Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

May 15, 2014

How did the government come to spy on millions of Americans?

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing — by Christopher Bellavita on May 15, 2014

That’s the question PBS’ Frontline asks in Part 1 of a two-part television program: The United States of Secrets.

I watched it Tuesday night (thanks to a heads up from a colleague in the intel world).  The 114 minute program is available online at  http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/united-states-of-secrets/ .  I don’t know how long it will be available.  I think it’s worth the 2 hours to watch it.

The story begins with Edward Snowden’s initial efforts to find a newspaper reporter who would accept his cache of NSA documents.  But the program is not about Snowden.  At most he’s the subject for less than 10 minutes.  The story is about “The Program,” the still unfurling domestic information collection effort that began after September 11, 2001 and — apparently — continues.  It’s about patriotism, ethics, heroism, personal tragedy, tough choices, lying, prosecution, persecution, and using the Constitution as a dependent variable.

While the program has a point of view, the main characters in a tale as narratively engaging as All The President’s Men do get their say.  You can watch extended interviews of the main characters — The Whistleblowers (Snowden is not one of them), the Government Officials (including Andrew Card, Michael Hayden, and Alberto Gonzales), and the journalists (including Glen Greenwald) — at this link: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/oral-history/united-states-of-secrets/.

Here’s what PBS says Part 2 — “How Silicon Valley Feeds the NSA’s Global Dragnet” — will be about.

On May 20, FRONTLINE continues the story of mass surveillance in America in part two of United States of Secrets, an investigation into the secret relationship between Silicon Valley and the National Security Agency.

Companies like Google and Facebook gather massive amounts of data on its users around the world, which they use to sell and create advertisements. To the U.S. government, it is a treasure-trove of information that regularly reveals what we do, who we know and where we go.

The revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden helped to uncover the role the tech industry played — at times unwittingly, but often with consent — in the NSA’s massive dragnet.

So how did the tech giants react when the government asked them to turn over data on millions of ordinary American citizens? And how much do companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo really know about you?

Find out on May 20 starting at 10 p.m. EST on most PBS stations. (Check local listings.)

I hope one can ignore the marketing hyperbole.  Tuesday’s program was unsettling.


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Comment by Max G

May 15, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

Thanks Chris. Great stuff!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 21, 2014 @ 11:08 am

Suggest ALL watch Robert Redford in 1992 movie SNEAKERS!

Comment by William R. Cumming

May 21, 2014 @ 12:42 pm

Then GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER has a lengthy interview with the founder of LAVABIT and its demise.

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