A very illuminating comment over on Reddit.com

User “Three_Letter_Agency” put the current NSA issue in very clear focus today with the following:

We know the NSA and their UK buddy GHCQ can:

  • Collect the domestic meta-data of both parties in a phone-call. Source[1]
  • Set up fake internet cafes to steal data. Source[2]
  • Has intercepted the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders, including allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source[3]
  • Can tap into the underwater fiber-optic cables that carry a majority of the world’s internet traffic. Source[4]
  • Tracks communications within media institutions such as Al Jazeera. Source[5]
  • Has ‘bugged’ the United Nations headquarters. Source[6]
  • Has set up a financial database to track international banking and credit card transactions. Source[7]
  • Collects and stores over 200 million domestic and foreign text messages each day. Source[8]
  • Collects and has real-time access to browsing history, email, and social media activity. To gain access, an analyst simply needs to fill out an on-screen form with a broad justification for the search that is not reviewed by any court or NSA personnel. Source[9]

“I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”. – Edward Snowden

  • Creates maps of the social networks of United States citizens. Source[10]
  • Has access to smartphone app data. Source[11]
  • Uses spies in embassies to collect data, often by setting up ‘listening stations’ on the roofs of buildings.Source[12]
  • Uses fake LinkedIn profiles and other doctored web pages to secretly install surveillance software in unwitting companies and individuals. Source[13]
  • Tracks reservations at upscale hotels. Source[14]
  • Has intercepted the talking-points of world leaders before meetings with Barack Obama. Source[15]
  • Can crack encryption codes on cellphones. Source[16]
  • Has implanted software on over 100,000 computers worldwide allowing them to hack data without internet connection, using radio waves. Source[17]
  • Has access to computers through fake wireless connections. Source[18]
  • Monitors communications in online games such as World of Warcraft. Source[19]
  • Intercepts shipping deliveries and install back-door devices allowing access. Source[20]
  • Has direct access to the data centers of Google, Yahoo and other major companies. Source[21]
  • Covertly and overtly infiltrate United States and foreign IT industries to weaken or gain access to encryption, often by collaborating with software companies and internet service providers themselves. They are also, according to an internal document, “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry.” Source[22]
  • The use of “honey traps”, luring targets into compromising positions using sex. Source[23]
  • The sharing of raw intelligence data with Israel. Only official U.S. communications are affected, and there are no legal limits on the use of the data from Israel. Source[24]
  • Spies on porn habits of activists to discredit them. Source[25]

Possibly the most shocking revelation was made on February 24, 2014. Internal documents show that the security state is attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with “extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” The documents revealed a top-secret unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Unit, or JTRIG. Two of the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in an effort to discredit a target, and to use social sciences such as psychology to manipulate online discourse and activism in order to generate a desirable outcome. The unit posts false information on the internet and falsely attributes it to someone else, pretend to be a ‘victim’ of a target they want to discredit, and posts negative information on various forums. In some instances, to discredit a target, JTRIG sends out ‘false flag’ emails to family and friends.

A revealing slide from the JTRIG presentation.[26]  

Read the whole JTRIG presentation by Greenwald, just do it. Here[27]

Now, consider the words of former NSA employee turned whistleblower Russ Tice:

“Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.

But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.

They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.

So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff. And you know, when I said to [former MSNBC show host Keith] Olbermann, I said, my particular thing is high tech and you know, what’s going on is the other thing, which is the dragnet. The dragnet is what Mark Klein is talking about, the terrestrial dragnet. Well my specialty is outer space. I deal with satellites, and everything that goes in and out of space. I did my spying via space. So that’s how I found out about this… And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on.

Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.” Russ Tice, NSA Whistleblower


The Meaning of Social Science: Ideology, Private Life, and the Internet

[Note: This is a guest essay by Dr Peter Miller, who is a sociologist (PhD, Berkeley), a longtime resident of Japan, a non-participant observer of the American scene, and (since 1991) one of the world’s few practitioners of original photogravure etching, whose semi-abstract Japan-influenced prints are in private and museum collections in Japan, Europe, Russia, and the United States. His websites can be found here & here]

Social-science expertise has been missing from current discussions of government-led spying on private citizens and the proper role of government in general. Ideologies, which is to say gut reactions, have corrupted the public debate; but there is nevertheless a role for sociological analysis of these phenomena.

Social science in its modern form started as a mostly European effort to explain the origins of the horrible totalitarianism that engulfed Europe, and to deduce the structure of institutions that would prevent it from arising again. The Nazi, Soviet, and Fascist systems were all characterized by total State-control of all aspects of life, including the most private aspects of life. Whether the ostensible purpose was re-casting human nature into the ‘new Soviet man’ or an embodiment of the German ‘volk’, they quickly evolved into an apparatus for murdering large numbers of their citizenry. Of course the prospective victims had to be identified before they could be murdered. For this purpose a State apparatus of domestic spying and information-gathering was devised. Primitive by today’s standards, the forced wearing of Jewish stars and the forced confessions by purported enemies of the State were crudely effective in generating large numbers of victims. Social scientists asked ‘How did this happen? What can be done to prevent its recurrence?’

The essential answer to the first question, distilled from reams of scholarship, is: De-legitimization of private life. All the social space traditionally separating individuals from the State was systematically removed. Private enterprise was abolished. All universities and schools in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were taken over by government, run by political appointees, and staffed exclusively by those who would do their bidding. The same for the media, the churches (co-opted in Germany, eliminated in the Soviet Union), youth groups (Hitler Youth, Young Pioneers), and welfare organizations. All intermediary organizations that had previously functioned autonomously were either taken over by government, co-opted, intimidated into conformity, or forced out of existence. The sequence from privacy-deflation to total State control to mass murder progressed in roughly 15 years in the Soviet Union. In Nazi Germany, with more intensive propaganda and ‘education’, this sequence took only five years.

From this historical record, social scientists deduced that properly functioning democracies require lively intermediary organizations — churches, labor unions, 4-H clubs, PTAs, bowling clubs, whatever. Re-reading Tocqueville and Madison, social scientists re-discovered with these sages a high regard for such humble institutions (not that there were bowling clubs in Madison’s day, but you get the idea). The Austrian School (Hayek et al) added private enterprise to this list of freedom-enhancing entities. And from Vienna also came Lazarsfeld who posited ‘cross-pressures’ — conflicting loyalties — as the essential building-blocks of democracy. His big idea was that a healthy democracy needed unpredictability, where a person’s ethnicity, race, religion, education, or social class did not necessarily determine his voting preferences or consumer choices.

Since the 1970s, American and Western European societies have tolerated and even encouraged a progressive tribalization of their societies. Race, ethnicity, and sexual-identity have become increasingly salient in the distribution of government largesse, and consequently in the determination of political and consumer choices. Both public and private universities rely increasingly on government funding, and thus take their orders from the State, in research priorities, curricula, staffing, and extra-curricular activities. With some exceptions and counter-trends, the period since the 1970s has witnessed a progressive weakening of the autonomous mediating organizations that sociologists identified as essential to the working of democracy.

Separately, the growth of the Internet has deflated the private sphere, at first due in large part to the apparently voluntary choices of Internet users themselves. Only a few years ago the fad of the moment was 24/7 live webcams turned on oneself for the world to see. Now security cameras that do the same thing outdoors are all-pervasive. The collective mantra, highly promoted by the giant Internet companies, is ‘If you have nothing to hide, why be concerned?’ This is the tradeoff for ‘serving you better’. Mobile phones with geo-tracking are surely a great improvement in the quality of life, as is the proliferation of answers to life’s unanswered questions, and the blessings of instant communication. In return for all that, what does the loss of privacy matter?

