As investigate journalist Nicky Hager revealed in CovertAction Quarterly
back in 1996:
The ECHELON system is not designed to eavesdrop on a
particular individual's e-mail or fax link. Rather, the system works by
indiscriminately intercepting very large quantities of communications
and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from
the mass of unwanted ones. A chain of secret interception facilities has
been established around the world to tap into all the major components
of the international telecommunications networks. Some monitor
communications satellites, others land-based communications networks,
and others radio communications. ECHELON links together all these
facilities, providing the US and its allies with the ability to
intercept a large proportion of the communications on the planet.
ith the exponential growth of fiber optic and wireless
networks, the mass of data which can be "mined" for "actionable
intelligence," covering everything from eavesdropping on official
enemies to blanket surveillance of dissidents is now part of the
landscape: no more visible to the average citizen than ornamental
shrubbery surrounding a strip mall.
That process will become even more ubiquitous. As James Bamford pointed out in Wired Magazine
"the Pentagon is attempting to expand its worldwide communications
network, known as the Global Information Grid, to handle yottabytes (10
to the 24th bytes) of data. (A yottabyte is a septillion bytes--so large
that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.)"
"It needs that capacity because, according to a recent report by
Cisco, global Internet traffic will quadruple from 2010 to 2015,"
Bamford reported, "reaching 966 exabytes per year. (A million exabytes
equal a yottabyte.) ... Thus, the NSA's need for a 1-million-square-foot
data storehouse. Should the agency ever fill the Utah center with a
yottabyte of information, it would be equal to about 500 quintillion
(500,000,000,000,000,000,000) pages of text."
A former top NSA official turned whistleblower, William Binney, who
resigned in 2001 shortly after the agency stood-up the Bush regime's
warrantless wiretapping programs (now greatly expanded under Hope and
Change™ huckster Barack Obama), "held his thumb and forefinger close
together" and told Bamford, "We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian
Last week, Binney said on Democracy Now
queried whether there were any differences between the Bush and Obama
administrations, "Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In
fact, I would suggest that they've assembled on the order of 20 trillion
transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens."
Add to that the Transportation Security Administration's invasion of "travel by other means," as Jennifer Abel pointed out in The Guardian
through the agency's usurpation of "jurisdiction over all forms of mass
transit," and it should be clear to Americans (though it isn't) that
there is no way of escaping the secret state's callous trampling of our
Greenwald pointed out that the "domestic NSA-led Surveillance State
which Frank Church so stridently warned about has obviously come to
"The way to avoid its grip is simply to acquiesce to the nation's
most powerful factions, to obediently remain within the permitted
boundaries of political discourse and activism."
bargain," Greenwald noted, "enables one to maintain the delusion of
freedom--'he who does not move does not notice his chains,' observed
Rosa Luxemburg--but the true measure of political liberty is whether one
is free to make a different choice."
But in a militarized Empire such as ours the only "choice" is to shut up, keep your head down--or else.
'Lower Your Shields and Surrender Your Ships'
Militarist solutions to intractable social contradictions, the oft-maligned class struggle,
do not appear out of the blue. Indeed, NSA's ECHELON system, the
template for STELLAR WIND and the agency's associated email and web
search database known as PINWALE, were technological responses by
Western elites to challenges posed by the "excess of democracy" decried
by Samuel Huntington and his cohorts in The Crisis of Democracy
, published by the Rockefeller-funded Trilateral Commission
Social critic Andrew Gavin Marshall observed
for Huntington and the right-wing ideologues who mounted an
intellectual counterattack against the democratic "excesses" of the
1960s, the "massive wave of resistance, rebellion, protest, activism and
direct action by entire sectors of the general population which had for
decades, if not centuries, been largely oppressed and ignored by the
institutional power structure of society," were "terrifying."
Fast forward to today. As the global economic crisis deepens and
hundreds of millions of people worldwide reject the "austerity"
boondoggles of the financial sharks who brought on the crisis through
massive frauds disguised as "investment opportunities," our corporatist
masters are fighting back and have turned to police state methods to
prop-up their illegitimate rule.
Nor should it surprise us, as George Ciccariello-Maher pointed out in CounterPunch
the wake of last summer's London "riots," a mass response to police
murder (coming soon to an "urban exclusion zone" near you!):
"Irrational, uncontrollable, impermeable to logic and unpredictable in
its movements, these undesirables have once again ruined the party for
everyone, as they have done from Paris 1789 to Caracas 1989. In Fanon's
inimitable words: 'the masses, without waiting for the chairs to be
placed around the negotiating table, take matters into their own hands
and start burning...'"
Call it the great fear of those lording it over the slaves down on the global plantation!
attributes of Jeremy Bentham's "Panopticon" and George Orwell's
ubiquitous "Big Brother," the National Security State, as it works to
stave-off its own well-deserved collapse, seeks to root out and
marginalize "dangerous" individuals and ideologies thereby "inoculating"
the body politic from what were euphemistically called in the halcyon
days of J. Edgar's COINTELPRO operations, "subversive elements."
It matters little whether today's "usual suspects" are landless
peasants, displaced workers, investigative journalists, civil
libertarians or innocent citizens mistakenly caught in one dragnet or
another: "threats" will be "neutralized" or more pointedly, in the
evocative language employed by spooks: "Terminated with extreme
Operating alongside tried and methods--police repression and
violence--contemporary crackdowns are guided by "robust situational
awareness" gleaned from the wealth of personal data stored on multiple
digital devices (the spies in our pockets) and in huge databases. As
Cryptohippie averred: "An electronic police state is quiet, even unseen.
All of its legal actions are supported by abundant evidence. It looks
"When we produced our first Electronic Police State report," the
privacy professionals wrote, "the top ten nations were of two types:
1. Those that had the will to spy on every citizen, but lacked ability.
2. Those who had the ability, but were restrained in will.
But as they revealed in their 2010 National Rankings
"This is changing: The able have become willing and their traditional
restraints have failed." The key developments driving the global
panopticon forward are the following:
• The USA has negated their Constitution's fourth
amendment in the name of protection and in the name of "wars" against
terror, drugs and cyber attacks.
• The UK is aggressively building
the world of 1984 in the name of stopping "anti-social" activities.
Their populace seems unable or unwilling to restrain the government.
• France and the EU have given themselves over to central bureaucratic control.
As Marxist critic and Situationist troublemaker Guy Debord pointed out decades ago in The Society of the Spectacle
"the spectacle is not the inevitable consequence of some supposedly
natural technological development. On the contrary, the society of the
spectacle is a form that chooses its own technological content."
Mark that well.
Rejecting the orthodoxies and received wisdom
of his day, Debord argued that "The reigning economic system is a
vicious circle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation,
and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to
television, the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce
also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that
engender 'lonely crowds.' With ever-increasing concreteness the
spectacle recreates its own presuppositions."
It is again worth noting that the much-vaunted "global village"
which sprung to life with the widespread deployment of the internet in
the 1990s, as a profit-center for the giant telecoms and a
spy machine for the secret state, was, after all, a casual by-product
of the Pentagon's quest for a wartime digital communications system.
But now that every facet of daily life has become a war theater,
what are we to make of the electronic walled gardens offered for sale
by Apple, Facebook and Google, replete with their multitude of
proprietary apps which, like Bentham's "panopticon," have become prisons
of our own choosing?
Ponder Debord's rigorous theorems in this light; substitute "cell
phone" or "GPS" for "automobile," and "internet" for "television" and it
becomes clear pretty quickly that unbeknownst to the militarist
inventors of the "digital highway" they had stumbled upon the perfect
means for enabling a global control grid.
As Debord averred: "If the spectacle, considered in the limited
sense of the 'mass media' that are its most glaring superficial
manifestation, seems to be invading society in the form of a mere
technical apparatus, it should be understood that this apparatus is in
no way neutral and that it has been developed in accordance with the
spectacle's internal dynamics."
"Internal dynamics" geared only towards its own survival and
reproduction come hell or high water. Endless wars on "terror," "drugs,"
"crime," take your pick. Prison-Industrial Complexes?
Genetically-engineered plagues? Ecological collapse? Step right this
way! There's an app for that and much, much more!
Indeed, "if the social needs of the age in which such technologies
are developed can be met only through their mediation, if the
administration of this society and all contact between people has become
totally dependent on these means of instantaneous communication, it is
because this 'communication' is essentially unilateral," that is, "the
product of the social division of labor that is both the chief
instrument of class rule and the concentrated expression of all social
Keep in mind that Debord's seminal text was penned in 1967, long
before the wet dreams of securocrats had been brought to life like
Frankenstein's monster. Once a disquieting and uncanny shape looming on
some far-off, dystopian horizon, the world of smart phones and
dumbed-down people is, simply put, an Americanized Borg cube where
"resistance" is always "futile."