A Pervasive Surveillance State
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
"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
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
that the FBI has plans to "embark on a $1 billion biometrics project
and construct an advanced biometrics facility to be shared with the
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
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
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
"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
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
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
Which brings us back to the HBGary hack.
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
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
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."
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
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
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
As readers recall, such tools were precisely what Aaron Barr boasted
would help law enforcement officials take down Anonymous and identify
According to a solicitation (RTB220610) found on the FedBizOpps.Gov
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]
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
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
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.
Following up on last month's revelations, The Guardian
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
That firm, a shadowy Los Angeles-based outfit called Ntrepid
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.
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' OpenSecrets.org
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
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
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
"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,
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.