NSA Employee Flees to Hong Kong -- You Won't Believe What Happens Next

The latest story from the Snowden documents analyzes a large cache of intercepted conversations -- actual operational data -- and concludes that 90% of the individuals eavesdropped on were not the targets of the surveillance.

Many of them were Americans. Nearly half of the surveillance files, a strikingly high proportion, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents. NSA analysts masked, or “minimized,” more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but The Post found nearly 900 additional e-mail addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S.residents.

[...]

Many other files, described as useless by the analysts but nonetheless retained, have a startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality. They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

Note that this is data that the NSA has repeatedly assured us that Snowden did not have access to.

EDITED TO ADD (7/7): Benjamin Wittes has a good commentary on this.

EDITED TO ADD (7/11): Washington Post reporter Bart Gellman provides some additional context for the story.

EDITED TO ADD(7/14): Good commentaries

Posted on July 7, 2014 at 5:57 AM • 113 Comments

Comments

CallMeLateForSupperJuly 7, 2014 6:43 AM

Proof-positive that "minimization" doe *not* - I say again NOT - mean, foe examole, minimizing/decreasing the database size by *deleting* data. Make no mistake: they do not delete stuff. I would bet that every text, email and phone conversation of Nerkle, Obaba or whoever, that NSA grabbed, is still in their possession.

And we all know for certain exactly where copies of our encrypted emails could be found.

AshJuly 7, 2014 6:46 AM

What's more important - that the NSA is intercepting private emails and messages of innocent users, or whether or not you found this new information 'surprising'?

Not only is the "why is anyone surprised" a cynical ploy at seeming "sophisticated," but it serves to make people feel foolish for their initial anger, distrust, fear, sense of betrayal etc. And they have very good reason to feel those things! But we look at them with blank, bored eyes and ask why they're surprised.

"I'm not sure why anyone's surprised" is the nerd version of being too "cool" to ever care about something.

Ollie JonesJuly 7, 2014 7:06 AM

Hmmm. I wonder if any of that data is Protected Health Information (PHI) as defined by HIPAA / HITECH / ARRA 2009.

Those laws deem telephone and fax conversations to be secure ways to communicate peoples' health data, because, well, it's hard to conduct mass surveillance on that kind of point-to-point isochronous communication channel, and because you need a warrant to do so.

Heh heh.

ARRA-2009 explicitly "pierces the corporate veil" -- holds individuals personally responsible, rather than their employers -- for improper disclosure of PHI, even to themselves to satisfy their curiosity.

This could introduce an interesting legal angle to the whole surveillance dealio.

Another KevinJuly 7, 2014 7:33 AM

Cue the authoritarian argument: "Our enemies have no restrictions on the sort of tactics they can use. We can't let our forces be hamstrung by restricting them. Which side are you on, anyway?"

Not to mention: "What are you trying to hide?"

And, in more dulcet tones: "Oh, but if it saves even one life of a soldier in Afghanistan, it's a small price to pay!"

And an appeal on behalf of one of the innocent victims will just be met with: "It serves them right for...." A slightly more intelligent, but more pernicious form of victim-blaming is the argument (which I've heard seriously advanced) that arousing suspicion is criminal in itself, because it diverts the protectors' attention from catching the real bad guys.

And I have no idea how to address any of these. They simply represent a thought process too different from my own even to find common ground. But it's a thought process shared by most of my countrymen, as far as I can tell.

FirefoxJuly 7, 2014 8:20 AM

@Another Kevin

The problem is, you're free – or you think you are – y'know, like it says in the song about "the land of the free".  You're free to do anything that's not forbidden by law.  We can't keep free people safe.  They do things that We think are un-American, like encrypting their mail or using Tor.  Here's how to address the problem:  flip to "you can only do what's allowed by law, everything else is forbidden."  Then We can allow only what We can easily control.  Everyone'll be safe – so long as We're in control.  We can tweak the anthem a bit, but keep the line that says "Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!"  That's Us.

Jon KettenhofenJuly 7, 2014 8:30 AM

What's alarming about the voyeuristic viewing of emails is that it provides to NSA employees these tempting illegal activities:
blackmail
theft of bank account funds
identity theft
insider information

uh, MikeJuly 7, 2014 8:44 AM

@Firefox, you hit the nail on the head about protectionism. I believe we oscillate between protectionism and isolationism.

The whole world doesn't oscillate in complete synchrony, and the modulation occurs on numerous scales.

AlexTJuly 7, 2014 9:03 AM

I think the most worrisome about this whole affair is either the extremely poor NSA internal security or the amazing psyop they have pulled on us !

Is it really believable that a single individual - however competent - could download so much information, both in terms of access level and internal auditing ?

I might be be naive of over confident but I really think that the alarm bells would have gone off way before such a large breach in all the sites I supervise.

CallMeLateForSupperJuly 7, 2014 9:13 AM

After writing my post above, I toddled off to meet a friend for breakfast. I was still worked up about the issue at hand, so, when my friend broached the subject and said he imagined I had an opinion, I spit it out: The words. thoughts and comunications of the vast majority of earthlings are none of TLA's business. Period.

The problem is that the TLAs give short shrift to that truth, by (1) claiming that it is impossible to arrange their apparatus such that no-value bits are not grabbed, and (2) grabbing *and*keeping* everything.

I must add that I was disappointed that the W.P. chose to barely touch on the no-intelligence-value information but give lots of ink to the wife/wannabe-terrorist story.

The Last Stand of FrejJuly 7, 2014 9:18 AM

So not only is the NSA going against the Constitution by doing this, they're also so bad at protecting what should be private information that someone can make off with reams and reams of it despite their vaunted reputation as the most secure institution in the world. Unlawful, powerful *and* inept and arrogant. A combination of traits that never ends well for anyone.

kingsnakeJuly 7, 2014 9:56 AM

If the government -- any organization or person it, regardless of party -- has moving lips, a lie is occuring.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 7, 2014 10:09 AM

This:
"Not only is the "why is anyone surprised" a cynical ploy at seeming "sophisticated," but it serves to make people feel foolish for their initial anger, distrust, fear, sense of betrayal etc. And they have very good reason to feel those things! But we look at them with blank, bored eyes and ask why they're surprised.

"I'm not sure why anyone's surprised" is the nerd version of being too "cool" to ever care about something."

and this:

"What's alarming about the voyeuristic viewing of emails is that it provides to NSA employees these tempting illegal activities:
blackmail
theft of bank account funds
identity theft
insider information"


Intel executives are people who make money. Politicians are people who make money. If you did not see the intel heads getting huge salaries from defense contractors as their "end game", no worries. As it is, when it comes to bottomline, if the bottomline is the dollar (or material power), there are problems.


Example of the guys "leading" the US intel community: Leaves and starts multimillion startup where he sells his privileged information for a massive price.

To who? To corporations interested in more money from government.

Can you trust thieves employed at the top to such information? No.

Maybe they are not doing it today, but what about the next administration? Ten years from now?

And who is to say they are not today extorting, stealing, compromising, take intel data and giving it to corporate interests. Maybe all in the name of "patriotism" and whatever... like Hoover?


While "not news", "not unexpected", it is good, solid real evidence long needed to be heard.

Surely there will be more coming.

Clive RobinsonJuly 7, 2014 10:15 AM

@ Kingsnake,

In the UK you will hear it said the other way around,

    The only time anything with honest intent passes the lips of a politician, is at the dinner table when somebody leans infront of the politician to ask the person sitting on the other side to "Pass the salt please".

NobodySpecialJuly 7, 2014 10:28 AM

@Jon Kettenhofen - we don't have to worry about NSA (or CIA/FBI/DoD/DEA/INS) employees using this for criminal purposes because we don't hear about it in the news.
The lowly sub-contractor sysadmin who was to access millions of top secret documents and went public is an obvious exception.

MikeAJuly 7, 2014 10:41 AM

You may view the NSA as inept, because a contractor has access to so much. I am impressed when anybody in a large organization has access to even those bits needed to do their job. Speaking as a former employee of several large corporations where the specs of the products I was supposed to be designing were often not available on the corporate document servers. And of course the link for reporting problems was dead and the phone number was disconnected.

Aron TJuly 7, 2014 11:14 AM

The problem I see with all this outrage from the tech community is that the value system behind it is often (not always) a libertarian disdain for government along with an unbridled love for technology. Spend 60 seconds or less in the cesspool that is Reddit or (shudder) 4chan and you find the same sort of "private" information and far worse exposed to the world, liberated by script kiddies and, I would be willing to venture, bored and horny sysadmins.

And to riff someone else's argument, I don't understand people who have the mentality that corporations are somehow more benign and argue "well you can always opt of Facebook and I can't avoid the NSA" or "this is the beginning of government control of our lives & that scares me more." Google & Facebook are already more powerful and have more resources that most governments on this planet. The only thing that stands between us and Corporate totalitarianism is a strong government with stiff privacy regulations.

So tech people who make money exploiting the naïveté of non-tech people and seducing them to expose more and more of their private lives so that the "disruptive" technology we're selling to the VCs can manipulate and expose people's most private behaviors are "shocked, shocked" when the NSA sort of does the same thing. How many people here outraged about the NSA also bought into the ridiculous argument that the right to privacy imposed by the EU on Google is "outrageous government censorship"? Why can't the tech world see it's own hypocrisy and understand why most non techies don't take them seriously?

Of course the Internet privacy model is broken, but hey Mr/Ms Technologist, take some of the responsibility for building this totalitarian monstrosity as you speed heads down and eyes averted towards your IPO. Until we as techies really stand up for a better Internet and not equate better with making us richer, our thoughts and views will be ignored by the rest.

jonJuly 7, 2014 11:30 AM

It's always nice to have your suspicions confirmed.

Given that the intelligence community has said quite clearly that any foreign individuals were fair game to collect any and all communications, it seemed quite natural that all US persons would be a trivial extension.

US intelligence has developed great skill at collecting information. It also seems clear that they have not developed useful techniques for identifying what might be useful information, how to prioritize that information, how to focus their efforts on activities that are actively harmful, and how to develop awareness of hostile activities rapidly enough to usefully combat them. Meanwhile, wholesale collection of information chews up resources and clouds the ability to focus on actual threats.

A US government that was concerned for the security and liberty of its citizens, would show greater concern for privacy rights, and the security of our communications.

Alex T is a trollJuly 7, 2014 11:36 AM

Unless you live under a rock or are from the NSA....Psyop? Really, have you taken the time to follow anything?

He took loads of data and they were asleep at the wheel.

Still waiting for more bombshells to drop...Like Greenwald's article

ChrisJuly 7, 2014 11:37 AM

But don't you feel much safer knowing NSA is looking out for your safety?

JimmyJuly 7, 2014 12:42 PM

Connor Friederdorf has a good commentary on Benjamin Wittes' commentary at

JohnJuly 7, 2014 12:47 PM

Benjamin Wittes... Just WOW.

I was almost completely taken in by this guys opinion, up until that conclusion. He completely missed the point that Ed was able to walk out the doors with everything with no alarms going off, and he tries to plant this misdirection ploy, No sir these are not the Droids your looking for.

Anyone know of any direct ties this Ben Wittes has to any of the Five Eye countries Intel agencies? He reeks of one of those Forum Jockeys used to sway opinion in favor of the status quo.

JAMESJuly 7, 2014 1:00 PM

The information the NSA is collecting is used for blackmail and intimidation. It will probably be sold to corporations, or at the very least, when a company performs a security check/background on an employee or a new customer (in the name of national security), the company will get your entire on line history in one lump sum.

Remember, there are folks in Washington who want to see all public services and offices (Post office, Social Security etc) to become private businesses. Don't be surprised if the NSA contracts the surveillance out to a 3rd party. They'll have unfettered access to the data and they'll be able to sell it (unless the NSA deems it classified).

Peace.

RusstopiaJuly 7, 2014 1:57 PM

@John

I also took issue with the last paragraph of the Lawfare article. The journalists couldn't have proven their point -- that innocent peoples' information was being retained far longer than necessary -- without getting exactly that information from Snowden. The whole point of leaking info to journalists is to give them the information they need to verify the allegations being made for their stories, while at the same time trusting them to literally do their jobs -- that is, use discretion in protecting both their sources and the subjects of the stories. That appears to have been done here (The W.P. article only showed blurred-out, censored photos as examples and no names).

Seems like Benjamin Wittes wants to try and demonize Snowden as a final point, and his attempt is rather clumsy at that. He pretty obviously favours the TLAs in this affair.

BenniJuly 7, 2014 2:16 PM

Interesting is what the agents define to be foreign communication:

if communication is in a non american language, some agents see it as foreign.
if communication is from a foreign ip address, some agents see it as foreign.
if someone is a friend of a foreigner, some agents see him also as a foreigner
if a target turns up in an internet cafe, then all users of the cafe at this time are reasonable targets...

this is so dump and stupid, it is unbelievable.

In some sense terrorists are just ordinary criminals. it does not matter much whether someone robs a bank and places explosives on the safe, that also hurt bank employees, or if one places a bomb at a boston marathon. but for the bank robberies, we have precise laws what police can monitor how and when. the same should apply for terrorists. there is not much need for this nsa snooping. it only circumvents hundreds of years of experience how to properly investigate crimes.

Also interesting is this "minimized president" file. This proves that Obama himself was monitored often, and then they had to adjust their file. What the NSA intercepts from Obama would be quite interesting. And whether they use this to blackmail politicians.

NSA shares its data with the FBI. But does really every pedophile banker get caugth that way? Does NSA, if they catch up a pedophile banker in the US or a foreign country deliver really a message to the police? Or are they doing blackmail stuff with their knowledge if they see an opportunity?
That would be quite interesting.

Hopefully, Snowden has more documents on that. He would be quite a speaker at the next black hat. Totally pwned NSA. Best hack ever.

StatisticsJuly 7, 2014 2:31 PM

We're not talking about two equally sized groups of people here.
Since the number of innocents in the world is much larger than the targets a percentage as low as 90% would still be an achievement compared to random picking.

KnottWhittingleyJuly 7, 2014 3:59 PM

Benni:

Also interesting is this "minimized president" file. This proves that Obama himself was monitored often, and then they had to adjust their file.

I don't think that's correct. Marcy at Emptywheel says (in a correction) that "What they spied on were conversations about Obama, and they kept them but masked them in foolish fashion."

http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/07/05/nsas-spying-medical-records-resumes-and-obama/

The issue with "minimized president-elect" and "minimized president" is that it shows how badly minimization sometimes works. In that case, you don't even need a data mining program or even Google to figure out whose name has been redacted. Presumably there are a zillion other things that can be deanonymized with data mining or with Google and a little thought.

Jim LippardJuly 7, 2014 4:36 PM

This is the post-minimization, processed intelligence that contains information on nontargeted to targeted individuals at a 9-to-1 ratio. Imagine how much worse the ratio must be for the raw collection data.

SkepticalJuly 7, 2014 6:06 PM

Wittes makes some excellent points, as does the WP article itself.

I haven't seen anyone address the problem with the statistics in the WP article though. Either they're misleading, or there are misleading descriptions in the article. As I respect the reporters involved on this story greatly, I'd be grateful if anyone could correct me.

Here are the numbers to focus on for a moment:

160,000 individual intercepts

4 years

11,400 accounts

90% of accounts not targeted

And then there is this claim:

The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

Problem #1

There is an average of 14 individual intercepts per account over 4 years. So these reports cannot possibly catalog and record the daily lives of all the account holders.

This leads to the truly big problem, which I inventively title:

Problem #2

Crucially, the article does not tell us the distribution of the intercepts across the accounts.

Were 90% of the intercepts in connection with the targets? Were 10% of them?

That number matters, enormously, in approaching a judgment about how intrusive surveillance is vis-a-vis "incidental collection."

Problem #3

Are these representative samples of 702 surveillance? Is there reason to think they are? To think they are not? Are these reports organized by operation, or by topic? Is the intended audience just the NSA, or other agencies as well?

Other Issues

Much is made as to what officials claimed Snowden did and did not have access to. Personally, I recall that at least one official, or ex-official, stated that Snowden did not have access to raw, unminimized intelligence, though he did have access to some finished reports. It stuck in my memory because I remember thinking that there's little comfort in that distinction, which the official or ex-official was framing as good news.

To the extent others drew different impressions from other statements, this may explain why I've been less sanguine about what Snowden took than others in these threads. At this point, though, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Snowden's take included legitimately classified and highly sensitive intelligence, the collection of some of which was likely made possible by operations in which some were injured, wounded, or killed.

The PCLOB and the WP Article

The PCLOB Report contains statistics drawn from a more comprehensive examination of 702 surveillance, and at times provides answers (which one may accept or reject, or neither) to the questions posed by the WP article.

For example, though the WP article provides a few anecdotes about the foreignness determinations of some analysts, a reading of the PCLOB Report will reveal the results of a DOJ 2013 study on how often foreignness determinations were actually shown to be wrong (see page 44, last paragraph).

The answer was .4%.

So the article supplements the PCLOB Report primarily by providing additional color. While the statistics in the WP article are useful, they are also incomplete, and we know little about the representativeness of the samples they have. The PCLOB Report includes much more comprehensive statistics about the surveillance conducted (and is more comprehensive generally) though there we may question whether the motives of the sources of the studies tinted the results. This is not a criticism of the WP article, of course, which was not intended to be a comprehensive study of 702 surveillance.

This began as a comment simply on the statistics provided in the WP article, but I'm afraid that I simply continued typing as thoughts occurred to me. Apologies in advance to any who feel his time has been wasted reading this!

MukundJuly 7, 2014 6:28 PM

Bruce, I'm surprised you found Wittes's commentary helpful. He is pretty bought on the necessity of NSA dragnet surveillance, and he uses that to automatically preclude serious discussions on the dangers of state power and secrecy - these are the discussions that Edward Snowden believes in.

Chris AbbottJuly 7, 2014 8:18 PM

@Skeptical

Here's the problem with your numbers. You seem to be basing it on the PCLOB Report. You yourself said in the last post that it was possible that the PCLOB didn't have all the necessary information. They can tell the PCLOB whatever they want and leave out whatever they want.

Here's the main problem. The NSA has data the was marked as useless and from US Persons and it was not immediately discarded. It was not even properly secured. Somebody with access to that data could wantonly abuse it. Baby pictures, selfies, and love letters belonging to innocent Americans should be discarded immediately. As to your point on Snowden leaking sensitive operational data: he had no choice. He needed the proof, and there was no way he could filter it all out himself. He left it in the hands of responsible American journalists that redacted things and even consulted with the government on what was ok to publish. The Washington Post even stated that they would not publish such sensitive information.

Regardless of numbers, if they had anyone's data that they "minimized" or knew was worthless, they should have destroyed it immediately. There is just no excuse.

FluffytheObeseCatJuly 7, 2014 8:58 PM

@Skeptical

Reading your posts is never a waste of time. However, you have a troubling habit of making false statements in such a smooth, pseudo-rational manner that rebuttals seem rude-ish. And over long. Nonetheless.....

Problem #1

There is nothing to indicate that the "160,000 individual" intercepts obtained by Snowden represent entire dossiers on the individuals under surveillance. Common sense would suggest that they represent a tiny sampling. Your 14 intercepts/4 years ratio makes no sense in this context, except as sweet obfuscation.

Problem #2

...was addressed to the best of the Gellman et al's ability by including the general details of a couple of specific dossiers. The one I remember best is that of a young Australian woman whose sex life was thoroughly exposed (and retained ad infinitum) because she'd converted to Islam and slept with some would-be jihadi twit, who'd hied off to Afghanistan and sent her a series of pettish messages/emails/calls.

There is no doubt that someday, this kind of drivel will be misused. And some mildly silly woman somewhere will be chiseled out of a fair shot in life without ever knowing why the jobs/loans/promotions/visas etc. were denied.

I expect this has already happened, repeatedly. Too much of this personal, embarrassing data has flowed through too many servers and across too many desktops for it to be otherwise.

Problem #3

Whether these items fall under the authority of section 702 is of no importance in re their impact on individual autonomy. The citizens of a democracy needs to have some security against infinite data retention in order for democracy per se to function. The specific security apparatus organs that obtained or received access matter more, but only a little.

There is little reason to assume American citizens are "safe" from this kind of exceedingly granular oversight, simply because it isn't apparent in this piecemeal release of NSA data. The FBI has broad authority to collect similar materials. The limitations on them are only slightly stronger than what the NSA faces for foreign persons. (Common sense indicates they have also been permitted to press their powers to the outer bounds of what's legal, without robust oversight.)

Un-ennumerated Major Problem:

"there should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Snowden's take included legitimately classified and highly sensitive intelligence, the collection of some of which was likely made possible by operations in which some were injured, wounded, or killed."

Doubt should be large in everyone's mind on this score. The response of 5 Eyes officialdom to the Snowden releases has been a flood of: 1) breathless falsehood, 2) self-dealing machinations and 3) chest-beating rot.

You work and work to plant the thought in the minds of readers that Snowden's actions have injured something other than our power elite. And their pecuniary interests. However, the little available evidence suggests his impact has been injurious to the powerful, and they alone.

Just how much waving of an ever-bloody flag must the citizenry bow to, before being allowed to note that they've been subjugated on account of it?


65535July 7, 2014 10:34 PM

“I would bet that every text, email and phone conversation of Nerkle, Obaba or whoever, that NSA grabbed, is still in their possession.” - CallMeLateForSupper

I Agree.

There seems to be no evidence of any kind of deletion.

“I wonder if any of that data is Protected Health Information (PHI) as defined by HIPAA / HITECH / ARRA 2009…This could introduce an interesting legal angle to the whole surveillance dealio” - Ollie Jones

Good point.

It appears that this type of information “trickles down” to outside contractors, the FBI, the DEA, and most likely to every Private Investigator working on a divorce case who has LEO contacts.

It has a huge potential for abuse. All confidential communions including, attorney-client, Doctor-patient, banker-client, CPA-taxpayer, politician-contributor, blog owner – poster, lover to lover and so on, are exposed, read, and retained for governmental reasons that have little to no merit.

The term “National Security” has become synonymous with "side-stepping the Fourth Amendment" and other parts of the constitution. The mission-creep into domestic affairs of the NSA has become pandemic.

"What's alarming about the voyeuristic viewing of emails is that it provides to NSA employees these tempting illegal activities: blackmail, theft of bank account funds, identity theft, insider information.” –Jon Kettenhofen

I concur.

The risk of a military agency collecting vast amounts of domestic communications far out-weights the rewards. The information does trickle down the chain into private hands – or even criminal hands.

“I think the most worrisome about this whole affair is either the extremely poor NSA internal security or the amazing psyop they have pulled on us ! Is it really believable that a single individual - however competent - could download so much information, both in terms of access level and internal auditing ?” -Jon Kettenhofen

I second that.

There is really no accountability. According to Emptywheel the lack of accountability is written into the law allowing civilian contractors access to the most sensitive data of the NSA.

“…it is at least possible that Booz analysts are currently conducting audit-free tech massaging of the raw phone dragnet data.”
http://www.emptywheel.net/2014/07/06/the-unaudited-tech-analyst-access-to-us-person-data/

“…not only is the NSA going against the Constitution by doing this, they're also so bad at protecting what should be private information that someone can make off with reams and reams of it…”

I concur.

When NSA collects innocent communications by a factor 10 to 1 then someone [or a collection of people] is bound to misuse that data (or hay stack). The “hay stack” or “collect it all” mentality has huge risks.

“Can you trust thieves employed at the top to such information? No. Maybe they are not doing it today, but what about the next administration? Ten years from now? And who is to say they are not today extorting, stealing, compromising, take intel data and giving it to corporate interests...” –AnonymousBloke

That is a good point. The risks outweigh the rewards.

The NSA was tipped off about the Boston bombers by the Russians and were in a terrorist data base – but the NSA/FBI did not stop the bombings.
“The name of the mother of alleged Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was placed in a U.S. terrorism database at the same time as her son’s was in October 2011.” – CBS

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/04/boston-bombing-suspects-mother-was-also-in-u-s-terrorism-database/

“You work and work to plant the thought in the minds of readers that Snowden's actions have injured something other than our power elite. And their pecuniary interests. However, the little available evidence suggests his impact has been injurious to the powerful, and they alone…how much waving of an ever-bloody flag must the citizenry bow to, before being allowed to note that they've been subjugated on account of it?”- FluffytheObeseCat

Good point.

I will also say the NSA has huge PR firms and vast sums of money to spend. I suspect some of those PR firms visit this blog.

[800 pages of communications collected that lead to no convictions – only harassment and embarrassment]

"…the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder… Australian National Police met him at the airport and questioned him in custody… When a Post reporter called, she already knew what the two governments had collected about her… Australian authorities decided NOT to charge her failed suitor with a crime..."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-nsa-intercepted-data-those-not-targeted-far-outnumber-the-foreigners-who-are/2014/07/05/8139adf8-045a-11e4-8572-4b1b969b6322_story.html

This case highlights the huge amount of data collected; inspected at a large cost to civilians - yet no “national Security” convictions were made!

The risk ratio does not justify the reward of “drag net,” “hay-stack,” or “collect it all” surveillance!

The simplest solution is to de-fund the NSA and other spy agencies and apply to funds to better uses!

SkepticalJuly 7, 2014 11:01 PM


@Chris: No, the numbers I quote are from the WP article. They claim, and you can look at their own breakdown of the numbers here,

160k intercepts, from 11,400 accounts, over 4 years.

This comes out to an average of 14 intercepts per account, over 4 years.

Yet they say: The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

THere's a gap here. Are there are more surveillance reports, or was this the kind of overstatement that fiddles its way in on the emotional rush of writing an important story.


@Fluffy: The link I give above clearly indicates that those numbers were not simply what the WP reviewed but rather what they have.

Information about the distribution of the intercepts across accounts is important information. I don't see how Gellman made any attempt to address it. They have the numbers and are presumably able to do so. So why not provide them?

I also think that their numbers do not square with the colorful claim that the daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless.

SteeeveJuly 7, 2014 11:46 PM

Been listening to William Binney's view a lot recently.

I found the Lawfare article lacking wholly in accountability for the government. It's kind of funny actually since they're making a point of it to spy on US law firms.

It also occurs to me that the NSA probably has a two-fold PR approach here:

1) Lie and spread false information about their activities diluting fact based reporting on the public theater

2) Try to make these activities seem normal, justified, or at the very least expected by as many people as possible. I read comments on your blog entries along the lines of, "weren't you expecting this anyway," as an attempt to change peoples notion of what's acceptable here in the states.

Comments on your blog are definitely part of the second PR effort.

Nick PJuly 8, 2014 12:06 AM

@ Steeeve

"I read comments on your blog entries along the lines of, "weren't you expecting this anyway," as an attempt to change peoples notion of what's acceptable here in the states."

Well, there's that and the other version of it: weren't you expecting the government to be pulling stuff along these lines given what we already know? There's a lot of that sentiment in individuals and political groups with a certain amount of distrust in government.

anonJuly 8, 2014 12:41 AM

Also don't forget the Tsarnev boys wouldn't even have been in the country, if not for being "rewarded" for being an asset in Kazakhstan or wherever by USAID. They got a free pass to Canada, and then an invite to the states a few years later.

The CIA only rewards the worst of the worlds despots and backstabbers.

DBJuly 8, 2014 1:44 AM

Just because you are expecting something doesn't make it non-newsworthy per se... confirming suspicions can be plenty newsworthy!

HassoJuly 8, 2014 2:45 AM

Bruce, is this your way of telling us not to trust you and you warrant-canary wouldnt be updated anymore? like the truecrypt-guys who advocated bitlocker?

just wondering

AlanSJuly 8, 2014 8:28 AM

Wittes couldn't resist taking another swipe at Snowden. He, like some others, has a bee in his bonnet when it comes to Snowden. He's defending himself this morning: Edward Snowden: Civil Liberties Violator. (A rather weak defence as all he concludes is that Snowden might be guilty of a misdemeanor that can be punished by a fine not more than $5,000.)

For most people here, my guess is that the documents stand on their own. Snowden's moral character (whatever it may or not be) is irrelevant. What's also interesting here is that Snowden's supposed crimes are treated as morally equivalent to those of the NSA and government agencies. To borrow a quote from from SCOTUS's recent cell phone ruling: "That is like saying a ride on horseback is materially indistinguishable from a flight to the moon. Both are ways of getting from point A to point B, but little else justifies lumping them together." Well, if you are the person whose privacy is violated then I guess it doesn't matter to you how it happened but for the rest of us the issue isn't the release or who released the information but that that state collected and retained the data in the first place.

Wittes accuses his critics of situational ethics for not applying the law equally. Presumably, like other Americans, he celebrated the 4th last weekend. Was that situational as well? The Sons of Liberty committed all sorts of crimes while resisting general warrants.  And that's the rub. Wittes fundamentally believes that while there may need to be some reforms, the behavior of the NSA and the executive is fundamentally legitimate ("The law regulates the circumstances in which collection is legal and it also has a variety of protections designed to prevent abuse of data..."). For the bee-in-the-bonnet people, Snowden's real crime is that his actions are an affront to the law and legitimate state power. Wittes writes that the "NSA has an elaborate set of procedures and compliance mechanisms.....These are some of the most important civil liberties protections". To quote from the recent SCOTUS cell phone decision again: "the Founders did not fight a revolution to gain the right to government agency protocols".

Nick PJuly 8, 2014 9:45 AM

@ AlanS

I have a feeling I'm going to take another swipe at Snowden, too, in the near future. I was harsh on him initially for different reasons. Most supported him with a mob-type mentality. A few rational people argued that he was a good insider having a crisis of conscience and letting us know about illegal activity. We've learned over time that image was fake as can be. Here's a few bullet points I'm working into another post on him:

1. He admitted to being a CIA spy that worked overseas with false name and job.

2. He admitted infiltrated into this role, including beating polygraphs, to specifically steal the data.

3. He conned his coworkers multiple times in support of his mission.

4. He grabbed (and released) plenty of legal, operational data on top of what Americans would worry about.

Number four on the list makes him a traiter + a whistleblower. The other 3 show he's far from the humble IT insider he originally seemed to be. If anything, he's a one-man Red Team. No 3 is particularly important as it shows he can and will game other people to accomplish a goal. So, at some point I'm going to have to re-review Snowden's activities to see how they stack up far as his character and intent goes.

I still maintain my original claim that he could've done this *way* better, esp with the documents. The original counter to that was he was just an IT guy acting on emotion in a hurry. So, I retracted my main claim. Now, we know that image was BS and he spent plenty of time doing this. So, I'm throwing my old claim back on him in spades.

Off-topic Note: We and Skeptical were discussing evidence on Skeptical's side of the debate. I believe you posted some links for me to review. So did he. I was too sick to hit such a topic at the time. Do you still have a link to that post?

pithpathJuly 8, 2014 9:46 AM

Can't wait for the American version of "The Life of Others" in 50 years time!

SteeeveJuly 8, 2014 10:08 AM

@ Nick P

Your four point "swipe" applies equally to General Hayden too. I find it interesting that A) you keep misdirecting your comments to the messenger and B) you only want to talk about the messenger.

General Hayden betrayed his oath of office. He then claims he was, "Just following orders." Where's your moral indignation against him?

AlanSJuly 8, 2014 11:20 AM

@Nick P

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about Snowden, or for that matter Greenwald and others who have participated in leaking information, but the discussion of their motives, actions and effects, etc. tends to serve as a distraction from larger more important issues (state power, secrecy, privacy, state accountability, etc.) or as an ad hominem attack in defense of the NSA etc.

The links I posted are  here. I think Skeptical did post a follow-up to your original post at some stage, probably several weeks later in another Friday Squid blog.

Nick PJuly 8, 2014 12:20 PM

@ Steeeve

"You keep misdirecting your comments to the messenger"

That's a self-serving lie. I've rarely talked about Snowden. It's typically on a post where he's mentioned, complemented, or defended. In that case, Snowden *is* the topic (or part of it). Resolving his part of the issue is important in determine what our courts or covert ops people should do about him. Some say immunity, some minimal prison, some shoot him, and so on. An analysis of him is necessary for an informed, moral decision.

NSA and TLA's, on the other hand, I've been fighting for over a decade with technical countermeasures posted here for free going back half that time. Post-Snowden, I identified each party that led to the current state, then posted many technical, political, and economic solutions to the problem. I still am.

So far from focusing on "messengers" and aiding NSA I've probably given them more headaches than most security engineers. And I'm only beginning far as I'm concerned.

nsdrthrtJuly 8, 2014 1:28 PM

Wittes? In what alternative mediocrity universe does that rate as good commentary?

Like all US foreign policy functionaries, Wittes is trained to blissful ignorance of the distinction between respecting rights and protecting rights. He's up in arms about protecting your privacy from journalists, but he's fine with the government contempt for privacy law that archives and disseminates your personal life. That statist kiss-up mentality is a prerequisite when you're a redundant apparatchik angling for an SES job.

But Wittes is right that voice for NSA's innocent victims is incredibly sensitive - because all of them are entitled by law to restitution, compensation, or satisfaction with interest for the moral damage of personal affront associated with an intrusion on home or private life, potentially including but not limited to: a trust fund to manage compensation payments in the interests of the beneficiaries; disciplinary or penal action against the individuals whose conduct caused the internationally wrongful act; or the award of symbolic damages for non-pecuniary injury. Wittes never heard of that body of law. He's ignorant of it by trade. You could tell him to look it up but he would have no idea where to begin (A/56/10). It's above his pay grade. When the VIP's personal secrets start coming out, then he'll be paid to understand it.

AlanSJuly 8, 2014 8:26 PM

Analysis of the numbers in the WaPo story Nine to One, Baby, One in Nine: Surveillance by the Numbers

"...the Post‘s back-of-the-envelope calculation of persons affected by the agency’s dragnet is also almost certainly too low by several orders of magnitude....Still, considering that the “non-target multiplier” for the raw intake database is almost certainly significantly higher than nine, we are plausibly talking about hundreds of millions of accounts affected globally. No doubt this yields some useful intelligence, as searches under general warrants invariably will. But it is certainly worth asking whether creating an architecture of collection on this almost inconceivable scale is a necessary, proportionate, or indeed, sane means of acquiring that intelligence."

And one might add legal means. See discussion of the oddities and contradictions in the PCLOB's 702 report (702 is a section under which the data discussed in the WaPo story was collected): Don't Lose Track: Here's What's Going On with the NSA

"It is odd, to say the least, that the Board expressed less concern over warrantless surveillance of communications than bulk collection of metadata. The Supreme Court has recognized for decades that the content of our communications is protected under the Fourth Amendment. By contrast, in a ruling that is admittedly outdated, the Court held that phone metadata has no such protection....the case law is clear: warrantless surveillance is an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment unless it falls within one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement. If the foreign intelligence exception does not exist or if Section 702 surveillance exceeds its scope, the Board’s conclusion that the program is “reasonable under the Fourth Amendment” is simply wrong."

Nick PJuly 8, 2014 8:33 PM

@ AlanS

"tends to serve as a distraction from larger more important issues (state power, secrecy, privacy, state accountability, etc.) or as an ad hominem attack in defense of the NSA etc."

It might. Remember, though, our system has enough actors in it to handle many issues in parallel. For instance, it would be different groups handling Snowden and government accountability. I'm used to juggling different lines of inquiry so that's all I'm doing.

"The links I posted are here. I think Skeptical did post a follow-up to your original post at some stage, probably several weeks later in another Friday Squid blog."

I appreciate it. I'll save them so I can think about them more thoroughly later.

Chris AbbottJuly 8, 2014 8:38 PM

@Nick P.

On the whole issue of Snowden's character, I don't see anything wrong with him telling about himself in the Brian Williams interview. His image shouldn't be a concern here. About the operations data, he would never have time to separate it all, look how long it's taken the media to do so. He gave it to people that he trusted would redact anything that could cause actual harm. The Post isn't releasing the rest of the data that's sensitive. That's why he chose respectable journalists as opposed to giving it to TMZ or whoever. I don't think that makes him a traitor.

SkepticalJuly 9, 2014 6:24 AM


First of all, the idea of criticizing Nick P for "attacking the messenger" is borderline absurd. Nick's often focused on discussing non-political security subjects, often with links to interesting papers, but when he has discussed the politics, I'd say that his criticism of the NSA has been fairly unrelenting.

Indeed, he has expressed skepticism and reservations about criticisms I have made with respect to Snowden.

Second, @AlanS, Julian Sanchez gets the numbers wrong almost immediately. He writes But in a way, the single fact that has gotten the most attention—that 90% of §702-acquired communications in a trove provided by Edward Snowden were sent by someone other than the target—is also the least surprising.

No. 90% of the accounts were not targeted, says the Washington Post. Not 90% of the intercepts.

There is no reason to assume that the intercepts are uniformly distributed across accounts.

Unfortunately the Post says nothing about the distribution of intercepts.

SteeeveJuly 9, 2014 9:36 AM

Since we took one excerpt from the comment I posted, let's set aside that portion for a second:

"1. He admitted to being a CIA spy that worked overseas with false name and job.

2. He admitted infiltrated into this role, including beating polygraphs, to specifically steal the data.

3. He conned his coworkers multiple times in support of his mission.

4. He grabbed (and released) plenty of legal, operational data on top of what Americans would worry about."

The above clearly applies more to the directors in charge than it ever did to Snowden. This is why individuals like William Binney, Thomas Drake, and indeed Snowden himself resigned in various ways.

Since we know that there are active attempts to manipulate secondary discourse (defined here as interpersonal rather than rhetorical), it stands to reason that chat rooms, forums, and even blog comments are being deliberately manipulated to create a sense of false consensus.

AlanSJuly 9, 2014 11:03 AM

@Nick P

I guess my concern is that the issues aren't or won't really be handled in parallel i.e. separated.

@Skeptical
Yes, but the point he's making in the main part of the text is that WaPo says 90% of accounts (in the analyzed dataset) but WaPo mixs up accounts with targets in their calculations.

WaPo quoted by Sanchez:
"In a June 26 “transparency report,” the Office of the Director of National Intelligence disclosed that 89,138 people were targets of last year’s collection under FISA Section 702. At the 9-to-1 ratio of incidental collection in Snowden’s sample, the office’s figure would correspond to nearly 900,000 accounts, targeted or not, under surveillance."

Sanchez:
But this is not quite right.  As ODNI’s rather misleading transparency report does at least acknowledge, they are counting “targets,” which includes both natural persons and groups or corporations, while the Post is effectively counting accounts or selectors.  As the “target package” quoted above makes clear, even an individual human target may be associated with dozens of separate accounts.  For a corporate or other collective “target,” the number may easily run into the thousands. So even ignoring the filtering that processed and minimized communications have already gone through, and treating “nine” as the correct multiplier for present purposes, the correct equation here is not (89,138) x (9), but (89,138) x (average selectors tasked per target) x (9).  Translating this to actual human beings is, of course, somewhat tricky, but it seems far less likely that innocent non-targets will be using dozens of burner accounts to conduct intimate but innocuous conversations.

Also, Wittes has posted an additional follow-up on Snowden and Civil Liberties: Snowden and Civil Liberties: A Brief Follow-Up.

He clarifies that his point is: "...that the dissemination and release of highly-sensitive personal material to newspapers for publication to the general public is a far grosser infringement on privacy and civil liberties than the initial collection of that material by government....It is simply to show, again, that Congress took very seriously privacy values not merely in restricting collection but also in restricting unauthorized disclosure by individuals of the sensitive details of people’s lives that collection may sweep up."

Which of course is the point of contention. Many people would see the collection of this data by government as the much more significant violation of and threat to civil liberties (as well as a  violation of constitutional protections). The various restrictions and controls on the collected data are irrelevant as it should never have been collected in the first place.

BuckJuly 9, 2014 11:35 AM

All this speak about probability & statistics is totally redundant, since you really can't at all be sure you're seeing a representative sample...

EMJJuly 9, 2014 1:20 PM

What is the deal with these clickbait style post titles? That's the part that made me wonder whether this is a weird warrant-canary thing.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 9, 2014 1:31 PM


On Snowden being a traitor:

I think Snowden operated as a spy on behalf of the American people, with some consideration given to the betterment of the world, in general. In context, he made some tough decisions. Was he a "traitor"? I think a traitor does not operate in the best interests of the country they are betraying. This is not the case with Snowden. So, like the emotional term "terrorist", "traitor" is also a loaded word.

Anyone the Americans get to spy on their behalf is also asked to be a traitor. Are they? I do not think so. They can be.

I think "Steeeve" is correct, the real "traitors" here are the guys at the top who are clearly selling out and making these awful decisions. They are doing it for money and very selfish reasons. Snowden was alarmed for good reason and by good conscience. He put himself at great risk to do what he did, and he was also smart about it. Which is good. That sets an example.

Do I believe Snowden's conscience is wracked? No. Do I believe a lot of these high level intel executives conscience's are wracked? I believe they have some severe moral problems and are very dark, ignorant individuals with a very heavy debt on their souls.

There are very likely some very grim exposures yet to come.

On forum shills & spies debates:

It can be true that there may be people who are "forum shills" for the NSA. Not a very glamorous job. So not like they would be super geniuses. Much more likely, what you have are rarely a person who is acting as a confidential informant. They maybe work in defense in some form or capacity. So, they are careful to make sure they tote the party line as much as possible. Because they will be sending sometimes responses to their posts and expect the authority they are reporting to may check out their posts.

More likely then that you have the fact that identity and beliefs are well tied together. So, if someone is a Republican, they will tend not to believe things Republicans believe are true. If a person is a defense industry worker - in any capacity, even as just a contractor - then they will have their identity wrapped up in their beliefs.

It is really like any religious or political discussion, then.

Some people here post analysis which shows they have a variety of deep experience in a variety of government fields. Some are open about that. Some are not, though if they are or have been undercover they would be aware of revealing even their logic won from experience and so are effectively being at least somewhat open on that.

And there are likely spies looking to work people. They are interested in baiting other spies more then anything, or recruitment. False information might just be something they throw out here and there.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 9, 2014 1:51 PM

@Skeptical, or on the subject of accountability being truly reliable for intelligence agencies


I think that accountability should be a goal, but can anyone really believe that everything in intelligence is accountable? History shows this is not true. There are many reasons for why everything is not accountable. Good reasons. But also good reasons for why everything should be as attempted to be as accountable for as possible.

There is a viewpoint that there are so many checks and balances, including agencies that are tasked with looking for that which they can bring to account that it is "good enough".

But is this not ultimately going to be absurd? Which agency looks for what, and what is their domain? On top of that, do they not have their own problems and priority agendas?

All of this is naive and wishful thinking. What if you told a die hard Republican in 1972 that Republicans were breaking the laws to get elected? They would dismiss it and argue against it.

Because identity and belief are deeply tied up to one another.

For that matter, in 1970, what if you tried to say that the FBI was thoroughly corrupt to a whole wide class of people whose identity was tied up in believing the FBI were all good? Be they cops, FBI themselves, be they republicans or democrats, be they ordinary Americans. They would not believe it.

In retrospect, they appear as fools, but then, who could have guessed what all Hoover was doing? All of that was kept not just from the American people and the world -- but most cops and FBI. (At that age, "internal affairs" did not exist for policing agencies, however, and corruption was understandably rampant.)

Are there truly adequate checks and balances in place for the vast byzantine system that is American intelligence? I truly believe that is an absurd contention and very naive to believe that is so.


Nick PJuly 9, 2014 6:28 PM

@ AlanS

"I guess my concern is that the issues aren't or won't really be handled in parallel i.e. separated."

It might be the case. It's always a risk for activists or even people taking the stand on an issue in the media.

@ AnonymousBloke

"I think a traitor does not operate in the best interests of the country they are betraying. This is not the case with Snowden. So, like the emotional term "terrorist", "traitor" is also a loaded word."

Two good points there. Both debatable, but worth thinking hard about.

Nick PJuly 9, 2014 7:17 PM

@ AnonymousBloke, Steeeve

NSA Director's and Snowden's actions don't compare: only one is mandates and supported by law

That the people keep comparing Snowden's actions to leaders of spy agencies is worth a solid response on why it's a bogus comparison. That intelligence directors are scheming scumbags seems pretty consistent for sure. Unlike Snowden, they're authorized by law to do all kinds of activities that are otherwise considered illegal. There's also laws against leaking classified information. Put the two together, the intelligence community can do a lot of things *in the course of their mission* that's not tolerated when individuals do it acting alone. The American people, Congress, Presidents, and courts have accepted this distinction for a long time. It didn't happen yesterday or even quickly.

Let me give a specific example related to our classification system. The U.S. classification system protects most of these secret activities. Once mere executive orders, the system was codified into law by Congress and expanded on continuously. The American people allowed it and even supported the rules in many cases. Courts were willing to prosecute unauthorized releases. The system offers classifications, clearances, and the need to know concept. Unauthorized sharing is a felony. The creating organization is the owner, decides classification, decides need to know, and determines criteria for declassification. Last point is important as it's the reason stuff published publicly is still illegal to share.

