Opinion » Ted Rall

America's Last Chance:

Will we resist a massive conspiracy?


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Turkey teeters on the brink of revolution--because the government wants to build a mall in a public square in Istanbul. What will we do about the PRISM conspiracy?

With due respect to the Turkish protesters, PRISM is a trillion times worse.

The charter of the National Security Agency specifically states that it is prohibited from "acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's self-professed mission is to "protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal and international agencies and partners."

The darkest dystopian visions of the future have come to chilling, horrific life. Everything we learned as schoolchildren was a lie. The U.S. government does not serve us. This is not a government by the people or for the people. The regime in Washington, D.C., no more respects our rights as citizens than the North Korean dictators of Pyongyang.

The Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian have broken a startling blockbuster, perhaps the biggest story of our lives. "The NSA and the FBI," writes the Post, "are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, emails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates."

This is a government-big business conspiracy of the first order, so breathtaking in scope that it is scarcely comprehensible.

According to a classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by a patriotic intelligence officer, the government taps directly into the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Google, the biggest Internet company on Earth, controls 16 percent of global Internet traffic.

If you're online, Google has given your "private" information to the feds.

If capitalism counts for anything, contracts have to be enforced. There is a universally understood implicit contract between Internet users and companies: They keep your data private to the best of their abilities. They might get hacked; a court may serve them with a subpoena. Stuff happens. But they're not supposed to voluntarily give every bit and byte to the government just because they asked nicely.

These Internet giants had a choice. According to the Post: "Apple demonstrated that resistance is possible when it held out for more than five years, for reasons unknown, after Microsoft became PRISM's first corporate partner in May 2007. Twitter, which has cultivated a reputation for aggressive defense of its users' privacy, is still conspicuous by its absence from the list of 'private sector partners.'"

It also belies previous official claims that anti-terrorism and other security-based intelligence-gathering operations are specifically targeted at likely threats. To the contrary, the U.S. government is plainly interested in intercepting, collecting and analyzing every electronic communication in the United States.

For example: "Google's offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms."

Yeah, of course, we knew they were spying on Americans on an epic scale.

First came the 2001 USA-Patriot Act, which opened the door to officially sanctioned law-breaking in the supposed service of national security. In 2002, there was DARPA's Total Information Awareness, the Bush administration's post-9/11 data mining operation, an attempt to, as the New Yorker wrote at the time, "turn everything in cyberspace about everybody--tax records, driver's license applications, travel records, bank records, raw FBI files, telephone records, credit card records, shopping mall security camera videotapes, medical records, every email anybody ever sent--into a single, humongous, multi-googolplexibyte database that electronic robots will mine for patterns of information suggestive of terrorist activity." After an uproar, Congress defunded TIA--so its staff and activities simply moved to the NSA.

There was also AT&T's secret room 641A, the site of "clandestine collaboration between one big telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history." That story broke in 2007.

Recently, another sweeping violation of privacy came to light. This time, "the government obtained phone numbers of both parties on every Verizon call, the call's duration, location data and the time of day the calls were made." That program is ongoing.

It doesn't take a genius to extrapolate from these stories to the massive scope of PRISM. So what are we going to do about this?

First: We need an independent investigation. Not by Congress. By someone we can trust.

Second: If this story is true, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the entire cabinet must resign and face prosecution. According to the Post, data collected from the rogue PRISM program is relied upon for roughly one out of seven of the president's daily briefs on intelligence matters.

"That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications," notes the newspaper. It means that knowledge of PRISM, and authorization thereof, goes to the Oval Office.

Members of Congress, executives of the Internet companies involved, and of any other companies, must be held to account as well. Prosecutions should come quickly.

Finally, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves.

I'd start with this one: What does it mean to be an American? Are we citizens; free men and women? Or are we serfs, not vested in even the primal right to talk to our friends and family members without some goddamn government asshole listening in?


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