Friday, September 25, 2009

U.S. Intelligence Budget: $75 Billion, 200,000 Operatives. Fusion Centers Will Have Access to Classified Military Intelligence

Speaking at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club September 15, Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis C. Blair, disclosed that the current annual budget for the 16 agency U.S. "Intelligence Community" (IC) clocks-in at $75 billion and employs some 200,000 operatives world-wide, including private contractors.

In unveiling an unclassified version of the National Intelligence Strategy (NIS), Blair asserts he is seeking to break down "this old distinction between military and nonmilitary intelligence," stating that the "traditional fault line" separating secretive military programs from overall intelligence activities "is no longer relevant."

As if to emphasize the sweeping nature of Blair's remarks, Federal Computer Week reported September 17 that "some non-federal officials with the necessary clearances who work at intelligence fusion centers around the country will soon have limited access to classified terrorism-related information that resides in the Defense Department's classified network." According to the publication:

Under the program, authorized state, local or tribal officials will be able to access pre-approved data on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. However, they won't have the ability to upload data or edit existing content, officials said. They also will not have access to all classified information, only the information that federal officials make available to them.

The non-federal officials will get access via the Homeland Security department's secret-level Homeland Security Data Network. That network is currently deployed at 27 of the more than 70 fusion centers located around the country, according to DHS. Officials from different levels of government share homeland security-related information through the fusion centers. (Ben Bain, "DOD opens some classified information to non-federal officials," Federal Computer Week, September 17, 2009)

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the federal government has encouraged the explosive growth of fusion centers. As envisaged by securocrats, these hybrid institutions have expanded information collection and sharing practices from a wide variety of sources, including commercial databases, among state and local law enforcement agencies, the private sector and federal security agencies, including military intelligence.

But early on, fusion centers like the notorious "red squads" of the 1960s and '70s, morphed into national security shopping malls where officials monitor not only alleged terrorists but also left-wing and environmental activists deemed threats to the existing corporate order.

It is currently unknown how many military intelligence analysts are stationed at fusion centers, what their roles are and whether or not they are engaged in domestic surveillance.

If past practices are an indication of where current moves by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) will lead, in breaking down the "traditional fault line" that prohibits the military from engaging in civilian policing, then another troubling step along the dark road of militarizing American society will have been taken.

U.S. Northern Command: Feeding the Domestic Surveillance Beast

Since its 2002 stand-up, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and associated military intelligence outfits such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the now-defunct Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) have participated in widespread surveillance of antiwar and other activist groups, tapping into Pentagon and commercial databases in a quixotic search for "suspicious patterns."

As they currently exist, fusion centers are largely unaccountable entities that function without proper oversight and have been involved in egregious civil rights violations such as the compilation of national security dossiers that have landed activists on various terrorist watch-lists.

Antifascist Calling reported last year on the strange case of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Gary Maziarz and Col. Larry Richards, Marine reservists stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. Maziarz, Richards, and a group of fellow Marines, including the cofounder of the Los Angeles County Terrorist Early Warning Center (LACTEW), stole secret files from the Strategic Technical Operations Center (STOC).

When they worked at STOC, the private spy ring absconded with hundreds of classified files, including those marked "Top Secret, Special Compartmentalized Information," the highest U.S. Government classification. The files included surveillance dossiers on the Muslim community and antiwar activists in Southern California.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune which broke the story in 2007, before being run to ground Maziarz, Richards and reserve Navy Commander Lauren Martin, a civilian intelligence contractor at USNORTHCOM, acquired information illegally obtained from the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SIPRNet). This is the same classified system which fusion centers will have access to under the DoD's new proposal.

Claiming they were acting out of "patriotic motives," the Marine spies shared this classified counterterrorism information with private contractors in the hope of obtaining future employment. Although they failed to land plush private sector counterterrorism jobs, one cannot rule out that less than scrupulous security firms might be willing to take in the bait in the future in order to have a leg up on the competition.

So far, only lower level conspirators have been charged. According to the Union-Tribune "Marine Cols. Larry Richards and David Litaker, Marine Maj. Mark Lowe and Navy Cmdr. Lauren Martin also have been mentioned in connection with the case, but none has been charged." One codefendant's attorney, Kevin McDermott, told the paper, "This is the classic situation that if you have more rank, the better your chance of not getting charged."

Sound familiar? Call it standard operating procedure in post-constitutional America where high-level officials and senior officers walk away scott-free while grunts bear the burden, and do hard time, for the crimes of their superiors.

Fusion Centers and Military Intelligence: Best Friends Forever!

Another case which is emblematic of the close cooperation among fusion centers and military intelligence is the case of John J. Towery, a Ft. Lewis, Washington civilian contractor who worked for the Army's Fort Lewis Force Protection Unit.

In July, The Olympian and Democracy Now! broke the story of how Towery had infiltrated and spied on the Olympia Port Militarization Resistance (OlyPMR), an antiwar group, and shared this information with police.

Since 2006, the group has staged protests at Washington ports and has sought to block military cargo from being shipped to Iraq. According to The Olympian:

OlyPMR member Brendan Maslauskas Dunn said in an interview Monday that he received a copy of the e-mail from the city of Olympia in response to a public records request asking for any information the city had about "anarchists, anarchy, anarchism, SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), or Industrial Workers of the World." (Jeremy Pawloski, "Fort Lewis investigates claims employee infiltrated Olympia peace group," The Olympian, July 27, 2009)

What Dunn discovered was highly disturbing to say the least. Towery, who posed as an anarchist under the name "John Jacob," had infiltrated OlyPMR and was one of several listserv administrators that had control over the group's electronic communications.

The civilian intelligence agent admitted to Dunn that he had spied on the group but claimed that no one paid him and that he didn't report to the military; a statement that turned out to be false.

Joseph Piek, a Fort Lewis spokesperson confirmed to The Olympian that Towery was a contract employee and that the infiltrator "performs sensitive work within the installation law enforcement community," but "it would not be appropriate for him to discuss his duties with the media."

In September, The Olympian obtained thousands of pages of emails from the City of Olympia in response to that publication's public-records requests. The newspaper revealed that the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WJAC), a fusion center, had copied messages to Towery on the activities of OlyPMR in the run-up to the group's November 2007 port protests. According to the paper,

The WJAC is a clearinghouse of sorts of anti-terrorism information and sensitive intelligence that is gathered and disseminated to law enforcement agencies across the state. The WJAC receives money from the federal government.

The substance of nearly all of the WJAC's e-mails to Olympia police officials had been blacked out in the copies provided to The Olympian. (Jeremy Pawloski, "Army e-mail sent to police and accused spy," The Olympian, September 12, 2009)

Also in July, the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks published a 1525 page file on WJAC's activities.

Housed at the Seattle Field Office of the FBI, one document described WJAC as an agency that "builds on existing intelligence efforts by local, regional, and federal agencies by organizing and disseminating threat information and other intelligence efforts to law enforcement agencies, first responders, and key decision makers throughout the state."

Fusion centers are also lucrative cash cows for enterprising security grifters. Wikileaks investigations editor Julian Assange described the revolving-door that exists among Pentagon spy agencies and the private security firms who reap millions by placing interrogators and analysts inside outfits such as WJAC. Assange wrote,

There has been extensive political debate in the United States on how safe it would be to move Guantánamo's detainees to US soil--but what about their interrogators?

One intelligence officer, Kia Grapham, is hawked by her contracting company to the Washington State Patrol. Grapham's confidential resume boasts of assisting in over 100 interrogations of "high value human intelligence targets" at Guantánamo. She goes on, saying how she is trained and certified to employ Restricted Interrogation Technique: Separation as specified by FM 2-22.3 Appendix M.

Others, like, Neoma Syke, managed to repeatedly flip between the military and contractor intelligence work--without even leaving the building.

The file details the placement of six intelligence contractors inside the Washington Joint Analytical Center (WAJAC) on behalf of the Washington State Patrol at a cost of around $110,000 per year each.

Such intelligence "fusion" centers, which combine the military, the FBI, state police, and others, have been internally promoted by the US Army as means to avoid restrictions preventing the military from spying on the domestic population. (Julian Assange, "The spy who billed me twice," Wikileaks, July 29, 2009)

The Wikileaks documents provide startling details on how firms such as Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), The Sytex Group and Operational Applications Inc. routinely place operatives within military intelligence and civilian fusion centers at a premium price.

Assange wonders whether these job placements are not simply evidence of corruption but rather, are "designed to evade a raft of hard won oversight laws which apply to the military and the police but not to contractors? Is it to keep selected personnel out of the Inspector General's eye?" The available evidence strongly suggests that it is.

As the American Civil Liberties Union documented in their 2007 and 2008 reports on fusion center abuses, one motivation is precisely to subvert oversight laws which do not apply to private mercenary contractors.

The civil liberties' watchdog characterized the rapid expansion of fusion centers as a threat to our constitutional rights and cited specific areas of concern: "their ambiguous lines of authority, the troubling role of private corporations, the participation of the military, the use of data mining and their excessive secrecy."

