Obama Administration's Backdoor Wiretap Bills Threaten Political and Privacy Rights
Under the guise of "cybersecurity," the new all-purpose bogeyman
to increase the secret state's already-formidable reach, the Obama
administration and their congressional allies are crafting legislation
that will open new backdoors for even more intrusive government
surveillance: portals into our lives that will never be shut.
As Antifascist Calling has
frequently warned, with the endless "War on Terror" as a backdrop the
federal government, most notably the 16 agencies that comprise the
so-called "Intelligence Community" (IC), have been constructing vast
centralized databases that scoop-up and store all things digital--from
financial and medical records to the totality of our electronic
communications online--and do so without benefit of a warrant or
The shredding of constitutional protections afforded by the Fourth
Amendment, granted to the Executive Branch by congressional passage of
the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF
) after the 9/11 attacks, followed shortly thereafter by the oxymoronic USA Patriot Act
set the stage for today's depredations.
nder provisions of multiple bills under consideration by the House
and Senate, federal officials will be given broad authority over private
networks that will almost certainly hand security officials wide
latitude over what is euphemistically called "information-sharing"
amongst corporate and government securocrats.
As The Washington Post
in February, the National Security Agency "has pushed repeatedly over
the past year to expand its role in protecting private-sector computer
networks from cyberattacks" but has allegedly "been rebuffed by the
White House, largely because of privacy concerns."
"The most contentious issue," Post reporter
Ellen Nakashima wrote, "was a legislative proposal last year that would
have required hundreds of companies that provide such critical services
as electricity generation to allow their Internet traffic to be
continuously scanned using computer threat data provided by the spy
agency. The companies would have been expected to turn over evidence of
potential cyberattacks to the government."
Both the White House and Justice Department have argued, according to the Post, that the "proposal would permit unprecedented government monitoring of routine civilian Internet activity."
National Security Agency chief General Keith Alexander, the
dual-hatted commander of NSA and U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), the
Pentagon satrapy that wages offensive cyberwar, was warned to "restrain
his public comments after speeches in which he argued that more
expansive legal authority was necessary to defend the nation against
While we can take White House "objections" with a proverbial grain
of salt, they do reveal however that NSA, the largest and most
well-funded of the secret state's intel shops will use their formidable
surveillance assets to increase their power while undermining civilian
control over the military in cahoots with shadowy security corporations
who do their bidding. (Readers are well-advised to peruse The Surveillance Catalog
posted by The Wall Street Journal as part of their excellent What They Know
series for insight into the burgeoning Surveillance-Industrial Complex).
As investigative journalist James Bamford pointed out recently in Wired Magazine
"the exponential growth in the amount of intelligence data being
produced every day by the eavesdropping sensors of the NSA and other
intelligence agencies" is "truly staggering."
In a follow-up piece for Wired
Bamford informed us that when questioned by Congress, Alexander
stonewalled a congressional subcommittee when asked whether NSA "has the
capability of monitoring the communications of Americans, he never
denies it--he simply says, time and again, that NSA can't do it 'in the
United States.' In other words it can monitor those communications from
satellites in space, undersea cables, or from one of its partner
countries, such as Canada or Britain, all of which it has done in the
Call it Echelon
on steroids, the massive, secret surveillance program first exposed by journalists Duncan Campbell
and Nicky Hager
And with the eavesdropping agency angling for increased authority to
monitor the electronic communications of Americans, the latest front in
the secret state's ongoing war against privacy is "cybersecurity" and
'Information Sharing' or Blanket Surveillance?
the four bills currently competing for attention, the most egregious
threat to civil liberties is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and
Protection Act of 2011 (CISPA, H.R. 3523
Introduced by Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), the
bill amends the National Security Act of 1947, adding language
concerning so-called "cyber threat intelligence and information
"Cyber threat intelligence" is described as "information in the
possession of an element of the intelligence community directly
pertaining to a vulnerability of, or threat to, a system or network of a
government or private entity, including information pertaining to the
protection of a system or network from: (1) efforts to degrade, disrupt,
or destroy such system or network; or (2) theft or misappropriation of
private or government information, intellectual property, or personally
In keeping with other "openness" mandates of our Transparency
Administration™ the Rogers bill will require the Director of National
Intelligence (DNI) to establish procedures that permit IC elements to
"share cyber threat intelligence with private-sector entities, and (2)
encourage the sharing of such intelligence."
These measures however, will not protect
the public at large from attacks by groups of organized cyber criminals
since such intelligence is only "shared with certified entities or a
person with an appropriate security clearance," gatekeepers empowered by
the state who ensure that access to information is "consistent with the
need to protect U.S. national security, and used in a manner that
protects such intelligence from unauthorized disclosure."
In other words, should "cleared" cyber spooks be directed by their corporate or government masters to install state-approved malware
on private networks as we discovered last year as a result of the HBGary hack
by Anonymous, it would be a crime punishable by years in a federal gulag if official lawbreaking were disclosed.
The bill authorizes "a cybersecurity provider (a non-governmental
entity that provides goods or services intended to be used for
cybersecurity purposes)," i.e., an outsourced contractor from any one of
thousands of spooky "cybersecurity" firms, to use "cybersecurity
systems to identify and obtain cyber threat information in order to
protect the rights and property of the protected entity; and share cyber
threat information with any other entity designated by the protected
entity, including the federal government."
Furthermore, the legislation aims to regulate "the use and
protection of shared information, including prohibiting the use of such
information to gain a competitive advantage and, if shared with the
federal government, exempts such information from public disclosure."
And should the public object to the government or private entities
trolling through their personal data in the interest of "keeping us
safe" well, there's an app for that too! The bill "prohibits a civil or
criminal cause of action against a protected entity, a self-protected
entity (an entity that provides goods or services for cybersecurity
purposes to itself), or a cybersecurity provider acting in good faith
under the above circumstances."
One no longer need wait until constitutional violations are
uncovered, the Rogers bill comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card
already in place for state-approved scofflaws.
bill also "preempts any state statute that restricts or otherwise
regulates an activity authorized by the Act." In other words, in states
like California where residents have "an inalienable right to privacy"
under Article 1, Section 1 of the State Constitution, the Rogers bill
would be abolish that right and effectively "legalize" unaccountable
snooping by the federal government or other "self-protected," i.e.,
private entities deputized to do so by the secret state.
Social Media Spying
How would this play out in the real world? As Government Computer News
hyped-up threats of an impending "cyber-armageddon" have spawned a host
of new actors constellating America's Surveillance-Industrial Complex:
the social media analyst.
"Companies and government agencies alike are using tools to sweep
the Internet--blogs, websites, and social media such as Facebook and
Twitter feeds--to find out what people are saying about, well, just
Indeed, as researchers Jerry Brito and Tate Watkins pointed out last year in Loving the Cyber Bomb?
, "An industrial complex reminiscent of the Cold War's may be emerging in cybersecurity today."
Brito and Watkins averred that "the military-industrial complex was
born out of exaggerated Soviet threats, a defense industry closely
allied with the military and Department of Defense, and politicians
striving to bring pork and jobs home to constituents. A similar
cyber-industrial complex may be emerging today, and its players call for
government involvement that may be superfluous and definitely allows
for rent seeking and pork barreling."
Enter social media analysis and the private firms out to make a buck--at our expense.
"Not surprisingly," GCN's Patrick
Marshall wrote, "intelligence agencies have already been looking at
social media as a source of information. The Homeland Security
Department has been analyzing traffic on social networks for at least
the past three years."
While DHS claims it does not routinely monitor Facebook or Twitter,
and only responds when it receives a "tip," such assertions are
Ginger McCall, the director of the Electronic Electronic Privacy Information Center's Open Government Program told GCN that
the department is "explicitly monitoring for criticism of the
government, for reports that reflect adversely on the agency, for public
reaction to policy proposals."
But DHS isn't the only agency monitoring social media sites such as Facebook and Google+.
As Antifascist Calling
reported back in 2009, according to New Scientist
National Security Agency "is funding research into the mass harvesting
of the information that people post about themselves on social
Not to be outdone, the CIA's venture capital investment arm, In-Q-Tel
, has poured millions of dollars into Visible Technologies
a Bellevue, Washington-based firm specializing in "integrated
marketing, social servicing, digital experience management, and consumer
According to In-Q-Tel
Technologies has developed TruCast®, which takes an innovative and
holistic approach to social media management. TruCast has been
architected as an enterprise-level solution that provides the ability to
track, analyze, and respond to social media from a single, Web-based
Along similar lines, the CIA has heavily invested in Recorded Future
a firm which "extracts time and event information from the web. The
company offers users new ways to analyze the past, present, and the
The firm's defense and intelligence analytics division
to "help analysts understand trends in big data, and foresee what may
happen in the future. Groundbreaking algorithms extract temporal and
predictive signals from unstructured text. Recorded Future organizes
this information, delineates results over interactive timelines,
visualizes past trends, and maps future events--all while providing
traceability back to sources. From OSINT to classified data, Recorded
Future offers innovative, massively scalable solutions."
As Government Computer News pointed
out, in January the FBI "put out a request for vendors to provide
information about available technologies for monitoring and analyzing
social media." Accordingly, the Bureau is seeking the ability to:
• Detect specific, credible threats or monitor adversarial situations.
Geospatially locate bad actors or groups and analyze their movements,
vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions.
• Predict likely developments in the situation or future actions taken
by bad actors (by conducting trend, pattern, association, and timeline
• Detect instances of deception in intent or action by bad actors for the explicit purpose of misleading law enforcement.
• Develop domain assessments for the area of interest (more so for routine scenarios and special events).
So much for privacy in our Orwellian New World Order!
Backdoor Official Secrets Act
Social media "harvesting" by private firms hot-wired into the
state's Surveillance-Industrial Complex will be protected from
challenges under provisions of CISPA.
As the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF
pointed out, "a company that protects itself or other companies against
'cybersecurity threats' can 'use cybersecurity systems to identify and
obtain cyber threat information to protect the rights and property' of
the company under threat. But because 'us[ing] cybersecurity systems' is
incredibly vague, it could be interpreted to mean monitoring email,
filtering content, or even blocking access to sites. A company acting on
a 'cybersecurity threat' would be able to bypass all existing laws,
including laws prohibiting telcos from routinely monitoring
communications, so long as it acted in 'good faith'."
And as EFF's Rainey Reitman and Lee Tien aver, the "broad language"
concerning what constitutes a cybersecurity "threat," is an invitation
for the secret state and their private "partners" to include "theft or
misappropriation of private or government information, intellectual
property, or personally identifiable information."
"Yes," Reitman and Tien wrote, "intellectual property. It's a little
piece of SOPA wrapped up in a bill that's supposedly designed to
facilitate detection of and defense against cybersecurity threats. The
language is so vague that an ISP could use it to monitor communications
of subscribers for potential infringement of intellectual property. An
ISP could even interpret this bill as allowing them to block accounts
believed to be infringing, block access to websites like The Pirate Bay
believed to carry infringing content, or take other measures provided
they claimed it was motivated by cybersecurity concerns."
More troubling, "the government and Internet companies could use
this language to block sites like WikiLeaks and NewYorkTimes.com, both
of which have published classified information."
pass muster it could serve as the basis for establishing an American
"Official Secrets Act." In the United Kingdom, the Act has been used
against whistleblowers to prohibit disclosure of government crimes. But
it does more than that. The state can also issue restrictive "D-Notices"
that "advise" editors not to publish material on subjects deemed
sensitive to the "national security."
EFF warns that "online publishers like WikiLeaks are currently
afforded protection under the First Amendment; receiving and publishing
classified documents from a whistleblower is a common journalistic
practice. While there's uncertainty about whether the Espionage Act
could be brought to bear against WikiLeaks, it is difficult to imagine a
situation where the Espionage Act would apply to WikiLeaks without
equally applying to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and in fact
everyone who reads about the cablegate releases."
And with the Obama regime's crusade to prosecute and punish whistleblowers, as the recent indictment of former CIA officer John Kiriakou
alleged violations of the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities
Protection Act for disclosing information on the CIA's torture
programs, we have yet another sterling example of administration
"transparency"! While Kiriakou faces 30 years in prison, the former head
of the CIA's Directorate of Operations, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who was
responsible for the destruction of 92 torture videotapes held by the
Agency, was not charged by the government and was given a free pass by
the Justice Department.
As the World Socialist Web Site
out: "More fundamentally, the prosecution of Kiriakou is part of a
policy of state secrecy and repression that pervades the US government
under Obama, who came into office promising 'the most transparent
administration in history.'"
Critic Bill Van Auken observed that Kiriakou's prosecution "marks
the sixth government whistleblower to be charged by the Obama
administration under the Espionage Act, twice as many such prosecutions
as have been brought by all preceding administrations combined.
Prominent among them is Private Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have
leaked documents exposing US war crimes to WikiLeaks. He has been held
under conditions tantamount to torture and faces a possible death
"In all of these cases," the World Socialist Web Site noted,
"the World War I-era Espionage Act is being used to punish not spying
on behalf of a foreign government, but exposing the US government's own
crimes to the American people. The utter lawlessness of US foreign
policy goes hand in hand with the collapse of democracy at home."
The current crop of "cybersecurity" bills are sure to hasten that collapse.
Rogers' legislation, "the government would have new, powerful tools to
go after WikiLeaks," or anyone else who challenges the lies of the U.S.
government by publishing classified information that contradicts the
"By claiming that WikiLeaks constituted 'cyber threat intelligence'
(aka 'theft or misappropriation of private or government information'),"
EFF avers, "the government may be empowering itself and other companies
to monitor and block the site. This means that the previous tactics
used to silence WikiLeaks--including a financial blockade and shutting
down their accounts with online service providers--could be supplemented
by very direct means. The government could proclaim that WikiLeaks
constitutes a cybersecurity threat and have new, broad powers to filter
and block communication with the journalistic website."
Since January, Obama has signed legislation (NDAA
granting the Executive Branch authority to condemn alleged "enemy
combatants," including U.S. citizens detained in America, indefinite
military detention without charges or trials, and with U.S. Attorney
General Eric Holder asserting that the president has the "right" to
assassinate American citizens anywhere on earth, it clear to anyone who
hasn't drunk the Hope and Change™ Kool-Aid, that the architecture of an
American police state is now in place.
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
, 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