The Wall Street Bull statue

Why not spy on Wall Street?

Tim Shorrock explains the general nature of the surveillance state in this post in Salon. The most interesting part is the ability of the government and its private business partners to analyze vast amounts of data in real time.

In April, I wrote about one of those companies, Palantir Technologies Inc., in Salon. It sells a powerful line of data-mining and analysis software that maps out human social networks that would be extremely useful to NSA analysts trying to make sense of all the telephone and Internet data downloaded from Verizon and nine Internet companies that was described in the latest blockbuster stories in the Guardian and the Post.

‘Their bread and butter is mapping disparate networks in real time,’ a former military intelligence officer who has used Palantir software told me. ‘It creates a spatial understanding that can be easily used by analysts.’ (See the detailed profile of Palantir I posted on my website last Friday.)

This software could be used to look at money laundering. It would make it possible to see in real time how money is moving around in the banking system. We could use it to spy on drug money, terrorist financing, and black market arms sales. With a few tweaks, we could use it to watch derivatives traders cheating people, rich people moving their money around in tax havens, Ponzi Schemes, and filthy practices like those alleged in a recent complaint against Zions Bank of Salt Lake City.

Wouldn’t you love to see the Palantir software take a look at Mitt Romney’s money in the Cayman Islands? Wouldn’t you like to know who is getting money from the Koch Brothers? Wouldn’t it be fun to see how the creepy Walton heirs use the money they hoover up from their employees? We could find out who is moving money to Mexican Drug Cartels, and what they do with it, how corrupt dictators hide the money they steal from their countries, and where they buy the guns they use to keep power.

Many of our fellow citizens tell us they have nothing to hide, so why not let the government spy on them. The bedwetters among us don’t really care about privacy matters. As between terrorists and banksters, who causes more damage to them? Banks facilitate everything they are afraid of, and a lot more, like wrecking the economy and the political process. Exposing the money flows will do a lot more to protect us against organized crime and terror and financial crime than anything else I can think of.

It won’t happen. It’s better for oligarchs the way it is. They don’t want you to know how closely their money flows resemble those of the Russian Mafia, the drug cartels and black market arms dealers. They’ll hire their lobbyists to whisper in the ears of their favorite lawmakers about how this will be bad for business and banks, accompanied by some additional campaign cash.

And we’d know about this little exchange immediately if we had financial surveillance that worked like the surveillance of your phone calls and internet usage.

Photo by David Paul Ohmer released under a Creative Commons license.