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Big Brother and the Hidden Hand of the "Free Market"

By       Message Tom Burghardt     Permalink
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Repression doesn't come cheap, just ask the FBI.

As the securitization of daily life increases at near exponential rates (all to keep us "safe," mind you) the dark contours of an American police state, like a pilot's last glimpse of an icy peak before a plane crash, wobbles into view.

In the main, such programs include, but are by no means limited to the following: electronic surveillance (call records, internet usage, social media); covert hacking by state operatives; GPS tracking; CCTV cameras linked-in to state databases; "smart" cards; RFID chipped commodities and the spooky "internet of things"; biometrics, and yes, the Pentagon has just stood up a Biometrics Identity Management Agency (BIMA); data-mining; watch listing; on and on it goes.

Pity our poor political minders, snowed-under by a blizzard of data-sets crying out for proper "management"! Or, as sycophantic armchair warrior and New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, would have it, "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist -- McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15."

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So true; yet neither can an aggregate of repressive police and intelligence agencies function without an army of corporate grifters who guide that "hidden hand" and not-so-hidden fist into highly profitable safe harbors. Call it Big Brother meets market fundamentalism.

And so, the heat is on as America's premier political police agency struggles to "modernize" their case file management system.

The FBI's Case Management "Problem"

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When circumstances (a massive up-tick in illegal spying since 9/11 courtesy of the USA Patriot Act) forced the Bureau to store a treasure trove of tittle-tattle of "national security interest" on decidedly low-tech storage devices, FBI agents and their all-too-willing helpers from giant telecommunications firms such as AT&T took to scribbling "leads" on post-it notes.

Communications Analysis Unit (CAU) eager-beavers did so in order to speed-up the process of obtaining dodgy "exigent letters" that smoothed over the wrinkles (your rights!) as the Bureau issued tens of thousands of National Security Letters (NSLs).

The secretive lettres de cachet demanded everything: emails, internet searches, call records, bank statements, credit card purchases, travel itineraries, medical histories, educational re'sume's, even video rentals and books borrowed from public libraries. The contents of such shady administrative warrants cannot be disclosed by their recipients under penalty of stiff fines or even imprisonment.

While such extra-legal missives are supposedly issued only in cases of dire "emergency," the banal, ubiquitous nature of surveillance in post-Constitutional, "new normal" regimes such as the United States, all but guarantee that extraordinary "states of exception" are standard rules of the game in our managed democracy.

As the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General revealed in a heavily-redacted report in January, with all semblance of a legal process out the window, the FBI were caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar, repeatedly violating the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.

Fear not, Obama administration legal eagles cobbled together a new theory justifying the practice and have created, yet another, accountability free zone for agents who violated the rules.

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Neatly, seamlessly and silently Obama's Office of Legal Counsel (John Yoo and Judge Bybee's old stomping grounds) granted them, wait!, retroactive immunity for such lawbreaking. The trouble is, the OLC's ruling is classified so we haven't a clue what it entails or how far-reaching is its purview. So much for the new era of "openness" and "transparency."

But I digress...

The New York Times reported March 18, that work on parts of the Bureau's cracker-jack case management program known as Sentinel has been "temporarily" suspended.

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Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global Research,, his articles can be read on Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press and (more...)
 

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