NSA Eavesdropping on Google and Yahoo Networks
The Washington Post reported that the NSA is eavesdropping on the Google and Yahoo private networks — the code name for the program is MUSCULAR. I may write more about this later, but I have some initial comments:
- It’s a measure of how far off the rails the NSA has gone that it’s taking its Cold War–era eavesdropping tactics — surreptitiously eavesdropping on foreign networks — and applying them to US corporations. It’s skirting US law by targeting the portion of these corporate networks outside the US. It’s the same sort of legal argument the NSA used to justify collecting address books and buddy lists worldwide.
- Although the Washington Post article specifically talks about Google and Yahoo, you have to assume that all the other major — and many of the minor — cloud services are compromised this same way. That means Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Badoo, Dropbox, and on and on and on.
- It is well worth re-reading all the government denials about bulk collection and direct access after PRISM was exposed. It seems that it’s impossible to get the truth out of the NSA. Its carefully worded denials always seem to hide what’s really going on.
- In light of this, PRISM is really just insurance: a way for the NSA to get legal cover for information it already has. My guess is that the NSA collects the vast majority of its data surreptitiously, using programs such as these. Then, when it has to share the information with the FBI or other organizations, it gets it again through a more public program like PRISM.
- What this really shows is how robust the surveillance state is, and how hard it will be to craft laws reining in the NSA. All the bills being discussed so far only address portions of the problem: specific programs or specific legal justifications. But the NSA’s surveillance infrastructure is much more robust than that. It has many ways into our data, and all sorts of tricks to get around the law. Note this quote from yesterday’s story:
John Schindler, a former NSA chief analyst and frequent defender who teaches at the Naval War College, said it is obvious why the agency would prefer to avoid restrictions where it can.
“Look, NSA has platoons of lawyers, and their entire job is figuring out how to stay within the law and maximize collection by exploiting every loophole,” he said. “It’s fair to say the rules are less restrictive under Executive Order 12333 than they are under FISA,” the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
No surprise, really. But it illustrates how difficult meaningful reform will be. I wrote this in September:
It’s time to start cleaning up this mess. We need a special prosecutor, one not tied to the military, the corporations complicit in these programs, or the current political leadership, whether Democrat or Republican. This prosecutor needs free rein to go through the NSA’s files and discover the full extent of what the agency is doing, as well as enough technical staff who have the capability to understand it. He needs the power to subpoena government officials and take their sworn testimony. He needs the ability to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. And, of course, he needs the requisite security clearance to see it all.
We also need something like South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where both government and corporate employees can come forward and tell their stories about NSA eavesdropping without fear of reprisal.
Without this, crafting reform legislation will be impossible.
- Finally, we need more encryption on the Internet. We have made surveillance too cheap, not just for the NSA but for all nation-state adversaries. We need to make it expensive again.
EDITED TO ADD (11/1): We don’t actually know if the NSA did this surreptitiously, or if it had assistance from another US corporation. Level 3 Communications provides the data links to Google, and its statement was sufficiently non-informative as to be suspicious:
In a statement, Level 3 said: “We comply with the laws in each country where we operate. In general, governments that seek assistance in law enforcement or security investigations prohibit disclosure of the assistance provided.”
When I write that the NSA has destroyed the fabric of trust on the Internet, this is the kind of thing I mean. Google can no longer trust its bandwidth providers not to betray the company.
We also know that Level 3 Communications already cooperates with the NSA, and has the codename of LITTLE:
The document identified for the first time which telecoms companies are working with GCHQ’s “special source” team. It gives top secret codenames for each firm, with BT (“Remedy”), Verizon Business (“Dacron”), and Vodafone Cable (“Gerontic”). The other firms include Global Crossing (“Pinnage”), Level 3 (“Little”), Viatel (“Vitreous”) and Interoute (“Streetcar”).
Again, those code names should properly be in all caps.
EDITED TO ADD (11/5): More details on the program.