Category Archives: mass surveillance

play up! play up! and don’t play the game!

It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel. A meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:

In a statement, Google said: “Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.”

Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:

Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. “If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,” one said.

An Apple spokesman said it had “never heard” of Prism.1

I imagine he’s probably never heard of those Foxconn factories in China with the suicide nets either.

Driving down in our van together we were missing the coverage of Snowden’s document release but then again we already knew all the most important details of the supposedly breaking story. That we are all now living under constant internet and telephone surveillance being old news to any who have cared to search within the margins or else entirely beyond the mainstream news. Since if you are familiar with the names of William Binney or Tom Drake, to name but two former NSA whistleblowers who have both featured in earlier posts, then Snowden’s document dump comes mainly as confirmation of prior knowledge. Details added, yes, but nothing substantially new or remotely surprising.

As we approached the M25 we had entered a twenty mile section of the M1 with CCTV cameras (unless we were both mistaken) fitted every hundred yards along the hard shoulder and funneling our way ahead to London. Having not driven along this newly refurbished stretch of the M1, I felt a growing unease at this additional and less anticipated evidence of where our society is so obviously heading, thoughts which were also combined with something more primal: a loathing of being so tightly boxed in. My friend said he felt similarly unnerved. The claustrophobia of high surveillance was creeping both of us out.

At Junction 8 we turned off and from there onwards followed the softly spoken instructions of our satnav. As patient as she was mellifluous, surely ‘Emily’, the satnav babe, was on our side, but hang on, what’s this…?

A secret ‘Big Brother’ operation is allowing officials to pinpoint the exact location of thousands of vehicles with satellite navigation systems.

The controversial scheme is built into the small print of a contract between the Department for Transport and the satnav company Trafficmaster.

Currently the ‘spy in the sky’ system is limited to some 50,000 drivers who have Trafficmaster’s Smartnav system.2

And that story was released back in 2007 so god knows what Emily gets up to these days… the flirty little snitch! Still, at least she knew the whereabouts of where we were heading, reliably delivering us to the entrance of the Bilderberg Fringe designated campsite where we were soon spotted by a warden who politely but promptly informed us that we were actually the wrong side of the hundred acres of scout parkland. In view of the latest child protection laws, the protesters, he informed us, were being located well away from the scouts and with access guarded by a couple of police vans on 24-hour patrol outside the gates just in case.

So we turned the van around and, without Emily to guide us now, aimed a little across country, down some forest tracks, and eventually coming to the proper site. It was dusk and we were soon parked up in a beautiful corner of the rolling Hertfordshire countryside, brewing up some teas and pulling out the camping chairs to idle the rest of the evening beside the white blossoms of the hawthorns and the brighter flush of ox-eye daisies. A lovely spot for camping, quiet and secluded, and also close enough to the main field to mingle with other campers who as darkness fell had put together a makeshift bonfire from pallets and entertained themselves with beers and music. It was odd to think that this accidental mix of people had all come along with the same singular intent. There to vent a little of our collective spleen directly towards the secretive banker-CEO-politico hobnobbing which was already well underway but happening five miles away inside the plush Grove hotel.

In many ways it was turning into a rather beautiful weekend. Beautiful weather, beautiful location and the following day, a beautiful gathering of common humanity hollering our peaceful but intransigent dissent across the lines of G4S security guards and towards the high security steel perimeter that surrounded the hotel half a mile away in the distance. Did the Bilderberg delegates hear our cries from our small but thronging paddock of free speech? I think they most probably did. Were they remotely listening to what any one of us had to say? Of course not – what do you think this is… a democracy or something?

In truth I’ve been struggling to decide what to write about the Bilderberg protests ever since I returned. The media, of course, knew exactly where to point its cameras. Alex Jones was bound to provide them with a story and offer a further distraction to the main event. Duly he obliged, goaded into action by the smug Andrew Neil and his supercilious sidekick David Aaronvitch (who ironically enough was once awarded the Orwell Prize – how Orwell must be turning in his grave). His latest rant going viral once again and thus overshadowing the more considered position of Tony Gosling who had sparred with Neil on the same subject only a few days earlier:

But then, Neil and Jones weren’t the only ones playing games over the Bilderberg weekend. For instance, the police liaison officers convivial mingling with the crowds was another little game with different rules. Likewise, the men in sharp suits who were milling around the gates of the Grove before drifting across to be matey with those of us enclosed within our little pen were part of yet another form of the same game. In response to all this or else for more provocative reasons, some of the protesters were playing parallel games of their own. Making entertaining announcements over their personal megaphones or more simply befriending those who helped to keep us under restraint.

And perhaps the one time the protesters really got the upper hand in these ongoing games was when two small children breached the security cordon and briefly ran amok. The G4S guards were clearly flustered and at a total loss to know what to do. Sure the meeting was taking place half a mile away across a canal with only one small bridge crossing and firmly sealed behind the newly installed and heavily patrolled perimeter fence high on the hill in the distance, but just what might have happened if these children had been permitted to run loose… might others have been inspired to boldly follow their lead?

Maybe if we sent all the kids out ahead, perhaps followed soon after by the pensioners and the disabled, then such a diversionary tactic might just be enough to keep the troops of security guards and mounted police sufficiently preoccupied for the rest of us to make a proper assault on the castle walls! I’m fairly sure I wasn’t alone in thinking such subversive thoughts… although these were just games of a purely imaginative kind. The single person who did in fact embark upon such daring act of civil disobedience having already been promptly captured; foiled within seconds by the lines of blue. She hadn’t stood an earthly. So why then had we all been submitted to airport-style security checks before being allowed entry into the paddock? Well, it was just another part of the games being played, as was the enormous police presence that accompanied some of the protesters, keeping an eye on their later pub rendezvous many miles away in a different village. Being followed hither and thither by security vans was all part of the festival, and of course we all enjoyed the romp no end.

Which basically sums up the lasting lesson of Bilderberg 2013 for me at least; that all of the many impositions and cruelties inflicted upon the downtrodden populations of this world by a small but dominant gang of well established oligarchs can actually be maintained only by virtue of such tacitly accepted games – games being so absolutely vital for ensuring that the world goes on working in the unjust way it does, with tyranny being so much more effectively instilled and ensured through disingenuous smiles and knowing winks than by any amount of armed security guards and steel fences. The fences and the guns being reserved for emergencies only and if the herd should ever get too out of control.

“One pro-transparency campaigner has had enough” wrote Charlie Skelton in his final Bilderblog for this year’s event, continuing with a quote:

“For too long, those in power made decisions behind closed doors, released information behind a veil of jargon and denied people the power to hold them to account.”

Who might that have been, you may wonder. Perhaps Michael Meacher, who was the only parliamentarian with the gumption to directly address the protesters gathered at the gates of the Grove. Well, no actually…

This particular critic of closed-doors government is a certain David Cameron, speaking shortly after taking office. “This coalition is driving a wrecking ball through that culture,” he said, “and it’s called transparency.”

And Cameron wasn’t alone in his humbug:

Cameron wasn’t the only one swinging the wrecking-ball of transparency inside this year’s Bilderberg. He was joined on the end of the chain by Jessica Mathews, who sits on the advisory council of Transparency International, and James Wolfensohn, who’s on the advisory council of Transparency International USA. Together, I’m sure, they were lobbying hard to open up this last bastion of murky politicking to the sunlight. If they could find the time between seminars.3

Click here to read more of Charlie Skelton’s summary of this year’s Bilderberg.

When I got home to Sheffield I had some explaining to do. Principally I needed to account for why it was I’d let myself get so sunburnt during the weekend. Now the strict answer was that due to the security checks and the long tailback that had resulted (many of the protesters, we understood, having been turned away at the entrance) I hadn’t been able to return from the paddock to pick up the sunscreen we’d rather foolishly left behind in our van. Not a terribly romantic answer and so I improvised. “A battle scar,” I told my nephews and niece when they asked me later, “received at the cost of fighting against the Bilderbergers.”

“Why are you fighting the Build-A-Bears?” my niece objected. “I love the Build-A-Bears” she added. “Not Build-A-Bears,” I explained, “but Bilderbergers…”

“What do they make?” she asked me. What do the make…? I hesitated. How could I explain to an eight year-old what the Bilderbergers make? “War,” I said bluntly after a pause. With both General Petraeus and Kissinger in attendance it seemed like a fair if simplified version of the truth.

Meanwhile Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, has been involved in quite a caper of his own, leading the American government a merry dance in an almost nostalgic game of Cold War cat and mouse. Landing first in Hong Kong and then taking a flight on to Moscow, the news media is now altogether consumed with speculation about when and where he’ll most likely turn up next, whereas some others, perhaps most notably Naomi Wolf, are also questioning Snowden’s motivations. Is he really who he purports to be?, asks Wolf, with the unstated implication being that his adventures might in some way be part of a “limited hangout” operation; a convenient way to leak out minimal information primarily to the advantage of the spy agencies involved. As a further response, some are already asking who Naomi Wolf really is… here for example is Dave Lindorff offering a counter-offensive in last week’s Counterpunch.

In my opinion questioning the motivation of both parties is perfectly legitimate, since after all I cannot vouch for either Wolf or Snowden, having absolutely no personal association with either one. Wolf’s speculations may indeed be wild and self-promoting, as Lindorff asserts, yet the fuller verdict on Snowden surely remains unclear. For though his release of the Prism documents was undoubtedly in the public interest, and for that reason alone he ought to be protected from any subsequent prosecution, yet as I pointed out above, the evidence he presents adds surprisingly little to what we already knew or might easily have presumed.

What Snowden unquestionably has achieved, however, is to put the matter of public surveillance under the mainstream spotlight. Yet does this alone automatically affirm him as our new hero for freedom and democracy? For there might indeed be, as Wolf tentatively points out, a more hidden agenda going on behind the scenes, and whether or not Snowden is a man of integrity, he may still be an unwitting dupe. This leak, which serves to apply extra pressure to Obama, might, for instance, help with forcing the beleaguered President’s hand in other areas. It could be that by such means, Obama may now be further pressured into engaging in all-out war on Syria – one conflict that Obama has so far managed to steer clear of. Snowden’s leak becoming the straw that finally broke the camel’s back…

That said, charging Snowden under the Espionage Act strikes another fierce blow against freedom of speech, issuing a chill warning to other potential whistleblowers who may contemplate speaking out in the public interest, and thereby further trampling on the tattered remains of the American constitution. It is right therefore that those who stand for freedom ought to back Snowden’s actions and demand that he is pardoned of any crime, but it is also wise to be cautious of all those who cross from behind enemy lines. So let’s also remind ourselves that Snowden worked for the NSA and though we may like to believe that a leopard can change its spots, the associated proverb helpfully cautions us not to wish to be deceived…

The truth is the truth and yet the truth gets harder and harder to find. Take Bilderberg again, which commentators like Andrew Neil assure us is just a private club, and nothing to bother our silly little heads about. Ken Clarke, answering questions in the House of Commons (see below), playing a similar gambit. But then why the cover up for so long, we may legitimately ask, and why does the BBC even now continue to stick with the party line (of “nothing to see here”) rather than asking the tougher questions directly of the Bilderbergers themselves?

As a consequence, when we desire to uncover any meaningful facts about Bilderberg (starting with its actual existence) we are instead forced to turn to the alternative media, and the same goes for most other pressing issues including, to stick with the pertinent illustration, the rise of the surveillance state. The BBC reporting next to nothing when William Binney and Tom Drake were spilling the beans about the NSA, but some years later totally seduced by the story of Edward Snowden. The best we can say is that this is too little too late: closing the stable door after the horse has well and truly bolted.

And the emphasis is also shifted. Stories not to reveal more about Bilderberg or to challenge NSA and GCHQ surveillance, but instead about what Alex Jones believes about Bilderberg or intrigue surrounding the continuing flight of Edward Snowden. The news becoming the metanews and the important message being lost in all the hubbub. In such a fashion we are cajoled into accepting the unacceptable. These kinds of reporting of the news helping to get us more accustomed to the idea of clandestine political gatherings and of the secret services spying into every area of our personal lives. The media playing their own considerable part in the very same game… tricking us into masking our fears with our own false grins as we laugh along with the lies and feign delight in our own deception.

*

Update:

An article published in last Wednesday’s Washington Post [June 26th] offers further reasons to be cautious when it comes to Ed Snowden’s motivations. Entitled “Four years ago, Ed Snowden thought leakers should be ‘shot’”, it begins as follows:

Since he publicly acknowledged being the source of bombshell leaks about the NSA two weeks ago, Ed Snowden has portrayed government secrecy as a threat to democracy, and his own leaks as acts of conscience. But chat logs uncovered by the tech news site Ars Technica suggest Snowden hasn’t always felt that way.

“Those people should be shot in the balls,” Snowden apparently said of leakers in a January 2009 chat.

Click here to read the full article by Timothy B. Lee.

*

Additional:

Here is the best video compilation of the Bilderberg Fringe event I have found uploaded:

1 From an article entitled “NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others” written by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, published by the Guardian on June 7, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data

2 From an article entitled “Big Brother is keeping tabs on satnav motorists” published by the Daily Mail on September 25, 2007. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-483682/Big-Brother-keeping-tabs-satnav-motorists.html

3 From an article entitled “Bilderberg 2013: The sun sets on Watford” written by Charlie Skelton and published by the Guardian on June 11, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/11/bilderberg-davidcameron

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Charlie Skelton, internet freedom, mass surveillance

look who’s coming into the cross-hairs next…

I’ve now been writing this blog for just about two years, and this will be my 200th post. Being something of an anniversary then, I’ve been wondering how to mark the occasion. How about some kind of a retrospective, for instance… reviewing my earlier reports on the decline of the world’s economy as an inevitable consequence of systemic fraud and failure; or the rise of the surveillance state with the introduction of fingerprinting of kids in Britain and of drones over America; or the serious environmental threat from nuclear power and fracking (this ultra-destructive ‘technology’ coming to Britain almost immediately after I first heard and wrote about it!); mixed in perhaps with another reminder of how the neo-imperialist wars of the twenty-first century are being expanded into Africa and why the civil war in Syria is really just a proxy war with the al-Qaeda-led rebel forces being covertly supported by their own sworn enemy, America. (To read posts on any of the above just follow the relevant links from the main menu or use the search tool.)

However, to do justice to such a monumental post would possibly have taken a month or more. All the troubles I have written about, and sadly with very few exceptions, worsening during the past two years; our descent into chaos and tyranny happening quicker now than before I began.

More wars; more environmental devastation in the name of environmental protection; greater infringement of our civil liberties and human rights; and an economy that is teetering on the very edge of total collapse. Indeed, the economic situation is now so bad that on BBC2’s Newsnight a few nights ago [Tuesday 19th], Jeremy Paxman was reduced to interrogating an MP from Cyprus. And just think about that for a moment, and bear in mind that Cyprus (and I mean no offence to Cypriots when I say this) is an economic gnat. Yet we are seriously contemplating how the effects of a debt problem in Cyprus might undo the entire Eurozone. All of which is actually a measure of how broken the banking system has become.

Yes, the financial system of much of the world (and especially our region of it) is bankrupt, and has been for some time. The reason is the multiple hundreds of trillions of dollars of so-called ‘toxic’ derivatives that have still yet to be deleted. But instead of cancelling the odious debts and prosecuting a corrupt banking establishment, the proposed solution is instead to openly steal money from personal bank accounts in order to keep the Ponzi scheme up and running just a little longer. This brazen theft being described in places like the BBC as “a haircut” or “a tax on savings”. You just can’t make it up any more! And sooner or later, we must expect that all of this will be coming to a bank nearby…

Those who have listened carefully to people really in the know, like former regulator William K Black, are aware not only of the real cause of this crisis (and the resulting depression which the mainstream media have also helped to play down) but also precisely who is really to blame – and let’s name names here: hands up Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch! The three credit rating agencies who gave triple-A’s to toxic trash on the basis of mere opinion and yet continue to downgrade the credit worthiness of nation states in a deepening crisis which they were instrumental in starting… you really can’t make this up! And hands up Goldman Sachs, J.P Morgan, Citibank, Barclays, HSBC, and all the cronies in government, at the ECB, the Bank of England, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, and not forgetting the FSA and other supposed “regulatory agencies”. Agencies working for whom and to what ends, we may all reasonably demand.

It is the greed, incompetence and malfeasance across the whole of the financial sector that has brought us to this brink. It was never the fault of “the lazy Greeks” and it’s not the fault of pesky Cypriots either, but the mainstream media still hesitates at telling the people the truth – and why? Just how deep does the cronyism run…?

I hate to say this but quite frankly our world, by which I mean our civilisation, is going to hell in a handbasket. Because just as our economies collapse, and the social structures we rely upon follow, at very same time the controls on us are being tightened one notch at a time, and at an accelerating rate. This is another big theme I have returned to time and again. How in America there was Obama’s introduction of the NDAA “indefinite detention act”, and how in Britain we look set to get our own secret trials too. How in America (and most probably in Britain, although here the available evidence is less certain) there is already universal surveillance of internet activity and soon (certainly if Obama gets his way) of bank accounts too.1

These are the considered thoughts of veteran investigative journalist John Pilger, writing almost a year ago an article on his own website entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?”:

You are all potential terrorists. It matters not that you live in Britain, the United States, Australia or the Middle East. Citizenship is effectively abolished. Turn on your computer and the US Department of Homeland Security’s National Operations Center may monitor whether you are typing not merely “al-Qaeda”, but “exercise”, “drill”, “wave”, “initiative” and “organisation”: all proscribed words. The British government’s announcement that it intends to spy on every email and phone call is old hat. The satellite vacuum cleaner known as Echelon has been doing this for years. What has changed is that a state of permanent war has been launched by the United States and a police state is consuming western democracy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Britain, on instructions from the CIA, secret courts are to deal with “terror suspects”. Habeas Corpus is dying. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five men, including three British citizens, can be extradited to the US even though none except one has been charged with a crime. All have been imprisoned for years under the 2003 US/UK Extradition Treaty which was signed one month after the criminal invasion of Iraq. The European Court had condemned the treaty as likely to lead to “cruel and unusual punishment”. One of the men, Babar Ahmad, was awarded 63,000 pounds compensation for 73 recorded injuries he sustained in the custody of the Metropolitan Police. Sexual abuse, the signature of fascism, was high on the list. Another man is a schizophrenic who has suffered a complete mental collapse and is in Broadmoor secure hospital; another is a suicide risk. To the Land of the Free, they go – along with young Richard O’Dwyer, who faces 10 years in shackles and an orange jump suit because he allegedly infringed US copyright on the internet. 2

Click here to read John Pilger’s full article.

