Monday, May 30, 2011

Back from the Dead: The Internet 'Kill Switch'

The American author William Faulkner once wrote: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

And like a horde of flesh-eating zombies shuffling out of a parking garage to feast on what's left of our freedoms, the Obama administration has promised to revive a proposal thought dead by most: the internet "kill switch."

On May 12, the White House released a 52-page document outlining administration plans governing cybersecurity. The bill designates the Department of Homeland Security as the "lead agency" with authority to initiate "countermeasures" to protect critical infrastructure from malicious attacks.

But as with other aspects of U.S. policy, from waging aggressive wars to conducting covert actions overseas, elite policy planners at the Pentagon and at nominally civilian agencies like DHS hide offensive plans and operations beneath layers of defensive rhetoric meant to hoodwink the public.

The term "countermeasure" is described by the White House as "automated actions with defensive intent to modify or block data packets associated with electronic or wire communications, internet traffic, program code, or other system traffic transiting to or from or stored on an information system for the purpose of protecting the information system from cybersecurity threats, conducted on an information system or information systems owned or operated by or on behalf of the party to be protected or operated by a private entity acting as a provider of electronic communication services, remote computing services, or cybersecurity services to the party to be protected." (Section 1. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity Authority, May 12, 2011, p. 1)

In other words, the proposal would authorize DHS and presumably other federal partners like the National Security Agency, wide latitude to monitor, "modify or block" data packets (information and/or communications) deemed a threat to national security.

It isn't a stretch to conclude that such "automated actions" would be predicated on the deployment of systems such as "Einstein 3" or the NSA's top secret "Perfect Citizen" program throughout the nation's electronic communications architecture.

NSA's Einstein 3 project we're told is designed to prevent malicious attacks on government systems and, controversially, private sector networks. Using NSA hardware and the signatures of previous attacks as a road map, Einstein 3 routes the internet traffic "of civilian agencies through a monitoring box that would search for and block computer codes designed to penetrate or otherwise compromise networks," The Washington Post reported.

According to multiple media reports, AT&T, one of the Agency's private partners in Bush and now, Obama administration warrantless wiretapping programs variously known as "Stellar Wind," "Pioneer," its data-mining portion and "Pinwale," the agency's secret email collection program, was the Bush administration's choice to test the system. In fact, before agreeing to participate in the pilot project AT&T attorneys sought assurances from the Justice Department "that it would bear no liability for participating," the Post averred.

Since 2009, under Obama, Einstein 3 testing has proceeded apace.

Last summer, The Wall Street Journal revealed that NSA and a private corporate partner, the giant defense firm Raytheon, were standing up a new program known as "Perfect Citizen."

According to investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman, the black project "would rely on a set of sensors deployed in computer networks for critical infrastructure that would be triggered by unusual activity suggesting an impending cyber attack."

An email from a Raytheon insider that the Journal obtained recounted that "the overall purpose of the [program] is our Government...feel[s] that they need to insure the Public Sector is doing all they can to secure Infrastructure critical to our National Security." It concluded with this ominous warning: "Perfect Citizen is Big Brother."

While NSA initially downplayed serious threats to privacy, claiming that "Perfect Citizen" is no more intrusive than traffic cameras on a busy street, The Register cautioned that "mission creep" was a distinct possibility, given that sensitive, private information could migrate "outside an infrastructure-security context."

How would such programs and proposals play out in the real world?

According to Government Computer News "proposed cybersecurity legislation released by the Obama administration earlier this month is similar to legislation now pending in the Senate, but it does not contain the explicit emergency powers contained in the bill introduced by Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan M. Collins (R-Maine)."

Pretty good so far? Not so fast! GCN reports, "instead, it seems to rely on a 77-year-old law that gives the president broad authority to shut down communications networks."

Got that? There's no need for a legislative fix to expand the president's power to pull the plug, only in the event of an unspecified "national emergency" of course, since the White House already possesses the means to do just that, the Communications Act of 1934.

The Act, amended in 1996, specifically empowers the president "during the continuance of a war in which the United States is engaged," control over media under circumstances determined by the Executive Branch. Accordingly, Section 706 [47 U.S.C. 606] authorizes the president "if he finds it necessary for the national defense and security, to direct that such communications as in his judgment may be essential to the national defense and security shall have preference or priority with any carrier subject to this Act."

But the law goes further and in fact authorizes the president "whenever in his judgment the public interest requires, to employ the armed forces of the United States to prevent any such obstruction or retardation of communication."

This would seem to open the door even further to intrusions into domestic affairs by the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, which after all are Pentagon combat support agencies, charged with carrying out electronic communications warfare.

In the event of a declared "national" or, in today's language, a "cyber emergency," the president "may suspend or amend, for such time as he may see fit, the rules and regulations applicable to any or all stations within the jurisdiction of the United States as prescribed by the Commission, and may cause the closing of any station for radio communication and the removal therefrom of its apparatus and equipment, or he may authorize the use or control of any such station and/or its apparatus and equipment by any department of the Government under such regulations as he may prescribe, upon just compensation to the owners."

Substitute the word "internet" for "radio" and "network" for "station" and it becomes all-too-clear that presidential authority for an internet "kill switch" is already a reality.

And in the context of America's "War on Terror," described by war criminal and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a conflict having "no known metrics" to determine its endpoint, "war time" powers to be exercised solely at the discretion of the president over the nation's communications infrastructure too, seem to be virtually limitless and without constraints imposed either by Congress or the federal judiciary as recent "state secrets" rulings readily attest.

Right-wing senator Collins cried foul, saying that Executive Branch authority under the Communications Act "is far broader than the authority in our bill," claiming that legislation she and neocon hawk Lieberman introduced would "carefully constrain" the president's power over the internet.

Sure, just as the War Powers Act "constrained" the president from carrying out preemptive wars against countries which haven't attacked the United States but have the singular misfortune of possessing valuable resources (can you say oil, Iraq and Libya), lusted after by American multinationals.

During last week's hearings before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, outgoing DHS Undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate, Philip R. Reitinger, told the Committee that the administration "would use the authority that [1934 law] brings to bear in the right way."

"Trust us," top Obama administration officials explain. We wouldn't do anything that threatens the free flow of information, not to mention privacy rights or civil liberties, would we?

This from a White House that's expanded the already formidable, and illegal, warrantless wiretapping programs of the previous regime while continuing to withhold secret legal memos cobbled together by the Office of Legal Counsel; memos justifying everything from the seizure of personal records to electronic communications by various intelligence fiefdoms under the Patriot Act, as I reported last week.

Reitinger, who'll leave his post next month, reportedly to "spend more time with his family," or more likely, before taking a plum position with one of the innumerable defense firms staking out the lucrative cybersecurity market, said that White House authority during a "cyber emergency," say a sudden revolt by outraged citizens against capitalist depredations like the ones which shook Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year or are currently exploding across Spain are "one of the areas that would need to be negotiated," GCN reported.

Of course, congressional grifters are not talking about political upheavals per se, although the response by repressive governments such as Egypt to citizens clamoring for more rights, no doubt with encouragement by certain three-lettered U.S. agencies, helped the former Mubarak regime reach their decision to flip the switch and cut off cell phone and internet access for a time.

As Washington's cyber scare gathers steam, one of the "more controversial elements of any new cybersecurity law," the right-wing Washington Times avers, are "what powers the president should have over the Internet in the event of a catastrophic attack on vital U.S. assets."

