NSA surveillance is ‘terrorism-lite’
9 November 2013 — RT
The NSA is creating a culture of fear, making people afraid of using their own phones, independent US journalist David Seaman told RT. In the wake of revelations on AT&T selling data to the CIA, he is calling for an overhaul of US spying programs.
Reports on one of America’s biggest telecom companies getting millions every year from the CIA for allegedly getting access to its vast database of call records are a sign of the US turning into Orwellian surveillance state, where people are terrorized out of using their own electronic devices, he says.
A draft UN resolution, authored by Germany and Brazil, that urges an end to global electronic espionage, is only a half-measure, one of the things “that sound good but don’t actually do anything,” Seaman says, adding that what’s needed is “real reform” in US intelligence data gathering.
RT: Reports of the CIA paying one of the country’s biggest phone companies for access to private records add a new dimension to what was previously known. How much more do you think can be revealed from all this?
David Seaman: I think this is really interesting because for one thing you can’t avoid AT&T. People say things like: “Well, if you don’t like their business practices just go somewhere else”. Good luck trying to avoid calling anybody who’s an AT&T subscriber. That’s virtually impossible. You know I’d like to see you try that. It’s a huge company that has its footprint all over the globe. And they are just being paid to hand out this customer information. And for my understanding US citizens’ data is being partially scrubbed, when it’s handed over, but these people overseas are still people and what we are really doing with those revelations is undermining the basic faith in things like telephones and the internet to conduct business when it comes to commerce or journalism or sensitive political negotiations. So, you know normal people like you and me are going to stop using phones and the internet. And the terrorists don’t use that stuff anyway. They are well aware of what the CIA and the NSA are capable of technically. And they’ll just go to writing notes and scraping them on the back of a mountain goat or something. So, I think this is a light form of terrorism where people are becoming afraid to use their own technology, their own devices. It’s really kind of Orwellian and the explanation they give for it does not make a lot of sense to me.
AFP Photo / Jim Watson
RT: It seems that people with the means to do so will be able to get their messages across. For the bulk of the American people where does this really leave them?
DS: For the bulk of the American people, we still have not gotten adequate answers from the administration. To this day, right now as this goes out, people’s text messages and phone calls are potentially being compromised by a number of government agencies. This is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment and customers have nowhere to go, because I’m sure AT&T is not alone in this sort of practice and it’s troubling. The government argument has been: “Well, we need to find a needle in a haystack and in order to do that we need as big a haystack as possible.” But a lot of people out there, a lot of mathematicians and analysts, have said that makes no logical sense at all. If you try to find a needle in a haystack, you want that haystack to be as small as possible. So why are they tracking the communications of private citizens who have no connection to crime or terrorism? What is their real goal here? It really seems a bit Orwellian. If you are going after terrorism, you want to focus on those needles, not on the whole haystack. And you see now the CIA, with the NSA and the FBI, very interested in the typical communications of American citizens and European citizens as well.
RT: Brazil and Germany submitted a draft resolution to the UN on the matter of electronic eavesdropping. Given that its provisions are not legally binding, is this more of a symbolic show of disapproval?
DS: I think that Angela Merkel and Germany are clearly upset. I don’t think that’s for show. How much you can fix this stuff? That’s a totally different issue. I understand that Google – as part of separate revelations – is now working to encrypt their lines between data centers, because it came out that those lines were compromised as well. So, pretty much anything you send out over the internet, you have to assume that it is or can be compromised. It’s going to be a great opportunity for companies that are focused on restoring privacy, but over the next few months I think we are going to see a lot of things that sound good but don’t actually do anything. These programs need to be defunded, they need to be fully vetted by Congress. And that has not been done for some 40 years. I mean the last time any of these were reviewed was by the Church Committee [a US Senate that investigated the secret services in the wake of the Watergate scandal] back in the 1970s.
RT: So, you mentioned Angela Merkel. Clearly she is outraged over this. But there’ve also been reports that the German intelligence community collaborated to some extent with the NSA. So where is kind of the line there?
DS: I don’t know how much day-to-day she was brought into it. By the same token, I don’t know how much President Obama was brought into the day-to-day decisions. But these intelligence agencies need to make sure that they are operating within the confines of the law, confines of our Western values and confines of the constitution. Some of them don’t appear to be doing that at the present time. So, hopefully we’ll see real reform and not just talking heads saying that something needs to be done. I’d like to see Congress actually pass a bill as opposed to just reviewing this stuff.