I always doubted the business model of Internet-tracking. It never seemed plausible to me that a teen-ager with zits who happens to be in a drugstore is any more likely to buy zit-off after getting zapped with an ad on his geo-tracked mobile at that moment than if he weren’t zapped. The whole business of click-tracking, Web-tracking, and the like never made commercial sense to me. It was always hype — good for securing VC funding and not much else. But investors in these large-scale personal-data-gathering companies were not stupid. Behind our backs, these companies were getting paid by governments to sell users’ data. Their business model was not based on the supposed commercial utility of precise ad-targeting, but on secret NSA demands for indiscriminate personal data. Governments, under the banner of fighting terror, and shielded from Congressional or public scrutiny, have unlimited taxpayer funds to finance these transactions.

With the Snowden revelations, we now have a better understanding of the extent of Internet and telecom surveillance. Of course, this cannot have been a complete surprise. Nevertheless the near-universal scale of the surveillance, plus the technological capacity to sort and search the data, make for a real game-changer. As one security expert said in a recent interview:

The most shocking aspects of Edward Snowden’s courageous revelations is the scale of surveillance. Every one of us involved in this field, I think it’s fair to say, has not been surprised by what is possible but had assumed perhaps out of hope or fear that they were limited in what they did and were proportionate, and that although we didn’t believe they would just stick to terrorism they would not try to reach for everything.

But every single document, speech and slideshow shows that a bunch of juvenile lunatics have taken over the asylum and are drunk and exuberant on their capabilities to spy on everything all the time and that is what they want to do. They have lost every sort of moral compass and respect for civic values.

The problem is that many European countries, notably Britain but not exclusively Britain, have been complicit in these activities as a result of favours, trade or encouragement. Basically the NSA has, over years with Britain’s assistance, essentially tried to subvert companies and governments into a surveillance empire which is almost a supranational enterprise of their own.

The question is, to what end? As we know in sociology, not everything is what it seems. Just as the indiscriminate sweeping-up of personal data lacked a plausible commercial basis, though it still made business sense if the data were sold to government spy agencies, it is likewise implausible that all that data has much utility in fighting terror. What then is it good for?

I think that question has yet to be answered; that the answer will depend on what use the new owners of that data make of it. The meaning of the massive loss of privacy that has occurred is immanent, it will emerge as further events unfold. As far as I am aware, the central-conspiracy model does not fit the case. What we have is a set of disparate elements that as yet have not coalesced into any coherent order. Among these elements are the increasing tribalization of society, de-legitimizing of autonomous intermediary organizations, and deflation of the private sphere. These are exactly the conditions that gave rise to the totalitarian horrors of the mid-20th century. It does not appear that any current Western leader has it in him to become another Hitler or Stalin. But the elements are there, awaiting a moment — perhaps another terrorist attack or financial crisis — that will call forth a charismatic savior.

Yet one must be especially careful with historical analogies to avoid the ‘generals-fighting-the-last-war’ syndrome. Things are very different now, compared with analogous conditions 80 years ago. The greatly expanded human freedom, communication, and educational prospects empowered by the Internet may overwhelm the efforts of governments to use it as an instrument of State control. This will be a titanic struggle, with the outcome still unclear. And that’s where I’ll leave it for now, pending further sociological inquiry into what-all this may portend.

Не все так просто в сказочной стране

Привет друзья! У меня для вас, пусть и с некоторым запозданием, феерические новости с родины водки, медведей и балалаек. Как известно, в каждой нормальной стране есть Правительство и Оппозиция. Те, кто согласен, и те, кто против. Наша страна ничуть не хуже всех прочих стран мира, так что недовольные текущим политическим режимом есть и в России. Наиболее популярный деятель, как многие наверно знают (его имя довольно известное и часто мелькает в зарубежных газетах как “лидера сопротивления” и “последнего оплота демократического общества без жуликов и воров”) – это Навальный. Лицо и двигатель оппозиции и сопротивления текущему политическому курсу. Так вот, его осудили на пять лет по какой-то статье о воровстве, которое он совершил много лет назад. Фактически, нашему оппозиционному движению отрубили голову. А всадник без головы существует только в сказках! Многие будут утверждать, мол, осудили за дело, так как действительно украл заготовленный лес на большую сумму денег. Но уж больно силен политический аромат у всей этой каши. Безусловно, осудить лидера оппозиции на длительный срок – это выгодно текущему правительству, особенно учитывая, что Навальный помимо своей оппозиционной деятельности баллотировался в мэры Москвы. Параллельно выяснилось, что предвыборная кампания Навального финансируется из каких-то странных источников, не имеющих отношения к России. Дело в том, что в нашей стране есть закон, по которому все те, кто участвуют в выборах на какой-нибудь руководящий государственный пост не должны иметь источников финансирования предвыборной кампании из-за границы. А тут получается, что весь наш чистый, непорочный и “несправедливо осужденный” оппозиционер, пример для подражания, не такой уж и чистый перед законом.

