News Release

NSA Spying Helped by “Military Digital Complex” and Commercialized Internet


Today, the Guardian features a live chat with leaker Edward Snowden.

ROBERT McCHESNEY, rwmcchesney at
McChesney is author of the recently released book Digital Disconnect. He said today: “Much of the coverage of the NSA spying scandal has underplayed crucial context: The capacity of the government to engage in constant surreptitious monitoring of all civilians has been greatly enhanced by the commercialization of the Internet. Moreover, the commercialized Internet, far from producing competition, has generated the greatest wave of monopoly in the history of capitalism. The giant monopolistic firms that rule the Internet — Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Version, AT&T, Comcast, Microsoft — all have tremendous incentive to collect information on people. There is a great deal of profit for these firms and others to work closely with the national security apparatus, and almost no incentive to refuse to participate. In short, there is a military-digital complex deeply embedded into the political economy and outside any credible review process by elected representatives, not to mention the public. It is an untenable situation for a self-governing society.”

McChesney is professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He notes in Digital Disconnect (the latest of several books he has published on media and democracy):

“The domination of the Internet by a handful of monopolists, as well as the emerging cloud structure of the Internet, is perfect for the government. It need deal with only a handful of giants to effectively control the Internet. …

“The monopolistic firms that have capitalized on the digital revolution have grown to world-historical proportions. In 2012, four of the ten largest U.S. corporations in terms of market valuation, including number one and number three, were Internet giants Apple, Microsoft, Google, and AT&T. Add IBM and that is five of the top ten. If one goes down through the top thirty, the list then includes Verizon, Amazon, Comcast, and Disney, as well as the Internet giants that depend less directly on the consumer market: Intel, Cisco, Qualcomm, and Oracle. That is thirteen of the top thirty firms. In comparison, the top thirty firms include only two of the ‘too big to fail’ banks that have earned so much notoriety for their dominance of the political economy. …

“The Internet has been embraced by the military and national security agencies, which are determined to make it their own. It ‘is a surveillance tool made in heaven,’ John Naughton [technology columnist of the London Observer] writes, ‘because much of the surveillance can be done, not by expensive and fallible human beings, but by computers.’ In 2012 the U.S. military formally stated that it ‘intended to treat cyberspace as a military battleground,’ and the most important battleground at that. The National Security Agency is completing a $2 billion complex in Utah that will be the cumulonimbus of Internet clouds. Its ‘near-bottomless databases’ will include ‘the complete contents of private e-mails, cell phone calls, and Google searches as well as all sorts of personal data trails.’ The NSA then has enormous capacity to slice and dice the contents. As James Bamford [a journalist who has covered the NSA extensively for three decades] observes, for the first time since Watergate, ‘the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the U.S. and its citizens.'”

The week before the Guardian made the Snowden leaks public, McChesney was on FAIR’s radio program, CounterSpin: “It’s really the worst possible scenario for a free society, when you have an economy dominated by a handful of monopolistic giants working hand in hand with a national security state that’s completely off-limits to public review to monitor the population. It’s not a tenable situation for a free society.”