How the CIA made Google
26 juni 2015
Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet—
INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project, breaks the exclusive story of how the United States intelligence community funded, nurtured and incubated Google as part of a drive to dominate the world through control of information. Seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, Google was merely the first among a plethora of private sector start-ups co-opted by US intelligence to retain ‘information superiority.’
The origins of this ingenious strategy trace back to a secret Pentagon-sponsored group, that for the last two decades has functioned as a bridge between the US government and elites across the business, industry, finance, corporate, and media sectors. The group has allowed some of the most powerful special interests in corporate America to systematically circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law to influence government policies, as well as public opinion in the US and around the world. The results have been catastrophic: NSA mass surveillance, a permanent state of global war, and a new initiative to transform the US military into Skynet.
This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. Please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons.
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, western governments are moving fast to legitimize expanded powers of mass surveillance and controls on the internet, all in the name of fighting terrorism.
US and European politicians have called to protect NSA-style snooping, and to advance the capacity to intrude on internet privacy by outlawing encryption. One idea is to establish a telecoms partnership that would unilaterally delete content deemed to “fuel hatred and violence” in situations considered “appropriate.” Heated discussions are going on at government and parliamentary level to explore cracking down on lawyer-client confidentiality.
What any of this would have done to prevent the Charlie Hebdo attacks remains a mystery, especially given that we already know the terrorists were on the radar of French intelligence for up to a decade.
There is little new in this story. The 9/11 atrocity was the first of many terrorist attacks, each succeeded by the dramatic extension of draconian state powers at the expense of civil liberties, backed up with the projection of military force in regions identified as hotspots harbouring terrorists. Yet there is little indication that this tried and tested formula has done anything to reduce the danger. If anything, we appear to be locked into a deepening cycle of violence with no clear end in sight.
As our governments push to increase their powers, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE can now reveal the vast extent to which the US intelligence community is implicated in nurturing the web platforms we know today, for the precise purpose of utilizing the technology as a mechanism to fight global ‘information war’ — a war to legitimize the power of the few over the rest of us. The lynchpin of this story is the corporation that in many ways defines the 21st century with its unobtrusive omnipresence: Google.
Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex.
The inside story of Google’s rise, revealed here for the first time, opens a can of worms that goes far beyond Google, unexpectedly shining a light on the existence of a parasitical network driving the evolution of the US national security apparatus, and profiting obscenely from its operation.
The shadow network
For the last two decades, US foreign and intelligence strategies have resulted in a global ‘war on terror’ consisting of prolonged military invasions in the Muslim world and comprehensive surveillance of civilian populations. These strategies have been incubated, if not dictated, by a secret network inside and beyond the Pentagon.
Established under the Clinton administration, consolidated under Bush, and firmly entrenched under Obama, this bipartisan network of mostly neoconservative ideologues sealed its dominion inside the US Department of Defense (DoD) by the dawn of 2015, through the operation of an obscure corporate entity outside the Pentagon, but run by the Pentagon.
In 1999, the CIA created its own venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, to fund promising start-ups that might create technologies useful for intelligence agencies. But the inspiration for In-Q-Tel came earlier, when the Pentagon set up its own private sector outfit.
Known as the ‘Highlands Forum,’ this private network has operated as a bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites outside the military since the mid-1990s. Despite changes in civilian administrations, the network around the Highlands Forum has become increasingly successful in dominating US defense policy.
Giant defense contractors like Booz Allen Hamilton and Science Applications International Corporation are sometimes referred to as the ‘shadow intelligence community’ due to the revolving doors between them and government, and their capacity to simultaneously influence and profit from defense policy. But while these contractors compete for power and money, they also collaborate where it counts. The Highlands Forum has for 20 years provided an off the record space for some of the most prominent members of the shadow intelligence community to convene with senior US government officials, alongside other leaders in relevant industries.
I first stumbled upon the existence of this network in November 2014, when I reported for VICE’s Motherboard that US defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s newly announced ‘Defense Innovation Initiative’ was really about building Skynet — or something like it, essentially to dominate an emerging era of automated robotic warfare.
That story was based on a little-known Pentagon-funded ‘white paper’ published two months earlier by the National Defense University (NDU) in Washington DC, a leading US military-run institution that, among other things, generates research to develop US defense policy at the highest levels. The white paper clarified the thinking behind the new initiative, and the revolutionary scientific and technological developments it hoped to capitalize on.
The Highlands Forum
The co-author of that NDU white paper is Linton Wells, a 51-year veteran US defense official who served in the Bush administration as the Pentagon’s chief information officer, overseeing the National Security Agency (NSA) and other spy agencies. He still holds active top-secret security clearances, and according to a report by Government Executive magazine in 2006 he chaired the ‘Highlands Forum’, founded by the Pentagon in 1994.
Linton Wells II (right) former Pentagon chief information officer and assistant secretary of defense for networks, at a recent Pentagon Highlands Forum session. Rosemary Wenchel, a senior official in the US Department of Homeland Security, is sitting next to him
New Scientist magazine (paywall) has compared the Highlands Forum to elite meetings like “Davos, Ditchley and Aspen,” describing it as “far less well known, yet… arguably just as influential a talking shop.” Regular Forum meetings bring together “innovative people to consider interactions between policy and technology. Its biggest successes have been in the development of high-tech network-based warfare.”
Given Wells’ role in such a Forum, perhaps it was not surprising that his defense transformation white paper was able to have such a profound impact on actual Pentagon policy. But if that was the case, why had no one noticed?
Despite being sponsored by the Pentagon, I could find no official page on the DoD website about the Forum. Active and former US military and intelligence sources had never heard of it, and neither did national security journalists. I was baffled.
The Pentagon’s intellectual capital venture firm
In the prologue to his 2007 book, A Crowd of One: The Future of Individual Identity, John Clippinger, an MIT scientist of the Media Lab Human Dynamics Group, described how he participated in a “Highlands Forum” gathering, an “invitation-only meeting funded by the Department of Defense and chaired by the assistant for networks and information integration.” This was a senior DoD post overseeing operations and policies for the Pentagon’s most powerful spy agencies including the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), among others. Starting from 2003, the position was transitioned into what is now the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. The Highlands Forum, Clippinger wrote, was founded by a retired US Navy captain named Dick O’Neill. Delegates include senior US military officials across numerous agencies and divisions — “captains, rear admirals, generals, colonels, majors and commanders” as well as “members of the DoD leadership.”
What at first appeared to be the Forum’s main website describes Highlands as “an informal cross-disciplinary network sponsored by Federal Government,” focusing on “information, science and technology.” Explanation is sparse, beyond a single ‘Department of Defense’ logo.
But Highlands also has another website describing itself as an “intellectual capital venture firm” with “extensive experience assisting corporations, organizations, and government leaders.” The firm provides a “wide range of services, including: strategic planning, scenario creation and gaming for expanding global markets,” as well as “working with clients to build strategies for execution.” ‘The Highlands Group Inc.,’ the website says, organizes a whole range of Forums on these issue.
For instance, in addition to the Highlands Forum, since 9/11 the Group runs the ‘Island Forum,’ an international event held in association with Singapore’s Ministry of Defense, which O’Neill oversees as “lead consultant.” The Singapore Ministry of Defense website describes the Island Forum as “patterned after the Highlands Forum organized for the US Department of Defense.” Documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden confirmed that Singapore played a key role in permitting the US and Australia to tap undersea cables to spy on Asian powers like Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Highlands Group website also reveals that Highlands is partnered with one of the most powerful defense contractors in the United States. Highlands is “supported by a network of companies and independent researchers,” including “our Highlands Forum partners for the past ten years at SAIC; and the vast Highlands network of participants in the Highlands Forum.”
SAIC stands for the US defense firm, Science Applications International Corporation, which changed its name to Leidos in 2013, operating SAIC as a subsidiary. SAIC/Leidos is among the top 10 largest defense contractors in the US, and works closely with the US intelligence community, especially the NSA. According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Richard ‘Dick’ Patrick O’Neill, founding president of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum
The full name of Captain “Dick” O’Neill, the founding president of the Highlands Forum, is Richard Patrick O’Neill, who after his work in the Navy joined the DoD. He served his last post as deputy for strategy and policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, before setting up Highlands.
The Club of Yoda
But Clippinger also referred to another mysterious individual revered by Forum attendees:
“He sat at the back of the room, expressionless behind thick, black-rimmed glasses. I never heard him utter a word… Andrew (Andy) Marshall is an icon within DoD. Some call him Yoda, indicative of his mythical inscrutable status… He had served many administrations and was widely regarded as above partisan politics. He was a supporter of the Highlands Forum and a regular fixture from its beginning.”
Since 1973, Marshall has headed up one of the Pentagon’s most powerful agencies, the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the US defense secretary’s internal ‘think tank’ which conducts highly classified research on future planning for defense policy across the US military and intelligence community. The ONA has played a key role in major Pentagon strategy initiatives, including Maritime Strategy, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Competitive Strategies Initiative, and the Revolution in Military Affairs.
Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall, head of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) and co-chair of the Highlands Forum, at an early Highlands event in 1996 at the Santa Fe Institute. Marshall is retiring as of January 2015
In a rare 2002 profile in Wired, reporter Douglas McGray described Andrew Marshall, now 93 years old, as “the DoD’s most elusive” but “one of its most influential” officials. McGray added that “Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz” — widely considered the hawks of the neoconservative movement in American politics — were among Marshall’s “star protégés.”
Speaking at a low-key Harvard University seminar a few months after 9/11, Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill said that Marshall was much more than a “regular fixture” at the Forum. “Andy Marshall is our co-chair, so indirectly everything that we do goes back into Andy’s system,” he told the audience. “Directly, people who are in the Forum meetings may be going back to give briefings to Andy on a variety of topics and to synthesize things.” He also said that the Forum had a third co-chair: the director of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), which at that time was a Rumsfeld appointee, Anthony J. Tether. Before joining DARPA, Tether was vice president of SAIC’s Advanced Technology Sector.
Anthony J. Tether, director of DARPA and co-chair of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum from June 2001 to February 2009
The Highlands Forum’s influence on US defense policy has thus operated through three main channels: its sponsorship by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (around the middle of last decade this was transitioned specifically to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, which is in charge of the main surveillance agencies); its direct link to Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA; and its direct link to DARPA.
A slide from Richard O’Neill’s presentation at Harvard University in 2001
According to Clippinger in A Crowd of One, “what happens at informal gatherings such as the Highlands Forum could, over time and through unforeseen curious paths of influence, have enormous impact, not just within the DoD but throughout the world.” He wrote that the Forum’s ideas have “moved from being heretical to mainstream. Ideas that were anathema in 1999 had been adopted as policy just three years later.”
Although the Forum does not produce “consensus recommendations,” its impact is deeper than a traditional government advisory committee. “The ideas that emerge from meetings are available for use by decision-makers as well as by people from the think tanks,” according to O’Neill:
“We’ll include people from Booz, SAIC, RAND, or others at our meetings… We welcome that kind of cooperation, because, truthfully, they have the gravitas. They are there for the long haul and are able to influence government policies with real scholarly work… We produce ideas and interaction and networks for these people to take and use as they need them.”
My repeated requests to O’Neill for information on his work at the Highlands Forum were ignored. The Department of Defense also did not respond to multiple requests for information and comment on the Forum.
The Highlands Forum has served as a two-way ‘influence bridge’: on the one hand, for the shadow network of private contractors to influence the formulation of information operations policy across US military intelligence; and on the other, for the Pentagon to influence what is going on in the private sector. There is no clearer evidence of this than the truly instrumental role of the Forum in incubating the idea of mass surveillance as a mechanism to dominate information on a global scale.
In 1989, Richard O’Neill, then a US Navy cryptologist, wrote a paper for the US Naval War College, ‘Toward a methodology for perception management.’ In his book, Future Wars, Col. John Alexander, then a senior officer in the US Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), records that O’Neill’s paper for the first time outlined a strategy for “perception management” as part of information warfare (IW). O’Neill’s proposed strategy identified three categories of targets for IW: adversaries, so they believe they are vulnerable; potential partners, “so they perceive the cause [of war] as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they “perceive the cost as worth the effort.” A secret briefing based on O’Neill’s work “made its way to the top leadership” at DoD. “They acknowledged that O’Neill was right and told him to bury it.
Except the DoD didn’t bury it. Around 1994, the Highlands Group was founded by O’Neill as an official Pentagon project at the appointment of Bill Clinton’s then defense secretary William Perry — who went on to join SAIC’s board of directors after retiring from government in 2003.
In O’Neill’s own words, the group would function as the Pentagon’s ‘ideas lab’. According to Government Executive, military and information technology experts gathered at the first Forum meeting “to consider the impacts of IT and globalization on the United States and on warfare. How would the Internet and other emerging technologies change the world?” The meeting helped plant the idea of “network-centric warfare” in the minds of “the nation’s top military thinkers.”
Excluding the public
Official Pentagon records confirm that the Highlands Forum’s primary goal was to support DoD policies on O’Neill’s specialism: information warfare. According to the Pentagon’s 1997 Annual Report to the President and the Congress under a section titled ‘Information Operations,’ (IO) the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) had authorized the “establishment of the Highlands Group of key DoD, industry, and academic IO experts” to coordinate IO across federal military intelligence agencies.
The following year’s DoD annual report reiterated the Forum’s centrality to information operations: “To examine IO issues, DoD sponsors the Highlands Forum, which brings together government, industry, and academic professionals from various fields.”
Notice that in 1998, the Highlands ‘Group’ became a ‘Forum.’ According to O’Neill, this was to avoid subjecting Highlands Forums meetings to “bureaucratic restrictions.” What he was alluding to was the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which regulates the way the US government can formally solicit the advice of special interests.
Known as the ‘open government’ law, FACA requires that US government officials cannot hold closed-door or secret consultations with people outside government to develop policy. All such consultations should take place via federal advisory committees that permit public scrutiny. FACA requires that meetings be held in public, announced via the Federal Register, that advisory groups are registered with an office at the General Services Administration, among other requirements intended to maintain accountability to the public interest.
But Government Executive reported that “O’Neill and others believed” such regulatory issues “would quell the free flow of ideas and no-holds-barred discussions they sought.” Pentagon lawyers had warned that the word ‘group’ might necessitate certain obligations and advised running the whole thing privately: “So O’Neill renamed it the Highlands Forum and moved into the private sector to manage it as a consultant to the Pentagon.” The Pentagon Highlands Forum thus runs under the mantle of O’Neill’s ‘intellectual capital venture firm,’ ‘Highlands Group Inc.’
In 1995, a year after William Perry appointed O’Neill to head up the Highlands Forum, SAIC — the Forum’s “partner” organization — launched a new Center for Information Strategy and Policy under the direction of “Jeffrey Cooper, a member of the Highlands Group who advises senior Defense Department officials on information warfare issues.” The Center had precisely the same objective as the Forum, to function as “a clearinghouse to bring together the best and brightest minds in information warfare by sponsoring a continuing series of seminars, papers and symposia which explore the implications of information warfare in depth.” The aim was to “enable leaders and policymakers from government, industry, and academia to address key issues surrounding information warfare to ensure that the United States retains its edge over any and all potential enemies.”
Despite FACA regulations, federal advisory committees are already heavily influenced, if not captured, by corporate power. So in bypassing FACA, the Pentagon overrode even the loose restrictions of FACA, by permanently excluding any possibility of public engagement.
O’Neill’s claim that there are no reports or recommendations is disingenuous. By his own admission, the secret Pentagon consultations with industry that have taken place through the Highlands Forum since 1994 have been accompanied by regular presentations of academic and policy papers, recordings and notes of meetings, and other forms of documentation that are locked behind a login only accessible by Forum delegates. This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of FACA — in a way that is patently intended to circumvent democratic accountability and the rule of law.
The Highlands Forum doesn’t need to produce consensus recommendations. Its purpose is to provide the Pentagon a shadow social networking mechanism to cement lasting relationships with corporate power, and to identify new talent, that can be used to fine-tune information warfare strategies in absolute secrecy.
Total participants in the DoD’s Highlands Forum number over a thousand, although sessions largely consist of small closed workshop style gatherings of maximum 25–30 people, bringing together experts and officials depending on the subject. Delegates have included senior personnel from SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton, RAND Corp., Cisco, Human Genome Sciences, eBay, PayPal, IBM, Google, Microsoft, AT&T, the BBC, Disney, General Electric, Enron, among innumerable others; Democrat and Republican members of Congress and the Senate; senior executives from the US energy industry such as Daniel Yergin of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; and key people involved in both sides of presidential campaigns.
Other participants have included senior media professionals: David Ignatius, associate editor of the Washington Post and at the time the executive editor of the International Herald Tribune; Thomas Friedman, long-time New York Times columnist; Arnaud de Borchgrave, an editor at Washington Times and United Press International; Steven Levy, a former Newsweek editor, senior writer for Wired and now chief tech editor at Medium; Lawrence Wright, staff writer at the New Yorker; Noah Shachtmann, executive editor at the Daily Beast; Rebecca McKinnon, co-founder of Global Voices Online; Nik Gowing of the BBC; and John Markoff of the New York Times.
Due to its current sponsorship by the OSD’s undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the Forum has inside access to the chiefs of the main US surveillance and reconnaissance agencies, as well as the directors and their assistants at DoD research agencies, from DARPA, to the ONA. This also means that the Forum is deeply plugged into the Pentagon’s policy research task forces.
Google: seeded by the Pentagon
In 1994 — the same year the Highlands Forum was founded under the stewardship of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the ONA, and DARPA — two young PhD students at Stanford University, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, made their breakthrough on the first automated web crawling and page ranking application. That application remains the core component of what eventually became Google’s search service. Brin and Page had performed their work with funding from the Digital Library Initiative (DLI), a multi-agency programme of the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA and DARPA.
But that’s just one side of the story.
Throughout the development of the search engine, Sergey Brin reported regularly and directly to two people who were not Stanford faculty at all: Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham and Dr. Rick Steinheiser. Both were representatives of a sensitive US intelligence community research programme on information security and data-mining.
Thuraisingham is currently the Louis A. Beecherl distinguished professor and executive director of the Cyber Security Research Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas, and a sought-after expert on data-mining, data management and information security issues. But in the 1990s, she worked for the MITRE Corp., a leading US defense contractor, where she managed the Massive Digital Data Systems initiative, a project sponsored by the NSA, CIA, and the Director of Central Intelligence, to foster innovative research in information technology.
“We funded Stanford University through the computer scientist Jeffrey Ullman, who had several promising graduate students working on many exciting areas,” Prof. Thuraisingham told me. “One of them was Sergey Brin, the founder of Google. The intelligence community’s MDDS program essentially provided Brin seed-funding, which was supplemented by many other sources, including the private sector.”
This sort of funding is certainly not unusual, and Sergey Brin’s being able to receive it by being a graduate student at Stanford appears to have been incidental. The Pentagon was all over computer science research at this time. But it illustrates how deeply entrenched the culture of Silicon Valley is in the values of the US intelligence community.
In an extraordinary document hosted by the website of the University of Texas, Thuraisingham recounts that from 1993 to 1999, “the Intelligence Community [IC] started a program called Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) that I was managing for the Intelligence Community when I was at the MITRE Corporation.” The program funded 15 research efforts at various universities, including Stanford. Its goal was developing “data management technologies to manage several terabytes to petabytes of data,” including for “query processing, transaction management, metadata management, storage management, and data integration.”
At the time, Thuraisingham was chief scientist for data and information management at MITRE, where she led team research and development efforts for the NSA, CIA, US Air Force Research Laboratory, as well as the US Army’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) and Communications and Electronic Command (CECOM). She went on to teach courses for US government officials and defense contractors on data-mining in counter-terrorism.
In her University of Texas article, she attaches the copy of an abstract of the US intelligence community’s MDDS program that had been presented to the “Annual Intelligence Community Symposium” in 1995. The abstract reveals that the primary sponsors of the MDDS programme were three agencies: the NSA, the CIA’s Office of Research & Development, and the intelligence community’s Community Management Staff (CMS) which operates under the Director of Central Intelligence. Administrators of the program, which provided funding of around 3–4 million dollars per year for 3–4 years, were identified as Hal Curran (NSA), Robert Kluttz (CMS), Dr. Claudia Pierce (NSA), Dr. Rick Steinheiser (ORD — standing for the CIA’s Office of Research and Devepment), and Dr. Thuraisingham herself.
Thuraisingham goes on in her article to reiterate that this joint CIA-NSA program partly funded Sergey Brin to develop the core of Google, through a grant to Stanford managed by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Jeffrey D. Ullman:
“In fact, the Google founder Mr. Sergey Brin was partly funded by this program while he was a PhD student at Stanford. He together with his advisor Prof. Jeffrey Ullman and my colleague at MITRE, Dr. Chris Clifton [Mitre’s chief scientist in IT], developed the Query Flocks System which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. In fact the last time we met in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which became Google soon after.”
Brin and Page officially incorporated Google as a company in September 1998, the very month they last reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser. ‘Query Flocks’ was also part of Google’s patented ‘PageRank’ search system, which Brin developed at Stanford under the CIA-NSA-MDDS programme, as well as with funding from the NSF, IBM and Hitachi. That year, MITRE’s Dr. Chris Clifton, who worked under Thuraisingham to develop the ‘Query Flocks’ system, co-authored a paper with Brin’s superviser, Prof. Ullman, and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser. Titled ‘Knowledge Discovery in Text,’ the paper was presented at an academic conference.
“The MDDS funding that supported Brin was significant as far as seed-funding goes, but it was probably outweighed by the other funding streams,” said Thuraisingham. “The duration of Brin’s funding was around two years or so. In that period, I and my colleagues from the MDDS would visit Stanford to see Brin and monitor his progress every three months or so. We didn’t supervise exactly, but we did want to check progress, point out potential problems and suggest ideas. In those briefings, Brin did present to us on the query flocks research, and also demonstrated to us versions of the Google search engine.”
Brin thus reported to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser regularly about his work developing Google.
UPDATE 2.05PM GMT [2nd Feb 2015]:
Since publication of this article, Prof. Thuraisingham has amended her article referenced above. The amended version includes a new modified statement, followed by a copy of the original version of her account of the MDDS. In this amended version, Thuraisingham rejects the idea that CIA funded Google, and says instead:
“In fact Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (at Stanford) and my colleague at MITRE Dr. Chris Clifton together with some others developed the Query Flocks System, as part of MDDS, which produced solutions for mining large amounts of data stored in databases. Also, Mr. Sergey Brin, the cofounder of Google, was part of Prof. Ullman’s research group at that time. I remember visiting Stanford with Dr. Rick Steinheiser from the Intelligence Community periodically and Mr. Brin would rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out. During our last visit to Stanford in September 1998, Mr. Brin demonstrated to us his search engine which I believe became Google soon after…
There are also several inaccuracies in Dr. Ahmed’s article (dated January 22, 2015). For example, the MDDS program was not a ‘sensitive’ program as stated by Dr. Ahmed; it was an Unclassified program that funded universities in the US. Furthermore, Sergey Brin never reported to me or to Dr. Rick Steinheiser; he only gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s. Also, MDDS never funded Google; it funded Stanford University.”
Here, there is no substantive factual difference in Thuraisingham’s accounts, other than to assert that her statement associating Sergey Brin with the development of ‘query flocks’ is mistaken. Notably, this acknowledgement is derived not from her own knowledge, but from this very article quoting a comment from a Google spokesperson.
However, the bizarre attempt to disassociate Google from the MDDS program misses the mark. Firstly, the MDDS never funded Google, because during the development of the core components of the Google search engine, there was no company incorporated with that name. The grant was instead provided to Stanford University through Prof. Ullman, through whom some MDDS funding was used to support Brin who was co-developing Google at the time. Secondly, Thuraisingham then adds that Brin never “reported” to her or the CIA’s Steinheiser, but admits he “gave presentations to us during our visits to the Department of Computer Science at Stanford during the 1990s.” It is unclear, though, what the distinction is here between reporting, and delivering a detailed presentation — either way, Thuraisingham confirms that she and the CIA had taken a keen interest in Brin’s development of Google. Thirdly, Thuraisingham describes the MDDS program as “unclassified,” but this does not contradict its “sensitive” nature. As someone who has worked for decades as an intelligence contractor and advisor, Thuraisingham is surely aware that there are many ways of categorizing intelligence, including ‘sensitive but unclassified.’ A number of former US intelligence officials I spoke to said that the almost total lack of public information on the CIA and NSA’s MDDS initiative suggests that although the progam was not classified, it is likely instead that its contents was considered sensitive, which would explain efforts to minimise transparency about the program and the way it fed back into developing tools for the US intelligence community. Fourthly, and finally, it is important to point out that the MDDS abstract which Thuraisingham includes in her University of Texas document states clearly not only that the Director of Central Intelligence’s CMS, CIA and NSA were the overseers of the MDDS initiative, but that the intended customers of the project were “DoD, IC, and other government organizations”: the Pentagon, the US intelligence community, and other relevant US government agencies.
In other words, the provision of MDDS funding to Brin through Ullman, under the oversight of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser, was fundamentally because they recognized the potential utility of Brin’s work developing Google to the Pentagon, intelligence community, and the federal government at large.
The MDDS programme is actually referenced in several papers co-authored by Brin and Page while at Stanford, specifically highlighting its role in financially sponsoring Brin in the development of Google. In their 1998 paper published in the Bulletin of the IEEE Computer Society Technical Committeee on Data Engineering, they describe the automation of methods to extract information from the web via “Dual Iterative Pattern Relation Extraction,” the development of “a global ranking of Web pages called PageRank,” and the use of PageRank “to develop a novel search engine called Google.” Through an opening footnote, Sergey Brin confirms he was “Partially supported by the Community Management Staff’s Massive Digital Data Systems Program, NSF grant IRI-96–31952” — confirming that Brin’s work developing Google was indeed partly-funded by the CIA-NSA-MDDS program.
This NSF grant identified alongside the MDDS, whose project report lists Brin among the students supported (without mentioning the MDDS), was different to the NSF grant to Larry Page that included funding from DARPA and NASA. The project report, authored by Brin’s supervisor Prof. Ullman, goes on to say under the section ‘Indications of Success’ that “there are some new stories of startups based on NSF-supported research.” Under ‘Project Impact,’ the report remarks: “Finally, the google project has also gone commercial as Google.com.”
Thuraisingham’s account, including her new amended version, therefore demonstrates that the CIA-NSA-MDDS program was not only partly funding Brin throughout his work with Larry Page developing Google, but that senior US intelligence representatives including a CIA official oversaw the evolution of Google in this pre-launch phase, all the way until the company was ready to be officially founded. Google, then, had been enabled with a “significant” amount of seed-funding and oversight from the Pentagon: namely, the CIA, NSA, and DARPA.
The DoD could not be reached for comment.
When I asked Prof. Ullman to confirm whether or not Brin was partly funded under the intelligence community’s MDDS program, and whether Ullman was aware that Brin was regularly briefing the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser on his progress in developing the Google search engine, Ullman’s responses were evasive: “May I know whom you represent and why you are interested in these issues? Who are your ‘sources’?” He also denied that Brin played a significant role in developing the ‘query flocks’ system, although it is clear from Brin’s papers that he did draw on that work in co-developing the PageRank system with Page.
When I asked Ullman whether he was denying the US intelligence community’s role in supporting Brin during the development of Google, he said: “I am not going to dignify this nonsense with a denial. If you won’t explain what your theory is, and what point you are trying to make, I am not going to help you in the slightest.”
The MDDS abstract published online at the University of Texas confirms that the rationale for the CIA-NSA project was to “provide seed money to develop data management technologies which are of high-risk and high-pay-off,” including techniques for “querying, browsing, and filtering; transaction processing; accesses methods and indexing; metadata management and data modelling; and integrating heterogeneous databases; as well as developing appropriate architectures.” The ultimate vision of the program was to “provide for the seamless access and fusion of massive amounts of data, information and knowledge in a heterogeneous, real-time environment” for use by the Pentagon, intelligence community and potentially across government.
These revelations corroborate the claims of Robert Steele, former senior CIA officer and a founding civilian deputy director of the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, whom I interviewed for The Guardian last year on open source intelligence. Citing sources at the CIA, Steele had said in 2006 that Steinheiser, an old colleague of his, was the CIA’s main liaison at Google and had arranged early funding for the pioneering IT firm. At the time, Wired founder John Batelle managed to get this official denial from a Google spokesperson in response to Steele’s assertions:
“The statements related to Google are completely untrue.”
This time round, despite multiple requests and conversations, a Google spokesperson declined to comment.
UPDATE: As of 5.41PM GMT [22nd Jan 2015], Google’s director of corporate communication got in touch and asked me to include the following statement:
“Sergey Brin was not part of the Query Flocks Program at Stanford, nor were any of his projects funded by US Intelligence bodies.”
This is what I wrote back:
My response to that statement would be as follows: Brin himself in his own paper acknowledges funding from the Community Management Staff of the Massive Digital Data Systems (MDDS) initiative, which was supplied through the NSF. The MDDS was an intelligence community program set up by the CIA and NSA. I also have it on record, as noted in the piece, from Prof. Thuraisingham of University of Texas that she managed the MDDS program on behalf of the US intelligence community, and that her and the CIA’s Rick Steinheiser met Brin every three months or so for two years to be briefed on his progress developing Google and PageRank. Whether Brin worked on query flocks or not is neither here nor there.
In that context, you might want to consider the following questions:
1) Does Google deny that Brin’s work was part-funded by the MDDS via an NSF grant?
2) Does Google deny that Brin reported regularly to Thuraisingham and Steinheiser from around 1996 to 1998 until September that year when he presented the Google search engine to them?
Total Information Awareness
A call for papers for the MDDS was sent out via email list on November 3rd 1993 from senior US intelligence official David Charvonia, director of the research and development coordination office of the intelligence community’s CMS. The reaction from Tatu Ylonen (celebrated inventor of the widely used secure shell [SSH] data protection protocol) to his colleagues on the email list is telling: “Crypto relevance? Makes you think whether you should protect your data.” The email also confirms that defense contractor and Highlands Forum partner, SAIC, was managing the MDDS submission process, with abstracts to be sent to Jackie Booth of the CIA’s Office of Research and Development via a SAIC email address.
By 1997, Thuraisingham reveals, shortly before Google became incorporated and while she was still overseeing the development of its search engine software at Stanford, her thoughts turned to the national security applications of the MDDS program. In the acknowledgements to her book, Web Data Mining and Applications in Business Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (2003), Thuraisingham writes that she and “Dr. Rick Steinheiser of the CIA, began discussions with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on applying data-mining for counter-terrorism,” an idea that resulted directly from the MDDS program which partly funded Google. “These discussions eventually developed into the current EELD (Evidence Extraction and Link Detection) program at DARPA.”
So the very same senior CIA official and CIA-NSA contractor involved in providing the seed-funding for Google were simultaneously contemplating the role of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, and were developing ideas for tools actually advanced by DARPA.
Today, as illustrated by her recent oped in the New York Times, Thuraisingham remains a staunch advocate of data-mining for counter-terrorism purposes, but also insists that these methods must be developed by government in cooperation with civil liberties lawyers and privacy advocates to ensure that robust procedures are in place to prevent potential abuse. She points out, damningly, that with the quantity of information being collected, there is a high risk of false positives.
In 1993, when the MDDS program was launched and managed by MITRE Corp. on behalf of the US intelligence community, University of Virginia computer scientist Dr. Anita K. Jones — a MITRE trustee — landed the job of DARPA director and head of research and engineering across the Pentagon. She had been on the board of MITRE since 1988. From 1987 to 1993, Jones simultaneously served on SAIC’s board of directors. As the new head of DARPA from 1993 to 1997, she also co-chaired the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum during the period of Google’s pre-launch development at Stanford under the MDSS.
Thus, when Thuraisingham and Steinheiser were talking to DARPA about the counter-terrorism applications of MDDS research, Jones was DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair. That year, Jones left DARPA to return to her post at the University of Virgina. The following year, she joined the board of the National Science Foundation, which of course had also just funded Brin and Page, and also returned to the board of SAIC. When she left DoD, Senator Chuck Robb paid Jones the following tribute : “She brought the technology and operational military communities together to design detailed plans to sustain US dominance on the battlefield into the next century.”
Dr. Anita Jones, head of DARPA from 1993–1997, and co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum from 1995–1997, during which officials in charge of the CIA-NSA-MDSS program were funding Google, and in communication with DARPA about data-mining for counterterrorism
On the board of the National Science Foundation from 1992 to 1998 (including a stint as chairman from 1996) was Richard N. Zare. This was the period in which the NSF sponsored Sergey Brin and Larry Page in association with DARPA. In June 1994, Prof. Zare, a chemist at Stanford, participated with Prof. Jeffrey Ullman (who supervised Sergey Brin’s research), on a panel sponsored by Stanford and the National Research Council discussing the need for scientists to show how their work “ties to national needs.” The panel brought together scientists and policymakers, including “Washington insiders.”
DARPA’s EELD program, inspired by the work of Thuraisingham and Steinheiser under Jones’ watch, was rapidly adapted and integrated with a suite of tools to conduct comprehensive surveillance under the Bush administration.
According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.
The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was another contractor among 26 companies (also including SAIC) that received million dollar contracts from DARPA (the specific quantities remained classified) under Poindexter, to push forward the TIA surveillance program in 2002 onwards. The research included “behaviour-based profiling,” “automated detection, identification and tracking” of terrorist activity, among other data-analyzing projects. At this time, PARC’s director and chief scientist was John Seely Brown. Both Brown and Poindexter were Pentagon Highlands Forum participants — Brown on a regular basis until recently.
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
Google, DARPA and the money trail
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. A letter dated November 5th 1984 from the office of renowned artificial intelligence (AI) expert, Prof Edward Feigenbaum, addressed to Rick Steinheiser, gives the latter directions to Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project, addressing Steinheiser as a member of the “AI Steering Committee.” A list of attendees at a contractor conference around that time, sponsored by the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), includes Steinheiser as a delegate under the designation “OPNAV Op-115” — which refers to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations’ program on operational readiness, which played a major role in advancing digital systems for the military.
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA.
As a Stanford PhD student in electrical engineering in the 1980s, Bechtolsheim’s pioneering SUN workstation project had been funded by DARPA and the Stanford computer science department — this research was the foundation of Bechtolsheim’s establishment of Sun Microsystems, which he co-founded with William Joy.
As for Bechtolsheim’s co-investor in Google, David Cheriton, the latter is a long-time Stanford computer science professor who has an even more entrenched relationship with DARPA. His bio at the University of Alberta, which in November 2014 awarded him an honorary science doctorate, says that Cheriton’s “research has received the support of the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for over 20 years.”
In the meantime, Bechtolsheim left Sun Microsystems in 1995, co-founding Granite Systems with his fellow Google investor Cheriton as a partner. They sold Granite to Cisco Systems in 1996, retaining significant ownership of Granite, and becoming senior Cisco executives.
An email obtained from the Enron Corpus (a database of 600,000 emails acquired by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and later released to the public) from Richard O’Neill, inviting Enron executives to participate in the Highlands Forum, shows that Cisco and Granite executives are intimately connected to the Pentagon. The email reveals that in May 2000, Bechtolsheim’s partner and Sun Microsystems co-founder, William Joy — who was then chief scientist and corporate executive officer there — had attended the Forum to discuss nanotechnology and molecular computing.
In 1999, Joy had also co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee, overseeing a report acknowledging that DARPA had:
“… revised its priorities in the 90’s so that all information technology funding was judged in terms of its benefit to the warfighter.”
Throughout the 1990s, then, DARPA’s funding to Stanford, including Google, was explicitly about developing technologies that could augment the Pentagon’s military intelligence operations in war theatres.
The Joy report recommended more federal government funding from the Pentagon, NASA, and other agencies to the IT sector. Greg Papadopoulos, another of Bechtolsheim’s colleagues as then Sun Microsystems chief technology officer, also attended a Pentagon Highlands’ Forum meeting in September 2000.
In November, the Pentagon Highlands Forum hosted Sue Bostrom, who was vice president for the internet at Cisco, sitting on the company’s board alongside Google co-investors Bechtolsheim and Cheriton. The Forum also hosted Lawrence Zuriff, then a managing partner of Granite, which Bechtolsheim and Cheriton had sold to Cisco. Zuriff had previously been an SAIC contractor from 1993 to 1994, working with the Pentagon on national security issues, specifically for Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment. In 1994, both the SAIC and the ONA were, of course, involved in co-establishing the Pentagon Highlands Forum. Among Zuriff’s output during his SAIC tenure was a paper titled ‘Understanding Information War’, delivered at a SAIC-sponsored US Army Roundtable on the Revolution in Military Affairs.
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community.
John Doerr, who led the Kleiner Perkins investment in Google obtaining a board position, was a major early investor in Becholshtein’s Sun Microsystems at its launch. He and his wife Anne are the main funders behind Rice University’s Center for Engineering Leadership (RCEL), which in 2009 received $16 million from DARPA for its platform-aware-compilation-environment (PACE) ubiquitous computing R&D program. Doerr also has a close relationship with the Obama administration, which he advised shortly after it took power to ramp up Pentagon funding to the tech industry. In 2013, at the Fortune Brainstorm TECH conference, Doerr applauded “how the DoD’s DARPA funded GPS, CAD, most of the major computer science departments, and of course, the Internet.”
From inception, in other words, Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community: many of whom were embedded in the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Google captures the Pentagon
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. That year, CIA funding was also being “quietly” funneled through the National Science Foundation to projects that might help create “new capabilities to combat terrorism through advanced technology.”
The following year, Google bought the firm Keyhole, which had originally been funded by In-Q-Tel. Using Keyhole, Google began developing the advanced satellite mapping software behind Google Earth. Former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones had been on the board of In-Q-Tel at this time, and remains so today.
Then in November 2005, In-Q-Tel issued notices to sell $2.2 million of Google stocks. Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.”
A photo on Flickr dated March 2007 reveals that Google research director and AI expert Peter Norvig attended a Pentagon Highlands Forum meeting that year in Carmel, California. Norvig’s intimate connection to the Forum as of that year is also corroborated by his role in guest editing the 2007 Forum reading list.
The photo below shows Norvig in conversation with Lewis Shepherd, who at that time was senior technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, responsible for investigating, approving, and architecting “all new hardware/software systems and acquisitions for the Global Defense Intelligence IT Enterprise,” including “big data technologies.” Shepherd now works at Microsoft. Norvig was a computer research scientist at Stanford University in 1991 before joining Bechtolsheim’s Sun Microsystems as senior scientist until 1994, and going on to head up NASA’s computer science division.
Lewis Shepherd (left), then a senior technology officer at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, talking to Peter Norvig (right), renowned expert in artificial intelligence expert and director of research at Google. This photo is from a Highlands Forum meeting in 2007.
Norvig shows up on O’Neill’s Google Plus profile as one of his close connections. Scoping the rest of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections illustrates that he is directly connected not just to a wide range of Google executives, but also to some of the biggest names in the US tech community.
Those connections include Michele Weslander Quaid, an ex-CIA contractor and former senior Pentagon intelligence official who is now Google’s chief technology officer where she is developing programs to “best fit government agencies’ needs”; Elizabeth Churchill, Google director of user experience; James Kuffner, a humanoid robotics expert who now heads up Google’s robotics division and who introduced the term ‘cloud robotics’; Mark Drapeau, director of innovation engagement for Microsoft’s public sector business; Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft’s Future Social Experiences (FUSE) Labs; Jon Udell, Microsoft ‘evangelist’; Cory Ondrejka, vice president of engineering at Facebook; to name just a few.
In 2010, Google signed a multi-billion dollar no-bid contract with the NSA’s sister agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The contract was to use Google Earth for visualization services for the NGA. Google had developed the software behind Google Earth by purchasing Keyhole from the CIA venture firm In-Q-Tel.
Then a year after, in 2011, another of O’Neill’s Google Plus connections, Michele Quaid — who had served in executive positions at the NGA, National Reconnaissance Office and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — left her government role to become Google ‘innovation evangelist’ and the point-person for seeking government contracts. Quaid’s last role before her move to Google was as a senior representative of the Director of National Intelligence to the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force, and a senior advisor to the undersecretary of defense for intelligence’s director of Joint and Coalition Warfighter Support (J&CWS). Both roles involved information operations at their core. Before her Google move, in other words, Quaid worked closely with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, to which the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum is subordinate. Quaid has herself attended the Forum, though precisely when and how often I could not confirm.
In March 2012, then DARPA director Regina Dugan — who in that capacity was also co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum — followed her colleague Quaid into Google to lead the company’s new Advanced Technology and Projects Group. During her Pentagon tenure, Dugan led on strategic cyber security and social media, among other initiatives. She was responsible for focusing “an increasing portion” of DARPA’s work “on the investigation of offensive capabilities to address military-specific needs,” securing $500 million of government funding for DARPA cyber research from 2012 to 2017.
Regina Dugan, former head of DARPA and Highlands Forum co-chair, now a senior Google executive — trying her best to look the part
By November 2014, Google’s chief AI and robotics expert James Kuffner was a delegate alongside O’Neill at the Highlands Island Forum 2014 in Singapore, to explore ‘Advancement in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Society, Security and Conflict.’ The event included 26 delegates from Austria, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Sweden, Britain and the US, from both industry and government. Kuffner’s association with the Pentagon, however, began much earlier. In 1997, Kuffner was a researcher during his Stanford PhD for a Pentagon-funded project on networked autonomous mobile robots, sponsored by DARPA and the US Navy.
Rumsfeld and persistent surveillance
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.
The Highlands Forum itself has used the informal relationship building of such private networks to bring together defense and industry sectors, enabling the fusion of corporate and military interests in expanding the covert surveillance apparatus in the name of national security. The power wielded by the shadow network represented in the Forum can, however, be gauged most clearly from its impact during the Bush administration, when it played a direct role in literally writing the strategies and doctrines behind US efforts to achieve ‘information superiority.’
In December 2001, O’Neill confirmed that strategic discussions at the Highlands Forum were feeding directly into Andrew Marshall’s DoD-wide strategic review ordered by President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to upgrade the military, including the Quadrennial Defense Review — and that some of the earliest Forum meetings “resulted in the writing of a group of DoD policies, strategies, and doctrine for the services on information warfare.” That process of “writing” the Pentagon’s information warfare policies “was done in conjunction with people who understood the environment differently — not only US citizens, but also foreign citizens, and people who were developing corporate IT.”
