The US government works closely with thousands of corporations to bring you everything from national security to the drivers of climate change. The connections between these entities are diverse and often quite opaque making it difficult for citizens to tell who is really in charge. Is it the corporations with their ultimate responsibility to make a profit for their owners and shareholders, or is it the government with its ultimate responsibility to the electorate? Do the principles of government or business apply to joint decision making processes when government invests in businesses and sits on their boards, or when government agencies have representatives of business sit on task forces and decision making structures?
The economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith wrote, “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
What happens when the interests of business and government so align, that they are fundamentally, “in the same business?”
Disclosures by whistleblowers have led to a heightened interest by the press in these government-corporate linkages particularly in relation to intelligence gathering. Bloomberg recently posted this article which describes in some detail cooperation between government spies and industry:
Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said. …
Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. … Along with the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and branches of the U.S. military have agreements with such companies to gather data that might seem innocuous but could be highly useful in the hands of U.S. intelligence or cyber warfare units, according to the people, who have either worked for the government or are in companies that have these accords. …
Some U.S. telecommunications companies willingly provide intelligence agencies with access to facilities and data offshore that would require a judge’s order if it were done in the U.S., one of the four people said. [hmmm. think carefully about the ramifications of that statement, could the spy agencies just maybe be evading the law on collecting our information by collecting it from outside of our borders? pfffttt]… The extensive cooperation between commercial companies and intelligence agencies is legal and reaches deeply into many aspects of everyday life, though little of it is scrutinized by more than a small number of lawyers, company leaders and spies.
The article also points out the minimal oversight that these programs receive and quotes Senator Rockefeller’s cybersecurity assistant explaining that most congresspeople and their staffs charged with overseeing these programs lack the technical background and expertise to fully understand what they are responsible for overseeing. Further, the article notes that within the companies that are entering into “arrangements” with the government, knowledge of these agreements is very closely held, suggesting that corporate governance structures are undermined and unable to perform their duty to oversee the activities of their corporation or withhold consent in behalf of the (kept in the dark) shareholders for actions taken by management. The secrecy involved creates a situation where loosely supervised government officials are allowed to compel or conspire with corporate chieftains to hijack corporations and undermine democratic governance structures.
Many of the corporations that have cooperated with the government are now, since being exposed, struggling with the public relations fallout that has come from customers finding out that the corporations have helped the government spy on them. Surely they understood this risk, which is why many of these corporations demanded legal immunity for their cooperation.
So what made it worth the risk, because, as the Bloomberg article reveals, much of the participation by these firms was voluntary? From the same article:
Michael Hayden, who formerly directed the National Security Agency and the CIA, described the attention paid to important company partners: “If I were the director and had a relationship with a company who was doing things that were not just directed by law but were also valuable to the defense of the Republic, I would go out of my way to thank them and give them a sense as to why this is necessary and useful.”
Ah, there was a corporate rewards program …
One is left to speculate about what sort of rewards might be handed out to corporations from a government with trillions of dollars to spend. They probably aren’t just giving out key chains and coffee mugs. Hmmm … Facebook cooperates with the NSA. Was its precipitous rise in the market due to Zuckerberg’s ideas and business acumen or … something else?
The government has a lot of money to throw around and not only rewards corporations for cooperating, it uses those rewards to obtain a degree of control of those corporations. Complicit corporations willing to play ball stand to gain a lot from the deal.
If we’ve learned anything in the past few days it’s that the NSA does precious little of its own spying, relying instead on companies like Palantir and Booz Allen Hamilton. Indeed, Palantir is just one of dozens — hundreds? — of Silicon Valley companies developing and operating the tools used by intelligence agencies like the NSA. …
As the Financial Times’ April Dembosky reminds us, the relationship between the Valley and Homeland Security is nothing new. The Internet started out as a government project, designed to keep communication lines open in the event of a nuclear attack. In 1999 the CIA established In-Q-Tel, a venture capital fund to invest in technology companies that might be useful to the folks in Langley or Fort Meade.
A look at In-Q-Tel’s board of trustees shows how close the relationship between the geeks and the sneaks has become. The board is almost indistinguishable from that of a major Valley VC firm: Jim Barksdale former CEO and President of Netscape sits next to Howard Cox of Greylock, sits next to Ted Schley of KPMG… sits across from David E. Jeremiah, the Chairman of Wackenhut Services Inc and AB “Buzzy” Krongard, Former Executive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. …
In-Q-Tel’s highest profile investment is Palantir – the data mining firm founded with additional money from Valley uber-Libertarian Peter Thiel – but the venture firm’s entire portfolio includes over 100 companies, all reflecting the CIA’s current big obsessions: “big data,” video surveillance and encryption.
In addition to investing in corporations and placing NSA governors on their boards, the government awards contracts to these corporations, effectively making them a closed loop of virtually guaranteed profits for those participating or co-investing. As this article points out, the NSA and Silicon Valley are in the same business:
When Max Kelly, the chief security officer for Facebook, left the social media company in 2010, he did not go to Google, Twitter or a similar Silicon Valley concern. Instead the man who was responsible for protecting the personal information of Facebook’s more than one billion users from outside attacks went to work for another giant institution that manages and analyzes large pools of data: the National Security Agency.
Mr. Kelly’s move to the spy agency, which has not previously been reported, underscores the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the agency and the degree to which they are now in the same business. Both hunt for ways to collect, analyze and exploit large pools of data about millions of Americans.
The only difference is that the N.S.A. does it for intelligence, and Silicon Valley does it to make money. … To get their hands on the latest software technology to manipulate and take advantage of large volumes of data, United States intelligence agencies invest in Silicon Valley start-ups, award classified contracts and recruit technology experts like Mr. Kelly.
Despite the companies’ assertions that they cooperate with the agency only when legally compelled, current and former industry officials say the companies sometimes secretly put together teams of in-house experts to find ways to cooperate more completely with the N.S.A. and to make their customers’ information more accessible to the agency. … The sums the N.S.A. spends in Silicon Valley are classified, as is the agency’s total budget, which independent analysts say is $8 billion to $10 billion a year.
I guess it’s time to start looking at the statements about the “libertarian culture” of the capitalists from Silicon Valley with a little more scrutiny. It appears that we should probably also start thinking of them more as “welfare queens” than bold, self-made men. Perhaps their true genius is as con men who create compelling containers for our personal data which they then deliver to the government surreptitiously.
All sorts of corporate rewards available
The government is endlessly resourceful in rewarding corporations for their cooperation. Imagine how valuable it was to cooperating financial institutions to be able to have a domestic intelligence and police force at their beck and call to suppress their critics who were demanding that (gasp) bankers who had committed crimes and fraudulently enriched themselves and their institutions be prosecuted.
[T]he documents … show that the FBI and American intelligence agencies were monitoring and reporting on Occupy Wall Street before the first tent even went up in Zuccotti Park. The documents that we have been able to obtain show the FBI communicating with the New York Stock Exchange in August of 2011 about the upcoming Occupy demonstrations, about plans for the protests. It shows them meeting with or communicating with private businesses. And throughout the materials, there is repeated evidence of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, American intelligence agencies really working as a private intelligence arm for corporations, for Wall Street, for the banks, for the very entities that people were rising up to protest against.
It seems that any cooperating corporation can ask the government to quell its critics and help insure its profits by labelling its critics as terrorists:
It’s often difficult to gauge just how much fear activists instill in the powers that be. But on Wednesday, environmental activists protesting the Keystone XL pipeline saw firsthand how much TransCanada, the corporation in charge of the pipeline, is shaking in its boots.
Bold Nebraska, a grassroots landowner advocacy group, obtained TransCanada’s presentation slides (below) via a Freedom of Information Act request to the Nebraska State Patrol. These slides revealed that TransCanada provided training to both federal and local police forces on how to crack down on environmental activists, even going so far as to train them to arrest the activists under anti-terrorism statutes.
Lauren Regan, legal coordinator for Tar Sands Blockade and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center said, “This is clear evidence of the collusion between TransCanada and the federal government assisting local police to unlawfully monitor and harass political protestors.”
This business of suppressing citizen protest looks to be an important profit center for the future growth of the government-corporate cooperative sector.
The future, brought to you by military contractors
Not surprisingly, cooperating corporations are deeply involved in the collection and analysis of intelligence. The are also involved in “help[ing] military and civilian leaders envision the future.”
What kind of future?
It appears that the future they’re helping the military and their civilian leaders envision is a dystopia where the services of firms like Booz Allen Hamilton will be essential to the
survival of the military and civilian power structure national security security of the “homeland.”
Based on war games and other future predictions that have been presented by corporations like Booz Allen Hamilton to Pentagon planners and other government figures, the government is planning for 3 kinds of crises:
Why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.
For its help in “envisioning the future,” Booz Allen Hamilton will be richly rewarded:
Booz Allen Hamilton, has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States. …
In January, Booz Allen announced that it was starting work on a new contract worth perhaps as much as $5.6 billion over five years to provide intelligence analysis services to the Defense Department. Under the deal, Booz Allen employees are being assigned to help military and national security policy makers, the company said.
Ironically, Booz Allen Hamilton and the other contractors helping government “envision” the future are merely presenting the predictable consequences of government policies created by the ruling elites.
Government’s failure to regulate the too-big-to-fail banks will predictably lead to another economic collapse. Why hasn’t this banking debacle been investigated, prosecuted and set straight? The ruling elites don’t want that to happen.
Government’s failure to create and implement a sane and sustainable energy policy will predictably lead to resource shocks.
failure subversion of global climate change agreements:
Here is grassroots campaign 350.org’s founder Bill McKibben on why “Copenhagen failed spectacularly”: “Neither China nor the United States, which between them are responsible for 40 percent of global carbon emissions, was prepared to offer dramatic concessions, and so the conference drifted aimlessly for two weeks until world leaders jetted in for the final day. Amid considerable chaos, President Obama took the lead in drafting a face-saving ‘Copenhagen Accord’ that fooled very few. Its purely voluntary agreements committed no one to anything, and even if countries signaled their intentions to cut carbon emissions, there was no enforcement mechanism.”
In Durban, the United States refused to agree to action to take place soon, instead pushing for implementation of an agreement in 2020, which Jamie Henn, McKibben’s associate, wrote, “isn’t just a delay, it’s a death sentence.” Wrote Henn of the United States’ posture in Durban, “the only thing the U.S. brought to the table was a wrecking ball.”
President Obama has steadily undermined international efforts to confront the gravest global concern, lied about it, distracted from it and gotten away with it.
will predictably lead to climate change disasters.
Government policy exacerbates the underlying problems that create the potential for the sorts of disasters that Booz Allen Hamilton and other military contractors help government officials “envision.” It is pretty safe to guess that these contractors are not urging the government to change its policies to create a sane and sustainable economy, energy or climate policy. Rather, they are proposing military “solutions” to the also predictable consequence that citizens will be upset and demanding that the government that has wrought this destruction make things right.
“Federal military commanders have the authority, in extraordinary emergency circumstances where prior authorization by the President is impossible and duly constituted local authorities are unable to control the situation, to engage temporarily in activities that are necessary to quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances.”
These contractors are proposing that military “solutions” are needed to “protect the national security.” But it’s not really national security, it’s the ruling elite that are going to be protected from the natural consequences of their greed and mismanagement by this planning. They will be protected from the American people who, when they get uppity about elite governance failures are increasingly described and treated as terrorists.
“DoD might be forced by circumstances to put its broad resources at the disposal of civil authorities to contain and reverse violent threats to domestic tranquility. Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance.”
In the future, you will probably be a terrorist
Want to stop climate change? You might be a terrorist. Concerned that Wall Street crime wave is destroying the economy? You might be a terrorist. Tired of endless wars of choice that are draining our treasury while enriching the military industrial complex? You might be a terrorist. Thinking about becoming a Quaker? You might be a terrorist. Have you expressed dismay about the misplaced priorities of government, disinvesting in education while investing in prisons? You might be a terrorist. Are you one of the regular folks who will get sort of uppity if there are food, water or other life essentials shortages? You might be a terrorist.
Still reading this article? There’s a record of that somewhere; you might be a terrorist.
A terrorist is someone who obstructs corporate profit
For example, Transcanada, the company building the Keystone XL pipeline segment that Obama has approved, has in cooperation with the government labeled activists as terrorists while at the same time suing them for lost profits.
Transcanada has performed the seemingly impossible, they took terrorists to court and then entered into a legal settlement with them. You’d think that terrorists might not be the sort to show up in court. I guess Transcanada is soft on terror because they (wait for it) “negotiate with terrorists.”
Corporations and the Divine Right to Profit
The ruling elites have already reached a consensus around a delusional belief in a sort of “divine right to profit,” that neoliberal free traders (including Obama) seek to enshrine in so-called Free Trade Agreements:
The U.S. has made one of the major planks of the TPP the expansion of the notorious “investor-state” enforcement system. It allows foreign corporations to challenge national laws and regulations outside of national courts. These pacts elevate individual corporations and investors to equal standing with agreements’ signatory governments, empowering corporations to directly enforce public treaties by suing governments in foreign tribunals for taxpayer compensation for domestic regulatory policies that investors believe diminish their “expected future profits.” These regulatory policies can be anything from environmental protection to financial regulation.
If a corporation wins its private enforcement case, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. Over $350 million in compensation has already been paid out to corporations in a series of investor-state cases under NAFTA-style deals. This includes attacks on natural resource policies, environmental protection and health and safety measures, and more. In fact, of the over $12.5 billion in the 17 pending claims under NAFTA-style deals, all relate to environmental, public health and transportation policy – not traditional trade issues.
This investor-state enforcement allows the corporation to sue not only for losses, but also for the “loss” of anticipated profits!
With this sort of belief floating around like sugar plum fairies in the heads of cooperating government and capitalist exploiters, it’s not surprising that they see people who practice direct action and non-violent civil disobedience, or worse, inspire others to resist in contravention to their god-given right to profit as dangerous.
Photo by Paul Williams released under a Creative Commons license.
The 1% have a delusional belief in their “divine rights” and an enormous military (that you kindly arm and staff for them) to enforce their delusions. Their demands are driving our economy into the ditch, our environment to destruction.
We are hurtling along on greased rails to your dystopian future of collapse and calamity, followed by military “solutions,” brought to you by the union of corporation and state.