Democracy Going Dark: The Electronic Police State The FBI's Multi-Billion "High-Tech Surveillance" Program

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The Federal
Bureau of Investigation’s budget
request
for fiscal year 2010 reveals that America’s political
police intend to greatly expand their high-tech surveillance capabilities.

According to
ABC
News
, the FBI is seeking additional funds for the development
of “a new ‘Advanced Electronic Surveillance’ program which is being
funded at $233.9 million for 2010. The program has 133 employees,
15 of whom are agents.”

Known as “Going
Dark,” the program is designed to beef up the Bureau’s already formidable
electronic surveillance, intelligence collection and evidence gathering
capabilities “as well as those of the greater Intelligence Community,”
ABC reports. An FBI spokesperson told the network:

“The term
‘Going Dark’ does not refer to a specific capability, but is a
program name for the part of the FBI, Operational Technology Division’s
(OTD) lawful interception program which is shared with other law
enforcement agencies.”

“The term
applies to the research and development of new tools, technical
support and training initiatives.” (Jason Ryan, “DOJ Budget
Details High-Tech Crime Fighting Tools,” ABC News, May
9, 2009)

Led by Assistant
Director Marcus C. Thomas, OTD describes
the office as supporting “the FBI's investigative and intelligence-gathering
efforts – and those of our federal, state, and local law enforcement/intelligence
partners – with a wide range of sophisticated technological
equipment, examination tools and capabilities, training, and specialized
experience. You won't hear about our work on the evening news because
of its highly sensitive nature, but you will continue to hear about
the fruits of our labor…”

According to
OTD’s website,
the Division possesses “seven core capabilities”: Digital Forensics;
Electronic Surveillance; Physical Surveillance; Special Technology
and Applications; Tactical Communications; Tactical Operations and
finally, Technical Support/Coordination.

Under the heading
“Electronic Surveillance,” OTD deploys “tools and techniques for
performing lawfully-authorized intercepts of wired and wireless
telecommunications and data network communications technologies;
enhancing unintelligible audio; and working with the communications
industry as well as regulatory and legislative bodies to ensure
that our continuing ability to conduct electronic surveillance will
not be impaired as technology evolves.”

But as we have
seen throughout the entire course of the so-called “war on terror,”
systemic constitutional breeches by the FBI – from their abuse
of National
Security Letters
, the proliferation of corporate-dominated Fusion
Centers
to the infiltration of provocateurs
into antiwar and other dissident groups – the only thing “impaired”
by an out-of-control domestic spy agency have been the civil liberties
of Americans.

Communications
Backdoor Provided by Telecom Grifters

While the Bureau
claims that it performs “lawfully-authorized intercepts” in partnership
with the “communications industry,” also known as telecommunications’
grifters,
the available evidence suggests otherwise.

As Antifascist
Calling reported
last year, security consultant and whistleblower Babak Pasdar, in
a sworn affidavit
to the Government Accountability Project (GAP),
provided startling details about the collusive – and profitable
alliance – between the FBI and America’s wireless carriers.

Pasdar furnished
evidence that FBI agents have instantly transferred data along a
high-speed computer circuit to a Bureau technology office in Quantico,
Virginia. The so-called Quantico Circuit was provided to the FBI
by Verizon, The
Washington Post
revealed.

According to
published reports, the company maintains a 45 megabit/second DS-3
digital line that allowed the FBI and other security agencies virtually
“unfettered access” to the carrier’s wireless network, including
billing records and customer data “transferred wirelessly.” Verizon
and other telecom giants have supplied FBI technical specialists
with real-time access to customer data.

“The circuit
was tied to the organization’s core network,” Pasdar wrote. Such
access would expose customers’ voice calls, data packets, even their
physical movements and geolocation to uncontrolled – and illegal
– surveillance.

In April, Wired
obtained documents
from the FBI under a Freedom of Information Act request. Those files
demonstrate how the Bureau’s “geek squad” routinely hack into wireless,
cellular and computer networks.

Although the
FBI released 152 heavily-redacted pages, they withheld another 623,
claiming a full release would reveal a “sensitive investigative
technique.” Nevertheless, Wired discovered that the FBI is
deploying spyware called a “computer internet protocol address verifier,”
or CIPAV, designed to infiltrate a target’s computer and gather
a wide range of information, “which it sends to an FBI server in
eastern Virginia.” While the documents do not detail CIPAV’s capabilities,
an FBI affidavit from a 2007 case indicate it gathers and reports,

a computer’s
IP address; MAC address; open ports; a list of running programs;
the operating system type, version and serial number; preferred
internet browser and version; the computer’s registered owner
and registered company name; the current logged-in user name and
the last-visited URL.

After
sending the information to the FBI, the CIPAV settles into a silent
“pen register” mode, in which it lurks on the target computer
and monitors its internet use, logging the IP address of every
server to which the machine connects. (Kevin Poulsen, “FBI
Spyware Has Been Snaring Extortionists, Hackers for Years,” Wired,
April 16, 2009)

“Going Dark”
is ostensibly designed to help the Bureau deal with technological
changes and methods to intercept Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP)
phone calls facilitated by programs such as Skype. But a tool that
can seamlessly target hackers and cyber-criminals can just as easily
be deployed against political opponents.

The FBI also
intends to continue their use of automated link and behavioral analysis
derived from data mining as investigative tools. As a subset of
applied mathematics, social network theory and its derivatives,
link- and behavioral analysis, purport to uncover hidden relationships
amongst social groups and networks. Over time, it has become an
invasive tool deployed by private- and state intelligence agencies
against political activists, most recently, as Antifascist Calling
reported in February, against protest groups organizing against
the
Republican National Convention
.

These methods
raise very troubling civil liberties’ and privacy concerns. The
Electronic Privacy Information Coalition (EPIC)
filed a Freedom of Information Act request,
demanding that the General Services Administration (GSA)
turn over agency records “concerning agreements the GSA negotiated
between federal agencies and social networking services, including
Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Blip.tv, and Facebook.”

With the proliferation
of social networking sites, applications allow users to easily share
information about themselves with others. But as EPIC points out,
“Many online services relay information about online associations
as users create new relationships. While government agencies may
use social networking, cloud computing, and Internet services to
create greater transparency on their activities, it remains unclear
if there are data collection, use, and sharing limitations.”

And with “information
discoverability” all the rage amongst spooky security agencies ranging
from the FBI to the NSA, “connecting the dots,” particularly when
it comes to dissident Americans, “is gaining increasing attention
from homeland security officials and experts in their ongoing attempt
to corral anti-terrorism information that resides across federal,
state and local jurisdictions,” Federal Computer Week reports.

Will an agreement
between Facebook and the FBI facilitate “dot connecting” or will
it serve as a new, insidious means to widen the surveillance net,
building ever-more intrusive electronic case files on dissident
Americans?

The Electronic
Police State

As Antifascist
Calling reported
earlier this month, citing the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s
(EFF) dossier
on the FBI’s Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW), the office had
“transitioned to the operations and maintenance phase during FY
2008″ and now possesses some “997,368,450 unique searchable documents,”
ready for data mining.

But as study
after study has revealed, most recently the comprehensive examination
of various programs by the National Research Council, automated
data mining is “likely to generate huge numbers of false leads.”

Because the
mountainous volumes of data “mined” for “actionable intelligence”
are drawn from dozens of disparate sources on terrorism or criminal
suspects, “they have an enormous potential for privacy violations
because they will inevitably force targeted individuals to explain
and justify their mental and emotional states.”

EFF documented
that the Bureau’s Telephone Application (TA) “provides a central
repository for telephone data obtained from investigations.” TA
allegedly functions as an “investigative tool … for all telephone
data collected during the course of FBI investigations. Included
are pen register data, toll records, trap/trace, tape-edits, dialed
digits, airnet (pager intercepts), cellular activity, push-to-talk,
and corresponding subscriber information.”

Additionally,
the civil liberties’ group revealed that “records obtained through
National Security Letters are placed in the Telephone Application,
as well as the IDW by way of the ACS [Automated Case] system.” It
would appear that “Going Dark” will serve as a research subsystem
feeding the insatiable appetite of the Investigative Data Warehouse.

In fact, these
programs are part and parcel of what the security website
Cryptohippie refers to as the Electronic
Police State
. Far from keeping us safe from all manner of dastardly
plots hatched by criminals and/or terrorists, Cryptohippie
avers:

An electronic
police state is quiet, even unseen. All of its legal actions are
supported by abundant evidence. It looks pristine.

An electronic
police state is characterized by this:

State
use of electronic technologies to record, organize, search and
distribute forensic evidence against its citizens.

The two
crucial facts about the information gathered under an electronic
police state are these:

  1. It
    is criminal evidence, ready for use in a trial.
  2. It
    is gathered universally and silently, and only later organized
    for use in prosecutions.

In an
Electronic Police State, every surveillance camera recording,
every email you send, every Internet site you surf, every post
you make, every check you write, every credit card swipe, every
cell phone ping… are all criminal evidence, and they are held
in searchable databases, for a long, long time. Whoever holds
this evidence can make you look very, very bad whenever they care
enough to do so. You can be prosecuted whenever they feel like
it – the evidence is already in their database. (“The
Electronic Police State, 2008 National Rankings,” Cryptohippie,
no date.)

Unfortunately,
this is not the stuff of paranoid fantasies, but American reality
in the year 2009; one unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

In addition
to “Going Dark,” the FBI is busily constructing what ABC News
refers to as the “development of the Biometric Technology Center,
a Joint Justice, FBI and DoD program.” At a cost of $97.6 million,
the center will function as a research and development arm of the
Bureau’s Biometric Center of Excellence (BCOE),
one which will eventually “be a vast database of personal data including
fingerprints, iris scans and DNA which the FBI calls the Next Generation
Identification (NGI).”

The program
is closely tied with technology under development by West Virginia
University’s Center for Identification Technology Research (CITeR).
As the FBI’s “lead academic partner in biometrics research” according
to a Bureau press
release
, CITeR provides “biometrics research support to the
FBI and its law enforcement and national security partners and serve
as the FBI liaison to the academic community of biometric researchers
nationwide.”

Indeed, CITeR
director Lawrence A. Hornak, “a visionary of the Big Brother school
of technology” told The
Register
, he awaits the day “when devices will be able to
‘recognize us and adapt to us’.” The “long-term goal,” Hornak declared,
is the “ubiquitous use of biometrics.”

But as The
Register pointed out when the program was publicly rolled-out,
“civil libertarians and privacy advocates are not amused.”

They claim
that the project presents nightmare scenarios of stolen biometric
information being used for ever-more outlandish forms of identity
theft, which would be nearly impossible to correct. Correcting
an inaccurate credit report is already an insulting and hair-raising
experience in America, and critics contend that the use of biometrics
would make correcting inaccurate credit reports or criminal histories
nearly impossible. Besides, they argue, the US government does
not exactly have a sterling record when it comes to database security
– what happens when, as seems inevitable, the database is
hacked and this intimate and allegedly indisputable data is compromised?

Databases
usually become less accurate, rather than more, the older and
bigger they get, because there’s very little incentive for the
humans that maintain them to go back and correct old, inaccurate
information rather than simply piling on new information. Data
entry typically trumps data accuracy. Furthermore, the facial
recognition technology in its current iteration is woefully inaccurate,
with recognition rates as low as 10 per cent at night. All in
all, there is ample reason for skepticism – not that it will
make much of a difference. (Burke Hansen, “FBI preps $1bn
biometric database,” The Register, December 24, 2007)

But WVU’s CITeR
isn’t the only partner lining-up to feed at the FBI’s trough. ABC
reports that the Bureau “has awarded the NGI contract to Lockheed
Martin to update and maintain the database which is expected to
come online in 2010. After being fully deployed the NGI contract
could cost up to $1 billion.”

However, Federal
Computer Week reported
in 2008 that although the initial contract will “consist of a base
year,” the potential for “nine option years” means that “the value
of the multiyear contract … could be higher.” You can bet it will!

Additional
firms on Lockheed Martin’s “team” as subcontractors include IBM,
Accenture, BAE Systems, Global Science & Technology, Innovative
Management & Technology Services and Platinum Solutions. In
other words, NGI is yet another in a gigantic herd of cash cows
enriching the Military-Industrial-Security Complex.

Democracy
“Going Dark”

The “vast apparatus
of domestic spying” described by the World
Socialist Web Site
, greatly expanded under the criminal
Bush regime is a permanent feature of the capitalist state; one
that will continue to target political dissent during a period of
profound economic crisis.

That the Obama
administration, purportedly representing fundamental change from
the previous government, has embraced the felonious methods of the
Bush crime family and its capo tutti capo, Richard Cheney,
should surprise no one. Like their Republican colleagues, the Democrats
are equally complicit in the antidemocratic programs of repression
assembled under the mendacious banner of the “global war on terror.”

From warrantless
wiretapping to the suppression of information under cover of state
secrets, and from the waging of imperialist wars of conquest to
torture, the militarist mind-set driving capitalist elites at warp
speed towards an abyss of their own creation, are signs that new
political provocations are being prepared by America’s permanent
“shadow government” – the military-intelligence-corporate apparatus.

This article
originally appeared on GlobalResearch.ca.

August
24, 2009

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San
Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action
Quarterly and Global Research,
an independent research and media group of writers, scholars, journalists
and activists based in Montreal, his articles can be read on
Dissident Voice,
The Intelligence Daily,
Pacific Free Press
and the whistleblowing website Wikileaks.
He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military “Civil
Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK
Press
.

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