By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org
FREDERICKSBURG — A Virginia-based civil libertarian says the federal government’s active 1.4 million top-secret security clearances expose just how sprawling the American surveillance state has become.
“With millions of people being required to handle all of the information that the government wishes to keep from the public, we can only assume that Edward Snowden’s revelations just scratch the surface of a mammoth institution whose main goal is to mine as much data about every person in the United States as is possible,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute.
Snowden, a contract employee for the National Security Agency, revealed details of the federal government’s domestic surveillance program to the London Guardian earlier this month and fled to Asia.
Since then, it has been learned that government snoopers obtained “real-time” access to user data from more than 50 U.S. companies, ranging from credit rating agencies to internet service providers.
What’s more, the NSA contracted with several private firms – including Snowden’s employer, defense contractor Booz Allen and Hamilton – to collect and collate secret data for the government.
“The fact that this colossal surveillance state is being undergirded by the private sector poses a number of problems,” Whitehead told Watchdog.org.
“For one, it makes it more difficult to disassemble the web of surveillance. Now, on top of government officials bent on knowing everything about the citizenry, we have corporate CEOs invested in keeping the surveillance-industrial complex in full swing so that they can maintain their lucrative contracts with the government.
“Furthermore, it is unclear what a private company is willing to do with our personal information, versus what a government agency is willing to do with it.
“It’s no stretch of the imagination to think that private companies would be willing to sell our personal information to advertising agencies based upon discovering what our personal preferences and life circumstances are after spending so much time exploring every facet of our personal life,” said Whitehead, author of the forthcoming book, “A Government of Wolves.”
Two government officials familiar with the so-called PRISM program told that London Daily Mail that several of the companies have provided records continuously since 2006, while others have given the agency sporadic access.
Many of the details are unveiled by Mark Ambinder, co-author of a new book about government secrecy and surveillance, Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry.
Watchdog.org’s Eric Boehm reported earlier this week that Snowden, a 29-year-old high-school dropout who worked for Booz Allen, had “top-secret” security clearance that allowed him to access the secure data right from the source.
According to a 2012 report, more than 4 million people have security clearances at some level, while 1.4 million – including 483,000 government contractors like Snowden – have “top secret” security clearance.
But security was loose enough at Booz Allen that Snowden could smuggle out highly classified files out with a simple computer thumb drive — a device that was supposedly banned from the premises.
“As Edward Snowden has shown, decisions don’t need to come from on high. A young analyst with the wherewithal to do it could easily shop this information to interested parties,” Whitehead warned.
Contact Kenric Ward at [email protected] or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward