How the government and corporations are doing an end run around the constitution to spy on our lives.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
H.B.: Thank you, you too. Bye bye.