The NSA’s image took a major hit when Edward Snowden revealed to the world the vast scope of their surveillance programs.
The scandal centered around the NSA’s collection of “metadata”, which includes things like when and where calls or texts are coming from, as well as other passive information like where in a computer network certain data is coming from.
Many people thought the public was overreacting. I heard more than a few people saying something along the lines of, “It’s not like they’re recording my actual conversations.”
Well, apparently they are.
William Binney was a career NSA employee. He was a leading code-breaker against the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was a high-level agent with the NSA when he left in disgust following the drastic increase in surveillance after 9/11.
Last Thursday (July 5), he spoke at a conference organized by the Center for Investigative Journalism in London. In his speech, he claimed that NSA surveillance is actually much more personal than just metadata collection:
“At least 80% of fibre-optic cables globally go via the US… This is no accident and allows the US to view all communication coming in. At least 80% of all audio calls, not just metadata, are recorded and stored in the US. The NSA lies about what it stores.”
Binney praised the courage and work of Edward Snowden, and expressed optimism about recent Supreme Court decisions that have made it illegal for officers to go through your smartphone without a warrant. But he didn’t mince his words when he said,
“The ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control.”
The most recent leaks from Snowden showed that the vast majority of the communications intercepted by the NSA are composed of Americans with no connection to extremism.
Of 160,000 individual intercepts given to the Washington Post by Snowden, nearly 90% were communications of bystanders who weren’t even NSA targets.
“The NSA is mass-collecting on everyone, and it’s said to be about terrorism but inside the US it has stopped zero attacks,”
Binney said at his appearance in London. He also pointed out that despite its vast surveillance capabilities and resources, the NSA was unable to foresee both the Russian intervention in Ukraine and he rise of ISIS in the middle east.
A man identified by media as a German intelligence officer was arrested this past Wednesday (7/2/2014) on charges of leaking information to the U.S.’s National Security Agency (NSA).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has so far declined comment on the arrest, but her spokesman Steffen Seibert called the issue a serious matter, adding,
“I will have to leave the conclusions to you.”
German media hasn’t been so mute. Though they refuse to release their sources, a number of news outlets have reported that the man works for the German foreign intelligence service BND.
The double agent reportedly told German interrogators that the Americans were particularly interested in information about the German parliamentary inquiry into the activities of the NSA following the revelations that one of the victims of the NSA hacking scandal had been Chancellor Merkel herself.
The popular Bild newspaper reported that the man had been working as a double agent for two years, meeting with American officials at least three times in Austria during that span.
The double agent was reportedly paid $34,000 for hundreds of documents he passed on to the NSA. 218 of these stolen files were found on a thumb drive at the agent’s home.
German media adds that if the allegations are true, this is,
“the biggest scandal involving a German—American double agent since the war.”
So far, the only American response was a short, “no comment” from the National Security Committee’s spokeswoman in Washington.
You would think the NSA would’ve at least tried to be a bit more careful in how they handled such a delicate operation.
It’s hard to ignore the irony of the agency getting caught spying on an investigation that was about them spying in the first place.
Meanwhile, our global image will take yet another hit because of a government agency that has shown a lack of respect for the citizens it’s supposed to protect as well the countries who are supposed to be our allies.
Read the original story from the National Post here.
The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.
Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.
To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.
Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.
The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.
The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):
sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy
So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?
The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.
Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.
The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.
See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.
Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.
Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.
Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…
The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.
Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).
Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.
Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.
Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.
Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.
Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?
When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.
But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.
That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.
But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.
Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.
The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.
This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how the market has performed in the past few months .
The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.
The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.
We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.
It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.
Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.
We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.
If you weren’t aware, the NSA is facing a bunch of lawsuits over their overzealous surveillance programs, which were revealed last summer by Edward Snowden.
One of these lawsuits, Jewel v. NSA, was actually filed before the revelations. The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of novelist Carolyn Jewel and a number of other ATT customers, challenges the constitutionality of the NSA programs which were collecting data on American’s telephone and internet activity.
As part of the lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who represents the plaintiffs) filed a number of motions to prevent the NSA from destroying data that the EFF planned to use as evidence.
This past Friday, during a hearing over the issue, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett argued that holding on to the info would be too burdensome for the NSA, saying,
“A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information.”
Ledgett continued by arguing that the complexity of the NSA’s surveillance programs meant that efforts by the NSA to preserve their own data might not even work. Not surprisingly, he also tried to get his way using scare tactics, saying that trying to preserve the data would cause,
“an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.”
The EFF was surprised by Ledgett’s argument, since the NSA had already been ordered to preserve the data back in 2009. On top of that, a second restraining order was filed in March to prevent destruction of data.
Either way, the EFF’s legal advisor, Cindy Cohn, isn’t buying Ledgett’s arguments. In a recent interview she had this to say about the concerns he raised:
“To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy… With the huge amounts of data that they’re gathering it’s not surprising to me that it’s difficult to keep track– that’s why I think it’s so dangerous for them to be collecting all this data en masse.”
The EFF has said that there is “no doubt” that the NSA has already destroyed some of the information they requested for the lawsuit, but the actual amount data that has been destroyed thus far is unclear.
Read the full story from The Washington Post here.
Just last month, the House gutted the FREEDOM Act, which was put in place after the Snowden revelations to prevent mass cellular surveillance of American citizens in the future.
Internet and privacy activists alike have grown tired of the government’s empty promises about protecting internet privacy. So they decided to launch a campaign to take the issue out of Washington’s hands and put into the hands of the public.
The campaign, known as #ResetTheNet, was initiated by Fight for the Future, and encourages websites and individuals to start using encryption to protect their data. It kicks off today on the one year anniversary of the Edward Snowden revelations of NSA surveillance last year.
Hundreds of websites and other organizations are participating, including Reddit, Imgur, Mozilla, Greenpeace and Amnesty International. Google, who initially refrained from joining, has now endorsed the campaign, and added that they will be, “releasing email encryption tools and data, and supporting real surveillance reform.”
The goal is to not only educate people about encryption but to actually provide them with the online resources to begin encrypting their own information. The campaign’s splash page, which is displayed on many of the participating sites, includes lists of good encryption software and tips for both computers and mobile devices.
While encryption definitely makes your data significantly more secure, it is not completely impervious- the NSA has whole departments dedicated to cracking encrypted info.
However, organizers of the campaign believe that if encryption starts to become fairly common, the government simply will not have the resources to be trying to break through everyone’s encryption, forcing them to give up on mass internet surveillance.
Yesterday, Edward Snowden issued a statement with his support for the campaign. He ended it like this:
BONUS: The battle for net neutrality is also being waged right now. After approving a “fast-track” plan which would allow large corporations to pay for preferred real estate (ie. more visibility) on the internet, the FCC invited the public to comment for 120 days before they make their final decision.
Comedian and political satirist John Oliver used his new HBO series, Last Week Tonight, to explain what net neutrality is, why it’s so important, and how the major cable companies pushing to make it happen are screwing the consumer.
Oliver urged all of the internet trolls to take advantage of the FCC invitation to comment, saying,
“…for once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.”
The massive comment volume following the airing of Oliver’s show crashed the FCC website for a while.
We’ve been experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system due to heavy traffic. We’re working to resolve these issues quickly.— The FCC (@FCC) June 02, 2014
We’re still experiencing technical difficulties with our comment system. Thanks for your patience as we work to resolve the issues.— The FCC (@FCC) June 02, 2014
Check out video of Oliver’s net neutrality segment below:
In their article, The Intercept admitted that the documents named another country as also being monitored under this extremely invasive program, but chose not to release the identity of the country because they worried that the revelation would almost certainly cause deaths.
Despite their worries, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange vowed that his organization would reveal the identity of the mystery country. Yesterday, he delivered on his promise:
I must say I don’t think many people will be shocked to hear that the NSA has Afghanistan under heavy surveillance. Personally, I think the surveillance in the Bahamas is much more odd and unwarranted.
However, I do understand why The Intercept and Edward Snowden were worried about revealing Afghanistan. It’s highly likely that this revelation will be used to help fuel anti-American sentiment in the already unstable country. Whether or not that leads to violence remains to be seen.
Just yesterday, The Intercept reported that documents released to them by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been covertly running an operation called SOMALGET in the Bahamas which is,
“…secretly intercepting, recording, and archiving the audio of virtually every cell phone conversation on the island nation of the Bahamas.”
It is important to understand that here in the U.S. the NSA controversy was mainly over them collecting metadata, which includes info like locations, times, and where calls are going to and coming from.
The program in the Bahamas records full-length conversations and stores them for 30 days before wiping them. On top of that, the program manually selects millions of shorter clips and sends them to long term storage, where they can be accessed even after the original full conversation has been wiped.
The program is part of a larger NSA program known as MYSTIC, which has also been collecting metadata from Mexico, Kenya and the Philippines.
But the Bahamas are not the “big fish” for MYSTIC. Apparently, the Snowden document which revealed the surveillance in the Bahamas also listed another country that was being heavily monitored using SOMALGET.
It seems that the revelation of this second country will cause some serious shock-waves though. Even Glenn Greenwald, who was the first person to break the original Snowden story to the world, said on his Twitter that they hadn’t revealed the name of the second country because they were “very convinced” that this particular revelation would lead to deaths.
Despite the dangers, however, WikiLeaks announced on their Twitter earlier this morning that they will be revealing the identity of the mystery country within 72 hours.
Diane Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. When Edward Snowden made his revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, Feinstein criticized him, saying she believed the program was not only constitutional but necessary to protect the country from attack.
But after the CIA spied on her Senate Committee, she changed her tune quite a bit. Today she took to the Senate floor to warn that the increasing power of the CIA threatens the Constitutional division of power.
Here’s the background story.
Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee has been investigating the CIA since December of 2007, when the New York Times revealed that the agency had destroyed tapes of its agents using “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
Feinstein recalled her first briefing on this issue:
“The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”
Feinstein said that the CIA did everything they could to hinder the investigation, including hiring a team of, “outside contractors–who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents,” to read through all the documents (6.2 million pages worth) multiple times.
Also, while this was going on, documents that Senate staffers found and marked as interesting would then mysteriously disappear from the CIA’s system.
It got so bad that the Senate committee decided to move the investigation from the CIA-leased facility that had been hosting them to a Senate office building.
Defending the decision to move the investigation, Feinstein said,
“As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program … there was a need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.”
The CIA responded by hacking the computers the committee was using at the old site, and then having their top lawyer file a crimes report with the Department of Justice against the committee’s staff.
This really got Feinstein going. Here’s her response:
“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the Detention and Interrogation Program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff–the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers–including the acting general counsel himself–provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department about the program.”
“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern. But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
Where’s the president in all this mess? Well, Obama has avoided speaking directly about it, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said,
“The president has great confidence in [current CIA director] John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA.”
As part of the annual South by Southwest Interactive Festival which kicked off this past weekend in Austin, Texas (my current home), organizers set up a video skype conference with NSA mass-surveillance whistle-blower Edward Snowden
Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted asylum from the US government.
Here’s a few notable quotes from that interview. The full video is at the end.
Snowden told attendees that they were “firefighters”, saying,
“The NSA … they’re setting fire to the future of the Internet…The result has been an adversarial Internet.”
Discussing the nature of the surveillance:
“It’s nothing we asked for…It’s not something we wanted.”
He dismissed the idea that his revelations have threatened our national security, saying,
“These things are improving national security. We rely on the ability to trust our communications.”
He also said that the mass monitoring actually made threat prevention less effective:
“We’ve actually had tremendous intelligence failures because we’ve been monitoring everybody’s communications rather than suspects…What did we get from bulk collections? We got nothing.”
He said that the checks on the power of our national intelligence community are ineffective:
“We have an oversight that could work. The overseers aren’t interested in oversight.”
When asked if he would do it again, he replied,
“Would I do this again? The answer is absolutely yes. I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution and I saw that the Constitution was violated on a massive scale.”
Russia has committed to extending asylum protections to Snowden. Edward Snowden was originally guaranteed protection by Russia for a year, as that year ended Russia made it clear to Snowden he did not have to worry about being sent away…
According to CNN the news about Edward Snowden’s extended asylum…
…came Friday (1/24/14) from Alexy Pushkov, a legislator who is head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Duma, Russia’s lower house. He spoke about Snowden at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.”
Snowden is bitter-sweet about the situation, on one hand he is happy to have an extended asylum but on the other hand he has stated publicly that he thinks going back to the United States would be the best solution for all parties. Unfortunately, that does not seem possible right now, Snowden wants Whistleblower’s protection but the US will not guarantee him that.
Snowden is upset that the U.S. government’s Whistleblower Protection Act doesn’t currently cover someone like him, a former government contractor. Edward Snowden elaborated, according to CNN…
There are so many holes in the laws, the protections they afford are so weak, and the processes for reporting they provide are so ineffective that they appear to be intended to discourage reporting of even the clearest wrongdoing,” he wrote. “… My case clearly demonstrates the need for comprehensive whistle-blower protection act reform.”
So as of now it seems Edward Snowden is still in a temporary position in Russia. What do you think about the situation? Do you think Snowden should come home and plea Guilty? Or do you think the US should grant him Whistleblower’s protection?