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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Demonstrators Were Getting at with the Amazon/CIA Protest

Posted by on Tue, Feb 11, 2014 at 11:42 AM

  • The Stranger

  • The Stranger

What does Amazon have to do with the CIA? In last month's interview with Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos briefly let drop the fact that Amazon was building a "private cloud" for the CIA. And then yesterday, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald dropped a big story about how the CIA and NSA are choosing overseas drone targets via metadata, rather than human intelligence:

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using...

His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen... The former JSOC drone operator is adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have “absolutely” been killed as a result of the NSA’s increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic.

The metadata approach to overseas assassination has resulted in civilian deaths, including a Yemeni wedding party that demonstrators outside Amazon's offices referred to this morning.

Based on a tip I got last night, I headed down to South Lake Union just before 8 am and waited for protesters to show up at the corner of Republican and Terry, the entrance to's main plaza. These may have been the same protesters who briefly blockaded a Microsoft shuttle bus yesterday morning and handed out flyers about rising rents, expensive development, surveillance, uniformity, and what working in the tech sector might have to do with it all.

For the first 20 minutes I was down there this morning, folks were scuttling to work, everyone a little bleary-eyed, wearing lanyards with ID badges and carrying phones, paper cups, binders, and the other things people tote to and from office jobs. A little after 8 am, orange smoke drifted down the sidewalk. About a dozen demonstrators materialized, set off smoke flares, blocked an intersection, and held up a banner saying "CIAmazon." One of them read the text of a flyer (find it at the end of this post) into a bullhorn, saying: "The simple truth is that Amazon, the leviathan that calls Seattle home, is currently building a private data cloud for the CIA. With this cloud, the CIA will be better able to incinerate entire Yemeni families with Predator drones, stalk domestic and foreign dissidents, and keep track of its operatives across the planet. Amazon is now directly complicit in every new death caused by the CIA."

So, if the CIA is using metadata to order drone strikes that "definitely" kill "innocent people," the demonstrators said to the mildly annoyed people on their way to work, and Amazon is building the CIA's "private" computing cloud, and you work for Amazon, you're a little implicated in those deaths overseas.

Needless to say, this bit of street theater was not well received. Most shrugged it off, a few shouted variations on the theme "You're so fucking stupid!" and a few chortled about being newly dubbed CIA agents. Security guards conferred in a tense huddle in the middle of the plaza, but when I approached them, they immediately decamped inside one of the Amazon buildings and resumed their huddle.

The demonstrators seemed good-humored about it, laughed off the insults, and mildly heckled some passers-by: "If you work for Amazon, I've got some bad news for you. You work for the CIA to help incinerate families with drones. Sir, you look a little disturbed. I don't think you like working for the CIA, do you? I know you don't like Bezos. Just tell him to go fuck himself. It's really that simple... All right, just go to work, don't even think about it. And you, keep walking your dog!"

As I said on Slog yesterday, these demonstrations are more like conversation-starters than anything else. The demonstrators seem to be playing town crier (a role that is important or exasperating, depending on who's talking), popping up here and there to briefly disrupt the rhythm of everyday life and point toward this or that issue.

I, at least, had never watched the Bezos interview on 60 Minutes or connected the dots between Amazon, the CIA, and drone strikes. I wonder where (or if) they'll turn up tomorrow morning. The tipper who sent me to South Lake Union has not returned my calls.

Hello, world! The plaza before the ruckus.
  • "Hello, world!" The plaza before the ruckus.

  • The flyer activists handed out today.


Comments (43) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
Yeah, I'm not buying the claim that drone strikes are made based on meta data alone.
Posted by GermanSausage on February 11, 2014 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Very easy to get this confused with the "anti gentrification" protest on Capitol Hill. Seems to be the same three people from the Black Orchid Collective.
Posted by hmmmmm on February 11, 2014 at 11:47 AM · Report this
definitely at least 9 people yesterday, more than 3 people in the photo above, no evidence BOC has spearheaded either of these campaigns, though they may be involved.
Posted by hmmmwut? on February 11, 2014 at 12:07 PM · Report this
These guys should try wearing masks and blocking buses in Chicago. Things would go differently.
Posted by David from Chicago on February 11, 2014 at 12:14 PM · Report this
9 people? Will the Revolution be televised?

