Obama Administration Seeks “Emergency Control” of the Internet

You have to hand it to congressional Democrats. Mendacious grifters whose national security agenda is virtually indistinguishable from Bushist Republicans, when it comes to rearranging proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic, the party of “change” is second to none in the “all terrorism all the time” department.

While promising to restore the “rule of law,” “protect civil liberties” while “keeping America safe,” in practice, congressional Democrats like well-coiffed Republican clones across the aisle, are crafting legislation that would do Dick Cheney proud!

As the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773) wends its way through Congress, civil liberties’ advocates are decrying provisions that would hand the President unlimited power to disconnect private-sector computers from the internet.

CNET reported August 28, that the latest iteration of the bill “would allow the president to ‘declare a cybersecurity emergency’ relating to ‘non-governmental’ computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat.”

Drafted by Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), “best friends forever” of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the telecommunications industry, they were key enablers of Bush-era warrantless wiretapping and privacy-killing data mining programs that continue apace under Obama.

As The New York Times revealed in June, a former NSA analyst described a secret database “code-named Pinwale, that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages.” The former analyst “described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation.”

Antifascist Calling has noted on more than one occasion, that with “cyberterrorism” morphing into al-Qaeda 2.0, administration policies designed to increase the scope of national security state surveillance of private communications will soon eclipse the intrusiveness of Bushist programs.

As Cindy Cohn, the Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wrote earlier this month, commenting on this summer’s public relations blitz by former NSA boss Michael Hayden and Office of Legal Counsel torture-enabler John Yoo’s defense of the so-called Presidential Surveillance Program,

While the details are unknown, credible evidence indicates that billions of everyday communications of ordinary Americans are swept up by government computers and run through a process that includes both data-mining and review of content, to try to figure out whether any of us were involved in illegal or terrorist-related activity. That means that even the most personal and private of our electronic communications–between doctors and patients, between husbands and wives, or between children and parents–are subject to review by computer algorithms programmed by government bureaucrats or by the bureaucrats themselves. (Cindy Cohn, “Lawless Surveillance, Warrantless Rationales,” American Constitution Society, August 17, 2009)

Both Rockefeller and Snowe are representative of the state’s “bipartisan consensus” when it comes to increasing the power of the intelligence and security apparatus and were instrumental in ramming through retroactive immunity for telecoms who illegally spy on the American people. If last year’s “debate” over the grotesque FISA Amendments Act (FAA) is an indication of how things will go after Congress’ summer recess, despite hand-wringing by congressional “liberals,” S.773 seems destined for passage. CNET revealed:

When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. “We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs–from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records,” Rockefeller said. (Declan McCullagh, “Bill Would Give President Emergency Control of Internet,” CNET News, August 28, 2009)

But as we witness practically on a daily basis, hysterical demands for “protection” from various “dark actors” inevitably invokes an aggressive response from militarized state security apparatchiks and their private partners.

As Antifascist Calling reported in July (see: “Behind the Cyberattacks on America and South Korea. ‘Rogue’ Hacker, Black Op or Both?”), when North Korea was accused of launching a widespread computer attack on U.S. government, South Korean and financial web sites, right-wing terrorism and security specialists perched at Stratfor and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)–without a shred of evidence–linked the cyber blitz to a flurry of missile tests and the underground detonation of a nuclear device by North Korea.

Adding to the noise, Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee went so far as to urge President Obama to respond–by launching a cyberattack against the bankrupt Stalinist regime.

Despite provocative rhetoric and false charges that might have led to war with disastrous consequences for the people of East Asia, as it turned out an unknown sociopath used an updated version of the MyDoom e-mail worm to deploy a botnet in the attack. As Computerworld reported, the botnet “does not use typical antivirus evasion techniques and does not appear to have been written by a professional malware writer.” Hardly a clarion call for bombing Dear Leader and countless thousands of Koreans to smithereens!

In this context, the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 goes much further than protecting “critical infrastructure” from over-hyped cyberattacks.

