Monday, December 30, 2019

About Those NSA Databases

Larry Johnson has a great post today over at Sic Semper Tyrannis: We Were Warned About the Deep State, but Refused to Listen. Read it all--it's not that long. Here's a thumbnail of it, and the two videos that Johnson links (also not that long), which really give a great picture of Deep State capabilities. Be sure to watch both.

To start with, it's necessary to understand that there are no real good guys in this--except for the whistleblowers. Binney and Tice are real whistleblowers, not bureaucratic, political hitmen like Ciaramella and his ilk.

The expansive data collection that continues to this day began shortly after 9/11, under Dubya--and accelerated under Obama. For all the posturing by elected officials, it has been bipartisan pretty much from the start.

In one of the videos, Bill Binney--the same guy who says that the DNC "hack" was an inside job--maintains that this expansive program is 1) not necessary to protect against terrorists, and 2) increases the size of the haystack that needs to be searched. Binney and Tice communicate the true extent of the domestic spying--and it's mind blowing.

Here's what Johnson says with specific reference to what was done to Trump:

The real irony in all of this is that Barack Obama, as President, took credit for helping revise the laws in order to prevent the spying exposed by Edward Snowden. But under the Obama Administration, spying on political opponents--both real and perceived--escalated. ... 
We know, thanks to a memo released by Judge Rosemary Collyer, that "FBI consultants" were making illegal searches of NSA material using the names of Donald Trump, his family and members of his campaign staff. 

Some of this NSA material came courtesy of the Brits and their collection on U.S. targets. Some of this material came from the NSA's own collection and storage of all electronic communications and was obtained using a nifty NSA tool called XKEYSCORE. Listen to Ed Snowden's description. Also, take time to appreciate the irony that CNN and other journalists were actually trying to report real news. Now they are full blown apologists for the abuse of the intelligence collection tools.

Six years ago, former NSA Technical Director for Military and Geopolitical Issues, Bill Binney, and Russ Tice, a former NSA analyst, appeared on the PBS News Hour. Once again, they make very clear the enormous nature to the threat to our civil liberties.


Given the robust, wide ranging ability of the NSA to probe all communications by any person in the United States, it is remarkable that no real dirt on Donald Trump was ever uncovered. Had such information existed, it would be in the NSA's storage vaults in Utah and crooked CIA analysts under Brennan's direction would have found it and used it. But that did not happen. The best the intel folks could fabricate were the salacious claims attributed to reports ostensibly created by former British spy, Christopher Steele.


  1. We we warned by Maxine Waters in 2012.

    When I used to write software in the 1990s, I remember the US government exlpaining how they just had to have internet packet sniffers that were installed at ISPs with a court order.

    Well, we went from packet sniffing Omnivore to Carnivore to some name to, under W, using private company software for mass surveillance.

    More's law kicked in, in spades, and our current system really became a thing.

    Thing is, intercepting communications was happening by our government long before with Echelon and, normal phone taps of course.

    Today, though, we have no assurance that the FISC has been doing it's due diligence.

  2. Nuts and bolts.

    I think I've explained this once before, but if not, I'll try again.

    All EC communications are binary (read digital) pulses of voltage moving along a transmission channel, e.g. the electromagnetic spectrum, fiber optic wave functions, or good ol' copper wire. And all of this is unintelligible to human beings. Instrumentation and computer-like devices are needed in order to convert these pulses into something we can understand. And every individualized EC is packetised, i.e. sent in fragments which must be reassembled back into the original whole.

    As a result, the only way to conduct oversight and investigation of EC is to first collect and archive all of the raw transmissions. This means cloning everything moving along every channel all the time. This is called the Master Database.

    Then, in theory, humans may query this database in order to find, monitor. or analyze some specific communication of interest. And, in theory, this human surveillance activity is restricted by legal protocols and limitations.

    Many players are doing this, both governmental and private, not just NSA. The interception and cloning devices are located on almost all trunklines on the planet and also via satellite receiving dishes on every continent, including Antarctica.

    Don't be fooled, it's not just metadata in the archive. It's everything in the body of the EC as well. And it's not just spoken words, texts, photos, video and documents. It also includes tracking files derived from GPS receivers in every cellphone. And it's getting worse every day. Privacy is literally extinct, and no one knows what this will lead to over time.

  3. So I'm in the telecommunications business. Phone data is easy to track--although VoIP makes it just a little harder--but Internet data is much more difficult to centrally track like is assumed. And many networks have private exchange agreements. In fact, if one were rather careful and crafty, one could send data to any destination without ever touching att, excepting att recipients of course. So any database would necessarily be an incomplete record.

    And when they speak of enlarging the haystack, boy is that true. Keeping track of each internet connection made, let alone the content contained within, is a herculean task with ridiculous data storage requirements. Now, a government with nearly unlimited means may very well be able to pull that level of spying off (and I assume something like this sort of effort to exist), but then the dataset of all Internet communications becomes ridiculously large. With an exponential increase in irrelevant information in NSA databases, finding actually useful information and minimizing false positives becomes hard to do.

  4. "ability of the NSA to probe all communications by any person in the United States"

    Close, but not entirely true.

  5. Does this mean that Snowden (w/ Greenwald) were more right than wrong?
    Or would that be comparing apples to oranges?

  6. BTW, Bacevich is a sort of disciple of Christopher Lasch, who I'd hardly call a precursor of SJW-ism.
    So, I'll guess that Bacevich, like many civil libertarian types, can be prone to dropping their TDS, under foreseeable circumstances.