Home » Creeping Fascism » “Turnkey Totalitarian State”

“Turnkey Totalitarian State”

by John Rubino on April 9, 2012 · 22 comments

New tech is always a double-edged sword, with benefits balanced to an extent by the risk of misuse by idiots or criminals. Airplanes make possible fast travel but also saturation bombing; biotech gives us stem cell treatments and frankenfoods; antidepressants and painkillers help some people and addict countless others. TV, nuclear power, cars; pretty much the whole of the modern world has up-and-downsides.

On balance this progress has been a good thing — no one with any sense would go back to the days before antibiotics and iPhones. But the risks that come with so much new power are growing exponentially, so the good might not always outweigh the bad.

Which brings us to computers and telecommunications: Cell phones and the Internet have opened the global economy to pretty much everyone with an active mind while democratizing politics and bringing down dictatorships around the world. But those same technologies strengthen the more advanced states in terrifying ways with, as is usually the case lately, the US behaving like the craziest inmate in the asylum. Below are some excerpts from a recent Wired Magazine story on the US plan to intercept, store and mine pretty much the entire infosphere — all your phone calls, emails, texts, FaceBook posts, everything.

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, 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.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

For the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It 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. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.

The data stored in Bluffdale will naturally go far beyond the world’s billions of public web pages. The NSA is more interested in the so-called invisible web, also known as the deep web or deepnet—data beyond the reach of the public. This includes password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers. “The deep web contains government reports, databases, and other sources of information of high value to DOD and the intelligence community,” according to a 2010 Defense Science Board report. “Alternative tools are needed to find and index data in the deep web … Stealing the classified secrets of a potential adversary is where the [intelligence] community is most comfortable.” With its new Utah Data Center, the NSA will at last have the technical capability to store, and rummage through, all those stolen secrets. The question, of course, is how the agency defines who is, and who is not, “a potential adversary.”

The NSA has long been free to eavesdrop on international satellite communications. But after 9/11, it installed taps in US telecom “switches,” gaining access to domestic traffic. An ex-NSA official says there are 10 to 20 such installations. According to a knowledgeable intelligence source, the NSA has installed taps on at least a dozen of the major overseas communications links, each capable of eavesdropping on information passing by at a high data rate.

The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. Tucked away on a back road in rural Catawissa, Pennsylvania, Roaring Creek’s three 105-foot dishes handle much of the country’s communications to and from Europe and the Middle East. And on an isolated stretch of land in remote Arbuckle, California, three similar dishes at the company’s Salt Creek station service the Pacific Rim and Asia.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” [another former NSA official] says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.

The NSA also has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time. According to Adrienne J. Kinne, who worked both before and after 9/11 as a voice interceptor at the NSA facility in Georgia, in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks “basically all rules were thrown out the window, and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans.” In secret listening rooms nationwide, NSA software examines every email, phone call, and tweet as they zip by.

Sitting in a restaurant not far from NSA headquarters, the place where he spent nearly 40 years of his life, [a former NSA official who left when the agency began violating the Constitution with impunity] holds his thumb and forefinger close together. “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.

Some thoughts
To sum up: Pretty soon the US will have the ability to capture every signal flowing in, out, and within the country, store it all, break whatever encryption protects it, and mine it for any sign of dissent. And it’s all being done for our own good, to protect us from enemies that mean us harm.

Suddenly the flash mobs that use social media to stay one step ahead of local riot police look a lot more amateurish and less formidable.

Many questions are unanswered here, mostly centering on how the government is getting away with this. Not so long ago a wiretap took a warrant, signed by a judge and attested to by law enforcement officers who claimed constitutionally valid probable cause. How did the NSA suddenly acquire the power to spy at will on all US citizens, and why isn’t it front page news like the debate over the government’s ability to force citizens to buy health insurance?

Combine the above with the recent defense bill that gave the military the right to detain and even kill American citizens who are “suspected” of a connection to terrorism and, as the former NSA guy says, we have all the necessary pieces for a dystopia right out of Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. Happy birthday, Big Brother!

  • http://roycobden.wordpress.com/ Ineptocracy

    “…how the government is getting away with this.”

    It’s pretty simple. They fear and anxiety pot is constantly stirred with nebulous threats of terrorism and the dumbed-down masses buy anything sold to them with “security” or “safety” or “protection” in the description.

    • Rachael

      Indeed. We got a government that we collectively had no idea we were electing, decades in the making, because most of the nation willfully chooses ignorance.

  • Agent P

    The lynchpin of an apparatus like this – And the AHCA (they’re not as disparate as one might think), is the inability for a citizen/s to live anonymously – or, ‘outside the system’. In some respects, that is already the case, as in yearly tax filing requirements and so forth – although there are many folks who clearly Do live outside the system, but their ability to derive an income worthy of anything above poverty is severely limited.

    In short, government has always been about Control – whether in King Arthur’s time or Stalin’s reign, or our short 250 year history, Absolute Control of the populace is always and everywhere, a government phenomenon.

    Unfortunately, an overfed and uninterested populace renders checks & balances of government power – as our founding documents prescribe, nothing but writings on paper with no backing. Fear of nebulous boogeymen and the constant regurgitation of perceived ‘threats’ have rendered large portions of the electorate cowering boobs, incapable of independent thought or objective analysis, and therefore unable and/or unwilling to question the machinations of their own government. In turn, as the government apparatus co-opts and assimilates more and more of that same populace into its own, the desire and incentive to ‘push back’ is neutralized for sake of putting food on the table.

    Readers would do well to to have a look at a recent Doug Casey piece ‘United Sociopaths of America’ for a good primer on where we’re at and what we can expect in the not-to-distant future.

  • Tom

    Let’s step back a bit and take a breath. This story sounds like pure propaganda designed to suppress information exchanges rather than decipher them. I worked for years in information systems although I’m not an expert on encryption. I’d like to know what this ‘breakthrough’ technology is that allows NSA to decrypt anything and everywhere. Last I read, to break a 256bit key with a strong password, would take lifetimes with the fastest supercomputer. Also, collecting lots of data is possible but searching it for anything meaningful is time consuming. Even if the software flags a keyword, a human must intervene to inspect the message. NSA would have to employ everyone in America to go through all that crap. In short, this story comes from a reputable magazine but strikes me as hyperventilating bulls$%t. SSL (banking websites) and public key systems are more vulnerable. Symmetric keys (AES, Twofish) can defeat even a theoretical quantum computer by doubling the key size. Therefore, until I read something different, it sounds to me like the US government is the one panicking about their inability to crack the growing volume of data encrypted with open source software. And, even if they could crack it, they couldn’t do it on the fly. It requires identifying a message and then focusing resources – electronic and human – on the data package. I say encrypt the crap out of everything and let those squinty eyed drones have at it. I will say though, never ever rely on the encryption of any Microsoft or Apple product. I have no doubt back doors exist. Create a document in Word but encrypt it with an Open Source program and send it as an attachment. In unencrypted emails use substitution words and names to obfuscate any pervert listening on the line. Now, mon, I tink I go lite mine grow and roll those Os true de air so fine.

    • Darryl X

      The purpose of this apparatus, this development, is not too successfully encrypt of monitor communication. I’ve worked for the federal gov’t for 18 yrs and with it for 27 yrs and have worked with systems like this. These people (in our government, like most people) are idiots addicted to power and control. They are incapable of objective thought or analysis. They are paranoid and delusional. They may think that they can or are able to adequate monitor communication to identify a threat (external or internal) but they really can’t. They are simply too stupid. The purpose of this development is to satisfy their addiction to power and control by establishing a mechanism (no matter how dysfunctional used correctly or not) with which to justify for their constituency (also idiots) any action they take for their own self-serving purpose at the expense of others by creating the PRETENSE of having knowledge about an alleged threat. It’s all smoke and mirrors. But when you have a country of idiots run by idiots, that’s all you need. Anyone with any scholar or analytical skills will be exterminated. THAT’S the purpose of this development.

    • illuminoughtu

      What is the breakthrough technology? You really don’t understand how the development of the internet occurs. The internet was invented by DARPA. Technology is not released into the public domain until it is no longer of ‘National Security Interest’. Technology that even breaks daylight, which has an impact on ‘National Security’ will instantly ‘Go Black’; by hook or by crook (i.e. by cloak or by dagger.) Do you really think that ‘quantum computing’ isn’t already operational? And yes, that is the technology that renders even the most sophisticated encryption transparent.

  • paper is poverty

    This sort of widespread data collection isn’t going to work to detect threats. For one thing, it’s the equivalent of trying to find a needle in a haystack by piling on more hay. For another thing, drug dealers and other organized criminals know how to avoid electronic surveillance, as did the terrorists in Syriana. Don’t use the phone, don’t talk in the car, meet at the proverbial bench in the park… it’s not rocket science.

