by Tom Burghardt
December 11, 2009
"Follow the money"
And why not. As the interface between state and private criminality,
following the money trail is oxygen and combustible fuel for rooting out
corruption in high places: indelible signs left behind like toxic tracks by
After all, there's nothing quite like exposing an exchange of cold, hard
cash from one greedy fist to another to focus one's attention on the
business at hand.
And when that dirty business is the subversion of the American people's
right to privacy, there's also nothing quite like economic self-interest for
ensuring that a cone of silence descends over matters best left to the
experts; a veritable army of specialists squeezing singular advantage out of
any circumstance, regardless of how dire the implications for our democracy.
In light of this recommendation researcher Christopher Soghoian,
deploying the tools of statistical analysis and a keen sense of outrage,
"Internet service providers and telecommunications companies
play a significant, yet little known role in law enforcement and
That the American people have been kept in the dark when it comes to this
and other affairs of state, remain among the most closely-guarded open
secrets of what has euphemistically been called the "NSA spying scandal."
And when the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted thousands of pages
"detailing behind-the-scenes negotiations
between government agencies and Congress about providing immunity for
telecoms involved in illegal government surveillance" last month,
lifted the lid on what should be a major scandal, not that corporate
media paid the least attention. A lid that Obama's "change" regime hopes to slam
back down as expeditiously as possible.
Hoping to forestall public suspicions of how things actually work in
Washington, the administration has declared that,
"it will continue to block the release of
additional documents, including communications within the Executive
Branch and records reflecting the identities of telecoms involved in
lobbying for immunity," according to EFF's Senior Staff Attorney Kurt
No small matter, considering that should a court
ever find avaricious telecoms and ISPs liable for violating the rights of
their customers, fines could mount into the billions.
Even in today's climate of corporate bailouts
and "too big to fail" cash gifts to executive suite fraudsters, damages,
both in monetary terms and adverse publicity, would hardly be chump change.
Hence, last year's mad scramble for the retroactive immunity avidly sought
by these grifters and granted by congressional con men on both sides of the
aisle when they passed the despicable FISA Amendments Act, hastily
signed into law by our former "war president."
Without belaboring the point that corporate media largely failed to expose
the extent of the dirty deals struck amongst these scofflaws, Soghoian, a
graduate student no less, stepped into the breech and filled some necessary
gaps in the surveillance story.
Believing, na´vely perhaps, that numbers don't lie and that laying out the
facts might just wake us from our deadly slumber, Soghoian writes:
"If you were to believe the public
surveillance statistics, you might come away with the idea that
government surveillance is exceedingly rare in the United States."
"the vast majority of... [court] intercept
orders are for phone wiretaps. Thus, for example, of the 1891 intercept
orders granted in 2008, all but 134 of them were issued for phone taps."
Which begs the question:
"How often are Internet communications being
monitored, and what kind of orders are required in order to do so."
Unsurprisingly, the threshold for obtaining
personal records is exceedingly low and "very few of these methods require
an intercept order."
All the government need do to obtain a pen register or trap and trace order,
which examine to/from/subject lines of email messages, URLs of viewed web
pages, search terms, telephone numbers dialed and the like, is to
unilaterally declare that information obtained via this backdoor route is
"relevant" to an ongoing criminal or counterterrorist investigation.
In other words, give us everything we want and move along!
The nation's telecoms and ISPs have been very accommodating in this regard.
And, as with other recent historical examples
that come to mind such as the rush by U.S. firms to "rebuild" Iraq,
Afghanistan and other benighted nations "liberated" by that "shining city
upon a hill" that bombs, maims and generally does what it pleases because it
can, servicing the secret state's limitless appetite for "actionable
intelligence" has proven to be a very lucrative cash cow indeed.
Open a Can of Worms
and Blood-Sucking Night Crawlers Slither Out
Deciding to "follow the money," Soghoian hoped,
"to determine how often Internet firms were
disclosing their customers' private information to the government."
As often as possible as it turns out.
the nexus between
Sprint Nextel and the
secret state, Soghoian discloses:
Sprint Nextel provided law enforcement
agencies with its customers' (GPS) location information over 8 million
times between September 2008 and October 2009. This massive disclosure
of sensitive customer information was made possible due to the roll-out
by Sprint of a new, special web portal for law enforcement officers.
The evidence documenting this surveillance program comes in the form of
an audio recording of Sprint's Manager of Electronic Surveillance, who
described it during a panel discussion at a wiretapping and interception
industry conference, held in Washington DC in October of 2009.
It is unclear if Federal law enforcement agencies' extensive collection
of geo-location data should have been disclosed to Congress pursuant to a
1999 law that requires the publication of certain surveillance
statistics - since the Department of Justice simply ignores the law, and
has not provided the legally mandated reports to Congress since 2004.
(Christopher Soghoian, "8
Million Reasons for Real Surveillance Oversight,"
Slight Paranoia, December 1, 2009)
A web portal I might add, equipped with a
built-in price list ready-made for charging securocrats who spy on our blog
posts, emails, web searches, mobile phone pings; indeed, any data the
government might deem worthy of an "investigation."
Call it a
PayPal for spooks; now how's that for
How did Soghoian dig up the facts on the firm's lucrative arrangement with
In October, he attended the ISS World 2009
conference, Intelligence Support Systems for Lawful Interception, Criminal
Investigations and Intelligence Gathering (ISS), described by Wired as,
"a surveillance industry gathering for law
enforcement and intelligence agencies and the companies that provide
them with the technologies and capabilities to conduct surveillance."
Closed to the media and the public, the
enterprising researcher obtained entry as a graduate student and recorded
several sessions, since taken down at the insistence of ISS's corporate
TeleStrategies, who hosted the conference.
Describing itself as,
"the leading producer of telecommunications conference
events in the United States," the firm claimed that Soghoian's recordings
"violated copyright law."
But not having deep pockets to weather a Digital
Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown fight, he removed the files from
Inquiring minds can't help but wonder what was so threatening to the
corporatist apple cart that they threatened to bring their thumb down, on a
student no less? Let's take a look!
Among the sponsors of this year's ISS confab, one finds the usual low-key
suspects manning the exhibits, hawking their wares and delivering learned
presentations to their "partners" in the intelligence and security
Leading the pack is
ETI Group, self-described as,
"a leading management consulting firm
specializing in Process Management and Improvement."
As a "leading
provider" of so-called "lawful interception solutions" for security
agencies, telecoms and ISPs, ETI Group provide "future proof and
scalable platforms" for the acquisition of information from "multiple
another "leading provider" of what it calls,
"Insight from Interactions solutions"
derived from the "the convergence of advanced analytics of unstructured
multimedia content and transactional data - from telephony, web, email,
radio, video and other data sources."
Partners in the "Security Sector" include, among
...all of whom are heavy-hitters in the
Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex and niche players in the
burgeoning electronic surveillance industry in their own right.
Next up is SAP, a firm whose Government Support & Services division provide
"a comprehensive range" of "enterprise software applications" to "help the
analysts of the Intelligence Community" obtain "timely, accurate, objective
and relevant intelligence."
One can only wonder whether Doug Feith's shop
over at the Pentagon deployed SAP "solutions" to find Saddam's "weapons of
mass destruction" during the run-up to the Iraq invasion!
Taking their turn on the dais is
Spectronic Systems, a Danish firm that is
"100% privately owned." Little however, could be gleaned from a perusal
of their web site since the company kindly informs us that it,
"is strictly for the benefit of Government
Agencies, Law Enforcement Agencies, Intelligence Agencies and Government
ISS World was good enough to disclose
that Spectronic activities include,
"the development and manufacturing of
monitoring systems and monitoring centers" for telephone, internet, fax
and modem traffic.
Their systems are designed to,
"handle - i.e. retrieve, collect, decode,
store and present - bulk data," that can double as "data retention
systems" for "bulk monitoring of SMS, MMS, e-mails or other means of
But how beneficial is it to the bottom line?
Alas, a diligent search of the business press by this writer hit a veritable
SS8 on the other hand is more forthcoming, claiming that their "products"
allow intelligence agencies to "visualize and analyze a target's internet
session" and to "recognize, monitor, investigate and prevent criminal
Proud that they have a "global reach," SS8
broadcasts that their "electronic surveillance solutions" are "deployed in
over 25 countries" and that their data installations "can intercept more
than 100 million subscribers."
