Sunday, July 29, 2007

NSA's Massive Domestic Spy Program

Total Information Awareness Lives
Today both the the NYT and WaPo came out with stories re: an NSA datamining program that had previously not recieved much attention until Gonzales' testimony this week brought it out front and center.

WaPo: Data Mining Figured In Dispute Over NSA
A fierce dispute within the Bush administration in early 2004 over a National Security Agency warrantless surveillance program was related to concerns about the NSA's searches of huge computer databases, the New York Times reported today.

The agency's data mining was also linked to a dramatic chain of events in March 2004, including threats of resignation from senior Justice Department officials and an unusual nighttime visit by White House aides to the hospital bedside of then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, the Times reported, citing current and former officials briefed on the program. ...
And the NYT:
NYT: Mining of Data Prompted Fight Over U.S. Spying

“This has gone on long enough,” [Sen.] Feingold said. “It is time for a special counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought.”

The senators’ comments, along with those of other members of Congress briefed on the program, suggested that they considered the eavesdropping and data mining so closely tied that they were part of a single program. Both activities, which ordinarily require warrants, were started without court approval as the Bush administration intensified counterterrorism efforts soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. ...

The N.S.A., the nation’s largest intelligence agency, generally eavesdrops on communications in foreign countries. Since the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, any eavesdropping to gather intelligence on American soil has required a warrant from the special court.

In addition, court approval is required for the N.S.A. to search the databases of telephone calls or e-mail records, usually compiled by American phone and Internet companies and including phone numbers or e-mail addresses, as well as dates, times and duration of calls and messages. Sometimes called metadata, such databases do not include the content of the calls and e-mail messages — the actual words spoken or written. ...
While both pieces seem to downplay the illegality or intrusiveness of such a program, I believe they're misleading their readers on that point. To explain why, I'd like to go back and review what is known about the program so far. First I want to point to the USA Today story last year "NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls" that said the "National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth." As USA Today put it, only Qwest denied the NSA access to the records, but Verizon and BellSouth issued denials, or perhaps they're better described as non-denial denials.

The thing is, from what is already known about the NSA spy program we can see that the telcos don't need to turn over any of their records. They've turned over the keys instead so the NSA can gather the info themselves. According to the whistleblower lawsuit brought against AT&T (which the government has thus far been able to put a stop to the lawsuit altogether by claiming 'state secrets' privilege), AT&T has evidently allowed the NSA to hardwire into their fiber optic network, the same system which virtually every other telco piggybacks on so it doesn't matter that Quest claims it hasn't turned over records or not, so the NSA can collect the data themselves. Being directly tied directly into the nation's main telephone/internet grid, the NSA is able to comb through not only every telephone call, but also every web-browsing session, every email, everything. It doesn't matter what cell, landline or internet based telephone provider or ISP you have, everything flows through those hubs, and the NSA is monitoring all of it.

Do follow me on these few articles:
Wiretap Whistle-Blower's Account

... One of the documents listed the equipment installed in the secret room, and this list included a Narus STA 6400, which is a "Semantic Traffic Analyzer". The Narus STA technology is known to be used particularly by government intelligence agencies because of its ability to sift through large amounts of data looking for preprogrammed targets. The company's advertising boasts that its technology "captures comprehensive customer usage data ... and transforms it into actionable information.... (It) provides complete visibility for all internet applications." ...

What is the significance and why is it important to bring these facts to light?
Based on my understanding of the connections and equipment at issue, it appears the NSA is capable of conducting what amounts to vacuum-cleaner surveillance of all the data crossing the internet -- whether that be peoples' e-mail, web surfing or any other data. ...
The emphasis on Narus' "Semantic Traffic Analyzer" above is my doing. 'What is a Narus?' you may ask. Well, take a look at what Forbes had to say about Narus in 1999...

Forbes: Narus knows what you are doing on the network

For example, if someone in San Francisco makes a video conference call to New York and London, the probe captures the exact length of the call and then sends a log file, also known as a call data record (CDR) back to the database, which is housed on Narus' servers. The CDR is then used for billing purposes.Want to know what Narus software can do? It can find out how much time you spent on the network, how many E-mails you sent, how long you played online video games, how many files you uploaded or downloaded and what web sites you accessed. ...
More about this can be found in this DailyKos diary:

All About NSA's and AT&T's Big Brother Machine, the Narus 6400

If the AT&T whistleblower is correct, and it's a pretty safe bet he is because this administration is trying its damnedest to have the whole case thrown out on national security state secrets grounds, then the NSA is capable of monitoring everything we do online and over the phone. That would explain the telco's statements that they have not provided any records to the NSA, they've just opened the entire network & let the NSA gather its own records.

And if that aint enough for you on this topic, I'd like now to point to this interview last year by Tim Russert of NYT's James Risen (who 1st broke the NSA story) and WaPo's datamining expert Robert O'Harrow Jr. Given the new disclosure of the NSA datamining program, this video is all too relevant. It sheds LOTS of new light on exactly what was going on and the corporations the NSA had partnered with for its datamining operation. Please do check it out:

James Risen & Robert O'Harrow Jr. Explain NSA's Massive Datamining Program

If you've been paying attention at all it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what they are doing. What began as the "Total Information Awareness" Program until it was axed by Congress, survives today broken apart into several different programs. This has already been reported:

National Journal: Total Information Awareness ‘Stopped In Name Only’

And just last month:

FBI Seeking To Create 6 Billion Record Database Similar To Total Information Awareness

Make no mistake about it, Big Brother is Watching You.