Memo from the Deep State: Surveillance Still not Ubiquitous Enough
No sooner had the blood in Paris dried so to speak, as representatives of Western security services and police reminded us that they have still not enough funding and power. Say what?
As far as we are aware, their surveillance includes practically everything, to the point that the UK’s CGHQ has probably obtained the world’s biggest collection of amateur porn, by dint of spying at millions of webcam users. Lest we forget:
“Britain’s surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the US National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of internet users not suspected of wrongdoing, secret documents reveal.
GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images ofYahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.
In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.
The documents also chronicle GCHQ’s sustained struggle to keep the large store of sexually explicit imagery collected by Optic Nerve away from the eyes of its staff, though there is little discussion about the privacy implications of storing this material in the first place.”
Photo credit: AP
We can be pretty sure the number of worthwhile terrorist targets in the world is somewhat smaller than 1.8 million and they’re not all Yahoo clients either, but the mantra of the NSA and other “5 eyes” members has seemingly always been “spy on everybody and collect everything”. Former NSA chief Keith Alexander, upon visiting the NSA station in Menwith, UK, reportedly remarked: “Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith.”. By all appearances that is precisely what they did and continue to do. At least we haven’t heard that Mr. Snowden’s revelations (or let us rather say, Snowden providing proof and more details about what anyone who was half awake already knew anyway) have led to any restrictions in surveillance practices. Mainly these revelations have achieved intimidation, as has incidentally the Obama administration’s vindictive war on whistle-blowers.
The attack in Paris provided a welcome opportunity for MI5 chief Andrew Parker to pop up like a Jack-in-the-Box and spread some of that good old fear around (in order not to make it look too obvious, the press has been advised that his speech was “already planned before the Paris attacks”):
“Speaking after gunmen killed 12 people in an assault on a French satirical newspaper, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned a strike on the United Kingdom was highly likely.
“A group of core al Qaeda terrorists in Syria is planning mass casualty attacks against the West,” Director General Parker said in a rare public speech at MI5 headquarters in London. His last public speech was in October 2013.
In the speech, planned before the killings in Paris, Parker said seasoned al Qaeda militants in Syria aimed to “cause large-scale loss of life, often by attacking transport systems or iconic targets” in the West.
If “we” had left Iraq and Syria alone from the outset, there wouldn’t be any militants in these countries worth worrying about. Secret services had no problem with their information being politicized ahead of the Iraq war in one of the most transparent propaganda exercises of recent memory. Complaints about this only surfaced when it was way too late. If one thinks about this for a moment in simple terms, the equation is basically this: after bombing Iraq for 24 years running, all we have to show for the effort is a sprawling Islamic Caliphate and the danger of a bunch of militants “causing large scale loss of life by attacks on iconic targets”. What can one say to that? Kudos for a job well done? Now the same blockheads who are directly and indirectly responsible for this state of affairs (inter alia by training, arming and funding rebels fighting Gaddafi and Assad, which practically assures blowback) are pleading for more money and more power. Some of Mr. Parker’s comments would be lough-out-loud comical if the topic were not so serious:
“My sharpest concern as Director General of MI5 is the growing gap between the increasingly challenging threat and the decreasing availability of capabilities to address it,” he said.
Twitter and Facebook are so important to militants that technology giants should give security services greater access to their networks, the head of Britain’s GCHQ eavesdropping agency said last year.
“The dark places from where those who wish us harm can plot and plan are increasing,” Parker said. “We need to be able to access communications and obtain relevant data on those people when we have good reason.”
One wonders what on earth he is talking about. What precisely does the “decrease in capabilities” consist of? UK secret services can essentially do whatever they want, and in terms of surveillance the country is one of the most Orwellian places on the planet. It is simply not credible that they “cannot access communications and obtain relevant data on those people”. Least of all “when they have a good reason”. After all, they are obtaining everybody’s data already, whether there is a good reason for doing so or not. In reality, they are probably obtaining far too much data, and are therefore incapable of recognizing what in that big pile of information is actually relevant.
Along similar lines, the German police also want more money and power to deal with “gaps in security”. Most importantly:
The head of the DPolG police union, Rainer Wendt, told television station n-tv that there were large gaps in aviation security and airport control procedures.
Both unions also called for increased powers to store telephone and Internet data as part of efforts to fight crime, something already advocated Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, but opposed by coalition partner, the Social Democrats.
Maybe everybody should have to strip down completely before boarding an aircraft, then there will be no more “gaps”.
Wants even more access to Facebook and Twitter: MI5 chief Andrew Parker.
Photo credit: REUTERS/UK Parliament
Beware of Politicians “Doing Something”
The Paris attacks are actually a glaring indictment of the incompetence of the very security and police apparatus that regularly uses such events to clamor for even more funding and authority.
According to press reports, the Kouachi brothers, who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices, were in Yemen to be trained by Islamic militants. This has been confirmed by both Yemeni and Western sources, so the attackers were evidently known to the authorities (it should be noted though that tribal leaders in the area deny they were ever there):
“Both brothers who carried out the attack against satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo traveled to Yemen via Oman in 2011 and had weapons training in the deserts of Marib, where al Qaeda has a presence, two senior Yemeni sources said on Sunday.
This is the first confirmation by Yemeni officials that both Cherif and Said Kouachi, who carried out one of the bloodiest Islamist attacks on the West in years, had visited Yemen where al Qaeda’s deadliest franchise, AQAP, is based. U.S., European and Yemeni sources had previously confirmed a visit by Said Kouachi.
“These two brothers arrived in Oman on July 25, 2011, and from Oman they were smuggled into Yemen where they stayed for two weeks,” a senior Yemeni security official, who declined to be named, said.
“They met (al Qaeda preacher) Anwar al-Awlaki and then they were trained for three days in the deserts of Marib on how to fire a gun. They returned to Oman and they left Oman on Aug. 15, 2011 to go back to France.”
Tribal leader Hamad Waheet denied to Reuters that Marib was a stronghold for al Qaeda, or that the brothers trained there in 2011. He also denied that Awlaki used to be present in the province.
If the authorities were already aware of this, why were those two not subject to closer scrutiny? Too busy sifting through all that Yahoo webcam amateur porn? Just asking.
Meanwhile, a bunch of politicians have used the opportunity to hypocritically march in support of free speech and a free press. A list of some of the luminaries taking part, complete with examples of their deplorable record in support of free speech has been put together by Daniel Wickham – it can be seen here.
President Obama has called for an international security summit and European ministers will be meeting to discuss how to counter future attacks – as if the possibility of such attacks were anything new. Politicians however have to be seen to be “doing something”. Consequently, they are getting ready to take steps that are likely to be largely ineffective in stopping future attacks, but will solidify the surveillance state and ironically, restrict free speech further by expanding “hate speech laws” – the same laws that have been repeatedly used in France in lawsuits against Charlie Hebdo.
“President Barack Obama will invite allies to a Feb. 18 security summit in Washington to try and prevent violent extremism, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Sunday after meeting his European counterparts in Paris.
The gathering of justice and interior chiefs came as France mourned 17 victims of Islamist gunmen this week in the worst assault on its homeland security in decades.
‘We will bring together all of our allies to discuss ways in which we can counteract this violent extremism that exists around the world,’ Holder told reporters. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said after the meeting that European interior ministers had agreed to boost cooperation in an effort to thwart further jihadist attacks.
‘We all agree that we need to put in place better control on certain passengers, on the basis of objective criteria and with respect for fundamental liberties and without disrupting cross-border travel,’ he said. He said Europe needed urgent progress in establishing a European Passenger Name Record database, which would facilitate the exchange of data about passengers between member states.
‘We are convinced of the need for such a tool, to follow those who travel to terrorist operating theaters or who return from there,’ he said, adding that this database would also be useful in the fight against other serious crimes.
Cazeneuve said the Internet needs to remain a space for free expression, but that Europe should fight against abusive use of the web to spread hate speech, anti-Semitic messages and the recruiting vulnerable young people for violence.
‘We need to work more closely with Internet companies to guarantee the reporting and if possible removal of all content that amounts to an apology of terrorism or calls for violence and hatred,’ he said. Cazeneuve said EU interior and justice ministers planned to meet soon to discuss further action. A European source said the meeting could take place next week in Brussels.”
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve – wants to restrict “hate speech”, but France already has some of the most restrictive “hate speech” laws in Europe. Charlie Hebdo frequently had to fight against their application in court.
Photo credit: TF1 / LCI
So does this mean that there hasn’t been sufficient control of “certain passengers” hitherto?
Here is one idea how the rise of Islamic extremism could be curtailed: stop meddling in the Middle East. Nothing has created more support for Islamic terrorists than the incessant bombing of Iraq over a quarter of a century, and lately the “drone wars” in various countries. For example, in Yemen, where the Kouachis were allegedly trained, Al Qaeda reportedly couldn’t have hoped for a more powerful recruitment tool than the constant drone attacks and the vast “collateral damage” they have produced. Air strikes against ISIS are likewise scoring a lot of collateral damage, with the most recent example the killing of an estimated 50 civilians in Syria in a single bombing run.
As Justin Raimondo points out, the attacks will likely only incite more war making in the Middle East:
That politicians would steal the spotlight and turn the sincere outrage of millions into an opportunity for self-advertisement is hardly surprising. Sincerity has its uses, however, and these will become apparent in the days and weeks to come. Those marchers will soon be cheering their soldiers as they go marching off to war, with “Je suis Charlie” inscribed on their banners. The target? Syria, where “links” have been found between the Paris attacks and the self-proclaimed “Caliphate”of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
In the meantime a posthumously released video by Amedi Coulibaly, the attacker who killed four hostages in a Paris supermarket has turned up:
Amedi Coulibaly’s video, in which he tries to “explain” himself.
As Raimondo notes, Coulibaly is literally “dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s” on why all-out war must now be waged:
If you read the transcript of the video it reads almost like a script prepared by our biggest warmongers. It takes the form of an interview, with the invisible interviewer represented by words on a screen and Coulibaly answering:
“Which group are you linked to and do you have an Emir?
Coulibaly: ‘I am pledging my allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. I have made a declaration of allegiance to the Caliph and the declaration of a Caliphate.’”
The Islamic State has been trying to provoke a major military response from the Western powers for months now, executing American journalists and aid workers and posting videos of the executions on the Internet, but so far the US has reacted with caution. So they resorted to attacking the West on its own soil, and now the chorus of voices calling for an all-out invasion of Syria will become deafening, drowning out all reason. And Coulibaly dots all the i’s and crosses the t’s:
“Are you linked to the brothers who attacked Charlie Hebdo?”
“Coulibaly: ‘We are a team, in league together. I am with the team who did Charlie Hebdo. I went out a little against the police too. So that’s that. We did some things together, some things separately to have most impact. [Sound of TV news in the background in which newsreader can be clearly heard talking about the attacks].
‘We have managed to be synchronized together, to come out at the same time, because we are close in the same business.’”
It’s all so pat, an engraved invitation: Come and get us!
(bolding added, italics in original)
As Raimondo further points out, Senator McCain immediately declared his eagerness to comply, calling for “more boots on the ground” in Iraq and arming the so-called “Free Syrian Army” (which per experience will then soon have its arms confiscated by either ISIS or Al-Nusra – or hand them over voluntarily).
Senator John McCain: never misses an opportunity to clamor for more war.
Photo via theblacksphere.net / Author unknown
Raimondo notes that the terrorists and the interventionists have a perverse symbiotic relationship with each other, with both “legitimized on the home front by the actions of the other.”
As he concludes:
“So how does this policy of creating and succoring the very threats they rail against benefit the leaders of the West?
Without the threat of terrorism, our foreign policy of perpetual war would have zero public support. Without the excuse of having to monitor the ever-escalating activities of the Coulibalys of this world, the very idea that the government has the “right” to scoop up our communications and store them in a giant facility out in the Utah desert would be dismissed as a dystopian fantasy.”
Indeed, it is hard to see how this cycle can be broken. It should be glaringly obvious by now that Islamic extremism has only been incited to weed-like growth by the very interventions that are supposedly designed to put a stop to it. Meanwhile perfect security cannot possibly be obtained without stamping out all traces of individual liberty.
For instance, Mr. Holder apparently plans to “wage war on lone wolf terrorists” in his spare time now. One wonders how this is to be done, given that said “lone wolves” (individuals inspired by Islamist fundamentalism who decide to perpetrate attacks on their own) are able “to float under the radar screens” in Mr. Holders own words. He seems to be implying that the radar screens need to be extended further.
And so it goes – in the end, the State will be even more omnipresent in people’s lives than it already is, but we will hardly be any safer as a result. Otherwise we’d surely be safe already, since all the laws enacted since 9-11 and the activities of the security apparatus were allegedly going to provide said safety. Something appears not to have worked out as planned, given that attacks continue to take place and we are incessantly being told how big the dangers still are.
US attorney-general Eric Holder: wants to wage war on “lone wolves”, presumably fast and furious.
Photo credit: AP
We didn’t have to wait long for a reaction, and it is as expected. In spite of all the bromides about wanting to “respect fundamental liberties”, it should be clear that additional restrictions on free speech and other measures purportedly aimed at enhancing our security will be increasingly in conflict with said liberties. Moreover, they are unlikely to achieve much in terms of actually increasing security. The events of the past 20 odd years provide ample evidence for this contention.