Although there had been a slow but steady increase of the surveillance state due to the "war on drugs"--i.e., judicial and legislative caving to the power of the executive branch--the 9/11 attacks and the so-called war on terror gave the final push to allow the creation of a total surveillance state. Again, with the complicity of the judicial and legislative branches.
So what have gotten out of this? Well, we have a Middle-East in turmoil. We have to stand in long lines and have explicit photos taken of us, or tolerate pat-downs so intrusive that they are akin to sexual assault, just to travel. Has any of this made us safer? No. There wasn't a single instance of an attack being thwarted by heightened security at airports. Rather, it was the reactions of passengers and air crew--the change from passivity to becoming responsible for their own safety--that has made a difference.
But, it is now apparent that the true surveillance society existed under the radar, so to speak. Earlier this week, The Guardian newspaper reported on a secret court order that required Verizon to turn over all telephone metadata to the FBI so it could provide the information to the NSA. The alarming--an illegal portion--of the mandate was that it was not just data on foreign calls, but all calls within the U.S. The NSA is not chartered to conduct surveillance inside the United States, and, in fact, has consistently denied such surveillance. Now we learn that at least once FISA judge, the FBI, plus person(s) unknown at the NSA conspired to allow the NSA get around this legal obstruction.
Of course, it didn't stop there. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Reporting on Prism, the Washington Post explained:
The National Security Agency's monitoring of Americans includes customer records from the three major phone networks as well as emails and Web searches, and the agency also has cataloged credit-card transactions, said people familiar with the agency's activities.
The disclosure this week of an order by a secret U.S. court for Verizon Communications Inc.'s phone records set off the latest public discussion of the program. But people familiar with the NSA's operations said the initiative also encompasses phone-call data from AT&T Inc. and Sprint Nextel Corp., records from Internet-service providers and purchase information from credit-card providers.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration acknowledged Thursday a secret NSA program dubbed Prism, which a senior administration official said targets only foreigners and was authorized under U.S. surveillance law. The Washington Post and the Guardian reported earlier Thursday the existence of the previously undisclosed program, which was described as providing the NSA and FBI direct access to server systems operated by tech companies that include Google Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Skype. The newspapers, citing what they said was an internal NSA document, said the agencies received the contents of emails, file transfers and live chats of the companies' customers as part of their surveillance activities of foreigners whose activity online is routed through the U.S. The companies mentioned denied knowledge or participation in the program.
The arrangement with Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, the country's three largest phone companies means, that every time the majority of Americans makes a call, NSA gets a record of the location, the number called, the time of the call and the length of the conversation, according to people familiar with the matter. The practice, which evolved out of warrantless wiretapping programs begun after 2001, is now approved by all three branches of the U.S. government.
AT&T has 107.3 million wireless customers and 31.2 million landline customers. Verizon has 98.9 million wireless customers and 22.2 million landline customers while Sprint has 55 million customers in total.
NSA also obtains access to data from Internet service providers on Internet use such as data about email or website visits, several former officials said. NSA has established similar relationships with credit-card companies, three former officials said.
It couldn't be determined if any of the Internet or credit-card arrangements are ongoing, as are the phone company efforts, or one-shot collection efforts. The credit-card firms, phone companies and NSA declined to comment for this article.
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by The Washington Post.(You can read the Prism powerpoint materials here). Of course, all of the companies contacted have denied involvement.
The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.
Equally unusual is the way the NSA extracts what it wants, according to the document: “Collection directly from the servers of these U.S. Service Providers: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.”
London’s Guardian newspaper reported Friday that GCHQ, Britain’s equivalent of the NSA, also has been secretly gathering intelligence from the same internet companies through an operation set up by the NSA.
According to documents obtained by The Guardian, PRISM would appear to allow GCHQ to circumvent the formal legal process required in Britain to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos from an internet company based outside of the country.* * *
Government officials and the document itself made clear that the NSA regarded the identities of its private partners as PRISM’s most sensitive secret, fearing that the companies would withdraw from the program if exposed. “98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don’t harm these sources,” the briefing’s author wrote in his speaker’s notes.