The Pentagon’s post-9/11 information warfare doctrines were, then, written not just by national security officials from the US and abroad: but also by powerful corporate entities in the defense and technology sectors.
In April that year, Gen. James McCarthy had completed his defense transformation review ordered by Rumsfeld. His report repeatedly highlighted mass surveillance as integral to DoD transformation. As for Marshall, his follow-up report for Rumsfeld was going to develop a blueprint determining the Pentagon’s future in the ‘information age.’
O’Neill also affirmed that to develop information warfare doctrine, the Forum had held extensive discussions on electronic surveillance and “what constitutes an act of war in an information environment.” Papers feeding into US defense policy written through the late 1990s by RAND consultants John Arquilla and David Rondfeldt, both longstanding Highlands Forum members, were produced “as a result of those meetings,” exploring policy dilemmas on how far to take the goal of ‘Information Superiority.’ “One of the things that was shocking to the American public was that we weren’t pilfering Milosevic’s accounts electronically when we in fact could,” commented O’Neill.
Although the R&D process around the Pentagon transformation strategy remains classified, a hint at the DoD discussions going on in this period can be gleaned from a 2005 US Army School of Advanced Military Studies research monograph in the DoD journal, Military Review, authored by an active Army intelligence officer.
“The idea of Persistent Surveillance as a transformational capability has circulated within the national Intelligence Community (IC) and the Department of Defense (DoD) for at least three years,” the paper said, referencing the Rumsfeld-commissioned transformation study.
The Army paper went on to review a range of high-level official military documents, including one from the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, showing that “Persistent Surveillance” was a fundamental theme of the information-centric vision for defense policy across the Pentagon.
We now know that just two months before O’Neill’s address at Harvard in 2001, under the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.
The surveillance-startup nexus
From here on, Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role in the NSA roll out from inception. Shortly after 9/11, Brian Sharkey, chief technology officer of SAIC’s ELS3 Sector (focusing on IT systems for emergency responders), teamed up with John Poindexter to propose the TIA surveillance program. SAIC’s Sharkey had previously been deputy director of the Information Systems Office at DARPA through the 1990s.
Meanwhile, around the same time, SAIC vice president for corporate development, Samuel Visner, became head of the NSA’s signals-intelligence programs. SAIC was then among a consortium receiving a $280 million contract to develop one of the NSA’s secret eavesdropping systems. By 2003, Visner returned to SAIC to become director of strategic planning and business development of the firm’s intelligence group.
That year, the NSA consolidated its TIA programme of warrantless electronic surveillance, to keep “track of individuals” and understand “how they fit into models” through risk profiles of American citizens and foreigners. TIA was doing this by integrating databases on finance, travel, medical, educational and other records into a “virtual, centralized grand database.”
This was also the year that the Bush administration drew up its notorious Information Operations Roadmap. Describing the internet as a “vulnerable weapons system,” Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap had advocated that Pentagon strategy “should be based on the premise that the Department [of Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system.” The US should seek “maximum control” of the “full spectrum of globally emerging communications systems, sensors, and weapons systems,” advocated the document.
The following year, John Poindexter, who had proposed and run the TIA surveillance program via his post at DARPA, was in Singapore participating in the Highlands 2004 Island Forum. Other delegates included then Highlands Forum co-chair and Pentagon CIO Linton Wells; president of notorious Pentagon information warfare contractor, John Rendon; Karl Lowe, director of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Joint Advanced Warfighting Division; Air Vice Marshall Stephen Dalton, capability manager for information superiority at the UK Ministry of Defense; Lt. Gen. Johan Kihl, Swedish army Supreme Commander HQ’s chief of staff; among others.
As of 2006, SAIC had been awarded a multi-million dollar NSA contract to develop a big data-mining project called ExecuteLocus, despite the colossal $1 billion failure of its preceding contract, known as ‘Trailblazer.’ Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.
This was also the year of yet another Singapore Island Forum led by Richard O’Neill on behalf of the Pentagon, which included senior defense and industry officials from the US, UK, Australia, France, India and Israel. Participants also included senior technologists from Microsoft, IBM, as well as Gilman Louie, partner at technology investment firm Alsop Louie Partners.
Gilman Louie is a former CEO of In-Q-Tel — the CIA firm investing especially in start-ups developing data mining technology. In-Q-Tel was founded in 1999 by the CIA’s Directorate of Science and Technology, under which the Office of Research and Development (ORD) — which was part of the Google-funding MDSS program — had operated. The idea was to essentially replace the functions once performed by the ORD, by mobilizing the private sector to develop information technology solutions for the entire intelligence community.
Louie had led In-Q-Tel from 1999 until January 2006 — including when Google bought Keyhole, the In-Q-Tel-funded satellite mapping software. Among his colleagues on In-Q-Tel’s board in this period were former DARPA director and Highlands Forum co-chair Anita Jones (who is still there), as well as founding board member William Perry: the man who had appointed O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum in the first place. Joining Perry as a founding In-Q-Tel board member was John Seely Brown, then chief scientist at Xerox Corp and director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) from 1990 to 2002, who is also a long-time senior Highlands Forum member since inception.
In addition to the CIA, In-Q-Tel has also been backed by the FBI, NGA, and Defense Intelligence Agency, among other agencies. More than 60 percent of In-Q-Tel’s investments under Louie’s watch were “in companies that specialize in automatically collecting, sifting through and understanding oceans of information,” according to Medill School of Journalism’s News21, which also noted that Louie himself had acknowledged it was not clear “whether privacy and civil liberties will be protected” by government’s use of these technologies “for national security.”
The transcript of Richard O’Neill’s late 2001 seminar at Harvard shows that the Pentagon Highlands Forum had first engaged Gilman Louie long before the Island Forum, in fact, shortly after 9/11 to explore “what’s going on with In-Q-Tel.” That Forum session focused on how to “take advantage of the speed of the commercial market that wasn’t present inside the science and technology community of Washington” and to understand “the implications for the DoD in terms of the strategic review, the QDR, Hill action, and the stakeholders.” Participants of the meeting included “senior military people,” combatant commanders, “several of the senior flag officers,” some “defense industry people” and various US representatives including Republican Congressman William Mac Thornberry and Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman.
Both Thornberry and Lieberman are staunch supporters of NSA surveillance, and have consistently acted to rally support for pro-war, pro-surveillance legislation. O’Neill’s comments indicate that the Forum’s role is not just to enable corporate contractors to write Pentagon policy, but to rally political support for government policies adopted through the Forum’s informal brand of shadow networking.
Repeatedly, O’Neill told his Harvard audience that his job as Forum president was to scope case studies from real companies across the private sector, like eBay and Human Genome Sciences, to figure out the basis of US ‘Information Superiority’ — “how to dominate” the information market — and leverage this for “what the president and the secretary of defense wanted to do with regard to transformation of the DoD and the strategic review.”
By 2007, a year after the Island Forum meeting that included Gilman Louie, Facebook received its second round of $12.7 million worth of funding from Accel Partners. Accel was headed up by James Breyer, former chair of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) where Louie also served on the board while still CEO of In-Q-Tel. Both Louie and Breyer had previously served together on the board of BBN Technologies — which had recruited ex-DARPA chief and In-Q-Tel trustee Anita Jones.
Facebook’s 2008 round of funding was led by Greylock Venture Capital, which invested $27.5 million. The firm’s senior partners include Howard Cox, another former NVCA chair who also sits on the board of In-Q-Tel. Apart from Breyer and Zuckerberg, Facebook’s only other board member is Peter Thiel, co-founder of defense contractor Palantir which provides all sorts of data-mining and visualization technologies to US government, military and intelligence agencies, including the NSA and FBI, and which itself was nurtured to financial viability by Highlands Forum members.
Palantir co-founders Thiel and Alex Karp met with John Poindexter in 2004, according to Wired, the same year Poindexter had attended the Highlands Island Forum in Singapore. They met at the home of Richard Perle, another Andrew Marshall acolyte. Poindexter helped Palantir open doors, and to assemble “a legion of advocates from the most influential strata of government.” Thiel had also met with Gilman Louie of In-Q-Tel, securing the backing of the CIA in this early phase.
And so we come full circle. Data-mining programs like ExecuteLocus and projects linked to it, which were developed throughout this period, apparently laid the groundwork for the new NSA programmes eventually disclosed by Edward Snowden. By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.
We also now know thanks to Snowden that the NSA’s XKeyscore ‘Digital Network Intelligence’ exploitation system was designed to allow analysts to search not just Internet databases like emails, online chats and browsing history, but also telephone services, mobile phone audio, financial transactions and global air transport communications — essentially the entire global telecommunications grid. Highlands Forum partner SAIC played a key role, among other contractors, in producing and administering the NSA’s XKeyscore, and was recently implicated in NSA hacking of the privacy network Tor.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum was therefore intimately involved in all this as a convening network—but also quite directly. Confirming his pivotal role in the expansion of the US-led global surveillance apparatus, then Forum co-chair, Pentagon CIO Linton Wells, told FedTech magazine in 2009 that he had overseen the NSA’s roll out of “an impressive long-term architecture last summer that will provide increasingly sophisticated security until 2015 or so.”
The Goldman Sachs connection
When I asked Wells about the Forum’s role in influencing US mass surveillance, he responded only to say he would prefer not to comment and that he no longer leads the group.
As Wells is no longer in government, this is to be expected — but he is still connected to Highlands. As of September 2014, after delivering his influential white paper on Pentagon transformation, he joined the Monterey Institute for International Studies (MIIS) Cyber Security Initiative (CySec) as a distinguished senior fellow.
Sadly, this was not a form of trying to keep busy in retirement. Wells’ move underscored that the Pentagon’s conception of information warfare is not just about surveillance, but about the exploitation of surveillance to influence both government and public opinion.
The MIIS CySec initiative is now formally partnered with the Pentagon Highlands Forum through a Memorandum of Understanding signed with MIIS provost Dr Amy Sands, who sits on the Secretary of State’s International Security Advisory Board. The MIIS CySec website states that the MoU signed with Richard O’Neill:
“… paves the way for future joint MIIS CySec-Highlands Group sessions that will explore the impact of technology on security, peace and information engagement. For nearly 20 years the Highlands Group has engaged private sector and government leaders, including the Director of National Intelligence, DARPA, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Singaporean Minister of Defence, in creative conversations to frame policy and technology research areas.”
Who is the financial benefactor of the new Pentagon Highlands-partnered MIIS CySec initiative? According to the MIIS CySec site, the initiative was launched “through a generous donation of seed funding from George Lee.” George C. Lee is a senior partner at Goldman Sachs, where he is chief information officer of the investment banking division, and chairman of the Global Technology, Media and Telecom (TMT) Group.
But here’s the kicker. In 2011, it was Lee who engineered Facebook’s $50 billion valuation, and previously handled deals for other Highlands-connected tech giants like Google, Microsoft and eBay. Lee’s then boss, Stephen Friedman, a former CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, and later senior partner on the firm’s executive board, was a also founding board member of In-Q-Tel alongside Highlands Forum overlord William Perry and Forum member John Seely Brown.
In 2001, Bush appointed Stephen Friedman to the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and then to chair that board from 2005 to 2009. Friedman previously served alongside Paul Wolfowitz and others on the 1995–6 presidential commission of inquiry into US intelligence capabilities, and in 1996 on the Jeremiah Panel that produced a report to the Director of the National Reconnaisance Office (NRO) — one of the surveillance agencies plugged into the Highlands Forum. Friedman was on the Jeremiah Panel with Martin Faga, then senior vice president and general manager of MITRE Corp’s Center for Integrated Intelligence Systems — where Thuraisingham, who managed the CIA-NSA-MDDS program that inspired DARPA counter-terrorist data-mining, was also a lead engineer.
In the footnotes to a chapter for the book, Cyberspace and National Security (Georgetown University Press), SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper reveals that another Goldman Sachs senior partner Philip J. Venables — who as chief information risk officer leads the firm’s programs on information security — delivered a Highlands Forum presentation in 2008 at what was called an ‘Enrichment Session on Deterrence.’ Cooper’s chapter draws on Venables’ presentation at Highlands “with permission.” In 2010, Venables participated with his then boss Friedman at an Aspen Institute meeting on the world economy. For the last few years, Venables has also sat on various NSA cybersecurity award review boards.
In sum, the investment firm responsible for creating the billion dollar fortunes of the tech sensations of the 21st century, from Google to Facebook, is intimately linked to the US military intelligence community; with Venables, Lee and Friedman either directly connected to the Pentagon Highlands Forum, or to senior members of the Forum.
Fighting terror with terror
The convergence of these powerful financial and military interests around the Highlands Forum, through George Lee’s sponsorship of the Forum’s new partner, the MIIS Cysec initiative, is revealing in itself.
MIIS Cysec’s director, Dr, Itamara Lochard, has long been embedded in Highlands. She regularly “presents current research on non-state groups, governance, technology and conflict to the US Office of the Secretary of Defense Highlands Forum,” according to her Tufts University bio. She also, “regularly advises US combatant commanders” and specializes in studying the use of information technology by “violent and non-violent sub-state groups.”
Dr Itamara Lochard is a senior Highlands Forum member and Pentagon information operations expert. She directs the MIIS CyberSec initiative that now supports the Pentagon Highlands Forum with funding from Goldman Sachs partner George Lee, who led the valuations of Facebook and Google.
Dr Lochard maintains a comprehensive database of 1,700 non-state groups including “insurgents, militias, terrorists, complex criminal organizations, organized gangs, malicious cyber actors and strategic non-violent actors,” to analyze their “organizational patterns, areas of cooperation, strategies and tactics.” Notice, here, the mention of “strategic non-violent actors” — which perhaps covers NGOs and other groups or organizations engaged in social political activity or campaigning, judging by the focus of other DoD research programs.
As of 2008, Lochard has been an adjunct professor at the US Joint Special Operations University where she teaches a top secret advanced course in ‘Irregular Warfare’ that she designed for senior US special forces officers. She has previously taught courses on ‘Internal War’ for senior “political-military officers” of various Gulf regimes.
Her views thus disclose much about what the Highlands Forum has been advocating all these years. In 2004, Lochard was co-author of a study for the US Air Force’s Institute for National Security Studies on US strategy toward ‘non-state armed groups.’ The study on the one hand argued that non-state armed groups should be urgently recognized as a ‘tier one security priority,’ and on the other that the proliferation of armed groups “provide strategic opportunities that can be exploited to help achieve policy goals. There have and will be instances where the United States may find collaborating with armed group is in its strategic interests.” But “sophisticated tools” must be developed to differentiate between different groups and understand their dynamics, to determine which groups should be countered, and which could be exploited for US interests. “Armed group profiles can likewise be employed to identify ways in which the United States may assist certain armed groups whose success will be advantageous to US foreign policy objectives.”
In 2008, Wikileaks published a leaked restricted US Army Special Operations field manual, which demonstrated that the sort of thinking advocated by the likes of Highlands expert Lochard had been explicitly adopted by US special forces.
Lochard’s work thus demonstrates that the Highlands Forum sat at the intersection of advanced Pentagon strategy on surveillance, covert operations and irregular warfare: mobilizing mass surveillance to develop detailed information on violent and non-violent groups perceived as potentially threatening to US interests, or offering opportunities for exploitation, thus feeding directly into US covert operations.
That, ultimately, is why the CIA, the NSA, the Pentagon, spawned Google. So they could run their secret dirty wars with even greater efficiency than ever before.
Mass surveillance is about control. It’s promulgators may well claim, and even believe, that it is about control for the greater good, a control that is needed to keep a cap on disorder, to be fully vigilant to the next threat. But in a context of rampant political corruption, widening economic inequalities, and escalating resource stress due to climate change and energy volatility, mass surveillance can become a tool of power to merely perpetuate itself, at the public’s expense.
A major function of mass surveillance that is often overlooked is that of knowing the adversary to such an extent that they can be manipulated into defeat. The problem is that the adversary is not just terrorists. It’s you and me. To this day, the role of information warfare as propaganda has been in full swing, though systematically ignored by much of the media.
Here, INSURGE INTELLIGENCE exposes how the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s co-optation of tech giants like Google to pursue mass surveillance, has played a key role in secret efforts to manipulate the media as part of an information war against the American government, the American people, and the rest of the world: to justify endless war, and ceaseless military expansionism.
The war machine
In September 2013, the website of the Montery Institute for International Studies’ Cyber Security Initiative (MIIS CySec) posted a final version of a paper on ‘cyber-deterrence’ by CIA consultant Jeffrey Cooper, vice president of the US defense contractor SAIC and a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum. The paper was presented to then NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander at a Highlands Forum session titled ‘Cyber Commons, Engagement and Deterrence’ in 2010.
Gen. Keith Alexander (middle), who served as director of the NSA and chief of the Central Security Service from 2005 to 2014, as well as commander of the US Cyber Command from 2010 to 2014, at the 2010 Highlands Forum session on cyber-deterrence
MIIS CySec is formally partnered with the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum through an MoU signed between the provost and Forum president Richard O’Neill, while the initiative itself is funded by George C. Lee: the Goldman Sachs executive who led the billion dollar valuations of Facebook, Google, eBay, and other tech companies.
Cooper’s eye-opening paper is no longer available at the MIIS site, but a final version of it is available via the logs of a public national security conference hosted by the American Bar Association. Currently, Cooper is chief innovation officer at SAIC/Leidos, which is among a consortium of defense technology firms including Booz Allen Hamilton and others contracted to develop NSA surveillance capabilities.
The Highlands Forum briefing for the NSA chief was commissioned under contract by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and based on concepts developed at previous Forum meetings. It was presented to Gen. Alexander at a “closed session” of the Highlands Forum moderated by MIIS Cysec director, Dr. Itamara Lochard, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC.
SAIC/Leidos’ Jeffrey Cooper (middle), a founding member of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, listening to Phil Venables (right), senior partner at Goldman Sachs, at the 2010 Forum session on cyber-deterrence at the CSIS
Like Rumsfeld’s IO roadmap, Cooper’s NSA briefing described “digital information systems” as both a “great source of vulnerability” and “powerful tools and weapons” for “national security.” He advocated the need for US cyber intelligence to maximize “in-depth knowledge” of potential and actual adversaries, so they can identify “every potential leverage point” that can be exploited for deterrence or retaliation. “Networked deterrence” requires the US intelligence community to develop “deep understanding and specific knowledge about the particular networks involved and their patterns of linkages, including types and strengths of bonds,” as well as using cognitive and behavioural science to help predict patterns. His paper went on to essentially set out a theoretical architecture for modelling data obtained from surveillance and social media mining on potential “adversaries” and “counterparties.”
A year after this briefing with the NSA chief, Michele Weslander Quaid — another Highlands Forum delegate — joined Google to become chief technology officer, leaving her senior role in the Pentagon advising the undersecretary of defense for intelligence. Two months earlier, the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Defense Intelligence published its report on Counterinsurgency (COIN), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (IRS) Operations. Quaid was among the government intelligence experts who advised and briefed the Defense Science Board Task Force in preparing the report. Another expert who briefed the Task Force was Highlands Forum veteran Linton Wells. The DSB report itself had been commissioned by Bush appointee James Clapper, then undersecretary of defense for intelligence — who had also commissioned Cooper’s Highlands Forum briefing to Gen. Alexander. Clapper is now Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, in which capacity he lied under oath to Congress by claiming in March 2013 that the NSA does not collect any data at all on American citizens.
Michele Quaid’s track record across the US military intelligence community was to transition agencies into using web tools and cloud technology. The imprint of her ideas are evident in key parts of the DSB Task Force report, which described its purpose as being to “influence investment decisions” at the Pentagon “by recommending appropriate intelligence capabilities to assess insurgencies, understand a population in their environment, and support COIN operations.”
The report named 24 countries in South and Southeast Asia, North and West Africa, the Middle East and South America, which would pose “possible COIN challenges” for the US military in coming years. These included Pakistan, Mexico, Yemen, Nigeria, Guatemala, Gaza/West Bank, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, among other “autocratic regimes.” The report argued that “economic crises, climate change, demographic pressures, resource scarcity, or poor governance could cause these states (or others) to fail or become so weak that they become targets for aggressors/insurgents.” From there, the “global information infrastructure” and “social media” can rapidly “amplify the speed, intensity, and momentum of events” with regional implications. “Such areas could become sanctuaries from which to launch attacks on the US homeland, recruit personnel, and finance, train, and supply operations.”
The imperative in this context is to increase the military’s capacity for “left of bang” operations — before the need for a major armed forces commitment — to avoid insurgencies, or pre-empt them while still in incipient phase. The report goes on to conclude that “the Internet and social media are critical sources of social network analysis data in societies that are not only literate, but also connected to the Internet.” This requires “monitoring the blogosphere and other social media across many different cultures and languages” to prepare for “population-centric operations.”
The Pentagon must also increase its capacity for “behavioral modeling and simulation” to “better understand and anticipate the actions of a population” based on “foundation data on populations, human networks, geography, and other economic and social characteristics.” Such “population-centric operations” will also “increasingly” be needed in “nascent resource conflicts, whether based on water-crises, agricultural stress, environmental stress, or rents” from mineral resources. This must include monitoring “population demographics as an organic part of the natural resource framework.”
Other areas for augmentation are “overhead video surveillance,” “high resolution terrain data,” “cloud computing capability,” “data fusion” for all forms of intelligence in a “consistent spatio-temporal framework for organizing and indexing the data,” developing “social science frameworks” that can “support spatio-temporal encoding and analysis,” “distributing multi-form biometric authentication technologies [“such as fingerprints, retina scans and DNA samples”] to the point of service of the most basic administrative processes” in order to “tie identity to all an individual’s transactions.” In addition, the academy must be brought in to help the Pentagon develop “anthropological, socio-cultural, historical, human geographical, educational, public health, and many other types of social and behavioral science data and information” to develop “a deep understanding of populations.”
A few months after joining Google, Quaid represented the company in August 2011 at the Pentagon’s Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Customer and Industry Forum. The forum would provide “the Services, Combatant Commands, Agencies, coalition forces” the “opportunity to directly engage with industry on innovative technologies to enable and ensure capabilities in support of our Warfighters.” Participants in the event have been integral to efforts to create a “defense enterprise information environment,” defined as “an integrated platform which includes the network, computing, environment, services, information assurance, and NetOps capabilities,” enabling warfighters to “connect, identify themselves, discover and share information, and collaborate across the full spectrum of military operations.” Most of the forum panelists were DoD officials, except for just four industry panelists including Google’s Quaid.
DISA officials have attended the Highlands Forum, too — such as Paul Friedrichs, a technical director and chief engineer of DISA’s Office of the Chief Information Assurance Executive.
Knowledge is Power
Given all this it is hardly surprising that in 2012, a few months after Highlands Forum co-chair Regina Dugan left DARPA to join Google as a senior executive, then NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander was emailing Google’s founding executive Sergey Brin to discuss information sharing for national security. In those emails, obtained under Freedom of Information by investigative journalist Jason Leopold, Gen. Alexander described Google as a “key member of [the US military’s] Defense Industrial Base,” a position Michele Quaid was apparently consolidating. Brin’s jovial relationship with the former NSA chief now makes perfect sense given that Brin had been in contact with representatives of the CIA and NSA, who partly funded and oversaw his creation of the Google search engine, since the mid-1990s.
In July 2014, Quaid spoke at a US Army panel on the creation of a “rapid acquisition cell” to advance the US Army’s “cyber capabilities” as part of the Force 2025 transformation initiative. She told Pentagon officials that “many of the Army’s 2025 technology goals can be realized with commercial technology available or in development today,” re-affirming that “industry is ready to partner with the Army in supporting the new paradigm.” Around the same time, most of the media was trumpeting the idea that Google was trying to distance itself from Pentagon funding, but in reality, Google has switched tactics to independently develop commercial technologies which would have military applications the Pentagon’s transformation goals.
Yet Quaid is hardly the only point-person in Google’s relationship with the US military intelligence community.
One year after Google bought the satellite mapping software Keyhole from CIA venture capital firm In-Q-Tel in 2004, In-Q-Tel’s director of technical assessment Rob Painter — who played a key role in In-Q-Tel’s Keyhole investment in the first place — moved to Google. At In-Q-Tel, Painter’s work focused on identifying, researching and evaluating “new start-up technology firms that were believed to offer tremendous value to the CIA, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.” Indeed, the NGA had confirmed that its intelligence obtained via Keyhole was used by the NSA to support US operations in Iraq from 2003 onwards.
A former US Army special operations intelligence officer, Painter’s new job at Google as of July 2005 was federal manager of what Keyhole was to become: Google Earth Enterprise. By 2007, Painter had become Google’s federal chief technologist.
That year, Painter told the Washington Post that Google was “in the beginning stages” of selling advanced secret versions of its products to the US government. “Google has ramped up its sales force in the Washington area in the past year to adapt its technology products to the needs of the military, civilian agencies and the intelligence community,” the Post reported. The Pentagon was already using a version of Google Earth developed in partnership with Lockheed Martin to “display information for the military on the ground in Iraq,” including “mapping out displays of key regions of the country” and outlining “Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, as well as US and Iraqi military bases in the city. Neither Lockheed nor Google would say how the geospatial agency uses the data.” Google aimed to sell the government new “enhanced versions of Google Earth” and “search engines that can be used internally by agencies.”
White House records leaked in 2010 showed that Google executives had held several meetings with senior US National Security Council officials. Alan Davidson, Google’s government affairs director, had at least three meetings with officials of the National Security Council in 2009, including White House senior director for Russian affairs Mike McFaul and Middle East advisor Daniel Shapiro. It also emerged from a Google patent application that the company had deliberately been collecting ‘payload’ data from private wifi networks that would enable the identification of “geolocations.” In the same year, we now know, Google had signed an agreement with the NSA giving the agency open-ended access to the personal information of its users, and its hardware and software, in the name of cyber security — agreements that Gen. Alexander was busy replicating with hundreds of telecoms CEOs around the country.
Thus, it is not just Google that is a key contributor and foundation of the US military-industrial complex: it is the entire Internet, and the wide range of private sector companies — many nurtured and funded under the mantle of the US intelligence community (or powerful financiers embedded in that community) — which sustain the Internet and the telecoms infrastructure; it is also the myriad of start-ups selling cutting edge technologies to the CIA’s venture firm In-Q-Tel, where they can then be adapted and advanced for applications across the military intelligence community. Ultimately, the global surveillance apparatus and the classified tools used by agencies like the NSA to administer it, have been almost entirely made by external researchers and private contractors like Google, which operate outside the Pentagon.
This structure, mirrored in the workings of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, allows the Pentagon to rapidly capitalize on technological innovations it would otherwise miss, while also keeping the private sector at arms length, at least ostensibly, to avoid uncomfortable questions about what such technology is actually being used for.
But isn’t it obvious, really? The Pentagon is about war, whether overt or covert. By helping build the technological surveillance infrastructure of the NSA, firms like Google are complicit in what the military-industrial complex does best: kill for cash.
As the nature of mass surveillance suggests, its target is not merely terrorists, but by extension, ‘terrorism suspects’ and ‘potential terrorists,’ the upshot being that entire populations — especially political activists — must be targeted by US intelligence surveillance to identify active and future threats, and to be vigilant against hypothetical populist insurgencies both at home and abroad. Predictive analytics and behavioural profiles play a pivotal role here.
Mass surveillance and data-mining also now has a distinctive operational purpose in assisting with the lethal execution of special operations, selecting targets for the CIA’s drone strike kill lists via dubious algorithms, for instance, along with providing geospatial and other information for combatant commanders on land, air and sea, among many other functions. A single social media post on Twitter or Facebook is enough to trigger being placed on secret terrorism watch-lists solely due to a vaguely defined hunch or suspicion; and can potentially even land a suspect on a kill list.
The push for indiscriminate, comprehensive mass surveillance by the military-industrial complex — encompassing the Pentagon, intelligence agencies, defense contractors, and supposedly friendly tech giants like Google and Facebook — is therefore not an end in itself, but an instrument of power, whose goal is self-perpetuation. But there is also a self-rationalizing justification for this goal: while being great for the military-industrial complex, it is also, supposedly, great for everyone else.
The ‘long war’
No better illustration of the truly chauvinistic, narcissistic, and self-congratulatory ideology of power at the heart of the military-industrial complex is a book by long-time Highlands Forum delegate, Dr. Thomas Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map. Barnett was assistant for strategic futures in the Pentagon’s Office of Force Transformation from 2001 to 2003, and had been recommended to Richard O’Neill by his boss Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski. Apart from becoming a New York Times bestseller, Barnett’s book had been read far and wide in the US military, by senior defense officials in Washington and combatant commanders operating on the ground in the Middle East.
Barnett first attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum in 1998, then was invited to deliver a briefing about his work at the Forum on December 7th 2004, which was attended by senior Pentagon officials, energy experts, internet entrepreneurs, and journalists. Barnett received a glowing review in the Washington Post from his Highlands Forum buddy David Ignatius a week later, and an endorsement from another Forum friend, Thomas Friedman, both of which helped massively boost his credibility and readership.
Barnett’s vision is neoconservative to the root. He sees the world as divided into essentially two realms: The Core, which consists of advanced countries playing by the rules of economic globalization (the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Japan) along with developing countries committed to getting there (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and some others); and the rest of the world, which is The Gap, a disparate wilderness of dangerous and lawless countries defined fundamentally by being “disconnected” from the wonders of globalization. This includes most of the Middle East and Africa, large swathes of South America, as well as much of Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the task of the United States to “shrink The Gap,” by spreading the cultural and economic “rule-set” of globalization that characterizes The Core, and by enforcing security worldwide to enable that “rule-set” to spread.
These two functions of US power are captured by Barnett’s concepts of “Leviathan” and “System Administrator.” The former is about rule-setting to facilitate the spread of capitalist markets, regulated via military and civilian law. The latter is about projecting military force into The Gap in an open-ended global mission to enforce security and engage in nation-building. Not “rebuilding,” he is keen to emphasize, but building “new nations.”
For Barnett, the Bush administration’s 2002 introduction of the Patriot Act at home, with its crushing of habeas corpus, and the National Security Strategy abroad, with its opening up of unilateral, pre-emptive war, represented the beginning of the necessary re-writing of rule-sets in The Core to embark on this noble mission. This is the only way for the US to achieve security, writes Barnett, because as long as The Gap exists, it will always be a source of lawless violence and disorder. One paragraph in particular sums up his vision:
“America as global cop creates security. Security creates common rules. Rules attract foreign investment. Investment creates infrastructure. Infrastructure creates access to natural resources. Resources create economic growth. Growth creates stability. Stability creates markets. And once you’re a growing, stable part of the global market, you’re part of the Core. Mission accomplished.”
Much of what Barnett predicted would need to happen to fulfill this vision, despite its neoconservative bent, is still being pursued under Obama. In the near future, Barnett had predicted, US military forces will be dispatched beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to places like Uzbekistan, Djibouti, Azerbaijan, Northwest Africa, Southern Africa and South America.
Barnett’s Pentagon briefing was greeted with near universal enthusiasm. The Forum had even purchased copies of his book and had them distributed to all Forum delegates, and in May 2005, Barnett was invited back to participate in an entire Forum themed around his “SysAdmin” concept.
The Highlands Forum has thus played a leading role in defining the Pentagon’s entire conceptualization of the ‘war on terror.’ Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a retired IMB vice president who co-chaired the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee from 1997 to 2001, described his experience of one 2007 Forum meeting in telling terms:
“Then there is the War on Terror, which DoD has started to refer to as the Long War, a term that I first heard at the Forum. It seems very appropriate to describe the overall conflict in which we now find ourselves. This is a truly global conflict… the conflicts we are now in have much more of the feel of a battle of civilizations or cultures trying to destroy our very way of life and impose their own.”
The problem is that outside this powerful Pentagon-hosted clique, not everyone else agrees. “I’m not convinced that Barnett’s cure would be any better than the disease,” wrote Dr. Karen Kwiatowski, a former senior Pentagon analyst in the Near East and South Asia section, who blew the whistle on how her department deliberately manufactured false information in the run-up to the Iraq War. “It would surely cost far more in American liberty, constitutional democracy and blood than it would be worth.”
Yet the equation of “shrinking The Gap” with sustaining the national security of The Core leads to a slippery slope. It means that if the US is prevented from playing this leadership role as “global cop,” The Gap will widen, The Core will shrink, and the entire global order could unravel. By this logic, the US simply cannot afford government or public opinion to reject the legitimacy of its mission. If it did so, it would allow The Gap to grow out of control, undermining The Core, and potentially destroying it, along with The Core’s protector, America. Therefore, “shrinking The Gap” is not just a security imperative: it is such an existential priority, that it must be backed up with information war to demonstrate to the world the legitimacy of the entire project.
Based on O’Neill’s principles of information warfare as articulated in his 1989 US Navy brief, the targets of information war are not just populations in The Gap, but domestic populations in The Core, and their governments: including the US government. That secret brief, which according to former senior US intelligence official John Alexander was read by the Pentagon’s top leadership, argued that information war must be targeted at: adversaries to convince them of their vulnerability; potential partners around the world so they accept “the cause as just”; and finally, civilian populations and the political leadership so they believe that “the cost” in blood and treasure is worth it.
Barnett’s work was plugged by the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum because it fit the bill, in providing a compelling ‘feel good’ ideology for the US military-industrial complex.
But neoconservative ideology, of course, hardly originated with Barnett, himself a relatively small player, even though his work was extremely influential throughout the Pentagon. The regressive thinking of senior officials involved in the Highlands Forum is visible from long before 9/11, which was ceased upon by actors linked to the Forum as a powerful enabling force that legitimized the increasingly aggressive direction of US foreign and intelligence policies.
Yoda and the Soviets
The ideology represented by the Highlands Forum can be gleaned from long before its establishment in 1994, at a time when Andrew ‘Yoda’ Marshall’s ONA was the primary locus of Pentagon activity on future planning.
A widely-held myth promulgated by national security journalists over the years is that the ONA’s reputation as the Pentagon’s resident oracle machine was down to the uncanny analytical foresight of its director Marshall. Supposedly, he was among the few who made the prescient recognition that the Soviet threat had been overblown by the US intelligence community. He had, the story goes, been a lone, but relentless voice inside the Pentagon, calling on policymakers to re-evaluate their projections of the USSR’s military might.
Except the story is not true. The ONA was not about sober threat analysis, but about paranoid threat projection justifying military expansionism. Foreign Policy’s Jeffrey Lewis points out that far from offering a voice of reason calling for a more balanced assessment of Soviet military capabilities, Marshall tried to downplay ONA findings that rejected the hype around an imminent Soviet threat. Having commissioned a study concluding that the US had overestimated Soviet aggressiveness, Marshall circulated it with a cover note declaring himself “unpersuaded” by its findings. Lewis charts how Marshall’s threat projection mind-set extended to commissioning absurd research supporting staple neocon narratives about the (non-existent) Saddam-al-Qaeda link, and even the notorious report by a RAND consultant calling for re-drawing the map of the Middle East, presented to the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board on the invitation of Richard Perle in 2002.
Investigative journalist Jason Vest similarly found from Pentagon sources that during the Cold War, Marshall had long hyped the Soviet threat, and played a key role in giving the neoconservative pressure group, the Committee on the Present Danger, access to classified CIA intelligence data to re-write the National Intelligence Estimate on Soviet Military Intentions. This was a precursor to the manipulation of intelligence after 9/11 to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Former ONA staffers confirmed that Marshall had been belligerent about an imminent Soviet threat “until the very end.” Ex-CIA sovietologist Melvin Goodman, for instance, recalled that Marshall was also instrumental in pushing for the Afghan mujahideen to be provided with Stinger missiles — a move which made the war even more brutal, encouraging the Russians to use scorched earth tactics.
Enron, the Taliban and Iraq
The post-Cold War period saw the Pentagon’s creation of the Highlands Forum in 1994 under the wing of former defense secretary William Perry — a former CIA director and early advocate of neocon ideas like preventive war. Surprisingly, the Forum’s dubious role as a government-industry bridge can be clearly discerned in relation to Enron’s flirtations with the US government. Just as the Forum had crafted the Pentagon’s intensifying policies on mass surveillance, it simultaneously fed directly into the strategic thinking that culminating in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
On November 7th 2000, George W. Bush ‘won’ the US presidential elections. Enron and its employees had given over $1 million to the Bush campaign in total. That included contributing $10,500 to Bush’s Florida recount committee, and a further $300,000 for the inaugural celebrations afterwards. Enron also provided corporate jets to shuttle Republican lawyers around Florida and Washington lobbying on behalf of Bush for the December recount. Federal election documents later showed that since 1989, Enron had made a total of $5.8 million in campaign donations, 73 percent to Republicans and 27 percent to Democrats — with as many as 15 senior Bush administration officials owning stock in Enron, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, senior advisor Karl Rove, and army secretary Thomas White.
Yet just one day before that controversial election, Pentagon Highlands Forum founding president Richard O’Neill wrote to Enron CEO, Kenneth Lay, inviting him to give a presentation at the Forum on modernizing the Pentagon and the Army. The email from O’Neill to Lay was released as part of the Enron Corpus, the emails obtained by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but has remained unknown until now.
The email began “On behalf of Assistant Secretary of Defense (C3I) and DoD CIO Arthur Money,” and invited Lay “to participate in the Secretary of Defense’s Highlands Forum,” which O’Neill described as “a cross-disciplinary group of eminent scholars, researchers, CEO’s/CIO’s/CTO’s from industry, and leaders from the media, the arts and the professions, who have met over the past six years to examine areas of emerging interest to all of us.” He added that Forum sessions include “seniors from the White House, Defense, and other agencies of government (we limit government participation to about 25%).”
Here, O’Neill reveals that the Pentagon Highlands Forum was, fundamentally, about exploring not just the goals of government, but the interests of participating industry leaders like Enron. The Pentagon, O’Neill went on, wanted Lay to feed into “the search for information/ transformation strategies for the Department of Defense (and government in general),” particularly “from a business perspective (transformation, productivity, competitive advantage).” He offered high praise of Enron as “a remarkable example of transformation in a highly rigid, regulated industry, that has created a new model and new markets.”
O’Neill made clear that the Pentagon wanted Enron to play a pivotal role in the DoD’s future, not just in the creation of “an operational strategy which has information superiority,” but also in relation to the DoD’s “enormous global business enterprise which can benefit from many of the best practices and ideas from industry.”
“ENRON is of great interest to us,” he reaffirmed. “What we learn from you may help the Department of Defense a great deal as it works to build a new strategy. I hope that you have time on your busy schedule to join us for as much of the Highlands Forum as you can attend and speak with the group.”
That Highlands Forum meeting was attended by senior White House and US intelligence officials, including CIA deputy director Joan A. Dempsey, who had previously served as assistant defense secretary for intelligence, and in 2003 was appointed by Bush as executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, in which capacity she praised extensive information sharing by the NSA and NGA after 9/11. She went on to become executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, a major Pentagon contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan that, among other things, created the Coalition Provisional Authority’s database to track what we now know were highly corrupt reconstruction projects in Iraq.
Enron’s relationship with the Pentagon had already been in full swing the previous year. Thomas White, then vice chair of Enron energy services, had used his extensive US military connections to secure a prototype deal at Fort Hamilton to privatize the power supply of army bases. Enron was the only bidder for the deal. The following year, after Enron’s CEO was invited to the Highlands Forum, White gave his first speech in June just “two weeks after he became secretary of the Army,” where he “vowed to speed up the awarding of such contracts,” along with further “rapid privatization” of the Army’s energy services. “Potentially, Enron could benefit from the speedup in awarding contracts, as could others seeking the business,” observed USA Today.
That month, on the authority of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — who himself held significant shares in Enron — Bush’s Pentagon invited another Enron executive and one of Enron’s senior external financial advisors to attend a further secret Highlands Forum session.
An email from Richard O’Neill dated June 22nd, obtained via the Enron Corpus, showed that Steven Kean, then executive vice president and chief of staff of Enron, was due to give another Highlands presentation on Monday 25th. “We are approaching the Secretary of Defense-sponsored Highlands Forum and very much looking forward to your participation,” wrote O’Neill, promising Kean that he would be “the centerpiece of discussion. Enron’s experience is quite important to us as we seriously consider transformative change in the Department of Defense.”
Steven Kean is now president and COO (and incoming CEO) of Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy companies in North America, and a major supporter of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.
Due to attend the same Highlands Forum session with Kean was Richard Foster, then a senior partner at the financial consultancy McKinsey. “I have given copies of Dick Foster’s new book, Creative Destruction, to the Deputy Secretary of Defense as well as the Assistant Secretary,” said O’Neill in his email, “and the Enron case that he outlines makes for important discussion. We intend to hand out copies to the participants at the Forum.”
Foster’s firm, McKinsey, had provided strategic financial advice to Enron since the mid-1980s. Joe Skilling, who in February 2001 became Enron CEO while Kenneth Lay moved to chair, had been head of McKinsey’s energy consulting business before joining Enron in 1990.
McKinsey and then partner Richard Foster were intimately involved in crafting the core Enron financial management strategies responsible for the company’s rapid, but fraudulent, growth. While McKinsey has always denied being aware of the dodgy accounting that led to Enron’s demise, internal company documents showed that Foster had attended an Enron finance committee meeting a month before the Highlands Forum session to discuss the “need for outside private partnerships to help drive the company’s explosive growth” — the very investment partnerships responsible for the collapse of Enron.
McKinsey documents showed that the firm was “fully aware of Enron’s extensive use of off-balance-sheet funds.” As The Independent’s economics editor Ben Chu remarks, “McKinsey fully endorsed the dubious accounting methods,” which led to the inflation of Enron’s market valuation and “that caused the company to implode in 2001.”
Indeed, Foster himself had personally attended six Enron board meetings from October 2000 to October 2001. That period roughly coincided with Enron’s growing influence on the Bush administration’s energy policies, and the Pentagon’s planning for Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Foster was also a regular attendee at the Pentagon Highlands Forum — his LinkedIn profile describes him as member of the Forum since 2000, the year he ramped up engagement with Enron. He also delivered a presentation at the inaugural Island Forum in Singapore in 2002.
Enron’s involvement in the Cheney Energy Task Force appears to have been linked to the Bush administration’s 2001 planning for both the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, motivated by control of oil. As noted by Prof. Richard Falk, a former board member of Human Rights Watch and ex-UN investigator, Enron’s Kenneth Lay “was the main confidential consultant relied upon by Vice President Dick Cheney during the highly secretive process of drafting a report outlining a national energy policy, widely regarded as a key element in the US approach to foreign policy generally and the Arab world in particular.”
