Sunday, October 31, 2010

Finding the 'Cure' for the 'Cyber Epidemic'

As the "War on Terror" morphs into a multiyear, multitrillion dollar blood-soaked adventure to secure advantage over imperialism's geopolitical rivals (and steal other people's resources in the process), hitting the corporate "sweet spot," now as during the golden days of the Cold War, is as American as a preemptive war and the "pack of lies" that launch them.

Always inventive when it comes to ginning-up a profitable panic, U.S. defense and security grifters have rolled-out a product line guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of everyone: a "cyber epidemic"!

This one has it all: hordes of crazed "communist" Chinese hackers poised to bring down the power grid; swarthy armies of al-Qaeda fanatics who "hate us for our freedom;" "trusted insiders" who do us harm by leaking "sensitive information," i.e. bringing evidence of war crimes and corporate malfeasance to light by spilling the beans to secrecy-shredding web sites like WikiLeaks, Public Intelligence and Cryptome.

And to combat this latest threat to public order, the Pentagon's geek squad, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have launched several new initiatives.

Armed with catchy acronyms like SMITE, for "Suspected Malicious Insider Threat Elimination," and a related program, CINDER, for "Cyber Insider Threat," the agency's masters hope to "greatly increase the accuracy, rate and speed with which insider threats are detected and impede the ability of adversaries to operate undetected within government and military interest networks."

Just another day in our collapsing American Empire!

During an Executive Leadership Conference last week in Williamsburg, Virginia, deep in the heart of the Military-Industrial-Security corridor, Bob Dix, vice president for U.S. government and critical infrastructure protection for Juniper Networks cautioned that the United States is facing a "cyber epidemic."

According to Government Computer News, Dix told the contract-hungry hordes gathered at the American Council for Technology/Industry Advisory Council's (ACT-IAC) conclave that "overall cyber defense isn't strong enough."

All the more reason then for the secret state to weaken encryption standards that might help protect individual users and critical infrastructure from malicious hacks and network intrusions, as the Obama administration will soon propose.

As I reported earlier this month, along with watering-down those standards, the administration is seeking authority from Congress that would force telecommunication companies to redesign their networks to more easily facilitate internet spying.

Add to the mix the recent "Memorandum of Agreement" between the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security that will usher in a "synchronization of current operational cybersecurity efforts," and it's a sure bet as I averred, that the Pentagon has come out on top in the intramural tussle within the security apparat.

During the ACT-IAC conference, greedily or lovingly sponsored (you make the call!) by "Platinum" angels AT&T, CACI, HP, Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin, Sherri Ramsay, the director of NSA's Threat Operations Center, told the crowd: "Right now, we're a soft target, we're very easy."

Dix chimed in: "Nothing we're talking about today is new. What's new is the threat is more severe."

Music to the ears of all concerned I'm sure, considering the "cumulative market valued at $55 billion" over the next five years and the 6.2% annual growth rate in the "U.S. Federal Cybersecurity Market" that Market Research Media told us about.

Never mind that the number of "incidents of malicious cyber activity" targeting the Defense Department has actually decreased in 2010, as security journalist Noah Shachtman reported in Wired.

If we were inclined to believe Pentagon claims or those of "former intelligence officials" (we're not) that the United States faces an "unprecedented threat" from imperial rivals, hackers and terrorists, then perhaps (just for the sake of argument, mind you) their overwrought assertions and fulsome pronouncements might have some merit.

After all, didn't NSA and U.S. Cyber Command director, General Keith Alexander tell the U.S. Senate during confirmation hearings in April that he was "alarmed by the increase, especially this year" in the number of breaches of military networks?

And didn't former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, currently a top executive with the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton firm, whose cyber portfolio is well-watered with taxpayer dollars, pen an alarmist screed in The Washington Post claiming that "the United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing"?

Not to be outdone in the panic department, Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn warned in a recent piece in the Council On Foreign Relations flagship publication, Foreign Affairs, that "the frequency and sophistication of intrusions into U.S. military networks have increased exponentially," and that "a rogue program operating silently, [is] poised to deliver operational plans into the hands of an unknown adversary."

Oh my!

However, as Shachtman points out, "according to statistics compiled by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission ... the commission notes in a draft report on China and the internet, '2010 could be the first year in a decade in which the quantity of logged events declines'."

Better hush that up quick or else those government contractors "specializing in the most attractive niche segments of the market" as Washington Technology averred earlier this month, might see the all-important price per share drop, a real national crisis!

Panic sells however, and once the terms of the debate have been set by interested parties out to feather their nests well, it's off to the races!

After all as Defense Systems reported, "as cyberspace gains momentum the military must adjust its approach in order to take on an increasingly high-tech adversary."

Indeed, Major General Ed Bolton, the Air Force point man heading up cyber and space operations thundered during a recent meet-and-greet organized by the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association at the Sheraton Premier in McClean, Virginia that "we are a nation at war, and cyberspace is a warfighting domain."

Along these lines the Air Force and CYBERCOM are working out "the policy, doctrine and strategies" that will enable our high-tech warriors to integrate cyber "in combat, operation plans and exercises," Bolton explained.

And according to Brigadier General Ian Dickinson, Space Command's CIO, industry will "help the military take on an evolving war strategy--and [close] a gap between traditional and cyber-era defense," Defense Systems informed us.

"That's something we worry about," Space Command's Col. Kim Crider told AFCEA, perhaps over squab and a lobster tail or two, "integrating our non-kinetic capabilities with space operations."

"We think it's a good opportunity to partner with industry to develop and integrate these capabilities," Crider said, contemplating perhaps his employment opportunities after retiring from national service.

And why not, considering that AFCEA's board of directors are chock-a-block with executives from cyberfightin' firms like Booz Allen, SAIC, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and General Dynamics.

Perhaps too, the generals and full bird colonels on the Sheraton dais need reminding that "integrating our non-kinetic capabilities with space operations," has already been a matter of considerable import to U.S. Strategic Command's Gen. Kevin Chilton.

In 2009, the STRATCOM commander informed us that "the White House retains the option to respond with physical force--potentially even using nuclear weapons--if a foreign entity conducts a disabling cyber attack against U.S. computer networks."

That would certainly up the ante a notch or two!

Chilton said, "I think you don't take any response options off the table from an attack on the United States of America," Global Security Newswire reported. "Why would we constrain ourselves on how we respond?"

Judging by the way the U.S. imperial war machine conducts itself in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's no reason that the general's bellicose rhetoric shouldn't be taken seriously.

"I think that's been our policy on any attack on the United States of America," Chilton said. "And I don't see any reason to treat cyber any differently. I mean, why would we tie the president's hands? I can't. It's up to the president to decide."

Even short of nuclear war a full-on cyber attack on an adversary's infrastructure could have unintended consequences that would boomerang on anyone foolish enough to unleash military-grade computer worms and viruses.

All the more reason then to classify everything and move towards transforming the internet and electronic communications in general into a "warfighting domain" lorded-over by the Pentagon and America's alphabet-soup intelligence agencies.

As The Washington Post reported Friday, the secret state announced that "it had spent $80.1 billion on intelligence activities over the past 12 months."

According to the Post, the "National Intelligence Program, run by the CIA and other agencies that report to the Director of National Intelligence, cost $53.1 billion in fiscal 2010, which ended Sept. 30, while the Military Intelligence Program cost an additional $27 billion."

By comparison, the total spent by America's shadow warriors exceeds Russia's entire military budget.

Despite releasing the budget figures, the Office of Director and National Intelligence and Defense Department officials refused to disclose any program details.

What percentage goes towards National Security Agency "black" programs, including those illegally targeting the communications of the American people are, like torture and assassination operations, closely guarded state secrets.

And with calls for more cash to "inoculate" the American body politic against a looming "cyber epidemic," the right to privacy, civil liberties and dissent, are soon destined to be little more than quaint relics of our former republic.

As security expert Bruce Schneier points out "we surely need to improve cybersecurity." However, "words have meaning, and metaphors matter."

"If we frame the debate in terms of war" Schneier writes, "we reinforce the notion that we're helpless--what person or organization can defend itself in a war?--and others need to protect us. We invite the military to take over security, and to ignore the limits on power that often get jettisoned during wartime."

As well, using catchy disease metaphors like "epidemic" to describe challenges posed by high-tech espionage and cyber crime evoke disturbing parallels to totalitarian states of the past.

Such formulas are all the more dangerous when the "antibodies" proposed by powerful military and corporate centers of power will be deployed with little in the way of democratic oversight and control and are concealed from the public behind veils of "national security" and "proprietary business information."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Frago 242: U.S. Complicity and Cover-Up of Iraq Torture Exposed

On Friday, the whistleblowing web site WikiLeaks released nearly 400,000 classified Iraq war documents, the largest leak of secret information in U.S. history.

Explosive revelations contained in the Iraq War Logs provided further evidence of the Pentagon's role in the systematic torture of Iraqi citizens by the U.S.-installed post-Saddam regime.

Indeed, multiple files document how U.S. officials failed to investigate thousands of cases of abuse, torture, rape and murder. Even innocent victims who were targets of kidnapping gangs, tortured for ransom by Iraqi police and soldiers operating out of the Interior Ministry, were "investigated" in a perfunctory manner that was little more than a cover-up.

Never mind that the Pentagon was fully cognizant of the nightmare playing out in Iraqi jails and prisons. Never mind the beatings with rifle butts and steel cables, the electrocutions, the flesh sliced with razors, the limbs hacked-off with chainsaws, the acid and chemical burns on battered corpses found along the roads, the eyes gouged out or the bones lacerated by the killers' tool of choice: the power drill.

Never mind that the death squads stood-up by American forces when the imperial adventure went wildly off the rails, were modeled on counterinsurgency methods pioneered in Vietnam (Operation Phoenix) and in South- and Central American during the 1970s and 1980s (Operation Condor) and that a "Salvador Option" was in play.

Never mind that the former commander of the U.S. Military Advisory Group in El Salvador, Col. James Steele, was the U.S. Embassy's point-man for setting up the Wolf Brigade or the Iraqi Interior Ministry's Special Police Commandos, notorious death squads that spread havoc and fear across Iraq's cities, towns and villages.

The killings and atrocities carried out by American and British clients were not simply random acts of mayhem initiated by sectarian gangs. On the contrary, though sectarianism and inter-ethnic hatred played a role in the slaughter, from a strategic and tactical point of view these were carefully calibrated acts designed to instill terror in a population utterly devastated by the U.S. invasion. As researcher Max Fuller reported five years ago:

In Iraq the war comes in two phases. The first phase is complete: the destruction of the existing state, which did not comply with the interests of British and American capital. The second phase consists of building a new state tied to those interests and smashing every dissenting sector of society. Openly, this involves applying the same sort of economic shock therapy that has done so much damage in swathes of the Third World and Eastern Europe. Covertly, it means intimidating, kidnapping and murdering opposition voices. ("For Iraq, 'The Salvador Option' Becomes Reality," Global Research, June 2, 2005)

Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell denounced the leaks Friday evening, claiming the document dump was a "gift to terrorist organizations" that "put at risk the lives of our troops."

Playing down the significance the files lend to our understanding of the U.S. occupation, Morrell characterized them as "mundane." To the degree that they chronicle the nonchalance, indeed casual indifference towards Iraqi life displayed by U.S. forces, Morrell is correct: they are numbingly mundane and therein lies their horror.

The logs paint a grim picture of life after the "liberation" of the oil-rich nation. As with the organization's publication of some 75,000 files from their Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010, Friday's release provides stark evidence of U.S. complicity--and worse--in the systematic abuse of prisoners.

According to the War Logs, in 2006 an unnamed U.S. Special Operations Task Force was accused of blinding a prisoner in their custody; we read the following:

ALLEGED DETAINEE ABUSE BY TF ___ IN ___ 2006-02-02 17:50:00


File after gruesome file reveals that even when confronted by serious evidence of abuse, the outcome was as sickening as it was inevitable: "No further investigation."

Called "Frago 242" reports for "fragmentary orders," the military files summarized thousands of events. When alleged abuse was committed by an Iraqi on another Iraqi, "only an initial report will be made ... No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ." Those directives never arrived.

In fact, in a hypermilitarized society such as ours' where the "chain of command" is valued above basic human decency, never mind the rule of law, orders to be "discrete" always come from the top. Investigative journalist Robert Fisk recounted how during a November 2005 Pentagon press conference:

Peter Pace, the uninspiring chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is briefing journalists on how soldiers should react to the cruel treatment of prisoners, pointing out proudly that an American soldier's duty is to intervene if he sees evidence of torture. Then the camera moves to the far more sinister figure of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who suddenly interrupts--almost in a mutter, and to Pace's consternation--"I don't think you mean they (American soldiers) have an obligation to physically stop it. It's to report it." ("The Shaming of America," The Independent on Sunday, October 24, 2010)

In essence, Frago 242 were the political means used by the U.S. administration to absolve themselves of command responsibility for the slaughter they had initiated with the March 2003 invasion. "We reported these horrors. What more do you want?"

Eager to pass security management onto their Iraqi puppets and cut their losses, the Pentagon and their political masters in Washington bypassed their obligations as the occupying power to ensure that human rights and the rule of law were respected by the clients whom they had installed to rule over the oil-rich nation. One file from 2006 tells us:


2006-05-25 07:30:00


Two days later, additional torture victims were found in the Diyala Jail, and U.S. military personnel report:


2006-05-27 11:00:00


Case closed.

WikiLeaks release prompted the UN's chief investigator on torture, Manfred Nowak, to demand that the Obama administration "order a full investigation of US forces' involvement in human rights abuses in Iraq," The Guardian reported.

Nowak said that if the files demonstrate clear violations of the UN Convention Against Torture then "the Obama administration had an obligation to investigate them."

A failure to investigate these serious charges "would be a failure of the Obama government to recognise its obligations under international law." There's little chance of that happening under our "forward looking" president.

On the contrary, as The Washington Post reported Sunday, that former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith, a current adviser to America's top spook Leon Panetta, wants to hang the messenger.

Smith said, "'without question' he thought that [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for possessing and sharing without authorization classified military information."

The Post informed us that Obama's Justice Department "is assisting the Defense Department in its investigation into the leaks to WikiLeaks. Though Smith said he did not know whether efforts were underway to gain custody [of Assange], he said, 'My supposition is that the Justice Department and Department of Defense are working very hard to see if they can get jurisdiction over him'."

As I discussed in late 2009, perhaps the Pentagon is working feverishly to do just that, deploying a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) "Manhunting team" to run Assange and his organization to ground.

In Manhunting: Counter-Network Organization for Irregular Warfare, retired Lt. Col. George A. Crawford wrote in a 2009 monograph published by Joint Special Operations University, that "Manhunting--the deliberate concentration of national power to find, influence, capture, or when necessary kill an individual to disrupt a human network--has emerged as a key component of operations to counter irregular warfare adversaries in lieu of traditional state-on-state conflict measures."

And with an administration that asserts the right to kill anyone on the planet, including American citizens deemed "terrorists," it isn't a stretch to imagine the Pentagon resorting to a little "wet work" to silence Assange, thereby disrupting "a human network" viewed as deleterious impediment to Washington's imperial project.

After all, in Crawford's view, "Why drop a bomb when effects operations or a knife might do?"

Be that as it may, there was already sufficient evidence before Friday's release that American military personnel and outsourced "private security contractors" (armed mercenaries) had committed war crimes that warranted criminal investigations.

Even after 2004 revelations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker sparked the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, the files show that the systematic abuse and execution of prisoners, along with other serious war crimes, were standard operating procedure by the United States and their Iraqi "coalition" partners.

When Hersh's investigation first landed on the doorstep of the Bush White House, we were told that detainee abuse was the work of a "few bad apples" on the "night shift" at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

While enlisted personnel were charged, tried, convicted and imprisoned for their crimes, senior Pentagon officials including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and their top aides were exonerated by the White House and their accomplices in the corporate media.

"The truth is" Robert Fisk writes, "U.S. generals ... are furious not because secrecy has been breached, or because blood may be spilt, but because they have been caught out telling the lies we always knew they told."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "Cyberwar" Is Over and the National Security Agency Has Won

A "Memorandum of Agreement" struck last week between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA) promises to increase Pentagon control over America's telecommunications and electronic infrastructure.

It's all in the interest of "cybersecurity" of course, or so we've been told, since much of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) driving administration policy is a closely-held state secret.

Authority granted the über spy shop by the Bush and Obama administrations was handed to NSA by the still-classified National Security Presidential Directive 54, Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD 54/HSPD 23) in 2008 by then-President Bush.

The Agreement follows closely on the heels of reports last week by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) that DHS has been tracking people online and that the agency even established a "Social Networking Monitoring Center" to do so.

Documents obtained by EFF through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, revealed that the agency has been vacuuming-up "items of interest," systematically monitoring "citizenship petitioners" and analyzing "online public communication."

The documents suggest that "DHS collected a massive amount of data on individuals and organizations explicitly tied to a political event," the Obama inauguration.

This inevitably raises a troubling question: what other "political events" are being monitored by government snoops? Following last month's raids on antiwar activists by heavily-armed FBI SWAT teams, the answer is painfully obvious.

And with new reports, such as Monday's revelations by The Wall Street Journal that Facebook "apps" have been "transmitting identifying information--in effect, providing access to people's names and, in some cases, their friends' names--to dozens of advertising and Internet tracking companies," online privacy, if such a beast ever existed, is certainly now a thing of the past.

Project 12

With waning national interest in the "terrorism" product line, the "cybersecurity" roll-out (in stores in time for the holidays!) will drive hefty taxpayer investments--and boost the share price--for America's largest defense and security firms; always a sure winner where it counts: on Wall Street.

The DHS-NSA Agreement came just days after publication of a leaked document obtained by the secrecy-shredding web site Public Intelligence (PI).

"In early 2008," a PI analyst writes, "President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 23 (NSPD-54/HSPD-23) formalizing the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI). This initiative created a series of classified programs with a total budget of approximately $30 billion. Many of these programs remain secret and their activities are largely unknown to the public."

Amongst the programs stood up by CNCI "is an effort to encourage information sharing between the public and private sector called 'Project 12'."

The whistleblowing web site "recently acquired the key report from the Project 12 meetings: Improving Protection of Privately Owned Critical Network Infrastructure Through Public-Private Partnerships. This 35-page, For Official Use Only report is a guide to creating public-private partnerships that facilitate the implementation of 'actionable recommendations that [reflect] the reality of shared responsibility between the public and private sectors with respect to securing the nation's cyber assets, networks, systems, and functions'."

According to the document, under the rubric of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP), Project 12 recommends that "critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) be brought into federal cybersecurity efforts through a variety of means."

As Antifascist Calling readers are well aware, for decades the secret state has outsourced "inherently governmental" functions to private entities. This process has served as a means to both shield illegal activities and avoid public accountability under a cloak of "proprietary business information."

PI's secret spillers tell us that Project 12 stresses the "promotion of public-private partnerships that legalize and facilitate the flow of information between federal entities and private sector critical infrastructure, such as telecommunications and transportation."

"The ultimate goal of these partnerships" the analyst writes, "is not simply to increase the flow of 'threat information' from government agencies to private industry, but to facilitate greater 'information sharing' between those companies and the federal government."

What information is to be shared or what the implications are for civil liberties and privacy rights are not spelled out in the report.

As can readily be seen in the dubious relationships forged amongst retired senior military personnel and the defense industry, a top level Pentagon position is entrée to an exclusive club where salary levels and perks, increase the higher one has climbed the food chain.

Much the same can be said for high-level intelligence officials. Indeed, former officials turned corporate executives constellating the security industry are among the most vociferous advocates for strengthening collaboration between the state and private sectors. And the more powerful players on the field are represented by lobby shops such as the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA) and Business Executives for National Security (BENS).

