Category: security state

No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald – book review

Joe, My friend got back to me. Her contact left the Review five years ago. Sorry.  MarkWe are within days of the anniversary of the first revelations from Edward Snowden’s archive of NSA documents. The drum beat of new stories emerging from this trove continues even to this moment.1 So, Glenn Greenwald’s book, No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State might be greeted with a yawn, what could be new? 

In fact, there is much that is new about how these stories have come to light and a very good overview of what we have learned about what Greenwald calls the US Surveillance State. This is a book in two parts. The first 89 pages read like a cross between a detective thriller and a spy story. There are hand offs of thumb drives at airport boarding gates, virgin computers, cell phones sealed off from the reach of the NSA by removing batteries or stuffed in freezers, meetings with a yet to be identified Snowden by an unsolved Rubik’s cube in hand.

  1. NSA Collecting Millions of Faces from Web Images http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/us/nsa-collecting-millions-of-faces-from-web-images.html accessed 06012014 []

NSA Vacuuming, Meta Data, Mistaken Misleading Metaphors

NSA’s gathering of Meta Data Compared to Corporate Use of Information

In the current discussions of the government’s wholesale seizure of the meta data of our personal digital lives there is regular comparison to the acquisition and use of information about our digital lives by corporations. At the moment corporate use of individual information results in targeted advertising and increasingly location aware targeted advertising through our smart phones. The implicit, sometimes explicit, notion is that we mare so used to corporations gathering information that the NSA is just another corporation, nothing but just a bit more of the same old.

Comparisons Between Corporate Data Gathering and the Government Vacuum Cleaner Are Wrong Headed and Misleading

Dangers of the US Security State

There are those, in response to the recent revelations of the US government vacuum cleaning our lives through the NSA and other secret programs, who take the line that the innocent have nothing to fear from the government. Here is an example of why no one should take such a naive approach to the powers of government.

LAURA POITRAS credit: Ruby Washington/New York Times photographer - borrowed w/o permission

LAURA POITRAS
credit: Ruby Washington/New York Times photographer – borrowed w/o permission

The New York Times reported recently (“Player in Leaks Case, Out From Behind Camera1 ) on the role of Laura Poitras in the revelations by Edward Snowden about domestic surveillance by NSA et al..

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/business/media/filmmaker-linked-to-leaks-has-her-own-stories-to-tell.html?_r=0 []

US Vacuum Cleaning Our Privacy – the bigger story

imagesThere has rightfully been considerable outrage over this week’s revelations that the Federal government has been sucking up information on virtually every aspect of our lives, email, telephones calls, pictures, credit card and banking transactions, and so on. Unfortunately almost all of this discussion is taking place without a useful sense of the scope, scale, and trajectory of the government’s war on terror.

Parallels and Prescience – on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11 and the “War on Terror”

Uncle Same war-on-drugs

Having successfully avoided much of the national moment for our politicians to blather on about the true meaning of 9/11, I was struck this morning by parallel between our “War on Terror” and our longest war, the “War on Drugs” (I have written earlier about this here). Some may be offended initially by this comparison. The War on Drugs was invented for the most cynical of purposes by one of our more craven Presidents, President Nixon1. But, when one observes the gigantic interests in Federal, State, and local bureaucracies (think your local police) and corporate worlds that immediately lined up to feed at this trough of a war, a bit of cynicism can not help but creep into mind.

Nixon’s invention spawned a plethora of Federal, State, and local bureaucracies consuming vast resources and spreading around the globe. Meanwhile, our social and criminal policies gauranteed high prices for the drug lords thus supporting a marketing and distribution system that provides service levels 24/7/365 to make Fedex give up. No other commodity is available in every location in the US with such reliable service packaged to meet local demand and local financing needs. On top of that, Nixon’s war, supported continuously since then by every President, the Congress, the court system, State governments and of course your local police departments, put millions of drug users in jail. This of course has swollen the ranks of those cursed with a criminal record and increasingly unemployable. Finally, no one is willing to discuss the outcomes of our drug policies. No one will vote to shrink or eliminate this war, America’s longest war. The policies continue to suck up resources, destroy other countries, and gravely damage millions of our own citizens.

Bush-War onTerrorAs reported by Admiral (Ret.) Dennis Blair, former Director of National Intelligence, earlier this summer at the Aspen Security Forum, we are now spending $80 billion per year , not including our War on Terror wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (these would add hundreds of $ billions to this) on the War on Terror. He went on to report that a generous estimate of the world-wide strength of al-Qaeda and its affiliates is 4,000 men. This means that we are spending $20 million per year per potential terrorist. Others have reported on the continuing growth by tens of thousands per year of employees in our burgeoning public and private security apparatus. Meanwhile we have numerous agencies spying on Americans in the name of “national security”. It seems enormously likely that emails are regularly being subject to capture and it is hard to imagine that cell phone conversations, transmitted in the open (as are emails), are not also subject to surveillance. Where has the Fourth Amendment gone? To top it all off, do you feel more secure when you take your shoes off to enter an airplane? Do you think that our current anti-terrorist policies will be any more successful than the first ten years? Do you think that anyone will speak and act to end this second longest war?

  1. I used to refer to him as our most craven, but Bush Junior has caused some reconsideration of this point []

Naomi Wolf’s The End of America – the movie

The End of America – a film by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern

Here is a summary1 of the ten steps discussed and illustrated by Ms. Wolf in the movie.

10 STEPS THAT CLOSE AN OPEN SOCIETY

1. invoke an internal and external threat
People who are afraid are willing to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.

2. establish secret (unaccountable) prisons where torture takes place
In a secret system, the government does not have to provide any proof of wrongdoing by those it holds, so it can incarcerate anyone it wants.

3. develop a paramilitary force
A private military force — under the exclusive direction of the “commander in chief” with no accountability to Congress, the courts, or the public — blurs the line between a civilian police force and a militarized police state.

4. surveil ordinary citizens
People who believe they are being watched are less likely to voice opposition.  To scare a population into silence, the government need only monitor the activities of a few to make everyone fear that they are being surveilled.  Every closed society keeps a “list” of so-called opponents it tracks.

5. infiltrate citizen’s groups
Spies in activist groups put psychological pressure on genuine activists by undermining their trust in one another. They may also disrupt legal activities, undermining the effectiveness of group efforts.

6. detain and release ordinary citizens
Detention intimidates or psychologically damages those arrested and also lets everyone know that anyone could be labeled an “enemy combatant” and “disappeared.”

7. target key individuals
People are less likely to speak out when those who are highly visible, like journalists, scholars, artists, or celebrities, are intimidated or have the livelihoods threatened.  Targeting those who are especially visible makes it less likely that people will speak out and robs society of leaders and others who might inspire opposition.

8. restrict the press
The public is less likely to find out about government wrongdoing if the government can threaten to prosecute anyone who publishes or broadcasts reports that are critical of the government.

9. recast criticism as espionage and dissent as treason
People who protest can be charged with terrorism or treason when laws criminalize or limit free speech rather than protect it.

10. subvert the rule of law
The disappearance of checks and balances makes it easier to declare martial law, especially if the judiciary branch continues to exercise authority over individuals but has no authority over the Executive branch.

The movie presents these steps with lots of references to fascist and communist totalitarian history, particularly Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. According to the movie we are rapidly moving away from a democratic open society to a closed fascist one. The historical context for these changes in America is strictly the post 9/11 era and Ms. Wolf seems blind to the extent to which our society ceased being very open and veered away from democracy long ago. The seeds of our present situation in which corporatist interests joined at the hip with the American Empire and its military/security apparatus substantially dominate politics and the mass media are to be found long before 9/11.

An interesting aspect of this list, and a significant blind spot for Ms. Wolf and the makers of this movie,  is the extent to which most of these “steps” have been present consistently in American life. John Adams and the Federalist’s Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 speak directly to steps 8 and 9. Cold War America used Steps 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, & 10 throughout this period. The post WWII security state has consistently treated the Constitution and Bill of Rights as rhetorical cannon fodder for propaganda to be ignored or more forthrightly nullified when found inconvenient.   For the most part, Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps really stand out because they have been the subject of enormous intensification and institutionalization since 9/11. The American domestic security state is now united with the war making operations of the DOD to make the reach of American government truly comprehensive globally and domestically.

The government and the mass media, in a self-serving and cynical fashion, blew the 9/11 attacks into a gigantic existential threat. To this day 9/11 is treated as though it were a 21st century Pearl Harbor. In practical terms, 9/11 was a mere pin prick to an elephant. Though this attack wounded our self-perception of invulnerability and offended our sense that we are the saviors of the democratic world, it was just a terrorist attack, an incident to be dealt with proportionally, not by passing draconian Patriot Acts and building a gigantic addition onto the US security apparatus. Not to mention using this as a pretext to launching wars in two countries that have now lasted more than ten years and cost in the $ trillions.

On top of that, the government, in a completely bi-partisan display of unity, seized the opportunity to build whole new empires of security. We have the Department of Homeland Security with a $57 billion budget for fiscal 2012 and more than 200,000 employees (third largest department). 60,000 employees are in the TSA, that wonderful institution of airport silly business.

We now have to remove our shoes to get on an airplane, but do not have control of the hundreds of thousands of shipping containers that come to our ports each year. Better to demonstrate to the American populace the cost of our security by conducting invasive pat downs than to undertake real protection measures that might slow down commerce or even increase the expenses of corporations. I have been having a recurring bad dream of a small container ship floating into one of our harbors with a dirty bomb on it that we seem to have no effective means to prevent or detect.

Viewed from the perspective that Ms. Wolf’s Ten Steps are not new, but simply an intensification of fifty years of the American Empire, I think only the brutish forces of history will undo this mess.

 

  1. from the endofamericamovie.com website – 05/27/2011 []

Yottabytes and the National Security State

The current New York Review of Books has an article by James Bamford, “Who’s in Big Brother’s Database” that reviews the new book by Mathew M. Aid, The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency . I have gotten in line at my local library to read this book and will make further comments after that.

Secret Sentry by Mathew AidMeanwhile, the Bamford article mentions the construction boom at NSA (National Security Agency) with a doubling of its headquarters and million sq. feet of data storage in the Utah desert costing some $2 billion. This to store the data from all of NSA’s spying that by 2015 will be spoken of in terms of yottabytes.

Now, before you think that Bamford is mainlining old Star Wars characters, a yotta- is the largest large number prefix officially recognized in the scientific lexicon. At our house we are approaching 1/2 Terabyte (1012) in our total digital stores, mostly photos. Really large corporate databases are measured in Petabytes (1015). A Yotta is 1024.

Are you feeling safer?

Do you really think that any email sent or telephone conversation you have had since 2002 or 2003 is not logged in the vast secret Security State Apparatus??

I guess that a National Security State (Empire) that has had over 800 military bases throughout the world (see an earlier posting on this topic) to assure our influence elsewhere can not resist the opportunity the state of so-called war we have been in since 2001 to penetrate into every American’s life.