“How do we really use new technology in the economy of tomorrow? And that’s the lesson that we’re all learning right: work from home; telemedicine; tele-education. It’s all about technology, and a better use of technology, and really incorporating the lessons into that. And probably the best mind in this country, if not on the globe to do this, is I believe a true visionary, especially in the field of technology, and that’s Eric Schmidt.”
This is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effusive welcome to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt when he joined him for the daily coronavirus briefing on Wednesday May 6th. Cuomo continues:
“[Schmidt] saw a future that no-one else envisioned and then developed a way to get there. And we’ve asked him to come work with us to bring that kind of visionary aspect to government and society. Let’s look at what we just went through. Let’s anticipate a future through that lens. And tell us how we can incorporate these lessons. And Mr Schmidt who has tremendous demands on his talent and his time has agreed to help us and head an effort to do this.”
Eric Schmidt, no less lavish in his praise for Cuomo, says:
“Thank you Governor. You have been doing an incredible job for our state and frankly for the nation, and I’m really pleased to help. The first priorities of what we’re trying to do are focused on telehealth, remote learning and broadband. We can take this terrible disaster and accelerate all of those ways that will make things much, much better.”
The author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein begins her latest article entitled “Screen New Deal” with reflections on this video meeting and Cuomo’s announcement that Schmidt “will be heading up a blue-ribbon commission to reimagine New York state’s post-Covid reality, with an emphasis on permanently integrating technology into every aspect of civic life”:
This is a future in which, for the privileged, almost everything is home delivered, either virtually via streaming and cloud technology, or physically via driverless vehicle or drone, then screen “shared” on a mediated platform. It’s a future that employs far fewer teachers, doctors, and drivers. It accepts no cash or credit cards (under guise of virus control) and has skeletal mass transit and far less live art. It’s a future that claims to be run on “artificial intelligence” but is actually held together by tens of millions of anonymous workers tucked away in warehouses, data centers, content moderation mills, electronic sweatshops, lithium mines, industrial farms, meat-processing plants, and prisons, where they are left unprotected from disease and hyperexploitation. It’s a future in which our every move, our every word, our every relationship is trackable, traceable, and data-mineable by unprecedented collaborations between government and tech giants.
If all of this sounds familiar it’s because, pre-Covid, this precise app-driven, gig-fueled future was being sold to us in the name of convenience, frictionlessness, and personalization. But many of us had concerns. About the security, quality, and inequity of telehealth and online classrooms. About driverless cars mowing down pedestrians and drones smashing packages (and people). About location tracking and cash-free commerce obliterating our privacy and entrenching racial and gender discrimination. About unscrupulous social media platforms poisoning our information ecology and our kids’ mental health. About “smart cities” filled with sensors supplanting local government. About the good jobs these technologies wiped out. About the bad jobs they mass produced.
And most of all, we had concerns about the democracy-threatening wealth and power accumulated by a handful of tech companies that are masters of abdication — eschewing all responsibility for the wreckage left behind in the fields they now dominate, whether media, retail, or transportation.
That was the ancient past known as February. Today, a great many of those well-founded concerns are being swept away by a tidal wave of panic, and this warmed-over dystopia is going through a rush-job rebranding. Now, against a harrowing backdrop of mass death, it is being sold to us on the dubious promise that these technologies are the only possible way to pandemic-proof our lives, the indispensable keys to keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.
Thanks to Cuomo and his various billionaire partnerships (including one with Michael Bloomberg for testing and tracing), New York state is being positioned as the gleaming showroom for this grim future — but the ambitions reach far beyond the borders of any one state or country.
And at the dead center of it all is Eric Schmidt.
Klein notes: “Lest there be any doubt that the former Google chair’s goals were purely benevolent, his video background featured a framed pair of golden angel wings.”
Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.
Eric Schmidt and the NSCAI
“[D]ata is the new oil. And China is just awash with data. And they don’t have the same restraints that we do around collecting it and using it, because of the privacy difference between our countries. This notion that they have the largest labeled data set in the world is going to be a huge strength for them.”
— Chris Darby, President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, an investment arm of the CIA and member of NSCAI. *
The second part of Klein’s article moves on to discuss the Sidewalk Labs division of Google’s parent company Alphabet and specifically their “smart cities” Toronto project. This is a topic I have addressed in my last post published as it happened on the eve of the project being shut down following what Klein describes as “two years of ceaseless controversy relating to the enormous amounts of personal data that Alphabet would collect, a lack of privacy protections, and questionable benefits for the city as a whole.”
But central to her article is an investigation into Schmidt’s other roles both as Chair of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Department of Defense on increased use of artificial intelligence in the military, and as Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCAI) which advises Congress on “advances in artificial intelligence, related machine learning developments, and associated technologies.”
Specifically, Klein draws attention to slides from a presentation made by Schmidt’s NSCAI back in May 2019, that have since been released following a Freedom of Information request made by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
In fact a week prior to Klein’s excellent piece, independent journalist Whitney Webb had already brought attention to the same document release; the presentation in question is titled “Chinese Tech Landscape Overview”.
This document suggests that the U.S. follow China’s lead and even surpass them in many aspects related to AI-driven technologies, particularly their use of mass surveillance. This perspective clearly clashes with the public rhetoric of prominent U.S. government officials and politicians on China, who have labeled the Chinese government’s technology investments and export of its surveillance systems and other technologies as a major “threat” to Americans’ “way of life.”
In addition, many of the steps for the implementation of such a program in the U.S., as laid out in this newly available document, are currently being promoted and implemented as part of the government’s response to the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis. This likely due to the fact that many members of this same body have considerable overlap with the taskforces and advisors currently guiding the government’s plans to “re-open the economy” and efforts to use technology to respond to the current crisis.