And speaking of private security contractors outsourced to a gaggle on intelligence agencies, investigative journalist Tim Shorrock revealed in his essential book Spies For Hire, that since 9/11 "the Central Intelligence Agency has been spending 50 to 60 percent of its budget on for-profit contractors, or about $2.5 billion a year, and its number of contract employees now exceeds the agency's full-time workforce of 17,500."

Indeed, Shorrock learned that "no less than 70 percent of the nation's intelligence budget was being spent on contracts." However, the sharp spike in intelligence outsourcing to well-heeled security corporations comes with very little in the way of effective oversight.

The House Intelligence Committee reported in 2007 that the Bush, and now, the Obama administrations have failed to develop a "clear definition of what functions are 'inherently governmental';" meaning in practice, that much in the way of systematic abuses can be concealed behind veils of "proprietary commercial information."

As we have seen when the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in 2004, and The New York Times belatedly blew the whistle on widespread illegal surveillance of the private electronic communications of Americans in 2005, cosy government relationships with security contractors, including those embedded within secretive fusion centers, will continue to serve as a "safe harbor" for concealing and facilitating state crimes against the American people.

After all, $75 billion buys a lot of silence.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Compliance by Design: The Continuing Allure of "Non-Lethal" Weapons

Although so-called non-lethal weapons (NLWs) have been around for decades and range from CS gas to pepper spray and from the low-tech water cannon to the Taser, their use by military and police agencies world-wide are designed to ensure compliance from hostile "natives."

And with ever-more devilish torture tools being dreamed up by the likes of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program (JNLWP), it's a safe bet that migration from the military to civilian law enforcement agencies will continue at its current break-neck pace.

In this context, San Diego's East County Magazine and progressive Liberty One Radio reported, ironically enough on September 11, that the San Diego Sheriff's Department stationed a Long-Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) during recent town hall forums.

Manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATC), the firm's LRAD 500-x is a dual-purpose device: a powerful hailer and a non-lethal weapon capable of producing ear-shattering sounds highly-damaging to their human targets.

ATC's technology has been deployed in Iraq as an "anti-insurgent weapon" and off the coast of Somalia to fight off desperate "pirates," that is, former Somali fishermen whose livelihood has been destroyed by over-fishing by foreign factory fleets and toxic dumping, including nuclear waste, by Western polluters.

No matter, time to break out the sonic blasters!

Developed for the U.S. Navy in the wake of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, cruise ship Captain Michael Groves "successfully repelled pirates off the Somali coast using non-lethal weapons including an LRAD. Groves has since filed suit against Carnival Cruise Line, claiming he suffered permanent hearing loss as a result," East County Magazine reports.

The BBC noted in 2005 that the "shrill sound of an LRAD at its loudest sounds something like a domestic smoke alarm, ATC says, but at 150 decibels, it is the aural equivalent to standing 30m away from a roaring jet engine and can cause major hearing damage if misused."

According to ATC's web site, "LRAD resolves uncertain situations and potentially saves lives on both sides of the device by combining powerful voice commands and deterrent tones with focused acoustic output to clearly transmit highly intelligible instructions and warnings well beyond 500 meters."

While the defense establishment and their civilian counterparts dismiss concerns that acoustic weapons pose a danger to their targets, the Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project noted in 2006:

Juergen Altmann, who is conducting an independent scientific assessment of acoustic weapons, has warned that there is risk of hearing damage to people exposed to the beam at ranges of up to 100m. ... An added difficulty with ensuring no permanent damage is that some people are more susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss than others and hearing damage can occur at levels below the threshold for ear pain. A report from the US Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company gives an idea of the powerful effects of the LRAD: 'During distance tests at 100 meters, the sound was painful to listeners, even with hands held over the ears and ear plugs in'." (Neil Davison, Nick Lewer, Bradford Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project, Research Report No. 8, March 2006, pp. 33-34)

Far from being employed as a means to "reduce casualties," its actual use lends itself to the opposite effect. In Iraq, for example the U.S. Army's 361st Psychological Operations Company noted that "The LRAD has proven useful for clearing streets and rooftops during cordon and search, for disseminating command information, and for drawing out enemy snipers who are subsequently destroyed by our own snipers."

In a civilian setting, one can easily envisage groups of "rioters" being sonically blasted prior to street clearing operations by heavily-armed SWAT teams. Kevin Keenan, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union told East County Magazine:

"It's very concerning. It is fine for the Sheriff's Department to have new less-than-lethal weapons, but for their interactions with individuals these still-dangerous weapons need to be used only as substitutes for firearms. They can't be used as just another tool on the tool belt. As we've seen with tasers and pepper spray, these types of weapons are being used to subdue people even though they pose the risk of serious physical harm."

