Will Facebook Be Spying On You? 

My article at Liberty Nation asks about the inherent problems with the Facebook chief serving in government. The question isn’t whether they are however. They have been for some time. 

The FBI and (Another) Dirty Little Secret

The Federal Bureau of Investigation calls itself an “intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization.” In all its self-praising, it fails to mention the unconstitutional and even illegal acts that it is currently involved in—such as paying Best Buy employees working on the Geek Squad to dig through customers’ computers looking for things they can investigate.

In one recent case, a prominent physician and surgeon in Orange County took his computer to the local Best Buy and had one of the Geek Squad folks look at it since he was unable to boot it up. What the doctor didn’t know—what no one knew—was that “the company’s repair technicians routinely searched customers’ devices for files that could earn them $500 windfalls as FBI informants.”

The technician reported to his boss that he “accidentally” found child porn on the doctor’s computer. His boss was another informant, and he told both a third informant and the FBI, who seized the hard drive.

At this point, the average reader probably thinks that the nasty pervert got what he deserved and that the employees were ethically bound—if not legally so—to report finding such material on a customer’s computer. The truth, however, is not that simple. The FBI had already broken the law by using the Geek Squad technicians to perform what amount to illegal, warrantless searches of a private individual’s computer, over and above the scope of the repair work that the customer requested. The FBI was also offering monetary incentives to any of the employees who chose to dig around in customer files and found something the FBI would be interested in investigating.
To bring a case against the doctor, the FBI needed to find a way to reconstruct ‘finding’ the evidence to cover up their illegal search. The defense said agents “conducted two additional searches of the computer without obtaining necessary warrants, lied to trick a federal magistrate judge into authorizing a search warrant, then tried to cover up their misdeeds by initially hiding records.” Making the case even murkier was the fact that the images resided in a part of the hard drive that made it quite possible that the doctor did not even know they were there—hidden in unallocated space, possibly placed there by malware, and only accessible by forensic software.

The most important part of this story is not that a doctor may or may not have knowingly had child porn on his computer. It’s not even that Best Buy employees were overly nosy at best and planted filth on customer’s computers to get paid at worst. The problem is greater than that—and speaks to a dangerous culture within law enforcement agencies, who seem to grow ever more creative at finding ways to avoid adhering to the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment. The issue is that they are not just conducting illegal searches of private files, but that they are paying employees of private companies to do it for them—and in doing so, they are encouraging citizens to spy on and report each other to the government for money.

Perhaps even more disturbing is that pedophiles and other predators against children serve as examples of situations where they claim illegal searches worked. The cases are held up as positive examples of law enforcement at work. It’s a very calculated effort to normalize the surveillance state and ensure that the public sees the violations as not just a good thing, but a necessary thing to keep our children safe. Those who prey on children are the lowest of the low even among fellow criminals; certainly, as the argument goes, no law-abiding American would stand in the way of law enforcement doing whatever is necessary to get them off the streets. Faced with the logical fallacy of ‘support law enforcement or support pedophiles,’ the public focuses on the result—never realizing that in doing so, they have tightened the noose around their own necks.

Sadly, the idea of government agencies and law enforcement paying employees at various businesses to spy on their customers is not a new one. Last July, a San Bernardino UPS employee was performing illegal searches on packages at the behest—and on the payroll—of the county sheriff’s department. The Postal Service is also scanning all mail and making that data available to any federal law enforcement agency that wants it, without a warrant ( a post-9/11 addition). The Drug Enforcement Agency even got caught by the Inspector General paying agents from the Transportation Security Administration to notify them if anyone was traveling with large sums of money—in return, they would get a cut of what they seized.

There is no proof that the doctor ever viewed the images on his computer, or even knew they were there; even the government had to stipulate that they could not prove the charges. There is, however, plenty of proof that federal law enforcement agencies are willing to do anything, including violate the Constitution and break the law, even if their target might be innocent. That isn’t something that Best Buy customers—or anyone else in America—should allow.

The War Between Trump and the Intelligence Community

The idea that the intelligence community is at war with Trump is an interesting concept with a fair amount of evidence, and yet I know several people who would take me to task for even saying it exists. It’s “fake news,” some have told me. Others have said that the intelligence community is “far too professional” to get in a pissing match with the President-elect, which quite frankly, I find laughable. Let’s take a look at the information out there. This may seem slow going; there’s a lot of pieces–and this article can’t even cover them all.

Robb Calls the Ball

Way back in February, you’ll remember that John Robb called Trump’s campaign an open source insurgency–and it was. He won due to a variety of reasons, including shrewdly tapping into the anger and frustration already out there, and giving people somewhere to focus it. As Robb mentioned, he didn’t get bogged down in policy positions and little things that would divide the efforts, he simply boiled it down to “I will work for you, I will listen to your needs…and they will not because they never have.” Simple, and effective.

While people are still trying to get him to verbally lay out policies, however, he’s already said a great deal with his administration personnel choices. Over and over he’s chosen pro-surveillance people who think that if Americans have any privacy, the terrorists win or something. If you thought Obama was bad for privacy, just wait until Trump gets his system set up.

Now, the ‘obvious’ answer to this is “Well, that would make the intelligence community happy. Why would they be mad if Trump’s about to create more surveillance and more job security for them?” Occam’s Razor notwithstanding, we should never just take the obvious answer.

Thiel and the Big Data Machine

In 1998, a guy named Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal, a company that’s been named as being complicit with the federal government in terms of massive data collection of purchase information. Thiel later went on to start–with CIA funding–a company called Palantir, and he also serves as the longest-running director on the board of Facebook after Zuckerberg himself. So you’ve got a guy who, if you’ll forgive the expression, is balls-deep in surveillance of the American public; in fact, he’s now worth $1.2 billion or so, in part because of it.

The Constitution, such as it is, theoretically prohibits the government from collecting data on you without a warrant–of course, we all know that’s getting violated on a constant basis, but bear with me a moment. What service do these CIA-funded companies such as Palantir, provide to the government? They collect, catalog, profile, and package the data that the government technically cannot collect itself. Why do something when you can simply pay someone else to do it–especially if it’s not even your money getting spent? Palantir gets incredibly, ridiculously rich (over $80 million in revenue just from Big Daddy Gov in 2015), and the federal government gets all the dirty details that the Constitution says they aren’t supposed to have.

Don’t believe it? That’s fine; take a look at what Palantir is doing for the Customs and Border Patrol:

Known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence, the system draws from a variety of federal, state, and local law enforcement databases that gather and analyze often-sensitive details about people, including biographical information, personal associations, travel itineraries, immigration records, and home and work addresses, as well as fingerprints, scars, tattoos, and other physical traits. […] This helps federal authorities determine a person’s eligibility to travel into — or even within — the United States…

That’s just the stuff they’re letting you see (and by the way, that’s not counting all the rest of the companies doing this as well–another topic for another day).

Thiel was tapped to be on the Trump transition team, and initially was being looked at for a White House position, which as of a few days ago he is now saying he would decline, possibly due to the massive conflicts of interest inherent in him taking a job in the administration. Now again, while you may say “okay well that’s good; they’re not bringing this guy on board,” you’d be missing the rest of the picture. Thiel will be far more powerful staying out of the administration.

So What’s the Point?

Here’s the big reveal: Trump is looking to privatize intelligence collection and “slim down” the CIA, putting the actual. power in the hands of people like Peter Thiel and companies like Palantir.  They are better, faster, and way cheaper  at playing the game than the intelligence community–and Trump is all about that.

John Robb called that too, back in December.  Not many people listened–but they should have, because the writing was on the wall even then.  Turning over intel collection and data analysis/profiling to private companies completely–or even mostly–would result in the CIA, NSA, and other agencies being relegated to the sidelines, and God knows the CIA has never been a fan of sitting on the bench.

Since Robb penned his prescient assertions, he’s been right about the big CIA leak that was coming; we just saw it last week. Some defend the intelligence community, basically saying that what we all saw isn’t real and we can’t possibly know the real story because it’s all so classified, but that assertion doesn’t work in the greater framework of what we know the CIA does, such as leaking information to influence electors. They also had one of their former directors endorse Hillary in an effort to keep Trump out and job security in (he even used the “Russian” buzzwords and talking points, right on cue).

Trump has flat out disagreed–publicly–with the CIA’s assertions about the Russians, which even Charles Schumer finds “really dumb,” because when “you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Interestingly enough, when asked what exactly the intelligence community could do, he said, “I don’t know.” Some may look at that as bluster unable to be backed up, but I tend to agree with Jacob Hornberger, who says that Schumer’s statement makes no sense unless he really just didn’t want to go into that.

In other words, don’t provoke the people with the dirt on everyone and the power, funding, and capability to do pretty much whatever they want without repercussion.

The “Scorned” Intelligence Community

Outgoing CIA director John Brennan just happened to be on Fox News Sunday, where he slammed Trump for good measure, and again on CNN’s State of the Union. (For fun, I’ll point out that Brennan made a point of saying that the CIA is staffed by an “unbelievable cadre of professionals,” which if you know anything about Statement Analysis, will make you chuckle and mutter “unbelievable is right” under your breath.) Former CIA officers are getting in the game too (partly because they never really get out), with punchy opinion pieces like “Here’s What Will Happen if Trump Doesn’t Stop Scorning the CIA.”

What do you see here in terms of pattern? They’re painting the CIA as the helpless, honorable-but-spurned lover of truth and justice, an agency filled with consummate professionals at the top of their game who believe in American awesomeness and just want to do right by the nation, but are being hamstrung by a mean, orange tycoon who Just Doesn’t Understand What We Are Trying To Do. Sound familiar (minus the orange parts)?

The CIA may be many things, but it is not helpless, and even a Trump non-fan like me can see that there’s a coordinated effort to paint a picture not entirely accurate. The CIA–and the greater intelligence community–doesn’t just want surveillance power. They also want autonomy without accountability–and in reality, isn’t that something we hear constantly in not so many words? You’ll never understand the situation because it’s classified; just know that we keep you safe and go on about your day.

There may not be trenches, grenades or drones in this conflict, but there is most definitely a conflict between Trump and the intel community. In fact, between the legislation introduced to abolish the ATF and the ongoing fight over who will control intelligence, 2017 is shaping up to be very interesting times…in a Chinese kind of way.

UPDATE: Robert Gore points out an article calling Schumer’s remarks a “dog whistle” telling the intel community to go ahead with whatever they want to do to Trump.