Secret State's Domestic Spying on the Rise
espite last week's "termination" of America's bête noire,
Osama bin Laden, the reputed "emir" and old "new Hitler" of the
Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets known as
al-Qaeda, Secrecy News
reports an uptick in domestic spying.
Never mind that the administration is engaged in an unprecedented war on whistleblowers
or is systematically targeting antiwar and solidarity activists with
trumped-up charges connected to the "material support of terrorism," as
last Fall's multi-state raids
on anarchists and socialists in Chicago and Minneapolis attest.
In order to do their best to "keep us safe," Team Obama is busily
building upon the criminal legacy bequeathed to the administration by
the Bush regime and even asserts the right to assassinate American
citizens "without a whiff of due process," as Salon's
Glenn Greenwald points out.
According to a new Justice Department report
to Congress we learn that "during calendar year 2010, the Government
made 1,579 applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court
(hereinafter 'FISC') for authority to conduct electronic surveillance
and/or physical searches" on what U.S. security agencies allege are "for
foreign intelligence purposes."
he April 29 missive, released under the Freedom of Information Act,
documents the persistence of our internal security apparat's targeting
of domestic political opponents, under color of rooting out
Secrecy News analyst
Steven Aftergood comments that "this compares to a reported 1,376
applications in 2009. (In 2008, however, the reported figure--2,082--was
quite a bit higher.)"
"In 2010," Aftergood writes, "the government made 96 applications
for access to business records (and 'tangible things') for foreign
intelligence purposes, up from 21 applications in 2009."
Also last year, America's premier domestic intelligence agency, the
FBI, "made 24,287 'national security letter' requests for information
pertaining to 14,212 different U.S. persons, a substantial increase from
the 2009 level of 14,788 NSL requests concerning 6,114 U.S. persons.
(In 2008, the number of NSL requests was 24,744, pertaining to 7,225
As I have pointed out many times, national security letters are onerous lettres de cachet,
secretive administrative subpoenas with built-in gag orders used by the
Bureau to seize records from third-parties such as banks, libraries and
telecommunications providers without any judicial process whatsoever,
not to mention the expenditure of scarce tax dollars to spy on the
"Money for Nothing..."
With U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's February announcement
the Department of Justice will seek $28.2 billion from Congress in
Fiscal Year 2012, a 1.7% increase, the FBI is slated to reap an $8.1
We're told that the "administration supports critical national
security programs within the department, including the FBI and the
National Security Division (NSD)."
"The requested national
security resources include $122.5 million in program increases for the
FBI," including "$48.9 million for the FBI to expand national security
related surveillance and enhance its Data Integration and Visualization
System, as well as "$18.6 million for the FBI's Computer Intrusion
Initiative to increase coverage in detecting cyber intrusions."
Rather ironic, considering that ThreatPost
reported last month that a U.S. Department of Justice audit
that the FBI's ability to "investigate cyber intrusions" was less than
adequate. The report disclosed that "fully 36% [of field agents] were
found to be ill-equipped."
To make matters worse, "FBI field offices do not have sufficient
analytical and forensic capabilities to support large scale
investigations, the audit revealed." All the more reason then to shower
even more money on the Bureau!
And with the FBI demanding new authority to peer into our lives, on-
and offline, the FY 2012 budget would "address the growing
technological gap between law enforcement's electronic surveillance
capabilities and the number and variety of communications devices
available to the public, $17.0 million in program increases are being
requested to bolster the department's electronic surveillance
One sure sign that things haven't changed under Obama is the FBI's
quest for additional funds for what it is now calling it's Data
Integration and Visualization System (DIVS). According to April
by FBI Director Robert Mueller, DIVS will "prioritize and integrate disparate datasets across the Bureau."
Another in a long line of taxpayer-funded boondoggles, it appears
that DIVS is the latest iteration of various failed "case management"
and "data integration" programs stood up by the Bureau.
As I reported
year, previous failed efforts by the FBI have included the Bureau's
Virtual Case File (VCF) project. Overseen by the spooky Science
Applications International Corporation (SAIC), VCF cost taxpayers some
$170 million dollars before it crashed and burned in 2006.
And when defense and security giant Lockheed Martin took over the
case management brief, VCF, now rechristened Sentinel, also enjoyed a
similarly expensive and waste-filled fate. A 2009 report by the
Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG
found that despite some $450 million dollars showered on Lockheed
Martin and assorted subcontractors, the Sentinel system "encountered
According to a notice quietly posted in August in the Federal Register
"DIVS contains replications and extractions of information maintained
by the FBI in other databases. This information is replicated or
extracted into DIVS in order to provide an enhanced and integrated view
of that information."