An internal presentation of 41 briefing slides on PRISM, dated April 2013 and intended for senior analysts in the NSA’s Signals Intelligence Directorate, described the new tool as the most prolific contributor to the President’s Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 items last year. According to the slides and other supporting materials obtained by The Post, “NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM” as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports.
That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications. It is all the more striking because the NSA, whose lawful mission is foreign intelligence, is reaching deep inside the machinery of American companies that host hundreds of millions of American-held accounts on American soil.
The technology companies, whose cooperation is essential to PRISM operations, include most of the dominant global players of Silicon Valley, according to the document. They are listed on a roster that bears their logos in order of entry into the program: “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple.” PalTalk, although much smaller, has hosted traffic of substantial intelligence interest during the Arab Spring and in the ongoing Syrian civil war.
What does the government want out of this information? I had suggested a couple days ago that the telephone metadata allows the government to map out networks of people, as well as the strength of the links between people. Or, as Popular Mechanics reports:
There are two basic ways to approach the data. First is a supervised learning approach, where you start with a target variable you are trying to predict for (in this case, you could isolate for a high-risk versus non-high-risk communication) and then separate the data by that variable. The second method, which is more useful for this type of request, is unsupervised learning, in which there's no target variable. You're simply searching for interesting patterns of behavior that occur in unexpected ways. This type of analysis can be used to create social networks of people of interest.Or, as the Guardian article more succinctly explains:
"You start with an anchor—say, Person A—which is a place to start your network from," Abbott says. "You see who this Person A has contacted on multiple occasions or at a regular frequency, and that can trigger a connection to another person that is unlikely to be a random connection." But to get any useful intel this way, Abbott says, you need the whole data set.
As yet, there is no information about exactly what the government was looking for in the Verizon data—it could be anything from terrorism investigations to money laundering to trade sanction violations—but presumably the government ordered Verizon to give up so much data because it didn't know precisely what or whom they were looking for until they mined the information.
There is a big debate this country needs to have about whether or not the government should be allowed to secretly scour huge pools of data about its citizens' behavior. But so long as U.S. intelligence agencies approach their investigations by attempting to find as many needles in a haystack as they can, they will continue to gather as much hay as possible.
The internet and credit card information goes beyond just social networks--it reveals a person's personality. What the NSA is trying to do is create a complete personality profile. Not only can they use this to identify persons of interest, but it can be used predicatively and it can be used for blackmail or coercion. As the Washington Post article concludes:
Privacy advocates have long warned that allowing the government to collect and store unlimited "metadata" is a highly invasive form of surveillance of citizens' communications activities. Those records enable the government to know the identity of every person with whom an individual communicates electronically, how long they spoke, and their location at the time of the communication.
Such metadata is what the US government has long attempted to obtain in order to discover an individual's network of associations and communication patterns.
Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.The response from all the usual suspects, of course, is that Americans needn't worry. For instance, "Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Americans have no cause for concern. 'If you're not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you've got nothing to worry about,' he said."
Bull crap! "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." As the IRS scandal shows, this Administration has no problem with using the powers of the federal government to crush opposition. In addition to the targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny and delays in issuing tax exempt status, the IRS and EPA have leaked information to Obama allies to use against conservatives.
Peter Wehner observes at Commentary Magazine:
On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.But perhaps the most telling description of the purpose and use of this database is from Maxine Walters, a die-hard Obamabot:
My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.
That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.
I would include as evidence to support my assertion the president’s routine slander of his opponents, his serially misleading statements (including flat-out falsehoods about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate), the IRS scandal and the public signals the president sent to that agency over the years, the unprecedented targeting of journalists by the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s nasty little habit of misleading Congress, Mr. Obama’s unusually dishonest campaign against Mitt Romney, and his overall contempt for the rule of law. He just doesn’t think that rules should apply to him, that he is above all that. Those who see themselves as world-historical figures tend to do that.
"The President has put in place an organization with the kind of database that no one has ever seen before in life," Representative Maxine Waters told Roland Martin on Monday. "That's going to be very, very powerful," Waters said. "That database will have information about everything on every individual on ways that it's never been done before and whoever runs for President on the Democratic ticket has to deal with that. They're going to go down with that database and the concerns of those people because they can't get around it. And he's [President Obama] been very smart. It's very powerful what he's leaving in place."Rush Limbough has a powerful piece discussing the practical consequences and meaning of these programs and the IRS scandals:
But the intelligent people were saying, "Nothing to see here. The reaction is way overblown." Those of us who think there's something worrisome here are overreacting and we're too oriented in politics. And the mature thinkers that weighed in and sound reason and levelheadedness assured us that there was nothing to fear here because this was just metadata, and in fact this is something we should all be thankful that the government is able to do.With the Nazis, they first obtained a little power, then used the Reichstag fire as an excuse to give them police powers to take total control of the government. Here, we have the reverse. First, the drug war, and then later 9/11 provided the basis for the police powers, then along came an Administration willing to use that legal authority to consolidate and maintain its power.
[I] have to tell you when I'm listening to all the smart people tell me this, my mind is about to explode, and I'm saying, "Do these people not realize what we just learned in the last three weeks?" We got the IRS starting in 2010 taking action to suppress the political involvement and ultimately votes of Tea Party people and conservative Republicans. This regime, this government, on the orders of the highest level. In fact, that investigation is ongoing. We have Fast and Furious. We have Obamacare. The evidence of the totalitarian nature or the authoritarian nature of this administration is on display undeniably every day and yet in the midst of this, "Well, don't go off half cocked on this, Rush. Be very levelheaded. Nothing really to see," as though there's no context here.
It made me once again understand, folks, what you and I are up against here. There are just way too many people -- and I'm talking about on our side -- who do not want to admit what we face, who do not want to engage or admit or whatever what we really face here. It matters. This kind of stuff matters because of who the people doing it happen to be. It's one thing if Colonel Sanders would be collecting all this data, but it's not Colonel Sanders. It's Barack Obama and everybody that works for him, and we know who they are and we know what their goals are. We know what their intentions are.
... Well, Herb Meyer was the first to sound this notice some months ago. I also mentioned he wrote a piece that currently is in the American Thinker earlier this week, and it had the potential to be controversial because he used Adolf Hitler and Nazism in it, and it was his way of explaining, he made a point in the piece that nowhere, you know, people looking for a smoking gun to nail Obama on all these scandals, Herb says, "Ain't gonna be one."
He said whether you believe it or not, there is not one document linking Adolf Hitler to the holocaust. Adolf Hitler never put it on paper what he intended to do. There is no smoking gun. And yet what happened? We know that the Nazis engaged in the Holocaust. Herb Meyer's point was that the people Hitler hired didn't have to be told. They didn't have to be given instructions. All they had to do was listen to what Hitler was saying. All they had to do was listen to what his objectives were. And he said the same thing's happening here with this administration. He went to great pains to say: I'm not calling this administration a bunch of Nazis. I'm just using this as an illustration. I know people will get my point if I use something this notorious, the Nazi regime.
It's a point that I've made here about the IRS. They say, "Well, you can't link it in to Obama." You don't need to link Obama to it. He hired these people. Lois Lerner and everybody at the IRS who's doing this is doing everything they can to please Obama. There's not gonna be a smoking gun, but you don't need a smoking gun to know where this administration's doing what it's doing.
Obama puts people in positions that mirror him. Eric Holder, you name it, they're doing Obama's bidding. Everybody. Susan Rice and Samantha Power, they are Obama, and there's a context for what's happening. Herbert Meyer, if I may quote him again, asserted that essentially what's taking place in the United States right now is a coup, not a violent coup, and not a million artistic coup, but nevertheless a takeover of a government, and it's being done by the Obama administration.
