NSA Insists It Doesn't Have 'The Ability' To Spy On American Emails, Texts, Etc.

from the are-they-just-lying? dept

Earlier this week, we wrote about an excellent and detailed article in Wired about the efforts by the NSA to collect and store pretty much all communications data they could get their hands on -- whether originating in the US or not (despite clear rules that the NSA is only supposed to deal with foreign threats and communications). Some of that report merely confirmed earlier stories and news reports about programs like the warrantless wiretapping program the NSA runs, as well as deals with major telcos to allow NSA equipment directly on the network at key points to collect data. But parts of it broke some new news about the extent and depth of the NSA's data collection program, as well as its efforts to break the encryption that protects certain communications. As we noted, it was all pretty terrifying.

The article appears to have caught the attention of Congress as well, with Rep. Hank Johnson directly asking NSA boss General Keith Alexander (who you may remember from his FUD warnings about Anonymous taking down power grids) about whether or not various points made in the article are true, and Alexander denies them all, insisting that the NSA has neither the technical nor the legal capabilities to capture and sift through communications from Americans.
He clearly states that "the NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States," which is almost certainly untrue. He repeatedly states that for content in the US, the NSA would need to get a warrant to get this information. To be fair, he may be responding very carefully to Johnson's question, which is directed at the contents of emails or phone conversations -- which does require a warrant. Many of the bigger questions are less about the direct content of the communications but the metadata around those communications. Though, there are some questions about access to the actual content as well, especially when it comes to email. Alexander also insists that the NSA defers to the FBI on matters involving people in the US, even though many, many reports have suggested this is not actually true.

Johnson does press Alexander a bit on the question of whether it's the legal or technical parts that are holding the NSA back, and Alexander repeats that they simply don't have the technical capabilities:
"We don’t have the technical insights in the United States. In other words, you have to have something to intercept, or some way of doing that either by going to a service provider with a warrant or you have to be collecting in that area. We’re not authorized to do that, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to collect that kind of information."
There is a slight pause between "technical" and "insights" in the way he says it, as if he's searching for the proper word before choosing insights, but he later clearly says they don't have the equipment to do so -- which seems to contradict a ton of reports out there from pretty credible sources within the NSA.

As Ryan Singel writes at Wired:
It’s hard to tell here whether Alexander is parsing the questions closely, misspeaking or telling the truth. The heads of the intelligence service have a long tradition of misspeaking or telling untruths that advance their agenda. President George Bush himself on the re-election campaign trail said that no American had been wiretapped without a warrant, which was plainly false, according to numerous news stories and the government’s own admissions of the program.

In the aftermath of those half-truths, the Congress passed, and Bush signed into law, the FISA Amendments Act, which re-wrote the nation’s surveillance laws to give the NSA a much freer hand to wiretap American infrastructure wholesale.
I know that the assumption many will make is that he's flat out lying, and that wouldn't surprise me, but I do wonder if he's trying to pick his words carefully to get around lying—or if he knows he's so protected that he can just say whatever he wants without much fear of ever being called on it.


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  1.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 10:39am

    Doublespeak

    We can not review the emails or communications of american citizens without a warrant!!!!

    (Which means we only collect that information in case we need it. Only if we want to or deem it necessary will we look at that information. Either way we have the information stored.)

     

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  2.  
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    Jay (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:04am

    First hunch

    I know that the assumption many will make is that he's flat out lying, and that wouldn't surprise me, but I do wonder if he's trying to pick his words carefully to get around lying—or if he knows he's so protected that he can just say whatever he wants without much fear of ever being called on it.

    Let's look at the past for a review of NSA's future:

    2006 - NSA lies

    2007 - AT&T whistleblower blows the whistle. Again, lies are emitted

    2008 - No GAO oversight of NSA

    2010 - NSA and Google connections

    2011 - Thomas Drake case folds but it's more about harassment and character damage than anything else.

    2012 - NSA and Google connections are not up for public discussion

    So is NSA lying? Considering that they've had few punishments in the past for lying, I'm sure they are. They're just more brazen about it since the government has already passed the point of being a plutocracy.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:06am

    I think he's parsing carefully

    It may be true that the NSA doesn't have the technical capability to spy on American emails and such. Such technical capability may be in the possession of a third party (FBI, AT&T, DHS, whoever) who does the spying and gives the results to the NSA. Or, since the Wired article discusses a datacenter that is not yet operational, it may be the NSA doesn't have the technical capability yet, but will soon.

    What we do know is that his statements disagree with those made by other, equally or more credible & knowledgeable official sources, so it's very likely the effect of his statements are to lie.

     

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  4.  
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    A Guy (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:10am

    Re: First hunch

    I think that is probably accurate. We really do need better enforcement options when the executive branch oversteps its authority.

     

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    Torg (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:15am

    If the NSA lacks the technological ability to read emails, they're so far behind everyone else on the planet that there's no longer any point in keeping them funded. If anons can do something, there's no excuse for a government-funded agency to be unable to do it. They should lose their budget privileges until they figure out how to hack my email.

    He also seems to be indicating that US emails are somehow fundamentally different from foreign emails. He's either lying or clueless.

     

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  6.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:20am

    But, but, crossed fingers!

    I know that the assumption many will make is that he's flat out lying,...

    Notice how he keeps at least one hand out of sight at all times? I bet he has his fingers crossed under that table, so whatever he says won't be considered lying.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:25am

    Re: But, but, crossed fingers!

