The Obama Administration's "Secret Law" to Spy on Americans

By Tom Burghardt

Global Research, July 31, 2011
Antifascist Calling...

During last spring's run-up to the reauthorization of three expiring provisions of the USA Patriot Act, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) charged that the administration and the FBI was relying on a "secret" interpretation of law to vacuum-up exabytes of data, including cell phone location records and internet data mining that target Americans.

In March, a written statement to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security by Justice Department official Todd Hinnen confirmed that the administration had used Section 215, the so-called "business records" section of the Act "to obtain driver's license records, hotel records, car rental records, apartment leasing records, credit card records, and the like."

Further confirmation of Wyden's charges came from an unlikely source: a White House nominee for a top counterterrorism position.

Last week Wired reported that Matthew Olsen, the administration's pick to head the National Counterterrorism Center "acknowledged that 'some of the pleadings and opinions related to the Patriot Act' to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approves snooping warrants 'are classified'."

If confirmed, Olsen will replace Michael E. Leiter, the Bushist embed who told the Senate last year during hearings into 2009's aborted plot to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day: "I will tell you, that when people come to the country and they are on the watch list, it is because we have generally made the choice that we want them here in the country for some reason or another."

What those reasons are for wanting a terrorist to board a packed airliner were not spelled out to Senate nor were they explored by corporate media. This raises an inevitable question: what else is the administration concealing from the American people?

White House Stonewall

Back in May, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department "demanding the release of a secret legal memo used to justify FBI access to Americans' telephone records without any legal process or oversight."

So far, the administration has refused to release the memos.

According to the civil liberties' watchdogs, a report last year by the DOJ's own Inspector General "revealed how the FBI, in defending its past violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), had come up with a new legal argument to justify secret, unchecked access to private telephone records."

"The Obama administration," The Washington Post reports, has continued "to resist the efforts of two Democratic senators to learn more about the government's interpretation of domestic surveillance law, stating that 'it is not reasonably possible' to identify the number of Americans whose communications may have been monitored under the statute."

In a letter to Wyden and Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), Kathleen Turner, the director of legislative affairs for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), claimed that a "joint oversight team" has not uncovered evidence "of any intentional or willful attempts to violate or circumvent the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA, which was amended in 2008."

Turner went on to say that "with respect to FAA" [FISA Amendments Act of 2008, the statute that "legalized" Bushist surveillance programs and handed retroactive immunity to spying telecoms like AT&T], "you [Wyden] asked whether any significant interpretations of the FAA are currently classified. As you are aware, opinions of the FISA Court usually contain extensive discussions of particularly sources, methods and operations and are therefore classified."

Throwing the onus back on political grifters in the House and Senate, Turner wrote: "Even though not publicly available, by law any opinion containing a significant legal interpretation is provided to the congressional intelligence committees."

With circular logic Turner claims that because "FISA Court opinions are so closely tied to the facts of the application under review that they cannot be made public in any meaningful form without compromising the sensitive sources and methods at issue."

At best, her statement is disingenuous. After all, it is precisely that secret interpretation of the law made by the White House Office of Legal Counsel that Wyden and others, including EFF, the Electronic Privacy Information Network (EPIC) and journalists are demanding the administration clarify.

Justice Department Shields NSA's Private Partners

The FBI isn't the only agency shielded by the Justice Department under cover of bogus "state secrets" assertions by the Obama administration.

On July 13, EPIC reported that a U.S. District Court Judge issued an opinion in their lawsuit (EPIC v. NSA), "and accepted the NSA's claim" that it can "neither confirm nor deny" that the agency "had entered into a relationship with Google following the China hacking incident in January 2010."

The privacy watchdogs sought documents under FOIA "because such an agreement could reveal that the NSA is developing technical standards that would enable greater surveillance of Internet users."

According to EPIC, the administration's "Glomar response" to "neither confirm nor deny" a covert relationship amongst giant media corporations such as Google and secret state agencies "is a controversial legal doctrine that allows agencies to conceal the existence of records that might otherwise be subject to public disclosure."

This issue is hardly irrelevant to internet users. CNET News reported last week that "Google's Street View cars collected the locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the world, a practice that raises novel privacy concerns."

And given the government's penchant to vacuum-up so-called "transactional data" without benefit of a warrant, would media giants such as Google, high-tech behemoths such as Apple or Microsoft, beholden to the federal government for regulatory perks, resist efforts by the feds demanding they cough-up users' locational data?

Investigative journalist Declan McCullagh found that the cars "were supposed to collect the locations of Wi-Fi access points. But Google also recorded the street addresses and unique identifiers of computers and other devices using those wireless networks and then made the data publicly available through until a few weeks ago."

According to CNET, "the French data protection authority, known as the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libert├ęs (CNIL) recently contacted CNET and said its investigation confirmed that Street View cars collected these unique hardware IDs. In March, CNIL's probe resulted in a fine of 100,000 euros, about $143,000."

