What Facebook doesn’t show you

BLOGGER COMMENT:  Interaction with your FB “friends” is relatively insignificant. So what’s the point of “social media?” Data gathering for corporations. Certainly not socializing…
August 18

When you spend a day with something that knows you in ways you don’t know yourself, you learn that maybe you aren’t quite as interested in the things you think you are.

Here’s what I learned about myself: It seems I don’t much care about my hometown or the people in it, I’m far more interested in feminist blogs than I am in technology or sports, I’m still hung up on New York after moving away last spring, and I’m apparently very interested in the goings on of someone I worked with at Pizza Hut when I was 16.

What was the source of these revelatory, self-image-shifting facts? The same place you probably went when you got to work this morning: Facebook, which we can’t stop feeding, and obsessively tracks our every online movement.

Over the course of five or six hours on July 17, I pored over my News Feed, endlessly scrolling and refreshing until every piece of content that appeared was a repeat. I cataloged each post, totaling 1,417 status updates, photos, links, Likes, event RSVP’s and more, creating an assortment of everything Facebook thinks I care about.

But for all those link shares and wall posts, I still wasn’t sure exactly why I was seeing what I was seeing, or if I was even seeing what I wanted to see. (A Pizza Hut co-worker? Really?) So I went through my whole Facebook network – all of my 403 friends and the 157 Pages I Like – and recorded every single thing they posted on July 17.

Spoiler: My News Feed showed me only a fraction of my network’s total activity, most of what it showed me was old, and what I was shown was often jarringly unexpected.

Facebook says roughly one in seven people on the planet log in at least once a month. And yet, how News Feed works remains bafflingly opaque, like a secret box of technology, algorithms and magic that remains one of tech’s bigger mysteries. An entire consulting industry is built around trying to game it (think SEO for Google), and publishers invest enormous amounts of energy into succeeding on it, but as soon as people start to figure it out Facebook tweaks its secret recipe and everything goes out the window.

What we know is this: The more popular a piece of content posted in your network becomes, the more likely it is to spill into your News Feed; and the friends and Pages you interact most with are the ones you’ll see most frequently, according to Justin Lafferty, editor of InsideFacebook.com.

“Mark Zuckerberg wants News Feed to be like a newspaper,” he said. “The top stories are curated based on relevancy and the user’s connection to that page or friend,” he said, adding that like a printed newspaper or magazine, older stories can still be germane.

But beyond that, not much is known, and the further you dig into what Facebook thinks about you, the more odd things can get.

For example: I lived in Denver until I was 20 and still consider it home. Throughout my day on Facebook, I didn’t see a single story from The Denver Post, despite that Page posting 17 pieces of unique content. The same was true for Westword, a Denver alt-weekly I used to read religiously; a handful of local TV news stations I Like; and high school friends, acquaintances and even people I still consider close friends who live there. Do I not care about my home as much as I thought? Despite letting Facebook track me basically wherever and whenever it wants to, it still doesn’t think I’m interested in Denver or what goes on there?

On the other hand, women-oriented blogs such as Jezebel, Refinery29 and The Cut at times dominated my News Feed, with a whopping 40 posts between them appearing. The Verge, which I thought was among my favorite blogs, barely showed up.

And even as I was doing my experiment, I could see subtle shifts in what appeared, which, in turn, perhaps changes who Facebook thinks I am. Status updates from those same high school friends I hadn’t interacted with in years suddenly started popping up toward the end of the day. The same went for Pages I liked long ago and forgot about, and parties in New York I wasn’t invited to but saw close friends RSVP to.

The day had become an oddly pointed reminder of a past I don’t seem to care about, and a distressing collection of everything I’m missing out on today.

By midnight, after almost six hours of scrolling, refreshing and note-taking throughout the day, I had consumed 1,417 unique events. Posts from July 17 became rare as older posts crept in, and eventually everything I was seeing in my News Feed I had seen before. I had exhausted my well of Facebook content, I thought – a triumph! I had conquered Facebook!

Well, no: I wasn’t even close. After going back to record every single event that happened in my entire network on July 17, I saw that 2,593 pieces of new content had been produced. I saw 738 of them, or about 29%. The other 679 posts that appeared in my News Feed were old news by the time I saw them, sometimes by more than two days.

So that means that after doing everything possible to see all of the activity in my network, I saw less than third of it. Considering the average U.S. user spends around 40 minutes on Facebook per day – or about one-tenth of the time I spent in my News Feed – it’s easy to imagine that percentage dipping far, far below my 29%.

But that might be the point.

Greg Marra, a product manager on News Feed at Facebook, told me that it is fundamentally a reflection of the user and his or her interests.

“News Feed is made by you,” Marra said. “It tries to show the most interesting things possible for you, it’s a very personalized system,” he said, adding, “We try to let users take control.”

Marra said there are countless signals that tell Facebook what to pump into a person’s News Feed, including relationships with other users, the topic of content in a given link, how long a user spends reading a story he or she found though Facebook, if and how many times X user visits Y user’s profile, friends’ activity on a certain post, all of our previous activity and more.

“We learn based on what you’ve done in the past,” Marra said. “And we try to quickly learn about the things that you’re interested in.”

(Remember that Facebook’s learning can sometimes result in disastrous PR.)

So after a full day spent on Facebook, what was I left with? In the end, not much. A heap of work for myself to complete this story; a still-muddled understanding of how News Feed works; and a slightly different view of what I think I care about.

Fittingly enough: The final post I saw on my Endless Day of Facebook was a status update about a flash flood warning that was more than 40 hours old.

It was for Denver.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/08/18/what-facebook-doesnt-show-you/?Post+generic=%3Ftid%3Dsm_twitter_washingtonpost

 

Snowden discusses US surveillance and cyber-warfare programs in interview with Wired

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By Thomas Gaist
15 August 2014

Wired magazine published an extended interview this week with former US intelligence agent and famed whistleblower Edward Snowden. Conducted in a hotel room somewhere in Russia, the interview included fresh revelations related to mass surveillance, cyber-warfare and information-grabbing operations mounted by the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The meat of the interview centered on a number of operations run by the surveillance and intelligence agencies, painting a picture of an American government engaged in ever-expanding cyber-machinations worldwide.

Snowden spoke about the NSA’s MonsterMind program, an “autonomous cyber-warfare platform” which has been developed to launch cyber-attacks automatically against rival governments, without any need for human intervention. He noted that MonsterMind could easily be manipulated to provoke spasms of cyber-warfare between the US and its main rivals.

“These attacks can be spoofed. You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital,” Snowden said.

Far from restricting itself to cyber-defense, Snowden said, the US is constantly engaged in offensive hacking operations against China.

“It’s no secret that we hack China very aggressively,” Snowden said. “But we’ve crossed lines. We’re hacking universities and hospitals and wholly civilian infrastructure rather than actual government targets and military targets.”

Snowden offered new information about the role of the NSA in facilitating US imperialism’s geopolitical agenda in the Middle East. In 2012, Snowden said, the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) hacking unit accidentally disabled large portions of Syria’s Internet during an operation that sought to install information-capturing software on the routers of a main Syrian service provider.

Western media dutifully reported at the time that the Internet shutdown was ordered by the Assad regime, which was and remains a primary target for overthrow by US and European imperialism.

Describing “one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen,” Snowden said that the US routinely transfers bulk communications data acquired from Palestinian and Palestinian- and Arab-American sources to Israeli intelligence in support of Israeli military operations targeting the Occupied Territories.

Moreover, a Snowden-leaked NSA document published earlier this month stated that through its collaboration with US intelligence and surveillance agencies, the Israeli regime “enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access to world-class NSA crypto analytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also gains controlled access to advance US technology and equipment.” During Israel’s 2008-2009 military onslaught against Gaza, US and British intelligence provided Israel with reams of data captured from surveillance of Palestinian e-mail addresses and telephones, the document confirmed.

Speaking about the lies told by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper during congressional testimony in the wake of the initial leaks, Snowden denounced the culture of deception and criminality that pervades the US government and ruling elite.

During the March 2013 hearing, DNI Clapper was asked, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

In an absurd lie, repeated in one form or another by numerous top officials including President Barack Obama, Clapper answered, “No sir, not wittingly.”

Snowden correctly noted that Clapper’s brazen lying was merely standard operating procedure for top US officials. “He [DNI Clapper] saw deceiving the American people as what he does, as his job, as something completely ordinary. And he was right that he wouldn’t be punished for it, because he was revealed as having lied under oath and he didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for it. It says a lot about the system and a lot about our leaders,” Snowden said.

The interview provided an outline of Snowden’s career prior to 2013, which included significant high-level work on behalf of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and NSA as an intelligence and technology specialist. During his years of employment by the government, Snowden attended a secret CIA school for tech experts and worked for the CIA’s global communications division as well as for the NSA office at the Yokota Air Base near Tokyo.

Snowden later held a position with Dell as its head technologist in relation to the CIA’s account with the company.

