How would you like to leave work at 2:34 p.m. everyday and still earn the same same salary?
Well, if you didn’t have to pay taxes you probably could.
The Tax Foundation calculates that April 21 is 2014′s Tax Freedom Day. In other words, the earnings of the 2,654.4 hours of the first 110.6 days go to the government. Then our earnings can finally be our own.
For every 8-hour workday, we labor for 2 hours and 26 minutes to pay federal, state and local taxes.
One hour and 7 minutes goes to corporate and personal income taxes, which were unconstitutional until 1913. Eliminating this tax on productive earnings would eliminate 46.24% of the tax burden. It would also allow us to keep our finances private.
If the American people could keep these earnings, instead of turning them over to the federal, state and local governments, they could pay for almost all of their housing costs. They currently have to work for an additional 1 hour 9 minutes just to afford them.
A total TOT -0.49% of 35 minutes of the 8-hour workday pays for Social Security and Medicare. If Social Security was privatized, instead of constantly decreasing benefits, personal retirement accounts would be overfunded. We dedicate an average of 20 minutes of our labor to personal savings. It should be more like 1 hour and 12 minutes.
An additional 19 minutes goes to consumption taxes like excise and sales tax. Some people suggest our country could operate on a “fair tax” of entirely sales taxes. But such a method of taxation has its own problems. Critics counter that a national sales tax is regressive, favoring the rich (although this depends on how you measure “rich”). They claim foreign companies would have an unfair advantage in the international market over their domestic counterparts.
Fifteen minutes of each workday goes to property taxes. Even renters pay this tax as businesses and landlords pass the expense on to them. Property taxes are highest for city dwellers because real estate assessments increase in proximity to a big city. Thus they tend to be a regressive tax, taxing the poor who live in relatively highly assessed areas and shop at stores with higher assessed buildings whose high property taxes trickle down into their prices.
For the price of property taxes, average workers could purchase all of their clothing. As it is, workers have to labor an extra 13 minutes to afford their clothes.
The final 9 minutes go to other state, federal and local taxes.
Only since 1992 have Americans paid more for government programs than we spend on food, clothing and medical care combined. For the money we pay in taxes, the federal government could provide universal health coverage as well as feed and clothe us.
Tax Freedom Day 2014
From the birth of the nation in 1776 until the early 1930s, federal spending during peaceful periods never exceeded 3% of national income. In 1913, when the Sixteenth Amendment allowed the federal government to tax the income of individuals directly, Tax Freedom Day was January 30. Over a century later, we’re laboring 80 days longer for the government.
The total effective tax rate did not permanently surpass 10% until FDR’s New Deal legislation in 1930. Total taxes passed 25% during the Great Society programs in the 1960s. The effective tax rate is currently 30%.
In 1900, taxes took $1 of every $12 of earnings from American workers. Today, they take $4.
Tax Freedom Day is bad enough, but the government spends even more than it collects. Deficit Day stretches an additional 15 days until May 6. This deficit spending and the money the government prints to pay for it produce the hidden tax of inflation.
The purposes of federal spending have also changed gradually. In 1962 defense spending was 49% of the budget. Health and Social Security totaled 14%. Today those proportions are reversed, with defense reduced to 18% and Medicare and Social Security taking 48% and growing rapidly.
Many Americans believe that tax rates should be increasingly punitive. In the guise of spreading the wealth around or making health care more affordable, we have allowed politicians to take control of an increasing share of each year’s production.
The government isn’t even altruistic enough to spread the wealth around. They collect enough to pay for the basic needs of each and every American and yet don’t. The government has a spending problem. We are already taxed enough. We need a budget that allows government to live within its means.
To an outside observer, it might appear that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has taken on too many missions. But a series of articles appearing recently in the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico suggests that the DHS has but a single mission: one called “everything.”
Created by an act of Congress signed by President George W. Bush in November 2002, just over one year after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the DHS merged 22 federal agencies into one vast department charged with the task of preventing terrorist attacks, reducing the nation’s vulnerability to terrorism, and assisting in the recovery from any terrorist acts that might occur and from any other disasters, natural or man-made. That might seem like a large enough task for any organization, even one that is currently the third largest department of the U.S. government. But DHS is also involved in many law enforcement and crime prevention efforts that appear far removed from combating terrorism and terrorist-related activities. In New Mexico, the Albuquerque paper reported, Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) officers have been working with local police and the state attorney general’s office on investigations regarding gang activity, missing and exploited children, pickpocket rings, and stolen and fraudulent Native American art.
