"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Mass Surveillance’

Peeling The Onion: Almost Everyone Involved In Developing Tor Was (Or Is) Funded By The US Government

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2014 at 11:35 pm


Oldspeak: “None are more hopelessly than those who falsely believe they are free-Goethe.

YEEEESH…  i can’t say i’m surprised.  i’m more gullible than i thought.  Turns out TOR was/is a great way for governments to identify and track people who value their anonymity .  And was developed originally for spooks. Needless to say, don’t use Tor if you want to communicate and browse the internet securely. Or maybe this story is bullshit too, who the shit knows at this point. Le Sigh… ” -OSJ

By Yasha Levine @ Pando:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, “Oh, it’s another CIA agent.” If those are the only people using the network.”

—Roger Dingledine, co-founder of the Tor Network, 2004


In early July, hacker Jacob Appelbaum and two other security experts published a blockbuster story in conjunction with the German press. They had obtained leaked top secret NSA documents and source code showing that the surveillance agency had targeted and potentially penetrated the Tor Network, a widely used privacy tool considered to be the holy grail of online anonymity.

Internet privacy activists and organizations reacted to the news with shock. For the past decade, they had been promoting Tor as a scrappy but extremely effective grassroots technology that can protect journalists, dissidents and whistleblowers from powerful government forces that want to track their every move online. It was supposed to be the best tool out there. Tor’s been an integral part of EFF’s “Surveillance Self-Defense” privacy toolkit. Edward Snowden is apparently a big fan, and so is Glenn Greenwald, who says it “allows people to surf without governments or secret services being able to monitor them.”

But the German exposé  showed Tor providing the opposite of anonymity: it singled out users for total NSA surveillance, potentially sucking up and recording everything they did online.

To many in the privacy community, the NSA’s attack on Tor was tantamount to high treason: a fascist violation of a fundamental and sacred human right to privacy and free speech.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes Tor to be “essential to freedom of expression.” Appelbaum — a Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer — considers volunteering for Tor to be a valiant act on par with Hemingway or Orwell “going to Spain to fight the Franco fascists” on the side of anarchist revolutionaries.

It’s a nice story, pitting scrappy techno-anarchists against the all-powerful US Imperial machine. But the facts about Tor are not as clear cut or simple as these folks make them out to be…

Let’s start with the basics: Tor was developed, built and financed by the US military-surveillance complex. Tor’s original — and current — purpose is to cloak the online identity of government agents and informants while they are in the field: gathering intelligence, setting up sting operations, giving human intelligence assets a way to report back to their handlers — that kind of thing. This information is out there, but it’s not very well known, and it’s certainly not emphasized by those who promote it.

Peek under Tor’s hood, and you quickly realize that just everybody involved in developing Tor technology has been and/or still is funded by the Pentagon or related arm of the US empire. That includes Roger Dingledine, who brought the technology to life under a series of military and federal government contracts. Dingledine even spent a summer working at the NSA.

If you read the fine print on Tor’s website, you’ll see that Tor is still very much in active use by the US government:

“A branch of the U.S. Navy uses Tor for open source intelligence gathering, and one of its teams used Tor while deployed in the Middle East recently. Law enforcement uses Tor for visiting or surveilling web sites without leaving government IP addresses in their web logs, and for security during sting operations.”

NSA? DoD? U.S. Navy? Police surveillance? What the hell is going on? How is it possible that a privacy tool was created by the same military and intelligence agencies that it’s supposed to guard us against? Is it a ruse? A sham? A honeytrap? Maybe I’m just being too paranoid…

Unfortunately, this is not a tinfoil hat conspiracy theory. It is cold hard fact.

Brief history of Tor

The origins of Tor go back to 1995, when military scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory began developing cloaking technology that would prevent someone’s activity on the Internet from being traced back to them. They called it “onion routing” — a method redirecting traffic into a parallel peer-to-peer network and bouncing it around randomly before sending it off to its final destination. The idea was to move it around so as to confuse and disconnect its origin and destination, and make it impossible for someone to observe who you are or where you’re going on the Internet.

Onion routing was like a hustler playing the three-card monte with your traffic: the guy trying to spy on you could watch it going under one card, but he never knew where it would come out.

The technology was funded by the Office of Naval Research and DARPA. Early development was spearheaded by Paul Syverson, Michael Reed and David Goldschlag — all military mathematicians and computer systems researchers working for the Naval Research Laboratory, sitting inside the massive Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling military base in Southeast Washington, D.C.

The original goal of onion routing wasn’t to protect privacy — or at least not in the way most people think of “privacy.” The goal was to allow intelligence and military personnel to work online undercover without fear of being unmasked by someone monitoring their Internet activity.

“As military grade communication devices increasingly depend on the public communications infrastructure, it is important to use that infrastructure in ways that are resistant to traffic analysis. It may also be useful to communicate anonymously, for example when gathering intelligence from public databases,” explained a 1997 paper outlining an early version of onion routing that was published in the Naval Research Labs Review.

In the 90s, as public Internet use and infrastructure grew and multiplied, spooks needed to figure out a way to hide their identity in plain sight online. An undercover spook sitting in a hotel room in a hostile country somewhere couldn’t simply dial up CIA.gov on his browser and log in — anyone sniffing his connection would know who he was. Nor could a military intel agent infiltrate a potential terrorist group masquerading as an online animal rights forum if he had to create an account and log in from an army base IP address.

That’s where onion routing came in. As Michael Reed, one of the inventors of onion routing, explained: providing cover for military and intelligence operations online was their primary objective; everything else was secondary:

The original *QUESTION* posed that led to the invention of Onion Routing was, “Can we build a system that allows for bi-directional communications over the Internet where the source and destination cannot be determined by a mid-point?” The *PURPOSE* was for DoD / Intelligence usage (open source intelligence gathering, covering of forward deployed assets, whatever). Not helping dissidents in repressive countries. Not assisting criminals in covering their electronic tracks. Not helping bit-torrent users avoid MPAA/RIAA prosecution. Not giving a 10 year old a way to bypass an anti-porn filter. Of course, we knew those would be other unavoidable uses for the technology, but that was immaterial to the problem at hand we were trying to solve (and if those uses were going to give us more cover traffic to better hide what we wanted to use the network for, all the better…I once told a flag officer that much to his chagrin).

Apparently solving this problem wasn’t very easy. Onion router research progressed slowly, with several versions developed and discarded. But in 2002, seven years after it began, the project moved into a different and more active phase. Paul Syverson from the Naval Research Laboratory stayed on the project, but two new guys fresh outta MIT grad school came on board: Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson. They were not formally employed by Naval Labs, but were on contract from DARPA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s Center for High Assurance Computer Systems. For the next several years, the three of them worked on a newer version of onion routing that would later become known as Tor.

Very early on, researchers understood that just designing a system that only technically anonymizes traffic is not enough — not if the system is used exclusively by military and intelligence. In order to cloak spooks better, Tor needed to be used by a diverse group of people: Activists, students, corporate researchers, soccer moms, journalists, drug dealers, hackers, child pornographers, foreign agents, terrorists — the more diverse the group that spooks could hide in the crowd in plain sight.

Tor also needed to be moved off site and disassociated from Naval research. As Syverson told Bloomberg in January 2014: “If you have a system that’s only a Navy system, anything popping out of it is obviously from the Navy. You need to have a network that carries traffic for other people as well.”

Dingledine said the same thing a decade earlier at the 2004 Wizards of OS conference in Germany:

“The United States government can’t simply run an anonymity system for everybody and then use it themselves only. Because then every time a connection came from it people would say, ‘Oh, it’s another CIA agent.’ If those are the only people using the network.”

The consumer version of Tor would be marketed to everyone and — equally important — would eventually allow anyone to run a Tor node/relay, even from their desktop computer. The idea was to create a massive crowdsourced torrent-style network made up from thousands of volunteers all across the world.

At the very end of 2004, with Tor technology finally ready for deployment, the US Navy cut most of its Tor funding, released it under an open source license and, oddly, the project was handed over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“We funded Roger Dingledine and Nick Mathewson to work on Tor for a single year from November 2004 through October 2005 for $180,000. We then served as a fiscal sponsor for the project until they got their 501(c)(3) status over the next year or two.  During that time, we took in less than $50,000 for the project,” EFF’s Dave Maass told me by email.

In a December 2004 press release announcing its support for Tor, EFF curiously failed to mention that this anonymity tool was developed primarily for military and intelligence use. Instead, it focused purely on Tor’s ability to protect free speech from oppressive regimes in the Internet age.

“The Tor project is a perfect fit for EFF, because one of our primary goals is to protect the privacy and anonymity of Internet users. Tor can help people exercise their First Amendment right to free, anonymous speech online,” said EFF’s Technology Manager Chris Palmer.

Later on, EFF’s online materials began mentioning that Tor had been developed by the Naval Research Lab, but played down the connection, explaining that it was “in the past.” Meanwhile the organization kept boosting and promoting Tor as a powerful privacy tool:

“Your traffic is safer when you use Tor.”

Playing down Tor’s ties to the military…

The people at EFF weren’t the only ones minimizing Tor’s ties to the military.

In 2005, Wired published what might have been the first major profile of Tor technology. The article was written by Kim Zetter, and headlined: “Tor Torches Online Tracking.” Although Zetter was a bit critical of Tor, she made it seem like the anonymity technology had been handed over by the military with no strings attached to “two Boston-based programmers” — Dingledine and Nick Mathewson, who had completely rebuilt the product and ran it independently.

Dingledine and Mathewson might have been based in Boston, but they — and Tor — were hardly independent.

At the time that the Wired article went to press in 2005, both had been on the Pentagon payroll for at least three years. And they would continue to be on the federal government’s payroll for at least another seven years.

In fact, in 2004, at the Wizards of OS conference in Germany, Dingledine proudly announced that he was building spy craft tech on the government payroll:

“I forgot to mention earlier something that will make you look at me in a new light. I contract for the United States Government to built anonymity technology for them and deploy it. They don’t think of it as anonymity technology, although we use that term. They think of it as security technology. They need these technologies so they can research people they are interested in, so they can have anonymous tip lines, so that they can buy things from people without other countries knowing what they are buying, how much they are buying and where it is going, that sort of thing.”

Government support kept rolling in well after that.

In 2006, Tor research was funded was through a no-bid federal contract awarded to Dingledine’s consulting company, Moria Labs. And starting in 2007, the Pentagon cash came directly through the Tor Project itself — thanks to the fact that Team Tor finally left EFF and registered its own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit.

How dependent was — and is — Tor on support from federal government agencies like the Pentagon?

In 2007, it appears that all of Tor’s funding came from the federal government via two grants. A quarter million came from the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), a CIA spinoff that now operates under the Broadcasting Board of Governors. IBB runs Voice of America and Radio Marti, a propaganda outfit aimed at subverting Cuba’s communist regime. The CIA supposedly cut IBB financing in the 1970s after its ties to Cold War propaganda arms like Radio Free Europe were exposed.

The second chunk of cash — just under $100,000 — came from Internews, an NGO aimed at funding and training dissident and activists abroad. Tor’s subsequent tax filings show that grants from Internews were in fact conduits for “pass through” grants from the US State Department.

In 2008, Tor got $527,000 again from IBB and Internews, which meant that 90% of its funding came U.S. government sources that year.

In 2009, the federal government provided just over $900,000, or about 90% of the funding. Part of that cash came through a $632,189 federal grant from the State Department, described in tax filings as a “Pass-Through from Internews Network International.” Another $270,000 came via the CIA-spinoff IBB. The Swedish government gave $38,000, while Google gave a minuscule $29,000.

Most of that government cash went out in the form of salaries to Tor administrators and developers. Tor co-founders Dingledine and Mathewson made $120,000. Jacob Appelbaum, the rock star hacker, Wikileaks volunteer and Tor developer, made $96,000.

In 2010, the State Department upped its grant to $913,000 and IBB gave $180,000 — which added up to nearly $1 million out of a total of $1.3 million total funds listed on tax filings that year. Again, a good chunk of that went out as salaries to Tor developers and managers.

In 2011, IBB gave $150,00, while another $730,000 came via Pentagon and State Department grants, which represented more than 70% of the grants that year. (Although based on tax filings, government contracts added up to nearly 100% of Tor’s funding.)

The DoD grant was passed through the Stanford Research Institute, a cutting edge Cold War military-intel outfit. The Pentagon-SRI grant to Tor was given this description: “Basic and Applied Research and Development in Areas Relating to the Navy Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.”

That year, a new government funder came the scene: Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Sweden’s version of USAID, gave Tor $279,000.

In 2012, Tor nearly doubled its budget, taking in $2.2 million from Pentagon and intel-connected grants: $876,099 came from the DoD, $353,000 from the State Department, $387,800 from IBB.

That same year, Tor lined up an unknown amount funding from the Broadcasting Board of Governors to finance fast exit nodes.

Tor at the NSA?

In 2013, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA had figured out various ways of unmasking and penetrating the anonymity of the Tor Network.

Since 2006, according to a 49-page research paper titled simply “Tor,” the agency has worked on several methods that, if successful, would allow the NSA to uncloak anonymous traffic on a “wide scale” — effectively by watching communications as they enter and exit the Tor system, rather than trying to follow them inside. One type of attack, for example, would identify users by minute differences in the clock times on their computers.

The evidence came out of Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. It appeared that the surveillance agency had developed several techniques to get at Tor. One of the documents explained that the NSA “pretty much guaranteed to succeed.”

Snowden’s leaks revealed another interesting detail: In 2007, Dingledine gave at a talk at the NSA’s HQ explaining Tor, and how it worked.

The Washington Post published the NSA’s notes from their meeting with Dingledine. They showed that Dingledine and the NSA mostly talked about the technical details of Tor — how the network works and some of its security/usability tradeoffs. The NSA was curious about “Tor’s customers,” and Dingledine ran down some of the types of people who could benefit from Tor: Blogger Alice, 8 yr. old Alice, Sick Alice, Consumer Alice, Oppressed Alice, Business Alice, Law Enforcement Alice…

Interestingly, Dingledine told the NSA that “the way TOR is spun is dependent on who the ‘spinee’ is” — meaning that he markets Tor technology in different ways to different people?

Interestingly, the Washington Post article described Dingledine’s trip to the NSA as “a wary encounter, akin to mutual intelligence gathering, between a spy agency and a man who built tools to ward off electronic surveillance.” Dingledine told the paper that he came away from that meeting with the feeling that the NSA was trying to hack the Tor network:

“As he spoke to the NSA, Dingledine said in an interview Friday, he suspected the agency was attempting to break into Tor, which is used by millions of people around the world to shield their identities.”

Dingledine may very well have been antagonistic during his meeting with the NSA. Perhaps he was protective over his Tor baby, and didn’t want its original inventors and sponsors in the US government taking it back. But whatever the reason, the antagonism was not likely borne out of some sort of innate ideological hostility towards the US national security state.

Aside from being on the DoD payroll, Dingledine has spends a considerable amount of his time meeting and consulting with military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to explain why Tor’s so great, and instructing them on how to use it. What kind of agencies does he meet with? The FBI, CIA and DOJ are just a few… And if you listen to Dingledine explain these encounters in some of his public appearances, one does not detect so much as a whiff of antagonism towards intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

In 2013, during a talk at UC San Diego, Dingledine cheerfully recalled how an exuberant FBI agent rushed up to thank him during his recent trip to the FBI:

“So I’ve been doing a lot of talks lately for law enforcement. And pretty much every talk I do these days, sone FBI person comes up to me afterwards and says, ‘I use Tor everyday for my job. Thank you.’ Another example is anonymous tips — I was talking to the folks who run the CIA anonymous tip line. It’s called the Iraqi Rewards Program…”

Dingledine’s close collaboration with law enforcement aside, there’s the strangely glib manner in which he dismissed news about the NSA hacking into Tor. He seemed totally unconcerned by the evidence revealed by Snowden’s leaks, and played down the NSA’s capabilities in his comments to the Washington Post:

“If those documents actually represent what they can do, they are not as big an adversary as I thought.”

I reached out to Dingledine to ask him about his trip to the NSA and whether he warned the Tor community back in 2007 that he suspected the NSA was targeting Tor users. He didn’t respond.

How safe is Tor, really?

If Dingledine didn’t appear to be fazed by evidence of the NSA’s attack on Tor anonymity, it’s strange considering that an attack by a powerful government entity has been known to be one Tor’s principle weaknesses for quite some time.

In a 2011 discussion on Tor’s official listserv, Tor developer Mike Perry admitted that Tor might not be very effective against powerful, organized “adversaries” (aka governments) that are capable monitoring huge swaths of the Internet.

“Extremely well funded adversaries that are able to observe large portions of the Internet can probably break aspects of Tor and may be able to deanonymize users. This is why the core tor program currently has a version number of 0.2.x and comes with a warning that it is not to be used for “strong anonymity”. (Though I personally don’t believe any adversary can reliably deanonymize *all* tor users . . . but attacks on anonymity are subtle and cumulative in nature).

Indeed, just last year, Syverson was part of a research team that pretty much proved that Tor can no longer be expected to protect users over the long term.

“Tor is known to be insecure against an adversary that can observe a user’s traffic entering and exiting the anonymity network. Quite simple and efficient techniques can correlate traffic at these separate locations by taking advantage of identifying traffic patterns. As a result, the user and his destination may be identified, completely subverting the protocol’s security goals.”

The researchers concluded: “These results are somewhat gloomy for the current security of the Tor network.”

While Syverson indicated that some of the security issues identified by this research have been addressed in recent Tor versions, the findings only added to a growing list of other research and anecdotal evidence showing Tor’s not as safe as its boosters want you to think — especially when pitted against determined intelligence agencies.

Case-in-point: In December 2013, a 20-year-old Harvard panicked overachiever named Edlo Kim learned just how little protection Tor offered for would be terrorists.

To avoid taking a final exam he wasn’t prepared for, Kim hit up on the idea of sending in a fake bomb threat. То cover his tracks, he used Tor, supposedly the best anonymity service the web had to offer. But it did little mask his identity from a determined Uncle Sam. A joint investigation, which involved the FBI, the Secret Service and local police, was able to track the fake bomb threat right back to Kim — in less than 24 hours.

As the FBI complaint explained, “Harvard University was able to determine that, in the several hours leading up to the receipt of the e-mail messages described above, ELDO KIM accessed TOR using Harvard’s wireless network.” All that Tor did was make the cops jump a few extra steps. But it wasn’t hard, nothing that a bit of manpower with full legal authority to access network records couldn’t solve. It helped that Harvard’s network logging all metadata access on the network — sorta like the NSA.

Over the past few years, U.S. law enforcement has taken control and shutdown a series of illegal child porn and drug marketplaces operating on what should have been untraceable, hyper-anonymous servers running in the Tor cloud.

In 2013, they took down Freedom Hosting, which was accused of being a massive child porn hosting operation — but not before taking control of its servers and intercepting all of its communication with customers. The FBI did the same thing that same year with the online drug superstore Silkroad, which also ran its services in the Tor cloud. Although, rookie mistakes helped FBI unmask the identity of Dred Pirate Roberts, it is still a mystery how they were able to totally take over and control, and even copy, a server run in the Tor cloud — something that is supposed to be impossible.

Back in 2007, a Swedish hacker/researcher named Dan Egerstad showed that just by running a Tor node, he could siphon and read all the unencrypted traffic that went through his chunk of the Tor network. He was able to access logins and passwords to accounts of NGOs, companies, and the embassies of India and Iran. Egerstad thought at first that embassy staff were just being careless with their info, but quickly realized that he had actually stumbled on a hack/surveillance operation in which Tor was being used to covertly access these accounts.

Although Egerstad was a big fan of Tor and still believes that Tor can provide anonymity if used correctly, the experience made him highly suspicious.

He told Sydney Morning Herald that he thinks many of the major Tor nodes are being run by intelligence agencies or other parties interested in listening in on Tor communication.

“I don’t like speculating about it, but I’m telling people that it is possible. And if you actually look in to where these Tor nodes are hosted and how big they are, some of these nodes cost thousands of dollars each month just to host because they’re using lots of bandwidth, they’re heavy-duty servers and so on. Who would pay for this and be anonymous? For example, five of six of them are in Washington D.C.…”

Tor stinks?

Tor supporters point to a cache of NSA documents leaked by Snowden to prove that the agency fears and hates Tor. A 2013 Guardian story based on these docs — written by James Ball, Bruce Schneier and Glenn Greenwald — argues that agency is all but powerless against the anonymity tool.

…the documents suggest that the fundamental security of the Torservice remains intact. One top-secret presentation, titled ‘Tor Stinks’, states: “We will never be able to de-anonymize all Tor users all the time.” It continues: “With manual analysis we can de-anonymize a very small fraction of Tor users,” and says the agency has had “no success de-anonymizing a user in response” to a specific request.

Another top-secret presentation calls Tor “the king of high-secure, low-latency internet anonymity”.

But the NSA docs are far from conclusive and offer conflicting bits of evidence, allowing for multiple interpretations. But the fact is that the NSA and GCHQ clearly have the capability to compromise Tor, but it might take a bit of targeted effort.

One thing is clear: the NSA most certainly does not hate or fear Tor. And some aspects about Tor are definitely welcomed by the NSA, in part because it helps concentrate potential “targets” in one convenient location.

Tor Stinks… But it Could be Worse

• Critical mass of targets use Tor. Scaring them away might be counterproductive.

• We can increase our success rate and provide more client IPs for individual Tor users.

• We will never get 100% but we don’t need to provide true IPs for every target every time they use Tor.

Tor network is not as difficult to capture as it may seem…

In 2012, Tor co-founder Roger Dingledine revealed that the Tor Network is configured to prioritize speed and route traffic through through the fastest servers/nodes available. As a result, the vast bulk of Tor traffic runs through several dozen of the fastest and most dependable servers: “on today’s network, clients choose one of the fastest 5 exit relays around 25-30% of the time, and 80% of their choices come from a pool of 40-50 relays.”

Dingledine was criticized by Tor community for the obvious reason that funneling traffic through a handful of fast nodes made surveilling and subverting Tor much easier. Anyone can run a Tor node — a research student in Germany, a guy with FIOS connection in Victorville (which is what I did for a few months), an NSA front out of Hawaii or a guy working for China’s Internet Police.

There’s no way of knowing if the people running the fastest most stable nodes are doing it out of goodwill or because it’s the best way to listen in and subvert the Tor network. Particularly troubling was that Snowden’s leaks clearly showed the NSA and GCHQ run Tor nodes, and are interested in running more.

And running 50 Tor nodes doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult for any of the world’s intelligence agencies — whether American, German, British, Russian, Chinese or Iranian. Hell, if you’re an intelligence agency, there’s no reason not to run a Tor node.

Back in 2005, Dingledine admitted to Wired that this was a “tricky design question” but couldn’t provide a good answer to how they’d handle it. In 2012, he dismissed his critics altogether, explaining that he was perfectly willing to sacrifice security for speed — whatever it took to take get more people to use Tor:

This choice goes back to the original discussion that Mike Perry and I were wrestling with a few years ago… if we want to end up with a fast safe network, do we get there by having a slow safe network and hoping it’ll get faster, or by having a fast less-safe network and hoping it’ll get safer? We opted for the “if we don’t stay relevant to the world, Tor will never grow enough” route.

Speaking of spooks running Tor nodes…

If you thought the Tor story couldn’t get any weirder, it can and does. Probably the strangest part of this whole saga is the fact that Edward Snowden ran multiple high-bandwidth Tor nodes while working as an NSA contractor in Hawaii.

This only became publicly known last May, when Tor developer Runa Sandvik (who also drew her salary from Pentagon/State Department sources at Tor) told Wired’s Kevin Poulsen that just two weeks before he would try to get in touch with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden emailed her, explaining that he ran a major Tor node and wanted to get some Tor stickers.

Stickers? Yes, stickers.

Here’s Wired:

In his e-mail, Snowden wrote that he personally ran one of the “major tor exits”–a 2 gbps server named “TheSignal”–and was trying to persuade some unnamed coworkers at his office to set up additional servers. He didn’t say where he worked. But he wanted to know if Sandvik could send him a stack of official Tor stickers. (In some post-leak photos of Snowden you can see the Tor sticker on the back of his laptop, next to the EFF sticker).

Snowden’s request for Tor stickers turned into something a bit more intimate. Turned out that Sandvik was already planning to go to Hawaii for vacation, so she suggested they meet up to talk about communication security and encryption.

She wrote Snowden back and offered to give a presentation about Tor to a local audience. Snowden was enthusiastic and offered to set up a crypto party for the occasion.

So the two of them threw a “crypto party” at a local coffee shop in Honolulu, teaching twenty or so locals how to use Tor and encrypt their hard drives. “He introduced himself as Ed. We talked for a bit before everything started. And I remember asking where he worked or what he did, and he didn’t really want to tell,” Sandvik told Wired.

But she did learn that Snowden was running more than one Tor exit node, and that he was trying to get some of his buddies at “work”to set up additional Tor nodes…

H’mmm….So Snowden running powerful Tor nodes and trying to get his NSA colleagues to run them, too?

I reached out to Sandvik for comment. She didn’t reply. But Wired’s Poulsen suggested that running Tor nodes and throwing a crypto party was a pet privacy project for Snowden. “Even as he was thinking globally, he was acting locally.”

But it’s hard to imagine a guy with top secret security clearance in the midst of planning to steal a huge cache of secrets would risk running a Tor node to help out the privacy cause. But then, who hell knows what any of this means.

I guess it’s fitting that Tor’s logo is an onion — because the more layers you peel and the deeper you get, the less things make sense and the more you realize that there is no end or bottom to it. It’s hard to get any straight answers — or even know what questions you should be asking.

In that way, the Tor Project more resembles a spook project than a tool designed by a culture that values accountability or transparency.


Chomsky: The Richest Countries Are Racing Us Towards Disaster While ‘Primitive’ Societies Are Trying to Stop It

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power

Oldspeak: “The growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice… In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control or maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be…It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.” -Noam Chomsky

“When one understands that so-called “advanced” societies have completely decoupled from the ecology and regard the destruction of irreplaceable natural capital as mere “externalities” and not vital parts of the web of life to be respected, sustained and cared for while so-called “primitive” societies thrive in intimate daily contact with the ecology and know something is terribly wrong;  it’s not ironic atal.  In advanced societies, infinite growth and profit are paramount, while in primitive societies symbiotic equilibrial coexistence in the ecology is paramount. While advanced societies dominate on this planet, we can expect more of the same heedless careening toward ecological catastrophe and mass extinction.” -OSJ

By Natasha Leonard @ Salon:

In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.

Happily, though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.

Chomsky told Natasha Lennard about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.

Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance-state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?

In principle it’s not an innovation; things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Philippines scholar at University of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and in many ways the Philippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “Red Scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.

Q: Do you think revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?

Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.

We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.

Q: You’ve often highlighted flaws in mainstream media’s insidious institutional fealty during your career — notably in your book “Manufacturing Consent” [1988]. What do you think of the current state of the U.S. media? Do you have much hope for new ventures like Glenn Greenwald’s, which has already promised to aggressively take on government and corporate wrongdoing?

The availability of the Internet has offered a much easier access than before to a wide variety of information and opinion and so on. But I don’t think that is a qualitative shift. It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development. [The Internet] gives more access — that part is good — but on the other hand, it is combined with a process of undermining independent inquiry and reporting within the media themselves. There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs. And that’s declining. Local newspapers, I need not inform you, are becoming very much narrower in their global outreach, even their national outreach.  And that’s the real meat of inquiry of information gathering. We can criticize its character and the biases that enter into it, and the institutional constraints on it, but nevertheless it’s of inestimable importance. I’ve never questioned that. And that’s diminishing at the same time as accesses to a wider range of materials is increasing. The Greenwald initiative is a very promising one. He himself has had an impressive career of independent thinking, inquiry, analysis and reporting. I think there is good reason to have a good deal of trust in his judgement. Where it will go, we don’t know, it hasn’t started yet so it is just speculation.

I think that, for example,  the New York Times will remain what’s called the “newspaper of record” for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any competitor arising which has the range of resources, of overseas bureaus and so on again, I think there is plenty to criticize about it, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource. There are many other independent developments which are quite significant of themselves so it’s valuable to have say Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or Salon or any other independent voice. But I don’t see any indication that there is going to be some radically new form of gathering, reporting and analyzing information.

Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, have spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institution affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?

Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.

Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.

Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.

Q: What other contemporary issues particularly concern you? Do you find signs of hope or resistance around these issues that, perhaps, you finding heartening?

Well, we can make a long list, including the things we’ve talked about, but it’s also worth remembering that, hovering over the things we discussed, are two major problems. These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing. The second one we know, at least in principle, how to deal with it. There is a way of significantly reducing that threat; the methods are not being pursued but we know what they are. In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control of maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be.

It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

Senator Where Art Thou? : The Surveillance Reforms Obama Supported Before He Was President

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Sen. Barack Obama in 2005. The White House has opposed efforts to rein in NSA snooping, but as a senator, Obama supported substantial reforms. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Oldspeak: “Yes. 7 more instances of Senator Obama saying and doing one thing & President Obama saying and doing THE EXACT OPPOSITE. This is really getting old. O_o Doublethink par excellence. Don’t believe the hype!” –OSJ

By Kara Brandeisky @ Pro Publica:

When the House of Representatives recently considered an amendment that would have dismantled the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program, the White House swiftly condemned the measure. But only five years ago, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. was part of a group of legislators that supported substantial changes to NSA surveillance programs. Here are some of the proposals the president co-sponsored as a senator.

As a senator, Obama wanted to limit bulk records collection.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 bill, introduced by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would have required the government to demonstrate, with “specific and articulable facts,” that it wanted records related to “a suspected agent of a foreign power” or the records of people with one degree of separation from a suspect. The bill died in committee. Following pressure from the Bush administration, lawmakers had abandoned a similar 2005 measure, which Obama also supported.

We now know the Obama administration has sought, and obtained, the phone records belonging to all Verizon Business Network Services subscribers (and reportedly, Sprint and AT&T subscribers, as well). Once the NSA has the database, analysts search through the phone records and look at people with two or three degrees of separation from suspected terrorists.

The measure Obama supported in 2007 is actually similar to the House amendment that the White House condemned earlier this month. That measure, introduced by Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and John Conyers, D-Mich., would have ended bulk phone records collection but still allowed the NSA to collect records related to individual suspects without a warrant based on probable cause.

The 2007 measure is also similar to current proposals introduced by Conyers and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

As a senator, Obama wanted to require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally collected American data.

In Feb. 2008, Obama co-sponsored an amendment, also introduced by Feingold, which would have further limited the ability of the government to collect any communications to or from people residing in the U.S.

The measure would have also required government analysts to segregate all incidentally collected American communications. If analysts wanted to access those communications, they would have needed to apply for individualized surveillance court approval.

The amendment failed 35-63. Obama later reversed his position and supported what became the law now known to authorize the PRISM program. That legislation — the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 — also granted immunity to telecoms that had cooperated with the government on surveillance.

The law ensured the government would not need a court order to collect data from foreigners residing outside the United States. According to the Washington Post, analysts are told that they can compel companies to turn over communications if they are 51 percent certain the data belongs to foreigners.

Powerpoint presentation slides published by the Guardian indicate that when analysts use XKeyscore — the software the NSA uses to sift through huge amounts of raw internet data — they must first justify why they have reason to believe communications are foreign. Analysts can select from rationales available in dropdown menus and then read the communications without court or supervisor approval.

Finally, analysts do not need court approval to look at previously-collected bulk metadata either, even domestic metadata. Instead, the NSA limits access to incidentally collected American data according to its own “minimization” procedures. A leaked 2009 document said that analysts only needed permission from their “shift coordinators” to access previously-collected phone records. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., has introduced a bill that would require analysts to get special court approval to search through telephone metadata.

As a senator, Obama wanted the executive branch to report to Congress how many American communications had been swept up during surveillance.

Feingold’s 2008 amendment, which Obama supported, would have also required the Defense Department and Justice Department to complete a joint audit of all incidentally collected American communications and provide the report to congressional intelligence committees. The amendment failed 35-63.

The Inspector General of the Intelligence Community told Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Co. last year that it would be unfeasible to estimate how many American communications have been incidentally collected, and doing so would violate Americans’ privacy rights.

As a senator, Obama wanted to restrict the use of gag orders related to surveillance court orders.

Obama co-sponsored at least two measures that would have made it harder for the government to issue nondisclosure orders to businesses when compelling them to turn over customer data.

One 2007 bill would have required the government to demonstrate that disclosure could cause one of six specific harms: by either endangering someone, causing someone to avoid prosecution, encouraging the destruction of evidence, intimidating potential witnesses, interfering with diplomatic relations, or threatening national security. It would have also required the government to show that the gag order was “narrowly tailored” to address those specific dangers. Obama also supported a similar measure in 2005. Neither measure made it out of committee.

The Obama administration has thus far prevented companies from disclosing information about surveillance requests. Verizon’s surveillance court order included a gag order.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and Google have filed motions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking permission to release aggregate data about directives they’ve received. Microsoft has said the Justice Department and the FBI had previously denied its requests to release more information. The Justice Department has asked for more time to consider lifting the gag orders.

As a senator, Obama wanted to give the accused a chance to challenge government surveillance.

Obama co-sponsored a 2007 measure that would have required the government to tell defendants before it used any evidence collected under the controversial section of the Patriot Act. (That section, known as 215, has served as the basis for the bulk phone records collection program.) Obama also supported an identical measure in 2005.

Both bills would have ensured that defendants had a chance to challenge the legalityof Patriot Act surveillance. The Supreme Court has since held that plaintiffs who cannot prove they have been monitored cannot challenge NSA surveillance programs.

Those particular bills did not make it out of committee. But another section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires that the government tell defendants before it uses evidence collected under that law.

Until recently, federal prosecutors would not tell defendants what kind of surveillance had been used.

The New York Times reported that in two separate bomb plot prosecutions, the government resisted efforts to reveal whether its surveillance relied on a traditional FISA order, or the 2008 law now known to authorize PRISM. As a result, defense attorneys had been unable to contest the legality of the surveillance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., later said that in both cases, the government had relied on the 2008 law, though prosecutors now dispute that account.

On July 30, the Justice Department reversed its position in one bomb plot prosecution. The government disclosed that it had not gathered any evidence under the 2008 law now known to authorize sweeping surveillance.

But that’s not the only case in which the government has refused to detail its surveillance. When San Diego cab driver BasaalySaeedMoalin was charged with providing material support to terrorists based on surveillance evidence in Dec. 2010, his attorney, Joshua Dratel, tried to get the government’s wiretap application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The government refused, citing national security.

Dratel only learned that the government had used Moalin’s phone records as the basis for its wiretap application — collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — when FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce cited the Moalin case as a success story for the bulk phone records collection program.

Reuters has also reported that a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit uses evidence from surveillance to investigate Americans for drug-related crimes, and then directs DEA agents to “recreate” the investigations to cover up the original tip, so defendants won’t know they’ve been monitored.

As a senator, Obama wanted the attorney general to submit a public report giving aggregate data about how many people had been targeted for searches.

Under current law, the attorney general gives congressional intelligence committees a semiannual report with aggregate data on how many people have been targeted for surveillance. Obama co-sponsored a 2005 bill that would have made that report public. The bill didn’t make it out of committee.

Despite requests from Microsoft and Google, the Justice Department has not yet given companies approval to disclose aggregate data about surveillance directives.

As a senator, Obama wanted the government to declassify significant surveillance court opinions.

Currently, the attorney general also gives congressional intelligence committees “significant” surveillance court opinions, decisions and orders and summaries of any significant legal interpretations. The 2005 bill that Obama co-sponsored would have released those opinions to the public, allowing redactions for sensitive national security information.

Before Edward Snowden’s disclosures, the Obama Justice Department had fought Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking surveillance court opinions. On July 31, the Director of National Intelligence released a heavily redacted version of the FISA court’s “primary order” compelling telecoms to turn over metadata.

In response to a request from Yahoo, the government also says it is going to declassify court documents showing how Yahoo challenged a government directive to turn over user data. The Director of National Intelligence is still reviewing if there are other surveillance court opinions and other significant documents that may be released. Meanwhile, there are severalbills in Congress that would compel the government to release secret surveillance court opinions.

Eavesdropping On The Planet: NSA Building Massive, Pervasive, Global Surveillance Network

In Uncategorized on July 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm

prism-nsaOldspeak:”  “Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex … satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links … voice, text, images … captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth, then processed by high-powered computers … if it runs on electromagnetic energy, NSA is there, with high high tech. Twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps billions of messages sucked up each day. No one escapes. Not presidents, prime ministers, the UN Secretary-General, the pope, the Queen of England, embassies, transnational corporation CEOs, friend, foe, your Aunt Lena … if God has a phone, it’s being monitored … maybe your dog isn’t being tapped. The oceans will not protect you. American submarines have been attaching tapping pods to deep underwater cables for decades.

Under a system codenamed ECHELON, launched in the 1970s, the NSA and its junior partners in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada operate a network of massive, highly automated interception stations, covering the globe amongst them. Any of the partners can ask any of the others to intercept its own domestic communications. It can then truthfully say it does not spy on its own citizens. –William Blum

I don’t want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded. And that’s not something I’m willing to support, that’s not something I’m willing to build, and that’s something I’m willing to live under. So I think that anyone who opposes that sort of world has an obligation to act in a way they can…” –Edward Snowden, NSA Whistleblower

With recent revelations of NSA spying on millions of Brazilians, & European Union “Allies“; with France’s version of the U.S.’s PRISM program being revealed, we understand that Big Brother is upgraded to Global Brother. It is a highly secretive and globally integrated surveillance network that operates in a shadowy extra/supra-governmental realm, beyond any discernible oversight or regulation. This combined with highly sophisticated white/black state propaganda networks, forms a near omniscient control system that covers most of the planet. Educate yourself and others about it, learn ways to oppose and operate outside of it. Engage in non-violent actions against it in  any way you can.  Non-violent action/resistance is our most powerful weapon against “Total Information Awareness“.  Start by using the Tor Network.  “Big Brother IS Watching You” –OSJ

Related Stories:

Hints Surface That NSA Is Building Massive, Pervasive Surveillance Capability

How To Get Out Of PRISM & Avoid NSA Spying

Related Video:
Edward Snowden: ” I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things”


Edward Snowden: “The U.S. Government will say I aided our enemies”


Jacob Appellbaum: Digital Anti-Repression & Mobile Security Workshop:


By William Blum @ The Anti Empire Report:

Edward Snowden

In the course of his professional life in the world of national security Edward Snowden must have gone through numerous probing interviews, lie detector examinations, and exceedingly detailed background checks, as well as filling out endless forms carefully designed to catch any kind of falsehood or inconsistency. The Washington Post (June 10) reported that “several officials said the CIA will now undoubtedly begin reviewing the process by which Snowden may have been hired, seeking to determine whether there were any missed signs that he might one day betray national secrets.”

Yes, there was a sign they missed – Edward Snowden had something inside him shaped like a conscience, just waiting for a cause.

It was the same with me. I went to work at the State Department, planning to become a Foreign Service Officer, with the best – the most patriotic – of intentions, going to do my best to slay the beast of the International Communist Conspiracy. But then the horror, on a daily basis, of what the United States was doing to the people of Vietnam was brought home to me in every form of media; it was making me sick at heart. My conscience had found its cause, and nothing that I could have been asked in a pre-employment interview would have alerted my interrogators of the possible danger I posed because I didn’t know of the danger myself. No questioning of my friends and relatives could have turned up the slightest hint of the radical anti-war activist I was to become. My friends and relatives were to be as surprised as I was to be. There was simply no way for the State Department security office to know that I should not be hired and given a Secret Clearance. 1

So what is a poor National Security State to do? Well, they might consider behaving themselves. Stop doing all the terrible things that grieve people like me and Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning and so many others. Stop the bombings, the invasions, the endless wars, the torture, the sanctions, the overthrows, the support of dictatorships, the unmitigated support of Israel; stop all the things that make the United States so hated, that create all the anti-American terrorists, that compel the National Security State – in pure self defense – to spy on the entire world.

Eavesdropping on the planet

The above is the title of an essay that I wrote in 2000 that appeared as a chapter in my book Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Here are some excerpts that may help to put the current revelations surrounding Edward Snowden into perspective …

Can people in the 21st century imagine a greater invasion of privacy on all of earth, in all of history? If so, they merely have to wait for technology to catch up with their imagination.

Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex … satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links … voice, text, images … captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth, then processed by high-powered computers … if it runs on electromagnetic energy, NSA is there, with high high tech. Twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps billions of messages sucked up each day. No one escapes. Not presidents, prime ministers, the UN Secretary-General, the pope, the Queen of England, embassies, transnational corporation CEOs, friend, foe, your Aunt Lena … if God has a phone, it’s being monitored … maybe your dog isn’t being tapped. The oceans will not protect you. American submarines have been attaching tapping pods to deep underwater cables for decades.

Under a system codenamed ECHELON, launched in the 1970s, the NSA and its junior partners in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada operate a network of massive, highly automated interception stations, covering the globe amongst them. Any of the partners can ask any of the others to intercept its own domestic communications. It can then truthfully say it does not spy on its own citizens.

Apart from specifically-targeted individuals and institutions, the ECHELON system works by indiscriminately intercepting huge quantities of communications and using computers to identify and extract messages of interest from the mass of unwanted ones. Every intercepted message – all the embassy cables, the business deals, the sex talk, the birthday greetings – is searched for keywords, which could be anything the searchers think might be of interest. All it takes to flag a communication is for one of the parties to use a couple or so of the key words in the ECHELON “dictionary” – “He lives in a lovely old white house on Bush Street, right near me. I can shoot over there in two minutes.” Within limitations, computers can “listen” to telephone calls and recognize when keywords are spoken. Those calls are extracted and recorded separately, to be listened to in full by humans. The list of specific targets at any given time is undoubtedly wide ranging, at one point including the likes of Amnesty International and Christian Aid.

ECHELON is carried out without official acknowledgment of its existence, let alone any democratic oversight or public or legislative debate as to whether it serves a decent purpose. The extensiveness of the ECHELON global network is a product of decades of intense Cold War activity. Yet with the end of the Cold War, its budget – far from being greatly reduced – was increased, and the network has grown in both power and reach; yet another piece of evidence that the Cold War was not a battle against something called “the international communist conspiracy”.

The European Parliament in the late 1990s began to wake up to this intrusion into the continent’s affairs. The parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee commissioned a report, which appeared in 1998 and recommended a variety of measures for dealing with the increasing power of the technologies of surveillance. It bluntly advised: “The European Parliament should reject proposals from the United States for making private messages via the global communications network [Internet] accessible to US intelligence agencies.” The report denounced Britain’s role as a double-agent, spying on its own European partners.

Despite these concerns the US has continued to expand ECHELON surveillance in Europe, partly because of heightened interest in commercial espionage – to uncover industrial information that would provide American corporations with an advantage over foreign rivals.

German security experts discovered several years ago that ECHELON was engaged in heavy commercial spying in Europe. Victims included such German firms as the wind generator manufacturer Enercon. In 1998, Enercon developed what it thought was a secret invention, enabling it to generate electricity from wind power at a far cheaper rate than before. However, when the company tried to market its invention in the United States, it was confronted by its American rival, Kenetech, which announced that it had already patented a near-identical development. Kenetech then brought a court order against Enercon to ban the sale of its equipment in the US. In a rare public disclosure, an NSA employee, who refused to be named, agreed to appear in silhouette on German television to reveal how he had stolen Enercon’s secrets by tapping the telephone and computer link lines that ran between Enercon’s research laboratory and its production unit some 12 miles away. Detailed plans of the company’s invention were then passed on to Kenetech.

In 1994, Thomson S.A., located in Paris, and Airbus Industrie, based in Blagnac Cedex, France, also lost lucrative contracts, snatched away by American rivals aided by information covertly collected by NSA and CIA. The same agencies also eavesdropped on Japanese representatives during negotiations with the United States in 1995 over auto parts trade.

German industry has complained that it is in a particularly vulnerable position because the government forbids its security services from conducting similar industrial espionage. “German politicians still support the rather naive idea that political allies should not spy on each other’s businesses. The Americans and the British do not have such illusions,” said journalist Udo Ulfkotte, a specialist in European industrial espionage, in 1999.

That same year, Germany demanded that the United States recall three CIA operatives for their activities in Germany involving economic espionage. The news report stated that the Germans “have long been suspicious of the eavesdropping capabilities of the enormous U.S. radar and communications complex at Bad Aibling, near Munich”, which is in fact an NSA intercept station. “The Americans tell us it is used solely to monitor communications by potential enemies, but how can we be entirely sure that they are not picking up pieces of information that we think should remain completely secret?” asked a senior German official. Japanese officials most likely have been told a similar story by Washington about the more than a dozen signals intelligence bases which Japan has allowed to be located on its territory.

In their quest to gain access to more and more private information, the NSA, the FBI, and other components of the US national security establishment have been engaged for years in a campaign to require American telecommunications manufacturers and carriers to design their equipment and networks to optimize the authorities’ wiretapping ability. Some industry insiders say they believe that some US machines approved for export contain NSA “back doors” (also called “trap doors”).

The United States has been trying to persuade European Union countries as well to allow it “back-door” access to encryption programs, claiming that this was to serve the needs of law-enforcement agencies. However, a report released by the European Parliament in May 1999 asserted that Washington’s plans for controlling encryption software in Europe had nothing to do with law enforcement and everything to do with US industrial espionage. The NSA has also dispatched FBI agents on break-in missions to snatch code books from foreign facilities in the United States, and CIA officers to recruit foreign communications clerks abroad and buy their code secrets, according to veteran intelligence officials.

For decades, beginning in the 1950s, the Swiss company Crypto AG sold the world’s most sophisticated and secure encryption technology. The firm staked its reputation and the security concerns of its clients on its neutrality in the Cold War or any other war. The purchasing nations, some 120 of them – including prime US intelligence targets such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia – confident that their communications were protected, sent messages from their capitals to their embassies, military missions, trade offices, and espionage dens around the world, via telex, radio, and fax. And all the while, because of a secret agreement between the company and NSA, these governments might as well have been hand delivering the messages to Washington, uncoded. For their Crypto AG machines had been rigged before being sold to them, so that when they used them the random encryption key could be automatically and clandestinely transmitted along with the enciphered message. NSA analysts could read the messages as easily as they could the morning newspaper.

In 1986, because of US public statements concerning the La Belle disco bombing in West Berlin, the Libyans began to suspect that something was rotten with Crypto AG’s machines and switched to another Swiss firm, Gretag Data Systems AG. But it appears that NSA had that base covered as well. In 1992, after a series of suspicious circumstances over the previous few years, Iran came to a conclusion similar to Libya’s, and arrested a Crypto AG employee who was in Iran on a business trip. He was eventually ransomed, but the incident became well known and the scam began to unravel in earnest.

In September 1999 it was revealed that NSA had arranged with Microsoft to insert special “keys” into Windows software, in all versions from 95-OSR2 onwards. An American computer scientist, Andrew Fernandez of Cryptonym in North Carolina, had disassembled parts of the Windows instruction code and found the smoking gun – Microsoft’s developers had failed to remove the debugging symbols used to test this software before they released it. Inside the code were the labels for two keys. One was called “KEY”. The other was called “NSAKEY”. Fernandez presented his finding at a conference at which some Windows developers were also in attendance. The developers did not deny that the NSA key was built into their software, but they refused to talk about what the key did, or why it had been put there without users’ knowledge. Fernandez says that NSA’s “back door” in the world’s most commonly used operating system makes it “orders of magnitude easier for the US government to access your computer.”

In February 2000, it was disclosed that the Strategic Affairs Delegation (DAS), the intelligence arm of the French Defense Ministry, had prepared a report in 1999 which also asserted that NSA had helped to install secret programs in Microsoft software. According to the DAS report, “it would seem that the creation of Microsoft was largely supported, not least financially, by the NSA, and that IBM was made to accept the [Microsoft] MS-DOS operating system by the same administration.” The report stated that there had been a “strong suspicion of a lack of security fed by insistent rumors about the existence of spy programs on Microsoft, and by the presence of NSA personnel in Bill Gates’ development teams.” The Pentagon, said the report, was Microsoft’s biggest client in the world.

Recent years have seen disclosures that in the countdown to their invasion of Iraq in 2003, the United States had listened in on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, and all the members of the UN Security Council during a period when they were deliberating about what action to take in Iraq.

It’s as if the American national security establishment feels that it has an inalienable right to listen in; as if there had been a constitutional amendment, applicable to the entire world, stating that “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the government to intercept the personal communications of anyone.” And the Fourth Amendment had been changed to read: “Persons shall be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, except in cases of national security, real or alleged.” 2

The leading whistleblower of all time: Philip Agee

Before there was Edward Snowden, William Binney and Thomas Drake … before there was Bradley Manning, Sibel Edmonds and Jesselyn Radack … there was Philip Agee. What Agee revealed is still the most startling and important information about US foreign policy that any American government whistleblower has ever revealed.

Philip Agee spent 12 years (1957-69) as a CIA case officer, most of it in Latin America. His first book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974 – a pioneering work on the Agency’s methods and their devastating consequences – appeared in about 30 languages around the world and was a best seller in many countries; it included a 23-page appendix with the names of hundreds of undercover Agency operatives and organizations.

Under CIA manipulation, direction and, usually, their payroll, were past and present presidents of Mexico, Colombia, Uruguay, and Costa Rica, “our minister of labor”, “our vice-president”, “my police”, journalists, labor leaders, student leaders, diplomats, and many others. If the Agency wished to disseminate anti-communist propaganda, cause dissension in leftist ranks, or have Communist embassy personnel expelled, it need only prepare some phoney documents, present them to the appropriate government ministers and journalists, and – presto! – instant scandal.

Agee’s goal in naming all these individuals, quite simply, was to make it as difficult as he could for the CIA to continue doing its dirty work.

A common Agency tactic was writing editorials and phoney news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of the CIA authorship or CIA payment to the media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.

Wooing the working class came in for special treatment. Labor organizations by the dozen, sometimes hardly more than names on stationery, were created, altered, combined, liquidated, and new ones created again, in an almost frenzied attempt to find the right combination to compete with existing left-oriented unions and take national leadership away from them.

In 1975 these revelations were new and shocking; for many readers it was the first hint that American foreign policy was not quite what their high-school textbooks had told them nor what the New York Times had reported.

“As complete an account of spy work as is likely to be published anywhere, an authentic account of how an ordinary American or British ‘case officer’ operates … All of it … presented with deadly accuracy,” wrote Miles Copeland, a former CIA station chief, and ardent foe of Agee. (There’s no former CIA officer more hated by members of the intelligence establishment than Agee; no one’s even close; due in part to his traveling to Cuba and having long-term contact with Cuban intelligence.)

