James Bamford checks in on what the National Security Agency is up to these days:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

But “this is more than just a data center,” says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes. And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle—financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications—will be heavily encrypted. According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: “Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”

 More:
In the process—and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration—the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it’s all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.
Read the whole thing. Yesterday the NSA chief denied in Congressional testimony that the Bamford story was all that. Gizmodo writes:

Given the choice between an administration official saying nothing is going on and a respected reporter with inside sources saying something wicked this way comes, I know where my trust would lie.

Hide 37 comments

37 Responses to ‘Everybody’s a Target’

  1. Brian says:

    You mean a government that thinks that it’s A-OK to allow entry-level TSA morons to grope 3-year-olds at the airport ALSO thinks it can listen to cell phone calls and pore through internet records?

    I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you!

    To paraphrase the instapundit line, if I’d voted for Obama none of this would be happening…

  2. Charles Cosimano says:

    Oh hell, I’ll give them something to listen to!

  3. Fran Macadam says:

    What a tragedy it is that the American Dream turned after 200 years into the American Nightmare – the nation that once supposedly stood for freedom, leading the way to establishing totalitarianism in the world.

    We have come unhinged. The dream lasted 200 years – will anything be able to end the nightmare?

  4. Rob says:

    Let’s see how many FBI/NSA watchlists I can get on here: I wouldn’t mind if someone got it into their heads to blow that thing up.

  5. W.E.B. Dupree says:

    With unemployment so high, they need to get rid of that supercomputer and hire human beings to sit and do the eavesdropping and snooping. If we’re going to ditch the Fourth Amendment, we should at least get some JOBS, people.

  6. Rod Dreher says:

    I, for one, welcome our new NSA overlords, and remind them that as a trusted blog personality, I can help them find Rob and round him up to toil in their underground data-crunching caves.

    Heh.

  7. Rob says:

    Like so many other events in the past twenty years, it’s just so ironic, isn’t it? This sort of facility exceeds the wildest imaginations of an unashamed totalitarian like Stalin.

  8. Mont D. Law says:

    I’m sorry, I thought the conservative position was innocent citizens had nothing to fear, because they were innocent and citizens. At least that was their view when the NYPD was investigating Pennsylvania Muslims and the FBI was investigating the DFH concerned with the war and the environment. Now that they are coming for you and yours I don’t have much sympathy. Governments don’t ever willingly give up power. When you wink at it being used on your enemies, you just hasten the time it will be used on you.

  9. Rob says:

    Mont:

    Good for you. You set that straw man up and you beat it down. You gave that straw man exactly what it deserved!

    Please don’t confuse neoconservative elites with other, more traditional brands of conservatism (like my own). And also don’t forget that neoconservatives have more in common with Trotsky (or even Lenin) than they do with Burke.

  10. Susan D. says:

    Mark Shea’s blog has scored the architects’ drawings of the new NSA facility:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/03/the-brokest-nation-in-history.html

  11. TWylite says:

    It’s OK, Harry Tuttle will defeat the Central Scrutinizer to make the world safe for us Winston Smiths. Down with Big Data!

  12. Mont D. Law says:

    [Good for you. You set that straw man up and you beat it down. You gave that straw man exactly what it deserved!]

    How kind of you to see my straw man and raise it a no true Scotsman. If the National Review, the New York Post and Fox news are not conservative the word has no meaning.

  13. Mitchell Young says:

    Sad, really. I worked strategic and tactical SIGINT, and every year we were drilled with FISA procedures. Seems that’s gone by the wayside. Sad too, unless their AI has gotten a lot better, most — the vast majority — of this ‘information’ will not yield useful, actionable intelligence.

  14. John Haas says:

    Meh. Now, if they nick name it “the Beast,” I’ll start to worry . . .

  15. Fran Macadam says:

    “Brazil” did not end happily, nor will it for us.

    Solzhenitsyn’s “First Circle” was about scientists who had been sent to the Gulag – Hell – being retrieved from its lower levels by Stalin to work in the First Circle of Hell on his wet dream – being able to listen in on anyone’s conversation in the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn, as a mathematician, was himself recruited from Siberia this way.

    Stalin wasn’t a big thinker the way American tyrants are. What a piker. Our masters want to listen to everything, all the time, both domestic and foreign.

    I used to think moral equivalence was B.S. Now I know otherwise. As Solzhenitsyn himself wrote, “The line between good and evil does not run between peoples, but divides every human heart.”

    At some point those who protest will be using Samizdat,

    Every flag in the USA ought to be flying upside down, as a distress signal for our old Republic.

  16. Mad Doc MacRae says:

    I’m made of metal
    My circuits gleam
    I am perpetual
    I keep the country clean

    I’m elected electric spy
    I’m protected electric eye

  17. MH - secular misanthropist says:

    Thube ubanswuber ubis subimpuble. Ubif wube dubevelubop ubour ubown lubanguubage thubey wubill hubear, bubut nubot bube ubabuble tubo ubunduberstuband. Hubowubevuber, Ubi ubam slubightluby skubeptubicubal bubecubause rubumubors ubof uba trubunk lubine mubonubitubor hubave ubexubistubed fubor uba gubenerubatiubon.

  18. Mitchell Young says:

    “At least that was their view when the NYPD was investigating Pennsylvania Muslims and the FBI was investigating the DFH concerned with the war and the environment.”

    Actually, one reason this vacuum-cleaner approach is necessary is the failure to hunt where the bears are due to fears of ‘profiling’. More statistically justified profiling, less intrusion into the society overall.

  19. Rob says:

    Mont D. Law,

    Fox News is a corporate shill, and would be hawking the Democratic line if there were money to be had in doing so. The National Review is the paradigmatic neoconservative rag (as opposed to conservative rag). And isn’t the New York Post a glorified tabloid? In any case, I read/watch none of them. You’re either suffering from an acute case of ideological malice or of an inadequate understanding of what conservatism actually is and means.

    In other words, you’re missing the point: there is nothing conservative about a $2 billion installation designed to collect and collate every piece of information shared by everyone in the world. Unless Stalin was a “conservative,” this is an issue, if ever there was one, on which conservatives and progressives should be able to find common ground. Any so-called conservative who praises this project is a gross liar or grossly misguided.

  20. Joseph R. Stromberg says:

    True Scotsman fallacy bested by *pars pro toto.* Yet if “National Review, the New York Post and Fox news” are called conservative, that does not exhaust the category of all those who are called, or call themselves, conservative.

    This is one reason that the American Conservative exists in the first place.

  21. Clare Krishan says:

    ubok ubi ubunduberstuband!
    vubomubels ubarube subupuberflubuuboubus why nubot ubadd fubew muborube?
    Syntubax bube dubamnubed! Bubut wubas trubunkubing uba bugub ubor uba fubeubatuburube?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trunking
    ubi.ube. ubis ‘ub’ uba pubarubity bytube — uboncube ubevubery bubit, ubor merubely uba chubeck subm, oncube pubr wubord?

  22. Mont D. Law says:

    (More statistically justified profiling, less intrusion into the society overall.)

    Then you have no trouble ignoring the Contituion and using justified profiling on other segments of the population that are not Muslims and DFH?

    Men, as a group commit more then 80% of murders. Is it okay with you that the government roll out some of this justified profiling for them? How about rapists? More then 95% of rapes are committed by men, should we encourage the government to hunt bear where they are and profile all men as rapists?

    You are a nation of laws or a nation of men, pick one.

  23. TWylite says:

    “Wired” is one of the 2 remaining paper magazines I get (National Geographic being the other), and I finally read the whole story tonight. My thinking was that the likes of “Anonymous” or “lulzsec” or the jolly folks who made Stuxnet can and will find a way to plant a virus in this thing before lunch break. Also, Steganography may get a big boost when everyone knows Big Brother is recording. So every other Pinterest post about this or that cupcake recipe could really be instructions for processing yellowcake uranium into a suitcase full of nuclear underwear bombs that leave a smoking mushroom cloud. And smart spies frequently change their “channel”, so breaking one code will only be good for a limited time.

  24. Mont D. Law says:

    So basically you believe you guys are the only true conservatives. And all the other people saying they are conservatives and being identified as conservatives by almost everybody everywhere are really pseudo conservative or maybe even liberals.

    Aye, that makes perfect sense.

    (In other words, you’re missing the point: there is nothing conservative about a $2 billion installation designed to collect and collate every piece of information shared by everyone in the world.)

    Of course not, because they plan on surveiling everybody, not just people you don’t like.

    Protections against government surveillance must be universal or they are meaningless. The rights of Muslims and treehuggers and pedophiles and murders and drug dealers mean as much to me as my own. I’m am not sure that all those other conservatives, the fake ones, share those values.

  25. MH - secular misanthropist says:

    Clare Krishan, ubbi dubbi aside. There have been rumors of the NSA illegally doing this sort of thing since the 70′s (http://www.catb.org/jargon/html/N/NSA-line-eater.html). Back then it was referred to as the trunk line monitor. When the phone system was modernized back in the 90′s supposedly the FBI asked for wire tapping to be built into the system. But the advent of email and VOIP made this pretty easy using off the shelf packet capture and analysis tools.

    But the skeptic in me says that in the end someone doing this would have a mountain of data and sifting through it seems daunting. I imagine that it could be used is after the fact to provide evidence if you are arrested for another crime. But being proactive would be hard.

    However it’s a bit spooky and I understand the Paranoia of the PGP and TOR freaks.

  26. Hugo Longbone says:

    lol @ TWylie making a Brazil reference; in a word where being an artisan without a license is considered terrorism. LOL!

  27. Rob is on the right track, but he should have just said “There is nothing conservative…” and stopped right there. The label has been appropriated and pinned so many times, by so many people and factions, that it has no generally recognized meaning.

    This raises a few interesting questions that nobody has posed:

    1) To what extent does our government change due to an election? The spoils system provided a whole new staff committed to the program of whoever just took office, although often appointees were simply collecting a payoff, not coming in committed to do much of anything. Bipartisanship suggests that there are core functions that should function no matter who won the election. Barack Obama may have disappointed many supporters by not simply shutting down the NSA. But could he have done so?

    2) IF there is another major attack on U.S. soil, there will probably be an ex post facto set of obvious dots connected. Then there will be a hue and cry about why those dots were not connected in advance. Are we prepared to come to the defense of those who refrained from the necessary surveillance?

    3) Ubi est mea?

  28. Chad Rushing says:

    When I was working in the telecom industry in the late 1990′s, there was a feature we tested on the wireless switching systems called CALEA which allowed up to six other (government) people to listen in on a mobile phone call. The voice path was one-way so that the parties conversing could not tell their conversation was being monitored. See here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Assistance_for_Law_Enforcement_Act

    Of course, now that all communications are digital rather than analog, government wiretapping has probably become much more efficient.

  29. Rob says:

    Mont D. Law,

    It seems we’re not going to get anywhere with this discussion because you’d rather continue to smear “conservatives” based on an uncharitable and incorrect definition of the term handed to you by the Daily Kos or some such drivel. As such, all I can do is insist that this securitarian/totalitarian installation is fundamentally un-conservative, and that I am emphatically opposed to it based upon conservative principles. I suppose you are not obligated to believe me, especially since it would rupture your tidy stereotypes about the black-and-white ideological spectrum in American. But you should know that in any case I wouldn’t support a program like this even (and especially!) if it’s declared purpose were only to surveil Muslims (or drug dealers or pedophiles, who somehow slipped into this conversation?), and, again, I say this on the premise of conservative notions.

  30. Rebecca says:

    “So every other Pinterest post about this or that cupcake recipe could really be instructions for processing yellowcake uranium into a suitcase full of nuclear underwear bombs that leave a smoking mushroom cloud.”

    This is looking on the bright side, which could really happen. The dark side of that is for those of us who are REALLY sharing cupcake recipes could get hauled into Gitmo and tortured endlessly under the new “freedom” and “patriot” laws, for being cupcake terrorists.

  31. PDGM says:

    The technology that allows this is a sinister thing, and it makes possible the fact that the USA has come to (speaking as a whole) accept this form of government intrusion as a “normal” part of life.

    Epistemologically, this kind of data mining “knowledge” (and Google does it as well, just more crudely; look at the ads that a newspaper pops up on its web site and compare them to your interests, or if you use gmail, to words you have used in emails) is based upon ideas about both knowledge and human beings that, from any traditional point of view, is false because radically attenuated.

    In this “data driven” point of view, humans are nothing but collections of interests or desires with nothing really “there” at the center; and the form of knowledge that can deal with such beings is equally deficient. And in its deficiency it is horrible and threatening to the more complex and deiform reality that human beings consist of.

    If a culture treats its members as nothing other than a nexus of interests or desires, eventually, there is a risk that many of us human beings end up acting as if we are nothing more a large part of the time. This is like the Narnia chronicle that takes place underground, where the prince is invited, again and again, to deny the reality of the sun, and only allowed into the aboveground world while drugged.

