Building on work by Christopher Soghoian, local data visualization expert MC McGrath has come up with a fascinating exploration of the network of firms and agencies supporting the major electronic surveillance programs run by NSA and GCHQ, using data scraped from the individual LinkedIn profiles of people advertising their expertise in those particular programs.
To explore just one tiny corner of this visualization, the NSA has a program called “DISHFIRE” which collects SMS messages. The SMS messages of suspected terrorists? Bless your heart, no! Everybody’s SMS messages. The visualization makes clear that every branch of the military draws on people with DISHFIRE expertise, and that certain private companies appear to do so too – DC area-based companies with anodyne names like L-3 Communications (“Our products and services play a critical role in the protection and defense of freedoms worldwide”) Six3 Systems (“High quality Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Counterterrorism solutions”), and PiccoTek (“Uniquely talented people with the right “can do” attitude”).
I’m glad they’re so positive about their work. How devastating it would be if the employees of these firms raking in vast quantities of tax dollars in exchange for smoothing the broad downward path toward turnkey tyranny, felt, in unguarded moments, a crawling sense of unease. Trawling through their profiles, it’s easy to find a certain defensiveness in tone – they’re saving “countless lives everyday“? Really?
Most of the people who list this program in their LinkedIn profiles are or have been in Afghanistan, a country we never should have invaded, and which we’re still in thirteen long years later in America’s longest ever war. If it were me, maybe I’d have to believe that I was “saving countless lives” in order to make it seem worth while.
And so they beaver away, in Virginia and Afghanistan and many other places, devising more and more refined technological solutions to the problem of detecting anti-American sentiments people are texting to one another; and it seems impossible to have us stand back and look at whether it is truly productive to expend so much energy squashing – sometimes in a very literal way – every hint of dissent.
…But in matters of vital importance – meaning, in effect, war and police espionage – the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated. The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand. In so far as scientific research still continues, this is its subject matter. The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with real ordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is chemist, physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life. Orwell, 1984.
Listen. The NSA’s purpose is very simple. It’s not to thwart terrorist attacks. It’s to buttress empire, over there, and, through use of the exact same tools developed to “thwart terrorism”, over here and in our towns and schools as well. The money flows towards them, and towards their work of destruction; and is sucked away from our vulnerable, our poor, our schools and our towns. Our own ability to voice sentiments opposing the decisions of the American government, or to enjoy due process protections before being deprived of life or liberty, look increasingly like localized exceptions to a different and worse rule we have been imposing on the rest of the world, and now also on various categories of people deemed unacceptable here at home.
So I’ll say this now: Friends don’t let friends support the NSA, its associated agencies or its nexus of security firms that feed off of and sustain it. If you know people who work for them, help them find a better line of work. They have better things to do with their lives, and it is not yet too late. We are already working with former intelligence people who have grown disenchanted with what their country asked them to do, and there are a thousand Snowdens waiting in the wings.
Help them. Join us. Support our movement. Spend your time really “protecting and defending” the freedom of your neighbors and fellow people, instead of the revenues of a machine that profits directly every single time the Constitution is violated by an unwarranted intrusion on our lives.
May we all, one day, be left in peace – peace here, abroad, and with each other.