PRISM — You Can’t Stop the Signal

By Piper Bayard

In one of my favorite Joss Wheden movies, Serenity, the crew of a small scavenger space ship, Firefly, risks everything to bring the truth to the people of the Alliance about how their government was lying to them and screwing them over. To do this, they transmitted a damning recording across every media outlet in the galaxy. For them, it worked, because, “You can’t stop the signal.”

image from Serenity

image from Serenity

What the movie did not show was what happened after the broadcast, which was most likely a lot of huffing and puffing from diverse quadrants, and then a mass forgetting the next time some celebrity choose a freakish baby name. What it didn’t show was how many people do not care what a government does, as long as they can believe it doesn’t affect them.

Which brings me to a far more relevant pop culture analogy—Game of Thrones. I don’t know if Edward Snowden watched either Serenity or Game of Thrones, but if he had watched or read the latter, he would have known that the honorable man who brings the truth to a nation is always the first to lose his head.

Intelligence Operative Jay Holmes, my writing partner, is no Edward Snowden. He is not disappointed in the Obama administration because he has been through enough presidents to not expect anything from them in the first place. Also, he never reveals anything Classified at any level; however, he does at times know what is true of what is public.

That being said, this is the information from the public domain that I would pass on to you, our readers.

The NSA has direct access to the servers of the PRISM Nine. (See PRISM Surveillance on Americans—What Price Convenience?) I’ve seen many people commenting around the net that they don’t care that the NSA knows what Google knows. After all, everyone knows the internet isn’t private. To those people, I would point out two things. First, Google doesn’t have an FBI and a DHS to arrest us. And second, the NSA reach does not stop at the voluntary information we give to Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and the rest. It also includes our emails, bank transactions, credit card purchases, phone records and the very content of the calls, themselves.

All of this data is collected and analyzed for red flags. Like someone going through our “Electronic Footprint House” on a continual basis, looking for missteps. If an analyst suspects any, he can listen to specific conversations and read specific emails without obtaining a warrant specific to us. In fact, in Mr. Snowden’s words, “The reality is that due to the FISA Amendments Act and its section 702 authorities, Americans’ communications are collected and viewed on a daily basis on the certification of an analyst rather than a warrant. They excuse this as “incidental” collection, but at the end of the day, someone at NSA still has the content of your communications . . .”

image from weknowmemes.com

image from weknowmemes.com

There is one notable exception to this illegal invasion of privacy. Members of Congress have a special exemption from NSA surveillance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? If the NSA isn’t spying on Americans, why would Congress need an exemption from the spying they’re not doing?

Not only is this data collected and stored on all Americans and subject to viewing at the whim of an analyst, it is exchanged with foreign countries. The Five Eyes—the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—have agreements in place between their intelligence agencies to share information on each other’s citizens.

This begs another question. Why would we spend money to illegally spy on our allies’ citizens? We are not at war with these people any more than we are at war with ourselves.

Sure, there are some maggots in those countries, just as there are some maggots in our own. Our Founding Fathers understood and accepted the fact that some maggots need to be spied on. However, they also understood that it was important to prevent the government from spying on its citizens without cause if we were to avoid devolving into tyranny. This dilemma was easily solved. It’s called a “warrant system.”

The requirement of obtaining a warrant does not in any way hinder intelligence and law enforcement agencies from acting in a timely fashion. Judges are available to approve warrants 24/7, 365 days a year. The judge’s staff then follows up with a paper document.

This procedure allows police and domestic intelligence operatives, such as the DHS, to act promptly while employing standard safeguards. The judicial system keeps records of what is requested and why. Eventually, any warrants issued for domestic eavesdropping became public knowledge. The warrant system prevents, or at least minimizes, abuse by elected officials and government employees while respecting the constitutional rights of Americans to enjoy reasonable privacy.

PRISM, however, has no such protections. The NSA eavesdrops with no judicial process, and citizens are not informed of the surveillance unless they commit felonies and are arrested. That means no accountability to the people. Think about it. A government that holds citizens responsible to it without a process in place for citizens to hold the government responsible to them is not a government by or for the people.

And it doesn’t stop there . . .

Eighteen days ago, when I first wrote about this Big Brother surveillance of Americans, I posed the following questions:

1)    Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection?

2)    Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors?

Only days later, it became public knowledge that, indeed, there is an information exchange between our government and private corporations. You heard that correctly. Thousands of companies—finance, manufacturing, technology, etc.—receive benefits from the federal government in exchange for sensitive information about their clientele.