Last year I reported that BENS are key players driving the national "cybersecurity" panic. In that piece I wrote that the group is a "self-described 'nationwide, non-partisan organization' [that] claims the mantle of functioning as 'the primary channel through which senior business executives can help advance the nation's security'." Project 12 is one area where BENS power-brokers have excelled in mutual backscratching.

We are informed that "the cost of scoping and building a tool that meets the requirements for cyber real-time situational awareness is likely to be significant and would be a high-risk investment of Federal funding." In other words, while taxpayers foot the bill, private corporations will reap the benefits of long-term contracts and future high-tech development projects.

However, "before making that investment, the U.S. Government and its information sharing security partners must define a clear scope and mission for the development of common situational awareness and should evaluate a variety of interim or simplified solutions."

Those "solutions" won't come cheap.

Market Research Media informs us that "the U.S. government sector witnesses a blossoming of investments in cyber security technologies."

We're told that with a "cumulative market valued at $55 billion (2010-2015), the U.S. Federal Cybersecurity market will grow steadily--at about 6.2% CAGR [compound annual growth rate] over the next six years."

Those numbers reflect the merger and acquisition mania amongst America's largest defense and security firms who are gobbling up the competition at ever-accelerating rates.

Washington Technology reported earlier this month that "government contractors specializing in the most attractive niche segments of the market are experiencing much more rapid growth and, accordingly, enjoying much higher valuation multiples upon selling their businesses than their more generalist counterparts."

"The larger companies in the federal market" the insider publication reports, "continue to seek to aggressively position themselves as leaders in the cyber market."

Amongst the "solutions" floated by Project 12 is the notion that "real-time" awareness can be achieved when "government resources" are "co-located with private industry, either virtually or physically, to help monitor security," the PI's analyst avers.

Therefore, "physical or virtual co-location would maximize the U.S. Government's investment in network protection by facilitating collaborative analysis and coordinated protective and response measures and by creating a feedback loop to increase value for private-sector and government participants. Another key outcome would be stronger institutional and personal trust relationships among security practitioners across multiple communities."

One firm, the spooky Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) "formally opened its seven-story cyber innovation center in Columbia, not far from the site of the new Cyber Command at Fort Meade," NSA headquarters, The Washington Post reported.

Talk about "co-location"! It doesn't get much chummier than this!

In order to valorize secret state investments in the private sector, the development of "Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs)," or fusion centers, are encouraged. Who would control the information flows and threat assessments are unknown.

However, as the American Civil Liberties Union documented in their report, What's Wrong with Fusion Centers, private sector participation in the intelligence process "break[s] down the arm's length relationship that protects the privacy of innocent Americans who are employees or customers of these companies" while "increasing the risk of a data breach."

This is all the more troubling when the "public-private partnership" envisioned by Project 12 operate under classified annexes of the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative.

NSA "Power-Grab"

Last year Rod Beckström, director of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Center (NCSC), resigned from his post, citing threats of a NSA "power grab."

In a letter highly-critical of government efforts to "secure" the nation's critical infrastructure, Beckström said that NSA "effectively controls DHS cyber efforts through detailees [and] technology insertions."

Citing NSA's role as the secret state's eyes and ears peering into electronic and telecommunications' networks, Beckström warned that handing more power to the agency could significantly threaten "our democratic processes...if all top level government network security and monitoring are handled by any one organization."

The administration claimed last week that the Agreement will "increase interdepartmental collaboration in strategic planning for the Nation's cybersecurity, mutual support for cybersecurity capabilities development, and synchronization of current operational cybersecurity mission activities," and that DHS and NSA will embed personnel in each agency.

We're informed that the Agreement's implementation "will focus national cybersecurity efforts, increasing the overalI capacity and capability of both DHS's homeland security and DoD's national security missions, while providing integral protection for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties."

Accordingly, the "Agreement is authorized under the provisions of the Homeland Security Act (2002); the Economy Act; U.S. Code Title 10; Executive Order 12333; National Security Directive 42; Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5; Homeland Security Presidential Directive-7; and National Security Presidential Directive­ 54/Homeland Security Presidential Directive-23."

What these "authorizations" imply for civil liberties and privacy rights are not stated. Indeed, like NSPD 54/HSPD 23, portions of National Security Directive 42, HSPD 5, and HSPD 7 are also classified.

And, as described above, top secret annexes of NSPD 54/HSPD 23 enabling the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative means that the American people have no way of knowing what these programs entail, who decides what is considered "actionable intelligence," or where--and for what purpose--private communications land after becoming part of the "critical infrastructure and key resources" landscape.

We're told that the purpose of the Agreement "is to set forth terms by which DHS and DoD will provide personnel, equipment, and facilities in order to increase interdepartmental collaboration in strategic planning for the Nation's cybersecurity, mutual support for cybersecurity capabilities development, and synchronization of current operational cybersecurity mission activities."

The text specifies that the Agreement will "focus national cybersecurity efforts" and provide "integral protection for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties."

However, as the premier U.S. eavesdropping organization whose "national security mission" is responsible for setting data encryption standards, NSA was ultimately successful in weakening those standards in the interest of facilitating domestic spying.

Indeed, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2008 "the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records."

Investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman informed us that the "NSA enterprise involves a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs" that include "a Federal Bureau of Investigation program to track telecommunications data once known as Carnivore, now called the Digital Collection System, and a U.S. arrangement with the world's main international banking clearinghouse to track money movements."

"The effort" the Journal revealed, "also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called 'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed," and include programs that have "been given greater reach" since the 9/11 provocation.

The civilian DHS Cybersecurity Coordinator will take a backseat to the Pentagon since the office "will be located at the National Security Agency (NSA)" and "will also act as the DHS Senior Cybersecurity Representative to U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM)."

Personnel will be assigned by DHS "to work at NSA as part of a Joint Coordination Element (JCE) performing the functions of joint operational planning, coordination, synchronization, requirement translation, and other DHS mission support for homeland security for cybersecurity," and will "have current security clearances (TS/SCI) upon assignment to NSA, including training on the appropriate handling and dissemination of classified and sensitive information in accordance with DoD, Intelligence Community and NSA regulations."

TS/SCI (Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information) clearances mean that while civilian DHS employees may have access to NSA and Pentagon "black" surveillance programs, they will be restricted from reporting up their chain of command, or to congressional investigators, once they have been "read" into them. This makes a mockery of assertions that the Agreement does "not alter ... command relationships." The mere fact that DHS personnel will have TS/SCI clearances mean just the opposite.

DHS will "provide appropriate access, administrative support, and space for an NSA Cryptologic Services Group (CSO) and a USCYBERCOM Cyber Support Element (CSE) collocated with the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC), at DHS, and integration into DHS's cybersecurity operational activities."

In other words, the civilian, though sprawling DHS bureaucracy will play host for NSA and CYBERCOM personnel answering to the Pentagon, and subject to little or no oversight from congressional committees already asleep at the switch, "to permit both CSG and CSE entities the capability to carry out their respective roles and responsibilities."

Despite boilerplate that "integral protection for privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties" will be guaranteed by the Agreement, there is no hiding the fact that a NSA power-grab has been successfully executed.

The Agreement further specifies that DHS and NSA will engage "in joint operational planning and mission coordination" and that DHS, DoD, NSA and CYBERCOM "maintain cognizance" of "cybersecurity activities, to assist in deconfliction and promote synchronization of those activities."

Following Project 12 revelations, new secret state relationships will assist "in coordinating DoD and DHS efforts to improve cybersecurity threat information sharing between the public and private sectors to aid in preventing, detecting, mitigating, and/or recovering from the effects of an attack, interference, compromise, or incapacitation related to homeland security and national security activities in cyberspace."

However, we do not learn whether "information sharing" includes public access, or even knowledge of, TS/SCI "black programs" which already aim powerful NSA assets at the American people. In fact, the Agreement seems to work against such disclosures.

This is hardly a level playing field since NSA might "receive and coordinate DHS information requests," NSA controls the information flows "as appropriate and consistent with applicable law and NSA mission requirements and authorities, in operational planning and mission coordination." The same strictures apply when it comes to information sharing by U.S. Cyber Command.

As Rod Beckström pointed out in his resignation letter, NSA "effectively controls DHS cyber efforts through detailees [and] technology insertions."

Despite the Agreement's garbled bureaucratese, we can be sure of one thing: the drift towards militarizing control over Americans' private communications will continue.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

When the 'Future' Invades Our Lives. The CIA Funds 'Predictive Behavior' Start-Ups

As they walked along the busy, yellow-lit tiers of offices, Anderton said: "You're acquainted with the theory of precrime, of course. I presume we can take that for granted." -- Philip K. Dick, The Minority Report

What do Google, the CIA and a host of so-called "predictive behavior" start-ups have in common?

They're interested in you, or more specifically, whether your online interests--from Facebook to Twitter posts, and from Flickr photos to YouTube and blog entries--can be exploited by powerful computer algorithms and subsequently transformed into "actionable intelligence."

And whether the knowledge gleaned from an IP address is geared towards selling useless junk or entering a name into a law enforcement database matters not a whit. It's all "just data" and "buzz" goes the mantra, along what little is left of our privacy and our rights.

Increasingly, secret state agencies ranging from the CIA to the National Security Agency are pouring millions of dollars into data-mining firms which claim they have a handle on who you are or what you might do in the future.

And to top it off, the latest trend in weeding-out dissenters and nonconformists from the social landscape will soon be invading a workplace near you; in fact, it already has.

Welcome to the sinister world of "Precrime" where capitalist grifters, drug- and torture-tainted spy shops are all laboring mightily to stamp out every last vestige of free thought here in the heimat.

The CIA Enters the Frame

In July, security journalist Noah Shachtman revealed in Wired that "the investment arms of the CIA and Google are both backing a company that monitors the web in real time--and says it uses that information to predict the future."

Shachtman reported that the CIA's semi-private investment company, In-Q-Tel, and Google Ventures, the search giant's business division had partnered-up with a dodgy outfit called Recorded Future pouring, according to some estimates, $20 million dollars into the fledgling firm.

A blurb on In-Q-Tel's web site informs us that "Recorded Future extracts time and event information from the web. The company offers users new ways to analyze the past, present, and the predicted future."

Who those ubiquitous though nameless "users" are or what they might do with that information once they "extract" it from the web is left unsaid. However, judging from the interest that a CIA-connected entity has expressed in funding the company, privacy will not figure prominently in the "new ways" such tools will be used.

Wired reported that the company, founded by former Swedish Army Ranger Christopher Ahlberg, "scours tens of thousands of websites, blogs and Twitter accounts to find the relationships between people, organizations, actions and incidents--both present and still-to-come."

"The cool thing is" Ahlberg said, "you can actually predict the curve, in many cases."

And as for the search giant's interest in "predicting the future" for the secret state, it wouldn't be the first time that Google Ventures sold equipment and expertise to America's shadow warriors.

While the firm may pride itself on the corporate slogan, "don't be evil," data is a valuable commodity. And where's there value, there's money to be made. Whether it comes in the form of "increasing share value" through the sale of private information to marketeers or state intelligence agencies eager to increase "situational awareness" of the "battlespace" is a matter of complete indifference to corporate bean counters.

After all, as Google CEO Eric Schmidt told CNBC last year, "if you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

But that standard, "only bad people have something to hide," is infinitely mutable and can be stretched--or manipulated as has so often been the case in the United States--to encompass everything from "Papist" conspiracies, "illegal" migrants, homosexuality, communism, drug use, or America's latest bête noire: the "Muslim threat."

Schmidt went on to say that "the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And we're all subject, in the U.S., to the Patriot Act, and it is possible that that information could be made available to the authorities."

In February, The Washington Post reported that "the world's largest Internet search company and the world's most powerful electronic surveillance organization are teaming up in the name of cybersecurity."

"The alliance" between Google and NSA "is being designed to allow the two organizations to share critical information without violating Google's policies or laws that protect the privacy of Americans' online communications," the Post alleged.

An anonymous source told the Post that "the deal does not mean the NSA will be viewing users' searches or e-mail accounts or that Google will be sharing proprietary data."


Last spring it was revealed that Google's Street View cars had been secretly vacuuming up terabytes of private wi-fi data for more than three years across Europe and the United States.

The Sunday Times reported that the firm had "been scooping up snippets of people's online activities broadcast over unprotected home and business wi-fi networks."

In July, The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" investigation disclosed that Google supplies mapping and search products to the U.S. secret state and that their employees, outsourced intelligence contractors for the Defense Department, may have filched their customers' wi-fi data as part of an NSA surveillance project.

And what about email and web searches? Last year, The New York Times revealed that NSA intercepts of "private telephone calls and e-mail messages of Americans are broader than previously acknowledged." In fact, a former NSA analyst described how he was trained-up fierce in 2005 "for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans' e-mail messages without court warrants."

That program, code-named PINWALE, and the NSA's meta-data-mining spy op STELLAR WIND, continue under Obama. Indeed, The Atlantic told us at the time that PINWALE "is actually an unclassified proprietary term used to refer to advanced data-mining software that the government uses."

But the seamless relationships amongst communications' giants such as Google and the secret state doesn't stop there.

Even before Google sought an assist from the National Security Agency to secure its networks after an alleged breech by China last year, in 2004 the firm had acquired Keyhole, Inc., an In-Q-Tel funded start-up that developed 3-D-spy-in-the-sky images; Keyhole became the backbone for what later evolved into Google Earth.

At the time of their initial investment, In-Q-Tel said that Keyhole's "strategic relationship ... means that the Intelligence Community can now benefit from the massive scalability and high performance of the Keyhole enterprise solution."

In-Q-Tel's then-CEO, Gilman Louie, said that spy shop venture capitalists invested in the firm "because it offers government and commercial users a new capability to radically enhance critical decision making. Through its ability to stream very large geospatial datasets over the Internet and private networks, Keyhole has created an entirely new way to interact with earth imagery and feature data."

Or, as seen on a daily basis in the AfPak "theatre" deliver exciting new ways to kill people. Now that's innovation!

That was then, now the search giant and the CIA's investment arm are banking on products that will take privacy intrusions to a whole new level.

A promotional offering by the up-and-comers in the predictive behavior marketplace, Recorded Future--A White Paper on Temporal Analytics asserts that "unlike traditional search engines which focus on text retrieval and leaves the analysis to the user, we strive to provide tools which assist in identifying and understanding historical developments, and which can also help formulate hypotheses about and give clues to likely future events. We have decided on the term 'temporal analytics' to describe the time oriented analysis tasks supported by our systems."

Big in the hyperbole department, Recorded Future claims to have developed an "analytics engine, which goes beyond search, explicit link analysis and adds implicit link analysis, by looking at the 'invisible links' between documents that talk about the same, or related, entities and events. We do this by separating the documents and their content from what they talk about."

According to the would-be Big Brother enablers, "Recorded Future also analyzes the 'time and space dimension' of documents--references to when and where an event has taken place, or even when and where it will take place--since many documents actually refer to events expected to take place in the future."

Adding to the unadulterated creep factor, the technocratic grifters aver they're "adding more components, e.g. sentiment analyses, which determine what attitude an author has towards his/her topic, and how strong that attitude is--the affective state of the author."

Strongly oppose America's imperial project to steal other people's resources in Afghanistan and Iraq, or, crime of crimes, have the temerity to write or organize against it? Step right this way, Recorded Future has their eye on you and will sell that information to the highest bidder!

After all, as Mike Van Winkle, a California Anti-Terrorism Information Center shill infamously told the Oakland Tribune back in 2003 after Oakland cops wounded scores of peacenik longshoremen at an antiwar rally at the port: "You can make an easy kind of a link that, if you have a protest group protesting a war where the cause that's being fought against is international terrorism, you might have terrorism at that (protest). You can almost argue that a protest against that is a terrorist act."

And with Recorded Future's "sentiment analyses" such "links" will be even easier to fabricate.

Never mind that the prestigious National Academy of Science's National Research Council issued a scathing 2008 report, Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Assessment, that debunked the utility of data-ming and link analysis as effective counterterrorism tools.

"Far more problematic," the NRC informs us, "are automated data-mining techniques that search databases for unusual patterns of activity not already known to be associated with terrorists." Since "so little is known about what patterns indicate terrorist activity" the report avers, dodgy techniques such as link analysis "are likely to generate huge numbers of false leads."

As for Recorded Future's over-hyped "sentiment analyses," the NRC debunked, one might even say preemptively, the dodgy claims of our would-be precrime mavens. "The committee also examined behavioral surveillance techniques, which try to identify terrorists by observing behavior or measuring physiological states."

Their conclusion? "There is no scientific consensus on whether these techniques are ready for use at all in counterterrorism." Damningly, the NRC asserted that such techniques "have enormous potential for privacy violations because they will inevitably force targeted individuals to explain and justify their mental and emotional states."

Not that such inconvenient facts matter to Recorded Future or their paymasters in the so-called intelligence community who after all, are in the driver's seat when the firm's knowledge products "make predictions about the future."

After all, as Ahlberg and his merry band of privacy invaders inform us: "Our mission is not to help our customers find documents, but to enable them to understand what is happening in the world."

The better to get a leg up on the competition or know who to target.

The "Real You"

Not to be outdone by black world spy agencies, their outsourced corporate partners or the futurist gurus who do their bidding, the high-tech publication Datamation, told us last month that the precrime concept "is coming very soon to the world of Human Resources (HR) and employee management."

Reporter Mike Elgan revealed that a "Santa Barbara, Calif., startup called Social Intelligence data-mines the social networks to help companies decide if they really want to hire you."

Elgan averred that while background checks have historically searched for evidence of criminal behavior on the part of prospective employees, "Social Intelligence is the first company that I'm aware of that systematically trolls social networks for evidence of bad character."

Similar to Recorded Future and dozens of other "predictive behavior" companies such as Attensity and Visible Technologies, Social Intelligence deploys "automation software that slogs through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, blogs, and 'thousands of other sources,' the company develops a report on the 'real you'--not the carefully crafted you in your resume."

According to Datamation, "the company also offers a separate Social Intelligence Monitoring service to watch the personal activity of existing employees on an ongoing basis." Such intrusive monitoring transforms the "workplace" into a 24/7 Orwellian panopticon from which there is no hope of escape.

The service is sold as an exemplary means to "enforce company social media policies." However, since "criteria are company-defined, it's not clear whether it's possible to monitor personal activity." Fear not, it is.

Social Intelligence, according to Elgan, "provides reporting that deemphasizes specific actions and emphasizes character. It's less about 'what did the employee do' and more about 'what kind of person is this employee?'"

In other words, it's all about the future; specifically, the grim world order that fear-mongering corporations are rapidly bringing to fruition.

Datamation reports that "following the current trend lines," rooted in the flawed logic of information derived from data-mining and link analysis, "social networking spiders and predictive analytics engines will be working night and day scanning the Internet and using that data to predict what every employee is likely to do in the future. This capability will simply be baked right in to HR software suites."

As with other aspects of daily life in post-constitutional America, executive decisions, ranging from whether or not to hire or fire someone, cast them into a lawless gulag without trial, or even kill them solely on the say-so of our War-Criminal-in-Chief, are the new house rules.

Like our faux progressive president, some HR bureaucrat will act as judge, jury and executioner, making decisions that can--and have--wrecked lives.

Elgan tells us that unlike a criminal proceeding where you stand before the law accused of wrongdoing and get to face your accuser, "you can't legally be thrown in jail for bad character, poor judgment, or expectations of what you might do in the future. You have to actually break the law, and they have to prove it."

"Personnel actions aren't anything like this." You aren't afforded the means to "face your accuser." In fact, based on whether or not you sucked-up to the boss, pissed-off some corporate toady, or moved into the "suspect" category based on an algorithm, you don't have to actually violate comapny rules in order to be fired "and they don't have to prove it."

Datamation tells us, "if the social network scanning, predictive analytics software of the future decides that you are going to do something in future that's inconsistent with the company's interests, you're fired."

And, Elgan avers, now that "the tools are becoming monstrously sophisticated, efficient, powerful, far-reaching and invasive," the precrime "concept is coming to HR."

Big Brother is only a "ping" or mouse click away...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Crypto Wars! Obama Wants New Law to Wiretap the Internet

In a reprise of the crypto wars of the 1990s, the U.S. secret state is mounting an offensive that would force telecommunication companies to redesign their systems and information networks to more easily facilitate internet spying.

Touted as a simple technical "fix" that would "modernize" existing legislation for wiretaps, government security officials will demand that telecommunication firms and internet service providers provide law enforcement with backdoors that would enable them to bypass built-in encryption and security features of electronic communications.

With the Obama administration rivaling, even surpassing antidemocratic moves by the Bush regime to monitor and surveil the private communications of the American people, The New York Times reported last week that "federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet."

Following closely on the heels of FBI raids on antiwar and international solidarity activists, the "change" administration now wants Congress to require all providers who enable communications "to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order."

Times' reporter Charlie Savage informs us that the administration will demand that software and communication providers build backdoors accessible to law enforcement and intelligence agencies, thus enabling spooks trolling "encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like Skype" the means "to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."

Calling new legislative strictures a "reasonable" and "necessary" tool for law enforcement that will "prevent the erosion of their investigative powers," FBI mouthpiece, general counsel Valerie E. Caproni, told the Times, "We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts."


Caproni's assertion that the Bureau and spy shops such as the National Security Agency are not interested in "expanding authority" but rather "preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security," is a thin tissue of lies lacking credibility.

In fact, the state's "existing authority" to spy upon private communications under the USA Patriot Act and assorted National Security- and Homeland Security Presidential Directives (NSPD/HSPD) in areas as such as "continuity of government" (NSPD 51/HSPD 20), "cybersecurity" (NSPD 54/HSPD 23) and "biometrics" (NSPD 59/HSPD 24), have led to the creation of overly broad and highly classified programs regarded as "state secrets" under Obama.

As I have written many times, most recently in August (see: "Obama Demands Access to Internet Records, in Secret, and Without Court Review," Antifascist Calling, August 12, 2010), since his 2009 inauguration President Obama has done nothing to reverse this trend. Indeed, he has taken further steps through the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), a highly-sanitized version of NSPD 54/HSPD 23, to ensure that the "President's Surveillance Program" (PSP) launched by Bush remains a permanent feature of daily life in the United States.

In a widely circulated report last year, the inspectors general from five federal agencies, including the Justice Department, the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, noted that following advice from the Office of Legal Counsel under torture-enablers Jay Bybee and John C. Yoo, "the President authorized the NSA to undertake a number of new, highly classified intelligence activities" that went far beyond warrantless wiretapping in their scope, encompassing additional unspecified "activities" that have never been disclosed to the public.

What were once regarded by Democrats and their ever-shrinking base of acolytes, cheerleaders and toadies as unspeakable crimes when carried out by Republican knuckle-draggers, are now regarded as "forward thinking," even "visionary" policies when floated by the faux "progressive" occupying the Oval Office.

And with "homegrown terrorism" and "cybersecurity" high priorities on the administration's to-do list, White House changelings and their friends from the previous regime are pulling out all the stops.

Last week, speaking at a Washington, D.C. "Ideas Forum," former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, currently a top executive with the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton private security corp, said that cybersecurity is the "wolf at the door" and that a "large-scale" cyberattack "could impact the global economy 'an order of magnitude surpassing' the attacks of September 11," The Atlantic reported.

McConnell and former Bushist Homeland Security Adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, the current chairwoman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), a D.C. lobby shop catering to security and intelligence grifters, urged the Obama administration to transform "how it defends against cyberattacks," claiming that the secret state "lack[s] the organizational ability and authorization to prevent and respond to cybersecurity threats."

Their prescription? Let NSA pit bulls off the leash, of course! Townsend said that "the real capability in this government is in the National Security Agency."

True enough as far as it goes, however Townsend mendaciously asserted that NSA is legally forbidden from domestic spying, not that it prevented her former boss from standing up NSA's internal surveillance apparatus through programs such as STELLAR WIND and PINWALE, the agency's domestic email interception program.

Both Townsend and McConnell claim that the "laws haven't kept up" with the alleged threat posed by a cyberattack and urged the administration to give the NSA even more authority to operate domestically.

No mention was made by liberal interventionist-friendly Atlantic reporter Max Fisher that McConnell's firm has reaped multiyear contracts worth billions for their classified cybersecurity work for the secret state.

Hardly slouches themselves when it comes to electronic eavesdropping, the FBI is seeking to expand their already-formidable capabilities through their "Going Dark" program.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported (see: "FBI 'Going Dark.' Budget Request for High-Tech Surveillance Capabilities Soar," May 17, 2009), the Bureau sought--and received--$233.9 billion in FY 2010 for the development of a new advanced electronic surveillance program.

ABC News first disclosed the program last year, and reported that "the term 'Going Dark' does not refer to a specific capability, but is a program name for the part of the FBI, Operational Technology Division's (OTD) lawful interception program which is shared with other law enforcement agencies."

According to ABC, "the term applies to the research and development of new tools, technical support and training initiatives."

The New York Times reported last week that OTD spent $9.75 million last year "helping communications companies" develop "interception capabilities" for the Bureau.

Administration Hypocrisy

The administration's push for more control is all the more ironic considering that the U.S. State Department according to Reuters, said in August it was "disappointed" that "the United Arab Emirates planned to cut off key BlackBerry services, noting the Gulf nation was setting a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information."

As The Washington Post told us at the time, UAE securocrats claimed that "it will block key features on BlackBerry smartphones because the devices operate beyond the government's ability to monitor."

Citing--what else!--"national security concerns," the measure "could" be motivated "in part" by state fears that "the messaging system might be exploited by"--wait!--"terrorists or other criminals who cannot be monitored by local authorities."

That regional beacon of democracy, Saudi Arabia, said it would follow suit. In response, State Department shill P.J. Crowley said that the United States is "committed to promoting the free flow of information. We think it's integral to an innovative economy."

With a straight face, Crowley told a State Department news briefing, "It's about what we think is an important element of democracy, human rights and freedom of information and the flow of information in the 21st century."

"We think it sets a dangerous precedent," he said. "You should be opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity to empower people rather than looking to see how you can restrict certain technologies."

Pointing out the Obama regime's hypocrisy, Yousef Otaiba, the UAE Ambassador to the United States counteracted and said it was Crowley's comments that were "disappointing" and that they "contradict the U.S. government's own approach to telecommunication regulation."

"Importantly," Otaiba said, "the UAE requires the same compliance as the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to assist in law enforcement."

