Privacy, Control & the Darknet

Out of the periphery of most online users, there’s a vast, hidden space used by people who want to remain anonymous, which filmmaker Alex Winter explores in his documentary Deep Web. The film focuses on the Silk Road, a black market hosted on the Darknet using bitcoin cryptocurrency, and the trial of Ross Ulbricht, who was given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for creating and hosting the site.

Abby Martin and Alex Winter discuss more about the Deep Web, the Drug War, and why encryption on things like signal still matter in light of the Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release.

Privacy, Control & the Darknet

Do you think you know how the internet really works? Do you have an understanding of how to keep yourself safe in the age of mass surveillance and data mining?

The internet that most users are aware of is vast and seemingly limitless. But beyond this everyday space is an expansive dark space never seen by the ordinary world and utilized by users who wish to remain anonymous for a host of reasons. This mysterious space is not indexed by search engines and only seen by internet users who have the tools and knowledge to access it.

This often misunderstood space is referred to the Deep Web, Dark Web, and Darknet though these names have different meanings and are often misused. Think of the World Wide Web as the tip of the internet iceberg. Below that is the Deep Web–  the vast space hidden beneath the surface that is largely meaningless to most people. Within the Deep Web is where private networks not accessible to search engines and users without permission are located and where things such as banking data and administrative code are found. Conversely, the Darknet is much smaller– it is an encrypted network requiring specific tools to access it. This is where the Tor network is and thus where the Silk Road was found.

Not everything happening on the Darknet is illegal. Tor allows users to browse the internet anonymously as well as access hidden places that are unique to the Darknet. While it’s true that the Silk Road was accessed via the Tor browser, not all of the content in the Darknet is illegal and not every Tor user has criminal intent. Within the Darknet is where many political dissidents, journalists and others who value their anonymity can be found.

In fact, Tor was funded by the U.S. government and created for the U.S. Navy as a means for the intelligence community to have a specific place for encrypted communication. In order for that encrypted communication network to be practical, the network needed additional users and more traffic, so it was introduced to the public. Only a small percentage of the activities taking places on the Darknet are actually nefarious.

Filmmaker Alex Winter’s documentary, Deep Web, explores the history of the Silk Road. Ross Ulbricht created the Silk Road, garnering the name from the ancient trade route across Asia. Eventually Ulbricht was given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for his involvement in the Silk Road, the anonymous community that facilitated the sale of numerous illegal items and services, namely illicit drugs. Winter’s previous documentaries also focus on government persecution of web pioneers.

In Deep Web, Winter highlights what the Silk Road was– including the unique and unusual anonymous community that it fostered and the obvious bias against the activities taking place on, as well as the users of, the Darknet. Despite having been created by the U.S. government, the empire pushes a negative narrative of the space, perceiving the existence of a drug community in direct opposition to their Drug War and the use of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, as direct threats.

In this illuminating interview, Abby Martin and Winter also discuss the need to remain safe in the digital age by keep data and communications private in an ever increasingly surveilled world. As Winter explains, anyone saying that privacy is not necessary and that encryption is only for criminals is doing a major disservice. Winter adds that privacy is a must in the digital space just like it is needed in the physical space.


Abby Martin: It’s hard to imagine life without the internet. But for a technology so pervasive in our lives, we know surprisingly little about how it works, or more importantly how to protect ourselves in the digital space, in the age of mass surveillance and data mining. Out of the periphery or most online users, there’s a vast hidden space in the ether used by hacktivists, drug dealers and anyone else who wants to remain anonymous. It’s called the Dark Web, a sub-sect of which filmmaker Alex Winter explores in his new documentary, Deep Web.The film focuses on the philosophy and trial of the Silk Road, a black market using bitcoin crypto-currency hosted on the Dark Net. Adopted from the famous drug route across Asia, the Silk Road was created by young computer prodigy Ross Ulbricht, who called himself Dread Pirate Roberts. Ross started the Darknet project with the intention to radically confront the power establishment by circumventing the drug war, but ended up being made a public example of. Given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole.With such an unprecedented punishment, obviously there was more to the story. Alex Winter, also an actor and privacy advocate attended Ross Ulbricht’s trial. Winter’s a longtime internet activist who has documented government persecution of web pioneers in multiple films included Downloaded about Napster, Relatively Free about Barrett Brown and now Deep Web, exploring the many precedents set by the Silk Road case.I sat down with Alex Winter to discuss more about the Deep Web, the Silk Road and why encryption on things like signal still matter in light of the Wikileaks vault seven release. So your film Deep Web obviously covers so much ground in telling the story of Silk Road. It was also narrated by Keanu Reeves, which was really cool. Your counterpart in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Alex Winter: Yeah.

AM: Let’s start with the basics, because this is a really hard topic for someone to delve into who doesn’t know anything about the Deep Web. What is the Deep Web? What’s on it? How big is it?

AW: Okay, that’s a really good question, because there’s a lot of misinformation around it like there is around anything involving cryptography and people who want privacy and anonymity in the digital space. So the Deep Web only refers to essentially technical gack. It’s just what’s under the hood of the internet. It’s un-indexed content. So it’s stuff that people aren’t interested in indexing, which mostly means banking data, the flotsam that flies around the internet that needs to exist there, but does not need to be indexed for any reason, code, that type of thing. And that’s gigantic. It’s just noise.What happened was, there was an area called the Darknet. The Deep Web is very, very big, right? There’s an area called the Darknet that’s very, very small. And that’s where people actually commune. And so what cryptographers did over the years, is they drilled their way into this little space and they created tools like a browser called Tor, which has its own hidden service within the Darknet. And you can use Tor, that’s where the Silk Road black market showed up. And you can use it to communicate with other people. And it has an onion suffix instead of a .com suffix. And that’s essentially hidden away from public viewing.That was initially created, even Tor itself was funded initially by the US government, the navy. But it was initially created mostly for intelligence communication that they wanted to be encrypted. But the way encryption works, if you’re the only one on the wire, then everyone knows you’re on the wire. Right? So the intelligence community didn’t want to be the only ones in the Darknet, the only people talking. If two guys with a styrofoam cup and a string, and there’s no one else there, they’re like, “Oh, that’s where the two guys from the NSA are, because there’s no one else there.”They let that technology go out into the public. They wanted to populate that space, because then they can live amongst the noise. So it’s the simplest way I can put it. It’s a little complicated. But Deep Web is big and vast and meaningless for the average person. Darknet is teeny weeny and has things going on in it like intelligence people, people who just want to have privacy online. And people selling drugs and contraband and things like the Silk Road.

AM: Dissidents, journalists use it for these reasons too, so it’s not this nefarious criminal enterprise.

AW: Oh, not at all.

AM: A lot of good things happening-

AW: Not only is it not just nefarious, but it’s like looking at Manhattan and saying that Manhattan is a haven for drugs because there’s an alleyway where someone’s selling drugs. The large percentile of what’s going on on the Darknet isn’t crime related. It’s journalism, intelligence community communications. It doesn’t get publicized, because those people want privacy. So there was a very loud, and still to some degree is, noisy bias against the Darknet saying, “Oh, it’s all bad. It’s all drugs. It’s all guns.” But it ignores the fact that the people that are not doing those things don’t want to advertise. So they’re not making noise about being there.

AM: What was different about Silk Road when it first came into fruition, because it certainly wasn’t the first online marketplace for drugs and et cetera.

AW: No. I mean the internet has been driven by porn and drugs since there was an internet. And so there were drugs online at the very beginning of the internet, pre-web. The Silk Road was watershed. This was why I wanted to make a movie about it, because as far as the public or the DOJ or the government waking up to it was concerned, it was watershed because when it was created, it was combining Tor, which was this way to get into Tor hidden services with bitcoin, which was viewed as anonymous form of currency. By combining those two things, it attracted an enormous user base. So people started using it like crazy. And that’s why it scaled in a technical terms. That’s why it caught the eye of the DEA and places like that. And it also started to get press.I think Adrian Chen in Gawker did a big article on it. It grew because it got press. And people started saying, “Oh, there’s this crazy community where people are exchanging drugs and all kinds of stuff.” So that made the government take notice. There are many reasons why the government took notice that are not obvious, which is what I wanted to get into in my film. And there are also many things about the Silk Road that are not obvious, which is what I wanted to get into in the film. So, to the public, the Silk Road was watershed, because, oh my god. You could buy heroin online, which you always could, but now it’s much easier, click of a button, whatever. To me what was watershed about the Silk Road was it was the first time in history that you had a large scale anonymous online community. And that matters. And that changed a lot permanently.I had made a movie before Deep Web called downloaded about Napster. And my perspective on Napster was similar, which was that Napster was the first time in history that you had the first large scale online community period. It was the first time that you had 50-100 million simultaneous users moving through one central database, which again, it changed the world.So I was very interested in the Silk Road when I learned about it, because when I got on the Silk Road before it got shut down. I didn’t care about drugs. I was there seeing that there were tens of thousands of people with anonymous user names in an anonymous community communicating about politics, philosophy, literature, drugs, whatever. There had never been anything really quite like that before and an anonymous environment. And that was, to me very striking.

AM: Your movie really, really does depict that other side of it that you obviously don’t hear in the press. It’s painted as this crazy, criminal conspiracy with Ross was a murderous scumbag who deserves to be locked away for life. But really your movie paints it as this beautiful organic thing that, especially in today’s day and age, good god. I mean nothing’s anonymous. So I could see the attraction of course. I wanted to talk more about these founding principles that Dread Pirate Roberts had and the site had, because I really do think that is the underpinning threat to the empire.

