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  (Source: Nation of Change)
"Interesting" auto-flagged emails are stored in "Trafficthief" and other DBs for five years or more

"I, sitting at my desk, wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email," declared former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) leaker Edward Snowden.

I. Lies Politicians Told Me

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who recently shot down an effort to trim back NSA spying, was one mouthpiece in the Obama administration's vocal denial of that statement.  

Rep. Rogers took a rather personal angle in challenging Mr. Snowden's veracity, attacking, "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do.  I hope that we don't decide that our national security interests are going to be determined by a high-school dropout who had a whole series of both academic troubles and employment troubles."

Likewise, President Barack Hussein Obama (D) himself commented in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose:

We're going to have to find ways where the public has an assurance that there are checks and balances in place ... that their phone calls aren't being listened into; their text messages aren't being monitored, their emails are not being read by some big brother somewhere.

He argued that the data gathering was "transparent" and "that’s why we set up the FISA court", a rather interesting claim given that the FISA is the secret PATRIOT Act court whose orders are sealed and whose actions are not allowed to be known by the public.

The President's motivations for the spying, however, appear fairly straightforward.  An estimated 70 percent ($33.7B USD) of the request fiscal 2014 funding for intelligence/spying activities is scheduled to go to private contractors, the biggest of which are BAH, Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), Honeywell Int'l Inc. (HON) (via is Science Applications Int'l Corp. subsidiary), Raytheon Comp. (RTN), and Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT).  

These companies were among the president's top campaign donors, pouring nearly twice as much money over him as they did to Mitt Romney (Booz Allen Hamilton gave $176,000 + $281,700 USD to supporting PACs; Lockheed Martin gave $285,600 + $854,300 USD to supporting PACs; Honeywell Int'l  gave $93,600 USD + ~$100,000 USD to supporting PACs; Raytheon  gave $155,800 + $522,300 USD to supporting PACs; and Northrop Grumman gave $251,500 + $323,300 USD to supporting PACs. 

II. Sweeping Warrantless Email, Chat Surveillance Program Gets Outed

On Wednesday, though The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald published a report that reveals that the NSA is monitoring millions of people's emails and chats via a program called "XKeyscore".  Internal training documents call the program the "widest-reaching" data collection effort in world history.  

NSA XKeyscore
[Image Source: The Guardian]

Presentations on the tool describe a "Digital Network Intelligence (DNI)" which scrapes countless bytes of data from ISPs, telecommunications backbones, and more under the PATRIOT Act.  One slide brags, "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet [is captured]."

NSA email
[Image Source: The Guardian]

In other words compressed, searchable collections of everything you do online, every word you type and send are being compiled at secret NSA facilities, and you're paying the bill -- a "modest encroachment" of privacy in the President's mind.

Without any warrants an NSA analyst can mine databases at will and view communications, with only a small on-screen form to be filled in justifying the reason for the search.  Agents can find and track your online actions via a number of search options including name, telephone number, IP address, keywords, the language in which the internet activity was conducted, or the type of browser used.

NSA Email spying

NSA Email spying
[Image Source: The Guardian]

Under the PATRIOT Act's FISA court federal agents need a warrant to get an "all you can eat" pass to your digital life -- officially.  But the XKeyscore appears to offer agents the ability to view without warrant "real-time" database logs of emails/chats associated with specific accounts of U.S. citizens -- even if they're not technically supposed to be doing that.

NSA email spying
[Image Source: The Guardian]

In fact, the program allows NSA agents to in some cases not even have to write a justification, simply click-and-picking one from a drop-down menu of canned justifications.

NSA monitoring
[Image Source: The Guardian]

A December 2012 slide entitled "plug-ins" suggests the tools are especially good at monitoring your contacts, including:
  • "every email address seen in a session by both username and domain"
  • "every phone number seen in a session [eg address book entries or signature block]"
  • "the webmail and chat activity to include username, buddylist, machine specific cookies etc"
When searching, the NSA tool taps a series of databases that include data intercepted directly from email services, data from "contact us" email forms on webpages, and online documents.  The search then returns a list of emails that an NSA agent can click to read.

