More exposes of US government spying

The Brazilian newspaper O Globo, one of the outlets for the NSA documents, reports that the NSA intercepted the communications between the leaders of Mexico and Brazil and their associates. Naturally enough, this latest revelation courtesy of Edward Snowden has sparked outrage in those countries. You can be assured that the leaders of countries all over the world are realizing that ‘fighting terrorism’ seems to be merely a side issue for the NSA, and that their real purpose is political and economic espionage against other countries, irrespective of whether they are allies or not or whether those countries are involved in terrorism or not. It is just the same as domestic spying in the US, where combating terrorism is a cover for anti-democratic surveillance of everyone.

In another story, we learn that it is not just the NSA that is maintaining vast databases on people. Since 1987, the Drug Enforcement Agency has partnered with the telecommunications giant AT&T in something called the “Hemisphere project’ to collect and store data.

The project, known as Hemisphere, gives federal and local officers working on drug cases access to a database of phone metadata populated by more than four billion new call records each day.
Unlike the controversial call record accesses obtained by the NSA, the data is stored by AT&T, not the government, but officials can access individual’s phone records within an hour of an administrative subpoena.

AT&T receives payment from the government in order to sit its employees alongside drug units to aid with access to the data.

The AT&T database includes every phone call which passes through the carrier’s infrastructure, not just those made by AT&T customers.

The DEA and AT&T took great pains to keep this collusion a secret.

In that same report, I was surprised to read that over 500,000 private contractors have top secret clearances in the US. That’s a lot. Remember that this figure is just for private contractors, like Snowden, and does not including government employees. The report says that there had been some concern that such a large number posed a security risk and that steps were being taken to try and reduce the risk. But the contractors were not part of that program to identify and eliminate potential risks, so it would not have affected Snowden.

Separately, the Washington Post published fresh details from the US National Intelligence Budget request for 2013, released by the former contractor Edward Snowden.

The document details a multi-million dollar program to prevent “insider threats” from intelligence officers, with plans to launch more than 4,000 investigations into unusual staff activity at the agencies, including downloading large numbers of documents or accessing material which they would not need in the normal course of their duties.

Such steps were in motion before Snowden disclosed any material to journalistic organisations, or the publication of such details in the Guardian and Washington Post. The NSA has yet to establish what material was taken by Snowden, according to press reports.

An NSA spokeswoman told the Post contractors were not included among the 4,000 planned investigations of security clearances. More than 500,000 US contractors hold top-secret clearances.

According to a different report, nearly five million people have some sort of government security clearance, while 1.4 million have the highest top security clearance.

This large number gives me hope that there are more potential whistleblowers within the government who will reveal what it has been doing in secret. This is why it is so important to defend whistleblowers from government persecution, so that more will be encouraged to come forward. They are one of the keys to restoring democracy.

Does anyone anymore seriously think that the sole purpose of creating this massive and expensive spying system is to combat terrorism? While that may be one purpose, it also clearly serves the purpose of government control because the more information that you have on people, the easier it is to identify and isolate and neutralize those who might challenge the status quo. Governments always seek to control their own people and information is their main weapon. That was the purpose of organizations like the Stasi, the KGB, the FBI, and the Gestapo and it is the purpose of the NSA. Only the methods used have changed.


  1. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Are you spying on the them spying do we spy an infinite recursion, everyone looking and so much still unfound. (& unsound and misinterpreted and not yet caught in time.)

  2. doublereed says

    The report says that there had been some concern that such a large number posed a security risk and that steps were being taken to try and reduce the risk.

    When I read this, the first I thing I thought was “they’re going to hire more contractors with security clearances to manage risk for contractors with security clearances, aren’t they?” Calling it now!

  3. Lassi Hippeläinen says

    There’s also a third purpose: it means money for the contractors. All those five million people with a clearance are sucking from the government teat. Your tax dollars at work.

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