Wait a minute! Isn't that what VCF and Sentinel were supposed to
do? We're told that the "purpose of DIVS is to strengthen and improve
the methods by which the FBI searches for and analyzes information in
support of its multifaceted mission responsibilities to protect the
nation against terrorism and espionage and investigate criminal
(Dirty) Business as Usual
the FBI and the Justice Department have failed to prosecute corporate
criminals responsible for the greatest theft and upward transfer of
wealth in history, not to mention the virtual get-out-of-jail-free cards
handed out to top executives of the drug-money laundering Wachovia Bank
, they're rather adept at trampling the rights of the American people.
As the San Francisco Bay Guardian
reported, while corporate lawbreakers get a free pass, "San Francisco
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."
According to a Memorandum of Understanding obtained by the ACLU, "it
effectively puts local officers under the control of the FBI,"
investigative journalist Sarah Phelan disclosed.
Civil rights attorney Veena Dubal told the Bay Guardian that
during "the waning months of the Bush administration" the FBI "changed
its policies to allow federal authorities to collect intelligence on a
person even if the subject is not suspected of a crime. The FBI is now
allowed to spy on Americans who have done nothing wrong--and who may be
engaged in activities protected by the First Amendment."
"It's the latest sign of a dangerous trend: San Francisco cops are
working closely with the feds, often in ways that run counter to city
policy," Phelan writes. "And it raises a far-reaching question: With a
district attorney who used to be police chief, a civilian commission
that isn't getting a straight story from the cops, and a climate of
secrecy over San Francisco's intimate relations with outside agencies,
who is watching the cops?"
Apparently, no one; and in such a repressive climate the federal
government has encouraged the FBI to target anyone deemed a threat to
the new corporate order.
Earlier this year, an Electronic Frontier Foundation report
that the Bureau continues to systematically violate the constitutional
guarantees of American citizens and legal residents, and does so with
As I wrote
the time, this was rather ironic considering the free passes handed out
by U.S. securocrats to actual terrorists who killed thousands of
Americans on 9/11, as both WikiLeaks
and FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds
According to EFF, more than 2,500 documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that:
From 2001 to 2008, the FBI reported to the IOB approximately 800
violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing
intelligence investigations, although this number likely significantly
under-represents the number of violations that actually occurred.
* From 2001 to 2008, the FBI investigated, at minimum, 7000 potential
violations of laws, Executive Orders, or other regulations governing
* Based on the proportion of violations
reported to the IOB and the FBI's own statements regarding the number of
NSL violations that occurred, the actual number of violations that may
have occurred from 2001 to 2008 could approach 40,000 possible
violations of law, Executive Order, or other regulations governing
intelligence investigations. (Electronic Frontier Foundation, Patterns of Misconduct: FBI Intelligence Violations from 2001-2008, January 30, 2011)
But FBI lawbreaking didn't stop there. Citing internal
documents, EFF revealed that the Bureau also "engaged in a number of
flagrant legal violations" that included, "submitting false or
inaccurate declarations to courts," "using improper evidence to obtain
federal grand jury subpoenas" and "accessing password protected
documents without a warrant."
And just last week the civil liberties' watchdogs reported
"the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has
revealed the FBI lied to the court about the existence of records
requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), taking the
position that FOIA allows it to withhold information from the court
whenever it thinks this is in the interest of national security."
The court sharply disagreed and asserted
that "the Government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the Court."
The Court held, following settled case law that goes all the way back to Marbury v. Madison (1803)
that "Numerous statutes, rules, and cases reflect the understanding
that the Judiciary cannot carry out its essential function if lawyers,
parties, or witnesses obscure the facts."
Skewering the FBI, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney wrote that
while "The Government contends that the FOIA permits it to provide the
Court with the same misinformation it provided to Plaintiffs regarding
the existence of other responsive information or else the Government
would compromise national security ... that argument is indefensible."
Nevertheless, that court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals still held
that despite the Bureau's obvious attempt to bamboozle the federal
judiciary, thus subverting the separation of powers amongst the three
co-equal branches of government as stipulated in the U.S. Constitution
(Article III), "disclosing the number and nature of the documents the
Government possesses could reasonably be expected to compromise national
security." (see: Islamic Shura Council of S. California v. FBI
In other words, while the Bureau was chastised for withholding
relevant documents from the court that might demonstrate their illegal
surveillance of organizations and individuals who have never been indicted, or even charged, with so-called "terrorism offenses," the "national security" card trumps everything.