Meanwhile, of course, the neo-imperialist adventuring remains not only unchecked, but is actually gathering momentum. The war racket pressing full-steam ahead and flattening all before it. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have money to fix our broken hospitals, or to build houses and renew infrastructure, or that in America there are fifty million people already on food stamps – and if you picture those people in sepia forming a queue then you’ll see how this depression has already reached 1930s levels. But in spite of these hardships at home, no amount of money is ever spared when it comes the next country on our checklist for “humanitarian intervention” – and more thoughts on this in my next post.

So these days I am finding every post I write is harder than the last. How many ways are there to say that nuclear power and fracking are a menace not only to human beings but to most other life on the planet (cockroaches aside perhaps)? How many times do you need to say that “austerity measures” are not merely ideological in design but that they serve no useful purpose other than to wreck economies (as the IMF and World Bank have done in so many other countries across the globe) whilst redistributing wealth from the relatively poor to the mega-rich? How many times does it need pointing out that America is backing al-Qaeda when it suits their ends? – when, after all, al-Qaeda owes its origins to Zbigniew Brzezinski and the CIA and their dirty campaign to overthrow the Soviets in Afghanistan. So it is genuinely painful to have to repeat these things, and totally depressing to be shown to be right – that our collective future really is becoming so absolutely bleak, and unremittingly brutalised. Sooner rather than later, I want to be proved wrong – this hope is the only thing that actually keeps me writing this damned blog.

Now if any of the above sounds to you like craziness, then let me confirm that on one level it really is, though the craziness is not mine. For, in a sense, this is simply the way things have always worked: policies of expedience, of realpolitik. It is how ruling elites prefer to govern the masses, and all that stuff and nonsense about “freedom and democracy” and “saving the planet” is for the proles and “the gentlemen” (as neo-con political philosopher Leo Strauss called them) – those in the higher-up echelons who truly believe in the goodness of the system, but whose real job is to protect the interests of the powers that be. But the difference now is that the ruling elites are ready to assume a more complete dominion over all of their underlings. And it will be achieved by a scientifically-driven programme of social engineering that is already well underway: bringing us into the scientific dictatorship that globalist bigwig Zbigniew Brzezinski famously called “the Technetronic Era”:

“In the Technetronic society the trend seems to be toward aggregating the individual support of millions of unorganized citizens, who are easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities, and effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotion and control reason.” [..]

“Another threat, less overt but no less basic, confronts liberal democracy. More directly linked to the impact of technology, it involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled and directed society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite whose claim to political power would rest on allegedly superior scientific knowhow. Unhindered by the restraints of traditional liberal values, this elite would not hesitate to achieve its political ends by using the latest modern techniques for influencing public behavior and keeping society under close surveillance and control.” 3

Do Brzezinski’s words represent a warning or a blueprint… this ambiguity remains only because Brzezinski quite deliberately never makes his position clear:

The Technetronic age is that which is created by the (theoretical) Technetronic Revolution. It is always fairly ambiguously presented as to whether Brzezinski is actually predicting this revolution based on observation/trends, or whether he is abstractly philosophizing. It certainly is not a work of political science. With this in mind, his concluding line in the book, ‘In the technetronic era, philosophy and politics will be crucial’ serve to confuse the reader further rather than give some closure. 4

The quote above is taken from a rather favourable review of Brzezinski’s book written by Stephen McGlinchey in 2011. The book itself has been out of print for three decades.

There is plenty of speculation about Brzezinski’s real intent when he wrote the book, but does this even matter – especially as we have good reasons to be suspicious given his record in other more tangible ways – the more important point is that the direction he outlines is evidently the direction our world has taken. And I would like to think that my own ant-sized efforts to halt the progress of this imposed revolution, alongside the efforts of countless other out-spoken ants, all trying so hard to speak up with truth to power is having some effect. That we may be small and struggling to be heard above the largely controlled, mainstream din, with tiny readerships and such small spheres of influence, but that our combining ripples are building in amplitude and spreading wider…. And then I read an article and I think that yes indeed, tiny as we are, we really must be having some effect, because it seems that the government is suddenly intent on shutting voices like mine down altogether.

Never letting any good crisis go to waste, the government it seems has twisted the whole Leveson Inquiry around to its own advantage – in a fashion reminiscent of what happened with the Hutton Inquiry (from which, of course, the BBC has never properly recovered). The Leveson Inquiry, we should remember, was set up to deal with crimes, and specifically the crime of phone hacking, perpetrated by media giants (most prominently Rupert Murdoch’s News International), and to also look into the role played by the London Metropolitan Police, yet in consequence, the results of that inquiry look likely to close down parts of the alternative media instead. Here’s an extract from Tuesday’s Guardian:

Bloggers could face high fines for libel under the new Leveson deal with exemplary damages imposed if they don’t sign up to the new regulator, it was claimed on Tuesday.

Under clause 29 introduced to the crime and courts bill in the Commons on Monday night, the definition of “relevant” bloggers or websites includes any that generate news material where there is an editorial structure giving someone control over publication. […]

Kirsty Hughes, the chief executive of Index on Censorship, which campaigns for press freedom around the world, said it was a “sad day” for British democracy. “This will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on everyday people’s web use,” she said.

She said she feared thousands of websites could fall under the definition of a “relevant publisher” in clause 29.

Hughes said: “Bloggers could find themselves subject to exemplary damages, due to the fact that they were not part of a regulator that was not intended for them in the first place.” 5

Click here to read the full article.

My belief has always been (and remains) that the best way to lose your freedom of speech is by refusing to use it, and so this ludicrous regulatory overreach is more reason to keep offering some small alternative to the mainstream behemoths. And rest assured that I certainly won’t be signing up to any regulatory body.

Finally then, and if the authorities ever do decide to go after me for daring to disagree with mainstream authority, then I ask in advance for your support – why? Because I’m the little guy, the ant, the gnat, the gadfly. The main difference between you and I, in this respect, is merely that I have perhaps put my head a little higher above the parapet. So once I’m firmly in the cross-hairs, assuming this should happen, then you can be absolutely certain it’ll be your turn next, and rather sooner than you might suppose…

1“The Obama administration is drawing up plans to give all U.S. spy agencies full access to a massive database that contains financial data on American citizens and others who bank in the country, according to a Treasury Department document seen by Reuters.

“The proposed plan represents a major step by U.S. intelligence agencies to spot and track down terrorist networks and crime syndicates by bringing together financial databanks, criminal records and military intelligence. The plan, which legal experts say is permissible under U.S. law, is nonetheless likely to trigger intense criticism from privacy advocates.”

From an article entitled “Obama Administration Proposing To Let U.S. Spy Agencies Have Access To Massive Financial Database”, written by Emily Flitter, Stella Dawson and Mark Hosenball, (from Reuters) published by Huffingtonpost. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/13/obama-spy-agencies_n_2868389.html

2 From an article entitled “You are all suspects now. What are you going to do about it?” written by John Pilger and posted on his own website on April 26, 2012. http://johnpilger.com/articles/you-are-all-suspects-now-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it

3 Both quotes taken from Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1970 (although out of print since 1982).

4 Taken from a review of Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era, written by Stephen McGlinchey and published July 22, 2011. The full review can be found here: http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/22/review-between-two-ages-america%E2%80%99s-role-in-the-technetronic-era/

5 From an article entitled “Press regulation deal sparks fears of high libel fines for bloggers: Websites could have to pay exemplary damages if they don’t sign up to new regulator, claim opponents of Leveson deal”, written by Lisa O’Carroll, published by the Guardian on March 19, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2013/mar/19/bloggers-libel-fines-press-regulation

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Britain, Cyprus, financial derivatives, internet freedom, John Pilger, mass surveillance, Syria, USA

Dennis Kucinich says “America needs a period of truth and reconciliation”

Democratic Representative from Ohio, Dennis Kucinich, has been one of the most consistent and outspoken critics of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Now serving what will be his last week as member of Congress, he explained on today’s Democracy Now! why he regards the current debate about a fiscal cliff as political distraction and to a large extent “chimerical”:

We’ve made all the wrong choices. We should be talking about jobs, having more people involved in paying taxes. We should be talking about rebuilding America’s infrastructure. China has gone ahead with high-speed trains and massive investment in their infrastructure. Instead, we’re back to the same old arguments about taxes and spending without really looking at what we’re spending. We just passed the National Defense Authorization Act the other day, another $560 billion just for one year for the war machine. And so, we’re focused on whether or not we’re going to cut domestic programs now? Are you kidding me?