"Clearly, if something significant were to happen, the American people would expect us to be able to respond and respond appropriately," Reitinger said.

"Experts," according to the Washington Times, "say that in the event of a major cyber-attack, authorities might have only a short time to respond and might need to temporarily divert some Internet traffic or take it off-line."

Wringing her hands, Collins said she was "baffled" by administration plans to rely on the 1934 law.

Reitinger said that while presidential powers embedded in the Communications Act "were not designed with the current environment that we have in mind," he insisted "there are authorities there."

And where "authorities" exist, you can be certain that the National Security State will find the means to use them, or invent new ones, in secret and without disclosing the fact either to Congress or the public.

During hearings before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet, Obama administration officials "faced pointed questions" over White House proposals, the National Journal reported.

"Lawmakers," reporter Josh Smith wrote, "worried that the administration's plan provides too much government control in cybersecurity issues."

In a replay of the repulsive FISA Amendments Act (FAA), the White House plan "would grant legal immunity to companies who cooperate with federal cyber investigations." North Carolina Democrat Melvin Watt was skeptical, saying that Obama's proposal was similar to FAA's retroactive immunity clause that handed out get-out-of-jail-free cards to telecom companies that collaborated with the secret state's driftnet spying operations.

Watt said, "these companies could then do something that's unconstitutional just because you say it's not. People get very uncomfortable with the idea that the government can just call up someone, demand information, and then provide them immunity."

And under the proposal, the federal courts would be barred from determining whether or not to grant immunity to cooperating firms accused of handing over the personal details of their customers to the government; that too, would be left to the Executive Branch.

As I have written many times (most recently here, here and here), the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, along with private partners who stand to make billions hyping the cyber threat, are driving U.S. policy.

During recent hearings, Richard J. Butler, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Cyber Policy said that the "Defense Department is sharing cybersecurity information, capabilities and expertise with the Homeland Security Department," the Armed Forces Press Service reported.

According to Butler, cybersecurity requires a "whole government approach," and that the "Defense and Homeland Security departments already are doing that," citing last fall's Memorandum of Agreement between NSA and DHS that "laid the foundation for the collaboration ... to share operational planning and technical development."

"Since then," Butler said, "the collaboration has grown into joint coordination at U.S. Cyber Command and the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Md., and the sharing of information, capabilities, and employees."

Just how real is the threat?

In an essential paper published last month, Loving the Cyber Bomb?, George Mason University researchers Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins wrote that despite a "steady drumbeat of alarmist rhetoric coming out of Washington about potential catastrophic cyber threats," the rhetoric of "'cyber doom' employed by proponents of increased federal intervention, however, lacks clear evidence of a serious threat that can be verified by the public."

"As a result," Brito and Watkins averred, "the United States may be witnessing a bout of threat inflation similar to that seen in the run-up to the Iraq War."

"Additionally," the researchers cautioned, "a cyber-industrial complex is emerging, much like the military-industrial complex of the Cold War. This complex may serve to not only supply cybersecurity solutions to the federal government, but to drum up demand for them as well."

"The official consensus," Brito and Watkins wrote, "seems to be that the United States is facing a grave and immediate threat that only quick federal intervention can address."

As we have seen, most recently during rushed congressional votes that reauthorized expiring sections of the constitution-shredding USA Patriot Act, the Executive Branch will do everything in its power to continue hyping unverified threats, thus concealing just how far we've traveled along the road towards a National Surveillance State.

After all, as Wired reported last week, if "you think you understand how the Patriot Act allows the government to spy on its citizens ... Sen. Ron Wyden says it's worse than you know."

The Oregon Democrat, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told journalist Spencer Ackerman that there's "a gap between what the public thinks the law says and what the American government secretly thinks the law says."

During testimony last March before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, the Justice Department's top national security official, Todd Hinnen, told congressional grifters that Section 215, the "business records" provision "has been used to obtain driver's license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like."

However, Hinnen testified that Section 215 has "also been used to support important and highly sensitive intelligence collection operations, on which this committee and others have been separately briefed," behind closed doors.

Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department will comment on what that secret interpretation of the law might entail. However, security and privacy researcher Christopher Soghoian averred that the secret state's "sensitive collection program" is likely "related to warrantless, massive scale collection of geo-location information from cellular phones."

"Clearly," Soghoian writes, "there are many unanswered questions--we do not know what kind of data collection is occurring, and why it is problematic enough to cause four senators to speak up publicly. However, given that four senators have now spoken up, this strongly suggests that there is something seriously rotten going on."

Commenting on the rush to pass Patriot Act legislation, CNET News investigative journalist Declan McCullagh averred: "It's true that exabytes upon exabytes of data could, in theory, be helpful in investigating terrorism and other crimes. This was the motivation behind the Total Information Awareness idea, after all. But it's also true that nobody in the U.S. Congress believed that they were giving the FBI such sweeping authority when enacting the law nearly a decade ago."

Magnify those concerns by a factor of ten or even a thousand when it comes to the formidable array of surveillance capabilities already deployed by the National Security Agency.

And if the interpretation of the Communications Act favored by top Obama administration officials gain traction in Congress then, as the ACLU recently warned "there are [cybersecurity] proposals out there that would permit information grabs that make the Patriot Act look quaint."

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Protecting Us from Our Freedoms: Congress Set to Renew Patriot Act Spy Provisions

As night follows day, you can count on Congress to serve as loyal servants and willing accomplices of our out-of-control National Security State.

Last week, in another shameless demonstration of congressional "bipartisanship," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) forged a filthy backroom deal that reauthorizes insidious surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act for an additional four years.

"Like clockwork," the ACLU reports, Reid and McConnell "introduced a bill, S. 1038, that will extend the provisions until June 1, 2015." As of this writing, the text of that measure has yet to be published.

And, like a faint echo from the past when the Patriot Act was signed into law nearly a decade ago in the wake of the 9/11 provocation and the anthrax attacks, the ACLU tells us that "the Senate begins its debate on Monday with votes possible that same night."

But why not forego a vote altogether. After all, with the White House "skipping a legal deadline to seek congressional authorization of the military action in Libya" under the War Powers Act, "few on the Hill are objecting," the Associated Press reports.

Why not extend congressional "courtesy" to the White House over demands that their illegal spying on Americans continue indefinitely "as long as consultations with Congress continue"?

Consensus by congressional Democrats and Republicans over extending the provisions, the World Socialist Web Site reports, "meets the demands of the Obama administration and the Justice Department for a 'clean' extension, that is, one that does not make any concessions to concerns over the infringement of civil liberties, particularly in relation to the authorization to seize the records of libraries and other institutions."

"The idea," the Associated Press informs us, "is to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government." (emphasis added)

While most of the surveillance powers handed the security apparat were permanent, three controversial provisions had expiration dates attached to the law due to the potential for serious civil rights abuses. Such suspicions were certainly warranted as dozens of reports by Congress and the Justice Department, media investigations and Freedom of Information Act and other lawsuits subsequently disclosed.

The provisions set for renewal include the following:

• The "roving wiretap" provision grants the FBI authority to obtain wiretaps from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) under color of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and its bastard stepchild, the FISA Amendments Act, which granted retroactive immunity to the government's telecommunications' partners. This section of the law allows the Bureau to spy on anyone of "interest" to the FBI during the course of a "national security" investigation, without identifying a specific target to be surveilled or which communication medium will be tapped. Anyone caught in the FBI's surveillance dragnet can themselves come under scrutiny, even if they were not named in the original warrant. Insidiously, under the "roving wiretap" provision, even if a warrant is executed by a judge in one jurisdiction, it can be made valid anywhere in the United States, solely on the say-so of the FBI. Essentially, this amounts to the issuance of a blank warrant that further marginalizes the Fourth Amendment's explicit requirement that warrants are only issued "particularly describing the place to be searched."

• Section 215, the so-called "business records" provision, allows FISC warrants for virtually any type of record or "tangible thing:" banking and financial statements, credit card purchases, travel itineraries, cell phone bills, medical histories, you name it, without government snoops having to declare that the information they seek has any connection whatsoever to a terrorism, espionage or "national security" investigation. The government does not have to demonstrate "probable cause." Government officials need only certify to a judge, without providing evidence or proof, that the search meets the statute's overly-broad requirements and the court has been stripped of its authority to reject the state's application. Surveillance orders under Section 215 can even be based on a person's protected First Amendment activities: the books they read, web sites searched or articles they have published. In other words, exercising free speech under the Constitution can become the basis for examining personal records. Third parties served with such sweeping orders are prohibited from disclosing the search to anyone. In fact, with built-in gag orders forbidding disclosure subjects may never know they have be scrutinized by federal authorities, thereby undercutting their ability to challenge illegitimate searches.

• The "lone wolf" provision, a particularly onerous and intrusive investigative device allows the federal government to spy on individuals not connected to a terrorist organization but who may share ideological affinities with groups deemed suspect by the secret state. The definition of who may be a "lone wolf" is so vague that it greatly expands the category of individuals who may be monitored by the security apparat.

After Congress passed several earlier extensions, the three provisions were set to "sunset" on February 28, 2011. But with the Obama administration and the FBI insisting that no new civil liberties protections be added that would undercut their domestic spying powers, a 90-day temporary extension was approved earlier this year and is now set to expire on May 27.

This temporary extension followed an embarrassing loss in early February by the House Republican leadership who had failed to win a two-thirds majority passage of the proposal which barred amendments. In fact, 26 newly-elected Republican members, including those self-identified with the so-called "Tea Party" caucus, joined 122 Democrats in opposition and defeated the bill.

While Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have urged Congress to extend the provisions, permanently if possible or for an extended period if not, because they allege short-term extensions have a deleterious effect on "counterterrorism investigations" and "increase the uncertainties borne by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies in carrying out their missions." Such mendacious claims however, are not borne out by the facts.

Indeed, the Department of Justice's own Office of the Inspector General's (OIG) 2008 report found that "[t]he evidence showed no instance where the information obtained from a Section 215 order described in the body of the report resulted in a major investigative development."

True enough as far as it goes, but such snooping provided an unprecedented view of the comings and goings of citizens now subjects of scattershot data-mining, dossier building and ginned-up federal prosecutions.

In fact, the OIG demonstrated conclusively that widespread abuses by the FBI in their issuance of constitution-shredding National Security Letters, handed out without probable cause and attached with built-in secret gag orders, have been used by the Bureau to target innocent Americans.

While Barack Obama promised to curtail the worst abuses of the previous administration when he assumed office in January 2009, the Justice Department reported there has been a huge increase in domestic spying during the first two years of his administration.

As Antifascist Calling reported earlier this month, according to figures supplied by the Justice Department "in 2010, the FBI made 24,287 NSL requests (excluding requests for subscriber information only) for information concerning United States persons. These sought information pertaining to 14,212 different United States persons." Additionally, the FBI made 96 applications to the rubber-stamp FISC court in 2010 on 215 orders, a four-fold increase over 2009.

None of this should come as a shock to readers. As I have pointed out many times, the Obama administration has not simply extended the previous regime's assault on civil liberties and political rights but has greatly accelerated the downward spiral towards a presidential dictatorship lorded-over by the Pentagon and the national security apparat.

Justice Department Stonewall Continues

Moves to renew the Patriot Act's spy provisions follow closely on the heels of administration demands to expand the scope of National Security Letters. As The Washington Post reported last summer, the White House "is seeking to make it easier for the FBI to compel companies to turn over records of an individual's Internet activity without a court order if agents deem the information relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation."

"The administration," the Post disclosed, "wants to add just four words--'electronic communication transactional records'-- to a list of items that the law says the FBI may demand without a judge's approval."

"Government lawyers," the Post averred, "say this category of information includes the addresses to which an Internet user sends e-mail; the times and dates e-mail was sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history."

Additionally, the White House is demanding that the manufacturers of electronic devices such as iPhones and Blackberries, as The New York Times revealed last fall, make their products "technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages." In other words, the state is demanding that government-mandated backdoors be built into the existing architecture of the internet in order to further facilitate driftnet spying.

Meanwhile, Obama's Justice Department continues to stonewall Congress and privacy advocates "demanding the release of a secret legal memo used to justify FBI access to Americans' telephone records without any legal process or oversight."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) disclosed that the secret state satrapy that brought us COINTELPRO and employed Al-Qaeda triple agent Ali Mohamed as a "confidential informant," refuses to tell us what that authority is or how their abusive power-grab squares with rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

"A report released last year by the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General," EFF attorneys write, "revealed how the FBI, in defending its past violations of the Electronic Privacy Communications Act (ECPA), had come up with a new legal argument to justify secret, unchecked access to private telephone records." The heavily-redacted report revealed that the "Office of the Legal Counsel (OLC) had issued a legal opinion agreeing with the FBI's theory."

"The decision not to release the memo," McClatchy Newspapers reported last week, "is noteworthy because the Obama administration--in particular the Office of Legal Counsel--has sought to portray itself as more open than the Bush administration was."

"By turning down the foundation's request for a copy," journalist Marisa Taylor writes, "the department is ensuring that its legal arguments in support of the FBI's controversial and discredited efforts to obtain telephone records will be kept secret."

"Even officials within the Justice Department itself are concerned that the FBI's secret legal theory jeopardizes privacy and government accountability, especially considering the FBI's demonstrated history of abusing surveillance law," averred EFF senior staff attorney Kevin Bankston.

"The Justice Department has said it can't release the document for national security reasons," McClatchy noted, "but it hasn't elaborated on that assertion. At the same time, the department and the FBI have refused to comment on the legal position itself."

According to published reports, "the bureau devised an informal system of requesting the records from three telecommunications firms to create what one agent called a 'phone database on steroids' that included names, addresses, length of service and billing information."

The OIG later concluded, Taylor writes, "that the FBI and employees of the telecom companies treated Americans' telephone records in such an informal and cavalier way that in some cases the bureau abused its authority."

Last year the Inspector General's report asserted that "the OLC agreed with the FBI that under certain circumstances (word or words redacted) allows the FBI to ask for and obtain these records on a voluntary basis from the providers, without legal process or a qualifying emergency."

That report "A Review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Use of Exigent Letters and Other Informal Requests for Telephone Records," revealed widespread abuses by the Bureau and their telecom partners.

So-called "exigent" or emergency letters were used by the FBI to illegally obtain the phone records of thousands of Americans. According to an earlier report by EFF, "while we had known since 2007 that the FBI improperly sought phone records by falsely asserting emergency circumstances, the report shows the situation inside the FBI's Communications Analysis Unit (CAU) degenerated even further, sometimes replacing legal process with sticky notes."

Senior staff attorney Kurt Opsahl wrote at the time that "employees of three telecoms," since identified as AT&T, Verizon and MCI, "worked directly out of the CAU office, right next to their FBI colleagues."

According to the Inspector General's report, Opsahl averred, "even exigent letters became too much work: an FBI analyst explained that 'it's not practical to give the [exigent letter] for every number that comes in.' Instead, the telecoms would provide phone records pursuant to verbal requests and even post-it notes with a phone number stuck on the carrier reps' workstations."

As Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald writes, "the way a republic is supposed to function is that there is transparency for those who wield public power and privacy for private citizens."

However, "the National Security State has reversed that dynamic completely, so that the Government (comprised of the consortium of public agencies and their private-sector 'partners') knows virtually everything about what citizens do, but citizens know virtually nothing about what they do (which is why WikiLeaks specifically and whistleblowers generally, as one of the very few remaining instruments for subverting that wall of secrecy, are so threatening to them)."

"Fortified by always-growing secrecy weapons," Greenwald avers, "everything they do is secret--including even the 'laws' they secretly invent to authorize their actions--while everything you do is open to inspection, surveillance and monitoring."

"This is what the Surveillance State, at its core, is designed to achieve," Greenwald cautions, "the destruction of privacy for individual citizens and an impenetrable wall of secrecy for those with unlimited surveillance power."

As this filthy system continues to implode amidst an orgy of financial and political corruption that would make a Roman emperor blush, the capitalist oligarchy is hell-bent on shielding themselves from any meaningful oversight or accountability, thus ensuring that the secret state's war on democracy itself continues.

(Image courtesy of the ACLU)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

As Whistleblower Prosecutions Rise, Government Withholds Spy Doc, Fears Lawsuits Against Telecom Partners

With Obama's Justice Department threatening to classify previously unclassified material during the upcoming trial of accused NSA whistleblower Thomas A. Drake, Secrecy News reports that prosecutors claim they can do so because "NSA possesses a statutory privilege that protects against the disclosure of information relating to its activities."

Never mind that security apparatchiks have carried out multiyear, illegal driftnet surveillance operations against the American people, or that the broad outlines of these illicit programs have been known for almost six years when they were first reported by The New York Times. Despite these inconvenient truths, our "transparency" president's minions are now asserting the right to erase well-known facts from the public record to win a conviction in a high-profile case.

And with a federal Grand Jury now meeting in Alexandria, Virginia to criminally investigate the WikiLeaks organization and its founder, Julian Assange, to determine whether they can be charged with violations of the draconian Espionage Act, the administration is pulling out all the stops by targeting individuals who expose government crimes and corruption.

Accused of leaking information that uncovered high-level corruption at the Pentagon's electronic intelligence satrapy, Drake is charged with serving as a source for a series of articles published by The Baltimore Sun that provided rich details on cosy relations between NSA officials and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC).

According to investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman, three years and $1.2 billion after choosing SAIC as the primary contractor for a failed digital communications project called Trailblazer, "SAIC did not provide computer experts with the technical or management skills to complete the project."

In subsequent reporting, the Sun revealed that "six years after it was launched, the Trailblazer program consists of little more than blueprints on a wall."

Drake's revelations of high-level cronyism at the agency which cost taxpayers billions of dollars were further amplified by other reporters. Writing for CorpWatch, investigative journalist Tim Shorrock disclosed that NSA "is the company's largest single customer, and SAIC is the NSA's largest contractor."

Shorrock tells us that "the company's penchant for hiring former intelligence officials played an important role in its advancement."

According to CorpWatch, "the story of William Black, Jr." is emblematic of the clubby, good-old-boy networks that constellate the National Security State. "In 1997," Shorrock writes, "the 40-year NSA veteran was hired as an SAIC vice president 'for the sole purpose of soliciting NSA business,' according to a published account. Three years later, after NSA initially funded Trailblazer, Black went back to the agency to manage the program; within a year, SAIC won the master contract for the program."

Hardly surprising, given the fact that the so-called revolving door ushering former top intelligence officials into corporate board rooms is a tale oft-told, as the curriculum vitae of former NSA- and Director of National Intelligence, John Michael "Mike" McConnell, readily attests. After his two-year stint as President Bush's DNI (2007-2009), McConnell returned to his perch at the ultra-spooky Booz Allen Hamilton security firm as Senior Vice President where he currently manages that firm's cybersecurity portfolio.

Peddling his expertise as an intelligence insider, McConnell is one of the chief tricksters hawking the so-called "cyber threat," the latest front to have emerged from the highly-profitable "War on Terror."

Last year, in a widely-cited Washington Post op-ed, McConnell claimed that the United States needs "to reengineer the Internet to make attribution, geolocation, intelligence analysis and impact assessment--who did it, from where, why and what was the result--more manageable."

What should interest readers here, is the fact that while the Obama administration wages war on whistleblowers like Thomas Drake, Bradley Manning and others, who expose waste, fraud, abuse and war crimes, the architects and perpetrators of those offenses, high-level corporate and government officials, escape justice and continue to operate with impunity.

In the Drake case, Secrecy News analyst Steven Aftergood writes, "The NSA Act ... has never been used to exclude information in a criminal case."

That the administration has chosen to do so with Drake serves as an unmistakable warning that the federal government will crush anyone who challenges crimes perpetrated by the secret state.

Aftergood told NPR last week that the Obama regime's surge of whistleblower prosecutions is "a worrisome development."

"Leaks serve a very valuable function as a kind of safety valve," he said. "They help us to get out the information that otherwise would be stuck."

And with Congress, spearheaded by right-wing Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, seeking to go even further to persecute whistleblowers, the government is poised to choke-off what little remains of democratic oversight, thus ensuring that information remains "stuck."

As FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds points out, "every time when I think things couldn't possibly get any worse, I'm proven wrong and they actually do get worse."

"Our so called representatives," Edmonds writes, "are planning to increase the federal government's unchecked powers by giving them the right to strip national security whistleblowers of their pensions."

According to the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), under Section 403 of the Intelligence Authorization Act, "the head of an employee's agency can simply accuse a whistleblower of leaking classified information and that whistleblower can automatically be stripped of their federal pension, even after they retire."

So draconian is this proposal that once stripped of their pensions, whistleblowers would be barred from accessing the federal courts to challenge their administrative punishment.

"Instead," NWC avers, "they will be forced to use the DNI's administrative procedures to try to defend themselves. In other words, the DNI will be the prosecutor, the judge and the jury to strip pensions from public servants."

Shielding Telecoms ... from their Customers

Meanwhile across the Potomac, the ACLU reported last week that in response to their lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the repulsive FISA Amendments Act and their Freedom of Information Act request "to learn more about the government's interpretation and implementation" of FAA, "the government released a few hundred pages of heavily redacted documents."

As readers recall, the FAA was a piece of legislative detritus passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2008 that authorized the secret state's driftnet surveillance of American's communications while providing retroactive immunity to NSA's private partners in the telecommunications' industry.

Just so we understand what it is Congress shielded, AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein described how the firm and the NSA physically split and then copied global communications traffic flowing into their offices and then passed it along to the Agency. In his self-published book, Klein wrote:

What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: e-mail, web browsing, Voice-Over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy. There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the 4th Amendment warrants have to be specific, "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." ...

This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in the their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter. (Mark Klein, Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine... And Fighting It, Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge, 2009, pp. 38-39.)

"Two weeks ago," ACLU National Security Project staffer Alexander Abdo wrote, "as part of our FOIA lawsuit over those documents, the government gave us several declarations attempting to justify the redaction of the documents."

In the course of examining the documents, ACLU researchers "came across this unexpectedly honest explanation from the FBI of why the government doesn't want us to know which 'electronic communication service providers' participate in its dragnet surveillance program." On page 32 we are enlightened by the following nugget:

In this case, the FBI withheld the identities of the electronic communication service providers that have provided information, or are listed as potentially required to provide information, to the FBI as part of its national security and criminal investigations under authority granted by Section 702 of the FAA. Exemption (b)(4)-1, cited in conjunction with (b)(7)(D)-1, has been asserted because disclosure of the identities of electronic communication service providers would cause substantial harm to their competitive position. Specifically, these businesses would be substantially harmed if their customers knew that they were furnishing information to the FBI. The stigma of working with the FBI would cause customers to cancel the companies' services and file civil actions to prevent further disclosure of subscriber information. Therefore, the FBI has properly withheld this information pursuant to Exemption (b)(4), in conjunction with (b)(7)(D)-1. (Declaration of David M. Hardy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, in American Civil Liberties Union, et al v. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, et al, Civil Action No. 10-CV-4419 (RJS), April 25, 2011)

Got that?

While the federal government illegally spies on us, those who are sworn to uphold the Constitution and protect our rights are engaged in a massive swindle designed by Congress to shield private lawbreakers whose "competitive position" might be compromised should their filthy corporate practices be exposed.

Public harm, private profit; it doesn't get any clearer than this!

(Image courtesy of

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Secret State's Domestic Spying on the Rise

Despite last week's "termination" of America's bête noire, Osama bin Laden, the reputed "emir" and old "new Hitler" of the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as al-Qaeda, Secrecy News reports an uptick in domestic spying.

Never mind that the administration is engaged in an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, or is systematically targeting antiwar and solidarity activists with trumped-up charges connected to the "material support of terrorism," as last Fall's multi-state raids on anarchists and socialists in Chicago and Minneapolis attest.

In order to do their best to "keep us safe," Team Obama is busily building upon the criminal legacy bequeathed to the administration by the Bush regime and even asserts the right to assassinate American citizens "without a whiff of due process," as Salon's Glenn Greenwald points out.

According to a new Justice Department report submitted to Congress we learn that "during calendar year 2010, the Government made 1,579 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (hereinafter 'FISC') for authority to conduct electronic surveillance and/or physical searches" on what U.S. security agencies allege are "for foreign intelligence purposes."

The April 29 missive, released under the Freedom of Information Act, documents the persistence of our internal security apparat's targeting of domestic political opponents, under color of rooting out "terrorists."

Secrecy News analyst Steven Aftergood comments that "this compares to a reported 1,376 applications in 2009. (In 2008, however, the reported figure--2,082--was quite a bit higher.)"

"In 2010," Aftergood writes, "the government made 96 applications for access to business records (and 'tangible things') for foreign intelligence purposes, up from 21 applications in 2009."

Also last year, America's premier domestic intelligence agency, the FBI, "made 24,287 'national security letter' requests for information pertaining to 14,212 different U.S. persons, a substantial increase from the 2009 level of 14,788 NSL requests concerning 6,114 U.S. persons. (In 2008, the number of NSL requests was 24,744, pertaining to 7,225 persons.)"

As I have pointed out many times, national security letters are onerous lettres de cachet, secretive administrative subpoenas with built-in gag orders used by the Bureau to seize records from third-parties such as banks, libraries and telecommunications providers without any judicial process whatsoever, not to mention the expenditure of scarce tax dollars to spy on the American people.

"Money for Nothing..."

With U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's February announcement that the Department of Justice will seek $28.2 billion from Congress in Fiscal Year 2012, a 1.7% increase, the FBI is slated to reap an $8.1 billion windfall.

We're told that the "administration supports critical national security programs within the department, including the FBI and the National Security Division (NSD)."

"The requested national security resources include $122.5 million in program increases for the FBI," including "$48.9 million for the FBI to expand national security related surveillance and enhance its Data Integration and Visualization System, as well as "$18.6 million for the FBI's Computer Intrusion Initiative to increase coverage in detecting cyber intrusions."

Rather ironic, considering that ThreatPost reported last month that a U.S. Department of Justice audit found that the FBI's ability to "investigate cyber intrusions" was less than adequate. The report disclosed that "fully 36% [of field agents] were found to be ill-equipped."

To make matters worse, "FBI field offices do not have sufficient analytical and forensic capabilities to support large scale investigations, the audit revealed." All the more reason then to shower even more money on the Bureau!

And with the FBI demanding new authority to peer into our lives, on- and offline, the FY 2012 budget would "address the growing technological gap between law enforcement's electronic surveillance capabilities and the number and variety of communications devices available to the public, $17.0 million in program increases are being requested to bolster the department's electronic surveillance capabilities."

One sure sign that things haven't changed under Obama is the FBI's quest for additional funds for what it is now calling it's Data Integration and Visualization System (DIVS). According to April congressional testimony by FBI Director Robert Mueller, DIVS will "prioritize and integrate disparate datasets across the Bureau."

Another in a long line of taxpayer-funded boondoggles, it appears that DIVS is the latest iteration of various failed "case management" and "data integration" programs stood up by the Bureau.

As I reported last year, previous failed efforts by the FBI have included the Bureau's Virtual Case File (VCF) project. Overseen by the spooky Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), VCF cost taxpayers some $170 million dollars before it crashed and burned in 2006.

And when defense and security giant Lockheed Martin took over the case management brief, VCF, now rechristened Sentinel, also enjoyed a similarly expensive and waste-filled fate. A 2009 report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that despite some $450 million dollars showered on Lockheed Martin and assorted subcontractors, the Sentinel system "encountered significant challenges."

According to a notice quietly posted in August in the Federal Register, "DIVS contains replications and extractions of information maintained by the FBI in other databases. This information is replicated or extracted into DIVS in order to provide an enhanced and integrated view of that information."

Wait a minute! Isn't that what VCF and Sentinel were supposed to do? We're told that the "purpose of DIVS is to strengthen and improve the methods by which the FBI searches for and analyzes information in support of its multifaceted mission responsibilities to protect the nation against terrorism and espionage and investigate criminal matters."

(Dirty) Business as Usual

While the FBI and the Justice Department have failed to prosecute corporate criminals responsible for the greatest theft and upward transfer of wealth in history, not to mention the virtual get-out-of-jail-free cards handed out to top executives of the drug-money laundering Wachovia Bank, they're rather adept at trampling the rights of the American people.

As the San Francisco Bay Guardian recently reported, while corporate lawbreakers get a free pass, "San Francisco cops assigned to the FBI's terrorism task force can ignore local police orders and California privacy laws to spy on people without any evidence of a crime."

According to a Memorandum of Understanding obtained by the ACLU, "it effectively puts local officers under the control of the FBI," investigative journalist Sarah Phelan disclosed.

Civil rights attorney Veena Dubal told the Bay Guardian that during "the waning months of the Bush administration" the FBI "changed its policies to allow federal authorities to collect intelligence on a person even if the subject is not suspected of a crime. The FBI is now allowed to spy on Americans who have done nothing wrong--and who may be engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment."

