"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Surveillance Industrial Complex’

Chomsky: The Richest Countries Are Racing Us Towards Disaster While ‘Primitive’ Societies Are Trying to Stop It

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2014 at 8:53 pm

Noam Chomsky, the Salon interview: Governments are power systems, trying to sustain power

Oldspeak: “The growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice… In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control or maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be…It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.” -Noam Chomsky

“When one understands that so-called “advanced” societies have completely decoupled from the ecology and regard the destruction of irreplaceable natural capital as mere “externalities” and not vital parts of the web of life to be respected, sustained and cared for while so-called “primitive” societies thrive in intimate daily contact with the ecology and know something is terribly wrong;  it’s not ironic atal.  In advanced societies, infinite growth and profit are paramount, while in primitive societies symbiotic equilibrial coexistence in the ecology is paramount. While advanced societies dominate on this planet, we can expect more of the same heedless careening toward ecological catastrophe and mass extinction.” -OSJ

By Natasha Leonard @ Salon:

In his 85th year, political theorist and linguist Noam Chomsky remains a fiercely busy polymath and dedicated activist. Indeed, his schedule is so demanding, our interview had to be booked a good number of weeks in advance and my time on the phone with the MIT professor was sandwiched between another press interview and another one of his many commitments.

Happily, though, speaking with Chomsky in late December gave occasion to look back on this year — a year of revelation and obfuscation regarding U.S. government activity.

Chomsky told Natasha Lennard about his thoughts on the slew of NSA leaks, the future of the media, the neo-liberalization of the education system and the principle operations of governments. And, of course, the earth hurtling towards its own demise.

Q: This year’s revelations about the scope of surveillance-state activity are certainly not the first major leaks you’ve seen draw scrutiny on government spying. Is there something particular or unique, in your view, about the NSA revelations?

In principle it’s not an innovation; things like this have been going on for a long time. The scale and the incredibly ambitious character of the surveillance and control is something new. But it’s the kind of thing one should expect. The history goes back a long way. So, for example, if you go back a century ago, right after the U.S. invasion of the Philippines — a brutal invasion that killed a couple hundred thousand people — there was a problem for the U.S. of pacification afterwards. What do you do to control the population to prevent another nationalist uprising? There’s a very good study of this by Alfred McCoy, a Philippines scholar at University of Wisconsin, and what he shows is that the U.S. used the most sophisticated technology of the day to develop a massive system of survelliance, control, disruption to undermine any potential opposition and to impose very tight controls on the population which lasted for a long time and in many ways the Philippines is still suffering from this. But he also points out the technology was immediately transferred home. Woodrow Wilson’s administration used it in their “Red Scare” a couple years later. The British used it, too.

Q: Do you think revelations about sprawling surveillance have prompted much significant self-reflection from the American public about the workings of our state apparatus and our use of technology?

Governments are power systems. They are trying to sustain their power and domination over their populations and they will use what means are available to do this. By now the means are very sophisticated and extensive and we can expect them to increase. So for instance, if you read technology journals you learn that in robotics labs for some years there have been efforts to develop small drones, what they call “fly-sized drones,” which can intrude into a person’s home and be almost invisible and carry out constant surveillance. You can be sure that the military is very much interested in this, and the intelligence systems as well, and will soon be using it.

We’re developing technologies that will be used by our own governments and by commercial corporations and are already being used to maximize information for themselves for control and domination. That’s the way power systems work. Of course, they’ve always played the security card. But I think one should be very cautious about such claims. Every government pleads security for almost anything it’s doing, so since the plea is predictable it essentially carries no information. If after the event the power system claims security, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a functioning principle. And if you look at the record, you discover that security is generally a pre-text and security is not a high priority of governments. If By that I mean the security of the population — security of the power system itself and the domestic interests it represents, yes, that’s a concern. But security of the population is not.

Q: You’ve often highlighted flaws in mainstream media’s insidious institutional fealty during your career — notably in your book “Manufacturing Consent” [1988]. What do you think of the current state of the U.S. media? Do you have much hope for new ventures like Glenn Greenwald’s, which has already promised to aggressively take on government and corporate wrongdoing?

The availability of the Internet has offered a much easier access than before to a wide variety of information and opinion and so on. But I don’t think that is a qualitative shift. It is easier to go to the Internet than to go to the library, undoubtedly. But the shift from no libraries to the existence libraries was a much greater shift than what we’ve seen with the Internet’s development. [The Internet] gives more access — that part is good — but on the other hand, it is combined with a process of undermining independent inquiry and reporting within the media themselves. There’s plenty to criticize about the mass media but they are the source of regular information about a wide range of topics. You can’t duplicate that on blogs. And that’s declining. Local newspapers, I need not inform you, are becoming very much narrower in their global outreach, even their national outreach.  And that’s the real meat of inquiry of information gathering. We can criticize its character and the biases that enter into it, and the institutional constraints on it, but nevertheless it’s of inestimable importance. I’ve never questioned that. And that’s diminishing at the same time as accesses to a wider range of materials is increasing. The Greenwald initiative is a very promising one. He himself has had an impressive career of independent thinking, inquiry, analysis and reporting. I think there is good reason to have a good deal of trust in his judgement. Where it will go, we don’t know, it hasn’t started yet so it is just speculation.

I think that, for example,  the New York Times will remain what’s called the “newspaper of record” for the foreseeable future. I don’t see any competitor arising which has the range of resources, of overseas bureaus and so on again, I think there is plenty to criticize about it, but it is nevertheless an invaluable resource. There are many other independent developments which are quite significant of themselves so it’s valuable to have say Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now or Salon or any other independent voice. But I don’t see any indication that there is going to be some radically new form of gathering, reporting and analyzing information.

Q: As an academic and a political figure, you stand in an interesting position to observe shifting trends in the academy. How, in your view, have spiking tuition fees, sky-rocketing student debt and a corporatization of academic institution affected higher education? What’s your outlook on shifts in the education system in general in this country?

Well for me personally, it hasn’t been a change, but there are changes and developments in the higher education system and also K-12 which I think are extremely threatening and harmful. To keep it at the higher education: Over the past generation — roughly speaking the neoliberal period — there has been a substantial shift towards corporatization of the universities, towards imposing of the business model on higher education. Part of that is what you’ve mentioned, tuition rises. There has been an enormous increase in tuition. I don’t think you can give an economic argument for that. Take a look at the comparative evidence. Right to our south, Mexico, which is a relatively poor country, has a quite respectable higher education system, and it’s free. The country that consistently ranks among the highest in educational achievement is Finland. A rich country, but education is free. Germany, education is free. France, education is free.

Take a look at the United States: Go back fifty years to the early post-war decades. It was a much poorer country than it is now, but for a large portion of the population, education was free. The GI Bill provided education for a great number of people who never would have been able to go to college otherwise. It was highly beneficial for them, and highly beneficial to the country in terms of the contributions they were able to make in terms of the economy and culture and so on. And it was essentially free. Even private universities costs were very slight by today’s standards. And that was a much poorer country than it is now. So in general I think that the economic arguments for the sharp rise in tuitions in the United States and to a lesser extent in England and a few other places, one can’t offer a persuasive economic argument for that, these are policy decisions. They are related to other changes that have taken place, so for example over the same period there has been an enormous expansion of administration in universities. The proportion of the University budget that goes to administration has skyrocketed…. This is all part of the imposition of a business model which has an effect also on curricular choices and decisions.

Similar things are happening at K-12 level with, first of all, the underfunding of schools, which is very serious as is the demeaning of teachers, the undermining of teacher’s respect and independence. The pressure to teach to tests, which is the worst possible form of education. In fact most of us have been through the school system have plenty of experience with courses we weren’t very much interested in, we had to study for an exam, you study for the exam and a couple weeks later you forget what the course was about. This is a critique that goes way back to the enlightenment, where they condemned the model of teaching as analogous as pouring water into a vessel — and a very leaky vessel, as we all know. This undermines creativity, independence, the joy of discovery, the capacity to work together with others creatively — all of the things that a decent educational system should foster. It’s going in the opposite direction, which is quite harmful. So there is a lot to reverse if we want to get back to a much healthier system of education and preservation and growth of cultural achievement.

Q: What other contemporary issues particularly concern you? Do you find signs of hope or resistance around these issues that, perhaps, you finding heartening?

Well, we can make a long list, including the things we’ve talked about, but it’s also worth remembering that, hovering over the things we discussed, are two major problems. These are issues that seriously threaten the possibility of decent human survival. One of them is the growing threat of environmental catastrophe, which we are racing towards as if we were determined to fall off a precipice, and the other is the threat of nuclear war, which has not declined, in fact it’s very serious and in many respects is growing. The second one we know, at least in principle, how to deal with it. There is a way of significantly reducing that threat; the methods are not being pursued but we know what they are. In the case of environmental catastrophe it’s not so clear that there will even be a way to control of maybe reverse it. Maybe. But, the longer we wait, the more we defer taking measures, the worse it’s going to be.

It’s quite striking to see that those in the lead of trying to do something about this catastrophe are what we call “primitive” societies. The first nations in Canada, indigenous societies in central America, aboriginals in Australia. They’ve been on the forefront of trying to prevent the disaster that we’re rushing towards. It’s beyond irony that the richest most powerful countries in the world are racing towards disaster while the so-called primitive societies are the ones in the forefront of trying to avert it.

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

STORMBREW, Shifting Shadow, Flying Pig, QUANTUM: NSA/GCHQ Programs “degrade/deny/disrupt Tor Network access”, Major Email Providers, Petrobas, SWiFT, Huawei Corp, Riyad Bank; Targeted For Surveillance

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2013 at 3:05 pm

https://i2.wp.com/htmlimg3.scribdassets.com/14kqsxcu2o2ts0gn/images/1-31eec3cee3.jpgOldspeak: “The above slide perfectly illustrates the true face of the corporatocracy. Government agencies, working in lockstep with “”key corporate partners” to achieve “total information awareness” and act as “thought police”.  Storing, analysing and evaluating all digital communications and information. The Cyberwarriors over at NSA/GCHQ are busy canibalizing.   Feeding on the information of presidents, banking corporations, energy corporations, information corporations, and you. While talking heads blabber about manufactured crises, Big Brother is Watching. Searching for new sources of toxic energy to burn to sustain itself…  Sacrificing, barrel by barrel, the world it’s slowly destroying . Developing detailed dossiers on all persons connected to anything digital. To watch everything, always, until our all but certain demise…” –OSJ

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized. -George Orwell

Related Stories:

Attacking Tor: How The NSA Targets Users Online Anonymity

Brazilian TV show says U.S. spied on state-run Petrobras oil firm, cites NSA documents

XKeyscore Is Watching You: NSA Tool Collects Nearly Everything A Internet User Does

UPSTREAM, They Know Much More About You Than You Think

By Ryan Gallager @  Slate:

The National Security Agency is keen to portray its surveillance efforts as primarily focused on detecting and preventing possible terror attacks. But a new trove of freshly leaked secret documents suggests that the agency also uses its powerful spying apparatus to infiltrate and monitor multinational companies.

On Sunday, Brazilian TV show Fantastico published previously undisclosed details based on documents obtained by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The 13-minute news segment focused on the revelation that, according to the leaked files, the NSA apparently targeted Brazil’s state-run Petrobras oil producer for surveillance—undermining a recent statement by the agency that it “does not engage in economic espionage in any domain.” The Petrobras detail has been picked up internationally, and is likely to cause a serious stir in Brazil. (The country is still reeling from the revelation last week that the NSA spied on its president.) But Fantastico delivered several other highly significant nuggets that deserve equal attention.

