America’s Surveillance State 4

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TIME CODE: 00:00 _05:00


The Internet was originally created by a government Defense agency but it quickly became a platform for the growth of a new industry worldwide offering a wide range of attractive products and services.

As the web became popular with hundreds of millions of users, Intelligence agencies like the NSA decided to use it for its own purposes. An instrument for global communication soon became a tool for massive spying, part of a Surveillance Industrial Complex.

The vast super secret National Security Agency took to the internet like a fish takes to water.

There is an often invisible but deep connection between a high-tech government intelligence service and the corporate world, as well as tensions between the companies, their customers and the government.

It works on many levels.

First, the Intelligence agency works with thousands of businesses who offer services and provide contractors. Some of the big ones are on an NSA advisory panel, and others are deeply complicit with its global spying and surveillance mission. At the same time, that many are criticising government spying, customers are pressuring their phone and internet companies accusing them of violating their privacy.

Here’s one case—documented in this chart shown in a lawsuit proving that AT&T set up a special room to intercept calls the government wanted to spy on.

All of this collusion upsets the CEO of another tech company, Roy Singham, of Thought works

Roy Singham:

The sad part about this, is that it is really something that undermines commerce, it has undermined privacy, it has undermined security. It is so hypocritical what these companies and governments have done to something that could have been so revolutionary, so important to the human race, this globalisation of an internet economy, and it’s been destroyed quite frankly by this collaboration.


The NSA is proud of its partnerships with many companies as these documents released by Edward Snowden make clear. The agency has made deals with corporations to provide data, in exchange for information on threats against their operations, as these formerly secret documents show. This relationship is documented in Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s book, “No Place To Hide.”

This leaked graphic refers to what NSA calls “Strategic Partnerships”—80 Major Global Corporations in all…including well -known computer, telephone and internet companies.

This graphic outlines the specific targets of NSA “Collection:”

Illustrate Words:


*Video and Voice Chats



*Stored Data and more

THIS DOCUMENT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2012 SHOWS a 32% Increase In Cooperation from over 45,000 COMPANIES. The Agency reports a strong growth in data from Google, Up 63%, Facebook, up 131%, and SKYPE—up 248%

We asked NSA Whistleblower Russ Tice about these partnerships:

Danny Schechter :

It seems as if a lot of the technology companies are actually being paid to share their quote “data” with the NSA.

Russ Tice :

Absolutely. And in some respects I have a little bit of sympathy for some of these companies because it’s a carrot and a stick. Now, the carrot is: ‘Oh by the way, we’re going to pay you tens of thousands millions of dollars and beef-up your bottom-line for this information’. The stick is, ‘if you don’t give us the information, we’re going to make life miserable for you. We’re going to cut back on your government contracts’, and as the CEO of Quest Communications found out, ‘we’re going to put you in jail if we can find some can nitty gritty thing that we can pin on you’. And I think he just got out of jail just of couple of months ago.


Companies are often ordered to supply information for which they are paid. This is an actual court document showing that NSA requests to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court results in “orders” to the company. The companies like this process because they then can claim they are being forced to cooperate and not because of all the money they make.

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Danny Schechter :

So, in other words, there is intimidation actually. This is really almost mafia-like.

Russ Tice :

Absolutely. This is extortion and blackmail.


But some of these companies engage in spying themselves--challenges to Google’s use of Street View cars seems on its way to the Supreme Court. Their role has the attention of (show Frontline trailer) Martin Smith, a producer At PBS’ Frontline program

Smith says that businesses in Silicon Valley helped create the Surveillance State.

Martin Smith:

the cell phone that you carry tracks everything, everywhere you go. It increasingly tracks what you buy. Your email is scanned so that advertisements can be placed. But that’s creating a turnkey surveillance state that is, um… that everybody is participating in. It’s not just journalists and their sources, but everybody is exposed. Their information, they are… Google knows more about you than any institution on the planet at this point.

Danny Schechter :

But, these companies want you to sign privacy agreements. They claim to be protecting your privacy.

Martin Smith :

Well, they are! They do have privacy agreements and if you took the time to read them, uh, perhaps you can make a rational decision. But you’d never get out, out of your house. You’d be there reading these privacy agreements for months on end.


Alfredo Lopez runs an Internet business to empower citizens:

Danny Schechter :’re a customer of a sign a privacy agreement with them, they have an implied contract with, to actually ensure data is treated confidentially and in private, but they’ve broken that haven’t they, many of them?

Alfredo Lopez :

They’ve broken it and they also--you have to really be careful. Google collaborates with the US government--it’s on a bunch of committees with the US government, and its privacy and data protection agreement is has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. So, they can do literally anything they want with your data. In fact, gmail, Google writes into it’s Gmail agreement the ability to actually read your email! They claim it’s for marketing purposes. But the same apparatus they use to read your email, can also be used by some government official to figure what, um, you know, what it is you’re--what it is you’re talking about and who it is you’re talking to.

Danny Schechter :

So, this is a battleground, isn’t it? Uh, between, you know, the desire of people to communicate without being spied on, and the insistence by the government to spy on them!

Alfredo Lopez :

That is correct.


The companies require privacy agreements, like these, that customers think protect them. But, many of these agreements are written by lawyers who know how to conceal or sanitize the real meaning.

The language is deceptive, writes Wolf Richter: “They’re all doing it. They’re part of the enormously hyped bubble of Big Data whose business model is to collect and monetize your personal information, which has become part of a new asset class. And seeing this, the NSA is dying of data envy.”

At the same time, initially at least, most of the big companies would not discuss their involvement, or deny it.

Larry Page of Google said: "press reports that suggest that Google is providing open-ended access to our users’ data are false, period.”

Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan said: "We do not provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers.”

Later, Mashable reported, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other tech giants knew of the existence of the secret NSA surveillance program PRISM.

The NSA’s general counsel says tech companies were aware of PRISM, they just didn't know it was called that.

Panel Host:

Early on in the debate, there were some statements by companies who may or may not have been involved in the program say, “Well, we’ve never heard of PRISM.” But, whether they’ve ever heard of PRISM, any company that was--from whom information was being obtained under 702 knew that it was being obtained.”

NSA General Counsel, Rajesh De:

Correct. PRISM is just an internal government term that is a result of the leaks became a public term, but collection under those programs has been done presumably to puslerary legal process that any recipient company would have received.”


According to Thomas GJelten, a correspondent for NPR, the NSA and many companies signed on to ESF—Enduring Security Framework to work together in a mutually rewarding way.

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Thomas GJelten:

“As part of what’s called the Enduring Security Framework, chief executives of top US corporations are brought to Washington 2 or 3 times a year for a one day classified briefing. For each session, the CEOs get special top secret clearances so they can be told about the latest in cyber weaponry. They can then go back to their companies and take steps to deal with the threats they hear about, threats they may not previously taken seriously.”


Suddenly Tech Companies began spending millions to boost their images:

Bill Blunden Interview :

“Right now we exist in a Surveillance State. I have no doubt in my mind that we have, you know, the corporate players and the governments spies have put in place a mechanism where they can monitor almost everything at real time. And to assume that our secret policies, which are judged by courts that are secret, and issue mandates that are secret--to believe that this secret mechanism will safeguard us from devolving into a police state I think is really the height of recklessness.”


Al Jazeera published emails showing a close PERSONAL relationship between Google and NSA.

No wonder journalist Glenn Greenwald says:

Glenn Greenwald:

“There almost is no division between the private sector and the NSA...or the private sector and the Pentagon when it comes to the American national security state--they really are essentially one.”


Here’s just one list of NSA private contractors:

Thomas Drake :

this goes back before 9/11, that the NSA was increasingly, in the internet age, was increasingly going out to the defense, military industrial defense intelligence complex, and granting very very large contract vehicles in the billions and billions of dollars, to quote unquote: solve the big data problem, to solve the intelligence problem of the digital age.


Former NSA executive Thomas Drake told us a less expensive in-house surveillance program was later junked and replaced by one built by a private contractor, SAIC, at a much higher cost:

Thomas Drake:

The dark secret, which I have continued to talk about is that the very best of American ingenuity and innovation had already solved the problem, they just chose to ignore it. One particular program is called ThinThread, and it was developed for just over $3 million, but it didn't stand a chance against a program called Trailblazer which was $4billion when it was awarded with great fanfare as a fly well contract, the flagship program which would take NSA into the digital age. And that was in the spring of 2000, in fact I was getting told by my number 3, who I reported to, he says you know, you have got to get at least $10 million to even get noticed and 2, ThinThread came out of a, we call it Signals Intelligence Automated Research Centre, otherwise known as SARC, it was really a centre of excellence...

Danny Schechter :

But it was internal.

Thomas Drake :

It was internal, had about a dozen people, right, and guess what...

Danny Schechter :

It was replaced by a $4 billion project

Thomas Drake :

That $4 billion project had already been awarded. It was the corporate solution. You did not challenge a corporate solution. Even though the acquisition regulations, the contracts regs require you to determined if there are any alternatives or existing solutions, that meet the requirements. They just...because you are outsourcing, this was the choice that another critical strategic decision made by General Hayden, which was that we are going to buy the solution, not make it. There was no in-between.


Working for Spy Agencies can become a company’s profit center. The conglomerate that Edward Snowden worked for reportedly made over a billion dollars servicing defense agencies like NSA.

WOCH Report:

“Silicon Valley is escalating pressure on President Barack Obama to curb the US government surveillance programs that vacuum personal information off the internet and threaten the technology industry’s financial livelihood. A coalition that includes Google, Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, and Microsoft lashed out in an open letter printed Monday in major newspapers. The crusade united 8 companies that often compete fiercely against each other, but now find themselves banding together to limit the potential damage from revelations about the National Security Agency’s snooping on web servers.”

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As exposes of the corporate role mounted, foreign companies no longer wanted to do business in America.

Fox News anchor NSA effects on Tech industry :

“There are reports rolling in saying that US businesses are feeling fallout overseas from the NSA spying revelations. You normally wouldn’t make the connection, but other countries are actually thinking twice now about buying goods that are made by US companies.”


Even Julian Assange of Wikileaks commented on how American Companies were being hurt.

Julian Assange :

“I’ve been involved in the tech industry for a long time. I know my friends in the US are really hurting as a result of NSA dis--of what has happened in the NSA. As far as the outside world is concerned, the United States has become an archipelago of coercion. Where any person you are dealing with in business at Google, or at Facebook, or Yahoo, or a telecommunications company...might have become, secretly, an agent of the National Security Agency because they’re ordered to do so by the FISA court--and they’re forced to keep that secret all through the mechanism of National Security letters.”


One Study reported that the US Cloud Computing industry could lose $36 Billion in business.

Even as companies challenged NSA access, a top Secret Court that oversees surveillance has time and time again ruled for the NSA.

Some companies like Microsoft published secret internal manuals to show employees how to cooperate with government requests. This one was leaked.

The manual shows that the company set up a special portal for government agencies to make requests. Google decided to publicize the growing number of requests for information they were receiving to show how transparent they are.

Then, for PR reasons, many companies began pressuring the government to reform the NSA:

Mark Zuckerberg at TechCrunch :

“I think that the government blew it. I think that they blew it on communicating what they were--basically a balance of what they were going for here with this. So, you know, the morning after it started breaking like a bunch of people asked them what they thought, and the government’s comment was “Oh don’t worry, basically we’re not spying on any Americans.” Oh, wonderful! Yeah, that’s really helpful to companies who are trying to serve people around the world--and really going to inspire confidence in American internet companies--it’s like, thanks for going out there and being really clear about what you’re doing! So, I think that that was really bad.”


Some companies are even defying the NSA. Others say the government is irresponsibly blaming them unfairly:

The tech industry is less thrilled that the White House is shining a light on their data-collection practices through its "big data" report. Companies issued statements urging the White House to turn its attention back to how the NSA collects private data. Criticizing them, they say, is irresponsible.

Roy Singham :

I mean we haven't had this type of arrogance of American, corporate government language, in my opinion, since the 50's, you know when what's good for general motors, is good for america and I think it is time that the businesses in the rest of the world took notice of this, monopolisation of corporations and said, this is not good for our countries, our clients, our customers, its not good for the world.


At the same time, they’ve made videos like this to show the public how they handle requests for information on their customers.

Google “Way of Warrant” :

“In the course of a criminal investigation, sometimes the government requests information of Google users. Here’s how we protect user’s information from excessive requests, while also following the law. Let’s say the federal authorities want information from Google about user “Hughdunnit22”-- Google protects your rights by upholding the 4th Amendment. The law requires authorities to use a search warrant when seeking private content, like email. If there’s enough evidence to support an application for a search warrant, the investigator heads to court. The judge inspects the application, and if satisfied, issues a search warrant.”


To Alfredo Lopez, videos like this give the impression that these companies are being sensitive to customer concerns:

Alfredo Lopez :

They say a range of things. Most of the time the people that we interact with in the bodies that I’m with when I go to different activities, you know, with hotsie-totsie people where they pay for your lunch and dinner, they say “you’re right, Alfredo! And we’re working on that.” Or it’s another--see everything is so compartmentalized and divided that it’s a self protection--they can protect themselves. They also--here is the problem: to see the picture this way, you have to have the politics to see the picture...and that’s what I keep saying to people that I talk to all the time.

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Roy Singham :

I think, as somebody in the tech sector, something that is more upsetting to me is the lack of vigilance, in the first place, of the corporations and their hypocrisy in the defence of this, and they have no real plan to put pressure on the US govt or international bodies, to protect their other citizens. Listen we’re a global business. I operate in 30 countries, we have people working I think in 15 countries right now, we have consumers, we have businesses in all these countries, most global businesses do. Whom am I accountable to? Am I not accountable to my client in india? Or to my client in South africa? Of course I am. You can't pretend that you like global business, and then you think it is ok that one country and one country's corporations have this unlimited licence to exploit and spy on the rest of the world.

Alfredo Lopez:

You can not proceedfrom the premise that the government has the right to conduct surveillance against you or anyone else. It does not have that right under the Constitution of the United States! It says it clearly! And, you know, all this stuff about well we have to surveil criminals, and terrorists, and d’you know someone is a criminal?! And how do you know someone is a terrorist? Why you takin’ my email?”

Martin Smith :

If these companies can collect this information, so can the government.


Martin Smith’s Frontline series exposed corporate collusion with the NSA.

Frontline Trailer :

“The googles, the facebooks collect as much as our sensitive data as possible. But anything you hand to a private company is potentially the government’s. The NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. Corporate America, and the national security state know such much about us, and we know so little about them.”

Martin Smith :

Well, I do see it as one of the stories of our time. It affects us all here as to whether or not we’re going to be adequately informed about what our government is doing and, we do have a first amendment of free speech, and a fourth amendment, that need, um, um, search and seizure… we need protections. They need to be upheld.


Donald Bird, teaches journalism at Long Island University. He says, not all of his students even recognize the problem:

Donald Bird:

our students think that the Internet is just a utility. You turn it on and it runs. It’s water, electricity, whatever, and the Internet really has to be the same. And, they’re on their machines all the time. I took a train to Chicago and back recently because my son’s at Northwestern University, and the kids, they’re all on their screens, they’re not talking to each other, they’re never going to meet a significant other…..

Danny Schechter :

But many of them may not know, may not care that other people are paying attention to what they’re actually saying or they’re recording what they’re saying. They’re being monitored. They’re being spied on.

Donald Bird :

Oh, I know that! I know that. I know that. I tell them that when I go into my Bank of America there are fourteen cameras on me, watching me. There are cameras everywhere. We know that and so forth. And I tell them never to text anything they wouldn’t want their mother to read. ….

Danny Schechter :

Is privacy dead then? I mean, personal privacy?

Donald Bird :

I think so! I think it is…

Danny Schechter :

So, in a sense the NSA by its overreach, if you will, and its desire to control everything, has actually led to spark the global resistance to it.

Roy Singham :

This is about economic, military, political, ideological, historical, control. This is the fundamental nature of power in the world. Whoever controls the commanding heights of the new world economy, which is the internet, dominates the economic landscape for the next 50 years. Then dominates the politics and with that they dominate the political and military narrative. My sister’s a historian and others have told me that when you have a chance to rewrite history, you control the future. This is also about changing the history of the past, that’s dangerous. Victors write history. If we’re not careful we’re going to create a situation where the history of the people who fought against Civil Rights Movement, that’s going to be obliterated. How did Nelson Mandela go to prison? It was the American deputy ambassador who turned him in. Those facts of history will be conveniently discarded if we’re not careful. And that’s what’s at stake. The future of history and the future of knowledge.


COMING UP NEXT: Combating Insider Threats –the NSA’s latest preoccupation since the disclosures by Edward Snowden created a firestorm. You will meet whistleblowers and hear their dramatic stories in the next episode of America’s Surveillance State.


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