Tag Archives: PRISM

ANewDomain.net Essay: Why It’s Time for Zuck to Back His NSA Criticisms with Cash

From my new essay, exclusively on ANewDomain.net, about Zuckerberg’s call to Obama asking him to ramp down NSA spying:

“The Internet is our shared space,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It helps us connect. It spreads opportunity. This is why I’ve been so confused and frustrated by the repeated reports of the behavior of the U.S. government. When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.”

Given that Facebook worked with the NSA to create “the tech equivalent of a safety deposit box that only the NSA and the corresponding tech company can access… (the equivalent of) …  a locked briefcase full of intel left in a digital garbage can with the NSA swinging in to pick it up at a prescribed time,” Zuckerberg’s confusion is — what else? — confusing.

It’s as if he is shocked —  shocked! — to find that crazy dystopian data-vacuuming of everything about everyone all the time is going on at his own company. Yet he engineered it, in part.

But here’s the part of Zuck’s doth-protest-buckets post I found especially intriguing. He writes:

So it’s up to us — all of us — to build the Internet we want. Together, we can build a space that is greater and a more important part of the world than anything we have today, but is also safe and secure.”

Can we? Can we really?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Right-Wing Liberals

Learning the Lessons of Egypt 

I’m not much for sports analogies, but any athlete knows about the home field advantage. It’s easier to win if you play your game, not your opponent’s.

This is even more true in politics. Playing by your enemy’s rules is a mug’s game.

For whatever reason, conservatives and right-wing activists — the latter distinguishable from the former because they want to push past stodgy establishmentarianism into radical reactionism (e.g., fascism and its close relatives) — understand that he who makes the rules usually wins the fight. Whether it’s the aggressive redistricting of Texas voting districts engineered by Karl Rove on behalf of Republicans, or the brutalist media activism of FoxNews and other Murdoch properties like The Wall Street Journal, or hiring goons to beat up election officials during the 2000 Florida recount, right-wingers get that politics is war, no Queensbury rules. Only victory matters.

Leftists — not soft, smooshy liberals but real, honest-to-a-nonexistent-God socialists and communists — get it too. Not that you could tell from recent history, at least in the United States. They’re dispirited and disorganized. Nevertheless, they remember enough Marx and Mao to remember that might makes right.

Liberals, on the other hand, can’t manage to internalize this depressing, historically proven fact.

Columnist’s Note: At this point, if you’re a seasoned reader of opinion essays, you no doubt expect me to list examples of liberal wimpiness. Al Gore giving up in 2000. Obama not getting anything done with a Democratic Congress a few years after Bush rammed through a raft of right-wing legislation through…a Democratic Congress. Next should follow the usual exhortation to grow a pair.

A reasonable assumption, but I’m taking a different tack this time: liberals don’t understand why others refuse to get suckered.

On the morning of Thursday, August 15th, NPR interviewed a “liberal intellectual” in Egypt, where the ruling military junta had ordered soldiers to slaughter hundreds of nonviolent demonstrators staging sit-ins to protest the coup d’état that toppled the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist party. As is typical in these pieces, we were given no explanation as to why this man was picked to represent the reaction of the Egyptian public to the crackdown. Fluency in English? Friend of the reporter? Well-connected publicist? They didn’t say. Regardless of the reason, the effect was to anoint this “liberal” as a reasonable, albeit extraordinarily well-educated, Average Joe. Whether or not NPR producers intended it, Mr. Egyptian Liberal Voice of Reason served as the voice of NPR and thus, by extension, of American liberalism.

NPR’s pet Egyptian liberal Thursday was “novelist Alaa al-Aswany, who protested against the Mubarak regime and criticized ousted president Mohammed Morsi during his time in office.”

Al-Aswany wasted no time discrediting himself — “No, there is no military rule in Egypt, and there will never be a military rule in Egypt. And what happened is that we are living in a transition period” — before an observation I found unintentionally illuminating: “We must have the constitution first, of course. And then after that, the election. And I believe that there would be civil elected president and elected parliament who will take over.”

What about the Muslim Brotherhood? They should participate in the democratic process, he said.

But why?

On the same network, on the same show, Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations was pointing out that “it’s hard to make a credible claim if you’re an Egyptian liberal” because they supported the military coup.