The intimate secret meetings between senior Enron executives and high-level US government officials via the Pentagon Highlands Forum, from November 2000 to June 2001, played a central role in establishing and cementing the increasingly symbiotic link between Enron and Pentagon planning. The Forum’s role was, as O’Neill has always said, to function as an ideas lab to explore the mutual interests of industry and government.
Enron and Pentagon war planning
In February 2001, when Enron executives including Kenneth Lay began participating concertedly in the Cheney Energy Task Force, a classified National Security Council document instructed NSC staffers to work with the task force in “melding” previously separate issues: “operational policies towards rogue states” and “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.”
According to Bush’s treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, as quoted by Ron Suskind in The Price of Loyalty (2004), cabinet officials discussed an invasion of Iraq in their first NSC meeting, and had even prepared a map for a post-war occupation marking the carve-up of Iraq’s oil fields. The message at that time from President Bush was that officials must “find a way to do this.”
Cheney Energy Task Force documents obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information revealed that by March, with extensive industry input, the task force had prepared maps of Gulf state and especially Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, and refineries, along with a list titled ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts.’ By April, a think-tank report commissioned by Cheney, overseen by former secretary of state James Baker, and put together by a committee of energy industry and national security experts, urged the US government “to conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments,” to deal with Iraq’s “destabilizing influence” on oil flows to global markets. The report included recommendations from Highlands Forum delegate and Enron chair, Kenneth Lay.
But Cheney’s Energy Task Force was also busily pushing forward plans for Afghanistan involving Enron, that had been in motion under Clinton. Through the late 1990s, Enron was working with California-based US energy company Unocal to develop an oil and gas pipeline that would tap Caspian basin reserves, and carry oil and gas across Afghanistan, supplying Pakistan, India and potentially other markets. The endeavor had the official blessing of the Clinton administration, and later the Bush administration, which held several meetings with Taliban representatives to negotiate terms for the pipeline deal throughout 2001. The Taliban, whose conquest of Afghanistan had received covert assistance under Clinton, was to receive formal recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan in return for permitting the installation of the pipeline. Enron paid $400 million for a feasibility study for the pipeline, a large portion of which was siphoned off as bribes to Taliban leaders, and even hired CIA agents to help facilitate.
Then in summer 2001, while Enron officials were liaising with senior Pentagon officials at the Highlands Forum, the White House’s National Security Council was running a cross-departmental ‘working group’ led by Rumsfeld and Cheney to help complete an ongoing Enron project in India, a $3 billion power plant in Dabhol. The plant was slated to receive its energy from the Trans-Afghan pipeline. The NSC’s ‘Dabhol Working Group,’ chaired by Bush’s national security adviser Condoleeza Rice, generated a range of tactics to enhance US government pressure on India to complete the Dabhol plant — pressure that continued all the way to early November. The Dabhol project, and the Trans-Afghan pipeline, was by far Enron’s most lucrative overseas deal.
Throughout 2001, Enron officials, including Ken Lay, participated in Cheney’s Energy Task Force, along with representatives across the US energy industry. Starting from February, shortly after the Bush administration took office, Enron was involved in about half a dozen of these Energy Task Force meetings. After one of these secret meetings, a draft energy proposal was amended to include a new provision proposing to dramatically boost oil and natural gas production in India in a way that would apply only to Enron’s Dabhol power plant. In other words, ensuring the flow of cheap gas to India via the Trans-Afghan pipeline was now a matter of US ‘national security.’
A month or two after this, the Bush administration gave the Taliban $43 million, justified by its crackdown on opium production, despite US-imposed UN sanctions preventing aid to the group for not handing over Osama bin Laden.
Then in June 2001, the same month that Enron’s executive vice president Steve Kean attended the Pentagon Highlands Forum, the company’s hopes for the Dabhol project were dashed when the Trans-Afghan pipeline failed to materialize, and as a consequence, construction on the Dabhol power plant was shut down. The failure of the $3 billion project contributed to Enron’s bankruptcy in December. That month, Enron officials met with Bush’s commerce secretary, Donald Evans, about the plant, and Cheney lobbied India’s main opposition party about the Dhabol project. Ken Lay had also reportedly contacted the Bush administration around this time to inform officials about the firm’s financial troubles.
By August, desperate to pull off the deal, US officials threatened Taliban representatives with war if they refused to accept American terms: namely, to cease fighting and join in a federal alliance with the opposition Northern Alliance; and to give up demands for local consumption of the gas. On the 15th of that month, Enron lobbyist Pat Shortridge told then White House economic advisor Robert McNally that Enron was heading for a financial meltdown that could cripple the country’s energy markets.
The Bush administration must have anticipated the Taliban’s rejection of the deal, because they had planned a war on Afghanistan from as early as July. According to then Pakistani foreign minister Niaz Naik, who had participated in the US-Taliban negotiations, US officials told him they planned to invade Afghanistan in mid-October 2001. No sooner had the war commenced, Bush’s ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, called Pakistani’s oil minister Usman Aminuddin to discuss “the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project,” according to the Frontier Post, a Pakistani English-language broadsheet. They reportedly agreed that the “project opens up new avenues of multi-dimensional regional cooperation particularly in view of the recent geo-political developments in the region.”
Two days before 9/11, Condoleeza Rice received the draft of a formal National Security Presidential Directive that Bush was expected to sign immediately. The directive contained a comprehensive plan to launch a global war on al-Qaeda, including an “imminent” invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban. The directive was approved by the highest levels of the White House and officials of the National Security Council, including of course Rice and Rumsfeld. The same NSC officials were simultaneously running the Dhabol Working Group to secure the Indian power plant deal for Enron’s Trans-Afghan pipeline project. The next day, one day before 9/11, the Bush administration formally agreed on the plan to attack the Taliban.
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s background link with the interests involved in all this, show they were not unique to the Bush administration — which is why, as Obama was preparing to pull troops out of Afghanistan, he re-affirmed his government’s support for the Trans-Afghan pipeline project, and his desire for a US firm to construct it.
The Pentagon’s propaganda fixer
Throughout this period, information war played a central role in drumming up public support for war — and the Highlands Forum led the way.
In December 2000, just under a year before 9/11 and shortly after George W. Bush’s election victory, key Forum members participated in an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to explore “the impact of the information revolution, globalization, and the end of the Cold War on the US foreign policy making process.” Rather than proposing “incremental reforms,” the meeting was for participants to “build from scratch a new model that is optimized to the specific properties of the new global environment.”
Among the issues flagged up in the meeting was the ‘Global Control Revolution’: the “distributed” nature of the information revolution was altering “key dynamics of world politics by challenging the primacy of states and inter-state relations.” This was “creating new challenges to national security, reducing the ability of leading states to control global policy debates, challenging the efficacy of national economic policies, etc.”
In other words, how can the Pentagon find a way to exploit the information revolution to “control global policy debates,” particularly on “national economic policies”?
The meeting was co-hosted by Jamie Metzl, who at the time served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, where he had just led the drafting of Clinton’s Presidential Decision Directive 68 on International Public Information (IPI), a new multiagency plan to coordinate US public information dissemination abroad. Metzl went on to coordinate IPI at the State Department.
The preceding year, a senior Clinton official revealed to the Washington Times that Metz’s IPI was really aimed at “spinning the American public,” and had “emerged out of concern that the US public has refused to back President Clinton’s foreign policy.” The IPI would plant news stories favorable to US interests via TV, press, radio and other media based abroad, in hopes it would get picked up in American media. The pretext was that “news coverage is distorted at home and they need to fight it at all costs by using resources that are aimed at spinning the news.” Metzl ran the IPI’s overseas propaganda operations for Iraq and Kosovo.
Other participants of the Carnegie meeting in December 2000, included two founding members of the Highlands Forum, Richard O’Neill and SAIC’s Jeff Cooper — along with Paul Wolfowitz, another Andrew Marshall acolyte who was about to join the incoming Bush administration as Rumsfelds’ deputy defense secretary. Also present was a figure who soon became particularly notorious in the propaganda around Afghanistan and Iraq War 2003: John W. Rendon, Jr., founding president of The Rendon Group (TRG) and another longtime Pentagon Highlands Forum member.
John Rendon (right) at the Highlands Forum, accompanied by BBC anchor Nik Gowing (left) and Jeff Jonas, IBM Entity Analytics chief engineer (middle)
TRG is a notorious communications firm that has been a US government contractor for decades. Rendon played a pivotal role in running the State Department’s propaganda campaigns in Iraq and Kosovo under Clinton and Metzl. That included receiving a Pentagon grant to run a news website, the Balkans Information Exchange, and a US Agency for International Development (USAID) contract to promote “privatization.”
Rendon’s central role in helping the Bush administration hype up the non-existent threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to justify a US military invasion is now well-known. As James Bamford famously exposed in his seminal Rolling Stone investigation, Rendon played an instrumental role on behalf of the Bush administration in deploying “perception management” to “create the conditions for the removal of Hussein from power” under multi-million dollar CIA and Pentagon contracts.
Among Rendon’s activities was the creation of Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) on behalf of the CIA, a group of Iraqi exiles tasked with disseminating propaganda, including much of the false intelligence about WMD. That process had begun concertedly under the administration of George H W. Bush, then rumbled along under Clinton with little fanfare, before escalating after 9/11 under George W. Bush. Rendon thus played a large role in the manufacture of inaccurate and false news stories relating to Iraq under lucrative CIA and Pentagon contracts — and he did so in the period running up to the 2003 invasion as an advisor to Bush’s National Security Council: the same NSC, of course, that planned the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, achieved with input from Enron executives who were simultaneously engaging the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
But that is the tip of iceberg. Declassified documents show that the Highlands Forum was intimately involved in the covert processes by which key officials engineered the road to war on Iraq, based on information warfare.
A redacted 2007 report by the DoD’s Inspector General reveals that one of the contractors used extensively by the Pentagon Highlands Forum during and after the Iraq War was none other than The Rendon Group. TRG was contracted by the Pentagon to organize Forum sessions, determine subjects for discussion, as well as to convene and coordinate Forum meetings. The Inspector General investigation had been prompted by accusations raised in Congress about Rendon’s role in manipulating information to justify the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq. According to the Inspector General report:
“… the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration/Chief Information Officer employed TRG to conduct forums that would appeal to a cross-disciplinary group of nationally regarded leaders. The forums were in small groups discussing information and technologies and their effects on science, organizational and business processes, international relations, economics, and national security. TRG also conducted a research program and interviews to formulate and develop topics for the Highlands Forum focus group. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration would approve the subjects, and TRG would facilitate the meetings.”
TRG, the Pentagon’s private propaganda arm, thus played a central role in literally running the Pentagon Highlands Forum process that brought together senior government officials with industry executives to generate DoD information warfare strategy.
The Pentagon’s internal investigation absolved Rendon of any wrongdoing. But this is not surprising, given the conflict of interest at stake: the Inspector General at the time was Claude M. Kicklighter, a Bush nominee who had directly overseen the administration’s key military operations. In 2003, he was director of the Pentagon’s Iraq Transition Team, and the following year he was appointed to the State Department as special advisor on stabilization and security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The surveillance-propaganda nexus
Even more telling, Pentagon documents obtained by Bamford for his Rolling Stone story revealed that Rendon had been given access to the NSA’s top-secret surveillance data to carry out its work on behalf of the Pentagon. TRG, the DoD documents said, is authorized “to research and analyze information classified up to Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS.”
‘SCI’ means Sensitive Compartmented Information, data classified higher than Top Secret, while ‘SI’ designates Special Intelligence, that is, highly secret communications intercepted by the NSA. ‘TK’ refers to Talent/Keyhole, code names for imagery from reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites, while ‘G’ stands for Gamma, encompassing communications intercepts from extremely sensitive sources, and ‘HCS’ means Humint Control System — information from a very sensitive human source. In Bamford’s words:
“Taken together, the acronyms indicate that Rendon enjoys access to the most secret information from all three forms of intelligence collection: eavesdropping, imaging satellites and human spies.”
So the Pentagon had:
1. contracted Rendon, a propaganda firm;
2. given Rendon access to the intelligence community’s most classified information including data from NSA surveillance;
3. tasked Rendon to facilitating the DoD’s development of information operations strategy by running the Highlands Forum process;
4. and further, tasked Rendon with overseeing the concrete execution of this strategy developed through the Highlands Forum process, in actual information operations around the world in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.
TRG chief executive John Rendon remains closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and ongoing DoD information operations in the Muslim world. His November 2014 biography for the Harvard Kennedy School ‘Emerging Leaders’ course describes him as “a participant in forward-thinking organizations such as the Highlands Forum,” “one of the first thought-leaders to harness the power of emerging technologies in support of real time information management,” and an expert on “the impact of emerging information technologies on the way populations think and behave.” Rendon’s Harvard bio also credits him with designing and executing “strategic communications initiatives and information programs related to operations, Odyssey Dawn (Libya), Unified Protector (Libya), Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Allied Force and Joint Guardian (Kosovo), Desert Shield, Desert Storm (Kuwait), Desert Fox (Iraq) and Just Cause (Panama), among others.”
Rendon’s work on perception management and information operations has also “assisted a number of US military interventions” elsewhere, as well as running US information operations in Argentina, Colombia, Haiti, and Zimbabwe — in fact, a total of 99 countries. As a former executive director and national political director of the Democratic Party, John Rendon remains a powerful figure in Washington under the Obama administration.
Pentagon records show that TRG has received over $100 million from the DoD since 2000. In 2009, the US government cancelled a ‘strategic communications’ contract with TRG after revelations it was being used to weed out reporters who might write negative stories about the US military in Afghanistan, and to solely promote journalists supportive of US policy. Yet in 2010, the Obama administration re-contracted Rendon to supply services for “military deception” in Iraq.
Since then, TRG has provided advice to the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, the Special Operations Command, and is still contracted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the US Army’s Communications Electronic Command, as well as providing “communications support” to the Pentagon and US embassies on counter-narcotics operations.
TRG also boasts on its website that it provides “Irregular Warfare Support,” including “operational and planning support” that “assists our government and military clients in developing new approaches to countering and eroding an adversary’s power, influence and will.” Much of this support has itself been fine-tuned over the last decade or more inside the Pentagon Highlands Forum.
Irregular war and pseudo-terrorism
The Pentagon Highlands Forum’s intimate link, via Rendon, to the propaganda operations pursued under Bush and Obama in support of the ‘Long War,’ demonstrate the integral role of mass surveillance in both irregular warfare and ‘strategic communications.’
One of the major proponents of both is Prof John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, the renowned US defense analyst credited with developing the concept of ‘netwar,’ who today openly advocates the need for mass surveillance and big data mining to support pre-emptive operations to thwart terrorist plots. It so happens that Arquilla is another “founding member” of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum.
Much of his work on the idea of ‘networked warfare,’ ‘networked deterrence,’ ‘information warfare,’ and ‘swarming,’ largely produced for RAND under Pentagon contract, was incubated by the Forum during its early years and thus became integral to Pentagon strategy. For instance, in Arquilla’s 1999 RAND study, The Emergence of Noopolitik: Toward an American Information Strategy, he and his co-author David Ronfeldt express their gratitude to Richard O’Neill “for his interest, support and guidance,” and to “members of the Highlands Forum” for their advance comments on the study. Most of his RAND work credits the Highlands Forum and O’Neill for their support.
Prof. John Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School, and a founding member of the Pentagon Highlands Forum
Arquilla’s work was cited in a 2006 National Academy of Sciences study on the future of network science commissioned by the US Army, which found based on his research that: “Advances in computer-based technologies and telecommunications are enabling social networks that facilitate group affiliations, including terrorist networks.” The study conflated risks from terror and activist groups: “The implications of this fact for criminal, terror, protest and insurgency networks has been explored by Arquilla and Ronfeldt (2001) and are a common topic of discussion by groups like the Highlands Forum, which perceive that the United States is highly vulnerable to the interruption of critical networks.” Arquilla went on to help develop information warfare strategies “for the military campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq,” according to military historian Benjamin Shearer in his biographical dictionary, Home Front Heroes (2007) — once again illustrating the direct role played by certain key Forum members in executing Pentagon information operations in war theatres.
In his 2005 New Yorker investigation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Seymour Hersh referred to a series of articles by Arquilla elaborating on a new strategy of “countering terror” with pseudo-terror. “It takes a network to fight a network,” said Arquilla, drawing on the thesis he had been promoting in the Pentagon through the Highlands Forum since its founding:
“When conventional military operations and bombing failed to defeat the Mau Mau insurgency in Kenya in the 1950s, the British formed teams of friendly Kikuyu tribesmen who went about pretending to be terrorists. These ‘pseudo gangs’, as they were called, swiftly threw the Mau Mau on the defensive, either by befriending and then ambushing bands of fighters or by guiding bombers to the terrorists’ camps.”
Arquilla went on to advocate that western intelligence services should use the British case as a model for creating new “pseudo gang” terrorist groups, as a way of undermining “real” terror networks:
“What worked in Kenya a half-century ago has a wonderful chance of undermining trust and recruitment among today’s terror networks. Forming new pseudo gangs should not be difficult.”
Essentially, Arquilla’s argument was that as only networks can fight networks, the only way to defeat enemies conducting irregular warfare is to use techniques of irregular warfare against them. Ultimately, the determining factor in victory is not conventional military defeat per se, but the extent to which the direction of the conflict can be calibrated to influence the population and rally their opposition to the adversary. Arquilla’s ‘pseudo-gang’ strategy was, Hersh reported, already being implemented by the Pentagon:
“Under Rumsfeld’s new approach, I was told, US military operatives would be permitted to pose abroad as corrupt foreign businessmen seeking to buy contraband items that could be used in nuclear-weapons systems. In some cases, according to the Pentagon advisers, local citizens could be recruited and asked to join up with guerrillas or terrorists…
The new rules will enable the Special Forces community to set up what it calls ‘action teams’ in the target countries overseas which can be used to find and eliminate terrorist organizations. ‘Do you remember the right-wing execution squads in El Salvador?’ the former high-level intelligence official asked me, referring to the military-led gangs that committed atrocities in the early nineteen-eighties. ‘We founded them and we financed them,’ he said. ‘The objective now is to recruit locals in any area we want. And we aren’t going to tell Congress about it.’ A former military officer, who has knowledge of the Pentagon’s commando capabilities, said, ‘We’re going to be riding with the bad boys.’”
Official corroboration that this strategy is now operational came with the leak of a 2008 US Army special operations field manual. The US military, the manual said, can conduct irregular and unconventional warfare by using surrogate non-state groups such as “paramilitary forces, individuals, businesses, foreign political organizations, resistant or insurgent organizations, expatriates, transnational terrorism adversaries, disillusioned transnational terrorism members, black marketers, and other social or political ‘undesirables.’” Shockingly, the manual specifically acknowledged that US special operations can involve both counterterrorism and “Terrorism,” as well as: “Transnational criminal activities, including narco-trafficking, illicit arms-dealing, and illegal financial transactions.” The purpose of such covert operations is, essentially, population control — they are “specifically focused on leveraging some portion of the indigenous population to accept the status quo,” or to accept “whatever political outcome” is being imposed or negotiated.
By this twisted logic, terrorism can in some cases be defined as a legitimate tool of US statecraft by which to influence populations into accepting a particular “political outcome” — all in the name fighting terrorism.
Is this what the Pentagon was doing by coordinating the nearly $1 billion of funding from Gulf regimes to anti-Assad rebels, most of which according to the CIA’s own classified assessments ended up in the coffers of violent Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda, who went on to spawn the ‘Islamic State’?
The rationale for the new strategy was first officially set out in an August 2002 briefing for the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board, which advocated the creation of a ‘Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group’ (P2OG) within the National Security Council. P2OG, the Board proposed, must conduct clandestine operations to infiltrate and “stimulate reactions” among terrorist networks to provoke them into action, and thus facilitate targeting them.
The Defense Science Board is, like other Pentagon agencies, intimately related with the Highlands Forum, whose work feeds into the Board’s research, which in turn is regularly presented at the Forum.
According to the US intelligence sources who spoke to Hersh, Rumsfeld had ensured that the new brand of black operations would be conducted entirely under Pentagon jurisdiction, firewalled off from the CIA and regional US military commanders, and executed by its own secret special operations command. That chain of command would include, apart from the defense secretary himself, two of his deputies including the undersecretary of defense for intelligence: the position overseeing the Highlands Forum.
Strategic communications: war propaganda at home and abroad
Within the Highlands Forum, the special operations techniques explored by Arquilla have been taken up by several others in directions focused increasingly on propaganda — among them, Dr. Lochard, as seen previously, and also Dr. Amy Zalman, who focuses particularly on the idea of the US military using ‘strategic narratives’ to influence public opinion and win wars.
Like her colleague, Highlands Forum founding member Jeff Cooper, Zalman was schooled in the bowels of SAIC/Leidos. From 2007 to 2012, she was a senior SAIC strategist, before becoming Department of Defense Information Integration Chair at the US Army’s National War College, where she focused on how to fine-tune propaganda to elicit the precise responses desired from target groups, based on complete understanding of those groups. As of summer last year, she became CEO of the World Futures Society.
Dr. Amy Zalman, an ex-SAIC strategist, is CEO of the World Futures Society, and a long-time Pentagon Highlands Forum delegate consulting for the US government on strategic communications in irregular warfare
In 2005, the same year Hersh reported that the Pentagon strategy of “stimulating reactions” among terrorists by provoking them was underway, Zalman delivered a briefing to the Pentagon Highlands Forum titled, ‘In Support of a Narrative Theory Approach to US Strategic Communication.’ Since then, Zalman has been a long-time Highlands Forum delegate, and has presented her work on strategic communications to a range of US government agencies, NATO forums, as well as teaching courses in irregular warfare to soldiers at the US Joint Special Operations University.
Her 2005 Highlands Forum briefing is not publicly available, but the thrust of Zalman’s input into the information component of Pentagon special operations strategies can be gleaned from some of her published work. In 2010, when she was still attached to SAIC, her NATO paper noted that a key component of irregular war is “winning some degree of emotional support from the population by influencing their subjective perceptions.” She advocated that the best way of achieving such influence goes far further than traditional propaganda and messaging techniques. Rather, analysts must “place themselves in the skins of the people under observation.”
Zalman released another paper the same year via the IO Journal, published by the Information Operations Institute, which describes itself as a “special interest group” of the Associaton of Old Crows. The latter is a professional association for theorists and practitioners of electronic warfare and information operations, chaired by Kenneth Israel, vice president of Lockheed Martin, and vice chaired by David Himes, who retired last year from his position as senior advisor in electronic warfare at the US Air Force Research Laboratory.
In this paper, titled ‘Narrative as an Influence Factor in Information Operations,’ Zalman laments that the US military has “found it difficult to create compelling narratives — or stories — either to express its strategic aims, or to communicate in discrete situations, such as civilian deaths.” By the end, she concludes that “the complex issue of civilian deaths” should be approached not just by “apologies and compensation” — which barely occurs anyway — but by propagating narratives that portray characters with whom the audience connects (in this case, ‘the audience’ being ‘populations in war zones’). This is to facilitate the audience resolving struggles in a “positive way,” defined, of course, by US military interests. Engaging emotionally in this way with “survivors of those dead” from US military action might “prove to be an empathetic form of influence.” Throughout, Zalman is incapable of questioning the legitimacy of US strategic aims, or acknowledging that the impact of those aims in the accumulation of civilian deaths, is precisely the problem that needs to change — as opposed to the way they are ideologically framed for populations subjected to military action.
‘Empathy,’ here, is merely an instrument by which to manipulate.
In 2012, Zalman wrote an article for The Globalist seeking to demonstrate how the rigid delineation of ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ needed to be overcome, to recognize that the use of force requires the right symbolic and cultural effect to guarantee success:
“As long as defense and economic diplomacy remain in a box labeled ‘hard power,’ we fail to see how much their success relies on their symbolic effects as well as their material ones. As long as diplomatic and cultural efforts are stored in a box marked ‘soft power,’ we fail to see the ways in which they can be used coercively or produce effects that are like those produced by violence.”
Given SAIC’s deep involvement in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, and through it the development of information strategies on surveillance, irregular warfare, and propaganda, it is hardly surprising that SAIC was the other key private defense firm contracted to generate propaganda in the run up to Iraq War 2003, alongside TRG.
“SAIC executives have been involved at every stage… of the war in Iraq,” reported Vanity Fair, ironically, in terms of deliberately disseminating false claims about WMD, and then investigating the ‘intelligence failure’ around false WMD claims. David Kay, for instance, who had been hired by the CIA in 2003 to hunt for Saddam’s WMD as head of the Iraq Survey Group, was until October 2002 a senior SAIC vice president hammering away “at the threat posed by Iraq” under Pentagon contract. When WMD failed to emerge, President Bush’s commission to investigate this US ‘intelligence failure’ included three SAIC executives, among them Highlands Forum founding member Jeffrey Cooper. The very year of Kay’s appointment to the Iraq Survey Group, Clinton’s defense secretary William Perry — the man under whose orders the Highlands Forum was set-up — joined the board of SAIC. The investigation by Cooper and all let the Bush administration off the hook for manufacturing propaganda to legitimize war — unsurprisingly, given Cooper’s integral role in the very Pentagon network that manufactured that propaganda.
SAIC was also among the many contractors that profited handsomely from Iraqi reconstruction deals, and was re-contracted after the war to promote pro-US narratives abroad. In the same vein as Rendon’s work, the idea was that stories planted abroad would be picked up by US media for domestic consumption.
Delegates at the Pentagon’s 46th Highlands Forum in December 2011, from right to left: John Seely Brown, chief scientist/director at Xerox PARC from 1990–2002 and an early board member of In-Q-Tel; Ann Pendleton-Jullian, co-author with Brown of a manuscript, Design Unbound; Antonio and Hanna Damasio, a neurologist and neurobiologist respectively who are part of a DARPA-funded project on propaganda
But the Pentagon Highlands Forum’s promotion of advanced propaganda techniques is not exclusive to core, longstanding delegates like Rendon and Zalman. In 2011, the Forum hosted two DARPA-funded scientists, Antonio and Hanna Damasio, who are principal investigators in the ‘Neurobiology of Narrative Framing’ project at the University of Southern California. Evoking Zalman’s emphasis on the need for Pentagon psychological operations to deploy “empathetic influence,” the new DARPA-backed project aims to investigate how narratives often appeal “to strong, sacred values in order to evoke an emotional response,” but in different ways across different cultures. The most disturbing element of the research is its focus on trying to understand how to increase the Pentagon’s capacity to deploy narratives that influence listeners in a way that overrides conventional reasoning in the context of morally-questionable actions.
The project description explains that the psychological reaction to narrated events is “influenced by how the narrator frames the events, appealing to different values, knowledge, and experiences of the listener.” Narrative framing that “targets the sacred values of the listener, including core personal, nationalistic, and/or religious values, is particularly effective at influencing the listener’s interpretation of narrated events,” because such “sacred values” are closely tied with “the psychology of identity, emotion, moral decision making, and social cognition.” By applying sacred framing to even mundane issues, such issues “can gain properties of sacred values and result in a strong aversion to using conventional reasoning to interpret them.” The two Damasios and their team are exploring what role “linguistic and neuropsychological mechanisms” play in determining “the effectiveness of narrative framing using sacred values in influencing a listener’s interpretation of events.”
The research is based on extracting narratives from millions of American, Iranian and Chinese weblogs, and subjecting them to automated discourse analysis to compare them quantitatively across the three languages. The investigators then follow up using behavioral experiments with readers/listeners from different cultures to gauge their reaction different narratives “where each story makes an appeal to a sacred value to explain or justify a morally-questionable behavior of the author.” Finally, the scientists apply neurobiological fMRI scanning to correlate the reactions and personal characteristics of subjects with their brain responses.
Why is the Pentagon funding research investigating how to exploit people’s “sacred values” to extinguish their capacity for logical reasoning, and enhance their emotional openness to “morally-questionable behavior”?
The focus on English, Farsi and Chinese may also reveal that the Pentagon’s current concerns are overwhelmingly about developing information operations against two key adversaries, Iran and China, which fits into longstanding ambitions to project strategic influence in the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Equally, the emphasis on English language, specifically from American weblogs, further suggests the Pentagon is concerned about projecting propaganda to influence public opinion at home.
Rosemary Wenchel (left) of the US Department of Homeland Security with Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, a former musician and now US defense consultant who has worked for contractors like SAIC and Northrup Grumman. SAIC/Leidos executive Jeff Cooper is behind them
Lest one presume that DARPA’s desire to mine millions of American weblogs as part of its ‘neurobiology of narrative framing’ research is a mere case of random selection, an additional co-chair of the Pentagon Highlands Forum in recent years is Rosemary Wenchel, former director of cyber capabilities and operations support at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Since 2012, Wenchel has been deputy assistant secretary for strategy and policy in the Department of Homeland Security.
As the Pentagon’s extensive funding of propaganda on Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrates, population influence and propaganda is critical not just in far-flung theatres abroad in strategic regions, but also at home, to quell the risk of domestic public opinion undermining the legitimacy of Pentagon policy. In the photo above, Wenchel is talking to Jeff Baxter, a long-time US defense and intelligence consultant. In September 2005, Baxter was part of a supposedly “independent” study group (chaired by NSA-contractor Booz Allen Hamilton) commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security, which recommended a greater role for US spy satellites in monitoring the domestic population.
Meanwhile, Zalman and Rendon, while both remaining closely involved in the Pentagon Highlands Forum, continue to be courted by the US military for their expertise on information operations. In October 2014, both participated in a major Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment conference sponsored by the US Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, titled ‘A New Information Paradigm? From Genes to “Big Data” and Instagram to Persistent Surveillance… Implications for National Security.’ Other delegates represented senior US military officials, defense industry executives, intelligence community officials, Washington think-tanks, and academics.
John Rendon, CEO of The Rendon Group, at a Highlands Forum session in 2010
Rendon and SAIC/Leidos, two firms that have been central to the very evolution of Pentagon information operations strategy through their pivotal involvement in the Highlands Forum, continue to be contracted for key operations under the Obama administration. A US General Services Administration document, for instance, shows that Rendon was granted a major 2010–2015 contract providing general media and communications support services across federal agencies. Similarly, SAIC/Leidos has a $400 million 2010–2015 contract with the US Army Research Laboratory for “Expeditionary Warfare; Irregular Warfare; Special Operations; Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations” — a contract which is “being prepared now for recomplete.”
The empire strikes back
Under Obama, the nexus of corporate, industry, and financial power represented by the interests that participate in the Pentagon Highlands Forum has consolidated itself to an unprecedented degree.
Coincidentally, the very day Obama announced Hagel’s resignation, the DoD issued a media release highlighting how Robert O. Work, Hagel’s deputy defense secretary appointed by Obama in 2013, planned to take forward the Defense Innovation Initiative that Hagel had just announced a week earlier. The new initiative was focused on ensuring that the Pentagon would undergo a long-term transformation to keep up with leading edge disruptive technologies across information operations.
Whatever the real reasons for Hagel’s ejection, this was a symbolic and tangible victory for Marshall and the Highlands Forum vision. Highlands Forum co-chair Andrew Marshall, head of the ONA, may indeed be retiring. But the post-Hagel Pentagon is now staffed with his followers.
Robert Work, who now presides over the new DoD transformation scheme, is a loyal Marshall acolyte who had previously directed and analyzed war games for the Office of Net Assessment. Like Marshall, Wells, O’Neill and other Highlands Forum members, Work is also a robot fantasist who lead authored the study, Preparing for War in the Robotic Age, published early last year by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
Work is also pitched to determine the future of the ONA, assisted by his strategist Tom Ehrhard and DoD undersecretary for intelligence Michael G. Vickers, under whose authority the Highlands Forum currently runs. Ehrard, an advocate of “integrating disruptive technologies in DoD,” previously served as Marshall’s military assistant in the ONA, while Mike Vickers — who oversees surveillance agencies like the NSA — was also previously hired by Marshall to consult for the Pentagon.
Vickers is also a leading proponent of irregular warfare. As assistant defense secretary for special operations and low intensity conflict under former defense secretary Robert Gates in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Vickers’s irregular warfare vision pushed for “distributed operations across the world,” including “in scores of countries with which the US is not at war,” as part of a program of “counter network warfare” using a “network to fight a network” — a strategy which of course has the Highlands Forum all over it. In his previous role under Gates, Vickers increased the budget for special operations including psychological operations, stealth transport, Predator drone deployment and “using high-tech surveillance and reconnaissance to track and target terrorists and insurgents.”
To replace Hagel, Obama nominated Ashton Carter, former deputy defense secretary from 2009 to 2013, whose expertise in budgets and procurement according to the Wall Street Journal is “expected to boost some of the initiatives championed by the current Pentagon deputy, Robert Work, including an effort to develop new strategies and technologies to preserve the US advantage on the battlefield.”
Back in 1999, after three years as Clinton’s assistant defense secretary, Carter co-authored a study with former defense secretary William J. Perry advocating a new form of ‘war by remote control’ facilitated by “digital technology and the constant flow of information.” One of Carter’s colleagues in the Pentagon during his tenure at that time was Highlands Forum co-chair Linton Wells; and it was Perry of course that as then-defense secretary appointed Richard O’Neill to set-up the Highlands Forum as the Pentagon’s IO think-tank back in 1994.
Highlands Forum overlord Perry went on to join the board of SAIC, before eventually becoming chairman of another giant defense contractor, Global Technology Partners (GTP). And Ashton Carter was on GTP’s board under Perry, before being nominated to defense secretary by Obama. During Carter’s previous Pentagon stint under Obama, he worked closely with Work and current undersecretary of defense Frank Kendall. Defense industry sources rejoice that the new Pentagon team will “dramatically improve” chances to “push major reform projects” at the Pentagon “across the finish line.”
Indeed, Carter’s priority as defense chief nominee is identifying and acquiring new commercial “disruptive technology” to enhance US military strategy — in other words, executing the DoD Skynet plan.
The origins of the Pentagon’s new innovation initiative can thus be traced back to ideas that were widely circulated inside the Pentagon decades ago, but which failed to take root fully until now. Between 2006 and 2010, the same period in which such ideas were being developed by Highlands Forum experts like Lochard, Zalman and Rendon, among many others, the Office of Net Assessment provided a direct mechanism to channel these ideas into concrete strategy and policy development through the Quadrennial Defense Reviews, where Marshall’s input was primarily responsible for the expansion of the “black” world: “special operations,” “electronic warfare” and “information operations.”
Andrew Marshall, now retired head of the DoD’s Office of Net Assessment and Highlands Forum co-chair, at a Forum session in 2008
Marshall’s pre-9/11 vision of a fully networked and automated military system found its fruition in the Pentagon’s Skynet study released by the National Defense University in September 2014, which was co-authored by Marshall’s colleague at the Highlands Forum, Linton Wells. Many of Wells’ recommendations are now to be executed via the new Defense Innovation Initiative by veterans and affiliates of the ONA and Highlands Forum.
Given that Wells’ white paper highlighted the Pentagon’s keen interest in monopolizing AI research to monopolize autonomous networked robot warfare, it is not entirely surprising that the Forum’s sponsoring partners at SAIC/Leidos display a bizarre sensitivity about public use of the word ‘Skynet.’
On a Wikipedia entry titled ‘Skynet (fictional)’, people using SAIC computers deleted several paragraphs under the ‘Trivia’ section pointing out real-world ‘Skynets’, such as the British military satellite system, and various information technology projects.
Hagel’s departure paved the way for Pentagon officials linked to the Highlands Forum to consolidate government influence. These officials are embedded in a longstanding shadow network of political, industry, media and corporate officials that sit invisibly behind the seat of government, yet literally write its foreign and domestic national security policies whether the administration is Democrat of Republican, by contributing ‘ideas’ and forging government-industry relationships.
It is this sort of closed-door networking that has rendered the American vote pointless. Far from protecting the public interest or helping to combat terrorism, the comprehensive monitoring of electronic communications has been systematically abused to empower vested interests in the energy, defense, and IT industries.
The state of permanent global warfare that has resulted from the Pentagon’s alliances with private contractors and unaccountable harnessing of information expertise, is not making anyone safer, but has spawned a new generation of terrorists in the form of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ — itself a Frankenstein by-product of the putrid combination of Assad’s brutality and longstanding US covert operations in the region. This Frankenstein’s existence is now being cynically exploited by private contractors seeking to profit exponentially from expanding the national security apparatus, at a time when economic volatility has pressured governments to slash defense spending.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, from 2008 to 2013, the five largest US defense contractors lost 14 percent of their employees, as the winding down of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to lack of business and squeezed revenues. The continuation of the ‘Long War’ triggered by ISIS has, for now, reversed their fortunes. Companies profiting from the new war include many connected to the Highlands Forum, such as Leidos, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Boeing. War is, indeed, a racket.
No more shadows
Yet in the long-run, the information imperialists have already failed. This investigation is based entirely on open source techniques, made viable largely in the context of the same information revolution that enabled Google. The investigation has been funded entirely by members of the public, through crowd-funding. And the investigation has been published and distributed outside the circuits of traditional media, precisely to make the point that in this new digital age, centralized top-down concentrations of power cannot overcome the power of people, their love of truth and justice, and their desire to share.
What are the lessons of this irony? Simple, really: The information revolution is inherently decentralized, and decentralizing. It cannot be controlled and co-opted by Big Brother. Efforts to do so will in the end invariably fail, in a way that is ultimately self-defeating.
The latest mad-cap Pentagon initiative to dominate the world through control of information and information technologies, is not a sign of the all-powerful nature of the shadow network, but rather a symptom of its deluded desperation as it attempts to ward off the acceleration of its hegemonic decline.
But the decline is well on its way. And this story, like so many before it, is one small sign that the opportunities to mobilize the information revolution for the benefit of all, despite the efforts of power to hide in the shadows, are stronger than ever.
By Nafeez Ahmed
Published on Jan 22.
Find this story at 22 January 2015
Copyright Nafeez Ahmed
Dissent or Terror: Counterterrorism Apparatus Used to Monitor Occupy Movement Nationwide
8 april 2015
Newly revealed documents show how police partnered with corporations to monitor the Occupy Wall Street movement. DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy have obtained thousands of pages of records from counterterrorism and law enforcement agencies that detail how so-called fusions centers monitored the Occupy Wall Street movement over the course of 2011 and 2012. These fusion centers are comprised of employees from municipal, county and federal counterterrorism and homeland security entities, as well as local police departments, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
Click here to see our extensive coverage of the police crackdown of the Occupy movement.
Read full report on government surveillance of Occupy movement by the Center for Media and Democracy / DBA Press.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Rothschild, it’s great to have you with us, editor of The Progressive magazine. And he did this very interesting story, a cover story for June issue of the magazine, “Spying on Occupy Activists: How Cops and Homeland Security Help Wall Street.” Can you compare what you have found—and start off by saying why Phoenix. Why did you focus on Phoenix?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, I focused on Phoenix because the primary researcher for this story, Beau Hodai of DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy, had compiled tremendous amounts of information. He had issued Freedom of Information Act requests from the Phoenix Police Department, from the Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center. And so, he got thousands, literally thousands, of pages of information, primarily about Phoenix and Arizona, but also some national context. But I thought by focusing on this one city, you could really tell, at the most granular level, how police officers and Homeland Security are really going after left-wing activists. And I thought it was important to really focus in narrowly, because I think those narrow details really give a clearer picture of just how hand-in-glove local law enforcement is with the private sector in going after these Occupy protesters.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this compare to the IRS monitoring tea party groups or, you know, sort of specially targeting them for deciding whether they should get nonprofit status?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, I thought it was outrageous what the IRS was doing in that Cincinnati office. But this, to me, is much worse because, whereas the IRS office in Cincinnati, that may have been, you know, a bureaucratic mistake or bungling or lack of supervision, what’s going on with the spying on Occupy activists was a systematic effort by police departments, not just in Phoenix, but around the country, with Homeland Security, to track the Occupy activists—and to coordinate a response, even. One of the documents that Beau Hodai released, from the Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press, was a file—a report on a teleconference that 13 police departments around the country had as to how to respond to Occupy, what they called “growing concerns” about the burgeoning Occupy movement, and that they needed to coordinate an effective response. And so, you know, when we had that crackdown on Occupy simultaneously over a weekend in many different cities, I wondered at the time whether there wasn’t coordination going on between the police departments to crush the Occupy movement. And this suggests that there was.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Matt Rothschild, you also speak specifically about the way in which protests against the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, occurred. Could you elaborate on that and why that was a particular focus of law enforcement?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Yeah, there’s documents, again, that show that police, from the U.S. Capitol Police all the way to the Phoenix Police Department, were monitoring protests of the National Defense Authorization Act. The National Defense Authorization Act allows the president of the United States to grab any single one of us and throw us into jail and deny us due process and access to a judge for as long as the president says so. And so, this is a huge clampdown on our civil liberties, and people should be protesting it. And it’s ironic that people trying to defend their civil liberties are having their civil liberties violated at the same time.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Rothschild, explain what these fusion centers are and how they work, both with public law enforcement and with private companies.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, this is a real problem I have with fusion centers, Amy. Fusion centers are—in each state, there’s a fusion center. And the fusion center is supposed to represent law enforcement at every level, from, you know, campus police to city police, to sheriffs, to the FBI and state police. But also, within these fusion centers, there are representatives of the private sector. And there’s also an organization called InfraGard in these fusion centers. Now, InfraGard is an association of more than 50,000 business people with the FBI. They’re essentially FBI minders, with these business people in each state. And sometimes these business people get information from the FBI even before elected officials get it. And also, the FBI tells these business members of InfraGard, “Hey, if you ever have a problem with an employee, just let us know.” And so, you know, is this the kind of collaboration we want? That a boss, who doesn’t like what you’re doing on the workplace—maybe you’re forming a union, the boss calls the FBI, and then what? The FBI opens a file on you? We need to be careful of this institution called InfraGard, too, which was part of the Arizona fusion center, by the way.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt, we want to thank you for being with us. Matt Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, wrote the cover story for the June issue of the magazine, “Spying on Occupy Activists: How Cops and Homeland Security Help Wall Street.” The piece draws heavily on documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy and DBA Press. Matt Rothschild is also author of You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2013
Watch Part One of our interview with Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive
Find this story at 22 May 2013
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How Our Massive Homeland Security Apparatus Does the Bidding of the Big Banks
8 april 2015
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a nationwide “counter terrorism” apparatus emerged. And it has turned on dissenters like the Occupy movement.
