Monday, December 20, 2010

Monitoring North America

In a way, it is with relief that I find I am not one of the "tinfoil hat" paranoid/conspiracy theorist crowd, yet at the same time feel dismay at being proven right yet again.

Pertaining to what, you ask?

Why, that Big Brother has not only arrived, but that he has been here for quite a while at that.

Case in point, today's expansive article in the Washington Post by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, "Monitoring America" (note: that a mainstream/corporate media outlet can still occasionally manage to report the truth of things, instead of simply acting as a defender, stenographer and/or mouthpiece for Teh Power Establishment, is remarkable). Here are the highlights (emphasis added):
* The United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

* The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

* The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

* This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

* Nowadays, a web of 4,058 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 935 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

* Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.

* Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.

* The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.

* The public face of this pivotal effort is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, which years ago built one of the strongest state intelligence organizations outside of New York to try to stop illegal immigration and drug importation. Napolitano has taken her "See Something, Say Something" campaign far beyond the traffic signs that ask drivers coming into the nation's capital for "Terror Tips" and to "Report Suspicious Activity." She recently enlisted the help of Wal-Mart, Amtrak, major sports leagues, hotel chains and metro riders. In her speeches, she compares the undertaking to the Cold War fight against communists.

* The DHS is enamored with collecting photos, video images and other personal information about U.S. residents in the hopes of teasing out terrorists.

* Now, a police officer can simply drive around, and the automatic license plate reader on his hood captures the numbers on every vehicle nearby. If the officer pulls over a driver, he can use a hand-held device to instantly call up a mug shot, a Social Security number, the status of the driver's license and any outstanding warrants. The computer in the cruiser can tell an officer even more about who owns the vehicle, the owner's name and address and criminal history, and who else with a criminal history might live at the same address.

* At the same time that the FBI is expanding its West Virginia fingerprint database, it is building another vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor. The effectiveness of this database depends, in fact, on collecting the identities of people who are not known criminals or terrorists - and on being able to quickly compile in-depth profiles of them. The name of this system: The Guardian.

* The Guardian system will include biometric data. The FBI is working on a way to attach such information to files. Meanwhile, the bureau will also soon have software that allows local agencies to map all suspicious incidents in their jurisdiction.

* The Defense Department is also interested in the database. It recently transferred 100 reports of suspicious behavior into the Guardian system, and over time it expects to add thousands more as it connects 8,000 military law enforcement personnel to an FBI portal that will allow them to send and review reports about people suspected of casing U.S. bases or targeting American personnel. And the DHS has created a separate way for state and local authorities, private citizens, and businesses to submit suspicious activity reports to the FBI and to the department for analysis.

* As of December, there were 161,948 suspicious activity files in the classified Guardian database, mostly leads from FBI headquarters and state field offices. Two years ago, the bureau set up an unclassified section of the database so state and local agencies could send in suspicious incident reports and review those submitted by their counterparts in other states. Some 890 state and local agencies have sent in 7,197 reports so far.

* The DHS also provides local agencies a daily flow of information bulletins. These reports are meant to inform agencies about possible terror threats. But some officials say they deliver a never-ending stream of information that is vague, alarmist and often useless.

* The vast majority of data fusion centers across the country have transformed themselves into analytical hubs for all crimes and are using federal grants, handed out in the name of homeland security, to combat everyday offenses. This is happening because, after 9/11, local law enforcement groups did what every agency and private company did in Top Secret America: They followed the money.

* One example: the fact that there has not been much terrorism to worry about is not evident on the Tennessee fusion center's Web site. Click on the incident map, and the state appears to be under attack. Red icons of explosions dot Tennessee, along with blinking exclamation marks and flashing skulls. The map is labeled: "Terrorism Events and Other Suspicious Activity. But if you roll over the icons, the explanations that pop up have nothing to do with major terrorist plots.

* Another example: in Virginia, the state's fusion center published a terrorism threat assessment in 2009 naming historically black colleges as potential hubs for terrorism.

* Yet another example: in Pennsylvania this year, a local contractor hired to write intelligence bulletins filled them with information about lawful meetings as varied as Pennsylvania Tea Party Patriots Coalition gatherings, antiwar protests and an event at which environmental activists dressed up as Santa Claus and handed out coal-filled stockings.

* And yet another (discussed previously here, here and here): from 2005 to 2007, the Maryland State Police labeled as terrorists local groups devoted to human rights, antiwar causes and bike lanes.
So, here's the dynamic in a nutshell:
1 - Governmental security agencies (DHS, FBI, et al.) keep scaring local police departments about how terrorists are everywhere and bribe them with tons of money to help them flush out terrorists before they act;

2- In turn, the paranoia-enhanced local law enforcement departments go out of their way to spot potential crimes, any potential crimes, before they happen.

3- Then government and local law enforcement/security agencies further enhance mutually their paranoia, at the same time that of national/local elected representatives, the media and the population, thus justifying after the fact centralized databases of data gathering, sharing and storage on everyone.
In other words, as I've said before over and over and over and over again:
A- It is a given, demonstrated fact that governmental security agencies are not seekers of truth, but seekers of guilt. Whenever they are given any powers to spy on their own citizens, they will do so - for reasons frivolous, paranoid or (apparently very rarely as shown so far) actually justified. Anything and nothing can - and will - be held against you. Because in the mindset of governmental security and law enforcement agencies, everyone is suspect, everyone is guilty. Period.

B- Anything can and will be viewed by law enforcement and security agencies within the narrow, paranoid prism of terrorism and threats to security. Anything. From blogging to writing a dissenting letter to a newspaper editor to a journalist trying to do investigative work to gathering at a coffee shop to rant about politics to reading "suspicious" stuff (books, blogs) to organizing/participating in activist actions (letter/phone/email campaigns, peaceful protests), etc., etc., etc. Because any such activities may or may not -immediately or at some point in time or never at all - lead to acts which may or may not "threaten the safety and security of citizens or the integrity of the country's critical infrastructure". So just in case and to be safe, let's monitor and survey and spy away on the citizenry.

C- Hence, no one is safe, because everyone is potentially guilty. And no, you may never know whether you are being put under surveillance. And no, the public does not have a right to know even when such indiscriminate gathering of data on someone is court-approved after the fact or not - if ever. Ergo: You are guilty until proven guilty.
To all of that, add the following:
1- The free sharing of intelligence databases between American security agencies and Canadian ones paves the way for full, unrestrained and potentially abusive domestic spying-by-proxy on both sides of the border. Why? Because Americans can spy on Canadians without warrants and Canadians can spy on Americans without warrants, being allowed to store their data into databases ... which are in turn freely shared between American and Canadian security agencies.

2- Such sharing of data includes everything, even the indiscriminate gathering of private data about your credit card transactions, internet web sites visited, and so on and so forth.

3- The "straightforward" willingness of corporations to not only help/enable law enforcement and security agencies constitutes but a means to secure governments under their own corporate thumbs.
Considering the recent news that the Harper government is (secretly) negociating harmonization of security measures with the US, just do the math.

Or, to put it another way:
One of the hallmarks of an authoritarian government is its fixation on hiding everything it does behind a wall of secrecy while simultaneously monitoring, invading and collecting files on everything its citizenry does. Based on the Francis Bacon aphorism that "knowledge is power," this is the extreme imbalance that renders the ruling class omnipotent and citizens powerless.
Hence, it all adds up to this: welcome to your Authoritarian Corporatocratic Security Surveillance State of North America.

This is where we are now. This is what we are now.

Yet, I still say: these are not the criminals you are looking for.

Because I still give a fuck about our constitutions, our civil rights and our democracies - so no need to thank me.

But how I wish I'd been wrong about this all along.

I guess you can't always get what you want, eh?


  1. Of course they need these surveillance powers – how else will they get "secret" evidence to [strike] entrap [/strike] prosecute the "Canadian" terrorists in our midst or detain dangerous foreign terrorists in our midst [tongue firmly in cheek].

    Between the disgusting detention and prosecution of Omar Khadr and the odious regime of security certificates (both condemned by the Supreme Court of Canada), I have lost all faith in our being able to undo all the harm that has been done to our civil liberties this past decade. Makes Trudeau's implementation of the War Measures Act look like a cake walk and that was way over the top.

    Also, the media just continues to avoid covering these issues and at best framing them in a pro-government slant. Why have few Canadians ever read or heard about these high profile opponents:

    Alexandre Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has been vocal in his criticisms of the certificates and has appeared in court to testify in favour of Almrei's and Charkaoui's release, offering to act as a surety on their behalf. Other well-known figures who have joined the campaign against security certificates include Warren Allmand, former Solicitor-General of Canada; Flora MacDonald, former Foreign Affairs Minister of Canada; Denys Arcand; Bruce Cockburn, Naomi Klein, and Maude Barlow.

    The Canadian Bar Association, Amnesty International Canada, Human Rights Watch, and the Canadian Council for Refugees are among the organisations who have taken a position against security certificates.[20]

    Members of Parliament from all major political parties in Canada have criticised the measure and called for its abolition. Several have offered to become a surety to some of the detainees. The New Democratic Party has called for the abolition of the measure.

    Three United Nations committees - the UN Committee against Torture [4], the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention [5], and the UN Human Rights Committee [6] - have condemned the security certificate process and called on Canada to reform its legislation. They called on Canada to use criminal law instead of immigration law to deal with its security concerns.

  2. Damn, the url I included was too long and google freaking destroyed my message (or forwarded it to CSIS).

  3. Indeed, BY. Indeed. Then again, that's what the majority of the mainstream/corporate media outlets have become: mouthpieces *for* the government, instead of acting as a 4th estate ...

    (btw: have you tried using bitly for shortening urls?)


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