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The NSA Doesn’t Have Your Data: The NSA and Its Corporate Partners Do

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
The NSA Doesn’t Have Your Data: The NSA and Its Corporate Partners Do

Edward Snowden’s revelations are earth shattering, shocking and scandalous. But didn’t you already suspect what the leaks now confirm with official documentation?

That’s why fiction is ahead of the curve on this one. We fiction writers don’t need documentation. We go with our gut.

When I was writing Collateral Murder, what my gut told me was that the following factors are coming together to turn our society into a panopticon:

  • privatization of military and security apparatuses in the US and around the world
  • post-9/11 trampling of privacy protections and personal freedoms
  • the vast potential for data collection and data mining offered by the Internet

Collateral Murder opens with the death of Ted Whitmer, the President and CEO of Tactictec, a private security firm that has grown by leaps and bounds from its beginnings as Whitmer Security. Samir Haddad, a Lebanese computer consultant suspected of Hezbollah sympathies, is arrested by the RCMP in connection with Mr. Whitmer’s death. The RCMP use secret evidence to hold the Arab businessman on secret charges. The story is told by Marifel Landas, the Whitmer family’s Filipina domestic who knows Samir is innocent but has a hard time clearing his name considering the crime he is accused of committing is a national secret. To find Ted Whitmer’s real killer, Marifel recruits Tess Whitmer, the deceased’s 16-year-old daughter, who also happens to be a computer whiz with a backdoor to Tactictec’s secret database. The following passage is an exchange between Marifel and Tess:

“Tess, what is Tactictec doing with RCMP files in its database? It’s a bit more than ‘bending the rules’ wouldn’t you say? We really shouldn’t be able to look up Inspector McEntire’s file in Tactictec’s system.”

“Tactictec is a big player in the international security game. It’s bigger than the RCMP and lots of other government agencies. Things aren’t like they were when Granddad, the Colonel, started Whitmer Security. Back then the company was like a pinch-hitter for conventional law enforcement. Want some extra protection for your property? Hire a Whitmer armoured car. Your workers getting out of hand? Hire some Whitmer strike breaking muscle. Whitmer Security would go the extra mile for a businessman the way the cops wouldn’t. The Colonel built a reputation as a former military man who took charge of a situation with an iron hand – brute force. Whitmer Security was essentially a family business, hired muscle. Tactictec is a huge multinational corporation. Things have changed.”

“Tactictec doesn’t use brute force?” I asked.

“Sure it does. But that’s just a small part of Tactictec’s business. Whitmer Security was a pinch-hitter for the cops or the military, small-time goons really. Tactictec is a private police force and army in its own right. It even has contracts for the interrogation of prisoners in Afghanistan. As the government downsizes, companies like Tactictec have been hired to pick up the slack. So Tactictec needs state-of-the-art technology and top-notch intel, just like the big boys at the Pentagon and the CIA. Knowledge is power and power is Tactictec’s business.”

“But government agencies have the legal right to certain personal information,” I objected. “Private corporations don’t.”

“Yep,” Tess agreed. “But this is the age of the Internet. You can’t expect the government to keep track of all those bits of information all by itself. It needs help from the private sector. Ever hear of In-Q-Tel?”

“Sounds like a telecommunications company.”

“It’s the CIA’s venture capital company. Huge. It’s partnered up with all kinds of IT and security companies. Got in on the ground floor of various start-ups. You know, data-mining, search engines, translation software, computer security systems, that kind of thing. The only way Uncle Sam can keep track of the money and information zooming across the World Wide Web is through public-private partnerships. Big bucks for security companies. Since I didn’t inherit Dad’s fortune, I figure I should be able to spin my knowledge of the security industry into an In-Q-Tel-funded start-up. I’ll be in the fortune-500 in no time. Pull myself up by my own bootstraps, just like good old Granddad.”

“And the private partners, these In-Q-Tel corporations and such, are also looking at the information,” I added. “Unofficially.”

“Very unofficially,” Tess giggled. “No peeking allowed. But, of course, it’s standard practice for companies like Tactictec. About a dozen top executives at Tactictec have enough clearance to access this kind of stuff, and of course, yours truly. Officially, it doesn’t exist in the Tactictec database. But unofficially, Tactictec would be hamstrung without it. It’s a competitive business. Intel is the company’s lifeblood. Anyway the government is peeking at private sector information too. Phone company records, credit card information, banking information, whatever. Privacy is a thing of the past Marifel.”

It turns out that what I referred to as “peeking” into phone company records actually has an official name; it’s called Prism. The “peeking” done by private corporations with access to such data might not have an official name, but do you really doubt that it takes place?

Tactictec is a fictional corporation, but it’s kind of cross between the real-life corporations of Blackwater (now known as Academi) and Booz Allen Hamilton, the company that employed Edward Snowden to help the NSA collect all of your personal information. Tactictec combines the security, military and spying functions we normally associate with government in a private power nexus.

George Orwell’s gut was pretty good too. Sales of 1984 went up by 5000% in the wake of Snowden’s revelations. But it’s not really Big Brother watching you. It’s Big Brother and Big Business together. It’s the security-industrial-complex. It’s the NSA-Blackwater-Facebook connection.

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. He is the author of Collateral Murder. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

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bernans (David Bernans)
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kebera's picture


Collateral Murder is also the title of an entirely non-fictional video released by Wikileaks.

I havent read your book so i cannot comment on its "i told you so" value, but i think it is important to mention the other well known title to prevent confusion.

Btw i would be interested in any background research you may have done when writing the book - it certainly looks interesting and topical.

bernans's picture

"I told you so" value

I have relied on the work of unembedded journalists in Afghanistan and investigative reporters looking into private contracting (published by the likes of TomDispatch, The Guardian, etc.). I wish I had a budget (and the courage) to do field research.

Of course, the dark-ops details are fictional and speculative. But looking at the stuff that has come out since I wrote this book (most of the writing was done in 2008-2009), it turns out that I wasn't speculative enough. Things have turned out to be far worse than I had imagined at the time.

I had been using Collateral Murder as my working title before Wikileaks used it to name the video they released in 2010. Great minds, eh?

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