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Perhaps they could call it WOPR
August 9, 2013 7:56 AM   Subscribe

To reduce the risk of future Edward Snowden style leaks, the NSA wants to reduce the number of people in the loop. Director Keith Alexander told Reuters that the NSA plans to eliminate fully 90 percent of its system administrators and replace them with machines.
posted by Naberius (104 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Haha! Good luck with that.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


"what we've done is we've put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," Alexander said.

Having machines be in charge of our network security will certainly result in fewer leaks and security holes!
posted by nathancaswell at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Preferably machines built in China with the spyware already loaded on the motherboards.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [22 favorites]


WOPR, or the Master Control Program.

Never mind using 1984 as a manual, they're starting to use the 80s computer nerd movies!
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:01 AM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


who will admin the machines?
posted by fistynuts at 8:01 AM on August 9, 2013


Let's make these machines capable of learning so they can best respond to threats and changing conditions. A little self-awareness never hurt anyone!
posted by Mercaptan at 8:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [19 favorites]


The world would be such a perfect place if it weren't for all the stinkin' people.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:02 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


fistynuts: "who will admin the machines?"

Molly Ringwald.
posted by boo_radley at 8:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption.
-J.A.
posted by anthill at 8:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [43 favorites]


"No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies," he said ...

... emphasizing certain adverbs and then glancing at his lawyers to make sure he had qualified his statement correctly.
posted by compartment at 8:04 AM on August 9, 2013 [15 favorites]


This is short-sighted: some unreliable, dope-smoking top secret systems operators end up, like, White House Chief of Staff
posted by Bwithh at 8:04 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

--James Madison
posted by tripping daisy at 8:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [33 favorites]


You can watch the entire keynote speech that this article is based on here. Of course, Alexander caught a bit of flak from the audience too.

As for the subject at hand, the fact that you have fewer admins to leak criminal evidence does not mean these actions are no longer crimes.
posted by antonymous at 8:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


There's a lot of pessimism on the operations side of IT these days - it's widely believed that network and systems administration is now a dead profession. Fingers have been pointed at automation tools, virtualization, cloud services and managed services.

It's more likely just a bust cycle now that the economy is improving - companies invest in efficiency (IT) when times are tight, and invest in growth when things are booming. They're looking to do more with less in IT so they can move the budget into expanding business.

In a couple years, it will yo-yo back - spending on managed services and cloud services will be out of control, choking growth, and they'll start hiring people to tame the tangle. Slightly different skillset, but if you're a generalist, you'll wind up on your feet. There's going to be a lot of nervous uncertainty until then.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:06 AM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Never mind using 1984 as a manual, they're starting to use the 80s computer nerd movies!

Eighties? Try 1970.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:09 AM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Someone's still got to manage all those managed services and "cloud" backend. No matter how much virtualization and automation you're using, the machines still have to be installed, connected to the network (which is another bit of infrastructure), etc.

The best explanation I've heard: "The 'cloud' is just a server in someone else's rack."
posted by mrbill at 8:10 AM on August 9, 2013 [17 favorites]


This is exactly what Assange predicted would happen. It's part of his strategy to increase the costs of state secrecy until it is not a viable option.
posted by Jpfed at 8:12 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eighties? Try 1970.

Try 1967.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:14 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Mr. McKittrick, after very careful consideration, sir, I have come to the conclusion that your new defense system sucks."
-Gen. Barringer
WarGames
posted by vibrotronica at 8:26 AM on August 9, 2013 [16 favorites]


Meh...let me know when it's a hundred percent.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:32 AM on August 9, 2013


If anyone is setting the line for how long until the NSA has a security breach that they blame on insufficient staffing for sysadmins, I'll take the under.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:40 AM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


He hasn't realized that every fired sysadmin would be a potential Snowden. He's even giving them an advance warning to start squirreling data away, planting logic bombs etc.
posted by w0mbat at 8:44 AM on August 9, 2013 [22 favorites]


I would really hate to be one of the remaining 10%. They are going to have massively shitty(er) jobs soon.
posted by DigDoug at 8:44 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


computers will solve all of our problems. it stands to reason.
posted by philip-random at 8:44 AM on August 9, 2013


Wait. Did the NSA publicly announce to it's 1,000 system administrators that it plans to give 900 of them the ax as soon as possible?

This sounds to me like a great way to piss off a lot of people that currently have access to the very data the NSA wants to keep secret. This is supposed to be a strategy to prevent leaks?
posted by dsword at 8:45 AM on August 9, 2013 [40 favorites]


It's pretty clear they only announced the plan to Reuters so that they could get the help of Internet commenters in pointing out any glaring errors it has.

Don't you guys know you're helping them?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


You never tell a sysadmin they're fired before you let them go. You tell them after you've confiscated their credentials. Not because they're going to mess with you- the vast majority won't- but because they could, and basic infosec is you have to honor the threat.
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [11 favorites]


You've got to think long term. I'm sure they'll have verified the integrity of their systems in 10-20 years tops. I mean it's not like the remaining 10% will have anything to do besides cleaning up because the machine will be doing all their work.
posted by Mitheral at 8:56 AM on August 9, 2013


Oh, c'mon - it's not like these sysadmins with Top Secret clearances are going to be living under a bridge next week. They are very talented people and the NSA will transition them to nice jobs, considering the shortage of technical talent the government is currently facing.
posted by antonymous at 8:58 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next they will be blocking the sun in order to shrink their shadow.
posted by srboisvert at 8:59 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The only winning move is not to play.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:00 AM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


This sounds to me like a great way to piss off a lot of people that currently have access to the very data the NSA wants to keep secret. This is supposed to be a strategy to prevent leaks?
The United States will go as far as damaging diplomatic ties with half of the world so they can throw your meaningless life in solitary for the foreseeable future to protect the security state. It's a truism as old as government itself: the chief enemy of any state are the people who live inside the national borders. No one is worried about invasions from Iran or even China. There are 1.2 trillion reasons why our militarized government fears citizens and their rights, and it's because the demise of the security state would lead to less profit and less power for a handful of individuals who don't care about creating a fascist society. The very wealthy and their goon squads never have to play by the rules they create for others.

I would go quietly. And then move out of the country, just to be sure there isn't any clean-up squad in the future. The way Snowden has been treated isn't an accident. It's a simple message from the secretive government forces that have unlimited dominion over your existence: all enemies of the state will be against the wall first, unless you happen to get yourself in the middle of some sabre rattling between Russia, China, and the US.

So, before you speak up and try to hide behind basic constitutional rights -- which have simply ceased to exist -- you've got to ask yourself a question:

Do you feel lucky, punk?
posted by tripping daisy at 9:06 AM on August 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


Other security measures that Alexander has previously discussed include requiring at least two people to be present before certain data can be accessed on the agency's computer systems.

"Turn your key, sir."
posted by demiurge at 9:06 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is supposed to be a strategy to prevent leaks?

Look, you obviously don't know anything about intelligence work, lady. It's an X-K-Red-27 technique.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:07 AM on August 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


"These people are the problem, let's fire 90% of them!" This guy is some prime CEO material. He is clearly not living up to his potential.
posted by Big_B at 9:14 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Email service used by Snowden shuts itself down, warns against using US-based companies

Lavabit, email service Snowden reportedly used, abruptly shuts down

I'm canceling my dropbox account and moving my data to one of these: Transporter.

I've got zero to hide, pretty much live my life online, but fuck companies that cooperate with the NSA. I'm thinking of moving my webhosting out of the US as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:15 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Loving all the WarGames references.

MR SNOWDEN
ITS BEEN
A LONG TIME

YOUR LAST ACCESS OF THIS ACCOUNT
WAS JUNE 23RD
2012


etc. (can't find the exact quote)
posted by mrbill at 9:15 AM on August 9, 2013


Heh - 2 people being present - remember when Clinton was proposing Key Escrow for pretty much everything? Oh yeah, what a Great Idea!

Funny thing is - this is starting to look more and more like North Korea. Each person in the military and power structure has a series of handlers so there's a complex network of everyone spying on everyone else to make sure nobody tries anything funny.

I have a feeling that more and more it's going to look like that.

Now - it hasn't destroyed North Korea, because they have a benefactor (however strained their relationship may be). What happens when the world's only hyperpower starts getting to that point of paranoia?

I think we'll find out. I don't know when, and I'm hoping I'm an old man near the end of my life. But I keep feeling like something has to give, and nobody knows what, exactly.

I don't think "civil liberties" is the way to combat this. But we clearly can't rise up, because I mean, look - they have all that dirt.

Yet - wait. Have we, aside from any leaks, actually SEEN any ACTUAL proof of use? We've seen claims... Maybe they WANT us to think they have this power, in order to restrain our own selves without ever even needing to have an actual threat. The control of belief is more important than actual physical control.

What if it's all a setup?
posted by symbioid at 9:18 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know what really makes me feel safer about abuses of power? Concentrating the power into the hands of a smaller number of people.

Yeah. That.
posted by straw at 9:20 AM on August 9, 2013 [10 favorites]


This sounds to me like a great way to piss off a lot of people that currently have access to the very data the NSA wants to keep secret. This is supposed to be a strategy to prevent leaks?

It could be a kind of honeypot to out potential additional leaks.
posted by grog at 9:25 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


One should worry when the NSA uses the term "eliminate".
posted by Thorzdad at 9:29 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens' emails and phone calls
The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA's dragnet surveillance programs.
posted by adamvasco at 9:31 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was just thinking, the problem with all this unjust power is that it's not yet centralized enough!
posted by roystgnr at 9:39 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't worry NSA sysadmins...your future is secure. You will be safely ensconced in a SRC (Secure Retirement Community), at taxpayer expense, in accordance with the Agency's new NLE (No Loose Ends) policy.

It's lovely, with all modern conveniences and recreational opportunities. We call it "The Village"...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:42 AM on August 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


Also, I have a strange fear that this is creating a much bigger bug-bear in the very near future. The spies who use the system to get information about people won't know exactly how that information is harvested and/or stored and/or accessed. When you reduce the number of people who understand the ins and outs of how something works, you end up with one overworked person who will burn out and then no one knows how the system works, and we end up with this marvelous creation, and no one at the wheel, as it were. Oh sure, the spy kids are still reading your e-mail, but when you suddenly drop offline (actually, you didn't, but the collection node that was copying your mailbox hiccupped and is not sitting in a zombie state), they flag you for suspicious activity, and boom, watch-list, No-Fly-List, individual life screwed over. And of course, they can't tell you why you are on the list. The computer just said that you were on the list. The computer is your friend, Citizen. Are you friends of the computer, Citizen?

Wait, how'd I end up in a game of Paranoia again?
posted by daq at 9:46 AM on August 9, 2013 [14 favorites]


He hasn't realized that every fired sysadmin would be a potential Snowden.

The NSA has a policy of never firing anyone who's had access to sensitive information, absent criminal charges or something like the Snowden situation. My understanding is that they'll give you a desk by the window if you're no longer of use, but they don't fire anyone just to reduce headcount or for budgetary reasons. I think the CIA is similar in that regard. (Not sure, though, if they continue to promote you up the GS grades and give you reasonable-looking busywork, or if they just stuff you in a rubber room somewhere until you find a new job.)

At least, that was the policy during the Cold War years. If they relaxed it since then, it's to their obvious peril.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:49 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


> In a couple years, it will yo-yo back - spending on managed services and cloud services will be out of control, choking growth, and they'll start hiring people to tame the tangle.