The following is the first in a series of articles extracted from a new report by CMD and DBA Press entitled “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, In Partnership With
Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street.”
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a nationwide “counter terrorism” apparatus emerged. Components of this apparatus include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (U.S. DHS), the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), ODNI’s “National Counterterrorism Center” (NCTC), and state/regional “fusion centers.”
“Fusion centers,” by and large, are staffed with personnel working in “counter terrorism”/ “homeland security” units of municipal, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement/”public safety”/”counter terrorism” agencies. To a large degree, the “counter terrorism” operations of municipal, county, state and tribal agencies engaged in “fusion centers” are financed through a number of U.S. DHS grant programs.
Initially, “fusion centers” were intended to be intelligence sharing partnerships between municipal, county, state, tribal and federal law enforcement/”counter terrorism” agencies, dedicated solely to the dissemination/sharing of “terrorism”-related intelligence. However, shortly following the creation of “fusion centers,” their focus shifted from this exclusive interest in “terrorism,” to one of “all hazards” — an umbrella term used to describe virtually anything (including “terrorism”) that may be deemed a “hazard” to the public, or to certain private sector interests. And, as has been mandated through a series of federal legislative actions and presidential executive orders, “fusion centers” (and the “counter terrorism” entities that they are comprised of) work — in ever closer proximity — with private corporations, with the stated aim of protecting items deemed to be “critical infrastructure/key resources” (CI/KR, typically thought of as items such as power plants, dams or weapons manufacturing plants).
As detailed in a report from DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy (DBA/CMD), “Dissent or Terror: How the Nation’s Counter Terrorism Apparatus, in Partnership with Corporate America, Turned on Occupy Wall Street,” through 2011 and 2012, “fusion centers” and other “counter terrorism” agencies engaged in widespread monitoring of Occupy Wall Street activists.
Records obtained by DBA/CMD indicate that, in some instances, these “counter terrorism” agencies worked in partnership with corporate interests to gather and disseminate intelligence relating to the activities of citizens engaged in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Ironically, records indicate that corporate entities engaged in such public-private intelligence sharing partnerships were often the very same corporate entities criticized, and protested against, by the Occupy Wall Street movement as having undue influence in the functions of public government.
This article examines the effects of such public-private intelligence sharing partnerships in Arizona, and how such partnerships benefited corporate interests that were subjects of Occupy Phoenix protest actions through 2011 and 2012.
Arizona Fusion Center Work on Behalf of Banks
In October of 2011, Jamie Dimon, president and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, had plans to travel to Phoenix for a “town hall” event with 2,000 of his employees at Chase Field (home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, located in downtown Phoenix). As Dimon is one of the most powerful men on Wall Street and the head of the largest bank in the country — a bank that played a key role in the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 — JP Morgan Chase Regional Security Manager Dan Grady contacted Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center personnel on October 17 (the day before Dimon’s scheduled visit), to ensure a smooth landing for Dimon in Phoenix.
The Arizona Counter Terrorism Information Center (ACTIC), commonly known as the “Arizona Fusion Center,” is comprised of personnel from such entities as the Arizona Department of Public Safety Intelligence Bureau, the Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau, the Tempe Police Department Homeland Defense Unit, the Mesa Police Department Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI Phoenix Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Transportation Security Administration, and the U.S. DHS offices of Infrastructure Protection and Intelligence and Analysis.
Records indicate that Grady’s chief point of law enforcement/”counter terrorism” personnel contact in Phoenix — with whom he discussed the particulars of Dimon’s visit and shared a detailed itinerary — was Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau (PPDHDB) Detective, and ACTIC Community Liaison Program Coordinator, Jennifer O’Neill. As records indicate, the chief area of discussion between Grady and O’Neill were concerns that citizens engaged in Occupy Phoenix, an Occupy Wall Street-inspired group that had launched only days prior, on October 14 and 15, might try to disrupt the event — or otherwise inconvenience Dimon.
According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, in response to Grady’s concerns, O’Neill stated that she and a PPDHDB “CI/KR security specialist” colleague had engaged in the monitoring of known online “social networking” outlets used by Occupy Phoenix for discussion relating to the Dimon visit. As such O’Neill stated: “we have not seen anything on social networking that leads us to believe protestors are aware of this event.”
By no stretch of the imagination was this monitoring of social media (known in the world of “counter terrorism” agencies as the acquisition of “open source intelligence”) for the benefit of JP Morgan Chase President and CEO Dimon the full extent of such activity conducted by ACTIC personnel. Records indicate that ACTIC personnel consistently gathered “open source,” and other, intelligence relating to Occupy Phoenix protests of corporate entities throughout 2011 and 2012. According to these records, in many instances ACTIC personnel would share this intelligence with personnel employed by corporations who were subject to these protests.
Another example of Occupy Phoenix-related ACTIC CLP work for the benefit of banks would be intelligence gathering and other monitoring conducted in preparation for “Bank Transfer Day,” November 5, 2011 — a day on which Occupy Wall Street groups nationwide, along with other mainstream activist/consumer advocate groups, encouraged citizens to discontinue business with the nation’s leading banks (such as J.P. Morgan Chase banks, Bank of America and Wells Fargo), in favor of credit unions and smaller community-based banks.
Records obtained by DBA/CMD show that, on November 3, Mesa Police Department (Mesa is a Phoenix suburb) Intelligence and Counter Terrorism Unit Detective/ACTIC Terrorism Liaison Officer (TLO) Christopher Adamczyk, issued an OWS-related bulletin to a number of ACTIC TLOs/analysts. While the actual Adamczyk bulletin is absent from records delivered to DBA/CMD by PPDHDB, records indicate that the subject of this Adamczyk bulletin was the impending November 5 “Bank Transfer Day.” It is important to note, however, that available records indicate that the Mesa TLO did not address “Bank Transfer Day” events set to take place in the Phoenix area.
Records show that, after receiving this bulletin, O’Neill contacted PPDHDB/ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Brenda Dowhan and asked if there was any specific information she could pass on to downtown Phoenix banks.
In response to O’Neill’s request, Dowhan indicated that she would try to find “FOUO” (“For Official Use Only”) information that could be released to downtown Phoenix banks. In addition, she offered:
“Occupy Phoenix just updated their [Facebook] page saying that they will be marching to Wells Fargo, B of A [Bank of America], and Chase Tower. They are supposed to do a ‘credit card shredding ceremony’ , but eh haven’t identified which bank they will be doing that at [sic]. We will have to monitor their FB [Facebook].”
As previously stated, O’Neill is the coordinator of the ACTIC Community Liaison Program (CLP). ACTIC CLP was created in 2006, in response to federal mandates calling for greater involvement of private sector corporations in the national “counter terrorism” “information sharing environment” (ISE, as created by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. This piece of federal legislation also created ODNI, NCTC and set the groundwork for the national spread of “fusion centers,” per the implementation of ISE).
ACTIC CLP is intended to facilitate the flow of “counter terrorism” information/intelligence between private sector corporate partners and the Arizona “fusion center.” While the stated purpose of ACTIC CLP is to prevent terrorist activity, to identify terrorist threats, protect CI/KR, and “create an awareness of localized security issues, challenges, and business interdependencies,” records indicate that, during the course of 2011 and 2012, ACTIC CLP was used as an advance warning system to alert member corporations and banks of impending Occupy Phoenix protests.
ACTIC CLP is one of two primary vehicles through which corporate interests partner with ACTIC, the other vehicle being Arizona Infragard. Arizona Infragard is the Arizona chapter of Infragard, a public-private intelligence sharing partnership administered by the FBI and supported (both financially and through the delivery of intelligence) by U.S. DHS.
The Creepy Guy Cometh: Undercover Cop Goes to the Vegan Coffee Shop
Records indicate that these advance warnings concerning the planned actions of Occupy Phoenix, and other instances of intelligence sharing with private sector partners (including meetings between law enforcement/”counter terrorism” personnel and area bankers), were derived from the constant monitoring of Occupy Phoenix — and other activist groups — by Phoenix area law enforcement personnel, most of whom were “terrorism liaison officers” active in the ACTIC TLO Program.
While much of this TLO-gathered information came in the form of “open source intelligence” derived from the monitoring of social media, one source of intelligence that records show greatly benefitted not only ACTIC “counter terrorism” personnel, but also ACTIC’s private sector partners, was an undercover Phoenix Police Department Major Offenders Bureau (PPDMOB) detective who had infiltrated the Phoenix activist community and who had attended some of the earliest Occupy Phoenix planning meetings, as well as subsequent meetings throughout October and November, 2011.
This infiltrating undercover officer presented himself as a homeless Mexican national named “Saul DeLara” (Saul). One example of this undercover officer’s work product is as follows: following a request by Phoenix Police Department Community Relations Bureau (PPDCRB, the departmental entity that served as the public face of PPD interaction with Occupy Phoenix — known, affectionately, by members of the Phoenix activist community as the “Red Squad”) Sgt. Mark Schweikert, PPDMOB Career Criminal Squad Sgt. Tom Van Dorn dispatched Saul to attend an early Occupy Phoenix planning meeting held on October 2, 2011 at a local coffee shop. Following the meeting, Saul delivered a detailed report, dutifully relaying all plans the activists had discussed, to his PPD superiors. And records indicate that Van Dorn recommended at this time that PPD units augment the intelligence stream provided by Saul with constant monitoring of the Occupy Phoenix Facebook page.
But, Saul’s attendance at and reporting on the October 2, 2011 Occupy Phoenix planning meeting was far from the extent of the undercover detective’s involvement in the world of Phoenix activism. For example, records indicate that Saul had embedded himself among Phoenix activists in Occupy Phoenix’s encampment at Cesar Chavez Plaza, in an attempt at providing further intelligence relating to activist “Bank Transfer Day” plans.
As stated in a November 3, 2011 email, PPDMOB Career Criminal Squad Sgt. Van Dorn informed PPDHDB commanding officers that, “Saul will be spending today and tomorrow hanging out in the Plaza and [sic] with the Anarchists to try and gather additional intelligence as we head into the weekend.”
Interestingly, Saul’s first appearance among Phoenix activists is said to significantly predate the birth of Occupy Phoenix (which officially launched over the course of a two day event, held October 14 and 15, 2011) and even the emergence of the national Occupy Wall Street movement (which materialized on September 17, 2011).
According to then-Phoenix activist Ian Fecke-Stoudt (Fecke-Stoudt has since moved out of the Phoenix area), Saul first appeared at Conspire, a now-defunct coffee house and vegan cafe located in downtown Phoenix, in July of 2011.
Poetically enough, Conspire was awarded the title of “Best Hangout for Anarchists, Revolutionaries and Dreamers” by the Phoenix New Times in 2010. The coffee house also served, later in 2011 and early 2012, as a regular meeting place for members of Occupy Phoenix.
According to Fecke-Stoudt, Saul’s appearance roughly coincided with the beginning of activist meetings, held at Conspire, dedicated to the planning of protest events associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) States and Nation Policy Summit (SNPS), to be held at the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa in the upscale Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, from November 28 through December 2, 2011.
ALEC is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that bills itself as the nation’s largest state “legislative membership organization.” As such, ALEC claims roughly 2,000, or approximately one third, of the nation’s state lawmakers as members. The organization couples these legislative members on a variety of “task forces” with representatives from the nation’s leading corporations, lobby and law firms, as well as private ’think tanks’ and ‘public policy foundations.’ These various “task forces” generate and adopt “model legislation,” which member lawmakers dutifully introduce and work to pass into law in their home assemblies.
Representatives of corporations and private foundations involved in ALEC are known as the organization’s “private sector members.” As is reflected by the organization’s tax filings, these private sector members fund most of ALEC’s activities. As such, ALEC is in reality the nation’s largest public-private legislative partnership, dedicated to advancing the legislative agenda of its corporate underwriters — though ALEC has steadfastly denied that any lobbying activity takes place at their events.
ALEC holds three primary events each year: the Spring Task Force Summit, the Annual Meeting and the States and Nation Policy Summit. Invariably, these events are held at upscale resorts in cites throughout the nation. Travel and boarding expenses for ALEC member lawmakers who attend these meetings are more often than not paid through the ALEC “scholarship fund,” a fund for which ALEC member lawmakers and ALEC member lobbyists raise (tax deductible) donations from other lobbyists/private sector donors.
The organization has come under fire in recent years for its involvement in disseminating various pieces of “model legislation” and policy initiatives — from “voter ID” laws, to laws aimed at crushing unions, as well as firearms-related laws (such as the “Stand Your Ground” law, which gained national attention following the February, 2012 shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin).
But, before the rise of public furor surrounding such pieces of “model legislation,” ALEC came under criticism for its involvement in disseminating the “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act,” a piece of “model legislation” introduced to the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force (ALEC claims it disbanded this task force in April of 2012) by then-Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce during the ALEC December, 2009 SNPS (a month and a half prior to Pearce’s introduction of the same bill, SB 1070, in the Arizona legislature).
The crux of criticism relating to ALEC’s role in adopting and disseminating this piece of “model legislation” was the fact that Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s premier operator of for-profit prisons and immigrant detention facilities, was a longstanding member — and corporate underwriter — of the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force at the time of the “model legislation”’s adoption. Various records obtained by DBA/CMD show that the nation’s second largest private prison/immigrant detention center operator, Geo Group, was also active in ALEC during this time (Arizona lobby records indicate that Geo Group lobbyists were wining and dining lawmakers at the 2009 ALEC SNPS), along with the nation’s third largest private prison/immigration detention center operator, Management and Training Company (MTC, records obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy indicate that MTC was paying into the ALEC Arizona Scholarship Fund as late as August of 2010).
And so, when Phoenix-area activists learned of ALEC’s plans (Fecke-Stoudt estimates that Phoenix activists first learned of these plans in June of 2011) a coalition of activist groups — including prison reform activists, anarchists, immigrants’ rights groups and indigenous rights groups — began planning protest actions at Conspire.
According to Fecke-Stoudt, at some point in early to mid-July, 2011, his roommate — also a Phoenix-area activist — mentioned that “a creepy guy who looked like he was probably a cop” had been hanging around Conspire. According to Fecke-Stoudt, his roommate told him that the “creepy guy” had wandered into Conspire and struck up a conversation with her. The roommate said that, following this initial conversation, the man would appear at Conspire and seek her out — as if they were friends. According to Feck-Stoudt’s recollection of the roommate’s impression, the “creepy guy” had come off as being “overly interested in anarchism.”
It was not long after that Fecke-Stoudt was also approached by the “creepy guy” at Conspire. According to Fecke-Stoudt, the man wore a blue t-shirt and blue jeans, had slicked-back salt-and-pepper hair, appeared to be in his 50s, was very clean-cut and in good physical shape. The “creepy guy” introduced himself to Fecke-Stoudt and other Phoenix activists as “Saul DeLara.” Despite the man’s fit and clean appearance, Fecke-Stoudt said Saul claimed to be homeless — and commented frequently on trouble he had with police through the course of his life on the street. Saul claimed to be a native of Juarez, Mexico, but seldom disclosed any other details of his background or personal life.
It is worth noting that Saul would later offer one other interesting detail of his life. As reported by activists present at a November 9, 2011, ALEC protest planning meeting, Saul claimed to have ties to recent “anarchist” actions in Mexico. This appears to have been an oblique reference to a group calling themselves “Mexican Fire Cells Conspiracy/Informal Anarchist Federation,” which, through a number of anarchists online forums, had claimed responsibility for a fire at Las Torres Shopping Mall in Juarez on November 2.
According to Fecke Stoudt and other activists interviewed by DBA/CMD, Saul consistently expressed a voracious interest in all things related to anarchism. Perhaps the only area of conversation that stimulated Saul’s interest as much as general discussion of anarchism, said Fecke-Stoudt and other activists interviewed by DBA/CMD, was discussion of the pending ALEC SNPS protest.
According to Fecke-Stoudt, Saul commenced to appear at Conspire on nights when the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition (PAC) would hold meetings. It was during one of these occasions that Fecke-Stoudt detected a particularly odd pattern of behavior on Saul’s part.
“There’s a certain thing that people do, when you can tell they’re interested in something, but they’re trying not to talk about it — where, whenever they hear, like, even the slightest mention of that thing, they come running over and they start listening intently, or, like, they’ll just kind of slowly put themselves into the conversation — that’s what he did,” said Fecke-Stoudt.
This behavior on Saul’s part, explained Fecke-Stoudt, would occur whenever mention was made of the planned ALEC protest.
“Once, after a PAC meeting […] he was hanging about and somebody said something about ALEC and, you know, he just kind of suddenly appeared in the conversation,” said Fecke-Stoudt. “I didn’t see it happen at that time, because I was engaged in the conversation, but I’m like, all of a sudden, ’there’s Saul. Why is Saul in this conversation all of a sudden?'”
It is important to note that, according to both activists’ accounts and records obtained by DBA/CMD, Saul did not only attend anarchist protest planning meetings. Throughout his time as an activist infiltrator, Saul rubbed elbows with members of Occupy Phoenix, immigrants’ rights groups, faith-based organizations, indigenous rights groups, and others.
Records obtained by DBA/CMD show that Saul would report on these ALEC protest planning meetings to Van Dorn, who would then forward the intelligence on to PPDHDB personnel.
For example, on October 26, 2011, Van Dorn sent the following email to PPDHDB Lt. Lawrence “Larry” Hein, PPDHDB Sgt. Pat “Patrick” Kotecki and PPDMOB Lt. John Geroulis:
“Hey Bosses,” wrote Van Dorn. “Saul has stated that the Anarchists have officially posted the ‘resist ALEC’ on their website but they haven’t discussed specifics on how to disrupt the conference [sic]. There are also two websites that might be worth the TLO’s [ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison Officers”] monitoring.”
Van Dorn then went on to provide a link to “azresistsalec.wordpress.com,” and to detail the number of “likes” on the Facebook page associated with that site.
“According to Saul they are supposed to be having ‘resist ALEC’ training this weekend in downtown Phoenix as well,” added Van Dorn. “Kepp you updated [sic].”
Records indicate that PPDHDB Sgt. Kotecki forwarded this intelligence on to PPDHDB Det./ACTIC TLO Rohme with instructions to “monitor and advise.”
Records obtained by DBA Press and the Center for Media and Democracy show that PPDMOB Career Criminal Squad Sgt. Van Dorn and a PPDMOB undercover detective named Saul Ayala attended two meetings (November 18 and 23, 2011), held in the ACTIC “training room.” The subject of both these meetings was planned protests of the ALEC conference.
Interestingly enough, records indicate that PPDHDB Det./ACTIC TLO Michael Rohme had invited Westin Kierland Director of Security Phil Black to attend the November 23 ACTIC meeting. According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, Rohme had been the chief ACTIC point of contact between ALEC personnel in the months leading up to the 2011 SNPS. Such ALEC-related personnel Rohme had shared ACTIC resources/information with included Bayer Healthcare Head of Security Mark Davis. Bayer Healthcare is a longtime ALEC private sector member and had served as co-chair of the ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force for several years, ending in 2011. At the time of the ALEC 2011 SNPS, Bayer Healthcare’s parent corporation, Bayer Corporation, served as “first vice chairman” of the ALEC Private Enterprise Board Executive Committee.
And, speaking to the private sector clout carried by ALEC in the world of “counter terrorism” public-private intelligence sharing partnerships, consider this: Arizona Public Service/Pinnacle West Capital Corporation (APS) served as a “chairman” level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC SNPS. The chairman of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership (DPP, an economic development corporation whose members are clearly active in ACTIC CLP) Board of Directors is APS/Pinnacle West President and CEO Donald Brandt. APS Enterprise Security Operations Director Bob Parrish served as longtime board member of Arizona Infragard at this time as well.
Furthermore, records obtained by DBA/CMD show that, in February of 2012, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Protective Security Advisor Christine Figueroa forwarded open source intelligence (derived from activist Facebook postings and the Occupy Phoenix events calendar) pertaining to planned February 29, 2012 protests of ALEC-member corporations (a nationwide effort launched by Occupy Portland, Oregon) to ACTIC personnel (including O’Neill) and other U.S. DHS personnel.
According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, the information distributed by Figueroa had been gathered by Salt River Project (SRP) Security Manager Jay Spradling. This Spradling advisory reiterated activist plans (as posted on the Occupy Phoenix events calendar) to “march from [Freeport-McMoran Center, worldwide headquarters of Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold, Inc.] to other ALEC corporations downtown. Send them a message that we won’t stand for the corporate takeover of our democracy any longer,” and to (as stated on the Occupy Phoenix Facebook page) hold a press conference for the purpose of “informing people about what ALEC is and why they are bad!” Records show that this information was then passed on, through PPDCRB Sgt. Schweikert, to Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold Manager of Corporate Security Thomas Tyo.
At the time of the F-29 protests SRP lobbyist Russell Smoldon served as the ALEC Arizona “private sector chair” (largely responsible for ALEC Arizona “scholarship fund” fundraising) and Freeport-McMoran Copper and Gold served as a “director” level sponsor of the 2011 ALEC SNPS. Freeport-McMoran is also active in ACTIC CLP through its position on the Downtown Phoenix Partnership Board of Directors.
As indicated by records obtained by DBA/CMD, as well as accounts of activists interviewed, Saul’s participation in ALEC protest planning meetings ended on November 9, 2011. The PPDMOB undercover detective attended an ALEC protest planning meeting that evening, after which an immigrants’ rights activist approached Saul and confronted him about his life as a cop.
According to the activist (who spoke to DBA/CMD on condition of anonymity), she had worked as a barista at a Phoenix Starbucks some years prior. During her time as a barista, the woman and her co-workers had become accustomed to the habits of two police officers who would come into the cafe to order drinks every night, while the cafe was closing. Rather than leaving coffee machines on and uncleaned, the cafe workers would set drinks aside for these two officers. One of these officers, said the activist, was the man who currently represented himself as the homeless anarchist wannabe, “Saul DeLara.”
According to this activist, when confronted, Saul denied having ever seen her before and angrily denied being a cop. Nevertheless, word of Saul’s possible relationship with law enforcement spread quickly through the Phoenix activist community and, as indicated by records obtained by DBA/CMD, details of this November 9 meeting were the last to be gathered by Saul and relayed through Van Dorn to PPDHDB/ACTIC personnel.
PPD Public Information Officer Trent Crump declined to confirm whether PPDMOB undercover detective Saul Ayala was in fact the man who presented himself to Phoenix activists as “Saul DeLara,” or to discuss any specifics of PPD undercover officer activity related to Occupy Phoenix or other Phoenix activist groups. However, Crump did state that it is a “regular practice” of PPD to employ “plainclothes or undercover” officers in the gathering of intelligence related to activist activity that may include “civil disobedience.”
When asked what suspicion of criminal activity PPD used to predicate such intelligence gathering conducted by undercover officers, Crump stated:
“I don’t even think that one has to say that we have to anticipate that there’s going to be criminal activity for us to gather intelligence — public safety is one of our job responsibilities. So, when we know they’re going to have, very possibly, some civil unrest, or we know we may have large groups of people organizing to rally under a protest — or whatever you want to call it — we gather intelligence on this, absolutely.”
Brenda the “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Facebook Queen
According to records obtained by DBA/CMD from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security (AZDOHS, the state agency that essentially acts as a bursar for U.S. DHS Arizona grant awards), PPD was awarded $1,016,897 in U.S. DHS State Homeland Security Grant Program funding in September of 2010 for the PPD “ACTIC Intelligence Analyst Project.” According to these AZDOHS records, these funds were intended to fill positions for both a PPD “ACTIC Intelligence Analyst” and “IT Planner.” Records obtained by DBA/CMD indicate that these project funds have been used, in part, to hire and pay the more than $71,000 compensation (this figure includes salary and benefits) of PPDHDB/ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Brenda Dowhan.
According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, Dowhan’s primary role at ACTIC over the course of 2011 (according to records, Dowhan appears to have been hired in July of 2011) and 2012 appears to have been the monitoring of social media activity associated with individuals involved in Occupy Phoenix — as well as to create bulletins for distribution to both ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison Officers” and other “fusion center” personnel nationwide, detailing trends in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, in order to facilitate Dowhan’s work PPD personnel regularly fed the “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” logs containing the names, addresses, social security numbers, driver’s license/state identification numbers, and physical descriptions of citizens arrested, issued citations — or even given “warnings” by police — in connection with Occupy Phoenix. The vast majority of these citizens who had been arrested, or had other interactions with PPD, were cited/warned for alleged violations of the city’s “urban camping” ordinance.
Records indicate that Dowhan took her job very seriously. Records obtained by DBA/CMD show that when, in December of 2011, two members of Occupy Phoenix posted plans to travel to Flagstaff for Christmas, Dowhan alerted ACTIC Terrorism Liaison Officers in the Flagstaff area to their impending arrival.
And, records show that, in November, 2011, when Dowhan first became concerned that those she surveilled within the Phoenix activist community may eventually detect her presence online, she asked her PPDHDB superiors if they could discuss the possibility of her using a “clean computer,” possibly one with an “anonymizer,” in the future. This appears to have been a reference to a computer utility product, made by Anonymizer, Inc., that allows users to visit websites anonymously.
In fact, Dowhan was so dedicated to her job of monitoring the Facebook posts (and other social media/blogs) of members of Occupy Phoenix that, when, on December 16, 2011, FBI agent Alan McHugh contacted ACTIC/Arizona Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) personnel (including FBI Phoenix JTTF Special Agent Marcus Williams and U.S. DHS Intelligence Analyst Anthony Frangipane) to advise them of a planned December 17 Occupy Phoenix protest to be held outside the Phoenix office of U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA 2012), ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Dowhan giddily responded:
“Good Morning Alan [sic] [paragraph break] Tracking the activities of Occupy Phoenix is one of my daily responsibilities. My primary role is to look at the social media, websites, and blogs. I just wanted to put it out there so that if you would like me to share with you or you have something to share, we can collaborate [sic].”
Dowhan went on to state that ACTIC/PPDHDB was also concerned about the NDAA 2012 protest (dubbed by Occupy Phoenix the “No Indefinite Detention Rally”) as well as other Occupy Phoenix events planned for coming days. In closing, Dowhan stated that she would continue to “monitor online activities to get an idea of what kind of participation we can expect.”
This glimpse into the day-to-day working life of those in the “counter terrorism” world is, of course, hilariously ironic, since citizens protesting NDAA 2012 were protesting provisions of the law that would allow for the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens who are even suspected of aiding, committing, or plotting acts of terrorism, “hostilities,” or any other “belligerent acts” against the nation.
However, perhaps a much less humorous side of this reality is illustrated in an October, 2011 advisory sent out to “fusion center”/”counter terrorism” personnel nationwide by Transportation Security Administration (TSA, a component of U.S. DHS) Office of Intelligence Field Intelligence Officer Larry Tortorich. In this advisory, focused on a planned October 6 Occupy New Orleans march, Tortorich opined: “the potential always exists for extremists to exploit or redirect events such as this or use the event to escalate or trigger their own agendas. […] Jihadists recently discussed how they can benefit from the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been ongoing in New York City, and suggested ’that their continuation will make the enemy lose focus on the wars abroad.'” [It is not known what “Jihadists” Tortorich referenced.]
It is also worth noting that, according to records obtained by DBA/CMD, when President Barack Obama visited the Phoenix area in January of 2012, ACTIC personnel monitored associated NDAA 2012 protests. Furthermore records indicate that the U.S. Capitol Police Office of Intelligence Analysis (working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) had monitored Arizona protest activity aimed at NDAA 2012 in February of 2012.
In any event, let’s get back to Dowhan. While records obtained by DBA/CMD do show that Dowhan spent tremendous amounts of time trolling the Facebook pages of citizens engaged in Occupy Phoenix, as well as other Occupy Wall Street and activist groups, during 2011 and 2012, the mere culling of “open source intelligence” was not the extent of Dowhan’s U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded activities.
Records obtained by DBA/CMD show multiple instances in which Dowhan attempted to identify citizens believed to be active in the Occupy Phoenix/Occupy Wall Street movement (though not believed to have committed any crime — other than an allegation of marijuana use, as discussed below) through the use of biometric data analysis applied to photos found on Facebook.
One example of the use of this facial recognition technology is as follows:
On November 18, 2011, ACTIC received information pertaining to an individual reported to be involved with Occupy Phoenix. This information came in the form of an anonymous tip submitted to ACTIC personnel through the Silent Witness “web tip” program (a service provided to ACTIC personnel by The Silent Witness, Inc., a private non profit corporation).
The anonymous tip stated:
“Met an Occupy nut online, she says she’s from your area […] She appears to be involved with some sort of violent organization. Has expressed intent to ’take down the local power structure,’ desire to be killed in violent resistance as a martyr: ‘GOOD KILL US. That will really make people mad!'”
The anonymous “tipster” (records identified the source of this information as being “Web Tipster,” and Dowhan subsequently referred to the informant as “the tipster”) then went on to state that the “Occupy nut” “[had] indicated knowledge of specific plans for violent revolt, knowledge of bomb-related activities. When pressed further was reticent, claimed she did not want to give more details on the plans due to ‘outstanding warrants and paranoia’. [sic]”
In closing, the “tipster” wrote:
“Additionally, since I’m aware no crime has technically been committed there (apart for whatever the warrants are for), I’ve got an actual crime for you as well: illegal possession/use of marijuana, I’ve seen her smoking it on camera. I will attempt to get a picture in the future. [Paragraph break] I’m well aware that the threat of violence sounds like someone yanking my chain, and it quite possibly is, but she sounds serious about this and I feel it’s better to falsely report than to not report an actual threat.”
The anonymous “tipster” then went on to identify the “Occupy nut” as being a 20-year-old female known as “Amber.” The tipster stated that the young woman was unemployed and living with her twin sister and father. The tipster also provided ACTIC personnel with a photograph of what appears to be a teen-aged girl wearing eye glasses seated in front of a computer (the photo appears to have been taken by a monitor-mounted camera).
ACTIC PPDHD “Terrorism Liason All-Hazards Analyst” Dowhan immediately followed up on this tip on November 18, 2011, by distributing information contained in the anonymous tip to PPDHDB personnel.
In a December 23 email from Dowhan to PPDHDB Det./ACTIC TLO Christopher “CJ” Wren, PPDHDB Det./ACTIC TLO Rohme and PPDHDB Det. Robert Bolvin, Dowhan stated that she had attempted to identify “Amber” through the use of facial recognition technology, but that the attempt had failed.
“We have a Facebook photo and tried to do facial recognition, but she was wearing glasses,” wrote Dowhan in the December 23 email.
The facial recognition resources that Dowhan utilized in her efforts to identify individuals believed to be associated with Occupy Wall Street groups are provided through the ACTIC Facial Recognition Unit, a unit housed within ACTIC and operated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO).
According to records obtained from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security by DBA/CMD, the ACTIC Facial Recognition Unit has the ability to match biometric data contained in photographs — such as those found on Facebook — with biometric data contained in roughly 18 million Arizona Driver’s License photos, 4.7 million Arizona county/municipal jail “booking” photos, 12,000 photos contained in the “Arizona Sex Offender Database,” and 2 million photos available through the Federal Joint Automated Booking System.
The ACTIC Facial Recognition Unit, according to these AZDOHS records, also has the ability to utilize “portable units” during “special events.” And, according to AZDOHS records, MCSO has requested additional U.S. DHS funding in order to purchase additional “facial recognition video capture” technologies.
The ACTIC Facial Recognition Unit currently utilizes technology and services purchased from Hummingbird Defense Systems, Inc. (HDSI, a Nevada corporation allegedly headquartered in Phoenix, but which has had its status as an active corporation revoked in both Nevada and Arizona since at least 2008). HDSI purports to have partnered with Detaq Solutions in 2002 in the development of a biometric surveillance system for the Beijing Public Security Bureau. Part of this system, according to HDSI, was a “centralized biometric database […] that was deployed to help secure Tiananmen Square.” As such, HDSI boasts that this system “was awarded ‘National Technology Treasure’ status by the Ministry of Public Security of China.”
Tiananmen Square was, of course, the site of the massacre of hundreds of peaceful Chinese student protestors by People’s Republic of China armed forces on June 4, 1989. The students, demanding government reform, had occupied the square for weeks prior to the massacre. The site, and the “June 4 Massacre,” have remained significant rallying points to government reform activists in China.
All Actors in Play: the Facebook Queen, the Creepy Guy, Public-Private Partnerships, and Paid Cops
Occupy Phoenix was not a large operation. Despite a relatively large turnout during the group’s inaugural march on October 15, 2011 (which peaked at about 1,000 participants), the Occupy Phoenix encampment in Cesar Chavez Plaza typically saw fewer than 50 “occupiers.” So, given the galvanizing force offered in opposition to ALEC throughout the spectrum of the Phoenix activist community, protests of the 2011 ALEC SNPS were, by far, the most well-attended Occupy Phoenix protest events to take place during 2011 or 2012, aside from the initial October 15, 2011 march.
The largest of these protests was held on the morning of the first full day of the conference, November 30, outside the Westin Kierland’s east gate. Protestors, numbering in the hundreds, marched to the gate as ALEC member lawmakers, lobbyists, corporate executives, and right-wing ’think tank’ luminaries were ushered into the resort through security check points. Arizona Governor Brewer was to be the keynote speaker at the day’s ALEC luncheon, held in one of the Kierland’s many grand dining rooms.
At about 9:40 a.m., an incident took place between protestors and riot gear-clad PPD “mobile field force” officers who had established a “tactical response unit” (TRU) outside the Kierland’s eastern gate. All told, five protestors were arrested on charges of trespassing and “crossing a police line” during this incident.
Following the arrests, PPD officials told local media that officers had been attacked by wild-eyed “anarchists” brandishing “nail filled sticks” and that these “anarchists” had attempted to overthrow police barricades with metal poles. These attacks, according to PPD officials parroted in media accounts, had “forced” officers to deploy amounts of oleoresin capsicum (“OC”) spray into the crowd and make the five arrests.
Interestingly, this PPD version of events, wherein officers were provoked by violent “anarchists” with “nail filled sticks,” seems to have little semblance to reality.
The following version of events that took place outside the east gate of the Westin Kierland, at approximately 9:40 a.m., November 30, 2011, is based on video evidence that resulted in the dismissal of charges against one of the activists arrested, as well as photographs and police records obtained from PPDHDB/PPD by DBA/CMD:
At approximately 9:40 a.m., several PPD officers (many of whom did not wear any identification, in violation of departmental policy), deployed as part of a TRU, were met by a group of protestors who had marched to the eastern entrance of the resort and stopped approximately 50 feet from a barrier line established by TRU officers. Protestors at the front of the group held a large banner. Behind these protestors were a number of other protestors. Some of these other protestors held signs, and some played marching band music on musical instruments. The crowd of protestors, contrary to PPD accounts, was not composed entirely, or mostly, of “anarchists.” Present at this protest were members of Occupy Phoenix, members of several immigrants’ rights groups, members of indigenous rights groups, members of faith-based groups, concerned citizens, as well as a small group of individuals who described themselves as being “anarchists.”
The protest group having stopped well outside the established police barricade line, four protestors moved to the front of the large banner at the head of the procession and sat passively on the ground — remaining several (approximately 30 to 40) feet from the police barricades.
Shortly after these four protestors had seated themselves, several TRU officers picked up a metal barricade, carried it over to where the protestors sat, and pushed the barricade down on top of them, as if to crush the protestors. At this point, another protestor, Ezra Kaplan, a member of the Occupy Phoenix media group, walked over to where the police were pushing the barricade down on protestors and started taking pictures with his camera. The TRU officers then lifted the metal barricade over the seated protestors and shoved it directly into the banner, pinning the cameraman between the police line and the banner. Protestors then began to shout: “we’re non-violent,” at which point the four seated protestors and Kaplan were grabbed by officers, rushed onto resort property and arrested on charges of “crossing a police line” and trespassing. At this point, TRU officer PPD Violent Crimes Bureau Gang Enforcement Unit Detective Gregory Liebertz, reached into the crowd, grabbed the banner and began spraying protestors with OC spray. This officer was joined by several other officers in pulling, tearing, and eventually stomping the banner. Simultaneously, several other officers also deployed OC spray on the protestors. With the onset of this police aggression, the protestors temporarily disbanded and retreated.
At no point does this video footage show any sign of crazed “anarchists” (or any other protestor) swinging “nail filled sticks” at officers, or of “anarchists” (or other protestors) attempting to overturn police barricades.
In reality, the TRU/”mobile field force” officers had been working under the command of PPD Sgt. Eric Harkins. According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, at the time of this incident Harkins was actually off-duty, earning $35 per hour as a private security guard employed by ALEC, under the direction of Westin Kierland Director of Security Phil Black. Records show that, by the time SNPS ended, Harkins had earned $630 for security services rendered to ALEC and Westin Kierland during November 30 and December 1.
Harkins wasn’t alone in this paid service to ALEC/Westin Kierland. Records indicate that ALEC/Westin Kierland had hired 49 active duty and 9 retired PPD officers to act as private security during the conference. All told, ALEC/Westin Kierland paid out a total of $36,015 in “off-duty” pay to these officers.
[Note: records obtained by DBA/CMD relating to this off-duty job detail clearly state that the “client company” for this event was ALEC. As previously discussed, other records obtained by DBA/CMD show that Westin Kierland Director of Security Black, clearly working for the benefit of ALEC, had coordinated closely with both ALEC personnel and PPDHDB/ACTIC personnel in preparation for this event.]
It is not known how many of these off-duty PPD officers working as private security for the ALEC conference were involved in the TRU/”mobile field force” incident at the Westin Kierland east gate, but it is known that Harkins and another off-duty officer working as private ALEC/Kierland security, Eric Carpenter (paid a total of $630 by ALEC/Kierland for services rendered), personally arrested the Occupy Phoenix photographer, Ezra Kaplan. Furthermore, Officer Carpenter’s report of the incident (actually filed as the joint report of both Harkins and Carpenter) explicitly states that Sgt. Harkins had “advised nearby officers to place [the four seated protestors] under arrest.”
As further stated in the Harkins/Carpenter report, off-duty officers had attended a briefing prior to the protests at which they were told, by PPD Off-Duty Job Coordinator Officer Tim Moore (who was paid $2,065 by ALEC/Kierland for services rendered under the direction of Black during the conference. Moore had also attended several meetings of both ACTIC and ALEC personnel regarding the planned protests, some of which were also apparently attended by PPDMOB Career Criminal Squad Sgt. Van Dorn and PPDMOB undercover detective Saul Ayala) that “no protestors were wanted on resort property and that the resort would want prosecution.” And, indeed, the five protestors arrested at the Kierland’s east gate were prosecuted — based, in part, on demonstrably false claims made by these off-duty police officers.
As for the presence of “mobile field force”/TRU officers at the gates of the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa during the ALEC SNPS, records obtained by DBA/CMD show that Black, citing an “article” he had been given by personnel employed by ALEC, had discussed the possibility of deploying a “mobile field force” to the grounds of the resort during the conference with PPDHDB Det./ACTIC TLO Rohme.
The article cited by Black as grounds for this “mobile field force” presence (“Occupy Wall Street Gets More Violent”) was written by Heritage Foundation Assistant Director of Strategic Communications Mike Brownfield, and had been published in a Heritage Foundation newsletter. Conspicuously absent from records obtained by DBA/CMD relating to the acquisition of a “mobile field force” apropos the Heritage Foundation “article,” is any disclosure on the part of ALEC personnel (or personnel working on behalf of ALEC, including Black) of the fact that Heritage is an ALEC member ’think tank,’ co-founded by ALEC founder Paul Weyrich, and financed by many of the very same corporate interests that comprise ALEC “private sector” membership.
What’s more, according to records obtained by DBA/CMD, off-duty officers employed as private security for ALEC/Kierland had been given “face sheets,” generated by PPDHDB, containing the photographs (mostly driver’s license photos) of 24 Phoenix and Tucson-area activists listed as “persons of interest to the ALEC conference.” Such activists listed on the ALEC “face sheet” included members of Occupy Phoenix, anarchists, prison reform activists, members of Phoenix Cop Watch (a watchdog group that seeks to police unscrupulous or illegal actions of local law enforcement) and others.
While the exact purpose of the ALEC “face sheet” is unknown, since none of the activists listed on the sheet (with the exception of one activist who had been arrested prior to the ALEC event) were wanted in relation to any alleged crime at the time of the ALEC conference. For his part, PPD Public Information Officer Crump declined to answer any questions relating to the ALEC “face sheet.” Nevertheless, a November 17 email sent from ACTIC/PPDHDB “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Dowhan to ACTIC/DPS Intelligence Bureau Analyst Annette Roberts may provide some insight to PPDHDB/ACTIC motives [Note: DPS Northern Intelligence District Commander, Captain Steve Harrison, did not respond to requests seeking information pertaining to Roberts’ position within DPS. Records do, however, suggest that Roberts is most likely a DPS Intelligence Bureau analyst]:
“The ACTIC has identified groups that intend ‘Shut ALEC Down.’ While some may merely protest the event, such as Anti-SB1070 and the Occupy Phoenix movement, anarchist groups have shown a determination to disrupt and shut down the event with the use of violent tactics experienced by other states hosting these meetings. The Phoenix Police Department is taking the lead to identify and intercept persons they believe to pose a threat to the event or attendees.”
It should be noted that, regardless of Dowhan’s assertions, previous ALEC conferences were not — by any stretch of the imagination — subject to any “violent tactics” perpetrated by “anarchists” (or any other individuals). Indeed, the sole arrest to have occurred at any ALEC conference protest prior to the Scottsdale ALEC SNPS took place in New Orleans in August of 2011, during the ALEC Annual Meeting held at the Marriott New Orleans French Quarter Hotel. According to New Orleans Police Department records, on August 5 an officer (who was off-duty, working as private security for the ALEC conference) arrested a male subject for allegedly spray painting an “unknown symbol resembling the letter ‘A’ with a circle around it (in red color)” on Marriott property.
