The Center for an InformedAmerica

Sony's Magic Cameras


Dave McGowan
June 2000

The American media had a good laugh over a story that was briefly bandied about a couple of years ago. It seems that a certain manufacturer of consumer electronics had inadvertently released a batch of 'defective' video cameras to the public. These cameras had a most unusual feature: when used in a particular manner, they allowed the user to covertly film unsuspecting people sans clothing.
        The press chuckled over this for a few days, particularly when noting that a recall effort by the company had not resulted in the return of very many of the faulty cameras. This is likely because the cameras were not actually defective, at least not in the normal sense of the word. In fact, they performed the normal home video camera functions quite well.
        The problem was that they had an extra function. The company explained that this was due to a manufacturing defect - a bad batch of chips - and the story was quickly lost in the shuffle and forgotten. But beneath this seemingly inconsequential story of a company mishap lurked something far more sinister - a brief glimpse into Big Brother's toolbox.
        It can be safely concluded that these cameras were not by any stretch of the imagination 'defective.' They actually performed exactly as designed. The problem most likely was that a batch of cameras built for military and/or intelligence purposes found their way onto the consumer market. This obviously presented a bit of a problem for the company. They could not even admit that such technology exists, let alone that they were in the business of developing and manufacturing such devices. The solution? Blame it on a manufacturing defect.
        True to form, the media appeared not to notice the patently absurd nature of this pathetic attempt at a cover story. The truth is that the intelligence community has spent decades researching and enormous amounts of cash developing and refining this very type of surveillance technology, and these cameras were one of the end results of that research.
        The technology that gives these devices the ability to see through clothes is, needless to say, considerably more advanced than that which is found in your everyday home video camera. You just don't get from one to the other through a manufacturing 'flaw,' just as color television wasn't miraculously born when someone botched a batch of black-and-white picture tubes.
        In truth, virtually all consumer electronics - as well as non-consumer technology utilized by business and industry - begins life in the intelligence community, and only after it has outlived its usefulness there does it emerge in the public sphere, often as the newest consumer craze.
        The Polaroid camera is a classic example of this. Edwin Land, as has been reported, was a long time member of the intelligence community, where his area of expertise was electronic surveillance. Among other things, he played a key role on the U-2 spy plane project and presided over the Scientific Engineering Institute, a CIA front. (1) He is of course better known as the inventor of the famed camera.
        The Polaroid was actually invented long before its debut on store shelves. It should be readily apparent to readers that this breakthrough technology - at a time when no one knew of its existence - would have been of enormous value to the spy-trade, which is precisely why the spooks utilized it for an untold number of years before it was 'reinvented' as a consumer product.
        And so it goes with other high-tech innovations as well, including the nifty new through-the-clothes video cameras. This particular form of invasive technology has already begun to creep into the public sphere. Not long after the camera story aired, a local newscast carried a story about a new type of security system being trialed at a U.S. airport. In place of the standard metal detector that we have all come to know and love was what could best be described as an electronic strip-search machine.
        This device utilized what appeared to be the very same technology that made its debut in the 'defective' cameras. As travelers and guests passed through the scanner, the operator was viewing what was described as a very accurate representation of their nude forms. As would be expected, this innovation did not seem to be well received and the limited media coverage was promptly dropped.
        The surveillance of America, however, continues. Along with the through-the-clothes technology, we now also have through-the-wall surveillance capabilities. (2) And along with the ability to see through walls comes the ability to hear through walls as well. A device known as a laser-guided microphone can be pointed at any pane of glass, allowing the user to eavesdrop upon any conversation emanating from within a windowed structure.
        Though a creation of high technology, this device is actually based on a rather low-tech concept: a pane of glass acts as a speaker, of sorts, vibrating in response to the sound waves striking it from inside your home. Any flat, non-rigid, membrane-like surface in a building acts in much the same way.
        The drywall that covers the walls of your home, for instance, conducts sound as well. That is how sound travels through a wall. The sound waves strike the drywall on one side of the wall, which acts much like a microphone. Through the studs in the wall (the conduit or speaker wire, so to speak) the sound is transferred to the drywall on the other side, which through vibration then serves as the speaker.
        But enough with the physics lessons. The point is that any pane of glass in a building is a potential speaker. And with the use of  advanced military technology, it is possible to isolate and amplify the otherwise inaudible sound waves being broadcast from that window pane.
        This technology is rapidly being shared with ostensibly civilian law enforcement agencies, so that local law enforcement will soon be able to conduct what amounts to a drive-by search of your home - looking and listening in - without your consent or even your awareness, at any time they should so choose.
        Equally alarming is the proliferation of allegedly private firms, dubbed 'data warehouses,' whose sole function is the collection and cataloguing of data about American citizens. The Washington Post recently described how the warehouses function: "Twenty-four hours a day, Acxiom electronically gathers and sorts information about 196 million Americans. Credit card transactions and magazine subscriptions. Telephone numbers and real estate records. Car registrations and fishing licenses. Consumer surveys and demographic details." (3)
        Also readily available and fair game are medical records, financial and banking information, military records, marital records, and an array of other personal information. All of this information gathering is greatly facilitated by the technological advances that have been sold to the public as products and services that greatly benefit us as consumers.
        For example, the move towards a 'cashless' society has allowed an unprecedented amount of personal data to enter the information marketplace. While it is undoubtedly a convenience to purchase virtually any good or service with an ATM or credit card, it is also quite true that doing so leaves an electronic trail that can and will be followed.
        It is not just the types of products you are buying that is tracked, but where you are buying them as well. Your daily routines will, over time, show up in the ways in which you use electronic money. By databasing each transaction, your daily travels can be accurately constructed, as well as your shopping habits and various other aspects of your life.
        Another great boom to the information gatherers has been the widespread popularity of the internet. I hate to be the one to break the news, but the innovation that allows you to gather information also allows others to gather information about you. The internet was, long before Al Gore or anyone else 'invented' it, a military intelligence entity. It was designed, implemented and maintained by the intelligence community to fulfill its needs, not yours. And it continues to be an apparatus of the intelligence infrastructure today.
        As the Encyclopaedia Britannica tells it: "The Internet had its origin in a U.S. Department of Defense program called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), established in 1969 to provide a secure and survivable communications network for organizations engaged in defense-related research ... at length the National Science Foundation (NSF), which had created a similar and parallel network called NSFNet, took over much of the TCP/IP technology from ARPANET and established a distributed network of networks capable of handling far greater traffic." (4)
        The encyclopedia also notes that, contrary to the current notion that no one controls the internet, "NSF continues to maintain the backbone of the network." The same encyclopedia describes the NSF as "an independent agency of the U.S. government," though what exactly an 'independent' agency of the U.S. government is receives no explanation. Other reports have noted though that the NSF has been heavily involved in funding and conducting MK-ULTRA research. (5)
        Britannica explains that the foundation was "inspired by advances in science and technology that occurred as a result of World War II; the NSF was established by the U.S. Congress in the National Science Foundation Act of 1950." What the NSF is, in other words, is one of a blizzard of intelligence fronts that were set up in the immediate aftermath of the forming of the CIA itself in 1947.
        Of course, just because the beloved internet was begun as an intelligence entity and is still administered by a government agency doesn't mean that it still functions as an intelligence tool. It is worth noting, however, that the company that was primarily responsible for repackaging the internet into a civilian entity, America Online, is perhaps the most thinly veiled intelligence front ever conceived.
        This can be easily verified by a visit to AOL's corporate website, where visitors learn - among other things - that the company is headquartered in Dulles, Virginia. Curious as to where this might be, I attempted to locate the city of Dulles on a couple of maps, to no avail. This, I learned, was because Dulles is actually an offshoot of Langley, Virginia.
        Langley is also rather difficult to locate on a map. For the uninitiated, this is because Langley, Virginia is the home of the Central Intelligence Agency. In fact, there isn't much else in Langley, Virginia, which exists almost exclusively to provide residence to the thousands of employees of the CIA's headquarters.
        And it is precisely there that you will find the home of AOL. Apparently recognizing the negative connotations of a Langley mailing address, the company essentially created a 'suburb' and named it Dulles. Dulles, by the way, is named in honor of the notorious Dulles siblings, Allen and John Foster, whose names were virtually synonymous with the U.S. intelligence infrastructure through both World Wars and much of the Cold War.
        Another fact about AOL that belies its true function is the composition of its Board of Directors. Here you will find such high-level military/intelligence assets as General Colin Powell and General Alexander Haig. All of which gives a whole new meaning to that all-seeing eye that comprises the company's logo.
        The ways in which we are encouraged to use the internet also belie an intelligence function. Perhaps the most popular use is for communicating via e-mail, which is rapidly replacing other modes of communication. Not coincidentally, e-mail communications are far easier to intercept than are correspondence by phone or letter, especially given that they are traveling on a network designed by spooks.
        Also increasingly popular is on-line shopping, which greatly facilitates the gathering of information about your shopping and spending habits. Yet more disturbing is the push for on-line banking, which is a great idea if you don't mind your banking transactions being added to your information profile. Not that your banker isn't already sharing that information anyway. (6)
        The filing of taxes online is being heavily promoted as well. Anyone who now figures their taxes with a program such as Turbotax knows that there will be a steady stream of prompts to file your tax return electronically. Probably the same result could be obtained by sending your return directly to Langley. Of course, belief in the notion that the IRS doesn't share your tax information with any other government agencies has always required a rather large leap of faith.
        Perhaps the most alarming use for which the internet is now being promoted is for on-line voting. Though this may sound like an enormous benefit, particularly for those who - due to age or physical infirmity - find it difficult to get to a polling booth, it also means that the notion of secret ballot elections could soon become a distant memory.
        There are other ways, as well, in which products hailed as a great boon to consumers are steadily eroding our privacy. These products invariably become ubiquitous virtually overnight, through heavy promotion and advertising coupled with rapidly falling prices. The most obvious example of this is cellular phones.
        Cell phones have, of course, tremendously benefited consumers - particularly those arrogant buffoons who feel the need to trumpet their self-importance by making obnoxious calls on elevators. Yet cell phones have a dark side as well: they function as tracking devices, allowing your movements to be precisely monitored. This capacity is an integral feature of the phone: the communications satellite must know where you are in order for you to send and receive your calls.
        As was reported in Rolling Stone, "In Japan, cell phones are used to track the precise whereabouts of their users (the software lets you punch in someone's phone number and gives back his location, even the floor he's on). A locational capacity is coming soon to American cell phones by order of the Federal Communications Commission." (7)
        Similarly, computerized navigational systems featured in new cars serve the same purpose. And again, this is an integral feature of the technology: the precise location of your vehicle must be known for the system to work. One report noted that: "Receivers for Global Positioning System satellites will become a feature in every new car's navigational system, perhaps allowing a system 'hacker' to track your whereabouts to a centimeter's accuracy." (8)
        It's not likely though that system hackers are what you need be concerned about. The spooks who launched and maintain the GPS satellites through intelligence fronts like ITT should be of some concern, however. As should the law enforcement agencies with whom this information will undoubtedly be shared.
        Even without the on-board navigational system, it will soon be possible to track any vehicle. One report has noted that "Vehicle Recognition Systems have been developed which can identify a car number plate then track the car around a city using a computerized geographic information system. Such systems are now commercially available." (9)
        As are facial recognition systems - powered by software "trained to measure spatial relationships among facial features and to convert that information into a mathematical map of the face." (10) "The revolution in urban surveillance will reach the next generation of control once reliable face recognition comes in. In fact, an American company Software and Systems has trialed a system in London which can scan crowds and match faces against a database of images held in a remote computer." (9)
        The database is already being built, by the way. The Washington Post has reported that "A small New Hampshire company that wants to build a national database of driver's license photographs received nearly $1.5 million in federal funds and technical assistance from the U.S. Secret Service last year." (11)
        The day is not far off when all of this technology will be combined to erode the last vestiges of privacy rights. As Marc Rottenberg - head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center - has noted: "People don't quite get it yet ... soon there will be computer files of facial images, and when you walk in (a building), your face will be instantly scanned by computer, so you'll be recognized by name." (7)
        Picture the day when every store you enter will capture your photo (as is already the case), access a photo database via a high-speed internet connection and identify you by name, Social Security number, etc.. This identification will then be fed into another database from an information warehouse, revealing all the details of your life. Instantly.
        Your shopping habits will be examined: do you normally shop in this type of store? If not, then what are you doing there? Your financial status will be examined: can you even afford to shop in this particular store? Your police record will be examined: remember that little shoplifting indiscretion in your youth?
        And of course - just to be on the safe side - you might be digitally strip-searched upon entering and leaving the store as well. If you arouse too much suspicion, you might even be tracked after leaving the facility: "All these devices can be linked together and allow police to spy in real time." (6) Then again, you could opt to just stay at home and do all your shopping via the internet. If so, remember to wave to the nice policeman conducting the drive-by search of your home.

1. Gordon Thomas Journey Into Madness, Bantam, 1989
2. Hans H. Chen "New X-Ray Vision Will Let Cops See Through Walls," Sightings, July 21, 1999
3. Robert O'Harrow, Jr. "Data Firms Getting Too Personal?", Washington Post, March 8, 1998
4. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, www.britannica.com
5. Harry V. Martin and David Caul "Mind Control," Napa Sentinel, August-November 1991
6. Edmund Sanders "Many Banks Giving State Extensive Customer Data," Los Angeles Times, July 16, 1999
7. William Greider "The Cyberscare of '99," Rolling Stone #819, August 1999
8. "Big Brother Now Has An Inc. After It," San Jose Mercury News, July 1, 1996
9. Scientific and Technical Options Assessment "An Appraisal of the Technologies of Political Control," September 1998
10. "The Digital Mugshot," Congressional Quarterly, Inc.
11. Robert O'Harrow, Jr. and Liz Leyden "U.S. Helped Fund Photo Database of Driver IDs," Washington Post, February 18, 1999
 
 

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