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A decade after Snowden: Unmasking cyber military industrial complex

By Meng Zhe and Xu-Pan Yiru | | Updated: 2023-06-13 19:58
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It has been a decade since Edward Snowden's shocking revelations reverberated around the globe, shedding light on the extensive surveillance activities conducted by the United States. However, rather than witnessing a rollback of these practices, the American surveillance empire has stealthily expanded its reach, with military manufacturers entering the fray of the cyber military industrial complex.

Among the most significant programs exposed by Snowden was Prism, an alarming surveillance initiative that brought to the forefront the US government's daily monitoring of phone calls and text messages. Operating under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the National Security Agency (NSA) compelled internet service providers like Google to relinquish users' private information to the US government.

Although originally intended to target foreigners outside the United States, the US government took advantage of Section 702 to amass extensive amounts of personal data from its own citizens.

The impact of Snowden's revelations extends well beyond the borders of the United States. The US even engaged in spying on its allies, as evidenced by its collaboration with the Danish Defense Intelligence Service from 2012 to 2014. Through underwater communication cables passing through Denmark, the NSA gained access to the conversations and network information of European politicians.

The United States made no distinction between allies and non-allies when it came to espionage. Prominent figures like Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor, found themselves among the prime targets. Political figures in France, Sweden, Norway, and other countries were also subjected to interception. This pervasive monitoring left no one immune, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to express his outrage and condemn such behavior among allies as unacceptable.

Sevim Dagdelen, a member of the German Parliament, said how Edward Snowden opened the world's eyes to the US's disregard for its supposed allies. The revelations exposed the US's sole pursuit of dominance and control, extending its surveillance apparatus to encompass everyone, everywhere, and everything.

Regrettably, a decade after Snowden's leaks, little has changed, if anything at all. The US government made promises of reform but failed to follow through. Recently declassified court records from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) disclosed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted over 278,000 searches on a vast digital database without warrants between 2020 and early 2021.

These surveillance tools have been employed to suppress political dissent, scrutinizing hundreds of Americans connected to protests following the killing of George Floyd and those expressing discontent towards US bureaucratic lawmakers during the Capitol incident.

A comprehensive two-year study by Georgetown University revealed that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency's annual expenditure on surveillance skyrocketed from $71 million in 2008 to a staggering $388 million in 2022. Utilizing utility bills, facial recognition technology, and even vehicle information, ICE has monitored a significant percentage of American adults.

Alarmingly, surveillance technology has now evolved into a deadly weapon. The US Cyber Command has confirmed the nation's military involvement in offensive cyber operations during the Ukraine crisis. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even publicly encouraged American hackers to target Russia. According to projections by the RAND Corporation, the number of US cyber mission force teams with full operational capabilities may reach 167 by 2024, reflecting a 25% increase compared to 2022. China, too, has fallen victim to US cyber warfare, with Chinese authorities reporting the capture of over 42 million malicious computer programs in 2020, the majority originating from the US.

With traditional defense industry players now venturing into the realm of cyberspace, the likes of Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems are at the forefront of implementing cyber programs. This confluence has birthed what is known as the "cyber military industrial complex," as elucidated by Xu Peixi, a professor at the Communications University of China. While the US Congress asserts their actions are driven by national security imperatives, it is evident that financial considerations play a substantial role in their endeavors, said Xu.

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