FBI’s Use of Drones for U.S. Surveillance Raises Fears over Privacy, Widening Corporate-Gov’t Ties

Democracy Now*

domestic_dronesHAVANA TIMES – The FBI confirmed this week that drones are carrying out surveillance within the United States. FBI Director Robert Mueller called the drone use “very seldom,” while acknowledging regulations to address privacy concerns have yet to be completed.

Meanwhile, in the latest leak of classified National Security Agency material, The Guardian reported Thursday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has signed off on rules that appear to grant wide latitude to the NSA in retaining and making use of Americans’ private data, rather than “minimizing” its usage.

We discuss the latest issues of domestic surveillance with Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild and author of the forthcoming book, “Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.” Boghosian examines the increasing monitoring of ordinary citizens, and the corporations that work with the government to mine data collected from a wide range of electronic sources.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to other FBI news, the agency acknowledged the use of drones to carry out surveillance within the U.S. On Wednesday, under questioning by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley during a hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller confirmed the domestic use of drones. He also said the bureau is still drafting regulations to address privacy concerns.


ROBERT MUELLER: We are in the initial stages of doing that and I will tell you that our footprint is very small, we have very few, and of limited use. We are exploring not only the use, but also the necessary guidelines for that use.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: Does the FBI use drones for surveillance on U.S. soil?




SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY: I want to go onto a question —


ROBERT MUELLER: Let me just put it in context, though. In a very, very minimal way and very seldom.




AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, Democratic Senator Mark Udall questioned whether drone spying is constitutional, saying, “I am concerned the FBI is deploying drone technology while only being in the ‘initial stages’ of developing guidelines to protect Americans’ privacy rights.” Udall said. Meanwhile, in the latest leak of classified NSA material, The Guardian reported Thursday the NSA can keep copies of intercepted communications from or about U.S. citizens if the material contains significant intelligence or evidence of crimes.


According to the report, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISA Court signed off on rules that appear to grant wide latitude to the NSA in making use of data, rather than minimizing its usage. Well, to talk about the issue of domestic surveillance, we’re joined by Heidi Boghosian, whose new book examines increasing monitoring of ordinary citizens, and the corporations that work with the government to mine data collected from a wide range of electronic sources. Heidi Boghosian is executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, co-host of the weekly civil liberties radio show Law and Disorder. Her forthcoming book is called, “Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.” Due out in August. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Heidi. Let’s talk first drones. Drones over the United States, how they’re used.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: Both, I believe conservative and liberals have been claiming for years that drone use in the United States is rife for abuse. The reason is, they can be made in any size. Researchers at John Hopkins are looking into how butterflies move so that they could craft drones the size of mosquitoes or birds. They have the ability to have infrared cameras on them, heat sensors, and also the ability to stay airborne — they call it loitering — for long periods of time. contractors such as Raytheon and Boeing are working into ways to keep them airborne even longer. The danger of course being that with small drones, they can pass in dense urban areas such as New York City into an apartment building, stay there, conduct surveillance. Even now drones have the capacity through heat sensors to determine, I think through a one foot concrete wall, if people are moving around inside.


AMY GOODMAN: So if you swat a mosquito, you could be charged with damaging government property?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: That’s right, a felony offense.


JUAN GONZALEZ: The defenders of drones might argue that it is only a difference in technology from a helicopter flying over a scene, to use a drone that there is no real civil liberties question, unless of course as you say they come into apartments. What’s you’re perspective on the question of, it is not much except for the technology.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: It is very different. Drones do not require a space from which to depart the way manned vehicles do. So they can be deployed virtually in any area. Furthermore, technology has not kept abreast with developments in the law. As was cited earlier, the regulations are really lagging behind safeguards about how they can be used need to be developed. There is a rush right now by military contractors and law enforcement agencies around the country to tell the FAA how they can integrate drones into domestic airspace in the next two years. Billions of dollars have been given to contractors for that purpose.


AMY GOODMAN: In a radio interview in March, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said the use of domestic surveillance drones by New York City authorities and the erosion of privacy, he talks about this.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: We’re just, we’re going into a different world, uncharted, and like it or not, what people can do or governments can do is different and you can to some extent control but you cannot keep the tides from coming in. We are going to have more visibility and less privacy. I don’t see how you stop that. And it’s not a question of whether I think it is good or bad, I just don’t see how you could stop that.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: It benefits large corporations who have a very snug relationship with government intelligence agencies to develop drones and to deploy them wide scale over United States airs. Privacy protections, we have reasonable expectation of privacy in our homes. If small aircraft are flying around and able to monitor us over long periods of time, track us, track our associations, that presents a huge problem.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And this whole issue of corporations and government cooperating on surveillance, you talk about that in your book, not just with drones, but with surveillance in general. In your book you talk about fusion centers. Could you expand on that? What are fusion centers?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: Fusion centers were created around 2003 to 2007 as a way to better coordinate intelligence across the country. The problem is they partner with the private sector, the business industry, so they share intelligence with one another. It is obviously to businesses best interest to increase the amount of data that they get because they are also improving analytics for the government to avail themselves of in order to make sense of the vast amounts of data that is being collected. So technology is being developed that the government relies on. Big money is pouring into corporations. And in exchange, private sector is giving that information to the government.


AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to former NSA CIA Director Michael Hayden who oversaw much of the privatization of the NSA from 1999 to 2005. This is him speaking in 2011.


MICHAEL HAYDEN: We may come to a point where defense is more actively and aggressively defined even for the private sector, and what is permitted there is something we would never let the private sector do in physical space. Let me really throw out a bumper sticker for you here. How about a digital Blackwater? We have privatized certain defense activities even in physical space, and now you’ve got a new domain in which we don’t have any paths trampled down in the forest in terms of what it is we expect the government or will allow the government to do. In the past, in our history when that has happened, the private sector expands to fill the empty space. I am not quite an advocate for that. But these are the kinds of things that are going to be put into play here very quickly.


AMY GOODMAN: That’s NSA and CIA Director, former General Michael Hayden, who is now at the Chertoff Group talking about Digital Blackwater. McConnell, who formerly headed the CIA is now top guy, had come from and went back to Booz Allen Hamilton.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: In fact, a lot of government agencies hire people from the private sector and vice versa. At DEFCON, the hacker convention every year, you’ll see a lot of government officials there. They rely on individuals with technological expertise. They really need each other. I think one of the dangers is that private sector can operate with impunity in terms of skirting the constitution. The government needs that. It is helpful to them.


JUAN GONZALEZ: Speaking of that, in your book you also talk about some of the surveillance of journalists and lawyers, not only by the government, but by the private-sector. You highlight the case of Hewlett-Packard and what it did in 2006 in terms of finding out what the sources of journalists were. Can you talk about that as well?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: It was called the HP scandal. In fact, Hewlett-Packard hired a private contractor, I believe there were two of them, to do what is called pretexting, which is now illegal in many areas. Basically, they pretended they were someone else, called up records keeping places to find out information about perspective —- the people who had leaked criticism of HP. We see a lot of that. Private security -—


JUAN GONZALEZ: Leaked it to journalists.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: Leaked it to journalists, exactly. And we see under the Obama administration and increasingly secret classifying of more information, declassifying fewer documents, and cracking down on journalists, which of course, goes to the heart of our democracy without the free exchange of information we become a very repressive state.


AMY GOODMAN: We earlier reported today that Max Kelly, the former chief security officer for Facebook went on to work for, since 2010, has been working for the NSA.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: It is a close partnership. There is no two ways about it. And going back to drones, the drone industry lobbied very hard and expended billions of dollars to push to get drones in the sky very quickly.


AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the main thesis of your book, “Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance,” which is what happens to activists? Give us examples and what this means for the future.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: When many people say during the revelations of NSA spying, I don’t need to worry I have nothing to hide, I think it goes to the critical question of, what does the government do with this information? And one of the first things they do is target individuals who challenge not only government policies, but corporate policies. Animal rights activists, environmental activists were labeled a top domestic terrorism threat in 2005. The danger of even getting metadata where you con track associations and patterns that people engage in, is that those who are critical of the government will be sought out even criminalized for engaging in robust speech. And we’ve seen new legislation such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act that in fact does criminalize a lot of First Amendment protected activities.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And this who issue of using techniques developed in combat, either against terrorists or against military combatants, to use them to surveil what is in essence protected dissent in the country.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: A great trend we are seeing that also with the use of biometrics. For example, people arrested in Occupy New York City were asked if they would submit to iris scans. Now, we’re also seeing that they were held longer when they said no, but if you go to a hospital, for example, they might ask you to put your palm under a scanner. They’ll say it is for expediency, you can see the doctor faster. But you’re giving up personal information that is stored. I think it is really important to realize all of the information gathered electronically or through biometrics is stored and can be accessed and used for purposes other than what it was originally intended for at a point down the road.


AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about the latest Guardian report regarding the NSA and attorney-client communications. This from the New York Times, “to get their hands of the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, U.S. intelligence agencies invested Silicon Valley start-ups. The sums the agency spends in Silicon Valley are classified, as are the agency’s total budget, which independent analysts put at something like $8-10 billion per year. Also, the American intelligence community has its own in-house venture capital company In-Q-Tel, financed by the Central Intelligence Agency, to invest in high-tech start-ups. Start with the client attorney privilege.


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: Since events of 9/11, we’ve seen a few developments that allow the government to listen in on what are supposed to be private, privileged conversations between attorneys and their clients. The problem is, organizations such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, the People’s Law Office in Chicago, even the National Lawyers Guild talk a lot with clients who are critical of the government. The government then has an interest in listening in, monitoring their conversations. It has what we call the chilling effect on free speech. When you know you’re being listened in on, it inexorably alters the way that you’re going to communicate with your attorney. Just as a confidential source talking to a journalist once suspecting that they’re being monitored, may not be able to speak as freely. So, I think that by going after attorneys and their clients as well as journalists, it further constricts the exercise of free speech and really goes at the core of our legal system and protection of the rights of anyone, no matter how unpopular to the government, to have a zealous advocate on their behalf.


JUAN GONZALEZ: And the use of drones in border enforcement across the country, the southern border especially. Obviously it is increasingly being done. The civil liberties concerns there?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: It is being done in border control and also for things, emergencies such as floods, fires, situations where they claim it is too dangerous to have a personed aircraft fly over. It I think that the argument that it is safer, less costly, is something that is going to allow more and more of these functions to be increasingly taken over. The FAA has said outright they believe drones should be used increasingly for law-enforcement purposes.


AMY GOODMAN: Finally, back to Juan’s question at the beginning about corporation, and government convergence on spying, most people talk about the government, whether they are going to be looking at them, but the idea that this is going to be used for corporations to spy as well?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: Corporations are such a huge part of our life and are now developing their own intelligence branches as well as giving information over to the government. They need to silence their critics quickly and efficiently. We have seen them do that, spying on PETA, spying on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida.


AMY GOODMAN: Where did you see spying on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers?


HEIDI BOGHOSIAN: In Florida, Burger King actually used a private security company that infiltrated, monitored Burger King. Even one of Burger King’s vice presidents posted derogatory comments online. And the activists found that out.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to take you very much, Heidi Boghosian, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, co-host of the weekly civil liberties show Law and Disorder, author the forthcoming book, “Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance.” It is due out in August. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
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