Among other measures, Section 18, “Cybersecurity Responsibilities and Authority,” hands the Executive Branch, specifically The President, the power to “declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network.” This does not simply apply to federal networks, but may very well extend to the private communications (“critical infrastructure information system or network”) of citizens who might organize against some egregious act by the state, say a nuclear strike against a nation deemed responsible for launching a cyberattack against the United States, as suggested in May by the head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) General Kevin Chilton.

As I reported in June (see: “Cyber Command Launched. U.S. Strategic Command to Oversee Offensive Military Operations”), the military’s newly-launched U.S. Cyber Command (CYBERCOM) is a “subordinate unified command” overseen by STRATCOM. Would “message force multipliers” embedded in the media or Pentagon public diplomacy specialists carrying out psychological operations (PSYOPS) here in the heimat, become the sole conduit for critical news and information during said “national emergency”?

Additionally, under Section 18’s authority The President “shall designate an agency to be responsible for coordinating the response and restoration of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network affected by a cybersecurity emergency declaration under paragraph (2).” What agency might Senator Rockefeller have in mind for “coordinating the response”? As Antifascist Calling revealed in April (see: “Pentagon’s Cyber Command to Be Based at NSA’s Fort Meade”), CYBERCOM will be based at NSA headquarters and led by Lt. General Keith Alexander, the current NSA director who will oversee Pentagon efforts to coordinate both defensive and offensive cyber operations.

How might an out-of-control Executive Branch seize the initiative during an alleged “national emergency”? Paragraph 6 spells this out in no uncertain terms: “The President may order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security.”

The draconian bill has drawn a sharp rebuke from both civil libertarians and the telecommunications industry. Larry Clinton, the president of the Internet Security Alliance (ISA) told CNET: “It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.”

And Wayne Crews, the director of technology studies at the rightist Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) told Federal Computer Week: “From American telecommunications to the power grid, virtually anything networked to some other computer is potentially fair game to [President Barack] Obama to exercise ’emergency powers’.”

True enough as far as it goes, these “free market” cheerleaders are extremely solicitous however, when it comes to government defense and security contracts that benefit their clients; so long as the public is spared the burden of exercising effective control as cold cash greases the sweaty palm of the market’s “invisible hand”!

As Antifascist Calling revealed in June (see: “Obama’s Cybersecurity Plan: Bring on the Contractors!”), the ISA is no ordinary lobby shop. According to a self-promotional blurb on their web site, ISA “was created to provide a forum for information sharing” and “represents corporate security interests before legislators and regulators.”

Amongst ISA sponsors one finds AIG (yes, that AIG!) Verizon, Raytheon, VeriSign, the National Association of Manufacturers, Nortel, Northrop Grumman, Tata, and Mellon. State partners include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Congress, and the Department of Commerce.

Indeed ISA and CEI, are firm believers in the mantra that “the diversity of the internet places its security inescapably in the hands of the private sector,” and that “regulation for consumer protection” that rely on “government mandates” to “address cyber infrastructure issues” will be “ineffective and counter-productive both from a national security and economic perspective.” CEI and ISA’s solution? Let’s have another gulp of that tasty “market incentives” kool-aid!

In other words, hand over the cash in the form of taxpayer largess and we’ll happily (and profitably!) continue to violate the rights of the American people by monitoring their Internet communications and surveilling their every move through nifty apps hardwired into wireless devices as the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed in a new report on locational privacy.

Unfortunately, Clinton, Crews and their well-heeled partners seem to have forgotten an elementary lesson of history: a national security state such as ours will invariably unwind its tentacles into every corner of life unless challenged by a countervailing force–a pissed-off, mobilized citizenry.

Now that national security “change” chickens are coming home to roost, both CEI and ISA seem incredulous: you mean us? How’s that for irony!

Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with EFF told CNET that changes to the original version of the bill do not address pressing privacy concerns.

Tien told the publication: “The language has changed but it doesn’t contain any real additional limits. It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)…The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There’s no provision for any administrative process or review. That’s where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it.”

McCullagh avers: “Translation: If your company is deemed ‘critical,’ a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.”

And there you have it, a “cybersecurity” blacklist to accompany a potential state takeover of the Internet during a “national emergency.” What will they think of next!

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.

14 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Mike said on August 29th, 2009 at 2:43pm #

    Tori, I think you will find this amusing. Well, Darrel may want to shoot someone. Cheers, ///Mike


  2. Louise said on August 29th, 2009 at 3:46pm #

    The big international monetary monopolies which control all branches of the government by the power of their money, by lobbying and by bribes, domestically push the government toward oppressive behavior, resort on high surveillance, militarism and crack down, to silence any dissent. …

  3. Jeff said on August 29th, 2009 at 5:35pm #

    Well, being one whom helped keep a BBS afloat in the middle/late eighties, this “internet thing” has now become something of which ‘WE’ are now not very proud to be a part. Our community at that time has now been usurped by “private interests”. The author says in the very beginning of this article:

    [As the Cybersecurity Act of 2009 (S.773) wends its way through Congress, civil liberties’ advocates are decrying provisions that would hand the President unlimited power to disconnect private-sector computers from the internet.]

    For crying out loud, the bloody ‘Government’ IS CONTROLLED BY THE PRIVATE!!!!!!

    Sorry for the yell. Actually NOT!!@!

    When will America wake up?

    Have you ever heard of the dead waking up after the coffin is buried in the ground?!!!?

  4. Richard Oxman said on August 29th, 2009 at 7:14pm #

    I’d like Tom to contact me at tosca.2010[atatatatat ] yaHOO [DOT] com.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 30th, 2009 at 1:37am #

    Jeff, the drones will never awake. Their little holiday from non-existence is rounded with a big sleep, which they devoutly desire, although they believe otherwise. You see, the accidental gift of a big brain, and the qualities that are inherent in its use, are an almost intolerable burden for most people. They live in societies based on open, unceasing, lying, about everything, where greed and indifference to the fate of others are the principle operating imperatives, and where tiny, infinitely avaricious and totally parasitic hereditary elites control every aspect of social life. Yet the drones need to believe that in fact they live in ‘democracies’ where they, the people, are the rulers, that everybody gets a ‘fair go’ and that personal failure is always the result of individual inadequacy. They need to believe that the purpose of life is the accumulation of useless objects, gained through mostly meaningless toil, in which they are sentenced to waste the very best years of their lives, before an increasingly brief retirement of increasingly tenuous semi-poverty. They are also required not to envy the parasites who never do a days labour, yet live high on the hog courtesy of wise choice in the selection of their parents, and who are taking an ever increasing proportion of the planet’s wealth for their individual and class purposes. No, envy is reserved for those even poorer than themselves and for the tiny pittances granted these ‘losers’ so that their dessicated bodies do not litter the highways and byways after they starve to death. Moreover our faithful drones are absolutely required to admire the insatiably avaricious elites, greed being the highest good, and wealth a sure and certain sign of God’s favour and moral excellence.
    Deliberate failure to observe these rules of acceptable thinking is Thought Crime, which is being increasingly rendered unacceptable and deviant, with increasing criminal sanction. Inadvertent reflection on the malignant fraudulence of modern market capitalist quasi-existence, including the rapidly approaching demise of our ‘civilization’ and most of our fellows as the planet’s ecology collapses, is the root cause of most psychological and existential anguish. So, you see, the Masters have our best interests always in mind. The alternative to our waking somnambulance, our unquestioning acceptance of the inevitability and inescapability of our lot, would be our removal from the scene. A populace with ideas above its station is a danger too great to be ignored, and you can bet their bottom dollar that the Masters have all sorts of contingency plans for every type of mutiny from below.

  6. mjosef said on August 30th, 2009 at 4:11am #

    I’ll confess to having missed that “elemental history” : when have “the People” taken down a “national security state”? How many botnets do we have at our disposal? How many jail cells and prosecutors do we own?
    Mr. Burghardt is an indefatigable researcher, but as with so many critics and reformers, he places the solutions at the dead feet of the vacuous entity known as “the People.” If the supersystem has appropriated such widespread and invasive power, to own the jobs, the courts, the tax system, the schools, birth to death with all corners in between, why would there be the slightest hope for a “mobilized” citizenry?
    Some of us may have contrary ideas to this charade of “democracy,” but the authorities have no cause to shoot us in the night. Contingency plans or not, we the People are no threat. What are we going to do, shake our keyboards at the Man? Follow our ascetic leftist gurus into the brink? I would ask, politely, that Richard Oxman cease to be published at DV.

