FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama’s Surveillance Reform Theater

In the aftermath of the Snowden revelations President Obama made a big show of ordering changes with regard to how American spies operate. Sadly the reforms implemented by the U.S. intelligence community reveal that White House officials have opted for a bunch of cosmetic gestures as the NSA adds 2,880,000 square feet of real estate and Obama openly boasts to Chinese leaders about tripling American cyber forces to 6,000 by 2016. On the whole not much has changed. Government spies are still bulk collecting telephone metadata and international communiqués as you read this.

Spies be spying, that’s what they do.

To see why this is the case, let’s dig into some details. Specifically, check out the reform scorecard written up by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an agency within the executive branch. The board recently published its evaluation of how the government instituted its recommendations regarding NSA spying. Over a year ago the board made a series of proposals for amending programs based on Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 215 covers telephone metadata collection and Section 702 deals with intercepting international communications that cross American borders.

The board provided a summary of its recommendations in table form detailing the measures that were instituted. While there have been modest steps taken to address issues like transparency and introduce so-called privacy “safeguards” what’s really interesting are the suggestions that were largely ignored.

For example, the oversight board reports that the recommendation to “End the NSA’s Bulk Telephone Records Program” hasn’t been implemented. Likewise the recommendation to “Develop a Methodology to Assess the Value of Counterterrorism Programs” also hasn’t been implemented.

What we’re witnessing is Reform Theater. A sort of kabuki act which is intended to provide the impression that, in the wake of Ed blundenSnowden’s revelations, something is being done. Officials create the perception of action by occupying themselves with narrow aspects of mass interception and this is intentional. They wouldn’t dare do anything substantial that would threaten the gears of the surveillance state. Instead they’ll leave Big Brother’s infrastructure in place and dither around the edges.

Nor would they dare establish metrics to quantify the usefulness of mass interception. Doing so would only expose U.S. counter terrorism initiatives for the frauds that they are. Thus leading the public to question the NSA’s global panopticon or the FBI’s habit of cultivating terrorism plots. Whose national security do these secret programs safeguard?

Remember J. Edgar Hoover’s “Do Not File” stash or Richard Nixon’s “Enemies” list? Recall how Truman wrote his wife about Hoover, lamenting that “all Congressmen and Senators are afraid of him.” Noam Chomsky spells it out explicitly:

“Policy must assure the security of state authority and concentrations of domestic power, defending them from a frightening enemy: the domestic population, which can become a great danger if not controlled”.

Chomsky’s findings are in line with the conclusions of the NSA’s own Ed Snowden: “These programs were never about terrorism: they’re about economic spying, social control, and diplomatic manipulation. They’re about power.”

The NSA is aiming for “global network dominance” a term that no doubt is derived from the Pentagon’s notion of “full spectrum dominance.” The hyperbolic rhetoric of the Department of Defense in turn reflects the broader agenda described by Snowden and Chomsky, a pathological desire to maintain control both at home and abroad.

Cui Bono? Profound sources of influence outside of government; corporate factions that transmit their wishes through the American Deep State. Anyone who doubts this should note how politicians eagerly lined up to audition for the Koch Brothers network of some 300 donors, an organization that has budgeted close to a billion dollars for the 2016 election cycle. Why, pray tell, did Mitt Romney drop out of the 2016 presidential race? Because funders denied their support.

All told there are over 1,300 billionaires in the United States and the politically minded members of this demographic –both democrats and republicans– have essentially succeeded in state capture. The two-party system of the United States is actually a one-party system: the corporate party. And U.S. spies are the Praetorian Guard of these “deciders.”

So if it seems like nothing on the whole is being done to rein in mass interception… that assessment would be accurate. The NSA’s all-seeing Eye of Providence, and the even larger corporate surveillance apparatus that supports it, are incredible tools of control. The easiest way for leaders to manage public outcry is to put on an elaborate performance of mock reform. It appeases Main Street without offending the deep sources of wealth and power that tread the corridors of the Deep State.

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.

This article originally ran on Alternet.

