Spiraling Spying Scandals – PRISM, the NSA and Tech Giants

The United States under the Obama administration is undergoing yet another scandal related to the invasion of privacy of its citizens as well as members of the international diplomatic community.

Remember when diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle-blowing agency WikiLeaks made it public that the Obama Administration had spied on U.N. officials and even gathered bio-metric information on them?

Remember when huge tech of communication companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Google,Apple and Verizon got some serious heat for releasing thousands and thousands of private user’s data?

Well, the information we have learnt about the recently leaked PRISM program marks one of the most pivotal points in this grotesque series of events and almost burlesque infringement of people’s basic civil rights and right to privacy – and this time it’s the turn of the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).

 

In a recent release of documents by former CIA operative-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden it was discovered that a secretive program known as PRISM could have been operating for as far back as 2008, during Bush’s second term, and renewed under the Obama Administration in December 2012, collecting and analyzing the private and confidential information of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

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It should be noted that the law which has allowed for the development of the PRISM program not only grants the U.S. government and its agencies the ability to spy on its own citizens, but it also allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.

So, what exactly is PRISM and how does it operate?

PRISM is a secret government program that was intended to gather a gargantuan body of information “collect[ed] directly from the servers”, on a large segment of the U.S. populace for analysis for reasons of criminal investigations or assessing threats to national security.

The existence of the programme was established following Snowden’s leak of a 41-slide terribly designed Power-Point presentation which would have been used to train the NSA operatives. The program can be so successful in monitoring global internet traffic due to the simple reality that, whether directly or indirectly, the vast majority of that traffic passes by or originates in the United States. This very fact is capitalized in the third slide of the leaked presentation.

global-internet-map-2006-x

Despite the fact that the presentation claims to have the almost complete cooperation of those firms involved in the scandal such as Google and Facebook, such firms have heavily denied any voluntary involvement in the scandal when approached for comments and continued claiming not to possess any knowledge about the PRISM programme.

In any case, perhaps this lack of transparency IS the greatest tragedy of all, as it actually prevents us consumers and “normal” people from knowing to what extent the companies that we rely on for internet services and trust to maintain our privacy are colluding and cooperating with the NSA and other government agencies, and thus prevents customers and consumers from making an informed choice as to how to better protect their online privacy and anonymity. But then again, that’s the whole point of prism, right?

So far, three of the total fourty-one slides of the leaked presentation have been released to the public. One in particular clearly indicated that through Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, Youtube, Skype, AOL and Apple the PRISM programme managed to collect (depending on the individual agreement with the company, but generally including) e-mails, video and voice chat, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, activity notifications (log-ins etc.), and online social networking details.

Boldened at the bottom of the slide, however, there is an ominous last bullet point that states “Special Requests”. Whether these “special requests” were acquired with the complicity of the aforementioned companies or not is yet to be determined.

PRISM slide crop

In any case, both companies and government officials insist that the program is lawful and authorized both by Congress as well as the Courts under the FISA amendment act (H.R. 604) which allows for the monitoring of the customers of all companies specified. In addition a particular piece of the legislation, “Section 702“, also makes provisions for  “targeting certain persons outside the United Stated other than United States persons” effectively authorizing the government to listen to the phone-calls and read the e-mails of virtually anyone virtually anywhere on the planet.

The only safeguard for such action is the judicial system which, knowing the gross miscarriages of justice and complete inadequacy of the U.S. Justice Department, should leave no person with a fuzzy feeling of safety inside. This is especially so when the NSA has clarified that it asks for warrants against whole groups and organizations, not identified individuals, and as they perhaps identify further individual targets they “attach” them to the original group warrant.

Despite protestations by government officials such as Jeremy Bash, Leon Panetta’s former Chief of Staff at the CIA and his current one as Secretary of Defence, that there is extensive oversight of the judicial process, the fact that these lifetime and tenured federal judges are approved by the same senate that is bought by corporations should not put everyone at ease.

It also effectively concludes the corporate infiltration in all three branches of government, the legislative branch with a bought-and-paid-for Senate and House of Representatives, the Executive branch with a president that was/will be dependent on corporate donations and “quid-pro-quo” actions to ensure his/her political success, and the judicial branch with judges who are ensured highly-paid consultancies and corporate positions or some other aspect of indirect remuneration.

Think of all the innocent civilians whose death by drone hellfire missiles was directly sanctioned by indeed that same congress and those same courts now deciding whether YOU or your children are to be judged as terrorists. The parallel goes even more in-depth when you consider that the vast majority of the targets that had been identified for elimination through drone strikes were, indeed, identified not by military professionals but by civilian for-profit firms.

Simply put – do you think that an American court should decide whether a Dutch (or Indonesia, or whatever other nationality’s) citizen is to be eavesdropped on? Doesn’t this go against any and all pretense of maintaining national sovereignty and the protection of individual privacy rights? Even more scarily, this blank-check measure creates a dangerous precedent as it has perpetuated an already developing culture of extreme state-corporate oppression in which everyone can be considered guilty until proven innocent.

Corporanistan 

So, despite the protestations of the CEOs of the firms and companies involved the possibilities here are two-fold: either the communication and tech-giants have colluded with the NSA and other security and surveillance agencies facilitating their access to our data, or the U.S. government has done so without their consent and knowledge, indicating that the companies’ security systems are far from reliable – I am uncertain which of the two we should be more worried about, but the former scares me a bit more and seems more likely.
In the recent thirty years there has been a growing collusion between private interests and the government officials which, far from serving the interests of their constituents, instead serve the interests of their campaign financiers. We have seen this proliferation of cronyism and the “revolving door” phenomenon in virtually every single industry – Agrobusiness & biotech (Monsanto etc.), energy (Chevron Exxon etc.), security services (Booz/AllenDynCorp,XE/Blackwater, KBR etc.), healthcare (PfizerBayernMerk Co. etc.).

 Revolving Door 350

The role of governments has traditionally been that of protecting the society at large from the negative effects that may derive from personal actions, even if such actions tend to benefit an individual. This is one of the principles behind the state’s monopoly of force and control over what are known as “natural monopolies” – those industries that should they not be a monopoly of the state (and, as such, public) would be detrimental to the societal development and well being.
Traditionally, higher education, healthcare, rails and roads, electricity & water, and the military have all been under the control of the state for the benefit of the population. The past decades’ privatization trends and the increasingly blurred line between business and government have created a surreal vicious circle in which governments will collude with corporations to maintain personal power and influence, and corporations will collude with government to ensure their preferential placement in the country’s affairs.
PRISM is the perfect example of this – far from being intended to benefit corporations such as Facebook, AOL and Google, this program is instead geared towards a function of social and societal control, to maintain the control of the potentially dissident population, and as such to prevent the breakdown of government functions that indeed serve such enormous private interests.
The communication’s industry is one of the most powerful tools of social control which, with the advent of the internet, actually threatens governments and corporations and may actually be turned against the very people who engineered it. As such, control of this incredibly tool of communication and information is essential (as it has always been) for the effective subjugation and pacification of a population. If you are ever in doubt of the potential of such an industry, always remember the words of Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” - Eric Schmidt

Global American Empire

 
Perhaps even more worrying than the blatant subservience and continuous (self-)subjugation of the U.S. government to private corporate interests, there is perhaps one even more concerning aspect about the PRISM that often gets overlooked – the United States’ self-granted authority to conduct an international war across borders with near-absolute impunity.
This is the case with the DEA, which grants itself authority to operate anywhere on the planet in what is another trans-national and illegal conflict known as the “War on Drugs”; this is the case with the drone program which reserves the right to strike pretty much anyone, anywhere on the planet on the hypocritically and ironically called “War on Terror”; and this is the case with expanding and  U.S-led efforts to regulate the internet and to effectively castrate it of its neutrality, in order to render it a neutered and sterile pool of commercialism and state-corporate led propaganda and “entertainment”… Not to mention the myriads of actual military confrontations they sponsor and/or are directly involved in.
It would be unfair, however, to completely blame the U.S. government for its hegemonic and imperialist aspirations as they have been well known to the vast majority educated and rational persons. It would be fair, however, to equally condemn the governments of the rest of the world for allowing the United States to effectively and nonchalantly walk over the civil rights and liberties of their own citizens, as well as the state’s sovereignty. This is not just coincidence, or cowardice, but a very strong indication that the process of corporate infiltration in the rest of the world follows the lead of that of the United States, and is slowly turning the globe into a border-less corporate cartel.

By granting itself the ability to spy on, hunt down, capture and prosecute or kill anyone on the planet that is perceived (or portrayed) as being an enemy to its national security (which, in essence, is the corporate economic interests), the United Corporate States of America have declared the entire world as their domain and theater of operations, they have effectively declared that they consider the entire world to be under their legal jurisdiction, and will act accordingly, and have reduced the concept of national sovereignty over land and citizens to nothing more than an inconvenient formality. In the words of the beloved (American) TV Series “The Big Bang Theory”:

Leonard: What would you be if you were attached to another object by an inclined plane, wrapped helically around an axis?
 
Sheldon: Screwed.
 
Leonard: There you go.
Ruben Rosenberg Colorni
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