Obama’s Panopticon

It seems the Administration has declared today “Power Grab Monday.”

Charlie Savage reports that the government is again asking for a “technical fix” (as they have during PATRIOT debates) that extends CALEA to cover all the Toobz.

Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

And Ellen Nakashima reports an effort to create what sounds like a US version of SWIFT, covering all international transactions, no matter how small.

The Obama administration wants to require U.S. banks to report all electronic money transfers into and out of the country, a dramatic expansion in efforts to counter terrorist financing and money laundering.

Officials say the information would help them spot the sort of transfers that helped finance the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They say the expanded financial data would allow anti-terrorist agencies to better understand normal money-flow patterns so they can spot abnormal activity.

Financial institutions are now required to report to the Treasury Department transactions in excess of $10,000 and others they deem suspicious. The new rule would require banks to disclose even the smallest transfers.

Any communication you make, any financial transaction you make, the Obama Administration thinks nine years after 9/11 is the time to demand such access.

I suspect it’s only the corporations can save us from this power grab. Not only are corporations doing business in the US not going to want all their transactions accessible by the government (we’ve already stolen enough corporate secrets), but banks aren’t going to want to track transactions at that level.

Though who knows? Maybe the corporations are ready to join Obama’s panopticon?

  1. justbetty says:

    Thanks, EW, for bringing this up. As a US citizen living outside the US but with many connections there, I feel especially vulnerable to these intrusions on my privacy. What with the new rules for air travel as well (must submit many details to airline in order to purchase a ticket), it now feels as though just living outside the US is enough to make you a suspect and open to full law enforcement scrutiny. Funny business coming from a President who himself lived outside the US for years. Frightening to see where the country is headed – in the name of what exactly?

  2. DWBartoo says:

    The “panopticon” … of power.

    An absolutely brilliant, precise, and terribly apt descriptive term, EW.


  3. BoxTurtle says:

    I suspect ObamaLLP is only trying to make legal what they’re already doing anyway.

    I just can’t bring myself to believe that they aren’t already hoovering up everything that goes over the net and they’ve got plenty of horsepower to brute force decrypt anything that really interests them.

    They could always present the target with a warrant and order him to decrypt the message. This would work as long as the target couldn’t hide behind state secrets or congressional inaction.

    Boxturtle (Heck, you can’t even have a private conversation with your lawyer anymore)

  4. radiofreewill says:

    Imvho, these mid-terms come down to a choice between Principle and Ideology.

    If Principle prevails, then We can encumber the Panopticon with Checks-and-Balances in accordance with the Rule of Law.

    However, if the Goopers’ Ideology wins-out, then – plain and simple – Government of the Free, by the Free and for the Free will be just an empty slogan.

    And Gooper double-speak will then be the ‘norm’…

    • BoxTurtle says:

      At least the GOPers are promising to investigate ObamaLLP. That’s more than the DoJ and the current congress are willing to do.

      Boxturtle (Granted, the GOPers will be investigating for all the wrong reasons but better than nothing)

  5. wavpeac says:

    Hmmm. Not defending O at all here, but I have suspected for a long time that the real terrorist attack was on our economy. Who runs our largest banks? Do we even know for sure who is controlling the purse strings there? I don’t think we do. I think that so much can be done in covert transactions outside the country that we could be “owned” by an outside source and not even know it for sure.

    That said…I still believe our only true safety lies in following and honoring our constitution and involving “we the people”. All this secret sh*t, spying, collecting data, with the American people completely in the dark about the most important components of reality is such a far cry from any kind of democracy that could work. (from black water, the privatized armed forces, the dismantling of the constitution to the complete undermining of our economy.) We can’t change what we don’t accept. We can’t get out of this unless someone comes a long and tells us enough truth before we have completely been stripped of our power “of the people, by the people and for the people”. We may be documenting the dismantling of America.