    But... you see... well... the NASa... doesn't have the... coverage to... have the ability... to have the insight... to do that under... a... table... in the United States.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:32am

    Is there any way to make the NSA accountable (in a way that hurts them BADLY) for their actions? Maybe anonymous could start focusing on that spy center of theirs...

     

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  9.  
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    gorehound (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:39am

    Re: Doublespeak

    NSA can and does spy on us.I will not believe one word of their denials.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:41am

    you can bet your bottom dollar that at least one of the law enforcement agencies are collecting the information. if the NSA isn't, it's being given whatever info it needs, whenever it needs it, on whoever it says.

     

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  11.  
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    Jeremy Lyman (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:53am

    Careful Wording

    I read his statement to convey that they don't have the technology to intercept communications deployed in the United States. Whether the tech they absolutely do have deployed is totally capable of doing the things we're asking about from somewhere else is another matter entirely.

    In other words, they're years ahead of The Pirate Bay in putting drone based wireless servers up over neutral airspace.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:55am

    They don't need to read Peoples emails...they have Google do it for them.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:56am

    which is almost certainly untrue.

    Ill say it for ya Mike. He is flat out lying. We already know this.
    https://www.youtube.com/user/weneedhelp/videos?query=nsa

    Knew this 5 years ago.


    "I know that the assumption many will make is that he's flat out lying"
    Assumption?

    "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."

    "the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade."

    I don't think we need to assume anything.

    Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, children of all ages, the NSA is proud to bring to you 1984 or otherwise known as The New World Order. It's a place where every communication is monitored, every action caught on video, every move traced, ever transaction scrutinized, and only your thoughts are private. But dont worry folks, technology will catch up and soon those pesky thoughts will be monitored as well.

    Shut up, do as your told, and never, NEVER!... question authority.

     

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  14.  
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    davebarnes (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 11:57am

    Hello NSA

    09385 12743 45576 39812

     

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  15.  
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    Overcast (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    How can you tell when politicians are lying?

    *Their lips are moving.

    This is total BS - we all know it. Who here can say they *really* trust Government... anyone?

     

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    Hmmmmm

    He repeats a key phrase which makes me wonder.

    "We’re not authorized to do that, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to collect that kind of information."

    Did anyone ask him if the NSA has equipment OUTSIDE of the US that is used to collect that kind of information?

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Hello NSA

    Ill byte. Whats up with the numbers?

     

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    Overcast (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:06pm

    We can not review the emails or communications of american citizens without a warrant!!!!

    (Which means we only collect that information in case we need it. Only if we want to or deem it necessary will we look at that information. Either way we have the information stored.)


    Yes, I think you are 100% right.

    They data mine them - they store them - then they 'officially' use them when/if they get a warrant.

    But I'm sure there are AMPLE amounts of 'non-official' use.

    One day we'll hear about how some government agent iced his wife when he found out she was cheating via their (NSA/FBI/CIA) email monitoring. But the claim will then be how it's an "isolate incident" and a "bug in the system" allowed him that kind of access!

    You don't think a suspicious spouse (at least some) would use this technology for their personal agenda?

    Wrong. Happens daily.

    It's safe to assume that everything you put here on the web is in a government database - be it private emails, IM's, Forum Postings, etc, etc, etc.

    I personally make that assumption.

     

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  19.  
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    Overcast (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:07pm

    Oh and to add, let's not forget about this.

    I remember this clearly - I was a MS Exchange admin at the time, so it would have impacted me directly.


    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnivore_%28software%29

     

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  20.  
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    Overcast (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:08pm

    Oh oh - one more!!

    So - what's the purpose of this then? :)

    NarusInsight
    [edit] System specification and capabilities

    Some features of NarusInsight include:[10]

    * Scalability to support surveillance of large, complex IP networks (such as the Internet)
    * High-speed Packet processing performance, which enables it to sift through the vast quantities of information that travel over the Internet.
    * Normalization, Correlation, Aggregation and Analysis provide a model of user, element, protocol, application and network behaviors, in real-time. That is it can track individual users, monitor which applications they are using (e.g. web browsers, instant messaging applications, email) and what they are doing with those applications (e.g. which web sites they have visited, what they have written in their emails/IM conversations), and see how users' activities are connected to each other (e.g. compiling lists of people who visit a certain type of web site or use certain words or phrases in their emails).
    * High reliability from data collection to data processing and analysis.
    * NarusInsight's functionality can be configured to feed a particular activity or IP service such as security, lawful intercept or even Skype detection and blocking.
    * Compliance with CALEA and ETSI.
    * Certified by Telecommunication Engineering Center (TEC) in India for lawful intercept and monitoring systems for ISPs.

    The intercepted data flows into NarusInsight Intercept Suite. This data is stored and analyzed for surveillance and forensic analysis purposes.

    Other capabilities include playback of streaming media (i.e. VoIP), rendering of web pages, examination of e-mail and the ability to analyze the payload/attachments of e-mail or file transfer protocols. Narus partner products, such as Pen-Link, offer the ability to quickly analyze information collected by the Directed Analysis or Lawful Intercept modules.

    A single NarusInsight machine can monitor traffic equal to the maximum capacity (10 Gbit/s) of around 39,000 DSL lines or 195,000 telephone modems. But, in practical terms, since individual internet connections are not continually filled to capacity, the 10 Gbit/s capacity of one NarusInsight installation enables it to monitor the combined traffic of several million broadband users.