Having naïvely agreed to travel from Hong Kong to Ecuador via Moscow, Edward Snowden finds himself in Putin’s hands. For Putin, this is Christmas. For Edward Snowden, he might as well be Eddard Stark in the dungeons of King’s Landing. His winter is here, and when it comes to privacy protections in America, “Winter is Coming.”

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

meme by bizarrojerri.wordpress.com

We have seen time and again that technology, once developed, does not undevelop. You can’t stop the signal. However, we can choose how we will use it. Like nuclear weapons, the horse is out of the barn, but with careful controls and regulations, we have not used those nuclear weapons in nearly seventy years. Just because we have a tool, it doesn’t mean we have to use it in careless or evil ways.

Rather than calling for a shut-down of PRISM and its use, which would only create a more sophisticated government mouse, let us instead insist on understanding the unprecedented power of this program and treat it with the respect that it deserves. Let us instead focus this power toward the true enemies—not average Americans, but those who would terrorize and destroy us. Let us not do the job for them by continuing to turn this potentially devastating power on ourselves.

Penultimate Irony

Ultimate Irony

PRISM Surveillance on Americans–What Price Convenience?

By Piper Bayard

Sure, I could be writing about my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, which was released last week by Stonehouse Ink. In fact, I planned to do that very thing. And while I certainly hope you’ll decide to check it out, there is something even more important happening that we need to discuss.

Last week, former National Security Agency (“NSA”) intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward and released training slides used to train operatives at the NSA in a surveillance program called PRISM. PRISM allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple and search for any information on anyone at all. It was begun under a previous administration for the purpose of collecting information on foreign terrorists. It was greatly expanded by President Obama to include data collection on all Americans. These are two of the slides.

PRISM - Providers & Dates when collection began

PRISM Collection details

Some of these companies cooperated without protest. Others required warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). However, FISA does not grant authority to collect data on Americans or others within US borders, something which PRISM does. All of these companies are denying knowledge and participation at this point.

Not only does the NSA directly access these companies’ servers, which serve primarily Americans, they are sharing PRISM’s power of unbridled access into our internet usage with the UK government. That’s right. The GCHQ – that’s the UK’s NSA equivalent – has the same access to all of our information that our own Obama administration is enjoying.

As for President Obama, he and his administration are, of course, downplaying the whole PRISM-gate and denying that PRISM was ever used to collect data on Americans or on people living in the US. At the same time, he says this is a “modest encroachment” on privacy that is a worthy trade off for preventing terrorism. (Attorneys will recognize this as “arguing in the alternative.”) Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disagree with the inconsequential nature of these violations and are considering the legal options on behalf of the American people and others living within US borders.

As a recovering attorney, I could give you my take on the constitutionality and legal implications of this surveillance program. As a senior intelligence operative, Holmes could certainly enlighten us were he at liberty to do so. However, former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden says it best in his own words. Please take a few minutes to listen to this interview with him about PRISM, why he gave up the good life he led in Hawaii—he can never go home again—and what he hopes to accomplish with his revelations.

Programs like PRISM are extremely powerful and can reach into anyone’s email, internet records, and phone records. I am not suggesting that America should not track terrorists, but I see no sign from the Obama administration that any safeguards whatsoever are in place. Instead, the president suggests that we should take it all on good faith that his administration is not targeting Americans. Strong echoes of Richard Nixon’s infamous, “Trust me.”

In all of the stir this has created, we haven’t yet heard the deeper questions. Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection? Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors? Do the IRS and other agencies get to use this information collected on us in the name of safety for their own purposes? After all, it’s much easier to target political opponents with such things as IRS scrutiny when their entire communication history is available for review.

Regardless of the answers to these questions, the most important point to remember is this:  the American government doesn’t do anything that the American people don’t let it get away with—yet. Where will we draw our line?

Related Links:

1)    Here’s the Law the Obama Administration is Using as Legal Justification for Broad Surveillance. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

2)    Obama: No One is Listening to Your Calls. Michael Pearson, CNN Politics, June 9, 2013.

3)    Obama Blasts Media ‘Hype’ Over Secret Program, Calling Them ‘Modest Encroachments on Privacy’. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.

4)    Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations. Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Lora Poitras, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.

5)    NSA PRISM Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google, and others. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.

6)    U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program. Barton Gellman and Lora Poitras, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.

Holmes Writes a Tearful Dear John Letter to Gadhafi

By Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Piper:

Holmes has a long and involved past with Moammar Gadhafi (“Uncle Momo”) so these events in Libya are especially moving for him. It wasn’t a difficult decision for him to write this Dear John Letter now that it looks like a break up in their relationship is imminent. His only regrets are that he didn’t have the chance to write it thirty years ago, and that extenuating circumstances prevent him from personally delivering it to Gadhafi today.

When I read it, the first thing I did was crack up laughing. Then I pointed out that, without a little background, it might sound too much like an inside joke. Please enjoy the brief history lesson so that you, too, can rofl with us. . . .

During the Cold War, Gadhafi allowed the Soviets, the East Germans, and the other Warsaw Pact countries to use Libya as a giant terrorist training camp. Sometimes there were upwards of 30 camps operating at a time for the purpose of training terrorist groups to attack Israel and Western nations. Gadhafi even cooperated with the Irish Republican Army for a while, until the IRA decided he was too filthy even for them.

Holmes and many of his friends spent decades intimately involved in fighting the Soviets, the East Germans, and the various terrorist organizations they sponsored. The stories of their sacrifices will never be told, but they were numerous and deeply personal.

In 1986, Gadhafi was blown away (pun intended) that his vaunted, high-tech Soviet Air Defense System proved useless against a rather limited air attack by less than two dozen aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. Rumors circulated that clandestine operations had simultaneously been carried out against military assets in Libya. In addition, Gadhafi’s Syrian allies had sent their best naval unit to the Gulf of Sidra with the intention of guaranteeing damage to the U.S. 6th fleet. That Syrian ship exploded shortly after casting off from its dock in Libya. Both Syria and Libya were left unenthusiastic about the prospects of any future engagements with the U.S. 6th fleet, despite the best cheerleading the Soviets could bring to bear.

As part of our Bayard & Holmes Peace Initiative, we are doing what we can to encourage Uncle Momo to seek a new career, and we are offering him a free gift from our Peace Initiative product line. The following is Holmes’ own personal appeal in the form of an open Dear John Letter to Uncle Momo. . . .

Holmes:

My Dearest Momo,

Perhaps you are surprised that I would write you now, but after all these years, I hate to see us break up this way. The lack of closure is emotionally draining for both of us. After all, my relationship with you has lasted even longer than my marriage thus far.

I was so young and impetuous when we first met. I know that some of the things that I have said and done may have hurt your feelings. Please accept that my friends and I always acted with sincerity and the best of intentions. I hope you can understand that some of the things you did were really hurtful to me and to many of my close friends, as well.

I am sitting here listening to Carol King sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, and it brings me so many fond memories of our long and often exciting friendship. All those years. . . . So many cute hats, none of which ever fit you. . . . Those charming outfits. . . . That lovely fireworks display on a romantic spring night in 1986. . . . These  memories all come flooding back to me as I sit here and laugh cry.

Seeing you in such painful difficulties these days has made me re-evaluate our long connection. I want this to all end for us on the best possible note. Although I know you have not always loved me, I am sure you have never questioned my sincerity or passion. It’s all been very real for me.

Based on my deeper understanding of our heart-felt connection, I am offering you a gift. . . . A gift from my heart. . . . In fact, in your honor, I have decided to offer this special gift to any deserving person in the world. . . . the Seventy-Two Virgins Golden Retirement Plan. In fact, out of my deep respect for you, I will ask potential retirees in the future to plan in advance by donating a small portion of their plunder to my special fund, so that I may be able to help as many needy souls as possible.

Because of all the years of joy you have brought me, I am offering this gift to you free of any of your normal financial arrangements. Unlike your other so-called friends, Gordon Brown and Silvio Berlusconi, I won’t take a penny from you. Yes Momo, I know about that gas pipeline you built to Silvio’s house, and look at how he has repaid you! But I forgive you. And I want you to know that my friendship with Markus Wolf* in no way detracted from all we have been to each other. “Mischa” never meant a thing to me.

My dear friend, stop struggling and give yourself the rest you deserve. Those seventy-two virgins will keep you happy for eternity. I know how picky you are about your meals so I have also arranged for a lovely, doting Ukrainian nurse to be your celestial mommy. Just stop for a moment and think of your future, Momo. Imagine being young again, imagine being attractive this time, imagine four exhausted recent virgins by your side, and your mommy’s voice entering that lovely silk tent. . . .”Ooo, Momo darling. . . . come to lunch Dear. Mommy made you your favorite lamb goulash. . . .”

Please come and visit soon so that we can implement your overdue, well-deserved gift. I want to finally repay you for our long years of friendship. Come what may, never forget that we had Paris in the spring, Rome in the fall, and those wonderful picnics on the Algerian border. Thank you for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

Sincerely,

Holmes, CEO, Celestial After-Care, Inc.

*Markus Wolf was the despised director of the foreign intelligence branch of the East German Stasi (secret police).