Investigative Journalism that is as
Radical as Reality Itself.

The NSA and the Infrastructure of the Surveillance State

by ERIC DRAITSER

It has long been known that cyberspace is one of the main battlegrounds in the 21st century. However, last week’s shocking revelations about the NSA’s surveillance and data-gathering activities illustrate the extent to which US intelligence seeks “full-spectrum dominance” in cyberspace.

Although there have been myriad articles in recent days about the various aspects of the NSA surveillance story, none seem to focus on the fact that US intelligence effectively has access to all data transmitted, not just that on Verizon or Google servers. Essentially, the intelligence community – a convenient euphemism for that complex that includes private contractors and government agencies – acts much like a filter, sifting and straining all information through its various systems. However, it is important to realize that the system that the government has established is an all-encompassing one, including access to data in company servers in addition to access to the cable and fiber-optic infrastructure that actually transmits the data.

On the one hand, there is the PRISM system which, as the Washington Post reported, allows “The National Security Agency and the FBI [to tap] directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs.” Aside from being a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution, Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and countless other international standards, the program has been vigorously defended by Obama Administration officials who, like their predecessors in the Bush Administration, invoke the always convenient “National Security” trump card to justify their illegal actions.

The PRISM system should be understood as a collusion between the NSA and major internet companies against the interests of ordinary Americans. Because the PRISM system is justified as being used solely to “target and track foreign targets,” somehow American citizens are supposed to feel at ease. It is important to note that PRISM makes use of obviously illegal tactics which “circumvent formal legal processes…to seek personal material such as emails, photos and videos.” This is the crux of the PRISM aspect of this scandal: it is blatantly illegal.

If PRISM were the only system being used by the government agencies, then the story would not be nearly as frightening as it is. Instead, we must also examine the so-called BLARNEY system which “Gathers up metadata from choke points along the backbone of the internet as part of an ongoing collection program the leverages IC (intelligence community) and commercial partnerships to gain access and exploit foreign intelligence obtained from global networks.” This system allows the NSA (and likely other government agencies) to control the flow of all information transmitted via fiber-optic cables.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in its summary of the testimonies of former AT&T technician Mark Klein and former Senior Advisor for Internet Technology at the FCC Scott Marcus, “Using a device called a ‘splitter’ a complete copy of the internet traffic that AT&T receives…is diverted onto a separate fiber-optic cable which is connected to a room which is controlled by the NSA.” Therefore, unlike PRISM, which the government and its apologists attempt to justify as being used to target key individuals, BLARNEY has no such capacity. Rather, it is designed solely to collect data, all internet data, to be used and likely stored.

Naturally, the revelations about the BLARNEY system shed light on the possible motivations of the NSA for the construction of enormous data storage facilities such as the Utah Data Center in Bluffdale, Utah. As reported in Wired magazine:

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed… According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

This facility, along with others that likely exist but remain secret, is an integral part of the surveillance state system. It is not enough to simply capture all the communications data, it must be stored and readily available. What the NSA primarily, and other agencies secondarily, are doing is developing a cyber-infrastructure that both incorporates, and is independent of, internet companies and service providers. While relying on corporations’ for access to data and networks, the NSA simultaneously has developed a parallel structure for information gathering and storage that is not only outside the control of private companies, it is outside the law.

Of course, there are many political and economic factors that play into this issue. The legal framework developed in the post-9/11 era including draconian legislation such as the PATRIOT Act, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and many others, laid the foundation for the systemic and systematic stripping away of civil liberties and human rights. The technical infrastructure has been steadily evolving since 9/11 as technology continues to improve, providing the intelligence agencies with ever more tools for surveillance and intelligence gathering. The continued, unrestrained neoliberal policy of privatization has created a complex network of companies, contractors, and subcontractors, usually working independently of each other, all in the service of the security state. Finally, the political landscape in the United States has so thoroughly devolved that elected officials are more concerned about stopping the whistleblowers and leakers, than about addressing America’s continued descent into a fascist police state.

Despite all of this, Americans continue to be told that this is the “sweet land of liberty”. We may be able to buy Nike sneakers and flat screen TVs, but that’s not liberty. We may be able to tweet with our iPhones and download our favorite movies, but that’s not liberty either. Rather, as George Orwell famously wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” So yes, tell the people what they don’t want to hear. Just know this…someone will be listening.

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.com. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

Eric Draitser is the founder of StopImperialism.org and host of CounterPunch Radio. He is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City. You can reach him at ericdraitser@gmail.com.

July 07, 2015
Bruce K. Gagnon
Sanders Bullshit Meter Goes Off the Charts in Portland, Maine
ANDRE VLTCHEK
In Ecuador, Fight for Mankind; In Greece, Fight for Greece!
Nile Bowie
Obama’s Pacific Trade Deal Trails Behind China’s Development Vision
Binoy Kampmark
Warrior Economist: the Varoufakis Legacy
Shamus Cooke
Unions Must Act Now to Survive Supreme Court Deathblow
Dave Lindorff
The Greek People Have Voted ‘No!’ to Austerity and Economic Blackmail
Mateo Pimentel
The Pope’s Letter: Neoliberalism and Fukushima
Raouf Halaby
Beware Those Who Speak With Forked Tongues
Ron Jacobs
The Grateful Dead: The Ship of the Sun Bids Farewell
Jonathan Cook
Hasbara Industry: Why Israel’s Army of Spin-Doctors is Doomed to Defeat
Rev. William Alberts
Charleston: a Reality Check on Racism in America
Ellen Brown
A Franciscan Alternative: the People’s Pope and a People’s Bank?
Colin Todhunter
The Warped World of the GMO Lobbyist
John Wight
Who Will Join With Greece?
W. T. Whitney
Colombia’s Fensuagro Union is Revolutionary, Persecuted, and Undaunted
Mel Gurtov
Keep It in the Ground, Obama
July 06, 2015
MICHAEL HUDSON
Greece Rejects the Troika
Steve Hendricks
Will FIFA’s World Cup Sexism Ever Die?
Binoy Kampmark
Oxi in Greece
Gareth Porter
How US Spin on Access to Iranian Sites has Distorted the Issue
Peter Bach
ISIL and Ramadan in the Rag
Paul Craig Roberts
A Rebuke to EU-Imposed Austerity
Quincy Saul
The View from Mount Olympus
Robert Hunziker
Looking Inside Fukushima Prefecture
Norman Pollack
Capitalism’s Self-Revealing Practices
ADRIENNE PINE, RICHARD JOHNSTON, FIONA WILMOT, et al.
Seven Reasons to Scrap the USA’s $1 Billion Aid Package to Central America
Linn Washington Jr.
Storm Smashes Chris Christie’s Presidential Candidacy
Benjamin Willis
US and Cuba: What Remains to be Done?
Robert David Steele
The National Military Strategy: Dishonest Platitudes
Joan Roelofs
Whatever Happened to Eastern European Communism?
David Macaray
Could Justice Scalia Be the One to Rescue Labor?
Weekend Edition
July 3-5, 2015
Mike Whitney
The Pentagon’s “2015 Strategy” For Ruling the World
Jason Hirthler
Going Off-Script in St. Petersburg
Rob Urie
Greece and Global Class War
DIMITRIS KONSTANTAKOPOULOS
The Future of Greece Without Illusions
Jerry Lembcke
Nobody Spat on American GIs!
Stavros Mavroudeas
The Greek Referendum and the Tasks of the Left
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Ecuador Fights for Survival – Against its Elites
David Rosen
White Skin Crisis
Andrew Levine
Dumping on Dixie Again
Richard Pithouse
Charleston (It’s Not Over)
Arun Gupta
What Does It Mean to Call Dylann Roof a “Terrorist”?
Michael Welton
The Tragedy of Harper’s Canada
Brendan McQuade
The Right Wing Resurgence and the Problem of Terrorism
Chris Floyd
Heritage and Hokum in Rebel Banner Row