The Harper Conservative government made the Toronto G20 summit the occasion for a vast state provocation, with police taking over much of the downtown of Canada’s largest city, and using violence and mass arrests to suppress protests. Last week we learned that in addition CSEC and NSA were jointly conducting a highly sensitive spying operation, thereby furthering a reactionary partnership that has placed the world’s communications under systematic surveillance of the type that the police states of the 20th century could only dream of.
In the latest news report based on documents revealed by Edward Snowden, we’ve learned that the NSA creates profiles of porn viewing, online sexual activity and more from its vast database of Internet content and transactional data as part of a plan to harm the reputations of those whom the agency believes are radicalizing others through speeches promoting disfavored—but not necessarily violent—political views. The report— by Glenn Greenwald, Ryan Gallagher and Ryan Grim in the Huffington Post—shows how the NSA proposes to use personal information gleaned from electronic surveillance to blackmail, silence and otherwise marginalize people for advocating “radical” beliefs.
[…] The public and policy makers may hear “foreign intelligence information” and think it means data which helps identify and neutralize people who want to kill Americans, and not that which identifies and undermines peaceable people who merely hold radical, violent or even revolutionary ideas in the eyes of those currently in power.
Of course, intelligence agencies have used embarrassing information against people for their political beliefs in the past. The Federal Bureau of Investigation used recordings it gleaned from bugging Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s private quarters to attempt to blackmail him into silence, despite the fact that King unwaveringly supported non-violent means. It was his revolutionary idea of social equality for all races, and his anti-war beliefs, that made him dangerous.
As Bret Max Kaufman, Legal Fellow at the ACLU National Security Project writes:
King was not alone on the government’s long list of targets; he shared marquee billing with boxer Muhammed Ali, humorist Art Buchwald, author Norman Mailer, and even Senator Howard Baker. But the greater scandal was that — as the Church Committee revealed in 1976 — these big names appeared alongside more than one million other Americans, including half a million so-called “subversives.”
Julian Sanchez at the Cato Institute points out another historical examples of actual and threatened blackmail:
[FBI Director J. Edgar] Hoover’s right hand Cartha DeLoach proudly reported that the Bureau had learned of a truculent senator caught driving drunk with a “good looking broad.” The senator, DeLoach explained, was promptly made “aware that we had the information, and we never had trouble with him on appropriations since.”
These practices were disgusting, dangerous and abusive then, just as they are now. What’s new is that, in a mass surveillance ecosystem, the scale and scope on which this kind of activity can take place is unprecedented. Once it collects information about hundreds of millions of people in mass, “dossiers” of potentially embarrassing information—or blackmail quality secrets—dirt on anyone is just a few searches away. Intelligence operatives can secretly tar anyone, seemingly at will, since the NSA has the technological capacity, and no one has identified a law which would, if followed, intercede. These abilities, never mind the will to use them, are incompatible with individual freedom and democracy. [read]
According to the document, the NSA believes that exploiting electronic surveillance to publicly reveal online sexual activities can make it harder for these ‘radicalizers’ to maintain their credibility. ‘Focusing on access reveals potential vulnerabilities that could be even more effectively exploited when used in combination with vulnerabilities of character or credibility, or both, of the message in order to shape the perception of the messenger as well as that of his followers,’ the document argues. … An attached appendix lists the ‘argument’ each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal ‘vulnerabilities’ the agency believes would leave the targets ‘open to credibility challenges’ if exposed.
While [Stewart Baker, a one-time general counsel for the NSA] and others support using surveillance to tarnish the reputation of people the NSA considers “radicalizers,” U.S. officials have in the past used similar tactics against civil rights leaders, labor movement activists and others.
Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI harassed activists and compiled secret files on political leaders, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. The extent of the FBI’s surveillance of political figures is still being revealed to this day, as the bureau releases the long dossiers it compiled on certain people in response to Freedom of Information Act requests following their deaths. The information collected by the FBI often centered on sex — homosexuality was an ongoing obsession on Hoover’s watch — and information about extramarital affairs was reportedly used to blackmail politicians into fulfilling the bureau’s needs.
… James Bamford, a journalist who has been covering the NSA since the early 1980s, said the use of surveillance to exploit embarrassing private behavior is precisely what led to past U.S. surveillance scandals. “The NSA’s operation is eerily similar to the FBI’s operations under J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960s where the bureau used wiretapping to discover vulnerabilities, such as sexual activity, to ‘neutralize’ their targets,” he said. “Back then, the idea was developed by the longest serving FBI chief in U.S. history, today it was suggested by the longest serving NSA chief in U.S. history.”
That controversy, Bamford said, also involved the NSA. “And back then, the NSA was also used to do the eavesdropping on King and others through its Operation Minaret. A later review declared the NSA’s program ‘disreputable if not outright illegal,’” he said.
Baker said that until there is evidence the tactic is being abused, the NSA should be trusted to use its discretion. “The abuses that involved Martin Luther King occurred before Edward Snowden was born,” he said. “I think we can describe them as historical rather than current scandals. Before I say, ‘Yeah, we’ve gotta worry about that,’ I’d like to see evidence of that happening, or is even contemplated today, and I don’t see it.”
Jaffer, however, warned that the lessons of history ought to compel serious concern that a “president will ask the NSA to use the fruits of surveillance to discredit a political opponent, journalist or human rights activist.”
“The NSA has used its power that way in the past and it would be naïve to think it couldn’t use its power that way in the future,” he said.
"The NSA should be trusted to use its discretion" Um… no.
David Skillicorn, a professor in the School of Computing at Queen’s University, says this is one piece of the data-sharing relationship “that has always been carefully constructed.”
“The Americans will not use Canadians to collect data on U.S. persons, nor will any of the other Five Eyes countries,” Skillicorn says.
“In fact, in practice, it’s as if the five countries’ citizens were one large, collective group, and their mutual communications are not intercepted by any in the Five Eyes community.”
Actual situation, as per the Guardian report, the NSA honored its no-spy-on-five-eye pledge in the breach:
Britain and the US are the main two partners in the ‘Five-Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance, which also includes Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Until now, it had been generally understood that the citizens of each country were protected from surveillance by any of the others.
But the Snowden material reveals that:
* In 2007, the rules were changed to allow the NSA to analyse and retain any British citizens’ mobile phone and fax numbers, emails and IP addresses swept up by its dragnet. Previously, this data had been stripped out of NSA databases – “minimized”, in intelligence agency parlance – under rules agreed between the two countries.
* These communications were “incidentally collected” by the NSA, meaning the individuals were not the initial targets of surveillance operations and therefore were not suspected of wrongdoing.
* The NSA has been using the UK data to conduct so-called “pattern of life” or “contact-chaining” analyses, under which the agency can look up to three “hops” away from a target of interest – examining the communications of a friend of a friend of a friend. Guardian analysis suggests three hops for a typical Facebook user could pull the data of more than 5 million people into the dragnet.
* A separate draft memo, marked top-secret and dated from 2005, reveals a proposed NSA procedure for spying on the citizens of the UK and other Five-Eyes nations, even where the partner government has explicitly denied the US permission to do so. The memo makes clear that partner countries must not be informed about this surveillance, or even the procedure itself.
When intelligence community apologists get wrongfooted by these kinds of revelations, one is inclined to wonder: is the so-called security insider who is allaying (and in some cases ridiculing) the public’s anxieties over government surveillance practices a clueless dupe or a duplicitous shill?
Inquiring minds want to know. … [Did] the NSA diddle with traffic patterns through its corporate buddies on the North American backbone and route US persons’ data to Five Eyes partners—like maybe Canada–for storage, collection, and processing, and thereby receive its tittle-tattle on interesting Americans second hand via a foreign intelligence agency, thereby not violating the letter of the U.S. law prohibiting these kinds of interception without a warrant?
… [The] most interesting element for me was one that the Guardian didn’t even bother to report on. It only appears in the Guardian’s reproduction of the 2007 memo (click on the image at the head of the article for the full text) authorizing collection of UK persons’ info. The memo baldly stated that “unmasked” UK data—if I understand it correctly, this simply means in this case “metadata that has been revealed as relating to a UK person” is not only fair game for review by NSA analysts; it may also be dumped into a database for access by GCHQ:
“[US Analysts] Are not required to forward unmasked UK contact identifiers to GCHQ unless specifically requested by GCHQ. GCHQ should receive all unmasked UK contact identifiers via established or mutually agreed forwarding means or the contact identifiers should be available in the GCHQ-accessible five-eyes [deleted] database, the [deleted] access to [deleted], or other GCHQ-accessible metadata stores.”
Hmmm. Certainly sounds like the NSA was not only collecting UK data; it was making it available to GCHQ. If that was the case, one would assume it worked the other way around as well. [++]
“I see a lot of similarities between the Bates opinion and the Walton opinion,” Mark Rumold, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ars. Rumold was referring to a 2009 opinion by FISC Judge Reggie Walton, who equally lambasted the government.
“It’s essentially the same thing, FISC taking NSA and [the Department of Justice] to task for violating their orders, for accessing more information than they were allowed to access under the orders and laying out the ways that they had violated the court’s orders, [but then] letting them continue,” Rumold added.
[…] Obviously, data gathering of this scope isn’t about catching terrorists. That certainly could be part of the outcome but there’s no way you analyze over 183 million pieces of data in a month to identify crazies. Something else is going on.
