Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Yes we scan

Barack Obama should change his name to Lucy Van Pelt, and the American people should collectively call themselves Charlie Brown. As older readers of the funny pages may recall, Lucy made an annual tradition of holding out a football for Charlie Brown to kick, always promising that this time she would not yank it away at the last second.

Yes, I admit it. I actually allowed myself to feel a twinge of hope -- hope -- when Obama announced that he would give the Agency new oversight. Welcome to the new overseers -- same as the old ones.

James Clapper will lead the new oversight committee. Even the Washington Post, the company town newspaper, refers to Clapper as "the man who misled Congress."
The stated mission of the group has also shifted. On Friday, Obama said the group would examine “how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse.” But today’s memo makes no mention of preventing abuses. Instead, it will examine whether U.S. surveillance activity “optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust.”
In other words, what was supposed to be a group to protect us is now a group to protect them. It's the "No More Snowdens" Committee.

I like the way Pepe Escobar puts it: "Yes we can" has morphed into "Yes we scan."

But let's not blame Obama entirely. The rot set in under George W. Bush. Many would say that the rot actually set in back in 1947, when Congress passed the first National Security Act, establishing the CIA. But in this post I refer to the specific forms of rot that Ed Snowden exposed to the world.

Michael Hayden -- whom I've always instinctively disliked -- oversaw the installation of these programs during his tenure as NSA head. Now Hayden often appears on teevee as the chief salesman for the surveillance state.
As Marcy Wheeler noted: "the 2009 Draft NSA IG Report that Snowden leaked [and the Guardian published] provided new details about how Hayden made the final decision to continue the illegal wiretapping program even after DOJ's top lawyers judged it illegal in 2004. Edward Snowden leaked new details of Michael Hayden's crime." The Twitter commentator sysprog3 put it this way:
Inviting Hayden to comment on regulation of surveillance is like having Bernie Madoff comment on regulation of Wall Street."
But inviting Hayden to do exactly that is what establishment media outlets do continually. Just yesterday, Face the Nation featured Hayden as the premiere guest to speak authoritatively about how trustworthy the NSA is, how safe it keeps us, and how wise President Obama is for insisting that all of its programs continue. As usual, no mention was made of the role he played in secretly implementing an illegal warrantless spying program aimed directly at the American people. As most establishment media figures do when quivering in the presence of national security state officials, the supremely sycophantic TV host Bob Schieffer treated Hayden like a visiting dignitary in his living room and avoided a single hard question.

But worse than the omission of Hayden's NSA history is his current - and almost always unmentioned - financial stake in the very policies he is being invited to defend. Hayden is a partner in the Chertoff Group, a private entity that makes more and more money by increasing the fear levels of the US public and engineering massive government security contracts for their clients.
Accumulo. On a hunch that the Chertoff Group might link up to Endgame, I input both terms into Google and found Ely Kahn, the COO of another NSA-related private cybersecurity group called Sqrrl. I think we may one day hear more about these guys. Sqrrl is working on an infinitely scalable data management system called Acorn, which began life as an NSA (now open source) program known as -- I kid you not -- Accumulo. (They even have an Accumulo users group!)
So what makes Sqrrl so special? First, the Accumulo database can handle enormous amounts of data, says Antonio Rodriguez of Matrix Partners: "You can imagine the volume of data the NSA was working with, like gathering records of every purchase of fertilizer everywhere in the world to try to identify people who might be up to no good."
Wired published a defeatist overview of Accumulo:
Right now the agency is harvesting petabytes of data in Accumulo, a staggering amount that grows daily. But the cleverest part of all of this is in the analytics, Accumulo was built and extended the Big Table concept to analyze trillions of points in data in order to create intelligence that can detect the connections between those points and the strength of those connections.

If you thought you had it sussed with something like LinkedIn using INmaps (my network is too large to generate one funnily enough) or Facebook Social Graph, think again because through Accumulo the NSA can find out who you are, where you are, who you know and why you know them. It’s graph analysis on steroids...
From there, the writer goes on to sing the usual defeatist song: Nothing is private any more, so you might as well get used to being naked and vulnerable to your cyber-rulers at all times.

God, I cannot freakin' stand people who talk that way.

Yes, we can tame this beast. Here's how:

1. Always say "FUCK YOU!" to anyone who tries to scare you with that all-too-familiar cry: "Terrorists and pedos! Terrorists and pedos! They're comin' for ya! They're gonna get ya! Terrorists and pedos!" And keep saying "FUCK YOU!" to the scaremongers even if buildings fall. Always remember that those scaremongers have a financial interest: See the Chertoff Group, referenced above.

2. Always say "FUCK YOU!" to anyone who gives you the standard "Privacy is a thing of the past" rap. Treat all who utter those words (or similar words) as human filth. Talk to such people the way you'd talk to someone who raped your grandmother. Spit in their faces. Literally: Spit in their faces.

3. Build coalitions between the libertarian right and the liberal left. As my readers know, I can't stand libertarian economic platitudes. But on privacy issues, the better libertarians are willing to stand up for principle. (Ed Snowden himself provides an excellent example.) When it comes to defeating the NSA monster, we must find ways to work with people we otherwise despise.

4. Work toward the passage of strict laws and a constitutional amendment. Insist on truly independent oversight. New legislation should define as treason all warrant-free government eavesdropping and data collection by agencies investigating or policing American citizens. Traitors who break the new rules must face the death penalty.

5. Criminalize all data collection not absolutely necessary to the running of a business, charity, government program or non-profit enterprise.


cracker said...

"But let's not blame Obama entirely." It's just as I suspected; this is all Bush's fault, and that's because Obama has only been playing golf for over four and a half years while pretending to be the chief executive officer of the national surveillance state. Regarding your last five points: delusional.

prowlerzee said...

I admire your passion on this topic, Joseph! It might be worthwhile, tho, to craft a real manifesto for sharing and coalition-building.

In addition to your suggestions, let's draft severe penalties for news outlets who fail to disclose their spokespeople's relevant financial ties.

And a very witty, serviceable, spittle-free retort to the most infuriating capitulation of all: "if you've not done anything wrong you have nothing to worry about."

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've had the misfortune of having a moment of hope in Obama's words, only to see the heel in the sky come stomping down. Had the same feeling with the Bank Oversight team that was suppose to investigate the corruption on Wall St and the subsequent housing debacle. Well, they got the team together then hobbled it with insufficient investigators and not providing the department with any real clout. William Black riffed on this deception; his outrage was a thing of beauty.

On surveillance and NSA? The President is fluffing the pillows. It's all about appearances, as always.

That 'just words' speech that Barack Obama lifted from Deval Patrick during the 2008 campaign? That was a sick joke on us, the plebs, the rubes, anyone who recalls what that American Dream looked and sounded like. As bad as the NSA revelations have been, this Trans-Pacific Trade deal sounds even worse, what we know of it. Because it too is secret, even from the US Congress. But clicking our heels to transnational corporations seems to be the order of the day.

Happy Days!


felix said...

You've only got to look at what Obama is doing to the housing market to know that he is entirely captured by vested interests. He hasn't met a working stiff he wouldn't flush down the toilet. I have no idea what he believes he is achieving in his Presidency.


Anonymous said...

About the TPP: here's hoping that the fallout from the NSA scandals cause other countries to find it hard to sign on due to pressure from their own populaces. From the time that Snowden's revelations and, perhaps most importantly, the documents were made public, I always thought that the most damage would come from how people in other countries view the U.S, not from how Americans view either Obama or their government.

It was this unmasking of U.S. intentions to other countries that occurred from the Manning leaks that had Obama throwing snit fits. Americans either are brainwashed or are so involved with how to survive in this neoliberal, ghastly economic environment that the NSA scandals don't register all that much. We've been protected in that government spying always has always directly affected a few Americans (I emphasize directly). People in other countries have had very different experiences, with thousands imprisoned or in other ways penalized because of information learned by their governments through spying.