Touted as a simple technical "fix" that would "modernize" existing
legislation for wiretaps, government security officials will demand that
telecommunication firms and internet service providers provide law
enforcement with backdoors that would enable them to bypass built-in
encryption and security features of electronic communications.
With the Obama administration rivaling, even surpassing
antidemocratic moves by the Bush regime to monitor and surveil the
private communications of the American people, The New York Times
last week that "federal law enforcement and national security officials
are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet."
ollowing closely on the heels of FBI raids on antiwar and
international solidarity activists, the "change" administration now
wants Congress to require all providers who enable communications "to be
technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order."
Times' reporter Charlie
Savage informs us that the administration will demand that software and
communication providers build backdoors accessible to law enforcement
and intelligence agencies, thus enabling spooks trolling "encrypted
e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like
Facebook and software that allows direct 'peer to peer' messaging like
Skype" the means "to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages."
Calling new legislative strictures a "reasonable" and "necessary"
tool for law enforcement that will "prevent the erosion of their
investigative powers," FBI mouthpiece, general counsel Valerie E.
Caproni, told the Times, "We're talking about lawfully authorized intercepts."
Caproni's assertion that the Bureau and spy shops
such as the National Security Agency are not interested in "expanding
authority" but rather "preserving our ability to execute our existing
authority in order to protect the public safety and national security,"
is a thin tissue of lies lacking credibility.
In fact, the state's "existing authority" to spy upon private
communications under the USA Patriot Act and assorted National Security-
and Homeland Security Presidential Directives (NSPD/HSPD) in areas as
such as "continuity of government" (NSPD 51/HSPD 20
), "cybersecurity" (NSPD 54/HSPD 23
) and "biometrics" (NSPD 59/HSPD 24
), have led to the creation of overly broad and highly classified programs regarded as "state secrets" under Obama.
As I have written many times, most recently in August (see: "Obama
Demands Access to Internet Records, in Secret, and Without Court
Review," Antifascist Calling
August 12, 2010), since his 2009 inauguration President Obama has done
nothing to reverse this trend. Indeed, he has taken further steps
through the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI
a highly-sanitized version of NSPD 54/HSPD 23, to ensure that the
"President's Surveillance Program" (PSP) launched by Bush remains a
permanent feature of daily life in the United States.
In a widely circulated report
year, the inspectors general from five federal agencies, including the
Justice Department, the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence
Agency, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, noted that following advice from the Office of
Legal Counsel under torture-enablers Jay Bybee and John C. Yoo, "the
President authorized the NSA to undertake a number of new, highly
classified intelligence activities" that went far beyond warrantless
wiretapping in their scope, encompassing additional unspecified
"activities" that have never been disclosed to the public.
What were once regarded by Democrats and their ever-shrinking base
of acolytes, cheerleaders and toadies as unspeakable crimes when carried
out by Republican knuckle-draggers, are now regarded as "forward
thinking," even "visionary" policies when floated by the faux
"progressive" occupying the Oval Office.
And with "homegrown terrorism" and "cybersecurity" high priorities
on the administration's to-do list, White House changelings and their
friends from the previous regime are pulling out all the stops.
Last week, speaking at a Washington, D.C. "Ideas Forum," former
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, currently a top
executive with the spooky Booz Allen Hamilton private security corp,
said that cybersecurity is the "wolf at the door" and that a
"large-scale" cyberattack "could impact the global economy 'an order of
magnitude surpassing' the attacks of September 11," The Atlantic
McConnell and former Bushist Homeland Security Adviser, Frances
Fragos Townsend, the current chairwoman of the Intelligence and National
Security Alliance (INSA
a D.C. lobby shop catering to security and intelligence grifters, urged
the Obama administration to transform "how it defends against
cyberattacks," claiming that the secret state "lack[s] the
organizational ability and authorization to prevent and respond to
Their prescription? Let NSA pit bulls off the leash, of course!
Townsend said that "the real capability in this government is in the
National Security Agency."
True enough as far as it goes, however
Townsend mendaciously asserted that NSA is legally forbidden from
domestic spying, not that it prevented her former boss from standing up
NSA's internal surveillance apparatus through programs such as STELLAR
WIND and PINWALE, the agency's domestic email interception program.
Both Townsend and McConnell claim that the "laws haven't kept up"
with the alleged threat posed by a cyberattack and urged the
administration to give the NSA even more authority to operate
No mention was made by liberal interventionist-friendly Atlantic reporter
Max Fisher that McConnell's firm has reaped multiyear contracts worth
billions for their classified cybersecurity work for the secret state.
Hardly slouches themselves when it comes to electronic
eavesdropping, the FBI is seeking to expand their already-formidable
capabilities through their "Going Dark" program.
