Posts Tagged ‘NSA’

What we don’t know about Russia election hack

June 8, 2017

Double click to enlarge

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that newspaper articles should be classified into truths, probabilities, possibilities and lies.

I think the investigation of connections of President Trump and his supporters to Russia has uncovered possibilities and some probabilities, but few if any truths.

I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I don’t want to overlook any probabilities or truths.

Scott Ritter, in an article in Truthout, points out that this leaked NSA document, published by The Intercept, uses a color code to differentiate truths, probabilities and possibilities.

The green lines point to things that the NSA analysts say are true, the yellow lines to things that the NSA analysts say they believe are probable and the grey lines to things they believe are possible.

In short, we the people are at the same point we were before.  We don’t have any certain knowledge.   Smart people make different judgments based on the same facts.  All the more reasons for Congress, the special prosecutor and the press to pursue their investigations.

LINK

Leaked NSA Report Short on Facts, Proves Little in ‘Russiagate’ by Scott Ritter for Truthdig

Second thoughts on the Russian hack leaks

June 7, 2017

Cooler heads point out unanswered questions about Reality Winner’s NSA leaks about Russian intelligence activities during the 2016 U.S. elections, but come to different conclusions.

At this point, in almost everything related to Trump, Russia and secret intelligence agencies, the only that we the public know for sure is that we don’t know the whole story.

LINKS

A few thoughts on the leaks by TTG for Sic Semper Tyrannis.

Hey, Intercept, Something Is Very Wrong With Reality Winner and the NSA Leak by Peter Van Buren for Hooper’s War.

Was Russia Probing U.S. Electoral Systems? by Philip Giraldi for The American Conservative.

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NSA reports Russia tried to hack voting system

June 6, 2017

A National Security Agency report, leaked to The Intercept, says that Russian military intelligence attempted to hack U.S. voter records shortly before the 2016 election.

The GRU reportedly was able to obtain passwords that enabled it to penetrate an electronic vote systems company.   The Intercept identified the company as VR Systems, which serves local election boards in eight states.  Using those passwords, the GRU attempted to penetrate at least 122 local governments.

The FBI has arrested a 25-year-old government contractor named Reality Leigh Winner on charges of giving the top-secret NSA documents to The Intercept.

Whether the Russian hackers succeeded and what, if anything, they did or tried to do to affect the election isn’t known.   And there is no indication that anybody in the Trump campaign was aware of any of this.

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Did the DNC leaks really affect the election?

December 17, 2016

I have learned throughout my long life never to say that some powerful person or institution could not have done a certain thing because doing would have been idiotic.

150px-fsbBut it certainly would have been idiotic for Russian intelligence agents to think they could influence the 2016 election by leaking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief.

And while that isn’t proof that they weren’t the leakers, it is a reason to reserve judgment.

The Clinton campaign leaks had little or no effect on the election outcome.  All they did was to confirm what some of us already thought about how the DNC was tied in with the Clinton primary election campaign, and Clinton was tied in with her rich donor friends.  If I had been pro-Clinton, this would not have been new information that would have changed my mind.

Within my circle of friends, I don’t know anybody who cared much about the Clinton campaign leaks.  On the other hand, everybody I know who ever handled classified information was upset by the FBI reports on Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.

The CIA statements of about possible Russian involvement in the Clinton campaign leaks have had much greater impact on American public opinion than the leaks themselves ever did.

Where is the National Security Agency in all this?  All this is in the NSA area of expertise.  The NSA would have better information than the FBI or CIA.

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Should Apple decrypt the i-Phone for the FBI?

March 3, 2016

The FBI demands Apple Computer to figure out a way to read encrypted files on an i-Phone owned by an alleged terrorist.  Apple Computer’s management says there is no way to do this without opening up all i-Phone files to the FBI.  The case is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Suppose the FBI wins its case.  Suppose a year later the national police in Russia, China or Iran, arrest an elleged terrrorist and demand that Appple create a similar tool for them?  Do the Russian, Chinese or Iranian security services automatically get access to all i-Phones?

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Flawed algorithms mark people for death

February 18, 2016

The National Security Administration’s Skynet system marks people for death based on algorithms and metadata—the same technology that Amazon uses to guess what books you’ll probably like.

I find that chilling.  I find the precedent it sets even more chilling.