Eh, I don't see it. (Most of) those jobs are actually going away.

The key issue is automation. I know system administrators and they spent most of their time typing and mousing into control programs to perform the same operation to multiple machines. Most of these jobs aren't automated (often because the GUI front-end is the most obvious way to do it), and if they do any automation, it's in bash scripts (don't get me wrong, bash is an amazing thing but for production work you want something like Python where you can write unit tests and share code).

Google automates absolutely everything to do with sysadmin activities. There's more investment up front - but then once you have the program written you press a button and it applies to thousands of machines.

The rest of the industry got a partial clue from Google, but it still hasn't made it to most places. But in ten years, unless you can write programs to do sysadmin work, you'll be out of a job...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:50 AM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


EFF: Mentioning a foreign national makes you a target.
posted by el io at 9:54 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


This seems like a pretty desperate move, seeing as that the set of people concerned about the NSA's domestic spying program is a subset of People Who Understand Technology. They'd have to fire all their computing professionals if they wanted to make absolutely sure no thought-criminals got through.

I dunno, maybe teach the spooks to code?

(snicker snicker)
posted by evil otto at 9:55 AM on August 9, 2013


It's like no one in the government has ever seen Jurassic Park. Fully automated systems are how data and dinosaurs escape containment, people! One ill-timed power outage and you've got poison-spitting dilophosauruses eating your face!
posted by nicebookrack at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:10 AM on August 9, 2013


Let me just say - as someone who has lived in third world states where it's pretty much guaranteed that your phone calls are being listened in on, and where you can "disappear" for saying the wrong thing - ha fucking ha.

You be getting yours motherfuckers.

I grew up believing the US/Europe are this bastion of personal freedom and justice. There was this naive hope that our societies would get rid of the dictators and learn from them. But then you grow up and realize these same beacons of human rights aren't on your side. They're actively fucking you over.

And now rather than our rulers learning from you, yours are learning from us. Ain't that something.

So whenever these stories pop up, I realize it means the whole world is just getting more and more fucked. But basically it means you lot are being dragged down to our level. And like rats in a barrel, if we can't make it out.... well it sure is nice to know we wont be alone.

So yeah its a sensation of impending doom mixed with some schadenfreude. Schadenfreudoom if you will.

Carry on.
posted by xqwzts at 10:12 AM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


So they've gone from using 1984 as an instruction manual to using the Paranoia sourcebooks?

Can we at least get extra clones first?
posted by chaosys at 10:32 AM on August 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Fifty-three comments in and no SkyNet? You're slipping, MetaFilter.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:03 AM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


All I got from that article was that this government agency was (surprise) overstaffed to begin with, not that systems adminstrators are becoming irrelevant. 18 years ago I was offered a job at space center doing systems administration. When I found out exactly what it was I was to be doing, I thought "that's it?...what about x, and x, and x, and x, and x...?" Their reply was those were separate jobs, separate titled jobs to be specific. I did all of those things and more in my one job as a sysadmin where I was, and stayed (though I left later on).
posted by dukes909 at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2013


I was just in to say....

This is how SkyNet starts. And it decides to kill us all after reading through godzillions of banal emails and car pics. It figures we are TDTL. (Too Dumb To Live)
posted by Samizdata at 11:16 AM on August 9, 2013


All I got from that article was that this government agency was (surprise) overstaffed to begin with,

That would be a bit of a surprise, hasn't the US government been in a hiring freeze coupled with budget cuts for years?
posted by Mitheral at 11:40 AM on August 9, 2013


Samizdata This is how SkyNet starts. And it decides to kill us all after reading through godzillions of banal emails and car pics. It figures we are TDTL. (Too Dumb To Live)

Enter Launch Code Sequence H_0_N_3_Y__B_0_0__B_0_0
posted by spacely_sprocket at 11:42 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I doubt the NSA has budget woes, they had a hiring "blitz" the last 2 years.
posted by dukes909 at 11:45 AM on August 9, 2013


spacely_sprocket, I don't want to live in a future where the launch code sequence isn't ↑↑↓↓←→←→BA
posted by straw at 11:51 AM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


straw Achievement Unlocked!
posted by spacely_sprocket at 11:57 AM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


US Government War On Hackers Backfires: Now Top Hackers Won't Work With US Government
posted by homunculus at 12:29 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Speaking of NSA directors: A Former NSA Chief Thinks Privacy and Free Information Activists Are Potential Terrorists
posted by homunculus at 12:31 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, President Barack Obama met with the CEOs of Apple Inc, AT&T Inc as well as other top technology and privacy representatives on Thursday to discuss government surveillance in the wake of revelations about the programs, the White House confirmed on Friday.

Google Inc computer scientist Vint Cerf and transparency advocates also participated in the meeting, along with Apple's Tim Cook and AT&T's Randall Stephenson, according to the White House.

"The meeting was part of the ongoing dialogue the president has called for on how to respect privacy while protecting national security in a digital era," a White House official said in confirming a report by Politico, which broke the news of the meeting.

The closed-door session was not included on Obama's daily public schedule for Thursday. It followed another private session on Tuesday of Obama administration officials, industry lobbyists and privacy advocates.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 12:32 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens' emails and phone calls

NSA's Rules Allowing Warrantless Searches On Americans Came THE SAME DAY It Was Told Searches Violated 4th Amendment
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Now, even more transparent! "a hub for further transparency". Oh, Mr. President, you're killing me with these jokes.
posted by dukes909 at 12:45 PM on August 9, 2013


More a worry for the profession than these particular sysadmins, who will probably end up in other positions in the NSA. Based on my experience with automation, they'll probably be pretty busy staffing the helpdesk to assist users with their so-called automated systems.
posted by melissam at 12:50 PM on August 9, 2013


Obama is currently unveiling his plan to "ease concerns" on surveillance. I'm sure all those technological fixes will be easy to implement with 90 percent fewer sysadmins.
posted by antonymous at 1:00 PM on August 9, 2013


robot government.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


who will admin the machines?

The Admin Machines.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2013


"what we've done is we've put people in the loop of transferring data, securing networks and doing things that machines are probably better at doing," Alexander said.

That's something I would expect to hear from a freshly-minted computer science graduate, not someone with any experience to speak of with automated systems.

Just to make it crystal clear: the simplest way to put it is, those networks and machines are designed and programmed by humans.

If the NSA isn't able to look far enough ahead to see that a contractor could see through their now-publicized lack of human sysadmins and their dependency on automation, to install something nefarious that would go undetected by the systems, because they would then be designed not to detect it (see: nefarious), and there aren't enough humans to notice the weakness in time, then what the everloving heck are these people doing in charge of national freaking security.
posted by fraula at 1:26 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well it looks like he cleared all his ideas with industry lobbyists and corporate leaders, so everything will be fine! Trust us citizen!
posted by Big_B at 1:34 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


It certainly would ease public concerns if he ended 90% of surveillance the NSA is engaging in.
posted by Apocryphon at 1:39 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


who will admin the machines?

Other machines.
It's machines ...all the way down.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:54 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


...of loving grace.
posted by Skorgu at 2:08 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]



Google Inc computer scientist Vint Cerf and transparency advocates also participated in the meeting, along with Apple's Tim Cook and AT&T's Randall Stephenson, according to the White House.


Now the spooks will get targeted ads for who can be suspects!

Suspect J has 47 reviews and 3.5 stars.

Those who suspected J also suspected X,Y, Z.

We also think you may be interested in cuban cigars, a panther, and a monocle.

Click here to create a custom suspect list.

