Friday, May 12, 2006

What are you hiding?

Mass Spying on Americans treats citizens like terrorists:

bureaucratic failure or clever plan?



August Riis with Domenic Debs
May 13, 2006, New York City

Several months ago, the New York Times revealed that the government was spying on the conversations of US citizens without getting a warrant or any other type of clearance. At the time White House and other government representatives fired back that they needed to listen to terrorists and track their calls to stop “the next attack.”

The executive office denied any warrant less spying beyond that reported to Congress. The issue settled a bit until this week’s revelations. We now know that the National Security Agency (NSA) collected “transaction” records on all calls across the country except in areas served by Qwest Communications (formerly Mountain Bell). These transactions are the to-and-from records of every call you make: cell, land line, or otherwise.

August Riis found a strong connection between the terrorist surveillance program and the recent discovery of mass snooping. ECHELON, America's Secret Global Surveillance Network, is rumored to be the backbone for a new “monitor everybody” spy system. This is a radically new concept emerging in English speaking countries, lead by the United States and Great Britain. The concept stipulates that “every single citizen” is a potential enemy.

Riis booked an exclusive interview with Robert Malkmus, PhD, Professor of Politics and Ethic at the New York University Center for Advanced Strategic Studies. Author of over 40 scholarly texts, 200 articles, and former head of the President Clinton’s Cyber Ethics Initiative, Malkmus is considered the leading authority on citizen surveillance and government intrusion into private affairs.

August Riis Interviews Professor Malkmus

August Riis: We are trying to understand why the government feels that it has to spy on its citizens. Are there any antecedents to what we are witnessing now?

Professor Malkmus: Of course, domestic spying has been a hallmark of all governments dating back to ancient Greece. In those days one wasn’t able to listen in on a conversation unless one was in ear shot. Nowadays spies and government agencies have the ability to listen in on millions of conversations automatically using computers that can analyze the content of these conversations and record and archive them for review.

AR: You mean to say that the image of the FBI agent sitting in a van with headphones on, is long and gone.

PM: Yes, I have been doing research on governmental spying practices since the end of the Cold War and we are now witnessing an intensifying of spying activities tied to the so-called war on terrorism. The political will to use the technology against Americans is new however; there has always been some activity by government agencies targeted at dangerous political extremists and organized crime. Now, however, anyone can be a suspect and the target of wiretapping, the justification for this is that 9/11 could have been prevented had there been a more wide ranging wiretapping operation before the attacks. This is simply a way for the government to scare us into accepting its unconstitutional actions.

AR: You seem to be saying that there is much more than the fight against terrorism behind the NSA’s programs.

PM: Yes, you asked me earlier why the government feels that it needs to spy on us. Well, the answer is simple: control. By spying on us, the people in power know what we know without us knowing. In many countries the government spies on its political opponents to keep them in check. In the former USSR the apparatchik stayed in power for so long because of the KGB’s constant spying and the fear in everyone that no-one could be trusted. The loss of the freedom of expression is what kept the USSR and many other dictatorships going for so long. You only need to look at North Korea to understand how this process works. There, everyone is a potential government informer anything you say against the regime could lead you to labor camp.

AR: But we don’t live in a dictatorship and people here are free to say pretty much what they want without fear of ending up in jail.

PM: That is where you are wrong. The Patriot Act has in effect turned this country into a dictatorship. This coupled with Presidential signing orders which allow the White House to be the only governmental entity with any power over decision-making and you have a country where people can be imprisoned indefinitely without charge and even end up disappeared in Guantanamo. It is only now with the discovery of these NSA operations that people are becoming suspicious of the government’s actions.

AR: Well people will say, “I haven’t done anything wrong so why should I be a target of domestic spying?”

PM: Actually because of the technology used no one is a target and everyone is. The system that is in place allows the NSA or any other government agency to, for example, intercept any conversation be it on the phone or in an e-mail that has the word Osama in it. Or it could be a combination of words, like AK47, cocaine, bomb, environmental etc…
When ECHELON was first discovered there was an internet campaign to try and flood the system by incorporating a list of words that were supposedly picked up by the system, into e-mails. This was way before 9/11 and I definitely wouldn’t do it now, because NSA agents are not known for their sense of humor.

AR: So you believe that anything we say on the phone or in an e-mail can be picked up by the government, which leads us back to my original question, why?

PM: Well fear has worked at galvanizing public opinion in a tremendous way since 9/11, it made the president into a very popular figure who was seen to be steadfastly protecting us against marauding terrorist hoards hell-bent on destroying our way of life. It made us forget what an incompetent man he really was … until now. It is now, the government needs this domestic spying program, its survival depends on it. It allows it to be informed of its political opponents every move and it can keep in line the members of its own party.

AR: Excuse me, but you seem to be saying that the government not only spies on the Democrats but also on the Republicans.

PM: Yes. The parallels with other regimes like those of Hitler, Stalin and Mao for example are very clear. They all rose to power on the back of some great crusade against an enemy that threatened them and then followed up by installing an autocratic form of government which relied on its secret service and overall public paranoia to survive.

What we have witnessed here since 9/11, the Pearl Harbor of the PNAC, is simply a repetition of history. Of course, if the great dictators of the past had television numbing the minds of the masses the way it does now, they probably would have survived a lot longer. The growth of the internet however has somewhat diverted the public’s attention away from the television and more and more people are keeping informed in other non regulated ways. The threat for the powers that be, is that the populace becomes too well informed and organized. That is why they are trying in any way they can to take control of the internet, they realize its potential to disrupt their well laid plans.

But I digress, yes the White House is spying on Republicans, and like other dictatorial regimes it realizes that the real threat is from within. The RNC cannot be trusted to control its members. That is why I believe all Republicans members of congress are tightly monitored by the White House. Not only are their communications intercepted in order to find out where they stand on certain issues but their behavior is also investigated. Another reason why they are spied on is that their actions can sometimes lead them to being blackmailed, thereby insuring that they do not stray too far from the party line.

I believe we are witnessing the beginning of a very dangerous period in our nation’s history, where the people in charge are trying to use any means at their disposal to stay in power. The falling poll numbers, the state of the war in Iraq, the dissent of Republicans and the impending indictment of Karl Rove lead me to believe that the White House is planning something to avoid the elections in November. My worst scenario is an attack on Iran followed by reinstating conscription and eventually martial law. But we will see, maybe the internet will save us all.

Copyright Riis-Debs. Permission to reprint in part or whole with attribution.