Now an expert has come along who says the Skynet program is inherently flawed and has likely resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

TravelPatternsDocuments leaked to The Intercept indicate that the Skynet program collects data on people in Pakistan by monitoring their phone calls.  Supposedly terrorists can be identified within a certain margin of error by characteristics that, on average, differentiate them from non-terrorists.

Patrick Ball, director of research for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and a frequent expert witness before human rights tribunals, told Ars Technica that the problem with this is that the terrorist sample is based on a very small number—seven individuals—and the innocent sample is based on a random sample of 100,000 people.

Since there is usually no independent way of verifying that the victim really was a terrorist, that means that there is no “learning” process, as would be the case with a commercial algorithm, such as Amazon’s, which is based on commercial responses.

One of the variables in setting the algorithms is that the fewer false negative (real terrorists who are not detected by the system), the more false positives there will be (innocent people who are marked as terrorists).

Bell said that if the algorithm is set at 50 percent false negatives, that means thousands of innocent people will be killed for every real terrorist who dies.

[Added later]  Martin Robbins wrote in The Guardian that Skynet is used to identify likely Al Qaeda couriers, who are not killed but tracked so as to reveal the locations of Al Qaeda camps and safe houses.   It is a fact that computer algorithms are used to target people for killing, but Skynet isn’t as clear an example as I originally thought.

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What it would take to rein in the Deep State

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LMike Lofgren’s new book, The Deep State, describes the interlocking  U.S. military-industrial complex, financial oligarchy and police state which is not subject to either the rule of law or democratic control.   The particulars of his description are available in the previous two posts and in the linked articles.

Here’s what I think needs to be done in order to rein in the Deep State.

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authoritarianism9fd18cCongress should exercise the power of the purse to prevent the President from committing acts of war on his or her own initiative.  President Obama has stated that he considers himself free to attack foreign countries by means of bombing from the air, killer drones and Special Operations because these things are not war.  It is only war when large numbers of American ground troops are involved.

Refusing to levy taxes is the historic method used by parliaments and national assemblies to force absolute monarchs to cease aggressive wars and submit to the rule of law.  The U.S. precedent is the Case-Church Amendment of 1973 forced a cutoff of funds for military operations in Vietnam after August 15 of that year, and brought the Vietnam Conflict to an end.

Congress should pass a resolution ending funding for military operations and military aid and subsidies in the Middle East after a specific deadline, except for what is specifically authorized by Congress.

And if the executive refused to comply with that resolution?  The Constitutional remedy for this is impeachment.

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Congress should pass a law allowing prosecuted whistle-blowers to be acquitted if they can show that the information they revealed was kept secret in order to cover up lawbreaking, incompetence or failure, to limit business competition, or to suppress information that is not related to national security.

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How the Deep State can resist democracy

February 1, 2016

DeepState51cdQwM-Z8LThe Deep State is author Mike Lofgren’s term for power centers in Washington, Wall Street and, to an extent, Silicon Valley that determine government policy, yet operate in secret, without accountability to the law or democratic control.

He wrote in The Deep State that the USA is condemned to unending war and economic decline unless the power of the Deep State can be overthrown.

But can it be overthrown?

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Let’s look at the means the Deep State has to protect itself.

The power of moneyWall Street banks and military contractors have more money available to influence elections than any of their critics do.  The Supreme Court has ruled the corporate entities have the same rights as individual human beings, and that spending money can be an exercise of the right of free speech, so there is no practical limit on how much money can be spent on a campaign.

The power of subversionThe FBI has a long history of infiltrating civil rights and peace organizations with informers and undermining them from within.  Ditto for the CIA in foreign elections.  If the FBI and CIA felt threatened, is there any doubt they would use whatever tools they had to protect themselves?

DeepState-e1398185022722The power of information.  The NSA has the means of learning the personal habits and behavior of every American.  Who is there who doesn’t have something in their background that looks bad, or can be made to look bad?  The precedent for this is the FBI’s spying on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and its dissemination of information about his sex life.

The power of repression.  The police crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement, which was coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, shows how the government treats peaceful protest movements as national security threats.

Suppressing the vote.  Many techniques exist for suppressing the vote or making votes meaningless.  New laws intentionally make it more difficult for members of targeted groups to vote or easier to disqualify them from voting.  The Dieboldt electronic voting machines allow vote tampering. and there is some evidence this is happening.

Financial power.  When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he intended to propose an ambitious program of public workers.  He never did, because he was told this would cause the “bond markets” to lose confidence in him, and interest rates to rise, choking off the economic recovery and increasing the national debt.  If a future President attempted to curb the power of Wall Street, is there any doubt that the financial markets would “lose confidence” in him or her?

Economic dependence.   The Department of Defense and other parts of the Deep State employ millions of people, almost all of them honest, patriotic people who believe they are serving their country.  Reducing the size of these institutions to what’s needed to defend the country would throw many of them out of work.  Without some alternative, this would not only damage the lives of these individuals, but possibly throw the country into recession.

Learned helplessness.  Many Americans have come to think of economic oligarchy and perpetual war as facts of life, about which nothing can be done.

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MonsterMind: cyberwarfare on automatic pilot

August 15, 2014

Edward SnowdenWiredcover2James Bamford, a journalist who’s been writing about the National Security Agency for decades, traveled to Russia to interview Edward Snowden for Wired magazine.

He learned, among other things, of the existence of a disturbing new NSA program, MonsterMind, for automating cyberwarfare.

The massive surveillance effort was bad enough, but Snowden was even more disturbed to discover a new, Strangelovian cyberwarfare program in the works, codenamed MonsterMind.

The program, disclosed here for the first time, would automate the process of hunting for the beginnings of a foreign cyberattack.

Software would constantly be on the lookout for traffic patterns indicating known or suspected attacks. When it detected an attack, MonsterMind would automatically block it from entering the country—a “kill” in cyber terminology.

Programs like this had existed for decades, but MonsterMind software would add a unique new capability:

Instead of simply detecting and killing the malware at the point of entry, MonsterMind would automatically fire back, with no human involvement.

That’s a problem, Snowden says, because the initial attacks are often routed through computers in innocent third countries.

“These attacks can be spoofed,” he says. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital. What happens next?”

In addition to the possibility of accidentally starting a war, Snowden views MonsterMindas the ultimate threat to privacy because, in order for the system to work, the NSA first would have to secretly get access to virtually all private communications coming in from overseas to people in the US.

“The argument is that the only way we can identify these malicious traffic flows and respond to them is if we’re analyzing all traffic flows,” he says. “And if we’re analyzing all traffic flows, that means we have to be intercepting all traffic flows. That means violating the Fourth Amendment, seizing private communications without a warrant, without probable cause or even a suspicion of wrongdoing. For everyone, all the time.”

A spokesperson for the NSA declined to comment on MonsterMind, the malware in Syria, or on the specifics of other aspects of this article.

via WIRED.

This reminds me of earlier reports that the Pentagon is researching ways to automate flying killer drones, so that the decision on whether to attack will be made by an artificial intelligence algorithm, not a human operator.

The great danger of this is not that machines will become intelligent and take over.  The danger is that human beings will come to treat machines as if they were intelligent, and abdicate responsibility for making decisions.

NSA: a bureaucracy in search of a function

April 22, 2014

Edward Luttwak, a historian and long-time consultant to the Pentagon on military strategy, wrote an article in the Times Literacy Supplement of London recently arguing that the National Security Agency’s all-encompassing surveillance is simply the result of a bureaucracy looking for a way to justify its existence.

Compared to the days of the Cold War, he wrote, there is little scope for the NSA is trying to keep track of scattered Islamic militants who don’t even use phones for communication.  The NSA’s response was, in its own way, a stroke of genius.  Don’t just track people who are threats to the United States.  Track everybody who is a potential threat, which means tracking everybody.

Luttwak’s article is behind a pay wall, but Peter J. Leithart wrote a good summary in First Things magazine.

In a TLS review of Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files, Edward Luttwak traces things back to dynamics within the post-9/11 intelligence bureaucracy. In Luttwak’s telling, it’s a case study of bureaucratic expansion.

He argues that “Only a few hundred were really justified of the many thousands employed to service collection antennae on land, at sea and in the air operated by the signals’ branches of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and of the many thousands of translators, cryptologists, decoders, super-computer operators, and analysts of all sorts as well as more thousands of managers. As the Cold War receded, there was an increasing danger that the fiscally prudent on Capitol Hill might uncover the situation, and demand mass firings.”

Edward Luttwak

Edward Luttwak

After all, “the sum total of emitters in Afghanistan was tiny, while communications identified as suspect worldwide were scarcely more numerous. . . . things looked up for the signals intelligence business with the 2003 Iraq war, but again the volume of business was not substantial, compared to the huge size of the installed capacity – so long, that is, as it was suspects that were to be intercepted.

If there wasn’t enough work, the solution was not to cut personnel, but to make more work: “the answer to the problem of the shortage of suspects was simply to intercept ‘possible’ suspects as well.”

On the other hand, he charges, the CIA doesn’t do what is necessary actually to have a major impact on terrorism – they aren’t engaged in operations: “terrorist groups simply cannot be defeated without action on the ground, to infiltrate them with volunteers, to detect them in the dodgy places where they can still emerge, to lure them into false-flag traps, and such like – all the activities that the CIA performs splendidly in films, but which in real life interfere with intra-office, other-office, interagency and intra-embassy meetings, so that in reality they are not performed at all. . . . Operators are outnumbered even by fairly senior managers, they are outnumbered by the lawyers in the General Counsel’s office, they are outnumbered by the human relations and affirmative action.”

When Congress increased the CIA budget, little went to improving operations: “The CIA knew exactly what to do with the money: it promptly added new layers of management on top of the old ones, just in time for the arrival of a whole new intelligence Directorate for all intelligence organizations placed over it, increasing the administrator/operator ratio to levels scarcely credible.”

The intrusions that Snowden revealed arose, Luttwak claims, in a context of incompetence and cowardice: “the mass intercept of everyone’s telecommunications became just another way of evading the penetration and disruption tasks that need to be done – the tasks that the CIA will not do because of sundry inconveniences and possible dangers.”

via Snowden and Bureaucracy | Peter J. Leithart | First Things.

In  Luttwak’s opinion, Edward Snowden is a true patriot for revealing the extent of the NSA’s improper opinions.  He said Snowden should be invited to return to the United States and granted amnesty for his lawbreaking.   He said the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency should be scaled back to what is needed to collect information, and a new agency, separate from the CIA, should be created to conduct operations against terrorists as Israel’s Shin Bet does.  The new agency should consist of people who speak foreign languages, understand foreign cultures and are willing to get out of the office and take risks.   This all sounds reasonable to me.

Click on The interception scandal for something else by Luttwak on Edward Snowden’s disclosures about NSA surveillance.  He thinks the disclosures will result in a drastic change in U.S. policy.  I’d like to think he’s right.

NSA scandals and leaks: Deja vu all over again?

February 6, 2014

Four decades ago, just like now, journalists and congressional investigators revealed that the NSA, CIA and FBI were illegally eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone calls and using the information against dissidents and war protestors.

But rather than crack down on abuse of power by intelligence agencies, the government went after leakers of secret information about the abuses, just like now.

Rep. Otis Pike in 1975 (NYTimes)

Rep. Otis Pike in 1975 (NYTimes)

The key figure in uncovering abuses was Rep. Otis Pike, a conservative Democrat from Long Island, who headed the 1975 House Select Committee on Intelligence and was responsible for the Pike Committee Report on secret intelligence agencies.   All this was brought to mind by an excellent article on Pike by Mark Ames of PandoDaily.

The American public was in a mood to reform abuses of power in the wake of the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation in 1974.  Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote a front-page article in the New York Times telling how the Central Intelligence Agency, in violation of its charter, conducted intelligence operations during the Nixon administration directed against American anti-war and dissident groups.

The uproar resulted in creation of three investigative bodies – the Ford administration’s in-house Rockefeller Commission, a select Senate committee headed by Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho, and a select House comittee headed by Otis Pike.  The Church committee’s reports on CIA involvement in assassinations and attempted assassinations of foreign leaders, but, as Ames noted, the Pike committee asked the more fundamental questions.

What was America’s intelligence budget?  What was the money being spent for?  Were taxpayers getting their money’s worth?  How did the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies think their purposes were?  Were they successful in accomplishing those purposes?

Pike’s committee soon documented that Hersh’s reporting was correct.  They determined that the actual U.S. intelligence spending was much larger than Congress knew.  And, in Pike’s opinion, the U.S. received little value for the money.  The CIA did not foresee the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus or the 1974 military coup in Portugal.

I thought at the time that the National Security Agency was relatively harmless compared to the CIA.   The latter engaged in subversion and political conspiracies; the former merely listed to foreign radio traffic and engaged in code-breaking.  But, as Pike revealed and I later came to understand, the NSA was the most dangerous and out-of-control of them all.

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Who are the NSA’s real targets?

February 4, 2014

privacy+violation

Is the National Security Agency simply over-zealous in trying to protect Americans from foreign terrorists, or do NSA officials regard Americans themselves as a potential threat to the powers-that-be?

I think the answer is indicated by the fact that the NSA has weakened cryptography and installed back-door systems that weaken the ability of Americans to protect themselves and their businesses from foreign spies, cyber-criminals and malicious hackers.  It shows that NSA officials are more interested in spying on Americans than protecting them.

Any government needs some sort of secret, intelligence-gathering operation.  And, I agree, you can’t have such an operation of any low-level employee is allowed to indiscriminately publish confidential information for all the world to know.  A certain amount of confidentiality is necessary to the administration of any structured organization.This was as true of the newspapers where I worked as anything else.

But when the organization is guilty of wrong-doing, there is a duty to report to higher authority.  And who is the higher authority when the government itself is violating its laws and Constitution?  In a democracy, the higher authority is the citizens.  In a dictatorship, the higher authority is the world.

I think in the case of the U.S. surveillance scandals, we are well past the point where governmental authority can be trusted to act in good faith and correct itself.

This is shown by the massiveness of the surveillance, the huge number of people inside and outside the government (it may be as many as a million) with secret clearances, the willingness of government officials to lie about the scope of what is being done, and the willingness of high-level administration officials to leak confidential information themselves when it makes them look good.

LINKS

The Three Leakers and What to Do About Them by David Cole for the New York Review of Books.   The three leakers are Snowden, Assange and Manning.

A Vindicated Snowden Says He’d Like to Come Home by John Cassidy for The New Yorker.

How the NSA Threatens National Security by Bruce Schneider for The Atlantic.

NSA defenders’ shameless “national security” bait and switch by David Sirota for Salon.

It’s About Blackmail, Not National Security by Alfred McCoy for TomDispatch.

Spy Agencies Probe Angry Birds and Other Apps for Personal Data by ProPublica, the New York Times and the Guardian.

Forget Metadata … the NSA Is Spying on Everything by Washington’s Blog.

It’s Vitally Important That Your Government Continue to Spy on You by Chris Bray for The Baffler.

Hat tip for the cartoon to jobsanger.

Turnabout is fair play

January 25, 2014

When the Democrats were out of power, they condemned warrant-less surveillance by the Bush administration.  But the Obama administration doubled down on these abuses, so now it is the Republicans’ turn to be advocates of civil liberties and the Fourth Amendment..

Democrats will doubtless accuse the Republican National Committee of inconsistency and hypocrisy.  But it is better to change one’s mind than to stick to a wrong position for the sake of consistency.

There is nothing in the Republican resolution that is inconsistent with basic conservative principles, which include the rule of law and the limitation of governmental power.  But even if it is just a political ploy, turnabout is fair play.

 LINKS

NSA domestic surveillance condemned in Republican party resolution by Dan Roberts for The Guardian.

Democrats Have Just Handed Republicans a Huge Win; Stopping NSA Spying Now a Republican Position by Washington’s Blog.

NSA declines to deny it spies on Congress

January 6, 2014

Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, asked the National Security Agency whether it spies on members of Congress.  Here is the NSA’s reply.

nsaNSA’s authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons.  Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process.  Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons.  NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress.  Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.

The NSA says members of Congress have the same privacy protection as the general public, which is none at all.   That seems like a “yes” to me.

Carl Herman of Washington’s Blog said this is how the NSA would have answered if in fact it did not spy on Congress.

The Constitution provides for a separation of powers between the executive branch – which includes the NSA and its parent agency, the Department of Defense – on the one hand, and the legislative branch (i.e. Congress), on the other hand.

So the NSA is constitutionally prohibited from spying on members of Congress or their staff, and we go to great lengths to ensure that we faithfully discharge that constitutional duty.

So the answer is: no. We do not and never would spy on Congress.

All I can say is that critics of the National Security Agency in Congress need to be careful to lead exemplary lives.  Otherwise they may share the fate of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a crusader against Wall Street corruption who was forced to resign after his spending on prostitutes became public.

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What benefit has the USA gotten from all this?

December 22, 2013
Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.  Graphic from Time magazine.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said in a decision last Wednesday that there is ‘utter lack if evidence’ that bulk telephone surveillance ever prevented a terrorist attack.   He said he invited the NSA to give him an example, and the NSA came up empty.

Judge Leon ruled that NSA bulk surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, but held off issuing an order pending an appeal.   The case will almost certainly go to the U.S. Supreme Court and, given the current makeup of the court, Leon’s decision will likely be reversed.

It is up to we, the people, to put a stop to Big Brother surveillance, if it is to be stooped

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Matt Bors on the Obamacare fix

November 18, 2013

1_matt_bors_-_united_media_605

But what if the National Security Agency software system functions as badly as the Affordable Care Act system?  We’d have no way of knowing.

Click on Matt Bors – Medium and Archive | Matt Bors for more of his cartoons.

NSA is to spying as drones are to warfare

November 1, 2013

The National Security Agency is to espionage as flying killer drones are to warfare.

By separating the operator from the target, the NSA and drones create a perceived illusion of safety and impunity.  By creating the illusion of omniscience, they diminish the perceived need for knowledge and good judgment.  And by their technological prowess, they escape the physical limitations that limited the scope of espionage and warfare in earlier eras.

Espionage historically has involved deception and betrayal, war has involved killing and destruction.  But repugnant as they are, they are necessary in the world as it is today.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529Historically spying, like soldiering, has involved risk.  Governments execute or imprison spies.  That is why secret agents, starting with Nathan Hale, can be legitimately regarded as heroes.  Risk has limited the scope of spying.  The ability to electronically scoop up and store electronic data about people removes this limit.

One of the things that limit American intelligence is the widespread lack of proficiency in foreign languages and lack of knowledge of foreign cultures.  Few Americans can walk around on the streets of Karachi or Tehran and be taken for anything but what they are.  But if you can read the e-mail of foreign leaders and collect meta-data on foreign peoples, you might think deep understanding unnecessary.

The NSA gathers more data than is humanly possible to understand.  This must be delegated to computer algorithms.  They sift through data to find patterns of behavior, which are them used to put people on no-fly lists or drone target lists.  The end result is that people trust the conclusions of the computer algorithm more than they trust their own judgment.

In the past, there were economic and physical limits to the scope of spying.  It was not just that governments could budget only so much money for intelligence services.  It was that there were only a certain number of people who were willing and able to take on this kind of work.

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The corporate cash behind the surveillance state

October 25, 2013

bigbrotherThe high technology and Silicon Valley companies that supported President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign are also deeply involved with the National Security Agency and other surveillance programs.

Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen, after analyzing campaign finance reports from 2012, concluded that although Mitt Romney received more contributions from big business overall, Barack Obama received equal or stronger support than Romney from the telecommunications, software, web manufacturing, electronics, computer and defense industries.

They pointed out in an article for AlterNet that these industries supply the technology that makes possible the NSA’s total surveillance programs, and provide many suppliers and subcontractors that operate the system.  And, as Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden disclosed, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Verizon and Facebook worked directly with the NSA to spy on the American and foreign public at large.

At the time President Obama took office, many of his supporters expected a radical change in course on national security policy. This did not happen.  For sure, limitations on some of the worst excesses were put in place, but there was no broad reversal.  The secret programs of surveillance expanded and … other policies … on indefinite detention, treatment of whistleblowers, and executive prerogatives relative to Congress stayed in place or broke even more radically with tradition.

Our analysis of political money in the 2012 election shines a powerful new light on the sources of this policy continuity.  We do not believe that it would be impossible to strike a reasonable balance between the demands of security and freedom that accords with traditional Fourth Amendment principles and checks abuses of government surveillance rapidly and effectively.  But a system dominated by firms that want to sell all your data working with a government that seems to want to collect nearly all of it through them is unlikely to produce that.

I thought that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs supported President Obama out of social liberalism or because they thought he was more modern in his thinking than John McCain or Mitt Romney.  Maybe they do.  But there is also this three-way relationship—the NSA funds high tech industry, high tech industry funds President Obama’s campaign, and President Obama supports the NSA.

Click on Who Buys the Spies for the complete article by Ferguson, Jorgenson and Chen on AlterNet.

General Keith Alexander’s star-flights of fancy

September 16, 2013

sbiblahGeneral Keith Alexander, who heads the U.S. Cyber-Command and the National Security Agency, commissioned an Information Dominance Center patterned on the bridge of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s Starship Enterprise.  Architect’s drawings are shown above.

Foreign Policy magazine reported:

When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center.

It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a “whoosh” sound when they slid open and closed.  Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather “captain’s chair” in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

“Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard,” says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.

via Foreign Policy.

I wouldn’t trust anyone, myself included, with the power to monitor the electronic communications of any American, including the public officials who vote his budget, and no accountability as to how this information is used.

But I especially would not trust anyone who uses public money to act out personal fantasies.  There is something to be said for getting in touch with your inner weirdness, but not in mixing it with public policy and national security.

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Should good deeds be allowed to go unpunished?

August 22, 2013

There are many people who think that Edward Snowden did a public service in revealing lying and abuse of power by the National Security Agency, but still think he should be punished for revealing secret information.

snowden.spy.paradoxKevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, argued the other day that no government can afford to tolerate the workings of its secret espionage organizations being made public.  On the other hand, he wrote, Snowden has revealed a lot of things that are important for the public to know and this information never would have been made public otherwise.

I believe that 30-year-old contractors shouldn’t be the ones who decide which secrets to keep and which ones to reveal. I also believe that, overall, Snowden has been fairly careful about what he’s disclosed and has prompted a valuable public conversation.

So how do you prevent an epidemic of Snowdens while still allowing the salubrious sunlight of the occasional Snowden?  The answer to the former is that intelligence workers need to be afraid of prosecution if they reveal classified documents. I t can’t be a casual act, but a deeply considered one that’s worth going to prison for.  The answer to the latter is that prosecution needs to be judicious.

There’s no question in my mind that Snowden should be prosecuted for what he did.  That’s the price of his actions.  But he shouldn’t be facing a lifetime in a Supermax cell.  The charge against him shouldn’t be espionage, it should be misappropriation of government property or something similar.  Something that’s likely to net him a year or three in a medium-security penitentiary.

via Mother Jones.

This reasoning would make more sense to me if, in fact, the U.S. government did systematically prosecute people who leak classified information.   But in fact classified information is leaked all the time—the latest example being how the U.S. government detected the al Qaeda plot to attack U.S. embassies (assuming that the leaked information was not an attempt to mislead).   Leaking sensitive information that makes the government look good is common and accepted.  Only the leakers who make the government look bad are prosecuted.

snowden.quote_nRobert Zubrin, writing for National Review, had a much better idea:  Offer Edward Snowden immunity from prosecution in return for testimony before a congressional committee.  He reasoned that if Snowden has all this vital secret knowledge, it is better from the standpoint of national security to have him under U.S. jurisdiction than Russian jurisdiction.

There are two important kinds of information that Snowden might reveal.  The first is information of value to America’s adversaries in operations against the United States, its armed forces, and its intelligence agencies.  The second is information of value to Congress and the American public in assessing the NSA’s domestic operations and in taking action, if necessary, to uphold the Constitution and stop NSA malfeasance.

In Moscow, Snowden is well situated to provide the first type of information to our enemies and poorly situated to provide the second to us.  If he were here, on the other hand, he would be well positioned to provide Americans with the second kind of information, and his opportunities to provide our nation’s foreign adversaries with the first kind would be most limited.

So we need to get Snowden back, and the only way to get him back is to set forth terms that induce him to return voluntarily. […]

One must therefore ask the conductors of the chorus chanting “Death to Snowden” why they prefer to have the analyst talking to Russia, Iran, and North Korea rather than to Congress.  Is it because the NSA regards the holders of America’s purse strings as the greater threat?  If so, it would appear that the agency’s leadership has misplaced its priorities.

On the other hand, Snowden may be lying, or grossly exaggerating, in his accusations of deeply subversive anti-constitutional actions by the NSA.  If so, he has done real harm to American freedom by chilling the public with unnecessary fear of a nonexistent panopticon state.  Such falsehoods therefore need to be refuted.

The NSA has issued denials.  Unfortunately, however, because the agency previously lied to Congress and the public about the very existence of the domestic-spying program, those denials have no credibility.  If the NSA is now being truthful, it needs to establish that by taking Snowden on in open confrontation.

via National Review Online.

And maybe after Snowden gets finished testifying to Congress, he should testify to a special prosecutor and a grand jury.  I would think there would be a rich field for investigation just of financial corruption, given the lack of supervision of the vast sums that the secret surveillance agencies handle.

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Six lies about NSA surveillance

August 4, 2013

Edward Snowden, a profile in courage

August 1, 2013

It took a lot of guts for Edward Snowden to go up against the United States government, when the examples of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange showed him what he might expect.

President Obama regularly signs death warrants of persons he deems threats to national security.  He has authority under U.S. law to order fugitives seized and brought them back to the United States even if this violates the laws of the country they’re in.   Obama has prosecuted more whistle-blowers under the Espionage Act than all his predecessors put together.

Recently Attorney General Eric Holder assured President Vladimir Putin that if Snowden was given over to U.S. custody, he would not be executed or tortured.  Imagine—the highest-ranking law enforcement official of the United States gives assurance to a former officer of the Soviet KGB that the United States will not torture a wanted fugitive.  What does it say about the United States that Holder has to give such an assurance?

Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

Now the fact that Edward Snowden is brave does not prove that he was right.  Maybe you believe that the National Security Agency is exercising its just powers when it puts all the world’s electronic communications under surveillance and keeps the fact that it is doing so a secret.  If you’re right, then Snowden is in fact a criminal and should be brought to justice.

But not everybody thinks that way.  The governments of France and other European countries that object to NSA surveillance do not think that way.  The editors of the Washington Post and other newspapers that made use of Snowden’s leaks do not think that way.  If they’re right, Snowden is not in fact a criminal.

But they nevertheless agree with treating Snowden as a criminal and bringing back to the United States.  This is a profile in cowardice.

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Post reveals more NSA PRISM slides

July 1, 2013

Over the weekend the Washington Post revealed more of the NSA slide presentation on the secret PRISM program.  Click on NSA slides explain PRISM data-collection program for the Post’s report.  Here are the slides, in their order on the Power Point presentation.   I think they make more sense in that order, even though you have to scroll down to see the newly-released slides.   Double click on the slides to enlarge them.

prism-slide-1 (more…)

Suppose Manning and Snowden really were spies

July 1, 2013

Suppose Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden really had been spies.

spy-vs-spy-without-bombs-775529Suppose they had taken their information to the Russian, Chinese or Iranian embassies instead of Wikileaks or The Guardian.

Would we even know about them?

Dana Priest and William M. Arkin reported in the Washington Post three years ago that more than 850,000 people, working for at least 1,271 agencies and 1,931 contractors at 10,000 locations, had not just clearances, but top secret clearances.   They said no single person in government knows the names of all the secret agencies involved in intelligence, national security and counter-terrorism work.

The other day Ronan Farrow, a former Obama administration official with top secret clearance, wrote than 4.8 million people have clearances to read classified information, and trillions of new documents are classified every year.

How would it even be possible to keep track of secret information, especially when so much work is done by subcontractors outside the direct control of the government?  The Obama administration last year launched a new policy of requiring government employees to report suspicious behavior on the part of fellow employees.  This policy, besides being creepy, seems like an admission of failure of security.

Click on Top Secret America for the Washington Post’s 2010 report.  It’s reasonable to assume that everything that was true then is worse now.   I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a million people with U.S. top secret clearances.

Click on Why are so many US government documents classified? by Ronan Farrow in The Guardian for his full article.

Click on Let’s Not Pretend the Government’s Mass Spying Is an Effective and Efficient Way to Keep Us Safe  for examples of why indiscriminate collection of data has not prevented intelligence failures.  This is from Washington’s Blog, which does a great job of keeping on top of this issue.

Is mass surveillance even legal?  Click on The Criminal N.S.A. for reasons why it isn’t.

Spy contractors moonlight for corporations

June 28, 2013

nsaAn estimated 70 percent of the National Security Administration’s budget goes to private contractors. Some of these contractors moonlight for large corporations, and use their expertise to discredit and subvert labor unions, consumer advocates and environmentalists.

The distinction between enemies of the United States, political opponents of the government and critics of big business would be hard to maintain in any case.   Outsourcing of national security and intelligence work makes it worse.

Click on Few Consequences When Cybersecurity Contractors Go Bad for an example of this. (Hat tip to Daniel Brandt).

Click on The World of American Informers and Agents Provocateurs for more examples.  [Added 6/29/13]