On Friday, CNET reported that Microsoft too, is in on the geolocation spy game.

Declan McCullagh wrote that "Microsoft has collected the locations of millions of laptops, cell phones, and other Wi-Fi devices around the world and makes them available on the Web."

A security researcher confirmed that the "vast database available through publishes the precise geographical location, which can point to a street address and sometimes even a corner of a building, of Android phones, Apple devices, and other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets."

Such information in the hands of government snoops would prove invaluable when it comes to waging War On Terror 2.0, the so-called "cyber war." Which is why the administration is fighting tooth and nail to keep this information from the public.

On the cyber front, EPIC is suing the White House to obtain the top secret National Security Presidential Directive that sets out the "NSA's cyber security authority," and is seeking clarification from the agency about so-called internet vulnerability assessments, "the Director's classified views on how the NSA's practices impact Internet privacy, and the NSA's 'Perfect Citizen' program."

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, "Perfect Citizen" is a $100 million privacy-killing program under development by the agency and defense giant Raytheon. Published reports informed us that the program will rely on a suite of sensors deployed in computer networks and that proprietary software will persistently monitor whichever system they are plugged into.

While little has been revealed about how Perfect Citizen will work, it was called by a corporate insider the cyber equivalent of "Big Brother," according to an email obtained last year by The Wall Street Journal.

New Report Highlights "Transparency" Fraud

The refusal by the White House to divulge information that impact Americans' civil liberties and privacy rights, along with their expansion of repressive national security and surveillance programs launched by the Bush regime, underscores the fraudulent nature of Obama's so-called "transparency administration."

A new report published by the American Civil Liberties Union, Drastic Measures Required: Congress needs to Overhaul U.S. Secrecy Laws and Increase Oversight of the Secret Security Establishment, documents how "out-of-control secrecy is a serious disease that is hurting American democracy."

Authors Jay Stanley and former FBI undercover agent turned whistleblower, Michael German, write that "we are now living in an age of government secrecy run amok."

According to the report, "reality has not always lived up to the rhetoric" of the Obama regime. Since the administration took office, the White House:

• Embraced the Bush administration's tactic of using overbroad "state secrets" claims to block lawsuits challenging government misconduct.

• Fought a court order to release photos depicting the abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody and supported legislation to exempt these photos from FOIA retroactively. Worse, the legislation gave the Secretary of Defense sweeping authority to withhold any visual images depicting the government's "treatment of individuals engaged, captured, or detained" by U.S. forces, no matter how egregious the conduct depicted or how compelling the public's interest in disclosure.

• Threatened to veto legislation designed to reform congressional notification procedures for covert actions.

• Aggressively pursued whistleblowers who reported waste, fraud and abuse in national security programs with criminal prosecutions to a greater degree than any previous presidential administration.

• Refused to declassify information about how the government uses its authority under section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect information about Americans not relevant to terrorism or espionage investigations. (Mike German and John Stanley, Drastic Measures Required, Washington, D.C., The American Civil Liberties Union, July 2011, pp. 7-8)

Amongst other findings in the report we learn that more than 2.4 million personnel, "official" denizens of the secret state which include the 16 agencies of the so-called "Intelligence Community" and outsourced private contractors hold top secret and above security clearances.

Although the Government Accountability Office (GAO) disclosed that the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2010 "required required the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to calculate and report the aggregate number of security clearances for all government employees and contractors to Congress by February 2011," as of this writing "the DNI has so far failed to produce this data."

Last year, The Washington Post's "Top Secret America" series revealed that "some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States," and that "the privatization of national security" has been made possible by a "nine-year 'gusher' of money."

The Post's reporting on America's security outsourcing mania echoed critical investigations by other journalists, including those by Tim Shorrock, who has reported extensively on intelligence privatization in his essential book Spies For Hire and by James Bamford in The Shadow Factory, which explored how NSA was turned loose on the American people.

In a follow-up piece last December, investigative journalists Dana Priest and William M. Arkin described how "the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators."

"The government's goal," Priest and Arkin wrote, "is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States."

As the Post reported, "technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America."

This is a pernicious development. As I reported three years ago, one such program were efforts by the Department of Homeland Security, partnering-up with the Pentagon, to train America's fleet of top secret surveillance satellites on the American people.

That program, since killed by DHS, the National Applications Office, would have provided state and local authorities access to geospatial intelligence gleaned from military spy satellites and would have done so with no congressional oversight or privacy controls in place and would have handed over this sensitive data to selected law enforcement partners.

Local Police Control Ceded to the FBI

Along with intrusive techniques and highly-classified programs, Priest and Arkin wrote that the FBI has built "a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously."

