Dianne Feinstein Accidentally Confirms That NSA Tapped The Internet Backbone

from the but-of-course dept

It's widely known that the NSA has taps connected to the various telco networks, thanks in large part to AT&T employee Mark Klein who blew the whistle on AT&T's secret NSA room in San Francisco. What was unclear was exactly what kind of access the NSA had. Various groups like the EFF and CDT have both been asking the administration to finally come clean, in the name of transparency, if they're tapping backbone networks to snarf up internet communications like email. So far, the administration has declined to elaborate. Back in August, when the FISA court declassified its ruling about NSA violations, the third footnote, though heavily redacted, did briefly discuss this "upstream" capability:
In short, "upstream" capabilities are tapping the backbone itself, via the willing assistance of the telcos (who still have remained mostly silent on all of this) as opposed to "downstream" collection, which requires going to the internet companies directly. The internet companies have been much more resistant to government attempts to get access to their accounts. And thus, it's a big question as to what exactly the NSA can collect via its taps on the internet backbone, and the NSA and its defenders have tried to remain silent on this point, as you can see from the redactions above.

However, as Kevin Bankston notes, during Thursday's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Dianne Feinstein more or less admitted that they get emails via "upstream" collection methods. As you can see in the following clip, Feinstein interrupts a discussion to read a prepared "rebuttal" to a point being made, and in doing so clearly says that the NSA can get emails via upstream collections:
Upstream collection... occurs when NSA obtains internet communications, such as e-mails, from certain US companies that operate the Internet background, i.e., the companies that own and operate the domestic telecommunications lines over which internet traffic flows.
She clearly means "backbone" rather than "background." She's discussing this in an attempt to defend the NSA's "accidental" collection of information it shouldn't have had. But that point is not that important. Instead, the important point is that she's now admitted what most people suspected, but which the administration has totally avoided admitting for many, many years since the revelations made by Mark Klein.

So, despite years of trying to deny that the NSA can collect email and other communications directly from the backbone (rather than from the internet companies themselves), Feinstein appears to have finally let the cat out of the bag, perhaps without realizing it.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:19pm

    said earlier, she is dangerous!

     

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

  2.  
    icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:25pm

    Re:

    Indeed. I look forward to the vigorous prosecution of this leaker.

     

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

  3.  
    icon
    blaktron (profile), Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:25pm

    The NSA needs to get smarter propagandists. If you remember, i noted they admitted to attacking encrypted sessions trying to respond to something as well.

    They clearly need consultants to manage their image since, likely everything else they do apparently, they are incapable of doing it internally.

     

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

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:30pm

    Keep them talking

    Even the apologists will occasionally let something slip as long as you keep their mouths moving.

     

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

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:38pm

    Dianne Feinstein should be recalled. She's just as bad as "Emperor" Alexander and Clapper.

     

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

  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:45pm

    Hmmm, I've worked in the industry for quite a while, and I've yet to see this single "The Backbone" people keep talking about.
    I'm certain they tap in at large co-location facilities and aggregation points for overseas traffic, but there is not one Universal Backbone which all traffic crosses for them to tap in the first place.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 2:57pm

    The underseas cables that carry the internet from continent to continent might not be a literal backbone but it is certainly tapped by the US for gathering data. This used to be done underwater by the submarine SS Parche (SSN-683) which has been retired. The USS Jimmy Carter (SSN-23) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Jimmy_Carter_%28SSN-23%29 , which is now undergoing it's sea trials are now expected to take it's place in function.

    The SS Parche's mission was exposed by a spy giving the info to Russia. The Parche had to return every few months to pick up the data from the recorder undersea. Only after the mission's exposure, the Russians went and got the recorder and it now resides in one of their museums.

    Whether you call the undersea cable a backbone or just an internet pipe does not change this is known, discovered, and happened.

     

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

  8.  
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    el_segfaulto (profile), Sep 27th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

    Re:

    I think Facebook's datacenters could qualify.

     

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

  9.  
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    seal, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 3:36pm

    Feinstein is an Aunt Jemima for NSA

    is an Aunt Jemima for NSA

     

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

  10.  
    identicon
    James Smith, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 3:52pm

    Free Country> LMAO!

    It isn't as if any rational person still believes the USA is a free country. Think about it. No-warrant wire taps, indefinite detention of citizens without charges, approval of rendition of prisoners and torture, stop and frisk without probable cause, search and seizure without a warrant, no-knock entry, confiscation and destruction of cameras that might have been used to film police acting illegally, police brutality, police shootings that go without investigation, managed news, and the civil-rights destroying "Patriot" Act.


    Acts of police behaving illegally, with shootings, Tasers, and unwarranted violence now appear almost daily. Rarely are these offenses punished. Most often "an investigation" is claimed, but soon forgotten.

    

In addition, the USA, with 5% of the world population, has 25% of all of the prisoners in the world. That means the USA has the most people in prison of any nation in history. Even by percentage of residents incarcerated, not just sheer numbers. USA is # 1!

 Does any of that sound like a free country?


    As Dwight D. Eisenhower said about communism, "It's like slicing sausage. First they out off a small slice. That isn't worth fighting over. Then they take another small slice that isn't worth fighting over. Then another and another. Finally, all you have left is the string and that isn't worth fighting over, either.

     

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

  11.  
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    Bill Stewart, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 5:26pm

    DiFi actually leaked useful info

    Encrypted SMTP doesn't protect your email against "downstream" wiretapping, subpoenaed directly from your mailbox at the ISP who handles your email, but it can protect you against "upstream" wiretapping of your mail while it's in transit.

    Also, the ECPA, to the extent that the NSA bothers to obey it, strictly limits in-transit wiretapping of email, so it's possible that they can be prosecuted or at least forbidden to use any of the data they've collected in court.

     

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

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 6:01pm

    Re: Free Country> LMAO!

    It never has been. Government is inherently the enemy of freedom, and we will never have freedom until we get rid of government.

     

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

  13.  
    identicon
    GET REAL, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 7:08pm

    NOT NEWS

    Come on folks, the NSA is tapping the Internet! really... WE ALL TAP THE INTERNET By connecting to it. Its an OPEN GLOBAL NETWORK. I would expect not only the NSA but many other Governments from around the world via various corporate fronts at many network exchanges TAPPING in to the Internet to sniff what is out in the open. And all governments sniff at points of landing for undersea cables as part of the conditions for granting right of way.

     

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

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 8:08pm

    Dianne Feinstein and Joe Biden in Walking Leakers, you can't miss it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/19/joe-biden-bunker-vp-revea_n_205515.html

     

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

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 8:11pm

    Re: NOT NEWS

    Excuse me, a lot of public servants that were forbidden from tapping the internet for news didn't know the government actually taps the internet to read others emails, you see according to the rules, this is wrong and can end in employment termination. So if you ask them they will all say this is news for them, doubt? I dare you find one public employee that will tell you otherwise.

     

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

  16.  
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    Postulator (profile), Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:18pm

    So is she a whistleblower? Or a leaker? Or - has she been to Russia lately - maybe a spy for a foreign power?

     

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

  17.  
    identicon
    GET REAL, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:21pm

    Re: Re: NOT NEWS

    You are confusing the issues of workplace regulations with the FACT that the Internet is a public space - always has been - no one entity comprises the Internet -thats why its called the 'Inter' net. So yes while one agency may have a rule that states you can not do something as part of your job it means nothing to another agency that does not have the policy. And further, if a public servant did fall under such policy all you could do at best is accuse them of not following the policy related to their job but not they they broke any law of privacy as privacy is not a given preset of the Internet. You no more privacy on the internet than you would have at a public park. So saying the NSA taps the Internet is the same as a cop on a public street with a radar gun conducting a speed trap.

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:23pm

    Google inadvertently collects freely available, arguably useless wifi bits and they're found guilty of wiretapping and will likely pay a fine.

    The United States government deliberately wiretaps the internet and willfully violates our constitutional rights by purposely collecting our emails and they can wave the "we didn't mean to" flag?

    Something don't seem right...

     

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

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:42pm

    Re:

    so if you are emailing your friend in the same city as you will your email go through some undersea cable in it's travels across town ?

    There is not internet backbone as such, the poster is correct.

     

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

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:51pm

    All the internet is "upstream"

    Everything is upstream except for the final leg to your own computer, until then it's "upstream" to servers, bridges, routers, DNS's, everywhere, until it hit's the server for your own computer, then it is "downstream" to your pc..

    There is no internet backbone, it's a WEB not a central nervous system.

    Someone said "it's the undersea cables' that are the backbone, so how does domestic traffic get around ???

    If you visit a web site that is hosted in your own city does it travel on an international undersea cable to get there ??

    Background traffic is certainly a more accurate term that 'backbone', I am sure she/he said exactly what they meant to say..

    BTW: Masnick, when are you going to take off this STUPD CENSORSHIP on my posts ??

    Why wont you let everyone participate in the free speech debates you start ???

     

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

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 10:52pm

    Are you that scared of what I have to say and contribute that you can not bring yourself to allow free speech and open debate on the subjects ??

    Do I really scare you that much ???