“Native American culture is very important here in New Mexico, and we want to preserve that,” Kevin Abar, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations, explained to the Journal. Preserving culture might seem a far cry from defending the nation from terrorist attacks, but an investigative unit that has, according to the DHS website, 10,000 employees and 6,700 special agents in more than 200 U.S. cities and 47 foreign countries, is obviously waging a war on terror that knows no bounds. Some agents will even call on strip club dancers for their country, the Journal reported:
HSI isn’t just working criminal cases; it is also trying to prevent them. Last June, HSI’s Albuquerque field office announced it would meet with adult dancers and strip club owners to train them about the dangers of sex trafficking and how to recognize it. Agents are planning seminars and workshops at retirement centers to inform older residents about lottery, IRA and jail fraud schemes. And the agency last month announced a program that will send DHS officers into schools and nursing homes, where they will teach young and old alike about the dangers of Internet predators.
“We want to secure the Internet and make sure the individuals on it understand the pitfalls, and that they can become victims,” Abar said.
What the paper labeled “mission creep” by the department might more accurately be called mission gallop. The number of HSI officers in New Mexico has “more than quadrupled” in the past three years, Abar told the Journal. Nationally, the numbers reflect a success in empire building those outside the DHS tentacles might envy. Those 10,000 investigators are but a small part of an army of 240,000 people employed in various capacities by a department spending $61 billion this year, up from $29 billion in 2003, its first year of operation. And as the department has grown in size and dollars, it has developed what Abar described as a “symbiotic relationship” with local law enforcement.
“We are working side-by-side, literally — we are entrenched with our state and local counterparts,” the agent said.
New Mexico is also home to one of Homeland Security’s 78 “fusion centers” spread out across the country. Centers like the New Mexico All Source Intelligence Center, operating out of the National Guard complex in Santa Fe, exist to pool information, ostensibly about terrorist threats, from local, state, and federal agencies. In 2012, an investigative committee of the U.S. Senate published the results of a two-year long investigation of the DHS and its fusion centers and concluded:
Despite reviewing 13 months’ worth of reporting originating from fusion centers from April 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, the Subcommittee investigation could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.
One example of “useless information” cited by the Senate committee was a report on a foreigner with an expired visa who had been caught speeding and shoplifting. The man’s name was added to the list of “known or appropriately suspected” terrorists. A reviewer of the report wrote that the only factual basis for the terror-suspect designation was that he “tried to steal a pair of shoes from Nieman Marcus.”
“I have no idea what value this would be adding to the IC [Intelligence Community],” the reviewer added.
Most Americans were unaware of the fusion centers until one of them, the Missouri Information Analysis Center, made headlines in 2009 by including Ron Paul supporters and anti-abortion activists as potential terror threats. A fusion center in Texas drew verbal fire from the American Civil Liberties Union for targeting anti-war activists and lobbyists for Islamic organizations.
The Senate report also detailed such questionable spending practices as purchases of “shirt button” cameras, $6,000 laptops, and big-screen televisions. One center, the report said, spent $45,000 on an SUV that a city official used for commuting. A spokesperson for DHS told Fox News at the time that the report was based on outdated information and that it “fundamentally misunderstands the role of the federal government in supporting fusion centers and overlooks the significant benefits of this relationship to both state and local law enforcement and the federal government.”
“They have not solved or prevented any terrorist acts in the United States,” Wendell Oliver, a retired Virginia police officer who has written two textbooks on homeland security told the Journal. “But there is also no evidence they have necessarily done any great harm — other than waste money.” It could be argued that, given the kind of people and organizations they have put on their “watch lists,” some of the fusion centers have also contributed to a climate and fear and suspicion that could pose a greater threat to the nation’s freedom and stability than wasteful and duplicative spending cited in studies of Homeland Security operations.
A 2012 report called Safety At Any Price, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) cited the purchase of 13 sno-cone machines in Michigan and the $45 million spent on a failed video surveillance network in Illinois as examples of “dubious spending.” But when it comes to duplication and waste, it would be hard to beat the operations of Congress itself. If congressional “oversight” could solve the problems of waste and mismanagement in government agencies, we might have by now the most efficient government in the history of the world. There are 100 or more committees or subcommittees of Congress with some measure or jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security.