Good to see Branden's friends gave him a tip off. If this is a 'conversation' it's the type you see on the bus when someone is talking to themselves about drones spying on them.
Posted by Sugartit on February 11, 2014 at 12:29 PM · Report this
What conversation is this supposed to be starting?
Posted by Tyler Pierce on February 11, 2014 at 12:32 PM · Report this
Sam Levine 7
Mass transit is a tool of the man, man!
Posted by Sam Levine on February 11, 2014 at 12:33 PM · Report this
Harassing the person walking their dog is obnoxious. I get that these people are trying to start a conversation. That conversation seems to be "Jesus Christ that's stupid" "Yeah it is"
Posted by wxPDX on February 11, 2014 at 12:35 PM · Report this
This might come as a shock to you, but no one takes political statements printed in Comic Sans seriously.
Posted by Twiggy Pop on February 11, 2014 at 12:47 PM · Report this
chimsquared 10
this just in: if you're an american taxpayer, you're helping the cia.
Posted by chimsquared on February 11, 2014 at 12:53 PM · Report this
raindrop 11
No need for "private cloud" to have nefarious connotations. It is simply a collection of back end servers hosting web sites for people in the organization that are accessible only by well-authenticated Windows based security or claims based authentication. The CIA would actually do better by just purchasing Microsoft's "Windows Azure Pack" - a kit, so to speak, for making your own private cloud with an administrative and tenant portals.
Posted by raindrop on February 11, 2014 at 12:57 PM · Report this
Frank Blethen's vodka distiller 12
The idiots are at it again.
Posted by Frank Blethen's vodka distiller on February 11, 2014 at 12:58 PM · Report this
pragmatic 13
Death From Above™ , powered by Amazon.
Posted by pragmatic on February 11, 2014 at 1:03 PM · Report this
I was on that streetcar in the top photo. While I am sympathetic to their message and am alarmed by Amazon's business ties to the CIA, the streetcar was actually mostly filled with workers from Fred Hutch, where I work, an we all felt the whole affair was a bit misplaced.
Posted by herm on February 11, 2014 at 1:47 PM · Report this
guerre 15
@1 because you've read Greenwald and scahill's reporting and found evidence they did not cover?
Posted by guerre on February 11, 2014 at 1:47 PM · Report this
@1, that's okay, nobody is forcing you to buy the facts. You can believe anything you want, real or imagined.
Posted by herm on February 11, 2014 at 1:52 PM · Report this
pragmatic 17
@14 It's completely misplaced. These fools, and the others protesting Microsoft buses, do not know how to throw a fucking protest, or even understand who they SHOULD be protesting.
Posted by pragmatic on February 11, 2014 at 1:57 PM · Report this
The last thing these kind of tactics make me want to do is learn about whatever cause these folks are on about. Quite the opposite.
Posted by giffy on February 11, 2014 at 2:08 PM · Report this
MrBaker 19
I agree with 14, stopping a streetcar going to Fred Hutch, I'm having a difficult time supporting that action.

Because cancer patients are in on it?

Time for cow catchers on streetcars.
Posted by MrBaker on February 11, 2014 at 2:13 PM · Report this
Eric Arrr 20
A generation ago, a decent middle-class job got you a 3-bedroom house and a car. Now an "elite" tech worker gets a 700sf studio and rides a vanpool to work, and it's "check your privilege" time.

