collects stored Internet communications based on demands made to internet companies under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 to turn over any data that match court-approved search terms. According to an article published on Mic.com on June 7, 2013, the nine companies that knowingly participate in this data collection include (in order of entry into the PRISM program) Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple.
PRISM began in 2007 in the wake of the passage of the Protect America Act under the Bush Administration. The program is operated under the supervision of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court, or FISC) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Its existence was leaked six years later by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew and included what he characterized as “dangerous” and “criminal” activities. The disclosures were published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6, 2013. Subsequent documents have demonstrated a financial arrangement between the NSA’s Special Source Operations division (SSO) and PRISM partners in the millions of dollars.
Documents indicate that PRISM is “the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports”, and it accounts for 91% of the NSA’s internet traffic acquired under FISA section 702 authority, as well as a making a substantial contribution to the President’s daily briefings.” The leaked information came to light fortuitously one day after the revelation that the FISA Court had been ordering a subsidiary of telecommunications company Verizon Communications to turn over to the NSA logs tracking all of its customers’ telephone calls. Had it not been for that accidental revelation we might still not know about at least some of the specific uses of the greatest citizen surveillance operation in history.
If the NSA Can Intercept German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s Emails and Eavesdrop on Her telephone Conversations, What Can They Do with Yours?
PRISM began under the Bush Administration in 2007 in the wake of the passage of the Protect America Act. The program is operated under the supervision of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court, or FISC) pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Its existence was leaked six years later by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who warned that the extent of mass data collection was far greater than the public knew and included what he characterized as “dangerous” and “criminal” activities. The disclosures were published by The Guardian and The Washington Post on June 6, 2013.
Snowden’s subsequent disclosures included statements that government agencies such as the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the principal British cryptography and intelligence agency, also undertook mass interception and tracking of internet and communications data – described by Germany as “nightmarish” if true – allegations that the NSA engaged in “dangerous” and “criminal” activity by “hacking” civilian infrastructure networks in other countries such as “universities, hospitals, and private businesses”, and alleged that regulatory compliance offered only very limited restrictive effect on mass data collection practices (including of Americans) since restrictions “are policy-based, not technically based, and can change at any time.” This German commentator notes that “Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications”, with numerous self-granted exceptions, and that NSA policies encourage staff to assume the benefit of the doubt in cases of uncertainty. (Source: Wikipedia)
We’re Living in a Dystopian Uber-Capitalist Science Fiction Comic Book and We Don’t Even Know It!
Unfortunately, it’s more like science reality. Did you ever hear of Palantir? Not many people have, but its influence in American society, both civil and military, is gargantuan. Founded by billionaire, Peter Thiel, one of the original PayPal team, and a group of other rich tech entrepreneurs, Palantir writes and implements predictive software based on big data. Its operation is so secretive and militarized that its headquarters in Palo Alto, California is bunkerized both physically and electronically. They call it a “SCIF,” a “sensitive compartmentalized information facility.” Palantir requires its building to be resistant to any and all sorts of intrusion.
According to The Guardian, which refers to Palantir as “the ‘special ops’ tech giant that wields as much real-world power as Google”
Palantir watches everything you do and predicts what you will do next in order to stop it. As of 2013, its client list included the CIA, the FBI, the NSA, the Centre for Disease Control, the Marine Corps, the Air Force, Special Operations Command, West Point and the IRS. Up to 50% of its business is with the public sector. In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture arm, was an early investor.
Palantir tracks everyone from potential terrorist suspects to corporate fraudsters (Bernie Madoff was imprisoned with the help of Palantir), child traffickers and what they refer to as “subversives”. But it is all done using prediction.
The Palantir program was first used successfully in the Iraq war to track patterns of roadside bomb deployment, but its applications, both military and civilian, are virtually universal. The features of this utopian/dystopian system are so uncanny that they inspired Steven Spielberg to make a science- fiction film (Or was it the other way around, the movie inspired the creators of Palantir?). Minority Report, released in 2002 and starring Tom Cruise as a cop who works in a “pre-crime” unit. This is an action-detective thriller set in Washington D.C. in 2054, where police utilize a psychic technology to arrest and convict murderers before they commit their crime. And courts convict them before they have a chance to commit any actual crime.
Surely Palantir is the dictator’s ultimate toy until something more terrifying comes along…
Wait, This Surveillance Is Illegal, Immoral and Unconstitutional!
Never mind, it comes under the authority of the Universal American Axiom: We Do Whatever the Fuck We Please.
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