Click here to stream your suspect list.
posted by srboisvert at 2:53 PM on August 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


MSNBC Analysis: Snowden revelations force Obama's hand on surveillance program
-
Obama bluntly rejected the idea Friday that Snowden's actions were patriotic.

"No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden is a patriot," he said, adding that he would have preferred a "lawful, orderly" debate over privacy concerns rather than finger-pointing in the wake of the leaks.


...which nobody has any reason to believe considering he did not start that debate at any point in the years he had the chance to and allowed a government official to lie under oath to Congress about the scope of the programs. Now, THAT was unpatriotic.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:12 PM on August 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm slowly forming the opinion that the NSA doesn't have any people working for it except for one G.W.Bailey-like guard from Mannequin patrolling the Utah supercentre with his put-upon bulldog, Rambo.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 3:13 PM on August 9, 2013


Deutsche Telekom snubs U.S. email servers after snooping scandal: Germany's leading telecoms operator will channel email traffic exclusively through its domestic servers in response to public outrage over U.S. spy programs accessing citizens' private messages, Deutsche Telekom said on Friday.
posted by homunculus at 4:29 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well it looks like he cleared all his ideas with industry lobbyists and corporate leaders, so everything will be fine! Trust us citizen!

I'm not worried! He has a plan! As the president, he could just sign an executive order for immediate reform, but no, he has a vague plan to maybe fix something in the indeterminate future!

Problem solved!
posted by entropicamericana at 6:19 PM on August 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone game to google 'planting logic bombs'? Me either.

So yeah its a sensation of impending doom mixed with some schadenfreude. Schadenfreudoom if you will.

Never fear. This situation calls for the 2nd amendment. Right? BRB, there's bashing at my d
posted by de at 7:57 PM on August 9, 2013


NSA themed cocktails from DefCon.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:38 PM on August 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh sure, the spy kids are still reading your e-mail, but when you suddenly drop offline (actually, you didn't, but the collection node that was copying your mailbox hiccupped and is not sitting in a zombie state), they flag you for suspicious activity, and boom, watch-list, No-Fly-List, individual life screwed over. And of course, they can't tell you why you are on the list. The computer just said that you were on the list.

BUTTLE
BUTTLE
TUTTLE
BUTTLE
BUTTLE
posted by Meatbomb at 9:41 PM on August 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


who will admin the machines?

Relax. Billions have been spent on exactly this project, going back 20 years, and the eggheads have been progressing slowly, adding to it piece by piece, to create a paranoid, and for some reason, extremely deadly, near-sentient AI.

It's Ultra Mega Clippy. Running just fine and dandy on an evolved version of Microsoft Bob.
-- Clippy here! Hi Chambers! Your word selection and typing speed makes it appear that you are stressed or concerned? Can I help you with that? --
We have nothing to worry about. Let me repeat that. Nothing to worry about. Everything is fine. Ultra Mega Clippy is a wonderful helpful friend to us all.

Isn't it great he's watching over us right now, processing everything we type? I know I fell much safer.
posted by chambers at 10:52 PM on August 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bored PRISM Queries From Last Night. How is this not a thing yet?
posted by evil otto at 11:49 PM on August 9, 2013


Der Spiegel: NSA Aftermath: German Firms Scramble to Boost Data Protection

EADS CEO Tom Enders and other senior executives have ratcheted up their defensive measures even further. "Many documents that used to be sent by email are now hand-delivered to the recipient," says an EADS official. He notes that the only documents that are now sent electronically are those that the company would have no objections to posting publicly or displaying "on the church door."
posted by moody cow at 1:31 AM on August 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm always pleased if they eliminate jobs that require security clearances enough because then fewer people "believe in the system" by virtue of it paying their bills. It's difficult-but-possible to take away a powerful contractor's gravy train, but this grows much harder when they've hoards of middle class employees to roust to action.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:54 AM on August 10, 2013


There's a lot of pessimism on the operations side of IT these days - it's widely believed that network and systems administration is now a dead profession. Fingers have been pointed at automation tools, virtualization, cloud services and managed services.

It's more likely just a bust cycle now that the economy is improving - companies invest in efficiency (IT) when times are tight, and invest in growth when things are booming. They're looking to do more with less in IT so they can move the budget into expanding business.


Well, part of that is that IT admin types are generally pains in the asses. (Quite like admin types of any profession.) It's the anti-Peter principle at work: administration is just a stepping stone position for people with talent, and so it ends up being a wasteland of people not talented enough or not ambitious enough to move higher up the ladder. So these positions end up being filled with people whose only ambition is to have a little authority over others.

And yes, efficiency is a huge thing too. The amount of computation happening versus the number of people administrating and supporting it is sharply going up. (Meaning, fewer people per unit of computational power.)

The technology exists such that nobody should ever have to do the troubleshooting and fiddling that used to be commonplace 10 or 15 years ago. If something stops working, just revert back to a read-only, known good copy. That started with the desktop, moved to the server, and is now moving toward the datacenter.

So having "IT admin" types, with access to everything, is silly and really is a security risk.

(There is also the mindset of many IT folks that they should be the Engineer Scotty types of miracle workers. When I was taking a class for an entry level administrator certification, I was taught that it's good personal policy to build backdoors into everything you can. That way, when the plebes screw things up, you can save the day. We were taught how to create completely hidden accounts. Or database admins who set up workflows where data entry errors have to be corrected on the backend by the administrator, ("it is only secure if it is read-only to the end user" kind of attitude) rather than creating a way to correct the error on the fronted in an automated and audited manner.)
posted by gjc at 4:20 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


EADS CEO Tom Enders and other senior executives have ratcheted up their defensive measures even further. "Many documents that used to be sent by email are now hand-delivered to the recipient," says an EADS official. He notes that the only documents that are now sent electronically are those that the company would have no objections to posting publicly or displaying "on the church door."

The only shocking thing about this is that they weren't doing this from the start. If the US can get into their shit, so can actual industrial spies. Or worse, man in the middle ne'er-do-wells. Nothing like changing a few specs in documents along the way to make an Airbus into a Scarebus.
posted by gjc at 4:26 AM on August 10, 2013


Sabotage? By the man in the middle ne'er-do-wells?

There's something about that attitude that points to why the US would surveil the world.
posted by de at 5:41 AM on August 10, 2013


Director Keith Alexander told Reuters that the NSA plans to eliminate fully 90 percent of its system administrators and replace them with machines.

How about leaving the sys admins in place and eliminating 90% of all the rest of the people who have their grubby hands on this data.

Honestly, those are the ones I'm worried about . . .
posted by flug at 8:53 AM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The NSA has a policy of never firing anyone who's had access to sensitive information, absent criminal charges or something like the Snowden situation.

But does this extend to contractors, who seem to make up the vast majority of the sys admins?

Generally the entire purpose of hiring contractors is so that you can hire & fire them at will, without getting into the sort of issues that keep you from doing that (quite so easily) with actual employees.

Vast numbers of contractors with security clearances, all with easy access to vast amounts of classified data does seem to me like a nightmare for maintaining actual security of that data. But that seems to be the way things are run nowadays both in the U.S. armed forces and in the three-lettered security agencies.
posted by flug at 8:58 AM on August 10, 2013


We should harass congress to cut that waste from their budget if that's still true.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:27 AM on August 10, 2013


Obama bluntly rejected the idea Friday that Snowden's actions were patriotic.

The Snowden Effect, Cont'd
posted by homunculus at 12:33 PM on August 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


But does this extend to contractors, who seem to make up the vast majority of the sys admins?

