I’ve always been skeptical of things I read but probably never more than I am today after years of reading 10’s of thousands of articles and trying to keep my ear to the ground and watch events unfold around the world.
So I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t skeptical of Edward Snowden. If he is legit than he may be one of the biggest heroes of this century. I don’t know, and like many things I may never know for sure. I can only hope that more and more details unfold so that even if you can’t know for sure you can draw accurate conclusions based on what you do know as fact.
This entire NSA leak seems to be the biggest story around, although to be fair it’s hard for me to accurately gauge that because I don’t listen to the radio or have cable, but from what I can see even from mainstream sources it’s pretty big as well it should be. But why now? I posted in early 2008 about ECHELON stating
” monitors every cell phone call, fax, email, Instant Message, land line call, radio, satellite transmission, and short wave radio transmission on the planet. Proof that this whole domestic spying thing is nothing new.”
So if this was blatantly obvious to me more than 5 years ago, when I was much less well informed how was this not a story? In the now defunct link in that post it was from a history channel show about Echelon so it wasn’t as though people hadn’t heard about the NSA and their capabilities. This story was decades old in 2008 even so why now 5 years later is it so startling for people? I’m genuinely curious why now? Why are people who meticulously publicly document their entire lives on facebook and twitter upset that the government has a backdoor to the servers?
Someone on the forum (truthinourtime.com/forum) mentioned that perhaps Barack’s handlers are upset with him for not invading Iran and Syria so they roll out scandal after scandal until he caves into them. I think this is at least plausible and makes as much sense as anything else I could come up with.
I can’t see the very secretive very quiet NSA enjoying the spotlight though. Unless of course like any Czarist Russia the bolsheviks aim to completely unsettle the current order and implement their own. I think this is a possibility to since when people are in chaos for any length of time they will seek order even if the order isn’t of an ideal nature. I hold no illusion that any branch of the government gives a damn about the Constitution but it is nonetheless a thorn in their side. The only reason we don’t have holocaust denial laws or people brought up on charges of racist speech is the 1st amendment and the sole reason we have any firearms is the 2nd amendment. Yes they’re both in tatters and incrementally destroyed year after year but perhaps we’re in the final stages where they will move from incrementalism to much faster advancement. That is a topic for another post hopefully another day.
Until then, stay vigilant. Don’t cut your nose off to spite your face but remember that things aren’t always how they seem. If the NYT is running with a story rest assured they have their own motives.
Stay cognizant of this, if you are around your cell phone, realize that they could be recording you even if your phone is off! Don’t take chances if you need to discuss things in private.
Cell phone users, beware. The FBI can listen to everything you say, even when the cell phone is turned off. A recent court ruling in a case against the Genovese crime family revealed that the FBI has the ability from a remote location to activate a cell phone and turn its microphone into a listening device that transmits to an FBI listening post, a method known as a “roving bug.” Experts say the only way to defeat it is to remove the cell phone battery. “The FBI can access cell phones and modify them remotely without ever having to physically handle them,” James Atkinson, a counterintelligence security consultant, told ABC News. “Any recently manufactured cell phone has a built-in tracking device, which can allow eavesdroppers to pinpoint someone’s location to within just a few feet,” he added. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Federal Source to ABC News: We Know Who You’re Calling FBI Secret Probes: 3,501 Targets in the U.S. Click Here to Check Out the Latest Brian Ross Investigates Webcast on CIA Secret Prisons According to the recent court ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan, “The device functioned whether the phone was powered on or off, intercepting conversations within its range wherever it happened to be.” The court ruling denied motions by 10 defendants to suppress the conversations obtained by “roving bugs” on the phones of John Ardito, a high-ranking member of the family, and Peter Peluso, an attorney and close associate of Ardito, who later cooperated with the government. The “roving bugs” were approved by a judge after the more conventional bugs planted at specified locations were discovered by members of the crime family, who then started to conduct their business dealings in several additional locations, including more restaurants, cars, a doctor’s office and public streets. “The courts have given law enforcement a blank check for surveillance,” Richard Rehbock, attorney for defendant John Ardito, told ABC News. Judge Kaplan’s ruling said otherwise. “While a mobile device makes interception easier and less costly to accomplish than a stationary one, this does not mean that it implicated new or different privacy concerns.” He continued, “It simply dispenses with the need for repeated installations and surreptitious entries into buildings. It does not invade zones of privacy that the government could not reach by more conventional means.” But Rehbock disagrees. “Big Brother is upon us…1984 happened a long time ago,” he said, referring to the George Orwell futuristic novel “1984,” which described a society whose members were closely watched by those in power and was published in 1949. The FBI maintains the methods used in its investigation of the Genovese family are within the law. “The FBI does not discuss sensitive surveillance techniques other than to emphasize that any electronic surveillance is done pursuant to a court order and ongoing judicial scrutiny,” Agent Jim Margolin told ABC News.
The U.S. cable networks won’t be covering this one tonight (not accurately, anyway), but Trapwire is making the rounds on social media today—it reportedly became a Trending hashtag on Twitter earlier in the day.
Trapwire is the name of a program revealed in the latest Wikileaks bonanza—it is the mother of all leaks, by the way. Trapwire would make something like disclosure of UFO contact or imminent failure of a major U.S. bank fairly boring news by comparison.
And the ambitious techno-fascists behind Trapwire seem to be quite disappointed that word is getting out so swiftly; the Wikileaks web site is reportedly sustaining 10GB worth of DDoS attacks each second, which is massive.
Anyway, here’s what Trapwire is, according to Russian-state owned media network RT (apologies for citing “foreign media”… if we had a free press, I’d be citing something published here by an American media conglomerate): “Former senior intelligence officials have created a detailed surveillance system more accurate than modern facial recognition technology—and have installed it across the U.S. under the radar of most Americans, according to emails hacked by Anonymous.
Every few seconds, data picked up at surveillance points in major cities and landmarks across the United States are recorded digitally on the spot, then encrypted and instantaneously delivered to a fortified central database center at an undisclosed location to be aggregated with other intelligence. It’s part of a program called TrapWire and it’s the brainchild of the Abraxas, a Northern Virginia company staffed with elite from America’s intelligence community.
The employee roster at Arbaxas reads like a who’s who of agents once with the Pentagon, CIA and other government entities according to their public LinkedIn profiles, and the corporation’s ties are assumed to go deeper than even documented. The details on Abraxas and, to an even greater extent TrapWire, are scarce, however, and not without reason. For a program touted as a tool to thwart terrorism and monitor activity meant to be under wraps, its understandable that Abraxas would want the program’s public presence to be relatively limited. But thanks to last year’s hack of the Strategic Forecasting intelligence agency, or Stratfor, all of that is quickly changing.”
So: those spooky new “circular” dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city—they aren’t just passively monitoring. They’re plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition.
In related news, the Obama administration is fighting in federal court this week for the ability to imprison American citizens under NDAA’s indefinite detention provisions—and anyone else—without charge or trial, on suspicion alone.
So we have a widespread network of surveillance cameras across America monitoring us and reporting suspicious activity back to a centralized analysis center, mixed in with the ability to imprison people via military force on the basis of suspicious activity alone. I don’t see how that could possibly go wrong. Nope, not at all. We all know the government, and algorithmic computer programs, never make mistakes.
Here’s what is also so disturbing about this whole NDAA business: “This past week’s hearing was even more terrifying. Government attorneys again, in this hearing, presented no evidence to support their position and brought forth no witnesses. Most incredibly, Obama’s attorneys refused to assure the court, when questioned, that the NDAA’s section 1021 – the provision that permits reporters and others who have not committed crimes to be detained without trial – has not been applied by the U.S. government anywhere in the world after Judge Forrest’s injunction. In other words, they were telling a U.S. federal judge that they could not, or would not, state whether Obama’s government had complied with the legal injunction that she had laid down before them. To this, Judge Forrest responded that if the provision had indeed been applied, the United States government would be in contempt of court.”
If none of this bothers you, please don’t follow me on Twitter, because nothing I report on will be of interest to you. Go back to watching the television news network of your choice, where you will hear about Romney’s latest campaign ads, and whether Obamacare will increase the cost of delivery pizza by 14 to 16 cents.
If Facebook were a country, a conceit that founder Mark Zuckerberg has entertained in public, its 900 million members would make it the third largest in the world.
It would far outstrip any regime past or present in how intimately it records the lives of its citizens. Private conversations, family photos, and records of road trips, births, marriages, and deaths all stream into the company’s servers and lodge there. Facebook has collected the most extensive data set ever assembled on human social behavior. Some of your personal information is probably part of it.
And yet, even as Facebook has embedded itself into modern life, it hasn’t actually done that much with what it knows about us. Now that the company has gone public, the pressure to develop new sources of profit (see “The Facebook Fallacy“) is likely to force it to do more with its hoard of information. That stash of data looms like an oversize shadow over what today is a modest online advertising business, worrying privacy-conscious Web users (see “Few Privacy Regulations Inhibit Facebook”) and rivals such as Google. Everyone has a feeling that this unprecedented resource will yield something big, but nobody knows quite what.
Heading Facebook’s effort to figure out what can be learned from all our data is Cameron Marlow, a tall 35-year-old who until recently sat a few feet away from Zuckerberg. The group Marlow runs has escaped the public attention that dogs Facebook’s founders and the more headline-grabbing features of its business. Known internally as the Data Science Team, it is a kind of Bell Labs for the social-networking age. The group has 12 researchers—but is expected to double in size this year. They apply math, programming skills, and social science to mine our data for insights that they hope will advance Facebook’s business and social science at large. Whereas other analysts at the company focus on information related to specific online activities, Marlow’s team can swim in practically the entire ocean of personal data that Facebook maintains. Of all the people at Facebook, perhaps even including the company’s leaders, these researchers have the best chance of discovering what can really be learned when so much personal information is compiled in one place.
Facebook has all this information because it has found ingenious ways to collect data as people socialize. Users fill out profiles with their age, gender, and e-mail address; some people also give additional details, such as their relationship status and mobile-phone number. A redesign last fall introduced profile pages in the form of time lines that invite people to add historical information such as places they have lived and worked. Messages and photos shared on the site are often tagged with a precise location, and in the last two years Facebook has begun to track activity elsewhere on the Internet, using an addictive invention called the “Like” button. It appears on apps and websites outside Facebook and allows people to indicate with a click that they are interested in a brand, product, or piece of digital content.
Since last fall, Facebook has also been able to collect data on users’ online lives beyond its borders automatically: in certain apps or websites, when users listen to a song or read a news article, the information is passed along to Facebook, even if no one clicks “Like.” Within the feature’s first five months, Facebook catalogued more than five billion instances of people listening to songs online. Combine that kind of information with a map of the social connections Facebook’s users make on the site, and you have an incredibly rich record of their lives and interactions.
“This is the first time the world has seen this scale and quality of data about human communication,” Marlow says with a characteristically serious gaze before breaking into a smile at the thought of what he can do with the data. For one thing, Marlow is confident that exploring this resource will revolutionize the scientific understanding of why people behave as they do. His team can also help Facebook influence our social behavior for its own benefit and that of its advertisers. This work may even help Facebook invent entirely new ways to make money.
Marlow eschews the collegiate programmer style of Zuckerberg and many others at Facebook, wearing a dress shirt with his jeans rather than a hoodie or T-shirt. Meeting me shortly before the company’s initial public offering in May, in a conference room adorned with a six-foot caricature of his boss’s dog spray-painted on its glass wall, he comes across more like a young professor than a student. He might have become one had he not realized early in his career that Web companies would yield the juiciest data about human interactions.
In 2001, undertaking a PhD at MIT’s Media Lab, Marlow created a site called Blogdex that automatically listed the most “contagious” information spreading on weblogs. Although it was just a research project, it soon became so popular that Marlow’s servers crashed. Launched just as blogs were exploding into the popular consciousness and becoming so numerous that Web users felt overwhelmed with information, it prefigured later aggregator sites such as Digg and Reddit. But Marlow didn’t build it just to help Web users track what was popular online. Blogdex was intended as a scientific instrument to uncover the social networks forming on the Web and study how they spread ideas. Marlow went on to Yahoo’s research labs to study online socializing for two years. In 2007 he joined Facebook, which he considers the world’s most powerful instrument for studying human society. “For the first time,” Marlow says, “we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behavior at a very fine level that we’ve never been able to see before but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to.”
Marlow’s team works with managers across Facebook to find patterns that they might make use of. For instance, they study how a new feature spreads among the social network’s users. They have helped Facebook identify users you may know but haven’t “friended,” and recognize those you may want to designate mere “acquaintances” in order to make their updates less prominent. Yet the group is an odd fit inside a company where software engineers are rock stars who live by the mantra “Move fast and break things.” Lunch with the data team has the feel of a grad-student gathering at a top school; the typical member of the group joined fresh from a PhD or junior academic position and prefers to talk about advancing social science than about Facebook as a product or company. Several members of the team have training in sociology or social psychology, while others began in computer science and started using it to study human behavior. They are free to use some of their time, and Facebook’s data, to probe the basic patterns and motivations of human behavior and to publish the results in academic journals—much as Bell Labs researchers advanced both AT&T’s technologies and the study of fundamental physics.
It may seem strange that an eight-year-old company without a proven business model bothers to support a team with such an academic bent, but Marlow says it makes sense. “The biggest challenges Facebook has to solve are the same challenges that social science has,” he says. Those challenges include understanding why some ideas or fashions spread from a few individuals to become universal and others don’t, or to what extent a person’s future actions are a product of past communication with friends. Publishing results and collaborating with university researchers will lead to findings that help Facebook improve its products, he adds.
For one example of how Facebook can serve as a proxy for examining society at large, consider a recent study of the notion that any person on the globe is just six degrees of separation from any other. The best-known real-world study, in 1967, involved a few hundred people trying to send postcards to a particular Boston stockholder. Facebook’s version, conducted in collaboration with researchers from the University of Milan, involved the entire social network as of May 2011, which amounted to more than 10 percent of the world’s population. Analyzing the 69 billion friend connections among those 721 million people showed that the world is smaller than we thought: four intermediary friends are usually enough to introduce anyone to a random stranger. “When considering another person in the world, a friend of your friend knows a friend of their friend, on average,” the technical paper pithily concluded. That result may not extend to everyone on the planet, but there’s good reason to believe that it and other findings from the Data Science Team are true to life outside Facebook. Last year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 93 percent of Facebook friends had met in person. One of Marlow’s researchers has developed a way to calculate a country’s “gross national happiness” from its Facebook activity by logging the occurrence of words and phrases that signal positive or negative emotion. Gross national happiness fluctuates in a way that suggests the measure is accurate: it jumps during holidays and dips when popular public figures die. After a major earthquake in Chile in February 2010, the country’s score plummeted and took many months to return to normal. That event seemed to make the country as a whole more sympathetic when Japan suffered its own big earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011; while Chile’s gross national happiness dipped, the figure didn’t waver in any other countries tracked (Japan wasn’t among them). Adam Kramer, who created the index, says he intended it to show that Facebook’s data could provide cheap and accurate ways to track social trends—methods that could be useful to economists and other researchers.
Other work published by the group has more obvious utility for Facebook’s basic strategy, which involves encouraging us to make the site central to our lives and then using what it learns to sell ads. An early study looked at what types of updates from friends encourage newcomers to the network to add their own contributions. Right before Valentine’s Day this year a blog post from the Data Science Team listed the songs most popular with people who had recently signaled on Facebook that they had entered or left a relationship. It was a hint of the type of correlation that could help Facebook make useful predictions about users’ behavior—knowledge that could help it make better guesses about which ads you might be more or less open to at any given time. Perhaps people who have just left a relationship might be interested in an album of ballads, or perhaps no company should associate its brand with the flood of emotion attending the death of a friend. The most valuable online ads today are those displayed alongside certain Web searches, because the searchers are expressing precisely what they want. This is one reason why Google’s revenue is 10 times Facebook’s. But Facebook might eventually be able to guess what people want or don’t want even before they realize it.
Recently the Data Science Team has begun to use its unique position to experiment with the way Facebook works, tweaking the site—the way scientists might prod an ant’s nest—to see how users react. Eytan Bakshy, who joined Facebook last year after collaborating with Marlow as a PhD student at the University of Michigan, wanted to learn whether our actions on Facebook are mainly influenced by those of our close friends, who are likely to have similar tastes. That would shed light on the theory that our Facebook friends create an “echo chamber” that amplifies news and opinions we have already heard about. So he messed with how Facebook operated for a quarter of a billion users. Over a seven-week period, the 76 million links that those users shared with each other were logged. Then, on 219 million randomly chosen occasions, Facebook prevented someone from seeing a link shared by a friend. Hiding links this way created a control group so that Bakshy could assess how often people end up promoting the same links because they have similar information sources and interests.
He found that our close friends strongly sway which information we share, but overall their impact is dwarfed by the collective influence of numerous more distant contacts—what sociologists call “weak ties.” It is our diverse collection of weak ties that most powerfully determines what information we’re exposed to.
That study provides strong evidence against the idea that social networking creates harmful “filter bubbles,” to use activist Eli Pariser‘s term for the effects of tuning the information we receive to match our expectations. But the study also reveals the power Facebook has. “If [Facebook’s] News Feed is the thing that everyone sees and it controls how information is disseminated, it’s controlling how information is revealed to society, and it’s something we need to pay very close attention to,” Marlow says. He points out that his team helps Facebook understand what it is doing to society and publishes its findings to fulfill a public duty to transparency. Another recent study, which investigated which types of Facebook activity cause people to feel a greater sense of support from their friends, falls into the same category.
But Marlow speaks as an employee of a company that will prosper largely by catering to advertisers who want to control the flow of information between its users. And indeed, Bakshy is working with managers outside the Data Science Team to extract advertising-related findings from the results of experiments on social influence. “Advertisers and brands are a part of this network as well, so giving them some insight into how people are sharing the content they are producing is a very core part of the business model,” says Marlow.
Facebook told prospective investors before its IPO that people are 50 percent more likely to remember ads on the site if they’re visibly endorsed by a friend. Figuring out how influence works could make ads even more memorable or help Facebook find ways to induce more people to share or click on its ads.
Marlow says his team wants to divine the rules of online social life to understand what’s going on inside Facebook, not to develop ways to manipulate it. “Our goal is not to change the pattern of communication in society,” he says. “Our goal is to understand it so we can adapt our platform to give people the experience that they want.” But some of his team’s work and the attitudes of Facebook’s leaders show that the company is not above using its platform to tweak users’ behavior. Unlike academic social scientists, Facebook’s employees have a short path from an idea to an experiment on hundreds of millions of people.
In April, influenced in part by conversations over dinner with his med-student girlfriend (now his wife), Zuckerberg decided that he should use social influence within Facebook to increase organ donor registrations. Users were given an opportunity to click a box on their Timeline pages to signal that they were registered donors, which triggered a notification to their friends. The new feature started a cascade of social pressure, and organ donor enrollment increased by a factor of 23 across 44 states.
Marlow’s team is in the process of publishing results from the last U.S. midterm election that show another striking example of Facebook’s potential to direct its users’ influence on one another. Since 2008, the company has offered a way for users to signal that they have voted; Facebook promotes that to their friends with a note to say that they should be sure to vote, too. Marlow says that in the 2010 election his group matched voter registration logs with the data to see which of the Facebook users who got nudges actually went to the polls. (He stresses that the researchers worked with cryptographically “anonymized” data and could not match specific users with their voting records.)
This is just the beginning. By learning more about how small changes on Facebook can alter users’ behavior outside the site, the company eventually “could allow others to make use of Facebook in the same way,” says Marlow. If the American Heart Association wanted to encourage healthy eating, for example, it might be able to refer to a playbook of Facebook social engineering. “We want to be a platform that others can use to initiate change,” he says.
Advertisers, too, would be eager to know in greater detail what could make a campaign on Facebook affect people’s actions in the outside world, even though they realize there are limits to how firmly human beings can be steered. “It’s not clear to me that social science will ever be an engineering science in a way that building bridges is,” says Duncan Watts, who works on computational social science at Microsoft’s recently opened New York research lab and previously worked alongside Marlow at Yahoo’s labs. “Nevertheless, if you have enough data, you can make predictions that are better than simply random guessing, and that’s really lucrative.”
Like other social-Web companies, such as Twitter, Facebook has never attained the reputation for technical innovation enjoyed by such Internet pioneers as Google. If Silicon Valley were a high school, the search company would be the quiet math genius who didn’t excel socially but invented something indispensable. Facebook would be the annoying kid who started a club with such social momentum that people had to join whether they wanted to or not. In reality, Facebook employs hordes of talented software engineers (many poached from Google and other math-genius companies) to build and maintain its irresistible club. The technology built to support the Data Science Team’s efforts is particularly innovative. The scale at which Facebook operates has led it to invent hardware and software that are the envy of other companies trying to adapt to the world of “big data.”
In a kind of passing of the technological baton, Facebook built its data storage system by expanding the power of open-source software called Hadoop, which was inspired by work at Google and built at Yahoo. Hadoop can tame seemingly impossible computational tasks—like working on all the data Facebook’s users have entrusted to it—by spreading them across many machines inside a data center. But Hadoop wasn’t built with data science in mind, and using it for that purpose requires specialized, unwieldy programming. Facebook’s engineers solved that problem with the invention of Hive, open-source software that’s now independent of Facebook and used by many other companies. Hive acts as a translation service, making it possible to query vast Hadoop data stores using relatively simple code. To cut down on computational demands, it can request random samples of an entire data set, a feature that’s invaluable for companies swamped by data.
Much of Facebook’s data resides in one Hadoop store more than 100 petabytes (a million gigabytes) in size, says Sameet Agarwal, a director of engineering at Facebook who works on data infrastructure, and the quantity is growing exponentially. “Over the last few years we have more than doubled in size every year,” he says. That means his team must constantly build more efficient systems.
All this has given Facebook a unique level of expertise, says Jeff Hammerbacher, Marlow’s predecessor at Facebook, who initiated the company’s effort to develop its own data storage and analysis technology. (He left Facebook in 2008 to found Cloudera, which develops Hadoop-based systems to manage large collections of data.) Most large businesses have paid established software companies such as Oracle a lot of money for data analysis and storage. But now, big companies are trying to understand how Facebook handles its enormous information trove on open-source systems, says Hammerbacher. “I recently spent the day at Fidelity helping them understand how the ‘data scientist’ role at Facebook was conceived … and I’ve had the same discussion at countless other firms,” he says.
As executives in every industry try to exploit the opportunities in “big data,” the intense interest in Facebook’s data technology suggests that its ad business may be just an offshoot of something much more valuable. The tools and techniques the company has developed to handle large volumes of information could become a product in their own right.
Mining for Gold
Facebook needs new sources of income to meet investors’ expectations. Even after its disappointing IPO, it has a staggeringly high price-to-earnings ratio that can’t be justified by the barrage of cheap ads the site now displays. Facebook’s new campus in Menlo Park, California, previously inhabited by Sun Microsystems, makes that pressure tangible. The company’s 3,500 employees rattle around in enough space for 6,600. I walked past expanses of empty desks in one building; another, next door, was completely uninhabited. A vacant lot waited nearby, presumably until someone invents a use of our data that will justify the expense of developing the space.
One potential use would be simply to sell insights mined from the information. DJ Patil, data scientist in residence with the venture capital firm Greylock Partners and previously leader of LinkedIn’s data science team, believes Facebook could take inspiration from Gil Elbaz, the inventor of Google’s AdSense ad business, which provides over a quarter of Google’s revenue. He has moved on from advertising and now runs a fast-growing startup, Factual, that charges businesses to access large, carefully curated collections of data ranging from restaurant locations to celebrity body-mass indexes, which the company collects from free public sources and by buying private data sets. Factual cleans up data and makes the result available over the Internet as an on-demand knowledge store to be tapped by software, not humans. Customers use it to fill in the gaps in their own data and make smarter apps or services; for example, Facebook itself uses Factual for information about business locations. Patil points out that Facebook could become a data source in its own right, selling access to information compiled from the actions of its users. Such information, he says, could be the basis for almost any kind of business, such as online dating or charts of popular music. Assuming Facebook can take this step without upsetting users and regulators, it could be lucrative. An online store wishing to target its promotions, for example, could pay to use Facebook as a source of knowledge about which brands are most popular in which places, or how the popularity of certain products changes through the year.
Hammerbacher agrees that Facebook could sell its data science and points to its currently free Insights service for advertisers and website owners, which shows how their content is being shared on Facebook. That could become much more useful to businesses if Facebook added data obtained when its “Like” button tracks activity all over the Web, or demographic data or information about what people read on the site. There’s precedent for offering such analytics for a fee: at the end of 2011 Google started charging $150,000 annually for a premium version of a service that analyzes a business’s Web traffic.
Back at Facebook, Marlow isn’t the one who makes decisions about what the company charges for, even if his work will shape them. Whatever happens, he says, the primary goal of his team is to support the well-being of the people who provide Facebook with their data, using it to make the service smarter. Along the way, he says, he and his colleagues will advance humanity’s understanding of itself. That echoes Zuckerberg’s often doubted but seemingly genuine belief that Facebook’s job is to improve how the world communicates. Just don’t ask yet exactly what that will entail. “It’s hard to predict where we’ll go, because we’re at the very early stages of this science,” says Marlow. “The number of potential things that we could ask of Facebook’s data is enormous.”
Would you believe the Inspector General from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would violate the privacy of Americans for the IG office to tell us how many people in the United States had their privacy violated via the NSA warrantless wiretap powers which were granted under the FISA Amendment Act of 2008?
The annual Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) report [PDF] showed that electronic surveillance increased yet again in 2011. Applications for what the government calls “business records,” but also includes the production of tangible things, swelled from 96 in 2010 to 205 in 2011. The EFF said those business records are one in the same as the government using the notorious Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) is up for a five-year extension, but Senator Ron Wyden said he’d block FAA renewal until Congress received an answer from the NSA about how many “people in the United States have their communications reviewed by the government” under FAA powers.
As members of the Senate’s Intelligence Oversight Committee, Senators Ron Wyden and Marc Udall had previously asked the NSA for an estimate of how many Americans have been spied upon under the FISA Amendment Act. Last year the Office of the Director of National Intelligence replied [PDF] that it was “not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority of the FAA.” This year, Senators Ron Wyden and Marc Udall wrote, “We are particularly concerned about a loophole in the law that could allow the government to effectively conduct warrantless searches for Americans’ communications.”
Sen. Wyden explained, “Before Congress votes to renew these authorities it is important to understand how they are working in practice. In particular, it is important for Congress to better understand how many people inside the United States have had their communications collected or reviewed under the authorities granted by the FISA Amendments Act.” Wyden added:
I am concerned, of course, that no one has even estimated how many Americans have had their communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act. Then it is possible that this number could be quite large. Since all of the communications collected by the government under section 702 are collected without individual warrants, I believe that there should be clear rules prohibiting the government from searching through these communications in an effort to find the phone calls or emails of a particular American, unless the government has obtained a warrant or emergency authorization permitting surveillance of that American.
In reply to Senators Wyden and Udall, the NSA Inspector General said [PDF] said we can’t tell you because that would “violate the privacy of U.S. persons.” The reply letter from Charles McCullough, the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was acquired by Danger Room. McCullough wrote that the NSA inspector general “and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would further violate the privacy of U.S. persons.” Furthermore, “obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission.”
Previously, the ACLU reported that a response to its Freedom of Information Act lawsuit about the FAA, “the government revealed that every six-month review of the act had identified ‘compliance incidents,’ suggesting either an inability or an unwillingness to properly safeguard Americans’ privacy rights. The government has withheld the details of those ‘compliance incidents,’ however, including statistics relating to abuses of the act.” The Supreme Court agreed to hear the ACLU’s challenge to the constitutionality of the law, but the government claimed “the plaintiffs should not be able to sue without first showing that they have, in fact, been monitored under the program – information that the government refuses to provide.”
EPIC Director Marc Rotenberg testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on FAA, asking for “increased transparency and new public reporting of the government’s surveillance activities.” The ACLU also asked Congress to fix FISA, but at every turn the government continues to block checks and balances that could keep this surveillance on steroid behavior under control. And now even Senators Wyden and Udall received the bizarre statement about violating American’s privacy to give an estimate on how many of us have our privacy invaded thanks to FAA.
Today, the House Judiciary Committee is supposed to address the “FISA Amendments Act Reauthorization Act of 2012.” If, or sadly more like when, FAA is reauthorized, it will extend the provision through 2017.
(Map included at link)
We like to think of the drone war as something far away, fought in the deserts of Yemen or the mountains of Afghanistan. But we now know it’s closer than we thought. There are 64 drone bases on American soil. That includes 12 locations housing Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles, which can be armed.
Public Intelligence, a non-profit that advocates for free access to information, released a map of military UAV activities in the United States on Tuesday. Assembled from military sources — especially this little-known June 2011 Air Force presentation (.pdf) – it is arguably the most comprehensive map so far of the spread of the Pentagon’s unmanned fleet. What exact missions are performed at those locations, however, is not clear. Some bases might be used as remote cockpits to control the robotic aircraft overseas, some for drone pilot training. Others may also serve as imagery analysis depots.
The medium-size Shadow is used in 22 bases, the smaller Raven in 20 and the miniature Wasp in 11. California and Texas lead the pack, with 10 and six sites, respectively, and there are also 22 planned locations for future bases. ”It is very likely that there are more domestic drone activities not included in the map, but it is designed to provide an approximate overview of the widespread nature of Department of Defense activities throughout the US,” Michael Haynes from Public Intelligence tells Danger Room.
The possibility of military drones (as well as those controlled by police departments and universities) flying over American skies have raised concerns among privacy activists. As the American Civil Liberties Union explained in its December 2011 report, the machines potentially could be used to spy on American citizens. The drones’ presence in our skies “threatens to eradicate existing practical limits on aerial monitoring and allow for pervasive surveillance, police fishing expeditions, and abusive use of these tools in a way that could eventually eliminate the privacy Americans have traditionally enjoyed in their movements and activities.”
As Danger Room reported last month, even military drones, which are prohibited from spying on Americans, may “accidentally” conduct such surveillance — and keep the data for months afterwards while they figure out what to do with it. The material they collect without a warrant, as scholar Steven Aftergood revealed, could then be used to open an investigation.
The Posse Comitatus Act prohibits the U.S. military from operating on American soil, and there’s no evidence that drones have violated it so far.
This new map comes almost two months after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) revealed another one, this time of public agencies – including police departments and universities – that have a permit issued by the Federal Aviation Agency to use UAVs in American airspace.
“It goes to show you how entrenched drones already are,” said Trevor Timm, an EFF activist, when asked about the new map. “It’s clear that the drone industry is expanding rapidly and this map is just another example of that. And if people are worried about military technology coming back and being sold in the US, this is just another example how drone technology is probably going to proliferate in the US very soon.”
Domestic proliferation isn’t the same as domestic spying, however. Most — if not all — of these military bases would make poor surveillance centers. Many of the locations are isolated, far from civilian populations. Almost half of the bases on the map work only with the relatively small Raven and Shadow drones; their limited range and endurance make them imperfect spying tools, at best. It’s safe to assume that most of the bases are just used for military training.
Privacy concerns aside, the biggest issue might be safety, as we were been reminded on Monday when a giant Navy drone crashed in Maryland.
|Location||Service Branch||Types of UAS||UAS Activities Status|
|Fort Lewis, WA||Army, Special Operations Command||Shadow, Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Portland, OR||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Arlington, OR||Special Operations Command||Scan Eagle||Current|
|Limestone Hills Training Area, MT||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Grand Forks Air Force Base, ND||Air Force||Global Hawk, Predator||Future|
|Camp Ripley, MN||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Beale Air Force Base, CA||Air Force||Global Hawk||Current|
|Moffett Air Field, CA||Army||RMAX||Future|
|Fort Ord, CA||Army||RMAX||Future|
|Camp Roberts, CA||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Simi Valley, CA||Army||Raven, Warrior, Puma-AE||Current|
|Naval Air Station Point Mugu, CA||Navy||Global Hawk, BAMS||Future|
|Camp Pendleton, CA||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|El Mirage, CA||Army||Wasp||Current|
|Palmdale, CA||Air Force||Global Hawk||Current|
|29 Palms, CA||Marine Corps||Shadow, Raven||Current|
|Victorville, CA||Army, Special Operations Command||Raven, A160 Hummingbird||Current|
|Fort Irwin, CA||Army||Unknown||Current|
|Creech Air Force Base, NV||Air Force||Predator, Reaper||Current|
|Dugway, UT||Army||Hunter, Shadow||Current|
|Camp Williams, UT||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Fort Huachuca, AZ||Army||Warrior||Current|
|Holloman Air Force Base, NM||Army, Air Force||Preadtor, Reaper||Current|
|Cannon Air Force Base, NM||Air Force||Preadtor, Reaper||Current|
|Santa Fe, NM||Army||Raven||Current|
|Fort Carson, CO||Army, Special Operations Command||Shadow, Wasp, Raven||Future|
|United States Air Force Academy, CO||Air Force||Viking 300, Scan Eagle||Current|
|Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, CO||Army||Raven||Current|
|Fort Riley, KS||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Worth, TX||Army||Raven||Current|
|Hondo, TX||Army, Navy||Unknown||Current|
|Fort Hood, TX||Army||Hunter||Current|
|Robert Gray Army Airfield, Fort Hood, TX||Army||Hunter||Current|
|Camp Bullis, TX||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Fort Polk, LA||Army||Raven||Current|
|Stennis Space Center, MS||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven, Puma-AE||Current|
|Fort Campbell, KY||Army, Special Operations Command||Shadow, Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Camp Shelby, MS||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Redstone Arsenal, AL||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Benning, GA||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Camp Atterbury, IN||Special Operations Command||Tiger Moth||Current|
|Louisville, KY||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Fort Knox, KY||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Patriot, KY||Special Operations Command||Warrior, Raven, Puma-AE, Shadow||Future|
|Kenova, WV||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Robbins Air Force Base, GA||Air Force||Predator||Future|
|Wright Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, GA||Army||Hunter||Current|
|Camp Blanding, FL||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Choctaw, FL||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven. Puma-AE, Shadow||Current|
|Hurlburt Field, FL||Air Force||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Eglin Air Force Base, FL||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Future|
|Key West, FL||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Homestead, FL||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Fort A.P. Hill, VA||Army||RMAX||Current|
|Blackstone Army Airfield, VA||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Indiantown Gap, PA||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Bragg, NC||Army||Raven||Current|
|Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC||Special Operations Command, Marine Corps||Shadow, Warrior, Raven||Current|
|Fort Eustis, VA||Army||Vigilante||Current|
|Naval Air Station Pax River, MD||Navy||Global Hawk, BAMS||Current|
|Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ||Army||Spyder||Current|
|Fort Drum, NY||Army, Air Force, Special Operations Command||Predator, Shadow||Future|
|Syracuse, NY||Air Force||Reaper||Future|
|Griffiss Air Force Base, Oneida County, NY||Special Operations Command||Rascal||Future|
|Mount Washington, NH||Special Operations Command||Wasp, Raven||Current|
|Ladd Army Airfield, AK||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Allen Army Airfield, AK||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Wainwright, AK||Army||Shadow, Raven||Current|
|Bryant Army Heliport, Fort Richardson, AK||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Fort Greely, AK||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, HI||Navy||Raven||Current|
|Wheeler Army Airfield, HI||Army||Shadow||Current|
|Ellington Air Force Base, TX||Air Force||Predator, Global Hawk||Future|
|Edwards Air Force Base, CA||Air Force||Unknown||Current|
|Davis-Monathan Air Force Base, AZ||Air Force||Predator, Reaper||Current|
|March Air Force Base, CA||Air Force||Predator||Current|
|Southern California Logistics Airport, CA||Air Force||Predator||Current|
|Nellis Air Force Base, NV||Air Force||Predator||Current|
|Fargo, ND||Air Force||Predator||Current|
|Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD||Air Force||Predator||Future|
By Tom Engelhardt
April 03, 2012 “Tom Dispatch” — I was out of the country only nine days, hardly a blink in time, but time enough, as it happened, for another small, airless room to be added to the American national security labyrinth. On March 22nd, Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Jr. signed off on new guidelines allowing the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), a post-9/11 creation, to hold on to information about Americans in no way known to be connected to terrorism — about you and me, that is — for up to five years. (Its previous outer limit was 180 days.) This, Clapper claimed, “will enable NCTC to accomplish its mission more practically and effectively.”
Joseph K., that icon of single-lettered anonymity from Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial, would undoubtedly have felt right at home in Clapper’s Washington. George Orwell would surely have had a few pungent words to say about those anodyne words “practically and effectively,” not to speak of “mission.”
For most Americans, though, it was just life as we’ve known it since September 11, 2001, since we scared ourselves to death and accepted that just about anything goes, as long as it supposedly involves protecting us from terrorists. Basic information or misinformation, possibly about you, is to be stored away for five years — or until some other attorney general and director of national intelligence think it’s even more practical and effective to keep you on file for 10 years, 20 years, or until death do us part — and it hardly made a ripple.
If Americans were to hoist a flag designed for this moment, it might read “Tread on Me” and use that classic illustration of the boa constrictor swallowing an elephant from Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. That, at least, would catch something of the absurdity of what the National Security Complex has decided to swallow of our American world.
Oh, and in those nine days abroad, a new word surfaced on my horizon, one just eerie and ugly enough for our new reality: yottabyte. Thank National Security Agency (NSA) expert James Bamford for that. He wrote a piece for Wired magazine on a super-secret, $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center the NSA is building in Bluffdale, Utah. Focused on data mining and code-breaking and five times the size of the U.S. Capitol, it is expected to house information beyond compare, “including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails — parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”
The NSA, adds Bamford, “has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net.”
Which brings us to yottabyte — which is, Bamford assures us, equivalant to septillion bytes, a number “so large that no one has yet coined a term for the next higher magnitude.” The Utah center will be capable of storing a yottabyte or more of information (on your tax dollar).
