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Guardian NSA Story Brings Vast Scale of Spying on Public Into The Open
Scale of global spy network is vast
The recent ongoing breaking news from the Guardian reporting on the NSA files leaked by whistle blower Edward Snowden documenting the surveillance state has become a major news story. This article tries to give some background and context to these events.
Then when 9/11 happened the gloves came off completely and it was used for the pretext of stripping civil liberties in many countries and in the USA this came in the form of the Patriot Act, although there were many earlier acts of legislation (CALEA 1994) in the Clinton here which gave sweeping powers to government to put in place the infrastructure to tap any form of communication. Even in the mid 1990s the EU issued directives (European Council Resolution of 17 Jan 1995) to all members states to put in place systems in all of their telephone exchanges equipment with the ability to tap any phone call. So the US is by no means the sole Orwellian / Big Brother state although as the main superpower it holds a special position.
It was just after 9/11 during the Bush era that the US government crossed the line and began widespread indiscriminate spying on US citizens something expressively forbidden in their laws. It was suspected this was occurring but those who spoke or suggested such were labelled nuts or conspiracy theorists. Then in 2006 Mark Klein -a brave -and former AT&T employee revealed that secret rooms had been built for the NSA in the main switch centers of the AT&T telephone network packed with highly classified equipment which gave the NSA direct access and could make a copy of the feeds of telephone calls, internet traffic to the data-mining equipment in these rooms and onward into the NSA system which has vast storage to save all this data. It should be noted that over the past 40 years, disk storage actually advanced quicker than computer processors. Unfortunately while the revelations of this whistle blower should have got widespread front page coverage and the type of reaction to bring down a government, it didn't and the mainstream corporate press gave it scant coverage. What actually happened is that Bush and a compliant Congress ended up passing legislation to make this illegal policy of spying on Americans legal. In parallel it should be noted that this exact same technology was and is deployed against the citizens in practically every other country in the World. In the case of neighbour the UK, since the early days were part of the US Echelon global spying intercept system and although they are the junior partner in this, they still have their own incredible capabilities, with GCHQ their best known spy center. No doubt the UK do and easily can tap or intercept most of the communications into and out of Ireland and probably some capability for internal intercepts too.
And so this brings us to last week when the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald broke the story on the latest whistle blower, 29 year Edward Snowden a former technical assistant of the CIA and employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton (for over the past decade much of the NSA intelligence work has been privatised and outsourced to defence contractor firms) who revealed that the NSA is currently collecting millions of phone calls from all the top phone companies in America under a top secret court order which was leaked by Snowden. Some of these companies are AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, BellSouth, T-Mobile He also described the PRISM system which is designed to spy on Internet traffic and as part of that program he revealed that the NSA has a direct tap into the data-centers of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies meaning every Gmail, google search, map search, google docs, yahoo mail, hotmail etc or any sort of interaction you have with these services is recorded and available by the NSA for data-mining and analysis. The scale is actually difficult to comprehend and mentally absorb what they are doing. It is exceedingly unlikely that they would have direct access to these companies and NOT to the data held by Facebook and Twitter. In fact it would be absurd to think otherwise.
And they have the software systems to match with these systems. For example from a previous whistle blower, William Binney, one of the best mathematicians and code breakers in NSA history and who worked for the Defense Department's foreign signals intelligence agency for 32 years he said as reported here: "I can pull your entire life together from all those domains and map it out and show your entire life over time," And Binney knows what he is talking about since he wrote the original software (ThinThread) that can identify in real time, networks of connections between individuals based on their electronic communications.
Meanwhile for the past couple of years it has been widely known to those interested in such things that the NSA has been constructing a huge $2 billion data storage facility in Bluffdale, Utah. But the intelligence agency doesn't ever build one of anything and there is actually a second similar data center under construction elsewhere with credible reports of two others making that four. Each of these data-centers is designed for storage and operations for decoding encrypted data and emails. The NSA can routinely crack open SSL traffic. In fact some years back they made huge advances in their ability to crack encryption systems. It is probably not well known but the NSA is the biggest employer of top mathematics in the US and probably the World. The crypto-analysis break through is most likely to have been in theory and in hardware capability with the most likely candidate the successful operation of a limited quantum computer -a system many physicists have been trying to build over the past 15 years or so. However it is on the data storage side that the site in Utah is both interesting and frightening, for it is planed to store a Yottabyte which works out at one thousand trillion trillion gigabytes, written as 1,000,000,000,000,000 GB although it is very unlikely it will be able to store this amount of data until a few more years into the future and is more likely to open with a capability of exabytes which is still big. This would be using the very latest technologies.
There is also another important change that has occurred over the past few decades in state surveillance of the population and that is spying has gone from directed and focused taps and intercepts on peoples and organisations and flipped to collecting electronic communications (phone + email + internet usage) and electronic transactions (utility bills, credit card transactions, insurance details, ATM activity, location data from GPS in phones and from phone masts) on everybody and storing all this information indefinitely. Then if for any reason you show up on the anything all the data on you, your life, who you are, your relationships, your friends is available. This is an important flip-over and it has been enabled by the exponential increase in computer technology and ability to store astronomical amounts of data. The trend of technological capability where already millions of cameras are in place where already the software can read car registrations and do face recognition (indeed Facebook runs such software in the background on its servers so that it can automatically tag photos with names of people once it knows the identify of one photograph) means the electronic totalitarian state is not only well and truly here but it is becoming ever more intrusive and sunk its roots into the very fabric of society. The only way it can be stopped is for people to force the change. It will not come from geeks in the corner inventing some technical fix because the near infinite resources of the corporate state with its own army of scientists, money and hardware can easily and quickly outdo and nullify any such momentary "advance". We are faced with a choice and that is: Either we all stand up and collectively participate to fight this or we are condemned to this crushing of our humanity. We are so used to been in denial and stepping back to let others do the fighting and resistance but this is no longer an option. It is very much the same approach and choices we must make with regard to other major issues facing us -namely to get up off our arses and help radically restructure our destructive consumer society and turn it into an equitable, just and sustainable society. Most of the challenge is facing our own denial, apathy and fears.
Going back to the part about the secret rooms in AT&T and other Telecoms firms, James Bamford reported that Israeli companies were involved in supplying some of equipment for the NSA. He says in his book -The Shadow Factory: The NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America: "According to a former Verizon employee briefed on the program, Verint, owned by Comverse Technology, taps the communication lines at Verizon... At AT&T the wiretapping rooms are powered by software and hardware from Narus, now owned by Boeing, a discovery made by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein in 2004."
Both Verint and Narus are Israeli companies founded in the 1990s and provide monitoring and intercept capabilities to service providers and government organizations. As Robert Poe of Wired says: Narus' product, the Semantic Traffic Analyzer, is a software application that runs on standard IBM or Dell servers using the Linux operating system. It's renowned within certain circles for its ability to inspect traffic in real time on high-bandwidth pipes, identifying packets of interest as they race by at up to 10 Gbps
But the marketing vice president of Narus makes it clear what they can do: "Anything that comes through (an internet protocol network), we can record. We can reconstruct all of their e-mails along with attachments, see what web pages they clicked on, we can reconstruct their (voice over internet protocol) calls."
This means all the NSA need to do is tap the in pipes to the data centers of places like Apple, Google and so on although as reported we know that they agreed to provide the data because of the secret court orders.
Guardian Coverage Of The NSA Files