AW: Yeah, it’s threatening on a number of levels. The thing for me is that I first got interested in the internet in the late ’80s. And I got interested because A, I knew my way around technology. And I found this community there. And the community was very fascinating. It was what was called the BBS era, so you had all these different, all newsgroups. And you had what was called the alt section, which was like alt rec book, alt rec philosophy, alt rec art, alt rec drugs, alt rec sex. Everything you could possibly imagine, everyone was using anonymous user names and communicating and sharing data and media and all kinds of stuff. It was an amazing community. It was small. It was tens of thousands of people, but it was not millions of people.And I found that really striking then. And it seemed like the beginning of something. There was a movement. For me, Napster was this huge boulder in the water, because now it was like, “Okay, now this is the democratization of culture. And what I noticed about Napster, which is why I sought out Shawn Fanning and wanted to make a movie about him then, which I did. I actually sought him out in 2000. The pushback against Napster was mythologized and I could tell that then, because I was a Napster user. So every time someone went on TV and said, Napster bad, you’re just pirates. Whatever. And I was thinking, “Well, I’m not a pirate. And most people that I know on Napster aren’t pirates. That doesn’t mean there aren’t pirates there.” Right? But the majority of the people I knew in the community were not there to pirate.I started scratching my head going, “What is this pushback about?” And then you started investigating the RIA, the Record Industry Association and their relationships in DC and the threat. And it’s a funny thing, because like you said about the Silk Road. Yes, you have drugs, and you have bitcoin. You have all this stuff. And libertarians and anarchists and they’re openly talking about dismantling the system. That’s an obvious threat, but Napster was a huge threat to the power structure. And you weren’t getting that kind of blatant discourse. But they were terrified of it. And they were going to exterminate these guys to the fullest extent that they could and brand them in the public as evil, pirate people, an image I think they still have not really been able to shake.When I saw the Silk Road, I realized it was the same thing, that whatever Ross’ motives were, and this is not to exonerate him. But whatever his motives were, clearly in his political views, in his own personal history, he was looking to create a massive safe haven online anonymous community where all of these ideas could be discussed. Whether people’s motives got corrupted, whatever, the reality of it is is the Silk Road was, at it’s heart a community mostly of pretty radical political thinkers and not of one stripe. Ross has libertarian leanings. Other people had hard core anarchist leanings. It was a genuinely democratized community. And it was an amazing place to wade around in. The conversations, these were really bright people.

AM: Yeah.

Alex Winter: And then you just had people there that would just buy weed or whatever. I mean that existed too obviously.

AM: No, I mean it’s incredible because like the documentary mentions, even though you had all these people, different radical political bents, everyone galvanized around the idea that the drug war is horribly detrimental to the society and that drugs should be obviously decriminalized at the very least.

AW: In the Silk Road case, the Silk Road was immediately built up as this much bigger thing, right? It immediately struck me that something was rotten in Denmark when it was like, billions of dollars in sales. Well that’s not true. This amount of users. That’s totally not true. I mean it had made an impact, but it was, in the scheme of things, a little weeny website and this very tiny section of the internet that nobody goes to and most people couldn’t figure out how to use even if they wanted to go there. And all the numbers were getting super inflated. But then you look at the drug war and you look at the existential existence of the DEA and the FBI and the amount of money, the prison system. And you’re dealing with a massive amount of power that is threatened by, not just the idea of what the Silk Road represents, which is the democratization, as you said, of people who want to talk against the drug war.But what’s worse, I think what was scarier for them, which is what happened with Napster, was they saw the future. Obviously, the internet is going to be where drugs were sold. Obviously, the drug war is all about criminalization and not about medical help and treatment. Obviously, these people’s budgets are funded on the basis of this continuing and they would lose their funding if it stopped continuing. So the threat level was on so many different levels. Then you get Ross, moved from San Francisco to the southern district of New York. And when that happened, we all knew he was screwed, because then you add on to that the financial regulation concerns around bitcoin, which is all centered around the southern district, that’s Wall Street. That’s their beat.So Ross just found himself jammed in the middle of surveillance operatives. He was breaking the cryptography rules and bitcoin, people were terrified on Wall Street about where bitcoin was going, especially in those days, they thought it was going to upend Wall Street, which is absurd. But they were going after him, you had the drug war people. They are going after him. And so it was just a perfect storm.

AM: The media floated around murder for hire theories that convicted Ross in the court of public opinion before the trial even happened. Yet, as Alex notes, he was never charged for them. Thoroughly demonized in the public, he was swiftly convicted of every crime committed by everyone on the site. The judge handed down a double life sentence without the possibility of parole. The FBI sting agents themselves were using the Silk Road to steal money during the operation. Shawn Bridges stole $800,000 in bitcoin, while informant Carl Forest siphoned $50,000. They also broke the law by hacking Ross’ computer without a warrant and using that evidence to arrest him.

AW: The idea that they just gave him that sentence because they were thinking of the children, which is how it was presented, the children, the children, is absurd. The Silk Road was a honey pot almost from the beginning. The feds were all up inside it. An enormous amount of the hard drugs that were being sold were being sold by federal law enforcement, both corrupt and straight up law enforcement. So a lot of the deaths that they were attributing to Ross were really directly attributable to different people of law enforcement agencies. So the hypocrisy was just staggering.And for me, what was cut and dried was very simple which was, and this is the way I looked at it for the film, even if Ross was guilty of every single thing they claimed he had done, including the murders for hire scam. None of those charges merit a double life sentence without the possibility of parole. They just don’t. So it was somewhat of what I watched happen with Napster. It was a successful spin job in the sense that enough stuff got waved around and the children and all of that stuff that they always pull out, that the general public sentiment was like, “Screw them.” Basically, just whatever. And to me, that was a very strong indication of the politics of the case, of what they had at stake, what they felt an example they needed to make of him, how threatened they are by cryptography and anonymity and privacy and bitcoin and whatever. The over severity of the sentence to me was a tipping of their hand.Honestly, when I went to the sentencing, even though I wouldn’t have agreed with it, had they given him 8-10 years based on drug kingpin charges, which is what the heaviest charge was, which was …Silk Road didn’t have drug kingpins. It was tiny. But it’s a little hard to argue with that given the potentiality of what the crimes were even though I may not have agreed with it.But the double life sentence was just a tipping of the hand. It was so absurd and so completely unfair, that it makes you have to ask why they felt the need to hang him in that way.

AM: And also circumvent the law several times doing so.

AW: Completely.

AM: Amazingly, like you said, there’s other Silk Roads resurrected. You can’t kill the idea. Aaron Swartz is another computer genius who posed a serious threat to corporate and government control. As a passionate activist for net freedom, Swartz believed that information should be free, especially when it’s paid for by the taxpayer. His so called crime was simply downloading academic journals out of reach to most people who don’t pay hundreds of dollars in fees to universities they fund with their taxes. The empire tried to crush him for it. He faced $1 million dollars in fines and up to 35 years in prison, essentially a life sentence. Exasperated and depressed, Aaron took his own life. According to Swartz’s dad, Aaron was killed by the US government. Let’s move on to Aaron Swartz, because this is another prodigy who helped create open source technology. I wanted you to comment on that, because this is another person that the hammer came down so hard. Of course, we know what happened to him, the tragic suicide. Why was he such a threat? Why is open source technology such a threat?

AW: The words open source are terrifying to controlling interests whether it’s business or government. And there are some bad actors in those communities that will do anything to maintain control in a world where it’s very difficult to maintain control. There’s always this need to try to hang a label on something and then hammer it into the ground publicly. And Swartz, that’s what happened to him was he was not just an open source guy. He was one of the heads of a big activism organizations. He was a very charismatic leader. He was very well spoken. He was very articulate. He was very effective. He was a trifecta of threat. He was technologically adept. He was aggressively effective in his activism. And he was forward thinking in terms of politics and the machinery of, he was big into campaign fraud and voter/election fraud and the corruption. And what became the post-citizens united world.So he would have been on many lists for those reasons. Then eventually, you’re looking at these lists going, “Wow, he’s on this list, and he’s on this list.” So he’s like, this is a bad person. This is someone that is a threat to us. It would be helpful for us to, if not put him in jail for a little bit of time, at least scare the shit out of him by coming at him with an enormous charge of prison time. And that’s a very common DOJ tactic.

AM: The Wikileaks recent Vault 7 release. I’m sure that you have been following it closely. The CIA has its own NSA style apparatus, totally unaccountable to everyone that it can do direct hacking into peoples devices, turn on microphones and turn into listening devices. What do you think this means? And also what will it do to the cryptography movement?

Alex Winter: If you’re using signal for instance. If you’re not a CIA target or whatever government target, because it’s obviously not just the US. That intelligence community have not hacked your phone. And it takes a lot to be a target on that level. Bt if they’ve hacked your phone, the way encryption works, if they own your box, as they say, it doesn’t matter what technology you’re using, because they’re sucking down your data before you encrypt it. And they’re reading the stuff that you get after you encrypt it, because they’re sitting on your shoulder watching what you’re doing through your technology.That’s different than encryption. Encryption, if you’re not owned, which is a far greater of population of people who want to remain anonymous, journalists, dissidents, whoever, my kids for instance. I try to tell them to use this stuff. And you’re not owned, then that encryption is absolutely working and there is no evidence today that that has been broken. There is no evidence that suggests that they can read my signal communications or even some of my iMessage communications if they don’t own the box itself, either my phone or my laptop.However, that being said, Snowden warned about this years ago now. I think many of us who deal with encryption or who are dealing sometimes with sensitive material have always taken it at face value that if somebody really wanted to get our material, they could. It’s negligent to assume, whether US state, actors or other intelligence operatives from other countries. I think it’s naïve to assume that if you are really a hard target that they’re not going to be getting into your system somehow. And you look at like what happened to Podesta whether you’re a tinfoil hat wearer or not, there’s a basic phishing scam. Operational security is really hard. And there’s no easy fix for it. There’s no app that just suddenly makes you secure. It’s a mindset.

AM: Well, it’s a fascinating schism right now. And it’s kind of like, where do we go from here, because you have the government that created these technologies. Of course, they’ve gotten so out of control out of their hands. And they don’t understand them anymore, like you said. It’s basically like hackers are on the forefront and on the edge of the technology and one step ahead of the government, whether it be Snowden or Barrett Brown or Aaron Swartz. Where do you see it going from here especially in light of the Russia hacking hysteria? Because on one hand, you can have just a claim based on nothing and we don’t have to prove it because it’s all in the ether. On the other hand, it’s almost like the faith of the world is put into the hacking community to try to save us from ourselves.

