I've referred a few times in the past here to a kind of Fear-Industrial-Complex that is growing in strength and size in America. I see it as a kind of extension of Eisenhower's "military industrial complex", made all the more powerful since the 9/11 attack. This "complex" could include everything from the Department of Defense to the corporate media (certainly Fox News) to right wing talk radio to a burgeoning security technologies industry to Congress and the White House to our “the intelligence community” to weapons/defense contractors. There are probably some other examples that might fit that aren't coming to mind at this moment.
We do know that some key components of this "complex" have been RAPIDLY growing size and scope - a kind of secret government that lurks in the shadows, answers to no one, and has a nearly endless supply of funding. I'm speaking now of not just our post 9/11 intelligence agencies apparatus, but also weapons and defense contractors that have been particularly buoyed by advancements in security technologies and things like the Patriot Act.
- it receives more government contracts than any other country in history;
- it now does work for more than two dozen government agencies from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy to the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency;
- it's involved in surveillance and information processing for the CIA, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Pentagon, the Census Bureau, and the Postal Service
- it helped train the now infamous Transportation Security Administration agents who pat you down at airports;
- every taxpaying household in America contributes, on average, $260 to this one company;
- it was to be a key player in the "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) program;
- it ranks number one on the "contractor misconduct" list;
- it won contracts in 44 states and several foreign countries for tasks ranging from collecting parking fines and tolls to tracking down "deadbeat dads" and running "welfare to work" job-training programs;
- it helped one city install security cameras and motion sensors;
- it receives one of every 14 dollars doled out by the Pentagon;
- and it spent $12 million on congressional lobbying and campaign contributions in 2009 alone.
By then, however, it had developed a taste for non-weapons work, especially when it came to data collection and processing. So it turned to the federal government where it promptly racked up deals with the IRS, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Postal Service, among other agencies.
As a result, Lockheed Martin is now involved in nearly every interaction you have with the government. Paying your taxes? Lockheed Martin is all over it. The company is even creating a system that provides comprehensive data on every contact taxpayers have with the IRS from phone calls to face-to-face meetings.
Want to stand up and be counted by the U.S. Census? Lockheed Martin will take care of it. The company runs three centers -- in Baltimore, Phoenix, and Jeffersonville, Indiana -- that processed up to 18 tractor-trailers full of mail per day at the height of the 2010 Census count. For $500 million it is developing the Decennial Response Information Service (DRIS), which will collect and analyze information gathered from any source, from phone calls or the Internet to personal visits. According to Preston Waite, associate director of the Census, the DRIS will be a "big catch net, catching all the data that comes in no matter where it comes from."
Need to get a package across the country? Lockheed Martin cameras will scan bar codes and recognize addresses, so your package can be sorted "without human intervention," as the company's web site puts it.
Plan on committing a crime? Think twice. Lockheed Martin is in charge of the FBI's Integrated Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), a database of 55 million sets of fingerprints. The company also produces biometric identification devices that will know who you are by scanning your iris, recognizing your face, or coming up with novel ways of collecting your fingerprints or DNA. As the company likes to say, it's in the business of making everyone's lives (and so personal data) an "open book," which is, of course, of great benefit to us all. "Thanks to biometric technology," the company proclaims, "people don't have to worry about forgetting a password or bringing multiple forms of identification. Things just got a little easier."
If it seems a little creepy to you that scanning your packages, ensuring that it's easier than ever to collect your DNA, and counting you for the census, rest assured: Lockheed Martin's interest in getting inside your private life via intelligence collection and surveillance has remained remarkably undiminished in the twenty-first century.
Click here to read more.Tim Shorrock, author of the seminal book Spies for Hire, has described Lockheed Martin as "the largest defense contractor and private intelligence force in the world." As far back as 2002, the company plunged into the "Total Information Awareness" (TIA) program that was former National Security Advisor Admiral John Poindexter's pet project. A giant database to collect telephone numbers, credit cards, and reams of other personal data from U.S. citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, the program was de-funded by Congress the following year, but concerns remain that the National Security Agency is now running a similar secret program.