III. Facebook, Google Chats are Mined

As with the previous monitoring, the NSA -- who is supposed to be monitoring foreign communications -- seems primarily interested in monitoring interactions of U.S. citizens.  One slide states, "communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States" are the primary purpose of XKeyscore., Inc. (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg insisted that his social network's users weren't being monitored by the feds, commenting:

Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the US or any other government direct access to our servers. We have never received a blanket request or court order from any government agency asking for information or metadata in bulk, like the one Verizon reportedly received. And if we did, we would fight it aggressively.

Whoops, that sounds like another lie, whether or not the Zucks realizes it.  Slides show that an agent can enter a Facebook user name and date range and get a full transcript of your chat logs.

NSA Facebook

NSA Facebook
[Image Source: The Guardian]

Another slide indicates that the feds may have similar open access to Google Inc.'s (GOOG) Gmail and Yahoo! Inc.'s (YHOO) Mail.  The only limitation is storage space.  Documents indicate that full records (email, chat logs, etc.) are captured and stored 3 to 5 days, while the associated metadata (email headers, etc.) are stored 30 days.  Comments one slide "At some sites, the amount of data we receive per day (20+ terabytes) can only be stored for as little as 24 hours."

Forum traffic was also targeted.

NSA Forum monitoring
[Image Source: The Guardian]

These monitoring facilities aren't cheap.  William Binney, a former NSA mathematician, estimated in 2012 that the NSA and affiliate agencies have captured and stored 20 trillion pieces of data (e.g. emails, call metadata records, etc.) of U.S. citizens communicating with fellow Americans.  A 2010 article in The Washington Post describes, "Every day, collection systems at the [NSA] intercept and store 1.7bn emails, phone calls and other type of communications."

NSA Email Storage
[Image Source: The Guardian]

But that doesn't mean your older records are safe.  The NSA has developed tiered-storage solutions that use automated scripts to flag and cache potentially "interesting" information in databases for long term storage.  These databases include "MARINA", "Pinwale", and "Trafficthief".

IV. Abuse in Similar Programs Have Been Shown to be Rampant

So how much are those "justifications" the agents fill out checked for legality and ethical use?  According to Mr. Snowden, "It's very rare to be questioned on our searches and even when we are, it's usually along the lines of: 'let's bulk up the justification.'"

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, acknowledges in Congressional testimony that there have been "a number of compliance problems", but insisted these illegal actions weren't in "bad faith".  Instead they were due to "human error" or "highly sophisticated technology issues", he says.

In similar PATRIOT Act monitoring programs audit by the U.S. Department of Justice's Inspector General (IG) it was found that "Documentation was missing or inadequate in 60 percent of the files the Inspector General looked at."

PATRIOT Act spying
Similar programs have been plagued by rampant abuses. [Image Source: Nation of Change]

Furthermore, the full documents associated with approximately "70 percent" of the seizures that were logged in a database could not be found, meaning there was no way of telling whether they were valid or something entirely inappropriate (e.g. an administration official spying on political rivals, a man stalking his ex-girlfriend, etc.).  The "voluntary self-reporting" used to log offenses produced only 26 hits out of 146,000 requests (0.0178%), but the audit found 17 out of 77 inspected letters (22.1%) were blatant violations while 46 of them (59.7%) had missing records that made them impossible to verify.

Former federal officials have claimed that U.S. spying agencies target U.S. citizens based on their religion and political views.

In other words if XKeyscore is anything like other audited programs, there's lots of abuse, little documentation, and a totally broken system of self-policing that sweeps all that mess under the rug.

V. The Old "But We Caught a Few Terrorists" Excuse

The payoff for this loss of freedom?  The NSA slides brag that by 2008 300 terrorists were caught globally using XKeyscore.

The NSA writes in a statement to the Guardian:

NSA's activities are focused and specifically deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements that our leaders need for information necessary to protect our nation and its interests.

XKeyscore is used as a part of NSA's lawful foreign signals intelligence collection system.

Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true. Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA's analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.

Every search by an NSA analyst is fully auditable, to ensure that they are proper and within the law.

These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad

Note the key word is "auditable", meaning audits of the request have not necessary occurred.  The NSA also does not explain why if the programs purpose was to be "deployed against – and only against – legitimate foreign intelligence targets" why it would brag in its own words of the ability to track "communications that transit the United States and communications that terminate in the United States."

NSA Unchained
[Image Source: ACLU]
The sad thing is that the U.S. has long condemned nations like Russia and China for their internet surveillance, particularly in annual U.S. Department of State (DoS) reports on attacks on freedom in China, Russia, and elsewhere.  Perhaps a look in a mirror is now in order.

Clearly a "fool me once" principle applies to this one, as the NSA spins yet another layer in its tangled web of revisionist promises and denials.

Source: Guardian UK

Comments     Threshold

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RE: .
By Reclaimer77 on 8/1/2013 11:36:47 AM , Rating: 5
I am not doing anything wrong

I'm just blown away at the apathy and ignorance on display...

You're right, you aren't doing anything wrong. So why does the Government need to spy on you in the first place?

if this is so bad, can someone give me something substantial that has changed in your life? something that isnt all mushy and comfort. im not a wuss, so unless my couch is missing from my house or something, nothing has changed.

WOW!!! Just...unbelievable.

RE: .
By xti on 8/1/2013 12:49:35 PM , Rating: 2 has your life been affected? just a question....

RE: .
By MrBlastman on 8/1/2013 12:51:37 PM , Rating: 4
Perhaps instead of asking "how" you should instead ask "will?"

To understand the full rammifications of any action, you must not only observe the present, you must also study the past and pontificate the future.

RE: .
By xti on 8/1/13, Rating: -1
RE: .
By ClownPuncher on 8/1/2013 2:34:40 PM , Rating: 5
NDAA. The ability for the govenrment to detain citizens indefinitely without due process. 8 whistleblowers being held for exposing government corruption. The ability for the government to kill US citizens without trial. The erosion of the 1st and 4th amendments.

Basically, you're a turd.

RE: .
By xti on 8/2/13, Rating: 0
RE: .
By ClownPuncher on 8/2/2013 11:19:42 AM , Rating: 2
Give up. There is no shame in admitting you were wrong and poorly educated. Just use it as an opportunity to learn and not make the same mistakes again.

RE: .
By xti on 8/2/2013 6:37:04 PM , Rating: 1
sounds like you cant think of anything that applies to you so you just ignore the question.

thats cool...

RE: .
By sorry dog on 8/2/2013 12:49:53 PM , Rating: 2
I'll tell ya what's happen to him, me, and most everyone else around here. Recently millions of man hours of time and money (billions in that case) have been spent on the collection of this gross data and on the justification of the collection. In addition to that, similar amounts of effort have been spent on the study of the collection, efforts observe and report the collection, and efforts to reverse the collection. The costs are not just government/taxpayer expenses, but many other budgets as well. Personally I'd rather see journalists of the world working on things like financial meltdown (which I see as waaay underreported). And these costs only apply to the DIRECT activity costs of data collections.

The bigger problem I see is the opportunity cost that these distractions are causing. This nation is facing some of the largest fiscal challenges in its history and instead of our leaders (and those that report on them) being solely focused on these issues, they are spending time and money on these black hole government programs that have minuscule benefits.

So what has happened is his quality of life and my quality of life is being diminished by our government not doing its job and spending public money on it when it can be least afforded.

