Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Meet the Contractors Turning America's Police Into a Paramilitary Force
"Meet the Contractors Turning America's Police Into a Paramilitary Force; You should know about them because they may already know about you"
2013-01-30 from "Alternet.org" [http://www.alternet.org/meet-contractors-turning-americas-police-paramilitary-force]:
The national security state has an annual budget of around $1 trillion [http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/real-us-national-security-budget-1-trillion]. Of that huge pile of money, large amounts go to private companies the federal government awards contracts to. Some, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, are household names, but many of the contractors fly just under the public's radar. What follows are three companies you should know about (because some of them can learn a lot about you with their spy technologies).
L3 Communications -
L3 is everywhere. Those night-vision goggles the JSOC team in Zero Dark Thirty uses? That's L3 [http://www.l3com.com/media-center/press-releases.html?pr_id=1669570].
The new machines that are replacing the naked scanners at the airport? That's L3 [http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2013/01/18/tsa-abandons-rapiscans-nude-body-scanners/].
Torture at Abu Ghraib? A former subsidiary of L3 was recently ordered to pay $5.28 million to 71 Iraqis who had been held in the awful prison [http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/01/08/abu-ghraib-payments-5-million/1818945/].
Oh, and drones? L3 is on it. Reprieve, a UK-based human rights organization, earlier this month wrote on its Web site: “L-3 Communications is one of the main subcontractors involved with production of the US’s lethal Predator since the inception of the programme. Predators are used by the CIA to kill ‘suspected militants’ and terrorise entire populations in Pakistan and Yemen. Drone strikes have escalated under the Obama administration and 2013 has already seen six strikes in the two countries.”
Unsurprisingly, L3 Communications is well connected beyond the national security community. Its chief financial officer recently spoke at Goldman Sachs, at what the financial titan hilariously refers to as a “fireside chat.”
L3 also supplies local law enforcement with its night-vision products and makes a license-plate recognition (LPR) device, a machine with disturbing implications. LPR can be mounted on cop cruisers or statically positioned at busy intersections and can run potentially thousands of license plates through law enforcement databases in a matter of hours. In some parts of the country LPR readers can track your location for miles. As the Wall Street Journal noted, surveillance of even “mundane” activities of people not accused of any crime is now “the default rather than the exception.”
L3 Communications embodies the totality of the national security and surveillance state. There is only minimal distinction between its military products and police products. Its night-vision line is sold to both military and law enforcement. Its participation in the drone program is now, as far as we know, limited to countries in the Middle East and North Africa. But in the words of the New York Times editorial board [http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/26/opinion/the-dawning-of-domestic-drones.html], “[i]t is not a question of whether drones will appear in the skies above the United States but how soon.” The NYT estimates the domestic drone market at $5 billion, likely a conservative estimate, and contractors will vie for that money in the public and private sphere. L3's venture into airports, the border of where domestic policy meets foreign policy in the name of national security, is therefore significant both symbolically and materially.
In many ways, that is the most important story of the post-9/11 United States: the complete evaporation of the separation of foreign and domestic polices. Whether we're talking about paramilitarized police, warrantless wiretapping, inhumane prison conditions, or drone surveillance, there exist few differences between a United States perpetually at war and a United States determined to police and imprison its people in unacceptable ways and at unacceptable rates.
Harris Corporation: Stingray “IMSI catcher” -
Harris Corp. is a huge provider of national security and communications technology to federal and local law enforcement agencies. Though many people have never heard of it, Harris is a major player in the beltway National Security community. President and CEO William M. Brown was recently appointed to the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, and in 2009 the Secret Service offered Harris a contract to train its agents in the use of Harris' Stingray line. The Secret Service awarded the company additional contracts in 2012.
If you've heard of Harris at all, it's likely been because its controversial Stingray product has been getting attention as an information-gathering tool with major privacy implications. The Stingray allows law enforcement to cast a kilometers' wide digital net over an area to determine the location of a single cell phone signal – and in the process collect cell data on potentially hundreds of people who aren't suspected of any crimes. EFF claims the device is a modern version of British soldiers canvassing the pre-Revolutionary colonies, searching people's homes without probable cause – exactly what the Fourth Amendment was created to prevent. EFF describes the process this way [https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/10/stingrays-biggest-unknown-technological-threat-cell-phone-privacy]:
“A Stingray works by masquerading as a cell phone tower—to which your mobile phone sends signals to every 7 to 15 seconds whether you are on a call or not— and tricks your phone into connecting to it. As a result, the government can figure out who, when and to where you are calling, the precise location of every device within the range, and with some devices, even capture the content of your conversations.”
According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [http://epic.org/foia/fbi/stingray/], the FBI has been using similar technology since 1995. But a recent federal case, United States v. Rigmaiden, has raised Fourth Amendment questions regarding whether law enforcement officials need to obtain a warrant before employing a Stingray. The judge in that case determined that the government hadn't provided enough information about how the devices work, and ordered that the information collected in Rigmaiden couldn't be used in court.
What's especially troubling about Stingrays is that the government either won't say, or doesn't understand, how the technology works. The WSJ reported [http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2012/10/22/judge-questions-tools-that-grab-cellphone-data-on-innocent-people/] that the US Attorney making the requests “seemed to have trouble explaining the technology.”
And it's not just the federal government that uses Stingrays. As Slate notes [http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/01/10/stingray_imsi_catcher_fbi_documents_shine_light_on_controversial_cellphone.html], referencing FOIA documents recently obtained by EPIC, “the feds have procedures in place for loaning electronic surveillance devices (like the Stingray) to state police. This suggests the technology may have been used in cases across the United States, in line with a stellar investigation by LA Weekly last year [http://www.laweekly.com/2012-09-13/news/LAPD-stingray-spying-cellphone/full/], which reported that state cops in California, Florida, Texas, and Arizona had obtained Stingrays.”
Harris has been tightlipped about the Rigmaiden case, but expect to be hearing a lot about Stingrays in the future.
BI2 Technologies -
BI2 makes a fine pitch. Its iris-scanning technology can be made to sound very appealing. Iris scans are relatively non-invasive, there's no touching involved so the likelihood of spreading disease is reduced, and as B12 states on its Web site, "there are no lasers, strong lights or any kind of harmful beams.” It also claims that iris scanning is "strictly opt-in," and that a “user" (who in most cases would be better described as an “arrestee”) “must consciously elect to participate” in the scanning. (When I was arrested by the NYPD while covering a protest, the scan was voluntary -- though the NYPD didn't tell me that, a protester did. But if I refused to submit to it I could have been punished with an extra night in jail.)
Reuters reported [http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/20/us-crime-identification-iris-idUSTRE76J4A120110720] that BI2's iPhone-based iris scanner -- called MORIS -- is capable of taking an accurate scan from four feet away, “potentially without the person being aware of it.” MORIS has drawn harsh condemnation from the ACLU. The primary concern from privacy advocates is that law enforcement will deploy this technology in an overly broad way. ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley told Reuters that he didn't want the police “using them routinely on the general public, collecting biometric information on innocent people.”
MORIS isn't just for irises; it also scans faces. In 2011, the Wall Street Journal [http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2011/07/13/how-a-new-police-tool-for-face-recognition-works] reportedthat the sheriff's office in Pinellas County, Florida, “uses digital cameras to take pictures of people, download the pictures to laptops, then use facial-recognition technologies to search for matching faces.” New database technology like Trapwire, a data mining system that analyzes “suspicious behavior” in purported attempts to predict terrorist behavior, makes face scanning potentially more worrisome. Trapwire uses at least “CCTV, license-plate readers, and open-source databases” as input sources [https://privacysos.org/node/785], and although it doesn't employ facial-recognition software, the incentives to combine these types of technology is clear.
Beginning in 2014, BI2 will manage a national iris-scan database for the FBI, called Next-Generation Identification (NGI) [http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/2012/06/eye-crime-fbi-building-database-iris-scans/56481/]. Lockheed Martin is also involved in building the database [http://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/fbi-announces-initial-operating-capability-for-next-generation-identification-system]. Much of BI2's iris data comes from inmates in 47 states [http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/07/05/iris_scan_database_for_the_fbi_.html], and despite BI2's claims that iris scanning can't be gamed, that is not the case. Experts showed last summer that the iris can be “reverse-engineered” to fool the scanners, which are generally thought to be more accurate than fingerprinting.