In contrast to Agee, WikiLeaks withheld the names of hundreds of informants from the nearly 400,000 Iraq war documents it released.

In 1969, Agee resigned from the CIA (and colleagues who “long ago ceased to believe in what they are doing”).

While on the run from the CIA as he was writing Inside the Company – at times literally running for his life – Agee was expelled from, or refused admittance to, Italy, Britain, France, West Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. (West Germany eventually gave him asylum because his wife was a leading ballerina in the country.) Agee’s account of his period on the run can be found detailed in his book On the Run (1987). It’s an exciting read.

Emergency “Continuity Of Government” Plans Currently In Effect Suspend Normal Laws & Legal Process: Is This The REAL Reason For Government Spying On Americans?

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

https://theoldspeakjournal.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/be4f0-shadow_govt_logo.jpgOldspeak: “The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present… That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also… Simply by proclaiming a national emergency… President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law… Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.”  –Washington’s Blog

“Viewed in the context of the government behaviours being exhibited: Indefinite detention, summary executive order executions,  general contempt for,  zealous prosecution of and jailing of journalists, suppression of dissent, state censorship, suspended rights to petition, assemble & speak, state propaganda, compromised system checks and balances, constant mass surveillance; this makes a lot of sense. We’re in living under a form of stealth martial law. How else would our government feel justified and within the law to do enact all these extra-constitutional measures? The “threat of terrorism” has been used to activate hundreds of little known “emergency” legal provisions. Without debate in pubic or  knowledge of the public… Why are we not entitled to know about our Shadow Government that seems to be making so much secret & anti-democratic policy?” –OSJ

By Washington’s Blog:

Are Emergency Plans Meant Only for Nuclear War the Real Justification for Spying?

To understand the scope and extent of government spying on all Americans – and the reasons for such spying – you have to understand what has happened to our Constitutional form of government since 9/11.

State of Emergency

The United States has been in a declared state of emergency from September 2001, to the present. Specifically, on September 11, 2001, the government declared a state of emergency. That declared state of emergency was formally put in writing on 9/14/2001:

A national emergency exists by reason of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, New York, New York, and the Pentagon, and the continuing and immediate threat of further attacks on the United States.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, I hereby declare that the national emergency has existed since September 11, 2001 . . .

That declared state of emergency has continued in full force and effect from 9/11 to the present. President Bush kept it in place, and President Obama has also.

For example, on September 9, 2011, President Obama declared:


Notice of President of the United States, dated Sept. 9, 2011, 76 F.R. 56633, provided:

Consistent with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act, 50 U.S.C. 1622(d), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency previously declared on September 14, 2001, in Proclamation 7463, with respect to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, and the continuing and immediate threat of
further attacks on the United States.

Because the terrorist threat continues, the national emergency declared on September 14, 2001, and the powers and authorities
adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect
beyond September 14, 2011. Therefore, I am continuing in effect for an additional year the national emergency that was declared on September 14, 2001, with respect to the terrorist threat.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and
transmitted to the Congress.

The Washington Times wrote on September 18, 2001:

Simply by proclaiming a national emergency on Friday, President Bush activated some 500 dormant legal provisions, including those allowing him to impose censorship and martial law.

The White House has kept substantial information concerning its presidential proclamations and directives hidden from Congress. For example, according to Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy:

Of the 54 National Security Presidential Directives issued by the [George W.] Bush Administration to date, the titles of only about half have been publicly identified. There is descriptive material or actual text in the public domain for only about a third. In other words, there are dozens of undisclosed Presidential directives that define U.S. national security policy and task government agencies, but whose substance is unknown either to the public or, as a rule, to Congress.

Continuity of Government

Continuity of Government (“COG”) measures were implemented on 9/11. For example, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, at page 38:

At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office joined the conference and stated he had just talked to Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley. The White House requested (1) the implementation of continuity of government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.

Likewise, page 326 of the Report states:

The secretary of defense directed the nation’s armed forces to Defense Condition 3, an increased state of military readiness. For the first time in history, all nonemergency civilian aircraft in the United States were grounded, stranding tens of thousands of passengers across the country. Contingency plans for the continuity of government and the evacuation of leaders had been implemented.

The Washington Post notes that Vice President Dick Cheney initiated the COG plan on 9/11:

From the bunker, Cheney officially implemented the emergency continuity of government orders . . .

(See also footnotes cited therein and this webpage.)

CNN reported that – 6 months later – the plans were still in place:

Because Bush has decided to leave the operation in place, agencies including the White House and top civilian Cabinet departments have rotated personnel involved, and are discussing ways to staff such a contingency operation under the assumption it will be in place indefinitely, this official said.

Similarly, the Washington Post reported in March 2002 that “the shadow government has evolved into an indefinite precaution.” The same article goes on to state:

Assessment of terrorist risks persuaded the White House to remake the program as a permanent feature of ‘the new reality, based on what the threat looks like,’ a senior decisionmaker said.

As CBS pointed out, virtually none of the Congressional leadership knew that the COG had been implemented or was still in existence as of March 2002:

Key congressional leaders say they didn’t know President Bush had established a “shadow government,” moving dozens of senior civilian managers to secret underground locations outside Washington to ensure that the federal government could survive a devastating terrorist attack on the nation’s capital, The Washington Post says in its Saturday editions.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) told the Post he had not been informed by the White House about the role, location or even the existence of the shadow government that the administration began to deploy the morning of the Sept. 11 hijackings.

An aide to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he was also unaware of the administration’s move.

Among Congress’s GOP leadership, aides to House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (Ill.), second in line to succeed the president if he became incapacitated, and to Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said they were not sure whether they knew.

Aides to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W. Va.) said he had not been told. As Senate president pro tempore, he is in line to become president after the House speaker.

Similarly, the above-cited CNN article states:

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Friday he can’t say much about the plan.

“We have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in, but we look forward to work with the administration to get additional information on that.”

Indeed, the White House has specifically refused to share information about Continuity of Government plans with the Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress, even though that Committee has proper security clearance to hear the full details of all COG plans.

Specifically, in the summer 2007, Congressman Peter DeFazio, on the Homeland Security Committee (and so with proper security access to be briefed on COG issues), inquired about continuity of government plans, and was refused access. Indeed, DeFazio told Congress that the entire Homeland Security Committee of the U.S. Congress has been denied access to the plans by the White House.

(Or here is the transcript).

The Homeland Security Committee has full clearance to view all information about COG plans.

DeFazio concluded: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right”.

University of California Berkeley Professor Emeritus Peter Dale Scott points out that – whether or not COG plans are still in effect – the refusal of the executive branch to disclose their details to Congress means that the Constitutional system of checks and balances has already been gravely injured:

If members of the Homeland Security Committee cannot enforce their right to read secret plans of the Executive Branch, then the systems of checks and balances established by the U.S. Constitution would seem to be failing.

To put it another way, if the White House is successful in frustrating DeFazio, then Continuity of Government planning has arguably already superseded the Constitution as a higher authority.

Indeed, continuity of government plans are specifically defined to do the following:

  • Top leaders of the “new government” called for in the COG would entirely or largely go into hiding, and would govern in hidden locations
  • Those within the new government would know what was going on. But those in the “old government” – that is, the one created by the framers of the Constitution – would not necessarily know the details of what was happening
  • Normal laws and legal processes might largely be suspended, or superseded by secretive judicial forums
  • The media might be ordered by strict laws – punishable by treason – to only promote stories authorized by the new government

See this, this and this.

Could the White House have maintained COG operations to the present day?

I don’t know, but the following section from the above-cited CNN article is not very reassuring:

Bush triggered the precautions in the hours after the September 11 strikes, and has left them in place because of continuing U.S. intelligence suggesting a possible threat.

Concerns that al Qaeda could have gained access to a crude nuclear device “were a major factor” in the president’s decision, the official said. “The threat of some form of catastrophic event is the trigger,” this official said.

This same official went on to say that the U.S. had no confirmation — “and no solid evidence” — that al Qaeda had such a nuclear device and also acknowledged that the “consensus” among top U.S. officials was that the prospect was “quite low.”

Still, the officials said Bush and other top White House officials including Cheney were adamant that the government take precautions designed to make sure government functions ranging from civil defense to transportation and agricultural production could be managed in the event Washington was the target of a major strike.

As is apparent from a brief review of the news, the government has, since 9/11, continuously stated that there is a terrorist threat of a nuclear device or dirty bomb. That alone infers that COG plans could, hypothetically, still be in effect, just like the state of emergency is still in effect and has never been listed.

Indeed,  President Bush said on December 17, 2005, 4 years after 9/11:

The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after Sept. 11 helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities.

The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time.

And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.

The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days. Each review is based on a fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government and the threat of catastrophic damage to our homeland.

During each assessment, previous activities under the authorization are reviewed. The review includes approval by our nation’s top legal officials, including the attorney general and the counsel to the president.

I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks [45 days times 30 equals approximately 4 years] and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from Al Qaeda and related groups.

The N.S.A.’s activities under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and N.S.A.’s top legal officials, including N.S.A.’s general counsel and inspector general.

In other words, it appears that as of December 2005, COG plans had never been rescincded, but had been continously renewed every 45 days.

In 2008, Tim Shorrock wrote at Salon:

A contemporary version of the Continuity of Government program was put into play in the hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when Vice President Cheney and senior members of Congress were dispersed to “undisclosed locations” to maintain government functions. It was during this emergency period, Hamilton and other former government officials believe, that President Bush may have authorized the NSA to begin actively using the Main Core database for domestic surveillance [more on Main Core below]. One indicator they cite is a statement by Bush in December 2005, after the New York Times had revealed the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping, in which he made a rare reference to the emergency program: The Justice Department’s legal reviews of the NSA activity, Bush said, were based on “fresh intelligence assessment of terrorist threats to the continuity of our government.”

In 2007, President Bush issued Presidential Directive NSPD-51, which purported to change Continuity of Government plans. NSPD51 is odd because:

Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the President may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack, or to any ‘other condition.’ Changes of this magnitude should be made only after a thorough public airing. But these new Presidential powers were slipped into the law without hearings or public debate.

  • As a reporter for Slate concluded after analyzing NSPD-51:

I see nothing in the [COG document entitled presidential directive NSPD51] to prevent even a “localized” forest fire or hurricane from giving the president the right to throw long-established constitutional government out the window

  • White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said that “because of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public needs no explanation of [Continuity of Government] plans”

This is all the more bizarre when you realize that COG plans were originally created solely to respond to a decapitating nuclear strike which killed our civilian leaders.   (It was subsequently expanded decades before 9/11 into a multi-purpose plan by our good friends Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. See this, this and this.)

Does COG Explain the Pervasive Spying on Americans?

5 years ago, investigative reporter Christopher Ketcham disclosed the spying which was confirmed last week by  whistleblower Edward Snowden:

The following information seems to be fair game for collection without a warrant: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database.

Given that Ketcham was proven right, let’s see what else he reported:

Given that Ketcham was right about the basics, let’s hear what else the outstanding investigative journalist said in 2008:

There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”


According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger [for martial law ].


When COG plans are shrouded in extreme secrecy, effectively unregulated by Congress or the courts, and married to an overreaching surveillance state—as seems to be the case with Main Core—even sober observers must weigh whether the protections put in place by the federal government are becoming more dangerous to America than any outside threat.

Another well-informed source—a former military operative regularly briefed by members of the intelligence community—says this particular program has roots going back at least to the 1980s and was set up with help from the Defense Intelligence Agency. He has been told that the program utilizes software that makes predictive judgments of targets’ behavior and tracks their circle of associations with “social network analysis” and artificial intelligence modeling tools.


A former NSA officer tells Radar that the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, using an electronic-funds transfer surveillance program, also contributes data to Main Core, as does a Pentagon program that was created in 2002 to monitor antiwar protesters and environmental activists such as Greenpeace.


If previous FEMA and FBI lists are any indication, the Main Core database includes dissidents and activists of various stripes, political and tax protesters, lawyers and professors, publishers and journalists, gun owners, illegal aliens, foreign nationals, and a great many other harmless, average people.

A veteran CIA intelligence analyst who maintains active high-level clearances and serves as an advisor to the Department of Defense in the field of emerging technology tells Radar that during the 2004 hospital room drama, [current nominee to head the FBI, and former Deputy Attorney General] James Comey expressed concern over how this secret database was being used “to accumulate otherwise private data on non-targeted U.S. citizens for use at a future time.” [Snowden and high-level NSA whistleblower William Binney have since confirmed this] …. A source regularly briefed by people inside the intelligence community adds: “Comey had discovered that President Bush had authorized NSA to use a highly classified and compartmentalized Continuity of Government database on Americans in computerized searches of its domestic intercepts. [Comey] had concluded that the use of that ‘Main Core’ database compromised the legality of the overall NSA domestic surveillance project.”


The veteran CIA intelligence analyst notes that Comey’s suggestion that the offending elements of the program were dropped could be misleading: “Bush [may have gone ahead and] signed it as a National Intelligence Finding anyway.” But even if we never face a national emergency, the mere existence of the database is a matter of concern. “The capacity for future use of this information against the American people is so great as to be virtually unfathomable,” the senior government official says.

In any case, mass watch lists of domestic citizens may do nothing to make us safer from terrorism. Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM, a world-renowned expert in data mining, contends that such efforts won’t prevent terrorist conspiracies. “Because there is so little historical terrorist event data,” Jonas tells Radar, “there is not enough volume to create precise predictions.”


[J. Edgar Hoover’s] FBI “security index” was allegedly maintained and updated into the 1980s, when it was reportedly transferred to the control of none other than FEMA (though the FBI denied this at the time).

FEMA, however—then known as the Federal Preparedness Agency—already had its own domestic surveillance system in place, according to a 1975 investigation by Senator John V. Tunney of California. Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champion Gene Tunney and the inspiration for Robert Redford’s character in the film The Candidate, found that the agency maintained electronic dossiers on at least 100,000 Americans that contained information gleaned from wide-ranging computerized surveillance. The database was located in the agency’s secret underground city at Mount Weather, near the town of Bluemont, Virginia. [One of the main headquarter of COG operations.] The senator’s findings were confirmed in a 1976 investigation by the Progressive magazine, which found that the Mount Weather computers “can obtain millions of pieces [of] information on the personal lives of American citizens by tapping the data stored at any of the 96 Federal Relocation Centers”—a reference to other classified facilities. According to the Progressive, Mount Weather’s databases were run “without any set of stated rules or regulations. Its surveillance program remains secret even from the leaders of the House and the Senate.”


Wired magazine turned up additional damaging information, revealing in 1993 that [Oliver] North, operating from a secure White House site, allegedly employed a software database program called PROMIS (ostensibly as part of the REX 84 plan). PROMIS, which has a strange and controversial history, was designed to track individuals—prisoners, for example—by pulling together information from disparate databases into a single record. According to Wired, “Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Senator Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude.” Sources have suggested to Radar that government databases tracking Americans today, including Main Core, could still have PROMIS-based legacy code from the days when North was running his programs.


Marty Lederman, a high-level official at the Department of Justice under Clinton, writing on a law blog last year, wondered, “How extreme were the programs they implemented [after 9/11]? How egregious was the lawbreaking?” Congress has tried, and mostly failed, to find out.


We are at the edge of a cliff and we’re about to fall off,” says constitutional lawyer and former Reagan administration official Bruce Fein. “To a national emergency planner, everybody looks like a danger to stability. There’s no doubt that Congress would have the authority to denounce all this—for example, to refuse to appropriate money for the preparation of a list of U.S. citizens to be detained in the event of martial law. But Congress is the invertebrate branch.


UPDATE [from Ketcham]: Since this article went to press, several documents have emerged to suggest the story has longer legs than we thought. Most troubling among these is an October 2001 Justice Department memo that detailed the extra-constitutional powers the U.S. military might invoke during domestic operations following a terrorist attack. In the memo, John Yoo, then deputy assistant attorney general, “concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.” (Yoo, as most readers know, is author of the infamous Torture Memo that, in bizarro fashion, rejiggers the definition of “legal” torture to allow pretty much anything short of murder.) In the October 2001 memo, Yoo refers to a classified DOJ document titled “Authority for Use of Military Force to Combat Terrorist Activities Within the United States.” According to the Associated Press, “Exactly what domestic military action was covered by the October memo is unclear. But federal documents indicate that the memo relates to the National Security Agency’s Terrorist Surveillance Program.” Attorney General John Mukasey last month refused to clarify before Congress whether the Yoo memo was still in force.

Americans have the right to know whether a COG program is  still in effect, and whether the spying on our phone calls and Internet usage stems from such COG plans. Indeed, 9/11 was a horrible blow, but it was not a decapitating nuclear strike on our leaders … so COG and the state of emergency should be lifted.

If COG plans are not still in effect, we have the right to demand that “enemies lists” and spying capabilities developed  for the purpose of responding to a nuclear war be discarded , as we have not been hit by nuclear weapons … and our civilian leaders – on Capitol Hill, the White House, and the judiciary – are still alive and able to govern.