So, this is solidarity? Fuck anybody fortunate enough to still have a decent job?
Posted by Eric Arrr on February 11, 2014 at 2:30 PM · Report this
21 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Isn't it AMAzon since clearly they conspired with the American Medical AssoCIAtion and Obamacare to insure that medical textbooks are all "Kindlized"?
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe http://_ on February 11, 2014 at 3:26 PM · Report this
William of Seattle 23
UH, dear protestors, I don’t want the facts to get in the way of your unique cognitive abilities, BUT, the uses of Meta data for drone strikes, as well as the Amazon CIA cloud build are certainly not dark secrets just now coming to light. For instance, there was an epic and widely reported battle between Big Blue (IBM) and AWS (Amazon Web Services) for the 600 million dollar spy agency deal. AWS was awarded the contract in February 2013. Big Blue filed a complaint with the GAO (Government Accountability Office). The GAO sided with IBM, and recommended that the CIA reopen the bidding process because it had “failed to sufficiently evaluate price.” Big Blue’s bid was cheaper.
The rebid request prompted Amazon to file suit in the US Court of Federal Claims. In October 2013, Judge Thomas Wheeler sided with Amazon and shut down the rebidding process, and IBM capitulated: “In light of the government’s recent submissions emphasizing its need to move forward on the contract, IBM has withdrawn its motion,” reads a statement provided by IBM. “IBM maintains its position that the [Government Accountability Office's] findings were appropriate.” The PDF of the ruling is readily available:…
The deal was significant, also, because it represented a break between Big Blue and the Feds. In the past, it was sort of an assumption that IBM always snagged these types of Military/Industrial Complex builds. Amazon has emerged as a new heavyweight player in this lucrative field.
As far as Meta data being used to target drone strikes, check out Rachel Maddow’s brilliant 2012 book, Drift, The Unmooring of the American Military. She outlines how “the CIA has turned into a branch of the military that does not report to the Armed Services Committee.” She carefully details the two drone programs that we run, that of the Air Force and that of the CIA. Meta data is widely used by the CIA in their drone program.
I don’t know if these public transportation stopping protestors think that they have stumbled onto a hidden truth, or if they are simply trying to bring well documented facts to light. In either case, perhaps they should research more thoroughly just what exactly they are up against, and change tactics if they have any hope of getting their message (?) out in a cohesive fashion. After all, they are tangling with The Complex. Good luck with that.
Posted by William of Seattle on February 11, 2014 at 3:44 PM · Report this
I can see the headline now: "Asshat in mask gets rachel corried by SLUT"
Posted by asdfqwer on February 11, 2014 at 3:47 PM · Report this
How have so many people commenting missed the point that this has 0 to do with gentrification? It seems like these guys (if not the same) got message hijacked by the protests yesterday, despite not having particularly similar messages...

The only similarity is that they both briefly stopped a vehicle multiple people were counting on for getting to work, but lots of people are just copypastaing their arguments against the first for this second group.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on February 11, 2014 at 4:16 PM · Report this
hey Kiley; its funny that 99% of your readers would probably vote in favor of imprisoning these troublemakers. 15 years ago it would of been more like 20%. Kinda proves the point of the anti-growth protesters; Just because we have money doesn't mean things aren't going down hill.
Posted by carsten coolage on February 11, 2014 at 4:20 PM · Report this
And the same smiley face on both their leaflets. I'm sure that is just a coincidence though.
Posted by Senor Guy on February 11, 2014 at 4:25 PM · Report this
@14, did you consider pulling the emergency door release and walking the whopping six remaining blocks to your workplace?
Posted by d.p. on February 11, 2014 at 4:47 PM · Report this
Amazon? I thought those dipshits were blocking Microsoft buses.
Posted by treehugger on February 11, 2014 at 6:32 PM · Report this
@20, much of the country has affordable housing, check Eastern Washington, Omak, Okanogan, etc. Do you seriously think you should be able to afford a three bedroom house in the limited real estate of Seattle for beans?
Posted by BARRAS on February 11, 2014 at 6:57 PM · Report this
My amazon friends don't help the CIA. They maintain and monitor advertisement delivery for Kindles.
Posted by Lack Thereof on February 11, 2014 at 7:00 PM · Report this
sirkowski 32
In 50 years these same people will vote for anti-robosexual amendments.
Posted by sirkowski on February 11, 2014 at 7:17 PM · Report this
(shameless copypaste:)you blocked my trip to amazon this morning! fuck yemeni families, and the cia metadatacenter! i needed to get to work, and just because of that i will now put my full backing behind the metadatacenter, and all of amazons cooperation with the US intelligence agencies.

"i would have totally been with the whole "why are us corporate interests, and US government colluding?" but you made me 5 minutes late, and i missed our morning stretches!!!"

how dare you inconvenience me!?

Posted by daotherBrendan on February 11, 2014 at 7:51 PM · Report this
If you're going to troll, you can't be drunk when you do it.
Posted by Senor Guy on February 11, 2014 at 9:08 PM · Report this
@20: Same tactic, different issue. Yesterday, Microsoft's contribution to gentrification. Today, Amazon's sales of equipment for use spying on everyone and targetting people for death by the U.S. government's extrajudicial assassination drones.
Posted by Phil M on February 12, 2014 at 12:13 AM · Report this
Seattlebcc 36
Heres a thought, maybe AMAZON IS the CIA. I mean, really what better cover to know what everyone is doing and thinking by their reading, viewing and even food purchases, than masking yourself as a capitalist global distributor of goods and services and no one to know any different. Bwahahaha - "Luke, "I" am your father!"
Posted by Seattlebcc on February 12, 2014 at 4:04 AM · Report this
it's refreshing to see that you guys haven't bought into that whole global warming scam [you had me worried there for a bit]. These stinking luddites are trying to to take us back to 2012; theyre basically saying "Let's try calling it good and put a cap on it for a while."
Posted by carsten coolage on February 12, 2014 at 6:38 AM · Report this
@28 the "emergency door release"? I think you've been watching too many train movies. No, the streetcar was stopped, and the driver opened the doors and let everyone out.
Posted by herm on February 12, 2014 at 8:55 AM · Report this
@33 I think you're on to something. The very best way to get people behind your cause is to inconvenience them! In fact, the more horribly you treat them, the more they are likely to jump on our bandwagon! It's pure genius!

And hell, if they question your tactics you can just treat them like they are basically siding with your enemy and bam! Even more support! With all these people falling over themselves to join your protest, validating your organizing strategy as simply the best evah, you'll have the CIA booted out of Amazon in no time.

And to imagine how much you will accomplish, just by stopping a streetcar for 10 minutes. Solidarity through inconvenience! Look out world!
Posted by herm on February 12, 2014 at 9:10 AM · Report this
Yes yes yes. We get it. You're pissed off about Things that are Very Important, protesters. You may even have valid points somewhere in that mess but honestly you're pissing me off and making me late such that I'm really not interested in reading your hyperbolic BS. Your actions don't put me in a very receptive mood. From what I heard this morning, many of the others effected by your actions feel about the same.

Now the majority of people you were trying to reach are talking about how you're idiots at worst or illogical at best.

The conversation has started. Mission accomplished.
Posted by Midhir on February 12, 2014 at 10:40 AM · Report this
watchout5 41
So much, "But I love Amazon this can't be so" going on in this thread. Anyone thinking a company can have prices that low and not be a douchebag doesn't know capitalism at all.
Posted by watchout5 on February 12, 2014 at 2:30 PM · Report this
Yes, @38, the emergency door release. It's right there above and adjacent to every single door on every single trolley or subway car on the planet.

For you see, you implied that you were stuck in some way on the streetcar, as if the driver had refused to open the doors on the grounds that he wasn't at a platform. If that had been the case -- which apparently it was not -- you could easily have released yourself from the vehicle and continued on your way.

Given that the protesters chose to symbolically block a streetcar to nowhere, and that they stopped you less than a 10-minute walk from the end of the line, I presume you went along your merry way and continued to give just as few fucks as you would have given had you not been "inconvenienced" at all.
Posted by d.p. on February 14, 2014 at 3:06 PM · Report this
@43 Don't be silly. I implied no such thing as being stuck in the streetcar, you can read any ridiculous thing you want into what I wrote but that doesn't mean it's true.

But it is true, inconveniencing me did not, in fact, make me care any more than I did before the protesters blocked the line. And it is in that truth I think there is a valuable lesson, one that I have said over and over on this thread but you and yours seem to be incapable of reading (and instead reading things I didn't actually say): inconveniencing people is not going to make them join your cause. That is a simple fact of human nature and I find it mind boggling you don't understand it. Not me, and not anyone else.

Now go ahead and keep blocking traffic to spread your message, and watch as each time you do so people listen to you less and less. You are your own worst enemy here, and in the face of your own self-righteousness, are clearly clueless as to how to bring any sympathy to your cause. Too bad for you, but you can't say nobody warned you.
Posted by herm on February 25, 2014 at 11:28 AM · Report this

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