Daily Archive: 06/11/2013

Jun 11 2013

Even Spying Is a Private Industry

Like much of our government, spying has been privatized. 70% of surveillance is done by private companies that translates to $6 billion dollars with a half a million employees.

Meet the contractors analyzing your private data

by Tim Shorrock

Private companies are getting rich probing your personal information for the government. Call it Digital Blackwater

Amid the torrent of stories about the shocking new revelations about the National Security Agency, few have bothered to ask a central question. Who’s actually doing the work of analyzing all the data, metadata and personal information pouring into the agency from Verizon and nine key Internet service providers for its ever-expanding surveillance of American citizens?

Digital Blackwater: How the NSA Gives Private Contractors Control of the Surveillance State

Over the past decade, the U.S. intelligence community has relied increasingly on the technical expertise of private firms such as Booz Allen, SAIC, the Boeing subsidiary Narus and Northrop Grumman. About 70 percent of the national intelligence budget is now spent on the private sector. Former NSA Director Michael V. Hayden has described these firms as a quote “digital Blackwater.” We speak to Tim Shorrock, author of the book “Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Outsourced Intelligence.”

Jun 11 2013

Good Business?

The Logic of the Surveillance State

by Ian Welsh

2013 June 9

The problem with surveillance states, and with oppression in general, is the cost.  This cost is both direct, in the resources that are required, and indirect in the lost productivity and creativity caused by constant surveillance.  Surveillance states, oppressive states, are not creative places, they are not fecund economically.  They can be efficient and productive, for as long as they last, which is until the system of control is subverted, as it was in the USSR. We forget, in light of the late USSR’s problems, that it did create an economic miracle in the early years, and tremendously boost production. Mancur Olson’s “Power and Prosperity” gives a good account of why it worked, and why it stopped working.

Liberalism, in its classic form, is, among other things, the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them well.  Conservatism is the proposition that you get more out of people if you treat them badly.

Post war Liberalism was a giant experiment in “treat people well”.  The Reagan/Thatcher counter-revolution was a giant experiment in “treat people worse”.  The empirical result is this: the rich are richer and more powerful in a society that treats people like shit, but a society which treats people well has a stronger economy, all other things being equal, than one that treats them badly.  This was, also, the result of the USSR/West competition.  (Treating people well or badly isn’t just about equality.)

Liberalism, classic and modern, believes that a properly functioning “freer” society is a more powerful society, all other things being equal.  This was, explicitly, Adam Smith’s argument.  Build a strong peacetime economy, and in wartime you will crush despotic nations into the dirt.

If you want despotism, as elites, if you want to treat everyone badly, so you personally become more powerful and rich, then, you’ve got two problems: an internal one (revolt) and an external one: war and being outcompeted by other nations elites, who will come and take away your power, one way or the other (this isn’t always violently, though it can be.)

The solution is a transnational elite, in broad agreement on the issues, who do not believe in nationalism, and who play by the same rules and ideology. If you’re all the same, if nations are just flags, if you feel more kinship for your fellow oligarchs, well then, you’re safe.  There’s still competition, to be sure, but as a class, you’re secure.

That leaves the internal problem, of revolt.  The worse you treat people, the more you’re scared of them.  The more you clamp down.  This is really, really expensive and it breaks down over generations, causing internal rot, till you can’t get the system to do anything, no matter how many levers you push.

What is being run right now is a vast experiment to see if modern technology has fixed these problems with surveillance and oppressive states.  Is it cheap enough to go full Stasi, and with that level of surveillance can you keep control over the economy, keep the levers working, make people do what you want, and not all slack off and resist passively, by only going through the motions?

The oligarchs are betting that the technology has made that change.

Jun 11 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

New York Times Editorial Board: A Real Debate on Surveillance

For years, as the federal surveillance state grew into every corner of American society, the highest officials worked to pretend that it didn’t exist. Now that Americans are learning what really takes place behind locked doors, many officials claim they are eager to talk about it. “[That’s a conversation that I welcome having ],” President Obama said on Saturday. Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday that she was open to holding a public hearing on the subject now, a hearing next month, a hearing every month.