RE: .
By xti on 8/2/13, Rating: 0
RE: .
By M'n'M on 8/1/2013 6:04:53 PM , Rating: 2
Too young to recall McCarthy and what happened then ? How many people's lives and careers were ruined ? Would you want your conversations with your lawyer to be listened to ? With your accountant ? Got no problem with every snail mail letter being opened and recorded ? Can you imagine how MLK would have fared under a Nixonian administration ? It's isn't just private "bad" facts that you might want to keep private, it's also facts that can be twisted and spun by politicians to mute opposing views because humans still can't separate the message from the messenger. You or I may never be important enough in the public viewpoint but other, imperfect humans will be. It'll be a crap shoot as to whether a Govt that opposes their views will use this type of power to silence or obfuscate them.

I don't understand why people who oppose this kind of warrantless spying are thought to "hate" their Govt. It's not hate but a healthy distrust of the powers granted to fallible people who implement the Govt. A distrust that goes back to the formation of this country and the type of govt we have. We have what we have not because it's the most efficient form of govt but because it's the one most likely not to ignore our rights.

RE: .
By EricMartello on 8/3/2013 4:14:19 PM , Rating: 2
more wussy paranoia.

Paranoia implies an unreasonable or unrealistic fear; this surveillance buffet is quite real and is part of the gradual erosion of Americans' civil and constitutional rights.

give me an example where it isn't a needle in the haystack (like that kid who killed himself because he got caught uploading things he KNEW he shouldn't have) or a drop in the well (an extra 10 second body scan at the one wants to look at your fatas in an xray...)

Let's example you can view every day - mass media:

It's not coincidence that most of the mass-media is heavily biased toward the expansion of government power and authority. They always vilify anyone right of center, because people on the right fundamentally OPPOSE government.

So what does the spying have to do with this?

Much of this seemingly "harmless" and "not personally identifiable" information is processed and used to generate the narratives you hear repeatedly on TV, newspapers, magazines, blogs and even so-called "grass roots" movements.

By tracking and monitoring Americans' activities and habits online, the government and companies in the data mining industry, are able to manipulate public perceptions and opinions to suit their agenda, which is NOT an agenda that looks out for the best interests of US Citizens.

Both of the Obama campaigns made heavy use of this type of technology.

The companies that provide this technology typically refuse to do so with an party that is not pro-government (i.e. far left).

People like you who believe that anything beyond a 3 foot radius of themselves is irrelevant enable this type of abuse to happen.

Why don't you tell us why we need this type of surveillance?

How is rampant spying on Americans things better for the US as a whole?

How is having your fat-a55 scanned at the airport making it safer to fly?

RE: .
By Reclaimer77 on 8/1/2013 2:12:46 PM , Rating: 4
So as long as it doesn't personally impact me and me alone, the Government has unlimited authority to do anything it wants?

Get out of here! Your comments are completely unacceptable.

Why don't you ask Conservative groups and individuals that were targeted and intimidated by the IRS how their lives were affected? How did the IRS know who to target anyway? Massive Government databases like these who monitor citizens and collect data.

You're sitting here asking "how does it affect" us, and we have proof positive that it can and DOES! While you're at it, look up the 4'th Amendment.

RE: .
By Piiman on 8/3/2013 11:34:14 AM , Rating: 3
"Why don't you ask Conservative groups and individuals that were targeted and intimidated by the IRS how their lives were affected? How did the IRS know who to target anyway? Massive Government databases like these who monitor citizens and collect data."

Ahh no that is not how they knew. Those groups had to file for a certain tax status and fill out paper work and send it to the IRS. Sorry no secret database needed.

RE: .
By kerpwnt on 8/1/2013 4:29:29 PM , Rating: 2
Are all of the facilities, equipment, and staff used to run this program free?

I would rather that the tax money was used for something that actually made the U.S. a better nation. That, or lower the deficit, or maybe don't collect the money in the first place...

Every U.S. taxpayer (or person who benefits from a tax-funded program) has been affected. Imagine what else we could do with the money that was instead spent cataloging our emails, personal conversations, logins, credit card numbers, online purchases, GPS locations, and whatever else we transmit (private or not) over the internet?

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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