Category Archives: Spooks

Marshall McLuhan: Still prescient, 49 years later

Back when esnl was a budding journalist, no name was better known in media theory than Marshall McLuhan of the University of Toronto School of Communication Theory.

McLuhan’s theories about the role of mass media in shaping the consciousness of the 20th Century sparked endless hours of coffee house conversation.

But McLuhan has largely dropped out of sight, enduring mainly on DVD’s of Annie Hall, in one of most memorable movie cameos ever:

But McLuhan’s theories prove remarkably resilient, most notably his prescient understanding of the computer-enabled panopticon and the power of television to shape and mobilize emotions on behalf of corporate agendas.

He also grasped that the dramatic first-person journalistic reports and prime network coverage by the free-roving reporters of the Vietnam War would lead to draconian restrictions liked the “embedded reporters” who covered the two Bush Wars in the Middle East and North Africa.

Indeed, he even foreshadowed the rise of the presidential candidacy of a creature such as Donald Trump.

And that brings us to today’s video, a remarkably documentary aired on NBC 19 March 1967:


And now for the video. . .

Aired 49 years ago, yet remarkably timely, it comes from from Marshall McLuhan Speaks:

This is Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Massage

Program note:

Featuring Marshall McLuhan, and narrated by Edward Binns.

U.K. spooks waged spy campaign on own citizens

Who do they think they are?

The NSA?

From the Guardian:

The UK’s security agencies have secretly and unlawfully collected massive volumes of confidential personal data, including financial information, on British citizens for more than a decade, top judges have ruled.

The investigatory powers tribunal, which is the only court that hears complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, has ruled that the security services operated secret regimes to collect vast amounts of personal communications data tracking individual phone and web use and large datasets of confidential personal information without adequate safeguards or supervision for more than 10 years.

The IPT ruling includes the disclosure from an unpublished 2010 MI5 policy statement that the “bulk personal datasets” include material on the nation’s personal financial activities. “The fact that the service holds bulk financial, albeit anonymised, data is assessed to be a high corporate risk, since there is no public expectation that the service will hold or have access to this data in bulk. Were it to become widely known that the service held this data, the media response would most likely be unfavourable and probably inaccurate,” it says.

The ruling comes as the House of Lords debates the final stages of the investigatory powers bill – the snooper’s charter – which will put mass digital surveillance activities on a clear legal footing for the first time since the disclosure by Edward Snowden of the extent of state surveillance in 2013.

Quote of the day: Clinton foundation’s toxic legacy

From a devastating report on the much-touted foundation’s projects in Colombia, reported in Fusion:

Colombia should be the Clinton Foundation’s best case study. Ground zero for the drug wars of the 1980s and 90s, racked by uneven development and low-intensity conflict for half a century, Colombia has received more foundation money and attention than any other nation outside the United States. Bill and Hillary Clinton have visited the country often and enjoy close relationships with members of Colombia’s ruling party. Colombia has also been home to the vast oil and natural gas holdings of the man who is reportedly the Clinton Foundation’s largest individual donor, Canadian financier Frank Giustra. In short, conditions were right for Colombia to be the shining example of what the Clinton Foundation’s philanthropy can accomplish in the world, and what makes Hillary so proud of its efforts.

The American Media Institute, a nonprofit news service based in Alexandria, Virginia, partnered with Fusion to send us to Colombia to investigate the Clinton Foundation’s impact. We found ground realities that contrast, often starkly, with the nonprofit’s platitudes about its good work.

Many of the Colombian “success stories” touted on the foundation’s website – the ones specific enough for us to track down – were critical about the foundation’s effect on their lives. Labor leaders and progressive activists say foundation programs caused environmental harm, displaced indigenous people, and that it concentrated a larger share of Colombia’s oil and natural gas reserves in the hands of Giustra, who was involved in a now bankrupt oil company that worked closely with the Clinton Foundation and which used the Colombian military a 1984-style surveillance program to smash a strike by its workers.

It was a shocking record that belies the progressive principles on which the Clintons have based their political dynasty and philanthropy, embodied in the Clinton Foundation’s advertising copy: “Everyone deserves a chance to succeed.”

Companies gave California cops your media posts

Big Brother is has been watching your social media posts in the Golden State, especially if you’ve been Tweeting, Facebooking of Instragramming about protests, cops in many California cities [including Oakland, Sacramento, and San Diego] are reading what you write and looking at your pictures and videos.