Kucinich sees the perpetuation of the US war machine as intricately linked with these latest battles at home over domestic spending. He says:

We really have to decide who we are as a nation. We’re spending more and more money for wars. We’re spending more and more money for interventions abroad. We’re spending more and more money for military buildups. And we seem to be prepared to spend less and less on domestic programs and on job creation. This whole idea of a debt-based economic system is linked to a war machine. And it’s linked to Wall Street’s concerns rather than Main Street’s concerns. We need to shift that.

You know, this whole idea of drone wars being proliferated across the world, without Congress having anything to say about it, without any accountability whatsoever, is against the Constitution of the United States, and it’s against international law. If any other nation sent a drone over the United States, they would have hell to pay, because we’d see it as an act of war. Yet we’re increasingly committing acts of war against other nations—Yemen most recently—and we are—we’re not seeing any accountability at all. And Congress does have a role to play here, both on the budget side and constitutionally. So we’re just trying to get the administration involved in giving information to Congress so we can see the extent of the exposure that the American people have to this proliferation of war.

And as news articles have been written, and Glenn Greenwald wrote about this yesterday, we’re actually strengthening al-Qaeda’s hand with these attacks. We’re making it more difficult to meet the challenge of terrorism by creating more terrorists. I mean, what is this about? We’re increasingly dysfunctional as a nation because of our unwillingness to challenge the military-industrial complex, which Dwight Eisenhower warned about generations ago.

Click here to watch the interview or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

In the second part of the interview, Kucinich was asked his views on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the growth of a surveillance society more generally:

Well, what it reflects is a breakdown in trust in this country. The attempt is to give the government even more powers to spy, and that is really being translated into domestic, quote-unquote, “intelligence,” even though it’s called the foreign intelligence bill.

We have to ask questions. You know, why, for example, was—did you have the Occupy Wall Street movement being spied upon? What is this? What’s going on in our country, where we don’t have oversight of the activities of the government when it comes to domestic spying? And what are we doing in America, where the privacy concerns of Americans are swept aside?

We’re entering into a brave new world, which involves not only the government apparatus being able to look in massive databases and extract information to try to profile people who might be considered threats to the prevailing—to the status quo. But we also are looking at drones, which are increasingly miniaturized, that will give the governments, at every level, more of an ability to look into people’s private conduct. This is a nightmare.

A nightmare that Kucinich argues is outside of traditional party politics:

Well, actually, you know, we’ve seen a bridge here created between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of liberty and being free from the all-seeing eye of Big Brother. Congressman [Ron] Paul and I worked together on many of these issues relating to the government seeking increased powers to surveil the American people. You know, it’s really no longer a Democrat or Republican issue. It goes much deeper than that.

When we find in a post-9/11 America that we are mired in a condition of fear; when we see the massive amounts of spending that’s gone for war and increased military buildups and for expansion of spy agencies like the Domestic Intelligence Agency, which is just adding another 1,600 spies so that the Pentagon can have their own spy agency to compete with, what, the CIA abroad; when you see the interventions that have fallen flat and have been disastrous, such as Libya and Benghazi; when you see al-Qaeda growing in strength because of our own misapplication of force, you have to ask, if this is about Democrat and Republican, this system is failing. And we’re seeing an evidence of it on fiscally, but we’re seeing another evidence of it in foreign policy, and we’re seeing an evidence of it domestically, when you can see a surveillance state arising under the noses of both political parties.

Asked to reflect upon “any misgivings about things that you were not able to accomplish, or, in the same way, pride in things that you were able to accomplish” during his own 16 years in the House, here is Kucinich’s reply:

Well, I will say that it’s really unfortunate that the—that the Democratic leadership in the House did not support an impeachment effort to challenge the Bush administration, and Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, on the lies that took us into war in Iraq. That was a pivotal moment for this country. And instead of choosing the Constitution, our leaders chose politics. Bad choice. The fact is that today, after a decade of war, we are looking at an eventual bill for that Iraq war of $5 trillion. We’re looking at perhaps as many as a million innocent civilians perishing—for war that was based on lies. People have to remember this. This isn’t just because it’s, you know, forget about the past. No, you cannot forget about the past. We went to war based on lies.

And so, you know, I did my part, which was to alert the Congress back in October 2002: Look, we’re headed into a war, and there’s no proof that Iraq has anything to do with 9/11 or had weapons of mass destruction; what are we doing here? But we were pulled into that by the Bush administration, driven by neocons and the Project for the New American Century. All of us who were following it know exactly what happened. And, you know, that set the stage for where we are today. We’re at the—you know, if there is such a thing as a fiscal cliff, we’re at the edge of it because of trillions of dollars that will be spent for wars based on lies. And there was never any accountability.

If there’s one thing we have to do, we have—America needs a period of truth and reconciliation, if we’re ever going to get—put the country back together again and achieve a level of national unity that we’re capable of. But right now we’re living on a lie. And the lie is that—that this whole national security infrastructure is necessary and that it’s necessary for us to keep expanding war around the world, it’s necessary for us to have these big spy agencies, which also interact domestically. All of this stuff shouldn’t have happened. And we made the wrong choices. And this is a problem for both political parties to resolve. You can always try to fix things, but you have to look at the severe impact that our inability to act, to challenge the lies that took us into war—you have to look at where it’s left us.

Click here to watch the interview or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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CISPA: the latest attack on freedom in America

A few months ago many were worrying about PIPA and SOPA, two US bills drafted ostensibly to protect intellectual property rights, but blocked thanks to widespread protests including the blackout of many internet sites – most notably wikipedia. Meantime, we have also seen the European Union attempting to ratify the international ‘anti-piracy’ ACTA treaty, this time ignoring not only public opinion, but the advice of two of their own appointed rapporteurs.1 So there has never been such a conspicuous rush by governments to take control of the internet, and to limit the free sharing of information, as we have seen during the last few months.

Combined with this, we also recently learned that the NSA are constructing a massive new centre for the purpose of the interception and storage of all email and other personal data passing through the United States. Finally, we see how this unlawful intrusion on personal privacy is to be legitimised, by, of course, yet another draft of internet regulation: the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which passed yesterday in the House of Representatives:

On a bipartisan vote of 248-168, the Republican-controlled House backed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (Cispa), which would encourage companies and the federal government to share information collected on the internet to prevent electronic attacks from cybercriminals, foreign governments and terrorists.2

Taken from a report in today’s Guardian.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legislative counsel Michelle Richardson has since made the following statement:

“CISPA goes too far for little reason. Cybersecurity does not have to mean abdication of Americans’ online privacy. As we’ve seen repeatedly, once the government gets expansive national security authorities, there’s no going back. We encourage the Senate to let this horrible bill fade into obscurity.”3

The ACLU is also holding out hope that the Obama administration will now veto the bill as it is threatening to do. The Guardian also reports that The House of Representatives “ignored objections from Barack Obama’s administration” by approving the legislation. But now let us rewind just a little. This is taken from another Guardian article published in December last year:

Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law [NDAA 2012] that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.4

The same article goes on to say:

Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing.

Returning to CISPA, and in contrast to the outcry over SOPA and PIPA, it is interesting to note that all of the major corporations involved with the internet have been supporting the bill. No blackout of wikipedia, or any other major sites. What do these companies have to gain? Here’s Michelle Richardson speaking on yesterday’s Democracy Now! :

[And] frankly, they’re going to make out like bandits. Under this bill, if they share our private information, they get complete protection from liability. Consumers will no longer be able to assert their privacy rights that exist under current law and hold them accountable in court. They can’t be prosecuted by the government like they currently can for illegal wiretapping or sharing information. They’re getting FOIA exemptions, so that no one will ever know about these breaches or the things that they share with the government. They’re really walking away here with maximum flexibility to share our personal information with minimum accountability and no enforcement to make sure that they are not oversharing and infringing on our privacy.5

Click here to watch video and read the full transcript of the Democracy Now! interview

Asked what the prospects are of the legislation passing, Richardson replies:

Well, we were very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat yesterday and said, in very clear terms, that they believe that control of the internet needs to remain civilian, and the military shouldn’t be routinely collecting information on innocent people.

Very, very pleased to see that the Obama administration issued a veto threat… Why so pleased? Can it be that Richardson and the rest of ACLU are suffering some form of amnesia? Have they forgotten that Obama reneged on his promise not to authorise the NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ act less than four months ago? Are they also oblivious to the fact that the necessary facilities for such widespread domestic surveillance is now being constructed in a heavily fortified centre in Bluffdale, Utah at a cost of $2 billion? So Obama isn’t fighting the same corner. Surely by now that’s obvious, isn’t it?

“But why did he do it?” a friend said to me, soon after Obama had given the go-ahead for indefinite detention without trial. This common response simply reminds me of the question the drowning frog asks the scorpion in the fable.6 The answer being, if you remember, “I couldn’t help it – I’m a scorpion”.