    Here’s a tale that seems related: In a 2002 war game, the team playing the US lost to the guy playing the rogue Middle East dictator partly because they relied too much on their high-tech surveillance. They destroyed much of the dictator’s communications and assumed he would be forced to move to satellite phones, which they would intercept. They figured the US would also be able to hear all radio conversations. But instead the Middle East team used motorcycle couriers, and planes were handled using lighting signals also used in WWII– they stayed off the phones and the radio. The US team destroyed the rogue guy’s radar, and assumed the enemy would therefore not know where American ships were; but the Middle East team launched a fleet of small boats which physically tracked the American ships. Basically the US team was totally over-confident and was unable to think low-tech. In the end there were 16 (imaginary) US ships on the bottom of the Gulf, destroyed ports (leaving US marines nowhere to land), and assassinated pro-US leaders. Analysis paralysis also slowed the US team down, another symptom of too much data.

    So this isn’t even a matter of giving up freedom and privacy in order to gain some security, because we’re not gaining anything here. Disconnected NSA analysts sitting in rooms scanning data streams won’t do a thing to make anyone safer. In fact, this means that low-tech terrorists will be off the government’s radar. At least some of these intel guys have got to know this… they’re not stupid. Presumably the real purpose is that the NSA data will allow the government to harass political dissidents.

    • http://www.AllenCurrie.ca JustamereBear

      It does help the unemployment situation tho. Grin

  • JWRebel

    “Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity” (Hanlon’s razor).
    I will not say this data centre is nothing to worry about, but the nefarious omniscience is exaggerated. “Intelligence services” preselect certain personality types, and political and social views along with them. Lack of controversy, and playful rebelliousness shackle debate and creative insight. Seeing is a function of focus and relegating to the background: infinite data is not the key. (Ever tried google translate?)

    The intelligence community has proved time and again that they cannot overcome their provincial and stultified world-view and are incapable even of decrypting unencrypted social and political foment going on in open view at home or abroad. Challenged on his cavalier attitude to skipping intelligence briefings, Clinton quipped that he could pick up more by reading the Washington Post for 30 minutes.

  • http://IntegralResearchSociety.org Matt

    As someone who has never used an iphone and rarely use a cell phone, I’m not sure that I am missing much. To my mind, it becomes an addiction just like any other addiction… Most of the electronically-tethered people that I observe definitely exhibit all the signs of an addict. I feel sorry for any “intelligence service” that has to monitor their conversations. I think that it can be safely stated that intelligence is absent on both sides.

  • http://codgerville.wordpress.com Cyrus

    Hi Jhn,

    As a former NSA freak I can tell the part of the magazine article that says the taps were installed in 2001 is wrong. The taps were mandated by law, the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It also required all cellphones to have GPS’s. It is NSA’s goal to stay ahead of Industry by at least 5 years. Many times the technology is developed and cannot be used until the “platform” is updated. Case in point; NSA developed the technology to spy on people in their homes using their TV’s in 1980. The received image was poor but sound quality was good. Enter more technological advancements and a law from congress that mandated all TV stations to transmit in High Definition. Through digital technology and high definition TV’s the government has a very good gateway into your home. All it needs is cable or satellite. People laugh at all my analog screens and gear. That’s okay.

  • Bob

    Hopefully the ‘No Such Agency’ will be as incompetent as all the other alphabet agencies.

  • http://www.AllenCurrie.ca JustamereBear

    I must quibble with the article on two points although the quibbles raise as many questions as they address.
    I haven’t been following the field much in the last few years, but it was impossible to intercept fiber optic communications unless you were directly connected to a node that the communication was being routed through. Everything else was being monitored remotely by detecting electromagnetic disturbance such as you would get on a copper cable. While a lot of communication has gone wireless, I don’t see any new way of intercepting worldwide fiber optics unless there has been a new breakthrough. Not that such a breakthrough is impossible.

    They did have a satillite(s) in orbit that was really good at detecting electromagnetic spectrum. Having a senior moment here. Name started with E, not enchant but something close. They were monitoring worldwide. That was part of the goal they had to first create a file on every person in North America and then on every person in the world. The question is, why are they building a land based system? Can they no longer get something into space? What developments make the space system obsolete? Or have they changed their goals?

    I know that every encryption package they could control (Read N/Amer companies primarily) they muscled to provide a back door into that encryption package. On the other hand, nearly every chip in existance is manufactured in China, and it has long been thought that China has added its own little back door to every one of these chips.

    It does seem possible that with a land based system they could secretly connect to most fiber optic nodes within the US particularly. Combine the back door to encryption packages with an ability to intercept and many things are possible

    An old adage in the spook world is ‘for information on what someone is doing, follow the money.’ If he is secretly buying widgets, why? Actions speak louder than words. And a good percentage of todays communication relates to financial. PLUS the banks know which side of the bread the butter is on and right now the banks are really beholden for their very existance on governmment bailouts, etc.

