Posts Tagged ‘Electronic Eavesdropping’

It’s the Democrats who back NSA spying

June 18, 2013
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Back during the Bush administration, many Democrats, including Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden, opposed warrant-less wiretapping.   But now that the Democrats are in power, there has been a change of mind.

It is a great example of how much politics is a matter of group loyalty rather than loyalty to principle.  Obamaphiles are in favor of whatever President Obama favors, and Obamaphobes are opposed, no matter what.

Presidents Ronald Reagan was noted for “dog whistles”—phraseology that the general public didn’t notice, but that reassured conservative Christians that he really was on their side.  President Obama has a genius for liberal dog whistles.  Liberals believe he is on our side at heart in spite of all the things he actually does.

Click on Majority Views NSA Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-Terror Tactic for the complete results of the Pew Research poll.

Click on Americans Disapprove of Government Surveillance Programs for the complete result of the Gallup poll.

Both Pew and Gallup found that the NSA surveillance program gets more support from Democrats than Republicans.


What do Americans think about NSA spying?

June 18, 2013

Source: Huffington Post

Different public opinion polls show widely different results on what Americans think about National Security Administration surveillance.   I think the difference is explained partly on how the questions were worded, and partly on when the questions were asked.

If you asked me whether I think the NSA should spy on suspected terrorists, I would answer, yes, of course, if they have good reason to think somebody might be a terrorist, they should put the person under surveillance.  That is a different thing from having the NSA gather up phone records of all Americans, or on having Homeland Security agencies spy on Americans who are exercising their constitutional right peaceably to assemble or to petition the government for redress of grievances.

My reaction to Edward Snowden’s report on the NSA PRISM program was immediate and negative because of my pre-existing belief that the Obama administration is not acting in good faith.  If I had not been following the question, I would have been much slower to make up my mind.

I’m glad there still are many Americans who value the right of privacy, and who have not been stampeded into giving up this basic right.

Click on Majority Views Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-Terror Tactic for Pew Research’s summary of its polling.

Click on Americans Disapprove of Government Surveillance Programs for Gallup’s summary of its polling.

Click on Actually, Americans aren’t shrugging off NSA surveillance for a report from the Christian Science Monitor.


NSA’s PRISM slides: what they show

June 9, 2013

The leak of a set of Power Point slides revealed the surprisingly wide scope of the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program.  Click on Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations for a report on the leaker and his motivations by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras for The Guardian.

But just what is on the slides?  This is what I found in a Google Image search.

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new prism slide

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The top slide indicates that the NSA is leveraging the United States’ position as the world’s telecommunications center in order to monitor Internet and electronic traffic which, as indicated in the third slide, covers virtually everything.

The second slide shows the dates in which the NSA started collecting PRISM data from various companies.  I wonder why they started with Microsoft in 2007 and didn’t get to Apple until five years later.  Did Apple management have objections?  How were those objections overcome?  Or was there some technical reason why it wasn’t practical to start PRISM collection with all the companies all at once.

The bottom slide indicates that the NSA does not depend on access to Google, Microsoft, Facebook and the other six companies in the PRISM program for electronic eavesdropping.  It collects information as data flows through fiber optics cables and Internet nodes.   PRISM is just a supplemental program.


A hidden world, still growing beyond control

June 8, 2013

Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William R. Arkin wrote a fine series three years ago about the out-of-control growth of secret national security and intelligence agencies.   The recent PRISM disclosures make it more relevant than ever.  Here’s their lede, following by some of my miscellaneous thoughts:

The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.

top.secretAfter nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.


The fact that an enormous amount of money is being spent, and nobody knows quite how to account for it, has a corollary:  Some people are making a lot of money, and have a vested interest in keeping their income stream.

The PRISM program is not a new concept, although its scope is unprecedented.  As early at 1997, before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI was using a software program called Carnivore to monitor and process electronic and e-mail communication.

The Total Information Awareness program supposedly was abolished in 2003.  Click to view.

The Total Information Awareness program supposedly was abolished in 2003.  Click to view.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency created what it called the Total Information Awareness program, which gathered and correlated information on everyone in the United States, including phone calls, social networks, credit card records, phone calls and medical records.   When it became known, there was a great public outcry, and Congress de-funded the program in 2003.  But evidently the essential part of the program continued to exist.

I remember J. Edgar Hoover and the enormous power he wielded because of the Federal Bureau of Investigations files.  If you were a politician or public official and you displeased J. Edgar Hoover, chances are that the FBI had a file on you, and that any sexual, political or financial indiscretion would be leaked to favored members of the press.   He gathered and leaked information on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom he regarded as a Communist.  No President dared interfere with him.

Now maybe there isn’t anybody in the National Security Agency who is exactly like J. Edgar Hoover.   Maybe the NSA is completely focused on its mission to learn about potential threats to the United States, and never abuses its power.  Behind the NSA cloak of secrecy, there’s no way to tell.  Knowledge is power.  When a secret government agency potentially can know everything there is to know about citizens, but citizens have no right to know anything about the secret agency, that is a power imbalance that is not compatible with American freedom and democracy as I was brought up to believe in them.

