We Now Know The NSA And GCHQ Have Subverted Most (All?) Of The Digital World: So Why Can't We See Any Benefits?

from the less-is-more dept

As Mike pointed out recently, thanks to Snowden (and possibly other sources), we now know the NSA, with some help from GCHQ, has subverted just about every kind of digital electronic device where it is useful to do so — the latest being hard drives and mobile phones. That’s profoundly shocking when you consider what most non-paranoid observers thought the situation was as recently as a couple of years ago. However, given that’s how things stand, there are a couple of interesting ramifications.

First, that the recent attempts by politicians to demonize strong encryption look like an attempt to cover up the fact that most digital systems are already vulnerable using one or more of the techniques that have been revealed over the last year or two. That is, the NSA and GCHQ can probably access most digital content stored or transmitted in any way — either because the encryption itself or the end-points have been compromised. Even standalone strong encryption systems like PGP — thought still to be immune to direct attacks — can be circumvented by breaking into the systems on which they are used.

Perhaps the dark hints that encryption could be banned or backdoored are simply part of a cynical ploy to present such an appalling vision of what could happen, that we gladly accept anything less extreme without complaint. In fact, the authorities have no intention of attempting anything so stupid — it would put all online business at risk — because they don’t need to: they already have methods to access everything anyway.

That being the case, there is another important question. If the NSA and other parties do have ways of turning practically every digital electronic device into a system for spying on its users, that essentially means there is no criminal organization in the world — ranging from the so-called “terrorist” ones that are used to justify so much bad policy currently, to the “traditional” ones that represent the bulk of the real threat to society — that is not vulnerable to being infiltrated and subverted by government agencies.

And yet we don’t see this happen. Drug cartels thrive; people trafficking is surging; the smuggling of ivory and endangered animals is profitable as never before. Similarly, despite the constant and sophisticated monitoring of events across the Middle East, the rise of Islamic State evidently took the US and its allies completely by surprise. How is it that global criminality has not been brought to its knees, or that such massive geopolitical developments were not picked up well in advance — and nipped in the bud?

One obvious explanation for this pattern is that just as the attackers of London, Boston, Paris and Copenhagen were all known to the authorities, so early tell-tale signs of the rise of Islamic State were detected, but remained drowned out by the sheer volume of similar and confounding information that was being gathered. Similarly, it is presumably easy to create huge stores of information on drug bosses or people smugglers — but hard to find enough personnel to analyze and act on that data mountain.

Now that we have a better idea of the extraordinary reach of the global surveillance being carried out at all times, the failure of that activity to make us safer by countering criminal activity, at whatever scale, becomes all the more striking. It’s time the intelligence agencies accepted that the “collect it all” approach is not just failing, but actually exactly wrong: what we need is not more surveillance, but much less of it and much better targeted.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “We Now Know The NSA And GCHQ Have Subverted Most (All?) Of The Digital World: So Why Can't We See Any Benefits?”

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62 Comments
That One Guy says:

It's Obvious

“Drug cartels thrive; people trafficking is surging; the smuggling of ivory and endangered animals is profitable as never before. Similarly, despite the constant and sophisticated monitoring of events across the Middle East, the rise of Islamic State evidently took the US and its allies completely by surprise. How is it that global criminality has not been brought to its knees, or that such massive geopolitical developments were not picked up well in advance — and nipped in the bud?”

Oh… you thought that’s what this whole spying thing is about? Methinks you and everyone else better question that notion put forth by the taking heads. Has nothing to do with security or keeping anyone safe.

It’s time the intelligence agencies accepted that the “collect it all” approach is not just failing, but actually exactly wrong: what we need is not more surveillance, but much less of it and much better targeted.
NO… Glyn. Its time to ask exactly why they are creating a surveillance grid with facial/Tag recognition, cameras everywhere on every highway, drones flying overhead… in DC for now. Because anyone that believes it is to keep us safe is denying reality.

“but remained drowned out by the sheer volume of similar and confounding information that was being gathered”
Really? Is that what you think? We dont have POI’s to tail? No boots on the ground intel to follow up? Sorry but that is a cop out. Just like the bullshit excuse that the agencies couldn’t communicate effectively to prevent 911. Sibel Edmonds blew that lie out of the water.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's Obvious

Nothing is going to stop the surveillance machine. This is the beginning of what I think is going to be a very long cyber war…

I’m leaning towards precrime as a means of justification by these agencies. We’ve already seen 10 year old kids get visits from the FBI for Facebook posts and infants get blacklisted for life from air ports because of their names.

What’s next has yet to be seen but I imagine it’ll get far worse before it gets better.

Anonymous Coward says:

One obvious explanation for this pattern is that just as the attackers of London, Boston, Paris and Copenhagen were all known to the authorities, so early tell-tale signs of the rise of Islamic State were detected, but remained drowned out by the sheer volume of similar and confounding information that was being gathered.

That, and the problem of different agents and agencies only having part of the picture. They spy organizations have become too big, with too many empires to be built, to be able to be able to actually co-ordinate what is known about suspects.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What they need to do is form an umbrella organization that would improve communication between the various agencies. They could call it the Department of Homeland Security or something, and all of its employees would streamline intelligence gathering while being productive, happy and content in their rewarding jobs.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

What if the unicorn was real, and everything they have done has lead to to have precognition of all bad acts… but to protect the secrets & programs they still let them happen.

Sounds silly?
What about the cases where they let “criminals” go rather than answer about stingrays.
Or where they were unable to do parallel construction to make it believable they happened on the plot & didn’t find it using a secret program.

Or perhaps they can not find the needle in the ever larger haystacks they create, & we need leaders to take a stand against blindly following the repeating pattern that isn’t working.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

And perhaps it is well past time we stop accepting the ‘ZOMG TERRORISTS WILL WIN’ arguments to keep these things going and admit this has gone to damn far and needs to be undone & given much stronger limitations moving forward.

Doing it this way has provided very little benefit beyond soundbites with no reality to back up the claims, and it has cost far to much money & credibility.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Worth repeating:

The “collect it all” approach has been tested before.

From The Risks:

We in the U.S. have just completed one of the largest case studies of what happens when every individual in an industry has all of its e-mail and financial records available to regulators. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) already requires every person in the financial industry to make every e-mail, cellphone text and financial record available to the SEC in order to enforce insider trading and other financial rules.

The result: NADA! NOTHING! With thousands of bankers involved in fraud on the U.S. taxpayer running into the trillions of dollars, _not one has been prosecuted; not one has gone to jail_. If this level of surveillance of the financial community has produced zero convictions in the largest ripoff of tax dollars in history, there is no reason to expect that any increased level of surveillance of non-financial citizens will produce any better results.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Worth repeating:

If this level of surveillance of the financial community has produced zero convictions in the largest ripoff of tax dollars in history, there is no reason to expect that any increased level of surveillance of non-financial citizens will produce any better results.

Maybe the non-finacial citizens don’t pay as much as the financial citizens or maybe they don’t get appointed to positions in government like ex Goldman-Sachs managers do. Stands to reason that it will produce better results because of it.

Anonymous Coward says:

The purpose of the surveillance state is not to fight “crime” as such, but to maintain the status quo. The status quo we live with today is the greater and greater concentration of wealth and capital into fewer and fewer hands. While the powers that be have been able to maintain at least some political legitimacy over the past 40 years, it is possible that the situation for the non-elites will become so untenable that they will try to redress the balance — whether they do that via peaceful, political means or otherwise, neither tactic is acceptable to the elite if the possibility exists that either tactic will slow the flow of wealth into their hands.

Should a threatening populist movement arise, the elites have all the tools they need to kill it with a thousand cuts (blackmail, agent provocateurs, etc). Should a violent revolt start to bubble up, those same tools can be used to imprison the perpetrators before a shot is fired.