"It's the latest sign of a dangerous trend: San Francisco cops are working closely with the feds, often in ways that run counter to city policy," Phelan writes. "And it raises a far-reaching question: With a district attorney who used to be police chief, a civilian commission that isn't getting a straight story from the cops, and a climate of secrecy over San Francisco's intimate relations with outside agencies, who is watching the cops?"

Apparently, no one; and in such a repressive climate the federal government has encouraged the FBI to target anyone deemed a threat to the new corporate order.

Earlier this year, an Electronic Frontier Foundation report revealed that the Bureau continues to systematically violate the constitutional guarantees of American citizens and legal residents, and does so with complete impunity.

As I wrote at the time, this was rather ironic considering the free passes handed out by U.S. securocrats to actual terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11, as both WikiLeaks and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds disclosed.

According to EFF, more than 2,500 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that:

* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800 violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.
* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations.
* Based on the proportion of violations reported to the IOB and the FBI's own statements regarding the number of NSL violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing intelligence investigations. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008, January 30, 2011)

But FBI lawbreaking didn't stop there. Citing internal documents, EFF revealed that the Bureau also "engaged in a number of flagrant legal violations" that included, "submitting false or inaccurate declarations to courts," "using improper evidence to obtain federal grand jury subpoenas" and "accessing password protected documents without a warrant."

And just last week the civil liberties' watchdogs reported that "the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has revealed the FBI lied to the court about the existence of records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), taking the position that FOIA allows it to withhold information from the court whenever it thinks this is in the interest of national security."

The court sharply disagreed and asserted that "the Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the Court."

The Court held, following settled case law that goes all the way back to Marbury v. Madison (1803) that "Numerous statutes, rules, and cases reflect the understanding that the Judiciary cannot carry out its essential function if lawyers, parties, or witnesses obscure the facts."

Skewering the FBI, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that while "The Government contends that the FOIA permits it to provide the Court with the same misinformation it provided to Plaintiffs regarding the existence of other responsive information or else the Government would compromise national security ... that argument is indefensible."

Nevertheless, that court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals still held that despite the Bureau's obvious attempt to bamboozle the federal judiciary, thus subverting the separation of powers amongst the three co-equal branches of government as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution (Article III), "disclosing the number and nature of the documents the Government possesses could reasonably be expected to compromise national security." (see: Islamic Shura Council of S. California v. FBI.)

In other words, while the Bureau was chastised for withholding relevant documents from the court that might demonstrate their illegal surveillance of organizations and individuals who have never been indicted, or even charged, with so-called "terrorism offenses," the "national security" card trumps everything.

Electronic Surveillance

Late last month, EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch reported the group had "recently received documents from the FBI that reveal details about the depth of the agency's electronic surveillance capabilities and call into question the FBI's controversial effort to push Congress to expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) for greater access to communications data."

The documents were obtained under a FOIA request by EFF after a 2007 report published by Wired disclosed that the FBI had deployed "secret spyware" to track domestic targets.

According to Wired, "FBI agent Norman Sanders describes the software as a 'computer and internet protocol address verifier,' or CIPAV."

In a follow-up piece, investigative journalist Ryan Singel revealed that the FBI "has quietly built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device."

That surveillance system known as DCSNet, or Digital Collection System Network, formerly known as Carnivore, "connects FBI wiretapping rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators, internet-telephony providers and cellular companies," Wired reported.

"It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom infrastructure than observers suspected," Singel wrote at the time, a point underscored a year later when whistleblower Babak Pasdar blew the lid off the close relations amongst America's telecoms and the Bureau's illegal surveillance programs.

As Antifascist Calling reported at the time, a telecom carrier Pasdar worked for as a security consultant, subsequently named as Verizon by The Washington Post, said the company maintained a high-speed DS-3 digital line that allowed the Bureau and other security agencies "unfettered" access to the carrier's wireless network, including billing records and customer data "transmitted wirelessly."

While Verizon denied the report that the FBI has open access to its network, their mendacious claims were demolished when the secrecy-shredding web site Cryptome published the firm's "Law Enforcement Legal Compliance Guide" in 2010.

Amongst the "helpful hints" provided to law enforcement by the carrier, Verizon urges state spies to "be specific."

"Do not include wording such as 'any and all records'", we read. "The courts have traditionally ruled that this wording is considered overly broad and burdensome. Request only what is required." On and on it goes...

According to documents obtained by EFF, the technologies discussed by Bureau snoops, when installed on a target's computer, allows the FBI to collect the following:

* IP Address
* Media Access Control (MAC) address
* "Browser environment variables"
* Open communication ports
* List of the programs running
* Operating system type, version, and serial number
* Browser type and version
* Language encoding
* The URL that the target computer was previously connected to
* Registered computer name
* Registered company name
* Currently logged in user name
* Other information that would assist with "identifying computer users, computer software installed, [and] computer hardware installed" (Electronic Frontier Foundation, New FBI Documents Provide Details on Government's Surveillance Spyware, April 29, 2011)

According to initial reporting by Wired, the FBI may have infiltrated the malicious program onto a target's computer by "pointing to code that would install the spyware by exploiting a vulnerability in the user's browser."

Lynch comments that "although the documents discuss some problems with installing the tool in some cases, other documents note that the agency's Crypto Unit only needs 24-48 hours to prepare deployment."

Once the tool is installed, Bureau snoops aver "it stay[s] persistent on the compromised computer and ... every time the computer connects to the Internet, [FBI] will capture the information associated with the PRTT [Pen Register/Trap & Trace Order]."

The privacy watchdogs write that the Bureau "has been using the tool in domestic criminal investigations as well as in FISA cases, and the FISA Court appears to have questioned the propriety of the tool."

This is particularly relevant, and troubling, considering that the FBI and other secret state agencies such as the CIA and NSA already possess formidable surveillance tools in their arsenals and that private security outfits such as HBGary and Palantir--as well as hundreds of other firms--are busily concocting ever-more intrusive spyware for their state and private partners, as the massive disclosure of internal HBGary emails and documents by the cyber-guerrilla group Anonymous revealed.

With all the hot air from Washington surrounding claims by the FBI and other secret state satrapies that they'll "go dark" unless Congress grants them authority to build secret backdoors into America's communications networks, EFF revealed that documents "show the FBI already has numerous tools available to surveil suspects directly, rather than through each of their communications service providers."

"One heavily redacted email notes that the FBI has other tools that 'provide the functionality of the CIPAV [text redacted] as well as provide other useful info that could help further the case'."

What is clear from the latest document release is that it isn't the FBI that's "going dark" but the right of the American people to free speech and political organizing without the threat that government-sanctioned malware which remains "persistent" on a "compromised computer" becomes one more tool for building "national security" dossiers on dissidents.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

As Smartphone Scandal Grows, Tech Firms Run for Cover, Reap Windfall Profits

Recent revelations that Apple's iPhone and iPad, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 operating systems collect, store and transmit records of users' physical locations to central databases--secretly, and without consent--have ignited a firestorm over Americans' privacy rights in an age of hypersurveillance.

And with a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Florida by two iPhone users, The Register reports, Apple guru Steve Jobs was forced to respond to complaints after the firm's usual tactic--deafening silence--failed to assuage customer's anxieties.

