Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Military-Digital Complex

Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Military-Digital Complex

The internet is the most effective weapon the government has ever built.In this fascinating book, investigative reporter Yasha Levine uncovers the secret origins of the internet, tracing it back to a Pentagon counterinsurgency surveillance project.A visionary intelligence officer, William Godel, realized that the key to winning the war in Vietnam was not outgunning the ene...

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Title:Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Military-Digital Complex
Author:Yasha Levine
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Surveillance Valley: The Rise of the Military-Digital Complex Reviews

  • Avery

    To really understand what makes this book interesting it's probably best to get yourself in the right frame of mind, by reading something like Jacques Ellul's

    or Dmitry Orlov's

    . What is a technology? Our gut instinct as Americans is that technology makes our lives easier. But can it make them harder as well? Has the Internet turned America into a nation of serfs?

    With the proper background, you will understand what makes this book so interestin

    To really understand what makes this book interesting it's probably best to get yourself in the right frame of mind, by reading something like Jacques Ellul's

    or Dmitry Orlov's

    . What is a technology? Our gut instinct as Americans is that technology makes our lives easier. But can it make them harder as well? Has the Internet turned America into a nation of serfs?

    With the proper background, you will understand what makes this book so interesting. Yasha Levine discovers many omissions in Internet history -- the true earliest uses of the technology and the way that the public is still being dazzled with "technology to reclaim our privacy" today. We are being trained to eagerly participate in systems of monitoring and control.

  • Adam  McPhee

    The first part is a history of the Internet. It reminded me of reading

    in high school: on the one hand, constantly dismayed by the appalling practices used to create and sustain an industry, but on the other hand, I was also left with the feeling of wanting a burger (or in this case to reminisce about my early experiences with the Internet and to to

    The first part is a history of the Internet. It reminded me of reading

    in high school: on the one hand, constantly dismayed by the appalling practices used to create and sustain an industry, but on the other hand, I was also left with the feeling of wanting a burger (or in this case to reminisce about my early experiences with the Internet and to to celebrate the technological achievements, even though they're being used to track dissidents and kill public services). Perhaps it's a testament to all of the pro-Internet propaganda I've consumed. Not that the author is anti-Internet, rather, he thinks we're framing the debate wrong. For example, he points out that the surveillance/privacy debate is completely skewed with 'privacy' somehow always being a good thing, except that it's letting corporations and government bodies run wild without oversight.

    The second part of the book focuses more narrowly on this surveillance/privacy question, looking at the Tor Project in fine detail. Always found myself reminiscing here, for the heyday of Levine's reporting for the NSFW Corp and Pando websites. And he's completely vindicated. Well, he was right at the time too, but the insane amount of vitriol sent his way made it feel less triumphant. He completely exposes Tor as a honeypot, a cover for spies (something I'd had trouble conceptualizing when I'd read about it earlier, Levine lays out the details more clearly here), and not the mathematically infallible tool it's booster (once?) claimed it was.

    The whole book is incredibly well-researched (something I think Levine, and also his sometimes writing partner Mark Ames, don't get enough credit for).

    One thing I'm left curious about: is Tor still revered among the Silicon Valley elite the way it was in '13/'14? I suppose it's a moot question though, because after reading Surveillance Valley it's hard to see how anyone could defend it.

  • lauren  g

    A post-modern must-read.

  • Noah Skocilich

    Great investigative journalism about something that matters.

    Told elegantly and intelligently.

    This is one of those books like Shock Doctrine or Democracy in Chains that has reshaped and deeply clarified my understanding of current events.

  • Vikas Erraballi

    I’m so concerned about this I post my entire reading list on goodreads

  • David Wineberg

    TOR is a federal sting?

    TOR is the dark internet, where identity thieves, drug dealers and arms sellers hang out, safely hidden. It is home to Wikileaks and Silk Road. You can purchase anything from a billion stolen e-mail accounts to assassination services there. Turns out TOR is a service designed and built by the CIA, and even though TOR is now a non-profit organization, it is almost entirely funded by annual “donations” from a handful of US government agencies, mostly connected - to the CIA.

    TOR is a federal sting?

    TOR is the dark internet, where identity thieves, drug dealers and arms sellers hang out, safely hidden. It is home to Wikileaks and Silk Road. You can purchase anything from a billion stolen e-mail accounts to assassination services there. Turns out TOR is a service designed and built by the CIA, and even though TOR is now a non-profit organization, it is almost entirely funded by annual “donations” from a handful of US government agencies, mostly connected - to the CIA. The NSA sees TOR as “a honeypot”, where all kinds of people they’re after (dealers, jihadists, bombers) gather in one place. They can be tracked and found with little effort. So while the government bemoans the criminals hiding in plain sight on TOR, it also encourages their use of TOR with taxpayer money.

    How can this be? It seems that CIA operatives using TOR to hide their online identities were instantly recognizable as CIA operatives because their activity showed they came from TOR. So the user base had to be broadened in order to hide the spies – in plain sight.

    Yasha Levine obtained a carton full of documents from the Board of Broadcasting Governors, another offshoot of the CIA, using the Freedom Of Information Act. It is all spelled out clearly and plainly, including updates to the CIA on technical progress at the supposedly independent non-profit. Levine says TOR employees are essentially federal civil servants. This book is a warning that you never know who your friends are, and that everything can be fashioned into a weapon.

    Surveillance Valley, The Secret Military History of the Internet is a totally misleading title for this book. It wanders through internet history for two hundred pages, looking at the same developments we all know about. Mostly, it is not about surveillance. And there’s nothing new.