“We can only defend our freedoms by ensuring the dollars we spend on security are done so in a fiscally responsible manner, meet real needs, and respect the very rights we are aiming to preserve and protect,” Coburn wrote. In other words, Congress and the agencies it has created should stop playing the role of a fanatic — one who redoubles his effort (and his spending) when he has forgotten his aim.
The FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors for government surveillance .
In meetings with industry representatives, the White House, and U.S. senators, senior FBI officials argue the dramatic shift in communication from the telephone system to the Internet has made it far more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, CNET has learned.
The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.
“If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding,” an industry representative who has reviewed the FBI’s draft legislation told CNET. The requirements apply only if a threshold of a certain number of users is exceeded, according to a second industry representative briefed on it.
The FBI’s proposal would amend a 1994 law, called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, that currently applies only to telecommunications providers, not Web companies. The Federal Communications Commission extended CALEA in 2004 to apply to broadband networks.
“Going Dark” timeline
June 2008: FBI Director Robert Mueller and his aides brief Sens. Barbara Mikulski, Richard Shelby, and Ted Stevens on “Going Dark.”
June 2008: FBI Assistant Director Kerry Haynes holds “Going Dark” briefing for Senate appropriations subcommittee and offers a “classified version of this briefing” at Quantico.
August 2008: Mueller briefed on Going Dark at strategy meeting.
September 2008: FBI completes a “high-level explanation” of CALEA amendment package.
May 2009: FBI Assistant Director Rich Haley briefs Senate Intelligence committee and Mikulsi staffers on how bureau is “dealing with the ‘Going Dark’ issue.'” Mikulski plans to bring up “Going Dark” at a closed-door hearing the following week.
May 2009: Haley briefs Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, currently the top Democrat on House Intelligence, who would later co-author CISPA.
September 2008: FBI staff briefed by RAND, which was commissioned to “look at” Going Dark.
November 2008: FBI Assistant Director Marcus Thomas, who oversees the Quantico-based Operational Technology Division, prepares briefing for President-Elect Obama’s transition team.
December 2008: FBI intelligence analyst in Communications Analysis Unit begins analysis of VoIP surveillance.
February 2009: FBI memo to all field offices asks for anecdotal information about cases where “investigations have been negatively impacted” by lack of data retention or Internet interception.
March 2009: Mueller’s advisory board meets for a full-day briefing on Going Dark.
April 2009: FBI distributes presentation for White House meeting on Going Dark.
April 2009: FBI warns that the Going Dark project is “yellow,” meaning limited progress, because of “new administration personnel not being in place for briefings.”
April 2009: FBI general counsel’s office reports that the bureau’s Data Interception Technology Unit has “compiled a list of FISA dockets… that the FBI has been unable to fully implement.” That’s a reference to telecom companies that are already covered by the FCC’s expansion of CALEA.
May 2009: FBI’s internal Wikipedia-knockoff Bureaupedia entry for “National Lawful Intercept Strategy” includes section on “modernize lawful intercept laws.”
May 2009: FBI e-mail boasts that the bureau’s plan has “gotten attention” from industry, but “we need to strengthen the business case on this.”
June 2009: FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs prepares Going Dark briefing for closed-door session of Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
July 2010: FBI e-mail says the “Going Dark Working Group (GDWG) continues to ask for examples from Cvber investigations where investigators have had problems” because of new technologies.
September 2010: FBI staff operations specialist in its Counterterrorism Division sends e-mail on difficulties in “obtaining information from Internet Service Providers and social-networking sites.”
FBI Director Robert Mueller is not asking companies to support the bureau’s CALEA expansion, but instead is “asking what can go in it to minimize impacts,” one participant in the discussions says. That included a scheduled trip this month to the West Coast — which was subsequently postponed — to meet with Internet companies’ CEOs and top lawyers.
A further expansion of CALEA is unlikely to be applauded by tech companies, their customers, or privacy groups. Apple (which distributes iChat and FaceTime) is currently lobbying on the topic, according to disclosure documents filed with Congress two weeks ago. Microsoft (which owns Skype and Hotmail) says its lobbyists are following the topic because it’s “an area of ongoing interest to us.” Google, Yahoo, and Facebook declined to comment.
In February 2011, CNET was the first to report that then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni was planning to warn Congress of what the bureau calls its “Going Dark” problem, meaning that its surveillance capabilities may diminish as technology advances. Caproni singled out “Web-based e-mail, social-networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications” as problems that have left the FBI “increasingly unable” to conduct the same kind of wiretapping it could in the past.
In addition to the FBI’s legislative proposal, there are indications that the Federal Communications Commission is considering reinterpreting CALEA to demand that products that allow video or voice chat over the Internet — from Skype to Google Hangouts to Xbox Live — include surveillance backdoors to help the FBI with its “Going Dark” program. CALEA applies to technologies that are a “substantial replacement” for the telephone system.
“We have noticed a massive uptick in the amount of FCC CALEA inquiries and enforcement proceedings within the last year, most of which are intended to address ‘Going Dark’ issues,” says Christopher Canter, lead compliance counsel at the Marashlian and Donahue law firm, which specializes in CALEA. “This generally means that the FCC is laying the groundwork for regulatory action.”
Subsentio, a Colorado-based company that sells CALEA compliance products and worked with the Justice Department when it asked the FCC to extend CALEA seven years ago, says the FBI’s draft legislation was prepared with the compliance costs of Internet companies in mind.
In a statement to CNET, Subsentio President Steve Bock said that the measure provides a “safe harbor” for Internet companies as long as the interception techniques are “‘good enough’ solutions approved by the attorney general.”
Another option that would be permitted, Bock said, is if companies “supply the government with proprietary information to decode information” obtained through a wiretap or other type of lawful interception, rather than “provide a complex system for converting the information into an industry standard format.”
A representative for the FBI told CNET today that: “(There are) significant challenges posed to the FBI in the accomplishment of our diverse mission. These include those that result from the advent of rapidly changing technology. A growing gap exists between the statutory authority of law enforcement to intercept electronic communications pursuant to court order and our practical ability to intercept those communications. The FBI believes that if this gap continues to grow, there is a very real risk of the government ‘going dark,’ resulting in an increased risk to national security and public safety.”
The FBI’s legislation, which has been approved by the Department of Justice, is one component of what the bureau has internally called the “National Electronic Surveillance Strategy.” Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation show that since 2006, Going Dark has been a worry inside the bureau, which employed 107 full-time equivalent people on the project as of 2009, commissioned a RAND study, and sought extensive technical input from the bureau’s secretive Operational Technology Division in Quantico, Va. The division boasts of developing the “latest and greatest investigative technologies to catch terrorists and criminals.”
But the White House, perhaps less inclined than the bureau to initiate what would likely be a bruising privacy battle, has not sent the FBI’s CALEA amendments to Capitol Hill, even though they were expected last year . (A representative for Sen. Patrick Leahy, head of the Judiciary committee and original author of CALEA, said today that “we have not seen any proposals from the administration.”)
Mueller said in December that the CALEA amendments will be “coordinated through the interagency process,” meaning they would need to receive administration-wide approval.
Stewart Baker, a partner at Steptoe and Johnson who is the former assistant secretary for policy at Homeland Security, said the FBI has “faced difficulty getting its legislative proposals through an administration staffed in large part by people who lived through the CALEA and crypto fights of the Clinton administration, and who are jaundiced about law enforcement regulation of technology — overly jaundiced, in my view.”
On the other hand, as a senator in the 1990s, Vice President Joe Biden introduced a bill at the FBI’s behest that echoes the bureau’s proposal today. Biden’s bill said companies should “ensure that communications systems permit the government to obtain the plain text contents of voice, data, and other communications when appropriately authorized by law.” (Biden’s legislation spurred the public release of PGP, one of the first easy-to-use encryption utilities.)
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. An FCC representative referred questions to the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, which declined to comment.
From the FBI’s perspective, expanding CALEA to cover VoIP, Web e-mail, and social networks isn’t expanding wiretapping law: If a court order is required today, one will be required tomorrow as well. Rather, it’s making sure that a wiretap is guaranteed to produce results.
But that nuanced argument could prove radioactive among an Internet community already skeptical of government efforts in the wake of protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act , or SOPA, in January, and the CISPA data-sharing bill last month. And even if startups or hobbyist projects are exempted if they stay below the user threshold, it’s hardly clear how open-source or free software projects such as Linphone, KPhone, and Zfone — or Nicholas Merrill’s proposal for a privacy-protective Internet provider — will comply.
FBI to announce new Net-wiretapping push
FBI: We’re not demanding encryption back doors
FBI targets Net phoning
The FBI’s CALEA amendments could be particularly troublesome for Zfone. Phil Zimmermann, the creator of PGP who became a privacy icon two decades ago after being threatened with criminal prosecution, announced Zfone in 2005 as a way to protect the privacy of VoIP users. Zfone scrambles the entire conversation from end to end.
“I worry about the government mandating backdoors into these kinds of communications,” says Jennifer Lynch, an attorney at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has obtained documents from the FBI relating to its proposed expansion of CALEA.
As CNET was the first to report in 2003, representatives of the FBI’s Electronic Surveillance Technology Section in Chantilly, Va., began quietly lobbying the FCC to force broadband providers to provide more-efficient, standardized surveillance facilities. The FCC approved that requirement a year later, sweeping in Internet phone companies that tie into the existing telecommunications system. It was upheld in 2006 by a federal appeals court.
But the FCC never granted the FBI’s request to rewrite CALEA to cover instant messaging and VoIP programs that are not “managed”–meaning peer-to-peer programs like Apple’s Facetime, iChat/AIM, Gmail’s video chat, and Xbox Live’s in-game chat that do not use the public telephone network.
If there is going to be a CALEA rewrite, “industry would like to see any new legislation include some protections against disclosure of any trade secrets or other confidential information that might be shared with law enforcement, so that they are not released, for example, during open court proceedings,” says Roszel Thomsen, a partner at Thomsen and Burke who represents technology companies and is a member of an FBI study group. He suggests that such language would make it “somewhat easier” for both industry and the police to respond to new technologies.
But industry groups aren’t necessarily going to roll over without a fight. TechAmerica, a trade association that includes representatives of HP, eBay, IBM, Qualcomm, and other tech companies on its board of directors, has been lobbying against a CALEA expansion. Such a law would “represent a sea change in government surveillance law, imposing significant compliance costs on both traditional (think local exchange carriers) and nontraditional (think social media) communications companies,” TechAmerica said in e-mail today.
Email exchanges between National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith Alexander and Google executives Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt suggest a far cozier working relationship between some tech firms and the U.S. government than was implied by Silicon Valley brass after last year’s revelations about NSA spying.
Disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the agency’s vast capability for spying on Americans’ electronic communications prompted a number of tech executives whose firms cooperated with the government to insist they had done so only when compelled by a court of law.
But Al Jazeera has obtained two sets of email communications dating from a year before Snowden became a household name that suggest not all cooperation was under pressure.
On the morning of June 28, 2012, an email from Alexander invited Schmidt to attend a four-hour-long “classified threat briefing” on Aug. 8 at a “secure facility in proximity to the San Jose, CA airport.”
“The meeting discussion will be topic-specific, and decision-oriented, with a focus on Mobility Threats and Security,” Alexander wrote in the email, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the first of dozens of communications between the NSA chief and Silicon Valley executives that the agency plans to turn over.
Alexander, Schmidt and other industry executives met earlier in the month, according to the email. But Alexander wanted another meeting with Schmidt and “a small group of CEOs” later that summer because the government needed Silicon Valley’s help.
“About six months ago, we began focusing on the security of mobility devices,” Alexander wrote. “A group (primarily Google, Apple and Microsoft) recently came to agreement on a set of core security principles. When we reach this point in our projects we schedule a classified briefing for the CEOs of key companies to provide them a brief on the specific threats we believe can be mitigated and to seek their commitment for their organization to move ahead … Google’s participation in refinement, engineering and deployment of the solutions will be essential.”
Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, said she believes information sharing between industry and the government is “absolutely essential” but “at the same time, there is some risk to user privacy and to user security from the way the vulnerability disclosure is done.”
The challenge facing government and industry was to enhance security without compromising privacy, Granick said. The emails between Alexander and Google executives, she said, show “how informal information sharing has been happening within this vacuum where there hasn’t been a known, transparent, concrete, established methodology for getting security information into the right hands.”
The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identities of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.
The classified briefing cited by Alexander was part of a secretive government initiative known as the Enduring Security Framework (ESF), and his email provides some rare information about what the ESF entails, the identity of some participant tech firms and the threats they discussed.
Alexander explained that the deputy secretaries of the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and “18 US CEOs” launched the ESF in 2009 to “coordinate government/industry actions on important (generally classified) security issues that couldn’t be solved by individual actors alone.”
“For example, over the last 18 months, we (primarily Intel, AMD [Advanced Micro Devices], HP [Hewlett-Packard], Dell and Microsoft on the industry side) completed an effort to secure the BIOS of enterprise platforms to address a threat in that area.”
“BIOS” is an acronym for “basic input/output system,” the system software that initializes the hardware in a personal computer before the operating system starts up. NSA cyberdefense chief Debora Plunkett in December disclosed that the agency had thwarted a “BIOS plot” by a “nation-state,” identified as China, to brick U.S. computers. That plot, she said, could have destroyed the U.S. economy. “60 Minutes,” which broke the story, reported that the NSA worked with unnamed “computer manufacturers” to address the BIOS software vulnerability.
But some cybersecurity experts questioned the scenario outlined by Plunkett.
“There is probably some real event behind this, but it’s hard to tell, because we don’t have any details,” wrote Robert Graham, CEO of the penetration-testing firm Errata Security in Atlanta, on his blog in December. “It”s completely false in the message it is trying to convey. What comes out is gibberish, as any technical person can confirm.”
And by enlisting the NSA to shore up their defenses, those companies may have made themselves more vulnerable to the agency’s efforts to breach them for surveillance purposes.
“I think the public should be concerned about whether the NSA was really making its best efforts, as the emails claim, to help secure enterprise BIOS and mobile devices and not holding the best vulnerabilities close to their chest,” said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team.
He doesn’t doubt that the NSA was trying to secure enterprise BIOS, but he suggested that the agency, for its own purposes, was “looking for weaknesses in the exact same products they’re trying to secure.”
The NSA “has no business helping Google secure its facilities from the Chinese and at the same time hacking in through the back doors and tapping the fiber connections between Google base centers,” Cardozo said. “The fact that it’s the same agency doing both of those things is in obvious contradiction and ridiculous.” He recommended dividing offensive and defensive functions between two agencies.
The government has asked for Silicon Valley’s help. Adam Berry / Getty Images
Two weeks after the “60 Minutes” broadcast, the German magazine Der Spiegel, citing documents obtained by Snowden, reported that the NSA inserted back doors into BIOS, doing exactly what Plunkett accused a nation-state of doing during her interview.
Google’s Schmidt was unable to attend to the mobility security meeting in San Jose in August 2012.
“General Keith.. so great to see you.. !” Schmidt wrote. “I’m unlikely to be in California that week so I’m sorry I can’t attend (will be on the east coast). Would love to see you another time. Thank you !” Since the Snowden disclosures, Schmidt has been critical of the NSA and said its surveillance programs may be illegal.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend that briefing. Foreign Policy reported a month later that Dempsey and other government officials — no mention of Alexander — were in Silicon Valley “picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats.” Foreign Policy noted that the Silicon Valley executives in attendance belonged to the ESF. The story did not say mobility threats and security was the top agenda item along with a classified threat briefing.
A week after the gathering, Dempsey said during a Pentagon press briefing, “I was in Silicon Valley recently, for about a week, to discuss vulnerabilities and opportunities in cyber with industry leaders … They agreed — we all agreed on the need to share threat information at network speed.”
Google co-founder Sergey Brin attended previous meetings of the ESF group but because of a scheduling conflict, according to Alexander’s email, he also could not attend the Aug. 8 briefing in San Jose, and it’s unknown if someone else from Google was sent.
A few months earlier, Alexander had emailed Brin to thank him for Google’s participation in the ESF.
“I see ESF’s work as critical to the nation’s progress against the threat in cyberspace and really appreciate Vint Cerf [Google’s vice president and chief Internet evangelist], Eric Grosse [vice president of security engineering] and Adrian Ludwig’s [lead engineer for Android security] contributions to these efforts during the past year,” Alexander wrote in a Jan. 13, 2012, email.
“You recently received an invitation to the ESF Executive Steering Group meeting, which will be held on January 19, 2012. The meeting is an opportunity to recognize our 2012 accomplishments and set direction for the year to come. We will be discussing ESF’s goals and specific targets for 2012. We will also discuss some of the threats we see and what we are doing to mitigate those threats … Your insights, as a key member of the Defense Industrial Base, are valuable to ensure ESF’s efforts have measurable impact.”
A Google representative declined to answer specific questions about Brin’s and Schmidt’s relationship with Alexander or about Google’s work with the government.
“We work really hard to protect our users from cyberattacks, and we always talk to experts — including in the U.S. government — so we stay ahead of the game,” the representative said in a statement to Al Jazeera. “It’s why Sergey attended this NSA conference.”
Brin responded to Alexander the following day even though the head of the NSA didn’t use the appropriate email address when contacting the co-chairman.
“Hi Keith, looking forward to seeing you next week. FYI, my best email address to use is [redacted],” Brin wrote. “The one your email went to — firstname.lastname@example.org — I don’t really check.”