Nevertheless, this much, regarding the application of the ALEC “face sheet,” is known: during the ALEC protest on the morning of November 30, 2011, Jason Odhner, a Quaker street medic working with the Phoenix Urban Health Collective, was handcuffed by a police officer, who was likely off-duty and working as private security for ALEC/Kierland, while walking across a slim portion of the the Kierland golf course and detained in the back of a police vehicle for more than an hour (though he was not charged with any crime). At the time of Odhner’s false arrest, he had been seeking treatment for a protestor who was suffering from heat-related symptoms. Not surprisingly, Ohdner’s name and driver’s license photo were present on the ALEC “persons of interest” “face sheet.”
According to both a copy of the ALEC “face sheet” and other records obtained by DBA/CMD, officers equipped with this “face sheet” were instructed — by none other than the sheet’s creator, ACTIC “Terrorism Liaison All-Hazards Analyst” Brenda Dowhan — to destroy all copies of the “face sheet” after the ALEC event. And, as most — if not all — of the activists pictured on the ALEC “face sheet” had either known, been Facebook friends with, or been at ALEC protest planning meetings attended by, the “creepy guy” calling himself “Saul DeLara,” it is clear that intelligence provided to Dowhan in the creation of this “face sheet” likely had its origins, at least in part, with the PPDMOB undercover detective who had infiltrated the Phoenix activist community.
Beau Hodai is a freelance journalist and publisher of DBA Press, an online news publication and source materials archive. He can be reached at email@example.com
By Beau Hodai / PR Watch May 22, 2013
Find this story at 22 May 2013
Revealed: how energy firms spy on environmental activists
8 april 2015
Leaked documents show how three large British companies have been paying private security firm to monitor activists
Three large energy companies have been carrying out covert intelligence-gathering operations on environmental activists, the Guardian can reveal.
The energy giant E.ON, Britain’s second-biggest coal producer Scottish Resources Group and Scottish Power, one of the UK’s largest electricity-generators, have been paying for the services of a private security firm that has been secretly monitoring activists.
Leaked documents show how the security firm’s owner, Rebecca Todd, tipped off company executives about environmentalists’ plans after snooping on their emails. She is also shown instructing an agent to attend campaign meetings and coaching him on how to ingratiate himself with activists. The disclosures come as police chiefs, on the defensive over damaging revelations of undercover police officers in the protest movement, privately claim that there are more corporate spies in protest groups than undercover police officers.
Senior police officers complain that spies hired by commercial firms are – unlike their own agents – barely regulated.
Sir Hugh Orde, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which until recently ran the secretive national unit of undercover police officers deployed in protest groups, said in a speech last week that “the deployment by completely uncontrolled and unrestrained players in the private sector” constituted a “massive area of concern”.
Revelations about Mark Kennedy and three other undercover police officers in protest groups caused a furore last month and led to four official inquiries into their activities.
Now a Guardian investigation has shed new light on the surveillance of green campaigners by private security firms whose intrusive operations include posing as activists on mailing lists and infiltrating full-time agents into campaign groups over many years.
Multinational companies, ranging from power producers to arms sellers, hire these firms to try to prevent activists running campaigns against them or breaking into their sites.
The leaked documents lay bare the methods of one firm, Vericola, run by 33-year-old Todd. Based in Canterbury, Vericola, according to Todd, is a “business risk management company” offering a “bespoke” service to clients “regarding potential threats” to their businesses.
Over the past three years, Todd, using different email addresses, has signed up to the mailing lists of a series of environ-mental groups organising major demonstrations such as the G20 rallies in London, demonstrations against E.ON’s Kingsnorth power station and the expansion of Heathrow airport, giving her access to communications and advanced notice of demonstrations.
Last July, she forwarded details about Climate Camp campaigners to two company directors she called “the usual suspects”.
One was Gordon Irving, the security director of Scottish Power since 2001 after spending 30 years in Strathclyde police force. The other was Alan Somerville, then a director of Scottish Resources Group which produces a large amount of Britain’s coal.
Todd highlighted a call from campaigners to submit more objections to coal-producing developments which needed planning permission.
Activists say she regularly attended meetings of an environmental group, known as Rising Tide, for around a year in 2007/08.
The documents also show her advising a colleague on how to fit in with the other activists at meetings held to organise future protests. One tip was that he should not mention he was flying to Germany as “obviously” the environmentalists “hate short-haul flights”.
Todd, who says she is not a corporate spy, told the Guardian that all the information she acquires comes from public sources such as subscribing to emailing lists through the websites of the environmental groups.
Despite emails revealing how she repeatedly tried to find ways for her agents to access protest gatherings, Todd denied her company “infiltrates” meetings of protest groups as they are open to any member of the public.
The environmental activists are angry that, by posing as a supporter, she has gained access to emails and meetings where tactics and strategies are discussed. Eli Wilton, a Climate Camp organiser, said: “It’s frightening that in a meeting about how to stop the fossil fuel industry, the person sitting next to you might be a spy paid for by the energy giants themselves.”
He said Todd and her colleagues “couldn’t have gotten subscribed without attending our meetings. These were internal lists where, for example, we strategised about how to stop new coal-fired power stations being built by E.ON.”
E.ON said it had hired Vericola and another security firm, Global Open, on an “ad hoc” basis as its executives wanted to know when environmentalists were going to demonstrate at or invade its power stations and other premises, as they had done in the past.
The E.ON spokesman said it asked Vericola only for publicly available information and if Todd and her colleagues had obtained private information, they had done so “under their own steam”.
SRG and Scottish Power did not comment.
Rob Evans and Paul Lewis
Monday 14 February 2011 21.00 GMT Last modified on Tuesday 20 May 2014 07.51 BST
Find this story at 14 February 2011
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Revealed: how the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy
8 april 2015
New documents prove what was once dismissed as paranoid fantasy: totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent
It was more sophisticated than we had imagined: new documents show that the violent crackdown on Occupy last fall – so mystifying at the time – was not just coordinated at the level of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and local police. The crackdown, which involved, as you may recall, violent arrests, group disruption, canister missiles to the skulls of protesters, people held in handcuffs so tight they were injured, people held in bondage till they were forced to wet or soil themselves –was coordinated with the big banks themselves.
The Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, in a groundbreaking scoop that should once more shame major US media outlets (why are nonprofits now some of the only entities in America left breaking major civil liberties news?), filed this request. The document – reproduced here in an easily searchable format – shows a terrifying network of coordinated DHS, FBI, police, regional fusion center, and private-sector activity so completely merged into one another that the monstrous whole is, in fact, one entity: in some cases, bearing a single name, the Domestic Security Alliance Council. And it reveals this merged entity to have one centrally planned, locally executed mission. The documents, in short, show the cops and DHS working for and with banks to target, arrest, and politically disable peaceful American citizens.
The documents, released after long delay in the week between Christmas and New Year, show a nationwide meta-plot unfolding in city after city in an Orwellian world: six American universities are sites where campus police funneled information about students involved with OWS to the FBI, with the administrations’ knowledge (p51); banks sat down with FBI officials to pool information about OWS protesters harvested by private security; plans to crush Occupy events, planned for a month down the road, were made by the FBI – and offered to the representatives of the same organizations that the protests would target; and even threats of the assassination of OWS leaders by sniper fire – by whom? Where? – now remain redacted and undisclosed to those American citizens in danger, contrary to standard FBI practice to inform the person concerned when there is a threat against a political leader (p61).
As Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the PCJF, put it, the documents show that from the start, the FBI – though it acknowledges Occupy movement as being, in fact, a peaceful organization – nonetheless designated OWS repeatedly as a “terrorist threat”:
“FBI documents just obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF) … reveal that from its inception, the FBI treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat … The PCJF has obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.”
Verheyden-Hilliard points out the close partnering of banks, the New York Stock Exchange and at least one local Federal Reserve with the FBI and DHS, and calls it “police-statism”:
“This production [of documents], which we believe is just the tip of the iceberg, is a window into the nationwide scope of the FBI’s surveillance, monitoring, and reporting on peaceful protestors organizing with the Occupy movement … These documents also show these federal agencies functioning as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America.”
The documents show stunning range: in Denver, Colorado, that branch of the FBI and a “Bank Fraud Working Group” met in November 2011 – during the Occupy protests – to surveil the group. The Federal Reserve of Richmond, Virginia had its own private security surveilling Occupy Tampa and Tampa Veterans for Peace and passing privately-collected information on activists back to the Richmond FBI, which, in turn, categorized OWS activities under its “domestic terrorism” unit. The Anchorage, Alaska “terrorism task force” was watching Occupy Anchorage. The Jackson, Mississippi “joint terrorism task force” was issuing a “counterterrorism preparedness alert” about the ill-organized grandmas and college sophomores in Occupy there. Also in Jackson, Mississippi, the FBI and the “Bank Security Group” – multiple private banks – met to discuss the reaction to “National Bad Bank Sit-in Day” (the response was violent, as you may recall). The Virginia FBI sent that state’s Occupy members’ details to the Virginia terrorism fusion center. The Memphis FBI tracked OWS under its “joint terrorism task force” aegis, too. And so on, for over 100 pages.
Jason Leopold, at Truthout.org, who has sought similar documents for more than a year, reported that the FBI falsely asserted in response to his own FOIA requests that no documents related to its infiltration of Occupy Wall Street existed at all. But the release may be strategic: if you are an Occupy activist and see how your information is being sent to terrorism task forces and fusion centers, not to mention the “longterm plans” of some redacted group to shoot you, this document is quite the deterrent.
There is a new twist: the merger of the private sector, DHS and the FBI means that any of us can become WikiLeaks, a point that Julian Assange was trying to make in explaining the argument behind his recent book. The fusion of the tracking of money and the suppression of dissent means that a huge area of vulnerability in civil society – people’s income streams and financial records – is now firmly in the hands of the banks, which are, in turn, now in the business of tracking your dissent.
Remember that only 10% of the money donated to WikiLeaks can be processed – because of financial sector and DHS-sponsored targeting of PayPal data. With this merger, that crushing of one’s personal or business financial freedom can happen to any of us. How messy, criminalizing and prosecuting dissent. How simple, by contrast, just to label an entity a “terrorist organization” and choke off, disrupt or indict its sources of financing.
Why the huge push for counterterrorism “fusion centers”, the DHS militarizing of police departments, and so on? It was never really about “the terrorists”. It was not even about civil unrest. It was always about this moment, when vast crimes might be uncovered by citizens – it was always, that is to say, meant to be about you.
• This article originally referred to a joint terrorism task force in Jackson, Michigan. This was amended to Jackson, Mississippi at 4pm ET on 2 January 2012
Saturday 29 December 2012 14.58 GMT Last modified on Friday 10 October 2014 12.01 BST
Find this story at 29 December 2012
© 2015 Guardian News and Media Limited
Met de billen bloot op Facebook
7 juli 2014
Er wordt alom voor gewaarschuwd: je sociale leven kan redelijk eenvoudig in kaart worden gebracht zodra je actief een Facebook-pagina onderhoudt. Buro J&J brengt het resultaat visueel in kaart.
Metadata zijn sporen die je na laat gedurende je communicatie via internet en telefoon. Dit zijn vooral individuele sporen, sporen over jezelf en het directe contact dat je onderhoudt met mensen. Natuurlijk kan naar aanleiding van die sporen een beeld geschetst worden van je sociale leefwereld, maar daarvoor moet je iemands data wel eerst voor langere tijd opslaan.
Individuele data is harde data over waar, hoe laat en met wie je hebt gesproken waarmee je als verdachte, getuige of onbekende kunt worden gelabeld door opsporingsdiensten. Je bent in de buurt geweest, je hebt met iemand gebeld of gewhatsappt, je reageert niet op een sms-bombardement, alles in het kader van de opsporing.
Voor directe vervolging zijn die data van belang, voor inlichtingendiensten minder. Zij zullen ongetwijfeld veel data verzamelen (‘At a meeting with his British counterparts in 2008, Keith Alexander, then head of the National Security Agency, reportedly asked, “Why can’t we collect all the signals, all the time?”’, the Washington Post 13 mei 2014), maar dat ligt in de aard van inlichtingendiensten. Die data heeft ook pas inlichtingenwaarde op het moment dat je iemands digitale stappen langer volgt. Voor het voorkomen van aanslagen zijn die data meestal zinloos. Zij geven misschien wel patronen aan, maar hebben geen voorspellende waarde voor mogelijke acties.
Op 20 december 2013 opent NBC news met: ‘NSA program stopped no terror attacks, says White House panel member’ The Guardian (14-01-14) onderstreept deze claim met de stelling dat volgens de Senate judiciary committee het verzamelen van bulk telefoondata een beperkte rol heeft gespeeld in het voorkomen van terrorisme.
The Guardian baseert haar stelling op een onderzoek door de New America Foundation die tot de conclusie kwam dat de NSA geen enkele aanslag heeft weten te voorkomen. De aanslag op de marathon van Boston van 15 april 2013 onderschrijven die conclusie. Meerdere diensten (FBI, CIA en NSA) hielden de verdachten in de gaten, maar zij konden hun aanslagen toch uitvoeren.
Nederland laat hetzelfde beeld zien. De inlichtingendiensten hebben de moord op Fortuyn en Van Gogh niet weten te voorkomen. Van de Hofstadgroep, waar Mohammed Bouyeri toe behoorde, was reeds bekend dat de meeste leden benaderd waren door de AIVD. Tevens was bekend dat zij bijeen kwamen in het huis van Bouyeri en dat het adresboek van hem door de Amsterdamse politie was gekopieerd voor de inlichtingendienst. De dienst heeft aangegeven dat zij webfora kunnen hacken, daarnaast heeft de dienst naar alle waarschijnlijkheid telefoontaps en internettaps op de Hofstadgroep leden geplaatst. Theo van Gogh is ondanks die dataverzameling vermoord (zie Onder Druk, Buro Jansen & Janssen).
Voor inlichtingendiensten is het voorkomen van aanslag echter niet het belangrijkste. Zij willen de ‘subversieven’, de ‘tegencultuur’ in kaart brengen. Specifieke informatie kan dan belangrijk zijn om op een groep in te kunnen zoomen, maar die data (metadata) is slechts deels interessant.
Je kunt bijvoorbeeld vastleggen dat Margriet en Barbara (de twee vrouwen in dit verhaal) veel met elkaar communiceren, bijvoorbeeld elke dag om 16.00 uur gedurende twee minuten. Margriet bevindt zich ten oosten van het centrum van Amsterdam, Barbara ten westen. Een locatie is er ook voor beide vrouwen. Laurence (de man in dit verhaal) communiceert slechts zelden met beide vrouwen, met Barbara op bepaalde momenten. Groepsgesprekken hebben de drie nooit.
Eigenlijk ben je nu al het zicht op de ‘bigger picture’ kwijt, omdat je direct inzoomt op het individu. Je verliest zo het helikopterperspectief, je staat niet meer boven de persoon, maar eigenlijk direct naast hem. Voor opsporingsdiensten is dit van belang voor het traceren van verdachten van misdrijven, je legt iemands leven in retrospectief vast. Voor inlichtingendiensten is deze data eigenlijk zinloos, je bent altijd te laat, zoals de moord op Van Gogh laat zien.
Dat tegenwoordig iedereen een spoor van data trekt, is sinds de onthullingen van Edward Snowden op de achtergrond geraakt. De overheid heeft een grote verzamelwoede en dat is de ‘schuldige’ in de discussie. Dit is al vele jaren bekend, maar veel mensen leken en lijken zich daar niets van aan te trekken. De discussie over de massa aan data die mensen zelf op het internet storten door eigen communicatie, is op de achtergrond geraakt.
Communicatie over mijn aanwezigheid in de Albert Heijn gebeurt zowel verhuld (metadata) als open (twitter, instagram). Het lijkt erbij te horen dat bij een actie, bijvoorbeeld het omtrekken van stellingkasten in de AH tegen de macht van de supermarkten, je niet alleen je metadata meesleept (zonder bellen al je locatie prijsgeven), maar ook nog eens met diezelfde telefoon twittert (hashtag #valAHaan) en fotografeert.
Dat de overheid die data verzamelt is dan eigenlijk bijzaak geworden. Veel mensen delen hun gehele leven elke seconde van de dag, niet alleen via metadata ook door ‘echte’ data. Het op straat gooien van persoonlijke data is ook zichtbaar bij Facebook. Wij hebben drie mensen (Margriet, Barbara en Laurence) die buitenparlementair politiek actief zijn, gevraagd of wij hun Facebook-data mochten analyseren. Die analyse hebben we vervolgens in een grafisch beeld omgezet.
Wie is wie
Stel, je bent vagelijk bevriend met Margriet. Je hebt nooit haar vrienden ontmoet en wordt uitgenodigd voor haar dertigste verjaardag. Margriet geeft een knalfuif en al haar familie, vrienden en bekenden komen langs. Zelfs incidentele vrienden van uitgaansgelegenheden zijn van de partij.
Zodra je van de grote zaal waar de party plaatsvindt een foto zou maken, krijg je grofweg een schets van de Facebook-pagina van Margriet. Haar familie zoekt elkaar op, mensen van de ngo waar zij actief voor is doen hetzelfde, krakers delen de laatste nieuwtjes uit, de deelnemers aan haar dansgroepen begroeten elkaar, en anderen hokken in groepjes. Door de gehele ruimte zwerven enkele eenlingen die niet echt mensen kennen.
In de loop van de avond vormt de dansvloer het middelpunt van het feest, ook daar is sprake van groepsvorming. Het eerste moment van de avond, dat bekenden elkaar opzoeken, zie je terug in de afbeelding op de Facebook-pagina van Margriet. Nu niet alleen op haar dertigste verjaardagsdag, maar dagelijks.
In het algemeen valt op dat de meeste mensen met hun volledige naam (voor- en achternaam) zich op Facebook presenteren. Ook ngo´s, actiegroepen, bands, kraakpanden en alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden vermelden een volledig profiel op sociale media. Daardoor wordt vrij snel duidelijk waar iemand sympathie voor heeft, waar hij of zij uitgaat, welke kraakpanden de persoon kent en welke acties door iemand worden ondersteund.
Opvallend is dat al die acties en ngo’s ook bij elkaar horen. Er zitten geen vreemde zaken bij, zoals bijvoorbeeld bedrijven als Coca Cola, Monsanto of Shell. De drie activisten tonen hun politieke opvatting door middel van hun Facebook-pagina duidelijk. Natuurlijk zijn Margriet, Barbara en Laurence bekenden van Jansen & Janssen, maar zelfs bij onbekende activisten zal het eenvoudig zijn om de politieke kleur, vrienden, familie, werk en je sociale netwerk op te tekenen.
Een kraaksymbool op Facebook bijvoorbeeld is iets totaal anders dan een kraaksymbool op een T-shirt dat je vandaag draagt. Dat T-shirt draag je waarschijnlijk anoniem, zonder naambordje of rug-burgerservicenummer. Via je Facebook-pagina is dat T-shirt gekoppeld aan je naam, je sociale netwerk, je leefwereld. Dat is niet anoniem, het gaat zelfs verder dan je persoonlijke identificatie.
Natuurlijk is het beeld niet perfect en moet er rekening worden gehouden met allerlei ongerijmdheden, maar de grafische representatie van de drie mensen schept een beeld van hun leven. Bij het zien van het beeld viel het Margriet op dat haar “sociale netwerk heel goed zichtbaar is”. Dat het beeld niet perfect is viel haar ook op: “Grappig dat er ook een muziekband en een persoon tussen zitten die inmiddels amper nog actief zijn.” Het beeld is niet perfect en daarom worden hier enkele kanttekeningen bij de interpretaties geplaatst.
Veel communiceren, veel ‘liken’ of veel ‘likes’ krijgen op Facebook betekent niet alles. In de beelden hebben de verschillende personen en groepen een andere kleuren. Donker rood is een teken van grote activiteit, maar in deze analyse wordt daar niet dieper op ingegaan. Veel activiteit valt bij een oppervlakkige analyse niet goed te definiëren. Wel maakt het beeld duidelijk dat met verfijnde oplossingen de mate van activiteit en welke activiteit nader kan worden ingekleurd. Automatisch moet bij de analyse van de beelden voorzichtig worden omgesprongen met conclusies over leiderschap en hiërarchie.
Ook zegt de communicatie op Facebook niet alles. Mensen die op internet zeer actief zijn, zijn misschien in werkelijkheid erg verlegen. Mensen met een grote mond en die stoer doen op internet, vervullen niet per se een belangrijke rol binnen een groep en/of sociaal netwerk. Tevens is niet iedereen aanwezig op Facebook. Er zijn nog steeds mensen die geen Facebook-pagina hebben, die zijn dus niet zichtbaar in het netwerk. Zelfs met deze kanttekeningen moet Laurence ook toegeven dat zijn leven redelijk goed in beeld wordt gebracht.
Facebook-beeld van Barbara
Pijl 1 oude vriendengroep en contacten via derden, geen sterke banden
Pijl 2 collega’s en ngo’s gerelateerd aan het werk van Barbara
Pijl 3 sterke relatie met Barbara, springt eruit in het netwerk, is haar vriend Evert
Pijl 4 collega’s en uitgaansgelegenheden gerelateerd aan Evert vriend van Barbara
Pijl 5 oude vriendengroep en contacten via familie zwerm, geen sterke banden
Tussen pijl 1 en 5 Familie zwerm
Tussen pijl 2 en 4 individuen, kraakpanden en alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden.
Het Facebook beeld van Margriet bestaat uit een grote zwerm (pijl 1 van haar beeld), een klein wolkje onder (pijl 3), twee wolken bij elkaar (pijl 4) en enkele losse individuen bovenaan. Het beeld van Barbara laat links een kleine wolk zien met een plukje daaronder (pijl 1 en 5) en rechts een grote zwerm in een boog van boven naar beneden (pijl 2, 3 en 4). Laurence laat een grote wolk in het midden zien (pijl 2 en 4) en twee plukjes boven (pijl 1) en beneden (pijl 3).
Bij alle drie de beelden springen de plukjes familie er uit. Margriet heeft een klein wolkje familie (pijl 3) die ver onder haar ‘eigen’ wolk hangt. Barbara heeft een grote wolk links van de centrale zwerm. Dat is haar familie en waarschijnlijk oude vrienden in het land waar zij vandaan komt. Laurence heeft een klein wolkje onder de hoofdwolk, waar zijn familie en enkele oude vrienden zich hebben verenigd.
Alle drie de activisten hebben ‘afstand’ tot hun familie. Bij Barbara heeft het met fysieke afstand te maken, bij Laurence en Margriet kan het iets zeggen over de mate van gehechtheid. Bij Barbara is nog opvallen dat naast de ‘familie’ zwerm (tussen pijl 1 en pijl 5) er nog twee kleine wolkjes (pijl 1 en 5) verder van de centrale wolk afstaat. De verklaring van deze wolk: een groep vrienden of bekenden in het land waar Barbara vandaan komt. Pijl 1 laat een klein netwerk zien dat verbonden is met enkele wolken bij de centrale zwerm. Het is niet direct verbonden met de centrale persoon (pijl 3) in de grote wolk. Waarschijnlijk is dit een groep uit het verleden waar om verschillende redenen minder relaties mee onderhouden zijn.
Hoe zijn die specifieke familie-zwermen te onderscheiden van elkaar? Eigenlijk vrij simpel. De activisten staan op Facebook met hun achternaam. In de ‘familie’ wolken komt die naam veel voor. Natuurlijk is het een aanname, maar bij navraag blijkt Margriet aan te geven dat “rechtsonder de familie zit”. Ook Laurence zegt dat pijl 3 een “opvallend los netwerkje is. Dit is een netwerk van oude vrienden en familie. Ik heb daar weinig contact mee en dat lijkt zelfs uit het Facebook-beeld te halen”, geeft Laurence aan. In ieder geval is de familie zwerm niet opgenomen in de centrale wolk van alle drie de activisten.
Facebook-beeld van Laurence
Pijl 1: wolkje vrienden of collega’s die betrokken zijn bij een ngo’s
Pijl 2: activisten zwerm rond kraakpand in Amsterdam (groepen, individuen, kraakpanden etc.)
Pijl 3: Familie zwerm en wat oude vrienden
Pijl 4: activisten zwerm rond groep in Den Haag (groepen, individuen, kraakpanden etc.)
De activisten zwerm bestaat bij alle drie uit een verzameling groepen, kraakpanden, alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden en personen. Bij Margriet bestaat die wolk (pijl 1) uit verschillende delen. Links boven bevindt zich een groep mensen, muziekbands en groepen rond enkele uitgaansgelegenheden en kraakpanden zoals de OCCii aan de Amstelveenseweg in Amsterdam West en het kraakpand de Valreep in Amsterdam Oost.
Links onder in de centrale wolk komt het woord anarchisme regelmatig terug, zoals Anarchistische Groep Friesland en Anarchistisch Kollektief Utrecht. Deze groepen en mensen ‘hangen’ rond bij Doorbraak, een linkse basisorganisatie. Rechts onder bevinden zich individuen in de zwerm die actief zijn voor verschillende ngo’s. Gezien het werk van Margriet is het logisch dat zij verbinding met deze groep mensen heeft. Slechts enkele groepen komen er in voor, het zijn vooral personen.
Tot slot rechtsboven is een groep mensen en enkele bands gegroepeerd die tussen de alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden en kraakpand (links boven) en de twee wolken rechts van de activisten zwerm staan. Rechtsboven vormt een soort brug naar twee dansgroepen die rechts van de centrale wolk staan.
De activistenzwerm van Laurence (pijl 2 en 4) is even scherp in te delen in aparte delen. Rechtsonder een specifiek groepje krakers/activisten die dezelfde hobby’s erop nahouden. Rechtsboven een groep mensen en organisaties georganiseerd rond het Autonoom Centrum Den Haag (pijl 4). Linksonder is weer het kraakpand de Valreep in Amsterdam Oost present, net als bij Margriet. Het is opvallend hoe de Valreep (pijl 2) bij Laurence als een soort spin vele connecties maakt met mensen en groepen.
Hier omheen hangen wat activisten en krakers uit Amsterdam. De centrale as in de activistische zwerm van Laurence wordt gevormd tussen de Valreep in Amsterdam en het Autonoom Centrum in Den Haag. Linksboven zijn een paar personen aanwezig die de link vormen tussen de Amsterdamse kraakscene en het wolkje dat links boven de activistenzwerm van Laurence zweeft. Dit kleine wolkje dat los is geweekt van de centrale wolk zijn mensen die betrokken zijn bij een ngo.
De as ‘de Valreep – Autonoom Centrum’ in de activistenzwerm van Laurence is niet direct zichtbaar bij Margriet. Daar spelen eerder enkele individuen een centrale rol in de ‘grote wolk’. Margriet: “in de grote wolk (pijl 1) springen er een aantal erg uit die blijkbaar zeer actief zijn op Facebook zoals Albert en Astrid.” Deze twee mensen waren vroeger actief (jaren ’90 en begin ‘0), maar spelen nu geen belangrijke rol meer binnen de activisten scene. Niet alleen groepen kunnen dus een verbindende factor spelen, maar ook individuen zoals de zwermen rond Albert en Astrid laten zien. Zij houden de wolk van Margriet bij elkaar.
Bij Barbara is iets vergelijkbaars aan de hand. De onderkant van de grote wolk (pijl 2, 3 en 4) wordt bij elkaar gehouden door één persoon (pijl 3). Dat is iemand waarmee Barbara veel connecties heeft, haar vriend Evert. Zelfs zonder kennis over de relatie tussen Barbara en Evert valt in ieder geval zijn zeer actieve positie binnen haar netwerk op. Het is duidelijk dat Evert heel dicht bij Barbara staat. Dit kan ook worden geconcludeerd uit het feit dat Evert veel contacten heeft met de familie zwerm (tussen pijl 1 en 5).
Rechts van Evert wordt het laagste deel van de wolk (pijl 4) ingenomen door collega´s en groepen rond de uitgaansgelegenheid waar hij werkt. In het midden zijn vooral de alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden en kraakpanden vertegenwoordigd (rond pijl 3). Halverwege de top is er een lichte breuk zichtbaar in de wolk. De top lijkt daardoor een beetje los te staan van het deel er onder (pijl 2).
Die top wordt ingenomen door collega´s van de werkplek van Barbara, een ngo die enkele contacten onderhoudt met de activistische scene. Vanuit die top zijn er enkele individuen die tegen de grote wolk aanhangen in twee kleine plukken verdeeld en die ook contact onderhouden met de ‘overkant’, de familie en oude vrienden zwerm. Dat zijn mensen die connecties hebben met het land waar Barbara vandaan komt, iets dat is op te maken uit de namen van de verschillende mensen.
Facebook-beeld van Margriet
Pijl 1: activisten zwerm met groepen, individuen, kraakpanden en alternatieve uitgaansgelegenheden.
Pijl 2: Losse individuen, merendeel oud klasgenoten van de middelbare school
Pijl 3: Familie zwerm
Pijl 4: Vertier wolk: een grote (waar de pijl naar wijst) en kleine dansgroep (links van de grote wolk)
Bij Margriet is het opvallend dat zij twee aparte wolken ter rechterzijde van de activisten zwerm heeft (pijl 4 en iets naast pijl 4). Centraal in die twee wolken staan de namen van een dansgroep. De individuen daaromheen zullen naar alle waarschijnlijkheid leden zijn of sympathisanten, zoals bij de activisten zwerm. Barbara en Laurence geven niet zo heel duidelijk hun hobby’s prijs, maar het kan ook betekenen dat zij activiteiten doen met mensen die geen gebruik maken van Facebook of niet zichtbaar zijn in een duidelijk clubverband.
In principe is er natuurlijk sprake van diverse opties ten aanzien van het wel of niet zichtbaar zijn van groepen. Toch is dat niet helemaal waar, want de clusters rond werk, connecties rond een ngo, rond een kraakpand of een uitgaansgelegenheid, zijn wél heel duidelijk. Een logischer verklaring is dat de activiteit meer is ingebed in de bestaande structuur, waardoor er geen losse groep is. Dit is zo als een activiteit niet in een officieel club- of groepsverband, zoals de twee dansgroepen van Barbara, plaatsvindt. Bij Margriet lijkt dit te kloppen, ook ten aanzien van haar oude klasgenoten uit het verleden. “Het groepje helemaal bovenin zijn oud-klasgenoten van mijn middelbare school met enkele geïsoleerde contacten”, analyseert Margriet haar eigen Facebook-beeld.
Barbara laat eigenlijk twee wolken zien. Een familie- en vriendenzwerm met daarnaast twee aparte wolken oud-vrienden of bekenden waar nu minder contact mee wordt onderhouden. Deze wolk staat los van haar leven in Nederland, maar is vergelijkbaar met de danswolken van Margriet, gescheiden werelden met enkele connecties. Bij de wolk met het werk van Barbara boven en het werk van Evert beneden wordt het centrum ingenomen door uitgaan, persoonlijke contacten en wat activisme en kraakpanden. Een duidelijke aparte groep sport, cultuur of natuur heeft Barbara niet binnen haar netwerk. Barbara en Margriet zijn wel weer in dat centrum aan elkaar gekoppeld. Margriet en Barbara komen terug in het netwerk van Laurence.
Sociaal netwerk vastleggen
Na het zien van zijn Facebook-beeld vraagt Laurence zich af hoeveel hij gaat veranderen aan zijn gedrag op Facebook. “Het geeft een duidelijk inzicht in mijn sociale leven”, constateert hij. Hij merkt daarbij op dat een analyse van de gegevens van Facebook duidelijk maakt waar de zwakke schakels in zijn leven zich bevinden. “Dat is best scarry, vreemd om dat op deze manier te ontdekken”, voegt hij eraan toe.
Ook Margriet is verbaasd over hoe scherp haar sociale leven door Facebook in kaart wordt gebracht. “Als je weet in welke thema´s die zwermen of wolken geïnteresseerd zijn, heb je een schat aan informatie. Door een combinatie te maken van individuen en groepen wordt dat snel duidelijk. Je weet echter niet alleen welke thema’s centraal staan, ook is zichtbaar hoe bepaalde informatie kan worden verspreid binnen die specifieke netwerken. Je weet namelijk wie actief is, een centrale rol speelt, veel connecties heeft, ga zo maar door. En dan hoeft het niet alleen om commerciële boodschappen te gaan”, laat zij weten.
Facebook legt iemands sociale leven vast, maar doet dat echter niet alleen. Mensen leveren het internetbedrijf hun persoonlijke data. Die informatie is misschien onschuldig als je naar de elementen kijkt, maar wie de data in context plaatst kan een foto maken van de bezoekers van de dertigste verjaardag van Margriet. Die foto weerspiegelt haar sociale leven, niet alleen op die dag. Het plaatst mensen in groepen, kleurt politieke ideeën in en geeft inzicht in verhoudingen.
Wie van alle groepen en personen van de Facebook-pagina van Margriet (hetzelfde geldt voor Barbara en Laurence) een grafisch beeld maakt, kan een nog specifiekere sociale geschiedenis van haar optekenen. Jeugd, school, universiteit, arbeidsverleden, vrije tijd, activisme en politieke voorkeuren kunnen deels worden ingevuld. Misschien niet perfect, maar Facebook bezit zoveel data dat die perfectie in de loop der jaren naar alle waarschijnlijkheid zal toenemen.
Vraag is natuurlijk of je je hele sociale leven op straat wilt leggen, of dat je daar zelf controle over wilt hebben en/of houden. Dat is een persoonlijke keuze die niets met privacydiscussies te maken heeft. ‘Wat deel je met een bedrijf en daarbij indirect met de wereld?’, is de primaire vraag die je jezelf moet stellen.
Maikel van Leeuwen
Facebook beelden, beelden van je Facebook pagina of een social graph
De bijgevoegde beelden zijn een visualisatie van de Facebook-pagina’s van Margriet, Barbara en Laurence. De verbindingen in het netwerk, de lijnen tussen de rondjes worden ook wel ‘edges’ genoemd. In het Nederlands vertaald zou dit randen of richels betekenen. Eigenlijk zegt dit al iets over de voorzichtigheid die in acht genomen moet worden bij interpretaties. Randen en richels zijn geen diepe verbindingen. Een verbinding kan een ‘like’ zijn of een opmerking.
Een node, een rondje in de beelden, is een persoon en/of organisatie binnen het netwerk. Nodes en edges vormen tezamen een social graph, een Facebook beeld. De grote van een node bepaald de ‘populariteit’ in het netwerk. Met allerlei berekeningen kan bepaald worden hoe populair een node is. De populariteit wordt bepaald door het aantal likes, maar ook door de mate van activiteit door het versturen van berichten of het krijgen van berichten.
Find this story at 30 June 2014
Facebook, het ultieme inlichtingenbedrijf
7 juli 2014
Je kan Facebook vergelijken met de people’s secret service. Want hoe je het wendt of keert, uiteindelijk zijn het de internetgebruikers die vrijwillig hun persoonlijke leven prijsgeven aan het commerciële bedrijfsleven en de overheid.
In het voorafgaande artikel ‘Met de billen bloot op Facebook’, over Facebook profiling, gaat het vooral over netwerken waarin mensen zich bevinden. Profiling bestaat echter niet alleen uit netwerkanalyse, maar ook uit identificatie-analyse. Wie de profielen van Margriet, Barbara en Laurens bekijkt, krijgt niet alleen de beschikking over veel informatie met betrekking tot familie, vrienden, kennissen, heden en verleden, maar ook voorkeuren.
Facebook fungeert als een soort inlichtingendienst. Het verzamelt informatie die mensen zelf aanleveren. Het lijkt anders dan het persoonsdossier van de inlichtingendienst die bestaat uit krantenartikelen, mediaoptredens, twitterberichten, Facebook postings, vergadernotulen, observatieverslagen en telefoon-/internettaps.
Wie echter inzoomt op de Facebook-data constateert dat het commerciële internetbedrijf dezelfde data beheert die inlichtingendiensten proberen te verzamelen. Informatie die betrekking heeft op persoonlijke voorkeuren, relaties, contacten en netwerken. Het verschil met inlichtingendiensten is dat Facebook niets hoeft te doen voor die dataverzameling. Zij stelt een gratis dienst ter beschikking. Gratis betekent in dit geval natuurlijk niet voor niets. Daarbij gaat het bij Facebook allang niet meer om de advertenties die je moet tolereren.
Het Facebook-beeld van de drie aan ons visualisatie-/analyseproject deelnemende activisten geeft een aantal zaken weer, waar inlichtingendiensten ook constant naar op zoeken zijn. Wie zijn je vrienden (op Facebook), bij welke actiegroepen en politieke partijen ben je aangesloten en voor welke demonstraties en acties heb je sympathie. Likes spelen daarbij natuurlijk een rol, maar het gaat ook om de interactie en de berichten die gekoppeld zijn aan die politieke voorkeuren.
Met de subscribe knop kan Facebook waarde koppelen aan verschillende persoonlijke relaties die je hebt. De relaties en voorkeuren leggen je sociale leven bloot. Naar welke muziek luister je graag, welke boeken lees je en hoe (e-book of papier), favoriete tv-series, de sport die je beoefent, de games die je speelt als je je even verveelt.
Dit is geen persoonlijke informatie die Facebook aan mensen ontfutselt. Het is geen inlichtingendienst die je bibliotheekgegevens opvraagt om te weten welk boek je hebt geleend. Mensen leveren Facebook al hun data aan, vrijwillig zonder dwang. Hooguit kun je spreken van groepsdruk, druk van het argument ‘iedereen gebruikt het’.
De kennis van het bedrijf over je sociale leven strekt zich uit van je voornaam, achternaam, geboortedatum en leeftijd tot aan je afkomst, je gezicht (scan), zeg maar je GBA (Gemeentelijke Basis Administratie) gegevens. Maar Facebook beschikt ook over gegevens betreffende je basisschool, middelbare school en hoger onderwijs (DUO Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs gegevens), tot aan je seksuele oriëntatie (GGD gegevens in verband met inentingen en tests op HIV en andere seksueel overdraagbare ziekten), je huidige en voormalig werkgevers (UWV en DWI gegevens), partner en ex-partners (GBA gegevens), creditcard gegevens (banken/ en creditcard bedrijven), fysieke locatie (telefoonmaatschappijen en internetproviders). Gegevens die overheidsdiensten bij allerlei instanties moeten opvragen.
Mensen delen veel en Facebook vraagt ook regelmatig om je profiel volledig in te vullen. Inlichtingendiensten kloppen bij al die instanties aan, of proberen direct en constant toegang tot deze data te verkrijgen. Aan de achterkant weet je eigenlijk niet wat Facebook met die data doet. Advertenties koppelen aan je profiel is de meest opvallende, maar die achterkant blijft duister.
Met de onthullingen van Edward Snowden over datastofzuiger de National Security Agency (NSA), is duidelijk geworden dat multinationals zoals Facebook, maar ook Google, Microsoft en Apple hun achterdeur voor de inlichtingendienst(en) open zetten. Het Amerikaanse blad Mother Jones kopte in december 2013: ‘Where Does Facebook Stop and the NSA Begin?’
Toch is deze weergave niet helemaal correct. Het lijkt eerder op de omgekeerde wereld. ‘Waar stoppen de inlichtingendiensten en gaat het bedrijf Facebook verder?’ Dit zit niet in de interacties tussen je vrienden op Facebook of met groepen; Facebook wil veel meer van je weten en of je nu ingelogd bent of niet, het bedrijf zorgt ervoor dat ze op de hoogte is van wat er in je leven gebeurt.
Eind oktober 2013 vertelde analist Ken Rudin van Facebook dat het bedrijf testen uitvoert om cursorbewegingen van individuele burgers op Facebook vast te leggen en te analyseren. Het gaat hierbij om het vastleggen van bewegingen met de muis naar locaties op het scherm om vervolgens daaruit af te kunnen leiden wat de interesse is van de afzonderlijke gebruikers.
De analist beweerde dat dit van doen heeft met het plaatsen van advertenties, maar uiteindelijk heeft het te maken met het profileren van de gebruikers. Zo kan Facebook namelijk ook zien of de persoon tijdens het gebruik van het sociale medium naar zijn telefoon of computerscherm kijkt, hoe lang, wanneer en wat. Allemaal nog wel gerelateerd aan de website van het bedrijf, maar met aanvullende functies als de sport applicatie pedometer kan Facebook vastleggen hoe lang, waar en wanneer je hebt hardgelopen of gewandeld.
Het duurt niet lang meer voordat het bedrijf je algehele conditie heeft doorgrond als aanvullende applicaties over bloeddruk en hartslag beschikbaar worden gesteld. Zo ontwikkelt Google een slimme contactlens voor diabetes patiënten en investeert zij in bedrijven die zicht bezig houden met diabetes. Allemaal gratis natuurlijk. Of is het niet gratis?
Rijkdom aan informatie
Facebook wil graag toegang tot de microfoon van je computer, headset of telefoon en dringt daarmee door tot in je huiskamer waar je, misschien zonder Facebook, naar muziek luistert die de private inlichtingendienst dan kan horen en toevoegen aan het profiel van jou. Hoe iemand zich voelt komt zo binnen bereik van het bedrijf. Want zelfs als je een andere naam, adres, geboortedatum en andere zaken opgeeft, volgt het bedrijf je. Het legt het apparaat vast waarmee je op Facebook bent ingelogd, met bijbehorend ip-adres, maar ook je locatie, tijdzone, datum en tijdstip.
Ook al vermijdt je te liken, het private bedrijf volgt je stappen langs de ‘events’ en ‘checkins’, de websites die je bezoekt zodra je geobserveerd wordt door Facebook. Zo kan het bedrijf kennis nemen van jouw favoriete café’s, restaurants, gerechten en recepten. Het inlichtingenbedrijf legt vast welke mensen je regelmatig bezoekt, op welke locaties je fotografeert en filmt, met wie je chat en welke groepen je in de gaten houdt.
Foto’s en films die worden toegevoegd aan Facebook bevatten een rijke verzameling aan extra gegevens, zoals met welk apparaat ze zijn gemaakt, sluitertijd en diafragma, locatie, auteur, tijd etc. En van de chats en berichten bewaart Facebook ook de uitgewiste stukken tekst. Je wilt een vriend schrijven dat hij een ‘eikel’ is, maar wist dat vervolgens uit omdat je je vriendschap ermee niet op het spel wilt zetten. Je stuurt deze vriend een berichtje dat je geen tijd hebt dit weekend. Facebook weet zo meer over jouw relatie met die vriend, dan die vriend zelf.
Bij dit alles moet worden aangetekend dat je ingelogd moet zijn op ‘jouw’ Facebook-pagina en dat je bepaalde applicaties hebt geïnstalleerd en aan hebt staan, zoals GPS voor je plaatsbepaling en de pedometer voor je hardloop tracking. Met de gezichtsherkenning kunnen mensen die onzichtbaar willen zijn door Facebook uit de duisternis worden getrokken. Niet door het bedrijf zelf, maar door haar medewerkers, de gebruikers van Facebook. Wie gaat er echter zo bewust mee om? En vooral: wie staat er bij stil dat jouw identiteit altijd gekoppeld is aan die van anderen?
In die zin is Facebook de ultieme inlichtingendienst. Het bedrijf is de people’s secret service, wat zoveel inhoudt dat de individuele gebruikers het werk als medewerkers van de geheime dienst vervullen voor henzelf en voor anderen. De Stasi zou haar vingers erbij aflikken, vandaar dat inlichtingendiensten als de NSA graag toegang hebben tot de achterkant van Facebook, het bedrijf zal de vergaarde informatie ook zonder blikken of blozen vrijgeven.
Steun overheid van belang
Het vrijgeven van vergaarde persoonlijke informatie aan inlichtingendiensten heeft met verschillende aspecten te maken. Ten eerste zijn grote internationaal opererende bedrijven afhankelijker van hun ‘nationale regering’ dan ze zelf zullen toegeven. Zo onderhoudt Shell innige relaties met zowel de Nederlandse als de Britse regering om haar operaties in het buitenland veilig te stellen. Als er ergens iets misgaat wordt zowel het diplomatieke als het militaire apparaat van het ’thuisland’ gemobiliseerd.
Amerikaanse bedrijven als Facebook en Google zullen dat ook doen. Als Gmail (Google) wordt gehackt zal het bedrijf de Amerikaanse overheid over haar schouder laten meekijken, maar diezelfde overheid zal langs diplomatieke, en zo nodig langs militaire (in dit geval waarschijnlijk cyber-militaire) weg, het bedrijf ondersteunen. Dat is natuurlijk niet vreemd, Google is een groot bedrijf en van belang voor de Amerikaanse economie en hegemonie.
Hetzelfde geldt voor Facebook waarvan diverse accounts begin 2013 werden gehackt. De Amerikaanse overheid zal vaak worden gevraagd om ‘officieel’ te reageren om in veel gevallen de Chinezen terecht te wijzen. Die steun van de Amerikaanse overheid is echter ook niet gratis. Zij zal druk op de bedrijven uitoefenen om de achterdeur voor inlichtingendiensten als de NSA, maar ook de FBI, open te houden. Je kunt bijna spreken van public private partnership waarbij multinationals vaak niet voor de overheidsdiensten hoeven te betalen.
Daarnaast proberen overheden een zo fijnmazig netwerk te creëren van diplomatieke posten en ambassades om hun land in het buitenland te promoten. Die posten hebben ook een andere functie. De onthullingen van Snowden hebben onderstreept dat de Amerikanen en bevriende naties als Canada, Australië, Groot-Brittannië en Nieuw Zeeland die diplomatieke posten gebruiken om in de gehele wereld de mogelijkheid te hebben om af te luisteren.
Werknemers van internationale bedrijven die wereldwijd opereren, zullen regelmatig gevraagd worden bij te dragen aan de inlichtingenoperatie van die overheid. Zij zitten vaak op andere plaatsen dan de diplomaten die vaak onder een vergrootglas in het buitenland opereren. Landen proberen dus hun zicht op het buitenland, de concurrenten en de vijanden zo scherp mogelijk te krijgen. Hoe meer diplomatieke posten en meewerkende bedrijven hoe scherper het beeld. Facebook probeert eigenlijk hetzelfde te doen met de data die zij van haar gebruikers verzamelt en analyseert. Hoe meer data, hoe scherper de analyses en hoe meer zicht op de verbanden en de interacties, hoe helderder het beeld.
In de loop der jaren heeft Facebook het aantal pixels (punten) van de foto van de profielen vergroot. Uiteindelijk werkt zij aan een haarscherp beeld van het profiel van haar gebruikers. Facebook realiseert dit zelf ook. Op 12 november 2013 diende het bedrijf een patent aanvraag in, de ‘178th patent application for a consumer profiling technique the company calls inferring household income for users of a social networking system’ (Facebook Future Plans for Data Collection Beyond All Imagination, 4 december 2013).
Deze aanvraag omschrijft de hoeveelheid en diversiteit van de data. Facebook heeft sinds oktober 2013 1,189,000,000 actieve gebruikers in de gehele wereld. Die data gebruikt het bedrijf nu al voor sociaal wetenschappelijk onderzoek door het Data Science Team van het bedrijf. Dit team doet niet alleen onderzoek naar de data, maar gebruikt de gebruikers ook als onderzoeksmateriaal, zoals het onderzoek van Eytan Bakshy die de toegang tot materiaal van 250 miljoen gebruikers manipuleerde. De gebruikers als proefpersonen in de ideale wereld van Facebook.
Gewoon een bedrijf
Uiteindelijk is Facebook natuurlijk geen gratis dienst. In eerste instantie zal het vooral proberen geld te verdienen door de verkoop van gebruikersprofielen ten bate van gerichte advertenties. De volgende stap heeft het bedrijf al gezet door de voorwaarden die ze stelt voor het aanmaken van een Facebook-pagina. Foto’s en films zijn in principe niet meer je eigendom. Het bedrijf kan die foto’s rechtenvrij gebruiken. Dit geldt natuurlijk ook voor Instagram. Andere bedrijven als Twitter (Twitpic’s) doen hetzelfde.
Wat geldt voor foto’s en films geldt natuurlijk ook voor teksten en andere content die je aan je pagina toevoegt. Voor deze zeer positieve voorwaarden is het bedrijf natuurlijk ook afhankelijk van de Amerikaanse overheid. Mocht wetgeving plotseling veranderen en gebruikers geld van Facebook eisen, zou dat voor het bedrijf een ramp zijn.
Afgaande op de totale omvang van de gebruikers, bijna evenveel als China inwoners heeft, en data die het bedrijf heeft verzameld en beheert, zou je bijna vergeten dat het gewoon een bedrijf is met 6.818 werknemers, een raad van bestuur en aandeelhouders die uiteindelijk graag hun inleg en winst terug willen zien.
De raad van bestuur geeft inzicht op welke plek Facebook in de markt staat. De verschillende leden zijn uit allerlei windstreken gerekruteerd. Natuurlijk Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. en haar dochter Skype, eBay Inc. en andere technologiebedrijven, maar ook entertainment bedrijven als Netflix en Walt Disney Co. Alsmede enkele banken, zoals Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC en Credit Suisse, maar ook The World Bank Group.
Contacten met de politiek zijn ook van belang, dat vindt plaats via oud-leden van de White House Chief of Staff of de US Department of The Treasury. En tot slot natuurlijk de ouderwetse consumentenmarkt zoals General Motors Corp. en Starbucks. Met een klein aantal leden van de raad van bestuur dekt Facebook haar contacten in verleden en heden af. Uiteindelijk is en blijft het gewoon een bedrijf, misschien wel een private inlichtingendienst, maar zonder winst zullen op een gegeven moment de aandeelhouders weglopen en valt het om.
Wat er met de vergaarde persoonlijke data gebeurt zodra het bedrijf failliet gaat, is onduidelijk. De overname van Whatsapp door Facebook liet zien dat gebruikers zich plots beducht waren voor hun persoonlijke informatie en op zoek gingen naar ‘alternatieven’.
Aan de bestaande alternatieven kleven eigenlijk dezelfde bezwaren als aan Facebook. Google Hangouts maakt onderdeel uit van een andere multinational, net als Imessenger. Bij Telegram werd geroepen dat het een Russische app is, maar waarom dat slechter is dan een Amerikaanse Whatsapp, los van de technische mankementen, blijft onduidelijk.
Uiteindelijk gaat het niet meer om een discussie over privacy, burgerrechten en/of bigdata. Facebook verzamelt namelijk niet zelf de data, zij verkrijgt het van haar gebruikers/agenten en die staan de persoonsgebonden informatie geheel vrijwillig af. Los van groepsdruk is er geen sprake van drang en dwang.
De Facebook inlichtingendienst stelt indirect solidariteit en de minderheid centraal. Hoe solidair zijn wij met mensen die misschien wel op de foto willen maar niet getagd wllen worden. Die wel iets schrijven maar niet geliked willen worden. Die wel op de foto willen maar zich niet op Facebook geplaatst willen zien. Het debat rond Facebook gaat ook over pluriformiteit versus uniformiteit. Over allemaal hetzelfde, Facebook, of iedereen iets anders.
Facebook registreert in meer of mindere mate het volgende van jou:
Je cursor bewegingen, geo-locatie, meta-data van foto’s en films (type, sluitertijd, geo-locatie indien gps aanstaat, auteur), biometrische gegevens (scan van het gezicht, matched zeer goed), chat gegevens en tekst die je zelfs niet verstuurd hebt, likes, vrienden, politieke kleur, seksuele oriëntatie, school, afkomst, ip-adressen van ingelogd zijn, wanneer je op je scherm van de smart device kijkt, welke smart devices waarmee je op Facebook bent, wanneer je achter de computer zit, hoelang je achter de computer zit, leeftijd, voormalige werkgevers en huidige, partner, familie, vrienden, ex-vriendinnen, muziek, boeken, films, series, games, sport, interacties tussen alle vrienden groepen, welke websites je bezoekt als je ingelogd bent, welke content je bekijkt op Facebook zelf, andere biometrische gegevens (zoals stappen, algehele conditie met sport applicaties).
Find this story at 30 June 2014
Facebook reveals news feed experiment to control emotions Protests over secret study involving 689,000 users in which friends’ postings were moved to influence moods
7 juli 2014
Poll: Facebook’s secret mood experiment: have you lost trust in the social network?
It already knows whether you are single or dating, the first school you went to and whether you like or loathe Justin Bieber. But now Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site, is facing a storm of protest after it revealed it had discovered how to make users feel happier or sadder with a few computer key strokes.
It has published details of a vast experiment in which it manipulated information posted on 689,000 users’ home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of “emotional contagion”.
In a study with academics from Cornell and the University of California, Facebook filtered users’ news feeds – the flow of comments, videos, pictures and web links posted by other people in their social network. One test reduced users’ exposure to their friends’ “positive emotional content”, resulting in fewer positive posts of their own. Another test reduced exposure to “negative emotional content” and the opposite happened.
The study concluded: “Emotions expressed by friends, via online social networks, influence our own moods, constituting, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence for massive-scale emotional contagion via social networks.”
Lawyers, internet activists and politicians said this weekend that the mass experiment in emotional manipulation was “scandalous”, “spooky” and “disturbing”.
On Sunday evening, a senior British MP called for a parliamentary investigation into how Facebook and other social networks manipulated emotional and psychological responses of users by editing information supplied to them.
Jim Sheridan, a member of the Commons media select committee, said the experiment was intrusive. “This is extraordinarily powerful stuff and if there is not already legislation on this, then there should be to protect people,” he said. “They are manipulating material from people’s personal lives and I am worried about the ability of Facebook and others to manipulate people’s thoughts in politics or other areas. If people are being thought-controlled in this kind of way there needs to be protection and they at least need to know about it.”
A Facebook spokeswoman said the research, published this month in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US, was carried out “to improve our services and to make the content people see on Facebook as relevant and engaging as possible”.
She said: “A big part of this is understanding how people respond to different types of content, whether it’s positive or negative in tone, news from friends, or information from pages they follow.”
But other commentators voiced fears that the process could be used for political purposes in the runup to elections or to encourage people to stay on the site by feeding them happy thoughts and so boosting advertising revenues.
In a series of Twitter posts, Clay Johnson, the co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Barack Obama’s online campaign for the presidency in 2008, said: “The Facebook ’transmission of anger’ experiment is terrifying.”
He asked: “Could the CIA incite revolution in Sudan by pressuring Facebook to promote discontent? Should that be legal? Could Mark Zuckerberg swing an election by promoting Upworthy [a website aggregating viral content] posts two weeks beforehand? Should that be legal?”
It was claimed that Facebook may have breached ethical and legal guidelines by not informing its users they were being manipulated in the experiment, which was carried out in 2012.
The study said altering the news feeds was “consistent with Facebook’s data use policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research”.
But Susan Fiske, the Princeton academic who edited the study, said she was concerned. “People are supposed to be told they are going to be participants in research and then agree to it and have the option not to agree to it without penalty.”
James Grimmelmann, professor of law at Maryland University, said Facebook had failed to gain “informed consent” as defined by the US federal policy for the protection of human subjects, which demands explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject’s participation, a description of any reasonably foreseeable risks and a statement that participation is voluntary. “This study is a scandal because it brought Facebook’s troubling practices into a realm – academia – where we still have standards of treating people with dignity and serving the common good,” he said on his blog.
It is not new for internet firms to use algorithms to select content to show to users and Jacob Silverman, author of Terms of Service: Social Media, Surveillance, and the Price of Constant Connection, told Wire magazine on Sunday the internet was already “a vast collection of market research studies; we’re the subjects”.
“What’s disturbing about how Facebook went about this, though, is that they essentially manipulated the sentiments of hundreds of thousands of users without asking permission,” he said. “Facebook cares most about two things: engagement and advertising. If Facebook, say, decides that filtering out negative posts helps keep people happy and clicking, there’s little reason to think that they won’t do just that. As long as the platform remains such an important gatekeeper – and their algorithms utterly opaque – we should be wary about the amount of power and trust we delegate to it.”
Robert Blackie, director of digital at Ogilvy One marketing agency, said the way internet companies filtered information they showed users was fundamental to their business models, which made them reluctant to be open about it.
“To guarantee continued public acceptance they will have to discuss this more openly in the future,” he said. “There will have to be either independent reviewers of what they do or government regulation. If they don’t get the value exchange right then people will be reluctant to use their services, which is potentially a big business problem.”
The Guardian, Monday 30 June 2014
Find this story at 30 June 2014
© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Facebook’s Future Plans for Data Collection Beyond All Imagination
7 juli 2014
Facebook’s dark plans for the future are given away in its patent applications.
“No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development, entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved.’”
—Max Weber, 1905
On November 12 Facebook, Inc. filed its 178th patent application for a consumer profiling technique the company calls “inferring household income for users of a social networking system.”
“The amount of information gathered from users,” explain Facebook programmers Justin Voskuhl and Ramesh Vyaghrapuri in their patent application, “is staggering — information describing recent moves to a new city, graduations, births, engagements, marriages, and the like.” Facebook and other so-called tech companies have been warehousing all of this information since their respective inceptions. In Facebook’s case, its data vault includes information posted as early as 2004, when the site first went live. Now in a single month the amount of information forever recorded by Facebook —dinner plans, vacation destinations, emotional states, sexual activity, political views, etc.— far surpasses what was recorded during the company’s first several years of operation. And while no one outside of the company knows for certain, it is believed that Facebook has amassed one of the widest and deepest databases in history. Facebook has over 1,189,000,000 “monthly active users” around the world as of October 2013, providing considerable width of data. And Facebook has stored away trillions and trillions of missives and images, and logged other data about the lives of this billion plus statistical sample of humanity. Adjusting for bogus or duplicate accounts it all adds up to about 1/7th of humanity from which some kind of data has been recorded.
According to Facebook’s programmers like Voskuhl and Vyaghrapuri, of all the clever uses they have already applied this pile of data toward, Facebook has so far “lacked tools to synthesize this information about users for targeting advertisements based on their perceived income.” Now they have such a tool thanks to the retention and analysis of variable the company’s positivist specialists believe are correlated with income levels.
They’ll have many more tools within the next year to run similar predictions. Indeed, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, and the hundreds of smaller tech lesser-known tech firms that now control the main portals of social, economic, and political life on the web (which is now to say everywhere as all economic and much social activity is made cyber) are only getting started. The Big Data analytics revolutions has barely begun, and these firms are just beginning to tinker with rational-instrumental methods of predicting and manipulating human behavior.
There are few, if any, government regulations restricting their imaginations at this point. Indeed, the U.S. President himself is a true believer in Big Data; the brain of Obama’s election team was a now famous “cave” filled with young Ivy League men (and a few women) sucking up electioneering information and crunching demographic and consumer data to target individual voters with appeals timed to maximize the probability of a vote for the new Big Blue, not IBM, but the Democratic Party’s candidate of “Hope” and “Change.” The halls of power are enraptured by the potential of rational-instrumental methods paired with unprecedented access to data that describes the social lives of hundreds of millions.
Facebook’s intellectual property portfolio reads like cliff notes summarizing the aspirations of all corporations in capitalist modernity; to optimize efficiency in order to maximize profits and reduce or externalize risk. Unlike most other corporations, and unlike previous phases in the development of rational bureaucracies, Facebook and its tech peers have accumulated never before seen quantities of information about individuals and groups. Recent breakthroughs in networked computing make analysis of these gigantic data sets fast and cheap. Facebook’s patent holdings are just a taste of what’s arriving here and now.
The way you type, the rate, common mistakes, intervals between certain characters, is all unique, like your fingerprint, and there are already cyber robots that can identify you as you peck away at keys. Facebook has even patented methods of individual identification with obviously cybernetic overtones, where the machine becomes an appendage of the person. U.S. Patents 8,306,256, 8,472,662, and 8,503,718, all filed within the last year, allow Facebook’s web robots to identify a user based on the unique pixelation and other characteristics of their smartphone’s camera. Identification of the subject is the first step toward building a useful data set to file among the billion or so other user logs. Then comes analysis, then prediction, then efforts to influence a parting of money.
Many Facebook patents pertain to advertising techniques that are designed and targeted, and continuously redesigned with ever-finer calibrations by robot programs, to be absorbed by the gazes of individuals as they scroll and swipe across their Facebook feeds, or on third party web sites.
Speaking of feeds, U.S. Patent 8,352,859, Facebook’s system for “Dynamically providing a feed of stories about a user of a social networking system” is used by the company to organize the constantly updated posts and activities inputted by a user’s “friends.” Of course embedded in this system are means of inserting advertisements. According to Facebook’s programmers, a user’s feeds are frequently injected with “a depiction of a product, a depiction of a logo, a display of a trademark, an inducement to buy a product, an inducement to buy a service, an inducement to invest, an offer for sale, a product description, trade promotion, a survey, a political message, an opinion, a public service announcement, news, a religious message, educational information, a coupon, entertainment, a file of data, an article, a book, a picture, travel information, and the like.” That’s a long list for sure, but what gets injected is more often than not whatever will boost revenues for Facebook.
The advantage here, according to Facebook, is that “rather than having to initiate calls or emails to learn news of another user, a user of a social networking website may passively receive alerts to new postings by other users.” The web robot knows best. Sit back and relax and let sociality wash over you, passively. This is merely one of Facebook’s many “systems for tailoring connections between various users” so that these connections ripple with ads uncannily resonant with desires and needs revealed in the quietly observed flow of e-mails, texts, images, and clicks captured forever in dark inaccessible servers of Facebook, Google and the like. These communications services are free in order to control the freedom of data that might otherwise crash about randomly, generating few opportunities for sales.
Where this fails Facebook ratchets up the probability of influencing the user to behave as a predictable consumer. “Targeted advertisements often fail to earn a user’s trust in the advertised product,” explain Facebook’s programmers in U.S. Patent 8,527,344, filed in September of this year. “For example, the user may be skeptical of the claims made by the advertisement. Thus, targeted advertisements may not be very effective in selling an advertised product.” Facebook’s computer programmers who now profess mastery over sociological forces add that even celebrity endorsements are viewed with skepticism by the savvy citizen of the modulated Internet. They’re probably right.
Facebook’s solution is to mobilize its users as trusted advertisers in their own right. “Unlike advertisements, most users seek and read content generated by their friends within the social networking system; thus,” concludes Facebook’s mathematicians of human inducement, “advertisements generated by a friend of the user are more likely to catch the attention of the user, increasing the effectiveness of the advertisement.” That Facebook’s current So-And-So-likes-BrandX ads are often so clumsy and ineffective does not negate the qualitative shift in this model of advertising and the possibilities of un-freedom it evokes.
Forget iPhones and applications, the tech industry’s core consumer product is now advertising. Their essential practice is mass surveillance conducted in real time through continuous and multiple sensors that pass, for most people, entirely unnoticed. The autonomy and unpredictability of the individual —in Facebook’s language the individual is the “user”— is their fundamental business problem. Reducing autonomy via surveillance and predictive algorithms that can placate existing desires, and even stimulate and mold new desires is the tech industry’s reason for being. Selling their capacious surveillance and consumer stimulus capabilities to the highest bidder is the ultimate end.
Sounds too dystopian? Perhaps, and this is by no means the world we live in, not yet. It is, however, a tendency rooted in the tech economy. The advent of mobile, hand-held, wirelessly networked computers, called “smartphones,” is still so new that the technology, and its services feel like a parallel universe, a new layer of existence added upon our existing social relationships, business activities, and political affiliations. In many ways it feels liberating and often playful. Our devices can map geographic routes, identify places and things, provide information about almost anything in real time, respond to our voices, and replace our wallets. Who hasn’t consulted “Dr. Google” to answer a pressing question? Everyone and everything is seemingly within reach and there is a kind of freedom to this utility.
Most of Facebook’s “users” have only been registered on the web site since 2010, and so the quintessential social network feels new and fun, and although perhaps fraught with some privacy concerns, it does not altogether fell like a threat to the autonomy of the individual. To say it is, is a cliche sci-fi nightmare narrative of tech-bureaucracy, and we all tell one another that the reality is more complex.
Privacy continues, however, too be too narrowly conceptualized as a liberal right against incursions of government, and while the tech companies have certainly been involved in a good deal of old-fashioned mass surveillance for the sake of our federal Big Brother, there’s another means of dissolving privacy that is more fundamental to the goals of the tech companies and more threatening to social creativity and political freedom.
Georgetown University law professor Julie Cohen notes that pervasive surveillance is inimical to the spaces of privacy that are required for liberal democracy, but she adds importantly, that the surveillance and advertising strategies of the tech industry goes further.
“A society that permits the unchecked ascendancy of surveillance infrastructures, which dampen and modulate behavioral variability, cannot hope to maintain a vibrant tradition of cultural and technical innovation,” writes Cohen in a forthcoming Harvard Law Review article.
“Modulation” is Cohen’s term for the tech industry’s practice of using algorithms and other logical machine operations to mine an individual’s data so as to continuously personalize information streams. Facebook’s patents are largely techniques of modulation, as are Google’s and the rest of the industry leaders. Facebook conducts meticulous surveillance on users, collects their data, tracks their movements on the web, and feeds the individual specific content that is determined to best resonate with their desires, behaviors, and predicted future movements. The point is to perfect the form and function of the rational-instrumental bureaucracy as defined by Max Weber: to constantly ratchet up efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. If they succeed in their own terms, the tech companies stand to create a feedback loop made perfectly to fit each an every one of us, an increasingly closed systems of personal development in which the great algorithms in the cloud endlessly tailor the psychological and social inputs of humans who lose the gift of randomness and irrationality.
“It is modulation, not privacy, that poses the greater threat to innovative practice,” explains Cohen. “Regimes of pervasively distributed surveillance and modulation seek to mold individual preferences and behavior in ways that reduce the serendipity and the freedom to tinker on which innovation thrives.” Cohen has pointed out the obvious irony here, not that it’s easy to miss; the tech industry is uncritically labeled America’s hothouse of innovation, but it may in fact be killing innovation by disenchanting the world and locking inspiration in an cage.
If there were limits to the reach of the tech industry’s surveillance and stimuli strategies it would indeed be less worrisome. Only parts of our lives would be subject to this modulation, and it could therefore benefit us. But the industry aspires to totalitarian visions in which universal data sets are constantly mobilized to transform an individual’s interface with society, family, the economy, and other institutions. The tech industry’s luminaries are clear in their desire to observe and log everything, and use every “data point” to establish optimum efficiency in life as the pursuit of consumer happiness. Consumer happiness is, in turn, a step toward the rational pursuit of maximum corporate profit. We are told that the “Internet of things” is arriving, that soon every object will have embedded within it a computer that is networked to the sublime cloud, and that the physical environment will be made “smart” through the same strategy of modulation so that we might be made free not just in cyberspace, but also in the meatspace.
Whereas the Internet of the late 1990s matured as an archipelago of innumerable disjointed and disconnected web sites and databases, today’s Internet is gripped by a handful of giant companies that observe much of the traffic and communications, and which deliver much of the information from an Android phone or laptop computer, to distant servers, and back. The future Internet being built by the tech giants —putting aside the Internet of things for the moment— is already well into its beta testing phase. It’s a seamlessly integrated quilt of web sites and apps that all absorb “user” data, everything from clicks and keywords to biometric voice identification and geolocation.
United States Patent 8,572,174, another of Facebook’s recent inventions, allows the company to personalize a web page outside of Facebook’s own system with content from Facebook’s databases. Facebook is selling what the company calls its “rich set of social information” to third party web sites in order to “provide personalized content for their users based on social information about those users that is maintained by, or otherwise accessible to, the social networking system.” Facebook’s users generated this rich social information, worth many billions of dollars as recent quarterly earnings of the company attest.
In this way the entire Internet becomes Facebook. The totalitarian ambition here is obvious, and it can be read in the securities filings, patent applications, and other non-sanitized business documents crafted by the tech industry for the financial analysts who supply the capital for further so-called innovation. Everywhere you go on the web, with your phone or tablet, you’re a “user,” and your social network data will be mined every second by every application, site, and service to “enhance your experience,” as Facebook and others say. The tech industry’s leaders aim to expand this into the physical world, creating modulated advertising and environmental experiences as cameras and sensors track our movements.
Facebook and the rest of the tech industry fear autonomy and unpredictability. The ultimate expression of these irrational variables that cannot be mined with algorithmic methods is absence from the networks of surveillance in which data is collected.
One of Facebook’s preventative measures is United States Patent 8,560,962, “promoting participation of low-activity users in social networking system.” This novel invention devised by programmers in Facebook’s Palo Alto and San Francisco offices involves a “process of inducing interactions,” that are meant to maximize the amount of “user-generated content” on Facebook by getting lapsed users to return, and stimulating all users to produce more and more data. User generated content is, after all, worth billions. Think twice before you hit “like” next time, or tap that conspicuously placed “share” button; a machine likely put that content and interaction before your eyes after a logical operation determined it to have the highest probability of tempting you to add to the data stream, thereby increasing corporate revenues.
Facebook’s patents on techniques of modulating “user” behavior are few compared to the real giants of the tech industry’s surveillance and influence agenda. Amazon, Microsoft, and of course Google hold some of the most fundamental patents using personal data to attempt to shape an individual’s behavior into predictable consumptive patterns. Smaller specialized firms like Choicestream and Gist Communications have filed dozens more applications for modulation techniques. The rate of this so-called innovation is rapidly telescoping.
Perhaps we do know who will live in the iron cage. It might very well be a cage made of our own user generated content, paradoxically ushering in a new era of possibilities in shopping convenience and the delivery of satisfactory experiences even while it eradicates many degrees of chance, and pain, and struggle (the motive forces of human progress) in a robot-powered quest to have us construct identities and relationships that yield to prediction and computer-generated suggestion. Defense of individual privacy and autonomy today is rightly motivated by the reach of an Orwellian security state (the NSA, FBI, CIA). This surveillance changes our behavior by chilling us, by telling us we are always being watched by authority. Authority thereby represses in us whatever might happen to be defined as “crime,” or any anti-social behavior at the moment. But what about the surveillance that does not seek to repress us, the watching computer eyes and ears that instead hope to stimulate a particular set of monetized behaviors in us with the intimate knowledge gained from our every online utterance, even our facial expressions and finger movements?
Darwin Bond-Graham, a contributing editor to CounterPunch, is a sociologist and author who lives and works in Oakland, CA. His essay on economic inequality in the “new” California economy appears in theJuly issue of CounterPunch magazine. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
Darwin Bond-Graham, a contributing editor to CounterPunch, is a sociologist and author who lives and works in Oakland, CA. His essay on economic inequality in the “new” California economy appears in theJuly issue of CounterPunch magazine. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion
By Darwin Bond-Graham
December 4, 2013
Find this story at 4 December 2013
Who Owns Photos and Videos Posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter?
7 juli 2014
Well, it depends on what you mean as “own.” Under copyright law, unless there is an agreement to the contrary or the photograph or video is shot as part of your job, a copyright to a photograph generally belongs to the creator. As the copyright owner, you own the exclusive rights to display, copy, use, produce, distribute and perform your creation as you see fit and approve. As the subject of the photograph, you have a right to publicity, which allows you to get paid for the commercial use of your name, likeness or voice.
But what happens when you decide to post that picture on the Internet — perhaps on Facebook or Twitter (using Twitpic), or some other social network or photo-sharing site?
You may be shocked to find out that once you post on these sites, that although you still “own” the photograph, you grant the social media sites a license to use your photograph anyway they see fit for free AND you grant them the right to let others use you picture as well! This means that not only can Twitter, Twitpic and Facebook make money from the photograph or video (otherwise, a copyright violation), but these sites are making commercial gain by licensing these images, which contains the likeness of the person in the photo or video (otherwise, a violation of their “rights of publicity”).
Under Facebook’s current terms (which can change at anytime), by posting your pictures and videos, you grant Facebook â€œa non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any [IP] content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. Beware of the words “transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license.” This means that Facebook can license your content to others for free without obtaining any other approval from you! You should be aware that once your photos or videos are shared on Facebook, it could be impossible to delete them from Facebook, even if you delete the content or cancel your account (the content still remains on Facebook servers and they can keep backups)! So, although you may be able to withdraw your consent to the use of photos on Facebook, you should also keep in mind that if you share your photos and videos with Facebook applications, those applications may have their own terms and conditions of how they use your creation! You should read the fine print to make sure you are not agreeing to something that you don’t want to have happen.
Twitter’s photo sharing service, Twitpic, just updated their terms of Service on May 10, 2011 (which, of course, can and will be updated at any time, from time to time). By uploading content using Twitpic, you are giving “Twitpic permission to use or distribute your content on Twitpic.com or affiliated sites.” You are also granting “Twitpic a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content in connection with the Service and Twitpic’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Service (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.”
The terms go on to state that you also grant “each user of the Service a non-exclusive license to access your Content through the Service, and to use, reproduce, distribute, display and perform such Content as permitted through the functionality of the Service and under these Terms of Service. The above licenses granted by you in media Content you submit to the Service terminate within a commercially reasonable time after you remove or delete your media from the Service provided that any sub-license by Twitpic to use, reproduce or distribute the Content prior to such termination may be perpetual and irrevocable.”
Twitpic/Twitter is probably more problematic than Facebook — They can sell your images and videos if they want!
First, there is no definition of “Service” on their site (they need to find a more detailed oriented internet attorney to draft their terms (Twitpic, call me)), so your photo could be used throughout the Internet. More troubling is that your photos and videos may be reprinted and used in anything without your getting paid a dime – books, magazines, movies, TV shows, billboards — you get the picture!
Second, Twitter can create derivative works from your creations. A derivative work is anything that is built upon your work (like adding your video to a TV show, putting your photo in a montage, etc.).
Third, even after you delete your photos from Twitpic, Twitter and Twitpic can still use your creations for a “reasonable” amount of time afterwards. So what would be a reasonable amount of time to continue using your photo after you terminate the “license” if your photo or video is incorporated by Twitter or Twitpic in a larger work — perhaps forever if it would cost them money to remove!
Lastly, since Twitter/Twitpic can grant others to use your photos (and make money from it without paying you (remember the nasty word “œroyalty-free”)), even if you terminate your Twitter/Twitpic account, the rights they grant to others can never be terminated! Twitter has a deal with World Entertainment News Network permitting them to sell Twitpic content with no money to you!
Celebrities and celebrities-to-be, beware! Your right to publicity (e.g. your right to get paid when others use your name, likeness, voice for commercial gain like product or sports endorsements) is stripped away each and every time you post on Twitter! You or your intellectual property attorney should read the fine print before you post your photos or videos on Twitter or Facebook!
December 19, 2012 UPDATE
Well Facebook was at it again (changing their terms of service for their latest acquisition, Instagram). The proposed changes are to take place on January 16, 2013. Basically, Instagram had a brilliant idea to generate money off the backs of their members. The proposed terms of service explicitly state “To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.”
This means that Instagram can make money from advertisers that want to use your face or pictures of your loved ones on any advertising (TV, web, magazines, newspapers, etc.) and never pay you a penny! Even worse, if you are under 18 (which means you don’t have the legal capacity to enter into a contract) you are making a contractual agreement that you have asked your parents permission to agree to the Instagram terms. This not only is an egregious position (see discussion above about rights of publicity), but defies logic — Instagram acknowledges that minors can’t enter into a contract, but nevertheless for the under-18, force them to agree by (unenforceable) contract that they have permission anyway. Go figure! [Finally there is a reason to go back to the old 2-hour Kodak Carousel slide shows of aunt Sally’s vacation.]
[December 21, 2012 UPDATE]
Find this story at december 2012
© 2012 Law Offices of Craig Delsack, LLC
Your Facebook Data File: Everything You Never Wanted Anyone to Know
7 juli 2014
A group of Austrian students called Europe v. Facebook recently got their hands on their complete Facebook user data files – note, this is not the same file Facebook sends if you request your personal history through the webform in Account Settings.
See, Facebook wants you to feel safe and warm and fuzzy about controlling your own privacy. As we move into the era of the Open Graph and apps that autopost your activities, users are raising serious questions about data collection and privacy.
To help quell these fears, Facebook lets users download their their own data, as they said in an official statement to the Wall Street Journal blog Digits:
“We believe that every Facebook user owns his or her own data and should have simple and easy access to it. That is why we’ve built an easy way for people to download everything they have ever posted on Facebook, including all of their messages, posts, photos, status updates and profile information. People who want a copy of the information they have put on Facebook can click a link located in ‘Account Settings’ and easily get a copy of all of it in a single download. To protect the information, this feature is only available after the person confirms his or her password and answers appropriate security questions.”
Phew, that’s good. But wait… how come the students over at Europe v. Facebook got a different, more complete file when requested through Section 4 DPA + Art. 12 Directive 95/46/EG, a European privacy law? The carefully crafted statement above says they will give you access to everything you’ve put on Facebook – but what about the data Facebook collects without your knowledge?
What You May Not Get in Your Copy of Your Facebook File
On their website, Europe v. Facebook lists their primary objective as transparency, saying, “It is almost impossible for the user to really know what happens to his or her personal data when using facebook. For example ‘removed’ content is not really deleted by Facebook and it is often unclear what Facebook exactly does with our data.”
Indeed, the complete user file they received when requested through Section 4 DPA + Art. 12 Directive 95/46/EG is the same one available to attorneys and law enforcement via court order. It contains more information than the one Facebook sends users through their webform, according to Europe v. Facebook founder and law student Max Schrems, including:
Every friend request you’ve ever received and how you responded.
Every poke you’ve exchanged.
Every event you’ve been invited to through Facebook and how you responded.
The IP address used each and every time you’ve logged in to Facebook.
Dates of user name changes and historical privacy settings changes.
Camera metadata including time stamps and latitude/longitude of picture location, as well as tags from photos – even if you’ve untagged yourself.
Credit card information, if you’ve ever purchased credits or advertising on Facebook.
Your last known physical location, with latitude, longitude, time/date, altitude, and more. The report notes that they are unsure how Facebook collects this data.
One of Europe v. Facebook’s chief objections is that Facebook offers “no sufficient way of deleting old junk data.” Many of the complaints they’ve filed with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner* involve Facebook’s continued storage of data users believe they have deleted. Copies of the redacted files received through their requests are published on the Europe v. Facebook website.
Better Hope You’ve Behaved Yourself…
Ever flirted with someone other than your spouse in a Facebook chat? You had better hope your message records don’t end up in the hands of a divorce lawyer, because they can access even the ones you’ve deleted.
That day you called your employer in Chicago and begged off work, as you were sick? You logged in to Facebook from an IP address in Miami. Oops.
A few weeks ago, Australian hacker exposed Facebook’s practice of tracking logged out users and they quickly “fixed” the problem (after trying to defend it, initially). But the extent to which they collect and keep information users may not even realize they are giving Facebook in the first place – or believe they’ve deleted – is worrisome for privacy watchdogs.
The truly questionable thing is, the average user has no idea what their file contains and in North America, at least, have no right to access it. ITWorld’s Dan Tynan requested his, citing the U.S. Constitution, but received only an autoresponse telling him the form is only applicable in certain jurisdictions. In other words, if they’re not required to release your data to you by law, don’t hold your breath.
But then, maybe you’ll be one of the “lucky” ones who will have your activities brought up in court or a police investigation. There will be little left to the imagination, then.
What You Can Do About It
We contacted Max Schrems and asked whether Europe v. Facebook is able to help users, even those in other jurisdictions, to access their personal files. Though they receive emails from around the world, he said, their focus is on the 22 active complaints they currently have registered with the Irish Data Protection Commission. Residents of the European Union can fill out the online form on Facebook’s website (this is not the Account Settings form, but a request for the full file).
Schrems did offer tips for all users who want to curb the amount of information they’re handing over to Facebook from this point forward. “I would frequently check my privacy settings, turn everything to ‘Friends only’ and turn off ‘Platform.’ Users have to realize that you don’t just share with your Friends, but you always share with your Friends AND Facebook.”
Judging by the sheer difference in file sizes, comparing the personally requested vs. legally requested files Schrems and Europe v. Facebook received, there’s a lot of data left on the table. For the same user, the file sizes varied enormously. Schrems described the file obtained through a legal request as a 500MB PDF including data the user thought they had deleted. The one sent through a regular Facebook request was a 150MB HTML file and included video (the PDF did not) but did not have the deleted data.
We reached out to Facebook for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.
*Europe v. Facebook files their complaints in Ireland, as Facebook’s User Terms list their Ireland office as headquarters for all Facebook affairs outside of Canada and the U.S.
Miranda Miller, October 3, 2011
Find this story at 3 October 2011
© 2014 Incisive Interactive Marketing LLC.
What Facebook Knows
7 juli 2014
The company’s social scientists are hunting for insights about human behavior. What they find could give Facebook new ways to cash in on our data—and remake our view of society.
Cameron Marlow calls himself Facebook’s “in-house sociologist.” He and his team can analyze essentially all the information the site gathers.
If Facebook were a country, a conceit that founder Mark Zuckerberg has entertained in public, its 900 million members would make it the third largest in the world.
It would far outstrip any regime past or present in how intimately it records the lives of its citizens. Private conversations, family photos, and records of road trips, births, marriages, and deaths all stream into the company’s servers and lodge there. Facebook has collected the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior. Some of your personal information is probably part of it.
And yet, even as Facebook has embedded itself into modern life, it hasn’t actually done that much with what it knows about us. Now that the company has gone public, the pressure to develop new sources of profit (see “The Facebook Fallacy”) is likely to force it to do more with its hoard of information. That stash of data looms like an oversize shadow over what today is a modest online advertising business, worrying privacy-conscious Web users (see “Few Privacy Regulations Inhibit Facebook”) and rivals such as Google. Everyone has a feeling that this unprecedented resource will yield something big, but nobody knows quite what.
FEW PRIVACY REGULATIONS INHIBIT FACEBOOK
Laws haven’t kept up with the company’s ability to mine its users’ data.
Even as Facebook has embedded itself into modern life, it hasn’t done that much with what it knows about us. Its stash of data looms like an oversize shadow. Everyone has a feeling that this resource will yield something big, but nobody knows quite what.
Heading Facebook’s effort to figure out what can be learned from all our data is Cameron Marlow, a tall 35-year-old who until recently sat a few feet away from Zuckerberg. The group Marlow runs has escaped the public attention that dogs Facebook’s founders and the more headline-grabbing features of its business. Known internally as the Data Science Team, it is a kind of Bell Labs for the social-networking age. The group has 12 researchers—but is expected to double in size this year. They apply math, programming skills, and social science to mine our data for insights that they hope will advance Facebook’s business and social science at large. Whereas other analysts at the company focus on information related to specific online activities, Marlow’s team can swim in practically the entire ocean of personal data that Facebook maintains. Of all the people at Facebook, perhaps even including the company’s leaders, these researchers have the best chance of discovering what can really be learned when so much personal information is compiled in one place.
Facebook has all this information because it has found ingenious ways to collect data as people socialize. Users fill out profiles with their age, gender, and e-mail address; some people also give additional details, such as their relationship status and mobile-phone number. A redesign last fall introduced profile pages in the form of time lines that invite people to add historical information such as places they have lived and worked. Messages and photos shared on the site are often tagged with a precise location, and in the last two years Facebook has begun to track activity elsewhere on the Internet, using an addictive invention called the “Like” button. It appears on apps and websites outside Facebook and allows people to indicate with a click that they are interested in a brand, product, or piece of digital content. Since last fall, Facebook has also been able to collect data on users’ online lives beyond its borders automatically: in certain apps or websites, when users listen to a song or read a news article, the information is passed along to Facebook, even if no one clicks “Like.” Within the feature’s first five months, Facebook catalogued more than five billion instances of people listening to songs online. Combine that kind of information with a map of the social connections Facebook’s users make on the site, and you have an incredibly rich record of their lives and interactions.
“This is the first time the world has seen this scale and quality of data about human communication,” Marlow says with a characteristically serious gaze before breaking into a smile at the thought of what he can do with the data. For one thing, Marlow is confident that exploring this resource will revolutionize the scientific understanding of why people behave as they do. His team can also help Facebook influence our social behavior for its own benefit and that of its advertisers. This work may even help Facebook invent entirely new ways to make money.
Marlow eschews the collegiate programmer style of Zuckerberg and many others at Facebook, wearing a dress shirt with his jeans rather than a hoodie or T-shirt. Meeting me shortly before the company’s initial public offering in May, in a conference room adorned with a six-foot caricature of his boss’s dog spray-painted on its glass wall, he comes across more like a young professor than a student. He might have become one had he not realized early in his career that Web companies would yield the juiciest data about human interactions.
In 2001, undertaking a PhD at MIT’s Media Lab, Marlow created a site called Blogdex that automatically listed the most “contagious” information spreading on weblogs. Although it was just a research project, it soon became so popular that Marlow’s servers crashed. Launched just as blogs were exploding into the popular consciousness and becoming so numerous that Web users felt overwhelmed with information, it prefigured later aggregator sites such as Digg and Reddit. But Marlow didn’t build it just to help Web users track what was popular online. Blogdex was intended as a scientific instrument to uncover the social networks forming on the Web and study how they spread ideas. Marlow went on to Yahoo’s research labs to study online socializing for two years. In 2007 he joined Facebook, which he considers the world’s most powerful instrument for studying human society. “For the first time,” Marlow says, “we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behavior at a very fine level that we’ve never been able to see before but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to.”
Marlow’s team works with managers across Facebook to find patterns that they might make use of. For instance, they study how a new feature spreads among the social network’s users. They have helped Facebook identify users you may know but haven’t “friended,” and recognize those you may want to designate mere “acquaintances” in order to make their updates less prominent. Yet the group is an odd fit inside a company where software engineers are rock stars who live by the mantra “Move fast and break things.” Lunch with the data team has the feel of a grad-student gathering at a top school; the typical member of the group joined fresh from a PhD or junior academic position and prefers to talk about advancing social science than about Facebook as a product or company. Several members of the team have training in sociology or social psychology, while others began in computer science and started using it to study human behavior. They are free to use some of their time, and Facebook’s data, to probe the basic patterns and motivations of human behavior and to publish the results in academic journals—much as Bell Labs researchers advanced both AT&T’s technologies and the study of fundamental physics.
It may seem strange that an eight-year-old company without a proven business model bothers to support a team with such an academic bent, but Marlow says it makes sense. “The biggest challenges Facebook has to solve are the same challenges that social science has,” he says. Those challenges include understanding why some ideas or fashions spread from a few individuals to become universal and others don’t, or to what extent a person’s future actions are a product of past communication with friends. Publishing results and collaborating with university researchers will lead to findings that help Facebook improve its products, he adds.
Eytan Bakshy experimented with the way Facebook users shared links so that his group could study whether the site functions like an echo chamber.
For one example of how Facebook can serve as a proxy for examining society at large, consider a recent study of the notion that any person on the globe is just six degrees of separation from any other. The best-known real-world study, in 1967, involved a few hundred people trying to send postcards to a particular Boston stockholder. Facebook’s version, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Milan, involved the entire social network as of May 2011, which amounted to more than 10 percent of the world’s population. Analyzing the 69 billion friend connections among those 721 million people showed that the world is smaller than we thought: four intermediary friends are usually enough to introduce anyone to a random stranger. “When considering another person in the world, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend, on average,” the technical paper pithily concluded. That result may not extend to everyone on the planet, but there’s good reason to believe that it and other findings from the Data Science Team are true to life outside Facebook. Last year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 93 percent of Facebook friends had met in person. One of Marlow’s researchers has developed a way to calculate a country’s “gross national happiness” from its Facebook activity by logging the occurrence of words and phrases that signal positive or negative emotion. Gross national happiness fluctuates in a way that suggests the measure is accurate: it jumps during holidays and dips when popular public figures die. After a major earthquake in Chile in February 2010, the country’s score plummeted and took many months to return to normal. That event seemed to make the country as a whole more sympathetic when Japan suffered its own big earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011; while Chile’s gross national happiness dipped, the figure didn’t waver in any other countries tracked (Japan wasn’t among them). Adam Kramer, who created the index, says he intended it to show that Facebook’s data could provide cheap and accurate ways to track social trends—methods that could be useful to economists and other researchers.
Other work published by the group has more obvious utility for Facebook’s basic strategy, which involves encouraging us to make the site central to our lives and then using what it learns to sell ads. An early study looked at what types of updates from friends encourage newcomers to the network to add their own contributions. Right before Valentine’s Day this year a blog post from the Data Science Team listed the songs most popular with people who had recently signaled on Facebook that they had entered or left a relationship. It was a hint of the type of correlation that could help Facebook make useful predictions about users’ behavior—knowledge that could help it make better guesses about which ads you might be more or less open to at any given time. Perhaps people who have just left a relationship might be interested in an album of ballads, or perhaps no company should associate its brand with the flood of emotion attending the death of a friend. The most valuable online ads today are those displayed alongside certain Web searches, because the searchers are expressing precisely what they want. This is one reason why Google’s revenue is 10 times Facebook’s. But Facebook might eventually be able to guess what people want or don’t want even before they realize it.
Recently the Data Science Team has begun to use its unique position to experiment with the way Facebook works, tweaking the site—the way scientists might prod an ant’s nest—to see how users react. Eytan Bakshy, who joined Facebook last year after collaborating with Marlow as a PhD student at the University of Michigan, wanted to learn whether our actions on Facebook are mainly influenced by those of our close friends, who are likely to have similar tastes. That would shed light on the theory that our Facebook friends create an “echo chamber” that amplifies news and opinions we have already heard about. So he messed with how Facebook operated for a quarter of a billion users. Over a seven-week period, the 76 million links that those users shared with each other were logged. Then, on 219 million randomly chosen occasions, Facebook prevented someone from seeing a link shared by a friend. Hiding links this way created a control group so that Bakshy could assess how often people end up promoting the same links because they have similar information sources and interests.
He found that our close friends strongly sway which information we share, but overall their impact is dwarfed by the collective influence of numerous more distant contacts—what sociologists call “weak ties.” It is our diverse collection of weak ties that most powerfully determines what information we’re exposed to.
That study provides strong evidence against the idea that social networking creates harmful “filter bubbles,” to use activist Eli Pariser’s term for the effects of tuning the information we receive to match our expectations. But the study also reveals the power Facebook has. “If [Facebook’s] News Feed is the thing that everyone sees and it controls how information is disseminated, it’s controlling how information is revealed to society, and it’s something we need to pay very close attention to,” Marlow says. He points out that his team helps Facebook understand what it is doing to society and publishes its findings to fulfill a public duty to transparency. Another recent study, which investigated which types of Facebook activity cause people to feel a greater sense of support from their friends, falls into the same category.
Facebook is not above using its platform to tweak users’ behavior, as it did by nudging them to register as organ donors. Unlike academic social scientists, Facebook’s employees have a short path from an idea to an experiment on hundreds of millions of people.
But Marlow speaks as an employee of a company that will prosper largely by catering to advertisers who want to control the flow of information between its users. And indeed, Bakshy is working with managers outside the Data Science Team to extract advertising-related findings from the results of experiments on social influence. “Advertisers and brands are a part of this network as well, so giving them some insight into how people are sharing the content they are producing is a very core part of the business model,” says Marlow.
Facebook told prospective investors before its IPO that people are 50 percent more likely to remember ads on the site if they’re visibly endorsed by a friend. Figuring out how influence works could make ads even more memorable or help Facebook find ways to induce more people to share or click on its ads.
Marlow says his team wants to divine the rules of online social life to understand what’s going on inside Facebook, not to develop ways to manipulate it. “Our goal is not to change the pattern of communication in society,” he says. “Our goal is to understand it so we can adapt our platform to give people the experience that they want.” But some of his team’s work and the attitudes of Facebook’s leaders show that the company is not above using its platform to tweak users’ behavior. Unlike academic social scientists, Facebook’s employees have a short path from an idea to an experiment on hundreds of millions of people.
In April, influenced in part by conversations over dinner with his med-student girlfriend (now his wife), Zuckerberg decided that he should use social influence within Facebook to increase organ donor registrations. Users were given an opportunity to click a box on their Timeline pages to signal that they were registered donors, which triggered a notification to their friends. The new feature started a cascade of social pressure, and organ donor enrollment increased by a factor of 23 across 44 states.
Marlow’s team is in the process of publishing results from the last U.S. midterm election that show another striking example of Facebook’s potential to direct its users’ influence on one another. Since 2008, the company has offered a way for users to signal that they have voted; Facebook promotes that to their friends with a note to say that they should be sure to vote, too. Marlow says that in the 2010 election his group matched voter registration logs with the data to see which of the Facebook users who got nudges actually went to the polls. (He stresses that the researchers worked with cryptographically “anonymized” data and could not match specific users with their voting records.)
Sameet Agarwal figures out ways for Facebook to manage its enormous trove of datagiving the company a unique and valuable level of expertise.
This is just the beginning. By learning more about how small changes on Facebook can alter users’ behavior outside the site, the company eventually “could allow others to make use of Facebook in the same way,” says Marlow. If the American Heart Association wanted to encourage healthy eating, for example, it might be able to refer to a playbook of Facebook social engineering. “We want to be a platform that others can use to initiate change,” he says.
Advertisers, too, would be eager to know in greater detail what could make a campaign on Facebook affect people’s actions in the outside world, even though they realize there are limits to how firmly human beings can be steered. “It’s not clear to me that social science will ever be an engineering science in a way that building bridges is,” says Duncan Watts, who works on computational social science at Microsoft’s recently opened New York research lab and previously worked alongside Marlow at Yahoo’s labs. “Nevertheless, if you have enough data, you can make predictions that are better than simply random guessing, and that’s really lucrative.”
Like other social-Web companies, such as Twitter, Facebook has never attained the reputation for technical innovation enjoyed by such Internet pioneers as Google. If Silicon Valley were a high school, the search company would be the quiet math genius who didn’t excel socially but invented something indispensable. Facebook would be the annoying kid who started a club with such social momentum that people had to join whether they wanted to or not. In reality, Facebook employs hordes of talented software engineers (many poached from Google and other math-genius companies) to build and maintain its irresistible club. The technology built to support the Data Science Team’s efforts is particularly innovative. The scale at which Facebook operates has led it to invent hardware and software that are the envy of other companies trying to adapt to the world of “big data.”
In a kind of passing of the technological baton, Facebook built its data storage system by expanding the power of open-source software called Hadoop, which was inspired by work at Google and built at Yahoo. Hadoop can tame seemingly impossible computational tasks—like working on all the data Facebook’s users have entrusted to it—by spreading them across many machines inside a data center. But Hadoop wasn’t built with data science in mind, and using it for that purpose requires specialized, unwieldy programming. Facebook’s engineers solved that problem with the invention of Hive, open-source software that’s now independent of Facebook and used by many other companies. Hive acts as a translation service, making it possible to query vast Hadoop data stores using relatively simple code. To cut down on computational demands, it can request random samples of an entire data set, a feature that’s invaluable for companies swamped by data. Much of Facebook’s data resides in one Hadoop store more than 100 petabytes (a million gigabytes) in size, says Sameet Agarwal, a director of engineering at Facebook who works on data infrastructure, and the quantity is growing exponentially. “Over the last few years we have more than doubled in size every year,” he says. That means his team must constantly build more efficient systems.
One potential use of Facebook’s data storehouse would be to sell insights mined from it. Such information could be the basis for any kind of business. Assuming Facebook can do this without upsetting users and regulators, it could be lucrative.
All this has given Facebook a unique level of expertise, says Jeff Hammerbacher, Marlow’s predecessor at Facebook, who initiated the company’s effort to develop its own data storage and analysis technology. (He left Facebook in 2008 to found Cloudera, which develops Hadoop-based systems to manage large collections of data.) Most large businesses have paid established software companies such as Oracle a lot of money for data analysis and storage. But now, big companies are trying to understand how Facebook handles its enormous information trove on open-source systems, says Hammerbacher. “I recently spent the day at Fidelity helping them understand how the ‘data scientist’ role at Facebook was conceived … and I’ve had the same discussion at countless other firms,” he says.
As executives in every industry try to exploit the opportunities in “big data,” the intense interest in Facebook’s data technology suggests that its ad business may be just an offshoot of something much more valuable. The tools and techniques the company has developed to handle large volumes of information could become a product in their own right.
Mining for Gold
Facebook needs new sources of income to meet investors’ expectations. Even after its disappointing IPO, it has a staggeringly high price-to-earnings ratio that can’t be justified by the barrage of cheap ads the site now displays. Facebook’s new campus in Menlo Park, California, previously inhabited by Sun Microsystems, makes that pressure tangible. The company’s 3,500 employees rattle around in enough space for 6,600. I walked past expanses of empty desks in one building; another, next door, was completely uninhabited. A vacant lot waited nearby, presumably until someone invents a use of our data that will justify the expense of developing the space.
One potential use would be simply to sell insights mined from the information. DJ Patil, data scientist in residence with the venture capital firm Greylock Partners and previously leader of LinkedIn’s data science team, believes Facebook could take inspiration from Gil Elbaz, the inventor of Google’s AdSense ad business, which provides over a quarter of Google’s revenue. He has moved on from advertising and now runs a fast-growing startup, Factual, that charges businesses to access large, carefully curated collections of data ranging from restaurant locations to celebrity body-mass indexes, which the company collects from free public sources and by buying private data sets. Factual cleans up data and makes the result available over the Internet as an on-demand knowledge store to be tapped by software, not humans. Customers use it to fill in the gaps in their own data and make smarter apps or services; for example, Facebook itself uses Factual for information about business locations. Patil points out that Facebook could become a data source in its own right, selling access to information compiled from the actions of its users. Such information, he says, could be the basis for almost any kind of business, such as online dating or charts of popular music. Assuming Facebook can take this step without upsetting users and regulators, it could be lucrative. An online store wishing to target its promotions, for example, could pay to use Facebook as a source of knowledge about which brands are most popular in which places, or how the popularity of certain products changes through the year.
Hammerbacher agrees that Facebook could sell its data science and points to its currently free Insights service for advertisers and website owners, which shows how their content is being shared on Facebook. That could become much more useful to businesses if Facebook added data obtained when its “Like” button tracks activity all over the Web, or demographic data or information about what people read on the site. There’s precedent for offering such analytics for a fee: at the end of 2011 Google started charging $150,000 annually for a premium version of a service that analyzes a business’s Web traffic.
Back at Facebook, Marlow isn’t the one who makes decisions about what the company charges for, even if his work will shape them. Whatever happens, he says, the primary goal of his team is to support the well-being of the people who provide Facebook with their data, using it to make the service smarter. Along the way, he says, he and his colleagues will advance humanity’s understanding of itself. That echoes Zuckerberg’s often doubted but seemingly genuine belief that Facebook’s job is to improve how the world communicates. Just don’t ask yet exactly what that will entail. “It’s hard to predict where we’ll go, because we’re at the very early stages of this science,” says Marlow. “The number of potential things that we could ask of Facebook’s data is enormous.”
Tom Simonite is Technology Review’s senior IT editor.
By Tom Simonite on June 13, 2012 20 COMMENTS
Find this story at 13 June 2012
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
7 juli 2014
If you feel like Facebook has more ads than usual, you aren’t imagining it: Facebook’s been inundating us with more and more ads lately, and using your information—both online and offline—to do it. Here’s how it works, and how you can opt out.
For most people, Facebook’s advertising system is insider-baseball that doesn’t really affect how we use the service. But as the targeted ads—the advertisements that take the data you provide to offer ads specific to you—get more accurate and start pulling in information from other sources (including the stuff you do offline), it’s more important than ever to understand their system. To figure out how this all works, I spoke with Elisabeth Diana, manager of corporate communication at Facebook. Let’s kick it off with the basics of how the targeted ads work online before moving on to some of the changes we’ll see with the recent inclusion of offline shopping data.
How Facebook Uses Your Profile to Target Ads
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
We’ve talked before about how Facebook uses you to annoy your friends by turning your likes into subtle ads. This method of sponsored posts is deceptively simple.
The most obvious example of a targeted ad uses something you like—say Target—and then shows an ad on the right side or in the newsfeed that simply says, “[Name] likes Target.” What you and your friends like helps determine what everyone on your friends list sees for ads. Any ad you click on then increases the likelihood of another similar ad.
It’s not just what you and your friends are doing that generates ads though; it’s also basic demographic information. Diana notes that this also includes “major life events like getting engaged or married.” So, if you’re recently engaged and note that on Facebook, you’ll see ads about things like wedding planning.
When an advertiser creates an ad on Facebook, they can select all sorts of parameters so they reach the right people. A simple example of a parameter would be: “Someone engaged to be married, who lives in New York, between the ages of 20-30.” That’s simple, but advertisers can actually narrow that down to insane specifics, like “Someone engaged to be married, who lives in New York, between the ages of 20-30, who likes swimming, and who drives a BMW.” If your profile fits those parameters, you’ll likely see the ad. If you want to see how it works, you can even try your hand at creating an ad.
It boils down to this: the more information you put about yourself on Facebook—where you live, your age, where (and if) you graduated college, the companies, brands, and activities you like, and even where you work—determines what kind of ads you’ll see. In theory, it makes it so targeted ads are more relevant to you.
What Happens When You Don’t Like or Share Anything
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
The way Facebook targets ads is based a lot around the information you provide. Using your likes, location, or age, Facebook puts you in a demographic and advertises to you. But what happens when you don’t include any of that information on your profile? It turns out that your friends are used to fill in the gaps.
Chances are, even a barebones profile has a few bits of information about you. You probably at least have where you live and your age. That combined with the information your friends provide creates a reasonable demographic that advertisers can still reach you at. The ads won’t be as spookily accurate to you as if you provide a lot of data, but they’ll at least be about as accurate as a television ad on your favorite show.
How to Keep Facebook from Targeting Ads Online
We know Facebook has an idea of what you’re doing online. That can be unsettling if you’re concerned about your privacy and you don’t want your online habits contributing to advertisements, or if you don’t like the idea of Facebook collecting data about you that you’re not willfully providing. You’ll “miss out” on targeted ads, but here here are a few tools to keep that from happening online:
Facebook Disconnect for Chrome and Firefox: Facebook gets notified when you visit a page that uses Facebook Connect (the little “Like” button you find on most web sites, including ours), and that data can be used to target ads. Facebook Disconnect stops that flow of data.
Facebook Privacy List for Adblock Plus: This subscription for Adblock Plus blocks Facebook plugins and scripts from running all over the web so your browsing data doesn’t get tied to your Facebook account.
DoNotTrackMe: DoNotTrackMe is another extension that blocks trackers and anyone who wants to collect your browsing data to create targeted ads.
Finally, you want to opt out of the Facebook Ads that use your actions (liking a page, sharing pages, etc) to promote ads to your friends:
Click the lock icon when you’re logged into Facebook and select “see more settings”.
Click the “Ads” tab on the sidebar.
Click “Edit” under “Third Party Sites” and change the setting to “No one.”
Click “Edit” under “Ads & Friends” and select “No One.” This disables Social Ads.
So, that takes care of the online advertising. Be sure to check out our guide to Facebook privacy for more information about all that. You can also hide your likes from your profile so they’re not as prominant. If you don’t actually mind the advertising, but want to improve the ads shown to you, you can always click the “X” next to any ad to get rid of it.
The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy
Keeping your Facebook info private is getting harder and harder all the time—mostly because…
How Facebook Uses Your Real World Shopping to Target Ads
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
Of course, you probably knew about a lot of that already. Using information in Facebook profile to target ads is old news, but with a few recent partnerships, Facebook is also going to use what you buy in real life stores to influence and track the ads you see. It sounds spooky, but it’s also older than you may realize.
To do this, Facebook is combining the information they have with information from data collection companies like Datalogix, Acxiom, Epsilon, and BlueKai. These companies already collect information about you through things like store loyalty cards, mailing lists, public records information (including home or car ownership), browser cookies, and more. For example, if you buy a bunch of detergent at Safeway, and use your Safeway card to get a discount, that information is cataloged and saved by a company like Datalogix.
How much do these data collecting companies know? According to The New York Times: way more than you’d think, including race, gender, economic status, buying habits, and more. Typically, they then sell this data to advertisers or corporations, but when it’s combined with your information from Facebook, they get an even better idea of what you like, where you shop, and what you buy. As Diana describes it, Facebook is “trying to give advertisers a chance to reach people both on and off Facebook,” and make advertisements more relevant to you. Photo by Joe Loong.
How Real-Life Ad Targetting Works
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
The most shocking thing you’re going to find on Facebook is when something you do in the real world—say, buy a car, go shopping with a loyalty card at a grocery store, or sign up for an email list—actually impacts the ads you see. This is no different than any other direct marketing campaign like junk mail, but seeing it on Facebook might be a little unsettling at first. There are a couple reasons this might happen: custom audiences, and the recent partnerships with data collection companies we talked about earlier.
Custom audiences are very simple and it basically allows an advertiser to upload an email list and compare that data (privately) with who’s on Facebook. Diana offered the simple example of buying a car. Let’s say you purchase a car from a dealership, and when you do so, you give them your email address. That dealership wants to advertise on Facebook, so they upload a list of all the email addresses they have. That data is then made private, and Facebook pairs the email address with the one you registered on Facebook. If they match, you might see an ad from that dealership on Facebook for a discounted tune-up or something similar. Additionally, Lookalike audiences might be used to advertise to people similar to you because you purchased a car there. That might mean your friends (assuming you’re all similar) will see the same ad from the dealership.
The custom audiences can be used by any company advertising on Facebook. So, if you’re on your dentist’s email list, or that small bakery around the corner snagged your email for a free slice of pie, they can potentially reach you through this system.
The partnership with other data collection agencies like Acxiom and Datalogix is going to look a little different. This means that when you use something like a customer loyalty card at a grocery store, you might see a targeted ad that reflects that. The New York Times offers this example:
At the very least, said Ms. Williamson, an analyst with the research firm eMarketer, consumers will be “forced to become more aware of the data trail they leave behind them and how companies are putting all that data together in new ways to reach them.” She knows, for instance, that if she uses her supermarket loyalty card to buy cornflakes, she can expect to see a cornflakes advertisement when she logs in to Facebook.
A new targeting feature, Partner categories, takes the data collected by these third-party data brokers and puts you into a group. So, if you’re in a group of people who buys a lot of frozen pizza at Safeway, you’ll see ads for frozen pizza, and maybe other frozen foods.
It sounds a little weird at a glance, but it’s important to remember that this is all information that you’re already providing. Facebook is using data collected by outside companies to create a more accurate portrayal of you so marketers can advertise to you directly.
How Your Data Is Kept Private
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
All of this information being exchanged should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up a little. If anything goes wrong, it could leak a bunch of your private information all over the place. Or, at the very least, marketers would get a lot more information about you then you want like your username, email, and location data. To keep your information private, Facebook uses a system called hashing.
First, your personal information like email and name is encrypted. So, your name, login info, and anything else that would identify you as a person goes away. Then, Facebook turns the rest of the information into a series of numbers and letters using hashing. For example, Age: 31, Likes: Lifehacker, Swimming, BMW’s, Location: New York, turns into something like, “342asafk43255adjk.” Finally, this information is combined with what the data collection companies have on you to create a better picture of your shopping habits so they can target ads. Slate describes the system like so:
What they came up with was a Rube Goldbergian system that strips out personally identifiable information from the databases at Facebook, Datalogix, and the major retailers while still matching people and their purchases. The system works by creating three separate data sets. First, Datalogix “hashes” its database—that is, it turns the names, addresses and other personally identifiable data for each person in its logs into long strings of numbers. Facebook and retailers do the same thing to their data. Then, Datalogix compares its hashed data with Facebook’s to find matches. Each match indicates a potential test subject-someone on Facebook who is also part of Datalogix’s database. Datalogix runs a similar process with retailers’ transaction data. At the end of it all, Datalogix can compare the Facebook data and the retail data, but, importantly, none of the databases will include any personally identifiable data—so Facebook will never find out whether and when you, personally, purchased Tide, and Procter & Gamble and Kroger will never find out your Facebook profile.
From the actual advertisers point of view, the flow of information doesn’t reveal personal details. It just tells them how many potential customers might see an ad. “An advertiser would learn something like, ‘about 50% of your customers are on Facebook,'” says Diana, “But they don’t know who you are.” Image by Jorge Stolfi.
How to Opt Out of Offline Targetting
How Facebook Uses Your Data to Target Ads, Even Offline
Unlike the internal advertising system that uses the information you already provide to Facebook to give you ads, these new partnerships with real world data collection agencies go way beyond that. Now, they’re able to see what you’re buying at stores offline, and that’s disconcerting for a lot of people. The goal, of course, is more relevant ads, but that comes at the price of privacy and security. With all this data out there, it would be easy to get a very clear image of who you are, where you live, what you like, and even if you’re pregnant. Thankfully, opting out of the data collection companies also gets you out of the integration with Facebook (and everywhere else).
This process is a lot more complicated than it should be, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a step-by-step guide for each of the data brokers. Basically, you’ll need to opt out in three different places: Acxiom, Datalogix, and Epsilon in order to ensure your shopping data in the real world isn’t used on Facebook (and beyond). BlueKai, unfortunately, has no direct way to opt out so you’ll need to use the browser extensions listed in the first section.
If you really want to keep those loyalty cards from tracking you, just use Jenny’s number (867-5309) at the checkout lane instead of setting up an account.
Use “Jenny’s Number” to Get Club Discounts at Stores Without Providing Personal Information
When you go to the grocery store you’re always asked to sign up for a rewards card, which…
Those are the basics of how Facebook’s various targeted advertising systems work. Of course, a lot of complex math and algorithms are in place to actually generate this data, but it really boils down to how much information you’re making public—whether you’re aware of it or not—that makes the system tick. If you like the targeted ads, they should improve even more as the years go on. If you don’t, opting out is always an option.
Find this story at 4 November 2013
Facebook Tests Software to Track Your Cursor on Screen
7 juli 2014
Facebook Inc.FB -0.24% is testing technology that would greatly expand the scope of data that it collects about its users, the head of the company’s analytics group said Tuesday.
The social network may start collecting data on minute user interactions with its content, such as how long a user’s cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user’s newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone, Facebook analytics chief Ken Rudin said Tuesday during an interview.
Facebook’s Ken Rudin
Mr. Rudin said the captured information could be added to a data analytics warehouse that is available for use throughout the company for an endless range of purposes–from product development to more precise targeting of advertising.
Facebook collects two kinds of data, demographic and behavioral. The demographic data—such as where a user lives or went to school—documents a user’s life beyond the network. The behavioral data—such as one’s circle of Facebook friends, or “likes”—is captured in real time on the network itself. The ongoing tests would greatly expand the behavioral data that is collected, according to Mr. Rudin. The tests are ongoing and part of a broader technology testing program, but Facebook should know within months whether it makes sense to incorporate the new data collection into the business, he said
New types of data Facebook may collect include “did your cursor hover over that ad … and was the newsfeed in a viewable area,” Mr. Rudin said. “It is a never-ending phase. I can’t promise that it will roll out. We probably will know in a couple of months,” said Mr. Rudin, a Silicon Valley veteran who arrived at Facebook in April 2012 from Zynga Inc.ZNGA -0.31%, where he was vice president of analytics and platform technologies.
As the head of analytics, Mr. Rudin is preparing the company’s infrastructure for a massive increase in the volume of its data.
Facebook isn’t the first company to contemplate recording such activity. Shutterstock Inc.SSTK +0.11%, a marketplace for digital images, records literally everything that its users do on the site. Shutterstock uses the open-source Hadoop distributed file system to analyze data such as where visitors to the site place their cursors and how long they hover over an image before they make a purchase. “Today, we are looking at every move a user makes, in order to optimize the Shutterstock experience….All these new technologies can process that,” Shutterstock founder and CEO Jon Oringer told the Wall Street Journal in March.
Facebook also is a major user of Hadoop, an open-source framework that is used to store large amounts of data on clusters of inexpensive machines. Facebook designs its own hardware to store its massive data analytics warehouse, which has grown 4,000 times during the last four years to a current level of 300 petabytes. The company uses a modified version of Hadoop to manage its data, according to Mr. Rudin. There are additional software layers on top of Hadoop, which rank the value of data and make sure it is accessible.
The data in the analytics warehouse—which is separate from the company’s user data, the volume of which has not been disclosed—is used in the targeting of advertising. As the company captures more data, it can help marketers target their advertising more effectively—assuming, of course, that the data is accessible.
“Instead of a warehouse of data, you can end up with a junkyard of data,” said Mr. Rudin, who spoke to CIO Journal during a break at the Strata and Hadoop World Conference in New York. He said that he has led a project to index that data, essentially creating an internal search engine for the analytics warehouse.
October 30, 2013, 7:15 AM ET
By STEVE ROSENBUSH
Find this story at 30 October 2013
Copyright ©2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc
Report: Facebook Is Collecting Data on Your Cursor Movements
7 juli 2014
Facebook may be adding to the list of things it knows about you.
The social network is reportedly experimenting with new technology that tracks and collects data about a user’s activity on the site, including cursor movements, according to the Wall Street Journal. The technology is being tested now with a small group of users.
SEE ALSO: How to Change Your Facebook Relationship Status Without Alerting Friends
The data could be used in a number of different ways, from product development to advertising, Facebook analytics chief Ken Rudin told the Journal.
The technology can supposedly determine where a user is hovering his or her cursor on the screen, meaning it could be used to determine the most appropriate places for advertisements. The technology also tracks whether Facebook’s mobile users can see their News Feed at any particular time from their smartphone.
Facebook did not immediately respond to Mashable’s request for comment.
Facebook will reportedly decide “within months” whether or not to continue this data collection and analysis. It could be relevant for targeted advertising where Facebook has already seen quarter-over-quarter growth in 2013.
Facebook is set to reports the company’s quarterly earnings Wednesday afternoon.
UPDATE, Oct. 30, 8:55 p.m. ET: Facebook responded to our request for comment with the following statement:
“Like most websites, we run numerous tests at any given time to ensure that we’re creating the best experience possible for people on Facebook. These experiments look at aggregate trends of how people interact with the site to inform future product decisions. We do not share this information with anyone outside of Facebook and we are not using this information to target ads.”
BY KURT WAGNEROCT 30, 2013
Find this story at 30 October 2013
What Facebook Collects and Shares
7 juli 2014
What Facebook could know about you, and why you should care.
Facebook is a resource for opinions and hobbies, celebrities and love interests, friends and family, and all the activities that whirl them together in our daily lives. Much like other social networking sites, Facebook is free except for one thing that all users give up: a certain amount of personal information.
Information Collected by Facebook
Facebook collects two types of information: personal details provided by a user and usage data collected automatically as the user spends time on the Web site clicking around.
Regarding personal information, the user willfully discloses it, such as name, email address, telephone number, address, gender and schools attended, for example. Facebook may request permission to use the user’s email address to send occasional notifications about the new services offered.
Facebook records Web site usage data, in terms of how users access the site, such as type of web browser they use, the user’s IP address, how long they spend logged into the site, and other statistics. Facebook compiles this data to understand trends for improving the site or making marketing decisions.
Facebook now has fine-grained privacy settings for its users. Users can decide which part of their information should be visible and to whom. Facebook categorizes members of the user’s network as “Friends” and “Friends of Friends,” or a broader group, such as a university or locality, and “Everyone,” which includes all users of the site. The categorization increases the granularity of the privacy settings in a user’s profile.
Children: No one under 13 is permitted to register. Children between 13 and 18 require parental permission before sending personal information over Internet. A policy alone, however, does not stop children from using the site, and parents must be watchful of their children’s online activities in order to enforce these policies.
Facebook stores users’ personal information on secure servers behind a firewall.
Sharing of Information with Third Parties
Facebook does not provide personal information to third parties without the user’s consent. Facebook also limits the information available to Internet search engines. Before accepting third-party services, Facebook makes the third party sign an agreement that holds it responsible for any misuse of personal information. However, advertising by third parties on Facebook can lead to their gaining access to user information, such as IP address or cookie-based web usage information that allows personalization of advertisements.
Precautions for Users
Facebook provides thousands of third-party applications for its users to download. Facebook further personalizes the advertisements of these applications on the user’s profiles. It does this by mining through other sources on the Internet to information about the likings and interests of these users. Sources for such mined data are newspapers, blogs and instant messaging to provide services customized according to the user’s personality. However, because these sources are not affiliated with Facebook, it raises a concern of data mining by these sources.
Facebook does not actually provide a mechanism for users to close their accounts, and thus raises the concern that private user data will remain indefinitely on Facebook’s servers.
Over time, the CEO and Board of Directors of a company change, or the company may even be sold. Under such circumstances, a concern arises about the private information held by the company. Deactivation without deletion of a user’s account implies that the data continue to be present on the servers. If a company is then sold, the data of those users who are currently deactivated may be subject to compromise.
Find this story at 2014
Copyright © 2003–2012 Carnegie Mellon CyLab
Where Does Facebook Stop and the NSA Begin?
7 juli 2014
Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
“That social norm is just something that has evolved over time” is how Mark Zuckerberg justified hijacking your privacy in 2010, after Facebook imperiously reset everyone’s default settings to “public.” “People have really gotten comfortable sharing more information and different kinds.” Riiight. Little did we know that by that time, Facebook (along with Google, Microsoft, etc.) was already collaborating with the National Security Agency’s PRISM program that swept up personal data on vast numbers of internet users.
In light of what we know now, Zuckerberg’s high-hat act has a bit of a creepy feel, like that guy who told you he was a documentary photographer, but turned out to be a Peeping Tom. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised: At the core of Facebook’s business model is the notion that our personal information is not, well, ours. And much like the NSA, no matter how often it’s told to stop using data in ways we didn’t authorize, it just won’t quit. Not long after Zuckerberg’s “evolving norm” dodge, Facebook had to promise the feds it would stop doing things like putting your picture in ads targeted at your “friends”; that promise lasted only until this past summer, when it suddenly “clarified” its right to do with your (and your kids’) photos whatever it sees fit. And just this week, Facebook analytics chief Ken Rudin told the Wall Street Journal that the company is experimenting with new ways to suck up your data, such as “how long a user’s cursor hovers over a certain part of its website, or whether a user’s newsfeed is visible at a given moment on the screen of his or her mobile phone.”
There will be a lot of talk in coming months about the government surveillance golem assembled in the shadows of the internet. Good. But what about the pervasive claim the private sector has staked to our digital lives, from where we (and our phones) spend the night to how often we text our spouse or swipe our Visa at the liquor store? It’s not a stretch to say that there’s a corporate spy operation equal to the NSA—indeed, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
In light of what we know now, Zuckerberg’s high-hat act has a bit of a creepy feel, like that guy who told you he was a documentary photographer, but turned out to be a Peeping Tom.
Yes, Silicon Valley libertarians, we know there is a difference: When we hand over information to Facebook, Google, Amazon, and PayPal, we click “I Agree.” We don’t clear our cookies. We recycle the opt-out notice. And let’s face it, that’s exactly what internet companies are trying to get us to do: hand over data without thinking of the transaction as a commercial one. It’s all so casual, cheery, intimate—like, like?
But beyond all the Friends and Hangouts and Favorites, there’s cold, hard cash, and, as they say on Sand Hill Road, when the product is free, you are the product. It’s your data that makes Facebook worth $100 billion and Google $300 billion. It’s your data that info-mining companies like Acxiom and Datalogix package, repackage, sift, and sell. And it’s your data that, as we’ve now learned, tech giants also pass along to the government. Let’s review: Companies have given the NSA access to the records of every phone call made in the United States. Companies have inserted NSA-designed “back doors” in security software, giving the government (and, potentially, hackers—or other governments) access to everything from bank records to medical data. And oh, yeah, companies also flat-out sell your data to the NSA and other agencies.
To be sure, no one should expect a bunch of engineers and their lawyers to turn into privacy warriors. What we could have done without was the industry’s pearl-clutching when the eavesdropping was finally revealed: the insistence (with eerily similar wording) that “we have never heard of PRISM”; the Captain Renault-like shock—shock!—to discover that data mining was going on here. Only after it became undeniably clear that they had known and had cooperated did they duly hurl indignation at the NSA and the FISA court that approved the data demands. Heartfelt? Maybe. But it also served a branding purpose: Wait! Don’t unfriend us! Kittens!
O hai, check out Mark Zuckerberg at this year’s TechCrunch conference: The NSA really “blew it,” he said, by insisting that its spying was mostly directed at foreigners. “Like, oh, wonderful, that’s really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies. I thought that was really bad.” Shorter: What matters is how quickly Facebook can achieve total world domination.
Maybe the biggest upside to l’affaire Snowden is that Americans are starting to wise up. “Advertisers” rank barely behind “hackers or criminals” on the list of entities that internet users say they don’t want to be tracked by (followed by “people from your past”). A solid majority say it’s very important to control access to their email, downloads, and location data. Perhaps that’s why, outside the more sycophantic crevices of the tech press, the new iPhone’s biometric capability was not greeted with the unadulterated exultation of the pre-PRISM era.
The truth is, for too long we’ve been content to play with our gadgets and let the geekpreneurs figure out the rest. But that’s not their job; change-the-world blather notwithstanding, their job is to make money. That leaves the hard stuff—like how much privacy we’ll trade for either convenience or security—in someone else’s hands: ours. It’s our responsibility to take charge of our online behavior (posting Carlos Dangerrific selfies? So long as you want your boss, and your high school nemesis, to see ‘em), and, more urgently, it’s our job to prod our elected representatives to take on the intelligence agencies and their private-sector pals.
The NSA was able to do what it did because, post-9/11, “with us or against us” absolutism cowed any critics of its expanding dragnet. Facebook does what it does because, unlike Europe—where both privacy and the ability to know what companies have on you are codified as fundamental rights—we haven’t been conditioned to see Orwellian overreach in every algorithm. That is now changing, and both the NSA and Mark Zuckerberg will have to accept it. The social norm is evolving.
—By Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery | November/December 2013 Issue
Find this story at November/December 2013
Copyright ©2014 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress.
EXCLUSIVE: EMAILS REVEAL CLOSE GOOGLE RELATIONSHIP WITH NSA (2014)
19 mei 2014
National Security Agency head and Internet giant’s executives have coordinated through high-level policy discussions
Email exchanges between National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.
Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s vast capability for spying on Americans’ electronic communications prompted a number of tech executives whose firms cooperated with the government to insist they had done so only when compelled by a court of law.
But Al Jazeera has obtained two sets of email communications dating from a year before Snowden became a household name that suggest not all cooperation was under pressure.
On the morning of June 28, 2012, an email from Alexander invited Schmidt to attend a four-hour-long “classified threat briefing” on Aug. 8 at a “secure facility in proximity to the San Jose, CA airport.”
“The meeting discussion will be topic-specific, and decision-oriented, with a focus on Mobility Threats and Security,” Alexander wrote in the email, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the first of dozens of communications between the NSA chief and Silicon Valley executives that the agency plans to turn over.
Alexander, Schmidt and other industry executives met earlier in the month, according to the email. But Alexander wanted another meeting with Schmidt and “a small group of CEOs” later that summer because the government needed Silicon Valley’s help.
“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” Alexander wrote. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.”
Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said she believes information sharing between industry and the government is “absolutely essential” but “at the same time, there is some risk to user privacy and to user security from the way the vulnerability disclosure is done.”
The challenge facing government and industry was to enhance security without compromising privacy, Granick said. The emails between Alexander and Google executives, she said, show “how informal information sharing has been happening within this vacuum where there hasn’t been a known, transparent, concrete, established methodology for getting security information into the right hands.”
The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identities of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.
The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identity of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.
Alexander explained that the deputy secretaries of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and “18 US CEOs” launched the ESF in 2009 to “coordinate government/industry actions on important (generally classified) security issues that couldn’t be solved by individual actors alone.”
“For example, over the last 18 months, we (primarily Intel, AMD [Advanced Micro Devices], HP [Hewlett-Packard], Dell and Microsoft on the industry side) completed an effort to secure the BIOS of enterprise platforms to address a threat in that area.”
“BIOS” is an acronym for “basic input/output system,” the system software that initializes the hardware in a personal computer before the operating system starts up. NSA cyberdefense chief Debora Plunkett in December disclosed that the agency had thwarted a “BIOS plot” by a “nation-state,” identified as China, to brick U.S. computers. That plot, she said, could have destroyed the U.S. economy. “60 Minutes,” which broke the story, reported that the NSA worked with unnamed “computer manufacturers” to address the BIOS software vulnerability.
But some cybersecurity experts questioned the scenario outlined by Plunkett.
“There is probably some real event behind this, but it’s hard to tell, because we don’t have any details,” wrote Robert Graham, CEO of the penetration-testing firm Errata Security in Atlanta, on his blog in December. “It”s completely false in the message it is trying to convey. What comes out is gibberish, as any technical person can confirm.”
And by enlisting the NSA to shore up their defenses, those companies may have made themselves more vulnerable to the agency’s efforts to breach them for surveillance purposes.
“I think the public should be concerned about whether the NSA was really making its best efforts, as the emails claim, to help secure enterprise BIOS and mobile devices and not holding the best vulnerabilities close to their chest,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team.
He doesn’t doubt that the NSA was trying to secure enterprise BIOS, but he suggested that the agency, for its own purposes, was “looking for weaknesses in the exact same products they’re trying to secure.”
The NSA “has no business helping Google secure its facilities from the Chinese and at the same time hacking in through the back doors and tapping the fiber connections between Google base centers,” Cardozo said. “The fact that it’s the same agency doing both of those things is in obvious contradiction and ridiculous.” He recommended dividing offensive and defensive functions between two agencies.
The government has asked for Silicon Valley’s help. Adam Berry / Getty Images
Two weeks after the “60 Minutes” broadcast, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained by Snowden, reported that the NSA inserted back doors into BIOS, doing exactly what Plunkett accused a nation-state of doing during her interview.
Google’s Schmidt was unable to attend to the mobility security meeting in San Jose in August 2012.
“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you !” Since the Snowden disclosures, Schmidt has been critical of the NSA and said its surveillance programs may be illegal.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend that briefing. Foreign Policy reported a month later that Dempsey and other government officials — no mention of Alexander — were in Silicon Valley “picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats.” Foreign Policy noted that the Silicon Valley executives in attendance belonged to the ESF. The story did not say mobility threats and security was the top agenda item along with a classified threat briefing.
A week after the gathering, Dempsey said during a Pentagon press briefing, “I was in Silicon Valley recently, for about a week, to discuss vulnerabilities and opportunities in cyber with industry leaders … They agreed — we all agreed on the need to share threat information at network speed.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin attended previous meetings of the ESF group but because of a scheduling conflict, according to Alexander’s email, he also could not attend the Aug. 8 briefing in San Jose, and it’s unknown if someone else from Google was sent.
A few months earlier, Alexander had emailed Brin to thank him for Google’s participation in the ESF.
“I see ESF’s work as critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace and really appreciate Vint Cerf [Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist], Eric Grosse [vice president of security engineering] and Adrian Ludwig’s [lead engineer for Android security] contributions to these efforts during the past year,” Alexander wrote in a Jan. 13, 2012, email.
