Terrorists Have Known Their Cellphones Are Surveillance Targets For Over A Decade But Suddenly It's Greenwald And Snowden's Fault?

from the al-Qaeda-now-celebrating-'Snowden-Day'-every-June-6th dept

The NSA's defenders (including those on the other side of the pond) have been making the claim for the last several months that each new revelation is enabling terrorists to find ways to beat the surveillance system. But much of what has been revealed has either been a.) something that was long suspected (the Section 215 program, communications being harvested from underseas cables) or b.) something any careful terrorist would have avoided (popular platforms, services and software).

Another minor ruckus was raised when the New York Times screwed up its redaction of documents (again, apparently Snowden's "fault" because he turned sensitive documents over to incompetents) related to cell phone tracking and accidentally exposed one of the program's targets: al Qaeda's operations in Mosul, Iraq. It's no secret al Qaeda has been public enemy #1 since before the 9/11 attacks, which makes claims that stuff like this "tips off" terrorists completely inexplicable. They've been targeted for well over a decade. Why would this be a surprise?

Tracing cellphones, tracking their location and intercepting communications have all been detailed by Snowden's leaks, but not only is this fairly basic (and expected) surveillance, it's also nothing new and nothing that hasn't been previously reported by the national media.

Poyan Nahrvar, a Canadian engineer, tweeted this out on Friday.

The link in the tweet leads to a 2004 story by The Christian Science Monitor, which details all of the above in its rundown of the success these cellphone-tracking efforts were having in the fight against terrorism.

An ordinary-looking grid map of Riyadh adorns one wall of a command-and-control center deep inside a government building in Saudi Arabia's capital.

The map is higher-tech than it appears at first glance. Tiny embedded lights flash red when certain cellphones - those belonging to suspected terrorists - initiate or receive a call. [O]fficials… decide instantly whether simply to watch and listen to the suspected terrorist - or to send in screaming police cars to nab him…

It doesn't take long for terrorists to figure out how authorities are tracing them and then change methods. Still, the technology has proved helpful in rolling up cells in Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and America…

Terrorists, of course, catch on to the new tracking procedures and seek safer ways to communicate. Osama bin Laden, for example, stopped using satellite phones because he found out - with the delivery of a guided missile - that the US was tracking his position via the satellite…

After years of tracking terrorists, investigators have amassed a large database of land-line and traditional cellphone numbers they are watching (or listening to). All it takes is a call from one of those numbers to a phone with a SIM card to discover who's using the undetectable phone.
All of this reported and yet no hand-wringing about how the government's surveillance techniques had been exposed giving the terrorists the upper hand. Everything detailed here isn't too far removed from what's been published in the last seven months. Terrorists have known about cellphone tracking for well over a decade and have been making adjustments ever since.

To imply that it's only now that terrorists are being alerted to surveillance techniques is to be deliberately obtuse and/or intellectually dishonest. Cellphones aren't to be trusted and haven't been for several years. Any terrorist who says, "But I only used it for Angry Birds" (the topic of the New York Times article with the faulty redaction) to his droned companions isn't going to stay alive long enough for the US to finish him or her off. His colleagues will take care of that themselves.

Without a doubt, there are stupid terrorists out there who may only now be aware their cellphone is selling them out to a variety of intelligence agencies, but that's only because they're stupid, not because a majority of the information Snowden leaked is actually new or even unexpected. Snowden's leaks exposed the NSA's programs in greater detail and, more importantly, exposed the fact that the NSA's activities aren't always targeted at terrorism. He also exposed the "collect it all" mentality, which is the most dangerous aspect of its many programs, which goes far beyond its stated "national security" goals. But acting as though terrorists would only now be aware their cellphones are being tracked is asinine.

Filed Under: edward snowden, glenn greenwald, nsa, surveillance, terrorism


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  1. identicon
    rapnel, 20 Feb 2014 @ 11:20am

    Subjective Subject is Suspect and Suggestive

    True story: When I was [redacted] I could sit in [redacted] and tune in to any [redacted] that was in range. That was well over 20 years ago. Was it allowed or permissible? Not anywhere at anytime, for sure, but it was OTS capabilities on "stock" gear. End of story.

    Today, essentially, government, the executive branch specifically (materially supported by other branches), has stretched, manipulated, fabricated, lied and cheated regarding every and any existing law in order to *utilize* their capabilities on its public and the world at large. Was it for safety? Law enforcement? That can be debated ad nauseam. Sometimes winning, often times not.

    What's obvious is that you, me and anyone with any sort of insight at all knew, *knew*, we would and could do things to thwart the "bad people" and we allowed it, we allowed it mostly because we trusted that the best interests of a country and its peoples were being served to the best of abilities within the written parameters that defined us. We believed.

    We are no longer being served. It would seem that treachery, by design, rules the day. The Constitution isn't quite being what it's supposed to be. It's supposed to be limits, guidelines and the basic premise of our free existences. It is supposed to be what being "free" actually means. While staying free, on the other hand, is fraught with pitfalls, temptations, good old fashioned greed and stupidity and some degree of luck thrown in for good measure. That was at an individual level. We're at a whole new level but with the same set of risk factors.

    Any free people can not, under any circumstance, allow the sort of power that we have inexplicably allowed our intelligence services to wield and in a concerted semi-global collusion and conspiracy thriller, no less. As we've clearly seen it takes one person, just one, to subvert intent. What intentions have been misused, abused and manipulated by just one person? A group of people? An army of people? Too many I'd have to say.

    Edge warfare is now imminent. There is no way around it. There is no trust. Freedom is now a fully conditional and controlled experiment (was it ever more?). Democracy is a new profit center and privacy is no longer free. COMSEC, communications security, learn it and embrace it. Today you may have nothing to hide. Tomorrow you may be better served by hiding everything.

    Governing has been outpaced by technology and will, most likely, continue to be so. "Governing" is taking on a very different (and ancient) role where self-preservation has been successfully built back in and society is being caged in. Financials, informations and weapons - if society controls none of these (or, ideally, the most of each) then a free society can never exist.

    And not one fuck bomb.. loosing my knack. Fuck terrorism and fuck FVEYS and fuck you lofty lot of self-absorbed fat, white, pricks. OK? OK.

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