What's the Real Target of Surveillance State: Terrorism or Democracy?

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Whistleblower Edward Snowden did more than simply expose a level of NSA surveillance that suggests the entire system has grown dangerously close to that of “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s 1984.

In disclosing that he served at the NSA as a third-party contractor employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden’s revelations touch upon the disturbing fact that the U.S. has become not only a national security surveillance state, but a privatized national security surveillance state. Our national security apparatus is now run, in no small part, by massive private corporations whose financial interests may be better served by operating in secret and by exploiting and exaggerating public fears.

As reported by The New York Times on Monday, Booz Allen “has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States.” The company “reported revenues of $5.76 billion for the fiscal year ended in March.”

The majority shareholder in Booz Allen is The Carlyle Group, the massive global asset management firm whose defense industry contracts raised questions of a conflict of interest during the George W. Bush administration in light of the direct financial ties and active rolls in Carlyle maintained by Bush’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, his Sec. of State, James Baker, III, Ronald Reagan’s Defense Sec. Frank Carlucci and even Shafiq Bin Laden (Osama’s brother).

These new revelations serve as a reminder that 9/11 did more than serve as an economic boon for the military-industrial complex. The events of that horrible day gave rise to an endless “war on terror,” to the starkly swift passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and eventually, along with it, — as Sen. Russ Feingold, the only U.S. Senator to vote against the Act, predicted at the time — to the massive reach of the NSA surveillance state. Feingold’s prediction echoed the ominous warning provided by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) some thirty years earlier, that if the NSA’s surveillance capabilities were ever allowed to go unchecked, there would be “no place to hide.”

But what Senators Feingold and Church do not seem to have anticipated was that this Orwellian level of surveillance capabilities would be placed into the hands of private cyber security contractors, and their billionaire benefactors, whose financial interests lie in an exaggerated state of fear and secrecy. The merger between the NSA and private corporate power raises the specter that this never-ending “war on terror” has given rise to a national security apparatus whose real purpose is to protect wealth and privilege against the threat democracy poses to our increasingly stark levels of inequality.

So, is it terrorism or democracy which is the real target of an omnipresent NSA surveillance capability? Or is it something else entirely?…

 

Profitable surveillance

One intriguing feature in Snowden’s revelations is that he reportedly left his position at the CIA, where the average salary for a counterintelligence analyst is $75,000/year, to take a similar position with Booz Allen as an NSA analyst for $200,000/year.

That point led Jeffrey Carr, author of Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld to Tweet on Sunday night: “For those of you wondering how a 29 yr old was earning $200K/yr, imagine what Booz Allen was billing him out for.”

As revealed in the above-cited New York Times article, “Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year.” It was hardly alone. According to Daniel Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight there are “a million private contractors” that have been “cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.”

NYT goes on to report:

Companies like Booz Allen, Lockheed Martin and the Computer Sciences Corporation also engage directly in gathering information and providing analysis and advice to government officials. Booz Allen employees work inside the facilities at the N.S.A.

And it’s not just on U.S. soil and not just inside NSA. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein reported on Monday that a full “One-third of the 1,000 personnel slated to handle cyber weapons for Marine Corps troops overseas will be contractors, according to the chief of the service’s cyber command.”

The problem entails not only greater expenditures of public monies for the profit-margins of private contractors, but a conflict-of-interest in which those who are profiting from the activity have a vested interest in seeing that perceptions of terrorist threats are omnipresent and unending so as to maximize the profits to be derived from an all-encompassing surveillance state.

To seal the deal, by law, almost complete secrecy masks the profits derived from our insecurity.

Revolving door

As with so many other “public-private partnerships” inside government agencies, the symbiotic relationship between private profits and government policies is embodied in the revolving door between the private contractors and the government agencies which funnel public monies to those contractors. The result: a revolving door that implicates a conflict-of-interest in so many of the “leak” protestations we have been hearing over the past week.

Per The New York Times, James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, who described the revelations made by Glenn Greenwald as “reprehensible” and as having put “the security of Americans” at risk, is a former Booz Allen executive. (Sidenote: He also appears to have been somewhat less than forthright in his various protestations and explanations of the surveillance programs in question, to date.) John M. McConnell, on the other hand, who had served as the Director of National Intelligence under George W. Bush is, himself, now an employee of Booz Allen.

Round and round it goes, where it stops…well, apparently it never stops, so never mind.

Known misuse of surveillance

There is absolutely no reason to simply “trust” the government or private contractors with the power that accompanies virtually unfettered secret access to all communications. Indeed, the editor of this site, Brad Friedman, together with Glenn Greenwald and other private citizens, already experienced the misuse of these so-called counter-terrorism cyber security tools. Friedman, et al., became the targets of a secret scheme devised for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by its high-powered D.C. law firm and three private U.S. cyber security contractors. For those who think there’s nothing to hide if they haven’t done anything wrong, think again! The scheme was designed to smear, defraud, plant fake documents, hack and spy upon the Chamber’s perceived enemies in hopes of discrediting them. The scheme was to have used the very tools, developed by contractors with taxpayer monies, for use in the so-called “war on terror”.

In a similar vein, as reported by SourceWatch, on May 20 the Center for Media and Democracy released a detailed report on “How the Nation’s ‘Counter Terrorism’ Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Monitored the Occupy Movement”.

The key findings in the report include the use of undercover agents not only to infiltrate Occupy groups, but to infiltrate groups taking issue with the infamous Koch-funded, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC); Department of Homeland Security “data mining” of social media; application of facial recognition software against the Occupy movement by government counter-terrorism employees; the creation of an “information sharing environment” between law enforcement and major corporations; and the FBI’s application of “‘Operation Tripwire,’ an initiative originally intended to apprehend domestic terrorists through the use of private sector informants, in their monitoring of Occupy Wall Street groups.”

Given that report, and so much of what we’ve learned over the past week, and the decade and more before it, one has to ask: What is the real target of the privatized national security surveillance state, terrorists or democracy…or just pure profit?

One thing is for certain. For companies, like The Carlyle Group, data mining has become the new Gold Rush.

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UPDATE: Readers are encouraged to view this video segment from Democracy Now!, which includes an interview of Tim Shorrock, author of the book Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Outsourced Intelligence and a description of the privatized national security apparatus provided by former NSA and CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, as a “digital Blackwater.”

 

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Ernest A. Canning has been an active member of the California state bar since 1977. Mr. Canning has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science as well as a juris doctor. He is also a Vietnam vet (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968). Follow him on Twitter: @Cann4ing.