Essays Tagged "Salon"

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Uncle Sam is Listening

Bush may have bypassed federal wiretap law to deploy more high-tech methods of surveillance.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Salon
  • December 20, 2005

When President Bush directed the National Security Agency to secretly eavesdrop on American citizens, he transferred an authority previously under the purview of the Justice Department to the Defense Department and bypassed the very laws put in place to protect Americans against widespread government eavesdropping. The reason may have been to tap the NSA’s capability for data mining and widespread surveillance.

Illegal wiretapping of Americans is nothing new. In the 1950s and ’60s, in a program called “Project Shamrock,” the NSA intercepted every single telegram coming in or going out of the United States. It conducted eavesdropping without a warrant on behalf of the CIA and other agencies. Much of this became public during the 1975 Church Committee hearings and resulted in the now famous Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act …

Homeland Insecurity

The fact that U.S. intelligence agencies can't tell terrorists from children on passenger jets does little to inspire confidence.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Salon
  • January 9, 2004

Security can fail in two different ways. It can fail to work in the presence of an attack: a burglar alarm that a burglar successfully defeats. But security can also fail to work correctly when there’s no attack: a burglar alarm that goes off even if no one is there.

Citing “very credible” intelligence regarding terrorism threats, U.S. intelligence canceled 15 international flights in the last couple of weeks, diverted at least one more flight to Canada, and had F-16s shadow others as they approached their final destinations.

These seem to have been a bunch of false alarms. Sometimes it was a case of mistaken identity. For example, one of the “terrorists” on an Air France flight was a child whose name matched that of a terrorist leader; another was a Welsh insurance agent. Sometimes it was a case of assuming too much; British Airways Flight 223 was detained once and canceled twice, on three consecutive days, presumably because that flight number turned up on some communications intercept somewhere. In response to the public embarrassment from these false alarms, the government is slowly leaking information about a particular person who didn’t show up for his flight, and two non-Arab-looking men who may or may not have had bombs. But these seem more like efforts to save face than the very credible evidence that the government promised…

Blaster and the Great Blackout

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Salon
  • December 16, 2003

Ten years ago our critical infrastructure was run by a series of specialized systems, both computerized and manual, on dedicated networks. Today, many of these computers have been replaced with standard mass-market computers connected via the Internet. This shift brings with it all sorts of cost savings, but it also brings additional risks. The same worms and viruses, the same vulnerabilities, the same Trojans and hacking tools that have so successfully ravaged the Internet can now affect our critical infrastructure.

For example, in late January 2003, the Slammer worm knocked out 911 emergency telephone service in Bellevue, Wash. The 911 data-entry terminals weren’t directly connected to the Internet, but they used the same servers that the rest of the city used, and when the servers started to fail (because the connected parts were hit by Slammer), the failure affected the 911 terminals…

Body of Secrets by James Bamford

The author of a pioneering work on the NSA delivers a new book of revelations about the mysterious agency's coverups, eavesdropping and secret missions.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Salon
  • April 25, 2001

In 1982, James Bamford published “The Puzzle Palace,” his first exposé on the National Security Agency. His new exposé on the NSA is called “Body of Secrets.” Twenty years makes a lot of difference in the intelligence biz.

During those 20 years, the Reagan military buildup came and went, the Soviet Union fell and the Cold War ended, and a bevy of new military enemies emerged. Electronic communications exploded through faxes, cellphones, the Internet, etc. Cryptography came out of the shadows to become an essential technology of the networked world. And computing power increased ten thousand-fold…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.