Saturday, October 31, 2009

The British State Bares its Fangs (Again). Police Rebrand Protesters "Domestic Extremists"

In "Mind Your Tweets: CIA and European Union Building Social Networking Surveillance System," Antifascist Calling explored the trend by security agencies in Europe and the United States to build political dossiers on dissidents by data mining their electronic communications.

Taking a page from America's political police force, the FBI, the British state is beefing-up an ever-growing watch list of "domestic extremists."

As we know, that trend has taken on a Kafkaesque life of its own here in the heimat. Secrecy News reports that during a Q&A last year with the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller told the panel that each day between March 2008 and March 2009, "there were an average of more than 1,600 nominations for inclusion on the [Terrorist] watch list."

With this in mind, The Guardian published a series of extraordinary reports that revealed the mass monitoring of legal political activities by British citizens by the secret state.

Investigative journalists Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Matthew Taylor provided chilling details how police and corporate spies "are gathering the personal details of thousands of activists who attend political meetings and protests, and storing their data on a network of nationwide intelligence databases."

Are these activists part of a shadowy network of al-Qaeda "sleeper cells" or environmental saboteurs intent on bringing Britain to its knees by targeting critical infrastructure?

Hardly! According to The Guardian, a "hidden apparatus has been constructed to monitor 'domestic extremists'," one that stores this information "on a number of overlapping IT systems, even if they have not committed a crime."

Three national police units responsible for combating domestic extremism are run by the 'terrorism and allied matters' committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo). In total, it receives £9m in public funding, from police forces and the Home Office, and employs a staff of 100. (Paul Lewis, Rob Evans and Matthew Taylor, "Police in £9m scheme to log 'domestic extremists'," The Guardian, October 25, 2009)

That's a lot of boodle to spy on antiwar activists, environmentalists, arms' trade opponents and the state's usual suspects--anarchists, socialists and labor militants.

As the journalists point out, the phrase "domestic extremism" is not a lawful term. In fact, the widespread use of the term is a demonstration of how powerful constituencies have perverted law, thus creating their own all-embracing interpretation of the role of protest in a democratic society.

Indeed, senior officers "describe domestic extremists as individuals or groups 'that carry out criminal acts of direct action in furtherance of a campaign. These people and activities usually seek to prevent something from happening or to change legislation or domestic policy, but attempt to do so outside of the normal democratic process'."

Needless to say, that covers a lot of ground and under these fast and loose standards, it is clear that police intelligence agencies and their political masters are seeking to criminalize long-established forms of citizen action such as demonstrations, sit-ins, public meetings and strikes.

Among the newspaper's revelations we discover that the National Public Order Intelligence Unit (NPOIU), housed at a secret London office, is a giant database of "protest groups and protesters in the country."

NPIOU's brief is "to gather, assess, analyse and disseminate intelligence and information relating to criminal activities in the United Kingdom where there is a threat of crime or to public order which arises from domestic extremism or protest activity".

Chock-a-block with information gathered by Special Branch officers, corporate spies and paid infiltrators attached to the Confidential Intelligence Unit, ACPO's national coordinator Anton Setchell told the publication that intelligence collected in England and Wales is shunted to NPIOU which "can read across" all the forces' intelligence and regurgitate what are called "coherent" assessments.

Additionally, Lewis, Evans and Taylor reported:

• Vehicles associated with protesters are being tracked via a nationwide system of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras.

• Police surveillance units known as Forward Intelligence Teams (FIT) and Evidence Gatherers, record footage and take photographs of campaigners as they enter and leave openly advertised public meetings. These images are entered on force-wide databases so that police can chronicle the campaigners' political activities. The information is added to the central NPOIU.

• Surveillance officers are provided with "spotter cards" used to identify the faces of target individuals who police believe are at risk of becoming involved in domestic extremism. Targets include high-profile activists regularly seen taking part in protests. One spotter card, produced by the Met to monitor campaigners against an arms fair, includes a mugshot of the comedian Mark Thomas.

• NPOIU works in tandem with two other little-known Acpo branches, the National Extremism Tactical Coordination Unit (Netcu), which advises thousands of companies on how to manage political campaigns, and the National Domestic Extremism Team, which pools intelligence gathered by investigations into protesters across the country. (The Guardian, op. cit.)

Why would British police target law-abiding citizens exercising their right to protest the depredations of the capitalist order?

Because they can! With a logic that only a policeman's mother could love, Setchell told The Guardian: "Just because you have no criminal record does not mean that you are not of interest to the police. Everyone who has got a criminal record did not have one once."

And there you have it: Precrime washes up on Blighty's fabled shores!

Merchants of Death and the Secret State: Best Friends Forever!

As if to underscore the point that the business of government in the UK, in the United States, indeed everywhere, is business, the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (NETCU) "helps police forces, companies, universities and other bodies that are on the receiving end of protest campaigns."

Created by the Home Office in 2004, NETCU's Superintendent Steve Pearl told The Guardian New Labour was "getting really pressurised by big business--pharmaceuticals in particular, and the banks--that they were not able to go about their lawful business because of the extreme criminal behaviour of some people within the animal rights movement."

But as with all things relating to "security," once our minders get a taste of what can be gleaned by deploying new technologies, mission creep inevitably follows. Seamlessly traversing the narrow terrain between "animal rights' extremism" and environmental campaigners, Pearl told the newspaper that the Green movement has now been brought "more on their radar."

But greens and antiwar activists aren't the only ones making an appearance in the "domestic extremist" database. What with enterprising capitalist grifters, pardon, defense corporations, making a killing on a planet-wide scale, it should come as no surprise that the scandal-tainted arms manufacturer, BAE, would be keen to get a handle on who might object to their grisly trade.

Indeed, one of the "domestic extremists" listed on the police spotter card as "target X" was in fact "an alleged infiltrator from the arms company BAE."

According to The Guardian Martin Hogbin "was national co-ordinator for the Campaign against the Arms Trade. He was later accused of supplying information to a company linked to BAE's security department, but denied the allegation."

With billions of pounds at stake, Europe's largest arms manufacturer continues to be caught-up in a decades' long bribery scandal that spans continents.

And New Labour under Bush's poodle, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and current PM Gordon Brown, have done everything in their power to suppress BAE's prosecution by Britain's Serious Fraud Office. As the World Socialist Web Site reported earlier this month:

Labour has operated a revolving door between powerful companies, financial consultants and Whitehall, under the guise of bringing entrepreneurial expertise into the civil service, giving the major companies enormous lobbying power. Following pressure from BAE, Rolls Royce and Airbus, the government put a stop to the Export Credit Guarantee Department's attempts to introduce stronger anti-bribery measures. It took a judicial review to get them reinstated.

The late Robin Cook, a former foreign secretary, famously wrote in his memoirs, "I came to learn that the chairman of BAE appeared to have the key to the garden door to No 10. Certainly I never knew No 10 to come up with any decision that would be incommoding to BAE." (Jean Shaoul, "Britain: BAE Systems faces prosecution for bribery," World Socialist Web Site, October 5, 2009)

That "revolving door" between the secret state, arms manufacturers and the police campaign against protest is spinning ever faster.

When campaigners from the Smash EDO activist group sought to shut down an arms factory near their home, they were in for a shock.

EDO, an American arms' firm gobbled-up by defense and communications giant ITT Corp. in 2007, reportedly for $1.8 billion according to Washington Technology, pledged to "unite EDO's business with its own sensing and surveillance capabilities."

ITT Corp. ranked No. 11 on the publication's 2009 "Top 100" list of prime federal contractors with some $2.5 billion in total revenue.

ITT is a piece of work itself. According to Anthony Sampson's book The Sovereign State of ITT, one of the first American businessmen to pay homage to Adolf Hitler after the Nazis' 1933 seizure of power was none other than Sosthenses Behn, ITT's powerful CEO.

During the 1970s, the firm funded the far-right newspaper El Mercurio, the CIA's propaganda arm that was instrumental in the overthrow of Chile's democratically-elected socialist president, Salvador Allende. Documents published by The National Security Archive, revealed the close collaboration between ITT and the CIA "to rollback the election of socialist leader Salvador Allende."

But that's all in the past, right? Think again!

Smash EDO avers that "EDO's military products include bomb racks, release clips and arming mechanisms for warplanes. They have contracts with the UK Ministry of 'Defence' and US arms giant Raytheon relating to the release mechanisms of the Paveway bomb system." Needless to say, the firm's "products" have been used in facilitating imperialist massacres of civilian populations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

One can see why EDO and parent ITT would be keen on gagging protesters who object to war crimes.

The Guardian reports that the firm, with the assistance of "Timothy Lawson-Cruttenden (nicknamed TLC by activists) has been accused of gagging protesters' right to demonstrate. The former Household Cavalry officer's favourite legal weapon is the 1997 Protection from Harassment Act. Numerous companies have hired Lawson-Cruttenden and other City lawyers to injunct protesters under the act, a law originally introduced to protect vulnerable women from stalkers."

Under British law, protesters who defy draconian high court injunctions can be jailed for up to five years if they break the terms of the court orders.

Lawson-Cruttenden, who claims to have influenced the drafting of the law, obtained an injunction against Smash EDO in 2005 after the attorney worked with Sussex police to frame a statement that would be beneficial to his client, EDO, which claimed the demonstrators had been "intimidating and harassing" company employees.

But as documents obtained by The Guardian show, Lawson-Cruttenden "developed extensive links with many of the police forces across England and Wales to assist with the policing of injunctions".

Although a high court judge criticized the attorney for obtaining confidential police material, after being hired by EDO he "continued to acquire secret police papers even though the high court judge in the case had ruled that he was not entitled to them, as they were irrelevant."

Undeterred however, Lawson-Cruttenden obtained assistance from "the National Extremism Tactical Co-ordination Unit (Netcu) which targets 'domestic extremists'. The head of Netcu, Superintendent Stephen Pearl, has testified for a number of firms which have obtained injunctions."

The Guardian revealed that private emails "show that Inspector Nic Clay and Jim Sheldrake of Netcu gave Lawson-Cruttenden the names and contact details of officers at two other police forces as he was 'keen' to obtain statements about the activities of the campaigners at a third firm."

Pearl denied that NETCU had provided assistance to EDO and told the newspaper: "Let me make this quite clear: Netcu, or me, were not involved in the EDO injunction in any way."

When his mendacious statement was exposed by a close reading of the documents, in an obvious climb-down a NETCU spokesperson claimed there had been a "misunderstanding" and that the unit "had not given evidence for the injunction." Translation: police had "only" leaked the information to a high-priced corporate attorney who did the dirty work.

The firm lost, the injunction was lifted and the company was forced to pay court costs for the Smash EDO protesters.

Despite this minor victory the secret state, fully in cahoots with giant multinational corporations responsible for the current capitalist economic meltdown, endless imperialist wars of conquest and accelerating environmental destruction will continue to index and target citizens who object to capitalism's systemic criminality.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mind Your Tweets: CIA and European Union Building Social Networking Surveillance System

That social networking sites and applications such as Facebook, Twitter and their competitors can facilitate communication and information sharing amongst diverse groups and individuals is by now a cliché.

It should come as no surprise then, that the secret state and the capitalist grifters whom they serve, have zeroed-in on the explosive growth of these technologies. One can be certain however, securocrats aren't tweeting their restaurant preferences or finalizing plans for after work drinks.

No, researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are busy as proverbial bees building a "total information" surveillance system, one that will, so they hope, provide police and security agencies with what they euphemistically call "actionable intelligence."

Build the Perfect Panopticon, Win Fabulous Prizes!

In this context, the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks published a remarkable document October 4 by the INDECT Consortium, the Intelligence Information System Supporting Observation, Searching and Detection for Security of Citizens in Urban Environment.

Hardly a catchy acronym, but simply put INDECT is working to put a human face on the billions of emails, text messages, tweets and blog posts that transit cyberspace every day; perhaps your face.

According to Wikileaks, INDECT's "Work package 4" is designed "to comb web blogs, chat sites, news reports, and social-networking sites in order to build up automatic dossiers on individuals, organizations and their relationships." Ponder that phrase again: "automatic dossiers."

This isn't the first time that European academics have applied their "knowledge skill sets" to keep the public "safe"--from a meaningful exercise of free speech and the right to assemble, that is.

Last year The Guardian reported that Bath University researchers' Cityware project covertly tracked "tens of thousands of Britons" through the installation of Bluetooth scanners that capture "radio signals transmitted from devices such as mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras, and using the data to follow unwitting targets without their permission."

One privacy advocate, Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, told The Guardian: "This technology could well become the CCTV of the mobile industry. It would not take much adjustment to make this system a ubiquitous surveillance infrastructure over which we have no control."

Which of course, is precisely the point.

As researchers scramble for a windfall of cash from governments eager to fund these dubious projects, European police and security agencies aren't far behind their FBI and NSA colleagues in the spy game.

The online privacy advocates, Quintessenz, published a series of leaked documents in 2008 that described the network monitoring and data mining suites designed by Nokia Siemens, Ericsson and Verint.

The Nokia Siemens Intelligence Platform dubbed "intelligence in a box," integrate tasks generally done by separate security teams and pools the data from sources such as telephone or mobile calls, email and internet activity, bank transactions, insurance records and the like. Call it data mining on steroids.

Ironically enough however, Siemens, the giant German electronics firm was caught up in a global bribery scandal that cost the company some $1.6 billion in fines. Last year, The New York Times described "a web of secret bank accounts and shadowy consultants," and a culture of "entrenched corruption ... at a sprawling, sophisticated corporation that externally embraced the nostrums of a transparent global marketplace built on legitimate transactions."

According to the Times, "at Siemens, bribery was just a line item." Which just goes to show, powering the secret state means never having to say you're sorry!

Social Network Spying, a Growth Industry Fueled by Capitalist Grifters

The trend by security agencies and their corporate partners to spy on their citizens has accelerated greatly in the West since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This multi-billion industry in general, has been a boon for the largest American and European defense corporations. Among the top ten companies listed by Washington Technology in their annual ranking of the "Top 100" prime government contractors, all ten--from Lockheed Martin to Booz Allen Hamilton--earned a combined total of $68 billion in 2008 from defense and related homeland security work for the secret state.

And like Siemens, all ten corporations figure prominently on the Project on Government Oversight's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database (FCMD), which tracks "contract fraud, environmental, ethics, and labor violations." Talk about a rigged game!

Designing everything from nuclear missile components to eavesdropping equipment for various government agencies in the United States and abroad, including some of the most repressive regimes on the planet, these firms have moved into manufacturing the hardware and related computer software for social networking surveillance in a big way.

Wired revealed in April that the FBI is routinely monitoring cell phone calls and internet activity during criminal and counterterrorism investigations. The publication posted a series of internal documents that described the Wi-Fi and computer hacking capabilities of the Bureau's Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit (CEAU).

New Scientist reported back in 2006 that the National Security Agency "is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks."

And just this week in an exclusive report published by the British high-tech publication, The Register, it was revealed that "the government has outsourced parts of its biggest ever mass surveillance project to the disaster-prone IT services giant formerly known as EDS."

That work is being conducted under the auspices of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the British state's equivalent of America's National Security Agency.

Investigative journalist Chris Williams disclosed that the American computer giant HP, which purchased EDS for some $13.9 billion last year, is "designing and installing the massive computing resources that will be needed to analyse details of who contacts whom, when where and how."

Work at GCHQ in Cheltenham is being carried out under "a secret project called Mastering the Internet." In May, a Home Office document surfaced that "ostensibly sought views on whether ISPs should be forced to gather terabytes of data from their networks on the government's behalf."

The Register reported earlier this year that telecommunications behemoth Detica and U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin were providing GCHQ with data mining software "which searches bulk data, such as communications records, for patterns ... to identify suspects." (For further details see: Antifascist Calling, "Spying in the UK: GCHQ Awards Lockheed Martin £200m Contract, Promises to 'Master the Internet'," May 7, 2009)

It seems however, that INDECT researchers like their GCHQ/NSA kissin' cousins in Britain and the United States, are burrowing ever-deeper into the nuts-and-bolts of electronic social networking and may be on the verge of an Orwellian surveillance "breakthrough."

As New Scientist sagely predicted, the secret state most certainly plans to "harness advances in internet technology--specifically the forthcoming 'semantic web' championed by the web standards organisation W3C--to combine data from social networking websites with details such as banking, retail and property records, allowing the NSA to build extensive, all-embracing personal profiles of individuals."

Profiling Internet Dissent

Pretty alarming, but the devil as they say is in the details and INDECT's release of their "Work package 4" file makes for a very interesting read. And with a title, "XML Data Corpus: Report on methodology for collection, cleaning and unified representation of large textual data from various sources: news reports, weblogs, chat," rest assured one must plow through much in the way of geeky gibberish and tech-speak to get to the heartless heart of the matter.

INDECT itself is a rather interesting amalgamation of spooks, cops and academics.

According to their web site, INDECT partners include: the University of Science and Technology, AGH, Poland; Gdansk University of Technology; InnoTech DATA GmbH & Co., Germany; IP Grenoble (Ensimag), France; MSWiA, the General Headquarters of Police, attached to the Ministry of the Interior, Poland; Moviquity, Spain; Products and Systems of Information Technology, PSI, Germany; the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, United Kingdom (hardly slouches when it comes to stitching-up Republicans and other leftist agitators!); Poznan University of Technology; Universidad Carlos III de Madrid; Technical University of Sofia, Bulgaria; University of Wuppertal, Germany; University of York, Great Britain; Technical University of Ostrava, Czech Republic; Technical University of Kosice, Slovakia; X-Art Pro Division G.m.b.H, Austria; and finally, the Fachhochschule Technikum, also in Austria.

I don't know about you, but I find it rather ironic that the European Union, ostensible guardians of democracy and human rights, have turned for assistance in their surveillance projects to police and spy outfits from the former Soviet bloc, who after all know a thing or two when it comes to monitoring their citizens.

Right up front, York University's Suresh Manadhar, Ionnis Klapaftis and Shailesh Pandey, the principle authors of the INDECT report, make their intentions clear.

Since "security" as the authors argue, "is becoming a weak point of energy and communications infrastructures, commercial stores, conference centers, airports and sites with high person traffic in general," they aver that "access control and rapid response to potential dangers are properties that every security system for such environments should have."

Does INDECT propose building a just and prosperous global society, thus lessening the potential that terrorist killers or other miscreants will exploit a "target rich environment" that may prove deadly for innocent workers who, after all, were the principle victims of the 2004 and 2007 terrorist outrages in Madrid and London? Hardly.

As with their colleagues across the pond, INDECT is hunting for the ever-elusive technological quick-fix, a high-tech magic bullet. One, I might add, that will deliver neither safety nor security but rather, will constrict the democratic space where social justice movements flourish while furthering the reach of unaccountable security agencies.

The document "describes the first deliverable of the work package which gives an overview about the main methodology and description of the XML data corpus schema and describes the methodology for collection, cleaning and unified representation of large textual data from various sources: news reports, weblogs, chat, etc."

The first order of business "is the study and critical review of the annotation schemes employed so far for the development and evaluation of methods for entity resolution, co-reference resolution and entity attributes identification."

In other words, how do present technologic capabilities provide police, security agencies and capitalist grifters with the ability to identify who might be speaking to whom and for what purpose. INDECT proposes to introduce "a new annotation scheme that builds upon the strengths of the current-state-of-the-art," one that "should be extensible and modifiable to the requirements of the project."

Asserting that "an XML data corpus [can be] extracted from forums and social networks related to specific threats (e.g. hooliganism, terrorism, vandalism, etc.)," the authors claim they will provide "different entity types according to the requirements of the project. The grouping of all references to an entity together. The relationships between different entities" and finally, "the events in which entities participate."

Why stop there? Why not list the ubiquitous "other" areas of concern to INDECT's secret state partners? While "hooliganism, terrorism, vandalism, etc.," may be the ostensible purpose of their "entity attributes identification" project, surely INDECT is well aware that such schemes are just as easily applicable to local citizen groups, socialist and anarchist organizations, or to the innumerable environmental, human rights or consumer campaigners who challenge the dominant free market paradigm of their corporate sponsors.

The authors however, couldn't be bothered by the sinister applications that may be spawned by their research; indeed, they seem quite proud of it.

"The main achievements of this work" they aver, "allows the identification of several types of entities, groups the same references into one class, while at the same time allows the identification of relationships and events."

Indeed, the "inclusion of a multi-layered ontology ensures the consistency of the annotation" and will facilitate in the (near) future, "the use of inference mechanisms such as transitivity to allow the development of search engines that go beyond simple keyword search."

Quite an accomplishment! An enterprising security service or capitalist marketing specialist need only sift through veritable mountains of data available from commercial databases, or mobile calls, tweets, blog posts and internet searches to instantaneously identity "key agitators," to borrow the FBI's very 20th century description of political dissidents; individuals who could be detained or "neutralized" should sterner methods be required.

Indeed, a surveillance scheme such as the one INDECT is building could greatly facilitate--and simplify--the already formidable U.S. "Main Core" database that "reportedly collects and stores--without warrants or court orders--the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security," as investigative journalists Tim Shorrock and Christopher Ketchum revealed in two disturbing reports last year.

The scale of "datasets/annotation schemes" exploited by INDECT is truly breathtaking and include: "Automatic Content Extraction" gleaned from "a variety of sources, such as news, broadcast conversations" that identify "relations between entities, and the events in which these participate."

We next discover what is euphemistically called the "Knowledge Base Population (KBP)," an annotation scheme that "focuses on the identification of entity types of Person (PER), Organization (ORG), and Geo-Political Entity (GPE), Location (LOC), Facility (FAC), Geographical/Social/Political (GPE), Vehicle (VEH) and Weapon (WEA)."

How is this accomplished? Why through an exploitation of open source materials of course!

INDECT researchers readily aver that "a snapshot of Wikipedia infoboxes is used as the original knowledge source. The document collection consists of newswire articles on the order of 1 million. The reference knowledge base includes hundreds of thousands of entities based on articles from an October 2008 dump of English Wikipedia. The annotation scheme in KBP focuses on the identification of entity types of Person (PER), Organization (ORG), and Geo-Political Entity (GPE)."

For what purpose? Mum's the word as far as INDECT is concerned.

Nothing escapes this panoptic eye. Even popular culture and leisure activities fall under the glare of security agencies and their academic partners in the latest iteration of this truly monstrous privacy-killing scheme. Using the movie rental firm Netflix as a model, INDECT cites the firm's "100 million ratings from 480 thousand randomly-chosen, anonymous Netflix customers" as "well-suited" to the INDECT surveillance model.

In conclusion, EU surveillance architects propose a "new annotation & knowledge representation scheme" that "is extensible," one that "allows the addition of new entities, relations, and events, while at the same time avoids duplication and ensures integrity."

Deploying an ontological methodology that exploits currently available data from open source, driftnet surveillance of news, broadcasts, blog entries and search results, and linkages obtained through a perusal of mobile phone records, credit card purchases, medical records, travel itineraries, etc., INDECT claims that in the near future their research will allow "a search engine to go beyond simple keyword queries by exploiting the semantic information and relations within the ontology."

And once the scheme is perfected, "the use of expressive logics ... becomes an enabler for detecting entity relations on the web." Or transform it into an "always-on" spy you carry in your pocket or whenever you switch on your computer.

This is how our minders propose to keep us "safe."

CIA Gets In on the Fun

Not to be outdone, the CIA has entered the lucrative market of social networking surveillance in a big way.

In an exclusive published by Wired, we learn that the CIA's investment arm, In-Q-Tel, "want to read your blog posts, keep track of your Twitter updates--even check out your book reviews on Amazon."

Investigative journalist Noah Shachtman reveals that In-Q-Tel "is putting cash into Visible Technologies, a software firm that specializes in monitoring social media. It's part of a larger movement within the spy services to get better at using "open source intelligence"--information that's publicly available, but often hidden in the flood of TV shows, newspaper articles, blog posts, online videos and radio reports generated every day." Wired reported:

Visible crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. (It doesn't touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.) Customers get customized, real-time feeds of what's being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords. (Noah Shachtman, Exclusive: U.S. Spies Buy Stake in Firm that Monitors Blogs, Tweets," Wired, October 19, 2009)

Although In-Q-Tel spokesperson Donald Tighe told Wired that it wants Visible to monitor foreign social media and give American spooks an "early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally," Shachtman points out that "such a tool can also be pointed inward, at domestic bloggers or tweeters."

According to Wired, the firm already keeps tabs on 2.0 web sites "for Dell, AT&T and Verizon." And as an added attraction, "Visible is tracking animal-right activists' online campaigns" against meat processing giant Hormel.

Shachtman reports that "Visible has been trying for nearly a year to break into the government field." And why wouldn't they, considering that the heimat security and even spookier black world of the U.S. "intelligence community," is a veritable cash-cow for enterprising corporations eager to do the state's bidding.

In 2008 Wired reports, Visible "teamed-up" with the Washington, DC-based consulting firm "Concepts & Strategies, which has handled media monitoring and translation services for U.S. Strategic Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others."

According to a blurb on the firm's web site they are in hot-pursuit of "social media engagement specialists" with Defense Department experience and "a high proficiency in Arabic, Farsi, French, Urdu or Russian." Wired reports that Concepts & Strategies "is also looking for an 'information system security engineer' who already has a 'Top Secret SCI [Sensitive Compartmentalized Information] with NSA Full Scope Polygraph' security clearance."

In such an environment, nothing escapes the secret state's lens. Shachtman reveals that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) "maintains an Open Source Center, which combs publicly available information, including web 2.0 sites."

In 2007, the Center's director, Doug Naquin, "told an audience of intelligence professionals" that "'we're looking now at YouTube, which carries some unique and honest-to-goodness intelligence.... We have groups looking at what they call 'citizens media': people taking pictures with their cell phones and posting them on the internet. Then there's social media, phenomena like MySpace and blogs'."

But as Steven Aftergood, who maintains the Secrecy News web site for the Federation of American Scientists told Wired, "even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorized domestic investigations or operations. Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically 'open source'."

But as we have seen across the decades, from COINTELPRO to Operation CHAOS, and from Pentagon media manipulation during the run-up to the Iraq war through driftnet warrantless wiretapping of Americans' electronic communications, the secret state is a law unto itself, a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that thrives on duplicity, fear and cold, hard cash.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Telecom Lobbying, Congress & the National Security State

The bipartisan consensus that encourages unaccountable secret state agencies to illegally spy on the American people under color of a limitless, and highly profitable, "war on terror" was dealt a (minor) blow October 13.

Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey White denied a motion by the Obama administration that the court issue a 30-day stay to "release records relating to telecom lobbying over last year's debate over immunity for corporate participation in government spying," the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported.

The Justice Department had argued that the Bush, and now, the Obama administration's Office of Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and Congress were exempt from releasing lobbying records under the Freedom of Information Act, since consultations amongst said grifters were protected as "intra-agency" records.

One might add, since the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, a well-funded surveillance-industrial-complex fueled by giant defense firms and the telecommunications industry have, as investigative journalist Tim Shorrock reported back in 2005 "fielded armies of lobbyists to keep the money flowing."

White's denial of a motion for a stay followed a startling admission by Department of Justice (DoJ) attorneys that America's telecommunication firms are actually "an arm of the government--at least when it comes to secret spying," Wired reported October 8. The government had argued that:

"The communications between the agencies and telecommunications companies regarding the immunity provisions of the proposed legislation have been regarded as intra-agency because the government and the companies have a common interest in the defense of the pending litigation and the communications regarding the immunity provisions concerned that common interest."

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffery White disagreed and ruled on September 24 that the feds had to release the names of the telecom employees that contacted the Justice Department and the White House to lobby for a get-out-of-court-free card. (Ryan Singel, "Telephone Company Is Arm of Government, Feds Admit in Spy Suit," Wired, October 8, 2009)

EFF had sued the state in order to discover what role telecom lobbyists played in persuading Congress to grant the nation's telecommunications' giants retroactive immunity for their role in illegal spying as part of the Bush, and now, Obama regime's Presidential Spying Program.

If congressional grifters who have reaped serious campaign contributions from deep-pocket telecoms had not granted companies such as AT&T, Sprint, Verizon and other carriers retroactive immunity, potential privacy breaches and claims from EFF's Hepting vs. AT&T, and dozens of other lawsuits, could have potentially cost the firms billions in damages.

A federal district court judge dismissed Hepting in June, ruling that the companies had immunity from liability under provisions of the despicable FISA Amendments Act (FAA).

In dismissing the state's motion for a stay in the telecom lobbying records case, EFF senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote,

On October 8, the day before the documents were due, the DOJ and ODNI filed an emergency motion asking the Court of Appeals for a 30-day stay while the agencies continue to contemplate an appeal. Around noon on October 9, the Ninth Circuit denied their emergency motion, telling the government it had to file for a motion for a stay pending appeal in the district court first.

Later that afternoon, the government filed again in the federal district court, but once again did not seek a stay pending an actual appeal. Instead, for the third time, the government insisted it could delay the release of telecom lobbying records while it considered the pros and cons of appealing. Briefing was complete by noon today, and Judge White denied the third attempt at delay this afternoon. (Kurt Opsahl, "Federal Court Denies Government Attempt to Delay Release of Telecom Records. Again.," Electronic Frontier Foundation, News Update, October 13, 2009)

Judge White noted that the Obama administration's cynical "directive on transparency in government" applied to "the warrantless wiretapping program" and insisted that the "public interest lies in favor of disclosure" of pertinent lobbying records.

The ruling is all the more remarkable when one considers that Judge White was appointed to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, the most civil liberties' friendly court in the nation, by none other than world class war criminal and corrupter-in-chief, George W. Bush.

Corrupting Congress, Subverting the Bill of Rights

Last year, Antifascist Calling reported that the congressional watchdog group, MAPLight, published a list of campaign contributions to congressional Democrats who had changed their votes on FAA's crucial retroactive immunity provision.

Significantly, then congressman and current White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, pulled-in some $28,000, "blue dog" Democrat Steny Hoyer "earned" $29,000 while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, hardly a slouch when it comes to contributions from her "constituents"--grifting capitalists--raked-in $24,500 from the telecoms.

Analyzing the "change of heart" by congressional Democrats between between the March 14, 2008 vote which rejected retroactive immunity and the June 20, 2008 vote approving it, MAPLight researchers discovered that "Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint gave PAC contributions averaging: "$8,359 to each Democrat who changed their position to support immunity for Telcos (94 Dems)" and "$4,987 to each Democrat who remained opposed to immunity for Telcos (116 Dems)."

According to MAPLight: "88 percent of the Dems who changed to supporting immunity (83 Dems of the 94) received PAC contributions from Verizon, AT&T, or Sprint during the last three years (Jan. 2005-Mar. 2008)." The group reported that after the June 20 vote, "Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint gave PAC contributions averaging (for all House members): "$9,659 to each member of the House voting "YES" (105-Dem, 188-Rep)" and "$4,810 to each member of the House voting "NO" (128-Dem, 1-Rep)."

Daniel Newman, MAPLight's Executive Director said at the time: "Campaign contributions bias our legislative system. Simply put, candidates who take positions contrary to industry interests are unlikely to receive industry funds and thus have fewer resources for their election campaigns than those whose votes favor industry interests."

Proving once again, that ours' is the best Congress money can buy.

White House Planning "Limited Hangout"

The saga over the release of secret state documents continues to rage out of public sight, even as the corporate media "reports" for endless hours on the (media manufactured) tale of the Colorado "balloon boy."

So corrupt and degenerated has our political culture become that a simple Google search reveals that as of October 17 there are some 15,000,000 search results available for the term "balloon boy" while only 520,000 hits for the term "EFF warrantless wiretapping."

As Project Censored notes, modern censorship is defined "as the subtle yet constant and sophisticated manipulation of reality in our mass media outlets. On a daily basis, censorship refers to the intentional non-inclusion of a news story--or piece of a news story--based on anything other than a desire to tell the truth. Such manipulation can take the form of political pressure (from government officials and powerful individuals), economic pressure (from advertisers and funders), and legal pressure (the threat of lawsuits from deep-pocket individuals, corporations, and institutions)."

Clearly, the series of lawsuits by EFF and other civil liberties' watchdogs challenging the secret state's pervasive surveillance of the American people is a case study of "intentional non-inclusion" by corporate media.

Nevertheless, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported October 15, that the Director of National Intelligence and DoJ attorneys "filed yet another emergency motion with the Ninth Circuit, asking for a stay of the deadline to release telecom immunity lobbying documents, less than 24 hours before the documents are due to be released to the public."

According to the government's motion, the Executive Branch has refused to disclose the names of telecom lobbyists and company representatives because, get this, "the agencies ... invoked Exemption 6 [to the Freedom of Information Act] which protects information about individuals whose disclosure 'would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy'." It doesn't get any cheekier than that even by cynical Washington standards!

DoJ attorneys once again, have resurrected that old chestnut--national security--to conceal the identities of telecom shills and the politicians who do their bidding, claiming that "disclosure of such information would assist our adversaries in drawing inferences about whether certain telecommunications companies may or may not have assisted the government in intelligence-gathering activities."

In other words, the public's right to know how our rights are being systematically violated--and who profits--is, by inference, another "tool" that will allow al-Qaeda to kidnap your kids, impose sharia law and detonate a nuke in Wichita!

Indeed, the secret state's new motion avers that "disclosure of the identities of those individuals and entities that may have assisted, or in the future may assist, the government with intelligence activities could impede the government's ability to gather intelligence information."

Meanwhile, Politico reported that the Obama administration "may be on the verge of a major concession in a long-running legal battle over records about so-called telecom immunity."

A leaked email to the publication, probably by a friendly source inside the White House, reveals that the administration is preparing for "the possible release of some details of the Bush Administration's lobbying for legislation giving telecommunications companies immunity from lawsuits over their involvement in warrantless domestic wiretapping." (emphasis added)

However, the devil as they say, is in those closely-guarded details. Politico reports that the administration will continue its legal battle "to keep secret the identities of the companies involved in the program." In other words having lost in the court's, the administration will move into damage control mode by disclosing a few insignificant "facts" as it camouflages the scope of these illegal programs and continues to conceal the identities of telecom lobbyists and their congressional partners in crime from public scrutiny.

This is nothing less than an updated version of a classic Washington "limited hangout." The Obama administration's Justice Department, similar to President Nixon's sacrificial offering of close advisers to congressional investigators at the height of the Watergate scandal, will leverage these paltry "facts" into an opportunity to appear "transparent," even as it continues to obfuscate, delay and deny; thus continuing the cover-up.

House legal counsel Irv Nathan informed relevant congressional committees that the White House Counsel's Office agreed to "provide lawmakers and their staffs with copies of the records being prepared for release in connection with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by an internet-focused civil liberties group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation."

Politico reported that "the move could also be a litigating tactic to surrender some of the less sensitive information in the case in order to bolster the government's credibility for a determined attempt to protect the most sensitive data: the names of the companies which were seeking immunity."

According to Nathan, the Justice Department plans "to renew its motion for a stay in the Court of Appeals limited to a very small number of documents, not including the communications with Congress."

Among the details leaked to Politico, Nathan wrote House leaders: "We understand that there are few, if any, communications from Members that are in the materials. ... We have been previously advised that there is nothing very disturbing or embarrassing in these particular communications, but a generalized worry about the precedent this sets for future inter-branch communications." (emphasis added)

Unfortunately, neither Mr. Nathan nor Politico have revealed what might prove "very disturbing or embarrassing" to members of Congress in the documents the Obama administration plans to withhold.

If past lobbying practices are a signpost for the present, one can hazard an informed guess and conclude that Congress and their Executive Branch counterparts have much to hide.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics database, lobbying by the Telecom Service & Equipment sector, the Telephone Utilities sector and the Computer/Internet sector amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars paid out to congressional grifters between 1998-2009.

Indeed, the "big four" firms caught-up in the warrantless wiretapping scandal have showered Congress with millions in payouts. According to, AT&T contributed some $8,191,618; Verizon Communications showered some $6,830,000; Qualcomm Inc. handed over $3,080,000; Qwest Communications $1,829,542 and Sprint/Nextel coughed-up some $1,306,000 to "our" representatives. By any standard, this is serious money by powerful constituencies not to be trifled with.

Like their Republican colleagues across the aisle, the Democrats have operated a revolving door between powerful corporations, financial institutions and secret state agencies, under the guise of bringing entrepreneurial expertise into government and "security" for our nation's citizens.

They do neither.

Something as trivial as the rights of the American people to speak their minds, protest endless imperialist wars of aggression, the looting of the economy and the degradation of the environment for profit will however, continue to come under the lens of an out-of-control national security state committed to facilitating the greasing of various palms well into the future.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Battening Down the Hatches: Secret State Monitors Protest, Represses Dissent

As social networking becomes a dominant feature of daily life, the secret state is increasingly surveilling electronic media for what it euphemistically calls "actionable intelligence."

Take the case of Elliot Madison. The 41-year-old anarchist was arrested in Pittsburgh September 24 at the height of G20 protests.

Madison, a social worker and volunteer with The People's Law Collective in New York City, was busted by a combined task force led by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and Pittsburgh's "finest." The activist was charged with "hindering apprehension or prosecution, criminal use of a communication facility and possession of instruments of crime," according to The New York Times.

Did the cops uncover a secret anarchist weapons' cache? Were Madison and codefendant, Michael Wallschlaeger, a producer with the radio talk show "This Week in Radical History" for the A-Infos Radio Project, about to detonate a "weapon of mass destruction" during last month's capitalist conclave that witnessed the obscene spectacle of our masters avidly conspiring to impoverish billions of the planet's inhabitants?

Hardly! In fact, Madison and Wallschlaeger's "crime" was to set up a communications center in a hotel room that alerted demonstrators to movements by the police, who after all, had viciously attacked protesters--and anyone else nearby--with heavy batons, tear gas and a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a so-called "non-lethal" weapon.

Kitted-out with police scanners, computers and cell phones, the intrepid activists used a Twitter account to assist protesters eager to elude a thrashing by some 5,000 heavily armed camo-clad cops who had sealed-off downtown Pittsburgh to keep the area safe--from the First Amendment.

National Lawyers Guild on-scene legal observers reported an "unwarranted display and use of force by police in residential neighborhoods, often far from any protest activity." According to the civil liberties' watchdog group:

Police deployed chemical irritants, including CS gas, and long-range acoustic devices (LRAD) in residential neighborhoods on narrow streets where families and small children were exposed. Scores of riot police formed barricades at many intersections throughout neighborhoods miles away from the downtown area and the David Lawrence Convention Center. Outside the Courtyard Marriott in Shadyside, police deployed smoke bombs in the absence of protest activity, forcing bystanders and hotel residents to flee the area.

Later, while some protests were ending, riot-clad officers surrounded an area at the University of Pittsburgh, creating an ominous spectacle that some described as akin to Kent State. Guild legal observers witnessed police chasing and arresting many uninvolved students.

Among other questionable tactics, officers from dozens of law enforcement agencies lacked easily-identifiable badges, impeding citizens' ability to register complaints. (National Lawyers Guild, "National Lawyers Guild Observes Improper Use of Force by Law Enforcement at the G-20," Press Release, September 25, 2009)

The Times reported that after his arrest the FBI raided the home that Madison shared with his wife, Elena, and conducted an exhaustive 16-hour search of the premises seizing computers, books and a poster (horror of horrors!) of the old mole himself, Karl Marx.

Criminalizing the First Amendment

"Anyone can tweet, but the truth is, sometimes speech can be criminal," John Burkoff, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

By that standard, anyone who has the temerity to question the legitimacy of a system that drives millions into poverty, wages preemptive war to secure (steal) other people's resources, destroys the environment or uses "speech" to oppose said crimes against humanity--and cheekily urges others to do the same--is, by definition, guilty, in "new normal" America.

Witold Walczak however, the legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union told the Post-Gazette, "investigating the government and broadcasting information about it would seem to be a constitutionally protected communication."

The ACLU director elaborated, "If the police want to communicate privately, there are certainly ways to do that, and police radios are not one of those. How can it be a crime? It's not a secure communication."

The good professor had another take on the matter and told the Post-Gazette, "Were they sending it to people simply to protest, or to commit further crimes?"

"Further crimes"? What crime? Oh yes, legally protesting the depredations of the capitalist system, that crime!

That such a statement can be uttered by a purported legal expert is rather rich with unintended irony. Burkhoff's maneuver to cast the best possible light on repressive police operations is all the more absurd given the fact that none other than the Obama administration's State Department had stepped-in and pressured Twitter to forego a service upgrade, and downtime, just scant months earlier.

But context as they say, is everything. Champions of other people's freedom (particularly when they are geopolitical rivals), the State Department intervened and told the instant messaging service in no uncertain terms that Iranian protesters relied on Twitter to monitor police movements in Tehran and other cities as protests over disputed elections took center stage in the Islamic Republic.

The New York Times reported back in June that the U.S. State Department "e-mailed the social-networking site Twitter with an unusual request: delay scheduled maintenance of its global network, which would have cut off service while Iranians were using Twitter to swap information and inform the outside world about the mushrooming protests around Tehran."

According to Reuters, "Confirmation that the U.S. government had contacted Twitter came as the Obama administration sought to avoid suggestions it was meddling in Iran's internal affairs as the Islamic Republic battled to control deadly street protests over the election result."

Twitter said in a blog post it had delayed the firm's planned upgrade because of its role as an "important communication tool in Iran."

A day earlier, President Obama had said he believed "people's voices should be heard and not suppressed"--in Iran.

Message to the American people: Official enemy: Twitter good! Official friend (grifting multinational corporations and the criminals who do their bidding in Washington): Twitter bad! How's that for an imaginative interpretation of the "new media paradigm"!

"Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not"

Echoing the execrable logic of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, America's premier political police force, the FBI, executed a search warrant on Madison that authorized agents to look "for violations of federal rioting laws," according to the Times.

Madison's attorney, Martin Stolar, told the Times that "he and a friend were part of a communications network among people protesting the G-20." Denouncing the raid, Stolar averred that "there's absolutely nothing that he's done that should subject him to any criminal liability."

On October 2, Stolar argued in Federal District Court in Brooklyn "that the warrant was vague and overly broad. Judge Dora L. Irizarry ordered the authorities to stop examining the seized materials until Oct. 16, pending further orders," the Times reported.

This is not the first time however, that the secret state has sought to curtail text messaging by activists during large-scale demonstrations.

In 2008, as a result of the heavy repression of legal protests--and subsequent lawsuits by victims--during the far-right Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004, lawyers representing N.Y.'s "finest" demanded that M.I.T. graduate student Tad Hirsch and the Institute of Applied Autonomy, the inventors of TXTmob, turn over all "text messages sent via TXTmob during the convention, the date and time of the messages, information about people who sent and received messages, and lists of people who used the service," The New York Times reported last year.

The FBI however, already possess the technological ability to hack into Wi-fi and computer networks as Wired revealed in April, citing internal Bureau documents released to the magazine under a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to a follow-up story by the publication, the Bureau's Cryptographic and Electronic Analysis Unit, CEAU, has deployed software called a computer and internet protocol address verifier, or CIPAV, that is "designed to infiltrate a target's computer and gather a wide range of information, which it secretly sends to an FBI server in eastern Virginia."

Antifascist Calling reported in 2008, that when a whistleblower, security consultant Babak Pasdar, stepped forward and blew the lid off the Bureau's massive telecommunications' surveillance network, the agency's so-called "Quantico circuit" in Virginia, he revealed that major wireless providers, including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, had handed the state "unfettered" access to the carrier's wireless networks, including billing records and customer data "transmitted wirelessly."

According to Pasdar's sworn affidavit, Verizon provided the FBI with with real-time access to who is speaking to whom, the time and duration of each call as well as the locations of those so targeted.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the San Francisco-based civil liberties' watchdog group, has posted Madison's motion and his attorney's supporting declaration on their web site. It makes for very interesting reading indeed! According to the search warrant obtained by FBI Special Agent Edward J. Heslin from the U.S. District Court, the FBI were allowed to seize:

Computers, hard-drives, floppy discs and other media used to store computer-accessible information, cellular phones, personal digital assistants, electronic storage devices and related peripherals, black masks and clothing, maps, correspondence and other documents, financial records, notes, ledgers, receipts, papers, photographs, telephone and address books, identification documents, indicia of residency and other documents and records that constitute evidence of the commission of rioting crimes or that are designed or intended as a means of violating the federal rioting laws, including any of the above items that are maintained within other closed or locked containers, including safes and other containers that may be further secured by key locks (or combination locks) of various kinds. (Honorable Viktor V. Pohorelsky, Magistrate Judge to FBI Special Agent Edward J. Heslin, United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, Search Warrant, Case Number M-09-962, September 26, 2009)

Madison's attorney, Martin Stolar averred that "a number of documents and other properties" seized by the FBI have "nothing to do with the governments investigation into what the search warrant characterizes as violations of 'federal rioting laws'."

According to Stolar "the seized items include political writings, notes, political associates and ideas, materials protected by the attorney-client and social work privileges, as well as property belonging to other persons residing in the premises which have no connection to any pending or contemplated criminal investigation." Stolar declared that "the illegality of the search is in the overbreadth of the seizures and the vagueness of the term 'federal rioting laws'."

In other words, driftnet surveillance of American citizens is the norm for our secret state minders; an unambiguous sign of America's slide into an extra-constitutional police state.

Fusion Centers: Leading the Charge

While Madison and Wallschlaeger's arrest came as a result of actions undertaken by the Pennsylvania State Police, one cannot rule out that (a) informants had tipped off the cops to the pair's activities, (b) CEAU had penetrated protest organizer's computer net and therefore, were well aware of what the duo were up to, or (c) through some combination of the above, the FBI and presumably, their local fusion center allies, alerted PSP who then conducted the raid and shut the anarchist's communications center down.

Federal Computer Week noted September 30, that the Department of Homeland Security "is establishing a new office to coordinate its intelligence-sharing efforts in state and local intelligence fusion centers," and that the secret state's new "Joint Fusion Center Program Management Office will be part of DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis."

Among other things, the publication revealed that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the new office will:

• Develop ways to assess threats and trends by gathering, analyzing and sharing local and national information and intelligence through fusion centers.

• Coordinate with state, local and tribal law enforcement leaders to ensure that DHS is providing the correct resources to fusion centers.

• Promote a sense of common mission and purpose at fusion centers through training and other support. (Ben Bain, "DHS established new office for intelligence-sharing centers," Federal Computer Week, September 30, 2009)

Since Bushist--and now, Obama--securocrats designated fusion centers "a central node for the federal government's efforts for sharing terrorism-related information with state and local officials," the federal government has pumped some $327 million in taxpayer-funded largesse into these spooky "public-private partnerships."

In Pennsylvania for example, the Criminal Intelligence Center (PaCIC), is described by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) as a "component of the Pennsylvania State Police."

Washington Post investigative journalist Robert O'Harrow Jr., the author of No Place to Hide, revealed that "Pennsylvania buys credit reports and uses face-recognition software to examine driver's license photos" and have "subscriptions to private information-broker services that keep records about Americans' locations, financial holdings, associates, relatives, firearms licenses and the like."

One can only wonder whether these or other intrusive surveillance tools, including the CEAU's CIPAV software were deployed against Madison and Wallschlaeger prior to their Pittsburgh arrest.

But gathering information on fusion centers is often an exercise in Kafkaesque futility. Investigative journalist G.W. Schulz reported that when the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) attempted to obtain information from the Colorado Information Analysis Center on that state's fusion center, they ran into a brick wall.

CIAC spokesperson Lance Clem refused to release what should be public documents to CIR claiming 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."

As of this writing, it cannot be determined with any certainty what role the Pennsylvania Criminal Intelligence Center played in repressing G20 protests. However, if past fusion center practices in Denver and St. Paul during last year's Democratic and Republican National Conventions are any guide, their management of pre-G20 intelligence along with their federal partners, was in all probability considerable.

One lesson that can be gleaned however, from the federal witch hunt targeting activists Elliot Madison and Michael Wallschlaeger, is that dissent in post-9/11 America, as during the COINTELPRO-era of the 1960s and '70s, has been criminalized.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

FBI Data-Mining Programs Resurrect "Total Information Awareness"

Like a vampire rising from it's grave each night to feed on the privacy rights of Americans, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is moving forward with programs that drain the life blood from our constitutional liberties.

From the wholesale use of informants and provocateurs to stifle political dissent, to Wi-Fi hacking and viral computer spyware to follow our every move, the FBI has turned massive data-mining of personal information into a growth industry. In the process they are building the surveillance state long been dreamed of by American securocrats.

A chilling new report by investigative journalist Ryan Singel provides startling details of how the FBI's National Security Branch Analysis Center (NSAC) is quietly morphing into the Total Information Awareness (TIA) system of convicted Iran-Contra felon, Admiral John M. Poindexter. According to documents obtained by Wired:

A fast-growing FBI data-mining system billed as a tool for hunting terrorists is being used in hacker and domestic criminal investigations, and now contains tens of thousands of records from private corporate databases, including car-rental companies, large hotel chains and at least one national department store. (Ryan Singel, "FBI's Data-Mining System Sifts Airline, Hotel, Car-Rental Records," Wired, September 23, 2009)

Among the latest revelations of out-of-control secret state spookery, Wired disclosed that personal details on customers have been provided to the Bureau by the Wyndham Worldwide hotel chain "which includes Ramada Inn, Days Inn, Super 8, Howard Johnson and Hawthorn Suites." Additional records were obtained from the Avis rental car company and Sears department stores.

Singel reports that the Bureau is planning a massive expansion of NSAC, one that would enlarge the scope, and mission, of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force (FTTTF) and the file-crunching, privacy-killing Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW).

"Among the items on its wish list," Singel writes, "is the database of the Airlines Reporting Corporation--a company that runs a backend system for travel agencies and airlines." If federal snoops should obtain ARC's data-sets, the FBI would have unlimited access to "billions of American's itineraries, as well as the information they give to travel agencies, such as date of birth, credit card numbers, names of friends and family, e-mail addresses, meal preferences and health information."

The publication reports that the system "is both a meta-search engine--querying many data sources at once--and a tool that performs pattern and link analysis." Internal FBI documents reveal that despite growing criticism of the alleged "science" of data-mining, including a stinging 2008 report by the prestigious National Research Council, for all intents and purposes the Bureau will transform NSAC into a low-key version of Adm. Poindexter's Information Awareness Office. An internal FBI document provides a preview of the direction NSAC will take.

According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) May 2004 report on federal data mining efforts, the GAO defined data mining as "the application of database technology--to uncover hidden patterns and subtle relationships in data and to infer rules that allow for the prediction of future results" (GAO-05-866, Data Mining p. 4). There are a number of security and privacy issues that government and private industry must address when contemplating the use of technology and data in these ways. While the current activities and efforts of the IDW and FTTTF programs do not provide NSB [National Security Branch] users with the full level of data mining services as defined above it is the intention of the NSAC to pursue and refine these capabilities where permitted by statute and policy. The implementation and responsible utilization of these services will advance the FBI's ability to address national security threats in a timely fashion, uncover previously unknown patterns and trends and empower agents and analysts to better "hunt between the cases" to find those persons, places or things of investigative and intelligence interest. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Fiscal Year (FY) 2008, Internal Planning & Budget Review, Program Narrative for Enhancements/Increases," p. 5, emphasis added)

Unsurprisingly, in their quest for increased funding FBI officials failed to mention that the 2004 GAO report raised significant and troubling questions glossed over by securocrats. To wit, GAO investigators averred:

Privacy concerns about mined or analyzed personal data also include concerns about the quality and accuracy of the mined data; the use of the data for other than the original purpose for which the data were collected without the consent of the individual; the protection of the data against unauthorized access, modification, or disclosure; and the right of individuals to know about the collection of personal information, how to access that information, and how to request a correction of inaccurate information. (General Accounting Office, Data Mining: Federal Efforts Cover a Wide Range of Uses, GAO-04-548, May 2004)

Despite these concerns, an FBI budget document released to Wired baldly states:

The NSAC will provide subject-based "link analysis" through utilization of the FBI's collection data sets, combined with public records on predicated subjects. Link analysis uses these data sets to find links between subjects, suspects, and addresses or other pieces of relevant information, and other persons, places, and things. This technique is currently being used on a limited basis by the FBI; the NSAC will provide improved processes and greater access to this technique to all NSB components. The NSAC will also pursue "pattern analysis" as part of its service to the NSB. "Pattern analysis" queries take a predictive model or pattern of behavior and search for that pattern in data sets. The FBI's efforts to define predictive models and patterns of behavior should improve efforts to identify "sleeper cells." Information produced through data exploitation will be processed by analysts who are experts in the use of this information and used to produce products that comply with requirements for the proper handling of the information. (Federal Bureau of Investigation, "National Security Branch Analytical Capabilities," November 12, 2008)

Four years after the GAO report cited the potential for abuse inherent in such techniques, The National Research Council's exhaustive study criticized the alleged ability of data-miners to discover hidden "patterns" and "trends" among disparate data-sets "precisely because so little is known about what patterns indicate terrorist activity; as a result, they are likely to generate huge numbers of false leads."

False leads that may very well land an innocent person on a terrorist watch-list or as a subject of a wide-ranging and unwarranted national security investigation. But as with all things relating to "counterterrorism," the guilt or innocence of the average citizen is a trifling matter while moves to "empower agents" to "find those persons, places or things of investigative and intelligence interest," is the paramount goal. "Justice" under such a system becomes another preemptive "tool" subject to the whims of our political masters.

The use of federal dollars for such a dubious and questionable enterprise has already had real-world consequences for political activists. Just ask RNC Welcoming Committee activists currently under indictment in Minnesota for their role in organizing legal protests against the far-right Republican National Convention last year in St. Paul.

As Antifascist Calling revealed earlier this year, one private security outfit, the now-defunct Highway Watch which worked closely with the FBI, used "social network theory" and "link analysis," and cited the group's legal political organizing, including "increased membership via the internet" and "public appearances at various locations across the US," as a significant factor that rendered the group a "legitimate" target for heightened surveillance and COINTELPRO-style disruption.

Singel also disclosed that NSAC shared data "with the Pentagon's controversial Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office, a secretive domestic-spying unit which collected data on peace groups, including the Quakers, until it was shut down in 2008. But the FBI told lawmakers it would be careful in its interactions with that group."

As journalists and congressional investigators subsequently revealed however, CIFA's dark heart--the office's mammoth databases--were off-loaded to other secret state security agencies, including the FBI.

CIFA: Closed Down or Farmed Out?

When CIFA ran aground after a series of media disclosures beginning in 2004, some critics believed that was the end of that. "From the beginning of its existence," investigative journalist Tim Shorrock revealed in Spies For Hire, "CIFA had extensive authority to conduct domestic counterintelligence."

Indeed, one CIFA official "was the deputy director of the FBI's multiagency Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force," Shorrock wrote, "and other CIFA officials were assigned to more than one hundred regional Joint Terrorism Task Forces where they served with other personnel from the Pentagon, as well as the FBI, state and local police, and the Department of Homeland Security."

Several investigative reports in Antifascist Calling have documented the close interconnections among Pentagon spy agencies, the FBI, DHS, private contractors, local and state police in what have come to be known as fusion centers, which rely heavily on extensive data-mining operations.

Their role as clearinghouses for domestic intelligence will expand even further under President Obama's purported "change" administration.

Federal Computer Week revealed September 30, that DHS "is establishing a new office to coordinate its intelligence-sharing efforts in state and local intelligence fusion centers."

According to the publication, a "new Joint Fusion Center Program Management Office will be part of DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis, [DHS Secretary Janet] Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Napolitano said she strongly supports the centers."

Though little reported by the corporate media, domestic spying had become big business with some very powerful constituencies.

Take CIFA, for example. Ostensibly a Defense Department agency, the secretive office which once had a multi-billion dollar budget at its disposal, was a veritable cash cow for enterprising security grifters. Much has been made of the corrupt contracts forged by disgraced Pentagon contractor Mitchell Wade and his MZM corporation, caught up in the "Duke" Cunningham scandal that landed the San Diego Republican congressman an eight-year federal prison term in 2006. Untouched however, by the outcry over domestic Pentagon spying were top-flight defense and security firms who lent their considerable resources--at a steep price--to the office.

Among the corporations who contracted out analysts and operatives to CIFA were heavy hitters such as Lockheed Martin, Carlyle Group subsidiary U.S. Investigations Services, Analex, Inc., an intelligence contractor owned by the U.K.'s QinetiQ, ManTech International, the Harris Corporation, SRA International, as well as General Dynamics, CACI International and the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). All told, these corporations reap tens of billions of dollars annually in federal largesse.

As Shorrock revealed, by 2006 CIFA "had four hundred full-time employees and eight hundred to nine hundred contractors working for it." Many were military intelligence and security analysts who jumped ship to land lucrative six-figure contracts in the burgeoning homeland security market, as the whistleblowing web site Wikileaks revealed in July when they published a massive 1525-page file on just one fusion center.

Information illegally obtained on American citizens by CIFA came to reside in the office's Threat And Local Observation Notice (TALON) system and a related database known as CORNERSTONE.

In 2007, the National Security Archive published Pentagon documents outlining U.S. Northern Command's (USNORTHCOM) extensive surveillance activities that targeted legal political protests organized by antiwar activists. In April 2007, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Lt. General James Clapper, "reviewed the results of the TALON program" and concluded "he did not believe they merit continuing the program as currently constituted."

Despite revelations that CIFA and USNORTHCOM had illegally conducted prohibited activities in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which restricts the military from carrying out domestic law enforcement, not a single operative or program manager was brought to book. According to The National Security Archive:

In June 2007, the Department of Defense Inspector General released the results of his review of the TALON reporting program. Its findings included the observation that CIFA and the Northern Command "legally gathered and maintained U.S. person information on individuals or organizations involved in domestic protests and demonstrations against DOD"--information gathered for law enforcement and force protection purposes as permitted by Defense Department directive (5200.27) on the "Acquisition of Information Concerning Persons and Organizations Not Affiliated with the Department of Defense." However, CIFA did not comply with the 90-day retention review policy specified by that directive and the CORNERSTONE database did not have the capability to identify TALON reports with U.S. person information, to identify reports requiring a 90-day retention review, or allow analysts to edit or delete the TALON reports.

In August the Defense Department announced that it would shut down the CORNERSTONE database on September 17, with information subsequently collected on potential terror or security threats to Defense Department facilities or personnel being sent to an FBI data base known as GUARDIAN. A department spokesman said the database was being terminated because "the analytical value had declined," not due to public criticism, and that the Pentagon was hoping to establish a new system--not necessarily a database--to "streamline" threat reporting, according to a statement released by the Department's public affairs office. (Jeffrey Richelson, "The Pentagon's Counterspies: The Counterintelligence Field Activity," The National Security Archive, September 17, 2007)

Last year Antifascist Calling reported that when CIFA was shut down, that organization's TALON database was off-loaded to the Defense Intelligence Agency's Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center and the FBI's GUARDIAN database that resides in the Bureau's Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW).

The IDW is a massive repository for data-mining. As I reported in May, citing the Electronic Frontier Foundation's revelations, the IDW possesses something on the order of 1.5 billion searchable files. In comparison, the entire Library of Congress contains 138 million unique documents.

EFF has called the IDW "the FBI's single largest repository of operational and intelligence information."

In 2005, FBI Section Chief Michael Morehart said that "IDW is a centralized, web-enabled, closed system repository for intelligence and investigative data." Unidentified FBI agents have described it as "one-stop shopping" for FBI agents and an "uber-Google." According to the Bureau, "[t]he IDW system provides data storage, database management, search, information presentation, and security services."

As the Wired investigation reveals, NSAC intends to expand these data-mining capabilities. Currently, NSAC employs "103 full-time employees and contractors, and the FBI was seeking budget approval for another 71 employees, plus more than $8 million for outside contractors to help analyze its growing pool of private and public data." Long-term, according to a planning document, the FBI "wants to expand the center to 439 people."

While John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program may have disappeared along with the Bush administration, it's toxic heart lives on in the National Security Branch Analysis Center.

TIA, IDW, NSAC: What's in an Acronym? Plenty!

When the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) stood up the Information Awareness Office in 2002, the office's stated mission was to gather as much information on American citizens as possible and store it in a centralized, meta-database for perusal by secret state agencies.

Information included in the massive data-sets by IAO included internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases and travel itineraries, rental car records, medical histories, educational transcripts, driver's licenses, social security numbers, utility bills, tax returns, indeed any searchable record imaginable.

As Wired reported, these are the data-sets that NSAC plans to exploit.

When Congress killed the DARPA program in 2004, most critics believed that was the end of the Pentagon's leap back into domestic intelligence. However, as we have since learned, the data-mining portion of the program was farmed out to a host of state agencies, including the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI.

Needless to say, private sector involvement--and lucrative contracts--for TIA projects included usual suspects such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, The Analysis Group and SAIC, as well as a number of low-key firms such as 21st Century Technologies, Inc., Evolving Logic, Global InfoTech, Inc., and the Orwellian-sounding Fund For Peace.

These firms, and many more, are current NSAC contractors; to all intents and purposes TIA now resides deep inside the Bureau's Investigative Data Warehouse and NSAC's Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force.

While the FBI claims that unlike TIA, NSAC is not "open-ended" and that a "mission is usually begun with a list of names or personal identifiers that have arisen during a threat assessment, preliminary or full investigation," Wired reports that "the FBI's pre-crime intentions are much wider that the bureau acknowledged."

This will inevitably change--and not for the better--as NSAC expands its brief and secures an ever-growing mountain of data at an exponential rate. In this endeavor, they will be aided by the U.S. Senate.

With three provisions of the draconian Patriot Act set to expire at years' end, the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VI) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a member of the committee and chairwoman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, stripped-away privacy protections to proposed legislation that would extend the provisions.

Caving-in to pressure from the FBI which claims that protecting Americans' privacy rights from out-of-control spooks would jeopardize "ongoing" terror investigations, Leahy gutted the safeguards he had espoused just last week!

Claiming that his own proposal might hinder open-ended "terror" investigations Leahy said at the hearing, "I'm trying to introduce balances on both sides." The original amendment would have curtailed Bureau fishing expeditions and would have required an actual connection of investigated parties to terrorism or foreign espionage.

Leahy was referring to Section 215 of the Patriot Act that allows the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to authorize broad warrants for nearly any type of record, including those held by banks, libraries, internet service providers, credit card companies, even doctors of "persons of interest."

An amendment offered by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) to repeal the Leahy-Feinstein amendment was defeated in committee by a 4-15 vote. As the Senator from the FBI, Feinstein said that the Bureau did not support Durbin's amendment. "It would end several classified and critical investigations," she said. Or perhaps Durbin's amendment would have lowered the boom on a host of illegal programs across the 16-agency U.S. "Intelligence Community."

As Antifascist Calling reported in July, a 38-page declassified report by inspectors general of the CIA, NSA, Department of Justice, Department of Defense and the Office of National Intelligence collectively called the acknowledged "Terrorist Surveillance Program" and cross-agency top secret "Other Intelligence Activities" the "President's Surveillance Program," PSP.

The IG's report failed to disclose what these programs actually did, and probably still do today under the Obama administration. Shrouded beneath impenetrable layers of secrecy and deceit, these undisclosed programs lie at the dark heart of the state's war against the American people.

The Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General (OIG) described FBI participation in the PSP as that of a passive "recipient of intelligence collected under the program" and efforts by the Bureau "to improve cooperation with the NSA to enhance the usefulness of PSP-derived information to FBI agents."

The OIG goes on to state that "further details about these topics are classified and therefore cannot be discussed here." As The New York Times revealed earlier this year in April and June, the NSA's STELLAR WIND and PINWALE internet and email text intercept programs are giant data-mining meta-databases that sift emails, faxes, and text messages of millions of people in the United States.

Far from being mere passive spectators, the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse continues to be a major recipient of NSA's STELLAR WIND and PINWALE programs. As Marc Ambinder reported in The Atlantic PINWALE is "an unclassified proprietary term used to refer to advanced data-mining software that the government uses. Contractors who do SIGINT mining work often include a familiarity with Pinwale as a prerequisite for certain jobs."

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation's report on the IDW revealed, the FBI closely worked with SAIC, Convera and Chiliad to develop the project. Indeed, as EFF discovered "The FBI set up an Information Sharing Policy Group (ISPG), chaired by the Executive Assistant Directors of Administration and Intelligence, to review requests to ingest additional datasets into the IDW, in response to Congressional 'privacy concerns that may arise from FBI engaging in 'data mining.' In February 2005, the Counterterrorism Division asked for 8 more data sources." The names of the data sources were redacted in three of the eight datasets reviewed by EFF while three came from the Department of Homeland Security.

All of which begs the question: what is the FBI hiding behind it's reorganization of the FTTTF and IDW into the National Security Branch Analysis Center? What role does the National Security Agency and private contractors play in standing-up NSAC? And why, as EFF disclosed, is the Bureau fearful of including Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) that might raise "congressional consciousness levels and expectations" in the context of Bureau "national security systems"?

Indeed, as the American Civil Liberties Union stated, "once again, the FBI has been found to be using invasive 'counterterrorism' tools to collect personal information about innocent Americans," and it "appears that the FBI has continued its habit of gathering bulk amounts of personal information with little or no oversight."

Not that congressional grifters and their corporate cronies, who have much to gain from billions of federal dollars pumped into these intrusive programs, actually care to explore what becomes of data illegally collected on innocent Americans by NSAC.

The civil liberties watchdog concludes they have "long suspected that the congressional dissent over and public demise of the Pentagon's TIA program would result in a concealed and more invasive version of the program."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Somewhere near Washington Admiral Poindexter is leaning back in his chair, filling his pipe and smiling...