NSA Files: Decoded

Leave it to a foreign news organization to really dig into the National Security Agency’s surveillance files. One imagines that the NSA and other US government agencies would make it “impractical” for American purveyors of “news” to attempt anything similar. Great multimedia presentation too, from The Guardian:

When Edward Snowden met journalists in his cramped room in Hong Kong’s Mira hotel in June, his mission was ambitious. Amid the clutter of laundry, meal trays and his four laptops, he wanted to start a debate about mass surveillance. He succeeded beyond anything the journalists or Snowden himself ever imagined. His disclosures about the NSA resonated with Americans from day one. But they also exploded round the world. For some, like Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, it is a vitally important issue, one of the biggest of our time: nothing less than the defence of democracy in the digital age.

Guardian NSA

But the intelligence agencies dismiss such claims, arguing that their programs are constitutional, and subject to rigorous congressional and judicial oversight. Secrecy, they say, is essential to meet their overriding aim of protecting the public from terrorist attacks. Stewart Baker Former NSA general counsel The debate has raged across time zones: from the US and Latin America to Europe and to Asia. Barack Obama cancelled a trip to Moscow in protest at Russian president Vladimir Putin’s protection of Snowden. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff cancelled a state visit to Washington in protest at the US spying on her. Bolivian president Evo Morales’s plane was forced down in Vienna amid suspicion that Snowden was being smuggled out of Russia. In Germany, a “livid” Angela Merkel accused the US of spying on her, igniting a furore that has seen the White House concede that new constraints on the NSA’s activities may be necessary. Meanwhile, in Britain, prime minister David Cameron accused the Guardian of damaging national security by publishing the revelations, warning that if it did not “demonstrate some social responsibility it would be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act”.

US internet companies, their co-operation with the NSA exposed by Snowden’s documents, fear a worldwide consumer backlash, and claim they were forced into co-operation by the law.

Much of the NSA’s defence is that the public should be unconcerned, summed up by the dictum: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” But civil liberties groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union warn that surveillance goes well beyond what Congress intended and what the US constitution allows.

Cell phones, laptops, Facebook, Skype, chat-rooms: all allow the NSA to build what it calls ‘a pattern of life’, a detailed profile of a target and anyone associated with them. And the number of people caught up in this dragnet can be huge.

You don’t need to be talking to a terror suspect to have your communications data analysed by the NSA. The agency is allowed to travel “three hops” from its targets — who could be people who talk to people who talk to people who talk to you. Facebook, where the typical user has 190 friends, shows how three degrees of separation gets you to a network bigger than the population of Colorado. How many people are three “hops” from you?…

[Go to The Guardian for the full interactive experience]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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4 Comments on "NSA Files: Decoded"

  1. “But the intelligence agencies dismiss such claims, arguing that their
    programs are constitutional, and subject to rigorous congressional and
    judicial oversight.”

    I call shenanigans!

    In 2003 when the Total Information Awareness program was first disclosed in a defense budget, Congress stripped funding for it due to civil liberties concerns.

    In 2006 the National Journal reported that anonymous Pentagon sources (fearing reprisals and unwilling to go on record) said that the TIA program was broken into pieces, given to subcontractors, and the names changed in order to prevent further Congressional oversight. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know the new names now and some of the details about these programs.

    The NSA is using our own tax dollars to spy on us, and is lying to Congress about it. These black budgets deprive us of our right to oversee how our own money is being spent!

  2. When they say “US Internet companies…fear a widespread consumer backlash,” what, exactly, do they have in mind? Given that just about all of them are cooperating with the NSA, it’s not like we just turn to their competitors.

    The only ones I see who have anything to fear are companies like Facebook, who can only operate when their users feel safe giving out loads of info about themselves.

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