Saturday, July 6, 2013

Turnkey Tyranny and Energy Decent

"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests."

"And the months ahead, the years ahead it's only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather then a stipulation of law. And because of that a new leader will be elected, they'll find the switch, say that 'Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.' And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny."

Often, those of us aware of peak oil and energyconsider, perhaps wishfully, the decent side of oil production curve as ushering in a return to an energy poorer, but simpler, more localized lifestyle, analogous to what existed in 18th or 19th century. 

Jim Kunstler’s  the World Made By Hand series of novels, the Archdruid’s green wizard project or the transition town movement are some examples that readily come to my mind. 

In the face of ongoing slow energy decent, however, we have continuing revelations about a global surveillance system that Snowden’s interview and document releases have shone a latest fresh light on.  

The Present State of the Police State

Perhaps you have been living on the dark-side of the moon, chained to a desk, or only watching mainstream media news, and so you have no idea of what I am talking about?  

Here’s an extended summary of some recommenced articles or podcasts showing the length and breath of the present global surveillance system. 

A good place to start is that June 9 2013 Guardian’s interview of Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton employee working as a contractor at an NSA installation in Hawaii, and, already referenced above:

NSA and intelligence community in general is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can by any means possible. It believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas.

Now increasingly we see that it's happening domestically and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that's the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting you're communications to do so."

Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a Federal judge to even the President if I had a personal e-mail.

Also there is this June 7, 2013 Democracy Now interview of the Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, who with the aid of Laura Poitras, interviewed Edwards in Hong Kong:

There are top-secret NSA documents that very excitingly describe—excitedly describe, boast about even, how they have created this new program called the PRISM program that actually has been in existence since 2007, that enables them direct access into the servers of all of the major Internet companies which people around the world, hundreds of millions, use to communicate with one another. You mentioned all of those—all those names. And what makes it so extraordinary is that in 2008 the Congress enacted a new law that essentially said that except for conversations involving American citizens talking to one another on U.S. soil, the NSA no longer needs a warrant to grab, eavesdrop on, intercept whatever communications they want.

Those NSA documents released by Snowden correspond to a 41-page training presentation for senior intelligence analysts for the NSA or their contractors.  What was actually released by the Guardian and Washington Post on June 6 2013 were 4 of those 41 pages.  The released pages broadly outline how NSA’s (and apparently Britain’s GCHQ and other partners) access to the central servers of Internet companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc... enables, for the past several years, NSA’s access emails, documents, audio and video chats, photographs, documents and connection logs (i.e., metadata).   On June 29 2013, the Post released a few more slides, with redactions and annotations added, to protect the guilty, and to ease the public’s mind that total surveillance and the permanent storage of all of your personal communications isn’t that bad after all.

Lest you think that the surveillance state is somehow only limited to the USA’s traditional enemies, we have Snowden’s interview in the South China Morning Post revealing that the NSA’s tapping of communications to and from Hong Kong and mainland China for many year. 

And, we now also have this recent series of Spiegel articles from Laura Poitras et al., reporting on further information provided by Snowden:

Snowden's NSA documents contain more than one or two scandals. They are a kind of digital snapshot of the world's most powerful intelligence agency's work over a period of around a decade. SPIEGEL has seen and reviewed a series of documents from the archive.

The documents prove that Germany played a central role in the NSA's global surveillance network -- and how the Germans have also become targets of US attacks. Each month, the US intelligence service saves data from around half a billion communications connections from Germany.

No one is safe from this mass spying -- at least almost no one. Only one handpicked group of nations is excluded -- countries that the NSA has defined as close friends, or "2nd party," as one internal document indicates. They include the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. A document classified as "top secret" states that, "The NSA does NOT target its 2nd party partners, nor request that 2nd parties do anything that is inherently illegal for NSA to do."

You should not be sanguine if your among the so-called handpicked excluded groups of UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. We already know that GCHQ is part of PRISM and the Canada’s CSEC is similarly conducting massive surveillance of its citizens.  I am sure that you find the analogous agencies in Australia and NZ. 

In fact, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and NZ, the five countries that are signatories to an agreement to share surveillance communications data, the so-called ECHELON system.  ECHELON was ostensibly intended to monitor the military and diplomatic communications of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc in the 1960s, but its scope has expanded far beyond that now.

As pointed out in the Spiegel articles, these agencies and others now share their gathered information to create a global matrix of “boundless surveillance:”

What is most important about the documents is that they reveal the possibility of the absolute surveillance of a country's people and foreign citizens without any kind of effective controls or supervision. Among the intelligence agencies in the Western world, there appears to be a division of duties and at times extensive cooperation. And it appears that the principle that foreign intelligence agencies do not monitor the citizens of their own country, or that they only do so on the basis of individual court decisions, is obsolete in this world of globalized communication and surveillance. Britain's GCHQ intelligence agency can spy on anyone but British nationals, the NSA can conduct surveillance on anyone but Americans, and Germany's BND foreign intelligence agency can spy on anyone but Germans. That's how a matrix is created of boundless surveillance in which each partner aids in a division of roles.

Lest you think that “boundless surveillance” only refers to the collection of metadata, let’s go to this June 17 2013 interview of Russ Tice at Boiling Frogs (from 8:00 to 11:00 minutes):

No one in the main stream press wants to ask this question: is the NSA collecting the content of phone calls and emails and Skype sessions and all these other communications, and storing them in-mass?   

And I saw a little over a month ago; I was watching CNN and there was, as a matter of fact, a fellow Marylander gal, Erin Burnet who was on and she had an FBI guy on there.  Tim Clemente I think his name was. And he came out and said that the FBI has the ability to go back in time and look at the content of communications. And this via an intelligence agency that deals with that deals with national security. 

Well, you know, that had my red flag go up, because back in the day when I talked with Keith Olbermann NSA did not have that capability, not because they didn’t want it, but because they didn’t have the processing capability and literally they didn’t have the electrons, the power, the infrastructure at Fort Meade to run that sort of thing. And they didn’t have the storage capability to store all that information.  Imagine this conversation that we re having now and all the other conversations around domestically in this country.  That is a lot talking going on. So that is why they were being judicious about that and going after, back then, the metadata.  And that is what we know from Snowden’s initial release. 

So I contacted...this is over a month ago, I contacted one of my main sources at NSA, and we had a meeting .... He wasn’t quite sure if it was everything then, so we had to, he had to, do some investigating, .... I just got the confirmation this past Saturday, that yes, it is everything.

NSA is copying every domestic communication in this country, word-for-word content, in every phone conversation, like the one we are having now. Every email, everything.  They are collecting everything in bulk, and they are putting it in data bases. 

And, ultimately in that facility out there in Utah is already online.  And they haven’t even said that.  But they are putting stuff there now, even though they are supposedly not going to open that thing up until later on this fall.  That thing is sort of like the Death Star, in Star Wars.  They said it was only half-way done, or whatever, but it had the capability to blow up some other Alderaan or something.  But that Death Star in Utah is already starting to function to store every communication in this country—word-for-word content.

Among other security positions, Tice was a former NSA intelligence analyst, who in 2005-06 blew the whistle on unlawful and unconstitutional wiretaps on American citizens and further raised public awareness of domestic spying via the ECHELON system.

By the way, you can find a transcript of that CNN interview of Clemente here, where Clemente said:

BURNETT: Tim, is there any way, obviously, there is a voice mail they can try to get the phone companies to give that up at this point. It's not a voice mail. It's just a conversation. There's no way they actually can find out what happened, right, unless she tells them?

CLEMENTE: No, there is a way. We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation. It's not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her. We certainly can find that out.

Could it be that the FBI would not want to present this in court because they know it’s obtained illegally?

Lest you think that the NSA and its counter-parts in other countries are working alone, consider this, also from Poitras’s Spiegel article:

According to the documents seen by SPIEGEL, a particularly valuable partner is a company which is active in the US and has access to information that crisscrosses America. At the same time, this company, by virtue of its contacts, offers "unique access to other telecoms and (Internet service providers)." The company is "aggressively involved in shaping traffic to run signals of interest past our monitors," according to a secret NSA document. The cooperation has existed since 1985, the documents say.
Apparently, it's not an isolated case, either. A further document clearly demonstrates the compliance of a number of different companies. There are "alliances with over 80 major global corporations supporting both missions," according to a paper that is marked top secret. In NSA jargon, "both missions" refers to defending networks in the US, on the one hand, and monitoring networks abroad, on the other. The companies involved include telecommunications firms, producers of network infrastructure, software companies and security firms.

The Official Response

Here’s a few more quotes from that Democracy Now interview of Greenwald, illustrating the US government official’s responses to these leaks:

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, on Thursday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein told reporters in the Senate gallery that the government’s top-secret court order to obtain phone records on millions of Americans is, quote, "lawful."
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, first of all, the fact that something is lawful doesn’t mean that it isn’t dangerous or tyrannical or wrong. You can enact laws that endorse tyrannical behavior. And there’s no question, if you look at what the government has done, from the PATRIOT Act, the Protect America Act, the Military Commissions Act and the FISA Amendments Act, that’s exactly what the war on terror has been about.

But I would just defer to two senators who are her colleagues, who are named Ron Wyden and Mark Udall. They have—are good Democrats. They have spent two years now running around trying to get people to listen to them as they’ve been saying, "Look, what the Obama administration is doing in interpreting the PATRIOT Act is so radical and so distorted and warped that Americans will be stunned to learn" — that’s their words — "what is being done in the name of these legal theories, these secret legal theories, in terms of the powers the Obama administration has claimed for itself in how it can spy on Americans."

When the PATRIOT Act was enacted—and you can go back and look at the debates, as I’ve done this week—nobody thought, even opponents of the PATRIOT Act, that it would ever be used to enable the government to gather up everybody’s telephone records and communication records without regard to whether they’ve done anything wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, Glenn, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he stood by what he told Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon in March, when he said that the National Security Agency does "not wittingly" collect data on millions of Americans. Let’s go to that exchange.
GLENN GREENWALD: OK. So, we know that to be a lie, not a misleading statement, not something that was sort of parsed in a way that really was a little bit deceitful, but an outright lie. They collect—they collect data and records about the communications activities and other behavioral activities of millions of Americans all the time. That’s what that program is that we exposed on Wednesday. They go to the FISA court every three months, and they get an order compelling telephone companies to turn over the records, that he just denied they collect, with regard to the conversations of every single American who uses these companies to communicate with one another. The same is true for what they’re doing on the Internet with the PRISM program. The same is true for what the NSA does in all sorts of ways.

And let’s not forget this tidbit from the President:

BARACK OBAMA:  So point number one: if you’re a U.S. person then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your e-mails unless it’s getting an individualized court order.  That’s the existing rule.

There are two programs that were revealed by Mr. Snowden -- allegedly, since there’s a criminal investigation taking place and that caused all the ruckus.  Program number one called the 2015 program.  What that does is it gets data from the service providers -- like a Verizon -- in bulk.  And basically you have call pairs.  You have my telephone number connecting with your telephone number.  There are no names, there’s no content in that database.  All it is, is the number pairs, when those calls took place, how long they took place.  So that database is sitting there.

Obama is a sharp lawyer and politician, so you need to parse these statements very carefully and keep in mind that this interview was shortly after Snowden’s initial disclosers which refer to the collection of metadata, and, about the same time as Russ Tice’s disclosure that all content is being recorded.  It is probably true that the NSA is not “listening in” on all phone calls or reading emails, in real time as they occur, without a court order—besides that would be the job of the FBI.  And, it is probably also true that your emails are specifically “targeted.” 

Rather, the NSA and its counterparts are recording all communications of everyone, metadata and content, for later analysis.  The Obama might be able to argue that therefore you are not being targeted.   But I would argue that this means that everyone is targeted.  And, the President Obama’s statement that there no names or content in any of the NSA’s databases is highly likely to be false.
Here’s some more of the US government’s response:  

"In response to your question about access to the website, the army is filtering some access to press coverage and online content about the NSA leaks," said Gordon Van Vleet, a Netcom public affairs officer.

"The Department of Defense routinely takes preventative 'network hygiene' measures to mitigate unauthorized disclosures of classified information onto DoD unclassified networks."

The army stressed its actions were automatic and would not affect computers outside military facilities.

"The department does not determine what sites its personnel can choose to visit while on a DoD system, but instead relies on automated filters that restrict access based on content concerns or malware threats," said Van Vleet. "The DoD is also not going to block websites from the American public in general, and to do so would violate our highest-held principle of upholding and defending the constitution and respecting civil liberties and privacy."

Similar measures were taken by the army after the Guardian and other newspapers published leaked State Department cables obtained via WikiLeaks.
“This is a theater-wide block,” reads a page that loads when troops in Afghanistan using the Defense Department’s non-classified internet protocol (NIPR) network attempt to access the Guardian online.

“There are many reasons why this site might be blocked. It may be blocked for your protection, the protection of DoD assets or blocked based on Usfor-A [US forces command-Afghanistan] information systems security policy enclosure 18, Centcom regulation 25-206, joint ethics regulation (JER) 5500.7 or DAA directives,” the routed site reads.

Usfor-A is the US component to the Nato command in Afghanistan known as Isaf. It is unclear if the block on the Guardian’s website applies to non-American personnel in Afghanistan, but if they use the DoD’s networks to get online, non-American service members would not be able to access the Guardian website either.

I don’t find it very comforting that the decision to block the Guardian websites is being done by a computer automated filter instead of a human being.  I find it interesting that the Washington Post is apparently not blocked—perhaps because its content is already controlled by the DoD it real time?  And, I wonder if Spiegel will get automatically blocked as well, in view of the series of articles by Laura Poitras et al., published a few days ago.  If they don’t perhaps because it was already vetted before release?

The present threat

The NSA and it foreign counterparts have created a communication time machine that will allow them to go back to trace and listen in conversations that occurred in the past.

The opportunities for present abuse are enormous. 

To give you some idea of what this could involve, here’s a Corbett Report interview of Sibel Edmonds discussing how in the past the FBI illegally acquires and stored permanently private information and uses this to gain leverage over politicians and judges: 

The people promoted in the White House or presented as viable candidates are hand selected by the establishment ... Republican and Democrats ... no matter how you pick its going to be our guy. That is the reality to the US’s election and presidency today and the same is true with the lower level House and Senate representatives. 
(from 20:00-21:00)
you use this information, when the time comes to protect the FBI, to protect the Justice Department. and protect whoever is the President.  The FBI servers the President and the President serves the establishment.  So basically you are protecting the establishment by using this information as blackmail method on these elected officials. 
(from 27:00-28:00)
the judges that were squeaky clean, the judge candidates, they were discarded immediately, and the ones, the federal court judge candidates, that had the highest number of irregularities whether there sexual orientation, sexual life or who they are calling if they cheated on their tax, if they hired a baby sitter who was not a US citizen, and illegal immigrant etc... Those were the ones that were selected as the most viable candidates.
(from 43:00-44:00)

I think that it is obvious that the NSA’s “communication time machine” can be used to similarly target virtually anyone going forwards.  The communication history of politicians, judges, corporate executives, public officials, anyone, could be pulled up and reviewed to find something embarrassing that they might want to hide, and then, hold this information above them, to protect the establishment: the president, the NSA, the FBI, CIA, DHS etc....  And, of course, this applies not only to individuals and establishment in the USA, but anyone, anywhere.    Anyone with access to this kind of information in their country can become a tyrant—a turn-key tyrant, as Snowden says.

The future threat

I don’t think that the NSA is listening in on all global communications in real time at present. 

Not because they don’t want to, but because they simply don’t have the resources to do so at present.  It’s the same resource problem that Tice discussed, and why the NSA would initially focus on metadata.

At present, at some point, it may still take a human being to watch, listen and read previously recorded communications, and use this to build a profile for an individual and for interactions between groups of individuals, that is, a social network profile, and then interpret the resulting profiles as triggering a national threat, or, not.   Well maybe just a threat to the establishment is sufficient to put you on a “person of interest” list.

Global spying programs such as Stellar Wind, are designed to take this profile building and analysis out of the hands and minds of humans, and automate the process using algorithms that can be programmed into the processors of NSA’s computers.  In a 2012 MIT talk, NSA whistleblower Willam Binney, discusses some of the details of such automated systems here, or, you can listen to it here.  Binney’s efforts to bring the illegalities of these programs to the attention to the government, and the personal consequences to him, starts at about 55 min in this 29c3 talk.

When these programs are in place, the NSA will have near-real time dynamic content reading, analysis and profiling of all global communications.   As Binney points out in his talks a computer program may target you as a “threat,” without any human intervention.

We are well on our way.

Energy decent to the recue?

I have long thought that energy decent will cause, or at least be concurrent, with economic decline, and, that economic decline will result is a great deal of political discord.  I see the protests and civil disobedience in Europe, Brazil the Middle East and Africa as on-going examples of this. 

If the hope is that such discord will cause changes within the establishment, then I think you can see what an uphill effort this will be.    

When the general public becomes too poor to own a computer, cell phone or have access to the internet, perhaps the scope of the global surveillance system will be reduced?  


But, the government could simply introduce or expand the hand-out of free cell phones to the poor, as presently done in Nigeria, California and elsewhere in the USA, as a means of maintaining the scope of the surveillance network.  

Could declining energy availability itself cut back the global surveillance network? 

Maybe, but, if it does, then this is going to take a long time, I think.

In his interview, Russ Tice mentioned the “Death Star” in Utah, which is actually referring to the NSA’s Date Center in Bluffdale Utah.  You can see this facility in Poitras’ documentary “The Program” and some of NSA whistleblower William Binney’s discussion of the Stellar wind program here.

In The State of Surveillance, (54 min) Steve Gibson, mentions that the Bluffdale Data Center will use up to about 65 MW of power supplied from its own power relay station.  That number seems to be confirmed in this Salt Lake Tribune article. 

That’s enough to power a small town of 30,000-50,000 people, but, certainly not enough to pose a problem for the establishment to deliver now or in the foreseeable future.  The natural-gas-fired Lake Side power plant on the eastern shore of Utah Lake could supply 10 times this amount of power, for example.

And, it is safe to say that the power necessary to support and expand, this, and similar Data Centers throughout the world, will not be subject to financial sequestration or restrictions. 
I expect that this and other data centers would be last customers to be power-limited, even if this meant people in living in surrounding towns going without any power at all.  Of course, power blackouts or rolling black-outs in those towns will also limit the flow of communications data into the "Death Star".  To effectively survail everyone, everyone has to be on the power and telecommunications grid. 

The Future Police State

So what would a near-future state of the police state look like with energy decent? 

Here’s what Binney said when was asked where he sees all this going 5 years, 10 years, from now:

It is going to be a totalitarian state.  We will have an imperial President, a dictator.

Unless we do something. 

You know everybody in Congress stood up an took an oath to defend the constitution.  They are all violating that oath.  So every time you see one, you need to say what are you doing with this privacy stuff; you are violating your oath by supporting this kind of activity.

How about a large percentage of the population living a 18th or 19th century energy poor lifestyle, but, with high-tech government-issued smart phones and free internet so that their thoughts and interactions can be tracked for potential threats?  Eventually, this stragety will be rendered increasingly ineffective at real time monitoring as the power grid becomes intermitant. 

How about a small percentage of the population living an energy-rich, networked lifestyle, with total allegiance to maintaining the establishment.  Of course, this elite group would be under intense, automated, continuous monitoring.  If any of these elite were to publish something online that the NSA’s computer’s deem to threaten the establishment, well, these publications could simply be automatically blocked. 

Welcome to 1984.


  1. I don't think the scenario of a high tech enclave surrounded by 17 th century populace is feasible. NSA technology is dependent on globalization, rare earth minerals, foreign manufacturing facilities, and at the very least transported food, Utah has little agriculture, so the supply lines are too long.

    However something like North Korea or cuba is possible, government informants and cadres spread amoung the population keeping an eye on things.

  2. Hi Da Shui, I think that you are right, in the longer term. In the long term, we will all end up in a 19th-18th century lifestyle, at best. At his stage, yes informants on ground would be needed.

    But, in the shorter term, over the next 5-20 yrs, when there are still significant, but declining energy resources, I don't believe that those resources will be evenly distributed. For instance, food production and distribution is already handled in the USA and other developed countries by a few percent of the population. Likewise energy production. If the government can control these sub-populations, then they could perpetuate the status quo for a bit longer. The question then becomes how to control the population in the most efficient manner.

  3. Anonymous 3 writes:

    Unfortunatelly, all this is a very probable scenario. The people from the Eastern Europe know very well what was happening in the past and this is going to be repeated when the resources are gradually depleting and withdrawn. It is a form of cannibalism where those serving the people having the power do horrible things in order to get some lumps of bread. They steal the neighbours property through corrupted laws, imprison and humilate disabled people, mercilessly punish personal faults of the weak with the death penalty. I know things of that kind from the experience of my own family. They will simply destroy you. They will go to church, they will be respected citizens and you will be abolished from the earths surface. They do that again and again, giving you as pray to the corrupted institutions, so that their hands are clean...

    They really behave like animals hunting for their prey. How can we prepare to face this???

  4. Hi Anonymous 3:

    Yes, very problematic.

    I imagine something like the Stasi reappearing on the way down. For those unfamiliar the movie, “The lives of others,” will give you an idea of the things that happened in East Germany and other Soviet Union countries. (see

    Can you imagine what the Stasi would have done if they had PRISM or Stellar Wind? And how long before something equivalent to the Stasi reappears?

    How to prepare is something I do not have an answer for.

    One could try standing in a protest line or complain to your elected representative, and thereby likely make your self a target for automated enhanced monitoring.

    You could try encrypting and use a VPN, which would probably also make you a target. Plus, experts like Tice and Binney suggest that either the government already has a decryption or backdoor key for all commercial programs and/or they could just break the code. But, maybe if large numbers of people were to do this it would at least slow down the monitoring process.

    Or, you could just stop using all social media, the internet, cell phones, regular phones, or even snail mail (the US Post office is recording and storing meta data on all of the physical mail it handles: see, But this would make it nearly impossible to live within the existing society. I don’t think that many people are ready or able to check-out totally and get a cabin in the woods.


Your comments, questions and suggestions are welcome! However, comments with cursing or ad hominem attacks will be removed.