  6. seaglass says:

    Another power grab using 9/11 as an excuse to give the Executive branch even more power. Regrettable and completely unnecessary. It seems that both parties or is that both wings of the $$ party agree we need an Emperor or King now, complete with the power of life and death over all of us at any moment and now over all of our financial transactions as well. I suspect next will be the RFID tags at birth so they can keep track of our every movement as well.

  7. Frank33 says:

    Officials say the information would help them spot the sort of transfers that helped finance the al-Qaeda hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

    This statement is a mistake by our neo-con secret police overlords. If this is true this is the first admission by the “Intelligence Community” that foreign governments financed 9-11. That is interesting because Zelikow and the 9-11 Commission Report reported no “transfers” as the Report also denied Saudi Arabia “transferred” any money. There was a censored 28 page Report that may contain that information but we taxpayers are not allowed to know who financed 9-11.

    Pakistan helped finance 9-11, as the ISI paid the hijacker Atta $100,000. Also Prince Bandar used the CIA Bank, Riggs Bank (the Allbritton family owned Riggs and POLITICO.COM) to pay several of the hijackers.

    Obama wants us to give up more freedom and privacy because 9-11 WAS FINANCED by foreign governments. At least we should be allowed to know for certain the truth behind 9-11. Obama now has a new coverup to conceal.

      • Frank33 says:

        The $130,000 number paid to the hijackers is probably not accurate. Atta got $100,000 from ISI. The amount “Prince” Bandar (or Bandar Bush) laundered to the other hijackers has not been revealed. Those funds in the Riggs Bank probably were supporting a whole network of Saudi spies. Riggs did have to pay a big fine but the details of the “material assistance” Riggs gave to the 9-11 hijackers and Bin Laden, remain secret. But the Allbritton’s and Jonathon Bush did materially assist terrorism.

  8. Frank33 says:

    The department said that the Sept. 11 hijackers were wired about $130,000 from overseas to help finance the attacks, but that the transactions fell outside reporting requirements. No suspicious-activity reports were filed, officials said.

    This is the first admission that 9-11 was state sponsored terrorism. Who sent the money to what terrorists? Why was no action taken against Saudi arabia and Pakistan? How was this information discovered? Why has this been kept secret?

    Having such data “would have really helped us a lot” in the post-attack investigation, said Dennis M. Lormel, a former FBI agent who ran the Terrorist Finance Operations Section set up after the 2001 attacks. “We would have linked the group of hijackers together quicker.”

    Again it is admitted that the government has had this information for almost ten years. How would the have helped since Bin Laden was identified as the leader of the 9-11 attacks by Andrea Mitchell even before the Twin Towers were demolished on the morning of 9-11.

  9. lefttown says:

    Boy, we really screwed the pooch when we elected this guy. He’s devoid of emotion. Feels nothing. Cheney has nothing over on him.

    • Kassandra says:

      It wouldn’t have mattered. I now wish McCain would have won so that the country wouldn’t forever blame Dems for what its happening now. the R’s will get their 100 years Reich ( they couldn’t say 1000) after this guy.
      But, once again nobody’s paying attention.
      And the country was sold under Bush, right out from under US, anyway

      • lefttown says:

        I wish we had McCain, too, but for a different reason: there would have been pushback if McCain had tried to powergrab like Obama’s doing. I just don’t believe McCain could have pulled this off, and I suppose the powers-that-be knew it, too, when they chose the man most devoid of compassion: Obama.

  10. bobschacht says:

    The Charlie Savage article has a particularly brilliant Orwellian headline for all this:

    U.S. Is Working to Ease Wiretaps on the Internet

    How’s that for a reassuring headline for an article about *increasing* the reach of wiretaps on the Internet? Or maybe the headline was supposed to read, U.S. Is Working to Ease Restrictions on Wiretaps on the Internet

    Ain’t life grand here in Orwell Land?

    Bob in AZ

    • Kassandra says:


      “We’re talking about lawfully authorized intercepts,” said Valerie E. Caproni, general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute our existing authority in order to protect the public safety and national security.”

      And it WILL be lawful as soon as that dog in the manger, Liebermann’s bill get thru the Senate….watch how fast THAT thing gets signed into law.

      • Mary says:

        We’re talking about preserving our ability to execute

        A phrase that could be used for so many of the Obama arguments. From infants about to meet a drone bomb to American citizens overseas.

  11. PeasantParty says:

    Great! Just Great! Now we will get the real culprits. Yep, the Economic Hitmen will show up right away. We will have the names, locations, and exact amounts of money flowing to offshore banks and Swedish holding tanks. Then the IRS can go after those nasty tax dodgers. Yep. Even old ex-senator Hatch will be surprised. His money moving around from Turkey and elsewhere will be in plain site.

    Ohhh, let’s not forget that drug money. Yeah, can’t wait.

    It’s all covered under the FOIA, right? Yeah. It’s all legal in the land of the free.


  12. Sharkbabe says:

    These fucking assholes had all the goddamn intelligence they needed to stop 9/11, it’s been documented seven ways to Sunday, even arguably by the 9/11 Whitewash Commission itself.

    God, what a coup for endless tyranny they’ve pulled off. Dick Cheney’s gleeful revenge for Nixon has well and truly destroyed us.

    Even if Obama wasn’t a right-wing neocon authoritarian asshole, the tide of everything-justifying fear and insanity would still be too great.

    • Frank33 says:

      Having such data “would have really helped us a lot” in the post-attack investigation, said Dennis M. Lormel, a former FBI agent who ran the Terrorist Finance Operations Section set up after the 2001 attacks. “We would have linked the group of hijackers together quicker.”

      The special military unit Able Danger had identified several of the hijackers before 9-11. The results of their investigations was destroyed by unidentified members of the “intelligence Community”. The 9-11 Commission also suppressed the information that Able Danger discovered.

    • lakeeffectsnow says:

      how many missions were accomplished on 9.11 ???

      1. able to keep amerikan sheeple in perpetual fear – forever – just bring up 911 boogety boogety boogety

      2. able to rev up amerikan war machine into constant death and destruction mode

      3. able to enormously erode the Constitution, Bill of Rights and civil liberties

      so, are all of these accomplishments bugs or features of cheney’s, OOPS, i meant, of course, OBL’s plan ???

    • Stephen says:

      And we’ve got to put up with at least two more years of shenanigans from this sorcerer’s apprentice. His true deceitfulness and arrogance are beginning to spill over. His “public pretense to the contrary” as mentioned by Mary at response # 41 is becoming very redundant and particularly galling. I think the bunch of them are close to the point where they will say in unison, “fuck’em” following Emanuel’s lead.

  13. klynn says:

    This is a bunch of bull. The government now has the power to “watch” your banking history. Banks now have programs that track customer banking habits (including online deposits and transfers domestic and international) and red flags anything out of the norm. After a closer look, if the bank has further concern, they are suppose to notify the government. This privacy intrusion happened on Bush’s watch.

    I do not think this has anything to do with tracking.

    I wonder if this is tied more closely to tracking pacifist groups than tracking terror groups?

    And I thought they were currently tracking Skype and Facebook now without formal permission?

    • BoxTurtle says:

      And I thought they were currently tracking Skype and Facebook everything now without formal permission?

      Fixed it for ya!

      Boxturtle (Remember as well, permission is a much easier standard to meet than, say, a warrant)

    • Kassandra says:

      Well, as Lieberman said, to paraphrase; “China does it”
      China’s totalitarian capitalism is now the global model

      • PeasantParty says:

        Yep. He thinks it’s all good. Better yet, China has never made it clear to its people that America is no longer the Enemy.

        Hmmm. Wonder when our own Congress will realize this?

  14. oldhippiejan says:

    The rich and powerful have the lobbyists and money to protect their own and can easily be exempted from this infringement.

