Monday, June 16, 2008

Are You Being Tracked And, If So, By Whom?

As for me, I can say with some assuredness that I am not being tracked. Why? Because I am not all that important.

Sometimes being a "nobody" is a very good thing.

Wiretaps “R” Us: Is the FBI Tracking Your Cellphone?

Under broad powers handed the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Congress in 2001 after it passed the Orwellian USA Patriot Act, the rights of ordinary citizens have progressively been stripped away by America’s national security state.

With a history of domestic counterinsurgency operations against the left, and despite bruising attacks after 9/11 on its (undeserved) reputation as the nation’s premier “crime fighting agency,” the FBI nevertheless, remains a formidable organization when it comes to repressing dissent.

In this light, a disturbing report showcased Wednesday by Wired, highlights the grave dangers posed to individual rights and freedoms when secretive and largely unaccountable federal bureaucracies are handed nearly unlimited powers. Ryan Singel writes:

Does the FBI track cellphone users’ physical movements without a warrant? Does the Bureau store recordings of innocent Americans caught up in wiretap in a searchable database? Does the FBI’s wiretap equipment store information like voicemail passwords and bank account numbers without legal authorization to do so? (”Secret Spy Court Repeatedly Questions FBI Wiretap Network,” Wired, June 11, 2008)

According to Singel, during a series of inquiries in 2005-2006 the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court repeatedly questioned the legality of Bureau electronic surveillance operations that targeted Americans. These revelations came to light in newly declassified documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The spy court inquired whether the FBI was using so-called “pen register” orders to “collect digits dialed after a call is made, potentially including voicemail passwords and account numbers entered into bank-by-phone applications,” Singel writes.

Title 18 of the United States Code, as amended by the USA Patriot Act, defines a pen register and/or a trap and trace device as

[A] device or process which records or decodes dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information transmitted by an instrument or facility from which a wire or electronic communication is transmitted, provided, however, that such information shall not include the contents of any communication, but such term does not include any device or process used by a provider or customer of a wire or electronic communication service for billing, or recording as an incident to billing, for communications services provided by such provider or any device or process used by a provider or customer of a wire communication service for cost accounting or other like purposes in the ordinary course of its business.

Under existing federal statutes, the FBI can compel a telecom carrier to turn over records of whom a “target” has called simply by claiming the information is relevant to an on-going investigation. However, under interpretations of existing case law, Wired reports that “so-called ‘post-cut-through dialed digits’ count as the content of a communication, and thus to collect that information, the FBI would need to get a full-blown wiretapping warrant based on probable cause.”

Coming on the heels of revelations of the FBI’s abuse of so-called National Security Letters to obtain electronic and financial records during “terrorism investigations,” the documents outline a systematic pattern by the Bureau to skirt the law. Wired reports,

Among other things, the declassified documents reveal that lawyers in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy Review queried FBI technology officials in late July 2006 about cellphone tracking. The attorneys asked whether the FBI was obtaining and storing real-time cellphone-location data from carriers under a “pen register” court order that’s normally limited to records of who a person called or was called by.

You read that right: real-time cellphone-location data from carriers.Why should you care if the government knows where you are every minute of the night and day? After all, you don't break laws, nor do you go to illegal places, like crack houses, for example.

Brother, if I really must explain that one to you, you really are incapable of self-governance and, just possibly, too dumb to live.

In 2006, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge Coleen Kollar-Kottely ordered the FBI to report how its phone wiretapping network known as Digital Collection System, handled information it obtained illegally and whether it stored them in its centralized data-mining repository known as Telephone Application. Wired further reports that FBI documents show that

the majority of FBI offices surveyed internally were collecting that information without full-blown wiretap orders, especially in classified investigations. The documents also indicate that the information was being uploaded to the FBI’s central repository for wiretap recordings and phone records, where analysts can data-mine the records for decades.

According to EFF attorney Kevin Bankston, this demonstrates that FBI offices had reconfigured their “digit-recording software, DCS 3000, to collect more than the law allows.”

Give them an inch and they will take a mile every time.

Most Americans are clever enough to know that being data-mined by the government is not such good thing. For those who do not understand that, maybe they can understand that the government collecting data on American citizens and feeding said information to certain corporations would be a nightmare; financial institutions, health-care institutions, insurance companies, one's employer....maybe even known identity thieves. Just think what old Tricky Dick would have done to the people on his "enemies list" with such an information gold-mine.

In other words, despite prohibitions on the FBI’s ability to spy on Americans, the Bureau is storing illegally-obtained data in a centralized data-mining “warehouse” for indefinite retrieval purposes, say, during a “state of national emergency” when the “usual suspects” can be “disappeared” under Continuity of Government plans already in place.

Lest there be any question that federal surveillance programs are concerned with far more than wiretapping alleged terrorists, National Security Presidential Directive 59/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24 (NSPD 59/HSPD 24), “Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security,” should clear up any lingering doubts.

Signed June 5, 2008 by President Bush:

This directive establishes a framework to ensure that Federal executive departments and agencies (agencies) use mutually compatible methods and procedures in the collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals in a lawful and appropriate manner, while respecting their information privacy and other legal rights under United States law.

The executive branch has developed an integrated screening capability to protect the Nation against “known and suspected terrorists” (KSTs). The executive branch shall build upon this success, in accordance with this directive, by enhancing its capability to collect, store, use, analyze, and share biometrics to identify and screen KSTs and other persons who may pose a threat to national security.

As analyst Michel Chossudovsky points out in a scathing critique of Bush’s directive,

NSPD 59 goes far beyond the issue of biometric identification, it recommends the collection and storage of “associated biographic” information, meaning information on the private lives of US citizens, in minute detail, all of which will be “accomplished within the law.” …

The directive uses 9/11 as an all encompassing justification to wage a witch hunt against dissenting citizens, establishing at the same time an atmosphere of fear and intimidation across the land. It also calls for the integration of various data banks as well as inter-agency cooperation in the sharing of information, with a view to eventually centralizing the information on American citizens. (”‘Big Brother’ Presidential Directive: ‘Biometrics for Identification and Screening to Enhance National Security’,” Global Research, June 11, 2008)

In other words, in addition to “known and suspected terrorists,” presumably al-Qaeda and their minions, additional “potential threats” to the capitalist order are named: domestic “radical groups” and “disgruntled employees.”

Disgruntled employees? I think we can safely assume that this does not mean disgruntled employees of the federal government only, but of any business, anywhere. It seems likely that this category might well apply to 99.9 % of Americans at one time or another in their working lives. How do disgruntled employees become, somehow, categorized right along with Known or Suspected Terrorists?

Of course, it is equally easy to figure out that this term does not apply, unless deemed necessary by the powers-that-be, to a person working for the local florist or barber shop. No, this is a category likely applied to people who work for big American corporations; corporations which are deeply intertwined with the federal government. Examples would be "security companies," such as Blackwater, telecoms, such as AT&T and Verizon, the usual suspects associated with the military-industrial-complex, like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, KBR, Halliburton and others, Oil and/or other energy companies of the fossil fuel era, technology companies, financial institutions, etc., etc..

So far, the "domestic radical groups" referred to here, who have been under surveillance by certain federal agencies of the executive branch, including the Pentagon, are a dangerous lot for sure; like Quakers, for example, and other non-violent groups of people who really do believe that war must always be an action of very last resort and only then, when it is a matter of life and death to thousands of people. Whenever war is employed to solve a problem, the people and their leaders have already lost the only "battle" that will matter "at the end of the day" with the greatest tyrant of them all: The never-ending battle with the individual ego/personality as well as the national one.

As a good friend of mine used to say, "If war is the answer, it must have been a very goofy question.

One needn’t be a “conspiracy buff” to recognize — coolly and rationally — that the national security surveillance state under construction since before 9/11, can trace its lineage back to domestic counterinsurgency operations such as the FBIs' COINTELPRO or “civil disturbance” contingency plans such as NORTHCOM’s contemporaneous “Garden Plot” and “Cable Splicer” projects.

Cellphone and internet tracking, now ubiquitous after the USA Patriot Act, are but two of the repressive bricks shoring-up the decaying edifice of the corporatist American empire. In this light, it would be a fatal mistake to hope for ameliorating the erosion of our rights by relying on the Democratic party, or to believe that “change” in the form of an Obama presidency will somehow, magically perhaps, reverse ruling class consensus on this score.

Of course, that would be a mistake. Our Founders were very clear on a number of issues, according to our founding documents. One of those issues was whom Americans should trust for security of their civil rights. They did not believe that politicians of any stripe were to be blindly trusted with our rights; not even with one good eye open, should we trust politicians with our liberties. Democracy, without which there can be no liberty and vice versa, involves a constant tug-of-war or tension between "power-over" and power of, by and for the people.

I don't believe that what I hear Barack Obama saying is that his, or anyone else's, election will be the end of our troubles on the domestic front. We, the people, should not ever believe that we can put our democracy on auto-pilot, in the hands of any political party. We simply must understand that Democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires vigilance especially when, for whatever reason or excuse, we are in a state of war. It requires a lot of "hard work," as Junior would say. As a matter of fact, what I hear Obama saying is just the opposite; that it is going to take much more than a new president and a new congress, as the result of a new election, to begin undoing what has been done and, of course, the results of some of what has been done by this criminal administration can never be undone.

I hear Obama saying that the changes we need now, as a nation, will require the attention of the American people and their voices; not just on election day, but every day. We, the people, have allowed the ship of state to fall into terrible disrepair and into the hands of amoral nut-jobs. Righting the ship and setting a new course will take time and great effort by all of us, not just our elected officials.

The pundits of the Right like to say that "freedom isn't free." On this point, I whole-heartedly agree with them. The answer to this question is the very important point upon which we differ, wholeheartedly, "Who and what are the true threats to our way of life and our constitutional rights? I say that the danger comes from within and from high places, and that that has been quite obvious for a very long time now.

All indicators are there, red lights are flashing all over the place and the "prophets" among us have been running around with our "hair on fire" for years.

Our civil rights and those of others will, more than likely, not be restored until we demand that they are. Even then, we will need to "trust, but verify," as Ronald Reagan once said about Soviet compliance with arms treaties. As our founders understood, power is a dangerous addiction and one which is very difficult to resist for humankind, even for those among us who seek power with all of the good motivations imaginable, like to make positive changes in the lives of Americans possible, for example.

Our laws and the Constitution have taken a horrific beating in the last 7 years or so. What's truly frightening is that the situation can and probably will get much worse in the waning months of this appallingly murderous, deceptive, fear-mongering, anti-constitutional, illegitimate administration.

Over the past decade, the Democrats and their “progressive” critics have stood idly by — or joined in the assault on democracy — as the sinister Bush regime hijacked a national election, launched an illegal war, systematically tortured prisoners, covered-up their criminal negligence, or worse, in the 9/11 attacks, while shredding the Bill of Rights.

Sickening, is it not? Nevertheless, it is not just the D.C. Dembulbs who are guilty of malfeasance and infidelity to America's citizens and military, but a vast majority of Americans themselves have stood by and/or cheered for an amazing number of years.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly, Love & Rage and Antifa Forum, he is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.

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