“There’s a great deal beyond what the CIA and NSA does” in terms of US espionage efforts, award-winning journalist and activist Barrett Brown said on a recent episode of By Any Means Necessary, a Radio Sputnik program hosted by former Party for Socialism and Liberation vice presidential candidate Eugene Puryear.
Brown asked listeners to participate in a short thought experiment. Put yourself in the shoes of a leader at one of America’s intelligence organizations, like the Pentagon Cyber Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency or the National Security Council.
"Even then, you don’t know the size of America’s effective surveillance and propaganda capabilities, because a lot of these capabilities are contracted out to private companies," Brown noted. He has been involved with the hacktivist group Anonymous since 2011, he said.
"There’s so much going on with these contracting firms, there’s so much compartmentalization, that no one single person knows exactly what’s possible these days," he added.
Puryear pointed out that Amazon has become the government’s go-to supplier for server farms, while Palantir has agreed to do the same for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
When Democrats and Republicans across Washington began hurling bold allegations that a Russian government operation had materially altered the results of the election, they pointed to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s compromised email servers.
And their evidence for the explosive claims? A report from CrowdStrike, a private sector cyber consultant. The DNC never gave the FBI permission to access its servers. And it turns out that CrowdStrike previously tied ‘Russian hacking’ to events that never happened, Sputnik reported March 23.
Now, some of those companies may be able to sell internet users’ data to other firms, marketers, or even that vague non-profit organization claiming to be non-partisan and independent.
"I’m interested in taking what we saw with Anonymous, for instance," he continued, "and trying to make it a bit more rigorous." Brown evinced the sentiment that the power of the internet to connect any two individuals, without an intermediary, is largely underestimated by both pro-state authorities and independent hackers who want to keep the government in check.
The implications of this are accentuated, Brown says, by the notion that by riding the power of the internet, small groups of people can “achieve extraordinary leverage over how things develop.”
Despite the power of the US security state, its unbounded contracted capabilities included, Brown and his ideology seem to embody cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has."