The modern surveillance state
The Conscious Resistance Network presents: The Modern Surveillance State
Transcript and sources:
The War on Terror
Immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush promised Americans he would exact revenge on those who dare attack the empire. Dubya’s program of “Shock and Awe” gave the American public an upfront look at what the U.S. military was prepared to do to the enemies of “freedom and democracy.”
The bombing of Iraq was only the beginning of a larger conflict that the Bush Administration dubbed “The Global War on Terror.”
The War on Terror did not end in the physical battlefield, however. The U.S. government was determined to root out all possible terrorist activity and in the process roll back as many of America’s hard-earned liberties as possible.
The Patriot Act
Only 45 days after the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. Congress passed the infamous USA PATRIOT Act, known simply as the Patriot Act. The full Orwellian title is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”
The Patriot Act dramatically expanded the U.S. government’s abilities to monitor emails and landline phone calls, and allowed access to voicemail through a search warrant rather than through a traditional wiretap order. For the first time, US government agencies could legally justify gathering any and all information on its enemies. In addition, section 215 of the Patriot Act is used to justify mass surveillance programs by the National Security Agency.
What we examine the state of civil liberties in America in 2018, what we see is the advancing tyranny of information gathering that has come directly from the Patriot Act, and the security-related bills which preceded and followed it. The bulk of American communications are now scanned, monitored, stored in a database, and analyzed for signs of terrorism. The NSA has even built a giant database in Utah to handle all of this data. Big Brother and Big sister are listening through an array of devices. If you’re trying to remain unmonitored, this is what you’re up against in modern America: Cell site simulators aka stingrays, Automatic License Plate Readers, Audio recording devices aka gunshot detectors, hidden cameras and microphones in public, thermal imaging planes and drones. We now know that all of this technology is used to collect data about you at all times. We know that the surveillance landscape today far exceeds even the limitations of spying of the original Patriot Act.
The Patriot Act was the catalyst for the national security tech complex to do what it does today. Whether or not it was the original intent, the Patriot Act paved the way for the government to gather all of your data without your consent, constantly, across all devices, whether you are connected to a so-called ‘terrorist’ activity or not.
Total information Awareness:
The Patriot Act is foundational legislation upon which the military industrial complex has built legal justification for direct cooperation between government employees, directors of private tech and intelligence companies, and military officials.
There are many other steps taken by the U.S. government in their misguided War on Terror, which erode away at the civil liberties Americans were once afforded.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, is the government agency responsible for all of the exciting and terrifying emerging military technologies. In January 2002, DARPA established the Information Awareness Office (IAO), an agency with a logo featuring a pyramid with an all seeing eye looking over the world with the motto ”scientia est potentia,” or ”knowledge is power.”
The creation of the IAO brought together several DARPA projects that focused on using surveillance and data mining to track and monitor terrorists and other threats to U.S. National Security. In November 2002, the New York Times reported that DARPA was developing a classified tracking program called “Total Information Awareness”, or TIA. It was intended to detect terrorists by studying millions of pieces of data. The program was designed to create huge databases to gather and store personal data from emails, social media, credit card records, phone calls, medical history, and online history, without the need for a search warrant. The TIA program also featured a biometric component that can be seen as a predecessor to the current FBI biometric database. The Electronic Privacy Information Center says the goal of Total Information Awareness was “to track individuals through collecting as much information about them as possible and using computer algorithms and human analysis to detect potential activity.”
The man behind TIA was Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter, the former national security adviser in the Reagan administration, who was convicted in 1990 for his role in the Iran-contra scandal. Poindexter’s conviction would later be overturned by a federal appeals court because he was granted immunity in exchange for testifying about his wrongdoing. Poindexter later argued that the U.S. government must be granted even more powers than were given in the Patriot Act.
Here’s what Jonathan Turley, a professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, had to say about Poindexter in November 2002:
“In some ways, Poindexter is the perfect Orwellian figure for the perfect Orwellian project. As a man convicted of falsifying and destroying information, he will now be put in charge of gathering information on every citizen. To add insult to injury, the citizens will fund the very system that will reduce their lives to a transparent fishbowl.” [Jeremy to voice]
Public criticism of the TIA program would grow so loud that Congress was forced to defund the Total Information Awareness program and the entire Information Awareness Office in 2003. Or so they thought…. Despite the defunding, many Americans suspected that the programs were still being developed, only under different names, using different agencies. This fact would later be confirmed by Edward Snowden’s surveillance leaks of 2013. For those paying close attention however, it was known for at least 7 years before the Snowden leaks, that the government was looking for ways to gather as much data on everyone as possible.
In 2006, the National Journal obtained documents which they said proved that the Total Information Awareness program had been moved from DARPA to another group which focused on building spying technology for the National Security Agency.