“There is something called the Repression Radicalization Dynamic,” said Cook. “And one can imagine Muslim Brothers saying that they tried to play by the rules of the political game. They were shut out, shut down and now being hunted and they have no recourse but to take up arms against the state. We’ve seen that before, in fact, in Egypt, in the mid-1990s. There was a low-level insurgency which killed anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people. Throughout the Arab world we’ve seen it in places like Algeria.” In 1992 the Front Islamique de Salut (FIS) was expected to win Algeria’s elections. The military, acting with the backing of the U.S., canceled the election, prompting the coining of the term the “American Veto.” The Americans also effectively vetoed Hamas’ win of fair elections in Gaza in 2006.

From Algeria to Gaza to Egypt, the message to Islamists is clear: don’t follow the West’s rules. Electoral democracy is for them, not for you. If you play the West’s game, if you work within their system, they’ll do whatever it takes, including cheating, to prevent you from winning. If you win anyway, they’ll overthrow you in a coup. And if you demonstrate — peacefully, nonviolently, just the way they tell you you’re supposed to, they’ll shoot you like dogs.

I’m pretty sure Islamists — and other radicals who seek political power — have learned their lesson. Goodbye ballot boxes, hello guns.

Liberals, on the other hand, clearly haven’t. Not only do they themselves insist on accepting the rhetorical framework of the right, they expect everyone else to do so as well.

Of course, there may well be a simple if unpleasant explanation for that. Stylistic differences (e.g., George W. Bush vs. Barack Obama) aside, when push comes to shove, liberals side with authoritarianism — even though the autocrats in question plan to get rid of them sooner or later — over their leftist “allies.” We’ve seen it over and over, from Germany in 1848 to Washington in 2013, where a liberal president presides over an empire of torture camps, fleets of killer robot planes, and a police state that makes East Germany’s Stasi look penny ante.

Liberals are right-wing.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

Arrest Them All, Let the NSA Sort Them Out

Under the NSA’s “three-hop analysis” policy, they mine the records of 2.5 million Americans for each suspected terrorist. It’s the miracle of math!

Torturing the English Language

If the US declares the military coup in Egypt to have been a military coup, it would be forced to suspend its “foreign aid,” which isn’t aid at all. From coups to torture to FISA, the English language is the number-one victim of enhanced interrogation techniques.

Legalish

President Obama says the NSA’s surveillance programs against American citizens are “transparent.” Indeed, there is a legal veneer — memos that validate them, secret courts that supervise them, a few Congressmen who are briefed — but true legality cannot be the result of secrecy. Welcome to the Age of Legalish.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Get Pissed Off and Break Things

File:Keep-calm-and-carry-on-scan.jpg

 

Why Are Americans So Passive?

There’s a reason “Keep Calm and Carry On” is everywhere. When people lose everything — their economic aspirations, their freedom, their privacy — when there’s nothing they can do to restore what they’ve lost — all they have left is dignity.

Remember Saddam? Seconds before he was hanged, disheveled and disrespected, the deposed dictator held his head high, his eyes blazing with contempt as he spat sarcastic insults at his executioners. He “faced death like a lion,” said his supposed body double, Latif Yahia, and no one could argue. He left this life with the one thing he could control intact.

Dignity. That’s what “Keep Calm and Carry On” is all about. That’s what we think of when we think of the Battle of Britain. As German bombs rained down, the English went about their business. Like the iconic photo of the milkman tiptoeing over rubble. Like the bomb-damaged stores whose shopkeepers posted signs that read “We are still open — more open than usual.”

Man, that is so not us.

You’ve seen the T-shirts, with their clean Gill Sans-esque lettering and iconic crown. There are mugs, postcards and posters. Of course. It’s a reproduction of a propaganda poster from World War II, an (unsuccessful, because it wasn’t distributed) attempt by the British government to steel jittery citizens during the Blitz.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” merch dates to 2000 but really took off after 9/11; the popularity of the image, the stoicism of its call to stiffen upper lips everywhere, and numerous parodies (“Stay Alive and Kill Zombies”) has generated millions of dollars of profits, inevitably sparking lawsuits and inspiring a song by John Nolan.

Why is a meme originally prepared for a possible German invasion of the UK (which is why it wasn’t released) popular now? Zizi Papacharissi, communications professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, points to the crappy economy. “We are undergoing a profound and fairly global economic crisis, so it is natural to revisit the saying: Keep calm and carry on. It reminds us of courage shown back then, and how courage shown helped people pluck through a crisis.”