He added, "Even more concerning is having these weapons for public order policing. I can imagine no situation, or am not aware of any situation that's ever happened in San Diego County or is likely to happen that would justify using these weapons for public order policing to control a crowd. The main effect of having those weapons at public events is to chill people and chill free speech and free association." (Miriam Raftery, "Sonic Weapons Used in Iraq Positioned at Congressional Town Hall Meetings in San Diego County," East County Magazine, September 11, 2009)

I would add however, the purpose of these weapons is precisely to "chill free speech and free association," thus ensuring compliance to the whims of our capitalist masters.

Research into more "effective" low-cost acoustic NLWs are gathering steam. Wired reported September 1 that a "Tennessee lab primarily responsible for building components for nuclear weapons is branching off into the nonlethal weapons business."

Called the Banshee II, the weapon emits a piercing 144-decibel sound that is designed to be more than just annoying. "It also has a frequency-switching system that pumps your ear drums, so it sounds like there's a drum beating there," the inventor tells "You physically feel it in your ear drum." (Sharon Weinberger, "Nuke Lab Builds 'Beating Drum' Sonic Blaster, Wired, September 1, 2009)

While such devices never caught on with the military its inventor, so-called nuke "gadget guru" Fariborz Bzorgi who works at the Y-12 nuclear plant in Tennessee "hopes the Banshee II could have broader applications for law enforcement."

No doubt they will. As Neil Davison, the author of the recently published "Non-Lethal" Weapons points out, military and police moves towards "effects-based" NLWs are consistent with requirements "for weapons with greater range, more precise delivery, and rheostatic effects from 'non-lethal' to 'lethal'."

Davison cites the LRAD and other acoustic devices as "the only new technologies that have emerged" in the last several years and pointedly notes that "all these weapons have emerged from the private sector."

That they have should hardly come as a surprise.

After all as Homeland Security Weekly reported in 2007, "homeland security spending is a massive and highly lucrative new market." With an expected growth rate between "eight and ten percent annually over the next five years" the publication claims that "the addressable U.S. market over the next five years will be in the range of approximately $140 billion, a 21 percent increase over our five-year estimate made in 2004."

As the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed, heimat grifting and massive waste go hand in hand:

• Cities and agencies bought things with grant money that would not make California a safer place. One county tried to use anti-terrorism funds for a lawnmower but it was blocked at the last minute. Another county succeeded in buying a big-screen television.

• Dozens of cities and agencies failed to keep adequate records on how they spent the money. In some cases, the poor record keeping resulted in thousands of dollars worth of overpayments to local agencies. In other cases, agencies were unable to find where they stored their own equipment.

• Communities repeatedly bought large and small-ticket items without seeking competitive bids. Federal procurement rules designed to protect the taxpayer weren't used on millions of dollars in new communications systems, night-vision goggles and bomb-disposal robots. (G.W. Schulz, "Homeland Security Marked by Waste, Lack of Oversight," Center for Investigative Reporting, September 11, 2009)

While schools go unfunded, infrastructure collapses and affordable health care for all is an unattainable pipe dream, police and intelligence agencies are having a field day--at our expense. Call it part of the "counterterrorism stimulus" package that our corporate security masters are hell-bent on shoving down our throats.

However you slice it, there's a lot of boodle to be had by enterprising defense and security grifters. Alongside current multibillion dollar outlays for "biodefense" and counterterrorism initiatives by a multitude of state and federal agencies, the development of ever more dubious "non-lethal" weapons, implements for compliance and control during the capitalist meltdown, will enjoy a steady growth curve long into the future.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Obama Administration Moves to Keep Terror Watch-List Data Strictly Hush-Hush

During his 2008 run for the presidency, Senator Barack Obama promised to reverse the Bush regime's pathological penchant for secrecy and the illegal programs that flourished in darkness like so many poisonous mushrooms.

Administration backpedaling on promises to end the more onerous features of the Bush years betray, not so much Obama's duplicity but rather, the naïve and misplaced hope by his supporters that a centrist Democrat beholden to the corporate pirates and militarists who rule the roost, would actually do things any differently.

In areas of critical importance to civil libertarians, the Democratic regime continues to beef up Bushist programs and heighten government secrecy while limiting public accountability, particularly where the intelligence and security apparatus is concerned.