1 Kader Arif resigned in protest on January 26 denouncing the treaty “in the strongest possible manner” for having “no inclusion of civil society organizations, a lack of transparency from the start of the negotiations, repeated postponing of the signature of the text without an explanation being ever given, [and] exclusion of the EU Parliament’s demands that were expressed on several occasions in [the] assembly,” concluding with his intent to “send a strong signal and alert the public opinion about this unacceptable situation” and refusal to “take part in this masquerade.”

The newly appointed rapporteur, British MEP David Martin, also recommended against the treaty, stating “The intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties”.

2 From an article entitled “Cispa cybersecurity bill passed by House of Representatives”, from Associated Press, published in the Guardian on April 27, 2012. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/27/cispa-cybersecurity-bill-passed-senate

4 From an article entitled “Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial: civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill”, written by Chris McGreal, published in the Guardian on December 15, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/15/americans-face-guantanamo-detention-obama

6 A frog and a scorpion are trying to cross a river. “Hello Mr. Frog!” says the scorpion across the water, “Would you be so kind as to give me a ride on your back across the river?”

Well now, Mr. Scorpion! How do I know that if I try to help you, you won’t try to kill me?” asked the frog.

Because,” the scorpion replied, “If I try to kill you, then I would die too, for you see I cannot swim!”

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William Binney on the NSA domestic surveillance programme

On Friday [April 20th] Democracy Now! broadcast a special hour-long episode focusing on the growth of domestic surveillance in America. They spoke with National Security Agency whistleblower, William Binney, the key source for James Bamford’s recent exposé in Wired Magazine about how the NSA is quietly building a huge spy centre in Bluffdale, Utah. You can read more on this in an earlier post.

Binney served in the NSA for over 30 years working on intelligence gathering systems, but then quit his job on 31st October 2001, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks when, as he puts it “all the wraps came off for NSA” and the agency began its warrantless-wiretapping of citizens. Concerned to draw attention to vast data-mining programmes that he believed could “create an Orwellian state”, and in particular one programme codenamed Stellar Wind, which he had helped to develop, he decided to become a whistleblower. His home was then raided by FBI agents on 26th July 2007, whilst on the same day, the homes of Diane Roark, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis were also subjected to FBI raids, ostensibly to uncover who had leaked information to the New York Times.

According to Binney:

“Well, that was the pretext, the leak on the—to give the New York Times thing. The real thing—what they were really doing was retribution and intimidation so we didn’t go to the Judiciary Committee in the Senate and tell them, “Well, here’s what Gonzales didn’t tell you, OK.” That was what it was really all about.”

And what was it that the then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was keeping the lid on?

“Well, it was about—it was about Stellar Wind and all of the domestic spying.”

Binney believes that the intelligence service now hold copies of almost all of the emails passing through the US. Asked if there has been any qualitative change since the Obama administration came in versus what the Bush administration was practicing, Binney says:

Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens. […]

[But] The point is, the data that’s being assembled is about everybody. And from that data, then they can target anyone they want.

In the same roundtable interview, Democracy Now! also spoke with Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras, who explained how she is now repeatedly detained and questioned by federal agents whenever she enters the United States, and to Jacob Appelbaum, a computer security researcher who has also faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, wikileaks.

Click here to watch video of the interview and to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

In the second part of the same interview, broadcast on Monday April 23rd, Binney talks about how John Poindexter’s Total Information Awareness programme was a way “to test the waters in Congress to see how they would be receptive to something they were already doing”, and gives further details regarding the case made against fellow NSA whistleblower Tom Drake.

He is also asked his thoughts on the approval that has been granted for law enforcement agencies to use surveillance drones inside the United States. Binney says:

Well, that’s simply another step in the assembly of information. This is the visual part of the electronic information they’re collecting about people. So here’s your visual part. I mean, you could collect on phone—the cell phones as you move around, and then you can watch them now with a drone.

On the same broadcast, Jacob Appelbaum explains some of the ways one may now be able to circumvent this tightening state surveillance apparatus, such as setting up email accounts on Riseup rather than gmail or yahoo, and using browsers that can be downloaded free from the torproject. This actually sounds very promising to me, although not being a technical wiz, I confess that as yet I’m still linked up via the usual proprietary software.

I’ll leave final thoughts with Binney again, here speaking about the role of elected representatives, and their responsibility to uphold the rule of law:

Well, yeah, more importantly, it’s a violation of the constitutional rights of every American citizen. And that’s a violation that they took an oath to defend against.

Click here to watch the video and read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Filed under drones, mass surveillance, September 11th, USA

welcome to the Panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance

Two centuries ago:

In 1791, the Father of Utilitarianism and ardent social reformer Jeremy Bentham published blueprints for a wholly new design of prisons. Called the Panopticon, from observe (-opticon) all (pan-), the design, which involved a circular annulus of cells surrounding a central lodge, allowed the guards to keep an eye on all of the inmates, and importantly, without them, in turn, being aware of when they were being watched.

Bentham had big plans for his design, suggesting that aspects of the concept might usefully be applied to the construction of hospitals, schools and workhouses.

One century ago:

H.G. Wells was the father of a good many utopias. He spent the greater part of his creative life planning the shape of future societies. One of his most complete visions is laid out in a novel entitled simply A Modern Utopia (and published 1905). The story goes that two travellers walking in the Swiss Alps suddenly discover themselves in a parallel world. A new world that is Earth (at least geographically and biologically speaking) but one where civilisation has been reconstructed on altogether more Wellsian principles.

The inhabitants of this world are guaranteed housing, food and basic essentials. Even the unemployed are provided with a minimum wage, this safety net granted as “workfare” rather than “welfare”, with its recipients being coerced into work for the greater good of the state. In this vision of Wellsian meritocracy, the total measure of individual status depends solely upon earned income: the citizens of the new society regarding being broke as “clear evidence of unworthiness”.

Meanwhile criminal types and drug-users are given very short shrift. Removed from the main body of society and placed on high security prison islands, they are also sexually segregated to ensure that such poor genetic stock can never again pollute the otherwise healthy gene-pool.

Central to this alternative civilisation, the two explorers learn, there is a world-government (Wells never can resist the idea) made possible by a monumental database, with information stored on a card-index system housed in Paris. And Wells says that “Such a record is inevitable if a Modern Utopia is to be achieved.” But of course, what Wells could not foretell was how quickly technology would render the card-index system obsolete and make the establishment of such a global database entirely achievable.

Half a century ago:

It was 1948 when George Orwell settled into seclusion on the Isle of Jura, and there began to work on his most lasting contribution to literature and language. A little over a year passed before his terrifying vision of a future dystopia would be published, entitled simply Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t merely gloomy, it is hellish in altogether more Orwellian ways. A one-party state, in which every member of Ingsoc (the Party) lives under close and constant scrutiny, watched on two-way telescreens, which are highly sensitive devices that can never be turned off. Casual conversations are eavesdropped, by friends just as surely as by strangers, and children are actively encouraged to snoop on their parents; enrolling with the juvenile troops of Spies rather than Scouts (often to the delight and pride of their own brainwashed parents).

There is absolutely no place for privacy in Nineteen Eighty-Four, certainly not for anyone in the Party, with the telescreens monitoring indoors, whilst outside, and aside from the hidden microphones, it is safe to presume that everyone is probably an informant. The Party has, however, less concern for minor dissent that may flare up within the lower ranks of ‘the proles’; the masses that it regards as so ignorant and intent on self-preservation as to pose no serious counter-revolutionary threat. Although even amongst the proles there stalks the ever-present menace of the Thought Police.

Orwell’s new world of dread was forged from the same ideological foundations as the just defeated axis of Fascism. It was a world divided by class, hatred and perpetual war. A world riven and driven by Power. And undoubtedly Orwell was in part presenting his critique of the post-war Soviet Union reconstructed under that other great dictator, Joseph Stalin, with his all-new formula for Communism. Indeed, on the basis of Orwell’s images of Big Brother, it’s fair to judge that this all-powerful leader of Ingsoc (the single party governing the new alliance of Oceania1) was a caricature of Stalin.

Aldous Huxley was Orwell’s old teacher, and in his own futurist satire Brave New World (published in 1932), had envisaged a world of shopping and leisure, founded upon gentle Pavlovian conditioning of eugenically perfected infants, made ready for the soft bed of a world constructed in accordance with Freud’s pleasure principle. In Brave New World, everyone is Dolly the Sheep, and so more forcible means of coercion have become a thing of the forgotten past. George Orwell wrote of his old teacher Huxley’s prophesy as follows:

Mr Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning.”2

Of course, it has turned out to be more complicated than that. Stalin died, and the Eastern Bloc with its many citizen spies and Stasi Thought Police was eventually overthrown by resistance within as much as without. Aldous Huxley always maintained that all forms of brutal totalitarian oppression must eventually succumb to such internal pressures, being forced to give way to a different and softer kind of centralised control, and for a short time it seemed that he was correct. But then came September 11th and how quickly in its shadows, the jackboots came back on the ground. Stomping down on the face of humanity all across the world.

Since about a decade:

In January 2002, within the months following the September 11th attacks, the US Defense Department, under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began to develop a vast surveillance project, requiring a database even beyond H.G. Wells’ imagining. Set up under the direction of Admiral John Poindexter – formerly Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor3 – the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was intended to serve the interests of “National Security”. Its aim was to establish methods of collecting and collating information of all kinds. Records of what an individual purchased, where they travelled, what they watched, and so on, whilst also incorporating information from public records on education and health. More covert snooping was also proposed as a necessary means of analysing internet use, emails, and faxs.