It’s also a reaction to terrorism — or more accurately a reaction to the initial reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks: hysteria, jingoism, multiple wars of choice, all doomed. More than any other factor, Obama owed his 2008 victory to his (Maureen Dowd called him) Vulcan personality: cool, implacable, possibly non-sentient, the anti-Dubya.

What wouldn’t we give for a 2001 do-over? No invasions, no Patriot Act, no Gitmo, no “extraordinary renditions,” no New York Times op-ed pieces arguing in favor of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Treat 9/11 like a crime, let the FBI go after the perps. Reach out to Muslims, reconsider our carte blanche to Israel, and most of all: go slow. Don’t freak out.

Perspective: 3,000 deaths is awful. 9/11 was shocking. We killed 2 million Vietnamese people, yet they’re going strong. With a minimum of whining.

And yet…

Sometimes you need some perspective to your perspective.

There are times when it’s appropriate to freak out. When, in fact, it’s downright weird and unhealthy and wrong not to flip your lid. For example, when you get diagnosed with a terrible disease. When someone you love dies.

There are also times when big-picture, impersonal stuff, including politics and the economy, ought to make you crazy with rage or grief or…something. Not nothing. Not just keeping calm and carrying on.

Keeping calm and carrying on was an appropriate response to the Blitz.  Short of moving away from the targeted area, there’s nothing you can do about bombs. Living or dying is a matter of happenstance. Keeping calm might help you make smart decisions. Panic is usually more dangerous than self-control.

The same is true of terrorism. Terrorists will kill you, or not — probably not. You can’t fix your fate.

But that is decidedly not true about the economy. Not when what is wrong with the economy is not something no one can control — a giant meteor, bad weather, panic in the markets — but something that most assuredly can and indeed should be, like the systemic transfer of wealth from the poor and middle-class to the rich that has characterized the class divide in Western nations since the 1970s. The appropriate, intelligent and self-preserving response to mass theft is rage, demands for action, and decisive punishment of political and economic leaders who refuse to change things.

As one revelation about the National Security Agency’s spying follows another, the “Keep Calm and Carry On” meme seems less like an appeal to dignity and calm reserve than the much older, classic response of the power elite to their oppressed subjects: Shut the Fuck Up.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in March 2014 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

The War on TVism

The number of Americans who die in terrorist attacks is comparable to the number crushed to death by their televisions. So why are we building a vast surveillance state and conducting a violent drone war to prevent such a trivial threat?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The PRISM Scandal: The Last Chance for America

Will We Resist a Massive Government/Corporate Conspiracy?

Turkey teeters on the brink of revolution — because the government wants to build a mall in the middle of a public square in Istanbul.

What will we do about the PRISM conspiracy?

With due respect to the Turkish protesters — with whom I agree — PRISM is a trillion times worse than Taksim Square.

PRISM is run by the NSA and FBI.

The charter of the National Security Agency, a spy agency created to collect foreign intelligence, specifically states that it is prohibited from “acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons.” Simple English. NSA isn’t even allowed to spy on Americans accidentally.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s self-professed mission is to “protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners.”

The NSA claims that its actions are “consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.”

Yet:

Not.

The darkest dystopian visions of the future — 1984, Brazil, Sleep Dealer — have come to chilling, horrific life. There can no longer be any illusion that the U.S. is a democratic republic. Everything we learned as schoolchildren was a lie. The U.S. government does not serve us. This is not a government by the people or for the people. The regime in Washington no more respects our rights as citizens, our dignity as individuals, than the North Korean dictators of Pyongyang. We eat better and watch better TV but where it counts, at essence, we are exactly the same.

The Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian have broken a startling blockbuster, perhaps the biggest story of our lives. “The NSA and the FBI,” writes the Post, “are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates.”

This is a government-big business conspiracy of the first order, so breathtaking in scope and ambition that it is scarcely comprehensible.

According to a classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by a patriotic intelligence officer said to be consumed with “horror at the capabilities” of the PRISM system, the U.S. government taps directly into the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Google, the biggest Internet company on earth, controlling 16% of global Internet traffic, pretended to stand up to China’s clumsy attempts to censor the Web, but when the NSA came calling, they saluted, bent over and paid for lube.