How else explain Obama's plan, buried within the 2010 budget, to provide the Department of Homeland Security an additional $260 million to hire thousands more state and regional intelligence analysts to staff already bloated and controversial fusion centers?

In this context, The Washington Post reported September 6 that the administration "wants to maintain the secrecy of terrorist watch-list information it routinely shares with federal, state and local agencies, a move that rights groups say would make it difficult for people who have been improperly included on such lists to challenge the government."

According to the ACLU's "Watch List Counter," as of September 8 some 1.27 million names appear on the U.S. government's terror list!

Post reporter Ellen Nakashima writes that "intelligence officials are pressing for legislation that would exempt 'terrorist identity information' from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act."

Meanwhile, the right-wing Washington Times reported September 9 that the anti-secrecy group, OpenThe issued a new report challenging the administration to end the abusive practices of the Bush regime.

Patrice McDermott, the executive director of the group told the Washington Times, "This administration is continuing to use the enlarged executive powers of the Bush-Cheney administration." In all areas where government transparency is essential for restoring democratic processes and the rule of law, the Obama administration has failed to deliver.

In essence the new Executive Branch initiative, spearheaded by the Democratic-controlled House and Senate Intelligence Committees would absolve "law enforcement agencies and intelligence 'fusion centers,' which combine state and federal counterterrorism resources" from even minimal levels of accountability for individuals damaged by an improper listing on the government's national security index.

Claiming that disclosure would risk "alerting terrorism suspects" that they're on the secret state's radar and "may help them evade surveillance," Michael G. Birmingham, a spokesman for the spooky Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), told the Post that the "intelligence community" is seeking "adequate protection from disclosing terrorist identity information" to the public because "no [such] exemption currently exists under FOIA."

Circular logic such as this of course, means in practice that intelligence operatives--both federal and private--are aiming to increase their reach into our lives by exempting their agents, or well-paid private contractors manning a growth-rich "terrorism industry," from minimal standards of disclosure.

"The goal," according to Birmingham, is to "keep sensitive unclassified information from unintended recipients, including terrorism suspects." And if someone has been improperly classified a "terrorism suspect" and prevented from boarding a plane or obtaining employment? Well, tough luck!

And with criteria for watch-listing that is vague at best, the prospects of ever having yourself removed from one is an exercise in Kafkaesque futility. According to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), an individual lands on a watch-list if he or she is "known or appropriately suspected to be or have been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism."

Ponder the phrase "in aid of, or related to terrorism." What does that mean?

As I reported in October, citing a document published by the intelligence web site Cryptome, the FBI's Counterterrorism Analytical Lexicon reveals the following:

US-Radicalized: A "US-radicalized" individual's primary social influence has been the cultural values and beliefs of the United States and whose radicalization and indoctrination began or occurred primarily in the United States.

Ideologue or propagandist: An "ideologue" or "propagandist" establishes, promotes, or disseminates justifications for violent extremism, often through manipulation of primary text materials such as religious texts or historical accounts that establish grievances. He or she may not have strong links to any terrorist organization or be integrated into an organization's command structure. Unless he or she directly advocates specific acts of violence, much of such an individual's activity might be constitutionally protected. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Analytical Lexicon," Washington, D.C., no date, pp. 4-5)

This covers a lot of ground. Would an anarchist, socialist or environmental critic of current U.S. policies, such as the escalation of America's imperialist intervention in Afghanistan or West Virginia mountaintop removal for quick extraction of coal for example, fall into the category of an "ideologue" since his or her "activity might be constitutionally protected"?

And what about the equally suspect term "propagandist"? Would an historian or journalist for example, who cites primary source materials published by the CIA or the oxymoronic National Endowment for Democracy, and then builds a case that the United States attempted the 2002 overthrow of the Chávez government in Venezuela, thereby stand accused of "manipulating historical accounts" and fall under the FBI's spotlight? And what if that person were subsequently watch-listed? What recourse would he or she have at discovering who their accusers were?

If the Executive Branch's legislative proposal passes muster in the House and Senate, they'll probably never know.

An Insatiable Surveillance Beast: Fusion Centers

Feeding the monstrosity known as the Terrorist Screening Center is the National Counterterrorism Center's (NCTC) Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), a vast database of names powering the surveillance state.

"Every evening" according to an NCTC Fact Sheet, "TIDE analysts export a sensitive but unclassified subset of the data containing the terrorist identifiers to the FBI's Terrorist Screening Center" as well as to the Transportation Security Administration for inclusion on TSA's "No Fly" list and the Department of State's visa database of individuals to be denied entry into the U.S.

