You Can’t Hide From These Prying Eyes

by Walter Brasch

     The government’s knowledge of the lives of individuals is little more than the equivalent to a children’s coloring book compared to the library that private companies have on everyone.

     Doubt that? Just open your mail any day; chances are good you’ll have more junk mail-the corporations prefer to call it “direct mail”-than anything else. Check your email; if you’re not being spammed hourly, you are probably one of the few people in the U.S. who is living in an underground bomb shelter with no access to the outside world.

     And don’t complain. You caused this.

     Americans routinely fill out myriad forms that ask all kinds of personal information. Buy an appliance-or just about anything-and some database company learns not just the name, address, and where and when the customer bought that item, but also family income, what pets the family has, and the family’s hobbies. Some “warranty” cards ask more than five dozen questions, the data coded and stored on computers accessible by junk mail advertisers.

     Although the data helps companies notify customers about product re-calls or new products, most Americans don’t know they aren’t required to fill out the cards to get warranty protection.

Answer your telephone and respond to someone who claims to be from a “marketing survey company,” and dozens of offers will soon be yours to explore.

     The marketing departments of the mass media use databases not only to identify potential subscribers, but also to identify the demographics of their own readers and viewers to potential advertisers.

     The first thing scanned at registers in most supermarkets, department stores, discount stores, drug stores, and chain stores of all kinds is the bar-coded membership card that alerts a computer to record and analyze inventory, and track each purchase a customer makes. These cards lure customers to believe they are getting special deals in exchange for giving up their privacy. At its best, it may mean special coupons from manufacturers. At its worst, it means the store sells the data to a health insurance company that raises rates because it determines the customer bought too many bags of potato chips.

     With the ubiquitous use of computers, every person who ever bought anything online, or even searched for anything online-product or information-can now be identified, their web addresses stored for use in target marketing campaigns.

     Microtargeting, essentially vacuuming every piece of data about every person, is what allows corporations, marketing departments, and sales people to find specific groups of people to add to direct mail and telemarketing campaigns.

     Certain groups won’t sell their membership lists; others, including most U.S. colleges, are all too happy to get a few hundred dollars by supplying names and demographic details to the marketing companies.

     The Republicans, using a program they labeled Voter Vault, mastered the use of the technology to give them the tools they needed to reach donors and score decisive “get out the vote” strategies in 2002 and 2004 elections. So sophisticated had been the program that they could individually pitch every household with a message crafted to that family.

     By 2006, having lost two consecutive presidential elections and having been the minority party for a decade, the Democrats caught up, creating first DataMart and then Data Warehouse.

     Two years later, all candidates for presidential office had developed and used databases, with the staff of Barack Obama having the greatest technological skill not only to use social media to get its message to the people, but also to be able to specifically target even the narrowest demographics with specific messages.

     Legally, anyone can obtain voluminous data about anyone who has ever registered to vote, owned property, sued, been sued, arrested, served in the military, been married or divorced, licensed by any governmental agency, or attended a public school. The databases are what help reporters develop stories, some exposing corrupt governmental and business practices.

     Almost every American consumer now has a Fair Isaac score. The scores are based upon dozens of reports about a person’s credit history, and are available to Equifax, Experian, and Trans-Union, the three major credit reporting companies. FICO reports that 90 percent of the largest U.S. banks use the Fair Isaac scores. About three-fourth of credit reports contain errors, with about one-fourth of all credit reports containing significant errors that could result in denial of credit, according to the California Public Interest Research Group.

     If you’re using any social medium or search engine-Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Google, Pinterest, or anything that is composed not of carbon atoms but bits and bytes-you have been identified.

     If my publisher wished to target audiences for my current book, Fracking Pennsylvania, she might first get a direct mail list of all environmentalists. Then a sub-set of environmentalists in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, she might also want a tighter list, so she asks for Pennsylvania environmentalists who have purchased at least five books in the past year. She could ask the direct marketing company to drill down even further and get those in select ZIP codes who have a certain income range and are members of certain societies. I suppose it’s possible to target Pennsylvania environmentalists who live in the Marcellus Shale who bought at least five books last year, have a college degree and incomes above $45,000, and drive red convertibles on Sundays. A list of all Pennsylvanians might be a few cents a name; a highly targeted list could be $1 a name.

     You’ve been warned.

       Dr. Brasch’s current book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is available atamazon.com, or your local bookstore.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Totalitarian State

by Walter Brasch

It makes no difference if Edward Snowden, who had fled to Hong Kong and revealed that the American government was spying upon American citizens, is a traitor or a hero.

Intelligence agencies from China, Russia, England, Israel, and maybe even Lichtenstein, probably already know that the National Security Administration (NSA) is collecting data of all the phone calls and emails of Americans, and linking them to conversations with foreign nationals. What is unsettling is that everything the NSA is doing is legal. Secret federal courts can issue secret warrants to agencies that maintain secret files.

Americans who have been paying attention should also know that electronic spying-it sounds better when the government says it’s data mining to prevent terrorism-has been going on at least a decade.

In 2002, the federal government disclosed Operation TIPS, the Terrorist Information and Prevention System. Dreamed up within the Department of Justice, the “spy on your mommy” nationwide program would have given, according to the Department of Justice, “millions of American truckers, letter carriers, train conductors, ship captains, utility employees, and others a formal way to report suspicious terrorist activity.” When the U.S. Postal Service refused to participate in this witch hunt, the program failed.

About the time the Department of Justice was developing TIPS, the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations developed TALON, the Threat and Local Observation Notice System. Like TIPS, TALON’s purpose was to encourage “civilians and military personnel to report on activities they consider suspicious.” The reports were “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities,” and likely to be “fragmented and incomplete,” according to a classified memo written in May 2003 by Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense. These unverified tips were then sent by “automated information systems or via e-mail attachment” to the secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) office, created in December 2002, and added to an equally super secret database.

Other than the problem of Defense staff spending significant time and money on the collection and analysis of massive amounts of unverified and mostly useless data, not only wasn’t that data purged within 90 days, as promised, but subsequent investigations revealed the Department of Defense had been collecting data on persons who opposed the war in Iraq but posed no threat to national security.

More sinister than TIPS and TALON was TIAP, the Total Information Awareness Program to create an “ultra-large-scale” database of databases about individuals. The program was designed to develop a file on every American. That program was never fully funded, apparently because even Congress didn’t want the government spying on whatever it is that Congress does.

However, parts of discredited programs were quickly moved into classified status, with “need to know” stamped all over them, and then fused into new programs. Next up: the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC). The program, under the CIA but with the input from several other federal agencies, was designed to “merge and analyze terrorist-related information collected domestically and abroad in order to form the most comprehensive possible threat picture.”

However, the inspector general of the Department of Justice revealed the program “could not ensure that the information in that database was complete and accurate.” It noted conflicting information, that some on the list were noted as “armed and dangerous” but given the lowest rating, while others with little or no history of violence were given higher ratings. The report was especially critical of the handling of data-“A lack of sufficient training, oversight and general management of the call screeners has left the activities of the call center vulnerable to procedural errors, poor data entry and untimely responses to callers.”

MATRIX, the name imposed by the acronym-happy government for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, was was finally shut down in April 2005 when the federal government reluctantly stopped its funding. MATRIX was created to give local and state governments a common database that merged government and private records. Like private credit reports, MATRIX included data that was incomplete or completely wrong. Seisint, the private company that Congress showered millions of dollars upon, also collected data about ethnicity, meal requirements, and telephone calling records. Interestingly, MATRIX didn’t include records of gun ownership, which could be a far more important indicator to determine possible terrorism potential than the color of eyes of an individual, based upon driver’s license information.

The Center for Dynamic Data Analysis developed software and machine-learning algorithms that to monitor the news media, blogs, web sites, and possibly internet messages for any negative views about the United States and its leaders. The data mining program, according to the government, was also to be used “to identify members of groups who want to form a demonstration or oppose a particular event or government policy,” Publically, the government claimed only articles published by non-American media would be captured and then mined. Even if  accurate-President George W. Bush had sworn that the U.S. wasn’t routinely monitoring conversations between Americans, only to later admit he wasn’t telling the truth-numerous foreign publications include articles and RSS news feeds from American publications.

In March 2003, all airlines were required to provide U. S. Customs with electronic data of their passengers’ personal information, including ethnicity and meal requirements. After bullying 25 European Union nations, the U.S. got agreements that would yield personal data in 34 categories on every passenger who flies into or out of the United States. Three years later, the European Court of Justice ruled that the agreement between the 25-nation EU and the United States was illegal, and ordered member nations not to supply data to the United States unless changes to protect citizen rights and privacy were enacted.

The secret “No-Fly” list of March 2006 contained about 44,000 names, among them hundreds of individuals who opposed the Bush-Cheney Administration or the war in Iraq.

The federal government claims the NSA sweep has already stopped 50 potential terrorist activities. Two questions must be asked. First, could these activities had been stopped, using traditional law enforcement procedures that have already stopped hundreds of other possible terrorist events, if there was not massive surveillance? And, second, how do we even know that 50 events were stopped? After all, are we just supposed to trust the word of a government that has been acting more like a totalitarian state than a constitutional republic?

[Dr. Brasch’s book, America’s Unpatriotic Acts, was the first major book to catalogue and then destroy the government’s belief that the PATRIOTIC Act was necessary to protect American security at the expense of the Bill of Rights. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks into the health, environmental, and economic effects of fracking. The book is available at local book stores and amazon.com]

The Corporate States of Amerika

The arrests of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning are canaries in the mine:  warnings of what may be to come after indefinite detention has been legalized in the U.S.  President Obama promised to end Gimo, torture and re-establish democratic principles.  He has done nothing but expand the authoritarian principles begun under George W. Bush.  Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks have been under constant assault by the government since they had the gall to expose evil doers.  Instead of those actually guilty of crimes going to prison they did.  Manning was tortured and held in solitary confinement for long periods.  He is finally getting his day in court and making the most of it.

What will happen to those arrested in the future is clear:  no day in court.  No chance to publicly decry those who are or have abused their power.  Instead the abuse of power will be magnified under the NDAA authorization for the military to detain indefinitely anyone deemed an enemy combatant.

The Occupy movement scared the powers that be shitless.  Masses of Americans taking to the streets and awakening the rest of the 99% is dangerous and tantamount to treason.  We ceased being the United States of America and are now The Corporate States of Amerika and if you had any doubt Barack Obama proved it when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act.  He gives lip service to democratic principles but, as with all politicians, look at what he does and not what he says.

Corporate Amerika has a stranglehold on power and they aren’t ready to give up an iota of it to the people.  Should you decide the 1% shouldn’t be slashing programs for the people, stealing our homes, jobs, retirements and savings you will be arrested, detained and…disappear.  Camp out at an Occupy location, speak out against the tyranny, march against them or anything they deem as against their interest and their Dear Leader will label you an enemy combatant.  

This new legislation completes a set of tyrannical moves over thirty years to transfer control of our nation, our military and our wealth to those at the top.  It has been masterful.  Due to a previous Defense Authorization bill martial law can be declared in the event of a “crisis.”  It is up to the President to determine if, for example, a massive march against Wall Street rises to that level.  Martial law may then be declared and all of those involved arrested as enemy combatants and sent to prison camps.  This would be the start of an American civil war:  all of us versus the corporate powers.

What will you do about it?  Now.