Webb then highlights Eric Schmidt’s “similar concerns about ‘losing’ technological advantage to China”:
[Schmidt] argued in February in the New York Times that Silicon Valley could soon lose “the technology wars” to China if the U.S. government doesn’t take action. Thus, the three main groups represented within the NSCAI – the intelligence community, the Pentagon and Silicon Valley – all view China’s advancements in AI as a major national security threat (and in Silicon Valley’s case, threat to their bottom lines and market shares) that must be tackled quickly.
Naomi Klein likewise draws attention to the NYT op-ed headlined “I used to Run Google. Silicon Valley Could Lose to China”, in which Schmidt had called for “unprecedented partnerships between government and industry” and is, in Klein’s words “once again, sounding the yellow peril alarm”. She then quotes the salient passages:
A.I. will open new frontiers in everything from biotechnology to banking, and it is also a Defense Department priority. … If current trends continue, China’s overall investments in research and development are expected to surpass those of the United States within 10 years, around the same time its economy is projected to become larger than ours.
Unless these trends change, in the 2030s we will be competing with a country that has a bigger economy, more research and development investments, better research, wider deployment of new technologies and stronger computing infrastructure. … Ultimately, the Chinese are competing to become the world’s leading innovators, and the United States is not playing to win.
On this pretext of regaining competitive advantage over China, the NSCAI presentation goes on to cite the kinds of “structural factors” that need to be altered.
Here is Whitney Webb again:
Chief among the troublesome “structural factors” highlighted in this presentation are so-called “legacy systems” that are common in the U.S. but much less so in China. The NSCAI document states that examples of “legacy systems” include a financial system that still utilizes cash and card payments, individual car ownership and even receiving medical attention from a human doctor. It states that, while these “legacy systems” in the US are “good enough,” too many “good enough” systems “hinder the adoption of new things,” specifically AI-driven systems. […]
The document also defines another aspect of government support as the “clearing of regulatory barriers.” This term is used in the document specifically with respect to U.S. privacy laws, despite the fact that the U.S. national security state has long violated these laws with near complete impunity. However, the document seems to suggest that privacy laws in the U.S. should be altered so that what the U.S. government has done “in secret” with private citizen data can be done more openly and more extensively. The NSCAI document also discusses the removal of “regulatory barriers” in order to speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, even though autonomous driving technology has resulted in several deadlyand horrific car accidents and presents other safety concerns.
Who are NSCAI? Webb provides us with a list of members and their interests:
Safra Catz, CEO of Oracle, with close ties to Trump’s top donor Sheldon Adelson
Steve Chien, supervisor of the Artificial Intelligence Group at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Lab
Mignon Clyburn, Open Society Foundation fellow and former FCC commissioner
Chris Darby, CEO of In-Q-Tel (CIA’s venture capital arm)
Ken Ford, CEO of the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Jose-Marie Griffiths, president of Dakota State University and former National Science Board member
Eric Horvitz, director of Microsoft Research Labs
Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services (CIA contractor)
Gilman Louie, partner at Alsop Louie Partners and former CEO of In-Q-Tel
William Mark, director of SRI International and former Lockheed Martin director
Jason Matheny, director of the Center for Security and Emerging Technology, former Assistant director of National Intelligence and former director of IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency)
Katharina McFarland, consultant at Cypress International and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
Andrew Moore, head of Google Cloud AI
As can be seen in the list above, there is a considerable amount of overlap between the NSCAI and the companies currently advising the White House on “re-opening” the economy (Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Lockheed Martin, Oracle) and one NSCAI member, Oracle’s Safra Katz, is on the White House’s “economic revival” taskforce. Also, there is also overlap between the NSCAI and the companies that are intimately involved in the implementation of the “contact tracing” “coronavirus surveillance system,” a mass surveillance system promoted by the Jared Kushner-led, private-sector coronavirus task force. That surveillance system is set to be constructed by companies with deep ties to Google and the U.S. national security state, and both Google and Apple, who create the operating systems for the vast majority of smartphones used in the U.S., have said they will now build that surveillance system directly into their smartphone operating systems.
Click here to read Whitney Webb’s full article entitled “Techno-tyranny: How the US National Security State is using Coronavirus to Fulfill an Orwellian Vision” published on May 4th at her official website Unlimited Hangout.
In her article for The Intercept, Naomi Klein supplies an update and a glimpse of the headway already made by the tech giants in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Responding to a subsequent op-ed by Eric Schmidt [passages in Italics], Klein writes:
Less than two weeks into New York state’s lockdown, Schmidt wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that both set the new tone and made clear that Silicon Valley had every intention of leveraging the crisis for a permanent transformation.
Like other Americans, technologists are trying to do their part to support the front-line pandemic response. …
But every American should be asking where we want the nation to be when the Covid-19 pandemic is over. How could the emerging technologies being deployed in the current crisis propel us into a better future? … Companies like Amazon know how to supply and distribute efficiently. They will need to provide services and advice to government officials who lack the computing systems and expertise.
We should also accelerate the trend toward remote learning, which is being tested today as never before. Online, there is no requirement of proximity, which allows students to get instruction from the best teachers, no matter what school district they reside in. …
The need for fast, large-scale experimentation will also accelerate the biotech revolution. … Finally, the country is long overdue for a real digital infrastructure…. If we are to build a future economy and education system based on tele-everything, we need a fully connected population and ultrafast infrastructure. The government must make a massive investment—perhaps as part of a stimulus package—to convert the nation’s digital infrastructure to cloud-based platforms and link them with a 5G network.
Indeed Schmidt has been relentless in pursuing this vision. Two weeks after that op-ed appeared, he described the ad-hoc homeschooling programing that teachers and families across the country had been forced to cobble together during this public health emergency as “a massive experiment in remote learning.” The goal of this experiment, he said, was “trying to find out: How do kids learn remotely? And with that data we should be able to build better remote and distance learning tools which, when combined with the teacher … will help kids learn better.” During this same video call, hosted by the Economic Club of New York, Schmidt also called for more telehealth, more 5G, more digital commerce, and the rest of the preexisting wish list. All in the name of fighting the virus.