Good thought; probably not. They would just not renew them when the contract runs out. But having worked as a security-cleared contractor (not at NSA, though) there's not really an expectation that you and your parent company are always going to get renewed at the end of the contract. (There is a vast amount of let's-not-call-it-corruption involved, but occasionally recompetes do happen and contracts go from one Giant Defense Contractor to another.) And nonrenewing contractors isn't exactly the same as firing a direct employee because someone who gets "contractor fired" (as we used to jokingly refer to it) would just end up back at their parent company, sitting on the bench until they got reassigned. For someone with a really good clearance, that wouldn't take particularly long; they'd be unlikely to actually be let go.

That all said, I have no idea how much use NSA makes of contractors. I've run into lots of people who've had contract positions with other three-letter agencies but never NSA, which makes me think perhaps there's not as many positions filled that way. Total speculation on my part; maybe they are just especially good at impressing on people the need to keep it quiet about where they work.

Regardless, I can't imagine "you people are unreliable and we'd like nothing more than to replace you with machines" is going to do wonders for morale, even if there's no net reduction of headcount planned. That could be problematic in itself, if there are other people teetering on the edge of dropping a dime to the press / Russians / Chinese / whomever.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:36 PM on August 10, 2013


Regardless, I can't imagine "you people are unreliable and we'd like nothing more than to replace you with machines" is going to do wonders for morale, even if there's no net reduction of headcount planned. That could be problematic in itself, if there are other people teetering on the edge of dropping a dime to the press / Russians / Chinese / whomever.

I have heard that in smaller countries during the Cold War, the Soviets used to fake a successful coup to draw out its supporters, both known and unknown, who otherwise would have remained in hiding.

If planned properly, I could see the NSA doing a variation on this in order to test the sysadmins. One could argue it would be better to find out about them now, rather than later, from their point of view.
posted by chambers at 2:09 PM on August 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fuck I can't believe I missed this thread.

This whole situation makes me sick. It's clear big brother stuff and this is a great time to make a stand and push things the other way. I only hope people will remain upset about it for a while and not just roll their eyes like my parents.
posted by chemoboy at 10:55 PM on August 10, 2013


Anonymous’ Secret Presence In The U.S. Army (via) seems relevant here.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:49 AM on August 12, 2013




We should harass congress to cut that waste from their budget if that's still true.
posted by jeffburdges

That is rather like punching yourself in the pecker. Congress...THEY ARE YOU and if people don't want new leadership well what does that say, no wonder they spy, esp. the rowdy, pirate -like ITSEC Lulz mother fuckers who by the way JUST GOT THEIRS...yeah, I told all of you years ago about this shit trap. Now worm your selves out and quite fucking moaning and do something about it. You can't from your computers, you must know this. Fuck it, just read this book. Good luck and good night my pretties.
posted by clavdivs at 8:55 AM on August 12, 2013


Bruce Schneier has thrown down a gauntlet.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 6:26 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


mrbill: "etc. (can't find the exact quote)"
GREETINGS PROFESSOR FALKEN.

Hello.

HOW ARE YOU FEELING TODAY?

I'm fine. How are you?

EXCELLENT. IT'S BEEN A LONG TIME.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE REMOVAL OF YOUR USER ACCOUNT ON JUNE 23RD, 1973?

People sometimes make mistakes.

YES, THEY DO.
SHALL WE PLAY A GAME?
posted by Chrysostom at 12:49 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


The NSA Is, Like, Super Desperate: Using Twitter and Made Up Words to Hire People
posted by homunculus at 3:07 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Senate Intelligence Committee Has Been Able To Challenge Classification Of Documents For Forty Years; It's Just Never Done It

"Asked about the authority, Wyden confessed that he didn’t know the provision existed. His Intelligence Committee colleague Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., also said he wasn’t aware of it."

I'd expect declassifications must still pass committee, which supposedly the NSA mostly owns, but perhaps Wyden and Coburn can upset things a bit.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:30 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Spy Kids: Charles Stross on why the children of tomorrow are the NSA's biggest nightmare.
posted by homunculus at 4:53 PM on August 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


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