The Onion on NSA Surveillance

Funny, and true.

More seriously.

Posted on June 2, 2015 at 2:27 PM • 19 Comments


rgaffJune 2, 2015 7:39 PM

We could prevent all crime by preemptively locking everyone up... that would solve the problem, why don't they do that? Let's see... largest prison population per capita of any country in the world, well, maybe they are just taking their time to implement it.

ThothJune 2, 2015 10:19 PM

Wouldn't be surprise almost all Governments' favourite action when they see that some policies are made in favours are made to seemingly threaten their powers (using the word "seemingly") would be to first launch a fear-mongering assault and then move on to covert coercion of key people who might influence decisions and public perceptions and finally annihilate their obstacles physically either in the dark or in public to act as a public warning to not get in their way.

ThothJune 2, 2015 10:29 PM

Forget to mention that a good amount of these politicans that claim the loss of Section 215 is a blow to their ability is likely lying through their teeths while they quietly launch a couple more highly advanced attack vectors to secretly step up their activities just as the Onion Network spoofed in a hilarious way.

dpbJune 3, 2015 5:37 AM


But that's ok, because the victims are only potential criminals so it doesn't matter.

SamJune 3, 2015 6:05 AM

@thatawkwardmoment @dpb

Never mind "potential criminals", everyone is already a potential *terrorist*, as illustrated by the need for ubiquitous bulk surveillance.

The Onion is having a good time at the moment. Did anyone else see their spectacular troll of indicted FIFA Vice President Jack Warner about an extra world cup in 2015?

(Corruption is a security thing, right? It's not *completely* off-topic.)

VinnyGJune 3, 2015 7:09 AM

Those are "perps", not "people". Vastly different entities from the POV of a Police State...

On balance, all that has happened here is a miniscule change in procedure re the NSA collection of bulk phone records. No justification for the high profile Chicken Little act by the advocates of the Police-Security State. Also no reason at all for back slapping by any true antagonists of that State. This is a near non-event pumped up to be Something Big by the Headline Whores and Their Pimps and Johns...


Clive RobinsonJune 3, 2015 8:23 AM

One problem with the theatrics on the hill especially from Pres BO, is it detracts from other areas that need to be considered.

215 is about "collection" of data not what happens to it that is how it is processed, stored, accessed, issued and finaly deleated (if ever).

For instance some legislation alows "encrypted" information to be retained indefinitely but does not define in any way shape or form what encrypted means. Thus the NSA et al can play their word games yet again and for instance decide what most engineers would rightly call "encoded" is somehow equivalent of encrypted...

Then there is "the what, who and the how" of accessing the data in it's various forms after automated processing. If data is accessed by a search algorithm and matches has it been "used" or does the NSA "no human eyes" rule apply. Our ability to search and infer information from for instance meta data using automated systems is improving on an almost daily basis. If the automated system gives a human analyst a synopsis without showing any of the stored information does that count or not count under their "no human eyes" rule of collection.

I'll assume that such a synopsis will be regarded by the NSA as "not collected" as that is the most likey interpretation based on the current known behavioir of the NSA. The question then arises as to what protection this synopsis has under law if any...

Thus assuming it has little or no protection under law who can see the synopsis and thus decide who else it can be issued to and why?

Questions like these need to be asked and both political and IC feet need to be kept against the fire untill satisfactory answers are obtained and appropriate transparancy and legislation put in place.

It's fairly clear that Pres BO is very firmly on the side of the IC irrespective of his election oratory, and thoroughly revels in the corupting power it gives. Thus it's safe to consider Pres BO has no intention of applying any limits to the IC in the time remaining to him. Which means that the preasure needs to be mounted and get it made into a "make or break" election issue. Further that it be continued to keep which ever replacment gets in to a root and branch reform and cost benift of the IC.

Privacy should be as much as a self evident inaliable right if not more so than the pursuit of life, liberty and happyness, for without it none of the others can happen.

SamJune 3, 2015 9:24 AM

@Clive Robinson

Yes, however, if your intelligence agency is even *trying* to play the secret-malleable-interpretations game, that's already in a bad place.

"Security" should not be a conflict between an intelligence agency and the citizens of the nation empowering the agency. The NSA's own motto starts with "Defending Our Nation." If the NSA wants to play semantic jenga with it's own motto then - as Bruce's top 2 featured essays indicate - consider disbanding them.

gordoJune 3, 2015 9:28 AM

@ Clive Robinson,

If the automated system gives a human analyst a synopsis without showing any of the stored information does that count or not count under their "no human eyes" rule of collection.

I would say that it counts as "human eyes" under their rules of collection.

The Medium is the Message

In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.

Understanding Media:
The Extensions of Man
by Marshall McLuhan

BoppingAroundJune 3, 2015 10:32 AM

> We could prevent all crime by preemptively locking everyone up...

Presumption of guilt, in other words. Sort of being done already: global surveillance. Locking everyone up seems to be impractical, perhaps redundant, when you can track the inmates everywhere.

I suppose it won't be as bad as the real prison is in some matters — for you have to have something worse to offer for troublemakers.

65535June 3, 2015 1:05 PM

@ Thoth

“Forget to mention that a good amount of these politicans that claim the loss of Section 215 is a blow to their ability is likely lying through their teeths while they quietly launch a couple more highly advanced attack vectors to secretly step up their activities…”

I agree.

Here is another government trick where the FBI delays reports on how it uses NSA meta data in domestic criminal cases:


‘FBI Successfully Runs Out the Clock on DOJ’s Inspector General Review of Use of Phone Metadata’

“While everyone was focused on USA F-ReDux [USA Freedom Act] last week, DOJ’s Inspector General submitted its semiannual report. In it, Michael Horowitz reiterated his complaint that FBI was stonewalling on document production. He listed 4 requests made after Congress defunded such stonewalling on which FBI was still stonewalling at the end of March…DOJ’s IG wanted to review what was happening with the 2-hop dragnet data that got turned over to FBI before Congress reauthorized Section 215. And FBI successfully stalled that effort until after Congress passed a bill that will almost certainly result in far more phone metadata being turned over to FBI, and under far more permissive rules than they had been under.” –Emptywheel

“OIG has sent four letters to Congress to report that the FBI has failed to comply with Section 218 by refusing to provide the OIG, for reasons unrelated to any express limitation in Section 6(a) of the IG Act, with timely access to certain records in ongoing OIG reviews. Those reviews are:

"• Two FBI whistleblower retaliation investigations, letter dated February 3, 2015, which is available here;

"• The FBI documents related to review of the DEA’s use of administrative subpoenas, letter dated February 19, 2015, which is available here;

"• The FBI’s use of information derived from collection of telephony metadata under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, letter dated February 25, 2015, which is available here; and

"• The FBI’s security clearance adjudication process, letter dated March 4, 2015, which is available here.

“As of March 31, 2015, the OIG document requests were outstanding in every one of the reviews and investigations that were the subject of the letters above. The OIG is approaching the 1 year anniversary of the Deputy Attorney General’s request in May 2014 to the Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion on these matters, yet that opinion remains outstanding and the OIG has been given no timeline for the issuance of the completed opinion… The OIG’s ability to conduct effective and rigorous oversight is being undercut every day that goes by without a resolution of this dispute… The OIG requested these records in connection with its pending review of the FBI’s use of information derived from the National Security Agency’s collection of telephony metadata obtained from certain telecommunications service providers under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The timeliness of production is particularly important given that Section 215 of the Patriot Act is set to expire in June of this year.” -OIG Report

See: Disagreement with a Significant Department Management Decision page 22 and DEA sections:

It looks like the transparency game is rigged in favor of the FBI and DEA. These shenanigans have to stop!

d33tJune 3, 2015 3:56 PM

Also hilarious, Anthrax popping up in the national news just as the Patriot Act was set to partially expire. Anthrax, of course being the excuse for virtually nobody in Congress reading the act before it was passed by absentee ballot in 2001. Why anyone would buy any of what any of these public officials say anymore is beyond me. The world is experiencing institutionalized, wholesale corruption at every level of government, news and business these days. There is really very little difference between business and government as far as I can tell. A whole bunch of good cop / bad cop social engineering that appears to work just as perfectly now as it has throughout recorded human history. Perhaps the Internet has shifted this tactic a bit, but not enough to make much of a positive difference. All of this eroding of civil rights supposedly to thwart terrorism. The same terrorism that has been created by the very agencies that are supposedly using unconstitutional methods to "protect" us from the bad guys.

I think these agencies are the "bad guys" and always have been. As messed up as the UN itself is, last I read, every nation that has ratified membership has agreed to abide by the UN Constitution if their constitutions fail. In the US, where I am living at the moment, I'd say our constitution has failed for many reasons. How much more will it take before something is really done? Obviously world war doesn't work. How about we try something different?

This article being a bit old, now a lot of the NSA's tactics previously and illegally justified under the "USA Patriot Act" are now back in action under the newly passed "USA Freedom Act". A quick change of name and virtually the same bag of garbage. Kind of reminds me of the name change from "Operation Iraqi Liberation" (OIL) to "Operation Iraqi Freedom". People really are that dumb I guess and Obama is just another "Bush" puppet based on results.

albertJune 4, 2015 11:00 AM

Our Constitution hasn't failed, we have failed our Constitution.
The US Constitution is an amazing document, considering how it was written by imperfect men, who had had taken on the world's greatest military power, and despite internal opposition. These were men who managed, for a brief moment in the race of history, to rise above their limitations, and leave us a document that could never be created today.
AS far as US presidents are concerned, it doesn't matter who's elected, the president is only the helmsman of the Ship of State. Don't make them the lightning rod, even though that's one of their functions. There is no 'captain', only a faceless horde of spineless invertebrates, with insatiable appetites for money and power, who shit all over people and the environment.
So here we are, ungoverned, and apparently ungovernable.
Have a nice day,

d33tJune 4, 2015 1:41 PM


At this point, we have failed our Constitution without a doubt. Although I agree with this inverted logic, I also think that the US Constitution is in an injured state right now and that it is ineffective in this deep pit of corruption. This experiment we live in is populated by many people who take for granted the rights that some forfeit everyday by force. Checks and balances have failed, or are too slow to adjust to the constant creep of lawlessness that the "faceless horde" in power has chosen to unleash. Secret interpretations and creative usage of inferred loopholes by a few has left most in congress, courts and executives lame.

While the country is infected with ruthlessness and being misgoverned by the spineless and likely blackmailed, I think it is ok to hold officials accountable for their crimes against the public (and in the long run against themselves). All of them, not just heads of state. Although the White House would probably be an appropriate place to start. Our current head of state is a person who is reported to be a Constitutional Law Professor who has campaigned on reigning in warrantless wiretap programs, better oversight to national security letters and restoring habeas corpus while providing greater transparency and accountability as well as other compromised or broken promises and oaths of office.

Lipstick has been applied to the pig once again. Perhaps Wyden's claim of victory in making a small step toward recovering civil rights in the US is real? While we all wait around for justice, modern heroes continue to be persecuted, shunned and exiled while villains continue to party unabated in country clubs all over the US. Some of the biggest national security chickenhawks don't even show up to vote.

Left unaccountable, I would bet that pardons will be handed out profusely. State sanctioned criminals will be further immunized and very little will change when the next crime family takes another turn in office.

Thank you for taking time to reply, and I wish you a nice day as well.

Nick PJune 4, 2015 10:55 PM

@ P/K

As you know from reading this blog, there's been dozens of secret activities revealed. The U.S. government refuses to acknowledge most of them in public statements while being clear the documents are real. So, they'd have to cancel a tiny bit of it and they're going full-steam on the rest. Endpoints and implementations are so weak that most of the responses to the leaks should only slow them down. Their public worries are mere posturing: the most significant threats already dodged SIGINT by using air gaps, couriers, TrueCrypt, PGP, and so on. Shit they can't hack apparently.

So, only their level of convenience has changed from effortless, mass collection to collection they sometimes work for. Their results... a series of failures... also still stand. A tool of control disguised as security that will continue to cost us.

CallMeLateForSupperJune 5, 2015 9:19 AM

[Tongue-In-Cheek: ON]

By golly, this looks to be one of the programs that hadn't come to light.

Many of us fumed about NSA's influence over National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) re: certain encryption standards, but we did not know that NSA is/was also in bed with National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST), to the same end. According to Spencer Ackerman of "The Guardian" anyway.

"Thomas Massie, a libertarian-minded Kentucky Republican,
has authored an amendment to a forthcoming appropriations
bill that blocks any funding for the National Institute of
Science and Technology to 'coordinate or consult' with the
NSA or the Central Intelligence Agency “for the purpose of
establishing cryptographic or computer standards that permit
the warrantless electronic surveillance” by the spy agencies."

"Spencer Ackerman is national security editor for Guardian US"

The national security editor, no less. So we can "take it to the bank"?
[Tongue-In-Cheek: OFF]

For the benefit of newbies and Mr. Ackerman:
There is NIST, an Indian college

and there is NIST, a U.S. government measurement standards laboratory

CallMeLateForSupperJune 5, 2015 10:20 AM

Apologies. While I included URLs for:
- the Guardian article "Rand Paul allies plan new surveillance reforms
to follow USA Freedom Act" (2 June 2015)
- author Spencer Ackerman's About text on "The Guardian" site
- Wikipedia article "National Institute of Science and Technology"
- Wikipedia article "National Institute of Standards and Technology"
"the system" here threw them away. (sigh)

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