The usual suspects lamented in 2011 that iris scanning isn't used at airports or borders [http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2011/05/28/iris-scanning-make-borders-secure/], but security creep is difficult to combat, especially once “national security” is invoked. Just days ago it was reported that the FBI is teaming with the Department of Homeland Security to ramp up iris scanning at US borders [http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2013/01/fbi-and-dhs-team-nab-border-intruders-iris-recognition/60876/]. AlterNet has previously reported that the Department of Defense scans the irises of people arriving at and departing from Afghanistan [http://www.alternet.org/story/155939/why_is_the_government_collecting_your_biometric_data].
The story of BI2 is important because the initial technology is superficially appealing. The company's first projects were called the Child Project, designed to help locate missing children; and Senior Safety Net, developed to identify missing seniors suffering from Alzheimer's. According to B12's Web site, sheriffs' departments in 47 states use the BI2 iris-scanning device and database, which makes it easy to mobilize support to facilitate the safe return of children and seniors.
While the desire to find missing children and seniors is perfectly legitimate, the collection of biometric data is a pandora's box. Once it's opened, it's proven difficult if not impossible to limit.
2013-02-19 "Meet 6 Politicians Getting Rich from America's Endless Wars" by John Knefel from "Alter.net" [http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/meet-6-politicians-getting-rich-americas-endless-wars]:
War is a racket, and perpetual war is a money-printing machine. Though the defense industry as a whole contributes relatively little to members of Congress compared to, say, the pharmaceutical lobby, it remains an incredibly powerful and influential lobby. Below are the six members of the House whose primary industry donor in the 2012 election cycle was the defense sector. (Numbers are from the Center for Responsive Politics [http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/recips.php?cycle=2012&ind=D], unless otherwise noted.)
1. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA): $566,100 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
It's impossible to talk about defense industry beneficiaries without mentioning Buck McKeon. He became the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee in 2009, and then the chairperson after the GOP took the House in the 2010 election. Donations from the defense sector to his 2012 campaign dwarfed all other House campaigns, with McKeon bringing in a whopping $566,100.
That big pile of money certainly seems to have made McKeon a friend to the military. As part of the House, McKeon doesn't have the opportunity to vote on Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, but he still publicly opposed the appointment, due to Hagel's presumed willingness to back defense spending cuts. A statement on McKeon's website reads in part, “[Hagel's] refusal to shut the door on further defense cuts put him at stark odds with the current Defense Secretary and military leaders.” McKeon is also, predictably, against a round of planned automatic cuts to domestic spending and the military budget, known as the sequester, which he has said could “start costing lives.” [http://www.navytimes.com/news/2013/02/military-joint-chiefs-sequester-forecast-020613w/]
Regarding the US' longest war, McKeon thinks it hasn't gone on long enough. He has called the planned troop drawdown next year, “needlessly fraught with risk,” and said that “our hard-fought gains are fragile and reversible” [http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20130212/AGENCY04/302120004/GOP-leader-critical-Obama-pledge-%20reduce-number-U-S-troops-Afghanistan].
If that language sounds familiar, it's because he said almost the same thing regarding troops leaving Iraq. "I remain concerned that this full withdrawal of US forces will make that road tougher than it needs to be,” he said in a statement posted on his website [http://mckeon.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=291506]. “These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq.”
McKeon is predictably hawkish on Iran [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np5HdLvO4y4], consistently supports providing military aid to Israel [http://mckeon.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=294923], and is in favor of expanding military powers as contained in the 2012 NDAA act [http://www.politico.com/blogs/under-the-radar/2011/%2012/defense-bill-passes-house-107550.html], which critics say allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military [http://truth-out.org/news/item/14418-can-the-military-detain-us-citizens-appeals-court-hears-arguments-in-ndaa-lawsuit].