I remember that the government did have all the information it needed to stop the 9/11 attacks, including reports of suspicious characters taking pilot lessons, but not bothering to learn how to land the planes.  The problem was not a lack of information, but lack of ability to sort out the wheat from the chaff.   I don’t think that indiscriminately collecting more chaff necessarily makes the country safer.

Another aspect of the PRISM program is what it does to the ability of companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple to compete overseas.  No foreign company will want to buy a product that contains a trapdoor for the National Security Agency.   As somebody remarked, it would be as if every Japanese car contained a tracking device so that Japanese intelligence could know your location at all times.   You probably would not be reassured if the Japanese government said that they only tracked foreigners and not Japanese citizens.


Big Brother really can be watching you

June 7, 2013


The National Security Agency, the top-secret U.S. electronic eavesdropping agency, has access to your e-mails, Internet searches and data files if you use Google, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other major e-mail, search, video or communications services.

The program, called Prism, was revealed by The Guardian newspaper in London.  The Guardian also broke news of a secret court order to Verizon to turn over call records to the NSA.  Presumably this is the tip of the iceberg.   The call records will give the NSA clues on who to check, the Prism program will give the capability of surveillance.   I wonder if the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News use Verizon or some other service.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks, reviewing a book entitled The New Digital Age in last Sunday’s New York Times, wrote that Google’s technology epitomizes the death of privacy and the advance of authoritarianism.  He may have written more truly than he realized (or maybe not).

This same weak the court-martial of Bradley Manning began at Fort Meade, Md., home of the NSA.   The principle on which Manning was court-martialed is that the U.S. government has a right to keep its activities secret from the people.   The principle on which the NSA operates is that the people have no right to privacy from the government.   Neither principle is compatible with American freedom as I was brought up to believe in it.


President Obama is lucky in his enemies

May 30, 2013

President Obama is fortunate in his right-wing enemies.   They help him more than they hurt him.  When they attack him for minor and imaginary misdeeds, as they almost always do, they divert attention from the worse things of which he really is guilty.

Enemies who make Obama friendsFor example, I can’t see what is so terrible about Internal Revenue Service auditors looking extra carefully at Tea Party groups claiming tax-exempt status on the grounds that they are non-political educational organizations.  It seems to me that this is an obvious thing to look at closely.  As I understand it, the IRS didn’t actually challenge the tax exempt status of any Tea Party affiliate, just put them to the inconvenience of filling out extra paperwork.   Maybe the IRS inquiry was justified, maybe not, but I don’t see it as important.  The result of the controversy will be that IRS agents from now on will think long and hard before questioning a tax-exempt application from any right-wing organization.

The government’s reading of Associated Press and Fox News e-mails without warrants is a more serious issue, but it is a well-known fact that the U.S. government has developed a universal electronic surveillance system that operates outside the Fourth Amendment.  Why would they be except?  The whole affairs reminds me of Senator Joe McCarthy’s investigation of the U.S. Army in 1954 (which I am old enough to remember).  McCarthy could get away with smearing the reputations and ruining lives of individuals, but when his attack on a key part of the U.S. power structure proved to be his downfall.   My first thought was that President Obama overreached himself in a similar manner, but my sober second thought is that the Washington press corps is not a key part of the U.S. power structure, they only think they are.

communicatorThe Benghazi attack, in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, is a legitimate issue.  It is reasonable to inquire whether better security could have been provided and whether the State Department intentionally presented misleading information.  But to me, these questions are much less important than the question of why the sdministration sponsored the overthrow of the Libyan government in the first place.  Muammar Qadaffi, the rule of Libya, renounced terrorism and efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and the overthrow tells other dictators there is nothing to be gained by cooperating with the United States.

The Tea Party wing of the Republican Party says President Obama is a socialist who wants to redistribute income to the lower classes and call off the war on terror.   The truth is that the President is a corporatist who has bailed out Wall Street, offered to cut Social Security, done nothing for black people as such while proposing to continue the war on terror indefinitely.   But it is hard to use these facts to point out that the Tea Partiers are wrong, without making Obama’s policies seem like good things rather than bad things.

The biggest problem in making the true case against Obama is the false case against Obama.


Click on How Arrested Development Explains the Obama Presidency for Conor Friedersdorf’s complaint that the U.S. public’s choice is between President Obama, who is committed to a state of war lasting for the indefinite future, and opponents such as Rep. Peter King, who complains that Obama says the war will someday have to end.

Click on Drones for “Regime Protection” for Philip Girardi’s article in The American Conservative about how the Obama administration plans to keep the Maliki and Karzai regimes in power after the troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan by the use of flying killer drones against their enemies.

Click on Obama’s terrorism speech: seeing what you want to see for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis of the difference between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions.

Click on Media Targeted By Obama, Discovers Noone Cares Except the Mediafor more about straining at gnats and swallowing camels.