The US Surveillance State is scrambling to save itself in the wake of a federal ruling that declared the bulk collection of metadata under a provision of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire on June 1, illegal. But the reason for so many ‘experts’ touting the benefits of surveillance, goes beyond the basic desire to spy on Americans. Because, as you might imagine, “terrorism” is big business.
Under the guise of such a nebulous phrase as the ‘War on Terror’, it’s well known how the military-industrial complex is thriving. But another booming industry has escaped the same attention, in part because the subject, itself, is so controversial — surveillance. As we learn with increasing frequency, the government often acts as a proxy for corporate interests, and the business of spying is no exception.
As would be important with any issue where the government is concerned, examining the personal history and financial ties of the so-called ‘experts’ offering reasons why surveillance is so crucial will give better insight into why we’re being spied on.
Acting on insight into the NSA’s insidious surveillance program from leaks by various whistleblowers, The Intercept investigated ties between spying’s biggest proponents and the lucrative field of surveillance.
With House approval and an upcoming vote from the Senate, the USA Freedom Act, which by name purports to give us freedom from spying, but by content helps the program continue, these experts are popping up everywhere to explain why giving up a little liberty for security really isn’t a big deal. But a big deal is precisely what someone like Jack Keane, a military analyst for Fox News, will get if the bill passes. Keane is certainly well-qualified to give his opinion, having been a four-star General in the Army and now heading the Institute for the Study of War, but when he said the bulk collection of phone records is “vital for national security”, his opinion wasn’t an unbiased piece of advice.
Keane, who was a proponent of legislation similar to the Freedom Act, would have the public believe that “what the NSA has been doing has been right on the mark”. There is good reason for this, since he has served as a board member for NSA contractor General Dynamics since 2004, a position which earns him a quarter million dollars in annual income through cash and stock options. According to a Boston Globe article from 2010, he also consults with other military contractors to have his clients hired into government jobs, though he claims his lobbying falls below the requirement for registration under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Calling the unprecedented information disclosure by Edward Snowden a “traitorous act [which] is a perfect example of the dual threat we face from state and non-state actors” doesn’t seem that unusual. But when former Republican National Committee Chair Jim Gilmore did so, it was from the perspective of board member for a major NSA contractor. Since 2009, Gilmore has earned more than $1 million in that seat at CACI International, the same firm whose contractors were responsible for the graphic abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Not so coincidentally, CACI purchased another NSA contracting firm in 2013 for $820 million, the cybersecurity-focused Six3 Systems. Gilmore doesn’t deny his NSA ties, saying “I do not feel I have a conflict of interest that would prevent me from commenting on public policy issues related to national security. […] I have been very vocal in the past as to warning against the loss of civil freedoms”, but says that loss would be from the “reaction to the dangers we face in today’s world.” His statement sneakily switches the blame for domestic surveillance from the NSA to the public.
Think tanks help to shape opinions and drive policy, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies has been a major advocate of the “irreplaceable role” of surveillance in the American landscape. In May last year, CSIS issued a report, subtitled “Principles for Rebuilding Trust in Intelligence Activities”. This report disputes the fact that no terrorist attack has ever been thwarted through the sweeping communications surveillance program, calling that “perception […] wrong.” Of course, the center has good reason to do so. The government officials who released the report included CSIS president, John Hamre, who received nearly a quarter million dollars that year as a board member for NSA contractor Leidos. Former NSA director Mike McConnell was also partly responsible for that report, and at the time of its release, he was vice chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton. This is the same NSA contracting firm made famous when some of its documents were leaked by Edward Snowden.
Such stunning conflicts of interest reveal a frightening trend that has permeated every facet of life in the US: big business profit will always trump personal liberties in the eyes of the government. Once an avenue for raking in cash has been found, there is virtually nothing at our disposal to stop it. Since the exploitation of section 215 of the Patriot Act for collecting metadata was deemed illegal, there is a distinct threat to the livelihood of big surveillance businesses, and experts singing industry praises are their life preservers. It’s a guarantee. Therefore, that surveillance will continue, whether through deft policy handiwork or creative interpretation of existing legislation. The significance of the profit connection must be divulged to a public otherwise duped by the cloak of security. When military bases across the country raise their threat level right before the Patriot Act provisions are due for renewal, motives become transparent.
Everyone knows money talks, and now, more than ever, it’s watching, too.