The Surveillance State

How Much of Your Freedom Is at Stake?

The concept of personal privacy has changed drastically in an era of explosive technological advancement that includes drones and satellites that see through walls, cameras on every city street corner, cyber spies lurking behind your computer screens, and cell phones that track your every move. Nothing you do is done in private, not even in your own homes. In many ways, even your thoughts, behaviors and actions are being exposed to a variety of powerful sources that want nothing more than to control some aspect of your life… if not every aspect.

Domestic surveillance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 increased to a point where anything was acceptable under the guise of protecting the nation from future terrorism. The Patriot Act initiated far-reaching measures that, at the time, made people feel safer, even as their own civil liberties were being stripped away.

But the problem was, the vast majority of the citizens being spied on had nothing to do with any terrorist organization. Fourteen years later, the train is still speeding away from the station. Just recently in May of 2015, Boeing was awarded a patent for an autonomous drone that can be recharged while in the air. While civil libertarians were screaming about the loss of privacy rights, Boeing was assuring us that they can now “keep us safe/spy on us” 24/7, because up to this point, drones were limited to the amount of airborne time by their need to drop down and refuel.

Without that need, we can now look forward to drones powered by batteries that can be recharged via a number of methods that don’t require them to land. While these drones might also provide some benefits, such as providing Wi-Fi services or product delivery that makes all of our lives easier, no doubt there will be more invasive purposes for such technology. A June 8, 2015 article for referred to this new unmanned aerial drone as something straight out of the Matrix movies (remember the Sentinels?), especially if these drones are armed. “Do we, as a society, really trust a swarm of autonomous drones, potentially armed, which in theory could almost never need leave the sky?” the article asks.

As early as 1998, we were reading news stories of spy satellites orbiting the earth peering into our homes and down into our streets to the point of being able to see the license plates on our vehicles. Today, we can only imagine what is possible.

Spy satellites and drones alike have been put to use by the Department of Homeland Security right on our home soil, although some “in the know” admit that we still aren’t quite near the capabilities often portrayed in spy movies and television series. But we are close. Normally satellites are not geosynchronous over any particular place for more than a few minutes, and they don’t take color photos, or full motion imagery… or so we are told. Back in 2007, in an article for NPR titled “What Can Satellites Do for Domestic Spying,” then Director of talked about the limitations of satellites. The focus at that time was on repeated images that would spark further DHS interest, allegedly to allow DHS to pinpoint where to send rescue people in a mass casualty event, like a terrorist act, and where to evacuate them.

In 2008, “Slate” reporter William Saletan wrote in “Nowhere to Hide: Killer Drones That Can See Through Walls” of the use of unmanned drones in both Iraq and Afghanistan, able to track human targets via “STTW,” or “Sense Through The Wall,” technology that utilizes radar to detect people within rooms, even through walls over a foot of concrete thick. According to Saletan, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) was using this technology, or at the very least testing it, as far back as 2006. He refers to a 2006 “Operational Needs Statement” by the Joint Urban Operations Office calling for the use of STTW on both manned and unmanned vehicles. The Navy followed suit with a call of their own. Using potential sensors distributed on and around buildings, these drones could then provide intelligence on what is inside a building, who is inside, and what they are doing.

This same technology was being developed in the early 2000s by Boeing, and by Defence R&D Canada, as per a 2002 report stating the desire for a “through-the-roof” surveillance capability using UWB radars installed on helicopters or small, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

According to a December 11, 2011 article in Universe Today, DARPA’s more current projects involve MOIRE—Membrane Optical Imager for Real-Time Exploitation, which would allow for real-time video and imaging of any point on the planet, at any time. The MOIRE program began in 2010 and offers a geosynchronous orbital system with a 20-meter wide membrane “eye” that allegedly images an area of over 100 by 100 km, with a video optic rate of at least a frame per second.

In March of 2014, Space Daily reported on the “Strato-Bus,” a drone-satellite hybrid under development in France that looks like a dirigible but operates at an altitude of approximately 20 kilometers. The Strato-Bus would take higher resolution images and maintain stronger communication signals because it is traveling through space at a much slower rate than ordinary satellites.

Today, we have the addition of thermal imaging and x-ray imaging technologies as well as live-feed video, infrared, and other possible technologies being kept secret from the general public. The warning here is that the eyes in the skies are getting clearer, sharper vision with each passing year.

We now can rest assured that, if they had the need, the drones and satellites could tell us what color pajamas we had on and what we had for dinner, especially with the ability to hover over one particular area, leaving us fully exposed with our only defense the fact that there are way more people to spy on than there are drones and satellites to spy!

Add to that a lack of privacy laws protecting civilians from drone and satellite invasion, and the stage is set for spying on the public with little-to-no warrants or legal process involved. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is one organization devoted to protecting and defending civilian rights in a digital world. They attempted to sue the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) in January 2012 using the Freedom of Information Act to identify which private and public parties had applied for the authorization to fly drones. The FAA did release records involving some 60 public entities and 12 private drone manufacturers but failed to identify how the drones are being used. In 2011, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) released their recommendations for government use of drones, “Protecting Privacy From Aerial Surveillance,” and they continue to monitor drone technology, traffic, and infractions. Whether or not the government or private parties agree to those recommendations simply remains to be seen as more and more drones fill the skies, including those used for commercial purposes, such as the Sunday delivery drones.

In March of 2015, the UK Guardian reported a new ACLU lawsuit against the Obama administration over its continued secrecy and controversial use of armed drones to carry out lethal strikes and assassinations worldwide. According to journalist Spencer Ackerman, the ACLU seeks disclosure from the White House of legal documents and internal memos relating to President Obama’s use of drones, with specific attention to how individuals end up on what has become known as the president’s “kill list,” a list of who is targeted by armed drones. This is not the first lawsuit filed against the government regarding the drone program, run by the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, and brings up the dangers of armed drones hovering around our skies.

The public outrage, however, is missing in action, allowing for an increase in aerial surveillance. Yet, down here on Earth, we seem to have no problem with exposing our personal information to anyone with the means, and the motives, to see it. We do it all the time. Every time we fire up our computers and go online, or get on our beloved cell phones, our entire lives become fodder for data mining companies, government and military entities, and corporate/advertising behemoths.

So, how widespread and pervasive is U.S. Government surveillance? Incredibly widespread, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the cyber world. Remember, in the shadow of 9/11, our government has greatly ramped up surveillance capability in support of national security. As a result, a number of official as well as “black” programs were put into place under the auspices of the Patriot Act. In fact, NSA has contractual relations with thousands of U.S. companies—this initiative, codenamed “Whipgenie”—allowing access to nearly every type of data in your life.

One such program is called PRISM (which is the code name for the data collection program called SIGAD US-984XN). PRISM is a covert surveillance program established by the NSA to collect Internet traffic from at least nine major U.S. Internet backbone providers. That little fact is huge! Basically, any data whatsoever that is transmitted via the Internet is within scope of the program—VOIP (voice calls), emails, websites, etc. Think about how intrinsically digital our lives have become—could you imagine surviving without a cell phone and Facebook?

Section 702 of FISA requires any data that matches court-approved search terms to be turned over to the NSA. As a result, even beyond the ability to capture and analyze voluminous amounts of data, the NSA is able to utilize PRISM requests to aggregate target communications that were encrypted. What does this mean? Well… even encrypted traffic over the Internet is NOT truly secure!

The NSA (like most government agencies) are extremely fond of using catchy “codenames” for projects and, as a result, have established six primary cyber security/surveillance initiatives under the umbrella program called “Sentry Eagle.”

• Sentry Hawk—For activities that involve computer network exploitation (or spying).

• Sentry Falcon—For computer network defense.

• Sentry Osprey—A cooperative program with the CIA and other intelligence agencies.

• Sentry Raven—For breaking encryption systems.

• Sentry Condor—Computer network operations and attacks.

• Sentry Owl—Collaboration with private companies.

With great power comes great responsibility, and with all of these means for data capture and interception, one would hope that stringent protocols would be in place to ensure the protection of the data and prevent the abuse of power. According to law, the NSA is only allowed to intercept communications if at least one end of the communication is outside of the United States, although it does not have to distinguish domestic from foreign until the earliest practicable point. When it comes to international communications, the NSA is painting with a fairly broad brush. If you have family or friends outside of the U.S., you can expect, with reasonable assurance, that your communications have been captured and monitored at some point.

While some might feel comfortable that only monitoring communications between the U.S. and international countries might help to reduce or prevent terrorist communication, there is actually a huge privacy loophole in place that likely affects a significant number of American citizens. If the NSA collects U.S. communications “by mistake” (and really… with the level of technical sophistication available, is it likely that “mistakes” could easily happen?) when targeting terrorism suspects, the FBI is allowed to search for those domestic records within NSA databases without a court-ordered warrant. No fourth amendment protection, no probable cause, no FISA warrant… nothing.

If you aren’t even slightly concerned about the possibility of government intrusion into your personal life, then perhaps these next few facts might change your mind. Since we have established that a multitude of surreptitious domestic surveillance/intelligence gathering programs are in place, are you curious about the breadth and reach? Incredibly, it is so expansive that the NSA built a new 1.5 million square foot facility in Bluffdale, Utah. This 1.7 billion dollar facility has the potential storage capability of one yottabyte of data, which is the equivalent of 500 quintillion pages of text. It is believed that there are as many as 1.25 million, 4-terrabyte hard drives built in to over 5,000 servers.

The power requirements for this type of computing power are massive—with estimated power utilization of 56 megawatts of power. This is enough electricity to power approximately 33,000 average-size houses! The facility, which is jokingly referred to as “Bumblehive” (a play on Utah’s nickname of the Beehive State), staffs approximately 200 workers and can facilitate the storage and indexing of absolutely unfathomable amounts of raw data. Let’s take a look at a few examples of the massive amount of information that is reportedly aggregated and stored at Bumblehive.

• Telephone—several billion calls per day are monitored. Yes, billion. Various storage algorithms allow metadata to be retained for up to five years. For individuals who are considered “targets,” actual two-way audio is compressed and stored for an indefinite period. Backdoors built into all major cell phone handsets ensure that the NSA is never more than a few feet away at any given point in time.

• Email, Facebook, Instant Messages—all metadata passing through U.S. Internet gateways are logged; this includes “who talked pharmacyonline canada24d to who” online for up to 30 days. Encrypted data (i.e., PGP or RSA signed communications) can be kept indefinitely. Allegedly, Bumblehive has the ability to analyze and store the data of individuals who are 2–3 hops out from the initial target. This means that examining family or friends-of-friends or friends-of-friends-of-friends are all within the scope of surveillance capabilities. Let that little fact soak in for a moment.

• Raw Internet traffic—According to many sources, the NSA has business agreements (known as compacts) in place with every ISP (Internet Service Provider) as well as Tier 1 providers such as L3 and AT&T. Tier 1 providers are known as the “backbone” of the Internet. These partnerships allow monitoring equipment to be installed “on premise” as well as providing an interconnection mechanism between NSA and FBI Date Intercept Technology Equipment (DITU). The ability to monitor data “at the source” has been referred to as the “Holy Grail” and is all encompassing. For example, all Internet content can be stored for a few days. This includes every email, Facebook chat, websites visited, Google map searches, transmitted files, photographs, and documents. As if that’s not enough, the systems at Bumblehive purportedly can also perform real-time monitoring of calls over the Internet such as Skype or IM chats.

With nowhere to hide, cialis24pharmacy online we continue to live our lives in the open, often unaware of who is watching, and for what agendas or motives. Even with the few minor ways we can protect our computers, our cell phones, and our homes from prying eyes, we cannot keep them out for good. Technology advances much faster than our ability to keep up with it, leaving us vulnerable to an ever-increasing Big Brother watching our every move. Only when there is a massive public outcry will this change. For now, we remain too distracted by our gadgets and the wonders of technology to make our lives easier. But at what cost?


Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman are authors of Mind Wars, Viral Mythology, The Déjà vu Enigma, 11:11—The Time Prompt Phenomenon, and The Grid. Their first work of fiction, Gridwalkers, will be released in 2016 and combines science fact with fiction. Their website is

By Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman