by Tom Burghardt
July 25, 2011
Tom Burghardt is a
researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In
addition to publishing in Covert Action Quarterly and Global
Research, he is a Contributing Editor with
Cyrano's Journal Today.
His articles can be read on
Dissident Voice, The Intelligence Daily, Pacific Free Press,
Uncommon Thought Journal, and
the whistleblowing website
He is the editor of Police
State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning,
distributed by AK Press and has contributed to
the new book from Global
The Global Economic Crisis: The
Great Depression of the XXI Century.
Following revelations earlier this year by
Tech Herald that security firms with close ties to the Pentagon ran black
ops for major U.S. banks and corporations, it became clear that proprietary
software developed for the military and U.S. intelligence was being used to
Those firms, including now-defunct HBGary Federal, parent company
Palantir (a start-up flush
with cash from the CIA's venture capital arm
In-Q-Tel) and Berico Technologies had partnered-up with the Bank of
America's law firm
Hunton & Williams and the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and
devised a sub rosa plan of attack
against WikiLeaks and Chamber
And when the cyber-guerrilla collective
Anonymous published some 70,000
emails and documents filched from HBGary servers, it was off to the races.
In the intervening months since that story first broke, journalists and
researchers have turned their attention to a dark web of security firms
developing surveillance software for law enforcement, the Pentagon, and
repressive foreign governments.
Wired revealed that one such firm,
"a holding of the Liberty Media giant that
owns Sirius XM and the Atlanta Braves," is marketing "something it calls
'location intelligence,' or LOCINT, to intelligence and law enforcement
agencies," investigative journalist Spencer Ackerman disclosed.
The Pennsylvania-based company has sold their
location services system to NSA surveillance partner AT&T and T-Mobile,
allowing those carriers to pinpoint "over 60 million 911 calls annually."
"For the better part of decade," Ackerman
writes, "TruePosition has had contracts to provide E-911 services with
AT&T (signed originally with Cingular in 2001, which AT&T acquired) and
Known as "geofencing," the firm explains that
"collects, analyzes, stores and displays
real-time and historical wireless events and locations of targeted
reported that amongst the
services TruePosition offers clients are,
"products for safety and security
applications, including family monitoring, personal medical alert,
emergency number service, and criminal tracking."
Additionally, BusinessWeek reports, the company
tailors its "enterprise applications" to corporations interested in,
"workforce management, asset tracking, and
location-based advertising; consumer applications, including local
search, traffic, and navigation."
But what should concern readers is the firm's
"government applications" market which includes everything from "homeland
security" and "military intelligence" to "force tracking."
a press release posted on the firm's web site, the,
"TruePosition Location Intelligence
Management System (LIMS)" is a "a multi-dimensional database, which uses
probes within mobile networks to capture and store all mobile phone
network events - including the time and the location of events. Mobile
phone events are items like calls made and received, text messages sent
and received, a phone powered on and off, and other rich mobile phone
Deploying technology dubbed Uplink Time
Difference of Arrival (U-TDOA), the system, installed on cell phone towers,
identifies a phone's approximate location - within 30 meters - even if the
handset isn't equipped with GPS.
Undoubtedly the system can save lives.
"In one case," Ackerman reports, "a
corrections officer... was abducted by a recent parolee. But because
her cellphone was turned on and her carrier used TruePosition's location
tech, police were able to locate the phone along a Kentucky highway.
They set up a roadblock, freed the officer and arrested her captor."
All well and good.
However, in the hands of repressive governments
or privacy-invading corporations, say Rupert Murdoch's
media empire, there
just might be far different outcomes.
A Link to the Murdoch
The relevance of location intelligence in general and more pointedly,
TruePosition's LIMS cellphone surveillance products which may, or may not,
have been sold to London's Metropolitan Police and what role they may have
played in the Murdoch News of the World (NoW) phone hacking scandal have not
been explored by corporate media.
While the "who, what, where" aspects of the scandal are now coming sharply
into focus, the "how," that is, the high-tech wizardry behind invasive
privacy breaches, and which firms developed and profited from their sale,
have been ignored.
Such questions, and related business entanglements, should be of interest to
investigators on both sides of the Atlantic. After all, TruePosition's
parent company, the giant conglomerate
Liberty Media currently holds an 18
percent stake in News Corporation.
