Much has been said about the NSA illegal spying activities revealed by Edward Snowden. And in light of those revelations, most of the criticism or concerns have been related to the government; is it overreaching? Does it really need to collect all that data in the name of national security? Are there enough safeguards in place to protect privacy rights and prevent abuses?
All along I, and others, have been arguing that what we should really be concerned about is whether powerful corporatist interests have been able to capture government institutions in order to turn them into self-serving tools of oppression and exploitation in the name of profits. Because if that were to be the case, then what we are talking about is proto-fascism.
I've also argued that one of the most effective mechanisms for the corporatist takeover of our government institutions is the revolving door of corruption, where public servants are enticed to act in the interests of their eventual corporate paymasters. But what I find really terrifying is when one realizes that when it comes to the type of graft, of legalized bribery that has engulfed our entire system, there is one critical area of government that would represent the most danger to the citizenry, and that is the national security apparatus, including agencies like the CIA, the FBI, Department of Defense, and even local police departments.
A new report by a corporate watch group sheds some light on what happens when the profit motive of powerful corporations merge with the financial interests of individual members of the national security apparatus.
Here's how the Los angeles Times describes the report in a recent article: Corporations increasingly spying on nonprofits, group says.
Corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups they view as potential threats with little fear of retribution, according to a new report by a corporate watchdog group.
The emphasis is mine
The large companies employ former Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, FBI, military and police officers to monitor and in some cases infiltrate groups that have been critical of them, according to the report by Essential Information, which was founded by Ralph Nader in the 1980s.
"Many different types of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing-home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups," the report said.
Now, before I continue, let me state right now what I find truly terrifying about this situation... If people have been concerned about potential abuses by the government when it comes to illegal surveillance being performed by the NSA and other agencies, imagine the implications of having the dossiers being constructed right now on each one of us being shared with shadowy, unaccountable, mostly unregulated, private/corporate security companies staffed by former CIA, NSA, military, and police departments' agents who regularly engage in all kinds of unethical and even criminal activity with total impunity?
What kind of dangers do activists face if they happen to be targeted by corporations who see them as representing a grave threat to their bottom lines? Would they stop at only planting evidence, engaging in PsyOps, character assassination, misinformation, or economic ruin? What other "solutions" to deal with pesky activists could former CIA, FBI, or military personnel could come up with?
I actually read the 54-page report, and although the author (Gary Ruskin) admits that he believes the revelations may just be "the tip of the tip of the iceberg," what he was able to uncover/document is alarming enough.
Let's take for example the case of a corporate private security agency working for Bank of America receiving information from the U.S. Justice Department to help in targeting WikiLeaks. In 2010 Julian Assange, editor-in-chief (at the time) of WikiLeaks announced he was going to release information related to corruption at Bank of America. According to the report, HBGary Federal, a computer security firm, along with two other firms (Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies) presented a joint proposal to Hunton & Williams, a powerful law firm representing Bank of America.
Some of the "highly unethical and/or illegal tactics," according to the report, included: the spreading of disinformation about WikiLeaks; the submission of forged documents to WikiLeaks with the intention to later exposing them as false; executing cyber attacks on WikiLeaks; a threat to ruin the career of journalist Glenn Greenwald, if he continued to support WikiLeaks.
The U.S. Department of Justice appears to have played a key role in these events. The Tech Herald, reported that “Hunton and Williams were recommended to Bank of America’s general counsel by the Department of Justice, according to the email chain viewed by The Herald." If this is true, it raises the question of whether the Justice Department assisted Bank of America in its battle against WikiLeaks, and how much Justice Department officials knew of and even supported corporate espionage against WikiLeaks and its allies.
Here's one other thing I find very disturbing about these revelations... Many of these large corporations are hiring third-party security companies staffed with former (and incredibly, sometimes active) Secret Service, CIA agents, FBI agents, military and police officers. Many of these agencies are routinely engaging in outright illegal activities with total impunity. Some of these people are very high-ranking members of national security government agencies.
One of the troubling aspects of recent corporate espionage against nonprofits is the use of current and former police, current government contractors, and former CIA, NSA, FBI, Secret Service and other law enforcement officers.
Even active-duty CIA operatives are allowed to sell their expertise to the highest bidder, "a policy that gives financial firms and hedge funds access to the nation's top-level intelligence talent," writes Eamon Javers. Little is known about the CIA's moonlighting policy, or which corporations have hired current CIA operatives..
And because this incestuous relationship between government security agencies and private spy companies there is no incentive to investigate wrongdoing...
Hiring former intelligence, military and law enforcement officials has its advantages. First, these officials may be able to use their status as a shield. For example, current law enforcement officials may be disinclined to investigate or prosecute former intelligence or law enforcement agents. They may be more likely to get a "pass" because of their government services. In effect, corporations are hiring "pass" and sometimes using it to conduct unethical or even illegal intelligence gathering against nonprofits.
And what are some of those unethical or illegal tactics? They include hacking into computer systems, illegally obtaining phone records, illegal wiretaps, phone voice mail hacking, theft of computers, disinformation, investigating the private lives of activists (including their spouses, and children) to gain leverage over them, blackmail, and the creation of false dossiers to discredit activists or whistleblower.
Now, think about that for a minute... Why are these "activists" or social justice groups being targeted? Well, they are being targeted because they are calling attention to abuses, to corruption, to unethical or illegal activities by corporations. And they are putting their necks out to protect the rest of us from the predations of the corporate state.
And how are they rewarded? By being infiltrated, investigated, maligned, discredited, blackmailed, labeled as terrorist, harassed.
Folks, this is very serious. This is the anatomy of the latest version of fascism. Once people (activists) are branded as dangerous, terrorists, miscreants, it is really not that hard to imagine some of these shadowy corporate spying organizations targeting them for violence or even assassinations.
Many people have been warning about this for years. I think the NSA revelations by Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers as well as the activities of hacktivists has given us a glimpse at the machinations of the corporate state, but I agree with the author of the report; I think we've just seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true nature of the system.
Here's what I wrote back in 2011 in my second diary: It's Official: A Corporatist Police State
The neo-fascist corporatist state has been putting into place a highly effective repressive regime under the veneer of security on the one hand, and technological advancement that are purportedly good for you.
Constitutional protections have been gutted.
Almost every single technological tool you are using is being used by the corporatist police state to enslave you. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, etc., Yahoo mail, etc., by themselves are just technology tools and services, and are not inherently bad. But the problem is that with your acquiescence (even if you don't know it), they are mainly being used to enslave you further and further.
It's like a drug. These tools are put out there, and because of their convenience, and because they fulfill one of human beings strongest desires (connect with other, validation), millions and millions of people open themselves up and share all kinds of thoughts, photos, content, views, likes, dislikes, etc.
In the meantime, "somebody" is collecting every single piece of data being generated by you, and in turn that information is being sent up to the corporate masters, and to the government.
This information in turn is used to control you. Say something "wrong", and you are blacklisted from employment. Express a strong political view, and you are branded as a potential radical (or worst).
What many people trying to warn you about this situation are wanting to emphasize is that this structure, this government-corporate arrangement, is the embodiment of fascism; it is evil.
But the biggest challenge faced by those trying to warn us is that unfortunately, for many people to really understand the grave danger we're under, they would actually have to experience having their own doors (or a family member or friend) battered down in the middle of the night, hand-cuffed, hooded, and taken away to God-knows where to be beaten or tortured.
The other day I read an article by Chris Hedges where he talks about how an entire society could fall victim of collective self-delusion: Shielding a Flickering Flame
Edelman noted the collective self-delusion that prohibited the Jews in the ghetto—as it prohibits us—from facing their fate, even as the transports were taking thousands daily to the Nazi death camp Treblinka. The Germans handed out oblong, brown loaves of rye bread to those lining up outside the trains. Those clutching the loaves, desperately hungry and overjoyed with receiving the food, willingly climbed into the railway carriages. In 1942 the underground sent a spy to follow the trains. He returned to the ghetto and reported, in the words of Krall’s book, that “every day a freight train with people would pass that way [to Treblinka] and return empty, but food supplies were never sent there.” His account was written up in the underground ghetto newspaper, but, as Edelman remarked, “nobody believed it.” “ ‘Have you gone insane?’ people would say when we were trying to convince them that they were not being taken to work,” Edelman remembered. “ ‘Would they be sending us to death with bread? So much bread would be wasted!’ ”
Tonight, I watched a very interesting Democracy Now!
segment: "Hannah Arendt" Revisits Fiery Debate over German-Jewish Theorist’s Coverage of Eichmann Trial
In it, they talked about the term "the banality of evil," which was coined by political theorist Hannah Arendt. That also got me thinking; that is part of the problem... When people think about evil-doers they expect to see "monsters," jack-booted thugs breaking down doors to whisk people away.
But in reality, as corporate state fascism continues to creep in, those doing the spying on peaceful activists, those doing the infiltration of their groups, and illegally breaking in into their offices, and the infiltrations, and the planting of false evidence, and the spreading of misinformation, and the stealing of computers, and the blackmailing, could look just like your average police officer, or FBI or CIA agent... And if or when things escalate to other "tactics," these folks would look the same: banal.
Just average bureaucrats doing their jobs... For Bank of America, or Wal-mart, or JPMorgan Chase, or BP, Chevron, or many of the other corporations that have captured our system government.
And what are the consequences of this arrangement, this capture of the government by corporatist cartels? Here's how author and scholar Henry Giroux described it during a recent interview with Bill Moyers when he talks about our current system which he calls casino capitalism and zombie politics:
The emphasis is mine
...It believes that social bonds not driven by market values are basically bonds that we should find despicable. But even worse, in this ethic, the market has colonized pleasure in such a way that violence in many ways seems to be the only way left that people can actually experience pleasure whether it's in the popular medium, whether it's in the way in which we militarize local police to become SWAT teams that actually will break up poker games now in full gear or give away surplus material, equipment to a place like Ohio State University, who got an armored tank.
I mean, I guess-- I'm wondering what does it mean when you're on a campus and you see an armored tank, you know, by the university police? I mean, this is-- everything is a war zone. You know, Senator Graham--when Lindsey Graham, he said-- in talking about the terrorist laws, you know these horrible laws that are being put into place in which Americans can be captured, they can be killed and, you know--the kill list all of this, he basically says, "Everybody's a potential terrorist."
I mean, so that what happens here is that this notion of fear and this fear around the notion of security that is simply about protecting yourself, not about social security, not about protecting the commons, not about protecting the environment, turns everybody into a potential enemy. I mean, we cannot mediate our relationships it seems any longer in this culture in ways in which we would suggest and adhere to the notion that justice is a matter of caring for the other, that compassion matters.
We need to stop being incredulous about the true evil nature of this system. Only when we come to terms with it we will be able to start defining steps necessary to fix it.
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