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Wikileaks’ Timely Reminder of our Digital Panopticon

by Kit

“The Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form.” – Michel Foucault

In the late eighteenth century English Utilitarian philosopher and social-theorist Jeremy Bentham devised what he called the “perfect prison” – The Panopticon. The design is simple, a circular prison with one guard in the central room, and all the cells facing the guard tower. In this way the gaoler can have a line of sight to every cell at once, and no inmate can ever be sure he’s not being observed. Bentham described it as:

…a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example…a mill for grinding rogues honest.”

Wikileaks latest release of classified documents, entitled Vault 7, comes as a timely reminder to all of us (as if we needed it) that the panopticon – the theorized perfect prison – is now a fibre-optic, digitized, hard-coded reality.

Here’s a run down from Wikileaks’ own analysis page (with some added emphasis):

The increasing sophistication of surveillance techniques has drawn comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984, but “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is surely its most emblematic realization.

The attack against Samsung smart TVs was developed in cooperation with the United Kingdom’s MI5/BTSS. After infestation, Weeping Angel places the target TV in a ‘Fake-Off’ mode, so that the owner falsely believes the TV is off when it is on. In ‘Fake-Off’ mode the TV operates as a bug, recording conversations in the room and sending them over the Internet to a covert CIA server.

As of October 2014 the CIA was also looking at infecting the vehicle control systems used by modern cars and trucks. The purpose of such control is not specified, but it would permit the CIA to engage in nearly undetectable assassinations.

The CIA’s Mobile Devices Branch (MDB) developed numerous attacks to remotely hack and control popular smart phones. Infected phones can be instructed to send the CIA the user’s geolocation, audio and text communications as well as covertly activate the phone’s camera and microphone.

The CIA’s Remote Devices Branch’s UMBRAGE group collects and maintains a substantial library of attack techniques ‘stolen’ from malware produced in other states including the Russian Federation. With UMBRAGE and related projects the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from.

These early analyses show us the powerful trifecta of these operations – the CIA can hear you, find you and…if they deem it necessary…kill you. In fact, the reveal that the CIA has been working on hacking vehicle control systems adds new dimensions to the (as yet unsolved) case of Michael Hastings, a counter-culture voice in the American press who died in an inexplicable car accident four years ago. (A good rundown of the case can be found here.)

The repetition of a now well-established fact – that the CIA, NSA, DHS…whoever…can hack various electrical devices to listen in to our communications is nicely topical, given the current clash between the in-coming and out-going presidential administrations. An interesting thought is that Wikileaks, if it ever was as completely impartial and alternative as it purports to be, might be being used to score political points. The theorized split between the CIA (pro-Hillary) and the FBI (pro-Trump) works well as an explanation for this, as it did with the DNC and Podesta e-mail dumps prior to the elections. Either way, this information is nicely timed to remind the world that, as we already reported, of course Donald Trump was being surveilled. Everyone is.

The final section we’ve highlighted, the proof that “…the CIA cannot only increase its total number of attack types but also misdirect attribution by leaving behind the “fingerprints” of the groups that the attack techniques were stolen from” is an interesting tidbit of information. Worth remembering, because it will almost definitely have fallen down the memory hole next time some “evidence” is produced claiming Russia or China or Iran have hacked this, that or the other.

Further along in Wikileaks’ explanation of the data, and much discussed on CNN and in Congress (who seem rather unfazed by the illegal bugging and possible assassinations), is that the CIA’s arsenal of “cyber-weapons” were unsecured, and probably stolen by unknown parties.

Did state and/or non-state actors access and steal CIA created data-mining programs and spyware? I don’t think it matters. At all. The reasoning behind this is fairly simple. Firstly, there are no groups LESS trustworthy than the American military intelligence institutions. Secondly, and more importantly, I don’t believe it to be true.

I don’t think the CIA had their weapons “stolen”, I think that establishing – in the public eye – that they don’t have sole control of these tools enables them to preserve plausible deniability, in the event they are used.

If the cyber-tools the CIA developed are also in private hands, they were more likely sold than stolen. The CIA has massive corporate ties in the media, defense, pharmaceuticals and countless other big corporate interests. To the extent it is essentially one large family.

So what has the media reaction been? Four years ago I would have answered “disappointing”, these days I would say “predictable”.

CNN chose to focus on the “stolen” angle, suggesting there be a Senate investigation – not into the CIA’s power to illegally surveil and/or kill American citizens – but into their lax security and whether or not they have endangered national security by letting their toys get taken away.

Already the false premise is set and the subject for debate is decided: The question is not whether or not they should have these powers, but whether enough is being done to ensure they are the only people who have them. In this way a public outcry can be generated, the CIA can be brought before the senate and begged to tighten their security (possibly further slipping what little congressional oversight they still endure in the process). Engineering a situation whereby the citizenry plead with you to what you wanted to do all along is one of the oldest tricks of government.

Ewen McAskill, writing in the Guardian, has this to say:

The leak, dubbed “Vault 7” by WikiLeaks, will once again raise questions about the inability of US spy agencies to protect secret documents in the digital age.

He talks about it being an “embarrassment” for the CIA, and “good timing” for Trump. You’ll also be interested to know he considers the sky to be blue, and water wet. In-depth analysis is thin on the ground, as (more troublingly) is any indication that he understands that this is morally repugnant.

The BBC considers Wikileaks revelations to be a smaller story than the Lords voting on small amendments to the article 50 bill, or the Champions League. The story about how the CIA is spying on all of us and researching covert assassination techniques was filed, not under “politics”, but rather “technology”. You can only imagine that, had this modern BBC existed in 1945, they’d have reported the bombing of Hiroshima under “technology” too, perhaps with the headline “US make breakthrough in use of Nuclear energy”.

No one in the media is ready to concede this vindicates Trumps “wire-tap” tweets from a few days ago, or willing to admit that the “that would be illegal!” defence from Obama’s reps was farcical. (They will instead, in the coming days, point to this being another example of WikiLeaks being on Trump’s side and probably in the pay of Russia. Just watch).

All-in-all the media are taking it in their stride, not one source I could find expressed any kind of shock or moral outrage. They take a deliberately apathetic tone chosen very carefully. They tell us the facts, but refuse to analyse them. They address the current reality as the only option.

That the state claims the power to invade our privacy is a given, that they have the tools to do so, an unfortunate fact of life. Set in stone. The way the world works. No thought is given to holding governmental power to account, and no column inches supplied to those with an angry voice. In short the media provide only one message: They are always watching you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In that sense the media, and even Wikileaks, provide a valuable service. There’s no point in creating a panopticon if nobody knows they are being watched.

NOTE: As always with WikiLeaks dumps, there’s a lot of content to work through. We will be reading through as much of it as we can, and updating readers with any interesting statements or implications. If any readers are working through these e-mails themselves, feel free to write into us pointing out something you think we missed. Our submissions address is on the homepage.

16 Comments

  1. michaelk says

    There’s one of those truly ghastly pieces by Marina Hyde, so full of ‘wit’ and humour, linking the Wikileaks revelations, Trump, Asssange and Nigel Farage. Normally they’ed call it a ‘conspiracy theory’, but strangely not this time. It’s awful how the Guardian’s hacks use ‘humour’ and ridicule to undermine the status of designated enemies like Assange and Wikileaks, whilst ignoring the serious nature of the leaks about the CIA and what they mean for what’s left of liberal, bourgeois democracy. It’s a low and horrid propaganda tactic, smear Assange in the hope some of the dirt will rub off on the content of the Wikileaks information and thereby undermine its credibility.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The mind is employed to support its beliefs and if the core belief is held to align with the identity assigned and accepted by it – then its abilities are harnessed by such purpose.
      When we attack the person we are diverted from the issue. When the ‘other’ is presented as a derogatory stereotype, ridiculing and attacking them seems ‘natural’ or inevitable. When receiving this sort of unwillingness to be accorded a view – it is easy to reciprocate in kind.
      The fragmenting of conflicted personae protect the issue from exposure while seeming to be addressing the problem – each from its own justifications.

      Like

  2. BigB says

    “There’s no point in creating a panopticon if nobody knows they are being watched.”

    As usual Kit, spot on. First off, there is nothing so far in this first dump that the astute among us would not already know, if not by actual name, by capability (‘Brutal Kangaroo’ is a brilliant cryptogram though.) My gut instinct when I started to look into this last night was “I’m not buying this back story.” To avoid oversight, the CIA creates a parallel NSA (that much I can believe) then ‘loses’ the suite of tools they’ve created. Total BS – as Kit says, more likely sold them – or leaked them themselves. Batshit crazy, or the CIA’s own ‘active measures’ to subvert? After all, the fear porn effect is amplified when your Samsung S-800 smart TV is in ‘Fake-Off’ mode – not only the CIA but a whole team of North Korean hackers could still be watching you.
    [Anyway, I thought ‘Fake-Off’ was Paul Hollywood’s celebrity baking programme, now it’s moved to C4?]

    POWER STRUGGLE_________POPULISM, IRRESPONSIBLE POWER STRUGGLE_________BIG BROTHER”

    Now I’m not a far right redneck claiming this is a Commie Coup – that started with the Frankfurt School who turned two generations of American educators into ‘unrepentant’ Marxists. Nevertheless, this is straight out of the ideological subversion playbook as expounded by KGB defector Tomas Schuman/Yuri Bezmenov.
    Demoralize-Destabilize-Crisis-Normalize.
    After decades of demoralization are the CIA moving into a destabilization mode?
    With Obama/HRC trying to whip up grassroots participation and Soros funding the ‘pussyhat’ SJWs toward a ‘mobocracy’ – are we witnessing a carefully contrived move from an ‘Open’ to a ‘Closed’ society? The anti-Trump-Fascism that leads into real Fascism?
    At what point does it stop being batshit crazy to point out that beyond an astroturf social revolution, someone is trying to foment the conditions for a Civil War? And it’s not the Russians. (It’s the GWO!)
    https://raymondpronk.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/yuri-bezmenov-on-kgb-soviet-propaganda-and-subversion-videos/

    Like

  3. Willem says

    I agree that the CIA (and NSA) spying systems are digital panoptica. But the question is:
    a) who are the guards and
    b) what are they guarding?

    A) Keeping a couple of billion people in place in your panopticum is practically impossible. There are no guards, or very few, who only guard the usual suspects, i.e. the ones who can be blackmailed and need to be blackmailed because they have power. That is a bad thing, but that also happened far before the Snowden and Vault 7 revelations (try Nixon)

    B) What is there to guard? Opinion? – That is as fluid as water. Terror? – Only increased since 2001. Secrets? – probably. But what kind of secrets? Scientific ones shouldn’t be secret and are not secret in an open society. And the political secrets, it seems to me, are exposed by Wikileaks one at a time as a beautiful side effect of the surveillance state that wants to keep everything they do secret. Still, the ins and outs of for instance HRC or John Podesta are much better known to the average reader than the ins and outs of the dozens of people they travel with everyday in their trains and buses when they go to work. The surveillance state is accountable thanks to their own spying system. That is wonderful.

    To me it seems that the spying system, despite all the links to dystopian books like 1984 are not made because the surveillance wants to determine what its citizens are doing. The surveillance state is made because it is a racket, a means of getting public money by swindle.

    That is also why I believe that the ‘whistleblower’ of Vault 7, is someone (or thing) from the NSA.

    Of course I don’t ‘know’, but I would use the Cui Bono argument, then I would say that is the CIA who is ‘stealing’ funds from the NSA as they are similarly capable of spying people as the NSA, for which they receive public money that ‘belongs’ to the NSA.

    And while this doesn’t proof anything, to me this revelation of Vault 7 is like reading a 19th century American novel (Huckleberry Finn) where ‘The Duke’ and ‘The Dauphin’ fight each other because one is getting more attention (and money) from the audience than the other.

    One more word about novels: I read 1984, and Brave New World, We, etc. To me they don’t come close to explaining the society that we live in, at least not as close as was written in the roaring 20s by Sinclair Lewis, when he wrote about Babbitt. There are many Babbitts in the world: they just want to make a few bucks by cheating on the ‘system’. That is what the CIA is about and the NSA and every organisation is about that lives by means of cheating the people who finance them, and who are of good faith or just too apathic to complain, or not ‘listened’ too by the MSM, which is also a racket.

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  4. We’re now under Total Surveillance and under near-Total Control: someone has stepped in, mercifully, to fill the vacuum left when JHVH died. Go on, admit it: you’re comforted by it. Laugh.

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  5. In these last days that have been rather hectic and stressful for me only the BBC managed to make me smile. For the wrong reasons. Their article, closing paragraph: ‘What’s potentially more worrying is that as information about the bugs gets out then the bad guys will pile in and use them.’

    Because for a moment, silly me, I thought the ‘bad guys’ were precisely those developing tools to spy, intimidate and kill from a distance and that have not only a rich history of atrocities but also a budget comparable to that of many countries. Thanks to the BBC now I know that those work ‘in accordance with a strict legal and policy framework, which ensures that their activities are authorised, necessary and proportionate’. Therefore, I decided to worry about those real criminals, the genuine bad guys, those scary immoral bastards, getting their hands around those ‘bugs’. Or what were we talking about?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would add this point here… This release an others from this source can also be seen as a attempt to further obfuscate the game board, Tor uses the idea that many using an anonymity system cloaks the few using this system. This leak broadens the game board in much the same way, the amount of tools released need not be the entire suite, just enough to cloud the waters of the operating environment enough to gain a breathing space of denial to cloak the real big operators. I feel the main want from all the Vault7 like releases is to have a more active and diverse hacking space, also enough independent actors to cloak the main actors operations. A sort of hacker university with out wall or campus to enable a flood of independent enough hackers to work in and around as a more genuine cover.

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  6. Who is doing what and why? Who has the say over access to ‘private’ and withheld information and why?
    Is it an ‘all powerful elite’ or a fragmented and fragmenting insanity of negative causal loops?
    I hold to free will – but I also not that the mind – or a spun off mental substitute has its own fake will – that operates by coercion/subjection – in other words UPON another will – and that is the agreement to deny or refuse free will NOT its inheritance as a god or power over Life and others. That idea of power IS corrupt.
    Terror symbols operate the shadows of our own reflected refusal to accept and honour free will – and would justify the persistence and deeper sacrifice under alignment to such ‘power’.
    A castle of lies has no wiggle room and runs out of ways to be able to seem to escape its own stark and fundamental contradictions. An ‘evil’ foundation is a false persisted in as true – at expense of true. It isn’t ‘evil’ other than its use – and isn’t even a foundation excepting the wish and belief in it.
    Jesus said ‘give unto Caesar what is due unto Caesar and give unto God what is due unto God’.
    Caesar says – and believes – ‘there is no God but me’ – and abuses forms or idols of truth as ‘mind-capture’ – or as the device by which a mind seems independent of its source nature and ‘free’ to exercise power under its own word.

    I enjoy knowing what I need to know – when I need to know it. Not before and not after. I have no business in your business – excepting insofar as we share common cause. If you share cause with me – then we are already sharing life – whether the mind perceives it in such terms or not.

    The entanglements in power, attack, fear, secrecy and guilt – operate a network of underground correspondences – of conflicted identities – whose conflict protects against the truly knowing and being known. It is a masked ‘reality’ experience in which the mask seems stuck on and the only ‘reality’.

    Everything we give attention and energy to is our gift to ourselves and to all – though others are free to accept from this what they will. A forced communication is not communication – but it is communicating identity in force. Knowing what we do – is not the mind of con troll or the conned role – but the yielding of such ‘power’ to a presence of awareness in which a choice opens that cannot be seen from the perspective of such ‘power’ – for it is of a different order.

    Being painted in a corner is where choose-between no longer has anywhere to go but insanity or death or indeed insanity and death. This is the gift we have chosen – and yet in that acknowledgement is the innate capacity to release what is not true of me now – regardless how it served me in the past.

    How much light need shine upon the trap to recognize the light is not the trap? – and so align in the feeling of the light and not to the entangled forms of masked off mind in place of true willing.

    What is true willing?

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  7. Now we know why Americans were forced into buying HDTV or being given a set top box to use to switch your old TV to digital; it made it easier for the government to spy on Americans in their homes.
    Now the same tactics used against foreign diplomats and US politicians, threatening to release a damaging video or audio of the diplomat doing something will now be used against Americans–and others–who dare to speak out against the tyranny that is slowly choking the USA to death.

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    • @ Greg Bacon
      I knew when THEY came out with digital TV’s that they would be used for spying. When everyone had to switch to digital reception, I knew it was pro-spying AND the end of free TV (temporarily). All TV signals are scrambled now and those boxes are for unscrambling and watching people and monitoring what people watch. I saw it coming from 3 years old in 1973 when we still had black and white. TV freaked me out even then.

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  8. Dave Hansell says

    Believe it or not there exist individuals and groups of individuals who see nothing wrong with this. They will trot out the well worn cliché about nothing to hide nothing to fear meme.

    However, there will certainly be sections within this group who will go further by arguing vehemently that this is mere scaremongering. That the level, depth and sophistication of surveillance and the technology used is not really happening. They will make claims that the security services like the CIA, DHS et al are being deliberately smeared by those with an axe to grind.

    Every medium of communications from TV and radio, newspapers and magazines, articles, speeches, blogs below the line comment, through to letters to the editor, even the soapbox on Hyde Park Corner will be utilised to pour scorn on the very idea that such a thing could be occurring or happen at all. Those who insist they are wrong in their complacency will be vilified, smeared, lied about, misrepresented shouted down, bullied, and intimidated.

    The purpose being to discredit the claims on this matter made here and elsewhere in order to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the general populace that there is nothing to see here, nothing to fear, just keep taking your daily dose of soma and “we” will ensure that both we and you, the populace, remain the Biggest, Baddest, Bestest and Greatest on the block. Because the useful idiots who take this line cannot psycologically cope with any other scenario. They have committed their ego, their psyche, their very being and existence to a specific faith based doctrine which no amount of facts, reality, argument, even death itself will not alter by a single iota. Because they are willing to not only die in a ditch themselves over what to them is an existential issue or set of issues they are adamant that you and everyone else will be forced to die in a ditch with them over the matter.

    And one of the most powerful tools they will use in the quest to persuade everyone and anyone that you are spouting gibberish and bollocks is their right to free speech on the issue. Their right to use whatever means available including outright lies, innuendo, misrepresentation, misdirection, smears, whatever. Not to exercise free speech but to misuse that free speech in order to control the decisions of the populace on this and any other issue which exercises their faith in whatever it is one wishes to call it.

    They will certainly be looking around for anyone gullible enough to help them disseminate their message on the basis of free speech. Can anyone here think of any particular outlet or outfit that might be willing to indulge them?

    Like

    • Those who think “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” forget that right and wrong can be made subjective and arbitrary by moral reletivists. One could agree with TPTB, but say something that SEEMS disagreeable and find themselves in trouble. A regime that spies on its own people usually has no problem with torturing and killing them also. What’s the difference between crossing the line of oppression a little or a lot? Agreeing with “our side” having this power is agreeing with our opposition having it when things swing that way later.

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  9. the prisoners can see the guards too. in the event of prisoner revolt, the guards will be greatly outnumbered and easy to find. at that point when revolt seems imminent, it would behoove the guards to find some common ground with their wards, to seek out the most reasonable and understanding of them, and frankly to pray for redemption.

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    • paulcarline says

      Unfortunately, most of the prisoners (i.e. the public) don’t [em] see the guards – or at least see them mainly as what they are represented to us by politicians and the media i.e. our protectors against ‘crazy terrorists’. Too few question the routine false flag attacks which are the vehicle of choice of governments and their agencies for spreading fear and the wish for even more ‘protection’. Many of the guards are now dressed and armed like Robocops – but there are also many more in politics, local government, the media, education and social services etc. who operate, perhaps unconsciously, as ‘minders’, blurring, denying and blocking out the unpleasant realities. How, otherwise, could we have a situation in which an illegal coup takes place ‘next door’ (Ukraine), in which hundreds are murdered, and a new illegitimate government installed which includes neo-Nazis, followed by an “Anti-Terror Operation” in eastern Ukraine which has claimed at least 10,000 lives and provoked an exodus of more than 1 million people, and in which the UAF routinely breaches the Minsk Agreements, shelling Donbas and killing more people on an almost daily basis – with hardly a whisper of criticism in the EU, let alone the storm of outrage the situation deserves?

      A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude (Aldous Huxley: Brave New World

      There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution. (Aldous Huxley)

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      • michaelk says

        A friend of mine who teaches media studies and film, feels pretty depressed at times because everything is getting worse and worse and the propaganda and manipulation is so thick it’s almost embarrassing to watch. When she confronts her students with what’s going on, especially in relation to the loss of liberties and privacy, most of them reply that it’s nothing to worry about because only those with something to hide or bad intentions need to worry, everyone else is simply being protected by the state.

        Also, I think the left and libertarians underestimate the degree to which people like ‘performing’ for a large audiance. George Orwell didn’t get this, though Huxley seems to have understood it, perhaps because he lived for such a long time in California and was linked to Hollywood. Reality TV is an example of this. People want to, or have been groomed, to perform in public; even engaging in sex acts in front of millions in return for fame and sometimes fortune. It’s almost like a form of sanctioned prostitution for a mass public.

        In our society Big Brother is redundant. One doesn’t need to force people to accept him, people love Big Brother and strip off their clothes at the drop of a hat. Sometimes it’s like we’re insects in a hive. That’s our new version of utopia.

        Like

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