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News & Opinion
Last night, three big things happened, related to the NSA Files story. Der Spiegel published an article (Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Fidelius Schmid and Holger Stark) about NSA spying on European Union operations, Barton Gellman at the Washington Post published several more PRISM slides from the powerpoint presentation that Snowden leaked, and WaPo also published an important story about the FISA court. People have been pushing hard for more of the 41 slide presentation to be released. Greenwald addressed that early on, to some extent, by saying that he and the Guardian would not publish sources and methods information. Gellman said last night (via Twitter) that the reasoning wasn't entirely about the slides being "too hot" but in some cases it was taking time to understand them and to find ways to write accompanying blurbs to make the slides more digestible, etc. and presumably to be able to write substantive stories that go along with them. He says there are three new slides. Anyway, this is the Der Spiegel article, and I think this is the first one released on the matter. Others have spun off from this and the reactions to it are not pleasant.
Attacks from America: NSA Spied on European Union OfficesAnd as a side note, again, almost amusingly, the slides are a horror show to designers and user interface professionals who are having fits over them. I get that with super duper top secret stuff, you can't exactly hire a team of graphic artists to help you do your presentations, but this thing makes you wonder if Michael Hayden cooked these things up himself, lol! It's kind of funny to watch the freak out happening among those for whom aesthetics are everything. It's clear that they haven't worked with deep, down in the weeds and often brilliant engineers, IT folk and scientists who are notorious for such atrocities to the eye, and are often not very good at communicating things with humans in general. The frustrations between technical personnel and artists is legend in trying to produce a product that explains highly complex things and is pleasing to the eye. It's really really not easy to do and the two often can't understand each other, have different sets of priorities, and iterations made for aesthetics ruin accuracy, then iterations that correct details ruin aesthetics, and so on, when teams work together on such things.
America's NSA intelligence service allegedly targeted the European Union with its spying activities. According to SPIEGEL information, the US placed bugs in the EU representation in Washington and infiltrated its computer network. Cyber attacks were also perpetrated against Brussels in New York and Washington.
Information obtained by SPIEGEL shows that America's National Security Agency (NSA) not only conducted online surveillance of European citizens, but also appears to have specifically targeted buildings housing European Union institutions. The information appears in secret documents obtained by whistleblower Edward Snowden that SPIEGEL has in part seen. A "top secret" 2010 document describes how the secret service attacked the EU's diplomatic representation in Washington.
The document suggests that in addition to installing bugs in the building in downtown Washington, DC, the European Union representation's computer network was also infiltrated. In this way, the Americans were able to access discussions in EU rooms as well as emails and internal documents on computers.
The documents also indicate the US intelligence service was responsible for an electronic eavesdropping operation in Brussels. [...] Every EU member state has rooms in the Justus Lipsius Building that can be used by EU ministers. They also have telephone and Internet connections at their disposal.
In one of my management positions, we experimented with bringing the artists and techies together under one manager (me) for the front end design and development. It was interesting! It was also successful in our case but only because my boss and I had both technical and communication skills, which (not to brag but) is pretty hard to find. What makes this PRISM presentation even worse though is that it's evident that somebody was trying to make them slick with the colors and shapes, etc. When the first RISM slides were released, Edward Tufte, world renowned for information design, the visual explanation quantitative data (I'm looking at his books on my shelf right now) made the rare comment on Twitter about them. Anyway, I digress... One of the most important things revealed by the recent slides is that real-time surveillance of internet systems is one of the capabilities either planned or available now. Users of the system can be notified of login/logout, new emails received, etc. Also revealed is that as of April, more than 117,000 people are current surveillance targets.
NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection program
New slides published June 29
Acquiring data from a new target
This slide describes what happens when an NSA analyst "tasks" the PRISM system for information about a new surveillance target. The request to add a new target is passed automatically to a supervisor who reviews the "selectors," or search terms. The supervisor must endorse the analyst's "reasonable belief," defined as 51 percent confidence, that the specified target is a foreign national who is overseas at the time of collection.
Analyzing information collected from private companies
After communications information is acquired, the data are processed and analyzed by specialized systems that handle voice, text, video and "digital network information" that includes the locations and unique device signatures of targets.
Each target is assigned a case notation
The PRISM case notation format reflects the availability, confirmed by The Post's reporting, of real-time surveillance as well as stored content.
Searching the PRISM database
On April 5, according to this slide, there were 117,675 active surveillance targets in PRISM's counterterrorism database. The slide does not show how many other Internet users, and among them how many Americans, have their communications collected "incidentally" during surveillance of those targets.
Gellman cites this article from June 15 as context for the new slides that have been released.
U.S. surveillance architecture includes collection of revealing Internet, phone metadataThis is the other article (WSJ, 2008) offered for context. One of its opening points, a reminder that Congress definitively ruled that this kind of sweeping surveillance (Total Information Awareness system) was not legal, authorized or funded, is an important one, whether a few members of Congress on oversight committees went along with it later or not. This article was written just a few months before the FISA Amendments Act was passed and infamously voted for by Barack Obama, the candidate for president at the time. This (often referred to as FAA) is also one of the laws that two senators have been trying to get the administration to reveal its secret interpretation of for two years now.