Large as it is, that mega-project in Utah is just one of many sprouting like mushrooms in the sunless forest of the U.S. intelligence world. In cost, for example, it barely tops the $1.7 billion headquarters complex in Virginia that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, with an estimated annual black budget of at least $5 billion, built for its 16,000 employees. Opened in 2011, it’s the third-largest federal building in the Washington area. (And I’ll bet you didn’t even know that your tax dollars paid for such an agency, no less its gleaming new headquarters.) Or what about the 33 post-9/11 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work that were under construction or had already been built when Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote their “Top Secret America” series back in 2010?
In these last years, while so many Americans were foreclosed upon or had their homes go “underwater” and the construction industry went to hell, the intelligence housing bubble just continued to grow. And there’s no sign that any of this seems abidingly strange to most Americans.
A System That Creates Its Own Reality
To leave the country, of course, I had to briefly surrender my shoes, hat, belt, computer — you know the routine — and even then, stripped to the basics, I had to pass through a scanner of a sort that not so long ago caused protest and upset but now is evidently as American as apple pie. Then I spent those nine days touring some of Spain’s architectural wonders, including the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita or Great Mosque of Cordoba, and that city’s ancient synagogue (the only one to survive the expulsion of the Jews in 1492), as well as Antonio Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, his vast Barcelona basilica, without once — in a country with its own grim history of terror attacks — being wanded or patted down or questioned or even passing through a metal detector. Afterwards, I took a flight back to a country whose national security architecture had again expanded subtly in the name of “my” safety.
Now, I don’t want to overdo it. In truth, those new guidelines were no big deal. The information on — as far as anyone knows — innocent Americans that the NCTC wanted to keep for those extra 4½ years was already being held ad infinitum by one or another of our 17 major intelligence agencies and organizations. So the latest announcement seems to represent little more than bureaucratic housecleaning, just a bit of extra scaffolding added to the Great Mosque or basilica of the new American intelligence labyrinth. It certainly was nothing to write home about, no less trap a fictional character in.
Admittedly, since 9/11 the U.S. Intelligence Community, as it likes to call itself, has expanded to staggering proportions. With those 17 outfits having a combined annual intelligence budget of more than $80 billion (a figure which doesn’t even include all intelligence expenditures), you could think of that community as having carried out a statistical coup d’état. In fact, at a moment when America’s enemies — a few thousand scattered jihadis, the odd minority insurgency, and a couple of rickety regional powers (Iran, North Korea, and perhaps Venezuela) — couldn’t be less imposing, its growth has been little short of an institutional miracle. By now, it has a momentum all its own. You might even say that it creates its own reality.
Of classic American checks and balances, we, the taxpayers, now write the checks and they, the officials of the National Security Complex, are free to be as unbalanced as they want in their actions. Whatever you do, though, don’t mistake Clapper, Holder, and similar figures for the Gaudís of the new intelligence world. Don’t think of them as the architects of the structure they are building. What they preside over is visibly a competitive bureaucratic mess of overlapping principalities whose “mission” might be summed up in one word: more.
In a sense — though they would undoubtedly never think of themselves this way — I suspect they are bureaucratic versions of Kafka’s Joseph K., trapped in a labyrinthine structure they are continually, blindly, adding to. And because their “mission” has no end point, their edifice has neither windows nor exits, and for all anyone knows is being erected on a foundation of quicksand.
Keep calling it “intelligence” if you want, but the monstrosity they are building is neither intelligent nor architecturally elegant. It is nonetheless a system elaborating itself with undeniable energy. Whatever the changing cast of characters, the structure only grows. It no longer seems to matter whether the figure who officially sits atop it is a former part-owner of a baseball team and former governor, a former constitutional law professor, or — looking to possible futures — a former corporate raider.
A Basilica of Chaos
Evidently, it’s our fate — increasing numbers of us anyway — to be transformed into intelligence data (just as we are being eternally transformed into commercial data), our identities sliced, diced, and passed around the labyrinth, our bytes stored up to be “mined” at their convenience.
You might wonder: What is this basilica of chaos that calls itself the U.S. Intelligence Community? Bamford describes whistleblower William Binney, a former senior NSA crypto-mathematician “largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network,” as holding “his thumb and forefinger close together” and saying, “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”
It’s an understandable description for someone who has emerged from the labyrinth, but I doubt it’s on target. Ours is unlikely to ever be a Soviet-style system, even if it exhibits a striking urge toward totality; towards, that is, engulfing everything, including every trace you’ve left anywhere in the world. It’s probably not a Soviet-style state in the making, even if traditional legal boundaries and prohibitions against spying upon and surveilling Americans are of remarkably little interest to it.
Its urge is to data mine and decode the planet in an eternal search for enemies who are imagined to lurk everywhere, ready to strike at any moment. Anyone might be a terrorist or, wittingly or not, in touch with one, even perfectly innocent-seeming Americans whose data must be held until the moment when the true pattern of eneminess comes into view and everything is revealed.
In the new world of the National Security Complex, no one can be trusted — except the officials working within it, who in their eternal bureaucratic vigilance clearly consider themselves above any law. The system that they are constructing (or that, perhaps, is constructing them) has no more to do with democracy or an American republic or the Constitution than it does with a Soviet-style state. Think of it as a phenomenon for which we have no name. Like the yottabyte, it’s something new under the sun, still awaiting its own strange and ugly moniker.
For now, it remains as anonymous as Joseph K. and so, conveniently enough, continues to expand right before our eyes, strangely unseen.
If you don’t believe me, leave the country for nine days and just see if, in that brief span of time, something else isn’t drawn within its orbit. After all, it’s inexorable, this rough beast slouching through Washington to be born.
Welcome, in the meantime, to our nameless new world. One thing is guaranteed: it has a byte.