Monday, August 17, 2015

AT&T collaboration with the NSA reveals US corporate-intelligence nexus

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Classified NSA documents published by the New York Times and ProPublica this weekend have further exposed the vast scale of collaboration between the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the major telecommunications giants in carrying out illegal and unconstitutional spying operations.
The new documents, which come from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, originate from between 2003 and 2013. The participation of at least nine major tech firms in joint projects with NSA Special Source Operations was already revealed in documents leaked by Snowden in 2013, but the identities and roles of the firms involved remained murky.
The NSA’s longest and most fruitful corporate partner, which goes by the codename “FAIRVIEW” in the leaked documents, is AT&T. Repairs made to a FAIRVIEW fiber optic cable near Japan directly coincided with the rupturing of AT&T lines in the same location caused by a 2011 earthquake, the reports found.
The scale of the data transferred to the US intelligence agencies makes a mockery of claims from the Obama administration that the spying has been “targeted” at alleged terrorists.
AT&T was the first corporation to support NSA’s aim to have “live,” real-time surveillance of the internet. Some 400 billion Internet metadata records were sent to the NSA in one month toward the beginning of the company’s involvement in this program in 2003.
From 2003 onward, AT&T transferred billions of emails sent on US networks to the NSA. It embedded surveillance hardware in at least 17 of its US-based internet centers.
NSA documents describe AT&T as “highly collaborative” and praise the company for its “extreme willingness to help” with NSA operations around the world. AT&T maintains a “close partnership with FBI” and provides access to “Cable Stations/Switches/Routers (IP Backbone),” the documents state.
By 2011, AT&T was also giving the NSA 1.1 billion cell phone records per day. As the Times notes, “This revelation is striking because after Mr. Snowden disclosed the program of collecting the records of Americans’ phone calls, intelligence officials told reporters that, for technical reasons, it consisted mostly of landline phone records.”
AT&T’s involvement in NSA spying was “global” in scope, one document states. The company helped transform the United Nations headquarters into an NSA listening post, with all UN internet communications passing into the hands of surveillance agents.
According to the documents, by 2013, AT&T was providing the NSA with access to 60 million foreign-to-foreign emails a day.
However, AT&T is only one of many companies involved. Telecommunications giant Verizon (referred to within the framework of a program called STORMBREW) collects data from eight interconnected sites across the continental US. STORMBREW also provides the NSA with access to seven “international choke points,” the documents state.
NSA protocols call for agents to exercise maximum courtesy in their dealings with the corporations, on the grounds that US intelligence ties to the corporations constitute “a partnership, not a contractual relationship.”
It has already been established by previous Snowden-leaked documents that the US government maintains secret contracts with the communications firms, paying out large sums of cash as part of its corporate operations.
According to the latest leaked documents, in 2011 alone the NSA paid AT&T nearly $190 million.
The Obama administration has worked to cover for the illegal actions of the companies in collaborating with warrantless mass surveillance. Earlier this year, the White House successfully blocked a lawsuit by AT&T customers demanding redress for privacy violations resulting from the company's contracts with the US government.
In the wake of the Snowden revelations that began in 2013, the Obama administration has worked to ensure that all the spy programs would continue. In June of this year, the White House backed passage of the USA Freedom Act, which purported to end only one of the many programs that have been set up to spy on the population of the United States and the world: the metadata phone records program.
In fact, the new legislation merely transfers the responsibility to store phone records from the NSA itself to the telecommunications companies. As made clear by the revelations on AT&T’s role in collaborating with the NSA, this amounts to little more than changing the name of the sign on the door, since the telecommunications firms essentially function as extensions of the spy apparatus.

Mass layoffs worldwide as corporate mergers near new record

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Major transnational corporations, including Kraft, Motorola, Lenovo, Tyson and HTC have announced mass layoffs in recent days amid a boom in mergers and acquisitions, which are on track to hit a record this year.
Processed foods maker Kraft Heinz Co said Wednesday that it would cut 2,500 jobs in North America, amounting to 5 percent of its global workforce. The announcement is the result of last month’s $49 billion merger between Kraft and H.J. Heinz Co, in a deal orchestrated by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
The announced layoffs will include 700 at the company’s headquarters in Northfield, Illinois, near Chicago. Thousands more layoffs are expected as a result of the deal, as the company said it was “confident” that it would meet its estimated cost savings from the merger of $1.5 billion through 2017.
On Thursday, Chinese computer maker Lenovo announced 3,200 layoffs, or 5 percent of its global workforce. The layoffs will be concentrated in the company’s Motorola Mobility subsidiary, which this week announced an initial round of 500 layoffs in its Chicago-area headquarters. Another three hundred employees will lose their jobs with the closure of the company’s facility in Plantation, Florida. Lenovo purchased Motorola Mobility from Google in 2014.
Also Thursday, Smartphone maker HTC announced that it would slash 2,250 jobs, or 15 percent of its global workforce, by the end of the year. The company is seeking to cut costs by 35 percent.
These layoffs follow last month’s announcement by Microsoft that it would eliminate 7,800 positions, mostly from its Nokia mobile phone division that it acquired in 2013. Only weeks later, San Diego-based semiconductor company Qualcomm Incorporated announced 4,700 layoffs.
Mass layoffs in the food processing and technology sector come amid an ongoing jobs bloodbath in the global energy sector. On Friday, Samson Resources Corp, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based oil and gas producer, filed for bankruptcy, threatening over a thousand jobs. The bankruptcy follows the firm’s purchase in 2011 by private equity firm KKR & Co.
Earlier this month, Alpha Natural Resources, America’s second-largest coal producer, filed for bankruptcy, endangering the jobs of the company’s 8,000 employees. Oil consulting firm Swift Worldwide Resources reported in June that over 150,000 energy sector jobs have been lost globally since the beginning of the downturn in oil prices last year.
Samson’s bankruptcy filing followed the announcement by multinational oil giant Royal Dutch Shell that it would eliminate 6,500 positions this year, as well as the announcement by British-based mining conglomerate Anglo American, the world’s fifth largest mining company, that it would slash 53,000 jobs.
The latest round of mass layoffs is closely related to the global boom in mergers and acquisitions. Under conditions of slowing global economic growth, together with record amounts of cash sitting on corporate balance sheets, Wall Street is using mergers and acquisitions to put additional pressure on US and global corporations to cut costs and restore profitability on the backs of employees.
Global mergers and acquisitions are close to hitting a record high this year, according to Thomson Reuters data. With a quarter of the year still to go, the value of deals hit $2.9 trillion, just shy of the $3 trillion figure for 2007, immediately before the 2008 financial crisis. In the United States, mergers have hit $1.4 trillion in 2015, up by 62 percent from a year ago.
On Monday, Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway announced one of the biggest corporate takeovers so far this year: the $37 billion purchase of Precision Castparts, an aerospace and defense metal fabricator with nearly 30,000 employees.
The growing rate of mergers and acquisitions is made possible by the continual infusion of cheap money from global central banks, which have pumped trillions of dollars into the global financial system through years of quantitative easing and zero interest rate policies.
Mergers activity has soared even as real economic growth has slowed. According to predictions by the International Monetary Fund, 2015 is set to be the slowest year for economic growth since 2009. The already gloomy growth outlook for the year was made worse Friday with the release of economic data for the euro zone showing that the region’s economy grew only 0.3 percent in the second quarter, significantly lower than had been predicted by analysts.
This followed Friday’s release of negative economic figures for China, which showed that the country’s exports plunged by 8.3 percent in July. China’s poor export performance likely contributed to its central bank’s decision to devalue the yuan this week, a move that roiled global financial markets.
The boom in mergers and acquisitions, far from expanding economic output and growth, has as its aim the enrichment of shareholders through layoffs and wage cuts. The end result of this vicious cycle of economic stagnation and parasitism is the further enrichment of the financial oligarchy at the expense of the working class.