    According to a company press release, the latest version of NarusInsight Intercept Suite (NIS) is "the industry's only network traffic intelligence system that supports real-time precision targeting, capturing and reconstruction of webmail traffic... including Google Gmail, MSN Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail" [11]

    It can also perform semantic analysis of the same traffic as it is happening, in other words analyze the content, meaning, structure and significance of traffic in real time. The exact use of this data is not fully documented, as the public is not authorized to see what types of activities and ideas are being monitored.


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

     

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  21.  
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    MAtt, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:10pm

    [quote from article]I know that the assumption many will make is that he's flat out lying, and that wouldn't surprise me, but I do wonder if he's trying to pick his words carefully to get around lying—or if he knows he's so protected that he can just say whatever he wants without much fear of ever being called on it.[end quote]

    I know it is fashionable on this blog and in general on the internet to distrust the government (except when it comes to having them put more regulations on everything but the internet), but you are missing one assumption: He's telling the truth.

    Yes, other people have come out and said things that may contradict what he is saying. But maybe the issue is that those other people are saying things you want to (or already) believe are true, or in general fall in line with your way of thinking, so their opinions are more palatable than that of DIRNSA.

    I'm certain none of you really know the capability of the NSA. All I know for sure is that people tend to believe what reinforces their preexisting opinion, and tend to dismiss that which challenges their core belief system (for lack of a better term).

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Re:

    I trust the government to lie to me.

     

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  23.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:13pm

    Re: Hmmmmm

    He is lying the equipment is in place. They may not own it, but its there. That is if you believe Mark Klein.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STZFkNuUSmw
    2:32

     

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    Pickle Monger (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:14pm

    There is a slight pause between "technical" and "insights" in the way he says it, as if he's searching for the proper word before choosing insights, but he later clearly says they don't have the equipment to do so -- which seems to contradict a ton of reports out there from pretty credible sources within the NSA.


    But I'll bet there's equipment outside the United States. In The only questions is, would they have to apply for the warrant if they classify this as a foreign-based operation and would they be able to access that data on servers located in United States? That last one would certainly require authorization from service providers.
    On the other hand, here's something else to consider. In database management, many DBA's like to have off-site mirrored backup, often outside of the country. I also remember Google thinking about setting up off-shore servers on an oil-rig or something. In this scenario, there's nothing to prevent NSA from conducting their electronic surveillance operations.

     

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  25.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:18pm

    Re:

    "but you are missing one assumption: He's telling the truth."
    Yeah...No. Go watch the video links provided above, then come back and try to sell your theory to us.

     

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  26.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Re:

    Narus is a private company founded in 1997 by Ori Cohen, who had been in charge of technology development for VDONet, an Israeli company.

    Narus is allied with Amdocs. Most directory assistance calls, and virtually all call records and billing in the U.S. are done for the phone companies by Amdocs Ltd., an Israeli-based private telecommunications company.

    Amdocs has more than 7,300 information systems professionals dedicated to "communications product development".

     

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  27.  
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    Jay (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:35pm

    Re:

    He's telling the truth.

    You really expect people to believe a person in his position with a very large incentive to tell a lie will not do so to further his agenda?

    Are you telling me that I'm to believe this guy when the facts paint a different story?

    Am I to believe the NSA does not lie when they have a cozy relationship with AT&T, Google, and most of law enforcement to spy on individuals with secret rules and interpretations? When the executive branch has outright stated that due process is not the same as judicial process? This statement confirming that Holder's goons in the ICE can seize any domain because 20 people get together and decide to seize it before a trial?

    I'm to believe that no one is bribing the FCC to ignore their 2006 decision to disallow AT&T to share landline connections, keeping them as a gatekeeper and making their job much harder by allowing competition?

    I'm to believe that AT&T doesn't give in to secret letters without due process of law?

    I'm to believe the FBI isn't so corrupt that they can't pass a simple test while making their own bomb threats to punish dissent in the US?

    I'm to believe the NSA when all parts of law enforcement have lied repeatedly about the need for the Patriot Act?

    Maybe you're new around here. Maybe you believe there's a preexisting opinion. But quite frankly after seeing so much evidence of government using any lie to paint a funny picture, consider me skeptical of this need for "national security".

     

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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    Universal intercept is the holy grail

    As an NSA employee, when you speak in public you are always mindful of protecting the secrets you know. The Chief would know all the high-level details about agency capabilities. His public pronouncements would be carefully measured, and an honorable official would try to be truthful without giving away anything deemed necessarily secret. Make of it what you will.

    NSA's holy grail must surely be universal intercept, total collection of what is intercepted, and careful analysis of what is collected. That holy grail is surely a futuristic dream that will never be realized. The sheer volume of signals intelligence must be HUGE. To detect or intercept everything that's out there must be a constant quest. If your job is to know what your known adversaries, and potential adversaries, are communicating about, you will worry that somebody has figured out some new way to modulate the background noise level of the universe. Of the techniques you know about, you naturally want to scoop up all of it.

    After intercept, collection is the next phase of the task. Imagine the volume of data that would derive from universal intercept. If it is physically impossible to actually look at all that data in real time, you must store it for later retrieval and analysis. How many petabytes per second worth of bandwidth do you suppose that adds up to? And what kind of physical memory storage capability would that take? And how long would you keep it before purging to make room for more? It would need to be HUGE.

    And ultimately, after intercepting and storing all that data, how would you analyze it? You would try to dedicate as much machinery to the task as physics and the budget will allow. But ultimately the available human minds dedicated to analysis can only look at a small subset of the daily digest. Targets of interest probably take precedence over random snooping on grandma's email. The opportunity cost is dire -- while reading grandma's recipe for sourdough bread, looking for the hidden message, you may miss a hint elsewhere that actually would have an impact on national security.

    I am becoming convinced that public policy should acknowledge that universal intercept is necessary, from NSA's viewpoint, and concomitant collection is necessary for the same reasons. We can be sure they want to do both, and will press on in that quest, regardless of the niceties of the law. The machines can do both tasks with little human intervention. The rights of citizens should come into play at the analysis stage. NSA should be enjoined from analyzing or looking at collected data unless they can show probable cause to do so.

    The dilemma, of course, is that occasionally when looking at a random data stream, or filtering for certain words or patterns, the alarms go off and they find evidence of a conspiracy to commit a crime. Certain elements want to analyze everything, watch our every move. That's where we need to draw the line. I don't want to worry that if I quote Walt Whitman or Bob Dylan it will be misinterpreted as a coded message to my cell.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    Re:

    Yup. Funny how you don't see a daily uproar about that here on this blog.

    I guess you gotta be careful about criticizing your boss...

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:42pm

    Re: Re: Hello NSA

    Smells like a one-time pad to me

     

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  31.  
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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:47pm

    Universal intercept is the holy grail

    As an NSA employee, when you speak in public you are always mindful of protecting the secrets you know. The Chief would know all the high-level details about agency capabilities. His public pronouncements would be carefully measured, and an honorable official would try to be truthful without giving away anything deemed necessarily secret. Make of it what you will.

    NSA's holy grail must surely be universal intercept, total collection of what is intercepted, and careful analysis of what is collected. That holy grail is surely a futuristic dream that will never be realized. The sheer volume of signals intelligence must be HUGE. To detect or intercept everything that's out there must be a constant quest. If your job is to know what your known adversaries, and potential adversaries, are communicating about, you will worry that somebody has figured out some new way to modulate the background noise level of the universe. Of the techniques you know about, you naturally want to scoop up all of it.

    After intercept, collection is the next phase of the task. Imagine the volume of data that would derive from universal intercept. If it is physically impossible to actually look at all that data in real time, you must store it for later retrieval and analysis. How many petabytes per second worth of bandwidth do you suppose that adds up to? And what kind of physical memory storage capability would that take? And how long would you keep it before purging to make room for more? It would need to be HUGE.

    And ultimately, after intercepting and storing all that data, how would you analyze it? You would try to dedicate as much machinery to the task as physics and the budget will allow. But ultimately the available human minds dedicated to analysis can only look at a small subset of the daily digest. Targets of interest probably take precedence over random snooping on grandma's email. The opportunity cost is dire -- while reading grandma's recipe for sourdough bread, looking for the hidden message, you may miss a hint elsewhere that actually would have an impact on national security.

    I am becoming convinced that public policy should acknowledge that universal intercept is necessary, from NSA's viewpoint, and concomitant collection is necessary for the same reasons. We can be sure they want to do both, and will press on in that quest, regardless of the niceties of the law. The machines can do both tasks with little human intervention. The rights of citizens should come into play at the analysis stage. NSA should be enjoined from analyzing or looking at collected data unless they can show probable cause to do so.

    The dilemma, of course, is that occasionally when looking at a random data stream, or filtering for certain words or patterns, the alarms go off and they find evidence of a conspiracy to commit a crime. Certain elements want to analyze everything, watch our every move. That's where we need to draw the line. I don't want to worry that if I quote Walt Whitman or Bob Dylan it will be misinterpreted as a coded message to my cell.

     

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    Christopher Froehlich (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:49pm

    Re: I think he's parsing carefully

    Having actually worked at the NSA through the Army, I happen to know that the NSA not only has the ability but does collect this data. In the context of IP traffic, the NSA's collection points are simply dumb garbage collectors. They collect every bit that comes through their channels. These databases are not directly exposed to most intelligence collectors, rather predefined filters pull subsets of the data into other systems. These filters, by themselves, are not sufficient to remove all US based traffic. When the law is respected, it is done so by training, protocols and network monitoring of intelligence users by auditors. Vast collections of US inbound/outbound data are present and directly accessible to many tiers of the intelligence community. Resolve to obey the rule of law is the only "technological" impedance to "spying" on US citizens.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:51pm

    There's a good chance...

    We are witnessing the next Watergate.

     

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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Doublespeak

    They only view it all once. If they want to look at it again (review) then they need a warrant. =]

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    Re:

    He's not a politician. He's military. Far more dangerous. Politicians stick their feet in the mouths all the time. The military rarely opens their mouths unless it's pried open and are far more ruthless with a "ends justify the means" mindset for doing things.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Hmmmmm

    Here's the key... "WE have the equipment in the United States" (READ: we have contractors with strict lucrative contracts for that)

     

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  37.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re:

    There is the possibility that he IS telling the truth but in a way that leaves him escape room should the situation ever change.

    It's in the very nature of intelligence agencies world wide to choose their words very carefully so as not to reveal what is really going on lest that affect other operations and so on. That alone doesn't indicate he's lying. Nor does his fallback on what the NSA is and isn't legally allowed to do inside the territorial United States.

    Nor is he necessarily lying when he says that the NSA doesn't have the equipment to do what he's being asked. At the moment.

    The reality is that Internet protocols aren't point to point in the vast majority of cases so they don't actually have to have the equipment in the United States to do what they're accused of doing. They may have it in, oh, say, Bermuda and do the intercepts there. More likely is that they just need to use existing intercept agreements they have with allies such as Canada and the UK and use places like the Joint Signals Establishment north of Ottawa and do it there which only means that NSA is sharing information with Canadian military intelligence and other intelligence services in Canada. It would require a major internet presence in or near the area but that already exists so they can, theoretically, pretty much intercept any email sent from one American to another moments after it leaves the territorial United States and moments before it returns depending on how it's all routed at that moment.

    Technically the NSA wouldn't be breaking US law because the intercepts are occurring outside the USA in both directions.

    Of course they wouldn't them all but they'd get enough to pass on to the FBI who could then do their own intercepts and around it goes.

    So he's telling the truth while leaving out great holes where and when he can. Like I said that's typical of most heads of intelligence agencies anywhere in the world. Even more typical when the questions are asked in a situation where every move and word is being televised.

    Is that happening? I don't know but it wouldn't surprise me in the least. No grand conspiracy theories needed either as there are already sharing connections between the FBI and RCMP, Canadian and American military intelligence, CSIS and the US equivalent which would be NSA so it's just business as usual. It also wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't happening, just as he said. For now.

     

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    OC, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:04pm

    outside

    Two quotes:
    "the NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States"
    "We don’t have the technical insights in the United States"

    So the equipment is located outside of US borders. No lies, just the usual deception.

     

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    Where's my hat?, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Reading too much in?

    We’re not authorized to do that, nor do we have the equipment in the United States to collect that kind of information."
    (Emphasis added)
    Fishing out my tionfoil hat, that wording seems kind of awkward to me. I'd heard anecdotally that this kind of thing is done by reciprocal arrangement specifically to avoid the legal issues of "spying on your own people" - Fort Mead tracks UK communications and GCHQ tracks US and they share the take. Never lent the idea that much credence, but wording like this makes me wonder a little.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:18pm

    Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    "After intercept, collection is the next phase of the task. Imagine the volume of data that would derive from universal intercept. If it is physically impossible to actually look at all that data in real time, you must store it for later retrieval and analysis."

    http://www.narus.com/
    A single NarusInsight machine can monitor traffic equal to the maximum capacity (10 Gbit/s) of around 39,000 DSL lines or 195,000 telephone modems. But, in practical terms, since individual internet connections are not continually filled to capacity, the 10 Gbit/s capacity of one NarusInsight installation enables it to monitor the combined traffic of several million broadband users.

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1
    Inside, the facility will consist of four 25,000-square-foot halls filled with servers, complete with raised floor space for cables and storage.
    "You would try to dedicate as much machinery to the task as physics and the budget will allow." - The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013.

    "That holy grail is surely a futuristic dream that will never be realized."

    You sure about that?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re:

    I do see the occasional grumbling about that here, but really, it's simply old news.

    There are, however, two very important differences that makes gmail less objectionable.

    1) You don't have to use gmail. I don' tlike Google spying on me, so I don't use gmail and avoid sending emails to gmail addresses. To avoid government spying over communications as a whole (remember, it's not just the internet), you have to stop using nearly all communications channels, including telephone (cell or not), and anything that generate communications by your actions, such as using credit/debit cards, affinity cards, etc., whether encrypted or not.

    2) Gmail spies, yes, but it's done by robots with the sole purpose of matching the contents up with advertising. That's rather different than trying to connect you with activity the government happens to deem objectionable.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    The rights of citizens should come into play at the analysis stage. NSA should be enjoined from analyzing or looking at collected data unless they can show probable cause to do so.


    I disagree. The Constitution is pretty clear on this point, too. I have the right to not have my data collected without my permission, except through due process.

    Letting them collect it and promise not to look is not even close to adequate. It still requires that a great deal of trust be placed in a provably untrustworthy institution. And we have to trust that institution with a tremendous amount of power.

    If the data exists, it will be misused. And even if it won't be, it's still a violation of my rights.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Gmail spies, yes, but it's done by robots with the sole purpose of matching the contents up with advertising. That's rather different than trying to connect you with activity the government happens to deem objectionable."

    But of course there is this...

    http://www.pcworld.com/article/188581/the_googlensa_alliance_questions_and_answers.html

     

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    Torg (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    Re:

    If he's telling the truth, the NSA is being very poorly handled. I an intelligence agency that lacks the equipment to read my emails is about as useful as a military that lacks the equipment to kill me.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Good point. So, one very important difference, then.

     

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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 2:19pm

    Re: Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    No, not sure, just instinct. Those numbers are certainly impressive. But it boils down to the classical problem of artificial intelligence. Will the machines ever be able to reason and make illogical leaps of imagination the way (some) humans do? Will the most sophisticated synaptical machine intelligence be able to ferret out a real threat out of the huge volume of mundane traffic? Will playful civil disobedience be made illegal, such as the strong encryption of polite chit chat, or firing off frequent messages of random characters using strong encryption, just to make their privacy invading monitoring somewhat less convenient in terms of machine resources? If you and your friends use one-time pads to chat about the weather will you be placed into the "put human eyes on this one" queue?

    I doubt that the state of the art of machine capabilities has caught up with the enormity of the task. Try as they might, I suspect their mental prosthesis is more like an Iraq combat veteran's artificial leg -- useful, but nowhere near as good as the real thing.

    Anyway, my point does not hinge on the state of the art. I say let them push the evolution of the machinery. Just as the gamers push the evolution of video cards and PC throughput, I believe NSA is helping to push the evolution of AI. But my point is about analysis and the Constitution. Regardless of NSA's ability to intercept and collect SIGnals INTelligence, we citizens of the USA need to draw a line regarding an expectation of privacy. I don't want to be required to talk to law enforcement because the meaning of my electronic communication is not clear to them. I have had more than one encounter with law enforcement that I did not deserve, so it is easy for me to imagine undeserved future encounters based on the intelligence community's failure to trust that I am a good and loyal citizen, regardless of their ability to figure out what the heck I am talking about. I know there are people out there who wouldn't even need a flimsy pretense to interfere with my ability to live my life harmlessly as I see fit. A limit on what can be legally analyzed would serve NSA's purposes as well because they are all mere mortals, who can be distracted by the apparent low-hanging fruit of grandma's encrypted bread recipe, or love-talk between a deployed combat soldier and his wife at home. We need a clear, bright line -- and probably an internal NSA compliance division -- to ensure that universal intercept and collection of SIGINT does not impinge on the privacy of domestic US citizens.

    If this approach would become public policy, at some point NSA would ask for a legal definition of the point at which a flag on a communications stream should be escalated to put human eyes on it. The current approach seems to be that we citizens want to prevent intercept in order to protect our privacy. But that is an antiquated view. Gone are the days when all that was needed for a wiretap was a court order and alligator clips on a phone relay at the phone company's CO. Modern communications technologies require that the taps already must be in place. The point of law should focus on when it is permissible to actually look at the data.

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 2:58pm

    Re: Reading too much in?

    As I said above this is also the case with the Joint Signals Establishment in Canada (I think that's the name, either that or some lengthy military-bureaucratic name). As with what you're talking about with the UK this dates back to WW2 and the Cold War.

     

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    Watchit (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 3:25pm

    Sound familiar?

    Keith Alexander:
    "The NSA doesn't yet have the capability to spy on your e-mails, but if they were to gain the capability to spy on your e-mails in the future the likelihood of the NSA spying on your e-mails will probably incr- I mean... The NSA doesn't yet have the capability to spy on your e-mails."

     

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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 3:27pm

    Re: Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    I disagree. The Constitution is pretty clear on this point, too. I have the right to not have my data collected without my permission, except through due process.

    I understand, and I tend to agree. But my sense of the reality of the situation is that NSA will inexorably move forward with their reach -- their ability to quickly intercept anything that's out there. If you read Bamford's Body of Secrets, you'll probably get the sense of the lengths to which NSA will go to put taps in place. He tells a story that they successfully used a specially-equipped submarine to place a tap in an undersea fiber optic cable. That, and other anecdotes tell me that regardless of their legal ability to put eyes on your data, they will earnestly try to improve their ability to do universal intercept and collection.

    I imagine that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, for example, is aware of NSA's professed needs, and has been willing to allow them to push the state of the art.

    I already operate under the assumption that everything I externalize from my mind is either discoverable or discovered. I try to be prudent. I try to be a good citizen. There's an old story that Richard Nixon's favorite secure communications technique was to invite his companions to the beach, roll up his pants legs and wade out into the surf, turn his back to shore, and speak in low tones or a whisper and caution the others to do the same. I certainly don't want to live my life that way. But I think our best option is to try to institute a compliance division within NSA, with an ombudsman to handle internal reports of privacy violations. If that system doesn't work, a whistle-blower would only need to say "It's not working" to trigger an investigation.

    To put my position in perspective, I think we moved off center years ago, toward the far right, and are on a slippery slope toward a fascist-controlled police state. I know they hate not being able to hear what's going on, and I am certain they will push the envelope toward what is currently impossible, to make it possible. But as long as we are still pretending to be a nation of laws, we should establish legal safeguards and public policy that acknowledges the new realities of modern communication techniques. Inevitably we will fight Constitutional battles about free speech and a modern interpretation of "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..." Cynically, I believe they are going to intercept and collect me physically, regardless, so I want to try to put some legal constraints on the "reasonable" part of search and seizure. Don't look at my communications unless or until you have some other plausible reason to think I'm some kind of threat.

     

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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 3:49pm

    Re: which is almost certainly untrue.

    Imagine the bandwidth needed for Total Information Awareness. The new NSA center in Utah must have a new major Internet backbone node, bigger than Chicago or New York or LA.

    Maybe they have their own redundant power plants. Nuclear? Coal? Probably not solar or wind, unless I am underestimating them.

    Is it still legal to run PGP on routine email?

    Is TOR legal?

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    Yes, I agree with you here, but your original comment made it sound like you would like the law altered to make it legal for the NSA to collect all data with the proviso that they can't look at it without due process.

    That the NSA flouts the law does not mean that the law should be changed to accommodate it. And even if it was, why would they decide to obey the law that says they can't look at the goodies when they have no problem violating the law as it is now?

    I think the proper approach is not to ease restrictions, but to tighten them and to actually start putting officials in intelligence (and other) agencies in prison when they violate them.

     

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    rubberpants, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 4:10pm

    Re: Re:

    Maybe not. But I'm in the process of ceasing to use Google at all. It's been difficult, especially email, but I think it will pay off in the long run.