With corporate tentacles stretching from investments in TimeWarner Cable to
Expedia and from QVC to Starz and beyond, Liberty Media is a multi-billion
dollar media behemoth with some $10.9 billion in revenue in 2010, according
SEC filing by the firm.
With deep pockets and political clout in Washington the company is "juiced."
In 2011, Liberty's CEO, John C. Malone, surpassed Ted Turner as the largest
private landowner in the United States, controlling some 2.1 million acres
The New York Times.
Dubbed "Darth Vader" by
The Independent, Malone acquired a 20 percent stake
in News Corp. back in 2000 and,
"was one of the main investors who rode to
the rescue of Mr Murdoch in the early 1990s when News Corp was on its
The New York Times
reported back in 2005 that
Malone's firm was,
"unlikely to unwind its investment in the
News Corporation" because he considered "the stake in the News
Corporation a long-term investment, meaning that the relationship
between him and Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of the News Corporation,
was not likely to be dissolved any time soon."
After acrimonious mid-decade negotiations that
stretched out over two years, the media giants cobbled together a deal in
2006 resulting in a $11 billion asset swap, one that gave Liberty control of
the DirectTV Group whilst helping Murdoch "tighten his grip" on News Corp.,
according to The New York Times.
Interestingly enough during those negotiations, investment banking firms
Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase along with the white shoe law firm Hogan
& Hartson advised News Corp., while Liberty was represented by Bear Stearns
and the Baker Botts law firm, long time Bush family consiglieres.
All this can be chalked-up to an interesting set of coincidences.
However, the high stakes involved and the
relationships and connections forged over decades, including those amongst
players who figured prominently in
capitalism's 2008 global economic crisis
Bush family corruption, cannot be ignored.
A Suspicious Death
Last week's suspicious death of former NoW whistleblower Sean Hoare should
set alarm bells ringing.
When the scandal broke, it was Hoare
who told The New York Times last year
that senior editors at NoW and another Murdoch tabloid, The Sun, actively
encouraged staff to spy on celebrities and others, including,
victims of the
London terror attacks
British soldiers killed in Afghanistan
the murdered teenager Milly Dowler,
...all in pursuit of "exclusives."
reported that Hoare said that,
"reporters at the NoW were able to use
police technology to locate people using their mobile phone signals, in
exchange for payments to police officers."
"He said journalists were able to use 'pinging', which measured the
distance between a mobile handset and a number of phone masts to
pinpoint its location," The Guardian revealed.
Hoare described how reporters would ask a news
desk executive to obtain the location of a target:
"Within 15 to 30 minutes someone on the news
desk would come back and say 'Right, that's where they are.'"
Quite naturally, this raises the question which
"police technology" was used to massage NoW exclusives and which firms made
a pretty penny selling their wares to police, allegedly for purposes of
"fighting crime" and "counterterrorism"?
It was Hoare after all
who told The New York Times just days before his
death that when he worked for NoW,
"pinging cost the paper nearly $500 on each
According to the Times, Hoare found out how the
"when he was scrambling to find someone and
was told that one of the news desk editors, Greg Miskiw, could help."
The Times reports that Miskiw,
"asked for the person's cellphone number,
and returned later with information showing the person's precise
location in Scotland."
An unnamed "former Scotland Yard officer"
interviewed by the Times said "the individual" who provided confidential
information to NoW and other Murdoch holdings,
"could have been one of a
small group entitled to authorize pinging requests,"
...that is a senior
counterterrorism officer charged with keeping the British public "safe."
Hoare told the Times,
"the fact that it was a police officer was
clear from his exchange with Mr. Miskiw."
"'I thought it was remarkable and asked him how he did it, and he said,
'It's the Old Bill, isn't it?'"
"At that point, you don't ask questions," Hoare said.
Yet despite the relevance of the reporter's
death to the scandal, police claimed Hoare's sudden demise was,
but not thought to be suspicious."
World Socialist Web Site points out:
"The statement is at the very least
extraordinary, and at worst sinister in its implications."
Left-wing journalist Chris Marsden wrote that,
"Hoare is the man who broke silence on the
corrupt practices at the News of the World and, most specifically,
alleged that former editor Andy Coulson, who later became Prime Minister
David Cameron's director of communications, was fully aware of phone
hacking that took place on an 'industrial scale'."
Aside from the secret state, what other entities
are capable of intercepting phone and other electronic communications on "an
Given Rupert Murdoch's close ties to the
political establishment on both sides of the Atlantic, is it a stretch to
speculate that a "sympathetic" intelligence service wouldn't do all they
could to help a "friend," particularly if cash payments were involved?
How could Hoare's death not be viewed suspiciously?
"the morning after Hoare's body was found,"
Mardsen writes, "former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul
Stephenson and his former deputy, John Yates, were to give evidence
before a home affairs select committee. Stephenson had tendered his
resignation Sunday and Yates Monday."
Conveniently, for those with much to hide,
"the death of Hoare means that his testimony
will never be heard by any such inquiry or, more importantly, by any
criminal investigation that may arise."
Yet, despite a pending coroner's inquest into
the exact cause of the reporter's death, corporate media have rushed to
judgment, labeling anyone who raise suspicions as being, what else,
This despite the fact, as the World Socialist Web Site reported Saturday
information has surfaced,
"regarding the extent of News International
links to known criminals."
Indeed, on July 6 left-wing journalist Robert
Stevens reported that,
"Labour MP Tom Watson told Parliament that
News International chief executive and former News of the World editor
Rebekah Brooks 'was present at a meeting with Scotland Yard when police
officers pursuing a murder investigation provided her with evidence that
her newspaper was interfering with the pursuit of justice'."
"'She was told of actions by people she paid to expose and discredit
David Cook [a Detective Superintendent] and his wife Jackie Haines so
that Mr. Cook would be prevented from completing an investigation into a
"Watson added," Stevens writes, that "'News International was paying
people to interfere with police officers and were doing so on behalf of
known criminals. We know now that News International had entered the
Although Hoare had suffered from years of
alcohol and cocaine abuse, he was in rehab and by all accounts on the road
Hoare could have died from natural causes but this has not yet
Pending histology and toxicology tests which will take weeks, and a
coroner's inquest was adjourned July 21 until said test results were in,
short of a definitive finding, nothing can nor should be ruled out,
including murder, by a party or parties unknown.
While it would be a fatal exercise in rank stupidity for News Corp. to rub
out Sean Hoare, would others, including police or organized crime figures
caught up in the scandal and known to have been paid by News Corp.,
"people to interfere with police officers"
and to have done so "on behalf of known criminals," have such qualms?
An Open Question
We do not know if TruePosition sold LIMS to London's Metropolitan Police,
key players in the Murdoch hacking scandal, and the firm won't say who they
However, whether they did or did not is a relevant question.
That security firms develop and sell
privacy-killing products and then wash their hands of responsibility how and
by whom their products are used - for good or ill - is hardly irrelevant to
victims of police repression or private corruption by entities such as News
The issue here are the actions taken by our corporate and political minders
who believe that everything in terms of smashing down walls between public
and private life is up for grabs, a commodity auctioned off to the highest
While we are told by high-tech firms out to feather their nests and
politicians that "law enforcement" require we turn over all our data to
police to "keep us safe," the Murdoch scandal reveals precisely that it was
police agencies corrupted by giant corporations which had allowed such
criminal behavior to go unchecked for years.
And with Congress and Obama Justice Department officials pursuing
legislation that will require mobile carriers to store and disclose
cell-tower data to police and secret state agencies - all without benefit of
a warrant, mind you - as well as encryption back doors built into the
internet, we are reaching a point where a perfect storm threatens privacy
well into the future, if not permanently.
A Looming Threat
Since LIMS 2008 introduction some 75,000 mobile towers in the U.S. have been
equipped with the system,
FoxNews, ironically enough, reported two years
That same report informed us that,
"LOCINT continues to operate in Middle
Eastern and Asia-Pacific nations where no legal restrictions exist for
tracking cell phone signals."
TruePosition's marketing vice president Dominic
Li told Fox,
"when you establish a geofence, anytime a
mobile device enters the territory, our system will be alerted and
provide a message to the customer."
Li went on to say,
"we realize that this has a lot of value to
law enforcement agencies outside of search and rescue missions. It gives
rise to a whole host of new solutions for national security."
In keeping with the firm's penchant for secrecy,
risk averse when it comes to negative publicity over the civil liberties'
implications of their products,
"citing security concerns," Fox reported
that "company officials declined to specify which countries currently
use the technology."
TruePosition claims that while wireless
"has revolutionized communication" it has a
"dark side" as "terrorists and criminals" exploit vulnerabilities to
create "serious new threats to the security of nations worldwide."
Touting their ability to combine,
"location determination and network data
mining technologies," TruePosition "offers government agencies, security
experts and law enforcement officials powerful, carrier-grade security
solutions with the power to defend against criminal and terrorist
Never mind that most of the "serious new
threats" to global citizens' rights come from unaccountable state security
agencies and international financial cartels responsible for the greatest
theft of resources in human history.
For interested parties such as TruePosition,
"actionable intelligence" in the form of
"data mining to monitor activity and behavior over time in order to
build detailed profiles and identify others that they associate with,"
will somehow, magically one might say, lead to the apprehension of
"those who threaten the safety of citizens."
Unasked is the question: who will protect us
from those who develop and sell such privacy killing technologies?
Certainly not Congress which has introduced legislation,
"that would force
Internet companies to log data about their customers," CNET News
earlier this month.
"As a homeland security tool," Wired
reported, LIMS is "enticing."
Brian Varano, TruePosition's marketing
director told Spencer Ackerman to,
"imagine an 'invisible barrier around
sensitive sites like critical infrastructure,' such as oil refineries or
"The barrier contains a list of known phones belonging to people who
work there, allowing them to pass freely through the covered radius. 'If
any phone enters that is not on the authorized list, [authorities] are
immediately notified,'" Varano told Wired.
While TruePosition's technology may be useful
when it comes to protecting nuclear installations and other critical
infrastructure from unauthorized breaches and may be an important tool for
investigators tracking down drug gangs, human traffickers, kidnappers and
stalkers, as we have learned from the Murdoch scandal and the illegal
driftnet surveillance of Americans, the potential that governments and
private entities will abuse such powerful tools is also likely.
According to Wired while,
"TruePosition sells to mobile carriers," the
company is "cagey about whether the U.S. government uses its products."
Abroad however, Ackerman writes,
"it sells to governments, which it won't
name. Ever since it came out with LOCINT in 2008," Varano said that
"'Ministries of Defense and Interior from around the world began beating
down our door'."
That technological "quick fixes" such as LOCINT
can augment the power of secret state agencies to "easily identify and
monitor networks of dissidents," doesn't seem to trouble the firm in the
In fact, such concerns don't even enter the equation. As Wired reported, the
company "saw a growth market in a field" where such products would have
"the expanding, globalized field of homeland
"It really was recession-proof," Varano explained to Ackerman, "because
in many parts of the world, the defense and security budgets have either
maintained where they were or increased by a large percentage."
Small comfort to victims of globalized
surveillance and repression that in many places, including so-called
"Western democracies," are already an ubiquitous part of the political
Consider the ease with which police can deploy
LIMS for monitoring
dissidents, say anticapitalist activists, union leaders or citizen
organizers fighting against the wholesale theft of publicly-owned
infrastructure to well-connected corporations (Greece, Ireland or Spain for
example) by governments knuckling-under to IMF/ECB demands for so-called
"deficit reduction" schemes.
As Stephen Graham points out in his seminal book
Cities Under Siege,
"as the everyday spaces and systems of urban
everyday life are colonized by militarized control technologies" and
"notions of policing and war, domestic and foreign, peace and war become
less distinct, there emerges a massive boom in a convergent industrial
complex encompassing security, surveillance, military technology,
prisons, corrections, and electronic entertainment."
"It is no accident," Graham writes, "that security-industrial complexes
blossom in parallel with the diffusion of market fundamentalist notions
for organizing social, economic and political life."
Creating a climate of fear is key to those who
seek to manage daily life.
Thus the various media-driven panics surrounding
nebulous, open-ended "wars" on "deficits," "drugs," "terror" and now
That firms such as
TruePosition and hundreds of others who step in to
capitalize on the highly-profitable "homeland security" market, hope to
continue flying under the radar, we would do well to recall U.S. Supreme
Court Justice Louis Brandeis who strongly admonished us that "sunlight is
the best disinfectant."