Late last month, EFF staff attorney Jennifer Lynch reported
group had "recently received documents from the FBI that reveal details
about the depth of the agency's electronic surveillance capabilities
and call into question the FBI's controversial effort to push Congress
to expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA)
for greater access to communications data."
The documents were obtained under a FOIA request by EFF after a 2007 report published by Wired
disclosed that the FBI had deployed "secret spyware" to track domestic targets.
According to Wired, "FBI agent Norman Sanders describes the software as a 'computer and internet protocol address verifier,' or CIPAV."
In a follow-up piece
investigative journalist Ryan Singel revealed that the FBI "has quietly
built a sophisticated, point-and-click surveillance system that
performs instant wiretaps on almost any communications device."
That surveillance system known as DCSNet, or Digital Collection
System Network, formerly known as Carnivore, "connects FBI wiretapping
rooms to switches controlled by traditional land-line operators,
internet-telephony providers and cellular companies," Wired reported.
"It is far more intricately woven into the nation's telecom
infrastructure than observers suspected," Singel wrote at the time, a
point underscored a year later when whistleblower Babak Pasdar
blew the lid off the close relations amongst America's telecoms and the Bureau's illegal surveillance programs.
As Antifascist Calling
reported at the time, a telecom carrier Pasdar worked for as a security consultant, subsequently named as Verizon by The Washington Post
said the company maintained a high-speed DS-3 digital line that allowed
the Bureau and other security agencies "unfettered" access to the
carrier's wireless network, including billing records and customer data
While Verizon denied the report that the FBI has open access to its
network, their mendacious claims were demolished when the
secrecy-shredding web site Cryptome
published the firm's "Law Enforcement Legal Compliance Guide"
Amongst the "helpful hints" provided to law enforcement by the carrier, Verizon urges state spies to "be specific."
not include wording such as 'any and all records'", we read. "The
courts have traditionally ruled that this wording is considered overly
broad and burdensome. Request only what is required." On and on it
According to documents obtained by EFF, the technologies discussed
by Bureau snoops, when installed on a target's computer, allows the FBI
to collect the following:
* IP Address
* Media Access Control (MAC) address
* "Browser environment variables"
* Open communication ports
* List of the programs running
* Operating system type, version, and serial number
* Browser type and version
* Language encoding
* The URL that the target computer was previously connected to
* Registered computer name
* Registered company name
* Currently logged in user name
Other information that would assist with "identifying computer users,
computer software installed, [and] computer hardware installed"
(Electronic Frontier Foundation, New FBI Documents Provide Details on Government's Surveillance Spyware, April 29, 2011)
According to initial reporting by Wired,
the FBI may have infiltrated the malicious program onto a target's
computer by "pointing to code that would install the spyware by
exploiting a vulnerability in the user's browser."
Lynch comments that "although the documents discuss some problems
with installing the tool in some cases, other documents note that the
agency's Crypto Unit only needs 24-48 hours to prepare deployment."
Once the tool is installed, Bureau snoops aver "it stay[s]
persistent on the compromised computer and ... every time the computer
connects to the Internet, [FBI] will capture the information associated
with the PRTT [Pen Register/Trap & Trace Order
The privacy watchdogs write that the Bureau "has been using the tool in domestic criminal investigations as well as in FISA cases
, and the FISA Court appears to have questioned the propriety
of the tool."
This is particularly relevant, and troubling, considering that the
FBI and other secret state agencies such as the CIA and NSA already
possess formidable surveillance tools in their arsenals and that private
security outfits such as HBGary and Palantir--as well as hundreds of other firms--are
busily concocting ever-more intrusive spyware for their state and
private partners, as the massive disclosure of internal HBGary emails
and documents by the cyber-guerrilla group Anonymous
With all the hot air from Washington surrounding claims by the FBI
and other secret state satrapies that they'll "go dark" unless Congress
grants them authority to build secret backdoors into America's
communications networks, EFF revealed that documents "show the FBI
already has numerous tools available to surveil suspects directly,
rather than through each of their communications service providers."
"One heavily redacted email
that the FBI has other tools that 'provide the functionality of the
CIPAV [text redacted] as well as provide other useful info that could
help further the case'."
What is clear from the latest document release is that it isn't the
FBI that's "going dark" but the right of the American people to free
speech and political organizing without the threat that
government-sanctioned malware which remains "persistent" on a
"compromised computer" becomes one more tool for building "national
security" dossiers on dissidents.
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.