Eighth Day

At two massive facilities in Bluffdale, Utah and Oak Ridge, Tennessee the U.S. government is building a data factory that can just suck up and store all phone and computer message traffic in the U.S. and worldwide, and an exoflop speed computer that can hack even the 256 bit version of the Advanced Encryption Standard so those communications can be read.

The money quote you need is from William Binney, a senior NSA crypto-mathematician who left the agency in 2001 after 40 years service in protest at warrantless spying by the Bush administration.

Sitting in a restaurant not far from NSA headquarters, the place where he spent nearly 40 years of his life, Binney held his thumb and forefinger close together. ”œWe are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state,” he says.

Thanks to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, that totalitarian state will at least on the face of it be legal.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

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  • SIGs cuts are nice and everything but I’d really like a better idea of the capacity for getting to data at rest. Collection serially is one hell of a lot less efficient than grabbing them all at once if you can compromise the sending or receiving systems.

    In combat one should be very suspicious of painless moral choices. When you are confronted with a seemingly painless moral choice, the odds are that you haven’t looked deeply enough.” ~ Karl Marlantes

  • NYT – For more than two years, a handful of Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee have warned that the government is secretly interpreting its surveillance powers under the Patriot Act in a way that would be alarming if the public — or even others in Congress — knew about it.

    On Thursday, two of those senators — Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado — went further. They said a top-secret intelligence operation that is based on that secret legal theory is not as crucial to national security as executive branch officials have maintained.

    The senators, who also said that Americans would be “stunned” to know what the government thought the Patriot Act allowed it to do, made their remarks in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. after a Justice Department official last month told a judge that disclosing anything about the program “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.” more at link

    The origin of the universe has not as yet been shown to be a conspiracy theory

  • and runners.
    Well good to see my tax dollars at work and add in all of those little fusion centers across the nation that know one seems to run looks like the fema camps will be filling up shortly.

  • Administration confirms it has secret interpretation of Patriot Act provision

    Daily Kos, By Joan McCarter, March 16

    For months, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have been sounding the alarm about the intelligence community’s reliance on secret interpretations of surveillance law, arguing that the Justice Department has allowed for a secret interpretation of the law that is beyond the bounds of the law and allowing for broad surveillance of Americans.

    In fact, on Thursday they sent a letter to Attorney General Holder in support of a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU and The New York Times for information about the interpretation the government is using. The letter reads, in part:

    We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the governmentsecretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.

    The provision in question, Sec. 215, allows the government to gain access to records of citizens’ activities being held by a third party. It gives the FBI the power to force doctors, libraries, bookstores, universities and internet service providers, for example, to turn over records on their clients or customers.

  • The CIA wants to spy on you through your TV: Agency director says it will ‘transform’ surveillance

    Devices connected to internet leak information
    CIA director says these gadgets will ‘transform clandestine tradecraft’
    Spies could watch thousands via supercomputers
    People ‘bug’ their own homes with web-connected devices

    The Daily Mail, By Rob Waugh, March 16

    When people download a film from Netflix to a flatscreen, or turn on web radio, they could be alerting unwanted watchers to exactly what they are doing and where they are.

    Spies will no longer have to plant bugs in your home – the rise of ‘connected’ gadgets controlled by apps will mean that people ‘bug’ their own homes, says CIA director David Petraeus.

    The CIA claims it will be able to ‘read’ these devices via the internet – and perhaps even via radio waves from outside the home.

    Everything from remote controls to clock radios can now be controlled via apps – and chip company ARM recently unveiled low-powered, cheaper chips which will be used in everything from fridges and ovens to doorbells.

    The resultant chorus of ‘connected’ gadgets will be able to be read like a book – and even remote-controlled, according to CIA CIA Director David Petraeus, according to a recent report by Wired’s ‘Danger Room’ blog.

    Petraeus says that web-connected gadgets will ‘transform’ the art of spying – allowing spies to monitor people automatically without planting bugs, breaking and entering or even donning a tuxedo to infiltrate a dinner party.

    ‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,’ said Petraeus.

    ‘Particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft. Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters – all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing.’

    Petraeus was speaking to a venture capital firm about new technologies which aim to add processors and web connections to previously ‘dumb’ home appliances such as fridges, ovens and lighting systems.

  • Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying–U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails

    DemocracyNow!, April 20

    National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney reveals he believes domestic surveillance has become more expansive under President Obama than President George W. Bush. He estimates the NSA has assembled 20 trillion “transactions” — phone calls, emails and other forms of data — from Americans. This likely includes copies of almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States. Binney talks about Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and challenges NSA Director Keith Alexander’s assertion that the NSA is not intercepting information about U.S. citizens. This interview is part of a 4-part special. Click here to see segment 1, 2, and 3. [includes rush transcript]

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I wanted to ask William Binney about this issue. When it comes to snail mail, the old postal system, it’s very tough for the government to intercept mail, except in times of war, particular situations. When it comes to phone conversations, land phone conversations, you need a warrant to be able to intercept phone conversations. But what about email, and what about the communication now that is really the dominant form that not only Americans, but many people around the world communicate? What are the restrictions on the government in terms of email?

    WILLIAM BINNEY: Well, after some of the laws they passed, like the PATRIOT Act and their secret interpretation of Section 215, which is—my view, of course, is same as Tom Drake’s, is that that gives them license to take all the commercially held data about us, which is exceedingly dangerous, because if you take that and put it into forms of graphing, which is building relationships or social networks for everybody, and then you watch it over time, you can build up knowledge about everyone in the country. And having that knowledge then allows them the ability to concoct all kinds of charges, if they want to target you. Like in my case, they fabricated several charges and attempted to indict us on them. Fortunately, we were able to produce evidence that would make them look very silly in court, so they didn’t do it. In fact, it was—I was basically assembling evidence of malicious prosecution, which was a countercharge to them. So…

    Video at the link.

    “We Don’t Live in a Free Country”: Jacob Appelbaum on Being Target of Widespread Gov’t Surveillance

    DemocracyNow!, April 20

    We speak with Jacob Appelbaum, a computer researcher who has faced a stream of interrogations and electronic surveillance since he volunteered with the whistleblowing website, WikiLeaks. He describes being detained more than a dozen times at the airport and interrogated by federal agents who asked about his political views and confiscated his cell phone and laptop. When asked why he cannot talk about what happened after he was questioned, Appelbaum says, “Because we don’t live in a free country. And if I did, I guess I could tell you about it.” A federal judge ordered Twitter to hand over information about Appelbaum’s account. Meanwhile, he continues to work on the Tor Project, an anonymity network that ensures every person has the right to browse the internet without restriction and the right to speak freely.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: Jacob, your experiences entering the United States at various times?

    JACOB APPELBAUM: Well, after the summer of 2010, my life became a little hectic with regard to flying. I do a lot of traveling, working with the Tor Project. And after the summer of 2010, where I gave a speech at Hackers on Planet Earth in place of Julian Assange, I was targeted by the U.S. government and essentially, until the last four times that I’ve flown, I was detained basically every time. Sometimes men would meet me at the jetway, similarly, with guns.

  • …building a massive archive of content that, in general practice, they don’t actually go dig into until they have a “hit” based on some other factor – e.g., traffic analysis, link analysis, other source intelligence. The nice thing, from the perspective of someone tasked to spy on electronic communications, about Internet mediated communication is that you can practically hoover it up while at rest or in motion – it isn’t like a sigs cut where you can only monitor a small percentage of total transmissions and if you don’t happen to collect it, there’s never another chance.

    This stuff is potentially a lot more compact – if it remains text. Question in my mind is whether it will.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • Salon.com, By Glenn Grenwald, April 21

    “Th[e National Security Agency’s] capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. [If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A.] could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.“

    That dramatic warning comes not from an individual who is typically held up as a symbol of anti-government paranoia. Rather, it was issued by one of the most admired and influential politicians among American liberals in the last several decades: Frank Church of Idaho, the 4-term U.S. Senator who served from 1957 to 1981. He was, among other things, one of the Senate’s earliest opponents of the Vietnam War, a former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Chairman of the Committee (bearing his name) that in the mid-1970s investigated the widespread surveillance abuses committed under every President since FDR (that was the investigation that led to the enactment of FISA, the criminal law prohibiting the Executive Branch from intercepting the communications of American citizens without first obtaining a warrant from a court: the law which the Bush administration got caught violating and which, in response, was gutted by the Democratic-led Congress in 2008, with the support of then-Senator Obama; the abuses uncovered by the Church Committee also led to the enactment of further criminal prohibitions on the cooperation by America’s telecoms in any such illegal government spying, prohibitions that were waived away when the same 2008 Congress retroactively immunized America’s telecom giants from having done so).

    At the time of the Church Committee, it was the FBI that conducted most domestic surveillance. Since its inception, the NSA was strictly barred from spying on American citizens or on American soil. That prohibition was centrally ingrained in the mindset of the agency. Church issued that above-quoted warning out of fear that, one day, the NSA’s massive, unparalleled surveillance capabilities would be directed inward, at the American people. Until the Church Committee’s investigation, most Americans, including its highest elected officials, knew almost nothing about the NSA (it was referred to as No Such Agency by its employees). As James Bamford wrote about Church’s reaction to his own findings about the NSA’s capabilities, “he came away stunned.” At the time, Church also said: “I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

    Of course, that bridge has long ago been crossed…

  • William Binney:

    5. The advent of the September 11 attacks brought a complete change in the approach of NSA toward doing it’s job. FISA ceased to be an operative concern, and the individual liberties preserved in the U.S. Constitution were no longer a consideration.

  • …essentially yes. What doesn’t make sense to me is why they wouldn’t be encrypting the datastore. That doesn’t make sense to me. It would allow them to comply with FISA more easily and cover their ass against the possibility of being penetrated.

    Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.” ~ Steve Jobs

  • MSNBC, July 27

    General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, addressed an audience at the Defcon hacking conference in Las Vegas Friday, saying the Internet needed fundamental defenses against foreign incursion.