While working for the NSA contractor Booz Allen, Snowden worked to seize data from foreign service and inject malware into computer systems around the globe, he said. It was during this period that he became aware that the NSA was capturing and archiving huge amounts of US data, and doing so “without a warrant, without any requirement for criminal suspicion, probable cause, or individual designation.”

Snowden stressed the all-invasive character of the surveillance programs, stating categorically that the surveillance programs violate the Fourth Amendment.

“The argument [made by the US government] is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows. And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time,” Snowden said.

Responding to the interview, an official government statement reiterated the state’s longstanding demand for Snowden to return to the United States and face espionage charges in a US court.

“If Mr. Snowden wants to discuss his activities, that conversation should be held with the U.S. Department of Justice. He needs to return to the United States to face the charges against him,” the statement said.

During the interview, Snowden suggested that he might voluntarily accept a prison sentence as part of a deal with the US government allowing him to return home. While it is understandable that Snowden should seek every available means to avoid the fate of fellow whistleblower Pfc. Chelsea Manning, who was sentenced to 35 years in prison and abused for years prior to his trial, it is a dangerous delusion to believe that the US government can be negotiated with on this matter.

In compromising mass spying operations that are considered essential to the stability and security of the capitalist state, Snowden’s actions have provoked significant anxiety within ruling circles. As a result, the most powerful elements within the US establishment view Snowden as a hated and mortal enemy, and are determined to lock him up and throw away the key.

 

Leaked Docs Show Spyware Used to Snoop on U.S. Computers

Software created by the controversial U.K. based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States.

Gamma group customer logs found in the leaked trove that was posted online by hackers. (Gerald Rich/ProPublica)

Software created by the controversial U.K. based Gamma Group International was used to spy on computers that appear to be located in the United States, the U.K., Germany, Russia, Iran and Bahrain, according to a leaked trove of documents analyzed by ProPublica.

It’s not clear whether the surveillance was conducted by governments or private entities. Customer email addresses in the collection appeared to belong to a German surveillance company, an independent consultant in Dubai, the Bosnian and Hungarian Intelligence services, a Dutch law enforcement officer and the Qatari government.

Countries With Computers Targeted by FinFisher
Bahrain
Belgium
Cyprus
Egypt
Germany
Iraq
Islamic Republic of Iran
Italy
Kuwait
Lebanon
Lithuania
Morocco
Netherlands
Qatar
Russian Federation
Saudi Arabia
Sweden
Switzerland
Thailand
Tunisia
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States
Yemen

The leaked files — which were posted online by hackers — are the latest in a series of revelations about how state actors including repressive regimes have used Gamma’s software to spy on dissidents, journalists and activist groups.

The documents, leaked last Saturday, could not be readily verified, but experts told ProPublica they believed them to be genuine. “I think it’s highly unlikely that it’s a fake,” said Morgan Marquis-Bore, a security researcher who while at The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto had analyzed Gamma Group’s software and who authored an article about the leak on Thursday.

The documents confirm many details that have already been reported about Gamma, such as that its tools were used to spy on Bahraini activists. Some documents in the trove contain metadata tied to e-mail addresses of several Gamma employees. Bill Marczak, another Gamma Group expert at the Citizen Lab, said that several dates in the documents correspond to publicly known events — such as the day that a particular Bahraini activist was hacked.

Gamma has not commented publicly on the authenticity of the documents. A phone number listed on a Gamma Group website was disconnected. Gamma Group did not respond to email requests for comment.

The leaked files contain more 40 gigabytes of confidential technical material including software code, internal memos, strategy reports and user guides on how to use Gamma Group software suite called FinFisher. FinFisher enables customers to monitor secure web traffic, Skype calls, webcams, and personal files. It is installed as malware on targets’ computers and cell phones.

A price list included in the trove lists a license of the software at almost $4 million.

The documents reveal that Gamma uses technology from a French company called Vupen Security that sells so-called computer ‘exploits.’

Exploits include techniques called “zero days,” for “popular software like Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Adobe Acrobat Reader, and many more.”Zero days are exploits that have not yet been detected by the software maker and therefore are not blocked.

Vupen has said publicly that it only sells its exploits to governments, but Gamma may have no such scruples. “Gamma is an independent company that is not bound to any country, governmental organisation, etc.,” says one file in the Gamma Group’s material. At least one Gamma customer listed in the materials is a private security company.

Vupen didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Many of Gamma’s product brochures have previously been published by the Wall Street Journal and Wikileaks, but the latest trove shows how the products are getting more sophisticated.

In one document, engineers at Gamma tested a product called FinSpy, which inserts malware onto a user’s machine, and found that it could not be blocked by most antivirus software.

Documents also reveal that Gamma had been working to bypass encryption tools including a mobile phone encryption app, Silent Circle, and were able to bypass the protection given by hard-drive encryption products TrueCrypt and Microsoft’s Bitlocker.

Mike Janke the CEO of Silent Circle said in an email “We have serious doubts about if they were going to be successful” in circumventing the phone software, and that they were working on bulletproofing their app.

Microsoft did not respond to a request for comment.

The documents also describe a “country-wide” surveillance product called FinFly ISP which promises customers the ability to intercept internet traffic and masquerade as ordinary websites in order to install malware on a target’s computer.

The most recent date-stamp found in the documents is August 2nd, which coincides with the first tweet by a parody Twitter account, @GammaGroupPR, which first announced the hack, and may be run by the hacker or hackers responsible for the leak.

On Reddit, a user called PhineasFisher claimed responsibility for the leak. “Two years ago their software was found being widely used by governments in the middle east, especially Bahrain, to hack and spy on the computers and phones of journalists and dissidents,” the user wrote. The name on the @GammaGroupPR Twitter account is also “Phineas Fisher.”

GammaGroup, the surveillance company whose documents were released, is no stranger to the spotlight. The security firm F-Secure first reported the purchase of FinFisher software by the Egyptian State Security agency in 2011. In 2012, Bloomberg News and The Citizen Lab showed how the company’s malware was used to target activists in Bahrain.

In 2013, the software company Mozilla sent a cease-and-desist letter to the company after a report by The Citizen Lab showed that a spyware-infected version of the Firefox browser manufactured by Gamma was being used to spy on Malaysian activists.

Senior reporter Julia Angwin and Jonathan Stray, special to ProPublica, contributed to this report.

 

http://www.propublica.org/article/leaked-docs-show-spyware-used-to-snoop-on-u.s.-computers?utm_source=et&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter

Google is crossing a slippery slope between privacy and spying.


Google Is Acting Like an Arm of the Surveillance State

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Convicted in 1994 of sexually assaulting a young boy, John Henry Skillern of Texas once again finds himself incarcerated and awaiting trial, this time for possession and production of child pornography. Skillern’s arrest comes courtesy of Google. Few, I expect, will shed tears for Skillern with respect to his alleged sexual predations. Nonetheless his case once more brings Google into the privacy spotlight, this time as an arm of “law enforcement.”

Google makes no secret of the fact that it “analyzes content” in emails sent and received by users of its Gmail service, mostly for purposes of targeting advertising to users most likely to click thru and buy things. That’s how Google makes money — tracking users of its “free” services, watching what they do, selling those users’ eyeballs to paying customers.

It’s also understood by most that Google will, as its privacy policy states, “share personal information … [to] meet any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.” If the cops come a-knocking with a warrant or some asserted equivalent, Google cooperates with search and seizure of your stored information and records of your actions.

But Google goes farther than that. Their Gmail program policies unequivocally state that, among other things, “Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child sexual abuse imagery. If we become aware of such content, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and may take disciplinary action, including termination, against the Google Accounts of those involved.”

As a market anarchist, my visceral response to the Skillern case is “fair cop – it’s in the terms of service he agreed to when he signed up for a Gmail account.”

But there’s a pretty large gap between “we’ll let the government look at your stuff if they insist” and “we’ll keep an eye out for stuff that the government might want to see.” The latter, with respect to privacy, represents the top of a very slippery slope.

How slippery? Well, consider Google’s interests in “geolocation” (knowing where you are) and  in “the Internet of Things”  (connecting everything from your toaster to your thermostat to your car to the Internet, with Google as middleman).

It’s not out of the question that someday as you drive down the road, Google will track you and automatically message the local police department if it notices you’re driving 38 miles per hour in a 35-mph speed zone.

Think that can’t happen? Think again. In many locales, tickets (demanding payment of fines) are already automatically mailed to alleged red-light scofflaws caught by cameras. No need to even send out an actual cop with pad and pen. It’s a profit center for government — and for companies that set up and operate the camera systems. In case you haven’t noticed, Google really likes information-based profit centers.

And keep in mind that you are a criminal. Yes, really. At least if you live in the United States. Per Harvey Silverglate’s book Three Felonies a Day, the average American breaks at least three federal laws in every 24-hour period. Want to bet against the probability that evidence of those “crimes” can be detected in your email archive?

To a large degree the Internet has killed our old conceptions of what privacy means and to what extent we can expect it. Personally I’m down with that — I’m more than willing to let Google pry into my personal stuff to better target the ads it shows me, in exchange for its “free” services. On the other hand I’d like some limits. And I think that markets are capable of setting those limits.

Three market limiting mechanisms that come to mind are “end to end” encryption, services for obfuscating geographic location and locating servers in countries with more respect for privacy and less fear of “big dog” governments like the United States. If Google can’t or won’t provide those, someone else will (actually a number of someones already are).

The standard political mechanism for reining in bad actors like Google would be legislation forbidding Internet service companies to “look for and report” anything to government absent a warrant issued on probable cause to believe a crime has been committed. But such political mechanisms don’t work. As Edward Snowden’s exposure of the US National Security Agency’s illegal spying operations demonstrates, government ignores laws it doesn’t like.

Instead of seeking political solutions, I suggest a fourth market solution: Abolition of the state. The problem is not so much what Google tracks or what it might want to act on. Those are all a matter of agreement between Google and its users. The bigger problem is who Google might report you TO.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/google-acting-arm-surveillance-state?paging=off&current_page=1#bookmark

New Snowden leak highlights collaboration between NSA and Israeli intelligence

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By Nick Barrickman
6 August 2014

Documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden highlight the extensive collaboration between the US National Security Agency (NSA) and Israel’s SIGINT National Unit (ISNU). The documents were published in the Intercept by journalist Glenn Greenwald.

One document, dated April 13, 2013, shows that the NSA works with ISNU to collect and analyze raw data, including data acquired from US citizens. According to the document, the NSA “maintains a far-reaching technical and analytic relationship with the Israeli SIGINT National Unit, sharing information on access, intercept, targeting, language, analysis and reporting.”

“This SIGINT relationship has increasingly been the catalyst for a broader intelligence relationship between the United States and Israel,” the document states.

“The Israeli side enjoys the benefits of expanded geographic access to world-class NSA crypto analytic and SIGINT engineering expertise, and also gains controlled access to advanced US technology and equipment via accommodation buys and foreign military sales,” the document states.

The same document shows that the NSA and the ISNU work together to acquire intelligence on targets in North Africa, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf, South Asia and the former Soviet Union, sharing “a dedicated communications line” for the “exchange of raw material, as well as daily analytic and technical correspondence.”

“The single largest exchange between NSA and ISNU is on targets in the Middle East which constitute strategic threats to US and Israeli interests…Within that set of countries, cooperation covers the exploitation of internal governmental, military, civil and diplomatic communications,” the document states.

Documents leaked by Snowden also expose the substantial support enjoyed by Israel from Western intelligence as it coordinates war crimes against the Palestinians.

During late 2008 and early 2009, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) subjected the Palestinian population to a massive terror campaign—codenamed Operation Cast Lead—US, British and Canadian intelligence engaged in extensive spying on specific email addresses and telephone numbers inside the Occupied Territories on behalf of the ISNU. GCHQ noted in an internal document that ISNU has “thanked us many times over” for intelligence provided during the assault on Gaza.

The documents also expose the joint efforts by the Israeli and US authorities to sabotage Iran’s uranium enrichment program and target the Assad regime in Syria. The document boasts that “NSA and ISNU continue to initiate joint targeting of Syrian and Iranian leadership and nuclear development programs with CIA, ISNU, SOD and Mossad. This exchange has been particularly important as unrest in Syria continues, and both sides work together to identify threats to regional stability.”

“NSA’s cyber partnerships expanded beyond ISNU to include Israeli Defense Intelligence’s SOD and Mossad, resulting in unprecedented access and collection breakthroughs that all sides acknowledge would not have been possible to achieve without the others,” the document states. “Target sets include, but are not limited to Iran Nuclear, Syrian Foreign Fighter movements, Lebanese Hizballah and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps activities.”

Another NSA document leaked by Snowden highlights the involvement of Jordan with the machinations of US imperialism throughout the region. According to the document, the Jordanian Electronic Warfare Directorate (EWD) has maintained a “well established, long-standing and trusted relationship dating back to the early 1980s” with the NSA.

The EWD provides US and Israeli authorities “high-interest, unique collection on targets of mutual interest, such as the Palestinian Security Forces,” the document states. “EWD is the sole contributor to a large body of NSA’s reporting on this target,”

The Rise to Power of the National Security State

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The Fourth Branch

By Tom Engelhardt

As every schoolchild knows, there are three check-and-balance branches of the U.S. government: the executive, Congress, and the judiciary. That’s bedrock Americanism and the most basic high school civics material. Only one problem: it’s just not so.

During the Cold War years and far more strikingly in the twenty-first century, the U.S. government has evolved.  It sprouted a fourth branch: the national security state, whose main characteristic may be an unquenchable urge to expand its power and reach.  Admittedly, it still lacks certain formal prerogatives of governmental power.  Nonetheless, at a time when Congress and the presidency are in a check-and-balance ballet of inactivity that would have been unimaginable to Americans of earlier eras, the Fourth Branch is an ever more unchecked and unbalanced power center in Washington.  Curtained off from accountability by a penumbra of secrecy, its leaders increasingly are making nitty-gritty policy decisions and largely doing what they want, a situation illuminated by a recent controversy over the possible release of a Senate report on CIA rendition and torture practices.

All of this is or should be obvious, but remains surprisingly unacknowledged in our American world. The rise of the Fourth Branch began at a moment of mobilization for a global conflict, World War II.  It gained heft and staying power in the Cold War of the second half of the twentieth century, when that other superpower, the Soviet Union, provided the excuse for expansion of every sort.

Its officials bided their time in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when “terrorism” had yet to claim the landscape and enemies were in short supply.  In the post-9/11 era, in a phony “wartime” atmosphere, fed by trillions of taxpayer dollars, and under the banner of American “safety,” it has grown to unparalleled size and power.  So much so that it sparked a building boom in and around the national capital (as well as elsewhere in the country).  In their 2010 Washington Post series “Top Secret America,” Dana Priest and William Arkin offered this thumbnail summary of the extent of that boom for the U.S. Intelligence Community: “In Washington and the surrounding area,” they wrote, “33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings — about 17 million square feet of space.”  And in 2014, the expansion is ongoing.

In this century, a full-scale second “Defense Department,” the Department of Homeland Security, was created.  Around it has grown up a mini-version of the military-industrial complex, with the usual set of consultants, K Street lobbyists, political contributions, and power relations: just the sort of edifice that President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his famed farewell address  in 1961.  In the meantime, the original military-industrial complex has only gained strength and influence.

Increasingly, post-9/11, under the rubric of “privatization,” though it should more accurately have been called “corporatization,” the Pentagon took a series of crony companies off to war with it.  In the process, it gave “capitalist war” a more literal meaning, thanks to its wholesale financial support of, and the shrugging off of previously military tasks onto, a series of warrior corporations.

Meanwhile, the 17 members of the U.S. Intelligence Community — yes, there are 17 major intelligence outfits in the national security state — have been growing, some at prodigious rates.  A number of them have undergone their own versions of corporatization, outsourcing many of their operations to private contractors in staggering numbers, so that we now have “capitalist intelligence” as well.  With the fears from 9/11 injected into society and the wind of terrorism at their backs, the Intelligence Community has had a remarkably free hand to develop surveillance systems that are now essentially “watching” everyone — including, it seems, other branches of the government.

Think of Edward Snowden, the former CIA employee who went over to the corporate side of the developing national security economy, as the first blowback figure from and on the world of “capitalist intelligence.”  Thanks to him, we have an insider’s view of the magnitude of the ambitions and operations of the National Security Agency.  The scope of that agency’s surveillance operations and the range of global and domestic communications it now collects have proven breathtaking — with more information on its reach still coming out.  And keep in mind that it’s only one agency.

We know as well that the secret world has developed its own secret body of law and its own secret judiciary, largely on the principle of legalizing whatever it wanted to do.  As the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau has reported, it even has its own Supreme Court equivalent in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  And about all this, the other branches of government know only limited amounts and American citizens know next to nothing.

From the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland Security to the labyrinthine world of intelligence, the rise to power of the national security state has been a spectacle of our time.  Whenever news of its secret operations begins to ooze out, threatening to unnerve the public, the White House and Congress discuss “reforms” which will, at best, modestly impede the expansive powers of that state within a state.  Generally speaking, its powers and prerogatives remain beyond constraint by that third branch of government, the non-secret judiciary.  It is deferred to with remarkable frequency by the executive branch and, with the rarest of exceptions, it has been supported handsomely with much obeisance and few doubts by Congress.

And also keep in mind that, of the four branches of government, only two of them — an activist Supreme Court and the national security state — seem capable of functioning in a genuine policymaking capacity at the moment.

“Misleading” Congress 

In that light, let’s turn to a set of intertwined events in Washington that have largely been dealt with in the media as your typical tempest in a teapot, a catfight among the vested and powerful.  I’m talking about the various charges and countercharges, anger, outrage, and irritation, as well as news of acts of seeming illegality now swirling around a 6,300-page CIA “torture report” produced but not yet made public by the Senate Intelligence Committee.  This ongoing controversy reveals a great deal about the nature of the checks and balances on the Fourth Branch of government in 2014.

