Comcast’s Spooky Employment Opportunities

by Tom Burghardt

Antifascist Calling…

When Secrecy News revealed last October that Comcast was charging $1,000 for the “initial start-up fee (including the first month of intercept service),” to illegally spy on Americans, it was viewed by business analysts as a lucrative “growth” market for enterprising telecoms.

That’s $1,000 per intercept, according to a Comcast Handbook for Law Enforcement. “Thereafter,” as Steven Aftergood reported, “the surveillance fee goes down to “$750.00 per month for each subsequent month in which the original [FISA] order or any extensions of the original order are active.”

And with endless demands from America’s spymasters for “actionable intelligence,” the “Homeland Security” market is booming. As new opportunities for enrichment at taxpayers’ expense increase exponentially, the “public-private partnership” in political repression is generating a mini-boom in employment opportunities. Noah Shachtman writes:

Wanna tap e-mail, voice and Web traffic for the government? Well, here’s your chance. Comcast, the country’s second-largest Internet provider, is looking for an engineer to handle “reconnaissance” and “analysis” of “subscriber intelligence” for the company’s “National Security Operations.”

Day-to-day tasks, the company says in an online job listing, will include “deploy[ing], installing] and remov[ing] strategic and tactical data intercept equipment on a nationwide basis to meet Comcast and Government lawful intercept needs.” The person in this “intercept engineering” position will help collect and process traffic on the company’s “CDV [Comcast Digital Voice], HSI [High Speed Internet] and Video” services. (“Comcast Is Hiring an Internet Snoop for the Feds,” Wired, May 30, 2008)

That’s right! Worried about losing your “informatics” job to a low-wage platform in Bangalore? Then fret no more, Comcast’s hiring!

The job requires,

“B.S. Degree in Information Systems Technology, MIS or related field or equivalent years of progressive experience and self-study,” a minimum of two years of policy or security engineering experience,” as well as the “ability to carry and coordinate delivery of a 50-pound server to support deployments in local market.”

If that’s too much for you, don’t worry. The company is also looking for an administrative assistant in its National Security Operations office. In that position, you’ll be able to handle “sensitive incoming Legal subpoenas and other material. Some of this material may be ‘Secret/Top Secret’ and be classified under applicable Federal Law.”

As whistleblower Babak Pasdar revealed, he assisted Comcast rival Verizon, when it set up a top-secret high-speed circuit between the company’s “main computer complex and Quantico, Virginia, the site of a government-intelligence computer center,” Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker.

“This link provided direct access to the carrier’s network core–the critical area of its system, where all its data are stored. ‘What the companies are doing is worse than turning over records,’ the consultant said. ‘They’re providing total access to all the data’,” Hersh revealed.

One can only assume that Comcast and AT&T did the same. But we don’t know for sure, since telecom executives aren’t talking, in the interest of “national security,” of course.

And why would they? As members of the secretive National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), telecom executives representing the major communications, network service providers, information technology, finance and aerospace companies provide “industry-based advice and expertise” to the President “on issues and problems relating to implementing national security and emergency preparedness communications policy,” according to SourceWatch.

Created in 1982 when former president Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12382, NSTAC is, in all probability, facilitating U.S. telecommunication firms’ “cooperation” with NSA and other intelligence agencies’ efforts in conducting “warrantless wiretapping,” data-mining and “other” illegal surveillance programs in a highly-profitable arrangement with the Bush administration.

Currently (as of April 22, 2008), prominent members of the spook-influenced NSTAC board include: Edward A. Mueller, Chairman and CEO of Qwest; John T. Stankey, Group President, Telecom Operations, AT&T (Mueller and Stankey are NSTAC Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively); Walter B. McCormick, Jr., President and CEO of the United States Telecom Association; Kyle E. McSlarrow, President and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA); Ivan G. Seidenberg, President and CEO of Verizon; Joseph R. Wright, Jr., Chairman, Intelsat Corporation; Mike S. Zafirovski, President and CEO of Nortel. Other NSTAC heavy-hitters include representatives from The Boeing Company, Motorola, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Lockheed Martin, Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Tyco Electronics, Bank of America, Microsoft, and Raytheon. All in all, a cross-section of America’s military-industrial-security complex.

As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock wrote in 2006,

Those [NSTAC] executives, all of whom hold security clearances, meet at the White House once a year–Vice President Cheney was the speaker at their last meeting–and hold quarterly conference calls with high-ranking officials. (Asked if the NSA surveillance was ever discussed at these sessions, committee spokesman Stephen Barrett said, “We do not participate in intelligence gathering.”) AT&T also makes no bones about its national security work. When SBC was preparing to acquire the company last year, the two companies underscored their ties with US intelligence in joint comments to the FCC. “AT&T’s support of the intelligence and defense communities includes the performance of various classified contracts,” the companies said, pointing out that AT&T “maintains special secure facilities for the performance of classified work and the safeguarding of classified information.” (“Watching What You Say,” The Nation, March 20, 2006)

If there were any doubts that the “business of government is business,” and a lucrative one at that, according to Washington Technology’s “2008 Top 100 Government IT Contractors,” telecommunications giants who collaborated with the state’s illegal surveillance programs have reaped a veritable fortune: No. 18. Verizon Communications Inc.,$1,320,637,982; No. 25. Sprint Nextel Corp., $839,946,000; No. 38. AT&T Inc.: $505,358,533.

And should that nervous new hire fret over moves to destroy Americans’ constitutional right to privacy at the behest of “our” government’s alliance with dodgy corporate overlords, there’s no need to worry.

House and Senate negotiators are moving rapidly towards a “compromise” over expanding the state’s insidious domestic surveillance operations. To boot, House and Senate bills under consideration would largely legalize Bush’s secret intelligence programs and, as Ryan Singel writes,

…lay the legal groundwork for America’s internet, cell phone and telephone infrastructure to be shot through with wiretaps controlled by the intelligence agencies. They differ in some slight ways about when and how intelligence agencies have to get approval for tactics from a secret court that the Bush Administration still believes has no power over its actions in the “War on Terror.” (“Spy Bill ‘Compromise’ Still Gives Amnesty to Telecoms, but Adds Trappings of Justice,” Wired, May 29, 2008)

And with dozens of state and local intelligence “fusion centers” suffering “information overload,” as Washington Technology reported in April, Comcast and other “mission critical partners” better move quickly on those new hires!

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.