Alex Winter: Thankfully, the large percentage of the hacking community functions from a basic, there’s a reason you drive down the highway and people aren’t just constantly shooting each other and smashing into each other and driving into the median. We have to take it at face value that the large part of people who are brilliant enough to be very, very good at hacking have some form of moral compass. And if they don’t, that they’re going to get outmatched by those that do. Cryptography keeps getting better. I think that the Snowden revelations were such an important and necessary thing for the public to start to wrap its head around, because it’s not, as you said earlier, it’s exactly right. If you don’t allow people to go dark, if you penetrate the citizens’ ability to protect themselves, you are making them vulnerable and yourself vulnerable to bad actors. You are weakening the security of the internet. So it was vitally important that the average person has some understanding that they’re being surveilled and that they need some form of privacy.There’s no doubt, we’re going to have to move into the world that includes the ability to go dark. That’s very scary to law enforcement. I understand why. If I’m in law enforcement, yes. I want to be able to open anyone’s door. And I don’t want anyone to have blinds on their windows, because they could be committing a crime. My job’s a lot easier if I can watch them do everything.Unfortunately, it falls on the average citizen to know a little bit more about how their technology works than they may want to. Or a little bit more about what this stuff means. I think that for me, it’s a philosophical mindset. I think that if your government or your corporation or your mom or your kid or whoever is telling you that privacy is unnecessary and encryption is for people who are criminals are doing you a disservice. I think it’s more, really a shift of mindset. I think it’s understanding that you must have privacy in the digital space just like you demand it in the physical space. And I would say moreso.I would say, we’re not all Emma Watson or people who literally have all their naked pictures hacked. It’s funny, but the reality of it is, is it’s just as easy to get your stuff as it is to get their stuff. And you don’t know whose hands that stuff’s going to end up in. You don’t know who’s going to end up with pictures of your kids. You don’t know what they’re going to do with those pictures of your kids. There are very bad people out there. Your banking information, your entire medical history. We just got this, I think most of us can agree, a fairly wonky political administration at the moment, right? A few years ago, people were like, “Well, why do I care about my government?” And now a lot of those people are going, “Oh, holy … I don’t want this administration coming after me because they have anti-Islamic tendencies or whatever crazy prejudices they have. Now suddenly, I’m a target.” It’s like all the people who voted for Trump now whose husbands and wives are being deported. We didn’t think we were the ones that were going to get … Right?

AM: Right. That’s the bad guys.

Alex Winter: Yeah. Exactly. The digital space is the same where you can suddenly, if your information is all freely there, you don’t know what someone is going to do with it. And what administration is going to do with it. So people, it’s a mindset, have to think a bit more prudently about how they protect themselves online.

FOLLOW // @AbbyMartin & @AlxWinter


Terms and Conditions May Apply: Dangers of Corporate Surveillance

Robbie Martin talks to Cullen Hoback, privacy advocate and creator of Terms and Conditions May Apply, a must-watch documentary about digital privacy rights, corporate/government spying collusion and the data mining economy of corporate surveillance.

Terms and Conditions May Apply premiered a few months before the world learned Edward Snowden’s name. Following the leaks, Cullen’s thesis was emboldened, so he added an addendum contextualizing them.

Watch the trailer:

Terms and Conditions May Apply


Be sure to listen to our previous Media Roots Radio episode ‘Occupy Silicon Valley‘ for more information on the history of Silicon Valley and why there is so much missing outrage over private sector spying.

If you would like to directly download the podcast click the down arrow icon on the right of the Soundcloud display. To hide the comments to enable easier rewind and fast forward, click on the icon on the very bottom right.

This Media Roots podcast is the product of many long hours of hard work and love. If you want to encourage our voice, please consider supporting us as we continue to speak from outside party lines. Even the smallest donations help us with operating costs.

Listen to all previous episodes of Media Roots Radio here.

Follow Robbie @fluorescentgrey

Media Roots Radio – Occupy Silicon Valley & the Missing Outrage Over Private Sector Spying

Abby and Robbie Martin discuss the potentiality of an ‘Occupy Silicon Valley’ protest movement in a similar mold to ‘Occupy Oakland’ taking place in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. They address the ethical issues revolving around tech-companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Soundcloud and debunk the notion that private corporations will install privacy safeguards on their own without the pressure of public consumer outrage. Robbie goes into the history of Silicon Valley’s roots, which tie directly to the Pentagon’s post-WWII defense industry private sector push.

Watch Robbie Martin talk about Facebook’s new police force and why Occupy Wall Street should take on Silicon Valley on Breaking the Set:


Robbie Martin Breaks the Set on Occupy Silicon Valley 


If you would like to directly download the podcast click the down arrow icon on the right of the Soundcloud display. To hide the comments to enable easier rewind and fast forward, click on the icon on the very bottom right.

This Media Roots podcast is the product of many long hours of hard work and love. If you want to encourage our voice, please consider supporting us as we continue to speak from outside party lines. Even the smallest donations help us with operating costs.

Listen to all previous episodes of Media Roots Radio here.

Follow Abby @abbymartin & Robbie @fluorescentgrey


Glenn Greenwald’s Chutzpah

QC5wydyGlenn Greenwald was asked all-too-familiar stock questions on mainstream programs like Meet the Press and Charlie Rose during his book tour for No Place to Hide. Although he was put on the defense in almost every segment, Greenwald held firm and consistent when combating the adversarial tone of US establishment journalists.

