by Tom Burghardt
March 28, 2011
Not since AT&T whistleblower Marc Klein's 2006
revelations that U.S. telecommunications giants were secretly collaborating
with the government to spy on Americans, has a story driven home the point
that we are confronted by a daunting set of invisible enemies:
the security and intelligence firms
constellating the dark skies of the National Security State.
As echoes from last month's disclosures by the
Anonymous continue to reverberate, leaked
emails and documents are providing tantalizing insight into just how little
daylight there is between private companies and the government.
The latest front in the ongoing war against civil liberties and privacy
rights is the Pentagon's interest in "persona management software."
A euphemism for a suite of high-tech tools that equip an operative -
military or corporate, take your pick - with multiple avatars or sock
puppets, our latter day shadow warriors hope to achieve a leg up on their
opponents in the "war of ideas" through stealthy propaganda campaigns
rebranded as "information operations."
The signs of a pervasive surveillance state are all around us.
From the "persistent cookies" that track our
every move across the internet to indexing dissidents already preemptively
detained in public and private data bases: threats to our freedom to speak
out without harassment, or worse, have never been greater.
As constitutional scholar Jack Balkin
warned, the transformation of
what was once a democratic republic based on the rule of law into a,
"National Surveillance State," feature "huge
investments in electronic surveillance and various end runs around
traditional Bill of Rights protections and expectations about
"These end runs," Balkin wrote, "included public private cooperation in
surveillance and exchange of information, expansion of the state secrets
doctrine, expansion of administrative warrants and national security
letters, a system of preventive detention, expanded use of military
prisons, extraordinary rendition to other countries, and aggressive
interrogation techniques outside of those countenanced by the
traditional laws of war."
Continuing the civil liberties' onslaught, The
Wall Street Journal
reported last week that Barack Obama's "change" regime
has issued new rules that,
"allow investigators to hold domestic-terror
suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning,
significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have
governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades."
The Journal points out that the administrative
"revision" of long-standing rules and case law,
"marks another step back from [Obama's]
pre-election criticism of unorthodox counter-terror methods."
Also last week, The Raw Story
revealed that the
FBI has plans to,
"embark on a $1 billion biometrics project
and construct an advanced biometrics facility to be shared with the
The Bureau's new biometrics center, part of
which is already operating in Clarksburg, West Virginia,
"will be based on a system constructed by
defense contractor Lockheed Martin."
"Starting with fingerprints," The Raw Story disclosed, the center will
function as "a global law enforcement database for the sharing of those
Once ramped-up "the system is slated to
expand outward, eventually encompassing facial mapping and other
advanced forms of computer-aided identification."
The transformation of the FBI into a political
Department of Precrime is underscored by moves to gift state and local
police agencies with electronic fingerprint scanners.
Local cops would be,
"empowered to capture prints from any
suspect, even if they haven't been arrested or convicted of a crime."
"In such a context," Stephen Graham cautions in
Cities Under Siege,
"Western security and military doctrine is being rapidly imagined in
ways that dramatically blur the juridical and operational separation
between policing, intelligence and the military; distinctions between
war and peace; and those between local, national and global operations."
This precarious state of affairs, Graham avers,
under conditions of global economic crisis in the so-called democratic West
as well as along the periphery in what was once called the Third World, has
"wars and associated mobilizations... become
both boundless and more or less permanent."
Under such conditions, Dick Cheney's infamous
statement that the "War on Terror" might last "decades" means, according to
"emerging security policies are founded on
the profiling of individuals, places, behaviors, associations, and
But to profile more effectively, whether in
Cairo, Kabul, or New York, state security apparatchiks and their private
partners find it necessary to squeeze ever more data from a surveillance
system already glutted by an overabundance of "situational awareness."
"Last October," Secrecy News
reported, "the DNI revealed that the FY2010 budget for the National Intelligence
Program (NIP) was $53.1 billion. And the Secretary of Defense revealed
that the FY2010 budget for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) was
$27.0 billion, the first time the MIP budget had been disclosed, for an
aggregate total intelligence budget of $80.1 billion for FY 2010."
This excludes of course, the CIA and Pentagon's
black budget that hides a welter of top secret and above Special Access
Programs under a dizzying array of code names and acronyms.
In February, Wired
disclosed that the
"appears to be about $56 billion, the same
as last year," but this "may only be the tip of an iceberg of secret
While the scandalous nature of such outlays
during a period of intense economic and social attacks on the working class
are obvious, less obvious are the means employed by the so-called
"intelligence community" to defend an indefensible system of exploitation
Which brings us back to the HBGary hack.
While media have focused, rightly so, on the sleazy campaign proposed to
Bank of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by the high-powered law
firm and lobby shop
Hunton & Williams (H&W) to bring down WikiLeaks and tar
Chamber critics, the treasure trove of emails leaked by Anonymous also
revealed a host of Pentagon programs pointed directly at the heart of our
freedom to communicate.
In fact, The Tech Herald
revealed that while
Berico sought to
distance themselves from HBGary and Hunton & William's private spy op,
"in 2005, Palantir was one of countless
startups funded by the CIA, thanks to their venture funding arm,
"Most of In-Q-Tel's investments," journalist Steve Ragan wrote, "center
on companies that specialize in automatic collection and processing of
In other words Palantir, and dozens of other
security start-ups to the tune of $200 million since 1999, was a recipient
of taxpayer-funded largess from the CIA's venture capitalist arm for
products inherently "dual-use" in nature.
"Palantir Technologies," The Tech Herald
revealed, was "the main workhorse when it comes to Team Themis'
In proposals sent to H&W, a firm recommended to
Bank of America by a Justice Department insider,
"Team Themis said they would 'leverage their
extensive knowledge of Palantir's development and data integration
environments' allowing all of the data collected to be 'seamlessly
integrated into the Palantir analysis framework to enhance link and
Following the sting of HBGary Federal and parent
HBGary, Anonymous disclosed on-going interest and contract bids
between those firms, Booz Allen Hamilton and the U.S. Air Force to develop
software that will allow cyber-warriors to create fake personas that help
"manage" Pentagon interventions into social media platforms like
Twitter and blogs.
As Ragan points out, while the "idea for such technology isn't new," and
that "reputation and persona management techniques have been used by the
government and the private sector for years," what makes these disclosures
uniquely disturbing are apparent plans by the secret state to use the
software for propaganda campaigns that can just as easily target an American
audience as one in a foreign country.
While neither HBGary nor Booz Allen secured those contracts, interest by
HBGary Federal's disgraced former CEO Aaron Barr and others catering
to the needs of the militarist state continue to drive development forward.
Dubbed "Operation MetalGear", Anonymous believes that the program,
"involves an army of fake cyber
personalities immersed in social networking websites for the purposes of
manipulating the mass population via influence, crawling information
from major online communities (such as Facebook), and identifying
anonymous personalities via correlating stored information from multiple
sources to establish connections between separate online accounts, using
this information to arrest dissidents and activists who work
As readers recall, such tools were precisely
what Aaron Barr boasted would help law enforcement officials take down
Anonymous and identify
According to a solicitation (RTB220610) found on the
site, under the Orwellian tag "Freedom of Information Act Support," the Air
Force is seeking software that,
"will allow 10 personas per user, replete
with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that
are technically, culturally and geographacilly [sic] consistent."
We're informed that,
"individual applications will enable an
operator to exercise a number of different online persons from the same
workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophisticated
Creepily, "personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any
part of the world and can interact through conventional online services
and social media platforms. The service includes a user friendly
application environment to maximize the user's situational awareness by
displaying real-time local information."
Aiming for maximum opacity,
the RFI demands that
"protects the identity of government
agencies and enterprise organizations."
An "enterprise organization" is a euphemism for
a private contractor hired by the government to do its dirty work.
The proposal specifies that the licensed software will enable,
"organizations to manage their persistent
online personas by assigning static IP addresses to each persona.
Individuals can perform static impersonations, which allow them to look
like the same person over time. Also allows organizations that frequent
same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like
ordinary users as opposed to one organization."
While Barr's premature boasting may have brought
Team Themis to ground, one wonders how many other similar operations
continue today under cover of the Defense Department's black budget.
Following up on last month's revelations, The Guardian
disclosed that a,
"Californian corporation has been awarded a
contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US
armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is
described as an 'online persona management service' that will allow one
US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all
over the world."
That firm, a shadowy Los Angeles-based outfit
devoid of information on its corporate web site although a
company profile avers that the firm,
"provides national security and law
enforcement customers with software, hardware, and managed services for
cyber operations, analytics, linguistics, and tagging & tracking."
According to Guardian reporters Nick Fielding
and Ian Cobain, Ntrepid was awarded a $2.76M contract by CENTCOM,
which refused to disclose,
"whether the multiple persona project is
already in operation or discuss any related contracts."
Blurring corporate lines of accountability even
further, The Tech Herald
revealed that Ntrepid may be nothing more than a
"ghost corporation," a cut-out wholly owned and operated by
A San Diego-based firm describing itself as "a global leader in defense and
transportation systems and services" that "is emerging as an international
supplier of smart cards and RFID solutions," Cubic clocks in at No. 75 on
Washington Technology's list of
2010 Top Government Contractors.
Founded by Walter J. Zable, the firm's Chairman of the Board and CEO,
Cubic has been described as one of the oldest and largest defense
electronics firms on the West Coast.
Chock-a-block with high-level connections to right-wing Republicans
including Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter and Dan Coates,
during the 2010 election cycle Cubic officers donated some $90,000 to
Republican candidates, including $25,000 to the National Republican
Congressional Committee and some $30,000 to the National Republican
Senatorial Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics'
With some $1 billion in 2009 revenue largely derived from the Defense
Department, the company's,
"Cyber Solutions" division "provides
specialized cyber security products and solutions for defense,
intelligence and homeland security customers."
The RFI for the Air Force disclosed by Anonymous
"was written for
Anonymizer, a company
acquired in 2008 by intelligence contractor
Abraxas Corporation. The
reasoning is that they had existing persona management software and
In turn, Abraxas was purchased by Cubic in 2010
for $124 million, an acquisition which Washington Technology described as
one of the "best intelligence-related" deals of the year.
As The Tech Herald revealed,
"some of the top talent at Anonymizer, who
later went to Abraxas, left the Cubic umbrella to start another
intelligence firm. They are now listed as organizational leaders for
Ntrepid, the ultimate winner of the $2.7 million dollar government
Speculation is now rife that since,
"Ntrepid's corporate registry lists Abraxas'
previous CEO and founder, Richard Helms, as the director and officer,
along with Wesley Husted, the former CFO, who is an Ntrepid officer as
well," the new firm may be little more than an under-the-radar front for
Security Services offered by the
firm we learn that,
"Cubic subsidiaries are working individually
and in concert to develop a wide range of security solutions" that
include: "C4ISR data links for homeland security intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance missions;" a Cubic Virtual Analysis
Center which promises to deliver "superior situational awareness to
decision makers in government, industry and nonprofit organizations,"
human behavior pattern analysis, and other areas lusted after by
The Guardian informs us that the,
"multiple persona contract is thought to
have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV),
which was first developed in Iraq as a psychological warfare weapon
against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others ranged
against coalition forces."
"Since then," Fielding and Cobain wrote, "OEV
is reported to have expanded into a $200m program and is thought to have
been used against jihadists across Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle
While CENTCOM's then-commander, General David
Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee last year that the
program was designed to "counter extremist ideology and propaganda," in
light of HBGary revelations, one must ask whether firms involved in the
dirty tricks campaign against WikiLeaks have deployed versions of "persona
management software" against domestic opponents.
While we cannot say with certainty this is the case, mission creep from
other "War on Terror" fronts, notably ongoing NSA warrantless wiretapping
programs and Defense Department spy ops against antiwar activists, also
involving "public-private partnerships" amongst security firms and the
secret state, should give pause.