Steven C. Neill
February 4, 2013
During most of the Twentieth Century, the American public held a high regard for its government. Most people felt the government was honest and in the event of war, America was the “good guy” fighting for freedom and liberty. During Vietnam however, the image started to crack as the Gulf of Tonkin, My Lai and Kent State massacres, the Kennedy assassination and then Watergate brought serious questions about government ethics to the forefront with disturbing results. Many people on both sides of the political fence started re-evaluating the increased use of technology as a way to monitor American citizens and the willingness of the government to neutralize perceived threats like the Branch Dividians and the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge. But many Americans still believe that America is the “good guy,” that security trumps freedom and that the government, although not perfect, is still the best around. Are they right? Is there an example of the US Government using illegal and/or immoral methods to spy on American Citizens?
Few episodes in US history show less regard for US citizens than the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study which was conducted from 1932 to 1973. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted by the US Public Health Service (PHS) on African-American males to discover the effects of untreated syphilis. The participants were not informed they suffered from syphilis nor were they given treatments to stop the disease in spite of the introduction of penicillin in 1947.
Syphilis is a venereal disease caused by a type of bacteria that is transmitted through sexual contact or from affected mothers to children at birth. Syphilis symptoms include sores, rashes, and swellings that generally cause problems involving the heart and brain. The end results are often weakness, insanity or even death.
The study was advertized in churches, work places and word of mouth. The PHS selected 399 black men with late-stage syphilis and 201 uninfected men to serve as controls for the study. Like most medical studies at the time, the subjects were not told the real reason for the study. In fact, the men were led to believe that the rubs, tonics, and aspirins given them were treatments for their "bad blood," the general term used for syphilis. The painful spinal taps were even mislabeled as a "back shot." Realizing that the best data on how much damage the disease caused would be from autopsies, PHS physicians offered $50 to participating families in exchange for autopsy agreements prior to burial. Also, to ensure the men were not treated, PHS went to local doctors and asked them to withhold treatment from the men.
The study took on a life of its own as the decades passed and several generations of PHS doctors came in to examine these men. Even though Alabama had a law requiring the reporting and treatment of venereal disease, local officials turned a blind eye. Between 1936 and 1973, researchers published 13 reports in medical journals, sometimes referring to the men as “volunteers." Even as greater numbers of the participants died early because of being untreated, no thought was given to ending the study.
In WWII, local doctors were told to exempt these men from the draft to keep them in the study and from being treated for the disease. When the researchers were asked about how ethical this study was, the questions were brushed aside.
Finally, in 1966, Peter Buxtun, who tracked venereal disease cases for the San Francisco Health Department, heard about the study from a colleague and was outraged. His requests for official government transcripts of the studies were ignored as was his efforts to get the tests stopped. In disgust, he turned to the media for help and the story was broken on July 25, 1972, in the Washington Star.
Several other deadly and unethical medical experiments came out at the same time causing massive public outcry on how these studies were conducted. A lawsuit was brought against the PHS and settled out of court for $10 million regarding the syphilis study. Reverberations resulted in the establishment of institutional review boards for the approval of research studies, with strict guidelines on informing participants about the purposes and potential consequences of participating. No one was ever prosecuted for the crimes committed during the syphilis study, despite violations of Alabama state law on reporting disease and what could have been construed as intentionally causing deaths.
The study officially ended in 1973, and the last survivor died in 2004, but the impact continues. The study is taught as an example of how not to conduct research. Also, in 1997, Tuskegee University created the National Center for Bioethics. But has this forced the government to rethink its policies on gathering information from the uninformed and are there lessons that American citizens can glean on how far the government will go to get that information?
Never Say Anything
Following the 9/11 attack, the US government created The Information Awareness Office (IAO) which brought together several projects focused on applying surveillance and information technology to track and monitor terrorists and other threats to U.S. national security through what they call Total Information Awareness (TIA).
TIA is the name of a massive U.S. data mining project focused on scanning financial transactions, phone calls, emails, internet searches, etc. from public and private sources with the stated goal of detecting and preventing transnational threats to national security. TIA was created in January 2003 as part of the Homeland Security Act. But after severe public outcry, Congress agreed to cut funding on it in 2006. However, like all government agencies, this privacy sucking vampire was silently moved over to other agencies, specifically the National Security Agency (NSA) which is also called “Never Say Anything” by its detractors.
Since taking over the congressionally outlawed TIA, the NSA has created data collection posts located all over the US intercepting all communications going into or out of the US, spy satellites covering the entire planet and the use of drones over the US. The government has effectively turned the American people into the most spied on people in history. But as vast as this eavesdropping network is, there are still shortcomings in the system. At this time, they are limited to recording people’s communications and only actively monitoring a limited number. Also, much of the data, such as financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, and confidential personal communications are encrypted to keep them private.
But the NSA believes it is on the threshold of breaking the encryptions of these private communications and thus laying open every piece of communication zipping through cyberspace. However, analyzing every piece of communication requires an incredible amount of computer storage and speed which until now, did not exist.
Enter the Utah Data Center, located in Bluffdale, Utah. This multi-billion dollar, top-secret, 240 acre facility, is the absolute fulfillment of “Big Brother,” immortalized in George Orwell’s “1984.” It’s created to store and analyze up to 500,000,000,000,000,000,000 pages of text. That’s a five followed by 20 zeros affectionately called a yottabyte of information to be stored in its 1-million-square-foot facility. Within these walls, it will now be possible to store and analyze for patterns, every piece of electronic data being generated today.
NSA has stated the purpose of this facility is to assist the Department of Homeland Security by collecting intelligence on cyber threats. It does this by capturing what’s called deepnet which is data beyond the reach of the general public including password-protected data, US and foreign government communications, and noncommercial file-sharing between trusted peers. Stealing the classified secrets of a potential adversary is where the intelligence community is most comfortable. With its new Utah Data Center, the NSA will at last have the ability to store all those stolen secrets. Once this information is stored, it’s data-mined looking for patterns. This means turning everything a person does electronically into a graph allowing the NSA to create a very detailed picture of a person’s life. The question, of course, is how the agency defines who is, and who is not, “a potential adversary.”
Recently, a former NSA official has publicly described the program, code named “Stellar Wind,” in detail. William Binney was a Senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. He raises the troubling question that if the NSA wanted to limit it’s super-snooping to international communications, it would have located its tapping gear at the points where the fiber-optic cables entered/left the US, but instead, they put the wiretapping rooms at key junctions throughout the country.
The former NSA official held his thumb and forefinger close together: “We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.”
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care.”
According to Binney, a company named Narus, controlled by the NSA, created a software program capable of searching all US sources for target addresses, locations, countries, and phone numbers, as well as watch-listed names, keywords, and phrases in email. Any communication that arouses suspicion, especially those to or from the million or so people on agency watch lists, are automatically copied or recorded and then transmitted to the NSA.
Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does become charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says.
The NSA also has the ability to eavesdrop on phone calls directly and in real time. According to Adrienne J. Kinne, who worked both before and after 9/11 as a voice interceptor at the NSA facility in Georgia, in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks “basically all rules were thrown out the window, and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans.” The only thing missing in this system is legally obtained court orders for probable cause.
In 2004, the government authorized the building of the High Productivity Computing Systems to create a super computer fast enough to break the encryptions. They’ve made significant strides and the NSA believes they can accomplish it by 2018. At least, that’s what they’re saying. Even though they’re reportedly unable to break encrypted messages, they’re still being recorded and will be available when the technology does exist. This creates a situation where every electronic aspect of your life can be monitored.
▪ All phone conversations
▪ All internet usage including Facebook posts and internet searches
▪ All electrical usage through Smart Grids and Smart Meters
▪ All financial transactions
▪ Tracking your movements via cell phones or vehicle On Star systems
▪ What you check out at the library
▪ Facial recognition and license plate cameras along America’s roadways
▪ The ability to turn your cell phone into a listening device
The adage about “nothing to hide” isn’t relevant when the government can learn everything about you. We are living in an America where many in the media, academic realm and politicians are labeling those who support limited government, American sovereignty, the protection of the Bill of Rights, and other conservative principles as extremists.
"The thought police would get him just the same. He had committed--would have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper--the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you." – George Orwell, 1984
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