A non-profit news blog, focused on providing independent journalism.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Credit card companies are forcing everyone to use "smart" credit cards in their war against cash

image credit: trusted traveler

Payment-processing giants like MasterCard and Visa insist that you and your financial data will be safer once you move to "smart" credit cards that contain a computer chip. And like it or not, credit card companies are forcing merchants to make the change.

After an Oct. 1, 2015, deadline created by major U.S. credit card issuers MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express, the liability for card-present fraud will shift to whichever party is the least EMV-compliant in a fraudulent transaction. 

In other words credit card companies are FORCING merchants to make the change or they'll have to pay for every fraudulent purchase!

The new "smart" credit card rules are forcing banks to also hold you accountable for any fraudulent purchases! You read that right, 

banks can blame the customer if they feel you might have been negligent


EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard, and Visa, which is shorthand for bank owned digital currency.

"Approximately 120 million Americans have already received an EMV chip card and that number is projected to reach nearly 600 million by the end of 2015, according to Smart Card Alliance estimates." 

A Fortune magazine interview with Carolyn Balfany MasterCard's SVP of U.S. product delivery for EMV's revealed this bombshell:

The ultimate would be no card at all, right? Where I just use my phone for everything. 

"But is every demographic, is every person, ready for that? When we think about acceptance, we wouldn’t ever want to take a step back on acceptance. We want to make sure we are adding acceptance constantly to further our war on cash Carolyn Balfany said."

Not to be outdone, Citigroup claims only criminals use cash:

Citigroup’s Chief Economist Willem Buiter claims ..."even though hard evidence is hard to come by, it is very likely that the underground economy and the criminal community are among the heaviest users of currency."

Evidence is hard to come by? In other words there is none and he's full of s***!

Chris Skinner, author of The 

Future of Banking


Digital Bank

 wants to do away with currency:


There it is in black and white, THE WAR ON CASH IS REAL and credit card companies are hard at work trying to destroy currency!

Back to EMV's; just how secure are "smart" credit cards? According to recent studies EVM "smart" cards are vulnerable to hacking.

Norton Security says that this year 70% of credit cards will be vulnerable to digital pick pocketing.

Researchers have proven "smart" cards are more vulnerable to hacking than banks want you to know:


‘The technology is high-frequency RFID,’ Mr Bryan said.



Researchers at a recent "

blackhat conference

" revealed more vulnerabilities:

“With just a mobile phone we created a POS terminal that could read a card through a wallet,” Martin Emms, lead researcher of the project said.

“All the checks are carried out on the card rather than the terminal so at the point of transaction, there is nothing to raise suspicions. By pre-setting the amount you want to transfer, you can bump your mobile against someone’s pocket or swipe your phone over a wallet left on a table and approve a transaction."

Transactions took less than a second to be approved.

“This lends itself to multiple attackers across the world collecting small transactions of perhaps €200 at a time for a central rogue merchant who could be located anywhere in the world,” Emms notes. “This previously undocumented flaw around foreign currency, combined with the lack of POS terminal authentication and the ease of skimming contactless credit cards, makes the system more vulnerable to high-value attacks.”



 to read the "

Chip and Skim: cloning EMV cards with the pre-play attack

" report.

EMV credit card terminals are also vulnerable to being hacked:

Two security researchers showed how easily criminals could take control of a shop owner's credit card terminals -- even if the shop uses the latest chip-and-PIN machines. 

Those terminals are supposed to be safe, because they encrypt your PIN as you type it and don't store your credit card's data. But 

MWR Labs

 researchers found that a hacker could easily tell the machines to do the opposite. 

Hacking the terminals is virtually undetectable. Turning the machine off erases all evidence that the hack ever even happened.

Keep this in mind when banks have FORCED everyone to use EMV "smart" credit cards.

How UBS Sent Millions to the Clintons After Hillary Saved the Mega Bank While Secretary of State

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 1.54.30 PM

A few weeks after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, she was summoned to Geneva by her Swiss counterpart to discuss an urgent matter. The Internal Revenue Service was suing UBS AG to get the identities of Americans with secret accounts.

If the case proceeded, Switzerland’s largest bank would face an impossible choice: Violate Swiss secrecy laws by handing over the names, or refuse and face criminal charges in U.S. federal court.

Within months, Mrs. Clinton announced a tentative legal settlement—an unusual intervention by the top U.S. diplomat. UBS ultimately turned over information on 4,450 accounts, a fraction of the 52,000 sought by the IRS, an outcome that drew criticism from some lawmakers who wanted a more extensive crackdown.

From that point on, UBS’s engagement with the Clinton family’s charitable organization increased. Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according the foundation and the bank. 

The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House.

– From today’s Wall Street Journal article: UBS Deal Shows Clinton’s Complicated Ties

The best part about Hillary Clinton’s run for the Presidency, is the endless series of scandals and shadiness that inevitably comes along with being part of an entrenched status quo family that prioritizes the accumulation of wealth and power above all else. The reason Barack Obama was able to generate so much genuine “hope” prior to his election is 2008, is because he was a complete unknown. He could say all the right things, and it was easy for people to believe the hype.

The exact oppositie is true of Hillary. No one believes anything that comes out of her mouth. Everyone knows she is dishonest, shady, and as Camille Paglia perfectly summarized in her Salon article today:

Hillary has accomplished nothing substantial in her life. She’s been pushed along, coasting on her husband’s coattails, and every job she’s been given fizzled out into time-serving or overt disaster.  Hillary constantly strikes attitudes and claims she’s “passionate” about this or that, but there’s never any sustained follow-through.  She’s just a classic, corporate exec or bureaucrat type who would prefer to be at her desk behind closed doors, imposing her power schemes on the proletariat.  She has no discernible political skills of any kind, which is why she needs a big, shifting army of consultants, advisors, and toadies to whisper in her ear and write her policy statements.  There’s this ridiculous new theme in the media about people needing to learn who the “real” Hillary Clinton is.  What? Everything they’re saying about what a wonderful person Hillary is in private tells us that she’s not competent or credible as a public figure! A politician, particularly a president, must have a distinct skill or expertise in communicating with the masses.  It’s the absolutely basic requirement for any career in politics.

Now, let’s take a look at the pantsuit revolutionary’s latest scandal, outlined in today’s Wall Street Journal:

A few weeks after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as secretary of state in early 2009, she was summoned to Geneva by her Swiss counterpart to discuss an urgent matter. The Internal Revenue Service was suing UBS AG to get the identities of Americans with secret accounts.

If the case proceeded, Switzerland’s largest bank would face an impossible choice: Violate Swiss secrecy laws by handing over the names, or refuse and face criminal charges in U.S. federal court.

Within months, Mrs. Clinton announced a tentative legal settlement—an unusual intervention by the top U.S. diplomat. UBS ultimately turned over information on 4,450 accounts, a fraction of the 52,000 sought by the IRS, an outcome that drew criticism from some lawmakers who wanted a more extensive crackdown.

From that point on, UBS’s engagement with the Clinton family’s charitable organization increased. Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according the foundation and the bank. 

The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House.

The UBS matter involved her helping solve a problem for a foreign bank—not a popular constituency among Democrats—and stepping into an area where government prosecutors had been taking the lead.

Banks are not a “popular constituent among Democrats.” What planet are you living on?

UBS officials deny any connection between the legal case and the foundation donations. “Any insinuation that any of our philanthropic or business initiatives stems from support received from any current or former government official is ludicrous and without merit,” a bank spokeswoman said. UBS said the speeches by Mr. Clinton and the donations were part of a program to respond to the 2008 economic downturn.

UBS’s troubles began in 2007 when an American banker working in Switzerland told the U.S. Justice Department that UBS had recruited thousands of U.S. customers seeking to avoid U.S. taxes. The disclosure led UBS to enter into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in 2009. The bank admitted to helping set up sham companies, creating phony paperwork and deceiving customs officials. It paid a $780 million fine and turned over the names of 250 account holders.

If you or I were caught doing 0.5% of what UBS did we would be thrown in the gulag for life.

On July 31, Ms. Calmy-Rey appeared with Mrs. Clinton at the State Department to announce a deal in principle. The Justice Department and IRS agreed to dismiss the lawsuit and settle the disagreement under a U.S.-Swiss tax treaty, as Ms. Calmy-Rey had sought. UBS would turn over information on about 4,450 accounts, not 52,000.

“Our governments have worked very hard to reach this point,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Ms. Calmy-Rey called the agreement a “Peace Treaty” and UBS praised it.

Mr. DiCicco, the senior Justice Department tax lawyer on the case who has since retired, said the State Department didn’t get involved in details of the settlement, but did warn about the ramifications of taking a tough line.

“There is a risk that if a large bank is indicted it would lose its ability to do business in the U.S.,” he said. “That was a consideration.” He said there was no “pressure” from the State Department on that issue.

Now you see what happens when banks become too big and too powerful to be indicted: Oligarchy. Rampant elite criminality. Unimaginable corruption.

Mr. Clinton earned $1.5 million for 11 appearances in New York, Dallas, Miami, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Nashville and other cities. Mr. McCann, the UBS Wealth Management executive, conducted the panel discussions with Messrs. Clinton and Bush. Spokesmen for Mr. Bush and UBS declined to comment on how much Mr. Bush was paid.

But hey,

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.09.13 PM

For related articles, see:

How Progressive – Private Prison Company Lobbyists are Raising Funds for Hillary

How Lobbyists for Monsanto, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft and the Telecom Industry are Bundling Funds for Hillary

Hillary Clinton Blasts High Frequency Trading Ahead of Fundraiser with High Frequency Trader

Where Does Hillary Stand on the TPP? 45 Public Statements Tell You Everything You Need to Know

Cartoons Mocking “Goldman Rats” and Hillary Clinton Appear All Over NYC

Conversations with Everyday Americans – Hillary Launches $2,700 per Person “Grassroots” Fundraiser in Boston

How UCLA Tried to Negotiate a Lower Speaking Fee, but Hillary Clinton Refused and Demanded $300,000

All Hail Hillary – Iowa Students Locked in Classrooms as Clinton Arrives at College to Visit “Everyday Iowans”

More Clinton Foundation Cronyism – The Deal to Sell Uranium Interests to Russia While Hillary was Secretary of State

More Hillary Cronyism Revealed – How Cisco Used Clinton Foundation Donations to Cover-up Human Rights Abuse in China

In Liberty,
Michael Krieger

Police state America invades movie theaters

The American police state has invaded our movie theaters! Movie theaters are doing their part keeping Americans in fear! 

