Book Review: ‘Means of Control’ charts disturbing rise of secretive US surveillance regime

By Frank Bajak

March 4, 2024

In the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, former national security advisor John Poindexter launched Total Information Awareness, intent on preventing future assaults on the homeland by amassing extensive databases on people and their movements.

The Pentagon program had a creepy eye-surveilling-the-globe-from-a-pyramid logo and was roundly rejected by civil libertarians as Orwellian overkill. Adm. Poindexter, an Iran-Contra conspirator, was skewered by late-night talk show hosts and Congressional resistance moved to defund it.

Except TIA wasn’t DOA. Not by a longshot.

The data collection that Poindexter envisioned instead went underground, with code names such as “Basketball” and classified budgets. How private Beltway contractors grew what has become a secretive surveillance regime is exposed in disturbing detail by journalist Byron Tau in his first book, “Means of Control.” In the absence of a federal privacy law, the U.S. national security establishment has used commercially available data to craft a creeping panopticon.

As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Tau broke important stories on how the shadowy U.S. data collection and brokering industry has been indirectly — and legally, it seems — eavesdropping on tens of millions of Americans and foreigners in the service of U.S. military, intelligence and homeland security.

MORE

Book Review: Novelist and blogger Cory Doctorow pens a manual for destroying Big Tech

Sept. 12, 2023

By FRANK BAJAK

As a leading blogger in the pre-Substack era, novelist and public-interest technologist Cory Doctorow often warned that Big Tech was rendering of cyberspace a polluted, dystopian, crassly commercial and often hostile world of limited options.

Now it’s happened. Facebook, Instagram and other walled fiefdoms of surveillance capitalism distract discourse with scrolls of targeted ads and trending video reels. More genteel competitors were long ago muscled out.

Hateful trolls, violent speech and addictive algorithms thrive. And when a user account is mistakenly or unjustly shuttered, platform automation means the aggrieved will encounter callous indifference. It’s gotten to where anti-Big Tech initiatives enjoy bipartisan backing in an otherwise teetering U.S. democracy.

“There is no fixing Big Tech,” Doctorow, who blogged for years on the website “Boing Boing,” writes in his new book “The Internet Con: How To Seize The Means of Computation.” The breezily written 173-page manifesto is for people who want to destroy it.

MORE