    We all know what an open sewer the internet is. And that Silicon Valley receives countless billions from the government for services gladly rendered, be they hosting, profiling or out and out spying. Also nothing new. So the book became a grating read, until quite suddenly and without warning, Levine turned to TOR. The paradox of the US government building, promoting and subsidizing the would-be secret world of the dark net is scary enough. That it is so fragile its managers attacked a university that hacked it, accusing the university of “ethical lapses“ is both laughable and shocking. (It turned out to be cheap and easy.) That anyone thinks they are safe anywhere must forever be out of the question.

    Even, or similarly, Signal is a dark net product of the US government. It encrypts communications over the internet, but first requires users to upload their cellphone number and their entire phonebooks. And everyone does. Like lambs to the slaughter. Signal uses Amazon servers, so any intelligence force can watch for the pings and quickly see who is using Signal to keep their conversations secret. Both Signal and TOR are forcefully and famously recommended by Edward Snowden and Julian Assange for their “privacy and safety”. They both must know better. So what does that mean?

    The CIA used its ops network to attack Levine for his investigation, in a co-ordinated campaign. He was suddenly accused of all kinds of crime and immorality, and subjected to threats including death to his family. Even Anonymous got after him as a wacko conspiracy theorist. All in an effort to discredit anything he might later publish. But Levine has the government’s own documents. He did the groundwork for the book on a Kickstarter campaign with 500 contributors. And now he is delivering - a real public service – at least in the last third of it.

    David Wineberg

  • Denise

    I went into this book expecting a quick read, but this isn't that type of book. It starts off with a lengthy history of the internet, beginning at its very infancy as a tool to help census counters collect and sort information, all the way up to the present day. This background was necessary to lay the foundation for the rest of the book, but while interesting, it could be a bit dense at times.

    Surveillance Valley picks up speed about halfway through, when the author behind detailing how basicall

    I went into this book expecting a quick read, but this isn't that type of book. It starts off with a lengthy history of the internet, beginning at its very infancy as a tool to help census counters collect and sort information, all the way up to the present day. This background was necessary to lay the foundation for the rest of the book, but while interesting, it could be a bit dense at times.

    Surveillance Valley picks up speed about halfway through, when the author behind detailing how basically all the big names -Google, etc- are in bed with the government and in fact being paid by them to spy on us. The most shocking part to me was learning that Tor was basically funded and created more or less by the government and not by anti government hackers as I've always been led to believe. Oh - and it's not secure in the slightest.

    This is a scary read that will have you thinking twice about the internet, technology, and everything you do on your phone or computer.

    Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy for review.

  • Janet

    Wow, Surveillance Valley is one of those books I had to read and digest a little at a time. Yasha Levine has certainly piqued my interest and the desire to read more about the subject. I wished that I had a reading buddy to discuss and debate the information contained in this book. It would be an excellent selection for a book discussion group, simply based on my own wishes. The book is organized well and the references are explained in a conversational manner. My paranoia has definitely been tr

    Wow, Surveillance Valley is one of those books I had to read and digest a little at a time. Yasha Levine has certainly piqued my interest and the desire to read more about the subject. I wished that I had a reading buddy to discuss and debate the information contained in this book. It would be an excellent selection for a book discussion group, simply based on my own wishes. The book is organized well and the references are explained in a conversational manner. My paranoia has definitely been triggered by this riveting book.

  • Aaron Arnold

    Usually the news stories fretting about how much power tech companies have over our lives that appear every day are framed as the cost of doing business: for example, the reason why Google makes it so hard to turn off location tracking is that they just really want to serve you targeted ads. But while those privacy concerns can and often do boil down to simple greed, one reason why problems of tracking and control are so endemic is that Silicon Valley is intimately connected to the national secu

    Usually the news stories fretting about how much power tech companies have over our lives that appear every day are framed as the cost of doing business: for example, the reason why Google makes it so hard to turn off location tracking is that they just really want to serve you targeted ads. But while those privacy concerns can and often do boil down to simple greed, one reason why problems of tracking and control are so endemic is that Silicon Valley is intimately connected to the national security state/military-industrial complex, and though most popular histories of computers and the internet emphasize the free-spirited glamour of the hacker culture, one might as well think of the suite of apps on a typical phone as a voluntary counter-insurgency program that we carry out on ourselves. As Levine chronicles, much is made of the power of technology to aid people's fight for freedom, as in coverage of how the organizers of the Arab Spring revolutions used Twitter and Facebook, but less attention is paid to how governments use that same technology to monitor dissidents, control demonstrations, and prevent unrest before it ever occurs.

    The connections between tech companies and law enforcement go much deeper than that police departments sometimes also use Gmail. Levine relates many seminal historical events like IBM's collaboration with Nazi Germany, the internet's origins in ARPA, the funding of many supposedly liberatory technologies like Tor by the government, the activities of figures like Peter Thiel who bridge PayPal and Palantir, and the CALEA mandate for telecom companies, showing that for every starry-eyed visionary who saw computers as "bicycles for the mind", in Steve Jobs' phrase, there was another steely-eyed capitalist with no qualms about furnishing governments with whatever they needed to keep tabs on restive populations. It's not that people don't care about privacy, as periodically NSA programs like PRISM become big news for a while, but anyone truly interested in issues like internet freedom has to pay attention to Silicon Valley as well as Washington. It may be that the idea that anyone could use the internet without being watched was always a fantasy, but while Levine doesn't present quite as bleak of a world as, say, Adam Curtis, who he cites a few times, anyone who's seen a few of Curtis' documentaries ("They had a vision of a new world, free from politics... but then something strange happened") will find much that's unhappily familiar here.

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