NSA Abandons "About" Searches

Earlier this month, the NSA said that it would no longer conduct "about" searches of bulk communications data. This was the practice of collecting the communications of Americans based on keywords and phrases in the contents of the messages, not based on who they were from or to.

The NSA's own words:

After considerable evaluation of the program and available technology, NSA has decided that its Section 702 foreign intelligence surveillance activities will no longer include any upstream internet communications that are solely "about" a foreign intelligence target. Instead, this surveillance will now be limited to only those communications that are directly "to" or "from" a foreign intelligence target. These changes are designed to retain the upstream collection that provides the greatest value to national security while reducing the likelihood that NSA will acquire communications of U.S. persons or others who are not in direct contact with one of the Agency's foreign intelligence targets.

In addition, as part of this curtailment, NSA will delete the vast majority of previously acquired upstream internet communications as soon as practicable.

[...]

After reviewing amended Section 702 certifications and NSA procedures that implement these changes, the FISC recently issued an opinion and order, approving the renewal certifications and use of procedures, which authorize this narrowed form of Section 702 upstream internet collection. A declassification review of the FISC's opinion and order, and the related targeting and minimization procedures, is underway.

A quick review: under Section 702 of the Patriot Act, the NSA seizes a copy of all communications moving through a telco -- think e-mail and such -- and searches it for particular senders, receivers, and -- until recently -- key words. This pretty clearly violates the Fourth Amendment, and groups like the EFF have been fighting the NSA in court about this for years. The NSA has also had problems in the FISA court about these searches, and cites "inadvertent compliance incidents" related to this.

We might learn more about this change. Again, from the NSA's statement:

After reviewing amended Section 702 certifications and NSA procedures that implement these changes, the FISC recently issued an opinion and order, approving the renewal certifications and use of procedures, which authorize this narrowed form of Section 702 upstream internet collection. A declassification review of the FISC's opinion and order, and the related targeting and minimization procedures, is underway.

And the EFF is still fighting for more NSA surveillance reforms.

Posted on May 19, 2017 at 2:05 PM • 49 Comments

Comments

Cegfault McIrishMay 19, 2017 2:30 PM

The NSA has lied about their own activity for years. I recall Snowden saying that one of the final straws which convinced him he needed to blow the whistle was (I believe) when he saw NSA officials lying to Congress during an inquiry.

What reason do we have to believe they've stopped? Because they said so. As @Me said, "Did they pinky promise?" It seems politically advantageous for them to lie, and almost impossible to prove they've stopped.

War GeekMay 19, 2017 3:07 PM

Given the G-street crowd considers the NSA partially or even largely responsible for the WannaCry headlines, this looks like a public step to show that they're really just nice guys who shouldn't have the budgets butchered. Especially since budget season is heating up.

As to how real it is, I suspect the answer is 'real enough to fool the more ideological employees of the NSA'. I predict later leaks will show the less ideological NSA staffers who are shown to have kept little brother going will sanctimoniously point to an overly lawyered definition of practical.

WG

Bkd69May 19, 2017 3:12 PM

Wait, you mean making the haystack bigger is a suboptimal strategy for finding needles?

You don't say!

PeteMay 19, 2017 3:48 PM

With President Trump being a person in an investigation, perhaps their systems have been overloaded with all the mentions of him?

Ok, maybe not.

AnuraMay 19, 2017 4:00 PM

I wish I could get a bit more excited; it's definitely a step in the right direction, but there are so many loopholes in the law that the effectiveness of these kinds of reforms are going to be limited (e.g. Five Eyes countries spying on each other's citizens and sharing data, as well as the selling of customer data from private companies to government agencies).

AlexT May 19, 2017 4:54 PM

Given recent history I'd say that scepticism is very much warranty.

I wonder: who is actually auditing what the NSA does?

Shelby ElwingMay 19, 2017 5:59 PM

Is this by any chance the data that James Clapper swore under oath that the NSA was not collecting about us in the first place? Ah, that's a weight off our minds then!

Non-US PersonMay 19, 2017 6:15 PM

> I wonder: who is actually auditing what the NSA does?

Ekhm... nobody?

The NSA is "cooperating" with foreign intelligence agencies in such a way that even the respective politicians from the foreign country have no idea about the cooperation.

For me, this is enough to say that NSA (and the foreign agencies that submit themselves to the NSA) are worse than Stasi in East Germany and KGB in the Soviet Union combined.

MarkMay 19, 2017 9:21 PM

I suspect this is real.

The "About" searches provide extremely low-quality data -- once you filter out the stuff that would have been found by a "to" or "from" search, you're left with almost pure noise. Agreeing to abandon the searches is a way to attempt to generate good publicity, without actually having to compromise their data-gathering work.

Ross SniderMay 20, 2017 1:05 AM

It's important to remember that the word "collect" at the NSA doesn't mean what is traditionally meant by 'collect'.

For the NSA it means that a human analyst loads and looks at the data.

Basically this is fully consistent with the NSA still collecting and indexing the "about" data. So long as they only then look at the metadata about the "about" data, and then have a consultant look at the data for other reasons than purely because of the "about" data - they've stopped "collecting" based on "about" even though they are collecting in the traditional sense and still using it to score communications to be looked at.

So basically, when the word "collect" doesn't mean what you think it means, neither does the fact that they've "stopped doing it".

The NSA still gathers, indexes and scores all of your plaintext communications. It still shares that data with FBI, CIA, etc (who "collect" it themselves). It still summarizes that information and profiles you based on that communication. The NSA still uses "strategic listening" to support the US global propaganda front. The NSA still gathers economic data and passes that to domestic companies to give them a leg up on international competition. The NSA still backdoors encryption standards and infiltrates American companies to sabotage their products and access their customer records. The NSA still targets citizens for intelligence use. The NSA still gets state privilege to gather communications without a warrant.

Global surveillance is in full swing.

EvanMay 20, 2017 1:26 AM

"These changes are designed to retain the upstream collection that provides the greatest value to national security"

Is it just me, or is this a tacit admission that bulk surveillance doesn't actually provide any intelligence of value?

PigsmightflyMay 20, 2017 1:50 AM

"In addition, as part of this curtailment, NSA will delete the vast majority of previously acquired upstream internet communications as soon as practicable."

Yep, nothing to see here folks, move along, keep calm and carry on, forget your constitutional rights, 5 eyes, 14 eyes, end-point hacking, CIA leaks, Shadow Brokers, colluding with Microsoft, smashing certificate authorities, sabotaging Tor, broad network attacks, keyword searching, PRISM, X-KeyScore, data centers, Wanna Cry, 90% offense funding, lying under oath, product interdiction, flogging off exploits for personal enrichment to the private sector and ...

Patriot COMSECMay 20, 2017 9:39 AM

Don't forget that the NSA has a vital job, and its job is honorable and necessary. Someone has to do it: spy, lie, trick, sneak, steal. As far as North Korea, ISIS, the Taliban, and AQ go, let's fight dirty. Virtue isn't enough.

It is similar to the military: someone has to kill.

And the U.S. must have a way to suspend the Constitution so the FBI can protect the nation. That is what FISA is about.

Like it or not, when you go about your life in America, thousands of people who can do unsavory things have your back. Don't forget the threat: weapons of mass destruction are real, and if those get used, even one, your life could be changed into a living Hell in one second. That is just one good reason we should support the NSA. But we have the right to insist that they get real oversight, and we can also insist that they are not clownshoes--that they don't knock holes in encryption or otherwise help criminals. They depend on good leadership and loyalty, just like any other organization. In my opinion, the leadership has been lacking, especially in their strategic thinking, and all of the leaks have been catastrophic.

If you are an American, you should not look at the NSA as your enemy. They made some big mistakes, but overall they are doing something good and absolutely necessary. With genuine, detailed Congressional oversight, we can trust that the guardians are being guarded. Let them do their jobs how they see fit. 9/11 was bad; what can come is worse.

Patriot COMSECMay 20, 2017 9:58 AM

@ Rachel

I want to agree with you on Assange. I had the same reaction after I read the most recent news in the Telegraph.

The law is arbitrary in its application. They attack whom they wish, how they wish.

But Pompeo is right: Wikileaks now has a status on par with a hostile foreign intell service. Wikileaks is cutting the gonads off of the CIA, and that is not good. They have a real job to do, protecting our country, and that job just got a lot harder. Assange is not helping the world become safer or more stable. He has enabled the bad guys--off with his head.

CallMeLateForSupperMay 20, 2017 10:36 AM

@Patriot COMSEC
"With genuine, detailed Congressional oversight, we can trust that the guardians are being guarded"

I question that existing congressional oversight is either detailed or sufficiently effective. And even if it were both, it would not diminish the value of questioning citizens and organizations.

"Let them do their jobs how they see fit."

Surely you do not mean exactly what that says. No qualifiers? Have you been asleep since 2013?

J.O.May 20, 2017 11:14 AM

We just keep losing more and more privacy and freedom under President Trump. I wish we could return to the freedom and privacy loving Obama. Oh well.

Mr.ImpatientMay 20, 2017 12:04 PM

Is it April 1st again? According to various sources today is May 20th.

Captain AmericaMay 20, 2017 12:11 PM

PAtriotComsec your earnest little hand-over-heart pledge of allegiance is an excellent goof ...it was a goof, right?

"The US must have a way to suspend the Constitution." They do. It's called COG and Rumsfeld deployed it when he went to DEFCON 3 so your Constitution's gone. You're not getting it back. You know that, right? Everybody else in Thailand knows it. Everybody else in every country knows it.

"You should not look at NSA as your enemy." Strictly speaking NSA upper echelons and subordinate staff are hostis humani generis, enemies of all mankind, for universal-jurisdiction crimes including inter alia sustematic and widespread murder and torture. CIA too. They're criminals in universal jurisdiction. So they're everybody's enemy. Courts in four countries are rolling them up like the mafia they are. The SCO is going to bring them in after DoD loses the war they started.

Sure hope your thing was a goof, cause people here are not nearly stupid enough to be influenced by the slogans you're modeling. It might work at the peepso Harley Davidson community at some godforsaken missile bunker or something, if the grunts are stoned enough.

PatriotMay 20, 2017 12:16 PM

The United States is blessed as a nation. It is the greatest nation. It's system and values and people are superior to all others.

Our entities like the CIA, NSA and FBI are necessary to protect our noble way of live and of rooting out and killing all those who are evil or who question our values. There are costs to this dirty work, but the benefits are incredible: today the United States stands poised to remain the most powerful and most prosperous nation in the world if it makes the right decisions about who to kill and who to threaten to kill; about who to spy on and who to threaten to spy on; about who to torture and who to threaten to torture.

It's ugly business. But it's necessary business so that our children can live the same kinds of lives that our forefathers imagined for our country and that we've had the gracious opportunity to live.

Do you want Russia or China to be the most powerful countries in the world? Do you want Iran to have a heavy influence over global energy supplies? Do you want more expensive goods from the third and developing world? Do you want many other nations to have the capability to threaten each other with extreme weapons like so few can today?

These are not only values worth killing for: they are values than can be achieved only by killing.

The NSA serves an important function in projecting American power. Its civilian casualties and mistakes don't begin to calculate at the same magnitude of value as does the success of American leadership of the global order.

A most modest of proposals.

Dirk PraetMay 20, 2017 1:07 PM

@ Patriot COMSEC

Assange is not helping the world become safer or more stable. He has enabled the bad guys

Err, to the best of my knowledge nobody got killed or hurt as a result of Assange's publication of classified government data. If you have any proof to the contrary, do share.

Don't forget the threat: weapons of mass destruction are real

You mean like these huge arsenals of WMD's they found in Iraq and for which an entire region of the planet was set ablaze? Despite all the fearmongering, I am not aware of even one (1) terrorist plot involving WMD's either before or after 9/11, except for the Tokyo subway sarin attack by the Aum Shinrikyo death cult in 1995.

And the U.S. must have a way to suspend the Constitution ...

Which makes you an enemy of the state rather than a patriot as that was definitely not what the Founding Fathers of your country envisioned. What you don't seem to understand it is that your Constitution is what makes your country. Without it, it's nothing but the homeland of unbridled capitalism and the biggest military force in the world. And as such a threat to every living organism on the planet.

But it's necessary business so that our children can live the same kinds of lives that our forefathers imagined for our country and that we've had the gracious opportunity to live.

I'm not entirely sure that your forefathers intended a world governed by the US in which all dissenting voices are exterminated, and a planet so catastrophically polluted that your children (and everyone else's) will eventually have to live their lives in the wastelands you left them. This is the exact kind of halfwit nationalistic drivel, not to say criminal lunacy, that has plagued mankind since the dawn of times, and is, in fact, the voice of Death itself.

Who?May 20, 2017 1:40 PM

New CIA documents published by WikiLeaks:

https://wikileaks.org/vault7/#Athena

Today, May 19th 2017, WikiLeaks publishes documents from the "Athena" project of the CIA. "Athena"—like the related "Hera" system—provides remote beacon and loader capabilities on target computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system (from Windows XP to Windows 10). Once installed, the malware provides a beaconing capability (including configuration and task handling), the memory loading/unloading of malicious payloads for specific tasks and the delivery and retrieval of files to/from a specified directory on the target system. It allows the operator to configure settings during runtime (while the implant is on target) to customize it to an operation.

It is a bad time for Windows users, I guess...

More to the ScamMay 20, 2017 4:03 PM

This was the practice of collecting the communications of Americans based on keywords and phrases in the contents of the messages, not based on who they were from or to.

I call total BS / disinformation on this. Filtering the chatter of millions of ordinary Americans for keywords and phrases is simply not an effective way to gather actionable intelligence.

Some random college kid who sends an e-mail, "I bombed my final in chemistry," is not likely to be an actionable threat, whereas real terrorists tend to be scrupulous about using circumlocutions and avoiding keywords.

Occurrences of vague phrases like "beating around the bush" without more specific context on the other hand, are unlikely to refer to terrorist activities, either.

So let's just say no to data trawling. Not only do standards of "probable cause" protect the rights of ordinary citizens, but they are actually effective in focusing law enforcement resources on true crime and avoiding wild goose chases, public waste, and frivolous prosecutions.

Patriot COMSECMay 20, 2017 6:19 PM

@ Callmelateforsupper

I see your point. They have been running amok when no one was looking.

But after Snowden and the Shadow Brokers, their pee-pee has gotten smacked hard and their dessert privledges have been taken away, and a lot of people in Congress are watching democracy's wayward step-child more closely.

The oversight before was rubber stamp, you are right, and that led to systemic failure.

You can be sure of one thing: when Congress almost de-funded the puzzle palace, spines straightened, pony tails wagged, and glazed eyeballs in rooms with no windows suddenly became attentive to the people who sign their checks.

Patriot COMSECMay 20, 2017 6:46 PM

@ Dirk Praet

Your comments are very strong and interesting. It is really good to hear opposing views.

Well, Pompeo says that Snowden already has blood on his hands, and he is in a position to know.

As far as nationalism goes, please note that in Israel, Russia, and China, nationalism is unquestioned, a part of the fiber and pride driving them forward.

Back to the NSA and their change of heart with "About" searches: it shows the system is working (if they actually did change anything!).

ZTZMay 20, 2017 7:22 PM

@ Patriot:

"The United States is blessed as a nation. It is the greatest nation. It's system and values and people are superior to all others."

Here comes the Wikipedia definition of Chauvinsim:

"Chauvinism is an exaggerated patriotism and a belligerent belief in national superiority and glory. Whereas patriotism and nationalism may represent temperate pride, chauvinism is intemperate. It can be also defined as 'an irrational belief in the superiority or dominance of one's own group or people' [1]. Moreover, the chauvinist's own people are seen as unique and special while the rest of the people are considered weak or inferior[1]."

It's hard for me to recognize any fundamental differences between this and your attitude.

You write:

"Our entities like the CIA, NSA and FBI are necessary to protect our noble way of live and of rooting out and killing all those who are evil or who question our values."

That's nice. So it's not even necessary to attack you (or to prepare an attack on you); someone may just "question" your values and then deserves to die.

It's the attitudes of such people that is responsible for the fact that, in the eyes of the world, the USA are - by far - the greatest threat to global peace:

https://chomsky.info/the-greatest-threat-to-world-peace/

But what to care about the opinion of other, inferior people? The USA are the "greatest" nation and "superior to all others", as we learned from you; and therefore they should ignore the stupid and pathetic rest of mankind, if not punish them for "questioning" American values.

Rachel CostaMay 20, 2017 11:45 PM

@ Patriot COMSEC

You said:

"You can be sure of one thing: when Congress almost de-funded the puzzle palace, spines straightened, pony tails wagged, and glazed eyeballs in rooms with no windows suddenly became attentive to the people who sign their checks. "

But two posts later you said:

"Back to the NSA and their change of heart with "About" searches: it shows the system is working (if they actually did change anything!)."

So which one is it? Did they behave themselves? Or did they lie, and not change anything? The majority of your posts to date have been about how much you disagree with bulk surveillance/collection. And,we know where you used to work because you told us.

Maybe you don't know what you really believe in


The systemMay 21, 2017 3:11 AM

Sorry to let you all down, but I'm broken. 99% cogs and 1% springs makes a terrible machine, I'm not even sure what the time is.

Jared HallMay 21, 2017 5:43 AM

@Patriot COMSEC: Really, you're a little over the top. Firstly, except for the military CSS component of NSA, the NSA is mission-driven. It takes its orders directly from the CIA and executes said missions. Regarding oversight, CSS oversight is provided through the Armed Services Oversight Committees. There IS NO direct oversight of NSA's non-military components; rather it is lumped in with the Intelligence Oversight Committes which govern the CIA. The same applies to newer "compartmented" organizations, like GeoSpatial and NRO. Congress is *supposed* to represent the people. WE SHOULD DEMAND, AND EXPECT, BETTER OVERSIGHT. All the Oohrahs, Semper Fi's, and God Bless America's aren't going to change anything.

What's happened in the past is that there were often "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policies between DIRNSA and the CIA Director; and therefore abuses occurred. GW Bush attempted to correct that by creating the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). However, if you look at the current programs that we are all bitching about, including Snowden, these were the result of McConnell, the 2nd DNI who came out of NSA and Booz-Allen. Oh, how he screwed everybody in his very short tenure. I doubt anybody in the Senate or House even had/has the IQ to even understand what he was doing. So, your best case scenario would be to stay with the DNI, but appoint DNIs only from DHS/FBI counterintelligence agencies. That way, you can better control the abuse that will occur with appointees from the Intelligence Community (NSA/CIA) and their primary civilian contractors (Booz-Allen). I don't even think that is perfect, but it will be better than what the last two Administrations have done.

Regarding the "About" context, who asked the NSA to do this stuff to begin with? I won't even get into the low-level abuses that ROUTINELY occur with NSA and CIA Analysts. AT THE TOP, WHERE CURRENT OVERSIGHT IS, EVERYTHING SMELLS LIKE ROSES. AT THE FOUNDATION, WHERE THE "AVERAGE JOE" IS, IT STINKS OF MANURE.

You are obviously of IC bent. Then you know, "Meta-Data always leaks". It is not a question of "IF". It is a question of "WHEN". This is a mantra that is repeated over and over within the IC. Yes, everyone here knows that the Spy business is a murky one. You don't need to point that out, although your opinions are welcomed and Bruce is a gracious host. But at the end of the day, there has to be some "give and take" between the IC and the American public. I think you'll find that here, along with myself, the general opinion is that there's nothing but "take, take, take" going on.

Jared HallMay 21, 2017 5:46 AM

@The System: Sorry to hear that you're broken. If you will just replace those Cogswell Cogs with Spacely Sprockets, you will be just fine :)

Patriot COMSECMay 21, 2017 6:22 AM

@ Jared Hall

OK, I see your point. You could have added how a lot of people and companies became filthy rich as terrorism actually spread and intensified, how ISIS was not seen coming, etc. But that is just one part of the story.

A lot of plans are vendor driven and come from backroom deals, as Brennan said in public remarks. You are right, a lot of stuff is not going to change. Promises are made in public; no one knows what changes in reality.

I stand by the statement tbat the NSA is not the enemy of the American people. It just needs real oversight, which, as you point out, is not easy to enforce.

Let's not forget that there are folks in the IC who do not come back from downrange, COs and Chiefs, HUMINT collectors, Military Intelligence, Operators of one sort or another. I would not call risking your life every day for something you are dedicated to, "take, take, take."

Patriot COMSECMay 21, 2017 6:43 AM

@ Rachel Costa

I understand why you think that way--I was making jokes. Well, sometimes when they lie, they are behaving. Lord Palmerston said, "If you can't ride two horses, don't join the circus."

I came up with my own formulation of the situation, based on that quote from Lord Acton about power that most people get wrong, "Money tends to corrupt, and CIA money corrupts absolutely."

Every old-school Tom, Dick, and Harry at the puzzle palace used to know one thing: American Citizen? Turn that stuff off now--unless it was something extraordinary. When that rule got discarded, the wheels fell off. Why? Because bin Laden never in his wildest dreams hoped to made such an effective attack into the very center of American power--into its laws--as when the IC decided to violate the Constitution and play fast and loose with the FISC.

Jared HallMay 21, 2017 6:53 AM

@Patriot: "The United States is blessed as a nation. It is the greatest nation. It's system and values and people are superior to all others."

Say what? Get yourself a copy of "In Search of Excellence", by Tom Peters, Robert H. Waterman Jr. Published in 1982, you'll see that the US *WAS* number one in most categories. Compare that to today's world. I muck around a lot with Healthcare. We used to be number one just in just about every Healthcare category. Now, we are only number one in Trauma Care. That's a simple fact, period. I watched my Daughter whither away and die because a drug from Japan's Takeda Pharmaceuticals was hung up in Phase 2 trials. I was her caregiver, forsaking my IT business for her well-being (I would NOT recommend that any man take on that duty). In fact, the only procedure that even got her Leukemia into remission was developed in Poland! Let me give you a good quote from a President named Ronald Reagan, "Government IS the problem".

If the latest EternalBlue exploit from the latest fiasco turns out to have been used in the delivery of Stuxnet (so long ago) as some surmise, then you're looking at a vulnerability that has been exploited countless times. As far as I'm concerned, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me". On the third go around Microsoft should've been notified. Maybe, just maybe, a lot of the older XP machines could have been patched before Microsoft's support was killed off for that product line. Perhaps, Windows 7, 8, and 10 patches would never have been needed. If an AG had any balls (or the equivalent thereof), Clapper should be looking at criminal charges, IMHO. Pompeo should join him.

@Patriot COMSEC: "Well, Pompeo says that Snowden already has blood on his hands, and he is in a position to know." Really? Let me tell you something. If Pompeo really thinks Snowden has "blood on his hands" then Pompeo has "Poop for a brain". Remember the IC mantra "Meta-Data always leaks". ALWAYS. You should know that. Pompeo damned well knows that. And Meta-Data is all that Snowden has leaked (thus far). His boss at Booz-Allen asserts that Snowden never had actionable, real data. Snowden was a fool. As I point out in an article "https://www.jaredsec.com/2017/04/28/edward-snowden-the-fool/", PRISM is just another type of Enterprise Architecture Framework (EAF). It is powered by Big Data, mostly using IBM Hadoop Data Lakes. Wide-scale monitoring of communications was well known way before Snowden. Heck, you can even go back to the Echelon program Meta-Data leaks in the late 90's, albeit more limited in scope and function and minus PRISM. ATM Cell re-routing is done without anybody else being the wiser. Left unchecked, it won't be long before every router and every ATM Switch or Mux must have a CALEA interface. Give me a break.

If I was Snowden's attorneys, I'd be attacking the classification of NSA's programs outright. To summarize, here are your classification guidelines: (C) causes damage to the United States. (S) causes Severe damage to the United States, and (TS) causes Grave damage to the United States. What Snowden has released thus far is all Meta-Data and doesn't conform to these classification guidelines. Even the IC term "Methodology" as defined by Executive Order doesn't apply, as it still has to conform to (C),(S),(TS) guidelines. Of course, with all things legal it's a risky argument. Yet I wonder, what would a jury of peers say?

NSA's DOMESTIC ESPIONAGE PROGRAMS ONLY CAUSE GRAVE DAMAGE TO THE POLITICIANS THAT APPROVED THEM and to the UNKNOWING Technology sector in the US that has lost credibility in its Application Stores (e.g. Play and iTunes) and Safe Harbor status. That cost is in the Billions, as Google alone has estimated. Imagine: All that considering that "Meta-Data always leaks"?

No, Sir. As I point about above, GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM.

Rachel CostaMay 21, 2017 7:01 AM

@ Patriot COMSEC

'Lord Palmerston said, "If you can't ride two horses, don't join the circus." '

which would be an interesting double entendre if it weren't for the fact le Carre invented the phrase the Circus

'I came up with my own formulation of the situation'

yep, sounds like it


'Because bin Laden never in his wildest dreams hoped to made such an effective attack into the very center of American power'

which attack are you referring to? I haven't heard of that one.
Was that before or after his personal and professional relationship with the Bush administration? i vaguely recall something happened late in 2001- but Bin Ladens close family members were kindly given rapid & comfortable flights out of the country to s safe haven, by the aforementioned administration, so you must mean something else. Me, I was never sure which Bin Laden they were referring to. There seemed to be about 7 of them, didn't there? Even the one they allegedly 'caught' didn't correlate with all the previous.

At which we point irrevocably deviate from the blog raison d'etre so I bid you
Goodnight, and Good Luck


@ JG4
greatly appreciative of your insightful and interesting response

Dirk PraetMay 21, 2017 7:11 AM

@ Patriot COMSEC

Well, Pompeo says that Snowden already has blood on his hands, and he is in a position to know.

Given the fact that most of his predecessors and fellow directors of other TLA's have been known to lie through their teeth about pretty much everything they ever went on record with, give us one reason why we should believe anything Pompeo says.

As far as nationalism goes, please note that in Israel, Russia, and China, nationalism is unquestioned, a part of the fiber and pride driving them forward.

You forgot to mention the DPRK. The entire idea behind nationalism is to brainwash ordinary people into thinking that somehow they are superior to others they share a common gene pool with. It's generally done by politicians and preachers in their pursuit of personal power, glory and enrichment.

Kyle Y.May 21, 2017 8:52 AM

@Ross Snider:

It's important to remember that the word "collect" at the NSA doesn't mean what is traditionally meant by 'collect'.

It's what G. Orwell used to call 'newspeak', isn't it?

@Dirk Praet:

The entire idea behind nationalism is to brainwash ordinary people into thinking that somehow they are superior to others they share a common gene pool with

I think that you mean 'chauvinism'. I'd say that nationalism is a kind of strong identification with the idea of a nation. It's not about superiority.

@ Patriot COMSEC:

If you are an American, you should not look at the NSA as your enemy

I'm not an American.
Should I consider NSA to be my enemy, with all consequences of such belief (e.g.: enemies are to be fought)?

Dirk PraetMay 21, 2017 12:05 PM

@ Kyle Y.

I think that you mean 'chauvinism'. I'd say that nationalism is a kind of strong identification with the idea of a nation.

A bit of a semantic discussion, but I consider chauvinism the more cultural (and less harmful) variant of nationalism, like Parisians thinking the prime meridian runs through their *sses, or Brits proudly singing "Britannia rules the waves" when their national football team gets kicked out of yet another tournament. I also differentiate between having a strong national (or religious) identity and the kind of politically induced nationalism (or religious extremism) that pits nations against each other.

Should I consider NSA to be my enemy, with all consequences of such belief (e.g.: enemies are to be fought)?

That would certainly appear to be the Chinese disposition towards US spies.

Kyle Y.May 21, 2017 3:03 PM

A bit of a semantic discussion [...]
I think we're differing here - I'd say that nationalism can be a positive phenomenon and that chauvinism is always a negative one. But I do understand your point of view.

That would certainly appear to be the Chinese disposition towards US spies.

I want to be clear: I have nothing to do with the U.S. politics or U.S. national interest, I live quietly in a country that is considered an ally of the Land of The Free. So now I know for sure that my communication (emails, phone calls, texts) and communication of millions of my compatriots living the same boring live as me is being massively captured and stored, possibly forever, by a government agency of the United States. The same about photos I exchange with my friends - all are being intercepted. Just because I'm not a citizen of the U.S.

I'm not going to follow the example of the Chinese. I just want to be treated like a human being. I don't believe that being a foreigner means that it's right that the U.S. government is treating me basically like an animal - at the end of the day, there are no objections about installing a camera in a place when dogs, cats or pigs live, sleep and eat, and put them under total surveillance.

This is why I consider the principle that only U.S. persons have their privacy guaranteed against intrusion of the U.S. government gravely immoral.
If the same (total surveillance) was done to me by a private person, I'd try to punish that person, had the local police refused to start an investigation.

If you were me, what would you do?
(I suppose that you are a U.S. citizen?)

ab praeceptisMay 21, 2017 3:37 PM

Patriot

"[Our country XYZ] is blessed as a nation. It is the greatest nation. It's system and values and people are superior to all others."

That's a classical HITLEResque statement. Only extreme nazis or imbeciles would utter something like that.

Btw, you might want to think about another nick because patriotism is lightyears away from statements like the one quoted. Patriotism is to love ones "patria" (homeland). Patriotism is *not* to consider all others as inferior.

Patriot COMSECMay 21, 2017 7:41 PM

@ ab praeceptis

Patriot was being facetious. It was a homage to something Jonathan Swift said long ago.

@ Kyle Y.

What you said about being treated like an animal is very much to the point. How about having drones overhead 24/7, knowing a rocket could hit nearby at any moment? It is plain terrorizing. It especially damages the minds of kids.

Notice how power works: they don't want to talk to you, they just want data--they just want to watch you. A talker will come, but it is all bogus. And bombs are used as messages. Talking and human interaction are over in these cases. It is all laced with racism too, and most people in America avert their eyes because it will ruin dinner. It is going on right now, and it is big, big money.

I am against mass collection and terrorizing people. Neither work, and some day the chickens will come home to roost. Make sure to have your asbestos undies tightly fitted for that day because that is where the hatred leads.

PatroitMay 21, 2017 11:03 PM

* Kyle Y

If you aren't in the United States but an ally then we keep you free. We fight for you and we die for you. And all the money and time your country spends rebuilding itself from internal or external strife is because we guarantee your safety.

The way we garuntee your safety is to spy on you. Because while you might not be an enemy, many of your fellow citizens may be. We have programs to quash anti-American ideas in your country and programs to build education programs so your children can learn the values of American freedom and link themselves to our leadership and our prosperity.

You just can't have it both ways. Our umbrella of security is our umbrella of power projection. We have the right to invade your country if you become our enemy. We have the right to spy on you to make sure you're still our enemy and your local decisions meet our expectations. We have the right to remove our defense of your nation if you dare endanger our rules or our order.

I understand that as a person it's not comfortable but don't you understand that the global surveillance was never supposed to see the light of day? We were going (and are going) to use this to make the kinds of decisions, and influence the world the way we need to, to continue being the most powerful nation on earth - and if you stay with us we'll continue to protect you to a degree as well.

You're trying to have your cake and eat it to.

Mass surveillance is one of the costs of our protection. You and your countrymen need to accept that. If you don't, you're in an even worse position: can you imagine being our adversary instead of under our protection? You'd have to choose protection from Russia or China (or, laughably, provide it for yourself).

I think if you create a pro-con list, realizing that being a subject of American power including surveillance isn't negotiable, you'll choose to rationally ally yourself with the world only true superpower.

Kyle Y.May 22, 2017 7:24 AM

* Kyle Y

If you aren't in the United States but an ally then we keep you free.

Exactly the opposite. By treating us as animals you keep us enslaved to you.

We fight for you and we die for you.

Nope. No single American soldier died for my country in the last 50 years. But soldiers from my country fought (and died) side-by-side with Americans protecting American national interests.

And all the money and time your country spends rebuilding itself from internal or external strife is because we guarantee your safety. The way we garuntee your safety is to spy on you. Because while you might not be an enemy, many of your fellow citizens may be.

I'm not an enemy of the U.S., that's for sure. But why don't you spy on your fellow citizens to guarantee the safety of your country? Are there no terrorists inside the U.S.? Of course there are, and there are many. Then why do you need a warrant, signed by a judge, to investigate a dangerous person in the U.S., and at the same time you can warrantlessly spy (and you are doing it!) on every activity of every foreigner even without any suspicion?

Oh wait... it's because you respect your Constitution, praise it and learn it by heart...

At the same time you don't have much respect for constitutions (and other laws) of other (peaceful and law-abiding) nations, such as mine. Don't you think that we should stop considering ourselves allies of America, and start considering ourselves slaves?

We have programs to quash anti-American ideas in your country and programs to build education programs so your children can learn the values of American freedom

Why should our children learn about American freedom if that very freedom is denied from them by the Americans? That famous American freedom is only for Americans ("to be secure against unreasonable searches..." etc.), isn't?

We were going (and are going) to use this to make the kinds of decisions, and influence the world the way we need to, to continue being the most powerful nation on earth - and if you stay with us we'll continue to protect you to a degree as well.

It's a nice definition of imperialism, isn't it?

Mass surveillance is one of the costs of our protection. You and your countrymen need to accept that. If you don't, you're in an even worse position: can you imagine being our adversary instead of under our protection? You'd have to choose protection from Russia or China (or, laughably, provide it for yourself).

Obviously my country can't afford the protection of itself alone, at least nowadays. Nevertheless there are nations (even of similar size) like Switzerland for example, that are not under this umbrella. And still nobody will attack Switzerland. Even Russia or China won't do that - because the whole Swiss territory is a military unit, and conquering them is simply not an option even for the U.S.

I obviously know that comparing my country to Switzerland is futile because of their richness, neutality, etc. But it's an example showing that being under umbrella of a superpower is not a necessary condition of existence for every nation in the world.

I think if you create a pro-con list, realizing that being a subject of American power including surveillance isn't negotiable, you'll choose to rationally ally yourself with the world only true superpower.

It's a false dychotomy. And a pretty humiliating approach. What about our sovereignity? I cannot see the difference between Russia and the U.S. if we compare how they conduct their international relations. Both are capitalist economies, both humiliate their allies (and spy on them) and want to protect (which means to control) their zones of interest. China is different, of course.

MajorMay 22, 2017 9:28 AM

@Patriot COMSEC

When I first starting reading your posts I thought: "Here we go again" but I was surprised to see that you actually have a coherent security blog that is quite interesting to read. And not very political. In the end I appreciate the flexibility of thought that you demonstrate in this thread.

What brings you to live in Thailand when you have such positive views of the US? I'm an expat too. It's been a lifelong dream to escape the cubicle and escape the country. These days, with so much disturbing news coming from the presidency, I also appreciate the buffer between me and its actions. And I am no longer in a major target zone of North Korean missiles...

I think the times call on us to attempt to be civil and open minded to people with a wide range of opinions. How are we so absolutely sure of our righteousness and the clarity of our thought?

The FBI used to be on my sh**list for former political shenanigans but now I find it in the welcome role of making sure the presidency is not sold out. I am displeased with the NSA yet it is undoubtedly making my life better and safer in many of its actions. I felt like the Courts betrayed us, but now they are reassuringly putting the brakes on precipitous policy changes. Things change. Hopefully our thinking is flexible enough to change, and hopefully that change is towards more understanding of other positions, rather than less.

I don't think most of us, including myself, are good at thinking and communicating about "gray" areas, especially in politics. It is easier to laud or denigrate people and institutions than to deal with the dissonance of recognizing both their flaws and virtues.

ZTZMay 22, 2017 11:15 AM

@ Patriot:

You not only state that other nations are inferior to yours ("It's system and values and people are superior to all others").
But you also seem to believe that the rights and interests of other nations are less important than the rights and interests of your country, and that the USA should dominate the whole world ("We were going (and are going) to use this to make the kinds of decisions, and influence the world the way we need to, to continue being the most powerful nation on earth - and if you stay with us we'll continue to protect you to a degree as well").
So it seems you reject the idea that all nations (like all men) have equal rights and should respect one another.

Hence you're not only an chauvinist according to the Wikipedia definition (see my first comment). You're also an imperialist.

Thus these are your great "American values": Outright chauvinism and imperialism, and the disdain for other nations and their rights.

(When I say "you", I mean you personally. I do NOT think that most of your fellow country people are chauvinists and imperialists.)

Your attitude resembles racism, the only difference being that you are talking about nations, not races. But do not think that this is any better. In both cases, you devalue human beings who are not a part of your own delightful peer group, and deny them equal dignity and equal rights.

And about the "benevolent" part: Imperial powers always told other nations that their dominance was good for them, too, and that they had good intentions - and so on.

And please, do not claim that mass surveillance makes the USA safer. This is certainly not the case. Our host has highlighted this again and again, for example here:

https://www.schneier.com/essays/archives/2014/01/how_the_nsa_threaten.html

And by the way, one thing is clear: If you were a Russian, a Chinese or a Frenchman, you wold not think that the USA is the best country in this world, nor would you call for US dominance. Rather, you would say that Russia (China, France) is the greatest country on earth, and that its interests matter more than those of any other nation.

The reason is a simple one: Chauvinists "love" their respective countries just because it's THEIR countries. They don't really love a country on its own. They only love themselves. Their chauvinism is just a means for them to make themselves feel better, more important, and superior to others. The trick goes like this: "If my country is that wonderful, I must be somewhat wonderful too."

If this were not the case, we would expect to face some "chauvinists" to praise FORIEGN nations to be superior to all other peoples. Yet this happens very rarely if at all.

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