Ultimately, they don’t care about drugs and human trafficking because they make money off those things (just ask HSBC or your local police department). They don’t care what’s going on in the Middle East because they don’t live there, and they can just as easily exploit the chaos as they could a calm. They don’t care about the Boston bombing because no one they care about very much was hurt.

In short, they want to keep the world situation the way it is because it benefits them, and surveillance is something that allows them to keep it that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Should a threatening populist movement arise, the elites have all the tools they need to kill it with a thousand cuts (blackmail, agent provocateurs, etc). Should a violent revolt start to bubble up, those same tools can be used to imprison the perpetrators before a shot is fired.”
If anyone needs an example of that I want to point you to the “pink list(s)” (hope I got the translation right) which were a compilation of names of homosexuals that were used (Godwin’s Law) by the Nazis to identify people who let’s say they didn’t like.

“Ultimately, they don’t care about drugs and human trafficking because they make money off those things (just ask HSBC or your local police department). […]They don’t care about the Boston bombing because no one they care about very much was hurt.”

The HSBC thing would imply that banks run the US which is hinted but not proven yet. And the Boston bombing I just wanted to add curious that there wasn’t anyone left to bring before court.

Anonymous Coward says:

Organizations will NOT solve...

…the problems which justify their continued existence.

The NSA and GCHQ are disinterested in stopping organized crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking, actual real live terrorism (as opposed to the kind that the FBI makes up whenever it feels the need to lie) or anything like that. If they were, ISIS would have been detected at the earliest stage of its existence and crushed like a bug.

This is all about control. It’s always been about control. It will always be about control. These are sociopathic, evil, destructive people who want that control at any and all costs — they are willing to engage in mass murder to acquire and keep it — and it’s the sole purpose for all of this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wrong vector

From my point of view (which is a bit restricted due to a tinfoil hat) the whole thing is working as intended.
The “dark hints that encryption could be banned or backdoored” are already working in the favor of making services that offer end-to-end encryption uneconomic therefore the whole idea useless (search “mega paypal”).
http://gizmodo.com/paypal-canceled-megas-account-because-of-encryption-bu-1688424955

And the reason why they don’t go after “drug lords” is imho that those are a reason to use if terror fails. I mean you need a reason for surveilance and if your plan A fails you need a plan B. All while you control the players on the market used in plan B.
There is a reason why the heroin market is at an all time high after the US invaded and basicly took over Afghanistan. Currently they control that market and you can’t convinve me that an army like the US one isn’t burning the fields because of “protecting the farmers” and they need time to convert the fields to soy. If you are a big player in one market it is reasonable to assume you can have a huge influence on other markets i.e. the marijuana aka weed market.
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/afghanistan-world-top-marijuana-supplier-article-1.173257

The whole reason why the surveilance isn’t as successful as you think it should be is … well… it is as successful as the people who run or put it in place want it to be.
*straightening tinfoil-hat since echolon*

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wrong vector

“All the evidence points to the US being the power behind the global heroine market”

The moment we invaded Afghanistan and put their poppy fields under US military control we saw a wave of heroine hit the New England. Not only that, they’re using it (Washingtion) as a method to destabilize neighboring countries. See https://news.vice.com/article/vice-on-hbo-debrief-heroin-warfare

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wrong vector

Eventually, you will also see that the Five Eyes governments are the financial backbone behind global terrorism.

The Drug War proved to the fascists that all they had to do was create a crisis and the world would pay them to protect it from that crisis.

Once you have a winning business model, it behooves you to expand into a variety of different fields – to diversify your commodity base.

War on Drugs.

War on Terror.

War on Cyber-hackers.

War on Copyright Infringers.

War on Poverty.

War on Cancer.

War on Crime.

War on ad infinitum…

If they have a War On something, you can absolutely bet that particular something will always exist and grow exponentially as a problem.

—-

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Wrong vector

I do indeed often wonder exactly why they allow a small contingent of speakers to express their views, but I think that its probably a two-fold process.

By allowing a small number of people to speak freely, the powers that be get an idea of what parts of the official story need shoring up and revamping and what areas of public awareness they need to eradicate.

At the same time, a total black out of all dissent would let the cat out of the bag so to speak, and tell a public body like that in America, that it had been conquered, lock, stock and barrel.

The trick is to keep the speakers numbers small enough to control the flow of information via trolls and paid shills and prevent them from ever reaching mainstream media, usually by simply controlling mainstream media.

In this way, few notice that some anonymous speakers go missing when they stop posting. Remember, you’re only anonymous to the other posters, not to the CIAFBINSA.

When a speaker gets too close to the truth or talks about something sensitive/of great interest to many, and the army of paid shills is simply not up to the task of drowning out the words with a flood of stupidity, it is an easy enough task to have the speaker eliminated through various methods, including but not limited to:

-illness – the old cancer on a pin trick

-destitution via financial assassination – so many methods of doing this its silly to try and list them

-character assassination – find kiddie porn on their computer during a wrong address drug bust

-or simply run them over with a truck, using an un-convicted but recently arrested murderer as a driver, who will serve some time for the “Hit and Run While Drunk Manslaughter”, in lieu of serving time for the triple murders that got him arrested

I’m sure there is more to it than that, but at least that’s my take on it.

Pronounce (profile) says:

Finally

People are talking about this issue. The spooks just spy for spying sake and this means trying to one-upping other spies. Do they bring any value at all to the common man?

If we analyze the cost/benefit of spying I’m thinking the value provided to 99% of the world’s population is going to turn out to be less than zero.

Snowden started this ball rolling and that was the real danger described by NSA hand-wringers. They know they can’t justify their actions and that funding is in danger.

So before the 99% goes on another class-war crusade against the 1% the spy agencies need to be crippled financially in a major way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Finally

“So before the 99% goes on another class-war crusade against the 1% the spy agencies need to be crippled financially in a major way.”

Any attempt at going on a crusade against the super wealthy and over-powered has been quelled each and every time. Just like the fall of Rome, like any disease, it will be a gradual process spanning decades, possibly centuries until its final demise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Finally

“Just like the fall of Rome, like any disease, it will be a gradual process spanning decades, possibly centuries until its final demise.”
If I remember history correctly then Rom was killed by either Brutus stabbing the ruler or by a new relgion which was at that time seen as a terroist group and we today call Christianity. I leave the modern conclusions to the reader…

Seegras (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Finally

Fall of Rome? A culture clash.

Led by the Germanic “hamlet”-culture, which did not see big cities or big technology as useful.

And it aligned naturally with Christianity, which saw the whole earth as only a temporary place of toil, therefore it was unimportant to build a civilization.

Of course, Christianity changed its mind later on..

Anonymous Coward says:

Because its not about “terrorists” or drug cartels. Its entirely about the people. Who cares how many kids the IS murders, keeping the “Western Powers” stable is whats important. Just a few more leaks and they will officially admit that they have been making people disappear for organizing protests.

Remember that a few years ago, anyone even just suggesting that the government is monitoring the internet was immediately shunned by the “m..muh conspiracy tinfoilhat” crowd.
And there is a very simple explanation for that. Its pretty much the same as the success story of Apple. The media convinced the dumb people that questioning the official story has to be countered with these lines and ignored.

Padpaw (profile) says:

They have to let the terrorism continue or else all justification for creating their dictatorial police state will vanish.

How else can they remove people’s rights and liberties if they don’t have a boogeyman to hang over them.

Look at how most of the “high profile” terrorist acts have all turned out to be created by the FBI and the GCHQ respectivly

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Interesting choice of dates.

There was some sort of archeological find a few decades back of a stone pillar with a carving that showed a star chart representing the positions of the stars in the year 2020 with some sort of untranslatable message attached.

I’ve never been able to find any reference to it since the early 70s though.

As for taking a few of them with you, that’s highly unlikely, since they are literally the most abject of cowards and will always come at you from behind and always through those that you trust.

Moreover, the minions who actually do the deed will have a completely erroneous idea of who you are and why they must take you down.

Its all standard procedure.

Regardless, I agree.
Go into that night loud and kicking.

Steve (profile) says:

Its the classic 3 way combo- an industry sector getting rich on paranoia, vested interests (eg the movie industry) getting to change Government policy & the government itself trying to stay in power by looking tough on extremism. Over the whole thing is the fear of loosing control of the flow of information, from the likes of Murdoch.
This is all going to get much worse before change occurs.

Anonymous Coward says:

Scarier theory:

They saw the Islamic State rising. They knew the bombings were coming. They knew about 9/11. However, revealing they knew would raise horrible questions, ones that would end with them losing their job, at best. Rather than say these programs existed, they let the attacks happen, and then justified as much of their already existing program as possible.
Today, it’s too late. Snowden was allowed to escape because they can monitor who’s interested: and thus identify the targets. Anyone who doesn’t adjust to the status quo is assumed dangerous and dealt with appropriately.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Scarier theory:

To be perfectly honest, I do not see the people running the USA like a business, just waiting around for the rest of the world to eventually do the things they want done.

On the other hand, I do see them manipulating foreign leaders via bribery and blackmail and manufacturing false flag events and doing everything that they can – [(get the american taxpayer to pay for)] – in order to set in motion those things they need to happen, when they need them to happen, to best profit from the chaos that ensues.

These are businessmen. They have a business plan.

GEMont (profile) says:

Popular Mythologies

Hey now.

America has “put that whole 9/11 thing behind it and moved on”, because it was absolutely a bunch of sheep herders from Afghanistan and places like that who stole planes and did the whole thing just like the government said they did.

All of the myriad bits of evidence that quickly disappeared, never existed.

There was no nano-thermite in any of the dust covering New York City for instance.

All of those things were made up by people who love terrorists and hate Americans because of their Freedoms and SUVs and color TVs.

doncha know….

Anonymous Coward says:

>How is it that global criminality has not been brought to its knees, or that such massive geopolitical developments were not picked up well in advance — and nipped in the bud?

When you are more focused on collecting everything – rather than small bits of useful information.

Besides, even with evidence the DOJ doesn’t do it’s job half the time, look at the Banks, Clapper lying under oath, ect…

Anonymous Coward says:

“You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day. I designed the machine to detect acts of terror but it sees everything. Violent crimes involving ordinary people. The Government considers these people “irrelevant”.”

I remember when I thought that show was fiction… Just sayin…

Ramon Creager (profile) says:

Question all assumptions

When assessing whether the surveillance regime is accomplishing its purpose we must question what that purpose is. We can no longer accept the assertions that this is to protect us from criminals and terrorists, because, as pointed out here, empirical evidence shows that given that purpose it is a colossal failure. But if the purpose is different, surveillance could be achieving its goals.

And what are those? We can discard “keeping us safe.” They missed ISIS because they weren’t looking for ISIS. Besides, the GWOT is highly profitable for a hugely influential segment of our society. They fail to detect massive fraud and rigging of the financial system, as with HSBC, even when such fraud is directly related to a supposed adversary, terrorists. They don’t care about drug lords; the war on drugs is too profitable, and doesn’t threaten the people this is really built to protect: the power elites.

So who are the adversaries here? We are. The 99.9%. And the system is designed to keep the 0.1% safe. Why else do we need to “collect everything”? Compromise every device? Break all encryption? Store what is collected essentially indefinitely, long after any terror threat would have dissipated? Set the FBI’s counterterror units on political targets such as Occupy and Black Lives Matter? The answer is that this will be useful against any threats to the position of the current power elite. Any emerging movement, any political opposition, can be swiftly and retroactively surveilled and undermined. At this, the current surveillance regime is strikingly effective, both to chill dissent by its very existence, and to undermine it once underway.

That’s what this is all about.

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