FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

An Open Letter to Glenn Greenwald

It’s Wednesday evening, June 18th, at 8:35pm and I just spent an hour listening to Glenn Greenwald speak at the Nourse Theater in downtown San Francisco as he kicked off his nation-wide book tour.

I think that anyone who attended would agree that he masterfully deconstructed several myths surrounding the Snowden revelations (e.g. Snowden is a Russian spy, Snowden is a narcissist, meta-data collection is not an invasion of privacy, the NSA programs collect data selectively, and mass interception is aimed at keeping us safe from terrorism). He sprinkled his presentation liberally with humor and kept the audience engaged. Yet when it came time to Glenn to discuss solutions he was nowhere near as explicit as he was with his earlier material. Given that he opted to forgo a public question and answer session; here I am.

Hello there Glenn.

My [Annotated] Question

Recently a professor from Princeton, Martin Gilens, and a professor from Northwestern University, Benjamin Page, have published a paper entitled “Testing Theories of American Politics.” The results of this research analytically support the conclusion that policy makers in D.C. respond primarily to economic elites and groups representing organized business interests.

This work can be seen as a natural outgrowth of existing research that’s been done by Thomas Ferguson, who developed the Investment Theory of Party Competition, a formulation which postulates that our leaders are essentially beholden to corporate factions. Noam Chomsky has described this as the most accurate model for American politics. Gilens and Page also echo the findings of sociologists like G. William Domhoff at UC Santa Cruz and old-school journalists like Ferdinand Lundberg, who offer the same basic analysis: power resides in the private sector with those who control our resources.

Years ago when Congressman Otis Pike investigated the CIA he concluded that it was an obedient arm of the
blundenexecutive branch. And yes, accounts of a “rogue agency” are occasionally dusted off when the President needs plausible deniability but in general the spies in Langley do what they’re told. Pike concluded that it wasn’t just one or two bad apples in the barrel. He decided the whole barrel was bad. This no doubt explains why the government classified his report.

In a nutshell, then, the United States executive branch is being driven by corporate forces that transitively
dictate the long-term strategic goals of the intelligence services. Activists like William Blum have spent their lives investigating and carefully recording this reality. For additional illumination check out the War and Peace Studies performed by the Council on Foreign Relations during World War II on behalf of the State Department. It’s a flat out recipe for neoliberal hegemony. As Canadian filmmaker Scott Noble demonstrated in his movie “Counter-Intelligence,” the United States is part of a corporate empire and the intelligence services are the Praetorian Guard of this empire.

So Glenn, does this mean that addressing mass surveillance, and the mass subversion which enables it, will entail tackling the related problem of corporate state capture? Or, as Sheldon Wolin refers to it, the specter of inverted totalitarianism?

Glenn’s Thoughts

Glenn mentioned that the average person may feel powerless against the government, but they could turn to strong cryptography as a way to regain privacy.

He also acknowledged that while hi-tech companies don’t care one jot about your privacy they do, however, care about their bottom lines. By seeking out other companies that offer more secure services the public could apply market pressure which would send hoards of angry hi-tech executives to the White House.

A Few Dreadful Caveats

Encryption may be a good thing, but it’s hardly a panacea. Specifically, mass subversion trumps strong cryptography every time. As a software engineer who has developed rootkits I can vouch for this. Zero-day exploits and forged certificates rule the day. I touched upon this in some detail in a Counterpunch essay (“Google’s Shareholder Theater”).

The NSA is currently building systems that hack, implant, and extract data from millions of machines at a time. This means rootkits deployed and managed on an industrial scale. It’s just a tad bit naïve to think that strong crypto will safeguard us from this sort of tomfoolery.

Then there’s the matter of free markets, a fabled creature propagated by elements of the Libertarian crowd. In this case the train of reasoning is that some intrepid company will come to market with a relatively secure (read “surveillance resistant”) product that users will flock to, creating market incentives for other companies to do likewise.

The bad news is that this has already happened, and we all know what became of Lavabit. In this world, the one we live in, fledgling companies acquiesce to the Deep State or they vanish into the memory hole.

Never mind the subtle, ubiquitous, backdoors. Heartbleed anyone? What better way to monitor sensitive information than to get people to adopt a technology that they presume is secure? As Cryptome’s John Young comments: “Security is deception. Comsec a trap. Natsec the mother of secfuckers.”

Large multinational companies know full well that they only need to provide the perception of security and the more susceptible users will come in droves, reinforcing quarterly earnings and satisfying the mandates of Wall Street. Trying to find a back door in an Intel processor? Good luck with that…

My Thoughts

Finally, I don’t think society should have to rely on hi-tech billionaires to support our interests in the halls of Washington. Corporate pressure is not the solution. Corporate pressure is the problem.

As I mentioned earlier, the fossil fuel industry, the defense industry with its appendages in hi-tech, and the plutocrats of Wall Street are largely directing the U.S. government. Our elected leaders are their proxies. The NSA’s surveillance machine is but a small part of a much large private sector data aggregation machine. Both systems exist to further the aims of the economic elite. Ed Snowden has confirmed as much. I believe his words were: “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation”

Certainly, there are technical aspects to the global surveillance apparatus and the mass subversion campaign that enables it. And there are also economic aspects. But, at its core, this is a political problem. We should not expect the oligarchs to willfully hobble themselves. Recall the forces of popular pressure behind Woman’s Suffrage, the New Deal legislation, and Civil Rights. American citizens must politically mobilize, rise like lions from our collective haze of empty consumption and reality TV to retake (and remake) our government.

Bill Blunden is an independent investigator whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal , and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Bill Blunden is a journalist whose current areas of inquiry include information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including “The Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs and a member of the California State University Employees Union, Chapter 305.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
March 27, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bailouts for the Rich, the Virus for the Rest of Us
Louis Proyect
Life and Death in the Epicenter
Paul Street
“I Will Not Kill My Mother for Your Stock Portfolio”
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Scum Also Rises
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Stimulus Bill Allows Federal Reserve to Conduct Meetings in Secret; Gives Fed $454 Billion Slush Fund for Wall Street Bailouts
Jefferson Morley
Could the Death of the National Security State be a Silver Lining of COVID-19?
Ruth Hopkins
A Message For America from Brazil’s First Indigenous Congresswoman
Kathleen Wallace
The End of the Parasite Paradigm
Anthony DiMaggio
Misinformation and the Coronavirus: On the Dangers of Depoliticization and Social Media
Andrew Levine
Neither Biden Nor Trump: Imagine Cuomo
David Rosen
God’s Vengeance: the Christian Right and the Coronavirus
David Schultz
The Covid-19 Bailout: Another Failed Opportunity at Structural Change
Evaggelos Vallianatos
In the Grip of Disease
Edward Leer
Somebody Else’s World: An Interview with Kelly Reichardt
Robert Fisk
What Trump is Doing in the Middle East While You are Distracted by COVID-19
Daniel Warner
COVID-19: Health or Wealth?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
Corona in Germany: Hording and Authoritarianism
Ramzy Baroud
BJP and Israel: Hindu Nationalism is Ravaging India’s Democracy
Richard Moser
Russia-gate: the Dead But Undead
Ron Jacobs
Politics, Pandemics and Trumpism
Chris Gilbert
Letter From Catalonia: Alarming Measures
Richard Eskow
Seven Rules for the Boeing Bailout
Jonathan Carp
Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
Andrew Bacevich
The Coronavirus and the Real Threats to American Safety and Freedom
Peter Cohen
COVID-19, the Exponential Function and Human the Survival
César Chelala - Alberto Luis Zuppi
The Pope is Wrong on Argentina
James Preston Allen
Alexander Cockburn Meets Charles Bukowski at a Sushi Bar in San Pedro
Jérôme Duval
The Only Oxygen Cylinder Factory in Europe is Shut down and Macron Refuses to Nationalize It
Neve Gordon
Gaza Has Been Under Siege for Years. Covid-19 Could Be Catastrophic
Alvaro Huerta
To Survive the Coronavirus, Americans Should Learn From Mexicans
Prabir Purkayastha
Why the Coronavirus Pandemic Poses Fundamental Challenges to All Societies
Raouf Halaby
Fireside Chatterer Andrew Cuomo for President
Thomas Drake
The Sobering Realities of the American Dystopia
Negin Owliaei
Wash Your Hands…If You Have Water
Felice Pace
A New Threat to California’s Rivers:  Will the Rush to Develop Our Newest Water Source Destroy More Streams?
Ray Brescia
What 9/11 Can Teach Us About Responding to COVID-19
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Covid-19 Opportunity
John Kendall Hawkins
An Age of Intoxication: Pick Your Poison
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Propaganda Virus: Is Anyone Immune?
Nicky Reid
Fear and Loathing in Coronaville Volume 1: Dispatches From a Terrified Heartland
Nolan Higdon – Mickey Huff
Don’t Just Blame Trump for the COVID-19 Crisis: the U.S. Has Been Becoming a Failed State for Some Time
Susan Block
Coronavirus Spring
David Yearsley
Lutz Alone
CounterPunch News Service
Letter from Truthdig’s Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer to the Publisher Zuade Kaufman
CounterPunch News Service
Statement From Striking Truthdig Workers
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail