New Spy Software Coming On-Line: ‘Surveillance in a Box’ Makes its Debut
New Spy Software Coming On-Line: "Surveillance in a Box" Makes its Debut
By Tom Burghardt
Global Research, August 29, 2008
Antifascist Calling… – 2008-08-28
You’ve heard of the FBI’s "Quantico Circuit" and were outraged by illegal warrantless wiretapping by Bushist minions. To no avail, you flooded Congress with emails and phone calls, angered by the bipartisan "FISA Amendments Act of 2008" and the swell party thrown by AT&T for "Blue Dog" Democrats in Denver this week for the convention.
But just in time for a new administration (and the bundles of cash always at the ready for the expanding homeland security market), comes a complete "surveillance in a box" system called the Intelligence Platform!
According to New Scientist, German electronics giant Siemens has developed software allegedly capable of integrating
New Scientist reports that the firm has sold the system to some 60 countries in Europe and Asia. Which countries? Well, Siemens won’t say.
However, privacy and human rights advocates say the system bears a remarkable resemblance to China’s "Golden Shield," a massive surveillance network that integrates huge information databases, internet and email monitoring, speech and facial recognition platforms in combination with CCTV monitoring.
Designed specifically for "fusion centers" or their European/Asian equivalents, the Intelligence Platform promises to provide "real-time" high-tech tools to foil terrorist plots before they’re hatched (or keep tabs on antiwar/antiglobalization activists).
The latest item in the emerging "intelligent" software niche market, Intelligence Platform has been "trained" on a large number of sample documents to zero in on names, phone numbers or places from generic text. "This means it can spot names or numbers that crop up alongside anyone already of interest to the authorities, and then catalogue any documents that contain such associates," New Scientist avers.
In the UK, the Home Office announced it plans to provide law enforcement, local councils and other public agencies access to the details of text messages, emails and internet browsing. This follows close on the heels of an announcement last May that New Labour was considering building a massive centralized database "as a tool to help the security services tackle crime and terrorism." According to The Guardian,
A blurb posted on Siemens’ website claims that the "challenge" is "to foster the well-being of law-abiding citizens" and therefore, "authorized groups need to have direct access to communications between suspects, whether it is individuals, groups or organizations. Only then can they take appropriate action, detect, prevent and anticipate crimes and guarantee peace and security."
In other words, if you’ve got nothing to hide "trust us:" the shopworn mantra of securocrats everywhere. And in today’s climate, this is an especially burdensome challenge for state security and corporate spies who demand "highly-sophisticated, multi-level voice and data recordings" in order to destroy our rights while transforming our respective societies into Orwellian police states. New Scientist reports,
But if the experience of U.S. Fusion Centers are any indication of the accuracy of the Siemens system, false positives will be endemic while thousands, if not millions, of perfectly innocent individuals are forever ensnared in the state’s data driftnet. According to the American Civil Liberties Union,
But perhaps "high-tech computer boondoggles" are precisely the point!
After all, the Boeing Company and their sidekicks at SRI International (which describes itself as "an independent, nonprofit research institute") were recently criticized by a House Science and Technology Subcommittee for "irregularities" in the government’s Railhead program, a suite of software "upgrades" to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), "a vast database of names that feeds the nation’s terrorist watch list," the Associated Press reported.
Railhead was touted as a "fix" for a system built by Lockheed Martin in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. According to congressional investigators, the system provides data to all federal terrorist watch lists, including the "no-fly" list run by the Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, a national clearinghouse for federal, state and local fusion centers.
According to the House committee the program is months behind schedule, millions over budget and "would actually be less capable than the U.S. government terrorist tracking system it is meant to replace." Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported,
Leaving aside the racist presuppositions of the Journal, to wit, that Arab = terrorist (no small matter when dealing with nativist yahoos here in the "homeland" or elswehere), as Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) said in a statement, "the program appears to be on the brink of collapse after an estimated half-billion dollars in taxpayer funding has been spent on it." According to the committee,
In a technical sense, the NCTC and the ODNI may be correct in touting TIDE and NCTC Online as "hallmarks of the government’s information sharing accomplishments," if by "sharing accomplishments" they meant handing over unlimited bundles of taxpayer’s hard-earned cash to enterprising contractors!
Gorman reports that in "recent weeks, the government has fired most of the 862 private contractors from dozens of companies working on the Railhead project, and only a skeleton crew remains." Boeing and SRI’s response? According to the Journal, "calls to officials of Boeing and SRI were not immediately returned."
I bet they weren’t! Especially since the committee said "Railhead insiders" allege that the government paid Boeing some $200 million to retrofit the company’s Herndon, Virginia office with security upgrades so that top secret software work could be performed there. The government then leased the same office space from Boeing. How’s that for hitting the old corporate "sweet spot."
None of this of course, should surprise anyone, least of all defense lobby dollar-addicted members of Congress who, like Captain Renault in Casablanca are "shocked, shocked" to find their corporate "partners" have failed to deliver–again.
According to Washington Technology’s list of "2008 Top 100 Government Prime Contractors," Boeing clocked-in at No. 2 with $9,706,621,413 in taxpayer handouts. No slouches themselves, Siemens placed No. 79 with some $186,292,146 in prime government contracts across an array of defense and civilian agencies. With Railhead’s imminent demise, perhaps the German electronics giant has a future in the U.S. "homeland security" market with its Intelligent Platform?
Then again, perhaps not. Computer security expert Bruce Schneier told New Scientist, "’currently there are no good patterns available to recognise terrorists,’ he says, and questions whether Siemens has got around this." But since the business of government is business, maybe they do after all.
Meanwhile, the PRISE consortium of security technology and human rights experts funded by the European Union, called "for a moratorium on the development of fusion technologies, referring explicitly to the Siemens Intelligence Platform," Margottini reported.
According to New Scientist, PRISE analysts told the EU, "The efficiency and reliability of such tools is as yet unknown. More surveillance does not necessarily lead to a higher level of societal security. Hence there must be a thorough examination of whether the resulting massive constraints on human rights are proportionate and justified."
But here in the United States concern over trivial things such as "massive constraints on human rights," unlike state attacks against the "quaint" rights of the average citizen are, like the impeachment of a regime studded with war criminals, most definitely "off the table."
While the Democrats celebrate Barack Obama’s coronation in Denver this week and the Republicans are poised to do the same for John McCain in the Twin Cities rest assured, administrations may change, but the corporate grift is eternal.
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly, Love & Rage and Antifa Forum, he is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press.