Comment on this article |
View comments |
Email this article |
News :: Media
Fight Back Day - Stop NSA Secret Police Spies
by PC Magazine
12 Feb 2014
Modified: 04:12:21 AM
If you visit Reddit, Upworthy, the Daily Kos, or a number of other websites today, you might notice that they are displaying a banner that urges Web surfers to "fight back" against Internet surveillance. Or perhaps some of your friends' Twitter avatars are now covered by a #StoptheNSA icon.
Click on image for a larger version
What's going on? Feb. 11 has been designated as "The Day We Fight Back" by a broad coalition of activist groups, companies, and online platforms. Organizers are hoping to replicate the response they received for the 2012 Internet "blackout" that targeted the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which resulted in lawmakers withdrawing both bills.
The effort is also intended to remember activist Aaron Swartz, who took his own life in Jan. 2013. In 2011, Swartz was arrested for downloading 4.8 million articles from JSTOR, a non-profit archive of academic journals, after tapping into the site from a computer wiring closet at MIT. He was charged with four separate felonies that could have landed him in jail for years. Supporters said the punishment was too harsh and in the wake of his death, have been pushing for updates to computer security laws.
So what's the back story on "The Day We Fight Back" and what do organizers hope to accomplish? Read on.
What are organizers fighting back against? Last year, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released a treasure trove of classified documents to journalists to shed light on what he said was the NSA's illegal activity. The NSA has defended its actions, arguing that it is sanctioned by Congress and necessary to protect us from terrorists, but President Obama admitted recently that changes are necessary, at least when it comes to the collection of phone metadata. But things aren't changing fast enough for Internet activists, who hope "The Day We Fight Back" will help spur Congress into real action.
What type of things are they concerned about? One of the first things the Snowden documents revealed was the collection of phone metadata on a grand scale. Verizon Communications, for example, was ordered to hand over all of its phone records for a three-month period. The feds argued that the content of these calls was not recorded, but detractors said the demands are overly broad and include data about innocent Americans. Meanwhile, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) can order tech companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and more to hand over customer data, but the secret nature of the court means those companies cannot discuss the details of their cooperation with the feds.
That seems a little sketchy, right? It's a slippery slope. If the feds are trying to track down a dangerous criminal and believe they are using Gmail, Facebook, or Outlook to communicate, you don't want to tip off those criminals, so secrecy is key. But the extent of the secrecy provided by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is a bit extreme, which is why top tech companies asked for permission to reveal more data about national security-related requests in their quarterly transparency reports. The feds offered a compromise whereby companies could mix in national security requests with other non-classified data. But the companies pushed back, and the Justice Department recently granted a compromise: they could break out the data in batches depending on the data revealed.
But that didn't satisfy privacy advocates, right? Nope, because the data is still being collected; it's just being done in a slightly more transparent manner.
So what's the fix? The Electronic Frontier Foundation urged supporters to back the USA FREEDOM Act from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, which it said "could well be our best shot at fixing some of the worst problems with NSA surveillance." It's not perfect, according to the EFF; it doesn't really address "excessive secrecy" or NSA efforts to crack encryption or tap into the data centers of tech firms, among other things. But it "stands in sharp contrast" to a bill from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which organizers say will just bolster existing programs.
How does Aaron Swartz fit into this? As organizers described it, "Aaron sparked and helped guide the movement that would eventually defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act in January 2012. That bill would have destroyed the Internet as we know it, by blocking access to sites that allowed for user-generated content – the very thing that makes the Internet so dynamic." As a result, "The Day We Fight Back" is in his honor, as he certainly would've been on the front lines, they said.
How is this similar to the 2012 SOPA/PIPA protest? Like the SOPA and PIPA blackout, organizers are asking supporters to add a banner to their homepage that says they are "sick of complaining about the NSA," and want new laws to curtail online surveillance.
How does it differ? In 2012, the protest went the extra step of shutting down popular websites for a day, like Wikipedia, to demonstrate how SOPA and PIPA might impact the Web. It also garnered support from major players like Google and Facebook, which didn't shut down their sites, but displayed banners in solidarity with the protest's mission. Today, however, Google is displaying a link to its Internet safety center on Google.com, and said in a blog post that "we strongly believe that government surveillance programs should operate under a legal framework that is rule-bound, narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight."
What can I do? If you don't have a website that can support a banner, organizers are asking people to change their profile photos on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ or share some anti-surveillance photos posted on the event's website. Any discussion on social media should also include the #StoptheNSA hashtag. There will also be events around the globe, including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Utah, and Minnesota in the U.S. Updates will also be posted on Reddit.
How to Stay Anonymous Online.
Some might say that the Internet was built on anonymity, paving the way for a place where free speech reigns supreme.
But after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents that detailed the agency's surveillance programs, many of which included Internet-based technologies, privacy on the Web is a more popular topic than ever. But it's not just about government spying; it's also about how much big companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have collected about you in order to serve up targeted ads.
Though the social-networking age has led to a culture of oversharing, the Snowden revelations have prompted some to consider how best to stay anonymous online. Even Facebook, where you're "required" to use a real name, is toying with idea of letting users post things anonymously, Mark Zuckerberg told Bloomberg in a recent interview. That came several months after he said the feds "blew it" in communicating with Americans about their surveillance programs, and if Zuckerberg thinks the spying pendulum has swung too far ...
