NEW YORK— It is run out of a quiet, unassuming office on a tree-lined avenue in Bethesda, Maryland. The rows of hip restaurants are offering young urban professionals all the grande-iced-sugar-free-vanilla-soy-lattes they could ever need. However, this serene suburban idyll belies the fact that serious work for the police state is taking place out of view.
Nestled in a suite just upstairs from the Asian fusion and seafood restaurants is a company that is transforming the way law enforcement, intelligence agencies and even giant corporations communicate within their organizations and with each other.
The company is called BlueLine Grid. It markets itself as “the nation’s premier, trusted collaboration network for law enforcement, first responder and security teams.” Indeed, BlueLine Grid boasts an impressive array of investors and customers, including the LAPD and General Electric, among others.
But perhaps their most interesting client – and the one that deserves the most scrutiny – is In-Q-Tel, the venture capital and investment arm of the CIA. It is no secret that In-Q-Tel invests in emerging technologies that the U.S. intelligence community, especially the CIA, views as potential tools in their covert trade.
As the “Vault 7” documents published by WikiLeaks have revealed, the CIA’s Directorate for Digital Innovation is involved in hundreds of projects aimed at turning everything from smartphones and televisions to critical computer software into potent weapons for U.S. intelligence. Private companies operating outside of, but in partnership with, the CIA form a vital aspect of the agency’s innovation industry.
BlueLine Grid is a perfect example of the partnership that exists between the intelligence community and the private sector. This partnership raises significant concerns regarding potential breaches of privacy.
POLICING THE WORLD BY SMARTPHONE
BlueLine Grid uses real-time GPS information to allow police officers, intelligence operatives and other potential clients to communicate and coordinate within a given area and respond, in real-time, to changing developments on the ground. (Photo: Blueline Grid marketing material)
BlueLine Grid’s apps allow clients to communicate with team members in a reliable and secure network using a technology called geofencing. Essentially, the technology allows a particular client (e.g. the Los Angeles or New York police departments) to draw a perimeter on a live map and communicate with all officers within that perimeter.
Put another way, BlueLine Grid uses real-time GPS information to allow police officers, intelligence operatives and other potential clients to communicate and coordinate within a given area and respond, in real-time, to changing developments on the ground. Rather than a walkie-talkie or generic mass text message, BlueLine Grid’s technology allows users to rigidly define a geographic space within which messages can be sent, as well as prevent those messages from being sent outside of the space.
The frightening implication is that this technology could eventually be used to stifle protest and halt communication among protesters. It is not hard to imagine police officers in major U.S. cities using the tech to harass and arrest protesters within specific geographical areas, cutting the legs out from under protests before they even begin.
Considering that police forces across the country are already fully militarized and employ military-style tactics, it would seem that BlueLine Grid is offering yet another potent weapon in the police state’s ongoing war against free speech and assembly. But it goes much further than that, as this technology is now quite literally the property of the CIA thanks to the undisclosed, but assuredly large, investment made in BlueLine Grid by the agency. And the connections to the police state and military-industrial-security complex run far deeper.
THE FORCES BEHIND BLUELINE GRID
New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton announces that every police officer will be equipped with a smart phone by March 2016 during the New York City Police Foundation’s “State of the NYPD” breakfast, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016, in New York. (Diane Bondareff/AP)
The company was founded by former politician Jack Weiss and entrepreneur David Riker, along with former New York and Los Angeles police department chief Bill Bratton. Originally founded as Bratton Technologies, Inc., the company rebranded itself as BlueLine Grid in 2013. A quick look at the background of these individuals offers some insight into how BlueLine Grid got on the fast track to being the premier state intelligence app service.
Bratton, in many ways, has been the public face of the company since its inception. He’s a skilled political operator connected to some of the most important power brokers in Washington, DC. After founding the company, Bratton had a stint as Commissioner of the New York Police Department, a position from which he resigned in 2016.
Bratton did not retire into obscurity, however. Instead, he took a job with Teneo Holdings, a consulting group closely linked to the Clinton political machine, as well as to Israel and its powerful DC lobby. Teneo Holdings was founded by longtime Clinton advisers Douglas Band and Declan Kelly, who used their Clinton connections to make Teneo into one of the world’s most lucrative consulting firms.
Alongside Bratton, Teneo boasts influential consultants, such as former Clinton and Obama Middle East envoy George Mitchell, and former British Foreign Secretary William Hague. Teneo has essentially become a nexus between law enforcement, the national security state, the military-industrial complex and political power brokers.
Teneo as a whole, and Bratton specifically, have deep ties to Israel, with Bratton having given multiple high-profile speeches, including the keynote address at Israel’s National Conference on Personal Security in Jerusalem, a conclave of some of the leading figures in Israel’s (and the United States’) national security apparatus.
The conference included influential attendees from around the globe. With Israel having established itself as one of the world’s leading security-tech centers, it’s no wonder that Bratton has cultivated such ties over the years as he established joint-training and close cooperation between the LAPD and Israeli security forces as chief of the department.
NYPD Commissioner William Bratton poses with Israeli officials at the First National Personal Security Conference in Israel.
Considering the way in which Israel criminalizes and represses Palestinian activists, it should come as no surprise that Bratton is also interested in cutting-edge technologies that give his clients the advantage over activists and oppressed communities.
But Bratton is not the only connection between BlueLine Grid and the military-industrial-security state. Co-founder of BlueLine Grid Jack Weiss has also traveled in some of the elite circles within the security apparatus.
Before co-founding Bratton Technologies, Weiss worked for Altegrity Inc., a private contractor that focused on global investigations and security. The chairman of Altegrity was the same Bill Bratton who, at the time, had recently retired from the LAPD. Altegrity went on to acquire the infamous Kroll, Inc., a business intelligence and investigations company, with Weiss heading up Kroll’s LA office.
As a 2009 New Yorker profile of the company’s founder Jules Kroll noted:
Kroll really made his living, and his name, on Wall Street. He owed his success …to Goldman Sachs and Skadden Arps and a long list of corporations, law firms, investment banks, management consultants, hedge funds, and brokerage houses…he and his company have been more highly valued for keeping things in the dark than for the occasional, client-approved exposé. They are the keepers of innumerable embarrassing, probably career-destroying, possibly corporation-destroying secrets.
Kroll is widely credited with having created an industry where there was none. Call it corporate intelligence…He offered an ever-widening range of services—forensic accounting, crisis management, competitor analysis—tooled for a globalized business world, in which industrial espionage, counterfeiting, computer fraud, identity fraud, and sophisticated financial crimes have flourished.
Indeed, the Kroll brand was well-known in political and financial circles, perhaps too well-known. As the New Yorker continued:
“With its international intelligence networks and their sometimes unnerving abilities, Kroll began to be described as ‘a private C.I.A.’ This was unhelpful. [Norb] Garrett—who was the C.I.A.’s station chief in Cairo before he joined Kroll—told me, ‘We can’t work in certain parts of the world if people believe we’re C.I.A. We just can’t.’”
Kroll, with its deep ties to the CIA and U.S. intelligence, came under the leadership of Weiss and Bratton in the last decade. Now they’re scratching each other’s backs one more time, this time with CIA seed money bankrolling yet another Weiss-Bratton business venture, BlueLine Grid.
And as the CIA money came flowing in, Weiss chose to move the company from New York to Bethesda, Maryland, just a 10-mile drive from CIA headquarters in Langley. As Weiss stated:
“We have this incredible pool of talent from industries related to government that enable us to build real, mission critical, serious, hardcore technology right here in the D.C. area…We can take people who have been working on big, serious projects for a past couple years and put them in a new, cool startup environment and create a ton of new value.”
Put another way, BlueLine Grid moved to DC in order to leverage its contacts with the CIA and other government agencies and share talent and resources with them. While it remains a private startup company, BlueLine Grid has become a de facto government contractor, part of the very large revolving door between government and the security-surveillance complex.
RECLAIMING THE TECH THEATER OF CONFLICT
Thousands of demonstrators hold up their cell phones as they protest against an Internet tax planned to be introduced by the Hungarian government, in front of the Ministry of National Economy in Budapest, Hungary, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014. Inscription reads: “Mafia government”.
There should be little doubt that the technology with which BlueLine Grid is equipping police forces, intelligence agencies and private corporations could be used against groups that organize to challenge state and corporate power.
That’s why it’s critical that activists from Standing Rock to Zuccotti Park, from Ferguson to Berkeley, be equipped with the necessary technology to defend themselves. They will need hackers to take BlueLine Grid’s technology and turn it into a tool for organizing.
If police and intelligence officers can freely communicate in order to organize and coordinate their actions, so too should protesters and revolutionaries. If the iPhone or Android is a weapon in the hands of the authorities, so too should it be a weapon in the hands of the peaceful protester.
Technology is one of the most critical theaters of conflict with the state and the forces of corporate control. There may be a BlueLine Grid out there working to arm the police with hi-tech weapons, but there are also millions of us working to disarm them and build a better world.