Other plans included the development of “human identification at distance systems” based on biometrics, which would obviate the current reliance on human operators to keep their eyes peeled. Combined with the ever extending network of CCTV, such a system could conceivably keep track of movements of the entire population. In a world soon to be filled with automated face-recognition systems or more probably – given recent technological developments – whole body scanners, it will be unnecessary for government authorities to force the people to carry forms of identity (or under more extreme tyranny, to wear badges), because it will become impossible to hide.

By February 2003, the IAO had begun funding what they called the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, although by May 2003 the program had already been renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in an attempt to allay growing public anxiety of its Orwellian spectre. Then in August 2003, Poindexter was forced to resign as TIA chief with concerns that his central role in the Iran-Contra affair had made him unfit to run a sensitive intelligence program. Soon after this the IAO closed and officially the TIA program was terminated with all funding removed, yet it is widely acknowledged that the core of the project remains and that funding was merely switched to other government agencies.4

Finally, perhaps some indication of the true intent of these surveillance projects may be gleaned from the original IAO logo. Featuring a planetary-sized pyramid capped by an all-seeing eye that is scanning the entire Earth, the message is surely loud enough, especially when captioned with the motto “scientia est potentia” (knowledge is power). For what is this pyramid and the all-seeing eye meant to represent? That Big Brother is watching you? That you are already inside the Panopticon? Here was the official explanation of its meaning:

For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office; i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making. On an elemental level, the logo is the representation of the office acronym (IAO) the eye above the pyramid represents “I” the pyramid represents “A,” and the globe represents “O.” In the detail, the eye scans the globe for evidence of terrorist planning and is focused on the part of the world that was the source of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”5

Meanwhile, British governments have also brought in rafts of new legislation to extend police powers and limit personal freedom. Indeed, the first major new Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2000 (and thus prior to the September 11th attacks), actually redefined the meaning of terrorism in order to increase the scope for police intervention. Whilst the disconcertingly titled RIP Act, which quickly followed, further extended the rights for government to intercept communications and to patrol the internet. Then, during David Blunkett’s tenure as Home Secretary, the RIP Act (or RIPA) was broadened again, becoming so extensive that almost 800 separate organisations, including more than 450 councils, have the right to invoke it. People might now be snooped on right across the country for offences no more serious than littering and under-age smoking.6

In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7th 2005, the New Labour governments under both Blair and Brown also pressed hard for an extension of police rights to detain terrorist suspects. What had begun with seven days, quickly progressed to three weeks, and then, at least in the government’s opinion, required not less than 90 days. The justification given for these extraordinary new measures – the worst of which were thankfully rejected by Parliament – being that plots of the most diabolical kind were suddenly so widespread and complex that the ordinary course of justice had to be by-passed in order to ensure public safety. Around the same time, the introduction of national ID cards was also thwarted, in part thanks to a massive public outcry. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism (the real risk of which is far lower than during the days of IRA attacks) is the overriding justification for ever more surveillance of our public spaces and our personal lives.7

Throughout the last decade we have all been asked to give up our privacy and other civil liberties on the grounds of enhanced security: sacrificing freedom today for the sake of freedom tomorrow, which may well be, of course, a bargain with the devil. By the end of 2006, the United Kingdom was being described by some experts as ‘the most surveilled country’ among all industrialized Western nations.8

I heard someone speaking on Radio 4 a few years ago. Wrongly convicted for a crime he was later cleared of, he had as a direct consequence spent more than ten years of his life in prison. The interviewer asked him what his first thoughts were after being released as a free man. “Well, I was horrified,” he replied, “horrified that there were just as many cameras on the outside as inside. It was like I’d never left prison.”9

Now and the foreseeable future:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy10.

From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Published in Wired magazine on March 15th, Bamford continues:

For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail. William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. […]

He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. […]

The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. […]

Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light. […]

After he left the NSA, Binney suggested a system for monitoring people’s communications according to how closely they are connected to an initial target. The further away from the target—say you’re just an acquaintance of a friend of the target—the less the surveillance. But the agency rejected the idea, and, given the massive new storage facility in Utah, Binney suspects that it now simply collects everything. “The whole idea was, how do you manage 20 terabytes of intercept a minute?” he says. “The way we proposed was to distinguish between things you want and things you don’t want.” Instead, he adds, “they’re storing everything they gather.” And the agency is gathering as much as it can.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

Click here to read more of James Bamford’s eye-opening article, and then, here to read a still more extraordinary article published by Wired magazine on the very same day:

More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.

Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”

All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.

Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”11

Orwell, for all of his profound insight and prescience, could never have imagined the sort of universal networks of surveillance being so rapidly put in place today. He didn’t see, for instance, as Huxley might have done, how people would one day almost willingly give up their privacy, and not only as the price for security, but purely for convenience and pleasure. That personal tracking devices would one day become such highly desirable commodities, in the form of mobile phones and ‘sat nav’s, that it would actually be strange not to carry one. That social networking sites would be temptation enough for many millions to divulge huge volumes of personal information, private opinions, dreams and fantasies. That others would broadcast their thoughts via emails, tweets, blogs, and all could be swept up in a worldwide web. The worldwide wiretap, as Julian Assange referred to it.

This post is another part of the immense traffic of data presumably being collected and analysed by those at the NSA (and in all probability also filtered using servers at our own GCHQ). That you are reading this is most probably being recorded too. So feel free to add a comment, although you should be cautioned that whatever you do say may later be used as evidence against you. The Panopticon is watching all of us.

Click here to read a wikipedia overview of the types of mass surveillance now used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

*

Additional:

Here is a Russia Today report broadcast a few days later on Friday 30th March entitled: “Minority report: Era of total surveillance zooms-in on US?”

Click here to find the same report at Russia Today website.

As for Britain, and whatever the situation right now, the government is just about to announce new measures that will open the way for GCHQ to have “access to communications on demand, in real time” with the justification being, as always, “to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public”:

A new law – which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech in May – would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.

Click here to read the full BBC news report from April 1st.

1 The setting is roughly as follows. Some time after the World War, the world divided up into three warring superpowers: Oceania (previously America, Australia and Airstrip One); Eurasia (Russia and the rest of Europe); and Eastasia (China and India). These states have since then been engaged in an endless three-sided conflict, fighting to gain control of the resources in a disputed zone which includes North Africa and the Middle East. Progress in this conflict is reported to the citizens of Oceania via a government controlled media, relaying information manufactured by the Ministry of Truth.

2 Taken from “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940.

3 Poindexter had been previously been convicted of lying to Congress and altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.

4 These include Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a part of the Disruptive Technology Office (run by to the Director of National Intelligence); and SAIC, run by former Defense and military officials and which had originally been awarded US$19 million IAO contract to build the prototype system in late 2002.

5 Statement of the Information Awareness Office regarding the meaning and use of the IAO logo. Source: Question 15 in the IAO Frequently Asked Questions – document dated February, 2003 which can be accessed at http://www.darpa.mil/iao/TIA_FAQs.pdf

6 The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, especially with regard to the interception of communication. It can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.

“Councils have used laws designed to combat terrorism to access more than 900 people’s private phone and email records in the latest example of Britain’s growing surveillance state. Town hall spies found out who residents were phoning and emailing as they investigated such misdemeanours as dog quarantine breaches and unlicensed storage of petrol. The news prompted fresh calls from civil rights groups for a reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was originally brought in to combat terrorism and serious crime but is increasingly being used by councils to snoop on members of the public. In April a council in Dorset used Ripa powers to spy for weeks on a family it wrongly suspected of breaking rules on school catchment areas. Other local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking.” extract from “Council snoopers access 900 phone bills” by Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter, Daily Telegraph, 5th June 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2075026/Council-snoopers-access-900-phone-bills.html

7 “Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner. He told the BBC‘s Politics Show that CCTV was being used in small towns and villages where crime rates were low… ‘If it’s in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?’

‘And I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.’ There are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.” from BBC News, Sunday, 20th May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6673579.stm

8 “Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the [Surveillance Society] report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office. […]

The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.

“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.

“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”

The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.

The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with ‘endemic surveillance’.”

From a BBC news article entitled “Britain is ‘surveillance society’” published on November 2, 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6108496.stm

9 Unfortunately, since I did not have pen at hand – I was driving at the time! – I can no longer recall his precise words and so I have been compelled to paraphrase what he said. I have tried to be accurate so far as memory serves me.

10 From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, published in Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

11 From an article entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher”, written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on March 15, 2012. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/03/petraeus-tv-remote/

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internet freedom and the sovereigns of cyberspace

With two controversial internet ‘anti-piracy’ bills, SOPA and PIPA, now moving through Congress, Rebecca MacKinnon, author of the forthcoming book, “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom” spoke on yesterday’s Democracy Now! about the clampdown on internet freedom, as well as the dangerous rise of internet surveillance:

[And so,] it’s very important that people who are exercising power, whether they’re corporate or whether they’re government, that are exercising power over what we can see, over what we can access, over what we can publish and transmit through these digital spaces, need to be held accountable, and we need to make sure that power is not being abused in these digital spaces and platforms that we depend on. And so, that’s why this SOPA and PIPA legislation and the fight over it is so important, is who are you empowering to decide what people can and cannot see and do on the internet, and how do you make sure that that power is not going to be abused in ways that could have political consequences.

MacKinnon cites examples from all over the world showing how the internet can be controlled or else used for control. Here is China:

And China, in many ways, is exhibit A for how an authoritarian state survives the internet. And how do they do that? They have not cut off their population from the internet. In fact, the internet is expanding rapidly in China. They now have over 500 million internet users. And the Chinese government recognizes that being connected to the global internet is really important for its economy, for its education, for its culture, for innovation. Yet, at the same time, they have worked out a way to filter and censor the content overseas that they feel their citizens should not be accessing.

And what’s even more insidious, actually, is the way in which the state uses the private sector to conduct most of its censorship and surveillance. So, actually, what we know as the Great Firewall of China that blocks Twitter and Facebook, that’s only one part of Chinese internet censorship. Actually, most Chinese internet users are using Chinese-language websites that are run by Chinese companies based in China, and those companies are all held responsible for everything their users are doing. And so, they have to hire entire departments of people to monitor their users at the police’s behest and also to not just block, but delete content that the Chinese government believes infringes Chinese law. And, of course, when—in a country where crime is defined very broadly to include political and religious dissent, that involves a great deal of censorship. And it’s being conducted, to a great degree, not by government agents, but by private corporations who are complying with these demands in order to make a profit in China.

This is Egypt:

Facebook has its own kind of type of governance, which is why I call private internet companies the “sovereigns of cyberspace.” And so, Facebook has a rule where it requires that its users need to use their real name, their real identity. And while some people violate that rule, that makes them vulnerable to having their account shut down if they are discovered. And so, the reason they do this is that they want people to be accountable for their speech and prevent bullying and so on. And that may make sense in the context of a Western democracy, assuming that you’re not vulnerable in your workplace or anything like that, which is even a question, but it means that you have to be—as an Egyptian activist or as an activist in Syria and so on, you’re more exposed, because you have to be on Facebook using your real name.

And actually, a group of prominent activists in Egypt who were using Facebook to organize an anti-torture movement were doing so, before the regime fell, under fake names, and actually, at a critical point where they were trying to organize a major protest, their Facebook group went down, because they were in violation of the terms of service. And they actually had to find somebody in the U.S. to take over their Facebook page so that they could continue to operate.

And this is America:

American political cartoonist, Mark Fiore, had an app in which he was making fun of a range of politicians, including President Obama, and Apple App Store nannies decided to censor that app, because they considered it to be too controversial, even though that speech was clearly protected under the First Amendment. So you have companies making these judgments that go well beyond sort of our judicial and constitutional process.

But much worse, here is America again (and I had no idea how much access the US government already has to investigate the private lives of citizens – the bold highlight is added):

And there’s also a real issue, I think, in the way in which our laws are evolving when it comes to government access to information stored on corporate servers, that is supposed to be private, that we are not intending to be seen in public, which is that, according to the PATRIOT Act and a range of other law that has been passed in recent years, it’s much easier for government agencies to access your email, to access information about your postings on Twitter, even if they’re anonymous, than it is for government agents to come into your home and search your personal effects. To do that, they need a warrant. There is very clear restriction on the government’s ability to read your mail. Yet, according to current law, if your email is older than 180 days old, the government can access your email, if it’s stored on Gmail or Yahoo! or Hotmail, without any kind of warrant or court order. So, there’s a real erosion of our Fourth Amendment rights, really, to protection from unreasonable search and seizure. And this is going on, I think, to a great degree without a lot people realizing the extent to which our privacy rights are being eroded.

Click here to read a full transcript of the interview

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12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

*

Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Iraq, Jeremy Scahill, mass surveillance, Pakistan, police state, September 11th, Somalia, Uncategorized, USA

if you tolerate this…

My eldest nephew is very excited at the moment. He has just turned eleven and is about to move to his new secondary school. Anyway, a few weeks ago, my sister showed me a letter she’d received via the assistant head at her son’s new school. It read:

“Dear Parent/Carer,

I am pleased to inform you that we will be installing biometric fingerprint readers at the – – – School as part of the catering system.”

“Pleased to inform you… as part of the catering system!”, I parroted back, as my sister read on from the briefing, my own voice rising with incredulity. “They’re fingerprinting the kids to help with the catering?!”

“Yes, but he’s not going to have his fingerprints taken”, she assured me, “they’re not going to treat him like a prisoner. It’s not compulsory…” And she then read on:

“This will enable students to get their dinners more quickly by speeding up the payments process. It will also mean that they can put cash into the system (via paying in machines, like a ticket machine) whenever it suits them so that they do not have to carry cash around with them all day…”

I interrupted again: “But you could do that with a card or something.”

“Yes, I know,” she said, “that’s the alternative option…” And then continuing from the letter:

“Swipe cards can be issued as an alternative to the finger scanning however these can obviously be lost, forgotten or stolen.”

“So what are the other parents thinking?” I asked her.

“There are a few of us refusing but mostly they think it’s just a good idea.”

“Do you know what company’s behind it?” I asked.

“No, but there are some notes on the back…” And she turned the letter over to show me, adding: “perhaps you can check it out”.

On the back of the letter, there is indeed “information” about the biometric system being installed. Information that explains why: “students, parents and staff can rest assured that the fingerprint images cannot be used by any other source for identification purposes”, because “the software turns your child’s fingerprint into a mathematical algorithm” and about how “the image of the fingerprint is then discarded”.

What the notes fail to mention, however, is that this kind of “processing” is standard procedure when recording any kind of digital biometrics. With “image capture” followed by “feature extraction” leading finally to “digital representation”, data compression is an inevitability, but that’s okay so long as in this processing the “vital information” isn’t lost. The important thing is that “the encoded information is functionally as unique as the original, and as easily processed, i.e., compared.”

How do I know this? In part because I’ve just read through Chapter 8 of the Defense Science Board Task Force report on biometrics (p35–6) published in September 2006. Not that a report from the US Department of Defense has anything to do with the installation of a catering system at a school in Sheffield, obviously…

So the fact that “the information stored cannot be used to recreate an image of the child’s fingerprint”, as the notes on the back of the letter explain, is actually beside the point. The actual point being that they can be used to identify the child, because the information is still “as functionally unique as the original”. To put all this another way, a photograph cannot be used to reconstruct a perfect 3-D likeness of your head. There is a loss of information. But that obviously doesn’t mean a photograph can’t be used to identify you. It can, and even when still more information is removed, by let’s say photocopying it a few times, a photo will still retain a sufficiently detailed likeness to identify you. Biometrics are just the next step down. The original photo can be deleted, just so long as sufficient details are retained of, for example, how wide your mouth is and how close together your eyes are. With enough of the right pieces of information, they can distinguish one person from another, reliably and consistently. Which is how biometrics works.

All of this biometric information, “the unique digital signatures” are then held in the database, as the notes on the letter from school also explain. Less clear is who actually owns this database. And skipping through the other details on the back of the letter, I can’t immediately find the name of the company involved, but it does give the brand name of their “cashless catering system”, which is IMPACT. So I looked up IMPACT:

“A million users in over 1700 schools throughout the UK.

We design, build and maintain industry leading, reliable and functional cashless payment systems under the brand name IMPACT…”

Here begins the sales pitch on the homepage of CRB Solutions. Never heard of them? Nor had I. Well, it turns out that they are a “Serco Learning Partner”, one of many. Indeed, Serco have more than 20 current “Learning Partners” offering “solutions” to “clients” (i.e., schools and colleges across the country), which means they have access to a lot of biometric and other kinds of data on school pupils and college students. For instance, listed directly above CRB Solutions, there is Aurora Computer Services, who are:

The UK market leader in face recognition. faceREGISTER is designed for sixth form registration or whole school lateness. faceREGISTER enables students to register automatically in school, college or university.”

Gone are the days, apparently, when teachers simply remembered their student’s faces. Now whenever a student is late:

they will be asked for a reason why they are late and these marks are fed back to Serco Facility via our administration software faceMANAGER.

Those of a more curious disposition are perhaps wondering what other kinds of personal information is downloaded at the “Serco Facility”. In fact, what other kinds of information more generally, since Serco already offers its services in sectors as diverse as environmental services, health, science, transport, local government, welfare to work, defence and nuclear. Nuclear? Yes, nuclear:

“We support the operation of over 20 nuclear reactors, and serve as the lead nuclear safety advisor to Westinghouse, designer of the AP1000 nuclear reactor currently under assessment for the UK’s new civil nuclear programme.” 1

That and the management of the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL), which Serco says is the leading nuclear technology services provider in the UK, “with expertise across the full range of nuclear technology, including waste management, nuclear safety and non-proliferation, materials and corrosion and plant inspection.” So that’s pretty comprehensive. Aside from this, Serco also manages the UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) as part of a consortium with Lockheed Martin and Jacobs. So the company behind the introduction of school biometrics systems across the country is also responsible for managing the UK atomic power and weapons programmes:

“Serco has a reputation for being a tad secretive. This is perhaps not surprising, as it manages the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Berkshire, where nuclear weapons are made, and runs the ballistic missile early warning system.