Google could have litigated. They could have called a press conference. They could have leaked the threats. Instead, they turned over everything. Voluntarily. If you’re online, Google has given your “private” information to the feds. “Don’t be evil?” Ha.

If capitalism counts for anything, contracts have to be enforced. There is a universally understood implicit contract between Internet users and companies like Microsoft and Apple: they keep your data private to the best of their abilities. They might get hacked; a court may serve them with a subpoena. Stuff happens. But they’re not supposed to voluntarily give every bit and byte to the government just because they asked nicely. Because they want to be considered, in government parlance, “a trusted company.”

The government trusts them. But now, can anyone else?

These Internet giants had a choice. They could have told the government to take a walk. According to the Post: “Apple demonstrated that resistance is possible when it held out for more than five years, for reasons unknown, after Microsoft became PRISM’s first corporate partner in May 2007. Twitter, which has cultivated a reputation for aggressive defense of its users’ privacy, is still conspicuous by its absence from the list of ‘private sector partners.'”

PRISM exposes the horrifying, galling partnership between the biggest Silicon Valley corporations and an out-of-control security state. No one is safe in a society governed by such powerful elites colluding so closely.

It also belies previous official claims that anti-terrorism and other security-based intelligence-gathering operations are specifically targeted at likely threats. To the contrary, the U.S. government is plainly interested in — and has largely succeeded at — intercepting, collecting and analyzing every electronic communication in the United States, and presumably abroad as well.

For example:

“According to a separate ‘User’s Guide for PRISM Skype Collection,’ that service can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone and for any combination of ‘audio, video, chat, and file transfers’ when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.”

Offerings.

That’s what they’re calling the emails we send each other. The photos we store in the “cloud.” Our video chats.

Everything we do online. Our entire online lives.

Offerings. They’re offering us up.

Yeah, of course, we knew they — the government — not our government, mind you — They — the others — the minions of the 1% — were spying on Americans at an epic scale that the Stasi spymasters depicted in the East German drama “The Lives of Others” couldn’t have dreamed of.

First came the 2001 USA-Patriot Act, which opened the door to officially-sanctioned law breaking in the supposed service of national security. In 2002 there was DARPA’s Total Information Awareness, the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 data mining operation, an attempt to “turn everything in cyberspace about everybody—tax records, driver’s-license applications, travel records, bank records, raw F.B.I. files, telephone records, credit-card records, shopping-mall security-camera videotapes, medical records, every e-mail anybody ever sent—into a single, humongous, multi-googolplexibyte database that electronic robots will mine for patterns of information suggestive of terrorist activity.” After an uproar, Congress defunded TIA — so its staff and activities simply packed up and moved to the NSA, where they continue to work today.

There was also AT&T’s secret room 641A, the site of “clandestine collaboration between one big telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history.” That story broke in 2007.

A few days ago, another sweeping violation of privacy came to light. This time, “the government has obtained phone numbers of both parties on every Verizon call, the call’s duration, location data and the time of day the calls were made.” That program is ongoing. (Were other telecommunications carriers involved? Probably. This is one of the few rubber-stamp FISA court warrants to come to light.)

It doesn’t take a genius to extrapolate from these stories to the massive scope of PRISM. But there’s a big difference between knowing the government is reading your emails and looking at your dirty pictures, and KNOWING they’re doing it. Now we KNOW.

So. What are we going to do about this?

Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple have all denied participation in PRISM. Maybe it’s all just a bad dream!

Probably not, though.

First: we need a full, independent investigation. Not by Congress. By someone we can trust. It’s hard to imagine who. Certainly not one of the big tech companies accused of betraying us.

Second: if this story turns out to be true, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the entire cabinet must resign and face prosecution. According to the Post, data collected from the rogue PRISM program is relied upon for roughly one out of seven of the President’s Daily Briefs on intelligence matters. “That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications,” notes the newspaper. It means that knowledge of PRISM, and authorization thereof, goes to the Oval Office. There must be accountability. Swift accountability.

Members of Congress, corporate executives of the Internet companies involved, and of any other companies, must be held to account as well. Prosecutions should come quickly.

Finally, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves.

I’d start with this one:

What does it mean to be an American? Are we citizens, free men and women? Or are we serfs, not vested in even the primal right to talk to our friends and family members without some goddamn government asshole listening in?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL