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December 1, 2013

Heidi Boghosian; Corporate and Government Collusion-- Spying on Democracy-- Interview Transcript

By Rob Kall

How the government and corporations are doing an end run around the constitution to spy on our lives.


The transcript of our interview broadcast on September 18, 2013  Click here for the audio podcast.

R.K.: Welcome to the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM reaching Metro Philly and South Jersey sponsored by OpEdnews.com.  My guest for this portion of the show is Heidi Boghosian.  Heidi is really lucky in a sense because her book came out at an incredible time to explore what's happening.  Her book is Spying on Democracy, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.  

Heidi is the Executive Director of the National Lawyer's Guild, a progressive Bar Association established in 1937 and she also co-hosts a weekly civil liberties radio program "Law and Order" which airs on Pacifica's WBAI in New York and on more than fifty national affiliate stations around the country.   Welcome to the show.

H.B.: It's wonderful to be here, thanks.

R.K.: So, boy, it is amazing timing that this book came out and that's partly because the book was rushed I think it was scheduled to be released in, I think it was in 2014, right? 

H.B.: It was due to be out in early of September or October but they did rush it when Mr. Snowden came forward.

R.K.: Yeah.  So, this book is a horror story really.  It's a horror story about where America is going.  So, let's start off with a story.  I'm putting you on the, kind of giving you no warning, do you have a story for us?

H.B.: A story?

R.K.: That kind of tells us an example of what's going on in America now.

H.B.: Well one story that comes to mind because several National Lawyers Gild people are working on it in the state of Washington and because it also has implications I think for other ongoing initiatives is a lawsuit brought by several peace activists in Washington state because members of the U.S. Army actually engaged in infiltrating their groups and spying on them and harassing members of the peace group by arresting them on spurious or no charges really; one person was evicted from his house because the police came and made up things about him and in the paperwork that came forward as a result of activists filing Freedom of Information Act requests, they learned the identity of an undercover person working with the Army and at a fusion center locally who had been managing their groups listserve and had been going to events for awhile and then reporting on what he discovered but it had the ultimate effect of really destroying some of the groups.  

The reason the lawsuit is proceeding is because even though we had such spying going on by the military of civilians in the 1960's for example they couldn't prove any damages but here we saw the group that the Army admitted they wanted to really destroy these groups and they did so.  

One of the activists who is involved in the lawsuit, in some of the information he got, obtained information about the Hemisphere Project which your listeners may know was recently reported in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.  It's a project where the government actually pays AT&T staff to work side by side in going through phone records that date back as far as twenty six years so I think that gives an idea of the covert programs that are going on that we sometimes just find out about through accidents of, you know, administrative blunders, in effect.  

R.K.: Yes and your book is the brilliant discussion that goes in to the details on the many, many different ways that the government is, well how would you describe the book?  What is this book about?

H.B.: Well the book sets out to show really the way that corporations really work with government intelligence agencies not only in conducting the figure people are using is about 70% of our intelligence, but that really we see corporations are acting as the long arm of the government for example they can conduct and do engage in meta data gathering, surveillance of various kinds that really the government would be in breach of the Fourth Amendment of The Constitution if they did it but that information is being shared with the government and in many instances people are really unaware of the extent to which we willingly turn over information for example filling out product registration forms where they may ask how many number of your families or other information or when you give over your Social Security Number when you really don't need to.  

That information is then collected, harvested, by what we call data aggregators who can sell it to third parties including the U.S. Government.  So the government in a way does an end run around of our Constitutional rights in amassing various types of data and I think one of the other key points is that this data is stored for indefinite periods of time which means that maybe five years from now officials could go in and find something that right now is perfectly legal but things can change and as we know the government loves to pass lots of laws and many antiquated ones are still on the books so that as times get more repressive and as we continue this perpetual war on terror, ordinary citizens become suspect and the effect of omni-surveillance really is one that has what we call a chilling effect on free speech and associations so that whether or not we're consciously aware of it I think knowing that everything we do is literally under some form of surveillance, whether it's used or not but maybe stored for future use, really impacts the way we relate with different communities.  Especially politically active ones.  

R.K.: How would you say the current state of spying on democracy, the surveillance state, the police state, how has that effected people who are involved in protests and activism currently and recently?

H.B.: Well you know we saw during Occupy really a vast coordination by different levels of government spear-headed really by the Department of Homeland Security in their working very closely with financial groups, banks, other industries to heighten the sense that ordinary protestors were potential terrorist threats.  

Definitely since the event of 9/11 we've seen a crack down on free speech and in many ways in the mainstream media a vilification of people who, you know are critical of corporate and government policies so I think that when you combine a lot of what we saw also in response to Anti-Globalization movements really, a more militarized response by law enforcement and now ratcheting it up to be called prospective terrorist threats and I think that there's a reason for that.  

That in order to justify continued funding from the government, lots of local police departments need to identify what they call threat assessments and so often it becomes the activists, so-called anarchist threats that are really used to say these people are potentially dangerous even though in many of their own reports these same officials say, well you know these animal rights activists haven't been violent in the past but they have the potential to become so.  And that's why we've seen Animal Rights, Environment Rights activists be labeled top domestic terrorism threats.  

I think it's because when you engage in a war of rhetoric such as the war on drugs or the war on terror, you don't have easily identifiable enemies so it becomes convenient to pick those who are visibly outspoken and often effective at getting their message across and making some changes in society, they become the targets of government repression.

R.K.: A lot of what we're talking about is technology enabled, you covered drones, you covered electronic, where do you see this heading?  What's this going to look like in ten or twenty years if it continues the way it's going?

H.B.: Well what we've seen as a trend really is a lot of re-purposing of what were traditionally military forms of technology as you mentioned drones, now will be over domestic airspace in the next few years, biometric identification is being used in places like school children's cafeteria for them to get in or in hospitals to bypass long lines as the administrators say.  

So it's a big market for business and we have also seen a lot of CEOs who are from industry advising our government on the very policies that they will benefit from so that CEOs sit on boards that advise Obama, we have a lot of three and four star generals for example who leave in really a revolving door between the two sectors to go work for consulting firms that in turn then advise the government.  

I see the big problem and unless it's addressed immediately it will continue as being one, lack of transparency in how corporations work so closely with the government and also lack of oversight by our government which I think many people are becoming aware of, especially with some of the Snowden revelations.  

We have virtually an unchecked private sector that is benefiting handsomely from all the equipment that they're developing and very powerful lobbying industries like the drone lobbyist who really quite quietly pushed through with the Federal Aviation Administration measures to allow drones to invade our airspace.  

So I think what we're, the danger if this trajectory continues is that you'll see big business having even greater influence and being virtually unregulated by the officials who have taken on oath of office to uphold The Constitution and to protect our civil rights and civil liberties and not really become a state that's run by corporations.  

R.K.: Well for some time I've been saying that the Congress has become a corporate congress with one corporate party and it sounds like you're seeing the same thing here.  You know you mentioned one thing in your book, that the prison industry has literally lobbied for longer sentences so that they make more money and I guess the same thing is happening in other ways as well.  

H.B.: Yes, and I use that example because I think it's one that we've seen so strikingly and it's an easy illustration to give of how really because business has a debt their first obligation is their shareholders, their bottom line, I feel that it is incompatible essentially to have a free society where we're beholden to a few powerful corporation.  

I mean we have AT&T, Amazon, Facebook, all the other communications and telecommunications industries who by the way several years ago were held to be immune from lawsuits so that when it came out under Bush that the telecommunication industry was working with the government in a warrant-less wire tapping program, that was, that program was stopped after the public heard about it and was outraged, but basically there's a provision saying that people can't sue those companies if they think they've been monitored.  

Now what happened was there were many lawsuits brought by organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and in addition to immunity the government would say you cannot prove with a certainty that you were being monitored.  

So many lawyers for example who worked with Guantanamo detainees and others said we can't have a private conversation on the phone or on email because there's a possibility we're being monitored but the government said that's not enough.  

Even though it may have a chilling effect and you may change how you do your business, you can't prove it and I think that hopefully that trend is reversing a bit as more information is coming out that proves that well virtually every conversation in some form or another is being, if not monitored, stored.  

So I think that it's pretty incredible, the extent to which corporations dictate policy, manufacture the equipment that has been installed in the surveillance apparatus and are immune in many instances from lawsuits.  And operate again with a great degree of secrecy.  

R.K.: You have a chapter in Journalism where you discuss this, could you talk a little bit about how this effecting journalism in particular?

H.B.: Well especially under the Obama administration we've seen really a move towards greater secrecy in terms of information sharing and so we've seen various journalists being threatened with even charges of conspiracy or violation of the espionage act when they refuse to give information about confidential sources and we've heard that Associated Press reporters have been spied on even a Fox News reporter, Al Jazeera has been monitored, I mean, I'm sure many other news outlets have, but the danger of course is that the free press was designed to serve as a watchdog against an overreaching in government and when we have so much power right now in the executive branch and we have this perpetual war of terror, that corporations are sustaining and profiting from.

I think it's even more important that members of the press not be intimidated by the threat of harsh punishment for reporting on issues that involve national security.  So what the government is doing is making everything secret and then when journalists report on it they're facing a kind of punishment that in many cases could put someone in prison for many years and then we see the trend of more people coming forward like Edward Snowden, Barret Brown, the journalist who is imprisoned in Texas facing over a hundred years in prison for essentially uploading a computer link and then Chelsea Manning who came forward and provided documents as all of these individuals have done because they felt the public had a right to know and this goes to the cornerstone of democracy; the free press and the exchange of free information and a transparent government.  

R.K.: The other thing that you mention in that chapter that's really important is the way that reporters are having their confidentiality with their sources being taken away from them and how that's really making it much more difficult to get people to talk.

H.B.: Exactly and that again we owe so many debts of gratitude to brave individuals, you know be it Deep Throat, two other people over the decades in this country who have worked closely with reporters in strict confidence to protect them, their identities and that's how we bring news to the forefront and I think that the more important the news is of course, the more jealously government officials guard it.  

They're saying and this is another important point I think the one that we have to give up our civil liberties, this is all being done in the name of preserving national security and making us safer but a government that operates with impunity and in many cases with many of these spy programs unlawfully is not a government that is necessarily making us safer.  

In fact, by spying on allied nations for example we run the risk that it will imperil our relationships and make more people even think of us more as, you know, a state that is above the law and that endangers us ultimately.

R.K.: Okay, so I have a couple of questions I have been really looking forward to asking you, I want to make sure I get them in before we continue talking about the book.  One, young people, the millenials in particular,  they don't care about privacy.  They don't care that their phone are being recorded and all their messages are being recorded and accessed.  What answer do you give to them?  Why they should be concerned?

H.B.: I would say that certainly we have been enticed by the convenience and the expediency of personal electronic devices that allow us to text and show photos and share and communicate on a level that is new and exciting and along with the internet is ultimately designed in many ways is to open our society in a positive way but all technology also has insidious uses and even though people, especially those younger people who have been brought up, you know with a keyboard from the minute they could type, need to start at least being aware of the fact that when they go on a social network site or when they buy something online or give over their own information, nothing that you get is gotten for free.  

You're giving up the most valuable thing you have, your personal information.  You know, your date of birth, where you live, all of that information that you just can't anticipate right now how it can be used against you in the future and you know sometimes that comes with age and experience, but I think that it needs to be built in to ones interaction with technology that your life is maybe easier on one level but ultimately when you give up privacy, even if you say you have nothing to hide, the more power we give to a government, the more chances that they will abuse that power and historically it's happened with every government.  

So I would just say read up a bit on how this has happened in the past and realize that once you've given away that information it's very hard to regain your privacy in case you want to.  

And also, things that may seem benign to you can be pieced together, aggregated from different sources to create a more complete profile that you may not want to give away so if you go to a health center or you buy a book on cancer, you may not want others to know that you have a form of cancer and it's not that you're hiding it but it's just something you may not choose to share.  But that can be pieced together from your actions and I think you need to look at your life as a jigsaw puzzle and if you give too many of the pieces away you may not like how it's used.  

R.K.: So let me do a station ID, this is the Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM, sponsored by Opednews.com.  My guest is Heidi Boghosian, author of Spying on Democracy; Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.  Heidi, I have got to tell you I'm not satisfied with that answer.  It's not something I can say to my twenty three year old or his friends when they say to me, I don't have anything to hide.  It's not just them, there are a lot of other Americans who say I don't have anything to hide, I don't mind if the government spies on me to protect us and make us safer.  

Can you give me something, some, you mentioned in the final chapter of your book about the four minute message that was used to argue for the war, World War One, do yo u have a brief message that you can give to people when they say, "I'm not worried about my privacy because I don't do anything wrong.  Let them spy on me."

H.B.: I would say that we're living in a society where corporations are running our lives.  Young people may not remember but baseball fields, movie theaters, used to be named after real people: coaches, heroes, now they're named after corporations and what's happened is that in conjunction with the government, those  very powerful entities want to dictate how we live our lives so that you may think you have choices but in fact you've been molded in to a kind of willing consumer who gives over personal data to marketers and in exchange you're essentially told how to live your life.  

You may not be aware of it but if you come across something, say a family member is hurt by a certain kind of government injustice or corporate policy, and your life is changed because of it, and you decide that you want to go out to the street and protest, well all of the sudden that act of protest is illegal and you can't do it.  

Things that were guaranteed by the founding fathers and enshrined in our Constitution have been taken away from us.  Well you've been typing on Facebook and giving away that information.  I think people think they have a sense of freedom that they don't and we have become, on one level kind of robotic when we give in to what can essentially be seen as the beginning of a totalitarian state.  

So I think that people who think they have a lot of choices need to realize they don't and in part it's because you're giving up individual rights for state rights and that's not what this country is about. The government is supposed to listen to us and do what we ask them to do.

R.K.: Does that happen anymore?  Does the government actually listen to us?  When you say listen, you don't mean listen surreptitiously, of course.  Of course they listen to us when we don't want them to but do they actually pay attention to what we care about anymore?  I don't think so.  I think we're past that point unfortunately.

H.B.: Well you know I would - 

R.K.: [ss26:27] Are there -

H.B.: I would say we have to keep trying because -

R.K.: I agree -

H.B.: Once we give up - 

R.K.: Are there actually -

H.B.: We're no longer a nation of free people so I would say.

R.K.: No I'm not giving up by any means.  I'm just saying that the regular means are working and we have to do something extraordinary.  Are there examples, are their efforts going on, you mentioned, your last chapter is loaded with good resources and descriptions of different organizations doing specific things.  

Do you have any advice for the listeners or the readers of this transcript when it's made a transcript, on what they can  do, what they can start doing immediately?

H.B.: Well one of the things that I do mention and I do list in the book a number of organizations both legal and sort of public policy, I mention the Electronic Frontier Foundation, they're a wonderful group that has a great website, the Electronic Privacy Information Center is another one that you can go to and read up on various technology related ways the government is monitoring us and things that you can do.  

You know one thing is to be aware of how you communicate electronically and if you want to take certain measures that way, there are different things that you can do including Tor software for example to encrypt your messages and communications, but I think the number one thing is to start being aware so that you don't enter blindly in to something without knowing what you're giving over in terms of your personal information, and if you can't go to protests or write letters or write oped pieces you can certainly support some of these many groups.  

One I mention is a group that works on behalf of children's privacy rights for example in Massachusetts and I talk about how children's information for example is especially vulnerable online but I think that just start to be aware of people that are working to fight this surveillance apparatus and find a way that you can plug in.  

R.K.: In a couple weeks I'll be talking to Thomas Drake, having him back on my show.  What do you say to somebody like him or Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden?  What's the message you have for them?  

H.B.: Thank you for being a hero and a true patriot, for coming forth as whistleblowers, as sharers of information that you believe would make us a better society for knowing that.  And for doing so at enormous personal cost.  And these are definitely the heroes of our time and I think we're going to be seeing a lot more as our government become more covert unless our legislators listen to the people and start pressuring for big changes.

R.K.: Alright.  You said you would give me a half an hour.  Our last question, you talk in the book about police perjury, everyday we're hearing stories about police murdering people without any accountability.  Can you talk a little bit to that subject?  Of police breaking the law in different ways?

H.B.: This is a complicated troubling subject because everyday we hear about instances in which the police for example may shoot an unarmed person, engage in a really excessive use of force, and then ruin so many families, devastate communities when really nothing is done in terms of punishment.  

It's a difficult issue because police are afforded discretion and are able to use force in the line of duty.  I think that things like the "stop and frisk" trial in New York City where we're going to have more monitoring of that by independent individuals, you know I think, again, litigation, public outcry is essential.  

When a community is devastated because of a death at the hands of law enforcement officer, when the individual wasn't doing anything wrong, it's again a case where we have to have community outrage, public pressure to the city council members, local officials, protests, and more individuals calling for outside monitors to hopefully press for a change in this.  It's just been really an epidemic of tragedy. 

R.K.: You mention New York City, it looks like the next mayor is going to be a pretty liberal guy.  How do you think he will stand up to Ray Kelly, who to me seems like a horrible fascist?

H.B.: Well it's of course in the next mayor's discretion to appoint a new police head.  So I'm not sure Ray Kelly will be staying on but certainly Mr. Kelly has built probably, if not the top counter-terrorism and police department intelligence unit in the world; it's up there.  So we do have a lot of policing going on, a lot of intelligence gathering going on in this city, and a lot of activists being watched by the NYPD so I would assume that Ray Kelly may be moving on from here.

R.K.: Okay, good chance he might be appointed the next Homeland Security Czar.

H.B.: Possibly.

R.K.: Well this has been great.  I'm going to let you go because you offered to give me thirty minutes and I really appreciate it.  You've written a powerful book that we have barely touched anything about.  It's just loaded with information.  God Bless you, you've been doing great work, keep it up, I hope we can have you back soon.

H.B.: Thank you so much.

R.K.: Keep up the great work and have a great day.

H.B.: Thank you, you too.  Bye bye.

Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

Rob Kall Wikipedia Page

Over 200 podcasts are archived for downloading here, or can be accessed from iTunes. Rob is also published regularly on the Huffingtonpost.com

Rob is, with Opednews.com the first media winner of the Pillar Award for supporting Whistleblowers and the first amendment.

To learn more about Rob and OpEdNews.com, check out A Voice For Truth - ROB KALL | OM Times Magazine and this article. For Rob's work in non-political realms mostly before 2000, see his C.V..  and here's an article on the Storycon Summit Meeting he founded and organized for eight years. Press coverage in the Wall Street Journal: Party's Left Pushes for a Seat at the Table

Here is a one hour radio interview where Rob was a guest- on Envision This, and here is the transcript. 

To watch Rob having a lively conversation with John Conyers, then Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click hereWatch Rob speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.

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