В общем, совершенно все перепуталось. Какая сейчас в нашей стране ситуация по факту:

1. Полумертвая оппозиция во главе с осужденным Навальным

2. Охлаждение отношений с Америкой по причине бегства Сноудена

3. Несколько сомнительных приговоров по резонансным уголовным делам

Таким образом, разброд и шатание в стране. Я не знаю, что из всего этого может произойти. Народ сомневается в правильности решений правительства, сопротивляться уже вроде как нечем. Есть замечательная русская поговорка: “беда никогда не приходит одна”. Вот так и есть все на самом деле.

Around the Web

  1. The Reality of Feel-Good Government. James Bovard on “federal service” programs
  2. Will Wilkinson says “I smoke pot and I like it” (there’s more to the piece than just a confession)
  3. Map of police officers per 100,000 people in Europe
  4. Filming North Korea’s Film Industry
  5. Stephen Walt weighs in on the Snowden affair: What, me worry?
  6. Sex in the Arab World. An interview with Shereen El Feki

Edward Snowden is a Commie

So says Max Boot at Commentary, a neoconservative publication that specializes in lies and slander to further the imperialist cause (there is, if you think about it, no other way to further a cause such as theirs). No, really, read it yourself.

Boot tries to pretend that the NSA was only spying on citizens of foreign states, rather than on Americans, but this is laughable on its face, especially given the recent IRS scandal (where an august body of bureaucrats charged with collecting taxes suddenly finds itself targeting conservative political groups during a close presidential election season).

I’ve read elsewhere that Snowden was inspired by Ron Paul. If this is true, then Ron Paul is even more of a bad ass than I thought. The only people on my campus who do not like Ron Paul are hardline Democrats and hardline Republicans. But just think: very few young people identify with a specific political party. The reasons for this vary, but for the most part young people are much more independent thinkers and have yet to enter the workforce. Once they enter the workforce, of course, they will begin to vote for a party line, but kids in college who already identify with a political party tend to constitute tomorrow’s fascists: they are condescending, gullible and believe that the political system is the best way to change society for the better.

American imperialism is dead. Once the Obama administration begins arming al-Qaeda, and the media begins to really throw Obama under the bus, the idea that US government can magically make the world a better place by bombing, arming and invading other countries will find its rightful place in the dunce’s corner of American politics once again. In the mean time, we need more heroes like Snowden to expose the horrific abuses of liberty that Washington has been pursuing under the guise of wars on terror, drugs and poverty over the last half century.

Snowden and Me

Much unnecessary hoopla about Mr Snowden. Much conspiracy theorizing on conservative radio (but not on Rush Limbaugh).

I think things are pretty much the way they look. He has not worked for the Chinese or anyone. Not much that is very new has been revealed. The new things for some people on this blog is that Mr Obama is just as bad (OK, almost as bad ) as Mr Bush. N. S. !

Mr Snowden is almost certainly not guilty of spying: You have to spy for somebody or for something.

Personally, I think he is probably guilty of violating some contract or other that he signed. That’s worth a year in Club Fed with Bernie (what’s his name again?)

Personally, I did not like the blank surveillance cover and the data mining before. I still don’t. I don’t like big government and I don’t like big government doing big things. What’s so hard to understand?

There is one thing I learned again that  I already knew: College is overrated. Mr Snowden, the high-school dropout was earning $200,00 a year, in Hawaii. Of course, he was working for the Fed. Government.

Update: Booz -Allen says that no, he must be bragging, it was only $120,000. That’s before bonuses, of course.