    It’s the first time an NSA official has spoken at the world-famous conference, where the attendees are often engaged in unquestionably illegal activities like attempting to breach the security of government agencies. But General Alexander seemed to regard them as kindred spirits as well as experts.

    “Sometimes you guys get a bad rap. From my perspective, what you’re doing to figure out vulnerabilities in systems is great,” he told the crowd, according to a report from CNET.

    But it wasn’t all civilities. Alexander said that the Internet as it is today is “at great risk from exploitation, disruption and destruction.” Tracking Internet activity is a massive task and even the NSA can’t do it without some kind of fundamental access.

    He compared the Internet’s traffic to a toll highway, and said he’d like the NSA to act as the monitor. Most traffic would barely be paid attention to, like a car with an “EZ Pass” cruising through without being stopped. But suspicious traffic would be identified and tracked.

    Sure, patronize them, they love that

  • NSA whistleblower: Illegal data collection a ‘violation of everybody’s Constitutional rights’

    Former National Security Agency official Bill Binney says US is illegally collecting huge amounts of data on his fellow citizens,/i>

    The Guardian, By Paul Harris, September 15

    Bill Binney believes he helped create a monster.

    Sitting in the innocuous surroundings of an Olive Garden in the Baltimore suburbs, the former senior National Security Agency (NSA) official even believes he owes the whole American people an apology.

    Binney, a tall, professorial man in his late 60s, led the development of a secret software code he now believes is illegally collecting huge amounts of information on his fellow citizens. For the staunch Republican, who worked for 32 years at the NSA, it is a civil liberties nightmare come true.

    So Binney has started speaking out as an NSA whistleblower – an act that has earned him an armed FBI raid on his home. “What’s happening is a violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. That’s pretty straightforward. I could not be associated with it,” he told the Guardian.

    Binney, a career NSA employee who first volunteered for the army in the mid-1960s, has now become a high-profile thorn in the side of NSA chiefs when they deny the programme’s existence.


    Then September 11 happened. Within a few weeks, Binney says, he realised parts of ThinThread were now being used by the NSA in a massive and secret surveillance operation.

    But his safeguards had been removed allowing for far more targeted surveillance of American citizens. “I knew the dangers so I built in protections. And you could still find the bad guys with the protections in it. But that wasn’t what they wanted so they took those things out,” Binney said.


    Binney gradually began to protest behind the scenes. Yet that earned him an FBI raid by armed agents as he showered at his home. “Here’s a guy coming into my shower and pointing a gun at me. I’d been co-operating with these people. Why are they doing this?” he said.

    Over the past year Binney has gone fully public, detailing what he believes is a massive effort under the Obama administration to collect virtually all electronic data in the country, from Facebook posts to Google searches to emails.

    It is a deeply secret programme, Binney says, that is called Stellar Wind. He points to the NSA’s creation of a giant data centre at Bluffdale in Utah as part of the system.

    The gigantic building is set to cost $2bn and be up and running by 2013.


    Last week the House of Representatives voted for a five-year extension to the controversial 2008 FISA amendments.

    Yet Binney believes there has been too much of a sacrifice of civil liberties in order to fight terrorism. “People should feel the ability to go out there and and do anything that they want to without being looked at all the time. Monitored. Watched,” he said.

    “The terrorists win, OK? We’ve lost because we have destroyed our society just to combat them and there was really no reason to do that.”

    Binney is also determined to keep on speaking out. “I don’t see any other recourse. Everybody needs to wake up to what we are doing here and whether we want it or not. There is a big hole at the end of this tunnel and it drops off to nowhere.” he said.

  • America Going Orwell at Mach Speed — Authorities Are Starting to Identify You by Your Voice

    The technology is already in use in some police precincts and 911 call centers.

    Alternet, September 24

    In case Orwellian surveillance systems like TrapWire weren’t creepy enough, we learn that SpeechPro, a Russian-owned company, has helpfully invented a voice identification tool for law enforcement use called VoiceGrid Nation. American authorities are looking into using the software at 911 call centers and in police precincts. As Slate reports, it’s already in place and working out pretty well in some other countries :

    The technology has already been deployed across Mexico, where it is being used by law enforcement to collect, store, and search hundreds of thousands of voice-prints. Alexey Khitrov, SpeechPro’s president, told me the company is working with a number of agencies in the United States at a state and federal level. He declined to reveal any names because of nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. But Khitrov did divulge that various versions of the company’s biometric technology are used in more than 70 countries and that the Americas, Europe, and Asia are its key markets. Not all of its customers are law enforcement agencies, either. SpeechPro also designs voice recognition technology that can be used in call centers to verify the identities of customers. Depending on the size and specifics of the installation, it can cost from tens of thousands up to millions of dollars.

    Slate notes that this software is different from the FBI’s own efforts at putting wholesale biometric programs in place, though no less scary.

    Mr. Khitrov told Slate that SpeechPro is being used for “noble causes.” His example of one such noble cause was when the technology helped Mexican authorities track down kidnappers via recorded ransom calls.

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