In 2002, a consulting firm called Hicks & Associates, reportedly run by former Defense and military officials, was awarded a nineteen million dollar contract to build the prototype for TIA. Internal emails show a company executive informing his employees of the name change. “We will be describing this new effort as ‘Basketball,’ ” he wrote. Another e-mail reminded the company’s staff that “TIA has been terminated and should be referenced in that fashion.”
Another TIA project known as Genoa II was renamed Topsail and moved to Advanced Research and Development Activity. Genoa was focused on pre-empting crime, an early predecessor for pre-crime technologies now being implemented around the world.
Finally, in 2013, even the magazine Scientific American was forced to acknowledge that the Total Information Awareness never ended. Edward Snowden had made it perfectly clear by that point that Americans are living in a Surveillance State. In fact, in an interview with WIRED, intelligence analyst James Bamford said the NSA’s recently erected $2 billion facility in Utah
“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’ privacy.”
Patriot Act 2
Unfortunately, the Patriot Act and Total Information Awareness were not the only attempts to strip away Americans’ rights in the name of fighting terrorism. You might have never heard the name Patriot Act 2, but in the years following the 9/11 attacks the name was synonymous with an attempt by the Bush Admin to seize tyrannical powers.
In February 2003, the Center for Public Integrity obtained a draft of unreleased legislation written by the staff of John Ashcroft, who was the Attorney General at the time. The draft Act was known as the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, or the Patriot Act II, as it came to be known.
At the time of the release of the text, the bill had reportedly only been seen by a handful of people, although rumors of an update to the Patriot Act had been swirling around D.C. A document obtained by PBS indicated that a copy of the bill was sent to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick Cheney on Jan. 10, 2003.
“Attached for your review and comment is a draft legislative proposal entitled the ‘Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003,’” the memo, sent from “OLP” or Office of Legal Policy, reads.
The draft of the bill was immediately criticized as an expansion of the already invasive powers granted to the Bush Administration in the first Patriot Act. Dr. David Cole, Georgetown University Law professor and author of Terrorism and the Constitution, told the Center that the Patriot II bill
“would radically expand law enforcement and intelligence gathering authorities, reduce or eliminate judicial oversight over surveillance, authorize secret arrests, create a DNA database based on unchecked executive ‘suspicion,’ create new death penalties, and even seek to take American citizenship away from persons who belong to or support disfavored political groups.”
The American Civil Liberties Union outlined some of the most egregious changes proposed in the draft of the Patriot II. For example, Section 301-306 would have created a “Terrorist Identification Database,” a DNA database for suspected terrorists. A few of the other changes proposed by the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 include:
- One, The government would no longer be required to disclose the identity of anyone, even an American citizen, detained in connection with a terror investigation – until criminal charges are filed, no matter how long that takes (sec 201).
- Two, Current court limits on local police spying on religious and political activity would be repealed (sec. 312).
- Three, The government would be allowed to obtain credit records and library records without a warrant (secs. 126, 128, 129)
- Four, Americans could be extradited, searched and wiretapped at the behest of foreign nations, whether or not treaties allow it (sec. 321, 322).
- Five, Lawful immigrants would be stripped of the right to a fair deportation hearing and federal courts would not be allowed to review immigration rulings (secs. 503, 504).
Now if you are hearing this and thinking “well surely those are legitimate acts to take against a suspected terrorist”, “I’m not a terrorist, and there’s no way they would use those laws against me”. You have to remember that the government is the one who defines what behavior is considered terrorism. Also, if their true aim was to fight terror, why would they need to hide the measures from the public?
At the time The Washington Times noted,
“Democrats said the strategy was “to sneak” the elements of the bill through Congress, without presenting it as the next installment of the Patriot Act.” [Jeremy to voice]
So that’s what they did. Instead of trying to pass the act as a standalone piece of legislation, most of the provisions were snuck into and attached to other bills that were guaranteed to pass.
National Security Letter’s
One provision of the Patriot II that was quickly adopted under a different bill relates to the government’s use of a tool known as National Security Letters. The Patriot Act vastly increased the use of National Security Letters, a tool used by the government to force telecommunications companies to give customer information without the use of a warrant from a judge.
The NSLs are typically issued by the FBI to gather information from companies when related to national-security investigations. This information can include customer names, addresses, phone and Internet records, and banking and credit statements. The NSL also requires employees who have been questioned to be silenced via a gag order which prevents them from notifying anyone that the government is invading customers’ privacy.
In November 2003, Congress voted in favor of an intelligence bill that included a provision which expanded the power of NSLs by redefining the meaning of “financial institution”. This allowed the U.S. government to issue National Security Letters (and subsequent gag orders) to insurance companies, real estate agents, the U.S. Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters”.
“The new provision inserts one of the most controversial aspects of Patriot II into the spending bill,” Wired reported at the time.
One of the darkest elements of the Patriot Act II was codified into law in late 2011, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act. The NDAA 2012 included provisions allowing indefinite detention of Americans without trial or charge in language very similar to the second Patriot Act.
Indeed, much of the plans of the Patriot Act II are now common activities of local, state, and federal law enforcement. The bulk of American communications are now scanned, monitored, stored in a database, and analyzed for signs of terrorism.
There is another element of the current surveillance state landscape we have not explored. The government is not the only player in this surveillance industry. Private companies also produce surveillance technology and sell it to law enforcement and government agencies, including Harris Corp with Stingray cellphone surveillance tools, Vigilant Solutions with their massive network of automatic license plate reader cameras, L-3 Communications who produce everything from police body cameras to device that can see through walls, GeoFeedia’s social media monitoring, online surveillance from Palantir and Media Sonar, And so on. But there is also another player in this surveillance state: Social Media.
Every day millions of people around the world voluntarily sign away their privacy and liberty when they download the latest trendy app or game without reading the terms and conditions of service. These agreements often give these private companies access to your camera, your contacts, your images, etc. We must take an honest assessment and ask ourselves if we truly value privacy and if we do, does keeping that privacy matter more to you than downloading that new app or game?
Millions more are volunteering their information, including likes, dislikes, location, relationship status, fears, hopes, frustrations, and personal secrets by using social media platforms, namely Facebook and Instagram. Most concerning is the possibility that Facebook executives may have had close ties to CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel. Journalist James Corbett reports:
“Publicly, In-Q-Tel markets itself as an innovative way to leverage the power of the private sector by identifying key emerging technologies and providing companies with the funding to bring those technologies to market.
In reality, however, what In-Q-Tel represents is a dangerous blurring of the lines between the public and private sectors in a way that makes it difficult to tell where the American intelligence community ends and the IT sector begins.
Two of the names that come up most often in connection with In-Q-Tel, however, need no introduction: Google and Facebook.
The publicly available record on the Facebook/In-Q-Tel connection is tenuous. Facebook received $12.7 million in venture capital from Accel, whose manager, James Breyer, now sits on their board. He was formerly the chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, whose board included Gilman Louie, then the CEO of In-Q-Tel. The connection is indirect, but the suggestion of CIA involvement with Facebook, however tangential, is disturbing in the light of Facebook’s history of violating the privacy of its users.”
Interestingly, around the time Facebook was launched, a similarly themed government project was coming to an end. LifeLog was a project of the Information Processing Techniques Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) designed, quote “to be able to trace the ‘threads’ of an individual’s life in terms of events, states, and relationships”, with the ability to “take in all of a subject’s experience, from phone numbers dialed and e-mail messages viewed to every breath taken, step made and place gone”.
USA Today reported that,
“Cameras and microphones would capture what the user sees or hears; sensors would record what he or she feels. Global positioning satellites would log every movement. Biomedical sensors would monitor vital signs. E-mails, instant messages, Web-based transactions, telephone calls and voicemails would be stored. Mail and faxes would be scanned. Links to every radio and television broadcast heard and every newspaper, magazine, book, Web site or database seen would be recorded.” [Jeremy to voice]
DARPA contractors stated that LifeLog’s software “will be able to find meaningful patterns in the timetable, to infer the user’s routines, habits and relationships with other people, organizations, places and objects.” Ultimately, the program was abandoned amid the same fears that rejected Total Information Awareness and the Patriot Act 2.
Ironically, Lifelog’s creator Douglas Gage recently told Motherboard he feels that in many ways Facebook has accomplished the goals of LifeLog. “I think that Facebook is the real face of pseudo-LifeLog at this point. I generally avoid using Facebook, only occasionally logging in to see what everyone is up to, and have never ‘liked’ anything.”
Does this mean that Facebook was created by the CIA or DARPA? No. but it does show the similarity between these applications and should create a sense of caution in all social media users. And of course, governments mine social media for data anyway. In the end, We the people may very well have already handed the government and their partners in private industry all the data they need to study, manipulate, and control the masses.
For one reason or another most of the public has rejected military-developed, government-run spying platforms in favor of similar systems designed by corporations who are happy to share their information. Whether we are speaking about government surveillance and invasions of privacy, corporate spying and intrusion, or voluntary self-reporting of private information, we cannot ignore the fact that we are living in a state of complete and perpetual surveillance. We must ask ourselves what – if anything – privacy is going to mean for the coming generations who are being born into a world where surveillance is normalized and privacy is a relic of a long past era.
Will you stand up for your right to be free from search, questioning, monitoring, and molestation? Or will you sit by as the last signs of privacy and freedom are dismantled? The choice is yours.