His most telling comment, however, was this: “The benefit of these corporations, which we love to malign, in terms of the ability to communicate, the ability to deal with health, the ability to get information, is profound. Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon.” He added that people should “be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now, and have really helped us out.”
Click here to read Naomi Klein’s full article published on May 8th by The Intercept.
This is the third of a sequence of articles based around the ‘key topics’ to last year’s Bilderberg conference discussed in relation to the prevailing political agenda and placed within the immediate historical context.
Welcome to the machine
Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been?
It’s alright we know where you’ve been.
More than a century ago, E M Forster wrote an eerily prophetic science fiction novella entitled “The Machine Stops” (1909). The machine in the novel is vast and seemingly omnipotent. It services all the needs for a global civilisation that has long since abandoned the Earth’s surface and retreated underground; all citizens now inhabiting highly luxurious, fully automated, and secluded subterranean quarters, which are compared in the book to the geometrical cells of a beehive.
Although travel is permitted in this future world, it is seen as a bothersome hindrance on the perfectly understandable basis that every settlement in every country is exactly alike every other. Moreover, being accustomed to air-conditioned atmospheres and artificial illumination, once cast into daylight, travelers are likely to experience an urgent need to shield their eyes, the sun to them a distressing aggravation.
For these and other reasons, human interaction is usually limited to minute by minute communication via screens instead. It is here that all ideas are shared, and this is largely how people prefer to occupy themselves. Nevertheless, this is a free society and so there is no active censorship of ideas, although notions about anything that is ‘unmechanical’ have become essentially incomprehensible (just as witchdoctory is incomprehensible to the average twenty-first century westerner today and so we don’t talk about it much).
So this is Forster’s world, and it is in some respects a forerunner to Huxley’s later vision. Clean, efficient, clinical, and absolutely impersonal. Of course it also shares a great deal with our own world and in ways that Huxley did not envision. As many have commented before, it is as if Forster dreamt up the internet, and then afterwards also imagined all the ways such miraculous interconnectedness would soon begin to isolate humanity.
More specifically, we can also recognise ‘the machine’ as not so much the internet as it exists, but actually a foreshadowing of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), where everything that isn’t ‘unmechanical’ is what nowadays we call ‘smart’. Forster’s entire world is ‘smart’ in this most fundamental sense.
But Forster also poses this question and makes it the title of the book: what if the machine stops? To the future citizens of his world this is not actually a question at all, of course, being unutterably ‘unmechanical’. As unthinkable to them as when we try to imagine the sun not rising tomorrow; not that such comparison would be remotely comprehensible to these future humans who descended to dwell within the sunless realms of Forster’s abysmal, yet extraordinary, premonition:
The original upload was taken down, so here’s a different version:
The Technetronic tranformation
In regard to propaganda the early advocates of universal literacy and a free press envisaged only two possibilities: the propaganda might be true, or it might be false. They did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies—the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned in the main neither with the true nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant. In a word, they failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction. — Aldous Huxley 2
President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski is remembered today for two main reasons. Firstly, he was the principle architect of Operation Cyclone, a successful US strategy to bog down the Soviets in Afghanistan thanks to the help of covertly supplied and trained Mujahideen fighters; the precursors to al-Qaeda.
His other notable and less clandestine claim to fame is the authorship of two works of particular note: The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), a blueprint for US primacy; and, almost three decades prior, his remarkably prescient Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era (1970). It is in this perhaps lesser known work that Brzezinski too envisions a future:
“that is shaped culturally, psychologically, socially and economically by the impact of technology and electronics – particularly in the arena of computers and electronics”: 3
Indeed, a society that is under rapid construction today:
Alphabet Inc. is best known for its signature product, the Google search engine. But it is useful to think of it as a company that builds platforms – software that serves as a foundation for a growing array of technologies and services that people use every day.
It practically owns the web advertising market through its search platform, it is a leading player in the smartphone ecosystem with its Android platform, it is a large player in the cloud-computing platform, not to mention playing significant roles in the race to build an autonomous-vehicle platform and with high hopes to do the same in the artificial-intelligence space.
With the announcement on Tuesday that its subsidiary Sidewalk Labs would develop a whole new district of Toronto as a working model of a new type of smart city, it’s no stretch to say the company is trying to build a platform for the construction and organization of cities. 4
From an article published by Globe and Mail in October 2017 about plans to transform Toronto into a state-of-the-art “smart city”.
The same piece continues:
Google intends to build a traffic-sensing network that will collect data from smartphones, embedded sensors and cameras to identify areas that could use more bike-sharing slots, or where a self-driving vehicle should be routed, or where a future pop-up store could find a market for its wares.
It’s hoping to be the private garbage collectors of the data that describe what makes Toronto tick and recycle that data into solutions for how this and other cities can be run more effectively.
Now let’s compare this with the ‘Technetronic era’ envisioned by Brzezinski at the beginning of the 70s. Incidentally, Brzezinski’s words might be read as a warning or a blueprint… a deliberate ambiguity that remains unresolved because he hesitates to make his own position clear. 5:
“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.” 6
It is somewhat of an understatement to say that Brzezinski was well-connected. He was a former member of the Atlantic Council, the National Endowment for Democracy, and had remained a member of the Council on Foreign Relations until his death in 2017. On the back of his thesis, Between Two Ages, he had also been invited in 1973 to co-found The Trilateral Commission with David Rockefeller, and alongside, Rockefeller, was a high profile and regular Bilderberg attendee. 7
Nowadays Bilderberg is dominated mostly by the tech giants and the person whose star is most in the ascendant appears to be Alphabet chief, Eric Schmidt, who has attended the annual conferences every year since 2007 (with the sole exception of 2009):
If you look around the current conference for people with enough substance — enough ideological meat on their bones to drive Bilderberg forward, you won’t find it in finance, and you certainly won’t find it in politics, because for the last few decades the really smart people have gone into engineering and tech. And that, surely, is where the center of gravity within Bilderberg will end up.
Writes Charlie Skelton, summing up his thoughts after last year’s conference in Montreux, and adding more concretely:
The two figures at Bilderberg who seem to have an aura of influence about them are Schmidt and Thiel. Over the years, Schmidt has been gently aligning himself as the heir to Kissinger, and has populated recent conferences with Google executives. The Libertarian Thiel has already engineered his lieutenant, Alex Karp, onto the steering committee. 8
Click here to read Skelton’s full article published by Newsweek.
As Schmidt’s business model appears set to engender the sort of ‘technetronic’ transformation that Brzezinski outlined, it should hardly come as a surprise that Schmidt takes a less circumspect position on the whole reason for building “smart cities”. A naked ambition that Jathan Sadowski, lecturer in ethics of technology at Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands, discusses in a Guardian op-ed:
There is much at stake with this initiative – and not just for Toronto and Alphabet, but for cities globally. With a high-profile project like this one, the kind of deals and terms set here could become a template for similar projects in other cities.
Mayors and tech executives exalt urban labs as sites of disruptive innovation and economic growth. However, this model of creating our urban future is also an insidious way of handing more control – over people, places, policies – to profit-driven, power-hungry corporations.
As the Globe and Mail reports, Eric Schmidt said at the announcement: “The genesis of the thinking for Sidewalk Labs came from Google’s founders getting excited thinking of ‘all the things you could do if someone would just give us a city and put us in charge’.” Ambition alone is not a sin, yet desires like these should evoke suspicion, not celebration.
Sadowski concludes his piece with this warning:
It is easy for city leaders to step aside and allow technocrats and corporations to take control, as if they are alchemists who can turn social problems and economic stagnation into progress and growth. […]
When Sidewalk Labs was chosen to develop Quayside, Schmidt said his reaction was: “Now, it’s our turn.” While this was a joyous exclamation for him, it’s an ominous remark for the rest of us.
There’s no doubt that urban labs can help in the design of powerful, useful technologies. But building the smart urban future cannot also mean paving the way for tech billionaires to fulfill their dreams of ruling over cities. If it does, that’s not a future we should want to live in. 9
Click here to read the full article entitled “Google wants to run cities without being elected. Don’t let it”.
5G and the Internet of Things (IoT)
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.
So begins a report entitled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher” published by Wired magazine back in March 2012.
The same eye-opening piece tells us with no less candour how General Petraeus (Rtd), another regular high-profile Bilderberg attendee [every year since Copenhagen 2014 – although curiously Wikipedia only lists 3 of these in its main entry], was licking his lips at the prospect of routinely hacking into the lives of every “person of interest”:
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,” Petraeus said, “the latter now going to cloud computing, in many areas greater and greater supercomputing, and, ultimately, heading to quantum computing.”
Petraeus allowed that these household spy devices “change our notions of secrecy” and prompt a rethink of “our notions of identity and secrecy.” All of which is true – if convenient for a CIA director. 10
That’s not the end of the whole article by the way, though it might look like an excellent way to conclude it. To read the whole piece click here.
Embedded below is another fascinating episode of The Corbett Report that follows up his How Big Oil Conquered the World. Again he explores the concept of technocracy and now asks, if “Data is the New Oil” then what does that tell us about the 21st Century oligarchy and the world that the plutocrats are busily creating?
The vision of the future offered by the proponents of this next-generation cellular technology is one in which every object that you own will be a “smart” object, communicating data about you, your movements and your activities in real time via the ultra-fast 5G network. From the grandiose—self-driving cars and remote surgery—to the mundane—garbage cans that let garbage trucks know when they’re full—everything around us will be constantly broadcasting information through the Internet of Things if the 5G boosters get their way.
But beyond the glossy sci-fi fantasy presented in the slick advertisements for this “smart” world of the future is a creepy and unsettling glimpse into a technological dystopia. One in which “social experiences” are “shared” by strapping VR goggles to your face and interaction with humans is reduced as much as possible in favor of interaction with machines, gadgets and personal assistants that are there to cater to your every whim . . . for a price. And, as some are only now starting to realize, the price that one pays for this world of robotic comfort and convenience is control. Control over our data. Control over our security. And control over our lives. 11
From the transcript of another in-depth episode of the Corbett Report entitled “The 5G Dragnet” written and presented by James Corbett and broadcast last June – the full episode (#358) is also embedded below:
Having provided a few cautionary examples of how smart homes and other smart technology is constantly at risk of being hacked, the Corbett Report continues
It isn’t hard to see why these smart technologies, and the 5G network that enables them, are a security concern. And, in that context, it isn’t hard to see why Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE are now being targeted as potential national security threats and barred from developing 5G network infrastructure in country after country. After all, with access to that much data and information—let alone the ability to communicate with, hack into, or disable everything from our “smart” TV to our “smart” door locks to our “smart” car—a potential adversary with control of the 5G network would have nearly limitless power to surveil and control a target population.
But given that these powers—the ability to access our most intimate data and to take control of our homes and personal appliances—are not bugs but features of the 5G-connected Internet of Things, the question is: Why is there such a headlong rush to connect this network? Is demand for smart dishwashers and smart toothbrushes and smart baby monitors really so overwhelming that it requires us to put the security of our homes, our possessions and our families at risk? What is really driving this frenzy for a world where every new object we buy presents another potential vulnerability, another device that can be hacked into to steal our information, to track our location, to record our conversations and to disable our appliances?
One answer to this question lies in the fact that intelligence agencies—whether Chinese or Russian, CIA or MI6, Mossad or CSIS—will make use of the vast amounts of data flowing through these networks to spy on the public. In fact, the members of the so-called “intelligence community” do not even hide this fact; they openly gloat about it.
[Note that here I have edited out a further reference to the same Petraeus statement already quoted above.]
Lest there be any doubt about the intelligence community’s intentions to use these devices to spy on the population, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed this approach in a report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2016:
“Smart” devices incorporated into the electric grid, vehicles—including autonomous vehicles—and household appliances are improving efficiency, energy conservation, and convenience. However, security industry analysts have demonstrated that many of these new systems can threaten data privacy, data integrity, or continuity of services. In the future, intelligence services might use the IoT for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.
Whistleblowers from within the intelligence establishment—whistleblowers like Russ Tice and Bill Binney, who are actively shunned by the same mainstream media that breathlessly reported on Edward Snowden—have already laid out in exhaustive detail how the NSA is collecting all data flowing through the internet as we know it. Every phone call. Every email. Every web search. Every file stored to the cloud. Everything that passes from one computer or phone to another is being stored, catalogued, data-based and data-mined to construct detailed profiles of ordinary citizens.
But now the 5G network is promising to deliver us not an internet of phones and computers but an internet of things, from cars and watches to fridges and hats to milk jugs and floor tiles. When every manufactured object is broadcasting information about you and your activities to the world at large by default, and when it is discovered that opting out of this surveillance grid is not an option, the true nature of this 5G panopticon will finally begin to dawn on the public. But by that point it will already be too late.
[The following part of the transcript is all about the Quayside project in Canada discussed above]
NARRATOR: Cities use data every day, everything from showing you when your next train will arrive to measuring the air quality in different neighborhoods. Typically all this information is spread out across a ton of different agencies and companies in a bunch of different file formats and spreadsheets. But at Quayside we have the chance to start from scratch and build a single unified digital platform that’s transparent, open, and accessible for everyone working to make our cities better.
TINA YAZDANI: The leaders behind Toronto’s first data-driven smart city are under fire tonight after yet another resignation. This time, a member of Waterfront Toronto’s digital advisory panel quit and wrote a strongly worded letter on her way out, sharing her deep concerns about privacy and data control.
STEVE PAIKIN: I want to get some feedback now from the former information and privacy commissioner from the province of Ontario, who, when you were here discussing this very topic, you were kind of bullish about it. And then I just couldn’t happen but help notice that you’ve resigned from your involvement in all this. What happened?
ANA CAVOUKIAN: And I didn’t. . . I didn’t do it lightly. I wanted to draw attention to the fact that we had to make sure that all the personal data that was being collected automatically by the sensors and other technologies were de-identified at source—anonymized at source—
PAIKIN: “De-identified” meaning . . .?
CAVOUKIAN: Meaning no personal identifiers. You wouldn’t know it’s Ana Cavoukian walking, or you [walking], or this is my car, or anything. And the reason that was critical is unlike most uses of what I call operational data, where the individual—the data subject—can exercise some control over the use—the operation of that data. They can consent to it, they can revoke consent, they can choose not to consent. They have some sense of control with the data. Here you have no control. It’s all being collected automatically with the emerging technology sensors all picking up data.
But it is not just the intelligence agencies or the Big Tech conglomerates who are set to profit from the creation of this newer, stickier world wide web. In fact, the 5G-enabled Internet of Things is a necessary part of the creation of the system of total control—physical, financial and political—that the technocrats have been lusting over for a century now.
Click here to read the full Corbett Report transcript
And here to read an earlier post entitled “the panopticon: a potted history of mass surveillance”
Addendum: the known health risks of RF radiation
During recent weeks there has been a strange spate of attacks on mobile phone masts. The apparent justification for these sporadic acts of vandalism relates to a claim that the ongoing rollout of 5G technology is the real cause of the deaths now being falsely attributed to coronavirus.
This is nonsense, of course, and yet another example of the mind-numbing idiocy promoted by high priest of flat-earthery David Icke, who is renowned for repeated claims that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards, and once advised everyone to wear turquoise to reduce the chance of earthquakes – that was on the same outing of BBC’s Wogan when he effectively declared himself the messiah!
The youtube video below is cued up:
There is a common train of reasoning that goes as follows: since X is rather obviously not doing Y, all those who suspect X of anything at all must be crazy “conspiracy theorists” like David Icke. Technically this is known as ‘guilt by association as an ad hominem fallacy’, which is a highly effective debating tactic that can be used to discredit otherwise valid and well-formulated arguments and opinions. 12
At the risk of hammering this point, I have already noticed how this fallacy is being used to dismiss growing concerns about the rapid rollout of 5G, when in fact there are extremely solid grounds for adopting the precautionary principle based on past research, just as there are legitimate health concerns over our current use of 4G and other RF technologies like Wifi.
In fact there have been quite a number of studies looking into the health risks of existing 4G technologies and many of the results from these studies pose very serious concerns. A quite comprehensive overview of the research can be found in a comparatively short review published by the Guardian in July 2018, which discusses in detail “how the wireless industry has “war-gamed” science, as a Motorola internal memo in 1994 phrased it”:
For a quarter of a century now, the industry has been orchestrating a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science concerning mobile phone radiation. Indeed, big wireless has borrowed the very same strategy and tactics big tobacco and big oil pioneered to deceive the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their tobacco and oil counterparts, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.
War-gaming science involves playing offence as well as defence – funding studies friendly to the industry while attacking studies that raise questions; placing industry-friendly experts on advisory bodies such as the World Health Organisation and seeking to discredit scientists whose views differ from the industry’s.
Funding friendly research has perhaps been the most important tactic, because it conveys the impression that the scientific community truly is divided. Thus, when studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage – as [George] Carlo’s [industry-financed Wireless Technology Research project] WTR did in 1999; as the WHO’s Interphone study did in 2010; and as the US government’s NTP did earlier this year – the industry can point out, accurately, that other studies disagree.
How the industry has repeatedly tried to mislead governments and the public over the reporting of these studies is also a matter I have covered in previous posts.
Before continuing, it always needs to be stressed that based on the latest findings, authorities in France, Belgium, Israel, Spain, Australia, Italy and elsewhere took action to limit Wifi use in schools and nurseries. 13 Moreover, mobile phones generally come with a warning in the fine print, cautioning users to hold the device away from the body. 14 In short, there is abundant evidence that ought to raise concerns over the health effects of 4G technology.