Aside from targeting Petrobras, Fantastico revealed that in a May 2012 presentation reportedly used by the agency to train new recruits how to infiltrate private computer networks, Google is listed as a target. So are the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and SWIFT, a financial cooperative that connects thousands of banks and is supposed to help “securely” facilitate banking transactions made between more than 200 countries. Other documents show that the NSA’s so-called STORMBREW program—which involves sifting Internet traffic directly off of cables as it is flowing past—is being operated with the help of a “key corporate partner” at about eight key locations across the United States where there is access to “international cables, routers, and switches.” According to a leaked NSA map, this surveillance appears to be taking place at network junction points in Washington, Florida, Texas, at two places in California, and at three further locations in or around Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Further afield, the NSA has apparently targeted the computer networks of Saudi Arabia’s Riyad Bank and Chinese technology company Huawei for surveillance, the documents show. The agency also operates a program called SHIFTINGSHADOW that appears to collect communications and location data from two major cellphone providers in Afghanistan through what it describes as a “foreign access point.” The targeting of China’s Huawei and phone operators in Afghanistan is perhaps unsurprising, given fears about Huawei’s links to the Chinese government and potential terror attacks on U.S. interests emanating from Afghanistan. But the potential infiltration of Google, in particular, is a controversial development, and the Internet giant will no doubt be demanding answers from the U.S. government.

(Google declined a request for comment. James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, has put out a statement not directly addressing any of the latest revelations but saying that the United States “collects foreign intelligence—just as many other governments do—to enhance the security of our citizens and protect our interests and those of our allies around the world.”)

Equally notable, Fantastico displayed a number of leaked secret documents that help shed light on recent reports about efforts made by the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ to break encryption. In a joint scoop last week, the New York Times, ProPublica, and the Guardian claimed that the spy agencies had “cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people” to protect their online data. However, it was not clear from the reports exactly what encryption protocols had been “cracked” and the tone of the scoops, as I noted at the time, seemed excessively alarmist.

Now, documents published by Fantastico appear to show that, far from “cracking” SSL encryption—a commonly used protocol that shows up in your browser as HTTPS—the spy agencies have been forced to resort to so-called “man-in-the-middle” attacks to circumvent the encryption by impersonating security certificates in order to intercept data.

Prior to the increased adoption of SSL in recent years, government spies would have been able to covertly siphon emails and other data in unencrypted format straight off of Internet cables with little difficulty. SSL encryption seriously dented that capability and was likely a factor in why the NSA started the PRISM Internet surveillance program, which involves obtaining data from Internet companies directly.

However, in some cases GCHQ and the NSA appear to have taken a more aggressive and controversial route—on at least one occasion bypassing the need to approach Google directly by performing a man-in-the-middle attack to impersonate Google security certificates. One document published by Fantastico, apparently taken from an NSA presentation that also contains some GCHQ slides, describes “how the attack was done” to apparently snoop on SSL traffic. The document illustrates with a diagram how one of the agencies appears to have hacked into a target’s Internet router and covertly redirected targeted Google traffic using a fake security certificate so it could intercept the information in unencrypted format.

Documents from GCHQ’s “network exploitation” unit show that it operates a program called “FLYING PIG” that was started up in response to an increasing use of SSL encryption by email providers like Yahoo, Google, and Hotmail. The FLYING PIG system appears to allow it to identify information related to use of the anonymity browser Tor (it has the option to query “Tor events”) and also allows spies to collect information about specific SSL encryption certificates. GCHQ’s network exploitation unit boasts in one document that it is able to collect traffic not only from foreign government networks—but  from airlines, energy companies, and financial organizations, too.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports from the intersection of surveillance, national security, and privacy for Slate‘s Future Tense blog. He is also a Future Tense fellow at the New America Foundation.

UPSTREAM, They Know Much More About You Than You Think

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2013 at 8:18 pm
bamford_1-081513.jpg

The headquarters of the National Security Agency, Fort Meade, Maryland

Oldspeak: “Within days of Snowden’s documents appearing in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealing several of the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the “Movers & Shakers” list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day. Written sixty-five years ago, it described a fictitious totalitarian society where a shadowy leader known as “Big Brother” controls his population through invasive surveillance. “The telescreens,” Orwell wrote, “have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone….” –James Bamford

“The most awesome and near omniscient surveillance network ever created by man has been revealed in much of its grotesquely invasive corptalitarian horror. And what was American’s response? CONSUME.  Sales of the script to the horror show we are currently living Orwell’s “1984” exploded 6,000 PERCENT. No critical thoughts given to the personal telescreens/tracking device/listening device/thought recorder/microwave radiation emitter a.k.a. smart phones. Sheeple literally responded to news that all their actions on the internet are being watched, stored and analyzed, by buying a dystopian novel on the internet. All those people should consider themselves a “selector”. 🙂  More and more I’m seeing all these hip sexy cool invitations to “share everything” via your telescreen. Incessant exhortations to use your telescreen to buy everything, check things, secure things, pay things, scan things, tweet things, like things, post things, photograph things, record things, ask things, watch things, play things, listen to things, control devices, read, get medical advice, report crime, inform on others, etc, etc, etc…. Never mind that your ever expanding constellation of ever more convenient and personalizable apps are watching youSoon, your televisions, dvr’s and video games will watch you too. Keep consuming, keep providing free content, that make it ever easier to target more marketing at you to buy more shit you don’t need. When will we wake from our hyperconsumptive soma coma?. I’ll tell you one thing though, somebody is making an ass ton of money collecting and analyzing this exponentially expanding flow of digital content. ” –OSJ

By James Bamford @ The New York Review Of Books:

In mid-May, Edward Snowden, an American in his late twenties, walked through the onyx entrance of the Mira Hotel on Nathan Road in Hong Kong and checked in. He was pulling a small black travel bag and had a number of laptop cases draped over his shoulders. Inside those cases were four computers packed with some of his country’s most closely held secrets.

Within days of Snowden’s documents appearing in The Guardian and The Washington Post, revealing several of the National Security Agency’s extensive domestic surveillance programs, bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the “Movers & Shakers” list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day. Written sixty-five years ago, it described a fictitious totalitarian society where a shadowy leader known as “Big Brother” controls his population through invasive surveillance. “The telescreens,” Orwell wrote, “have hidden microphones and cameras. These devices, alongside informers, permit the Thought Police to spy upon everyone….”

Today, as the Snowden documents make clear, it is the NSA that keeps track of phone calls, monitors communications, and analyzes people’s thoughts through data mining of Google searches and other online activity. “Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it,” Orwell wrote about his protagonist, Winston Smith.

There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live—did live, from habit that became instinct—in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.

Of course the US is not a totalitarian society, and no equivalent of Big Brother runs it, as the widespread reporting of Snowden’s information shows. We know little about what uses the NSA makes of most information available to it—it claims to have exposed a number of terrorist plots—and it has yet to be shown what effects its activities may have on the lives of most American citizens. Congressional committees and a special federal court are charged with overseeing its work, although they are committed to secrecy, and the court can hear appeals only from the government.

Still, the US intelligence agencies also seem to have adopted Orwell’s idea of doublethink—“to be conscious of complete truthfulness,” he wrote, “while telling carefully constructed lies.” For example, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, was asked at a Senate hearing in March whether “the NSA collect[s] any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans.” Clapper’s answer: “No, sir…. Not wittingly.”

Three months later, following the revelations of the phone-log program in which the NSA collects telephone data—the numbers of both callers and the length of the calls—on hundreds of millions of Americans, Clapper switched to doublethink. He said that his previous answer was not a lie; he just chose to respond in the “least untruthful manner.” With such an Orwellian concept of the truth now being used, it is useful to take a look at what the government has been telling the public about its surveillance activities over the years, and compare it with what we know now as a result of the top secret documents and other information released by, among others, the former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden.

Looking back, the NSA and its predecessors have been gaining secret, illegal access to the communications of Americans for nearly a century. On July 1, 1920, a slim balding man in his early thirties moved into a four-story townhouse at 141 East 37th Street in Manhattan. This was the birth of the Black Chamber, the NSA’s earliest predecessor, and it would be hidden in the nondescript brownstone. But its chief, Herbert O. Yardley, had a problem. To gather intelligence for Woodrow Wilson’s government, he needed access to the telegrams entering, leaving, and passing through the country, but because of an early version of the Radio Communications Act, such access was illegal. With the shake of a hand, however, Yardley convinced Newcomb Carlton, the president of Western Union, to grant the Black Chamber secret access on a daily basis to the private messages passing over his wires—the Internet of the day.

For much of the next century, the solution would be the same: the NSA and its predecessors would enter into secret illegal agreements with the telecom companies to gain access to communications. Eventually codenamed Project Shamrock, the program finally came to a crashing halt in 1975 when a Senate committee that was investigating intelligence agency abuses discovered it. Senator Frank Church, the committee chairman, labeled the NSA program “probably the largest governmental interception program affecting Americans ever undertaken.”

As a result of the decades of illegal surveillance by the NSA, in 1978 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was signed into law and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) came into existence. Its purpose was, for the first time, to require the NSA to get judicial approval for eavesdropping on Americans. Although the court seldom turned down a request for a warrant, or an order as it’s called, it nevertheless served as a reasonable safeguard, protecting the American public from an agency with a troubling past and a tendency to push the bounds of spying unless checked.

For a quarter of a century, the rules were followed and the NSA stayed out of trouble, but following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration decided to illegally bypass the court and began its program of warrantless wiretapping. “Basically all rules were thrown out the window and they would use any excuse to justify a waiver to spy on Americans,” I was told by Adrienne J. Kinne, who in 2001 was a twenty-four-year-old voice intercept operator who conducted some of the eavesdropping. She or her superiors did not have to get a warrant for each interception. “It was incredibly uncomfortable to be listening to private personal conversations of Americans,” she said. “And it’s almost like going through and stumbling and finding somebody’s diary and reading it.”

All during this time, however, the Bush administration was telling the American public the opposite: that a warrant was obtained whenever an American was targeted. “Anytime you hear the United States government talking about a wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order,” President George W. Bush told a crowd in 2004. “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” After exposure of the operation by The New York Times in 2005, however, rather than strengthen the controls governing the NSA’s spying, Congress instead voted to weaken them, largely by codifying into the amendment to FISA what had previously been illegal.

At the same time, rather than calling for prosecution of the telecom officials for their role in illegally cooperating in the eavesdropping program, or at least a clear public accounting, Congress simply granted them immunity not only from prosecution but also from civil suits. Thus, for nearly a century, telecom companies have been allowed to violate the privacy of millions of Americans with impunity.

With the arrival of the Obama administration, the NSA’s powers continued to expand at the same time that administration officials and the NSA continued to deceive the American public on the extent of the spying. In addition to the denial I have mentioned by James Clapper, General Keith Alexander, the NSA director, also blatantly denied that his agency was keeping records on millions of Americans. In March 2012, Wired magazine published a cover story I wrote on the new one-million-square-foot NSA data center being built in Bluffdale, Utah. In the article, I interviewed William Binney, a former high-ranking NSA official who was largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. He quit the agency in 2001 in protest after he saw the system designed mainly for intelligence about foreign threats turned inward on the American public. In the interview, he told how the agency was tapping into the country’s communications and Internet networks. He revealed that it also was secretly obtaining warrantless access to billions of phone records of Americans, including those of both AT&T and Verizon. “They’re storing everything they gather,” he said.

In the months afterward, General Alexander repeatedly denied Binney’s charges. “No…we don’t hold data on US citizens,” he told Fox News, and at an Aspen Institute conference he said, “To think we’re collecting on every US person…that would be against the law.” He added, “The fact is we’re a foreign intelligence agency.”

But the documents released by Edward Snowden show that the NSA does have a large-scale program to gather the telephone records of every Verizon customer, including local calls, and presumably a similar agreement with AT&T and other companies. These are records of who called whom and when, not of the content of the conversations, although the NSA has, by other methods, access to the content of conversations as well. But the NSA has, on a daily basis, access to virtually everyone’s phone records, whether cell or landline, and can store, data-mine, and keep them indefinitely. Snowden’s documents describing the PRISM program show that the agency is also accessing the Internet data of the nine major Internet companies in the US, including Google and Yahoo.

Snowden’s documents and statements add greatly to an understanding of just how the NSA goes about conducting its eavesdropping and data-mining programs, and just how deceptive the NSA and the Obama administration have been in describing the agency’s activities to the American public. In a video interview conducted in his room in the Mira Hotel, Snowden elaborated on the extent of the NSA’s capabilities. “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” he said.

Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president, if I had a personal e-mail [address].

What Snowden was discussing was the way in which analysts at the NSA can place such things as names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses on target lists, thus causing communications containing those “selectors” to be intercepted. He seemed to be indicating—although this remains to be officially confirmed—that while under FISA, a court order would be required to enter an American on a target list, analysts have the capability to unilaterally bypass the procedure by simply listing a name or e-mail address on the target list. To understand what Snowden is saying, it is necessary to elaborate a bit on the way the NSA conducts its eavesdropping.

Bamford_2-081513.jpgEdward Gorey Charitable Trust

Drawing by Edward Gorey

During the past decade, the NSA has secretly worked to gain access to virtually all communications entering, leaving, or going through the country. A key reason, according to the draft of a top secret NSA inspector general’s report leaked by Snowden, is that approximately one third of all international telephone calls in the world enter, leave, or transit the United States. “Most international telephone calls are routed through a small number of switches or ‘chokepoints’ in the international telephone switching system en route to their final destination,” says the report. “The United States is a major crossroads for international switched telephone traffic.” At the same time, according to the 2009 report, virtually all Internet communications in the world pass through the US. For example, the report notes that during 2002, less than one percent of worldwide Internet bandwidth—i.e., the international link between the Internet and computers—“was between two regions that did not include the United States.”

Accessing this data is possible through a combination of techniques. Through the most effective of them, the NSA can gain direct access to the fiber-optic cables that now carry most kinds of communications data. According to a slide released by Snowden, the cable-tapping operation is codenamed “UPSTREAM” and it is described as the “collection of communications on fiber cables and infrastructure as data flows past.” It also appears to be both far more secret and far more invasive than the PRISM program revealed by Snowden. Although PRISM gives the NSA access to data from the individual Internet companies, such as Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft, the companies claim that they don’t give the agency direct access to their servers. Through UPSTREAM, however, the agency does get direct access to fiber-optic cables and the supporting infrastructure that carries nearly all the Internet and telephone traffic in the country.

As part of its cable-tapping program, the NSA has secretly installed what amount to computerized filters on the telecommunications infrastructure throughout the country. According to the leaked inspector general’s report, the agency has secret cooperative agreements with the top three telephone companies in the country. Although the report disguises their names, they are likely AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint:

NSA determined that under the Authorization it could gain access to approximately 81% of the international calls into and out of the United States through three corporate partners: Company A had access to 39%, Company B 28%, and Company C 14%.

The filters are placed at key junction points known as switches. For example, much of the communications—telephone and Internet—to and from the northwestern United States pass through a nearly windowless nine-story building at 611 Folsom Street in San Francisco. This is AT&T’s regional switching center. In 2003, the NSA built a secret room in the facility and filled it with computers and software from a company called Narus. Established in Israel by Israelis, and now owned by Boeing, Narus specializes in spyware, equipment that examines both the metadata—the names and addresses of people communicating on the Internet—and the content of digital traffic such as e-mail as it zooms past at the speed of light.

The agency also has access to the telephone metadata—the numbers called and calling and other details—of all Americans. Phone calls from telephone numbers that have been selected as targets can be routed directly to the agency and recorded. According to William Binney, the former NSA senior official, the NSA has established between ten and twenty of these secret rooms at telecom company switches around the country.

It is this daily access to the telephone metadata of all Americans without FISA warrants that the NSA and the Office of National Intelligence tried to hide when they falsely denied that the agency had surveillance records on millions of Americans. For years, the agency also had a nationwide bulk e-mail and Internet metadata collection and storage program, although that was ended in 2011 for “operational and resource reasons,” according to the director of national intelligence.

But according to a joint statement issued on July 2 by senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, the real reason the program was shut down was that the NSA was “unable” to prove the usefulness of the operation. “We were very concerned about this program’s impact on Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights,” they said, “and we spent a significant portion of 2011 pressing intelligence officials to provide evidence of its effectiveness. They were unable to do so, and the program was shut down that year.” The senators added, “It is also important to note that intelligence agencies made statements to both Congress and the [FISA court] that significantly exaggerated this program’s effectiveness. This experience demonstrates to us that intelligence agencies’ assessment of the usefulness of particular collection program—even significant ones—are not always accurate.”

Speaking on Meet the Press, Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and journalist who wrote the story about the NSA’s collection of phone data for The Guardian, also mentioned a still-secret eighty-page FISA court opinion that, he said, criticized the NSA for violation of both the Fourth Amendment and the FISA statute. According to Greenwald, “it specifically said that they are collecting bulk transmissions, multiple conversations from millions of Americans…and that this is illegal.” The NSA, he said, “planned to try to accommodate that ruling.” On the same program, Representative Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed that the FISA court had issued a critical opinion and said that the NSA had “figured out how to correct that.”

According to The Economist of June 29, “the NSA provided congressional intelligence committees with what it said were over 50 cases in which the programmes disclosed by Mr. Snowden had contributed to the ‘understanding and, in many cases, disruption’ of terrorist plots in America, and over 20 other countries.” In a recent New York Review blog post, Kenneth Roth, director of Human Rights Watch and a former federal prosecutor, commented that “upon scrutiny” many of the plots referred to by the NSA

appear in fact to have been uncovered not because of the mass collection of our metadata but through more traditional surveillance of particular phone numbers or e-mail addresses—the kinds of targeted inquiries that easily would have justified a judicial order allowing review of records kept by communications companies or even monitoring the content of those communications.

At the AT&T facility on Folsom Street and the other locations, fiber-optic cables containing millions of communications enter the building and go into what’s known as a beam-splitter. This is a prism-type device that produces a duplicate, mirror image of the original communications. The original beams, containing Internet data, continue on to wherever they were originally destined. The duplicate beam goes into Room 641A, the NSA’s secret room one floor below, a discovery made by another whistleblower, AT&T technician Mark Klein. There the Narus equipment scans all the Internet traffic for “selectors”—names, e-mail address, words, phrases, or other indicators that the NSA wants to know about. Any message containing a selector is then retransmitted in full to the NSA for further analysis, as are the contents of phone calls selected. With regard to targeted phone numbers, the agency supplies them to the company, which then gives the NSA access to monitor them.

The selectors are inserted by remote control into the Narus equipment by NSA analysts sitting at their desks at the agency’s headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland or at dozens of locations around the world. What Snowden seemed to be saying in his interview is that as long as certain analysts have an e-mail address, for example, they can simply enter that information into the system and retrieve the content of the e-mails sent from and to that address. There are, by his account, no judicial checks and balances to assure that the targeting of an American has been approved by a FISA court order and not just by NSA employees. These claims by Snowden, and other revelations from the documents he released, should be investigated by either a select committee of Congress, such as the Church Committee, or an independent body, like the 9/11 Commission.

While UPSTREAM captures most of the telecommunications—about 80 percent according to Binney—there are still gaps in the coverage. That is where the PRISM program comes in. With PRISM, the NSA is able to go directly to the communications industry, including the major Internet companies, to get whatever they miss from UPSTREAM. According to the top secret inspector general’s report, the “NSA maintains relationships with over 100 US companies,” adding that the US has the “home field advantage as the primary hub for worldwide telecommunications.”

According to a recent slide released by Snowden, the NSA on April 5, 2013, had 117,675 active surveillance targets in the program and was able to access real-time data on live voice, text, e-mail, or Internet chat services, in addition to analyzing stored data.

In the end, both UPSTREAM and PRISM may be only the tips of a much larger system. Another new document released by Snowden says that on New Year’s Eve, 2012, SHELLTRUMPET, a metadata program targeting international communications, had just “processed its One Trillionth metadata record.” Started five years ago, it noted that half of that trillion was added in 2012. It also noted that two more new programs, MOONLIGHTPATH and SPINNERET, “are planned to be added by September 2013.”

One man who was prescient enough to see what was coming was Senator Frank Church, the first outsider to peer into the dark recesses of the NSA. In 1975, when the NSA posed merely a fraction of the threat to privacy it poses today with UPSTREAM, PRISM, and thousands of other collection and data-mining programs, Church issued a stark warning:

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…. I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

Church sounds as if he had absorbed the lessons of 1984. From the recent evidence, they are still to be learned.

—July 12, 2013