Information on "domestic terrorists" and "violent extremists" are provided to TSC and TIDE by the FBI, CIA, NSA, U.S. Northern Command and some 70 fusion centers scattered across the country. The Post article specifically states that state and local police agencies and fusion centers would be exempt from reporting "terrorist identity information" currently available under the Freedom of Information Act.

As the American Civil Liberties Union revealed in a series of troubling reports, fusion centers are "state, local and regional institutions [that] were originally created to improve the sharing of anti-terrorism intelligence among different state, local and federal law enforcement agencies."

However, ACLU researchers Michael German and Jay Stanley revealed "the scope of their mission quickly expanded--with the support and encouragement of the federal government--to cover 'all crimes and all hazards.'"

Ominously for privacy and individual rights, "the types of information they seek for analysis has also broadened over time to include not just criminal intelligence, but public and private sector data, and participation in these centers has grown to include not just law enforcement, but other government entities, the military and even select members of the private sector."

German and Stanley identified serious problems with these largely unaccountable intelligence-gathering bureaucracies:

• Ambiguous Lines of Authority. The participation of agencies from multiple jurisdictions in fusion centers allows the authorities to manipulate differences in federal, state and local laws to maximize information collection while evading accountability and oversight through the practice of "policy shopping."

• Private Sector Participation. Fusion centers are incorporating private-sector corporations into the intelligence process, breaking down the arm's length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies, and increasing the risk of a data breach.

• Military Participation. Fusion centers are involving military personnel in law enforcement activities in troubling ways.

• Data Fusion = Data Mining. Federal fusion center guidelines encourage wholesale data collection and manipulation processes that threaten privacy.

• Excessive Secrecy. Fusion centers are hobbled by excessive secrecy, which limits public oversight, impairs their ability to acquire essential information and impedes their ability to fulfill their stated mission, bringing their ultimate value into doubt. (Michael German and Jay Stanley, What's Wrong With Fusion Centers?, American Civil Liberties Union, December 2007)

In their 2008 follow-up report, German and Stanley wrote that "it is becoming increasingly clear that fusion centers are part of a new domestic intelligence apparatus." They revealed that "elements of this nascent domestic surveillance system" include:

• Watching and recording the everyday activities of an ever-growing list of individuals
• Channeling the flow of the resulting reports into a centralized security agency
• Sifting through ("data mining") these reports and databases with computers to identify individuals for closer scrutiny

Such a system, if allowed to permeate our society, would be nothing less than the creation of a total surveillance society. (Michael German and Jay Stanley, Fusion Center Update, American Civil Liberties Union, July 2008)

Driving home the point that pervasive surveillance has real-world consequences, not least of all in terms of limiting public accountability, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) disclosed during their investigation into police state tactics during last year's Democratic and Republican National Conventions in Denver and St. Paul, that local authorities, federal agencies and private corporations, sought to suppress information on their activities.

Investigative journalist G.W. Schulz revealed that Denver officials "refused a public-records request sent by CIR." The close proximity of USNORTHCOM's headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in nearby Colorado Springs, and their alleged participation in illegal intelligence gathering, may be one reason why Denver officials were less than forthcoming. In an echo of the current debate in Washington, Schulz reported:

The Colorado Information Analysis Center is run by the state's Department of Public Safety. In a response letter, Spokesman Lance Clem said that releasing the records would be contrary to the public interest and "not only would compromise [the] security and investigative practices of numerous law enforcement agencies but would also violate confidentiality agreements that have been made with private partner organizations and federal, state and local law enforcement agencies." (G.W. Schulz, "Are Things Any Different in Denver?," Center for Investigative Reporting, September 1, 2009)

With a long-standing and well-documented history of illegal spying and infiltration of antiwar and other dissident groups by Denver police, it is clear that law enforcement repressors have much to hide.

CIR also revealed that Minnesota's Joint Analysis Center (MJAC) and that state's "ICEFISHX communications network, which collects reports about suspicious activity," closely coordinated activist surveillance with both the FBI and "authorities in the neighboring states of North Dakota and South Dakota." An additional layer of unaccountability and secrecy was added to the mix when CIR disclosed that corporate spies also contribute information to fusion centers.

Private corporations even contribute "intelligence" to ICEFISHX. Douglas Reynolds, security director for the Mall of America, the largest retail complex in the United States based in Bloomington, described his office to Congress in July of 2008 as the "number one source of actionable intelligence in the state," having handed more information regarding suspicious activities to the fusion center than anyone else. Several attempts to reach Reynolds for elaboration failed. (G.W. Schulz, "Fighting Crime with Computers in Minnesota," Center for Investigative Reporting, September 1, 2009)

The nexus among state spies and capitalist grifters point to an ongoing process whereby public, democratic institutions are systematically hollowed-out in favor of a perverse subversion of the public's right to know into yet another proprietary commercial secret.

Encompassing all relationships in a social order mediated by a zero sum game where profit is king and the devil take the hindmost, the only meaningful exchange recognized by the system is the sterile transfer of cash from one palm to another.

Is it any wonder then that the Obama administration, like their Bushist predecessors seek to conceal these illegal surveillance programs from the American people by exempting their most egregious features, the neo-McCarthyite watch-list, from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Capitalizing Security: "Non-Lethal" Weapons and the Market

When the U.S. military planned to deploy Raytheon's Active Denial System (ADS) in Iraq, it set off a political firestorm. How couldn't it?

Known for its "goodbye effect," the so-called "pain ray" is a "non-lethal" directed energy weapon that repels "rioters" and other disreputable citizens by heating the outer surface of the skin to 130 degrees F. in short, directed bursts. With a range of some 550 yards, the microwave beam can penetrate clothing and its effects have been described by test subjects as nothing less than "excruciating."

The prospect that American "liberators" would soon be zapping "unruly mobs," that is, Iraqi citizens objecting to the destruction of their country and the looting of their resource-rich nation by Western (corporate) invaders proved to be a public relations nightmare for the Pentagon.

The Defense Science Board concluded that an ADS deployment was "not politically tenable," because of a "possible association with torture" if the system were used at detention centers to ensure "compliance" from recalcitrant prisoners.

Last year I reported (see: '"Non-Lethal' Weapons: Where Science and Technology Service Repression," July 8, 2008), that the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) claimed that ADS "is helping to fill the gap between the 'shout' and 'shoot' alternatives faced by our troops." But standing up ADS in the Iraqi "theatre" was not to be.

However, as readers of Antifascist Calling are well-aware, being an imperialist empire means never to have to say you're sorry. Time for Plan B!

Coming Soon to the Heimat

According to a blurb on Raytheon's web site, the commercial version of ADS known as Silent Guardian "is a revolutionary less-than-lethal directed energy application that employs millimeter wave technology to repel individuals or crowds without causing injury."

Touted as providing a "zone of protection that saves lives, protects assets and minimizes collateral damage" the system is marketed as the ideal tool to "establish intent and de-escalate aggression." Commercial and military application envisaged for the system "include law enforcement, checkpoint security, facility protection, force protection and peacekeeping missions." Some "peace," eh?!

Capitalizing on the profit-rich "homeland security" market, Wired reported that Raytheon has announced an "impending direct commercial sale" of a miniature version of ADS to law enforcement agencies.

This is Active Denial in a box, a 10,000-pound containerized system that can be mounted on a ship, a truck, or a fixed installation. It's got an effective range of about 250 meters. The beam has a power of around 30 kilowatts. (David Hambling, "'Pain Ray' First Commercial Sale Looms," Wired, August 5, 2009)

While Hambling may believe it "paradoxical" that "the controversial 'pain beam' may be more acceptable in the civilian market than in the military," I'd beg to differ.

Given the empire's utter contempt for its citizens (witness the despicable "debate" by various grifting congressional factions over what is ludicrously described as health care "reform"--a cynical display of bellying up to the corporatist bar if ever there were one!), why would any sane person not believe that heimat securocrats wouldn't zap union malcontents during a strike, environmental activists protesting outside a polluting company's headquarters or an unruly crowd of pensioners demanding their looted savings back from any number of dodgy banks grown fat on TARP funds?

"Tough luck, suckers! Have a 'taste' of Silent Guardian!"

No. 5 on Washington Technology's 2009 "Top 100 List," of Prime Federal Contractors, Raytheon carries a lot of clout with Congress and the Pentagon. With some $5,942,575,316 in revenue from its defense portfolio, the Waltham, Mass. firm's major customers include the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

Not that being a behemoth isn't without its pitfalls. According to the Project on Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, Raytheon clocks in at No. 5 as a company with a history of "misconduct such as contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations."

With some some 17 instances of what POGO characterizes as serious breeches ranging from overcharges, contractor kickbacks, False Claims Act Violations, to violations of SEC Rules, groundwater contamination and racial discrimination, Raytheon has been tagged for some $475.8 million in what the government watchdog group calls it's "total misconduct dollar amount."

Not that any of this matters in Washington. According to the Center for Responsive Politic's database, Raytheon's Political Action Committee bestowed some $2.4 million in campaign contributions on the best politicians money can buy, with some 55% of the total going to grifting Democrats. A perusal of the recipients of Raytheon largess during the last election cycle provides insight into how the well-greased wheels really spin.

"Liberal" or "conservative," "dove" or "hawk" it doesn't matter, just keep those contracts flowing! And when it comes to "homeland security" no expense will be spared!

According to Wired, while the firm believes that Silent Guardian "might have all sorts of applications in law enforcement, prisons and protecting installations," the firm told the publication that although the system "has attracted widespread interest ... it would be premature for us to discuss any sales until contracts are signed."

Although Raytheon isn't saying what the price tag for Silent Guardian will cost cash-strapped municipalities staggering under the hammer blows of the current capitalist economic meltdown, most analysts believe the system will cost several million dollars to purchase and maintain.

Not everyone is thrilled however, by the prospect of local SWAT teams zapping citizens with a microwave weapon. Neil Davison, a researcher at the University of Bradford's Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project in the UK, told Wired "as the costs and size drop, expect police forces to become more and more interested. This is where function creep will become a problem. With current controversies over the misuse of the Taser, the spread of new military weapons technologies to the civilian realm does not seem like a very sensible way to go."

But "go" it must and most assuredly will.

As I reported in June (see: "Look! Up in the Sky! It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's a Raytheon Spy Blimp!"), the spread of military technology into the homeland security market isn't limited to non-lethal weapons.

The deployment of Raytheon's Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment spy blimp known as RAID, is kitted-out with "electro-optic infrared, radar, flash and acoustic detectors."

Perfect for spying on antiwar demonstrators from a safe perch in the clouds, the firm's use of blimps "carrying high-tech sensors to detect threats" will "enable appropriate countermeasures" from law enforcement, according to a company press release. Some 300 RAID airships have already been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More "Venom" from Our Capitalist Masters

Should Raytheon's "pain beam" not do the trick, Combined Systems Inc. (CSI), a subsidiary of The Carlyle Group, may have just the right product for enterprising homeland security bureaucrats and their corporate partners.

The firm, acquired by Carlyle in 2005, is described in a blurb on Carlyle's web site as a manufacturer of "branded less-lethal munitions, anti-riot products and other related products that serve the military and law enforcement markets in the United States and abroad."

Wired reported in late August that "the Marine Corps has issued an urgent request for a powerful non-lethal weapon that can fire volleys of 40mm grenades. And in parallel, the service is launching a push for a more futuristic version of the same weapon."

One might also add, such a monstrous "non-lethal" system will inevitably have homeland security applications after a bit of tweaking is done to create a scaleable version useful to those who "protect and serve."

Dubbed the Venom Non-Lethal Tube Munition System (NL/TMS) by CSI, according to the firm Venom "is a modular launching system accepting three cassettes, each loaded with ten cartridges (V-30) or the scaled-down, lightweight and portable version accepting one cassette (V-10). Both versions can be integrated into a variety of fire control systems. Each cartridge is assigned an IP address allowing individual cartridge or desired sequence firing from a fire control panel, communicating via cable or wireless device."

Unsurprisingly, an assigned IP address can mean only one thing: that Venom is RFID-chipped for inventory control and, as part of the "internet of things" described by researchers Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre in their essential book Spychips every commodity--from breakfast cereal to weapons--have their own web page. Convenient, isn't it! According to Wired,

Venom is essentially a modern version of the old multi-barreled cannon used to fight off boarders in naval actions, but in non-lethal form. It's designed for firing at crowds, and many of the munition options contain sub-projectiles to enhance the "shotgun" effect. These include a load of 24 .60 cal hard rubber stingballs, 160 smaller stingballs, foam batons, and "multi flash bang" projectiles. Venom can also fire CS gas projectiles, but these are strictly off-limits for military operations (unless you happen to work for Blackwater). It can also be used for smoke and marker rounds. (David Hambling, "Marines Seek Crowd-Blasting 'Venom' Launcher," Wired, August 24, 2009)

Which just goes to show as I've pointed out many times, "what happens in Vegas" certainly doesn't stay there! This bitter truth is all the more compelling when you consider the tens of billions of dollars at stake as the military market literally bleeds over into the homeland security bazaar; a marketing guru's wet dream that possesses unlimited horizons.

But let's understand one inescapable fact about life in the United States, a veritable open air asylum fronting as a democratic republic: we're so much disposable chaff to be tossed aside by our masters, marginalized when the need arises or violently repressed when all other means have failed.