Monday, March 5, 2012

The U.S. Government's Panopticon State


The U.S. Government's raging paranoia regarding terrorism has now led to a high-octane obsession with perpetual and complete surveillance of its citizens in every manner conceivable

"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed—would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper—the essential crime that contained all others in itself.  Thought crime, they called it.  Thought crime was not a thing that could be concealed forever.  You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you."  —George Orwell, 1984 (Book 1, Chapter 1)

Each day, we move closer to Orwell's dystopic vision.  The latest addition to U.S. domestic surveillance is the National Security Agency's (NSA) new data mining facility behemoth in San Antonio, Texas.  More worrisome, a Microsoft data centre is located just a few blocks away, so the NSA will be able to tap into the massive stores of data without a warrant being necessary, only a simple fibre optic cable.

The NSA's hulking complex raises any number of serious questions, such as the large numbers of people arbitrarily placed on watch lists.  Does data mining even justify the ends?  Catherine Austin Fitts has long described the Data Beast, data mining apparatus, “the reality was you had Lockheed Martin and their subcontractors owning and controlling the data and you couldn’t get it.”

“And if you look at all the other databases that IBM and their subcontractors have access to government-wide, the question is if you integrate those databases what you’re talking about is a complete control system‘cos you’ve got the mortgages, you’ve got the IRS payments, on and on and on and on and on.  So, if you watch the movie ‘Enemy of the State’ or you watch the movie ‘Listening,’ you’re talking about an intelligence capacity that can basically manage and manipulate the economy at a very detailed level, whether it’s manipulation of the stock in the financial markets or manipulation of households.” 

With so many lumbering and uncoordinated security agencies engaged in electronic surveillance, how can all this information be shared and correlated?  What risk does the U.S. run should it fall prey to a tyrannical despot with a fully functioning and devastatingly intrusive surveillance system already in place?  These questions and more must give U.S. citizens pause to reflect on the swiftness with which our privacy evaporates before our eyes.

The concept of the CIA project Total Information Awareness has now migrated over to the NSA, which is determined to turn that vision into reality.  The NSA wants to know every detail about our lives:  what we eat, where we travel, what books we read, what movies we watch, every iota of our lives.  But with very little progressive legislation emanating from the regressive two-party system to harness this rapid data grab for electronic omnipotence, is it too late for U.S. voters to pull their lives out from underneath the microscope of the state?

SAN ANTONIO CURRENT — “Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, but now it’s mostly the security, industrial complex; it’s these people that build all the hardware and software for Homeland Security and Intelligence and all that,” says Bamford. “As far as I can see, nobody has a handle on how many contractors are out there, what they’re doing, how much money’s going to them, how much is useful, how much is wasted money.”

Cate says the NRC committee is not necessarily opposed to data-mining in principal, but is concerned about how it’s carried out. “The question is can you do it and make it work so that you don’t intrude unnecessarily into privacy and so that you reach reliable conclusions.”

Bamford writes in the Shadow Factory of how the NSA’s Georgia listening post has eavesdropped on Americans during the Iraq War, including journalists, without a warrant or any indication of terrorism. He also reports on NSA eavesdropping on undecided members of the United Nations Security Council in the run-up to the vote on the Iraq War resolution, with the Bush regime seeking information with which to twist the arms of voting countries. The spying was only revealed due to British Parliament whistleblower Claire Short, who admitted she’d read secret transcripts of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s confidential conversations.

“The UN people have been aware of [NSA eavesdropping] for a long time, but there’s not much they can do about it,” says Bamford.

A common response to concerns about data surveillance is that those who keep their noses clean have nothing to worry about. But the reach of the NSA’s surveillance net combined with lack of oversight and the political paranoia escalated by the 9/11 attacks means that almost anyone could wind up on the terrorist watch list.

“The principal end product of all that data and all that processing is a list of names — the watch list — of people, both American and foreign, thought to pose a danger to the country,” writes Bamford. “Once containing just twenty names, today it is made up of an astonishing half a million — and it grows rapidly every day. Most on the list are neither terrorists nor a danger to the country, and many are there simply by mistake.”

Read more about the NSA's long arm of surveillance

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