Surveillance, Control, and Repression
In June 2018, Reality Winner, the female US Air Force intelligence officer who leaked to The Intercept a classified National Security Agency (NSA) report detailing Russian intelligence’s attempts to carry out cyber attacks on state level voting machine infrastructure before the presidential election, plead guilty to criminal charges in federal court. Winner will serve the longest sentence ever for one violation of section 793 of the espionage act – 63 months in prison and 3 years probation. She was arrested and charged with criminal offenses just hours after The Intercept published their story “Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election” on June 5, 2017. Winner was treated particularly harshly during trial with the judge denying her bail and rejecting almost every subpoena and motion by her lawyers to gather discovery information to use in her defense. The Intercept was criticized by various news organizations, writers, and press freedom groups for their failure to protect the whistleblower’s anonymous identity as the journalists attempted to verify the leaked document thereby inadvertently pointing to Winner as the source.
Workplace surveillance continues to increase with employers finding new ways to use technology to monitor employees while they are earning a wage or are at home. In one example, the employer can track 24/7 in real time an employee’s health including steps taken, amount of sedentary time, heart rate, location, sleep duration and quality through the use of a wrist-worn health monitor such as Fitbit. The data is used by companies to attempt to cut costs of provided healthcare by increasing employee efficiency.The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first so-called digital pill, which when ingested will tell a doctor whether a patient has taken their medication. Supposedly used to deter a patient’s “non-compliance” in refusing to take prescribed drugs, serious ethical and medical questions arise especially concerning this technology in antipsychotics. Abilify MyCite, made by the Japanese Otsuka Pharmaceutical company, is a brand-name version of aripiprazole, an atypical antipsychotic drug used on people diagnosed by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression, and the sensor is made by a company called Proteus.
Between 2016 and 2017, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) collected DNA samples from 36 million people from provinces including Xinjiang as part of a nation wide DNA database reports The New York Times in February 21, 2019. The samples includes DNA, blood, iris scans, fingerprints, and other personal and health data. This data was apparently gathered through free health checks under the program “Physicals for All”, but also at hospitals, prisons, and camps. The Uighurs, a large ethnic minority group in the province, are heavily persecuted and surveilled by the Chinese government. Human rights groups and Chinese and Uighur dissidents argue that the DNA database is used to find people who resist the government through familial relationship and institute harsher control over individuals and groups. The US company called Thermo Fisher has sold equipment for this DNA collection totalling about 10% of their $20.9 billion revenue, and 1000 Genomes Project and the Yale University scientist Kenneth Kidd provided genetic material from people around the world as comparative data to the Chinese government.
Reuters published on November 29, 2018 a visually compelling investigation on the infrastructure of prison camps holding over one million Uighurs, other ethnics groups like the Kazakhs, and dissents in Xinjiang. The journalists investigated 39 “re-education camps” using satellite imagery, google maps, and other infrastructure data. Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist at Columbia University, estimates there could be at least 1,200 camps in Xinjiang. It is not known how many prison camps have been built in each Chinese province. The PRC instituted the so-called “People’s War on Terror” in 2014 after a series of attacks in Xinjiang and other parts of the country. People who have been freed from the camps detail abuse, torture, indoctrination, forced labor, starvation, sexual abuse, and many other crimes.
The establishment of the nation wide DNA database and the system of prison camps connect to the government’s campaign known as the “Social Credit System (SCS)” to judge, surveil, and collect data on every person in the PRC. Everything a person does is compiled and assessed: where you go, who you know (in person and on social media), who you have sexual relationships with, what you read, what you say, what you buy, what your boss thinks of you, how you perform at work, what your health conditions are, if you pay your bills, if you engage in any potentially dissent or radical activities, etc. Each behaviour is given a numerical value, and each person’s “citizen score” and associated “trustworthiness” is interpreted based on the surveillance data. Your “citizen score” can be publicly available, which pressures everyone to conform. The SCS also pushes people to engage in activities that will increase their positive point score, and punishes people with negative ratings for behaviour deemed objectionable, which includes knowing someone – even indirectly – who has low SCS score. The authoritarian surveillance state also tracks and is used to prosecute “criminal” behaviour. As many as seven million people are already denied the ability to take trains or fly on planes due to low “social credit scores” based on the idea that “once untrustworthy, always restricted”. All of this data is compiled through various forms of surveillance in every location possible, and processed by a vast and profitable technology industry which increasingly deploys artificial intelligence. The possibility for corruption and abuse of the SCS by government officials and private corporations is immense potentially affecting all 1.387 billion people in the PRC. Presently participation is SCS is supposedly voluntary, but will be mandatory by 2020.
The Hong Kong based Frontier Service Group (FSG), a private company offering “security” and logistics services to the military, police, and businesses, is co-founded by Erik Prince, the head of the mercenary company Blackwater (now called Academi) and brother to US Education secretary Betsy DeVos. FSG announced plans to open a large military and police training facility in Xinjiang province leading critics to question whether it would be used to target and suppress the Uighur minority, and Prince’s larger agenda beyond accruing immense profit from both the Chinese and US governments. Prince stepped down as chairman of FSG but remains one of three deputy chairmen with 9% stock holdings control. Prince runs the Frontier Resource Group, a private equity commodities firm, which is raising at least 500 million dollars to mine for metals in Africa and Asia. Prince also submitted a series of proposals, with the assistance of Oliver North, to the Trump administration for the development of a private US based international spy ring that would circumvent the CIA, NSA, and congressional oversight. Prince proposed that the spy network’s activities could include intelligence gathering, rendition, detention, combat missions, extrajudicial killings, and influencing politicians.
More details have been divulged in a draft report from the CIA’s Office of Medical Services about the US government’s torture program at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere in which medical doctors investigated the possibility of experimenting on prisoners with various drugs. Those under consideration included midazolam (versed), a benzodiazepine psychoactive drug. Called “Project Medication”, the CIA studied old Soviet drug experiments, its own controversial MK-ULTRA program, and recent scientific data to assess what drugs could be used. The document claims that the CIA decided not to ask the Justice Department to give approval for such drug torture on prisoners. As the Miami Herald notes, CIA doctors and medical staff participating in the torture program monitoring 97 detainees at 10 prison black sites and on more than 100 rendition flights.
Hoda Muthana, a 24 year old US citizen from Alabama, joined ISIS in 2014 has requested that the US government allow her return after renouncing her previous involvement with jihadism. President Trump tweeted on February 20, 2019 that he personally decided and told CIA director Mike Pompeo that she cannot re-enter the US, and both men have falsely claimed she does not have birthright citizenship. Muthana’s father with the Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America have sued to contest the unlawful revocation of her passport and citizenship rights. If Muthana is allowed to re-enter the US, it is likely she could be arrested and tried under charges of “material support for terrorism” due to her prominent vocal support of ISIS and urging attacks on the US.
Between April and June 2018, President Trump issued his “zero tolerance” immigration policy to criminalize any person entering the US “illegally”. Approximately 3,000 refugee infants, children, and teens were forcibly separated by CBP from their parents at various points along the US-Mexico border during this time, and then funnelled by government agencies like Health and Human Services (HHS) or Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to be imprisoned at various so-called non-profit facilities. One of the largest detention corporations holding children is Southwest Key Programs Inc. from Austin, Texas, which received from the Trump administration more than $458 million in the fiscal year of 2018. Refugee and immigrant adults are imprisoned in for-profit privately run detention centres, state and federal prisons, or in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prisons. Widespread allegations of abuse and trauma have been inflicted on the children in detention. In a January 2019 report, the HSS and the Trump administration admitted that they do not know exactly how many children were separated before or after the “zero tolerance” policy, with the number potentially being significantly higher than previously divulged. HSS also does not have numbers of how many children were returned to their families after being released from detention. The Associated Press and other news agencies have reported that some refugee and immigrant children have been forced into the foster care system, and potentially even adoption, when the government did not reunite them with their parents. In 2018, 49,100 children were detained and then sent through ORR.