The upgrade to 5G that is required for the Internet of Things relies on a network of masts transmitting RF radiation at higher frequencies than 4G. Since radiation at these frequencies is less penetrating, the array of masts also needs to be more densely packed. Finally, it is important to understand that the radiation is less penetrating because it is more highly absorbed by objects including buildings, trees and, of course, people. As the same Guardian piece explains:
The industry’s neutralisation of the safety issue has opened the door to the biggest prize of all: the proposed transformation of society dubbed the Internet of Things. Lauded as a gigantic engine of economic growth, the Internet of Things will not only connect people through their smartphones and computers but will also connect those devices to a customer’s vehicles and appliances, even their baby’s nappies – all at speeds much faster than can currently be achieved.
There is a catch, though: the Internet of Things will require augmenting today’s 4G technology with 5G technology, thus “massively increasing” the general population’s exposure to radiation, according to a petition signed by 236 scientists worldwide who have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies and represent “a significant portion of the credentialled scientists in the radiation research field”, according to Joel Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped circulate the petition. Nevertheless, like mobiles, 5G technology is on the verge of being introduced without pre-market safety testing. 15
Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones”.
Please note: I started constructing this article as part of a larger review (that was subsequently broken down into this series of smaller pieces) many months prior to the current coronavirus crisis and lockdown.
1 Opening lyrics to the Pink Floyd track Welcome to the Machine written by Roger Waters from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.
2 Quote taken from Brave New World Revisited (1958), Chapter 4, by Aldous Huxley.
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.
Incidentally, the names of Bilderberg attendees I have picked out above were all drawn from what is only a partial and a highly abbreviated list provided by wikipedia. A list that surprisingly fails to record even the name of Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, and another serial warmonger I have featured many times before on this blog. The funny thing is that although Brzezinski’s name is missing from the main list, it is nevertheless registered in one of the many footnotes. A footnote (currently number 83) which reads:
“Western Issues Aired”. The Washington Post. 24 April 1978. “The three-day 26th Bilderberg Meeting concluded at a secluded cluster of shingled buildings in what was once a farmer’s field. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national security adviser, Swedish Prime Minister Thorbjorrn Falldin, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and NATO Commander Alexander M. Haig Jr. were among 104 North American and European leaders at the conference.”
Alternatively, and if you decide to visit the main wikipedia entry for Zbigniew Brzezinski you’ll see there is a direct link back to Bilderberg. The same goes for Donald Rumsfeld and also Paul Wolfowitz, who though missing from the main list of attendees is actually described on his own page as a former steering committee member of the Bilderberg group. But then the main wikipedia entry for Bill Clinton fails to record his ties to the group and the same goes for Margaret Thatcher – both invited to Bilderberg gatherings prior to becoming national leaders.
France has banned wifi from nursery schools (the younger the child, the greater the danger), and restricted its use in teaching children up to the age of 11.
It has also banned mobile phones from all schools, partly because they are socially disruptive. But the country’s official Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety has recommended that tablets and other wifi devices should be regulated as phones are.
Cyprus has also banned wifi from kindergartens, and only permits it in the staff offices of junior schools for administration purposes. Israel also prohibits it in pre-schools and kindergartens, and allows it only to be gradually introduced in class as children get older. The Israeli city of Haifa has hardwired its school system so children can used computers that don’t need wifi to connect to the internet.
Frankfurt, meanwhile, hardwired 80 per cent of all its schools more than a decade ago, while the school authorities in Salzburg, Austria, wrote to headteachers officially advising them not to use wifi as long ago as 2005.
Ghent in Belgium has banned wifi in pre-schools and daycare centres, while individual local authorities in Spain and Italy have removed it from all their schools. Even faraway French Polynesia has prohibited it in nursery schools and limits it in primary ones. And so the list goes on.
If you receive texts or calls while the phone is on your body (in a pocket or tucked into the waistband of your pants, or wherever) you are exceeding radiation exposure guidelines established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
So, how many of you have seen this warning??? […]
It appears in the ‘fine print’ of the user manual packaged with most cell phones. Is it in yours? It’s important to take the time to look.
Here’s a quote from the website of BlackBerry’s manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM):
“If you do not use a body-worn accessory supplied or approved by RIM when you carry the BlackBerry device, keep the device at least 0.98 inches (25 mm) from your body when the BlackBerry device is turned on and connected to a wireless network.”
Translated this means: You’re NEVER supposed to hold the BlackBerry Pearl (and possibly other BlackBerry devices) closer than 1 inch from your body when it’s turned on!
“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.
“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”
“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.” […]
“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google.
Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said. 1
On July 31st, World Socialist Web Site reporter, Andre Damon, spoke with RT America’s Natasha Sweatte about how and why Google is now directly targeting progressive websites:
An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet!
Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site!
August 25th 2017
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer/Director
Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Google’s mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its official code of conduct was proclaimed in Google’s famous motto: “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, you have seriously lost your way. You are now engaged in hiding the world’s information, and, in the process, are doing a great deal of evil.
When Google officially discontinued its China-based search engine, due to censorship by the Chinese government of search engine results for political criticism, Mr. Brin publicly stated that for Google, “it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”
In 2013, when Mr. Schmidt visited Burma, he spoke in favor of free and open Internet use in the country. In light of Google’s recent actions, the statements of Mr. Brin and Mr. Schmidt appear utterly hypocritical.
Google, and by implication, its parent company Alphabet, Inc., are now engaged in political censorship of the Internet. You are doing what you have previously publicly denounced.
Google is manipulating its Internet searches to restrict public awareness of and access to socialist, anti-war and left-wing websites. The World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) has been massively targeted and is the most affected by your censorship protocols. Referrals to the WSWS from Google have fallen by nearly 70 percent since April of this year.