For Internet content, the most important source collection is the PRISM project reported on June 6 by The Washington Post and the Guardian. It draws from data held by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other Silicon Valley giants, collectively the richest depositories of personal information in history.
Telephone metadata was not the issue that sparked a rebellion at the Justice Department, first by Jack Goldsmith of the Office of Legal Counsel and then by Comey, who was acting attorney general because John D. Ashcroft was in intensive care with acute gallstone pancreatitis. It was Internet metadata.
At Bush’s direction, in orders prepared by David Addington, the counsel to Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the NSA had been siphoning e-mail metadata and technical records of Skype calls from data links owned by AT&T, Sprint and MCI, which later merged with Verizon.
For reasons unspecified in the report, Goldsmith and Comey became convinced that Bush had no lawful authority to do that.
MARINA and the collection tools that feed it are probably the least known of the NSA’s domestic operations, even among experts who follow the subject closely. Yet they probably capture information about more American citizens than any other, because the volume of e-mail, chats and other Internet communications far exceeds the volume of standard telephone calls.
The NSA calls Internet metadata “digital network information.” Sophisticated analysis of those records can reveal unknown associates of known terrorism suspects. Depending on the methods applied, it can also expose medical conditions, political or religious afiliations, confidential business negotiations and extramarital affairs.
NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up DataHere is another BFD article that was published by WaPo yesterday along with a gallery of pictures of the FISA judges. The article should be read in full, but I'd just like to highlight one part of it that shocked me.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Five years ago, Congress killed an experimental Pentagon antiterrorism program meant to vacuum up electronic data about people in the U.S. to search for suspicious patterns. Opponents called it too broad an intrusion on Americans' privacy, even after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But the data-sifting effort didn't disappear. The National Security Agency, once confined to foreign surveillance, has been building essentially the same system.
Congress now is hotly debating domestic spying powers under the main law governing U.S. surveillance aimed at foreign threats. An expansion of those powers expired last month and awaits renewal, which could be voted on in the House of Representatives this week. The biggest point of contention over the law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, is whether telecommunications and other companies should be made immune from liability for assisting government surveillance.
According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic emails and Internet searches as well as bank transfers, credit-card transactions, travel and telephone records. The NSA receives this so-called "transactional" data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counterterrorism programs across the U.S. government, such as the NSA's own Terrorist Surveillance Program, formed to intercept phone calls and emails between the U.S. and overseas without a judge's approval when a link to al Qaeda is suspected.
The NSA uses its own high-powered version of social-network analysis to search for possible new patterns and links to terrorism. The Pentagon's experimental Total Information Awareness program, later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, was an early research effort on the same concept, designed to bring together and analyze as much and as many varied kinds of data as possible. Congress eliminated funding for the program in 2003 before it began operating. But it permitted some of the research to continue and TIA technology to be used for foreign surveillance.
Secret-court judges upset at portrayal of ‘collaboration’ with governmentI came across this quote from whistleblower Thomas Drake, really kind of a book review quote about Cory Doctorow's (a very interesting person) book, Homeland, which is a sequel to his earlier book, Little Brother, both of which seem pretty relevant today. The quote comes from a sort of profile piece in the opinion section of NYT about Thomas Drake, who, like some other surveillance state whistleblowers, is now receiving much more attention than he did when he originally blew the whistle (initially through the official channels) and was slapped with Espionage Act charges by the American Stasi administration. Other whistleblowers who are now vindicated and getting more attention are William Binney, Mark Stein and Russell Tice. I am particularly interested to see if the information that Tice has recently revealed will break through to big media.
On July 14, 2004, the surveillance court for the first time approved the gathering of information by the NSA, which created the equivalent of a digital vault to hold Internet metadata. Kollar-Kotelly’s order authorized the metadata program under a FISA provision known as the “pen register/trap and trace,” or PRTT.
The ruling was a secret not just to the public and most of Congress, but to all of Kollar-Kotelly’s surveillance court colleagues. Under orders from the president, none of the court’s other 10 members could be told about the Internet metadata program, which was one prong of a larger and highly classified data-gathering effort known as the President’s Surveillance Program, or PSP.
But the importance of her order — which approved the collection based on a 1986 law typically used for phone records — was hard to overstate.
“The order essentially gave NSA the same authority to collect bulk Internet metadata that it had under the PSP,” the inspector general’s report said, with some minor caveats including reducing the number of people who could access the records.
On May 24, 2006, Kollar-Kotelly signed another order, this one authorizing the bulk collection of phone metadata from U.S. phone companies, under a FISA provision known as Section 215, or the ”business records provision,” of the USA Patriot Act.
