NSA Working With Denmark, Germany To Access 'Three Terabits Of Data Per Second' From Overseas Cables

from the adding-more-tentacles-to-the-octopus dept

Another set of leaked NSA documents has been posted in a team effort by The Intercept and Danish newspaper Dagbladet. This one deals with the NSA's RAMPART-A program, a surveillance effort that depends on the cooperation of involved countries to be successful. As the NSA has always made an effort to point out, its interception of foreign communications is both completely legal and the sort of thing people would expect a national security agency to be doing. (Although, on the latter part, people would normally expect the agency to be doing a little targeting along with the interception, but that's really never been the case across the ocean or domestically.)

It has already been widely reported that the NSA works closely with eavesdropping agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as part of the so-called Five Eyes surveillance alliance. But the latest Snowden documents show that a number of other countries, described by the NSA as “third-party partners,” are playing an increasingly important role – by secretly allowing the NSA to install surveillance equipment on their fiber-optic cables.

The NSA documents state that under RAMPART-A, foreign partners “provide access to cables and host U.S. equipment.” This allows the agency to covertly tap into “congestion points around the world” where it says it can intercept the content of phone calls, faxes, e-mails, internet chats, data from virtual private networks, and calls made using Voice over IP software like Skype.
From what's been gathered here, it appears that the NSA has at least 70 interception points where it harvests communications from overseas cables. But it can't do it alone. It needs the assistance and permission of the affected countries. So, everyone plays nice and pretends they won't use the intercepts to harvest domestic communications and receive vague assurances in return that others won't use the taps to grab each other's communications.
The partnership deals operate on the condition that the host country will not use the NSA's spy technology to collect any data on U.S. citizens. The NSA also agrees that it will not use the access it has been granted to collect data on the host countries' citizens.
But if everyone meant what they said, no one would be grabbing anything. Snowden explains how it actually works.
"An EU member state like Denmark may give the NSA access to a tapping center on the (unenforceable) condition that NSA doesn't search it for Danes, and Germany may give the NSA access to another on the condition that it doesn't search for Germans," Snowden said.

"Yet the two tapping sites may be two points on the same cable, so the NSA simply captures the communications of the German citizens as they transit Denmark, and the Danish citizens as they transit Germany, all the while considering it entirely in accordance with their agreements."
Presumably, partnering countries do the same sort of workaround, grabbing communications in transit from points located outside of the areas where these "promises" to respect each participant's local communications are in effect. And the NSA (and again, presumably other national security agencies) doesn't even necessarily limit itself to this loophole. Other operations tap into these lines "without the consent or knowledge of the countries that host the cables, or are operated from within the United States with the assistance of American telecommunications companies that have international links."

Because any revelation of domestic spying or NSA partnerships would cause problems back home, partnering countries ask for something in return for allowing the NSA to access its cables: namely, the use of NSA surveillance equipment in order to better siphon off the communications they all promised each other they weren't taking.

The Intercept's article names both Denmark and Germany as being fully complicit with the NSA's RAMPART-A. Germany's mutually-assured-surveillance pact with the NSA seems to be in full force, which explains the hilariously muted "we promise to investigate spying" statement weakly delivered a short while ago -- the same one that was hastily amended to "well, we're just going to look into that thing with Angela Merkel's phone." An honest investigation likely would have uncovered plenty of domestic surveillance along with the ongoing complicity of Germany's intelligence services. So, the sort of spying we would almost expect -- on other national leaders -- will get a cursory inspection, while the sort of widespread surveillance of German citizens will be back-burnered and forgotten.

But all this spying is, again, perfectly acceptable, according to the NSA spokesperson:
"The fact that the U.S. government works with other nations, under specific and regulated conditions, mutually strengthens the security of all," said NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines.
SPYING MAKES THE WORLD STRONGER. (Available on coffee mugs and T-shirts at the NSA gift shop.)
"NSA's efforts are focused on ensuring the protection of the national security of the United States, its citizens, and our allies through the pursuit of valid foreign intelligence targets only."
Apparently, there's no way to determine "valid targets" until after you've swept up all the data and communications. The NSA again pretends it runs targeted spycraft, ignoring the fact that its own slides tout the massive amount of communications it can access.
RAMPART-A enables the NSA to tap into three terabits of data every second as the data flows across the compromised cables…
The NSA is drinking straight from the fire hose. Sure, it can't feasibly "collect it all" when faced with this massive amount of data, but with multiple programs in place, it's doing everything it can to swallow a great deal of it. But underneath all of the NSA's efforts lies a platform built by complicit nations -- nations that have also bought into the "spying = security" belief system.






Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 3:32pm

    3 TB of Data Per Second

    Please, some network engineer help me out here. If they store all of that, for say 30 days, how many hard disks is that (forget about backups for this argument)?

    Then they have to search it. What is a reasonable amount of time to search that amount of data for 1 keyword? How much do multiple data requests slow the system down?

    If what I think the answers are going to be, are, then sometime next year they might get a hit on a query term from yesterday?

     

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  2.  
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    Adam, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 3:47pm

    Uselessness

    That all this spying failed to anticipate the Boston Bombing or any of the recent shooting rampages in Canada or the USA speaks volumes about the total waste of resources this represents.

     

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

  3.  
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    Sambo, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 4:09pm

    it never goes away

    Just thinking that all this hoovering (JR Edgar would be so proud) up of just about everything reminds me of all those American teen flicks where some hijinks will end up with a threat that will will go on their permanent record and somehow ruin the later lives.

    Only of course in the good old days, it really would never gone any further than a minor blot on the students time at the school. Now however with the NSA and partners sucking up absolutely everything this reality does not exist anymore.

    Given we live our lives online these days and the Snowden revelations, it really is not unconceivable to start to believe that massive databases with quite detailed profile of entire countries citizens are being built. I mean if Google are doing it and people know about it, imagine what the guys who get access to all that stuff that Google don't are doing.

    It is not too hard to roughly work out someones political affiliation just simply by looking at the newspaper websites they go to, let alone having access to everything a person does.

    The permanent record now exists.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 4:54pm

    Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    Over 30 days, that is nearly 1 exabyte, or a million 1 TB hard drives.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    TerraBYTES and terraBITS are not the same thing. A terrBIT would be 128 gigaBYTES.

    So over a period of 30 days, that'd be 331,776,000 gigabyteswhich is about 324,000 terrabytes, or 316.4 petabytes.

    That's a metric shitton of data, but not as much 1 exabyte. Plus I'd assume it's safe to say they can compress it by about 20% as well as shave off video and voice files.

    It's scarily doable with the backing of a major government.

    This explains the size of the Bluffdale Data Center......

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 19th, 2014 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    Seems there's estimates of the data center's capacity putting it at 3-12 exabytes.

    Given the math above that'd mean they could store between 9.7 months of data and 38.8 months of data.

    And this is assuming that Bluffdale is the only place they can store data...

     

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  7.  
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    vancedecker (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 6:18pm

    Where is your Argument?

    "The NSA is drinking straight from the fire hose. Sure, it can't feasibly "collect it all" when faced with this massive amount of data, but with multiple programs in place, it's doing everything it can to swallow a great deal of it. But underneath all of the NSA's efforts lies a platform built by complicit nations -- nations that have also bought into the "spying = security" belief system."


    You make a lot of statements and then provide this conclusion, which you probably think of as a nice cherry on top of your milkshake, but what are your arguments exactly??

    The NSA and CIA are tasked with protecting us from foreign threats. I would expect them to spy on other countries. The problem most people are concerned about is their meddling domestically.

    I think you've been taking a hit off that crack pipe one time too many if you think everyone is as naive concerning international threats as yourself.

     

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  8.  
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    vancedecker (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 6:22pm

    Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    That's why they have lots of smart people working on this. It's called 'Big Data'

    You use algorithms and such to do the work for you. We only hear about the stupid algorithms that gather keywords, but I'm sure they have much better, more intelligent agents (artificial) in place to sort and analyze the data.

    All the cool corporate boobs have added it to their vocabulary.

     

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  9.  
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    vancedecker (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 6:25pm

    Re: Uselessness

    You do understand that the NSA is a different agency from the FBI correct?

    Also, you refer to one or two examples, but what's the total data set? You have no idea how many terrorist acts the NSA/FBI have thwarted.

    They could have stopped hundreds if not thousands of terrorist acts, and only missed these few cases which you are now using.

     

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  10.  
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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 9:14pm

    Every word you say

    I looked here and it looks like most phone calls properly require 38,400 bits per second, each direction (I chose a rate around the median of the list).

    Based on that, NSA is setting up to be able to record 43,000,000 phone calls simultaneously.

    That should pretty much cover all overseas phone calls. Period.

     

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  11.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 9:24pm

    Re: Re: Uselessness

    And my anti-tiger rock could have kept me from being attacked by tigers hundreds, possibly thousands of times this year alone. As proof, I have suffered exactly zero tiger attacks since I came into possession of it, so obviously it works.

    Even the group set to review them couldn't find any real 'successes' regarding the NSA and their mass spying, so to say they 'could have' stopped 'hundreds if not thousands' is bunk, if they had stopped even a fraction of that number of terrorist acts they'd be trumpeting it from the rooftops in defense of their actions, using their successes in justification for the mass spying, but instead it's nothing but silence, lies or misdirections from them.

     

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  12.  
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    vancedecker (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 9:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    Well, for one, they stopped all those people who were in the early stages or had the potential to be terrorists.

    To do this, you have to get assets in a position to identify potential nuts that are susceptible to being radicalized, and then 'radicalizing' them so that they can be legally prosecuted.

    That takes a lot of work, effort, and analysis, and it's hard to then "prove" you stopped anything, because of all the internet crybabies pouting about "entrapment"

    However, by stopping these nuts before they have had a chance to not only carry out any acts, but also corrupting those around them, they have stopped potential terrorist acts.

    It's a much smarter, and more effective strategy, then trying to catch people in the later stages of planning something.


    As for lone nuts, you will never be able to catch them. There are 500 million people in this country, every so often, some of them will go nuts, nothing anyone can do about that.

     

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  13.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 10:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    You're thinking of the FBI, not the NSA,

    The FBI is the 'It's a lot easier to catch 'terrorists' if we make them ourselves' agency, whereas the NSA is the 'If we gather up all the hay in the world, it will be much easier to spot the needles in the pile in time to do any good' agency.

    'Entrapment'? Yeah, what else would you call finding people who may have been just blowing off some steam online, or may have been a legitimate threat, laying out the plan, providing the materials needed, pushing them every step of the way to do more and more, and then treating them as though they had acted completely on their own, no outside 'assistance' at all?

    Kinda hard to believe that their little home-grown 'terrorists' were ever a threat before the FBI agents led them along the path, not to mention impossible to prove either way.

     

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  14.  
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    vancedecker (profile), Jun 19th, 2014 @ 11:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    Yes, I know that, but nice try attempting to correct me. In either event, the FBI and NSA have an easier relationship than they have with the CIA. (see below)

    ----

    There is a big difference between "blowing off some steam online" and

    "Laying out the plan, providing the materials needed..."

    How exactly would someone push you into purchasing the materials necessary to make a bomb, or to even accept such materials?


    You seem to just stick stuff together randomly, like 1 legitimate thing with a bunch of crazy things, and then expect me to accept it all as one package. It's an okay tactic for an amateur, but not very credible.

    ---

    from the FBI Web Site:

    A second obstacle to strong cooperation and information sharing is that we have two separate legal regimes for collecting information about threats. First is the criminal justice regime, which looks to bring individuals to justice. Second is the national security regime, which seeks to identify and to thwart both domestic and external threats. These two regimes have separate statutory frameworks.

    Since the attacks of September 11, we have been able, for the most part, to reconcile—and indeed, leverage—these two regimes with respect to counterterrorism. And by leverage, I mean using the strength of the criminal justice process to generate intelligence as a result of obtaining the cooperation of defendants.

    The conflicts between these two regimes—which largely have been resolved in the counterterrorism arena—must also be addressed in the cyber arena.

    Resolving these conflicts depends upon identifying particular factual scenarios and then applying a specific legal analysis that seeks to make full use of our capabilities under one—or, indeed, both—of these regimes.

    source: http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/working-together-to-defeat-cyber-threats

    ----

    I have no idea since I don't work for either, but I would surmise a great relationship would be that if the NSA identifies a potential lunatic it let's the FBI know.

    Then the FBI must set about investigating and if possible build some sort of LEGAL case so that the nutcase can be jailed.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 12:56am

    Re: Where is your Argument?

    But if NSA is able to share raw data with just about any foreign actor and analyze and share information about a particular countrys domestic affairs, what is to stop the particular nations foreign intelligence from sharing analyzed data about domestic american matters?

    This kind of cooperation completely circumvents the "no domestic spying"-rules...

     

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  16.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 12:57am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    How exactly would someone push you into purchasing the materials necessary to make a bomb, or to even accept such materials?

    Couldn't tell you, though obviously anyone who could even be led into actions like that have more than a few screws missing upstairs, the point I was trying to get across was 'How many of them posed any credible threat before the FBI showed up and ran them through their own little 'Terrorist boot-camp'?

    Stopping a 'threat' that was never a danger before a government agent stepped in and led them through the entire process every step of the way hardly counts as 'stopping terrorists' I'd say, as they're 'stopping' a problem they created

    I have no idea since I don't work for either, but I would surmise a great relationship would be that if the NSA identifies a potential lunatic it let's the FBI know.

    Given the NSA is only supposed to spy on and deal with foreign targets, I don't imagine that would work too well.

    Then the FBI must set about investigating and if possible build some sort of LEGAL case so that the nutcase can be jailed.

    The phrase you're looking for is 'Evidence laundering', where illegally gathered evidence from one agency is handed off to another agency, and they try and build a legal case from it and find legal excuses for how they got the evidence.

    Now personally, I don't care if someone is guilty, as soon as you decide that laws can be tossed on the wayside and ignored just because you're going after people you believe are guilty of a crime, you've made a mockery of the entire justice system, and threatened the rights of the innocent at the same time.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 3:16am

    Heh, all the politicians and business leaders in the world can't communicate digitally without being spied on (see Angela Merkel). The same goes for average citizens.

    What do you think politicians and business leaders are doing to get around this? Stop communicating digitally? Of course not!

    They're switching to encrypted communication channels, using strong ciphers suits, and using secure devices running secure operating systems.

    Average citizens who also wish not to be spied on, need to be doing the exact same thing as politicians and business leaders are doing.

    This is the new world we now live in. Mass surveillance is here to stay. Laws of man will never prevent mass spying. Only laws of nature, through the mathematical physics of encryption, can prevent mass spying on politicians, business leaders, and average citizens. Equally.

    We're all equal when strong encryption on secure hardware and operating systems are being used. It's the great equalizer, that allows all humans remain to remain equal.

     

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

  18.  
    identicon
    Danish guy, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:30am

    Minor mistake in the article

    The article mentions a paper called 'Dagbladet', which is Danish for: 'The daily [news]paper'.

    Lot's of papers in Denmark are 'Dagblade'. The paper you are referring to is 'Information'.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    Does it even work yet ? Last news was that unknown sources of power caused dangerous arcs everywhere and that the cooling system failed.

     

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

  20.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 1:04pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    "Stopping a 'threat' that was never a danger before a government agent stepped in and led them through the entire process every step of the way hardly counts as 'stopping terrorists' I'd say, as they're 'stopping' a problem they created"


    The is that YOU HAVE NO POINT! Anyone who could be pushed into this type of terrorist activity is guilty. If the FBI didn't do it, then some Terrorist would.

    You seem angry that the FBI is getting to them first.

     

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  21.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 1:06pm

    Re: Re: Where is your Argument?

    Well, life is all about loopholes. Just ask any Bible thumper.

    Right after God handed down the first laws, people were hard at work circumventing them with loopholes.

    Christians routinely mask their own evil by hiding in corporations and telling us it's just business.

    So why the big surprise that if you leave open hole, then people are going pee in them? Close the hole.

     

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

  22.  
    icon
    That One Guy (profile), Jun 20th, 2014 @ 2:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Uselessness

    Or they could have done absolutely nothing, in which case they're innocent. See, it's not quite as cut-and-dry as they like to spin it as.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:44pm

    Denmark, Germany?

    I never knew there was such a town. But then, I'm no geology expert.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Jun 20th, 2014 @ 5:47pm

    Re: Re: Re: Where is your Argument?

    Christians? Yeah, because we know that JEWS would never do such things. They aren't known for that at all, right?

     

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

  25.  
    icon
    vancedecker (profile), Jun 21st, 2014 @ 1:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Where is your Argument?

    All three of them are big into the finding loopholes aspect.

    As if God handed down these laws, and then had his lawyers look them over.

     

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

  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 21st, 2014 @ 5:04am

    United Fascists of America!

     

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

  27.  
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    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Jun 21st, 2014 @ 12:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: 3 TB of Data Per Second

    In this article, it was noted that, by 2015, NSA expected to be collecting 966 exabytes per year. That's about 260 times the 316.4 petabytes/month figure named above.

    So, basically, they can not only store everything from this cable tap, but another 260 taps like it; and as I noted in another message to this article, each one of those cables could handle 46,000,000 (46 million) simultaneous phone calls.

    Taking the figure in aggregate, in 2015, NSA expects to be able to record 12 billion phone calls simultaneously and continuously; which is quite comfortably more than every person on the planet talking on phone...at the same time, 24x7.

     

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


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