From the American Civil Liberties Union:

The ACLU of California has obtained records showing that Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram provided user data access to Geofeedia, a developer of a social media monitoring product that we have seen marketed to law enforcement as a tool to monitor activists and protesters.

We are pleased that after we reported our findings to the companies, Instagram cut off Geofeedia’s access to public user posts, and Facebook has cut its access to a topic-based feed of public user posts. Twitter has also taken some recent steps to rein in Geofeedia though it has not ended the data relationship.

Further steps are required if these companies are to live up to their principles and policies by protecting users of all backgrounds engaging in political and social discourse. So today the ACLU of California, the Center for Media Justice, and Color of Change are calling on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to commit to concrete changes to better protect users going forward. Read our letters here and here.

We first learned about these agreements with Geofeedia from responses to public records requests to 63 California law enforcement agencies. These records revealed the fast expansion of social media surveillance with little-to-no debate or oversight.

But as we continued to comb through thousands of pages of documents, we saw emails from Geofeedia representatives telling law enforcement about its special access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram user data.

In one message, a Geofeedia representative tells police that the company has arrangements with Twitter and Instagram for user data. Right after that, the representative promotes a product feature that “covered Ferguson/Mike Brown nationally with great success.

Read the rest.

Yahoo’s Yahoos & a major case of buyer’s remorse

In his seminal 1726 satire, Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift coined a word to describe a loathsome creature spawned by his imagination.

The word was Yahoo, and here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the nature of the beast:

Swift describes them as being filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of protagonist Lemuel Gulliver, who finds the calm and rational society of intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms, greatly preferable. The Yahoos are primitive creatures obsessed with “pretty stones” they find by digging in mud, thus representing the distasteful materialism and ignorant elitism Swift encountered in Britain. Hence the term “yahoo” has come to mean “a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person.”

Why anyone would want to name a company after disgusting a critter is something of a mystery, although the name may be apt given that the company was letting both the NSA and FBI root around in its emails searching for “pretty stones,” the jewels of intelligence.

And now a would-be buyer of the company is finding that they’re about to wind up with a mess of their hands.

From the New York Post:

Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off its pending $4.8 billion agreement to buy Yahoo, several sources told The Post exclusively.

The request comes on the heels of the web giant getting bludgeoned by bad news in the past few days.

Yahoo revealed two weeks ago that it had been hacked in 2014 and that usernames and passwords for 500 million accounts were swiped. Then, earlier this week, it was learned that Yahoo had been ordered by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to scan emails for terrorist signatures.

“In the last day we’ve heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstong] is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying, ‘Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’” said a source familiar with Verizon’s thinking.

But it gets worse, as the Intercept reports:

Contrary to a denial by Yahoo and a report by the New York Times, the company’s scanning program, revealed earlier this week by Reuters, provided the government with a custom-built back door into the company’s mail service — and it was so sloppily installed that it posed a privacy hazard for hundreds of millions of users, according to a former Yahoo employee with knowledge of the company’s security practices.

Despite this week’s differing media accounts, this much isn’t disputed: In 2015, Yahoo provided the U.S. government with the means to scan every single email that landed in every single Yahoo Mail inbox. The scanning was kept an absolute secret — and as this ex-Yahoo source describes, that meant keeping it a secret from security personnel who came to believe it endangered Yahoo’s hundreds of millions of unwitting customers.

The employee, who worked at Yahoo before, during, and after the installation of the email-scanning program, requested anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement formed when the individual quit several months after the program was discovered internally last summer. The source declined to share certain specific names for fear of violating that same NDA or the NDA of others, but The Intercept has confirmed details of the source’s employment at Yahoo, which would have put the then-employee in a position to know this information.

Yep Yahoo is precisely the right name, no?

Jack Ohman: Security!

From the editorial cartoonist of the Sacramento Bee:


And the latest on the latest leak from the New York Times:

N.S.A. Isn’t Sure if Suspect Leaked Data or Just Hoarded It

Harold T. Martin III, described by his ex-wife as a hoarder, broke rules by taking home top-secret material, officials said, but they struggled to connect the National Security Agency contractor to leaked documents.

Headline of the day: Schadenfreude + déjà vu =

From the New York Times:

Contractor for N.S.A. Arrested in Possible New Theft of Secrets

  • The F.B.I. has secretly arrested a National Security Agency contractor and is investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer code, officials said.
  • The possible theft would be a setback to the agency so soon after the leaks by another contractor, Edward J. Snowden.