by Patrick Henningsen
December 27, 2013
Patrick Henningsen is an
independent investigative reporter, editor, and journalist.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska
and a graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in California, he is
currently based in London, England and is the managing editor of
21st Century Wire-News for
the Waking Generation (http://www.21stCentryWire.com)
which covers exposés on intelligence, geopolitics, foreign
policy, the war on terror, technology and Wall Street.
Patrick is a regular
commentator on Russia Today.
Books have been written about [US]
farewell warning in 1961 about the
and what he described as its "unwarranted
But an even greater leviathan today,
one that the public knows little about,
is the "intelligence-industrial complex."
– Michael Hirsh, National Journal 1
In our interconnected global digital society, there appears to be no escape
from the issue of digital surveillance.
Regardless of nationality, political
affiliation, profession or income bracket, it touches nearly everyone in
Over the last three decades, a parallel state has been constructed right
under our noses. It's nothing less than a digital dynasty, whose sole
concern thus far has been mass surveillance and covert operations - across
the whole world. With the full support of an unflinching judicial structure
that approves the spying, it also goes to bat for the transnational
corporations who wish to target certain individuals that oppose them.
For some Democrat voters in the United States, the Obama government's stance
National Security Agency's (NSA) global spying network has come
as a shock.
Their government not only approves such a
program, but also battles against reform legislation designed to stop it.
Americans were quick to realize this is no mere partisan issue - it's been
fostered by successive governments and with virtually no public oversight.
Under the shadow of 9/11, USA Patriot Acts I and II were hurried through by
George W. Bush.
On this point, George W. is often credited as
being the source of the problem, along with the self referential Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) state wiretapping edicts - where
anything goes so long as it's deemed to be within the bounds of national
But the foundation of this modern international digital surveillance state
goes back much further though - to
Echelon program - in operation since the 1980s.
The US government built this state of the art
total information collection centre off shore at Menwith Hill in the north
of England, and then routed its data back to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade,
Maryland and Arlington Hall, Virginia.
By offshoring various aspects of their
communications spy network, the US avoided any sticky legal issues
surrounding the existence of such an operation within the borders of the US.
Besides their joint project with Government Communications Headquarters
in the United Kingdom, other US offshore bases for this global operation
include joint operating facilities with,
Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) in
Communications Security Establishment (CSE)
Government Security Communications
Bureau (GSCB) in New Zealand
National SIGINT Organisation (NSO) in
Americans cite the Fourth Amendment of their
Bill of Rights as their legal protection to privacy against government
intrusions, which states clearly,
"The right of the people to be secure in
their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall
issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and
particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or
things to be seized."
What has become clear, however, is that neither
the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court, nor citizen petitioning, has the
power to stop this new international state and corporate digital spy
The Snowden Affair
The NSA whistleblowing exploits of former
Edward Snowden has ripped open the
privacy debate on both domestic and international levels.
Despite the size and scope of Snowden's NSA whistleblowing, there's little
sign of Washington DC changing its
imperial practices, and even less indication that any of its
European allies will display the political backbone necessary to hold it to
European leaders appear to have stumbled and fallen into their own gray
abyss of legalese and culpability.
The lack of leadership on such a major issue may
damage public confidence in the political classes who appear to be unable to
properly address what can only be described as a multi-billion dollar state
within a state, existing completely outside democratic and judicial
During the early days of the Third Reich in Germany, much European policy
towards Nazi aggression was indifferent because so many regarded Germany as
a dominant power and were therefore keen to curry favor.
Many leaders, including those in Britain and
France, adopted a policy of appeasement.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
was even hailed as the "savior of Europe" after he struck the Munich
agreement with Hitler's government. Europe's general lack of foresight
and ethical vacuum saw them defer to Germany on the basis of money and
Now we see history repeating itself again,
although somewhat in reverse, with Germany running cover for Washington's
NSA digital empire. Germany's change of direction on this issue reveals a
lot about the scale of the problem.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's initial public
response seemed to be that of outrage.
"We are no longer in the Cold War," said
Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Seibert added.
"If it is confirmed that diplomatic
representations of the European Union and individual European countries
have been spied upon, we will clearly say that bugging friends is
Merkel's public façade didn't hold up for long
after Snowden revealed in Der Spiegel magazine only days later that the
US and Germany were in fact partners in the global spy network.
"They are in bed with the Germans, just like
with most other Western states," the German magazine quoted Snowden as
saying, adding the NSA has a Foreign Affairs Directorate which is
responsible for cooperation with other countries.3
The same Der Spiegel report also detailed
exactly how German Federal Intelligence Service, the
Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), and NSA work together.
The embarrassment of this particular Snowden bombshell seemed to force
Germany down a notch, with Merkel opting for a new policy of appeasement
instead, proving that the initial rift between the US and Germany was mere
Merkel told Die Zeit that there was,
"a need to discuss the balance between
privacy and security, but protection against terrorism was not possible
without the option of electronic surveillance."
"(I want) the necessary discussions with the
United States to be conducted in the spirit which, despite the many
justified questions, never forgets that America has been our most loyal
ally over the decades and still is." 4
Merkel's last statement indicates she is just as
out of touch with public opinion as the culture of denial that still
dominates Washington DC.
"For me, there is no comparison at all
between the state security (STASI) of the GDR and the work of
intelligence services in democratic states," said Merkel.5
It seems incredible but not so shocking when you
consider the reality:
all the major Western powers are in total
coordination when it comes to international data mining and spying on
their domestic populations.
They have laid down the embryonic framework
necessary for an intelligence gathering network that will be the
keystone for a global government in the near future.
When former lieutenant colonel in East Germany's secret STASI police,
Wolfgang Schmidt, heard about Snowden's NSA leaks, he remarked that in
his day the wiretapping department was limited to tapping only 40 phones
If a decision was made to tap a new phone, one
of the others had to be disconnected.
"For us, this would have been a dream come
true… so much information on so many people!," said Schmidt.6
With the data packets being collected and stored
reaching into the trillions, many are claiming it is physically impossible
for the US, UK, Germany and others to sift through and make sense of all of
it - but this is missing the point.
Aside from the fact that much of the data
processing and filing is computer automated already, the real function of
the giant digital harvester is not to spy on everyone and watch everyone in
real time. Rather, the function of this system is to collect data and
Once a citizen, activist, or dissenter
(essentially, any enemy of the state or major corporation) has been profiled
and targeted, then the system can pull up that person's complete digital
thread and then analysts can begin digging through that person's life online
and conceivably paint any picture imaginable based on travel movements,
relationships, search history, phone activity and social network commenting.
It's long been assumed throughout the 20th century -
regarded as 'the century of progress' - that an essential quality of any
modern civilized society is the presence of accountability between
government and its citizens.
This concept is struggling for survival in the
early 21st century.
At the height of the NSA exposure, a tiny country in Europe has somehow
managed to deliver a rare example of what should happen in an advanced
Luxembourg's long-serving Prime Minister
Jean-Claude Juncker announced his resignation on 11 June over a spying
scandal involving illegal phone-taps, alongside a number other highly
In normal times, what happened in Luxembourg should also happen in other
countries like the US, or Great Britain - but these are far from normal
times. What passes for normal in this bizarre epoch is anyone's guess, and
you could say the same for what passes for 'legal' these days, especially in
the United States.
The net result is that expectation of accountability has dissolved into a
larger pool of moral relativism - where any extremist government program can
be justified on a basis of Hegelian narrative or such.
The NSA crisis is a perfect example of the death of accountability.
Snowden's revelations should have been a
watershed moment for 21st century society in 2013, but
instead it's languished in a political environment devoid of any real
democratic or parliamentary controls which should be regulating the practice
of the state's warrantless digital surveillance and mass data theft.
What's worse, there's even less chance of justice in the courts, where
adjudicators have been rendered impotent to enforce the law - they are
buried under an avalanche of national security directives, emergency
war-time edicts and administrative executive orders.
The Star Chamber
The rise of new administrative and statutory courts in the West has been a
great enabler for the modern security state.
These courts are designed to work outside of
their countries constitutional controls and common law rights. What has
emerged out of this new trend is a type of corporate state where the
corporations themselves can exert their own 'rights' to life, liberty and
the pursuit of profits, and where the corporation's interest ultimately
usurps that of the individual citizen.
Well before the Snowden affair broke in June 2013, Germany had already
cleared the legal path for at least one of the transnational corporations
within the NSA global collective.
Through the use of administrative courts and the EU, the Administrative
Court of Schleswig, Germany upheld two decisions on 14 February 2013 which
ruled that German data protection laws do not apply to data processing by
Facebook (file numbers 8 B 60/12 and 8 B 61/1).
These controversial judicial procedures,
initiated by Facebook Inc. (USA) and by Facebook Ltd. (Ireland, EU),
reversed a previous order by the Independent State Center for Data
Protection of Schleswig-Holstein (ULD) which had ruled to allow users to
sign in on Facebook using a pseudonym and to unblock those user-accounts
that had been blocked due to the users not using their real name and
At the time this was seen as a victory for
Facebook the corporation - when in fact, this was really a victory for the
NSA - who harvests its data from Facebook.
NSA in Partnership
Based on Snowden leaks, we've learned more about the true nature of
America's NSA and Britain's GCHQ partnership in this international spy
network, sharing data and communications.
Through the UK Government's Communications Headquarters known as
TEMPORA, the British agency is able to tap
over 200 fibre optic cables landing in the UK, saving everything - up to 27
petabytes a day - which are then parsed out to 300 GCHQ analysts and 250 NSA
colleagues who then sift through it.
A decade of,
...has left Americans and Europeans alike in a
precarious state akin to
Stockholm Syndrome, where their love of
digital communications almost trumps their concerns for privacy.
This same ambiguity has been echoed by Obama
and Merkel, who both claim that protection against terrorism is not
possible without the option of electronic surveillance.
The narrative which was originally framed around Washington's invasion of
its citizens' privacy has since gone international, as governments partner
with each other - and with corporations - to establish the largest global
digital dragnet imaginable.
According to Snowden's revelations in Der Spiegel, the NSA snoops through
approximately 20-60 million German phone connections, and 10 million
internet data sets a day. All in all, the NSA combs through around
half a billion German phone calls, emails and text messages on a monthly
To add insult to injury, it's been said US intelligence regards Germany as a
"third class partner," on par with the likes of China and Iraq, making them
fair game for NSA targeting.
It's not just Berlin, as the NSA are also said
to have bugged EU diplomatic offices and gained access to EU internal
The corporate aspect should not be underrated in terms of its central role
in the international digital data trade.
PRISM revelations of government controlled
NSA wiretapping and data theft are nothing new, as former CIA analyst
Russell Tice proved almost a decade ago in 2005 by showing the NSA were
engaged in unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens.
The NSA cannot operate without the partnership of telecommunications
companies - all of whom have offices and operational hubs in most foreign
Herein resides the key aspect in all of this -
that in order for agencies like the NSA and GCHQ to get easy access to all
of our digital communications and data, they still need the cooperation of
corporations to do it.
In the US, it's still not known to what extent major internet service
providers and mobile carriers like Verizon and AT&T are in bed with the NSA
within US borders. NSA-controlled "SG3" collection rooms embedded within
various companies' facilities have been revealed.
Shocking enough, but not nearly as shocking if
you consider the role of transnational corporations in enabling NSA access
to your digital threads and mobile phone activity.
Internationally, citizens have already signed over most of their privacy
simply by using the digital services of US multinationals like,
It seems that all of these corporations
operate within a kind of 'profit-first' ethical vacuum where in many cases
there is a client relationship with the NSA who is allowed the privilege of
consuming their customers' communications and data.
According to the Snowden leaks, the level of collusion between Microsoft
Corp and the NSA is astonishing. Microsoft allows the NSA to skirt
encryption protocols on Outlook, Skype video and cloud services, and data
captured by the NSA is routinely passed on to both the FBI and the CIA.7
What happened to businesses looking out for their customers?
The horrible irony here is too obvious to ignore:
the US government, through its National
Security Agency, is handing taxpayer dollars to mega corporations in
exchange for all of our personal communications and data.
In other words, it's big business.
Corporations Using the
NSA to Target Activists
Harvesting data and communications from the digital corporate monopolies is
one thing, but the collusion between big government and big business reached
new lows when it was revealed that major international oil producer Chevron
Corporation had pressured the US federal government to hand over nine years
of NSA metadata - metadata including names, time stamps, user location data
and their login information, but not the email contents.
The metadata Chevron was after belonged to
activists, lawyers, and journalists who criticized Chevron for its drilling
in Ecuador - an operation that left an environmentally devastating trail of
toxic sludge and leaky pipelines.
"Since 1993, when the litigation began,
Chevron has lost multiple appeals and has been ordered to pay plaintiffs
from native communities about $19 billion to cover the cost of
Chevron alleges that it is the victim of a
mass extortion conspiracy, which is why the company is asking Google,
Yahoo, and Microsoft, which owns Hotmail, to cough up the email data.
When Lewis Kaplan, a federal judge in New
York, granted the Microsoft subpoena last month, he ruled it didn't
violate the First Amendment because Americans weren't among the people
The court ruled that the First Amendment rights
of the activists did not apply when weighed against the interests of the
transnational oil corporation Chevron.
This was an unprecedented move by US courts, and
is perhaps one of the most worrying examples of where the digital power grab
is heading in future.
When omnipotent security organizations like the NSA can skirt around privacy
laws by reaching over borders, and then act on the behest of powerful
corporations who seek to hunt down their detractors across borders, then the
potential for a complete breakdown of local law protected by national
Taking the Hegelian dialectic of problem, reaction, solution into account
here, we can see how the US federal courts and Chevron initiated the
problem, and triggered the reaction which is public outrage.
All that is needed now is the solution, likely
to be offered by the very bodies who initiated the outrage in the first
instance. Their solution to the over-influence of global corporate bodies
may be a global corporate government to regulate such affairs in future.
Such an unholy alliance between partnering governments and transnational
corporations could be defined as fascism, but the global nature of this
operation might require a new term to define what it means as a global
Watch the Bouncing
It's important the public realize the lesson in the media circus surrounding
the Snowden affair: that despite all the damning discoveries and
illegalities, neither the US nor anyone else in its sphere has any plans to
roll back this intrusive network.
As the world's media focused on the Snowden leaks and recoiled in horror
over the implications, behind the scenes the NSA steamed ahead by embarking
on its biggest expansion phase since Echelon.
We are told there must be austerity for just
about every public service and expenditure, but when it comes to spying and
data mining on citizens, they're writing nothing but blank cheques. The bill
is already in the trillions of dollars and it's far from over.
As a facility that is already much bigger than the Pentagon, the NSA
headquarters is set to grow by an additional 50 percent when construction is
complete in 2022 - and that's just for its HQ in Fort Meade.
Expansion is also taking place across all its
major domestic sites including bases in Hawaii, Colorado, Georgia, Utah and
Texas, as well as Australia and Britain.
These revelations of the size and scope - and total legal impunity of state
and corporate spying networks - have already initiated a chilling effect on
how people use the internet.
Self policing behavior on internet surfing,
searches, email and social network engagement is already happening.
"In Louisiana, the wife of a former soldier
is scaling back on Facebook posts and considering unfriending old
acquaintances, worried an innocuous joke or long-lost associate might
one day land her in a government probe.
In California, a college student encrypts
chats and emails, saying he's not planning anything sinister but
shouldn't have to sweat snoopers. And in Canada, a lawyer is rethinking
the data products he uses to ensure his clients' privacy." 9
Perhaps this was one of the intended social
engineering byproducts of the whole NSA media campaign.
Either way, one thing is certain, and that's no
one likes being watched.
Beyond the obvious disturbing narrative in Edward Snowden's dark
revelations, it's important to focus on what has enabled agencies like the
NSA and GCHQ to act with impunity from behind their digital fortress. Big
governments excelled in capitalizing on a post-September 11 paranoia that
hijacked the national consciousness in the US, the UK and Australia.
The entire basis upon which their relentless
war-time cry has been erected can be described in three words: "War
As public pressure mounts on the US government over the NSA scandal, so has
the pressure for the government to justify such operations as part of the
global war on terror.
Early efforts in this area have already met with
failure, including this past June, when NSA Director General Keith
Alexander claimed that more than 50 terror plots had been prevented
because of the agency's highly classified data gathering.
"In the 12 years since the
attacks on Sept. 11, we have lived in relative safety and
security as a nation.
That security is a direct result of the
intelligence community's quiet efforts to better connect the dots and
learn from the mistakes that permitted those attacks to occur on 9/11."
Unfortunately for General Alexander, the facts
don't square with such lofty claims.
At least one of the terror plots he cited has
already been shown to have never occurred, along with two other cases shown
not to have been solved by the NSA spy grid.
Most reasonable folk are in agreement that government agencies like the NSA
have been allowed to drift far beyond the boundaries of domestic and
international law and are out of control. They should be reined in as soon
as possible in order to preserve any remaining moral standing for a country
that has exhausted nearly all of its goodwill internationally - as well as
Judging by Washington's stoic and unapologetic stance thus far, goodwill
doesn't seem to be a high priority. Until the problem is properly addressed,
there will remain a gaping hole of moral leadership in the international
Throughout history, political leaders have always been notoriously slow to
realize when the goodwill of the public is exhausted, which completely
erodes public trust.
That seems to be where things stand right now
over the surveillance issue - and we're on that very slippery slope indeed.
America's Top Tech Companies Created the Surveillance State',
by Michael Hirsh, 25 July 2013
spying row: Bugging friends is unacceptable, warn Germans' by
Ian Traynor, The Guardian, 1 July 2013
NSA is "in bed with the Germans"', RT.com, 8 July 2013
4. Reuters, 10 July 2013
of Stasi color Germans' view of U.S. surveillance programs'
by Matthew Schofield, McClatchyDC, 26 June 2013
Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages' by
Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and
Dominic Rushe, The Guardian, 12 July 2013
Chevron Can Seize Americans' Email Data' by Dana Liebelson,
Mother Jones, 22 July 2013
spying revelations prompt some ordinary citizens to rethink computing
habits' by Associated Press, 22 July 2013
Chief Says Surveillance Has Stopped Dozens of Plots' by
Charlie Savage, NY Times, 18 June 2013