One of the duties of Congress is to keep an eye on the functioning of the government using its powers of investigation and oversight.  In the case of the CIA’s program of Bush-era rendition, black sites (offshore prisons), and “enhanced interrogation techniques” (a.k.a. torture), the Senate Intelligence Committee launched an investigation in March 2009 into what exactly occurred when suspects in the war on terror were taken to those offshore prisons and brutally interrogated.  “Millions” of CIA documents, handed over by the Agency, were analyzed by Intelligence Committee staffers at a “secure” CIA location in Northern Virginia.

Among them was a partial copy of a document known as the “Internal Panetta Review,” evidently a report for the previous CIA director on what the Senate committee might find among those documents being handed over to its investigators.  It reportedly reached some fairly strong conclusions of its own about the nature of the CIA’s interrogation overreach in those years.  According to Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee head, this document was among the mass of documentation the CIA turned over — whether purposely, inadvertently, or thanks to a whistleblower no one knows.  (The CIA, on the other hand, claimed, until recently, that committee staffers had essentially stolen it from its computer system.)

The Agency or its private contractors (intelligence capitalism strikes again!) reportedly worked in various ways to obstruct the committee’s investigation, including by secretly removing previously released documents from the committee’s “secure” computer system.  Nonetheless, its report was completed in December 2012 and passed on to the White House “for comment” — and then the fun began.

Though relatively few details about its specific contents have leaked out, word has it that it will prove devastating.  It will supposedly show, among other things, that those “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used were significantly more brutal than what was described to Congressional overseers; that they went well beyond what the “torture memo” lawyers of the Bush administration had laid out (which, mind you, was brutal enough); that no plots were broken up thanks to torture; and that top figures in the Agency, assumedly under oath, “misled” Congress (a polite word for “lied to,” a potential criminal offense that goes by the name of perjury).  Senators knowledgeable on the contents of the report have repeatedly insisted that when it goes public, Americans will be shocked by its contents.

Let’s keep in mind as well that committee head Feinstein was previously known as one of the most loyal and powerful supporters of the national security state and the CIA.  Until recently, she has, in fact, essentially been the senator from the national security state.  She and her colleagues, themselves shocked by what they had learned, understandably wanted their report declassified and released to the American people with all due speed.  It naturally had to be vetted to ensure that it contained no names of active agents and the like.  But two and a half years later, after endless reviews and a process of vetting by the CIA and the White House that gives the word “glacial” a bad name, it has yet to be released (though there are regular reports that this will — or will not — happen soon).

During this time, the CIA seemed to go to Def Con 2 and decided to turn its spying skills on the committee and its staffers.  Claiming that those staffers had gotten the Panetta Internal Review by “hacking” the CIA’s computers, it essentially hacked the committee’s computers and searched them.  In the meantime, its acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, who had been the chief lawyer for the counterterrorism unit out of which the CIA interrogation programs were run, and who was mentioned 1,600 times in the Senate report, filed (to quote Feinstein) a “crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff — the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers — including the acting general counsel himself — provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.”  (Back in 2005, Eatinger had also been one of two lawyers responsible for not stopping the destruction of CIA videotapes of the brutal interrogations of terror suspects in its secret prisons.)

In addition, according to Feinstein, CIA Director John Brennan met with her, lied to her, and essentially tried to intimidate her by telling her “that the CIA had searched a ‘walled-off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications’ and that he was going to ‘order further forensic evidence of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.’” In other words, the overseen were spying upon and now out to get the overseers.  And more than that, based on a single incident in which one of its greatest supporters in Congress stepped over the line, the Agency was specifically out to get the senator from the national security state.

There was a clear message here: oversight or not, don’t tread on us.

By the way, since the CIA is the injuring, not the injured, party, there is no reason to take seriously the self-interested words of its officials, past or present, on any of this, or any account they offer of events or charges they make.  We’re talking, after all, about an outfit responsible for the initial brutal acts of interrogation, for false descriptions of them, for lying to Congress about them, for destroying evidence of the worst of what it had done, for spying on a Senate committee and its computer system, and for somehow obtaining “legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring relating to the Agency and the committee’s report.”  In addition, according to a recent front-page story in the New York Times, its former director from the Bush years, George Tenet, has been actively plotting “a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report” with the present director and various past Agency officials. (And keep in mind that “roughly 200 people under [Tenet’s] leadership [who] had at some point participated in the interrogation program” are still working at the Agency.) 

The Age of Impunity in Washington

In December 2012, the report began to wend its way through a “review and declassification” process, which has yet to end.  Once again, the CIA stepped in.  The Senate was eager to declassify the report’s findings, conclusions, and its 600-page executive summary.  The CIA, which had already done its damnedest to block the Senate investigation process, now ensured that the vetting would be interminable.

As a start, the White House vested the CIA as the lead agency in the review and vetting process, which meant that it was to be allowed to slow things to a crawl, stop them entirely, or alternatively remove crucial and damning material from the report via redaction.  If you want a gauge of just how powerful the various outfits that make up the Fourth Branch have become in Washington (and what limits on them still remain), look no further.

Fourteen years into the twenty-first century, we’re so used to this sort of thing that we seldom think about what it means to let the CIA — accused of a variety of crimes — be the agency to decide what exactly can be known by the public, in conjunction with a deferential White House.  The Agency’s present director, it should be noted, has been a close confidant and friend of the president and was for years his key counterterrorism advisor.  To get a sense of what all this really means, you need perhaps to imagine that, in 2004, the 9/11 Commission was forced to turn its report over to Osama bin Laden for vetting and redaction before releasing it to the public.  Extreme as that may sound, the CIA is no less a self-interested party. And this interminable process has yet to end, although the White House is supposed to release something, possibly heavily redacted, as early as this coming week or perhaps in the dog days of August.

Keep in mind again that we’re still only talking about the overwhelming sense of power of one of the 17 agencies that make up the Intelligence Community, which itself is but part of the far vaster national security state.  Just one.  Think of this, nonetheless, as a kind of litmus test for the shifting state of power relations in the new Washington.  Or think of it this way: on the basis of a single negative Senate report about its past operations, the CIA was willing to go after one of the national security state’s most fervent congressional supporters.  It attempted to intimidate her, tried to bring charges against her staffers, and so drove her “reluctantly” and in a kind of desperation to the Senate floor, where she offered a remarkable denunciation of the agency she had long supported.  In its wake, last week, the CIA director dramatically backed off somewhat, perhaps sensing that there was a bridge too far even in Washington in 2014.  Amid Senate calls for his resignation, he offered an “apology” for the extreme actions of lower level Agency employees. (But don’t hold your breath waiting for real reform at the CIA.)

In her Senate speech, Feinstein accused the Agency of potentially breaching both the law and the Constitution. “I have grave concerns,” she said, “that the CIA’s search [of the committee’s computer system] may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function… Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

In the process, she anatomized an agency covering its tail and its trail, unwilling to admit to error of any sort or volunteer crucial information, while it attempted to block or even dismantle the oversight power of Congress.  Her sobering speech should be read by every American, especially as it comes not from a critic but a perennial supporter of the Fourth Branch.

In retrospect, this “incident” may be seen as a critical moment in the still-unsettled evolution of governing power in America.  Her speech was covered briefly as a kind of kerfuffle in Washington and then largely dropped for other, more important stories.  In the meantime, the so-called vetting process on the Senate report continued for yet more months in the White House and in Langley, Virginia, as if nothing whatsoever had occurred; the White House refused to act or commit itself on the subject; and the Justice Department refused to press charges of any sort.  While a few senators threatened to invoke Senate Resolution 400 — a 40-year-old unused power of that body to declassify information on its own — it was something of an idle threat.  (A majority of the Senate would have to agree to vote against the CIA and the White House to put it into effect, which is unlikely indeed.)

Whatever happens with the report itself and despite the recent CIA apology, don’t expect the Senate to bring perjury charges against former CIA leaders for any lies to Congress.  (It didn’t do so, after all, in the earlier case of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.)  And don’t expect prosecutions of significant figures from a Justice Department that, in the Obama years, refused to prosecute even those in the CIA responsible for the deaths of prisoners.

The fact is that, for the Fourth Branch, this remains the age of impunity.  Hidden in a veil of secrecy, bolstered by secret law and secret courts, surrounded by its chosen corporations and politicians, its power to define policy and act as it sees fit in the name of American safety is visibly on the rise.  No matter what setbacks it experiences along the way, its urge to expand and control seems, at the moment, beyond staunching.  In the context of the Senate’s torture report, the question at hand remains: Who rules Washington?

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, to be published in September, is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Tom Engelhardt

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Former State Department employee reveals spying on Americans by executive order

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By Ed Hightower
25 July 2014

In the latest revelation of unconstitutional spying on US citizens by the National Security Agency (NSA), former State Department employee John Napier Tye has given his account of ongoing violations of privacy under cover of a legal fig leaf known as Executive Order 12333.

Last week the Washington Post published Tye’s lengthy criticism of the Obama administration under the title “Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans.” The editorial underscores both the immense scope of illegal spying by an unaccountable military-intelligence apparatus and the sham character of the official “reform.”

President Ronald Reagan enacted Executive Order 12333 in 1981. The order was aimed at providing a lax legal standard for the collection of communication content —not just metadata such as call logs—of US citizens, as long as the communication was not obtained within the United States.

While 12333 was legally dubious even in 1981, it was not until the widespread transfer of data over the internet that it could be exploited for the mass collection of communications. Enormous amounts of data and communications generated by Americans in the form of emails, for example, are now routinely routed to servers all over the world, bringing the data within the now much broader reach of 12333.

Tye’s editorial calls attention to 12333, saying that the order is now used to justify possibly more illegal surveillance than Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which sanctions bulk collection of telecommunications records. While Section 215 has garnered more public attention, Tye argues that it “is a small part of the picture and does not include the universe of collection and storage of communications by US persons authorized under Executive Order 12333.”

Referring to “classified facts that I am prohibited by law from publishing,” Tye writes, “I believe that Americans should be even more concerned about the collection and storage of their communications under Executive Order 12333 than under Section 215 [of the Patriot Act].”

Because it is an executive order as opposed to a statute, 12333 is subject to virtually zero oversight. The attorney general, who is part of the executive branch and serves at the pleasure of the president, determines what restraints, if any, apply. Currently, intelligence agencies are permitted to keep data obtained pursuant to 12333 for up to five years.

Nor does 12333 typically require a warrant. Tye explains that the NSA keeps data obtained through 12333 even if it is not directly related to a surveillance target who was subject to a warrant. This so-called “incidental” collection represents the exception that swallows the rule.

As Tye describes it, incidental collection is “a legal loophole that can be stretched very wide. Remember that the NSA is building a data center in Utah five times the size of the U.S. Capitol building, with its own power plant that will reportedly burn $40 million a year in electricity. ‘Incidental collection’ might need its own power plant.”

Tye worked for the State Department from 2011 until this past April. He currently serves as legal director for the nonprofit advocacy group Avaaz. His Post article was reviewed and cleared by the State Department and NSA prior to publication. Before he left his State Department job, Tye filed a complaint about 12333-related spying with the department’s inspector general, and he eventually brought this complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees, as well as to the inspector general of the NSA.

While Tye did not leak any documents or data to the press, it is clear that what he saw and heard at the State Department deeply troubled him.

He begins his Washington Post piece with this disturbing anecdote:

“In March I received a call from the White House counsel’s office regarding a speech I had prepared for my boss at the State Department… The draft stated that ‘if U.S. citizens disagree with congressional and executive branch determinations about the proper scope of signals intelligence activities, they have the opportunity to change the policy through our democratic process.’”

“But the White House counsel’s office told me that no, that wasn’t true. I was instructed to amend the line, making a general reference to ‘our laws and policies,’ rather than our intelligence practices. I did.”

In other words, Tye was directed to remove from his speech something that might give the misleading impression that the US population has any meaningful oversight where the military-intelligence apparatus is concerned.

In his op-ed comment, Tye also points out the Obama administration’s “reforms” are bogus. Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies recommended that data obtained by incidental collection should be purged. Tye writes that an unclassified document he saw while working with the State Department made the White House’s position clear: there were no plans to change the practices around Executive Order 12333.

The rise of data and the death of politics

Tech pioneers in the US are advocating a new data-based approach to governance – ‘algorithmic regulation’. But if technology provides the answers to society’s problems, what happens to governments?

US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

Government by social network? US president Barack Obama with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

On 24 August 1965 Gloria Placente, a 34-year-old resident of Queens, New York, was driving to Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Clad in shorts and sunglasses, the housewife was looking forward to quiet time at the beach. But the moment she crossed the Willis Avenue bridge in her Chevrolet Corvair, Placente was surrounded by a dozen patrolmen. There were also 125 reporters, eager to witness the launch of New York police department’s Operation Corral – an acronym for Computer Oriented Retrieval of Auto Larcenists.

Fifteen months earlier, Placente had driven through a red light and neglected to answer the summons, an offence that Corral was going to punish with a heavy dose of techno-Kafkaesque. It worked as follows: a police car stationed at one end of the bridge radioed the licence plates of oncoming cars to a teletypist miles away, who fed them to a Univac 490 computer, an expensive $500,000 toy ($3.5m in today’s dollars) on loan from the Sperry Rand Corporation. The computer checked the numbers against a database of 110,000 cars that were either stolen or belonged to known offenders. In case of a match the teletypist would alert a second patrol car at the bridge’s other exit. It took, on average, just seven seconds.

Compared with the impressive police gear of today – automatic number plate recognition, CCTV cameras, GPS trackers – Operation Corral looks quaint. And the possibilities for control will only expand. European officials have considered requiring all cars entering the European market to feature a built-in mechanism that allows the police to stop vehicles remotely. Speaking earlier this year, Jim Farley, a senior Ford executive, acknowledged that “we know everyone who breaks the law, we know when you’re doing it. We have GPS in your car, so we know what you’re doing. By the way, we don’t supply that data to anyone.” That last bit didn’t sound very reassuring and Farley retracted his remarks.

As both cars and roads get “smart,” they promise nearly perfect, real-time law enforcement. Instead of waiting for drivers to break the law, authorities can simply prevent the crime. Thus, a 50-mile stretch of the A14 between Felixstowe and Rugby is to be equipped with numerous sensors that would monitor traffic by sending signals to and from mobile phones in moving vehicles. The telecoms watchdog Ofcom envisions that such smart roads connected to a centrally controlled traffic system could automatically impose variable speed limits to smooth the flow of traffic but also direct the cars “along diverted routes to avoid the congestion and even [manage] their speed”.

Other gadgets – from smartphones to smart glasses – promise even more security and safety. In April, Apple patented technology that deploys sensors inside the smartphone to analyse if the car is moving and if the person using the phone is driving; if both conditions are met, it simply blocks the phone’s texting feature. Intel and Ford are working on Project Mobil – a face recognition system that, should it fail to recognise the face of the driver, would not only prevent the car being started but also send the picture to the car’s owner (bad news for teenagers).

The car is emblematic of transformations in many other domains, from smart environments for “ambient assisted living” where carpets and walls detect that someone has fallen, to various masterplans for the smart city, where municipal services dispatch resources only to those areas that need them. Thanks to sensors and internet connectivity, the most banal everyday objects have acquired tremendous power to regulate behaviour. Even public toilets are ripe for sensor-based optimisation: the Safeguard Germ Alarm, a smart soap dispenser developed by Procter & Gamble and used in some public WCs in the Philippines, has sensors monitoring the doors of each stall. Once you leave the stall, the alarm starts ringing – and can only be stopped by a push of the soap-dispensing button.

In this context, Google’s latest plan to push its Android operating system on to smart watches, smart cars, smart thermostats and, one suspects, smart everything, looks rather ominous. In the near future, Google will be the middleman standing between you and your fridge, you and your car, you and your rubbish bin, allowing the National Security Agency to satisfy its data addiction in bulk and via a single window.

This “smartification” of everyday life follows a familiar pattern: there’s primary data – a list of what’s in your smart fridge and your bin – and metadata – a log of how often you open either of these things or when they communicate with one another. Both produce interesting insights: cue smart mattresses – one recent model promises to track respiration and heart rates and how much you move during the night – and smart utensils that provide nutritional advice.

In addition to making our lives more efficient, this smart world also presents us with an exciting political choice. If so much of our everyday behaviour is already captured, analysed and nudged, why stick with unempirical approaches to regulation? Why rely on laws when one has sensors and feedback mechanisms? If policy interventions are to be – to use the buzzwords of the day – “evidence-based” and “results-oriented,” technology is here to help.

This new type of governance has a name: algorithmic regulation. In as much as Silicon Valley has a political programme, this is it. Tim O’Reilly, an influential technology publisher, venture capitalist and ideas man (he is to blame for popularising the term “web 2.0″) has been its most enthusiastic promoter. In a recent essay that lays out his reasoning, O’Reilly makes an intriguing case for the virtues of algorithmic regulation – a case that deserves close scrutiny both for what it promises policymakers and the simplistic assumptions it makes about politics, democracy and power.

To see algorithmic regulation at work, look no further than the spam filter in your email. Instead of confining itself to a narrow definition of spam, the email filter has its users teach it. Even Google can’t write rules to cover all the ingenious innovations of professional spammers. What it can do, though, is teach the system what makes a good rule and spot when it’s time to find another rule for finding a good rule – and so on. An algorithm can do this, but it’s the constant real-time feedback from its users that allows the system to counter threats never envisioned by its designers. And it’s not just spam: your bank uses similar methods to spot credit-card fraud.

In his essay, O’Reilly draws broader philosophical lessons from such technologies, arguing that they work because they rely on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome” (spam is bad!) and periodically check if the algorithms are actually working as expected (are too many legitimate emails ending up marked as spam?).