The lawsuit alleges that "irreparable injury has resulted and continues to result from Apple's unauthorized tracking of millions of Americans," plaintiffs Vikram Ajjampur and William Devito averred. They are requesting their case be granted class-action status, a move likely to send shudders along the silicon spine of the secretive Cupertino high-tech powerhouse.

In response to the outcry, The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple "is scaling back how much information its iPhones store about where they have been and said it will stop collecting such data when consumers request it, as the company tries to quell concerns it was tracking iPhone owners."

But as journalists Yukari Iwatani Kane and Jennifer Valentino-Devries point out, "a week of silence on the growing controversy, raised new questions and criticism about its data-handling practices."

The ecumenical nature of the smartphone spying scandal tapped another firm, beloved by Wall Street grifters and national security mavens alike, on the shoulders last week.

The Detroit News reported that two "Oakland County women have filed a $50 million class-action lawsuit against Google Inc. to stop the company from selling phones with Android software that can track a user's location."

Like Apple, Google claims that tracking software is meant "to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices," and stressed that "any location sharing is done with the user's permission."

That's rather rich coming from a firm whose former CEO, Eric Schmidt, told CNBC in 2009, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place," a telling statement all the more pertinent here when secret state snoops demand access to your search history, conveniently "retained" for the asking by the search and advertising giant.

"If Android location services are turned on," independent security researcher Samy Kamkar told The Register, "the OS sends Google a MAC addresses, network signal strength, and GPS coordinates for each Wi-Fi network, as well as a unique identifier for the phone that grabs the information and the time of day." (emphasis added)

"By combining the identifier with the location data," Kamkar told the nose-tweaking UK publication, "Google could easily determine where you work and where you live. If this location information and unique IDs remain on Google's servers, it could potentially be extracted via subpoena or national security letter."

As privacy and security researcher Christopher Soghoian revealed in 2009, "Sprint Nextel" and other telecom giants "provided law enforcement agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million times between September 2008 and October 2009."

Soghoian wrote that this "massive disclosure of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers," a service eagerly provided our political minders by the telecoms as the secrecy-shredding web site Cryptome revealed with their publication of dozens of Online Spying Guides.

As we now know, secret state agencies such as NSA and the FBI routinely grab customer records from the telecoms to obtain dialed telephone numbers, text messages, emails and instant messages, as well as web pages browsed and search engine queries in addition to a staggering mountain of geolocational data, oftentimes with a simple, warrantless request.

The NSA's so-called "President's Surveillance Program" for example, vacuums-up huge volumes of "transactional" records gleaned from domestic emails and internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel itineraries and phone records from other secret state satrapies as well as banks, credit reporting agencies and data-mining firms.

As The Wall Street Journal reported more than three years ago, "the NSA's enterprise" is linked to "a cluster of powerful intelligence-gathering programs, all of which sparked civil-liberties complaints when they came to light."

Investigative journalist Siobhan Gorman revealed that "the effort also ties into data from an ad-hoc collection of so-called 'black programs' whose existence is undisclosed," the tip of a vast surveillance iceberg.

But such programs could not function without the close, one might argue incestuous, collaboration between the secret state and their corporate partners as The Washington Post disclosed last year in their "Top Secret America" investigation.

In fact, as Soghoian and other researchers have learned, internet service providers and the telecoms "all have special departments, many open 24 hours per day, whose staff do nothing but respond to legal requests. Their entire purpose is to facilitate the disclosure of their customers' records to law enforcement and intelligence agencies--all following the letter of the law, of course."

Plaintiffs Julie Brown and Kayla Molaski said they neither "opted-in" to Google's surveillance features nor approved of being tracked, by their phones no less, asserting that Android's tracking capability puts "users at serous risk of privacy invasions, including stalking," according to their complaint.

And with congressional grifters on both sides of the aisle poised to hold hearings this month about the controversy, it appears that smartphone manufacturers will have some 'splainin' to do. Right-wing congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) told the Journal that Apple "apparently 'lied' to him and another lawmaker last year when it said its phones don't collect and transmit location-based data when location services such as mapping are turned off."

Damage Control

Seeking to tamp down criticism, Apple claimed it was all a mistake, the result of "software bugs" which they are now striving mightily to "fix."

Strange then, or perhaps not, given the company's notorious penchant for secrecy, that nary a hint of a problem passed their granola-flecked lips prior to revelations which researchers Pete Warden and Alasdair Allen posted on their iPhone Tracker blog.

To wit, the researchers discovered that the geolocation file is stored on both the iOS device and "any computers that store backups of its data," and "can be used to reconstruct a detailed snapshot of the user's comings and goings, down to the second."

A particularly convenient "feature" when the feds, local cops, your boss or a seedy private snoop comes a calling.

According to iPhone Tracker's FAQ: "If you run it on an OS X machine that you've been syncing with an iPhone or an iPad with cellular plan, it will scan through the backup files that are automatically made, looking for the hidden file containing your location. If it finds this file, it will then display the location history on the map."

In response to the question: "Why is Apple collecting this information?" the researchers answer "it's unclear." However, "one guess might be that they have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that's pure speculation. The fact that it's transferred across devices when you restore or migrate is evidence the data-gathering isn't accidental."

"The more fundamental problem," Warden and Allen write "is that Apple are collecting this information at all."

An April 27 damage control statement from the firm claims that "Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone. Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so."

They assert that "iPhone is not logging your location," but rather, is "maintaining a database of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers around your current location." You see it's all an innocent misunderstanding, nothing more than a convenient means for users to "quickly find GPS satellites."

While the "entire crowd-sourced database is too big to store on an iPhone," we're told that they "download an appropriate subset (cache) onto each iPhone."

Further claiming that "this cache is protected but not encrypted," it's "backed up in iTunes whenever you back up your iPhone. The backup is encrypted or not, depending on the user settings in iTunes."

In other words, we won't tell you we're downloading an unencrypted locational cache onto your iTunes library where it can be read by anyone with access to your laptop or home computer, so any trouble that might attend an unauthorized peek at your data is your problem.

But because "we care," and not because of the adverse publicity generated by the firm treating their customers "like little particles that move in space ... that occasionally communicate with each other," as physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi told The Wall Street Journal, Apple plans "to cease backing up this cache in a software update coming soon."

However, CNET News reported last week that Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), "isn't satisfied with Apple's explanation of why iPhones keep track of their users' locations and wants a federal probe into the Cupertino software marker's privacy practices."

For their part Microsoft, journalist Declan McCullagh writes, "says it does not save location histories directly on Windows Mobile 7 devices," but acknowledge that "in some circumstances" the firm "collects information including a unique device ID, details about nearby Wi-Fi networks, and the phone's GPS-derived exact latitude and longitude."

Like Apple and Microsoft, CNET reports that "Android devices store a limited amount of location information but transmit to Google current and recent GPS coordinates, nearby Wi-Fi network addresses, and two 16-letter strings apparently representing a device ID that's unique to each phone," a point emphasized by the women suing Google over the firm's privacy breach.

Paranoia or Well-Founded Suspicions? You Make the Call!

Surveillance concerns are inevitable, especially when advert pimps seek to market useless junk to consumers or unaccountable secret state agencies monitor political dissidents at home and abroad, by peeping at locational data when the "unique device ID is transmitted, which allows a company to track a customer's whereabouts over an extended period of time," as CNET cautions.

