Tag Archives: Nctc

It Takes A Massive Surveillance Apparatus To Hold Us Back: Fusion Centers, Ferguson and the Deep State

Dime-Fasces

Here’s a question: How much of a national security threat are people protesting the non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown?

If you answered, There’s no national security threat; they’re exercising their First Amendment rights, which should be celebrated, then you’re obviously a pre-9/11-American, which is enough to get you disinvited from the major TV propaganda shows.

Local news media reported on the Black Lives Matter protest in Boston, and noted, without really thinking about it, that “the state police Commonwealth Fusion Center monitored social media, which provided “critical intelligence about protesters’ plans to try to disrupt traffic on state highways.” It didn’t really register because journalists are mostly not watching fusion centers like we are, and aren’t seeing them come up again and again and again and again, lurking at the edges of stories about free speech and national security, and policing the boundaries of what is acceptable to say.

Think, then, of fusion centers as state-based NSAs overseen loosely by the Department of Homeland Security. Set up after 9/11 to provide “joined-up intelligence” and thwart terrorist attacks, they quickly found that there just wasn’t enough terrorism of the kind not ginned up by government informants themselves to sustain 88 separate local antiterrorism centers in addition to the NSA, FBI and CIA. So they expanded their definition of terrorism to cover many other things, which in Massachusetts have included harassing peaceful activists and elected officials while missing actual terrorist plots, and now, for lack of anything better to do with their tax dollars, vetting licenseholders for marijuana dispensaries and fostering anonymous threat reporting in public schools.

We have advocated against fusion centers for a long time. Last week, we received the results of a FOIA request to Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Fusion Center that throws more light on the kind of information they hold, and the kind of society that is being constructed without our consent.

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The Executive’s Humpty-Dumpty Terrorism Watchlisting Policy: Lessons from People v. Morales

humpty-dumpty

The Intercept’s publication of the criteria for the terrorism watchlists throws some light at least on what the government tells itself a terrorist is. This is a matter of keen interest to many of us, since a close reading of the following text tells you a lot about the values and priorities of our new-minted surveillance state overlords.

terrorism_definition

Not to go all mise en abyme about it, but this definition is, well, abysmal. Let’s take it a step at a time.

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Commonwealth Fusion Center Violates Constitution, New Report Says

minorityreport

Massachusetts has two “fusion centers”, mostly state-funded, which aggregate enormous amounts of data on innocent Massachusetts residents, with the notion of preventing terrorist attacks. When you call the “See Something, Say Something” line, the information goes into “Suspicious Activity Reports.” The ACLU of Massachusetts documented that the Boston fusion center (“BRIC”) had actually spent its time harassing peaceful activists rather than thwarting terrorism, which is one of the reasons why there will be nationwide protests against fusion centers on April 10, including in Boston.

In response to the ACLU revelations, Rep. Jason Lewis (now the newly elected Sen. Jason Lewis) filed a fusion center reform bill on Beacon Hill. Disconcerted at the prospect of more sunshine on their work, the Commonwealth Fusion Center, the fusion center in Maynard, offered him and other legislators a courtesy tour of their facility, to try to explain what good work they were doing. As an example of that work, they cited their First Amendment-violating harassment of an Arlington man who was not actually planning any violent crime, but who had tweeted about it being a good idea to shoot statists. They also provided to Rep. Lewis copies of various policies that they follow, including their Privacy Policy (updated 06.13.2013) and their policy on First Amendment investigations. Rep. Lewis then asked Digital Fourth to evaluate the policies they had provided, to assess whether they were constitutional. We enthusiastically agreed, and the resulting report is here.

Here are our main recommendations:

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StopWatchingUs DC rally rocks out: 3,000+ people call for NSA reforms

This Saturday, DC saw something it had never seen before.

A city that treats the superficial hatreds of party politics as its lifeblood, saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum gather to denounce NSA mass spying. We heard, and roared approval for, the words of feminist Naomi Wolf, Dennis Kucinich (Democrat), Justin Amash (Republican), and Gary Johnson (Libertarian). Kymone Freeman spoke movingly about the impact of surveillance on minority communities and the civil rights movement. Whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Russell Tice were there, and Edward Snowden sent a message to be read by leading whistleblower-protecting attorney Jesselynn Radack. Tea Party people up from Richmond, VA, proudly put on Code Pink stickers labeled “Make Out Not War”. The press reported wonderingly that it was not put together “by any of the “usual” well-connected DC organizers.” I should know: I’m proud to say that, in a small way, I was one of them, and this was the first time most of us had done anything like this.

That wasn’t all. Here in Boston, activist Joan Livingston put together a solidarity rally at Park Street Station:

and ACLU organizer Raquel Ronzone arranged for the rally to livestream at the Digital Media Conference in Cambridge.

If you want updates on the StopWatchingUs campaign going forward, text “PRIVACY” to 877877. Stay tuned for the next stage of the campaign, which will be to pass the “USA FREEDOM Act.” Personally, just to hammer home the point, I’d have preferred the “USA FREEDOM Fourth Amendment Restoration – Objective: Undermining Tyranny Act of 2013″, because I too can do acronyms, but such frivolity is apparently frowned upon in the legislature that gave us the Uniting (and) Strengthening America (by) Providing Appropriate Tools Required (to) Intercept (and) Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 in the first place.

UPDATE: Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. I’m the tall guy to the left of Rep. Amash!

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FBI-Borg Informs US Private Sector of its Impending Assimilation, Generously Limits Fines for Resistance to $25,000 Per Day Per Violation

robert_mueller

The FBI has a new proposal afoot to require communications companies doing business in the US to make their communications technologies “wiretap-ready”, to avoid the “going-dark problem”. From Charlie Savage at the New York Times, six hours ago:

The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations. […]

Currently, such orders instruct recipients to provide technical assistance to law enforcement agencies, leaving wiggle room for companies to say they tried but could not make the technology work. Under the new proposal, providers could be ordered to comply, and judges could impose fines if they did not.

Under the proposal, officials said, for a company to be eligible for the strictest deadlines and fines — starting at $25,000 a day — it must first have been put on notice that it needed surveillance capabilities, triggering a 30-day period to consult with the government on any technical problems.

Lord forbid that private companies should offer services that can’t be wiretapped by the government. If the FBI finds itself unable to routinely spy on the communications of people not yet suspected of any crime, that’s a feature, not a bug, and is in fact what the Fourth Amendment requires.

In America, this manic need to collect every iota of data is “helping defeat the terrorists” and “protecting the homeland”. When other countries do it, though, it’s a whole different story. Read on!

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Drowning in Data, Starved for Wisdom: The surveillance state cannot meaningfully assess terrorism risks

In this movie, we're Brad.

Pity the analysts.

The NSA has just vigorously denied that their new Utah Data Center, intended for storing and processing intelligence data, will be used to spy on US citizens. The center will have a capacity of at least one yottabyte, and will provide employment for 100-200 people. With the most generous assumptions [200 employees, all employed only on reviewing the data, only one yottabyte of data, ten years to collect the yottabyte, 5GB per movie], each employee would be responsible on average for reviewing 4500 billion terabytes, or approximately 23 million years’ worth of Blu-ray quality movies, every year.

 

Must...keep...watching...my...country...needs...me

Must…keep…watching…my…country…needs…me

This astounding and continually increasing mismatch shows that we are well beyond the point where law enforcement is able to have a human review a manageable amount of the data in its possession potentially relating to terrorist threats. Computer processing power doubles every two years, but law enforcement employment is rising at a rate of about 7% every ten years, and nobody’s going to pay for it to double every two years instead. Purely machine-based review inevitably carries with it a far higher probability that important things will be missed, even if we were to suppose that the data was entirely accurate to begin with – which it certainly is not.

So why is anybody surprised that Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and one of around 750,000 people in the TIDE database, was not stopped at the border? That facial recognition software wasn’t able to flag him as a match for a suspect? That the fusion centers, intended to synthesize data into actionable “suspicious activity reports”, flag things too late for them to be of any use? That the Air Force is panicking a little at not having enough people to process the data provided by our drone fleet?

It’s in this context, then, that we should understand the calls for more surveillance after the Boston Marathon attacks for what they are. More cameras, more surveillance drones and more wiretapping, without many more humans to process the data, will make this problem worse, not better. These calls are being driven not by a realistic assessment that surveillance will help prevent the next attack, but by the internal incentives of the players in this market. Neither the drone manufacturers, nor law enforcement, nor elected officials, have an interest in being the ones to call a halt. So instead they’re promoting automation – automated drones, automated surveillance, and email scanning software techniques.

They are missing something very simple. We don’t need a terrorism database with 750,000 names on it. There are not 750,000 people out there who pose any sort of realistic threat to America. If the “terrorism watch list” were limited by law to a thousand records, then law enforcement would have to focus only on the thousand most serious threats. Given the real and likely manpower of the federal government, and the rarity of actual terrorism, that’s more than enough. If law enforcement used the power of the Fourth Amendment, instead of trying to find ways round it, it could focus more on the highest-probability threats.

Yes, they would miss stuff. That’s inevitable under both a tight and a loose system. But a tight system has the added advantages that it protects more people’s liberties, and costs a lot less.

UPDATE: With the help of a New Yorker fact-checker, the figure of “400 billion terabytes” above has been corrected to “500 billion terabytes”.

The Boston Marathon: Generalized Surveillance Fails To Thwart Attack

Headline updated [x2].

Today, by the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on the same city block as the church I go to, two bombs went off. I feel shocked and sad beyond belief.

 

Photo credit: KVLY

Photo credit: KVLY.

My thoughts and prayers are with those who died or were hurt, with their families, and with all the people stranded in Boston on this cold night.

The former district attorney of Middlesex County, Gerry Leone, has taken to the airwaves to talk about how great the efforts have been before this attack to get a Joint Terrorism Task Force going, how well it has been working together, how smooth the state and federal collaboration has been, and how the appropriate response will be to increase random surveillance. Governor Patrick has also echoed his perspective, talking about the need for increased vigilance and random bag searches on the MBTA, which we have covered, and opposed, before.

It won’t surprise regular readers to know that my perspective on this is a little different and more skeptical. Even while massively and systematically abusing the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement wasn’t able to prevent this attack. The amount of data collected through warrantless electronic means by the centers Leone is talking about has been vast, and none of it, none of it, has thwarted a terrorist attack. Now, once again, they have failed us all.

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The IRS Is Up In All Of Your Email, Warrantlessly; but Fret Not, Peons, It Is For Your Own Good

What kind of hippy would object to spending half of our taxes on war anyways?

What kind of hippy would object to spending half of our taxes on war anyways?

The ACLU reported on Wednesday that the IRS may be reading Americans’ emails without a warrant, because all Americans are now terrorists tax evasion is just like terrorism look because they can OK jeez you people with all your Constitution this and Constitution that shut up already!

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Close the Fusion Centers, Free the American People

leo_reynolds_spy_modified

[Artwork adapted slightly from Leo Reynolds on Flickr]

After the 9/11 attacks, a traumatized nation considered whether the attacks could have been thwarted by coordinating intelligence-gathering better between the FBI and CIA. From that impulse grew the fusion centers, of which there are now at least 72 77 86 across the country. Us lucky SOBs here in Massachusetts get two, the Boston Regional Intelligence Center at One Schroeder Plaza, Roxbury, MA 02120 and the Commonwealth Fusion Center at 124 Acton Street, Maynard, MA 01754. The idea was that they would be able to thwart terrorist attacks before they occur, by gathering representatives from different agencies, and in some cases the military and the private sector, together to report on “suspicious activity”. In practice, it has not worked.

Thing is, actual terrorists are relatively thin on the ground. A network of 72 77 86 fusion centers might handle three genuine cases of terrorism between them in any given year. That’s not enough to enable each fusion center to show that it’s doing anything at all. What’s a good bureaucrat to do?

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