 

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.

July 02, 2020
Stan Cox
It’s Not Just Meat: All Farm and Food Workers Are in Peril
Marshall Auerback
We Won’t Have a Truly Global Economy Until People Start Taxing It That Way
John O'Kane
Progressive Pulses Among the Ruins of Riot
John Feffer
Time to Rethink the US-ROK Alliance
Binoy Kampmark
The Kafkaesque Imperium: Julian Assange and the Second Superseding Indictment
Kim C. Domenico
Disbelief, Belief and the Perils of Pandemic Re-opening
George Ochenski
Trump’s Contagion Road Show Heads West
Julian Vigo
A Call for Radical Humanism: The Left Needs to Return to Class Analyses of Power
Haydar Khan
The Great Wall of Wokeness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Biden Compared Indicted War Criminal to “George Washington”
Howard Lisnoff
Try to Get Published; Try to Be Heard
Rebecca Gordon
Fear of Falling: Can Making Black Lives Matter Rescue a Failing State?
Gary Leupp
Traditional Russophobia in an Unusual Election Year
John Kendall Hawkins
Biopic? Shirley, You Jest
Gary Macfarlane – Mike Garrity
Conservation Groups Sue Trump Administration to Halt Massive Logging in Steelhead Critical Habitat
Quincy Saul
Who Made the Plague?
July 01, 2020
Melvin Goodman
De-Militarizing the United States
Kenneth Surin
UK’s Labour Leader Sacks the Most Left-Wing Member of His Shadow Cabinet
Ruth Fowler
Then as Farce: the Commodification of Black Lives Matter
Kent Paterson
Crisis After Crisis on the Border
Rick Baum
The Pandemic and Wealth Inequality
Michael Welton
“Into the World of Bad Spirits”: Slavery and Plantation Culture
James W. Carden
The Return of the Anti-Antiwar Left
Dan Wakefield
Charles Webb Enters Heaven
Julian Vigo
A Call for Radical Humanism: the Left Needs to Return to Class Analyses of Power
Binoy Kampmark
A Trendy Rage: Boycotting Facebook and the Stop Hate for Profit Campaign
Michael D. Knox – Linda Pentz Gunter
As Monuments to War Generals Come Down, Let’s Replace Them with Monuments to Peace
Cesar Chelala
Attorney General William Barr’s Insomnia
Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
Is Bolsonaro Plotting a Self-Coup?
Mandy Smithberger
COVID-19 Means Good Times for the Pentagon
Joe Emersberger
On Pablo Celi, Ecuador’s super shady “Auditor General”
June 30, 2020
James Bovard
Bill Clinton’s Serbian War Atrocities Exposed in New Indictment
Bianca Sierra Wolff – Lisa Knox
ICE is Leaving Immigrants to Die in Detention, and Retaliating When They Speak Out
Don Fitz
Should NYC’s Wall Street Be Renamed “Eric Garner St.?”
Chris Hedges
My Student Comes Home
Richard C. Gross
Obamacare Vulnerable
John Feffer
The Hatchet Man’s Tale: Why Bolton Matters
Thomas Knapp
Afghanistan Bounties: Pot, Meet Kettle (and Turn Off the Stove!)
Charles Reitz
Anti-Racist Engagement in the Kansas Free State Struggle, 1854-64: Horace Greeley, German 48-ers, and the Civil War Journalism of Karl Marx, 1861-62
Howard Lisnoff
A Student Murdered in Cold Blood and a Kids’ Bike Ride Through Queens, New York
David Swanson
Hey Congress, Move the Money
Aparna Karthikeyan
Memories of Pox, Plague, and Pandemics in Tamil Nadu
John Kendall Hawkins
Democracy Chasers in a Badly Injured Nation
Binoy Kampmark
Wasteful, Secret and Vicious: the Absurd Prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery
Norman Solomon
Ro Khanna and Barbara Lee Could Defy “the Madness of Militarism” as Co-Chairs of the Democratic Convention’s Biggest Delegation
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail