Wednesday, November 12, 2014


"Ultimately what concerned me...was the deception of government officials... We do have to know the bare and broad outlines of the powers that our government is claiming broadly and how they affect us... Because if we don't, we are no longer citizens. We no longer have leaders. We're subjects and we have rulers. Democracy is about participation. And if we are denied the information that we need in order to vote about the policies we want...and the boundaries of our rights... We're no longer really free. We are beginning a descent into a less free, less liberal, more authoritarian society. And when that descent begins, it is very difficult to reverse."
The Virtual Interview: Edward Snowden - The New Yorker Festival
Update: CitizenFour will open at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, WA November 21st: -Thanks RMF

On Veteran's Day I went to see CitizenFour at the SIFF Cinema Uptown in the Queen Anne District. It was clearly worth the $12 and the drive to Seattle. Every American should see this film.  Anyone even thinking about dedicating their lives to service for their country should see this film. And, of course, every activist should see this film.  Laura Poitras  is probably the best filmmaker in America today.  This film may be the most revolutionary film to appear across America in recent years. CitizenFour will open at the Pickford Film Center in Bellingham, WA November 21st:

Citizen Four has an extraordinary feel to those of us who have kept abreast of the Snowden disclosures. This is not so much a documentary as it is "reality film".  Only, these aren't just aspiring actors or hapless citizens stuck on some island. In one room with one very heroic, principled, intelligent 29 year old are two of the greatest risk taking journalists in recent American history. What they document, discuss and reveal is far more than a surveillance state.

When you read the documents for the Snowden disclosures, an astute reader is impressed with the scope of the NSA's surveillance mechanisms.  Through Edward Joseph Snowden's words, CitizenFour makes this scope breathtakingly real for the viewer. "This is not science fiction," Snowden says at one point. "Those surveillance nodes are capable of 1 Tb/second."  In another moment he discusses how his hotel VOIP phone has a microphone inside that can be turned on remotely as needed. "Not sure why I didn't think of that before," Snowden comments as he unplugs what looks like a CAT V cable from back of the phone.  Poitras' film reveals the NSA's surveillance efforts to be a massive international effort. At one point in the film, we watch the Guardian (censors) editors black out 'MIT' in a slide.  But it is not the technical revelations or political intrigue that mesmerized me as I watched this film.
NSA (and GCHQ) surveillance is clearly about "going massive" as Donald Rumsfeld once famously said: "Sweep up everything." The NSA and GCHQ  have  "gone massive" and they are currently sweeping, cataloging, characterizing, and storing all digital and analog communications.  During the film, communications between Snowden and Poitras confirm that British law allows GCHQ to do a "full take" (in real time) of all content and metadata.  Clearly, that's the NSA's long term goal as well.  This is not about searching for terrorism. This is about something else entirely. The system the NSA has built is a template for total surveillance of citizenry: their metadata, their contacts, their words, their social networks, their google searches, their spending habits, their locations. This system is designed to build a digital reconstruction of any individual and his group memberships; a cumulative portrait of identity, activity, and intention of all.

Such a system will ultimately be used for only one goal: to shape and predict behavior. We can now posit how 1984 has come to pass. The future of our species will clearly be about austerity, inequality, poverty and war. Profits will continue to accrue to an elite class and guarantee a  miserable existence for most everyone else. To protect against against uprisings and revolt among the 10B people who will inhabit this war torn, poverty stricken and resource depleted planet by the end of this century, the elite of the Earth have developed integrated systems to surveil all of their citizens, shape and reroute culture and squash not just dissent, but innovation, change, health and democracy. The surveillance system will power and feed a less and less free media. Governmental reform will be designed to protect the wealth of its citizenry and assets at all costs; prohibiting protest from those who decry injustice.

The scope of the NSA surveillance system is a template for surveillance and control that will be used for many other fields: voting, health,energy, resource allocation. This is the true meaning of "big data": a real time, integrated knowledge and control set of sub systems suitable for maintaining an order on Earth compatible with corporate profits and nation state economic goals.  We can expect to find at the end of this a (more) militarized police state, complicated prohibitions and laws designed to discourage individual liberty and freedom, and a burgeoning prison system.  Surprise, surprise. We are already there, aren't we?  For your future, make sure you see CitizenFour.

Please see also this post from Socialist Equality Party. An appendix to this post is an  edited email I sent this week about the historical relationship of surveillance with social control.

 I actually believe it a rare piece of cinema that covers (in what amounts to nearly real historical timeline) a seminal moment in intellectual history and social governance.  I've heard it said that less than five percent of Americans follow the Snowden disclosures with a "returning interest".  It is almost hard to believe that considering the absolutely dramatic revelations Snowden himself and the the news sources who have published and  edited his material have produced . Among most disturbing for myself as a network engineer are that:
  1.  The world's ATM ('backbone') routers have been hijacked as listening posts for the NSA
  2.  Advanced technology has been invented that allows for not only the collection but storage and analysis of data throughput like the 1 Tb/s nodes ES mentions in the film.
  3.  All personal tech and application software from cell phones to laptops to Skype to Gmail to Facebook has "institutionalized backdoors" (either with permission or not) that allow for real time monitoring upon 'Selector' to use Snowden's phrase.
  4. The level of software development is portrayed in almost every presentation leaked so far as an integrated  development system, diverse, well financed, under continual development with long term plans for expansion of the surveillance and storage facilities as hardware capacity improves.
This is not just "surveillance".  We can be rest assured that this is the head;  a peak of a  comprehensive system of social control and monitoring that will be used against domestic targets and activists. An excellent example of how this happened in our state is being defended by a local Bellingham attorney Larry Hildes. [123]. You can  assume that  this case like this is simply the tip of the iceberg in what are probably a large intelligence collection effort directed at members or our own community.  I think it would be important to have the Pickford have an opening night for this film: an event with a discussion panel coordinated with some local activist group that understands the significance  of the attention their communications and activities are now receiving.

BTW, an excellent of the historical existence of surveillance and control systems like this can be found by reviewing the published history of Cointelpro [12].  Snowden's  revelations reveal a federal system far more extensive and probing than anything the FBI had in the sixties and seventies.   Also, it is worth noting that the activities of the Federal Government under Cointelpro did not come to light until ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office and stole documents that revealed it [1, 23].  Perhaps there is an old timer living here in Bellingham, like a Bonnie Raines, who could speak at the opening of CitizenFour and help your viewers to understand the historical context of surveillance.

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