Surveillance Valley. The Secret Military History of the Internet was released in 2018, but still sheds a new light on the now much talked about Pegasus project. According to the revelations from The Guardian and 16 other media this summer, authoritarian authorities have used the spyware Pegasus to snoop on the cell phones of politicians, academics, journalists and human rights activists. Among the victims in a list of over 50 telephone numbers we find French President Emmanuel Macron, whose mobile phone is said to have been attacked by the Moroccan government. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi's mobile phone is also said to have been attacked by Pegasus. Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 after being lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Pegasus spyware is developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, which works with cybersecurity, and attacks both iPhone and Android phones via mobile software. The spyware can retrieve text messages and e-mails and record calls or activate the mobile phone's camera and microphone without the owner's notice.
Control and monitoring
When reading Surveillance Valley, the revelations about Pegasus do not come as a surprise. According to the author, the internet – with associated technology – has been used for government surveillance from the first moment. Levine explains how Internet originated from the US Counterinsurgency Program – specifically from the computer network ARPANET, which was used to collect and share information about US citizens as well as control and monitor the emergence of political and military uprisings against US allied authorities around the world.
The spyware can retrieve text messages and e-mails and record calls or activate the mobile phone's camera and microphone without the owner's notice.
At the beginning of the book, we read about a specific incident: a demonstration at Oakland City Hall in California in 2014 due to a planned city council vote on the establishment of a Police Monitoring Center (DAC). Oakland's population consisted mainly of the working class and the lower middle class and had a "violent, often irresponsible police force." In recent years, the city has experienced increasing gentrification as a result of its Internet-based growth.
Some protesters claimed that city officials planned to use the DAC center to "monitor political protests and trade union activities" at the Port of Oakland. We must not forget that one of the most effective actions of Occupy Oakland was precisely to block the city's port in 2011, which effectively stopped the distribution of goods.
Oakland commissioned the development of the DAC Center from SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation), a California military contractor. SAIC is so strongly linked to the NSA (National Security Agency) that the company has been nicknamed the NSA Division West, and as a significant subcontractor to the CIA, SAIC was also involved in the drone program in Afghanistan.
The stories about the internet
In addition, was the technology giant Google looking for a DAC contract. Google's possible involvement in setting up the watchdog would hurt worse, as Google and other Silicon Valley companies have been responsible for the growing gentrification throughout the San Francisco Bay Area – affecting poor Oakland.
Levine discovered that Google was already "a full-fledged military contractor, selling versions of the company's consumer data and analytics technology to police departments, city councils, and major U.S. intelligence and military organizations." The promiscuous relationship between US authorities, military contractors and technology companies motivated Levine to write the book.
Khashoggi's mobile phone is also said to have been attacked by Pegasus.
Technology and Internet are often hailed as democratic tools that can "overthrow governments" and give "more equality to the world." However, the author reveals a less positive backdrop. Levine argues that there are two accounts of the emergence of the Internet that are often intertwined: On the one hand, it is believed that the Internet arose from a need to create a communication system that could survive a nuclear explosion, which in turn led to the development of ARPANET by Pentagon Advanced Research Projects Agency (now known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA).
The second version is about the establishment of ARPANET by "radical young computer engineers and playful hackers who were influenced by the hippie-like counterculture in the San Francisco Bay area."
Less well known is the fact that the Internet emerged as a result of the United States military counter-insurgency program to combat the spread of Communism during the Cold War – including the Vietnam War – even before the United States was officially involved. The Soviet-backed "regional uprisings against US allied governments from South America to Southeast Asia and the Middle East" included "guerrilla campaigns and local uprisings," and therefore demanded a new type of war that could be improved through the development and use of information technology.
Ever since the 1960s, there has been concern that databases and network technology could be used for monitoring and control. In the first part of the book, Levine reveals a lesser-known story about the internet and claims that as early as 1969, "a group of students at MIT and Harvard tried to stop the research that was going on at their universities" related to the ARPANET project.
In 1971, "Senator Sam Ervin initiated a series of hearings […] on the military's CONUS Intel program", after Washington Monthly the year before revealed "a massive domestic surveillance and counter-insurgency operation led by the U.S. Army Intelligence Command." This resulted in an examination of the scope of "state and private databases and monitoring systems".
Later, in 1975, it was revealed that the CIA, NSA and the US Army were still using the ARPANET "to monitor domestic political activity". Despite this, the stories have "disappeared from the collective memory", according to the author.
The radical nature of the web
Levine writes about how the internet was privatized and how a new narrative was created, where the general public was convinced of the internet's democratic capacity and radical nature. Levine has traced the origins of such notions back to the emergence of a new counterculture, enshrined in "new communalists" – hippieis moving to the countryside and establishing collectives whose ideals were based on «Eastern spirituality mixed with romantic notions of self-rescue and Norbert Wiener's cybernetics ».
Also author Stewart Brand's book Whole Earth Catalog (1968) played an important role in this cultural movement, which lived by "the cybernetic ideas of America's military-industrial complex."
In the 1980s, ARPANET became obsolete, but the Army, Navy and NSA built new networks based on technology. Then a new networking project for education was launched – NSFNET – which was quickly privatized under the Reagan administration, paving the way for what we now know as the Internet. The early military connections lost their power through privatization, and in the 1990s magazines contributed as Wired to establish the narrative of the radical possibilities of the internet for example cyberpunk and cryptocurrency.
Snowden and Tor
The chapter on the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden [see also MODERN TIMES 'warning appendix, editor's note] is insightful. Snowden leaked information in 2013 and showed that US authorities use the internet for surveillance, but as Levine claims: This should not be surprising information, given the Internet's military origins.
Levine writes that although Snowden was extremely critical of government surveillance, he appears to be less critical of technology companies: Snowden has often hailed the browser. Tor publicly, since it allegedly gives anonymity to the users and therefore made it possible for him to leak the NSA files. But since US authorities supported Tor financially from the beginning, are we sure that the browser protects users from surveillance by the same authorities?
Surveillance Valley offers compelling information about the origins of the Internet and its connection to the US military during the Cold War. Most interesting is the fact that state surveillance would not have been possible without the private infrastructure and services of Silicon Valley's technology companies – companies we voluntarily give our data to.
Translated by Iril Kolle