Tag Archives: government spying

“USA Freedom Act”: A fig leaf for illegal spying

By Patrick Martin
June 4, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

In the wake of Senate passage of the USA Freedom Act, signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday evening, the corporate-controlled American media has gone into overdrive to portray the legislation as a major effort to curb mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, the largest single component of the vast US intelligence apparatus.

In fact, the bill—which has received the endorsement of the Obama administration and war criminals such as CIA Director John Brennan—is not an effort to curtail the vast and illegal activities of the US intelligence agency, but rather a means of ensuring that these activities can continue, now with a pseudo-legal foundation that has been explicitly endorsed by Congress.

Just as Obama barred prosecution of CIA officials for torturing prisoners, and prosecution of Bush administration leaders for waging war in Iraq based up lies, there will be no accountability for more than a decade of illegal spying on the American people. On the contrary, the program of mass surveillance of telecommunications and the Internet, directed against the democratic rights of the entire population of the globe, will intensify.

The bill makes only one significant, largely cosmetic, change in the hundreds of government spying programs directed against the American people, transferring responsibility for the retention of telephone metadata from the NSA back to the telecommunications companies. The telecoms are required to run NSA queries through their databases once the searches are approved by the FISA court, a longstanding rubber stamp for the US security services.

As the British-based Financial Times noted, the bill is “a much less significant change in the way the intelligence community actually operates” than the political furor surrounding it would suggest. “The surveillance legislation reform still leaves the US intelligence community with formidable legal powers and tools to collect data and other online information,” the newspaper continued, adding that intelligence officials regarded the legislation as damage control required after Edward Snowden’s revelations of massive and unconstitutional NSA spying.

The American media, however, treated the legislation as an historic watershed, a reversal of the build-up of state security powers that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Washington Post headlined its analysis, “Congressional action on NSA is a milestone in the post-9/11 world.” The Wall Street Journal ran the headline, “Congress Reins In NSA’s Spying Powers,” over a story reporting that “the Senate voted to curb the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, the first significant retrenchment of government spying powers since the 9/11 attacks.”

The most overstated and effusive presentation of the bill came in the New York Times, the principal shaper of liberal public opinion and a slavish supporter of the Obama administration. Its account was headlined, “US Surveillance in Place Since 9/11 Is Sharply Limited.” That the bill affected only one of hundreds of intrusive surveillance programs went unmentioned.

The news analysis claimed, “The legislation signaled a cultural turning point for the nation, almost 14 years after the Sept. 11 attacks heralded the construction of a powerful national security apparatus. The shift against the security state began with the revelation by Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about the bulk collection of phone records. The backlash was aided by the growth of interconnected communication networks run by companies that have felt manhandled by government prying.”

This paragraph includes a mass of falsifications and distortions. First, the “powerful national security apparatus” was in existence well before September 11, 2001—indeed, the role of the CIA, NSA and FBI in permitting and even directly facilitating the terror attacks, which allowed the US government to go forward with a long-planned program of militaristic aggression, including invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, raises many troubling questions.

The “shift against the security state” prompted by Snowden’s revelations was a shift in popular opinion, not a change in the policies of either Congress or the Obama administration, both of whom defended the intelligence apparatus and demanded Snowden’s arrest and prosecution for treason. And Snowden revealed far more than the bulk collection of phone records, releasing tens of thousands of documents on myriad illegal NSA spy programs directed at both the American population and the entire world.

Nor did American companies play any significant role in opposing government spying. On the contrary, Snowden’s revelations included the exposure of collaboration by Google, Microsoft and dozens of other Silicon Valley giants, and well as the entire telecommunications industry, with the build-up of an American police-state apparatus.

The Times article notes the admission by the NSA that the telephone metadata collection program had played no role in thwarting any terrorist attack. But it then fails to ask the most obvious question: If the telephone metadata program has never been effective against terrorism, why are the NSA, the CIA, the Obama administration and the leadership of Congress so adamant about defending it and preserving it, with whatever modifications are needed to give the illusion of “reform”? What is this data really being used for?

The only politically serious answer is that the US government is creating a vast database of the social and political views and associations of the American people, to be used to direct its repression when a mass movement erupts from below, against the capitalist system.

These efforts have not been halted for a single day, either by the supposed “shutdown” of the telephone metadata on May 31, or by the planned transfer of the program from the NSA to the telecoms in six months. The US military-intelligence apparatus, by far the largest and most powerful in the world, is the main threat to the democratic rights of the American people. No amount of media propaganda and peddling of illusions in “NSA reform” can disguise this reality indefinitely.

There are, unfortunately, indications that Edward Snowden himself may be among those taken in by the pretense of surveillance “reform.” Snowden addressed an Amnesty International conference in London Tuesday, before the final Senate vote, speaking by video link from Russia, where he remains in exile. Referring to the legislation, he told the group, “This is meaningful, it is important and actually historic that this has been refuted, not just by the courts, but by Congress as well and the president himself is saying this mass surveillance has to end.”

Snowden is dangerously naïve, and misled by his associates in such groups as Amnesty, the Guardian newspaper, and the ACLU, who share a liberal political outlook imbued with illusions in the democratic pretensions of American imperialism, and particularly in the Democratic Party and the Obama administration. Despite his courage in exposing the extent of NSA spying—and the considerable, continuing threat to his own physical security—Snowden is taking an entirely credulous approach to the maneuvers of official Washington.

He argues, “For the first time in recent history we found that despite the claims of government, the public made the final decision and that is a radical change that we should seize on, we should value and we should push further.” The actual course of events is far different. The “public” was entirely excluded from the decision-making process. The military-intelligence apparatus called the shots. The Obama administration and Congress took their marching orders. The USA Freedom Act, like the USA Patriot Act before it, serves the interests of the emerging American police state.

Snowden reacted with revulsion to the massive NSA spying campaign, out of sincere democratic convictions. But the growth of a surveillance state is not simply the product of post-9/11 paranoia, or even the drive for power on the part of individual politicians, generals and intelligence officials. The growth of a police-state apparatus proceeds, as it were, organically, out of the extreme levels of social inequality in American society, and endless wars. In other words, the military-intelligence apparatus is not the cause, but one malignant manifestation, of a deep-rooted and historic crisis of American capitalism.

Whatever the gestures to civil liberties made by Obama—while he continues drone-missile assassinations, Guantanamo, and the whole panoply of American militarism—the American ruling class he serves has no intention of diminishing the repressive powers of the state machine that exists to defend its property and wealth.