Similar privacy and surveillance issues also surround unencrypted connections to the internet with the largely opaque practice of deep-packet inspection (DPI), a favorite tool beloved by marketeers and government spies alike, as Antifascist Calling reported back in December.

It now appears that smartphone manufacturers have joined their telecom partners in the spy game, a scandal that first broke the surface when whistleblower Mark Klein spilled the beans about AT&T's close collaboration in NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, a constitution-shredding operation that continues apace under the "change" regime of "transparency president," Barack Obama.

Concerns over the uses of geolocational databases are not fodder, as some would have it, for "privacy conspiracy theorists screaming back to their panic rooms," but rather is an inevitable outgrowth of a culture of secrecy and deceit that permeates the opaque universe shared by corporations and governments.

As Declan McCullagh and other journalists have pointed out, "location databases can be a gold mine for police or civil litigants: requesting cell phone location information from wireless carriers has already become a staple of criminal investigations, often without search warrants being sought."

Increasingly, niche security outfits such as the Israeli-owned firm Cellbrite, whose top executives possess high-level security résumés, along with probable connections to Israel's NSA equivalent, Unit 8200, tout their ability to customers in global police, military and intelligence agencies to extract location histories from smartphones in under two minutes as The Tech Herald reported.

Such marketing ploys however, are fully in tune with today's "cybersecurity" paradigm, the latest front (and profit center) in America's endless "War On Terror."

As George Mason University researchers Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins reported in an essential new study, Loving the Cyber Bomb? The Dangers of Threat Inflation in Cybersecurity Policy, "the rhetoric of 'cyber doom'" that calls forth new control measures, "lacks clear evidence of a serious threat that can be verified by the public. As a result, the United States may be witnessing a bout of threat inflation similar to that seen in the run-up to the Iraq War."

"Additionally," Brito and Watkins write, "a cyber-industrial complex is emerging, much like the military-industrial complex of the Cold War. This complex may serve to not only supply cybersecurity solutions to the federal government, but to drum up demand for them as well," a point that Antifascist Calling has reported many times.

While criminals, stalkers, identity thieves and other miscreants exploit systemic vulnerabilities for their own sociopathic ends, much the same can be said of private security firms such as HBGary, Palantir and hundreds of others servicing the secret state, all capitalizing on "zero day vulnerabilities" in software and operating systems while designing stealthy, undetectable "root kits" for their government partners.

One can imagine that similar "black programs" exist for exploiting smartphone vulnerabilities, a likely prospect made all the easier when they are built-in features of the operating systems.

High-Tech Misery Fuels Windfall Profits

Spying isn't the only issue battering tech giant Apple's squeaky-clean image.

As workers around the world celebrate May Day, The Observer revealed that some 500,000 workers at the Shenzhen and Chengdu factories owned by Foxconn, Apple's primary contractor, which produces millions of iPhones and iPads yearly for the global market are treated "inhumanely, like machines."

Growth by the firm is predicated on driving production and labor costs down, a strategy that helped rocket Apple past software giant Microsoft as Bloomberg News reported last week.

Microsoft's share price "declined as much as 74 cents to $25.97 in extended trading," and "shares dropped 9 percent last quarter, while the Standard and Poor's 500 Index rose 5.4 percent."

"The results," Bloomberg reports, "underscore the ascendance of Apple, which surpassed Microsoft as the world's most valuable technology company in May. Apple's profit in the period that ended in March almost doubled to $5.99 billion, compared with $5.23 billion for Microsoft in the same period. That was the first time Apple's profit topped Microsoft's in two decades."

These results tend to emphasize the predatory nature of the entire high-tech sector, fueled both by consumer demand for new products and the windfall profits generated by production in low-wage, highly-repressive states such as China.

Several studies of Apple's production practices undertaken by the Netherlands-based Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) revealed "disturbing allegations of excessive working hours and draconian workplace rules at two major plants in southern China. It has also uncovered an 'anti-suicide' pledge that workers at the two plants have been urged to sign, after a series of employee deaths last year," The Observer reports.

While the Taiwanese-owned firm denies wrongdoing, researchers disclosed that "in some factories badly performing workers are required to be publicly humiliated in front of colleagues."

A second report released by the Hong Kong-based labor rights group Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM) "describes how a culture of absolute obedience is imposed on workers from the first day of their recruitment. Workers are punished for all kinds of 'misconduct,' including not meeting their daily production quota, making mistakes or taking too much time for a bathroom visit."

"Disciplinary actions," the group reports, "include taking away bonus points, making workers publicly confess their mistakes and scolding and humiliating them in front of gathered colleague workers, making workers copy quotations of CEO Terry Gou, etc."

"Security guards," according to testimony by Foxconn employees, "were found to regularly assault workers verbally and physically."

With a basic 48-hour work week, Chinese workers are forced to work up to 98 hours of overtime a month to meet demands by Western consumers for Apple products. Foxconn manager Louis Woo however, told The Observer that "all the extra hours were voluntary."

Last month, SACOM reported that a second, grifting capitalist outfit, Wintek, had routinely poisoned workers by substituting the toxic chemical "n-hexane in violation of local codes and without proper safety equipment."

Used in the production of touch screens for Apple, SACOM revealed that "medical maladies ... began when their employer, a factory owned by Taiwan's Wintek, swapped basic rubbing alcohol with the more dangerous toxin n-hexane in the final cleaning process of touch screens to shave off a few seconds off production time. N-hexane is a known toxin and prolonged, high-level exposure can caused nerve damage and a long list of medical problems."

In response to the charges, Apple said they are "committed to ensuring the highest standards of social responsibility throughout our supply base. Apple requires suppliers to commit to our comprehensive supplier code of conduct as a condition of their contracts with us. We drive compliance with the code through a rigorous monitoring programme, including factory audits, corrective action plans and verification measures."

But as with all aspects of the globalized capitalist economy, profits by Western firms like Apple and other high-tech parasites take precedence over the labor and social rights of workers. Chantal Peyer, a researcher with the Swiss group Bread for All said that "A brand like Apple has a very high profit margin on hardware: more than 40%. But it asks suppliers, which have a much lower profit margin of about 4%, to lower production costs. As a result, labour costs are squeezed and workers never get living wages."

Such outrages however, are not the result of a few "bad apples, but rather, lie at the heart of a heartless system that profits off the misery of the vast majority of the world's population, including here in the United States.

As researcher and economist Michel Chossudovsky points out in The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century: "The development of world capitalism is predicated on a profit-driven global cheap labor economy. One of the main features of this system has been the development (over the last thirty to forty years) of industrial colonies in low-wage countries. The relocation of industry to these countries has led to corporate downsizing and layoffs, as well as the outright closing down of a wide range of productive activities in the developed countries."

"Mass poverty and a worldwide decline in living standards," Chossudovsky writes, "are largely the result of this global cheap labor economy." This trend has accelerated since the 2008-2009 global economic meltdown. "In developing countries, including China," Chossudovsky avers, which is America's largest industrial colony, the levels of employment are in a freefall. The pre-existing structures of Third World poverty are replaced by social destitution and, in many regions of the developing world, by outright starvation."

As workers globally, and the United States is no exception to the rule imposed by the ruthless, continue to be squeezed as living standards and social benefits decline, revolt becomes inevitable. In this context, the burgeoning police state that functions as a well-armed pit bull for financial swindlers and capitalist oligarchs alike, are being marshaled to surveil and when necessary, repress, those challenging the prevailing "free market" paradigm.