Monday, June 17, 2013

Before PRISM: The Curious History of the US World-Wide Surveillance Network- Part Two

by Nomad

In Part One of this three-part series we examined one small aspect of the long history of illegal surveillance conducted by the US government on its own citizens.

Started back in 1945, Project SHAMROCK which involved the collecting of all telegraphic communication coming in and out of the US was by no means a small operation. It could never have existed without the kind assistance of the Western Union and its associates RCA and ITT.

Back in the 1970s, the Church Committee- which had investigated illegal snooping activity by the CIA and NSA- concluded that in its 30-year life, Shamrock constituted “the largest government interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken."

Like PRISM, Project SHAMROCK laid the groundwork for the same kind of shady collaboration between government and corporations to the cost of everybody's privacy.  

Findings by the Congressional committees would lead to the creation of new legislation called Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which sought to provide some kind of accountability, some kind of formal process.

As we shall see, by the end of the millennium, with the coming of technological advances like the Internet, those laws were becoming less and less effective.

The Temptations
Being able to listen to private conversations is, of course, a great temptation even under normal conditions. For a president faced with immense challenges any one of which hold the potential for catastrophic errors, the lust of more and more information must be addictive. During wartime or during a national or international emergency, that temptation becomes quite irresistible.

Author Bob Woodward in the book, Veil-The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, recounts one instance in which timely surveillance (not of an enemy but of a key regional ally) provided key information that led to one of the America’s most astounding victories against terrorism.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Before PRISM: The Curious History of the US World-Wide Surveillance Network- Part One

by Nomad
Recently many people seemed altogether mortified, shocked and angry when whistle-blower Edward Snowden, former contract employee of the National Security Agency (NSA) supplied both the Washington Post and The Guardian details about two top- secret surveillance operations.

The Snowden evidence describes one operation which was an effort to collect data from Verizon about millions of phone calls. The other operation was called PRISM. In that operation, metadata was harvested from millions of Internet sites. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple were all apparently involved in the PRISM operation. 

Although both programs seem to have been overseen by Congress and a top-secret court, the extent of the operations came as a shock to a lot of people. 

One source describes PRISM like this:
“Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy.”
What PRISM does is to allow the NSA and the FBI to tap directly “into the central servers of nine leading U.S.Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.”
Who, the reporters and public asked, could have imagined that the United States government- for whatever reason- would engage in such violations of personal privacy? Conservative voters feel as though their worst fears about Big Government and about Barack Obama have been confirmed. Many stunned liberals are asking:Why would President Obama launch such an attack on our freedoms?

Perhaps the only truly shocking aspect of the recent whistle-blowing revelations is the fact that anybody should be shocked at all. People who have been paying attention should have known the extent of this type of surveillance.
Perhaps the only truly shocking aspect of the recent whistle-blowing revelations is the fact that anybody should be shocked at all. Everybody -those who were not sleeping-  should have known the extent of this type of surveillance. 

Much- but naturally not all- of the information about these operations had been made public a long ago. The American people (at those who were awake) were warned and chose to ignore the challenge to their civil liberties.. until now. 

The present anger – much of it unfairly directed at the Obama administration- comes a little late in the day. The evidence of these (and even more extensive and intrusive) electronic spying operations has been right under everybody's noses for over a decade. As we shall see in this report it is especially disingenuous for Republicans to bluster now.
The problem of the government’s covert spying on its own citizens began long before Obama, before Bush, Reagan or even before Nixon.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Amid Nationwide Protests, Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan Faces His Moment of Truth

Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Events in Turkey took an unexpected turn last week. It may be a bit premature but some are already calling the wave of civil unrest that erupted in every major city- and continue- as “The Turkish Spring.” 

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) suddenly found themselves the object of public scorn and open revolt. By Friday night and Saturday, demonstrations had begun to spread to every major city and even into small towns and villages. That included the more conservative regions thought to be AKP strongholds.
The most amazing thing of all was how quickly and to what extent things began to unravel.

The Park that Wouldn't Die
For a city with a 3000- year-old history, Istanbul’s Gezi Park -ground zero for this week’s protests -doesn’t have a great deal of historical value. The park, designed as “lungs of the city” was built as part of an earlier urban development plan back in 1939 and was constructed upon the ruins of the Ottoman Artillery Barracks (and before that, an Armenian cemetery.)

For many residents of the area, the park’s value had nothing to do with history. When it was decided that the park had to go in favor of an urban development scheme, they objected on purely environmental grounds, noting that the small park was one of the last remaining green areas in the neighborhood. In addition, they objected to how the decision was made- without any local input- to destroy a park in favor of a shopping mall.

Municipal leaders (all AKP members) and the local police so clumsily handled what had began as a peaceful protest that it unexpectedly led to something that few could have imagined- a national revolt against the ruling party.

After protesters were warned about continuing their camp to defend the park, early Thursday morning police marched in with tear gas and routed the group.
Under police protection, city workers immediately collected the tents and belongings and burned them. When heavy equipment was brought in to begin the park's destruction, the protesters returned to defend the park. This time with additional supporters. In response greater numbers of police, wearing full body armor, were sent in to seal off the area.
In fact, a judge had already issued a halt to the project until the matter could be settled. 

And that was that, so the Istanbul mayor thought, so the police commissioner of the city thought. However, by Friday afternoon, people from all over the city- some even crossing the Bosporus Bridge from the Asian side- marched into the downtown area to join the protesters.