Review: “Surveillance Valley” By Yasha Levine

October 25, 2020

Once in a while a book comes long that smacks you in the head and says: “This is whats really going on”.
“Surveillance Valley – The Secret Military History Of The Internet” – by Yasha Levine, is just such a book.

We live in an age of technical wonder, a quasi-magical age where information is available at our fingertips. The internet can teach us anything, for better or worse. We can explore, translate, build, and fantasize to our hearts content – with all that information being secretly tucked away for uses we have no idea about.

In “Surveillance Valley”, Levine patiently walks us through the corporations, spooks and nerds that created the internet for – you probably guessed it – the Pentagon and intelligence agencies.

By the time the U.S. was elbow deep in the Vietnam debacle, technology had grown in leaps and bounds. New methods of warfare (sometimes called “soft power”) were being deployed.
The problem was that so much information was being gathered, there was no practical way to catalog and analyze it.

In step with the wizards of innovation, the techno-geeks that believed in a version of libertarian ideology envisioned computers as the great leveling tool for all populations. Unfortunately, they were so sold on these pipe dreams that they didn’t hesitate to work hand-in-hand with military contractors.

ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency was born.
Add a “D” in front for “Defense” and call it DARPA now.

Levine describes one of the early drivers of the ARPA project, MIT professor Sola Pool:

“Pool was much more than a campaign pollster; he was also an expert in propaganda and psychological operations and had close ties to ARPA’s counterinsurgency efforts in Southwest Asia, Latin America, and the Soviet Union. From 1961 through 1968, his company, the Simulmatics Corporation, worked on ARPA counterinsurgency programs in South Vietnam as part of William Godel’s Project Agile, including a major contract to study and analyze the motivation of captured Vietnamese rebels and to develop strategies to win the allegiance of South Vietnamese peasants.” (p. 65)

By that time, students at Harvard and MIT had figured out that the “Cambridge Project” and the ARPA network “was essentially a front for the CIA”.

The ARPA network tied together the White House, the CIA, the Defense Department and the FBI. It became a unified military computer network that was eventually turned inward on the U.S. population.
General William Yarborough, upon seeing the Detroit riots in 1967, told Army intelligence:
“Men, get out your counterinsurgency manuals, we have an insurgency on our hands”.

In his chapter “Utopia and Privatization”, Levine introduces us to people like Louis Rossetto of “Wired” magazine, Stewart Brand of “The Whole Earth Catalog” and the basket of long-haired libertarians that facilitated the popularization of the internet.
Brand wrote: “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people. That’s good news, maybe the best since psychedelics”.
Of course, the new network was mostly privatized in the 1980’s, and we saw the emergence of companies like Google. What Levine reveals about Google, something we only partly understood, should shock people.

(Google founder) “Page especially realized Google could potentially lose users if people understood the ways the company used their search streams. Guarding this secret became bedrock corporate policy.” … “The founder wanted total secrecy”. (p. 154)

Google searches were compiled in a way that reporters were able to unmask the users in some cases.
Here is what freaked me out about Google:

”The Search browser was a powerful thing, it allowed Google to peer into peoples lives, habits, and interests.” …

Then Gmail was created: “Once users logged into their internet browser in their email account, Google was able to track their every movement on the internet, even if they used multiple devices.”
…”In this sense, Gmail opened up a whole new dimension of behavior tracking and profiling: It captured personal business correspondence, private documents, postcards, vacation photos, love letters..”. (p. 158)

They have all our shit. Period.

“..names were matched to real identities and addresses using third-party databases as well as contact information stored in a user’s Gmail address book…”

As the technology grew:
“Back then, there was widespread understanding that computers were built for spying: gathering data about users for processing and analysis”.

To sum up:
“There is no escape, and, as Page and Brin (ed. Google execs) so astutely understood when they launched Google, everything that people do online leaves a trail of data.”. (p. 169)

You get the idea. We can’t escape.
Amazon, Facebook, you name it. We are cornered.
But now we must ask; did Yasha Levine get feedback from publishing this information?

Levine goes much deeper than I can describe. He rocks the boat of intelligence agencies, their contractors, and the very structure of the corporate internet.

In 2014, after Levine had published earlier articles on this subject, he began receiving threats.

”There were calls for my death, by fire, by suffocation, by having my throat slit with razor blades..”.
It goes on. This guy is one brave dude.

But Levine goes deeper; He demonstrates that encryption sites such as Tor and Signal are total bullshit. They were built to be captured. Levine’s chapter titled “Down The Rabbit Hole” will bend your mind about how much people have been fooled about encryption technology.

Encryption technology such as Tor and Signal were built for spies. But what was needed was to cloak spy craft within hundreds of thousands of other internet transactions. Therefore, Tor and Signal (and likely others) were compromised from the start.

This is the shit that got Levine the death threats.

I think anyone who is involved in tech, anyone who shops or asks search questions on the net, should understand “Surveillance Valley”.

Yasha Levine is one brave man. He has peeled back the onion layers of our emerging surveillance society. There could be a whole new chapter built around the new Covid scare and “contact screening”.

To understand how big tech and the intel agencies study and manipulate us, get a copy of “Surveillance Valley – The Secret Military History Of The Internet”, by Yasha Levine

– John Titus

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