As Antifascist Calling
reported (see: "FBI 'Going Dark.' Budget Request for High-Tech
Surveillance Capabilities Soar," May 17, 2009), the Bureau sought--and
received--$233.9 billion in FY 2010 for the development of a new
advanced electronic surveillance program.
disclosed the program last year, and reported that "the term 'Going
Dark' does not refer to a specific capability, but is a program name for
the part of the FBI, Operational Technology Division's (OTD) lawful
interception program which is shared with other law enforcement
According to ABC, "the term applies to the research and development of new tools, technical support and training initiatives."
The New York Times reported
last week that OTD spent $9.75 million last year "helping
communications companies" develop "interception capabilities" for the
The administration's push for more control is all the more ironic considering that the U.S. State Department according to Reuters
said in August it was "disappointed" that "the United Arab Emirates
planned to cut off key BlackBerry services, noting the Gulf nation was
setting a dangerous precedent in limiting freedom of information."
As The Washington Post
us at the time, UAE securocrats claimed that "it will block key
features on BlackBerry smartphones because the devices operate beyond
the government's ability to monitor."
Citing--what else!--"national security concerns," the measure
"could" be motivated "in part" by state fears that "the messaging system
might be exploited by"--wait!--"terrorists or other criminals who
cannot be monitored by local authorities."
That regional beacon of democracy, Saudi Arabia, said it would
follow suit. In response, State Department shill P.J. Crowley said that
the United States is "committed to promoting the free flow of
information. We think it's integral to an innovative economy."
With a straight face, Crowley told a State Department news briefing,
"It's about what we think is an important element of democracy, human
rights and freedom of information and the flow of information in the
"We think it sets a dangerous precedent," he said. "You should be
opening up societies to these new technologies that have the opportunity
to empower people rather than looking to see how you can restrict
Pointing out the Obama regime's hypocrisy, Yousef Otaiba, the UAE
Ambassador to the United States counteracted and said it was Crowley's
comments that were "disappointing" and that they "contradict the U.S.
government's own approach to telecommunication regulation."
"Importantly," Otaiba said, "the UAE requires the same compliance as
the U.S. for the very same reasons: to protect national security and to
assist in law enforcement."
us in July that Emirate officials are concerned that the encrypted
software and networks used by Research in Motion, BlackBerry's parent
company, "make it difficult for governments to monitor communications."
Although this is precisely the autocratic mindset that rules the roost here in the heimat, corporate media report identical moves
by the U.S. government with nary a critical word, failing to point out
the disconnect between administration rhetoric and ubiquitous "facts on
Among the proposals being considered by the administration, the Times reports
that officials "are coalescing" around several "likely requirements"
that include the following: "Communications services that encrypt
messages must have a way to unscramble them." U.S. law will apply to
overseas businesses, not just domestic firms. The Times avers
that "Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States
must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts." And
finally, a kiss of death for privacy rights, "Developers of software
that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to
Firms that fail to comply "would face fines or some other penalty." The Times neglected
to tell us however, what penalties await software developers or
individual users who have the temerity to design--or avail
themselves--of systems that bypass backdoors mandated by the secret
An Electronic Police State
from being an "enhanced security feature," the administration's
proposal for peer-to-peer snooping would be a boon to hackers, thieves
and other miscreants who routinely breech and exploit whatever
"firewall" grifting firms and their political allies devise to "keep us
In fact, as computer security and privacy researchers Christopher Soghoian and Sid Stamm revealed in their paper, Certified Lies: Detecting and Defeating Government Interception Attacks Against SSL
, secret state agencies havealready compromised
the Secure Socket Layer certification process (SSL, the tiny lock that
appears during supposedly "secure," encrypted online transactions), and
do so routinely.
In March, Soghoian and Stamm introduced the public to "a new attack,
the compelled certificate creation attack, in which government agencies
compel a certificate authority to issue false SSL certificates that are
then used by intelligence agencies to covertly intercept and hijack
individuals' secure Web-based communications."
The intrepid researchers provided "alarming evidence" suggesting
"this attack is in active use," and that a niche security firm, Packet Forensics
, is already marketing "extremely small, covert surveillance devices for networks" to government agencies.
It now appears that the Obama administration will soon be seeking
legislative authority from Congress that legalizes surreptitious
snooping by security officials and a coterie of outsourced contractors
who grow fat subverting our privacy rights.
Commenting on the administration's proposal in a recent post
Soghoian points out that when wiretap reporting requirements were
amended in 2000, similar arguments were made that strong encryption
would "harm national security."
Congress inserted language that compelled secret state agencies like
the FBI to "include statistics on the number of intercept orders in
which encryption was encountered and whether such encryption prevented
law enforcement from obtaining the plain text of communications
intercepted pursuant to such order."
However in a replay of the crypto wars of the
1990s, FBI general counsel Caproni brushed off breech of privacy
concerns and told the Times that service providers "can promise strong encryption. They just need to figure out how they can provide us plain text."
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) argued a decade ago that "compiling the
statistics would be a 'far more reliable basis than anecdotal evidence
on which to assess law enforcement needs and make sensible policy in
"Since then," Soghoian writes, "the Administrative Office of the US Courts has compiled an annual wiretap report
which reveals that encryption is simply not frequently encountered
during wiretaps, and when it is, it never stops the government from
collecting the evidence they need."
In light of statistical evidence provided by the government itself,
demands that communications' providers cough-up their customers' private
data to unaccountable government snoops is quintessentially a political decision, and not, as mendaciously claimed, a "law enforcement" let alone a "national security" problem.
In fact, while police and intelligence agencies "look through
thousands of individuals' email communications, search engine requests
or private, online photo albums each year," they don't "obtain wiretap
orders to intercept that data in real time. Instead," Soghoian tells us
"[they] simply wait a few minutes, and then obtain what they want after
the fact as a stored communication under 18 USC 2703
," the Stored Communications Act.
"Unfortunately," Soghoian avers, "while we have a pretty good idea
about how many wiretaps law enforcement agencies obtain each year, we
have no idea how many times they go to email, search engine and cloud
computing providers to compel them to disclose their customers'
communications and other private data."
Therefore, "we find ourselves in the same situation as 12 years ago,
where law enforcement officials were making anecdotal claims for which
no evidence existed to prove, or disprove them."
As security expert Bruce Schneier pointed out
while the "proposal may seem extreme ... it's not unique." Averring
that sinister snooping laws were "formerly reserved for totalitarian
countries," Schneier writes "this wholesale surveillance of citizens has
moved into the democratic world as well."
Citing moves by Sweden, Canada and Britain to hand "their police new
powers of internet surveillance" compelling "communications system
providers to redesign products and services they sell," securocrats, as
is their wont, are lusting after the capacity to transform all aspects
of daily life into "actionable intelligence."
On top of this, as Schneier and others such as Cryptohippie
have revealed, so-called democratic states, not just usual suspects like China (whose "Golden Shield" was designed by Western firms,
after all) "are passing data retention laws, forcing companies to
retain customer data in case they might need to be investigated later."
In their 2010 report, The Electronic Police State
, Cryptohippie informed
us that data retention "is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial,
and that "it is gathered universally ('preventively') and only later
organized for use in prosecutions."
How does such a system work? What are the essential characteristics
that differentiate an Electronic Police State from previous forms of
oppressive governance? Cryptohippie avers:
"In an Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording,
every email sent, every Internet site surfed, every post made, every
check written, every credit card swipe, every cell phone ping... are all
criminal evidence, and all are held in searchable databases. The
individual can be prosecuted whenever the government wishes."
As the World Socialist Web Site
points out, the proposal by the Obama regime "goes far beyond anything envisioned by the Bush administration."
While the White House claims that new legislation is needed to
combat "crime" and "terrorism," socialist critic Patrick Martin writes
that "the Obama administration has defined 'terrorism' so widely that
the term now covers a vast array of constitutionally protected forms of
political opposition to the policies of the US government, including
speaking, writing, political demonstrations, even the filing of legal
Just ask activists raided last month by FBI bully-boys in Minneapolis and Chicago!
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced
the proposal and called on Congress to reject calls "to make the Internet wiretap ready."
ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese derided the move,
saying: "Under the guise of a technical fix, the government looks to be
taking one more step toward conducting easy dragnet collection of
Americans' most private communications."
Clamping Down on the Freedom of Information Act
Entreaties by civil libertarians however, are likely to fall on deaf ears in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
a clear sign that the Obama administration is moving to clamp down
further on the free flow of information even as they seek access to all
of ours', Politico
reported that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI
"appears to be on the verge of prevailing in an attempt to put some
information it receives from other intelligence agencies beyond the
reach of Freedom of Information Act requests."
National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter pushed
through an onerous section to Intelligence Authorization Act legislation
that exempts so-called "operational files" from four secret state
agencies--the CIA, NSA, National Reconnaissance Office and the National
Geospatial-Intelligence Agency--from FOIA requests.
Apparently the American people, long the targets of illegal driftnet
spying by the intelligence and security apparatus, will soon find
another door slammed shut, even as the administration claims sweeping
new powers, including the right to assassinate American citizens deemed
"terrorists," in secret and without due process, anywhere on the planet.
And they call this transparency...
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research,
an independent research and media group of writers, scholars,
journalists and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read
on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press, Uncommon Thought Journal, and the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press and has contributed to the new book from Global Research, The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.