“You recently received an invitation to the ESF Executive Steering Group meeting, which will be held on January 19, 2012. The meeting is an opportunity to recognize our 2012 accomplishments and set direction for the year to come. We will be discussing ESF’s goals and specific targets for 2012. We will also discuss some of the threats we see and what we are doing to mitigate those threats … Your insights, as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base, are valuable to ensure ESF’s efforts have measurable impact.”
A Google representative declined to answer specific questions about Brin’s and Schmidt’s relationship with Alexander or about Google’s work with the government.
“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the U.S. government — so we stay ahead of the game,” the representative said in a statement to Al Jazeera. “It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”
Brin responded to Alexander the following day even though the head of the NSA didn’t use the appropriate email address when contacting the co-chairman.
“Hi Keith, looking forward to seeing you next week. FYI, my best email address to use is [redacted],” Brin wrote. “The one your email went to — firstname.lastname@example.org — I don’t really check.”
May 6, 2014 5:00AM ET
by Jason Leopold @JasonLeopold
Find this story at 6 May 2014
© 2014 Al Jazeera America, LLC.
US tech giants knew of NSA data collection, agency’s top lawyer insists (2014)
19 mei 2014
NSA general counsel Rajesh De says big tech companies like Yahoo and Google provided ‘full assistance’ in legally mandated collection of data
The senior lawyer for the National Security Agency stated on Wednesday that US technology companies were fully aware of the surveillance agency’s widespread collection of data.
Rajesh De, the NSA general counsel, said all communications content and associated metadata harvested by the NSA under a 2008 surveillance law occurred with the knowledge of the companies – both for the internet collection program known as Prism and for the so-called “upstream” collection of communications moving across the internet.
Asked during a Wednesday hearing of the US government’s institutional privacy watchdog if collection under the law, known as Section 702 or the Fisa Amendments Act, occurred with the “full knowledge and assistance of any company from which information is obtained,” De replied: “Yes.”
When the Guardian and the Washington Post broke the Prism story in June, thanks to documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, nearly all the companies listed as participating in the program – Yahoo, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and AOL – claimed they did not know about a surveillance practice described as giving NSA vast access to their customers’ data. Some, like Apple, said they had “never heard” the term Prism.
De explained: “Prism was an internal government term that as the result of leaks became the public term,” De said. “Collection under this program was a compulsory legal process, that any recipient company would receive.”
After the hearing, De added that service providers also know and receive legal compulsions surrounding NSA’s harvesting of communications data not from companies but directly in transit across the internet under 702 authority.
The disclosure of Prism resulted in a cataclysm in technology circles, with tech giants launching extensive PR campaigns to reassure their customers of data security and successfully pressing the Obama administration to allow them greater leeway to disclose the volume and type of data requests served to them by the government.
Last week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he had called US president Barack Obama to voice concern about “the damage the government is creating for all our future.” There was no immediate response from the tech companies to De’s comments on Wednesday.
It is unclear what sort of legal process the government serves on a company to compel communications content and metadata access under Prism or through upstream collection. Documents leaked from Snowden indicate that the NSA possesses unmediated access to the company data.
The secret Fisa court overseeing US surveillance for the purposes of producing foreign intelligence issues annual authorisations blessing NSA’s targeting and associated procedures under Section 702.After winning a transparency battle with the administration in the Fisa court earlier this year, the companies are now permitted to disclose the range of Fisa orders they receive, in bands of 1,000, which presumably include orders under 702.
Passed in 2008, Section 702 retroactively gave cover of law to a post-9/11 effort permitting the NSA to collect phone, email, internet and other communications content when one party to the communication is reasonably believed to be a non-American outside the United States. The NSA stores Prism data for five years and communications taken directly from the internet for two years.
While Section 702 forbids the intentional targeting of Americans or people inside the United States – a practice known as “reverse targeting” – significant amounts of Americans’ phone calls and emails are swept up in the process of collection.
In 2011, according to a now-declassified Fisa court ruling, the NSA was found to have collected tens of thousands of emails between Americans, which a judge on the court considered a violation of the US constitution and which the NSA says it is technologically incapable of fixing.
Renewed in December 2012 over the objections of senate intelligence committee members Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, Section 702 also permits NSA analysts to search through the collected communications for identifying information about Americans, an amendment to so-called “minimisation” rules revealed by the Guardian in August and termed the “backdoor search loophole” by Wyden.
De and his administration colleagues, testifying before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, strongly rejected suggestions by the panel that a court authorise searches for Americans’ information inside the 702 databases. “If you have to go back to court every time you look at the information in your custody, you can imagine that would be quite burdensome,” deputy assistant attorney general Brad Wiegmann told the board.
De argued that once the Fisa court permits the collection annually, analysts ought to be free to comb through it, and stated that there were sufficient privacy safeguards for Americans after collection and querying had occurred. “That information is at the government’s disposal to review in the first instance,” De said.
De also stated that the NSA is not permitted to search for Americans’ data from communications taken directly off the internet, citing greater risks to privacy.
Section 702 is not the only legal authority the US government possesses to harvest data transiting the internet.
Neither De nor any other US official discussed data taken from the internet under different legal authorities. Different documents Snowden disclosed, published by the Washington Post, indicated that NSA takes data as it transits between Yahoo and Google data centers, an activity reportedly conducted not under Section 702 but under a seminal executive order known as 12333.
De and his administration colleagues were quick to answer the board that companies were aware of the government’s collection of data under 702, which Robert Litt, general counsel for the director of national intelligence, told the board was “one of the most valuable collection tools that we have.”
“All 702 collection is pursuant to court directives, so they have to know,” De reiterated to the Guardian.
• This article was amended on 20 March 2014 to remove statements in the original that the testimony by Rajesh De contradicted denials by technology companies about their knowledge of NSA data collection. It was also updated to clarify that the companies challenged the secrecy surrounding Section 702 orders. Other minor clarifications were also made.
Spencer Ackerman in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 19 March 2014 18.40 GMT
Find this story at 19 March 2014
© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Apple, Google and AT&T meet Obama to discuss NSA surveillance concerns (2013)
19 mei 2014
Silicon Valley companies concerned at effect on business as revelations over US government spying spread more widely
Barack Obama hosted a summit on government surveillance and digital privacy attended by Apple chief executive Tim Cook, Google vice-president Vint Cerf and the boss of US telecoms network AT&T on Thursday.
The US president attended in person, sources told the Politico blog, as did other technology company executives. Additional attendees included representatives of the Center for Democracy and Technology and Gigi Sohn, leader of internet campaign group Public Knowledge.
The meeting was apparently prompted by growing concerns among US technology companies that revelations from the Guardian and others about the extent and depth of surveillance by the National Security Agency, and the companies’ obligation to allow access to data under secret court rules, could be damaging their reputation and commercial interests abroad.
The gathering followed a closed-doors meeting earlier this week with Obama’s chief of staff Denis McDonough and general counsel Kathy Ruemmler at the White House.
On the agenda at Tuesday’s meeting were the surveillance activities of the NSA, commercial privacy issues and the online tracking of consumers.
“This is one of a number of discussions the administration is having with experts and stakeholders in response to the president’s directive to have a national dialogue about how to best protect privacy in a digital era, including how to respect privacy while defending our national security,” one official told Politico.
McDonough and Ruemmler met members of the Information Technology Industry Council, TechNet and Tech America, which represent a range of companies from defence contractors to digital giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
Campaigners including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy information Center were also present, Politico’s Tony Romm reported.
The Guardian’s revelations about the breadth of the NSA’s access to data, particularly relating to foreign individuals, has created PR problems for US companies. Apple has set its sights on China as a huge potential growth market, but if people there fear eavesdropping by the US government it could harm sales. And Google stands to lose business in cloud computing to European rivals if customers fear similar eavesdropping. Cloud computing companies have estimated they could lose billions of dollars of business as a result.
The White House is also battling to respond to growing unrest over surveillance of citizens by the state and the vast caches of data many digital giants are now storing about individual consumers.
Obama has promised more public debate about the country’s counterterrorism activities and privacy safeguards in general amid signs of widespread support for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but officials have so far declined to provide details about this week’s technology summits.
The meetings came as a wave of Americans posted messages of support to the former security contractor, whose leaks exposed the extent of government sponsored surveillance in the US and Europe.
A website launched by the digital rights group Fight for the Future on Wednesday has attracted more than 10,000 posts expressing support for Snowden’s actions. Billed as an exercise to put faces to statistics, the website features a combination of photographs of individuals holding up signs and written words of support.
In June, Reuters/Ipsos found 31% of respondents believed Snowden was a patriot, while 23% thought he was a traitor. Another 46% said they did not know. Gallup found in June that 53% of respondents disapproved of government snooping programmes, while just 37% approved and 10% had no opinion.
In a statement, Fight for the Future cofounder Tiffiniy Cheng said: “We’ve seen an unbelievable response already – the messages keep streaming in. The government reads the same polls that we do. They know that Snowden has the public’s support. But now we’re adding faces to those statistics. As someone who volunteered and worked for Obama’s election, I feel totally burned by the president’s civil liberties and human rights records. If he truly cares about representing the American people, he should turn his attention to shutting down the NSA’s illegal surveillance programs, and leave Mr Snowden alone.”
The website was launched shortly before Obama pulled out of a presidential meeting with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow next month. This followed Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum.
theguardian.com, Friday 9 August 2013 17.37 BST
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© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages (2013)
19 mei 2014
• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism
• Outlook.com encryption unlocked even before official launch
• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls
• Company says it is legally compelled to comply
Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.
The latest NSA revelations further expose the tensions between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration. All the major tech firms are lobbying the government to allow them to disclose more fully the extent and nature of their co-operation with the NSA to meet their customers’ privacy concerns. Privately, tech executives are at pains to distance themselves from claims of collaboration and teamwork given by the NSA documents, and insist the process is driven by legal compulsion.
In a statement, Microsoft said: “When we upgrade or update products we aren’t absolved from the need to comply with existing or future lawful demands.” The company reiterated its argument that it provides customer data “only in response to government demands and we only ever comply with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers”.
In June, the Guardian revealed that the NSA claimed to have “direct access” through the Prism program to the systems of many major internet companies, including Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time. Targeting US citizens does require an individual warrant, but the NSA is able to collect Americans’ communications without a warrant if the target is a foreign national located overseas.
Since Prism’s existence became public, Microsoft and the other companies listed on the NSA documents as providers have denied all knowledge of the program and insisted that the intelligence agencies do not have back doors into their systems.
Microsoft’s latest marketing campaign, launched in April, emphasizes its commitment to privacy with the slogan: “Your privacy is our priority.”
But internal NSA newsletters, marked top secret, suggest the co-operation between the intelligence community and the companies is deep and ongoing.
The latest documents come from the NSA’s Special Source Operations (SSO) division, described by Snowden as the “crown jewel” of the agency. It is responsible for all programs aimed at US communications systems through corporate partnerships such as Prism.
The files show that the NSA became concerned about the interception of encrypted chats on Microsoft’s Outlook.com portal from the moment the company began testing the service in July last year.
Within five months, the documents explain, Microsoft and the FBI had come up with a solution that allowed the NSA to circumvent encryption on Outlook.com chats
A newsletter entry dated 26 December 2012 states: “MS [Microsoft], working with the FBI, developed a surveillance capability to deal” with the issue. “These solutions were successfully tested and went live 12 Dec 2012.”
Two months later, in February this year, Microsoft officially launched the Outlook.com portal.
Another newsletter entry stated that NSA already had pre-encryption access to Outlook email. “For Prism collection against Hotmail, Live, and Outlook.com emails will be unaffected because Prism collects this data prior to encryption.”
Microsoft’s co-operation was not limited to Outlook.com. An entry dated 8 April 2013 describes how the company worked “for many months” with the FBI – which acts as the liaison between the intelligence agencies and Silicon Valley on Prism – to allow Prism access without separate authorization to its cloud storage service SkyDrive.
The document describes how this access “means that analysts will no longer have to make a special request to SSO for this – a process step that many analysts may not have known about”.
The NSA explained that “this new capability will result in a much more complete and timely collection response”. It continued: “This success is the result of the FBI working for many months with Microsoft to get this tasking and collection solution established.”
A separate entry identified another area for collaboration. “The FBI Data Intercept Technology Unit (DITU) team is working with Microsoft to understand an additional feature in Outlook.com which allows users to create email aliases, which may affect our tasking processes.”
The NSA has devoted substantial efforts in the last two years to work with Microsoft to ensure increased access to Skype, which has an estimated 663 million global users.
One document boasts that Prism monitoring of Skype video production has roughly tripled since a new capability was added on 14 July 2012. “The audio portions of these sessions have been processed correctly all along, but without the accompanying video. Now, analysts will have the complete ‘picture’,” it says.
Eight months before being bought by Microsoft, Skype joined the Prism program in February 2011.
According to the NSA documents, work had begun on smoothly integrating Skype into Prism in November 2010, but it was not until 4 February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general.
The NSA was able to start tasking Skype communications the following day, and collection began on 6 February. “Feedback indicated that a collected Skype call was very clear and the metadata looked complete,” the document stated, praising the co-operation between NSA teams and the FBI. “Collaborative teamwork was the key to the successful addition of another provider to the Prism system.”
ACLU technology expert Chris Soghoian said the revelations would surprise many Skype users. “In the past, Skype made affirmative promises to users about their inability to perform wiretaps,” he said. “It’s hard to square Microsoft’s secret collaboration with the NSA with its high-profile efforts to compete on privacy with Google.”
The information the NSA collects from Prism is routinely shared with both the FBI and CIA. A 3 August 2012 newsletter describes how the NSA has recently expanded sharing with the other two agencies.
The NSA, the entry reveals, has even automated the sharing of aspects of Prism, using software that “enables our partners to see which selectors [search terms] the National Security Agency has tasked to Prism”.
The document continues: “The FBI and CIA then can request a copy of Prism collection of any selector…” As a result, the author notes: “these two activities underscore the point that Prism is a team sport!”
In its statement to the Guardian, Microsoft said:
We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues. First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes.
Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate.
Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.
In a joint statement, Shawn Turner, spokesman for the director of National Intelligence, and Judith Emmel, spokeswoman for the NSA, said:
The articles describe court-ordered surveillance – and a US company’s efforts to comply with these legally mandated requirements. The US operates its programs under a strict oversight regime, with careful monitoring by the courts, Congress and the Director of National Intelligence. Not all countries have equivalent oversight requirements to protect civil liberties and privacy.
They added: “In practice, US companies put energy, focus and commitment into consistently protecting the privacy of their customers around the world, while meeting their obligations under the laws of the US and other countries in which they operate.”
• This article was amended on 11 July 2013 to reflect information from Microsoft that it did not make any changes to Skype to allow Prism collection on or around July 2012.
Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe
The Guardian, Friday 12 July 2013
Find this story at 12 July 2013
© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Microsoft soll seit Jahren mit US-Ermittlern kooperieren (2013)
19 mei 2014
Microsoft arbeitet angeblich intensiv mit US-Geheimdiensten zusammen. Nach Informationen, die Edward Snowden dem “Guardian” zugespielt hat, soll der Konzern den Ermittlern Zugang zu E-Mails und Skype-Gesprächen gewährt und sogar die firmeneigene Verschlüsselung ausgehebelt haben.
Hamburg/London – Edward Snowden hat mit seinen Enthüllungen über die globale Datenschnüffelei der US-Geheimdienste nicht nur die amerikanische Politik in helle Aufregung versetzt, sondern auch die dortige IT-Branche. Giganten wie Facebook, Apple, Google und Microsoft haben bisher versucht, den Eindruck zu erwecken, ihre Zusammenarbeit mit den US-Behörden beschränke sich auf das Nötigste.
Jetzt aber berichtet der britische “Guardian”, wie Microsoft mit den Ermittlern kooperiert. Demnach zeigen Informationen von Snowden, dass das Unternehmen seit drei Jahren intensiv mit US-Geheimdiensten zusammenarbeitet.
Die National Security Agency (NSA) habe etwa die Sorge geäußert, Web-Chats auf dem neuen Outlook.com-Portal nicht mitlesen zu können. Microsoft habe daraufhin der NSA geholfen, die konzerneigene Verschlüsselungstechnik zu umgehen. Dieses Vorgehen soll sich dem Bericht zufolge nicht auf die Web-Chats beschränkt haben: Die NSA soll auch Zugang zu E-Mails auf Outlook.com und Hotmail trotz der Verschlüsselung gehabt haben.
Auch der Internettelefoniedienst Skype, den Microsoft im Oktober 2011 gekauft hat, geriet ins Visier der NSA: Laut “Guardian” hat die Firma Geheimdiensten ermöglicht, im Rahmen des “Prism”-Überwachungsprogramms sowohl Video- als auch Audio-Unterhaltungen mitzuschneiden.
Microsoft begründete sein Vorgehen mit rechtlichen Zwängen: “Wenn wir Produkte verbessern, müssen wir uns weiterhin Anfragen beugen, die mit dem Gesetz in Einklang sind.” Das Unternehmen betonte, dass es Kundendaten nur auf Anfrage der Regierung herausgebe – und auch das nur, wenn es um spezifische Konten oder Nutzer gehe.
Spannungen zwischen Silicon Valley und Obama-Regierung
Aus den Unterlagen geht laut “Guardian” hervor, dass das durch “Prism” gesammelte Material routinemäßig an das FBI und den US-Auslandsgeheimdienst CIA geht. In einem NSA-Dokument sei von einem “Mannschaftssport” die Rede.
Die neuen Informationen zeigen nach Angaben des “Guardian” auch, dass es Spannungen zwischen dem Silicon Valley, Standort zahlreicher Computerunternehmen, und der Regierung von US-Präsident Barack Obama gibt. Alle großen Technologiefirmen drängten die US-Regierung, ihnen zu erlauben, das Ausmaß der Zusammenarbeit mit den Behörden öffentlich zu machen, um den Datenschutzbedenken ihrer Kunden gerecht zu werden.
11. Juli 2013, 23:34 Uhr
Find this story at 11 July 2013
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2013
Vale and Belo Monte suspected of spying
21 maart 2014
Rio de Janeiro-Paris-Geneva, February 14, 2014. Today, FIDH and OMCT presented the press with evidence that Vale and the Belo Monte Consortium have been spying on civil society. The two human rights groups have called upon the Brazilian judicial authorities to take whatever actions are necessary to bring these facts to light and take punitive action against those responsible.
In light of the Brazilian government’s lukewarm reaction to allegations of illegal espionage by transnational corporations targeting civil society organisations and movements, FIDH and OMCT, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, conducted an investigation in Brazil from February 9 to 14, 2014.
The investigation included interviews with victims, persons working for social organisations, government and judicial representatives, members of Parliament, and executives working for the Belo Monte Consortium, and the National Development Bank (Banco Nacional do Desenvolvimento – BNDES).
The testimony and documents obtained during the investigation appear to substantiate claims that Vale and Belo Monte have been engaged in acts of corruption, that they illegally obtained confidential information and access to databases, made illegal recordings, were involved in identity theft, and conducted unfounded employee dismissals. These offences have been perpetrated with the complicity of State agents. Documents have been unearthed that substantiate both the bribing of State agents and possible assistance provided by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência – ABIN) to Belo Monte, whilst Vale worked with retired ABIN agents. Both companies are found have targeted persons and NGOs believed to be potential barriers to the companies’ activities.
Delegates from the fact-finding mission have criticised the State’s lack of progress in investigating these offences, which were reported to the State Prosecutor in March 2013. The persons heading the mission also called upon President Dilma Roussef to be consistent by applying the same standards to this case as those applied in the Snowden case.
The head of the Observatory mission, Jimena Reyes, Head of FIDH’s Americas Desk, stated that: “[…] the spying activities conducted by multinational corporations on social movements in Brazil raises serious questions about human rights respect by companies. These activities undermine freedom of expression and the right to protest, which form one of the fundamental pillars of a democratic state”.
Alexandre Faro, a lawyer and one of the mission delegates explained that: “[…] the lack of regulations on private intelligence activities conducted by corporations facilitates the perpetration of abuses against civil society”. He went on to state that, “the power held by multi-national corporations calls for a strong legal and judicial system to act as a counterbalance and stop any further excesses of this nature”.
A report on the fact-finding mission will be published in the coming months. It will provide a detailed account of the mission’s findings and recommendations, and will be presented to the Brazilian Government, non-governmental actors, international organisations, diplomatic representations, and to national, regional and international human rights protection entities.
18 February 2014
Find this story at 18 February 2014
Report on mining and steel industry in Brazil
COPYRIGHT © 2014 – FIDH – WORLDWIDE HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT
Brazil Accused of Spying on Belo Monte Dam Opponents
21 maart 2014
An activist collective opposed to the construction of the controversial Belo Monte hydroelectric dam [en] on the Xingu River in northern Brazil uncovered a spy in its midst [en] who confessed to infiltrating the group allegedly at the behest of the dam company and Brazil’s federal intelligence agency.
The Movimento Xingu Vivo Para Sempre (Xingu Alive Forever Movement), a collective of organisations, social movements, and environmentalists in the region of Altamira, Pará that are against the power plant there, which is currently under construction, discovered the mole during an annual planning meeting on February 24, 2013.
According to the report on its website, the group found that “one participant, Antonio, who had recently integrated into the movement, was recording the meeting with a spy pen”:
Em dezembro [de 2012], segundo o depoente, ele passou a espionar o Xingu Vivo, onde se infiltrou em função da amizade de sua família com a coordenadora do movimento, Antonia Melo. Neste período, acompanhou reuniões e monitorou participantes do movimento, enviando fotos e relatos para o funcionário do CCBM [Consórcio Construtor de Belo Monte], Peter Tavares.
Foi Tavares que, segundo Antonio, lhe deu a caneta para gravar as discussões do planejamento do movimento Xingu Vivo. O espião também relatou que este material seria analisado pela inteligência da CCBM, e que, para isso, contaria com a participação da ABIN (Agência Brasileira de Inteligência), que estaria mandando um agente para Altamira esta semana.
In December , according to the man, he began to spy on Xingu Vivo, which he infiltrated based on his family’s friendship with the coordinator of the movement, Antonia Melo. During this period, he followed meetings and monitored the movement’s participants, sending photos and reports to Belo Monte’s Consortium Builder (CCBM) employee Peter Tavares.
Tavares was the one who, according to Antonio, gave him the pen to record Xingu Vivo’s planning discussions. The spy also reported that this material would be analyzed by the CCBM’s intelligence, and for that he’d count on the participation of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency (ABIN), which would be sending an agent to Altamira [that] week.
In his statement, recorded by Xingu Vivo, the CCBM spy confesses that he received 5,000 Brazilian reais (2,532 US dollars) to pass information to the agency about the movement’s activities:
The movement asked federal prosecutors to assure the spy’s safety and of the members of the Xingu Vivo, who say they feel “in a situation of risk and under threat”, besides asking for the investigation of the complaints.
In a brief statement [.pdf], ABIN denied any involvement in the espionage in conjunction with the CCBM. CCBM has not released any statement.
ABIN, established in 1999 as an instrument of the federal government, was appointed as the successor of the National Intelligence Service, an agency that actively spied on popular and labor organisation during the Brazilian military dictatorship from 1964-1985 in order for them to be better controlled or even crushed.
Greve em Belo Monte – novembro de 2012. “Mais de 17 mil operários trabalham na construção da hidrelétrica de Belo Monte, numa obra com custo estimado de R$ 25 bilhões”. Foto de Altamiro Borges (CC BY 3.0)
Strike in Belo Monte – November 2012. “More than 17 thousand laborers working n the construction of the Belo Monte Dam, a project estimated to cost R$ 25 billion”. Photo by Altamiro Borges (CC BY 3.0)
The agency has had its eye on Xingu Vivo in the past. In June 2011, ABIN published a report on the collective, saying that the organisation “has received support from foreigners and international NGOs whose activities in the country are partly financed by international organizations and foreign governments”. The movement’s response to the report was cited by the humanities research institute Humanitas Unisinos, from the University of Vale do Rio dos Sinos, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul:
O relatório sigiloso da Abin é “patético” porque as verdades que ele arrola “são mais do que públicas”. Estão no sítio web do Movimento que são seus parceiros e apoiadores. “Não precisava o governo gastar dinheiro dos contribuintes com essa “investigação’”, diz nota do Xingu Vivo. “Constrangedoras, porém, são as mentiras pelas quais o contribuinte também paga”, agrega. O Movimento desafia a Abin a comprovar que recebe apoio de governos.
The confidential ABIN report is “pathetic” because the truths which it lists “are more than public.” They are [stated] on the website of the movement as its partners and supporters. “The government didn’t need to spend taxpayers money with this “investigation”, says the Xingu Vivo note. “Embarrassing, though, are the lies by which the taxpayer also pays”, adds. The movement challenges ABIN to prove that they receive support from governments.
Several organisations and social movements have signed a joint statement condemning ABIN and expressing solidarity with the Xingu Vivo movement.
Símbolo da ABIN.
The Workers’ Cause Party, in a statement released by Diário Liberdade on April 9, slammed the spying revelation:
A espionagem dos movimentos populares e sindicais não é exclusividade dos regimes militares. Em realidade, nunca foi erradicada, já que a “transição democrática” de 1985 manteve a maior parte dos privilégios dos militares e políticos ligados à ditadura. De uma só vez, a serviço dos empresários e do imperialismo, o governo do PT dá espaço para a ala direita da burguesia, que sempre esteve no comando dos órgãos de repressão, fazer o que bem entende contra o povo trabalhador.
The espionage of popular movements and unions is not unique to military regimes. In reality, it was never eradicated, as the “democratic transition” from 1985 retained most of the privileges of the military and politicians linked to the dictatorship. At one time, at the service of entrepreneurs and imperialism, the government of the Workers Party (PT) gave space to the right wing of the bourgeoisie, which has always been in control of the organs of repression, do what it pleases against working people.
Blogger Candido Cunha denounced that ABIN’s own website reports a standing agreement between the agency and Eletronorte, which is part of the Belo Monte’s Consortium Builder, since 2009:
Além do trabalho voltado a salvaguardar os conhecimentos de interesse estratégico para o Brasil, a Abin assessora a Eletronorte na elaboraração do planejamento estratégico de segurança para a proteção de suas infraestruturas críticas – instalações, serviços e bens que, se forem interrompidos ou destruídos, provocarão sério impacto social, econômico e/ou político.
In addition to the work aimed at safeguarding the knowledge of strategic interests for Brazil, Abin advises Eletronorte in the development of strategic security planning for the protection of their critical infrastructure – facilities, services and assets which, if disrupted or destroyed, would have serious social, economic and/or political impact.
Dock workers under surveillance
Porto de Suape Navio João Cândido. Foto de C.A.Müller (CC BY-SA)
Port of Suape, João Cândido ship. Photo by C.A.Müller (CC BY-SA)
But this is not the only construction site where opposition to governmental projects has allegedly come under surveillance by the Brazilian Intelligence Agency.
The agency faces allegations that it has also spied on workers at the port of Suape in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, in the city of Cabo de Santo Agostinho near Recife.
According to a report by Partido da Causa Operária (Working Cause Party), the espionage dates from March 2013 and aims to “investigate a possible strike by workers against the Provisional Measure of Ports, which would remove the power of state governments to bid new cargo terminals and reduce labor rights.”
The Provisional Measure of Ports, MP 595/12, a proposed Presidential act, provides for, according to various social movements, the privatization of Brazilian ports.
Blogger José Accioly republished a note by the Institutional Security Cabinet (GSI) – which coordinates ABIN’s investigations and responds to the Presidency of the Republic – rejecting the accusations that it was spying on the union movement of Suape. But secret documents from ABIN, obtained and published by Brazilian news website Estadão.com.br, confirmed that it was monitoring the unions.
Operation “Risk Management”, formally known as the Office “Mission Order 022/82 105″ of March 13, 2013, not only disavows the GSI, reporting that the espionage occurs in all 15 coastal Brazilian states and its ports in order to avoid strikes and negative reactions to the Provisional Measure of Ports.
Retired teacher and engineer Ossami Sakamori compared the mood of government opponents during the military dictatorship and the mood of those opposing the government today:
O clima que os opositores ao regime vivia, era o mesmo clima que os opositores do poder da República vive hoje. Não sabemos de onde virão as represálias, porque estamos sendo monitorados, sim. Os achincalhamentos que recebemos, via rede social é a parte visível do processo. O que temo são as ações desenvolvidos pelos órgãos de inteligências contra os opositores do regime de hoje, pelos agentes invisíveis aos olhos do cidadão comum.
The climate that opponents of the regime lived through, was the same as opponents of the Republic’s power experience today. We do not know where the retaliation will come from because we are being monitored, yes. The mockeries we receive via social network is the visible part of the process. What I fear are the actions undertaken by intelligence agencies against opponents of the regime today, by the agents invisible to the eyes of the average citizen.
Several political parties, including the Democratic Labour Party (PDT), the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), said they will “summon the minister of the Institutional Security Office, General Jose Elito Carvalho Siqueira, and the director of the Brazilian Intelligence Agency, Wilson Roberto Trezza, to give explanations to the House of Representatives Working Committee the agency’s monitoring and intimidation of the union movement.”
Even employees of ABIN, represented by the National Association for Intelligence Officers (Aofi), reported in a note that they feel uncomfortable with the focus put on spying on social movements under General José Elito. The union Força Sindical issued a statement declaring it unacceptable that a party with its origins in the labor movement can use “organs of repression” against these workers.
Written by Raphael Tsavkko Garcia Translated by Raphael Tsavkko Garcia
Translation posted 18 April 2013 8:00 GMT
Find this story at 18 April 2013
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The war on democracy; How corporations and spy agencies use “security” to defend profiteering and crush activism
3 december 2013
A stunning new report compiles extensive evidence showing how some of the world’s largest corporations have partnered with private intelligence firms and government intelligence agencies to spy on activist and nonprofit groups. Environmental activism is a prominent though not exclusive focus of these activities.
The report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations draws on a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations. It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage programme that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.
The report argues that a key precondition for corporate espionage is that the nonprofit in question:
“… impairs or at least threatens a company’s assets or image sufficiently.”
One of the groups that has been targeted the most, and by a range of different corporations, is Greenpeace. In the 1990s, Greenpeace was tracked by private security firm Beckett Brown International (BBI) on behalf of the world’s largest chlorine producer, Dow Chemical, due to the environmental organisation’s campaigning against the use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. The spying included:
“… pilfering documents from trash bins, attempting to plant undercover operatives within groups, casing offices, collecting phone records of activists, and penetrating confidential meetings.”
Other Greenpeace offices in France and Europe were hacked and spied on by French private intelligence firms at the behest of Électricité de France, the world’s largest operator of nuclear power plants, 85% owned by the French government.
Oil companies Shell and BP had also reportedly hired Hackluyt, a private investigative firm with “close links” to MI6, to infiltrate Greenpeace by planting an agent who “posed as a left -wing sympathiser and film maker.” His mission was to “betray plans of Greenpeace’s activities against oil giants,” including gathering “information about the movements of the motor vessel Greenpeace in the north Atlantic.”
The CCP report notes that:
“A diverse array of nonprofits have been targeted by espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.
Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations – including the US Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON – have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”
Exploring other examples of this activity, the report notes that in Ecuador, after a lawsuit against Texaco triggering a $9.5 billion fine for spilling 350 million gallons of oil around Lago Agrio, the private investigations firm Kroll tried to hire journalist Mary Cuddehe as a “corporate spy” for Chevron, to undermine studies of the environmental health effects of the spill.
Referring to the work of US investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, the report points out that the notorious defence contractor Blackwater, later renamed XE Services and now Academi, had sought to become “the intel arm” of Monsanto, the agricultural and biotechnology corporation associated with genetically modified foods. Blackwater was paid to “provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.”
In another case, the UK’s Camp for Climate Action, which supports the decommissioning of coal-fired plants, was infiltrated by private security firm Vericola on behalf of three energy companies, E.ON, Scottish Power, and Scottish Resources Group.
Reviewing emails released by Wikileaks from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, the report shows how the firm reportedly “conducted espionage against human rights, animal rights and environmental groups, on behalf of companies such as Coca-Cola.” In one case, the emails suggest that Stratfor investigated People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) at Coca-Cola’s request, and had access to a classified FBI investigation on PETA.
The report uncovers compelling evidence that much corporate espionage is facilitated by government agencies, particularly the FBI. The CCP report examines a September 2010 document from the Office of the Inspector General in the US Justice Department, which reviewed FBI investigations between 2001 and 2006. It concluded that:
“… the factual basis of opening some of the investigations of individuals affiliated with the groups was factually weak… In some cases, we also found that the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis…. In some cases, the FBI classified some of its investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification.”
For instance, on an FBI investigation of Greenpeace, the Justice Department found that:
“… the FBI articulated little or no basis for suspecting a violation of any federal criminal statute… the FBI’s opening EC [electronic communication] did not articulate any basis to suspect that they were planning any federal crimes….We also found that the FBI kept this investigation open for over 3 years, long past the corporate shareholder meetings that the subjects were supposedly planning to disrupt… We concluded that the investigation was kept open ‘beyond the point at which its underlying justification no longer existed,’ which was inconsistent with the FBI’s Manual of Investigative and Operational Guidelines (MIOG).”
The FBI’s involvement in corporate espionage has been institutionalised through ‘InfraGard’, “a little-known partnership between private industry, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.” The partnership involves the participation of “more than 23,000 representatives of private industry,” including 350 of the Fortune 500 companies.
But it’s not just the FBI. According to the new report, “active-duty CIA operatives are allowed to sell their expertise to the highest bidder”, a policy that gives “financial firms and hedge funds access to the nation’s top-level intelligence talent. Little is known about the CIA’s moonlighting policy, or which corporations have hired current CIA operatives.”
The report concludes that, due to an extreme lack of oversight, government effectively tends to simply “rubber stamp” such intelligence outsourcing:
“In effect, corporations are now able to replicate in miniature the services of a private CIA, employing active-duty and retired officers from intelligence and/or law enforcement. Lawlessness committed by this private intelligence and law enforcement capacity, which appears to enjoy near impunity, is a threat to democracy and the rule of law. In essence, corporations are now able to hire a private law enforcement capacity – which is barely constrained by legal and ethical norms – and use it to subvert or destroy civic groups. This greatly erodes the capacity of the civic sector to countervail the tremendous power of corporate and wealthy elites.”
Gary Ruskin, author of the report, said:
“Corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations is an egregious abuse of corporate power that is subverting democracy. Who will rein in the forces of corporate lawlessness as they bear down upon nonprofit defenders of justice?”
That’s a good question. Ironically, many of the same companies spearheading the war on democracy are also at war with planet earth – just last week the Guardian revealed that 90 of some of the biggest corporations generate nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and are thus overwhelmingly responsible for climate change.
Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter
Find this story at 28 November 2013
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.
Corporations increasingly spying on nonprofits, group says
3 december 2013
Corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they view as potential threats with little fear of retribution, according to a new report by a corporate watchdog group.
The large companies employ former Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI, military and police officers to monitor and in some cases infiltrate groups that have been critical of them, according to the report by Essential Information, which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1980s.
“Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups,” the report said.
Photos: Top 10 Southern California companies
The spying is problematic because some investigators violate laws — a French utility was fined about $2 million in 2011 for hacking the computers of Greenpeace France — while chilling groups that stand up for consumers, the report said.
“Corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations is an egregious abuse of corporate power that is subverting democracy,” said Gary Ruskin, the report’s author. “Who will rein in the forces of corporate lawlessness as they bear down upon nonprofit defenders of justice?”
Corporations and their trade associations have been linked to a wide variety of espionage tactics against nonprofit organizations, including posing as volunteers or journalists to obtain information about nonprofits’ activities, the report said.
“Many of these tactics are either highly unethical or illegal,” the report said.
Essential Information is a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes corporate accountability.
By Stuart Pfeifer
November 20, 2013, 1:25 p.m.
Find this story at 20 November 2013
Copyright 2013 http://www.latimes.com
Spooky Business: A New Report on Corporate Espionage Against Non-profits
27 november 2013
Giant corporations are employing highly unethical or illegal tools of espionage against nonprofit organizations with near impunity, according to a new report by Essential Information. The report, titled Spooky Business, documents how corporations hire shady investigative firms staffed with former employees of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), US military, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Secret Service and local police departments to target nonprofit organizations.
“Corporate espionage against nonprofit organizations is an egregious abuse of corporate power that is subverting democracy,” said Gary Ruskin, author of Spooky Business. “Who will rein in the forces of corporate lawlessness as they bear down upon nonprofit defenders of justice?”
Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON – have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.
Many different types of nonprofit organizations have been targeted with corporate espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.
Corporations and their trade associations have been linked to a wide variety of espionage tactics against nonprofit organizations. The most prevalent tactic appears to be infiltration by posing a volunteer or journalist, to obtain information from a nonprofit. But corporations have been linked to many other human, physical and electronic espionage tactics against nonprofits. Many of these tactics are either highly unethical or illegal.
Founded in 1982 by Ralph Nader, Essential Information is a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. It is involved in a variety of projects to promote corporate accountability, a more just economy, public health and a sustainable planet. It has published a bi-monthly magazine, books and reports, sponsored conferences, provided writers with grants to pursue investigations, published daily news summaries, operated clearinghouses that disseminate information to grassroots organizations in the United States and developing countries worldwide, and has hosted scores of conferences focusing on government and corporate accountability.
November 20, 2013 · by editor · in Corporate Espionage
Find the report at 20 November 2013
© 2013 Center for Corporate Policy
Spooky Business: U.S. Corporations Enlist Ex-Intelligence Agents to Spy on Nonprofit Groups (2013)
27 november 2013
A new report details how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they regard as potential threats. The corporate watchdog organization Essential Information found a diverse groups of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups. The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, National Security Agency and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work, which is often illegal in nature but rarely — if ever — prosecuted. We’re joined by Gary Ruskin, author of the report, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations,” and director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information.
Click here to watch part 2 of this interview.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to a new report detailing how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups that they regard as potential threats. The report’s called, “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations.” It was released by the corporate watch group Essential Information. The report found a diverse group of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights, and arms control groups. The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, NSA and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work which is often illegal in nature but rarely, if ever, prosecuted. For more we go to California where we’re joined by the report’s author, Gary Ruskin. He is the director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information. Gary, Welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what you found.
GARY RUSKIN: Thanks for having me on the show again, Amy. Yeah, we found a tremendous diversity of corporate espionage being conducted against a wide variety of civic groups across the country and the U.K., the case in Ecuador and in France as well. So what we found was a tremendous variety of use of different types of espionage tactics from dumpster diving to hiring investigators to pose as journalists or volunteers, to electronic espionage, information warfare, information operations hacking, electronic surveillance. And so this appears to be a growing phenomenon both here in the United States and maybe in other parts of the world as well. But our report is an effort to document something that’s very hard to know very much about. We aggregated 30 different cases of corporate espionage to try to talk about them, but really, each of the cases we have very fragmentary information. And so it’s hard to say — we have a, we have a part of an iceberg whether it’s the tip of the iceberg or the tippy tip of the iceberg, we don’t really know.
AMY GOODMAN: Gary, let’s got to — I want to go to 2010; Greenpeace files a federal lawsuit against Dow Chemical and Sasol North America for engaging in corporate espionage. The lawsuit alleged corporate spies stole thousands of confidential documents from Greenpeace, including campaign plans, employee records; phone records, donor and media lists. Democracy Now! spoke to Charlie Cray, the senior researcher with Greenpeace USA at the time. He explained what happened.
CHARLIE CRAY: BBI, the defunct private investigation firm hired subcontractors including off-duty police officers who went through Greenpeace’s trash to find useful documents on a regular basis. Over two years they did this almost twice a week on average. They also used subcontractors who had colleagues who attempted to infiltrate Greenpeace as volunteers. They cased the Greenpeace office looking for we don’t know what, but probably doing advanced scouting for people who would then intrude upon the property. We found a list of door codes, we found a folder that said “wiretap info,” which was empty. We know this company has sub-contracted with a company called Net Safe, which is a company that was made of former NSA officials skilled in computer hacking and things like that. So we really don’t know the full extent of this, but what we’ve seen is incredibly shocking. And our goal is to bring this out into the light of day and to stop it if it’s still going on.”
AMY GOODMAN: That was Charlie Cray, senior researcher with Greenpeace USA. Gary Ruskin, if you could responded to that and then talk about Wal-Mart and Up Against the Wall, the nonprofit organization?
GARY RUSKIN: The Greenpeace example is a great example of what corporate America can bring to bear, the lawlessness that they can bring to bear on nonprofit organizations like Greenpeace, like Peta, like Knowledge Ecology International, on Public Citizen and others. This was a tremendously diverse and powerful campaign of espionage that they targeted Greenpeace with. And so, you know, there are so many other examples in the report, but you mentioned Wal-Mart has a very large internal security operation and so we know of a case, for example, where they planted essentially a person with a bug in a meeting of people organizing about Wal-Mart and then as well they had a van that was able to surveil some other activities, protest activities as well. There are so many stories we can tell from the report. Another famous one was the largest operated nuclear power plants in the world; Electricite de France, caught with a copy of a Greenpeace hard drive on one of its contractor’s computers because they’d hacked into Greenpeace France. So there just so many stories we can tell.
AMY GOODMAN: So how does it go from spying to interrupting the activity of these organizations? And also if you could also talk about the spying on Occupy Wall Street.
GARY RUSKIN: Sure. Well, what we found in some of the cases is there are spies that actually, you know, actively participate in an organization. For example, one of the most famous cases was a woman who’s real name was Mary Lou Sapone, who went by a Mary McFate and was very active in gun control movement for quite a long time and ran for the National Board of Directors of a prominent gun control organization and worked with the Brady Campaign like. She was totally a spy. Another example was there was —
AMY GOODMAN: A spy for?
GARY RUSKIN: A spy probably for the NRA. And then there are other pretty well-known examples, like for example, there was a former congressman the late Congressmen Henry Hyde was also a bank director at a bank, he didn’t pay — the bank went belly up and he was the only bank director who did not pay the settlement for the bank going defunct. And he had a lawyer dispatch a journalist or someone who posed as a journalist to get information from the guy who uncovered so much of this Ron Dueling [SP].
AMY GOODMAN: Well Gary Ruskin, we are going to continue covering this issue, were going do part 2 of the interview and post it online at democracynow.org. Gary Ruskin is Director of The Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information. We’ll link to the report “Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations.”
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Monday, November 25, 2013
Find this story at 25 November 2013