(MintPress) – In February, when WikiLeaks published confidential emails from Stratfor, a private global intelligence firm, it was found that the company had paid off informants and monitored political activist groups to gather intelligence of the government’s top-shelf plans. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has dubbed Stratfor a “private CIA,” and recent reports suggest that the firm is aware of a country-wide surveillance network in the United States – arguably making the disclosure one of the most important leaks in WikiLeaks’ history.
According to the leaked emails, the technological infrastructure of the system is more accurate at identifying someone than modern facial recognition technology. They also suggest that all surveillance footage – whether it’s a camera at an intersection or black-dome camera at a shopping center – is funneled to a central database and aggregated with other intelligence.
The spy program is run through a project called TrapWire, which was founded in 2004 to deploy “counterterrorism technologies and services.” The project touts its software system as being able to detect patterns indicative of terrorist attacks with data collected over time from multiple locations.
“The TrapWire system encapsulates the expertise of professionals in the areas of counterterrorism, surveillance, surveillance detection and intelligence operations and analysis,” its website reads. “Prior to joining TrapWire, many of our employees were directly involved in the U.S. government’s war on terrorism as intelligence officers and members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Secret Service.”
TrapWire is the product of Abraxas, a private security firm that contracts with the U.S. Its founder, Richard Helms, has boasted that the technology is better than facial recognition and draw patterns at collecting information from people and vehicles. In 2005, Helms called TrapWire “a proprietary technology designed to protect critical national infrastructure from a terrorist attack by detecting the pre-attack activities of the terrorist and enabling law enforcement to investigate and engage the terrorist long before an attack is executed.”
TrapWire and the rise of surveillance
In 2005, shortly after the creation of the TrapWire project, the Department of Defense outlined new plans of intelligence gathering through increased surveillance under the guise of counterterrorism measures.
Proponents of the tactics said the increased surveillance was legal and constitutional amid outcry that widespread surveillance without a warrant violated civil liberties. James Carafano, a homeland security analyst with the Heritage Foundation, justified the measure as a continuation of what the government had already been doing. It is unclear whether TrapWire was used in coordination with the Defense Department plans.
“The Defense Department has always done intelligence operations in the United States. They have the legal right to do that. There is nothing new here,” Carafano said in 2005. “There are no new threats to privacy or constitutionality. I just think it’s about doing [intelligence] more efficiently and effectively.”
But opponents quickly lined up to refute Carafano’s claims that the privacy of citizens was not at risk. Then-Republican Georgia Representative Bob Barr said the tactics raised more questions than it could ever answer and that it expanded the power of government to unprecedented levels.
“Do we want, as a free people, with the notion of privacy enshrined in the Constitution and based on the very clear limits and defined role of government, to be in a society where not just the police, but the military are on the street corners gathering intelligence on citizens, sharing that data, manipulating that data?”
Since its inception, TrapWire has been implemented at high value targets (HVT) across the nation, including Washington DC and New York City, which had 500 surveillance cameras coordinated with the project as of 2010. Reports also show that the state of Texas spent $500,000 on TrapWire infrastructure and pays an annual fee of $150,000 to run the system. Casinos in Las Vegas also subscribe to the technology, as well as entities in Canada and London.
Deck stacked against WikiLeaks
In the leaked emails, Stratfor president Don Kuykendall wrote that the intelligence firm was looking to help TrapWire move to private U.S. companies such as WalMart and Dell. In one internal email, Stratfor’s vice president Fred Burton wrote, “God Bless America. Now they have EVERY major HVT in CONUS, the U.K., Canada, Vegas, Los Angeles, NYC as clients.”
Shortly after WikiLeaks released the findings of TrapWire’s and Stratfor’s comfortable business relationship and widespread surveillance practices, the site was hit with a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, which has downed the site’s servers. AntiLeaks – a WikiLeaks opposition group – has claimed it is behind the cyber attack, as it has long claimed that WikiLeaks is a terrorist organization.
The U.S. government, including President Barack Obama, has been on an unprecedented track to crack down on whistleblowers and leaked information over the past few years. In late July, the Senate Intelligence Committee passed legislation that would restrict how many intelligence community members could speak with the media or enter into contracts with the media. It is unclear when the bill could be voted on in the Senate, but Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein was quoted as saying that the “culture of leaks has to change.”
In an interview with WikiLeaks member Kristinn Hrafnsson, however, he told RT that the global crackdown on leaks and whistleblowers would not deter the organization from further releasing confidential cables.
“We have seen basically a systematic crackdown on whistleblowers, especially in the U.S., a very serious one,” Hrafnsson said. “An old Espionage Act of 1917 is being used to haunt those who are blowing the whistle on illegalities and corruption, which is hurting the general public and costing the taxpayer a lot of money.”
Since taking office, Obama has prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers than all of the earlier presidents combined. Former National Security Agency (NSA) head William Binney said the prosecutions are likely happening to suppress sensitive information that the government does not want voters to learn about.
In a piece for Al Jazeera, activist Trevor Timm said the U.S. is essentially controlling the flow of information through society when it treats whistleblowers like criminals.
“Whether it is Obama’s explicit intention or not, when only the government controls the information that enters the public sphere, the foreign policy decisions that result can be disastrous,” Timm wrote. “Former President George W. Bush’s administration famously leaked faulty classified information supporting his invasion of Iraq and kept contrary (and it turns out, truthful) intelligence out of the papers, leading to a decade-long war.”