U.S. conducting ‘mass surveillance’ against Arab world: report

By David Edwards
Wednesday, June 22, 2011 13:48 EDT
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Arab Spring targeted by snoops.
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The former self-appointed spokesman for the collective of hacktivists known as “Anonymous” revealed Tuesday what he called a massive U.S spying program against the Arab world.

In an email to about a dozen journalists, Barrett Brown said his Project PM had uncovered the nature of the U.S. spying operation known as Romas/COIN and its replacement called Odyssey.

“For at least two years, the U.S. has been conducting a secretive and immensely sophisticated campaign of mass surveillance and data mining against the Arab world, allowing the intelligence community to monitor the habits, conversations, and activity of millions of individuals at once,” Brown wrote.

Brown’s team made the discovery by analyzing 70,000 emails from data intelligence firm HBGary Federal. Anonymous stole the emails after HBGary CEO Aaron Barr told the Financial Times that his company had identified “core leaders” of the hacktivist group.

“The new revelation provides for a disturbing picture, particularly when viewed in a wider context,” Brown wrote Tuesday. “Unprecedented surveillance capabilities are being produced by an industry that works in secret on applications that are nonetheless funded by the American public – and which in some cases are used against that very same public. Their products are developed on demand for an intelligence community that is not subject to Congressional oversight and which has been repeatedly shown to have misused its existing powers in ways that violate U.S. law as well as American ideals.”

Although military contractor Northrop Grumman held the contract for Romas/COIN, HBGary had been asked to present officials with a plan for significantly expanding the program.

“I met with [Mantech CEO] Bob Frisbie the other day to catch up,” Barr wrote in an email to TASC CEO Al Pisani. “He is looking to expand a capability in IO [information operations] related to the COIN re-compete but more for DoD.”

TASC was a large military contractor also involved in the project.

“Can we name COIN Saif?” TASC executive Chris Clair later asked Barr. “Saif is the sword an Arab executioner uses when they decapitate criminals. I can think of a few cool brands for this.”

Details provided by Project PM, indicated the wide range of plans HBGary had in store for the project.

Other team partners included Google, Apple and possibly AT&T. Overtures had been made to Disney’s Pixar as well as other video game developers. The company also sought to bring in Alterion, which makes “social media monitoring tools,” and SocialEyez for “sophisticated natural language processing methodology” in order to “process tens of millions of multi-lingual conversations daily.”

In February, Raw Story revealed that HBGary and other firms had been hired by the U.S. Air Force to develop software that would allow the manipulation of social networks through fake “personas” that would target foreign nationals.

NetworkWorld reported that Brown found more than a dozen firms were enlisted to provide “capabilities whereby millions of conversations can be monitored and automatically analyzed, whereby a wide range of personal data can be obtained and stored in secret, and whereby some unknown degree of information can be released to a given population through a variety of means and without any hint that the actual source is U.S. military intelligence.”

“That such firms will continue to target the public with advanced information warfare capabilities on behalf of major corporations is by itself an extraordinary danger to mankind as a whole, particularly insomuch as that such capabilities are becoming more effective while remaining largely unknown outside of the intelligence industry,” he added. “The idea that such power can be wielded without being misused is contradicted by even a brief review of history.”

The New York Times and The Guardian were expected to publish more details late Wednesday.

An earlier version of this story failed to note that Brown is no longer with Anonymous. It also attributed a quote from him to someone else. We regret the mistake.

David Edwards
David Edwards
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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