(Source: Trulia)
Heavy majority votes to suspend two key mass surveillance programs

Spying between nations -- even allies -- may be foul play, but is nothing terribly new. But what is new is the U.S. funneling money to large intelligence contractors, which work with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to collect and curate billions of records a day.

I. Europe Smacks Down U.S. Spying Programs

Leaks from former NSA and Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Comp. (BAH) systems administrator Edward Snowden have revealed that the NSA and its private partner spend taxpayer money to seize 99 percent of phone records in the U.S. And it appears that the NSA's mass surveillance programs overseas in ally states are almost as sweeping; for example in Germany (which has a bit over 80 million citizens [source]) 20 million phone records are seized on a daily basis.

On the 4th of July, the European Parliament voted 483-98 to suspend two key data sharing programs -- the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) and Passenger Name Records (PNR).  The EU had agreed to these programs after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the worst domestic terrorist attack on U.S. soil.  Ostensibly EU politicians agreed to allow the U.S. portals to request certain types of data, under the premise that the system would be used narrowly to target malicious criminals (including terrorists).

EU Parliament
The EU Parliament at the July 4 meeting [Image Source: AFP]

The TFTP provides the U.S. Department of the Treasury with stored transactions records from European financial institutions, including data on money transfers.  The PNR covered data provided by passengers when booking tickets and checking in on flights.

The programs may be reinstated, but only if the U.S. can acceptably justify to the EU why it spied both on their leaders and the general population on a more massive scale.

II. Massive U.S. Surveillance Projects Stress EU Patience

Following the vote, EU vice president Neelie Kroes, wrote in a statement, "We need trust. In some cases, of course, it may be legitimate for authorities to access, to some degree, information held online; child protection and terrorism are good examples. Such access must be based on transparent rule of law, and is the exception to the rule."

The EU Parliament is using talks of a transatlantic trade deal as a bargain chip in the spying debate.  Several members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have called to suspend trade talks.  French President Francois Hollande had endorsed this suggestion, but cooled slightly when U.S. officials agreed to meet with leaders of the EU next Monday to discuss spying.

Obama spying
President Obama's two-faced rhetoric on spying has created foreign ill will that rivals even his unpopular predecessor President George W. Bush.  [Image Source: AP]

In general, EU member states have demanded clarification on the number of records seized for each kind of information grabbed and justifications for why the info was grabbed.  That could prove difficult for the NSA to explain in some cases -- such as the phone records grab, which is believed to encompass tens, if not hundreds of millions of Europeans, based on the leaked information.

While part of indignation in the EU stems from the noisy airing of the long suspected reality that the U.S. was spying on EU decision makers, another crux of the debate echoes that of the domestic spying debate in the U.S.  The data seems to indicate in both regions massive data grabs mostly pertaining to law-abiding citizens.  These grabs appear to be used by U.S. decision makers as a means to justify tapping U.S. taxpayers for yet more money, which was in turn largely paid to private contractors who helped pay U.S. elected federal officials' way into office.

III. Obama Gets Record Donations From Contractors, Increase Surveillance

So just how hungry is the new intelligence industrial complex that arose post 9/11?

For fiscal 2013 $52.6B USD was set aside [PDF] for spending by the agencies under the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).  For fiscal 2014, President Barack Hussein Obama's (D) administration has requested approximately $52.2B USD for intelligence efforts -- of which an estimated 70 percent ($33.7B USD) is scheduled to go to private contractors.  With 319 million people in the U.S. [source], that works out to about $105 USD out of your pocket.

The top recipients of this money have largely been the old guard of America's military industrial complex. These fortune few include BAH, Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), Honeywell Int'l Inc. (HON) (via is Science Applications Int'l Corp. subsidiary), Raytheon Comp. (RTN), and Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT).  

While spending on intelligence was high under President Bush, it has soared even more under President Obama.  Under pressure to trim the federal budget, which is running a massive deficit, President Obama has cut overall funding to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) from its record 2009 levels. However, he's used growing intelligence budgets to negate much of these cuts.

Obama bribery wide
President Obama's decisions are best understood when considering how awash he has been in special interest handouts. [Image Source: Politically Incorrect]

Intelligence budgets peaked during Obama's first term (data sources: 1, 2, 3, 4) and remain high, as money has been shuffled from military intelligence to national intelligence:

intelligence budget

Line that up with President Obama's top campaign donors -- Booz Allen Hamilton ($176,000 + $281,700 USD to supporting PACs); Lockheed Martin ($285,600 + $854,300 USD to supporting PACs); Honeywell Int'l ($93,600 USD + ~$100,000 USD to supporting PACs); Raytheon ($155,800 + $522,300 USD to supporting PACs); and Northrop Grumman ($251,500 + $323,300 USD to supporting PACs).

It's clear that top intelligence contractors expected Barack Obama returning to office for a second term to equate to record contracts, and indeed that appears to be the case.  The top players gave almost twice as much to the President as his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, with direct donations approaching $1M USD and PAC donations accounting for several more million dollars.  In other words, Obama took millions and in turn handed billions in new intelligence contracts to his sponsors.

IV. Congress Also to Blame

But to blame just President Obama is an oversimplification.  Members of Congress -- including Republicans who control the House also benefited greatly from intelligence complex  "generosity".  Congress received tens of millions from the above firms either in PAC funds or direct donations.  

Perhaps that's why so many members of Congress were so quick to condemn leaker Edward Snowden and push for him to be extradited charged on espionage charges (and why some have suggested even the American and European journalists involved in publishing the leak should be charged).

Both Congress and the President are happy to hand out spying contracts, for the right price.
[Image Source: Google Images]

This corresponds with the rising cost of elections.  Accounting for inflation, based on buying power a House winner today pays roughly three times what they did in 1990, while a Senate winner pays more than twice as much (data source 1, 2):

Cost of elections

Spying is hardly the only special interest pet project of President Obama and Congress, but it is one of the most dangerous.

V. Implications 

Currently for all the insertion of data mining into the public space and greasing of the government intelligence shaft by donations to President Obama, most of this data mining appears to have little impact.  But in the long term there are a number of scenarios where this data mining could seriously hurt the American public.

Given that the government has such a poor track record when it comes to security -- and it's compiling data central both on in-house and contractor networks -- there's a tremendous potential for data loss.  

While it's true that such risks exist in for-profit commercial data mining from the likes of Google Inc. (GOOG) and, Inc. (FB), the risks for the intelligence data mining may be substantially higher due to their lack of transparency.  It's unclear how strong protections (both at contractors and at the government) are for this data -- because most of the collection and storage is the subject of lacking transparency that ranges from mild obfuscation to seeming outright lies.  

Leak -- blood
The government hasn't been great at online security -- so data mining carries serious risks.
While the media and public can not know for sure, it is not hard to fathom that a contractor looking to maximize profits would skimp on security, versus a company like Facebook or Google.  After all, as long as they're allowed to keep sponsoring candidates, leaks have substantially less financial impact on contractors; once the public furor blows over, Congress and the President return to passing along more contracts to the firms involved.  This is the consequence of the fact that the military and intelligence contracting industry is essentially an artificially manipulated market, controlled by a handful of top corporations.

VI. Futurist Danger: A Power Grab via Drone Death Strikes

Lastly, there's also the risk of an abusive future police state using the information to target political rivals both at home in the U.S. and abroad.  

Imagine if you will if the president had a button they could press that would kill all of their political rivals in hours.

Predator missile
Imagine if a President could push a button to send automated war machines to kill all his or her enemies.  It's a real possibility in decades to come, given technological and political direction.  
[Image Source: Drone Wars UK]
It's not that far off a possibility.  The DoD and DNI are already fielding semi-autonomous drones, and are flying hundreds of potentially armed drones over U.S. airspace; and thousands over foreign airspaces.  The Obama adminstration has already used drones in death strikes, including warrantless deathstrikes on Americans.  And President Obama refused to categorically take the option of warrantless death strikes on Americans on U.S. soil off the table.  Further, the U.S. has refused to sign robotic warfare treaties which would force weapons developers to keep a human operator "in the loop" for drone killings.

Current efforts by the government and its contractors have been aimed at compiling databases of faces for every American, compiling such information as internet posts and drivers license photos.  Couple with the metadata from call records (which reveals location) it's clear that the government could dispatch a drone to your current location whenever you place a call and find you using facial recognition technology.

To be realistic, the technology isn't quite there when it comes to such targeting.  And to the public's knowledge there's no simple mechanism (say a database of "kill" targets) that controls drone strikes; a fair amount of paperwork is still involved.  But as drone technologies improve, data sets grow, and domestic surveillance databases link up, it's feasible from a policy direction and technological perspective that 20 to 30 years down the road, such autonomous targeting capabilities and such a "threat database" of kill targets could exist.

At that point, if that should occur, all it would take for a President to seize supreme control (in theory) would be the ability to convince a few top military/intelligence leaders to upload a list of political "enemies" to the database that is used to kill "terrorists" with automated drone strikes.

It sounds like a paranoid futurist scenario, but then again, most Americans in the 1950s considered the government spying on everyone's calls and locations whereabouts a paranoid Orwellian fantasy.  What's startling clear today is that when the system allows politicians to be effectively bribed, and there's money to be had, that such paranoid fantasies can become reality in a matter of decades.

Sources: Europa [1], [2]

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

Most Popular Articles

Copyright 2018 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki