Ex-MI6 Deputy Chief: 'Serious Actors' Already Knew About NSA's Techniques Before Snowden

from the no-harm,-no-foul dept

One of the key issues in the debate surrounding Snowden's leaks is whether they might be threatening our security by letting the bad people know what the NSA and GCHQ are up to. Nigel Inkster, former deputy chief of the UK's foreign intelligence agency, MI6, doesn't think so:

"I sense that those most interested in the activities of the NSA and GCHQ have not been told very much they didn't know already or could have inferred."

Al-Qaida leaders in the tribal areas of Pakistan had been "in the dark" for some time -- in the sense that they had not used any form of electronic media that would "illuminate" their whereabouts, Inkster said. He was referring to counter measures they had taken to avoid detection by western intelligence agencies.

Other "serious actors" were equally aware of the risks to their own security from NSA and GCHQ eavesdroppers, he said.
That's an important point, since it means that all the undoubted benefits of disclosing some information about the massive surveillance being conducted -- for example, further important revelations of widespread NSA abuse of its powers -- are not undermined by any countervailing damage. It supports the view that the leaks so far have been made in a responsible way, and suggests that continuing to do so would be in the public interest. It also underlines why we should celebrate Snowden as a whisteblower who has performed a valuable service, not as a "traitor", since nothing of value was passed to the enemy.

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  1.  
    identicon
    antymat, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:24am

    And also completely ineffective.

    It is not only, that there is no harm in revealing the NSA spying; it also shows, that this spying was ineffective and even more of the abuse.

     

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  2.  
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    Jeff Green, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:36am

    Well Duh!

    It has been the case for a great many years that "secrecy" and "security" exist to inconvenience the well behaved. Bad Guys would never dream of typing in a stupid microsoft registration key so they remove it. Good Guys (or those that are forced to use microsoft products) have to distinguish 8 from B and type impossible combinations. The same applies to these super secret agencies, they maintain secrecy mainly so we the public can't ask if they are doing a good job, and to catch otherwise honest people who let their dogs foul the footpath!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:51am

    Ex-MI6 Deputy Chief: The "rest" of the world isn't as stupid as the US would like to believe.

     

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  4.  
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    Sinterklaas, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:55am

    Public knowledge

    What Snowden did was to make NSA's techniques public knowledge. There is a fairy tale "The emperor without clothes". The public knows individualy that the emperor is naked, but is too afraid to act on it. Until a small boy speaks out loud.

    What Snowden did in not giving us new information, but knowing everyone knows it.

    This is hurting the US also internationaly. I think the plan to attack Syria has stranded so fast, because countries now know other countries know that the US is untrustworthy.

     

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  5.  
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    Charlie, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:56am

    Wait... Actors knew?

    So you mean Hollywood knew what the NSA was up to? Typical MPAA thinking it can control the government.....

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    FM Hilton, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:16am

    The logic

    Of course the 'serious actors' knew about the tactics the NSA uses! That is why they were able to go undetected before 9/11-by not advertising their plans.

    Like posting on FB or other places that "I'm gonna blow up the WTC on 9/11, anyone else in?"

    But that doesn't excuse the FBI's incredible lack of action regarding this group of people, either. Supposedly they knew about most of them before the attacks but didn't want to bother to connect the information together to form a pattern.

    Notice, they didn't even talk to the NSA, which could have helped them, if they'd bothered. The NSA knew about them, too.

    By not having two of the most powerful investigative agencies do anything about it, we were wide open for an attack of this magnitude.

    Thus we only have ourselves to blame for the lapse in security measures, and we've been paying for it ever since.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:28am

    Re: Public knowledge

    "The Emperors New Clothes" Is the correct title ;-)

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:29am

    Re: The logic

    Its more the USA's arrogant behaviour that leaves it open to attacks. If you didn't piss everyone off you wouldn't be in that position.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:40am

    Re: The logic

    One of the question a spy agency asks itself about any information it has is:
    Does revealing this risk compromising our ability to gather more information?
    Therefore unless they have identified an immediate and serious threat they are likely to sit on the pieces of information that they have. With multiple spy agencies, each can have what appears to be trivial data that adds up top identifying a serious threat if put together. Because it is trivial the risk of compromise of data collection result in the data being kept to themselves.
    This problem can also exist within a spy agency due to internal compartmentalisation of data gathering, which is seen as reducing the potential for damage due to a mole, also reduces their effectiveness. This is the catch 22 of a spy agency, for gathered intelligence to be useful it needs to be revealed, but doing so can compromise their ability to gather information.

     

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  10.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:41am

    We sure have dumb criminals but the smart ones don't leave trails. The only ones that are really affected by the surveillance are the ordinary janes and joes.

     

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  11.  
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    A nonny mouse, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    Re: Wait... Actors knew?

    No no, only the serious actors.

    So people like Eddie Murphy and Mike Myers didn't know, but Halle Berry and Michael Caine did.

     

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  12.  
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    RyanNerd (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:43am

    I think this should be from the...

    Well, duh?!? dept.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:46am

    But but but... think of the children?

     

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  14.  
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    Beta (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 5:47am

    Re: The logic

    Ah, the connect-the-dots theory.

    What specific and solid information do you think the FBI had on the 9-11 hijackers? Not just rumors of evil intent, not just hints that are ominous in hindsight, but information that would have justified arresting them at the ticket counter?

    I'm really sick of arguments that boil down to "well of course they should have arrested Muslims who were going to pilot school!", or "they knew for years that Mohammed Atef was up to no good, how could they not, you know, do something?". The FBI does not have unlimited resources, the NSA does not know everything, neither organization has unlimited power, and they have different missions, procedures and charters; what I hate most about the connect-the-dots theory is that it tends to lead to arguments that we should change those things.

     

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  15.  
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    Beta (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 5:51am

    Re: Re: The logic

    If you want to provoke Muslim extremists to murderous frenzy, all you have to do is draw a cartoon.

    Yes, you can placate them. All you have to do is surrender all the ideals of a free society.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 7:06am

    Re: Re: The logic

    "Connect-the-dots" becomes either "need-more-funding" or "need less regulation" to politicians. Ultimately evil intend from the agencies occur, but way after the attack...

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 7:13am

    Re: Re: Wait... Actors knew?

    Halle Berry

    Really? This was the shining example of a serious actor you pulled out?

     

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  18.  
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    Michael, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 7:17am

    Deputy Chief: 'Serious Actors' Already Knew About NSA's Techniques Before Snowden

    Well, I guess it is a little comforting to know that the NSA has not provided the intelligence to capture or kill the serious actors of terrorism because they have employed counter-intelligence and avoided the technologies that NSA has been using and it is not just that the NSA created such a big haystack that they have been unable to uncover the useful information they have captured.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 7:59am

    it shows how content all those that knew what was happening were to allow it to continue, even though they knew it was against the law in the various countries participating, was against what the public wanted, against what the public thought was happening and would draw outrage when the truth came out! those that were in the 'i knew anyway' category are as guilty as those who were actively involved, simply because they kept quiet! were they more afraid of the consequences from the various governments because to let the secrets out would get them branded just as Snowden has been or from the people when they found out? i suspect the former, given what has been done to Snowden and what else would be done if the two faced fuckers in the USA (security agencies or not) ever get the opportunity!

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re: Re: The logic

    That's hardly unique to Muslim extremists. It's true of all extremists. Yet we only seem to wet our pants when the word "Muslim" is involved.

     

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  21.  
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    DCX2, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 9:24am

    The implication:

    If the serious actors already knew everything, then the only reason to keep all this info in the dark...is so that they can use this on everyone else.

    Reminds me of how the body scanners find more drugs than weapons, yet their stated purpose was to find terrorists...

     

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  22.  
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    FM Hilton, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 10:11am

    Intelligence gathering

    "What specific and solid information do you think the FBI had on the 9-11 hijackers? Not just rumors of evil intent, not just hints that are ominous in hindsight, but information that would have justified arresting them at the ticket counter?"

    This should answer your questions: The 9/11 Commission Report-
    http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/index.htm

    Try Chapter 3 and onward. It's full of stuff that the FBI, the CIA and the NSA had gotten so that their excuses of 'we didn't know it was gonna happen" are hollow at best.

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 10:20am

    "Al-Qaeda* leaders in the tribal areas" lol men from tribes and caves demolished 3 towerds, one of them without even touching it.

     

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  24.  
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    nasch (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 10:46am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The logic

    That's hardly unique to Muslim extremists. It's true of all extremists.

    I don't remember anyone else rioting over a cartoon.

     

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  25.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: The logic

    Expand a little bit beyond "cartoon" to "public expression". Or if that's too broad, how about just "art"? Because I can think of several examples just in the past couple of decades that have nothing to do with Islam. If you look back to the '60s, then you can find many more examples that involve actual deaths. And actual cartoons.

     

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  26.  
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    Beta (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Intelligence gathering

    Could you be more specific than "Chapter 3 and onward"? That's a lot of material, most of which seems to be irrelevant to your point.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Wait... Actors knew?

    And wasn't Michael Caine in "Blame It On Rio"? (Good movie, BTW.)

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:28pm

    Re: Re: Intelligence gathering

    To infinity...and beyond!

     

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  29.  
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    nasch (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait... Actors knew?

    And wasn't Michael Caine in "Blame It On Rio"?

    As well as "Miss Congeniality", though that doesn't necessarily make him not a serious actor.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    FM Hilton, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 5:21pm

    Infinity?

    I meant to read the chapters after 3..although it's true that infinity might be the end.

    The Commission was pretty blunt about our pathetic failure to even put together a workable theory of why/how it could happen before it did, because everyone had dismissed the first World Trade Center bombing, and other attacks as being "aberrations", and not worthy of serious note by anyone, even when there were far more than enough indications that it could be leading up to something big.

    But what do we care about some mullah in Afghanistan? He doesn't use cell phones or the Internet.

    Or at least that's what we thought then.

    Funny thing about institutional mindsets: they're usually based in past fantasies of what could have, should have happened, but never did because we did such a good job the last time.

     

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  31.  
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    CN, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 9:04pm

    The Enemy

    It also underlines why we should celebrate Snowden as a whisteblower who has performed a valuable service, not as a "traitor", since nothing of value was passed to the enemy.

    You have to take into account that the American people are the "enemy" as far as the government is concerned.

     

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  32.  
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    GEMont, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 6:07am

    "It also underlines why we should celebrate Snowden as a whisteblower who has performed a valuable service, not as a "traitor", since nothing of value was passed to the enemy."

    It also points out rather forcefully, exactly what I've said all along. None of the NSA surveillance has anything whatsoever to do with terrorism - unless of course you believe that the NSA, FBI, CIA ETC. had no idea that all the terrorist organizations were fully aware of the NSA Global Snoop&Scoop Programs and had long ago stopped using any communication medium that is open to the agency's interception and collection programs.

    Eventually, barring another major war, the simple fact that this is all about extortion/blackmail and the theft of corporate/industrial/commercial secrets and research, will come out in the Snowden Wash.

    I can only imagine that the perps involved in this scheme are doing everything they possibly can to get another war started ASAP, because nothing sweeps dirt under the carpet better than a really good war.

     

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