Certain projects, SAP's and USAP's, go beyond this. These are compartmented programs that have even more restricted access. Only a small percentage of Congress is even allowed to know what these programs do, acting as what little accountability exists. This scheme has also been allowed by Congress going back to WW2, especially Manhattan Project. The American people have mostly been fine with the black projects thinking things like B-2 bombers and nukes probably need the extra secrecy/security. The only movement against black ops came back in the Church Committee days, it was about abuses rather than the system, and the public/Congress allowed system to stay after some housecleaning. See a recurring pattern where Americans, Congress and Courts all approve of these secret operations and special legal allowances?

The NSA programs are all classified and many might be SAP's/USAP's. Given the above, plenty of people in Congress might have known what they were doing. Congress even mandated the goals that led to these activities. Per classification system rules, those that knew of the programs couldn't tell anyone (even Congressmen) any details. SAP and USAP security guidelines also allow for, even sometimes demand, that an insider lies about the program when questioned. ("Weather balloon project, not a spy plane!") Telling the truth can get you in prison if you do black project work.

So, let's apply this to a specific example: Clapper. Clapper lied about what they were doing in the program. If that program was a SAP or USAP, Clapper is *legally required to lie* to protect its secrecy if he believes it's necessary. Otherwise, he has to just not comment ("neither confirm nor deny"). There are only two situations that I'm aware of in which he could give details on those programs: the audience of the message were all cleared with a need to know; the information was declassified by program owner. That you and I know what Clapper's answer was means the prerequisite for sharing didn't exist. And they sure aren't going to declassify their secret capability while it's still useful and controversial. So, Clapper might have made the right call about disclosure whether I personally like it or not.

Now, what about Snowden? Snowden very clearly violated classification laws along with a number of others. He also doesn't get the legal immunity provided to LEO's and TLA's as he was acting alone. This moves us to whether we should treat him as a whistleblower, as classification laws *strictly prohibit* using the system to protect criminality. So, we have to look at what he leaked. There's a bunch of slides showing various ways NSA tries to spy on Americans, the legality of which is debatable depending on which laws and Congressional mandates you look at. This might qualify for whistleblower protection and I'm personally glad he leaked it.

Other leaks expose NSA operations against foreign targets that are clearly legal under existing SIGINT laws and policy. He also handed them to foreign organizations in countries targeted. (rolls eyes) That's the kind of thing that gets people called a traitor and charged for espionage. His defense was that he stole a lot of material, didn't want to accept personal risk of carrying it, and was in too much of a hurry to even cherry pick a few slam dunk powerpoints to leak. It has to be the worst defence I've ever seen. He had better options and put a lot of time/planning into this. He could've avoided this part of the leak albeit with less documents to publish and more personal risk. His choice makes him look quite treacherous to many voters I've talked to in an important demographic, making it a bigger mistake if he's aiming for change driven by The People.

Note: I do think the organizations he handed it to have mostly been doing a good job on their end. I'm not criticizing them here.

So, the NSA heads and Snowden's actions are not comparable. One side is legally allowed, even mandated, to do much of the shady stuff it does here and abroad. It's also legally forbidden from telling anyone the specifics. The American people, Congress, Presidents, and Courts contributed to that being the status quo. I gave the details of these issues and the solution in a previous essay here. The situation cannot improve until NSA opponents understand what it is, why it happened, and the specific things (esp classification laws) that must be addressed to deal with it. And, yet, the American people have hardly pushed Congress on any of these issues (even easy ones) for a long time despite abuse after abuse. That the situation requires political action initiated by the majority means my view of the future is dim given their track record.

Meanwhile, I continue to work on various solutions to the threat of TLA's, show the legal underpinnings of NSA's power to voters, and use a day's thought here or there on issues such as whether Snowden should be prosecuted for some aspect of his actions. I *sure as hell wouldn't* leak a whole bin of classified information to groups all over the world without filtering it. There were alternative tactics that would've accomplished his mission. He'd know them and the importance of filtering having been a trained spy with field experience. That he might be legally punished for this part of what he did is worth considering and many would say worth acting on overtly or covertly. Regardless, he chose the specific course of action and it would be a sad irony if it prevents his whistleblowing from changing our laws significantly.

Note: For people wondering "where did this line of inquiry come from?" I'm just now getting around to really thinking about Snowden as I've mostly focused on NSA capabilities and countermeasures. Of course, that's still getting 99% of my free time so readers and future solution builders don't worry! :)

AnonymousBlokeJuly 9, 2014 7:31 PM

Nick P

'I think a traitor does not operate in the best interests of the country they are betraying. This is not the case with Snowden. So, like the emotional term "terrorist", "traitor" is also a loaded word.'

"Two good points there. Both debatable, but worth thinking hard about."

Thank you. I do not disagree that it is debatable. For others. For myself, there is no debate.

What am I doing here? I am giving operational leeway to a spy. Is he the best spy ever? No. But, he was extremely good in what he did, considering his lack of training and experience.

I do not think he worked with anyone else, however. The simple fact is, he exploiting a tremendously bad situation, just like with Manning. They really made it easy for him.

Still, he wore many hats and did his job very well. Did he make mistakes? Likely. As you say, maybe he gave out information he did not need to give out. Maybe he contaminated operations he did not need to contaminate.

I give him leeway, considering the extraordinary difficulties of his circumstances. I do the same thing with Jack Bauer. (Which, I have to catch up on tonight.) I do the same with my wife, when she yells at the kids. I am not there, but I see their situation is extremely difficult, so I give them leeway.

I understand this could set precedent. I want, if someone is aware of some serious bad thing someone in government is doing, for them to go and expose it. I would prefer they take it to law enforcement or their own internal policing agencies. But, in some situations, there can be very plausible reasons why they may not feel they can do that.

I think Snowden was in that situation, like Binney was.

Anyway, no one is seeing a lot of copycats.


DBJuly 9, 2014 7:45 PM

Anything about this article that makes people go "so what, this is what we want them to be doing..." think about it this way: Yes, we want them to be chasing after criminals and investigating them and catching them... BUT GET ACTUAL REAL WARRANTS TO DO IT!!! Every instance of the kind of surveillance that they SHOULD be doing mentioned in this article, they COULD have done with a particularized warrant (not a general warrant).... so.... why don't they already???

They could EVEN streamline the process of getting a proper warrant based on probable cause so it's much speedier to obtain... instead of just blanket warrants to suck up everything they can from as many people as possible and ask questions later.... I have no problem with them doing their jobs, just do them in such a way that we're not throwing out major parts of the Constitution! Dua!

SteeeveJuly 9, 2014 8:37 PM

Let me start by debunking this myth that the NSAs actions are supported by law. There are two facets here, which I will inspect independently:

First, there's the hermeneutic interpretation of law. In essence, this is based on the notion that for any law to be considered legitimate, it must by definition rely on a sound and coherent interpretation of the statue and constitutional articles governing that authority. In short, a judge must be able to read that law, understand it, and enforce it consistently. The absurdist notion that the NSA's current actions are supported by court precedent are laughable. This is why in the few cases illegal spying cases have been tested in court have been described as "illegal" and "Orwellian". Again, that's for the few cases that have actually been tested in open courts. These questionable authorities are deliberately shielded by the judicial branch in several ways which I will not enumerate here. If the court has no standing to preside, either by demonstrating harm (via tort), or by the jurisprudence of that courts definitive authority over that matter, the constitutionality and validity of actions cannot be tried in an open court of law. This argument is obvious and clear: if there were legitimate authority, there would be no need to shield these cases under secrecy. Therefore we can conclude that the authority you're referring to is specious at best.

Second, we need look no further than the author of the Patriot Act. He vehemently opposes the authorities claimed by the NSA, FBI, and DEA. If the intent of the author of those laws opposes the extremist interpretations taken by the OPR, OLC, and white house then the bill cannot be argued to support or legalize or legitimize the illegal actions which have already occurred. The post-facto refusal to indict can be chalked up to pure cronyism.

This is all beside the constitutional challenges which could be leveled against these illegal interpretations of statute. Again, this is what drove a federal justice to reference Orwell.

Fundamentally, this argument boils down to: any argument condemning Snowden's actions whilst supporting Haydens, Clapper, Alexanders, et al. is patently hypocritical. It fails the basic test of equal application of the law.

Even eschewing this argument, if the best argument that can be made against Snowden is that he violated the classification system, I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the US government's classification system is not broken. I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the oversight mechanisms available to the oversight committees are not broken.

Further, even if we say that all of those systems are indeed legitimate, intact, and valid, there's still the issue of tort. If you can drudge up even a single instance where an actual individual was harmed as a direct result of Snowden's (as not to be conflated with the reporters) actions it would be news. He gave classified information to responsible reporters, and I don't think a single civil or criminal case based on legitimate harm and wrongdoing could be brought against Edward Snowden.

Aside from this, as a fellow security professional I would think that you would be offended and alarmed that we're being double taxed. We're being forced to pay into a system where our own systems are compromised and monitored. My co-workers have been hacked, had hardware intercepted, and had their email and personal communications monitored.

Nick PJuly 9, 2014 9:24 PM

"These questionable authorities are deliberately shielded by the judicial branch in several ways which I will not enumerate here."

Mostly by laws created by Congress and backed by all other parties except in limited cases. A legal shield.

"we need look no further than the author of the Patriot Act"

His opinions and feelings are irrelevent to what's legal under current U.S. law.

"Fundamentally, this argument boils down to: any argument condemning Snowden's actions whilst supporting Haydens, Clapper, Alexanders, et al. is patently hypocritical. It fails the basic test of equal application of the law."

Not at all. If there's a law against one and for the other, then doing one is illegal and the other is legal. That's basic law.

" I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the US government's classification system is not broken. I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the oversight mechanisms available to the oversight committees are not broken."

Don't dare that as I know plenty that think they're imperfect, but good enough. You're projecting your own feeling on so many others. I agree that the oversight is broken, the classification system is risky, the NSA is dangerous, and so on. Yet, the point of my post is that one must first realize what their actual situation is. The actual situation is that NSA's activities are legal enough, existing classification law prevents much effort, Snowden's actions might be a mix morally, and only leverage on Congress (voters or otherwise) can change this. Once these are understood, one can devise and formulate steps to the solution. Fooling ourself and repeating falsehoods on media, to Congress, etc will not help.

"I don't think a single civil or criminal case based on legitimate harm and wrongdoing could be brought against Edward Snowden."

Lol. I mentioned plenty of legitimate harm and wrongdoing. I'd start with his coworkers, the obvious leaking laws, him blowing legal operations overseas, and costing U.S. companies billions. Although I'm for giving him immunity or plea bargain for the good he's done, I could easily imagine many companies and courts having a different view.

" as a fellow security professional I would think that you would be offended and alarmed that we're being double taxed. We're being forced to pay into a system where our own systems are compromised and monitored. My co-workers have been hacked, had hardware intercepted, and had their email and personal communications monitored."

I'm typing this on a subverted system. I'm more than offended... I've been motivated to act and post countermeasures quite prolifically here. NSA is a spy organization, though, and my type has always expected the TLA's to do these things. It's their job and nature. I'm most offended by the American voters and politicians that empower these deceitful and powerful organizations. It would be hard for TLA's to achieve their current violations if they were intensely scrutinized and faced life in prison for the types of shady stuff we're discussing.

Work like mine used to stand a chance years ago. Now, Americans pay NSA over $200 million a year on their subversion activities with support of military, hackers, spies, and black bag operators. That's probably enough to beat whatever I come up with several times over. How am I to think of NSA the enemy if they're just doing what they're told, allowed, and/or paid to do. NSA is just an hyper-aggressive dog whose owner feeds it, never leashes it, shows apathy as it tears neighbors to shreds, and uses legal influence to prevent cops from doing anything. The owner is the root cause of this problem, as with many others. The owner merely needs to become responsible. Then, the dog can be disciplined into good behavior or mercifully put down.

Instead, most people (including the owner) are shouting at the dog.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 9, 2014 9:32 PM

@Nick P

"NSA Director's and Snowden's actions don't compare: only one is mandates and supported by law... See a recurring pattern where Americans, Congress and Courts all approve of these secret operations and special legal allowances?"


I know we just met. But ask your self, "Does this guy I am talking to sound like the sort that would be against governments running black ops?"

If I were against black ops, I would be against Snowden.

I am against *bad* black ops, like a number of the black ops Hoover ran.

"Now, what about Snowden? Snowden very clearly violated classification laws along with a number of others. He also doesn't get the legal immunity provided to LEO's and TLA's as he was acting alone. This moves us to whether we should treat him as a whistleblower, as classification laws *strictly prohibit* using the system to protect criminality."


Snowden definitely violated the letter of the law. I believe, as do some others, that he did not violate the spirit of the law.

Snowden is one of those exceptional cases where the laws need to change.


"He also handed them to foreign organizations in countries targeted. (rolls eyes) That's the kind of thing that gets people called a traitor and charged for espionage."

I see him as having architected the only way he could release what he planned to release without getting jailed and so snuffed. Very brilliant for a 29 year old.

I really do not see it as feasible as him going to the very authorities that were clearly condoning the behavior. They would have ignored or arrested him.

They would have tracked back the information to him. And if he ran in any other way, how could he have made it? Eventually, they would have discovered who he was. Besides, he saw he had to explain his actions to the world, which he did so.

They would have tracked him down. I recall one situation where the American authorities had an European country demand the landing of a South American diplomat. No surprise.

At best, one could argue, "well, he could have gone to Venezula or Bolivia". I think that was a mistake he made. But, considering everything he did in terms of planning and operations, all by himself, what is an error like that?

"So, the NSA heads and Snowden's actions are not comparable. One side is legally allowed, even mandated, to do much of the shady stuff it does here and abroad."


I am not getting into "why" I am saying what I am saying about some of these intelligence "executives" beyond stating that they are making an enormous amount of money for their experience.

They are coming out of the Snowden disaster with massive monetary benefits.

And they have long histories of making a lot of money from corporations.

We all well know that American politicians and some *not elected* leaders are deeply influenced by what is simply legal bribery. The system is contaminated.

Legal? Yes. Technically. By the letter of the law. Legal by the spirit of the law? No. Good for conscience? No. Morally right? No.

Politicians are elected officials, and they tend to try and get money from interests they are aligned with already. Some, I am sure, would refuse money from sources they disagree with. Maybe even many. But, I see this as a very different situation when it comes to these intelligence executives. Especially considering that Snowden's compromise happened on the grounds of one of their benefactor's.

I understand I may have what may appear to you as paradoxically high moral standards.

"Meanwhile, I continue to work on various solutions to the threat of TLA's, show the legal underpinnings of NSA's power to voters, and use a day's thought here or there on issues such as whether Snowden should be prosecuted for some aspect of his actions. I *sure as hell wouldn't* leak a whole bin of classified information to groups all over the world without filtering it."


I think this, here, gets into the fact that you are a part of the system. I do not see the "whole system as corrupt", as some do. Far from it. So much is working right, it is truly amazing.

No, I am talking about tie ins to identity and beliefs. You work in a system which has a wide variety of beliefs. That is tied into your identity. So, you are subjective and can not change. Unless you could somehow distance your self.

Your last sentence there can help clarify this by pointing out an extreme, but highly likely true issue: Being in the system you are in, you might have clearance, or someday need clearance. How would that go for you when here you are, on a crypto forum, saying you applaud Snowden and individuals performing their own black ops by sheer conscience? :-)

You might say, "Well, I have said a lot of other controversial stuff". Not the kind of stuff that could get you denied clearance. You know that. You have legitimate concerns and legitimate criticisms. You are probably voicing what a lot of people in law enforcement and intel think. People get that, and you are experienced enough with American authorities to know that.

I, on the other hand, am entirely outside of that system. Never plan to get into it. I am not a felon, and I work in capacities where those sorts of jobs come up. I just have calculated I never want to deal with that crap. I can afford not to.

So, *it is in your best interest, being in the system* to not even entertain the possibility that maybe Snowden was right.

I think you are a sincere guy, so for you, it is best that you truly believe what you say. If you came to believe Snowden was right, you would start to find your self saying it. And that would have very likely ramifications in the future.

I could be wrong. Just my guess and one admittedly based on *very* little evidence. But, I do believe "something like that" would be true. You do talk about doing studies and such.

"There were alternative tactics that would've accomplished his mission. He'd know them and the importance of filtering having been a trained spy with field experience."


He was 29 and had extremely little training and experience.

A spy lives in a pressure cooker. You get used to it. But, that is what he was operating under. It is amazing he did not make far more mistakes then he did.

He had some years experience living under light cover in very non-stressful operations. I am not aware of him having any sort of operation planning experience. That was entirely new to him.

He also had never had the experience of performing such an incredibly detailed and dangerous operation. Light cover is extremely different.

But, he pulled it off.

I have respect for that.


"Regardless, he chose the specific course of action and it would be a sad irony if it prevents his whistleblowing from changing our laws significantly."


I would agree, but that is always a danger. Anytime you do something good, bad can happen as a backlash. I ultimately am old fashioned, and believe this will help ultimately reform laws for the better. But, admittedly, not a matter I am engaged in thinking about in-depth.

"Note: For people wondering "where did this line of inquiry come from?" I'm just now getting around to really thinking about Snowden as I've mostly focused on NSA capabilities and countermeasures. Of course, that's still getting 99% of my free time so readers and future solution builders don't worry! :)"


I totally respect your opinion. Even if I am correct, with the above wild guess, I still respect it. You would have no choice. I appreciate, as well, hearing every manner of argument on anything I deeply consider.


SteeeveJuly 9, 2014 10:07 PM

'"These questionable authorities are deliberately shielded by the judicial branch in several ways which I will not enumerate here."

Mostly by laws created by Congress and backed by all other parties except in limited cases. A legal shield.'

Actually most of this has been handled by illegally classifying evidence critical to provide proof that someones rights have been violated. That's equivalent to throwing a rock through someones window and then claiming that the rock itself is a state secret.

'"we need look no further than the author of the Patriot Act"

His opinions and feelings are irrelevent to what's legal under current U.S. law.'

This is completely absurd. By this reasoning, if the DoJ decided to interpret the 2nd amendment literally and bears went extinct you would be entirely okay with their "standard". What in your mind makes something "legal under current U.S. law?"

'"I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the US government's classification system is not broken. I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the oversight mechanisms available to the oversight committees are not broken."

Don't dare that as I know plenty that think they're imperfect, but good enough.'

Prove it. I need a reference; I'm afraid that your word isn't good enough to sustain your argument. If you need counterproof I'll reference William Binney, because he disagrees with this idea that you seem to have. NSA employees have been fired in petty retaliation for mere FOIA requests.

Mostly though I think you just sidestepped the arguments and reitterated. Who's the dogs "owner" in your analogy? What's the basis for your contention that these programs were authorized? Why in your view aren't the administrators of these programs being discussed to the degree that Snowden is?

AlanSJuly 9, 2014 10:24 PM

@Nick P

I think you make a lot of good points above and in the earlier piece you linked to. I'm going to bracket the Snowden issue for reasons I've already discussed.

I agree that NSA are just doing their job. The the real problem is that the executive and congress have massively expanded their box in the climate of fear created by 9/11 (and the public allowed them to do this). Although you say their activities are legal I think what you mean is that the laws created after 9/11 made certain activities legal (in some cases through a process of back-dating) but many of those activities haven't been fully reviewed by the courts yet and may well be found to be in violation of the constitution. However, the courts have so far taken different opinions on the matter and who knows when these matters will get to SCOTUS and what SCOTUS will decide. I think SCOTUS is struggling with technology and its impact on privacy and how to account for these changes in existing legal frameworks.

Clearly intelligence activities have to involve some level of secrecy but government secrecy is at odds with liberal democratic society. So there is always going to be a tension. And as technology allows greater surveillance at less cost that tension is only going to increase. We know from the Church Committee that the TLAs engaged in extensive abuses over a period of decades prior to the early 1970s. So this is not a theoretical concern. What's disturbing in the new revelations is the massive scope of the secret surveillance (much of which one could reasonably argue is unnecessary, ineffective or worse), the lack of effective controls and checks on the activities (the post-Church reforms didn't work or were done away with), and the potential for significant abuse.

I disagree with Anonymous Bloke above about officials being "very dark...with a very heavy debt on their souls". I think they all strongly believe in what they are doing and sleep soundly at night. Brandeis had it all figured out in 1928: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." (See the Olmstead dissent--well worth reading the entire dissent which foresees much of what was to come.) They are like weeds. The struggle to beat back the encroachment is never ending.


DBJuly 9, 2014 10:27 PM

"I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the US government's classification system is not broken. I defy you to find an advocate who thinks that the oversight mechanisms available to the oversight committees are not broken."

There are commenters on this blog who are all for everything our government does!! Actually, one in particular claims our government has made mistakes, and uses that to dispute that what I just said applies to him, and yet still oddly he just can't think of any recent ones they're all in the very distant past... ;)

AnonymousBlokeJuly 9, 2014 11:04 PM

@Alan S

"I disagree with Anonymous Bloke above about officials being "very dark...with a very heavy debt on their souls". I think they all strongly believe in what they are doing and sleep soundly at night. Brandeis had it all figured out in 1928: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." (See the Olmstead dissent--well worth reading the entire dissent which foresees much of what was to come.) They are like weeds. The struggle to beat back the encroachment is never ending."

Just to note, I did not say "all officials" being that way. I used the term "a lot". I had in mind a surprising number, not a majority, nor anything like that. Twenty could be a lot, fifty could be a lot. Even if the total number was in the hundreds or thousands.

I say this not because I think this will cause you to agree with me. You probably will not.

I should also clarify that there is historical precedence for my beliefs. It was, for instance, well seen in the Soviet Union that many patriotic men and women did become corrupt during the course of their duties. The same was also true for many FBI, and I do also believe Hoover was a very bad man.

I also believe many who worked under Hoover were very bad men.

They did some very bad things for some very bad reasons.

I do not think everything Hoover did was bad. But there is a lot he did do which was highly immoral and was very bad.

Sure, he used a patriotic cover for his motives. But, I don't buy that anymore then I buy some guy murdering his wife because he claims to have had some higher motive to do so.

They were corrupt cops living in an age when corrupt cops were numerous. Maybe they had some kind of standards so they could keep their rationalizations, but I believe they profited from their crimes.

But, I can totally see how some would disagree and argue they were just ignorant and meant well, as opposed to doing it out of far baser motives and rationalizing it claiming it was "patriotism".


SteeeveJuly 9, 2014 11:29 PM

@AnonymousBloke

I agree in part. I think the most ethical members of the NSA have already left in protest and resignation. Between 2001 and 2005 there were tons of resignations from the NRO, NSA, and FBI as Cheney/Bush initially reorganized the agencies for domestic spying. Everything I've heard from the leaks, books, and reporting seems to indicate that management is very oppressive to dissenting voices at these agencies now. There was basically a deliberate effort to quash bureaucratic dissent. As a consequence, the people remaining likely aren't our best and brightest. That trend isn't likely to reverse if the culture is what I think it is.

Personally I think there's a lot more legal jeopardy than anyone in these agencies is admitting. "Just following orders" or saying, "this is legal and authorized" doesn't actually make it so. I hate the leadership decisions of the people at the top, but I don't think everyone at these agencies deserves to go through tribunals and to prison. My understanding is that if these programs were ever reviewed in an open court it would result in the longest consecutive prison sentences in human history.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 10, 2014 12:32 AM

@Steeeve

"I hate the leadership decisions of the people at the top, but I don't think everyone at these agencies deserves to go through tribunals and to prison."


I definitely do not believe "everyone at these agencies deserves to go through tribunals and to prison".

I am sure there are an enormous number of people doing their job in very good conscience.


I do believe, however, there are very likely some very bad apples somewhere there in the mix.

Why? Simply because there are so many bad indicators.

I won't detail those, that would be a lengthy discourse, but I will point out there are many signs of systematic corruption. One of these is the increasing "group think" mindset you mention.

The "I am just following orders" mindset.

(Because we have not seen that turn out bad before.)

The concerning propaganda of the horrible, terrible need to "fight terrorism". So they have to gather everyone's data for that.

Right.

Those sorts of sloganeering campaigns have happened plenty of times in history. It happened in Russia, it happened in Germany. It happened in many places in between.

It is not a new thing to history, either, but an old trend.

But, not much my area. Nations rise, nations fall. If they are going bad, there is little anyone can do about it. I suppose, I tend to just get some pleasure, that, when the really bad stuff comes out which seems so unlikely now (apparently), I can say at least to my self, "I knew it".


Nick PJuly 10, 2014 3:36 PM

@ AnonymousBloke
(and some points for readers in general)

"I know we just met. But ask your self, "Does this guy I am talking to sound like the sort that would be against governments running black ops?""

I don't assume anything like that. Glad you told me, though. We share the same view on ops. And Hoover is the comparison I've been pushing for NSA opponents to use in debates. :)

"Snowden definitely violated the letter of the law. I believe, as do some others, that he did not violate the spirit of the law. Snowden is one of those exceptional cases where the laws need to change."

That's where the debate is: the spirit of the law. Some don't think NSA should've been allowed to do all this. Yet, as I showed in my essay, these kinds of capabilities and double standards had been built into our legal system for military/intelligence for decades. We'd gone through episodes of corruption (eg MKULTRA) justifying a tremendous change. Yet, it never came, Congress as a whole just reinforced the system over time, Americans supported it for various reasons, and so on. This parallel type of law, applied only to defence sector, has been part of the "spirit" of America for a long time. Going against it was even seen as unpatriotic by many.

The other aspect is NSA's activities. Americans pushed for government to do whatever it could to prevent a 9/11. It was an irrational move motivated by fear. Each expansion of power and leak of abuse had little effect on the population besides some shouting matches. That it wasn't put to an end quickly shows that the surveillance state was part of the new "spirit" of America. NSA was doing a fine job in the new order of things with their "Collect it All" and "Eliminate Obstacles to Sharing" approaches. The latter removed plenty of internal controls as a side effect. I'm sure that had fringe benefits for "extra-judicial activities," as well. ;) Crooked, but no more crooked than DOD and Congress that America tolerates.

"I see him as having architected the only way he could release what he planned to release without getting jailed and so snuffed. Very brilliant for a 29 year old."

There were three options I presented when it all started: stay there while filtering the material; hide somewhere while filtering the material; don't filter the material. People argued against the first two options saying he was just a smart IT guy with a consience and wouldn't survive. Polygraphs were brought up as one risk, for instance. I conceded at the time that my options were impractical for such a person and that he did what he had to do.

Now, we know more and it paints a different picture of Snowden. He certainly had IT skills and maybe acted on conscience. However, we also know he was a CIA trained spy who worked in foreign countries undercover. That gives him a certain set of skills, like conning people & living two lives. Although, I agree with you that his experience had support and was more limited than full-on flight from U.S. govt. We also know he beat background checks, interviews, and polygraphs infiltrating to where he wanted to be. (So much for polygraph risk...) He also planned his flight and hiding quite well, especially in a country easy (but expensive) to disappear in. So, you see some 29 year old under high pressure, I see a [maybe amateur] spy doing what he does and quite professionally. And probably for good reasons he stated. So, then I look at his actions from that lens and see troubling issues with how he handled things that I wouldn't see from the other lens.

So, how could he have done the other two options? Well, he already was well-paid as an administrator with access to the information that apparently had no effective internal controls. He could easily have grabbed a bunch of documents, hid that he had them, and processed them overtime at his home while he continued to collect a paycheck. This would give him continued access to the inside which has other benefits. If the docs were used by a group, it would give him deniability. A prerequisite is that he'd have to ensure the fingers wouldn't be pointed at him. He had already gripped to superiors and conned people out of passwords, so he [intentionally] made this option impactical.

Note: Interesting that early on people said it wasn't practical because Snowden was too honest and lacked skills like beating polygraphs. Over time, we find that these were entirely untrue and it wasn't practical because Snowden had conned and said too much to stay. Ironic, yeah?

Option two involves him hiding and processing the information. Why would he do this? He claims loyalty to America and desire to minimize harm. This is best way to achieve both. The simple method is to ID trustworthy people to stay with and have helpers for equipment/communication, although latter are optional. His own plan utilized these so I know he's capable of this method. The difference is he'd be in isolation off the grid with a bunch of computers and powerpoints, occasionally getting messages out. He'd use what cash stash he had to pay host for necessities and other rent. He'd use his knowledge of the programs (eg codewords) to quickly find the hard hitting slides and leak them. An escape might happen at some point in this or not. I lived in a situation like this for a while and it's easier to pull off than it sounds, esp in rural areas. Not good for the mind or social life, though. Yet, that was true for his plan, too.

There is a variant of this that would've been my option. The files he took contained the collection on Americans he wanted to whistleblow and plenty of data on foreign operations whose release would be damaging. I'd hide in a country that could conceivably protect me from US as I go through the data overtime. I'd give an encrypted version of the whole thing to the news organizations, along with a key release mechanism. If U.S. government took action against me past trying in vain to get extradition, the release would occur to great harm. If I was fine, selective disclosures of only domestic activities would occur over time. I'd probably give the host government information on NSA activities there, optionally have serious dirt on its current leaders with similar release strategy, and offer to work to improve their national security systems. This means I'm protected both ways, possibly even by their cops or TLA depending on cooperation/corruption levels. Snowden was capable of most of this, but I wouldn't expect him to try my approach so I'm just writing it so the next leaker considers more selective disclosure options.

So, he had some options. He burned himself on one that provided greatest risk and benefit. He ignored another he could've pulled off to protect himself more. He then chose an option that blew our legitimate work while whistleblowing on what he (and I) believed was unethical. So, my analysis of him is he might be doing things for the right reasons, but he *did* cause unethical and illegal harm to foreign ops to protect his own ass. And he might reasonably be punished for that. Even NSA leaker Binney wants him in prison for that if I recall correctly. Personally, I'm thinking of it as a side issue as reigning in the NSA is much higher priority than Snowden and his [domestic] leaks are quite helpful for that. It's why I'm for U.S. courts treating him mercifully despite the damage I've identified.

Note: I also respect that Snowden pulled off what he did as odds were against him and respect your honest, fair points in the discussion. Just gotta say it as I know my writing style (or lack of it) often doesn't come off that way. ;)

re NSA and political corruption

It's called "The Revolving Door" at the Pentagon. It's called legal corruption, err campaign contributions, in Congress. Most Americans I talk to about these problems know about them to varying degrees. Yet, most of them vote for politicians that do this stuff even when less corrupt one's are on the ballet. They rarely push Congress on these issues with letters. Their focus is more on taxes, gay marriage, and so on. Their apathy and reliance on untrustworthy media outlets also makes them easy to mislead on issues like NSA's activities. The concept is called "tyranny of the majority." It wins out in this country a lot.

It's why I blame the people for all this stuff. It's also why I work on solutions for them, technical and legal, that also try to benefit all parties involved to increase chance of adoption. Using mine or not, all they have to do is care enough to use their vote and political power to make a difference. They don't. So, we have the NSA issues, FCC issues, FDA issues, Treasury issues, and so on. It's a root cause thing: these issues are only symptoms of another problem which continuously produces issues. Must fix the root cause. I'm at a loss for how to do that.

"You work in a system which has a wide variety of beliefs. That is tied into your identity. So, you are subjective and can not change. Unless you could somehow distance your self."

I've made substantial changes to my views and life repeatedly. Your theory is either incorrect or I'm an exception to it. I've often been an exception so we'll go with that. I've also avoided working for U.S. government or obtaining a clearance specifically to protect my rights, especially speech. Private sector and academia in my specialty were ahead of them in most ways so more interesting work. You can choose what to accept and leave with only civil penalties at worst. So, it's easier to act on principle. Although, my hands are tied in significant ways via confidentiality agreements and the fact that people like me walk a tight rope in a surveillance state (see chilling effect).

And they'd never give a clearance to someone that published secure leaking strategies, claims that DOD are imperialists scumbags, blueprints for dissidents to safely operate internationally, attacks on their most secure stuff, defenses from most of their capabilities, and so on. I think they'd spit their government-issued coffee in my face laughing if I asked for a clearance. Or I might just get a clearance. Maybe they'd see an opportunity to get my mind focused on stuff that's better for their goals with Espionage Act prosecution as a safety net. (shrugs) I'm not holding out for such a sweet deal (sarcasm) despite insiders offering it on many occasions.

"I think you are a sincere guy, so for you, it is best that you truly believe what you say. "

I appreciate it. My commitment to my principles is my main asset. I've taken plenty of financial and mental losses due to this along with my committment to backing civil liberties. However, I do occasinally force myself to look at things from another perspective as a safeguard against my own beliefs forcing me in a bad direction. That's what I decided to do with Snowden this week and it allowed me to see more of the moral complexity of the situation. Another example was looking at my main opponent, NSA, as an authorized agent of Congress and the people's will. That led to the essay I linked to above where I discovered their broad mission, specific aspects of the classification system, and lack of criminal penalties for violations were the root problem. Not their lies or programs which were mere symptoms. This also changed my solutions from technological to incentives for Congress or informing the public of risk. And so I continue doing what I do while trying to avoid getting stuck in mental ruts as you keep writing about.

"I totally respect your opinion. Even if I am correct, with the above wild guess, I still respect it. You would have no choice. I appreciate, as well, hearing every manner of argument on anything I deeply consider."

The respect is mutual. Even if my career and group was on the totally opposite end of your prediction. I could see how you'd think that, though. Not bothered by it haha.

@ Steeeve

"Actually most of this has been handled by illegally classifying evidence critical to provide proof that someones rights have been violated. That's equivalent to throwing a rock through someones window and then claiming that the rock itself is a state secret."

Almost. Most of the SIGINT-supporting laws, classification system, criminal immunity, and toleration of corruption go back decades. It's been mostly solidified in law. The only new thing is collection on Americans, whose programs needed approval by key Congressional committees. If the programs exist, they were approved by lawmakers. And executive and judicial branches mostly backed them. It's a legal grey area that they look pretty safe standing in. Worst case is it gets rolled back by future legislation, they're ordered to stop domestic collection, and no criminal penalties happen due to conflicting laws (grey area).

"What in your mind makes something "legal under current U.S. law?""

Lawmakers introduce a bill that is passed by majority of the House, majority of the Senate, approved by the President, and not ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. (A controversial view on what's legal, I know.) Tie-ins by laws created later, affirmations via case law precedents, and support by state's own laws add impact, too. The NSA's mission, near immunity to prosecution, and right to lie about its classified capabilities (even to most Congressmen) are solidified by decades of laws passed the way I describe. There's also conflicting laws and executive orders on domestic collection that give them legal leeway. All laws facilitating domestic collection must be replaced by Congress and the President with new laws that make it clearly illegal. They might also add some criminal penalties and independent auditing (esp GAO) while they're at it.

"Prove it. I need a reference;"

I'm guessing you missed the whole Snowden debate in the media and online. It might surprise you that there were Snowden opponents that weren't the heads of NSA. They argued he did the wrong thing, the system has issues but is acceptable, and wanted him prosecuted or shot. Many of those people identified that they work in defence sector in many levels. There were also academics, regular people, etc. Bruce even links to debates between that side and the pro-liberty side (mine). Pretending these people don't exist is the best way to not get changes done in a situation where votes (including theirs) will matter.

"Who's the dogs "owner" in your analogy? What's the basis for your contention that these programs were authorized? Why in your view aren't the administrators of these programs being discussed to the degree that Snowden is?"

I explained it above in reply to AnonymousBloke. The owner was a combination of Congress that supposed to hold Executive Branch accountable and The People that are supposed to hold Congress accountable. Both regularly approved expansions of monstrous systems with their own legal standards. Both have the only real power to deal with the situation. Both failed to reign it in during numerous abuses over a fifty year period. Both are failing to act now despite talking more about it. So... the situation is the same or worse depending on who you ask. The only thing people get wrong is the dog (NSA) isn't the problem: it's irresponsible owner (Congress and The People) are the one's that need to do something different. Then NSA will become a well-behaved dog or be put down. Just like that.

@ AlanS

"However, the courts have so far taken different opinions on the matter and who knows when these matters will get to SCOTUS and what SCOTUS will decide. I think SCOTUS is struggling with technology and its impact on privacy and how to account for these changes in existing legal frameworks."

That's totally true. Their technological illiteracy (and lack of imagination) is essentially taking them out of the checks and balances. If they don't understand it, they can't rule on it effectively. I'd love to talk to them as I think the best route is to break it down piece by piece, focusing on effects rather than the tech itself. I'd use previous case law, risks like Hoover, and so on to paint the picture for them. I'd also present, as a compromise, various solutions that give TLA's capabilities to do their jobs while respecting civil liberties. Binney's original ThinThread design comes to mind as a good example of a compromise. Then there's my lawful intercept, escrow, and secure multiparty computation schemes. Many opportunities that I figure SCOTUS has never heard of.

"Clearly intelligence activities have to involve some level of secrecy but government secrecy is at odds with liberal democratic society. So there is always going to be a tension. And as technology allows greater surveillance at less cost that tension is only going to increase. We know from the Church Committee that the TLAs engaged in extensive abuses over a period of decades prior to the early 1970s. So this is not a theoretical concern. What's disturbing in the new revelations is the massive scope of the secret surveillance (much of which one could reasonably argue is unnecessary, ineffective or worse), the lack of effective controls and checks on the activities (the post-Church reforms didn't work or were done away with), and the potential for significant abuse."

Very well said. It's why voters need to take action to get Congress to take action. The thing that shocks me about it most is that Congress is at greatest risk here. You'd think they'd take action if only out of self-interest for preserving their own power and eliminating blackmail risk. Believing NSA will exempt them is an unjustifiable act of faith that doesn't make sense given Congressmen are typically good manipulators themselves. I keep trying to find a shortcut around relying on the American people and some good plan for convincing Congress to act for their own self-interest seems the best bet. Of course, I'm lacking the plan itself...

@ DB

"There are commenters on this blog who are all for everything our government does!! "

Lol. Thanks for stating the obvious. I mean, how could anyone not notice this...

SteeeveJuly 10, 2014 5:05 PM

'"Actually most of this has been handled by illegally classifying evidence critical to provide proof that someones rights have been violated. That's equivalent to throwing a rock through someones window and then claiming that the rock itself is a state secret."

Almost. Most of the SIGINT-supporting laws, classification system, criminal immunity, and toleration of corruption go back decades. It's been mostly solidified in law. The only new thing is collection on Americans, whose programs needed approval by key Congressional committees. If the programs exist, they were approved by lawmakers. And executive and judicial branches mostly backed them. It's a legal grey area that they look pretty safe standing in. Worst case is it gets rolled back by future legislation, they're ordered to stop domestic collection, and no criminal penalties happen due to conflicting laws (grey area).'

Apart from the fact that you're willfully defending public corruption here, I'll reitterate: You're missing the core point. There's a difference between what the lawmakers write, the justices interpret, and the executive agencies purport. You're literally ignoring two out of three of these and calling it "law". A legal conjecture based on outlandish interpretations written by a lawyer at the DoJ does not a law make. People working at the NSA today are in fact legally culpable for constitutional and statutory violations they commit daily. DoJ lawyers perjuring themselves with parallel construction, NSA workers violating domestic wiretapping laws, and corporations enabling them are all in serious legal jeapordy if you look at the actual statutes themselves.

If you earnestly believe that lawmakers authorized these programs as they currently exist, please read (https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130612/18210323435/author-patriot-act-says-administrations-claims-about-nsa-are-bunch-bunk.shtml) or another source after googling "patriot act author nsa". You simply cannot believe this, and rational readers of this thread will disagree with you based on the facts. The FISA court also has not adjucated on these issues. Since the legal opinions they released were based on false information, they were in fact legitimizing other programs which are materially different than what's actually in place today.

'"[This is completely absurd. By this reasoning, if the DoJ decided to interpret the 2nd amendment literally and bears went extinct you would be entirely okay with their "standard".] What in your mind makes something "legal under current U.S. law?"

Lawmakers introduce a bill that is passed by majority of the House, majority of the Senate, approved by the President, and not ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. (A controversial view on what's legal, I know.) Tie-ins by laws created later, affirmations via case law precedents, and support by state's own laws add impact, too. The NSA's mission, near immunity to prosecution, and right to lie about its classified capabilities (even to most Congressmen) are solidified by decades of laws passed the way I describe. There's also conflicting laws and executive orders on domestic collection that give them legal leeway. All laws facilitating domestic collection must be replaced by Congress and the President with new laws that make it clearly illegal. They might also add some criminal penalties and independent auditing (esp GAO) while they're at it.'

So we've essentially shifted from a rational view to a quite extremist one here, literally claiming immunity to prosecution, immunity to oversight, and immunity from legal constraint. Most US citizens (define here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/10/nsa-poll_n_5572153.html?&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000016) disagree with your position. I would say that my previous argument cross-applies here as well. Many of these claims are based on legal authorities which are not in fact found in law, but rather in executive orders, executive policy, and have never been tested in a court.

'"Prove it. I need a reference; [I'm afraid that your word isn't good enough to sustain your argument. If you need counterproof I'll reference William Binney, because he disagrees with this idea that you seem to have. NSA employees have been fired in petty retaliation for mere FOIA requests.]"

I'm guessing you missed the whole Snowden debate in the media and online. It might surprise you that there were Snowden opponents that weren't the heads of NSA. They argued he did the wrong thing, the system has issues but is acceptable, and wanted him prosecuted or shot. Many of those people identified that they work in defence sector in many levels. There were also academics, regular people, etc. Bruce even links to debates between that side and the pro-liberty side (mine). Pretending these people don't exist is the best way to not get changes done in a situation where votes (including theirs) will matter.'

Condecending tone aside, I cited William Binney as a source. He has more credibility in this debate than you or I. If he thinks the classification system is broken, then it likely is. I'm not even going to touch the "pro-liberty" comment, because I don't know what you were attempting to communicate there.

'"Who's the dogs "owner" in your analogy? What's the basis for your contention that these programs were authorized? Why in your view aren't the administrators of these programs being discussed to the degree that Snowden is?"

I explained it above in reply to AnonymousBloke. The owner was a combination of Congress that supposed to hold Executive Branch accountable and The People that are supposed to hold Congress accountable. Both regularly approved expansions of monstrous systems with their own legal standards. Both have the only real power to deal with the situation. Both failed to reign it in during numerous abuses over a fifty year period. Both are failing to act now despite talking more about it. So... the situation is the same or worse depending on who you ask. The only thing people get wrong is the dog (NSA) isn't the problem: it's irresponsible owner (Congress and The People) are the one's that need to do something different. Then NSA will become a well-behaved dog or be put down. Just like that. '

The real issue here is that the "owner" just found out that they own a dog. The dog was supposed to be an outside pet, but we've found out that it's been digging through the foundation of the house for the past 15 years and burst the sewage line. It was never even supposed to be inside the house.

Nick PJuly 10, 2014 7:10 PM

@ Steeeve

"Apart from the fact that you're willfully defending public corruption here, I'll reitterate: You're missing the core point. There's a difference between what the lawmakers write, the justices interpret, and the executive agencies purport. You're literally ignoring two out of three of these and calling it "law"."

Exposing corruption and its legal underpinnings isn't defending it: it's the first step of changing it. My legal view focuses on what all three *did* from the Truman Administration to right now. With few exceptions, they've reinforced the laws that enable this problem including laws facilitating lies, spies, difficultly of prosecution, and so on. NSA is leveraging as many of those as it can, such as recent "State Secrets" attempt to get immunity in an ongoing SCOTUS case. (Good it failed so far...) Years ago, Congress reinforced that kind of thing yet again when it granted telco's immunity to prosecution. Unlike most things clearly illegal, I keep seeing gripes, immunity grants, and so on but no criminal prosecutions.

Doing research during our discussion, I just found this report that the organization I recommended be used for oversight (GAO) has an office at NSA that's unoccuped. They were doing their job, working hand in hand with NSA operations with continuous feedback. The head of GAO eventually pulled its people there for a simple reason: nobody in Congress asked for a report on NSA activities "for years" as of 2008. Congress didn't even care to audit them despite having good help. And for years. Yet, Congress members did introduce several bills to legalize sneaky activities that were revealed. That's how much legal risk the NSA and coconspirators are facing. ;)

"claiming immunity to prosecution, immunity to oversight, and immunity from legal constraint."

I claim immune to criminal prosecution, little oversight, and (on domestic spying) little to no legal constraint. The last one is connected to the first two. And since this is what's happening *in reality*, right now, I'd say it trumps any legal theory until we see Congress or SCOTUS *enforce* an anti-NSA legal claim. We haven't, so it's either legal in practice or they don't care to stop it. I'm not sure which is worse.

"most U.S. citizens disagree with your opinion"

Their opinion has no effect on the relevance of my claims: their vote does. Did most of them vote for Congressment and Presidents that weakened the Constitution and increased these agencies power? Yes? And often more than once despite having the voting record? What they did and are currently doing as a democratic people matters more than what they say in a poll. So far, the public's voting record indicates that NSA and their co-conspirators will do fine so long as some false promises are made on TV along with references to scary things like 9/11.

"I cited William Binney as a source. He has more credibility in this debate than you or I. If he thinks the classification system is broken, then it likely is."

Sure the system is broken or problematic in various ways. I posted here a replacement system by Jason Society a while back that's a great improvement. Binney also illustrates specific problems in it that make abuses hard to publish. Yet, these issues are mostly not relevant to our discussion as I'm focusing on a very simple concept: the classification system is law, the public isn't pushing [with votes] to get it in check, lawmakers aren't trying to put it in check, courts are mostly not putting it in check, and this is despite all parties seeing evidence it's being abused to hide power/money grabs. That an obsolete, ineffective system is in place is only where the problem started. That the voters and lawmakers continue to reinforce it rather than modify it to eliminate these issues is The Big Problem. (that part of it anyway)

"The real issue here is that the "owner" just found out that they own a dog. "

The owner knew they had a dog for a long time. They allowed politicians to create secret rules, secret armies, secret capabilities, secret budgets, and so on to be managed by secret people. And led on top by politicians. The public knows politicians (and people in general) can't be trusted with a combination of power, money, secrecy, and no prosecution. It's why the public usually leverages First Amendment, votes and courts to keep all those politicians somewhat in check, with the Second Amendment as backup. Yet, for defence sector, they let it get done in totally opposite way.

The public was reminded repeatedly for decades of how bad these organizations can be with scandal after scandal ranging from unauthorized surveillance of dissidents to overthrowing foreign governments to MKULTRA's subprojects that experimented on little kids trying to make them into assassins. Yet, Congress and The People continued to allow the system's risks and corruption to build. Eventually, post-9/11, they gave the NSA even more power with fewer restrictions. That defies both the spirit of the Constitution and common sense.

And so the people, Congress, and the courts can play dumb but they were warned repeatedly about the general risk. Each time, they either defended the dirtbags or essentially gave out slaps on the wrist compared to how we treat other felonies. I didn't see the people consistently vote the anti-Constitutionalists out of office, Congress pass laws stopping these behaviors, or courts putting corrupt heads of state into prison. I did see a tiny few scumbags loose a career over something, but otherwise remaining free and well off financially. In 2004 leaks, I was waiting for all this "illegal" and "unconstitutional" stuff to result in restricting legislation, jail time, budget cuts, strong oversight, different votes... SOMETHING addressing the issues. A decade into the problems and I'm still waiting.

To be fair, at least a few courts and Congress reps are taking some sensible action in recent years. And a Forbes writer suggested Congress might try to leverage the Speech or Debate Clause to try to dodge the classificaiton issues. Yet, as I just read the Clause, it gives immunity unless "treason, felony..." Disclosure could be considered both. And now we're back to changing the laws being the best idea.

WaelJuly 10, 2014 8:43 PM

@Nick P,

Their opinion has no effect on the relevance of my claims: their vote does.
I stand in (shock and) owe, man! More, more, more! Shower us with more pearls of wisdom :)

AnonymousBlokeJuly 10, 2014 9:03 PM

@Nick P

My gawd, man. Lol. :-) Fascinating read.

Unfortunately, I have not studied the subject *nearly* as in-depth as you.

It would be interesting to see your analysis of Snowden laid out someday. Or, maybe someone else will do this in a very organized manner.

1. What legitimate operations, methods, and sources did Snowden damage? Specifically?
a. Pros for why he did this to support his mission? Cons for why he did this?
b. in-depth, reasonable argumentation of evidence
2. How did Snowden beat the polygraph? What were the likely questions?
a. Sidenote: I am wondering if he may have just been asked the wrong questions. As he was not working for a foreign power nor meeting anyone from a foreign intelligence agency -- maybe their questions just had nothing substantial in there which would stress him out.
b. please do not tell me he learned how to beat the polygraph from the internet -- and don't they ask that question, "have you studied how to beat a polygraph"
3. What kind of interviews would Snowden have to pass?
4. Has Snowden disclosed his own thinking process for why he went to the Soviet Union? What were the options he considered?


I like contrasting the various possibilities. You are on an interesting pursuit.

True Believer Snowden contrasted against Snowden Who Had Help contrasted against Sociopathic Egotistical Snowden Using Cause for Excuse contrasted against ....

Where there are genuine attempts to explore every possible angle.

Right now, I am still leaning towards "True Believer Snowden". But, admittedly, I have not studied the man all that much.

Of course, smoke has not cleared yet, so who knows.


SteeeveJuly 10, 2014 9:47 PM

"Exposing corruption and its legal underpinnings isn't defending it . . ."

But you *are* defending the corruption. If you attack Snowden while lazily failing to deal with the other illegalities, it serves precisely the NSA's desired goal of redirecting the serious issues into a debate about something else entirely.

"Yet, these issues are mostly not relevant to our discussion as I'm focusing on a very simple concept: the classification system is law, the public isn't pushing [with votes] to get it in check, lawmakers aren't trying to put it in check, courts are mostly not putting it in check, and this is despite all parties seeing evidence it's being abused to hide power/money grabs."

This argument is suspicious and telling in its content. Feel free to have a sidebar discussion on how people should debate things they never new existed. "We need unicorn laws!" you say, but that argument is again absurd. The 4 people in Congress who knew what were going on don't speak for the other hundreds.

"I claim immune to criminal prosecution, little oversight, and (on domestic spying) little to no legal constraint. "

Again, this argument is cynical as it is extremist. The courts now know that they've been lied to. Congress now knows that it's been lied to. We see the potential for real change now precisely because of leaks to the press and the resultant reporting.

'"The real issue here is that the "owner" just found out that they own a dog. [The dog was supposed to be an outside pet, but we've found out that it's been digging through the foundation of the house for the past 15 years and burst the sewage line. It was never even supposed to be inside the house.]"

The owner knew they had a dog for a long time. They allowed politicians to create secret rules, secret armies, secret capabilities, secret budgets, and so on to be managed by secret people.'

Again with the selective quoting. You can have any discussion you want with yourself, but to address my points please don't pick and choose a single sentence to address out of context. No, no one knew that we had a dog. People thought maybe that we had a kitten. More importantly there was the part of your own analogy that you conveniently sidestepped. It's an outside animal. And it was found in the house.

Nick PJuly 10, 2014 11:05 PM

@ Steeeve

re my focusing less on NSA in these posts

We talked about the NSA's guilt in a ton of threads on this blog a while back, continue to talk about them, and so on. I've personally been criticizing NSA activities, while developing anti-NSA tech and reform proposals, since the 90's. There is room in a day for investigating other aspects of the situation, though. That's what I'm doing as I look at the root cause of how the NSA got where it is, why it's leaders aren't in prison, why Congress still can't get answers past what Snowden gave them, and so on. I also decided to re-evaluate Snowden himself given we've learned things about him that contradict previous information. This is not lack of fairness, redirecting debates, or anything else. It's merely applying my capable mind to more than one topic.

re debates on what people didn't know existed; cyncial, extremist points

Here's what people knew existed: laws existed that gave many dangerous privileges to a select few organizations; the organizations were constantly involved up corrupt, wasteful, or straight-up evil activities over many decades; reporters and Congress caught the organizations breaking our laws in big ways. The media made darned sure people knew these things as the horrifying machinations of government made for good ratings. Once someone knows these things are happening, there's an obvious debate that should follow: should we continue giving the guilty parties extra privileges in terms of secrecy, money, partial/full immunity from criminal prosecutions, and so on? Or should we significantly change these laws and structure of these agencies (esp defense sector) to prevent or more easily catch their abuses?

Far from problems nobody knew existed, the corruption that arises out of combining secrecy, power, and low accountability is a known issue that doesn't go away. These attributes were also solidified in law by many Congressional actions people didn't oppose and courts enforce. The debate to change this, if it happened in the past, never led to any changes. And scheme after scheme occurred with such shielding involving many government agencies up to and including the NSA's recent activities. And the foundation they built their schemes on still exist, their schemes are still running, nobody has passed laws against mass domestic collection, nobody is forcing the information out of them, nobody has been thrown in prison, and so on. This is despite that the situation could go 180 degrees with a relatively simple legal action by Congress, esp if pushed by passionate American voters.

re the dog

Maybe the metaphor and my quoting suck. I'm dropping both in this post as you've suggested. Instead, I'll go with the metaphor of intelligent humans that give more power, money, and secrecy to organizations and individuals that already betrayed their trust year after year for decades. They find out in great detail that they're getting betrayed AGAIN, yet continue to give the scumbags money and privileges that ensure the betrayals continue. They don't take action to remove the scumbags' privileges, put them behind bars, or put them in the dirt. These are things they typically do to those that commit criminal acts against them. Yet, for these scumbags, they just keep supporting and/or forgiving them them while demanding they to act more honest and ethical. I like this metaphor better because it's not a metaphor: it's a simplified description of what Americans are actually doing in response to NSA disclosures.

"The price of liberty is eternal vigilence." (source unknown)

I think Americans have just been trying to freeload on liberty for too long instead of pay the maintenance fee. That's why they have less of it as time goes by. They, even Congress, better wise up and get vigilant quick. If they don't, then they're resigning themselves to their own slavery to a surveillance state today and who knows what later. Just remember that it would only take one Church Committee style push with one wave of legislation changing just a few things. That's all. It's also what nobody is doing and the results of this inaction are self-evident.

Nick PJuly 10, 2014 11:53 PM

@ Wael

Lol thanks. A lesson I was taught as a child is "Actions speak louder than words." I can't remember who taught me that wisdom. It's gotten me much further at assessing trustworthiness of a person or organization than anything they say. Applied to the voter, it leaves me disappointed. Applied to Snowden, it makes me wonder. Applied to NSA, it shows I need to be given oversight of them, my own infiltrators, a SEAL team, and criminal immunity so long as the crime was a response to their corruption. :)

@ AnonymousBloke

Haha. I've been in the Second Cold War (for civil liberties against surveillance states) for quite some time. I also read and discuss things a lot with everyone from Joe Public to radicals to government insiders. Let's me see problems others might miss. Although, there's always stuff to learn and correct as it's a muddy lake I'm snorkeling through and I'm only human.

"Pros for why he did this to support his mission? Cons for why he did this?"

That part seems simple enough. The leaks often involve surveillance operations U.S. has against foreign targets and the specific methods used. These might be targeted for political, economic, or military reasons. Targeting "allies" and "neutral" countries might even be necessary to a degree as many of them routinely spy on us the same way, often to steal I.P. and military secrets. For practical reasons, foreign collection has always been legal that I'm aware of and there wasn't a limit past the budget of the agency. Blowing these operations is therefore not legally or ethically justifiable. Binney warned Snowden about this early on here:

"Certainly he performed a really great public service to begin with by exposing these programs and making the government in a sense publicly accountable for what they're doing. At least now they are going to have some kind of open discussion like that. But now he is starting to talk about things like the government hacking into China and all this kind of thing. He is going a little bit too far. I don't think he had access to that program. But somebody talked to him about it, and so he said, from what I have read, anyway, he said that somebody, a reliable source, told him that the U.S. government is hacking into all these countries. But that's not a public service, and now he is going a little beyond public service. So he is transitioning from whistle-blower to a traitor." (Binney on Snowden)

"How did Snowden beat the polygraph? What were the likely questions?"

That's a good question. The polygraph was what failed this guy in a classic story on NSA interviewing. It's a great read with plenty of information on NSA hiring process. It also has good criticisms of polygraphs. That said...

"please do not tell me he learned how to beat the polygraph from the internet"

...you can learn how to beat a polygraph from articles and videos on the Internet. And various companies. Schneier reported on one here. Also, Snowden claimed to be a CIA spy. Many intelligence agencies train people to deal with a polygraph in some way. He could've been trained to beat our government by our government. Oh the ironies of life. You might also enjoy the fact that the original NSA leaker, Tice, gave his own advice on beating a polygraph.

"Has Snowden disclosed his own thinking process for why he went to the Soviet Union? What were the options he considered?"

I was told he was on a flight to somewhere else that went through Russia. When he was in Russia, the U.S. cancelled his passport and made him unable to go anywhere. He was hiding in an airport over there for a while. Then, he was granted limited asylum by Putin after U.S. demanded they hand him over. Easy guess is Putin did it because he's too proud and powerful to be seen as U.S.'s (censored). Either Snowden's in Russia because the U.S. forced it in a stupid move or it was his diabolical plan as he knew they would do something that provided cover for his real evil motives as a Russian double agent. Occam's Razor says I'm going with "it's the U.S.'s fault he's there" until I have evidence saying otherwise.

"True Believer Snowden contrasted against Snowden Who Had Help contrasted against Sociopathic Egotistical Snowden Using Cause for Excuse contrasted against ...."

Yeah, that's what I was doing. I was forcing myself to look critically at what he might be despite his positive contributions and without going into conspiracy land. The simple approach is to look at what he leaked, the circumstances, his statements/actions over time, etc. I've learned interesting things that paint a less heroic picture and might be worth knowing in the future.

And, like you said, who knows. It's why I keep asking hard questions. ;)

WaelJuly 11, 2014 1:50 AM

@Nick P,

I have some words of wisdom to share as well!
Confucius say: If RobertT and Dirk Praet are not here, they must be somewhere else!

AlanSJuly 11, 2014 1:20 PM

@AnonymousBloke

I'm not saying what they are doing isn't evil. I'm saying I think they mostly believe in what they are doing and in their own minds their actions serve the common good. The problem is that they have a very-limited perspective on their own actions and their views are often re-enforced by living and working in an echo chamber environment, made all the more so by being a mostly a secret environment, where public criticism and accountability are lacking.

AlanSJuly 11, 2014 1:25 PM

@Nick P

"Americans pushed for government to do whatever it could to prevent a 9/11. It was an irrational move motivated by fear."

We still haven't figured out that the objective wasn't the destruction of buildings or people; it was terror and what that brings. And our pols and public servants were/are more than willing to feed the fear and exploit it.

Interesting comment by former head of MI6 on these matters: Former Chief of British Secret Intelligence: Stop Viewing the ISIS Threat Through 9/11 Eyes. Our obsession with avoiding "another 9/11" means that we are not thinking clearly about present and emerging risks.

"That it wasn't put to an end quickly shows that the surveillance state was part of the new "spirit" of America."

We're back to Eisenhower and the MIC except the modern version is the Surveillance Industrial Complex. See my earlier links to examples of the revolving door.

"The thing that shocks me about it most is that Congress is at greatest risk here. You'd think they'd take action if only out of self-interest for preserving their own power and eliminating blackmail risk."

As we know from the Hoover era. Hoover had dirt or was prepared to create dirt on all of them. And he used it.

"With few exceptions, they've reinforced the laws that enable this problem including laws facilitating lies, spies, difficultly of prosecution, and so on."

More of the same this week:  Senate intelligence panel advances cybersecurity bill.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 11, 2014 2:20 PM

@AlanS

"I'm not saying what they are doing isn't evil. I'm saying I think they mostly believe in what they are doing and in their own minds their actions serve the common good. The problem is that they have a very-limited perspective on their own actions and their views are often re-enforced by living and working in an echo chamber environment, made all the more so by being a mostly a secret environment, where public criticism and accountability are lacking. "


Thanks, Alan, very well said.

I do not really disagree with that statement. I do, however, believe, ignorance or not, some are doing very bad things under the guise of "patriotism" and other "good" causes. I am not here talking about "they were over zealous" situations. I am talking about situations where severe lines are crossed, such as a large number of projects Hoover engaged in.

I have a very technical view of "morality", and consider "evil" to be typically best described with either or a combination of three different models: ignorance, sickness, and debt.

Ignorance -- people do not know what they do not know. How can you teach them what is true when they do not want to believe what is true. If truth does not fit with their preferences, they will reject it.

Great example: some stroke victims have blindness from their stroke and another particular symptom -- they do not know they are blind. When doctors ask them "what they see" in tests, they will not hesitate to tell them. And it will be entirely confabulation.

The human mind conflabuates constantly: we have massive blind spots in our eyes, we have terrible vision in our peripheral vision, and our memory is far worse then we think it is. There are many, many other areas where we have extremely inaccurate perception. This can be our overestimation of our knowledge to our understanding of other people and complex social dynamics.

A great place where we can see just how incredible the human mind confabulates is in dreams. There, we conflabuate the entire fabric of the reality of dreams while we are going.

So, for people who specialize in educating people who are blind but think they can see, well, there are a huge variety of problems. It is often not so unlike trying to get someone to snap out of seeing an optical illusion that they simply can not understand *is* an optical illusion.


Sickness -- Much less technical metaphor. If a patient comes in to a doctor with a horrible, nasty wound on their leg the doctor will not shriek in disgust, but instead patient - and with confident and friendly manner - treat the wound. Someone who is not a doctor would shriek and other cause them problems. They would not treat the wound as a wound.

If they do not know what to do to fix the wound, having no idea of modern medical science, they might resort to... primitive tactics that involve confabulation.

Such as leeches, head drilling, voodoo spells, and who knows what else.

So, one sees societies often treat criminality like the later, rather then the former. And the barbarity continues.

Then, there is the debt model -- social debt is a very, very real thing even if someone is very far removed from their conscience. A very large part of their understanding - in a usually hidden way - relies on that unconscious system of economy.

Understanding that underlying economy reveals some have more debt then others. Some have no debt at all! And, some have tremendous debt. Such debt that they are deeply weighed upon, and might be called very dark, disturbed people.

Hitler was a man with tremendous debt. Drug addict, suicide, paranoid, egomaniac, tormented soul. Serial killers are this way. Hoover was this way. But, those are the more exposed sorts of crimes. Hoover, during most of his tenure, he was exalted, a pillar of the nation. Many knew otherwise, including presidents, but they all were kept silent by the fear of his extortion.

With Hitler were very many everyday FBI involved in very dark, wrong operations that they knew - in their heart - was wrong.

Obviously, this kind of thing goes on all over the world. The KGB had far more serious cases then what America had during the same time period. Clean policing and intelligence agencies, even they will still have a few bad seeds. People will just tend to not notice them or catch them until it is too late. People like Aldrich Ames or Robert Hanssen.... a dead fly in the perfume.

But, then, systems can become corrupted and the whole thing can become a bottle of dead flies.

Thing is, that sort of debt isn't something they can run away from. It is hypocrisy. They do deeply what they deeply condemn in others. Hypocrisy. They deeply take from others incurring deep debt in their own souls, and then deeply condemn others for doing the same thing.

One core problem here is that sort of economics is deeply tied into the *valuing* capabilities of sentient beings. We value everything we perceive. We weigh everything. We are constantly judging. So when you willfully screw up, deeper and deeper, that understanding that internal capability of sophisticated spiritual (or abstract or immaterial) valuation system... it is worked very deep into the sinews of *who a person is*.

Put another way: the sickness is in the immaterial part of their self - the sinews of the unconscious - but it is also very much a debt.

The debt aspect of it is important to understand because the only way they can be cursed is to fix that screwed up system. There are, thankfully, however, many ways to use that debt they have and manipulate it to help them to find ways to pay.

There is deep... psychological fulcrum or leverage which can be used.


AnonymousBlokeJuly 11, 2014 3:31 PM

@Nick P

'On the issue of Snowden releasing legitimately damaging material'

Specific quote from you:

"That part seems simple enough. The leaks often involve surveillance operations U.S. has against foreign targets and the specific methods used. These might be targeted for political, economic, or military reasons. Targeting "allies" and "neutral" countries might even be necessary to a degree as many of them routinely spy on us the same way, often to steal I.P. and military secrets. For practical reasons, foreign collection has always been legal that I'm aware of and there wasn't a limit past the budget of the agency. Blowing these operations is therefore not legally or ethically justifiable. Binney warned Snowden about this early on here:"


Very good video. I followed the link and watched it. I see this is also where you got the quote - which surprised me at the time - that 'even Binney called him a terrorist'.

However, we only have general mentions here: he disclosed the hacking against Chinese routers. I was looking for specifics, eventually, and think it is important to get specifics, put them in a carefully detailed list, and then consider afterwards: specific pros and cons that can maybe help reveal his thinking there.

I am not expecting that from you here, however, and surely think your mention of unspecified "methods & operations against friendly countries & neutral countries" suffice for a random, pseudo-anonymous forum encounter. :-)

But, for instance, I know a bit about the 'US hacking Chinese routers' disclosure, though I would have to deeply research the story to truly get the most accurate yet succinct one liner.

Or paragraph.

But! Working from memory and admitting some details may not be entirely accurate: Snowden heard from a peer about a very classified (obviously) covert action operation the US was in the process of performing against China which was hacking a number of their routers.

The way this story was presented was "the US is spying on China by hacking them", that this was *not* part of an investigative analysis regarding China's hacking the US. Rather the US was supposedly engaged in corporate and general espionage against China, in general. Which included gathering mass information from Chinese routers.

So, what Snowden was saying, "Oh my gosh, you know how America pretends to be the straight and narrow good guys in the China vs US cyberwar thing? Lie. Reality is all along the US has been hacking China in exactly the same way China has been hacking the US!"

But!

As the story matured it seems to have turned out that this operation *was* defensively minded. Was *not* corporate espionage. And *was* created exactly *because* of Chinese hacking efforts. The US was utilizing a legitimate - though extreme - technique to ensure they could profile what attacks *really were coming from China*.

Right? Or am I wrong?

Regardless, let us continue as if I were right:

A brief, neutral summary not expressing any conclusions.

Snowden released information he heard from a colleague about the US Government engaging in hacking against China for purposes of general citizen data including Chinese corporate data. He stated this was going on at the same time the US Government was fighting off a massive, years long Chinese deep level hacking invasion against the US which includes penetration of a massive array of sensitive systems: personal citizen, human rights activists and organizations, personal journalists & news organizations, government systems and networks of all levels of sensitivity, critical infrastructure and nearly every manner of corporate systems. Snowden claimed all along the US was doing the very same thing against China while pretending complete innocence.

(A bit dramatic, and over the top brief summary. Not as good as it should be. But I am just doing this "for example".)

Pros that Snowden released this as part of a mission to properly and rightfully inform the US and world people about the illegal and immoral excesses of the US intelligence infrastructure. And Cons against that mission.

(Also could be stated much better.)

Pro: All the while America was claiming they were an innocent lamb being ruthlessly hacked by China, in reality the US was ruthlessly hacking China and simply not getting caught. This means, for all we know, the US had been hacking China first or incrementing their efforts, while China was simply responding. This would help remove the mask of innocence of the efforts of the US intelligence infrastructure in regards to their cyber security efforts.

Cons: Snowden got the story entirely wrong. Yes, the US had been hacking specific routers in China. But, this was part of a very specific **defensive** counterintelligence operation. The US was *not* engaging in the sort of hacks China has been engaging in. Instead, the US was simply doing what they had to do, putting a legitimate wiretap on China's networks that were mostly likely to be able to detail China's government sponsered hacking efforts against the US and the world.

Pro: This was not information Snowden was entrusted with either by his corporate employer nor by the US Government. So the person at fault here is the government for keeping loose control on their workers, and the person who leaked the story to Snowden in the first place.

Con: Snowden had been working in the intelligence industry for eight or nine years, he knew better then to disclose such a situation.

Pro: Let us try and imagine how that leak went down? If the peer who disclosed the story understood the operation as a very sensitive, entirely ethical and defensive operation, why would he have disclosed it to other coworkers who did not have the clearance for it? Is it possible that coworker was under the impression that it was an offensive operation, perhaps by his supervisor and other peers? And so he might be more loose lipped about an offensive operation, with the attitude of, "Oh gee man, you think we are wussies? No way. We are kicking their butt way more then they are kicking ours. Let me tell you..."

Con: That may or may not be why the story was leaked to Snowden. Whatever the case, Snowden knew better then to disclose it. He knew even if the peer presented that operation in a negative light, that peer *very well* could have been wrong.

Pro: Snowden was not thinking correctly. He was seeing all of this atrocious stuff the US was doing and did not know where the rabbit hole ended. He assumed it ended further then it did. So he was not in a position to be able to discern that the US was not acting in flagrant violation there as he had seen the US open in flagrant violation in so many other places.

Con: Snowden was very aware of secret operations he has not disclosed. He admits this. He is also very aware that even if he has some details of such operations, he would not have *all* details. So he knew that hacking of routers was very possibly a legitimate, defensive operation.

Con: At the time of release, and still, Snowden was voicing China as a potential homebase to take him. So it seems he released that story to say to China, "Hey, I got the goods, you want them, take me in".

Pro: The US was lying about other stuff. How does Snowden - or anyone - know the US was not lying about the extent of their hacking they are doing there... or the targets of their hacking? For all anyone knows, like with the overall surveillance infrastructure -- that could be just the tip of the iceberg! There is more then reasonable doubt here on the US explanations.

Con: Actually, the US had, all along, a lot of efforts for all of these programs to make them as legal as possible. And they have admitted these documents and methods and operations Snowden has released. They have been caught in lies, they have been caught in disinformation, but they have owned up to that where they have. So, barring further evidence, there is every reasonable reason to believe the US simply was making a desperate move there as they had to do.

... and so on...

And eventually, perhaps, the real story can get out.

Of course, **this is what people naturally do in the forums of free debate**. :-) In the media, on blogs. In politics, in religion. So, if the facts get out, I think the truth will get out.

Here, I only considered on specific incident where Snowden **potentially** went over the line. Obviously, more incidents would clarify the matter even better.

I know he released some very horrible information about the UK and Germany effectively malicious spying on innocent people. Including Americans. And using the old, "well they are just giving us this data on our people, we are not ourselves spying on them so this is legal". While the US does the same *for* the UK and *for* Germany.

But, then he released methods, systems of secret surveillance that *might* be used on actual legitimate surveillance suspects.

Though, in at least one instance of this, for instance, Bruce wonders if that material came from the Snowden treasure trove.

It was four year old material.


I am very aware I am not super up on this story as you are, however.


You may be sitting there going, "What about this!" and "What about that!"

I will note, that the interview I watched where Binney actually used the term "I think Snowden is a traitor", his own lawyer rephrased his statement saying "I think such terms are overboard". He did not disagree with her. In that context, and context of other statements of the meeting then it was not the *same* meaning of "traitor" then people might use for an Aldrich Ames.


Now, all that said, I am not an information anarchist, not by any degree. But, I do not believe the US should be spying on friendly countries. I do agree with Merkel there. That is a complete waste of time and valuable resources. If the US *was* performing vast corporate espionage against China, I would be against that. I do think China is, however, a valid target for defensive intelligence spying -- just as Russia was during the cold war. However, considering relations, it must be much less and much safer.

I do not, however, believe intelligence is what people make it out to be. I do believe an enormous amount of it is a waste of time and expense.

But, I do understand: people are curious. There is so much they want to know. There is information they might discover which they would die for. There is information that they would walk to the ends of the earth to get. There is information that can kill them and put them in a hell beyond their imagining. And there is information that can give them so much more then they could ever possibly believe is possible.


AnonymousBlokeJuly 11, 2014 3:54 PM

@Nick P

"I was told he was on a flight to somewhere else that went through Russia. When he was in Russia, the U.S. cancelled his passport and made him unable to go anywhere. He was hiding in an airport over there for a while. Then, he was granted limited asylum by Putin after U.S. demanded they hand him over. Easy guess is Putin did it because he's too proud and powerful to be seen as U.S.'s (censored). Either Snowden's in Russia because the U.S. forced it in a stupid move or it was his diabolical plan as he knew they would do something that provided cover for his real evil motives as a Russian double agent. Occam's Razor says I'm going with "it's the U.S.'s fault he's there" until I have evidence saying otherwise."

Okay. So Snowden is not in Russia because Russia, like China, but to a much lesser degree, has been engaged in an aggressive hacking campaign against the US. He just happened to have ended up there. And was actually wanting to go to a much more democratic state.


I might interject here: I do not believe Snowden felt he could plausibly stay in the US. I do not think he had any moral requirement to do so.

You stated you have lived in rural settings before. But, on the run, from the US government, when the US government plausibly would want you far more then the FBI's Top Ten Most Wanted?

Also, you probably had rural living skills before doing that. Those skills matter.

As for in city environments, or with comrades, again, these scenarios would have been very dangerous for him. For him to be a pundit, to have a chance to consistently explain his position and give a defense? I think his chances would have been nil. And he knew that. Anybody would.

Now? He can give his defense against anything which comes up. Virtual conferences, media interviews, wherever.

If he faced a court of law? Sealed testimony. No one would hear his defense that mattered.

"Either Snowden's in Russia because the U.S. forced it in a stupid move or it was his diabolical plan as he knew they would do something that provided cover for his real evil motives as a Russian double agent. Occam's Razor says I'm going with "it's the U.S.'s fault he's there" until I have evidence saying otherwise."

Russia operates what is believed to be a sizeable number of highly trained deep cover agents in the United States under the infamous Directorate S, or whatever its' new name is, if it has a new name.

A few years ago, when the US DoJ expelled a number of those spies they had caught, the head of the DoJ at that time did make a very curious statement about the whole affair:

"This is just the tip of the iceberg".


Nothing more said since.

I am not even sure who Snowden's girlfriend was. Who knows who Snowden was really socializing with? He was not under any kind of close inspection -- clearly, almost no inspection at all.

Now one could say, "Oh well, those guys the US released were gumballs. They were fools and hardly professionals. Their cover was ludicrous."

But, in counterintelligence, last thing you want for anyone to know is that you are spying on them, right?

And Anna Chapman came into the country when the FBI knew who she was and why she was coming in.

Put another way: these agents may have just been ones whom the FBI knew the Russians knew that they knew about. So, they may have started to stop any serious operation as soon as the FBI surveillance started on them. And the FBI may have known or suspected this.

They let go the most useless ones and pretended that was all they knew.

Point is: if there is a higher level of that sort of spy, they could be anyone. They could have any kind of background. Hawaii Birth Certificate? Forget that, they could have parents that have birth certificates from Missouri and Arkansas.

They could be second or third generation. They could have grown up here.

Heh heh heh, anyway, of course -- as you say, **not** Occam's Razor. :-)

SkepticalJuly 11, 2014 7:39 PM


A few more thoughts on the Washington Post article:

I continue to be struck by the odd statistics provided - and especially by the statistics NOT provided as to how many communications a target participated in or did not. If 95% of the communications involved the target, then unless there's a nefarious reason for the 5%, that would seem to indicate a program functioning as intended.

4 possible reasons:
(1) Editorial decision as to which statistics were most illuminating and would appeal to general audience;
(2) Statistics omitted to limit vision article provides into intelligence operations;
(3) Journalists lacked software to analyze communications to provide additional statistics;
(4) Journalists did not think of additional statistics.

None of these is really satisfying to me as an explanation.

The omission of the purpose of the surveillance reports is also curious, in my view. That the data was minimized indicates the reports weren't "raw". And clearly, based on the content in the article, the communications were placed in context by analysts, whose thoughts and conclusions were a part of the reports.

In other words, these were products intended for other members of the Intelligence Community (another possibility is that they were also prepared as samples for the DOJ, in connection with FISC inquiries - recall that Judge Bates ordered such a sample to be examined at one point in a declassified opinion).

The purpose of the reports would help us evaluate how representative they are. Yet we're not told what that purpose is - or even if the purpose can be discerned from the form in which they were given this cache.

The omission of the purpose of the reports becomes more puzzling given the amount of space given to questions about what Snowden was able to access. Knowing the purpose of these reports would tell us a lot about what conclusions to draw from his access to them. Yet the article is silent.

-- To be fair, it seems that the US Government offered less help placing these reports in context than has been the case with respect to other articles. So perhaps Gellman et al wanted to be extremely cautious and, so far as possible, avoid speculation as to the purpose of the reports. If that is the case, though, then the section of the article as to Snowden's access should also have been omitted, as it is clearly quite speculative.

@AlanS@: I understand Sanchez's point re: selectors vs. persons, however the WP article did describe the addresses used as selectors as "unique." Perhaps they simply meant that none of the addresses matched one another; but much of the rest of the article seems to imply otherwise.

We still haven't figured out that the objective wasn't the destruction of buildings or people; it was terror and what that brings. And our pols and public servants were/are more than willing to feed the fear and exploit it.

Both were objectives of 9/11. Destruction was a tactical objective; terror was a strategic objective, intended to lead to the economic weakening of the US and the dissolution of US resolve to remain involved in the Middle East and North Africa.

Destruction -> terror -> [economic, political, psychological effects ] -> US withdrawal from areas of interest to AQ.

I am in favor of the rational approach that calms human instinct towards overreaction. However, it is difficult to know what is overreaction and what is not without good intelligence. Good intelligence is what enables us to distinguish between isolated events that will occur rarely, and events that may be indicative of much more. And good intelligence on international terrorism is going to require programs like this.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 11, 2014 9:44 PM

@Skeptical

"I am in favor of the rational approach that calms human instinct towards overreaction. However, it is difficult to know what is overreaction and what is not without good intelligence. Good intelligence is what enables us to distinguish between isolated events that will occur rarely, and events that may be indicative of much more. And good intelligence on international terrorism is going to require programs like this."

Like what most people do, it is "much ado about nothing". People just do shit. Only thing that is important is other people.

Aldrich Ames was important because he got real people killed. Robert Hanssen was important because he got real people killed. Now, flashback to that time period and consider: do you believe the Soviet moles (as opposed to those two US moles) were bad people, in any way? Any of the very many Soviet and Eastern European moles? No, of course not.

For one, they did not get any people killed.

But, should the Soviet Union have killed all of those double agents? Morally, that question is simple. No.

The US believed because of US Intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence was wrong. Many Americans and Iraqis unnecessarily died fighting that war. Enormous expenditure was put into an useless war. This is one of the most colossal failures in history.

Notice when I say "this is one of the most colossal failures in history" that I am not saying "in intelligence" history. But in history.

The US made a deep investment in Iraq, based on the wrong intelligence given. It was a losing bet.

Have there been any other major errors or failings in US intelligence? Of course, there have been a vast many.

But, another aspect of the failure of US intelligence can simply be seen in the investment of intelligence on spying on friendly countries. As Merkel has said, "Why, we are open on our viewpoints".

It is morally wrong and it is logically stupid.

Because it is hypocritical.

There is a profound illusion to the concept of work that can make people believe they are doing something important, when, in fact, what they are doing is meaningless. It is a game of pretend.

In intelligence, you are asked to play a game. And that becomes your life.

The reality is America was better off without intelligence to begin with. Had they put those resources into building a better country, it would have had more meaning.

Now, there can be found some meaning in intelligence, as they can be found some meaning in any manner of work. Can a farmer who never serves as a soldier nor ever acts as a spy because a very good person? Yes.

You ever read about these young people murdered, and read about how wonderful and good they were? And they were not spies, they were not in intelligence. Yet, would you contest that they really were incredible, wonderful people?

I am sure there are incredible, wonderful people who work in intelligence. But it is not their job that makes them so.

They would have been that very same way when they were three years old just playing a far more obvious game of pretend.

Of course, this will not fly by the polls, and this won't advance your career. Because such things are so very important.

But, effectively, earth is almost like a death row prison: everyone is slated to die, be it by old age or accident or something else. Intelligence does not give them one extra month or year.

More policing, more of a surveillance state, more police does not make a country a better place. This is as obvious as North Korea or any of these other countries which have tried to do this.

Maybe they are Communist, and America is not -- but if you end up doing the very same things, there is no difference. A rose is a rose is a rose, and a piece of shit is a piece of shit is a piece of shit.

Nick PJuly 11, 2014 11:43 PM

@ Wael

"If RobertT and Dirk Praet are not here, they must be somewhere else!"

Lol. Dirk is doing other things like learning Japanese. RobertT got bored with the blog having got to the point of repeating himself a lot and/or got ordered to stop giving away trade secrets. ;) But it was worth referencing them as they might see it whether they're commenting or not.

@ AlanS

All great points. All your data also supports my theory of the situation quite well.

@ AnonymousBloke

I know you put a lot of effort into it but I'm going to dodge the Chinese hacking discussion altogether. I did read it, though, and thought you came up with a lot of good questions, answers, pro's, and con's. The reason I'm not pursuing it is it's a case whose shaky facts mean where asking plenty of questions and the whole point what to answer a question: did Snowden commit an act of treason by leaking information on legitimate (i.e. clearly lawful for NSA) operations. I proposed foreign leaks as potential evidence because NSA can legally spy on (and is encouraged to) any *foreign* country or citizen NSA thinks they need to know about. There are four or five countries that are off limits because they're are partners in cr... err, intelligence... and we have a gentlemen's agreement. ;)

So, before we go any further, you dropped comment about your beliefs on whether we should spy on allies. I mentioned we spy on allied, neutral, and enemy countries. I mentioned it's legal. Aside from simply getting us ahead, the obvious motive, there's a good reason our intelligence agencies spy on countries that call themselves allies or neutral: they pull stuff on us. The only way to know if they're rigging a contract, aiding our opponents, or trying to steal our I.P. is to turn our intelligence agencies on them to some degree. If you want some background on this and which countries spy on us, here's an excellent paper on economic intelligence gathering that gives plenty of data:

http://www.econ-jobs.com/research/31927-The-Silent-War-A-Case-for-Aggressive-Economic-Intelligence.doc

As you can see, we not only must worry about the Chinese or Russians. Our partners in Israel, France, Japan, South Korea, Taiwain, Germany and so on show up in cases of industrial or economic espionage against us. My favorite revelation was the time Mitsubishi got caught (by SIGINT) sending the highly classified and limited access President's Daily Briefing to Japan. That they had it, who they were, and who was facilitating the transfer should be a nice reality check to many Americans about how our "partners" do things. There's some flaws with the paper, like its bias, but it's examples clearly illustrate that if we're not watching the other countries we'll merely be more clueless as to why we take huge economic hits due to their espionage activities.

So, whether people like it or not, it at least makes sense that there's almost no restrictions on what our intelligence agencies can gather on foreign countries. They're not supposed to use these capabilities for espionage on our side, as it's illegal. They might anyway. Who knows. There haven't been any real attempts to enforce strong restrictions on foreign collection because Congress knows we're under constant attack and suffering massive losses. Our surveillance capabilities are mainly used in defense of our interests, with many victories coming from it. It's why I say (a) it has little to do with terrorism and (b) it *might* be warranted while certainly being legal if overseas.

So, Snowden knows that all kinds of these countries are operating against us. So, we're operating against them to find problems like I.P. theft or bribes. SIGINT or projects for that protect American interests. They're also legal and the very mandate of organizations such as NSA. If Snowden leaks these, he would *certainly* be causing damage to our country in lost intelligence capability, economic activity, and possibly diplomatic goodwill (read: don't get caught). That would qualify him as a traitor in intelligence circles as whistleblowers inform on stuff that's illegal, potentially damaging to U.S. citicizens, etc. This is why Binney warned him in several interviews to stay away from the foreign stuff as it was moving from whistleblowing to being a traitor. In another interview, he flat said he should be (imprisoned?). I can't recall the last part, but remember the look on interviewers face hearing the severe tone and words.

So, I said the Chinese example isn't great because of the uncertainties. What can we use? Well, a simple method is to go through a list of Snowden leaks and simply note which were about foreign operations or capabilities supporting them. We can call any that must be leaked to inform on domestic collection a grey area, ignoring them for the time being. That leaves any that are straight up about what NSA or our partners are doing in other countries. So, let's try a quick run of it with the link below that I use to bring people up to speed on the situation (with an emotionally overwhelming side effect):

http://www.tedgioia.com/nsa_facts.html

Looking at this list, only going by headlines (a handicap for me), I see these cases of foreign operations being revealed: bugging United Nations; Al Jazeera; collection in India; Mexican president; French phone records; German Chancellor among others there; 35 world leaders' calls; calls in Spain; Vatican; OPEC; malware on foreign networks; spying on 60 countries; 122 world leaders. Bahamas. I'd like to note that half of what's on this list are in countries that spy on us or have quite a bit of corruption along with serious economic effect. It actually makes sense we'd be using intelligence agencies there. Others are more due to the "Collect it All" mentality, but still legal and possibly beneficial.

So, Snowden did (and should've have) released plenty of material on the page as it's damning information on the NSA's activities in the U.S. Yet, the other stuff has no whistleblower purpose as it's common internationally, legal here, and benefits us. That he released that stuff means he did in fact harm us and potentially blow operations. The U.S. has already seen a ton of lost sales, faced tough political fallout, etc. It *might* have happened if Snowden only leaked the domestic stuff. Yet, it *certainly* happened when Snowden leaked the foreign stuff. For that, Binney and others might be right to call him a traitor for that reason. But, I think it's more fair to say he's both a whistleblower who supported our democracy with leaks and a bit of a traitor who did damage to foreign operations with other leaks.

re Snowden's escape and Russian angle

There's definitely Russian activity going on here. Matter of fact, government sources say they have more spies here now than they did during the Cold War. They're pretty clever, too. You're points about fake documents, 2nd/3rd generation, etc are valid. Snowden could be working with, for, or even developed by Russian intelligence. Yet, you could say all kinds of things like that about all kinds of people. The mind can worry and find possibilities all day long. Meanwhile, I'm sticking with what we know which is U.S. got him stuck there and he has Russian support. Knowing the Russians, the one concern that's justified is that Snowden gave them information. He says he doesn't have the leaks, yet he has a memory and knows which non-OPSEC-having organizations he shared them with. Either way, he could be useful to the Russians.

Btw, Snowden's girlfriend was a stripper. Videos and pics here. That caught my attention early on in the leaks but not for the reasons it excited everyone else. ;) If someone was trying to work (or work with) Snowden, that's one of the main types of women they'd use. So, I'll say that much and add I have no reason to even think past that as it's speculation. I stick with the data I have which so far says she just got caught up in it, he did it for the reasons he said, he might be a traitor due to foreign leaks, and he might have talked to the Russian while on their turf. The latter because let's be real: people don't tell this individual to f*** off, esp if they're depending on him.

All I'll say for tonight on this.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 12, 2014 11:33 AM

@Nick P

"So, before we go any further, you dropped comment about your beliefs on whether we should spy on allies."

Not to break the framework of debate here, though you should note that just because I argue something does not mean, necessarily, that I believe it.

I have strong beliefs on some matters, and vague beliefs on many other matters. I also find it very useful in persuasion to argue the opposite or tangential to what I believe.


"The only way to know if they're rigging a contract, aiding our opponents, or trying to steal our I.P. is to turn our intelligence agencies on them to some degree. If you want some background on this and which countries spy on us, here's an excellent paper on economic intelligence gathering that gives plenty of data:"

I control f'd through the document on Germany, and did not find anything except extremely circumstantial or very out of date information (relating to pre-WWII Germany).

But, let us address your arguments:
- "The only way to know if they're rigging a contract".
-> I take it you mean rigging a contract between an American company and a German company or German government.

There are so many problems with this.

Which American company should the American government prefer in such negotiations? What guarantee is there that they would *not* prefer one American company over another? What if an American company was not in favor with the current administration? What if someone in the American intelligence agency with such data decided to use that data for money or influence on that corporation? After all, for instance, 'how to get a company to allow you to put spy instruments in their product and get assurance they won't tell anyone'? Maybe utilizing their intelligence agency for that company would be leverage there?

What assurance do companies in America have in contracts with other American companies that contracts are not being rigged? Maybe the government should spy on all American companies just to "be sure" no one is "cheating"?

Maybe you are just talking about contracts between American companies and foreign governments. Is that really different?

What might prevent anyone in American intelligence from stealing corporate data and selling or trading it to American companies they want money from, or influence with?

Do you seriously think American authorities have the capability to prevent that sort of collusion on top of worrying about everything else they have to worry about? This means they do not just have to worry about a Russia, a China, terrorist groups, and so on: but every company in the world is effectively then a deep concern, American or otherwise.

This can also encourage and legitimize state sponsored attacks on American companies. If a Germany or a France has strong evidence that America is spying on their companies, then what protection is there that they not put the full brunt of their intelligence capabilities on American companies? There is no moral nor diplomatic leverage there -- the opposite is true. If America did catch any such efforts, they could not make it public because their condemnations might be rewarded with equal condemnations - or far worse condemnations - from that "friendly" country.

On and on and on this goes.

Does *trust* matter in relationships between people? I think it is the cornerstone to effective relationships. And it is the *very same thing* diplomatically.

It is one thing for American companies to worry about independent hackers, or at worst, loosely organized "organized crime". It is a total different animal to have to worry about "state sponsored attacks".

Maybe to some it would seem like "well, they have to anyway". But this is exactly like any manner of war: if you are aggressive against them doing this, then they will almost be at a loss not to do the very same thing.

No war if only one side is attacking. But guess what? If one side is attacking, it can almost demand the start of a war.

And then what happens? Well, it would be kind of like a nuclear meltdown scenario, only in economic terms.

Hyper inflation, anyone?

Really, if America decides that everyone company in the world (except from the "five eyes", though under these conditions it is ludicrous to consider that they would really bother with such a treaty): their only choice, before the whole world erupts in a global WW of economic spying... is to start hitting these companies hard and fast. Hit their stock markets. Bring them down. Grab that money, grab those resources, grab that IP, and build up hard and fast. Work with some American companies to build them into power houses. Avoid others, because you surely can't control them all.

And even that would be a very short sighted, losing strategy.

It would put the world back into the dark ages. It would devastate the global economy. Because it would open the door to disaster. Who would strike the final blow? Which act of financial sabotage would bring the whole global system down? It could be almost anything. And with everyone feverishly trying, it would be guaranteed to be something.

Meanwhile, the dollar standard would surely go out the window and Americans would find themselves in the wonderful situation of hyperinflation.

"Congress knows we're under constant attack and suffering massive losses"

As far as I know, it is China primarily engaging in economic espionage. Not every country on the planet.

Sure, it could be that France and Germany and everyone else is doing this. And the Americans *could be* hiding this from American industry so they can continue their secret counterintelligence work. Only, while that might be good for a counterintelligence investigation in the short term: it is ***horrible*** for the long term health of American businesses! They would have **no idea** they should be looking for the sort of super sneaky, security evading attacks coming from state sponsored attacks!

They have a hard enough problems dealing with the loud attacks from dumb hackers and barely organized 'organized crime'.

Maybe you have only dealt with defense contractors and government, and top 20 fortune five hundred. I do not know.

Sure, **some** companies have to have "government level security" -- like defense contractors. And they do not have government level security. This is how Snowden was able to do what he did.

There are some extremely esoteric bioengineering firms, and other firms that may have this level of security. But otherwise, you are talking about: every company, small and large, has to worry about it.

Because, hey every American, 'we the government did not do this, but we just started economic WWIII'. :/

Moving on to the other points of that bullet point list of 'why America should engage in economic espionage'.

Though the above also relates to the below.

"aiding our opponents"

You can know to start *that* kind of investigation by thorough intelligence work with your opponents. That is one, more minor point.

The more major point is: this kind of intelligence sucks. During war time, okay, there *may* be some benefit. When you actually have real enemies. Otherwise, this kind of thing is far better collected by civilian analysts and journalists who have a vest interest in this.

Put another way: when this sort of thing is happening, it is made known to everyone. If calls or discussions happen before then, private conversations, anything and everything said or done there may be bullshit.

For instance, who is the "opponent" here? Russia? China? Pakistan? If Germany is doing anything with these countries, it is going to be made public. Including if they are doing such "sensitive" things as selling missiles.

You are talking about an intelligence infrastructure here that was wrong about two major wars they started: the Vietnam War and the Iraq war.

Journalists had a far better read on these situations.

You are far better able to get a read from countries by simply looking at open source journalist material then from a group think intelligence agency. Maybe include there data reported privately by citizens. But such data is definitely suspect.

trying to steal our I.P."

Whose IP? Like the above, exactly like the above, a very slippery slope. I am not speaking rhetorically here.

As far as I understand, here is how the US Government is tasked with protecting US companies IP: they are charged with watching the electronic borders and acting on citizen complaints of foreign incursions. They do not do this very well.

Probably because they are engaged in far more lucrative ventures.

Look, the American intelligence system is a total mess. The heads of these agencies are openly making millions and millions of dollars by working with corporations. It is a shame and has nothing to do with 'protecting the country'.

If they are able and willing to do that and nobody cares, what prevents anyone under them from doing it?

And look at their security, look at what Snowden did. Or Manning. Did anyone get fired for that? No. They maybe changed some things, but overall, it is a deep and total mess.

There is no way to effectively police them. You might be able to police them adequately for Chinese or Russian spies -- but not from corporate collusion. Which destabilizes and makes a sham of America's economy.

Open economy? Free economy? When the government is secretly siding with a Microsoft or Google? Because they open the gates for them? So they might have information to trade to pad their own expense accounts?

Is there any mass and careful forensic reporting going on at all? Who could know, because who knows how much is much too secret for that -- or off the books entirely??

"If someone was trying to work (or work with) Snowden, that's one of the main types of women they'd use."

'Word on the street' is Russia currently has upwards of five thousand full time deep cover agents operating in the US. These sorts have fully inspectable backgrounds going back to their youth. It is estimated their background legends are strong enough - including legitimate seeming witnesses to their youth - to obtain top clearance in even the most secure of positions.

I am totally making that up.

But it *could* be true.


So, to finish this off: reality is, I will be straight with you, I am not losing any sleep over this. I can argue the above. But, disaster is always around the corner. So is the opposite of disaster.

I do believe intelligence muckracking can really crater the global economy. Whatever benefits may be there, consider the fall out. Consider the Vietnam war. Consider Iraq. Consider the global, major diplomatic fall out.

Everybody on the face of the planet lives on one planet, and we have to work together. An intelligence global war is not want they should be engaging in. This does not help progress.

If you have friends in your neighborhood and are caught planting bugs in their house and sleeping with their wife, it will not go well with you. Same is true with intelligence. And you will get caught.

If, however, you decide to protect your own home with ample security, who can blame you for that? But you are arguing something very different there.

The German case... I believe Merkel when she says, "if what we have now is accurate, the information this agent gave to the Americans is laughable, but the political damage is severe".

Meanwhile, intelligence guys are wracking up the cash plying their wares with economic espionage, and the rest of the world considers, "Should we not dump the dollar and reboot the whole economic system". "These Americans are wolves in sheep's clothing".

Not smart policy, and definitely no leg to stand on there.

All that said: I do not believe the US is engaging in much economic espionage, and for the above reasons [and more], I sure hope not.

Nick PJuly 12, 2014 4:10 PM

@ AnonymousBloke

"Which American company should the American government prefer in such negotiations? What guarantee is there that they would *not* prefer one American company over another? What if an American company was not in favor with the current administration? What if someone in the American intelligence agency with such data decided to use that data for money or influence on that corporation? After all, for instance, 'how to get a company to allow you to put spy instruments in their product and get assurance they won't tell anyone'? Maybe utilizing their intelligence agency for that company would be leverage there?"

Questions like these bring us to the reality of things. The reality is that there are no real rules other than basic human nature: cooperation and/or competition whose morals vary person to person, group to group, and where things can change in an instant. The international scene is much like that except all the countries are primarily looking out for their interests, more are looking at dollar signs all the time, and the many dependencies they have on each other means getting caught cheating doesn't totally out them.

I've always been an opponent of pure capitalism. The reason is that its moral calculus is do whatever you can get away with to make the numbers go up. That naturally leads to all sorts of problems. Most people running intelligence agencies, large asset management firms, and the countries themselves are selfishly motivated. The asset firms control $20+ trillion worth of activity in several continents and have leverage on politicians in each country. So, the gist of this is that rules develop to keep benefits up and risk down for all involved. Yet, the morality of it all dictates one still tries to cheat if they can get away with it. That's the game almost all of them are playing.

That we have 5 big time partners in crime and SIGINT support from many nations crying foul over spying says plenty. They were all involved in spying and schemes to some degree. So what are they saying? The U.S. is bad because it did more? That's laughable because if spying for selfish gain is OK in principle, even common for nations, then doing a lot of it is smart rather than immoral. Germany, for instance, has a very scheming intelligence service (BND), a huge export market (including deals with us), and two huge capitalists firms with plenty of impact on us. With spying being OK by default, our capitalism-loving and world-policing government is surely going to look at them closely.

So, what comes of all this? Well, like I said, the heads of government and capitalists realize that things getting out of control isn't good for them. So, they do support rules, limits, etc. Most of the spying by Five Eyes is to get leverage in politics and enforce the rules on other countries in economic espionage area. I've rarely seen us doing industrial espionage as U.S. has so much I.P. and state secrets it's usually the target. The U.S. also has many ways to get a country to do what it wants without spies. So, the spying we're doing is more about defense of the international system we want than on advancing any specific company. You could say the U.S. just like to control how the world works as it benefits them better that way. ;)

"It is one thing for American companies to worry about independent hackers, or at worst, loosely organized "organized crime". It is a total different animal to have to worry about "state sponsored attacks"."

My point is that they *do* have to worry about this no matter what. I can't remember if it's in the document I gave you but an intelligence head once bragged that selling the I.P. they stole paid for their entire intelligence agency's operations. There's also plenty that have pointed out it's cheaper to steal I.P. than invent it. So, many important countries (or at least their businessmen) are focused on getting ahead by any means that doesn't land them in jail. Espionage is a good strategy there for companies that can afford to pull it off and manage the risk.

So, we can outlaw it, condemn it, talk about how unfair it is, and yet they all keep doing it. And our dependencies and desire for their markets mean we can't just pack our bags. So, we have to defend against it, try to spot what they're doing, and/or use our services to get leverage on them. It's a terrible game. Yet, it's apparently been this way since Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War where he promoted spies as key to prosperity and victory. You also see it in Greek writings, the Bible, and so on. It's just how the world works.

How would we stop it, though? You can't. The ones doing it are richer, the tech they're using keeps getting better, and those producing the tech you want to use have incentives to cooperate with spies. Not to mention security in technology and people are both hard in general. However, a good start is for countries that are hard to pressure to pass strong data protection and privacy laws with financial incentives to encourage use of secure/private by default, end to end protected, computer systems. Businesses would also have to meet certain security requirements with regular audits. This combination might make things harder for snooping countries. Switzerland is our precedent here at least how they've handled banking.

"As far as I know, it is China primarily engaging in economic espionage. Not every country on the planet."

There's at least 23 countries doing it most reports say. Many of them are huge political and economic "allies." The leaked U.K. MOD security manual said the top three threats were China, Russia, and Israel in that order. They're in our threat matrix along with Japan, France, South Korea, the list goes on. There's a lot of it. I think it's ridiculous but it's how a lot of these countries got to be the powerhouses they are in certain industries. And China's, btw, is military and economic. Their new stealth fighter, for instance, probably came from secrets their infiltrators took from our programs. Why spend tens of billions developing one when you can spend millions to own the developers or their work? ;)

re aiding our opponents

Under capitalist doctrine, our opponents are everyone far as economics are concerned. The U.S. has to be No 1 and that spot has competition. There's also the views of anyone who is a violent threat to us, anyone who threatens stability, anyone who might deny us a key resource, and so on. The point is established laws, precedents, previous decisions by the public, and SIGINT allow us to leverage intelligence to protect our interests everywhere. Snowden blows any of this, he's (a) not revealing anything illegal, (b) not revealing what most of America opposes as they like being on top, and (c) possibly causing us economic or diplomatic harm because "do it and don't get caught." He did cause that harm with the foreign leaks so he's guilty on those charges is my theory.

If one wants, the route to ending such imperialists crap is to campaign Congress and the voters to change our laws & policies. There's plenty of people, even some in Congress, involved in such movements. They've gotten nowhere with voters or Congress at large. Shows you where majority stands on that sort of thing. I'm opposed to the status quo like Snowden was but that doesn't mean I'd leak those operations. It would be obvious nobody would consider that whistleblowing unless the foreign operations were inconsistent with our law or how America does things. They're not: they're business as usual. (sighs)

re stealing I.P.

The U.S. government isn't required to protect [unclassified] I.P. that I'm aware of. The only protections they do are legal: copyrights, trade secrets, patents, and so on. The owners themselves must guard their secrets, sue for violations, and so on. Other countries have different interpretations of I.P. law, which can be a factor. Most of these companies don't do real security because it costs money. And now we're back to how only caring about numbers going up in short term causes many of our problems [in U.S.].

The government themselves did try to take action on INFOSEC in the 80's and 90's. The NSA was lead evaluator. A combination of military, academia, and private parties contributed to standards that at the time could produce very secure systems. Purchasing policy dictacted only high security devices for critical operations, so the marketplace was incentivized to produce those. Then, the government started producing their own products and allowing less secure products for all their nifty features. The combo killed the high assurance market. (best account) Some speculate NSA did it on purpose as nearly unhackable endpoints and networks aren't great for their SIGINT mission. Yet, I give all involved credit for having actually done what needed to be done back then and in recent debates I use this as ammo against NSA's bogus, self-serving proposals for "protecting" our information systems.

In short, it's been done right before but all involved don't want the tradeoffs for different reasons. It's too ugly, it costs too much, it's a burden to use, it undermines TLA efforts, and so on. Apparently, their classified or confidental information isn't worth the trouble. (!)

re Russian spies

It might have been a Russian that said the spying paid for the intelligence service. In any case, they're very good at it and can be quite patient. I don't put anything past them.

re "to finish this off"

I agree that it's all bad for us in the long term. Just remember that our system is a plutonomy that allow a rich, powerful few to benefit at the expense of everyone else. Using TLA's to enforce their system is their form of security: it protects them against all kinds of risks and helps them see others coming. That's the real reason all this is going on. Almost every issue you mention can be reduced to the activities of the transnational capitalist class. I'm as impressed as disgusted by it as I can barely get how we've lasted this long and new doom is always on the way. The Big Crash will happen one day, though. It's inevitable as this model is not sustainable. The only cure is people in each country to take action, change the incentives, and *force* accountability one way or another.

SkepticalJuly 12, 2014 4:38 PM


Gellman answers a lot of questions about this story today in the link provided by the 7/11 update in this post, which I'll just restate here

He does so in an open and judicious fashion. This is worth reading if you had any interest in the original story.

A few things I found particularly interesting:

-- Number of individual targets contained was deduced from number of unique case numbers in the files.

-- Unclear as to whether Gellman et al had correlated selectors for each unique case number, but it appears that they had access to at least enough to furnish a large sample.

-- The targets were, apparently, targeted for obvious reasons, according to an examination conducted by Gellman and his colleagues. To quote:

Julie Tate and Jennifer Jenkins expended prodigious labor determining the names of the account-holders and researching their public records. In nearly every case, the reasons for the NSA’s interest was apparent. Among more than 10,000 non-targeted accounts, the communications reflected a normal range of human interaction.

-- The data itself was not in a structured format convenient for analysis with whatever database tools were available, and required some fitting.

-- The reports were derived from a repository maintained by NSA analysts in Hawaii who were focused on SE Asia. This is interesting for several reasons, not least of which is that it makes the format of the data surprising. We can surmise that either the data as given to the Washington Post could be usefully queried by a tool within the NSA, or that the data was taken by Snowden before being moved into a database and format more amenable to useful searches, or that the data was held in such a database but the method of retrieval utilized by Snowden resulted in the less structured form it had when given to the journalists.

I would guess on the third possibility as closest to the truth.

-- There were apparently 250,000 pages which Soltani attempted to extract relevant information.

Because the information was not laid out in rows and columns, the way it might be in a spreadsheet, Soltani wrote computer code to extract what we were looking for from something like a quarter-million pages of unstructured text.

-- By my math, were the content of intercepts uniformly distributed across accounts, there'd be approximately 1.6 pages of communication per account.

-- We learn a little more, but not much, about the distribution of intercepts among targets and non-targets:

... we reported only what we could count. We did not say that the NSA intercepted a larger number of conversations or a higher volume of content belonging to bystanders than targets. We said there were more participants (unique online accounts) in those conversations who were not targets than participants who were.

This leaves me, though, with one of the same questions I had when I first read the article.

What proportion of the intercepted communications involved at least one participant who was a target, what proportion of the intercepted conversations involved no targets as parties (not present in any sense) at all, and what proportion of the intercepted conversations involved no targets as parties nor any reference to targets?

If the Washington Post team could correlate case numbers with targets, then this is a statistic that should be feasible to extract and report.

Communications that involve a target in some way are less troubling. And, in fact, if the Washington Post found the NSA's reasons for being interested in the actual targets to be obvious upon an examination of those accounts, then that indicates that the targeting is focused appropriately.

Communications that do not involve the target at all are potentially are more troubling.

I continue to wonder why such a key statistic would be omitted.

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 6:52 PM

@ Moderator,

I'm still getting the "Internal Server Error" message for a posting that exceads the comment box size displayed in this Smart Phones browser.

I've not made changes on the smart phone, but I can't rule out the service provider or others making changes between me and your server. Do the server logs show anything around five mins becore the time of this post?

I'll repost the failed post in pieces.

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 7:05 PM

There appears to be a myth about the US not spying on Five Eye Nations, or on each other floating around, for the record that myth is wrong, very wrong.

It's been known for many many years (almost as long as the BRUSA agreement) that the US signals agency (later NSA) would spy on the UK and later on other "British Empire" Five Eyes and in return the other signals agencies (like GCHQ) would spy on the US and each other. They would then hand the Intel gathered over to the Signals Intel Agency for the country concerned ( and also the likes of other non signals Intel Agencies such as the CIA, MI6, and domestic agencies such as the FBI and MI5 ).

The reason for this little game was that Politico's and those that advised them could state in confident tones "We do not spy on our own citizens".
--End of part one--

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 7:11 PM

--Part two--
Eventualy the signals agencies saw them selves as an organisation above politics and elected and other governmental structures (see what went on in NZ for how band it got), and thus above the governments and peoples themselves, which is a major part of the current issues.

The problem as I know first hand having been on the receiving end (when designing what you might describe as jamming equipment) is that wires can get crossed, and I was not happy to be told I turned up on a watch list for doing something that I had been cleared to do and had to make myself invisable for a while whilst others untangled the wires. Thankfully unlike some others I'd not yet poped up on the then UK Customs and Excise radar unlike one or two other very unlucky UK based companies and organisations [1].
--End of part two--

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 7:19 PM

--Part three--
In the UK Maggie Thatcher had reinforced the Intel Community Triad and others view that they were above politics and ministerial oversight and pumped vast amounts of money into them, which Ronnie "Ray Gun" did for the US IC as well. Which reinforced the IC's "Divine Right" beliefs. Which caused a significant issue and most subsiquent voted for asspects of government tried to reign in untill 9/11 and the Bush & Blair years. This gave the IC back it's "Divine Right" which it had lost with the demise of the Cold War.

Having "got their mojo back" the IC is determined to keep it, and this means they need a new enemy that appears on paper at least, to be as dangerous if not more so than the late 1950s through 80s CCCP, only this time the enemy must not have the ability to "fall" the war must not end.
--End of part three--

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 7:38 PM

--Part Four--
So where are the IC to find an eternal enemy, why not look in the George Orwell 1984 playbook, and "byte the hand that feeds it". That is make "We the People" the enemy who "harbours within" faux or over exaggerated enemies, such as international terrorists, drug barons and other members of the "four horsemen" of the societal apocalypse that politicos use to stay elected by screaming "Think of the Children" etc (whilst actually selling the children down the river for a few lucrative positions in the MIC etc should the electorate pick another poltical clone).

[1] UK Customs and Excise had for historic reasons (see King's Revenue Men) some quite draconian powers, which others felt they used unwisely and thus C&E were considered by the other UK Intel Organisations as "lose cannon wanabies" and were compleatly untrusted by the rest of the UK IC [2].
--End of part four--

Clive RobinsonJuly 12, 2014 7:55 PM

--Part five--
[2] You can see why from what happened with the Iraq Big Gun and subsiquent collapsed trial of the Matrix Four. However not having realy learnt from that the C&E attempted to run an intel gathering organisation of their own by setting up an international money laundering business, which back fired resulting in a judge severaly condeming them and a further series of collapsed trials. Resulting in C&E losing prosecutory powers and being subsumed into Inland Revenue. Many wish similar would happen to other UK agencies with prosecutional powers such as OfCom, especialy those that have let RIPA give them delusions of "Divine Right"[3].

[3] Since RIPA there have been almost unbelievable events most UK citizens have considered abuse of power. So much so the maxim about "Absolute power..." has been reconsidered as "Any power corrupts absolutely" when politics is involved, oversight is either ineffective or absent, or much worse when those doing the oversight are actually calling the tune the piper plays...

ModeratorJuly 12, 2014 8:47 PM

Clive,

OK, yes, I do see an error in the logs:

(70007)The timeout specified has expired: Error reading request entity data

Which I think means that Apache got tired of waiting for the request to be completed.

I also checked to see if anyone else was getting the same error. There are a few, but all the others I looked at are some spambot that identifies as "MSIE 6," which I'm guessing is just broken. So, at first blush it seems like the issue is probably something fairly specific.

Could you try a different browser on the same phone and see if that makes any difference?

SteeeveJuly 12, 2014 9:56 PM

@ Nick P

Thanks for the "Looking Back" article. Not a lot of low-level technical detail, but still neat. Specifically on the network side, I've been pretty annoyed by a few of the latest anti-security trends:

1) Lack of JTAG connectors for low-level validation on network routers and switches
2) Lack of a good open-source NSM alternative to SNORT
3) SDN and the annoying reliance on Intel x86 architectures (Intel SMM is terribly documented and scares me) for route processors
4) The death of run-to-complete router/switch kernels
5) TERRIBLE 'intelligent supply chain management' practices by UPS, FEDEX, USPS, etc.

Most of these are just idiotic oversights, and it embarrasses me slightly.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 12, 2014 10:28 PM

@Nick P

Excellent article.

"The leaked U.K. MOD security manual said the top three threats were China, Russia, and Israel in that order. They're in our threat matrix along with Japan, France, South Korea, the list goes on. There's a lot of it. I think it's ridiculous but it's how a lot of these countries got to be the powerhouses they are in certain industries. And China's, btw, is military and economic. Their new stealth fighter, for instance, probably came from secrets their infiltrators took from our programs. Why spend tens of billions developing one when you can spend millions to own the developers or their work? ;)"

I think we are all well aware China is rampantly engaged in this activity. A new article comes out almost everyday and it has been this way for a long time.

Russia's incredibly bloated, supermassive KGB actually may have made a profit for their economic espionage. Their system was incapable of innovation and their record of theft was amazing.

I have not seen evidence that Japan, South Korea, Israel, France, and so on, became the powerhouses that they are through economic espionage which is state sponsored.

I am aware that Israel engages in rampant espionage, though I am not aware that they engage in state sponsored attacks against corporate interests which are not involved in government projects.

It could be that evidence for these hidden histories of these mighty nations is simply hidden. Though, they are free nations, and they do have healthy amounts of innovation... which can be reasonably assumed.

Definitely, there has been soft IP theft, such as what it is claimed Samsung did with Apple. No spies required.

I might note: if there were hard evidence of any severe economic espionage from these countries, it could be easily collated and would make for a very nice book. It would be against the interest of the nations they are targeting to refuse to tell - to educate - their corporate populace about the state sponsored dangers they are facing.

It is in the best interest of american companies that they know they are potentially threatened by even friendly state powers, even if they are in no way "defense contractors".

I do not see this sort of news being delivered. Maybe it simply happens on a small scale.

This is not true with China. To a much lesser degree, Russia.

"Yet, the morality of it all dictates one still tries to cheat if they can get away with it. That's the game almost all of them are playing."

Key phrase there "if they can get away with it".

A good "for instance", it is possible Russia is avoiding this sort of problem by hiding behind organized crime. Last week or so, for instance, a ranking Russian's son was arrested by American authorities for a massive hack and trading of credit card information. It could be that what was found there was actually secretly organized and sponsored by their government.

If so, then I doubt the son would have any evidence of this. He likely thought he was simply dealing with criminals.

A great many attacks against corporate infrastructure do, after all, come from Russia.

This is typically called out for being "organized crime".

State sponsored attacks do frequently use common hacker tools, depending on the degree of sophistication required, for plausible deniability purposes. So, I could see the russian secret intelligence secretly giving their criminal organizations a controlling push and a controlling hand.

No agents lost if any nations demand on their arrest. They are using criminal puppets.

I am not sure of a super paranoid model of approach here for the best defense, however. That is, for instance, corporate fortune 1000/smbs as chokepoints, investigate incidents, and then work out from there to criminal suspects seems like a strong chokepoint. Even if ultimately, the suspects, when foreign, very well may be working for their government.

Even if the suspects are simply engaged in massive credit card theft, breaking into brokerage firms, or hacking up R&D at retail companies.

If any state *is* quietly manipulating their criminal element: perhaps funding them, keeping key players out of jails, protecting them not because they are being bribed, but because they are using them for their own national interests -- perhaps even helping arm them, besides simply giving them funding... I would tend to think this would be a solitary innovation unlikely to be immediately duplicated by other countries.

Otherwise, it could be extremely difficult to keep a really large ongoing covert overseas operation going. The larger an operation is, the more likely there will be leaks.

In the above scenario, the operation operates on its' own, with simply key chokepoints, allowing low level criminals to go to jail and profit, but the vast majority know nothing -- and even any who are in contact with cops think it is simply ordinary police/crook bribery relationship.

Of course, there is no little evidence the FBI did work with the mafia, however, in this manner of relationship.

Nowadays, however, it is true, that federal authorities could simply encourage in such silent ways their criminal elements to attack foreign targets... and then put their hard core super secret surveillance capabilities on them so that they effectively operate like siphons and windows into foreign targets with very high plausible deniability.

I have to wonder, however, how much Hollywood may actually have it right with their legends of super secret, off the books spy agencies like section six of alias or salt or ctu or whatever -- the americans is a good one.

Amusing salt was released the same week or so that the russian directorate s spies were booted.


WaelJuly 13, 2014 1:38 AM

@AnonymousBloke,

The US believed because of US Intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence was wrong.
Yea, George Bush was aware of this fact as well!

Clive RobinsonJuly 13, 2014 3:57 AM

@ Wael,

Yes, it's been accepted by quite a few people that Iraq was a compleate stitch up by various members of the Intel Community.

Some have said it was all done for Israel, and whilst I can see it's very easy to cherry pick your way to that conclusion, it lacks the "what's in it for me" asspect for the US and UK. Thus I've looked as have a number of journalists for other reasons. It's clear that a lot of misinformation came from two sources and then went round the IC Mill a few times to gain believeability, and one repeated step was through Israel's IC hence the easy cherry pick. However the two originating sources appear to be the Iraqi national congress in exile funded by the US IC and those seeking a new life/wealth from the US. Whilst the former were "mouth pieces for rent" the latter were chancers who would say anything that would get them what they wanted. So yes GWB had his hard work done by the US IC.

Clive RobinsonJuly 13, 2014 4:07 AM

@ Moderator,

Thanks for the info, I'll need to do a little research on the phone OS and software first, as it's an old android platform heavily modified by Motorola for the service provider. I'll need to dig under the hood to see if their are odd settings on time outs etc set by the Service Provider and how to wrest control from the Service Provider if there are.

My guess is it will be service provider related, but when it happened I'm not sure as having been busy for the past few months I was mainly making short posts.

WaelJuly 13, 2014 5:19 AM

@Clive Robinson,

I'll need to do a little research on the phone OS and software first
I suggest you start by doing this:
adb logcat -v threadtime -b radio | tee logfile.txt
in another command shell do:
adb logcat -v threadtime -b system | tee systemlog.txt

Start your browser and post a long comment, then check the log files for anomalies.
I would also recommend taking a packet log with wireshark during the process.

You may also try to install alogcat from google play:
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=org.jtb.alogcat&hl=en

There are other tools that are not "easily" publicly available, so you can start with the above...
You may also try with a Wi-Fi connection vs GSM (I am assuming your phone isn't LTE capable.)
Next step would be as the Moderator suggested, try different browsers...

WaelJuly 13, 2014 5:24 AM

@Clive Robinson,

It's clear that a lot of misinformation came from two sources...
Where do you see Tony Blair fitting in this sequence of events?

Nick PJuly 13, 2014 9:27 AM

@ Steeeve

Glad you liked it. Far as technical detail, they were built to the Orange Book specifications so you just have to look up Orange Book A1 class. I have a link to GNTP/GEMSOS (and others) in this post of anti-NSA tech. That one is the evaluation report which includes design details and more. What's not in my links is they built terminals, VPN's, guards, and even databases on it. Currently, Aesec is marketing it for secure separation of Citrix remote desktops as well.

@ Wael, Clive

The intelligence was cooked. Many people even left the Pentagon around that time saying as much. Key people in that administration wanted to hit Iraq and Afghanistan before 9/11, then just BS'd their way into what they wanted when America wasn't asking questions. One example was them having analysts take bullet points about WMD's off documents from the 80's, "integrate" them into modern summaries, and present it with modern date on it. The fuzzy black and white satellite photos from high-res, color satellites were also interesting.

The whole thing was staged. Propoganda, bad intelligence, and false flags are the three main ways to cause unnecessary wars. At least two were provably used here.

SkepticalJuly 13, 2014 11:25 AM


@AnonymousBloke: Only thing that is important is other people.

Aldrich Ames was important because he got real people killed. Robert Hanssen was important because he got real people killed. Now, flashback to that time period and consider: do you believe the Soviet moles (as opposed to those two US moles) were bad people, in any way? Any of the very many Soviet and Eastern European moles? No, of course not.

Yes, the well-being of people is the ultimate good. Whether something negatively affects that well-being goes beyond the question of whether that something kills someone.

Ames and Hanssen reduced the national security of the United States, and some of its allies as well, while at the same time strengthening an authoritarian adversary. That in itself, apart from whether their betrayal directly resulted in deaths, qualifies their actions as highly immoral and dishonorable.

The US believed because of US Intelligence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Intelligence was wrong. Many Americans and Iraqis unnecessarily died fighting that war. Enormous expenditure was put into an useless war. This is one of the most colossal failures in history.

Two separate issues:

(1) Intelligence analysis and conclusions regarding WMD (can refer to either weapons or programmes) in Iraq before the invasion;

(2) The failure in post-invasion planning and preparation that allowed Iraq, post-invasion, to slide into sectarian violence and insurgency.

Many intelligence agencies, including those of nations that were opposed to the invasion, concluded that Iraq had WMD. This conclusion did not compel a decision to go to war.

Put differently, the question as to whether an invasion was the best policy is not answered by the IC conclusion that Iraq had WMD. That required additional calculus and decision-making, which was not performed by the IC.

Nor was the IC responsible for (2), which is largely the reason Iraq became viewed as a mistake of such magnitude.

... Have there been any other major errors or failings in US intelligence? Of course, there have been a vast many. But, another aspect of the failure of US intelligence can simply be seen in the investment of intelligence on spying on friendly countries. As Merkel has said, "Why, we are open on our viewpoints". It is morally wrong and it is logically stupid. Because it is hypocritical.

It would be hypocritical if the US stated that Germany should not spy on the US Government. Has the US done so? Quite the contrary, the US has essentially said that all governments do so.

Let's live in the real world for a moment. The German Government acts in the interests of Germany; the US Government acts in the interests of the United States. There are enormous areas of common interest, and there is a common bond, extending partly from shared cultural and political aspects, which has developed through long decades of close cooperation.

But, these are also separate governments, and they do not share as close an alliance as might the UK and the US. They would be foolish not to collect intelligence where they can. The German Government is not naive; nor will they allow the capture of what may be a German or two who were acting as sources for the US to derail more important endeavors.

There is a profound illusion to the concept of work that can make people believe they are doing something important, when, in fact, what they are doing is meaningless. It is a game of pretend.

Intelligence work is a game of pretend and is meaningless? How so?

The reality is America was better off without intelligence to begin with. Had they put those resources into building a better country, it would have had more meaning.

You believe that the US would be better off without intelligence agencies? Truly?

But, effectively, earth is almost like a death row prison: everyone is slated to die, be it by old age or accident or something else. Intelligence does not give them one extra month or year.

Yes, all lives are alike in that they end with death. However, that's a silly comparison which eliminates almost everything in life that we find meaningful. For most of those who live in Western democracies, earth is very different than death row.

More policing, more of a surveillance state, more police does not make a country a better place. This is as obvious as North Korea or any of these other countries which have tried to do this.

Maybe they are Communist, and America is not -- but if you end up doing the very same things, there is no difference. A rose is a rose is a rose, and a piece of shit is a piece of shit is a piece of shit.

The US isn't in danger of becoming North Korea. Nor is it anywhere close to being so. Nor is any other Western democracy.

AnonymousBlokeJuly 13, 2014 5:03 PM

@Skeptical, et al

"But, effectively, earth is almost like a death row prison: everyone is slated to die, be it by old age or accident or something else. Intelligence does not give them one extra month or year.

Yes, all lives are alike in that they end with death. However, that's a silly comparison which eliminates almost everything in life that we find meaningful. For most of those who live in Western democracies, earth is very different than death row."

Unfortunately, if you do not consider heavily the weight of death on the calender when considering human beings, you are not understanding human beings at all.

As for a "silly comparison", the Book of Ecclesiastes is actually highly admired over the ages, and it directly tackles this topic. It is not alone. Major modern even atheistic philosophers have realized the wisdom of considering death and how it impacts what people do, and who they are.

Almost paradoxically, death is a subject that is regarded as silly for consideration by the vast majority when considering the foibles of humankind.

People race for wealth and every other means of selfish gratification, blindly, considering truly that there are no ramifications for anything they do other then: please me now, because soon I will be dead.

They may have high words for their own nobility, and speak of future generations - perhaps even that they might have a legacy or name which lives on - but none of this is truly in their heart. They may say, "I am noble and full of noble aims, seeking to better the whole world, above all forms of self-gratification" -- but they are liars.

Not all, but many.

How do you not know this? Are you pretending? And if you do not know this, then I am sorry for you because you will never understand the course of future events if you can not grasp the course of current events.

I mean, you talk about a "cynical" viewpoint of humankind, and you are not even aware of the most core issue about why it is they do what they do?

Before proceeding, consider that if you are given at the start of your life a credit card with a large balance on it and you believe you will never have to pay it back, what will you do with that card? If the loaner says, "You do not have to pay anything back until you are dead, then I will have you pay it back"?

If you rent a house that you will know you will never have to worry about what condition you leave it in, versus if you owned that house? If you own it, you worry about and fix it. If you do not, you might trash it and consider any major investment in it to be worthless.

This is exactly "how" and "why" the intelligence agencies of the world could be so derelict of duty to believe - wrongly - that Iraq had WMD. This is exactly how the US could have expressed such confidence that Iraq had WMD. This is exactly how Hoover, a clear homosexual did massive purges of US Government of homosexuals. How he wiretapped the house and senate. How he attempted to extort - and effectively did - Presidents. This is how he dropped the ball on such major issues as Pearl Harbor and got away with it.

This is exactly "how" and "why" you see North Korea in the shape it is. They don't give a damned. The ship is sinking, they are going to die, they are in it for everything they can get while they can get it. Sure, they talk about how good they are, how patriotic they are. But, in such an extreme case, it is extremely visible to everyone outside of their subjective circles just how much of liars they really are.

Iraq was not the first super massive intelligence mistake the US Intelligence "community" has had. They missed the ball over the years on many things. Their rate of accuracy is low. Much lower then civilian analysts who do not have the need to try and support a massive 'military industrial' complex by bullshit.

From the esteemed Foreign Policy magazine:

Top Ten US Intelligence Failures
10. Pearl Harbor
9. Bay of Pigs
8. Tet Offensive
7. Yom Kippur War
6. Iranian Revolution
5. Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan
4. Indian Nuclear Test
3. Fall of the Soviet Union
2. 9/11 attacks
1. Iraq War

What we can see as likely intelligence failures coming up include: War in Jordan and downfall of the Syrian regime.

The Levant & Iraq will be consumed in war which will invariably pull the US and the rest of the world into.

Syria, Jordan, Iraq. Goodbye.

What is intelligence saying now? I do not know, but I do know that Obama is not saying, "Let's go and quickly mop this up before it becomes a problem." Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs magazine is quietly pointing out that if they attack Jordan, they will bring in the US.

BTW, if there was anything someone might have noticed as comment worthy in my last post it was explaining how Russian intelligence utilized their organized crime as a plausibly deniable but essential apparatus for foreign espionage.

Believe me, I am quite sure this is what the Americans are thinking as they pull up that Russian politician's son.

As for Russia and Ukraine, well, Russia has an vested interested in keeping America preoccupied so that America will "mind their own business". So, if they can help flare up that "Levant & Iraq" situation for the short sighted "little" coming war there, they achieve their short term objectives. Especially if this means the US will have to rely on them.

Finally, as for it being better for the US when they had less intelligence, such as pre-WWII. Well, first note they had foreign intelligence via the various armed services and the diplomatic services. (Now, the diplomatic services and intelligence services are at odds with each other, adversaries. Which is bad.)

I am not saying intelligence is useless. I am not unaligned with those who wanted war in Iraq, and I am not unaligned with those who want war in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq (third time is a charm, baby!)

Our objective is relatively simple and it is no top secret: we want to see the border of Israel stretched to the Eurphrates.

Insert evil laugh here: Muahahaha.

The overall idea is to shock the world into a totally different frame of reference. We see a third global war coming over that territory, and realize what the fruits of it will be.

Everything is working in our favor towards this. Including the mashup between the "free" nations and Islamic nations.

Surely, I, like yourselves noticed that the way Iraq was divided was a collosal mistake. Surely you felt it best to divide Iraq into a Shiite nation and a Sunni nation. But, perhaps you, unlike myself, realized they would make that mistake anyway, and the value of it was for exactly "this".

So, in summary, US Intelligence serves to blind and misdirect. It is a control point of the country. If your goal in life is to live a simple, easy, uninteresting life it would be better for you to avoid some kind of armageddon, that is just a little too literal to not get chills over.

Now time for me to retreat into the mist, and wait a little while until that clock's big hand moves to the exact right place. :-)

G'day, sirs, and maams.


name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJuly 13, 2014 5:34 PM

@ Skeptical

Put differently, the question as to whether an invasion was the best policy is not answered by the IC conclusion that Iraq had WMD. That required additional calculus and decision-making, which was not performed by the IC.

What are we to do with you, didn't you get the info from Powell and Tenet, it's basketball man--a slam dunk that takes 45 minutes. For those in the know my statement makes sense even to David Kelley or Hans Bliks. The misinformation complex is the ONLY source--just ask the press.

Off to get a Guiness and shop at the mall--drunk. It's all the skill a citizen is required to have.

AlanSJuly 13, 2014 9:14 PM

@Skeptical

I think we can agree that the WaPo article and follow-up commentary involved speculation given that it depended on assumptions and interpretations of the dataset provided (as Buck noted previously). It is probably not worth spilling any more ink on it.

On the other point maybe I should have said the primary objective wasn't destruction of buildings and people. It was the means to the end. The targets were symbolic and it was the symbolic meaning the event created and its effects that were important.

You write "good intelligence on international terrorism is going to require programs like this." Programs like what? The one discussed in the WaPo article? The programs that existed before 9/11 were perfectly adequate to detect the 9/11 terrorists. They had the intelligence; there was a failure of process (as was documented in the reports published afterwards). A lot of what's been put in place post 9/11 is what I'd label giving into terrorism by over-reacting and pissing on the constitution. Part of the problem is the "no terrorism ever again" mind-set which is totally unrealistic. That's the way you think when you are terrorized.


Nick PJuly 13, 2014 9:32 PM

@ AnonymousBloke

"I do not see this sort of news being delivered. Maybe it simply happens on a small scale."

Yeah, that is an oddity. I originally thought it meant that it was disinformation where they blew small things out of proportion to justify their own activities. Then, I found stories like when we leaked a French catalog showing all kinds of our I.P. That details in that one story represented all kinds of infiltrations, with even more probably happening that didn't get the goods. Yet, you didn't see news stories about the French hitting us regularly.

Likewise with Israel: internal documents list them as a major espionage threat to Western nations, but we're also friends with them. There's a strong pro-Israel lobby here that ensures both aid and good treatment on the media. So, their spying cases are common but rarely reported. The activities of countries like South Korea and Taiwan, both big economic partners of ours, might also be kept from smear campaigns for that reason. (And we fight China politically for Taiwan, too.) There's also the part of the game where you don't try to bust every spy: you let them come after you and only bust them if they're actually accomplishing something. Otherwise, at least you can keep tabs on them and even feed them disinformation. We've set back opponents that way many times in the past.

Surprising effects can also happen with adversarial countries. China is the most prolific country doing espionage. Yet, the amount of media reporting on specific cases is still only a small portion of the activities. The main reports we get are when managed security services firms, esp antivirus, track command and control networks that are connected to all kinds of firms sucking data out of them. At that point, it's obvious what's going on: a ridiculous amount of companies being cleaned out through and through. Mandiant busted out Chinese hackers that way showing terabytes of data going to Chinese ISP's close to their military hacking unit. Yet, with all this going on, the amount of specific stuff being reported is still pretty small for the country we agree is the most prolific (and not stealthy at all about it) espionage country.

Just imagine how much news we'd get of those that were focusing their efforts on only high value secrets, working at a more patient pace, and trying to cover their tracks. We wouldn't have many news stories. The person would have to be under suspicion and charged (before leaving with the goods) to even make the news. A conviction would be necessary to make real waves in the news. So, it is possible that a lot of what we expect to see we aren't seeing just because they're being careful and the news wants sensational reports. Just a theory of mine, though.

"If any state *is* quietly manipulating their criminal element: perhaps funding them, keeping key players out of jails, protecting them not because they are being bribed, but because they are using them for their own national interests -- perhaps even helping arm them, besides simply giving them funding..."

That's mainly Russia. What you describe fits with what I've seen them do. It's easiest to understand if one thinks of Russian power structure as a government + organized crime + a corporation. They're kind of all that roled into one. There's plenty of evidence of this for the connection between criminal hackers and government for them. There's government sponsored hackers in China, but the strong crime connection seems unique to Russia as many of the biggest botnets were traced there. The government seemed to protect the hackers on occasion, too.

"I have to wonder, however, how much Hollywood may actually have it right with their legends of super secret, off the books spy agencies like section six of alias or salt or ctu or whatever -- the americans is a good one."

The CIA did a lot of that stuff back in the day. They practically ran their own little government within ours with covert funding (eg drugs), assassinations, and so on. Since, they must have stopped that kind of stuff or gotten much sneakier at it as I haven't heard anything solid in a while. If anything, their spies' quality sucks now and is why we have to get so much foreign help. Which often doesn't help lol. ;)

Salt's was a fun movie but was quite fiction: I wouldn't mentally connect it to anything. Three Days of the Condor and The Good Shepherd are more like it was really done. Condor even had Director Richard Helms (MKULTRA fame) on consulting to add little details for operational realism. Spy Game is good for it's focus on talent development and cons along with being a great spy fiction (good acting mainly).

Note: This is probably my last post on the espionage discussion as we've dragged it out quite a while so far. Of course, feel free to post finishing thoughts if you want. I'm just giving you a heads up so you're not thinking "where did he go?"

AnonymousBlokeJuly 21, 2014 2:06 PM


I do not have much to add there on the most salient points. I was in a joking around mood.

Full disclosure: my only experience with espionage, besides what I have come across in my daily work as a computer security researcher is having acted as a sort of citizen spy for a number of years.

It was very stressful work and made me very paranoid.

While I was deeply studied in crime, I had avoided studying much on espionage because I had read Colby's book in my early teens and was persuaded intelligence guys had nothing to learn from.

After my work as a citizen spy, I furiously read up on the subject, tracking down every memoir that seemed plausibly that I could. I found the deep thinking useful to my daily work as a security researcher, and still do. It is very similar.

I am, frankly, too unstable for such work, have too many contradictory ideas, and have had numerous periods of excessive drinking.

Though, if someone looked closely at my resume and family, they would likely come to a different conclusion -- though, in person, such an idea would be considered preposterous.

I might note, I have never worked as a police informant. I do not care about petty crimes very much and do not trust cops very much. I am very anti-authoritarian, so I found that my work was well in league with my own beliefs and conscience.

I only write this as I imagine it can be annoying to wonder what people's stories are, at times. And, I have nothing to hide.

I have worked on privacy tools, and have spoken at conferences. I have worked with a lot of leading groups, and in infrastructure security.

Because I have worked with some "elite" groups, though I do not socialize much, I do get people over the years telling me a lot of stories. In my "citizen spy" situation I really, deeply hesitated before starting that relationship because I found the US foreign intel to be incomptent. But, I was surprised.

When I did that work, it was really post-911 and I was much more conservative politically then I am now.

I am pretty free about posting here, though typically try and not give personal details. I do not use a proxy, and am not worried about repercussions or lists or anything as I do nothing wrong.

From that work, books I have found solid, good reads, and television shows/movies:

The Mitrokihn Archives
ZigZag
Project Mincemeat
Deceiving Hitler
Spy Wars
Enemies A History of the FBI
[Some Army CI book, can't remember the title]
The Secret Team
Family Secrets


Not sure what else, but those come to mind the quickest, with the last two being of much more dubious nature then the others... but can help shine on light on ideas of what "may" be going on, or what "could" happen.

I have read far more then this, however.

Fiction:

The original Bourne, first three books
Day of the Jackal

Movie/Show wise:

The Americans -- also there is an ex-spy involved in the content there
The Assets -- cancelled show, but the four remaining episodes are excellent
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy -- of course, excellent movie (latest anyway)
Burn Notice -- more obvious fiction, but good thinking processes
Three Days of the Condor -- but, of course... a hacker favorite, it seems
Alias
24

Alias and 24 are pure fiction, of course, but they both deal with some of the sort of wild out thinking processes involved in some of the more difficult areas of very high intellectual security thinking.

Spy Wars is a good example of just how convoluted and challenging counterintelligence can be. I dare say Alias deals with that type of thinking, though, like 24, the specifics are ludicrous.

24 I initially did not want to watch though encouraged by coworkers because the comp sec there was so bad it made me grimace. However, once I finally started to watch it, I was like, "That is it". In terms of trust issues, of very tough moral decisions, and so on.

I also believe 24 is an incredible fictional ... contemplative device... on the nature of faith, in general.

I do believe that the Muslim terrorist plot scenarios can be used for bad, however, but I never look at shows at such superficial levels and believe many do not.


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