Sunday, December 29, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Deconstructing Metadata


Metadata is not what it seems and is not what is at stake.  Metadata is the timid public face of domestic surveillance, which is actually far more powerful and invasive.  By the term metadata, I mean section 215 metadata phone surveillance.

Total Electronic Surveillance

[The NSA is] collecting everything, contents word for word, everything of every domestic communication in this country.
          Russ Tice, former NSA analyst, August

[T]hat's why they had to build Bluffdale, that facility in Utah with that massive amount of storage that could store all these recordings and all the data being passed along the fiberoptic networks of the world.  ...[Y]ou could store 100 years of the world's communications here.  That's for content storage.  That's not for metadata.

          William Binney, former NSA mathematician, August

In a sense, we have two conversations taking place - a timid exchange and a sober one.  In the timid exchange, we have members of Congress, US district court judges, some lawyers, a large portion of the press, and executive branch officials discussing metadata.  In the sober exchange, we have NSA whistleblowers, other lawyers, a smaller portion of the press, and a good part of the blogosphere discussing total electronic surveillance.*/**

Indeed, the three biggest NSA stories of December - the Presidential Review Group report, US district court judge Richard Leon's ruling on Klayman v. Obama I (and not II), and US district court judge William Pauley's ruling on ACLU v. Clapper - are in the timid category and focus on metadata.  (Though Klayman v. Obama II was not a metadata case, Leon did not rule favorably on it.)

Let there be no illusions: as multiple former intelligence and law enforcement officials illustrate above (and below***), we live in a total electronic surveillance society.  Metadata is, at best, a red herring and, at worst, an uncoordinated or even coordinated limited hangout, which distracts an already regimented American people from seeing the social control apparatus that has been erected around us since 9/11.  

To the extent that the courts focus on metadata cases and Congress focuses on metadata questions, an entire subset of NSA programs, actions, and technological practices remain obfuscated in the public debate - despite appearing the most illegal, unconstitutional, and illegitimate.  We cannot overemphasize that the disclosures are not simply about metadata but rather total electronic surveillance - not to mention other subtle issues including decryption programs such as Bullrun.  


Proffering Absurdities

First - as I said, I have great respect for Senator Wyden.  I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked a 'When are you going to start, stop beating your wife'-kind of question, which is meaning not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no.  So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful manner by saying no.           

          James Clapper, DNIJune (11:15)****

'Least untruthful' is not 'too cute by half'; it's Rumsfeldian bullshit.  As many people know, NSA Director Alexander said in June the NSA had thwarted 54 plots under Section 215 and Section 702.  Then, in October, he said one or two plots involved metadata phone record collecting under Section 215.  Meanwhile in July, NSA Deputy Director John Inglis said that metadata phone record collecting helped catch Basaaly Moalin and three others successfully sending $8,500 to al-Shabaab, the Somali-based terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya.  

Moalin is a legitimate SIGINT success.  But there's a problem with these exchanges.

Alexander has four master's degrees - two in hard science fields; he's a four star general and a West Point graduate.  Inglis has two master's in hard science fields; he was a Brigadier general and US Air Force Academy graduate.  Together they manage an organization with a $10.8B annual budget and that employs 40K+ people.  Alexander and Inglis - who have for decades work in the fields of state secrecy - would have us believe that the crowning achievement of metadata phone record collecting under Section 215 is that they caught a cab driver in San Diego successfully sending $9K to Somalia.*****

Presenting Moalin as sufficient or legitimate evidence for the 'phone dragnet' (i.e. metadata phone record collecting under Section 215) is only possible in a political culture where lies, obstruction, and propaganda has become commonplace and truth has lost a significant degree of real meaning.  NSA officials are proffering the absurd.  Whereas these leaders have lied about specific issues, the greatest lie occurring here is the one of omission.  We are not only getting ordinary lies discussed in part 5, Deception as Policy, but a more sophisticated one.   The picture NSA officials have allowed to unfold is a cartoonish absurdity.  Although such is nearly impossible to verify, Moalin and metadata are likely uncoordinated limited hangouts.  

The question is: what are they hiding?  Parallel construction (a.k.a parallel investigation) is a candidate answer.


Parallel Construction

Ultimately it's the metadata that they're going to use against people when and if they use everything that they have against them in court.  So, now here's the big thing.  NSA collects everything.  NSA collects word for word content of every phone call communication, of every email, of every Skype message system, of everything, of all the Facebook and all the google and that order information too.  They collect everything.

          Russ Tice, December (2:45) 

The Intelligence Community (IC) has all the electronic communications in the domestic arena (or a meaningful portion it and the intention to getting all of it); but IC officials are not going to state in blunt terms that the surveillance system is approaching or has already become complete and omnipresent.  But they are pushing for metadata as the legal tool and public face of their methodologies.  They use (or may eventually use) the complete data set to examine a target and the metadata set to charge the target in court.  That is, as far as I can tell, what metadata is really about.  Ironically, Inglis in a sense reveals their hand when he said "That's not how these programs work". 

Reuters openly reports this very argument regarding parallel construction and the DEA.  The DEA also receives NSA tips, which enable further parallel construction.  Indeed, NSA, CIA, and the IRS all allegedly share intelligence, which also illustrates the power and use of parallel construction.  Total electronic surveillance is powerful; and intelligence and law enforcement officials unsurprisingly want it.  But American need to provide their consent.  That has not happened to date.

(In a larger sense, it's worth noting the surveillance state is likely as much about offensive, political objectives as defensive, strategic objectives.  For instance, emptywheel has noted that the NSA conducts infiltration - in other words creating and accessing strategic informants and other assets.  I'll further argue in A Wisdom-less Society that surveillance is very much if not completely about social control as Snowden argued.)  


* For a comprehensive, evidence based portrayal of the NSA's technological capacity see this ProPublica piece.

** Admittedly, I am simplifying matters; Jewel v. NSA and is not a metadata case; and many important cases remain open.  Also, as far as I can tell, the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act - the reform offered by Senators Wyden, Udall, Blumenthal, and Paul - is not (at face value) metadata legislation.  Nor is the USA Freedom Act - the reform offered by Senator Leahy and Representative Sensenbrenner.

*** Former FBI Director Robert Mueller in 2011: "We put into place technological improvements relating to the capabilities of a database to pull together past emails and future ones as they come in so it does not require an individualized search."  Former NSA senior executive and whistleblower Thomas Drake in 2012: "[T]he NSA has chosen to seize and save all personal electronic communications."  Former FBI agent Tim Clemente in May: "There's a way to look at digital communications in the past.  And I can't go into to detail of how that's done or what's done.  I can tell you that no digital communication is secure."  Snowden in June: "[T]he reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want.  Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on - it's all the same.  The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.  Additionally, audits are cursory, incomplete, and easily fooled by fake justifications."

**** What exactly is a 'When are you going to start, stop beating your wife'-kind of question?  As it turns out Clapper is clearly alluding to an exchange between former Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, American journalist Daniel Schorr, and another reporter.

As shared (on page 57) in Challenging the Secret Government by Kathryn Olmstead, Helms says to Schorr: "I must say, Mr. Schorr, I didn't like what you had to say on some of your broadcasts on this subject.  I don't think it was fair, and I don't think it was right.  As far as I know, the CIA was never responsible for assassinating any foreign leaders."  

Another reporter asks if the CIA had discussed assassinations.  Helms: "I don't know whether I've stopped beating my wife, whether you've stopped beating your wife.  In government, there are discussion of practically everything under the sun."  "Of assassinations?"  The report quipped.  Helms: "Of everything!"

I'm really not sure what to make of all this beating-of-wives talk.  But it strikes me (no pun intended) as meaningful.  Without getting to far afoot and at the risk of myself being cute, one gets the impression that Clapper is subconsciously or even consciously admitting that he is in an abusive relationship with the American people and maybe even doesn't really give a shit.  If it conscious, you have to respect the boldness of it all.  Some have suggested that, in Clapper's decision to say he has "great respect for Senator Wyden", he was in fact saying in code that he has no respect for him.  More on that in Power and Illusions.

As it turns out and as many people know, the CIA had indeed helped to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo, and others.  The Church Committee brought this subject to light precisely because of the work of reporters like Daniel Schorr.

***** Just to complete this discussion: according to ProPublica, three other cases exist in relation to Section 215 and Section 702 - one where no one was charged with crimes and two others where additional law enforcement methods played the key role; emptywheel takes this view as well - see bullet two.  emptywheel also confirms that Moalin is the primary achievement under metadata phone record collecting under Section 215.  It is worth noting that the NSA very well may have more cases from the 54 of value to present to the public - related to Section 702. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Deception as Policy


option3 is not just about the big picture.  The next four blogs address the current policy process surrounding the Snowden disclosures.   

The issues at hand include transparency, oversight, and effectiveness.  People who argue we cannot have transparency and security are mistaken.  After troubling articles in the earlier 1970's came out regarding intelligence activities then, Congress initiated the Church Committee in 1975 to re-position the nexus of transparency, American values, and effectiveness.  Now it's our turn.  But that's not what is happening in Congress.  

A Structured and Rational Inquiry

If we can't understand the policies and the programs of our government, we cannot grant our consent.

          Snowden, October

Americans today have very real enemies.  To quote current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, "Saying 'Death to America' is easy.  We need to express 'Death to America' with action.  Saying it is easy."  That was in May; and he's not even a real terrorist.

The NSA needs to operate programs that meet SIGINT objectives and its mission - particularly given the real but "vanishingly small" risk of nuclear terrorism.*  In light of NSA whistleblowers, however, the Senate or House needs to establish a structured and rational inquiry - even if partially behind closed doors - into all NSA programs and computing platforms that operate in the domestic domain and make written findings - even if partially classified; the inquiry must free itself from the influence of the existing intelligence committees, which themselves need re-constitution.  All members of the body that produces this inquiry should have complete findings and access to the hearings.  Such an inquiry allows elements of the truth to coalesce throughout the entire Congress rather than remaining in the Executive, the Intelligence Community and the Congressional intelligence committees.

In the Congressional discussion of post-9/11 domestic surveillance, we have four primary parties: top NSA officials, intel committee Congress members, some of whom are brought off and others whom are perhaps hamstrung by Senate secrecy rules, non-intel committee Congress members who cannot get quality information, and the whistleblowers.

The real power brokers are the NSA officials and, to a much lesser extent, the whistleblowers; the former, however, benefit from the influence of propaganda and the true functional ideology in the US, discussed in part 2, Synthetic Terror.  The NSA is absolutely succeeding in avoiding a substantive exchange of information; we are witnessing the illusion of public policy - not the practice of it.  

Such an inquiry would pose at the very least a simple two-part question: what is the NSA doing in the domestic arena and what did it accomplish in doing so?**  Senators such as Mark Udall, Patrick Leahy, Ron Wyden and others have attempted to answer this two-part question in a piecemeal sense within the committees where they sit.  Any inquiry - wherever it arises -  faces tremendous obstacles.

Obstruction, Deception, and Failure 

Deception is a state of mind and the mind of the State.

          James Angelton, former CIA Chief of Counterintelligence

[H]aving dealt with the leaders of the intelligence community, not much surprises me.  They're in the business of secrecy and deception.  And unfortunately it carries over to their interaction with Congress.
          Rush Holt, US Representative, August

Such an inquiry involves obtaining information.  That is proving quite a challenge to the US Congress.  Various intelligence officials have patently avoided, circumvented, and obstructed truth, oversight (Congressional and judicial), and transparency.  

Intelligence officials lie and divert attention from the issue at hand.  Army General and NSA Director Keith Alexander lied about the effectiveness of phone record collecting.***  US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli likely lied to the US Supreme Court in Clapper v. Amnesty International regarding a) whether the NSA informed Amnesty International that it had been subject to warrantless wiretaps and b) "the role of 'about' collection under the FAA".  Although NSA Deputy Director Inglis has not publicly admitted it like Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, he lied to Congress as well.  President Obama lied about domestic surveillance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Meanwhile, Obama's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology aims to address "the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust" - not NSA overstep.  Despite lying under oath about the surveillance of millions of Americans, DNI Clapper seemingly heads this group.  (Update: the fallout is still informative and reflects my larger claims; here is a piece by the amazingly well-informed Marcy Wheeler of emptywheel.)

US Representative Alan Grayson articulated it best: "Despite being a member of congress possessing security clearance, I've learned more about government spying on me and my fellow citizens from reading media reports than I have from 'intelligence' briefings...  In fact, one long-serving conservative Republican told me that he doesn't attend such briefings anymore, because, 'they always lie".****  Senator Leahy has reiterated this exact same point.

Intelligence committee members obstruct.  As Leaksource and others have suggested, officials on intelligence committees have earned a pretty penny protecting the intelligence industry and community from real oversight.  Anonymous aims to address this issue with #OpNSA.  (The money angle arises again in part 7, Policy Reform.)  As emptywheel blogged, Senator Diane, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, went double Orwellian - promising a "total review of all intelligence programs" and then the next day watched over the mark-up of her own FISA Improvement Act, which patently strengthens the NSA's position.  Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee failed to share NSA documentation intended for 'all Members of Congress'.

Non-intelligence committee members cannot even get quality info.  Leahy and other lawmakers recently asked US Intelligence Community Inspector General I. Charles McCullough to perform an IC-wide review of Section 215 and Section 702 applications.  McCullough's response was that he did not have enough time or resources.  (He made a similar response to Wyden and Udall when they made an even more rudimentary request the year prior.)  Meanwhile, US Representatives Alan Grayson, Morgan Griffith, and Justin Amash have all faced obstructions  from the House Intelligence Committee.  

Judicial oversight has also failed.  A judge at the FISA Court, John Bates, despite his own reservations and knowing he could not retroactively authorize metadata collection, expanded it into the future.  According to top FISA judge Reggie Walton, the "FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance, and in that respect the FISC is in the same position as any other court when it comes to enforcing [government] compliance with its orders.”

The disdain and/or failure exhibited by top intelligence officials and their oversight officials across government suggests that real transparency or oversight are not on the table.

Just as public relations experts manage the American mind, various US intelligence officials hope to manage Congress's view of domestic surveillance; in the latter case they use obstruction, diversion, and lies as propaganda would fail.  The post-WWII national security state has effectively infantilized grown men and woman in Congress in the same way that corporate propaganda has done so to the average American.  

Part 6, Congressional Failure, outlines how the policy process in Congress is failing in the face of this deception.

* Terrorists face "Herculean challenges" in making an effective nuclear bomb according to the Gilmore Commission, a congressionally mandated group researching nuclear terror and response capabilities from 1999 to 2003.  The likelihood of a nuclear terror plot is "vanishingly small" - to quote John Muller, political scientist, terror expert, and author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.

** A blunt and aggressive inquiry would cover each and every program and computing platform by name that involves Americans with respect to i) their purpose, technological domain, and operational timeline, ii) intended and actual targets, iii) recovered materials and analyzed materials, iv) related repositories, v) the involvement of warrants, vi) the role of suspicion, vii) the position of current judicial and congressional oversight, viii) legal justification, ix) the explicit financial costs and full economic costs, and ix) the strategic achievements and economic benefits.  

In truth, Congress needs to examine the entire US Intelligence Community and private sector surveillance; but that is nothing short of founding a research institute in and of itself.  Some topics include: modernizing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, examining DHS Fusion Centers, and the use of Stringray by local police.

*** According to former CIA clandestine service case officer and and OSINT expert Robert Steele, Alexander is known to have "covered up and destroyed the ABLE DANGER discovery of two of the 9-11 terrorists prior to 9-11, rather than share them with the FBI".

**** One more story is both absurd and sadly funny.  In July journalist Justin Elliott at ProPublica filed a FOIA request to the NSA for emails between NSA employees and the National Geographic Channel.  The response he got was that "there's no central method to search an email at this time with the way our records are set up"; and that the system is "a little antiquated and archaic".

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: A Nascent Totalitarianism


The question of illegitimate external control deserves serious attention in light of currents trends.


Surveillance and Totalitarianism

We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.

          William Binney, 2012 

[T]he US government has gone further than any previous government - not excluding Stalin's - in setting up machinery that satisfies certain tendencies that are in the genetic code of totalitarianism.
          Jonathan Schell, September

[We are employing the] procedures of totalitarianism.  

          Eben Moglen, October 

The United States is not a totalitarian state...and yet we're making such progress.  Even though totalitarian states killed nearly 130 million people - according to political scientist Rudolph Rummel - the subject seems distant, absurd, or just boring.  It is the work of the academic and the obsession of the intellectual...that is - until it's too late.  It is not hyperbole to implicate the NSA with totalitarian power.

Traditional (external) totalitarianism, as seen in Germany, Russia, and Italy, is the fruit of mass communications, modern weapons, urbanization, chaos and/or humiliation of World War I, explicit Anti-Liberal political thinking (a la Rousseau and Marx), and gangsterism.  It utilized the physical and technological imposition of the state in the life of the individual.  Contemporary totalitarianism (or 'inverted' totalitarianism to borrow a term from political scientist Sheldon Wolin*) is largely the fruit of propaganda and managed public opinion - a far cheaper method.  It utilizes less in the way of state imposition.  The NSA is changing that.

We are going beyond Wolin's inverted totalitarianism.  Certain NSA programs bridge the two totalitarian legacies.  Without contemporary totalitarianism - its propaganda and culture of fear - these surveillance programs, which embody traditional totalitarianism, have little justification.

Warrantless and suspicionless domestic surveillance constitutes an illegitimate imposition of the state into the political and economic life of the American.  To quote NSA Director Alexander, 
"it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox that we could search when the nation needs to do it."  Though not at the NSA, CIA Chief Technology Officer for the Chief Information Officer Gus Hunt shares a similar idea: "we fundamentally try to collect everything and hang on to it forever."  "It is really very nearly within our grasp to be able to compute on all human generated information".  These federal official leave no mystery about what is occuring.

Certain NSA programs and other issues described in part 3, Illegitimate External Controlprovide a 21st century initializing body to the existing spirit of (traditional) American totalitarianism that surfaced in the 20th century.  

In 1933, US Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler brought our attention to the 'Business Plot' - a plan for an American fascist coup.  The McCormack-Dickstein Committee did nothing of real consequence regarding the plot - which is consistent with public administration professors and researchers Lance deHaven-Smith and Matthew Witt's thesis that the "investigations of assassinations, defense failures, election breakdowns, and other political events with grave implications for America and the world fail to meet basic standards for transparency, independence, and objectivity".  In 1944, then US Vice President Henry Wallace took to writing an an article on the subject in the New York Times titled The Danger of American Fascism

Part 5, Deception as Policy, addresses the brass tacks necessity of a rational inquiry into domestic surveillance and what is actually going on.


* Sheldon Wolin in 2003 on  Inverted Totalitarianism: "[T]he elements are in place: a weak legislative body, a legal system that is both compliant and repressive, a party system in which one party, whether in opposition or in the majority, is bent upon reconstituting the existing system so as to permanently favor a ruling class of the wealthy, the well-connected, and the corporate, while leaving the poorer citizens with a sense of helplessness and political despair, and, at the same time, keeping the middle classes dangling between fear of unemployment and expectations of fantastic rewards once the new economy recovers.  

"That scheme is abetted by a sycophantic and increasingly concentrated media; by the integration of universities with their corporate benefactors; by a propaganda machine institutionalized in well-funded think tanks and conservative foundations; by the increasingly closer cooperation between local police and national law enforcement agencies aimed at identifying terrorists, suspicious aliens, and domestic dissidents."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Illegitimate Control


The core question of the first four parts of this blog is this: what becomes of an already indoctrinated person when he or she thinks someone is watching?

Monitoring the American Mind

Ideas are far more powerful than guns.  We don't let our people have guns.  Why should we let them have ideas?

Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, speaks to the above question in her new book Spying on Democracy.  In the introduction, she writes "Foucault wrote that modern control over society may be accomplished by watching its members and maintaining routine information about them.  Foucault emphasized that Jeremy Bentham's eighteenth-century panopticon, a continuous surveillance model for prisoners who could not tell if they were being watched, exemplified an institution capable of producing what he called 'docile bodies'."  Constitutional lawyer John W. Whitehead proffers a similar argument in his book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State.

Warrantless and suspicionless surveillance - if not confronted - will diminish free speech, the free exchange of ideas, and free thought.  Monitoring is itself discipline and punishment; it reflects and strengthens similar forces of illegitimate external control we see increasing in society (discussed below).  In a recent opinion piece, Josh Levy at Free Press, a media and technology advocacy organization, describes the fear and intimidation that an email provider, a blogger, and journalists have experienced in the wake of the NSA story.
*  This PEN American Center study further confirms this idea.

Disciplining and Punishing the American People

The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control and outnumbers both the other classes.

We already see illegitimate external control exhibited by state, local, and federal authorities in the US.  Consider the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness, 'roving' border patrol abuses, warrantless drone surveillance, the militarization of the police - check out this Cato Institute map - post-9/11 police brutality, and other TSA abuses.**  

The mother of all these issues - where ideology patently played a role - was the police break-up of Occupy Wall Street movement which, as public administration professor and researcher Matthew Witt has argued, involved "extensive coordination of police in key Occupy events".  He also argues similar trends in policing began as early as 1999.  The case of Brandon Raub reflects a terrifying case of illegitimate external control.  

NSA domestic surveillance further strengthens illegitimate external control and further attenuates independent, free 
thought.  More generally, synthetic violence, propaganda, and illegitimate control (in all its forms) inhibit our intellectual growth and political potential as men and women.  Our failure to confront this nexus of forces deepens our own ignorantization and infantization.

Part 4, A Nascent Totalitarianism, makes the case that, given the NSA programs in question, we live in a very problematic time - to put it mildly.  

* The first argument above - that surveillance creates 'docile bodies', which strengthens illegitimate external control - has a wrinkle.  Whereas we see an intentionality in corporate propaganda, we cannot as easily attribute intentionality to the NSA in the 'docile bodies' thesis - unless you believe Snowden is a state provocateur, as Naomi Wolf has speculated and John Rappoport has also considered - albeit with a CIA turf war twist.  In other words, you can't say NSA officials explicitly want to control human behavior in a Foucauldian sense unless they somehow wanted us to know they are watching, which seems largely (but not totally) absurd.  Regardless, the Foucauldian dynamic is unfolding.  

The reason I say 'but not totally' is that I do believe people at the highest levels of power sometimes let advantageous trends unfold - free of their explicit intention - and look for opportunities for greater power and control.  In a sense, these people leverage the maelstrom of history itself to advance their aims.

** I am NOT an enemy of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials despite the plethora of abuses that alternative media now showcases.  One does wonder where the country is headed given these abuses.

Among the most important factors in the future political health of the country is the intellectual, ideological, and psychological state of the police and armed forces personnel.  Several cases - with all their ideological differences - gives us hope that 
police and armed forces personnel are thinking very seriously about the Constitution, the state of external control in the US, big-picture questions of economics, politics, and history, or simply being kind. 

Consider the cases of the pro-Snowden Oath Keepersformer US Marine Shamar Thomas, Deputy Sheriff Stan Lenic, Officer Lawrence DePrimo, former US Marine Adam Kokesh, former Navy Seal Ben Smith, the soldiers who protested our involvement in Syria, the US Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who have returned to protested these wars, and even the gun-toting, 'Libtard'-hating former Police Chief Mark Kessler - who in his own way is clearly thinking about the state of our nation and the question of external power.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Surveillance & the American Mind: Synthetic Terror


Taking terror and surveillance at face value overlooks some of the biggest events and strongest ideological forces which have some bearing on the question of domestic surveillance.  (Keep in mind, surveillance reform does not require agreeing with the arguments below; I offer them to provide context.)

Surveillance, Synthetic Terror, and Empire

History is the lie commonly agreed upon.

History is a set of lies agreed upon.

Events in the real world and in the society of man are, for the most part, planned.  They do not just happen.  There has been a cause for each of the major events of the past half century.
        L. Fletcher Prouty, former Chief of Spec. Operations, 1992

Terror has another component - a false or synthetic component - to borrow a term from conspiracy expert and historian Webster Tarpley.*  (For obvious reasons and out of respect for all those who died on 9/11, this terror is clearly not synthetic.)  Although our government may not have expedited 9/11 in an explicit and linear sense, 9/11 was, to some significant degree, a false flag operation.  Each individual, should he or she want to, can choose to evaluate the evidence on his or her own.  In terms of American false flag terrorism, the tradition is established; consider Operation Gladio, which we did implement, and Operation Northwoods, which we did not.  There's also the alleged Operation Gladio B - which brought US military and intelligence officials in direct communication with Osama Bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri in the US Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan from 1997 to 2001.**

While 9/11 is among a few definitive forces in recent history, it is not the definitive force.  A tremendous amount of obsession, anxiety, and fervor has been spent on 9/11 truth.  And yet, like a battered spouse, many Americans are only beginning to navigate the precisely intended psychological trauma of 9/11.  As addressed below, many people, even highly trained and terribly intelligent people, will never mature so much as to trust their own eyes.  It is not easy to allow disruptive, revolutionary, and seemingly reprehensible ideas to become your own.  As sociologists Ginna Husting and Martin Orr have argued, such ideas can strip "the claimant of the status of reasonable interlocutor".***

Regardless, in the following decade after 9/11, the American public largely interpreted the event at face value and immediately and naturally experienced a profound existential fear.  As such, the American 'culture of fear' deepened; and policy makers developed the Patriot Act with its Section 215, the Protect America Act of 2007, and the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 with its Section 702.  These laws enable many NSA programs in question.  Without 9/11, surveillance on its present scale has a great deal less strategic justification.  Ironically, the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have engendered a new generation of terrorists that indeed justify surveillance.  

Managing the American Mind

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of masses is an important element in democratic society.  Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
        Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928****

The use of propaganda as a means of social and ideological control is distinctive of totalitarian regimes.  Yet the most minimal exercise of common sense would suggest a different view: that propaganda is likely to play at least as important a part in democratic societies (where the existing distribution of power and privilege is vulnerable to quite limited changes in popular opinion) as in authoritarian societies (where it is not).
        Alex Carey, Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, 1995

Among the more significant political achievements of the 20th century has been the engineering of American opinion - arguably among the freest people to have ever lived.  This work dates back to the Committee on Public Information when journalist George Creel, Bernays, and others sought to enhance support for WWI.  Bernays later leveraged the ideas of his own uncle, none other than Sigmund Freud, to develop modern public relations.  

If Bernays is the 'the father of public relations', Alex Carey fathered the analysis of corporate propaganda.  In the work quoted above, he also wrote that "The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy."  None of this thinking is particularly revolutionary today - further illustrating the success and invisibility of propaganda.  Consider this Business Insider (!) piece.  

Documentaries such as Why We Fight and The Power Principle also address 20th century propaganda.  Slavoj Zizek's Pervert's Guide to Ideology and Adam Curtis's The Century of the Self provide even more penetrating insights.  If you are especially patient and open-minded, Michael Tsarion has a long lecture titled the Age of Manipulation, which also addresses this subject.  Noam Chomksy covers this same subject in Propaganda Control and the Public Mind.

This propaganda machine keeps us politically and ideologically ignorant and infantized.

An Invisible Ideology

In its very invisibility, ideology is here, more than ever.
        Slavoj Zizek, A Soft Focus on War, 2010

Corporate propaganda has become an ending assault our individual and collective psyche.  If you believe the work of Adam Curtis, Slavoj Zizek, or Michael Tsarion, the management of the American mind has gone far deeper than simply political opinion.  Propaganda has all but reached into our souls.  As much as classical Liberalism is the dominant political ideology in the US - a point that many seem to misunderstand - the true and functional ideology for most Americans is obey, un-think, work, borrow, and spend.  As argued throughout this extended blog, only in such an ideological and propagandized context can the NSA operate as it does.

Part 3, Illegitimate External Control, addresses how domestic surveillance deepens the ignorantization and infantization of the American people.  

* People like to diss Tarpley because he makes very large claims.  I suggest you read former CIA clandestine service case officer and OSINT expert Robert Steele's Amazon review of Tarpley's core 9/11 text.

** Indeed, with the exception of the Korean War, every major American war since and including the Spanish-American War has both a) exhibited a suspicious justification and b) yielded either strategic value to the larger effort of advancing American empire or financial value to interests of the defense industry or other corporate or capital interests.  (Obviously that is a bold statement that deserves argumentation, which I hope to present in a later blog.)  

As US Marine Corps Major Smedley Butler put it: "War is a racket."  To me, the desire and aim to pursue wealth and strategic gain through warfare seems largely reasonable (though ugly) in the competitive and Darwinian landscape of today.

Nevertheless, I am NOT an enemy of business, US Armed Forces service members, or national defense; nor am I even against private industry playing a role in national defense.  That is not to say that business people, soldiers, and defense sector employees and leaders should not consider the historical context in which they live.

Highly successful American business people are among the most interesting, dynamic, and inspiring people on Earth.  But corporations and capitalism still has a very, very complicated legacy.  They are products of the milieu of Political Modernity, civil society, democracy, and the Age of Enlightenment; they have transformed the global culture and wealth of many on our planet but story hardly ends there.

*** In my speculative view, Amy Goodman, Chris Hedges, and Oliver Stone - all highly productive dissenters who have helped enhance public knowledge - seem perhaps all too aware of Professors Husting and Orr's thinking.

*** Bernays later continues: "This [manipulation] is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.  Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society."  He insinuates - perhaps rightly - that large societies cannot operate both smoothly and democratically.  This question comes up in a separate blog I'm soon to publish called Speculating on A Nascent Totalitarianism.