He referred to it as a coup. I don't know if he used the word "peaceful," but clearly there's a coup d'etat going. You know it and I know it. This is what animates us. This is why the Tea Party exists. This country was founded on certain concepts, principles, beliefs -- and they're under assault. Chief among them under assault is the right to privacy, and that's what all this is about. So in the midst of this coup d'etat... I happen to like that formulation.
In seeking ways to persuade, for example, the low-information voters of what's going on, this happens. These are the people continuing to prop Obama up with high approval numbers. The Limbaugh Theorem. How do we reach 'em? How do we tell them? How do we explain what's going on when they have, perhaps, almost an idolatrous relationship with the president? Well, maybe you tell 'em there's a coup going on.
* * *
There was a time when the United States government earned the trust of its people. There was a time when most people believed that the United States government was protecting them. There was a time when most people believed that the United States government was spying on the bad guys, that the United States government was in fact earning the trust of the people. But this current data collection, scanning, whatever you want to call it, unfortunately has to be judged in context: the IRS leaks, the now unquestionable, undeniable, admitted-to-it IRS tactic of suppressing the vote of Tea Party conservatives, denying them their First Amendment rights.
The regime and its tricks with the Associated Press and Fox reporter James Rosen, the Benghazi cover-ups, the Fast and Furious operation, suing the state of Arizona for simply endorsing essentially federal immigration law. You can't just try to be the smartest guy in the room and say, "Well, we must be levelheaded about this and understand that this is just metadata." We cannot take the motives and intelligence guided by experience watching this administration over the last four-and-a-half, five years, and what their express purpose is.
I was reminded this morning, we had a sound bite of Maxine Waters back on February 3rd of this year. She was on a TV show, some network, TV One. It was a show hosted by Roland Martin, who used to be, may still be, a personality at CNN. He was interviewing Maxine Waters, and every time she speaks, you know, we have a good laugh about it because clearly she's insane. And we nevertheless will play the sound bites. Her natural existence is such that she gives away the game. She will give away what the administration's all about. She will give away the fact that they want to nationalize all these companies. And she did it again on this Washington Watch with Roland Martin show back on February 3rd of 2013. He said to her, "The reality is like anything else: You'd better get what you can while he's there, because, look, come 2016, that's it."
WATERS: Well, you know, I don't know, and I think some people are missing something here. The president has put in place an organization that contains the kind of database that no one has ever seen before in life. That's going to be very, very powerful. That database will have information about everything on every individual in ways that it's never been done before.
RUSH: See, she gives it up. Now, I remember playing that sound bite, and we made a big deal about it at the website, Rush 24/7, and we thought, "Well, it's just Maxine being Maxine." But in this case now going back, looking at it in hindsight, what in the world was she talking about? At the time we thought she was talking about all of his high-tech campaign advancements. But maybe she wasn't.* * *So if the Constitution exists as it is, the country was founded as it was, and an administration comes along and doesn't like that and is doing everything it can to overturn that Constitution without a convention, doing everything it can to change direction of this country, and what's the word, transform it, what's wrong with calling this a coup? "Mr. Limbaugh, a coup is when rebels join forces with the military and start launching military attacks and shooting people." No, no, no. Not always. And that's my point.
When I was a kid, my dad kept saying, "Son, if things don't change, the Soviets are gonna take over this country without firing a shot." What he was talking about was a coup. ...
RUSH: Have we already forgotten what this regime has done to the donors to the Mitt Romney campaign, all of the IRS harassment and audits and attention paid them by the EPA, if necessary? This is clearly an administration that wants to identify its enemies and then take action against them somehow, to intimidate them or what have you. You can't take that context out. The Wall Street Journal has a story here about PRISM. You know, PRISM is a code name, too.