• Welcome to the Memory Hole: Disappearing Snowden

    April 28, 2014

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    What if Edward Snowden was made to disappear? No, I’m not suggesting some future CIA rendition effort or a who-killed-Snowden conspiracy theory of a disappearance, but a more ominous kind.

    What if everything a whistleblower had ever exposed could simply be made to go away? What if every National Security Agency (NSA) document Snowden released, every interview he gave, every documented trace of a national security state careening out of control could be made to disappear in real-time? What if the very posting of such revelations could be turned into a fruitless, record-less endeavor?

    Am I suggesting the plot for a novel by some twenty-first century George Orwell? Hardly. As we edge toward a fully digital world, such things may soon be possible, not in science fiction but in our world — and at the push of a button. In fact, the earliest prototypes of a new kind of “disappearance” are already being tested. We are closer to a shocking, dystopian reality that might once have been the stuff of futuristic novels than we imagine. Welcome to the memory hole.

    Even if some future government stepped over one of the last remaining red lines in our world and simply assassinated whistleblowers as they surfaced, others would always emerge. Back in 1948, in his eerie novel 1984, however, Orwell suggested a far more diabolical solution to the problem. He conjured up a technological device for the world of Big Brother that he called “the memory hole.” In his dark future, armies of bureaucrats, working in what he sardonically dubbed the Ministry of Truth, spent their lives erasing or altering documents, newspapers, books, and the like in order to create an acceptable version of history. When a person fell out of favor, the Ministry of Truth sent him and all the documentation relating to him down the memory hole. Every story or report in which his life was in any way noted or recorded would be edited to eradicate all traces of him.

    In Orwell’s pre-digital world, the memory hole was a vacuum tube into which old documents were physically disappeared forever. Alterations to existing documents and the deep-sixing of others ensured that even the sudden switching of global enemies and alliances would never prove a problem for the guardians of Big Brother. In the world he imagined, thanks to those armies of bureaucrats, the present was what had always been — and there were those altered documents to prove it and nothing but faltering memories to say otherwise. Anyone who expressed doubts about the truth of the present would, under the rubric of “thoughtcrime,” be marginalized or eliminated.

    Government and Corporate Digital Censorship

    Increasingly, most of us now get our news, books, music, TV, movies, and communications of every sort electronically. These days, Google earns more advertising revenue than all U.S. print media combined. Even the venerable Newsweek no longer publishes a paper edition. And in that digital world, a certain kind of “simplification” is being explored. The Chinese, Iranians, and others are, for instance, already implementing web-filtering strategies to block access to sites and online material of which their governments don’t approve. The U.S. government similarly (if somewhat fruitlessly) blocks its employees from viewing Wikileaks and Edward Snowden material (as well as websites like TomDispatch) on their work computers — though not of course at home. Yet.

    Great Britain, however, will soon take a significant step toward deciding what a private citizen can see on the web even while at home. Before the end of the year, almost all Internet users there will be “opted-in” to a system designed to filter out pornography. By default, the controls will also block access to “violent material,” “extremist and terrorist related content,” “anorexia and eating disorder websites,” and “suicide related websites.” In addition, the new settings will censor sites mentioning alcohol or smoking. The filter will also block “esoteric material,” though a UK-based rights group says the government has yet to make clear what that category will include.

    And government-sponsored forms of Internet censorship are being privatized. New, off-the-shelf commercial products guarantee that an organization does not need to be the NSA to block content. For example, the Internet security company Blue Coat is a domestic leader in the field and a major exporter of such technology. It can easily set up a system to monitor and filter all Internet usage, blocking web sites by their address, by keywords, or even by the content they contain. Among others, Blue Coat software is used by the U.S. Army to control what its soldiers see while deployed abroad, and by the repressive governments in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Burma to block outside political ideas.

    Google Search…

    In a sense, Google Search already “disappears” material. Right now Google is the good guy vis-à-vis whistleblowers. A quick Google search (0.22 seconds) turns up more than 48 million hits on Edward Snowden, most of them referencing his leaked NSA documents. Some of the websites display the documents themselves, still labeled “Top Secret.” Less than half a year ago, you had to be one of a very limited group in the government or contractually connected to it to see such things. Now, they are splayed across the web.

    Google — and since Google is the planet’s number one search engine, I’ll use it here as a shorthand for every search engine, even those yet to be invented — is in this way amazing and looks like a massive machine for spreading, not suppressing, news. Put just about anything on the web and Google is likely to find it quickly and add it into search results worldwide, sometimes within seconds. Since most people rarely scroll past the first few search results displayed, however, being disappeared already has a new meaning online. It’s no longer enough just to get Google to notice you. Getting it to place what you post high enough on its search results page to be noticed is what matters now. If your work is number 47,999,999 on the Snowden results, you’re as good as dead, as good as disappeared. Think of that as a starting point for the more significant forms of disappearance that undoubtedly lie in our future.

    Hiding something from users by reprogramming search engines is one dark step to come. Another is actually deleting content, a process as simple as transforming the computer coding behind the search process into something predatory. And if Google refuses to implement the change-over to “negative searches,” the NSA, which already appears to be able to reach inside Google, can implant its own version of malicious code as it has already done in at least 50,000 instances.

    But never mind the future: here’s how a negative search strategy is already working, even if today its focus — largely on pedophiles — is easy enough to accept. Google recently introduced software that makes it harder for users to locate child abuse material. As company head Eric Schmidt put it, Google Search has been “fine-tuned” to clean up results for more than 100,000 terms used by pedophiles to look for child pornography. Now, for instance, when users type in queries that may be related to child sexual abuse, they will find no results that link to illegal content. Instead, Google will redirect them to help and counseling sites. “We will soon roll out these changes in more than 150 languages, so the impact will be truly global,” Schmidt wrote.

    While Google is redirecting searches for kiddie porn to counseling sites, the NSA has developed a similar ability. The agency already controls a set of servers codenamed Quantum that sit on the Internet’s backbone. Their job is to redirect “targets” away from their intended destinations to websites of the NSA’s choice. The idea is: you type in the website you want and end up somewhere less disturbing to the agency. While at present this technology may be aimed at sending would-be online jihadis to more moderate Islamic material, in the future it could, for instance, be repurposed to redirect people seeking news to an Al-Jazeera lookalike site with altered content that fits the government’s version of events.

    …and Destroy

    However, blocking and redirecting technologies, which are bound to grow more sophisticated, will undoubtedly be the least of it in the future. Google is already taking things to the next level in the service of a cause that just about anyone would applaud. They are implementing picture-detection technology to identify child abuse photographs whenever they appear on their systems, as well as testing technology that would remove illegal videos. Google’s actions against child porn may be well intentioned indeed, but the technology being developed in the service of such anti-child-porn actions should chill us all. Imagine if, back in 1971, the Pentagon Papers, the first glimpse most Americans had of the lies behind the Vietnam War, had been deletable. Who believes that the Nixon White House wouldn’t have disappeared those documents and that history wouldn’t have taken a different, far grimmer course?

    Or consider an example that’s already with us. In 2009, many Kindle owners discovered that Amazon had reached into their devices overnight and remotely deleted copies of Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (no irony intended). The company explained that the books, mistakenly “published” on its machines, were actually bootlegged copies of the novels. Similarly, in 2012, Amazon erased the contents of a customer’s Kindle without warning, claiming her account was “directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.” Using the same technology, Amazon now has the ability to replace books on your device with “updated” versions, the content altered. Whether you are notified or not is up to Amazon.

    In addition to your Kindle, remote control over your other devices is already a reality. Much of the software on your computer communicates in the background with its home servers, and so is open to “updates” that can alter content. The NSA uses malware — malicious software remotely implanted into a computer — to change the way the machine works. The Stuxnet code that likely damaged 1,000 centrifuges the Iranians were using to enrich uranium is one example of how this sort of thing can operate.

    These days, every iPhone checks back with headquarters to announce what apps you’ve purchased; in the tiny print of a disclaimer routinely clicked through, Apple reserves the right to disappear any app for any reason. In 2004, TiVo sued Dish Network for giving customers set-top boxes that TiVo said infringed on its software patents. Though the case was settled in return for a large payout, as an initial remedy, the judge ordered Dish to electronically disable the 192,000 devices it had already installed in people’s homes. In the future, there will be ever more ways to invade and control computers, alter or disappear what you’re reading, and shunt you to sites weren’t looking for.

    Snowden’s revelations of what the NSA does to gather information and control technology, which have riveted the planet since June, are only part of the equation. How the government will enhance its surveillance and control powers in the future is a story still to be told. Imagine coupling tools to hide, alter, or delete content with smear campaigns to discredit or dissuade whistleblowers, and the power potentially available to both governments and corporations becomes clearer.

    The ability to move beyond altering content into altering how people act is obviously on governmental and corporate agendas as well. The NSA has already gathered blackmail data from the digital porn viewing habits of “radical” Muslims. The NSA sought to wiretap a Congressman without a warrant. The ability to collect information on Federal judges, government leaders, and presidential candidates makes J. Edgar Hoover’s 1950s blackmail schemes as quaint as the bobby socks and poodle skirts of that era. The wonders of the Internet regularly stun us. The dystopian, Orwellian possibilities of the Internet have, until recently, not caught our attention in the same way. They should.

    Read This Now, Before It’s Deleted

    The future for whistleblowers is grim. At a time not so far distant, when just about everything is digital, when much of the world’s Internet traffic flows directly through the United States or allied countries, or through the infrastructure of American companies abroad, when search engines can find just about anything online in fractions of a second, when the Patriot Act and secret rulings by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court make Google and similar tech giants tools of the national security state (assuming organizations like the NSA don’t simply take over the search business directly), and when the sophisticated technology can either block, alter, or delete digital material at the push of a button, the memory hole is no longer fiction.

    Leaked revelations will be as pointless as dusty old books in some attic if no one knows about them. Go ahead and publish whatever you want. The First Amendment allows you to do that. But what’s the point if no one will be able to read it? You might more profitably stand on a street corner and shout at passers by. In at least one easy-enough-to-imagine future, a set of Snowden-like revelations will be blocked or deleted as fast as anyone can (re)post them.

    The ever-developing technology of search, turned 180 degrees, will be able to disappear things in a major way. The Internet is a vast place, but not infinite.  It is increasingly being centralized in the hands of a few companies under the control of a few governments, with the U.S. sitting on the major transit routes across the Internet’s backbone.

    About now you should feel a chill. We’re watching, in real time, as 1984 turns from a futuristic fantasy long past into an instructional manual. There will be no need to kill a future Edward Snowden. He will already be dead.




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Recent Comments

    • pitchfork said...

      1

      Hello Peter. Question. Isn’t this a reprint from TomsDispatch?

      http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175779/tomgram%3A_peter_van_buren,_1984_was_an_instruction_manual_

      The reason I ask, I was so sure you posted it here at We Meant Well, I did a search. Now, by any measure of the point of your post, TODAY’S post on We Meant Well..should have been #1 on Google search.
      I punched in…

      “We Meant Well Welcome to the Memory Hole: Disappearing Snowden”

      un unh. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Apparently, you have now been sent down the Memory Hole. Welcome to your own prediction. I won’t further comment, as this pretty much sums it up.

      HOWEVER, on a side note,and please accept my apology for commenting here on something you posted on another site, but your post at the Dissenter really caught my attention. Especially this…

      Dyncorp International Limited Liability Corporation (Dyncorp) was the single largest recipient of State department funds, receiving $2.8 billion in contracts, or 69 percent of total awards.”quote

      http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/

      Given the fact I can’t comment there due to Kevin banning me, I really want to say something about it. Dynacorp. If people only knew. You NEVER hear a word in the press about Dynacorp. There is a reason why. However, notwithstanding Mike Ruppert’s scathing expose in his book, Crossing the Rubicon, Katherine Austin Fitt’s knows. She wrote about it in her expose’ of the heart and history of the American 1% in her book, Dillon Reed: The Aristocracy of Stocks. Her chapter on Dynacorp finally clued me into the unimaginable depth of corruption and control this corporation has…
      http://www.dunwalke.com/sidebars/dyncorp.htm

      Here is an excerpt from Ruppert’s book…

      http://books.google.com/books?id=W6czyl1ZcjAC&pg=PT95&lpg=PT95&dq=catherine+austin+fitts+Dyncorp&source=bl&ots=Yas9ayhZnm&sig=XlNLm6Hr_QW1HA-s3xB8znam21c&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QU5eU-3yE8TG2wXatICgCw&ved=0CEcQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=catherine%20austin%20fitts%20Dyncorp&f=false

      Given the fact Dynacorp managed the Promis software, it doesn’t take an Einstein to see the connections that lead to the NSA.

      The Octopus’ tentacles are ubiquitous. Dynacorp is monster of biblical proportions.

      Read it before it goes down the Memory Hole.

      04/28/14 1:03 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      2

      Yes, this piece was originally on TomDispatch. I’m able now to write for a bunch of places beyond this blog, most often HuffPo, Firedoglake, TomDispatch, once in a while for Salon and Mother Jones and/or some smaller blogs. Things find their way back to the Homeland here at We Meant Well. I’ve found that only a small number of people who read my stuff on those other sites also read WMW regularly (based on all that internet server logs stuff and such black magic.) For example, the biggest “sending” site into WMW is TomDispatch, but even that accounts for less than 4% and mostly only around the time I have a new article on TomDispatch. Sorry for the repeats for regulars like you Pitch.

      04/28/14 1:11 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      Peter Van Buren who?

      More alarming is Clapper liar-in-residense’s directive that forbids any contact by intelligence staff with the media, not just on-the-record comments since no one is ever quoted by name anymore. Imagine you make the mistake of talking to a reporter at a bar. Your fired, mister. So Clapper can lie his fucking ass off and won’t have to fear contradiction.

      04/28/14 1:29 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      4

      quote:”So Clapper can lie his fucking ass off and won’t have to fear contradiction.”unquote

      Indeed. That’s one of the perks of being the Director of the Ministry of Truth.

      Speaking of Memory Holes and the Ministry of Truth… I’m finally beginning to see the reality. Yesterday, I watched a sublime movie called “Night Train to Lisbon”.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_Train_to_Lisbon

      With the revolution in Portugal as a backdrop, the overtones that relate to our current
      Surveillance State are eye openers. I am, in fact, convinced we are well on our way to becoming a Facist State. Here is a good example why…

      http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/04/27/the-associations-behind-fbis-no-fly-informant-coercion/

      We’re so far down the abyss already, it won’t matter who becomes President.

      04/28/14 3:05 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      5

      Re: “TODAY’S post on We Meant Well..should have been #1 on Google search.
      I punched in…“We Meant Well Welcome to the Memory Hole: Disappearing Snowden” un unh. Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Apparently, you have now been sent down the Memory Hole.”

      …it gets exactly one result on Australian google.

      04/28/14 3:08 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      6

      Leaving the Google aside for a moment, early sales for Ghosts of Tom Joad has included a small but noticeable bunch through Amazon Australia. Not sure what’s going on but it seems maybe something is.

      04/28/14 3:12 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      7

      quote”Not sure what’s going on but it seems maybe something is.”unquote

      Tom Joad is buried in the outback. He left for Australia when he finally realized the American Dream was a lie.

      04/28/14 4:16 PM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...

      8

      The Brits have determined that mention of alcohol is bad?

      The future for all of us is grim. But perhaps the planet will be ok – check out “The World Without Us.” Of course if we have a nuclear exchange just to prove that Putin is the Antichrist, all bets on that are off…

      04/28/14 8:23 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      9

      quote”Of course if we have a nuclear exchange just to prove that Putin is the Antichrist, all bets on that are off…”

      Which is preferable? Living under the tyranny we know is coming..

      http://www.fas.org/irp/dni/icd/icd-304.pdf

      .or dieing in a nuclear holocaust?

      04/29/14 2:20 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      10

      Repressing free speech is mostly new for us in the US, and corporate attempts to control what we have access to have not necessarily been successful. There’s a reason network and cable news have lost so many viewers. Google, in the fair spirit of competition (cough cough), is still not the only search engine around

      Attempts to prevent the free-flowing of information have been a fact of life in various places for who knows how long, but people always find a way around bless our souls. If one medium is repressed, work-arounds are found

      Sooner or later, information gets disseminated in spite of the best state or corporate-sponsored tactics. Some things are just not going to be buried forever

      http://www.eurasianet.org/node/67300

      04/29/14 10:47 AM | Comment Link

    • jim hruska said...

      11

      PVB,
      You are talking technology, but add sociology and economics and politics to the equation.
      How can a simple man struggling to earn a living and feed his family focus on what this blog entry describes? How can he care when his life is a struggle?How does one address this reality ? Do elections mean a bean , if what you write is true?
      Freedom of speech and voting rights are meaningless if the control of information is in the hands of the (fill in the blank)
      We are taught to believe that truth will triumph , but that seems questionable these days.
      The key question as voiced by Tim Harden is-what/why do i have a reason to believe anymore?
      Springsteen asked a related question in JOHNNY 99.
      Will we kill a man for the thoughts in his head?
      Why do we go on from day to day?
      jim hruska

      04/29/14 12:32 PM | Comment Link

    • pitchfork said...

      12

      quote”Sooner or later, information gets disseminated in spite of the best state or corporate-sponsored tactics. Some things are just not going to be buried forever” unquote

      Yeah, but if the Obomination administration get’s their way on this absurd idea, then we will see the end of 1st Amendment protection for those Federal employees who tell the truth when subpoenaed to testify in a corruption trial, and could be FIRED for telling the truth.

      This redefines the word psychopathic.

      http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2014/04/28/obama-administration-argues-in-favor-of-right-to-fire-public-employees-who-testify-at-corruption-trials/

      Not only that, but if the SCOTUS buys the governments argument here, you might as well kiss off the Constitution forever.

      04/29/14 2:07 PM | Comment Link

    • meloveconsullongtime said...

      13

      “…early sales for Ghosts of Tom Joad has included a small but noticeable bunch through Amazon Australia. Not sure what’s going on but it seems maybe something is.”

      It might be something as simple as the name Tom Joad being recognisable to lots of Australian readers of good literature. Most English language literature known to Australians is from either the British Isles or America, so a lot of Australian book lovers are already familiar with John Steinbeck and would have recognised the name Tom Joad, thus sparking their interest.

      04/30/14 8:42 AM | Comment Link

    • Jhoover said...

      14

      Talking about memory hole and Edward Snowden was made to disappear and other whistleblower like Julian Assange?

      From the news, George Clooney engaged, his new fiancée “London Human Rights Lawyer Amal Alamuddin, she started representing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in his fight against extradition. IS GEORGE CLOONEY’S FIANCEE HIDING A SECRET?

      04/30/14 7:46 PM | Comment Link

    • Dennis said...

      15

      Why is our  present  government   operating  as  would  your  car, were  the  steering  hooked  up  backward.      
                            
      Because Our Government Is Hooked Up Backward!

      Our Constitutional government was not created a Democracy. It was created a Representative Republic!  We, the sovereign  citizens are to have no direct contact with the federal government. That’s the purpose for which a representative is elected.

      Per the constitution, the  sovereign citizen is free from direct taxation, at the federal level.  The federal government is to be funded thusly:
       The federal representatives compose a definitive budget,
      The states  are then responsible for their portion, as determined by the annual census.  This is the purpose of said census.
      The state representatives then determine the means by which the money is raised.
      The income tax at the federal level is totally unlawful, as is the direct taxation of the sovereign citizen.
                                                         
      Remember  This!            

      Per the Declaration of Independence, a sovereign  citizenry  created  a  sovereign  state, retaining  the  right  of  sovereignty to themselves – Each  Individual  Citizen!
       A group of sovereign states, created a sovereign nation, retaining the sovereign status, to each participating state; (states rights)  securing these rights by constitution!
       

      Sixteenth American Jurisprudence, Second Edition, Section 177  (Marbury vs Madison 1803)

       The general misconception is that any statute passed by legislators bearing the appearance of law, constitutes the law of the land.

      Contrarily: The U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and any statute, to be valid, must be in agreement.  It is impossible for both the Constitution, and a law violating it to be valid; one must prevail.

      This is succinctly stated as follows: the general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose.

      Since unconstitutionality dates from the time of its enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it, an unconstitutional law, in legal contemplation, is as inoperative as if it had never been passed. Such a statute leaves the question that it purports to settle just as it would be had the statue not been enacted.

      Since an unconstitutional law is void, the general principles follow that it imposes no duties, confers no rights, creates no office, bestows no authority on anyone, affords no protection, and justifies no acts performed under it.

      A void act cannot be legally consistent with a valid one. An unconstitutional law cannot operate to supersede any existing valid law.  Indeed, insofar as a statue runs counter to the fundamental law of the land, it is superseded thereby.

      No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforcement it.”     (emphasis added) 

      The vast majority of our citizenry, do not recognize the full portent of the Civil War, and  the fact that our nation was united by military conquest.
           
      Perhaps  the following history review, will help explain  the current crisis.

      The United States was governed under martial law  for the duration of the Civil War; thus  suspending the Constitution and the right of Habeas Corpus.

      The war, according to the words of Lincoln, was not to for the purpose of freeing the slaves, but to preserve the union. The advocates of the principle of states rights lost the war, the advocates of the power of central government won!    

      When the Constitution was restored; the Federal Government had assumed the inherent right of conquest; sovereignty had shifted from citizenry, to government;  the United States thus transitioned from: sovereign citizenry to sovereign /corporate nation.

      Due to this one hundred eighty degree change of application,  Members of government now govern under the shield of corporate immunity. Though their oath is too the constitution, they govern according to corporate policy.

      05/3/14 1:11 AM | Comment Link

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