The invisible surveillance state: DHS and the end of America as we know it
By End the Lie
Since its inception in response to the September 11th attacks, the behemoth bureaucracy known as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has grown into an organization that is nothing short of nightmarish.
The DHS boasts 216,000 employees (as of 2010), a $98.8 billion budget in the 2011 fiscal year, and child agencies that include: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), United States Coast Guard (USCG), United States Secret Service (USSS), and the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD).
The DHS has been behind countless highly controversial policies and incidents including (but definitely not limited to):
1. Fusion Centers which spy on American citizens without probable cause.
2. The infamous “MIAC report”, actually entitled “The Modern Militia Movement”, released by the Missouri Information Analysis Center which labeled supporters of candidates like Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr as possibly dangerous militia members.
Others who were targeted in the report included individuals associated with the Constitutional Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarianism; people in possession of the film “America: Freedom to Fascism” (which you can watch for free here on End the Lie); people in possession of the Gadsden Flag, also known as the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag; anti-abortion activists; and so-called conspiracy theorists.
3. The 2009 Virginia terrorism threat assessment published by the Virginia Fusion Center which focused on historically black colleges as potential hubs for terror-related activity and also labeled hacktivism a form of terrorism.
4. The TSA’s grope-down procedure which has been used to harass people with the mental capacity of a 2-year-old, along with 95-year-old women with terminal cancer and young children, all without any probable cause whatsoever.
6. Secretly using portable naked body scanners against Americans.
7. Nazi Germany-style roadside checkpoints, again in direct violation of the 4th Amendment to the Constitution.
8. Disinformation campaigns including the non-existent threat of terrorists carrying surgically implanted bombs.
9. “Customs and Border Protection does undertake [opening mail] when it is determined to be necessary”, including personal correspondence, without probable cause or any reason at all. In other words, you are a prisoner of America. And just like in a prison, your mail coming from outside the prison is subject to search whenever it is deemed necessary.
And so many more that I would be forced to devote the entire article to it if I hoped to get even remotely close to covering them all.
However, all of these pale in comparison to what the Department of Homeland Security and child agencies have in store.
This grim future is one in which you are guilty until proven innocent and discriminated against for facial expressions.
You could even be tracked and monitored by drones in the sky which can create “threat assessments” with the data gathered, which can then be used to further make you guilty until proven innocent.
No, this is not the movie Minority Report. Unfortunately, this is fact, not fiction.
This is the Department of Homeland Security’s Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST.
This program collects and stores “physiological and behavioral signals” for analysis, which are then used to determine if an individual could possibly commit a crime in the future or if they harbor malicious intent.
Like the rest of the DHS programs, this requires no probable cause, let alone suspicion of criminal activity.
The data is collected secretly and according to documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), includes, “video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements.”
CNET reports that, “blink rate and pupil variation are measured too”, according to an unnamed government source.
According to Nature, FAST was tested over a period of months in an undisclosed location in the northeastern United States.
Nature reported that the first round of FAST testing ended in March, but given the secrecy surrounding the program and the DHS refusing to say where testing will occur, no one can be sure where or when testing is going on.
All that DHS spokesman John Verrico would say is that “it is not an airport, but it is a large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting”.
While a 2008 lab test was put through a DHS Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) and the testing methodology was overseen by an Institutional Review Board, the 2011 field test was not subject to review and the DHS did not carry out a new PIA.
This should begin to raise some red flags, if nothing else on a budgetary basis, given there is significant resistance in the scientific community to the notion that FAST test would even work at all.
For instance, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood, told Nature, “I believe that the premise of this approach — that there is an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent — is mistaken. To my knowledge, it has not been demonstrated”.
The unfortunate reality is that, accurate or not, this program is moving forward to the stage of public testing, meaning that implementation cannot be too far off.
However, the DHS is insisting that despite the numerous documents, unknown levels of spending and public testing, there are no plans to either acquire or deploy FAST.
In a statement to CNET, the deputy press secretary for the DHS, Peter Boogaard, said, “The FAST program is only in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time.”
Yet, a June 2010 DHS document obtained by EPIC reveals that information is already collected and retained on members of the public as a part of the FAST program.
On page 4 of the DHS’s June 10th, 2010 Privacy Threshold Analysis, this is revealed by a question that asks, “From whom do you collect, process, or retain information on: (Please check all that apply)”.
The options are: DHS Employees, Contractors Working on behalf of DHS, The Public, and The System does not contain any such information.
The only box checked is: The Public.
How can a DHS spokesman have the gall to lie like that knowing that their own documents specifically state that FAST is collecting, processing, and/or retaining private information on “The Public”?
Well, since Boogaard has a background in the mainstream media, specifically at NBC Universal, he probably has no qualms lying through his teeth.
Another red flag raised by the Boogaard’s claim is the fact that the actual costs associated with the program were totally redacted from the contract.
The obligated amount, the total amount of the award, and the government’s liability were blacked out in the document obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The FAST system will monitor, record, and track changes in voice pitch, changes in prosody (the intonation, rhythm, and stress of speech), changes in body heat, patterns of breathing, eye movements (including pupil dilation/variation and blink rate), occupation, and age.
The problem with all of this data is that it is so variable from person to person, that accurate readings would require a baseline of some sort.
Blink rate, for instance, is highly variable from person to person, depending on the task performed and the individual’s sex.
In order for an “abnormal” blink rate to be recorded, a “normal” blink rate for that specific individual would have to be recorded for comparison.
This data would either have to come from other FAST systems’ databases or perhaps even from the drones I covered in a previous article.
Either way, you can bet that FAST would involve creating, analyzing, storing and indexing a massive database of personally identifiable information (PII), contrary to the nonsensical claims made by DHS spokespeople.
In a statement to CNET, one unnamed spokesperson claimed, “The system is not designed to capture or store PII. Any information that is gathered is stored under an anonymous identifier and is only available to DHS as aggregated performance data. It is only used for laboratory protocol as we are doing research and development. It is gathered when people sign up as volunteers, not by the FAST system. If it were ever to be deployed, there would be no PII captured from people going through the system.”
This claim, like the claim that images were censored and could not be removed from the naked body scanners in airports, is likely to turn out to be a complete lie.
A November 2010 Gizmodo article aptly pointed out, “Whatever the stated policy, it’s clear that it is trivial for operators to save images and remove them for distribution if they choose not to follow guidelines or that other employees could remove images that are inappropriately if accidentally stored.”
Based on the DHS track record, I wouldn’t be willing to bet so much as one cent on the claim that the FAST systems would not store personal information.
The Department of Homeland Security seems to have some grand plans for FAST in the works, despite their insistence that there aren’t even plans to acquire the technology yet.
These grand schemes include a mobile FAST unit which “could be used at security checkpoints such as border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or conventions” as revealed by the installation document obtained by EPIC, detailed below.
Much like the covert usage of naked body scanners in public places without informed consent, probable cause, or even suspicion, the FAST technology is already being touted for similar applications.
In another DHS document obtained through a FOIA request by EPIC, some interesting issues are brought to the fore.
It is clear that there is a third agency or entity involved with FAST that has been redacted. The DHS logo and Draper Laboratory (the lab that received the contract to develop aspects of FAST) logo are both intact, yet there is a third logo which has been blacked out.
Also curious is the title of one section of the materials, “Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) at [redacted]: An Overview of the Research Field Test Investigation, [redacted] [redacted] [redacted]”.
The next page reads, “A three step process will facilitate the transition of FAST from the research lab to [redacted].” Where is FAST being transitioned to? Why is it redacted? But wait, it just gets more strange as we continue on.
The page continues,
“All three efforts will take place at [redacted]
1. Research Field Test Investigation (Study 205): Winter, 2011
Collect data using the current research paradigm in an actual operation setting. Data collected from this study will be used to evaluate the methods and screening environment, and to develop algorithms to assist in the real time identification of individuals with [the rest is cut off so the following is a best-guess] malintent (the intent or plan to cause harm).
2. [Redacted in whole]
3. [Redacted in whole]”
In detailing Study 205, it is written,
“For Study 205, [redacted] will recruit individuals to participate in a DHS study
– Have food service experience (or security experience – TBD)
– Receive [redacted] to work at a one day VIP event at [redacted] (6 hours total for a maximum payment of [redacted])
– Be told that they will be paid by [redacted] who is supplying the extra personnel for this event
– Understand that there is NO potential to obtain permanent employment at [redacted]
– Be assigned to either the no malintent or malintent condition”
There are also multiple entire pages redacted from the document including the “discussion” section of the “Final Installation [redacted] [redacted] Assessment at [redacted]”.
The redacted agency, company, or entity is of great interest to me, as they seem to be providing many of the crucial elements of this testing.
One e-mail from a redacted person (likely from the redacted agency providing the participants for the test) to another redacted person, with the DHS contact Robert Middleton carbon copied reads in part,
“As an update, everything is going well at [redacted]. We have had over 285 calls and have scheduled over 110 people for Day 1s at [redacted]. Thus far we have scheduled 50 people for Day 2s at [redacted] beginning on February 7th. All participants that we have interviewed have agreed to return and are glad for the opportunity. Most assume that they will be working at [redacted] when they return, although it is not stated to them. [Redacted] said that everyone is taking this in stride.”
One can assume that this agency, company, or entity is redacted because they will be utilized for future tests of FAST.
In a climate where many people would take any paying job, it is not a leap of faith to say that there are many Americans who would scramble for the chance to work with a program like this, no matter the costs to their own privacy or how it will be used in the future on other Americans.
It is likely the case that these employees are compartmentalized and not even made aware of what exactly they are testing and what it would be used for.
The picture painted by the documents obtained by EPIC are not pretty, and would likely be quite a bit more disturbing if all were released and were free of heavy redaction.
The FAST technology could very well spell the end of American life as we know it and the descent into a high-tech prison state in which you are constantly being monitored, all of your biometric feedback recorded and analyzed, and threat assessments created without your permission or probable cause.
FAST can easily be deployed surreptitiously in public places, constantly recording and storing personal information which can be collated between remote databases.
This data can then be used with drones and other FAST installations, along with Fusion Center data and law enforcement activities.
If you’re marked as dangerous by a FAST machine at an airport, you can bet that you will be treated as a threat, even if you’re just nervous because you’re flying to a job interview or you had too much coffee and not enough sleep.
Such information could be stored in permanent databases which can then be used to further harass you, conduct surveillance on you, or even simply lock you up indefinitely under the PATRIOT Act.
Unfortunately, none of this is from a science fiction film or a paranoid fantasy, it is all real and ready to be rolled out.
Drones are already patrolling American skies; all it would take is a software update for existing sensors to be used to gather biometric data and images for facial recognition.
FAST is already being developed, tested, and pushed as a solution for everything from airports to sporting events, contrary to the lies spewed by DHS spokespeople (which are refuted by their own documents).
Connecting these technologies creates a situation dreaded by every privacy advocate and Constitutionalist in America: an invisible surveillance state in which your every move and breath is recorded, analyzed, and stored for later use.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like the thought of being harassed or detained because a computer algorithm said I blinked too much or a drone tracked me associating with other people who the system has deemed to be a threat.
America was built upon the principles of a just legal system, but when our most essential rights under the Bill of Rights are in jeopardy, everything that was America begins to wash away.
I encourage every American to look into FAST and other DHS programs to witness the growth of a malicious, totalitarian government that seeks to control every aspect of your life while monitoring anything and everything you do.
If you think that it is disturbing to think about everything you do on the internet being stored and analyzed by the government, can you imagine having every single movement and heartbeat in a public place recorded and analyzed by the government?
How about having a drone track you through a crowd, monitoring who you talk to and your emotions while you do so?
If any of these things upset you, as they should, I must ask: what are you doing about it?
Only through spreading this information, contacting our so-called representatives in Washington, and getting active in the defense of our liberty and America as we know it can we stem the tide of this fascist surveillance-based police state.
The worst part about FAST and the drone technology is that it is completely invisible. It would be a lot easier to get more Americans to start taking a stand if there were police officers stopping you, taking your pulse, monitoring your eyes, tailing your vehicle, etc.
Unfortunately, this technology is designed to be totally invisible so you can be a slave to the surveillance state without any knowledge of what is going on.
Let’s expose this technology for what it is: it’s not about the “war on terror” this is about the war on America, liberty, privacy, and life as we know it.
What do you think? What can we do? Let me know at [email protected] and I might use your comments in a future article!
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