2. CW “Bill” Young (R-FL): $229,760 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
Bill Young is the longest-serving Republican member of Congress, having served since 1970, and a long-time beneficiary of defense sector contributions [http://young.house.gov/press-release/statement-congressman-bill-young-his-reappointment-chair-appropriations-subcommittee]. Since 1989, when CRP's data begins, Young has received $1,440,385 from defense PACs and individual contributors. And since at least 1998, defense sector contributions to Young's campaigns have been greater than from any other industry, often by staggering amounts. He is currently the chairperson of the defense appropriations subcommittee, a powerful position he has held on and off since the mid-1990s.
In 2012 he wavered on his support for continuing the war in Afghanistan, telling the Tampa Bay Times [http://www.tampabay.com/news/military/war/us-rep-cw-bill-young-changes-course-says-us-should-withdraw-from/1252055] that the longer we stay in-country, the more we're “killing kids who don't have to die.” Those comments, however, come after more than a decade of war, and after numerous refusals by Young to even consider a timetable for withdrawal.
Recently, Young came under attack from then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates about a Humvee project Young was protecting that Gates said was unnecessary [http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/bill-young-vs-defense-secretary-robert-gates]. Makers of the Humvee, AM General, had contributed $80K to Young's campaign, but he denied that the contractor's donations played any role in his decision to defend the program [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/02/AR2011030206041.html].
Young was one of the targets of an independent ethics investigation in 2010 that involved six other members of the defense appropriations subcommittee [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F0CE7DF1130F934A15751C0A9669D8B63&ref=cwbillyoung]. The investigation – conducted by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which is not comprised of members of the House – found, according to the New York Times, “that private contractors who received millions in defense industry earmarks from the seven lawmakers generally believed that their political contributions to the members facilitated the financing their companies received.” All seven were cleared by the House ethics committee, which is to say, the colleagues of the targets.
The congressman has also faced down charges of nepotism after earmarking millions of federal dollars to a defense contractor that employed his son [http://www.pdacommunity.org/component/content/article/92-ewo-articles/2673-meet-6-politicians-getting-rich-from-americas-endless-warsmeet-6-politicians-getting-rich-from-americas-endless-wars#.UR4_DFripAt]. The porkbarreling doesn't stop with family members: the Center for Public Integrity reports Young “obtained about $475 million in earmarks over the past three years, mostly funneling money to defense contracting firms that are also among his top donors" [http://www.publicintegrity.org/2010/11/04/2355/cw-bill-young-—-appropriations-subcommittee-defense].
3. Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III (D-MD): $229,550 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
The third biggest recipient of defense sector contributions in the House over 2011- 2012 is Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat. Dutch took office in 2003 and became the first first-term congressperson appointed to the House Select Committee on Intelligence [http://dutch.house.gov/committees.shtml]. He became the ranking member – highest committee post for the minority party – in 2011, landing him a spot on the so-called “Gang of 8,” who are supposed to be kept apprised of the president's intelligence decisions. He has previously served on the Armed Services committee.
Dutch has been in the news lately for co-sponsoring a bill, along with House intelligence committee chair Mike Rogers (R-MI), called the Cyberintelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA. CISPA gives private companies the ability to share information with government intelligence agencies, which could potentially use the data however they see fit – in the name of national security, of course. An identical version of the bill passed the House in 2012 [http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/digital-rights-activists-vow-to-fight-cispa/2013/02/14/e0c63282-7626-11e2-8f84-3e4b513b1a13_story.html], but went nowhere after Internet privacy activists mounted a campaign against it and Obama threatened a veto. CISPA has returned, however, much to the dismay of activists who say it could be the end of what little privacy remains online.
“In seeking to promote cybersecurity information sharing, CISPA creates a sweeping exception to all privacy laws,” Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the New York Times [http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/14/the-president-revives-an-old-debate-about-privacy/].
A tweet from Dutch's official Twitter handle reads, “#CISPA: Because U.S. companies need to protect your personal information from hackers” [https://twitter.com/Call_Me_Dutch/status/302457676229648384].
One has to wonder if the next industry to do massive fundraising for Dutch might be the telecoms, which overwhelmingly support CISPA [http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/13/verizon-cybersecurity-idUSnPnNY59962+160+PRN20130213].
4. Morris “Mo” Brooks (R-AL): $202,020 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
Second-term congressperson Mo Brooks is a minor figure compared to the first three on this list. He traffics in boilerplate GOP positions like opposing the debt ceiling increase [http://blog.al.com/breaking/2013/01/rep_mo_brooks_argues_against_r.html] and pushing an absurd bill to impeach the president if he and Congress don't pass a balanced budget [http://blog.al.com/breaking/2013/01/rep_mo_brooks_proposes_bill_to.html]. Bruce Bartlett once called a balanced budget amendment the “dopiest constitutional amendment of all time.”
Brooks, like many on this list, sits on the House armed services committee. He enjoys photo ops with Raytheon, tied for his fifth largest contributor [http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/house_oks_642_billion_defense.html]. He also managed to keep $403 million in a defense budget for a missile project the military didn't want, in which Boeing, a major contributor to Brooks, was the lead contractor [http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/05/house_oks_642_billion_defense.html].
Brooks has said he favors eliminating all foreign aid, save to Pakistan for the remainder of the war in Afghanistan, which he thinks should end [http://blog.al.com/breaking/2012/08/times_watchdog_report_congress.html], and Israel.
As Israel bombarded Gaza with disproportionate force, Brooks' official Twitter handle said he, “stand[s] with our close ally #Israel [...] during this violent and horrific attack on innocent civilians” [https://twitter.com/RepMoBrooks/status/269537336914755584].
In a similarly tin-eared tweet, his official handle responded to the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (which Brooks is against) by saying, “Our founding fathers fought for individual liberty.” More shockingly, Brooks said of removing undocumented immigrants from the US, “I will do anything short of shooting them” [http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/06/29/257324/mo-brooks-anything-but-shoot-immigrants/].
5. Adam Smith (D-WA): $201,000 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations.
Smith is the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services committee, and has served on that committee since he entered Congress in 1997. He is a centrist, “ New Democrat."
Like every other member of the House, save Barbara Lee, Smith voted in favor of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). He voted against a bill calling for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 2011, but now says he believes it's time for the war to end. In 2002, Smith joined 80 House Democrats and 215 House Republicans to vote in favor of going to war with Iraq. Smith voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, against the reauthorization in 2005, but reversed himself again and voted in favor of the reauthorization in 2011.
In 2011, Smith voted against banning the president from using ground forces in Libya – that is, Smith wanted to leave the option of using ground forces open to Obama.
He voted in favor of the 2012 NDAA, which, as mentioned earlier, critics say allows for the indefinite detention of US citizens by the military. Smith wrote a letter urging for the bill's passage and arguing that the scope of NDAA is more limited than critics allege. Several months after the passage of the 2012 NDAA, Smith co-sponsored legislation that would ensure due process rights to any individual detained on US soil, and, according to a statement Smith released, “prohibit military commissions and indefinite detention.” That bill died after it was referred to committee, while the NDAA is currently facing a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
6. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX): $199,500 in 2012 cycle defense sector donations (lost in primary).
This member of the House has received more donations from defense contractors than from any other industry.
Reyes was defeated in a primary challenge by Beto O'Rourke, who now represents Texas' 16th district. Reyes was on both the House armed services and select intelligence committees, making him a powerful ally for defense contractors. So it should be no surprise that those very same contractors attempted to rescue him from O'Rourke's primary challenge at the last minute by flooding his campaign with contributions.
Reyes is a full-on drug warrior, even suggesting sending armed drones into Mexico to kill drug cartel leaders.
Despite being on the House intelligence committee, Reyes often appeared clueless about basic elements of foreign policy. He incorrectly referred to al Qaeda as “predominantly probably Shi'ite” (it is Sunni) and couldn't identify which of the two sects dominated Hezbollah. (The answer is Shi'ite.) [http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/17/weekinreview/17cave.html]
Beto O'Rourke, for his part, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana, and received virtually no funding from the defense sector.