Even if it turns out that this information orgy has assisted in foiling a limited number of plots, it is not a practicable approach to threat prevention. What is? Changing the policies and behaviors that have caused much of the terrorist threats in the first place. Do that, and you won’t need to stockpile everyone’s communications from now to the end of time.
The NSA and the Rest of Us
Everything in the government — which once was thought to be “your” government — is increasingly disappearing into a professional universe of secrecy. In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, the government classified 92 million documents. And they did so on the same principle that they use in collecting seemingly meaningless or harmless information from you: that only in retrospect can anyone know whether a benign-looking document might prove anything but. Better to deny access to everything.
Tom Engelhardt, You Are Our Secret
[The] appropriate question is whether the creation of a system of surveillance perilously alters the balance [between state control and citizen autonomy] too far in the direction of government control, whether or not we have problems with the current use of that system. We might imagine a system of compulsory cameras installed in homes, activated only by warrant, being used with scrupulous respect for the law over many years. The problem is that such an architecture of surveillance, once established, would be difficult to dismantle, and prove too potent a tool of control if it ever fell into the hands of people who—whether through panic, malice, or a misguided confidence in their own ability to secretly judge the public good—would seek to use it against us.
Julian Sanchez, A Reply to Apologists for NSA’s Metadata Program
› The New Scramble for Africa and the War On Terror | Counterfire
The current scramble for Africa is not simply about the ongoing scramble for resources on the part of imperialist powers. The eurocrisis is an extra motivating factor. The crisis of neoliberalism which began in America in 2008 and then spread to Southern Europe and elsewhere threatens to spread much further still. This crisis has lit a fire under the US imperialists who are experiencing an economy in dire straits which is heading towards the ‘cliff edge’ we keep hearing about with no solutions in view and both government debt and the deficit increasing.
By way of contrast the old 19th Century scramble for Africa was motivated by a period of rapid industrial expansion fuelled by the industrial revolution. Expansion within Europe had hit a wall with the unification of Italy and Germany and so on. So the European powers turned their focus outwards towards the untapped continent of Africa at the end of the century. This involved both an imperialist scramble between imperialist rivals but also involved partial agreements and marriages of convenience in order to carve up African resources whilst attempting to minimalise inter-imperialist conflict.
Today we have a eurocrisis instead of an industrial revolution. Where previously rapid industrial growth pushed the west into Africa in order to open up new markets, now we have an economic crisis forcing imperialists to try and monetise Africa in an attempt to get some kind of purchase in a tanking economy.
When talking about the New Scramble for Africa it’s worth noting that it’s not just the left using the phrase, however convenient it may be for the left to bring up the imperialist past in the context of our current liberal democracy. In fact we don’t have to look any further than the head of Meryll Lynch Bank of America, a man by the name of Richard Gush, who said that ‘a new scramble for Africa is underway’ in the economic sphere in terms of the competition for markets and resources in Africa.
We also saw US Secretary of State John Kerry almost putting his foot in it at his inauguration hearing when he said that ‘China is all over Africa and we’ve got to get in the game here, folks, because if we get in the game we can win’. Presumably realising that he wasn’t just talking to his mates, he was also being broadcast on TV as well, Kerry tried to cover up this gaff by quickly adding that ‘when I say “win” I don’t mean win in the cold war sense, I mean win in an economic sense in terms of creating jobs for Americans’.
So the new scramble for Africa is a very real question we need to address. It’s important that we don’t just seek to understand the significance of the New Scramble For Africa but that we actually oppose any interventions into the continent and also oppose proxy wars and drone wars. Drones and proxies are in a way a partial response to the fact that the anti-war movement stopped conventional wars from being politically viable, at least in the West, forcing the imperial powers to find new ways to be horrendous and new ways of killing people.
It showed that a mass movement did actually force the imperialist powers onto a new track. Of course it’s still a nasty and dangerous situation we find ourselves in. This means that it is vital that we don’t just try to understand this new phase in the War on Terror but that we organise to effectively oppose this imperialist project as well.
› You Are Our Secret | Tom Engelhardt
Corporately speaking, globalization has been ballyhooed since at least the 1990s, but in governmental terms only in the twenty-first century has that globalizing urge fully infected the workings of the American state itself. It’s become common since 9/11 to speak of a “national security state.” But if a week of ongoing revelations about NSA surveillance practices has revealed anything, it’s that the term is already grossly outdated. Based on what we now know, we should be talking about an American global security state.
