What's Driving the U.S. to Massively Spy on Billions of People?

November 4, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Since June of this year, a series of exposures about the horrendously massive surveillance by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) on the communications of billions of phone and Internet users in the U.S. and other countries have shaken and outraged people around the world. This began with reportage in the British newspaper the Guardian by Glenn Greenwald, based on documents brought to light by former NSA consultant Edward Snowden—who courageously stepped forward as a whistleblower after witnessing first-hand the rampant crimes being committed by the U.S. government with its spying operations.

Among the latest revelations based on files leaked by Snowden are the reports that for many years, the NSA recorded the cell phone conversations of the head of the German government, Chancellor Angela Merkel. This spying operation began in 2002, even before Merkel became chancellor. President Barack Obama's spokesman refused to acknowledge that the U.S. had been listening in on Merkel's phone conversations, only saying that such surveillance is not going on now. The news that the U.S. was tapping the personal phone of the leader of one of its major allies has sparked a huge furor in Germany and across Europe.

Merkel is hardly the only government leader to be targeted by NSA spying. The Guardian reported that "the NSA encourages senior officials in its 'customer' departments [i.e., government departments that receive the intelligence data gathered by the NSA], such as the White House, State and the Pentagon, to share their 'Rolodexes' so the agency can add the phone numbers of leading foreign politicians to their surveillance systems." In September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff angrily canceled a state visit to the U.S. to meet with Obama after reports of NSA spying on Rousseff and other top Brazilian officials. Other U.S. "allies" reportedly targeted include the current and former presidents of Mexico and the European Union offices in Belgium—and all this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A November 3 New York Times article disclosed that the NSA intercepted communications from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, to obtain his talking points for an April meeting with Obama at the White House. This major front-page article, "No Morsel Too Miniscule For All-Consuming N.S.A.," describes how the NSA "sucks the contents from fiber-optic cables, sits on telephone switches and Internet hubs, digitally burglarizes laptops and plants bugs on smartphones around the globe," calling the "scale and aggressiveness" of NSA's agenda "breathtaking." Watch for more coverage of this at revcom.us.

And if the U.S. imperialists brazenly spy on an important close ally like Merkel, can anyone doubt that they see absolutely no limits when it comes to highly intrusive surveillance on anyone? In fact, it's no exaggeration to say, as we did at the beginning, that the NSA spying is aimed at literally billions of people around the planet who the U.S. rulers see as enemies or potential enemies. Some of these are reactionary Islamic fundamentalist forces that the U.S. sees as obstacles to its control of strategic areas of the world. Some of the spying is aimed at rival global or regional powers that the U.S. is contending with for domination. Some is aimed at allies, who the U.S. "trusts" the way a mob boss trusts his underlings.

The original exposures based on the Snowden files revealed, in the words of the New York Times, "There is every reason to believe the federal government has been collecting every bit of information about every American's phone calls except the words actually exchanged in those calls." The NSA has also been collecting data directly from the servers of major U.S. service providers like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and others, with the cooperation of those providers.

Other reports have revealed the NSA collected data on tens and hundreds of millions of phone calls in Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and other countries. According to an article co-written by Greenwald in the Indian daily, the Hindu, "In the overall list of countries spied on by NSA programs, India stands at fifth place, with billions of pieces of information plucked from its telephone and internet networks just in 30 days."

The vast range of NSA surveillance outlined in the Nov. 3 NY Times article includes: "The agency's Dishfire database… stores years of text messages from around the world, just in case. Its Tracfin collection accumulates gigabytes of credit card purchases. The fellow pretending to send a text message at an Internet café in Jordan may be using an N.S.A. technique code-named Polarbreeze to tap into the nearby computers. The Russian businessman who is socially active on the web might just become food for Snacks, the acronym-mad agency's Social Network Analysis Collaboration Knowledge Services, which figures out the personnel hierarchies of organizations from texts."

Among the other latest outrages to come out based on the Snowden files is the news that the NSA had secretly accessed the main fiber-optic communication links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world. This gives the NSA the ability to freely collect data from hundreds of millions of accounts belonging to people in the U.S. as well as around the world.

An October 30 Washington Post article reported, "According to a top-secret accounting dated Jan. 9, 2013, the NSA's acquisitions directorate sends millions of records every day from internal Yahoo and Google networks to data warehouses at the agency's headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. In the preceding 30 days, the report said, field collectors had processed and sent back 181,280,466 new records—including 'metadata,' which would indicate who sent or received e-mails and when, as well as content such as text, audio and video.

"The NSA's principal tool to exploit the data links is a project called MUSCULAR, operated jointly with the agency's British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters. From undisclosed interception points, the NSA and the GCHQ are copying entire data flows across fiber-optic cables that carry information among the data centers of the Silicon Valley giants."

The Obama White House and U.S. officials have responded to all this with a mixture of shameless lies, promises of internal "investigations" (which, no doubt, mean an even more intense witch-hunt in an effort to prevent more whistleblowers like Snowden), and outright defense of the NSA surveillance. It's become clear since the flood of NSA exposures began in June that the U.S is, in fact, doing everything they claimed they're not doing. They said they don't spy on the phone calls of everyone in the U.S.—they are. They claimed that the "metadata" they're collecting is not really spying—this is, in fact, invasive surveillance that provides the kind of "intel" that the U.S. uses to track and even assassinate people—including U.S. citizens—without trials. They said they only collect data with cooperation of phone and Internet service providers—in fact, they've broken into the communication networks that carry vast amounts of personal information.

Edward Snowden told Glenn Greenwald, "I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in." People are coming into this debate and resistance around NSA surveillance with various views and ways of thinking. The following is an important point of orientation about what is actually driving the massive surveillance by the U.S. imperialists. (This is excerpted from "Five Basic Points of Orientation on the Revelations of Government Surveillance" which appeared on revcom.us in June. We encourage readers to check out the whole article.)


"As the scope of government surveillance is dragged into the light, those in power, starting with President Barack Obama, claim all this is to 'help us prevent terrorist attacks.' And Obama characterized the surveillance as 'modest encroachments.'

"No. This is massive surveillance of all manner of activities of billions of people around the world. And it is driven not by concerns for the safety of Americans, much less anyone else.

"The fundamental framework for understanding the scope and intensity of all this surveillance is concentrated in this statement by Bob Avakian:

The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism. What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.
BAsics 1:3

"This capitalist-imperialist system enslaves workers in its sweatshops in Bangladesh and its oil fields of Saudi Arabia. It has created a planet of slums and environmental devastation, its morality and culture have produced an epidemic of rape. And this system wages constant wars around the world against threats from rivals or smaller-scale reactionary forces, and brings down violent repression against legitimate protest and opposition to its crimes. That is why this state sees the vast majority of people on the planet—billions and billions of people—as potential threats, and maintains such intense and broad surveillance. And that is why the state apparatus—the dictatorship of the capitalist-imperialist class (the bourgeoisie)—does what it does to people.

"All this surveillance is not just about monitoring everyone's thoughts and actions (horrific as that is), it is about CONTROLLING everyone's activity, communications, and thinking. It is about being able to bring the full power of the state down on them at a moment's notice. This system kills people—even U.S. citizens—simply on the president's say-so. It has "rendered" people to secret "black sites" around the world for horrific torture (and Obama has steadfastly refused to expose or prosecute those torturers and those who gave the orders). This is a system that locks up more of its population than any nation on earth—by a long shot.

"For all their talk about democracy and rights, what has been revealed so far is activity that shreds basic rights supposedly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution: The Fourth Amendment, which supposedly prohibits unreasonable or warrantless searches of people, property, and documents; and the First Amendment, which claims to guarantee freedom of speech and the press, and the right to protest—just for starters. As for promises in the Constitution that 'No person... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law'—that too is totally out the fucking window. So all this surveillance is not only immoral and illegitimate, it is unlawful to boot. The fact that there are so few in Congress who even intend to make a show of objecting to all this, and so many who have vented 'righteous indignation' in attacking those who have made the leaks, further reveals that virtually everyone at the top levels of government actually takes for granted that this society really is—beneath all the promises of democracy for all—a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over everyone else."

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