Thursday, June 19, 2014

UPDATED: They'll Be Watching You

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you.

-The Police - Every Breath You Take

Recent revelations, some of which I have written about, should make us all acutely aware that in the surveillance state, which now describes much of the world, our privacy is more a cherished illusion than it is a reality. Not only has the Canadian federal government been enjoying easy access to our digital information but also, as we recently learned, it has sent out a directive to all federal departments to report any demonstrations, however big or small, to the Government Operations Centre. Chillingly, a leaked email said, "We will compile this information and make this information available to our partners..."

But it turns out that the above only shows the tip of a very large iceberg.

Yesterday, The Mound of Sound sent me this link from The Guardian. Entitled Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown, the piece should give all of us, no matter where we live, profound pause:

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis (emphasis added) – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

The above would seem to provide an ominous clue as to its larger purpose. The fact that the Minerva Project was launched the same year as the banking crisis, a crisis that led to deep and extensive civil unrest, suggests that its purpose is control and containment and, by extension, maintenance of the status quo. Back to that in a moment.

Wide-scale surveillance is a given in this quest for 'understanding':

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined "to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised."

Basic tenets of democracy appear to be of no concern to The Pentagon. Indeed, protests to bring about political and economic change are viewed as palpable threats:

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington "seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate," along with their "characteristics and consequences." The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on "large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity," and will cover 58 countries in total.

The narrow perspective of the military, which sees all disruptive activity as a threat to the status quo, is confirmed by Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin's University in Washington DC. who previously exposed some truths about the Pentagon's Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme, whose scenarios

"adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations "in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club.

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

To say that this entire mentality is a deep affront to basic tenets of democracy is to state the obvious. To think that this is only a theoretical construct is to be unspeakably naive. Although examples of state repression as a response to protest and unrest abound, one need only remember what happened when the Occupy Movement hit its stride. Closer to home, of course, was the June 2010 G20 Summit debacle in Toronto. Or take a look at how Brazil is currently dealing with protests during the World Cup.

And things will not be getting any better. Climate change, probably our greatest threat, will spark more and more unrest, as will the Harper government's sanctioning of the Northern Gateway Project.

From all of this, one thing is abundantly clear. Rather than constructively responding to citizen concerns, the state will do everything in its power to protect the interests of those who really matter to it. Hint: it isn't us.

And finally, this warning from Dwight Eisenhower, spoken over 50 years ago as he prepared to depart from the U.S. presidency, seems eerily prescient:

Thanks to Anon, who provided the link to the following video, which significantly updates things:


  1. All of this surveillance by governments, and yet until a week ago, none of them had every heard of ISIS.

    1. Ironic, isn't it, double nickel? Perhaps if they spent less time surveilling their own people?

  2. It should be alarming how closely and systematically we're being surveilled by both governments and the corporate sector. People have no idea that privacy is a fundamental right, the right to which virtually every other right and freedom is anchored. In their naiveté they literally throw that right away on Facebook and Twitter where their data is mined and processed through computer algorithms. What we never discuss is whether privacy, once shredded, can ever be restored and, if not, how can we reinforce our remaining rights and freedoms to ensure they're not similarly circumvented.

    This is one of several critical discussions we are not having. The abject indifference of our political classes to these major issues of the day that will have such enormous impacts on our children and grandchildren is appalling.

    The state we're in today and the potentially bleaker state that awaits our heirs is in no small part the inevitable result of our collective failure, our lack of courage, to address these challenges openly and, instead, simply kick them down the road.

    1. It has been said before, Mound, but bears repeating: in this digital age, far too many blithely surrender their privacy, not realizing the implications of such a cavalier approach. This is especially noticeable on Facebook, where a surprising number do not even bother to restrict who can casually look at their personal information.

      I suspect that much of the indifference of the political classes you refer to is fueled by this insouciant attitude.

  3. An oldie, but a goodie.

    1. Great link, Anon! Thank you. I am going to update the blog and add this video.