Category Archives: Police State/Big Brother USA

The NSA’s Moonlighting Problem

Allen McDuffee reports for The Atlantic:

‘In Washington, the revolving door between government service and more lucrative ventures is common, if not expected. However, having one foot in each has raised questions for the National Security Agency, which has launched an internal review of one senior official who was recruited by former NSA director Keith Alexander to work for his new—and very lucrative—cybersecurity private venture.

Patrick Dowd, the NSA’s Chief Technological Officer, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week for Alexander’s firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc., according to Reuters, which broke the story on the deal. Although the arrangement was apparently approved by NSA managers and does not appear to break any laws on its face, it does raise questions about ethics and the dividing line between business and one of the most secretive agencies in government.’

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How One Man Refused to Spy on Fellow Muslims for the FBI

Arun Kundnani, Emily Keppler and Muki Najaer report for The Nation:

FBI‘On the night of December 9, 2011, Siham Stewart called her husband, Ayyub Abdul-Alim, as he closed down his corner store, Nature’s Garden, in Springfield, Massachusetts. She asked him to bring home a gallon of milk. A few minutes later, she watched from the window of their second-floor apartment as he was seized in the street and handcuffed by two police officers.

Forty-eight hours after Abdul-Alim’s arrest, FBI agent James Hisgen and Springfield police officer Ronald Sheehan offered him the chance to walk away free of charges if he agreed to become an informant on the Muslim community. He refused the deal and is now held at the Cedar Junction maximum-security prison in Massachusetts, facing up to sixteen years behind bars.’

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Edward Snowden: State surveillance in Britain has no limits

Carole Cadwalladr reports for The Guardian:

 Edward Snowden‘The UK authorities are operating a surveillance system where “anything goes” and their interceptions are more intrusive to people’s privacy than has been seen in the US, Edward Snowden said.

Speaking via Skype at the Observer Ideas festival, held in central London, the whistleblower and former National Security Agency specialist, said there were “really no limits” to the GCHQ’s surveillance capabilities.’

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Crime-fighting surveillance planes provoke privacy concerns

Ed Ram reports for BBC News:

PSS mapA US company has developed a way to monitor entire neighbourhoods, using a technology originally developed for the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But while police forces are excited by the prospect of getting access to the tech, privacy campaigners see it as a threat to citizens’ constitutional rights.

[...] By flying a special manned plane over a city, Persistent Surveillance Systems (PSS) says it is able to view and record everything that is happening on the ground across a 25 sq mile (64.7 sq km) area.

Rigged with 12 high-resolution cameras, a spliced together picture of a sort of “live Google Earth” map is beamed down from the aircraft to analysts.’

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Citing Failed War on Drugs, World Leaders Call for Widespread Decriminalization

Deirdre Fulton reported last month for Common Dreams:

‘In the face of a failed War on Drugs, a global commission composed mostly of former world leaders recommended that governments decriminalize and regulate the use of currently illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelics.

“The international drug regime is broken,” reads the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and former high commissioner for human rights at the UN Louise Arbour; and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, as well as the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Portugal.  “[O]verwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies.”

Punitive drug law enforcement has done nothing to decrease global drug use, the Commission says in “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work” (pdf). Instead, such policies have fueled crime, maximized health risks, undermined human rights, and fostered discrimination — all while wasting tens of billions of dollars.’

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Glenn Greenwald TED Talk: Why Privacy Matters

Editor’s Note: Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and author of No Place To Hide recently delivered a talk at the TEDGlobal 2014 conference in Rio de Janeiro. Check it out.. 

“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.” ~ George Orwell, 1984

New York Quickly Nixes Cellphone Tracking Devices in Phone Booths

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - New York Quickly Nixes Cellphone Tracking Devices in Phone Booths‘New York City quickly announced it would get rid of devices that could turn phone booths into cellphone trackers after the program was revealed this morning [Monday 6th].

A Buzzfeed investigation published today found that the city allowed 500 radio transmitters, called “beacons,” to be installed in pay phone booths, apparently thickly concentrated in lower and mid-Manhattan. A few hours later, the Mayor’s office said they would have them removed.

Though they could be woven into a location-aware advertising network, the beacons are there for maintenance notifications only and are not yet being used for commercial purposes, according to Titan, the firm that runs the advertising displays for thousands of city phone booths. There was no public announcement when the devices were installed.’

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How The NSA Plans To Recruit Your Teenagers

Andrew Jerell Jones reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - How The NSA Plans To Recruit Your Teenagers‘Kids across America no longer have to wait until college to plan on being a part of the National Security Agency. In fact, they could start preparing for their NSA careers as early as age 13.

The NSA has begun sponsoring cybersecurity camps for middle and high school students, agency recruiter Steven LaFountain told CNBC’s Eamon Javers in a recent interview. Six prototype camps launched this past summer, and the NSA hopes to eventually have a presence in schools in all 50 states.’

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After China gives police new guns, spate suspicious shootings have followed

William Wan reports for The Washington Post:

‘Invoking the threat of terrorism, Chinese police for the first time in years have started carrying guns and, with little training, using them. The fatal effects have rippled across the country, reaching even this tiny mountain village [in Luokan].

China’s removal of a ban on police guns came in response to a gruesome attack on a train station several hundred miles from here, but it has given the police almost blanket authority to shoot whenever they see fit.

More than a decade into America’s war on terror, China is launching its own. And experts worry that the flood of newly armed police — combined with poor training and the government’s take-no-prisoners attitude — could become as fearful a problem as the terrorism it is intended to combat.’

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ComputerCOP: U.S. Police Are Handing Out Spyware To Parents

Kim Zetter reports for Wired:

‘Mere days after a government crackdown on a spyware manufacturer comes the startling revelation that law enforcement agencies have been purchasing commercial spyware themselves and handing it out to the public for free.

Police departments around the country have been distributing thousands of free copies of spyware to parents to monitor their children’s activity, a fact that’s come to light in the wake of a federal indictment this week against the maker of one commercial spyware tool on wiretapping charges.

The tool being distributed by agencies, known as ComputerCOP, has been purchased in bulk by more than two hundred police departments in thirty-five states as well as by sheriff’s offices and district attorneys.’

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Call of Duty Director Says U.S. Should Station Soldiers in Schools

Josh Eidelson reports for Business Week:

Call of Duty Director Says U.S. Should Station Soldiers in Schools‘Dave Anthony, former writer and director for the megahit video game franchise Call of Duty, wants the U.S. government to explore stationing soldiers in schools.

“The threat now, the invasion, comes from within,” Anthony said Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Atlantic Council, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington where he is a fellow in international security. Anthony said the soldiers could operate like air marshals on commercial flights. “Imagine the concept of something like a ‘school marshal,’” he said. “Now these guys are U.S. soldiers who are in plainclothes, whose job and part of their responsibility is to protect schools.”

The Call of Duty author said he anticipated objections. “The public won’t like it, they’ll think it’s a police state,” he said. But, he went on, “All of these are solvable problems.” Anthony’s address, which was punctuated by videos depicting such future threats as a U.S. drone hacked by Iran and a hotel massacre in Las Vegas, included repeated exhortations to policymakers to learn from the examples of corporations and creative artists in selling potentially unpopular ideas.’

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The Ghost of Ronald Reagan Authorizes Most NSA Spying

Cora Currier and Ryan Devereaux write for The Intercept:

Featured photo - The Ghost of Ronald Reagan Authorizes Most NSA SpyingU.S. intelligence agents have broad authority to spy on U.S. companies as long as they are “believed to have some relationship with foreign organizations or persons” — a description that could conceivably apply to any company with foreign shareholders, subsidiaries, or even employees—according to newly released government documents published this morning by the ACLU.

The trove, which includes documents from the NSA, Department of Justice, and Defense Intelligence Agency, confirms long-standing suspicions that the bulk of U.S. foreign surveillance operations are governed not by acts of Congress, but by a 33-year-old executive order issued unilaterally by President Ronald Reagan.

The documents were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, and they detail the extent of the order — which is extraordinarily broad and until recently largely obscure — and which underpins expansive U.S. surveillance programs, like siphoning internet traffic from Google and Yahoo’s overseas data centers, recording every call in the Bahamas, and gathering billions of records on cellphone locations around the world.’

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Your iPhone is now encrypted. The FBI says it’ll help kidnappers. Who do you believe?

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

‘Much of the world has been enthralled by the new iPhone 6, but civil liberties advocates have been cheering, too: Along with iOS 8, Apple made some landmark privacy improvements to your devices, which Google matched with its Android platform only hours later. Your smartphone will soon be encrypted by default, and Apple or Google claim they will not be able open it for anyone – law enforcement, the FBI and possibly the NSA – even if they wanted to.

Predictably, the US government and police officials are in the midst of a misleading PR offensive to try to scare Americans into believing encrypted cellphones are somehow a bad thing, rather than a huge victory for everyone’s privacy and security in a post-Snowden era. Leading the charge is FBI director James Comey, who spoke to reporters late last week about the supposed “dangers” of giving iPhone and Android users more control over their phones. But as usual, it’s sometimes difficult to find the truth inside government statements unless you parse their language extremely carefully.’

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Alabama high schools secretly monitoring students’ social media accounts ‘after tip-off from the NSA?

Annabel Grossman reports for The Daily Mail:

student1.jpg‘A secret surveillance program has been running in an Alabama high schools after a phone call from the National Security Agency alerted the district to a ‘violent threat’. School officials claim the system began monitoring students’ social media accounts in Huntsville City Schools 18 months ago, when the NSA tipped them off that a student was making violent threats on Facebook

The schools began scanning Facebook and other sites for signs of gang activity, watching for photos of guns, photos of gang signs and threats of violence, as part of a program called SAFe, or Students Against Fear. Internal documents explaining the program were obtained by AL.com, showing four different students – three males and one female – posing on Facebook with handguns.’

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The NSA is renting its technology to U.S. companies

Kevin Collier reports for The Daily Dot:

‘The National Security Agency (NSA), which develops surveillance tools that are both dazzling and terrifying, has been making money on the side by licensing its technology to private businesses for more than two decades. So if you’re looking to buy a tool to transcribe voice recordings in any language, a foolproof method to tell if someone’s touched your phone’s SIM card, or a version of email encryption that isn’t available on the open market, try the world’s most technologically advanced spy agency.

It’s called the Technology Transfer Program (TTP), under which the NSA declassifies some of its technologies that it developed for previous operations, patents them, and, if they’re swayed by an American company’s business plan and nondisclosure agreements, rents them out. The TTP itself isn’t classified, though 2014 is the first year they’ve published a formal catalog. (Yes, there’s a catalog.) Nor is it unique to the NSA. The Department of Defense (DoD), which includes the NSA under its umbrella, has a number of branches with similar programs.’

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U.S. Navy Routinely Spies on Citizens Then Helps the Police Prosecute Them

Jason Koebler reports for VICE Motherboard:

It’s not just the NSA: A Federal Appeals Court has just noted a disturbing and “extraordinary” trend of the Navy conducting mass surveillance on American civilians, and then using what they find to help local law enforcement prosecute criminals.

In this specific case, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent in George scanned the computers of every civilian in Washington state who happened to be using the decentralized Gnutella peer-to-peer network, looking for child pornography. The agent, Steve Logan, found child porn on a computer owned by a man named Michael Dreyer.’

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FBI: New Apple, Google phones too secure, could put users ‘beyond the law’

Jacob Axelrad reports for Christian Science Monitor:

‘The FBI director James Comey has expressed concern that Apple and Google are making phones that cannot be searched by the government.

Speaking to reporters in a briefing Thursday, Mr. Comey said he is worried that such phones could place users “beyond the law,” The Wall Street Journal reported. He added that he’s been in talks with the companies “to understand what they’re thinking and why they think it makes sense.”

Major tech companies recognize the marketing potential of selling products that make consumers feel their data is as secure as can be. Both Apple and Google have made recent announcements emphasizing their new products will make it more difficult for law enforcement to extract customers’ valued data.

But Comey’s remarks raise questions of what, exactly, the government wants.’

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The Islamic State Makes Electronic Surveillance Respectable Again

Colum Lynch writes for Foreign Policy:

‘[...] Americans are also less worried about privacy now, according to Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at American University.

The USA Freedom Act, which would restrict the NSA’s prying, is stalled in the Senate. “There was a lot of movement on surveillance reform in Congress … but it has been totally overtaken by ISIS,” Vladeck said. “The Senate will still have to pass something, but the urgency is gone.” The House already approved its version of the bill.

The West has moved from a “reactionary punishment paradigm to a prevention paradigm,” he added. Governments must “strangle” terrorist assets and “restrain” their physical movement. However, “many of the restraints don’t come with [legal] safeguards” built into the traditional criminal justice system, he said.’

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How the Pentagon Exploits ISIS to Kill Surveillance Reform and Re-Occupy Iraq

Nafeez Ahmed writes for CounterPunch:

‘As the US, Britain and France are maneuvering to escalate military action in Iraq and Syria against the ‘Islamic State’ in an operation slated to last “years,” authorities are simultaneously calling for new measures to tighten security at home to fend off the danger of jihadists targeting western homelands. Intervention abroad, policymakers are arguing, must be tied to increased domestic surveillance and vigilance. But US and British military experts warn that officials have overlooked the extent to which western policies in the region have not just stoked the rise of IS, but will continue to inflame the current crisis. The consequences could be dire – while governments exploit the turmoil in the Middle East to justify an effective re-invasion of Iraq along with intensified powers of surveillance and control – the end result could well be accelerated regional violence and increasing criminalization of Muslims and activists.’

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Zeitgeist’s Peter Joseph on Wealth Illusion, Structural Violence & Hope for Survival

Abby Martin interviews the creator of the Zeitgeist Movement, Peter Joseph, covering everything from the upcoming Zeitgeist Festival in Los Angeles on October 4th to economic and societal solutions to global problems ranging from environmental destruction to mass inequality. (Breaking the Set)

Neocon pundit makes Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watchlist

Dylan Byers reports for Politico:

‘Stephen Hayes, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and a regular Fox News contributor, was informed Tuesday that he had been placed on the Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watchlist.

Hayes, who spoke to POLITICO by phone on Tuesday, suspects that the decision stems from U.S. concerns over Syria. Hayes and his wife recently booked a one-way trip to Istanbul for a cruise, and returned to the U.S., a few weeks later, via Athens. “I’d be concerned if it was anything more than that,” Hayes said.’

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The Dark History of the Term “Homeland” and Why America Should Dump It

Editor’s Note: You can find plenty of links related to the Department of Homeland Security here.

Despite Obama’s Pledge to Curb It, NSA Mass Surveillance Wins Rubber Stamp

Dustin Voltz reports for The National Journal:

Took them long enough.‘In the face of congressional inaction, a federal court on Friday renewed an order allowing the government to collect phone records on virtually all calls within the United States.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Justice Department’s request for another 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s controversial mass surveillance program, exposed publicly last summer by Edward Snowden and authorized under Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act. The spying authority is next set to expire on Dec. 5.

[...] The extension marks the third of its kind since President Obama pledged in January to reform how the NSA spies on Americans during a major policy speech delivered amid withering scrutiny of the nation’s intelligence-gathering practices. Obama outlined a series of immediate steps to reform government surveillance and boost transparency, but noted he would wait for Congress to deliver him a bill before ending the bulk collection of U.S. call data.’

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Dropbox Reports 80% of Gov’t Subpoenas Contain Gag Request

Michael Mimoso reports for Threat Post:

dropbox1‘Most U.S. government subpoenas for data on Dropbox users are accompanied with a request not to inform the user in question. Dropbox legal counsel Bart Volkmer said those gag orders are repelled unless there is a valid court order.

The revelation accompanied the release of the cloud storage service’s Transparency Report, which going forward will be released twice a year. Yesterday’s report covered January to June of this year, a period during which Dropbox received 268 requests for user information from law enforcement agencies. There were zero data request for Dropbox for Business users, the company said.’

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Yahoo $250,000 daily fine over NSA data refusal was set to double ‘every week’

Dominic Rushe reports for The Guardian:

‘The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to hand over user data to the National Security Agency, according to court documents unsealed on Thursday.

In a blogpost, the company said the 1,500 pages of once-secret documents shine further light on Yahoo’s previously disclosed clash with the NSA over access to its users’ data. The size of the daily fine was set to double every week that Yahoo refused to comply, the documents show.

The papers outline Yahoo’s secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to resist the government’s demands for the tech firm to cooperate with the NSA’s controversial Prism surveillance programme, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.’

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Tech industry signs on to USA Freedom Act, gets expansive immunity for aiding US gov’t spying

Marcy Wheeler (@e) reports for Salon:

‘President Obama just announced war (of sorts) in the Middle East — but he’s not going to wait for Congressional authorization to go to war. But that’s not the only area where the president is threatening to make Congress an afterthought.

In spite of  reports that the bill may not get a vote before November’s elections, supporters of the  USA Freedom Act have done several interesting things to push its passage in the last weeks.

Last week, the bill’s author, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy released a letter from James Clapper and Eric Holder. A number of news outlets incorrectly  reported the letter as an unambiguous endorsement of Leahy’s bill.

It wasn’t.’

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Reagan’s FEMA head wrote thesis on potential internment of millions of black Americans

Matthew Cunningham-Cook reports for Jacobin Mag:

Embedded image permalink‘After filing a FOIA request, I finally got my hands on the thesis. Giuffrida’s paper, written at the US Army War College, is a pseudophilosophical, historical analysis of the origins of racial prejudice that then offers a proposal: the establishment of concentration camps to imprison potentially millions of black Americans in the event of a revolutionary uprising in the United States.

The thesis, which has never been published or excerpted, speaks for itself.’

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Obama Faces Calls to Reform Reagan-Era Mass Surveillance Order

Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Obama Faces Calls to Reform Reagan-Era Mass Surveillance Order‘A coalition of civil liberties groups and members of Congress are calling on President Obama to urgently review a controversial executive order being used by the National Security Agency to conduct mass surveillance.

Executive Order 12333, a Reagan-era authority, allows the NSA to covertly sweep up vast amounts of private data from overseas communication networks with no court oversight. Last week, The Intercept revealed how 12333 underpins a secret search engine the NSA built to share more than 850 billion records on phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats with other U.S. government agencies, including domestic law enforcement. The search system, named ICREACH, contains information on the private communications of foreigners as well as, it appears, millions of Americans not accused of any wrongdoing.

Now, more than 40 organizations and rights groups – including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union – are calling on Obama and his surveillance review panel to ensure there is no “disproportionate or unnecessary collection” taking place under 12333.’

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Mysterious Fake Cellphone Towers Are Intercepting Calls All Over The US

Jack Dutton reports for Business Insider:

Cellphone tower‘Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science. Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts.

[...] The towers were found in July, but the report implied that there may have been more out there. Although it is unclear who owns the towers, ESD found that several of them were located near U.S. military bases.’

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Police barge into woman’s home to serve a warrant over grass length