Friday, June 07, 2013

Eavesdropping, drones, and cybermonitoring

by Salman Hameed

Iran is right in creating its own internet. While the US government has often criticized Iran and other states for controlling the flow of information to their countries, it seems that the US also monitors the flow of information from Google, Facebook, Apple, Youtube, Skype, etc. This is just one of the several new revelations from the phenomenal Genn Greenwald of the Guardian. The Obama administration
has turned out to be a true disappointment when it comes civil liberties and issues like the drones. In fact, when caught - and yes, it has often been leaks that have revealed some of the more nefarious government practices - Obama appears anguished and places himself above the fray. But this is his administration and these are his decisions. If the same actions were taken by the George W. Bush, there would have been a massive outcry, and people (at least on the US coasts and college towns) would have been out on the streets in protest. In many ways, perhaps, it was better to have a President who was more open about what he believed than the one who says the right things but does exactly the opposite.

Here are the recent articles by Glenn Greenwald on information from an intelligence whistleblower:

NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others
The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian. 
The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says. 
The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims "collection directly from the servers" of major US service providers.
On NSA collecting phone records of all Verizon customers in the US:
The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America's largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April. 
The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an "ongoing, daily basis" to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries. 
The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
And while the US has actually participated in an cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, and Obama has been criticizing China for cyber-hacking, it appears that the US has drawn its own plans for a cyber-offensive:
Barack Obama has ordered his senior national security and intelligence officials to draw up a list of potential overseas targets for US cyber-attacks, a top secret presidential directive obtained by the Guardian reveals.
The 18-page Presidential Policy Directive 20, issued in October last year but never published, states that what it calls Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO) "can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging".
It says the government will "identify potential targets of national importance where OCEO can offer a favorable balance of effectiveness and risk as compared with other instruments of national power".
The directive also contemplates the possible use of cyber actions inside the US, though it specifies that no such domestic operations can be conducted without the prior order of the president, except in cases of emergency. 
And if you are wondering about Glenn Greenwald's motivations and on investigations targeting whistleblowers, here is his response:
They could easily enrich themselves by selling those documents for huge sums of money to foreign intelligence services. They could seek to harm the US government by acting at the direction of a foreign adversary and covertly pass those secrets to them. They could gratuitously expose the identity of covert agents. 
None of the whistleblowers persecuted by the Obama administration as part of its unprecedented attack on whistleblowers has done any of that: not one of them. Nor have those who are responsible for these current disclosures. 
They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power. 
The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism. They do it knowing exactly what is likely to be done to them by the planet's most powerful government, but they do it regardless. They don't benefit in any way from these acts. I don't want to over-simplify: human beings are complex, and usually act with multiple, mixed motives. But read this outstanding essay on this week's disclosures from The Atlantic's security expert, Bruce Schneier, to understand why these brave acts are so crucial. 
Those who step forward to blow these whistles rarely benefit at all. The ones who benefit are you. You discover what you should know but what is hidden from you: namely, the most consequential acts being taken by those with the greatest power, and how those actions are affecting your life, your country and your world. 
In 2008, candidate Obama decreed that "often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out," and he hailed whistleblowing as:
"acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled as they have been during the Bush administration." 
The current incarnation of Obama prosecutes those same whistlelblowers at double the number of all previous presidents combined, and spent the campaign season boasting about it.
And on his own motivations:
The times in American history when political power was constrained was when they went too far and the system backlashed and imposed limits. That's what happened in the mid-1970s when the excesses of J Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon became so extreme that the legitimacy of the political system depended upon it imposing restraints on itself. And that's what is happening now as the government continues on its orgies of whistleblower prosecutions, trying to criminalize journalism, and building a massive surveillance apparatus that destroys privacy, all in the dark. The more they overreact to measures of accountability and transparency - the more they so flagrantly abuse their power of secrecy and investigations and prosecutions - the more quickly that backlash will arrive. 
I'm going to go ahead and take the Constitution at its word that we're guaranteed the right of a free press. So, obviously, are other people doing so. And that means that it isn't the people who are being threatened who deserve and will get the investigations, but those issuing the threats who will get that. That's why there's a free press. That's what adversarial journalism means.
And while we are at it, here is an excellent article by Greenwald in response to Obama's terrorism speech. He criticizes NYT for their warm welcome to the speech, but they later back-tracked and agreed with Greenwald's take, as expressed explicitly here. And indeed nothing has changed in regards to the drone attacks and, contrary to Obama's vague promise in the speech, CIA will also maintain control over drones in Pakistan.

Greenwald was also at Hampshire College recently. I posted his fantastic talk on Irtiqa last month. But here it is again:

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