AMC Theaters

 has begun running a "safety" message that says: "If you happen to see any suspiciously strange characters or bad agendas, report them to our crew." 



 to see the AMC "safety" message.

AMC's "safety" message is really DHS's "

See Something Say Something

" spying program that's turned our neighbors into spies! 

Watch out, that kid stuffing his face with popcorn and candy is suspicious! That kid who keeps fidgeting and leaving their seat every 20 minutes might be a terrorist! This is the absurd reality of living in Police State America!

Leave it to the mass media to find a person that believes DHS's "safety" message that terrorists could

be watching movies, Lenore McHugh had this to say...

"I think it's good to make people aware because some people just go in the theater, sit down and they are not aware of what's going on around them because they're just looking forward," said McHugh.

Have we become so "terrorized" by the media that we believe it's forward-looking of DHS and movie theaters to post B.S. warnings that would make the Nazi's and the KGB jealous? By terrorized I mean the media sensationalizes the threat of terror to make a profit. Click here to read "

Terrorism and the Media: A Dangerous Symbiosis


At least one moviegoer voiced his disdain over increased security at movie theaters:

“What are you going to do? Put security guards with guns everywhere,” Steve Cooper threw out the idea but was not for it. He added, “I don’t want that.”

Back in 2014 I reported how "

Movie Theaters & Doorman Are Spying On Americans

. Don't forget the

Motion Picture Association of America works closely with DHS

, click 


 to read more.

AMC Theaters is not the only theater to jump on the everyone's a potential terrorist bandwagon. "

Studio Movie Grill

"(SMG) which is rapidly expanding across the country is doing its part to feed the flames.

Why should anyone care about SMG's expansion, after all isn't that democracy?

"With the help of our partner, Goldman Sachs, Studio Movie Grill is excited and grateful to have the opportunity to further establish our brand across the country," said Founder and CEO Brian Schultz."Studio Movie Grill announced it is expanding on both coasts once more with new locations announced in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Simi Valley, California as well as two new Texastheaters in North Dallas and Houston. Since its founding in 2000, Studio Movie Grill (SMG) has grown steadily from its Texas roots to what will soon be 24 locations in ten states by year's end. With the remodel and addition of 4 screens at its Plano, TX theater, 34 new screens will be in place by Q4 and 231 in total nationwide."Goldman Sachs one of the most corrupt companies

 in America is helping SMG expand!

If you guessed Goldman Sachs has a close relationship with DHS give yourself a gold star. In fact former Goldman Sachs VP 

Chad Sweet was chief of staff at DHS and was Director of Operations for the CIA


Steven A. Kerr

, Chief Learning Officer at Goldman Sachs is on DHS's 

Homeland Security Advisory Council

 and as if that wasn't enough proof, Goldman Sachs is also a charter member of DHS's

Financial Services Sector


Back to SMG..

Brian Schultz the founder/owner and CEO of SMG, used to work as an 

aide to former senator Arlen Specter

FYI, Senators Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter 

introduced legislation

 to create the Department of Homeland Security in 2001!

Shultz is also one of the founding members of the Young Entrepreneurs Organization now known as "

Entrepreneurs Organization

" which has close ties to the 



Dr. Lance Larson, PH.D. helped 

coordinate DHS and the Entrepreneurs Organization


What does all this mean to the average moviegoer? It means DHS wants TSA like security in EVERY movie theater in America!

"Beefing up security at the nation's 5,000 theaters would be expensive, says the Los Angeles Times. Walk-through metal detectors cost about $5,000. In addition to the price of such devices, security systems require training personnel and paying their wages.""Maintaining a strong security installation at a multiplex could cost between $250,000 and $1 million annually, says security consultant Michael Dorn. Such a system would include metal detectors, X-ray machines, workers to operate those devices and additional armed security.""There's a difference between having a metal detector at the door and actually having effective screening," said Dorn, director of Safe Havens International. "My fear is that we may see theaters throw in metal detectors without proper utilization." Any changes that threaten to make the moviegoing experience less smooth would probably meet industry resistance.

If history is any indicator, it won't meet any "industry resistance" once DHS gives security grants that will put metal detectors in every movie theater across the country! How long before this becomes reality a year maybe two?

Senator Tony Avella has announced he's working on legislation for metal detectors at theaters, stadiums and malls!

"Avella is developing legislation that would require theater, indoor mall and stadium owners to provide enhanced security.""Avella said he knows it will cost money, so he plans to include as part of the legislation a public/private partnership “where the state will pick up half the cost.”'As for the potential inconvenience of metal detectors, Avella said it would be worth it if it saves just one life."

So, who are SMG security personnel? SMG has what the company calls “

highly trained officers” at each theater

! SMG also makes it a point to hire military vets and ex- cops:

"SMG is extremely proud to announce that all security officers assigned to any SMG present and future will be military veterans. The company specifically chose to work with G4S for its security services because of their initiative regarding the hiring of returning military veterans as part of the White House's Joining Forces campaign. G4S continues to be a destination employer for veterans and according to Civilian Jobs News is one of the best places for veterans to work."



 to find out more about the Joining Forces campaign.


 is a British-Danish private security company that operates in over 120 countries; it is the largest security company in the world. G4S is notorious for operating private prisons and providing deportation services internationally. G4S has such a close relationship with DHS one wonders if they're not just a front company posing as security professionals.

In the United States, G4S operates privatized 

juvenile detention facilities

. G4S works alongside Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection to detain and deport people across the U.S./Mexico border and transport ICE detainees to ICE detention facilities throughout the country.

Schultz went on to brag about his choice of using G4S: 

"Making a difference starts with being a good neighbor. We understand that our theater teams, vendor-partners, investors, community and guests are all inter-related. For SMG, conscious business not only benefits our guests and our communities, but also enriches the lives of our team members, vendor-partners, and investors. It's truly a win-win-win-win-win proposition for everyone and the type of purpose-work SMG takes very seriously."

What it all comes down to is DHS, sorry I mean SMG turning a profit for its vendors (G4S) while keeping the public in a CONSTANT state of fear!

It's gotten so out of control DHS is even promoting their B.S. spy program during Earth Day festivals and at our National Parks:

"If You See Something, Say Something" Campaign continues its partnership with the USPP on the National Mall this spring and summer supporting such events as Earth Day, July 4th, and the World Police & Fire Games."

Our Park Police even have an intelligence division that reports directly to DHS:

"The Intelligence/Counter-Terrorism Unit is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating all forms of domestic and foreign information and intelligence that may impact the mission of the United States Park Police. The Branch also monitors First Amendment activities to include demonstrations, protests, marches, and gatherings on National Park Service property.""The Branch is also active in several intelligence working groups that provide networking capabilities with virtually every Federal, State, and local law enforcement agency in the region."

The next time you take a picture in a national park and a Park Ranger approaches you, its because they think taking pictures is suspicious! Last year the Park Service wanted to 

fine anyone taking pictures in their parks $1,000


The future of moviegoing in America is frightening. Within the next few years we can expect to go to gov't. run movie theaters and watch only gov't. approved movies while gov't. officials (law enforcement) subject you and your family to TSA searches.

70% Of Americans See Economy Worsening, Consumer Comfort Collapses By Most In 10 Month

With stocks just 1-2% from record highs, because China is fixed, oil is recovering, Europe is awesome, and gas prices are low? it appears the talking heads forgot to tell the 'people' how great things are. Bloomberg's Consumer Comfort index plunged (by the most since Sept 2014) to hover at 18 month lows...


As 70% of Americans see the state of the economy as negative.

Rather amusingly an intriguing 1% of Americans see the state of the economy as 'excellent' - wonder which 1% that is...

Charts: Bloomberg

The Private Sector Is Cashing In On The Pentagon’s ‘Insatiable Demand’ For Drone War Intelligence

Military personnel in Air Force Distributed Common Ground System.

Military personnel in Air Force Distributed Common Ground System.

Some months ago, an imagery analyst was sitting in his curtained cubicle at Hurlburt Field airbase in Florida watching footage transmitted from a drone above one of the battlefields in the War on Terror. If he thought the images showed someone doing anything suspicious, or holding a weapon, he had to type it in to a chat channel seen by the pilots controlling the drone’s missiles.

Once an observation has been fed in to the chat, he later explained, it’s hard to revise it – it influences the whole mindset of the people with their hands on the triggers.

“As a screener anything you say is going to be interpreted in the most hostile way,” he said, speaking with the careful deliberation of someone used to their words carrying consequences.

He and the other imagery analysts in the airbase were working gruelling 12-hour shifts: even to take a bathroom break they had to persuade a colleague to step in and watch the computer screen for them. They couldn’t let their concentration or judgement lapse for a second. If a spade was misidentified as a weapon, an innocent man could get killed.

“The position I took is that every call I make is a gamble, and I’m betting their life,” he said. “That is a motivation to play as safely as I can, because I don’t want someone who wasn’t a bad guy to get killed.”

In spite of his vital role in military operations, the analyst wasn’t wearing a uniform. In fact, he wasn’t working for the Department of Defense, or indeed any branch of the US government.

He was working for one of a cluster of companies that have made money supplying imagery analysts to the US military’s war on terror.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s award-winning drones team has spent six months exploring this intersection of corporate interests and global surveillance systems. Drawing on interviews with a dozen military insiders (including former generals, drone operators and imagery analysts), contracts obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, scores of contractor CVs publicly available on everyday job sites such as LinkedIn, and the analysis of millions of federal procurement records, the Bureau has identified ten private sector companies operating at the heart of the US’s surveillance and targeting networks.

The private sector’s involvement could grow: an Air Force official confirmed they are considering bringing in more contractors as it struggles to process the nearly half million hours of video footage filmed each year by drones and other aircraft.

Analysing this video can be a highly sensitive role. As one contractor analyst told the Bureau, “when you mess up, people die”.

While the military’s use of boots-on-the-ground contractors has prompted numerous congressional responses and tightened procurement protocol, among the general public few are even aware of the private sector’s role behind the scenes processing military surveillance video.

“I think they’ve fallen under the radar to some degree,” said Laura Dickinson (pictured), a specialist in military contracting at George Washington University Law School and author of ‘Outsourcing War and Peace’. “It’s not that these contractors are necessarily doing a bad job, it’s that our legal system of oversight isn’t necessarily well equipped to deal with this fragmented workforce where you have contractors working alongside uniformed troops.”

In theory, these contractors aren’t decision-makers. Military officials and project managers are there to ensure they perform effectively, and according to the terms of their contracts.

But past experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that management of military contractors does not always work perfectly in practice, especially when demand for the services they provide is surging.

As one commander told the Bureau, demand for Air Force intelligence against threats such as Islamic State is currently “insatiable”.

The ISR revolution

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, or ISR as it is known in military jargon, has become central to American warfare in recent years.

The Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) is a 120,000 square foot facility being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District and their contractors. The building will serve as a collection and processing point for intelligence and imagery to be used by units all around the world.

The Air Force’s Distributed Common Ground Station (DCGS) is a 120,000 square foot facility being built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Norfolk District and their contractors. The building will serve as a collection and processing point for intelligence and imagery to be used by units all around the world.

US counterterrorism operations such as the May 16 special forces raid on Islamic State commander Abu Sayyaf are critically dependent on the video captured by drones and other aircraft.

Analysts sitting thousands of miles away can tell a team on the ground the exact height of ladder they need to scale a building, or alert them to approaching militants. They can also establish a ‘pattern of life’, and what constitutes unusual movement in a particular place.

The aircraft are flown by pilots and operators from bases in the US, whilst the imagery analysts poring through the video they transmit are mostly housed in clusters of analysis centres – part of a warfighting structure spreading from Virginia to Germany known as the ‘Distributed Common Ground System’.

Remotely Piloted Aircraft, as the US military prefers to call drones, are more often associated with firing missiles at the tribal areas of Pakistan and Yemen than with gathering intelligence.

But it is their intelligence capabilities – particularly the ability to collect and transmit video footage in close to real time – that have revolutionised warfare.

“In Kosovo the intelligence we would get was typically a photo, normally black and white, often from a plane that took it the day before,” Lt Colonel David Haworth, director of combat operations at the US’s Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar told the Bureau.

“It’s like being able to talk on a can and a string before, and now I have a smartphone.”

The number of daily drone combat air patrols (CAPs) – that is, the ability to observe a particular spot for 24 hours – went up from five in 2004 to 65 in 2014 as demand for the intelligence they offered soared in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colonel Jim Cluff, the commander of the drone squadrons at Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base, said the recent campaign against Islamic State has fuelled a new surge in demand.

“We’re seeing just an insatiable demand signal,” he said. “You cannot get enough ISR capability to meet all the warfighters’ needs.”

Meeting this demand is not simply a question of having enough aircraft. By 2010, according to a presentation by David Deptula, a now retired three star general who was asked to oversee the Air Force’s rapidly evolving ISR expansion in 2006, the average Predator or Reaper CAP required 10 pilots and 30 video analysts.

“We’re drowning in data,” he told the Bureau.

‘Growth industry’

The military has always used the private sector to help operate its drone programmes; according to defence writer Richard Whittle, General Atomics, the manufacturer of the Predator, even supplied some of the pilots for the aircraft’s first sorties.

The defence industry’s supply of equipment to drone operations is well known, but the private sector’s role in providing a workforce has been harder to pin down. Through extensive research, the Bureau has traced the contracting histories of eight companies which have provided the Pentagon with imagery analysts in the past five years (the CIA’s transactions remain classified). Two more companies have been linked to the imagery analysis effort.

In 2007, defence industry behemoth SAIC – later rebranded Leidos – was contracted to provide services including imagery analysis to the Air Force Special Operations Command (Afsoc). A contracting document described SAIC’s involvement as “intelligence support to direct combat operations”. Its 202 contractors embedded in Afsoc were providing “direct support to targeting” among other functions (in military-speak, targeting can refer to surveillance of people and objects as well as lethal strikes).

In a bidding war to renew the deal in 2011, SAIC lost out to a smaller defence firm, MacAulay-Brown. 

According to a copy of the contract obtained by the Bureau under a Freedom of Information Act request, MacAulay-Brown was tasked to “support targeting, information operations, deliberate and crisis action planning, and 24/7/365 operations.” The company asked for $60 million to perform these functions over three years.

Afsoc required MacAulay-Brown to provide a total of 187 analysts, some of whom were sourced through partnership with another company, Advanced Concepts Enterprises.

A portion of this work was to be carried out outside the US, according to the contract. The Bureau found two CVs posted online by people who had worked for MacAulay-Brown in Afghanistan. Both were embedded with special operations forces supporting targeting.

In January this year the latest award for Afsoc intelligence support went to another company, Zel Technologies. According to a document describing the scope of the contract, Zel was set to provide fewer overall analysts than MacAulay-Brown, but more imagery experts. Zel was also required to offer subject matter experts “in the areas of the Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Syria, Iran, North Africa, Trans Sahel region, Levant region, Gulf States and territorial waters”. Afsoc has paid out $12 million for the first year, with options on the contract due to last until January 2018.

Although Zel Technologies is now the prime contractor, MacAulay-Brown is providing some of the intelligence specialists the contract demands. Indeed, it is not unusual for analysts to simply move from company to company as contracts for the same set of services change hands. They market themselves on recruitment sites with a surreal blend of corporate and military jargon.

An MQ 9 Reaper drone. A new poll shows most Americans support U.S. drone strikes on American citizens. (Photo: USAF)

An MQ 9 Reaper drone. (Photo: USAF)

One boasts of having supported the “kill / capture” of “High Value Targets”. Others go in to detail about their expertise in things like establishing a pattern of life and following vehicles.

The Air Force is not the only agency that employs contractor imagery analysts. Intrepid Solutions, a small business based in Reston, Virginia, received an intelligence support contract with the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command in 2012, scheduled to run until 2017.

In 2012 TransVoyant LLC, a leading player in real-time intelligence and analysis of big data based in Alexandria, Virginia, was awarded a contract with a maximum value set at $49 million to provide full motion video analysts for a US Marine Corps “exploitation cell” deployed in Afghanistan. Transvoyant had taken over this role from the huge Virginia-based defence company General Dynamics.

In 2010, the Army gave a million-dollar contract to a translation company, Worldwide Language Resources, to provide US forces in Afghanistan with “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection management and imagery analysis support”.

In the same year, the Special Operations Command awarded an imagery analyst services contract to the firmL-3 Communications, which was to net the company $155 million over five years.

Defence industry giants BAE Systems and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s former employer Booz Allen Hamilton are also involved in the US’s ISR effort.

BAE Systems describes itself as “the leading provider of full-motion video analytic services to the intelligence community with more than 370 personnel working 24 hours a day”. The Bureau has traced some of the activities it carried out through social media profiles of company employees. People identifying themselves as video and imagery analysts for BAE state that they have used real-time and geo-spatial data to support tracking and targeting.

A job advert posted on June 10 by BAE gave further insight into the services provided. The posting sought a “Full Motion Video (FMV) Analyst providing direct intelligence support to Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO)” to be “part of a high ops tempo team, embedded in a multi-intelligence fusion watch floor environment”.

Booz Allen Hamilton has also aided the intelligence exploitation effort for special operations command at Hurlburt Field. Its role included “ongoing and expanding full motion video PED operational intelligence mission”, according to transaction records. A recent job ad shows the company is looking for video analysts to join its team “providing direct intelligence support to the Global War on Terror”.

The hundreds of millions of dollars paid to these companies for imagery analysis represent just a fraction of the private sector’s stake in America’s global surveillance effort. The Bureau has found billions of dollars of contracts for a range of ISR services. These include the provision of smaller drones, the supply and maintenance of data collection systems, and the communications infrastructure to fly the drones and connect their sensors with analysts across the other side of the world. These contracts have gone to companies including General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Textron and ITT Corporation.

General Deptula believes military demand for ISR will continue to grow.  As he puts it, “Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance is a growth industry.”

Private eyes

In the Air Force at least, contractor imagery analysts are still in the minority of the work force. Around one in 10 of the people working in the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of intelligence is estimated to be either a government civilian or a contractor. The Hurlburt Field analyst, who is here referred to as John (like other analysts interviewed, he didn’t want his real name to be published because of the sensitivity of the subject matter) estimates that they represent around an eighth of the analysts working there in support of Special Operations.

John argues that taking on even a small number of contractors helps ease the strain on the uniformed force without incurring the expense of pensioned, trained, health-insured employees.

“Contractors are used to fill the gap to give enough manpower to provide flexibility necessary for military to do things like take leave,” he said.

Contractor imagery analysts are invariably ex-military, but the framework of their employment and their incentives are differently aligned once they join the private sector.

“In the military no-one’s obligated to respect your time,” explained John. “There were months you’d never get off days – If they need you to clean the bathroom on your off day that’s what you’ve got to do.”

“As a contractor you’re not as invested in the unit…your motivations are going to be more selfish.”

John and other analysts stressed however that contractors were highly professional, and able to provide a concentration of expertise.

“By the time an airman has built up enough experience to be competent at the job it’s usually time to change their duty location. Age also has a lot to do with the professionalism of contractors. Most contractors are at the youngest mid to late 20s, whereas Airmen are fresh out of high school,” said one analyst. “As an FMV (analyst), you cannot identify something unless you’ve seen it before.”

Screening for trouble

According to John the PED units at Hurlburt Field were much smaller than those of regular Air Force crews, consisting of only about three or four people.

As well as an analyst to watch the video in near real-time, and one to make the call on whether to type an observation in to the chat channel (often described as a ‘screener’), units typically also need a geospatial analyst to cross-reference the images brought up on the screen with other data. 

Sitting there watching a video screen sounds simple, but the herculean amount of concentration involved requires real discipline and commitment. According to analysts interviewed, between 80 and 85% of the time is spent on long-term surveillance, when very little is happening. “You can go days and weeks watching people do nothing,” said John.

Another contractor interviewed said that because of the “long durations of monotonous and low activity levels”, a good analyst needs “attention to detail and a vested interest in the mission.”

Analysts assigned to the 11th Intelligence Squadron review mission data

Analysts assigned to the 11th Intelligence Squadron review mission data on Hurlburt Field, Fla., June 11, 2015. The 11th IS executes procession, exploitation and dissemination of day and night imagery intelligence, from manned and unmanned aerial systems. (Portions of this image were blurred for security or privacy concerns)

“Many of the younger analysts view the job as a game,” he said. “It is critical to understand everything that happens, happens in real life. When you mess up, people die. In fact, the main role of the FMV analyst is to ensure that does not happen.”

The screeners type their observations in to a chat channel called mIRC, which is seen by the drone pilot and sensor operator, who are usually sitting in a different base. The Mission Coordinator, or Mission Intelligence Coordinator, typically sitting on the same base as the pilot and operator and communicating with them through a headset, helps ensure they don’t miss anything important in the mIRC.

Sometimes, John said, the analysts and the Mission Coordinator will communicate directly with each other in what is known as a “Whisper chat”.

“It gives you a way to say ‘this is what we think we saw’,” he explained, adding dryly, “a large part of the job is an exercise in trying not to kick the hornets’ nest.” According to John, once you’ve influenced the mentality of the pilot and operator by typing something which could signal hostility in to the chat, it’s hard to retract it.

He likens his role to that of a citizen tipping off armed police about criminals.

“As a civilian I don’t have authority to arrest someone, but if I call the police and say ‘this person’s doing something’, and say ‘I think that guy’s dangerous’…the police are going to turn up primed to respond to the threat, they’ll turn up trusting my statement,” he said. “It could be argued that I was responsible, but I’m not the one shooting.”

John said that in his unit, imagery analysts usually took a back seat once the use of force had been authorised.

Because there is usually a slight delay between the drone crew receiving the feed and the analysis crew seeing it, John said, “in a situation where it gets high-paced they (military personnel)’ll cut the screener out entirely”.

The other analyst however said that in his experience the PED unit still maintained its function for “identifying and confirming IMINT (imagery intelligence) lock on the target” once force is authorised. Video analysts, he said, had the capability to tell other crew members to abort a strike under some circumstances, and the analyst could receive “blowback” when things went wrong. The video analyst is the “subject matter expert,” he explained. “As such you have an important role in all the events that have led up to the determination for using force on the target. While you are not the one firing the missile, a misidentification of an enemy combatant with a weapon and a female carrying a broom can have dire consequences.”

Inherently governmental?

Given the Air Force’s efforts to keep contractors out of sensitive, decision-making positions, the contractors’ role in supporting targeting seems surprising, at first glance.

Charles Blanchard was the Air Force’s chief lawyer between 2009 and 2013 when he advised the officials spearheading these efforts.

He describes himself as a “purist” when it comes to contractors flying armed drones. But for a function like imagery analysis, his view is more flexible. “I’d be comfortable with some contractors sprinkled in to this framework because you have so many eyes on one target usually,” he said.

“I’d be uncomfortable with contractors advising the commander ‘here’s where the target is’, unless the data collected and analysed was so clear that the Commander could confirm this for themselves, as often happens.”

The constraints on using contractors are often more to do with command culture than the “mushy” legal framework surrounding inherently governmental functions, Blanchard explained.

“A commander in the military justice system has a lot more authority to take action where mistakes are made. Someone in blue uniform – or green or white – is someone they feel they have authority over.”

The consensus seems to be that contractors effectively taking targeting decisions is undesirable.

MacAulay-Brown’s contract with Afsoc stipulated that the contractors were not to be “placed in a position of command, supervision, administration of control” over military or civilian personnel.

There are concerns that such safeguards may be diluted in practice if contractor use goes up.

One of the analysts interviewed said that contractors were already relied on for their greater expertise and experience, effectively placing them in the chain of command.

“It will always be military bodies or civilian government bodies as the overall in charge of the missions…however you will have experienced contractors act as a ‘right-hand man’ many times because typically contractors are the ones with subject matter expertise, so the military/government leadership lean on those people to make better mission related decisions,” he said.

The profit motive

Although it is hard for the military to discipline contractors, people are keeping tabs on them and providing them with an incentive to do their jobs well.

John noted that the knowledge that “you can get fired” is a motivational factor for contractors.

In theory, the possibility of losing the contract should also incentivise the contractors’ bosses to field the best possible staff and manage them closely.

Jerome Traughber of the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy is a former program manager for airborne reconnaissance acquisitions in the Air Force. He said that in his experience of intelligence support services, a company’s bid and performance would be scrutinised closely, with incentive fees built in.

“If a contractor wasn’t measuring up we’d make a change very quickly,” he said.

A large part of the monitoring is done through contracting officers, who liaise with other personnel inside the warfighting unit to evaluate the performance of the contractors embedded there.

Traughber acknowledged, however, that during the surge in Afghanistan, when thousands of contracts needed to be overseen, contracting officers and their counterparts inside military units were overwhelmed by their work load.

Nor is it clear that poor performance would necessarily prevent a company getting another contract. Daniel Gordon, a retired law professor and previous Administrator of Federal Procurement Policy, argues that the past performance criteria that contracting officers are supposed to take in to account when awarding bids might not always be rigorously assessed.

“As soon as you start saying the contractor didn’t do a good job you risk having litigation, lawyers are going to get involved, it’s just not worth it, so… everyone’s ok, no-one’s outstanding, which makes the rating system completely meaningless,” he said.

Another potential problem with the profit motive as a way of delivering good performance is that contractor pay has reportedly gone down.

Mary Blackwell, the president of Advanced Concepts Enterprises, one of the subcontractors who provided analysts in Hurlburt Field, said that since mandatory defence budget caps took effect in 2013, the value of contracts has decreased.

Imagery analysts, along with everyone else, have seen their pay cut by between 15 and 20%, she said.

“The military people – their pay is set. The only place where there’s any room is the contracts.”

This could drive down quality in the long term, contractors say. “It is running good analysts off,” said one. “The quality of force is suffering.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism contacted all of the contractors named in this story with a series of questions. None provided a statement, though several directed queries towards the US military. The Pentagon and the US Air Force were contacted for comment with a series of questions about transparency and oversight for contractors involved in ISR.

A spokeswoman for the Air Force said ISR was “vital to the national security of the United States and its allies”, and there was an “insatiable demand” for it from combatant commanders. She said this demand was the reason for increasing use of contractors, which she said was a “normal process within military operations”.

On the issue of whether private contractors’ assessments risk pre-empting the military’s official decisions, she said the service had thorough oversight and followed all appropriate rules.

“Current AF Judge Advocate rulings define the approved roles for contractors in the AF IRS’s processing, exploitation and dissemination capability,” she said.

“Air Force DCGS [Distributed Common Ground System] works closely with the Judge Advocate’s office to ensure a full, complete, and accurate understanding and implementation of those roles.  Oversight is accomplished by Air Force active duty and civilian personnel in real time and on continual basis with personnel trained on the implementation of procedural checks and balances.

Transparency gap

Contractors such as John pride themselves on their professionalism and skill. But as ISR demand continues to rise, robust oversight is needed – in particular to ensure contractors do not creep into decision-making roles.

“There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell,” she argued.

“If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless.

Laura Dickinson argues the lack of information about drone operations makes such oversight much harder.  “We urgently need more transparency,” she said.

The Department of Defense now publishes a quarterly report on the number of contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a breakdown of their functions, but Dickinson said she was not aware of any such information being released on contractors in drone operations.

“There are tremendous pressures for that ratio of contractors to governmental personnel to swell,” she argued.

“If that ratio balloons, oversight could easily break down, and the current prohibition on contractors making targeting decisions could become meaningless.” 

Least Transparent Ever – IRS Used “Wholly Separate” Instant Messaging System to Hide Communications

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 2.53.22 PM

Barack Obama promised to have the “most transparent administration ever,” but as with pretty much every other promise he’s made over the years, the exact opposite is what has occurred.

From Hillary Clinton using her own private email server while Secretary of State, to the latest revelations that the IRS (whichintentionally targeted American citizens based on their political views), used a “wholly separate” instant messaging system in order to conceal their internal communications. Of course, not only is there no transparency, but as is the case with all shady and undemocratic “elite” behavior, there is no accountability.

In the latest bit of information to emerge, we learn from Americans for Tax Reform that:

The IRS used a “wholly separate” instant messaging system that automatically deleted office communications, according to documentation released by the House Oversight Committee on Monday. The system appears to have been purposefully used by agency officials responsible for the targeting of conservative non-profits, in order to evade public scrutiny.

The system, known as “Office Communication Server” or OCS was used by IRS officials, including many in the Exempt Organizations (EO) Unit, which was headed by Lois Lerner.

As the Oversight Committee report states, the instant messaging system did not archive any communications, so it is not possible to know what employees of the EO unit discussed on it.

However, in an email uncovered by the Committee Lerner warns her colleagues about evading Congressional oversight:

“I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails – so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails.”

Lerner then asks whether OCS is automatically archived. When informed it was not, Lerner responded “Perfect.”

While it is possible to set the instant messaging system to automatically archive messages, the IRS chose not to do so,according to one employee interviewed by the Committee.

This is not what freedom looks like.

For more examples of Obama non-transparency, see:

Least Transparent Ever – Obama Administration Fighting to Prevent Release of C.I.A. Torture Report

Most Transparent President? Obama Cabinet Refuses to Release Info on Cost of Travel

Obama Administration Sets New Record for Censoring and Denying Access to Government Documents

In Liberty, 
Michael Krieger