The Astrophysics of Spying

In fifty years time, if we haven’t all blown ourselves to pieces and society still manages to function despite the strife over-population and the ultra-extreme weather global warming will undoubtedly bring, we may look back to these unremarkable years as the start of something bad, something rotten, something that would become as malignant as a cancer. Something which, because it went unchecked, slowly consumed what was left of societies integrity and goodness before casting everyone’s Human Right to free speech and privacy into the abyss forever.

The scale of un-checked prying and spying into every aspect of our lives, that most governments now engage in under the all encompassing, yet ultimately amorphous heading of National Security, is becoming quite staggering. And yet this convenient cover, the excuse gifted to them by Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts on that sunny September morning in 2001, is rarely challenged by a population, who feel protected from the monsters their very own leaders have been keen to plant in their minds. However, the truth, if you care to look a bit closer has got little to do with protecting us. Yes it’s about security but it is more about power and about having ultimate control over you and me and everyone.
The case of Edward Snowden in particularly threw a light on the rapacious, almost open cast mining methods some agencies like the US’s National Security Agency – NSA and the UK’s Government Communication Headquarters – GCHQ use to collect information on all of us. Let’s look at some number: When Snowden fled last year there were approximately 30,0000 military and 75,000 civilian contractors working for the NSA. However, if that figure for civilians is expected to exceed 100,000 by the end of next year, imagine the wage bill in Tax dollars for 130,000+ computer specialists and all that equipment? So… can it only ever be about National Security, I mean – really? The FBI who use to look after National Security together with a 1001 other things from tax evasion to tracking down serial killers, manages to do so with a staff of just over 30,000. To put this into further context, the NSA have way, way more staff than most countries national armies, indeed if you stick to Europe, where most countries can finance a reasonable number of active service personnel, Army, Naval and Air-force, you would still need at least 6 or 7 countries to beat the NSA I.e. You could add the services of all of the Scandinavian countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland until you reach the Russian border and still be forced to throw in a couple more like Austria and Ireland to get anywhere near that 130,000 manpower figure. Why?

Still don’t believe something big, something odd is going on? The smoke and mirrors paradox of spying, means nothing is ever quite what it seems so getting any kind of full and frank disclosure is nigh on impossible. However, sometimes when national or international pressure compels a public response, we are afforded a very rare glimpse into their murky world. Recently, the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, insisted in congressional testimony that data about hundreds of millions of European phone calls alleged by several newspapers to have been collected by the US had in fact been handed over to the NSA by European intelligence agencies for the PRISM project. PRISM project. No denial about the fact they now have all of our private and personal data, but handed over? Freely – really? In the shady, favour for a favour underbelly of the world where these agencies operate, nothing is truly free, ever. So what will the NSA, who can compel all US internet providers and mobile phone companies to give them virtually anything they want, by law, have given to these undisclosed European Intelligence Agencies in return? Is it something about you, about me, about all of us?
Internet Privacy
Some of the information this veritable army: code, weight or interpret does, admittedly have a National Security element attached to it – that is after all the only reason many of these agencies where ever allowed to exist in the first place. However, almost as soon as they started sifting through our private information and listening in to our calls, it was discovered that less than a debatable 2% of the information trawled had any obvious National Security value whatsoever. So what could they do – with reputations at stake and a whole new expensive workforce, who had to show something for the billions invested, they couldn’t just scale it all back, which was perhaps the moral thing to do. Instead, it was at this point that creative new ways were imagined of how to use some of the other 98% of data that had very little to do with security, and more about control, tax collection, censorship or illegal population profiling for party political or other purposes. Indeed, similar omnipresent eavesdropping laws, which come under that other old favourite catch all – anti terrorism, where recently used in the UK to arrest someone for dropping litter but they also used the latest surveillance techniques to catch a woman, who persistently let her dog foul pavement – National Security, Terrorism… really?!

Why is so little know about what they are actually doing and why were we almost blissfully unaware of it all until recently? The short answer is that there are too many Government PR machines out there, many of which, will not shy away from using dirty tricks to disprove, crush and discredit any criticism or leaks about what is really going on. They like knowing, they have gotten use to their unrestricted ability to snoop and pry and know everything about us, our habits our ideas our private thoughts, so they will protect their ability to do so, even if it is still technically illegal, seemingly at all costs.

No matter whether you believe he did a good thing or a bad thing, few people would have been surprised if Edward Snowden had disappeared before he emerged at Moscow airport last summer. Similarly, only a minority of people on the street actually believe there is any real substance to the rape allegations, that have pinned Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past year and half. It is not just because of what they have already said, but mainly what they have suggested is going on, and will go on until it is irrevocably proven and stopped: the insatiable collection of our private and personal information for domestic and International purposes, with the ultimate aim of having a digital file record for all of us. Lax security means our health, criminal and employment records are all but public domain already, but then transcripts of every phone call, text, email or social media comment, like, tweet or re-tweet where a single word creates a red flag, together with a comprehensive history of our internet surfing activity and a hundred other things, could eventually be available to anyone with the ability (not necessarily the authority) to pry, but eventually, like most other data our Files will become available to a less secure level of users, or to the highest bidder to be used or abused or traded on.

The fact none of these Spook agencies freely admit to such practice yet, doesn’t mean it can’t exist. To prove it I need to turn to the world of Astrophysics to explain. Dark Matter is a substance that the majority of physicists believe makes up most of the mass of the universe – this despite not so much as a pin heads worth of it ever being detected or reproduced in the laboratory. The same thing for Black Holes – these hugely destructive phenomena have similarly never been seen, although there is little doubt that they exist. And yet we only know they are out there because of what they do to the visible galaxies and stars that surround them. The same thing happens if you consider what we know about the PRISM program, for example, and look more closely at the many things released by Snowden and WikiLeaks as a whole. There is a huge distortion, a WHY distortion surrounding it all that no one is prepared to answer fully – So what is the other massive thing going on that we mere mortals are prevented from knowing, it is certainly not just about National Security, but what is it?

It is something that already affects some of us, but if nothing is done to control it now, it will almost certainly affect all of us – mostly in a negative way – within the next few years and beyond.

Catch the 2nd and Final part next week – until then be safe, be secure, and be careful…