There are parts of AWE that even the head of the company, Kevin Beeston, can’t go into. Other secrets, too, are kept from him, such as where the company stores evidence on behalf of the National Crime Squad. “I don’t need to know or want to know,” he says.” 2

So begins an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” from the Independent on Sunday, published in March 2002. The article goes on:

“While many people haven’t heard of Serco, almost everyone in this country will have come across its services. It is Serco that runs the speed cameras on the M25, and maintains the traffic signals on a third of motorways in the UK. Half of London’s traffic lights are run by Serco, as are all the signals in Dublin. Manchester’s tram service, Metrolink, and London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) are both Serco-operated. When you ring National Rail Enquiries, you will speak to a Serco employee. The company has also built hospitals and prisons.

“In fact, Serco is so ubiquitous, it even sets the time. It manages the National Physical Laboratory, which owns the atomic clock that gives us Greenwich Mean Time.

“You’d be forgiven for thinking Serco was a government ministry.”

This article was published almost a decade ago and yet Serco‘s involvement in running public services was so large and far-flung that comparison is already being made to “a government ministry”. So just how did Serco manage to expand so rapidly and yet so inconspicuously? Well, here’s a brief overview of their rise and rise, taken from the same article:

“As well as having a novel corporate culture, Serco also has an intriguing history. It started out in 1929 as the UK maintenance division of RCA, at the time a cinema and radio equipment company. In the late Fifties it got its first taste of top-secret government contracts. The Ministry of Defence needed a radio equipment specialist to design, build and run the four-minute warning system for nuclear attacks. RCA got the job and has been maintaining it since.

“But it was in the early Eighties that the government-related business really started taking off. Beeston takes up the story: “Mrs Thatcher had come in power in 1979 and began reducing public sector costs on a tax-reduction agenda and carrying out privatisation. One of biggest areas that was first turned to contractualisation was the Ministry of Defence.”

“Happily for Serco, Thatcher’s successors, John Major and Tony Blair, both exhibited a fondness for getting the private sector involved in the public sector.”

Click here to read the full article by Heather Tomlinson:

Four years later and Serco were already being talked of as “probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of”, as a glowing profile of their CEO Christopher Hyman in the Guardian explained:

“Have you recently travelled on a train in northern England? Or on London’s Docklands Light Railway? Or perhaps been caught by a speed camera?

“If the answer to any of these questions was yes — or you have spent any time in custody or the armed forces — chances are you have dealt with the support services company Serco. With almost 48,000 people helping to service 600 largely public-sector contracts around the world, Serco is probably the biggest company you’ve never heard of.”3

No longer a small British subsidiary of a little known American corporation, by 2006, when the article above was published, Serco had gone global. Here, for instance, is taste of what Serco are already running in Canada, Ireland, Dubai, and Australia these days:

Taken from ABC Australia’s Hungry Beast.

Rebranded with Olympian titles, we are familiar with the names of most of our new gods: Blackwater and DynCorp, gods of war and reconstruction; Monsanto, god of harvests; Nokia, god of messages; Walmart, god of convenience; Aviva, god of life (insurance); but then, above and beyond all of these, there is Serco, the god of all the things the other gods don’t already do. A god without portfolio, and although not quite omnipresent, Serco is certainly “highly maneuverable”. As their own bragging PR likes to put it: “Serco has a finger in many pies”.

Now, having reached this point I realise that I have drifted well away from the original issue. My initial response to reading the letter from my nephew’s school having been to wonder at the kind of country we are living in. Already the most surveilled society in history, and now face-scanning and fingerprinting our children on a routine basis. In the process, as my sister says, we are already treating them as if they’re little criminals. Is it really necessary to hammer home the point here?

For we may believe this data can and will never be retrieved for uses beyond the bounds of the schools and colleges involved, but in permitting such licence we are nevertheless inculcating a sense of naïve trust in the next generation, which will normalise them to accept adult life in a surveillance society. We are teaching them to submit to authority. The word Orwellian is very overworked, but what other word can be applied in this instance? We are fingerprinting our children and entrusting that information to the major government defence contractor. And there is barely a raised eyebrow. Parents are mostly thinking that this is “helpful”. So please, if you haven’t done so already, read Nineteen Eighty-Four (not that Orwell has anything to say about fingerprint or face recognition systems, because back in the 1940s such hi-tech digital biometrics had yet to be imagined, let alone invented).

So what kind of a world awaits my nephew and his friends when he finally leaves school in five years time? Well, that will depend.

The road ahead is already laid. As our national assets and provision of our state sector were stolen away, Serco, and a few other giant corporations, absorbed the new workforce and took over. And now, as ours and other economies around the world begin to splutter and flail, they are about to suck up whatever remains at bargain prices. Finally, they will put up their toll-booths at every turn of our daily lives, and in the envisaged “cashless society”, these toll-booths will also be our checkpoints — logging every transaction and every movement.

History ought to have taught us to beware, its overriding message being that the rise of tyranny needs to be constantly guarded against. But those, like Thatcher and Reagan, who rushed us away from more direct forms of centralised government (supposedly to save us from a Soviet style tyranny) have delivered us instead into the talons of an unregulated and monopolised market. Any distinction between interests of the state and the corporations having thus been eroded, the takeover by multinationals such as Serco has been unstoppable. After all, someone has to be in charge of things. Serco then (and the pantheon of other corporate gods we must increasingly bow to) amounts to governance by another title, and not merely at a national scale, but transnationally — a few corporations becoming, in effect, arms of an unelected and largely unaccountable “global governance”.

This shift away from democracy and towards neo-feudalism is happening in plain sight. You even get the picture from Serco‘s own PR  material — the closing overlapping mosaic of corporate heads in their latest video simultaneously and hypnotically announcing: “we are Serco”; with the eerie subtext being that “resistance is futile”. But resistance isn’t futile, not yet…

If you’d like further information about this widening programme of school biometrics then I direct you to a worthwhile campaign group called Leave Them Kids Alone (LTKA) that is calling for a stop to this latest encroachment upon our civil liberties, or rather, the civil liberties of our children.

2 From an article entitled “Serco thunders down the tracks: Traffic lights, rail services, atomic weapons, the time of day. This secretive company manages them all” by Heather Tomlinson published in the Independent on Sunday on Sunday 10th March 2002 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/serco-thunders-down-the-tracks-653444.html

3 From an article entitled “Happy, touchy-feely and driven by God: The Serco chief Christopher Hyman is unusual for his values of doing business, with staff and customers coming first and profit last” by Jane Martinson, published in the Guardian on Friday 24th February, 2006. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2006/feb/24/columnists.guardiancolumnists

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Ralph Nader on body scanners and the erosion of civil liberties

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) now runs full body scans on passengers at airports throughout the United States. These detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals have been described by security experts as the equivalent of “a physically invasive strip-search”, and although the scans are not mandatory for all travellers, passengers who decline are subjected instead to extremely invasive body searches euphemistically referred to as “enhanced pat-downs”.

On July 2, 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)  filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review. They said that the program is “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective.” EPIC argue that the federal agency is in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as well as the Fourth Amendment.

On June 13, Democracy Now! spoke to civil rights campaigner and four-time Presidential candidate Ralph Nader who also says that these new security initiatives are unnecessary and in violation of the Constitution, whilst posing potentially serious health risks related to either x-ray or microwave radiation exposure:

“Well, first of all, physicists have shown that the backscatter, which is the x-ray — there are two kinds [of body scanners], the backscatter and the millimeter — expose people to twice as much as what the TSA had been telling the public. There have been known malfunctions of these machines, where people, without their knowledge, have been exposed to even more of these harmful radiations.”

Amy Goodman also asked Ralph Nader for his opinion on the FBI giving its agents new “proactive” powers to infiltrate organisations, to sift through household trash, and to covertly search databases during domestic investigations, without the statutory requirement of providing firm evidence for suspicion of terrorist or merely criminal activity. A New York Times report published on 12th June provides further details of the changes. 1

Here is Nader’s response:

“This is part of Obama-Bush, as I call it. It’s the extension of illegal activities, violation of constitutional rights, that were made worse under the Bush administration and extended and expanded under the Obama administration. So you’ve got a national security state that doesn’t think it has to obey the Constitution or federal statutes, and it’s just running amok. And that’s going to lead to more and more abuses, more and more fear among people, more and more innocent people being accused inaccurately. And here we go again.”

Democracy Now! also spoke with Amie Stepanovich of EPIC and actress (former Miss USA) Susie Castillo, who has recently become a vocal critic of such security procedures:

1 The following extracts are taken from an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage from New York Times, published on 12th June.

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.”

“The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents. The new rules add to several measures taken over the past decade to give agents more latitude as they search for signs of criminal or terrorist activity.”

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.”

Click here for full article: www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

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