Silicon Valley is now ground zero of the biggest espionage struggles facing the United States since the height of the Cold War. The glitzy suburbs between San Francisco and San Jose are filled with agents playing a cat-and-mouse game over stealing high-tech secrets after the Chinese accomplished what the Soviets only dreamed of.
In 2009, China hacked into Google to see which of its spies were known to the FBI by tracing secret FBI data requests. Two years later, China hacked into RSA, a company hired by defense contractors to encrypt their computers and stole detailed plans for major U.S. weapons systems including new fighter planes, worth trillions, and critical domestic infrastructure including gas pipelines.
The military hardware thefts have been called the largest transfer of intellectual property ” in history” by top national security officials and arguably are a bigger intelligence failure than al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11, 2001.
They are now front-page news as President Obama plans to meet China’s president on Friday. The White House’s press briefings say cybersecurity will be discussed, but do not mention the military secrets thefts. Instead, the briefings make it sound as if the only issue is stealing the newest consumer products. They do not mention what Obama will say in response.
With this information gap in the news, it’s inevitable that in San Francisco, where the best and brightest techies board chartered buses to commute to the Valley, there is gossip about big data, big government, spying and counter-espionage. Silicon Valley has long been home to companies that have done clandestine work for Washington’s intelligence agencies, so the rumors about what’s being done to stop Chinese spying are more than intriguing–they’re worth investigating.
The most eyebrow-raising talk concerns Google and its newest innovation, the Glass project. These stylish eyeglasses are a new voice-activated computing platform that replaces typing and can do almost everything that smart phones now do. A small rectangular box sits atop one lens and contains next-generation processors, as well as a video and still camera and microphone. The screen is in the corner of one eye. Sound vibrates through the glass frame, not ear buds.
The gossip about Glass goes far beyond the significant list of privacy concerns that arise because anything within eyesight or earshot can seen, heard, recorded and uploaded for data mining. According to one beta-tester with a military-intelligence background, Glass’ 1,500 or so testers are unknowing eyes and ears of a bold anti-espionage strategy. He claimed that an army of Glass-wearing geeks in the Bay Area’s high-tech nooks and crannies was allowing U.S. spy agencies to find and follow Chinese agents in real time.
That assertion is built on other premises that were explained. Google and the government have ties that neither want to disclose, such as spy agency access to all of Google’s data. Glass’ facial recognition capacities may not be ready for public use just yet–just as Facebook got beat up when it announced a similar feature last year. But they are there and have prompted Congress’ bipartisan Privacy Caucus to voice concerns about Glass.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of meta data associated with each of those images that you don’t think about, because you think I’m just taking a picture of my friends in a bar,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has criticized Glass for possible creepy uses, from stalkers following women to cops identifying protesters. “That’s why the government is so interested in it. They want access to that data.”
This article originally appeared on: AlterNet