The firm's platform for internet, WiFi,
broadband and satellite interception claims to be capable of ferreting out
"hidden relationships" while identifying "trends" (code for data mining and
social network analysis) that "meet the functional needs" of the secret
Telesoft Technologies, produce "monitoring probes" that "allow data
extraction" from "cellular and fixed networks." This can be done for "fixed,
2/3G mobile and packet networks."
According to the firm, their,
"universal passive probes extract call
content, signalling [sic] and location information for use by monitoring
applications," ensuring a seamless connection" of applications to "real
this firm's national security brief involves the identification and tracking
of any mobile device in "real time" and offer,
"insightful intelligence" while "delivering
powerful solutions" that "enable private enterprises and government
agencies" the capability "to protect people, combat crime, and save
lives like never before."
According to the company's web site, the firm
deploys data mining technologies that,
"monitor activity and behavior over time in
order to build detailed profiles and identify others that they associate
Last, but certainly not least, is the
ultra-spooky Israeli firm,
Verint (formerly Comverse Infosys).
Billing itself as the world leader in
"actionable intelligence," readers are well-advised to peruse the documents
on Verint products such as Reliant and Star Gate generously posted by our
good friends over at the whistleblowing web site
And while your at it, why not check out AFC's
piece, "Thick as Thieves: The Private (and very profitable) World of
Corporate Spying," where information on the shady activities of the firm's
founder, Kobi Alexander, can be found.
Currently holed-up in Windhoek, Namibia after
becoming the recipient of a 2006 thirty-two count indictment by the Justice
Department that charged the ex-Israeli intelligence officer and entrepreneur
with backdating millions of stock options worth $138 million, Alexander is a
sterling representative of an industry dedicated to "lawful interception" of
our electronic communications to "prevent criminal activity."
Amongst the exhibitors at ISS World, one finds (yet another) spooky Israeli
firm Narus, whose hardware was a permanent "guest" in ATT/NSA "secret rooms"
scattered around the country for surveillance of the entire Internet.
First disclosed by ATT whistleblower Mark Klein
in his sworn affidavit on behalf of EFF's lawsuit, Hepting v. ATT, the
firm's STA 6400 traffic analyzer can monitor traffic equal to 39,000 DSL
lines at 10 Gbit/s, or in practical terms, a single Narus machine can
surveil several million broadband users at any given time.
In 2004, the
former Deputy Director of NSA, William Crowell joined the firm's board of
As a result of FAA's retroactive immunity
provision, Hepting v. ATT was dismissed in 2009.
Which brings us full-circle to Sprint Nextel's spiffy new web portal that
enables the secret state to "ping" their customers' GPS locations eight
million times in the space of a year.
Tip of the Proverbial
Hoping to learn more, Soghoian filed multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
requests with the Department of Justice, seeking relevant details on just
how much these corporate grifters charge our silent guardians for their
It was at that point that Soghoian ran into a brick wall.
When he uncovered evidence that the illicit
surveillance compact amongst federal security agencies, telecoms and ISPs
was a limitless gold mine enriching shareholders at the expense of our
constitutional rights, the firms struck back.
"Verizon and Yahoo intervened and filed an
objection on grounds that, among other things, they would be ridiculed
and publicly shamed were their surveillance price sheets made public,"
Wired reported December 1.
What do these firms have to hide? Apparently,
quite a lot.
Yahoo and Verizon weren't about to release the data and filed a 12-page
objection letter with the Justice Department, claiming that if their pricing
information were disclosed to Soghoian he would use it for nefarious ends,
"to 'shame' Yahoo and other companies - and
to 'shock' their customers."
Cryptome Delivers the Goods,
Despite their whining, the indefatigable John Young, webmaster of the
intelligence and security whistleblowing web site
Cryptome, has published
the Yahoo! Compliance Guide for Law Enforcement.
The 17-page handy guide for spooks and cops provides information on what the
firm can and will provide the secret state (everything) and what it will
Cryptome, never a site to run from a fight, has also posted the compliance
guides of AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Voicestream, Cox, Cingular, SBC, and
As Antifascist Calling has averred many times, since the business of
America's security is, after all, business, let's just say the "service"
Yahoo provides our nation's spooks doesn't come cheap.
For his sterling efforts to inform the public, Young has been threatened by
Yahoo attorneys with the tony Washington law firm Steptoe & Johnson.
In a series of communications with Young, Yahoo's lawyers are threatening
legal action in the form of a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
takedown notice, claiming that,
"the unauthorized use and distribution of
this document... infringes Yahoo's intellectual property rights and
constitutes a violation of U.S. copyright law."
Attorney Michael T. Gershberg's tersely worded
missive, alleges that the posted spy guide,
"also infringes Yahoo's trade secrets and
constitutes business interference."
Young fired back December 2:
"The Yahoo document hosted on Cryptome was
found on the Internet at a publicly accessible site."
"There is no copyright notice on the document. Would you please provide
substantiation that the document is copyrighted or otherwise protected
by DMCA? Your letter does not provide more than assertion without
"On behalf of our client, Yahoo! Inc.,
attached please find a notice of copyright infringement pursuant to
Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Thank you for your
cooperation in this matter."
Undeterred, Young shot back:
"I cannot find at the Copyright Office a
grant of copyright for the Yahoo spying document hosted on Cryptome. To
assure readers Yahoo's copyright claim is valid and not another hoary
bluff without substantiation so common under DMCA bombast please send a
copy of the copyright grant for publication on Cryptome."
Continuing, Young wrote:
"Until Yahoo provides proof of copyright,
the document will remain available to the public for it provides
information that is in the public interest about Yahoo's contradictory
unacknowledged spying complicity with officials for lucrative fees."
According to Cryptome,
"The information in the document which
is in order to assure customer reliance on Yahoo's published promises of
trust. A rewrite of Yahoo's spying guide to replace the villainous one
would be a positive step, advice of an unpaid, non-lawyerly independent
panel could be sought to avoid the stigma associated with DMCA coercion."
"Note: Yahoo's exclamation point is surely trademarked so omitted here."
Commenting on the spy guide, Wired reported,
The Compliance Guide reveals, for example,
that Yahoo does not retain a copy of e-mails that an account holder
sends unless that customer sets up the account to store those e-mails.
Yahoo also cannot search for or produce deleted e-mails once they've
been removed from a user's trash file.
The guide also reveals that the company retains the IP addresses from
which a user logs in for just one year. But the company's logs of IP
addresses used to register new accounts for the first time go back to
1999. The contents of accounts on Flickr, which Yahoo also owns, are
purged as soon as a user deactivates the account.
Chats conducted through the company's Web Messenger service may be saved
on Yahoo's server if one of the parties in the correspondence set up
their account to archive chats. This pertains to the web-based version
of the chat service, however. Yahoo does not have the content of chats
for consumers who use the downloadable Web Messenger client on their
Instant message logs are retained 45 to 60 days and includes an account
holder's friends list, and the date and times the user communicated with
(Kim Zetter, "Yahoo Issues Takedown
Notice for Spying Price List," Wired, December 4, 2009)
Well, just how much does Yahoo charge for their
dubious shenanigans with the secret state?
"According to this list, Yahoo charges the
government about $30 to $40 for the contents, including e-mail, of a
subscriber's account. It charges $40 to $80 for the contents of a Yahoo
Do the math for millions of customers whose
rights have been abused and violated and pretty soon we're talking serious
Is this what Yahoo and Verizon mean when they claim that should their
surveillance price lists be publicly disclosed to they would be used,
"to 'shame' Yahoo! and other companies - and
to 'shock' their customers."
"Therefore," the company avers, "release of Yahoo's information is
reasonably likely to lead to impairment of its reputation for protection
of user privacy and security, which is a competitive disadvantage for
Well guess what, guilty as charged!
Now that the information has been widely posted
and mirrored by the global whistleblowers Wikileaks and countless other web
sites, we should consider the alarming implications of Christopher Soghoian's essential research to our privacy and democratic rights and act
Barring a mechanism that guarantees public accountability from the secret
state and their grifting corporate partners, we are left with no alternative
but to name and shame.
After all, democracy is not a spectator sport!