     

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

  22.  
    identicon
    GET REAL, Sep 27th, 2013 @ 11:44pm

    Re: Google Wifi

    Again, you're confusing the issues. Accessing a computing system that belongs to someone else without permission is trespass whether you do it freely or not and whether its secured or not. Plus, Wifi is not the Internet. When you send packets of data from your computer via your private network (wifi or otherwise) to the Internet those packets are private until they leave your network meaning your home router say. Beyond that your are now on the Open Internet and no-one makes any claim or guarantee of privacy over those packets as they travel from network to network to arrive at a given end-point. Thats why we should all use encryption to keep bad guys out. If you think the bad guys are the NSA then fair enough but that another issue altogether.

     

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

  23.  
    identicon
    Abandoned, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    What is most troubling is nobody cares. This careful release of information - because that's exactly what is happening, is desensitizing us. The walls as fences are going up all around us, but because it is slowly being done - carefully and calculated, nobody cares. That is scary. We should be rioting and we're not.

     

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

  24.  
    identicon
    Kalifornian, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 8:52am

    Feinstein is a disgrace to California and the US Senate. I can't believe that we don't have a challenger for her.
    She should be recalled!

     

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

  25.  
    identicon
    Kalifornian, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 8:52am

    Feinstein is a disgrace to California and the US Senate. I can't believe that we don't have a challenger for her.
    She should be recalled!

     

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

  26.  
    identicon
    Mr. Jonz, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 10:58am

    Bad enough she's a fascist, authoritarian scumbag. She's also a f**king idiot.

     

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

  27.  
    identicon
    Jasonn, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 11:33am

    Loose Lips Sink Ships...

    I look forward to Mrs. Feinstein joining Edward Snowden in Russia. That would be one way to get rid of the poor beatch.

     

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

  28.  
    identicon
    BC, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 12:49pm

    Riiiiight

    Don't be silly - the "law" applies to the poor and powerless, not the political class.

     

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

  29.  
    identicon
    Bruce, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 1:16pm

    Telecom Scullery!

    Natch, TeleCom Don't CARE; they're afforded equally UNCONSTITUTIONAL immunity by ex post facto law otherwise Specifically PROHIBITED thereby, signed off upon by the oppressidential constitutional sculler!

     

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

  30.  
    identicon
    Donald Isenman, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 2:17pm

    CORRUPTION==DIANE FEINSTEIN

    She and her husband are typical husband and wife teams in Washington: totally corrupt and oblivious their greed & sense of entitlement Maybe at her age she'll do some good if only through tongue slips.

     

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

  31.  
    identicon
    coward, Sep 28th, 2013 @ 2:53pm

    Re:

    Backbone means they are tapping the ISPS and not just facebook/google/msft/apple.

     

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

  32.  
    identicon
    Flaco, Sep 29th, 2013 @ 3:15am

    Re:

    Sure there is.

    Its name is LEVEL3

     

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

  33.  
    identicon
    William Berka, Sep 29th, 2013 @ 5:55am

    NSA

    UNDERSIGHT. Senator Weinstein wouldn't know oversight if it hit her in the but. Ask her to prove it in OPEN COURT.

     

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

  34.  
    identicon
    Anzablazer, Sep 29th, 2013 @ 12:55pm

    Stop the Fascist Authoritarian Witch Hunters in America. Freedom has many Enemies. Be a Rebel with a Cause.

     

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

  35.  
    identicon
    tesmith, Sep 29th, 2013 @ 7:02pm

    Re: CORRUPTION==DIANE FEINSTEIN

    you people are complaining that a public servant is exposing government misdeeds??!!??

     

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

  36.  
    identicon
    Freeflight, Sep 30th, 2013 @ 1:23am

    Re:

    The headline might be spelled funny with it's mention of "The Internet Backbone".

    But the article clearly states "tapping backbone networks", as in several backbones, most likely those of all the major ISPs.

     

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

  37.  
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    Ninja (profile), Sep 30th, 2013 @ 4:25am

    Re: NOT NEWS

    So you have access to everything that's encrypted just because you can see it flowing? We can all see cars flowing and with some stalking we can define their paths but can we see/know everything the car is carrying without violating the other person's property?

    The answer is no. The corporations you mention cannot
    see what's encrypted. The fact that the NSA has unrestricted access is news. Or at least confirmation of what many suspected.

     

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

  38.  
    identicon
    K, Sep 30th, 2013 @ 5:33am

    representative inteligence

    Depending on the situation it can be an advantage to have some stupid representatives in the parliament. ;-}

     

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

  39.  
    icon
    Niall (profile), Oct 1st, 2013 @ 9:07am

    Re: Re: Google Wifi

    And Google only picked up those signals that the Wi-Fi had radiated to the whole world and anyone able to pick them up. If you have a fight in your front yard, don't complain that the neighbours are 'listening in' or 'eavesdropping'.

     

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


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