O’Reilly presents such technologies as novel and unique – we are living through a digital revolution after all – but the principle behind “algorithmic regulation” would be familiar to the founders of cybernetics – a discipline that, even in its name (it means “the science of governance”) hints at its great regulatory ambitions. This principle, which allows the system to maintain its stability by constantly learning and adapting itself to the changing circumstances, is what the British psychiatrist Ross Ashby, one of the founding fathers of cybernetics, called “ultrastability”.

To illustrate it, Ashby designed the homeostat. This clever device consisted of four interconnected RAF bomb control units – mysterious looking black boxes with lots of knobs and switches – that were sensitive to voltage fluctuations. If one unit stopped working properly – say, because of an unexpected external disturbance – the other three would rewire and regroup themselves, compensating for its malfunction and keeping the system’s overall output stable.

Ashby’s homeostat achieved “ultrastability” by always monitoring its internal state and cleverly redeploying its spare resources.

Like the spam filter, it didn’t have to specify all the possible disturbances – only the conditions for how and when it must be updated and redesigned. This is no trivial departure from how the usual technical systems, with their rigid, if-then rules, operate: suddenly, there’s no need to develop procedures for governing every contingency, for – or so one hopes – algorithms and real-time, immediate feedback can do a better job than inflexible rules out of touch with reality.

Algorithmic regulation could certainly make the administration of existing laws more efficient. If it can fight credit-card fraud, why not tax fraud? Italian bureaucrats have experimented with the redditometro, or income meter, a tool for comparing people’s spending patterns – recorded thanks to an arcane Italian law – with their declared income, so that authorities know when you spend more than you earn. Spain has expressed interest in a similar tool.

Such systems, however, are toothless against the real culprits of tax evasion – the super-rich families who profit from various offshoring schemes or simply write outrageous tax exemptions into the law. Algorithmic regulation is perfect for enforcing the austerity agenda while leaving those responsible for the fiscal crisis off the hook. To understand whether such systems are working as expected, we need to modify O’Reilly’s question: for whom are they working? If it’s just the tax-evading plutocrats, the global financial institutions interested in balanced national budgets and the companies developing income-tracking software, then it’s hardly a democratic success.

With his belief that algorithmic regulation is based on “a deep understanding of the desired outcome”, O’Reilly cunningly disconnects the means of doing politics from its ends. But the how of politics is as important as the what of politics – in fact, the former often shapes the latter. Everybody agrees that education, health, and security are all “desired outcomes”, but how do we achieve them? In the past, when we faced the stark political choice of delivering them through the market or the state, the lines of the ideological debate were clear. Today, when the presumed choice is between the digital and the analog or between the dynamic feedback and the static law, that ideological clarity is gone – as if the very choice of how to achieve those “desired outcomes” was apolitical and didn’t force us to choose between different and often incompatible visions of communal living.

By assuming that the utopian world of infinite feedback loops is so efficient that it transcends politics, the proponents of algorithmic regulation fall into the same trap as the technocrats of the past. Yes, these systems are terrifyingly efficient – in the same way that Singapore is terrifyingly efficient (O’Reilly, unsurprisingly, praises Singapore for its embrace of algorithmic regulation). And while Singapore’s leaders might believe that they, too, have transcended politics, it doesn’t mean that their regime cannot be assessed outside the linguistic swamp of efficiency and innovation – by using political, not economic benchmarks.

As Silicon Valley keeps corrupting our language with its endless glorification of disruption and efficiency – concepts at odds with the vocabulary of democracy – our ability to question the “how” of politics is weakened. Silicon Valley’s default answer to the how of politics is what I call solutionism: problems are to be dealt with via apps, sensors, and feedback loops – all provided by startups. Earlier this year Google’s Eric Schmidt even promised that startups would provide the solution to the problem of economic inequality: the latter, it seems, can also be “disrupted”. And where the innovators and the disruptors lead, the bureaucrats follow.

The intelligence services embraced solutionism before other government agencies. Thus, they reduced the topic of terrorism from a subject that had some connection to history and foreign policy to an informational problem of identifying emerging terrorist threats via constant surveillance. They urged citizens to accept that instability is part of the game, that its root causes are neither traceable nor reparable, that the threat can only be pre-empted by out-innovating and out-surveilling the enemy with better communications.

Speaking in Athens last November, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben discussed an epochal transformation in the idea of government, “whereby the traditional hierarchical relation between causes and effects is inverted, so that, instead of governing the causes – a difficult and expensive undertaking – governments simply try to govern the effects”.

Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman

Governments’ current favourite pyschologist, Daniel Kahneman. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer
For Agamben, this shift is emblematic of modernity. It also explains why the liberalisation of the economy can co-exist with the growing proliferation of control – by means of soap dispensers and remotely managed cars – into everyday life. “If government aims for the effects and not the causes, it will be obliged to extend and multiply control. Causes demand to be known, while effects can only be checked and controlled.” Algorithmic regulation is an enactment of this political programme in technological form.The true politics of algorithmic regulation become visible once its logic is applied to the social nets of the welfare state. There are no calls to dismantle them, but citizens are nonetheless encouraged to take responsibility for their own health. Consider how Fred Wilson, an influential US venture capitalist, frames the subject. “Health… is the opposite side of healthcare,” he said at a conference in Paris last December. “It’s what keeps you out of the healthcare system in the first place.” Thus, we are invited to start using self-tracking apps and data-sharing platforms and monitor our vital indicators, symptoms and discrepancies on our own.This goes nicely with recent policy proposals to save troubled public services by encouraging healthier lifestyles. Consider a 2013 report by Westminster council and the Local Government Information Unit, a thinktank, calling for the linking of housing and council benefits to claimants’ visits to the gym – with the help of smartcards. They might not be needed: many smartphones are already tracking how many steps we take every day (Google Now, the company’s virtual assistant, keeps score of such data automatically and periodically presents it to users, nudging them to walk more).

The numerous possibilities that tracking devices offer to health and insurance industries are not lost on O’Reilly. “You know the way that advertising turned out to be the native business model for the internet?” he wondered at a recent conference. “I think that insurance is going to be the native business model for the internet of things.” Things do seem to be heading that way: in June, Microsoft struck a deal with American Family Insurance, the eighth-largest home insurer in the US, in which both companies will fund startups that want to put sensors into smart homes and smart cars for the purposes of “proactive protection”.

An insurance company would gladly subsidise the costs of installing yet another sensor in your house – as long as it can automatically alert the fire department or make front porch lights flash in case your smoke detector goes off. For now, accepting such tracking systems is framed as an extra benefit that can save us some money. But when do we reach a point where not using them is seen as a deviation – or, worse, an act of concealment – that ought to be punished with higher premiums?

Or consider a May 2014 report from 2020health, another thinktank, proposing to extend tax rebates to Britons who give up smoking, stay slim or drink less. “We propose ‘payment by results’, a financial reward for people who become active partners in their health, whereby if you, for example, keep your blood sugar levels down, quit smoking, keep weight off, [or] take on more self-care, there will be a tax rebate or an end-of-year bonus,” they state. Smart gadgets are the natural allies of such schemes: they document the results and can even help achieve them – by constantly nagging us to do what’s expected.

The unstated assumption of most such reports is that the unhealthy are not only a burden to society but that they deserve to be punished (fiscally for now) for failing to be responsible. For what else could possibly explain their health problems but their personal failings? It’s certainly not the power of food companies or class-based differences or various political and economic injustices. One can wear a dozen powerful sensors, own a smart mattress and even do a close daily reading of one’s poop – as some self-tracking aficionados are wont to do – but those injustices would still be nowhere to be seen, for they are not the kind of stuff that can be measured with a sensor. The devil doesn’t wear data. Social injustices are much harder to track than the everyday lives of the individuals whose lives they affect.

In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.

However, a politics without politics does not mean a politics without control or administration. As O’Reilly writes in his essay: “New technologies make it possible to reduce the amount of regulation while actually increasing the amount of oversight and production of desirable outcomes.” Thus, it’s a mistake to think that Silicon Valley wants to rid us of government institutions. Its dream state is not the small government of libertarians – a small state, after all, needs neither fancy gadgets nor massive servers to process the data – but the data-obsessed and data-obese state of behavioural economists.

The nudging state is enamoured of feedback technology, for its key founding principle is that while we behave irrationally, our irrationality can be corrected – if only the environment acts upon us, nudging us towards the right option. Unsurprisingly, one of the three lonely references at the end of O’Reilly’s essay is to a 2012 speech entitled “Regulation: Looking Backward, Looking Forward” by Cass Sunstein, the prominent American legal scholar who is the chief theorist of the nudging state.

And while the nudgers have already captured the state by making behavioural psychology the favourite idiom of government bureaucracy –Daniel Kahneman is in, Machiavelli is out – the algorithmic regulation lobby advances in more clandestine ways. They create innocuous non-profit organisations like Code for America which then co-opt the state – under the guise of encouraging talented hackers to tackle civic problems.

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Airbnb: part of the reputation-driven economy.
Such initiatives aim to reprogramme the state and make it feedback-friendly, crowding out other means of doing politics. For all those tracking apps, algorithms and sensors to work, databases need interoperability – which is what such pseudo-humanitarian organisations, with their ardent belief in open data, demand. And when the government is too slow to move at Silicon Valley’s speed, they simply move inside the government. Thus, Jennifer Pahlka, the founder of Code for America and a protege of O’Reilly, became the deputy chief technology officer of the US government – while pursuing a one-year “innovation fellowship” from the White House.Cash-strapped governments welcome such colonisation by technologists – especially if it helps to identify and clean up datasets that can be profitably sold to companies who need such data for advertising purposes. Recent clashes over the sale of student and health data in the UK are just a precursor of battles to come: after all state assets have been privatised, data is the next target. For O’Reilly, open data is “a key enabler of the measurement revolution”.This “measurement revolution” seeks to quantify the efficiency of various social programmes, as if the rationale behind the social nets that some of them provide was to achieve perfection of delivery. The actual rationale, of course, was to enable a fulfilling life by suppressing certain anxieties, so that citizens can pursue their life projects relatively undisturbed. This vision did spawn a vast bureaucratic apparatus and the critics of the welfare state from the left – most prominently Michel Foucault – were right to question its disciplining inclinations. Nonetheless, neither perfection nor efficiency were the “desired outcome” of this system. Thus, to compare the welfare state with the algorithmic state on those grounds is misleading.

But we can compare their respective visions for human fulfilment – and the role they assign to markets and the state. Silicon Valley’s offer is clear: thanks to ubiquitous feedback loops, we can all become entrepreneurs and take care of our own affairs! As Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, told the Atlantic last year, “What happens when everybody is a brand? When everybody has a reputation? Every person can become an entrepreneur.”

Under this vision, we will all code (for America!) in the morning, drive Uber cars in the afternoon, and rent out our kitchens as restaurants – courtesy of Airbnb – in the evening. As O’Reilly writes of Uber and similar companies, “these services ask every passenger to rate their driver (and drivers to rate their passenger). Drivers who provide poor service are eliminated. Reputation does a better job of ensuring a superb customer experience than any amount of government regulation.”

The state behind the “sharing economy” does not wither away; it might be needed to ensure that the reputation accumulated on Uber, Airbnb and other platforms of the “sharing economy” is fully liquid and transferable, creating a world where our every social interaction is recorded and assessed, erasing whatever differences exist between social domains. Someone, somewhere will eventually rate you as a passenger, a house guest, a student, a patient, a customer. Whether this ranking infrastructure will be decentralised, provided by a giant like Google or rest with the state is not yet clear but the overarching objective is: to make reputation into a feedback-friendly social net that could protect the truly responsible citizens from the vicissitudes of deregulation.

Admiring the reputation models of Uber and Airbnb, O’Reilly wants governments to be “adopting them where there are no demonstrable ill effects”. But what counts as an “ill effect” and how to demonstrate it is a key question that belongs to the how of politics that algorithmic regulation wants to suppress. It’s easy to demonstrate “ill effects” if the goal of regulation is efficiency but what if it is something else? Surely, there are some benefits – fewer visits to the psychoanalyst, perhaps – in not having your every social interaction ranked?

The imperative to evaluate and demonstrate “results” and “effects” already presupposes that the goal of policy is the optimisation of efficiency. However, as long as democracy is irreducible to a formula, its composite values will always lose this battle: they are much harder to quantify.

For Silicon Valley, though, the reputation-obsessed algorithmic state of the sharing economy is the new welfare state. If you are honest and hardworking, your online reputation would reflect this, producing a highly personalised social net. It is “ultrastable” in Ashby’s sense: while the welfare state assumes the existence of specific social evils it tries to fight, the algorithmic state makes no such assumptions. The future threats can remain fully unknowable and fully addressable – on the individual level.

Silicon Valley, of course, is not alone in touting such ultrastable individual solutions. Nassim Taleb, in his best-selling 2012 book Antifragile, makes a similar, if more philosophical, plea for maximising our individual resourcefulness and resilience: don’t get one job but many, don’t take on debt, count on your own expertise. It’s all about resilience, risk-taking and, as Taleb puts it, “having skin in the game”. As Julian Reid and Brad Evans write in their new book, Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously, this growing cult of resilience masks a tacit acknowledgement that no collective project could even aspire to tame the proliferating threats to human existence – we can only hope to equip ourselves to tackle them individually. “When policy-makers engage in the discourse of resilience,” write Reid and Evans, “they do so in terms which aim explicitly at preventing humans from conceiving of danger as a phenomenon from which they might seek freedom and even, in contrast, as that to which they must now expose themselves.”

What, then, is the progressive alternative? “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” doesn’t work here: just because Silicon Valley is attacking the welfare state doesn’t mean that progressives should defend it to the very last bullet (or tweet). First, even leftist governments have limited space for fiscal manoeuvres, as the kind of discretionary spending required to modernise the welfare state would never be approved by the global financial markets. And it’s the ratings agencies and bond markets – not the voters – who are in charge today.

Second, the leftist critique of the welfare state has become only more relevant today when the exact borderlines between welfare and security are so blurry. When Google’s Android powers so much of our everyday life, the government’s temptation to govern us through remotely controlled cars and alarm-operated soap dispensers will be all too great. This will expand government’s hold over areas of life previously free from regulation.

With so much data, the government’s favourite argument in fighting terror – if only the citizens knew as much as we do, they too would impose all these legal exceptions – easily extends to other domains, from health to climate change. Consider a recent academic paper that used Google search data to study obesity patterns in the US, finding significant correlation between search keywords and body mass index levels. “Results suggest great promise of the idea of obesity monitoring through real-time Google Trends data”, note the authors, which would be “particularly attractive for government health institutions and private businesses such as insurance companies.”

If Google senses a flu epidemic somewhere, it’s hard to challenge its hunch – we simply lack the infrastructure to process so much data at this scale. Google can be proven wrong after the fact – as has recently been the case with its flu trends data, which was shown to overestimate the number of infections, possibly because of its failure to account for the intense media coverage of flu – but so is the case with most terrorist alerts. It’s the immediate, real-time nature of computer systems that makes them perfect allies of an infinitely expanding and pre-emption‑obsessed state.

Perhaps, the case of Gloria Placente and her failed trip to the beach was not just a historical oddity but an early omen of how real-time computing, combined with ubiquitous communication technologies, would transform the state. One of the few people to have heeded that omen was a little-known American advertising executive called Robert MacBride, who pushed the logic behind Operation Corral to its ultimate conclusions in his unjustly neglected 1967 book, The Automated State.

At the time, America was debating the merits of establishing a national data centre to aggregate various national statistics and make it available to government agencies. MacBride attacked his contemporaries’ inability to see how the state would exploit the metadata accrued as everything was being computerised. Instead of “a large scale, up-to-date Austro-Hungarian empire”, modern computer systems would produce “a bureaucracy of almost celestial capacity” that can “discern and define relationships in a manner which no human bureaucracy could ever hope to do”.

“Whether one bowls on a Sunday or visits a library instead is [of] no consequence since no one checks those things,” he wrote. Not so when computer systems can aggregate data from different domains and spot correlations. “Our individual behaviour in buying and selling an automobile, a house, or a security, in paying our debts and acquiring new ones, and in earning money and being paid, will be noted meticulously and studied exhaustively,” warned MacBride. Thus, a citizen will soon discover that “his choice of magazine subscriptions… can be found to indicate accurately the probability of his maintaining his property or his interest in the education of his children.” This sounds eerily similar to the recent case of a hapless father who found that his daughter was pregnant from a coupon that Target, a retailer, sent to their house. Target’s hunch was based on its analysis of products – for example, unscented lotion – usually bought by other pregnant women.

For MacBride the conclusion was obvious. “Political rights won’t be violated but will resemble those of a small stockholder in a giant enterprise,” he wrote. “The mark of sophistication and savoir-faire in this future will be the grace and flexibility with which one accepts one’s role and makes the most of what it offers.” In other words, since we are all entrepreneurs first – and citizens second, we might as well make the most of it.

What, then, is to be done? Technophobia is no solution. Progressives need technologies that would stick with the spirit, if not the institutional form, of the welfare state, preserving its commitment to creating ideal conditions for human flourishing. Even some ultrastability is welcome. Stability was a laudable goal of the welfare state before it had encountered a trap: in specifying the exact protections that the state was to offer against the excesses of capitalism, it could not easily deflect new, previously unspecified forms of exploitation.

How do we build welfarism that is both decentralised and ultrastable? A form of guaranteed basic income – whereby some welfare services are replaced by direct cash transfers to citizens – fits the two criteria.

Creating the right conditions for the emergence of political communities around causes and issues they deem relevant would be another good step. Full compliance with the principle of ultrastability dictates that such issues cannot be anticipated or dictated from above – by political parties or trade unions – and must be left unspecified.

What can be specified is the kind of communications infrastructure needed to abet this cause: it should be free to use, hard to track, and open to new, subversive uses. Silicon Valley’s existing infrastructure is great for fulfilling the needs of the state, not of self-organising citizens. It can, of course, be redeployed for activist causes – and it often is – but there’s no reason to accept the status quo as either ideal or inevitable.

Why, after all, appropriate what should belong to the people in the first place? While many of the creators of the internet bemoan how low their creature has fallen, their anger is misdirected. The fault is not with that amorphous entity but, first of all, with the absence of robust technology policy on the left – a policy that can counter the pro-innovation, pro-disruption, pro-privatisation agenda of Silicon Valley. In its absence, all these emerging political communities will operate with their wings clipped. Whether the next Occupy Wall Street would be able to occupy anything in a truly smart city remains to be seen: most likely, they would be out-censored and out-droned.

To his credit, MacBride understood all of this in 1967. “Given the resources of modern technology and planning techniques,” he warned, “it is really no great trick to transform even a country like ours into a smoothly running corporation where every detail of life is a mechanical function to be taken care of.” MacBride’s fear is O’Reilly’s master plan: the government, he writes, ought to be modelled on the “lean startup” approach of Silicon Valley, which is “using data to constantly revise and tune its approach to the market”. It’s this very approach that Facebook has recently deployed to maximise user engagement on the site: if showing users more happy stories does the trick, so be it.

Algorithmic regulation, whatever its immediate benefits, will give us a political regime where technology corporations and government bureaucrats call all the shots. The Polish science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, in a pointed critique of cybernetics published, as it happens, roughly at the same time as The Automated State, put it best: “Society cannot give up the burden of having to decide about its own fate by sacrificing this freedom for the sake of the cybernetic regulator.”

 

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court’s Wiretap Report, here’s where wiretapping occurs the most

 

Here are the states where you are most likely to be wiretapped

In terms of wiretapping — with a warrant — it turns out some states use the tactic far more than others.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Court released its “Wiretap Report” for the year 2013, and it turns out that Nevada, California, Colorado and New York account for nearly half of all wiretap applications on portable devices in the United States. Add in New Jersey, Georgia and Florida and you have 80 percent of the country’s applications for wiretaps. A chart from Pew Research can be viewed here.

Overall, according to the report, wiretaps were up in 2013:

“The number of federal and state wiretaps reported in 2013 increased 5 percent from 2012. A total of 3,576 wiretaps were reported as authorized in 2013, with 1,476 authorized by federal judges and 2,100 authorized by state judges.”

The report also found that in terms of federal applications The Southern District of California was responsible for 8 percent of the applications, approved by federal judges — the most by a single district in the country.

In terms of the nation, Pew Research reports:

“When we factor in population, Nevada leads the nation with 38 mobile wiretaps for every 500,000 people. Most Nevada wiretaps (187) were sought by officials in Clark County, home to Las Vegas; federal prosecutors in the state obtained authorization for 26 more, though only one was actually installed.”

The overwhelming majority of the wiretaps, nationwide — 90 percent, according to Pew Research — were requested to monitor drug-related criminal activity. Pew also reported that the wiretaps resulted in 3,744 arrests and 709 convictions.

Most of the wiretaps were for “portable devices” which included mobile phones and digital pagers, according to the report.



The states where no wiretaps were requested include Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont.

Of course, the report only highlights wiretaps that require a warrant, and not those done without.

h/t Gizmodo, Pew Research, U.S. Courts

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/07/14/here_are_the_sates_where_you_are_most_likely_to_be_wiretapped/?source=newsletter

 

Obama administration drops investigation into CIA spying on US Senate

http://jimbovard.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/obama-struggles-to-deal-with-fallout-from-nsa-surveillance-spying-edward-snowden-cia-fbi-big-brother.jpg

By Patrick Martin
12 July 2014

The US Department of Justice announced Thursday that it would not investigate charges that the CIA had spied on members of the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whitewashing the brazenly illegal actions of the US intelligence apparatus. “The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” read the Justice Department statement.

The department will also not investigate countercharges by the CIA that Senate staffers had gained unauthorized access to CIA documents, effectively equating the two and prompting the corporate-controlled media (which has largely buried the story) to portray the action as a neutral, “hands-off” position in a murky dispute between the Senate and the CIA.

The CIA surveillance of the activities of the Senate committee—which is charged by law with oversight of the CIA—was such a flagrant violation of the constitutional separation of powers that the panel’s chairman, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, took the extraordinary step of denouncing the agency in an hour-long speech on the Senate floor on March 11.

A longtime hardline defender of the intelligence apparatus, Feinstein was visibly disturbed by what she had learned of the CIA’s actions, which she said “may well have violated the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution,” and also “the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

The conflict arose over the four-year campaign by the CIA to stall the Senate committee’s inquiry into torture of prisoners at secret CIA-run prisons (“black sites”) between 2002 and 2006 under the Bush administration. Dozens of prisoners captured in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries were taken to these secret prisons in a half dozen countries—Thailand, Romania and Poland among them—and subjected to waterboarding and other forms of torture.

Bush ordered the “black sites” shut down and most of their prisoners transferred to Guantanamo in 2006, after the existence of the secret prisons became public knowledge. The Senate Intelligence Committee began an investigation in 2009 and has drafted a voluminous report, comprising more than 6,300 pages, including extensive details of both the torture operation and the efforts by the CIA to cover it up and lie to Congress and the American people.

The report was completed in 2012, but its publication has been repeatedly delayed by CIA stonewalling. At some point in 2013, staff members of the Senate committee became aware of an internal CIA document, dubbed the “Panetta review” after Leon Panetta, the CIA director who commissioned it, giving a summary of the evidence of torture. The review contradicted the official CIA position that the operations at the black sites conformed to international and US law.

When the Senate committee pressed for official release of the “Panetta review,” they were told that the document was privileged material for executive branch use only. CIA Director John Brennan told Feinstein in January 2014 that the CIA had conducted a search of the Senate committee’s computers in an effort to determine how the staff had obtained the document.

This search was a flagrant violation of the separation of powers set down in the US Constitution, which bars the executive branch from interfering in the internal operations and deliberations of the legislative branch.

Even more ominously, after the CIA inspector general filed a criminal referral to the Justice Department over the surveillance of the Senate committee staff, the CIA general counsel retaliated with its own criminal referral, seeking federal prosecution of the Senate staff members for alleged illegal access to classified documents. In other words, the CIA sought to criminalize any effort by Congress to supervise the CIA’s own operations.

Feinstein’s March 11 speech was a protest against this second referral, but it has been followed by four months of silence, both from congressional leaders, Democratic and Republican, and from the Obama administration. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify its torture report, but the White House handed over responsibility for declassification to the CIA itself—allowing the agency to decide what portions of the report criticizing its actions should be made public. No date has yet been set for final publication of what will be a severely redacted document.

Even the way the Justice Department announced its decision underscores the supremacy of the intelligence apparatus over the elected institutions that nominally hold sway in Washington. The department informed the CIA Wednesday that it would not investigate either criminal referral, but it waited to tell the Senate committee until Thursday.

The response of leading Senate Democrats was a further demonstration of their prostration before the intelligence agencies. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared, “I think what the CIA did to my senators is wrong. I’m going to drop it at that.”

Feinstein issued no official statement, but commented briefly to reporters, calling the Justice Department decision “good,” because it ended the possibility of prosecution of her staff: “We have a lot of young people, with families, and with this it’s a very hard thing to have hanging over your head. And they’ve done a very good job. It’s just a good day.”

The California senator said nothing about the whitewash of the constitutional issues involved in the CIA spying on the Senate committee, which she had made the axis of her Senate speech four months before.

The two leading “critics” of the CIA on the Senate panel did address that issue, although in terms that indicated they accepted the refusal of the Obama administration to investigate.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the CIA “still has some very serious questions to answer about the unauthorized search of Senate files and whether CIA officials believe they have the authority to do this again.”

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado said, “The Justice Department’s decision is troubling and draws a false equivalency between congressional staff fulfilling their constitutional obligations and an executive branch agency potentially breaking the law.”

However, Udall made it clear that his concern was to restore credibility to the CIA torturers, assassins and spymasters, not to hold them accountable for their crimes. “Independent oversight of our intelligence agencies is essential for the American people to trust what they’re doing to protect our national security,” he concluded.

The Justice Department action was greeted by most of the press with a yawn. There were perfunctory accounts published Friday by the New York Times (on page 8) and the Washington Post (a four-paragraph wire service story). The television networks ignored the issue.

When Feinstein made her speech on the Senate floor, the World Socialist Web Site pointed to the significance of the fundamental constitutional issues raised. We wrote: “The trajectory of this conflict is an ominous warning: the criminality of the military-intelligence apparatus is metastasizing into an open onslaught on constitutional principles, including such fundamental precepts as the separation of powers.”

But we warned, “Neither Feinstein nor any other capitalist politician in Washington, Democratic or Republican, is capable of serious resistance to the emergence of a police state in the United States… democratic rights are increasingly incompatible with the capitalist profit system, characterized by rampant social inequality and deepening economic crisis.”

This warning has been amply vindicated in the whitewash announced by the Obama administration, and the virtual silence that has followed it. The defense of democratic rights, abandoned by every representative and faction of big business politics, must be taken up by the working class, fighting in its own class and social interests.

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