But some activists are not content to wait for the NSA, Zuckerberg, or the White House to take action. Tuesday, Feb. 11 has been designated as The Day We Fight Back (against mass surveillance). It comes two years after a major online "blackout" helped to stop the SOPA and PIPA legislation, and will also serve to honor the memory of the late activist Aaron Swartz. This time, organizers are asking sites to display banners, social media users to change their profile pictures, and all Web users to push their legislators to oppose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which gave the U.S government such broad (and some say illegal) powers.
But how do you take back control of your own personal privacy online? Is it even possible? One 2013 Pew study reported that 60 percent of Americans have given up on that idea entirely. Ultimately, the only way to stay truly anonymous online is to not go online at all. Since that's not really an option for most of us, here's a rundown of what you can do to minimize the spying, the targeted advertising, and ID theft as you explore the world online.
Phone Call Confidentiality
If you want to be anonymous, forget the smartphone. The big-name OS makers are big-name control freaks (Apple) and big name ad servers (Google). If you want to be anonymous on a phone, your only choice is a prepaid phone, a.k.a., a burner.
Even with a burner, call records exist, and you could be triangulated via a GPS. But the upside of a burner is not having your real name associated with the device. And as you see in the movies, you can always throw the phone into a passing truck and lead whomever might be tracking you on a merry goose-chase.
If you want more details, check out PCMag's full report on making anonymous phone calls.
Build the Firewall
Is your desktop or laptop computer connected directly to a broadband modem? That's a very bad idea. Hackers are constant bombarding such IP addresses to see if they can get onto a system. You should always have a router on your home network that can mitigate that with its built-in firewall. Plus, you need the router for sharing the Internet connection, and probably for Wi-Fi. (Some ISP's modems come with a built-in router, so that should keep you covered.) But take a look at what PCMag considers to be the 10 Best Wireless Routers.
You should also have firewall software installed on your PC. Windows 7/8 comes with a pretty decent solution called, you guessed it, Windows Firewall. However, third-party firewall software goes the extra mile and protects you from outbound problems—specifically, software programs that abuse your Internet connection, sending out information you don't want to share. You can find firewalls as part of suites like Norton Internet Security, but you don't need to pay: check out PCMag's list of The Best Free Firewalls. Once you've got the firewall installed, use Steve Gibson's ShieldsUP! to check for open, or vulnerable, ports on your system.
Sleuth Your Own Stealth
What does your computer (or tablet or smartphone for that matter) give away about you when you visit websites? At the very least, the site knows your IP address (and that's necessary, otherwise you'd get no results). In most cases it also knows your approximate physical location (by checking where your ISP supplies those IP addresses—see it in action at IPLocation), and probably your time zone and what language you speak—all good info for advertisers. Your browser can also report on your operating system, browser type, and what versions of software you run for browser plug-ins like Java, Flash, and Silverlight.
If you don't believe it, go visit Stay Invisible for a full report, though the site isn't completely altruistic: it wants to sell you a virtual private network (VPN), which we'll explain later on.
First, make sure your browser isn't storing too much about you. In the settings menu, turn off the ability for the browser to store the passwords you use to access websites and services. That can be a pain, as you should have a different password on every service you use, so an alternative is to use a password manager, like PCMag's five-star Editors' Choice, LastPass.
Browsers also store things like images, surfing history, and what you've downloaded, as well as cookie files, which can remember helpful things like settings and passwords. Obliterate that info occasionally—in Chrome, IE, and Firefox, you can type Ctrl+Shift+Del to get a pop-up that helps you get rid of them. Use a product like CCleaner (Windows and MacOS) or SlimWare Utilities SlimCleaner (Windows only) to nuke these files for all the browsers you run.
Major browsers also have anonymous surfing modes. In Google Chrome it's called Incognito (Ctrl+Shift+N to access); in Firefox it's Private Browsing and in Internet Explorer it's InPrivate browsing (Ctrl+Shift+P for the latter two). That will prevent the browser from saving info on pages visited, whatever you search for, passwords, cookies, downloads, and cached content like images.
There are also a number of browsers that bill themselves as privacy-focused. Of course, they all use the same rendering engines as the big names, especially Google's Chromium engine, but the difference is the browsers don't share any info with Google. Examples include Comodo Dragon, Comodo IceDragon (based on Firefox), and Dooble. You should also start using a different search engine than Google, Bing, or Yahoo, all of whom want to sell, sell, sell you. Instead, try DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn't track you or sell your info, they promise.
Keep in mind, using stealth modes and special browsers don't make you completely anonymous on the Web, but they do prevent sites from writing info to your computer, including cookies, which can later be read by other sites to figure out your browsing habits.
Proxies and VPNs and Tor, Oh My
The way to ensure outsiders don't gather information about you while you're browsing the Web is to appear to be someone else, in a different location. This requires a proxy server and/or a virtual private network (VPN) connection. With the right combo, you can not only be anonymous, but surf sites in other countries as if you're a native.
Proxies aren't for newbies, but FoxyProxy can get you started. It works with Firefox, Chrome, and IE and offers proxy services and VPN tools, with a nice rundown of the pros and cons of both.
VPN services are everywhere. They have the advantage of not only securing the traffic between your computer and servers, but also masking your IP address and location. For example, by connecting though my work VPN, sites believe I'm at corporate HQ, even though I work from home.
VPNs also double as a way to get access to location-blocked content—if you are in a country that can't get the BBC iPlayer or Netflix, for example, a VPN could be your ticket.
They range from super simple and free (albeit ad-supported), like HotspotShield (see our list of Free VPN Services for more) to high-end subscription services like HideMyAss Pro (which is offered by the same folks behind Stay Invisible) for $11.52 a month, or SurfEasy Total for $4.99 and up a month. All three work for Windows, Mac, iOS, or Android.
No discussion of anonymity online is complete without mentioning Tor. The name comes from once being the acronym for "The Onion Network"—the implication being there are many layers of security offered. Tor is a free network of tunnels for routing Web requests and page downloads. It's supposed to make it impossible for the site you access to figure out who you are. But does it?
The NSA's spying controversy included what some thought was a workaround to ID users of Tor. But it wasn't that simple. As explained by security expert Bruce Schneier in The Guardian, the NSA actually monitors what's called the Tor "exit nodes"—they could tell users were using Tor, but not who the users were. By setting up a "man in the middle" attack, the NSA would pretend to be the site the user wanted (Google, for example) and could send data back to the user that would take advantage of exploitable holes in the browser—not a hole in Tor.
The lesson there: keep your browsers up to date, or use one of the previously noted anonymizing browsers.
Guess who else has an anonymizing browser? Tor, that's who. Tor has an entire browser bundle for Windows (run it off a flash drive to take with you), MacOS, or Linux. If you want to stick with the traditional browsers, just get the Tor Bundle for those same OSes to get anonymous. There's also a Tor Browser for iOS and Tor's own Orbot proxy app for Android.
If you're really, really paranoid, go to TRUSTe and check out the huge directory of sites that have earned its seal of approval for upholding "TRUSTe's high standards for best privacy practices." This means that the site has a good privacy statement and promises to do right by customer data and not pass it around. A lot of the "trusted" sites are e-commerce related, but, apparently, you can trust big media sites, such as Disney, The New York Times, and Facebook, among others. Then again, that doesn't mean much if those sites are hacked and your info goes out the proverbial window.
As of this month, TRUSTe's privacy index says consumer concern levels are at 9.2 out of 10. Imagine that.
As nice as it is to remain anonymous as you surf, it is far more essential for your email to go unnoticed if you want to avoid spam or surveillance. The problem is, email simply wasn't built with security in mind.
There are secure email services, of course, which use encryption to scramble what you send and require the recipient to have a password that decrypts what you send. Edward Snowden used a service known as Lavabit, which was so secure that the government insisted that it hand over the private keys of users. Lavabit complied, but to its credit, immediately shut down to protect its customers. Silent Circle did the same (not to mention law blog Groklaw). So be aware that just because you use such a service doesn't mean it can't be compromised.
If you want a Webmail service that's going to handle encrypted messages, MyKolab comes highly recommended. With a data center in privacy-minded Switzerland, the service charges $10 a month, but it keeps all your email and calendar info secure from search. HushMail is another private email with services for business ($5.24 per user per month) and individuals (free on up), but in the past it has actually handed over some records when ordered by a Canadian court.
You might think your Gmail account is safe, since you see that lock icon on the browser, and access it with a secure sockets layer (SSL) connection (indicated by the https:// in the URL). But SSL only encypts data as it is transferred from your device to the server. Google still needs to read your email a little bit because of the advertising it places on Gmail. And that is always going to be a problem with Web-based services, be they from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, or Microsoft.
That said, there are tools to encrypt Web-based email. Streak makes a Google Chrome extension called SecureGmail that does the job, asking you for a key to encrypt sent messages. The recipient will be prompted to also install SecureGmail. You give them the key and you've got end-to-end encryption. Mailvelope is another extension (for Chrome and Firefox) that will secure Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo Mail.
Perhaps the smart move is to eschew Web-based mail and stick with desktop clients like Thunderbird or Outlook. For example, the Hushmail for Outlook add-on lets you use a HushMail account with the commercial software. Outlook 2007 and up has some built-in encryption tools, while Thunderbird for Windows has add-ons to handle message encryption/decryption such as Engimail.
Of course, the NSA can apparently break just about any encryption. But if you're not trafficking in Snowden-level secrets, you'll probably be OK.
Avoiding Spam, Spam, and Spam
Beyond the obvious things, like never, EVER clicking on a link in a spam message – or even opening a spam email, the best way to avoid spam is to never let them get your address. It's almost impossible, but there are methods to mitigate.
Number one is to use an alias or dummy email, which can be used with any service that requires an email address. You might be able to set one up if you own your own domain name. In Google Apps, for example, you have your primary address, like bill (at) yoursite.com, but there's the option to use William (at) yoursite.com as an alias for online sign-ups, messages to which can be forwarded to the main address. When spam begins to collect, change or kill that second address; there can be up to 30 aliases per individual.
Gmail is a little more straightforward: to make an alias, you just append something to the user name. Turn bill (at) gmail.com into bill+alias-name (at) gmail.com. Once the alias in question accumulates spam, you can filter it right into the trash. Here's a video on how to do that in Gmail: In Yahoo Mail, there are Disposable Addresses (under Settings > Security), which are similar to those used by Google—there's a base name then a secondary keyword appended, like bill-trash (at) yahoo.com. Outlook.com also supports aliases, up to 10 per account. Look for "Account Aliases" under the Account settings, to create any—they can also end in "Hotmail.com" or "live.com." And if you have your own domain name, check the control panel at your Webhost—they're likely to have tools for creating aliases galore.
If you only need an alias for a short time, a disposable address is very handy. Free services like Airmail, GuerrillaMail.com and Mailinator create an address you can check for just a short time.
Social (Network) Security
Should you care about security when it comes to social networks like Facebook? One word: Duh. Facebook isn't exactly an altruistic non-profit; it gets its money by having lots of users looking at ads. That sometimes means making your data available to questionable entities. Plus, you might not want every one of your "friends" or their extended networks to know all of your business, right?
There are several steps you can take to regain some Facebook anonymity. First, on a desktop, go to the Account menu in the upper right and select Settings, then click Privacy on the left. You're going to want to click the "Edit" link on every choice on this page to personalize just who can see what, who can friend you, even who can look you up by phone number or email address. And you can make sure your posts are not spidered by search engines. You can get as granular as you want, making sure, for example, that old boyfriends or girlfriends don't see your posts—even the old posts.
Also under Timeline and Tagging, you can ensure that you don't get tagged in images or posts without your express permission. The Blocking section is where you can create the Restricted List of your friends who can see your content, and also block users, apps, and invites you don't want.
Finally, double check your contact info. Go to your General Account Settings, and again click "Edit" next to every entry. Double check the email address and phone numbers you've entered. Minimize the list as much as possible to maximize anonymity.
If you need out of Facebook entirely, you should delete the account. Deactivating it leaves your data on the site for your potential return. Go to: https://www.facebook.com/deactivate.php and follow the instructions. It'll deactivate your account for two weeks, just in case you really, really, really didn't mean it. After that, it's gone. However, even then, some digital photos may linger. For more, check out How to Delete Accounts From Any Website.
On LinkedIn, go to the Settings icon of your face in the upper right and select Privacy & Settings. In the center, under the Profile tab, you'll see Privacy Controls.
What about Twitter? There's the obvious: don't list your website or real email in your profile. Make sure your password is different from that of any other site. That's good advice across the board, but we know people don't follow it. You should with Twitter, which has had some security breaches in the past. You also have the option, under Settings > Security and Privacy, to protect your tweets, meaning only those you approve get access to them. Protected tweets aren't searchable, aren't retweetable, and you can't share permanent links to them with non-approved followers.
That said, you're fooling yourself if you think using social networking (or making any post online) is 100 percent safe—all it takes is an "approved follower" to take a screengrab of something you say and share it with the world for it to get out.
Companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google are well on their way creating "cookies 2.0," —files placed on your device by the browser to track what you're doing in a way that makes today's cookies look like they were made with an Easy-Bake Oven. Google's existing "Advertising ID" on Android devices, and Facebook's Atlas ad network/cookie tracker both take advantage of one major exploit: the fact that most people never log out of their services. Ever. Facebook, for example, knows whenever you hit a site that has a "Like" button. So if you want less tracking, sign out of the social media services when you're not using them.
See Vimeo -- Wikirebels - SVT Documentary on Wikileaks https://vimeo.com/78724048
This work is in the public domain
Re: Fight Back Day - Stop NSA Secret Police Spies
WSWS (nospam) yahoo.com (unverified)
12 Feb 2014
Modified: 10:55:13 AM
Press leaks claim NSA collects “only” 30 percent of US phone calls
The political and media establishment is attempting to make hay out of new “leaks” which detail that the National Security Agency (NSA) collects roughly a third of the phone calls made in the United States.
In an article published Saturday, the New York Times said this collection was “a relatively small portion” of domestic calls. The Washington Post proclaimed that “the disclosure contradicts popular perceptions that the government is sweeping up all domestic data.”
The disclosure, which the Post says came from “current and former U.S. officials,” has all the features of a planted leak, released as a part of the Obama administration’s ongoing damage control efforts and published by the Post and the Times without question as to the veracity of the assertions. The articles more closely resemble administration press releases than products of investigative journalism.
Those “current and former U.S. officials” with knowledge of the NSA programs have given the public no reason to believe a word they say. NSA director Keith Alexander perjured himself before Congress when he said the NSA spying programs had thwarted over fifty terrorist attacks. James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, told Congress the flat-out lie that the NSA was not collecting data from domestic phone calls. The chief lawyer for the office of the Director of National Intelligence lied when he attempted to defend Clapper in the editorial pages of the New York Times.
For his part, President Obama told the nation in a January televised speech that “our intelligence community follows the law and is staffed by patriots” who “follow protocols to protect the privacy of ordinary people.”
But even if the figures presented in the Times and Post are to be believed—and there is good reason to dismiss them outright—it would be cold comfort that the government ”only” illegally seizes the data and content of a third of domestic phone calls. The use of a blanket warrant to seize the data and content of a single phone call between ordinary Americans is unconstitutional, let alone the seizure of data of tens of millions of phone calls daily.
And as the Times and Post admit, the only reason the government does not seize the content of 100 percent of domestic calls is that it does not have the technical capacity to do so. In 2006, officials claim that the government had the ability to gather data from 100 percent of domestic phone calls. Because of the rise in the number of calls, the government has since been playing catch-up.
As part of their effort to monitor all of the communications of the public, the Obama administration is now using the recent leak to advocate for an expansion of the secret spying programs. Administration officials told the Times that the primary goal is closing the “gap” between what the government currently collects and what it wants to collect. The Times writes that “it is, in fact, the agency’s goal to overcome technical hurdles that stop them from ingesting [all domestic calls].”
The Times cites “one official” from the Obama administration who said that “we should have a debate about how effective would it be [ sic ] if it were fully implemented.”
Nancy Libin, a former chief privacy officer at the Department of Justice, told The Hill, “The one question that has not been adequately answered is whether this program is effective. You don’t want to intrude on people’s privacy and undermine public trust if it’s not going to do any good.”
In other words, the Obama administration’s policy is that if you’re going to violate the constitutional rights of the American public, you’d better make it count!
But recent leaks have also shown that the Obama administration is not alone in its violation of basic democratic rights.
Documents released by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveal that a British spy unit called the Joint Threat Research and Intelligence Group have been using sex to entice spy targets into what they call “honey traps.” Documents from presentations made by NSA officials at spy conferences explain that “honey traps” are used to “destroy, deny, degrade, and disrupt” targets by “discrediting” them.
The NBC News report, co-authored by Glenn Greenwald, explained that “most often, a male target is led to believe he has an opportunity for a romantic relationship or a sexual liaison with a woman, only to find that the woman is actually an intelligence operative.”
The report explains how British spies use Internet dating in order to entrap their targets. Documents show that the target is enticed “to go somewhere on the Internet, or a physical location” to be met by “a friendly face,” only to be discredited. Such a trap, documents claim, is “very successful when it works.”
The “honey trap” has been successfully used before, the report claims. For example, it was used to lure an Iranian scientist into meeting a woman, only to be kidnapped by the Israeli government.
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) intelligence agency issued a statement in response to the recent revelations, which asserted that “all of GCHQ’s work is carried out in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework which ensures that our activities are authorized, necessary and proportionate, and that there is rigorous oversight…”
The especially degrading and malicious character of the GCHQ’s “honey trap” techniques underscores the antidemocratic character of the spying operations being orchestrated on both sides of the Atlantic.
See Vimeo: Victoria Nuland Remixed - https://vimeo.com/86517519
Re: Fight Back Day - Stop NSA Secret Police Spies
by Workers Vanguard
WV (nospam) yahoo.com (unverified)
12 Feb 2014
Click on image for a larger version
U.S. Imperialists Squirm over Exposures - Spying and Lying in the Belly of the Beast ( http://www.icl-fi.org/english/wv/1034/spying.html )
Recent disclosures over U.S. surveillance of foreign heads of state have now put the White House in an awkward spot. For its part, the NSA baldly presents itself as the very guardian of democracy. In the words of the agency’s own (classified) five-year plan, its electronic eavesdroppers “hold the moral high ground, even as terrorists or dictators seek to exploit our freedoms.” In reality, the billions of electronic intercepts the NSA has amassed are simply the covert face of U.S. imperialism’s drive to dominate the world. In the seventy years that the U.S. has been the top imperialist power, millions have been slaughtered in wars to enforce its domination.
Snowden, and before him Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, deserve full credit for revelations that at great personal cost have chipped away at the imperialists’ facade of piety. The spying scandal has brought additional discomfort to an administration that lost face when it had to back down from an attack on Syria and then found its credibility further damaged when it bungled the implementation of its signature health care law. The White House is attempting to cover up its responsibility for the “excesses” of the American snoops with an outpouring of lies, obfuscations and two-faced apologies. President Obama has surpassed his predecessor when it comes to invading privacy, shredding basic democratic rights and enhancing covert police powers. Meanwhile, Congressmen who voted to pour oceans of money into the NSA (its 2013 budget request was $10.8 billion) have feigned surprise over the extent of spying.
An article by Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs makes the obvious point that nothing has been revealed thus far about NSA spying that was really unexpected. The authors observe, “The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it.” Hypocrisy is a necessary component of the democratic form of capitalist class rule. It is a sugar coating that masks the bitter taste of the exploitation and oppression inherent to capitalist society.
While attempting to lull the masses with hypocrisy, the bosses also employ the cops, the courts, the military and the prisons as the fundamental guardians of their rule. The NSA’s massive accumulation of data facilitates the depredations of U.S. imperialism abroad as well as state control over the American population, including the repression of those who defy the dictates of the capitalist rulers. Never far from the minds of the exploiters is the working class, the only force with the cohesion and social power to overthrow capitalist rule.
The “war on terror” is a convenient fiction, a political crusade that has provided the U.S. bourgeoisie with a pretext for enhancing its repressive arsenal. This apparatus of state terror will be brought to bear in any future upsurge in workers struggle, when the capitalists’ war against labor militancy again flares up. In the 1886 Haymarket massacre, Chicago police attacked workers rallying for the eight-hour day and arrested eight anarchist labor organizers who were subsequently framed up and imprisoned or executed. After World War I, thousands of foreign-born radicals were deported in an attempt to quash the labor militancy that had been ignited in the U.S. by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. After World War II, the McCarthy witchhunts purged the reds who built the CIO industrial union federation from the labor movement.
U.S. Spying and the European Bourgeoisies
For their truth telling, Snowden, Manning and Assange have all become targets of the American capitalist rulers. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley, was charged under the 1917 Espionage Act, convicted and sentenced in August to 35 years in prison for the “crime” of exposing U.S. imperialism’s atrocities in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Assange, trapped in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, is the target of a CIA manhunt for publishing Manning’s revelations on WikiLeaks. Snowden depends precariously on a one-year residency permit granted by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who nonetheless described the NSA’s mass surveillance programs as “the way a civilized society should go about fighting terrorism.” Some German politicians have now mooted offering Snowden political asylum in exchange for his testimony about U.S. spying.
Capitalist rulers like German chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff are no doubt dismayed that the wheelings and dealings conducted on their cell phones have become the property of the NSA. Merkel, who is seen as the Torquemada of European Union (EU) austerity, and Rousseff, who faces increasing economic discontent at home, have opted to enhance their reputations by demagogically indicting the excesses of the American behemoth and posturing as champions of privacy rights that the U.S. government is trampling.
But the great power competitors of U.S. imperialism are themselves well practiced in turning the tools of espionage against their own populations. Soon after the French and German governments made a show of outrage over the NSA bugging their diplomatic offices, it was revealed that the two EU heavyweights were engaged in the same kind of domestic mass data collection as the NSA, sharing information with the Americans. Among the “Success Stories” trumpeted in one classified NSA document made available by Snowden is the German government modifying its interpretations of privacy laws “to afford the BND [intelligence service] more flexibility in sharing protected information with foreign partners.”
Germany has long been miffed by its exclusion from the Five Eyes—the alliance of the U.S., Britain and the junior imperialist suckerfish of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which supposedly allows these partners access to virtually all of each other’s intelligence. Britain has, to date, been especially zealous in its defense of the U.S. super spies. Invoking anti-terror law, British authorities detained David Miranda, the partner of reporter Glenn Greenwald who published Snowden’s initial revelations, at Heathrow airport for almost nine hours supposedly to divest him of 58,000 NSA electronic documents. Earlier, the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA, had overseen the destruction of a copy of Snowden’s files held at the offices of the Guardian newspaper. (Several other copies remain.)
American “Democracy”: Capitalist Class Dictatorship
The U.S. capitalist class—in whose interests the spying is carried out—is concerned with the impact that the exposures might have on future dealings with their European counterparts. Most concerned are the giant information processors—Google, Yahoo et al.—who fear that the decline in business of late will only continue, as the bulk of them are known to have readily provided the NSA with access to their data. Google executive Eric Schmidt is attempting to bluff his way out of trouble by feigning outrage against the NSA data burglars.
Many Americans are given to self-exposure on the Net and accustomed to having their personal data looted by Google, Yahoo and the rest on the behalf of advertisers. But the massive scope of snooping has raised the temperature of an American populace increasingly disgusted with a Congress and a president that have done nothing to alleviate the ravages of the Great Recession.
Even as he tries to give the impression that he wants to rein in spying, Obama has been loath to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In fact, his administration has stated that there is no alternative to the bulk collection of data, offering only that the NSA could perhaps destroy the information it has stockpiled after three years instead of the current five—as a sop to those naive enough to believe that the data will ever be destroyed. When it matters to the bourgeoisie, however, Obama seems magically able to adjust the electronic surveillance machine, as witnessed by his recent assurance to Merkel that her cell phone was not currently bugged.
More retreats and apologies may lie ahead as the web of U.S. surveillance is further brought to light. There is some movement in Congress to modify sections of the Patriot Act, with a few politicians suggesting its repeal. Among the lawmakers expressing some dismay at the extent of snooping is Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, an author of the Patriot Act who now wants to put “reasonable limits” on it. The Freedom Act, the draft legislation that he has sponsored, is supported by a range of right-wing libertarians and civil-rights groups like the ACLU. It would be welcome if such efforts created some speed bumps for the agents of U.S. imperialism. It would be foolish to believe that reforms will ever significantly impede the imperialists’ spying on whomever they want whenever they want. In fact, rival legislation from Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein would simply provide a solid legal footing for across-the-board surveillance, explicitly authorizing the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
The NSA was founded in 1952 by secret order of Democratic president Harry Truman, mainly to spy on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It greatly expanded during the late 1960s and early ’70s, as the government targeted radicals, Vietnam antiwar activists and black militants. Recently revealed documents indicate that the NSA viewed its very own Operation Minaret program, under which it spied on everyone from Martin Luther King to Jane Fonda, as “disreputable if not outright illegal.” This program complemented the FBI’s COINTELPRO, which began as a spying operation on the Communist Party and later unleashed murderous repression against Black Panther militants. After the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s and under the impact of the social struggles of that period, some of this sordid history was made public through the investigation and hearings of the Senate’s 1975-76 Church Committee.
Among the measures adopted to curb NSA/CIA spying following the Church hearings was the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Sponsored by the liberal icon Democratic senator Ted Kennedy, this legislation set up a special secret court to vet requests for “national security” wiretaps. FISA, or some similar oversight body, is invoked in many of today’s proposed NSA reforms. In reality, FISA has served as a doormat for the NSA on its way to securing warrants for its clandestine data raids. In its first 33 years, the court denied only eleven of nearly 34,000 wiretap applications! The annual statistics provided to Congress put the current application approval rate at over 99 percent.
The capitalist rulers, a tiny minority of the population who live off the labor of the working class, depend on lying, spying and violence to keep the majority of the population underfoot. Diplomatic skullduggery, which Obama in a rare moment of candor referred to as “how intelligence services operate,” is a means to maneuver for influence, markets and cheap labor. When the working class took power in Russia after the 1917 October Revolution, the Bolsheviks who led the revolution published the secret World War I treaties concluded by the prior tsarist and Provisional Government regimes with their imperialist allies, exposing the war as a quest for plunder. With that stroke, the Bolsheviks demonstrated that they abandoned all hypocrisy and lies in addressing the workers of other nations, while continuing to employ all necessary subterfuge and deceit in dealings with the domestic and imperialist forces of counterrevolution.
In 1923-24, a parasitic bureaucracy headed by Stalin usurped political power from the Soviet proletariat (see article on page 2). The bureaucracy’s police apparatus would be used to suppress all opponents of the regime, not only counterrevolutionaries but especially communist oppositionists, first and foremost the Trotskyists, who fought against the Stalinists’ betrayal of the struggle for world socialist revolution. Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s foreign spy service targeted the imperialists as well as, at times, working-class struggle in other countries, such as during the Spanish Civil War.
For their part, the U.S. and other imperialist countries built up armies of spies to serve the drive for capitalist restoration in the USSR. With the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the common enemy of the imperialists was removed. Subsequently, their clandestine operations were directed more to gaining advantage over one another, even as military and economic pressure has been kept on China and the other remaining deformed workers states.
Spying and treachery between states will persist until international proletarian revolution erases the basis for national antagonisms and sets the stage for the withering away of the state. After that, as Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels eloquently explained, “State interference in social relations becomes, in one domain after another, superfluous, and then dies out of itself; the government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production” (Anti-Dühring, 1878).
The state assassination of a US citizen foretold
WSWS (nospam) yahoo.com (unverified)
13 Feb 2014
The Associated Press Monday published an extraordinary report based on deliberate leaks from senior US government officials announcing that the Obama administration is “wrestling with whether to kill [an unnamed US citizen] with a drone strike and how to do so legally under its new stricter targeting policy.” The targeted individual is alleged to be a terrorist residing “in a country that refuses US military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him.” The media subsequently carried various reports indicating that the individual is located in Pakistan.
Monday’s revelation that the White House is once again preparing to carry out the illegal murder of an American citizen gives an entirely new and sinister meaning to President Obama’s campaign slogan, “Yes we can.”
Indeed, if the government can order the state assassination of a US citizen in the name of national security, what can it not do? Concentration camps (a remedy recently justified by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia), torture, disappearances, martial law, the suspension of the Constitution—all the methods of a police state dictatorship become equally justifiable and possible.
The apparent purpose of the Obama administration’s calculated leak is to blunt popular opposition to an illegal state murder by creating a phony aura of “due process,” “transparency” and careful deliberation for a criminal operation that is steeped in secrecy, conspiracy and contempt for core constitutional principles.
The AP report stresses the supposedly “high threshold” that must be overcome in secret proceedings before a death warrant is signed. The world’s population was reassured that it is a “difficult” decision, with the implication that lots of hand-wringing and brow-furrowing goes on beforehand behind closed doors. This emphasis is in line with a 2012 speech by Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder and a 2013 “white paper” that purport to provide legal justification for the assassination program.
The leak to the AP and the media’s dutiful echoing of senior officials’ claims about the administration “wrestling” with the legality of state murders has another even more insidious purpose. It is aimed at creating the illusion of some kind of national debate over the assassination program into which the public is dragooned as unwilling and powerless participants. The desired effect is to morally implicate the American people as a whole in the crimes of the US state.
The killing of an American citizen by the government without charges or trial is, as an initial matter, in flagrant violation of the Bill of Rights, US statutory law, and numerous international treaties.
The Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights (1791) unambiguously prohibits extra-judicial killing, providing that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” There can be no doubt as to the sentiments of the authors. Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1789: “Assassination, poison, perjury… All of these were legitimate principles in the dark ages which intervened between ancient and modern civilizations, but exploded and held in just horror in the eighteenth century.”
In an attempt to circumvent the unequivocal language of the Fifth Amendment, the Obama administration has attempted to redefine “due process” to mean the “process” whereby military and intelligence officials, along with the president, meet in secret, choose their victims and order the killings. This secret process was on display in yesterday’s Associated Press report on the contemplated assassination, which emphasized that Pentagon officials were “initially divided” before coming around to a consensus in favor of the killing.
This grotesque redefinition of “due process” stands opposed to nearly a millennium of legal precedent dating back to the Magna Carta (1215), according to which the term has come to mean basic protections such as the presumption of innocence, a public trial, the right to an attorney, the right to a jury, the right to confront one’s accusers, and so forth.
In the legal newspeak of the Obama administration, a person’s individual rights have to be “balanced” against the interests of the state. Under this formula, individual democratic rights exist, but may be ignored whenever the state sees fit. This formula has no basis whatsoever in the Bill of Rights, which speaks in absolute terms with no exceptions. This “balancing” formula is nothing more than a recipe for dictatorship, and it would have fit comfortably into the jurisprudence of any police state in history.
If the killing announced Monday goes forward, it will constitute the fifth assassination of an American citizen since the launching of the “targeted killing” program, which has also claimed the lives of thousands of innocent victims of other nationalities. Under international law, all of these killings are war crimes. From a domestic legal standpoint, every military, intelligence, and civilian official—up to and including Obama—who participates in or fails to intervene in the killing of an American citizen without charges or trial is guilty of murder. All such individuals deserve to be impeached, arrested, indicted and prosecuted.
While the liberal and pseudo-left apologists for Obama insist religiously on the humane sentiments that supposedly reside in the president’s invisible “heart of hearts,” the real Obama emerges more and more as a cold-blooded and ruthless operative of the US military and intelligence apparatus. In a recent book by authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, entitled, Double Down: Game Change 2012, Obama is quoted as boasting to his aides that he is “really good at killing people.”
The activities of the Obama administration make the misconduct of every previous American administration combined seem petty and trivial by comparison. The criminal indictment of Obama himself would be thousands of pages long: war crimes, corruption, torture, perjury, theft, negligence, mayhem, abduction, conspiracy, murder, and the construction of a massive illegal spying apparatus unprecedented in history.
The absence of any substantial opposition within the political establishment to the public announcement that a citizen will be murdered without trial points to the terminal decay of American democracy.
The key to understanding this breathtaking collapse of American democracy is social inequality. Democracy is in contradiction with a world where the richest 1 percent control half of the world’s wealth, i.e., with capitalism. The ultra-rich clique that rules America, while it gobbles up all the money in sight, is conscious of its growing unpopularity. Thus, while it everywhere seeks to wipe out the hard-won social and democratic gains of the population, it works to acclimatize the population instead to authoritarianism.
The struggle to defend and expand core democratic rights such as those enshrined in the Bill of Rights—and to bring criminals like Obama to justice—can be taken forward only by means of the independent mobilization of the working class in a political struggle against the capitalist system.
See Vimeo – Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars - https://vimeo.com/78890092
Re: Fight Back Day - Stop NSA Secret Police Spies
by Normon Solomon
NorSol (nospam) yahoo.com (unverified)
13 Feb 2014
If Obama Orders the CIA to Kill a US Citizen, Amazon Will Be a Partner in Assassination
President Obama is now considering whether to order the Central Intelligence Agency to kill a U.S. citizen in Pakistan. That’s big news this week. But hidden in plain sight is the fact that Amazon would be an accessory to the assassination. Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide the agency with "cloud" computing services. After final confirmation of the deal several months ago, Amazon declared: "We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA."
The relationship means that Amazon – logoed with a smiley-face arrow from A to Z, selling products to millions of people every week – is responsible for keeping the CIA’s secrets and aggregating data to help the agency do its work. Including drone strikes. Drone attacks in Pakistan are "an entirely CIA operation," New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti said Tuesday night in an interview on the PBS NewsHour. He added that "the Pakistani government will not allow the [U.S.] military to take over the mission because they want to still have the sort of veneer of secrecy that the CIA provides."
The sinister implications of Amazon’s new CIA role have received scant public attention so far. As the largest Web retailer in the world, Amazon has built its business model on the secure accumulation and analysis of massive personal data. The firm’s Amazon Web Services division gained the CIA contract amid fervent hopes that the collaboration will open up vast new vistas for the further melding of surveillance and warfare.
Notably, Amazon did not submit the low bid for the $600 million contract. The firm won the deal after persuading the CIA of its superior technical capacities in digital realms. Amazon is now integral to the U.S. government’s foreign policy of threatening and killing.
Any presidential decision to take the life of an American citizen is a subset of a much larger grave problem. Whatever the nationality of those who hear the menacing buzz of a drone overhead, the hijacking of skies to threaten and kill those below is unconscionable. And, as presently implemented, unconstitutional.
On Feb. 11 the Times reported that the Obama administration "is debating whether to authorize a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks." In effect, at issue is whether the president should order a summary execution – an assassination – on his say-so.
The American way isn’t supposed to be that way. The "due process of law" required by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is not supposed to be whatever the president decides to do. A free and independent press is crucial for confronting such dire trends. But structural factors of corporate power continue to undermine the potential of journalism. The Washington Post is a grim case in point.
Six months ago, Jeff Bezos – the CEO and main stakeholder of Amazon – bought the Post. But the newspaper’s ongoing CIA-related coverage does not inform readers that the CIA’s big contract with Amazon is adding to the personal wealth of the Post’s sole owner. This refusal to make such conflict-of-interest disclosures is much more than journalistic evasion for the sake of appearances. It’s a marker for more consolidation of corporate mega-media power with government power. The leverage from such convergence is becoming ever-less acknowledged or conspicuous as it becomes ever-more routine and dominant.
After e-mail correspondence with me about the non-disclosure issue in early January, the executive editor of the Washington Post, Martin Baron, declined to answer questions from media outlets on the subject. On Jan. 15 – when I delivered a RootsAction.org petition under the heading "Washington Post: Readers Deserve Full Disclosure in Coverage of CIA," signed by 30,000 people, to the newspaper’s headquarters – Baron declined to meet with me or designate any employee to receive the petition. Clearly the Post management wants this issue to go away.
But, as I wrote to Baron last month, it’s all too convenient – and implausible – for the Washington Post to claim that there would be "no direct relevance of the [Amazon-CIA] cloud services contract to coverage of such matters as CIA involvement in rendition of prisoners to regimes for torture; or in targeting for drone strikes; or in data aggregation for counterinsurgency."
The surveillance state and the warfare state continue to converge. The Washington Post does not want us to insist on journalistic disclosure. Amazon does not want us to insist on moral accountability. President Obama does not want us to insist on basic constitutionality. It would be a shame to oblige any of them.
See Vimeo - US Mysterious Space Plane In Orbit for Venus Transit - X-37B https://vimeo.com/45253290