Over the course of his high profile interviews, many may have missed his lengthier and more candid talks in Hamburg, Amsterdam and at Harvard. Here’s some of our favorite quotes from those lectures that you probably won’t hear on the corporate media.

Obama’s NSA Lies 

“I think [Obama is] due a lot of credit because it really is impressive that he’s able to say those things with a straight face and not bursting out in laughter, I find that skill really really extraordinary, and he’s very good at it and I think we ought to acknowledge it in fairness.”

CIA Assesses Senator Obama

“The greatest hope for saving America’s war fighting ability and to stem the tide of anti-war sentiment in Europe was for then-Senator Barack Obama to become president, because what that would do is transform these wars from George Bush’s face, which the world had grown increasingly tired of and had been viewed as this kind of swagger and unilateral cowboy that was particularly hated in Europe, into this kind, sophisticated, progressive face of Barack Obama.”

“And by making Obama the face of these wars it would transform all this anti-war sentiment into people who were willing to acquiesce to the war if not outright support it. [The CIA] knew that he would continue all of these policies, but his branding was so pleasant and especially in Western Europe, so beloved that it would be an immense asset for the National Security State.”

Obama’s European Branding Power 

“There’s so much rhetoric about the US government, [and Obama is] an effective salesmen around the world for this myth of American greatness. I think one of the principal things that this debate over the last year has done is open people’s eyes about the reality of president Obama vs. the image.”

Global Obama Tarnishing

“I live in Brazil where he had been beloved and across every Brazilian newspaper is very menacing pictures of him connecting him with spying.”

The Democrats

“We have been criticized very predictably and very inconsequentially from what I will call for just  lack of a better term: ‘the Right’, which is, you know, primarily Democrats who voice this critique that our disclosures are going to help the terrorists and result in the deaths of innocent people and all of that. I was on CSPAN two days ago, and every time the host said ‘And now we’re going to go to the Democrat line’ I knew I was about to be called a traitor. It was completely reliable.”

Snowden = Russian False Flag

“Those very same people who had been saying just two weeks earlier that [Snowden] was clearly a Chinese spy suddenly switched on a dime saying obviously this is an operation by Vladimir Putin.”

“It’s really remarkable how seriously all of that has been taken despite the fact that there’s zero evidence to support any of it and mountains of evidence to negate it.”

Russia is Scary

“There is this amazing dynamic in American political discourse which is that certain words drive Americans instantly into hysteria and irrationality. One of them is terrorism, the minute you say that everybody screams and jumps under the bed, not quite as much as they did before but still.”

“The much scarier word for people is Russia, this is a word that if you really want to scare an American and make them go away just whisper Russia in their ear and they’ll start running down the street.”

“On television every interviewer would say to me ‘well what about Edward Snowden he must be completely miserable, i mean he’s in Russia‘ I guess they assume that all 160 million people who live in Russia are instantly and automatically miserable from the time of their birth until they die like it’s just one big gulag.”

The Role of Journalism

“The Washington Post, New York Times and other media outlets have been more aggressive because they would have been shamed if they hadn’t been.”

Passion in Journalism

“I think it’s much more powerful as a journalist to be honest about the way you see the world and the assumptions that you’re making than it is to try and deceive your readers into pretending that you float above opinion. I think that passion and vibrancy and soul are necessary for good journalism, the attempt to drain all that out of it has made journalism not just weak but boring and sort of neutered.”

Coordinated Scripts

“I’ve been pretty scornful of the notion that there is this active plotting among journalists and media outlets to coordinate their storyline.”

“Within 24 to 48 hours literally after we first introduced Snowden to the world, there was this immediate consensus among all these media elites that they were completely capable of taking this person that they had never heard of before and didn’t know the first thing about and were diagnosing him, like clinically diagnosing him, psychologically assessing all of his pathologies. They all settled on this coordinated script that he was a ‘fame seeking narcissist’  If you Google it you will find this phrase over and over again.”

“Where did that come from, that ‘fame seeking narcissist’ thing, I really want to know.”

Pretend Respect

“There’s all these unwritten rules that govern the ways journalists are supposed to behave.”

“You’re not supposed to be too aggressive in condemning the government, you’re supposed to pretend to have respect for their fearmongering claims about why you shouldn’t be publishing.”

Exploiting Sexual Vulnerabilities

“I never used to be able to understand why in response to the leaking of the Pentagon papers the response of the Nixon administration was to break into the office of his [Daniel Ellsberg’s] psychiatrist in the hope of obtaining his psycho-sexual secrets. It never made any sense to me. It seemed like the ultimate non sequitur, ‘Oh look we have documents showing that the US government has been systematically lying to us for years about the Vietnam war’ and the response would be ‘well Daniel Ellsberg is a swinger’.”

“It’s an incredibly effective means of excluding somebody from decent company, and making everything they say instantly dismissed for that reason.”


“There are chat programs such as Pidgin and OTR that provide relatively good protection, there’s the TOR browser that lets you use the internet anonymously, the Tails operating system.”

“The problem is all these names are pretty daunting to people who haven’t heard them before…I think the tech community needs to develop these tools to make them much more friendly…Once that happens and that will happen, encryption will become the default means of how people communicate on the internet.”

Email Privacy

“I do use PGP email, and in part I use it because I happen to have read a lot of NSA documents talking about how frustrated they are at their inability to invade it.”

“If you use PGP email, the NSA actually looks for the people who are using encryption, because in their twisted minds, your desire to shield our communications from their prying eyes is evidence that you are suspicious.”

Laura Poitras’ Snowden Film 

Amazingly [Laura Poitras] filmed virtually everything that took place in Hong Kong, our interaction with Snowden, all of the conversations we had, which is going to be in a documentary she releases in the Fall.”


Check out Greenwald’s lengthiest and best public appearances so far in May 2014:

Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky on Edward Snowden & The Surveillance State 


 Glenn Greenwald at CATO Institute: No Place to Hide


 The John Adams Institue Presents Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide


Richard Bacon Interviews Glenn Greenwald on BBC 


 Glenn Greenwald on The Kojo Nnamdi Show: State Surveillance & The Snowden Story


 TV Brazil’s Alberto Dines Interviews Glenn Greenwald on NSA


Written and compiled by Robbie Martin AKA @FluorescentGrey

Philly Fusion Center’s Reckless Disregard for Privacy Must Be Held to Account

The Declaration has uncovered troubling revelations regarding law enforcement operations at Philadelphia’s Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC), which include the fact that the DVIC, an “all crimes, all hazards” fusion center that assists law enforcement agencies in four states, appears to operate without any privacy policy in place, while its privacy officer position has been vacant since 2010.

In a related development, before the fusion center officially opened, the Philadelphia Police Department operated what one private contractor and a Senate subcommittee labeled a “DVIC Cell”. This unit’s existence indicates probable Constitutional violations dating as far back as 2009, as there doesn’t appear to be any indication of privacy or civil liberties protections attached to the “cell’s” operations.

If the Policy Exists, We Won’t Show it to You

Our research into the South Philly fusion center began in the summer of 2012. At that time the only readily discoverable item of any official nature was a brochure made by architect LR Kimball. Formal inquiries, which began in January of 2013, followed by multiple editorial admonitions published on our website and repeated communication with officials both on and off the record over a 10-month period, have not yielded any official policies. Local police officials have been unwilling – or unable – to produce any documents. They have on numerous occasions tried to assure us that a policy exists.

The Declaration also contacted the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Liberties office, who upon first contact told the Declaration they would quickly locate the document. Our inquiry is now frozen after being passed to the Fusion Center Training Coordinator Ada Albright, whose final communication with us was a deferral to a telephone number which the Declaration has called countless times.

The officer or employee who answered the phone and confirmed that he was indeed at the DVIC told us that he knew Director Walt Smith already had our request, and that “he’d be best to deal with it.” The stonewall continues.

Additionally, a thorough online search for a DVIC policy will lead you to the National Fusion Center Association website and their list of member facility’s privacy policies. The “Delaware Valley Fusion Center” is on the page, with no link to a policy. A very important note sits at the bottom of that page:

FY 2010 DHS grant funds may not be used to support fusion center-related initiatives unless the fusion center is able to certify that privacy and civil rights/civil liberties (CR/CL) protections are in place that are determined to be at least as comprehensive as the ISE Privacy Guidelines by the ISE Privacy Guidelines Committee (PGC) within 6 months of the award date on this FY 2010 award. If these protections have not been submitted for review and on file with the ISE PGC, DHS grants funds may only be leveraged to support the development and/or completion of the fusion center’s privacy protections requirements.

A list of privacy policies on the NFCA website shows the DVIC among center missing a link to a document
A list of privacy policies on the NFCA website shows the DVIC, among a number of other fusion centers, missing a link to a document.

SEPTA police chief Thomas Nestel III, the DVIC’s privacy officer until July of 2010, told The Declaration that he resigned because he could not perform the on-site, full time duties he felt the position required. He believes he had “seen the final draft approved by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Furthermore, in an emailed statement given to us this morning, Nestel says that he “assisted in the creation of the privacy policy and it does exist. Since I no longer hold a position with the DVIC, I am reluctant to release the policy without [Philadelphia Police Inspector Walt Smith’s] permission.”*

Another law enforcement official, on condition of anonymity, also confirms that the DVIC has yet to hire a privacy officer, and describes the facility as not yet fully operational – despite a much-publicized opening on June 28th of this year – in part because the DVIC plans to hire “civilian intelligence analysts.”

These revelations cast strong doubt on the legality of the DVIC’s operations, as fusion centers across the country must adhere to basic standards – outlined in the Department of Homeland Security’s Fusion Center Guidelines as well as the agency’s Baseline Capabilities supplement – standards that include civil liberty and privacy protections. These standards must be implemented in order to receive federal funding.

Privacy guidelines, which the Department of Homeland Security provides a template for on its website and which other fusion centers across the country have in place, establish protocols for the types of intelligence DVIC analysts gather, as well as how that information can be used or disseminated to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies throughout the four-state region.

Pre-Crime, Suspicious Activity Reporting, and No Privacy: A Troubling Mix

One facet of a fusion center’s day-to-day operations involves either civilian or privatized intelligence analysts examining “suspicious activity reports” filed by law enforcement. These analysts then create threat assessments based on these reports and will often upload them to a federal database, such as the FBI’s e-Guardian system. These assessments are accessible to other local, state, and federal agencies too, as part of a networked law enforcement ecosystem.

During last month’s International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Philadelphia, The Declaration had the opportunity to attend a presentation on the controversial Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, often known as “See Something, Say Something.”

David Sobzyk, the scheduled speaker, asserted almost immediately after beginning the presentation that the Nationwide SAR Initiative (NSI) contains built-in privacy and civil liberties protections, yet in the same breath notes that the NSI has 16 behaviors which authorities claim are “indicative of terrorist activity”. In other words, “pre-crime” behavior that could deem an individual or group of people eligible for increased scrutiny by authorities. Other revealing statistics cited by Sobzyk include the fact that 57% of fusion center directors have less than one year of experience; over 85,000 emergency personnel ranging from police officers to 9-1-1 operators and EMS workers have taken SAR training; and a standard SAR training for emergency personnel only consists of a one hour course.

It’s no surprise, then, that a recent ACLU document dump of a Los Angeles fusion center’s suspicious activity reporting made quite a stir among civil libertarians and the press – and this particular center has a published and publicly available privacy policy.

The Declaration submitted a Right-to-Know request in September with the police department for DVIC suspicious activity reporting, which was then rejected. We have since refiled, will appeal if denied again, and are prepared to litigate if necessary.

The potential for operational abuse at the DVIC, then, only increases the need for Constitutional protections that will only come with increased oversight by lawmakers and public scrutiny.

The DVIC’s Troubled Birth

As previously reported, the DVIC received intense criticism from a bi-partisan Senate subcommittee in October of 2012. Their findings indicated (Page 72) that federal grant money was likely being misappropriated by Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force (SEPA-RTF) officials. SEPA-RTF is multi-county task force that obtained grant funds for a regional intelligence center through the FEMA Homeland Security Grant Program in 2006, and with a consortium of private contractors named the System of Systems Security Consortium (SOSSEC, Inc), was tasked with developing and making the fusion center operational while adhering to federal grant regulations.

According to the subcommittee’s conclusions, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) cut off federal grant money to SEPA-RTF and DVIC development in 2011, because PEMA became aware of plans to illegally use those funds for construction of a Philadelphia Police Department Real Time Crime center at the site of what would become the fusion center. The Senate subcommittee report notes that any planned use of Homeland Security grant money for building construction is prohibited by federal law.

Another curious thread contained in the Senate report, and one which may be another reason PEMA felt it necessary to pull funding in 2011: the existence of a fusion center, listed on the DHS website, that in reality “didn’t exist” according to FEMA testimony before the Senate subcommittee.

The contracting agent tasked with planning and developing the DVIC from 2009 until December of 2011, SOSSEC, Inc., also assisted in the creation of a “DVIC Cell”, a precursor to the current facility.

SOSSEC Vice President Eugene Del Coco, in a lengthy interview with The Declaration this week, revealed the existence of this offsite “microcosm” fusion center launched on July 15th, 2011. Because the DVIC project was experimental, in that it brought together resources and contacts from every jurisdictional tier within a large geographic area, Del Coco says DVIC planners thought it beneficial to establish a prototype operation where a minimal staff could familiarize themselves with the concept of an intelligence center, and gain practical experience and insight into technology and information sharing practices. This offsite center was relocated to the DVIC facility in December, according to a schedule we obtained, and is quite likely one of the mysterious “virtual fusion centers” referred to in testimony by DHS to the same Senate Subcommittee in response to questions about why the DHS listed centers on its site that it knew did not physically exist.

While the general notion of providing advance training to fusion center personnel is rational, given the sensitivity of the operation, the existence of the “Cell” is another example in a litany of cases where the fusion center has been conducting operations which pose serious dangers to Constitutional protections, without significant oversight, and with no record available to the public as to how authorities are ensuring those protections. Del Coco says SOSSEC was originally supposed to complete Phase III-b, “Implementation,” but in December 2011, at the request of the city and SEPA-RTF, relinquished all fusion center responsibilities.

SOSSEC's Del Coco said that the original three phase project was split by SEPA-RTF into two sub-phases for its third stage, for which the City of Philadelphia assumed control
SOSSEC’s Del Coco said that the original three phase project was split by SEPA-RTF into two sub-phases for its third stage, for which the city Philadelphia assumed control

It is Time for Answers

In October, the DVIC facility was host to a Mounted Unit ceremony, an Asian American Advisory Board meeting which apparently included a briefing on the police department’s intelligence gathering practices for members, and an untold number of formal and informal tours for out of town colleagues during the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police, including a former government intelligence officer who now works for IBM and who requested their name not be used for this article. It only seems fair, by matter not only of best transparency practices but simple intuition, that a privacy policy – the most conspicuous public offering regarding the facility – should indeed be available to the public.

Written by Dustin Slaughter and Kenneth Lipp, Image by Dustin Slaughter