    Off that track for a moment. It seems to me that there is recently a rush to control the citizenry completely. The various Patriot acts, the military detainment with NO right of Habeas Corpus, and the Friday March 16 (Evening when the reporters have gone home) signing of the peacetime martial law by Obama. Then the fact that the US treasury auctions have been failing big time for a long time and the Fed is covering by buying 61% of the issue. (Fed buying 61% of US debt http://www.moneynews.com/Headline/fe…mo_code=E92C-1)
    On a whim, the president can take away every “freedom” of every US citizen so they have less rights than an indentured slave. Just like under Hitler that situation will last as long as the president decides it will last. Why are they doing this? And why now?

    I submit that they are very aware of the financial dangers that exist in the world, (After all If I can see it someone else with better data can too.) and they are preparing for MASSIVE social disruption. For our own good of course. They don’t make laws unless they intend to enforce them.

    Allen Currie in his new novel “Operation Phoenix”, still available for free read at http://www.AllenCurrie.ca takes a peek at how the world might unravel from this current financial malaise. I recommend it highly.

    May god bless us all, each and every one. We’re gonna need divine intervention

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  • Tony D

    All posters IP addresses have been noted……

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  • Jt


  • W G Thompson

    Two laws operate here: Murphy’s, for
    one, and diminishing returns for another
    . The danger is real, but so long as
    this sort of thing attracts only mental
    drones and midgets, I think the best
    medicine is simple exposure, such as
    what’s been manifested here today. I
    go even further than Cyrus: I’m still
    heavy on vacuum tube tech., esp. short
    wave & stereo (they’re impervious to
    atomic blasts over mid-Kansas, which
    would wipe out every ss device in
    America). WGT

    • Darryl X

      The purpose of this apparatus, this development, is not to successfully encrypt or monitor communication. I’ve worked for the federal gov’t for 18 yrs and with it for 27 yrs and have worked with systems like this. These people (in our government, like most people) are idiots addicted to power and control. They compensate for their stupidity and lack of faith by asserting their power and control and imposing it upon everyone around them. They are incapable of objective thought or analysis. They are paranoid and delusional. They may think that they can or are able to adequately monitor communication for identifying a threat (external or internal) but they really can’t. They are simply too stupid. The purpose of this development is to satisfy their addiction to power and control by establishing a mechanism (no matter how dysfunctional used correctly or not) with which to justify for their constituency (also idiots) any action they take for their own self-serving purpose at the expense of others by creating the PRETENSE of having knowledge about an alleged threat. It’s all smoke and mirrors. But when you have a country of idiots run by idiots, that’s all you need. Anyone with any scholar or analytical skills will be exterminated. THAT’S the purpose of this development. It will succeed in accomplishing the goals of our gov’t. But the goals of the gov’t are not to identify a real threat. It is to falsely portray anyone who will dilute their addiction to power and control (and pursuit of wealth) and justify its elimination of them. The designs of our gov’t really are that scary. I wish people understood just how bad it is. I’ve seen it first hand. These people are terrifying. Look up and study the term “malignant narcissist” or “psychopath” and that will accurately describe approximately 50% of our population and most in gov’t. The US and rest of the developed world really has turned into an insane asylum.

  • Jiggerjuice

    The entire “infosphere” can fit into a 2 billion dollar facility? The scope of what the infosphere is is far beyond anything that can be crammed into a mere 2 billion dollar hard drive. 2 billion dollars is peanuts at this point. We spend 2 billion dollars on… 3 jet fighters. It costs the same to build 3 jet fighters as it does to build this Bluffdale plant. I think Wired was just trying to rile up the interwebs… farming those clicks. This Bluffdale plant won’t be farming your Easter calls to Grandma. The NSA will be cherry-picking targets.

  • mogar

    I have worked in IT for at least 25 years. The problem these days is not CPU speed, disk space, or memory speed. The problem now is the data. When you start collecting ginormous amounts of data you quickly realize that what you have now is a ginormous hay stack in fact you have a ginormous number of ginormous hay stacks. With one particular hay seed in one of them.

    Now go find the hay seed. That is the problem.

  • Thinker

    For those that think this thing will not work, try this…

    1. Go to any website.
    2. Select any sentence on that website.
    3. Paste the sentence into google and see what happens.

    If the sentence is unique enough, your website will be the first hit in the list. It may need to be a week or two old to be indexed. I just tried this from this article – “The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important”

    Conclusion: these global thinking control guys are not stupid and the stuff they set up works.

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