  32. Clare Krishan says:

    MH – have not fear, with the advent of relational databases, the data mining’s not that daunting actually. A quarter century ago in the hi-tech field I was employed in, we were playing with the kind of “analytics/cloud computing” word-sorting of data that tag-clouds like this app
    http://www.visualthesaurus.com/app/view
    now makes freely available – try entering ‘parity’ to see what’s related in significance. (n.b. as a pay-per-view site, disrete links not permitted)

    IOW, ‘wordle’ in four dimensions for everyone’s every word and their cognitive valence associations. The fourth dimension? A rubrik of risk ranked by the eavesdropping agency, in this case a public authority. Since access, like money, is as fungible as greased palms, disreputable types could rank the algorithms to weed-out any segment contained within the database. How will we know? Good question… hence my check sum error trunking comment…

  33. Mont D. Law says:

    [It seems we’re not going to get anywhere with this discussion because you’d rather continue to smear “conservatives” based on an uncharitable and incorrect definition of the term handed to you by the Daily Kos or some such drivel. ]

    I’m sorry I was unaware that The National Review, The NY Post and Fox were only called conservative because Kos said so. And so their defense of suspending the constitutional rights for unpopular minorities is not a real conservative position.

    [I suppose you are not obligated to believe me, ]

    I do believe you. My comment was not aimed at you specifically but at hypocritical conservatives, who are perfectly prepared to suspend the constitutional right of Muslims, environmental activists and peace protesters, but outraged that the suspension might become more general. Your response provided only one argument – well they aren’t real conservatives.

    [especially since it would rupture your tidy stereotypes about the black-and-white ideological spectrum in American.]

    And now you’re just insulting me. No argument at all just aspersions cast on my intellect, character and political beliefs.

    Look, it’s not Kos fault that conservatism in modern America doesn’t meet your standards, but it clearly doesn’t. And that’s fine. I don’t agree with a lot of liberalism’s idiocy. But I make arguments. I don’t insist they are not liberals and I don’t accuse people who point this out of stupidity, group think or bad faith.

  34. John E says:

    Do a web search on “Total Information Awareness Office logo”.

  35. Sean says:

    @Mitchell: Sad… every year we were drilled with FISA procedures. Seems that’s gone by the wayside.

    That has surprised me too. I was at Ft. Meade in the early ’00s (boy, was that a scary place to be on 9/11) and this sort of thing was simply out of the question then. That such a project could be undertaken shows, to me, that the damage done by the GWOT to our 4th Amendment rights is much more extensive than I thought.

    Actually, one reason this vacuum-cleaner approach is necessary is the failure to hunt where the bears are due to fears of ‘profiling’. More statistically justified profiling, less intrusion into the society overall.

    Damn! I almost got a chance to just agree with you, then you screwed it up by saying something to justify your ‘narrative’, to borrow a term of yours from another thread.

    The problem with the vacuum-cleaner approach to ‘profiling’ is the same as the problem with the vacuum-cleaner approach to a military occupation. In both cases, the tactic feeds the very problem it is employed to solve. In Iraq, we had a hell of a time getting good informants after the first couple of years, because our big, clunky war machine just kept doing damage. Killing or arresting the wrong person, stepping all over local customs, shaming fathers in front of their children and blowing up the wrong peoples’ homes on bad intel all served to turn people who might otherwise have been with us into people who fought against us, or at least refused to work with us. Hell, the biggest fish I ever met was a vocal supporter of the American presence in Iraq until the Abu Ghraib photos came out, at which point he founded his own terrorist organization and became the most feared name north of Baghdad.

    I’d rather the good, patriotic Americans in the Arab-American community (such as the people who did almost all of the translating in Iraq) see every reason to work with the FBI and other agencies to expose whatever terrorists may be rising up from their community. There is a MUCH less likely chance that we’ll get good intel from the inside if our government embarks on a “vacuum-cleaner approach.” Both tactically and strategically, the vacuum-cleaner is a bad approach, if your goal is to actually stop terrorists.

    Also, what Mont D. Law said: Protections against government surveillance must be universal or they are meaningless. The rights of Muslims and treehuggers and pedophiles and murders and drug dealers mean as much to me as my own.

  36. Tony D. says:

    Go back to writing letters and paper memos. Pay all your bills by (real) mail. Pay cash for everything. (I guess renting a car or flying are out.)

  37. Sending letters by USPS will soon be one of the known characteristics of terrorists, meriting intensive surveillance of the perpetrators.

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