This new found interest in openness is a little hard to take seriously, not only because of the hypocrisy involved but because neither official seems to want to do more than talk about being open. If the president wants to have a meaningful discussion, he can order his intelligence directors to explain to the public precisely how the National Security Agency’s widespread collection of domestic telephone data works. Since there’s not much point in camouflaging the program anymore, it’s time for the public to get answers to some basic questions.

Daniel Ellsberg: Edward Snowden: Saving Us from the United Stasi of America

Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us a chance to roll back what is tantamount to an ‘executive coup’ against the US constitution

In my estimation, there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material – and that definitely includes the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago. Snowden’s whistleblowing gives us the possibility to roll back a key part of what has amounted to an “executive coup” against the US constitution.

Since 9/11, there has been, at first secretly but increasingly openly, a revocation of the bill of rights for which this country fought over 200 years ago. In particular, the fourth and fifth amendments of the US constitution, which safeguard citizens from unwarranted intrusion by the government into their private lives, have been virtually suspended.

The government claims it has a court warrant under FISA – but that unconstitutionally sweeping warrant is from a secret court, shielded from effective oversight, almost totally deferential to executive requests. As Russell Tice, a former National Security Agency analyst, put it: “It is a kangaroo court with a rubber stamp.”

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Big Money and the NSA Scandal … How Dangerous is the “Security/Digital Complex”?

It should be self-evident that recent NSA revelations bring up some grave concerns about civil liberties. But they also raise other profound and troubling questions – about the privatization of our military, our culture’s inflated expectations for digital technology, and the increasingly cozy relationship between Big Corporations (including Wall Street) and Big Defense.

Are these corporations perverting our political process? The campaign war chest for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who today said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden committed “treason,” is heavily subsidized by defense and intelligence contractors that include General Dynamics, General Atomic, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Bechtel.

One might argue that a politician with that kind of backing is in no moral position to lecture others about “treason.”

But Feinstein’s funders are decidedly old-school Military/Industrial Complex types. What about the new crowd? This confluence of forces hasn’t been named yet, so for the time being we’ll use a cumbersome label: the “Security/Digital Complex.”

Chris Hedges: The Judicial Lynching of Bradley Manning

The military trial of Bradley Manning is a judicial lynching. The government has effectively muzzled the defense team. The Army private first class is not permitted to argue that he had a moral and legal obligation under international law to make public the war crimes he uncovered. The documents that detail the crimes, torture and killing Manning revealed, because they are classified, have been barred from discussion in court, effectively removing the fundamental issue of war crimes from the trial. Manning is forbidden by the court to challenge the government’s unverified assertion that he harmed national security. Lead defense attorney David E. Coombs said during pretrial proceedings that the judge’s refusal to permit information on the lack of actual damage from the leaks would “eliminate a viable defense, and cut defense off at the knees.” And this is what has happened.

Manning is also barred from presenting to the court his motives for giving the website WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables, war logs from Afghanistan and Iraq, and videos. The issues of his motives and potentially harming national security can be raised only at the time of sentencing, but by then it will be too late.

Normon Solomon: A Precious Gift From Edward Snowden

In Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses. [..]

In the highest places, there is more than a wisp of panic in rarefied air. It’s not just the National Security Agency that stands exposed; it’s the repressive arrogance perched on the pyramid of power.

Back here on the ground, so many people — appalled by Uncle Sam’s continual morph into Big Brother — have been pushing against the walls of anti-democratic secrecy. Those walls rarely budge, and at times they seem to be closing in, even literally for some (as in the case of heroic whistleblower Bradley Manning). But all the collective pushing has cumulative effects.

Tom Engelhardt: Why Guantanamo Won’t Be Shut Down — Ever

Sometimes, when you watch the strange, repetitive political dance that swirls around the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — the president announcing yet again that he plans to “close” it and the Republicans in Congress swearing that they won’t let him — it’s hard not to wonder what alternative universe we live in. The initial round of this began on the day Barack Obama entered the Oval Office and circulated an executive order meant to close that prison within a year. The latest presidential “closing” announcement came just over two weeks ago. In a major speech at National Defense University, Obama also claimed that he would soon lift restrictions he had imposed in 2009 on sending Guantanamo prisoners long cleared of any criminal activities back to Yemen. [..]

By now everyone knows that Guantanamo can’t be closed, not by this administration or any other one imaginable. At present, it is the scene of an extraordinary protest movement, now almost three months old, by 103 prisoners using potential death by starvation to bring attention to the nightmare that has been their lives behind bars in Cuba.

Jun 11 2013

On This Day In History June 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on image to enlarge

June 11 is the 162nd day of the year (163rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 203 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress selects Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert R. Livingston of New York to draft a declaration of independence.

Knowing Jefferson’s prowess with a pen, Adams urged him to author the first draft of the document, which was then carefully revised by Adams and Franklin before being given to Congress for review on June 28.

The revolutionary treatise began with reverberating prose:

Draft and adoption

While political maneuvering was setting the stage for an official declaration of independence, a document explaining the decision was being written. On June 11, 1776, Congress appointed a “Committee of Five”, consisting of John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, to draft a declaration. Because the committee left no minutes, there is some uncertainty about how the drafting process proceeded-accounts written many years later by Jefferson and Adams, although frequently cited, are contradictory and not entirely reliable. What is certain is that the committee, after discussing the general outline that the document should follow, decided that Jefferson would write the first draft. Considering Congress’s busy schedule, Jefferson probably had limited time for writing over the next seventeen days, and likely wrote the draft quickly. He then consulted the others, made some changes, and then produced another copy incorporating these alterations. The committee presented this copy to the Congress on June 28, 1776. The title of the document was “A Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled.” Congress ordered that the draft “lie on the table”.

On Monday, July 1, having tabled the draft of the declaration, Congress resolved itself into a committee of the whole, with Benjamin Harrison of Virginia presiding, and resumed debate on Lee’s resolution of independence. John Dickinson made one last effort to delay the decision, arguing that Congress should not declare independence without first securing a foreign alliance and finalizing the Articles of Confederation.[64] John Adams gave a speech in reply to Dickinson, restating the case for an immediate declaration.

Jun 11 2013

Down the Totalitarian Hole of a Security State

William Binney, a former top official at the National Security Agency, and Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian journalist who has broken the NSA spying stories join Amy Goodman to discuss the crucial matters facing this country over the growing power of the government to secretly collect data and information through secret courts and programs.

“The government is not trying to protect [secrets about NSA surveillance] from the terrorists,” Binney says. “It’s trying to protect knowledge of that program from the citizens of the United States.”

“On a Slippery Slope to a Totalitarian State”: NSA Whistleblower Rejects Gov’t Defense of Spying



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

NSA Leak Highlights Key Role Of Private Contractors

by Jonathan Fahey and Adam Goldman

The U.S. government monitors threats to national security with the help of nearly 500,000 people like Edward Snowden – employees of private firms who have access to the government’s most sensitive secrets.

When Snowden, an employee of one of those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton, revealed details of two National Security Agency surveillance programs, he spotlighted the risks of making so many employees of private contractors a key part of the U.S. intelligence apparatus. [..]

Booz Allen, based in McLean, Va., provides consulting services, technology support and analysis to U.S. government agencies and departments. Last year, 98 percent of the company’s $5.9 billion in revenue came from U.S. government contracts. Three-fourths of its 25,000 employees hold government security clearances. Half the employees have top secret clearances.

The company has established deep ties with the government – the kinds of ties that contractors pursue and covet. Contractors stand to gain an edge on competitors by hiring people with the most closely held knowledge of the thinking inside agencies they want to serve and the best access to officials inside. That typically means former government officials.

The relationship often runs both ways: Clapper himself is a former Booz Allen executive. The firm’s vice chairman, John “Mike” McConnell, held Clapper’s position under George W. Bush.

Edward Snowdem is an American hero who is risking his life to protect our freedom from a government run amok.