There is a profound political lesson here. Courageous individuals like Snowden and organizations like WikiLeaks can make important exposures. But only the working class, in the United States and internationally, can put an end to the ongoing attacks on democratic rights. This requires the building of a mass revolutionary movement, based on a socialist and internationalist program, and directed at the defense of all the social and democratic rights of working people.

 

 

US Senate approves extension of NSA spying

By Patrick Martin
June 3, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The US Senate voted by a top-heavy bipartisan majority Tuesday to approve legislation that extends several key spying programs of the National Security Agency. President Obama declared his intention to sign the bill into law “as soon as I get it” in order to allow the NSA to resume the collection of telephone metadata and several other surveillance efforts that had nominally been suspended with the expiration of authorization under the Patriot Act Sunday night.

While the White House, congressional leaders of both parties and the American media are all portraying the so-called USA Freedom Act as a significant restriction on NSA spying, an effort to “strike a balance” between security and civil liberties, it is nothing of the kind.

In the first place, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, whose expiration May 31 made passage of the new authorization necessary, only covers a tiny fraction of the vast surveillance operations of the NSA. The collection of telephone metadata on every American was only one of the many of these illegal and unconstitutional programs first exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now in exile in Russia.

In a bitter floor speech just before the final vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the bill as “a victory for Edward Snowden,” but this is merely part of the congressional play-acting aimed at giving the American people the illusion that something is being done about illegal government spying, when it continues on a virtually unlimited and ever-expanding scale.

Only hours before McConnell’s diatribe, the Associated Press revealed yet another secret government spying program—hundreds of flights by a fleet of FBI planes that conduct low-flying video and cellphone surveillance over dozens of American cities .

McConnell denounced the bill for supposedly “taking away another tool from those who defend us every day” because it phases out the bulk collection of telephone metadata by the NSA, leaving collection of data to the telecommunications companies, which are in turn required to respond to NSA search requests once they are approved by the rubber-stamp FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court.

The bill contains a few other cosmetic efforts to conceal the build-up of police-state powers in America. The secret FISA court is required to hear from privacy advocates and document its decisions on surveillance policy, rather than, as in the past, hearing only from government prosecutors and making all its decisions in secret. This will have no material effect on the surveillance state.

The Senate passed the grossly misnamed USA Freedom Act by a vote of 67-32, with nearly all the opposition coming from right-wing Republicans, led by McConnell, who objected to even the minor limitations on the surveillance operations of the US government contained in the bill. The House passed the same bill last month by an overwhelming margin of 388 to 38, with the backing of Speaker John Boehner and the entire Republican leadership.

The 67-32 Senate vote actually expresses near-unanimous support for the US intelligence apparatus. Democrats backed the bill by 44-2. Republicans were split, 23 in favor and 30 against, but nearly all those opposed wanted no restrictions on NSA spying, even of a cosmetic character.

After McConnell’s vitriolic attack on the Obama White House for supposedly capitulating to Edward Snowden, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid retorted that it was McConnell who had undermined US spy operations by his mistaken handling of delaying tactics by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul, leading to the supposed shutdown of the telephone metadata program by the NSA Sunday night.

Final passage came after the Senate narrowly rejected all three amendments put forward by McConnell and the Republican leadership to further water down the bill’s anemic “reform” element. One amendment would have set the transition period from NSA databases to telecom databases at a year, rather than six months. Another would have required the telecoms to notify the NSA before any change in data retention policy, and mandated the NSA to certify that it was ready to make the transition without any loss of ability to conduct searches. The third amendment would have eliminated the requirement that the FISA court report to Congress on significant changes in the interpretation of surveillance laws.

The amendments were less important substantively than as an attempt to delay passage of the legislation indefinitely, since an amended bill would have to go back to the House for further deliberation. In that event, the Senate Republican leadership hoped to push through a simple extension of all Patriot Act surveillance authority, without any cosmetic changes.

A US Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month that Section 215 of the Patriot Act did not provide adequate legal authority for the telephone metadata collection—in effect, finding the program had been operating illegally for 14 years. The White House and the congressional leadership of both parties moved quickly to reestablish the program using a different legal process—FISA warrants served on the telecoms—to accomplish the same end.

Appearing on the CBS program Face the Nation Sunday, CIA Director John Brennan denounced the protracted wrangling in the Senate and whipping up fears of new terrorist attacks—despite the well-documented fact that none of the Section 215 programs has played any role in disrupting terrorist activities. “Anyone who is satisfied with letting this critical intelligence capability go dark isn’t taking the terrorist threat seriously,” Brennan said. “I’d urge the Senate to pass the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, and do so expeditiously.”

Brennan declared, “I think terrorist elements have watched very carefully what has happened here in the United States, whether or not it’s disclosures of classified information or whether it’s changes in the law and policies. They are looking for the seams to operate within.”

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote, Obama made increasingly strident denunciations of the congressional delay in approving the extension of NSA spying authority. The White House issued a statement Sunday night, after the expiration of Section 215, declaring, “We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible. On a matter as critical as our national security, individual senators must put aside their partisan motivations and act swiftly. The American people deserve nothing less.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the American people faced “unnecessary risk,” because of the loss of surveillance tools “our national security professionals can use to keep us safe.” In reality, there was no change in the operation of the vast US police-intelligence apparatus, as the New York Times admitted, reporting that “interviews with law enforcement and intelligence officials about what they will do in the interim suggest there are multiple workarounds to the gap.”

US Senate Lets Three Patriot Act Provisions Expire

By Stephen Lendman
June 2, 2015
Global Research

 

On Sunday, Senate debate failed to extend three controversial Patriot Act provisions:

  • Section 215 used as justification for bulk NSA phone, Internet and business records collection;
  • the lone wolf provision amending the definition of a foreign power to include anyone allegedly “engag(ing) in international terrorism or activities in preparation thereof;” and
  • the roving wiretap provision permitting “blank check” phone and Internet monitoring of individuals without identifying them by name or having justifiable probable cause.

Unless changed by subsequent congressional action, monitoring henceforth requires “specific and articulable facts” showing targeted subjects may be foreign agents as defined under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Section 215 defenders lie claiming sunsetting the provision eliminates vital surveillance powers needed to protect against terrorist threats.

Unjustifiable fear-mongering remains rife. Obama outrageously warned of dire consequences without unrestricted mass surveillance powers, saying:

“(H)eaven forbid we’ve got a problem where we could’ve prevented a terrorist attack or could’ve apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity but we didn’t do so.”

Fact: Not a single new millennium terrorist act was committed on US soil nor were any planned ones thwarted by law enforcement actions.

Claims otherwise were false. Innocent individuals were targeted for political reasons – not for any terrorism they committed or planned. Victims languish unjustly in America’s homeland gulag – one of the world’s worst.

Key federal government police state surveillance methods remain legal despite letting the above three lapse – whether permanently remains to be seen. They include:

Pen Registers: letting authorities collect “dialing, routing, addressing or signaling information” – including phone numbers dialed and Internet metadata.

Business Records Provision: FISA permits obtaining business records from transportation carriers and storage facilities.

Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) D Orders: letting government get court order authorization requiring ISPs and other communications providers to make available information about their customers – based on “specific and articulable facts showing that there are reasonable grounds to believe…records or other information sought are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Grand jury subpeonas: for specific information wanted about targeted individuals or groups.

National Security Letters: permitting FBI authority to obtain personal customer records from ISPs, financial institutions, credit companies and other sources without prior court approval – by claiming what’s sought relates to alleged terrorism or espionage, no proof required.

Administrative subpoenas: issued by federal agencies for targeted records wanted.

FISA warrants: easily obtainable from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for national security investigations.

With or without Section 215, government police state powers remain formidable, intrusive, unconstitutional, and contrary to what’s justifiable in free and open societies.

Spying on its citizens reflects one of the most defining police state characterizations. Big Brother is real. It’s no longer fiction.

America crossed the line post-911. Unconstitutional mass surveillance became official US policy. It remains so.

Abusive NSA, FBI, CIA, DEA and Department of Homeland Security practices aren’t going away.

Claiming they’re to protect against possible terror or other national security threats are Big Lies. They’re to protect powerful monied interests from government of, by and for everyone equitably.

They’re to prevent beneficial social change. They’re to compromise fundamental freedoms en route toward eliminating them altogether.

They’re to assure capital’s divine right overrides popular interests. They’re to subvert fundamental Bill of Rights protections.

Orwell envisioned the future. “Big Brother is watching,” he said. “There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment.”

“How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.”

“It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”

The worst of what Orwell foresaw is real. It’s worse than he imagined given today’s state-of-the-art technology and willingness to use it ruthlessly.

Letting three controversial Patriot Act provisions expire (if only temporarily) leaves in place a repressive police state apparatus targeting anyone challenging a fundamentally anti-democratic system – besides waging global wars on humanity and threatening world peace.

Little changed Sunday night. America remains unfit to live in.

Current NSA Officials Admit Agency Is Drowning In TOO MUCH Info

By WahingtonsBlog
May 31, 2015
Washington’s Blog

 

The Problem Isn’t Too Little Spying … It’s Too Much

Former top NSA officials have repeatedly said that the NSA is collecting TOO MUCH information on Americans to be able to stop terror attacks.

The Intercept reports that current mid-level NSA officials confirm that the NSA is gathering TOO MUCH information… and it’s making it impossible to focus:

“We in the agency are at risk of a similar, collective paralysis in the face of a dizzying array of choices every single day,” the analyst wrote in 2011. “’Analysis paralysis’ isn’t only a cute rhyme. It’s the term for what happens when you spend so much time analyzing a situation that you ultimately stymie any outcome …. It’s what happens in SIGINT [signals intelligence] when we have access to endless possibilities, but we struggle to prioritize, narrow, and exploit the best ones.”

The document is one of about a dozen in which NSA intelligence experts express concerns usually heard from the agency’s critics: that the U.S. government’s “collect it all” strategy can undermine the effort to fight terrorism. The documents, provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, appear to contradict years of statements from senior officials who have claimed that pervasive surveillance of global communications helps the government identify terrorists before they strike or quickly find them after an attack.

***

The documents suggest that analysts at the NSA have drowned in data since 9/11, making it more difficult for them to find the real threats. The titles of the documents capture their overall message: “Data Is Not Intelligence,” “The Fallacies Behind the Scenes,” “Cognitive Overflow?” “Summit Fever” and “In Praise of Not Knowing.” Other titles include “Dealing With a ‘Tsunami’ of Intercept” and “Overcome by Overload?”

***

[One NSA document], titled “Too Many Choices,” started off in a colorful way but ended with a fairly stark warning: “The SIGINT mission is far too vital to unnecessarily expand the haystacks while we search for the needles. Prioritization is key.”

***

An amusing parable circulated at the NSA a few years ago. Two people go to a farm and purchase a truckload of melons for a dollar each. They then sell the melons along a busy road for the same price, a dollar. As they drive back to the farm for another load, they realize they aren’t making a profit, so one of them suggests, “Do you think we need a bigger truck?”The parable was written by an intelligence analyst in a document dated Jan. 23, 2012 that was titled, “Do We Need a Bigger SIGINT Truck?” It expresses, in a lively fashion, a critique of the agency’s effort to collect what former NSA Director Keith Alexander referred to as “the whole haystack.” The critique goes to the heart of the agency’s drive to gather as much of the world’s communications as possible: because it may not find what it needs in a partial haystack of data, the haystack is expanded as much as possible, on the assumption that more data will eventually yield useful information.

***

The author of a 2011 document … stated, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

***

Another document, written by an intelligence analyst in 2010, bluntly stated that “we are drowning in information. And yet we know nothing. For sure.”

Indeed, top security experts agree that mass surveillance is ineffective … and actually makes us MORE vulnerable to terrorism.

The fraudulent debate over NSA reform

By Patrick Martin
May 30, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The US Senate convenes May 31 in a rare Sunday afternoon session called by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to forestall the expiration of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. This section of the vast police-state law passed in 2001 has been used as the basis for the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone metadata on every phone call made in the United States, as well as authorizing other forms of domestic spying.

In the week leading up to the Senate session, President Obama, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the heads of the FBI and other security agencies have depicted the potential expiration of Section 215 in apocalyptic terms. Obama made several appearances before television cameras to demand action “because it’s necessary to keep the American people safe and secure.” Lynch said that a failure to act would cause “a serious lapse in our ability to protect the American people.”

Other administration representatives were even more strident. At a press briefing of three top officials, all unidentified at the insistence of the White House, one said, “What you’re doing, essentially, is you’re playing national security Russian roulette. We have not had to confront addressing the terrorist threat without these authorities, and it’s going to be fraught with unnecessary risk.”

This scaremongering is completely cynical. The surveillance powers embodied in Section 215 have nothing to do with defending the American people from terrorist attacks. On the contrary, the American people are the principal target of Section 215, and of the Patriot Act as a whole.