What constitutes "suspicious behavior" of course, is in the eye of the beholder, and can constitute anything from taking photographs on a public street to organizing and participating in protests against America's endless wars.

Just recently, the San Francisco Bay Guardian revealed that local 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."

Investigative journalist Sarah Phelan discovered that even after a "carefully crafted" set of rules on intelligence gathering had been in place "since police spying scandals of the 1990s," were "bypassed without the knowledge or consent of the S.F. Police Commission."

John Crew, a police practices expert with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California told the Bay Guardian that the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding by S.F. cops and the FBI means that "Police Commission policies do not apply" and that it "allows San Francisco police to circumvent local intelligence-gathering policies and follow more permissive federal rules."

Despite serious concerns over the Bureau's long-standing practice of spying on political dissidents and its "War On Terror" racial profiling policies, in a follow-up piece the Bay Guardian reported that Police Commission President Thomas Mazzucco, a former federal prosecutor, seemed "more concerned about defending federal practices and officials ... than worrying about the role and authority of the civilian oversight body he now represents."

The ACLU's Crew noted that when the FBI came to the SFPD with a new MOU, "there was no review by the City Attorney, and no notice to the police commission."

"Now, we didn't know about that MOU because it was kept secret at the insistence of the FBI for four years," Crew told Sarah Phelan. Crew also noted that "when ACLU and ALC [Asian Law Caucus] met with the SFPD in 2010, they were suddenly told that the police department couldn't talk about these issues without FBI permission.

"That set off a warning sign," Crew observed, "noting that in early April, when the ACLU and ALC finally got the MOU released, their worst suspicions were confirmed."

"There was no public discussion of transforming the SFPD into a national intelligence gathering association," ALC attorney Veena Dubal told the Bay Guardian. "The problem is that the FBI changed the deal, and the SFPD signed it, without telling anyone."

Neither the Bay Guardian nor the ACLU of Northern California have released the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding. However, the secrecy-shredding web site Public Intelligence has posted a sample MOU that makes for interesting reading indeed.

According to the document, local police agencies who participate in JTTFs will adhere to loose rules covered by the "Attorney General's Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations." As Antifascist Calling reported last month, those rules will soon be loosened even further by "constitutional scholar" Barack Obama's Justice Department.

But here's the kicker; local police participating in JTTFs will be subject to rules crafted in Washington. State and municipal policies which sought to limit out-of-control spying on local activists by notorious police "Red Squads," are annulled in favor of "guidance on investigative matters handled by the JTTF" that "will be issued by the Attorney General and the FBI."

Such "guidance" we're told governs everything from "the Use of Confidential Informants" to "Guidelines Regarding Disclosure to the Director of Central Intelligence and Homeland Security Officials of Foreign Intelligence Acquired in the Course of a Criminal Investigation."

In other words, police participating in JTTFs become the CIA's eyes on the ground!

We are informed that "in order to comply with Presidential Directives, the policy and program management of the JTTFs is the responsibility of FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ)." As readers are well aware, more often than not those "Presidential Directives" arrive with built-in poison pills in the form of top secret annexes concealed from the public.

Such questions are not academic exercises.

More than three years ago, author and researcher Peter Dale Scott wrote in CounterPunch that "Congressman Peter DeFazio, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, told the House that he and the rest of his Committee had been barred from reviewing parts of National Security Presidential Directive 51, the White House supersecret plans to implement so-called 'Continuity of Government' in the event of a mass terror attack or natural disaster."

"The story," Scott wrote, "ignored by the mainstream press, involved more than the usual tussle between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. Government. What was at stake was a contest between Congress's constitutional powers of oversight, and a set of policy plans that could be used to suspend or modify the constitution."

Should something go wrong, the onus for civil or criminal penalties resulting from lawsuits for illegal acts by JTTF officers rests solely with local taxpayers who may have to foot the bill. This is clearly spelled out: "The Participating Agency acknowledges that financial and civil liability, if any and in accordance with applicable law, for the acts and omissions of each employee detailed to the JTTF remains vested with his or her employing agency."

Got that? You violate someone's rights and then get caught, well, tough luck chumps.

Intelligence Spending, No End in Sight

While the administration and their troglodytic Republican allies in Congress are planning massive cuts in social spending as a result of a manufactured "deficit crisis," the President's fiscal year 2012 budget proposes a five-year freeze for "all discretionary spending outside of security."

Indeed, according to the Associated Press, the Defense Department will reap a windfall some $727.4 billion and DHS $44.3 billion. But these numbers only tell part of the story.

Back in March, Secrecy News disclosed that figures provided by ODNI and the Secretary of Defense "document the steady rise of the total U.S. intelligence budget from $63.5 billion in FY2007 up to last year's total of $80.1 billion."

Americans are told they face "hard choices" when it comes to America's fiscal house of cards and that they--and they alone--not the capitalist thieves who destroyed the economy, must shoulder the burden.

But as economist Michael Hudson warned last week in a Global Research article, the American people are "being led to economic slaughter."

Hudson writes that "whenever one finds government officials and the media repeating an economic error as an incessant mantra, there always is a special interest at work. The financial sector in particular seeks to wrong-foot voters into believing that the economy will be plunged into crisis if Wall Street does not get its way--usually by freeing it from taxes and deregulating it."

However, when it comes to the secret state and the corporate interests they serve, regulators, in the form of congressional oversight or the public, seeking answers about illegal government programs, need not apply.

After all, as ODNI securocrat Kathleen Turner told the Senate, "the questions you pose ... are difficult to answer in an unclassified letter."

And so it goes...

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in Montreal, he is a Contributing Editor with Cyrano's Journal Today. His articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press and has contributed to the new book from Global Research, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.
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Democracy Going Dark: The Electronic Police State
The FBI's Multi-Billion "High-Tech Surveillance" Program

By Tom Burghardt

Global Research, May 21, 2009
Antifascist Calling...

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's budget request for Fiscal Year 2010 reveals that America's political police intend to greatly expand their high-tech surveillance capabilities.

According to ABC News, the FBI is seeking additional funds for the development of "a new 'Advanced Electronic Surveillance' program which is being funded at $233.9 million for 2010. The program has 133 employees, 15 of whom are agents."

Known as "Going Dark," the program is designed to beef up the Bureau's already formidable electronic surveillance, intelligence collection and evidence gathering capabilities "as well as those of the greater Intelligence Community," ABC reports. An FBI spokesperson told the network:

"The term 'Going Dark' does not refer to a specific capability, but is a program name for the part of the FBI, Operational Technology Division's (OTD) lawful interception program which is shared with other law enforcement agencies."

"The term applies to the research and development of new tools, technical support and training initiatives." (Jason Ryan, "DOJ Budget Details High-Tech Crime Fighting Tools," ABC News, May 9, 2009)

Led by Assistant Director Marcus C. Thomas, OTD describes the office as supporting "the FBI’s investigative and intelligence-gathering efforts--and those of our federal, state, and local law enforcement/intelligence partners--with a wide range of sophisticated technological equipment, examination tools and capabilities, training, and specialized experience. You won’t hear about our work on the evening news because of its highly sensitive nature, but you will continue to hear about the fruits of our labor..."

According to OTD's website, the Division possesses "seven core capabilities": Digital Forensics; Electronic Surveillance; Physical Surveillance; Special Technology and Applications; Tactical Communications; Tactical Operations and finally, Technical Support/Coordination.

Under the heading "Electronic Surveillance," OTD deploys "tools and techniques for performing lawfully-authorized intercepts of wired and wireless telecommunications and data network communications technologies; enhancing unintelligible audio; and working with the communications industry as well as regulatory and legislative bodies to ensure that our continuing ability to conduct electronic surveillance will not be impaired as technology evolves."

But as we have seen throughout the entire course of the so-called "war on terror," systemic constitutional breeches by the FBI--from their abuse of National Security Letters, the proliferation of corporate-dominated Fusion Centers to the infiltration of provocateurs into antiwar and other dissident groups--the only thing "impaired" by an out-of-control domestic spy agency have been the civil liberties of Americans.

Communications Backdoor Provided by Telecom Grifters

While the Bureau claims that it performs "lawfully-authorized intercepts" in partnership with the "communications industry," also known as telecommunications' grifters, the available evidence suggests otherwise.

As Antifascist Calling reported last year, security consultant and whistleblower Babak Pasdar, in a sworn affidavit to the Government Accountability Project (GAP), provided startling details about the collusive--and profitable alliance--between the FBI and America's wireless carriers.

Pasdar furnished evidence that FBI agents have instantly transferred data along a high-speed computer circuit to a Bureau technology office in Quantico, Virginia. The so-called Quantico Circuit was provided to the FBI by Verizon, The Washington Post revealed.

According to published reports, the company maintains a 45 megabit/second DS-3 digital line that allowed the FBI and other security agencies virtually "unfettered access" to the carrier's wireless network, including billing records and customer data "transferred wirelessly." Verizon and other telecom giants have supplied FBI technical specialists with real-time access to customer data.

"The circuit was tied to the organization's core network," Pasdar wrote. Such access would expose customers' voice calls, data packets, even their physical movements and geolocation to uncontrolled--and illegal--surveillance.

In April, Wired obtained documents from the FBI under a Freedom of Information Act request. Those files demonstrate how the Bureau's "geek squad" routinely hack into wireless, cellular and computer networks.

Although the FBI released 152 heavily-redacted pages, they withheld another 623, claiming a full release would reveal a "sensitive investigative technique." Nevertheless, Wired discovered that the FBI is deploying spyware called a "computer internet protocol address verifier," or CIPAV, designed to infiltrate a target's computer and gather a wide range of information, "which it sends to an FBI server in eastern Virginia." While the documents do not detail CIPAV's capabilities, an FBI affidavit from a 2007 case indicate it gathers and reports,

a computer's IP address; MAC address; open ports; a list of running programs; the operating system type, version and serial number; preferred internet browser and version; the computer's registered owner and registered company name; the current logged-in user name and the last-visited URL.

After sending the information to the FBI, the CIPAV settles into a silent "pen register" mode, in which it lurks on the target computer and monitors its internet use, logging the IP address of every server to which the machine connects. (Kevin Poulsen, "FBI Spyware Has Been Snaring Extortionists, Hackers for Years," Wired, April 16, 2009)

"Going Dark" is ostensibly designed to help the Bureau deal with technological changes and methods to intercept Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phone calls facilitated by programs such as Skype. But a tool that can seamlessly target hackers and cyber-criminals can just as easily be deployed against political opponents.

The FBI also intends to continue their use of automated link- and behavioral analysis derived from data mining as investigative tools. As a subset of applied mathematics, social network theory and its derivatives, link- and behavioral analysis, purport to uncover hidden relationships amongst social groups and networks. Over time, it has become an invasive tool deployed by private- and state intelligence agencies against political activists, most recently, as Antifascist Calling reported in February, against protest groups organizing against the Republican National Convention.

These methods raise very troubling civil liberties' and privacy concerns. The Electronic Privacy Information Coalition (EPIC) filed a Freedom of Information Act request, demanding that the General Services Administration (GSA) turn over agency records "concerning agreements the GSA negotiated between federal agencies and social networking services, including Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo,, and Facebook."

With the proliferation of social networking sites, applications allow users to easily share information about themselves with others. But as EPIC points out, "Many online services relay information about online associations as users create new relationships. While government agencies may use social networking, cloud computing, and Internet services to create greater transparency on their activities, it remains unclear if there are data collection, use, and sharing limitations."

And with "information discoverability" all the rage amongst spooky security agencies ranging from the FBI to the NSA, "connecting the dots," particularly when it comes to dissident Americans, "is gaining increasing attention from homeland security officials and experts in their ongoing attempt to corral anti-terrorism information that resides across federal, state and local jurisdictions," Federal Computer Week reports.

Will an agreement between Facebook and the FBI facilitate "dot connecting" or will it serve as a new, insidious means to widen the surveillance net, building ever-more intrusive electronic case files on dissident Americans?

The Electronic Police State

As Antifascist Calling reported earlier this month, citing the Electronic Frontier Foundation's (EFF) dossier on the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW), the office had "transitioned to the operations and maintenance phase during FY 2008" and now possesses some "997,368,450 unique searchable documents," ready for data mining.

But as study after study has revealed, most recently the comprehensive examination of various programs by the National Research Council, automated data mining is "likely to generate huge numbers of false leads."

Because the mountainous volumes of data "mined" for "actionable intelligence" are drawn from dozens of disparate sources on terrorism or criminal suspects, "they have an enormous potential for privacy violations because they will inevitably force targeted individuals to explain and justify their mental and emotional states."

EFF documented that the Bureau's Telephone Application (TA) "provides a central repository for telephone data obtained from investigations." TA allegedly functions as an "investigative tool ... for all telephone data collected during the course of FBI investigations. Included are pen register data, toll records, trap/trace, tape-edits, dialed digits, airnet (pager intercepts), cellular activity, push-to-talk, and corresponding subscriber information."

Additionally, the civil liberties' group revealed that "records obtained through National Security Letters are placed in the Telephone Application, as well as the IDW by way of the ACS [Automated Case] system." It would appear that "Going Dark" will serve as a research subsystem feeding the insatiable appetite of the Investigative Data Warehouse.

In fact, these programs are part and parcel of what the security website Cryptohippie refers to as the Electronic Police State. Far from keeping us safe from all manner of dastardly plots hatched by criminals and/or terrorists, Cryptohippie avers:

An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine.

An electronic police state is characterized by this:

State use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

The two crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic police state are these:

1. It is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.

2. It is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized for use in prosecutions.

In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording, every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping... are all criminal evidence, and they are held in searchable databases, for a long, long time. Whoever holds this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like it--the evidence is already in their database. ("The Electronic Police State, 2008 National Rankings," Cryptohippie, no date)

Unfortunately, this is not the stuff of paranoid fantasies, but American reality in the year 2009; one unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

In addition to "Going Dark," the FBI is busily constructing what ABC News refers to as the "development of the Biometric Technology Center, a Joint Justice, FBI and DoD program." At a cost of $97.6 million, the center will function as a research and development arm of the Bureau's Biometric Center of Excellence (BCOE), one which will eventually "be a vast database of personal data including fingerprints, iris scans and DNA which the FBI calls the Next Generation Identification (NGI)."

The program is closely tied with technology under development by West Virginia University's Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR). As the FBI's "lead academic partner in biometrics research" according to a Bureau press release, CITeR provides "biometrics research support to the FBI and its law enforcement and national security partners and serve as the FBI liaison to the academic community of biometric researchers nationwide."

Indeed, CITeR director Lawrence A. Hornak, "a visionary of the Big Brother school of technology" told The Register, he awaits the day "when devices will be able to 'recognize us and adapt to us'." The "long-term goal," Hornak declared, is the "ubiquitous use of biometrics."

But as The Register pointed out when the program was publicly rolled-out, "civil libertarians and privacy advocates are not amused."

They claim that the project presents nightmare scenarios of stolen biometric information being used for ever-more outlandish forms of identity theft, which would be nearly impossible to correct. Correcting an inaccurate credit report is already an insulting and hair-raising experience in America, and critics contend that the use of biometrics would make correcting inaccurate credit reports or criminal histories nearly impossible. Besides, they argue, the US government does not exactly have a sterling record when it comes to database security--what happens when, as seems inevitable, the database is hacked and this intimate and allegedly indisputable data is compromised? ...

Databases usually become less accurate, rather than more, the older and bigger they get, because there's very little incentive for the humans that maintain them to go back and correct old, inaccurate information rather than simply piling on new information. Data entry typically trumps data accuracy. Furthermore, the facial recognition technology in its current iteration is woefully inaccurate, with recognition rates as low as 10 per cent at night. All in all, there is ample reason for skepticism--not that it will make much of a difference. (Burke Hansen, "FBI preps $1bn biometric database," The Register, December 24, 2007)

But WVU's CITeR isn't the only partner lining-up to feed at the FBI's trough. ABC reports that the Bureau "has awarded the NGI contract to Lockheed Martin to update and maintain the database which is expected to come online in 2010. After being fully deployed the NGI contract could cost up to $1 billion."

However, Federal Computer Week reported in 2008 that although the initial contract will "consist of a base year," the potential for "nine option years" means that "the value of the multiyear contract ... could be higher." You can bet it will!

Additional firms on Lockheed Martin's "team" as subcontractors include IBM, Accenture, BAE Systems, Global Science & Technology, Innovative Management & Technology Services and Platinum Solutions. In other words, NGI is yet another in a gigantic herd of cash cows enriching the Military-Industrial-Security Complex.

Democracy "Going Dark"

The "vast apparatus of domestic spying" described by the World Socialist Web Site, greatly expanded under the criminal Bush regime is a permanent feature of the capitalist state; one that will continue to target political dissent during a period of profound economic crisis.

That the Obama administration, purportedly representing fundamental change from the previous government, has embraced the felonious methods of the Bush crime family and its capo tutti capo, Richard Cheney, should surprise no one. Like their Republican colleagues, the Democrats are equally complicit in the antidemocratic programs of repression assembled under the mendacious banner of the "global war on terror."

From warrantless wiretapping to the suppression of information under cover of state secrets, and from the waging of imperialist wars of conquest to torture, the militarist mind-set driving capitalist elites at warp speed towards an abyss of their own creation, are signs that new political provocations are being prepared by America's permanent "shadow government"--the military-intelligence-corporate apparatus.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press and the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press.
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Not since AT&T whistleblower Marc Klein's 2006 revelations that U.S. telecommunications giants were secretly collaborating with the government to spy on Americans, has a story driven home the point that we are confronted by a daunting set of invisible enemies: the security and intelligence firms constellating the dark skies of the National Security State.

As echoes from last month's disclosures by the cyber-guerrilla collective Anonymous continue to reverberate, leaked HBGary emails and documents are providing tantalizing insight into just how little daylight there is between private companies and the government.

The latest front in the ongoing war against civil liberties and privacy rights is the Pentagon's interest in "persona management software."

A euphemism for a suite of high-tech tools that equip an operative--military or corporate, take your pick--with multiple avatars or sock puppets, our latter day shadow warriors hope to achieve a leg up on their opponents in the "war of ideas" through stealthy propaganda campaigns rebranded as "information operations."

A Pervasive Surveillance State

The signs of a pervasive surveillance state are all around us. From the "persistent cookies" that track our every move across the internet to indexing dissidents already preemptively detained in public and private data bases: threats to our freedom to speak out without harassment, or worse, have never been greater.

As constitutional scholar Jack Balkin warned, the transformation of what was once a democratic republic based on the rule of law into a "National Surveillance State," feature "huge investments in electronic surveillance and various end runs around traditional Bill of Rights protections and expectations about procedure."

"These end runs," Balkin wrote, "included public private cooperation in surveillance and exchange of information, expansion of the state secrets doctrine, expansion of administrative warrants and national security letters, a system of preventive detention, expanded use of military prisons, extraordinary rendition to other countries, and aggressive interrogation techniques outside of those countenanced by the traditional laws of war."

Continuing the civil liberties' onslaught, The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Barack Obama's "change" regime has issued new rules that "allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades."

The Journal points out that the administrative "revision" of long-standing rules and case law "marks another step back from [Obama's] pre-election criticism of unorthodox counterterror methods."

Also last week, The Raw Story revealed that the FBI has plans to "embark on a $1 billion biometrics project and construct an advanced biometrics facility to be shared with the Pentagon."

The Bureau's new biometrics center, part of which is already operating in Clarksburg, West Virginia, "will be based on a system constructed by defense contractor Lockheed Martin."

"Starting with fingerprints," The Raw Story disclosed, the center will function as "a global law enforcement database for the sharing of those biometric images." Once ramped-up "the system is slated to expand outward, eventually encompassing facial mapping and other advanced forms of computer-aided identification."

The transformation of the FBI into a political Department of Precrime is underscored by moves to gift state and local police agencies with electronic fingerprint scanners. Local cops would be "empowered to capture prints from any suspect, even if they haven't been arrested or convicted of a crime."

"In such a context," Stephen Graham cautions in Cities Under Siege, "Western security and military doctrine is being rapidly imagined in ways that dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation between policing, intelligence and the military; distinctions between war and peace; and those between local, national and global operations."

This precarious state of affairs, Graham avers, under conditions of global economic crisis in the so-called democratic West as well as along the periphery in what was once called the Third World, has meant that "wars and associated mobilizations ... become both boundless and more or less permanent."

Under such conditions, Dick Cheney's infamous statement that the "War on Terror" might last "decades" means, according to Graham, that "emerging security policies are founded on the profiling of individuals, places, behaviours, associations, and groups."

But to profile more effectively, whether in Cairo, Kabul, or New York, state security apparatchiks and their private partners find it necessary to squeeze ever more data from a surveillance system already glutted by an overabundance of "situational awareness."

"Last October," Secrecy News reported, "the DNI revealed that the FY2010 budget for the National Intelligence Program (NIP) was $53.1 billion. And the Secretary of Defense revealed that the FY2010 budget for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) was $27.0 billion, the first time the MIP budget had been disclosed, for an aggregate total intelligence budget of $80.1 billion for FY 2010."

This excludes of course, the CIA and Pentagon's black budget that hides a welter of top secret and above Special Access Programs under a dizzying array of code names and acronyms. In February, Wired disclosed that the black budget "appears to be about $56 billion, the same as last year," but this "may only be the tip of an iceberg of secret funds."

While the scandalous nature of such outlays during a period of intense economic and social attacks on the working class are obvious, less obvious are the means employed by the so-called "intelligence community" to defend an indefensible system of exploitation and corruption.

Which brings us back to the HBGary hack.

"Operation MetalGear"

While media have focused, rightly so, on the sleazy campaign proposed to Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the high-powered law firm and lobby shop Hunton & Williams (H&W) to bring down WikiLeaks and tar Chamber critics, the treasure trove of emails leaked by Anonymous also revealed a host of Pentagon programs pointed directly at the heart of our freedom to communicate.

In fact, The Tech Herald revealed that while Palantir and Berico sought to distance themselves from HBGary and Hunton & William's private spy op, "in 2005, Palantir was one of countless startups funded by the CIA, thanks to their venture funding arm, In-Q-Tel."

"Most of In-Q-Tel's investments," journalist Steve Ragan wrote, "center on companies that specialize in automatic collection and processing of information."

In other words Palantir, and dozens of other security start-ups to the tune of $200 million since 1999, was a recipient of taxpayer-funded largess from the CIA's venture capitalist arm for products inherently "dual-use" in nature.

"Palantir Technologies," The Tech Herald revealed, was "the main workhorse when it comes to Team Themis' activities."

In proposals sent to H&W, a firm recommended to Bank of America by a Justice Department insider, "Team Themis said they would 'leverage their extensive knowledge of Palantir's development and data integration environments' allowing all of the data collected to be 'seamlessly integrated into the Palantir analysis framework to enhance link and artifact analysis'."

Following the sting of HBGary Federal and parent company HBGary, Anonymous disclosed on-going interest and contract bids between those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Air Force to develop software that will allow cyber-warriors to create fake personas that help "manage" Pentagon interventions into social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

As Ragan points out, while the "idea for such technology isn't new," and that "reputation and persona management techniques have been used by the government and the private sector for years," what makes these disclosures uniquely disturbing are apparent plans by the secret state to use the software for propaganda campaigns that can just as easily target an American audience as one in a foreign country.

While neither HBGary nor Booz Allen secured those contracts, interest by HBGary Federal's disgraced former CEO Aaron Barr and others catering to the needs of the militarist state continue to drive development forward.

Dubbed "Operation MetalGear", Anonymous believes that the program "involves an army of fake cyber personalities immersed in social networking websites for the purposes of manipulating the mass population via influence, crawling information from major online communities (such as Facebook), and identifying anonymous personalities via correlating stored information from multiple sources to establish connections between separate online accounts, using this information to arrest dissidents and activists who work anonymously."

As readers recall, such tools were precisely what Aaron Barr boasted would help law enforcement officials take down Anonymous and identify WikiLeaks supporters.

According to a solicitation (RTB220610) found on the FedBizOpps.Gov web site, under the Orwellian tag "Freedom of Information Act Support," the Air Force is seeking software that "will allow 10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly [sic] consistent."

We're informed that "individual applications will enable an operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries."

Creepily, "personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by displaying real-time local information."

Aiming for maximum opacity, the RFI demands that the licence "protects the identity of government agencies and enterprise organizations." An "enterprise organization" is a euphemism for a private contractor hired by the government to do its dirty work.

The proposal specifies that the licensed software will enable "organizations to manage their persistent online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona. Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organization."

While Barr's premature boasting may have brought Team Themis to ground, one wonders how many other similar operations continue today under cover of the Defense Department's black budget.

Corporate Cut-Outs

Following up on last month's revelations, The Guardian disclosed that a "Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an 'online persona management service' that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world."

That firm, a shadowy Los Angeles-based outfit called Ntrepid is devoid of information on its corporate web site although a company profile avers that the firm "provides national security and law enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."

According to Guardian reporters Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain, Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76M contract by CENTCOM, which refused to disclose "whether the multiple persona project is already in operation or discuss any related contracts."

Blurring corporate lines of accountability even further, The Tech Herald revealed that Ntrepid may be nothing more than a "ghost corporation," a cut-out wholly owned and operated by Cubic Corporation.

A San Diego-based firm describing itself as "a global leader in defense and transportation systems and services" that "is emerging as an international supplier of smart cards and RFID solutions," Cubic clocks in at No. 75 on Washington Technology's list of 2010 Top Government Contractors.

Founded by Walter J. Zable, the firm's Chairman of the Board and CEO, Cubic has been described as one of the oldest and largest defense electronics firms on the West Coast.

Chock-a-block with high-level connections to right-wing Republicans including Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter and Dan Coates, during the 2010 election cycle Cubic officers donated some $90,000 to Republican candidates, including $25,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee and some $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics'

With some $1 billion in 2009 revenue largely derived from the Defense Department, the company's "Cyber Solutions" division "provides specialized cyber security products and solutions for defense, intelligence and homeland security customers."

The RFI for the Air Force disclosed by Anonymous Ragan reports, "was written for Anonymizer, a company acquired in 2008 by intelligence contractor Abraxas Corporation. The reasoning is that they had existing persona management software and abilities."

In turn, Abraxas was purchased by Cubic in 2010 for $124 million, an acquisition which Washington Technology described as one of the "best intelligence-related" deals of the year.

As The Tech Herald revealed, "some of the top talent at Anonymizer, who later went to Abraxas, left the Cubic umbrella to start another intelligence firm. They are now listed as organizational leaders for Ntrepid, the ultimate winner of the $2.7 million dollar government contract."

Speculation is now rife that since "Ntrepid's corporate registry lists Abraxas' previous CEO and founder, Richard Helms, as the director and officer, along with Wesley Husted, the former CFO, who is an Ntrepid officer as well," the new firm may be little more than an under-the-radar front for Cubic.

Amongst the Security Services offered by the firm we learn that "Cubic subsidiaries are working individually and in concert to develop a wide range of security solutions" that include: "C4ISR data links for homeland security intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions;" a Cubic Virtual Analysis Center which promises to deliver "superior situational awareness to decision makers in government, industry and nonprofit organizations," human behavior pattern analysis, and other areas lusted after by securocrats.

The Guardian informs us that the "multiple persona contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a programme called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged against coalition forces."

"Since then," Fielding and Cobain wrote, "OEV is reported to have expanded into a $200m programme and is thought to have been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East."

While CENTCOM's then-commander, General David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that the program was designed to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda," in light of HBGary revelations, one must ask whether firms involved in the dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks have deployed versions of "persona management software" against domestic opponents.

While we cannot say with certainty this is the case, mission creep from other "War on Terror" fronts, notably ongoing NSA warrantless wiretapping programs and Defense Department spy ops against antiwar activists, also involving "public-private partnerships" amongst security firms and the secret state, should give pause.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research, he is a Contributing Editor with Cyrano's Journal Today. His articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press and has contributed to the new book from Global Research, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.

Tom Burghardt is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Tom Burghardt