Sunday, June 30, 2013

Corporate-Government Spying Nexus

When I write about the asymmetry in this electronic surveillance, and I say that "We ought to be able spy on _them_ like they spy on us," some readers may think I'm being glib. You may think I am mixing up or conflating the Government agencies who do the eavesdropping, the NSA, with purely financial players such as the big banks and investment brokers. Of course there's an indirect chain of logic there; the rich bankers and big companies make campaign contributions to the politicians who allegedly control the NSA, so one could make an indirect argument that there's a chain of influence and we could influence the politicians by inconveniencing the banks.

You may think I'm making a roundabout political point by lumping the banks along with the government as "The Powers That Be".

You'd be wrong. There is a direct connection and I'm making a direct argument.

The UK Guardian is right, I consider this stuff just as mind-blowing as Edward Snowden's revelations about PRISM and wiretapping. Bank of America can't possibly be the only corporate giant who considered assembling a mercenary cadre "Intelligence Team" to dig up dirt and _initiate_ smears against _political_ adversaries. And guess what? They retained Booz Allen Hamilton (the private contractor who employed Snowden on behalf of the NSA), Palantir, Stratfor, all the same contractors who do the spying for the government. If you think that we can trust big companies like Google and Bank of America with our personal data because they're private companies, but you also think the government shouldn't be monitoring your personal and financial data.... THERE IS NO DISTINCTION ANYMORE. If you think private companies don't have an incentive to engage in personal attacks, abuse your personal data or share it with government agencies, because there's no way it would help their bottom line... you got another think coming.

Barrett Brown's Revelations Every Bit As Explosive As Edward Snowden's

Brown made a splash in February 2011 by helping to uncover "Team Themis", a project by intelligence contractors retained by Bank of America to demolish the hacker society known as Anonymous and silence sympathetic journalists like Glenn Greenwald... The campaign reportedly involved a menagerie of contractors: Booz Allen Hamilton, a billion-dollar intelligence industry player and Snowden's former employer; Palantir, a PayPal-inspired and -funded outfit that sells "data-mining and analysis software that maps out human social networks for counterintelligence purposes"; and HBGary Federal, an aspirant consultancy in the intelligence sector.

The Team Themis story began in late 2010, when Julian Assange warned WikiLeaks would release documents outlining an "ecosystem of corruption [that] could take down a bank or two." Anticipating that it might be in Assange's sights, Bank of America went into damage-control mode and, as the New York Times reported, assembled "a team of 15 to 20 top Bank of America officials … scouring thousands of documents in the event that they become public." To oversee the review, Bank of American brought in Booz Allen Hamilton.

...According to the Team Themis proposal, its partners suggested creating false documents and fake personas to damage progressive organizations such as "ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and". According to reporting by Wired, the three companies hoped to bill the Chamber of Commerce for $2m a month. But while (as leaked emails showed) the parties in the plan went back and forth over how to apportion the spoils, nothing was forthcoming.

The fact that Barr was stoking interest among security agencies with a dossier of supposed Anonymous members containing incorrect names meant that innocent people might have been jailed if he had succeeded in his scheme.

Barr resigned and HBGary Federal was subsequently shuttered. But the story doesn't end there...

Perhaps I may be jumping the gun here, I can't find a citation that BofA actually hired the team and proceeded with the smearing. Only talked with them. But I'd argue my point is still valid because it can be phrased from the opposite vector: the same private security firms that do the government eavesdropping, Palantir, "HB Gary Federal", and others, assembled a proposal for BofA that anticipated a desire on BofA's part to retaliate against reporter Glen Greenwald, hacker group Anonymous, and others. BofA doesn't appear to have pulled the trigger on the operation.

But are they the only ones Palantir offered such services to?

If Goldman Sachs got such a proposal, would they turn it down?

If the same private companies who eavesdrop on behalf of the government are also assembling dossiers on political and media opponents of big for-profit companies, then is there any distinction anymore between your private data that the government allegedly scans for terrorism, versus big companies having all your data and using it for their own for-profit purposes?

If data collectors and big financial companies really are interested in smearing media critics such as Greenwald, do we really have free speech in this country anymore?

For these reasons, I am being perfectly serious when I say that monitoring the big banks and financial companies with PRISM for fraud is a matter of "selective enforcement of the law", because _they_ are at their core connected to the PRISM surveillance operation.

And yes, as I explain elsewhere, I realize that the fact the financial giants are in part paying the salaries of the surveillance contractors, means that it's almost completely impossible that the surveillance will ever really be implemented against them effectively. But as I say, I want this link exposed. I want the rest of the American citizenry to realize that this surveillance is being run for the private purposes of the big, private, for-profit financial institutions and not for the citizen's protection against terrorism. As the targeting of Glen Greenwald shows, to the extent there is a political purpose for this surveillance, it's at least as much to control the government and the corporations' political opponents, activists and protesters, as it is to monitor terrorism.

Read below for some reasons why I think this is an inevitable part of the surveillance system. It's a lot easier to earn a paycheck targeting law-abiding critics and activists than it is to actually ferret out terrorists and criminals. Plus, as noted above, there are always errors on such secret lists, so even if you think you're law-abiding and have nothing to fear, a typographic error can still sweep you up in a dragnet of high-tech government persecution when the dragnet is this broad. Nobody is safe. Having transparency and lawful oversight over such a program might minimize such risks to innocent US citizens, but it's plain to see that the principles of transparency and oversight went out the window in 2001 if not (more likely) decades earlier.

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