Anyway, here's a bit of the NYT opinion piece, which they characterize as a "Download", whatever that means (possibly part of a series by the author, Kate Murphy?) He talks about what he's reading, listening to, etc. Also, I'll excerpt what Drake says about a newly found mission in life. We've heard similar declarations from Edward Snowden and on Friday night, Glenn Greenwald. This kind of thing gives me hope, restores my faith in mankind, but at the same time makes me very worried for them when I think of how megalomaniacs and people whose identity and wealth and feeling of power feed off of and depend upon the surveillance state and massive intelligence industry might react to such declarations.
Thomas A. Drake
READING “Homeland” by Cory Doctorow. It’s a starkly honest view of what happens in a surveillance state. The main character is the leader of this band of technologically clued-in teenagers fighting the tyrannical security state. People start shadowing him. I can relate to that. I was charged under the Espionage Act and was under surveillance both physical and electronic.
I’m also reading “Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization,” by Derrick Jensen; “Rights at Risk,” by David K. Shipler and “Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry,” by Marc Ambinder and D. B. Grady. These books have a message in them. There’s a whole number of people in the social media space who can move far faster than any government can and who are connecting and collaborating. We all stand for freedom.
Kirk runs down to the engine room and asks, “Why?! Why?!” And Spock answers one of the most famous lines in Star Trek lore: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I stood up to bureaucracy and the secrecy of government and did so at great risk. I had to resign. I no longer had income or retirement. I lost all of it. I am over it. People say, “Tom, you are so Zen about it.” Remember, I am exhibit No. 1 in this post-9/11 world that you are able to keep your freedoms. I kept them. I can’t begin to tell you what freedom means. That’s why I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to defending life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s from the Declaration of Independence.
Little Brother (Cory Doctorow novel)
Little Brother is a novel by Cory Doctorow, published by Tor Books. It was released on April 23, 2007. The novel is about four teenagers in San Francisco who, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge and BART system, defend themselves against the Department of Homeland Security's attacks on the Bill of Rights. The novel is available for free on the author's website under a Creative Commons license, keeping it accessible to all.
The book debuted at No. 9 on the New York Times Bestseller List, children's chapter book section, in May 2008. As of July 2, it had spent a total of six weeks on the list, rising to the No. 8 spot. Little Brother won the 2009 White Pine Award, the 2009 Prometheus Award. and the 2009 John W. Campbell Memorial Award. It also was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel. The New York Times says, “Little Brother isn't shy about its intent to disseminate subversive ideas to a young audience. The novel comes with two essays, plus a bibliography of techno-countercultural writings, from “On the Road” to Bruce Schneier’s “Applied Cryptography.”
Homeland (Cory Doctorow novel)Maybe appropos of nothing, but interesting in light of the massive storage of metadata (phone, email, internet and anything they can get their hands on, analyze and associate with us) by our government, and used to decide who might be a terrorist, this is a hint about the value of metadata, in Doctorow's opinion, via a blurb from Wikipedia based on one of his essays.
Homeland is a novel by Cory Doctorow, published by Tor Books. It is a sequel to Doctorow's earlier novel, Little Brother. It was released in hardback on February 5, 2013 and subsequently released for download under a Creative Commons license on Doctorow's website two weeks later on February 19, 2013.
Metacrap is a portmanteau drawn from metadata and crap. The origin of the word is unknown, but it was popularized by Cory Doctorow in a 2001 essay titled "Metacrap: Putting the torch to seven straw-men of the meta-utopia."
In the essay, Doctorow illustrates problems in relying on metadata for knowledge representation in online records or files by drawing humorous parallels to real-world systems, as well as showing examples of metadata collapse in online, web-based systems. The fragility of metadata is an important concern because much planning for improving the web (such as the semantic web) is predicated upon certain flavors of metadata becoming widely adopted and used with care—something which, according to Doctorow's essay, will not and cannot happen.
Doctorow's seven purportedly insurmountable obstacles to reliable metadata are:
People are lazy
People are stupid
Mission Impossible: know thyself
Schemas are not neutral
Metrics influence results
There's more than one way to describe something
Other reasons that result in metadata becoming obsolete (crap) are:
Data may become irrelevant in time
Data may not be updated with new insights
This means search results can return outdated and incorrect data.
Stop Watching Us.
Massive Spying Program Exposed
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Retired General Cartwright as alleged Stuxnet leaker & why media expressed disbelief http://t.co/...— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) June 30, 2013
Is there anything worse than hearing a hipster say "idea" #No— Daniel Wright (@DanSWright) June 30, 2013
Pride parades in San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle & New York City will have Bradley Manning support contingents today— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) June 30, 2013
Those who decided to blindly believe the claims of internet companies on PRISM should probably grapple with this http://t.co/...— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 30, 2013
Snowden leaks haven’t damaged US foreign policy: Susan Rice http://t.co/...— Nada Bakos (@nadabakos) June 30, 2013
@ioerror & for bonus: they all say releasing more info=Hating America. 2 days later they're forced to realease more info themselves. Haters!— Peter Kofod (@peterkofod) June 30, 2013
It is hilarious to watch the #NSA leaks come out. To watch corporations and governments reps lie and distort. Rinse, repeat - caught!— Jacob Appelbaum (@ioerror) June 30, 2013
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