Much attention has, understandably enough, been lavished on the phone and other metadata about American citizens that the NSA is now sweeping up and about the ways in which such activities may be abrogating the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Far less attention has been paid to the ways in which the NSA (and other U.S. intelligence outfits) are sweeping up global data in part via the just-revealed Prism and other surveillance programs.
Sometimes, naming practices are revealing in themselves, and the National Security Agency’s key data mining tool, capable in March 2013 of gathering “97 billion pieces of intelligence from computer networks worldwide,” has been named “boundless informant.” If you want a sense of where the U.S. Intelligence Community imagines itself going, you couldn’t ask for a better hint than that word “boundless.” It seems that for our spooks, there are, conceptually speaking, no limits left on this planet.
Today, that “community” seeks to put not just the U.S., but the world fully under its penetrating gaze. By now, the first “heat map” has been published showing where such information is being sucked up from monthly: Iran tops the list (14 billion pieces of intelligence); then come Pakistan (13.5 billion), Jordan (12.7 billion), Egypt (7.6 billion), and India (6.3 billion). Whether you realize this or not, even for a superpower that has unprecedented numbers of military bases scattered across the planet and has divided the world into six military commands, this represents something new under the sun. The only question is what?
The twentieth century was the century of “totalitarianisms.” We don’t yet have a name, a term, for the surveillance structures Washington is building in this century, but there can be no question that, whatever the present constraints on the system, “total” has something to do with it and that we are being ushered into a new world. Despite the recent leaks, we still undoubtedly have a very limited picture of just what the present American surveillance world really looks like and what it plans for our future. One thing is clear, however: the ambitions behind it are staggering and global. [continue]
› The Structural Genocide That Is Capitalism
… With his antepenultimate chapter [of his book Capitalism: A Structural Genocide], “Legitimizing the Illegitimate,” [author Garry] Leech follows Gramsci in seeking explanations for the means by which such a brutal system as capitalism has reproduced itself over time. He observes plainly that “most people’s world views currently reflect the values of capital,” at least within more affluent northern societies, and that capitalism proceeds with its genocidal proclivities while enjoying “the apparent consent of a significant portion of the world’s population.” Like Gramsci, Leech largely faults the hegemonic cultural processes that obtain within core-imperial societies - formal education, the media, work arrangements, etc. - for normalizing the prevailing state of affairs, in part by excluding the barbarous proceedings of capital from consideration - in contradistinction to his own volume. Channeling Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and other theorists with similar concerns, Leech notes that Western consumers remain largely ignorant of the extreme violence that is required as the very basis for the relative privileges they enjoy in global terms; worse, perhaps, most Northerners - a majority of whom, claims Leech, enjoy “middle-class lifestyle[s]” - have the capacity to escape the alienation driven by capital precisely by engaging in mindless consumerism, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle. [must read]
‘Should this be transparent in some way?’ Rose asked. ‘It is transparent,’ Obama insisted. ‘That’s why we set up the FISA Court,’ the president said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — which carries out its work almost entirely in secret.
I’m not Dick Cheney
› Spygate Leaks Imperil State-Secrets Defense | Threat Level
First it was the President George W. Bush administration and then the President Barack Obama administration, which for years have been arguing in court that the state-secrets privilege shields the government from lawsuits accusing it of siphoning Americans’ electronic communications to the National Security Agency without warrants.
But with the recent Spygate leaks, including one that all calling metadata of Verizon customers is being forwarded to the NSA, the government is hard-pressed to maintain that line with a straight face.
“By contrast, the recent disclosures have greatly undermined the factual and legal basis for the government defendants’ separate and distinct state secrets motion,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a recent court filing.
The EFF’s lawsuit, which has had a tortured history through the courts, is based in part on allegations of internal AT&T documents, first published by Wired, that outline a secret room in an AT&T San Francisco office and others which allegedly route internet traffic to the NSA.
A decision from U.S. District Jeffrey White in San Francisco is pending on whether to dismiss the long-running case, based on the government’s state secrets assertion. The state secrets doctrine was first recognized by the Supreme Court in the McCarthy era, and is asserted when the government claims litigation threatens to expose national security secrets. Judges routinely dismiss cases on that assertion alone.
But because of the leak appearing in the Guardian two weeks ago, the Obama administration wants the court to delay, perhaps indefinitely, a decision on the EFF lawsuit.
“In light of these developments, the Government Defendants request that the Court defer further consideration of the pending motions and grant the Government time to consider the effect on the pending motions of the Government’s decision to declassify certain information, and to consult with plaintiffs concerning the matter,” the government wrote in a recent filing. (.pdf)
The EFF countered: (.pdf)
“The government defendants’ request for an open-ended stay lacks merit. It is only the latest step in the government’s so-far entirely successful effort over the past seven years to evade any adjudication of the legality of the electronic surveillance it has been engaging in since October 2001.”
The Guardian newspaper was leaked a secret court order requiring Verizon Business Solutions to provide the NSA with the phone numbers of both parties involved in all calls, the International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number for mobile callers, calling card numbers used in the call, and the time and duration of the calls.
The Guardian and Washington Post were leaked material detailing a program called PRISM, which described a system whereby nine internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook had special equipment installed in their facilities that allowed NSA analysts sitting at their desks to query the data directly. The internet companies said they did not provide the government direct access to their servers.
Meanwhile, following the leaks, at least two new lawsuits with similar spying allegations have surfaced. The government has not publicly responded to those yet.
Yes, he can order the assassination of anyone on earth. Yes, he can read the emails and web trails of anyone on earth. Yes, he can launch a nuclear war tomorrow and destroy the planet. But he cannot resist the ‘circumstances’ that have compelled him to intervene in Syria. Poor man. Poor, powerless, tragic man.
Absolving Obama, or The Lamentable Sigh of the Depressed Progressive
› The War on Metadata | Binoy Kampmark
Ideas are fashioned weapons. When applied to the right spot, their result can be immediate, overwhelming, collapsing. The pressing need for populations across countries to revolt against the revolting, to assert sovereignty over themselves, their information, their very sense of being human, is now greater than ever.
The metadata authoritarians, the wet dreamers of information, habituated paranoids, must be challenged. Their activities must themselves be subject to surveillance. Franz Kafka’s nightmarish world, with its sinister bureaucratic pitfalls, potholes of arbitrary acts by state, must be inverted, its legacy reversed. Their actions must themselves be countenanced by judicial scrutiny. The law, in short, must be given its sight again.
The sinister nature of the modern information regime lies in its seemingly benign quality. Big Brother is a celebrity show, not a vicious, maniacal controller of human behaviour, a murderous pestilence against people’s dignity. The dystopia we are readying ourselves for will be all the more hideous because it demands complicity, that need to be protected against ourselves by those who claim they know best.
This is a social contract of a different sort, one signed in a somnambulist state. It demands a surrender of information to social media outlets because we demand to sup with the devils of the virtual world. It demands a reduced privacy regime because controlling privacy is much like controlling air in a vacuum – it doesn’t ‘exist’. It entails that governments are entitled, indeed mandated, to gather huge pools of data to dip into, constructing personalities, trends and tendencies. “We know you before you know yourselves.”
The issue of gathering information to protect state security is a symbolic justification. It is rarely a genuine one. Policing and security can be the business of the shadows, but it should never be an unaccountable one. One doesn’t convict an entire population for the crimes of one member, but the premise of the metadata state reverses that assumption. We are all pre-emptively guilty of something, according to that worldview.
› Everything is Rigged, Vol. 9,713: This Time, It's Currencies | Matt Taibbi
[This] story just landed. Given the LIBOR story, the Interest Rate Swap manipulation story, the Euro gas price manipulation story, the U.S. energy price manipulation story, and (by now) countless others of the “Everything is Rigged” variety, this screams out for immediate notice. Via Bloomberg:
Traders at some of the world’s biggest banks manipulated benchmark foreign-exchange rates used to set the value of trillions of dollars of investments, according to five dealers with knowledge of the practice …
Employees have been front-running client orders and rigging WM/Reuters rates by pushing through trades before and during the 60-second windows when the benchmarks are set, said the current and former traders, who requested anonymity because the practice is controversial. Dealers colluded with counterparts to boost chances of moving the rates, said two of the people, who worked in the industry for a total of more than 20 years.
This time the rates allegedly being rigged are in the foreign-exchange or “FX” markets, meaning that if this story is true, it would almost certainly trump LIBOR for scale/horribleness.
As one friend of mine who works on Wall Street put it, “It’s endless! This is the biggest market in the world.” Bloomberg suggested the story is just the tip of the iceberg:
“The FX market is like the Wild West,” said James McGeehan, who spent 12 years at banks before co-founding Framingham, Massachusetts-based FX Transparency LLC, which advises companies on foreign-exchange trading, in 2009. “It’s buyer beware.”
The $4.7-trillion-a-day currency market, the biggest in the financial system, is one of the least regulated. The inherent conflict banks face between executing client orders and profiting from their own trades is exacerbated because most currency trading takes place away from exchanges.
… [T]he key thing here is the, uh … well, the consistent leitmotif of all these stories. One after another, it’s the same thing: Insiders rigging benchmark rates, shaving money from basically everyone on earth, systematically and over periods of many years. It’s the ultimate taxation-without-representation story – crazy stuff.
[D]espite the assertions ‘we’ have been saved from nebulous and lightly specified attacks on numerous occasions, those detailed are largely FBI ‘sting’ operations where the FBI convinced marginalized, desperate people to carry out plots it conceived, engineered, financed and controlled. By reports, had the FBI and its paid informants not conceived the plots they never would have been conceived. The government is manufacturing fake terrorists and failing to stop ‘real’ terrorists while creating a totalitarian technocracy to solve the relatively small problem of non-state violence against the citizenry. Stupidity alone cannot explain what is going on here.
Surveillance and the Corporate State
› GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians' communications at G20 summits
Foreign politicians and officials who took part in two G20 summit meetings in London in 2009 had their computers monitored and their phone calls intercepted on the instructions of their British government hosts, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Some delegates were tricked into using internet cafes which had been set up by British intelligence agencies to read their email traffic.
The revelation comes as Britain prepares to host another summit on Monday – for the G8 nations, all of whom attended the 2009 meetings which were the object of the systematic spying. It is likely to lead to some tension among visiting delegates who will want the prime minister to explain whether they were targets in 2009 and whether the exercise is to be repeated this week.
The disclosure raises new questions about the boundaries of surveillance by GCHQ and its American sister organisation, the National Security Agency, whose access to phone records and internet data has been defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism and serious crime. The G20 spying appears to have been organised for the more mundane purpose of securing an advantage in meetings. Named targets include long-standing allies such as South Africa and Turkey.
There have often been rumours of this kind of espionage at international conferences, but it is highly unusual for hard evidence to confirm it and spell out the detail. The evidence is contained in documents – classified as top secret – which were seen by the Guardian. They reveal that during G20 meetings in April and September 2009 GCHQ used what one document calls “ground-breaking intelligence capabilities” to intercept the communications of visiting delegations.
• Setting up internet cafes where they used an email interception programme and key-logging software to spy on delegates’ use of computers;
• Penetrating the security on delegates’ BlackBerrys to monitor their email messages and phone calls;
• Supplying 45 analysts with a live round-the-clock summary of who was phoning who at the summit;
• Targeting the Turkish finance minister and possibly 15 others in his party;
• Receiving reports from an NSA attempt to eavesdrop on the Russian leader, Dmitry Medvedev, as his phone calls passed through satellite links to Moscow.
The documents suggest that the operation was sanctioned in principle at a senior level in the government of the then prime minister, Gordon Brown, and that intelligence, including briefings for visiting delegates, was passed to British ministers.
A briefing paper dated 20 January 2009 records advice given by GCHQ officials to their director, Sir Iain Lobban, who was planning to meet the then foreign secretary, David Miliband. The officials summarised Brown’s aims for the meeting of G20 heads of state due to begin on 2 April, which was attempting to deal with the economic aftermath of the 2008 banking crisis. The briefing paper added: “The GCHQ intent is to ensure that intelligence relevant to HMG’s desired outcomes for its presidency of the G20 reaches customers at the right time and in a form which allows them to make full use of it.” Two documents explicitly refer to the intelligence product being passed to “ministers”.
According to the material seen by the Guardian, GCHQ generated this product by attacking both the computers and the telephones of delegates. [continue]
Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all.
A defining trait of those who trust power is that abuse is of no concern until it occurs — if we learn about it, that is. It never occurs to them that power is inherently abusive.
The NSA Apologists