June 10, 2013
Is Amazon one of the companies working with the NSA to spy on you?
by Dennis Johnson
“It’s as if George Bush had gotten a fourth term” — a sickeningly true observation made all the more sickening by the fact that it was made by no less than Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer. Equally accurate was the rest of Fleischer’s statement about the recent revelations first uncovered by the Guardian of the government’s PRISM Program, the program run by the National Security Agency (in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency) that has been surveilling and recording the telephone conversations and internet activity of, well, everybody: “It’s remarkable that the man who rode his way to the presidency by suggesting George Bush’s anti-terrorism policies violated the Constitution is emulating those policies himself.”
To review for a moment — because it’s one of those moments when it’s good to remember that you voted for one thing, and got another — check out this report by Julie Hirschfeld Davis for Bloomberg News, of all places (the source of the above quotations) on the promises of candidate Barack Obama:
Bush “puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. I will provide our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom,” Obama said in an Aug. 1, 2007 speech in Washington.
“We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary,” Obama added. “This administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America.”
In his 2008 campaign literature on terrorism, he pledged as president to revisit the PATRIOT Act to ensure “real and robust oversight.” The document said, “There is no reason we cannot fight terrorism while maintaining our civil liberties.”
Okay, so as most of us have realized for a while now, we were totally suckered by candidate Obama (would that we had realized it as early as Melville House author John R. MacArthur), our votes were totally meaningless, the administration voters thought they had rejected is back on steroids, and, eh, American democracy is apparently meaningless. [What the hell. I’ve been saying stuff like this on my Verizon phone for years, so I’ve got nothing to lose by putting this out on the NSA-controlled internet.]
But of course it isn’t only the government screwing us here. The companies that supposedly provided surveillance on their customers have all vehemently denied doing so, in a Watergate-style non-denial denial: They’re not denying doing it, they’re just denying knowing that they did it. (You try this the next time you’re standing before a judge: “Honest, your honor, I didn’t know I’d broken the law.”) Among those companies named in documents given to the Washington Post are Google, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, Verizon, and Yahoo.
But what fascinates me, and seems most ominous, is the fact that the one company that could have provided the government with the most information of them all — save for Google — is nowhere named in those documents, nor does it even come up in almost any of the mainstream discussion of the scandal. Yep, I’m talking about Amazon.
In fact one mainstream source — Businessweek — rather perversely observes that the leaked documents show Dropbox was about to be added to the PRISM program, then goes on to say that “This is a weird one because Dropbox stores its customers’ files on Amazon.com’s cloud computing service, yet Amazon appears nowhere in the Prism documents.” It fails to note that not all the companies suspected of supplying the NSA with info were named in the documents — that those documents were in fact redacted — although it does show a modicum of due diligence in asking Amazon if it was participating in the NSA program, and a spokeswoman responds with an apparent two word answer: “Not cooperating.”
But are they to be believed? Other non-mainstreamers report bluntly that Amazon was part of PRISM. To still other observers, such as this reader in the Guardian, it seems obvious: “Does this explain the apparent immunity to tax of Apple, Amazon and co?” she asks. And an Atlantic report observes simply, albeit vaguely, that Amazon’s non-appearance in the leaked docs is notable … although apparently not worthy of further comment.
Meanwhile, a report by David Meyer on Gigaom notes that regardless of its involvement (or not) in PRISM, Amazon now has “a problem.” If you’re a company trying to sell a cloud service, particularly to foreigners, he notes, “can you really be surprised when you get laughed at because everyone now sees U.S. internet companies as being in league with the NSA?”
Which is another way of asking whether you can really believe that Amazon wasn’t involved, despite the lack of evidence … or perhaps because of it. After all, it’s not only the company that has pretty much refused to pay taxes to any government, anywhere, and has simultaneously somehow gotten the U.S. government to ignore antitrust laws willy-nilly in its prosecution of a deeply bizarre lawsuit against American publishing that favors no one so much as Amazon … Amazon is also the company that runs the cloud services of the CIA. You know, where much of the PRISM surveillance info was stored.
Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.