    I fear my government and the corporations that own it far more than I fear any “terrorist”.

  15. gvandergrift says:

    If laws like this had been in force, there doubtless would have been no Christmas Day underwear bomber and also no Fort Hood shooter. I feel safer already.

  16. lefttown says:

    As GG wrote this morning, it’s especially pernicious that, while they demand to know every single action taken by you, the administration itself governs in strict secret, to the extent that their actions cannot even be reviewed by the courts.

    • clemenza says:

      The courts could reign in some of this shit if they wanted, but they’re as corrupt as the other two branches.

  17. fuzed says:

    I cringe at thinking of of the billions that will go into (on only the govt side) collecting/tracking this information, presenting it to some analyst securely in a dark cave somewhere, retaining it, and subsequently ignoring it, as the administrations have historically done. Golf clap for another invisible elephant.

  18. JThomason says:

    They say the expanded financial data would allow anti-terrorist agencies to better understand normal money-flow patterns so they can spot abnormal activity.

    I know that the use of these kinds of information grabs is acknowledged by you as pretext for acquiring corporate secrets, but the corporate interest is also served if entrepreneurial profit taking is viewed as “abnormal”. Centralizing economic forces are always authoritarian. Offshore encryption and financial services should continue to boom. Its written in the extra-jurisdictional thrust of neo-feudalism. The antithetical upshots are decades from fruition in the new Globalism. The dismantling of America indeed.

  19. ThingsComeUndone says:

    You know what this means right any internet or friend linking cite that is based in an other country and does not have to comply with privacy hacking from the Feds will be the choice of crooks, terrorists, but also foreigners, tech geeks, bloggers, the paranoid etc.
    I think Obama has just given away our internet lead.

  20. Mary says:

    OT but an interesting read – a Save David Axelrode’s Reputation from the Obamamonster campaign at The New Republic

    Got that right moments:

    “[The lesson] is that voters should look at the history of a candidate in assessing the sincerity of their promises. There was little in Barack Obama’s Jane Byrne’s background to suggest she would be the one who would finally clean up DC’s wars, torture, corruption,lobbyist owned Congress and oversexed overfunded overtheshark intel agencies Chicago government.”

    Laugh out loud moments:

    No progressive can begrudge Obama’s decision to sacrifice procedural change in order to notch big wins on health care and financial reform.

    Still laugh at that one everytime I think of it. Sure – let’s not talk about betraying his promises of transparency, selling out on mandates, selling out on drug reimporation behind closed doors while still keeping up a public pretense to the contrary; selling out on a public option while still keepuing up a public pretense to the contrary; not involving Congress and the American citizens as a whole in the process and instead operating covertly through Lieberamanesque deals fronted by Nelson. That’s hay. But if you’d rather have straw, then sure, *no progressive* will be able to be pissed off about ummm, what can we plug in here that no one would be pissed off about, oh yeah , no progressive is going to be furious over sacrificing “procedural change” to get those big public option and drug reimportation [mandated $$ directly to insurance companies for a piss poor product] wins”

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, and not having read the article, the big procedural thing Obama did was use reconciliation.

      After we had said “use reconciliation and get a more progressive bill” for months, to the performed derision of the Village.

      It’s not that they used a procedural tool–it’s that they used a procedural tool and still refused to make it a better bill.

      • clemenza says:

        Proof that when he wants something, he gets it done come hell or high water. Remember that next time we hear they don’t have the votes for say, extending the middle class tax cuts.

        And, speaking of high water, anyone know how many people are fleeing from the levees in Wisonsin?

        • emptywheel says:

          Well, actually the DON’T. Because they rather stupidly didn’t get using reconciliation approved for the tax cuts or anything else.

          Well, and yeah, because they do absolutely nothing to ensure party discipline.

  21. donbacon says:

    All these actions have been taken to improve our security and we still have an “elevated” terrorist threat (“high” in the air sector).
    What gives?
    Why haven’t these billions of dollars and all these intrusions on our liberty paid off in a reduced threat?

    • Frank33 says:

      Why have the billions of dollars spent been a failure and our overpaid spies and their overpaid privatized spies have failed to protect us? Anthony Shaffer claims the following conversation took place with one of our neo-cons overlords.

      Capt. Scott Phillpott, head of the Able Danger program, asks Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer to talk to a representative of CIA Director George Tenet and attempt to convince him that the new Able Danger program is not competing with the CIA. Shaffer later recalls the CIA representative replying, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly understand. We’re going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ [the CIA’s covert action element targeting bin Laden] or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target al-Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.” Shaffer claims that for the duration of Able Danger’s existence, “To my knowledge, and my other colleagues’ knowledge, there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose not to participate in Able Danger.”

      Anthony Shaffer’s book, Operation Dark Heart is being censored by the “Intelligence Community”.

  22. donbacon says:

    “The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.” –Ben Franklin

  23. stryx says:

    I was just talking with my winger co-worker about John Twelve Hawks and here you are with the panopticon post.

    What brought the subject up for me was out local police have been offered a free device from Homeland Security. It involves attaching a camera? to a police car which then scans all the license plates it can see and uploads them to a central processing server. Supposedly it can do hundreds in an hour, there’s no operator controls (no on/off switch), and every plate it can read gets uploaded.

    “It can help identify stolen cars” was the explanation given. Anyone who complained about the idea was identified as a cRRaaazzy moonbat lieberal why do you hate America?

    You don’t even need to be watched all the time. You just need to think you are.

    Welcome to the Vast Machine.

  24. DWBartoo says:

    The “Homeland”, or “Fortress America”, is actually well on its way to being a prison society, wherein the inmates police themselves, with mean suspicion and self-censoring, as the inmates will never know when (or even if) “THEY” are watching, listening, “collecting”, or so on … that the inmate’s “betters”, “THEY”, might make a “killing” elsewhere.

    We’re all gonna “do” the Big Time, a “life sentence without chance of parole” (even if ya “cooperate”), should the “ruling” class have its arrogant and inhuman, neofeudal, way. Welcome to the future … there is to be no escape.

    (Those are not “compassionate” corporate “persons”, btw, they are sharks without a shred of conscience…)


  25. wavpeac says:

    Do you think it would all be the same if Clinton had won? I just don’t know. I think we might have been screwed long before Clinton and Obama were chosen. However, I do wonder on the one issue of retaliation because Clinton stated that they would be held accountable. (doubted it because it would have meant holding her husband accountable…but then…psychologically it would have been perfect, wouldn’t it?)

    I think it didn’t matter who president was.

  26. fatster says:

    Couple of related items.

    10,000 TSA employees get secret clearances

    “The new head of the Transportation Security Administration [and former FBI Deputy Director] say [sic] he’s giving 10,000 of the agency’s employees access to secret intelligence information to better enable them to detect
    threats and stop terrorists.”


    DOJ Report: FBI Employees Cheated On Skills Assessment Test


  27. clemenza says:

    Nice move Barack.

    Rallying the base again?

    Sheesh. If he was a paid agent for the neocons, he couldn’t do more damage to the Democratic Party.

    • sporkovat says:

      Dear Clemenza: He epitomizes the Democratic Party, this is what they always do.
      see for example, CALEA passed by the previous “Man from Hope”, Bill Clinton.

      get the pattern yet? Campaign using the word hope, pass draconian police state legislation and consolidate corporate power, while followers chorus “Vote Democrat, they are the Least Worst!”

  28. tjbs says:

    The difference between Mc Carthyism and “terrorism” is what exactly?

    Seems to be the same end game fear and rigid right wing authoritarianism.

  29. dyfet says:

    Good afternoon my relations. Today is not such a great day. In the United States the Obama administration is actively seeking a new law to legally mandate the forced introduction of insecure back doors and support for mass surveillance into all communication systems. Specifically targeted are Internet VoIP and messaging systems.

    Speaking on behalf of the GNU Telephony project, we do intend to openly defy such a law should it actually come to pass, so I want to be very clear on this statement. It is not simply that we will choose to publicly defy the imposition of such an illegitimate law, but that we will explicitly continue to publicly develop and distribute free software (that is software that offers the freedom to use, inspect, and modify) enabling secure peer-to-peer communication privacy through encryption that is made available directly to anyone worldwide. Clearly such software is especially needed in those places, such as in the United States, where basic human freedoms and dignity seem most threatened.

    In the United States the 4th amendment did not come about simply because it was impractical to directly spy on everyone on such a large scale. Nor does it end simply because it may now be technically feasible to do so. Communication privacy furthermore is essential to the normal functioning of free societies, whether speaking of whistle-blowers, journalists who have to protect their sources, human rights and peace activists engaging in legitimate political dissent, workers engaged in union organizing, or lawyers who must protect the confidentiality of their privileged communications with clients.

    However, to fully appreciate the effect of such surveillance on human societies, imagine being among several hundred million people who wake up each day having to prove they are not a “terrorist” by whatever arbitrary means the government has decided to both define the terms of such a crime and whatever arbitrary methods unknown to you that they might choose to define you as such, and where even your prosecution is carried out under the immunity of “state secrets” that all police states use to abuse of their own citizens. Such a society is one who’s very foundation is built on the premise of everyone being guilty until proven innocent and where due process does not exist. It is the imposition of such a illegitimate society that we choose to openly oppose, and to do so in this manner.

    David Alexander Sugar
    Chief Facilitator
    GNU Telephony

    • sporkovat says:

      Kudos to your courage. More, much more where that came from is needed, across sectors. It sounds like you were born in a free country!

    • Fractal says:

      David Alexander Sugar
      Chief Facilitator
      GNU Telephony

      Where can we donate to GNU Telephony? (I wanna “hit the bat” like in the old days!)

      • dyfet says:

        We actually had not set up a means for collecting donations, although we have been distributing software to enable communication privacy for some 4 years now starting with the GNU ZRTP stack, twinkle software, SIP communicator (the latter available on OS/X and Microsoft Windows as well as GNU/Linux) and finally more recently GNU SIP Witch. However, I believe we could easily arrange to do so in cooperation with the Free Software Foundation (http://www.fsf.org) if there is serious interest in donating funds to support our work.

  30. mzchief says:

    Why HI! there David. Thank you for the PSA. Yeah, I’ve never trusted Skype (one officially signed over oneself to their datamining whereas the gOOGLE just does it).

  31. Garrett says:

    In fact, for years after divestiture the Unix community was preoccupied with the first phase of the Unix wars — an internal dispute, the rivalry between System V Unix and BSD Unix. The dispute had several levels, some technical (sockets vs. streams, BSD tty vs. System V termio) and some cultural. The divide was roughly between longhairs and shorthairs; programmers and technical people tended to line up with Berkeley and BSD, more business-oriented types with AT&T and System V.

    Origins and History of Unix

    What we are talking about with this “technical fix”, I suspect, is trying to force programmers to write wiretap modules, any time they deal with one of the world-changing Hippie Unix sockets.

    If this is what it is, and the law comes to pass, the hippies should take their internet back, in a snit.

  32. interlocutor says:

    Perhaps if the gov’t agrees to pay the banks a certain amount for each account on which transactions are recorded, the banks will become more patriotic, just as the phone companies did when paid $750 per phone tap!

  33. Fractal says:

    The timing on this is similar to the timing on the FISA amendments vote in 2008: now, late September, six weeks before an election; then, mid-July 2008, four weeks before the Dem convention & four months before the election. Please, Mr. President, Get FISA Amendments FBI Wiretapping of the Entire Internet Right!

    Does he think we can’t do two or more things at once?