Cybersecurity: Obama’s Promise to Trash the Constitution
May 29, 2009
During a speech today on “cybersecurity,” Obama told a whopper. He said the government’s effort to protect us from cyber bad guys “will not include monitoring private sector networks or Internet traffic. We will preserve and protect the personal privacy and civil liberties that we cherish as Americans.”
Is it possible Obama has never heard of Mark Klein, the retired AT&T communications technician who said years ago that the company shunted all Internet traffic — including traffic from peering links connecting to other Internet backbone providers — to semantic traffic analyzers, installed in a secret room inside the AT&T central office on Folsom Street in San Francisco? There are similar rooms in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles and San Diego, all sucking up internet data.
Whistleblower Mark Klein
Klein explained that the multinational corporation is doing this at the behest of the NSA. It is “vacuum-cleaner surveillance” approach that grabs everything. “Despite what we are hearing, and considering the public track record of [the Bush] administration, I simply do not believe their claims that the NSA’s spying program is really limited to foreign communications or is otherwise consistent with the NSA’s charter or with FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act],” said Klein in 2006.
After the NSA showed up in 2002 at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility, Klein began connecting the dots. “You might recall there was a big blowup in the news about the Total Information Awareness [TIA] program, led by Adm. [John] Poindexter, which caused the big upsetness in Congress, because what Poindexter was proposing to do was draw in databases from everywhere — and this was in The New York Times — draw in Internet data, bank records, travel records, everything into one big conglomeration which could be searchable by the government so they could find out everything about what anybody’s doing at any time of day,” Klein told PBS. “And all this would be done without any warrants. This is how it was presented by Poindexter himself in The New York Times, and that caused a great upset, brouhaha, in Congress.”
On January 16, 2003, Senator Russ Feingold introduced legislation to suspend the activity of the Total Information Awareness program pending a Congressional review of privacy issues involved. In February 2003, Congress passed legislation suspending activities of the IAO (Information Awareness Office) pending a Congressional report of the office’s activities.
Congress acted after William Safire published an article in the New York Times claiming “[TIA] has been given a $200 million budget to create computer dossiers on 300 million Americans” (see You Are a Suspect, November 14, 2002).
Of course, the program didn’t go away. Legislators included a classified annex to the Defense Appropriations Act that preserved funding for TIA’s component technologies, if they were transferred to other government agencies. TIA projects continued to be funded under classified annexes to Defense and Intelligence appropriation bills.
“Total Information Awareness — the all-seeing terrorist spotting algorithm-meets-the-mother-of-all-databases that was ostensibly de-funded by Congress in 2003, never actually died, and was largely rebuilt in secret by the NSA, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Siobhan Gorman,” Ryan Singel wrote for Wired on March 10, 2008. “There’s been no real debate in Congress or in the press about whether the government should be allowed to track every Americans phone calls, emails and web browsing.”
Jon Stokes, writing for Ars Technica, notes that TIA technology is nothing new. “TIA-like efforts are still going on” Stokes wrote in 2005, and “the government has been trying to use new technology, like database tech and voice recognition, for domestic surveillance for a long time. And when I say a long time, I mean well before the current administration came into office.” It really got a boost under Clinton in 1995 when the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed. “CALEA mandated that the telcos aid wiretapping by installing remote wiretap ports onto their digital switches so that the switch traffic would be available for snooping by law enforcement.” In other words, Mark Klein had but scratched the surface.
Truman created the NSA in 1952, supposedly to serve as “America’s ears” abroad, but the agency has long served as a secret Stasi-like organization dedicated to snooping on Americans. The NSA, writes Siobhan Gorman for the Wall Street Journal, “and other intelligence agencies were found to be using their spy tools to monitor Americans for political purposes.”
The NSA’s predecessor, the Armed Forces Security Agency, launched Project SHAMROCK in 1945. It obtained copies of all telegraphic information exiting or entering the United States with the full cooperation of RCA, ITT and Western Union. A sister project known as Project MINARET involved the creation of “watch lists,” by each of the intelligence agencies and the FBI, of those accused of “subversive” domestic activities. The watch lists included such notables as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jane Fonda, Joan Baez and Dr. Benjamin Spock, according to Patrick S. Poole, writing for Nexus Magazine in 1999. The FBI, the NSA, and other intelligence agencies were actively involved in creating the watch lists.
NSA has attempted to keep up on technology as the secretive agency continues to snoop on “subversives” and others the government considers miscreants. In February, trade publications reported the agency is offering “billions” to any firm able to offer reliable eavesdropping on Skype IM and voice traffic. Skype is particularity troublesome because it utilizes P2P networks, that is to say peer-top-peer (no central server owned and operated by a telecom required). The government and the corporate media may tell you they want to crack down on P2P — for instance, the vastly popular BitTorrent — because of copyright infringement, but a more practical reason is because the government has yet to figure out how to crack the file sharing protocol. Skype and BitTorrent account for a large amount of traffic on the internet.
If you think Obama will roll back the government’s massive and unconstitutional snoop program, think again. On April 3, the Obama Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss one of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s landmark lawsuits against illegal spying by the NSA. The DOJ demanded that the entire lawsuit be dismissed based on both the Bush administration’s claim that a “state secrets” privilege bars any lawsuits against the executive branch for illegal spying, as well as a novel “sovereign immunity” claim that the Patriot Act bars lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance (see the EFF press release, Obama Administration Embraces Bush Position on Warrantless Wiretapping and Secrecy).
In March, Obama’s coordinator for cybersecurity programs, Rod Beckstrom, a former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, quit because he opposed the role of the NSA in the so-called cybersecurity initiative. Beckstrom said “the threats to our democratic processes are significant if all top level government network security and monitoring are handled by” the NSA.
“Obama’s moves drew praise from key lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who vowed to work with the president to implement new security measures as needed,” CQPolitics reported shortly after his “cybersecurity” speech. “Obama said his cybersecurity adviser — who will be a member of both the National Security Staff and the National Economic Council staff — will head a new office within the White House.”
“We applaud President Obama for highlighting the extraordinarily serious issue of cybersecurity,” Sens. Johns D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.V., and Olympia J. Snowe , R-Maine, said in a joint statement. “No other president in American history has elevated this issue to that level and we think him for his leadership.”
No other president so far has had the power to shut down the internet. The Rockefeller-Snowe bill, S 778, would grant Obama dictatorial power declare a so-called “cyber emergency” and pull the plug, or at least cripple networks deemed a threat. The U.S. government is not seriously worried about Chinese hackers or mischievous kids in Latvia (as Rockefeller cited as a danger) but rather fear free and unfettered speech and activism on the part of its own citizens.
Obama’s promise is merely an effort to string you along with a big fat lie. He has absolutely no respect for you or the Bill of Rights.