In the meantime, since at least 2004, Lockheed Martin has been involved in the Pentagon's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), which collected personal data on American citizens for storage in a database known as "Threat and Local Observation Notice" (and far more dramatically by the acronym TALON). While Congress shut down the domestic spying aspect of the program in 2007 (assuming, that is, that the Pentagon followed orders), CIFA itself continues to operate. In 2005, Washington Post military and intelligence expert William Arkin revealed that, while the database was theoretically being used to track anyone suspected of terrorism, drug trafficking, or espionage, "some military gumshoe or overzealous commander just has to decide someone is a 'threat to the military'" for it to be brought into play. Among the "threatening" citizens actually tracked by CIFA were members of antiwar groups. As part of its role in CIFA, Lockheed Martin was not only monitoring intelligence, but also "estimating future threats." (Not exactly inconvenient for a giant weapons outfit that might see antiwar activism as a threat!)
Lockheed Martin is also intimately bound up in the workings of the National Security Agency, America's largest spy outfit. In addition to producing spy satellites for the NSA, the company is in charge of "Project Groundbreaker," a $5 billion, 10-year effort to upgrade the agency's internal telephone and computer networks.
While Lockheed Martin may well be watching you at home -- it's my personal nominee for twenty-first-century "Big Brother" -- it has also been involved in questionable activities abroad that go well beyond supplying weapons to regions in conflict. There were, of course, those interrogators it recruited for America's offshore prison system from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan (and the charges of abuses that so naturally went with them), but the real scandal the company has been embroiled in involves overseeing an assassination program in Pakistan. Initially, it was billed as an information gathering operation using private companies to generate data the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies allegedly could not get on their own. Instead, the companies turned out to be supplying targeting information used by U.S. Army Special Forces troops to locate and kill suspected Taliban leaders.
"the more secret surveillance powers we vest in the Government, the more we allow the unchecked Surveillance State to grow, the more unsafe we become. That's because the public-private axis that is the Surveillance State already collects so much information about us, our activities and our communications -- so indiscriminately and on such a vast scale -- that it cannot possibly detect any actual national security threats. NSA whistle blower Adrienne Kinne, when exposing NSA eavesdropping abuses, warned of what ABC News described as "the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack."
That's really the only relevant question: how much longer will Americans sit by passively and watch as a tiny elite become more bloated, more powerful, greedier, more corrupt and more unaccountable -- as the little economic security, privacy and freedom most citizens possess vanish further still? How long can this be sustained, where more and more money is poured into Endless War, a military that almost spends more than the rest of the world combined, where close to 50% of all U.S. tax revenue goes to military and intelligence spending, where the rich-poor gap grows seemingly without end, and the very people who virtually destroyed the world economy wallow in greater rewards than ever, all while the public infrastructure (both figuratively and literally) crumbles and the ruling class is openly collaborating on a bipartisan, public-private basis even to cut Social Security benefits?
The answer, unfortunately, is probably this: a lot longer. And one primary reason is that our media-shaped political discourse is so alternatively distracted and distorted that even shining light on all of this matters little.
Meanwhile, the Real U.S. Government -- the network of secret public and private organizations which comprise the National Security and Surveillance State -- expands and surveills and pilfers and destroys without much attention and with virtually no real oversight or accountability. It sucks up the vast bulk of national resources and re-directs the rest to those who own and control it. To their immense credit, Dana Priest and William Arkin will spend the week disclosing the details of what they learned over the past two years investigating all of this, but the core concepts have long been glaringly evident. But Sarah Palin's Twitter malapropism from yesterday will almost certainly receive far more attention than anything exposed by the Priest/Arkin investigation. So we'll continue to fixate on the trappings and theater of government while The Real Government churns blissfully in the dark -- bombing and detaining and abducting and spying and even assassinating -- without much bother from anyone.