    I personally don't trust Google any more than I trust the MPAA. Your mileage may vary.

     

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    rubberpants, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Hmmmmm

    Yeah, that's a classic example of maybe being technically true in the case of the specific conditions and words in the sentence, but a total lie by any other standard.

     

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    David Hewitt (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 4:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    The law has been in place and quite clear for a long time. But because of the super secretive nature of what they do, it is easy to suspect that those violations of the law that have come to light over the years represent just the tip of the iceberg of what goes on routinely. What I'm trying to argue for is a compromise, which allows them to put the pieces in place, which they so obviously desire, without changing the law that says they cannot do domestic spying on US citizens.

    I think that the current situation tends to drive them underground -- if that's possible -- because they assume we don't understand the realities of the technical difficulties of implementing an intercept with current technology. So whenever a situation comes up in which they deem it necessary to put a physical intercept in place, because they have already violated the law once, it's easy for them to violate the law again and leave the tap in place in case they ever need it again. Or while they're in there, they think they might as well put the tap in the entire fiber optic big-as-tree-trunk bundle and leave it there in case it's ever needed.

    My theory is that maybe we would stand a better chance of compliance if we would allow them to put the physical apparatus in place. In return, we would ask them to honor the law and the Constitution and respect the privacy rights of private citizens. I believe they routinely break the law in this regard, and they can get away with it because the sun does not shine on their activities. And the sun never will shine on their activities because they are thoroughly and relentlessly secretive.

    We've been playing cat-and-mouse with them for years, but they have an advantage -- they can break the law, but we seldom know about it. Perhaps there is a chance that they would do the right and honorable thing and obey the law if we allow them to put their tools in place. Cynically, I think there will still be abuses of privacy. But there seems to be no stopping them -- it's been illegal for many years, but illegality has never stopped them, as far as I know.

    As you suggest, there should be consequences for violation of the law. I don't recall what happened to those analysts who were caught listening in on phone sex between a GI in Iraq and his wife back home -- but it made me angry, and I hope they were at the very least fired. Perhaps in exchange for concessions on intercept and collection we could get promises of prosecution of wrong-doing, along with the creation of a credible internal division that monitors legal compliance. To a cynic, that sounds like a fox guarding the hen house. There would be vast peer pressure against enforcement. But maybe there is a chance that some people would take it seriously.

     

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    DCX2, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 6:41pm

    Re: Re: Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    In regards to an automated scanner "without warrants" and human eyes "with warrants", so to speak, I actually don't believe it would be too hard for them to pull this off. I would say that most people are okay with the fact that Google's servers automatically scan your gmail messages for keywords to target ads. So long as there aren't humans trying to read it we're okay with it.

    As far as an internal compliance division, I have a great idea. If anyone is non-compliant, the entire compliance division loses their pensions. If someone in the compliance division tries to cover up, the whistleblower will get all of the pensions that the compliance division loses. Once you start messing with these people's retirement they will take their job seriously.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 7:30pm

    So where is It?

    >He clearly states that "the NSA does not have the ability to do that in the United States."

    Reading that as written- The Ability to do that is not in the United States. So they could have off shored the ability and not be lying. Where in the world would you put this?

     

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    ken, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 7:51pm

    NSA vs China

    If the NSA can't do it, I'm sure that China can (is). The US is not technologically able to protect itself because privacy laws and regulations would rather let people die. That is the choice the voters made. Obama will protect their privacy. Their lives are controlled by China!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 8:14pm

    Figures Techdirt would hang on the words of the stupidest member in the history of the US House of Representatives. And that's no exaggeration...... at all. Behold Einstein in action:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNZczIgVXjg

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 21st, 2012 @ 9:18pm

    NSA denies denies denies... NSA lies.

     

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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 21st, 2012 @ 10:14pm

    Five Eyes, commonly (though wrongfully) known as Echelon has been around and USED for decades. Was doing collection though only very very basic analysis and even then it needed the "Human Eyeball & Brain" mark 1 device.

    The technology of analysis has developed at the same pace as moore's law, and what was basic in the 80's is now so advanced it is not funny.

    Though as someone stated AI is still a problem. So are warrants and actually knowing what to do with the amount of positive hits the actual internet (which is now more like the human consciousness and knowledge storehouse) gives

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 2:59am

    Read Gen A's response again. It's curiously ambiguous.

     

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    FMHilton, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 3:01am

    NSA and lying

    If anyone thinks that the NSA is going to bare all its' secrets and tell Congress (who they probably think are dumber than rocks, and they're correct) what they can and cannot do with their electronic toys, you're either living under a rock or believe in fairy tales.

    They 'say' they don't have the capability to read or interpret emails.

    Then how come they're spending so much money on this data center to do exactly that?

    Of course they're going to try to get away with this spying..they've been successful so far. We're caught by surprise when it's disclosed that they've been building this data center in Utah, and it has all kinds of fun features.

    They lie all the time. They can do it, they will do it and they're funded by the taxpayers to do so. How much is the NSA's budget? You can't find out-it's a SECRET!

    Think the laugh is on us. Oversight is such an old concept.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 4:10am

    You guys really just don't 'get it' !!!! do you ?

    CIA, NSA, FBI, HLS, local police, military, DoD, interpol and many journilists and business people are all simple gears and cogs of a larger machine.

    Yes they like to claim their own "turf" to some degree, and sometimes some of the gears jam, or the 'machine' has a minor breakdown. But if you think they are to be considered seperate entities all doing their own things all by themselves, then you simply dont get it..

    BTW: he is not saying that they lack any technical capabilities to perform this or that task, these people are masters at answering questions without actually saying anything, as shown here.

    You'll hear the term "technically that is illegal" in general conversation, so to say they cannot do something "technically" does not imply that they are not technically capable of performing, but it might mean that "technically, due to a handshake agreement with another agency, we do not engage in overt acts of that nature.

    Does not mean, by any means they lack the engineering capabilities of the task, (as clearly they posess those capabilities).

    as he stated some tasks may to 'deferred' to other agencies, to another cog in the machine, or to put it another way, they have given that 'turf' job to another part of the machine.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 4:20am

    Re:

    Oh my, I see what you mean !!!!!

    There is your next president right there !!!!!

     

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    Overcast (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 7:03am

    And check this out - just further proof that anything and everything you do is recorded.

    This is an exerpt from a recent story in the news of a tragic shooting in Florida - I'm sure many are familiar with this already...

    This comes from: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-03-20/trayvon-martin-teen-shot-florida/53669448/1?csp =obinsite


    The teen was talking to his girlfriend on his cellphone when he was shot dead, and a log of that conversation shows the teen was an innocent victim singled out because of his race, his family's lawyer said earlier Tuesday.

    Attorney Benjamin Crump released phone records that show Trayvon was on the phone Feb. 26 at 7:12 p.m. for four minutes, moments before he was shot. At a news conference, Crump played a recording of the 16-year-old girl who was in Miami talking to Trayvon and heard most of the confrontation between the teen and George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who claims he killed him in self-defense.

    "This claim that Trayvon Martin was the aggressor is preposterous," he said. "What Zimmerman said is completely contradicted by the phone log."


    Phone Conversation...

    Log?

    How would it 'show' he's an 'innocent' unless the call was recorded I wonder?

    Personally, if I were his parents - I would be not only going after the inept idiot(s) who had a part in the shooting, but I would be curious why his phone call was 'logged' - without a warrant.

    It seems there are many violations of this boy's and his family's rights - and the shooter wasn't the only criminal here.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 7:08am

    If he's telling the truth, the NSA is being very poorly handled. I an intelligence agency that lacks the equipment to read my emails is about as useful as a military that lacks the equipment to kill me.

    Two thoughts on this:

    1. If the NSA is so inept they don't know what's going on within their own organization - they have no business 'protecting' anything at that level of incompetence.

    2. Guns in the hands of Government/Military create the vast majority of weapon related deaths. If we were to 'ban gun' from the largest group - statistically - of users who kill people - government would be the very first one banned from the use of weapons.

    If government was banned from using weapons - all of them - this world would be a MUCH better place.

     

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    jsf (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 7:10am

    Technically he lied, but in that "depends on what the meaning of the word is is" way.

    Technically they can intercept almost any communication within the US borders, and probably do on a regular basis. Legally the collection of such data is probably "incidental" to ongoing investigations. If you dug deep enough you could probably prove they have broken the law. Problem is the information you need to prove it is all classified.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 7:17am

    The US is not technologically able to protect itself because privacy laws and regulations would rather let people die.

    Without 'liberty' - any notion of 'security' is meaningless.

    You can be quite 'secure' in solitary confinement in a prison - if you want to look at the extremes, but personally I would rather have my liberty in the forest with no 'security'; given these two options.

    I'll take my liberty any day over 'government security'.

    We see the government talk more and more about security - but as they 'secure' us more from 'terrorists' or 'pirates' - we still loose the security - just to the government instead.

    And history shows that government can be far worse of a tyrant than any 'pirate' or 'terrorist'.

    Compare any 'terrorist' organization with a Government out of control.

    al-Qaeda (killed thousands) vs. the Nazis (killed millions)
    Blackbeard the pirate (burned ships) vs. Nero (burned cities)
    Hamas (killed thousands) vs. Joesph Stalin (killed millions)

    In all cases - the 'governments' were the far worse oppressors.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re:

    This is not conjecture this is what is happening. We have a spy trade agreement with Canada where we spy on them and they spy on us. This is how the NSA gets around the pesky Constitution and rule of law.

     

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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 10:11am

    Is anything safe/hidden/protected?

    Between government-approved spying, data collection by huge private corporations, and hacker culture, it would appear that everything is up for grabs. So how do we deal with that?

    I think singling out government doesn't really deal with the issue.

     

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    Torg (profile), Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Re:

    That's the thing, though: banning guns from the military would be idiotic. A military without guns is not a military. You either dissolve the military or you don't; keeping unarmed soldiers on the payroll makes no sense. Likewise, if the NSA doesn't have the equipment to read emails, they should either be removed from the budget or given the equipment to read emails.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 22nd, 2012 @ 3:37pm

    Re: NSA vs China

    sure it is, if you are stupid enough to believe that all internet traffic that enteres or leaves (or remains within the US) the US of A passes throught China !!!

     

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    Cyberoneiric, Nov 19th, 2012 @ 9:43am

    Re: Universal intercept is the holy grail

    "you will worry that somebody has figured out some new way to modulate the background noise level of the universe."

    Somebody has figured it out already, HA HA HA HA HA HA !!!!!
    NA NA NA NA, NA NA NA NA, HEY HEY HEY, GOOD BYE !!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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