On the eve of the vote, a report by the Justice Department’s own Office of Inspector General conceded that the mass collection of data on telephone metadata—the core of Section 215 as interpreted by both the Bush and Obama administrations—has played no role in any terrorism investigation or prosecution. Another of the key powers under Section 215, authorization of “roving wiretaps” of individuals who change cellphones, has been used in only a handful of cases. A provision for wiretaps of so-called “rogue” terrorists—individuals not connected with any organization—has never been used at all.

Given these facts, how is one to account for the “sky is falling” rhetoric from the Obama administration and its congressional allies, both Republican and Democrat, over the possible expiration of Section 215?

Section 215 is of enormous importance to the government—but not for the reason given. The mass data collection on telecommunications and the Internet is a key element in the development of an authoritarian state that is accumulating vast databases on the political and social views of the entire population. The state is preparing to use this intelligence in an effort to crush popular opposition to ever-growing social inequality, police violence and militarism.

The greatest threat to the democratic rights of the American people comes not from Islamic fundamentalist terrorists or their Internet sympathizers, but from the capitalist state itself, which is the main instrument for defending the profits and wealth of the super-rich against the vast majority of the population, the working class. Whatever form the Senate debate takes on Sunday, this central issue will be evaded and covered up.

The Obama administration is pushing for Senate acceptance of the USA Freedom Act, a bill which makes cosmetic changes in Section 215 while reauthorizing it and placing it on a pseudo-legal foundation. The database of call records would be maintained by the telecommunications companies, rather than directly at NSA headquarters, and the NSA would route its data searches through the telecoms.

This bill passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming bipartisan support, but fell three votes short of winning consideration in the Senate. It appears likely that a dozen or more Republican senators, who initially opposed the bill, will switch their votes in order to beat the May 31 deadline. Procedural obstacles by a handful of Republican and Democratic opponents may delay this several days, which would supposedly lead to a temporary shutdown of the call surveillance program.

There is not the slightest reason to believe that the NSA and the vast military-intelligence complex as a whole will actually take such a step. These agencies engaged in mass domestic spying without any legal authorization long before the passage of the Patriot Act in 2001. As a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month, the Bush-Obama interpretation of Section 215 as an authorization of mass call data collection has no legal basis, meaning that the entire surveillance program has been conducted unlawfully for the past 14 years. Operating outside of and in defiance of the law is second nature to the US spy apparatus.

Even the present half-hearted and thoroughly insincere discussion is only taking place in response to the revelations by whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Thomas Drake about the massive police-state buildup under the guise of “anti-terrorism.” The same senators who claim to be concerned about the “surveillance state” have joined in condemning the actions of the courageous individuals who done the public service of exposing it.

There will be much posturing in Sunday’s debate, both from those hyping the threat of terrorism, and those, a small minority, claiming to defend constitutional rights. But Republican Rand Paul, Democrat Ron Wyden and other professed opponents of Section 215 are objecting to only a small portion of the Patriot Act, which is itself only a series of amendments to earlier police-state laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The collection of telephone metadata, moreover, is only one of hundreds, if not thousands, of programs through which the US military-intelligence apparatus collects information on the American population.

Every Republican and Democratic politician defends this state machine as a whole. The struggle to defend democratic rights and to dismantle the police-state apparatus of spying and repression is the task of the working class, and it requires the building of an independent working-class political movement based on a socialist program.

 

 

The NSA’s Technotyranny: One Nation Under Surveillance

By John Whitehead
May 27, 2015
Washington’s Blog

 

By John Whitehead, constitutional and human rights attorney, and founder of the Rutherford Institute.

“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”—William Binney, NSA whistleblower

We now have a fourth branch of government.

As I document in my new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this fourth branch came into being without any electoral mandate or constitutional referendum, and yet it possesses superpowers, above and beyond those of any other government agency save the military. It is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful. It operates beyond the reach of the president, Congress and the courts, and it marches in lockstep with the corporate elite who really call the shots in Washington, DC.

You might know this branch of government as Surveillance, but I prefer “technotyranny,” a term coined by investigative journalist James Bamford to refer to an age of technological tyranny made possible by government secrets, government lies, government spies and their corporate ties.

Beware of what you say, what you read, what you write, where you go, and with whom you communicate, because it will all be recorded, stored and used against you eventually, at a time and place of the government’s choosing. Privacy, as we have known it, is dead.

The police state is about to pass off the baton to the surveillance state.

Having already transformed local police into extensions of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and the FBI are preparing to turn the nation’s soldier cops into techno-warriors, complete with iris scanners, body scanners, thermal imaging Doppler radar devices, facial recognition programs, license plate readers, cell phone Stingray devices and so much more.

This is about to be the new face of policing in America.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been a perfect red herring, distracting us from the government’s broader, technology-driven campaign to render us helpless in the face of its prying eyes. In fact, long before the NSA became the agency we loved to hate, the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration were carrying out their own secret mass surveillance on an unsuspecting populace.

Just about every branch of the government—from the Postal Service to the Treasury Department and every agency in between—now has its own surveillance sector, authorized to spy on the American people. Then there are the fusion and counterterrorism centers that gather all of the data from the smaller government spies—the police, public health officials, transportation, etc.—and make it accessible for all those in power. And of course that doesn’t even begin to touch on the complicity of the corporate sector, which buys and sells us from cradle to grave, until we have no more data left to mine.

The raging debate over the fate of the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional, illegal and ongoing domestic surveillance programs is just so much noise, what Shakespeare referred to as “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

It means nothing: the legislation, the revelations, the task forces, and the filibusters.

The government is not giving up, nor is it giving in. It has stopped listening to us. It has long since ceased to take orders from “we the people.”

If you haven’t figured it out yet, none of it—the military drills, the surveillance, the militarized police, the strip searches, the random pat downs, the stop-and-frisks, even the police-worn body cameras—is about fighting terrorism. It’s about controlling the populace.

Despite the fact that its data snooping has been shown to be ineffective at detecting, let alone stopping, any actual terror attacks, the NSA continues to operate largely in secret, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance on hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone calls, emails, text messages and the like, beyond the scrutiny of most of Congress and the taxpayers who are forced to fund its multi-billion dollar secret black ops budget.

Legislation such as the USA Patriot Act serves only to legitimize the actions of a secret agency run by a shadow government. Even the proposed and ultimately defeated USA Freedom Act, which purported to restrict the reach of the NSA’s phone surveillance program—at least on paper—by requiring the agency to secure a warrant before surveillance could be carried out on American citizens and prohibiting the agency from storing any data collected on Americans, amounted to little more than a paper tiger: threatening in appearance, but lacking any real bite.

The question of how to deal with the NSA—an agency that operates outside of the system of checks and balances established by the Constitution—is a divisive issue that polarizes even those who have opposed the NSA’s warrantless surveillance from the get-go, forcing all of us—cynics, idealists, politicians and realists alike—to grapple with a deeply unsatisfactory and dubious political “solution” to a problem that operates beyond the reach of voters and politicians: how do you trust a government that lies, cheats, steals, sidesteps the law, and then absolves itself of wrongdoing to actually obey the law?

Since its official start in 1952, when President Harry S. Truman issued a secret executive order establishing the NSA as the hub of the government’s foreign intelligence activities, the agency—nicknamed “No Such Agency”—has operated covertly, unaccountable to Congress all the while using taxpayer dollars to fund its secret operations. It was only when the agency ballooned to 90,000 employees in 1969, making it the largest intelligence agency in the world with a significant footprint outside Washington, DC, that it became more difficult to deny its existence.

In the aftermath of Watergate in 1975, the Senate held meetings under the Church Committee in order to determine exactly what sorts of illicit activities the American intelligence apparatus was engaged in under the direction of President Nixon, and how future violations of the law could be stopped. It was the first time the NSA was exposed to public scrutiny since its creation.

The investigation revealed a sophisticated operation whose surveillance programs paid little heed to such things as the Constitution. For instance, under Project SHAMROCK, the NSA spied on telegrams to and from the U.S., as well as the correspondence of American citizens. Moreover, as the Saturday Evening Post reports, “Under Project MINARET, the NSA monitored the communications of civil rights leaders and opponents of the Vietnam War, including targets such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohammed Ali, Jane Fonda, and two active U.S. Senators. The NSA had launched this program in 1967 to monitor suspected terrorists and drug traffickers, but successive presidents used it to track all manner of political dissidents.”

Senator Frank Church (D-Ida.), who served as the chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence that investigated the NSA, understood only too well the dangers inherent in allowing the government to overstep its authority in the name of national security. Church recognized that such surveillance powers “at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”

Noting that the NSA could enable a dictator “to impose total tyranny” upon an utterly defenseless American public, Church declared that he did not “want to see this country ever go across the bridge” of constitutional protection, congressional oversight and popular demand for privacy. He avowed that “we,” implicating both Congress and its constituency in this duty, “must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

The result was the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the creation of the FISA Court, which was supposed to oversee and correct how intelligence information is collected and collated. The law requires that the NSA get clearance from the FISA Court, a secret surveillance court, before it can carry out surveillance on American citizens. Fast forward to the present day, and the so-called solution to the problem of government entities engaging in unjustified and illegal surveillance—the FISA Court—has unwittingly become the enabler of such activities, rubberstamping almost every warrant request submitted to it.

The 9/11 attacks served as a watershed moment in our nation’s history, ushering in an era in which immoral and/or illegal government activities such as surveillance, torture, strip searches, SWAT team raids are sanctioned as part of the quest to keep us “safe.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush secretly authorized the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans’ phone calls and emails. That wireless wiretap program was reportedly ended in 2007 after the New York Times reported on it, to mass indignation.

Nothing changed under Barack Obama. In fact, the violations worsened, with the NSA authorized to secretly collect internet and telephone data on millions of Americans, as well as on foreign governments.

It was only after whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 that the American people fully understood the extent to which they had been betrayed once again.

What this brief history of the NSA makes clear is that you cannot reform the NSA.

As long as the government is allowed to make a mockery of the law—be it the Constitution, the FISA Act or any other law intended to limit its reach and curtail its activities—and is permitted to operate behind closed doors, relaying on secret courts, secret budgets and secret interpretations of the laws of the land, there will be no reform.

Presidents, politicians, and court rulings have come and gone over the course of the NSA’s 60-year history, but none of them have done much to put an end to the NSA’s “technotyranny.”

The beast has outgrown its chains. It will not be restrained.

The growing tension seen and felt throughout the country is a tension between those who wield power on behalf of the government—the president, Congress, the courts, the military, the militarized police, the technocrats, the faceless unelected bureaucrats who blindly obey and carry out government directives, no matter how immoral or unjust, and the corporations—and those among the populace who are finally waking up to the mounting injustices, seething corruption and endless tyrannies that are transforming our country into a technocrized police state.

At every turn, we have been handicapped in our quest for transparency, accountability and a representative democracy by an establishment culture of secrecy: secret agencies, secret experiments, secret military bases, secret surveillance, secret budgets, and secret court rulings, all of which exist beyond our reach, operate outside our knowledge, and do not answer to “we the people.”

What we have failed to truly comprehend is that the NSA is merely one small part of a shadowy permanent government comprised of unelected bureaucrats who march in lockstep with profit-driven corporations that actually runs Washington, DC, and works to keep us under surveillance and, thus, under control. For example, Google openly works with the NSA, Amazon has built a massive $600 million intelligence database for the CIA, and the telecommunications industry is making a fat profit by spying on us for the government.

In other words, Corporate America is making a hefty profit by aiding and abetting the government in its domestic surveillance efforts. Conveniently, as the Intercept recently revealed, many of the NSA’s loudest defenders have financial ties to NSA contractors.

Thus, if this secret regime not only exists but thrives, it is because we have allowed it through our ignorance, apathy and naïve trust in politicians who take their orders from Corporate America rather than the Constitution.

If this shadow government persists, it is because we have yet to get outraged enough to push back against its power grabs and put an end to its high-handed tactics.

And if this unelected bureaucracy succeeds in trampling underfoot our last vestiges of privacy and freedom, it will be because we let ourselves be fooled into believing that politics matters, that voting makes a difference, that politicians actually represent the citizenry, that the courts care about justice, and that everything that is being done is in our best interests.

Indeed, as political scientist Michael J. Glennon warns, you can vote all you want, but the people you elect aren’t actually the ones calling the shots. “The American people are deluded … that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy,” stated Glennon. “They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change. But … policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter who occupies the White House: the secret government with its secret agencies, secret budgets and secret programs won’t change. It will simply continue to operate in secret until some whistleblower comes along to momentarily pull back the curtain and we dutifully—and fleetingly—play the part of the outraged public, demanding accountability and rattling our cages, all the while bringing about little real reform.

Thus, the lesson of the NSA and its vast network of domestic spy partners is simply this: once you allow the government to start breaking the law, no matter how seemingly justifiable the reason, you relinquish the contract between you and the government which establishes that the government works for and obeys you, the citizen—the employer—the master.

Once the government starts operating outside the law, answerable to no one but itself, there’s no way to rein it back in, short of revolution. And by revolution, I mean doing away with the entire structure, because the corruption and lawlessness have become that pervasive.

US House passes surveillance “reforms” aimed at codifying illegal spying

By Thomas Gaist
May 15, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

In the latest episode of the political theater known as “surveillance reform,” the US House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act Wednesday, by a vote of 338 to 88.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would modify and reenact Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, a main legislative pillar of the police-state measures put in place since 9/11. The act is currently set to expire on June 1.

The legislation passed by the House would supposedly protect telephone metadata records from government snooping by requiring them to remain stored on the servers of the major telecommunications companies rather than on government servers. The NSA could then demand access with an approval from the FISA court based on a given “selection term.”

As some analysts have noted, a single such “selection term” could be used to call up millions of communications records. The legislation would not even nominally address any of the other mass spying programs revealed over the past year by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The Obama administration has given the legislation its enthusiastic support, hoping that it will give a pseudo-legal fig leaf to its unconstitutional activities.

The bill’s passage comes one week after a federal appeals court ruling held that bulk telephone metadata collection, an activity which the government has engaged in systematically for at least a decade, is illegal.

The political and media establishment are promoting the Freedom Act as a major blow against illegal domestic spying.

In comments Wednesday, John Conyers, Democratic Senator from Michigan, declared that, “a vote in favor of this bill is a vote to end dragnet surveillance in the US.” Senate Democrat Harry Reid touted the act as “a chance to take bipartisan action that protects civil liberties.”

The Freedom Act “ends the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata from millions of law-abiding citizens,” Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz claimed.

Leading capitalist media outlets have lavished similar praise, with the Los Angeles Times proclaiming in its headline, “House votes overwhelmingly to end NSA’s mass collection of phone records.”

This is lying on an impressive scale, even by Washington’s standards. Taken at face value, the reforms contained in the legislation amount to nothing more than minor modifications of a single component of the vast spying machine erected by the US ruling class.

The current version of the bill may not even pass the Senate, where it will reportedly face opposition from some Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell, who claim that the legislation will hamper necessary surveillance operations against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups.

Senator McConnell favors instead a “clean extension” of the Patriot Act that would simply leave the bill as it is currently written. This position faces problems, however, since the federal appeals court ruled that the current language of the Patriot Act does not allow for the program that the government wants to keep in place.

If the bill does pass, existing surveillance powers laid out in Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 would still provide the NSA and other security agencies with expansive authorizations to continue with their totalitarian surveillance programs. Any consideration of amendments addressing the 2008 FAA and Executive Order 12333 was preemptively blocked by the House Rules Committee before the bill even arrived on the floor.

The experiences of the past decade leave no room for doubt about the determination of the ruling class and its political servants to abolish the most basic democratic rights. As early as 2001, the Bush administration secretly developed warrantless wiretapping programs, which included granting of access by US intelligence agents to virtually all communications passing through AT&T servers.

The US government today collects not just phone metadata but also audio recordings of virtually all voice communications worldwide, in an effort to comprehensively record and analyze the political views, relationships and most intimate personal matters of the population. On a daily basis, NSA and other federal agents sift through vast data archives accumulated by a spectrum of warrantless wiretapping and data mining programs set up over the past decade—“Processing it All,” “Exploiting it All,” and even “Sniffing it all,” as an agency motto displayed on PowerPoint slides leaked by Edward Snowden boasted.

Last week, new revelations confirmed that NSA translates the content of huge quantities of audio communications into searchable text.

The entire US political system is implicated in crimes carried out as part of a conscious class agenda to strip the US and world population of their democratic rights. The US Congress itself has sanctified the development of the surveillance programs, passing the FISA 1978 legislation, which created a secret parallel court system specifically devoted to approving mass spying operations, and later passing the USA Patriot Act, as well as a package of amendments to the FISA legislation in 2008.

France’s Surveillance Law Amid Terror Created by The French Republic

By Tony Cartalucci
May 15, 2015
New Eastern Outlook

 

hollande-equalityCan a new surveillance law help stop terrorists the government is already tracking and simply choosing not to stop? 

France has announced that in the wake of the so-called “Charlie Hebdo Shooting,” it will be passing a controversial new bill granting security agencies unprecedented powers to tap the communications of France’s population without judicial overview.

Impossible to pass without having first provoked fear, hatred, division, and hysteria across the French population, and still facing stiff resistance from civil liberty activists, the bill’s passage raises further suspicions regarding the fatal January 2015 shooting in regards to who organized the incident and who stood most to benefit.

The Guardian in its article, “France passes new surveillance law in wake of Charlie Hebdo attack,” would report:

The French parliament has overwhelmingly approved sweeping new surveillance powers in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in January that killed 17 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery in Paris.

The new bill, which allows intelligence agencies to tap phones and emails without seeking permission from a judge, sparked protests from rights groups who claimed it would legalise highly intrusive surveillance methods without guarantees for individual freedom and privacy.

The Guardian would also claim that:

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, defended the bill as “necessary and proportionate”, saying that to compare it to the mass surveillance Patriot Act introduced in the United States after the 9/11 attacks was a lie.

He said that the previous French law on wiretapping dated back to 1991, “when there were no mobile phones or internet,” and the new bill was crucial in the face of extremist threats.

Not a Lack of Surveillance 

As seen in nearly every recent terror attack both in Europe and North America including the “Charlie Hebdo shooting” and the more recent Garland, Texas attack, the alleged suspects behind the attacks all have one thread in common – they were all already under the watch of security agencies for years, some even imprisoned one or more times for terror-related and/or other violent offenses, some even having traveled overseas to fight alongside Western-backed terrorists in Syria, Iraq, and beyond.

The Guardian itself admits that the French government alone has over 1,400 people under watch, including hundreds of terrorists who have recently returned from fighting alongside Western-backed terrorists including Al Qaeda and its regional franchise, the “Islamic State” (ISIS) in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Among these monitored potential risks were in fact the suspects behind the “Charlie Hebdo shooting.”

Slate Magazine would report in their article, “The Details of Paris Suspect Cherif Kouachi’s 2008 Terrorism Conviction,” that:

Kouachi was arrested in January 2005, accused of planning to join jihadists in Iraq. He was said to have fallen under the sway of Farid Benyettou, a young “self-taught preacher” who advocated violence, but had not actually yet traveled to Iraq or committed any acts of terror. Lawyers at the time said he had not received weapons training and “had begun having second thoughts,” going so far as to express “relief” that he’d been apprehended.

Kourachi and his brother would be reported to have traveled to the Middle East to receive training from Al Qaeda, then to have fought in Syria in a war backed in part by France, before returning home and carrying out their grisly terror attack, all while being tracked by French intelligence.

If Kouachi previously could be arrested for “association with wrongdoers with the intention of committing a terrorist act,” why wasn’t he arrested immediately upon his return to France for having received and employed military training by a terrorist organization?

CNN would report in an article titled, “France tells U.S. Paris suspect trained with al Qaeda in Yemen,” that:

Western intelligence officials are scrambling to learn more about possible travel of the two Paris terror attack suspects, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, with new information suggesting one of the brothers recently spent time in Yemen associating with al Qaeda in that country, U.S. officials briefed on the matter told CNN. Additional information from a French source close to the French security services puts one of the brothers in Syria.

To explain how terrorists well-known to France’s legal system and intelligence community could simply “disappear,” the Wall Street Journal in an article titled, “Overburdened French Dropped Surveillance of Brothers,” would attempt to claim:

The terror attacks in Paris that have killed 17 people over three days this week represent one of the worst fears—and failures—of counterterrorist officials: a successful plot coordinated by people who had once been under surveillance but who were later dropped as a top priority.

The U.S. provided France with intelligence showing that the gunmen in the Charlie Hebdo massacre received training in Yemen in 2011, prompting French authorities to begin monitoring the two brothers, according to U.S. officials. But that surveillance of Said and Chérif Kouachi came to an end last spring, U.S. officials said, after several years of monitoring turned up nothing suspicious.

It is a narrative that begs to be believed – considering the brothers had already tangled with the law, already traveled to Yemen to receive training from Al Qaeda, and with evidence suggesting they were indeed still being tracked since it is now known they have recently returned from Syria. The Wall Street Journal would also claim that France depends heavily on US intelligence, contradicting US intelligence officials who have said their information came from their French counterparts.

France reportedly has over 1,000 citizens under surveillance who have recently traveled to Iraq and Syria, believed to have fought alongside terrorists France itself has been arming. In an NBC article titled, “French Intelligence Is Tracking 1,000 Who Have Been to Iraq, Syria: Expert,” it is reported that:

“French intelligence is mostly focused today on more than 1,000 French citizens that traveled to Syria and Iraq since 2012,” said Jean-Charles Brisard, the author of “Zarqawi: The New Face of Al-Qaeda.”

He added that one-fifth of them were being tracked around the clock. “This is a problem of resources,” he added. “We cannot follow everyone.”

Brisard said the brothers had been “well known to French intelligence [for] several years now.”

The problem that led up to the “Charlie Hebdo shooting” was clearly not a lack of intelligence or surveillance. French security agencies more than adequately identified the “Charlie Hebdo shooting” perpetrators as potential threats and tracked them for years beforehand. The problem was what appears to be a deliberate effort to keep these terrorists roaming freely among society. Free to join French-backed mercenary forces abroad, and free to commit heinous acts of terror at home, both serving the singular agenda of expanding Western hegemony abroad while preserving the primacy of select special interests at home.

New Surveillance is For Crushing Freedom, Not Terror

As already explained in painstaking detail, had the French government been interested in actually stopping terrorism, including the flight of its own citizens to the Middle East to participate in a war the French government itself is backing, it could have done so easily. Existing laws and France’s current security agencies successfully identified the impending threat that led to the “Charlie Hebdo shooting,” but willfully failed to stop it – with certain factions of French intelligence having even played a potential role in executing it.Therefore, clearly the solution to stopping terrorism is in fact evicting the criminal special interests occupying power throughout the French government, and more broadly, from across the Western World. However, such an eviction will now become exponentially more difficult to execute, thanks to France’s new surveillance laws that give them virtually unhindered access to their citizenry’s data, granting them an unparalleled strategic advantage.

Indeed, France’s new surveillance laws will not stop terrorism at home nor quell the legions of terror they are backing, ravaging lands abroad – instead – they will ensure the uncontested expansion of terror used to coerce the French population at home while justifying and carrying out extraterritorial conquest abroad.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”.

Surveillance Britain: Toryland and Police Prying

By Binoy Kampmark
May 10, 2015
Global Research

 

britain ruling-classWe know what the election victory for the Tories in the United Kingdom signifies.  Britain, festooned in the confetti of democratic freedoms, is heading for a further trimming, a pruning that will privilege surveillance powers over that of privacy.  Home Secretary Theresa May has been at the vanguard of this movement for some time.  Even as David Cameron seemingly runs out of gas – his own campaign having been oddly disengaged – there are others nipping, not merely at his heels, but his arteries.

The Draft Communications Data Bill, more appropriate known as the “snooper’s charter” is the usual spawn of a misguided security establishment.  They, it would seem, can barely find the enemy. The result is a form of mad blind man’s buff, screeching away before the altar of irrelevance.  The bill was set to be cemented last year, but Nick Clegg, in a brief attack of conscience, decided to withdraw his support for it.  That particular Lib Dem manoeuvre was not something the Tories ever forgave Clegg for.  In May’s words, “We were prevented from bringing in that legislation into the last government because of the coalition with the Liberal Democrats and we are determined to bring that through” (The Guardian, May 9).

In an interview with the BBC, May explained that a “Conservative government would be giving the security agencies and law enforcement agencies the powers that they need to ensure they’re keeping up to date as people communicate with communications data.”

Cameron’s stance on this has been clear: liberties are easy to move around; the greater the perceived threat by that amorphous indefinable phenomenon called terrorism, the more frantic the need to move more rights around.  In what seemed to be a strange cocktail of daftness and institutional paranoia, the prime minister even went so far as to suggest limitations to encrypted communications in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in France.

Unfortunately, the attitude is a largely bipartisan one.  The manifestoes of both the Tories and Labour prior to the election read like echoes of the terrified security state.  What they both did was promise greater regulation of surveillance even as such powers were being enlarged to pry into the everyday affairs of citizens.

The common theme here was one of modernisation: keeping matters “up to date” for a more secure Britain.  Governments over the years have mastered the technocratic speak of improvements – that what is supposedly modern is supposedly good.  The Tories, ever big on rubbishing European institutions, show how they feel about the niggly nature of human rights, the grand irritant of the British experiment: “scrap the Human Rights Act and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights”.  We wouldn’t want those intrusive jurists on the continent to be telling Britons about their privacy rights under the European Charter.

Such problems are bound to get more acute, with the Tory government showing an all too keen readiness, not merely for the security rationale, but a privatised one.  Security firms such as G4S loom as the bogeys in this equation, taking over traditional functions of the state, while corporations will have a greater say over the national economy, courtesy of the TTIP. Surveillance is but one aspect of this broader problem of accountability and rights.

The snooper’s charter would require internet and mobile phone companies to retain records of customers’ browsing and social media activity, voice calls, emails, online gaming and text messages for up to a year.  Such material, when stored, does not merely constitute a snooper’s charter, but that of a hacker’s deliciously tempting incentive. It will increase associated costs and throw up the dilemmas of storage and cloud computing.  Such prohibitive policies do not merely conflict with the security imperative, they also fly in the face of the supposedly market friendly policies of conservative governments.

A source of inspiration for Britain’s data retention efforts can be gleaned from that of its cousin in the antipodes.  Australia has, in a fit of sleepwalking obliviousness, moved into the world of data retention even as others have deemed it unduly intrusive to civil liberties.  (Mind you, you won’t get much from Prime Minister Tony Abbott on what that data might actually be.)  A culture so obsessed with utility has embraced the least useful mechanism for detecting, let alone combating, criminal activity.

This is not a model worth imitating by any unfortunate administration, but countries who serenade Westminster democracy even as they gnaw away at its foundations are happy to follow.  “Reviving it [data retention] as a policy priority,” observed Privacy International’s legal director, Carl Nyst, “is a clear sign both of an insatiable appetite for spying powers, and intentions to continue to sacrifice the civil liberties of Britons everywhere on the altar of national security.”  The data witch will get what she wants.

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

 

 

French National Assembly passes draconian electronic surveillance law

By Anthony Torres
May 7, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

5aa4f-government-spyingThe French National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Intelligence Law on Tuesday, retroactively sanctioning mass spying carried out by the intelligence services. The reactionary and antidemocratic law formally sets up the surveillance infrastructure for a police state in France, allowing the government to collect data on the entire population.

All the parties of the political establishment supported the law, which was approved 438-86, with 42 abstentions. It was overwhelmingly backed by both the ruling Socialist Party (PS) and the conservative Union for a Popular Majority (UMP). Some Green and Left Party delegates voted against, secure in the knowledge that the law would pass overwhelmingly.

The Senate is due to begin examining the law on May 20 and is expected to approve it before the Constitutional Council examines it.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls (PS) personally appeared at the National Assembly to defend the bill. Admitting that “it is exceptionally rare for a prime minister to present a bill to the representatives of the nation,” he said that he was doing so “to insist on the law’s importance.”

During parliamentary debate last week, Valls sought to intimidate deputies critical of the bill by saying that they were refusing to “defend the Republic.” All but accusing opponents of the bill of treason, Valls declared that the decision to vote for or against the law would separate “those who have a sense for the state from those who sometimes do not.”

The French ruling class is seizing on the attacks on the anti-Islam Charlie Hebdo magazine in January to rapidly push through far-reaching measures. By voting for the law, the state is sanctioning powers that even supporters of the law admit were illegal, though broadly used. Last month, Le Monde wrote that “this text, which legalizes forty years of illegal practices by the secret services and tries to somewhat control them, was in the works for years.”

Thus, for years, the intelligence services have employed criminal practices to spy on everyone, without criticism from the parliament, which obeys the orders of the police and intelligence services. The law will now function to protect and offer legal cover to these same intelligence officials.

The law obliges Internet Service Providers to provide their clients’ data in real time. Electronic surveillance will be stepped up, with the mass collection of metadata. Cameras and microphones can also be exploited for spying purposes. Communications between two people in France, as well as communications between people in France and abroad, can be recorded.

An automated national judicial file for perpetrators of terrorist violations will conserve these data for 20 years, and 10 years for minors. Prison officials will also have the right to use these techniques legalized by the bill, turning them into an extension of the intelligence services.

The law also legalizes the use of IMSI-Catchers—false cell phone towers that allow authorities to identify and track physical movements of any cell phone user near the device. Previously, the use of such devices was illegal under French law.

The current law breaks with legality by hiding and justifying illegal conduct taking place without the knowledge of the population. This will only encourage the intelligence services, which know that they are protected by the state, to break through the weak limits that the law unconvincingly claims to impose upon them.

In fact, the law gives the secret services virtually unlimited powers. The National Commission of Control for Intelligence Techniques (CNCTR) will be composed of six magistrates of the Council of State and of the Court of Cassation, of three deputies and three senators from the government and the opposition, and one “technical expert.” This body replaces the current National Commission for Control of Security Intercepts (CNCIS).

The CNCTR can give advisory opinions to approve more intrusive spying, but in urgent cases operational chiefs or even agents of the intelligence services can skip the formality of obtaining the CNCTR’s advice, with the authorization of the prime minister.

The CNCTR thus serves as a pseudo-democratic cover for mass surveillance by the secret services.

The vote for the intelligence law took place behind the back of the French people. Besides a few criticisms that substantial powers were being granted to the intelligence services, the vast political implications of the law were neither mentioned nor debated.

One of the few more substantial statements on the law came from UMP deputy Alain Marsaud who, though he supported it, admitted: “This law does not have enough built-in controls. The capacity for intrusion it grants is enormous. Our life will not be the same before and after it passes, because everything we say will be monitored. This law can allow the creation of a political police, the likes of which we have never seen.”

The passage of the intelligence law, which has been openly compared in the press to the USA Patriot Act, is a warning to the working class. The ruling class is breaking with democratic forms of rule. Following the model employed in all the major capitalist countries, France is responding to the growth of social antagonisms through mass spying and a wholesale assault on democratic rights.

The French ruling class is seeking to implement the illegal and unconstitutional methods perfected by the US National Security Agency, as exposed by Edward Snowden. The NSA collects and monitors the communications data of the American people and of billions of other people around the planet, outside of any democratic control.

The immense expansion of the powers of the spying apparatus is part of a general militarization of French society. After the January terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the state has deployed 10,000 troops inside France itself.

The “war on terror” proclaimed by the Bush administration nearly 15 years ago was used by the American ruling class as the ideological framework for never ending war abroad and the destruction of democratic rights at home. It is now the modus operandi for country after country.

On Wednesday, a day after the vote in France, the Canadian House of Commons voted to approve the Anti-Terror Act, which gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and police vast new powers, including the ability to disrupt activity declared to endanger “national security” and engage in preventive arrests and detention without charges.