Post reporter Bart Gellman, who broke the story, told PBS  that “…on its face I don’t see any evidence that they’re flouting the law here. They’re using it in ways that the companies and the public didn’t expect.” But that challenges logic. Going into a company’s internal systems to remove data without that company’s knowledge sure seems illegal. At the very least, it reflects a disturbing cynicism on the Administration’s part about the spirit of the law and what privacy laws tell our government about how it should relate to its citizens.
The question, however, isn’t whether this is legal but what the Obama Administration is trying to do with the definition of legality. The history of this Administration demonstrates that it’s preparing for some very troubled times and its preparations are obscenely repressive. With an economy that simply cannot return 25 million unemployed people to work, the massive retrenchment of people’s rights, the slashing of our social safety nets, a society ripped apart by the frantic hysteria of weekly domestic terrorism, an insane but growing extreme right-wing and a Congress that has no popular support and is no longer governing anyone, the eruption of massive protest and resistance in every corner of the society is no surprise. Nor does it take much vision to predict that things are going to get a whole lot hotter.
The politically powerful are involved in an intense debate about how to govern this society while the social contract it has used to govern in the past can’t be met. The debate rages but it’s clear that all sides are talking about a more restrictive society. The key to such repression is data capture. No matter how intense and widespread this repression turns out to be, they have the data they need to make all options possible including the crushing of protest movements. Do we trust them not to use the data that way?
In past contributions to these web pages, I’ve written that, while we are not in a police state, the government has constructed an apparatus capability of turning this country into one with a flip of its legal switch.
That’s the meaning of the MUSCULAR revelations. As far as data is concerned, everything is in place.
“If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
So say many Americans. And many Germans as well.
But one German, Ilija Trojanow, would disagree. He has lent his name to published documents denouncing the National Security Agency (NSA), and was one of several prominent German authors who signed a letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel urging her to take a firm stance against the mass online surveillance conducted by the NSA. Trojanow and the other authors had nothing to hide, which is why the letter was published for the public to read. What happened after that, however, was that Trojanow was refused permission to board a flight from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, to Miami on Monday, September 30. Without any explanation.
Trojanow, who was on his way to speak at a literary conference in Denver, told the Spiegel magazine online website that the denial of entry might be linked to his criticism of the NSA. Germany’s Foreign Ministry says it has contacted US authorities “to resolve this issue”. - Associated Press, October 2, 2013
In an article published in a German newspaper, Trojanow voiced his frustration with the incident: “It is more than ironic if an author who raises his voice against the dangers of surveillance and the secret state within a state for years, will be denied entry into the ‘land of the brave and the free’.” 11
Further irony can be found in the title of a book by Trojanow: “Attack on freedom. Obsession with security, the surveillance state and the dismantling of civil rights.”
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., who oversees the NSA and other intelligence agencies, said recently that the intelligence community “is only interested in communication related to valid foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.” - Washington Post, October 5, 2013
It’s difficult in the extreme to see how this criterion would apply in any way to Ilija Trojanow.
The story is a poignant caveat on how fragile is Americans’ freedom to criticize their Security State. If a foreigner can be barred from boarding a flight merely for peaceful, intellectual criticism of America’s Big Brother (nay, Giant Brother), who amongst us does not need to pay careful attention to anything they say or write.
Very few Americans, however, will even be aware of this story. A thorough search of the Lexis-Nexis media database revealed a single mention in an American daily newspaper (The St. Louis Post-Dispatch), out of 1400 daily papers in the US. No mention on any broadcast media. A single one-time mention in a news agency (Associated Press), and one mention in a foreign English-language newspaper (New Zealand Herald).
The FBI and numerous other local and federal law enforcement agencies are #exploring the use of drones – unmanned aircraft — to conduct surveillance and crime scene examinations without risking the lives of pilots.
But in an interim, partially classified audit report released on Thursday, September 26th, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is raising a big caution flag. His audit team asked, in essence, “Did anyone think about Americans’ privacy rights?”
The drones weigh less than 55 pounds, and they can buzz over homes and businesses with cameras trained on activity below. They cost just 25 bucks an hour to operate – a tiny fraction of the $625 hourly cost of choppers and other manned aircraft. Some agencies are experimenting with infrared cameras for nighttime use.
Between 2004, when the Justice Department acquired its first drone, and May of this year, the FBI and three other department components spent $3.7 million buying the drones, 80 percent of the money coming from the bureau, which already has them in use.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms plans to deploy drones soon, while the Drug Enforcement Administration and United States Marshals Service acquired them for testing, but haven’t yet decided to use them domestically, the IG says.
Officials of the FBI and ATF told the auditors they see no need to develop specialized privacy protocols, and they don’t see any practical difference in using the drones for surveillance versus manned aircraft.
But the agency watchdogs concluded that a consistent department policy may be needed for the use of small drones, which can hover covertly in areas where people might expect privacy and remain there far longer than a traditional aircraft could.