Censorship on this scale is political blacklisting. The obvious intent of Google’s censorship algorithm is to block news that your company does not want reported and to suppress opinions with which you do not agree. Political blacklisting is not a legitimate exercise of whatever may be Google’s prerogatives as a commercial enterprise. It is a gross abuse of monopolistic power. What you are doing is an attack on freedom of speech.
We therefore call upon you and Google to stop blacklisting the WSWS and renounce the censorship of all the left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive websites that have been affected adversely by your new discriminatory search policies. […]
Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).
As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.
Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”
Google, according to Gomes, has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of websites. These evaluators are trained to “flag” websites that are deemed to “include misleading information” and “unsupported conspiracy theories.” Gomes explained that the blacklists created by these evaluators will be used, in combination with the latest developments in technology, to develop an algorithm that will impose censorship automatically, in real time, across future search results.
Whatever the technical changes Google has made to the search algorithm, the anti-left bias of the results is undeniable. The most striking outcome of Google’s censorship procedures is that users whose search queries indicate an interest in socialism, Marxism or Trotskyism are no longer directed to the World Socialist Web Site. Google is “disappearing” the WSWS from the results of search requests. For example, Google searches for “Leon Trotsky” yielded 5,893 impressions (appearances of the WSWS in search results) in May of this year. In July, the same search yielded exactly zero impressions for the WSWS, which is the Internet publication of the international movement founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.
Other frequently used words and phrases that no longer include the WSWS in Google search results include: socialism, class struggle, class conflict, socialist movement, social inequality in the world, poverty and social inequality, antiwar literature, and the Russian revolution. A search for socialism vs. capitalism, which, as recently as April, would have listed the World Socialist Web Site as the eighth result on the first page of search results, now no longer returns any results at all for the WSWS. Of the top 150 search queries that returned results for the WSWS in April, 145 now no longer do so.
All the search terms listed above are employed frequently by users seeking a left-wing, socialist or Marxist take on events. Far from protecting readers from “unexpected” responses to their search requests, Google is manipulating its algorithm to make sure that the left-wing and progressive segment of their users, who would be most interested in the World Socialist Web Site, will not find it. Moreover, the extent and precision of the exclusion of the WSWS from search results strongly suggests that the anti-socialist bias of the new algorithm is being supplemented by the actual physical intervention of Google personnel, enforcing authoritarian-style direct and deliberate blacklisting.
As stated above, since April, other left-wing publications that present themselves as progressive, socialist or anti-war also have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results:
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
Google justifies the imposition of political censorship by using a loaded term like “fake news.” This term, properly used, signifies the manufacturing of news based on an artificially constructed event that either never occurred or has been grossly exaggerated. The present-day furor over “fake news” is itself an example of an invented event and artificially constructed narrative. It is a “fake” term that is used to discredit factual information and well-grounded analyses that challenge and discredit government policies and corporate interests. Any invocation of the phrase “fake news,” as it pertains to the WSWS, is devoid of any substance or credibility. In fact, our efforts to combat historical falsification have been recognized, including by the scholarly journal American Historical Review.
The facts prove that Google is rigging search results to blacklist and censor the WSWS and other left-wing publications. This raises a very serious question, with far-reaching constitutional implications. Is Google coordinating its censorship program with the American government, or sections of its military and intelligence apparatus?
Google probably will dismiss the question as an example of conspiracy theorizing. However, it is legitimate given the ample evidence that Google maintains close ties with the state. In 2016, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, appointed you, Mr. Schmidt, to chair the Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Google headquarters to discuss the ongoing and close collaboration between the company and the Pentagon. More generally, according to a report in The Intercept, Google representatives attended White House meetings on average at least once a week from January 2009 through October 2015.
Google claims to be a private corporation, but it is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of government policy. The distinction between commercial interests and state objectives is increasingly difficult to detect. By obstructing the free access to and exchange of information, Google’s censorship program is aimed at enforcing a twenty-first century version of Orwellian “Right-Think.” It is undermining the development of progressive and constitutionally protected political opposition. It is benefiting the proponents of war, inequality, injustice and reaction.
The censorship of left-wing websites, and the WSWS in particular, reflects the fear that a genuine socialist perspective, if allowed a fair hearing, will find a mass audience in the US and internationally. There is widespread popular opposition to your efforts to suppress freedom of speech and thought. That is why Google feels compelled to cloak its anti-democratic policies with misleading arguments and outright lies. An online petition circulated by the WSWS demanding a halt to Google’s censorship efforts has already attracted several thousand signatures from readers in 70 different countries on five continents. We are determined to resist Google’s efforts to censor our publication, and to continue to raise awareness internationally about Google censorship. As long as this policy continues, Google will pay a heavy price in lost public credibility.
The International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Sites demands that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed, and that Google cease its effort to curtail search accessibility to the WSWS and other left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive web publications.
Chairperson, International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site
Click here to read the open letter in full and here to sign the petition.
The open letter reprinted above from WSWS is an excellent one and very little can be usefully added in terms of alerting interested parties (basically everyone with a left-leaning or else genuinely libertarian outlook) regarding Google’s part in the ongoing censorship of the internet. It should however cause us to think extremely carefully about the fragility of this new information commons we increasingly depend upon. Any library can only be as good as its indexing system. When the library is as huge as the internet then good indexing is the only way to prevent information from becoming lost forever.
A few months ago, Google, which holds a de facto monopoly position on indexing the world’s greatest library, changed its algorithms. It actually does this on a fairly regular basis and historically these changes have generally been small and rather hard to detect. On this occasion, however, the changes were just as dramatic as they are very blatantly targeted.
Just as WSWS reports, the traffic to my own website (this one) suffered a vertiginous fall during recent months. Around the start of July the number of hits was cut in half, virtually overnight. What’s more, it has been traffic from the UK (my home country) that has plummeted most. Indeed, traffic to this site from the UK has been falling steadily since April (when Google announced its algorithm changes) and I now estimate that it has dropped by something like 80%. So what is happening here is obviously a very deliberate attack on the alternative left even including such small sites this.
But we should not be so very surprised. Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google (today it also owns youtube), is one of the most profitable and powerful of all global corporations. Amazingly, having entered the Fortune 500 little more than a decade ago, it then climbed into the top 100 within four years and currently stands at #27. 2 Although maybe this isn’t half so amazing once one considers Google’s true origins; and its hand-in-glove ties to the security state:
“From inception,” writes investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, “Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community” […]
“The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.” (More in an addendum below)
The everyman gloss also comes off once one considers that its billionaire Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and has been a Bilderberg attendee every year since 2008 (apart from his absence in 2009). In fact, Google and Bilderberg appear to have firmer ties than Eric Schmidt’s affiliation as I explained when the two organisations ran back-to-back conferences at Watford in 2013:
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.” 3
From an article published by The Independent, we learn how such ‘Google-berg’ events take place annually:
Each year, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, jet into London for the invitation-only annual gathering, at the Grove hotel, where 400 delegates, chosen from the “great minds of our time”, discuss topics ranging from technology and the media to politics and the arts. […]
For conspiracy theorists, the conference, staged by the search engine giant, which reported a 60 per cent surge in earnings to $2.89bn this year, is a cuddlier version of the Bilderberg Group, the supposedly shadowy network of financiers that holds a private annual assembly, recast in the image of our new tech masters. 4 [my own bold highlight added]
This is also discussed at slightly greater length in another earlier post.
Although dominated by corporations, the internet operates as a commons: a public space to which we contribute voluntarily and as individuals. Anyone can publish online just as I did right now. There’s no editorial control and relatively little censorship. Knowing how to peruse the enormous and ever-expanding repository of online publications, anyone might stumble across my words. Access which is aided thanks to the principle of net neutrality – a democratic notion that all internet traffic should be treated equally – helping online communities to flourish and maintaining a measure of equality in cyberspace. But this is rapidly changing.
Around the time of the Arab Spring there was increasing furore closer to home which surrounded disputed claims about the creation of an “internet kill switch”. In June 2010, some six months prior to the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked riots that led to the Tunisian Revolution, US Senator Joe Lieberman presented a bill entitled “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” with provision for ‘emergency’ shutdown. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Britain as The Independent reported in March 2011:
In Britain there are two pieces of legislation which give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet and, in theory, bring about web armageddon. The Civil Contingencies Act  and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend internet services, either by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the protocol of the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary. In the eyes of the legislature, Jeremy Hunt is the man invested with the power to send us back to the dark ages.
The same piece continues:
In theory, the mechanical process of shutting down the internet should be simple. In addition to ordering the nation’s main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close main internet exchanges such as Linx – the London Internet Exchange – which handles 80 per cent of our internet traffic.
To illustrate the case, the article then reminds us of internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring:
The ISP shutdown process was used recently by the Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt, ostensibly to stifle the propagation of dissent. On 27 January Egypt was effectively disconnected from the rest of the web after its ISPs were ordered to shut down their services. […]
Egypt’s other three big ISPs – Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – also stopped services. A few days later the final service provider, Noor, went down, taking the country’s stock exchange with it.
The pattern has since been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where popular uprisings have occurred. On 19 February Libya went completely offline. In Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February.
However, shutting down the web isn’t always this simple:
The problem comes down to the very nature of the internet in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections. […]
It seems highly likely then, that as happened in Egypt, if the Jeremy Hunt Doomsday scenario were ever come to pass, an alternative network would quickly expand and provide access to the internet for all. Which is a relief. 5
The internet “kill switch” is mostly a red herring, because the corporatocracy has no cause to kill the internet for so long as it is maximising profits by selling the latest products – including obviously so many virtual products of our dot.com world – and in the process is hoovering up data about us.
For corporate needs the internet is little more than the free market on steroids, and for the security state it is, as Julian Assange put it so eloquently, ‘the worldwide wiretap’. As these merge, the wealth of data accumulated is filtered and packaged to fit the needs of both sectors. Knowledge becomes both power and profits. But it comes at a cost for our increasingly merged corporations and state. In the pursuit of profits and the acquisition of personal information, they sacrificed a stranglehold over public discourse. That anyone can now broadcast and publish threatens to undermine establishment control. The corporatocracy, however, still holds the key, just so long as we remain reliant on Google and the other corporate tech giants for access to this information commons.
To all intents and purposes, Google are now in the process of throwing that mythical internet “kill switch” except it’s not a switch, it’s a knob… and they are suddenly turning the amplitude right down. If this continues and we are unable to find an efficient and fully independent alternative to Google then the internet will effectively die. It will appear much the same and many of its old functions will remain unaltered – doubtless, it will provide an expanding marketplace and likewise it will continue to track our lives in ever higher resolution – but the internet as tool for progressive resistance will become ossified. For the true potential it still holds for bringing about radical political change and transforming society in truly revolutionary ways will be lost forever.
Addendum: ‘How the CIA made Google’
In an extended article entitled “How the CIA made Google” Nafeez Ahmed embarked on a trail that took him from the Pentagon, the NSA, and CIA’s venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, via a group known as the Highlands Forum – a private network and “bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites” – back to Stanford University, and legendary PhD students Larry Page and, more especially, Sergey Brin. It also led him to the door of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), and its purportedly discontinued Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme (featured in an earlier post about the rise of the surveillance state).
It is impossible to neatly summarise all of Ahmed’s findings here so without reprinting too much of the original I have tried to capture a flavour of what he discovers with regards to how Google grew out of DARPA and TIA:
“According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD [Evidence Extraction and Link Detection] program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.”
“[U]nder the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.” […]
“Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.” […]
“By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.”
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation, a US defence firm and “the forum’s partner organization”] which changed its name to Leidos in 2013. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. […]
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA. […]
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community. […]
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. […]
Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.” […]
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. 6
Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.