The BBC informed us in July that Emirate officials are concerned that the encrypted software and networks used by Research in Motion, BlackBerry's parent company, "make it difficult for governments to monitor communications."

Although this is precisely the autocratic mindset that rules the roost here in the heimat, corporate media report identical moves by the U.S. government with nary a critical word, failing to point out the disconnect between administration rhetoric and ubiquitous "facts on the ground."

Among the proposals being considered by the administration, the Times reports that officials "are coalescing" around several "likely requirements" that include the following: "Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them." U.S. law will apply to overseas businesses, not just domestic firms. The Times avers that "Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts." And finally, a kiss of death for privacy rights, "Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception."

Firms that fail to comply "would face fines or some other penalty." The Times neglected to tell us however, what penalties await software developers or individual users who have the temerity to design--or avail themselves--of systems that bypass backdoors mandated by the secret state.

An Electronic Police State

Far from being an "enhanced security feature," the administration's proposal for peer-to-peer snooping would be a boon to hackers, thieves and other miscreants who routinely breech and exploit whatever "firewall" grifting firms and their political allies devise to "keep us safe."

In fact, as computer security and privacy researchers Christopher Soghoian and Sid Stamm revealed in their paper, Certified Lies: Detecting and Defeating Government Interception Attacks Against SSL, secret state agencies have already compromised the Secure Socket Layer certification process (SSL, the tiny lock that appears during supposedly "secure," encrypted online transactions), and do so routinely.

In March, Soghoian and Stamm introduced the public to "a new attack, the compelled certificate creation attack, in which government agencies compel a certificate authority to issue false SSL certificates that are then used by intelligence agencies to covertly intercept and hijack individuals' secure Web-based communications."

The intrepid researchers provided "alarming evidence" suggesting "this attack is in active use," and that a niche security firm, Packet Forensics, is already marketing "extremely small, covert surveillance devices for networks" to government agencies.

It now appears that the Obama administration will soon be seeking legislative authority from Congress that legalizes surreptitious snooping by security officials and a coterie of outsourced contractors who grow fat subverting our privacy rights.

Commenting on the administration's proposal in a recent post, Soghoian points out that when wiretap reporting requirements were amended in 2000, similar arguments were made that strong encryption would "harm national security."

Congress inserted language that compelled secret state agencies like the FBI to "include statistics on the number of intercept orders in which encryption was encountered and whether such encryption prevented law enforcement from obtaining the plain text of communications intercepted pursuant to such order."

It didn't.

However in a replay of the crypto wars of the 1990s, FBI general counsel Caproni brushed off breech of privacy concerns and told the Times that service providers "can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text."

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) argued a decade ago that "compiling the statistics would be a 'far more reliable basis than anecdotal evidence on which to assess law enforcement needs and make sensible policy in this area'."

"Since then," Soghoian writes, "the Administrative Office of the US Courts has compiled an annual wiretap report, which reveals that encryption is simply not frequently encountered during wiretaps, and when it is, it never stops the government from collecting the evidence they need."

In light of statistical evidence provided by the government itself, demands that communications' providers cough-up their customers' private data to unaccountable government snoops is quintessentially a political decision, and not, as mendaciously claimed, a "law enforcement" let alone a "national security" problem.

In fact, while police and intelligence agencies "look through thousands of individuals' email communications, search engine requests or private, online photo albums each year," they don't "obtain wiretap orders to intercept that data in real time. Instead," Soghoian tells us "[they] simply wait a few minutes, and then obtain what they want after the fact as a stored communication under 18 USC 2703," the Stored Communications Act.

"Unfortunately," Soghoian avers, "while we have a pretty good idea about how many wiretaps law enforcement agencies obtain each year, we have no idea how many times they go to email, search engine and cloud computing providers to compel them to disclose their customers' communications and other private data."

Therefore, "we find ourselves in the same situation as 12 years ago, where law enforcement officials were making anecdotal claims for which no evidence existed to prove, or disprove them."

As security expert Bruce Schneier pointed out, while the "proposal may seem extreme ... it's not unique." Averring that sinister snooping laws were "formerly reserved for totalitarian countries," Schneier writes "this wholesale surveillance of citizens has moved into the democratic world as well."

Citing moves by Sweden, Canada and Britain to hand "their police new powers of internet surveillance" compelling "communications system providers to redesign products and services they sell," securocrats, as is their wont, are lusting after the capacity to transform all aspects of daily life into "actionable intelligence."

On top of this, as Schneier and others such as Cryptohippie and Quintessenz have revealed, so-called democratic states, not just usual suspects like China (whose "Golden Shield" was designed by Western firms, after all) "are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to retain customer data in case they might need to be investigated later."

In their 2010 report, The Electronic Police State, Cryptohippie informed us that data retention "is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial, and that "it is gathered universally ('preventively') and only later organized for use in prosecutions."

How does such a system work? What are the essential characteristics that differentiate an Electronic Police State from previous forms of oppressive governance? Cryptohippie avers:

"In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email sent, every Internet site surfed, every post made, every check written, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping... are all criminal evidence, and all are held in searchable databases. The individual can be prosecuted whenever the government wishes."

As the World Socialist Web Site points out, the proposal by the Obama regime "goes far beyond anything envisioned by the Bush administration."

While the White House claims that new legislation is needed to combat "crime" and "terrorism," socialist critic Patrick Martin writes that "the Obama administration has defined 'terrorism' so widely that the term now covers a vast array of constitutionally protected forms of political opposition to the policies of the US government, including speaking, writing, political demonstrations, even the filing of legal briefs."

Just ask activists raided last month by FBI bully-boys in Minneapolis and Chicago!

The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the proposal and called on Congress to reject calls "to make the Internet wiretap ready."

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese derided the move, saying: "Under the guise of a technical fix, the government looks to be taking one more step toward conducting easy dragnet collection of Americans' most private communications."

Clamping Down on the Freedom of Information Act

Entreaties by civil libertarians however, are likely to fall on deaf ears in the Democratic-controlled Congress.

In a clear sign that the Obama administration is moving to clamp down further on the free flow of information even as they seek access to all of ours', Politico reported that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) "appears to be on the verge of prevailing in an attempt to put some information it receives from other intelligence agencies beyond the reach of Freedom of Information Act requests."

National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter pushed through an onerous section to Intelligence Authorization Act legislation that exempts so-called "operational files" from four secret state agencies--the CIA, NSA, National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency--from FOIA requests.

Apparently the American people, long the targets of illegal driftnet spying by the intelligence and security apparatus, will soon find another door slammed shut, even as the administration claims sweeping new powers, including the right to assassinate American citizens deemed "terrorists," in secret and without due process, anywhere on the planet.

And they call this transparency...