  7. Don Hawkins said on August 30th, 2009 at 5:10am #

    Well I watched Glenn Beck last night and his plan for America and or the human race. Oh my God. Then I watched Hal Lindsey remember the late great planet Earth the book? Now it seems both Hal and Glenn have a few things in common first they are both nut’s. Glenn seems to always bring up climate change and why it is a hoax and we need to drill baby drill then of course moves on now why Obama is a Communist. Hal a little different but did say many scientists think it’s the Sun that causes climate change and he did get part of that right. Then of course at the end of the plans for the human race always’ a pitch for something called money in the World of fair and balanced and ratings. After watching those two I couldn’t help myself and watched Lewis Black one of my favorite people to help to come back to reality. The one I watched was on HBO where he said Bush thinks the Earth was created in seven day’s and evolution is still up in the air and human’s walked with the Dinosaurs. Oh and after watching Lewis I realized that either Glenn or Hal or myself was nut’s and again came to a realization it wasn’t me. Don’t forget to buy my book and sign up for my news letter and have you gone to my web site check or credit card be in the in crowd, oh my God.

    Do we see today knowledge, reason, imagination, working together, hard choices? Just for the heck of it what might that look like if we did use those five things for real not illusion and myth but in the open the light not the darkside. That’s not true oh yes it is. Glenn Beck and I guess Fox News is going to keep telling people what action we should take to bring us into the light and the moon is made of green cheese. The man is an idiot. He and a few more keep telling us what we are coming too and total foolishness. There is one word that explains it rather well survival. Only harder from here.

    Is it hate no just respectfully disagree pitting the little people against each other. Somehow this thinking that we also see going on in other groups, gangs is going to work out well. Gangs is not a good word ok group’s Knowing wait knowing is only for who on the outer ring of the Milky Way Galaxy in the known Universe.

    I watched some of the Kennedy stuff yesterday and that was amazing. When Obama was talking to the people in the church the camera went to the people and color me crazy but those looks on there faces was hate. Then at Arlington the flame burning and dark it was and lightning in the night sky that was cool. Just the next six months and the thinking or lack of it from many of those people in that church yesterday and a few more well this I got to see. Calm at peace and think of this as kind of a war. Oh and my computer is acting funny.

  8. Tony said on August 30th, 2009 at 7:41am #

    Why would this administration want control of the privately managed internet under “emergency” conditions. Obviously to control ALL information flow during emergency times (which they define). This is something China currently does by blocking facebook, twitter and other parts of the internet they deem inapproriate. Iran wishes they had put in place these kinds of controls (and ultimately did) during the last election. I submit that that this bill is in violation of our 1st and 2nd ammendment rights. The 2nd ammendment? you ask. Yes, the right for states or regulated militia to arm is a right to protect states (and individuals in some states) against a federal goverment out of control. The ability to communication privately impunes command and control of “militia”. This isn’t nearly as big a streatch as abortion being protected by the 14th ammendment. And, if you disagee with that, you certainly must agree this is a gross violation of the 1st ammendment.

    Control of PRIVATE internet is like shooting Paul Revere’s Horse. This Bill is a move to control communication and is EVIL (or should I say Hateful) no matter what party is in control at the moment.

  9. Don Hawkins said on August 30th, 2009 at 7:50am #

    Remember the next six months is kind of written in stone so to speak. Health care watered down and somewhat academic as cap and trade in the States a joke on the human race and Copenhagen just words as they know the joke part. The thinking from so called leaders hell I don’t know maybe they just wanta have fun and third grade level thinking for us is ok in Clowntown USA and as we know the third grade thinking is only for us then in the back rooms is where the real thinking starts in the second grade. Oh that’s not true oh yes it is.

  10. denk said on August 31st, 2009 at 3:12am #


  11. cyeager said on August 31st, 2009 at 5:50am #

    Do we live in prewar Germany or Russia? Apparently Obama want total control of all the USA citizens. Obama doesn’t want the people of this country to know of all the crazy things he wants to force down our throats. He is a socialist Buddhist. Republicans and Democrats had better pay attention to the bills he is having brought before Congress.

  12. Don Hawkins said on August 31st, 2009 at 8:10am #

    N Muraleedharan

    Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 31 (PTI) Mobile towers are posing a threat to honey bees in Kerala withe electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers and cell phones having the potential to kill worker bees that go out to collect nectar from flowers, says a study.

    A plunge in beehive population has been reported from different parts of Kerala and if measures are not taken to check mushrooming of mobile powers, bees could be wiped out from Kerala within a decade, environmentalist and Reader in Zoology, Dr Sainudeen Pattazhy says in his study.

    In one of his experiments he found that when a mobile phone was kept near a beehive it resulted in collapse of the colony in five to 10 days, with the worker bees failing to return home, leaving the hives with just queens, eggs and hive-bound immature bees.

  13. Annie Ladysmith said on August 31st, 2009 at 8:11am #

    Is there anyone out the that is surprized by this, that the elite money masters that call the shots for governments worldwide want to destroy the peoples freedom to communicate via internet? This shoe was going to fall, i’m only surprized it has taken this long. Wasn’t it one of the Rockerfellows that said the internet was the greatest evil ever invented and ALLOWED to continuously operate? Well, it seems it won’t be operating much longer unless your an accomplished hacker. It will, of course, still be operating for THEM to coordinate controling us.

    Anything that “homeland’ ” security” is involved in is a danger to every American who needs those vitals of life, “civil liberties”.
    Basically, the internet is how we get information from journalists all over the earth. Without these on the scene reporters throughout the world, we will only have the ‘official’ version of truth from the banker/elite controled media. Screw that, on top of being a mouthpeice for the ruling elete, it is just the most boring journalism ever invented. They could kill many of us by putting us in comas after an hour of a daily newspaper reading, as we get desparate for any news at all, even their lies.

    Is it not clear by now that it didn’t matter who got elected, they are puppets all, and we have been sold out with bribes and the terroristic threatening of our elected officials. All for the sake of those pesty terrorists who want to “shoe-bomb” us when we least expect it. But, no fear, Homeland Security is on it. We can rest in our homes knowing THEY are watching us even as we dream, to keep us safe.
    SCREW THAT! Screw “homeland security’ (what a commie name), and screw the ruling banker class who are determined, at this point in history, to enslave us as worker drones or kill us if we resist.
    The handwriting has been on the wall for some time.

    What now? Ham radio? Morse code? The Pony Express?
    Shall we all go in masses to Fort Knox and tell them they can stuff their Monopoly CRAP money down their maws and we want our gold back NOW. Their little scam of ripping-off the people is up, and they are all going to jail under Citizen Arrest a group that trumps Homeland Security and is planning to disband it due to the utter lack of domestic terror activities since 9/11!

  14. mary said on September 1st, 2009 at 4:17am #

    No control of the internet yet in the UK but our surveillance society formerly known as Great Britain will surely follow.

    N M Rothschild have their eyes on Britain’s motorways and trunk roads. Having beenbailed out, the gangsters-in-charge, the banksters, are still greedy for more nourishment. The drippy neo-liberals of the three main political parties will probably go along with this as the hole in the budget is so massive. There are so many billions or trillions oft quoted I can’t remember the actual deficit.

    Meantime the minor roads are crumbling back to cart tracks and potholes. Routine maintenance by a direct labour force stopped years ago. Now it’s outsourced to private contractors. The local one here was involved in a £2m fraud a few years back yet they, part of a multi-national EU wide group, were rewarded with a new contract.

    ‘You need a new steering arm on your car Mrs … It is dangerous to drive’ said the garage mechanic to me recently. ‘What! The car is only 4 years old and has only travelled 20,000 miles.’ I reply. ‘It’s the Surrey potholes’ was the response. That cost me an extra £250 on top of the service bill.